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Monday, 31 March 2014

World of Metal 8: Lost Insen, Arising Fear, Jesus Christ

Lost Insen: Here After (Self Released)

Lost Insen are from Tunisia and started life as Dream Theater cover band and you can hear the influence of the premier purveyors of prog metal right from the outset. With the organ drenched first track The Greedy Idiot, which also has a nice fat, crunchy guitar riff and a few time signature changes for good measure, not bad for 4 minute track, in fact all the tracks are relatively short for a progressive band with only the final, majestic, grandiose, middle eastern flavoured Freedom, It's All About clocking in at over 10 minutes ending the album in terrific style. Despite the short lengths the tracks are all excellently written and performed by a band who are obviously excellently talented, from the massively melodic When You Were Here to the heavyweight Breaking The Walls. The guitars and keys of Karim and Fadhel Bouazra work together brilliantly bringing the main body of the songs to life while be aided by Yessine Belghith's bass and Mehdi Braham's drums along with Oscar Zubelzu's strong vocals have more in common with Ray Alder than they do James LaBrie but they fit the bands intelligent progressive metal delivery and they at their best on the acoustic ballad The Way It Has To Be. This record is fantastic, it is one of the best progressive records of the year so far and I urge you to seek it out. Well done Lost Insen you have released and album that many bands can only dream of releasing in their career and never mind as their debut!! 9/10

Arising Fear: Beyond Betrayal (Self Released)

There really is a glut of German thrash metal around at the moment and Arising Fear are fast, furious and full of fury. Coming from the more modern style the band share a lot of stylistic similarities with Trivium and early Machine Head, especially with Alexander Rauh's vocals and on tracks like Deadly Embrace which features those trademark MFH pinched harmonics. The band combine twin guitar riffage and some metalcore breakdowns that hark to groove metallers like Pantera. This is a 10 track album that is full of anthems, Rauh's and Kevin Pöllmann's guitars are awesome, heavy, melodic and very fast with Tobias Möhring's drums and Thomas Franz's bass really bringing the heavy to the album, Möhring's drums especially are the driving force behind Day To Overcome which knocks you out of the blocks and has a massive melodic chorus. Arising Fear are a breath of fresh air to the German thrash scene sounding very American in their delivery which will stand them in good stead for the future. If you are a fan of Machine Fucking Head then you will really enjoy Arising Fucking Fear and their debut album, which is frankly an excellent modern thrash album from these young Bavarians. 8/10

Jesus Christ: We Will Fight (Self Released)

Jesus Christ are a thrash metal band from Russia, they mix frenetic guitars with shouted vocals and lots of attitude, this isn't thrash in the Metallica/Megadeth style and is more like Anthrax in tone with the thrash speed mixing with the hardcore stomp and lots of anti-governmental rallying, with a name like Jesus Christ you would expect the band to have balls of steel. The guitars are straight out of the Spitz/Ian school of riffage and the vocals are pure Belladonna, see Blind Humanity and Traitor as two songs lifted straight off Among The Living. The band do try to expand their sound with death growls but other than that this is strictly thrash. A good album with some good songs let down by the production which is D.I.Y but lends itself to the bands sound. It's not big or clever but it is fun filled thrashing by a band that do what they do well. 7/10 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Reviews: Wolfmother, Gus G, The Oath

Wolfmother: New Crown (Self Released)

Andrew Stockdale put Wolfmother on hiatus to release his (admittedly very Wolfmother sounding) solo album. Now he returns with a new drummer and bassist/keyboardist which is if you remember the original line-up the band went forward with. Now can they conjure up the magic of their world beating debut? The short answer is no there are a few flashes of greatness that hark back too their self titled album. How Many Times, Heavy Weight, Radio and the title track are full of the riff fuelled rock that made Wolfmother popular in the first place. However seeing as Wolfmother were put on hiatus and guitarist/vocalist Andrew Stockdale indulged himself with a solo album, which had a mix of styles a few if which make their way on to this new 'mother record. I Ain't Got No is a pure Rolling Stones pastiche, wholeheartedly ripping off one of their biggest hits (no prizes for guessing which one), whereas Feelings is a four chord punk rocker that Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy would be proud of. This is a return of the Stockdale's baby and shows where he has his best ideas, on the back of a solid solo effort this is Stockdale back to doing his day job. 7/10

Gus G: I Am The Fire (Century Media)

Right lets get this out of the way first of all, Gus G's debut solo album does not sound like Firewind or indeed Ozzy so those looking for that will be disappointed. What the Greek virtuoso's debut does do is cover a spectrum of rock music with an A-list line up of guests. The main recurring member, other than Gus and drummer Jeff Friedl, is Mats Leven (the man who should be the singer of Firewind) whose strong smoky voice is perfect for the opening salvo of rockers My Will Be Done and Blame It On Me, so far so good, big, fat, melodic riffs good songwriting and some seriously fret melting solos, then things get a bit weird as the title track is an American alternative radio rock song straight out of the Hinder/Papa Roach playbook and features the vocals of Devour The Day's Blake Allison, so yes the song is good but it is a very rapid change of direction that leads to another two songs that are similar in style to I Am The Fire both having that alternative rock feeling with Long Way Down featuring the great voice of Alexia Rodriguez and is similar to Halestorm in feeling and the big, radio ballad Just Can't Let Go which is right out of the Kroeger playbook. Both of these tracks are bookended with instrumental tracks one is Vengeance (not the Yngwie one) and the other is Terrified, both of the tracks sound a lot like Racer X/Paul Gilbert instrumentals with melody and also virtuosic tendencies, bolstering the Gilbert comparisons is the appearance of Billy Sheenan on Terrified. The final part of the album features more walks through the rock genre with an AOR ballad featuring Evergrey's Tom S. Englund (Dreamkeeper), the Journey-like Summer Days which features Jeff Scott Soto (thus the link to Journey) and the last guest is a pleasant surprise in the shape of Steel Panther's Michael Starr playing it straight for once on the Bon Jovi meets Metallica Redemption. So this is an eclectic album that touches on so many different styles but they are all held together by Gus G's excellent guitar heroics, a great album that will have a wide appeal and will surely make Gus very, VERY famous across the pond (which one suspects is the entire point). 8/10

The Oath: The Oath (Rise Above Records)

When I first saw the press pic for The Oath I immediately thought the metal community are going to have a field day with this, an occult doom metal band fronted by two devastatingly attractive, leather catsuit clad, almost identical blondes, one the Swedish guitarist Linnea Olsson and the other German singer Johanna Sadonis. The two women recruited a bassist and a drummer (two bearded dudes, a Parisian and the drummer from Angel Witch) and set about constructing some dark, stripped down, occult doom is going songs about Satan, death and misery. So with the image set it was up to the music to prove that the band were more than style over substance and it does so excellently, imagine if you will a band that is part Danzig (naturally), part Sabbath (obviously) and part the Runaways especially on punkier tracks like Night Child and All Must Die. Olsson's guitar is very good with the right amount of stripped back, garage, heavy riffage and jangly, angular folk on Leaving Together. Sadonis' vocals are soulful, sonorous and powerful giving a gutsy performance on every track, especially the haunting Silver And Dust. This is a great album full of some strong traditional doom rock that will be for fans of Blood Ceremony, The Devils Blood as well as Cathedral, Sabbath and the old guard. As the album ends on the haunting, progressive Psalm 7 you feel like you've been taken on a journey by the two sorceresses that formed this band, a glimpse into their dark world. 8/10

Sunday, 23 March 2014

World Of Metal 7: Storm Cry, Pohl, Vengeful Ghoul

Storm Cry: Beginning Of Darkness EP (Self Released)

Bringing their music from Venice Italy Storm Cry are a colossal no messing Melodic Death metal band that deliver their music with the ferocity, at times, of an earthquake in your ears. Opening softly with the instrumental The Decent Leonardo Doro and his band lead you completely the wrong way up the proverbial path with a soft careless opening until The Sun Dies Here comes smashing into the equation. From the offset Storm Cry jam their songs with heavy leaping thrash riffs covered beautifully with melodic solos that really define this band. The SYS and Fear Now carry on providing me with punch after punch of dark riffage and magnificently uplifting solos. Roberto Bindi’s deep growling voice compliments the sound that Storm Cry has set out perfectly. Almost sinister in his delivery the vocals here really add an extra layer and edge of doom to this project. Finishing all too soon Void and title track The Beginning of Darkness end this powerful EP. With its unexpected turn of pace Void is almost lighter in mood, that is until the fearsome growls of Bindi’s vocals resurface bring the EP back to the crushing sound of darkness that I am starting to love. Francesco Pasinato and Doro really come into their own during The Beginning of Darkness throwing out thumping riff after riff while holding the rhythm at a perfect tone. The highlight here however is the drumming of Matteo Rizzo who relentlessly pounds away furious beats with the power and vengeance of a jackhammer, really impressive. Never hearing Storm Cry before I have to say I'm damn impressed, the Italian lads have clearly decided what they want from their music and have achieved that in a brutal yet almost majestic manner. My only two criticisms; maybe at times there can be a bit too much going on; halfway through Fear Now for example every instrument is at full force set to 11 and the sound does turn into a pile of noise briefly. The other? This EP just isn’t enough for me, here’s to a Storm Cry album in the near future! 9/10   

Pohl : Pohl II (Self Released)

Based just on the other side of the bridge from us, Bristol trio Pohl have recently released their second EP. In all honesty I've never quite come across a band like Pohl before; mixing hard bassy blues rock with a grungy yet almost stoner type feel to it, one thing Pohl cannot be accused of is being unoriginal. Opening track of  Cute Guy Alert is stuffed with enough bass to make your ears bleed. Hugo Morgan picks away incessantly at his bass strings laying down grove rhythms as deep and as grounded as you can imagine. Each track is solely based on these bass rhythms and ultimately makes Pohl what they are. Vocally there is nothing special here at all, but I get the feeling that isn't the bands biggest worry. As in Cute Guy Alert next track Eraser is introduced with pounding bass lines that quickly turn into fast moving groves. Controlled drums from Jamie Thompson deliver some sense of normality throughout the EP, however he can send his cymbals crashing to a crescendo when called upon. Eraser is slightly less understated and keeps your head bobbing along nicely, finishing how it started with a deep exaggerated grove line. The final track of Pohl II God Save The Queen (High on Death) is something completely different again, slow doom laden bass rhythms with very little rhythm guitar throughout. Focused mainly on the bass and sporadic drumbeats the Will Pearce’s vocals are synthesized this time to add an extra depth to the track that also adds to the somewhat organized chaos that is Pohl II. Dragging along slowly this track stalls the EP for me. Ultimately, despite the degree of fun the lads from Bristol represent, Pohl aren't really my cup of tea. I think however given the chance I would certainly take them in live as I can imagine it being an experience. There is no denying the imagination and the bravery Pohl have, particularly the talent of Morgan on bass. But maybe a few more degrees of direction are required to streamline Pohl’s sound a little more. 6/10

Vengeful Ghoul: Timeless Warfare (Self Released)

Vengeful Ghoul? Sounds like a band name ready for a concept album, preferably one aimed at a wronged Casper. Alas not on this album although the theme of war does run through the record with the opening track Chained Freedom opens with battle sounds and then goes on to run for 7 minutes of time signature changing, muscular heavy metal with thrash influences. So far so good then with an opening track as good as this it puts the rest of the album in good stead. So who are Vengeful Ghoul? Well they are metal band from Turkey and they play Power/Thrash metal which may sound a bit odd but to give you an idea they sound like Iced Earth, with some relentless riffage from rhythm riff-mistress Senem Undemir and some laser guided leads from axe-master Ozgur Nair both of whom are helped in their musical destruction by Volkan Beykoz's drums and Gorkem Buyukesmeli's bass who add to the metal madness with some rock solid rhythm making every song hard, heavy with lots of technical prowess, the finishing touches to the album are from vocalist Emre Kasapoglu who is from the Andi Deris and Tim 'Ripper' Owens school, with growling mid-range and a ear piercing screams. Luckily I love Iced Earth so I was banging my head and raising my fist to every fast and heavy track, the band have the right amount of grit, melody and technical ferocity, see the solo in Ruthless Crow and they are equally at home with fast thrashy passages as they are with slower more melancholic moments like My Crowded Solitude. Powerful, progressive and all around awesome this is a hell of a debut from the Turkish band. If you like power metal, a bit more serious and technical than usual then Vengeful Ghoul will definitely be one of your albums of the year! Superb stuff indeed!! 10/10 

Friday, 21 March 2014

Reviews: Vandenberg's Moonkings, Vanishing Point, Ring Of Fire

Vandenberg's MoonKings: MoonKings (Mascot Records)

Adrian Vandenberg is a former guitarist of Whitesnake co-writing most of their comeback album Slip Of The Tongue, however all of the guitars on the album were done by some guy called Steve Vai. Still Vandeberg has made a career after his fling with Cov and co before hanging up his axe in 1994. 20 years later the man returns with his six string, a brand new band and an album full of hip shaking, powerhouse rock songs that our David would be proud of (old leather lungs himself appears on the final massive Whitesnake cover Sailing Ships). Vandenberg sure knows how to right a rock song with opener Lust And Lies having the dirty, lust filled swagger that the Snake have made their name doing, this moves into the Zep-like rockers Close To You and Line Of Fire which along with the mega-ballads Breathing and Out Of Reach, both of which would be a number one from 'Snake. As you can see I keep mentioning Whitesnake and that is because this album sounds a lot Whitesnake's more modern output with lots of hard rock riffage, killer solo's, big drums and bass from Mart Nijen Es and Sem Christoffel respectively. The whole band are rounded out by the great vocals of Jan Hoving who sounds like ex-Firewind singer Apollo Papathanasio doing a (brilliant) Coverdale impression. This an album for fans of the 'Snake and any hip shaking, python licking, hard rocking music. As a debut this a great, big songs, great production and excellent musicianship, however I wouldn't expect anything less from a former Snakeman, Cov only picks the best to back him and Vandenberg's MoonKings shows this in spades, as the band say on Nothing Touches "Nothing touches rock 'n' roll!" 9/10

Vanishing Point: Distant Is The Sun (AFM Records)

In all my years of metal I've only been peripherally aware of Vanishing Point and with Distant Is The Sun being their fifth album I thought it was about time I checked them out and I'm very glad I did as these Aussies play strong, melodic metal with progressive flourishes. The band fuse the heavy, crunchy guitars of James Maier and founder member Chris Porcianko who bring some seriously technical riffage to every song along with the blast beats of Christian Nativo, the bass of Simon Best providing the driving rhythms and Silvio Massaro's soaring melodic vocals. The band also have lots of symphonic elements with keys and orchestrations playing a part on every track giving the band a sound similar to American melodic prog bands Redemption, Shadow Gallery and Fates Warning, especially on the ballads like Let The River Run while the symphonic backed faster/heavier tracks like Distant Is The Sun and King Of Empty Promises have more in common with Kamelot or Sonata Arctica (who's singer Tony Kakko appears on Circle Of Fire) with their galloping rhythms and big orchestrations. This fifth record is a complex, progressive, melodic metal album that has touches of AOR, prog rock and of course metal. On the back of this album I think it's time I looked for Vanishing Point's back catalogue on the strength of this album. 8/10

Ring Of Fire: Battle Of Leningrad (Frontiers Records)

Ring Of Fire are a neoclassical metal band from the USA made of former Yngwie Malmsteen air raid siren Mark Boals, guitar virtuoso Tony Macalpine who programs the drums, both men are aided in their neoclassical mastery as usual by keyboardist Vitalij Kuprij and former Stratovarius man Timo Tolkki. So as usual the album is filled with the simply staggering guitar playing of MacAlpine who does things to a guitar that very few men can do, he works in tandem with Kuprij to pull some seriously fast riffs on the first two tracks Mother Russia and They Are Calling Your Name and then they conjure some mastery on the ballad Land Of Frozen Tears. This is a technical album with lots of great songs however there is one major downfall, the production of Tolkki is awful it's sounds very weak and muddy, it's similar to the Metal Hammer edition of Manowar's last album. Music like this needs crisp modern production to make it sparkle however this just means the album sound like a bad NWOBHM demo. Poor form indeed. 5/10

Another Point Of View: The Answer

The Answer – The Globe

The bar for this gig had been set extremely high following the previous night’s storming Lords of the Riff tour in Bristol but if ever there was a night to catch Northern Ireland’s The Answer, then St Patrick’s Day was it.
Unfortunately we once again got drawn into the time warp that is the Tandoori Mahal and as a result of spectacularly poor service we totally missed Blackwolf. How long does it take to serve four people in an empty restaurant for fuck’s sake??

So it was onto the main event without a musical warm up. Luckily we'd all had a good liquid warm up and clutching pints of Guinness we lurched our way to the front as the band launched into New Horizon from the latest long player release. Bluesy and with a bucketful of soul, they followed this with Road Less Travelled, generating masses of energy from the packed audience who appeared as determined as the band to have a great night. Founder and guitarist Paul Mahon cuts a fine shape stage left, ably supported by James Heatley on drums and bassist Micky Waters. Musically The Answer are quite superb, driving hard rock with a classic melodic undertone, as demonstrated with fan favourite Trouble from Revival which preceded the first of four tracks from debut album Rise, the anthemic Under the Sky.  The rhythm section of Heatley and Waters are quite happy to deliver the base from which Mahon can demonstrate what a decent guitarist he is. However, the star of this band is frontman Cormack Neeson.  With his tousled blond locks cascading down in a mane so reminiscent of a certain Robert Plant,  Neeson has a voice and the charisma to carry the band forward and he does this with ease, delivering a vocal performance that old Percy would surely approve of. Following Concrete, the band threw in a well appreciated cover of Cradle Rock, made famous by another Irishman, the legendary Rory Gallagher. By now the band were in full swing with Neeson offering swigs of Jamesons to the front row. The chart friendly Nowhere Freeway turned into a full scale sing along with our crew hollering tunelessly (speak for yourself Matt), Guinness flying everywhere! Spectacular followed; cue even more awful singing and much fist pumping as the temperature continued to rise and the party accelerated towards the climax. A slight change of pace for the blues soaked Memphis Water allowed everyone to get their breath back with Mahon soloing centre stage whilst Neeson had a quick break.  Closing with Come Follow Me the band then finished with a quick one two of Comfort Zone from Everyday Demons before Preachin’ brought the evening to a typical Baptist revival church style finish.  A brilliant evening with more than enough to rival the previous evening’s entertainment, Highlights of the evening? Clearly the excitement on a certain female member of our party who on her way down the stairs at the end of the set bumped straight in Cormack Neeson, and ended up with a massive hug from him! To be fair, I’d have hugged him too! The other highlight was finding out that The Answer will be at Steelhouse in July. Excellent news!

One complaint? Put Demon Eyes back in the set as I love it. One fear: after 12 years the band appears to have plateaued a little and, as much as I love seeing them in small venues, it would be great to see them get a bit of wider exposure to allow them to progress. Maybe they need AC/DC to get back out on the road again. 9/10

Thursday, 20 March 2014

A View From The Back Of The Room: Lords Of The Riff Vol.1

Lords Of The Riff Vol.1: Monster Truck, Scorpion Child & Buffalo Summer, Exchange Bristol

Back from Hammerfest and after a quick change, across the bridge and into the tiny Exchange for what was the sold out first show on the Team Rock sponsored Lords Of The Riff tour which was a showcase for young acts. When I say sold out I mean it as the venue was packed tighter than Coverdale into his trousers, there was no room to breathe and the venue warmed up quickly, still sometimes its nice to see a venue sell out for 3 lesser known bands.

Buffalo Summer

Due to the queue to get in we managed to catch the last half of the set by Welsh rockers Buffalo Summer but when the band were grooving nicely to their brand of Zeppelin-like rock playing selections from their debut album and also some new tracks (which sound very good indeed), with lots of funky old school riffs and tracks like Down To The River which has a sing along middle section, as well as A Horse Called Freedom and the foot stomping She's All Natural. Buffalo Summer did a great job of warming up the crowd and put everyone in that 70's mindset that was needed for the rest of the evening. 8/10

Scorpion Child

This show was a double headliner and the closer switched every show this time it was up to Monster Truck to follow Scorpion Child and boy would they have a hell of a job. The Texan band strolled on to the stage with Orange Goblin's Ben Ward looking on and the now four piece (this band has more ex-members than Spinal Tap) plunged straight into the gutter blues of Kings Highway and it hot me as soon as they started to play that this band are very similar to Percy and co. Kings Highway has a very psychedelic Zeppelin vibe to it with Christopher Cowart busting out the Page like riffs and Aryn Johnathan Black having the mystical stage craft and vocal gusto of Plant (albeit through a mic that was knackered leading to feedback) still for 40 minutes the band managed to bewitch the audience with their heavy, psychedelic rock perfect for those with a some medicine to smoke. The relentless riff of Polygon Of Eyes with its awesome chorus came next as did Salvation Slave (more Zeppelinisms), The Secret Spot, Liquor and their cover of Keep Goin' originally by Lucifer's Friend. The band were a revelation to watch, they were heavy, groovy and slightly unpredictable with Black getting into the audience more than once. Scorpion Child blew the roof off the Exchange with their riff heavy-psych rock which ebbed and flowed throughout the set. An absolutely killer set from the Texans that Monster Truck were going to have to work hard to follow. 10/10

Monster Truck

So on came the Canadians, again a four piece but this time loaded with a keyboard to bring the Purple to proceedings. Considering that Monster Truck are from North of the border they sounded the most Southern of the two band kicking off with The Lion which was all blustering riffs and big organs yes they got the place rocking and worked their debut record playing For The Sun, the ballad My Love Is True, the excellent Sweet Mountain River (which sounds like both Black Stone Cherry and Mountain) before the well known track Old Train came in the middle of the set. Don't get me wrong Monster Truck are good at what they do the bass, guitar, drums and keys all work together and the vocals of bassist John Harvey and guitarist Jeremy Widerman work in tandem and give the band a sound similar to fellow Canadians Priestess, however you can help feeling that the songs are all a bit samey and after the sheer white hot brilliance of Scorpion Child, Monster Truck couldn't follow. I'd go and see them in heartbeat but I think they were just a victim of circumstance. 8/10

Reviews: Primitai & Winterstorm (Reviews By Nick)

Primitai: Rise Again (Green China)

So, a little late on this one (my bad) but one of my favourite bands of the last few years Primitai return with their long awaited third album. No time wasting form the Sandhurst lads as they run headfirst into opening track “Fortune Favours The Brave” with their signature duel solos and fierce rhythmic drums that give them the classic British metal edge that we all love. Tom Draper and the wizard Srdjan Bilic guitars float on top of pounding drums delivered by Chris Chilcott throughout the first track providing me with great hope that Primitai have picked up from where they left off with their fantastic previous album The Line of Fire. Holding my breath as we slide into the next track “Scream When You See Us” my worries are cast aside. The track opens again with screeching solos and the crashing drums that quickly descend into nice running thrash riffs that support the brilliant voice of Guy Millar. This husky tuned voice has always impressed, as he is able to reach both ends of the spectrum with surprising success and within this track he proves no different. Although lyrically a little cheesy, Scream When You See Us musically contains everything you want from a British melodic thrash band and hey, what’s wrong with a little cheese now and then?
The next few songs are title track “Rise Again” and “Pound For Pound”. More melodic in their tone these tracks demonstrate another side of Primitai that shows off their skill and versatility. Miller holding notes with great ease at times, while Draper and Bilic pull back from the thrashing riffs and break out masterful solo after solo. Both of these tracks left me gently nodding my head with a little smile on my face. Swiftly moving on to “Driven Wild” and “The Cannibal” both of which open in epic power metal style reminiscent of bands such as Hammerfall or even Powerwolf. 

Stuffed full of story telling lyrics and thumping drums, these tracks have an atmosphere about them that really pulls me in. “Holy Defender” through to “The Huntress” return us back to some great classic British metal that Primitai, in my opinion excel at. Miller’s voice particularly impresses in Holy Defender as it almost creeps and slithers its way through the track. “Blink Of An Eye” and The Huntress speed up the occasion even further, Blink Of An Eye particularly standing out with a great grinding riff that slides into brilliant hand thumping breakdown.  Finally the album closes with “What Watches Over Me”. The verses here reminded me an awful lot of Staind, with slow weeping guitars and mellow hurting vocals from Miller; a side that I have never heard from his voice before, but a side that I was really impressed with. Despite the mellow melancholy like verses the song proceeds to jump into drum, guitar and powerful vocal filled chorus’s that break the song up nicely, finishing with an astounding accumulation of all of Primitai’s skills put together in an instrumental that is fit for a king.

For me Primitai have returned with a cracking album that has picked up where they left off, while at the same time advancing their sound and style enough to change things up a little but still standing up for the style of music that they clearly love. The only downside to this album is the lack of an obvious anthem or two. Primitai for me are best taken in live, as they are one of the best I've seen. It’s the passion that they show as well as the anthems that brought me to love them, if they hope to pick up more fans along the way this may be a slight downfall of this album. But hey, they still have Nocturnal Hordes and Sin City for that I guess… 9/10.

Winterstorm: Cathyron (NoiseArt Records)

Not knowing much about Winterstorm I took the plunge and delved into their latest album, one word I would use to describe the first song… explosive. With no introduction needed the German lads show us what to expect from them throughout this album, and that is Guitar, fiddle, flute, violin, accordion, drum, keyboard and possibly a little bit of harmonica filled metal. But alas there was no cowbell that I could hear...
As my ears adapted to the barrage of instruments thrown their way the track “A Hero Rises” dropped in pace and the vocals of Alexander Schirmer are introduced. There is nothing groundbreaking vocally here but his voice is good enough to serve its purpose. For me Winterstorm are all about the music and this continued with little let up as the next few tracks from “Cathyron” to “Burning Gates” were unleashed. During these tracks second vocalist Armin steps in and he sounds eerily like Mathias Nygård from Turisas, which therefore also means any of the songs that he is involved in… sound like Turisas. However, maybe this is because essentially, that is what Winterstorm are; a German version of Turisas minus the horns. Carrying on from “Windkeepers” to “Elders of Wisdom” this theory is even more compounded as the introduction on operatic backing vocals and more tales of epic battles and travels are regaled to us. Metalavial” however is a breakthrough of originality from the band. Sticking to their trusted folk/battle metal style they use this to give us a lesson in German metal mythology, a nice turn of pace and proved to me that they could be something a little more original if they truly wanted. 

Back to the final few tracks and “The Evocation” to the “Elements Strife” pick up from where Winterstom left off prior to Metalavial. Instrument and melody packed Power/Folk/Battle metal that pleases the ear instrumentally and shows off their undoubted skills. I’m unsure how to approach this rating as far as Winterstorm and originality goes… there is very little. If you’re a Turisas fan you will probably love them, but if you are hard core Folk/Battle metal fan you will no doubt be a little disappointed. My opinion; Winterstorm are Turisas only I would suggest musically with more skill and talent. They are able to combine so many instruments while keeping them melodic and not sounding like a car crash. Michi and Armin are able to ride their solos and riffs alongside instruments of all obscurities and make it work. While Sebastian’s various percussion is delivered with great aplomb and forms the bedrock of most of the songs, supported well by the keys of Max. In conclusion if you want the complete package with a little more originality despite in my opinion, them not being as accomplished musicians as Winterstorm, look in the direction of Turisas or Ensiferum. Ultimately Winterstorm are frustrate me as musically they are very impressive but have no real form of their own yet with Metalavial they proved they could do it!. A tentative 7/10.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Reviews: The Cadillac Three, Shrapnel, Panic Room

The Cadillac Three: Tennessee Mojo (Big Machine Records)

The Cadillac Three are southern and as they say in the opening salvo I'm Southern it ain't their fault. This is music for beer drinking and hell raising born from the legends of Waylon, Johnny and Willie while also bringing Steve Earle, The Allmans and more recently Waylon's son Shooter who the band sound a hell of a lot like fusing rock and country. The band themselves recognise their influences on Get Your Buzz On which mentions the godfathers of Skynryd. Although with three members, the guitar and smoky southern vocals of Jaren Johnson, the Tennessee shuffle of drummer Neil Mason and the multiple instruments of bassist Kelby Ray. The band are very good at what they do, this isn't your faux country of Kid Rock you can feel that these three have this music running through their blood with tracks like Down To The River which evokes the spirit of blues and gospel but with a rock n roll back beat. With bands like Blackberry Smoke and Shooter himself spearheading this revival of Outlaw Country (or Country Rock if you want) The Cadillac Three are putting themselves in good stead with their down home Southern swagger and an album filled with ass shaking sexually charged music rockers countered with the odd cowboy ballad. These self professed hillbillies have created a real stormer! YeeHaw!! 9/10

Shrapnel: The Virus Conspires (Candlelight Records)

Norwich...it's the Thrash capital of the world right? Well maybe that's not true but the five piece wrecking machine Sharpnel are on a mission to make this statement more accurate. The riffs come fast and furious from the outset with bludgeoning blast beats of Simon Jackson rattling the brain cells, the bass of Daryl Abbot (not that one) rumbles the bowels and the razor sharp riffage of Chris Martin and the killer solo's of Nathan Sadd mean that tracks like Kingdom Come, Titan and Braindead breeze through in a barrage of thrash madness with Jae Hadley conducting everything with his awesome grizzled vocals that give the band a modern sound as well as hints to the Bay Area past. 22 has a killer bass intro and again proceeds to smash your face in for over 4 minutes and has a big call and response middle 8. It's not just all super speed thrash mind as they have the right amount of groove to them as well with the title track showing just that. The pace rarely lets upon this album with every track destroying the one previously ending with the super fast All That We Know which ends everything on a highly aggressive note. This album is very strong for a debut and will definitely elevate the band to the same level of British thrashers Evile and possibly beyond. Strong, powerful and violent just how thrash should be!! 8/10   

Panic Room: Incarnate (Firefly Music)

Panic Room release their fourth album and they continue to evolve their sound which is what they have been doing since their second album Satellite and again this time they are emotional, powerful and also fully professional on every track. From the opening track Velocity which has a great guitar part from new boy Adam O'Sullivan who replaces Paul Davies and gives the track a Hogarth period Marillion, before it moves into second track Start The Sound which has the percussive drive of Kate Bush and features some excellent orchestrations and keys from Jonathan Edwards and a breathy performance from frontwoman Anne-Marie Helder who has one of the best voices in music at the moment both powerful (see the Asian flavoured title track) and plantative. With Yatim and Gavin providing the rhythm section moving the songs from the moody rockers, to massive euphoric modern prog and tender ballads see All That We Are. The album peaks and troughs bringing in light and shade, working through the piano pop of Waterfall which could be a chart hit and ends the first half of the album excellently throwing in elements of jazz (Nothing New), funk, soul and obviously rock on every track to make a cacophony of sound and also vision. Panic Room have always been a band unafraid to push boundaries and means that every album is a varied and rewarding experience and Incarnate is no exception. 8/10    

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Hammerfest 2014

Hammerfest Hafan-Y-Mor Park North Wales

So once again the metal hordes descend upon North Wales for 3 nights of debauchery in a holiday park. This time it's the Haven in Hafan-Y-Mor Park that hosted the event and on side note it is a much better place to stay than the previous place in Prestatyn. Both stages were across from each other so seeing the bands was easy and the stages were a short walk from the chalets. So onto the important stuff:

Day 1 Thursday
Thursday was fuelled by cider and Sambuca so it was a bit of a blur however we did see some great bands that day.

Fury

First were traditional metallers Fury who's NWOBHM styled metal was well delivered and got the miniscule crowd there really getting into it, Fury were struggling with the early first day slot as many had either not checked in or were happy to stay in the accommodation for the set which is a shame because with songs such as Warrior's Prayer the band are really very good live. Still for those of us that ventured into the arena we were rewarded with some good quality metal. 7/10

Back then for a bit more drinking and then once more into the breach:

Death Valley Knights

Bit of an odd one this part hard rock, part European metal and lots of fun this leather clad troupe led the crowd through some boozy rock n roll that was the perfect start to the party. I didn't see much of the set but I would see them again based on what I saw the music was good the vocals were excellent and the atmosphere they create was intoxicating (in both senses). 7/10

Savage Messiah

So one more try for Savage Messiah a band that I have seen three times and three times I've been left unimpressed. This time they were touring their most recent album The Fateful Dark which is quite actually quite good. Live they were tight, full of thrash riffs, melodic solos and the voice of Dave Silver. The band have moved away from their total thrash roots on the album and this has translated to the live arena as they focussed more on their later stuff which means that they now sound a bit more like BFMV than say Testament. Still the crowd seemed to enjoy it and as I said the band performed excellently, they were the best I've ever seen them. 8/10

Day 2 Friday

So the second day and a late start heading into the main arena at 3 and going straight to main stage.

Shrapnel

A band that Paul saw at Bloodstock last year this was my first viewing of Shrapnel and bugger me they are good, super-fast, and super heavy and a wee bit scary. All wind milling hair, super speed guitar riffs from Nathan Sadd and Chris Martin, blast beats from Simon Jackson and the aggressive vocals of Jae Hadley. The riffs came thick and fast with all of the songs coming from their debut album (review pending) and in the live arena they really explode into life causing some early pits. With tracks like the Virus Conspires, Braindead, 22 and Titan the Norwich band had the crowd hanging on every lightning fast riff. A great surprise came near the end of the set when the band welcomed Metal Hammer writer (and member of Oaf) on stage for a rendition of Slayer's War Ensemble on which Lawson really let rip vocally (albeit the lyric sheet was needed, possibly due to alcohol ingestion) as Lawson left the stage the band finished the set with their own warhead which ended things as brutally as they had begun. Great way to start the day! 8/10

I missed Attica Rage but from what I heard they played their brand of heavy Motorhead-like rock to an enthusiastic crowd, Attica Rage are always guaranteed a warm welcome due to their position as the HRH/Hammerfest house band and their awesome live reputation. Still next up were:

Paragon

Now I know nothing about Paragon except that they are power metal band from Germany. Well as soon as they came on stage all leather and metal a huge smile came across my face from the opening of The Legacy this was Teutonic Metal at its best with Helloween and Accept thoroughly copied, still imitation is the best form of flattery. Although if I had to make a comparison I'd say they were a Germanic Saxon. In a whiz of metallic riffage, choreographed stage moves, strong, Biff Byford-like vocals and songs about war, death, fantasy and all the usual nonsense, Paragon managed to win the hearts of the crowd there. This was silly metal that had no real purpose other than to entertain, much like Freedom Call or Bloodbound I found the cheesiness of it all to be quite endearing, here is a band doing what they love an on tracks like frankly mental Tornado and the totally silly Impaler before Thunderstorm finished everything swimmingly (weather obsession maybe?). I would see Paragon again in heartbeat it was the perfect early evening fodder in readiness of what was to come. I knew nothing about Paragon before but now I think I need to hear what their back catalogue is like!! 8/10

A break a beer and back into the arena for what I knew was going to be a good one.

Grand Magus

It was this show that changed my view of Grand Magus forever. In my estimation they went for being a good metal band to a truly great one. With the pre-show track of Manowar's Hail To England (we were in wales but close enough I guess) ringing out and the Signs Of The Hammer were out in force and as the intro music hit a roar came from the largest crowd assembled all day. The three men strolled on and immediately burst into the killer riffage of Kingslayer and then followed it up with Sword Of The Ocean and I, The Jury which incited the first sing along of the set. what I love about Grand Magus is that they are not only great musicians they are also massively heavy live and also very humble each member having a beaming smile on their face throughout, as JB riffed like mad and sang his heart out, Fox provided the power on bass and Ludwig smashed the hell out of his kit! The band went into the massive epic shout along Raven's Guide Our Way and then sped things up with the little played The Shadow Knows, before playing three from their latest album including the epic title track before the final two songs came in the shape of the doomy Iron Will and the heavy as hell Hammer Of The North with its 'woah' refrain ringing out throughout the arena. I've never seen a band that are able to make so many metalheads ecstatically happy, much like Manowar Magus are rapidly becoming a cult band in the UK as their popularity here outstrips their popularity anywhere else. Fast, furious and suitably epic. Magus stole the show!! 10/10

A well needed rest after Magus had shredded my throat, I caught only the beginning of Soilwork but if I'm honest they do nothing for me at all so I went back to get some more fluid and food before the headliners Overkill

Overkill

New Jersey thrash mob Overkill have been doing this stuff since the 80's and were there from the beginning, never one of the Big 4 but one of the peripheral bands like Testament, Annihilator, Exodus, Forbidden and Death Angel that were possibly as good if not better than their more popular compatriots. From the outset of Come And Get It Overkill grabbed my attention with the awesome rhythm guitars Derek 'The Skull' Tailer making things fast and loud aided by Ron Lipnicki's furious drums, D.D Verni's galloping bass and the lead harmonies of Dave Linsk. Through Wrecking Crew and Electric Rattlesnake the band showed their mettle moving from thrash to straight up classic metal. However the major talking point for me was frontman Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth who has more energy than any frontman outside of Bruce Dickinson. He ran back and for the stage and was totally animated throughout the set, he is also a very funny guy putting on this hard man aura in all the between song banter. The songs spoke for themselves with Rotten To The Core, Ironbound, Hello From The Gutter and Necroshine all awesome songs that got the crowd moving although no track did this more than the Headbanger's Ball favourite Elimination (EEElimnination) which ended the main set before the encore consisted of Horrorscope and their awesome cover of Fuck You! by The Subhumans. This was a triumphant set that I loved as I always thought Overkill were straight up thrash but they mix lots of traditional metal in as well to vary things a bit. A great set from a band I would definitely see again! 9/10

So the first day was over and done with and even though I really wanted to see The Vintage Caravan a 2:30 finish time is not really something wanted so they will have to wait till another time. So off to bed for the last day.

Day 3 Saturday

Saturday came along quickly but again I started late (I'm not good at this early lark am I?) going in for Sound Storm

Sound Storm

So apparently Sound Storm are melodic/symphonic power metal band from Italy. I was interested as they only seemed to bring about 20 people to the main arena so I gave them a chance. So the band came on, guitar, bass, keys, drums and singer all the components and then it struck me why so few people saw them. They are dreadful, the music was very basic, the vocals were awful and the presence was terrible. I saw 1 and half songs and that was enough. I try not to be negative but there is no hope for Sound Storm. 0/10

Breed 77

Thankfully Breed 77 were next and they are at least better than Sound Storm, after a period of turmoil the band are on their Cultura 10th anniversary tour and they played a few choice cuts from that record but the set was much like the last time I saw them. The band drew mainly from their last 2 records and Cultura and mixed their Latin flavoured guitars with chunky metalcore. Paul Isola is a good frontman, his voice is not what it once was but it was his between song banter that got me. He went on little rant about how they've never been cool and that magazines like Kerrang or Metal Hammer never supported them, obviously not realising that it's called Hammerfest for a reason!! Still with a glut of big songs and a lot of energy the band made the hour they had go by quickly and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. Although the same strikes me now as it does on previous occasions, Breed 77 are band that do things by their own rules, sometimes to their own detriment. 7/10

Gloryhammer

The pace and the joy picked up a bit with Power metal loons Gloryhammer. Founded by Alestorm's Chris Bowes the band are the furthest away from pirates you can get, the band tell the tale of the mythical kingdom of Fife and when a set kicks off with all of the band in medieval style dress (Bowes is usually the evil wizard but forgot the costume so was instead a goblin) singing a song entitled...wait for it... The Unicorn Invasion Of Dundee. Madness then ensued with the band running through their debut telling the story of Angus McFife (epic lunged frontman Thomas Winkler) and his band of men as they fight the wizard. With tracks like the awesome Magic Dragon, Hail To Crail, Quest For The Hammer Of Glory and the 10 minute plus The Epic Rage Of Furious Thunder. This was like Evil Scarecrow meets Dragonforce with a bit of Manowar thrown in for good muscle. The band were excellent guitarist Paul Templing and Bowes played off each other brilliantly and Winkler's voice is truly something else he sounds just like he does on the record which is a feat for anyone. Gloryhammer again brought huge smiles all round and left everyone with a bit of euphoria much like Bowes rum drinking other band does. 8/10

I missed Monster Truck to see them in a more intimate (and sweaty) venue the following night so it was a gap to pack and then back into the arena for German Thrash Metal

Kreator

With a bigger stage set up than Overkill, one would think where the money was spent. German thrash veterans Kreator had their Phantom Antichrist set up out and with the intro of Mars Mantra the band stormed on stage and plunged straight into the relentless battery of riffage with Phantom Antichrist, From Flood Into Fire, Warcurse and Coma Of Souls/Endless Pain. The band have a no nonsense reputation and for the first part of the set there was little crowd interaction just bludgeoning with riff after riff from founder Mille Petrozza and Sami Yli-Sirnio. The band's style has always leant to the harder edged thrash style of Slayer and was one of the sounds instrumental to the early death metal bands. Pleasure To Kill and Hordes of Chaos came next with circle pits erupting everywhere, Petrozza only taking breaks to incite pits and walls of death during the tracks. The first half ended with Enemy Of God and Phobia the lights stayed off and the band walked off stage. This did stick in the throat a little as it seemed like they were going to finish very early but no back they came guitars in hand as Jürgen Reil put himself back behind his drums ready to abuse them again. The pits really started to get brutal now with Violent Revolution, United In Hate, People Of The Lie and Civilization Collapse making up this end again all delivered with laser like precision. However it all fell apart at the end as they came out yet again this time with Mille waving the flag of hate and after two false intros (which referenced Michael Jackson and Judas Priest) they finally played their most well-known song before finishing with Tormentor. For a band that doesn't say much this last part went on a bit too long and killed some of the momentum, they do what they do excellently, my only criticism is that it can all be a little too much, there is no variation it's like being beaten up (although not as much as those in the pit!) Still it was one of the highlights of the weekend and closed things with a bang! 9/10

Monday, 17 March 2014

World Of Metal 6: Human Decay, Marshroom, Trigant

Human Decay: Figli Di Dio (Self Released)

Human Decay are thrash band hailing from Italy and Figli Di Dio is their debut EP, it features three tracks of furious thrash with some technical guitar playing and lots of blast beat drumming topped with some deathy vocals. The band's lyrics are in Italian which is not a problem as most fo the time thrash is purely about the riffs and these are solid, Sperma Benedetto, Vampiri and Meschini Traditori have an old school feel of bands like Exodus and Forbidden mixing the thrash with the death vocals and the rough and ready production. With two speed metallers it's up to Meschini Traditori to end the album with a stomping riff to headbang to and by the time its over you can see that Human Decay have a lot of potential and talent that just needs to be harnessed. 7/10  

Marshroom: Kappelmesiter (Self Released)

So a trio made up of one girl and two guys that play hard rock? Sounded like an interesting prospect and as the rim hits of I Like It signal the intro to the bluesy hard rock style with some killer guitar from Vladimir, pulsing bass from Vyacheslav and drums from Yana. This is a band that have a mix of styles and like to mix it up throughout giving them a sound similar to System Of A Down with an off kilter, never quite sure what's going to happen sound. Case in point Mr Kokle which has a kazoo at the beginning and has a Beatles like madness about it before morphing into a Red Hot Chilli Peppers song with lots of funk bass/guitar and runs for over 11 minutes(!) changing style throughout. The two Razzamatazz tracks are very much the same track split into two and leads into Motley Limb which is a big jangly ballad. Marshroom really do throw a bit of everything in the pot to try and make it work and for the most part they do, yes the vocals are a bit weird, the production ranges from adequate to dire and the band are bit like Marmite you will either be taken in them or be totally put off. I'm in the former camp and thought they are doing something abit different and new to a lot of bands out there. 7/10


Trigant: Wolves EP (Self Released)

Trigant are from Germany and yes they play thrash however this isn't your normal Kreator, Destruction, Sodom fodder the band branch out a bit throwing in some groove metal ala Machine Head and Lamb Of God. See Wolves which has a driving percussive intro before the guitars kick in and get heads banging. The guitars of Benjamin and Robin Rechner are great with Benjamin really showing his skill on the melodic intro to Reflection and the drums of Daniel Rodenbuchter really anchors everything on Disembodied. So the music is good but still I haven't really taken to Trigant, this could be because of Peter's vocals which I just don't like (personal opinion I know) still like I said the music is good, the production is crisp and modern and the songwriting for riffs etc strong I just think with a better vocalist the band could be a lot better. 5/10

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Another Point Of View: Crowbar (Review By Paul)

Crowbar – The Garage, London

Hang The Bastard

I arrived too late to see openers Dripback but was in time to catch London based sludge outfit Hang The Bastard put in a 30 minute set which whilst mildly entertaining and certainly well received by the very healthy crowd did little for me. The band are tight with the low keyed down tuning sludge and stoner delivery that you would have expected on this bill. However, despite being a man mountain in size, vocalist Tomas Hubbard's delivery was pretty uninspiring. Little to no variation in pitch or style, and a general screech which made the actual lyrics indecipherable. After 20 minutes of this it all blurred into the same thing and I found my attention wandering. The rest of the band in a decent shift with energy from bassist Joe Nally the highlight (including some backing vocals) but I can't say I'd go and see them again. 5/10

Crowbar

The Garage was close to capacity for New Orleans sludge legends Crowbar. No intro tape required with these guys. Straight onto the stage with the intimidating founder and all round hero Kirk Windstein announcing “we've got good news and bad news”. “The good news is that we are Crowbar from New Orleans, the bad news is that we’re going to kick your ass”. And with that they launched straight into the brutal Conquering. As heavy as a troop of elephants dancing on your head in lead boots, Crowbar certainly don’t mess around. Windstein handles the front of stage with ease, the brooding heavy passages interspersed with the faster punky hardcore elements synonymous with the sludge and stoner movement. High Rate Extinction followed, one of three tracks from their self-titled album.  News of a new album were greeted with cheers from the crowd, although no new tracks were given an airing on the night. However, several tracks from Sever The Wicked Hand, their last ball crusher were spread through the set including the title track which was so heavy that I thought my liver had burst. A return to the debut album Obedience Through Suffering produced the rarely heard Vacuum, a mighty slab of sludge which in keeping with the rest of the evening, crashed through the floor. Whilst there is little in the way of guitar solos with this genre, Windstein and Matthew Brunson ensure that you are fully aware that they can play, laying down riff after riff whilst maintaining the low keyed tuned down delivery. Don’t think it’s all slow mind, as there are passages within several tracks that incite serious pit action. A devastating Liquid Sky and Cold Black Earth continued the aural assault, new boy Jeff Golden on bass keeping momentum and drive and linking well with drummer Tommy Buckley who was smacking seven shades out of the kit. This was a well-paced set with a steady increase in tempo leading to a climax of Cemetery Angels and set closer Let Me Mourn which was massively appreciated by the crowd who were roaring their approval from early in the set. Windstein referred to the band’s forthcoming appearance at BOA with some relish and promised a couple of new tracks in the set. It should be a good one if it is anything like this performance. 8/10

Friday, 7 March 2014

Reviews: Bigelf, Adrenaline Mob, Dark Forest, Savage Messiah

Bigelf: Into The Maelstrom (InsideOut Records)

Is this Bigelf or creative genius Damon Fox's solo album? That was what went through my mind as I read the liner notes, Fox handles the vocals, guitar, bass and most importantly the keyboards on the majority of the tracks with only bassist Duffy Snowhill remaining from the bands last incarnation and only appearing on a few tracks along with Luis Maldonado invited to "play some solos and add some colour" on the guitar. However for the most part it is Damon Fox flexing his twisted creative muscles on this album, he is aided and abetted on by musical Nomad Mike Portnoy on the drums and as usual Portnoy adds a huge amount of class to every track but never overshadows anything. So on to the album and as usual its a bit of a trip moving through, Beatles like pop-psychedelia, Sabbath doom, propulsive organ driven prog and even a bizarre carnival atmosphere throughout with wurlitzers and organs driving all of the songs. With the Incredible Time Machine Fox starts things off with a creepy lurching song with a sugar sweet verse and ominous chorus and then time shifts (wink wink nudge nudge) into a fuzzy dreamy final section, summing up Bigelf's sound in one 4 minute song, next is the science fiction inspired Hypersleep which has sludgy main riff punctuated by some synths and features Fox's unique vocals before things shift again into a space rock freak out worthy of Hawkwind. The album carries on like this through 12 tracks taking you on a magical mystical tour through Fox's mind from the sitar based rock of The Professor And The Madman, the heavy metal Vertigod and Theater Of Dreams which doesn't sound like Portnoy's former band but rather his inspiration John, Paul, George and Ringo, the most telling of all the tracks is the driving Control Freak which possibly explains why Fox has gone all Steven Wilson on us. This yet another excellent album from Bigelf who shows that really it doesn't matter if the album is just him as he is Bigelf. Welcome to his world! 9/10 

Adrenaline Mob: Men Of Honor (Elm City Music)

So I'll say this now, despite the critical beating it took form the music press, I quite enjoyed the first Adrenaline Mob album. In the interim between the first and this second album the band have lost Mike Portnoy (see Bigelf & Transatlantic and Winery Dogs for some reasons why) and in his place have put A.J Pero from Twisted Sister, so not the supergroup they once were only ex-Disturbed man John Moyer and Symphony X's Russell Allen remain in the A-List talent bracket. So what is the album like? Well it's your strict meat and potatoes metal, the riffs are heavy and melodic and the lyrics are chest beating and misogynistic, this is the sort of music Nickelback strive for when they are not trying to write arena ballads. Case in point is the opener Mob Is Back which sounds a lot like Burn It To The Ground with slightly better guitar playing from Mike Orlando. Unfortunately the album doesn't get much better than this, the band seem to be pooling their collective talents and driving in cruise control, this is American radio rock at it's simplest, Dearly Departed is The Foo Fighters, Behind These Eyes is a big Def Leppard like ballad. Maybe I'm getting old but this album disappoints me, it is far below their collective talents, yes I did like the first album as for a one off it was quite a breath of fresh air for all those concerned however it did strike me as a one-time thing and on this sophomore album they prove it by showing no advancement at all. Back to the day jobs I think guys! 4/10

Dark Forest: The Awakening (Cruz Del Sur Music)

Dark Forest are a old school metal band bringing NWOBHM to the modern era. Hailing from the the West Midlands (the spiritual home of metal) the band have all the hallmarks of Iron Maiden and bands of the early 80's along with revivalists like Cauldron. The first thing strikes you is the guitar playing of Christian Horton and Patrick Jenkins which is superb bringing the dual guitar riffage of Murray and Smith/Gers aided by the smashing drums of Adam Sidway and the galloping bass of Paul Thompson. However despite the strength of tracks like The Awakening, Turning Of The Tides, Secret Commonwealth and the rousing closer Sons Of England the band have one weak link and that is the vocals of Josh Winnard who despite having a bit of puff in the higher sections, he is flat for the rest of the time, his voice really is not my cup of tea, maybe it's because most bands of this ilk have a vocalist that can at least sing (albeit some can't hit the notes) not the other way around that seems to be the case with Dark Forest. I was looking forward to some good quality British metal and musically the band pull it off it's just that voice that grates on me so badly. My advice is listen to the album and see what you think but for me the album that could have been so much better if they had just changed one little thing. 5/10

Savage Messiah: The Fateful Dark (Earache)

So four albums into their career Savage Messiah still have a point to prove and they go some way to proving it on The Fateful Dark from the intro of Iconocaust  they channel Metallica's arena heroics before the main riff kicks in and its all guns blazing with the super fast thrash riffage of Joff Bailey and Dave Silver which is driven by the face crushing rhythm section of Stefano Selvatico's bass and Andrea Gorio's double kick frenzy and mixes the razor sharp riffage with lots of melodic passages. This trend continues with the fist pounding Minority Of One which has a killer solo in the middle and also shows how good Silver's vocals have become since their debut, he has his own unique delivery that suits the band's modern thrash style. I've been calling Savage Messiah a thrash band but they do bring in traditional metal to the proceedings as well with Cross Of Babylon having the sound of latter period Judas Priest and Hellblazer is prime power metal and Live As One Already Dead is a Megadeth style power ballad. In fact the 10 tracks on this album are full of power and passion packed with killer riffs face melting solos and lots of heavy bottom end all topped by Silver's strong vocals and the crystal clear production. This is a seriously good album, definitely Savage Messiah's best release and it will go some way to push them up into the upper echelons of the British metal scene. 8/10  

Monday, 3 March 2014

Reviews: Majesty, Klogr, Tides Of Sulfur

Majesty: Banners High (NoiseArt Records)

Lets lay it down now before we start, that Majesty (no not the band that were to become Dream Theater) sound like Manowar, a lot like Manowar, in fact if anything they are blatant copyists. The rampant drumming, galloping bass, face melting guitars and soaring vocals, coupled with swords and sorcery lyrics mean that the German band have all the loin-clothed bravado of the American 'True Metal' creators. Indeed the band themselves changed their name to Metalforce for one album and signed to Magic Circle Music before returning to Majesty and Massacre records shortly after. So yes the band do sound like Manowar but putting that aside the band play with passion and power, with the dual guitars adding the Maiden-like harmonies to the songs about battle and war that are filled with solos galore and has founder member Tarek Maghary leading the charge so to speak with his Eric Adams-esque vocals which soar above the true metal music. This is metal (or at least Manowar) by numbers mainly but if you like your metal muscular, powerful, slightly cheesy and at least half naked and trussed up with leather, then you will like Majesty's sixth album and you will bang your head, draw your broadsword and grab your war axe to tracks like the frenetic We Want His Head, the sing along Banners High and the anthems United By Freedom and Take Me Home all of which sound like they could be on Kings Of Metal or Battle Hymns. If all this sounds like your idea of hell then I'd give Majesty a wide berth, however for everyone else that ignores the fact this is Manowar, it is a fun sixth album from the Germans. 6/10

Klogr: Black Snow (Zeta Factory/Believe)

Now this is going to be a hard one, Klogr (pronounced kay-log-are) are an alternative metal band from Italy and America, their name comes from the law of Weber-Fechner, which is known as the fundamental psycho-physical relationship (S = K log R). (So now you know) Anyway back to the task at hand and musically the band are labelled as alternative metal and that they are with elements of A Perfect Circle, Tool and modern bands of their ilk, the band have down tuned metallic riffs with some dreamy harmonies, the bass intro of Zero Tolerance opens the track up for the riffage Giampi and Rusty who bring some strong riffs to the track with Rusty also bringing a wide vocal range with shouts and a harmonic clean vocal that sounds a lot like APC and Tool's Maynard. The band then move into the percussive, radio friendly Refuge which should blow up on American FM channels. This seems to the style of the album with chunky metallic downtuned riffs, angry vocals and lots of alternative attitude, so they have enough melody to appeal to those that like the Alter Bridge set but also enough power to tour with Prong (which they are currently doing). The band have a sound that is similar to a lot of bands but a sound that is very much their own mixing the bands previously mentioned with some of the ballads coming off like Bullet For My Valentine (Heart Breathing) and others full of the angst and heaviness shown by NIN albeit without the electronic influences, see Hell Of Income, then the band will move into an almost Deftones area on Room To Doubt before leaving things on the almost Katatonia like dreamscape of Ambergais. The songs are powerful and draw from the American style of alternative metal bands, the production is crisp and makes the songs sound very punchy. This is a grower of an album that after a few plays will open itself up into one of the most intelligent and cerebral albums this year so far. Watch out as Klogr are about to make a huge impact. 8/10

Tides Of Sulfur: Eternal Bleeding Demo (Self Released)

Cardiff noise merchants Tides of Sulfur have obviously adopted the 'music as a weapon' approach to their debut demo. The demo is made up of three tracks each of which are heavy sludge-like metal with screamed vocals from bassist Chris Bull who brings the bowel rupturing bottom end as well as the demon like guttural roars and banshee screams that punctuate the riff assault of Anthony O'Shea who tries his best to make your ears bleed, both men are anchored in their assault by the drums of Tom Lee who smashes the hell out of his kit. The band have lots in common with sludge masters Crowbar as well as throwing in some Neurosis for good measure. From the opening tolling bells, which moves into the killer intro from O'Shea and then the heavy as a hammer bass driven main riff Grimace starts things off nicely and then moves straight into the sledgehammer doom of Walk With The Living before finishing off with the stomach rumbling of the title track which is slow and ominous in the classic Sabbath style. This is a classy debut and is very well produced for a demo, the roughness of it lending to the violent, evil sounding songs. If you want some serious brain rattling from a new metal band then look no further than Tides Of Sulfur. 8/10  

Reviews: Hatriot, Freedom Call, Vanden Plas (Reviewed By Paul)

Hatriot: Dawn Of The New Centurion (Massacre Records)

The latest project of long standing thrash veteran Steve Souza basically grabs you in the nuts, kicks seven shades of shit out of you and leaves through the back door whilst you regain your breath. This is a full-on 80s thrash fest from start to finish. This is the second full album from Hatriot, following quickly on the heels of 2013’s Heroes of Origin debut. Clearly, subtle isn't a word that exists in the Souza vocabulary as opener My Cold Dead Hands comes straight at you, with multiple shredding and Souza’s trademark vocals which left a huge influence on Exodus after Paul Baloff between 1986 and 1993 immediately grabbing the attention. Indeed, the comparisons with his former band are impossible to exclude. Driving drums and bass with the dual guitars of Kosta Vavatakis and Miguel Esparza ripping back and fore dominate the opener and the massive Testament sounding Your Own Worst Enemy before a slight easing of tempo during The Fear Within. Souza’s vocals were always a bit marmite-like. Personally, I like the guttural growl he uses; not only does he possess one of the most recognisable vocal styles in thrash, but you can usually get the gist of what he is singing too. This is quality musicianship with the drumming of Cody Souza particularly notable throughout the album and outstanding on Honour In The Rise and Fall which powers through like an express train. Ridiculous title award goes to Superkillafragsadisticactsaresoatrocious which could comfortably slot in to the Exodus back catalogue; massive hooks, soaring solos and chanting chorus combine to really give this the old school feel and even comes with the chanting of “Free Pussy Riot” in the fade which gives you an idea of the track’s lyrical meaning. The title track is the album’s stand out song, with Souza opening up with a trademark scream before a slow build up, full of groove and hook, with the track layering sweetly and increasing in strength and speed as it moves to the crescendo with increased tempo and some powerful fretwork from Vavatakis and Esparza. This track briefly allows you to catch your breath before the full throttle onslaught takes hold. Fans of Testament, Exodus, Violence, Kreator and even Onslaught should really get on the outside of this album. Yes, it has been done before; no, it’s not groundbreaking but if you love a bit of old school thrash in the Bay Area tradition then this is for you. 8/10

Freedom Call: Beyond (SPV/Steamhammer)

A bit like Hatriot, the eighth album from the German Power Metal outfit Freedom Call contains few surprises. Opener Union of the Strong absolutely stinks of Helloween circa 1986 but is delivered in exactly the way you want your German power metal to be. Harmonies galore, rapid fire drumming, squeaky vocals and solos coming at you from every angle. Knights of Taragon follows the same pattern, sword and sorcery lyrical content and some interesting use of trumpet style synths adds to the mix. Chris Bay’s vocals are exactly what you would expect, following the Michael Kiske blueprint of high pitched almost falsetto delivery at times alongside an almost narrative delivery at times. Heart of a Warrior continues in the same vein, rampaging along with the powerful drumming of new man Ramy Ali combining with Ilker Ersin on bass. The guitars of Bay and Lars Rettkowitz deliver some intricate and detailed fretboard action throughout. The Maidenesque Come on Home contains the brilliantly delivered line “Bang Your Head or Die” before drifting into a sing-along ala United by Judas Priest. The title track opens with piano and a string section with Bay doing his best Dickinson impression before off we gallop again. This is quite simply great fun and for those who have seen these guys on stage, you'll know that they are an absolute scream live. Beyond contains 14 tracks and the edition I have also has a second disc of live and unplugged tracks which unfortunately don't always portray Bay’s vocals in the best light but even so you certainly get your money’s worth. This album has more cheese in it than Madame Fromage's specialty Cheese Shop, and by the time you get to Follow Your Heart with its saccharine sweet harmonic choruses you'll have either broken out in a big grin and a massive hope that these guys will appear at BOA again or you’ll have put Hatriot on repeat to cleanse your system. I’m somewhere in the middle with power metal. However, this album is well constructed and sticks very close to a formula that works. 7/10

Vanden Plas: Chronicles Of The Immortals - Netherworld (Path 1) (Frontier Records)

Germanic progressive metallers Vanden Plas latest release is a marmite album with no middle ground. You'll either love this or absolutely hate it. The band’s former works have developed themes from the world of fantasy with lashings of progressive overtones and this one moves even more into that realm being a collaboration with multi-million selling fantasy author Wolfgang Holhbein and based on his Chronicles of the Immortals books. Opener Vision One sets the scene with a narrative from Dave Esser and heartfelt vocals from the unfortunately named Andy Kuntz (yes, cousin of German Footballer Stefan) before the band launch into the real opener Vision Two – The Black Knight; an eight minute plus epic that has drawn massively from Dream Theater in both composition and structure. Several changes of tempo and excellent musicianship with intricate interplay between Gunter Werno’s keyboards and Stephan Lill’s guitar work surge through this piece which reaches a crescendo with a choir adding backing vocals. You get the picture. The remainder of the album is broken down into a further eight ‘Visions’ with the story developing around a boy who is different and feels no-one understands him. Kuntz’s vocals are solid and impressive with a decent range on display. Vision Three – Godmaker continues in a similar vein albeit slightly shorter, and again it is the Dream Theater comparison that instantly comes to mind. Vision Four – Misery Affection Prelude introduces female vocals and segues neatly into Vision Five – A Ghost’s Requiem where the pace is much slower with piano and strings delivering a sombre atmosphere. The theatrical element of this album is unsurprising given the background that the band have in theatre, and this contributes massively to the way the album flows with huge classical elements complementing the regular changes in tempo and direction. Most of the tracks on the album rock in at six minutes plus but throughout the constant change in styles and delivery mean that you are rarely distracted and attention is maintained. This is an album crafted with delicacy and no little beauty. Highlights for me were Vision Seven – The King and the Children of the Lost World which is again crafted elegantly and combines heavy passages with much lighter elements. The album closes with Vision Ten – Inside, a six minute conclusion to the story which maintains the intricate and delicious balance of light and dark interplay that runs throughout the album. Definitely one of the albums of the year if you like progressive metal with huge classical overtones and a big production. If you don't, steer well clear. I’m in the former camp. It’s a damn fine release. 9/10