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Saturday, 10 May 2014

Reviews: Prong, Black Stone Cherry, Insomnium (Review By Paul)

Prong – Ruining Lives (SPV)

Legendary New Yorkers Prong return with one of the definitive musical statements of 2014. This album is the musical equivalent of the book that is impossible to put down. It is so addictive you’d swear it was laced with crack. Following 2012’s Carved in Stone, Ruining Lives kicks off at breakneck speed, machine gun style drumming, huge beefy riffs and Tommy Victor’s distinctive clean vocals propel through opener Turnover. The tempo doesn't let up at any point with the mix of styles that have made Prong’s distinctive sound. The fusion of hard-core, punk, metal, thrash and a large slab of industrial all combine to provide some stunning performances. Remove, Separate Self has all the hallmarks of a classic, smashing along in rapid time and laced with a hook so catchy you might need to check in at the STD clinic afterwards. Indeed, this album has hooks galore throughout; so many that the rest of the metal world may well have a drought for the rest of the year. Victor produced this album and has done a great job, with the vocal delivery in particular outstanding. Title track Ruining Lives is an angst ridden delivery, with more massive riffs and drumming pounding throughout. The sound is huge, powerful and menacing. The band that brought you Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck, one of the metal genres ultimate riffs, do it again on Absence of Light, which has possibly the most groove and hook on the entire album. For a three piece, this is an astonishing piece of work, Victor’s guitar work never over exaggerated but incredibly effective whilst Tony Campos on bass and Alexei Rodriguez (drums) provide the most solid rhythm section. Rodriguez’s drumming is very impressive, in particular on the total thrash out The Book of Change, which is likely to turn the hallowed turf at Catton Hall into a dust bowl or mud bath depending on the weather. There is not a bad track on this album. It grabs you by the nuts, throws you around for the best part of 40 minutes before leaving you in a gasping heap. Snap your fucking neck indeed. 9/10

Black Stone Cherry – Magic Mountain (Roadrunner)

Kentucky outfit BSC’s highly anticipated fourth album Magic Mountain is another large helping of sing-a-long arena rock with the Southern tinge that we've come to expect. Opener Holding On … To Letting Go is a galloping rocker with which on first impression suggest that this album may well be a bit heavier than the band’s last release, Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Rapid drumming from John Fred Young and some killer guitar work from Chris Robertson and Ben Wells provide a balls out track. The band then revert to type with Peace Pipe, a more traditional style BSC track full of multiple harmonies. Bad Luck & Hard Love highlights the impressive vocals of Chris Robertson, which combines some intricate guitar playing and a good helping of riffs. Of course, BSC’s entire sound is built on the fact that all four members of the band contribute vocally in the tradition of the best Southern boogie bands. Magic Mountain is likely to propel BSC to the next level. Second stage headliners at Download in 2013 and arena tour this autumn indicate the direction that this band are heading. Catchy first single Me and Mary Jane has anthem written all over it, and has been provided with sufficient exposure on the likes of Planet Rock and Team Rock to ensure that we will all be singing along in the horrible Motorpoint Arena come October. Runaway is possibly my least favourite track on the album. Full of cheese and sickly harmonies, this is a real lighters aloft track and sits alongside Things My Father Said as the tracks that the whole arena will sing along to when the band lower the tempo during gigs. Title track Magic Mountain is a different story altogether, much more in your face but with an incredibly catchy hook on the chorus. It leads nicely into the second half of the album, driving forward at some pace. And it is the second part of the album where things begin to hot up. Never Surrender is a decent rock and roll track with some trademark BSC guitar work. Sometimes bring the tempo right back down; a delicate acoustic piece that really allows Robertson to release one of his best ever vocal performances. I shall probably use it to have a pee when we see them mind! The remaining tracks (there are 13 on this album – it is VFM for sure) are pretty much standard BSC fare. The usual stomping anthemic delivery with their trademark sound. And that’s not a bad thing. All in all this is a decent offering and one that will cement BSC’s place in the arena rock division alongside the likes of Alter Bridge and Nickelback. 7/10

Insomnium – Shadows Of The Dying Sun (Century Media)

Melodic death metal - a bit of an oxymoron at times right? Have you ever tried to explain to someone who isn’t a metal fan what the genre actually is? Is it the combination of growling and clean vocals? The all out thrash combined with huge hooks and melody? Or is it easier to hand them a copy of an album by Insomnium? Well, Shadows of the Dying Sun is probably THAT album. The long awaited follow up to 2011’s excellent One For Sorrow, Shadows of the Dying Sun could well be a melodic death metal masterpiece. Opening track The Primeval Dark is incredibly atmospheric, building slowly with Niilo Sevanen’s growling vocals and seguing seamlessly into While We Sleep, a six minute epic which ebbs and flows. Clean vocals; yep. Perfect. Death growls; oh yeah. They are all present and correct. While We Sleep contains sweeping hooks, breakneck drumming, soaring guitar solos and driving rhythm. It also contains deliciously sweet break downs with acoustic elements and whispered vocals. Revelation continues the delivery, with a gentle introduction before blast beats and manic riffing kick in, and then back to the more gentle delivery. This is an album full of contrasts and massive technical ability. Listen to any Wintersun opus and you’ll have the exact idea. The dual guitars of Markus Vanhala (superb metal name!) and Ville Friman complement each other perfectly whilst Sevanen’s bass work combines with Markus Hirvonen’s majestic drumming to propel the Finns through each track. However, unlike Swedish compatriots In Flames, Insomnium have more hooks and much more melody. These guys can write songs that you don’t forget quickly and this is a real grower of an album. Black Heart Rebellion clocks in at a shade over seven minutes, but you don’t notice that as you are drawn into the intricate construction and power. At times sheer brutal thrash, at times intricate and gentle, yet always with harmony and riffs. Black Heart Rebellion could be the stand out track on this release … until you get to The River which really gets the heart pumping with its power and pomp. Another long one, this time just under eight minutes, Sevanen’s vocals focus on the death growl for the majority but that fits perfectly. Time changes galore, thunderous drumming and once again riffs delivered in such abundance you’d think they were going out of fashion. (Riffs out of fashion for metal? Discuss!) Ephemeral is an out and out thrasher, and then you get yet another epic, The Promethean Song which is beautifully constructed with a deliciously fragile middle section and chorus framed by the more aggressive elements. The title track is also the album closer and is another outstanding track. In a year that has already delivered some absolutely stunning work, this rightly stands alongside the best. 10/10

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