David Bowie: Blackstar (RCA)
*DISCLAIMER: This review has a certain new poignancy to it now after the events of the 11/01/16 with the untimely passing of David Bowie. Now the listening sessions took place before his death shortly after the albums release on Mr Bowie's birthday. All the opinions formed are based solely on the records merits, any sentiment has been added after the fact.*
David Bowie has always been one of musics great chameleons, be it his look, style, sound, he seems to be able to adapt and indeed improve any genre he cares to dip into, his twenty fifth album The Next Day was released out of the blue in March 2013 and was somewhat of an homage to his successful and creative Berlin years. The album saw Bowie team up once again with Tony Visconti and it took the world by storm, every Bowie album is seen as an event so when Blackstar was dropped on 8th January 2016 it shook up the music scene coming without warning and supplying more Bowie quirkiness and musical genius. Once again Blackstar has Visconti producing along with Bowie, as well as a great team of musicians aiding him to create this avant-guard, jazz like album, the key addition to the band is Donny McCaslin whose saxophone, woodwind and flutes are the real keys to this album. The album opens with the then title track which features a repeating drum machine underneath the dreamy keys and Bowie's otherworldly vocals before the orchestrations stir in the background and the sax kicks in. So far so Bowie with madness meeting majesty on an understated slow burn of an opener, that owes as much to trip-hop as it does to jazz. The electronic discord makes way for plucking strings which sees Bowie croon on the smooth middle section, before the darkness creeps back in.
With a seven minute opener we go back to the percussive driven sheen of Tis A Pity She Was A Whore which once again relies upon the brass and the drums to move it into a cacophony as Bowie laces it with brief interludes of erudite verbal passages adding to the shimmying jazz shuffle "Man she punched me like a dude" is a great way to start a song in anyone book. With two tracks gone and there is no sign of any kind of cohesiveness on the album which spans several genres and sounds throughout, all taken in the long tall stride of the master of musical magic. Lazarus is a more guitar driven affair that slowly slinks along as Bowie talks of death and rebirth backed by some great synths and yes more sax it is one of the best tracks on the album in it's complexity masking as simplicity, something that Mr Bowie has always revelled in (In light of current events this is clearly a dying man's parting gift). The middle part of the album has much more guitars with the frantic Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) and the bass heavy creep of Girl Loves Me both take the rock back a bit while remaining delightfully weird in a Peter Gabriel like way. With twenty five albums under his belt some could ask what more could Bowie do musically? Well on Blackstar he has once again re jigged his sound meaning that it is quirky, odd, beguiling and most importantly pure Bowie magic. 9/10
A fitting tribute to the legacy of such an important part of British Music history
Anthrax: For All Kings (Nuclear Blast)
The eleventh album by Anthrax is one that shows the band revitalized, it is the first since the departure of long time lead guitarist Rob Caggiano (although he himself only played on two Anthrax albums in eight years) and on that front alone former Shadows Fall man John Donais has really taken up the baton in the shredder role. This album is guitar heavy, more so than ever before, with each song strewn with solos that rip, tear and bite at the leash as Donais manically slides up and down the fretboard. These guitar histrionics have added positively to the record as it has matured Anthrax's sound away from the thrash blueprint they have always been known for, yes the stomp is still there on tracks like Breathing Lightning but there is more modernity on the songs coming from the NWOAHM style of bands like Shadows Fall with tracks like Monster At The End and the brutal Suzerain having a bit more aggression to them. There is also some progression on the 7 minute opener You Gotta Believe and the superb Blood Eagle Wings which is big powerful fist pumping metal track. The thrash is still there but also there is wide stroke of classic metal on the title track on which frontman Joey Belladonna does his best Dio impression. Where as Worship Music saw the band trying to break away from their past by embracing that which came before it and looking forward to the future. I've mentioned Donais a lot (he really is very good) but he can only shine because of Scott Ian's trademark effortless riffs, bolstered by Frank Bello's furious bass playing and Charlie Benate's superb drumming see first single Evil Twin (which is about the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris) which has Benate playing up a storm. Anthrax have really upped their game on For All Kings after a what has been a great 'live' period for the band finally their maturity has been reflected in their recorded output. 8/10
Fleshgod Apocalypse: King (Nuclear Blast)
Speaking of advancement it's time for the Italian masters of cinematic orchestral metal to once again arrive and blow away any previous effort with their latest album King. My initial thought upon my first listen was and I quote "Holy Fucking Shit!!" As Marche Royale builds with it's string led and choral vocals into the explosive opener In Aeternum which sees them on familiar territory, all incredible classical backing the insane drums of Francesco Paoli (who also plays guitar and supplies backing vocals) driving the wall-of-sound style of the band. The guitars of Cristiano Trionfera are there to riff furiously and supply the searing solos, underpinned by the piano and synths of Francesco Ferrini who adds a larger scope to the bands' sound than ever before, even on the pounding heaviness of Healing Through War he jars the listener with the orchestrations (aided by Trionfera) fleshing out (no pun intended) the songs giving Fleshgod their unique sound.
This like the previous record, is once again a concept album, built around the rise and fall of monarchy (I think), the vocal interplay between Tommaso Riccardi (harsh), bassist Paolo Rossi (clean) and the operatic vocals of guest soprano Veronica Bordacchini is perfect when used in unison on tracks such as the dramatic performance piece Cold As Perfection. Bordacchini is also brilliant on her own on Paramour which is straight opera that lingers momentarily before being washed away with the light speed assault of And The Vulture Beholds. The band are all top flight musicians playing every track with the right level of intensity and technical ability, Fleshgod Apocalypse have always been a band in their own league and on this record they have once again proved their immense talent and ability adding yet more layers to their sound with every release they have improved themselves fleshing out their sound, Labyrinth was damn near perfect but this release is coming close to being their magnum opus. Incredible roll on seeing them live in March!! 9/10