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Friday, 17 November 2017

A View From The Back of The Room: HRH (Review By Paul)

Hard Rock Hell 9th – 11th November 2017 Hafan Y Mor, Pwllheli, North Wales

It’s been a while since we’ve been to the holiday camp in North Wales for a weekend of rocking and rolling. The usual chaos that greets you as you attempt to check in shows no sign of improvement and the 40-minute wait after we’ve been seen because you can’t find our key isn’t an impressive start. The absence of much of an apology doesn’t help either. As a result we miss the opening act, Ryders Creed, so apologies to you guys. We also fail to get to see New Yorkers Killcode due to sorting the press passes out. We did manage to catch Orange County power trio Idlewar (8) whose set is captivating and just fantastic. For a three-piece their sound is solid and powerful and with tracks from Rite interspersing with their older material it was no wonder that the audience loved it. Well worth catching these guys if they are in your area.

Catching the end of Black Aces (7) in the rammed main arena, it was high spirits all round for the antipodean four bar boogie of one of many bands to sound like AC/DC this weekend. The four-piece have energy to burn and the crowd were certainly enjoying them, as was the case for Toby Jepson and his Wayward Sons (8) project who hit the stage confidently and moved smoothly through their set. Predominantly comprised of tracks from their debut Ghosts Of Yet To Come, the band were on fine form with Jepson looking and sounding every inch the rock star. A Little Angels cover was allowed and expected. I’ve never been a huge fan of TJ but he certainly hits the right notes at present.

The George Thorogood classic Bad To The Bone preceded the arrival of headliner Dee Snider (7). The temperature in the room was at melting point and was becoming increasingly uncomfortable as the former Twisted Sister frontman hit the stage with his three-piece backing band. Mixing the set list with the expected classics from his past with a sprinkling of tunes from his We Are The Ones album, Snider was in confident form as always, striding the stage. Unfortunately, his solo work isn’t anywhere near as good as the TS material and it was highlighted through the set. His on-stage presence and in between chatter is fantastic, and he was in fine form. Other covers included the Nine Inch Nails classic Head Like A Hole (which he did on the album) and Soundgarden’s Outshined. Sadly, the heat became a little too much and we headed out into the rainy night with no regrets.

Friday dawned fresh and bright and brought with it the anticipation of a day’s worth of quality bands. First up was the quite brilliant Those Damn Crows (8) from Bridgend whose enthusiastic efforts on stage were matched by an energetic audience. Vocalist Shane Greenhall was on fire from the start, cajoling the crowd and giving it everything. The band have some good solid material and their super set received a deserved ovation. Heading over to the main stage next for the psychedelic tones of Goldray (9), a band that was much anticipated. Goldray did not disappoint with a fantastic 45 minutes of music which prompted comparisons with Siouxsie Sioux, the Cocteau Twins, The Blues Pills and even Kate Bush. Fronted by the ever-moving twirling Leah Rassmussen, whose ethereal vocals were captivating, Goldray’s psych rock was enchanting and Kenwyn House’s guitar work quite magical. Tracks from debut release Rising were well received and the only shame was the small crowd.

Kingbreaker’s wailing did little for me so we headed into the main arena again for The Graveltones (7), whose White Stripes sound with added oomph had drawn a large crowd. Sweating profusely in the hideous heat, Jimmy O and companion Mikey Sorbello blasted through their blues rock set with aplomb. There’s only so long I can watch this type of band though and after about 30 minutes we headed out for some fresh air before catching an enthusiastic set from The Jokers (7) whose routine rock n’ roll was being lapped up from a decent crowd. A break for Mrs H’s magnificent homemade veggie lasagne allowed for a bit of carb loading to soak up some of the beer before we witnessed a stonking set from UK’s Fire Red Empress (8) whose stoner and punk infused riffage and inventive songs from the very good Black Morphine cleared any sluggishness, vocalist Jennifer Diehl a ball of energy and passion.

German outfit The New Roses (8) belied their Black Crowes sound to deliver a much heavier set, much closer to decent Black Stone Cherry and their honest show was greeted with gusto from a packed arena. Stand out track had to be Life Ain’t Easy (For A Boy With Long Hair), one of the most ridiculous songs ever written. The band are an engaging watch, full of bounce and with a decent attitude. Their music isn’t the most inventive, but it did the job and was delivered with passion and heart. Check out Matt’s interview with the band soon.

Whilst most of the punters at HRH packed out the main stage for Y&T we gave it the swerve and instead checked out the magnificent Sideburn (8). The Swiss band gave a superb performance, their honest rock n’ roll encouraging the party to continue. All members of the band played with huge smiles on their faces, and the energy on stage was reciprocated in the small but enthusiastic audience. It was good stuff.

Possibly the highlight of the weekend followed with an astonishing performance from Blind River (9) whose gritty thick sound was just brilliant. This was hard rock from the top drawer with the combination of members of Pig Iron, The Earls Of Mars and Godsized creating a fantastic noise.With no music published yet, we rely on those brief YouTube clips but when their material does hit the shops we at the Musipedia will be all over it.

It was a challenge for Chasing Dragons (7) to follow Blind River and whilst the band gave it a good go their mixed sound was a little too busy and interest wandered after about 30 minutes. With the main arena so busy for Airbourne that the entrances were closed it was time for an earlier night and we headed home after a very satisfactory day.

Saturday was an earlier start and at 12:00pm it was the Cardiff based outfit Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disasters (6) who, despite looking hung over to hell, put in a decent shift to get the day moving. Their ‘in your face’ approach certainly got the crowd up and interested. No-nonsense rock n’ roll guaranteed to make you smile with Beth’s gutsy voice impressive. After a quick walk to clear the head and take in the beautiful North Wales coast line it was the one disappointment of the day with the schedule clash between Buffalo Summer and Bad Touch. Giving priority to our fellow Welshmen, Buffalo Summer (8) took to the main stage with the swagger and confidence of a band who have been plying their trade for several years.

The Swansea lads big sounding blues rock is infectious, and a decent sized crowd were soon clapping along to songs from the band’s two albums. Andrew Hunt’s soulful vocals filled the hall with ease whilst the energy and gurning of bassist Darren Joseph-King was a delight. Cutting the set in half, a quick hop to stage 2 to catch 30 minutes of similar superb blues rock from Norfolk’s Bad Touch (8) who never fail to impress. With a similar heritage to Buffalo Summer, Bad Touch certainly pulled in a crowd as the room was very busy.

Whilst it is singer Stevie Westwood whose stunning vocals catch the attention; Bad Touch is very much a band and guitarist Rob Glendinning showed a quality rarely seen over the weekend with some beautiful playing. The whole band are a cohesive unit with tracks from this year’s Truth Be Told sitting alongside earlier tunes from Halfway Home. A brilliant set and a fine start to the day.

The Swedish metal of Syron Vanes (6) did little, the veteran Swedes enthusiasm not matched by the quality of their material although the sparse crowd did ensure the band received a decent reception. The main stage was substantially fuller for the arrival of Toseland (6), whose radio friendly rock was much more to most tastes. Whilst Toseland are perfectly competent, there is something about their polished, streamlined music which leaves me cold. James Toseland can sing, albeit in a Myles Kennedy falsetto, and the tracks are solid but there always seem to be an absence of passion. Maybe I am missing something as the band have recently signed with Frontiers Music but the smugness of bassist Roger Davis, whose front of stage presence is just irritating combined with the other factors meant that the second stage soon beckoned.

A good choice too as Scottish outfit Burnt Out Wreck (7) soon arrived on stage for 45 minutes of tub thumping old school hard rock. Led by former Heavy Pettin’ drummer Gary Moat whose Bon Scott style vocals were brilliant, the band crashed through their set of tracks from this year’s debut album Swallow. The band have an old school charm about them which was totally enjoyable, and a competent display was well received. Polished progressive rock in the main arena as a busy crowd enjoyed an hour of superb music from Finnish five-piece Von Hertzen Brothers (8). The Finns have just released their latest album, the excellent War Is Over and bookend their set with the records two monster track from that alongside some of their more recognisable tunes including New Day Rising, Diamonds And Rust and a blistering Coming Home. The brothers recently underwent a line-up change but showed no signs of slowing the momentum which has been building for several years with an excellent performance. With a slightly less progressive and heavier live sound the band are deservedly building a reputation and their live shows are always enjoyable.

If there is a band you want at your party, then it has to be the Scottish rockers Gun (9) who kicked off a brilliant set with She Knows from their latest album Favourite Pleasures. The Glaswegians, led by the unassuming Dante Gizzi had the crowd in the palm of their hands, hitting hard with their now legendary cover of Word Up which had the ladies in the room gyrating in ecstasy. So much heavier live than on record, the band played a set of new and older music, with highlights including Steal Your Fire which got huge responses from the audience. The guitar work of Jools Gizzi and Tommy Gentry was exceptional although closing cover Fight For You Right, although inevitable never appeals to me. Still, a magnificent set and one of the highlights of the weekend for sure.

Skipping the main stage for the rest of the weekend, a break was necessary before possibly the band of the weekend. Cornwall’s King Creature (9) drew a healthy crowd but few could have expected such a blistering show. Taking the stage with an energy of immense proportions, the band took the gig by the scruff of the neck and proceeded to own the event. Their hard rock and metal sound was thick and full, the guitars of matt Vincent and Dave Evans slicing and dangerous whilst vocalist and bassist Dave Kellaway owned the centre ground.

With the audience loving every minute, the band tore through their set, audience participation on a new level with chanting long after the band had exited. Possibly the gig of the weekend, King Creature's heavy groove was just sublime. Time to check out Vol I as soon as possible. Sadly, Black Whiskey (6) had to follow King Creature, and whilst they drew a decent crowd of those who didn’t want to see the Black Star Riders, it was an impossible task and their sound was uninspiring.

And so we headed back to the deluxe caravan, which served our purposes very well. A thoroughly decent weekend, plenty of good music and a superb vibe with most of the crowd really pleasant and well mannered. If you’ve never been here then it really is worth a go.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Reviews: Annihilator, Evertale, Hanging Garden, Madam X (Reviews By Paul)

Annihilator: For The Demented (Neverland Music Inc)

Album number 16 for the crazy Canadians and it’s a quite fantastic return to form. It’s only been two years since the solid Suicide Society was released and is the second Annihilator release this year following the summer Triple Threat package.

Opening with the BOA previewed Twisted Lobotomy, it’s immediately apparent that Jeff Waters has returned to the snarling Megadeth style which the band followed on the first four albums. Skin slicing riffs, battering drums and the underlying melody which has been a constant in this band are all present. The speed is an essential component of decent Annihilator with that huge stomp which underpins all quality thrash. One To Kill speeds like a youngster in a stolen motor before the title track opens with a chunky riff before embarking on a slower paced chug which also contains an interesting breakdown with what appears to be some keyboards! Never! Yes, it’s almost Ghost like for a few seconds until a searingly hot solo snaps your attention back to the front.

The Demon You Know maintains the thrashing, whilst Altering The Altar changes pace once more with a synthesiser introduction quickly giving way to duel riffage and another battering from that drum programming which Jeff Waters seems to favour in the recording process. Indeed, Waters is credited with nearly all the vocals, guitars, bass and drumming on this album with the only other band member credited is guitarist Aaron Homma for a solo on On To Kill. However, bassist Rich Hinks co-writes all the music with Waters so maybe there is more to Annihilator than Jeff Waters these days.

The album closes with the eerie instrumental Dark before the poignant Not All There ends on with a disco-fused break down and numerous changes of pace. Consistently good over the past few years, For The Demented continues the quality that we’ve come to expect from a band that are as essential to the thrash genre as Megadeth, Metallica and Anthrax. Their slot with Testament in 2018 will be one to savour. 9/10

Evertale: The Great Brotherwar (NoiseArt Records)

Power metal bands these days seem to be great in number but not always great in sound or quality. Few bands grab my attention in this genre except for Blind Guardian. However, their countrymen Evertale’s sophomore release, The Great Brotherwar is one of those albums that grabs your attention from the opening chords and holds your attention from start to finish. The band, who has been in existence as Evertale since 2006, comprises Matthias Holzapfel on lead guitar, Matthias Graf on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Marco Bächle on bass and new drummer Cornelius Heck. Empire Rising sets the tone, fast and frenetic power metal which has the speed of Dragonforce with the quality of Guardian.

The impressive speed is spot on whilst the vocals of Graf combined with the backing vocals of Holzapfel and Bächle superb. With fantasy lyrical content, huge slabs of imperious pomp and brilliantly crafted songs such as The Swarm, Chapter 666 and And The Dragons Return, Evertale weave their compositions cleverly. The title track is just magnificent, clocking in at over seven minutes but total quality. It’s rare that I get so enthused about power metal but there really is nothing wrong at all here. It’s simply a demonstration of how enchanting it can be when done right. This may well launch into my top 10 of the year. It’s that good. Stunning guitar work and a solid rhythm section with Heck’s drumming sensational throughout make The Great Brotherwar one of THE albums of the year. 10/10

Hanging Garden: I Am Become (Lifeforce Records)

This is the fifth album from the Finnish outfit and if you like a bit of black metal mixed with melancholic doom of My Dying Bride, Swallow The Sun you will certainly find enough within this 45 minute release to interest you. The album deals with emotions and feelings that we experience from loss, death and yearning and with subject matter like that you soon lose yourself in the swirling intricacies which cascade from the start.

With elements of progressive metal, black metal and even electronica and industrial (Konta), this is an detailed and thought provoking piece which envelopes the listener from beginning to end. The doom oriented feel is interspersed with light and dark moments, such as Heathfire which moves at pace, the clean vocals of Elysium and the female vocals that lift album closer Ennen. Whilst the band is relatively unknown, this is an album which is well worth a listen. 8/10

Madam X: Monstrosity (EMP)

Way back in 1984, this 14-year-old metaller couldn’t get enough music. In those days it was word of mouth and Kerrang! that were your main sources of information along with the two-hours on a Friday night. One band that arrived in a bang was American Glam Rockers Madam X, whose debut album We Reserve The Right was full of downright sleazy rock. The band comprised sisters Maxine and Roxy Petrucci on guitar and drums respectively, with vocalist Bret Kaiser and Chris Doliber on bass.

Their image was shocking for a young lad, Kaiser and Doliber glammed up to the hilt whilst the sisters appeared on the album cover scantily clad with massive hair. That was their only album but in 2014 the band reappeared and Monstrosity is their first release since that “classic” of 1984. You’ll probably be unsurprised to note that this album connects seamlessly to their debut with 40 odd minutes of wham, bam, thank you Mam throwaway hair metal. I can’t say it’s bad but if there is one genre I struggle with it’s the glam/sleaze vein and this is no exception.

Three-minute tracks are churned out with ease, and the reprise of the opener to We Reserve The Right, High In High School, which is the penultimate track sits so comfortably alongside the new songs that you seriously can’t tell the difference. It’s flashy, it’s trashy, it’s Poison, Crüe, Steel Panther and all the others rolled into one. I listened to it once – it bounced off me and that’ll do thanks. 6/10

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Reviews: Pink Cream 69, Jared James Nichols, Daydream XI, Mortishead

Pink Cream 69: Headstrong (Frontiers)

Headstrong marks 30 years of German metal/rock band Pink Cream 69, founded by singer Andi Deris, guitarist Alfred Koffler, and bassist/producer Dennis Ward, they enjoyed  a reasonably successful career despite Deris leaving to join Helloween in 1994. Since then they have forged ahead with David Readman behind the mic releasing albums every couple of years mainly due to Readman and Ward's numerous other projects and guest spots.

Throughout their history they have moved from metal, to rock, to AOR and now they have moved back into the melodic metal sound, their most recent effort Headstrong is a premium slice of melodic metal, layered with hard rock hooks and Readman's soulful vocals the music here is more Jorn than Whitesnake if you're comparing vocalists, crunchy riffs are the order of the day with the keys glistening over the top. See a tracks such as Path Of Destiny, We Bow To None both are rampaging tracks in the mould of Firewind, Walls Come Down are big chuggers, in fact the majority of this album is fist raising, getting you to bang your head with every riff.

Yes there are ballads the biggest of which is Vagrant Of The Night and the country-like The Other Man rounds out the record brilliantly. Headstrong is a cracking album I've played it multiple times and it doesn't diminish although the stand out track is the epic Man Of Sorrow. Pink Cream 69 have maintained a high level of releases throughout their lifespan as a band but recently their shift tot he heavier sound has seen them deliver some of their best records yet. 8/10

Jared James Nichols: Black Magic (Listenable Records)

Wisconsin blues rocker Jared James Nichols returns to the fray with his second full length record, his harder edged blues rocking has been honed in the live arena since the previous record and I must say he's on fire here, tearing his custom Les Paul 'Old Glory' to pieces and delivering his vocals with shot of whiskey as he leads this hard hitting trio rounded out by Dennis Holm (drums) and Erik Sandin (bass), Imagine a rocked up version of Stevie Ray Vaughn & the Double Trouble or Zakk Wylde jamming with Lenny Kravitz and you'd be in the right ballpark with Nichols.

His bluesy riffs are distorted but still shuffle, The Gun is great evidence of this sound, but they don't sacrifice the soul, check out the thundering talkbox fuelled Don't Be Scared or Honey Forgive Me a track with so much funk Glenn Hughes wants it back. He brings some Southern swagger of Home and Keep Your Light On Mamma has a leviathan stomp to it. Black Magic conjures up some very interesting electric blues rock that leaves you wanting more, these tracks have been developed for the live arena with the track times short enough for some sonic experimentation on stage, as a record though Black Magic casts a spell on you that isn't easily broken. 7/10

Daydream XI: The Circus Of The Tattered And Torn (Sensory Records)

Brazilian progressive/power metal band Daydream XI have returned for their second record. It's a concept piece that starts with a spoken word intro and an overture track, something that can be very annoying in today's shuffle generation, but for those of us that like to listen to a record front to back it draws you into the cinematic concept and with Open The Curtains it really hammers the virtuosity of the players involved, with the melodic touches of DGM and Circus Maximus fused with the heavier style of Symphony X or Pyramaze the record is a properly progressive affair, mood and time changes throughout, mind melting instrumental sections but also more importantly some canny songwriting chops to maintain the attention of non proggers.

The band are the trio of  Tiago Masseti guitar/vocals, Marcelo Pereira guitar, Bruno Giordano drums and guest bassist Benhur Lima, there musical chops are beyond reproach here, the record is incredibly cinematic, full of lush arrangements and terrific metal passages, it's very difficult to single out any one track though as they all contribute as part of the overall concept, if pushed though I'd say check out A Cup Of Agony to display how to be intensely progressive taking from both classic and modern prog metal while also having the brevity not to lose interest. The Circus Of The Tattered And Torn maintain's Daydream XI's incredible sound and bolsters it with the over the top nature of say the Ayreon project, it's a deeply conceptual piece, set to some incredible music. If you love progressive metal then you need this album. 9/10

Mortishead: Totality EP (Self Released)

I've Spent My Nights Terrified the intro to this record is probably the most disconcerting thing I've ever heard, it's David Cameron's "All In This Together" speech with the word "lies" screamed over the top of it. It's this anti authoritarian bile that Mortishead inject their songs with, they are here to bludgeon and their music is here to assault you. The Bristol/Portishead band have arresting visuals with the band taking on the persona of a dark parody of an authoritarian and malevolent totalitarian regime, but their music is truly brutal, this EP shows their extreme industrial metal at it's head bashing best huge grooves come through on Shitstorm while Aslaved Asleep has groove/thrash tenacity of LOG and Slipknot.

The riffs are down-tuned and heavy as lead, the drums beat you senseless but the band's real key are the schizophrenic synths and samples that add bite to the wall of noise and vocals so deep in the gutter Pennywise is scared of them. Mortishead bring the deep, dark and heavy with every song on this EP, it's an apocalyptic vision of the world from the album cover (from the talented Very Metal Art) right down to the disconcerting electronics that fizz at the lowest reaches of the record, after five tracks you're broken but want to do it all again, bring on the full length. 8/10

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Reviews: Europe, Appice, Trucker Diablo, Code Red (Reviews By Paul)

Europe: Walk The Earth (Hell & Back Recordings)

Album number 11 from the Swedes and it’s a fine piece of bluesy melodic hard rock. The band who will forever be associated with The Final Countdown have been ramping it up in recent years with Bag Of Bones and 2015’s War Of Kings both containing some belting tunes. Walk The Earth ramps it up another level with the stand out track GTO flying along at break neck speed. The interplay between John Norum and Mic Micaheli reminiscent of so many fine duels in the Deep Purple stable. Vocalist Joey Tempest delivers a fine performance throughout whilst the long-term unity of the band is underpinned by the imperious title track, the slightly sludgy Wolves and the Crusade themed Kingdom United. Leaning more towards Deep Purple than ever, Walk The Earth is a fine album that delivers well. Worth a listen. 8/10

Appice: Sinister (SPV)

The Appice brothers are pretty much the definition of hard rock drumming. Carmine with Cactus, Vanilla Fudge and a whole host of other legends whilst Vinnie first came to attention replacing Bill Ward in Black Sabbath before anchoring the Dio back line for many years. With a plethora of guest stars, Sinister is a polished, if somewhat routine hard rock album with the inevitable massive drum sound. Looking at the guests who contributed to this album, it’s unsurprising that many of the songs veer towards the 1980s feel of bands like Cinderella, Great White and Whitesnake. Whilst there is an undercurrent of the old school Dio much of the album sits very much in the American hard rock camp.

The list of luminaries on the album includes Joel Hoekstra, Craig Goldy and Bumblefoot on guitar, Tony Franklin and Jorgen Carlsson on bass and Erik Norlander on keys. Throw in the vocals of Jim Crean, Paul Shortino, Robin McCauley and Chas West and you get a clear idea of the sound. The album’s title track gets things off to a decent start, a chunky keyboard riff giving way to a heavy guitar sound which then opens at pace, drums unsurprisingly solid. Monsters And Heroes is next, a typical Motley Crue/Whitesnake hybrid. From there on its compact, slightly monotonous hard rock, with few stand-out tracks.

Drum Wars is uninspiring despite the two brothers battering and hammering away. Bros In Drums fairs slightly better for a few seconds but it isn’t ball grabbing and the lyrics are utter dog shit. Add in a bizarre Sabbath Mash which features excerpts of War Pigs and Paranoid (which neither drummer played on!) and ultimately, this is an album which is insipid and fades quick in the memory. 6/10

Trucker Diablo: Fighting For Everything (Self Released)

It is no secret that we have a big love of the Northern Irish big truckers. Album number 4, Fighting For Everything, will only enhance our appreciation of the band who saved our lives at Steelhouse Festival on that rain sodden Friday night with a set that allowed us to drink beer and forget about the 200% precipitation and mud up to our armpits. So, what about Fighting For Everything? Well, if you follow the Big Truck you’ll know that the band have fought through adversity and in many respects, it’s astonishing that they continue to deliver music at all. This album sees the band raise their game a couple of notches with some superb guitar playing and song composition. The guitar work of Tom Harte has improved on each release and listening to the middle section of Drown In The Fire is a clear demonstration of this. Whilst Trucker maintain their no-nonsense approach, and its heads down rock and roll all the way by god is it good stuff.

Listen to Voodoo II, a rampaging tune or the opening salvo of Born Trucker, and it’s impossible not to nod the head, tap the feet and crack open a cold one. The infectious Let’s Just Ride is essence of Trucker, strong chugging riffs, Tom Harte’s clean strong vocals supported by the harmonies of bassist Jim McGurk and Simon Haddock. The title track contains a riff which has Blackberry Smoke’s Up In Smoke all over it but hey, it’s a fucking tune so who cares. Unlike may albums the second half is as strong as the first, Over The Wall and Detroit Steel both quite magnificent tracks which maintain the momentum and keep interest high. The final track, When The Waters Rise, a calmer, highly emotional piece with a clear Irish lilt brings a superb album to a fitting conclusion. The Big Truck does indeed keep on rolling. That’s a big ten four good buddy. 9/10

Code Red: Incendiary (AOR Heaven)

I’m not sure how many more Swedish AOR bands the Ed can chuck at me but suffice to say that he’s testing my patience a little! Code Red, who are a six-piece outfit and who have starred at AOR Heaven are the focus of Ulrick Lonnqvist, who has been around for some time in a variety of bands. Incendiary isn’t the hottest album I’ve ever heard but if you like your music well to the left of the heavy spectrum then this may well be right up your street. Dominated by harmonies and the smooth keyboards of Kasper Dahlqvist, it is sweeter than a stick of rock in a bowl of sugar. The songs are polished, poppy and quite stomach churning in their lyrical content.

Yes, it’s the usual love based themes. Tracks such as I Won’t Be A Hero, My Hollywood Ending and Eternal Pretender ooze the charm of FM, Vega, H.E.A.T. alongside the giants such as REO Speedwagon, Styx and Journey. It’s either fantastic or horrific, depending on your leaning. If you don’t know, think of those 1980s soundtracks from Asia, John Farnham and Dare. I suppose for quality it’s got to be high up there. Makes my stomach churn mind you. 7/10

Monday, 13 November 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Damnation (Live Review By Paul)

Damnation Festival 2017, Leeds University Students Union

The annual gathering of some of the more extreme end of the metal spectrum boasted a rather fabulous line-up this year and it was no surprise when the event sold out many weeks before the date. An early start from South Wales saw us arrive in a bright but cold Leeds in plenty of time for lunch and a pint of Black Sheep before heading to the Union where we would spend the rest of the day.

My last visit to Damnation was in 2014 where the overcrowding was quite uncomfortable and the organisers have since cut the capacity by a quarter. It still meant that in many cases, early arrival was essential if you wanted to catch bands in all but the main Jagermeister Stage. So, apologies to Vallenfyre, Leprous, Nordic Giants, Dying Fetus and Grave Pleasures. We tried but couldn’t get near!

First up for me was the three-piece Belgian black metal outfit Wiegedood (8) whose recent support slot to Winterfylleth had received positive reviews. Their wall of sound is like the Manchester legends and it was no surprise that the Terroriser Stage was bursting at the seams when the band launched into their set. Blast beats, magnificent technical riffing and the darkest of vocals all combine to make a sound which is exactly as you’d expect for a band whose name translates to ‘death in the cradle’. With viewing severely restricted it was soon time to move on to the next band.

Arkansas outfit Pallbearer (6) were the first band to hit the main stage and a healthy crowd gathered as they were introduced in a fuzzy haze of green lights. Their album Heartless made a good impression earlier this year but unfortunately despite their sound being predominantly doom, the sound was so muffled that it was impossible to catch the melancholy of vocalist Brett Campbell clearly. Frustrated with the sound, we decided to seek out some refreshment at the overpriced bars before the next band.

In the Eyesore Merch Stage Italian outfit Psychedelic Witchcraft (8) took the stage with a crash and proceeded to deliver a set of Sabbath infused psychedelic rock which was most impressive. Their third album Magick Rites And Spells is a top listen and the band mixed tunes from this and their other two releases as they powered through their set. Vocalist Virginia Monti is the focal point of the band, dancing maniacally around the stage with great enthusiasm whilst guitarist Jacopo Fallai ground out his Iommi style licks and riffs.

Back to the Jagermeister Stage for the intriguing and mystical Myrkur (6) the black metal outfit which consists solely Amalie Bruun. Her second album was released about six weeks ago and is a more ethereal approach, which was demonstrated in the opening track before she and her band launched into a more traditional black metal track, complete with banshee screams! Unfortunately, despite being much anticipated, the wailing did little for me and I headed out for another beverage and more metal.

American two-piece Big Business (7) were making hell of a racket when we got to the Eyesore Stage and it soon became apparent that these guys would probably kick Royal Blood in the head rather follow their sound. Huge chunky bass riffs and chaotic rampaging drums filled the small room but with less blast beats than most, it was a welcome relief for a short while. By now the heat in the venue was beginning to kick in and despite the promises of a reduced capacity, there were people everywhere with large queues for the toilets and crushes at the bars.

A rare appearance by UK doom merchants Warning (8) meant a large crowd for the next act on the Jagermeister Stage, with Patrick Walker and co having reunited again this year after an eight-year absence. The down-tuned guitars, introspective lyrics and crushingly heavy doom allowed the hardcore fans an opportunity to relive The Strength To Dream and Watching From A Distance whilst those less familiar with their work could enjoy a stunning set. There was the sight of members of Winterfylleth losing their shit on the balcony and a marriage proposal delivered superbly by Walker. Whilst their lengthy tunes meant the set list was limited, Watching From A Distance was immense.

After a rather tasty hummus and falafel pitta time to get back into the main arena for the most anticipated set of the day. Halifax miseries Paradise Lost (9) delivered an hour of magic, despite some typically frustrating microphone problems for Nick Holmes which clearly pissed him off and enabled him to be even more dour than usual. With Gregor Mackintosh sporting a nifty new Mohican haircut and ripping out the riffs, it was left to Aaron Adey to inject a bit of happiness, his beaming face as he riffed the shit out of his guitar always a joy to watch. The set-list was crammed full of superb Paradise Lost classics as well as three from this year’s crushingly good Medusa in From The Gallows, Blood And Chaos and The Longest Winter. It’s taken a long time, but I truly believe that the band are now finally getting the recognition they deserve. Closing with Say Just Words a lot of happy punters left the main hall content.

One of the big three of Germanic thrash, it’s fair that Sodom (8) are classed as legends within the metal world. Now I think they are the weakest of the three, with Kreator and Destruction superior in my view. However, Sodom may have changed that with a blistering hour during which they blasted through 11 tracks and only stopped when bassist and vocalist Tom Angelripper was informed that they had run out of time. With Bernd Kost slicing and ripping flesh with his guitar and drummer Markus Friewald hammering away at the rear, Sodom hit hard with classics such as Outbreak Of Evil, Sodomy And Lust, Agent Orange, and Napalm In The Morning cheering the crowd and encouraging some brutal mosh pits. An excellent set which enhanced their reputation.

By now the day was running away from us and exhaustion had set in. It was a relief when headliners Bloodbath (7) finally hit the stage, opening with Let The Children Come To Me, Nick Holmes second shift fared better than his earlier mic problems with his growling vocals delivering the death metal to perfection. A set which was well paced and packed with favourites, highlights included So You Die, Anne and the ever brutal Eaten which closed the night off.

So, a highly enjoyable day, some good performances but oh so tiring and crowded. Will I return? I’m not sure. Despite the great value price of the ticket, the long drive and overnight accommodation make it a challenge. With a venue that has little flexibility I’m not sure I have the strength to manage it year on year. But a good day out and some excellent music.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Reviews: Arrayan Path, Exarsis, One Step From The Edge, Steamroller Assault

Arrayan Path: Dawn Of Aquarius (Pitch Black records)

A year after their most recent album epic power metal band Arrayan Path return with their latest record, the band from Limassol (Lemesos) Cyprus have made this one about the Hindu Goddess Kali, the 'Mother Of The Universe'. You can hear why this is classed as epic power metal, the songs here are cinematic pieces with traditional instrumentation (Equilibrium) put against the symphonic power metal layers. One track like Lotus Eyes the keys are used to bring a Middle Eastern feel to the slow lumbering riffs, it's a slower track yes but there are of course faster tracks on the album, The Eleventh Mantra is a rapid power metal, The Flower Born Of Itself has a whiff of classic metal to it and So It Shall Be Written takes an epic influenced route.

The record moves as concept piece should every song compliments the previous one and prepares you for the next, it has light and shade with the pacier numbers often juxtaposed with bigger stomping riffs, it's a celebration of power metal mastery with all the band playing well throughout on the complex arrangements, the vocals are great and the production does the conceptual nature justice. I'd only been slightly aware of Arrayan Path before now but I really enjoyed this album, play it through big speakers to really get the full effect of the music. 8/10

Exarsis: New War Order (MDD Records)

Thrash metal with the highest vocals this side of Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth? Yes please. Athenian thrashers Exarsis are now on their fourth record and I'm a bit astounded how I've missed them before this. Normally I find that a lot of thrash bands are similar, it's difficult to make good thrash but Exarsis do something right, the production is deliberately analogue feeling but it doesn't detract, making the record sound like the classic thrash albums by Overkill, Anthrax and Nuclear Assault. With a cover by Andrei Bouzikov (Municipal Waste, Toxic Holocsaust, Cannabis Corpse etc) it looks like a classic thrash album too.

Every instrument gets a fair deal and the vocals though high pitched are never too teeth gritting. They don't scrimp on the breakneck speed, whirlwind riffs peel out out the speakers as the frontman shrieks backed by a gang chorus, the solos squeal as the songs run through the obligatory political bashing/horrors of war lyrics but the songs are played with skill and pinhead precision meaning you have no choice but to bang your head with every riff. New War Order has peaked my interest in Exarsis I will certainly be looking for their earlier work. 8/10

One Step From The Edge: Beneath The Surface (Self Released)

This is a proggy one, a myriad of styles all brought together under a prog metal umbrella, there's heavy djent grooves, harsh/clean vocals, technical riffage, colossal beatdowns, jazz inflections and most of all cohesive songwriting. The Ionnian band call themselves "A hybrid of different elements of meNtal expression" and they certainly have the mental bit nailed, the record is a bit schizophrenic as I've hinted at earlier taking from not only different types of music but also different types of metal itself. If I'm being critical and after few songs the constant start-stop modern prog metal nature of this record will wear thin and the vocals do stray into wailing a few times but it's a solid release if you like riffy modern prog metal. 7/10

Steamroller Assault: Dead Man's Hand (Eat Metal Records)

Steamroller Assault is a terrible name for a band, there I said it, however it is a great name for B-Movie horror, still here we are with Athens band Steamroller Assault an album that takes it's title from the legendary hand of Aces & Eights held by Wild Bill Hickock when he was murdered, but I'm sure many of you knew that already. The band have dirty metal assault that reminds me so much of Howling Mad Shitheads Wolfsbane with the greasy blues snarl of Motorhead on You Ain't So Pretty (When I'm Sober) and the attitude of Twisted Sister.

Unfortunately that's about it in terms of good things, not content with a terrible band name, all the members go under pseudonyms, guitarist Witchkiller, who leads Basshole (bass), Pimp (drums) and Namiroth (vocals), the record is just an excuse for a boys night out, every song is about chauvinistic ideals and machismo, sometimes to sickening degree, plus it gets a little samey as the record goes on. Dead Man's Hand is an album for a frat boy party but a little throwaway after that. It should carry a warning that says "Don't play near feminists" any record that has song named When A Girl Loves A Woman could probably incur all kinds of wrath. Dire. 3/10

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Hard Rock Hell XI Preview (By Paul)

Hard Rock Hell XI Preview

Less than 24 hours until the gates open at Hafan Y Mor in North Wales and anticipation is beginning to rise. It’s always a good crack with many good bands, friendly fans, long nights and lazy mornings. The event is sold out but it’s always worth having a look at what is on offer.

Thursday

Just like any festival the first night tends to involve a lot of catching up, settling in and catching those early bands to get in the mood. Oh, and maybe a soda water or two to relax with. Opening proceedings this year will be Staffordshire outfit Ryders Creed, a five-piece who play straight forward rock n’ roll in the style of Monster Truck and Airbourne. They are sure to get the party started with a bang. Check them out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i18RrK2s9Jk

Next up will be Orange County power trio Idlewar. No strangers to the blog, their debut album went down well with us and with their sophomore release Rite just out James Blake, Peter Pagonis and Rick Graham will not doubt deliver their no-nonsense AC/DC meets Clutch hard rock delivery. One of the highlights of the weekend I am sure. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSC96Ge2kbY

Killcode hail from New York city and will bring their interesting Southern infused rock and metal to Wales. Having cut their teeth with a couple of EPs and their debut album along with support slots to Dee Snider amongst others the five piece may be an unexpected highlight. Whet your appetite here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8R94wZgfMs

It will take about 30 seconds to identify that Black Aces are Australian. The four-piece led by Tyler Kinder play Aussie rock n’ roll in the same vein as many of their countrymen. It’s uncomplicated, and Tyler’s vocals maybe an acquired taste. Having played at HRH last year, the band will know the score and with their latest album Anywhere But Here released this week will surely give it a right go. If you want some uncomplicated rock have a look at this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjlskZfjhSE

Plenty of plaudits for Wayward Sons, the latest band to feature Toby Jepson, and astonishingly his first album for 20 years. The debut release, Ghosts Of Yet To Come received positive reviews and their Steelhouse show was appreciated by those who toughed it out. Sure to receive a big crowd, Wayward Sons should deliver a great show. The superb Until The End can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-tMXKSt2cc

I’m somewhat confused about Dee Snider headlining Thursday night. I’ve seen him several times with the Twisted Sister juggernaut, a band that at their peak were as good as anyone in the live arena. Since Sister closed out in 2016, Snider has released his We Are The Ones solo album, which I have to admit I thought was dreadful. His interaction with the US President confused me, although I admire some of Snider’s responses to the racism which is being fuelled by the orange turd burgers insanity. I’ll love him forever for his roasting of Tipper Gore at the PMRC hearing way back in the 1980s. Expect a night of Sister classics, with drunken fools roaring I Wanna Rock and We’re Not Going To Take It at midnight. Either that or it’s beer pong at ours! Check out the title track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRLLHYN2vMM


Friday Main Stage

No doubt many will be nursing the sore head by the time Friday dawns and the main business commences. A civilised 12:50 start on the second stage will help those who may have over indulged. First though, let’s have a look at the main stage. 

Opening the day will be the psychedelic rock of Goldray, the female fronted project of Reef’s Kenwyn House. Alongside bassist Geoff Laurens is the incredible talent of Leah Rassmussen. Think Zeppelin, Floyd and Cream fronted by Kate Bush and you’ll get the picture. One of the bands to watch over the weekend I think. Take a trip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qyR9CQr2IE

If there was a band that I’d have to be dragged screaming to watch it would be Syteria. Having seen them support Joanovarc and reviewed their debut Rant O Bot album, this ¾ female outfit did absolutely nothing for me and the presence of Girlschool’s Jackie Graham doesn’t help. Still, make your own mind up with this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Rp0InwxAUc

A band that caused quite a stir when they first crashed onto the scene in 2011 are The Graveltones. The London based power duo of Jimmy O and Mikey Sorbello. Their blues based rock has gone down well and with two albums in the bank, they should put on a solid show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGVrtqH73-M

If you like your rock with a blues thread running through the middle ala the Black Crowes then The New Roses will need to be on your list of bands to see. Formed in Weisbaden in 2007, the German outfit have a grittiness which is always appealing if delivered well. Check out Thirsty here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LRnmb-B_EE

The melodic rock of Tyketto is sure to pull in a big crowd. Having been around since the late 1980s, albeit with several reformations, Danny Vaughn and co will be looking to put on another high-octane show. Take a trip back to 1991 with Forever Young here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2vG-zlvvk0

Always a favourite at HRH and everywhere they play, the barroom boogie of Y&T will be welcomed like an old family friend and if you want to get in to see Dave Meniketti & his current line-up you’ll need to be quick as the main arena will be packed. Having formed in 1974, this is a band about whom the word legends was made for. Supported by long-term members John Nymann and drummer Mike Vanderhule and new bassist Aaron Leigh the band will be on fire having already been touring the UK for a few weeks. Get some retro Mean Streak here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWrqI1FI4TU

Few in the rock and metal world have yet to see Aussies Airbourne live. The hard working four-piece, led by the insane Joel O’Keefe tour relentlessly and appear at UK festivals on a regular basis. Formed as far back as 2003, the four albums the band have released follow a traditional formula which sits closely to the stomp of their countrymen AC/DC and Rose Tattoo. This will be an opportunity to see new rhythm guitarist Harri Harrison who joined the band earlier this year. Prepare for beer drinking, hell raising and a good time with the best pub band in the world. Here’s a taster of what you’ll get: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2IyX5LXGyg

Friday Second Stage

The second stage holds several gems which will be worth considering. The hard rock of Bridgend’s Those Damn Crows will appeal to those who enjoy Alter Bridge et al whilst the sounds from London based King Breaker will hit the spot for those who enjoy the female vocals combined with some Pantera style backing rock. More classic rock in the AC/DC style from The Jokers will be followed by the stoner sounds of Fire Red Empress, a band who have been causing a stir for some time with their debut album Black Morphine well worth a listen. 

The alt-rock of one woman project The Kut did little for me on first hearing but may translate better in the live arena. Merthyr’s Florence Black have been everywhere this summer and if you’ve seen them at Steelhouse or BOA then you’ll know what to expect. Switzerland’s Sideburn have a no-nonsense AC/DC approach and their album #Eight went down well earlier this year. If you fancy avoiding the crush for Y&T then catch these boys instead. Coming up hard are Blind River, who also got a slot at BOA on the Sophie stage. 

Their gritty, blues hard rock is well worth a listen. If it’s hard and heavy in the Avenged Sevenfold style that you want, then you may also want to check out Leeds based Chasing Dragons whose lead singer Tank’s vocals are a mix of delicate and rough.

Those Damn Crows :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5kArhikvBc
King Breaker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY4ijgKd1pE
The Jokers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3VBMQe_mOc
Fire Red Empress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4hkyKnfI2U
The Kut: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1hOWysYoRk
Florence Black: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4OnYlJz0rU
Sideburn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJXciyTJWPI
Blind River: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5D_VEGJXYtg
Chasing Dragons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BV2mPMkhoo

Saturday Main Stage

For those still standing Saturday promises some sterling classic rock on the main stage. Kicking off things will be those rock n’ roll outlaws from West Wales, Buffalo Summer. These boys are veterans of many festivals and with a couple of albums under their belts their big sound which has shades of Northern Ireland’s The Answer will be just the thing for the early afternoon. Check out their sound here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoDrJDltZ_8

The arena sound of Toseland is sure to appeal to many. The band who sport biker and all round lovely chap James Toseland have been gigging hard and will no doubt be familiar to many. Always worth a watch, especially if you like Alter Bridge. Here’s Renegade: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bmc659kMiK0

Prog in the afternoon will be a thing at this year’s HRH with the fabulous Von Hertzen Brothers coming in hard on the heels of their latest release War Is Over. With a revised line-up the Finnish brothers will surely be one of the highlights of the weekend. Here’s the brilliant New Day Rising to whet the appetite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZ19oUREZzQ

One of the sights of the weekend will be the quite awful dancing that will infect our party when Scottish legends Gun hit the stage. They are sure to pack their set with classics and covers to get the crowd moving, along with a couple from their latest album Favourite Pleasures. Here’s the old school cover which always delivers the most appalling shapes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYzijRRRYxU

As the evening draws on you may be interested in the guitar slinging of Dokken’s George Lynch and his Lynch Mob. Not my favourites, but if you like your American rock then the band that first started out in 1989 will be worth a watch. Here’s Main Offender from the latest album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONZk7sof40w

If you want an anthem to sing along to then it must be Place Your Hands, possibly the only track I can name by Glastonbury’s Reef, who by all accounts were fabulous at Amplified and Rambling Man Fair. The alt-rockers have rarely interested me but are sure to get a superb response from a packed crowd. Here’s that song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bihoNRc8GDQ

One of the most disappointing gigs of the year was Saturday night headliners Black Star Riders whose passionless performance was a real let down in Cardiff. I’m hoping better from a band who contain Scott Gorham, one of my all-time favourite guitarists. Here’s a track from February’s Heavy Fire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUXhAB06BfQ

Saturday Second Stage

The second stage contains more action than you could reasonably want, with Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disasters from Cardiff kicking off proceedings, followed by the Southern (England) Rock of Western Sand and the promising Black Crowes drawl of Bad Touch. The old follow the new with Swedish veteran metallers Syron Vanes who first drew breath in 1980 and released their most recent album Chaos From A Distance last year, closely pursued by ex-Heavy Pettin drummer Gary Moat’s Burnt Out Wreck, whose Bon Scott era AC/DC should be just the ticket. The crushing sludge crusted tones of Hark will change the direction and the temperature and contrast with the more traditional rock of UK outfit Louder Still who are less than a year into their career. Not sure how Finns The Blanko will go down with their retro indie sound but Planet Rock favourites Wicked Stone are sure to draw a crowd. If you can stay up until midnight, then it’s sure to be rammed for the excellent Tax The Heat who will close the event. A great weekend awaits and there should be something for everyone.


Beth Blade: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMi9mXYRrZE
Western Sand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSKPGD3J3tM
Bad Touch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gU5sd_qmok
Syron Vanes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4BNzmvexNQ
Burnt Out Wreck: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rX_BZmd7LSI
Hark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEtP6IxUCfA
Louder Still: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTukMLH6d5o
Wicked Stone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exEbLBfSOy0
Tax The Heat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-akLKqjVrhM

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Reviews: Exhumed, LA Guns, Heaven & Earth, Solar Sons (Reviews By Paul)

Exhumed: Death Revenge (Relapse Records)

San Jose’s death metal outfit Exhumed have been consistent in their releases since their reformation in 2010. Death Revenge continues the biannual output and maintains the gore themes which the band’s focus has been on since day 1. As someone who isn’t that familiar with the band Death Revenge is totally what I’d expect. The guttural vocals of Matt Harvey impress, the pace and power of the band is frightening at times with Harvey’s guitar work combining with former bassist Bud Burke who also handles the axe work.

Michael Hamilton’s drumming is as ferocious as you’d expect. The Carcass influence remains throughout, on tracks such as Lifeless and The Harrowing, which inevitably throws a bit of Cannibal Corpse into the mix. There’s also a bit of classical hidden in the bonus tracks, with Death Revenge Underture bringing to mind a horror film score, as well as a cover of the Exodus classic A Lesson In Violence. 7/10

LA Guns: The Missing Peace (Frontiers)

The first album to feature Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns for 15 years, so very much a reunion album from the band who first emerged from LA in 1983. I’m not a big fan of this type of hard rock, with the sleaze/glam element often being more important than rather weak music. The Missing Peace is a reasonable effort, with more emphasis on the music than in previous times. Phil Lewis’ voice is in fine form and there is some neat guitar work from lead Michael Grant.

The inevitable ballad is inevitably grim; Christine made me bring up a little bile. Some of the tracks are particularly throwaway including the hideous Baby Gotta Fever which does nothing and there is the usual misogynistic lyrical content. Sticky Fingers is case in point. I’m sure if you enjoy your hard rock in the Motley Crue, Poison, Cinderella ball park then you’ll find this enjoyable. 7/10

Heaven & Earth: Hard To Kill (Quarto Valley Records)

Hard rock immersed in the blues is everywhere these days but now and again the odd band just makes you stop and listen in more detail. Such is the case with Hard To Kill, album number 4 from LA based outfit Heaven & Earth. The band has featured an impressive number of musicians since their debut way back in 2001 but has been driven forward by British born Stuart Smith whose blues soaked guitar is one of the highlights throughout this release. The line-up which recorded Hard to Kill includes the smoking hot vocals of Joe Retta, the thumping bass of Lynn Sorenson, Kenny Arnoff on drums and Ty Baillie’s ivories which tinkle throughout.

Unsurprisingly the band sit very much in the 70s and 80s rock of Deep Purple, Rainbow, Whitesnake, Free and Bad Company. The tracks come hard and fast, stuffed full of melody and harmony along with more than the odd hook. Opener Hard To Kill is a barnstorming start, power and passion mixing with more than a good dose of the blues. The acoustic Bleed Me Dry hits the spot, allowing Smith the opportunity for some heartfelt guitar work.

There’s even opportunity for Retta to deliver a bit of killer harmonica during the duelling The Game Has Changed which sees the band on fire. This is a polished release which simply oozes quality and you know from one listen that these are musicians at the top of their game. If you fancy a slab of honest, top class blues drenched rock then get a copy of Hard To Kill. Great stuff. 8/10

Solar Sons: Retrograde Motion (Slow Dragon Music)

The second release from Dundee’s Solar Sons whose old-school metal with a progressive tinge is a very enjoyable slab and an improvement on their debut The Great Blue Divide. The progressive edge remains firmly in place with most of the songs well over six minutes in length. A fuzzy production adds to the retro feel and whilst I can hear bits of the Maiden and Sabbath influences, I do struggle to pick up much of Rush apart from the odd synthesiser swoosh.

Stand out track is probably Colossus which ebbs and flows like a mighty river through the countryside. Elsewhere the chunky guitar sound blends with some crashing guitar work and Dave Hill (Demon) style vocals from bassist Rory Lee. This is a grower which demands repeated plays to fully appreciate the complexity of a three piece who are showing positive signs of progress. It certainly won’t do you any harm to give it a spin. 6/10

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Reviews: Serenity, Jeff Scott Soto, Night Legion, Goya

Serenity: Lionheart (Napalm Records)

We know now with hindsight that King Richard The Lionheart was a bit of dick, a warmongering Religious fanatic who, ritually committed genocide in the name of his God while his own kingdom fell apart beneath him. As a historian I know that the truth ruins any good story, myths and legends are not concerned with the truth, just the heroic implications of their protagonists. So with that in mind you'll have to treat Austrian symphonic metal band Serenity's sixth album as a fantasy piece, it's a concept record about Richard and paints him as uniting hero, rather than the crusading madman looking to further his Empire. A little naive yes but ideal for the purpose of power metal record, it means there can be lots of cinematic flourishes, huge choruses and choral elements, all of which are exactly what you'd want from Serenity, a band who have used history as inspiration, with their most recent album a concept piece about Da Vinci.

If you set aside the theme and imagine say a leader from a fantasy novel like Game Of Thrones or Lord Of The Rings the songs are all excellent representations of rampaging power metal led by founder member Andreas Schipflinger's explosive drumming, he makes sure that when the songs need to gallop, they are less like a stallion and more like a Ford Mustang, all cylinders blazing on the title track, a song that is a perfect single pairing the thunderous rhythms with hook-laden chorus and crowd participation "hey hey" refrain. They get heavier on Hero which is a chance for Fabio D'Amore to display his bass-work and lets Christian Hermsdörfer play some gritter riffs but he returns to the vivid melodic guitar lines and dazzling solos fairly rapidly with the excellent Stand And Fight.

As far as Georg Neuhauser's vocals go he can do no wrong in my eyes, I love the dramatic way he sings and he is at his most poignant on King's Landing. As I said treat Lionheart as fantasy record and concentrate on just the songs then it's another brilliant effort from Serenity, if you focus too much on the subject matter then it does detract from it all a little. 8/10 

Jeff Scott Soto: Retribution (Frontiers Records)

Jeff Scott Soto is a bit of a rock journeyman, he's been the singer numerous high profile groups with a stint in Journey, as the singer for Yngwie Malmsteen, he's a part of Trans Siberian orchestra and at the helm of Talisman. More recently he has been the lungs for W.E.T (a Frontiers project featuring members of Eclipse and Work Of Art) and Sons Of Apollo, it's a pretty good resume by anyone's standards but as well as fronting all of these bands he has a successful solo career, fronting both the heavier S.O.T.O and his self titled project. This is the sixth fully solo record and marks 15 years of collaboration with Frontiers, in the past his solo records have always been full of high calibre melodic hard rock and Retribution is a continuation of this trend, there's a smattering of Whitesnake, a touch of Journey but it's all sung with conviction by the unmistakable vocals of JSS.

The record can be a little ballad heavy, which is always an issue with melodic rock, the best of which is the brilliantly overwrought Feels Like Forever. On the other hand when it rocks out on the heavy title track, the shimmering Inside/Outside, the punchy Rage Of The Year you get to do a bit of head nodding to do. JSS is best known to the wider rock audience as a vocalist for hire, dig a little deeper and you find that he is an accomplished performer in his own right and that his real talent lays with his solo projects, classy hard rock with excellent vocal prowess. 8/10

Night Legion: Night Legion (Massacre Records)

It's pretty much set that if a band features Stu Marshall I'm going to like it. His work with Empires Of Eden, Dungeon and Death Dealer really fly the flag for chest beating true power metal, you know the kind that ask all wimps and posers to leave the hall? The Australian guitarist has played with and produced for some of the biggest musicians in traditional metal and he continues to form new bands all of whom carry a banner for Manowar, Maiden and Priest. Night Legion is his latest band teaming up with fellow Aussie's bassist Glenn Williams (Dungeon), drummer Clay T; who was in Blasted To Static with Marshall and Racer X's Jeff Martin and vocalist Vo Simpson from thrash band Darker Half.

Musically they don't diversify at all, this is traditional power metal folks, drums with that hammer like Mjolnir, a bass that grinds on the slower tracks such as Enter The Storm and of course Stu Marshall's excellent guitar playing is the cornerstone of the entire record, riffing like a bastard and throwing in solos galore. In fact the only part of this record that may cause some controversy is that, Vo Simpson has a voice that is hit and miss, in the mid ranges it's a great melodic snarl but when he tries to do the Halford heroics they can fall a little flat (most noticeable on the title track).

He's certainly not Eric Adams but he carries the record admirably with classic metal vocals you'd expect. Like I said I'm always going to like something Stu Marshall is involved in but on this one the vocals are little too erratic and more often than not don't appeal. 6/10

Goya: Kathmandu (Self Released)

Stoke On Trent has somewhat of musical heritage it's the birthplace of Lemmy, Slash and Robbie Williams, the city that has more speed bumps than could ever be needed are also the home of Goya. This trio play loud noisy rock/metal, they let their music do the talking as an instrumental band, they bring wave after wave heavy progressive rock  from the outset of this four song EP, there's quite a bit going on with the music here, it demands repeated listens with each track bursting with musicality, take a song like Venenatus it moves so fluidly between Floydian textures and lumbering doom riffs that it doesn't take you by surprise, rather you realise that this is the only real path the song can take, well until it moves into a bass driven jazz section that brings psychedelic feedback and tribal drumming.

It's a 13 minute plus epic that comes just after a shorter more direct Collider which opening song and most basic cut on the record, Ashoka is discordant stoner rock and builds into the stunning title track rounding out the EP with it's most progressive moment, having the same blissed-out melancholy as Anathema or Alcest. Instrumental music for me can be a bit one dimensional but there is so much to hook you in on this EP that I will keep coming back to it, discovering something new each time. 7/10  

Saturday, 4 November 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Metallica (Live Review By Paul)

Metallica – Genting Arena, Birmingham 30th October 2017

Despite the outcry over the high-ticket prices, the usual backlash to anything new the band release and the general antipathy towards them from large sections of the metal elite, the world’s biggest metal band continue to pack arenas across the world. Why? Because live, no other act on the planet can touch them. Sure, they don’t possess the raw energy those hungry pups had in the early days of the 1980s, and they are a damn sight more polished, but they still kick hard and heavy when they want. With a massive back catalogue, the band could afford to mix it up and they managed to change their set list every night.

Opening act Kvelertak (6) were on a hiding to nothing. With an arena full of hardcore fans interested only in the main act the Norwegians had no option but to open it up from the start. Although they went for it, their brand of punk-infused hard rock washed over many Metallica fans now gathered in their thousands. Not even the owl head of vocalist and all-round madman Erlend Hjelvik or the three-pronged guitar attack could really rouse more than the politest applause. Wrong time, wrong choice for a band whose high energy performance is more suited to small sweaty clubs.

So, eight years since they last graced the UK arenas, it was show time. The strains of AC/DC pumped out of the crystal-clear sound system and anticipation reached fever pitch. Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy Of Gold rang out, complete with scenes from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in the multiple cube shaped monitors which would elevate up and down throughout the evening. And then it was time, Metallica (9) hit the stage in the round and crashed into Hardwired and Atlas, Rise! from last year’s solid Hardwired … To Self-Destruct, the first salvo of seven tracks. Live these songs are metal monsters, the huge chug which is instantly recognisable sending the masses reaching for their phones to capture some tinny reminder whilst the old school rose in their seats, or attempted to start a bit of movement amongst the crush on the floor. As the evening progressed, there were many reminders just why Metallica are undoubtedly the world’s biggest metal outfit.

Aside from the astonishingly slick stage show, with stunning lighting, use of video clips and imagery throughout their set, Metallica are also huge in sound and heavy in substance. Rip-roaring beasts crawl from every album but none more impressive than Seek & Destroy, moved from former set closer to third up, the massive and never boring For Whom The Bell Tolls and the fiery, oh so fast first encore Spit Out The Bone.

I don’t care what the haters say, Metallica are also fabulous musicians. They do the simple stuff fantastically well, with Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield’s ripping guitar work competing for the finish line with Lars Ulrich’s ever pacey drumming whilst Rob Trujillo’s bass rumbled the very depths of hell at times, the thunder felt in the seats. Highlights were many but the return to the set list of The Shortest Straw after a four-year absence, a ball-breaking (and appropriately local cover) Am I Evil? and the most frantic Fuel I’ve ever heard. Break neck speed indeed.

As usual, some of Hetfield’s ramblings between songs were a little corny, and at times crass, whilst the four-member drum solo on Now That We’re Dead fell a little flat. The power outage which cut One in half was not well received by the band, the fury in their eyes clear whilst they waited below the stage although they didn’t let it show, ripping it to bits when they returned to the stage. The duel between Hammett and Trujillo which turned into War Pigs didn’t quite work but the tribute to Cliff Burton as Trujillo banged out Anaesthesia (Pulling Teeth) was dynamite and spot on.

Making sure they completed the full set the band cruised over the line with a haunting Nothing Else Matters before the arena delivered its final vocal effort as Enter Sandman riffed out into the venue, the Frayed Ends Of Sanity outro spotted. Yes, the tickets were pricey. But it was oh so worth it. A fabulous evening not even spoilt by the numerous road works and closures on the lengthy journey back home. Now, if only we could get them into the Principality Stadium next year.

Friday, 3 November 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Y&T

Y&T and Beth Blade & The Beautiful Disasters, Tramshed Cardiff

It was brisk night in Cardiff as we headed to the Tramshed for our third gig in three days, the last time we were here the mighty Gov't Mule were kicking out the jams to a packed out crowd. This time it was a band who were different style but still prefer to play all night. Yes that's right folks it was time for annual Y&T marathon, the band play either Cardiff or Bristol every year and this time it was Cardiff's turn to host the San Francisco band, you always get value for money with Y&T as they play for 2 hours + so that's why I keep coming back. Before that though they had a local support to warm everyone up so we entered the venue early to catch them. 

I took my seat on the closed balcony (the balcony was shut to most punters except those with an ailment) and watched as the faithful Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disaster (8) fans crowded to the front. The Cardiff band burst onto the stage win full glam rock fury the eponymous Beth chugging away at her Paul Stanley Custom guitar while Sam Brain thumped the tubs (more on that later) and Luke Strickland carved out fluid leads over the top of the stomping riffs, the only absence was Nick Goodwin's bass which didn't seem to be audible at all. Beth is the ideal frontwoman and her vocal prowess has come on leaps and bounds since I've been watching them, she knows how to work a crowd, prowling the stage and even ending up on her knees.

It's her infectious enthusiasm that make this band so damn watchable, Luke stays fairly stationary but his solos and lead breaks come with ease being the ideal Spaceman to her Starchild. About three songs in we finally got bass which toughened up the sound but then it cut out again, still the band weren't crying over spilt milk forging ahead with what little time they had. BBATBD were a great warm up act for Y&T having a fire here to try and steal the show playing the best I think I've ever seen them play, they managed well on the big stage which bodes well for their appearance at HRH in weeks time. Keep an eye out as this was a very good set.

As the BBATBD fans moved away from the front the headcases that follow Y&T (8) made their way to the front as the crowd swelled behind them. With no real fanfare they took to the stage and the opening riff of Black Tiger got everyone jumping with a classic, what followed was Lipstick & Leather, Straight Thru The Heart, Dirty Girl, Eyes Of Stranger and Mean Streak. The first six songs of the set were full on classic Y&T, Dave Meniketti leading his troops through some glorious 80's hard rock. He's backed by the powerful rhythm guitar and showboating of John Nymann who also contributes some solos and lead vocals on Squeeze. It came as a pleasant surprise when Dave announced that he would be playing two tracks from his Meniketti side project, this meant we were treated to two bluesier numbers with the epic Storms rounding out the duo with Meniketti showing off his skills with a tremendous guitar solo.

It was a real moment so to bring everyone back down from the euphoria the muscular ballad Winds Of Change was dedicated to all of the recently deceased former members of Y&T, a poignant moment that was followed by the rarely played Masters & Slaves. As they edged towards the latter part of their set the always colossal I Believe In You, then things got sillier with Rock And Roll's Gonna Save The WorldSummertime Girls and Baroom Boogie before the I'm Coming Home finished the main set. What I noticed from my higher vantage point was that drummer Mike Vanderhule really works his ass off behind the kit, I've noticed it before but he's a jazz-inflected powerhouse, with I'm Coming Home they went off the stage, then a short time later returned for the classic encores of Rescue Me and Forever. This was a more varied set from Y&T than on previous tours taking tracks that are album only songs not the big hitters meant this show felt more 'for the fans', Y&T are always an entertaining band to see live and it was business as usual at the Tramshed.  

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Reviews: Trivium, RAM, In Defilade, Fifth Freedom (Reviews By Paul)

Trivium: The Sin And The Sentence (Roadrunner)

After their rather lacklustre last album, the Floridians blast back with a monster of a release which improves with every listen. Technically superb, at times brutally heavy, this is an album that should put the band back to the front of the heavy metal queue. It’s quite amazing that the band have been around for nearly 20 years, although it was 2003 before their debut Ember To Inferno arrived. The Sin And The Sentence captures the sheer power that was present in sophomore release Ascendancy and 2008’s excellent Shogun. The title track has been out for some time and sets the scene neatly, drawing a real line in the sand whilst Betrayer is just stunning. Matt Heafy’s vocals are on top form, mixing clean vocals with the trademark gruff delivery which was absent on Silence In The Snow.

Support as always comes from guitarist Corey Beaulieu whose fretwork is once more impressive. New drummer Alex Bent makes his debut and does a damn fine job, with some blisteringly impressive fills. Trivium have always been excellent musicians and this album showcases their skill, mixing their metal core style on tracks like The Wretchedness Inside with more mainstream, melodic tracks such as Endless Night. There are some absolute beasts on this album as well. Check out the huge Sever The Hand and the seven minute The Revenchist for proof. In fact, the more I listen to this the more I enjoy it.

Eight albums in and with The Sin And The Sentence Trivium again demonstrate a dogged determination to deliver music which would have crushed many others. This is a spectacular album crammed full of the whole Trivium repertoire, and stands comfortably alongside the best of the band’s catalogue. 9/10

Ram: Rod (Metal Blade)

I was unfamiliar with Ram, a five-piece outfit from Gothenberg but this release, which is their fifth album has changed that. Bursting with classic old school heavy metal delivered with massive energy, Ram is a band you should have a listen to at your earliest opportunity. The band consists Oscar Carlquiston on vocals, Morgan Pettersson on drums, Harry Granroth and Martin Jonsson on guitars and Tobias Petterson on bass. Rod is split with four powerful tracks including the brilliant Gulag opening the release, before the second half is a six-track concept about Ramrod the Destroyer. Ram combine the energy of Primal Fear, Helloween with the metal goodness of Judas Priest, Hell and Iron Maiden to deliver a classic feel which is refreshingly new in feel. Galloping sections, crashing drums, duelling guitar harmonies and fantastic vocals all combine to an album which is enjoyable from start to finish. 8/10

In Defilade: Elude (Self Released)

The second release from In Defilade is just brutal. Ferocious death metal which leaves you gasping for air from the opening bars of Will To Survive. The band, who consist of ex-Nile guitarist Jon Versano, Subverseraph on bass and guitarist Shawn Bozarth, have one mission which is to flatten everything around. When you hear the term blackened death metal then think of these guys. The vocals are insane, howling and guttural, demonic and intimidating. Technical guitar work weaves through the tracks such as Guilty and Make Them Eat Glass whilst the blast beat drumming is constant. Unsurprisingly themes include apocalypse, anti-religion and demonic overtures. If you like your death metal as fast and heavy as possible, check this beast out. 7/10

Fifth Freedom: Heartbreak & Hellfire (Self Released)

Described as high octane, the latest album from Portland’s Fifth Freedom certainly has energy. The four-piece’s third album swaggers with a confidence of a band finding their stride. Bluesy rock and roll which is unashamedly American in sound. Opener Battle Cry kicks and stomps in a similar Southern groove to Black Stone Cherry and their kin. Full of hooks and harmonies, the vocals of Alan Jones are exactly what Planet Rock would lose their shit about, in a similar vein to the hype that Stone Broken currently receive. After a while it does begin to sound like the same album, polished, exceptionally competent but a little dull. Midnight Rain strays into GNR territory whilst Man Without A Skin is pure Alter Bridge. Arena rock for sure, but just a little repetitive. Just occasionally I want new music to really impress me with its originality. This isn’t it. However, if you like these types of bands then this will be another to add to the list as it certainly isn’t bad. 6/10

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Power Quest, Fury & Malum Sky

Power Quest, Fury, Malum Sky, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

Cardiff city centre is always chaotic when there is a major sporting or music event in our city. For those of you that have never been to Cardiff, everything is very centralised, the international stadium sits squarely in the city centre surrounded by shops, roads and houses. So when a large events such as the UEFA Champions league or the recent World Heavyweight Title Match take place and the stadium is packed to capacity the rest of the city is put into lock down meaning it can be very difficult for any other bands or indeed punters to make their way into the Capital. Luckily the train services worked perfectly for us already on our way during the road closing phase so we arrived in the centre reasonably quickly, as we alighted the train the magnitude of this event set in.

The streets were lined with people crowds formed outside every pub, club and restaurant with many people already at least 5 pints in (this was probably 6pm), we snaked our way through the streets and finally came to the relative safety of Womanby Street and Fuel. Milling around outside catching up with friends we chatted to members of Power Quest and Fury about the chaos, with Fury suffering the most due to the traffic into the city and the lack of parking meaning they had to drag their equipment about 2 miles to the venue. Still there was no time to wait as the gig started in earnest and in a flash the opening band were on the stage.

The opening band for this show was Cardiff Metal 2 The Masses 2017 winners Malum Sky (7) who did seem to be a curious addition to the bill, their Tool influenced progressive metal was at odds with the other two bands power/traditional metal style, still with a faithful crowd behind them they ploughed through their set with the technical precision that saw them win this year's M2TM.

With a quick change over and soundcheck Fury (8) took to the stage and kicked things off with their epic Lost In Space, this gig was somewhat transitional for the band at it served as my first viewing of new guitarist Anthony Difford (formerly of Reacher) who ably took charge on the lead guitar slotting in perfectly bringing a thrashier edge to the riffs, letting drummer Alasdair blast away. Singer/guitarist JJ was in fine voice throughout and also pulled some great frontman moves for a change when his amp decided to cut out leaving his guitar swinging around his neck.

The Fuel show was also the penultimate gig (for a while at least) for founding Fury bassist Martin Trail who is in demand for both The Cult Classics and Steve Grimmet's Grim Reaper. With Martin they have a really class act, he is great guy to chat to, a superb bass player and a real highlight to watch with his boundless energy, he will be missed by those of us that have followed Fury from the beginning. Their set was short but exciting getting the crowd singing along with When The Hammer Falls and their always welcomed cover of Drunken Sailor, Fury always manage to warm a crowd beautifully which you can see for yourselves on their up-coming co-headline tour with Dakesis.

As the room filled the hardcore made their way to the front and Power Quest (8) took to the stage, having seen them have the crowd eating out their hand when supporting Dragonforce a mere fortnight ago the chance to see them play and extended set was treat for the Power Metal faithful. Like with The Globe the stage was cramped so frontman Ashley Edison wasn't given much room to conduct his metal choir at the front of the stage and guitarists Glynn and Andy couldn't move around like they would have on a bigger stage but at least they weren't relegated to the corner like Steve Williams and Paul Finnie.

With the music this good though you can forgive the lack of movement they played a career spanning set with Lords Of Tomorrow setting the ball rolling through Face The Raven then the triumphant Kings And Glory and the trashy Cemetery Gates all featured in the set. Steve Willams' keyboards drove the songs especially on the slower tracks and the always brilliant The Magic Never Dies. It was terrific set from Power Quest let down a little by the acoustics in the venue meaning that ear splitting vocals of Ashley were a little low in the mix making it all a little muddy, still a strong set from the British power metal veterans, lets hope we see more of them in 2018!

Epilogue: After the gig we popped over to one of our favourite locals The City Arms just as the boxing had finished and we witnessed the wildness of the crowd firsthand. Absolute madness unfolded outside the windows of the pub, like a scene from a  Zombie movie (apt for Halloween weekend) so kudos to the City Arms (and Fuel) for not chasing a quick buck and letting all and sundry into the venue to exacerbate the trouble that was already brewing, they took the other route of turning everyone not regular away. There's a reason why I prefer music over sport and also this served as another plus point for Womanby Street surviving, it has a camaraderie that stands above everything else.     

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

A Review From The Back Of The Room: Arun Ghosh (Album & Live Review By Paul)

Arun Ghosh: But Where Are You Really From?

For those who might like to branch out from the usual smashing and crashing of the hard rock and metal may I recommend a listen to the fourth album from the incredible clarinettist Arun Ghosh. I was lucky enough to be in London on 11 October when the British-Asian composer and musical educator premiered his new album But Where Are You Really From? and, so I popped along the album launch at the Roundhouse in Camden. A small but enthusiast audience had gathered to watch Ghosh and his fabulous band of superb musicians play over an hour of tracks from the release.

Ghosh is an endearing figure, full of enthusiasm which he delivers in the natural style of someone brought up in Bolton and Manchester. His music, whilst predominantly jazz, merges a huge variety of sounds including folk, hip hop, rock and classical Indian to create some fantastic tunes. The high energy of Snakebite With Bacchus opened proceedings for the evening and is also the first track on the album. Four minutes of intertwined clarinet and saxophone jousting backed by a funky rhythm section. The dark Daggar Dance followed, a brooding smouldering tune that combines Ghosh’s clarinet with the duel tenor and alto saxophones of Idris Rahman and long-time collaborator Chris Williams.

Live the music has much more chance to develop and as you would expect, there were twists and turns at the Roundhouse which were not available to the artist during the recording process. However, the album version really manages to capture the live feel and it’s a super track. The album takes a slower pace with the calming Pastoral Sympathy (This Land Is Mine), allowing Ghosh to demonstrate his quality not just as a player but as a composer. His music really does calm and sooth and this track is possibly the mellow moment that we all need in a busy day. It’s usually not far away from the play button for me.

Meanwhile back at the album launch, Ghosh has tried to flog his album about six times with increasingly desperate humour by the time they launch into Made In England (for Parv), a track which has more than an ounce of Eastern flavour about it. On stage the band are a mixture of calm and furious energy, Ghosh moving constantly as he counts the others in and out, taking deep breaths to capture even more lung capacity for some stunning efforts. Smash Through The Gates Of Thought is almost rock, with a driving guitar and bass pushing the track along at pace. It’s smooth, relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable both in the live launch and on the album, with more than a hint of 70s cop show theme about it. It’s addictive and marvellous in every way.

The evening closed with the riotous, punk edged jam of Voice Of Freedom, possibly Ghosh’s raciest ever song and it is just brilliant. Dragging Rahman on stage to join the fun was a stylish finish to a superb evening. If you get an opportunity to check out this rather fine album I guarantee that you’ll be left feeling calm, relaxed and fully at peace. It’s fun, paced to perfection and of the highest quality. 10/10

Monday, 30 October 2017

Review: Vuur, Cyhra, The Radio Sun, Wildestarr

Vuur: In This Moment We Are Free - Cities (InsideOut)

Vuur is the latest band from the enchanting Anneke Van Giersbergen, it's an often proven point that anything she lends her vocals too is usually of the highest quality, be it The Gathering, The Gentle Storm, her solo records and her guest vocals for Devy, Ayreon and many others. Vuur's debut record has been written with Joost van den Broek (Producer/Ex-After Forever) as well as Mark Holcomb (Periphery), Esa Holopainen (Amorphis), Daniel Cardoso (Anathema), the lyrical themes of this debut album "revolves around cities and freedom."

Accompanying her in the band are drummer Ed Warby (Hail Of Bullets, Ayreon, ex-Gorefest), guitarists Jord Otto (My Propane, ex-ReVamp) and Ferry Duijsens along with bassist Johan van Stratum (Stream of Passion). Much like The Gentle Storm project from a few years ago this is at the heavier end, the songs on this record are tough progressive metal in the Devin Townsend attitude of more is more. Each song reflecting the cities they are a tribute to, My Champion - Berlin uses stop start djent style riffs that conjure an industrial battle scarred landscape with a beauty cutting through, Time - Rotterdam have a Gothic overtones to it, Days Go By - London is the most progressive, The Martyr And The Saint - Beirut seeks to unify.

It's glorious stuff and sees this band of supreme musicians playing with all their power. Elsewhere Fire - San Francisco breaks into a thrash middle section as is only right and is one of the heaviest tracks on the record, juxtaposed with the beautiful Freedom - RioIn This Moment We Are Free is more of a straight up metal record than anything Annie has been involved in before, her lyrical, folksy vocals glide like an angel over the seasoned metal assault, it's an interesting and engaging listen as much as I enjoy Anneke guesting, she always seems to fit in a band situation and her uniqe vocal phrasing always means she is in class of her own. A killer debut from the Dutch metal act. 8/10  

Cyhra: Letters To Myself (Spinefarm)

Cyhra are a band formed by ex-Amaranthe vocalist Jake E, ex-In Flames guitarist Jesper Strömblad drummer Alex Landenburg (Rhapsody & Annihilator) as well as bass player Peter Iwers, also of In Flames. With members of In Flames in the band you'd think there would be melodeath battery present even with the clean vocals of Jake E at the forefront but there isn't, this record could be classed as power metal on some of the earlier tracks but as things progress the AOR influences creep in and the record becomes limp.

Tracks like Black Wings have a gothic AOR hook and Inside A Lullaby is stirring piano driven Euro-ballad but much of the record is filler. As I stated at the beginning it starts out heavy and gets much lighter with too many ballads lumped together, the result of which is that I lost interest. It's not what you'd expect from former members of heavy metal acts, still it's not really the style of the music that's the problem (a bit of lighter fayre never hurt anyone). The real crux of my issue is that the songs are  poorly written, many would be ok for a local act starting out but with the experience of this band it's all bit too tame and easy. Listen to it if you want to but with the lacklustre songwriting and the heavy sag in the middle, I found once was enough. 6/10

The Radio Sun: Untouchable (Pride & Joy Music)

Another month another The Radio Sun record, this Aussie band seem to have an almost endless mine of AOR rocking to spare, every album is slickly produces and filled with sun worshipping anthems of love and having a damn good time. All of their records are packed with feel good anthems that in these cold winter days give you that warm feeling of the height of summer. Dreams That Last Forever has big Queen harmonies, We'll Set The Night On Fire rocks with working man strut while Heaven On Earth, You've Got The Touch and Tonight's The Night are punchy rock numbers allowing to Stevie Janevski to once again work some six string magic while Jason Old still has a voice to melt butter with.

The Radio Sun's records are always extremely confident and stick rigidly to the American FM rock formula but when they do it this well you can forgive the likenesses between a few of their songs, there are only so many breezy keyboard passages, lyrics about love and 80's guitar solos in the world and The Radio Sun have pretty much used them all. Still they continue to come back again and again with new material that never fails to bring a sunny disposition. Autograph once told you to turn up the radio, take their advice let The Radio Sun into your life and feel better. 8/10

Wildestarr: Beyond The Rain (Scarlet Records)

The PR compares this three piece to Judas Priest and Queensryche, while that is the style they are aiming for they never really achieve it. This record is bargain basement power/trad metal from former Vicious Rumors guitarist David Starr who has brought in wife London Wilde on vocals unfortunately this is what causes me the most ire about this album, she simply cannot sing, she tries to emulate Rob Halford but comes across as a bad Ralf Scheepers. It meant that I could only get four songs in before having to shut it off. A shame really as it promised so much but delivered little. 4/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Gov't Mule (Live Review By Paul)

Gov't Mule - Tramshed, Cardiff

The announcement of rare UK dates by Gov't Mule (10) earlier this year was made even more appetising by the fact that one of the two dates was in Cardiff. A packed Tramshed witnessed an evening of superb musicianship as Warren Haynes and the band made their Welsh debut.

For those unfamiliar with Mule, the band play what is best described as Southern rock jams and was formed as a side project by Allman Brothers band members Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody, who passed away in 2000. Their line up has been stable for many years with drummer Matt Abts, keyboardist/guitar/trombonist Danny Louis and bassist Jorgan Carlsson. With The Allman Brothers history, much of the Mule's music echoes the sound of that legendary band and throughout the evening there was much off piste action with virtuoso displays from all band members.

With 11 albums to their name, Mule have a veritable feast of music to choose from. They are legendary for mixing and swapping set lists and, so it proved at The Tramshed, with a range of material from their back catalogue intertwined with tracks from this year's excellent Revolution Come, Revolution Go and covers including The Allman Brothers and a crushing One Of These Days by Pink Floyd to open set 2. I must admit that I'm not familiar enough with their music to identify their older material and in the live arena my hearing is often insufficient to pick up on variations and covers.

That didn't detract in any way as Mule often extended songs for several minutes with superb duelling guitar and keyboards, soloing from Haynes of the highest quality. In fact, with each member of the band astonishingly accomplished musicians, it was an absolute joy, such as the Highway Star tease during Mr Man. Jorgan Carlsson's epic bass lines ably matched by Abts' tactical drumming. Danny Louis, sporting a natty striped beany hat was astounding, his backing vocals adding deftly to Haynes' rich soulful voice, his keyboards integral to the Mule sound and we also had the treat of some trombone work and a couple of tracks where he added beef with neat guitar work.

Mule mix their Southern rock with soul, funk and blues to great effect and whilst there was little movement on stage it was not needed. For most of the evening the sheer quality of their sound captivated most of the crowd, although as inevitably happens these days, the quieter moments during some of the lengthy jams meant that some present lost interest and started talking. Regardless of the poor gig etiquette, the main section of the packed crowd revelled in the epic set, soaking up every note.

A first set of 80 odd minutes was quite magnificent and after a short interval we were treated, and I mean treated, to another extensive set which culminated in a two-song encore which featured Bernie Marsden (yes, him again! The man can't stay away from Wales after his earlier performances this year at Steelhouse). Suffice to say that the Welsh crowd, who love a bit of Bernie, were ecstatic and roared their approval as Mule kicked out the Michael Price/Dan Walsh 1974 classic Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City, made famous in rock circles by Whitesnake. An Allman Brothers classic, Blue Sky, finished the set with Marsden and Haynes delivering delicious guitar harmonies. A magical end to a breathtaking gig. Mule's first visit to the Welsh capital will hopefully not be their last.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Reviews: Beast In Black, Butcher Babies, Fire Red Empress, Iain Jennings

Beast In Black: Berserker (Nuclear Blast)

When Anton Kabanen left Finnish metal band Battle Beast in 2015, there wasn't much of a chance he was going to start playing folk, he dove straight into making another metal band and it seems that it was Kabanen that was the old school metal fan, evidenced by the changing sound of Battle Beast's last album. Thankfully if you like chest beating, macho, power metal then Berserker will take you back to the first three BB records, it's Sabaton on steroids with the lycanthropic elements of Powerwolf thrown in for good measure. He hasn't really tried to disguise his involvement with BB by naming the band Beast In Black and using Roman Ismailo (the original artist of Battle Beast) to draw the cover, still he lets the music do the talking and the music shouts louder than anything else.

Beast In Black kicks off this record's classic metal assault with Sami Hänninen's frantic drum patterns and the expressive vocals of Yannis Papadopoulos, who screams with the power of a proper metal singer but also has a strong mid-range. From here it's business as usual for the band Blind And Frozen has a bouncy Euro-pop synth part, although not as Europop as Crazy, Mad, Insane. It's with these synths that the Sabaton comparisons can be made, the fist clenching Blood Of A Lion is a perfect example of high class power metal. The synths are there to give a more decidedly epic sound letting Anton and Kasperi Heikkinen let loose with the solo's, which they do frequently, however they don't always need the heavy use of synths, they can ramp up the speed metal too on Zodd The Immortal but they show their worth on the infectiously catchy End Of The World. 

According to the PR the overriding theme of Berserker is apparently based upon the Japanese manga/anime Berserk, I've never heard of it but if it's as overblown as this record then I'm sure it'll be jolly good fun. Beat In Black have pulled a blinder here, anyone who was a little disappointed with the last Battle Beast album need not fret, Beast In Black have everything you could need, a killer debut. 9/10

Butcher Babies: Lilith (Century Media Records)

I've never really enjoyed the Butcher Babies, I'll admit that now before I continue. When they first arrived on the scene they were a thrash/groove/death metal band, fronted by two women who looked liked every metalheads fantasy, they both sang clean, screamed and growled and if I remember rightly rarely wore any tops save for some duct tape strategically positioned as not to be arrested. Many wrote them off as just titillation but since their debut they have reinvented their look with frontwomen Heidi and Carla now wearing more clothing on stage and focusing on being part of the band, rather than the visual elements. Unfortunately due to the masculine nature of metal 'female' fronted bands are still considered by some to be a novelty.

They fought back at this with their last record Take It Like A Man, by adopting an aggressive feminist ideology which was at the heart of the recording. It's this take no shit attitude that continues on their third record Lilith (who is a dangerous sexually wanton demon of the night and steals babies in the darkness - Jewish Mythology Ed) as Heidi and Carla growl, roar and spit venomous lyrics while the groove metal battery is non stop. Unfortunately this record like their others does get a little samey after a while sticking fairly rigidly to the metalcore pummelling of Slipknot or early In This Moment (due in part to the clean vocals). It means that midway through the album it's all too familiar and the for me they have failed to win me over. Obviously this is my opinion and some of you will love this but for me the technical expertise shown, is just at odds with my enjoyment. 6/10

Fire Red Empress: Black Morphine (Self Released)

I reviewed Fire Red Empress' debut EP what seemed like a millennia ago now and throughout I couldn't be more pleased with Nik Taylor-Stoakes vocals, he definitely had the voice for this band. However since that EP he has left (and joined Voodoo Six), the band have had some line up changes and now Jennifer Diehl is behind the mic and that has changed the dynamic of the band significantly. Fire Red Empress are now a different beast, they still play gritty, distorted alternative metal but Jennifer's vocals mean that there is a punk and grunge edge to their music. Think the early music of Halestorm, The Pretty Reckless and even Marmozets with the riff worship of QOTSA for clearer indication of the band they are now, the songs on this record are pretty good the first part of the record is fierce with Jennifer alternating between poppy cleans and raw passionate screams over heavy groove driven metal.

Dead Nature
starts the record off with a colossal Soundgarden-like riff, where as Giants has a punk rock spirit, from there it doesn't really relax at all the songs keep the fists flying and you just get dragged along for the ride, only Under The Barren Light allows you to hear the lighter side with a song that starts out as a torchlight anthem but gets heavier, the title has a start stop heaviness which evolves into a great fluid solo and The Little Death is beautiful a real change of pace and style that gives Jennifer's clean vocals a chance to shine before moving into a hypnotic groove. This record is loud and boisterous, it deserves to be played loud, when the riffs bite they don't let go. Little has changed musically but with the new vocals they are able to skillfully make a classic rock track like Dear Mister FM radio ready. It's Reading and Leeds crowd baiting music with enough metal integrity to give a broad appeal. Roll on their show at HRH! 8/10

Iain Jennings: The House (Self Released)

The House is keyboardist Iain Jennings' third solo record (his fifth if you count the two Breathing Space albums), it's a continuation in style from his previous My Dark Surprise, that style is one of dark, conceptual progressive rock that relies heavily on synths and soundscapes. The concept behind the record is a young boy who dies and his ghost becomes another young boy's imaginary friend when they move into the house years later. This record much like songs he has written as member of Mostly Autumn is at the darker, cinematic end of the prog spectrum with suitably English vein running through it, I'm always intrigued how Jennings and MA are so obsessed with Englishness and it's traditional values, their records are Patriotic but never jingoistic.

Returning from the last record are guitarist Andy Newlove, bassist Stu Fletcher (Mantra Vega/Halo Blind) and the undiscovered gem of a vocalist named Mark Chatterton. Also appearing are drummer Alex Cromarty (Mostly Autumn) and Mostly Autumn mainman Bryan Josh (who had to do something while his wife was pregnant), it's these last two additions that adds a sense of familiarity to the record, the Floydian guitars and expressive drumming mean that it never strays too far away from the Mostly Autumn template, albeit one that also includes some pumping electronica and jazz. The House is another great solo record from a member of the MA mothership, all of which are slightly different but compliment each other greatly. 8/10