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Thursday, 30 June 2016

Reviews: Sunstorm, Astrakhan, My Regime

Sunstorm: Edge Of Tomorrow (Frontiers)

Sunstorm was formed in 1999 by ex-Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner along with Dennis Ward, Uwe Reitenauer, Chris Schmidt all from Pink Cream 69. With this line up they record three albums all of which sat very comfortably in the warm, embrace of AOR that Ward and Turner are especially skilled in. Think big racks of keyboards, clean guitar riffs, crooning vocals and big sexy hooks (as Michael Bolton would call them) and if you like AOR then you'll be licking your sugar coated lips with anticipation. Edge Of Tomorrow is the bands fourth album in total and their first since 2012's Emotional Fire (is there a more AOR title than that?) it is the first not to feature any of the previous members except for Joe Lynn Turner who's unmistakable leather lunged vocal prowess is at the forefront of every song on this record. This Sunstorm album is a little bit heavier than it's predecessors as it comes off the back of Turner's Rated X project which was more a melodic rock sound that pure saccharine AOR.

Thankfully then Edge Of Tomorrow is a rockier prospect and it benefits from it meaning that it sounds a bit more like Turner's tenure in Rainbow, this can be heard on Heart Of The StormDon't Walk Away From A Goodbye and You Hold Me Down which all have hard rock edge to them, on the other side of the coin there is still plenty of AOR melodies The Sound Of Goodbye is very Journey in it's synth driven thump and of course there are also huge ballads such as the over-blown Angel Eyes and the muscular The Darkness Of This Dawn which ramp up the cheese factor. Much of the album's sound comes from the songwriting, production and keyboard playing of session man extraordinaire Alessandro Del Vecchio who seems to have a new band every week but all of them have the same high quality sheen to them, the rest of the band are also Italian with the band replaced wholesale from it's original members. The quality of this record is very huge indeed and should see Sunstorm back with a bang! 8/10

Astrakhan: Adrenaline Kiss (Dead End Exit)

Astrakhan hail from the snowy shores of Sweden and much like countrymen Katatonia they add a humanistic touch to their progressively tinged hard rock. They play their music in the shadow of Floyd having an ear to the Scandinavian cousins The Von Hertzen Brothers the band are made up of a singer who has background in musical theatre, a drummer, a guitarist that was part of Evergrey (one of the other acts that I would put in the same category as Astrakhan) and was founded by two brothers who are the bass and keys. The album is a musical melting pot of styles, Silver Dreams is an ominous dramatic number with spiralling keys throughout it, it's a contrast to the two opening songs that are almost two halves of one mammoth piece, in fact this entire album has thematic link to it there is an aching and longing throughout, Adrenaline Kiss is not a happy album, it's melancholic and poignant as much as it is also dynamic and rocking, the band are all masters of their instruments and this is reflected by the complexities of the songs on this record, the title track moves into the eastern influence as the keys once again show their influence, One More Day is swaying, acoustically-laced rocker that leads into the stirring melody of Ballade De Rhodes which owes a lot to Katatonia and Anathema almost as much as Gravity owes to Pink Floyd. Adrenaline Kiss is an interesting album and one that needs time to be considered properly, just enjoy the ride and let it open up it's charms. 7/10     

My Regime: Dogmas (Scarlet Records)

My Regime's frontman is Spice, perhaps best known as the original singer of Swedish Stoner merchants Spiritual Beggars as well as melodic thrashers Kayser (who I still hold in high regard). Dogmas is his most aggressive record to date as he says himself: "This band is my ventilation to get rid of some unhealthy anger. Both in a musically way, but also in a mental way" there is frustration at the global socio-political situation delivered with stripped back lightning fast thrash metal. I'll get this out of the way now Dogmas sounds like Slayer, exactly like Slayer, the songs have rapid guitar riffs, frantic blast beats, Spice's Arya like vocals, political lyrics and the entire record sounds like it was recorded in a toilet. I was four songs in before I realised the track had changed such is the familiarity of these songs, the album just sounds the same and never really breaks away from South Of Heaven sound. If you worship Slayer you might get a kick out of Dogmas however it's really just too much of a blatant rip off for my liking. 5/10   

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Reviews: Stitched Up Heart, Elm Street, Albany Down

Stitched Up Heart: Never Alone (Century Media Records)

Stitched Up Heart began their career as emo/goth band clad in anime visuals and a poppy, angst filled sound, however after the initial line up of the band fizzled front woman Alecia "Mixi" Demner set about reviving and re-branding the band, their EP Skeleton Key saw the music toughen up, heavier riffs, squealing solos and angrier screams from Demner all showed that Stitched Up Heart had matured into a much more aggressive beast. The Gothic undertones remain but now they have a heavier bite to them, think Evanescence meets In This Moment and you're on to a winner, there is an awful lot of atmosphere of this record that lead into brutal blast beats, down-tuned crunching guitars and Alecia's excellent vocals that sound a lot like ITM's Maria Brink moving from crooning, emotive cleans to scarred roars sometimes instantaneously. The band have a keen ear for a massive hook and tracks such as Monster show this with a catchy refrain sticking in your head long after the record is finished, in fact this trick is repeated on Now That You're Gone, the pulsing title track and huge ballads like Bleeding Out. The band are a decidedly modern act with some nu-metal breakdowns on Catch Me When I Fall and a hefty dose of electronics featured across the board, most notably on the City Of Angels, the sleazy Turn You On and the atmospheric  Event Horizon which is just as creepy as it's filmic namesake. Never Alone is a very strong debut from the Hollywood natives it's got a pop sheen to appeal to the Kerrang generation but with enough heaviness to crush in a live setting. If you like In This Moment, Motionless In White or indeed the newest Lacuna Coil album; Never Alone will be a mainstay on your record player for the next few months. 8/10

Elm Street: Knock 'Em Out...With A Metal Fist (Massacre)

Aussie metal upstarts Elm Street are now on their second album which has one of the most brain dead titles I've ever heard and the silliest cover of the year so far featuring a half naked woman, the Grim Reaper and the titular Metal Fist. It's all a bit Spinal Tap but it serves as an indicator for actual content of the record which is fist-in-the-air traditional sounding metal that tips the hat to speed and thrash metal that doesn't take itself too seriously at all. With song titles as Kiss The Canvas, Heavy Mental and Face The Reaper you can hear that the band are very musically gifted and seem to be having a lot of fun, going against the grain of some of the more po-faced metal bands around. this isn't to say the band are kooky or crazy but their subject matter is all a bit lightweight, no social commentary here. The four piece are loaded with dual guitar riffs, galloping rhythm section and gruff vocals, Face The Reaper opens with the kind of acoustics Death Angel used to favour, then the pace picks up and it opens up in to some familiar riffage, this is classic thrash/trad metal alright and if you're not convinced Kiss The Canvas delivers the first knock out blow (sorry) with a speedy guitar playing and excellent drum work. Think Gamma Bomb, Skull Fist, Cauldron and you'll get an idea of Elm Street's sound, it's not big it's not clever but it will soundtrack your next party very well. 7/10    

Albany Down: The Outer Reach (Self Released)

As Albany Down's third album The Outer Reach opens there is an orchestrally backed Zep-alike riff to immediately draw you in, Feeding The Flame has a chorus that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and reminds you of Page, Plant, Bohnam and Jones at their most bombastic. Much like the mighty Zep, Albany Down are a four piece with Donna Peters on the sticks, Billy Dedman on bass, Paul Turley on guitar and behind the mic Paul Muir, the band are an organic sounding rock band untreated and raw, it's the plug in an play mentality that lends itself to this album, the songs are all the better for the collective nature of the band. Peters and Dedman are the root of the groove which is palpable on Do You Want Me Now and Supersonic Girl which has excellent use of horns and has the white man funk feel of Jamiroquai and hints at the myriad of influences throughout from slide driven country rock on Mr Hangman which has some chicken pickin banjo playing and gang vocals ably supplied by the other band members Peter's being the most audible as counterpoint ot Muir. There's touches of Bonamassa power blues on Like A Bullet which is a showcase for Turely's guitar work with silky lead breaks as the track builds into a colossal solo in the climax. Muir's excellent vocals are a key part to the band's sound they are emotive but also carry a lot of weight, from his twang you'd think that the band would be from the States but no they hail from London and just manage to be the ultimate in American stadium rock on Home which once again adds pinches of Led Zeppelin III to Aerosmith's late 80's heyday and even sneaks in a bit of Tesla for good measure. The album is about trying and failing but there is no failing on here, every song is different every song is full of top class playing and interesting ever changing songcraft. There is not a single duff track on the record I Need You is a driving rocker, The Drop brings the funk back and is layered in huge organs and the horns return for Look What You've Done To before the record is closed out by the heart breaking Sing Me To Sleep which has an infectious "na na na na" refrain intercut by some more gorgeous guitar playing. Albany Down are amazing, their brand of music draws from Zep, Bonamassa, The Black Crowes, Whitesnake, Alter Bridge, The Answer and many others besides, this is blues-based rock par excellence, you need this record in your life. Fact! 10/10 

Monday, 27 June 2016

Another Point Of View: ZZ Top (Live Review By Paul)

ZZ Top - 02 Academy Birmingham

The ZZ Top date in June is becoming a bit of an annual event. Three years ago I saw the mighty Texans play on 25 June at Hammersmith Odeon; last year on June 24 we saw a blistering show with Thunder in support at Wembley Arena and this year we headed to one of my least favourite venues, the 02 Academy in Birmingham to catch the band’s warm up show for their appearance at Glastonbury. Luckily we had managed to get tickets for the balcony, and having negotiated a very lengthy queue of punters all excited to get into the venue we took our seats for an evening of foot stomping blues soaked rock.

Support came from the Ben Matthews Band (8); a pleasing four piece from Joplin, Missouri who play crazy bluegrass and delta blues. If memory serves they opened for ZZ at Hammersmith and were excellent. The four members Ben Miller, Scott Leeper, Rachel Ammons, and Smilin' Bob Lewis delivered a great warm up for the sold out crowd with their engaging stage style, multiple instrument changes and enthusiasm which was rewarded with a warm ovation from the packed audience.

When the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was coined, I’m sure that ZZ Top (10) were in the author’s mind. A set list that comprised all the same tracks as the previous two shows, albeit in a slightly different order, a stage set so simply that there isn’t even a pedal in sight enhanced by some very clever and subtle lighting and three dudes who just do what they do.
What they do is play quality blues in a style that appeals to a huge range of people. Opener Got Me Under Pressure segued into the first of four tracks from the mighty Eliminator, the evergreen Gimme All Your Lovin’ and the band were already displaying their genuine enjoyment with the lanky frame of Billy Gibbons occupying front and centre alongside Dusty Hill, who spent a number of tracks on his keyboard with bass. Of course, Dusty is recovering from his damaged shoulder and the keyboard allowed him to keep the weight of his bass off his shoulder for part of the evening. However, the interaction between Hill and the Rev Willie G is a joy to behold as they cruised through a set that seemed to absolutely speed by.

Mid-set saw the usual covers, Hendrix’s Foxy Lady and Robert Petway’s Catfish Blues allow the Rev open up with his fluid and effortless guitar playing whilst at the back Frank Beard held a steady beat; the man is a rock holding the band together with his solid and unassuming drumming. The run delivered a quadruple whammy; Cheap Sunglasses, Chatreuse, Sharp Dressed Man and main closer Legs before the band headed off for a deserved wipe down. Back on for the obligatory and always excellent La Grange followed by a stunning Tush but tonight it wasn’t over then a second encore of Sixteen Tons ( a Tennessee Ernie Ford cover - Ed) and Elvis’s Jailhouse Rock brought 90 minutes of sheer brilliance to an end. A third view in four years and each one brought something different despite the similarity in the set. Always cool, always worth seeing.

The Spotlight: Interview With Colour Of Noise (By Morag Farley @ Stone Free Festival)

Colour Of Noise Interview, Ston Free Festival, The O2 London

Interview By Morag Farley with Bruce John Dickinson & Randy Nixon

Over the last year or so, we have had the pleasure of meeting the guys from Colour Of Noise several times, and what lovely lads they are. Bruce John Dickinson (Lead Guitar) and Randy Nixon (Drums) kindly agreed to talk to us about themselves, the band and their musical aspirations.

We knew that the venue for Stone Free was a little different to the more 'normal' gig set up, so, how did they think it went - their performance at the inaugural Stone Free Festival? Randy  told us 'I really enjoyed it - it was different, having an audience that was mostly walkbys'. Bruce agreed, saying they hadn't done anything like that before.  Whilst we were on the subject of the festival, we talked about what they thought of the festival itself. Bruce said that although they'd done quite a few festivals, this one was very different and seemed well organised. Festivals are risky - the weather can be cruel, but having it inside takes away some of that risk.

Both Bruce and Randy were keen to talk about the new album that is underway and they are really excited about the project. They are recording it all in one room, to give it a more substantial feel. The new recording studio has a great feel to it and they have high hopes for another successful album. We asked them what we could expect.... 'No Ballards!' cried Randy. We aren't surprised by that -there are none on the first album either! They told us that the album will have a more ancient feel to it, with old fashioned blues coming together with rhythm and blues simplicity. Bruce has constructed the songs to give the music space so that the listener can pick out the different elements and let the music speak for itself.

They are a band with big ambitions, with dreams of playing in big venues. To do that, they need to have simple arrangements that will play well in both smaller and large venues. Colour Of Noise have a few festivals scheduled in over the summer, but will be concentrating on the new album. They aren't under any pressure to bring it out quickly - preferring to get it right. They are also working hard in the Brighton rock scene helping newer bands.

From our perspective, we think those newer bands in Brighton could not ask for better and we are very much looking forward to seeing them later on in the year.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Another Point Of View: Stone Free Festival (Review By Paul & Morag Farley)

Stone Free Festival - The O2 London

This is the first 'Stone Free Festival'. Our decision to go was based on the two 'one off' performances that were advertised. First was the only UK performance of Alice Cooper in 2016, and second was the world premier performance performance of the reworked Rick Wakeman classic The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table. There was a wide selection of music on both days,  with two stages as well as the arena and a lounge offering alternative entertainment. Day 1 was primarily 'Rock', and Day 2 ran a more 'Progressive Rock' programme.

Saturday 18 June

The day opened in the Indigo Lounge in the Indigo O2. First up for us were Jackaman (7) This band first came to our attention when they were announced to play at Rockstock.  Having now seen them live, we can say that Rockstock is in for a real treat. Wow Lynne Jackaman has got a strong voice! Their music has a soul/blues feel rather than heavy rock, but they gave a powerful and moving performance, with some tracks benefitting from the inclusion of the soulful sound of a saxophone. Their short set was very well received by the lunchtime crowd.

The Virginmarys (8) are from Macclesfield and were named 'Best Breakthrough Act' at the 2013 Classic Rock Awards. It is easy to see why. They were next up  and couldn't have been more different. Their sound is what could be described as 'angry rock' and the three of them put all their energy into their music.  Danny Dolan (Drums) is the sort of drummer that wants to be heard. If that means standing up to hit his drums a bit harder, then he isn't afraid to do that, even if causes his drum tech a few headaches!

It was then time for us to take our seats in the main arena for the nights packed agenda. First up were Blackberry Smoke (8), (no strangers to those of us here at MoM towers - Ed) who had flown in that day at the start of their UK tour. They were late on stage - apparently due to being held up at Heathrow. Despite the late start, they gave us a blistering set of Southern Rock including some of their better known tracks such as Six Ways To Sunday and Rock And Roll Again. This is the sort of music that, even when you are sitting down, your feet just want to join in. The audience really seemed to enjoy the music from these guys from Atlanta and gave them rapturous applause as they finished their set.

After a short break for  a bite to eat, we retook our seats for Apocalyptica (7). I had been sceptical about this act - to me, cellos and rock music are poles apart. They are billed as a 'Finnish Cello Metal Band'. Imagine Metallica tracks being played on a cello. Not even gracefully seated, but energetic, unique, and off the scale. It was an amazing performance. Sometimes, its nice to be wrong!

The penultimate act of the evening was The Darkness (8). They are a band with a chequered history, having been on the UK and international rock scene since 1999 and with a string of hits behind them meant that they are bound to give us a great performance. The release of their album Last Of Our Kind in 2015 brought the band back into the limelight after a bit of a lull. We had last seen them at Rockstock in December where they had been heralded as hugely entertaining, and had performed a great set. This outing was no different. Justin Hawkins was on great form, as flamboyant as ever in his skin tight outfit complete with gold codpiece, engaging some members of the crowd in the way that only he can get away with.

Some people commented that if he had engaged in a little less banter with the front row, he would have been able to get another song in before timing got the better of them. Beginning their set with Barbarian and finishing with I Believe In A Thing Called Love gave us a great variety and, overall, they were great to see again. As The Darkness left the stage to rousing applause and cheering,  the crew began to move quickly to prepare the stage for the highlight of the evening. To prevent the eagle eyed audience seeing what was going on, the customary shield was raised at the front of the stage.

After what seemed like hours, Alice Cooper (10) and his band came onto the stage through a curtain of fireworks. Ever the showman, we knew we were in for a real treat. Beginning with The Black Widow, Alice takes us through a string of his music, pausing only to allow his band to take centre stage in solos. Nita Strauss delights with her versatility and energy as she delivers blistering solos whilst striding round the stage and making it her own. Things calm down a little while Alice takes a seat on an upturned and battered trash can to sing Only Women Bleed only to kick it across the stage as soon as he is done. Alice is the only person to die on stage several times a night and everyone cheers his demise and resurrection - his band seemingly helping the sources of his death as part of the show. He also pays tribute to those lost to the rock world. While tombstones bearing the names of Keith Moon, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and Lemmy appear at the back of the stage, he delivers a montage of Pinball Wizard, Fire, Suffragette City and Ace Of Spades. As he closes his set with Schools Out  accompanied by the entire audience, there are cheers and demands for an encore. In the brief seconds the lights are down, the only song that could possibly follow that was Elected with the accompanying show parodying the upcoming US Election. Alice for president. He'd get our vote!


Sunday 19 June

After a restful night in our hotel, we returned to the O2 on Sunday morning. There were a few bands we wanted to see who were appearing on the Fireball Stage which was sited in the main foyer, just inside the entrance. Its position meant that bands would be seen, not only by Stone Free ticket holders, but also by members of the public who were at the O2 for any other reason.

First up were Broken Witt Rebels (8), a Birmingham based band with a blues rock sound. They are predicted to have a bright future, and if their performance at Stone Free is anything to go by, that is a prediction they are worthy of. They took a couple of tracks to settle down, but it wasn't long before Danny started to enjoy himself and he built a rapport with the crowd that had formed. The whole band were appreciative of the audience - many of whom had just stopped by to watch and listen as they delivered their original music with growing confidence. By the time they were finished, the cheers and claps confirmed their successful appearance.

The next band we were keen to see, also on the Fireball stage was Colour Of Noise (9). This is a superb band who we first had the pleasure of seeing at Steelhouse Festival in July 2015, and have seen them several times since. They have a great sound, with their influences in traditional rock and roll showing through. We were lucky enough to meet up with the guys later on for a chat. You can read about it here. Matt Mitchell has a great presence on stage and  really draws in the audience. They began the set with You Only Call Me When You Want Something and followed it with perfect renditions of some of the great tracks from their debut album, including their single Can You Hear Me and my personal favourite Heavy to finish with. The small stage seemed cramped for them, as Bruce moved in to fill the spaces that Matt created as he shimmied his way round his small area. Colour Of Noise do not 'do' ballads. When they play, it is difficult, if not impossible, to resist the temptation to join in and dance. As always, they were a pleasure to watch.

We made our way into the arena for the main event which had already started when we arrived. We were seated in a different area, but the first thing that struck me was the arena floor. On Saturday night, it had been a sea of people dancing, singing and joining in with the musicians on the stage. By Sunday night, it was full of people again, but this time they were appreciating the progressive rock programme from the comfort and restraint of a fully seated arena. There would be no repeat of the crowd surfing antics of last night.

Steve Hackett (8) had already been on stage for a little while when we got in we had heard him performing a Genesis track as we entered. Steve is a talented guitarist we had seen a few months ago in Cardiff on his Acolyte To Wolflight tour, and he performed a few of the same tracks, some of which were his new music, others from his previous life as a member of Genesis. As always, we were impressed by the complexity that seems to be fairly standard in prog rock and the set closed with The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.

After a brief interval, we were looking forward to Marillion (6). As the lights went down they began their set with The Invisible Man, moving through other classics including Kayleigh, Lavender and finally finishing with Neverland. They had to cut the set short, as it was going to take some time to prepare the stage for the grand finale of the weekend. Again, the audience let them leave the stage with cheering and applause ringing in their ears.

The 'Main Event' was now preparing to take the stage. Rick Wakeman (7) released his concept album The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table in 1974 and has always dreamed of re-recording and performing an extended version. With the new album on the verge of being released, this was the first live performance and the realisation of a long held ambition. We'd met Rick earlier in the afternoon, and he'd certainly seemed to be looking forward to the performance. He was on great form, entertaining those who were lucky enough to meet him.

With Ian Lavender narrating, myths unfolded as the orchestra and choir brought the music to life. Rick had centre stage dressed in a regal cloak and he played his intricate music on a bank of keyboards. Taking us through births, marriages quests and deaths, the tempo changed from melodic and choral to fast and fun-filled expressing the different chapters of the legend. Rick finished and the crowd rose for a well deserved standing ovation.

The first inaugural Stone Free festival was overall a success, yes there were a few major kinks to be worked out as there always is with the debut of a festival, but I have no doubt that by next year things will run a lot smoother, well I hope so at least as there was much to be desired about this years organisation. However with a plethora of bands and distinctive feel on both days let's hope that Stone Free will continue to go from strength to strength. (It already has a benefit over many festivals by being all undercover so perfect for the British 'summer')


Reviews: Anderson/Stolt, Denner/Shermann, Whitford/St Holmes

Anderson/Stolt: Invention Of Knowledge (InsideOut)

Jon Anderson and Ronnie Stolt are two names that will be very familiar to prog rock fans, one the unmistakable (and only real) voice of Yes the other a the impressive guitar prowess of The Flower Kings. the two collaborated to play all of the first side of Tales From Topographic Oceans while at a gig together, this one collaboration has resulted in the two prog rock legends writing an album together that harks back the 1970's prog rock glory days. The album is made up of four parts each then split again to make up a total of 9 tracks most of which over 6 minutes long. What I got from the first playthrough of this record was that the songs are intensely musical but sounds stripped back and at times like an acoustic record with the layered guitars both 6 and 12 string variety, shaking percussion and many world music influences coming from the addition of dobro, lap steel, Portuguese guitar. The record is a musical journey through the Invention of Lying with the title track split into four parts; Invention is the record's most Yes sounding song with the building Anderson vocal based around a Medieval folk sounding musical backing that builds into a the trademark keyboard heavy sound of the band that abandoned their frontman a few years ago, as an opening salvo it's a perfect welcome to the record Stolt's multi faceted musical palette at it's most effective and Andersons chirping falsetto in fine fettle, it's also 9 minutes long and leads into the Indian sounding We Are Truth that forms the second part of the title track and acts as a bridge into the immediacy of the final part Knowledge which once again is a direct psychedelically tinged rocker. With 23 minutes past you realise that you are only still on the first part of the record but the magical mystical journey continues through the second part Knowing, made up of Knowing and the introspective Chase The Harmony. The music on this record is fantastic it's a majestic, grandiose and played by musicians that are all top flight along with two of the prog rock genres finest names. There is too much on this record to give a full autopsy of the record so I suggest you just take up your comfiest armchair, put on your headphones and just ease your way into this progressive voyage. 8/10

Denner/Shermann: Masters Of Evil (Metal Blade)

I reviewed Denner/Shermann's debut effort last year giving the EP a solid 7/10, well the band have been working hard and their debut full length is now upon us. If the names are familiar then you were brought up with schlock-horror of King Diamond, Michael Denner and Hank Shermann were and in Shermann's case still is, the dual axe attack for the Mercyful Fate as well as many other bands including King Diamond's solo work. As I mentioned in my EP review the band unashamedly sound like Mercyful Fate, but in a question I've posed before can you actually copy yourself? Denner/Shermann are trying their hardest to do just that, right down to the cover of this record that was designed by long term Mercyful/King Diamond artist Thomas Holm and features the same bursts of yellow and Satanic beasts as Don't Break the Oath. The eight tracks on this record are prime slabs of speed metal, lightning speed riffs, trade-off solos, frequent changes of pace and a biting high frequency tone giving it a sharp 80's sound akin to DBTO and Melissa. The talent is in evidence from the outset with a thundering rhythm section of Snowy Shaw's drums and Marc Grabowski's bass in almost robotic unison, all of this would be for nothing without a vocalist that has the same powerful lungs as The King, luckily Sean Peck has that role down to a tee already familiar as the Halford-esque vocals in Death Dealer and Cage here he shows off his range a bit more on the atmospheric Son Of Satan which has the tolling bells, a chugging building riff and some ear piercing vocals in the chorus, there's a lower register on the less rapid moments such as the crunch of Pentagram And The Cross, nods to Ozzy on The Wolf Feeds At Midnight  Masters Of Evil still relies heavily on the horror imagery of both men's past but you wouldn't expect anything less from two men who have made their name with Denmark's premier metal outfit. The songs on this record are just as good as those two early Mercyful Fate records and indeed better than much of King Diamond's solo output, this is proto-thrash at it's best from the duo that were two of the leading exponents of the sound back in the day. Masters Of Evil is a non stop metal assault from beginning to end and if you lament the loss of Mercyful Fate and love bands like Metal Church, Angel Witch and Satan then Denner/Shermann will come near the top of your end of year list. 8/10         

Whitford/St.Holmes: Reunion (Mailboat Records)

When Brad Whitford left Aerosmith in 1980 he teamed up with ex-Ted Nugent man Derek St Holmes, their debut record was released in August 1981 and unsurprisingly was a mix of the bluesy hip shaking bluesy hard rock of Aerosmith and the Southern styled hard rock of St. Holmes' work with Uncle Ted. Without achieving any major success the band split and both went back to their subsequent charges. However in November 2015 with Aerosmith on a relative hiatus the band reformed and embarked on a reunion tour, as part of the tour package they recorded an album of new songs (packaged with a digitally remastered version of their debut as a bonus). Once again the band is made up of St Holmes on vocals and guitar and Whitford on the screaming leads with the percussive backbeat coming from Tesla's Troy Luccketta who is no stranger to bluesy hard rock with his day job. the band is rounded out by Buck Johnson's keys and the excellently named Chopper Anderson on bass. The new album is imaginatively titled Reunion and it features nine brand new songs written especially for the record with Shapes being the stand out single a big ballsy riff leading the song into it's massive "Come Tomorrow" refrain displaying St. Holmes' excellent vocals that sound very much like KISS lead singer Paul Stanley throughout, most impressively on the Rock All Day which makes the most of the organs with it's sleazy sound, Hot For You has a definite KISS sound to it and Hell Is On Fire is the album's heaviest moment and it's a benefit as a juxtaposition to the more AOR saccharine tracks like Catch My Fall and the country love song of Tender Is The NightReunion is a good album from two old hands that work in unison very well showing that in 2016 unlike 1981 they have become a more pressing concern. 7/10


     

Friday, 24 June 2016

Reviews: The Amorettes, Persona Non Grata, Ouzo Bazooka

The Amorettes: White Hot Heat (Off Yer Rocka)

"It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll" this famous line from the immortal Bon Scott has been the motto of many rock bands throughout the years, every young up and coming band can identify with the sentiment but few make it with many falling by the wayside. Scottish all-girl three piece The Amorettes will not fall by the wayside, their snotty, riff driven style of hard rock brings to mind the rawness of Bon Scott fronted AC/DC if the songs were performed by Girlschool. White Hot Heat is the bands third album and once again attracts big hitters with Thunder's Luke Morley handling the production, he also co-writes a couple of the tracks, as does Black Star Riders' frontman Ricky Warwick so with such luminaries of the rock world supporting the band you wouldn't be surprised to find out that White Hot Heat is a rip snorting, hard riffing, kick you in the spuds rock album from word go.

The bands D.I.Y ethic is commendable but this record they have tightened their sound up a little with the rhythm section of Heather and Hannah McKay chomping at the bit, trying to get faster and louder with every song, meaning that guitarist Gill Montgomery has to be both Malcolm and Angus with the six string, she chugs along with Heather's heavy bass until it's time for her to let loose with explosive guitar solo that cut through the noise with their sparkling precision. The band have been called Airbourne fronted by Joan Jett and you can see why on The Runaways-like Batter Up and four chord attack of Eyes On the Prize and White Russian Roulette which would both sit pretty on High Voltage.

However it's not just AC/DC and the Riot Grrl mentality, Let The Neighbours Call The Cops has the loudness and fuck 'em all attitude of the great Motorhead, Come N Get It is a bit glamtastic as is Pervert Alert both sounding a lot like The Sweet in their heyday. Roll is punk at it's purest and Man Meat is yet another DC-styled track but from the woman's point of view. Bon's mantra is true to this day but with the support these Scottish lasses have had the peak of the mountain is most definitely in site. 8/10       

Persona Non Grata: Confirm Your Humanity (Steel Gallery Records)

Any album that opens with a finger plucked bass led opening track is either one of two things, a Les Claypool release or a progressive metal album. Confirm Your Humanity is the latter (sorry Primus fans) and it's progressive metal that sits in the same style as Fates Warning, Shadow Gallery and Dream Theater, think a heavy metal sound, virtuosos on the instruments and passionate songwriting that is built upon mesmerising instrumental pieces and the expansive vocal range of their frontman Bill Axiotis who is a dead ringer for Pagan's Mind man Nils K Rue, I mean he sounds exactly the same with just a hint of Geoff Tate.

Musically the band are very impressive indeed the guitar and bass are the heavy components of the songs with the keys adding the orchestrations and melodies for the cleaner leads to play over all while the drums often sound like they are playing a different song, this of course is a good thing as it keeps the songs interesting meaning that even when the band slow things down on the mega ballad Hope you can still sit in awe of the excellent playing that is going on behind the slightly maudlin song.

This album is the Greek band's third and the production is handled by veteran metal producer Chris Tsangarides who has behind the desk for Priest, Helloween, Anvil, Thin Lizzy as well as Depeche Mode and Tom Jones. He makes sure every instrument pops and allows you to focus on the intricate opening of songs such as Absent and brings out the heaviness on the more jazz orientated Burning Bridges. I'd not heard of Persona Non Grata before this despite my many dalliances with Greek metal, but I'm glad I found them as for me they tick all the boxes, this is a very strong classic sounding progressive metal album that will appeal to fans of Dream Theater and Queensryche. 8/10  

Ouzo Bazooka: Simoom (Self Released)

Hailing from the cultural centre of Israel Tel-Aviv Ouzo Bazooka are a band that play Middle Eastern psychedelic rock, their third album Simoom is a sweeping piece of consciousness altering, mind bending piece with desert influenced music built on as the band say "exotic food and fresh coffee". This inclusive musical nature of the album is evident  on all of the ten tracks, through funky, psych-filled romps such as Black Witch and the freaky Look Around which has the spirit of Syd Barrett looming large, in fact Syd's touch is heavy across the whole of Simoom as the album's kaleidoscopic, experimental nature allows the band, much like the city they come from, to draw from a melting pot of influences.

These are sculpted into songs by mastermind frontman Uri Brauner Kinrot who along with guitarist/bassist Adam Scheflan, keyboardist/vocalist Dani Ever-Hadani and drummer Ira Raviv are the arbiters of the music contained on this release. With glam rock on Shell, hallucinogenic ambiance on It's Real the obligatory slabs of Middle Eastern promise that shine through on tracks such as Clouds Of Sorrow all show Ouzo Bazookas dedication to the psychedelic genre in general. As I've said the influences come from throughout the musical spectrum the Oud and Bouzouki bring the Mediterranean heat as the record works through surf rock, pop rock and every other sound you can think of. With a real mix of East meets West this is shamanic, trippy peace loving music that wouldn't sound out of place on the hippie caravan trail and it's really just groovy...man! 8/10     

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Reviews: Manic In Lithium, Nemrud, Death Roll

Manic In Lithium: Manic In Lithium (Self Released)

Back in the early 90's guitarist Michael Hewett and vocalist Otis Mannick met at the Berklee College Of Music and Boston College Of Music, after this they moved to New York city and created two tapes of music but nothing more than that. However these recordings got lost in the midsts of time but as of December 2015 they were rediscovered by drummer Dean Rickard who mastered the recordings playing them to the res of the band and inspiring the creative spark again. This is where Manic In Lithium has come from both the album (the first of two) and the name of the band recording it, it consists of Otis, Michael, Dean and bassist Derek Cheever armed with new and old songs this record is the culmination of their career so far. With a long gestation period the record is good but it is split in to distinct parts, the two opening tracks Hell Of A High and Falling Down are both 90's sounding pieces coming from the same background of Alice In Chains with some grunge riffs and soulful vocals from Otis that conjure Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell the grunge rockers give way to a more progressive bent on You Belong To Me which sounds a bit like the band 3 with its frantic acoustics, pace changes and rumbling tom toms.

It's the stylistic differences that make this record interesting there are so many styles on offer you can tell that this record has been developed over time, There's grunge Strapped and Mud Horse, prog the Middle Eastern touches on Dead Trees Come Alive and the laid back funk on Sunshine Never Ends, southern rock on Takin It Easy, a bit of U2 with Turned Around. There is a myriad of styles on this record but I'd liken the band to the lesser known American rock band Ra they have a similar sound and are all the better for it, after a long time it's great to hear that these songs were strong when they were first written, they are enhanced by the production and the band's obvious virtuosity. If this is the first part of the bands two albums it's a good opening but it does feel a little like it's only half the story, the second part will be the real clincher but as it stands Manic In Lithium is an impressive start. 8/10

Nemrud: Nemrud (Rainbow 45 Records)

Turkish proggsters Nemrud are now on their third record and once again they carry the flag for classic sounding progressive rock. There self titled album contains four tracks all over 10 minutes in length that move from introspective acoustic numbers to sweeping orchestral pieces that draw heavily on the bands Middle Eastern heritage. The band are a traditional four piece of guitarist/singer (Mert Göçay) bassist (Levent Candaş) drummer (Mert Alkaya) and keyboardist (Mert Topel), the album benefits from this four piece approach as every instrument is important and given the chance to breathe to create the soundscapes and mystical atmosphere the album strives to create. From the ELP-like synths that open the record in a truly startling way, the album is based around the creation of the universe and the Nemrud which is a place for death to dwell, this concept is the basis for the spacey record that blurs the lines between science fiction with faith. Gods Of The Mountain is a slow opening to the record with a laid back guitar and swathes of synths for the first 5 minutes.

The vocals come in after that and vocally Mert Göçay sounds like Orphaned Land's Kobi Fahri with a beckoning insistent voice that is a major part of the bands sound. Gods Of The Mountain could come of the more recent Opeth numbers with nods to the halcyon days of progressive rock with a hard rock crunch. With such abstract lyrics, huge musical layers and a technically proficient musicians, that are able to handle any genre, with bass-led jazz during Lion Of Commagene as it changes into a sermon for the final part. Nemrud are a very impressive band part Opeth, part Orphaned Land with the right amount of classic prog that brings in ELP, Yes, Floyd (Forsaken Throne) some 80's electro (on the middle eight of The Euphrates) and countless other genres to create a sublime progressive rock album that is mostly instrumental punctuated with magical emotive lyrical passages. Nemrud is a truly excellent prog rock album from a band that I will following very closely from now on. 9/10     

Death Roll: Rolling With Death

Um yeah Death Roll, they are from Norway and they play fast paced, rock and roll. So that's about all I know about the band as they seem to have absolutely no online presence, no website, no social media etc etc so I have no idea who is the band or who plays what but I know they are a four piece rock band so I guess that is something. With little to no background to the record or band I just have to talk about the music and for the most part the songs on this record are foot to the floor hard rock clad in a leather jacket and cruising down the highway with stylistic influences that are shared by countrymen Audrey Horne albeit  Four on the floor riffs, crashing drums and some booming vocals and a punky attitude. Rolling With Death is a by the numbers rock release but will satisfy an urge if you have a hard rock craving. yes Heartattack Man steals the opening line of Stormbringer but Deal Gone Wrong is Chuck Berry style rock n roll and a the rest of the album is full of frantic shots of live wire rock. So Death Roll I don't know who they are but they play good honest music. 7/10

Sunday, 19 June 2016

A View From The Muddy Field: Download 2016 (Review By Paul)

Download 2016

Day 1

Ah, Castle Donington. The “spiritual home” of the rock festival since 1980 when Rainbow, Scorpions, April Wine and Saxon got the ball rolling. Move forward 36 years and whilst the location remains the same, little else is comparable to those halcyon days of the 1980s. These days Download is an unwieldy corporate cash whore, a five day marathon focused on fleecing the punter of as much cash as possible for as little reward. Extortionate food and drink prices, far too few toilets and nowhere to shelter from sun or rain (more of that shortly) along with a percentage of the crowd who are clearly intent on getting rat arsed for five days to the detriment of any poor sod who happens to wander up next to them during a set. As for the camping, well those days are long behind me at this particular venue but anyone who has survived the various fields surrounding the mud-fucked Village carries the scars of a war of total attrition.

However, despite all this, Download manages to pull in the best part of 100,000 fans every year and they do that because they have the muscle to put together a mainstream metal and rock bill which always looks brilliant on paper. This year was no exception with the behemoths of Rammstein, Sabbath and Maiden topping a beefy bill with a tasty undercard. The line-up was sufficient to encourage six of us to part with our readies and secure a hotel about 30 minutes away for the weekend. Two weeks of wall to wall sunshine meant our hopes were high as we left South Wales on Friday morning. We made great time and managed to get a couple of swift beers in before our taxi arrived. Two hours later due to some incredibly heavy traffic we finally got onto the site, already having missed RavenEye and Royal Republic but hoping to catch Graveyard and for four of our party, the bizarre phenomenon of BabyMetal. Grabbing a beer (a mere £5 a pint) and a steak sandwich (£8) Matt and I took up position for Gothenburg’s psychedelic 70s rockers Graveyard (7). Three songs later and all hell had broken loose; rain and hail of biblical proportions swept across the fields, soaking all through to the skin and destroying the credibility of quite a few waterproof manufacturers in the process. Graveyard were forced to bring their set to a close due to the torrent pouring on the stage and on the main stage the Japanese schoolgirls hadn’t even ventured out.

So dripping wet and faced with over ten hours to go, with the tents immediately full to bursting which at least gave some of the smaller acts the biggest crowds they’ll ever play to, we suffered about ten minutes of BabyMetal (4). If this is the future of the metal scene then I’m off to buy a Beyonce release. I just don’t get it. However, many thousands do and Gimme Chocolate! prompted one of the biggest responses of the day, lots of squealing and jumping up and down from grown men as the backing band riffed away and the three young girls went through their choreographed routine. Meh!

Meanwhile three of our party headed back to the Encore Stage for Skillet (8) who by all accounts put on an excellent set which made the rain slightly less of an issue. Now I’m not a fan of Killswitch Engage (7), and in particular the misogynistic idiot of a guitarist whose vile comments about the fairer sex show what a tool he is, but their latest release contains some really decent tunes, if a bit similar and in My Curse, Rose Of Sharyn and The End Of Heartache they have three stomping songs. Putting in a huge amount of effort, the band got the riffs flying and if Adam could just shut his mouth I might have given them an 8.

As the rain showers continued to soak all around to the skin and the sales of £3 ponchos escalated quickly, we sheltered at the edge of one of the pitifully few gazebos situated around the site and grabbed a quick beer before the unmistakable sound of Motörhead came from the main stage. Oh yes, the Lemmy Stage and the Motorhead tribute. We scurried across to find nothing more than a montage of clips playing on the screens, some footage of previous Motörhead at Download and some extracts from Lemmy: The Movie. Disappointed doesn't really capture how we felt and by now we'd also missed the opportunity to catch Kadavar on the third stage. 

The majority of our crew were never going to leave the main stage for the special guest slot as it was Bakersfield nu-metal pioneers Korn. However, Matt and I headed for the tent where we had some respite from the rain. Every rain cloud has a silver lining and The Wildhearts (9) proved to be just that. Now I've never been that much of a fan of Ginger and his band but serving up a greatest hits package of easy to singalong to songs proved a solid move. With the dedicated following singing every word, the rain was forgotten for an hour and a fun time was had by all. Ideal for such occasions.

Jonathan Davies and crew were in full swing as we headed back out to the sodden main stage. Korn (8) always deliver a good show and this was no exception. Arriving in time to hear shoots and Ladders blasting out, the band hit hard and heavy with a classic set list. Placing Blind mid-set was genius, picking up the momentum for the run in which featured Twist, Y’all Want A Single, Did My Time and a massive Freak On A Leash which incited some fantastic shapes from two gents nearby who clearly didn't give a shit about the mud. It's no wonder Korn return year after year. Their appeal transcends genres and live they really do give it everything.

As the rains eased slightly, we regrouped before splitting again to take up positions for the headline event. Rammstein (8) never put on a poor performance and with their stage design combined with the copious amounts of pyro they use, anticipation was high. Now, maybe the rain had dampened the spirits, maybe our position to the right of the sound tower and the ever crackling speaker (thanks Korn for blowing that!) also contributed but the Germans were ever so slightly flat. I've seen them a number of times and their cold approach is part of the act. Tonight they appeared distant and going through the motions a little bit too much. Set list wise, no complaints. A smattering of tracks from across the albums included a rare outing for Zerstoren from Rosenrot, opener and new track Ramm 4, and a welcome return for the title track from Reise Reise. as well as six tracks from Mutter, including the expected Feuer Frei! Complete with pyro frenzy and first encore Sonne which ignited the crowd once more. A bonus for me was the Depeche Mode cover Stripped which Rammstein deliver so well. Rammstein on an off day is still an incredible spectacle and Till Lindemann remains a captivating frontman, his presence intimidating and yet welcoming. The band are heavy as fuck live, with the industrial riffs of Richard Kruspe and Christian Lorenz crushing. The band finished in fine style though with an acoustic Ohne Dich and a captivating Engel sparking a firework eruption. The end of day 1 and a chance to regroup and dry out. 

Day 2

Given the shit forecast we decided to push our departure from the hotel back by a few hours and instead took advantage of our location to do some emergency shopping for wellies and waterproofs. Arriving in the now totally swamped arena just after 2.30, Sixx AM (7) were going through the motions on the main stage. Nikki Sixx and co are an average outfit but with the sun trying to come out they were ideal fare for the early afternoon. The action hotted up somewhat with a storming set from Rival Sons (9), whose new album Hollow Bones had landed just a couple of days earlier. The band's set was based heavily on tracks from the new release which made sense to me. You've got a new album? Then promote it. Enigmatic front man Jay Buchanan is captivating, all Percy and Tyler with a voice to die for. It's guitarist Scott Holiday who really catches the eye though, effortlessly demonstrating his chops with some superb playing. Rival Sons continue to climb and if you like their 1970s tinged hard rock, check them out at your earliest convenience.

Dave Mustaine has never been short of confidence and his latest line up has delivered one of the year’s best releases in Dystopia. Sadly no Chris Adler in the drum seat at Download due to his LOG commitments in the US. Soilwork’s Dirk Veubeuren is the latest incumbent of the drum stool and doing a fine job too. Megadeth (8) have plenty in the locker, opening with the never boring Hanger 18, Mustaine, long serving bassist Dave Ellefson and newish guitarist Kiko Lourerio kicked ass over their hour long set, mixing old classics with a decent smattering off Dystopia. We were also treated (if that's the right word) to a cover of Anarchy In The UK with Nikki Sixx popping up on bass and backing vocals. I'm never sure whether this kind of thing is meant to be a treat for fans or not but it fuels the ego of those on stage. I'd have preferred another Megadeth track to be honest. Typically, as the final stains of Holy Wars concluded a pretty sharp set and Mr Mustaine had asked us all to “drive safely … we want to see you again” the heavens began to open again. A gut churning presentation to wrestler Triple H for some Metal Hammer pointless award turned into a promotion for the wrestler’s NXT outfit who were performing on site. Yawn.

Ed - Myself and fairer member of our crew avoided Megadave and his smugness to check out the UK reunion show of Juliette And The Licks (8) who have happily become a going concern again after six years. Fronted by Hollywood A-Lister Juliette Lewis the five piece came to the stage and immediately kicked off the set with some hip shaking garage rock n roll with dual bluesy guitars and a punk rock attitude. The focal point of the band is obviously Lewis decked out in a Evil Knievel catsuit she has more energy than singers half her age, she commands the stage and uses her sexuality as a weapon to bewitch the crowd with tales of love, regret and a right on Feminist punch to the jaw. the set featured old and new songs the best of which were brand new track Hard lovin Woman which featured six string fireworks from her two amazing guitarists before breaking down into the outro of Whole Lotta Love complete with the "Way Down Inside" part done beautifully. With such a live fire and of course a sassy powerful vocal the set was a joy to behold as big hit Hot Kiss led into a cover of CCR's Proud Mary ending the set strongly. Having only seen J&TL once many years ago I was heartened to see that they had not lost a beat. From one wild frontperson to another Paul picks up where he left off:   

As the mud turned into soup and everything got even wetter than you thought possible, a decision was needed. Deftones or Newport’s finest, the mighty Skindred. Well, I don't get any buttons pushed by Deftones so it was off across the Somme to find a decent vantage point on the second stage. If there is a live band that can make you forget how miserable the weather is then it's Skindred (9). An hour long set contained everything you needed and the band played it as if they were the headliners. Massive anthems, much swearing, crowd participation from the off and even a bit of Justin Bieber and Metallica thrown in. Skindred live remain irresistible and the smiles around the field as soaking wet punters tore off their shirts to participate in the Newport Helicopter during set closer Warning was fantastic. It's only a matter of time before these boys get right to the top of the tree.

By now the place had physically become a joke. Wheelchair users were reliant on kind hearted able bodied fans to navigate across the site and we saw several disabled fans being rescued by their fellow metal heads from the totally appalling conditions. A huge river of mud ran down the centre of the arena, and with the churn making the walk underfoot treacherous a number of people fell covering themselves. The toilets were just unreal and so few in number that men and women alike took to urinating where they stood. Yes, I know that this is what happens when torrential rain occurs but so little preparation or reaction made it very unpleasant. Limited hay laid, no chippings or boarding and overall just a bit of a shambles. Download were very keen to point out their giant statues and dog head which adorned the field but I'd say spend the cash on some shelters for your customers instead.

9.00pm and with the rain still hammering down the tolling of the bell signalled the start of the set for day two headliners Black Sabbath (6). As the first huge chords of Black Sabbath thundered across the arena, it was impossible not to get a tingle down the spine. This had been billed as the final UK appearance by Ozzy, Tony and Geezer to the extent that earlier in the day there were t-shirts proclaiming this on the merchandise stand. By now of course we'd all seen that an arena tour is scheduled for 2017 (save your cash folks £100 is too much). As Ozzy mumbled his way through a ponderous After Forever you wondered what is left in the Sabbath tank. The first half of the set saw Ozzy struggle vocally, although I'm led to believe that he had some monitor and ear-piece issues. Although he's never been a good singer, tonight Ozzy was poor. Long gaps between songs and very little real interaction with the crowd, it was hard not to view the band as a bloated dinosaur whose cessation is long overdue. In comparison to their show at the NEC under two years previously, this had a real feel of going through the motions. Iommi and Butler still churn out the doom, and Tommy Clufetos does a decent job behind the skins and when the second half got into gear it was truly magical to see the forefathers of metal letting rip. The set list, with the exception of Snowblind and a horrible Dirty Women was culled entirely from the first three albums and this was a huge disappointment for me. No Hole In The Sky, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Symptom Of The Universe or Never Say Die and nothing from their final release 13. Obviously Iron Man and set closer Children Of The Grave were epic and Paranoid never fails to get you moving but overall this was an unsatisfying finale to a magical journey. Thanks for the music and memories, now retire gracefully.

And that is the end of our Download 2016. The miserable weather broke us and as the rain teemed down once more on Sunday morning and the Twitter feed revealed four hour waits to park the car, we choose to exercise our right not to stand in six inches of mud, soaked to the skin for 12 hours … and we fucked off home. There will be no more weekends at Download. It's just too unwieldy and difficult. The contempt given by some of the security was staggering (watching stewards telling customers to “fuck off” in the car park for example). The facilities for such a large event were worse than I've experienced for many years and when you are a BOA veteran, you realise that your spiritual home actually isn't Castle Donington; it's Catton Hall. (Amen - Ed)

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Reviews: Scorpion Child, Paradox, Bright Curse

Scorpion Child: Acid Roulette (Nuclear Blast)

The Texan masters of hard boogie rock are back with their long awaited much anticipated second album, since their debut the band have lost a rhythm guitarist and replaced him with a full time organ/keyboardist and their original drummer has left and returned, due to this addition of a full time organ player the band have branched out from their riff heavy Zep-alike sound to add more elements of Purple as well as a lot more spiralling psych and krautrock sounds. 'The Child' as they are known have gone all out on this second record to try and improve on their excellent debut album, not difficult second album syndrome here Acid Roulette does everything the debut did and more.

The huge guitar and organ riffs working side by side with a funky hip shaking back beat and frontman Aryn Jonathan Black's crazed shamanic vocals on the heavy opening salvo She Sings, I Kill which does have a lot of Zep around it with the massive riff to start the record, things speed up on Reaper's Danse which has  a proto-metal sound similar to fellow Texans The Sword, the repetitive riff from Christopher Jay Cowart the songs main hook while Jon Rice blasts away on his snare. Scorpion Child have always treaded the path between modern heavy metal and classic rock and Acid Roulette continues this Woman In Black is a true classic hard rock song with a superb solo and cocky swagger of a riff Whitesnake would be proud of, Twilight Forest has more modern sheen to it, everything gets a bit spacey on the title track that sees Aaron John Vincent's organs the main building block in this expansive song that to my mind sounds a lot like Robert Plant's more abstract exotic solo stuff, especially when it it breaks down into an organ bass driven coda halfway through adding the psych elements.

The curveball to the record is Survives which is an arena bothering, lighter waving ballad that has to be pinched from the Nikki Sixx songbook due to it's grandiose nature, it stands out from the rest of the album as a piece written especially as a live song but it's a pleasent suprise that will inevitably get some detractors but on an album that is chocked full of 12 other hard rocking it sits in the middle of the pack as break from the power of Scorpion Child's riffs. In my recent Rival Sons review I said that they would be one of the future headliners, well Scorpion Child too are in this bracket, yes they are only two albums into their career but the quality of their songwriting is a little bit scary, this is a band that know how to write a song and they are comfortable in their sound, much like Rival Sons favour the bluesier sounds of Humble Pie, Free and The Doors, Scorpion Child have Purple, ELP, Whitesnake and Zeppelin knocking on their back door. Acid Roulette is a worthy follow up to the band's self titled debut it's both old and new with enough of both to satisfy everyone, Acid Roulette sets Scorpion Child up as the future of hard rock, come worship at their altar! 9/10           

Paradox: Pangea (AFM)

Paradox have been around since 1986 and since then they have been blazing a trail for thrash driven power metal since then, Pangea is the bands seventh album and their first since 2012. This album has been a long time in preparation due to setbacks, caused by several health impairments and private issues in the years since 2012. However with Greek guitarist Gus Drax (Black Fate/Sunburst), Greek drummer Kostas Milonas (Outloud/Sunburst) and Slovenian bassist Tilen Hudrap (Vicious Rumours) founding member vocalist/guitarist Charly Steinhauer has yet again acquired an accomplished band to play his intense speed driven musical style, this time the record has a bit of theme surrounding it as Pangea is notably the last supercontinent and a symbol for the beginning of the end of life on earth. The several scenarios that may cause the end of the world (e.g. war, comet, plague, cataclysm, alien invasion, etc.) are dealt with on the album.

So the normal metal fodder but built around Paradox's sound that is Gamma Ray meets Megadeth with excellent guitar playing from Drax and Steinhauer driving the songs along with speed metal riffs and slicing solos while Steinhauer's vocals are excellent he's got a wide range to his and on tracks such as the chugging The Raging Planet and the lightning quick The Ballot Or The Bullet which is a politically charged song and one of the album's best, while the guitar skills are shown on the melodic twisting middle track Manhunt (not a Wolfsbane cover). With a mix of styles on this record but the majority sticking to the heavy power metal sound of bands such as Iced Earth Pangea is yet another worthy addition to Paradox's discography, a great way to celebrate their 30th anniversary and an album that is very much worth the wait.  8/10  

Bright Curse: Before The Shore (Hevisike)

Hailing from London Bright Curse are a wickedly dark, heavy rock band with a lot of psych elements giving them a sound that draws from Sleep, Tool and Kyuss with appearances from Desertfest, Up In Smoke Fest and many other hazy, chemically induced music festivals and you can see why as the band have a hypnotic sound that merges doom and stoner rock with album chock full of fuzz filled riffs, walking basslines and expressive drumming, on songs such as Cheating Pain they slow things down and the bass line of Max Ternebring is king before the loudness returns in the choruses, there is even a spoken word part in the middle of the song adds to the journey. The trio are great musicians and it shows with a wide vocal range from Romain Daut who also plays a mean guitar displaying his chops with the jazzy Walking In A Graveyard which adds another dimension to Bright Curse's sound as Daut plays like Gilmour letting one note do more than one hundred while Zacharie Mizzi builds into a drumming frenzy at the end of the track. The songs on this record are somewhere between Southern Rock jams (Candles And Flowers cowbell driven nature) and space rock freak outs with huge organ riffs on Northern Sky. Before The Shore is one hell of an album it's a real psych rock masterpiece progressive, diverse and in parts sweeping with broad musical strokes. I foresee a bright future for Bright Curse and this album is the start of something very big and very beautiful. 8/10


Thursday, 16 June 2016

Reviews: Rival Sons, Dead Label, Devil Electric

Rival Sons: Hollow Bones (Earache)

There has been a lot of talk about the future of rock music recently, mainly about who will take the place of Maiden, Metallica, AC/DC etc as the headliners of festivals to come. In these conversations I usually just shout the words Rival Sons as loudly as possible and invariably I win the argument, the band are everything you need in a headliner, a glut of anthemic songs over four albums, a firebrand stage presence, virtuoso musicianship and a heady mix of modernism and nostalgia for a wide appeal. What the Californian band have over the many other bands vying for the title of future headliner is that they have managed to secure some huge support slots with some of rocks biggest acts, most recently they have been the opening act on all of Black Sabbath's The End tour.

This experience and outright passion for what they do is the major driving force behind what, why and how the band do what they do best. With a steady stream of albums building their set list the bands newest Hollow Bones is their fifth release and yet again it is a modern take on an old school theme packed to the brim with swaggering blues rock riffs, a thundering rhythm section and wild, wide-eyed vocals that see the band delivering their Zeppelin meets The Doors sound with same explosive power once again bolstered by Dave Cobb's shimmering production (he is to Rival Sons what George Martin was to The Beatles, even co-writing two of the tracks). The album is book-ended by the two part title track with part one kicking off the record with Scott Holiday's now trademark fuzz-laden guitar and the hollering echoed vocals of Jay Buchanan shouting the chorus with his natural power, while the second half is longer and more expansive.

The record once again has 9 blues anthems that show Rival Sons have a wealth of material that stands up against the classics of the past and a 37 minutes it leaves you wanting another hit, songs such as the bluesy, foot tapper Tied Up, the 60's inspired Pretty Face and Thundering Voices which is driven by an impressive rhythmic coda all have an almost primal nature to them with Dave Beste and Michael Miley hammering away with the groove as well as the added flesh from Todd E Ogren-Brooks and his keys/organs (Fade Out). Rival Sons yet again deliver like they always do, this is the future folks embrace it with your souls. 9/10              

Dead Label: Throne Of Bones (Nuerra Records)

Imagine if you will that Machine Head and Gojira had a baby that came from Ireland and was a three piece, this is pretty much what Dead Label are in a nutshell. The trio of bassist/vocalist Dan O'Grady, drummer Claire Percival and guitarist Danny Hall have been making tremendous waves in the metal scene with a huge show at BOA and high profile supports of Fear Factory and Gojira the band have been playing their breed of aggressive, oppressive modern metal throughout Europe and have managed to level many venues on the back of their debut. Thankfully they now return with their second full length that from the opening chords beats you senseless with Claire's blastbeats, the down-tuned riffs and guttural growls from the frontman.

Stylised as a metalcore band, the band do have the breakdowns and heavy groove metalcore brought to the table especially on The Birth Of Suffering but much like that genre has died a bit of a death and the bands have all fleshed out their sound over the years Dead Label too are not rigidly stuck in the formula, as the Birth Of Suffering has an impressive dynamic sound and really technical guitar playing throughout. Ominous sounds a lot like Fear Factory in their prime, The Cleansing is an instrumental break from the heaviness with a clean guitar sound and laid back drum beat that screams Santana doing as the songs says an cleaning you off any aggression.

That is until Exhume The Venom hits you like sledgehammer with a hint of tourmates Gojira in the wall of noise riffage, the album ends with the epic djent inspired The Gates Of Hell which is an 8 minute finale with a piano cutting through the heaviness, as a very progressive track it shows possibly where Dead Label can go from here making it one of the most interesting and enjoyable songs on the record for me. It's actually surprising how heavy the three piece can be you can feel Claire's drumming and Dan's bass in your kidney's as Danny's guitars ring in your ears, Throne Of Bones is an accomplished, aggressive and most of all heavy as all hell release and one that will be used to increase the bands standing further in the future. 8/10

Devil Electric: The Gods Below

Doom from the sunnier climes of Australia will always be a bit of an odd one. How can a band that comes from one of the sunniest places in the world play songs about darkness, doom, gloom and ritualistically hailing Satan? The Devil Electric have challenged my opinion somewhat with a four track EP that has the droning distorted power of Iommi and co with massive riffage from Christos Athanasias (Guitar) Tom Hulse (Bass) Mark Van De Beek (Drums) that creeps on Devils Bells, and gets heads nodding on Confusion Of Mind. As the three men supply the doom, frontwoman Pierina O'Brien gathers the masses to the masses (to paraphrase Sabbath) with her bewitching vocals. There is not much else I can say about this EP four songs it gives a glimpse of what Devil Electric are capable of and it does seem to be very promising indeed. 7/10

Reviews: Monument, A Devil's Din, Sleep Of Monsters

Monument: Hair Of The Dog (Rock Of Angels)

British NWOBHM revivalists Monument return with the follow up to their 2014 debut with sophomore record Hair Of The Dog (not a tribute to Nazareth sadly, but related to the bands Bulldog mascot) the title track is about all you need to know about the band that was formed in the ashes of White Wizzard still the vocals of Peter Ellis are part Halford, part Dickinson with a air raid siren style delivery on top of the galloping, dual axe swinging, shamelessly retro metal assault that has put the band once again in the revival category. However what is endearing about Monument is that they are not po-faced about it, they wear their influences on their sleeve and inject a bit of Britishness into their songs about myths, legends, fantasy and the like in a similar way to Saxon. Hair Of The Dog wouldn't have sounded out of place with likes of Denim & LeatherPoint Of Entry and Killers.

The sound of Maiden's second album is spread thickly over the punky Streets Of Rage so much so that its sounds like early-Maiden in full flight. Behind Ellis' very English delivery is the top flight band of noted trad metal drummer Giovanni Durst (White Wizzard, Omicida etc) pairing with ex-Absolva/ex-Blaze Bayley bassist Dan Bate who supply the galloping rhythms to the album for Lewis Stephens and Dan Baune to shred like bastards over with a dual riff assault. One thing is evident about Monument is that they have studied the source material closely with two epic tracks coming in the shape of Imhotep (The High Priest) surely a lost cut from Powerslave (it even has the bass driven mid-section breakdown) and the massive ballad break on Heart Of Stone both ramping up the drama as Lionheart serves as a chest beating final song channelling the flag waving Patriotism of Biff and the boys.

There are so many retro loving NWOTHM bands around but Monument just stand out due to their inherent plucky Britishness that made the original NWOBHM very much a phenomenon, all of the trademarks are here the powerful bass, the twin axe licks heck they've even got an instrumental called Olympus that comes near the end of the record as Maiden have always been fond of. Monument are the ultimate if it ain't broke don't fix it band, with enough youthful exuberance to give the trad-revival a shot in the arm and much like Grand Magus, Enforcer and Cauldron Monument sit in the Pantheon of retro styled Gods that draw from one of the most recognisable sounds in heavy metal history. 8/10

A Devil's Din: Skylight (Island Dive Records)

According to their bio "A Devil’s Din is made up of 3 musicians born in the Old World who traveled across the ocean to find each other in Montreal, drawn together by a mutual love of melodic, innovative, inventive and daring rock music." This pretty much sums up A Devil's Din sound imagine classic 60's psychedelic sounds fused with thundering stoner/doom rock that evokes the tie-dye freakiness of Syd Barrett, The Beatles (Sgt Pepper's era) but also riffs of Sabbath along with more modern nostalgic acts such as Purson, Big Elf or Ulysses. Skylight is the bands second record and Canada residing three piece have managed to perfectly encapsulate an entire period in music history.

The band was formed by David Lines who handles guitars, keys and vocals along with Thomas Challet who provides the Rickenbacker voodoo, guitar and vocals and Dominique Salameh (born in Abu Dhabi) provides the Moon-like wild drumming. With swathes of analogue keys and organs, jangling effects filled guitars, Arabic/Asian influences, vocal harmonies and huge mind expanding soundscapes that are dead ringers for the psychedelic trips of Syd's solo stuff and early Pink Floyd right down to the vocals and esoteric lyrics that conjure kaleidoscopic images in the mind's eye. The band have a heavy streak to them on Nature Of The Beast that sounds like Sabbath when it kicks in and it is the antithesis to For A While which is progressive jazzy number followed by Eye's Pie which brings to mind Yes at their most eccentric. In fact there's progressive, jazz, folk, pop and rock all over this record meaning that Skylight is the erstwhile treat for those that love their music trippy, funky and decked out in an Afghan coat and John Lennon sunglasses. 7/10

Sleep Of Monsters: II - Poison Garden (Svart Records)

Finns Sleep Of Monsters come from a long tradition of Gothic rock bands from their home country, something about the frozen tundra seems to inspire morose lyrics and melodic, atmospheric rock music. Bands such as HIM, The 69 Eyes, Sentenced all do misery well and Sleep Of Monsters are the next band to throw their black top hat into the ring and pile on the eyeliner ready to stand awkwardly in the corner and pout. II Poison Garden is unsurprisingly their second album and it builds on their debut with a bigger soundscape than the debut. A track such as Golden Bough features a string section and a female vocal duetting with frontman Ike Vil on a song that is Sisters Of Mercy do James Bond, while Foreign Armies East is a swaying brass backed folk number and Land Of Nod is instilled with classical guitars. For the most part the band are classic Gothic rock with fuzzy guitars, extensive uses of keys and of course Vil's chanting baritone vocals who maybe familiar to some as the frontman of Babylon Whores. The addition of three backing singers called Furies adds another extra dimension to the Goth rocking. As I've said II Poison Garden is an album that sounds just excellent all the elements come together heavy riffs, dark lyrics and the occasional cathartic murder ballad such as Our Dark Mother. I said at the beginning that the Finns do Goth the best and Sleep Of Monsters are yet another band to add to that list of Finnish Goth rockers and they are one that adds a myriad of flavours to the pot. 7/10              

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Reviews: Lucifer Rising, Withem, Dissector

Lucifer Rising: Beyond The Ninth Gate (Broken Bricks)

If you name yourself after a Candlemass album (as well as a cult 1984 movie) then you can only really settle with one kind of music and that is occultist doom rock with Sabbath/Candlemass riffs galore and songs about Satan and all his works, all the good stuff then. Lucifer Rising are an occult doom laden rock band with touches of psychedelic meandering and a hefty blues base. The band hail from Kiev in the Ukraine and is the brainchild of guitarist Valeriy Vitomskyi and drummer Max Tovstyi who after numerous line up changes have settled with Max Savitskyi on bass and Ira Avdiyenko on vocals meaning that the band have a sound akin to Swedes The Blues Pills and Lucifer as well as Blood Ceremony and other female fronted 'occult' bands. Lucifer Rising are not just copyists though they add their own mark to the genre laying on some clean stoner infused licks underneath Avdiyenko's, beguiling gruff vocals conjuring a black mass atop of the fuzz below. The band are not as heavy as some of their compatriots they are very much rock with melodic guitar lines the majority, although My Devil Was Blind has crunch to die for. With tracks such as the slinky Ninth Choice, the tribal drum driven Pain and the jazzy Chaser all showing the bands groovy psychedelic Sabbath-like sound with which has bluesy undercurrent beneath it. Yes the spirit of Candlemass is ominously present on Beyond The Ninth Gate however with psych touches and slab of retro-ism it is an impressive debut album from the Ukraine band that is the perfect soundtrack to a late night session with your favourite 'plant' and a copy of Crowley. 8/10

Withem: The Unforgiving Road (Frontiers)

The Unforgiving Road is Norwegian progressive power metal band Withem's second record and it is a musical tour-de-force, Exit opens up after the Intro with some heavy guitars, cutting fuzz filled electronic synths and a technically progressive power metal sound filled with melody that's very similar to fellow Norwegians Pagan's Mind and Circus Maximus, much of this is due to the dual guitar/keyboard riffage the frontman's soaring vocals and a keen ear for a more melodic almost AOR sound on tracks such as the anthemic In The Hands Of A God (check out the underlying bass on this track) and Riven which is cheese-tastic in its 80's glory a massive chorus and synths abound. Withem are a powerful band, queue the impressive drumming and guitar playing on the glorious The Eye In The Sky and they play intensely technical metal music that has a radio friendly sound that they share with their countrymen mentioned earlier. If you're a fan of progressive melodic metal you are going to find a lot to love about Withem as they seem to have the knack of mixing complex instrumentation with accessible songwriting, take a track like Arrhythmia which gets the heart racing (maybe that's the point) while Unaffected Love has sound akin to Dream Theater or Brit's Haken. The Unforgiving Road is a progressive near masterpiece and with the major label backing of Frontiers hopefully it will see Withem progress an make many take notice. 8/10          

Dissector: Planetary Cancer (Mazzar Records)

Dissector are a melodic death metal from St Petersburg, the three piece ply their trade with thrashy death metal of Vader, Kreator and Destruction. From moment one of the record they devastate their instruments with double kick drums galore, rumbling bass ferocity and rapid guitar riffs, in fact rhythm is big part of Dissector's sound as many of the solos on this record comes from guest guitarists meaning the core trio concentrate on just thrashing the hell out of their instruments on the title track and Rebuild On Better Days. Despite the band having a majorly thrash taste to their sound, it does change throughout the record; Perfect Smile has synths running through giving an industrial style Fear Factory edge, First To Burn meanwhile has big breakdowns throughout, The Shape Of Things To Come is more in the classic thrash as The Hate Inside and Exit Humanity brings the speed back in droves. The final track Invisible Lives is probably the most different as it's a female fronted ballad that shows the bans slower more tender side with no speed or fury just power and passion ending the album on strong but unusual given whats come before. Still Planetary Cancer is a very good album from the Russian three piece if you're a fan of melodic death metal that doesn't doggedly stick to it's boundaries then it'll be for you. 7/10     

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Reviews: Attica Rage, Bull Riff Stampede, Eternity's End

Attica Rage: Warheads Ltd (Off Yer Rocka)

Scottish rocker Attica Rage have been carving out a niche for themselves over the years with a fanatical following that is similar to the patched in members of the Black Label Society, the band have had many successful tours with regular appearances at Hammerfest and venues all over the country. This road dog attitude is present in the band's blue collar heavy rock anthems and much like BLS they have never been afraid to shed their heavyweight sound for a tender ballad. Their fourth album is no different with two showstopping moments on the record the first Lost In Memory is a traditional fist-in-the-air chorus ballad but it's the final song Haunted that is possibly the bands most over-blown effort yet with orchestral layers engulfing the emotive track on which frontman Johnny Parr croons well, you can see this going down well in the live arena sung back by the heavy drinking crowd at the shows climax. As for the rest of Warheads Ltd it's long gestation period has meant that it's probably the most diverse offering the band have produced with songs that range from ballsy heavy metal on Beyond The 45, groovy hard rock (first single Falling Down), doom-like hammering on El Chupacabra even and an instrumental; Into The Ether which features bassist Matthew Ward leading the song Burton-style. With such an eclectic mix of tracks on this album it's good to see that a band like Attica Rage are willing to take a few risks that on the whole pay dividends. 7/10

Bull Riff Stampede: Enraging The Beast (Self Released)

Yet another band utilising the PledgeMusic site to fund their record metal thrashing mad Brizzle four piece Bull Riff Stampede return with their eagerly awaited second album, their debut was released in 2012 so there has been a sizable wait, but has it been worth it? Well the title track builds from it's intro before Dave Garnett and Jay Walsh shred like their lives depend on it and from here there's no way to escape the all out assault that is B-RS, the long touring schedule has paid off big style as the band seem to have more focus to their violence, like a lazer guided missile they take aim and don't lose sight of the target once. Garnett and Walsh continue the fleet fingered fun through Mindless Heresy, Dawn Of Disease and beyond all while Rod Boston lays down frantic rhythm with the four strings making the songs heavier than necessary as they boom through the speakers (which is also a testament to Gabriele Ravaglia who co-produced the album with the band) particular props go to sticksman James Perry who is a machine behind the kit, so much so that had I not seen him live I'd have thought it was a click track. The four men together create powerful thrash metal that takes it's cues from the early death metal bands due to Garnett's shouted Schuldinger-summoning vocals and the sheer ferocity of the songs. Despite their furious nature, they also have the ability to slow down and grind with the best of them on 4125 in fact this second record adds little nuances to their established sound and generally lifts them to a higher level than before, with an already face melting live show they band now have another excellent set of songs to add to their repertoire, on the album though it's one to turn up! 8/10

Eternity's End: The Fire Within (Power Prog Records)

Eternity's End is the new project from guitarist Christian Münzner who has spent much of his time in crushingly heavy technical death metal bands but with his new Eternity's End project he has changed his approach and indulged in some neo-classical metal favoured by (early) Symphony X, Rhapsody (Of Fire), Magic Kingdom and of course Mr Malmsteen. With rampaging drumming, galloping bassline, classical ethereal keys, guitar virtuosity and high powered vocals it's the traditional neoclassical approach but done very well. This is due to the musicians Münzner has picked for the record, all of them bar vocalist Ian Parry have been in Münzner's solo band meaning that you can hear how well he and Jimmy Pitts' keys duel throughout with every song stuffed full of melodic technically impressive solos from both as the rhythm section dutifully blast away underneath. Songs like Demonblade display the rhythmic ferocity of Linus Klausenitzer and Hannes Grossmann both from the same death metal background as the band leader and show it on heavier tracks like The Hourglass which sounds like modern Symphony X. Vocally too is where this style of metal can rise or fall but with the recruitment of Ian Parry, Münzner has done well mostly known for his Consortium Projects his melodic, powerful but not ott vocal delivery fits the album's tone brilliantly, his voice is great but ultimately it's Münzner's record as he peels off solo after sublime solo, although this is by no means wanton a record full of guitar wankery, the songs are very strong with the band all meshing together to create harmonious accessible songs that don't sacrifice songwriting for technicality. With a debut album as strong as this it will be a pleasure to see the band progress and as a fan of power/neoclassical metal The Fire Within ticks all the right boxes. 8/10      

  

Monday, 6 June 2016

Reviews: Dan Reed Network, Nervosa, Big Big Train

Dan Reed Network: Fight Another Day (Frontiers Records)

Back in the 80's Dan Reed Network were going to be megastars, fronted by the eponymous front man, whose impressive voice was only matched by his fabulous hair. Their multi-cultural brand of 80's funk rock set the template for Extreme, The Electric Boys and others, but by 1991 the party was all but over the band never really had the press or management they needed in America and the band went on hiatus. Reed continued to tour as a solo artist collaborating with many notable musicians, however as theses things seem to go and with lots of water under the bridge the Network reformed in 2013 and Fight Another Day is the newest creative effort of this reunion.

What is instantly noticeable as you play the record is that Reed's voice is still sublime, silky, soulful and guaranteed to hook you in, but the band have strayed from their old funk rock roots a little with only the damning statement of Infected having the bass driven funk of their early years but with a more grown up feel to it, it seems that this album is a sort of catharsis for the band as many of the tracks carry a message political, spiritual or otherwise and it gives the album a introspective sound sort of what would happed if King's X had Steven Wilson fronting them a trick that's repeated on Sharp Turn which has Mr Wilson all over it.

Following on from Melvin Brannon II's bass led Infected is Champion which is synth driven ballad (kudos to Rob Daiker for the unsettling synths) that does sound a little like Phil Collins after a divorce although with some guitar solos from Brion James slicing through the malaise. There is a mix of sounds on this record, this is much of DRN's charm and their management's frustration, they are very hard to pigeonhole as opener has Sambora-like talkback on the guitars, Give It Love is a fist pumping song aimed at the live stage, but is set up by the percussive Ignition that borders on world music, B There With U is the album's obvious ballad moment, wrapped in velour it's smooth as smooth can be, all that puts me off is the title.

As I've said Reed's vocals are still excellent he relies on his lower register for the most part but when it's that good it doesn't really matter. At 13 tracks Fight Another Day is a value for money release for all those that have waited since 1991 for a new DRN album there are some tracks that do sit as filler (Heaven is my pick) but those that are meaningful such as Reunite, they can still can give the same feeling that the Network gave the rock world back in 1986, welcome back. 7/10         

Nervosa: Agony (Napalm)

Brazil does two types of metal very well. First they are great at complex power metal such as Angra but what they are probably more known for is face ripping, throat shredding, pit inciting thrash aggression, possibly due to the country's tendency for unrest caused mainly by rebellion, thrash's main selling point. Thrash metal has always been the music for the oppressed, it's deliberately violent, uncompromising and brutal. The country's most famous thrash metal export are Sepultura so any thrash band coming from Brazil has a lot to live up to, it's fortunate then that Nervosa's debut album was welcomed with open arms and critical acclaim giving the trio a step in the right direction, the debut married furious thrash metal, with groove-laden breakdowns and hostile lyrics spat with venom by frontwoman and bassist Fernanda Lira.

Their follow up effort Agony still does all of these things but it's all been fine tuned with a lot more finesse although it doesn't compromise the brutality of the record. Take a track like Deception which is technical piece condensed into a three minute song showcasing Pitchu Ferraz's virtuoso drumming in a more complex environment but then on the next track Intolerance Means War she beats the listener down with the unstoppable double kick drums. Completing the triumvirate is guitarist Prika Amral, she has most definitely studied at the altar of Hanneman, Ian and Cavalera as her solos are perfect blasts of lightning speed melody it's the rhythms that shine through on the record she synchronises with Lira's bass to attack you with every stab of the six strings.

Tracks like Guerra Santa are flashes of punk influenced thrash, Hypocrisy and Failed System both have a Slayer sound and opener Arrogance takes the Cavalera stomp style while Hostages once again amping up the technicality and ferocity (which rarely dips if I'm honest). Agony re-establishes Nervosa as one of the top young thrash bands out there, with such a wealthy history of talent from their home country it's nice to see that Nervosa rip you to shreds from moment one. 8/10    

Big Big Train: Folklore (English Electric)

Big Big Train were formed in 1990 by two multi instrumentalists Andy Poole (guitar, bass, keys) and Greg Spawton (bass, guitars, keys), the band have always had a collaborative nature to them with the eight person unit working together in melodic harmony. Big Big Train have always been stereo-typically and defiantly English with heady mix of joy and melancholia sometimes both at the same time having affect on all of their music, there eighth studio album is no different drawing it's influence from English folklore (thus the title) it's a trip through the tales and storytelling that has formed part of the national culture.

As is usual the album is full of amazing lyrics and musicianship from all concerned. The opening title track is a suitably folky number built around a funk guitar riff and some burbling organs, mandolin as an electronic undertone permeates throughout. This builds the bulk of the song as David Longdon sings for his supper, vocally he sounds an awful lot like ex-Marillion man Fish as he carries the folkier tunes, Folklore then takes a medieval turn with the violin of Rachel Hall showing itself in the middle working in conjunction with Longdon's flutes, before the track winds up in an impressive guitar solo. The band have three guitarists present on the record and this shows with Andy Poole aided by (Beardfish frontman) Rikard Sjöblom and Dave Gregory (ex-XTC) to create a huge sound punctuated by Danny Manners keys.

Second track London Plane is more introspective, opening as a vocal and acoustic piece with organ and flutes sneaking in, there are jazz sections throughout the as it flows like the river it's about. Despite it's rather industrial lyric the song itself is steeped in the pastoral story telling tradition with all of the vocalists in unison for the last third and a searing solo outro finishing it properly. with so much music in just two tracks it can all be a bit too much to take in but BBT have canny knack of making the music very accessible, take Along The Ridgeway which has a more soulful brass driven sound that also features electric piano and quality fiddle playing. The three proceeding songs are in direct opposition to The Sailsbury Giant which is an ominous mostly instrumental song that conjures images of the titular giant such is the marching tempo the soundtrack.

It's here that I have to give particular kudos to drummer Nick D'Virgilio (ex-Spock's Beard). The inventiveness continues for the latter half of the record as The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun which is a cinematic entry with a haunting horn motif worthy of the Salvation Army Band throughout, Wassail is a sort of Celtic folk meets Pink Floyd selection while Winkie has a Marillion-esque keyboard heavy rocker with clever vocal lines and a huge hook which at it's climax leads into Brooklands which is more traditional progger but at 11 minutes its the albums most musically intense songs especially when compared to the hazy last track Telling The Bees. Big Big Train are masters of the British progressive rock sound and Folklore is yet another album that backs this claim up with gusto. 9/10