Status Quo: Aquostic (Stripped Bare) (earMusic)
Cased in one of the most terrifying covers in history, mainmen Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt in the all-together their crown jewels covered only by their acoustic guitars, Aquostic is the legendary boogie bands 31st (!) studio album and as the title suggests it features some of the bands biggest hits reinterpreted in the acoustic style some stripped back and some like Pictures Of Matchstick men are given string treatment making the track sound like it should appear on Sgt Pepper's (seriously this has to be THE definitive version of this song now) in fact nearly all of the songs (and there are 24 of them) work very well in the acoustic format giving the band a chance to go back to their blues roots on Down The Dustpipe which has the addition of harmonica from Andy Bown, who usually supplies keyboards but on here it's mouth harp, mandolin, guitar and guitar. The track listing is a complete retrospecitve of the bands career and follows in a chronological order with Pictures... starting the album through two off Piledriver; All The Reasons turns into a Faces style ballad, five from Hello! the honky tonk of Reason For Living through the percussive shuffle of And It's Better Now which shows of new drummer Leon Cave's skill, then we get to their including their magum opus Caroline which comes straight from the saloons on this version dripping in both honk and tonk.
We then carry on before moving on through Quo and On The Level a double header of a countrified Break The Rules and a chicken pickin' Down Down? Yes please!! All of the bands 'hits' are here but the lesser known songs are perfectly chosen to get the best out of their reinvention, where as Rockin' All Over The World is closer to Fogarty's original than ever before. In fact as I've said nearly all of the songs on this album are familiar (of course) but they get a new lease of life in this format, you can clearly hear that Rossi revels in the more stripped back sound still singing brilliantly but with a bit more guts and grit than usually, in fact Parfitt too sounds like a new man on Whatever You Want his scratchier vocals working well on the more orchestral version. For a band who have been around for so long it's great that they feel that they can take the risk of changing the style of some of their most well known songs, however what is even more clear, is that even though they are known as the band that play four chords, in the stripped back setting it's the song writing that shines through, yes even on Margarita Time (which sounds like a Dolly Parton song now, in a good way). If you want a Quo 'Best Of' then there are several million available, however if you want a clever experimental career retrospective that shows why Status Quo are one of our most treasured bands then look no further than Aquostic. 9/10 (Point lost for the poor pun and the cover)
Unleash The Archers: Time Stand Still (Napalm)
You'll have to bare with me for a moment here, Unleash The Archers are a Canadian band and this is their third album, with that out of the way I can get on to what they sound like. Now imagine Halestorm's Lzzy Hale fronting Amon Amarth, while jamming Dragonforce songs with Manowar; I'm serious...Unleash The Archers have all of those influences on this record merging extreme power metal with melodic death metal to great effect. As soon as Frozen Steel starts the album off proper you are thrown straight in at the deep end of a maelstrom of supersonic riffage from Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley who shred like bastards throughout providing the light speed rhythms and face melting solos. Kyle Sheppard rumbles at high speed in the bottom end (and even gets a solo himself). The band's real drawing point though is one; the frankly awe inspiring drumming of Scott Buchanan who doesn't stop raining down thunder for the whole record making sure that the listener cannot catch their breath.
The second drawing point is his wife Brittney Slayes' frankly astonishing voice the woman has an amazing range able to sing with a gritty lower register before unleashing a shriek that can make your ears bleed especially on Tonight We Ride which is pure Amon Amarth without the Vikings. The band however are not stuck in a rut though adding lots of elements to their sound, they manage to add very modern influences to their base level of power metal with melodeath touches, Hail Of The Tide is Arch Enemy sounding, while Test Your Metal echoes Priest in full flight, Crypt harks back to Kind Diamond, while No More Heroes has the beatdowns of bands like Killswitch Engage. The album is relentless it beats you around the head with 5-6 minute tracks that just kick your face in with the amazing performances on display here, the only real slowdown is the epic 9 minute plus Dreamcatcher and the choral finale of the title track (thankfully not a Rush cover). This album is a brilliant menagerie of metal with numerous styles lapping on top of the power metal assault. A staggering, breathless display of metal fury!! 9/10
Next To None: A Light In The Dark (InsideOut)
We hear at the Musipedia always go on about new young bands that are on the scene, however I think ridiculously young is the only way to describe Next To None. The band play progressive metal with some modern and varied influences throughout, but what is startling about this band is that they have an average age of 16 years old, however they play with the maturity of a band in their late 20's. The band are made up of Thomas Cuce on keys and vocals, on guitar is Ryland Holland, on bass is Kris Rank and behind the kit is Max Portnoy, yes he is the son of Winery Dogs, Flying Colours and ex-Dream Theater man, who lends a hand in the producer chair. So with that musical pedigree is success in the genes? Well there is certainly a lot of promise from these immensely talented youngsters (just check their biography to see just how much talent these polymath's have). The album starts with the sound of rain and tolling bells and this writer was expecting the opening chords of Hallowed Be Thy Name to kick in but no we get orchestral swells and then with a flurry of Portnoy drumming The Edge Of Sanity starts in classic DT style.
Driven by chunky riffs and and elongated opening section that sees the bass and guitar of Holland and Rank work in tandem and as the organ's kick in we get our first taste of Cuce's voice who is trying to emulate James LaBrie albeit with added growls that bring to mind LaBrie's solo work. So far so DT with the nine minute played in odd time signatures and a crazy mid section that Theater's Jordan Rudress is so keen about. You can hear the boys influences on this album too as You Are Not Me is straight ahead metalcore bringing in A7X, Slipknot and even Pantera and the album continues in this vein with great musicianship throughout especially on the longer tracks however there is an overriding sense of immaturity on the record, not in the playing no, but Cuce's voice can get a bit whiny at times see ballad A Lonely Walk and they do tend to air on the side of more emotional almost childish lyrics, now this is clearly to do with their age and lack of life experience, but as I've said a band of very young virtuosos that have the chops but now just need the songs that will come with age and time. So for now it's watch this space. 7/10