2013 saw the emergence of one of the best British bands in absolutely ages; stunning live shows over the next two years cemented this reputation and the band’s self-titled debut contained a slab of bluesy rock of the highest quality. Three years on and the sophomore release by The Temperance Movement moves the band up a notch and surely even higher acclaim. If I had to pick five words to use within the description of this album they would be: Soulful; swagger; confident; development and polished. Following such an excellent debut release was always going to be difficult and on first listening much of White Bear is not as instantaneous as TTM. However, get into the second and third listen and you begin to pick up the areas of improvement; the guitar work of Paul Sayer and (now ex) Luke Potashnick soars and dives all around you, intricate and delicate yet aggressive and gritty too. The bass of Nick Fyffe is superb, underpinning the frantic yet controlled drumming of Damon Wilson; a fine example shown in A Pleasant Peace I Feel. The opening stomp of Three Bullets and the driving Modern Massacre show the band’s steel whilst allowing the cigarette drawl of frontman Phil Campbell to really come to the fore.
If you've seen this band live (and I've been fortunate to several times) you’ll know that Campbell is the beating heart of TTM. His energetic and dynamic delivery has moved up a level. Both Battle Lines and the title track have shades of last year’s US tour mates Blackberry Smoke, all swagger and pomp with some excellent bluesy guitar lines, although White Bear also provides opportunity for Campbell to demonstrate his softer side with some delicate vocals contrasting with his more usual rasp. Established live favourite Oh Lorraine has received substantial air time already and is a fine single, classic rock music for radio and as infectious as a dose of scabies on a Newport bus. Time to explain one of my five words; confident. Throughout White Bear there is an air of confidence which has been hewn from hard work, both in the studio but mainly on the road where these guys have really developed and honed their craft. Their sound has added an extra layer, subtle and often almost unnoticed, skillfully created to enhance TTM’s sound. Credit to Sam Miller who produced the album along with the band. White Bear isn't a long album, 35 minutes and ten tracks but there is no filler on this release.
The influences remain; The Stones, The Faces, The Black Crows and Zeppelin to name but four but all pretty damn fine. Listen to Magnify, nothing new but damn fine rock ‘n’ roll. Penultimate track, The Sun And The Moon Roll Around is a blues soaked sojourn, whilst I Hope I'm Not Losing My Mind slows the pace and closes the album perfectly. Back in 2014, after I’d seen the band for a second time at The Empire in Shepherd’s Bush, I predicted this band would be immense. I said it again later that year after a stunning show at the O2 in Bristol and I repeat it now. This band are incredible. One of the albums of 2016 – without a doubt. Hear it, see them, enjoy. 10/10
Primal Fear: Rulebreaker (Frontiers)
Come one, come all as we once again worship at the altar of The Metal Gods Judas Priest with their Germanic counterparts! Yes I'm talking about Primal Fear and they are back with a new album and a three guitarist set up welcoming founding member Tom Naumann back to the band to compliment the axe wizardry of Alex Beyrodt and Magnus Karlsson, this isn't the only change in the line up as they have brought in Francesco Jovino in behind the skins who applies his rumbling backbeat throughout. Rulebreaker has all the prerequisites of Primal Fear's sound, the supersonic speed metal with opener Angels Of Mercy and Constant Heart sounding like they could have come off Priest's Painkiller, as an antidote to the speed is the chunky grinding heavy metal of The End Is Near which shows off Ralf Scheepers' amazing vocal range. After all these years he doesn't seem to have lost a single octave still having the same snarling mid-range and ear piercing highs of Rob Halford in his glory days. There is so much Priest worship on this record it could be the follow up to Redeemer Of Souls but this is not a bad thing as Primal Fear have never shied away from sounding like the metal legends, Bullets And Tears sounds a lot like Breaking The Law with the title track jumping straight off Killing Machine they do the impression so well that they have really made the sound their own.
However the band still have the bouncy power metal blueprint that bassist Mat Sinner started all those years ago with In Metal We Trust the spiritual successor to Metal Is Forever. Now Primal Fear have never been afraid to take risks 16.6 had more of a progressive vibe and on Rulebreaker the band have gone all Blind Guardian with the albums' symphonic (added by Karlsson's keys) 10 minute plus centrepiece We Walk Without Fear which really displays the incredible musical dexterity of a band many would write off, this can also be witnessed on the ballad The Sky Is Burning which is a stirring track that emotes real passion. With a three part guitar harmonies adding a new dimension to the bands now trademark metal assault Rulebreaker is the latest in a long line of Primal Fear albums, their eleventh in fact, that just grabs you from track one and doesn't let you go until you are pumping your leather clad fist in the air. Another superb release by the German metal maniacs. 8/10
Skunk Anansie: Anarchytecture (100% Records) [Review By Paul]
Anarchytecture is the seventh release from Skunk Anansie, a formidable part of the 1990s Britrock movement, and the third since the band reformed in 2009. This release follows on from the rather average Black Traffic in 2012 but in every other sense this is a cracker of an album. Skunk Anansie are not metal, that’s for certain. However, their musical combination mixes reggae, electronica, punk and even the odd bit of hip hop whilst also laced with a vicious element of rock. This release has the aggression of Ace’s fine guitar work which melds with bass and drums of Cass and Mark Richardson respectively. Victim and Beauty Is Your Curse for example, contain a driving tempo which propels the songs along. Lead vocalist Skin needs no introduction, being one of the most inspiring and captivating female vocalists in rock. Death To The Lovers, a tender electronic tune is one example which showcases the beauty in Skin’s voice.
The main attraction of this band has always been the variation in their styles, crossing boundaries and genres, following their own style. The electropop drive of In The Back Room contrasting with the industrial-tinged Bullets, complete with anthemic chanting and marching beat. Although Skin’s voice grabs the attention, it would be wrong to write off the rest of the band and similar to the vastly underrated Killing Joke, the sum of the parts really is the key. Anarchytecture clocks in at a shade over 37 minutes, with the majority of the songs short, sharp and to the point. That Sinking Feeling, full of punky riffs and aggressive punches you in the face (and sure to be a live favourite) whilst Suckers! is a short powerhouse of an instrumental. Album closer I’ll Let You Down is perfect, highlighting the sensitive side of the band and another beautifully constructed song with a stunning performance from Skin. An excellent album that grows on you the more you listen to it. A welcome return to form from a classic British band. 9/10