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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 Sj√∂blom 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

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