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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

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