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Friday, 31 October 2014

Reviews: Devin Townsend Project/Devin Townsend

Devin Townsend Project: Sky Blue (InsideOut)
Devin Townsend: Z2- Dark Matters (InsideOut)

Hevy Devy returns!! Yes fan boys start your fapping as the crown prince of geeky prog has come back with his new album(s). Yes folks two for the price of one as the Z2 has the new DTP album Sky Blue as well as the sequel and continuing story of the coffee seeking alien Ziltoid the Omnicient on Dark Matters. They are two fundamentally different albums, one is a DTP album the other a Devin solo effort as it continues the Ziltoid chapter. As such I'll review them as two albums:

Sky Blue - Devin Townsend Project

Sky Blue is DTP working within it's own confines, strong, anthemic music mixing rock, metal, electonica together in a melting point, but also showing a lot of of creative freedom to try new things. Rejoice has the cascading riffs, Anneke Van Giersbergen's amazing vocals and Devin doing his shouted croon on top of multi layered playing, it sets the album up perfectly following directly on from the previous album Epicloud, Fallout too merges metal with pop and allows Devin to exercise his operatic tendencies. As usual he contributes pretty much everything music wise with Dave Young on additional guitars, Bryan Waddell on bass, Ryan Van Poederooyen on drums and Mike St John on keys. They all long term members of his touring band and as such are flawless in their delivery, on this note the production too is both bold and crystalline. Midnight Sun is a slower more balladic song which shows off the special Universal Choir, this is a contribution of 2000 voices which make for the largest choir on a metal record ever, the choir contribute to both records but are at their best on Sky Blue. A New Reign is heavier than previous songs, but Universal Flame is unabashed pop with it's bouncy rhythm and the choir on top form. There is always something so cathartic about Devin's music, you can't help but smile when it comes on, you just sit back and let the music wash over you filling you with joy at the musical menagerie involved in every DTP album. Sky Blue also throws the occasional curveball with the title track itself is based on DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love by Usher and as such has a pumping electronic back beat, the whispered croon of Townsend and the ethereal vocals of Giersbergen. Silent Militia makes full use of Anneke and is a tribute to will.i.am in the style of You Spin Me Right Round by Dead Or Alive. Rain City is darker in tone and brings things back to the DTP sound (something that a lot of the time is only subjective). The nearly 8 minute Rain City starts normal enough before the finally becomes very eastern and atmospheric with a clockwork beat behind it, it is followed by the heart breaking Forever but is counteracted by the life-affirming Before We Die which all but ends the album.  Sky Blue is the natural successor to Epicloud as it continues to combine all the facets of Townsend's career but it is also a progression as it indulges in a lot more sonic experimentation drawing from other artists, showing that yet again Townsend and in particular his Project are vital to the rock and metal scene. 8/10

Dark Matters - Devin Townsend

So moving on we come to Dark Matters, this is not credited as a DTP album even though it features the same band as Sky Blue, no classed is a Townsend solo record and the second part of the Ziltoid The Omnicient storyline. As such it is Townsend that handles the guitars, keys and programming with Morgan Ågren contributing percussion on From Sleep Awake (Ågren was last seen on the Causalties of Cool album). As From Sleep Awake starts we are told Ziltoid has become a megastar with all the world now revering him as a God, we are reintroduced by Captain Spectacular (played by Chris Jericho) as well as other characters such as the Poozer on Ziltodian Empire, the Queen Blattaria mother of the Poozer's on the rocking War Princess, The War Princess is played by Dominique Lenore Persi from the experimental band Stolen Babies, she has very unique but very good voice and along with Townsend and Jericho works well as one of the three lead characters. With a crazy tongue in cheek story about intergalactic war The Ziltoid concept is still as mental as ever but I'm not going to explain what happens (spoilers and all that) but what I will say is that this album has a much bigger scope than the previous Ziltoid record, with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra contributing heavily and the story being propelled by Bill Courage's narration giving a proper cinematic feel to things. Now unless you are on board with the Ziltoid story then you may think that is album is a little childish, which to be honest is, but it is also full of fun with some great, heavy music to back it up, from the rocking DeathRay, to the Samael influenced March Of The Poozers, the Soilwork speed metal of Ziltoid Goes Home and the epic Earth which takes it's cues from Peter And The Wolf. By itself Dark Matters is a worthy addition to the Ziltoid canon, but as part of the Z2 package it is pipped to the post by Sky Blue which is an album with a broader appeal than the metallic second record. Still like I said if you like The Omniscient, coffee loving alien and his intergalactic hijinks then you will over this but for me it is beaten hands down by the DTP effort. 5/10

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A View From The Back Of The Room: Haken

Haken, Leprous, Maschine & others - Bristol Prog Invasion, The Fleece Bristol

This was supposed to be a three band tour comprising three of the brightest young things in progressive rock and metal. The Bristol date on this tour turned this into an all day event showcasing a few more young bands to partisan fans. As we arrived we had missed the prog black metal of Reign Of Perdition, but we came in just in time for Wales own Akb'al.

Akb'al

The psychedelic, shamanistic prog of Akb'al is always well received by us here at the musipedia and the band put in a consistently strong live showing. Their percussive, driving fusion of world rhythms, heavy rock and mind melding psych always gets head nodding and brains altering. The guitars of Thoby and Rob worked in unison with Floydian leads on top of Tool-like rhythm playing much of which comes from the technical bass playing of Michael and the percussion of Mic. The bands sound was not the best I've ever heard which could have been the venue (something that would rear it's ugly head later). With songs like Equilibrium Akb'al have a big future ahead of them and were definitely one of the stand outs on this bill. 8/10

Alatyr

Bristol based Alatyr are a female fronted metal band with progressive influences, they combine thrash and black metal riffage from their two guitarists and bassist, blast beats galore from their drummer and a mix of female and growled vocals. Think bands of Epica and ReVamp's ilk, the problem with Alatyr is that they are a little bit samey, the riffs were all similar making all of the songs the same. Yes musicianship was good but Alatyr on the whole were boring and the vocals of Steph Kiddle were not really to my taste. On the whole Alatyr just didn't inspire me, sorry guys. 4/10

Maschine

I was really looking forward to seeing Brighton's Maschine as I like their mix of intensely progressive rock, with a three distinct vocals harmonizing together. Unfortunately as they ascended to the stage there seemed to be a lot of problems with the sound and the instruments in general, this lasted for most of the set meaning that the band were only able to play two (admittedly long) songs, frontman/guitarist/bandleader Luke Machin did seemed a little miffed at the whole situation but the band managed two excellent songs one being the excellent Rubidium which is the title track of their album that bodes well and I look forward to seeing a full set in the future. 7/10

Leprous

Leprous have seen their profile explode in the last few years especially since their latest album Coal hit the shelves. In fact these Norwegians are possibly one of the best truly progressive bands around at the moment with a multitude of elements to their sound making genre classification very difficult. For all the Pain Of Salvation (a band they share a lot with), they also have Opeth, some black metal leanings and even some King Crimson thrown in. The band are not only their own seperate entity but they also make up Ihshan's band meaning that they have a huge amount of live experience, which shows through in every aspect of the bands show. The the heavy rifftastic guitars of Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Øystein Landsverk are the driving force of the band with the rhythm section of Martin Skrebergene's bass and Baard Kolstad's drums anchoring the heaviness and melancholy of the Coal era songs of which made up the majority of the setlist, but the instrumentation also made the earlier songs sparkle with their more upbeat melodic progressiveness. The key to Leprous' sound are the keys and unique vocals of Einar Solberg who shouts, screams, croons and generally acts like ring leader while abusing his keyboard to provide that extra edge to Leprous' musicality. The band seemed very receptive of the warm applause they received from the large crowd. With their phenomenal musicianship, infectious energy and cinematic light show Leprous are a band to catch, no matter what your taste you will find something in this band. 9/10

Haken

The main event came around, British progressive rockers Haken are rapidly becoming THE band in progressive music, their talent is beyond words with influences from all of the prog greats combining them altogether with a modern freshness. Haken are now on their third album and their recorded output seems to be getting stronger and stronger with The Mountain being both their most recent and their finest. And as The Path Unbeaten intro moved into piano driven Atlas Stone kicking off the set proper. It's the atmospheric nature of their music that makes Haken so good as they manage to combine hard rock, modenr metal and old school ethereal prog together to create some unique music. Ray Hearne's percussion and drums are excellent with jazz influences interspersed with primal power, new boy Conner Green is the rhythmic bottom end allowing the guitars of Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall to really show off their talents playing with some intense, intricate riffs and solos that duel with Diego Tejeida's keyboards, his keys are also bolstered by the Hen's additional keys. Tejeida also draws the eye with his madcap antics as he fights for attention with vocalist Ross Jennings who has an amazing voice that is at it's best on the crazy Cockroach King which shows off his range to the full. After Atlas Stone came the heavier tones of In Memoriam which sounds a lot like Mr Wilson and co, then a new song in the shape of Darkest Light, into the Middle Eastern Pareidoila and the finally the two epic tracks in the shape of Crystallised and Visions end the set with a blistering display of musicanship and virtuosity both songs together provided nearly 40 minutes of music and sent the prog fans home with a euphoric happiness. Haken keep on getting better and better and on this tour and this show especially they get one step closer to that stratosphere. 9/10

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Reviews: Amaranthe, Allen/Lande, Virgil & The Accelerators

Amaranthe: Massive Addictive (Spinefarm)

Swedes Amarathne are now on their third album and this comes just over a year after their second, in that time front woman Elize Ryd has become the go to female voice for such acts as Kamelot and Timo Tolkki on his Avalon project. Also in the interim they have lost their harsh vocalist Andreas "Andy" Solveström who has been replaced by Henrik Englund who is also in Scarpoint. Most bands try to expand their sound on their third album, however Amaranthe are not one of those bands they have just continued the formula from their first two albums. So yet again we have another album of heavy metal mixed with pulsing electronic pop, this is at it's best on first single Drop Dead Cynical which is as saccharine as a honey covered cotton candy. The title track is heavy weight with an electronic backing but it is driven by a big guitar riff from mainman Olof Mörck, the following track Digital World also shows off the skills of new boy Englund and he is good having more of black metal delivery than his predecessor but he works excellently with both Ryd and Jake E Berg who provides the clean vocals. Digital World also has a huge drop in the middle making it prime club fodder, expect this as the next single, the adrenaline rush subsides on ballad True and Over And Done on which Berg really gives his all. Again Englund is the driving force behind Danger Zone. So Amaranthe's third album has all the sounds of their first 2 albeit with a slightly different vocal, still if you liked the first 2 albums, then you will know what to expect and will love this album, however if you didn't there is nothing here to change your mind. 7/10

Allen/Lande: The Great Divide (Frontiers)

Symphony X singer Russell Allen and Masterplan vocalist Jorn Lande have been steadily releasing albums since 2005 with one coming every couple of years, when you have two amazing singers like Allen and Lande you need supreme talent backing it, on the last three albums The Battle, The Revenge, The Showdown it was Primal Fear guitarist Magnus Karlsson doing all the writing and most of the instrumentation, on this fourth album it is man who doesn't shy away from a collaborative project; ex-Stratovarius man Timo Tolkki who provides all the guitars (electric and bass) and also handles production. As usual his musical compositions are great with sweet riffs and solos bolstered by his crystal clear production and aided by Jami Huovinen on drums. The romantic hard rock of Come & Dream With Me starts things off, Down From The Mountain is faster track that is prime power metal on which Lande and Allen do their best Rob Halford while Huovinen keeps the pace rapid. From then on it's your normal power metal fodder with symphonic backing. Still even with the talent of the vocalists this is all a bit generic and gets very similar very quickly, still if you've got the others get this one, if not I would keep your money for some of the other better releases out at the moment. 5/10

Virgil & The Accelerators: Army Of Three (Mystic Records)

Virgil McMahon formed his power trio with his brother Gabriel on drums and Jack Alexander Timmis on bass in 2009, their first Radium album was full of hard hitting blues rock with elements of funk, soul and even jazz, McMahon has been hailed as spoken about in the same breath as Clapton or Hendrix and has been decorated with numerous awards such as European guitarist of the year. So what about his second album well the Hendrix vibe is at full effect on Take Me Higher which features some playing that would be at home on Electric Ladyland, Are You ExperiencedAxis: Bold As Love with Gabriel giving his best Mitch Mitchell and Timmis providing the funk of Noel Redding or Billy Cox. McMahon's superb playing is bolstered by his sonorous voice that betrays his age and adds to the band's classic power trio vibe. Blow To The Head rocks hard with it's "Hey Hey Hey" chant along final part. The blues runs through this album, everything is anchored by it the phrasing and feel the construction of the songs but where the magic lays in this album is how far they play with the genre moving away and adding others to create some great sounding rock music. All Night Long is a perfect example of this with it's punky riff and psychedelic middle section driven by Timmis bass. Love Aggression has an almost 80's feel to it with the lush backing synths, it moves into another rocker Give It Up which has the hip shaking groove and parping mouth harp of Aerosmith or The Cult. Through The Night is another big ballad with a hell of a solo in it, the heavyweight Stand Up is driven by lots of cowbell. Virgil & The Accelerators released a hell of a debut album but they have followed up in excellent style on this second album which is more mature, more considered work on which all three of these men give supreme performances, the spirit of Cream, The Experience, Taste and even SRV looms large on this record and because of that they have created an excellent second slice of pure British rock. 9/10  

Thursday, 23 October 2014

World Of Metal 20: Dreadnox, Viathyn, The Black Stymphalian

Dreadnox: The Hero Inside (Die Hard Records)

Dreadnox are a Brazilian metal band that have a sound based in the modern metal style with influence drawn from power and traditional metal Final Siege starts off with gunfire and sirens beckoning you into a world of rebellion, the band kick things off in style with crunchy metallic riffing, dual harmony's and powerful vocals from Fabio Schneider who has a vocal not to dissimilar to his countryman Andre Matos, as well as evoking 'Ripper' Owens and even Bruce Dickinson in parts. As I've said the band play muscular classic metal on which Felipe Curi blasts the drums like a machine gunner moving between smashing rhythms, killer fills and double kick blast beats. Dead Montana brings a bass gallop that has been perfected by 'Arry in Maiden, see finale My Judgement Day. Finally we have the guitars of Kiko Dillert brings the riffs, harmonising on top of the excellent rhythm section. Dreadnox are not all about the traditional of metal or Maiden etc through they add thrashier elements from Metallica and Megadeth see Manic Depressive and Nomophobia both of which have the thrash element, they also bring some progressive power metal on Dreamcatcher which sounds a lot like Angra and shows off Schneider's awesome vocals. So Dreadnox are not your normal classic metal band they add many elements to their sound which sets them apart from their contemporaries, they are both melodic and heavy and in true classic metal tradition they have an instrumental in the shape of DX which has some solos and riffs that would make Megadave blush. Brazil has always been the spritual heart of the heavy metal scene, they really care about metal there and Dreadnox are a testament to this with a melting pot of influences all brought together to create a great album full of strong metal songs from a band well worth checking out!! 8/10

Viathyn: Cynosure (Independent)

Canada is becoming somewhat of a breeding ground for intelligent modern progressive metal with bands such as Borealis bringing a new scope on the works of Shadow Gallery, Fates Warning and of course Dream Theater. Viathyn are now on their second record with Cynosure being an "exploration into the chaos and the beauty of the natural (and unnatural) world, with themes of discord, affliction, disillusion, enlightenment, and grandeur, as seen through the eyes of nine storytellers" so far so prog, it is this lofty ambition/concept that is met with some seriously amazing musicanship from the Canadians, with the drums of Dave Crnkovic coming thick and fast part metal/part jazz driving everything along, the bass of Alex Kot is technical and is the base (no pun intended) layer of the rhythm, the solos and leads are handled by Jacob Wright who wrings every bit of emotion out of his instrument while also showing the skill of the virtuosos associated with the genre, he is aided by the rhythm playing of Tomislav Crnkovic who also provides the powerful vocals. The band are equally at home with speed as they are with the slower songs like Time Will Take Us All which is all about the atmosphere, as they are with more rampaging romps like Shadows In Our Wake and the rollicking of Three Sheets To The Wind which has to be classed as progressive Pirate metal. As is the norm with prog metal the songs are all over five minutes but they never outstay their welcome, most are metallic, progressive songs with touches of power metal thrown in meaning that they hold your attention, as this is a concept album based on 9 points of view they all have different feel to them meaning that the album flows well with exercises in light and shade throughout. As I have said their seems to be a glut of excellent progressive metal bands coming from Canada at the moment and Viathyn is just another addition to this country's list of high calibre bands. 9/10   


The Black Stymphalian: Khaos Sigma (Self Released)

"This is a bit tasty!" that was my first remark upon hearing this the second EP from Darlington UK based The Black Stymphalian. The 'band' is made up of Jaymez Stephenson who handles all the stringed instruments providing both the guitars and the bass as well as keys etc he is joined by the blitzkreig drums of Lyle Cooper and vocalists Greg Fender and Ian Gillings, who are both from the Robb Flynn/Randy Blythe school of growls and screams. As Chaoskampf erupts from the stereo we are battered by superfast drumming and the amazing riffage of Stephenson who channels the modern thrash of Machine Head even incorporating the more recent progressive elements on tracks like Rules Of Engagement which also draws influence from American's Trivium (especially their Shougun faze). This EP is a bit special, 5 awesome tracks that show of the frankly stunning playing and songwriting of Stephenson who is a one man band in the truest sense, he has brought the dual riffs of modern American metal, merged it with searing solos, a progressive edge, crystal clear production and recruited some top notch musicians to aide him. With some great tracks like March Of A Blackened Christ, Martyr No More and the excellent closing shot of The Awakening this is an EP of top notch metal, could we have a full length soon please? 8/10 

The View From Back Of The Room: Blackberry Smoke (Review By Paul)

Blackberry Smoke: The Institute, Birmingham

Another trip to England’s second capital within a week for another quite brilliant evening.

After a smooth journey we arrived at the venue with three hours before Atlanta’s good ‘ole boys Blackberry Smoke took to the stage. An interesting hostelry a short walk away caught our eye and proved to be a real treat. The Old Crown Inn reputed to be Birmingham’s oldest pub dating back to the 1300s looked warm and inviting. Serving some lovely draft ales and possibly the best burger I've ever had in a pub, we spent a happy couple of hours pre-gig. If you come this way make sure you check it out.

The Institute is a strange venue and the Google reviews are quite damning. Having spent a few hours in the smaller Library venue last week, this event was at least being held in the main hall. It turned out to be decent enough, and having squeezed our way through the crush at the rear of the hall we actually ended up with ample room and decent sight lines for once. Of course, the idiot magnet that I possess worked like a charm and once again a total tit ended up very close to us. Absolutely blasted, he became something of a distraction with his flailing arms, poorly timed jumping and general crashing around inviting the potential of a large slap from the less than amused lady behind him. Luckily his mates saw sense and moved him to the middle where he was less irritating. TWAT!!

Just after nine, Blackberry Smoke made their way onto the stage amidst a quite epic amount of incense burning. This was inspired as the whole evening was scented with the pleasant aroma of this rather than the usual farty, beerery stench which we have come to associate with gigs (and no, the burger hadn't taken effect at this time!). The band wasted little time, powering through their highly crafted Southern country rock anthems; Like I Am from Little Piece Of Dixie was followed by Testify from their first album Bad Luck Ain't No Crime. Clad in denim and sporting the most incredible chops ever seen, the Smoke were on fire and their playing was exceptional. Lead vocalist and guitarist Charlie Starr has a quite incredible stage presence, understated and yet imposing at the same time. His solos were excellent and he quickly demonstrated what a fine talent he is; he also has the best sideburns North of Billy Gibbons I've ever see.

A collection of tunes from their 2012 release The Whippoorwill followed; Lucky Seven and the sing-a-longs of Pretty Little Lie and Six Ways To Sunday had the buoyant crowd mouthing every word (and who wouldn't want to hear their baby “speaking in tongues” after a good roggering?). Unfortunately a rather unsavoury incident then occurred at the front as one of the audience was violently assaulted by another member of the crowd. As the perpetrator fled there was an air of confusion on stage, mainly as bassist and all round smoothie Richard Turner had witnessed the event directly in front of him. Charlie Starr checked that all was good and then wise-cracked about it being like back home on a Saturday night before ironically launching into Good One Coming On! Not for the poor bloke with his nose all over his face though. As the injured party was led out by ShowSec and St John’s Ambulance, the pace picked up and the track extended into a showcase of quality guitar work from Starr and Paul Jackson combined with the fat Hammond sounds from Brendon Still on the keys. A snippet of Midnight Rider from the Allman Brothers was also included and received a very warm reception before the pace slowed with a couple of bluesy numbers which culminated with the title track from their last album.

The set was perfectly paced, with ample opportunity for the band to make everything look absolutely painless and totally effortless. That is surely the mark of an excellent band, top quality on every level with absolutely ease. Up In Smoke got the crowd moving again before a departure from the usual subject matter with Ain't Got the Blues. We then got a rare treat with two booze flavoured tracks, both from their 2008 EP New Honky Tonk Bootlegs. First up the lovely Lesson In A Bottle, followed by Son Of The Bourbon, this had the diehards singing along. Penultimate tune One Horse Town maintained the audience participation levels before the band closed the evening with Ain't Much Left Of Me. A short pause as the traditional breather was taken before a final duo of Leave A Scar and Freedom Song rounded off a quite brilliant evening of top quality music. Blackberry Smoke has the confidence and ability to be headlining much bigger venues than this is years to come. Absolutely Top Drawer. 10/10

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Reviews: Evil Scarecrow, Audrey Horne, Messenger (Reviews By Paul)

Evil Scarecrow – Galactic Hunt (Deadbox Records)

The scarecrew’s third full release has been a bloody long time coming. Forged out of a massively successful pledge music campaign and capitalising the momentum deservedly achieved from their constant gigging, not to mention two fucking incredible BOA appearances, Galactic Hunt is certainly packed full of new goodies from Dr Hell and his cohorts. Opener Rise is a full on heavy metal rocker, whilst Space Dementia, all homage to Red Dwarf races along, ringmaster Monty Blitzfist’s drumming powerful and combining with the guitars of Dr Hell and Brother Pain. However, throughout the album it is the subtle synths of Princess Luxury which have been enhanced in the excellent production, adding a soothing and essential layer to many of the songs. Of course, if you've seen Evil Scarecrow live, the opening few tracks will be familiar already. Space Dementia is greeted like an old friend whilst Crabulon has been around so long it seems scandalous that it is only now committed to record. Evil Scarecrow make no bones about their parody element; their lyrics are ridiculous yet right. However the band can really play and Galactic Hunt certainly justifies their right to THAT Saturday morning slot at BOA. Flight Of The Dragons, one of 12 tracks, certainly provides a demonstration of their musical prowess, building atmospherically from an Arthurian setting into a full on heads down metal attack, harmonies in full use, before the pace slows and showcases Pain’s guitar work. In fact there is little for me to criticise on Galactic Hunt except for … and this is a minor issue, the vocal delivery. Dr Hell’s voice is really suited to the live arena and although it fits the band perfectly, on record it can become a little difficult to live with after the first few tracks. Having said that, this is a really decent release, we'll worth the wait and the pledge. The opportunity to see them convert these songs in the live arena should be taken with both claws; Hammerfest can't come quickly enough. 7/10


Audrey Horne – Pure Heavy (Napalm)

Regular readers of this illustrious blog may recall that I waxed lyrical over Audrey Horne’s 2013 release Youngblood. Indeed, if memory serves, it made my top 10 of last year [They did- Matt]. It was with delight that I discovered that Pure Heavy had been released, albeit below my radar. So what is it about Audrey Horne that makes them so damn fine? Well, a listen to Pure Heavy should answer that very easily. Excellent musicianship, beautifully crafted heavy rock songs with no hidden agenda and of course the brilliant voice of Toschie. I won't provide a history as this has been done before, save to say that in my opinion Norway has produced nothing finer. Highlights on this album? Opener Wolf In My Heart rocks comprehensively, whilst Out Of The City is pure AOR filth. The whole album just reeks of classic rock, influences of many rock giants evident including Van Halen and one of my all-time favourite bands Thin Lizzy but all what the Audrey Horne stamp. Harmonies adding to the the sing-a-long choruses (Tales From The Crypt is a prime example), hooks galore and an overall great feel. Unfortunately Audrey Horne are rarely on the UK shores although I had the massive fortune of seeing them live at Sonisphere a couple of years ago (and at the same time introduced the legendary Brett Perry to Jagermeister but that’s another story) but they are really worth catching if you get the chance. Into The Wild, possibly my favourite track on the album, demonstrates the excellent guitar work of Arve Isdal (Enslaved) and Thomas Toftenharg (Sahg) and really is the essence of the band. Powerful rhythms and swirling guitars topped off with great hooks and vocals. Pure Heavy continues the excellent work laid down in Audrey Horne and Youngblood. Another great release in a year of quite exceptional music. 9/10

Messenger – Illusory Blues (Code 7-Svart)

Messenger first appeared on my radar when I was fortunate enough to see them support Casualties of Cool at the Union Chapel in September. Even in their short set their complex delicate compositions pricked my interest and the subsequent purchase of their first long player left me with the feeling that I'd uncovered a bit of a gem. Formed in London in 2012 the core of the band consists of Khaled Lowe, Barnaby Maddick and Jamie Gomez Arellano. This album sits very comfortably in the KScope stable, alongside the likes of Anathema, The Pineapple Thief, Lunatic Soul and Blackfield.  Combining the best elements of the progressive movement with folk, rock and even Jazz, the album is delicately crafted and beautifully constructed. The Return starts with harmonies and an instrumental opening that quickly develops in an acoustic epic complete with flute action! The track slowly meanders to a dramatic and thunderous conclusion, rolling drums and chords a plenty. Piscean Tide is awash with folk, violin and acoustic guitar providing a folksy opening which progresses into another quite delightful track, mellow and relaxing with the violin enhancing the rhythm. The vocals are pristine throughout, warming melodies and soaring harmonies combining to quite stunning effect. Dear Departure captures the huge Pink Floyd influence that surges through the whole of Illusory Blues, no bad thing. Atmospheric sound effects provide another layer to the compositions. The combined vocals are of the highest quality, rich and powerful yet measured and composed. The Perpetual Glow Of A Setting Sun contains oriental influences along with the. Swirling keys and effects synonymous with bands like Hawkwind. Somniloquist sweeps you on a journey which ebbs and flows, intricate time changes and some quite heavy riffs in the middle section, contrasting perfectly with he overall calming vibe which flows through the album. String sections and keyboards are used to great effect, adding a number of complex layers to the tracks. The Eastern feel continues with final track Let The Light In, Led Zeppelin influences fusing into a fitting climax. This album requires some dedication, each listen allowing you to discover more and more of the delicious elements which are almost hidden within each song. A quite enchanting album. 9/10

Reviews: The Datsuns, Antemasque, Immortal Guardian

The Datsuns: Deep Sleep (Hellsquad Records)

The Datsuns have been peddling their high quality fuzzy garage rock since 2002 and their sixth record is yet another trippy, reverbed, fuzzed up slice of down and dirty rock. The album kicks off with Caught In The Silver which is driven by frontman Rudolf de Borst's rumbling low end and Phil Somervell and Christian Livingstone's distorted guitars, Bad Taste is a radio rocker that comes straight out of the QOTSA playbook, Claw Machine has a shuffle that the Hellacopters would love. The band merge classic hard rock, noisy garage rock That's What You Get, punk rock on Shaky Mirrors, all combined with huge slabs of psychedelia especially on 500 Eyes which has a 60's Jefferson Airplane vibe that with a gorgeous slide solo in the middle. For a band that have been around so long you can really hear the years of touring and recording have paid off as this album is slick and flawless in it's execution. The guitars sear, the bass rumbles, the drums tumble and they all come together brilliantly. As the album rounds off with the trippy title track, you've been taken on a journey into The Datsuns little world rock and roll that encompasses elements of 60's psych, the blues rock of The Black Keys and lashings of professionalism. A great album with broad appeal. 7/10

Antemasque: S/T (Nadie Sound)

So after the explosion of The Mars Volta. Thw two main men Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala had somewhat of a falling out leading many to believe that neither The Mars Volta or indeed At The Drive In would ever return and they in part are right as even though the two have buried the hatchet they have returned with a new band and a sound that seems to be an amalgamtion of their two bands as well as drawing from all of their other projects. Unlike The Mars Volta, Antemasque are a more straight up prospect as the songs like 4AM and I Got No Remorse are based more around driving punk rock mixed with Rodríguez-López's extremely talented guitar playing, so think progressive punk rock/hard rock and you wouldn't be far off. In fact as this album progresses it becomes clear that this is what The Mars Volta had been aiming for on their two final(?) albums. I've already mentioned about Rodríguez-López's excellent of kilter, noodling, jazz guitar which set this album out like an upbeat, progressive The Smiths see In The Lurch. Bixler-Zavala's vocals are also very good he keeps his caterwauling to a minimum on this project preferring to concentrate on his normal mid range meaning that he is a lot more listenable for those that found his vocals in The Mars Volta to be a little overbearing. Former TMV and Killer Be Killed drummer Dave Elitch provides the crazy percussion sometimes sounding like he is playing a completely separate song, think Stewart Copeland, the funk bottom comes from funk bass pioneer Flea (who notably contributed trumpet to TMV). Everything gets a little Zeppelin on Drown All Your Witches before making everything gets dark and fuzzy and in the finale heavy on Providence. I'll be honest I've always been a fan of The Mars Volta but they have always been a little too out there for many, Antemasque is the bridge between the gap, it's proggy enough for TMV fans but also mainstream friendly enough for fans of At The Drive In, RHCP's and accessible rock music. 8/10   


Immortal Guardian: Revolution Part 1 (Independent)

American extreme power metal band Immortal Guardian first came to my attention with their first EP Super Metal. I thought it was a hell of an album with the kind of speed metal riffs that wouldn't seem out of place on a Symphony X, Dragonforce or indeed any Japanese metal album. However the album was lacking vocally, that was until it was re-relased with their then new, now current vocalist Carlos Zema who has a hell of voice in the style of Russell Allen, gritty, powerful but also stratospheric. Revolution Part 1 is the precursor EP for their debut full length album and yet again it features some insane musicanship from these madmen the rhythm section of Thad Stevens bass and Cody Gilland's drums are insane with Steven's gallop having more horsepower than a Mazerati and Gilland's blast beating putting some black metal drummers to shame. To add the melodies and riffs we look to Gabriel Guardian who contributes guitars and keyboards (most of the time simultaneously) and Jyro Alejo who shreds like Malmsteen at lightspeed. Over these five tracks we have the two opening tracks the power metal rampage of Beyond The Skies, the heavier darker tone of Walk Alone before the middle of the album delivers one it's finest tracks, the excellent Immortal which features Roy Z who has contributed to both Rob Halford's and Bruce Dickinson's solo projects and also produces this EP, this track is phenomenal featuring lots of light and shade, a progressive nature and shit loads of guitar solos from the Guardian boys and Mr Z himself. Before we are treated to a huge ballad on Between Fire And Ice which has huge backing vocals and slows everything down fleshing out IG's sound a bit more before the finale of Victory Shore ends the album in true IG style. If this is an indication of what the album will sound like then it's guaranteed to be a real treat for metal fans!! 8/10

 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Reviews: Decapitated, Cannibal Corpse, Black Moth (Reviews By Paul)

Decapitated: Blood Mantra (Nuclear Blast)

When it comes to technical metal you immediately think of Meshuggah, giants in the world of polyrhythmic time changes. Add the word death to the technical metal and there is no finer artist than Polish quartet Decapitated. Following on from 2011’s excellent Carnival Is For Ever, Blood Mantra elevates an already high bar into orbit. Crammed full of intricate and subtle time changes, this is a work of the highest quality. From the aggression of opener Exiled In Flesh to the atmospheric Blindness, the whole album just oozes brilliance. Blast beat drumming combined with powerhouse riffs which stick in the memory entwine with the stunning soloing from the main heartbeat of the band, Waclaw ‘Vogg’ Kieltyka. Dripping with hooks and no little dose of groove, Blood Mantra provides vocalist Rafal Piotrowski with the perfect platform to demonstrate his prowess and his growling delivery fits the bill completely. Each of the tracks are crafted brilliantly with the supporting rhythm section of bassist Pawel Pasek and new recruit Michael Lysejko on drums ensuring that the heaviness remains ever present. Just as an example, album closer Moth Defect contains an absolute blitzkrieg of powerhouse drumming. Blood Mantra is without doubt a masterclass for the genre of technical death metal. This album will definitely feature in my end of year top 10. A stunning piece of work from a band now firmly established in the top percentile. Roll on 12 December and their supporting role to Behemoth. Nergal and co had better watch out. His countrymen might well blow them off the stage. 10/10

Cannibal Corpse: A Skeletal Domain (Metal Blade)

The blueprint for death metal over the past 26 years has been crafted and delivered by New York’s gore masters. With A Skeletal Domain, their 13th release, Cannibal Corpse continue to demonstrate why they are the absolute masters in their field. Granted, if you don’t like death metal, this album won’t change your view one iota; however, if you happen to like a bit of extremely fast aggressive violent bloody death metal, this album will tick your boxes. 2012's Torture was a decent release and maintained the momentum that Cannibal Corpse have built over the years. Yet whilst the subject matter remains very much par for the course, (Sadistic Embodiment or Ice Pick Lobotomy anyone?) this album is a real improvement with some excellent writing and playing. The band are tighter on this album that a bull dog clip on your nut sack; blast beat drums hammer away from start to finish, crashing down with tsunami force; riffs drop from the sky at intense speed, solos peel off at an alarming rate and as always George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fischer’s vocal delivery remains the ultimate pinnacle of death metal frontmen. Take Kill Or Become, nothing says death metal more than Corpsegrinder growling “If you want to live you have to kill or become”; and the catchy refrain of “Fire Up the Chainsaw”. This album won’t change the world but what it does do is cement the position of Cannibal Corpse as the ultimate Death Metal outfit. No band from this genre has sold more records than them and they remain the true ideal for thousands of pretenders to their crown. Top quality death metal at its finest. Now, where was that chainsaw again? 8/10

Black Moth: Condemned To Hope (New Heavy Sounds)

Leeds outfit Black Moth’s second full release is a glorious mixture of doom, gothic, indie and hard rock. In fact, it's difficult to actually put a label on them. Opener Tumbleweave displays the doom influences of Sleep and Sabbath, stomping riffs and dark atmospheric lyrics cascade around you. Set Yourself Alight has the brashness and aggression of Iggy And The Stooges with elements of many of the guitar based indie bands; think of Sonic Youth or the Breeders for example. However, what provides Black Moth with an edge over many of their contemporaries is the haunting vocal delivery of Harriet Bevan. Sticking to a doom laden delivery, Bevan’s vocal suites the dark and witty lyrics: “your eyes say rock n roll but your lips say pepperoni” (Tumbleweave). Condemned To Hope displays pleasing variations in style, memorable hooks and catchy choruses, laced with the introspection of Siouxsie and the Banshees amongst others. The biggest problem facing Black Moth may the difficulty in categorising them and trying to gain the exposure they deserve. Are they metal, are they indie, goth or as I would suggest a magnificent hybrid of all genres. Having seen them live at Temples Festival earlier this year I know they can deliver live and I'm looking forward to another viewing at Damnation in November. 8/10

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Another Point Of View: Opeth (Review By Paul)

Opeth – The Institute, Birmingham

Having been unable to get to the Bristol date of the Pale Communion tour it was a first ever visit to The Institute in Birmingham to check out the last leg of Opeth’s UK tour. Getting to Birmingham at tea time on any evening is always a massive ball ache but with the gods on our side we made it shortly after doors opened and in good time for openers Alcest.

I have a lot of time for French outfit Alcest. Their music is moving and emotional and Shelter earlier this year was a quite beautiful release (see review earlier this year in MoM). This was my fourth viewing of them in the live arena, following their magnificent headline set in the Sophie Tent at BOA in 2012 and two stints as support on the last Katatonia tour. A short set consisting of five songs represented their works from their four albums. Opening with Opale from Shelter, Neige’s voice was initially lost in the grubby mix, overwhelmed by an overpowering bass line. Alcest need a clean mix to highlight the nuances and complexities in their compositions and once it was sorted their quality began to shine through. Heavier live than on record, Neige’s vocals vary from clean to death growl. Autre Temps followed, Winterhalter’s powerful drumming looking easy. Indria’s bass playing blends perfectly whilst Zero’s guitar playing combines with Neige’s to provide the riffage alongside the shoe gazing. Zero’s backing vocals were excellent and look very strange coming out of a mountain of a man. Closing with Deliverance from Shelter, Alcest received a very warm reaction from the packed crowd, even from me who had been dozing off; we call that the Alcest effect! Warm and dreamy, they really do make you lose yourself for a few minutes at time. 8/10

Opeth are fast approaching classic status. After over 20 years in the business, a band much loved by many (yours truly included) and surely but slowly but surely increasing in status, they also attract quite a lot of negativity from members of the metal community. There are those who feel that they have lost their heaviness and abandoned their black metal roots with their last two albums moving effortlessly to a progressive and 70s sound far removed from their debut Orchid. How wrong they are. What we were treated to was an absolute master class in metal and how to construct the perfect set list. This was my 11th evening with Mr Akerfeldt and company, and with the exception of the sensation Albert Hall gig in 2010 this was the best set list and performance I think I've ever witnessed. As the strains of Through Pain To Heaven faded out, the band launched into a double header from Pale Communion; Eternal Rains Will Come and Cusp Of Eternity. Opeth had a few dates before Birmingham to get used to playing these live and both were pretty astounding; heavier than on the album but also allowing the delicate and clear tones of Akerfeldt to come to the fore. Any suggestion that this was going to be a set consisting of the quieter side of Opeth was immediately blown away as a thunderous Bleak blasted any cobwebs away. As usual, Akerfeldt was in fine form, dry humour and his self-depreciating approach evident every time he engaged the crowd. A comedy moment followed as guitarist Fredrick Akersson launched into Advent, only to be hauled back as the next track was actually The Moor from the excellent Still Life. As several of the crowd laughingly shouted that Akersson would be “sacked in the morning”, Akerfeldt made light of it. What never fails to astound me is the technical ability of all members of the band. Both Akerfeldt and Akersson are stunning guitarists, able to peel of solo after solo as well as add the layers required to the complex structures of the songs. Martin Mendez’s bass playing is consistently solid and he combines with Martin ‘Axe’ Axenrot superbly. Axe’s drumming is so impressive, powerful bass drumming hammering away whilst he effortlessly moves around the rest of the kit. However, what was really noticeable this time around was the influence that keyboard player Joakim Svalberg has on the music. His mellotron and Hammond keyboards flow through the tracks, enriching the sound and adding a fresh dimension to older songs. He also has added a welcome harmony to the backing vocals, an area most recently shared somewhat limitedly by Akersson. Following The Moor it was indeed a welcome rare airing for Advent from 1997’s Morningrise, a powerful and complex track, full of atmosphere and numerous changes in mood and speed. The tempo was then reduced as Opeth slowed the tempo, delivering the beautiful Elysian Woes from Pale Communion before dipping back to Damnation for the delicate and fragile Windowpane. After this though it was heads down for an all-out assault as Opeth demonstrated that when you need heavy, there aren't many bands that will come close. April Ethereal bludgeoned its way towards the sole nod to Heritage with The Devil's Orchard before the band closed with a brutal combination of The Lotus Eater from Watershed and The Grand Conjuration, an evil and twisted piece from Ghost Reveries. An encore followed and despite several shouts for my favourite track Blackwater Park, it was the crushingly heavy Deliverance, all 13 minutes of it, which ended a performance that had lasted well over two hours. A complex journey through much of Opeth’s catalogue with some rare outings adding to the overall excellence of the evening. Opeth just get better and better. 10/10

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Reviews: Slipknot, Flying Colors, Sanctuary

Slipknot: 5: The Grey Chapter (Roadrunner)

The world's most dangerous band have been in turmoil as of late, with the passing of bassist/primary song writer Paul Gray in 2010, something that shocked the band to it's core and saw them on the verge of collapse. This feeling of loss has been doubled by the resignation of drummer Joey Jordison in 2013 meaning that this album, the band's fifth, has been gestating for six years. In the meantime the disagreement between Jim Root and Corey taylor around their other project Stone Sour has caused conflict between the two, however Slipknot have always been a twisted family and it is all of the members first love that they always return to. Because of this the release of a Slipknot album is always an event and .5: The Grey Chapter (title is a homage to their fallen brother) has been teased for months the full reveal coming with the video for The Devil In I which the band debuted their new masks, Taylors being the most radical change and also their new rhythm section. However the music is the same as it's always been, animalistic percussion from the new drummer, the twisted genius Shawn Clown Crahan and the gonzoid Chris Fehn, samples galore from the silent killer Craig Jones and the evil gimp Sid Wilson, murderous riffs from man mountain Mick Thompson and the Viking bearded joker Jim Root before the twisted master of ceremonies, Taylor, sings, croons, growls, barks the aggressive lyrics becoming the mouth piece for another slice of fervent rallying becoming a clarion call for the disillusioned and the angst ridden. The overall sound of the album is a mixture of the melodies present on Vol. 3 and the aggression and primitive nature of Iowa. XIX is a call to arms with just a single electronic sample and Taylor's scarred vocals showing the scars of their recent past before Sarcastrophe starts off subdued but as the guitars kick in they proceed to bludgeon just like the old days with everything going 100 mph, AOV kicks it up another gear with a riff meant to cause huge pits. The pace doesn't let up on The Devil In I which has more melody in it harking back to Vol 3 but still has enough bile and violence to ensure that you are still aurally beaten. Killpop slows things down and is a percussive violent love song before Skeptic takes things back to the boilersuits and blood of Iowa, with Taylor screaming his head off. The riffs are brutal, the percussion is bone breaking and Taylor shows why he is considered one of the best singers around, see the change between barks on Lech the croon on the electronic ballad Goodbye (a song that is heart breaking) and even the expletive filled machine gun spoken word delivery on Custer. The finale is in two parts, the first is Negative One which is Slipknot distilled and the second is the sparse, haunting, depressive If Rain Is What You Want. So even though they have matured and had their fair share of tragedy the nine man killing machine is still pumping out some of the most confrontational, influential metal music in the world. Lock up your loved ones, Slipknot are back whether you like it or not! 9/10    

Flying Colors: Second Nature (Mascot)

When supergroup Flying Colors relased their first album in 2012 expectation was high, here you had one of the leading lights in prog Neal Morse, his Transatlantic bandmate and frequent collaborator Mike Portnoy, joining forces with Deep Purple's Steve Morse and his fellow Dixie Dreg Dave LaRue, the only unknown being singer Casey McPherson. With the talent involved everyone a expected a prog extravaganza but what they got was a technically proficient, brilliantly executed mix of pop, rock, funk and jazz all brought together in one place with the immense musicianship of the the musos mixed with the pop voice of McPherson. However many felt the album didn't scratch their prog itch so Second Nature aims to redress the balance doing exactly what the title suggests, prog is in these men's blood so as the Transatlantic style opening of Open Up Your Eyes we dive straight in at the deep end with some airy keyboard fuelled majesty that then changes into a synth filled 13 minute stunner of an opener that echoes ELP and Yes, Neal Morse's fingerprint is all over the opener and as the song progresses we get changes in key, pace and style as LaRue lets his jazz side out, Portnoy turns from easy patterns into huge fills and Steve Morse solos like a demon in the middle eight and at the climax. Again it is McPherson's voice that is a revelation as he can really sing, his voice reminiscent to a cleaner version of Dave Grohl and his pop phrasing means that he hasn't got the overblown histrionics of many prog singers. Yes prog certainly is in this bands nature and they show this to full effect on this record with most of the songs over 4 minutes and the album is bookended by one 12 minute track and one 11 minute track the glorious finale Cosmic Symphony. In between we have Mask Machine which is big rock track followed by the orchestral backed power of Bombs Away and the Queen-like ballad of The Fury Of My Love which again is pure Neal Morse. The band gel so well on this record there is no self-indulgent nonsense, everything is for the good of the song, we are taken on a journey through the members influences from the Beatles-like A Place In Your World, the Celtic flavoured One Love Forever and of course the likes of ELP, Yes and even Floyd on the plaintive acoustic strummed Peaceful Harbour which gives McPherson ample opportunity to show off his impressive voice. This is a passion project from all those involved they created the songs, performed them and produced the album meaning that this album pips it's predecessor only because; one it is what is expected and two a true labour of love. So the prog is most definitely back and Second Nature is the sound of five men doing what they do best and doing it with style. 9/10      

Sanctuary: The Year The Sun Died (Century Media)

Move along Axl Rose your album Chinese Democracy took 14 years to make, well Sanctuary's last album, the excellent Into The Mirror Black, was released 25 years ago, and in the year 2014 it now finally has a follow up. This gap between albums is because the band broke up after their last album and only reunited again in 2010, this isn't to say the band faded into obscurity, frontman Warrel Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard formed Progressive metallers Nevermore with guitarist Jeff Loomis. Nevermore was a totally separate entity from Sanctuary, it was far more progressive with wider style and themes explored on their albums. Sanctuary on the other hand were smack bang in the middle of thrash (their first album was produced by MegaDave himself) so they managed to make strong aggressive but also progressive thrash/traditional metal albums. Now I don't have a preference, I think both bands are excellent so thankfully The Year The Sun Died has all the elements you would want from Sanctuary with the modern, mature touch of Nevermore. As the opening riff of Arise And Purify kicks it is clear the thrash is definitely back with Lenny Rutledge and Brad Hill proving some expert riffage along with the speedy gallop of Sheppard's bass and the frankly excellent drumming of Dave Budbill, obviously one of the major selling points of both Sanctuary and Nevermore was the amazing vocal range of Dane who shows his form off brilliantly here from the bellowing lower range croon on tracks like Let The Serpent Follow Me and the monolithic doom of Exitium (Anthem of the Living) to the ear piercing shrieks (not favoured in Nevermore) of I Am Low which is a surprisingly Nevermore sounding track as is The Dying Age which ends with cries of "Exterminate". The Year The Sun Died is glorious return from Sanctuary, it picks up where Into The Mirror.... left off and adds everything that Dane and Sheppard have been part of since, the songs are heavier, bolder and more mature than before and as the emotive and passionate title track ends the album perfectly I felt as if Sanctuary have continued their legacy by carrying on the sound of both the bands they are associated with, this is one for fans of the original Sanctuary and also happily for fans of Nevermore too. 8/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Treatment

The Treatment, Buffalo Summer & Massive, Clwb Ifor Bach

So another gig in my hometown (Thank Christ!) and this one was real doozy, three young rock bands flying the flag for rock and roll in the face of many that say rock is dead (Yes you Mr Simmons!). As the lights went down the first band hit the stage

Massive

The trials of support band are well documented, playing gigs to five or six people, most of whom are uninterested in what the hell is going. This is all standard fare for a band in the opening slot, not for Aussie's Massive (or is it MASSIVE), they dove straight into their ballsy brand of AC/DC meets G'N'R snarling rock and roll and went for the jugular with first song Burn The Sun then ploughing straight into Dancefloor. The crowd garnered as these four Australians worked themselves into a whirling dervish of riffs similar to that Antipodean Devil Warner Bros gave us. The between song banter was short sweet and completely incomprehensible but the bands songs spoke for themselves, smash and grab drums of Jarrod Medwin, the thumping bass of Aidan McGarrigle, the smoking leads and solos of  Ben Laguda and finally the whole testosterone fuelled, attitude lace rock and roll cavalcade is fronted by firecracker frontman Brad Marr on rhythm and vocals. Having a self aggrandising name like Massive can be a curse however it's both a blessing and prophecy for these Aussie madmen. Mark my words they will be Massive soon enough! 8/10

Buffalo Summer

A small change of pace was required after the muscular man rock of Massive and Buffalo Summer provided it perfectly. This Welsh quartet have been getting bigger an bigger on every tour and with good reason; the band play the same kind of 70's style hard rock that was always favoured by Zeppelin and Free as well as more modern acts like The Answer. However the band are much more than just a pastiche to the past they bring a modern edge to proceedings adding some heavier elements to their sound and also a tonne of funk that lends many of their songs a sound not too dissimilar to Extreme. Jonny (guitar), Andrew (vocals), Darren (bass) and Gareth (drums) all gel togetehr perfectly to give real guts to songs like A Horse Called Freedom, Ain't No OtherRolls On Through as well as the bayou stomp of Down To The River which got everyone stomping and clapping like a revival. Yet another home grown rock band showing that rock is still alive and well and at this gig particularly giving  a great bluesy, funk laden break in between the riotous rock a roll with some sublime classic rock straight from the Page and Plant copy book. 8/10

The Treatment

I've seen the Treatment evolve on stage from long haired teenagers to the stylised, focussed, precision rock machine they are now. As the lights went down the speakers jumped to life with Swords Of A Thousand Men which in my opinion is one of the best drinking/fighting/attitude songs of all time. As the crowd bellowed along the band appeared on stage decked out in their Sex Pistols leathers oozing attitude from every pour. The song cut dead (it is only three minutes long) and I Bleed Rock And Roll was (obviously) the first song, it's a declarative statement with AC/DC style riff getting heads banging and fists pumping. The band definitely have the look as I've said with frontman Matt doing his best M Shadows meets Axl Rose throughout, but what the band also do is stun you with just how accomplished they are musically, their song writing is great and their live delivery is flawless. Special kudos to the guitarists Dee Dammers and Tagore Grey who both gurn for their lives as they kick out the riffage for tracks like Emergency, the filthy The Doctor, the clarion call of Drink, Fuck, Fight and the mini epic The Outlaw before they played Running With The Dogs which is pure distilled punk rock. The set was well paced leaning heavily their excellent new album, the climax of the set came with Get The Party On which encouraged the (quite large) crowd to drink like it was Saturday night (it was in fact Wednesday) before Shake The Mountain made the roof come off. After being hit with nearly and hour of pure rock and roll all conducted by a band that have grown into a great, polished live act, the crowd caught their breath as the encore came with the lighter waving sing along Nothing To Lose But Our Minds. Next time they tour do your self a favour and see The Treatment live, this is what rock and roll is about! 8/10

So with a bill of three young rock bands, all of whom gave their all for rock and roll, I can say that ignore what the detractors say rock is still alive and kicking ladies and gents!!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

World Of Metal 19: Reaction, Son Of Wine, Second To Sun

Reaction: Kill The Parasite (Self Released)

Reaction hail from the shores of Italy and they bring with them some progressive thrash metal. As the intro subsides we dive head first into Behind Your Mask which is part Metallica, part Testament with a speedy first half, shouted vocals and a breakdown final part that will get the masses jumping. The band are all consummate musicians with some great drums from Jvan Tagliabue who rumbles like thunder on Betray The Time, which also features a bass solo from Enrico "Terry" Rusconi who plays his bass like a lead guitar merging seamlessly with the six strings of Marco Vicari who also provides the Chuck Billy-like vocals. Things slow down on Lost which is an acoustic song in the vein of Metallica's Black Album period which turns into an electric solo filled finale before we are driven right back into thrash territory on Criminal Pride replete with 'Tallica's bells(!). Yes they wear their influences on their sleeves but this trio play with passion and conviction and the songs themselves are strong with lots of great dynamics in the music and the playing is in places amazing (see the acoustic introduction of Cage Of Freedom). There are some problems Vicari's voice is not amazing but it is good enough to be listenable and give weight to the songs, the production too is not amazing but it does lend a taste of authenticity to proceedings. All in all though this is a great thrash album from these Italians!! 8/10

Sons Of Wine: Walking In The Mud (Self Released)

As the jangly guitars of the Beatles-like opening title track kicks off you would be forgiven for thinking Sons Of Wine are from the swamps of America and as the album continues this down home Black Crowes like Americana continues, however Sons Of Wine hail from the country of Dionysius himself, Greece. With many European bands, they sound European, Sons Of Wine don't, they sound very Anglicised with elements of The Who, The Beatles, The Eagles and The Allman Brothers especially on Angel's Ride and the Countrified I'm On Fire. Now I'm a fan of The Allman's and blues based rock in general and Sons Of Wine do some top quality laid back blues rock with a dash of funk thrown in for good measure. The steam train percussion of Dragon is the bands backbone, Bill is the funk thrown in with his hypnotic bass rhythms and Zen, Sergeant and Captain are the triple guitar delivery providing clean melodic guitar lines and sweet solos. With Sergeant providing the laid back soulful vocals throughout. With a distinct late 60's, early 70's vibe the Sons Of Wine are a great band that defy expectation, these Greeks do chilled out blissful blues rock better than a lot of Yanks and that is saying something! 8/10  

Second To Sun: Three Fairy Tales (Self Released)

Russia's Second To Sun are an instrumental power trio coming from the truly twisted minds of guitarist Vladimir Klimov-Lehtinen, bassist Anton Danilevsky and Theodor Borowski on drums. The band meld djent, black metal and their own Finno-Ugric music. This EP is a follow up to their debut album Based On A True Story and it is three songs all of which are heavy, crazy and endearing. The opener The Trapper is filled with blastbeat drums, palm muted djent riffs and lots of synths. Second track Merämaa is an almost video game affair and is where the band's Finno-Ugric music meets metal before Barmaley rounds out the trio of songs with a straight up metal affair. A great little EP from Second To Sun, short and sweet. 6/10
  

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Reviews: Electric Wizard, Dave Kilminster, Emergency Gate

Electric Wizard: Time To Die (Witchfinder Records/Spinefarm Records)

Electric Wizard have always been the flag holders pure British occult doom and on their eight album Time To Die they show no signs of lightening up, this is yet another album of bowel punching, ear bleedingly heavy doom metal hailing Satan in a psychedelic, narcotic induced fug. There has been four years since their last album and in that time frontman/guitarist/general misery guts Jus Oborn has not mellowed at all in fact Time To Die's overarching theme is that of humanities destruction, mixed with usual occult imagery, B-movie samples, murderous intent and huge helping of abject hopelessness. So this is not going to be a barrel of laughs, but Electric Wizard have never claimed to be, a band that have always delivered their brand of metal with the poest of po faces and as the rain falls on first track Incense For The Dammed we are greeted with news reports of drug fuelled Satan linked murders, before the down-tuned brain punching fuzz and feedback filled guitars of Oborn and Liz Buckingham plough their way through a 10 minute funeral dirge backed by Mark Greening's concussive percussion and Count Orlof's (name is from Nosferatu fact fans) belly of the beast bass playing, as the drug worshipping track comes to it's conclusion there is no let up in the aural battery with the title track shorter but no less terrifying with yet more reverberated heavy doom guitars, howled vocals some backing organs all set to a lyrical pastiche of mankind's eventual self inflicted demise, the first half of this record ends with possibly it's heaviest song, the nearly 12 minute skull splitter of I Am Nothing which just beats you into submission with it's huge repetitive riff. The song is then followed by the instrumental and retro news report filled Destroy Those Who Love God which splits the album into two halves, digging on the analogue vibe that Wizard have always indulged in. It's not all Sabbath (see Funeral Of Your Mind) and leaf worshipping doom though the Wizard's have widened their sleeves a little on this record encompassing some blank knee gazing noise and general audio disruption on We Love The Dead before things get all Iommi again on Sadiowitch. Yet again Electric Wizard manage to both compel, terrify the faithful and bludgeon all the competition. 9/10 

Dave Kilminster: ...And The Truth Will Set You Free... (Killer Guitar Records)

Dave Kilminster is a still unfortunately a relative unknown, well that is to say his solo work is, the man himself has been seen numerous times, most recently atop Roger Water's Wall taking the role of another Dave, one Mr Gilmour (on the highest grossing tour by a solo artist ever). Kilminster has been in Water's band since 2006, he has also toured with prog greats such as Keith Emerson (ELP), John Wetton (Asia/King Crimson) and Carl Palmer (ELP). So then the man has honed his guitar chops with the best meaning that he is an immeasurably talented guitarist in the same category as Guthrie Govan, who is currently part of Steven Wilson's band. Kilminster is a guitarist of the highest calibre and his previous release Scarlet is on heavy rotation in my house, I love the mix of styles, the consummate playing and the intelligent song writing on it so I was keen to hear what his latest release had in store. Messiah is the first track and starts with just a single acoustic guitar and Kilminster's breathy, soulful vocals, around 2 minutes in everything gets electrified and Kilminster's guitar is accompanied by Pete Riley's drums and Phil Williams bass, this gives the band an honest feel with just the three instruments blending together allowing for lots of harmonies and the occasional contribution from the Larkin Quartet which means that the first track builds into a hell of a crescendo that opens the album with aplomb, it's also on this first track that you hear the talent involved, Kilminster's guitar playing amazing but is also understated. He also has a keen ear for genre bending and drawing influences as Addict has a dark, percussive world music feel driven by a slide guitar and some tribal drumming which weaves it's way around your brain before he really lets rips with the guitar, albeit as a backing to the rest of the song, this again sums up the reserved style of Kilminster he doesn't need to show off and doesn't let his virtuosity get in the way of the songs. Well until Thieves that is where the funky mid-paced song is interrupted by a searing guitar solo in the middle. Circles is a laid back ballad, with some sublime musicianship and an emotional heart, the acoustics come out again on the raw Save MeCassiopeia is a great set piece encompassing everything that has come before it and distilling it into one excellent track (possibly the best on the album) that ends with a sublime guitar solo; it is followed by the rocky, funky driven The Fallen which ends with The Beatlesesque outro and the finale of the sparse, Floydian Stardust which ends the album brilliantly. This is a strong album that is a not as immediate as it's predecessor but he is emulating Messrs Wilson, Wesley and many others that are aiming for an album's overall feel, this is not a singles record, it needs to be heard in it's entirety and over a few listens it grows into something truly excellent. Seen the face? Now hear the music! 9/10             

Emergency Gate: Infected (Bob Media)

When you think big, ballsy chest beating metalcore you think the US of A, Emergency Gate play the kind of music FFDP have made their own with massive groove riffs, snarled/clean vocals and battering ram drumming, however Emergency Gate are from Germany and as such add a European flavour to the massive American style metal. As The Sons Of The Second bursts to life in flurry of blast beats, big guitars and a synth backing we are in straight Killswitch, FFDP and even LOG territory as vocalist Matthias Kupka moves from shouted to clean vocals as the song erupts into short sweet guitar solo. Kupka's voice is good but has a European tinge which betrays their nationality, the guitars of Udo Simon and Vladi Doose bring the headbanging fist pumping riffs and solos, the rhythm section of Mario Lochert and Chris Widmann bring the groove and power, it is Daniel Schmidle's keys that are part of what sets them apart from other bands in this genre, meaning that songs like Revelation sound like a huge club banger with the synth backbeat. I first heard of Emergency Gate when they released a cover of Haddaway's What Is Love? which featured the man himself, but Emergency Gate have been releasing albums since 2000 and theur own songs are just as catchy as their infectious cover. The band have the right balance of brutality and melody to endear themselves to both fans of European and American metal, yes there are some weak songs; We Wanna Party is an absolute stinker I'm afraid, mainly because it is bookended by the excellent relentless riffage of Crushing Down and the Howard Jones era Killswitch sounding Infected Nightmare. Still with some of the fat trimmed this album is great blast of European metalcore from a band that are more than just a crazy cover. 7/10

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Reviews: Orange Goblin, Evergrey, Eden Circus

Orange Goblin: Back From The Abyss (Candlelight Records)

Britain's premier stoner rockers Orange Goblin are back with their eighth album which come two years after their last (and possibly best) album Eulogy For The Dammed. It was this album that got them big headlining tours and major support tours. Back From The Abyss continues this upward path with another album chock full of massive riffs that beat you into submission, the rhythm section of Chris Turner and Martyn Milard pulverises like a sledgehammer with some skull rattling bass from Milland and some powerful percussion from Turner. This style of big, beefy stoner rock has always been Goblin's forte and Joe Hoare once again is a human riff machine from the (unsurprisingly) Sabbath-like Sabbath Hex to the Motorhead punk metal snarl of The Devil's Whip he peels off riff after riff with ease, getting head banging and fists pumping. The three men provide the perfect musical backing for mountainous roar of Ben Ward who bellows over all of the songs as usual leading this chugging biker rock with his shouts and providing the perfect foghorn for navigating the stoner haze. The great songwriting from the previous records is still there; Demon Blues is a good old possession song, Heavy Lies The Crown is an awesome old school metal track with some nice changes of pace throughout, Into The Arms Of Morpheus is classic Sabbath doom with its slow leviathan riffs and even a cheeky reference to Beyond The Wall Of Sleep. Back From The Abyss is yet another very strong album full of huge rock riffs, stoner metal stomping, see the penultimate track Blood Of Them also a keen ear for mixing melody and aggression. Another cracking release from the Goblin! 8/10

Evergrey: Hymns For The Broken (AFM Records)

Sweden's Evergrey have always been put into the progressive or power metal category and this is due to their melodic songs played with technical virtuosity. With most power metal band their songs are upbeat and cheery, something that Evergrey do not do, their songs are dark, emotive, haunting and most of all very heavy. Much of this comes from Tom S Englund who is the driving force behind the band writing most of the songs as well being providing guitars and his unmistakeable croon meaning that their are few bands that can match Evergrey for sheer musical power. Englund was also the reason why the band have taken a short three year hiatus while he worked through some personal issues but he has done what musicians always do and found solace in music channelling his problems into his song writing. So what of their ninth album does it stand up to previous releases? Well as the intro subsides into the anthemic, Gothic, symphonic King Of Errors you know that Evergrey are back with a vengeance, it is big, ballsy and full of heaviness touched with melody. This turns into the modern sounding A New Dawn which has some great soloing in it. From the heaviness we move into the emotional Make A Change which has an electronic back beat from keyboardist Rikard Zander. He also provides some of the show stopping orchestral tracks on the simply awesome Archaic Rage which has piano, choirs, chunky guitars and Englund's fantastic voice, he really is in a league of his own. The song then ramps up the tempo and it means that Englund and Henrik Danhage can show off their guitar prowess over Johan Niemann's throbbing bass and Jonas Ekdahl's superb drumming. Evergrey have always excelled at concept albums and Hymns For The Broken is a concept album full of songs about rebellion and fighting against tyranny in all its forms however it is so much more than that, they have never been afraid to tackle subjects that are close to them as the album has a real emotional depth as Englund has drawn creativity from the negativity surrounding their hiatus. The songs on here show how talented the band are, from the anthemic guaranteed single Barricades, through the ballad of Black Undertow and the galloping metal of The Fire which is far from conventional with child choirs and electronic backing, before the epoch of the album is the amazing double whammy of The Grand Collapse and The Aftermath which are a suitably phenomenal ending to this monumental record. This ninth album is all of the things Evergrey strive to be, progressive, melodic, modern, emotive and down right brilliant, I've always liked Evergrey a lot for their complex, dark and heavy music, but I can honestly say I am in love with this album, it is probably the best they have ever released, It's technical precise, fiercely melodic, impassioned and pretty much perfect album. 10/10

Eden Circus: Marula (Lifeforce Records)

Eden Circus are Swedish by way of Hamburg, the band were merely a collection musicians setting about with no fixed sound in mind, focussing on creating music not on touring or even releasing anything. Here then four years after the bands inception is their debut and it is something of a revelation, it's a strong confident record that blurs boundaries and genres, the Tool-like Devoid Of Purpose kicks things off with progressive percussion from Michael Reinke, understated but undulating bass of Sebastian Scheewe, jangling guitars from Andreas Höfler and Nils Finkeisen the melodic, half hushed vocals of Siegmar Pohl. The band come from the new school of progressive music with elements similar to Porcupine Tree and frequent collaborators Opeth, see the majestic 5 minute plus Comfort which even has some growls from Pohl. There is also nods to the dark melancholy of Katatonia and Anathema, the jarring quirkiness of Tool and the ambient light and shade of Deftones. As you would think with these sort of influences to their sound, this is not an easy record, it does not give you instant gratification like the Goblin record, it is slow burning grower with only repeated listens revealing every nuance, a guitar riff here, a bass lick there, a drum fill bridging the gap. Steve Wilson's legacy rears it's head on 101 which dabbles with ambience, dynamics and does sound like Porcupine Tree fronted by Maynard James Keenan, which is no bad thing. A rich and diverse album full of sonic experimentation, fantastic song writing, expansive and technical songs. If this is their debut then it bodes well for their career as it is a fantastic piece of music. 9/10            


A View From The Back Of The Room: Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell

Admiral Sir Cloudlsey Shovell, The Moon Club, Cardiff

This venue is becoming somewhat of a haunt for underground rock and metal and once again it was time for some down and dirty rock music, so with Mr Perry we ascended the stairs, got some libations and waited for the first band

Lacertilla

Another gig in The Moon another Lacertilla gig, this Welsh quasi-supergroup seem to be becoming the house band for the club and that is no bad thing as they do seem to get better every time. Yes the set was similar as it has been before but with pulsing riffs, a huge stoner vibe and psychedelic tendencies the band are a great mix of Orange Goblin, Neurosis and even Desert bands like Kyuss, this comes across in the guitar of Mike who plays technical melodies over the storming rhythm section of  Neal's bass, Carl's drums and Lucas' guitar, together they make a cacophony of noise, even without Neal's bass which had a catastrophic failure during the middle of the set. The band have weight, and power and get all the heads in the room, especially the head of front man Fry, who is part shaman, part maniac spending most of the time on the floor with the crowd and on final song Higher he spent a lot of time on the floor. He is somewhat of a tour-de-force and is the perfect visual foil for the mostly static riff machine playing behind him. If you want to experience live music at it's purest then check out Lacertilla, you will soon be worshipping at their altar. 9/10

Dead Shed Jokers

I last saw Dead Shed Jokers at Steelhouse Festival  2013 and I said that they were a 'left field choice' because they didn't really fit on the hard rock bill of that festival. Once again the DSJ were a band on the wrong bill as they seemed to be the odd band out on this bill too. The band are 'alternative' rock but they do defy genre tags, with heaps of QOTSA genre hopping, angular guitars from Nicky and Chris, funk-laden bass from Luke, smooth jazz lines from Ashley's drums and some Mars Voltaesque vocals from Hywel. Much like the American prog mentalists, Dead Shed Jokers are a bit of an enigma and indeed and acquired taste (Mr Perry didn't enjoy I'm afraid) however I quite like them and they are a refreshing change and on the right bill with the right audience they would be an extremely interesting band to watch, their merging of huge metal riffs, jazz influences and some strong psychedelia to create a aural treat that drew the crowd in but did seem to be a bit out of place (once again) 8/10

Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell

My first glimpse of the Admiral was across the road form this venue when they supporting Orange Goblin and they were a meat and potatoes burly biker rock straight out of the 60's and 70's with elements of Motorhead, Blue Cheer, Vanilla Fudge and the (obviously excellent as they're Welsh) Budgie mixed with the early boogie of Quo and Stray. The band ambled onto the stage like three throwbacks to bygone days and burst straight into Do It Now. Which started the rampaging riff fuelled rock, the band drew their set from both of their album and they just ploughed through them with verve, the drums of Bill clattering behind the bass of Louis and the snarling punk rock guitar playing of Johnny. The band look like Motorhead fronted by Phil Taylor and they play like it too, with Captain Merryweather, BulletproofScratchin' And Sniffin', The Thicker The Better all smash you in the head with pure retro riffage, the band's stage banter was a quite frankly rubbish and nonsensical which did lead to some gaps in the proceedings but as the finale of Red Admiral, Black Sunrise (perhaps their finest hour) rang out the fully lubricated crowd sang out every line of the song. The Admiral are a fierce, fiesty old school rock and fucking roll band best enjoyed with beer in hand. Go see them as the band say Do It Now! 8/10

Sunday, 5 October 2014

A View From The Back Of The Room: Dragonforce

Dragonforce & Neonfly, Thekla, Bristol

Once again into Bristol and onto the boat for a night of British power metal with multinational membership. Immediately the heat of the venue was as palpable as it had been for Anathema last weekend. So as we sweated thankfully Neonfly were on stage shortly after doors opening meaning we had music from the off.

Neonfly

I have only ever caught the end of Neonfly's sets at festivals but I enjoyed their debut album Outshine The Sun and this was a good chance to see the band in small setting, things started brilliantly with the progressive, 80's rock sounding Ship With No Sails which got the crowd going with it's bouncy but technical riffage, the band sound like a mix between Queensryche and Helloween and much of this is due to the vocals of Willy Norton who has a great voice that goes from a powerful mid into a sky scraping highs, (he also looks a lot like Mr Tate). The band moved straight into the Helloween style The Enemy which had Fredrick Thunder and Patrick Harrington shredding like Weikath and Hansen, with the rhythm section of dread-locked Paul Miller's bass and Jerry Sadowski on drums, Sadowski was particularly good behind the kit as he is not Neonfly's drummer and had to learn the set in two days! He showed his mettle on the 'Ryche-like A Gift To Remember. The band are very boisterous and exciting to watch and Norton is very funny with his self-deprecating style that was part Shakepeare, part stand up. The band rammped up the metal with a medley of tracks from Outshine The Sun before playing a new song in the shape of Heart Of The Sun before things ended with the awesome Morning Star. A great band that played a solid set of melodic metal, however the sound issues couldn't be ignored as everything seemed a little bassy meaning that the guitars were barely audible in places. I hoped the sound would improve for the headliners but still Neonfly put on a great show. 7/10

Dragonforce

I think I've seen these power metal mentalists now around 6 times, but this was my first show since Brit Marc Hudson took up the mic. Like a freight train the band bounced onto the stage and went straight into Defenders from their quite excellent new album Maximum Overdrive. However the bugs had not been sorted and all that was audible were new boy Gee Anzalone drums, Vadim Pruzhanov's keys and Frédéric Leclercq's bass, neither Sam Totman or Herman Li's guitars could be heard and Marc too was quiet in the mix. Second song in and still nothing, unfortunately this was Fury Of The Storm which is one of my favoutire tracks, the sound was simply dire and I walked up the stairs to leave the sound got better so I ventured onto the venues balcony and the sound quality was immeasurable the guitars were pristine and clear as the frenetic solos and squeals rang out during the middle section of the song. This was better, the Dragonforce I knew but I was a bit pissed off that the only good sound came with an obscured view and a sweltering temperature. As Fury Of The Storm closed next came Three Hammers from Maximum Overload which along with main set closer Cry Thunder harked back to the loin cloth madness of Manowar, from up here I could hear Marc's vocals loud and clear and they were immense, his voice is strong and powerful and can hit huge highs that his predecessor often failed to hit. Back to the classics with Black Winter Night from their debut album which got the older fans like myself excited. The majority of the set was taken from the last two albums though as Marc (and possibly the rest of the band) expressed a genuine need to play all of the last album but we got Symphony Of the Night, The Sun Is Dead and the schizoid The Game which is faster than any thrash song I can tell you and shows you what an amazing drummer Anzalone is. This gig was a 14 plus gig meaning that many of the audience were kids, now I have no beef with kids at gigs but many along with a lot of adults did seem to be there purely because Dragonforce appeared on Guitar Hero, this has been both a blessing and a curse for the band as now their crowds are full of people that only recognise final song Through The Fire And The Flames (although it does mean there are more women at their gigs, which is great for the band I guess) this association means that there are a lot of blank looks when the older stuff is played. Heroes Of Our Time again got the crowd going and their cover of Ring Of Fire was just silly but exciting none the less and then it was time for 'that song' which is where this writer left. The thing is I can see why Dragonforce focused on their latest album as this tour was to promote it but when a lot of the crowd weren't even paying much attention to the new songs you know that the wrong crowd is there, this gig was was sold out but when the majority of the crowd are just waiting for one song, it means that there are a lot of people who couldn't go that would have loved to have seen the whole show. Still Dragonforce did their best to entertain the crowd and played a good set, a shame Through The Fire... was last though, play it first get the twits out of the way and let others enjoy the whole show in comfort. 7/10

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Reviews: Joe Bonamassa, Threshold, Order Of Israfel

Joe Bonamassa: Different Shades Of Blue (Provogue/J&R Adventures)

It has been 14 years and 10 studio albums (not including collaborations and bands) since Joe Bonamassa first arrived on to the scene, having been a young blues hopeful for years it was his trifecta of albums; You & MeSloe Gin and The Ballad Of John Henry that cemented him as one of the new millenniums rock powerhouses. A man that is truly D.I.Y he has shunned major labels to self release, self promote and ultimately owes all of his success to his immense talent and hard work. Bonamassa's albums have always been a mix of his own material and covers of his favourite artists, from Rory Gallagher to Bad Company, Leonard Cohen to Yes. His 11th album Different Shades Of Blue is his firts to feature all original songs and one instrumental intro originally by Hendrix which hardly qualifies. As the dust of this atonal guitar passages settles we get into the first track proper the blues drenched Oh Beautiful! which features lashings of organ, a dark delivery and Joe's trademark guitar prowess during the middle eight. This first song is a testament to Joe's thoughts about this album, he is back in the blues that he came from all those years ago. Apparently he felt he owed his hardcore a strictly blues album due to his straddling of the Rock God borders. Well he has definitely reconnected with the bluesman inside as Oh Beautiful! is a throwback to Clapton, Baker and Bruce, it moves straight into Love Ain't A Love Song which is funky, hip shaking tale of loss driven by Carmine Rojas' bass, Lee Thornburg's horns and Ron Dizubla's sax, a theme which continues on the shuffle of Living On The Moon and the 12 bar walking riff of Heartache Follows Me Wherever I Go. Never Give All Your Heart comes next and has real heartbreak to it and is one of the songs that breaks the blues mold a little as it sounds a bit rockier than the rest of album, the song was co-written with Jonathan Cain of Journey and is a ballad of his bands lofty proportions which is immediately offset by the tongue-in-cheek I Gave Up Everything For You, 'Cept The Blues. As usual Joe is backed by some Class-A musicians the most notable being Anton Fig's drums, Reece Wynans piano and organs, the aforementioned horns and the Bovaland Orchestra. Joe himself is way beyond comparison we all know by now how good he is by now. Yep this is another great Bonamassa album that will please the long term fans and also show the newly found ones exactly where the man they call Joey Bones comes from. 8/10

Threshold: For The Journey (Nuclear Blast)

Threshold have always been Britain's premier progressive metal band and since 1993's Wounded Land they have been the purveyors of top quality music and our weapon against the American prog metal of Dream Theater, Shadow Gallery and Symphony X. The band have evolved their sound throughout their career and since reuniting with Damien Wilson they have been releasing some of their best material to date. 2012's March Of Progress saw the band come firing back on all cylinders with a majestic album and For The Journey continues with yet more technical but melodic music that has the hooks of rock on the Marillion sounding Autumn Red and crunch of metal on Siren Sky. The band have moved away from longer songs on this album with only the magnificent Floydian The Box clocking in at over 6 minutes, it moves from a piano opening, into a organ drenched rock middle section that sounds very similar to the Ayreon project that Wilson has worked with extensively something that is also evident on Watchtower On The Moon. These two songs set the tone for the album as it has a much darker tone than previous efforts but for all the dark lyricism there are elements of light on Turned To Dust. Wilson has a very unique voice he soars above the majestic music and brings you to tears on Lost In Your Memory which is the band's first proper ballad in years and it is a real stunner. The guitars of founder Karl Groom and (relatively) new boy Pete Morten are excellent with Morten getting some writers credits as well, they meld perfectly with Richard West's superb keys, synths and organs to create some fantastic melodies, they are impressively backed by the rhythm section of Steve Anderson's bass and Johanne James' drums. All of the tracks on this album are very, very good with a great mix of dark, progressive, precisely executed music, The album has a cool little bonus track with a great (sort of) cover the song is I Wish I Could which comes from Johanne's other (also excellent) band Kyrbgrinder albeit with a Threshold twist. Another top level release from Threshold who are one of the best progressive bands to come out of the UK. 9/10    

The Order Of Israfel: Wisdom (Napalm Records)

Wisdom is these Gothenberg doomsters first album and the title track starts things off with acoustic minstrelling before the sledgehammer riffs kick in. This is classic denim clad 70's style doom at it's best with occult lyrics, drug induced psych, rumbling bass, jazzy drums and guitars that swap between higher melodies and big tasty riffs. With elements of Candlemass (of course), Cathedral and of course Sabbath, The Order Of Israfel are the very epitome of doom, as from the microcosm of title track, we plunge into On Black Wings, A Demon which is a four minute rocker and one of the three short tracks on the album (one of which is nothing more than an intro) All the rest are over 5 minutes long with the folky The Earth Will Deliver What Heaven Desires clocking in at over 8 minutes and porvides a great song for the middle of the album, The Order is a short call to arms that moves straight into the Orange Goblin style stomp of Born For War which moves into the 15 minute plus instrumental Promises Made To The Earth which breaks the album up but does little else. In fact the last half of this album is just a bit too slow for my liking, the band do play well but its all a bit too depressing. A good effort but trails off at the end. 6/10