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Monday, 29 September 2014

The View From The Back Of The Room: Anathema

Anathema Thekla, Bristol

Gig season is in full swing and here was another opportunity to see pure class in Bristol. On to Thekla and into it's hull (yes non local folks it's a boat!) where the support band were already in full swing, much of the lateness was my fault (I will make sure to check all sport fixtures in future!) Still with drink in hand a move towards the front was called for.

Mother's Cake

Austrian rocker's Mother's Cake were in full swing there brand of funk-laden progressive rock was already tripping the huddled masses with their psychedelic preferences. The band did have a sound similar to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers playing Mars Volta songs, yes that is as bad or good as it sounds whatever your preference. Mother's Cake are a good band however they did seem a little out of place as the openers for Anathema, maybe on a rockier more stoner rock bill they would be better suited but for all their talent they did just seem like they had turned up at the wrong gig. 6/10

Anathema

Soon it was time for the main event and the Liverpool six-piece came on to the stage and The Lost Song, Part 1 burst into life with the orchestral keys, mechanical drumming, Vince Cavanagh's amazing vocals all working together to build the song up to it's magnificent crescendo before coming crashing down into The Lost Song, Part 2 which showcases Lee Douglas's ethereal and mesmerizing vocals, so two songs in and the bar was set, the opening salvo of their latest album was going to be the first two shots across the bows that would lead into a magical night. The packed (and incredibly warm) crowd took a collective breath as the first two tracks ended, before the clean acoustic playing of Danny Cavanagh signalled Untouchable, Part 1 a cheer went up from the crowd as Vincent again drew the crowd into his love lost world backed by some sumptuous musicianship. With the three Cavanagh brothers fielding the guitars, Vincent on rhythm, the luxuriously maned Jamie on bass and the excitable Danny on lead guitars, keyboards and piano, they are aided by Daniel Cardoso on drums and the multi talented John Douglas on keys, drums and percussion, his wife Lee provided the final part of the vocal harmonies with Vincent and Danny. Again they hit the crowd straight in the heart with Untouchable Part 2 which is a truly affecting track and all but polished off the over heating, over emotional crowd only four songs in. The piano-led orchestral song is a showstopper that will bring a tear to the eye of even the most hardened Slayer fan. Again a break, a sniff of tears and into the electronic almost Floydian pulse of Thin Air, the band give a masterclass in light and shade as they once again follow the upbeat with the emotionally shattering. This time it was the piano-centric ambient Ariel which holds particular emotional significance to me and I will admit I found it hard to listen, which is a testament to both Anathema's songwriting and live delivery, their music is all encompassing drawing you in and not releasing you until the final notes have rung out. Ariel was the first of three songs from Distant Satellites with the dark electronica of The Lost Song, Part 3 following Ariel and the finale of three coming with the bands self titled track Anathema. The final part of the main set brought the mood into the lower reaches with The Beginning Of The End being a plaintive piano led piece that once again builds into a mighty guitar solo. The orchestral influence of Universal washes over you as the piano-led final section dives straight into the EDM of Closer which features vocoadered vocals and was a bit of a change of pace and sound to finish the main set. More electonica with Distant Satellites to start the encore off, into the longing of A Natural Disaster before the finale of the classic Fragile Dreams. Anathema are a band that ware you out, the sheer majesty of their music leaves you physically and emotionally drained as you have been plunged into despair and raised to near euphoria for the entire set. My one complaint would be certain members of the audience who were (in my opinion) quite rude during the quieter more reflective parts still people can't be helped and Anathema just played ignoring anything that could interfere with them casting their musical magic. A frankly amazing show from a band that are something a bit special, see them on tour as soon as possible! Majestic! 10/10     

   

Friday, 26 September 2014

World Of Metal 18: Craving, Selene, Stonewitch

Craving: At Dawn (Apostasy Records)

I've already reviewed Craving's debut on this blog and was impressed by their blend of black metal and folk. It was good album, a little rough around the edges but overall a nice blast of melodic metal with cookie monster vocals. At Dawn continues in the vein of it's predecessor but has improved sonically with better production meaning that all the instruments are sharp, crisp and obviously loud. Yet again this is a melodic black metal with lots of Celtic and folk influences, see the acoustic minstrel guitar in the middle of opening track Mik as well as on epic sounding Targaryen Wrath which is has a real folk vibe to it and features the guitar prowess of Chris Caffery who adds some solo flourishes on this track. Again the overriding influence on this album would be that of Amon Amarth, the band have your excellent head pummelling blast beat drumming from Maik Schaffstädter, the bass gallop of Leonid Rubinstein, the twin guitar attack of Thorsten Flecken and Ivan Chertov who shred very well at an almost supersonic speed and solo faster! Chertov also provides the multi-lingual gutteral roars, scream and chants, the songs are sung in English Breath After Breath, German; the 8 minute In Die Nacht Hinein and also in Russian with Olga. For the most part as I've said the band are Celtic/Black Metal at their heart but the band do add numerous elements to their sound, from the symphonic touches on Schwarze Flügel through, thrash/death passages and ending with some classic metal rhythms. All in all this is another great metal record from the German mob! 8/10  

Selene: Paradise Over (Self Released)

So with all the symphonic female fronted metal bands around it is always hard to stand out. How then, do Northern Ireland's Selene favour? Well from the first track you can hear that this is more than your usual symphonic metal fayre, the guitars and keys of band leader John Connor are from the Kamelot or Sonata Arctica school of music with powerful, punchy guitar riffs, sublime solos and pulsing keys. First track Facing The Mirror is the best example of this as it opens the album up an moves at a great pace, second track Not Enough is your standard operatic ballad on which Shonagh Lyons really shows off her excellent set of pipes, she sings much like Tara Turnen or Simone Simmons but with a definite Irish lilt which is very appealing and distances her from many of the other female operatic singers. Back to the EP and the title track ramps up the speed and also the orchestral nature as it has the blast beats of Cameron Ashlund-Glass (also of Darkest Era). In fact the last couple of tracks are very rocky indeed before all of that stops at the end with Hourglass Fading which is an overwrought, emotional song that brings to mind Evanescence with it's simple piano backing. A good EP that could be the start of something very good for Selene, a nice little taster of things to come. 7/10

Stonewitch: The Godless (Self Released)

French doomsters Stonewitch play slow, brooding, down-tuned doom metal in the style of old school Sabbath , Cathedral and Saint Vitus. This EP is only 5 songs long but it feels much longer with every song full of big doom riffs. The band are made up of a singer and two guitarists, so where the drumming comes from is anyone guess, the band are good and the vocals are bellowed rather than sung which always helps in doom. However you do get the feeling you've heard all this before, which maybe because you have a fair few times, that's not say it isn't well delivered or indeed bad it just means that it is all a bit samey, its your standard doom fair which does little to reinvent what has come before or indeed what the big hitters of the genre do. Unfortunately this is mid level doom fit for dingy pubs and hardcore heshers only. 6/10

Monday, 22 September 2014

Review: Robert Plant, Slash, Lenny Kravitz

With all the new music around sometimes you have to go back to the old school, so this review contains three new albums from the Old Guard of rock.

Robert Plant: Lullaby And...The Ceaseless Roar (Nonesuch/Warner Bros)

The word Legend is thrown around a lot in press circles, well if one man fits the bill it is Robert Plant, he is a musician who doesn't need any preamble, you know who he is and what he's done (both on and off stage) so there is no need to dwell on that. What also puts him in legendary status is the fact that where as many of his time are novelty/tribute acts Plant strives to reinvent himself on every album, drawing from his wide influences to create new interesting music. There was his critically acclaimed album with Alison Krauss, a return to his folk roots with the Band Of Joy and now with a 'new' band The Sensational Space Shifters he reinvents himself again (well slightly). I wrote this last sentence with some ambiguity as the majority of the members in the The Sensational Space Shifters were in his pre Krauss band Strange Sensation, Plant recorded two albums with this band the best being the excellent Mighty Re-Arranger which is actually one of my favourite Plant solo albums. Much like that album was mix of conventional rock, mixed with electronica and world music, Lullaby..... harnesses the electronic and World Music elements with a lot of pulsing beats coming from John Baggott's keys, synths as well as Billy Fuller's bass playing and drum programming, they are augmented by Dave Smith's real drums, Justin Adams and Liam 'Skin' Tyson's guitars and various string instruments and Judleh Camara's traditional Gambian instrumentation. The banjo driven Little Maggie starts the album off this traditional song is bolstered by a trip-hop drum loop and the Riti (single string bow) of Camara. Plant doesn't roar on this album he plays it cool and collected but also tender and raw. This is an album of rediscovery, after living in America for the last few years it's Plant bringing back his Celtic and African influences again. Rainbow is features some guitars as well as all manner of percussion encompassing djembe, bendir, tabal. The surf-like feel of Pocketful Of Golden takes you away on a wave before the African feel to Embrace Another Fall is full of smoky atmospherics and lilting vocals of Welsh singer Julie Murphy as the track builds towards the end, Turn It Up is a rockier fair. For the most part though this is an album that is a superb mix of folk, rock, trance and world music all delivered in style by the multi-instrumentalist musicians with the added joy of THAT voice, no it's not the storm summoning howl of his younger years but at 66 he has no need to show off and even on the understated vocal on this album, his recent live shows prove he can still hits notes men half his age can't. Another great album from this music legend and one that feels to be the spiritual follow up to Mighty Re-Arranger and also it feels like Percy has come home. 9/10                 

Slash: World On Fire (Dik Hayd International)

So the 3 solo from Mr Hudson better known as Slash is upon us and yet again it comes as part of Team Rock 'fan pack' featuring the 17 track album along with other collectible stuff. So what does the album sound like? Well...its sounds like Slash, it's full of his loose hipped, slithering riffs and his easy, fleet fingered soloing. It's also full of recycling, many of the riffs sound a bit too much like G'N'R for my liking, see Shadow Life which sounds like Welcome To The Jungle on the intro, Withered Delilah has that G'N'R vibe too, in fact getting away from that sound will always be hard for the man who pioneered it but it's when he really does get away from it that are the best songs, the title track is the perfect example of this as is the speedy Automatic Overdrive, the hard rocking Wicked Stone, the Hendrix baiting Stone Blind and the Metallica style Beneath The Savage Sun. Still he does revert to type too many times for my liking, see the Paradise City-style drum intro to 30 Years To Life. Because of this Slash is lucky he has superb backing band in The Conspirators, with Todd Kerns bass work mirroring the virtuosity of Slash's guitar work, the cowbell happy percussion of Brent Fitz and of course the ultra versatile voice of Myles Kennedy who is equally comfortable as himself on the ballad Bent To Fly, Axl Rose or indeed Scott Weiland (yes there are of course VR influences on the album too). The production too is in Slash's favour as Michael Baskette's knob twiddling means that everything sounds HUGE, which after 17 tracks can get tire you out as the wall of sound just pummels you on every song, taking a lot of the light and shade out of the record. Still this is the modern way of doing it and it doesn't really deter from the album too much. The album is long, nearly 80 minutes and yes there is some filler, instrumental Safari Inn isn't needed. This album has got the quality that is lent to anything with Slash's name (don't mention Snakepit) still it's nothing new, it was always going to sound like Slash and his legacy and it does, many of the songs will sound familiar but there is enough differentiation to keep it at least a little fresh. Three solo albums in and the Cat In The Hat is still producing the quality you've all heard before. 8/10   

Lenny Kravitz: Strut (Roxie Records)

Lenny Kravitz has had a career of two halves really his early career gave him huge chart success with many praising his mix of funk, blues and rock. Like the musical love child of Stevie Wonder, Nile Rodgers, Prince and Jimi Hendrix, Kravitz has always been an individual but his latter day albums have not been the commercial success of his early works, but they have been critically acclaimed showing that the man has gotten better with age and maturity. Well straight out of the blocks comes Sex a funky guitar driven track, with a hand-clap percussion that is pure Purple One, Kravitz is on fine vocal form, his soulful vocals pining for promiscuity. First single The Chamber has the bass-led, staccato guitar disco of Chic or Parliament (In fact it closely resembles Hot Chocolate's Everyone's A Winner). It is here that you can also hear how talented Kravitz is as all the instrumentation you hear is Kravitz, from the drums, through the keys and guitars and even the production is him and a sterling job he does all round. Dirty White Boots is a big, dirty rocker filled with some killer guitar work. In fact nearly all of the 14 tracks on this album are impressive from the swaggering, saxophone fuelled paean to his home town New York City, the soulful brass led ballad The Pleasure And The Pain and the title track which could be the sequel to Cameo's Word Up. There are some weaker tracks with Happy Birthday being a nice distraction but little more. Kravitz's tenth solo album is one that harks back to his retro modern vibe but also keeps him in the musical conciousness. Kravitz has always been immensely talented but underrated, however this album (and indeed his previous 2) is just prime funk/soul/rock at its best. 8/10      

Sunday, 21 September 2014

World Of Metal 17: Wild Rose, Never Awake, Tides Of Sulfur

Wild Rose: Hit 'N' Run (AOR Blvd Records)

You can tell what Wild Rose sound like from their name and their record label, they are pure AOR with huge keyboard hooks, melodic guitars and strong emotional vocals. Hailing from Greece Wild Rose take you back to the time of Foreigner, Journey and Styx with the lush, saccharine keys of Dirty Haris that kick off Through The Night continue on I'll Be There which also features some great guitar playing from main man Andy Rock who along with Tiny Karpo do their best Mick Jones/Neal Schon throughout. They are being backed by the rock solid rhythm section of Phil Gun and Dimos Thomaidis on bass and drums respectively before the entire (glacé) cherry is the Sammy Hagar-like voice of Brit David A. Saylor, his voice is at it's best on the ballads, especially the sickly Without Your Love. For many this album will be reviled due to the fact that it is pure AOR cheese, some may dismiss it as lightweight or throwaway, but this is very good album the songs are very strong and they are the epitome of the genre they represent, the songs are great with pulsing rockers that have a poppy radio friendly edge and the heart wrenching ballads that make up the record. The solo's sizzle from the fretboard, the keys evoke those memories of headbands and leg warmers and the vocals are soulful but have a gritty quality too. There will be detractors of Wild Rose's third album and opinion will be split (especially here at the Musipedia) but Hit 'N' Run is a great AOR album and I've always had a soft spot for AOR meaning that I personally like the album a lot, 8/10

Never Awake: Underground (Self Released)

Never Awake are a progressive metal band from Portland, Oregon and one wonders where the hell have these guys been! This debut is something very special, it is awesome to see a young band producing such quality this early in their career. The band cite Dream Theater as an influence and have toured with Fates Warning, both of whom influence the bands sound massively along with the likes of Shadow Gallery and Symphony X. The songs are very definitely in the metal category with thrash riffs, blast beating drums and lots of fret melting solo's. Firing the first shot is Pull The Trigger which crashes in with some modern metal riffage from Matt Galligan who is channelling John Pertucci on his technical riffage and lightning fast solos, the rhythm section of Alex MacDonald's drums and Jesse Weiss' bass is amazing especially on the title track where the bass leads the chunky riff and the drums are precise, powerful, intensely technical and I hate to say it very Portnoy-like. What separates them from their main influence is the vocals of Taylor Dye, who has more alternative modern metal voice than the higher register usually associated with this kind of music, the vocals really add a new dynamic to the already impressive music, as Dye's voice is very strong and emotive especially on Wander which slows the album down but still shows off the bands impressive musical chops, Cross The Line starts off with more of modern edge that is straight out of the Opeth play book with a rhythm section driven by galloping percussion before the middle section is a piano led orchestral piece that Opeth do so well, everything speeds up again in the final part. Habits is an acoustic led ballad that does well to break up the album with it's reflective and sombre tone. As I've said Never Awake look to the New York prog veterans as inspiration and much of Dream Theater's latter albums (Train Of Thought onward) and as the heavyweight battery of The Will To Live brings things back into the realm of loud you can really hear the similarities. However this is not to say that they are a blatant copy of Dream Theater, far from it, they add their own muscular sheen to the eight tracks on this album meaning that their debut is a master-class in progressive metal and also issues a challenge of "Beat This!" to other bands of their ilk. 9/10         

Tides Of Sulfur: Ypres (Self Released)

Tides Of Sulfur hail from my home country, their first EP Eternal Bleeding showed their hand as one of South Wales' premier noise merchants and their second named after a Belgian city that was the seen of one of the most intense battles in WWI. The band have cornered the market in noisy, brutal, bleakness and the 10 minute plus title track opens with a hail of bullets and from there the relentless mechanical battery that is all encompassing, the drums of Tom Lee are like an artillery assault, the guitar of Anthony O'Shea is down tuned and heavy as hell giving the song it's huge riff and Chris Bull is the gut churning bottom end and also his howitzer-like vocals. Next is 16 With A Bullet which is a short, sharp shock of loudness that drives straight into the bass led Trench Foot which again crushes everything in it's wake with the bands mix of sludge, doom and bit of death thrown in for good measure. Another great EP from these Welsh men of war and one that sounds it's best when played through a huge stereo, mainly due to the improved sonics on this EP. Ypres is big and foreboding and after the three tracks end you are shaken to the core. good stuff indeed! 8/10  

Saturday, 20 September 2014

A View From The Back Of The Room: Blackwolf & Fire Red Empress

Blackwolf & Fire Red Empress The Exchange, Bristol

A short jaunt to Bristol for two up and coming British rock band, as we waited outside, many were unsure why the tour was now only two bands rather than three, however The Brew had some problems so we were now left with newbies Fire Red Empress and rising stars Blackwolf, fresh from a support tour with The Answer and a slot at Steelhouse.

Into the Exchange and the atmosphere was electric, there was the usual mix of old and young which was very nice to see, there were rockers, metallers, corporate types and those curious of this band that have support from both Classic Rock and Planet Rock. As we mulled around I think the DJ in The Exchange misjudged the audience somewhat as the warm up music playing over the P.A was brutal death metal, interspersed with TOTO and wrestling themes. Still I found it all hilarious and as Fire Red Empress took the stage all eyes were on them.

Fire Red Empress

As these five men took the stage they launched straight into their brand of heavy, hook filled rock. The band are about big, monster riffs mixed with a radio friendly sheen. For a band that are relatively new to the scene and one that only actually have three song EP to their name filling a long set may have been difficult but the band already have an entire set list of songs that equally as good as the cowbell driven Left Unspoken, the QOTSA style Paint Me The Devil and the massive crushing riff of Behind The Veil. They indeed have a set list of great song all of which get you rocking  very well, the Gethin brothers' guitars are biting, distorted and drive the songs along with a modern yet classic sound. Ben Picken's bass and Luke Middleton's drums are where a lot of Fire Red Empress' power comes from with a rumbling thunder coming from the back of the stage. These big, bludgeoning riffs are a perfect counterpoint for the powerful, melodic vocals of Nik Taylor-Stoakes who has distinctly modern sounding voice and is a sublime frontman, air guitaring, and rocking as the band moved through the the set, he was also affable, not taking himself early when joking about the band members ages even though they are only a new band! This obvious experience pays off as the band deliver every song with guts and precision. Fire Red Empress have a great stage presence and some awesome songs that remind you of QOTSA mixed with a bit of Clutch, they are modern, heavy and could just explode soon! 8/10

Blackwolf

Playing to a partisan audience, the home town heroes returned in their first headlining tour, as the masses gathered almost filling the venue, the band came on stage and kicked straight into the bluesy intro to Moving Mountains which does just that kicking things off with it's hip shaking, swagger. With a great bottom end coming from the funky bass of Ben Webb and the powerhouse drumming of Tom Lennox-Brown Blackwolf have the same kind of power in their rhythm that Zeppelin did with JPJ and Bohnam, this is bolstered by the Malcolm Young style riffing of guitarist Jason Cronin, these three set the base on which John Greenhill can peel off leads and solos like Page, Kossoff and even Hendrix. At the end of the first track the crowd erupted and noticeably shocked band plunged straight into the AC/DC style stomp of Keep Moving On came next keeping the tempo high and provided ample opportunity for the fans to rock out, before the speed picked up again with rapid fire rush of Black Hole Friend which has the snooty punk edge of Appetite era G'N'R. Another stop, another ovation and the band that are all about the fans are obvious crowd pleaser's, their mix of the classic bands like Zep, Free and Acca Dacca all wrapped in modern delivery is all encompassing. the atmosphere they create is simply electric and it's on songs like the excellent Sleepwalking that show what this band can do, it is a ballad Aerosmith would be proud of with melodic guitars and Scott Sharp's impressive and expansive vocal range that is part Rodgers, part Plant and even part Cornell, especially on the heavier, grungier new track Kiss The Fire and Steady Slow. House Of Emerald Wine is a bluesy rocker that got the crowd up again and moved into the pure Zeppelin of Faith In Me. Sharp guided the crowd in shouts, calls and claps for the sing along tracks like Relief  and House Of Emerald Wine he is a hell of front man who commands the attention of the crowd with his superb voice and style, he is the perfect focal point for a band that let the music do the talking (as the Toxic Twins used to say), although Cronin's stomps and gurns are on par on the entertainment level. The main set came to an end with the gospel/blues influenced Sea Of Mercy which is another rump shaker and as the the last note rang out the crowd erupted with calls for more, the band duly obliged their parting shot being the excellent Mr Maker which brought the house down. Nights like these are ones that make me love what I do, two great bands that represent the future of British rock, I can tell you it is in very good hands!! 9/10   

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Reviews: Sólstafir, Aeon Zen, Empress AD

Sólstafir: Ótta (Seasons Of Mist)

Sólstafir are one of Iceland's premier bands, Ótta is their fifth album. Much like Swedes Katatonia or our own Anathema, Sólstafir used to deal in black/death metal but their sound has evolved into the post rock world of using noise and soundscapes to create atmosphere. What an atmosphere they create as on these 8 tracks, you are taken on an audio journey through the desolation of Iceland, the album is somewhat of a concept piece as it is taking you through a single day with Lágnætti (midnight) starting things off and Náttmál (Nighttime) ending the album. All of the tracks are performed with intense feeling and passion as well as in their native tongue, this however doesn't detract from the music rather it enhances it. The band are not just your simple guitars, drums and bass set-up they add folk instruments on the dark and brooding title track (Night) to enhance the song. Rismál (Dayrise) is a sparse, almost indie sounding track full of jangly guitar that sounds like the sun creeping into the sky. It is one of the shorter songs on the album at just over four minutes but it is excellent and leads into the driving rock of Dagmál (Morning) which has a shimmering guitar line that really brings the song to life along with Aðalbjörn Tryggvason's remorseful vocals. This album is a true post rock record drawing more from the shoegaze, ambient and post punk than it does from hard rock or metal, the dreamy Miðdegi is testament to this. I'll be honest I've never heard any Sólstafir and I am impressed, this is music that you must take in it's entirety, it's an album not a collection of songs but when the songs are as good as the Porcupine Tree style Nón (Noon) it's hard not to pick and choose. However you can't deny how good this album is when you listen to it in it's entirety. It is a marvellous album that just lets you, sit back, relax and be immersed by the sheer quality of this record. A record to play when you need a change of pace, some may be put off by the mellow sounds contained herein, even by the Icelandic vocals, but don't be put off, this album is excellent and well worth seeking out. 9/10   

Aeon Zen: Ephemera (Richard Hinks Music)

Aeon Zen are now on their fourth full length record and since their stunning debut they have gone from strength to strength, nothing is off limits to this band, they encompass many genres from rock and metal to jazz, folk and electronica. The band is the brainchild of Richard Hinks with all the songs written, arranged and produced by him, he also provides bass and vocals, on record he also contributes rhythm, additional lead guitars and keyboards on the records (while other musician's provide these roles live), he is aided in his kaleidoscope of noise by drummer Steve Burton and guitarist Alistair Bell. The band have also had a pick of vocalists on every album with the longest serving being Andi Kravljaca whose classic metal vocals suit the music well allowing Hinks to contribute to huge backing choirs and even the odd scream and grunt. I mention the massive influences this band has but they are at their heart a metal band which is shown by the frankly head crushingly heavy The Entity which has a Messugah style start stop riff, lots of electronics, but also some massive hooks coupled with a searing guitar and keyboard solo. It's a hell of a start to this album that shows off everything that makes this band great, the vocal interplay, the amazing musicianship and most importantly the supreme writing. Soul Machine starts out like a Symphony X/ Dream Theater song with a huge choral vocal, some mellifluous guitar and keys as well as a lot of orchestrations, the track slows in the middle with a post rock drone before the final part explodes into Behemoth style symphonic black metal replete with furious blast beats from Burton and synth solo finale. Life kicks off with a jazzy swing opening, which continues throughout making this one of the proggier tracks on the album and really showing off Hinks' bass work. Unite is a definite single being one of the shortest tracks on the album but distils everything the band is about in one song. This is the sound of a band that are at the top of their game, it is a wonderful time for British prog with Haken, Tesseract and of course Aeon Zen all showing that we do this kind of incredibly creative, emotive and frankly fantastic music better than anyone and Ephemera is a showcase of that! 10/10

P.S: I urge you to check out Aeon Zen start with Ephemera and then work your way through their back catalogue. You will not be disappointed!

Empress AD: Still Life Moving Fast (Roadrunner)

Empress AD are one of the new breed of aggressive, intelligent and frankly mesmerising progressive metal. Channelling bands like Mastodon, Baroness and Tesseract but also adding a lot of old school prog into the mix. Empress AD have a real groove vibe that sits somewhere between Mastodon and Opeth on Invisible Conductor which opens the album and kicks things of in aggressive style. There's fuzz driven bass, melodic guitar lines, screams and also clean vocals from Ollie Loring, there's even a drum solo from Edd Unwin in the middle of the track. The change into Delve Into The Retrospect is jarring as the song starts off with and almost King Crimson like vibe, but when the guitars come in the band dive straight into Akerfeldt territory with the fractured guitar lines and wistful quiet phases. Into the modern prog of Deeper In Disguise which starts off on fire and then goes into middle eight that sounds like a heavy metal Muse. These four men are amazing musicians they play with immense technicality or fluidity that are at their most evident on the more ambient, melodic tracks such as From Where I Cannot Reach. The song writing is in the upper echelon and the band unlike many carrying the tag are truly progressive, Urwin's drums are intensely percussive and clearly jazz influenced, Alex Loring's bass is the anchor leading the time changes, and Tom Meadon and Ollie Loring's guitars work wonders flowing between melodic noddling and heavy distorted metal battering. Back to worship at the altar of Mikael for On My Return with it's driving, grinding almost oriental riff and light and shade work building into a cacophony of noise. This album is one that is rare, it is equally full of immediacy but also many of the songs need repeated listens to develop. Usually I know what a Roadrunner album will sound like; I was presently surprised when I heard this, it was a very refreshing experince to hear a band of this talent unafraid to compromise. The album ends with Did We See which slows the pace and Consumed which does just that with its exercise in loud/quiet dynamics and euphoric finale. Still Life Moving Fast is a must for those reared on Mastodon, Neurosis and indeed Opeth, but it will also appeal to those from the background of King Crimson and Pink Floyd. An utter triumph!! 10/10 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Reviews: Striker, Crimson Shadows, Lonely Kamel, Steak

Napalm records have gone mad this month and released a lot of albums at the same time so here's four I fancied:

Striker: City Of Gold (Napalm Records)

Canada have a bustling traditional metal scene at the moment with so many good bands keeping the makers of high tops and bullet belts in work. City Of Gold is Striker's third album and I will admit I had heard of them but never listened to them, I thought I'd give them a go as I like bands such as Enforcer, Cauldron, Axxion etc. This album could just have a one word review of WOW! This album is amazing, it encompasses everything you need in traditional metal guitars of Chris Segger and Timothy Brown that scream (for vengeance of course), Adam Brown's drums that plough through all opposition, Wild Bill's galloping bass work see the intro to Mind Control and the frankly awe inspiring vocals of Dan Cleary he is part Dickinson part Eric Adams and can has a stratospheric range, there are 15 tracks to this album and none of them them feel forced or out of place from the Municipal Waste style thrash of Second Attack, the speed metal assault of Underground, the 80's sleaze of Bad Decision and the epic Maidenesque quality of All I Want and the title track; all have some amazing guitar work with solos and riffs galore running throughout as well as the phenomenal vocals. Every song attacks straight out of the blocks, with a mix of old school metal with a modern sheen, hell they even do a good cover of Two Minutes To Midnight (although that does as always drop them a point) still this album is frankly awesome, now excuse me while I buy everything they have released! 9/10 

Crimson Shadows: Kings Among Men (Napalm Records)

Crimson Shadows are also from Canada and they play a brand of death metal that is reminiscent of Amon Amarth but also very similar to Dragonforce in delivery so cue speedy power metal guitars, blast beat drums, growled/screamed/clean vocal harmonies. As soon as Rise To Power kicks off you can hear that epic melodic element kick you right in the face with the percussive, rhythm assault kicking things off at a violent pace, before the dual guitar attack rips you a new one, probably the best song on the album is the second track Heroes Among Us mainly because it features a lot of powerful clean vocals that merge well with the death vocals in the background. This is possibly one of the bands downfalls, if they just had the clean vocals then I think I would enjoy the band more but the death vocals ruin it a bit for me, the detract a little and take away a lot of the impact from the extreme power metal delivery of the rest of the music. Still if you like your power metal with a bit of grunting and screaming then you could do much worse than Crimson Shadows; they will appeal to fans of Sonata Arctica, Dragonforce as well as Amon Amarth and Children Of Bodom, As I said the music is good as are the clean vocals its just for me the addition of death vocals that puts me off a bit, still a great album if the vocals appeal. 7/10  

Lonely Kamel: Shit City (Napalm Records)

So yes it is a pretty awful name for an album but that aside Lonely Kamel have got quite a neat album of blues based rock with stoner influences. Sounding as if they come from swamps of America, Lonely Kamel are actually Norwegian but you wouldn't notice unless you knew. The band merge big meaty, sludge riffs, with a fuzzy bass, crashing drums and a whiskey soaked blues howl all of these coming together to drive these nine tracks, the band do have stoner influences but they are more a of a blues rock band than anything else. The title track kicks things off with a snotty punk vibe, while White Lines has a trippy stoner vibe to it that invites you to enjoy the ride and Is It Over? is a bass heavy, bluesfest with lots smoke and haze. Lonely Kamel channel Blue Cheer, Leaf Hound, Vanilla Fudge as well as a dash of Hendrix and smidgen of Sabbath (on the closing Nightjar) The bands sound is rooted deep in their psychedelic blues based delivery. Shit City is their fourth album and it doesn't reinvent the wheel but it does do is continue on the path Lonely Kamel have ploughed their career, they deliver this stuff so well but if you are looking for deviation you will be sorely disappointed because when you hear the slow, heavy dirge of Seal The Perimeter replete with Ozzy style vocoder, you know that this is a band that stay true to their vision and keep the music of their heroes alive. If like your rock with a nod to the blues, drenched in reverb and fuelled by plant based narcotics then Lonely Kamel may be for you, go check out the bloozy Falling Down to see if you can get a handle on the Kamel!! 7/10

Steak: Slab City (Napalm Records)

Before you listen to Steak you have to ask yourself a question...do you like Kyuss? If the answer is no then walk away, however if the answer is "Hell Yes!" then desert rockers Steak will be right up your street, the wurlitzer of Coma starts things off as the bass throb builds in the background leading up to the scratchy guitar intro, then the drums kick in and it all comes together in true desert rock style with a sludge riff rolling along while Kippa shouts on top. So far so stoner, with the mighty Kyuss being the main basis of their sound but genre legends Fu Manchu, Nebula, Karma To Burn and even Sleep all get nods from the distorted, fuzz driven guitars of Reece, the Olivieri style hypnotic basswork of Cam and the free-form drumming of Sammy. The fuzz continues on Liquid Gold which is cut from the Orange Goblin sound of Sabbath worshipping, Pisser is guaranteed to get your head nodding with it's big, fat, brooding riff, which moves into the white noise interlude brings the almost Monster Magnet sounding Roadhead into life. These Londoners have appeared at fests all over the world the most notable being Desertfest in 2013 where they were on the same bill as Pentegram, Dozer etc. As a debut Slab City is a strong one full of the fuzzy, stoner rock of those bands from the American desert. If you don't like stoner rock, then you will not like this, however if you want a blissed out, riff worshipping rock album you will be unlikely to find one as good as this 8/10

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Reviews: Royal Blood, Death Penalty, The Scintilla Project

Royal Blood: S/T (Warner Bros)

The Royal Blood seem to be a kind of phenomenon at the moment arriving from almost nowhere and ascending the charts to land a number one album. As you work through the album you can see why this has happened as the band combine big rock riffs with a commercial sheen. They come from the old school sounding garage rock in the style of The White Stripes and the Black Keys, in fact when I first heard Figure It Out I thought it was Jack White himself. However where they differ from both these bands as they feature just a drummer and bassist, Ben Thatcher the skin smasher and Mike Kerr the string plucker as well as providing the blues howls. Despite just being two men and just being what can be considered as backing instruments they sound like a full band with Kerr's bass truly a lead instrument even having some solos and lead breaks on some tracks, the aforementioned Figure It Out being one that stands out. Yes this is simple yet effective, meat and two veg rock with a stripped back live-in-the-studio feel to every song, the band have purposefully eschewed overdubbing to make the album sound as live as possible and it works with the album having an authentic hard rock sound throughout. As I've said the band have a garage/blues rock style and with tracks like Blood hands having the bluesy delivery, before Little Monster rocks everything up again, the style varies a little on Ten Tonne Skeleton but for the most part this album is chart bothering rock at it's finest. An album that lives up to the hype and is another punch to those that declare rock dead (yes you Mr Simmons). 8/10

Death Penalty: S/T (Rise Above Records)

After the demise of Britain's premier doom metal band Cathedral many wondered what the band members would do next, well guitarist Gaz Jennings has plunged back into music with this heavy/doom rock band named after Witchfinder General's first album. The riffs of his old band are still there with Jennings slick, thick, sludgy guitar tone present on all of the songs however unlike his previous band everything is a lot more pacey with most of the songs coming thick and fast with all the hall marks Jennings gave to Cathedral but as I've said at a more rapid pace than means Death Penalty straddle the border of Doom metal and traditional heavy metal, due to the faster songs, long guitar solo passages and most notably Belgian Michelle Nocon's fantastic vocals, she has a real rock and roll voice that lends the band a sound similar to a female fronted Grand Magus. Which is far away from Lee Dorrian's evil vocals in Cathedral. She wails like a banshee and croons like Bruce on Eyes Of The Heretic, which has a Maiden-like gallop throughout driven by Raf Meukens' bass and Fredrik Cosemans' drums which lead the key change into the solo section, the doom legacy is still there though with the head banging heaviness of Golden Tides which has big distorted guitar riff. The band are unafraid to mix up the sound though as Into The Ivory Forest is very progressive in style before things get dark and gloomy again on Children Of The Night and the occult trappings of She's A Witch. This album rocks hard its the perfect match of old school doom and traditional heavy metal which means that it will have broad appeal for all fans of heavy metal. As they say as one door closes another opens so even though Cathedral are no more Death Penalty are nowhere near the last rites for Jennings creativity. 9/10     

The Scintilla Project: The Hybrid (UDR Records)

Scintilla is a British (straight to DVD) Sci-Fi/horror film based around a secret communist genetics programme deep underground called The Scintilla Project, now as a tie in to the film a band also called The Scintilla Project has been formed. It is the brain child of drummer Lionel Hicks (Balance Of Power) who was introduced to Saxon's Biff Byford by Toby Jepson the producer of Saxon's Call To Arms album. Now this is where it gets complicated, Saxon wrote a song for the film but this one song stretched into an entirly new group, most of the music was written by bassist Anthony Ritchie (also Balance Of Power), with Hicks contributing, the men found a couple of session guitarists to create the songs with but the real breakthrough came when Byford agreed to sing on the album, he brought with him HELL guitarist/producer extraordinaire Andy Sneap who contributes guitar and co produced the album with Byford. So with all that out of the way what does it sound like? Well think a more symphonic metal version of Saxon and you won't be far off, the songs have great dual guitars, a huge drums sound, a rumbling bass and some massive keys and synths. As the jangling synths of John K start off the opening track Scintilla (One Black Heart) it speeds through with some power metal riffs, a huge hooky chorus, showing that Byford, much like on the most recent Saxon albums, is in the best vocal form in his life! The ominous Beware The Children has a Queensryche feel to it which extends through Permanence which also has the theatricality of Kamelot et al, the piano driven Some Nightmare is a ballad with an almost AOR guitar solo in the middle. Yes this album is very, very good indeed, a hell of a soundtrack that is definitely the sum of it's parts, the addition of Byford and indeed Sneap is inspired as they put their stamp all over this record raising it from relative obscurity to having many sit up and take notice. I don't know how good the film is, but this album is very good indeed! 9/10       

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

World Of Metal 16: Gauntlet, Gory Blister, Seneron, Akb'al

Some more worldwide metal here with Japan, Ireland, Italy and even dear old Wales represented. Lets get too it shall we?

Gauntlet: Birthplace Of The Emperor (Spiritual Beast)

Japan is home to some of the fastest, wildest power metal around, with hyper blast guitar and keyboard runs throughout the bands have always tried to sound like Dragonforce (or indeed visa versa) with endless blastbeats and technical guitarfests. Gauntlet are not ones to deviate from type as their debut album is full of speed/power metal form the beginning to the end, the dual guitars duel throughout, the drums and bass gallop like a horse on speed driving every song along from Beyond The Wall which is speed all the way through before the synth driven In My Life adds a little bit of change but not much. The rest of the album continues in the super fast blitz metal vein with every song merging into one, yes the musicianship is very good but there doesn't seem to be any light and shade or change in style at all. Like Sonata Arctica, Helloween and of course Dragonforce the band go all out to play fast, fluid metal, despite the sameness of their songs their biggest downfall and one that is common with all Japanese bands is that the vocals can get wearing after a few songs, the bands frontman has a powerful voice and can hold the notes but its just the voice does start to grate after a few songs, in fact unless you really love this kind of music as they do in Japan the album will start to grate as all the songs I'm afraid to say sound the same. Still a good albums for fans of Asian power metal, just don't expect any audio experimentation or indeed deviation. 6/10

Gory Blister: The Fifth Fury (Sliptrick Records)

Gory Blister hail from Italy and they play technical death metal, the band have been around since the early 90's but released their first album in 1999, quite obviously The Fifth Fury is their fifth album and it full of some great technical death metal with furious but melodic guitar lines, battering ram drums and lots of guttural roars evoking the spirit of Cannibal Corpse, Dying Fetus, Decapitated and  Nile (whose Karl Sanders guested on their previous album). Much like our own Bloodshot Dawn the band merge harsh heavy death metal, blast beat drums from Joe La Viola and bowels of hell vocals with some truly excellent guitar playing with a flurry of off kilter technical riffs and solos coming thick and fast. See Prometheus Scars which moves back and forth through different speeds and time signatures throughout, this continues on (Meet Me) In The Mass Grave. Unusually for technical death metal bands the band are a four piece and only feature on guitar with vocalist Paolo "St John" John being just a vocalist much like Decapitated who have a similar set up, still this doesn't mean that the band have any less power with some truly brutal riffs many of which come from bassist Emi Dattolo who brings the head crushing riffage while Raff Sangiorgio shreds and solos like a madman. The final track is a bit of change in scenery as it almost purely orchestral and as such it so sounds like fellow countrymen Fleshgod Apocalypse and ends the album on a somewhat calmer but still as ominous note than the madness that has proceeded it. If you like your metal fast heavy and full of technical ferocity and demonic vocals then Gory Blister are right up your street. 7/10

Seneron: Parasites And Poets (Self Released)

Seneron are a three piece heavy rocking band from Derry, Ireland. I had the pleasure of reviewing their debut EP and I thought it was a great little taster for this eventual full length I hate to say it but I was right. This debut album builds on the EP and also improves on it, the big, ballsy biker rock element of the EP is still their with the band having  Black Spiders-like leather clad groove with some big riffs on tracks like Talk The Walk but what becomes apparent on this album is that the band have a bigger alternative metal delivery with an overarching nod to Mr Grohl and band, this is at it's most apparent on Breathe which sounds a lot like Everlong, as well as the Foos there are nods to Nirvana and even Seether with their alternative/grunge rock delivery. Yes Seneron are a new wave of alternative/grunge bands that are starting to emerge from the depths of music, a much overlooked genre I always thought it does have it's merits when it's done right, Seneron are doing it right with some catchy songwriting, lots of quiet/loud dynamics, some sledgehammer drumming from John Hamilton, driving bass work from Ivor Ferris and some fierce guitar stabs and a abrasive croon from John Shields. With big hooks on the punky What A Way To Go, an almost nu metal tinge to It All Ends Here, some head banging hard rock on Freak Show and Outbound which ends the album in fine muscular style. Seneron have truly improved on their debut in terms of production, song writing and delivery, this is a sound of a band that know the direction they are heading in and it is most definitely upwards! 8/10   

Akb'al: ...Of Darkness And Light... (Self Released)

"I do not do drugs, I am drugs" this quote from Salvador Dali couldn't be more apt for Welsh psych/prog/everything rockers from Wales. This their debut album is the sound of a mind unravelling, a conciousness altering a dream slowly turning into a nightmare. This album is not one that can be split into separate tracks it has to be heard as one piece of music from the immediacy of Of Darkness which starts with a haze and some schizophrenic vocals before moving into the hypnotic Tool-like bass led rhythm of The Ride which is the first song to show off Thoby Davis' clean vocals over the tabla infused backing and we get a glimpse of Michael Young-Temple's screams on the chorus(?). Akb'al have a very unique sound and delivery with all of the members being top class musicians MIC's drums being equally at home on the metallic  intro riffage of Totally Recalled which changes pace into a almost grunge verse before picking back up again. The guitars of Rob Miles drive everything along nicely swapping from rhythm to lead with ease. Its Young-Temple and Davis that provide the largest of the soundscapes though with YT providing the bass guitar, the aforementioned tabla, djembe, kaos pad and even a didgeridoo; while Davis has some Gilmour-like guitar phrasing, violin, handsonic, singing bowl and udu all of which means the album has musical palate of psychotropic colours. The majestic and mind expanding Equlibrium is a 9 minute show stopper that starts off with a big sound before reducing things down and building them up again with some majestic guitar playing and a heaving load of drums and bass to provide the psychedelic backing. Things don't stop there as I have said this album needs to be heard in it's entirety and as the final three tracks all clock in past 7 minutes with the almost Indian vibe Restless And Waiting is the perfect way to follow the melodic Equilibrium with it's quiet/loud dynamic into the dreamy Pacha Mama and then the 12 minute finale of Light which closes out the album with it's ambient lushness. Akb'al and this album shows that classic progressive rock, modern heavy metal, a 60's infused psychedelia, world wide influence and masterful musicanship can all come together combining technical prowess with a desire to be different from most modern music. As Dali says "Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings" Akb'al are taking off in style 10/10       
  

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A view From The Back Of The Room: The Queen Extravaganza

The Queen Extravaganza, St David's Hall

The Queen Extravaganza are a Queen tribute band formed by Queen drummer Roger Taylor, with each member hand picked by him to be a part of a touring project to keep the music of one of Britain's beloved rock band. I have always been a big fan of Queen purely because I like bands with a bit of theatrical flair and a certain fearlessness to their music. The band are primarily made up of American's and Canadians, they have toured all over the world with every show a sell out, so I was keen to see what their debut night in Cardiff was going to be like.

Doors opened at 7:30 and as I ascended the stairs to my seat, I could feel the excitement increasing inside the auditorium. I also noticed that I was perhaps the youngest person there still as the place filled the music started building and building and building until nothing. No we had to wait for another hour until the show started prompting a lot of tutting and passive aggressive clapping to try and bring the band on.

Still at just before 8:30 the show started, the curtain dropped and the opening riff to Tie Your Mother Down started things off in rocking style, I had done some research on the band and on the American tours they had a large membership, tonight they were a five piece; Drummer Tyler Warren, Bassist Francois Olivier-Doyon, Brit guitarist Nick Radcliffe (from Brighton), keyboardist/muscial director Brandon Ethridge and singer Marc Martel, which to me was perfect as Queen were never more than this themselves. As Tie Your Mother Down ended a medley of Queen hits were played including Don't Stop Me Now, Hammer To Fall, Save MeSeven Seas Of Rye, Dragon Attack before climaxing in Love Of My Life. What strikes you is just how tight this band are they don not miss a note! The second thing is vocalist Marc Martel is vocally a dead ringer for Freddie Mercury I mean he sounds exactly the same, he even has the mannerisms down to a tee, he makes this band. After the medley things were handed over to drummer Tyler Warren who gave a hell of a performance on Dragon Attack sounding exactly like Roger Taylor while smashing the drums, Martel came back guitar in hand and hips started swinging to Crazy Little Thing Called Love. After breaking to catch the collective breath they came back with three from A Night At The Opera with LAzing On A Sunday Afternoon in all of its Wagnerian glory before Warren took over again for I'm In Love With My Car climaxing in the song everyone knows the immortal  Bohemian Rhapsody, the harmonising was amazing with all the band providing live harmonies, before a backing screen played the Scarmoosh middle section and the band rushed on for the Wayne's World head banging.

A huge ovation followed and Oliver-Doyon played that unmistakeable bass riff from Under Pressure which featured more singing along from the now fully enthralled, the Bowie parts were handled by Ethridge who gave a spot on impersonation of the thin white duke, A Kind Of Magic came next continuing the funk and I Want I All blasted all that a way with a dose of metal. You're My Best Friend brought another sing along and after an hour in the pace and the joy was unrelenting, another break before a drum solo into Stone Cold Crazy. The claps of Radio Ga Ga came next still haviong the same synth power it did all those years ago, then the ode to the larger woman with Fat Bottom Girls and the set ender Somebody To Love (cue another mass singalong) which was a majestic end to a phenomenal set! As the standing ovation rippled through the audience all signs pointed to an encore, two songs were a given, one wasn't, questions were answered quickly with The Show Must Go On being a fitting tribute to the majesty of Freddie, Brian, Roger and John. The finale was of course the one-two punch of the percussive chant of We Will Rock You led the crowd again and the things were totally finished with the self aggrandising We Are The Champions. It's hard to disagree with the lyrics of the song, this band are truly fantastic, they are a better version of Queen than the current version of Queen with May and Taylor. I encourage everyone to see this act in the flesh, they are simply awe inspiring with how good they are and with a rich back catalogue of songs to choose from and bigger venues/performance opportunities they can only get better and better with every tour. Never have I seen a band so perfect in both ability and delivery expect them to erupt into arenas soon. there are not enough adjectives to describe them. Love Live The Queen (Extravaganza)!!! 11/10 (I'm allowed)

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The View From The Back Of The Room: Peter Pan Speedrock

Peter Pan Speedrock, Suns Of Thunder, Lacertilla, Whiskeydick

So into the bowels of Cardiff as the NATO summit ended it was time for some angry rock music in the shape of 4 (originally 5) riff heavy rock bands, with the show headlined by Dutch Rock N Roll Punks Peter Pan Speedrock.

As we entered the gig we had been told that J.D Pinkus from the Butthole Surfers was not going to be on the tour, or indeed at the show so now we had 4 bands rather than the original 5. Still as myself and my compatriot Rhodri, entered the venue we were greeted by a stage with just two stools.

Whiskeydick

We weren't left in suspense for long as the two mountainous members of Whiskeydick entered the room and took up their positions on the stools, acoustics in hand. What followed was a revelation the two man band played an amazing, joyous set of Hillbilly rock music full of toe tapping, guitar picking Southern spirit. The band had hearty songs about drinking, fucking and the Devil. Sung with relish by the big vocals of Fritz who booms every song with a voice that are clearly inspired and shaped by the drink in their namesake. As he crooned and bellowed he also plays some great countrified chicken pickin' rhythm playing and as he does the second man of this Texan tandem; Rev Johnson plays some searing lead guitar using an array of pedals to create some excellent solos, he plays the acoustic guitar like an electric lead player with EVH and even Dimebag coming to mind. As the crowd swelled the band exploded in a rebel yell of noise getting the crowd moving and shouting the occasional hell yeah in reverence to the bands talent. This is blue collar music perfect for drinking, fighting and romancing in a venue such as this. I urge everyone to see Whiskeydick as often as possible they are a hell of band and I will proudly wear their t-shirt as much as possible despite the looks their name may incur. A great way to start this show and a pretty strong gauntlet laid down to the rest of the bands. 9/10

Lacertilla

The lizards are back!!!  Having seen Lacertilla's first gig as a whole unit the Welsh band made up of of members of Throun, Culver and the awesome Akb'al seemed to be a much more cohesive unit than when I first saw them. The performance was tighter but the riffs were still heavy as hell, with a set packed with heavyweight guitars, thundering drums and bone rattling bass all topped with Fry's strong vocals. These guys have a doom/stoner/sludge vibe that brings thick guitars and crushing percussion to the table as well as some great stage presence and song construction. The partisan crowd were well into their psychedelic heaviness with heads banging and fists pumping, with calls for everyone to move forward the crowd duly obliged  meaning that the gig got a lot more intense very quickly, the shaman at the front bewitched the crowd before joining them in their enjoyment rocking out while performing as the band laid down a heavy backing groove. Lacertilla are definitely a band to watch and like I said the fact that they are drawn from so many other local bands shows that the South Wales rock scene is very alive and well! (and makes them a kind of supergroup I guess) They are band best experienced live (perhaps because they have no recorded content) as they are all about the feel of the music and what it can do to you. So let me tell you it feels so good when in a small venue like this. Go check them out! 8/10

Suns Of Thunder

As the crowd were now thoroughly warmed up it was time for Suns Of Thunder to continue the fuck tonne of rock that this night was turning into! The band burst on to the stage with their groove based rock exploding out of the speakers, more riffs as this Swansea four piece added a liberal slice of funk and blues to the heavy rock riffs that had come before. The band were more in the classic rock vein but still the stoner ethos was rife with the dual guitar/vocal assault from Greg Bombroffe and Matt Williams which gave the band a sound that is a mixture of Black Label Society, Alabama Thunderpussy, Fu Manchu, Kyuss and even old schooler like Zep or AC/DC. The band sound like they come from California with a mix of blues and hard rock meaning that the songs fizzed with heavy riffs and a huge bass sound from Chris James. I've never seen Suns Of Thunder before even though they have been doing the rounds for a while, I'm glad I did see them though as they are a great band, their brand of blues based stoner riff rock is right up my street and when you have a beer in hand you can just bang your head and enjoy. A band that I will be looking into more and I encourage others to do the same! 8/10

Peter Pan Speedrock

After three great bands it was time for the headliners and as the arrived on stage and started to play their scuzzy punk n roll riffs I enjoyed the first  few songs but their appeal quickly wore thin with many of the songs sounding the same and by the middle of their set I left. I'm sorry but punk has never really done it for me and despite their album being good their live show is a lot of bluster and noise with not much in terms of substance, maybe I was tired from the barrage of riffs that had proceeded it but live the Dutch band did very little for me. 5/10

Despite leaving early the night had been very good, two of the bands showed well an truly that the Welsh rock scene is alive and well, one band showed that their may be an even littler ol' band from Texas and with a drink in hand the night was a full on rifffest right up until the end still cest la vie three quarters isn't bad at all.
     

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Another Point Of View: Casualties Of Cool (Review By Paul)

Casualties of Cool- Union Chapel, Islington, London

So where do you start with Devin Townsend? Metal legend? Musical genius? Complete nut job? Well the truth is probably somewhere in the middle of all of these. Readers of this illustrious tome will be fully aware that the majority of our team are pretty big fans of the man. After turns with Steve Vai and then driving forward Strapping Young Lad, his prolific solo career has seen his stock rise to a level where he can now headline at the Royal Albert Hall (although he was criminally low on the line up at Sonisphere this year).

Townsend’s latest release under the Casualties of Cool banner has already been reviewed by Matt earlier this year and it is one of the most stunning albums of 2014. An intimate evening at London’s Union Chapel coincided with a couple of days work in London and was an opportunity not to be missed.

The Union Chapel is a working church and is a hauntingly beautiful building, saved from dereliction in the 1980s. It also serves as an entertainment venue, homeless person’s project and a grade 1 listed building.

As I approached the entrance the queue of expectant fans stretched along Compton Terrace. Plenty of DTP t-shirts were on display along with a number of Ziltoid shirts (I still don’t get this part of Devin’s world). As I joined the queue I found myself talking to the parents of James Leach, bassist with support band Messenger who has also been part of SiKth, The Hell and Krocodil. They were thoroughly lovely company and we mused about the demise of some of the music venues around the UK. As an aside here folks, do join any campaign which supports live music venues, such as the recent petition to save The Fleece in Bristol. Support live music!

Entering the church, which was flooded with the dying rays of the evening sun through the many magnificent stained glass windows, I purchased a signed CD and took my seat, taking the opportunity to position myself on the end of a pew at the back. The Union Chapel provides a brilliant view from every seat as the floor slopes towards the stage. However, the extra leg room and clear sight line was a good choice.

Messenger

Messenger arrived on stage to a warm ovation. They are a London based band who had played at Sonisphere earlier this year. A five piece, Messenger play a fusion of progressive rock, folk and psychedelic music. It is certainly not three bar rock n’ roll. They have a layered complex sound which has shades of Floyd, Porcupine Tree through to Radiohead. Playing a short set of five songs from their debut album Illusory Blues, Messenger who comprise Khaled Lowe (guitars, vocals), Barnaby Maddick (guitars, vocals), Jaime Gomez Arellano (drums, percussion), Dan Knight (guitars, keyboards) and James Leach (bass) captivated the audience from start to finish. They were an excellent choice for the openers and I shall be hunting their album down for further listening. 8/10

Casualties Of Cool

Arriving on stage to the expected ovation, there was the usual technical hitch which appears to dog Devin Townsend every time he plays the UK. He immediately cracked a couple of jokes and was then told in no uncertain terms by COC partner Ché Aimee Dorval that the talking had to stop. He was also somewhat comically told that he had a maximum of three “thank you’s” for the entire show. Dropping the houselights, the band then delivered 90 minutes of the most sublime country rock. Extended opener Daddy set the tone with delicate structure and Dorval’s beautiful voice to the fore. For the entire evening, Townsend was content to play the music, supplying the vocals where needed but for the main allowing Dorval to lead. Fans of DTP will know that she has worked with Townsend before on 2009’s Ki, but in this setting she was really allowed to demonstrate her vocal range along with her mean rhythm guitar playing. The Code, possibly my favourite track from the album followed, and by this time I was already pleasantly mellow and relaxed. In fact, the hardness of the pew probably stopped me drifting off a couple of times during the evening as it was so comforting. (*Cough*-Matt) Imagine a warm duvet slowly enveloping you into a world of complete bliss and you aren't far away. That’s not to say it was boring; oh no, this was captivating stuff and Mountaintop, Flight and then Ether continued to both sooth and amaze in equal measure. The quality of Townsend’s guitar work was just spectacular. You’ll be aware of his musical abilities from his solo work, such as Ziltoid where he played all the instruments but for me his guitar work is as underrated as many other great rock musicians. He is, as you would expect, surrounded by excellent musicians and tonight was no exception. Forgive me for not capturing the names but alongside Townsend and co-collaborator Dorval was the other musician from the album, Morgan of the bassist, guitarist, percussionist and keyboard player; However, Matts Ågren, the other collaborator on the album was present on drums. As the rest of the evening unfolded, there was the occasional eerie silence prompted by the atmospheric setting and the sheer quality of the musical delivery. However, this was not at all uncomfortable and indeed enhanced the enjoyment with everyone desperate to absorb each note. The music continued with Moon / Pier, Bones and the delicious Forgive Me before finally a quick opportunity for Devin to kick out the jams with an enthralling guitar/drum duel with Ågren during Deathscope. Closing with The Bridge bang on the 10:30pm curfew; a lengthy and deserved standing ovation followed. I, like the entire audience had really been enchanted throughout the evening by a performance far to the left of much of Townsend’s other work. This really was ‘late night music’ as Townsend had previously referred, but of a quality which actually surpasses much of his heavier work. Outstanding stuff and another contender for gig of the year. 10/10

Jazz Club...Nice: Arun Ghosh (Review By Paul)

This is the first (and probably only) Jazz review we will do so here goes nothing:

Arun Ghosh – Wall 2 Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny Castle

In a change from my usual musical taste CMH and I ventured to the picturesque market town of Abergavenny and the opportunity to soak up a bit of late summer sun at the Wall 2 Wall Jazz Festival. Our interest had been piqued by the headliner, Manchester born Arun Ghosh, after CMH had picked up his quite exquisite latest album, A South Asian Suite following a chance hearing of his work on Radio 3. This album is quite simply brilliant, with jazz fused with folk, hip hop, rock and a myriad of Eastern flavours.

Anyway, we purchased our tickets (£15 for the afternoon – bargain) on-line and headed to the castle on a lovely Sunday afternoon. The Wall 2 Wall Festival is spread across Abergavenny throughout the weekend with numerous events in several locations. It is an admirable idea although the turn-out suggested that a little more publicity would be a good idea. Talking to a close family friend at the event it also sounded like a little bit more investment in some of the infrastructure might about be a good idea but we’ll park that for now!)

Abergavenny Castle is a delightful ruin on the edge of the town and the layout was simple. A large marquee hosted the musicians with a small stage at one end. The rest of the area was divided into food and drink outlets and seating areas. Very civilised. Upon arrival I was very pleased to see the presence of the Tudor Brewery, who I last encountered several times at last year’s Steelhouse Festival. A pint of Sugarloaf (one of the three ales named after the mountains that surround Abergavenny) and I was a happy man as we settled down to watch the Tony O’Malley Trio play some very pleasant jazz for an hour. The trio were great fun, playing some covers and some original pieces and as you would expect, demonstrating a very high level of musicianship. Bassist Yolanda Charles deserves a particular mention for some of her impressive picking. O’Malley is no slouch, and a look at his Wiki page tells you why. A former member of 10CC amongst numerous other credits with several albums to his name including a live album recorded at the legendary Ronnie Scott Club in London. 8/10

After a move to soak up the last rays of summer (and a pint of Skirrid ale along with a tidy burger from local suppliers Morgans) it was time for the main event, The Arun Ghosh Quintet. Opening with Aurora from his first album, 2008’s Northern Namaste, the small but enthusiastic audience were immediately entranced by the sheer quality of the whole quintet. Chris Williams is entrancing on the Saxophone, combining with the excellent Yazz Ahmed on trumpet to allow Ghosh’s rock n’ roll style clarinet delivery to come to the fore. Ably supported by rhythm section comprising of Abrar Hafiz on driving bass and the breath taking skills of Na Masuda on Taiko drums, Ghosh’s style truly is more on the rock side of the jazz genre, with wild arm and hand expressions encouraging the other members to increase or decrease volume, tempo and emotion. Lal Qui’ah (The Red Fort),(from his second release Primal Odyssey) followed before The River Song, the sole track from the latest album enchanted the audience with its simple delivery. Caliban’s Revenge was next, with an interesting background story from Arun about its origin. Apparently, it was written for Pete Postlethwaite, the legendary actor, who wanted music to support his role in The Tempest. Ghosh’s instruction from Postlethwaite? Make it sound like The Who! And yes, it really did have that element to it, although Masuda refrained from any Moonesque shenanigans!

A cover of the Velvet Underground’s Venus in Furs maintained the rock element of the hour long set, with the music swirling and sweeping over you as it ebbed and flowed on its course. Each musician plays a full part, with the brass players given ample opportunity to display their talents. Ghosh remains the focal point throughout though, exhorting and writhing, gyrating and grooving as he supplied sublime clarinet. Closing with Come Closer, Arun Ghosh and crew thoroughly deserved the standing ovation that he received. Speaking to him afterwards, I was struck (as I had all the way through) how humble and pleasant he is. During the set, he was engaging, telling stories of his songs and displaying a humour some might say can be missing from all genres of music. I found the whole afternoon hugely entertaining and for something completely different highly recommended. 10/10

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Reviews: Hammerfall, Wolf, Fury

Hammerfall: (r)Evolution (Nuclear Blast)

OK so the title is dreadful but that seems to be all that is wrong with these Swede's ninth album, after the disappointing Infected moved away from their Heraldic power metal roots into more horror based realms, Hector (their erstwhile Knight mascot) is back with a vengeance (thus the title I suppose). Starting with Hector's Hymn the power metal is definitely back with a vengeance, the galloping bass and drums of Fredrik Larsson and Anders Johnasson, the dual guitars of Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren and Joacim Hans glass shattering voice. Hector's Hymn is a mission statement it is Hammerfall telling the world that they are back to doing what they have always done best, name checking much of their back catalogue in the process. Yes the true metal is most definitely back with the title track having the Accept style stomp, before the Bushido once again brings the blast beats again. Now don't get me wrong I like Hammerfall but they have always been a bit of a guilty pleasure (like a European Manowar) and this album continues that vibe of slightly silly traditional metal with lyrics about warriors, wizards and dragons. Still this album is a lot better than their previous effort showing that for a band this late in their career, if it ain't broke don't fix it! The production of James Michael is great mirroring that of their long time producer Fredrik Nordström with a thick sound. The album has an obligatory ballad in the shape of Winter Is Coming but for the most part this is fast paced, power metal that Hammefall do so well, with Evil Incarnate being a left over from the last album. Personally I quite liked the last album even though it was different but I will admit that it's nice to hear Hammerfall doing what they do best once again. If you like the Hammerfall of old, doing what they do best then you will get a kick out of this record, however it will do little to change your mind otherwise. 8/10  

Wolf: Devil Seed (Century Media)

The spirit of NWOBHM and indeed Teutonic metal looms large with Wolf who are neither British or German, they hail from Sweden and can be seen as spearheading the new trad metal revival that has come out of Sweden, the UK, and the US & Canada in the last few years. The band have been around since 2000 and have Devil Seed is their seventh album and yet again it features some top notch guitar playing from Niklas Stålvind and Simon Johansson who bring the metal right from the outset with big riffs and fret melting solo's. Wolf have always had a a darker edge to their albums with most of their songs focussing on horror themes and their sound being a lot more thrashy in nature than their contemporaries. See Skeleton Woman to see the blood and guts lyrics, a slightly progressive edge, as well as both a speedy electric solo and a classical acoustic solo all of the things that Wolf have always brought to the table. In fact this album is a bit of a throwback to their earlier albums with previous album Legions Of Bastards being more thrash based., this album is more classic metal. With Surgeons Of Lobotomy also having a progressive element, My Demon is reminiscent of Mercyful Fate with it's occult imagery and Stålvind doing his best King Diamond, this continues on I Am Pain which breaks into a Priest middle section, a band that Wolf share a lot of stylistic similarities with. Wolf again have produced an album full of horror fuelled, classic metal which is played with technicality and passion, the album is bolstered by great production and some superb playing form all involved. A great metal album from a band that have been thoroughly consistent throughout their career and Devil Seed maintains that great metal quality they have always been known for. 8/10 

Fury: The Lightning Dream (Self Released)

Worcester based metal band Fury have finally released their debut album after two well received EP's and a single. The band have always merged that old school thrash vibe with the more traditional fare of Priest or Maiden. Only two songs remain from their EP's, first is the epic Power Metal baiting Warrior's Prayer which just calls for some Grand Magus style chanting and the second is rapid fire album opener In To The Dark which is one of the bands best songs and brings them out of gates punching with its speedy riff, pace setting drums, and galloping bass all of which are the perfect backing for Julian Jenkins' unique, powerhouse vocals. Jenkins along with Jake Beesley also provide the six stringing with both men providing some furious riffage on the thrashier songs as well as some simply sublime solos, just check out the guitar work on the 7 minute Edge Of Time which starts out similar to Metallica's For Whom The Bell Tolls and explodes into some amazing axe work in the final part, right after the false ending and key change. In fact the spirit of the Bay Area's favourite sons looms large on this album with many of the tracks having the bands earlier thrash leanings but also the melody and song craft that they developed in their latter career. The furious Saviour is the second track and has a sound like Maiden on steroids, it's here and on the aforementioned Edge Of Time we see the powerhouse rhythm section of Alasdair Davies on drums and Martin Trail on bass both of whom provide the steel backbone to all the songs. The double blast beats of Prince Of Darkness are most welcome as they cause the move the track along at a furious pace. Prince Of Darkness also ends the shorter tracks with every track after this is seven minutes plus and mix the thrash/speed/trad metal riffs with a keen melodic ear and a progressive edge. The Sci-Fi influenced Out Beyond The Stars starts things off, then comes the percussive Kill The Light which shows off Davies' drums and Trail's bass in the intro and middle section, as well as the sublime guitars, Britannia is a folk influenced semi ballad that wouldn't sound out of place on the more recent Maiden albums, into the fist pumping Haul Away which again picks up the pace and leads into the awesome eleven minute plus title track that is a fitting finale to a truly excellent album. With great songwriting, superb musicianship, crystal clear production and fist full of hooks, you can tell that this is the sound of a band that have honed their craft carefully over constant touring and strong consistent releases. This has all culminated in this truly excellent debut, now I've been a supporter of this band for a while and as so I've had to be very diplomatic but I think this album is one of the strongest debuts of the year!! If you don't think so get the album and listen yourself! 10/10