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