Avatar: Feathers & Flesh (Entertainment One)
Avatar have steadily upped their game on every release, with 2012's Black Waltz announcing them to the world at large only to be improved upon greatly by 2014's Hail The Apocalypse, this is where the band varied their scope bringing together a mix of groove, death, black and even some progressive and power metal influences fusing them together to produce a unique sound, their sixth album sees them once again improving their game and expanding their sound. Feathers & Flesh is a concept record that frontman Johannes Eckerström explains: "It's about this owl who goes to war against the world to prevent the sun from rising. It's a fable inspired by the work of the famous French fable writer Jean de La Fontaine so the creatures in the fable represent a side of the human psyche or different behaviors" so a high concept piece but one that is delivered with some of Avatar's most ambitious but accessible music they've produced.
The album kicks off with the sorrowful Regret that introduces the protagonist Owl and what will become the overarching theme of the record, then we are taken back when the Owl is at the top of his game on the pure metal House Of Eternal Hunt which is rampaging power metal-like track laced with classical acoustics and insane two-hand tapping solos showing the skill of Jonas "Kungen" Jarlsby and Tim Öhrström who really impress throughout the record with their guitar skill giving the record it's modern but classic sound, House... moves into the commanding stomp of The Eagle Has Landed which has the vaudeville call of "Ladies & Gentlemen" on which Johannes Eckerström shows off his dual personality vocal and his ringleader caricature welcoming us to the rest of the album backed by a rhythmic groove-laden stomp.
Eckerström's vocals are at their very best on this record dividing their time between a sonorous, insistent clean vocal before unleashing his harsher side. New Land is one of the better tracks to show this off as it is almost choral in places with the occasional foray into screams, New Land also is driven by the progressive drumming of John Alfredsson who along with bassist Henrik Sandelin is key to the stripped back verses in heavy creeping surf rock influenced Tooth, Beak And Claw which has nearly all snarled vocals a counterpoint to the more upbeat musical backing, the rhythm section are also used to their fullest on Pray The Sun Away (do I detect cowbell?)
Feathers & Flesh is certainly the bands most progressive output so far, I'd say it has mix of Von Hertzen Brothers, Lamb Of God and Rob Zombie all meshed together but it makes for an interesting listen, because of the wide variety of styles on offer most people will be able to find something that will tickle their fancy, but at 14 songs it could be a little too complicated for those of the thrash disposition (joke) however stick with the record as you'll be rewarded by some interesting, intricate, impressive and downright heavy metal with artistic flourishes.
Tracks such as the ballad Fiddler's Farewell, the county-fied heaviness of Black Waters (very Sons Of Anarchy) along with the anthemic folky Night Never Ending all add balance to the record meaning that nothing ever grows stale over it's length right up to the gurgling, orchestral final track Sky Burial. This record is absolutely excellent and if nothing else it ensures my presence at their mainstage opening performance on the Saturday at Download, luckily it does more than that and is an album that I and hopefully you will revisit numerous time this year. 9/10
Buffalo Summer: Second Sun (UDR)
I went to the launch night of Buffalo Summer's sophomore record the day before it's official release, I heard most of the record live meaning that I sort of knew what to expect when I heard it however from the first listen the band sound a lot more accomplished their songwriting has improved significantly, although they were no slouches on their debut, their is also more a professional edge to this recording, it sounds like a major label record, possibly due to the influence of producer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees) who also adds the percussion, hammond organ and vibraphone. As you can probably tell from that list of instruments the Neath quartet have also added more varied flavours to this second effort adding to the hard rocking their debut was packed with, although that is still there on stomping opening twosome of Money and the groovy Heartbreakin' Floorshakin' and the direct Into Your Head.
The funk comes on strong with Little Charles, there is a definite blues base to Priscilla, while High As The Pines has a stoner focus, Levitate and Water To Wine bring a country twang and they even try their hand at a ballad with Light Of The Sun which is done well avoiding smaltz and adding a touch of muscle. Still the racket is made by Gareth's powerful drumming, Darren's rhythmic grooving bass, Jonny's soaring, flowing guitars and Andrew's hollering vocals all of which lock together perfectly on the songs meaning that this record has an organic feel to it. Second Sun is a classy hard rock record that shows the band have learnt a lot from the high profile tours; it's a slickly produced, expertly played and full of accomplished songcraft. This second album that will see the band on a steep upward trajectory, do yourself a favour and pick up Second Sun as it proves Gene Simmons wrong, rock n roll is very much alive and kicking. 8/10
Mother Feather: Mother Feather (Metal Blade)
New York band Mother Feather were formed by frontwoman Ann Courtney after growing disillusioned with the scene at large, at the same time she found her kindred spirit in Elizabeth Carena or Lizzie and with one small Freudian slip while trying to swear Mother Feather's name was born. The band style themselves as pro-feminist pop cock rock and their album is glitter bomb of garage rock wrapped in a glam rock bacofoil cape and covered in face paint and ostentatious make-up.
Think The Stooges, New York Dolls or The MC5 with pop sensibilities, a distinct alt-rock edge and girl power lyrical content with a dominant, defiant purr by Courtney and her partner in crime Carena. It's the duality of the vocals that gives this record it's decided edge, the pop sensibilities of the record are heightened by the dual vocals working in tandem meaning that there are 50's doo-wop/rock n roll call and response elements as well as some more 60's style harmonizing, all of the tracks are driven by the rhythm section of Gunnar Olsen and Matt Basile who push the thumping stomps of the glam rock on the title track allowing Chris Foley to add some staccato, fuzzy guitar riffs and shimmering lead breaks while Carena handles the keys and organs that make a lot of the songs on this record have an innate danceability to them, especially the funky, filthy Trampoline with its' superb innuendo laced smile raising chorus.
Mother Feather's debut has all the hallmarks of a genre straddling classic that will appeal to wide audience as there is enough pop for those that love to shake their booty but enough grunting rock for the long hairs' listening, Mother Feather have balanced both sounds very well on their debut showing a lot of the male dominant bands what it really means to have balls! 8/10