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Sunday, 1 March 2015

Reviews: Lonely Robot, Band Of Spice, Desert

Lonely Robot: Please Come Home (InsideOut)

Lonely Robot is the solo project of John Mitchell vocalist and guitarist of the second (and I think better) incarnation of It Bites, as well as being the guitarist of Brit-prog legends Arena, Kino, underground prog heroes Frost* and a talented and in demand producer for the likes of Enter Shikari, Funeral For A Friend, You Me At Six and countless others. As a solo artist he has managed to recruit some high profile guests with drums coming from Frost* drummer Craig Blundell and extra bass from Kajagoogoo and Steven Wilson bass player Nick Beggs. Mitchell handles all the vocals, guitars, with bass and keyboards coming under his remit, however on look at the credits shows that it is not just these three men with opener Airlock featuring the keyboard fuelled madness of Frost*'s Jem Godfrey starting this concept album off with a bag building up into the first 'proper' track God Vs Man which is pure Neo-prog harking back to Arena, Pendragon, Marillion and indeed Mr Steven Wilson himself, the guitars move between heavy and melodic with some beautiful phrasing throughout adding to the lush soundscapes that feature on every track, Mitchell is not only a consummate and brilliant instrumentalist he also has a perfectly harrowing and passionate voice for his music equally adept at slow, ballads and the heavier more fervent passages. As I've said this album is a concept and features narration from Lee Ingleby known for his role in Inspector George Gently as well as many other stage and screen roles including the new Bob The Builder(!). From the heaviness into the more pop friendly The Boy In The Radio which features guest vocals from Go West's Peter Cox (yes he is really mixing up the guests here) and is a more bouncy prog that the track that proceeds it and indeed more upbeat than the piano based ballad that follows it, this track; Why Do We Stay features the enchanting vocals of Heather Findlay and piano/backing vocals from Marillion's Steve Hogarth and is a truly beautiful song that breaks the pace excellently with it's orchestral swells and Mitchell and Findlay's impassioned vocals. Lonely Robot follows and it is a commanding song featuring Jem Godfrey on many instruments including Chapman Stick and Slide Guitar as well as guest vocals and guitars from Rebecca Need-Menear and Jamie Finch both from the band Anavae and this makes for a very progressive narrative song that is this album's set piece. This album is neo-prog perfection with old meeting new on Oubliette (French for dungeon or forgotten place) as Mitchell duets with Touchstone singer Kim Seviour, the song has the Touchstone sound as their voices meld perfectly. The album's finale is the epic Humans Being which again features H's piano and lead guitar from Nik Kershaw (yes that Nik Kershaw) and moves swiftly into the haunting closer of The Red Balloon. This album is magnificent, it sums up everything modern progressive rock is, with focus on songwriting taking precedence over technical exhibitionism, although the technical prowess is also present in spades. The first truly excellent progressive rock album of 2015!! 10/10

Desert: Never Regret (Raven Music)

Desert are a classic/power metal band drawing members from Israel and former Soviet Union, Never Regret is their sophomore release. As the intro of Chasing The Prey starts things off building up the atmosphere then its time for rapid drumming and some symphonic based metal on the first track Assassin's Fate what you do witness is that vocalist Alexei Raymar has unique phrasing in his vocals less a top end shriek but a low end snarl not to dissimilar to Iced Earth's Matt Barlow merging with Blind Guardian's Hansi Kursh, his vocals are strong and add menace to the opening track and indeed are the focal point of this album in my opinion. The music isn't to shabby either with some trad metal guitar riffs that do a lot to copy the relentless rhythmic guitar patterns of Jon Schaffer but they do have the addition of some fanciful keyboards too to expand the sound a little meaning that they can move into the symphonic category easily on tracks like the title track and the Kamelot-like ballad The Road To You featuring Dutch vocalist Infy Snow which starts with just a piano before getting doomier in the last section and has good interplay between Raymar's deep vocals and Snows soprano. The guests continue on 1812 with Primal Fear's Ralph Scheepers lending his shriek to proceedings adding to the sense that Desert are a band on the road to bigger and better things. With some high profile support slots already under their belt and an album drawing from a wide range of styles see Final Journey and Imperial Eagle Desert but rooted firmly in the power metal tradition. A great album that is let down a little by the production, still with 11 well written and well performed songs this album will set Desert on the path to climb to bigger heights. 7/10     

Band Of Spice: Economic Dancers (Cargo Records)

Vocalist Spice has been around for a while now and many will recognise him as the first singer for Swedish retro rockers Spiritual Beggars before the more well known pipes of Grand Magus' JB and Firewind's Apollo took on the role. Since then Spice has been focussing on his thrash band Kayser who released a cracking album last year but Band Of Spice sees him returning to his stoner rock roots. The band, formerly known as Spice And The RJ Band (Changed after rhythm guitarist Anders Linusson joined) play the kind of guitar heavy stoner rock that Sweden do very well, Spice's voice is scratchy but his bark is perfect for this kind of groove laden rock with a metallic edge. He is also a pretty good guitarist supplying the leads on this record as Anders deputises brilliantly on the chugging rhythm, in the back room Johann and Bob Ruben (who is also in Kayser) provide a sturdy boiler room for the band. The band are stoner rock for the most part but they spread their wings a little on On The Run which sounds a little Springsteen, before Intro-The Joe has the same electric piano sound as Easy by The Commodores and The Joe itself  is a Steve Miller like track built on a propulsive guitar and a Hammond bubbling below the surface, You Will Call still takes you further from the stoner rock template with a clean guitar fuelled surf rock You Will Call takes us almost into Foo Fighters territory. Luckily for metal fans You Can't Stop comes back to heavier style but still having the melodic touches of the proceeding tracks. This album, I'll admit, is a little weird it seems to spend more time focussing on other genres than it does in the stoner rock style I thought (and the press release) says it was; for example Fly Away has the soft loud dynamic of grunge, In My Blood is breezy, Stonesy blues and 70's funk on Down By The Liquor Store. I'm not knocking it Spice and his band do seem to have an affinity with classic, retro sounds but the sheer schizophrenic mix on this album can leave you feeling a bit lost about the bands direction. Still the performance of this album is excellent it just loses direction a little two songs in. 7/10     

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