The Darkness: Last Of Our Kind (Canary Dwarf)
Fourth album from the new reinvigorated The Darkness and finally the spark has returned after the hit-and-miss Hot Cakes, now I'm not saying that their comeback was bad, it was just not the glorious return to form many would have come to expect from a band who's debut took the world by storm. However Justin, Dan, Frankie and new drummer Emily Dolan Davies (who has subsequently been replaced by Rufus 'Son Of Roger' Taylor) are giving it another go with Last Of Our Kind to try and reach the heady heights of their debut., so achieved the comeback they had been threatening to release since they reformed? As the intro monologue tells the story of the decapitation of Edmund The Martyr the band smash straight into the the sledgehammer proto-metal riff of Barbarian which explains the story in more detail with Justin and Dan riffing like bastards, Frankie Poullain underpinning the riffs as Dolan Davies smashes away at the kit, with the ott lyrics, mid-song speech and guitar solo from nowhere there is no doubt that the songwriting flare of old is back.
Mixing tongue in cheek lyrics with Hawkins still insane vocal delivery and walls of glam-inflected thumping rock riffs, Open Fire is part Queen, part The Cult, and has Justin giving his most gonzoid vocal performance before bursting forth with another fuzzy solo at the end. Hawkins has said that this album is Medieval rock and this is most evident on the title track which is both a battle cry and a mission statement for the band as they add mandolins and 80's style solo to this huge Queen style track. The mandolins continue on Roaring Waters, before they stray into ballad territory on Wheels Of The Machine which sounds like it could have come off Pink Floyds Momentary Lapse Of Reason album. Stylistically the band mix it up throughout while sticking with ballsy hard rock, see the synth-laden sky scraping ballad Mighty Wings which would fit right in on Hot Space, before some bluesier tracks in the latter part of the album on Mudslide and Hammer & Tongs, hell they even give Frankie a chance to sing on the majestic final track Conquers who shows that he has great vocal delivery too (Something that those, who've seen them live already know). The Darkness are indeed the last of their kind, they seem very happy about that and are determined to defend their position at every turn. They do this by being in the unique position that they can really do what they want, as they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They have come back with what could be their second best album which for a band with The Darkness' potted history is a huge compliment I can assure you! They are back folks just deal with it and embrace it! 9/10
Valkyrie: Shadows (Relapse Records)
Valkyrie have been treading the boards for over ten years now yet this is only their third full length album. The band is made up of guitar slinging brothers Jake and Pete Adams along with bassist Alan Fary and drummer Warren Hawkins, they play pre-metal style stoner rock with a serious blues backing that brings to mind Graveyard, Witchcraft, The Sword, Pentagram, with the dual guitar attack echoing that of Thin Lizzy (see rollicking opening Mountain Stomp for a slice of prime Robertson and Gorham wizardry) and Wishbone Ash especially in the more psychedelic methods. The gaps between the albums can be attributed to Pete being the lead guitarist in Baroness a band who Valkyrie also share some traits with. This album bristles with stoner rock professionalism big riffs, hollered vocals and lashings of groove. Valkyrie have always produced quality and Shadows is no exception from the slow burning old school doom of Temple to the mind expanding Wintery Plains which sees the brothers playing for their lives as Fary and Hawkins punish with their rhythm section through to fine finale of Carry On which sees guitars slither and slice through the rhythmic fug and the brothers call you to "Carry On" like a shaman from the void. Valkyrie have always released quality and yet again they impress, if you like your rock with a fat order of riffs then Valkyrie will be right up your street. 8/10
Section IV: Superhuman (Self Released)
A long time ago (the late 80's and nineties) there was an influx of new progressive bands in the UK, bands that came from the same musical background as Marillion; keyboard driven music, mixing progressive, technically played music with mainstream pop edge. Among these bands were It Bites, Pendragon, Arena and the criminally underrated Frost*, now with the exception of Pendragon all of these bands are now gone but their spirit lives on, mainly through John Mitchell who has played in three of the bands mentioned, but also through Steven Wilson and now Section IV who are the perfect baton carriers for the sound of Arena and It Bites. The band start their album with the 12 minute plus title track which is a concept within itself and it nails their colours to the wall showing that the band deal in accessible, intelligent music with swathes of keys, technical rhythm section, undercut with flowing guitar parts and keening vocals. The songs are cathartic, romantic (Inside) but also thought provoking and intelligent So Far Away and Guiding Light and they are played with some expert musicianship. Now I will admit this kind of music has always been a bit like musical Marmite (even for prog fans) and many will ridicule the music for being too poppy in places but for those that have an open mind, Section IV play it so well that they are close to reaching the Premier league of neo-prog. 7/10