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Saturday, 17 October 2015

Reviews: Saxon, Tank, My Dying Bride (Reviews By Paul)

Saxon: Battering Ram (UDR)

The mighty Saxon roar back into the metal fray with their 21st release, the aptly named Battering Ram, a fine follow up to 2013’s awesome Sacrifice. Few bands hold such affection in the metal community and I've yet to meet a metal head who doesn't like them. As readers of this blog will have become fed up of me saying  (No Never- Ed), Yorkshire’s finest hold a massive place in my heart due to their being my introduction to live metal in 1982.Since then the band have experienced some massive highs and dreadful lows but in the past few years have really picked up again with some really solid releases. Of course, it is in the live arena where they are at their most powerful and with a catalogue of quality songs the only problem with releasing more music is maintaining sufficient quality to allow the new stuff to mingle with the old school classics. 

So what is Battering Ram actually like? Well, it’s fucking Saxon isn't it? What do you expect? Blistering riffs from Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, powerhouse drumming from the fully recovered drum machine Nigel Glockler, pounding bass lines courtesy of the human dynamo Nibbs Carter and of course, the legendary voice of Biff Byford. Added to this heady mix are the fine production skills of Hell’s Andy Sneap. Anthemic tracks such as Queen Of Hearts, Stand Your Ground and the war themed Kingdom Of The Cross sit shoulder to shoulder with the full on metal assault of the title track (with a Hell like riff to open), a fine Saxon balls out ride, Destroyer which thunders along in classic style and the Hell inspired The Devil’s Footprint. The Hell influence is unsurprising given the presence of Dave Bower on additional vocals, Sneap’s production and their recent touring partnership.

If there is one word to summarise Saxon’s output in recent years then it would have to be consistent. However, what Battering Ram has in spades is all out heavy metal, a conscious shift made from the more rock ‘n’ roll influenced recent releases. Hard And Fast gallops along at break neck speed, Eye Of The Storm commands you to bang your head hard whilst Top Of The World contains possibly the ultimate Saxon opening riff before motoring into an Iron Maiden paced attack. Whilst the performance of the entire band is brilliant, once again the quality of Biff’s majestic voice, balanced and still able to hit the higher notes, is outstanding. This is about as good an album as you can get, and I look forward to breaking the speed limit (only by a mph or two you understand) over the next few weeks; Battering Ram is destined to take up residence in the car CD player. Even the closing track, the humorous drinking song Three Sheets To The Wind (the natural successor to Standing In A Queue?) gets the head nodding. All hail Saxon. Long may they reign! 9/10

Tank: Valley Of Tears (Metal Mind)

Around the same time that Saxon and fellow NWOBHM stalwarts Iron Maiden eased into the good times of the early 1980s, another band from that cohort released their debut, the aptly titled Filth Hounds Of Hades. Tank, like the majority of the NWOBHM bands never really reached greater heights and faded from sight. Filth Hounds Of Hades was actually a really good, gritty punk influenced metal album, similar in vein to Motorhead and with a comparable trio led by bassist and vocalist Algy Ward (formerly of The Damned). Ward reformed Tank in the late 1990s although the line-up continued to change with numerous members joining and leaving. In 2008 a new line-up with guitarists Mick Tucker and Cliff Evans who had been part of one of the earliest line-ups putting together a five piece outfit. Valley Of Tears is the first album from the band for many years and it is a pretty good slab of heavy metal. Aside from Evans and Tucker, it features the vocals of ZP Theart (ex-Dragonforce and current I Am I front man), Barend Courbois on bass and Bobby Schottkowski on drums.

Unsurprisingly the music style is much closer the power metal genre and is about as far away from the aggressive raw debut album released way back in 1982. Now, I'm no fan of Mr Theart, who I always considered a bit of a bell end but his vocal performance on this album is nothing short of stunning. He has always had a strong set of pipes and Valley Of Tears really does showcase his prowess. A very powerful rhythm section combined with some really powerful guitar work from Evans and Tucker and some excellent tracks make this a very listenable album. Opener War Dance allows Theart to really open up; there is heads down heavy metal with gritty riffage (Hold On and Heading For Eternity) and a more bluesy feel during Living A Fantasy. The final two tracks on the album, World On Fire and Hold Your Fire are both no-nonsense power metal assaults, with the former powering along at 100mph whilst the latter, a balls out instrumental brings proceedings to an end with some quality guitar work (ala Steve Vai). Although this is highly unlikely to set the metal world alight or progress this version of Tank (for Algy Ward is still promoting his own vehicle) to greater things, it is a demonstration of the dedication that so many musicians have for their art. And for that, I for one salute Valley Of Tears. 7/10

My Dying Bride: Feel The Misery (Peaceville)

Bradford’s death/doom merchants My Dying Bride return with their 12th long player, Feel The Misery and yes, you sure do. As one of the Peaceville Three (completed by Paradise Lost and Anathema), MDB were at the forefront of the doom movement in the UK. Feel the Misery maintains the despair which the band delivered on 2012’s A Map Of All Our Failures. And My Father Left Forever is a morbid tale, complete with the melancholic vocals of Aaron Stainthorpe and the devastatingly heavy guitar work of Andrew Craighan, both original members of the band who formed in 1990. Thunderous drumming, damning bass riffs and haunting violin and keyboards (courtesy of Shaun MacGowan) litter this release. Death growls remain a feature of the band, with Stainthorpe comfortably shifting from clean to the more gruesome style on To Shiver In Empty Halls. Even with the heating on this chills you to the bone. MDB have stuck firmly to their classic sound and whilst their counterparts have changed sound and style through the years, consistency remains the watchword here. Clocking in at 62 minutes for eight tracks, Feel The Misery provides total value for money. A mausoleum of deathly compositions, Feel The Misery isn't one to put on during a sunny afternoon in the park. In fact, as I've already hinted, it is bloody depressing but yet, somehow remains enchanting. The quality of the musicianship is excellent and Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw combine light and shade in their guitar work. Lena Abe’s brutal bass work underpins the powerful driving riffs which one has come to expect. The title track is an impressive example, combining all of the key elements that make MDB such an interesting outfit. MDB are really not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like a bit of doomy misery, this album may just make you feel a little better. 8/10

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