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Sunday, 23 August 2015

Reviews: Vintage Trouble, Praying Mantis, Stormzone (Reviews By Paul)

Vintage Trouble: 1 Hopeful Road (Universal)

It is no secret that Vintage Trouble are one of our favourites at Musipedia HQ. Regular touring since the 2011 release of the soulful debut The Bomb Shelter Sessions has enabled several opportunities to catch the band in their most captivating setting, the live arena. Having seen them several times including twice this year (the last in the cavernous Wembley Stadium supporting AC/DC), the arrival of the long awaited follow-up is timely to say the least.

Full of soul and blues, 1 Hopeful Road contains a number of tracks that have been played live for some time so in some respects it doesn't feel like a brand new album. In fact, it feels more like an old friend than a new acquaintance. Opener Run Like The River has an infectious rhythm and blues drive, highlighting the rockier edge of the band whilst retaining the soulful feel of a band very much in touch with the blues roots of the 1950s and 1960s. Stomping homage to their home town, Angel City, California has the Stones trademark groove whilst Strike Your Light, another live favourite chugs along in the best blues rock tradition (it should be on the Blues Brothers soundtrack) with the classic sing-a-long chorus and driving rhythm and guitar work of Nalle Colt. However, as anyone who has ever seen the band live will testify, Vintage Trouble are a band of light and shade and some of their best work lies in the real tender and calmer songs, the pick of them probably the beautiful Doin’ What You Were Doin’ which really tugs at the heart strings.

1 Hopeful Road is a feel good album; one to put on when you get in from a difficult day at work, allowing you to relax with a cup of tea whilst being soothed by the velvet tones of Ty Taylor; it is an album to have up front or in the background, such is the quality; dance around the room or chill, it works either way; put it on at a house party or in the car. Quite simply, it is a stunning piece of work and one of the albums of the year. If you like a bit of blues rock, then make sure you pick up this album. You won’t be disappointed. 10/10

Praying Mantis: Legacy (Frontiers)

Back in the late 1970s, there was a stampede of new British heavy metal bands, emerging from the bloated corpses of the behemoth progressive rockers who had ruled the music landscape for much of the previous decade. This was of course the dawn of NWOBHM. Right in the middle of the clamour for recognition was a band called Praying Mantis, who for a short time sat alongside the likes of Iron Maiden, Saxon and Raven at the top table. Formed in 1974 by brothers Tino and Chris Troy, they released their best known work Time Tells No Lies in 1981. As with many of the bands who achieved minor recognition, they have continued throughout the years with numerous line-up changes, hiatuses and reformations. In fact, if you look at their line up details on Wikipedia, you will see almost a who’s who of UK  metal vocalists who have spent time with the Mantis; for example, Paul Dianno, Bernie Shaw, Doogie White and Gary Barden whilst Clive Burr (late Maiden drummer) had a couple of stints on the skins.

Unsurprisingly the band are big in Japan and have released several albums over the years. Legacy is album no.10 and the first to feature Jaycee Cuijpers and Hans in’t Zandt (vocals and drums respectively. And it is actually a pretty good if formulaic slab of melodic AOR. Cuijpers vocals fit perfectly with the sound, whether it is the old school metal of Fight For Your Honour or the cheese filled homage to their favourite city, Tokyo, complete with oriental lead breaks. Yes, it is pretty standard melodic rock, the kind that fills the halls at Hafan-y-Mor every year for Hard Rock AOR, but it does a job. Some tracks are a little too close to Bon Jovi/Def Leppard for my liking, Better Man for example makes me feel a bit queasy. However, the musicianship on the album is excellent, the classic layered rock sound with subtle keyboards and large riffs, some excellent guitar work from Troy and And Burgess, choruses a plenty which everyone joins in and opportunity galore to pump the air with your first. Eyes Of A Child is possibly THE best AOR track ever written, containing every ingredient necessary. It is unlikely that Praying Mantis will be playing an arena near you soon, but they have sufficient longevity and quality to deserve an opening slot for one of the many packages which rumble around the country from time to time. If you like your rock with a large slice of cheese, slightly melted, then you’ll enjoy this. 7/10

Stormzone: Seven Sins (Metal Nation)

So just over a year ago, there we stood in the Sophie Lancaster Tent watching these guys blow our minds with some excellent power metal. And then we discovered they were not from mainland Europe as we had expected, but from across the water in Northern Ireland. Quickly purchasing their latest release Three Kings confirmed that this is a band with more than a bit of quality. Their fifth album Seven Sins cements that view, crammed full of top notch power metal. Huge riffs, symphonic vocals and pounding drumming, it’s all here. Opener Bathsheba sets the bar high, before the chugging Another Rainy Night has you reaching for the air guitar. What sets Stormzone apart from the gazillion other power metal bands? Well, for a start they are a British band which is a rarity in itself. They also vary their delivery so that it is not too formulaic.

From the stomping The One That Got Away to the anthemic Your Time Has Come and the more textured and crafted title track Seven Sins, there is a range of songs which keep you interested. They also have one hell of a vocalist in John "Harv" Harbinson who has a great range. Ably supported by bassist Graham McNulty, former Sweet Savage drummer Davy "Basher" Bates, and guitarist Steve Moore. Yes, shades of Maiden run throughout this album, but so what? Maiden are surely the blueprint for power metal and if you can use that blueprint then go ahead. Seven Sins is strong throughout, with Raise The Knife and virtual thrasher and Helloween tinged Abandoned Souls amongst the highlight. Yes, it is traditional in composition and delivery. No, it won’t pull up any trees or win awards but it is a solid, well produced and good quality release which sits comfortably alongside the more familiar names of the genre. Now guys, how about some live dates? 8/10

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