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Saturday, 26 December 2015

Reviews: Baroness, Sideburn, A Sound Of Thunder

Baroness: Purple (Abraxan Hymns)

It has been three years since the bus crash that almost ended Baroness as band, nine people were hurt in the crash, Allen Blickle (drums) and Matt Maggioni (Bass) each suffered fractured vertebrae and frontman John Baizley was left with a broken left arm and leg. The band were put on hiatus until they had recovered sufficiently, in the interim Blickle and Maggioni left the band to be replaced with Nick Jost on bass and Sebastian Thompson on drums, as Baizley's condition improved he began to create both art and music again as the band toured Europe, this touring and return to activity has resulted in the bands fourth album being released. Continuing with the colour theme the band have had since their debut this new record is called Purple, what is apparent from the outset is how concise and immediate this record is, it harks back to their Red and Blue releases, but goes one further moving further away from the stoner sludge sound they have always known for. However that isn't to say the sonic experimentation of Yellow & Green isn't there, in fact quite the opposite, it's just this album melds it with the record's directness to form something that still sounds like Baroness but sees them yet again progressing.

The opening salvo of Morningstar is sledgehammer heaviness with Baizley's gritty vocals singing with gusto, then we get into the more melodic styling of Shock Me (not a KISS cover) which is the albums de-facto single as it demands to be played repeatedly, the straightforwardness is it's benefit, the songs are less metal with more hard rock and indie sounds adding to the bands sound however they can still get heavy if they need to of this album is powered by tracks like the staccato guitar of Try To Disappear and the spacey Rush-like Kerosene which changes time signature throughout driven by some distorted bass, spiralling keys and dual guitars before it segues into Fugue which is a dream-like jazz intermezzo that allows the magnificent analogue heaven of Chlorine & Wine to build into it's Thin Lizzyesque middle 8 before we go back into the swirling dream-pop of the opening and an anthemic life affirming crescendo. The retro vein continues on the second side of the record with The Iron Bell sounding like it could have come off the new The Sword record. Baroness have yet to release a bad record but Purple does seem to be the sound of a band trying to take the wider music community by the scruff of the neck and announce their intent to conquer. Fuckin' A! 9/10     

Sideburn: Evil Or Divine (Metalville)

Sideburn are a stoner metal band from Sweden Evil Or Divine is their fifth album and it sticks to the traditions that the band have always relied upon. We're talking fuzzy hammer down riffs from guitarist Morgan Zocek and bassist Martin Karlsson some smash and grab drumming from Fredrik Broqvist and soulful vocals from Dimitri Keiski. This is 7 tracks of sprawling, chemically enhanced rock with mind bending tendencies, the slow and steady Masters And Slaves takes you on the trip with its low and deliberate heaviness, with Keiski having the almost 'submerged' vocal style of Monster Magnet a band that Sideburn share a lot similarities with. Things get a bit faster on Sea Of Sins before a shedload of Sabbath worship comes on the bass-led When Darkness Calls and The Seer (Angel Of Death). The band are all great musicians and after doing this stuff for a long time they are very good at it, this album does seem to have a much darker tone than their previous releases with the sound of Sabbath is alive an well on Evil Or Divine and all the better for it, it's heavy, progressive and at times ominous. An album from a professional band that play from the heart and with a head full of psychoactive ingredients, turn it up and enjoy the trip. 7/10       

A Sound Of Thunder: Tales From The Deadside (Mad Neptune)

A Sound Of Thunder were formed in Washington D.C in 2008 and they have been releasing classic sounding American heavy power metal that were named after an influential Sci-Fi novel by Ray Bradbury, most of their albums have been based around numerous Sci-Fi and fantasy novels and comics. Tales From The Deadside is their fifth album and very little has changed this record is based around the Shadowman comics which follows the adventures of a supernatural superhero. Now if you aren't fully invested in the storyline it could all be a bit much as this is a true concept record that moves between songs and spoken pieces, all the lyrics tell the story in the comics so lyrically the band are telling someone else story meaning that the musicianship and performance to drive the songs along. Luckily A Sound Of Thunder are a superb band that know exactly how to craft a heavy metal song, Josh Schwartz is a great guitarist deftly adding riffs and solos to tracks like the emotive and progressive Sandria (Carry On) which also has some great drumming by Chris Haren, that continues on Can't Go Back which has Jesse Keen filling out the song with keys as well as low bass playing. The band have a real find with singer Nina Osegueda (wife of Death Angel singer Mark Osegueda) she has great set of pipes that sultry on Deadside but can roar the harder tracks such as Tower Of Souls. This is powerful progressive album with some great songs that work outside of the concept but are much better when listened to as whole. 7/10

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

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

Ghost – O2 Bristol Academy

The final gig of 2015 for the vast majority of the Musipedia crew saw a mass occupation of the balcony at the O2 for the appearance of Swedish occult tinged metallers Ghost. Indeed, when Papa III asked the crowd if there was anyone from Wales in the audience, you could have been forgiven for thinking we were actually in Cardiff such was the voracity of the response from around the O2.

Unfortunately for openers Dead Soul (5), their techno trance/electro rock was pretty uninspiring and despite a decent reaction from the pretty full venue, their lack of real movement on stage meant that they quickly lost the attention. Maybe they will be better on CD. Who knows?

A massive stained glass backdrop covered the back of the stage as the tarps were pulled off the drums and keyboards and the intros of Misere Mei, Deus and the Masked Ball welcomed the arrival of five Nameless Ghouls and the opening riff to Spirit. With chilling red lighting adding to the already intense incense heavy atmosphere, Papa Emeritus III arrived on stage to a huge ovation. For the next hour and 20 minutes Ghost (10) delivered a flawless set which held the attention, got the head banging and the arms aloft and also provided more than a few giggles thanks to Papa’s brilliant humour and delivery. Spirit was followed by the pounding From The Pinnacle To The Pit and then it was a delightful mixture of tracks from all three of Ghost’s long players.

Either side of the stage, the guitar work of the Ghouls was excellent, and once again you were reminded just how heavy this band can be. A rock hard rhythm section and deliciously eerie keyboards underpinned the quality of the songs. Whilst Papa III rightly commands the centre stage the rest of the band also capture your attention and despite their masks they still managed to convey a huge amount of emotion both to the crowd and to each other.

Highlights? Well, I'm not the connoisseur when it comes to Ghost, having only seen them a couple of times before but if I had to pick four stand out tracks, it would be the blistering Year Zero, the stunning He Is, a hammeringly heavy Mummy Dust and the massively entertaining Monstrance Clock which closed the set. Oh, and of course Body And Blood which saw the arrival of two Sisters of Satan, complete with their habits, chalice of wine (blood?) and plate of wafers which the front row gratefully received after Papa’s warning not to touch the young ladies “cavities”!

However, I can’t think of a poor song from the well-crafted set list and the whole evening was an absolute joy, despite the boiling hot temperatures in this less than enjoyable venue. As the band exited all around there were beaming faces. 2015’s final gig was one of the best.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Reviews: Absolva, Mercutio, Major Instinct

Absolva: Never A Good Day To Die (Rocksector)

Since their debut there has always been something a bit special about Absolva, they seamlessly blend the traditional sounds of classic British metal with the more American and indeed modern sounds of thrash, which is always bolstered by their albums crystalline production. For the band that used to be Fury UK, Absolva was always a much heavier, faster more aggressive prospect. Having started as four piece they have more recently turned into the power trio format led by vocalist/lead guitarist Chris Appleton, drummer Martin McNee and bassist Dan Bate. However since their last record their line up has changed yet again with a new and a familiar face joining the ranks, the new is bassist Karl Schramm who replaced Bate last year, but the most intriguing addition is Chris' brother Luke once again taking up the rhythm guitar like he did in Fury UK, Luke is probably more well known as the most recent four stringer for American metal legends Iced Earth, but since that band is currently on hiatus (and has the biggest revolving line up on earth) Luke is the prodical son (or indeed brother) returned.

You can hear the difference he makes adding a crunch to the riffs meaning Chris can express himself with the leads a little more, it also means that they can do the old twin-axe attack or Maiden, Priest and Accept, in fact all three of these bands influence permeate the sound of Absolva. From the off they play fast and hard riffing like mad, from the slow burn intro of Disguise business picks up and the pace rarely drops. As with their previous releases once again the band fuse their metallic playing with huge choruses sung by Chris Appleton with the most unique voice this side of Udo Dirkschneider, speaking of Udo No One Escapes has the chug of his former band Accept (you can see the perfectly symmetrical guitar swings from here), while The Light is Maiden-like with it's bass lead assault. The album slows with the monstrous ballad How Black Is My Heart? which like all of the songs on this record has a some amazing guitar soloing and picks up in the middle to gallop along at pace before fading out at the end as an awesome centre piece its just one example of an album full to the brim with cracking songs, with No Tomorrow and closer All Alone being some of my personal favourites. Never A Good Day To Die continues Absolva's run of excellent albums! 9/10

Mercutio: Back To Nowhere (Diverge Records)

I first saw Mercutio at Camden Rocks festival earlier this year and their fusion of alternative and progressive ambient rock music really caught my attention at 11 am. Originally from Italy the band now reside in London and have been playing gigs throughout the capital for a while, so when I finally got my hands on their debut album I was keen to see what they sound like with all the expressionism the studio gives you. Happily the band's sound is a lot more well rounded on the album than live (although they had triggers and synths from a laptop on stage so not much of their sound was lost). Everything is just a bit more polished on the record but with the kind of music Mercutio play it's all the better for it. Fusing alternative rock with electronic backing puts you in mind of Deftones,a darker sounding Muse and Porcupine Tree at their most accessible (in fact the latter's Colin Edwin plays bass on the rap-like In Front Of You), much of this is due in part to Mirko Petrini's rich crooning baritone that has similarities to Anathema's Vince Cavanagh and Nick Cave. The electronic darkness of Shed Your Skin brings to mind the industrial thump of Nine Inch Nails, while the title track is propelled by the fuzzy bass of Emanuele Nazzaro. The band are excellent players their years of experience really showing on every track from the sparse emotive A Part Of Me that builds on it's acoustic Radiohead-like beginning into a euphoric final part and back again with ease, through the rockier phases like Anytime and Fake which have some superb fluid guitar playing from Fabio Staffieri who adds the technical melodic flourishes on top of the thudding bass rhythm of Nazzaro, with some more introspective efforts on the beautiful No Compromise. It's the breadth of this album that lends itself to ear of the listener with the more traditional themes of the grungy The Ghost That Is You at odds with the dreamy Mother and more contrasts that take place as the album progresses. Back To Nowhere is a band honing their talent to create music without boundaries and for the most part they are very successful one to keep an eye on. 8/10 

Major Instinct: Roots & Wings (AOR Heaven)

For 20 years a Swedish band called M.Ill.Ion have provided powerful classic hard rock, however as of this year the band has taken a break meaning that the members are able to indulge in other projects, M.Ill.Ion main man bassist B. J Laneby set about producing more high quality hard rock getting some high quality musicians to help him out. From the cowbell toting title track you get an idea of what you are going to get this is swaggering hard rock with Laneby's bass and his M.Ill.Ion cohort Johan Hall's drumming driving tracks like the rampaging 316 as Magnus Mild and Gabriel Glamheden weave and duel on guitar on keys respectively, with nods to Rainbow, Purple, Whitesnake etc I don't need to say much more, this is hard rocking power adding some AOR elements to the M.Ill.Ion framework, see the saccharine ballad Eyes From Above which is actually very good and is followed by the joyous uplifting Don't Come To Me. With the musicians all firing on six cylinders it is frontman Stefano Marchesini is a real find with his hearty Coverdale meets Graham Bonnet style vocals that are bawdy on I Need A Drink, heroic on the crunchy Kicked To The Ground which features killer organ solo and defiant on Follow The Trends. Where as M.Ill.Ion relied on the harder rock edge Major Instinct have the 70's style honey hued, organ drenched rock, with the album concluding with the Gothic organ fuelled Mother Of All. Roots & Wings is great album from a 'new' band building on their years of experience to play quality hard rock. 8/10  

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

Tremonti – O2 Academy Bristol

Mark Tremonti is best known as the guitarist with Alter Bridge and before that God rockers Creed. He’s released two solid if unspectacular solo albums, All I Was in 2012 and 2015’s heavier Cauterise. This is the man who was named “Guitarist of the Year" for three consecutive years by Guitar World magazine, and in 2011 he was listed as the fourth greatest heavy metal guitarist of all time by Total Guitar. The guitar solo in the Alter Bridge song Blackbird, was named the greatest guitar solo of all time by Guitarist magazine. I don’t agree with any of those accolades although he is a damn fine guitarist, no question about that. Anyway, his solo tour was sufficiently close (yes, Bristol, where else?) to warrant a trip across the bridge with Matt and a very excitable Dan (on only his second ever outing to the big city).

A four band bill meant an early start and we missed Andy James and Wearing Scars. We were in time for The Raven Age (6), a five piece UK outfit most notable for the presence of one George Harris on guitar, son of the Iron Maiden legend. A reasonably full crowd, which consisted mainly very excitable young male fans lapped up their melodic metal with vocalist Michael Burrough (a ringer for a younger Eddie Izzard) energised and demonstrating a huge level of confidence, including concluding the final song from the balcony (Ty Taylor did it first VT fans). However, despite the enthusiasm, The Raven Age’s music was pretty generic with anonymous tracks that blended into each other. Lots of strafing chord action but little else to inspire. This is apparently the new generation of metal.

Next up was Chicago’s Man the Mighty (5) whose amalgamation of Alter Bridge, Creed, BSC, Theory of a Deadman etc. was lapped up by the crowd. You can work out from these influences what they sounded like. The difference between Man the Mighty and The Raven Age was their approach. Americans are always full of confidence and lead singer Derek Smith was immediately in the face of the crowd, demanding participation and encouraging responses at very regular intervals. Lead guitarist Tim Tournier cut some tasty shapes, a couple of their tunes, namely Sick, and set closer I Am Icarus were decent enough.

The Bristol crowd was in full cry when Tremonti (7) hit the stage at 9:40pm. Opening with the blistering assault of Cauterise, the band quickly demonstrated that they are a heavier proposition in the live arena, with the main man cutting an imposing figure at the front of the stage. A decent sound and a good mix allowed Mark Tremonti’s vocals to come through clearly, with the band galloping through the choicest cuts from the two albums. All I Was and Flying Monkeys were both stacked at the front of the set and kept the momentum going. To Mark Tremonti’s left, Eric Friedman cut loose on a number of the tracks, proving that despite the main man status, it is not all ego. Indeed, there were a number of pleasant surprises during the evening. Firstly, although there was a substantial amount of excellent guitar work on display, there was no extended twiddling or virtuoso displays of ego. Secondly, there was no tedious encore, just an announcement that “we have three songs left”. I am a big fan of this approach.

Unfortunately, much like a number of bands who ply their trade in this genre, the songs began to blend into one and although the playing was high quality, it all became a little generic. Bassist Tanner Keegan guarded his part of the stage impressively; throwing obligatory shapes whilst Garrett Whitlock on the drums mirrored Animal from The Muppets at times, such was the craziness of his tub-thumping. Radical Change at least managed to incite some pit action, which was all a little handbags at five paces but got people moving. As the band moved towards the end of the set, I was struck with the enthusiasm of the majority of the crowd, many matching the lyrics word for word. He certainly attracts a loyal following. Penultimate track Sympathy segued into the storming Wish You Well and a robust finish, complete with one of the worst walls of death I have ever witnessed (more a hedge of mild peril). Inviting anyone who had purchased merchandise to a meet and greet afterwards was a nice touch and Mark Tremonti certainly appears to be a solid, genuine person. He is an immensely talented guitarist; fact. Disappointingly, for me the show was too static with the formulaic structure of his songs just a little dull. I will not be seeking out his set at Download next year, but it will be a pleasant enough way to kill 40 minutes if there is nothing else to whet my whistle.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Another Point Of View: Accept (Review By Paul)

Accept – O2 Forum, Kentish Town, London

The house lights faded, the strains of Gehenne Incendiis surged through the PA system and Hell (8) blasted straight into The Age Of Nefarious. A relatively small but enthusiastic crowd had gathered at the front of the stage and this continued to grow as Hell’s 40 minute set progressed. It’s interesting watching the audience reaction to this most excellent band. I'm now a veteran of several Hell shows, including the magnificent show stopping performance at BOA a couple of years ago, but there were clearly many in the crowd for whom this was a new experience. This band has an excellent catalogue of music with which to win over the naysayers. The set was blistering with the guitar work of Andy Sneap and Kev Bowers melting faces. Tracks from the last release, Curse And Chapter including Something Wicked This Way Comes and Land Of The Living Dead are now staples in the set along with the favourites from the first release, Human Remains including The Quest and the brilliant On Earth As It Is In Hell. Complimented by double Baphomet and huge Hell banner at the rear of the stage and an excellently balanced light show, Hell put on their usual energetic performance and by the end of their set had no doubt gained a few more followers. Dave Bowers continues to be one of the most entertaining frontmen in metal, with his thespian leanings adding to the theatrical delivery which enhances rather than distracts the performance whilst the bass and drums of Tony Speakman and Tim Bowler provide the most solid foundations. Like Orange Goblin, there is no such thing as a bad Hell show and I never tire of catching this superb British band in the live arena.

The set timings stated that Accept (10) would be on stage at 20:45 and surprise, surprise, at 20:45 Wolf Hoffmann and co hit the stage. Backed by an enormous raging bull backdrop, the cover of their recent Blind Rage album, the band opened at 100mph and didn't slow down for the next two hours. Stampede followed by Stalingrad had the crowd, by now a good deal healthier but nowhere near as full as this great band deserved, pumping their fists in the sky. In many ways, Accept are the quintessential heavy metal band. Their tracks are straightforward; they kick your ass and demand that you bang your head. With a back catalogue of excellent music, the band delivered one of the best sets I've ever witnessed at a gig. Old school tunes included the ridiculous London Leatherboys, Son Of A Bitch, Living For Tonite, Midnight Mover, the battering ram of Restless And Wild and a rare outing for Flash Rocking Man which got the place going crazy. Yes, Accept attract a lot of old school metal fans and when the band pulled some of the oldies out the reaction was superb.

Accept is not a band living on glory days of the past though and their also delivered a healthy portion of tracks from their last few albums, Blood Of The Nations, Stalingrad and Blind Rage. Guitarist Wolf Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes remain the heart and soul of the band, being the original members and they took centre stage for most of the evening including a ridiculous yet enjoyable bass vs guitar duel. Vocalist Mark Tornillo’s vocal delivery was perfect and he kept the in-between song patter to a minimum, allowing the music to do the talking. He cajoled and encouraged the crowd throughout, with a huge number of sing-a-longs and clapping. In fact, I'm completely out of “whooo’s” such was the participation. The band is completed by Christopher Williams and guitarist Uwe Lulis who both put in an excellent shift. It must have been difficult to fill the shoes of those who had gone before them but both musicians looked comfortable in their setting, with Lulis adding some very tasty solos and rhythm whilst Williams is a powerhouse of a drummer, utilising the double bass drums to maximum effect.

One of the great things about Accept is that their more recent material sits effortlessly alongside their classic works; Teutonic Terror, Pandemic, Beat The Bastards, Shadow Soldiers, Fall Of The Empire all featured and were received like old favourites. A magnificent Princess Of The Dawn, complete with synchronised moves moved the show along and all of a sudden it was time for another sing-a-long, this time to the opening bars of Ein Heller Und Ein Baten before the band hammered into Fast As A Shark. This track is just amazing and as the band blasted through it I remembered the reception it had in 1982; definitely one of the forerunners of the thrash movement, with the use of the double bass drums almost unique in those days (if you read Scott Ian’s autobiography he credits Fast As A Shark as being the track that started a generation). As the encores kicked in the atmosphere in the venue increased still further and a stunning Metal Heart raised the temperature again. Teutonic Terror and Son Of A Bitch led to the final track, inevitably Balls To The Wall but with the additional axe input of Andy Sneap. Three flying Vs on stage; cue magnificent poses and synchronised moves.( It was interesting to hear several different people of the way home referring to Sneap as “the guy from Hell”, oblivious to his other massive input into the world of metal via his excellent production skills). As the band closed the evening, I reflected on my first encounter with them, back in 1986 on the Russian Roulette tour. They were breath-taking then, but I’d have to say that this performance raised the bar even higher. Absolutely brilliant.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Reviews: A Thousand Horses, Steelwing, Firespawn

A Thousand Horses: Southernality (Republic Nashville)

So as the year winds up we turn our attention to the annual 'best of the year' lists now these tend to come from records earlier in the year but suddenly and without warning A Thousand Horses have thrown their hat into the ring. That hat mind you is a ten gallon Stetson because as their album name suggests this is Southern rock at it's most honest, Southernality is the bands major label debut and what a debut it ism, with touches of The Rolling Stones' British blues, the Southern rock of Skynyrd, Allman Bros and most importantly the hearty Americana country rock of The Black Crowes and newer acts like Blackberry Smoke. With jangly, acoustic and slide guitars from Bill Sachter and Zach Brown (not that one), smoky basslines from Graham DeLoach, steam train drumbeats from Chris Powell, fuelled by down home bonhomie and the twangy Tennessee drawl of frontman Michael Hobby the band are everything a Country Rock fan could want.

Producer Dave Cobb gives the album it's honky tonk bar room sound (the kind of bar room that plays both country and western). From the opening Stonesy chords of First Time which is layered with mellotron to really get it grooving, it's the authenticity to this music these are good old boys and indeed some cooing Honkette-like girls in the background, doing what they do very well, the country element comes from both Sachter and Hobby's shuffling acoustics and on songs like the Heaven Is Close they play the kind of heartbreaking country ballads that take America by storm with the fiddle of keys player Billy Kurwin adding the extra dimension, same can be said for (This Ain't No) Drunk Dial which is beautifully sad due to it's  Smoke is fantastic imbued with steel guitar and the dusky broken hearted ode to a lost love as the smoke (sorry about the pun) clears we go back to the gutsy roots rock with the foot stompin' Travelin' Man and more slide guitar on the swaying Tennessee Whiskey which could be the new national anthem.

The middle part of the record is more country than rock but that's a good thing Sunday Morning is a gospel masterpiece at the centre of the album while the sludgy swap blues of the title track epitomises the Southern way of life perfectly, although Trailer Trash is possibly a little more accurate. As I've said Southernality is nearing the top of my end of year list true honest music played by a band that could become arena headliners in the future, with bands like Cadillac Three and Blackberry Smoke bringing Southern rock back in a big way A Thousand Horses could be the next band to break the UK. Here's hoping!! 10/10       

Steelwing: Reset, Reboot, Redeem (NoiseArt)

I have watched and listened to  Swedes Steelwing develop since their inception and they have turned into something very different from their debut Lord Of The Wasteland released on Manowar's record label, while this was good it came at a time when there was a glut of traditional metal bands on the block and Steelwing were sort of lost in the mire, However with their second album Zone Of Alienation they added more 80's influences and everything came in to place, it was a stunner of an album from start to finish with the rampaging guitars, screams galore and some video game & Sci-Fi like synths throughout it was a real step up and now with the their third album they have indeed both reset and rebooted their sound with a bit more crunch to the guitars and shedload more doom and evil meaning that this record sounds a lot more like Mercyful Fate than anything else, this is no bad thing as the band do well in the schlock horror format of the King and his not so merry men. Frontman Riley still has his extremely high vocal limit but has fleshed out his vocals with some shouts and growls (all three on the title track) and Like Shadows, Like Ghosts. This is the sound of a band growing up developing their own style, based of course on the styles of the past, but with a new found aggression and indeed progression with songs like Hardwired and the final We Are All Left Here To Die both clocking in at over 8 minutes displaying some technical playing from all the players especially the guitarists as well as time and tempo changes on the very progressive Hardwired leading into the intro scream of We Are All Left... which is a defining last track showing the incredible transition of this band from a traditional metal band lost in a wilderness, they have adapted their style and become a band that have developed into something a little bit special. They have reset and rebooted into overdrive with a tougher more mature sound, Steelwing have done everything this album title says and more. Very good indeed!! 8/10          

Firespawn: Shadow Realms (Century Media)

Do you like Death Metal? In fact more importantly do you like old school Death metal the kind that Celtic Frost, Possessed, Obituary, Death and even Venom used to play? Well you will love Shadow Realms by Firespawn, its something of a death metal supergroup formed by members from various death metal groups the most well known of which are L.G Petrov and Victor Brandt from Entombed A.D. The album theme is relentless battery with supreme speed metal licks from Brandt and Fredrik Follkare, some insane drumming from Matte Modin and low level frequencies coming from Alex Friberg, from The Emperor right the way through to Infernal Eternal the pace rarely drops with the faster tracks mixing with the thumping chug of songs like Imperial Burning and the ominous Lucifer Has Spoken which shows Petrov's guttural vocals howling with a evilness rarely seen in vocals these days. This is a good album indeed and death metal fans will lap it up in droves, it's explosive and powerful throughout, meaning if you love simple straightforward death metal then you will love Firespawn. 7/10  


Another Point Of View: Fear Factory (Review By Neil)

Fear Factory, Bristol Bierkeller

The last time that Fear Factory visited Bristol in December 2012 – along with the Devin Townsend Project - everyone who was there will be able to attest to the fact that Burton C Bell's voice was absolutely shot. Quite frankly it was a terrible performance, and I personally vowed to never go to see them again such was the awfulness of their show in the O2 that night. But then they announced a UK tour on which Demanufacture would be played in full to celebrate the albums 20th anniversary (and I'm surprised that there was no accompanying re-issue of their seminal, ground-breaking classic to celebrate this landmark but I digress). This announcement certainly piqued my interest so I bought a ticket and could only hope that Burton's voice would be up to the task this time around. Before an absolutely jam packed Bierkeller would be able to find out we were treated to a spirited performance from the new project spearheaded by ex-Machine Head / Soulfly guitarist Logan Mader. Logan has teamed up with Australian vocalist Lauren Hart to form Once Human, who I fear are destined to forever be compared to Gossow-era Arch Enemy, such is the similarity between Lauren and Gossow's vocals and the bands' overall musical style. This is not necessarily a bad thing but I fear it may limit their potential somewhat as Arch Enemy already exist, right? Blasting through several tracks from their début The Life I Remember (which I must confess I haven't heard so don't ask me for song titles!-You should-Ed) and closing with a rip-roaring cover of Davidian they certainly left the Bierkeller happy and perfectly warmed up for the evening's headliners 6/10

Warm would prove to be an understatement as the temperature rise in the venue during Fear Factory's set was palpable. If you're reading this then I expect you already have Demanufacture (if not, please go and get it right this second!) so a setlist is pretty redundant, except to say that once the main set was done with the encores consisted of a couple of FF classics (Shock and Edgecrusher), along with a handful of tracks from their latest outstanding release Genexus (including many people's pick for it's best song Soul Hacker), closing out with old faithful Martyr. From the get go the crowd were absolutely eating it up, with even the comparative lulls of Head Of David cover Dog Day Sunrise and an absolutely intense Pisschrist evoking rabid responses from the unbelievably hot and sweaty Keller. Enthusiastic responses like this can't do anything but inspire the band's performances. And what a performance it was; from the opening of Demanufacture right through to the ending of Martyr the band gave it their all ending up looking as hot and sweaty as the grateful crowd with massive smiles plastered all over their faces. Everything just seemed to be very much on point including – I'm happy to say – Burton’s voice. Never quite as smooth when unaided by studio trickery, nevertheless on this evidence lessons appear to have been learned from 2012's wide criticisms, and all for the better. With the absolute monster album that Genexus is and on the back of a performance like this the Fear Factory machine appears to be very much alive. 10/10

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Reviews: Voodoo Circle, Bruce Soord, Manimal

Voodoo Circle: Whiskey Fingers (AFM)

The release of a new Voodoo Circle album is always a cause for celebration with me as ever since the bands (more metallic sounding) debut I have loved every album they have produced as I've seen them turn into one of the most accomplished hard rock acts in modern times harking back to the glory days of hard rock's heyday with blues infused licks, huge organs and some smooth as silk vocals. The band is the brainchild of Alex Beyrodt who is a noted guitarist who made his name in Silent Force and Primal Fear playing classic metal with the other founder member bassist Mat Sinner, however Voodoo Circle are not a Primal Fear side project, no they are fully formed guitar slinging, shit kicking, whiskey drinking rock and roll band that men like David Coverdale, Ronnie James Dio and Paul Rogers used to front. These were bands that had singers with huge voices, guitarists that played from their soul and sang of heartbreak, dirty women and having a good time. So what of this fourth album? Well once again it is music in the vein of rock's great heroes.

The album title itself comes from a something that was said about men like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page who were suggested to have whiskey on their fingers (due to lots of gigs in bars) which imbued them with the spirit of the blues and rock. Beyrodt certainly has this he plays with massive amounts of soul on The Rhythm Of My Heart and the superb closer Been Said And Done deftly casting spells with his six strings, equally happy with electrics and acoustics on tracks like Zep-like Watch And Wait (I Got My Eye On You). Beyrodt is matched in his virtuosity by the driving Lord-like organs of Alessandro Del Vecchio who gives the album the bombastic tendencies of Deep Purple. The rhythm section of Sinner and Tim Husung add the driving riffs of Trapped In Paradise and the swaggering of Heartbreaking Woman (which neatly talks of aforementioned heartbreak and dirty women) as well as the more metallic Medicine Man. Once again the vital final part of the bands appeal are the unbelievable vocals of David Readman who channels prime period Coverdale, having the smooth richness to his vocals that allows him to croon on The Day The Walls Came Down but also lets him snarl a little on Straight Shooter while maintaining that allure of rock's greatest pipes. If you love Whitesnake (Moody, Murray era), Deep Purple (MKII & III) and Rainbow you will love Voodoo Circle's Whiskey Fingers it has all the elements of rocks great tradition (production included) while remaining very modern! I love it so will you! 10/10  

Bruce Soord: Bruce Soord (KScope)

Bruce Soord is the singer, guitarist and main songwriter of English progressive/art rockers Pineapple Thief, despite creating 10 albums with Pineapple Thief this is his first solo album. I've always thought Pineapple Thief have a similar sound to compatriots Porcupine Tree drawing from lots of musical influences to create truly progressive music, as you would then assume Soord's solo album shares similarities to Tree mainman Steven Wilson last couple of solo releases. It is a solo album in its truest sense with Soord playing everything, only having Darran Charles from Godsticks adding some additional guitar. The album is beautiful from beginning to end, it is not a heavy album by any stretch, in fact much of this could not be counted as rock, as there is an acoustic seam that runs through every song. It is an alternative, dreamy record coming from a wide spectrum of musical traditions. The opening piano piece of Black Smoke smoulders, a little bit of menace underpins the songs like the funky The Odds, there is a Radiohead style to A Thousand Daggers that also has a lone trumpet adding a sadness to the piece, the Floydian Buried Here is the closest to Wilson's work. Soord really is a musical polymath crafting these fantastic songs deftly and with a real passion, Willow Tree is a dark brooding affair that builds on its solitary guitar into a brass-infused final part, while Born in Delusion is a folky number backed by some throbbing electronica. As I've said before this is dreamy, gorgeous album that is suitably English, it's subtle, nuanced and filled with emotive lyrical themes set to exceptional music. You could say that this album has elements of Radiohead, Coldplay, Anathema, but that is only part of it Soord comes from a tradition of progressive music that KScope has always been known for supporting. A superb album that is expertly written, performed and indeed produced (another one of Soord's talents) if you love his day job then then you will love this album, but any fan of brilliant music will enjoy the eclectic scope of this debut solo record. 9/10

Manimal: Trapped In Shadows (AFM)

Manimal hail from Sweden and they play a heavier style of power metal with gritty rhythms working well with the soaring Tim Ripper-esque vocals from Samuel Nyman. Think Primal Fear or Accept meets Firewind and Manimal's sound will be easy to understand. Their debut was released in 2009 and it has taken 6 years for them to record a follow up, but what a follow up it is, nothing is radically different but everything has been tightened up and given an attitude injection. Irresistible could have come off any of the last few Primal Fear albums with superior shredding from Henrik Stenroos driving the speed demon metal style of the title track (which has the classic metal scream to open) and the explosive Invincible as the rhythm section pounds like a battering ram and show their mettle on March Of Madness, Silent Messiah which has percussive break joined by some striking strings. The chugging power of The Dark has the keys of Martin Mellström strewn throughout it, Mellström adds some creepy mellotron to the brooding Man-Made Devil. They are not all about speed and fury though as they have huge ballad in the shape of The Journey which has the unmistakable vocals of Udo Dirkschneider duetting with Nyman. Trapped In The Shadows is a great album of tough, mature power metal that gets your heartbeat racing and your horns in the air. Manimal have great things ahead of them with two cracking albums under their belts anyone would be stupid to write them off now! 8/10

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

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

Orange Goblin: Bristol, Bierkeller

After the disappointment the previous evening at the O2 Academy watching a below par Fish, order was restored to the galaxy with the mighty Orange Goblin the following evening. Few bands are as consistently excellent in the live arena as Ben Ward and his crew, and my third viewing of the band this year proved to be no exception.

First up was South Wales outfit Lifer (6) who delivered a meaty half hour of sludge driven stoner rock. I’ve seen these guys a couple of times and they work hard. I’m not a huge fan of their particular sound and their songs are pretty routine but they got a decent reception from the faithful who had gathered in front of the stage.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Gentleman’s Pistols (7) for a while now. With their excellent third release Hustler’s Row still fresh in the memory, the band has three long players worth of material to choose from and gave us a decent selection from the new release, At Her Majesty’s Pleasure and their self-titled debut. A real raw rock ‘n’ roll sound got the crowd moving, with Blind Haze bassist Rob Threapleton slotting in comfortably alongside energetic frontman James Atkinson, lead guitarist Bill Steer and drummer Stuart Dobbins. Steer looked relaxed and comfortable in his role, far removed from the death overtures of his usual gig with Carcass, whilst Threapleton didn’t stop grinning. However, Atkinson is the focal point with his energy and gritty voice which fits the band’s sound perfectly. Good stuff.

Bang on time the strains of AC/DC blasted through the PA, the lights dimmed and the crowd shuffled in excited anticipation. The last time I saw Orange Goblin (9) was in a warm field at Bloodstock where the band put in a performance which stole the entire weekend. In a headline setting, they are allowed the opportunity to flex their muscles a little more and we were treated to a range of material from their back catalogue, as you would expect on their 20th anniversary tour. Ben Ward dominates the stage purely due to his stature. The man is an absolute giant but what a nice guy. He constantly cajoles and encourages, generating a solid and enthusiastic response from the mob in front of him. Yet it is the rest of the band that allow Ward to deliver, with guitarist Joe Hoare and bassist Martyn Millard flanking Ward and laying down the riffage in fine style. Chris Turner’s excellent drumming cemented the sound.

So what do you get at a 20th anniversary Orange Goblin gig? Well, basically, some of the best metal tunes around. The Filthy And The Few? Check. A trip back in time with Sauraman’s Wish and the brilliant Magic Carpet? Oh yeah. Throw in a decent selection from the more recent releases, such as The Devil's Whip, The Fog and a stomping Heavy Lies The Crown all got heads banging. Made Of Rats and Some You Win were both excellent and encouraged further movement on the floor including a ridiculous wall of death which had the punters on the periphery (us included) laughing hard. The band closed their main set with Time Traveller Blues to a massive ovation before the three song encore which cemented Goblin’s reputation as one of the best live bands in the UK and indeed the World. A huge Scorpionica, the bluesy Quincy The Pig Boy and finally the brutal Red Tide Rising closed the evening and all around fans were beaming with enjoyment and a brilliant end to the week. There is no better Friday evening than this. At a time when I’m considering my live music choices more carefully than ever, Orange Goblin will always get my cash for their live work. Always brilliant, never disappointing. Fucking ‘A’.

Reviews: Phase Reverse, Moaning Silence, Housebreaking

Phase Reverse: Youniverse III (Rock Of Angels Records)

Greek stoner rockers Phase Reverse are now on their third album and I've been following and indeed supporting them since their stunning debut, the band merge modern stoner rock, with some classic rock elements, giving them a sound akin to Alice In Chains playing Deep Purple with Monster Magnet pitching in now and again. Now their second album showed more experimentation with a huge 15 tracks on it but they have reigned themselves in on this third but with fewer songs comes more quality, they have really stretched themselves musicality creating the most expressive record the band have produced once again this four piece of drummer Alexandros Alexiou, bassist Kostas "Dragon" Kotsikas supplying the low and slow bottom end, the fuzzy riffs of Chief and the wailing vocals of Takis Mark all work seamlessly to let everything sound big, these are four unique instruments that meld perfectly from the opening chords of first song Downfall which starts with some traditional Greek instruments before settling into a groove Down would be proud of, the rampaging opener slides into the more progressive Theory Of Strain which keeps the pace and the groove up with Chief riffing like Zakk Wylde (pinch harmonics included) and Takis crooning like Chris Cornell meets Pepper Keenan.

The album doesn't drop in quality or indeed pace with Milgram taking things to a more modern place with a bit of Alter Bridge dropped in. Phase Reverse know how to write a tune and if they were American they would be huge, however I've always maintained that the Greeks are some of the best in the world at this kind of psychedelic stoner metal, an as Youniverse adds to the Down factor. The latter part of the album has more sonic experimentation with Whistle Pig deep rooted in the Southern rock movement, so too is Keep My Motor Running which is pure ZZ Top. Moiroloi is Chief's little fuzzy traditional Greek guitar moment where he shows his chops are not to be messed with we are led into the doom laden Acheron's Dream which is the kind of song fit for some whiskey and special cigarettes as it dreamily passes you by before The Thrill Of It All wakes things back up with it's heavy drum intro and fist in the air, heads banging hook. WTF is a Motorheadbanger, counteracted by the acoustic Time Reverses Time which half inches Planet Caravan with bouzouki, guitars and bongos all contributing to the trippy Sabbath-like track, before Synesthesia rounds things off with a bang! I will support this band no matter what they do, but for the rest of you, you need to check them out you!! 9/10
  
Moaning Silence: A World Afraid Of Light (Progressive Vision)

Coming from Greece again, this time a lot more Gothic in style with atmospheric, bittersweet acoustic layers colliding with Sabbath-like doom, think Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride or Katatonia but with a twist of having the angelic vocals of Aimilia Papatheochari intertwining with the harrowing, sorrowful vocals of Christos Dounis who really piles on the angst on tracks like the despair filled Just Another Day but can also get aggressive on the epic, cinematic An Elergy For The Crestfallen and the slab of doom that is Stay, which sees them at their most Paradise Lost-like. He also supplies the layered guitars that can lace the songs with acoustics and big robust riffage, the beat is kept by Vangelis X who drums with all his might on the funeral marches that are contained within this release such as opener Solitude which is a slow, steady trudge towards misery. Obviously for any band that need to create a dismal, gloomy atmosphere bass and keys are all important and luckily Christos has managed to acquire the skills of keyboard extraordinaire Bob Katsionis who provides the gloomy keys, orchestrations, throbbing bassline, additional riffs and the production. With some heavyweight lyrical content and indeed some blistering rhythms, see the intro Black Skies, A World Afraid Of Light is happy in the shade it creates, it's a love letter to the miserable and the disheartened with melancholic keys and acoustics leading On Fragile Wings which leads into the once again piano driven Parissiene Moonlight which is an Anathema track ably sung by Aimilia which turns it into a stirring classical piece. The album refuses to cheer up on The Last Days Of December and the Gothic waltz of As If It Was Yesterday, so don't listen to it if you are in good mood, however for those that crave the beauty of despair will take this to their blackened hearts. 7/10    

Housebreaking: Against All Odds (Bakerteam)

Let it not be said that we are not metropolitan here at the Musipedia as we have stayed in Greece long enough so now me go across the the Mediterranean sea to Italy for some very brutal bottom heavy metal with a lot of aggression involved. Housebreaking punish you from the first note as the play fast and heavy with a thunderous groovy bottom end, some impressive shredding and a throat scarring roar, this is Lamb of God style metal with beatdowns galore and a huge amount of heavyweight riffage, there are also some industrial elements making the band have a Fear Factory style relentless barrage and the singers Till Linndeman like voice. However for all of the good stuff on this record there is one massive disappointment and that is that the album is very repetitive, all the songs seem to blur into one another without much differentiation, at 39 minutes the album is not long but it does tend to drag in places meaning that is feels longer. The album deals with some very tough adult themes which means it can be a little overwhelming but the blandness of the metallic music underneath just makes it all a bit of slog. Housebreaking have all the prerequisites to be very good but this album just lacks a certain something which is a shame. 5/10

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

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

Fish: O2 Academy Bristol

Opening for an established artist is never easy and when the artist is someone as well revered as former Marillion frontman Fish, who attracts some of the most passionate and ‘special’ audiences, the challenge is a large one. French progressive rock outfit Lazuli (9) showed absolutely no fear and provided the highlight of the evening with 45 minutes of something a little different. Their European and Eastern influenced music proved to be a huge hit with the overly packed Academy crowd. A variety of instruments including a French horn, leode (a kind of electronic cello with infra-red strings - Tech Ed) as well as a vibraphone were put to good use. Their mix of progressive rock and electro-pop combined with a humble approach generated a massive reaction from the crowd. Singing entirely in their native tongue, the band closed their impressive set with all five members of the band playing the vibraphone, including a snippet of Marillion favourite Incommunicado. Excellent stuff and one of the finds of the year.

In the 1980s Marillion were the band that got me into progressive rock more than anyone else. Prog was considered the lumbering dinosaur a relic of a bygone age. I was obviously aware of Yes, Floyd, Genesis and the leanings of Rush, but Marillion were new. To say fresh is probably pushing it but to a young lad eagerly lapping up anything with a rock coating, they were exhilarating. From their angst ridden social commentary of debut Script For A Jesters Tear through to the bitter musings of the alcohol soaked Clutching At Straws, I absorbed everything they released. Opportunities to catch them live were snapped up with the live arena the natural home for the wordsmith Fish, whose mere presence was both intimidating and captivating. In 1985 the band release their defining work, Misplaced Childhood. Full of reflection and bitter memories, with a cutting social commentary as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. Childhood also spawned two hit singles, which saw uncomfortable performances on Top of the Pops.

Last year my good lady and I managed to catch some of Fish's set at a rammed Globe. In fact it was a little too busy and having had our arrival delayed due to work commitments, we also left a little early. So when the big man announced a string of UK tour dates which included the performance of Misplaced Childhood in full, we snapped up tickets for the O2 in Academy in Bristol, along with 1600 others. Despite awful traffic we were fortunate to obtain a decent view in a bulging venue. Many others were not as fortunate and this rat hole meant several punters spent the evening listening but not able to see anything. Plaudits for the evening go to stand in keyboard player Tony Turrell, who stepped in at the last minute when the band’s usual keyboard player John Banks broke his arm. You’d never have known. Bravo Tony!

Fish (6) arrived on stage with his excellent band, a collection of stars from many bands in the prog circuit, most noticeably Gavin Griffiths from Mostly Autumn on the drums. A hero’s welcome greeted the Scot, who opened with Pipeline. From the off, it was difficult to hear his voice but I put it down to the acoustics and the mix. After the title track from his last release, the excellent Feast Of Consequences came the harrowing Family Business from his first solo release Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors. By then I was more convinced that it wasn't the mix but Fish's voice that was the problem, as he appeared to have no power to hit the high notes whatsoever. It was time for Fish to do what he does best; talk. A short speech which referred to the recent terrorist atrocities across the world. For a moment, I was extremely concerned at the direction of his rant, but he steered his commentary to the path that I expected it would take; yes folks, refugees are refugees because they are fleeing from bombing. Phew! This speech led nicely into The Perception Of Johnny Punter from Sunsets On Empire, from 1996 and a reflection of his time in Bosnia at the height of the Balkan War.

Fish then introduced the Misplaced Childhood suite; cue Marillion karaoke. For the next 50 minutes the entire album was performed, supported by an audience that knew every word. Yep, Fish might not have managed all the words but the crowd carried every part, including the tone deaf guy behind us who bellowed throughout. Clearly enjoying his annual night out from his bedroom. As Childhood progressed, so my memories evaporated. Kayleigh and Lavender were sung with the expected fervour and the atmosphere built along with the music. An emotional Heart Of Lothian turned into a football chant with Fish allowed to ease the chords and let the audience take over. However, by the time we reached Blind Curve I was despairing, as his voice had all but gone for any of the numerous high parts (I’ll state again that it could have been the mix – but we saw Vintage Trouble from the same vantage point and heard every word Ty Taylor sang). As the heart wrenching Childhood’s End reached its climax, I was already planning my exit strategy, such was my disappointment. Mrs H and Matt were also sufficiently unimpressed and readily agreed to skip Market Square Heroes and The Company. As we headed out of the venue it was noticeable that many others were also leaving although if it was for the same reasons as us I can’t say.

So there you have it. Marillion with Fish was a soundtrack of my youth. Sometimes sleeping dogs should be left to lie. For Fish, I am really pleased that his tour has sold out every date. All of those Marillion fans from the 1980s have re-emerged for a night of nostalgia. I truly hope that the mix was the reason for those poor vocals but for me, my memories have been pretty trampled upon and Fish’s 2017 farewell tour will be missing three punters

Monday, 7 December 2015

Another Point Of View: Judas Priest (Live Review By Paul)

Judas Priest: Wolverhampton Civic Hall

Rock will never die is an oft quoted phrase. In recent days I've seen a band in their late 60’s, the Scorpions produce one of the slickest displays I've ever seen. I unfortunately missed one of the gigs of the year from a younger band (Clutch in Bristol) due to fatigue and illness, but was sufficiently recovered to travel with the family to Wolverhampton Civic Hall to catch two more of the old guard, Michael Schenker and his Temple of Rock and one of the UK’s definitive heavy metal bands, the British Steel of Judas Priest.

Wolverhampton on a school night is always a difficult gig to make and with doors at 7:00pm for a 7:45pm start we were up against it. The usual heavy City centre traffic meant that at 5:45pm we were not even hitting the M4 but a combination of luck and reduced traffic for the rest of the trip meant we arrived in the Black Country with a chance of catching Mr Schenker and crew. Unfortunately, as we arrived at the Civic Hall, a combination of limited car parking options and increased security meant that although we heard the strains of Doctor Doctor as we drove slowly past the entrance, we didn't actually make it into the very dated Civic Hall until about 8:10pm. The main auditorium is a rectangular concert hall with sweeping balconies running around the top. A pretty full crowd were watching Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock (7) in full swing as we entered with Lord Of The Lost And Lonely from the band’s latest release. With a mere six songs in their set, watching Metal Mickey and co. was always going to be just an aperitif. I've seen Schenker many times over the years, most recently at Steelhouse (2013) and Hard Rock Hell last year where the band was on fire as they turned in stunning headline sets. Anyway, a rendition of Rock You Like A Hurricane (second version in five days – both Schenker’s too!) got the crowd singing along before the extended version of UFO’s classic Rock Bottom, complete with that solo which was worth the admission price alone. I'm unashamed to say that I would rank Michael Schenker in my top three favourite guitarists of all time (Alex Lifeson and Randy Rhoads are the other two) and his control, emotion and feeling is just brilliant. A decent response from the crowd as the band departed and just a bit of disappointment that the band are not playing anywhere near home on their January tour.

The temperature increased as the floor became a little more crowded and the curtain with the grim industrial image of the Midlands in the 1970s, complete with the legend “Welcome to the home of British Steel” covered the stage. The timeless War Pigs wailed out of the PA system, ensuring a mass sing-along as you’d expect in this part of the world. Lights dimmed, Battle Cry rang out, curtain dropped and the metal gods hit the stage with the opener from Redeemer Of Souls, the awesome Dragonaut. It’s always struck me that Judas Priest (9) has never received the recognition they deserve. Over forty years in the business, more classic tracks that you could ever need, and an ethos which follows one path – British Heavy Metal. Why shite like Five Finger Death Punch can sell out Wembley Arena whilst the Priest is delivering the goods in cramped into smaller auditoriums is a mystery to me.

Stalking the stage in a variety of leather regalia, lead singer Rob Halford, the true metal god who easily demonstrated why he is such a fucking legend. As Metal Gods moved into a rare outing for Desert Plains (From Point Of Entry) Halford’s voice hit every note and his screams are as piercing and true as they were in the late 1970s. Camp as fuck, the man deserves the respect he receives and just his presence on the stage was incredible. He’s one metal star I’d enjoy having a beer with. On either side of the stage, the twin guitar work of Glenn Tipton (incredibly 68 years old) and youngster but now fully established band member Richie Faulkner shredded, sliced and general ripped things up. A well-paced Victim Of Changes was immense, before another newie Halls Of Valhalla led to another rarity, The Rage from British Steel. Meanwhile, the band had also invested in an excellent light show and some more interesting backdrops, with screens playing various themed videos which matched the track and often provided the album cover from which the song was taken.

They say in football that a good referee is one that you don’t see on the pitch. Whilst Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis are clearly visible, most of the attention when watching Priest is focused on the other band members and you tend to miss the real powerhouse of the band, Hill stage left pounding away on his bass whilst Travis just makes drumming look so easy.

The fast and furious pace of Turbo Lover encouraged all to join in, even yours truly who really struggles to like the song before Redeemer Of Souls led to a chillingly beautiful Beyond The Realms Of Death. It was magnificent and paved the run in perfectly. A blistering Screaming For Vengeance was followed by the staple Breaking The Law before the arrival of the bike, and Halford donning the full Blue Oyster Bar outfit, leather cap and crop included as the main set ended with Hell Bent For Leather. Encore number one: The Hellion straight into Electric Eye. There is no better heavy metal moment than this live. Halford then turned ring master with a vocal challenge to the crowd before leading into an extended You've Got Another Thing Coming, complete with Faulkner guitar solo. Inevitably the final two tracks were straight from the script, Travis’ pounding the intro to a vicious Painkiller before the band brought an excellent performance to a close with Living After Midnight and a set that would absolutely destroy the Sunday night at BOA. (No such luck with Slayer being announced in the interim)

So, rock will never die? Maybe not, but you do wonder what happens when such legends as Priest and Sabbath finally hang up their leathers. As the time for that inevitably draws closer, the pups of metal really need to step up to the plate. At present, the dinosaurs still totally rule the earth.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

A View From The Back Of The Room: Crippled Black Phoenix

Crippled Black Phoenix, The Fleece, Bristol

It's been a while since I've seen Crippled Black Phoenix, the last time was in Athens Greece last year. So to finally see the band in the UK was a real treat. However the gig clashed with the much more high profile Clutch show in the 02 Academy. I purchased a ticket for both and I'm glad I did as my Clutch ticket ended up going to a more deserving person so it was to the Fleece and a night with emotive progressive music of CBP.

I was late to the party but ultimately so were the bands so I walked in at the end of the second support bands set, they were good a modern mix of Deftones and crunching hardcore, though their name escapes me. Still they received a warm response from the reasonable crowd gathered in one of Bristol's oldest and best venues. So we waited and finally the 'headline' band came to the stage, decked in all black like an underground cell of a resistance movement. I was pleased to see their ranks have yet again become more solid since last time with band leader/guitarist Justin Greaves, maintaining Daniel Änghede (vocals, guitar) Mark Furnevall (keys/synths) Daisy Chapman (keys/piano) Ben Wilsker (drums) as well as the returning Niall Hone (bass) who was absent at the Greek show, as well as finding a permanent lead guitarist in the shape of Jonas Stålhammar. So with a now stable line up the band quickly began their set of 'endtime ballads' with the rumbling rallying cry of Rise Up And Fight! (which to these ears still sound like One Of These Days) From here on in the bands 'wall of sound' style of play took your breath away as the three guitars made a cacophony of noise underpinned by the slabs of rhythmic discord from Wilsker and Hone, while the sound was fleshed out by Chapman and Furnevall. The thumping Black Light Generator came next and got heads moving with Daniel Änghede singing his heart out with his impassioned vocals becoming part of the instrumentation. The theme of rebellion continued on Long Live Independence which is a lighter song with lots of layered synths, all the band supplied the song with vocals making for an apocalyptic choir and Furnevall giving the song some robotic, unfeeling vocoder. The first set piece was The Brain/Ponzan which was written for the bands performance in Poznan Poland, the song is a slow builder with Daisy Chapman adding her beautiful fragile vocals to the first part before it builds and builds into a sweeping ballad with a massive metallic second act that shows off CBP's affiliation to large instrumental sections.

With the set now in full swing Justin welcomed Belinda Kordic to the stage saying she was going to help out with vocals on some of the songs, Kordic and Greaves are in another band called Se Delan together so they have history in writing and performing. She added her haunting vocals the the both parts of their amazing two part song No! which once again has a slow beginning and huge cavernous rallying ending that merged Korvic, Änghede and Chapman's vocals perfectly with the rest of the band defiantly chanting the chorus. Korvic stuck around for the undulating ballad Human Nature Dictates The Downfall Of Humans and the Pink Floyd cover Childhoods End (from Obscured By Clouds) which appears on the CBP/Se Delan split on which they do this song and Echoes (all of it). As Kordic took her leave Greaves introduced the monstrous title track to their new EP New Dark Age. It is a stunner very Floydian in itself and spirals into yet another huge crescendo that knocks you out with it's direct impact. With the epic section out of the way the band moved into the metallic Maniac Beast which sped things up, while the funky percussive Born In A Hurricane sees Daniel take the bass and Justin contribute vocals. The band went back to some fan favourites on tracks from I, Vigilante in the shape of the still so relevant doom laden Troublemaker before sewing the seeds of rebellion on the piano driven Fantastic Justice. Before going really old school on 444 which led into the superb, We Forgotten Who We Are and the climactic Burnt Reynolds where in the Athenian tradition I woah'ed my lungs out for the songs entirety. With that final chord it was over and the cathartic nature of CBP washed over the crowd who rapturously applauded as the band made their exit. Crippled Black Phoenix are always a live must see and tonight was no exception, they crafted their set to peak and trough in all the right places and even though the band are still not as recognised as they should be there was a hardcore fan base that will always support the band, happily I count myself in that number and for me this Bristol (not a home town) show was the band at their best and one that showed more should have been there to see it. 9/10  

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Reviews: Mirror, Silent Knight, Running Death

Mirror: Mirror (Metal Blade)

Retro-loving occult rock n roll from Cyprus via UK and USA, Mirror's self titled debut is entrenched deeply in the mid to late 70's style of heavy rock music full of huge organs, psychedelic guitar riffing, Ozzy-like vocals and a heaving heap of occult imagery. With nods to Uriah Heep, Blue Oyster Cult, Sabbath, Pentagram and more recently they can be seen as having a similar style to Ghost, Year Of The Goat, Kadavar, so if you are a fan of these bands then Mirror will bewitch you with their myth and magic occult metal. Their opening gambit of the title track will draw you in with it's dual guitar work from Matt Olivo and Stamos K and a chorus that sees Jaime Gomez Arellano (Electric Wizard) adding some killer drum fills, with tracks about ghosts, magik (sic), the occult, along with heroes Mirror's debut is top draw and it seems to improve as it progresses, frontman Jimmy's unique operatic tenor vocals and European delivery adds to the bands intrigue and the retro production means that it has the feel of 70's analogue recording. Curse Of The Gypsy is proto NWOBHM with it's rumbling bassline from Tas Danazoglou making the song have more than a whiff of UFO about it especially with it's progressive middle section and guitar duel that takes it into Thin Lizzy and even Maiden territory something that creeps up again on Galleon. The album really takes off with the classically influenced (Diamond Head) doom laden, organ heavy, Year Of The Red Moon that climaxes into the intro of Heavy King meaning that it sounds like one glorious track with impressive playing throughout. Mirror are a great retro style band with some stunning music to their name Madness And Magik once again lifts the bar high with it's voodoo groove, Cloak Of A Thousand Secrets is a spacey tripfest and the final track Elysian worships at the altar of Sabbath with a bubbling organ below it and then ends with the melodic strains of a single guitar. Mirror's debut is a masterclass in occult loving retro rock with from a band with a international membership and the chops to go far. 9/10  

Silent Knight: Conquer & Command (Self Released)

Antipodean metal has really come out of it's shell in the last 10 years, long gone are the assumptions that the country is just boogie pub rock. Bands such as Parkway Drive have shown that Australia is now on the global map in terms of metal music, which is astounding for a country with almost draconian Parental Advisory laws, meaning that a lot of the bands that are in the charts have to be heavily censored. Still in spite or perhaps because of this they even seem to be embracing the more extreme parts of metal with black metal, death metal all getting more media attention. Added to this is the glut of power metal bands that seem to be coming thick and fast, as they are finally making waves on the other side of the water especially in Power metal's European heartland. Silent Knight are strictly a power metal band, if the band name and album title didn't tell you that then an album cover that features a bloody big dragon on it will. Now power metal has always been in Australia with Black Majesty being one of the most seminal bands in the scene and one of the few to breakout of the country, but Silent Knight look to change that by releasing an album (their second) that looks to win over those outside of their native country. Happily Silent Knight have the chops to do this as they play straightforward, no nonsense power metal with speedy guitars, blastbeat drumming, galloping rhythms and shrieking vocals, no keyboards here folks this is guitar driven fist pumping power of Hammerfall, Helloween and their ilk. The songs are filled with battle imagery with Conquer & Command, The Strike Of The Sword and One By One all having the bare chested bravado of Manowar, the rest of the tracks concentrate on myth, fantasy and metal itself with closer Power Metal Supreme being exactly that before a muscular cover of The Final Countdown gives the song a new lease of life and much like their previous cover of Keeper Of The Seven Keys, lends itself to their style. A great lesson in power metal by these Aussies, hold your broadsword high and ride into battle. 8/10    

Running Death: Overdrive (Punishment 18)

Running Death have finally got around to releasing their debut album and they have improved tenfold since their last EP, they have swapped some of their line up and have almost perfected their 80's style technical thrash metal that focusses on the insane guitar playing of Simon Bihlmayer who styles himself as a modern day Dave Mustaine supplying the record with scarred gruff vocals and guitar virtuosity that MegaDave has always delivered in droves. This second album is a major step up terms of skill, song writing and style, there are more classical guitar breaks, Deludium is an example, more stunning instrumental passages and really just an elevation in the bands take on Teutonic thrash assault. Yes the Kreator and Slayer influences are still there see Hell On Earth and the ridiculously speedy Psycho which is the showcase for Max Bauer's bass and Jakob Weikmann drumming, however as much as the Mille and Kerry have an influence, Remote Controlled is prime period thrash, while Close Minded has the ominous intro of King, Araya and co. It's the touch of Megadeth looms large on Reduced, Mercenary and the title track, with precise speed assault blowing the cobwebs away. Overdrive is a cracking debut from these young Germans get it on your stereo and pit your brains out!! 8/10 



Tuesday, 1 December 2015

A View From the Back Of The Room: Slayer & Anthrax

Slayer, Anthrax, Kvelertak Newport Centre

The Newport Centre is always a great place for a gig something about the sports hall of a leisure centre (swimming pool) lends itself to both the sound and the feel of the gig, this is gigging in the old school style, bands playing where and when they could rather than custom built venues for entertainment. In the past I've seen Motorhead, Machine Head, Alice In Chains and Robert Plant in the venue, with my right hand man Mr H seeing a shed load more in his time. He and indeed his super-Slayer loving son Ant were both notable absences from this gig (they were in Lille with Mr Perry watching The Scorps) however the rest of our crew (and I mean nearly bleeding all of us, definitely a bigger boat moment) piled into The 'Port for a pre-gig drink and even though some of our number nearly ended up on the wrong side of the tracks, we all finally headed towards the venue, where we were greeted by a monumental queue for entry. Now this wasn't a normal queue (although the venue does seem to have a penchant for them) no this was all part of the heightened security of the venue due to the attacks in Paris the previous weekend. Like good metal soldiers we sucked it up and waited in line mentally and physically preparing ourselves for the onslaught that we were about to experience.

Unfortunately we got into the venue just as openers Kvelertak were wrapping up so it would be unfair to give them a review based on the three songs I saw but the limited crowd that were inside were lapping up the Norwegian metal attack, think a punkier Mastodon and you wouldn't be far off. I hope to see the band again in the future to witness the show a lot of people praise. Now we were up in the back of the arena on the fixed seating, but this does tend to be the best vantage point, it also means that you can see the venue fill and fill it did, this was the first night of the tour and also the smallest arena on it meaning that it filled rapidly making movement hard. Still we persisted to the bar during break between songs, only to be held up as Scott Ian needed to relieve himself in the punters toilets, so obviously the normies like you and me couldn't enter the area. As he finished and headed to the stage we took our seats ready for my eleventh encounter with the New York thrash mob.

They can be a little hit and miss sometimes but this time Anthrax (9) were firing on all cylinders the stage dressing was simple just two small flags with the Anthrax star logo on them and as AC/DC blared over the P.A the band took to the stage, Charlie Benante counted in and he, Frank Bello, Jon Donais all followed riff machine Scott Ian into their evergreen opener Caught In A Mosh, the unmistakeable riff flew like a jet and Joey Belladonna came to stage to spit the lyrics with the rapid fire delivery the song has always had before crooning in the choruses, the huddled masses shouting back every word. With the mosh truly started what came next was a greatest hits set with Anthrax doing what they do best, they seemed to be really loving the stage as they fired off Got The Time and Madhouse in quick succession, a break an explanation and then killer new cut Evil Twin was aired and it's classic Anthrax, after Evil Twin they remained in the present day with the Fight 'Em Till You Can't which is now a cornerstone of their set. Both these songs were lapped up by the crowd as Anthrax went back to the old school for their cover of Antisocial and then March Of The S.O.D from Ian's other project Stormtroopers Of Death, this was a nice suprise and the set once again slowed as hymn came out of the P.A and the backdrop changed to Dimebag and Dio, In The End was a tribute the bands fallen brothers and was a little emotional (maybe it was the chlorine in the air) but this emotion was quickly stomped away by the Newport Centre exploding into a War Dance for Indians (once again one of the nutters down the front was bedecked in a Native American head-dress) and the set ender Among The Living (no I Am The Law which was a surprise) but Anthrax really showed their skill to get a crowd going. Scott Ian is their natural leader while Bello and Donais stalked the stage with the walking rhythm and searing leads respectively, as Ian riffed like a bastard. Benante is one of the most underrated drummers in the scene but if you see Anthrax live keep an eye on him as he's excellent behind the kit and coming to Belladonna he was in fine voice and clearly loving every minute of the show. Anthrax have been at this as long as tonight's headliners and it showed a perfect start to the main course, Anthrax are no mere appetiser.

So yet another change over (and bar run for our non driving number) and the Slayer (9) curtain went up to hide what was behind. A tantalising wait was finally over as the intro tape Delusions Of Saviour played and the Slayer logo was emblazoned on the curtain and with a snare drum snap shroud came down to reveal the Repentless album cover background and the albums explosive title track kicking things off in true Slayer style. Kerry King and Gary Holt traded licks like the two old-hands they are while Araya attacked his bass with a quiet determination and Paul Bostaph played with fury not seen in the band for while. Slayer have always had one schtick and because of this they know how to pace a set and they went straight into Postmortem, the still great Hate Worldwide, with Disciple and God Send Death coming off the Bostaph backed God Hates Us All. A nice airing for these tracks ramped up the ferocity of the evening perfectly, then the thrash legends stopped, the background became drenched in black light giving an eerie feel. Araya took to the mic to ask the audience a question, this was "Are You Ready?" which he said actually meant are you prepared? The crowd said they were, they knew what was coming and with shriek War Ensemble battered the crowd again, a chance to get a collective breath back with the slower, doom laden When The Stillness Comes from the most recent album but after this brief slowdown Vices stepped things up a little building the power and speed back up ready for the absolute carnage of Mandatory Suicide, Chemical Warfare, Die By The Sword and Black Magic. Maybe it's here I should talk about the band Kerry King and Tom Araya are still the stoic leaders of this group liberally applying their seal all over the songs, the ghost of Jeff Hanneman still looms large with the songs still resonating today.

Yet with all this history Bostaph and Holt add their own touches to the sets with Holt especially adding his own flourishes to the solos, the stage set too was the best I've seen from the band with the moving inverted crosses and lighting effects adding a sense of drama to proceedings. With Implode continuing the assault, it was up to Seasons Of The Abyss to bring the creeping evil once again, then a quick run through of Hell Awaits, Dead Skin Mask, World Painted Blood wrapped things up before the final trifecta of their classic songs started with South Of Heaven which segued into Raining Blood slickly upping the ante with the finale of Angel Of Death. Sweating, breathless and full of adrenaline is the normal way to end any Slayer gig, hell even in the seats we felt most of these, for the mass of humanity on the floor it was like a warzone but then every good Slayer gig is. This was the most focussed I've seen the band and the gig was all the better due to the closeness of the venue and the ease of the organisation (in direct contrast to the nightmare Paul and Ant had to go through seeing them in Birmingham) With what seems like a new focus Slayer have risen from their post Hanneman period with a relit fire, lets hope that this will extend to their freshly announced headline set at Bloodstock 2016. However on this night there wasn't much between the two thrash legends and that made the show one not to miss!