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Monday, 29 June 2015

Another Point Of View: ZZ Top

ZZ Top: Wembley Arena, London

Exactly two years to the day I saw the mighty Texans play a set at Hammersmith Odeon that was so cool and oozing with quality that it ranks in my top five gigs of all time. Older readers of the blog may recall it. 80 minutes, some basic amplifiers, two beards and a Beard and absolute quality from a band that have been cutting it cool for over four decades. A one-off UK gig at Wembley was too much of an attraction to refuse, so, having driven to Ealing and parked at the hotel, Mrs H and I headed into central London to meet a good friend who was eager for his first experience of the blues rock that the ‘Top make look so easy.

Added to the excitement was a chance to catch support band Thunder, the UK blues rock/AOR outfit who returned to action a couple of years ago and who have an arsenal of quality sing-a-long tunes. We arrived in time to hear the opening bars of set opener Dirty Love kicking in and, having made our way comfortably to a suitable vantage point, we settled in for 45 minutes of classics. Par for the course at London arena gigs, many of the crowd assembled on the floor were not particularly enamoured by the elongated versions but undeterred (and fuelled by dirty Heineken – no real ale at Wembley) we got stuck in with some appalling shapes and singing. Danny Bowes has always been endearing, if a little annoying but he was on top form tonight, dressed in a sharp dark shirt, tight jeans and jacket and generally in very good shape. River Of Pain was followed by two from the excellent Wonder Days album, Black Water followed by the title track which is as good as anything Thunder have ever delivered. Whilst Gary James and Mark Inkhurst laid down the steady beat, Luke Morley once again demonstrated how underrated a guitarist he is, with some quality fretwork. Ably supported by Ben Matthews on rhythm guitar and keyboards, the band then launched into the epic Backstreet Symphony, which got the Arena moving. As well as spilling beer and generally having a great time, we were also massively entertained by a number of the more mature rock chicks in the audience who were going bat shit crazy whilst their partners studied the floor, the crowd and wondered if they could nip to the bar for a quick pint. And then it all went a bit AOR mental as Thunder threw the sucker punch; yep, Loved Walked In, the quintessential rock ballad. Cue more absolutely devastating vocals from Mrs H and me, whilst Ben just grinned with the comment “I haven’t got a clue who these guys are…but I fucking love it”. High praise indeed from a dude more at home in the mash up club environment. Bowes was by now really enjoying himself and indulged in some banter with the crowd, who had at least woken up. Concluding their set with The Thing I Want and I Love You More Than Rock n’ Roll, Thunder were excellent and really did set the bar high. Always worth a watch, this band are a British institution. Catch them if you get the chance. 8/10

A generous 45 minute turn around allowed time to get to the toilet (remember the demographic chaps, no queuing at the ladies at this type of gig) and refill the plastic pints. Precisely 9:00 pm, house lights dimmed, the roar goes up, big screens play some classic movie moments and then Got Me Under Pressure is kicking you in the nuts. Yep, the Top are back in town and as awesome as 2013. Messrs Gibbons and Hill just own the vast stage, prowling around whilst pouring out the quality. Seriously good with an image to die for, the boys from Texas played it pretty safe with a very similar set to two years ago but then, when you've got such fine tunes and it ain't broke … Waitin' For The Bus and Jesus Just Left Chicago before the first of the big guns from EliminatorGimme All Your Loving shifted the band and the Arena up a gear. Gibbons prowls around with his sublime blues complimented beautifully by Hill and the backbone of the band, Frank Beard behind the kit. I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide followed, complete with some excellent crowd participation before a slightly rarer track, Pincushion from Antenna was dropped into the mix. The lead track from 2012’s La Futura, the funky I Gotsa Get Paid was up next, with the scratchy guitar sound providing the perfect opening.

The first of three covers followed, Hendrix’s Foxy Lady, complete with a montage of images of the great guitarist and old friend of the band. I often question why a band with the back catalogue of ZZ Top perform covers but I realise that for these guys it’s about heritage, tradition and roots. Another cover, Catfish Blues (originally Robert Petway, a blues singer born in 1909 who recorded very little in the 1940s) ensured that the soul and feel of the gig remained firmly rooted to the blues. Cheap Sunglasses was up next, and of course the front two never take theirs off. The sole track from Recycler, My Head's In Mississippi maintained the momentum, with Hill dipping in and out of the vocals whilst gently moving around the stage, his presence as imposing as his guitar partner. Chartreuse, the second from La Futura led nicely into the main set closers, the iconic Sharp Dressed Man and then the arrival of the fur covered guitars for the mighty Legs.

After a brief interlude, we were treated to one of the best encores I've ever witnessed as rock god and guitar hero Jeff Beck, celebrating his 71st birthday joined the band on stage for a quadruple serving of delight. First up, Rough Boy from Afterburner, another rare outing and one that allowed Beck to demonstrate his fine guitar work as he took the solos and hammed it up with Gibbons and Hill whilst the audience looked on in awe. Sixteen Tons, first recorded by Merle Travis in 1946 allowed both guitarists a bit of indulgence before La Grange and finally Tush brought the house down. Sometimes being at gigs is a bit of an effort. When ZZ Top are in town, the pleasure of watching a band who are just blindingly good is indescribable. I just hope they’ll be back in another two years. If they are, so will I. 10/10

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Reviews: Royal Southern Brotherhood, Artizan, District 97,

Royal Southern Brotherhood: Don't Look Back: The Muscle Shoals Sessions (Ruf)

Never has there been such an apt title for an album, RSB started back in 2011 as a collaborative project between Cyrille Neville, of the famed The Meters and Neville Brothers, Devon Allman (son of Gregg) and solo guitar demon Mike Zito the abnd released two albums before both Zito and Allman left, this left just Neville along with bassist Charlie Wooton and drummer Yonrico Scott so they set about finding two new six stringers to take the left and right of stage. Now in a blues/funk/soul 'supergroup' you need to get talent and Neville has yet again come up trumps with Bart Walker who looks like a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Leslie West of Mountain fame taking over from Zito and Tyrone Vaughan (nephew of SRV) cutting in crunchy with a signature tone. The new look RSB arrived on the scene at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals and proceeded to create another album. Unlike previous efforts which had the rockier elements of Allman and Zito's past, Don't Look Back moves forward and evolves their sound adding more of the funk from Neville's history as well as the blues that took pride of place on their first two efforts.

The album kicks off with I Wanna Be Free which has more than a hint of Bonamassa to it showing off Bart Walker's huge voice that compliments Neville's more gospel vocal. The title track is a slower song built on Neville's percussion, Scott's drums and Wooton's bass while adding a touch of banjo to proceedings giving it the swampy bayou feel. With all the songs coming from the belly of the blues, it's with the rhythms and guitar lines that we get more funk driven numbers like Hit Me Once and The Big Greasy both of which feature Ivan Neville on Hammond B3 and clavinet giving that authentic 70's funk feel, Penzi is Latin through and through with the flamenco guitars and bongo/tabla drumming, while Poor Boy is a Vaughan penned track and has that air of familiarity that fans of his uncle Stevie will recognise in an instant. With a blend of styles present fans of blues based music with funk, rock, soul all thrown into the mix, will find something to get them grooving on this third record, with two new members the band sound reinvigorated and ready to take on all comers. 8/10      

Artizan: The Furthest Reaches (Pure Steel)

Artizan are a melodic metal band from Jacksonville Florida, now I haven'e heard much by them but The Furthest Reaches is their third album and is a concept album dealing with an alien race being summoned to earth, but the concept doesn't get in the way of this albums songs which are all pure melodic metal with Bill Staley and Shamus McConnery's guitars riffing and soloing with aplomb on the speedy tracks like Hopeful Eyes, while the progressive 9 minute plus title track is driven by Ty Tammeus' percussion and echoes Queensryche in full bombastic flight. In fact the Seattle natives are the band Artizan have most in common with full of driving, powerful music that is as emotive as it is rocking, merging the classic style of metal with progressive touches and heaps of melody with all of it driven by Tom Braden's voice who sounds uncannily like Hammerfall's Joacim Cans with his broad expressive range taking centre stage on this sprawling Sci-Fi concept piece that has more than a hint of Iced Earth's Set Abominae to it. In fact the voice of The Keepers (the alien race) on The Cleansing is supplied by Matt Barlow formally of said band, the IE influence continues on Wardens Of The New World which has guest vocalist Sabrina Valentine duetting with Braden on the albums second long track. Artizan have created a great album that manages to tell the albums concept without losing any immediacy or indeed lacking in metal power, if you like your metal with huge heap of melody and a little prog thrown in then The Furthest Reaches will draw you in and keep you listening for a while. 8/10    

District 97: In Vaults (Laser's Edge)

Now there are many progressive rock bands with a female singer around, most fall into the folk, pop or even hard rock style with progressive elements, however District 97 are a pure prog rock band for fans of Yes, ELP, King Crimson, Rush and one of my favourite bands Panic Room. They play technical difficult, virtuoso music with odd time signatures, jazzy refrains and huge keyboard melodies. The band formed in 2006 and started out as an instrumental group, however after a year like this they looked for a vocalist, happily finding on in Leslie Hunt who was a top ten finalist on American Idol. Now this doesn't seem to be the perfect place to find a singer for a prog band but Hunt has an ethereal but gritty vocal delivery that fits the mind bending music perfectly, with a hint of alternative icon Shirley Manson as well as a keen radio edge in her broad range. Her voice sits atop the expansive, Peart-like drumming from founder Jonathan Schang, the bottom heavy dark basslines of Patrick Mulchay, mechanical riffs of Jim Tashjian and the soaring keys of Rob Clearfield, meaning that it is the most accessible part of this complicated collection of songs.

The band manage to channel the metallic darkness of latter period Dream Theater and Shadow Gallery as well as bands like the underrated Tiles with whom District 97 share many similarities especially on Death By A Thousand Cuts which features some drum fills that many drummers would die for along with the off time riffs, huge hammonds and frequent changes of pace. As I said District 97 are pure progressive music with influence drawn from everywhere but mostly sat in the jazz time signatures and Hunt's jazz diva croon that easily switches to a prowling emotional performance on A Lottery which also features a cracking soulful guitar solo too. Despite their clear progressive tag only one track clocks in at over 10 minutes long (the impressive finale Blinding Vision) but still they manage to pack as many time changes and odd signatures as possible into each song, yet they still manage to keep everything very concise and immediate especially on Takeover which is the one song on the album that could be considered 'mainstream' despite it's bass pops, off time drumming and monstrous synths.  District 97 play rock music that is devilishly complicated and played by a band full of impossibly talented musicians meaning that only hardcore proggers need apply. 8/10     

Reviews: Paradise Lost, Tremonti (Reviews By Paul)

Paradise Lost: The Plague Within (Century Media)

If you’d asked Paradise Lost in 1988 whether they’d still be pursuing the path of darkness a quarter of a century later I think the answer would probably have been towards the negative. To have just delivered without doubt the best album of their twenty five year career is absolutely mind blowing. Having produced many very solid albums, most latterly the very decent Tragic Idol, I'm not sure if there was huge pressure on Paradise Lost when producing what is album no. 14. Whatever the pressure, The Plague Within is an absolute monster. Opener No Hope In Sight lays the cards clearly on the table. A massive statement of intent, it opens with a malevolent riff and the demonic snarl of Nick Holmes. A melancholic chug of doom soon kicks in and one of metal’s best vocalists easily alternates from dark to light, mixing the snarls with his more recognisable clean vocals. However, this is no dark march, with the combined lead work of Greg Mackintosh seguing with the reliable and powerful rhythm work of Aaron Aedy and the engine room of bassist Steve Edmondson and drummer Adrian Erlandsson. Terminal comes next, a driving, blistering face melter, probably as close to thrash as Paradise Lost get. There is no doubting that the morbid, atmospheric foreboding that drives Paradise Lost’s lyrical content is as organically active as ever, with Holmes delivery dovetailing effortlessly with the crushing power of metal’s Gothic forefathers.

Gothic put them on the map in 1992; a blueprint of well, Gothic tinged metal that has remained the hallmark of their sound and direction for much of their career. Draconian Times pushed Paradise Lost into a league of their own in 1995, and The Plague Within, 20 years later combines both of those classics with elements of other albums, most notably Shades Of God. The Plague Within is crushingly heavy at times, whilst retaining the despair and angst, for example during An Eternity Of Lies, which mixes Holmes styles magnificently. The riffs are huge, powerful and destructive. However, the songs are beautifully crafted and capture the misery and desperation of life perfectly. The doom laden death march of Beneath Broken Earth changes the pace still further; slow without becoming ponderous, Holmes delivering a quite astonishing death laden performance; “Hail to godliness, you wish to die” couldn't be scarier. The return to their past has provided the band with much enthusiasm and the musicianship is first class. As the album progresses, you wait for the filler … and it never arrives. There is not a weak track on the album. The deathly feel of Sacrifice The Flame, complete with some evil string work which moves on to Flesh From Bone (possibly the most disturbing track on the album), complete with sinister build up before an absolute death metal attack delivery which makes the earlier reference in Terminal obsolete (before I've even finished the review!). Mackintosh’s guitar work is blistering as the track lurches from doom to death without drawing breath. What remains is the atmosphere of decay and death that has become the trademark of Halifax’s finest sons. Album closer Return To The Sun builds with choral and classic elements which allow the listener to return to the satanic film scores of yesteryear. A fiery conclusion to one of the best albums of the year. No-one who reads this blog should get to the end of 2015 without spending a couple of hours immersing themselves in an absolute classic. 10/10

Tremonti: Cauterise (FRET 12)

Opening at 100mph with the blistering Radical Change, the second solo album from the ex- Creed and vital Alter Bridge cog Mark Tremonti promises great things. And it maintains it pace throughout. Tremonti’s guitar work is terrific, as he demonstrates time and again why he is so highly thought of in the world of rock, shredding for fun with some powerhouse riffs and hooks so deep that you can’t get them out of your head for hours. This is a man demonstrating his metal heart on his sleeve. Title track Cauterise has a massive groove, driving rhythm provided by Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang and drummer Garrett Whitlock, whose double bass pile driving kicks the shit out of you. However, Tremonti’s superb voice, which is always going to draw comparisons with AB frontman and bandmate Myles Kennedy, eases and caresses the listener despite the carnage taking place all around.

Cauterise builds impressively on the underrated All I Was, Tremonti’s 2012 release. Heavier throughout, it retains the arena rock sound that Alter Bridge, Shinedown et al have driven into the 21st century. Arm Yourself will incite pits and yet also encourage the sing-a-longs, such is the variation in compositions. It’s not all heads down charging though, with the obligatory slower numbers [Dark Trip, Fall Again] interspersing the heavier assaults. An excellent production promotes a huge sound throughout the album, with the intricate guitar of Tremoni ably supported by rhythm guitarist Eric Friedman as well as Van Halen and Whitlock. Listen to Tie The Noose with your headphones on; it’s a throwaway rock track but the sound destroys. Providence, the album’s final track is probably closet to an Alter Bridge track and if it had turned up on Fortress it would have nestled in nicely. Cauterise is one step removed from the Kennedy/Tremonti writing style and whilst there are massive similarities which are surely completely unsurprising, there is also a freshness about it which is perhaps unexpected. A very pleasing release, and one that demonstrates that Mark Tremonti can deliver quite comfortably on his own. 8/10

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Reviews: Art Of Anarchy, Blackwelder, Galley Beggar

Art Of Anarchy: S/T (Century Media)

Art Of Anarchy is one part Guns N Roses, one part Disturbed, and one part Stone Temple Pilots as it features, Bumblefoot on guitar, John Moyer on the bass and Mr controversy himself Scott Weiland on vocals, making up the rest of the band are twin brothers Jon and Vince Votta who are session musicians and friends of Bumblefoot, on guitar and drums respectively. Now with all that out of the way we need to address the elephant in the room Art Of Anarchy are currently in hiatus and have been since before the release of their debut, now this is down to the human firework Scott Weiland who left the band after the album was recorded as he claimed he "was never in the band. It was something I did when I wasn't doing anything. I was asked to write some lyrics and sing some melodies on this project, but it's not a band I'm in" where as the band said otherwise, now for band releasing their debut to not have a complete band is a pretty big deal but while the future of the band is in turmoil currently we have to focus on the music. So what is the music like? Well it is a sum of the bands parts really drawing an influence from all of the members previous bands together to create some metallic hard rock from the opening classical guitar of intro Black Rain which moves straight into the Southern swagger of Small Batch Whiskey which has a sound similar to early Black Stone Cherry, meanwhile Grand Applause is pure Velvet Revolver with Bumblefoot channelling his predecessor in G'N'R with the bluesy rock solos and Weiland showing off his unique voice. Moyer uses his down a dirty bass licks on Superstar which is big, crunchy metal track that bounds along nicely; the albums centrepiece though is Til The Dust Is Gone which is an expressive ballad, the kind that Weiland does so well, driven by Vottas excellent drumming and beautiful classical guitar solo in the middle of it, the album does whiper out towards the end but with this song and a few others on this album Art Of Anarchy have made a strong debut and if they can get their act together then they could produce magic. 7/10

Blackwelder: Survival Of The Fittest (Golden Core Records)

A collaborative 'supergroup' featuring a member of Primal Fear, it seems like I say this a lot on this blog, however for once I'm not talking about the hardest working man in metal Mat Sinner, no Blackwelder features the voice of Primal Fear's Ralf Scheepers along with Hellion/ex Yngwie Malmsteen bassist Bjorn Englen, ex Angra drummer Aquiles Priester and guitarist Andrew Szucs. The band are not your usual power metal fodder either and while the blast beats and lightning guitars are there, the album draws more from the progressive rock sphere Spaceman is the first track to show this off with it's Sci-Fi theme and Scheepers relying on his mid-range and some vocoder to bring the song to life while they bring in more classical influences on the instrumental Adeturi which gives Szucs a chance to show off his neo-classical chops before we err on Priest territory on Freeway Of Life albeit when they were in their Turbo era. Blackwelder manage to fuse prog with metal well but none of the tracks really stand out except for the Blind Guardian-like Remember The Time and the Priest feast of Play Some More. Yes the performances are good, Ralf especially is in fine vocal form as always but for me the songs on this album seem to meld into one, a neo classical riff here, a scream there, rampaging drums and solos galore however there are only a few songs that really grab your attention on this record. It does feel like a stopgap album while the new Primal Fear album is being completed, my anticipation is high for that record unfortunately Survival Of The Fittest doesn't do anything to quell that anticipation I'm afraid. 7/10

Galley Beggar: Silence & Tears (Rise Above)

Now as you may know Rise Above deal in stoner, doom and the occult style of rock and metal however they also provide a home for the wider range of styles. Galley Beggar are the newest members of the roster and they deal in acoustically tinged folk with a focus on the occult psych tinge. As the album kicks off David Ellis and Matt Fowler's acoustic guitars driving the first track Adam & Eve which tells the tale of Adam's downfall to a haunting folk melody, Pay My Body Home has vocalist Maria O Donnell channelling Sandy Denny with her vocals, the Fairport Convention influence continues the traditional jig of Jack Orion which has liberal use of Celine Marshall's violin and harmony vocals to die for. This album is laid back with some clean guitar lines bolstering the acoustics on Geordie (again a traditional song arranged by the band) while Paul Dadswell's drums and Bill Lynn's bass add the rhythmic element to the 'heavier' songs. With bands like Ancient VVisdom playing this kind of stuff for a while there is an appetite for the more sedate style of occult rock. Galley Beggar are doing it with a certain sense of authenticity having the keening female vocals the medieval style music augmented with the acoustic guitars and the violin, with tracks like the chanting anti religion Empty Sky, the choral final track Deliver Him which has a baroque almost religious feel (something that is evident throughout the album) part sparse chamber music, part acoustic psychedelia. The title track is the most telling on the album as it puts the band's unique folk delivery to the words of Lord Byron, the both intertwining perfectly showing that music and poetry will always intertwine. Galley Beggar manage to create some wondrous achingly beautiful music with a lot of soul to it. Well worth checking out if you like anything on the Rise Above roster but also if you want something that is a little different harking back to the 60's folk rock explosion. 9/10

Monday, 22 June 2015

Reviews: Hammer King, Burning Point, Straight Line Stitch

Hammer King: Kingdom Of The Hammer King (Cruz Del Sur)

Hammer King, guess what they play? Yes they are a power metal band from Germany and as such they blast out of your speakers with Teutonic Power Metal in bucket loads (complete with flying hammer album cover). The band was formed by the members of German metal band Ivory Night, with vocalist Titan Fox V also supplying his pipes to Ross The Boss' solo band, this all means that Hammer King are all well versed in OTT power metal and Kingdom Of The Hammer King is no exception, full of chest beating, hammer swinging, battle metal that Ross The Boss' old band did and still do in spades. The album is split up by it's three linking concept tracks in the shape of Kingdom Of The Hammer King, I Am The Hammer King and Glory To The Hammer King all of which tell the story of, surprisingly, The Hammer King. With the rest of the album all linked to the concept but also tell their own stories, songs like I Am The King, Chancellor Of Glory, Blood Angels and We Are The Hammer all having the same dual axe attack from Titan Fox V and Gino Wilde, punishing drums from Dolph A Macallan and bass from K.K Basement along with Fox's soaring vocals that come straight from the off. Now I have mentioned Manowar a few times in this review so far however, and while the band do have elements of Di Maio and co; Hammer King share musical similarities with Sweden's premier power metallers and fellow hammer fanatics Hammerfall with Titan Fox V especially being a dead ringer for Joacim Cans vocally. The album kicks off with the title track that half inches the riff from Iron Fire's Ironhead but starts things off in manly epic way before the speed picks up on I Am The King which could come straight off Glory To The Brave with it's dual guitar attack and backing chants which reappear again on Chancellor Of Glory. The album is filled with big, ballsy, metal songs that punch you in the guts with even 'ballad' Visions Of A Healed World has more in common with Where The Dragon Lies Bleeding than any AOR band and as they conclude with Glory To The Hammer King your fist will be pumping the air and air guitaring along as Fox and Wilde. A hell of an album for all True Metal Believers! 9/10  

Burning Point: Burning Point (AFM)

A self released album is usually a sign of rebirth for an established band and the self titled sixth album is no exception, founding guitarist Pete Ahonen no longer is the voice of the band as he has been since 1999, yes he still provides backing vocals but the lead vocals are now taken over by former Battle Beast frontwoman Nitte Valo who immediately makes and impact on the rampaging In The Shadows. Other than the appointment of Valo, these Finns seem to have kept everything else present and correct on this new album, it is classic sound of guitar and keyboard driven power metal with solos galore and fist pumping riffage from the tow guitarists, keys that fly through every song with, drums that never stop, Nitte's gritty and ear piercing Halfordesque vocals and an arsenal of songs that show this bands talent. The album is a mix of new material in the shape of speedy Find Your Soul, the emotive My Darkest Times, the AOR baiting Queen Of Fire and also older songs re-recorded with Nitte's vocals the pick of the bunch being Blackened The Sun, the neoclassical Dawn Of The Ancient War, the thrashy Signs Of Danger and the bouncy Heart Of Gold. With the right amount of AOR and melodic power metal influences Burning Point have created an album that stays true to their roots while adding the new dimension with the great vocals of Nitte Valo. Burning Point is an album for fans of melodic metal with a some cracking female vocals and it's the start of a strong new chapter in the bands history. 7/10

Straight Line Stitch: Transparency (Pavement)

Straight Line Stitch have been around since 2003 and they have been promoting their brand of aggressive melodic metal since that same year, their last album was released in 2011 and since then the band have concentrated on EP's their last coming in 2014. Now Straight Line Stitch have always blended heavy thrash metal with more modern flourishes and have been critically acclaimed for their song writing and front woman Alexis Brown's vocals, all of this evident on the 6 track EP that starts off with an intro before exploding into the opening riff of Dark Matter that blends rumbling basslines, melodic riff heavy guitars and Brown's amazing vocals that effortlessly switch between keening clean vocals and guttural roars which gives the band a sound akin to In This Moment especially on the brutal, electronically infused Face Of God and the modern metal attack of Wilderness. Straight Line Stitch have constructed a great little treat to warm people up for their new album coming soon, 5 tracks (one intro) of modern, melodic metal bolstered by some hard hitting songs and great vocals. 7/10   

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Reviews: Whitesnake (Monster Review By Paul)

Whitesnake: The Purple Album (Frontiers)

In 1983 I wanted to be David Coverdale. Yes, he of the stunningly soulful wail and the most magnificent mane. Ever since I saw the outrageously sexist cover of Love Hunter, heard the bluesy rock of Fool For Your Lovin’ and Ready And Willing and the heartfelt emotion poured into Ain't Gonna Cry No More, Whitesnake were one of THE bands for me. An absolute super group, breathtakingly good live and comprising some of the best musicians around; most impressively including two of the lynchpins of Deep fucking Purple in Ian Paice and Jon Lord. And that was before you got to the trouser snake pulse of Cov’s filthy innuendo filled lyrics. Of course, the fact that Mr C was also a member of Deep Purple Mk III and IV meant I held him in even greater esteem. For many years, Purple ranked higher than Zeppelin for me. Page? Nah, give me Blackmore any day was my mantra for a long time. The classic Mk II line-up with a certain Mr Gillan never fails to cheer me up. Plucked from obscurity when Gillan left, Coverdale and a young Trapeze artist named Glen Hughes breathed new life into the mammoth that was Purple, encouraging the band to move towards a much more soulful and funk filled sound.

The 8th Purple album Burn is an absolute classic, from the powerhouse acceleration of the title track, which rivals Highway Star as the seminal Purple track through to the steady soul filled Sail Away and the blues filled mourning of fan favourite Mistreated. There is not a duff track here. 1974’s follow-up Stormbringer, the last to feature Blackmore was also crammed full of goodness, liberally dosed with some of the late Lord’s most infectious boogie driven ivory action and Blackmore’s most delicate and blues laden fretwork. Of course, the vocal delivery of Purple on these two albums had the added attraction of Glen Hughes in addition to the mighty Cov; both deeply blues and soul based but different, the interplay between the two enhanced the Mk III sound significantly. Hughes adding not only his bass riffage but also the higher screams, allowing DC to focus on what he does best; blues tinged rock. Stormbringer contains some absolutely delicious and delicate music Purple ever released, including my all-time favourite Solider Of Fortune. After Blackmore left, Coverdale persuaded Lord to continue with the band and recruited the late Tommy Bolin to fill the departed minstrel’s shoes. The result was Come Taste The Band. Possibly one of the most underrated albums in rock, there is significant boogie action with Bolin proving to be an excellent replacement (his performance on album opener Comin’ Home is blistering) whilst Jon Lord’s space-tripping keys and Paice's drumming are as consistent as ever throughout. You Keep On Moving should be a staple of any rock compilation; it’s that good.

So where is this inane rambling of MoM’s resident grumpy old man going? Well, it’s fuelled by the recent release of The Purple Album under the guise of the latest Whitesnake line-up. To quote the man himself: “It’s a tribute; a homage. A huge thank you from me to Deep Purple for the opportunity I was given over 40 years ago”. Hmmm. Whilst I don’t think the album is a 2/10 as recently awarded by Classic Rock, it doesn't half blow. The current Whitesnake line up comprises AOR guitarists Rob Beach [Winger, Dokken] and Joel Hoekstra [Night Ranger, Trans Siberian Orchestra], Michael Devin on bass and veteran drummer Tommy Aldridge [Black Oak Arkansas, Pat Travers, Ozzy etc.] along with the Cov. The album opens with Burn, all showy riffs and smashing drums and whilst Coverdale has ensured his vocals are high in the mix, the backing vocals of the three outfield players are sugary, pearly whites beaming the whole thing is just so fucking American. The keyboards lack any soul; the sound has been polished to within an inch of its life and it just has a total absence of heart which made the original Purple so endearing.

You Fool No-One is horrible, a grating harmonica intro leading into a standard stomp sans any of the emotion that Bolin poured into the original in 1975. However, it gets much worse. Sail Away allows DC to deliver one of his better performances but the absence of Hughes on the backing vocals means it quickly degenerates into to a bar room cover. I don’t know why this album has wound me up so much. The songs are listenable and all the musicians are hugely revered in their own fields but I think the fact is that, when listening to different versions of such magnificent songs, something has to grab you by the balls to justify why they had the temerity to even attempt such foolishness. And that’s where it falls down. Possibly the best example of this is the ghastly version of Mistreated, with its absolutely emotionless guitar work. Compare this to Blackmore’s soulful outpouring, or the Moody/Marsden fretwork in the original ‘Snake offerings and there is just no contest. Might Just Take Your Life, another live staple in early ‘Snake years, at least attempts to change the delivery from Burn’s version, yet is once more hamstrung by the absence of the interplay between Hughes and Coverdale and it all becomes a little pedestrian.

Next up, a master class in butchery as You Keep On Moving is decimated (once again mainly due to the absence of Hughes’ superb vocal performance on Come Taste The Band). There is little to get the listener excited in this version, in fact it is absolute dog shite with the keyboard fills an insult to the legendary Lord. Where his playing used to fill the track and wash over you with warmth, here they just drip in and out with an absence of any sincerity. The guitar solo is average but once again illustrates the complete absence of any genuine heart or spirit. I won’t even get to Soldier Of Fortune apart from to point anyone who wants to hear a cover of it to check out Opeth's version on the deluxe version of Ghost Reveries. A tepid and strangely metalised version of Stormbringer concludes things not a moment too soon.

I just don’t understand this album. I haven’t felt such rage since 3 Inches of Blood had the fucking nerve to cover Tom Sawyer at Bloodstock a couple of years ago. Even Machine Head’s version of Witch Hunt didn't anger me as much as some of the work here. Whilst I still love much of Whitesnake's work, this has pushed me to the far edge of my long-time long distance man-crush. Even an album called The Mighty Trousersnake couldn't win me back now. It’s over. Oh, and it’s a whopping 3/10. Why David? Why?

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Reviews: The Graveltones, Klone, The Dead Daisies

The Graveltones: Love Lies Dying (Lagoon Dog)

So Aussie two-piece The Graveltones get around to releasing their sophomore album after relentlessly touring their debut and building up their profile as one of the bands to watch on the live circuit. So has this relentless touring affected this second album well in a way yes, where as their first was a raucous riot of garage-blues noise this spreads their wings a little with tracks like I'm A Ghost channelling that late 60's vibe of The Who and The Rolling Stones with rolling drum lines and some honky tonk piano which comes before the haunting whispered menace of Back To You which would sit well on a Nick Cave record and the keening casino waltz of Together Again. However never fear because the band still ply their trade in riff filled snotty punk rockers Kiss & Fuck Off, Jack White baiting garage riffs World On A String and shuffling old school blues see Big Money which turns into fuzzed up chorus. Jimmy O plays  mean guitar effortlessly switching between old bluesman on Can't Tell A Man and rock god on Come and Find Me, his wailing howl also adding guts to the songs while Mikey Sorbello shows once again why he is one of best sticks men out there quite content with smashing hell out of kit as he is off kilter percussion on Running To You the value of studio man Carl Hudson's keys cannot be underestimated though on This Love's Gonna Break especially. As with many bands that astound live this album doesn't truly capture their live assault but it does go some way to show how good these songs and although not as immediate as it's predecessor the more mature style of song writing shown on this album means that they will all be great additions to the bands show when they are inevitably on tour again. 8/10

Klone: Here Comes The Sun (Verycords)

I saw Frenchmen Klone supporting Gojira a few years ago and I will admit I wasn't impressed, they played progressive groove metal that didn't really do it for me however like many bands who start out with heavy past they have totally changed their style on this their fifth record now playing the same kind of heavy, progressive, atmospheric metal that Anathema and Katatonia play with driving harmonic guitar playing from Guillaume Bernard and Aldrick Guadagnino who still have the metallic ower of their early releases while adding flowing smooth guitar lines over the top. The band also have hard hitting drums and bass from Florent Marcadet  and Jean-Etienne Maillard witnessed on the sparse, percussive The Drifter and anguished, passionate vocals from Yann Ligner, their secret weapon though is Matthieu Metzger who fleshes out the sound on tracks like Immersion with samples, keys, midi controller and saxophones that allows the band to add to their sound meaning that they can drop in elements of Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and also Tool, especially on Gone Up In Flames which has Maynard James Keenan all over it. It's hard to pick out individual tracks on this album as it needs to be taken in one sitting but with anthemic, heart tugging tracks like Nebulous, the chugging Grim Dancing, Anathema-like Come Undone all filling up an album that climaxes with a plaintive cover of George Gershwin's Summertime which builds from just one acoustic guitar. Klone have managed to successfully change their style to a bleaker yet cosonant, harmonious style of music fuelled by passionate instrumentation and vocals filled with heartbreak, I know at least one member of the MoM crew that will love this record and hopefully it's a change that will see Klone go onto bigger and better things! 9/10    

The Dead Daisies: Revolución (Spitfire Music)

Revolución is the second album from classic sounding hard rockers and is named in honour them being them being the first Western band to play Cuba since trade ties were reopened. The band have always been a bit of an anomaly in the music scens as they are less a supergroup but more of a band made up of many session musicans, almost like Toto albeit in a different genre, because of this their membership is fluid with only really guitarists David Lowry, Richard Fortus (Guns N Roses), keyboardist Dizzy Reed (Guns N Roses), bassist Marco Mendoza (ex Thin Lizzy/Black Star Riders, Various) being the constants in the band (touring commitments allowing). However since their first album a few things have changed in The Dead Daisies original frontman (and founding member) Jon Stevens (Ex INXS, solo & stage) and drummer Frank Ferrer have left allowing Brian Tichy (Whitesnake) to take over the sticks (after another few men sat behind the stool). Stevens however has had his mic taken over by ex Motley Crue man John Corabi and the band have not lost any of the hard rock drive they had on their debut. The album gets started with the melodic lead guitar work of Fortus underpinned by Reed's organ, the heavy rock rhythm on Mexico kicks in as the track swaggers along as Corabi hollers over the top with his smoky vocals as Dizzy Reed pounds his piano adding to the track, Evil has killer solo in the middle of it, Looking For The One is a blues based rocker whereas Empty Heart is a powerful track with touches of AOR. In fact this album draws from a number of classic rock influences and they seem to have honed their songwriting to pitch them in the early 90's style of rock favoured by Thunder, a touch of Bon Jovi on With You And I and heap of hip swaggering blues based rock n roll favoured by The Rolling Stones (Something I Said) and The Black Crowes for good measure. The Dead Daisies have produced yet another great album of muscular hard rock buoyed by the sterling guitar and keys work and Corabi's expressive Cornell-like voice, unlike many 'super groups' The Dead Daisies are not about egos or money they are just trying to make good music. Great album for lovers of superior classic rock. 9/10  

Friday, 12 June 2015

Another Point Of View: Fleetwood Mac (Review By Paul)

Fleetwood Mac: Genting Arena, Birmingham

In September 2013 I finally achieved a lifelong ambition to see Fleetwood Mac in the flesh. The experience was documented in my review in the Musipedia and readers will have been aware that the evening, despite being overrun with event twats, and the absence of Christine McVie, was rather special. When the band announced a further run of dates, complete with McVie, under the banner of ‘On With The Show’, further tickets were purchased in anticipation of another evening of superb music.

There are few amongst the Musipedia crew that are unfamiliar with the Genting Arena, formerly the LG Arena amongst other names. To me it is always the NEC although that is just the name of the sprawling complex which houses conference halls, hotels and numerous other buildings. Having had an uneventful journey and Mrs H’s magnificent retro themed packed lunch, we were inside the venue with over an hour to spare; time to marvel at the £30 t-shirts, £20 tote bags and £15 programmes. Yes, they are a huge band, but really? £30 for a t-shirt? C’mon, do you need the money that badly? As for the fleeces, £50 for a product that looked like it had been completed at a ‘Print Your Own’ shop was pretty poor. I really despise these soulless corporate sponsored caverns, charging £4.50 for a bottle of warm lager and £2.20 for a bottle of water. Add in the appalling range of food (since when was Old El Paso a gig food?) and my rage increases. Anyway, rant over, on with the show!

I’d read prior to the gig that Stevie Nicks was feeling the strain of this tour, which started off in September 2014 in the States. As the band arrived on stage to an unsurprisingly huge ovation and kicked off with The Chain, it was immediately apparent to me that Nicks looked slightly out of sorts. As the night progressed her movement appeared restricted and her interaction with the audience significantly less than at the O2 on the previous run. As would be expected, the set list had changed to incorporate some of the McVie led tracks, and we lost Without You, Sara, and Stand Back (Nicks’ solo work) as a result. Classic tracks You Make Loving Fun, Second Hand News and Dreams got the audience singing along but the muddy mix was not helping with the bass lines too loud and the vocals distant at times. Although it did improve throughout the evening you can’t help but feel a little disappointed that the sound wasn't crystal clear; it is the beautiful vocals that are an integral part of this band after all.

Christine McVie’s return has been much heralded and the band were keen to make reference to her “completing” the circle. Lindsay Buckingham made a magnificent fuss of her in his first interaction with the audience whilst Nicks also ensured that the spotlight was focused on her fellow female member. However, although it was fantastic to see her back in the band, in the live arena McVie's songs are substantially weaker than those led by Nicks. Everywhere, from the Tango In The Night album was case in point, although to be fair, this may just be personal preference. The three of us present are very much in the Nicks camp. A reduced set from Tusk (I Know I'm Not Wrong, the title track and Sisters Of The Moon) was followed by Say That You Love Me before the acoustic set arrived.

This was the opportunity for Buckingham to take centre stage, and he doesn't need any invitation. The solo version of Big Love was followed by the beautiful duet with Nicks on Landslide before a stripped down version of Never Going Back Again highlighted his stunning acoustic guitar work.
Although Nicks may have looked uncomfortable at times, there was absolutely nothing wrong with her voice and throughout the night her vocal performance remained as enchanting and captivating as ever. Gypsy and Gold Dust Woman were undoubted peaks in a show crammed with quality. Little Lies, one of my least favourite Mac tracks got the usual ecstatic response from vast swathes of women in the audience, who then as expected chatted all the way through my favourite Mac track, I'm So Afraid, complete with Buckingham’s trademark stunning guitar solo. In my last review I referred to him as one of the most underrated guitarists in rock, and I stand by that view. His unique picking style and three finger fretwork is just extraordinary. The main set finished with Go Your Own Way, and we braced for the inevitable Mick Fleetwood drum solo that is a part of World Turning, encore track number 1. Sure enough, we didn't have to wait too long and that provided the opportunity to head for the conveniences ahead of our return journey. Fleetwood spent ten minutes introducing the extended band (extra guitarist, keyboardist and backing vocalists) in his inimitable English gentry accent before the band wrapped up proceedings with the obligatory Don’t Stop; cue much appalling dancing from the crowd and a lot of singing. Just as we thought the night was ending, the opening bars to possibly the best track of the night, Silver Springs echoed out and a further five minutes under the spell of La Bella Donna really made the hairs stand on the back of the neck as well as rounding of the evening nicely.

Fleetwood Mac are a legendary band, comprised of massive egos. Even in the calmer setting of today, the tensions within this unit bubble close to the surface. Mick Fleetwood is eccentric but impressive in his drumming, John McVie rarely moves into the spotlight, content to lay down the rhythm whilst Buckingham and Nicks compete for the spotlight throughout the show. What about Christine McVie? Well, in stunningly good shape for her age, she certainly brings something to the band. However, as I said earlier, as much more of a fan of the Nicks music, it was difficult to warm to her in the same way. Having said that, this was still an evening of high quality from a band that have no right to still be on the same stage, given the baggage that they carry. Although not reaching the heights of my first viewing in 2013, Fleetwood Mac are still very much value for the ticket with a 2.15 hour performance. In fact, as Mrs H said to me after Landslide, listening to that live was worth the cost of the ticket alone. 8/10

(This was supposed to be the first of two shows in the Genting, however the next days show was cancelled at the very last minute, causing much annoyance to the many that had travelled to be there. Thankfully I finally got my Mac fix but cancelling at short notice was poor form indeed - Ed)

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Reviews: Faith No More, Helloween, Muse

Faith No More: Sol Invictus (Reclamation/Ipecac)

1997 remember that year? Seems a long time ago since Britpop loomed large and Tony Blair came to power, but 1997 was famous for another reason, it signified the release of what seemed to be the last Faith No More record. This seemed to be the end of the band as they went their separate ways, however after few reunion gigs here we go again with another record from the rock world's premium purveyors of off kilter, genre hopping, mind bending genuinely alternative music. The title track starts the album off as Mike Bordin's drums and Roddy Bottum's keys drive the song which is dark way to kick off the album as Captain Patton uses his entire vocal range to give the song gravitas, this song is more like an intro than a full track and it's only on Superhero that we finally get a 'proper' track with Billy Gould's bass playing taking centre stage as per usual underpinned by Jon Hudson's angular guitar riffs, this track moves along a fair pace in the verses Patton snarling like a beast before the chorus lends a sense of the grandiose with Bottum's keys and Patton croons merging brilliantly before Hudson gets a sublime lead break in the final part, Sunny Side Up paradoxically sounds like a funeral procession with an upbeat chorus, Separation Anxiety is the first real dose of weirdness on the album with a low dark almost schizophrenic opening that explodes into heavy rocker in the latter part. After only four tracks you can hear that the band are all playing at the top of their game add to this Bordin's great production and songs like the almost Western flavoured Cone Of Shame, the country/jazz influenced Black Friday and the gloriously insane Motherfucker. After 18 years it's quite clear that Faith No More haven't dropped a beat, they are still perfectly capable of producing an album of high quality alternative metal that soaks up genres and styles like a sponge, many publications have heralded this album as something akin to the second coming and while it's not quite that it is a an album that the band are obviously proud of this album and the rejuvenation it suggests; From The Dead is the most telling track on the album as it's the purest and most honest song on the album that sees the band reflecting on this their resurgence and reaffirm that Sol Invictus is indeed their declarative comeback statement. 9/10    

Helloween: My God Given Right (Nuclear Blast)

Since replacing Michael Kiske with Andi Deris  in 1994 Helloween have gone from strength to strength after the two lacklustre albums at the end of Kiske's tenure. However since 2005's Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy the band have hit somewhat of a purple patch with 7 Sinners and Straight Out Of Hell improving on the Helloween formula with thrashier guitars, huge synth swells, rampaging songs and Deris' grittier vocal delivery. This is also Helloween's first album on Nuclear Blast since 2003's Rabbit Don't Come Easy. Happily Helloween's 15(!?) My God Given Right (a hell of a boast) is more of the same as the crunchy riffs of Heroes kicks off the album in fine style as founder member Michael Weikath and Sascha Gerstner drivie everything with their great guitar work riffing like mad and filling the song with fleet fingered solos as Markus Grosskopf's bass adds flourishes underneath Daniel Löble's super fast drumming. Battle's Won is old school Helloween with huge vocal melodies and upbeat, glorious song writing, the title track is a ballsy, confrontational number that is followed by the hard rock of Stay Crazy. Yes the lyrics are not poetry Lost In America the incredibly silly Russian Roule which is the heaviest track on the album and the must-have-been a Kiss b-side If God Loves Rock N Roll. On the mega-ballad Like Everybody Else it underscores the importance of studio keyboardist Matthias Ulmer who helps to flesh out the songs with his synths, orchestrations and on the Deep Purple sounding Creatures In Heaven, the album sounds huge once again due to Charlie Bauerfeind's production wizardry. Yet another great addition to Helloween's latter-era re-insurgence and another power metal master class from the German legends of the genre. 8/10

Muse: Drones (Warner Bros)

So three years since Muse's 2nd Law and the band have come back into the public conciousness with a concept album called Drones, the album follows "the protagonist's journey from abandonment to indoctrination as a "human drone" and eventual defection" dealing with loss of empathy through modern technology, so a heavy concept indeed but nothing Matt Bellamy and co haven't touched upon before. What has changed since 2nd Law is that the band have stripped back their sound removing the orchestrations and indeed dubstep that was part of their previous hit-and-miss album and relying on the guitar driven rock of their early releases albeit with the progressive overtones of their latter period, in fact much of this album is pitched in the Absolution/Black Holes... style of rock. Drones kicks off with the synth driven Queen-like Dead Inside which features the Radio Ga Ga synth riff and huge backing vocals, which are also very prevalent on this record, possibly due to the involvement of Robert John 'Mutt' Lange the man that helmed Highway To HellBack In Black, Hysteria, Pyromania and Waking Up The Neighbours so he knows a thing or too about hit albums and does seem to have a Midas touch, in fact that touch is all over the mega ballad Mercy. Now older fans will immediately be back on board with this opening track and if not Psycho's glam-guitar riff driven rocker will have them listening intently, yes the riffs are back folks with Matthew Bellamy playing the guitar god as he riffs and solos on tracks like Reapers, while Dominic Howard keeps the pace behind the kit on The Handler and Christopher Wolstenholme provides the swaggering basslines on tracks like Defector. This album is a real return to form for the band who have filled it to the brim with the huge rock riffs of their early career, with some excellent tracks like the AOR meets Queen of Aftermath, the heavy Reapers, before the 10 minute The Globalist starts with an intro that echoes Ennio Morricone in the whistling and clean guitar lines. as Bellamy croons the opening part before the guitars kick in about halfway through leading into Bellamy once again takes to the piano to sing of loss and alienation as the finale flourishes swell to complete this amazing track that blends into the chanting in title track finale. Muse are back folks rejoice!! 9/10     


Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Reviews: Armored Saint, Pyramaze, Phear

Armored Saint: Win Hands Down (Metal Blade)

Armored Saint will probably be known as the band that John Bush fronted before he was in Anthrax however as he came back to the fold with Revelation it would be another 10 years until they released their 'comeback' with the excellent La Raza so now 5 years on The Saint have come marching again with what is only their seventh album. So does this album stand up to their great debut and indeed their previous release? Well as Jeff Duncan and Phil Sandoval's guitars rip through the opening title track the answer is an emphatic yes as the riffage comes thick and fast and the solo section sees the men fight for every note. A powerful opening then that shows that Armored Saint were always much better than they were given credit for, much of this comes from the great vocals of John Bush who was a perfect fit for Anthrax having a wider range than Joey Belladonna but he is right at home with Armored Saint giving a powerful chest beating performance. Mess could be the bands Indians you can even war dance to the percussive middle section provided by Gonzo Sandoval and Joey Vera. This album is non stop, filled with huge riffs, great songs played with talent and attacked with a talent perfected over years of touring and recording. The only slow song comes in the form of Dive which is an atmospheric ballad with soaring solo. There are only nine songs on this album but they are all excellent and show Armored Saint's continuing  away from straight up thrash by adding some classic rock influences (Hammonds on Muscle Memory) and even a touch 80's sleaze metal seen on That Was Then, Way Back When. Armored Saint are back with a bang and with yet another collection of killer songs to add to their live set especially the fist raising In An Instant and the modern sounding Up Yours that ends the album brilliantly. I for one can't wait for Bloodstock!! 9/10   

Pyramaze: Disciples Of The Sun (Inner Wound)

Considering the band have been around since 2001, this is only Pyramaze's fourth album, part of this may be because the band have had 4 four singers since their inception with numerous hiatus', the last hiatus saw founding guitarist Michael Kammeyer leave the band being replaced by Jacob Hansen who is more known as producer than a guitarist handling production for Amaranthe right through to Volbeat and hundreds of bands in between as well as being and in demand mixer and masterer. Obviously he handles the production on this album which along with Jonah Weingarten's keys give this album a cinematic quality, something Pyramaze have always brought to the prog/power genre. Now their last album had ex-Iced Earth man Matt Barlow providing the vocals but he has gone on to pastures new and the band have had a reshuffle leaving only drummer Morten Gade Sørensen as the founding member along with the longest serving members Weingarten and guitarist Toke Skjønnemand as being the only constants through all the albums, they do have a new vocalist in the shape of Terje Harøy who if he sticks around may be the man to get Pyramaze more recognised in the world of metal than they are now, his vocal is powerful, masculine and chest beating in it's delivery echoing Evergrey's Tom Englund while having a poppier element to it on tracks like Genetic Process where he really shows of is passionate shout over a heavy backing. The playing on this album is intense the band have all guns blazing Skjønnemand and Hansen's guitars tearing and ripping through all of the tracks with heavy riffs and sublime lead breaks all duelling with Weingarten's killer keys and Gade Sørensen's superb drumming. Once again Pyramaze have released another strong album that fans of Evergrey and Kamelot will lap up. Let's hope that Terje Harøy sticks around as Pyramaze have definitely found a new lease of life with him in the role of frontman, a great album from a band who have always had a massive amount of unfulfilled potential. 9/10    

Phear: Insanitarium (Self Released)

When you think of Canadian thrash what springs to mind? Give up? The only two that are well known are Annihilator and Voivod with a few bands like Slaughter having cult status, now Canada is not really known for thrash, but when they do deal with the fast angry music they do it in a more progressive style than their American cousins. So can Phear add their name to this small list of bands that deal in the pit starting music? Well the album starts off with the atmospheric opening of Regan's Dream where the horror motif is drown out by the air raid sirens and then the riffs of Graham Stirrett and Tyson Emmanuel with fat slabs of guitars moving the song along before everything speeds up in the middle eight allowing the solos to come thick and fast, before the time changes once again at the final part, so thrashy and progressive yep it's Canadian thrash folks. The rhythm section of Stan Miczek  and Mark Ferreira's bass and Chris Lewis' drums, drive the groove laden tracks like Fallen while the Pat Mulock has a good voice that brings to mind Tim 'Ripper' Owens  however his higher register doesn't really do it for me. On the other hand when it's duetting with Basia Lyjak on Heaven shows that he fits the band well adding some emotion to the heavyweight musical backing. This album is a bit long to be honest at 13 tracks you get a lot of bang for your buck but Phear have knack for atmospheric Nevermore styled progressive thrash metal that brings to mind Nevermore especially on Delusions, the album draws it's influences from everywhere but the middle section of the album slows up significantly and does become a bit of a dirge before speeding back to life on Until You Die. Phear have produced a confident debut that stands them in good stead however the album would be improved by the quality over quantity argument, until they've mastered that they won't quite reach the heights of Annihilator or Voivod. Still if you like a bit of progressive thrash with a nod to groove metal than Phear will be right up your alley. 7/10    

Another Point Of View: Blackwolf (Review By Nick)

Blackwolf: Exchange, Bristol

Another hop across the bridge to the second home of the Musipedia, Bristol was calling again as Matt and I escaped the horrific fans and musical styling of One Direction to take in some real music. Arriving a little late (courtesy of an obligatory quick pint) we rocked up just in time to catch the main support of the evening Wreckage Of Society.

Wreckage Of Society

Quickly breaking out into their first track of a 30 minute set the Bristol based band set out their stall pretty early, presenting us with a unique brand of alternative ballad rock, filled with future anthem like lyrics. Unfortunately I couldn't tell you the song names from memory, however each song had a clear formula to them; ballad verse and an in your face hard rock chorus. This went down a treat for myself and from what I could see, the rest of the packed exchange too. The highlight of Wreckage Of Society for me were the vocals of lead singer and rhythm guitarist Luke Smith, melodically reminiscent of Five Finger Death Punch’s Ivan Moody but possibly a little cleaner and better. While in the bouncy chorus’s he really lets his deep voice free and hits every note with ease, impressive. The rest of the four piece were on their game too, lead guitarist Morgan Weeds matching Smiths rhythms and braking out melodic solos with great tenderness, led by the addictive bass lines laid out by Jim Matthews and topped off by hard hitting drums of Cameron Jarvis. Not too much else I can say here except, considering this was only their third gig as a band, it was pretty darn good. Catch these guy if you can, I'm looking forward to their EP! 7/10

Blackwolf

Now for the main event and something I had been looking forward to for a few weeks now. Having seen these guys a few times now, each time they seem to get better and never fail to impress. Hitting the stage to a great applause the Bristol favourites opened up with a bit of a curve ball, a track from their EP, Seeds. As expected the band ripped open the following silence with their instruments, playing them as hard and as loud as possible, filling the exchange with Blackwolf's patented hard-hitting bass led bouncy hard rock. Again my original draw to this band was always the vocals of Scott Sharp, wow what a voice this man has! However, he did put the frighteners into Matt and myself during opening track Seeds as he clearly struggled through, not hitting many high notes and at times his voice breaking even in the lower scales, with a quick look to each other, we decided that everybody gets one. Now, whether it was a case of first song warm up or the fact that Sharp simply hadn't played Seeds in a while I don’t know, but thankfully as the next few tracks kicked in, fan favourites Moving Mountains and Kiss The Fire his voice kicked right back in and damn did it sound good?! As Moving Mountains and Kiss The Fire were duly delivered flawlessly, both band and crowd jumped around the room to the bass filled grooves Ben Webb delivered throughout both tracks, while the riffs shot out by Jason Cronin and John Greenhill complemented the entire make up of the Blackwolf's sound, the set was flying through with smiles on fans faces clear to see. Next a new track from the album that the band is currently recording, sticking with the theme of fire, we were presented with Breathing Fire. Chocked full of bouncy rhythm guitar and groove-laden bass, while vocally a much quicker track for Sharp, which is new and something a little different for Blackwolf. However, what makes them so good remains; no compromise hard rock. If this is what we can expect from the next album… I can’t wait!

Back to the stuff the Blackwolf fans know and love for the next few tracks as the slower paced Sleepwalking was offered faultlessly followed by Steady Slow and Black Hole Friend, each song provided to the highest order and with the passion they deserve. Time for a taster of what is to come with another new track Grace. Similarly to Breathing Fire this was a little different to what we usually hear from the Bristol band, while at the same time not forgetting their style. Grace presented us with slower ballad like verses with a chorus that packed a punch like a mule, forcing the crowd to jump about aimlessly as they loved to do. Soon the set had to come to an all too soon end due to a following cub night. The band left the fans with what they came to see, classic unadulterated Blackwolf. Finishing off with anthems Moving On, Relief and Mr Maker both band and crowd were either hopping around or banging their heads to the riffs in-between supporting Sharp on the vocals. A well paced set with some new jewels slid in for good measure, Blackwolf truly are a live band that are not to be missed and hard to beat. Honest, fun and high quality hard rock how it should be… now messing round here, just quality music. I personally can’t wait to catch these guys again! 9/10.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

A View From Many Rooms: Camden Rocks 2015

Camden Rocks 2015: Various Venues In Camden

So Camden Rocks is the annual music festival in the alternative centre of London, spanning numerous venues throughout Camden and encompassing more than 200 bands I knew I was going to be in for a slog but what better way to see artists that tour infrequently or indeed bands that only play the London area and at £30 it was an opportunity not be sniffed at. Arriving late on the Friday I checked into my hostel in Swiss Cottage (£45 for two nights) and after a few beers with friends awaited the following morning.

So this was the day, packing light and heading on tot he top end of Camden before moving down Chalk Farm Road and onto Camden Highstreet to the legendary World's End Pub to collect my wristband and my press pass. After collection it was band time and back to the top of the street to The Enterprise, first up were London based alternative rockers Mercutio (7) who played expansive driving alternative rock in the style of Radiohead, Anathema or Porcupine Tree with huge bass and guitars and bass from Naz and Staf while Alessio kept a beat and Miriko has a keening, mournful vocals that work as another instrument than overpower anything, meaning that the band have a big sound in a little venue (I mean it was 12pm). Still a great opening band for the day but as soon as they were over it was a brisk walk over to the Stables Market and into Proud Camden from female three-piece The Amorettes (7) who played to a packed crowd, due to their sponsorship from Planet Rock, they play riff-filled Airborne style rock that was good to watch but didn't really do anything new for me as it was all a bit generic, still back up to The Enterprise with all the beer I had drunk coming off with perspiration to catch local lads (well Aberdare/Merthyr) Dead Shed Jokers (8)who yet again played their unique brand of gonzoid rock n roll with big riffs and Hwyl's vocals evoking Nick Cave, Zep and QOTSA all in one mixed in with valleys banter thrown in endearing them to the big crowd that had gathered to watch them in this little venue, well done boyos!!

Straight back down to The Stables Market and to the Cuban for a band that I have liked since their debut was released on Classic Rock magazines long forgotten Powerage records, the band was New Device (8) who usually only play London and play bouncy chart bothering modern metal with a mix of the rockiest tracks from both of their albums. Singer Daniel Leigh was hellishly sick which meant his voice went a few times but with a set full of great songs, a responsive tightly packed crowd and an excellent performance. I do hope this band travel a bit further on their next tour as I'd love to see them do it all over again. However I was about to get blown away as I walked the short distance over to Proud to catch the Wildhearts erstwhile front man Ginger (9) in full flight, as I waited the room filled and filled and filled again until people had to be stopped from entering, Ginger was on his Songs And Music tour which mixes his career defining songs with stories from his colourful history. As he started the set it was all systems go playing a solid 20 minute medley taken from the first few Wildhearts albums which got the entire crowd singing along to every word, as he ended (only reaching 1993) the affable front man the told a few stories from his past, explaining how he got sacked from his record label. Then he proceeded to play another medley that was a run through of latter part of the career. This was the biggest crowd of the entire festival, I personally spent most of the gig in the doorway, but the crowd was right Ginger managed to bring the house down with headline performance in the middle of the day.

Over to the largest venue the Ballroom to catch the rock and roll madness of The Black Spiders (8) who drove through their set with the obligatory "Eat Thunder, Shit Lightning" shtick with their rollicking rock getting the crowd moving to songs like Stay Down, Stick It To The Man, Just Like A Woman and Kiss Tried To Kill Me, there were a few technical hitches but once again Black Spiders showed what real rock and roll is still alive that the Black Spiders are the flag bearers of it. Back over to Proud for Scottish rock legends Gun (9) who showed once again showed that they are one of the most underrated bands in the rock genre, mixing old and new the played classics like Better Days, Money (Everybody Loves Her) fusing them with new tracks Let It Shine (which opened the set), Frantic and One Wrong Turn all of which fit perfectly with their older stuff. All of their songs have huge hooks which is something that one forgets about Gun. Jools Gizzi fits perfectly as their new singer (he was their old bassist) and stamps his Scottish charm all over the songs giving them new life. Ending with their cover of Word Up, the rocking Steal Your Fire and Shame On You to a rapturous applause. A band that I would again in a heartbeat, they were that good. Back over to the cavernous ballroom for While She Sleeps (8) who managed to lay waste to it with an insanely brutal set filled with riffs, breakdowns and screams, the supposed new kings of metal managed to cement their claim to this by causing huge pits and supplying more noise than I'd heard all day, hell they even took a song into the pit an proceeded to start a fight with a punter to protect another, their no compromise attitude was endearing and their songs are some of the heaviest and most tuneful out there.

I'll admit I had a dilemma here as three bands that I wanted to see clashed first was Turbowolf in the Barfly, then Skindred in the Underworld and the reinvigorated Bullet For My Valentine in the Electric Ballroom. Due to sentimental reasons and the band having a special place in my heart, I stuck with the Bridgend massive for Bullet For My Valentine (10). The band were welcomed like returning heroes driving straight into new track No Way Out which is nasty riff filled thrasher kicking off the set with violent pits before moving straight into Your Betrayal which is far heavier live than on record. The gig was their first in over 14 months and saw the debut of new bassist Jamie Mathias who slotted in perfectly prowling the stage along with Padge and Matt Tuck while Moose smashed away at the kit as 4 Words (To Choke Upon) got a huge cheer from the loyal and huge crowd. This was a celebratory, hit filled set that pleased the gathered masses, the pace didn't drop as the band ploughed through Raising Hell and Scream Aim Fire showing that they have arena filling tunes, the band seem to have made transition into a snarling riff spilling beast but also they have managed to merge that with hooks galore that gives them the air of Black Album period Metallica.

Acoustics came out for All These Things I Hate (Revolve Around Me) before the heavy second half kicked in and any sentimentality was blown away by another new song Broken, on the face of both of these tracks their new album Venom could be scorcher and was swiftly followed up by The Last Fight. Now with a list as long as your arm of songs that they could have played they opted for medley starting with Hand Of Blood, the Room 409, Hearts Burst Into Fire (which had the biggest sing along of the night, your writer included) ending with Begging For Mercy and Riot. As the set drew to a close the heaviness didn't relent as Waking The Demon and Pleasure And Pain ended the main set, thoroughly worn out and breathless it was time for the encore and it was their masterpiece angst ridden ballad Tears Don't Fall which had the crowd in raptures until the very last note. There is a lot of talk about who will be the next festival headliners when Metallica and Maiden stop and many would have ruled out BFMV a few years ago however on the basis of this performance they are definite headline material, their October tour is going to be in relatively small venues across the country see them there now before they finally reach that position they have been aiming for since The Poison. Perfect setlist, flawless performance and Welsh, what more could you want?

They also served as the perfect end to a tiring but cracking day of live music, this is gem in the yearly music calendar and if the acts are as good next year then your intrepid reporter will be amongst the masses yet again.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Reviews: Leprous, George Kollias, Emerald Sun

Leprous: The Congregation (InsideOut)

On their fifth album now and Norwegian madmen Leprous are still a premier provider of technical, progressive music that is both dark and melodic showing the talent Leprous have gained as Ihshan's touring band. As things open with The Price we get numerous time changes, odd vocal harmonies and an electronic beat backing the guitars and drums. Now Leprous draw from all manner of influences with a dual guitars of Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Øystein Landsverk mixing rock, metal and punk perfectly providing the guts and noise to all of the tracks, while Baard Kolstad and has a particular jazz style to his drumming while also handling the harder faster parts perfectly see Third Law which moves from sparse soundscapes to furious metal passages. However as with all of the Leprous albums their sound is the brainchild of frontman Einar Solberg who drives the songs along with his virtuoso keys, synths and programming and also his wild multi-octave vocal. shown on the the relentless Rewind where he moves from a chant, to a high register croon and then a fractured shout  before the climax. Unlike their earlier efforts both The Congregation and it's predecessor Coal have seemed to be much more immediate than their early efforts, the songs are accessible but also musically dexterous, darkly endearing and intensely progressive in their delivery. From the start stop processed beats of Red through to the burning, sombre passion of Slave, the fist pumping passion of Down amongst others. The Congregation is yet another great expansive, expressive, progressive record full of extremely talented songwriting and chock full of great songs that are perfect as part of the album but will be even more well received in the live arena later this year. Well worth a punt if you like powerful progressive music! 9/10

 George Kollias: Invictus (Seasons Of Mist)

George Kollias is the Greek drummer of American Death Metal merchants Nile and this is his debut solo album, now it is on this album that Kollias shows he is more than just a tub thumper as he handles every instrument of this album as well as the guttural vocals, so by definition this is about as solo as and album can be, however he dose have a fair few guests on the album, these are nearly all guitarists who provide the lead guitars and solos to the death metal creation Kollias has crafted. His Nile bandmates Karl Sanders and Dallas Toller-Wade show up on the title track and Voices, Rotting Christ's George Emmanuel gives his six string violence on Shall Rise/Shall Be Dead, Outloud/Firewind man Bob Katsionis on Apocalypse adds keys to the track and virtuoso Rusty Cooley on Aeons Of Burning Galaxies which also shows off Kollias' drumming talent. So is the album any good? Yes in a word, if you like relentless blastbeats, furious guitar playing and guttural roars, this is similar to Kollias' day job albeit without the Egyptian lyrics, so if you like any of these things then you will love this album. In fact it is a real technical death metal clinic with all the instruments played with precision, but Kollias has managed to create a myriad of styles within the death metal genre meaning that this album doesn't get boring or indeed dip in quality at all. A fantastic first shot by Kollias who manages to do what's familiar while adding new elements throughout. 8/10  

Emerald Sun: Metal Dome (Pitch Black)

Thessaloniki's Emerald Sun have been around since 1999 and they have been playing their brand of power metal for a fair few years now so they are pretty accomplished at it and as the relentless drumming of Screamers In The Storm hits you are deep in the kind of muscular power metal that fellow Hellas Firewind and Innerwish deal so well in. Galloping power metal in it's purest form then with furious twin guitars from Paul and Johnnie, the rock solid rhythm section of George and Fotis, big keys from Sefis and the powerful vocals from Stelios. The title track echoes Warriors Of The WorldBlack Pearl would fit perfectly on an Alestorm album, where as Freedom Call is a power ballad worthy of the band themselves but it's Mere Reflection that stops the show before it is blown away by Dust And Bones. The production is a little tinny on this record meaning that everything feels a little washed out but as the album hurtles along at 100mph it's hard not to caught up in maelstrom of silly, grin inducing power metal. Not, big, not clever but damn fun! 7/10  

Monday, 1 June 2015

Reviews: Lucifer, Ten Foot Wizard, Forgotten Suns

Lucifer: Lucifer, I (Rise Above)

A few years ago a band called The Oath appeared on the occult doom rock scene formed by two leather clad rocker chicks in the shape of guitarist Linnea Olsson and singer Johanna Sadonis, they released a great debut then as fast as they appeared they split up leaving everyone unsure of what happened. However in what was a slow release promo campaign including snippets of sounds, not much information on the band and a non album single (very retro), Sadonis reappeared with another band named Lucifer, (no prizes for guessing what the songs are going to be about then) but after sneak peeks and another single finally their debut album Lucifer I. The album was written by Sadonis and ex-Cathedral man Gaz Jennings and as such is a prime slice of occult 70's style rock of Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult and indeed Pentagram or any proto-metal band you care to mention. Things start off with Abracadabra and Jennings (known as The Wizards here) gives us a thumping riff while ex-The Oath drummer Andrew Prestridge rumbles like distant thunder and bassist Dino Gollnick underpins with a voodoo bassline. The key element of Lucifer's sound though are Sadonis' haunting vocals she croons, howls and bewitches on every track while holding sermons on the occult and the Satanic (what else). From bell tolling doom of Sabbath, through the glistening Izrael, the doom laden Morning Star and the powerful Grave. This is a solid slab of occult doom rock, let's hope this band lasts longer than Sadonis' last effort as this album has a lot of potential. 8/10

Ten Foot Wizard: Sleeping Mountains (Beard Of Zeus)

Oof this is a bit of alight riff heavy stoner rock with head spinning bass, thunderous drumming, rocking and rolling riffage and shouted vocals. Coming from Manchester these men describe their sound as hailing from the Beard Of Zeus and they might be right as this is 70's style psych rock fitting perfectly into the stoner rock genre that means that Ten Foot Wizard have a Clutch meets Orange Goblin style of heavyweight rocking with a bit of Desert rock sun gazing thrown in. On We Go is pure Clutch replete with time change in the middle of the track that oozes with the blooze. All four members play their instruments with loose precision allowing the songs to breathe freely letting their blues and 70's rock influences shine through, Emlyn's bass walks tall on the QOTSA-like Up & Away, Jonny's drums anchor the groove throughout while the guitars of Adam and Gary are the bands wall of riffage that allow Gary to shout like man with too much whiskey and weed. The band don't need to stretch themselves too much as they stick to a solid stoner groove but with tracks like Railway Shuffle, Covered In Tits, Through This World and Sabbath worshipping, jazz inflected Ode To Death the band have really hit upon the Southern rock/stoner mix that Neil Fallon and co does so well. Cracking album from these Wizards of heavy rock. 8/10  

Forgotten Suns: When Worlds Collide (Premiere Music)

Forgotten Suns are progressive metal band hailing from the sunny shores of Portugal and they draw from the sounds of Dream Theater, Symphony X and Shadow Gallery, with thrashy metallic guitar riffs, melodious keys and synths, blast beat drums, galloping bass and powerful vocals. They are also not adversed to a longer track with five of the 7 tracks on this album coming in at over 10 minutes long with the concept track The Road To Nowhere Parts 1 & 2 bookend the album at 11 minutes and 17 minutes respectively, the songs move and twist (like those dark figures Maiden sang about) through various time signatures and even sometimes genres. The guitar playing of Ricardo Falco is ad you would expect adding sublime solos and riffs over J.C Sambora's powerful drumming while Ernesto Rodrigues  provides the slinky keys and driving synths. So musically the band have a lot of talent however vocally I'm wasn't impressed by Nio Nunes his voice has a habit of bordering on the whiny while trying to do his best James LaBrie (who has got a unique voice) still if you can get past this then When Worlds Collide is a good little prog metal album. 6/10