So Texan riff masters The Sword return with their fifth album, if you know the band then you'll know they have a bit of a potted history as their first to records are huge slabs of riff filled Sabbath worship driven by some nifty guitar work by J.D Cronise and Kyle Shutt, they mixed things up on their third album with some spacey, prog rock riffs tied to a sci-fi concept, before returning to the altar of Sabbath on their fourth record. This album, they have gone totally nuts, this is their most eclectic work yet, all but gone are the Iommi style riffs replaced by some twin guitar magic that Goram and Robinson would be proud of this Lizzy-like sound is immediate from first 'proper' track Empty Temples which weaves and swings like 70's Lynott and co. In fact this 70's vibe permeates the entire record with even songs like Tears Like Diamonds and Mist & Shadow both of which hark back to the bands earlier sound would be more at home on Never Say Die that Vol.4, with the underscores of organ that is used throughout Tears...and especially on intro Unicorn Farm which is an almost electronic number. Yes the Sabbath worship has been looked over in favour of nods to cleaner side of rock with a bit more booty and boogie in the music; Seriously Mysterious has a lot of Black Keys influence with its rumbling funk driven by Bryan Ritchie's synth bass and Jimmy Vela III's electronic drums, well as some spacey psychedelic textures on the instrumental Agartha and the guitar freakout of Suffer No Fools, which shows Shutt and Cronise fluidly mangling their fretboards to a pumping backing.
There are 15 tracks on this album, that's far more than on any previous release (they usually number around 9-10) however many of the tracks are short, instrumental interludes that are there to lead one song into another giving the album a live fell as they move from track to track seamlessly. The Sword will never lose their identity due to Cronise's unmistakeable vocals, this makes them unique but for people who prefer the earlier style of The Sword they may be put off by the bands more mixed up and 'lighter' sound as well as the horns on Early Snow, however older fans should not fear as there is still some massive riffs on Buzzards and Ghost Eye but such is the topsy turvy nature of this record that these songs are bookended by an acoustic country number like Silver Petals and almost Radiohead style psych fug of Turned To Dust. High Country is a unique, odd album that draws from the bands roots while expanding their sounds and indeed the minds of the listener, how will this stuff translate to the live arena I don't know but it will be interesting to see the massive riffs moving into the funky brass on the stage. 8/10
Kingcrow: Eidos (Sensory)
I'd never heard of Kingcrow before their album Eidos made it's way into my review pile but after the first spin I instantly regretted this. The Italian progressive metallers are now on their sixth album and it's that experience that is paramount in making this album sound the way it does, Eidos (the Greek for essence or form) is the third part in their conceptual trilogy that started two albums ago following a character as a boy before the previous release saw him as and adolescent and now a man. It's all very high concept and the technicality of the music mirrors this; Eidos is full of real 'proper' progressive metal that bands like Shadow Gallery and Dream Theater have been doing for a good while now, it is intelligent and most importantly welcoming not spending too long showing off, the songs are all brilliantly written and draw you in with the hooks and melodies. Much of this is due to the band who are all virtuoso musicians the bass playing of Francesco D'Errico is the glue that holds everything together anchoring the songs perfectly while providing interesting basslines for drummer Manuel Thundra Cafolla to work with as he adds the impressive percussion moving from the huge more metallic pieces such as the title track where he goes hell for leather as well as knowing when to ease off and give things a lighter touch on more introspective parts of the same song.
With such a strong rhythm section the melodic end of the spectrum has to keep up and it does so brilliantly with both guitarists Diego Cafolla and Ivan Nastasi are masters of their craft supplying riff after glorious riff on the harder tracks At The Same Pace as well as ably handling the gorgeous acoustics that seem to go throughout the bands sound on beautiful songs like Adrift, Open Sky and Fading Out Part IV. Their interplay with keyboardist Cristian Della Polla is also fantastic as he melds perfectly with the guitars allowing the songs to breathe brilliantly and creating some excellent soundscapes see the electronic filled Slow Down. I know I said earlier that the band share traits with Dream Theater but it would be more apt to compare them to bands like Shadow Gallery, Haken, Orphaned Land, Riverside and the two bands they share the most with Porcupine Tree and Opeth, the latter is due in part to vocalist Diego Marchesi's unbelievable voice which is used to great effect on opener The Moth, Diego really shines on this album but he doesn't take anything from his compatriots as all of the band meld together perfectly to create this utterly magnificent album and as the final track If Only begins you know that the journey is complete and with this song, that could have come straight off Porcupine Tree's In Absentia, the album ends prompting you to take a deep breath and press play again. I didn't know Kingcrow before but they have a new fan, to the back catalogue!!! 10/10
Skintrade: Scarred For Life (AOR Heaven)
Swede's Skintrade started in 1993 and after their acclaimed debut album saw them tour all around Europe they released the follow up in 1995 Roach Powder which saw them touring more and more, then the band broke up leading frontman Matt Alfonzetti to seek out a solo career as well as become the singer of ex-Skin guitarist and former Jagged Edge bandmate Myke Gray's Red, White And Blues. However back in 2012 the band reformed and released both a compilation, with a new album called Refuelled coming last year. So hot on the heels of that is yet another album that once again sees the band firing on all cylinders, as the title track kicks things off the chunky riffs bring to mind Black Stone Cherry, Alter Bridge with a huge hooky choruses and the heavy guitars from Alfonzetti and Stefan Bergstrom. Despite being on the AOR Heaven label the band are pretty heavy with a rock solid rhythm section from the two Hakan's (Calmroth bass and Persson Drums). This is great modern rock with an 80's rock sheen, the music is muscular with tracks like 15 Minutes Gone, Lovehate and Storm Will Come all have massive riffs, giant choruses and a fist in the air attitude all bolstered by Alfonzetti's excellent vocals; if David Coverdale had less posturing (and could still sing) he's sound like Alfonzetti, who really shines on ballads like Broken, the bluesy Leave A Scar which has a scuttling riff and the filthy lyrical content of old leather lungs himself as well as the swaggering Lay With Me. This album has a great glut of songs on it and moves away at a fair old pace with only two ballads on the album the rest is headbanging rock and roll with one perfect cover Wide Awake was originally by pop strumpet Katy Perry and saw her trying to be 'edgy' however Skintrade's rocked up version is an arena bothering anthem. If you love rock n roll with a metallic edge (or indeed the late 80's and modern Whitesnake albums) then Skintrade will be right up your street!! 8/10