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Saturday, 12 March 2016

Reviews: Magnum, Onslaught, Entombed A.D (Reviews By Paul)

Magnum: Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies (SPV)

I have a massive soft spot for Magnum. Steeped in history, Magnum is a true story of resilience and determination; a band that has experienced the highs and lows of the music industry over a marathon 40+ years. For the uninitiated, the band’s roots can be traced back to the West Midlands in the early 1970s where the two main members, guitarist Tony Clarkin and vocalist Bob Catley grafted the clubs and pubs. Their first release came in 1978 with greater commercial success arriving in 1982 with the quite brilliant (and still an all-time favourite of mine) Chase The Dragon. Their success was maintained with high quality releases The Eleventh Hour and then On A Storyteller’s Night which spawned the hit single Just Like An Arrow and I was fortunate enough to catch the band at the long defunct New Ocean Club on Rover Way in Cardiff on that tour. I still have the pin badge. Wings Of Heaven provided their biggest hit with Start Talkin’ Love and the band reached their peak with arena shows throughout the UK. Having split in 1995, the band reformed in 2001 and have continued to produce albums on a regular basis. Magnum are an iconic band who have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity over the past few years. The last time I saw them was at the Steelhouse Festival in 2013.

Since then they’ve released the excellent Escape From The Shadow Garden and now Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies. The title track opens the album; if you could describe a track that summarises this band then Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies would be it. Some excellent guitar work courtesy of Clarkin who delivers magnificently throughout the album, the majestic vocals of Bob Catley, the softer keyboards of Mark Stanway and the solid rhythm section of Harry James and bassist Al Barrow. The orchestral pomp of a band who are masters of their craft follows on Crazy Old Mothers, Catley belying his 68 years whilst Stanway's keyboards expertly underpin the track. Magnum has always been a melodic rock band, never sitting comfortably in the heavy metal category. The keyboards have always been an integral part of the band’s sound, although Clarkin can throw down the riffs with the best. Gypsy Queen demonstrates this fantastically, with Catley soloing during the verses supported by some understated keyboards before the chorus crashes in, complete the harmonies. Clarkin, a veteran these days at 69 teases out a wonderfully constructed solo as the track steadily increases in pace. Princess In Rags (The Cult) follows, a superb melodic rock song, combing the storytelling approach that Catley often adopts, with a huge hook and some stunning melodies; this is one to get the crowd moving (okay, shuffling these days).

Of course, being Magnum, there is always the odd ballad type tucked away and Your Dreams Won’t Die arrives right on cue, supported by some pleasant strings and heavy emphasis on the keyboards. The anthemic chorus will not doubt get the lighters in the air (Am I showing my age now?). If you are looking for heavy metal action, you won’t find it on this release or indeed any of Magnum’s previous 18 albums. What you will find is perfectly crafted rock, sometimes dramatic: Afraid Of The Night; sometimes delicate and emotional before stomping along to a cracking singalong chorus: A Forgotten Conversation and sometimes just plain old quality rock music: Quiet Rhapsody. Don’t Cry Baby brings the album to a close, possibly the weakest track on an album that oozes quality. Their gig at the Tramshed in May will be epic, I have not doubt. I’m gutted that I’m likely to be working away for that entire week. Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies is possibly the best melodic rock release of the year. I highly recommend giving this classic British band an hour of your time. Quite super stuff. 9/10

Onslaught: Live At The Slaughterhouse (AFM)

We don’t often review live releases here at MoM Towers but when this quite frankly fantastic slab of UK thrash arrived on the desk, well, it would have been fucking rude not to. When you discuss the thrash movement of the 1980s, Bristol’s Onslaught are often overlooked. They really are one of the most underrated UK thrash outfits of all time. If you’ve never seen these boys live then you’ve missed out on a real treat whilst some of their studio offerings really kick you in the nuts such is their power. Having split in 1991, the band reformed in 2004 and have been active ever since. Live At The Slaughterhouse is a record of their 2014 UK tour, mainly recorded in London and it truly captures the essence of Onslaught.

If you ever doubted that this band can thrash with the best of them, then the evidence is nicely presented with some of their heaviest and most powerful works on display. One of the many highlights is the quite blistering In Search of Insanity, title track of their 1989 album which features vocalist Sy Keeler giving it his all (as he does throughout) whilst the battering ram drumming of Mike Hourihan absolutely destroys. To be fair, the whole release is excellent, and it really is a reminder of how bloody heavy Onslaught actually are. This is top quality UK thrash, with the twin guitar attack of Nige Rockett and the now departed Leigh Chambers shredding and riffing at 150mph. Jeff Williams demonic bass lines combine with Hourihan's quite incredible drumming to drive the whole thing forward without respite. The quality never dips, with classics such as Fight With The Beast and Metal Forces mixing comfortably with the newer tracks from 2013’s superb VI; including the haunting Children Of The Sand and the all-out attack of 66 Fucking 6. My only complaint is that the crowd noise appears muted, giving the impression of a small turnout and slightly taking the shine off what was a quite stunning set. Onslaught have never really reached the heights that they should have and this is a shame. If you love thrash metal, then this is an essential listen. If you have never heard Onslaught, then this is the introduction you need. “Let’s have a muthafucking pit out here” snarls Sy before Onslaught (Power From Hell) kicks in. “Let’s have some good violent friendly violent fun”. Well, exactly. Thrash ‘til death indeed. 8/10

Entombed AD: Dead Dawn (Century Media)

Back in 2014 Entombed AD emerged from the ashes of Entombed with a powerful debut release, the impressive Back To Front. Less than two years later and the band return with another hard hitting release, Dead Dawn. In a similar vein to its predecessor, Dead Dawn is 40 minutes of melodic death with some really impressive changes in pace. The title track for example retains the dark cutting guitar work of Nico Elgstrand and the relentless drumming of Olle Dhalstedt but doesn’t do what many of the genre do and go flat out. Down To Mars To Ride builds slowly but when it goes then hold on as this is a runaway beast. However, it’s still not 110mph, but an Anthrax style chug which gets the head vigorously nodding very quickly. With an abundancy of chunky riffage this is a storming release. As always, the gruff yet distinguishable vocals of Lars-Göran Petrov are at the forefront with Elgstrand’s fretwork impressive as always. In some ways the band has moved slightly away from the death metal tag they have carried for a long time but just when you think they might have mellowed they hit straight back with a slab of brutal all-out power; see Total Death and Silent Assassin for evidence of this. Entombed AD has also built real atmosphere into many of their tracks, creating a real oppressive deathly vision on the foreboding behemoth Hubris Fall and album closer Not What It Seems. This is another solid release from a band who show pretty intense resilience. Well worth a listen. 7/10

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