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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 Kallioj√§rvi 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 Majam√§ki 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

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