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Saturday, 20 December 2014

Reviews: Saracen, Panzer, Red Zone Rider

Saracen: Redemption (Escape)

The name Saracen may conjure up some good memories for older readers, Saracen were and still are a melodic/progressive rock band that came to fruition in the 1981 with muscular symphonic rock etched in the NWOBHM vein but with more melody and drama than many of the meat-and-two-veg bands that came out of that scene. Saracen is driven by Rob Bendelow's dexterous guitars, Richard Lowe's powerful keys and Steve Bettney's strong vocal, they released their first album to critical acclaim but as happens so often with these things the band split reforming in 2003 and since then they have released a comeback album and two concept albums, one Vox In Excelso being continually on my player. Their last album Marilyn in my opinion was a misstep (a bit too soft) but when Bendelow was challenged to write a 'classic' Saracen album he set about writing the tellingly titled Redemption. Has he achieved the old school sound of Saracen perfectly, as the one two punch of rock rifffests Rocamadour and Reacher finish you are immediately taken back to the bands early 80's hayday with some great rock riffs from Bendelow and Simon Roberts interweaving with huge slabs of keyboard from Paul Bradder providing the symphonic edge. Then comes the huge ballad Give Me A Sign before Purple-esque Geraldine (replete with big organs fit for Jon Lord). Steve Bettney's voice is still awesome, he has great power and range meaning he can mold his voice to fit any style. Swords Of Damascus is Iron Maiden meets Jeff Wayne where as Roads To Yesterday is once again in Coverdale realms with Bettney crooning before unleashing his scream in latter parts. In a tribute to their glory days, they have two re-recorded tracks from their debut album Heroes, Saints & Fools the epic and glorious Crusader which starts with searing guitar solo and continues in the same hands up high, shout it out loud manner, second in the rerecording is the rocking Ready To Fly which is a great ender for the album after the pop-rock of Let Me See Your Hands. With a pacier rock tracks interspersed between more progressive songs like the Floydian Catch The Wave, the poppy AOR of More Than Missing You,  the symphonic epics of the title track and previously mentioned Crusader. Saracen have been quietly releasing classy, rock records for years now and with Redemption they have successfully merged their past and present on a record expertly produced by Tommy Hansen (producer of choice for power/traditional metal). If you like your rock'/metal with a real old school vibe brought bang up to date Redemption is the album for you! 9/10     

Panzer: Send Them All To Hell (Nuclear Blast)

Panzer (or The German Panzer) play heavy metal machine music, don't worry though folks a Lou Reed collaboration is nowhere to be seen. No Panzer as you may have guessed from the name, are Germanic metal through and through, pitching themselves as a German Motorhead this three piece is two thirds Accept and one third Destruction; the artillery shell drumming comes from Accept's sticks-man Stefan Schwarzmann, the guitars are from the laser guided, razor sharp guitars of Herman Frank and the bombardment of bass is from Destruction's Schmier who also lends his abrasive vocals the recordings adding real menace to the delivery of these fast paced, Teutonic metal tracks. The assault and battery starts on the rampaging Death Knell which has the hard metallic delivery of German metal but also harks to Lemmy and co. The album rarely lets up in pace and blurs the line between old school metal and thrash playing to all three men's strengths. As you can appreciate their aren't any ballads on this record, most of the songs are about war, politics and death and Panzer do all these topics justice, albeit with no innovation at all, although none was expected with the trio involved. This is straight up, go for the jugular heavy metal and with Temple Of Doom, Freakshow and the thrashtastic Mr Nobrain.  It goes without saying that the musicianship is flawless and any band that writes a song called Hail And Kill without any fear of DiMaio reprisals has to have some massive balls, something that this album has in spades. It's not all killer though Panzer is a rubbish song and a few others are clearly filler but for the most part this is fist in the air shout along heavy metal German style!! 7/10

Red Zone Rider: S/T (Magna Carta)

Ohh its like the 70's all over again just when you thought it was safe to put away those Purple, Zep and Free records along comes UFO's Vinnie Moore with a new band steeped in the funky, hip shaking rock these bands were known for. Now recently this kind of music was mainly the soul trade of Messrs Coverdale and Hughes but Vinne Moore has created a little trio built around his explosive guitar prowess, Scott Coogan's (Lita Ford, Ace Frehley) tub thumping and Kelly Keeling's (Baton Rouge, MSG, TSO) powerful (fretless) bass thud, humming organs and blues rasp, which is very much like Mr Hughes' and works in conjunction with Coogan's more melodic vocals to create an expansive vocal delivery. So another power trio peddling the music of yore, but they do it very well from the Purple-like By The Rainbow's End (which is a tribute to both Blackmore's bands knowing or otherwise), through the smooth organ drenched House Of Light, the blues balladry of Cloud Of Dreams which would have Mr Coverdale weeping into his silk sleeves, the booty shaking rock Save It which sounds like a Grand Funk Railroad cut Hit The Road has the spirit of Hendrix coursing through it's stop start guitar riff and There's A Knowing echoes the great Gary Moore in his old Parisian Days. All of the tracks on this album reek of the Golden era of rock music when the bands rocked hard with bluesy soulful vocals, a funky thunderous rhythm section, huge helpings of organ to flesh everything out and guitar solos galore from Moore who's guitar pyrotechnics light up every song. The three men on this record are all excellent musicians and their craft has been honed over hundreds of tours with numerous artists meaning that the songs on this record all feel, professional, authentic and most importantly they rock like hell making for a fun rock record that the oldies (physically or mentally) among you will lap up with gusto. 8/10

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