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Monday, 28 September 2015

A View From Wiltshire: Rock Diabetes - Fire & Forge 2015

Rock Diabetes - Fire And Forge Festival 2015, Trowbridge Civic Hall, Wiltshire

Across the bridge and into the middle of the beautiful county of Wiltshire for a 12 hour day festival, with a lot of bands that are well known on the British metal scene, the festival took place inside the Trowbridge Civic Hall with two stages (one large, one small) filled with over 20 bands, as a bonus all of the money raised by ticket sales and indeed a percentage of the bands merch sales went towards finding a cue for type 1 diabetes. So rock and roll for a good cause then lets get too it.

Soldier (7) were first up on the main stage and they played a strong set of powerful British heavy metal, Soldier are a revitalised NWOBHM band and their classic metal won over a lot of people in the crowd (they sold a LOT of merch) starting things off on the main stage in style, despite me only being able to catch a few songs. Over on the second stage it was Bite The Hand (7) who had played a good set of hard rock with bluesy bits to shake things up. After this bit of blues it was time for a bit of brutality on the main stage with Plymouth thrashers Huron (8) who were playing their first gig without their frontman Knievel who left after Download this year, the band are now trimmed to a four piece with bassist Rohan James taking over the vocalist role while also providing the bass, this is mighty modern thrash ala Machine Head with technical playing and aggressive songs that got the crowd banging their heads, I've never seen Huron as a five piece but as a four piece they were excellent providing the first real metal moment of the day when the threw in a cover of Testament's Into The Pit just for good measure. Great band that should go from strength to strength after this performance. Back over to the second stage to catch some of the West Country's answer to Crowbar or indeed BLS, Black Forge (7) they play big metal riffs biker style, with cut off leathers and beards galore, the band had some good songs but suffered with bad sound in the second stage meaning everything was very muddy although that could have been the point. With Warlord pulling out at the last minute it was Twisted State Of Mind (7) that took over their position on the main stage, they were full of youthful exuberance and boundless energy.

Staying on the main stage it was time for Triaxis (9) to step things up a little their professionalism was easily noticed, they were slick and drilled unit playing their most fierce material in the shape of Victorious, Liberty, Sand & Silver, Death Machine and Black Trinity battering the crowd that grew during the set, the band as usual played with ability and skill vocalist Krissy once again showing here power even though she was struggling with a hell of a cold, although you'd never notice. If I was to say one thing it's that they were on far too early, meaning they had a very short set for a band of this calibre, they should be much higher up the bill, a quick turn around and back onto the second stage for Triaxis bassist Becky's other band Control The Storm (7) the band play female fronted heavy metal with symphonic styling, their big sound was once again rendered a bit mute due to the poor sound, still the band ploughed through and delivered. Following them were Valous (7) who played gritty metal in the classic style early Maiden sound (a hark to the headliner) with rumbling bass and spiky guitars once again the room let the band down again. Back on the main stage for some chest beating groove metal in the shape of Black Acid Souls (8) they have a real menace about them with mixing thrash and groove perfectly to bring a chugging stomp to the main stage and once again lifting the spirits with fat riffs and booming vocals. Over to the second stage for classic rock worshipping Freeway Mad (8) who are deep in the 1980's classic rock vein of Y&T and followed by Jettblack, with some shirtless guitar fireworks and cowboy booted vocalist who screamed his head off throughout a thoroughly entertaining 45 minutes and the first band to have decent sound on this second stage.

Back onto the main stage ready for the 'Goth Kings of Manchester' Sinnergod (8)who brought a sense of darkness to proceedings playing, electronic Goth metal with big swathes of riffs and synths that was part Manson, part Placebo with less divisive vocals, they played Goth metal with emphasis on the heavier aspects and were not adversed to a solo either, for the most part they were bouncy Goth metal that got the girls (and one guy) dancing along to the darkness. As things changed over a local DJ had a bit of an Alan Partridge moment with some terribly unfunny stand up which made everyone wish he would just naff off and let the bands play. Happily it was time for Worcester trad metal heroes Fury (9) the band are Maiden meets Metallica who always play for their lives on every song having that epic feel of thrashy speed riffs, melodic vocals from Julian and bags of enthusiasm. The band ballsily played two new songs opening with one called StarTrooping and the other coming towards the middle of the set. After opening with a guitar rendition of the Blackadder theme you knew the band were going to have a lot of fun on stage. As well as the new stuff the band played classics in the shape of Dangerous World Out Beyond The Stars and the epic Britannia and Drunken Sailor both brought the house down. Third time at this festival and it showed by their performance which was once again fantastic. They get a bonus point for having the Union Jack instead of the George Cross draped on their amps as well as the Scottish and Welsh flag.

Unfortunately due to some very bad timing Cypher 16 suffered as they happened to be on at the same time as one of the most important games of rugby in the entire world cup, however I was near enough the second stage to catch Voodoo Vegas (8) bring their brand of big party rock and roll to Trowbridge. They are well in the tradition of Aerosmith and co, with big hair, big riffs and big balls they were the perfect end for the sweaty second stage, showing that even in a small venue they can captivate a crowd and get them rocking. Buoyed by a nail biting Welsh victory and being one of the few Welshmen in the building I was in a very good mood as I went straight into Absolva (9) who sounded better than ever in their new four piece formation, rhythm guitarist Luke Appleton returning to the fold after his dalliance with Iced Earth, this gives them more guts than before. They proceeded to get the fans in close, drawing the biggest crowd of the day as they ran through their rampaging metal with new stuff from as yet released album as well as glut of older tracks like Flames of Justice and Code Red that are all once modern and retro. Absolva put in a performance worthy of headline status and they also have a link tot he cause with frontman Chris being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes four years ago. So it was time for the headliner and really it was doomed from the start, after Absolva's amazing set having to suffer through a raffle and an auction at 10:45, then technical difficulties, after being in the venue for nearly 12 hours was trying my patience, but after being informed that frontman Paul DiAnno was waiting for an operation so would be sitting down for the gig, things went from bad to worse for The Architects of Chaoz (5) who were playing their first gig in the UK and it also marked Paul DiAnno's first performance in the UK for 10 years. Firstly their sound was appalling the bass was overpowering everything drowning out DiAnno's voice which has greatly improved from his Maiden days, the sound problem was only heightened when he ran through Sanctuary, followed by Prowler and the guitars were barely audible, as an upside the Architects Of Chaoz songs sounded good but would have been better if the sound was good. The final nail in the coffin for DiAnno was that between the songs he did nothing but complain about the crowd and the venue, using offensive remarks throughout to goad the crowd. I can see why DiAnno hasn't played in England for 10 years, he is so far removed from the British scene that he looked like a dinosaur.

All in all a nice little festival that needs a little bit of tweaking in the technical department and indeed the line up creation to make it a very good one indeed.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Reviews: David Gilmour, Chris Cornell, Shinedown

David Gilmour: Rattle That Lock (Columbia)

Endless River signalled the end of an era for the guitarist and de-facto leader of Progressive Rock legends Pink Floyd, this was the groups final recording delving into the archive to create a tribute to their fallen comrade (keyboardist Rick Wright) and laying everything to rest. Gilmour is now a liberated man, he hasn't got the expectation of another Floyd album hanging around his neck which means that the man who has been the voice and guitar of Floyd for many years is now finally free to experiment and he has taken the opportunity of his first solo album in 9 years to widen his sound drawing from a few influences while maintaining that sound that is synonymous with him. Instrumental 5 a.m starts the record off and much in the style to Cluster One which opens Floyd's Division Bell album, it builds from relative silence into an acoustic led track that features Gilmour's definitive flowing guitar playing, however unlike Cluster One it fades after two minutes into the funky title track Rattle That Lock which is driven by Steve DiStanislao's cowbell-led drums and percussion, a reoccurring chime, hammond from co-producer Phil Manzanera and long time sideman Guy Pratt's walking bass line working with Yaron Stavi's upright bass playing. With it's gospel backing vocals from Mica Paris and Louise Marshall and funky rhythm it could be a real shake to the system for old school Floyd fans but as soon as Gilmour plays his searing solo the old wizard is still there.

Gilmour's solo work has always had an ambient sound and this album continues with this, Faces Of Stone starts off with a sparse piano intro before morphing into a folky acoustic piece that Floyd followers Mostly Autumn have done so well, it is the sound to a Parisian wonderland with piano and acoustic guitar working in tandem (both supplied by Gilmour) as the accordion adds the sense of drama to Gilmour's soulful, lazy vocals, that deliver his wife's poetic, wistful and sometimes heartbreaking lyrics with passion. The song swings away until the climactic solo sets your ears ablaze and saunters into the dreamy, romanticism of A Boat Lies Waiting which features Brian Eno (yes Brian Eno) on piano and the unmistakeable harmonies of David Crosby and Graham Nash working with Gilmour to sculpt one the albums most delicate and gorgeous songs. The jazz comes out on Dancing Right In Front Of Me which has the atypical upright bass and tapping percussion on a song that is one of many that has the superb orchestration of Zbigniew Preisner who marvels on In Any Tongue, Beauty is another instrumental which yet again has those ambient elements mentioned earlier, the guitars once again come to the fore as Eno once again adds atmospheric piano.

 As Beauty drifts away we go back to the smoky jazz clubs for The Girl In The Yellow Dress which even has a sax and a parping cornet from Gilmour's old mate Robert Wyatt, this track slinks away and moves into the final 'proper track' Today which sees the most amount of musicians contributing with Pratt, Manzanera, DiStanislao all returning with the backing vocals of Paris and Marshall and the orchestrations of Preisner filling out the sound of this funky, whimsical uplifting rocker which has more than an element of Young Lust to is possibly due to the dual electric pianos and Gilmour's flirty and teasing vocal harmonising with his wife's wonderfully, finally And Then... is an instrumental that suitably ends this sprawling album beautifully. For Floyd fans this will love this album, as expected but also many non Floydians will too, it's a gorgeously constructed album of songs with Gilmour drawing on his childhood influences too. Yet again the work rate is as fast as a tectonic plate but it delivers and earthquake every time! 9/10            

Chris Cornell: Higher Truth (Universal)

For the first time since Soundgarden's 2012 comeback King Animal their erstwhile frontman has returned to the recorded scene with his first solo album since 2009's critically panned Scream. Happily Cornell has gone back to his roots on this new record crafting an intimate acoustically tinged record with producer Brendan O Brien, the album for the most part is a showcase for Cornell's song writing playing and of course that unmistakable voice, the drums are either programmed or minimal meaning that everything is focussed on the warmth of the vocals and guitar combo. The genesis of this album comes from Cornell's Songbook acoustic tour where it was just him and an acoustic guitar and while this album is not strictly acoustic it has it's roots in acoustic playing. Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart is the perfect opener for the album with a lead mandolin backed by hand claps giving a powerful opening that shows occasional bursts of fussy electric soloing. Dead Wishes has a more country fell to it and is the first real showcase of Cornell's voice over the top of the acoustic plucking, piano and shuffling drums. Dead Wishes is a fantastic song, in fact most of this album is excellent, its not as stark or confessional as Euphoria Mo(u)rning or as rocky as and polished as Carry On but it is a superb collection of songs that look to Cornell's roots and make you feel something in the pit of your stomach, from the harmonica break on the bluesy Worried Moon, to the drum loop backing of the lumbering Before We Disappear which sounds like a condemned man's lament (or even a Bonamassa song).

Through The Window is beautiful in it's simplicity just a layered guitar with hints of an electric six string at the back and Cornell singing of regrets and sorrows. No this isn't Soundgarden, it's not a big pile of hard rock angst, it's not the open confessional of Cornell in his early solo records, no this is a new revitalised Cornell who finally seems at peace with himself, it's an album of acoustic rock songs in the fine troubadour style, looking to his influences for inspiration; with songs of love on Murder Of Blue Skies and the title track, which owes a debt to The Beatles with it's cacophony of noise at the end, something that moves right through to the final (on the normal edition) Our Time In The Universe which has an Indian vibe. Along with the songs of love there are also the ones that deal with loss and even happiness on Only These Three Words. This is what I would call a late night or indeed Sunday afternoon album, the ideal album to play in the comfort of your home surrounded by loved ones, put it on and let it's toasty glow engulf you. 9/10           

Shinedown: Threat To Survival (Atlantic)

The Jacksonville Florida band come back with their fifth album and yet again they keep the sound that has seen them reaching the heights of the Billboard Number 1 time and time again, but once again evolving it much like they did on their previous release. Asking For It has a repetitive hook and an electronic backing on top of a punky guitar riff from Zach Myers that establishes their return with style. What is most noticeable are the electronic elements that are present throughout adding that modern sheen to Shinedown's alt metal songwriting. The bands albums have always greatly excelled their live performance with Brent Smith's vocals bolstered by the production allowing him to use all kinds of effects on songs like the swaggering Cut The Cord which harks back to Bully from Amaryllis with it's big child choir chorus. Again this album has big songs with HUGE hooks,, see How Did You Love and Outcast for two tracks that compliment each other slickly but this time as I've said they have added more influences with some industrial components and some sleaze on the percussion driven It All Adds Up.

The first part of this album is big riffs with a shout along value a good 7 songs have this chest beating approach with no slow down they are either fast or have some huge rhythms to get your head nodding, Oblivion is the most notable with it's sparse drum fuelled rhythm. Things slow down on the power ballad of Thick As Thieves which employs a bass drum and finger snap backing as well as some piano and acoustics, Black Cadillac things up a bit as it is swamped by synths and drums meaning that it feels a little like FNM in one of their more mainstream moments, however it's the finale of Misfits that really leaves a mark (scar?) as it too is built on synths and electronic orchestrations, this is a ballad on the scale of Nickelback with a bit of 80's synth pop thrown in for good measure, if any song is going to bring them another number one (ala Second Chance) it will be this one. With a more industrial sound than before the heartfelt lyrics and big rock riffs are still all here meaning it will not alienate old fans but what it will do is gain them a whole load of new fans, which for a band that are as talented and popular Shinedown is all that they can hope for, as I've said yet again they have made a slick album of modern American rock music. 8/10  

A View From Various Rooms: The Graveltones, Grand Magus, Winterfylleth (Live Round Up)

So in a change to what we normally do here's a round up of some of this weeks live events, this is purely due to frequency and not being able to give a full review of each gig due to various reasons.

The Graveltones (Fuel Cardiff)

First up was two piece The Graveltones who I'd seen the same day playing a short totally electric 'acoustic' set (they were plugged in) set in the legendary Spillers Records,  so after a little flip over to Fuel it was time to see their full electric show and they really pulled it off, Jimmy's stabbing guitar bursts out garage blues licks that Jack White or The Black Keys would be proud of and also howling at the moon vocally while he rocks and rolls, the usually mild mannered Mikey becomes possessed behind the kit flailing like a silver back in the louder moments but also casting a spell with delicate percussion. A furious set of songs from the duo showcasing their new album in the live arena as well as playing tracks from the debut album to a crowd that lapped it up in droves, a great set from a band that have a live buzz. 8/10

Grand Magus (Marble Factory, Bristol)

Into the second home once more this time with our groups power metal loving twins. After sitting through Heaven Asunder who sound like Killswitch Engage playing Avenged Sevenfold songs *shudders* it was time for the Swedish trad metal warriors, J.B, Fox and Ludwig to take to the stage to the theme from Conan The Barbarian. The crowd were cheering as the band blasted straight into I, The Jury with the hammering drums of Ludwig and the thumping basslines of Fox driving the bands trad metal onslaught as J.B riffed for his life and sang the songs of iron and stell with his sonorous vocals, this was a greatest hits set punctuated with the enjoyable between song banter that Grand Magus do so well, it is self depreciating and also inspiring getting the crowd to chant and clap along allowing everyone to join in the fun. Sword Of The Ocean bled into Kingslayer and as the set progressed we got Steel Versus Steel the always impressive triple threat of Iron Will Raven's Guide Our Way and Like The Oar That Strikes The Water. The set flew by and we were at the end in no time with Valhalla Rising, Triumph & Power ending the main set but Magus are not a band to faff about with encore thanking the crowd before the enormous set ender Hammer Of The North which came with the obligatory 'whoahs' at it's end. Magus once again played a blinder laying down the gauntlet to co-head-liners Ensalved who didn't really live up to the expectations for me. 8/10

Winterfylleth (Thekla, Bristol)

The final gig of the week was in Bristol again for British pagan black metallers Winterfylleth, this time I was with my long term gig companion and our apprentice. Due to a late arrival (and some beverages) we missed the support bands arriving just as the headliners took to the stage. Always a force to be reckoned with and a mesmerising live act I was surprised to see how empty the Thekla was on a Friday night, this is a tremendous shame as Winterfylleth are one of the truly truly unique bands on the metal circuit mixing unrelenting black metal with folk and pagan influences. The band kicked off their technical display with The Divination Of Antiquity and something didn't seem right, despite the band playing with the amazing virtuosity they always do the sound was bit weird (much like it was at Hammerfest) so after the The Ghost Of Heritage there was a lot of tuning and sound checking to get things right meaning there was a gap in proceedings while the audio gremlins were sorted, dutifully the hardcore crowd waited and with the layered delivery of Winterfylleth was back in full swing, the band have real magic about them live, they don't move much, quite the opposite Chris Naughton stands steadfast as he furiously shreds away aided by long term conspirator Nick Wallwork on bass, they provide the steadfast rhythm section, anchored by Simon Lucas' drums, that make the Winterfylleth sound, while Dan Capp plays the mellifluous leads that give the band a real depth. The Wayfarer Pt 1 was very well received and yet again showed off Naughton's demonic but crystalline vocals, the black metal genre is always a bit hit and miss with me but Winterfylleth have such good songs delivered with real prowess, that it's hard not to like them, tracks like A Valley Thick With Oaks, Whisper Of The Elements show crushing brutality and also a pastoral whimsy with acoustics placating the ferocious assault. The set ended with the always impressive Defending The Realm and with a few thank you's the night was over, this by far was the best gig of the week, an intimate venue, with a dedicated fanbase watching a band that are never less than impressive (sound issues aside). 9/10       
    

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Reviews: Kill Ritual, Stereo Nasty, Neckdeep (Review By Nicola)

Kill Ritual: Karma Machine (Scarlet Records)

Karma Machine sees the third offering from Californian thrashers Kill Ritual, and despite undergoing a major line-up change, this smasher of a record proves there’s no letting up from the rocking quartet. Clean vocals come thick and fast, but do well to not detract from the grit laid down by what is, at times, technical guitar work. However, it is the melodic riffs that echo power metal and guitarist Andrew Rice’s frequent, yet perfectly placed, leads on guitar that make this offering something special. A powering intro provided by Just A Cut sets a very much fast-paced buzz, that rhythmic offerings such as Just A Cut and The Enemy Inside do nothing to dispel. A curve ball comes in the form of The Key, deceptively beginning as the album’s greatest attempt at a softer ballad; before utilising some clever guitar work to tear into another up-tempo corker. The title track Karma Machine is, however, by no means the greatest contribution, falling a little short of creating a real hook, whilst the inclusion of carnival-esque sound effects at song’s end adds nothing. Overall, it’s easy to see why Kill Ritual are gaining notoriety for their contemporary twist on thrash, Karma Machine once again breathing life into the genre and setting them apart from more traditionally associated acts such as Metallica and Slayer; whilst still rocking hard. 8/10

Stereo Nasty: Nasty By Nature (Independently signed)

Squeeze into the spandex, don the denim cut and quiff up your bouffant; as slick 80’s throwback metal band Stereo Nasty are blasting us to the past, and if the Irish four-piece are attempting to prove something with this debut; then prove something they sure do. Nasty By Nature manages quite a feat; by utilising gravelly vocals that echo Mark Tornillo or Biff Byford; and combining them with good few heaps of stellar riffage; without sounding like a sub-par knockoff revival band. Whilst it’s hard to pick stand out tracks on an all-killer album, Death Machine notably utilises a steady hook to build anticipation before catapulting in with tearing vocals; and relishes a rapid pace before dropping a solo worthy of your slickest air guitar. Classic metal appreciation comes from In The Blood, with the choral declaration of ‘I've got that heavy metal blood running through my veins’; providing the perfect ingredient for a roaring metal-head anthem. The final three tracks of the album Under Her Spell, The Warrior and Demon Halo, all appeared on their initial demo; but their given revamp leads them effortlessly in and adds to this banger of nostalgic charm. Overall, this album leaves me with a feeling I believe every good metal album should, a need to see this band live ASAP! 8/10

Neck Deep: Life’s Not Out To Get You (Hopeless Records)

If pop-punk is your thing, and lets be honest we have all been known to at least hum along to a catchy teenage pop-punk anthem (I implore you to think Sum41 here); chances are; you may already know Neck Deep. Formed in 2012 in Wrexham, Neck Deep are hailed by peers as being at the forefront of the new wave of the genre; having scooped a few notable accolades under their relatively-young belts, including Kerrang’s 2014 ‘Best British Newcomer’. Life’s Not Out to Get You drops straight into Citizens Of Earth’s youthful riff that wouldn't find itself out of place starting up an early Blink 182 album; before being met with a vocal approach by Ben Barlow that begs influence from Enter Shikari’s Rou Reynold’s anguished raps. Interestingly, this is where these vocal similarities end; as they are seemingly and confusingly dropped for the remainder of the album, being replaced with the a-typical Americanised nasal drawl synonymous with the genre. Overall, LNOTGY follows the typical formula for an album attempting to musically recreate the emotional rollercoaster of teen life. You've got your raised-tempo; middle finger up in Serpents, your acoustic attempt at a reflective ballad in December and there’s no denying all are delivered by an energy akin to that produced in a Mentos and Coke experiment. But to me, it’s all been done a thousand times before, with a thousand different faces and there are only so many ways you can moan about teenage girls that have broken your heart, on one album.
5/10

Monday, 21 September 2015

Reviews: Annihilator, Echolyn, Christian Mistress

Annihilator: Suicide Society (UDR)

Canadian thrash legends Annihilator have seen many line up changes throughout their years with only guitarist/lead writer Jeff Waters remaining the constant. The band seemed to have relative stability since 2004 with Dave Padden taking the vocalist role where Annihilator have always had problems, this new union seemed to be strong with Padden featuring on their great self titled album and 2013's Feast, both of which were full of the insane guitar prowess of Waters' early releases, bringing back the band into the collective conciousness. Padden too was a good fit for the band with his muscular vocals giving the band a new lease of life. However come 2015 and it's all change again with Padden departing the band leaving just Waters to continue with drummer Mike Harshaw, so for the first time since 1996 Waters not only handles all guitars and bass but vocals too (he previously sang between 1994 and 1996). So what is the new (old) Annihilator like well the outright superspeed of their early releases has been subdued a little on this album with Waters stripping things back for more heavy metal rather than speed metal/thrash style (which thankfully is still present on tracks such as Death Scent).

This release echoes the early 90's career of both Metallica and Megadeth I'm talking Youthanasia and The Black Album. This is an album that wears it's influences on it's sleeve, the title track which has a big stomping riff, before it speeds up for solo section and has Waters' giving his best Mustaine snarl which persists for the albums duration with the odd Papa Het "ohhh yeeeah" dropping in here and there. My Revenge is a bit too close to Damage Inc for my liking but it's still a good song that flaunts Waters' impressive guitar prowess. Snap is a darker but anthemic track and Creepin' Again has the same kind of wacky vocal delivery as Brain Dance but on the sort of sequel to Enter Sandman. Despite the setbacks in the personnel department Annihilator have released another great album that is different to their previous album but in a good way, this is the album Megadeth have wanted to make for years, I can't wait to see some of these crackers live at the end of the month. 8/10 

Echolyn: I Heard You Listening (Self Released)

I Heard You Listening is American proggers Echolyn's ninth album, they were originally active in the early nineties playing a lengthy style of progressive rock favoured by Yes, Gentle Giant and early Genesis before going on hiatus until 2000. Since then they have released four albums, these retain the progressive values of old, but see them delivered in a more streamlined way favouring substance over style and concise songs over long winded instrumentals, most of the songs on this album don't crack the 10 minute mark with only the sprawling Empyrean Realms coming near with its euphoric delivery evoking those early Yes albums. The American band owe much to UK prog with ELP referenced in spades on Different Days which has all consuming organs and keys, something that continues throughout the album which fuses rock with more jazz passages on tracks like Once I Get Mine. The band also move through the modern neo-prog of Anathema on songs like the dreamy Sound Of Bees. The band also have nods to Rush and obviously Floyd but for the most part it is classic British prog with the five piece band of virtuoso musicians all playing excellently on these nine tracks that have wide spectrum of sounds but all pinned down by Christopher Buzby's keys and the dual lead vocals of Ray Weston and guitarist Brett Kull whose voices intertwine flawlessly on the Jethro Tull-like All This Time We're Given before Vanishing Sun brings everything together at the end. This is a strong album from an experienced band who do what they do very well. 7/10   

Christian Mistress: To Your Death (Relapse)

There has been a glut of female fronted 'occult' bands at the moment with the whimsical, dreamy rock bands singing of demons and mystery usually with a Stevie Nicks-like chanteuse bewitching the audience with her lilting vocals as the band play intoxicating music. However Americans Christian Mistress have gone against the grain retaining the arcane lyricism but musically they are more akin to the NWOBHM style rock of Diamond Head and even the Scorpions than they are Blood Ceremony, The Blues Pills etc. Frontwoman Christie Davis has a husky vocal that lends the songs some big balls as she belts out the vocal lines over the pumping rhythm section of Jonny Wulf's striding bass and Reuben W Storey's thumping tubs, while Oscar Sparbel and Tim Diedrich furnish songs like Stronger Than Blood with intertwining leads of the early Maiden albums, Eclipse even has the Maiden gallop to give it that extra element of authenticity. There is a lot of influences on this record Neon has the Scorpions written all over it, Walkin' Around starts off with a chiming Angus Young guitar line before moving into another NWOBHM anthem, while Open Road harks to Thin Lizzy and Ultimate Freedom which edges into the occult rock tag mentioned earlier before speeding up with a more metallic middle. Christian Mistress are unashamedly retro with some killer hooks and performances, if you like NWOBHM with a rock edge then you will love this. 7/10 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Venomous Thoughts: Music From The Outer Reaches

Venomous Thoughts

God Is An Astronaut: Helios/Erebus (Revive)

Comparisons to other bands will never be my strong suit as I will probably get targeted by my peers in the same way that William Tell allegedly shoots apples off heads. With that in mind, I now turn to visit the eighth release from this quartet from Glen of Downs in Ireland (at the time of writing I am now making my way through the rest of their back catalogue). Like all instrumental music, especially if it’s the likes of ambient rock it will always have elements of progression there to keep up the listening experience, at times you get so encapsulated you forget which track you’re on until you actually hear the mood of the track change. It’s psychedelic and ambivalent, meets prog and hard rock. I have to be honest it has been so difficult to describe these pieces of music and can only imagine that it could have a psychedelic light show if played in its entirety live.

Second track Pig Powder kicks off as a slow rock track led by Torsten’s guitar playing. Third track Vetus Memoria is a piano led track often switching between piano and synth with some superb jazz influenced style drumming supported by some great guitar riffs and solo’s in-between before closing with a hard rocky finish and ambivalent sound to end, should definitely be a live staple to please newcomers and long term fans of the band alike. A very hard and rocky track with ambience at the very end to settle the brief head nodding. Finem Solis continues the slow and soft keyboard theme with a little bit of static to give a white noise effect halfway through the song before ending the closing minutes with a slow classical arrangement coming from said piano, personally I feel this to be the weakest track on the album.

Title track Helios/Erebus (also the longest track at 8 and a half minutes) gives a slight acoustic feel to the album as if the guitar is speaking to you, however this doesn't last long as the power chords kick in along with the rest of the band, the keyboard blares to life and you feel an awe of electricity around you and can probably picture what I can only imagine would be a volcano tripping out at a light show, definitely should be another live staple. Obscura Somina, is a very similar track to aforementioned Finem Solis, however what makes it stand out to said track is a slow acoustic part accompanying the keyboard before fading out to let keyboard and classical once again take over to finish off before (and I won’t pardon the pun) fade into obscurity.

The track Centralia seems to have inherited a more swaying sound that sums up the majority of this track, after another slow piano arrangement and steady drum intro, the track then starts it starts to edge towards the closing two minutes when they take on a rock but jazzy drum take that has so infamously been adopted from other groups before. A strangely relaxing but funky bass track that your average d-jent band would be proud of, these closing moments shouldn't be mixed together...... yet somehow it does actually work on this album. Final track Sea Of Trees starts with a harrowingly haunting piano solo, before another acoustic solo then accompanies it, and then a beautiful medley follows from the entire group begins just before the 2 minute mark and it follows on suit from there. Torsten Kisella plays a brief but electric solo before letting Jamie Dean give another take over on the keys again with the effects of a haunting choir in the background as well before bringing the album to an abrupt finish.

The only small niggle I have with the album is that each track does literally start each album and can almost tempt you to fall asleep before the rest of the band kick in but credit where it is due it does set the tone of the album almost flawlessly. Ambience seems to be my favourite word for this particular debut review, but however since I don’t have my pet Thesaurus with me at this very moment I seriously cannot describe the audio experience I get from this album. Each track seem to tell a separate story in their own right having an ambient setting created by Jamie Dean (their most recent addition to the group) on keyboard and piano and has a clear classical influence, and then there are the hard rock and prog moments that is all set up by brothers Torsten on guitar, and Niels Kisella on the bass with a great performance by Lloyd Hanney on the sticks and skins. Clocking in at 45 minutes, this is going to be a very strong contender on my list of albums of the year, and a band I would very much like to see on the UK live circuit.

9/10

Authors Note: Perhaps using an instrumental album wasn’t the best example to start with, but having given this album so many listens in the last few days I couldn’t help but feel inspired to write about it despite my lack of extended vocabulary and thesaurus by side, however I do hope these words will give me a better critique of albums good and bad in the near future....... Here endeth the Venomous Rant.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Reviews: Royal Hunt, Grave Pleasures, Black Tide

Royal Hunt: Devil's Dozen (Frontiers)

Since Danes Royal Hunt reunited with their most revered vocalist D.C Cooper, back in 2011, the band have gone from strength to strength, celebrating their 20th anniversary 2012 before continuing with their latter career purple patch with 2013's A Life To Die For, however the band have outdone themselves with Devil's Dozen which unsurprisingly their thirteenth album, it is yet a gain a tour-de-force of melodic progressive metal, driven by founding member Andre Andersen's keys, over the eight tracks on this record the band really ply their trade with orchestral melodic metal with huge scope and precise musicianship. Opener So Right So Wrong builds the tension with it's ticking intro that explodes into the first powerful riffs shared by Andersen, guitarist Jonas Larsen and bassist Andreas Passmark. The song has almost a clockwork feel, sounding like it could have come from steampunk ball scene, the band have employed a string section to give them more of a cinematic quality from the outset. With it's huge backing vocals and orchestral feel So Right So Wrong starts the album off how it means to go on, with an epic feel carried by D.C Coopers excellent vocal, things switch on May You Never (Walk Alone) which is not a cover of the Liverpool anthem, no it is a strong second track builds from it's slow piano intro into a sprinting power metal track.

This whole album covers all of Royal Hunt's bases giving 8 distinct songs which are all linked by the bands excellent playing and their trademark sound while never being repetitive. Like I said Cooper's vocals are sublime and indeed unique his European delivery enlivens his rich baritone meaning that songs such as the galloping A Tear In The Rain have an almost operatic quality with a metallic crunch beneath them, but also showing the bands softer side on Until The Day which is a devastatingly powerful ballad induced by Andersen's piano and synths, underscored by the strings and the searing guitars. Having started their career in 1989 Royal Hunt have really outdone themselves on this record with a great mixture of old and new drawing from other influences too, the folky Riches To Rags being a major example of this sounding like it could have come off a Pirates Of The Caribbean soundtrack. Devil's Dozen is superb, really superb, in just 8 tracks the band leave you wanting more of the quality witnessed on this record, so much so in fact that you immediately play it again! 9/10   

Grave Pleasures: Dreamcrash (Sony)

Finnish band Grave Pleasures have a picked their name perfectly, they are exactly that, their debut album is a perverted, sexy, filth laden album that is self described as "post apocalyptic post punk" this is music that is both mysteriously sexy and uplifitingly sad. Grave Pleasures themselves have a lot of misery to draw from, they have risen from the ashes of several bands, the majority of the membership are formally of Beastmilk, one of the most talked about bands in recent years, vocalist Mat ”Kvohst” McNerney and bassist Valtteri Arino both parted ways with Beastmilk's guitarist and set about forming a new band with Linnéa Olsson, Swedish bombshell guitarist formerly of occult doomers The Oath, along the way they found sticksman in the shape of Uno Bruniusson who was co-founder of Maiden-meets-Satan revivalists In Solitude, finally the band found Juho Vanhanen who contributes yet more guitar his jangling telecaster giving the band it's post-punk alternative style as it shines on top of the heavier rhythms. Now when I say heavier I don't mean in a Lamb Of God sense, no I mean atmospherically, the band deal in heavyweight themes and have a overriding sense of doom that manifests itself in an upbeat set of songs that blend, Goth, punk, metal and rock with the same gratifying joie-de-vivre as some of the most individual and cult bands of the late 1980's. The album has a distinctly late 80's early 90's flavour to it Utopian Scream has a stabbing guitar sound relentlessly pushing the forward the rhythms allowing Bruniusson's drums to breathe at the back room, as Kvohst gives a distinctly bizarre vocal performance.

This oddness leads pointedly into the more straightforward approach of New Hip Moon which has nods to New Order/Joy Division and breaks gets the legs moving with it's melodic euphoric Gothic chorus. Throughout this album there are nods to The Cure, to Killing Joke and even more obscure performers like Bauhaus. The furious percussion on the bass driven Crying Wolves nods to the unsettling eccentricity of Jello Bifara and co, while the dissonant guitars hook everything together as they jab on the punk Futureshock which tells you to "Obey The Future". Dreamcrash is not as much of an immediate record as the Beastmilk debut was but it is better for it. Yes there is still a lot of accessible stuff here with gorgeous hooks and melodies throughout but the songs need repeated listens to really draw you in to their world, Worn Threads is a slow burning, swirling ominous affair that is complete counterpoint to the gutsy punk of Taste The Void which along with Lipstick On Your Tombstone has a Gothic overtones Billy Idol and indeed The Cult. Grave Pleasures have crafted a soundtrack for the party, that comes after the party at the end of the world, this is the music of a forgotten generation that have survived the light of a thousand suns but have lost every inhibition in the process and just want to revel in their misery, come and join them and see where the music takes you. 9/10  

Black Tide: Chasing Shadows (Pavement Entertainment)

Black Tide have a bit of a torrid time in terms of membership losing band memebers at a rate of knots with only frontman/guitarist Gabriel Garcia staying since the bands inception. I do have history with the band too, their debut was storming piece of old school thrash from a band young and hungry, it featured some modern classics like Shockwave and Warriors Of Time, showing that this band were contenders, however after their first album they did seem to disappear for a bit before returning with the Post Mortem which was in my opinion a turgid desperate attempt to cash in on the burgeoning metalcore style with emo lyrics and a lot of style of substance, this was buoyed by their boring performance at Sonisphere where they committed the ultimate sin of opening their set with a cover of Metallica's Hit The Lights a day after the band themselves had opened their headline set with the same song. The band were obviously none to healthy at that time either taking a bit of a hiatus which saw their drummer and bassist leaving the group, with a revolving line up of drummers and a loss of a bassist (again) since their comeback EP the band are finally settled as a (studio) three piece for this new album.

With this history of the band I was a little apprehensive about their new album but as No Guidelines starts off the band have found their thrash roots again the riffage of Garcia and his sideman Austin Diaz playing with style as Cody Paige blasts away in the engine room. The band have fused their two styles together well on this third record I would liken them to Bullet For My Valentine or even Avenged Sevenfold for the most part with some driving thrash riffs and emotive lyrics delivered by Garcia's scratchy but stylish vocals which are bolstered by the screaming backing vocals that bring to mind Florida's favourite sons Trivium another band that Black Tide have a similarities to. Yes there are misteps, Burn is awful but they are quickly forgotten by tracks like Promised Land, however for the most part this album will really hit the spot with any fans of A7X, BFMV or even Escape The Fate, these are arena baiting songs that are written to get the band back into the public conciousness. If I had one criticism it would be that there is one too many slow ballad like song with whiny lyrics for my liking meaning that a lot of the album is a bit samey. Still a step in the right direction for the Florida band. 6/10

Reviews: Stratovarius, Gary Clarke Jr, Metaprism

Stratovarius: Eternal (earMusic)

Polaris, Elysium and Nemesis these have been the three albums Stratovarius have released since their founding guitarist Timo Tolkki left and they have been consistently brilliant, almost reinventing the bands symphonic power metal sound wholesale bringing it into the 21st Century with progressive flourishes and mature song writing. Eternal continues in this vein of the previous three releases by once again supplying the top level prog/power metal that a band of this calibre can do in their sleep, the triumphant My Eternal Dream starts things off on a high with the drumming relentless, bass galloping and the bands trademark guitar/keyboard riffs welcoming you into the world of Stratovarius, the keyboard runs of Jens Johansson are once again sublime conducting orchestral parps and sweeping synths on every track, soloing just as fluidly as Matias Kupiainen's guitars do, with the two duelling like two axe heroes. Kupiainen is the main writer on this record meaning that all of the songs are little more guitar-centric much like they were on Nemesis from the rocking rhythms that underpin the techno synths on Shine In The Dark.

Along with the dark tale of romance In My Line Of Work and the metallic Few Are Those, Shine In The Dark is co-written by frontman Timo Kotipelto and Cain's Offering/ex-Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani Liimatainen. We go through the fat riffs of Rise Above It's chorus. The band are still in a purple patch delivering some of the best songs of their career on their most recent albums, one of the best tracks on this album, Lost Without A Trace is written by Lauri Porra, it is an epic track with light and shade throughout having power and gravitas, which is not bad for a bassist. With the music suitably excellent as usual it's up to Kotipelto to once again lay claim to being power metal greatest vocalist by soaring above the riffs, keys and blast beats with the same power he has shown since day one, his vocals are remarkable suiting the electronic Man In The Mirror as much as they do the wistful ballad Fire In Your Eyes. Stratovarius are still delivering fantastic music for a band in their 31st year with the grandiose finale The Lost Saga ending the album in an 11 minute plus masterpiece, yet again these Finns have delivered quality, you need this album. 9/10

Gary Clarke Jr: The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim (Warner Bros)

Gary Clarke Jr has been hailed as the saviour of American blues, transcending the genre even as he reinvents it, seamlessly blending blues, rock with soul, folk and hip-hop, think screaming guitars, howling vocals and electronic beats permeating the analogue groove. His debut was nothing short of a masterpiece bringing together everything he had worked for since he was first starting out on his path to super stardom, since then he has gone stratospheric playing with numerous huge bands and giving guest spots a galore, along with these he has also released a double live album that distilled his live sound on to two discs which whet the whistle for this sophomore album. So what do you do when you've concurred the world and been called the modern day Hendrix, well you release and album that is more akin with The Purple One than Purple Haze, the R&B factor has been turned up to it's highest on this record, soul and funk is just as important as rock and blues with Clarke Jr harking back to his Austin influences. The Healing has the gospel garage of The Black Keys, with a smooth delivery and the hip-hop drum loops, before we get our first bit of guitar violence on Grinder which has a wah-wah driven soul number on which Clarke Jr lets his fingers do the talking.

With the rock factor toned down and even the experimental nature of the debut subdued, it does mean that this record is a bit straightforward in places, Star is a bit weak with it's simple funk guitar lines and lazy lyrics. However it is followed by the soulful romantic organ filled Our Love which could have been a Prince number one, as could the frisky, filthy Can't Sleep which is just prime Purple One, handclaps and all. The stripped back blues of Church which is a nod to Sunday service musically and Hold On is one of the best tracks on the album with it's semi-rapped verses, but there is just one to many tracks on this record where Gary Clarke Jr is in neutral not pushing himself as he did on his debut. All in all this is a good album, Clarke Jr and his band all high quality musicians but this album does have a bit of difficult second album feel to it. This is a release that has flashes of his previous brilliance but for the most part it is a crowd pleasing record that is aimed at gratifying those who have recently discovered him rather than progressing with his reinvention of the blues. 8/10        

Metaprism: The Human Encryption (Self Released)

Bournemouth modern metal troop Metaprism have finally released their awaited debut, The Human Encryption is a tour-de-force in post-millennial metal, this is chunky riffs, technical lead playing, intense drumming, the odd piece of programming and dual singers giving harsh/clean vocals, however in change to the norm the band has male and female vocalist which means that the band have a unique sound. I listened to Metaprisim's EP when it was released and I was impressed by the bands songwriting chops then however everything seems a lot more refined on this debut. The riffs come thick and fast from the off as we get two guitarists with defined roles Callum Dowling's rhythm guitar merges with Mike West's bass to drive these songs along flawlessly providing the fattest thickest riffs this side of Lamb Of God add to this the relentless, unstoppable drumming of James Clarke and you get a bottom end that punches you in guts. Add to this the impeccable lead playing of founder Ollie Roberts an the bands musical backing is rock solid fusing intense power and fantastic melodies.

Roberts guitar playing is very good indeed, his fingers fly over the the fretboard adding lead breaks and solos galore to the songs, although he resists the need to show off his flash and flare allowing the solos to breathe long enough to make an impact but not overshadow anything relying more on his lead breaks over the concrete riffs to widen the scope of the songs. He does give up one of the solos to Bloodshot Dawn's Ben Ellis who shows his mettle on Only The Last. With the music taken care of its up to vocalists Jut Tabor and Theresa Smith to show off their chops and they do sublimely, Smith has the keening female vocals that are not operatic in a Epica sense but they are powerful and soar above the heaviness duelling and intertwining with Tabors guttural screams and roars in a similar style  Elize Ryd of Amaranthe or Delain's Charlotte Wessels especially on the super ballad Here I Stand. Tabor himself parries the light with darkness on tracks like Nebula but he also has a crooning clean vocal on Reload and Needless Of Light And Shame which blends with Smith's to add more power to huge choruses. Metaprism encompass everything good about modern metal they play progressive, heavy yet intensely melodic hook filled music that is executed with sublime style. 9/10          

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Reviews: Cradle Of Filth, Xandria, Lothöryen (Reviews By Stief)

Cradle Of Filth: Hammer Of The Witches (Nuclear Blast Records)

Having drunkenly shoved Dani Filth at Hammerfest, I was deemed the most qualified to review the Ipswich band's latest offering. As with most of their albums, Cradle Of Filth set the mood with an instrumental piece (Walpurgis Eve) before ripping into Yours Immortally... which, musically, is brilliant, with the latest incarnation of COF working brilliantly together, Marthus' drums paired with the bass of Daniel Firth and guitars of Rich Shaw and Ashok, all interwoven with wonderful keyboard and vocal work from Lindsay Schoolcraft. However, one thing that has always seemed to divide the people has been Mr Filth himself; when he's growling, it's great and fits well with the sound of the band, but when he starts screeching, it's pretty jarring. However, it's not a surprise, you generally know what you're getting when it comes to Cradle Of Filth and most of the time, that involves Dani Filth's screeching voice over a symphonic black metal backdrop. Although a great sounding album, in some places it seems to sound too familiar to older works by the band, one example being Blackest Magick In Practice, which has echoes of Swansong For A Raven in areas. Overall, as mentioned earlier, it's a great album, and if you're a fan of the Filth, then it's definitely worth grabbing. However, if you're expecting something new, then look somewhere else. 7/10

Xandria: Fire And Ashes EP (Napalm Records)

Hailing from Germany, this is the second offering from the symphonic quintet since lead singer Dianne Van Giersbergen's joining. It's standard symphonic metal fare, with strings and operatic vocals galore. Opening song Voyage Of The Fallen opens with a wonderful choir before the band blast into excellent riffs. Despite consisting of only 7 songs, the EP gives us a few surprises, with covers of Meat Loaf's I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) and Sonata Arctica's Don't Say A Word, both songs getting a more bombastic edge added to them through the band's symphonic style. Xandria have also re-recorded 'alternate versions' of older songs, in this case Ravenheart and Now And Forever with Van Giersbergen obviously singing lead this time around. Generally, it's a great listen, especially if symphonic metal is your thing. 8/10

Lothöryen: Principles Of A Past Tomorrow (Shinigami Records)

The fifth offering from this Brazilian sextet, Principles... starts with ...A Journey Begins, which brings to mind The Eagles' Journey Of The Sorcerer in places before breaking into Heretic Chant, which is a great example of what melodic folk metal can be. With most of the songs, there are hints of Tobias Sammet's Avantasia amongst other bands in the mix, but that's not to say Lothöryen don't have their own sound. Daniel Felipe's gravelly vocals work wonderfully with the band's folky sound. Although initially bringing to mind the olden days with their lute-like guitars, played by Tim Alan Wagner and Leko Soares, with some rhythmic drumming from Marcello Benelli, the band throw in futuristic elements such as synth-like keyboard work from Leo Godde which work suprisingly well together with Marcelo Godde's bass and some excellent solos from Soares . There's a clear message of futurism and time theories throughout the album, with snippets of Stephen Hawkings and Carl Sagan being thrown into some of the songs. Generally the band has a great heavy sound and as pointed out before, has a very Avantasia-esque feel to it, with each song feeling different, yet working together as if they were pages in a book, whether it's the wah-wah pedal heavy sound of Manipulative Waves, the almost 80's synth in Night Is Calling and The Convict, the soft, ballad-like Wavery Time or the great folky sound in the previously mentioned Heretic Chant. An excellent piece of work. 9/10

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Reviews: Stoned Jesus (Guest Review By Elle)

Stoned Jesus: The Harvest (InshaMuzyka)

Stoner/Doom Metal trio Stoned Jesus from Kyiv, Ukraine return with their 3rd full length album The Harvest. Stoned Jesus, formed in 2009, consist of three gloomy looking men who are passionate about themes of love and occultism. Igor, on vocals and lead guitar, Sid, on bass guitar and backing vocals and Viktor, on drums and percussion, make one talented bunch. Their talent doesn't come as a surprise as the band cite some of the greatest bands on the planet such as, Black Sabbath, Nirvana, Opeth and Mastodon as their influences. Stoned Jesus have enough material to keep their audience entertained but thirsty for more as apart from their 3 full length albums, they also have a couple of demos, a compilation and an EP up their sleeves.

Consisting of 6 songs, The Harvest is an interesting combination of funky, fast-paced tracks and slower, darker tunes with doomy riffs. Here Come The Robots is an explosive start to the album with a catchy one-liner chorus and the opening lyrics of ‘Jesus Christ!’ definitely caught my attention. Following on, is another rocker, Wound that gets you dancing around your living room and singing at the top of your lungs. This track centres around the aftermath of love and the recovery from betrayal and broken hearts through music. It is a song that we can all relate too and with its infectious tune it had me thinking that maybe not all hope for love is gone. The album soon enough changes its tempo to a sludgy, longer number, Rituals Of The Sun. I am personally quite fussy with bands’ vocals, but Igor’s voice is outstanding throughout, ranging between powerful melodies and raspy cries of despair. This track is by far my favourite on the album and it had me hypnotised from the first riff.

Get your necks ready because next up is a headbanging burst of monstrous stoner riffs, YFS (Youth For Sale). The song has a cheeky and almost rebellious side to it with lyrics such as, ‘I'm not buying this shit!’ and psychedelic soloing towards the end. Number 5 on the album is Silkworm Confessions, just over 9 minutes of pure ecstasy for the ears. The band takes you on a wicked journey with their trippy lyrics of getting really high, flying with angels and kissing the gods above. Throughout the whole track we are blessed with magnificent riffs, big enough to bring down Big Ben and to finish off, an anthemic chorus that touches your very soul. Last but not least is the whopping, 15 minute long, incredible Black Church. The track starts off slowly as if luring the listener in, but steadily picks up speed and hits you with rhythmic riffs and powerful drums. As soon as Igor opens his mouth he puts you under a spell taking your mind with him. With its comforting repetitiveness, the song opens up a door to a new dimension where no material things exist. The tune’s trancy nature relaxes you, engulfing you in its almighty riffs and canorous vocals.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the whole album not only once or twice and it got better with each listen. Stoned Jesus resemble the hazy stoner notes of Clutch and Monster Magnet, but add their own unique twist throughout The Harvest. Every song on the album has its own special sound to it enough to give you an eargasm. Stoned Jesus never let their fans wait for too long before delivering another dose of their high quality sludge. Just prior to completing my review, the band released a new song, The Harvest, which was one of the first songs completed for the album but didn't make the final cut. According to the lead singer, Igor, the track differs sonically from the style on the rest of the album, but retains its significance and so was released separately. That’s fine, I’ll just have it as a little bonus, as extra icing on my cake. Here’s hoping for a UK tour. 8/10

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Reviews: Art Nation, Hair Of The Dog, Wolfheart

Art Nation: Revolution (AOR Heaven)

Something about this album stinks, it's not the music, it's not the vocals or indeed the production, no it's the thick layer of cheese that permeates this record, there is a definte layer of 80's like high gloss that keeps this record shinning like it's 1985, think Journey, Foreigner and indeed Styx with a bit of Leppard thrown in for good measure. So we are talking swathes of all encompassing keys and synths, riding on top of clean guitar phrasing, po-going rhythm section and some sky scraping vocals with as much emotion as a Pixar film. As the percussive opener Need You To Understand gets things started with soaring intro solo, some huge drums and an even bigger chorus that puts the biggest smile on your face from the first time it plays. This Gothenburg band brilliantly fuse European and American AOR, with the twin guitars of Johnan Gustavsson's chunky rhythms and the blistering leads of Christoffer Borg having the same kind of affect as the twin guitars Whitesnake and indeed Def Leppard have always favoured, they bring the hard rock flavour to tracks like I Want Out and the strutting Number One but for as much electricity they give the record they can also turn it down when they need to see All In, although for the most part it's enormous riffs.

The band are not all about the guitars though they have a concrete rhythm section in the shape of Simon Gudmundsson's walking bass (Don't Wait For Salvation) and Carl Tudén's sublime tub thumping, both of these men work like hell to give the songs guts and stoke the fires of the rest of the band giving a backline to die for. No everyone knows that no AOR band is complete with a Keyboard and in Theodor Hedström Art Nation have found an ivory tinkler par excellence, he casts a spell on the the songs with his dazzling, exquisite and just fantastic keys and synths giving tracks like All The Way a pop sheen, a fuzzy 80's synth on Start A Fire, while also providing the heart rendering piano on Look To The Sky. Musically the band are perfect yes they are cheesier than decade old cheddar but that is to be expected and they do it with such class that it makes them exciting and endearing. Art Nation was formed from the ashes of Diamond Dawn with singer Alexander Strandell coming from that band finding the guitarist, keyboardist and bassist in quick succession and he has found the perfect foil for his simply devastating vocals, his on-stage energy transcends into this record and he delivers every song with sincere sentiment and an unmatched intensity. There has been a recent resurgence of AOR and for all the bands that have come out of it Art Nation have leapfrogged their way to the top of the pile, Revolution is the latest in a long line of pop baiting hard rocking albums that enlivens the soul and gets you singing along, get the cheeseboards ready and fire up the wind machine Art Nation are here!! 10/10         

Hair Of The Dog: The Siren's Song (Kozmik Artifactz)

Three piece rock and roll from Scotland now with Hair Of The Dog, now if you're thinking Nazareth because of the title, you'd in the wrong ball park, these three men draw their influences from Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and even Hendrix, in fact they draw from the 1970's style of rock opening up proceedings with Into The Storm which is just that, a track that builds up the intensity and leads straight into You Soft Spoken Thing which gets things rocking excellently while Don't Know My Name has that Hendrix vibe mentioned earlier with some psych passages moving into the big heavyweight riffs of Adam Holt's guitars, his brother Jon's wild drumming and Iain Thomson's pummelling bass. For an idea of Hair Of The Dog's sound think Wolfmother, The Brew or Tracer all of whom have that three piece riff filled rock sound. For all the big rock riffs that permeate this album on My Only Way Home and Wage With The Devil they can also add a light touch on Weary Bones which is a bluesy track that slow burns until the final part where it really fires up showing off Holt's bawling vocals and searing leads. The albums final two part title track is the best on the album focussing everything this band are good at. This is catchy 70's style blues rock played with panache and delivered in style. 7/10

Wolfheart: Shadow World (Spinefarm) [Review By Paul]

We belatedly reviewed Winterborn, the first album (2013) from Toumas Saukkoen’s Wolfheart in February of this year, giving it a six. The second album has arrived, now from a more complete outfit since Saukkoen turned the band into a full time project in 2014. Basically it’s more of the same. Melodic death metal in the vein of Wintersun and the like. As with the first album, the technical ability of the band is not in doubt with some rampaging powerful drumming, excellent guitar work cutting huge gashes with the vicious solo work of Mika Lammassaari and ground moving bass lines. Storm Centre, Aeon Of Cold and Abyss all pound your ass until you beg for mercy, whilst all the while lashing a large serving of melody on top of the brutal thrash onslaught whilst there are some calmer tranquil moments in Last Of All Winters and Nemesis (only snippets mind, no full noodling) which provide a bit of light to contrast the assault. Saukkoen’s vocals remain as marmite as before, with some real guttural growling in parts, sufficient to shake a sleeping dormouse out of its box. Overall Shadow World is an improvement on Winterborn, and a pleasing listen if you like this kinda thing. 7/10

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Reviews: Zero Verdict, The Earls Of Mars, The Mojo Sinners

Zero Verdict: Walk Tall (Self Released)

Zero Verdict are a little bit of an enigma, they have a melting pot nature about them as they say themselves: "blend many different styles and combines everything with low tuning and heavy but melodic vocals and catchy melodies" I couldn't have put it better myself as Alive kicks off you have a definite metallic crunch from the guitars but with huge chorus vocals, think Dream Theater mixed with Circus Maximus, the riffs of Alter Bridge in their and even a bit of Journey added for the huge hooks. It is certainly a strange sound but it does work the vocals of Sami Huotari are robust moving from a tough mid to a sky scraping high but as part of the backing choirs they are amazing giving the songs like Release Yourself a life of their own. Behind him Tapio Mattila's guitars, Juha Haipus bass and Pekka Leppäluoto's drums bring riff after crunchy riff moving between, speedy power metal on Live Like No Tomorrow, stomping groove on Lie (In My Own Life)and Train! which has some great keys too and dabbles with Devin Townsend too in parts. As much as they enjoy the big riffing rock songs they are also masters at evoking heartfelt romanticism of ballads like Be On Your Own Way which has a killer key change. With such a jarring musical mix there will be a few that will find it all a bit too much but for the most part Zero Verdict do a good job or merging all their influences together to create this album of interesting progressive music, with a little refinement they could stumble across something very good indeed. 7/10    

The Earls Of Mars: EP (Self Released)

The word weird is thrown about a lot but The Earls Of Mars are a very weird band, I first saw them supporting Orange Goblin and was intrigued by their mix of metal, jazz and swing. This intrigue was rewarded on their debut album which superbly blended these genres to create some top draw rock with influences coming from outside the rock world. So the band are now between record labels but their mad genius is still pumping so now we have their EP simply entitled EP which is stopgap before their next album. We go from the Faith No More meets doom laden thrash of Fisticuffs which starts the album and then in a total switch of sound we get the piano powered, gypsy swing of Whodunnit then the doom comes back again on In The Quiet Corner Of A Mad Man's Eye the band thunder along powered by Dave Newman's intricate percussion, Si McCarthy's upright walking bass, at it's finest on the dreamy Mr Peeps Never Sleeps and Dan Hardigan's superb guitar playing. Harry Armstrong once again is the bands barking leader hammering the piano/organ/mellotron while wailing like a frenzied animal with a thorn in it's side (in a good way). The album levels off with the fuzzy finale of H.A.M which is a synth led instrumental which ends things strong;y. EP is a cracking little detour into the spiralling craziness of The Earls Of Mars, one downside is it's not quite enough. With another album on the way just come on in and just let your freak flag fly. 7/10

The Mojo Sinners: The Carnival EP (Self Released)

Hailing from Ystrad Mynach, Rhondda in South Wales Valleys The Mojo Sinners play a heavy style of blues rock. The Carnival is their debut EP and it has four seriously good tracks on it from this three piece that channel ZZ Top, Rory Gallagher, SRV with some soulful blues licks coming from David Williams who plays with style and has a fervent vocal that stirs the soul and angries up the blood, however his rocking riffs would be nothing without the throbbing basslines of Ross McInch and the hammering drum work of Dane Campbell. This is rock with a blues edge with second track The Traveller illuminating this well with it's bayou acoustic intro and outro bookending the thundering rock middle section. These four tracks are all different which shows the talent of the band Carousel is a funky piece with echoed vocals, as I said The Traveller is a hard rocking radio bothering track, Deadroads is smoky swamp blues with a slow burning fist pumping first part that explodes into guitar fireworks for the middle section, finally Nightshade ends the EP with a deftly played ballad that features some reserved percussion from Campbell (who is son of Motorhead's Phil) at the beginning before swaying through quiet and loud dynamics led by McInch's bass all while Williams cries for his 'Belladonna' and delivers yet another searing solo. A strong debut EP from a local band that have all the chops to get a lot bigger (hell they are already on the cover mount CD of the latest Classic Rock) 8/10

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Reviews: Slayer, Soilwork, Karhu (Review By Paul)

Slayer: Repentless (Nuclear Blast)

In recent years, for reasons which I cannot fathom, it appears to have become fashionable on many social media outlets to criticise one of the most influential heavy metal bands of all time. Too old, past it, disrespectful to Jeff Hanneman’s memory; you name it, it’s been posted. Whilst it is just trolling and the proof of the pudding will be in album sales and the attendances during the forthcoming UK tour, it seems to me to be quite astonishing. With the departure of Dave Lombardo and the death of Hanneman, the focus of continuing the band forward sits with Tom Araya and driving force Kerry King. However, the band has had Exodus main man Gary Holt playing with them for a long time now, and the return of Paul Bostaph, a former incumbent of the Slayer drum stool and no stranger to the Slayer sound completes what in essence is as good a line up as you can get.

Opening with the atmospheric Delusions Of Saviour, which creates the requisite build up for the band to crash into the mosh pit inducing title track, the album immediately fires the blood. Repentless contains the essence of Slayer; full throttle drums, visceral riffs and Tom Araya's busy and distinctive vocals. Kerry King’s slicing guitar work combines with Holt to provide the usual two pronged attack that is such a trademark of this legendary outfit. If you are expecting a change from the standard Slayer approach then you’ll be sadly mistaken. It is a classic tour de force of thrash from the absolute godfathers of the genre. Yes, there remains the odd weaker track, Vices for example struggles in comparison to the tracks either side of it, Take Control and the evil eerie Cast The First Stone which provides a slower pace and a monster riff which grabs you right in the guts. Meanwhile Bostaph's playing is off the chart, massive double bass drums with machine gun snare and cymbal attack, you can tell the man is happy to be back in the fold.

Much criticism was levelled at the quality of King’s song writing in comparison to the classics penned by Hanneman, and sure, there aren't the Angel Of Death epics through the majority of the album but don’t let that fool you. Just as World Painted Blood and Christ Illusion had some real stompers, so Repentless continues the work. When The Stillness Comes is as creepy and frightening as it was when it was released on Record Store Day, jangling guitar work and Araya’s haunting screams combine with some massive chugging riffs before it explodes into a runaway beast. Similarly Implode, released several months ago retains the old school Slayer feel even if there is a slight Slipknot sounding guitar work (so where did Slipknot get their riffs from then?). If you expected Slayer to release something massively different from their work in the last ten years, then I pity you: what the fuck is wrong with you? Slayer, like most classic metal bands have a tried and trusted song structure which rarely changes. However, that structure remains fresh and Repentless, with the fresh input of Holt and the excellent drumming of Bostaph There is also the bonus of a Hanneman compostion in Piano Wire. Apart from that, King has shouldered all of the writing (sans one assist from Araya) and I think he’s done a damn fine job. To the haters, maybe it is time to get out of the basement of your mom's house and see some sunlight. Repentless demonstrates that there is still much life left in the machine, and come November the metal community in the UK will no doubt show that Slayer remain an important and vital element of the thrash metal genre. Welcome back boys! 9/10

Soilwork: The Ride Majestic (Nuclear Blast)

I have to admit that Soilwork have never really floated my boat. One of the few genres that I struggle with, the melodic death approach similar to fellow Swedes In Flames and the raucous Arch Enemy really does little for me. The Ride Majestic is the 10th release and does not feature Ola Flink on bass (new man Markus Wilbom is credited but did not perform). There is no shortage of power on this long player with the title track and the frantic Alight In The Aftermath really setting the pace; Bjorn Strid’s combination of both clean and growling vocals both enjoyable and slightly irritating. The aggressive machine gunning of drummer Dirk Verbeuren anchors a riff fest from guitarists David Andersson and Sylvain Coudret whilst the key work of Sven Karlsson links and underpins the overall sound of the band. It’s a confusing mix of all out thrash, elements of power metal with harmony backing vocals, for example during Death In General as well as some chunks of nu-metal style at times. And I suppose that is my problem; yes, there is not one defined style or genre in Soilwork's approach and sound but it just comes across as a little bit similar. That’s not to say that this is a bad album by any stretch, with David Castillo’s production pretty slick. However, having given it a couple of spins, I found my attention wandering as every track merges into the previous one. I never got In Flames either mind you, so maybe it’s just me. 6/10

Karhu: Genericist (Self Released)
UK metal band Karhu's second full length release is an interesting listen. Mixing elements of thrash and progressive metal, riffs that vary from Pantera to Opeth, wild time changes and a mix of vocal styles (from Chris Cornell to Randy Blythe to Max Cavalera), this is one intricate album created by just two men. Powerful from start to finish, Genericist has a massive groove flowing throughout and current members Joseph Parry (Nearly everything) and Juani Cummings (Guitars) demonstrate some excellent musicianship. Bone crushing in parts, melodic and more mainstream in others, this album really does give you plenty to think about. Karhu means Bear in Finnish and they certainly contain the power of a massive grizzly motherfucker. Opener Acceptance sets the bar high, full-out assault, with some blistering drumming and riffs so sharp you could cut your hand on them. At times reminiscent of UK progressive techno-metallers Xerath, Karhu mix the tempo to keep the interest high, with Solemn a much calmer, measured piece, full of atmosphere and delicious guitar work before it erupts into a groove laden stomp which hammers away and kicks you in the shins. In Genericist Karhu has delivered a really excellent and interesting album, one that will get a lot of plays for the foreseeable future. 8/10

Friday, 11 September 2015

Reviews: Nile, Kirisun, Kadavar (Review By Paul)

Nile: What Should Not Be Unearthed (Nuclear Blast)

South Carolina’s finest Egyptian themed Death Metal outfit Nile return with another absolutely hammering with their eight album What Should Not Be Unearthed. Following on from the skull crushingly heavy At The Gates Of Sethu in 2012, Nile follow their blueprint of all-out assault. Opener Call To Destruction allays any fears that anything has changed with Karl Sanders writing, for it is he who has penned everything on this album. Catchy titles abound, such as the memorable and not to mention aural assaulting Negating The Abominable Coils Of Apep, the embodiment of Chaos who appears as a giant serpent in Egyptian art. In The Name Of Amun actually has a bit of Egyptian tinged atmosphere before Sanders, Dallas Toler-Wade and drummer George Kollias once again lay waste to all around. If you like your death metal as heavy as a pyramid on your head, then this release is one for you. If you want your Egyptian themed music to be more like The Bangles, you may want to steer well clear. 7/10

Kirsiun: Forged In Fury (Century Media)

If you like Brazilian death metal, and let’s be fair who doesn't, you will be fully aware of the brutality of Kirsiun, who has been delivering the death since 1990. An absolute blistering tour de force, Forged In Fury is their ninth release and takes no prisoners. Full of massive hooks and face slashing riffage, powerhouse drumming and a vocal delivery from vocalist/bassist Alex Camargo to die by, this album is a death metal masterpiece. Dogma Of Submission is possibly the killer track if I had to name a mere one, with guitarist Moyses Kolesne and drummer Max Kolesne destroying all around. However, picking out one track on an album of such death metal quality is an impossible task, with massive tracks like Soulless Impaler, the frightening opener Scars Of The Hatred and the furious assault of Burning Of The Heretic all stunning. Taking the best of the old school thrash of Sodom, Kreator, Morbid Angel and the like, Forged In Fury is nearly an hour of aggression which will leave you wanting to punch a hole through the wall. The only down side is a pretty uninspiring cover of Sabbath’s Electric Funeral which really doesn't suit the gravel growl of Carmago. Otherwise, I'm with it all the way. 8/10

Kadavar: Berlin (Nuclear Blast)

In a year where quality albums are simply falling from the trees, Berlin, the third album from German Stoner/psychedelic rockers Kadavar is yet another of those juicy apples. From the groove of opener Lord Of The Sky with its 70s feel through to one of the tracks of the year, the hook laden riff heavy Stolen Dreams which has one of the most infectious hooks I've heard for years, this is top dollar retro-rock. Their sound reeks of a power trio who kick out the jams as often as possible. Christoph "Lupus" Lindemann (vocals and guitar), Simon "Dragon" Bouteloup (bass) and drummer Christoph "Tiger" Bartelt cram the hard edge of Sabbath with the bluesy feel of Zeppelin amongst a raft of others (for example, there is essence of Groundhogs on Last Living Dinosaur) into 45 minutes of top quality hard rock. Berlin is a real grower and really benefits from repeated plays. Another stunning release and one you really should not miss. 9/10

Thursday, 10 September 2015

A View From Satan's Layby: Foo Fighters

The Foo Fighters, Iggy Pop & Royal Blood, Milton Keynes Bowl

As Foo Fighters frontman, the perennially upbeat Dave Grohl put it we all knew why this show happened they way it happened and why he insisted that we have something special. But enough about that for now back to the beginning. The Foos were due to play in London earlier this year however while on tour in Sweden Grohl fell off the stage and broke his leg, this put the tour in doubt but with some good doctors and fantastic self designed throne  Grohl was able to continue the tour with the UK dates now rescheduled to two nights at Milton Keynes Bowl and one in at Murrayfield in Scotland. Tickets went on sale and on the second round of ticketing I managed to bag one to see the band that I had never seen live. So as the day arrived, I set out at around 12:30, picking up my gigging companions Anthony and Elle on the way. As the quaffed beer and ate rolls we set out on the long journey to Milton Keynes, the excitement in the car was palpable (as was the beer) as we chatted and mused upon all manner of things while we made our way. We stopped just outside Milton Keynes at a nice little pub for refreshment of both kinds, albeit forgoing a meal due to the extortionate prices. Back in the car it was to the venue and finding somewhere to park was turning into a one in one out affair, abandoning the idea of the 'official' car park we settled for a street near the venue and took the short walk to it.

However due to the Foo's need to play for three hours at 5:30 we heard Royal Blood (8) come on the stage to Jay Z's 99 Problems before moving rapidly into Come On Over, from what we heard they sounded in fine form and they grew louder as we neared. Into the bowls of the arena, it was cursory search and then a walk around the outside of the field as Royal Blood rocked out with You Can Be So Cruel. Up to the stairs and into the bowl itself, the size of the venue takes your breath away, 125,000 people all in one place, we worked our way through the crowds and took a seat on the hill as Royal Blood then played their most well known songs Figure It Out, Little Monster and Ten Tonne Skeleton, they are very loud for a two piece (just bass and drums) and their songs receive a lot of airplay on FM radio so it was no wonder why the crowd lapped them up like cream. They are both great players and despite their only being two of them they do have a sense of drama about their performance. With only two songs left we ate our provisions as my companions found more lubrication. They ended with Out Of The Black which was a heavyweight final song where they segued into Black Sabbath at the end with a nod and a wink to the metal fans in the audience. This was to become a bit of a theme actually as you do tend to get a lot of people at gigs of this magnitude that go for the event and aren't really interested in the music other than the 'hits' they know.

Iggy Pop's (7) set suffered due to this, a punk rock legend is known for his riotous live shows and his laissez-faire attitude towards his personal safety however he is now a man of advancing years (and indeed a insurance salesman) so the self harm was kept to a minimum although within one song he was shirtless. Iggy came straight out the gates with No Fun, I Wanna Be Your Dog, The Passenger and Lust For Life all in rapid succession, now the crowd grooved to these well known tracks but on the other hand as soon as Skull Ring started there was a noticeable lull in the enthusiasm this continued through the majority of the set with only really the hardcore getting stuck in. Iggy swivelled and shook throughout the set and his performance and that of his bands was tight and structured however it was the crowd that let him down with only 1969 and Wild One getting any reaction for the mid part of the set. For an hour the set was a bit of hard work for the most part due to Iggy blowing his load early, consequently by the time he played the doom laden slow moving final track many had completely lost interest and were waiting for the headline act. So after Pop had finished it was time for another drink at £5.00 per bottle alcohol was consumed sparingly from my companions, we waited as the stage turned over the works hidden by a huge FF banner.

So this was the time (and indeed a call) and as the banner dropped The Foo Fighters (10) exploded with the sublime Everlong, the band were spot on nailing every lick brilliantly, Grohl rocked himself silly atop his throne stabbing at his guitar and delivering every line with passion, his voice is faultless going from croon to scarred grunge roar with ease, he is a man that clearly enjoys his work and happily the crowd reciprocated this and were duly rewarded for their loyalty. The Foo's opening gambit was better than many bands encores with Everlong starting things off it was Monkey Wrench, Learn To Fly, Something For Nothing and The Pretender all following having the crowd shouting along with every line as the fans got their breath back I took in just how heavy The Foos are live, not metallic but just loud and professional the triple guitars of Grohl, Chris Schiflett and Pat Smear give the band a wide breath of sound with Nate Mendel's bass holding it all together as Taylor Hawkins drums for his life. With The Pretender still ringing in our collective ears, Grohl slowed everything down for an almost acoustic and solo rendition of Big Me which yet again saw the crowd in fine voice. The set was mixed beautifully with the new punctuating the old and slotting in perfectly two newies came in the shape of the gospel-like Congregation and Walk which ended the first part of the set with power and guts.

This was the break and time for the band introductions, allowing every member to show off a bit Schiflett played Van Halen's Eruption before they ploughed into the snippet of I'm The One. Nate was next and he paid tribute to perhaps the UK's best bassist Chris Squire of the band Yes by bursting forth with Roundabout which led into a keyboard solo from Rami Jaffee and Pat blasting a bit of God Save The Queen, it was the slightly under rehearsed nature of these introductions that made them endearing rather than a chore, finally it was time for Hawkins' solo but he instead did a rendition of Cold Day In The Sun (one of the few songs Taylor Hawkins sings on) this was great and showed that Hawkins is not just a great drummer but a good singer too. So back to the start of our story and Grohl mentions the leg but forgoes the slideshow as we all knew what it was about but he promises something special and my god does he deliver. After an introduction his 'friends' came on stage, these friends as many of you may have seen on-line were Roger Taylor of Queen and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Jones stood behind the keyboard and Taylor behind the drums while Hawkins went to front of stage (as is only right). Then with a little tap of the hi-hat we were treated to Under Pressure with Grohl and Hawkins sharing lead vocals as a tribute to both the first band to headline Milton Keynes Bowl (Queen) and to the bands legendary frontman Freddie Mercury who would have been 69 on the day of this concert. We were witnessing something very special indeed, but as the cheer filled the arena we where quickly reminded that this was the Foo's night.

They once again blew away the competition by revving back off with All My Life and Time Like These which moved into These Days, the thrashy White LimoAlandria and Breakout. This was the rock section of the programme and myself and my hard rocking amigos banged our heads liberally during this section. We were reaching the 2 and a half hours mark but The Foos showed no sign of slowing down Outside moved into This Is A Call and then they played a fan request, luckily this was no obscure b-side the band let loose DOA a song that they haven't played since 2012, They played the song with some hesitation but managed to pull it off, as the light dimmed and we were left in darkness Grohl proclaimed that they don't do encores so they started their final three songs with For All The Cows then Aurora which gave Grohl another chance to play at rock God by playing a searing solo atop his throne that moved out onto the end of the ramp. As he ended his rock star moment the band played their last gasp with the excellent Best Of You (no My Hero which bemused myself and Ant) and it was as Best Of You finished we made our way through the surrounding forest and found ourselves where we came in so we strolled out of the arena and back to the car having seen some of the finest three hours of music I've witnessed. The band were all on fire and with such a wealth of songs there was never a dull moment, so the wait was worth it, £75 quid to see three hours of amazing music in a huge venue with quite a respectful crowd, yeah I'd say that was a win. All in all a fabulous night with good friends enjoying a band at the top of their game.

    

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Reviews: Uncle Acid, Dead Lord, Black Trip

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats: The Night Creeper (Rise Above)

The mysterious Cambridge band once again return from the shadows with their 4th album The Night Creeper, Uncle Acid are a rare breed of band that manage to do retro perfectly capturing a time period but not letting it move into a pastiche. Previous albums were chock full of Sabbath worshipping doom riffs and fuzz, The Night Creeper continues this love of Iommi and co on tracks such as Waiting For BloodDowntown and Pusher Man which have that fusion of reverbed fuzz riffs along with the almost other worldly vocals of K.R Starrs and could have been off cuts from Masters Of Reality, this is drug infused occult loving 60's rock at it's most ominous, as well as the Sabbath style songs the band also bring in elements of The Beatles on Melody Lane, the title track and in fact throughout, with the layered vocals, permeating organs and mellotron all being contributing factors. Take heed though as when I say sound like The Beatles, I mean of course they sound like The Beatles if they ate LSD like Smarties and worshipped Charlie Manson, but still that melodic pop edge is still present throughout. With the Fab Four taken care of the band widen their scope with Inside which has a nod to the King Of Schlock himself Alice Cooper in his first incarnation (I mean the band). The band also have added a huge layer of psych to their sound on the instrumental Yellow Moon and the ideally named Slow Death which washes over you in a dreamy haze, the analogue record hiss audibly present in the background lending authenticity to the bands retro sound, they also know how to climax as the acoustic driven Neil Young-meets-Donavan via a heap of Quaalude's, Black Motorcade has a snaking synth behind it leaving you with a upsetting feeling, which suits this music to a tee. The Night Creeper is the culmination of Uncle Acid's past few years of high profile touring and mastering their craft, they have enlarged their repertoire drawing in more influences to their sound meaning that The Night Creeper is Uncle Acids most diverse offering yet. 8/10

Dead Lord: Head Held High (Century Media)

Sometimes I do wonder what's in the water in Sweden, in the last few years we have seen The Blues Pills, Graveyard, Free Fall, Witchcraft, Horisont and of course Ghost all throwing their hat into the ring to lay claim to the nostalgic style of rock and roll placing themselves firmly in the late 60's to mid 70's vein of British hard rock. Dead Lord too then are Swedes and yet again they are jump straight on to the classic rock band wagon with a second album of music that evokes those hazy days of bell bottoms, tight shirts and sweaty clubs filled with bikers. As with many bands there is always somewhere that you can trace their main influence to and in Dead Lords case it is those Irish Vagabonds Of The Western World Thin Lizzy, Dead Lord flawlessly ape the dual guitars of Gorham and Robertson with stabs of rhythm on Farewell, the twin leads on the bluesy Mindless and the shameless copying of No Regrets which has Gary Moore's fingerprint all over it. The rhythm section has the percussive beat of Downey with Adam Lindmark firing on all cylinders throughout casting shadows and flaring up when needed. Martin Nordin's bass thumps along underpinning the sliding leads of Olle Hedenstrom and Hakim Krim who play with fire and passion unafraid to rock out on the Celtic seasoned When History Repeats Itself but also quite happy to slow things down on the smoky, bluesy Cold Hearted Madness and The Bold Move which slithers along at a deliberate pace. Yes Dead Lord have Lizzyisms spread out all over this record most importantly with Hakim's vocals which bridge the gap between Phil and Gary having that booming croon which has a pronounced European diction. Sweden yet again delivers the goods, another hard rock band of high quality, Dead Lord have exquisitely harked back to boogie filled rock laced with twin guitar harmonies and some grit, if you love Mr Lynott and co then Dead Lord will become your new favourite band. 8/10  

Black Trip: Shadowline (SPV)

Once again we catch up with the band that is an off shoot from Swedish speed metal freaks Enforcer, Black Trip features Enforcer guitarist Joseph Tholl taking up the mic and Enforcer drummer Jonas Wikistrand who once again takes up the sticks and also the organ(?) But anyway with the bookkeeping taken care of, Black Trip return again with their second album, now Enforcer deal in super fast speed metal but Black Trip are not exactly slower but deal more in the music of the early days of NWOBHM, thrusting guitars, punchy bass driven riffs and a pinch of punk. As I said in the review I did of their debut album Black Trip sound a lot like DiAnno fronted Maiden with Tholl having a similar snarl to the original singer of the Irons. Lyrically the band deal in the occult, horror, love and evil on these 12 tracks with songs such as Die With Me, Subvisual Sleep and Over The Worldly Walls. They all feature some cracking guitar work from the two guitarists who intertwine perfectly harking back to the Stratton Murray partnership of the past. This album does show a bit more progression with the title track being a bit more modern and indeed progressive, Berlin Model 32 is a punkier track but for the most part this is NWOBHM inspired metal with clear guitar melodies, galloping rhythms and passionate vocals. Black Trip are an enjoyable look back at metals past but really if you want to hear these men in full flight then you're better seeking out Enforcer but for completests and those that felt Maiden and their ilk sold out in 1982 Shadowline will be the soundtrack to your next Friday Night Rock Show. 6/10

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Reviews: Iron Maiden (Monster Review By Paul)

Iron Maiden: The Book Of Souls (Parlophone)

Let’s get one thing clear right away. Iron Maiden are, in my eyes, the biggest heavy metal band of all time. Yes, bigger than Metallica, Sabbath and anyone else you care to throw in the mix. So the arrival of an Iron Maiden album is an absolutely massive event. Add in Bruce Dickinson’s recent health scare which was clearly a little more concerning than was revealed at the time and the arrival of The Book Of Souls is an even more momentous occasion. Maiden’s ability to tour for years at a time, combined with their recent decisions to deliver huge chunks of their back catalogue in the live arena means that they are rarely out of the media and consequently never out of our line of sight. Like their US counterparts Metallica, there has been hardly a year in recent memory when Maiden are not headlining a UK festival or massive show and so it is somewhat of a surprise in many respects that The Book Of Souls is Maiden’s first studio release since 2010’s brilliant The Final Frontier.

It only seems like yesterday that I was in my bedroom on a Friday night listening the legendary ‘TV On The Radio’, the much missed Tommy Vance as he provided airtime to a track of the soon to be released third album from NWOBHM outfit Iron Maiden. The year was 1982, that track was Gangland and it blew my mind, which was no mean feat as I was massively upset when Paul Di’anno had left the Irons; Killers is still my favourite Maiden album. I was also a big fan of Samson, the band that Bruce had sung with before he joined Maiden, and I was quietly conflicted about the changes in personnel that I was reading about in the music press. Suffice to say that my concerns were soon laid to rest when the needle first dropped on The Number Of The Beast. A year later and I’d seen the air raid siren lead the charge at St David’s Hall as 2500 rabid South Wales head bangers rocked out during the Piece Of Mind tour. Yes, I was a convert and over the years, my admiration and loyalty for this iconic, British heavy metal institution has grown and grown.

33 years on from ‘Beast’ and Maiden still deliver surprises galore. This time, a 92 minute double album crammed to overflowing with some of the best music they've ever made. Opener If Eternity Should Fail sets the pace, an atmospheric build up with Dickinson’s distinctive voice setting the scene before the rest of the band join in with the familiar bass gallop of Steve Harris and the triple guitar attack which has become so recognisable. At the back of it all, the simple yet complex drumming of Nicko McBrain, the driving force of the Maiden backline since 1983. Five minutes into the track and a complete shift of direction and pace with a stunning breakdown which allows the fretwork of Gers, Murray and Smith to take over, smoking lead work as they duel with each other. A classic chorus allows Dickinson to really open up and demonstrate that he can still hit those notes. This will be the opener when Maiden crash back to the arena circuit of the UK in 2016. Track two is the most straightforward and instantly catchy of the 11 songs on the album; Speed Of Light has already caused a great stir with its excellent video. This is Maiden at their best, full speed ahead, driving bass lines, crashing drums and guitar work which provides layer upon layer to strengthen the already mighty sound; and that’s before you get to the twin and sometimes triple harmonies of the solos. The irony of a short Iron Maiden song is that it still rocks in at over five minutes.

The Book Of Souls contains tracks written by various combinations of the band and The Great Unknown is the first of three composed by Adrian Smith and Steve Harris. A six and a half minute track, The Great Unknown allows Dickinson to once more flex his vocal chords whilst Harris’ bass lines rampage like a runaway horse. Several changes in tempo and solo after solo as each of Maiden’s axemen get a chance to showcase their skills before a further and quite dramatic slowing of pace and some deft keyboard work brings the track to a calm end. Onto the first epic piece on the album, with Harris’ bass work leading directly into a typical Maiden stomp as the 13+ minute piece The Red And The Black begins to build. The only track on the album written solely by Harris, Dickinson has to work really hard to get the lyrics out at the start. With a rhythm reminiscent of the Rime Of The Ancient Mariner and the classic “whoo – whoo” chanting arriving early on, The Red And The Black slowly increases in speed and anticipation and by the third round of chanting you are preparing yourself for the breakdown; it soon arrives with some delicate keyboard work underpinning the triple guitar harmonies. Steve Harris knows how to compose the odd monster and this track is amongst his best works. Dickinson is allowed full range and the melody that runs throughout the song is infectious. Of course, it follows the usual Maiden blueprint with substantial opportunity for some sterling guitar work, each of Maiden’s guitarists granted plenty of time to tease out a solo before the keyboards wash through, continuing to add further volume and enhancement to the Maiden sound. At nine minutes in, a real traditional Iron Maiden heavy metal moment as the real Steve Harris gallop is let loose, accompanied by a three pronged guitar support. This is going to be a beast live, demanding attention from the crowd, concentration from the band and an acceptance from all that this is Iron fucking Maiden at their best. All that is classic about the band, the 41 years of graft and toil that Steve Harris has poured into making Iron Maiden is encapsulated in the final four minutes of this song. Absolutely brilliant and enough to give you goose bumps.

When The River Runs Deep follows, Dickinson again forcing himself to hit those really high notes which you either love or hate. I listened to a lot of Maiden’s back catalogue in the run up to this album and it would be fair to say that Dickinson’s voice has got progressively higher in pitch despite his age. Another Smith/Harris composition, When The River Runs Deep is fast and edgy, with a more aggressive style and driven approach. McBrain hammers the crap out of his kit throughout, ensuring that you forget that at 63 he is Maiden’s elder statesman. You’d never know with his playing superb. Meanwhile, Smith, Murray and Gers rip out face-melting solos which compliment Harris’s machine gunning bass work. A gentle intro with subtle keyboards leads into the final track on side one, and it’s another epic. Title track The Book Of Souls is one of two Gers/Harris penned tracks on the album and it is another beast of a track. Using keyboards to underpin the Maiden sound has been a standard approach since the late 1980s and the Seventh Son album and once again it works most impressively. Weighing in at over 10 minutes and telling the history of the Mayan people, The Book Of Souls, like all Maiden epics builds and builds, a solid pace to start with Dickinson’s vocals soaring the heights, before, at over halfway into the track things kick off with McBrain leading the charge with his battering ram of drumming, closely followed by the traditional guitar work and Harris’ bass powering away. It is once again classic Maiden and top quality heavy metal. Interestingly, unlike several of Maiden’s previous lengthy pieces, Dickinson remains involved throughout, adding verses as the track races to its conclusion. It’s going to be incredibly interesting to see what tracks the band pick to play live as there are a huge number of candidates.

Onto side two and what an opener. Death Or Glory, a mere five minute piece is a no-nonsense attack from start to finish, slicing guitar work, powerful rhythm and huge hooks in the chorus. Death Or Glory is from the same stable as The Trooper, Be Quick Or Be Dead and the like, and one likely to get the odd pit moving. As with Speed Of Light, it is a joint Dickinson/Smith composition; sharp, snappy and full pelt from start to finish. Back to the Somewhere In Time album for the sound on Shadows Of The Valley with its Wasted Years tinged introduction and familiar Maiden chug and once again the layered synthesiser sound adding texture. This is another meaty track, seven and a half minutes long, full of melody and hooks. Plenty of riffage and scintillating guitar work from the triple axes, and all the while the absolutely distinctive Maiden sound which by this part in the album is not only enjoyable but so reassuring to hear. It’s been a long time coming.

Tears Of A Clown, penned as a tribute to the late Robin Williams is the shortest track on the album and one of the most poignant. Tears Of A Clown considers the dark side of depression and pressure that Williams suffered despite his status as one of the world’s best loved comedians, which resulted in him tragically taking his own life in 2014. Initially I didn't think this was one of the strongest tracks but repeated plays have changed my view and it is actually one of the best on the album, definitely the most radio friendly track apart from Speed Of Light, due to its length and the abundance of hooks. It also contains some vintage guitar work from Smith who co-penned this with Harris.

Now at the final two tracks of this behemoth of a release and time for Dave Murray to add his name to the writing credits with The Man Of Sorrows, another six plus minute track that he wrote with Harris. Some interesting changes in the style on this track, with the keyboard use prominent in the early stages. The Man Of Sorrows oozes melody and in some ways is a departure from the time-honoured Maiden style. It is a much more progressive rock influenced piece, with plenty of shade and light, intricate and complex and rather delicate. I really like it.

Much has been written about the final piece, Empire Of The Clouds. The second solo Dickinson penned track on the album, at over 18 minutes the longest track Maiden has ever delivered, it is quite simply a stunning piece of work. Opening with over three minutes of piano and cello as the Dickinson sets the scene in majestic style, Empire Of The Clouds tells the romantic and captivating story of the R101 airship, which crashed on its first formal flight in Beauvais, France in 1930 with the loss of 48 lives. The track builds impressively, piano combining with the rest of the Maiden sound until a pause for breath, before a triumvirate of guitars combine to launch the second half. And this is Iron Maiden at their finest, Harris’ bass tearing along, McBrain providing the reliable backbone and those fucking awesome three-pronged guitar battles which just race and dart all over the place. Once again a light touch of keyboards adds refined depth. As the story develops and the R101 heads towards its doom, dropping from the sky, the atmosphere of the track continues to build, heading to the crescendo and capturing the deadly ending. Dickinson has done his research on this fascinating story, his lyrics accurately detailing how the outer skin of the airship ripped. The historic quote from the captain “we’re down lads” is used to great effect as the pace slows and one of Iron Maiden’s most gargantuan and impressive pieces closes. A quite breath taking piece of work and one that demands repeat listens to really grasp its full scope and breadth. In 2015, Iron Maiden are THE metal band. Roll on The Book Of Souls tour, it’s going to be something else. 10/10