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Monday, 29 February 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Devilskin

Devilskin & Skarlett Riot, The Iron Road Evesham

A road trip is always something I welcome on a Saturday especially for gigs, so it was great anticipation and my oldest friend that we packed the car and headed to Evesham in Worcestershire. After some traffic shenanigans we finally arrived at The Iron Road and made our way inside. Now I've never been to The Iron Road before but what a venue it is, a compact pub with a large, well stocked bar and huge burgers named after various rock and roll icons. Ordering a pint of the house ale and a delicious Lemmy burger (covered in JD you see?) we watched England beat Ireland in the rugby, with us cheering for Ireland naturally while the bands got set up on the stage in the corner of the room. So yes the bands that was the reason we were here most notably for the debut UK headline tour of New Zealand outfit Devilskin, having been suitably impressed by their album last year I was excited to see whether the talent shown on the record would translate to the live arena.

First up however were Scunthorpe mob Skarlett Riot who play spiky, melodic heavy rock with a modern edge and lashings of attitude and confidence, led by the bottle rocket of Skarlett on vocals the band blasted away with a set list of 8 songs that started with Divide Us and moved through the ballsy Wake Up, the heavy Adrenaline and the darker Villains that has huge sing along hook. Skarlett has a superb vocal that was a higher octave than that of the headline band, her vocal was very powerful and was a perfect fit for the bands modern hook-laden sound reminding your writer of Paramore's Haley Williams but set to a heavier backing, which is a very good thing indeed. The backing band were also full of sparks with manic drummer Luke smashing along with aplomb, bassist Martin couldn't keep still as he plucked out rhythms galore leaving Danny to stab at his guitar and deliver a killer solo on House Of Cards. With melodic, hook-laden songs, big riffs and a keen ear of melody Skarlett Riot whet the appetite perfectly, a band well worth checking out live! 8/10

Next then it was time for Devilskin, we were lucky to see the band really as their Barrowlands performance had been cancelled due to frontwoman Jennie's flu, but they managed to reach Evesham by way of The Underworld Camden and as the cosy venue became packed full of people and the band made their way to the stage, the young Nic on the drums, the demonic twins of (see the videos of Little Pills and Start A Revolution) Paul on bass and Nail on guitar before the lovely Jennie hit the stage and the band kicked into the excellently named Elvis Presley Circle Pit and then the chunky Vessel which showed Jennie's superb vocals they are strong and resonant, showing no sign of the flu at all, especially on the aggressive, BLS-like Until You Bleed where she was giving guttural roars from the bowels of hell. In fact Devilskin have a distinctly modern sound merging the pinch harmonics of Zakk and co with some more groove based acts like Pantera and even a bit of Disturbed thrown in mainly due to Paul's bass heavy sound and Nail's technical but not always overt guitar wizardry which has much in common with the latter's Dan Donegan. The band were visual with Nail and Paul frequently switching places and moving around the small stage, heads were banging on the strong and emotive Surrender which has great solo too. Then the band did something that was a bit of risk by dropping a cover of Dio's Holy Diver that if I'm honest was far better than Killswitch Engage's retaining the magic of the original but adding the bands heaviness, smiles all round and back into their own stuff with Fade which errs on the side of Alter Bridge or Creed but has a huge chorus that you can't help sing along to. The band were working through their set at a rate of knots, the bass driven Never See The Light coming next giving more chances to headbang with its fast-slow dynamic and dirty slide riff. When the band did stop they were very appreciative of the crowd coming out to see them and seemed to be having a lot of fun on this tour, the crowd were receptive of this and became more so with the double header of latest single Start A Revolution and previous single Mountains which built the crowd up again. Devilskin are really masters of their craft having toiled for so long on the New Zealand scene it was great to see so many out supporting them in Evesham, more call-and-response on Dirt before the main set ended with new song We Rise which bodes well for their second album. A bit of a break a few thank you's, no chance to get off stage due to the sheer volume of people in the venue so it was back into the encore of the groove-laden Little Pills and the snarling Violation. An excellent set and tremendous performance showing that Devilskin are on that upward trajectory towards bigger things. 9/10

That was that with more well wishing and a chance to cool down and have a drink the band seemed happy and the punters too cheered for a good long while after the set before everyone got talking at the back of the venue. This night was one of those gigs where the planets align, two great performances, two amiable and humble bands, a superb rock venue and a welcoming responsive crowd supporting live music. If only all gigs were like this I'd be a happy bunny!            

Sunday, 28 February 2016

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

The Cult – Bristol Colston Hall

When The Cult released the monumental Love in 1985, with the slew of hit singles including “that song”, even they would never in their wildest dreams have thought that over 30 years on packed venues would still be going nuts for them. At a sold out Colston Hall Ian Astbury, Billy Duffy and co delivered a masterclass with a quite fantastic performance. I don’t follow the charts but a quick google suggested that their latest release, the superb Hidden City had not caused as much as a ripple. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to know that it had even been released. Not so inside the lovely Colston Hall, where a decent percentage of the audience had clearly picked up their copy and learnt most of the words. Kicking off with Dark Energy, the band ripped into from the start, with Astbury a whirling insane Jim Morrison infused bundle of crazed energy. Alongside Astbury, the ever reliable and magnificent guitar playing Billy Duffy churned out the riffs and peeled off solos for fun.

A huge roar of approval followed as the first track from Love arrived, the fantastic Rain which saw most of the balcony up on its feet early doors. As Duffy hit the riff on his ever reliable Gretsch Falcon guitars, the temperature increased with the whole crowd singing the chorus. Wild Flower maintained the momentum, the first of three tracks from Electric. Astbury rambled away in between songs, chiding the security and encouraging the younger members in the mosh pit to get involved. I didn’t see too many of the younger generation in the balcony mind, with the average age appearing to be similar to that of Astbury and Duffy, astonishingly both 54 years old. This wasn’t just a walk down memory lane though, with five tracks from the new release weaving their way into the set list. Hinterland, Birds Of Paradise and Deeply Ordered Chaos all slotted in with great ease.

However, the oldies naturally received the biggest response, Sweet Soul Sister generating one of the biggest cheers of the evening. Duffy is a fantastic guitarist, criminally underrated and looking incredibly fit and healthy. Lil’ Devil allowed him to really open up and it was around this point that we twigged that alongside long term drummer John Tempesta and recent addition on bass Grant Fitzpatrick was one Damon Fox on keyboards and rhythm guitar. Who? Well, Damon Fox is the lead player in Big Elf, that’s who. After a storming Nirvana came the moment I had been waiting for; as Duffy cranked out the killer riff to The Phoenix, up I shot, joining in with the rest of those whose dancing days are long behind them but hell did I give a shit? Oh no, The Phoenix is a phenomenal tune and watching Duffy slice that guitar through the air was worth the admission price on its own. Of course, the song that The Cult are most famous for finally arrived with the whole place going nuts as She Sells Sanctuary blasted out. Memories of this track clearing the dancefloor in my youth at the school disco and early forays into night clubs came flooding back. A quick respite before the three track encore pulverised the remains of the crowd. G.O.A.T. was followed by Spirit Walker and then it was last moments as Astbury encouraged and Duffy hit the chords for closer Love Removal Machine.

For a band that have been around close to 35 years, The Cult are just incredible and remain as vital and vibrant today as they did when She Sells Sanctuary crashed into the charts all those years ago. If you get the chance and can tolerate the most insane jibberish of Astbury, then you won’t be disappointed. 9/10

Saturday, 27 February 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Symphony X

Symphony X & Myrath, Bristol Bierkeller

So the third and final trip into Bristol in a week that started with death metal, then classic rock and then this was the night that we got our prog on with American kings of aggressive progressive metal (or jock-prog as I've dubbed it) and Tunisian melo-proggers Myrath. Now in what seemed to be a running theme for the week we once again got caught in traffic meaning we missed opening act Melting Space, although with the late opening doors myself and Paul wondered just how long they played for, as we were in the venue about 20 minutes after the doors opened and the band were already at the merch stall. Still we did finally arrive at the venue and after a swift pint nearby we headed in to Bristol's most unique venue an took our place in front of the sound desk.

There was a large crowd gathered for the Tunisians and as they hit the stage with Storm Of Lies the huge waves of keys from Elyes Bouchoucha were immediately engulfing the audience as the bototm end of Morgan Berthet's drums and Anis Jouini's five string bass ploughed a heavy furrow for Malek Ben Arbia to riff along to with his crunchy rhythm playing and clean harmonic leads. Most of the set was drawn from their most recent album Legacy and the crowd were responsive to it despite it only being out for a week at the time of the concert. In fact four of the seven songs were from the new record and do well live especially Get Your Freedom Back and Believer which got the crowd involved. Frontman Zaher Zorgati has a very clear, resonant, melodic voice that soars above the music brilliantly and the whole thing was complemented by the venue's excellent sound, the band were a little static due to spacial constraints and there were tapes used for the harmonies but they did not intrude too much. As I said the crowd were obviously pro-Myrath before they arrived on stage but after their set, that ended with the Eurovision-like (not a bad thing) Duat they had one over many more. A good showing from a band still finding their feet in the UK, but are very experienced. 7/10

Speaking of experience you don't get much more experienced than New Jersey mob Symphony X, who throughout their career (starting in 1994) have moved from a neo-classical band, through a progressive metal band and now into a much more heavier prospect than ever before, a lot of their more recent songs are more thrash-like than anything else, thus why they recently completed an American tour with fellow Jerseyites Overkill. As the intro tape of Overture swirled the three Michaels took to the stage, Pinnella on keys, LePond on bass and band leader Romeo on guitar (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Yngwie Malmsteen) supported by Jason Rullo on drums, the band launched into opener Nevermore which saw frontman Russell Allen storm the stage every inch the rockstar (sunglasses and all) and unleash his mighty pipes. What followed was  risky move as the band dove headlong straight into Underworld it became clear that this set would be drawn mainly from their latest album of the same name, something that was backed up by Allen when the thundering Kiss Of Fire came to an end and he did a little speech about leaving it 6 years since they last did a full UK tour and explaining that they were going to play Underworld in full and explaining a little about the concept as the rest of the band watched this mountain of a man give his explanation the crowd were cheering and whooping before they resumed singing every line of every song on powerful Without You.

Yes the audience for Symphony X do seem to be a little, how can I say this? Enthusiastic, to say the least every person in that room knew every line of every song and sang with all their heart, this kind of fandom is usual at prog gigs but Symphony X do seem to attract a rather wide crowd; from the normal D&D playing prog-nerds (like myself), through to the group of heavily muscled weightlifters to my right encompassing cardigan wearing dads and hipsters in their f*cking red trousers! With the emotion of Without You out of the window it was back to rampaging metal assault with Charon and To Hell And Back, the rhythm section of LePond and Rullo thundered with percussive power, the keys of Pinnella were immense but in no way distracted from the heaviness created by the band, while Romeo's guitar playing is otherworldly he solos with a dexterity not seen often. The one thing that struck me about Symphony X that I may have missed last time I saw them is how bloody loud they are, on the heavier songs I was fearing for concussive shock syndrome but it was all part of the bands appeal. Allen is a great frontman welcoming but also terrifying in equal measure especially when he was switching between his good and evil masks in the middle of the set (although the red and black mask did make him look a bit like WWE's Kane).

As Swansong wrapped up the bulk of Underworld the band went back a bit with instrumental Death Of Balance giving Romeo, Pinnella, Rullo and LePond a chance to duel and show their skills before the band went back further to Divine Wings Of Tragedy for Out Of Ashes and Sea Of Lies that ended the main set. There was a pause, rapid cheering a ringing in your ears and then the band strutted back on like conquering kings. The encore started with one of Paradise Lost's best tracks Set The World On Fire (The Lie Of Lies) before the set ended proper with the closing track from Underworld the sublime Legend, finishing the whole story and sending the punters home happy but deaf. Symphony X in full headline mode are a force to be reckoned with and I really hope they don't leave it six years before they do another headline tour, they are band well worth seeing no matter whether you like prog or not, they are fantastic heavy metal band. 9/10                 

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Thunder

Thunder, Colston Hall Bristol

Day two of our trio of gigs across the bridge, this time it was indeed time for something completely different with a night of hard rock lined up in the beautiful Colston Hall. On this night much like the previous one we faced the same traffic problems that had plagued us on our trip to Kataklysm this meant that we were late to the gig, in fact we were very late to the gig as we missed openers King King but by all accounts they were superb. Still there is always next time and on the murmurs I heard talking about the set in the foyer the band will be worth the wait when I eventually do see them. Myself and my good friend Nick forgoed the second support band Terrorvision due to not really having an interest in the band, so we walked into the auditorium as they were wrapping up with Alice What's The Matter? and Perseverance.

The beauty of the Colston Hall when it is not a fully seated venue (lamented by Steven Wilson the previous artist I'd seen here) is that down the front it's hot and sweaty as a rock gig should be, but it means those who prefer seating, like myself, can take a seat at the back and not have our views interrupted by those that want to shake their ass, something that is almost guaranteed with a band like Thunder. With the intro playing and lights swirling it was time, the cheers built and as the lights fixed on the curtain, it dropped, Thunder appeared on stage, there was an almighty cheer. Luke Morely hit the stage first and pumped out the riff for Wonder Days one of the six tracks aired from their most recent album of the same name, the song is a perfect opener in this kind of setting, which could be seen as a sort of comeback for Thunder, with lyrics that talk of the bands early years it took everyone back to the halcyon days when rock was pure and unaffected by popularity and sales but was just about having a good time. This really could be Thunder's mantra, they are all about having a good time and encourage everyone watching to do the same, the heavyweight blues of Black Water came next (also off Wonder Days) and saw frontman Danny Bowes burst into his expert Dad dancing which always brings a smile to your face, after the blues the rock kicked back in with dirty River Of Pain. A small break but not much of one, breath caught and then into the triumphant Resurrection Day which kept the pace fast and powerful and steeped in rock history.

What's instantly noticeable about Thunder every time I see them is how damn good at what they do every member of the band is, special praise goes to Ben Matthews who plays everything from rhythm guitar and keys to cowbell and lead guitar, seeing as the problems in his recent history are well documented he looked happy, healthy and delighted to be performing again. The set slowed and Like A Satellite came next with the crowd singing every single word. Danny had the crowd eating from his hand telling them to be louder with every shout, sometimes just using a hand signal, either way the baying fans obliged in kind. The filthy The Devil Made Me Do It kicked in with Harry James shuffling drum beat driving it in conjunction with Chris Childs' bass, once again the night slowed for the epic Empty City which left the crowd awestruck as it was delivered with the same passion it was sung with when it was written, Bowes not dropping a note in the interim time. At the conclusion there was huge roar from the crowd as 'that' riff kicked in for Backstreet Symphony, cue more Dad dancing from Bowes and another showstopper in I'll Be Waiting before the party began again with newie The Thing I Want telling the tale of women of ill repute, the cowbell driven When the Music Played finished this double header of new songs but then as the acoustic was brought on to Morley's side of the stage everyone new what was coming the slow build, the harmonies and one of the finest key changes in rock and cued the mass sing along of Love Walked In.

This was fantastic stuff indeed the new songs blended well with the classics and the band performed with the same flair and excellence that they have always shown. The main set was rounded out with I Love You More Than Rock N Roll which featured yet more cowbell (obviously they had a fever) after a short gap they came back with the encore of another new track, the cracking Serpentine then with some more call and response it was Dirty Love that finished the show as the crowd erupted for the final time. When Thunder opened for Whitesnake and Journey a couple of years ago nearly everyone agreed Thunder stole the show and seeing them in full flight was a treat indeed, Thunder were fantastic but don't fret if you missed them this time they are coming to both Ramblin Man Fair and more importantly they are headlining July's Steelhouse festival right here in Wales, I suggest you get a ticket as you will not be disappointed, I promise!! 9/10      

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

Kataklysm, Septicflesh & Aborted, The Fleece Bristol

The first in a number of trips across the bridge in February saw the intrepid trio of Lee, The Ed and me head for a night of brutality at the ever excellent Fleece. An international night of brutality no less. After the inevitable traffic carnage on the M32 we dumped the car and thanked Beelzebub for the tardy housekeeping as doors had not long opened. We joined the end of a reasonably healthy queue and, having grabbed a mandatory pint of Bath Gem, assumed the brace position for the next three hours.

First up, the absolute onslaught of Belgian Death grindcore merchants Aborted (8). A handsome 45-minute set saw the band blitz the venue with their absolute pile driving assault. Led by the relentless founder member and vocalist Sven de Caluwe, the band coerced, cajoled and demanded circle pits, head banging and all out engagement from the crowd as they blasted through tracks from their back catalogue and new release Retrogore. The band have a similar gorefest themed approach to Cannibal Corpse but what impressed me was the sheer energy and drive as they just didn’t let up. Huge slabs of screaming riffage from Mendel Bij de Leij and new boy Ian Jekelis and a battery from bassist JB Van Der Wal and drummer Ken Bendene split skulls, bodies slamming into the Fleece’s pillars at the front of the stage. Aborted made the most of their slot, cramming in tracks and receiving a huge ovation. In fact, it was noticeable that a sizeable number of the crowd left after Aborted concluded their set, with significantly more space in the venue as the evening wore on.

Operatic death metal from Athens? Why the fuck not. Next up on the bill were the Greeks Septicflesh (8), whose last two releases Communion and Titan are epic albums. Dropping their clean vocals (usually provided by guitarist Sotiris Vayenas), the band charged through an eight track set which comprised four from Titan and two each from Communion and The Great Mass. Centre stage, clad in his trademark Predator body armour stood bassist and vocalist Spiros “Seth Siro Anton” Antoniou. Welcoming the crowd as “my friends”, he was a captivating sight, rarely putting more than a couple of notes together but encouraging the crowd to “destroy” at every available opportunity whilst delivering the harsh death vocals synonymous with countrymen Rotting Christ.

Antoniou was flanked by Vayenas and third original member Christos Antoniou, complete with some of the filthiest dreadlocks ever seen whilst the blast beats and astonishing power of drummer Kerim Lechner. With their symphonic backing tapes enhancing their huge sound, more pit action and increased wind milling was in order as Communion, Order Of Dracul and Prototype decimated the audience. Concluding their set with the immense Anubis and Prometheus, all around were astonished faces. I don’t know how often these guys visit the UK, but they are so worth a view.

One of the joys of The Fleece is that the bands have to walk through the crowd to get to the stage. Cue much mirth as with 20 minutes until the start of their set, the individual members of Kataklysm wandered in from their bus clutching their stage clothes in carrier bags and proceeded to get slightly confused about which way to go. It definitely isn’t all glamour, even for 20+ year veterans. Despite their incredibly punishing tour schedule (38 dates across Europe with two nights off; Paris, Bristol, Glasgow, Dublin and Manchester in successive nights!!!), all of the bands gave 110%

Headliners Kataklysm (9), the purveyors of the Northern Hyperblast hit the stage with stunning energy, opening with Breaching The Asylum from last year’s magnificent Of Ghost and Gods. Taking the frontman to the extreme, Maurizio Iacono was relentless in his demanding of more action from the intense maelstrom in front of him whilst long term members Stephane Barbe (bass) and guitarist Jean Francois Dagenais destroyed. However, the vital ammunition in the Kataklysm armoury is the blast beat destruction of the double bass drumming, currently dished out without mercy by Oli Beaudoin.

With such a back catalogue to choose from, the band didn’t play it safe, varying tracks from across their releases. As well as the opener, three other tracks from Of Ghosts and Gods featured, The Black Sheep, Soul Destroyer and Thy Serpents Tongue, all of which demonstrated why this band remain as intense as ever. The ferocity in the pit increased as the steamroller maintained momentum; As I Slither and Push The Venom notable for the riotous responses on the floor. Open Scars and In Shadows & Dust upped the temperature further before Crippled And Broken concluded our viewing.

Interestingly the audience had thinned substantially as we headed for the exit just before the conclusion of the set. Maybe the later finish time contributed to it for those reliant on public transport, or maybe it was the effect of three hours of unrelenting death metal or even the fact that even in this extreme genre, the subtle differences between the three bands appealed to different sections of the crowd. Whatever the reason, it was an excellent evening with the inevitable ringing in the ears the following morning.

On a final positive note, full marks to the sound in The Fleece which was magnificent. To be able to pick out the technical elements of three bands who play at break neck speed was excellent and it was brilliant to once again be at a venue that so easily could have been nothing more than a memory.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Reviews: The Cult, Myrath, Simo

The Cult: Hidden Cities (Cooking Vinyl) [Review By Paul]

The tenth album by British rockers The Cult, Hidden Cities contains all the ingredients required for an album by The Cult; from the swirling boogie of Billy Duffy's guitar work and the thunderous voice of Ian Astbury through to the majestic stomp of latter years and the post-gothic rock from the 1980s, Hidden Cities captures all the elements of a band who remain in as much demand today as they did all those years ago when Love crashed into the charts on the back of the classic She Sells Sanctuary. Whilst the album gives more than a passing nod to the past, there is also a contemporary sound which follows on from 2012’s Choice Of Weapon. Bob Rock returns to add his usual high quality production whilst Jane’s Addiction’s Chris Chaney (and Bob Rock) provide the thumping bass lines, on the first album since 1994 not to feature Chris Wyse.

Dance The Night sits firmly in the Electric period, whilst In Blood is firmly ensconced in the Love era.  The drama of Birds Of Paradise allows Astbury to unleash his superb chops whilst Duffy’s underrated guitar work comes to the fore during the powerful Hinterland. It’s not all out guitar work though with some delightful orchestral strings complimenting Deeply Ordered Chaos, while the more traditional stomp, complete with snapping snare and thumping Tom Tom of long serving drummer John Tempesta is served up on Avalanche Of Light. Astbury is on excellent form throughout, with his distinctive deep rich tones dominant. Heathens provides evidence that there is a lot of mileage left in The Cult’s tank, with further fine fretwork from Duffy before the album concludes with the melancholic Sound And Fury. Hidden Cities demands several listens to fully appreciate the subtlety and sophistication which runs through it but boy is it worth it. 8/10

Myrath: Legacy (Nightmare Records)

Tunisian lords of melodic prog/power metal Myrath have taken five years to release their fourth album Legacy but in the interim they have developed their metal meets Arabic influences and have come away with something all the more cinematic and indeed emotive than on any of their previous efforts. Since their third release Tunisia has been involved in some tragedies that I don't need to go into here, meaning that for normal Tunisians life has taken an edge not seen before, this has clearly affected the writing of Myrath who say them selves that: "This album pays tribute to all the victims throughout the world and to all those who fight against all shapes of violence and discrimination." So then with such hard hitting and personal themes present it's up to the music to convey the feeling of hope that Myrath have always focused on.

Luckily this album does its best to inspire hope from the Arabic intro of Jasmin into the first proper track Believer you are sucked into the record that has layer upon layer of Elyes Bouchoucha's keys that come like swathes in and out of each song matching and indeed being bolstered by the live string section that appears on most if not all of the tracks on this record meaning that the whole record sounds just that little bit more ambitious. As there are numerous well crafted orchestrations that create a more vivid soundscape than on previous records, there are the almost defacto Arabic flourishes on the Get Your Freedom Back which borders on electro-pop at times but also more traditional classical sounds making the album more like a score to a blockbuster than a rock record.

That's not to say it isn't a metal album, in fact far from it there are of course metallic sounds with tumbling drum patterns from Morgan Berthet blasting away on the faster tracks, the low frequency rhythms and intricate technical playing of bassist Anis Jouini fleshing out the riffs of guitarist Malek Ben Arbia who brings solid slabs of progressive chords and blistering solos that nuance the songs well without resorting to fret wankery. However the stand out performance has to go to vocalist Zaher Zorgati who has a seriously impressive range, he's bee one of the most important factors on Myrath's albums and Legacy is no different his vocals tell the stories vividly and even when the band edge on euro-pop with the Unburnt or go all over the top on I Want To Die, Zorgati's passion is undeniable. Legacy may be the album to break Myrath to a wider audience, this does seem to be it's intended purpose and hopefully combined with their tour supporting Symphony X many more will discover the progressive, oriental mystique of Myrath. 8/10

Simo: Let Love Show The Way (Mascot)

Well...sometimes a record comes along and really reinvigorates your love for a genre, Let Love Show The Way by American blues rockers Simo is one of those sort of albums. The American three piece are led by singer/guitarist and former wunderkid JD Simo who along with drummer Adam Abrashoff and bassist Elad Shapiro have made a sophomore album that will relight the blues rock fire. The band are friends with blues master Joe Bonamassa (thus signing to Mascot) and have built their status with explosive live shows and this fierce live performance has translated to this record very well indeed, with the rhythmn section hitting you in the guts and Simo's incendiary guitar playing par-excellence. These boys are driven by the power of the blues with nods to ZZ Top, Cream, Rory Gallagher's Taste and even Joey Bones himself coming through the entire album its plain to see why this band have risen through the ranks so quickly. Opening with the SRV shuffle of Stranger Blues and Two Timin' Woman which is built on a cowbell and an attacking guitar pattern, we get more rocky on Can't Say Her Name before the fuzzy I Lied is a showcase for JD's blooze howl.

I personally haven't been this excited about a blues rock album for a while as the band balance both excellently with the propulsive Please showcasing the old school rock n roll edge the band have, before the chest beating Long May You Sail thunders in and could be mistaken for Wolfmother track, then suddenly we find that there is no doubting the bands blues credentials on the sublime I'll Always Be Around and the hazy title track. With virtuoso playing from all concerned but more importantly a hefty dose of quality songwriting although the nine minute showcase of I'd Rather Die In Vain and the 13 minute instrumental Ain't Doin Nothin' are particular highlights if love a good guitar solo or twelve!! Let Love Show The Way is a track that really kicks the blues in the arse at 13 tracks (3 bonus) the album clocks in at around 65 minutes you get real value for money on this record, it's a record that's born in the live era and erupts out of your player with a ferocity that is rare in the modern blues rock scene. 9/10    

Monday, 22 February 2016

Reviews: Exhumer, Obscura, Demonstealer (Reviews By Paul)

Exumer: Raging Tides (Metal Blade Records)

In amongst the huge number of excellent thrash bands that emerged during the 1980s, one could be forgiven for missing some real gems. Many of those bands fell by the wayside by the early 1990s. One such outfit is Exumer. Formed in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1985 by Mem V. Stein and Ray Mensh, Exumer released two full length albums before calling it a day in 1991. However, a one-off show at Wacken in 2001 stirred the fire and the band returned to active service in 2008 with a full length release Fire and Damnation arriving in 2012.

It’s been a long wait for the follow up but Stein and Mensh, joined by bassist T. Schiavo and drummer Matthias Kassner have made the wait worthwhile with Raging Tides; a storming slab of old school thrash. Full of stomp and hook, vicious riffs and breakneck speed drumming, and vocals reminiscent of old school Exodus and Overkill with tracks sure to get the floor moving at pace. Mensh’s guitar work is frantic, solos peeling off all over the place. Catatonic shows a more measured yet still aggressive attack, whilst the old school all out thrashers are littered all around; see Sacred Defense and Welcome To Hellfire. What I really enjoyed about this album is its sincerity. It is well constructed and straightforward thrash metal of the highest order. Huge riffs combined with the faster elements and excellent musicianship throughout. Kassner’s drumming is first class, and Stein’s vocals fit perfectly. If you like your thrash, this is a must have release. 8/10

Obscura: Akorasis (Relapse Records)

Akorasis is the fourth full release from German technical death metal masters Obscura and what a treat it is too. Complex time changes, multiple patterns and movements combined with a brutal death metal assault and some utterly fantastic playing. The band was formed in Landshut in 2002 by Steffen Kummerer, vocalist and guitarist. The personnel on the release feature Linus Klausenitzer on bass, guitarist Tom Geldschlager (now replaced by Rafael Trujillo) and drummer Sebastian Lanser. Akorasis features some of the staple death metal components, such as guttural vocals and blistering blast beats but much more complexity.

Opener Sermon Of The Seven Suns whets the appetite, a seven-minute epic with numerous changes, whilst The Monist is a complete contrast, with some much calmer, almost classical elements. Kummerer has an interesting vocal style, with a nod in places to many of the day’s best growlers including Behemoth’s Nergel, Niege from Alcest, Abbath’s legendary croak, Cannibal Corpse’s George Corpsegrinder Fisher, Ishan, Obituary's John Tardy and Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt. Technically the band is superb, think Wintersun but heavier. The title track immediately draws those comparisons, although Obscura promise more. Brutal passages segue beautifully into calmer, segments, allowing the listener to draw breath. Ode To The Sun is a creatively possibly the most interesting piece with several changes of pace, more Akerfeldt style death growl, orchestral elements and a delicate middle section which leads to a beautiful chorus before all hell breaks loose again. A complex piece which sets this band apart from many in their league.

Penultimate track Weltseele (World Soul) clocks in at a mighty 15 minutes and is absolutely majestic. A classical guitar intro gives way to some mighty time changes before the death growls and blast beats kick in. The track ebbs and flows with thrash elements, some stunningly intricate work and half way through a quite lovely yet chilling orchestral section which provides the backing to an eerie narrative. The orchestra remains, intermingling with powerful death metal to create an immense sound. Eastern sounds mix with a lengthy guitar solo and meanders along before more brutal riffage diverts the track on yet another diversion. This track is crazily brilliant and earns the album a high rating on its own. In a world of technical intricate music, Obscura stand at the upper echelons. A quite excellent release. 9/10

Demonstealer: This Burden is Mine (Demonstealer Records)

Sahil Makhija may not be a household name but for those who have an interest in the world of metal, he would be instantly recognisable as Demonstealer, the driving force behind India’s mighty Demonic Resurrection, whose last release was reviewed in these pages last year. This Burden Is Mine is the latest solo release from Makhija and includes many of the traits that made Demonic Resurrection such an interesting band. At just three minutes shy of an hour, This Burden Is Mine certainly gives you value for money. Opener How The Mighty Have Fallen combines the brutal death metal approach synonymous with DR, but also includes some more relaxed passages which allow Makhija’s strong clean vocals to come to the fore. In fact, if there was one criticism I’d have about this album, it is that the clean vocals are so much stronger than the death growls that you wonder why the death growls are maintained. Adding more melody and harmony to the tracks and allowing the superb musicianship to flow, Makhija’s excellent voice really enhances the compositions. Of course, Demonstealer is a blackened death metal outfit at heart and throughout the album the intricate death metal assault is never far away. However, he underpins it with some superb keyboards which add depth and warmth to blistering tracks like An Unforgiving Truth. The brutally aggressive blast beats and some of the more aggressive vocals remain true, as one would expect from a man who bleeds metal.

Throughout the album what strikes you is just how varied parts of it are. Yes, the pulverising death metal sections are still there, blast beats never far away but there is much more subtlety to this release with mellow sections, keys playing a big part whilst allowing the guitar riffs to remain at the forefront. The title track is a fine example with several key changes, guttural roars replaced by harmonies and the tempo changing at several points. Frail Fallible contains a haunting melody, clean vocals which are spot on and the convergence of guitars, keys and rhythm section into a powerful track which snakes its way through over seven minutes. In the main, this track is refreshingly at odds with many of the other more defiantly death metal focused tracks. With all bar one track clocking in at over five minutes, Demonstealer demands your commitment and in return provides you with a powerful and quality release. Once again, Sahil Makhaija has delivered a top notch release. 8/10

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Reviews: Avantasia (Monster Review By Matt)

Avantasia: Ghostlights (Nuclear Blast)

When Tobias Sammet first released his debut 'Metal Opera' in 2001, many I'm sure thought something as overblown and epic in scale would not last longer than one record, especially because Sammet has his  'day job' in being the frontman of heavy metallers Edguy. However over the course of six albums the project has continued to go from strength to strength combining great music, theatrical, conceptual themes and many guest vocalists featuring on the records to tell the story properly (take note Dream Theater). The project really hit it's stride on the Wicked Symphony trilogy which really showed what Mr Sammet could do when he wanted to express himself musically. The Wicked Symphony was also a bit of finality for Avantasia as it was the last part of the project that could be considered wholly metal, from The Mystery Of Time (the start of a new story) Avantasia has focused more on the hard rock aspects of music than the metal part (maybe due to Sammet's other band handling heavy metal better than most).

This progression continues on Ghostlights which is the second part of the Mystery Of Time story arc and sees Sammet channeling his inner Jim Steinman on album opener Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose which is one of two songs that features just Sammet's vocals, the other is Babylon Vampyres, whereas Babylon Vampyres is a Edguy song at it's heart Mystery Of A... is backed by the multi layered backing choirs, from Cloudy Yang and Miro, pounding pianos and so much baroque styling Meat Loaf himself couldn't have sung it better. It's a superb album opener however it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the concept but will go down a storm when the band audition to be Germany's entrant into Eurovision this year (yes really). The musical team stays the same with Sammet on bass and keys, Sascha Paeth on guitars, keys and bass, his partner in crime Miro on keys and orchestrations, Edguy sticksman Felix Bohnke on drums and Oliver Hartmann and Bruce Kulick on additional lead guitars. With this much talent on display it's no wonder the instrumentation on this record is amazing bolstered by Sammet, Paeth and Miro's production and mastering which makes every sound boom with the required bombast.

From track two we pick up the story of the Watchmaker with Pretty Maids' Ronnie Atkins, Masterplan's Jorn Lande and Robert Mason supplying vocals with Sammet (the album's main character), Lande once again shows off his superior pipes on this 12 minute tour-de-force of a song with sublime guitar playing from Hartmann, Miro's impressive orchestrations all contributing to the epic song that leaves you gasping for breath at it's conclusion. As this is only the second track it's hard to see how they will improve upon it but as Dee Snider takes up the creepy baton left to him by Alice Cooper and Jon Oliva on previous releases, you see that there is no lack of ambition of musical dexterity on this record. Sammet seems to have got an all star cast once again for this record with Geoff Tate on the symphonic Seduction Of Decay, Michael Kiske who proceeds to blow everyone out of the water on the two tracks he's a part of, especially the rampaging title track that is classic Helloween. Beyond The Bridge's Herbie Langhans contributes his baritone to the Gothic metal of Draconian Love which could be a Type O Negative track.

As the album progresses we get Nightwish's Marco Hietala to add his unique pipes on the thunderous Master Of The Pendulum which is melodic heavy metal at it's best with Felix drumming for his life. After this rapid track we get a  massive throwback to the 'Metal Opera' days with Within Temptation's Sharon Den Adel on the slower, beautiful electronic synth driven Isle Of Evermore and lastly we get the cameo from Magnum's Bob Catley (who has been on every Avantasia album since Metal Opera II) on the final track. Ghostlights is still Avantasia, it's the most over the top album you will hear this year, it always errs on the side of ridiculousness but manages to keep everything together for it's 12 tracks (13 on the special edition) avoiding the cheese where possible while also being the most accessible album the project have released, hopefully opening them up to new audiences. I have no doubt that their show in London will be spectacular as this sort of music begs to be performed live, but on record Avantasia have once again constructed a cinematic album that ticks all the right boxes for fans of melodic, symphonic, metallic rock music! 9/10

Reviews: Issak, Holy Grove, R.I.P (Reviews By Paul)

Isaak: Sermonize (Small Stone Records)

More Italian action with no-nonsense stoner rock from Genova’s Isaak. Sermonize is their sophomore release, following on from debut The Longer The Beard, The Harder The Sound. Formed out of the ashes of Ghandi’s Gun, the band have been around since 2011 and their sound is nailed clearly to the stoner, riff orientated hard rock of early Orange Goblin a dash of Kyuss and a soupçon of Monster Magnet. It’s straightforward dirty rock with riffs dripping from every orifice. Giamcomo Boeddau’s contain exactly the right amount of grit, whilst the guitar work of Franceso Raimondi and the filthy bass lines of Gabriele Carta’s provide a driving delivery which leaves you deliciously unclean. Andrea Tabbi De Bernardi’s drumming is solid and provides the backbone of the sound, with his backing vocals on tracks like Fountainhead add quality. Almonds And Glasses (what the hell this is about I’ve no idea) adds a little QOTSA influence to the party before some of the chunkiest riffs I’ve heard this year kick in. They throw in a bit of Corrosion Of Conformity and Crowbar on Lucifer’s Road (White Ash), with some weighty muscular action whilst The Frown Reloaded powers along with a real bludgeoning power that encourages you to break the speed limit if playing it in the car. We’ve already reviewed a fair chunk of stoner rock this year on the Musipedia and alongside Duel, Isaak stand at the top of the pile with this impressive release. 8/10

Holy Grove: Self Titled (Heavy Psych Records)

In amongst the plethora of doom and stoner releases we are getting through at MoM, the self-titled debut from Portland’s Holy Grove ranks as one of the heaviest. Some of the most crushing rhythm work you’ll hear this year accompany the blazing riffs of Trent Jacobs fuzzed up guitar whilst the piercing power of Andrea Vidal give Holy Grove a different dimension. Immediate comparisons include Leeds excellent Black Moth. Having said that, Vidal’s performance on Nix, a seven-minute dinosaur with a mix of Monster Magnet and Sabbath, is pretty special. With seven tracks and a running time of 43 minutes this is a weighty beast, with Nix, Hanged Man (an absolute belter of a tune) and Safe Return all crashing in at over seven minutes. The title track moves at a slower pace, with some slightly gentler passages contrasting with the pulverizing guitars and oppressive feel. This segues into Huntress, which has possibly the heaviest riff I’ve heard since Vol 4 whilst Caravan pounds and pummels at breakneck speed. Laced with psychedelic overtones, the haunting delivery of Vidal and an engine room set to destroy, Holy Grove is another release well worth checking out. 7/10

R.I.P: In The Wind (Totem Cat Records)

More fuzzy doom from Portland in the shape of In The Wind, the debut release of self-confessed “street doom” outfit R.I.P. Sitting firmly in the Pentagram camp with a good portion of Sabbath to power them along, this is another meaty slab of quality metal. The ironically named Fuzz delivers the spaced out vocals whilst guitarist Angel Martinez, bassist Jon Mullet and drummer Willie D create a wall of dirty noise that crashes around you with all the finesse of a charging rhino. Fuzz’s vocals are an acquired taste but certainly fit the 1970s feel of the tracks like In The Wind Part I and Tremble. There is no disguising the disgusting distortion which is synonymous with the stoner/doom movement and R.I.P. go to town with it, as the filthy riff haven of Black Leather amply demonstrates. With five of the ten tracks coming in at over six minutes each, there is plenty of opportunity for some meandering diversions, which at times means the listener becomes a little distracted. 6/10

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Reviews: Last In Line Vs Resurrection Kings (Review By Paul)

Last In Line: Heavy Crown (Frontiers) Vs Resurrection Kings: S/T (Frontiers)

For fans of traditional heavy metal, the arrival of Dio in 1983 was a pretty substantial event. The combination of a powerhouse of a band, a frontman who had already earned the status of legend and a stunning debut release that had critics foaming at the mouth. Sitting squarely in the same camp as Iron Maiden, Saxon and Judas Priest, Dio sat firmly in the centre, watching an array of evolving and existing genres shift all around them. On the one hand you had the burgeoning thrash movement, then the hair and glam metal of bands like Crue and Hanoi Rocks whilst the early shoots of more extreme outfits like Venom and Slayer pushed through. Meanwhile, long established (and slightly lumbering) rock outfits such as Kiss, Whitesnake and Rainbow continued to play whilst anxiously watching the new hungry upstarts like Def Leppard begin to make real waves.

Dio made their proper live debut at the 1983 Monsters of Rock at Castle Donington, second on the bill which also featured Diamond Head, Twisted Sister, ZZ Top, Meat Loaf and headliners Whitesnake. A full UK tour later that year saw the band roll into St David’s Hall on 4 November for the Holy Diver tour supported by Pete Way’s Waysted. A rabid Cardiff crowd witnessed the definitive Dio line up tear the place apart. Veterans Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice were accompanied by a rising star in hot-shot guitarist Vivian Campbell along with keyboardist Claude Schnell. A year later the band were back in South Wales promoting second album The Last in Line, along with a new American outfit called Queensryche in support.

Following RJD’s untimely passing in 2010, two main bands with Dio connections have been keeping the flame alive. Firstly there was the Dio Disciples, which featured former members Craig Goldy, Simon Wright and keyboard player Scott Warren amongst their number. Appice also played with the band during 2013-14. In 2012, the four remaining members of the classic Dio began gigging under the moniker Last In Line, with Andrew Freeman providing the vocals. As we now know, Jimmy Bain passed away early in 2016, just before the band released their debut album Heavy Crown. Around the same time, a separate project involving Appice and Goldy under the name Resurrection Kings also released their self-titled debut album. So in a change from the usual review method, let’s compare the two releases.

The first thing that struck me about Heavy Crown (8/10) was how clean the production sounds. Full marks to former Dokken and Dio bassist Jeff Pilson for the polished effort. Opener Devil In Me leaves you in little doubt of the Dio connection. Energetic riffs, a thumping solid rhythm section which sounds totally in synch and some scorching guitar work from Campbell all support Freeman’s classic rock delivery. The man has an astounding vocal range, incredibly powerful and melodic. You immediately think of singers such as Doogie White when you hear Freeman. Martyr is a faster paced track, short and sweet whilst Starmaker slows proceedings down and allows Freeman freedom to unleash the pipes. This might be the classic Dio type track on the album, with some superb guitar work from Campbell. Indeed, Campbell’s playing throughout the album is excellent, and you could be forgiven for wondering if a break from the day job has actually allowed him to really unleash. For a man who has been fighting cancer for the past two years, his energy is impressive; his soloing reminiscent of the sharp fluid guitar work of those two early Dio releases.

Resurrection Kings (7/10) also features Vinnie Appice on the drum stool; automatically guaranteeing a similar drum pattern and style to Last In Line. Campbell’s successor in Dio, Craig Goldy is the six string shooter whilst the bass is pounded by Sean McNab (Dokken, Great White). The voice of Resurrection Kings is provided by Chas West, who has time with Jake E Lee’s outfit Red Dragon Cartel amongst others. The self-titled release is produced by Alessandro Del Vecchio who has also managed to achieve a crisp big sound on this whooping 56 minute release.

Opener Distant Prayer sets the scene nicely; a stomping melodic rock track with a typically solid rhythm section supporting Goldy’s restrained yet technically flawless guitar work. Meanwhile some subtle keyboards help beef up the sound. Chad West is yet another vocalist who appears to have been around for a long time, and he has a voice which once again is suited to this type of music; clean, strong and powerful. Livin’ Out Loud is a generic rock track, and it is hear that you spot the difference. Resurrection Kings bears limited to no resemblance to the heritage of Dio. This is much lighter stuff and swings towards the AOR fluff of HEAT and FM with a pinch of Foreigner.

One of the most striking things about the original Dio line-up was the telepathic relationship between drummer Appice and bassist Jimmy Bain. That relationship is truly demonstrated again on Heavy Crown; just listen to the interplay on I Am Revolution which features some real steamroller drum action from Appice. The combination really allows Campbell to cut loose at every opportunity and he doesn’t miss the chance. Heavy Crown is a traditional heavy metal album. It’s not thrash, it’s often not that fast. It is drenched with melody and well-constructed songs in the style of Dio era Sabbath and the early Dio works. In Freeman, who has a notable CV including work with Lynch Mob, Last In Line has a particularly fine vocalist.

One of the most striking tracks on Heavy Crown is Already Dead, a runaway beat propelling the band forward with a Stand Up And Shout type riff and Dio style lyrics. Of course, just like many latter Dio releases, there are also a couple of fillers and Curse The Day is as stale as two-week old bread, Orange Glow is just ponderous and album closer The Sickness is weaker than a bag of newborn kittens. However, the band brings it home with the title track which is about as classic a heavy rock track as you’ll get.

The longest track on Resurrection Kings is Fallin’ For You, a six minute melodic rock stomp, sweet melody and vocal harmonies. West’s emotive voice really shines here. If you like your rock with a lighter touch then look no further; the layered synths really do smooth the edges. The more straightforward rockers which allow Goldy to show his chops are still saccharine laced; Don’t Have To Fight No More for example is straight out of latter day Whitesnake stable, with swathes of keyboards supporting rather than smothering the track.

Similar to Heavy Crown, a few of the tracks on Resurrection Kings are bland and generic; Path Of Love is tepid whilst Silent Wonder’s steady plod sits in the expected territory given the make-up of the band. Yes, think Dokken, Great White, Cinderella, Winger etc. and you’ll get the idea. If you get the bonus edition you also get the ghastly ballad Never Say Goodbye which is truly dire.

These releases have both similarities and vast differences. If you want your rock with a hard classic edge then plump for Last In Line stick. Resurrection Kings veer much more toward the AOR/melodic rock strata. In Campbell, Last In Line possess the more fluid guitarist whilst Goldy is just a little more restrained. Meanwhile Appice’s drum work is exemplary on both. He’s never been flash (unlike his big brother) but for steady no-nonsense stick work, he’s up there with the best of them. It appears unlikely that Last In Line will continue due to Bain’s death which is both understandable but also a shame. Resurrection Kings are likely to sit in with a huge swathe of other similar bands; solid but never really likely to set the world on fire.

Another Point Of View: Parkway Drive (Review By Lee)

Parkway Drive, Bury Tomorrow, Thy Art Is Murder, Manchester O2 Apollo

On a very chilly saturday night out in Manchester, myself and Dan check out a pretty decent bill featuring Thy Art Is Murder, Bury Tomorrow and the headline act Parkway Drive. Having looked at the line up, I was surprised to see that Bury Tomorrow had the main support slot but that certainly didn’t take anything away from Thy Art Is Murder who recently have reshuffled again with singer CJ McMahon leaving the band. For the European tour, they were taking Nick Arthur from Molotov Solution and boy did he fit the line up.

Thy Art Is Murder

Thy Art Is Murder took to the stage as I was still making my way to my seat but heard “Good evening Manchester” before they let rip into Absolute Genocide. This was good, this was very good. They sounded fantastic, so I tip my hat to the sound technicians for the bill. They were definitely not in the mood to fuck around and not a single foot was out of place as they tore through this song. They continued on with material from their last album Holy War with Coffin Dragger, that recognisable riff coupled with some insane drumming from Lee Stainton really started to wake up the Manchester crowd that certainly kept that mosh pit spinning throughout the set. TAIM dusted off their material from 2012’s Hate album by launching into The Purest Strain Of Hate which was a crowd favourite as well as mine. I was looking to see how technical they could play this song live and so far they were nailing everything and made it look effortless, this wasn’t an exception and after the incredible double-bass pedalling of Lee, the music stopped, Nick opened his arms and the crowd let rip a thunderous “THE PUREST STRAIN OF HATE”. I was hoping that the band would continue to go through their back catalog but with the time they had to play, it seemed like they couldn’t go past the Hate album. Sticking with that album, they just blasted through Shadow Of Eternal Sin and Reign Of Darkness before they tweaked the ending of Reign Of Darkness to merge with the introduction of Light Bearer which got the pit spinning again. Nick thanked the crowd after Light Bearer and introduced the final song of the set Holy War. It seemed fitting that the end with the title track off of the last album but I was really hoping it would be Whore To A Chainsaw but I was very happy with their set. They definitely are worth checking out if you like Death Metal and although it seemed odd they were on this bill, they made sure they belonged there. Great set, great performance, 8/10

Bury Tomorrow

It made sense that Bury Tomorrow belonged on the bill with the type of music that they played but it was very clear from the off that I wasn’t going to like what they do. They played two new songs off of their new release Earthbound and if lead singer Dani Winter-Bates didn’t stop and introduce the second song, I wouldn’t have known that it was a new song. Earthbound and 301 did nothing for me at all, very generic songs and I couldn’t figure out why a melodic metalcore band did nothing for me. They went into The Union Of Crowns’ featured song Lionheart which was good, the riff was good, it kind of reminded me slightly of a Whitechapel riff with intricate timing but then the chorus was just bland, it was such a shame that every chorus was the same 3 chords with the rhythm guitarist Jason Cameron adding very generic lyrics in the same way throughout the set. I haven’t really got much left to say about Bury Tomorrow. It didn’t do much for me but I can’t be too harsh on them, quite a lot of the crowd seemed to really like it and Dani had a really good response from them. It definitely seems like they are going down the Bring Me The Horizon route of cracking the mainstream with Dani mentioning that the band had cracked the Top 40 twice before thanking the crowd for buying their music, their merch and tickets to their shows before making a thought provoking remark which was simply “Come and hang out with us at the merch stand because fuck paid meet and greets, we’re just like you.” That was a very classy remark and deserved the round of applause it got. Well done lads, you’re cracking the mainstream, unfortunately it didn’t do much for me. 5/10

Parkway Drive

Pyro featuring Parkway Drive. That’s what we were all here for. Now it wasn’t the same level of pyro as a Rammstein set but it did certainly add dramatic flare to the set. The starting riff of Destroyer came through the sound system as you could see the band behind the faint IRE banner that covered the entirety of the stage. As the crowd started chanting “destroy” in time with the song, you hear Winston McCall belt out “DESTROY” before the curtain dropped and a streamer cannon was fired covering the venue in confetti and streamers which got the crowd going… and Dan who managed to catch a piece of confetti. For the next 8 or so minutes, the crowd got intense, the security who did a fine job of keeping crowd surfers safe certainly had their hands full as Winston kept teasing the crowd to come up as they belted through Destroy and Dying To Believe. Winston made no secrets that the set had some hard and fast songs as well as some toned down songs, asking the crowd to sing with him as the hauntingly beautiful intro to Carrion began to ring around the O2 Apollo. Parkway Drive were certainly playing to the crowd with the setlist choices and kept everyone happy with playing a couple of songs from every album and got a huge roar when he announced that the next song was Karma from 2010’s fantastic Deep Blue album before ripping into the slow-riffing and hard hitting Dark Days. Winston made an empowered speech about how every song he had ever wrote was about a tough time in his life and that the next song was about the good things which was a nice segue into Vice Grip which the crowd was singing along to. Jeff Ling then started the melodic riff to Idols & Anchors before the band got into full swing with the rest of the song. The band kept toying between heavy and melodic by following Dedicated up with Wild Eyes and what a sublime performance of Wild Eyes it was. 

The band turned up the heat with more pyro and the intricate riff/drum combo of Bottom Feeder before dabbling in their debut album with Romance Is Dead. The band are certainly making a name for themselves across the world and even though they’ve been selling out venues across Europe as a headline act, they are still supporting bands in the US. With a US tour coming up in May with A Day To Remember, that could have possibly have been a co-headline tour with their material and fan base certainly backing that up. The final song before the encore was Swing which was certainly enough to give fans one final shot at producing a hell of a pit and making security earn their money for the evening. After a pretty short break, the band came back on and the crowd seemed to be expecting Crushed. That’s exactly what the crowd got. With a line of fire ablaze across the stage, the introduction to Crushed got fans excited and when that hard-hitting guitaring along with some slow - almost painful (in a good way) drumming slowing the pace right down, this was going to definitely going the right way in sending fans home happy. IRE certainly owned this setlist but that was to be expected. If you’ve heard the album, it’s certainly up there for album of the year 2015. The finalé was a bit unusual, but I don’t know what I would have expected to be their final song. Everything I thought it could have been was played. But they revisited the Deep Blue album with Home Is For The Heartless which a shower of sparks raining down on the stage, it was a pretty epic finalé. The show overall was fantastic, I loved every second of it and the band seem to be getting better with time. The definitely earned the right to headline a tour and I’m really chuffed that they’ve been able to sell out the venues that they’ve been playing in across Europe, they are definitely at their best now so go and check them out. 10/10

Friday, 19 February 2016

Reviews: Wolfmother, Iggy Pop, Lissie

Wolfmother: Victorious (Universal)

Wolfmother's previous album New Crown was digital only release that saw the band reform after frontman Andrew Stockdale embarked on a solo career. If I'm honest the solo album sounded almost exactly like Wolfmother so maybe I was a little over zealous when I called New Crown a return to form as the form had never really gone away, however what it did show was Wolfmother were just as much as a going concern as they ever have been. Shift to 2016 and the bands stunning debut was reissued for it's 10th anniversary so the stage was set for Wolfmother to release a new set of songs while attention was fixed on them. Victorious is that new set of songs and many of you will be happy to learn the magic is still there The Love That You Give is a bit of a false start if I'm honest but as soon as the sublime mountain leveling riff for the title track kicks the band hit the ground running, momentum doesn't dip through BaronessPretty Peggy and City Lights there is a lull until the psychedelic Gypsy Caravan has it's freak flag flying proudly, but it's really these five songs that are the best on the album.

At just 35 minutes the album is not over long and has just enough highs to keep your attention, but it does trail off towards the end. Stockdale once again shows his guitar heroics throughout (he can certainly write a riff) and 'that' voice still sounds like it did in 2006. The band have notoriously had personnel problems but these seem to have resolved themselves as long term bassist/keyboardist Ian Peres is still here from the last two albums (albeit just contributing keys to the record) and the drumstool is shared by session men Joey Waronker and Josh Freese. Wolfmother have always had the same problem as The Darkness their debuts came at exactly the right time and caught rock at nadir where they seemed to reinvigorate it, because of this however nothing they have released since has seemed to stand up to it, Victorious doesn't really stand up to that debut as it plays it just a bit safe for my liking but it's not supposed to stand up this is a band getting in touch with their legacy again and they are nearly there. 8/10    

Iggy Pop: Post Pop Depression (Lorna Vista)

Iggy Pop is the president of the state punk rock, he and his band The Stooges were at the forefront of the American punk rock explosion in the late 60's and 70's but Iggy was always a bit different, whereas he is considered to be one of the first punk rockers, Iggy and the Stooges especially had more blues and garage rock influences than anything else, Iggy himself has dabbled with all sorts of styles throughout his career, so it's because of this that Post Pop Depression is not the huge surprise it should be. The idea initially came from Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme who jumped deep into songwriting after striking up a rapport with Pop over letters, where Homme asked Pop about his work with David Bowie. After these letters both men met up with half finished ideas and wrote and recorded the album in secret with Homme self financing and producing the album.

The finished result is actually very good, there flashes to Pop's anarchistic early days but the most part this is Homme's baby with the same kind of of kilter weirdness that he brings to QOTSA (American Valhalla) and more recently Them Crooked Vultures (German Days). The overarching influence on this record though seems to be Nick Cave as the album is filled with the same kind of 'murder ballads' that Cave has always been the master of, from Vulture that sounds like the theme to a lost Spaghetti Western, to the haunting Break Into Your Heart, the poetic Gardenia and the funky Sunday all of the songs ooze with darkness, the aging Pop's baritone coming to terms with his legacy and mortality in the lyrics. Homme and Pop have created an album that plays to both their talents and sees them doing something a little different to their day jobs, an interesting listen. 7/10     

Lissie: My Wild West (Lionboy & Thirty Tigers)

Lissie's third album is culmination of her career trajectory thus far, gaining elements of her previous record, which brought a lot of electronic and even some ambient elements, while retaining her folk rock sound. My Wild West is inspired by the country roots Lissie grew up in and have now more than ever come to inspire her since her move away from LA back to the Midwest. This transition is documented on the album's first track proper, the beautiful string laden, sorrowful Hollywood which is a song lamenting the broken spell of LaLa Land. There are a lot more acoustic sounds on this record possibly due to Lissie's extensive acoustic tour last year, everything feels a lot more natural.

Yes there are still electronic elements as I've said mainly on the thumping title track and the stirring reverbed Hero sees Lissie show off her powerful pipes and it's on the more organic sounds of the stripped back Sun Keeps Risin' where Lissie howls with pain, just like Stevie Nicks used to in her White Witch heyday. This is yet another excellent album from Lissie who has gone back to her roots with songs such as the superbly defiant Don't You Give Up On Me that goes hand in hand with Daughters to back up Lissie's strong sassy attitude that's been evident since her debut. On the other hand she isn't afraid to bare her soul on Together Or Apart which is beautiful song about long distance/forgotten love, a theme that also comes up again on Ojai. My Wild West is a very personal album from Lissie and one that sees her progress once again as an artist. 8/10 

Monday, 15 February 2016

Reviews: Holy Grail, Persona, Lugnet

Holy Grail: Times Of Pride And Peril (Prosthetic Records)

Former White Wizzard members Jame Paul Luna (vocals) and Tyler Meahl (drums) formed Holy Grail in 2009 after leaving White Wizzard, now where as White Wizzard continued with huge problems and are now on a hiatus Holy Grail have gone from strength to strength releasing albums that increase in quality every time. Their last record Ride The Void came out in 2013 so since then they have toured honing themselves in both Holy Grail and in Meahl and guitarist Eli Santana as part of Huntress, this time away from the band has made this their third album possibly the best so far. The speed metal of their first two records is still what the band do best, dual axe attack galore from Santana and Alex Lee who riff like mad and blaze away with the solo, the thundering rhythm section Meahl and Blake Mount is like a machine gun in the back room, especially on ragers like Sudden Death which shows another reason why Holy Grail are still alive and kicking.

The band know how to flesh out their sound, yes they draw from classic influences such as Pro Patria Mori but also they have power metal and modern American metal influences to draw on meaning that they are from the nostalgia act category that many of their compatriots fall into. Descent Into The Maelstrom shows this with an old school feel but a distinctly modern edge, this also very much present on No More Heroes which could have come off a Trivium album. Much of  modern this is due to Paul Luna's vocals that are really unique with a husky high pitched delivery meaning the band sound like few others, he even tries a bit of growling on the album's epic finally Black Lotus. On Times Of Pride And Peril Holy Grail have moved up another level with the European and Modern American metal influences abound, I have always been a keen supporter of Holy Grail and once again they proved why I hold them in high regard. 8/10         

Persona: Elusive Reflections (Self Released)

Tunisia is not the biggest hot bed for metal, I personally only know of three bands from the region, these are Nawather (reviewed by Paul recently), Lost Insen (reviewed in 2014) and probably the region's most well known band Myrath (supporting Symphony X on their UK tour). However now there is a fourth band I would add to that list, Persona are a female fronted symphonic metal band from the North African state, Elusive Reflections is their debut album and it is imbued with a sense of confidence many bands lack on their first roll of the dice. The band are seen as an influential band on the Tunisian scene and with this debut they may now have a chance of exposing their talent to the wider world.

Personally I can't think of a better album to do this with as Elusive Reflections is exactly what you would want from a band such as Persona, it blends chunky progressive metal with synth driven symphonics and Middle Eastern/North African influences so if you think Orphaned Land meets Within Temptation you'd be on the right track. As the album starts off we get the Arabic touches from the off on Somebody Else which moves into the excellent Blinded which sounds very like Ms Den Adel and co all blastbeat drums, heavy riffs and flowing synths underpinning everything. This track shows off founder member and lead guitarist Melik Melek Khelifa's slick lead playing, which is one of the album's strongest points, the solos are used sparingly adding some melodic flourishes to the songs.

Front-woman and founder member Jelena Dobric's soaring vocals are pretty much perfectly, she shines throughout this record with a clean, crystal clear vocal delivery that glides above the crunchy riffs fluidly brilliantly she also can growl on the groove laden Monsters  exhibiting her vocal dexterity. The rest of the band are no slouches though either with the three person rhythm section driving the songs with passion and ability as the keys wind their way over the top of the metallic bass. Persona easily meld the intensity of metal with the more romantic operatic notions of classical music all wrapped up in a progressive/symphonic package. In a very oversubscribed genre of female fronted metal, lets hope that people take notice of this band as they are very good, they have just enough  it sublime debut from a band that have the talent to go very far indeed, they are added to the list and very near the top on this evidence. 9/10    

Lugnet: S/T (Pride & Joy Music)

Ah the 70's, the halcyon era where things seemed freer, the clothes were wilder, the opinions were tougher and the music, well the music was incredible. Rock in particular seemed to be having it's best time with many of the bands we consider to be legendary today all in their infancy and maturing throughout the decade. This then is probably the reason for the large amount of bands apeing the sounds from this bygone era, with the Swedes leading the charge. The next band in line to give the 70's a rogering is Lugnet (Swedish for tranquility) who play gritty, heads down, rock n roll for bikers, fighters and lovers. With nods to Purple, Whitesnake, Lizzy as well as modern contemporaries such as Black Spiders, Audrey Horne and Germans Kadavar, this is the sound of the early 70's with the band firing on all cylinders throughout. What immediately jumps out at you is the quality of the songwriting and playing on offer here especially the pipes of Roger Solander who is a ringer for Badlands, Sabbath singer Ray Gillen vocally having a deep resonant delivery capable of making you take notice. Add to this the superb dirty guitar of riffers Mackan and Bonden all backed by the filthy rhythms of Z's bass and Jansson's drums and you get a match made in rock n roll heaven. As I've said the songs on this record are great and from the get go there is no letting up from the strike of the first chord of All The Way, which has Grindhouse style video featuring Quentin Tarantino's favourite Swedish actress Christina Linberg who reprises her role of the eye patched assassin Frigga from the banned 1974 cult revenge flick Thriller. After All The Way punches you in the guts the remaining 7 tracks continue the assault with very little slowing down for breath, the album culminates with the 10 minute Into The Light which is an ambitious outing for any band but one that pays off in spades for Lugnet. I've noted before that the Swedes do this sort of thing very well and Lugnet are another band that have burst out of the country with collection of snarling rock anthems that are best enjoyed with a beer, some flares and a damn good violent protest, Lugnet evoke a decade gone by where music was just better, thankfully we have bands like them reminding us of that fact. 9/10

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Reviews: Tedeschi Trucks Band, Striker, The Veer Union

Tedeschi Trucks Band: Let Me Get By (Fantasy Records)

It seems Susan Tedeschi and her husband Derek Trucks are finally free, with Sony insisting that outside songwriters contribute to the bands two previous records, Let Me Get By is the first totally written by the band (and totally produced by Trucks) along with Doyle Bramhall II who is frequent collaborator for Trucks. This new creative freedom has allowed the band to express themselves a bit more on this third record, the mix of soul, funk, rock, blues and even folk and country are at their most pronounced, the album is musical soup dripping with luscious arrangements and songwriting, from the shuffling percussion, through the soulful brass, to the honeyed guitar lines and the vocal harmonies, with the leads shared for the first time between Susan and Truck's lead vocalist Matt Mattinson, the spirit of the Jacksonville swamps is evident on this record that has every member of this band play in union to craft beautiful heartfelt honest music.

The band are a 'family' with both Susan and Derek taking members of their solo bands to furnish this collaborative effort meaning that everyone involved records, travels and performs together and this shows in the music, there is a certain ease around the record that seemed to be missing on the last two albums. As the uptempo, upbeat Stax records groove of Anyhow opens with it's sparse guitar playing and sliding horns we the listener are eased into a welcoming environment, this warmth is kept up through the album meaning that you almost feel a part of the record, with the live-in-the-studio way it's recorded making it seem as if you were there for the records formation. From the wah-wah funk on Don't Know What It Means, New Orleans Jazz follows on Right On Time, then into the synth driven title track and the 8 minute plus piece of pure blues power that is Crying Over You / Swamp Raga for Hozapfel, Lefebvre, Flute and Harmonium the influences are as I said are all over the place but everything works perfectly. This is music with genuine soul that longs to be heard on lazy summer days surrounded by loved ones, it's an album where TTB have come of age throwing off the outside factors that have been seen in their work and creating something purely of their own. 9/10

Striker: Stand In The Fire (Breaking Records)

Don the Battle Jackets folks and heads down for a mosh out! Canadian trad metal pack Striker are back with the follow up to 2014's City Of Gold since then the band have dropped their record label and as any metal hipster knows the only way then is to self release which is what they have done on this their fourth record. Despite the change of foreman, the blueprint is the same old-school proto-thrash riffs, harmonic dual layer guitars, screeching vocals, finger bending guitar solos and huge fist-in-the-air choruses. This is trad metal at it's best for the most part, although Out For Blood has sax solo that throws you a little from then on its heads down for a mega mosh fest. The majority of the record is light-speed guitar lines, blazing solos galore. The band have also gone very 80's on this record with Too Late sounding like Extreme or Van Halen, with the Iron Never Lies and the instrumental Escape From Shed City having obvious nods to Priest and their ilk but also there are lots of songs that could be called thrash like the punching UnitedBetter Times which sounds like Exodus, before the album ends with the atmospheric One Life. If you love your metal with a big side portion of denim and leather then Striker will be the soundtrack. 7/10   

The Veer Union: Decade (Pavement)

Decade is The Veer Union and sees the band emerge from a set of circumstances that would destroy most bands. After their previous album in 2009 the longtime founding members of the band left, the band limped on until the founding guitarist to fled the group leaving just frontman and vocalist Crispin Earl as the sole member of the band. With no band the record company they were signed to collapsing around him, he went into the doldrums of depression but thankfully he managed to pull himself out of it and released an EP with new guitarist Ryan Ramsdell and this sparked the creative soul in Earl and he recruited another set of musicians and reactivated the band, The Veer Union MkII if you will. Decade is a bit of a special album celebrating the bands 10 year existence. It contains songs that were written at various different times of Earl's career, five of the songs were written in the early days before the band even existed, Make Believe and Watch You Lose were both written for Tommy Lee's Tommyland project.

You'd think due to this that the record would be bit of a mish-mash but seeing as many of these tracks are unrecorded they all sound fresh when delivered by the bands style of muscular alt-rock that features heavily on American FM Radio. But enough about the background what about the album itself? Well it is a celebration of triumph over adversity with 10 rocking tracks with huge hooks and metallic edge, it's thoroughly modern with a Earl and lead guitarist Dean Sittler harmonising on the vocals in a similar way to Alice In Chains' harmony vocals, with bassist Amal Wijayanayake adding the screams. There is an underlying sense of recovery on this record lyrically and musically the songs all feature electronic elements that are guaranteed to give a broad appeal see I Said which if there was justice would climb to number one, the band remind me a lot of Sevendust, Breaking Benjamin and Brits Forever Never. A modern rock album that is the sound of a reinvigorated band that hopefully can progress from here. 8/10

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Reviews: Shakra, Amoral, Brimstone Coven (Reviews By Paul)

Shakra: High Noon (AFM)

Okay, hands up who can name more than a handful of Swiss metal outfits? (Apart from the encyclopedic Ed obviously). Yeah, Krokus, the much missed Celtic Frost and possibly TOAD and Gotthard at a push. Well, it may be a surprise to know that in certain parts of Europe, mainly Germany and their homeland, melodic hard rockers Shakra are pretty popular. High Noon is their tenth full studio release, with their first release as long ago as 1998. Shakra deliver melodic rock in the style of Def Leppard but with a bit more steel. Opener Hello (neither and Adele or Lionel Ritchie cover disappointingly - Ed) crashes along, almost out of control before the Leppard style harmonies and melody come home big time on the title track. 

Vocalist Mark Fox, who returned to the band after a six-year absence has a voice made for this type of music whilst guitarists Thom Blunier and Thomas Muster show their chops. Classic sing-a-long choruses demand attention ala Thunder. The band has an undeniable stomp with a classic rock feel, riffs underpinned by a steady rhythm of unfortunately named bassist Dominik Pfister and drummer Roger Tanner. Into Your Heart and Is It Real motor along with gusto whilst Raise Your Hands could almost be the Bon Jovi classic combined with the cheesiness of mid 1990s Scorpions. A chunky riff, sing-a-long chorus and a melody that gets you joining in. Shakra do what they do well. This is melodic rock delivered with high quality and if you like verse, chorus, verse, chorus compositions, accompanied by clean vocals and a steady beat but with a little bit of fire in the guitar department, then this is for you. 7/10

Amoral: In Sequence (Imperial Cassette)

I have to admit that I was only vaguely aware of Finnish outfit Amoral before I picked up this release. However, Amoral is yet another band that I will now need to explore in more depth on the basis of In Sequence. It’s the band’s seventh full length and sees the return of Niko Kalliojärvi on guitar and death growls for the first time since 2008. Formed in 1997 by guitarist Ben Varon and drummer Juhana Karlsson, Amoral’s current line-up is completed by vocalist Ari Koivunen and guitarist/keyboardist Masi Hukari. In Sequence sits squarely in the technical progressive metal camp, with multiple time signatures and changes of tempo throughout their songs. Intricate in composition, they benefit massively from Koivunen’s beautifully clean vocal delivery, a marked change from some of their earlier releases which had the death metal style growl so loved by many of their countrymen. In Sequence is a weighty beast, 55 minutes for a mere eight tracks. The variation in styles is captivating, the Eastern flavours of The Betrayal which I assume feature percussionist Teho Majamäki melding into an almost death metal track with the combination of Koivunen’s classic clean pipes contrasting with the growling. 

Backed by switches between full out blast beats, powerful snares and more intricate percussion work, the three pronged guitar attack allows some screaming hot fretwork to cut back and fore. In contrast, first single Rude Awakening has a classic feel, melodic whilst riff driven and plenty of underlying groove. The melodic feel of the song writing shines throughout, and this style allows the powerful clean voice of Koivunen to really make its mark. Sounds Of Home is a beautiful, melancholy filled track which contains harmonies that would sit at home on a Steven Wilson song. A lone guitar being accompanied by Koivunen and some guest vocals completed by some haunting saxophone work. The Next One To Go is a progressive piece, changing direction and pace whilst maintaining the interest and demonstrating the quality of the band as a whole whilst Helping Hands contains groove and plenty of melody. Album closer From the Beginning (The Note pt.2) ties everything together nicely, albeit in a meandering 10+ minutes, with the journey moving through a synth drenched opening, backed by riff after riff into a classical guitar section before a more mainstream power chord delivery, once again allowing Koivunen’s clean voice, supported by delightful guest vocals (Indica’s Jonsu and Amine Bentmane from Acyl) to guide the listener. This track is simply stunning, with exceptional guitar work as it moves towards the conclusion. Amoral are a band that challenge the expected stereotype for a progressive technical metal band. A stunning release. 9/10

Brimstone Coven: Black Magic (Metal Blade)

With the name Brimstone Coven and an album titled Black Magic, there was only one sound that this four piece from West Virginia was ever going to make. Yep, Black Magic is an album full of the sounds of doom and stoner occult themed hard rock, most of it filed firmly under vintage. Splashed with a bit of psychedelic era Floyd (Behold The Astral, As We Fall), most of Black Magic sits firmly in the Sabbath/Pentagram sound, although the vocals resonate much more with Texan Stoners The Sword. However, once you get into the album, it is evident that there are many more layers to this than at first hits the ear. The guitar work of Corey Roth is superb, almost casual in style yet rich in quality and warmth. The vocals of “Big John” Williams are rich and deep whilst the old school drive from Andrew D’Cagna’s bass and Justin Wood’s drumming provides a solid foundation from which the band carve out retro tinged tracks like Upon The Mountain and Forsaken. The mix of psychedelic and doom is nothing new, and Black Magic isn’t going to set the world on fire. It is however, a robust and pleasurable release which transports you back to the time of flares, dangerous colours and driving dirty riffage. Good stuff. 7/10

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Reviews: Mantra Vega, Kiama, Beth Blade & The Beautiful Disasters

Mantra Vega: Illusion Reckoning (Black Sand Records)

The debut full length from prog rock project Mantra Vega has been a long time in the making, mainly due to the members other projects, but finally it has arrived. The core of the band consists of former Mostly Autumn vocalist Heather Findlay and Sound Of Contact's Dave Kerzner who both supply the vocals, with Heather giving percussion whistles and acoustics while Kerzner creates the soundscapes with his keyboards. Unlike Findlay's previous band and indeed Kerzner's other band Mantra Vega is a more artistically conceptual project, the album is a cinematic performance piece with poetic, philosophical lyrics and musicianship that makes a feel rather than relies on individual songs. Findlay and Kerzner's vocals intertwine perfectly from the jazzy, Peter Gabriel-like Island and beyond they compliment each other excellently bringing to mind the Mostly Autumn in the hushed, emotive tones of the vocals. However they are not alone on this record the fluid guitar lines come from longtime Findlay collaborator Chris Johnson (Halo Blind/Mostly Autumn) and Dave Kilminster of Steven Wilson/Roger Waters' band, with these two men on the guitar parts you need a strong rhythm section and Stu Fletcher and Alex Cromarty (MA) provide the model anchor for the impeccable and creative music on offer.

With the lush arrangements on offer you get kind of lost in the music and happily that is the point as the vocals stir your senses and the instrumentation offers an enchanting miscellany of sounds. The album dips and escalates throughout leading you on a sonic journey, drawing from the acoustic folk of Fairport Convention (In A Dream) and the progressive rock explosion in it's 70's heyday Veil of Ghosts. As I've said everyone involved in this album has their own work outside of the band but so too do the guests; Troy Donockley supplies the whistles and flutes for Nightwish and is no stranger to Mostly Autumn folks, here he adds guitars and vocals along with him we have more MA alumni with Angela Gordon on vocals and recorders, Findlay's Ayreon co-conspirator Irene Jansen adding vocals and Ayreon's creator Arjen Lucassen adding some lead guitars. With a plethora of top flight musicians in tow Mantra Vega's debut is everything the preceding EP promised, it's clever, interesting and in parts beautiful, let's hope all concerned have a chance to create more music on record and indeed on stage. 8/10     

Kiama: Sign Of IV (Tigermoth Productions)

Kiama are yet another progressive rock supergroup, the brainchild of Magenta's multi-instrumentalist Rob Reed he has recruited Luke Machin from the young proggers Maschine on guitar, Andy Edwards (IQ and Frost*) on drums and Dylan Thompson of Shadow Of The Sun (formerly of The Reasoning) behind the mic and on guitar. With such talent in the band you'd expect this album to sparkle and it does, this is emotive progressive rock that all the members are known for, Cold Black Heart opens things in rock style with an immediate impact showing the collective power of this foursome with Machin's sublime guitar work feeling more controlled than it does in his own band but it still has the power to cast a spell on songs such as I Will Make It Up To You which is Floydian with it's spacial keys and soaring guitar lines. Reed's keys, bass and guitars create a wide soundscape on the slower passages like Slime, while To The Edge has the funky rhythms of Gilmour's solo work replete with some soulful backing vocals and a percussive drive from Edwards.

One thing that immediately drew me to this album other than the impressive musicianship on offer was that Thompson was once again taking up the mic, he has great throaty voice that sets Kiama apart from many progressive bands who favour sweeter vocal lines and in a lot a cases (see above) female vocals, that's not to say Thompsons voice is rough in fact on the contrary on the dreamy, hopeful Beautiful World he croons with a heartfelt vocal line. Kiama's debut is firmly set in the neo-progressive genre that was started by bands such as Arena and IQ, this is not a criticism they do what they do it with a panache many progressive have spent a career striving for. Sign Of IV is a purely collaborative effort with each member adding their own skill to the songs meaning that the album as a whole bursts with style and technical mastery. 8/10

Beth Blade & The Beautiful Disasters: Sick Like This (Self Released)

Beth Blade and her band The Beautiful Disasters are possibly Cardiff's answer to Halestorm, think gutsy hard rock with the rock chick Beth leading her band of rockers in radio friendly hard rock that owes much to KISS, AC/DC, Alter Bridge, Black Stone Cherry and of course Halestorm. Sick Like This is the bands first EP and showcases the songs that many will know from their live show, the songs benefit from production as it means all aspects of them sparkle, from the heavyweight riffs, to Beth's husky vocals. At six songs long it gives you an incite into what to expect with Forbidden Hearts kicking things off on a song you can imagine Lzzy singing in an arena, the filthy title track is dirtier than a fondle on Chippy Lane with a sledgehammer riff and Beth taking charge of an unnamed lover. This is unsophisticated rock and roll that shoots from the hip melding late 80's with late naughties rock, albeit refreshingly from a female perspective on the cowbell fuelled If It Ain't Rough (It Ain't Right) and the BLS stomp of Kill You With Kisses. This is a great album that actually reminds me a lot of American cult act Hydrogyn, Beth and her Beautiful Disasters are far from a disaster, with a set of catchy, hook laden hard rock songs. 7/10   


Monday, 8 February 2016

Reviews: Rotting Christ, Prong, Drowning Pool (Reviews By Paul)

Rotting Christ: Rituals (Seasons Of Mist Records)

Few bands in the metal world have been plying their trade with such consistency as Greek extremists Rotting Christ. Having formed in 1987 and released their first album in 1991, the band have demonstrated impressive staying power and total commitment to their craft. Last year’s excellent Lucifer Over Athens double live release (which is probably the definitive compilation of Rotting Christ) followed 2013’s Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού. 

Rituals focuses very much on creating black metal atmospherics with almost mind numbing repetition. The frantic drumming of Themis Tolis doesn’t let up on any of the tracks, whilst brother Sakis’ vocals continue in the vein that one has come to expect, growling and gruesome. The inclusion of a number of vocalists helps with the impact; for example, the female cries on Elthe Kyrie enhance the demonic subject matter. Huge swathes of keyboards add to the mood. The more polished production is a double edged sword though, dampening the darkness of previous releases. Subject matter is pretty straightforward with occult and satanic themes. Les Litanies De Satan sits in the traditional Rotting Christ camp whilst Apage Satana attempts to build a much more atmospheric and broody track but just fails in its ambitions. Tou Thanatou has more of the Rotting Christ assault with chanting and keyboards adding the layers, some excellent guitar work from George Emmanuel in the middle section but it’s all a bit black mass all over again.

The inclusion of Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes on the voice-over adds interest on For A Voice Like Thunder and the track is one of the best on the album, driving visceral riffs, roaring vocals and a slower but heavier pace. Konx Om Pax contains Candlemass style power chords, more chanting vocals and powerful build up, tolling bells and malevolence, before descending into a crushing six-minute beast with Themis’ drumming most impressive. My only complaint about this release is that it is very repetitive. Every song appears to be designed to be a huge atmospheric piece, with similar construction and composition. How many tracks need a tolling bell for example? The keyboards add to the layered sound but little return to the raw death of their earlier releases would satisfy those who don’t want every track to be a brooding monster. Don’t get me wrong, this is a decent release but a little more variation would have improved things massively. 7/10

Prong: X - (No Absolutes) (Nuclear Blast)

For a band now moving into the veteran status, Prong’s recent output is impressive. Their 11th studio album X (No Absolutes) comes hard on the heels of last year’s covers album, Songs From The Black Hole, X (No Absolutes) continues where 2014’s Ruining Lives finished. Prong keep things straightforward. Over 40 minutes of aural assault; aggressive thrash and punk infused metal, heavy as hell and the majority of it played at break neck speed. Songs such as Ultimate Authority and Sense Of Ease stomp all over the place, screaming guitars and battering drumming leaving the listener in no doubt. Victor unleashes his trademark snarling yet melodic vocal combined with some vicious cutting riffs, supported by Jason Christopher’s thunderous bass lines and backing vocals and the powerful drumming assault of Art Cruz which provide a rock solid foundation.

It’s pretty simple but effective stuff and although it’s unsophisticated if you need something to drive to at high speed (but obviously within all recognised limits kids) or some pumping work out music, you would struggle to find something better to do the job. It’s not all out thrashers and there are a couple of tracks on this release which could attract more mainstream interest; Soul Sickness with its almost nu-metal feel and Do Nothing is drenched in melody. Ice Runs Through My Veins has an industrial tinge and Christopher taking centre stage. The slower pace of With Dignity, the album closer, which at times moves to almost ballad country, provides a glimpse of the calmer side of a band who really don’t give a fuck what the mainstream thinks. 7/10

Drowning Pool: Hellelujah (eOne Music)

20 years since they first formed, and 15 since the anthem Bodies first hit our ears, Drowning Pool blast back into your consciousness with their sixth release, Hellelujah. With the core of the group constant over the years, it’s the revolving door of vocalists that has slowed their potential march to the upper echelons of the metal movement. I say potential because as we all know; the nu-metal sound doesn’t always appeal these days. I have to admit that Drowning Pool are not part of my regular listening rotation and Hellelujah is highly unlikely to change that. The aggressive drive, crashing riffs and thumping bass lines of Stevie Benton remain firmly in place, with CJ Pierce’s guitar work as solid as it has ever been. The first three tracks are real tub thumpers, Push, By The Blood and Drop all power along with Jasen Moreno’s vocals raw and angry. Hell To Pay changes the pace of the release, with a slower, grittier approach, Moreno’s vocals fitting in perfectly whilst the gutsy attack of We Are The Devil contains a couple of really decent riffs.

My only problem with all the bands that deliver this type of music is that it becomes just a little too generic. Angry but clean vocals, chunky riffs and choruses that you can join in with. So to Drowning Pool, add similar releases from Soil, FFDP, Saliva, Sevendust etc. You get the picture. At 48 minutes long, Hellelujah is a value for money release and if you like this type of stomping, aggressive yet melodic and harmony soaked metal then you are going to be stoked. Unfortunately, as the album progresses attention starts to wander and half way in, the likes of Snake Charmer begin to become less interesting to the listener. Moreno can hit a note and scream like a madman; My Own Way allows him to really explode with the combined bass and guitar work giving the track a real groove. By the time you get to Meet The Bullet a little fatigue has set in and despite the solidity of the tunes you will be pleased to have got through this. A solid but unspectacular release which won’t shake the metal world one bit. 6/10