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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Reviews: Dorje, Ape Machine, Fate's Right Band, Maddie Jones

A Collection Of EP's

Dorje: Catalyst (Self Released)

Dorje are progressive rock/metal four piece band hailing from the UK, they were formed in 2012 by frontman/guitarist/youtube star and guitar maker Rob Chapman, he recruited Rabea Massaad on lead guitar, along with Ben Minal on drums and Dave Hollingworth on bass. The band set about creating subtly complex technical music that had both melody and groove as well as heaps of technical prowess. Catalyst is their first EP that has been readily available (iTunes, etc) and it shows the bands incredible ability of playing and songwriting. Aeromancy is the EP opener and the flowing Floydian guitar work moves into some chunky palm-muted riffage with a huge chorus that sees Chapman showing not only his guitar skill but his excellent vocals. The band are a thoroughly modern sounding prospect with big sounding songs and passionate performances, all the players have incredible talent and it gives this EP a great style that will see them progress very rapidly when their debut album finally comes about. 8/10

Ape Machine: Coalition Of The Unwilling (Ripple Music)

Portland Oregon's Ape Machine will resonate with anyone that loves the southern rock psychedelia of bands like Clutch, Orange Goblin, Fu Manchu and COC. Think big hammering riffage bouncy songs and old school reel-to-reel sound and you wouldn't be far wrong, a 70's sound reverbrates through this 6 track EP especially on Ape'n-stein which is their cover of Edgar Winter's Frankenstien. They brings blues, rock and psych to the table brilliantly with the four piece having a locked in sound that sees the rhythm section thundering, the guitars crunching and Caleb Heinze's soulful voice that shows its power on the more reserved kaleidoscopic Never My Way that ends this album in spacey Sabbath style. Ape Machine have created 6 great tracks that will definitely win them new fans that love a good old fashioned rock out. 7/10

Fate's Right Band: Smile (Self Released)

Fate's Right Band is a collaborative project started by bassist and guitarist brothers Marko and Jari Aalto, they set about writing 70's/80's hard rock songs with no fixed intention of releasing a full album but rather EP's that will show the bands songwriting. The brothers then recruited drummer Jonas Andersson and lead guitarist Jens Mann to complete the instrumental line up and began writing songs for their debut EP Knuckleduster Hits the line up rounded out by Nocturnal Rites from man Jonny Lindkvist, now they are on their second EP and Smile once again ramps up the rock with some heavyweight rocking and a link to bands like Whitesnake on Black Heart Of Stone. Lindkvist is on hell of a vocalist and it's nice to hear him outside the confides of his power metal day job, he really gets to be a grittier with his vocals while the band behind him rock out like so many before them. Fate's Right Band don;t do anything new but they do it well enough to keep your attention for this EP's duration. 7/10

Maddie Jones: Colour Me In (Self Released)

I first reviewed Maddie Jones debut album Vita Brevis in July of this year and I though it was a very exciting album that blended folk,pop, rock and acoustic troubadour tendencies with dreamy melodies combined with Jones' brilliantly hushed bluesy vocals. Now I did think while listening to the album that Maddie Jones could do with letting loose and rocking out a bit, there was nods to rockier tendencies on the debut but on Colour Me In Maddie has got rockier with some fuzzy guitars and an almost doo-wop vocals that could have come off Zep's In Through The Out Door the track was co-written by Jones and Matthew Evans from psych-band KEYS. Jones' voice once again shines through especially on the smoky Deadliest Little Fever which has jazz club feel to it as Jones channels her inner Ella Fitzgerald. She has recruited a great band behind her who all play with skill Dan Fitzgerald plays a mean guitar, Tom Jones (not that one) has a locked in bass, the drums of Laurence Wickham show flair on the bluesy rocker Push Back which once again has a Zep style to it. Colour Me In is less a reinvention more a natural adaptation of their sound for Maddie and her band, hopefully these three tracks are a sign of things to come, roll on album two. 8/10 

Friday, 27 November 2015

Reviews: Phantasma, Ambush, Aktaion

Phantasma: The Deviant Hearts (Napalm Records)

Many of you may be familiar with Georg Neuhauser as the vocalist of Progressive/Symphonic Power Metal kings Serenity, his voice is one of the bands calling card so away from the Serenity bubble he has teamed up with multi instrumentalist, producer/vocalist Oliver Philipps to create a story driven concept album with major symphonic rock leanings. Oliver has worked with numerous bands in the past meaning he has made many connections this has brought in the outside element in this equation, which is the fantastic voice of Delain's Charlotte Wessels who was asked to by Phillipps to contribute vocals to the album, she did more than that writing a novella, called The Deviant Hearts, that the band has used as the storyline to the album. So the album itself is excellent high quality operatic symphonic metal, that builds like a musical or an opera with both voices working in tandem to create magic, emotion and most of all draw you in to the story, both vocalists have an expressive range and suit each other perfectly Charlotte can be tender or dominant, Runaway Grey is the distillation of all of this starting out slow and measured before exploding into a euphoric final part that comes straight out of a Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Georg on the other hand can soothe and croon passionately as well as rock out on stompers like Novaturient and Crimson Course.

They are aided in telling story by Phillipps' guitar, keys, vocals and production skill with Jason Gianni's expressive drumming, Randy George's intricate bass playing and Tom Buchberger's emotive guitar playing all playing their part with the orchestrations to give this album the bombast of a release by Queen or Meat Loaf the latter being especially noticeable. They also have some guest singers to flesh out the story and characters, Try features the heartbreaking vocals of Cloe Lowry who made her name doing this sort of thing in TSO (Trans Siberian Orchestra) as she duets with Van Canto's Dennis Schunke on the albums most operatic track. The impressive title track and the symphonic heaviness of Enter Dreamscape both feature the awesome pipes of Evergrey's Tom S. Englund. This album has some seriously music on it, Miserable Me has the Tim Burtonesque creepiness mixed with some Savatage, while The Lotus And The Willow is a great middle section to the album, while Carry Me Now is pure Meat Loaf arena rock and all the better for it, while Georg gets his Webber moment on The Sound Of Fear, before the album rocks up at the end with Novaturient and ends with the brilliantly overblown Let It Die which features the vocals of Georg, Charlotte and Oliver. This entire album is fantastic from start to finish it is a real journey through the story with the kitchen sink thrown at it musically the vocalists and musician's involved are all top class and really add their stamp to the album. If you love epic arrangements and grandiose songs then the The Deviant Hearts will shoot right to the top of your end of year list! 10/10   

Ambush: Desecrator (High Roller Records)

What do you get if you mix Manowar and Judas Priest and put them in post millennial Sweden? Well you get Ambush, they are unabashedly retro with enough modern touches to keep them relevant. They are the right kind of classic to be on High Roller's band list but like I said their feet are firmly planted in the modern era. Much of this comes from the production which is especially good letting the songs have a thick sound meaning that they blast out of the speakers from the outset of the Priest/Mercyful Fate-like Possessed By Evil, the album is very good, the guitars are chunky on the mid-paced rockers and rampaging on the thrashier songs such as the title track, Rose Of The Dawn which could have easily come off Sign Of The Hammer, while Faster is Freewheel Burning's . The rhythm section too is locked and loaded (sorry) to the rock steady beat of Priest's glory days, this is most evident on the gangland tale of Southstreet Brotherhood and the swaggering Master Of The Seas. The band are strong musically but it's the vocals that always make of break a band of this ilk luckily the pipes of Ambush's frontman are expertly suited to the band part Eric Adams, part Rob Halford with all the explosive power of both. This is yet another great album of retro tinged traditional metal from the boys at High Roller and indeed another top drawer band from Sweden. 8/10    

Aktaion: Throne (Self Released)

Aktaion hail from the metal heartland that is Sweden and they have been crafting this album since 2012 and now in 2015 they have released their debut but as Francis Larsson and Jonatan Ney start to riff like bastards you can see that everything is worth it, the opening track is pacey and changes speed throughout with Axel Croné bass led verse that has Jonas Snäckmark spitting rapid fire venom before it explodes into a euphoric chorus where the clean vocals come into full effect. This is groove based metal that batters you into submission with the intricate, technical guitar work and huge bass lines and thundering drums, they are a modern metal band in the truest sense, from the progressive riff of Prison Walls, through the LOG-like For All The Things We Are which has some atmospheric keys from Ney running through it. This band have lots of influences shining through Lamb Of God and Pantera are the most immediate but you also get the viciousness of Slipknot, the melodic ear of FFDP and the progressive touches of latter day Machine Head on the excellent The Cure and Thousands which breaks into a bass and piano led middle section, this is the most accessible song on the album having an almost folk metal sound with metal mixing with the keys perfectly as well as a squeeze box that permeates the final part. Aktaion have really gone to town on this album it's aggressive, powerful and musically dexterous, it was worth the wait indeed a great debut! 8/10        

Thursday, 26 November 2015

A View From The Back Of The Room: Triaxis, One Machine, Krysthla, Bull Riff Stampede

 Triaxis, One Machine, Krysthla, Bull Riff Stampede, The Tunnels Bristol

Now here's a novel idea, get four of the best bands in the UK scene, give them 45 minutes to play each and charge the punter £10. This was the idea of this event in The Tunnels in Bristol, essentially you get four headlining sets from the bands, running order was decided on the night, meaning that there was less a headliner more closer. I intrepidly made my way solo to the venue, that is under Bristol Temple Meads station, for what would turn out to be the best entertainment of the night (the WWE Survivor Series PPV that I rushed post gig to watch left much to be desired). A D.I.Y mini-fest that showed how talented and indeed diverse the current underground metal scene is. 

So into the venue just as Bull Riff Stampede (8) were kicking off with maelstrom of riffs, their blackend death/thrash assault was enough to get your head banging vigorously, letting you forget about the cold outside. The kick drums of James furiously blitzkreiged behind the insanely speedy riffs of Rod (bass), Jay (Guitar) and Dave (Guitar) and as the sped up and down the fretboards soloing and riffing wildly Dave also screamed his head off giving the band a sound akin to Kreator, Carcass, and Sepultura. This is dark violent thrash that is made to cause circle pits and it was a hell of way to kick off the night as Bull Riff Stampede didn't let up once constantly bombarding the crowd with riff after thrash metal riff. As their set drew to an end those that were in attendance were breathless as BRS set about destroying the stage one more time before they said their final goodbye. 

As BRS finished we come to the one point that was the major bone of contention for me, this was the crowd size. I was disappointed with it to be honest, yes I know it was a school night and by the time the night was coming to a close the number had increased but for most of the night the venue was half empty and although it was heartening to see that there were a few hardcore punters (most of whom were young) that were around from the very beginning, in my opinion there could have been more with quality of the bands on offer, still no need to dwell on this as the whole night was bit D.I.Y which gave it it's charm and for any band to draw a crowd through self-promotion of the gig is good in these days of wallet watching. 

With the changeover complete it was time for band number 2, this time it was Northamptonshire based brutality, I reviewed this bands debut earlier this year and it blew me away with it's sheer force, so I was excited to see how these songs translated live. Well Krysthla (8) managed to live up to my expectations, in fact I'm pretty sure I could have the band on an assault and battery charge as from the first note the band beat the hell out of the gathered meat bags in the room. The band contains former members of Gutworm and they retain the previous bands spleen rumbling heaviness based around the low and heavy rhythm section of Wayne and Carl (drums and bass), Krysthla are a band reliant on their ear-splitting rhythm section in their extreme groove laden death thrash, On top of the dulcet backline Noel Davis riffs like a mutha...while remaining perfectly still throughout, transfixed on trying to make ear drums bleed as Neil Hudson adds the extra riffs and squealing lead breaks. With all the music being so uncompromising the band need a vocalist that is no wallflower luckily Adi is no such thing he's wild mountain of front man with voice from the bowels of the deepest hell, his roar will give you a stomach-ache it's so low and visceral. Krysthla managed to step things up after BRS warmed everyone up by, beating everyone down with their Gojira meets LOG style of metal.

Another changeover and the part organizers One Machine (8) took to the stage, now One Machine features Steve Smyth who formally played the riffs in Forbidden and Testament so you can probably guess what they sound like this is thrash metal played with a modern technical edge think latter Forbidden or even Nevermore, especially due to Chris Hawkins expansive vocals that move from a growl to a shriek effortlessly. The bands syncopated riffage is fantastic with Jamie Hunt working in tandem with Smyth perfectly, while the boiler room of Stefano Selvatico's basslines and the drummers (who's name escapes me I'm afraid) lay down a heavy thrash groove with loads of technicality. Smyth looked like he was having a ball on stage as he rocked out on the left side of stage while Hunt mirrored him on the right and Hawkins stomped around in the middle, there was a few gaps for tuning etc but that just meant Chris could talk bollocks (something he is good at) before they ploughed into another great song. If you like your metal thrashy with a modern edge One Machine will be right up your alley, check them out supporting Overkill in Bristol next year, you won't be disappointed.

So finally the last changeover and while the set up was taking place (things were running late not like anyone cared) One Machine's Chris was acting as compare talking yet more bollocks before a slice of Welsh metal started with the melodic build of Liberty and once again I was deep in the realms of Triaxis (8) this new track is the perfect opener with all the power of Maiden and the heads down riffage of Megadeth, the set list was a tried an tested one with Sand & Silver coming next speeding up things even more as CJ and Glyn traded riffs Becky galloped (and howled on Stand Your Ground, the wolf impression gets better every time) meanwhile Giles once again obliterated his kit, Stand Your Ground came next and it's rockier feel showed off Krissie's amazing vocals. I've reviewed Triaxis a lot now but they maintain a quality at every gig they (and all the bands at this gig) exude a confidence that seems to seep out of every pore. Victorious/Death Machine came again towards the end of the set and even after being played at every gig for nearly a year they still sound fresh and powerful with Krissie going full Imperator on the historical themed tracks. Triaxis ended the set with the debut single Black Trinity which got all the heads nodding fiercely. So that was that and they wrapped up, however they had one more surprise in store, the final song was cover but not Maiden as anyone who has followed the band knows they are fond of, no this was a shot at the Man On The Silver Mountain himself with an excellent version of Rainbow's Stargazer which engaged the mass sing along.

A perfect end to a fantastic night supporting the underground and local metal scene in the UK, it also went forward to proving a theory I've had for a while, the bands are out there, it's the audience that just need to reciprocate. Don't moan that no one plays your town, go to the bands where they play, you'll be helping them out, you might discover a new favourite and you'll have a damn good time. well done on everyone involved for this event, let's do it again yeah?                    

A View From Another Country: Scorpions (Review From France By Paul)

Scorpions & Europe: Zenith Arena, Lille, France 21 November 2015

Due in part to the frustrating lack of shows in the UK, the rare opportunity to attend a European gig combined with the venue being a mere 1.5 hours from Brett’s super flat in Hesdin meant that several months ago we purchased tickets to see the Scorpions in Lille, France. Little did we know at that time how poignant any rock gig in France was going to turn out to be as a result of the tragic events in Paris only a week earlier.

It was freezing and very wet in Lille when we arrived, traffic was typically French, i.e. utter carnage and so we dumped the car on the side of the road opposite the venue and spent a couple of hours ducking the showers in the better than expected city centre before heading for the Arena about 40 minutes before show time. A sell-out crowd was already patiently filling the 4500 capacity venue, and we warmed ourselves whilst waiting for Europe to arrive. Although the crowd provided the Swedes with an ecstatic welcome, I found myself wondering if this was more to do with the limited opportunity to see bands in Lille or just the demographic of the audience. Opening with a ponderous War Of Kings, Europe (5) plodded through a 40 minute eight song set which was just plain dull. Front man Joey Tempest may be well preserved, with a set of teeth to rival Jon Bon Jovi but if there was ever a rock equivalent to Cliff Richard, then boy is he it. Hole In My Pocket, Superstitious and a slight increased pace with Scream Of Anger came and went, the French crowd loving it whilst the band appeared to be going through the motions. Tempest wandered around the stage, waving to the crowd when not singing. A cringe worthy Carrie was followed by Rock The Night which at least got the tempo moving. The rockier Days Of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which has received a large amount of air time on Planet Rock pricked the interest before the inevitable karaoke moment and 'that' bloody song. Leaving to a rapturous reception, I was less than enthused and left pondering what all the fuss was about. How this lot headlined BOA in 2009 is beyond me.

However the evening got a damn sight better shortly after 9:30pm as the huge curtain with the Return To Forever album cover on it dropped to the floor and the Germanic assault of the Scorpions (9) commenced. Hitting the stage running and not stopping for most of the evening, the band belied their age with a 17 song set that lasted over an hour and a half. Going Out With a Bang segued into one of my favourite tracks, the riff laden Make It Real. Rudy Schenker was already running all over the place whilst Klaus Meine's vocals were on top form. A broody The Zoo maintained the momentum, with lead guitarist Mathias Jabs using the talkbox to great effect. Coast To Coast allowed the band to demonstrate its musical muscle, with Jabs showcasing some excellent lead work. Perched high above the stage, the mental James Kottack hammered the shit out of his kit whilst Paweł Mąciwoda laid the bass lines. Although only three of the band are German, it was typical Teutonic efficiency which underpinned the show. Polished, crafted and self –indulgent, the Scorpions really enjoy their work with massive grins throughout the evening.

I've seen this band a couple of times before, notably at 1986’s Monsters Of Rock and they never fail to put on a tremendous show. An impressive light show, changing back screens which also provided some close up focus on each member of the band, but mostly some classic tunes. A montage of tracks from the 1970s made me very happy, with a run through of Top Of The Bill/Steamrock Fever/Speedy’s Coming/Catch Your Train before the recent single We Built This House steered the band towards the emotional part of the evening.

Obviously events in Paris were on the lips of everyone present, and the Scorpions played it sublimely with a sensitive tricolour backdrop earlier in the set and then, during the acoustic set, a silhouette of the Eiffel Tower again with the blue, white and red on the screen as they played Always Somewhere, Eye Of The Storm and a beautiful Send Me An Angel which brought a lump to the throat. Although I hate Wind Of Change, the audience participation was moving and not a person in the house failed to join in (yes, even I hummed along folks). After that it was heads down rock all the way, with Rock ‘n’ Roll Band and a ball breaking Dynamite leading the charge. Kottack’s drum solo was reasonably entertaining, being conducted from high above the stage with his platform suspended by cables. Much more entertaining was a blistering Blackout before Big City Nights closed the main set and saw the band take their time to leave the stage, milking the applause. A deep breath was required for the encore; first up the delicious Still Loving You before the inevitable Rock You Like a Hurricane concluded a fantastic evening. The crowd were respectful, engaged and interestingly for an old fart like me, more interested in watching and listening than heading to the bar every ten minutes. A pleasant change, an incredible performance from the Scorpions and if this is their final tour, a fitting conclusion to a brilliant band.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Reviews: Devil You Know, Waken Eyes, Stormbringer

Devil You Know: They Bleed Red (Nuclear Blast)

Howard Jones was always the part of Killswitch Engage that I could tolerate both on record and live, he always seemed a little out of place, almost like he was filling in for Jesse Leach, until his eventual return. He always seemed at odds with Adam D's more irreverent style and the bands metalcore by numbers shtick. Jones' excellent vocals were meant for so much more than this and when the first Devil You Know album came out the it wasn't the break away it should have been, however on this second record the gloves are well an truly off, the band have branched out a bit expanding their sound from the metalcore styling of the debut, with thrash, djent and even hard rock, but its the brutal blast beats that kick this album off with Consume The Dead having the super fast introduction to the album before the shout along breakdown stomp of The Way We Die and Your Last Breath takes things back to the debut.

Stay Of Execution is a modern technical track with some searing guitar work from Francesco Artusato and the impressive vocal range of Jones crooning and screaming in equal measure, with some great metal on show throughout the band expertly blend heaviness, aggression and melody, the thrash-like Shattered Silence will incite mighty pits with its furious explosive delivery, a track that is at odds to the following song Let The Pain Take Hold which is a ballad of epic proportions that has Jones singing his heart out. In fact you get a lot of bang for your buck on this record as it clocks in at a hefty 14 tracks, including a cover of Survivor's Eye Of The Tiger which as you might imagine is as madcap as his previous band's famous cover of Holy Diver. This is an album that will hopefully win people over, but there will still be some that don't like the American metal style but for fans of Jones and especially fans of Killswitch this album will tick all the boxes, in fact it's better than the last few Killswitch albums. 8/10

Waken Eyes: Exodus (Ulterium Music)

Many of you may be unaware of Tom Frelek and yes he is a relative unknown but he is the brains behind Waken Eyes writing the bulk of it and also contributing guitars and keys to this the bands debut record. Now let's get this out of the way now Frelek is a superb musician and one that can perfectly supply top quality progressive metal his guitar playing is classically influenced and virtuoso at times with Michael Romeo, John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert all springing to mind as Frelek melts the fretboard with sensational precision riffage and explosive soloing. Now obviously Frelek needed a band for this album so he recruited a rhythm section that are as musically gifted as he is; on bass he has Michael Romeo's foil in Symphony X Mike LePond and on drums he has Paul Gilbert and Steven Wilson sticksman Marco Minnemann, so with the instrumental section so strong the pressure was on to find a vocalist that could stand up with the best in the progressive metal, well Frelek has done brilliantly with Henrik Båth who sings in his own prog/power metal band Darkwater, now I love Darkwater and a lot of this love comes due to Båth's incredible booming croon.

He sings with real passion and power and suits this albums progressive and conceptual nature, Frelek says the album is about "being fearless and every song has something to do about fearlessness. The theme came from the struggles of everyday life that everyone deals with. How people, emotions, media, governments can enforce fear upon you to make you think a certain way to more or less control you." which leads to intelligent, emotive lyricism as well as impressive, stirring musical pieces, that pack as much intelligent playing into them as possible as only the album ending title track clocks in at over 10 minutes. Cognition starts things off with just a simple piano and Minnemann's drums before Abberation weaves it's magic as Båth gives breathy delivery and the instrumentation builds as it speeds up in the middle section, the doomy Deafening Thoughts comes next and Back To Life has classical acoustics that are prime Dream Theater. This album was sold to me as prog metal but it's not really, yes the guitars crunch when need to but for the most part this is prog rock, the metal does come thick and fast with jazz-like bass rhythms on Palisades which bursts into a Maiden style gallop, however for the most part it's prime prog rock with metallic touches throughout. With brilliant album stuffed full of songs that will take you on a journey into sublime musicianship Waken Eyes are a great progressive band that should be at the top of the list for all fans of intricate progressive music. 9/10    

Stormbringer: Blood & Rust (Transcend Music)

Northamptonshire rockers Stormbringer were formed in 2011 by ex Viking Skull and DeadEye guitarist Dom Wallace and Ash Smith guitarist of Nekkrosis they set about recruiting Jon Paul Quantrill on drums and Darren McCullagh on bass and releasing their debut MMXIII (in 2012 surprisingly) which went on to get them numerous tours plus performances at Download and Bloodstock. Since the debut though they lost their original singer but have found  replacement for this sophomore album in the shape of Jimi Brown. Now Stormbringer play metallic hard rock, so all the hooks and fist pumping of a hard rock band like Buckcherry and Slash but with the metallic edge of Metallica. This means that the band sound a lot like Bullet For My Valentine and even one of my favourites New Device mainly due to Brown's vocal delivery. The instrumental title track starts things off before No Redemption mixes Maiden with KISS and Rise is deep in the realms of Matt Tuck and co with a thundering riff and the dark/light balance that BFMV have always struck well.

This album is very, very good the band all play their instruments with passion and fire, the rollicking Bad Blood is for this as it evokes the sleaze style of Josh Todd and co, while Unto Me is chugging dirty rocker with some bile stored up before Ashamed shows Quantrill and McCullagh's destructive rhythm section, while joining it with rumbling groove. As I said the band are metallic hard rock with the guts of rock band and the aggression of a metal band, with radio bothering tunes like the powerful No Return which could have come off any of the four Alter Bridge albums with it's huge riff, concise soaring solo and Brown's Kennedy-like vocals. This is modern hard rock at it's best and Stormbringer could become the British heirs to the American's radio-rock throne and to be honest any band that ends an album with a supercharged cover of Talking Heads' Psychokiller is all right in my book. Lets hope this album will break them as it draws from a wide range of influences and shows exactly what the band can do on record and hints to their live arena power! Almost guaranteed to be on many year end lists! 10/10  

A View From The Back Of The Room: Snakecharmer (Review By Paul)

Snakecharmer The Globe

Decisions made on impulse can often turn into a disaster. A bad food choice, the wrong turn on a road trip, you get the picture. However, occasionally they turn out to be absolute genius. The cancellation of a business trip allowed me to head for one of our favourite venues, The Globe in Cardiff for a night of bluesy rock ‘n’ roll. A quick pint and catch up with Matt and we headed into the venue at 7:45 pm, and not a minute too late as support act Bad Touch from Dereham, Norfolk, were already into their stride. I’d seen these guys at Download last year and their classic hard rock fused with a blues undertone really was enjoyable then. Well, the band have improved beyond recognition and despite the cramped stage (mainly Harry James’ drum kit) they put in a most excellent shift. Bad Touch have released their debut album (Half Way Home) this year (damn good it is too) and they treated us to a selection of tracks over the 45 minute set. Chunky riffs, catchy hooks and visually stimulating, their combination of Black Crowes, Zeppelin, The Answer and a pinch of Aerosmith proved a hit with the growing crowd. The bizarre dancing of one member of the audience provided much amusement but also some trepidation and as a result there was a wide space around said whirling fan, leaving the majority of the audience somewhat penned towards the middle and back of the floor. Bad Touch paced their set well, with the rockier Wise Water mixing with the bluesy soulful numbers such as Half Way Home and No Excuse. The tongue in cheek Good On Me (The Jeans Song) showed the band’s humorous side but these guys are no joke with some superb guitar work from Rob Glendinning on display throughout the evening. Drummer George Drewery not only laid down the backbeat with bassist Bailey but also had the voice to provide supporting backing vocals. Stage right Seeks provided the rhythm whilst front and centre the captivating voice of front man Stevie, also displaying quality skills on the harmonica and tambourine, demonstrated that Bad Touch are a band with strength in every department. 8/10

For those of us around in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was no band who could touch the combined power of David Coverdale and Whitesnake. Their blues based, soulful hard rock provided some of rock’s most enduring anthems and their 1981 headline set at Donington was legendary. Over 30 years on, and whilst Coverdale is a shadow of his former self, surrounded by overrated American musicians, two of the original members of THAT incredible Whitesnake line up are linked once more in the superb Snakecharmer. The self-titled debut album released three years ago skilfully meshed the qualities of all involved; the stunning voice of Chris Ousey, the powerhouse drumming of Harry James, the fabulous keyboards of Adam Wakeman, understated but vital bass lines of Neil Murray and the double guitar of Laurie Wisefield and Micky Moody. Having seen the band at the Steehouse Festival in 2013, I was keen to see them again and they did not disappoint.

Opening with a couple of tracks from the album, Guilty As Charged and Nothing To Lose, the band were clearly on good form as they neared the end of their UK tour. The interplay between all members was a joy to watch, true professionals going about their craft with real love and enjoyment. Murray has always maintained a low stage presence, but his occasional invitation to the crowd to clap or sing along was always received positively. Of course, the man is a master of the bass guitar and he made it look pretty simple as he kept time with the quite awesome Thunder sticksman Harry James. The set was liberally sprinkled with some of Whitesnake’s classic tracks, the highlight for me a beautiful Ain’t Gonna Cry No More. A rousing Ready An’ Willing got the crowd singing along before a couple more tracks from the album including the tender Falling Leaves slowed the pace. This really is a super group of a band and although the spot light often falls on Moody’s incredible slide guitar work (magnificent solo included) he is matched note for note by the former Wishbone Ash man Wisefield. The spotlight doesn't stay in one place for long with Snakecharmer, and Ousey’s powerful and soulful vocals really does add to all the material. A sing-a-long of Here I Go Again in particular allowed him to demonstrate his quality as a frontman whilst there were several opportunities for Adam Wakeman, son of Rick but more formidably Ozzy Ozbourne’s keyboard player for the past seven years to really show what a gifted musician he is. The band closed with My Angel, the first track on the album and Here I Go Again before a deserved encore of Fool For Your Lovin’ brought an excellent evening to a close at the civilised time of 10:30pm, which judging by the demographic was about right. If you like your rock with a large dose of proper blues, then catch Snakecharmer. They won’t disappoint you. 9/10

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

A View From The Back Of The Room: Blackberry Smoke (Review By Paul)

Blackberry Smoke: 02 Forum, Kentish Town, London

Our recent gigs have thrown up some pretty impressive supporting acts that have enhanced the experience and generally made the overall experience even more entertaining. The challenge for any support act is to win over an often partisan crowd. During AC/DC’s epic show at Wembley stadium in July, Vintage Trouble, a band who has scored notable conversions throughout the world had to work incredibly hard to garner a reaction from the diehards who were there for just one band. The Record Company (9) from California had no such trouble in their opening role for Blackberry Smoke. Hitting the stage to an already packed Forum, the three piece packed incredible energy into their 40 minutes with some of the most enthusiastic blues based rock ‘n’ roll seen for a long time. The crowd reaction said it all with increasingly vociferous responses as their short set progressed. Led by the hyperactive Chris Vos on vocals, guitar, slide guitar and incredible lap steel, the band powered through some of their raw almost punk infused numbers from their early EPs and a couple of tunes from their forthcoming debut album, out in February 2016. Alongside Vos, Alex Stiff with his dirty distorted bass and drummer Marc Cazorla maintained a steady rhythm which allowed Vos to shine. Some of his playing was quite stunning and the man is no slouch on the harmonica either. When he wasn’t sat on his stool he was running around the stage, cajoling and spinning like a man possessed. At times the band looked slightly overwhelmed by the massive response, with Vos continually expressing genuine gratitude to the sold out crowd. As the crowd rushed to snap up the final copies of their releases at the merchandise tables, it is clear that The Record Company are a band that will definitely require further watching in 2016.

Few bands seem to be on tour as often as Blackberry Smoke (10). (In fact, only Vintage Trouble appears on the road with more regularity). Our first sighting of the Southern Country Rock outfit came almost exactly a year ago in the cramped confines of the Institute in Birmingham where the band provided an exhibition in top drawer rock ‘n’ roll. A year later, with February’s excellent Holding All The Roses no longer considered a new album, the band looked confident, relaxed and polished in the much bigger surroundings of The Forum as they smoothly manoeuvred through a 22 song set. They have clearly reaped the benefits of their road time, particularly their recent US tour with the mighty ZZ Top. With five albums behind them, the band chose to focus more on their recent music with 15 of the tracks featured coming from Holding All The Roses and 2012’s The Whippoorwill. Opening with the foot stomping Leave A Scar, the incidental chatter was kept to a minimum as the ‘Smoke let their music do the talking. In fact, I think it wasn't until the beautifully crafted Pretty Little Lie had concluded that front man and main focus Charlie Starr even said “hello”. To be honest, this didn't bother the ecstatic crowd in the slightest, as Blackberry Smoke in full flow is an absolute delight to watch. The interaction between the band is noticeable with huge smiles from guitarist Paul Jackson and keyboardist Brandon Still particularly warming. Elsewhere the ‘Smoke sound is underpinned by the bass and drumming of Richard and Brit Turner which allows Starr to humbly demonstrate that not only is he a superb singer but also a smoking hot axe man.

The band has an affinity with Led Zeppelin and Sleeping Dogs contained a smart segue into Your Time Is Gonna Come. It’s not all heads down rock ‘n’ roll though and as the pace slowed the beautifully crafted title track from 2012’s The Whippoorwill and the sentimental One Horse Town demonstrated that this band is not a one trick pony (What you did there...I see it - Ed). Finishing their main set with Holding All The Roses and the infectious Shake Your Magnolia, the crowd was baying for more. The band duly obliged, with Too High followed by a fine version of The Rover (their cover for the Mojo CD earlier this year) before Ain't Much Left Of Me brought an excellent evening to an end. I looked at my review from last year before writing this. My concluding remarks then were “Blackberry Smoke has the confidence and ability to be headlining much bigger venues that this in years to come”. I rest my case.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Reviews: Gentleman's Pistols, Ram, Fuel Eater

Gentleman's Pistols: Hustler's Row (Nuclear Blast)

After a few years away the Leeds based retro rockers come back in glorious form with yet another album of their 70's boogie rock, from a time where rockers were clad in string vests and corduroy flared trousers. With nods to Wishbone Ash, Humble Pie, Atomic Rooster and even to the proto-NWOBHM of bands such as Budgie, Gentleman's Pistols started out with a rocking and rolling debut fit for the pub scene, getting down and dirty in small venues, it was a short sharp shock to the system chock full of dual guitar melodies, boogie riffs and sweet hip shaking solos. On their second album and with a bit of shifting they managed to bring the Carcass, Napalm Death and a man who is no stranger to the sounds of the 70's with his band Firebird; Bill Steer, Steer made them a heavier prospect taking them nearer to NWOBHM sound that has infected their sound since. Since then there has been much maligned problems with the band, James Atkinson has had personal issues that have taken him away from the music scene.

However after four years they have come back with a new album and a new bassist, in the shape of man mountain Rob Threapleton (who doesn't actually play on the record, as the bass work is done by Martyn Roper) however it is only the line up that has changed as the music itself starts where the last record ended. The Searcher kicks off with a big slamming riff to get things moving at pace, in in an almost The Who-like rattle and hum and a power chord attack. The two guitars working in unison to weave some magic on the first track onwards, they are at their most evident on the Wishbone Ash style Devil's Advocate On Call, before the punky Lizzy-like Private Rendezvous keeps things filthy and flirty something that also happens on Lady Teaser and Personal Fantasy Wonderland both of which keep the tongue in cheek lady killer attitude the band have adopted since the beginning of their career. The album flies by at a killer pace with only the final title track slowing things down enough to really stop the flow but this is lazy stoner track that adds a dash of psychedelia to things in the dying throes of the record. Gentleman's Pistols are a band that are still in their infancy but with Hustler's Row they have really taken a leap forward, can't wait to see them supporting Orange Goblin next month. 8/10


RAM: Svbversvm (Metal Blade Records)

RAM are a traditional metal band from Sweden and as such they sound like loads of other traditional metal bands from Sweden, I'm talking denim and leather covered NWOBHM-aping with screeching vocals, scything guitars and chest beating anthems about metal and it's wonder. Svbversvm is their fourth album and yet again they haven't strayed from their previous album's sound, most of this album is in the Judas Priest, Accept, Exciter, Mercyful Fate mold with with similarities to fellow countrymen Wolf, Enforcer and Portrait (who RAM released a split with in 2006). The first two tracks on this album speed by in flash of guitar heroics and thrashing riffage before The Usurper has a chunky, slower feel that sounds like The Scorpions at their rockiest. This is the slowest track on the album, with the bouncy Holy Death having a Slayer vibe to it due to the doom laden style, frequent changes of pace and the explosive solo that comes out of nowhere has Kerry King written all over it. Enslaver speeds things back up, the intro Terminus moves into 80's tastic The Omega Device which could have come off Turbo Lover. RAM do what they do very well with a classic NWOBHM sound coupled with modern productions and a little bit thrash and hard rock thrown in. They've managed to make their best album yet, so if you like your metal with a nod to the past then RAM will definitely do it for you, get your high tops and bullet belts and rock out folks. 8/10

Fuel Eater: Centralia (Self Released)

The sheer wealth of metal from Greece is enough to fill a blog of it's own, much like the metal output of Sweden it seems every week another Greek band comes onto our radar here at the musipedia. Greek metal tends to come in three very distinct categories, power/traditional metal, black/death metal and stoner/doom metal, it's this last genre that Fuel Eater falls into, in fact so much so that when you listen to the crunching, crawling, sludgy King Of The Desert Utopia you'd be forgiven if you thought it was the new Down record, the four instrumental members of the band Thanos Dritsas (guitar/vocals), Vasilis Koutsompinas (drums), Marios Sen (bass) like it low, slung and heavy worshipping at the altar of Sabbath, Clutch, Kyuss, Sleep etc while the singer Gordon Kansas is doing his best Anselmo with the NOLA bile in full effect. The songs on this record are not the fastest of numbers, so thrashers may want to look away, neither are they particularly groundbreaking but his isn't the point. This album is for the riff worshipping heshers and the record is chocked full of big riffs and noodling basslines that will go very well with 'special cigarettes' of your choice. Fuel Eater couple traditional stoner rock licks with warm production and because of this they are more than worth you time Centralia is nine tracks of thunderous stoner groove with 9 minute spacey Rainfall Redemption splitting the album well. Fuel Eater are yet another quality band from Greece if you love your riffs then you'll love this!! 7/10  

Monday, 9 November 2015

The View From The Back Of The Room: Howlin' Rain

Howlin' Rain & Ulysses: The Louisiana, Bristol

This was my first time in the Louisiana and it was to see a band I've always admired but I've never seen live Californian's Howlin' Rain were the band and I took two of my oldest friends for a night out in one of my favourite cities with some great bands.

Missing the first band we went upstairs for second band Ulysses (8) who I've seen before and enjoyed immensely the band merge late 60's Sgt Pepper's with the infectiousness of pop rock superstars Roy Wood, The Sweet, T-Rex all with the sublime silliness of Cheap Trick, now this isn't to say they are throwaway far from it they have enough chunky rock riffs to keep even the biggest metalhead entertained, the garish colours of the bands outfits merged perfectly with their musical influences and they took us all away on a yellow submarine of glam rock riffs. The Bath band are one that I would love to see again although I'll bring my sunglasses next time there as there is only so much retro fashion one man's eyes can take. With Ulysses getting us all feeling groovy, especially one man down the front who was smelling colours it was time for the Californians to take the stage.

Howlin Rain (10) are a band that truly embody the spirit of California they are wild free and without boundaries, musically they walk the line between freak out jam rock, Californian soft rock, hard core blues and everything in between. Frontman Ethan Miller is part Jerry Garcia, part Bruce Springsteen part Nick Cave, with Chris Cornell's vocals. Add a dash of some well travelled bluesman thrown in he is the epitome of the wild eyed mountain man bearded and slinging a guitar like a weapon before just taking the mic and becoming the minister of a rock n roll church. He is aided in his rock and roll adventure by swaggering bassist Jeff Mcelroy who wouldn't look out of place in the Allman Brothers band all flowing hair and double neck bass/guitar, he also had boundless energy jumping and flailing like man possessed by the music Miller's six string foil is the more stationary Dan Cervantes who adds the grit to Miller's gliding guitar lines. For the most part the band played loud, very very loud indeed rumbling the walls of the room and proceeded to create a cacophony of noise with lots of jamming in between, there was few kinks here and there but they were

Meet Me In The Wheat was the first song and it set the tone it is country rock to its core with the sing along chorus of "Hallelujah" turning the small room into a revivalist sermon, then they moved into a harder edged following track that rocked things up with the a slower intro that built into a wall of sound. Slowed things down with the smoky Coliseum which had a searing reverbed guitar solo from Miller who lost himself in the moment before putting down the guitar to wrap himself in the mic on the full on blues mode of Dark Side which saw him in preacher man form shouting down the mic about losing himself to a woman, before blowing his blues harp in the end of the track, from the bayou to Paris with the stream of conciousness and dreamlike Ceiling Fan that has the lyrical dexterity not seen in your usual rock band, this is a poem set to music and kudos to Miller for remembering those lyrics an reciting them verbatim.

They rocked things up with the excellent Self Made Man, which is one of the bands showcase songs on which drummer Brian "Nucci" Cantrell shows off his chops on the trippy middle section that segues into a Latin jazz part too, while the Cervantes swelled the spiralling guitar as the song reached it impressive climax, this song was as forceful as the band and get with huge riffs and enough noise to make you deaf, after Self Made Man we were told that the drum head was broken, (on the first night of the tour no less) if you saw how hard Cantrell was hitting then it was no surprise the band had to curtail their set and we were given a choice: Roll On Rusted Days or Big Red Moon to close and the hardcore fraternity in the audience chose the former which did it in fine style Roll On... rocked, rolled and jived throwing in some The Who style wig outs at the end bringing the set to a close with a bang and showing that this band are truly fantastic. This gig is not just likely to be my gig of the year, it maybe one of my top gigs ever, magnificent, come back soon!! 10/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Evil Scarecrow

Evil Scarecrow, Triaxis: Clwb Ifor Bach Cardiff

So yet another Evil Scarecrow gig and as is normal it was a cavalcade of laughs and downright silliness from the get go so after meeting with two of the Musipedia's good friends for a couple of drinks and some food we entered Clwb and settled in with a pint of Mws Pws Snowdonia Ale (sorry for all the Welsh folks Cymru Am Byth I'm afraid) and readied ourself for a good rocking and riotous rib-tickling.

We arrived at the venue a little too late to catch openers Franklin Mint but what we saw was a bit of psychedelic rock with some off beat vocals but their set was over far too quickly for me to make a judgement. So then as they cleared away a wait ensued, a chat with some of the bands and then the joyous sight of one Mr Brett Perry who arrived unannounced to a huge encore (from just us). Welsh metal at is finest was the order of the day from the next band who many will know are a bit special to us here at the Musipedia, Triaxis (8) stormed the stage to the now engrained opener Liberty, which has a video now attached to it, from the onset Giles drumming and Becky's bass paved the way with a thunderous assault in the backroom, on top of this was CJ rapid riffage and Glyn's sublime soloing topped by Krissie's as usual stunning vocals as the band roared through Sand And Silver, Stand Your Ground, the still brutal double hit of Victorious and Death Machine before Black Trinity finished, it was a short set gone in a flash but as always Triaxis showed how good they are, a longer set would have been nice though (still I'm sure we will be here again soon)

So another bit of a wait and it was time for the main feature, having followed Evil Scarecrow (9) almost since the beginning I love how the band have reached the lofty heights of drawing a huge crowd at Bloodstock but you are still able to see them in smaller venues like where we were tonight. With the new intro theme kicking in the band came on from the back of the crowd and with the usual fooling around at the beginning the band finally settled down and jumped straight into Rise. Now Evil Scarecrow are a parody band but musically they are always on top form even with two replacement members they didn't miss a trick. Now the replacement members were taking over guitar and keyboards for Brother Pain and Princess Luxury respectively who are on maternity leave from the band, these 'new' members were the towering undertaker Meister Klaus Von Unterschlafen who hails from Germany via Nottingham and their ivory tickler is Chucky The Bastard who must have been knackered at school the next day (joke guys). They slotted right in with Dr Hell, Kraven Moredeth and Monty Blitzfist's madness before we got the first of the bands well known fan partcipation songs with the zero gravity mosh pit in Space Dementia, which ended with some our number chanting 'sheep' as a dirty word (it's Wales folks) which led to the band unveiling new song Sheep which was just the word repeated at speed but got the loudest cheer of the night.

More crowd interaction with Dance Of The Cyclops which got us all waltzing on the beer drenched floor, yummy. Much of the set was drawn from their last album but they did throw in the odd classic in the shape of Morbid Witch (one of my favourites) and their self confessed third best song, below Sheep and the crustacean one, Robototron where the perfect robot squares were impressive. The self depreciating humour of the band is why they are endearing Dr Hell especially complaining that he was going to get the giggles and telling us to watch as he fucks up Brother Pain's solos on Galacticus. Things descended into farce at the finale of War And Seek as most the mentions of war were changed to 'sheep' which caused Dr Hell to totally and utterly fall apart on stage. After we marched during the end of the song things finished in there normal way with the band bemoaning a lack of curtain to hide behind for the encore which was the now legendary Crabulon which featured the crab himself, sans claws I might add, they were left in the van adding to the ridiculousness of the bands set. As we scuttled left and right the end finally came and yet again we were all elated, ecstatic and totally exhausted at the end but we wouldn't have it any other way. They are a superb band so go and see Evil Scarecrow if you can they are guaranteed to cure what ails you!!         

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Another Point Of View: Mötley Crüe (Review By Paul)

Mötley Crüe/Alice Cooper: Genting Arena Birmingham

When Mötley Crüe crashed into the hard rock scene in the early 1980s, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that over 30 years later they would be packing out arenas across the world. Bringing all the glamour of LA, the girls, the hedonistic lifestyle, the drink, the drugs, the ink and the occasional fiery rock tune, to a 15 year old finding his way in life, they were from a different galaxy, let alone planet. Mötley Crüe were the epitome of Ian Drury’s sex and drugs and rock n’ roll and it was rare for a rock magazine not to feature the latest exploits of messrs Neil, Mars, Sixx and Lee.

When the band rolled into Cardiff in 1986 on the Theatre Of Pain tour, I was among 2500 crazy metal fans who witnessed some of the most over the top action that St David’s Hall has ever seen. Yes, Vince Neil couldn’t sing but the show was so captivating that it didn’t matter. Nearly 30 years later and Mötley Crüe speed towards their much publicised conclusion. Hooking up with old pal Alice Cooper for one of their four UK dates, the evening presented good value for money with two of rock’s heavy weights shaking their stuff. Of course, the final opportunity to see Mötley Crüe was also a draw.

I've seen Alice Cooper (8) several times and each time I see him I remind myself how damn good he actually is when you remove the pantomime part of his show. Tonight, heavy as hell and stripped back to the basics with a conservative number of theatrics and props, Cooper rolled out an hour of classics from his back catalogue. Our Alice nut Brett had earlier informed us that this show was part of Alice’s Raise The Dead tour which has been on the road for some time. Cooper has assembled a formidable band to support him. Long standing members Glen Sobel and bassist Chuck Garric are currently joined by the impressive fretwork of Nita Strauss, Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen.

Opening with the eerie Vincent Price narration, the band tore into Black Widow before a triple hit of No More Mr Nice Guy, Under My Wheels and I'm Eighteen got the already pumped crowd singing along. The dollars were scattered during Billion Dollar Babies and then it was time for full sing-a-long as fan favourite Poison increased the temperature. A couple of less well known tunes followed; Dirty Diamonds and the Ballad Of Dwight Fry which contained a bass and drum solo (yawn) before Nita showed her guitar prowess.

As always, no Alice show is complete without him being killed at least once and the guillotine was brought into action to take his head off as the band segued into I Love The Dead. Feed My Frankenstein saw the appearance of the monster; hammy, corny and such great entertainment with sufficient edge from the band to keep it heavy. The inevitable School’s Out with snippet of Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 brought the set to a roaring finish and a huge ovation.

Bang on time the house lights dimmed and with that the cue for one of the most ridiculously excessive stage shows ever witnessed. For the next two hours the lighting and almost constant pyrotechnics ensured that visually at least, there was not a dull moment. Mötley Crüe (9), like Kiss, have never claimed to be brilliant song writers but bloody hell do they put on a show.

Girls Girls Girls got the arena set to boiling point and Wild Side stoked the capacity crowd to even greater heights. The first pyro pots hadn't even cooled and already Nikki Sixx was stalking the stage every inch the rock star. It was feared that the other real driving force behind the band, drummer Tommy Lee might be forced to sit out some of the gigs due to his recurrent tendonitis but happily he was there, larger than life and beating the crap out of his custom kit.

An average Primal Scream led into S.O.S. with lots of singing from the crowd, as a bloated Vince Neil, supported by the rather attractive Crüe Girls Allison Kyler and Sofia Touta, crooned his way through it. Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away) followed and then it was time for Brownsville Station’s Smokin’ In The Boys Room. Despite his dodgy voice Neil remains a captivating frontman.

A bit of real riffage next with oldie Looks That Kill, the focus on the zombie like Mick Mars who maintained his ghoulish position stage left all evening apart from his venture into the centre of the stage for a truly awful guitar solo. The set pace dropped with a pretty lousy Muthafucker Of The Year, after which we were treated to a brief monologue from Nikki Sixx, greeted with a roar from the delirious crowd. A rather pointless cover of Anarchy In The UK was at least followed by the ball shattering Shout At The Devil, a track that Neil’s voice always struggles with but hey, nothing new there.

Cue Carl Orff’s O Fortuna; time for the much anticipated Tommy Lee roller coaster. I’d say that it was a drum solo except that it really wasn't but impressive and outrageous, oh yes. Lee drummed along to various rock tracks as his platform edged its way along the rails, twisting up and down, over and under. Obviously the crowd went bat shit crazy for it. The dire Mars solo followed, but then things really improved with a trio of blistering songs. First up Live Wire, then a devastatingly good Dr Feelgood and finally set closer Kickstart My Heart, which saw Neil and Sixx propelled high about the audience on separate hydraulic platforms. The set closed with an astonishing amount of pyro and the crowd ecstatic.

The encore saw Crüe decamp to an intimate set up directly behind the sound desk and complete with Tommy Lee on piano, the band closed down the evening and their last visit to Birmingham with an emotional Home Sweet Home.

Mötley Crüe has never disappointed live. I’d rarely listen to them out of choice (although they feature regularly on the play list of Planet Rock so I get more than sufficient) and I think it is fair to say that they are not in the same league musically as many of their peers; however, this was an unforgettable evening full of the over the top histrionics you’d expect. One where I am happy to say I was there.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Reviews: Def Leppard, Skindred, Avatarium

Def Leppard: Def Leppard (Bludgeon Riffola/earMUSIC)

Paul is going to hate this album, I can tell you that for a fact, thus why I'm going to review it instead. Each to their own and that, but I've never hated Sheffield's big boys of rock, I think they have left an indelible mark on British rock music as they are one of the few Transatlantic successes, exploding across the ocean before hitting it big here, they were originally lumped in with the NWOBHM scene but upon the release of Hysteria they became the pomp-powered rock superstars they are today. But enough of the history lesson, better men than me have chronicled the bands history in a more interesting and detailed way than me. Back to the music and it's been a fair few years since their previous album Songs From The Sparkle Lounge, 7 to be exact, this gap may be due to guitarists Viv Campbell's battle with cancer, but also it might be due to the fact the band wanted to create the best album they can. So has their eleventh album achieved this? Well any band that releases a self titled releases this late in their career is either harking back or reinventing their sound, happily Def Leppard are doing both writing a 'greatest hits' album with all new songs.

Let's Go is deliberately familiar with Rick Allen's electronic kickdrum leading the charge as Campbell and Collen stab the guitars for the swaggering intro that has the same wrecking ball power as Pour Some Sugar On Me's including the latter's 'boom boom yeah' refrain and a shout along chorus. Def Leppard have said that they haven't really experimented on this album but drawn from all their elements, only really Energized wriggles out of the mold with it's orchestral and hip-hop-style (stylee?) electronic drumbeat.  Dangerous is cut from the same Hysteria cloth as the opener with a faster, rockier sound and the bands trademark repeating melody riff. Rick Savage's big bass starts the funky Queen-like Man Enough before we get to the first ballad (yes there are a couple, it's Leppards signature) with the excellent We Belong which has the same ringing guitars as U2 have always been partial too.

Now these are just the first four tracks and already we have crossed the entire spectrum of Leppard sounds, but on these and the 10 remaining tracks shows off his great vocals, just scratchy enough to add some balls to the rockers like Sea Of Love and All Time High, acoustic showcases like the Fab Fouresque Battle Of My Own but with a croon that warms the heart on ballads such as Last Dance which is so saccharine that it could top pancakes, he even gets help on We Belong with Campbell, Collen, Savage and Allen all taking the co-lead vocals. This album has 14 tracks but it flies by at a rate of knots, now if you hate Def Leppard then this album will do nothing for you but if you love their brand of sleek, hard rock then you will love this record with a passion. This is Def Leppard distilled and all the better for it! 9/10  

Skindred: Volume (Napalm) [Review By Paul]

Newport’s finest release their sixth album containing a mighty 14 tracks, hot on the heels of 2014’s slightly disappointing Kill The Power. Musically, Volume continues their crazy fusion of metal, reggae, dub step, hip hop and ska and as you’d expect from a band who are in the top one of live experiences in the world, several anthems which are guaranteed to get the sweat dripping from the walls. Opener Under Attack, the title track and Hit The Ground contain Mikey Demus’s trademark riffage with the blitzkrieg vocal assault of Benji Webb and will kill in the live arena. Shut Ya Mouth has a really aggressive punky sound with the driving attack combining with Benji’s vicious rapping and The Healing moves slightly away from the traditional Skindred sound in a really interesting way. The album also contains three parts I, II and III which are ska influenced interludes spaced through the album. Dan Sturgess’s programming and mixing has become more prominent since 2011’s Union Black (in my opinion the best Skindred album) and throughout Volume his input into the tracks is noticeable, Sound the Siren is a good example.

Whilst Skindred are at their best when at full throttle, they have sensibly paced the album with a couple of balanced tracks which demonstrates that their song writing is being taken seriously and Saying It Now provides evidence that they are evolving. A hard edge remains but this track also allows Benji to really show how well he can sing whilst the band provide an almost U2 sound track, albeit with more riffs. The final trio of songs, the protest of No Justice, the average Stand Up and the rallying cry of Three Words bring the album to a close. Volume is a pretty solid release, stronger than Kill The Power in quality and composition. Whilst their strength remains in the live arena, compiling an arsenal of potent weapons to use in that environment is crucial and Volume had ensured that Skindred will continue to expand and grow. 8/10

Avatarium: The Girl With The Raven Mask (Nuclear Blast) [Review By Paul]

There was little doubt that the self-titled debut from Leif Edling’s outfit was one of the releases of the year in 2013, introducing the stunning soulful voice of Jennie-Ann Smith and Marcus Jidell (Smith’s husband) on guitar. Avatarium contained many of the traits of Edling’s main outfit, the mighty Candlemass. The overall feel was of doom and despair, with a mournful, macabre yet refreshingly new feel. The highly anticipated follow up, The Girl In The Raven Mask continues in exactly the same vein, with Jidell’s production capturing the tone and atmosphere perfectly. The title track kicks off the album, crashing guitars and a real 1970s sound, Carl Westholm’s mellotron and organ playing adding real depth both on this track and throughout the album. The Girl With The Raven Mask is a bit of a head banger for a band whose speed is usually slightly slower but I'm not complaining. It really moves along a pace with a storming guitar solo hidden in the middle. As we discovered on the debut, Smith’s voice is just amazing, sometimes almost childlike but oh so powerful and absolutely captivating.

The January Sea is a seven minute doom laden epic, with the sound crashing around likes waves breaking on the rocks. The atmosphere is enhanced once more by the huge vibrating ivories and some outstanding guitar work. Pearls And Coffins allows Smith’s vocals to take centre stage, whilst the music has a bluesy classic rock feel. Hypnotized has shades of Big Elf in its intro, a smashing drum and bass sound combining once more with huge keyboards and repetitive guitar riff, before Ghostlight casts an even darker spell. Run Killer Run opens with one of the grungiest, infectious guitar riffs I've heard in a long time, and yet again the epic keyboard playing really gives the track substance. The drumming of Lars Sköld and bass work of Elding underpin the whole album, nowhere more evident than on this track. Iron Mule has shades of Candlemass, deep and heavy resonating as the track salutes the dawn of railways.

Final track The Master Thief begins in a gentle manner, Smith’s vocals clear and resonant, a bluesy feel running through the song as it ebbs and flows towards its conclusion. The Girl With The Raven Mask is a stunning piece of work, building on the excellent debut. I'm just gutted that a paltry one UK date is included on their current European tour. May I be bold enough to suggest a headline set in the Sophie Tent at BOA next year? 9/10

Monday, 2 November 2015

Reviews: Hotei, Earthside, Gamma Bomb, Starblind

Hotei: Strangers (Spinefarm)

Tomoyasu Hotei is something of a legend in Japan he has released 15 albums that have sold millions of copies in his native country, he is a bona fide superstar in his homeland, having his music featuring in many films and shows, most notably in Kill Bill Vol 1. Since 2012 he has been firmly installed in London and because of this his 16th album Strangers is the first to be released in Europe, so are Europe ready for the Japanese virtuoso? Well on the evidence of this album the answer could be up in the air as there will be many who may not 'get' this record, it is a mix of guitar instrumentals and songs that feature guest vocalists, that move through a myriad of genres, from the industrial edge of Move It which features Richard Kruspe, to the jangling surf rock of Medusa, the electro punk of How The Cookie Crumbles which along with the bluesy Walking Through The Night have the unmistakeable pipes of Iggy Pop who weaves his dangerous magic on the songs. The songs are more than just three minute hits they are soundscapes created by a very talented musician however they do have a bit of a schizophrenic tendency as they move between the genres at a brisk pace, the orchestral dark ballad has Matt Tuck doing what he does best before the title track shows an 80's style solo instrumental that EVH himself would be proud of, before the thumping Texas Groove shows off her bar room whiskey vocals and comes off as the albums star because of it, the final three tracks are all instrumental but they add little to the album if I'm honest, unless you're a hardcore guitar fan. This album would be good if it was featured as a film soundtrack but as an independent album it's a little hit and miss, only Battle Without Honour Or Pride (the song from Kill Bill) Medusa, Walking Through The Night and Texas Groove lift this album up but they are good enough tracks to stand independently. 7/10             

Earthside: A Dream In Static (Self-Released)

New Haven Connecticut's Earthside are primarily an instrumental band that play modern, progressive metallic rock that has nods to O.S.I, Liquid Tension Experiment and the more recent act Animals As Leaders; with polyrhythmic down-tuned riffs, thundering drums, technical fleet fingered bass playing and swathes of synths and electronics Earthside are very much in the 'cinematic rock' genre they claim to have created. This is an album that needs to be heard in it's entirety, it is a musical journey that is bolstered by the sharp, clear production from David Castillo (Opeth/Katatonia/Novembre) and Jens Borgen (Opeth/Soilwork/Symphony X/Devin Townsend) who immediately make their presence felt on the opening track The Closest I've Come which shows off the bass led opening of Ryan Griffin as the guitars of Jamie van Dyck dance on top and the song gets heavier with distorted rhythms meaning Griffin, van Dyck thunder along with Ben Shanbrom adding a jazz drum pattern beneath the heaviness as Frank Sacramone adds layer upon layer of keys that work in conjunction with the guitars in the flowing melodies that are driving the song along.

Now I've said that Earthside are an instrumental band but on this record they have found four guest vocalists meaning that the album is half vocal and half just the instrumentation, Tesseract's Dan Tompkins adds his impressive voice the title track which sound like it could have featured on an album by his day job. The Albums most cinematic track is Mob Mentality which has Sevendust's Lajon Witherspoon lending his soulful pipes to the track as well as an inspiring performance by the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra to give the soundtrack to a movie yet to happen, Mob Mentality is a story in itself and is in parts breathtaking, an very emotive, the orchestra also leave their mark on the atmospheric Entering The Light with Crater is a the world away from the sound of Soilwork, mainly due to Björn Strid liberally employing his clean singing than the harsher tones he uses in his normal delivery. This record works on many levels it is immediate giving the satisfaction that many rock and metal fans will want after one play, but also it's a grower and after repeated listens it really opens into a jewel. This is an impressive debut from the American's that really shows that they have an incredible talent. 9/10

Gama Bomb: Untouchable Glory (AFM) [Review By Paul]

Northern Irish thrash at 150mph? Yep, it must be Gama Bomb blasting back in your face with a no holds barred half an hour of crazed aggressive thrash. Back in the race after 2013’s The Terror Tapes, Gama Bomb get through this album quicker than I can drink my first pint on a night out (and we all know the first one doesn't count). I’ve seen these guys a couple of times over the years and they really have improved. Technically Untouchable Glory is excellent, with some vicious axe work courtesy of John Roche and lead axe man Domo Dixon. The humour remains; see Drinkers Inc, which demonstrates the tightness of Joey McGuigan’s bass and Paul Caffrey’s ferocious drumming. Philly Byrne’s vocal delivery is exactly what you want with a thrash outfit. He can hit the notes but maintains a steady yet honest approach which adds in all areas. My Evil Eye is one wild ride, huge riffs and a battering assault which to be honest, never lets up. You want some stomping Anthrax thrash? Check out the serious nature of Tuck Your T-shirt In, a topic of some concern in today’s society. Gama Bomb’s blueprint is pretty straightforward. Three minutes, accelerate to break neck speed, thrash the nuts out of it, move onto the next one. Repeat. It works for me. I ♥ thrash. 8/10

Starblind: Dying Son (Pure Steel Records) [Review By Paul]

Sometimes you just have to call it as you hear it. The sophomore release from Stockholm’s classic metal outfit Starblind is decimated by two absolutely massive elephants in the room. One, Mike Stark cannot sing. His combination of Geoff Tate, Kai Hansen and Bruce Dickinson is at times just painful. Second; if you are going to absolutely plagiarise a band’s sound then pick one that is slightly more obscure than Iron fucking Maiden. The playing is absolutely fine. Unfortunately at times I actually thought it was Maiden. Of course, that’s when Starblind weren’t doing Helloween circa 1987. Oh, and thirdly, Mike Stark cannot sing. Seven minute “epic” Firestone, for example, is completely crucified by his screeching and wailing. Oh, and your cover is pretty dismal too. 3/10


Reviews: Dark Moor, Eldritch, Joel Hoekstra's 13 (Reviews By Paul)

Dark Moor: Project X (Scarlet Records)

It never ceases to amaze me how many bands churn out album after album with little if no mainstream recognition. Such is the way the metal media is dominated by those with the big cheque books and high profiles, many bands just don’t stand a chance. So, with a big salute to the dogged determination, let me introduce Dark Moor, possibly Madrid’s finest (only?) neoclassical metal outfit, who have been kicking around in various shapes and forms for 22 years. Yes kids, these guys have been plying their trade longer than some of you have been alive. And to be honest that is quite amazing because Project X is one of the weirdest, brilliant and yet awful albums I've ever heard. Symphonic power metal merge to provide swirling synths, soaring guitars, galloping drums and absolutely bewildering songs. If this band were the Spanish entry for Eurovision 2016 I would not be at all surprised. Beyond The Stars is about as Eurovision as it gets; I've never heard anything quite so stomach curling in my life.

The emotive and ‘unique’ vocals of Alfred Romero are quite something whilst the big band sound that permeates some of the tracks is just bizarre; Bon Voyage has shades of Devin Townsend with choral backing, I Want To Believe makes me want to throw up whilst Existence includes just about everything apart from the kitchen sink. I have no idea what to make of this release, which is the band’s tenth. Imperial Earth has some lovely fast riffing courtesy of Enrik Garcia and builds dramatically but I have no clue as to what the band are intending. The riffs give way to some tinkling ivories before crashing back headlong on the charge. It’s all a bit dramatic with laser sound effects and some robotic narrative. Some of it is just rubbish; Gabriel for example is full of pomp and poppy overtures, samples from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and is cheesier than the Bernabeu filled with Manchego. This is just bat shit crazy: don’t get to the finale, There’s Something In The Skies – it is so triumphant, combing Barry Manilow, Queen and Blind Guardian. I shit you not. It sounds like a horrible rock opera. I bet they are loved in Spain and Germany. They aren’t going to dent the UK shores one iota. I can’t rate it. It lurches violently from 1/10 to 10/10.

Eldritch: Underlying Issues (Scarlet)

So after Madrid’s finest, we also had the opportunity to have a listen to Eldritch, a progressive power metal outfit from Italy who have been plying their trade since 1991. A combination of power and thrash metal, Underlying Issues kicks off in fine style with a rampaging opener, Changing Blood. Powerful drumming, technical guitar work and heavy riffs combined with the accessible vocals of Terence Holler. Danger Zone moves the band more towards the heavier side of Dream Theater, with some understated keyboards adding to the mix and the dual guitar work of Eugene Simone (Lead guitars and Rudj Ginanneschi. The band are anchored and steadied by the steady rhythm section of Raffahell Dridge (Drums) and Alessio Consani (Bass). Underlying Issues is technically consistent throughout; unfortunately it starts to merge into one track, with songs such as The Face I Wear and Bringer Of Hate merging into very similar songs. Holler’s vocals are a little bit marmite, with a little bit of Chester Benington in the mix along with the pomp of James LaBrie and at times it becomes a little too similar. Album closer Slowmotion K Us is a very thrashy number with some excellent playing but overall, the album is just a little repetitive with nothing that really stands out above the whole host of other bands plying their trade. 6/10

Joel Hoekstra’s 13: Dying To Live (Frontiers)

Current Whitesnake and former Night Ranger guitar man Joel Hoekstra’s latest solo album is a mighty slab of melodic rock features the impressive vocal power of Russell Allen (Symphony X) and the well-travelled Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman, Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey). Opener Say Goodbye To The Sun has Allen delivering his best RJD vocals in an up tempo gallop which sets the tone for the rest of the album perfectly. A huge spoon of sugar for many of the tracks, delivered in the best saccharine coated way which you’d expect given the numerous luminaries that Hoekstra has rubbed shoulders with over the years. Scream is absolutely perfect, high pitched harmonies on the chorus, a break down stacked with promise followed by the keyboard vs guitar interplay so beloved of bands like Rainbow. It’s cheese of the highest quality. Dying To Live has more balls, some crunching riffs and even the odd swear word whilst album closer What We Believe is an anthemic if slightly sickly vocal duet which goes on about a minute too long. Overall a high quality Melodic rock album which will undoubtedly go down well with those who like the genre. Not my cup of tea but a decent album nonetheless. 8/10