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Friday, 22 September 2017

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

The Pineapple Thief & Godsticks, Bristol Bierkeller

On a day when it appeared that the motorway gods had conspired to cause abject misery to the network around South Wales and the Bristol area, a little light was shed with super performances by two of the U. K’s most progressive rock bands.

I’m ashamed to say that I was only very peripherally aware of Cardiff outfit Godsticks (8), despite them having released several albums and almost ten years of existence. Their dark and muscular progressive rock is now most definitely on my radar and their excellent new release Faced With Rage is already a favourite this year. The band curtailed their set slightly due to the traffic issues but managed to show their quality with three new songs from Faced With Rage as well as some older favourites including the riff heavy skull pummelling of Exit Stage Right from 2015’s Emergence. The last night of the tour allowed the band to perform in a relaxed mode but they were also sharp as a razor, clearly brimming with confidence. Singer and guitarist Darran Charles impressed with his clear voice, sweet fret work and typical Cardiffian humour, whilst Gavin Bushell’s lead work was simply outstanding.

With Charles swapping frontman duties for lead guitar, it was time for Somerset’s Bruce Soord and The Pineapple Thief (9). With the drum stool occupied by Porcupine Tree (amongst many other) drummer Gavin Harrison, there was no concern about the quality of the underlying beat, and this was anchored fabulously by long-standing bassist Jon Sykes. Steve Kitch’s unassuming synths and keyboards (not to mention two iMacs!) added depth and texture. Unsurprisingly the set list focused heavily on material from last year’s excellent Your Wilderness record, with every track being played. A smattering of tracks from the band’s extensive back catalogue ensured that old school fans were well catered for, but in all honesty, such is the quality with this outfit and Soord’s song-writing that it doesn’t really matter what they played.

At times, the band rocked out with the best of them, whilst the softer tracks such as In Exile and The Final Thing On My Mind just highlighted what great musicians the band are. Soord is an engaging frontman, quiet, unassuming but with a lovely dry wit. Content to let Charles take lead duties for most of the evening, at times he just had to let rip with the odd blistering solo. This was an evening to sit back and let the music do the talking, the quality and strength of the compositions enveloping the audience in a relatively full venue. Over 20 years in the business, The Pineapple Thief and Soord remain one of those great hidden treasures. Will they ever gain wider recognition? Highly unlikely but in some respects, that’s a plus for those of us who love music in smaller venues. A superb evening from two stunningly excellent bands.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Reviews: Wayward Sons, Prophets Of Rage, Witherfall

Wayward Sons: Ghosts Of Yet To Come (Frontiers Records)

Toby Jepson should be a name recognized by any British rock fan, the founder/frontman of Little Angels, he has also served time in Gun, Fastway and as a solo artist, before more recently turning his hands to producing records by The Virginmarys, Saxon and The Answer. I say should be but you will find that he isn't that's because he, like many UK rockers in the early 90's were overlooked in favour of their American counterparts. Well Toby has returned to redress the balance with Wayward Sons it's been a while since Jepson has played in rock band of his own creation but like previous acts Jepson's bands have always had the feel of a group of outcasts, on the Little Angels breakthrough single Kickin Up Dust they even use the line wayward sons to connect with the disenfranchised teens in Thatcher's Britain. This take no shit approach is once again rampant on Ghosts Of Yet To Come, there's a tenacity to the record, it bristles with attitude and rallies against the state of the nation on Small Talk (again name checking Mrs T as the rooyt of much of this

Apparently this was the first record Jepson wrote and recorded in the studio live with his band and it feels like it, these songs are written for performance. The band in question are Nic Wastell (bass, Chrome Molly) Phil Martini (drums, Spear Of Destiny, ex Quireboys, ex Tokyo Dragons), Sam Wood (guitar from Treason Kings) and Dave Kemp (keys, ex Little Angels touring band and long time sideman to Toby) they all bring their individual quirks to the record, Sam Wood is a heck of a discovery, the guys an axe wizard who slots in well with the old hands peeling of slick licks that weave in and out of Kemp's keys as Wastell and Martini lay down a 70's groove with a modern gloss.

The record has 10 tracks no ballads and whole load of rocking Alive is written like this is the last roll of the dice, Until The End and Give It Away are Jepson doing what he does best the way he used to, Ghost is a slab of proto-metal, Killing Time the hefty singalong, as is Crush and bluesy Something's Wrong ends the record with a cool nod to the classics. Wayward Sons is a band for the people, Jepson and indeed British rockers generally always seemed a man out of place during the big rock revival of 88 - 94, while G'N'R and Tesla were achieving legendary status acts like Little Angels, Thunder etc were doing things with the plucky determination of the Brits, it's only in the last 10 years that their contribution has been recognised and as Thunder see their star shining brighter than ever maybe it's time we re-evaluate Toby Jepson, forget ghosts, the best is yet to come! 8/10

Prophets Of Rage: S/T (Fantasy Records)

Just when you thought politically charged rap rock was dead three quarters of Rage Against The Machine return with Chuck D and DJ Lord of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill. The band were formed in the melee of the 2016 Presidential election as a collaboration between activist musicians against the political madness of the time. This is their debut record and it's pretty much RATM without Zach De La Rocha, unfortunately this is where it falls down. Yes there are filthy riff on Radical Eyes Unfuck The World and Hail To The Chief with Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford bringing those funky molotov wielding grooves and Tom Morello fills the songs with his distinctive funk meets video game guitar playing.

It's the mic work that really differs though as Chuck D and B-Real may be politically savvy and know how to spit a rhyme but they just don't seem to have the unmitigated anger shown by De la Rocha on classic RATM on Sleep Now In The FireProphets Of Rage has the feel of a 'star' protest, millionaires trying to be 'down with the kids' where as the original RATM and to the same extent Public Enemy were from the streets with genuine beef, this record is a group of musicians with money to burn taking a political argument that is already out of date. They would have been much better getting these songs released maybe one a week during the election campaign where they would have been more anthemic.

Still musically it's what you would want for those protests against tyranny that seem to be getting more and more necessary, there is no Killing In The Name but there is the pro-weed anthem Legalize Me, the impressive Latin flavoured funk of Take Me Higher along with the Rage-alikes I've mentioned earlier. From a music perspective there is nothing wrong with Prophets Of Rage (unless you hate rap-rock) but it's message just feels a little late in the day. 7/10   

Witherfall: Nocturnes & Requiems (Century Media)

One look at the Facebook page of Witherfall tells you what to expect before a note is even played. They state their influences are King Diamond, Nevermore, Pink Floyd, Savatage and you can really hear all of these bands on this record. The American act was born out of the ashes of White Wizzard with that band's former guitarist Jake Dreyer (also Iced Earth and ex-Kobra & The Lotus) and vocalist Joseph Michael coming together in 2013 with drummer Adam Sagan. This record is a tribute Sagan who tragically died in December 2016 during the final production stages and it's one that I think encapsulates the vision they were trying to achieve. Nocturnes & Requiems is a record that has furious technical thrash on Portrait but takes this and adds ambient Floydian textures, a heavy use of acoustic and classical guitars and wraps it all up in a progressive metal package.

Nevermore and King Diamond are the two main comparisons, heading back to the aforementioned Portrait it's right out of the Melissa era with it's ominous hooks and Michael's wailing vocals (repeated on The Great Awakening. The record gets faster on What We Are Dying For before it turns into heavy doom that Leif Edling would be proud, however they throw another curveball with some fleet fingered classical guitars in the middle section. Dreyer plays up a storm here moving between shredding and folk acoustics on the 9 minute  Sacrifice, which is one of two 9 minute tracks on this record full of pretty long songs, Sacrifice is also notable as it goes full Floyd in the middle as Anthony Crawford's bass leads the record ala One Of These Days.

Sagan's drumming is immense on every track he's got the extreme metal blastbeats that lay a tough base layer for Dreyer's guitar heroics and Michael's wide range. It's a shame if this is the only record from Witherfall as it's excellent, I'm a huge Nevermore fan and this is the closest thing I've heard in ages, more proof that White Wizzard has been the breeding ground for some of the best traditional metal bands around. 8/10

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Reviews: H.E.A.T, Darkfall, Shrapnel, Stud (Reviews By Paul)

H.E.A.T: Into The Great Unknown (earMusic)

In the world of AOR the Swedes are prominent. Hard rock with a massive melodic undercurrent, band's such as veterans Europe and current faves Eclipse pull in decent crowds. H.E.A.T sit very much in the upper echelons of the genre, and album number 5 demonstrates exactly why. Slick, polished and full of the harmonies which only those with dazzling white teeth can reach. Erick Gronwall delivers the sugar coated vocals the music demands, whilst the rest of the band, including returning guitarist David Dalone combine to deliver a perfect record.

The heavy rock of opening track Bastard Of Society is balanced by the synth dominated Redefined and the high pitched Time On Our Side. It's the harmonies that give H.E.A.T the edge and nowhere is this better illustrated that on Best Of The Broken, its clap along chorus guaranteed to get their fans fist pumping. The obligatory ballad is as ghastly as you'd expect for a band of this genre, where cheesy love songs are a speciality. Underneath the layers of fromage sit some very talented musicians and whilst it's not my bag, when AOR is done properly it remains impressive. 8/10

Shrapnel: Raised On Decay (Candlelight/Spinefarm)

If you want some decent thrash then look no further than Norwich's fine quintet Shrapnel. It's been three years since the guys delivered the slicingly dangerous The Virus Conspiracies but they hardly pause for breath on their sophomore release. Disgustingly groove laden riffage at maximum speed, snarling angry vocals and bone crushing drums. Yeah, this is the mutts. The Overkill stomp of The Boundaries Set, the all out in your face blast of opener Hollow Earth and the measured title track all contain subtle nuances that really get the foot tapping and the neck muscles twitching. Jae Hadley's vocals fit the traditional approach superbly whilst the screaming lead guitar of Nathan Sadd, ably supported by rhythm fret partner Chris Martin do most of the damage. These guys are slowly growing in stature. If you haven't heard them and like your thrash with a UK tint then get your aural devices around Raised On Decay. It's well worth it. 8/10

Darkfall: At The End Of Times (Black Sunset)

Austrian melodic death thrashers Darkfall has been kicking around for over 20 years. At The End Of Times is their first release for four years. It's hard, heavy with blast beats and riffage aplenty. The hooks are strong and the assault unwavering. Unfortunately it's destroyed by Thomas Spiwak's guttural howling vocals which add absolutely nothing to the maelstrom the band are trying to create.

Whilst lots of death metal contain very shouty vocalists, Spiwak's aggressive throat burning leaves little to engage the listener. It's a shame as tracks such as The Breed Of Death whilst nothing special are decent enough extreme metal which would get the pits moving. Ultimately it's repetitive and pales against some of the meatier beasts in the same field. 5/10

Stud: Circle Of Lies (Cranksonic)

Not to be confused with the seventies Irish outfit of the same name, Stud is a Finnish hard rock outfit who first formed in 1986 before going their separate ways in 1989. The band reformed in 2012 and Circle Of Lies is their third full record. It's variable stuff, with Ari Toivanen's high pitched vocals sitting comfortably alongside the powerful drumming of Stenda Kukkonen. Guitarist Mika Kansikas puts on a virtuoso display, with some superb work on the title track just for starters. The band are fast paced, well drilled and plough through the ten tracks.

Layered guitar work gives the impression of at least one more guitar throughout. It's not all decent stuff, with a steep dip when you reach Searching For Freedom, a slow paced horror, and No Hero which is particularly dull. It's full of cliches that belong back in the 1980s, although this is quite enjoyable at times. More Than A Woman brings the most misogynistic Scorpions' work to mind, and Real Man, well, it's just the blueprint to my life. "Women and wine, you're top of my mind", absolutely, and with a chorus of "it's gonna be showtime, showtime, all night", what lady could resist the ode of the Real Man. (Although all night does mean lights out at 11 right?).

Music is definitely in the ear of the listener and Stud won't be to the taste of all. It's not an album I'll be playing on a regular basis but despite its relative averageness I wouldn't throw it in the trash. 6/10

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Reviews Black Country Communion, Sparzanza, Metalite, Haema

Black Country Communion: BCCIV (Mascot Records)

Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham, Derek Sherinian (and Kevin Shirley) are back, the bridges have been rebuilt, the handshakes accepted and now everyone is back to being friends these men return to what brought them to the dance. I don't need to explain who these guys are you should know, but with what is probably the biggest gap between albums for any of the members this record has been highly anticipated for anyone that loves a supergroup. Now I'm a fan of any project Joey Bones is involved in but I do have a particular affinity to Black Country Communion, it's a real supergroup and there previous three albums have all been must-hear records. Yes the debut was more immediate and their third outing did show signs of strain but with the musicianship and experience these men have, the records are never going to be crap. Has the wait been worth it?

Well some may say that the first time round BCC squeezed the Zep/Purple influences for all they're worth, BCC are shamelessly retro but exciting and their ingeniously titled fourth album reminds you of that initial impact of their debut but with the folk and prog influences that crept in on albums 2 and 3. The record starts with the count in, Boham's torte snare and then the grooving riff as 'The Voice Of Rock' proves his mettle as both a vocalist and bassist giving the track it's walking bassline, On The Crow he even plays a bass solo in the songs elongated solo section. Contrive is the ideal start giving you instant gratification from the band with fat Zeppelin rocking, it's followed up by Over My Head which brings in lighter textures with Sherinian's organs bubbling away and Hughes reaching his higher register. Things take a turn into Free, The Faces and Zep 3 on Last Song For My Resting Place which is Bonamassa's first lead vocal of the record and it's real Isle Of Avalon stuff as the mandolin wind giving way to Bonamassa's incendiary soloing on a song that could have easily been kept for a Bonamassa solo record but suits the BCC ethos much better.

Since the band came about in 2010 Kevin Shirley has been twiddling the knobs and acting as the de-facto fifth member his production technique is brilliant, he really brings out the perfect sound for a band. Take the psychedelic swirling of The Cove as an example, the music is exemplary as it should be but he clarity of the production really makes it sparkle. At 70-odd minutes it might be hard going for some but you do get to hear four (five) experienced musicians at the height of their powers, BCCIV is a clarion call from BCC, the clouds that brought an end to the band have cleared and they are all once again on the same page playing the music they do so well. 9/10

Sparzanza: Announcing The End (Despotz Records)

Sweden's Sparzanza are one of those bands that I've seen posters of in various venues and ads in various magazines but I've never heard anything by them. I'd always assumed they were an AOR band but upon playing their eighth album I realise how dead wrong I was. Looking a previous reviewer have dubbed them "The Swedish Tremonti" and I'd say that comparison holds up, Sparzanza play a heavy style of melodic metal that has chunky riffs and big sing along choruses, I'd even say there was a lot of Evergrey in there too (To The One) albeit without the progressive nature although the epic Whatever Come is close. Vocally Fredrik sounds similar to Papa Het with booming croon which he sometimes shifts into a scarred bark, which lends a bit of LOG groove to The Dark Appeal.

Announcing The End 
is somewhat of a provocative title with the songs aimed at being an incitement to the apocalypse, there's no let up, it's about as far away from AOR as possible, the riffs are distorted and chug away from the self titled opener, there is very little time to compose yourself before the next song beats down on your ear drums. The only time the band ease off on the riffs is when they add melodic flourishes like the piano on Truth Is A Lie or on the gigantic fist-in-the-air choruses. Sparzanza have really impressed me on this record, they are nothing like I thought they were, I really enjoyed their muscular modern melodic metal, looks like I have two tasks now, find their earlier albums and see them live where I'm sure these albums get heavier again. 8/10

Metalite: Heroes In Time (Inner Wound Records)

Sweden seem to produce a new band every 40 seconds and they are always so widely varied it's hard to keep up. Metalite are Swedish  and like fellow Swedes Amaranthe they have a very bouncy style of power metal that is built on EDM beats. Heroes In Time is the band's debut record and it's a collaboration between singer Emma Bensing and guitarist Edwin Premberg who along with their superior band do an admirable job of nailing the sound Amaranthe have done so successfully. It makes you think though how many of these types of band does one country and indeed a record buying public need? Yes there is no argument about Metalite's talent but they do sound exactly like Amaranthe with some Dynazty and Nightwish thrown into the pot. There's very little else I can say about this record, if you like Amaranthe then you'll love Metalite, as the advertising Meerkat says "Simples". 7/10

Haema: Insurrection (Sliptrick Records)

There must be something in the water in Northamptonshire, punishing groove metal seems to flow out of there like lava, it's invariably red hot and slow moving, bludgeoning you with every low end chord. Gutworm used to and Krysthla do this better than most, so when you see that Northampton troupe Haema's debut EP is produced/recorded by Krysthla/Gutworm's Neil Hudson it's safe to assume that it's going to have the razor sharp sound of their own records. Musically Haema continue with the hefty groove metal of their peers with the dark electronics of Fear Factory. Insurrection has five tracks or precision brutality featuring down-tuned riffs, buzzing electronics and bouncing nu-metal bottom end, it kicks into gear with Eden which has the clean/harsh vocals with waves of synths over big groovy riffs and breakdown in the middle section, sounding similar, as most of this record does, to Burning Red era Machine Head fused with the rap rock of Rage Against The Machine, listen to Free Man and tell me otherwise. Haema are a band out of time, their music would have seen them on top of the world in the year 2000, but with this nu-metal sound coming around it might be time for Haema to lead the revival. 7/10

Monday, 18 September 2017

Reviews: Satyricon, Anubis Gate, Dead Cross, Night (Reviews By Paul)

Satyricon: Deep Calleth Upon Deep (Napalm Records)

It’s been four years since Satyricon, the eighth album from the Norwegian duo of Satyr and Frost. The band hasn’t been idle in the meantime, releasing Night At The Opera and Frost of course, drumming with 1349. To label Satyricon as Black Metal is probably a challenge these days but whilst they certainly have taken a different path from the evil of Dark Medieval Times and Nemesis DiviniaDeep Calleth Upon Deep still has its roots deep in the black metal earth. Satyricon was loaded with more accessible tracks such as Nekrohaven. Deep Calleth Upon Deep doesn’t have that initial spontaneity about it, with much of the album slower paced and brooding. Frost’s drumming retains the inevitable fills and blast beats and Satyr’s vocals remain harsh and gravel soaked. It’s only on about the fifth listen that I really got to grips with it.

The sharp edge of the guitar, the subtle undertones of the keyboards all combine with a staccato construction, change of pace and smouldering intensity. After the opener The Midnight Serpent, Blood Cracks Open The Ground grabs the attention with some neat hooks and a slightly chaotic sound. The atmospheric title track rattle along with some enhanced female wailing adding to the sinister sound. My biggest complaint with the album is that it often blends into one. So each track is very similar to the previous one. That isn’t a problem if the tracks are all immense but they just aren’t here. The Ghosts Of Rome has a different feel to the rest of the tracks, almost indie in its feel, but the female backing vocals repeat exactly what was heard on the title track. Good but could have been better. 7/10

Anubis Gate: Covered In Black (Nightmare Records)

Danish outfit Anubis Gate have been delivering progressive metal since their debut release Purification back in 2004. Covered In Black is their seventh release and their first since 2014’s Horizons. The band comprises Kim Olsen (guitar/Keys), Henrik Fevre (bass/vocals), Michael Bodin (guitar) and Morten Gade Sorensen (drums). The band specialise in soaring, sweeping melodies similar to Fates Warning with intricate time changes and variations in depth and power. Opener Psychotopia is a classic example, building to an operatic crescendo before closing and merging into

The New Dehli Assassination which has an Eastern flavour. There are some crushing guitar riffs hidden in tracks such as The Combat. Anubis Gate vary their style throughout the album, with Fevre’s clean vocals prominent. It might be a little overblown in parts but there is no doubting the quality of the band and the similarities to bands like Dream Theater do become more apparent as the album progresses. In fact, by the time you reach A Journey To Nowhere this is even more obvious. The trilogy of Black, Blacker and Blackest are impressive as is the nine-minute Operation Cairo which is another track with Eastern flavours and climbing walls of sound. Covered In Black is a strong album which will won’t appeal to all. However, if you like your music with an intricacy that not all bands can follow, Anubis Gate will certainly appeal. 7/10

Dead Cross: Self Titled (Ipecac Records)

Take Dave Lombardo (Slayer), Mike Patton (Faith No More) , Mike Crain (Retox) and Justin Pearson (The Locust Head, Retox) and you get Dead Cross, who distribute 27 minutes of high intensity hardcore punk and metal which pulls no punches. There’s hooks, and even a bit of melody on occasion but mainly it’s just a hefty blow to the bollocks. I’m not a huge fan of hardcore punk and this does little for me with its snarling aggression and Patton’s screaming vocals.

Of course, Patton wasn’t the original vocalist but stepped in when Gabe Serbian left. Patton subsequently recorded his own vocals to the existing tracks which included amending the lyrics. Highlights here? The gothic tinge of Bela Lugosi’s Dead and the car crash of Church Of The Motherfuckers. Some will love this. I don’t. 6/10

Night: Raft Of The World (The Sign Records)

The opening 4 minutes and 45 seconds of track one of Swedish rock outfit Night’s album Raft Of The World was enough. Fire Across The Sky was a reasonably decent hard rock track until Oskar Andersson opened his mouth. I couldn’t reach for the off button in time for track 2, Surrender to start but by then I was waving the white flag to make it end. As Mrs H said, “it was nice when it stopped”. The remaining seven tracks may be great. I’m not taking the risk. 2/10

Sunday, 17 September 2017

The Spotlight: Interview With Angel Vivaldi (Interview By Matt)

Guitarists Andy James and Angel Vivaldi head out on a tour together around the country. They stop at Clwb Ifor Bach on 21st September 2017. We spoke to Angel Vivaldi about the tour and other things.

MoM: Hi guys Matt here from the Musipedia Of Metal. We’re heading to your gig at Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff, which is the first date on the tour. What can expect from the show?

Angel: I think fans are really going to enjoy this tour and leave very inspired. I’m going to be performing brand new material off of (New album) Synapse for the first time, so that will definitely be something very special. Andy and I will also be doing a song together which I’m sure many fans are looking forward to.

MoM: Have you guys ever played together in the past? Are we going to see any clashing of egos?

Angel: We recently had a few opportunities to play and jam out together. Our newest music video collaboration is a good example of our energies and how well we compliment each other. Andy and I are good friends and respect each other, so I highly doubt there will be any of that. We both just do our thing and help to support one another in our efforts.

MoM: You are both known as ‘shredders’ what do you think of that tag?

Angel: I'm perfectly fine with it. I don't subscribe to the stigma attached with that label. Many associate it with a particular lack of emotion, but what people don't understand is that shredding (when done in moderation), can provide much more emotion. The reason why is because a guitarist had to dedicate years of hard work and discipline in order to paint with "teal," or "crimson." Those colors just don't come from standard guitar players. We can go beyond.

Both of you guys are incredible players, you’ve both toured a lot as solo instrumental artists with some band experience. Which do you prefer solo or playing within a band?

Angel: I certainly prefer being a solo artist. I am very strong in my vision for my art and also how I handle the business aspect of said art. I do, however, very much enjoy collaborating with other like minds and also learning from them. My time with 40 below summer and Vext both proved very beneficial for my development as an artist and sound businessman.

Angel you have numerous philanthropy projects as a parallel to your music career as well as staunchly supportive of the LGBT+ community. Is there anything you are working toward now or anything else you wish to do or achieve outside of musical sphere?

Angel: I’m always working on different causes behind the scenes as it’s less about my ego/people knowing and much more about helping people. I’m currently working to develop a Youtube segment which is focused more on environmental awareness and different things people and musicians can start doing to shape their lifestyles for the betterment of our world. The music industry has a very large responsibility to our environment with so many artists constantly touring, polluting our planet and consuming much more than is needed. Hoping to launch once this album cycle becomes less time consuming.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions

Saturday, 16 September 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Cats In Space (Review By Paul and Matt)

Cats In Space, Hand Of Dimes & Kaato, The Globe Cardiff

Paul's view:

It's rare that a support band attracts me more than the headliners but when Hand Of Dimes, the blues soaked hard rock South Walians were announced as main support for Cats in Space, it was a given that I'd be there.

First up were the tour support to the Cats for their entire U.K. Tour, Australian outfit Kaato (8) whose impressive track record includes having Mitch Malloy in their ranks for their debut release. The band were crammed onto the stage, with no room to let rip but that didn't stop them delivering 30 minutes of sleazy rock. Their sound merges Zeppelin, The Black Crowes and countrymen Airbourne in a dirty low hipped swagger. Frontman Kurt Lowry captivating with his showmanship, and what a voice.

Clean, strong and absolutely breathtaking, hitting notes at times that he shouldn't have been allowed to get anywhere near. Alongside Lowry, bassist Mika Nuutinen, former Inglorious guitarist Jack Edwards, guitarist Hunter Lovan and drummer Mitch Pike all put in excellent shifts in the cramped conditions with Pike probably further forward than usual allowing his animalistic drumming a fair showcase. It was Lowry's stunning voice that captured most of the attention. The penultimate song was a freestyle cover of Larry Williams' 1957 hit Bony Maronie allowed all of the band to demonstrate their chops and really engaged the audience. A great reception for a very enjoyable and talented band.

If there was one highlight at the rain sodden Steelhouse Festival this year then it was Hand Of Dimes (9). Their quite brilliant Friday night set was the main reason we toughed it out over the weekend with their magnificent slot with Bernie Marsden simply fantastic. The band stepped in for King King on the Sunday and put in another great shift. The band are tighter than a Scotsman at the bar and even though they only had 30 minutes their set was worth the admission fee on its own. The rhythm section of Mark Maybry and David Stephenson set the pace, Neil Garland added some soothing keyboards and sweet harmonica whilst Colin Edwards lead guitar was soulful and measured in all the right places. 

Of course, the focal point of the band as always was Ynysybwl's favourite son, Nev MacDonald, whose performance every time is just astonishing. Why this man isn't playing to capacity stadiums every night is a mystery to me. His vocals are amongst the best in the British hard rock field, gravelled when needed but usually much smoother. He has no trouble with the higher notes, as was seen on the beautiful Jacob's Ladder, and he rocked with ease on the harder edged Guilty and Bad Reputation. With a partisan crowd shouting good natured abuse at every opportunity, this was a fun set but so professional. The 30 minutes disappeared quickly with the fabulous Sail On bringing the house down. A Welsh institution, Hand Of Dimes should be seen at every opportunity. I can't wait for the next time. *Special thanks to Mark Maybry for the guest list invite as well. Many thanks!*

Matt's View:

Paul and Mrs H had to leave after Hand Of Dimes due to dog related issues so it was left to me to review the headliners. With Hand Of Dimes getting a raucous ovation from the partisan crowd, the headliners had a big task ahead of them but with the theme from The Sweeney blaring out of the PA the band took to the stage decked out like a proper rock band with lounge coats, crazy hats and lots of denim and leather. They sauntered on stage with beaming smiles and kicked things off with Too Many Gods the title track of their first album, what hits you as Cats In Space (9) start a set is just how perfect their sound is, slickly mixed to really compliment the band's colossal melodic rock stylings. Steevi Brown's percussive power is instantly impactful he drives the band along from the rear of stage bashing the skins with aplomb, he's a focal point for sure but then the entire band are focal points all totally set in their roles on stage, their collective live experience paying dividends, in enthralling the sadly thinned crowd.

As they moved between Too Many Gods and their latest record Scarecrow it's the quality of the songs that sits on par with the quality of the performance, these cats have claws (sorry) they are a much heavier prospect live than on record the dual guitar harmonies of Greg Hart and Dean Howard remind you off the classic Lizzy harmonies each man sharing solos and lead breaks, like Gorham and Robertson as Jeff Brown slings his Rickenbacker bass with an assured confidence swaggering from amp to front of stage as he finger plucks his grooves. The musical palette of the band differs they bring a lump of Foreigner, a dash of Lizzy, the soaring harmonies of Queen, with the glam rock stomp of The Sweet. The live backing vocals too were also greatly appreciated for those of us that do always feel a little shortchanged by backing tapes.

The Cats kept a fine pace with full of propulsive rockers such as Timebomb, tonight dedicated to guitarist Dean who recently recovered from a heart attack, The Mad Hatter's Tea Party and Jupiter Calling. These upbeat songs were punctuated by a few huge ballads (Mr Heartache & Scars), the poppy Last Man Standing, the progressive Scarecrow, they are much more than the standard AOR act they can be perceived to be. As I said earlier in the blog the band were on top form, you wouldn't guess this was the first stop of the tour they were polished to near perfection with Andy Stewart's racks of keys not overpowering but complimenting as another lead instrument in every song behind the mic and rounding out the band is Paul Mazi whose vocals are exemplary shifting between Paul Stanley and David Lee Roth while prowling the stage like a strutting tomcat.

There aren't many gigs where every band lives up to your expectations, there are precious few that exceed them but this was one of those times, a young band who show promise, old hands with experience and a headliner who have everything you could want from a live (indoor so no pyro) rock show. Having only caught the end of Cats In Space when they supported Thunder in Cardiff earlier this year seeing their headline performance was an eye opener, my only disappointment was how many left after Hand Of Dimes and didn't stay to see the Cats that got the cream. (Enough with the cat puns I know). 

Friday, 15 September 2017

Reviews: Banditos, Persona, Wicked Stone

Banditos: Visionland (Bloodshot Records)

I really liked Banditos debut and fresh off seeing them live (in a KFC) I picked up their sophomore album Visionland named after the defunct $60 million theme park that was built in the late ‘90s near some of the band members’ childhood homes in Bessemer, Alabama. Apparently the park was shut down after only five years and it stands as a metaphor for the overlying optimism for life this album represents. Visionland also sees the band bring more psychedelic vibes to their already established Southern Country jams. Fine Fine Day starts the record with a New York glam riff driven (thanks to bassist Jeffery Daniel Vines) ode to vodka as the hazy middle section spirals wildly Jeffery David Salter woozily playing some slide while Stephen Alan Pierce II bashes his banjo. Everything stays groovy for Strange Heart the first outing for the soul drenched vocals of Mary Beth Richardson atop the psychedelic meanderings that creep and crawl.

The kaleidoscope of colours continues on the title track which brings sweeping guitars from both Salter and Timothy Steven Corey Parsons as Randy Taylor Wilde drives it with a shuffle. Banditos self titled record owed a debt to Neil Young, Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan but this on brings Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Buffalo Springfield and the Grateful Dead; Thick N Thin especially is a Jerry Garcia surf-rocker. With three vocalists to choose from each has their own identity Parsons takes the country rockers, Pierce a folkier Dylan twang and as I've said Richardson has an old soul with Etta James coming through on the shimmering broken heart ballad Healin' Slow, placing this in the middle of the record as the end of 'Side 1' is a stroke of genius, it allows for Lonely Boy to wash over you with it's laid back approach as Fun All Night has swagger to it and exhibits Mary Beth's mastery of the kazoo (yes folks the Kazoo).

I like Banditos, I liked their country rock first album and I like their psychedelic second album, there's an honesty here that is the sound of friends creating the music they want from their collective heart and soul. You can't really argue with that the optimism that at the heart of this record, let the music bring you in to Banditos Visionland. 9/10

Persona: Metamorphosis (Self Released)

Persona's debut album was highly rated by us here at MoM Towers, it was a very powerful debut with a mixture of progressive, power and extreme metal elements along with touches of the Middle Eastern themes of Orphaned Land or Myrath. So on their second full length Metamorphosis you'd think it would be more of the same but this second album sees the band ramp up the symphonic and death influences aiming more at the Epica sound than the previously mentioned Middle Eastern themes. Take a song like Hellgrind it's a furiously frantic with explosive drumming from Youssef Aouadi leading the charge as the death metal scythe through the rhythms of Aouadi, bassist Nesrine Mahbouli and rhythm guitarist Yosri Ouada. Frontwoman Jelena Dobrić gives a schizophrenic vocal performance with her soaring cleans and guttural roars throughout the track.

In fact she pulls this trick off numerous times during the album and every time it makes you really appreciate her vocal prowess, she's not the only member of the band that impresses though keyboardist Walid Bessadok moves the band out of your typical melo-death sound into a more progressive sound with the huge Gothic organ sound on In Memoriam really giving the track legs and it even features a piano solo for that proper baroque Jim Steinman playing Opeth sound. The Tunisian band have not improved on their debut but have maintained a high quality by evolving their musical output with some songs still meeting the 'female fronted metal' criteria with the final two piece of The Seeress Of Triumph and Epilogue: Final Deliverance but this record is so much more than that it has the rampaging death metal I've talked about but there are also the powerful Katatonia-esque The Omen Of Downfall, the electronic Netherlight and shred happy Esurience Guilefulness Omnipotence which showcases the guitar prowess of Melik Melek Khelifa. I have a bit of a soft spot for Persona and their latest album is heavier and more aggressive than their debut which can only be a good thing. 9/10

Wicked Stone: Ain't No Rest (Self Released)

There's a little theory I like to call the 'Planet Rock Effect', this is the theory that no matter how generic a band is if they given airplay extensively on Planet Rock, the UK's only 'rock' station on digital radio then the act will be hailed as the 'next-big-thing' and will play all of the Planet Rock sponsored festivals thereby getting a bigger audience and more airplay and a fandom that will inspire the next generation to do something similar until modern rock becomes bland. Now I know in my King Creature review I said they needed radio play but that's because they are a bit different a bit heavier than a lot of the music played on Planet Rock so unfortunately this is really the only way to establish yourself as a name act. Wicked Stone are the ideal example of the 'Planet Rock Effect' obviously talented musicians and by all accounts a crafted live show, their album is mediocre at best, the title track is also their first single and it has been given lots of airplay on the station, yes it exposes them to wider audience but a wider audience of people who already like this sort of music no matter what.

Unfortuantely for Wicked Stone their distorted rock riffs, numerous lead breaks and heavily cliched lyrics on tracks such as Another RoundGet In Get OutSlide really drag the record down into the doldrums. Nearly every song is about women or drinking or driving, not that there is anything wrong with those things but it's been done by bands a thousand times before bands that do it so much better. Wicked Stone are sort of like Nickelback-lite without the ballads achingly formulaic and not very interesting, there will be those that disagree and they are entitled to their opinion but these are also the people that think playing Opeth's lightest song on rock radio station is a guilty pleasure. 5/10

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Reviews: Cannabis Corpse, Cripper, From North, Pulvis Et Umbra (Reviews By Paul)

Cannabis Corpse: Left Hand Pass (Season Of Mist)

There is only one marijuana themed death metal outfit and here they are with album number 4. The four-piece from Richmond, Virginia follow up 2014’s From Wisdom To Baked with another powerful ode to the weed. It’s skull crushingly heavy whilst retaining the humour that we’ve come to expect. In Dank Purity and Final Exhalation hammer hard and as expected from Landphil of Municipal Waste, the Cannibal Corpse parody continues unabated. Closing track, The Fiends That Comes To Steal The Weed Of The Deceased makes worth listening to the album for that title alone. 7/10

From North: Self Titled (DownFall Records)

I must admit that opening track Volund The Smith, on the self-titled debut by Swedish folk metallers From North took me totally by surprise. A massive, raging beast of a track, it took the best part of the song for me to acclimatise to the aggressive but quite impressive sound these guys make. He Who Hates follows and once again it worked superbly. Haken Johnsson’s gruff vocals work fantastically well, but it’s the crunching guitar work that makes this record more enjoyable than many of the rather dire folk metal outfits about today. Yes, there is still the hurdy gurdy wail in the background but this is more Amon Amarth than Eluveitie. It’s not all fantastic with Ship’s Tale a little weak and several tracks slightly repetitive but overall this album is a heartfelt passionate and impressive release. A drunken evening with a roaring fire calls for those From North. Light the beacons. 7/10

Cripper: Follow Me: Kill! (Metal Blade)

I was unaware of Cripper who hail from Hannover, Germany. Follow Me: Kill! Is the band’s fourth record, and follows 2014’s Hyena. The band has a powerful sound, huge chunks of thrash and melodic death metal combine with haunting gothic elements to produce a stunning release. Lead singer Britta Görtz, who also sings for Critical Mess, has a snarl comparable with Arch Enemy’s past and present vocalists, although she favours the Angela Gossow sound with a growl so deep it could curdle milk. It’s not all from the gut though and she varies death growling with clean vocals on the mammoth Running High, the penultimate track on this impressive release. For an album that clocks in at just shy of an hour this fairly raced by and the cutting guitar work of Christian Brohenhorst and Jonathan Stenger add steel. It’s high octane fury from start to finish, and you can take your pick of tracks. Opener Pressure is particularly malevolent but there isn’t a poor track here. If you like your riffs huge and hard, then Cripper will certainly be a band worth checking out. 8/10

Pulvis Et Umbra: Atmosfear (Self Released)

Multi-instrumentalist Damy Mojitodka’s project Pulvis Et Umbra has been in existence for over 15 years although this is only the third record Pulvis Et Umbra (Italian for Dust & Shadow) has released. It’s an interesting mix of influences, ranging from ferocious death metal to calmer, Opeth-like passages and some virtuoso guitar work. There is a lot going on in every track, with roaring gravel gargling shouty vocals, huge chugging riffs and blast beats pounding away. The tracks are short with the album coming in at just under 35 minutes but there is no cessation in the barrage during that time. The haunting Divinity Or Icon and the title track probably stand out most. There is a nagging problem for me with all multi-instrumentalists and that is that it often feels like everything has been thrown into the mix just because it can This is often the case on Atmosfear, with a palette that is just too demanding. 6/10

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Reviews: Lionize, Voodoo Six, Gaerea, Implore (Reviews By Paul)

Lionize: Nuclear Soul (The End Records)

It seems longer than three years since Jetpack Soundtrack. The fifth record by the Maryland rock funksters was crammed full of delicious sounds to provide substantial auditory delight. Since then the band has been regular visitors to the UK with a couple of supports to good friends Clutch as well as their own tour which culminated in a magnificent set at Bloodstock this year. Two EPs kept fans happy but at last album number six is here and what an absolute treat it is. Whilst retaining all the elements of previous releases, there’s a fresh energy about Nuclear Soul. A harder edge to the rock is balanced by the magnificent Hammond organ and Rhodes piano work of Chris Brooks whilst the funk current which has always surged through the band remains in plentiful supply.

Once again, the band has included intergalactic themes and added more social commentary on the state of the world. Coming from the States must give them endless subject matter but the words of Election Year could apply to just about any country and certainly rings true in the UK with the line “Don't trust the government” so appropriate. Lionize has always been a rock ‘n’ roll band at their core, despite the reggae rock label. Album opener Darkest Timeline and March Of The Clones flex those rock muscles whilst Face Of Mars and Power Grid add groove and funk with Henry Upton’s bass lines free to wander. Nate Bergman’s soulful voice is supported with superb harmonies on many tracks, Brooks and Upton adding depth.

The blues soaked Let You Down slows the pace after the rage of March Of The Clones and there is a soulful side on Fire In Athena. The title track haunts with poignant lyrics and a slow burn which reaches a crescendo before this superb piece of work closes with the racey rocker Blindness To Danger. Nuclear Soul has so much going on that it takes several listens to really appreciate it. Bergman’s guitar work is fantastic throughout, Brooks riotous but controlled keyboard work underpin everything whilst Chase Lapp’s drumming links with Upton’s rampaging bass lines to provide a concrete foundation. This is very likely to be my album of the year. Lionize: to give a lot of public attention and approval. Absolutely. 10/10

Voodoo Six: Make Way For The King (Cadiz Music)

I must be honest, I thought Voodoo Six had gone their separate ways. After 2013’s Songs To Invade Countries To, they completely disappeared off my radar so it’s pleasing to find that the band’s melodic hard rock sound returns, with album number five, Make Way For The King. Opener Electric is a statement of intent, stomping, clean and fresh. Nik Taylor Stoakes blues soaked vocals and Matt Pearce’s sterling guitar work immediately catching the ear. Pearce shouldered all the guitar work on this record, impressive work.

The title track follows, a catchy number that will be well received in the live arena but everything else of the album pales after you reach the magnificent 8-minute epic Amen which is the centre piece of the whole record. It is just a monumental track and one that deserves airplay which it will never get because of the duration. There is a hard rock throughout, such as the stomp of Until The End, but Voodoo Six can also mix it up, such as on the Godsmack sounding Release The Hounds. I played Fluke regularly when it came out back in 2010 and this record is likely to be another that is likely to be on the playlist for some time. A welcome return. 8/10

Gaerea: Self-Titled (S/T)

Portugese black metal outfit Gaerea present a mysterious image. Their Facebook page has silhouetted masked figures cloaked in swirling mist. No names or details of the band. Their debut six track EP promises to ‘bring and present you what your system could not solve by itself. We'll cover the daylight with ashes and smash the massive skull that's blocking your brain and will to evolve’. What follows is atmospheric, sky burning black metal.

Final Call brings the doom, slabs of mountainous riffs and powerful drumming but soon explodes into a frenzied onslaught. And that’s pretty much how it stays. Vocals that sound like Satan’s arse after a vindaloo, combined with a battery of hyperactivity. It’s far from appalling, and at time interestingly mixes the heavier elements of Alcest with Winterfylleth. It’s black metal, pure and simple. Punishing but not overly impressive. 6/10

Implore: Subjugate (Century Media)

If you want fast, thrashy blackened death metal with a crust and grindcore topping then you may want to check out this German outfit. Subjugate is their second full release and it’s short, sharp and oh so intense. With tracks lasting the typical two minutes, Implore accelerate at breakneck speed, whipping the neck so hard that a surgical collar is essential at the end of this album. The usual mix of influences are clear here, with shades of Napalm Death and Municipal Waste in the mix. It’s brutal and should clearly been heard in the live arena where no doubt these guys are absolute carnage for a three-piece. Enter at your own risk. 6/10

Reviews: Josh Todd, Kee Of Hearts, The Midways

Josh Todd & The Conflict: Year Of The Tiger (Century Media)

With Buckcherry in split into two pieces vocalist Josh Todd and guitarist Stevie D have formed a new band called The Conflict and it seems as if Todd is doing stuff that he has maybe wanted to do for a while but that wouldn't fit in the mould of his former band. Only Push It is Buckcherry-like the rest of the album is a jukebox of genres with Erotic City taking the band into strange Pattonesque oddness, there's some rap metal riffs on Atomic which means Todd can spit meaningful lyrics with his sneering, scarred vocals, it's a trick repeated on the groove heavy antagonistic Fucked Up. The majority of this record is a lot heavier than anything Buckcherry produced with fat riffs throughout you are taken through more styles such as the incendiary title track kicks things off with two boots full of punk attitude and leather clad metal chest beating of BLS which leads into Inside driven by the head kicking riffage of Motörhead but with a big chorus hook. As always Todd's lyrics are reflective, political and personal, the pumping riffs keep the blood pressure up and fire burning hot with only the Southern stomp/clap of Rain and the continuing country vibe of Good Enough slowing it down. Year Of The Tiger sees a new side of Josh Todd's musical spectrum, far away from the sleazy hard rock of his past it's him trying something a bit nastier and louder and it works well. 8/10

Kee Of Hearts: Kee Of Hearts (Frontiers Records)

This obscurely titled record is yet another collaborative project from Frontiers. This time it's former Europe guitarist Kee Marcello and Fair Warning vocalist Fair Warning, they have brought in the two house musicians on bass and drums under the musical direction of Alessandro Del Vecchio who guides the project as producer. You get what you'd expect from this collaboration it's slick melodic rock with choruses that get your fist pumping (A New Dimension), Heart's vocals soar with a smooth croon he has the ideal AOR vocal singing of lost love on Crimson Dawn and Stranded. Obviously with Kee Marcello in the band it's going to be a bit guitar centric with Marcello doing the soloing and riffs he showed during his two album tenure in Europe. Kee Of Hearts is your typical Frontiers projectm, maybe the membership isn't as well known as some of their others but they have a solid slab of AOR that doesn't do anything out of ordinary but is perfectly listenable. 7/10

The Midways: Rorschach (Second Avenue Records)

Aussie band The Midways Louche rock n roll with pub rock back beat and a punk attitude. The music here is pretty standard fare the three piece bringing one-two drumming with easy head nodding riffs. My Way is this ad nauseum slow and lumbering over 3 minutes and it goes on like this with Black Sheep. Only the songs that inject a bit of pace such as Different Kind make your ears prick up. Id describe this as indie rock it's Oasis with Nirvana's grunge so if you're excited by that more power to you but the record does nothing for me I'm afraid. 5/10

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Reviews: Dagoba, Leng Tch'e, Lionheart (Reviews By Rich)

Dagoba: Black Nova (Century Media)

Despite having existed as a band for 20 years and having developed a huge following over in mainland Europe, Dagoba never seem to have gained much attention over here in the UK. That could hopefully be about to change from the strength of Black Nova which is the seventh album by these French industrial metallers and probably the strongest album of their career thus far. The sound Dagoba have established on this album is a combination of hard hitting groove based riffs mixed with electronic and industrial influences and some impressively epic symphonic arrangements whilst the vocals by frontman Shawter range from harsh screams to some impressive clean vocals.

Special mention must also go to drummer Nicolas Bastos who puts in an incredible performance. The sound is not too dissimilar from what Dagoba have put out on their previous albums but the strength here lies with the hugely improved songwriting. Many of the songs here will have you banging your head whilst many of the cleanly sung choruses are definite earworms especially on a song such as Inner Sun. This is a hugely enjoyable album of catchy industrial groove metal and is definitely the best album Dagoba have released to date. Hopefully it will have the desired effect and bring about some new fans of the band. 8/10

Leng Tch'e: Razorgrind (Season Of Mist)

Belgian grinders Leng Tch'e strike back with their first new release in seven years and album number six Razorgrind. Leng Tch'e have always had an interesting sound which mixes grindcore and death metal with monstrous grooves. That is the sound mainly on offer throughout Razorgrind with things kicking off with the truly ferocious Gundog Allegiance. These levels of ferocity and intensity remain with tracks such as Cibus and AnarChristic though as we head into the second half of the album we get a few experimental touches with more melody and a few dare I say progressive flourishes. Unfortunately there is also a good chunk of the album which falls by the wayside being all too formulaic and uninspired to make much of an impression. Leng Tch'e have released an enjoyable album of grinding madness which pushes the genre into some uncharted territories but is bogged down by some forgettable material. 7/10

Lionheart: Second Nature (AOR Heaven)

After a whopping 33 years Lionheart finally return with their second album Second Nature. This is the first release by Lionheart since their debut album Hot Tonight in 1984 and luckily for fans of the band the album has definitely been worth the wait. The 2017 version of the band still contains three original members - guitarists Dennis Stratton (formerly of Iron Maiden) and Steve Mann and bassist Rocky Newton. Joining them are new members drummer Clive Edwards and vocalist Lee Small. The album contains a mix of material written back in the 1980's and some new songs written since the band's reformation last year.

 As such there is a wonderful retro sound throughout this album of 1980's style melodic hard rock. The vocals by Lee Small are an absolute delight throughout as is the stellar guitar playing. The retro sounding synths add to the old school 80's charm of this album. Second Nature is chock full of insanely catchy tunes such as Give Me The Light, 30 Years, Heartbeat Radio, Lionheart and an impressive cover of Chris de Burgh's Don't Pay The Ferryman. If you are a fan of AOR and melodic hard rock then this album is a must hear and if you are old enough to remember Lionheart back in the day this is an admirable and very overdue second album. 8/10

Monday, 11 September 2017

Reviews: Masterplan, Progenie Terrestre Pura, Incantation, Impalers (Reviews By Paul)

Masterplan: Pumpkings (AFM)

The world is awash with power metal bands. Some are excellent, some are shite and the majority churn out routine music which is neither sac-grabbing or vomit inducing. It’s just routine. So it is with album number 5 from German power metal outfit Masterplan. The difference is that Pumpkings, as you might have twigged from the title, is a collection of tracks written by main man and guitarist Roland Grapow while he was in Helloween. There a couple of decent tracks tucked away here; check out Step Out Of Hell and opener The Chance. Avoid the seven-minute pain of Mr Ego, which does vocalist Rick Altzi no favours as it stumbles to a finale. In fact, it’s the shorter tracks on this release that stand strongest. The grandeur of The Time Of The Oath requires the might of Ronnie James Dio to carry it off; indeed it would have worked fabulously with the legendary vocalist. Take Me Home, a five-minute rampage with a quite thunderous bass line rescues the tail end of the album but unfortunately, it’s too little too late. 6/10

Progenie Terrestre Pura: OltreLuna (Avantguarde Music)

Atmospheric black metal from the Veneto no less in this captivating and quite astonishingly good second album. I can count on one finger the bands I’m aware of from this region of Italy it’s a blisteringly good one. OltreLuna (Over The Moon) is a complex, multi-layered composition and it almost defies description. As well as ambient black metal, there are jazz passages, ethereal haunting female vocals which contrast splendidly with the death growls of Emanele Prandoni and more time changes than a Cardiff Bus timetable. It’s a lengthy piece of work, 55 minutes for six tracks means some extensive episodes, but it doesn’t feel boring at any stage.

Opening track [. Pianeta.Zero.] flies by, whilst the crushing heaviness of [.SubLuce.] is balanced with some incredibly delicate passages. Having flown solo for the first EP and album releases, Davide Colladon (guitars, drums, synths) is joined by Prandoni and bassist Fabrizio Sanna for this release. Repeated listens enhance the experience. Ensure you allow time to immerse yourself in the release though, especially the 11+ minutes of the title track which starts with a tribal tempo which calms and sooths the furrowed brow before the pace increases with evocative pipes blending in with a choppy guitar and ever rising drumming which quickly explodes into full out blast beats and howling gravel edged vocals. This may be one of the albums of the year. Get it and submerge yourself into a different world. Quite magnificent. 9/10

Incantation: Profane Nexus (Relapse)

In a year where fellow New York Death Metal legends Immolation and Suffocation have already released fine albums in 2017, it’s good to report that Incantation, although not now based in New York, have made it a hat-trick with album number ten. Uncompromising throughout, the band, with sole original member John McEntee’s traditional indecipherable death growl is front and centre, mix it up to great effect. The blistering opening of Muse and Rites Of The Locust are followed by the initially slower paced Visceral Hexahedron. The variety of the tracks on Profane Nexus is significant, such as the segue from Stormgate Convulsions from the Thunderous Shores Of Infernal Realms Bey into the crushing Messiah Nostrum. It remains disgusting gut piercing death metal throughout with slicing lead work from Sammy Lombadozzi whilst long time drummer Kyle Severn relentlessly abuses his kit. It’s filthy, its guttural and dripping with malevolence. 8/10

Impalers: Celestial Dictator (EvilEye Records)

Not to be confused with the horror metal outfit Impaler who first stalked the earth in the 1980s, Impalers is a four-piece thrash outfit from Denmark who’ve been active for close to ten years. Celestial Dictator is their third album but the first I’ve heard by the band. It’s a bit of a schizophrenic record because although it’s fast and furious thrash metal, it is a real mix of styles which lead to some confusion. We get the obvious chug of Anthrax on Color Me White and Sun, the Metallica heavy Into Doom, the snarl of early Slayer on Believe with bits of Megadeth, Morbid Angel, Kreator, Armored Saint and just about every other thrash legend in the mix. Now, I’m hugely partial to a nice wedge of thrash and Celestial Dictator is not a bad album. It just does little to raise the heart rate above resting pulse level and if a thrash band can’t get the blood pumping then there is something wrong. A little on the average side. 6/10

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Reviews: Threshold, Leprous, The Great Discord, King Creature

Threshold: Legends Of The Shires (Nuclear Blast)

In their time as a band Threshold have have four vocalists in total but they have changed singers 7 times, Damian Wilson was the longest serving being part of the band from 1992-1993, then 1996-1998 and finally 2007–2017, with Andrew Mac MacDermott second having the more stable 1998 to 2007 tenure, thirdly it's Glyn Morgan who played with the band from 1993 - 1996 (and fourth was Jon Jeary who stopped singing in 1992 but stayed the bands bassist until 2003). After Mac left the band Damian Wilson returned for the bands last two critically acclaimed releases, its sounded like Threshold were going to have the most stable line up they have had for a while, however in early 2017 the band released a statement saying they were going to progress onward without Wilson behind the mic, there was bit of bluster about who was going to replace him and it turned out to be former vocalist Glynn Morgan who's only album was 1994's Psychedelicatessen.

Glynn has a rougher voice than Wilson but it's still got that feeling of familiarity being able to take the lighter spacey themes of Stars And Satellites along with the heavier tracks such as The Man Who Saw Through Time. That feeling of familiarity is probably due to the unchanged writing team of guitarist Karl Groom and keyboardist Richard West along with drummer Johanne James and bassist Steve Anderson who have been the long time rhythm section, as well as Wilson rhythm guitarist Pete Morden has also left the band since the previous record leaving Glynn to pick up his parts live.

So with the changes what about the new record? Well, it's pretty much the classic Threshold style of progressive metal, elongated songs, virtuoso playing, keyboard and guitar duels and a theme running through the record split by the three part The Shires suite, which features a returning Jon Jeary providing vocals on Part 3 as treat for fans. Stylistically they bring in some of the lighter textures of AOR and melodic rock for a record that is a study of English psyche (thus the title)

Threshold continue to forge ahead in their category of one, they are probably the only British band that can do the American style of progressive metal better than your Dream Theaters etc, but also they've added a lot more 20th Century UK prog rock to this record, this may be because of the soulful vocals of Morgan, you can hear the big prog rock heavyweights on Subliminal Highways and State Of Independence, there's heaviness, fragility, passion and an Englishness about Threshold that is always captivating, if you're looking for what could be one of the top progressive releases of the year then look no further. 9/10

Leprous: Malina (InsideOut)

Prog has had something of a reincarnation in the past 10 years, many bands have embraced the genre allowing it to become less of a dirty word, yes there will always be the solo's galore of Dream Theater but with Djent scene came, bands who maybe had radio play before, became less encumbered by their lot and experimented a little. Leprous come from the Scandi prog scene which has always been a bit more daring, but I'd say none more daring than Leprous who over the course of their career have adapted and tweaked their formula until we get the music featured on Malina. For most of this record the 'metal' aspect is downplayed and frontman Einar Solberg stays in his higher register which could upset those that have followed the band from their association with Ihshan but I think it's part of their ongoing evolution as a group.

e has the bristling electronic misery of Radiohead with a repetitive back beat, and the highest falsetto while Stuck is driven by immediacy and it's off-kilter rhythm which makes it audibly similar to 30STM or Coheed especially as it builds to the massive chorus and melodic lead break. There's a loud/quiet dynamic to it that hooks you in and keeps you interested before moving into bubbling electronic and strings coda in it's final part.

Leprous have always been experimental and since really Coal they have pushed the boundaries of their sound further and further. What strikes you about Malina is that it has more synths and keys than any previous record, meaning that their isn't as much reliance on heavy guitars, they are allowed to breath and bring the fleet fingered leads on top of the palm muted riffs that weave in and out of the tracks, see Mirage, keeping them right on the cusp of modern progressive music, but also giving them more scope into the, how can I say this, acceptable face of progressive music such as Coheed and Muse.

That being said they still maintain the quirks of obscure proggers such as King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator with the overt use of odd time signatures and dark, aggressive synths, they are the main component of Illuminate's unsettling musical base and Coma's jerkiness. A logical next step for Leprous who continue to create interest and enjoyment with their no compromise style, there aren't many bands that can be fresh and exciting while still being resolutely themselves. 9/10

The Great Discord: The Rabbit Hole (The Sign Records)

I saw The Great Discord for the first time supporting Katatonia in Bristol and they were truly a terrifying and intriguing sight to be hold, vocalist Fia Kempe was in full front person mode as sinister and dangerous alter ego IRE. (Check out the photos of the gig on our Facebook page to see IRE in all it's glory). The Great Discord are apparently classified as a progressive death pop band, a tag that speaks volumes about this album that thematically deals with an alternative telling of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, it's a trope that has been covered by numerous bands but The Great Discord take it to a stranger place than it's been before.

The music on The Rabbit Hole is contradictory, furious blast beats are met with the alt-pop sensibility of Kemp who's voice is build for big power ballads but is ideal for the dramatic songs on this record, take Darkest Day which is a 21st Century thrash number with huge vocal hook chorus and melodic lead break, or Gadget which pairs kooky vocals with heavy groove riffs. The Great Discord certainly win points for uniqueness, they have managed to merge modern heavy metal with electronic grooves (Tell Tale Heart) and top it with vocalist that has the dexterity of Tori Amos or Kate Bush.

The Rabbit Hole 
is the sound of a band who have developed into something much more invigorating than they were on their debut, the music featured here is weirder and heavy but it's accessible. There are lots of big bad metal bangers such as The Red Rabbit but also there are more measured dreamlike compositions like the Phillip K Dick lullaby of Neon Dreaming. Weird but worth investing in. 8/10

King Creature: Volume One (Marshall Music)

King Creature lead guitarist Dave Evans started on the pathway to being one of Marshall Records first acts from the age of 13, with his family sharing videos to Marshall Amplification of his progress using a practice amp sent to him by Managing Director Jon Ellery. From here the Cornish band were born out of jam sessions between Evans vocalist / bassist Dave Kellaway, guitarist Matt K Vincent and drummer Jack Sutton - Bassett, they plugged away at material for about two years in that time they were chosen by Lemmy to open for Motörhead at the Eden sessions in St Austell in 2015 Megadeth, Hellyeah and Down, playing the Hard Rock Hell and Winter’s End festivals. One listen to their debut record and you can hear why they were accorded with such an honour.

This four piece rock, hard, their groove heavy hard rock is the perfect Planet Rock fodder (if they'd play them than is ) but with a heavier edge than say Stone Broken or Big Foot. Musically the band are adaptable mainly due to Kellaway's versatile vocals that share a lot in common with Corey Taylor, this means that the band sound like Stone Sour on Fortune Teller, Wrath and ballad Can You Forgive Me but also they have the grunge wooziness of Alice In Chains on Can't Be Saved mixed with the guitar-laden rocking of Alter Bridge (Power) and Black label Society (The Pusher). Every song is well crafted for maximum impact the riffs are chunky and get you head nodding, the solos fly at a moments notice and the songs vary in tempo and style throughout the running time to keep you engaged.

Produced by Rob Cass (Slash, Brian May, Jack Bruce) at Abbey Road Studios no less King Creature have all the chops to be major players on the hard rock scene, the songs are there they just need that one touch-point tour or radio play to really explode out of the blocks into the stratosphere, get on board now before you regret it. 8/10

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Reviews: Epica, Arch Enemy, Seven Spires, Oraton

Epica: The Solace System (Nuclear Blast)

On the back of their sublime album The Holographic Principle from last year 2016, Epica have returned with an EP that has been released just in time for their US tour with Lacuna Coil and their upcoming UK tour early next year. The six songs on this record were written during the sessions for the last album and they retain the intensely technical, cinematic, epochal nature of their last full length. The record kicks off with the title track which has glorious choirs before the main riff kicks in and Simon Simmons lets those golden pipes loose.

What I've always loved about Epica is that they have become more grandiose as the years have worn on, they are the epitome of symphonic metal with a huge classical edge to their music but there is never a hint of it being throwaway, every element is meticulously plotted and planned, from the swathes of classical instrumentation (Coen Jansen), to the shredding riffs (Mark Jansen & Issac Dehaye), the explosive drumming (Ariën van Weesenbeek) and of course Simone's vocals interweaving with the harsh vocals from Mark, Ariën and Issac used to great effect on the powerful Wheel Of Destiny, the rest of the record features the excellent Architect Of Light and the superior ballad Immortal Melancholy. Epica have been on a roll since their fourth record and there seems to be no signs of stopping them. 8/10

Arch Enemy: Will To Power (Century Media)

The last Arch Enemy record was released in 2014, it was typical Arch Enemy fayre but was notable for the introduction of Alissa White-Gluz on vocals after long term vocalist Angela Gossow stepped down from behind the mic. Since then they have toured pretty much non stop and have gained the membership of Jeff Loomis who was the six stringer of Nevermore. His wizardry creeps in on opening instrumental Set Flame To The Night which is nothing more than a guitar lead harmony that bleeds into The Race an accurately named song as it does seem like a race to the finish breaking in the middle for a heaving groove and fiery solo. From the first track you can hear that the 'new' Arch Enemy line up have really gelled after Gossow's departure, there is no trepidation here just balls the wall melodic death metal with lead guitar mastery that adds a new edge, honed by the arduous touring schedule the band have come out of the other side with enough material for a new record that shakes up their melodic death metal approach.

Founder member Michael Ammott has found the ideal sparring partner in Loomis, every song has a blazing solo as part of it without sacrificing the wall of riffs Arch Enemy have always made their own, The World Is Yours gallops along at fair pace and has some tasty lead breaks, it stands as one of the best tracks on the record, although it should have been a closer on the other hand if it was the finale then you wouldn't get the climactic A Fight I Must Win. After The World Is Yours they change tact with a stomping The Eagle Flies Alone it's what you could consider a 'lighter' song it has a melodic feel and a grand piano and after this it gets yet more delicate a Alissa displays her clean vocals over the top of classical guitars and synths before Reason To Believe builds into the hard rock hook.

Behind the mic the touring and various guest spots have clearly given Alissa more confidence as she has developed her own style of vocal, yes she still has the rawness of Gossow but she is distinctly different, her vocals are clearer and more defined than her predecessor. On their tenth album Arch Enemy take risks and for a band in their 21st year that's not something to take lightly, the do pay dividends, Arch Enemy sound revitalised, they have held on to their melo-death sound but they now have a classic metal vein running through them, it all gets me excited for their shows in February next year. 8/10

Seven Spires: Solveig (Black Ray Music)

According to the press release, "Seven Spires’ album Solveig is a theatrical metal concept album in two acts, It is the story of a lost soul and his journey through a Demon’s sunless Neo-Victorian underworld. Despite small glimmers of hope, it is a grim tale with a heavy focus on escapism, death, and decadence" to me that translates to a Steampunk retelling of Dante's Inferno, but it sets the listener up for what is a mind bending trip through a cinematic story-line where the band change styles as often as they change notes, its a mish-mash of power, black, death and symphonic metal with jazz, classical and even operatic touches, tracks such as The Cabaret Of Dreams sounds like Diablo Swing Orchestra, Closure has Maiden-esque guitar breaks and a huge death metal breakdown, that leads into the outright Romanticism of 100 Days while later on The Paradox is pure black metal filth.

This is just the tip of a very deep Berkeley College Of Music Trained iceberg, all four members of the band trained their which is immediately obvious from the technical playing of all the instrumental players who effortlessly move from style to style. Led by Jack Kosto's incredible six string mastery and Adrienne Cowan's impressive vocal range, one minute it's high opera the next brutal death growls and after that black metal screeching. Many may balk at the records 15 track playlist but when you consider a couple of these tracks are instrumental that link the elements of the story together it means you are left with about 12 well structured and formed metal tracks that should see every metal fan find at least one song they can rock out to. Solveig is theatrical metal in it's best form it grabs you by the collar and drags you into the story-line with a flurry of musical dexterity. It's a record that needs repeated plays as it can be overwhelming in one sitting but it is very pleasurable experience if you want something that's more than just a metal record. 9/10        

Oraton: Concentric Circles (Self Released)

Th UK has a real pedigree when it comes to progressive metal/rock bands with female singers, there's Mostly Autumn, Magenta, Panic Room, The Reasoning, Touchstone and the list goes on. With UK being the leaders of this style it makes sense why Leighton Buzzard's Oraton would want a piece of that action, however many of the bands mentioned have had years or experience perfecting their craft while Oraton are only on their debut release, so they haven't got a hope of reaching those lofty ambitions?

Well consider yourself wrong on all counts Concentric Circles is very mature professional record, the band (on record at least) are a three piece of Joe Parrish-James (guitar), his sister Rhian (vocals) and friend Mikey Ciancio (drums), they have pooled their influences very well on this record with Rhian's keening clear vocals sitting on top of the punchy drumming of Mikey as Joe display's a virtuosity of someone far more experienced, you can hear Iron Maiden in his solos and also the atmosphere's they create especially on the gargantuan title track.

They are a band who weave their influences well you get some nods to Epica on Erato Lives, Tool style rhythms on Late Love, Devin style riffs on Condemned To Life and the angular Astral Park and big melodic power from Accept The Circle. The production is crisp and allows the instruments space to be heard while Rhian's vocals are particularly enjoyable especially with the male vocals supporting the harmonies ala Touchstone and Mostly Autumn. If you like your progressive rock with a metallic edge and huge amount of talent Oraton are worth checking out, an impressive debut. 7/10

Friday, 8 September 2017

Reviews: Motörhead, UFO, Belphegor, Deadlord (Review By Paul)

Motörhead: Under Cöver (Motörhead Music)

It’s been two years since the final Motörhead album Bad Magic hit the shelves. A superb release, demonstrating the musical strength of Lemmy, Phil and Mikkey, and despite the legendary frontman's passing later in 2015 the band remain regularly on the play list of many rock music stations. New music may not be possible, but as in many recording sessions, gems are often hidden away. So, it is with this release. 11 tracks from the powerhouse trio, ranging from 1992 to those last sessions but with one absolute beauty which makes this release a must have. Yes, the cover of David Bowie’s Heroes, recorded during the Bad Magic sessions finally makes it onto a record and it is quite phenomenal. The understated vocal performance of Lemmy is quite beautiful whilst the playing of Phil Campbell is just stunning. Mikkey Dee, now doing sterling business with Scorpions demonstrates throughout this release what an underrated drummer he is.

The other covers are a curious bunch, with the 1992 version of Ted Nugent’s Cat Scratch Fever sitting alongside a double of the Stones Jumpin’ Jack Flash from 2001 and 2015’s fine Sympathy For The Devil. The Motörhead version of Hellraiser featured on 1992’s March Or Die and was originally written by Ozzy Ozbourne, Zakk Wylde and Lemmy for 1991’s No More Tears. What you get here is the unique take that Motörhead provide to every track, apart from the Biff Byford led vocal on Starstruck which featured on 2014’s Ronnie James Dio: This is Your Life tribute release. I’m rarely that impressed by a cover but this is a fine release which deserves to be played loud and proud. Raise your glass and remember the legend. It’s superb. 9/10

UFO: The Salentino Cuts (Cleopatra Records)

It’s no secret that I have a massive admiration for UFO, the UK hard rockers now well into their fourth decade as a band. It’s quite amazing that the band has not released any cover versions in their career but The Salentino Cuts resolves that with 12 choice cuts selected by the band based on their own personal favourites. For a band as seasoned as UFO, this must have been a blast to record and each track receives the unique UFO take. Some of the tracks are expected, such as The Yardbirds’ Heart Full Of Soul and Free’s The Pusher, whilst others are a little more obscure; Mad Season’s River Of Deceit, Paper In Fire, originally recorded by John Mellancamp and Montrose’s Rock Candy all receive the Mogg & Co swagger.

Each track is treated with a sensitivity which you’d expect from UFO, with Vinnie Moore’s soulful blues playing exceptional, for example, on the Bill Withers Ain’t No Sunshine which has no right to be as good as it is. Vocalist Phil Mogg continues to defy the years with a strong performance, notably on the rocking cover of The Doors Break On Through, an epic version of Mountain’s Mississippi Queen and a quite different version of ZZ Top’s Just Got Paid which showcases the quality of the entire band. The Salentino Cuts, as with Motörhead’s Under Cövers is another example of class is permanent. This is magic. 9/10

Belphegor: Totenritual (Nuclear Blast)

The Austrians had never really been on my radar until 2014’s Conjuring The Dead which was a fine piece of extreme black metal. Snarly and evil, the ninth album saw the band’s profile rise with a main stage slot at BOA in 2015. The arrival of new drummer Simon ‘Bloodhammer’ Schilling has seen him slot seamlessly into the band with the battering ram approach associated with the full force of this band unchecked. Totenritual rarely allows time for breath, although I will say that it is not as fast in places as its predecessor which was brutal from start to finish.

That’s not to say Totenritual is poor in anyway because it isn’t. In fact, it is another blistering assault on the senses, but with more atmosphere and malevolence than before. The guttural roar of main man Helmuth Lehner remains as distinctive as before with his guitar work carving patterns into the listener’s cranium. Alongside Schilling the pounding bass and backing vocals of ten-year veteran Serpenth crushes all. The album crackles with intensity, from the roasting opener Baphomat through to the piledriver of Apophis – Black Dragon and the haunting and unearthly title track which closes one of the best extreme releases of the year. 8/10

Deadlord: In Ignorance We Trust (Century Media)

Sweden churns out band after band and Deadlord are another who follow the classic rock vein and do it very well. You may have seen them supporting The Vintage Caravan or at HRH in 2016. The band, whose mantra is very much in the style of Tenacious D: We shall rock you with our rock, were formed by vocalist and guitarist Ha Kim Krim and include bassist Tobias Lindkvist (from Enforcer), Adam Lindmark (Morbus Chron) on drums and guitarist Olle Hedenström. The band’s previous sound focused very much on a Thin Lizzy blend with duel guitar work at the forefront.

In Ignorance We Trust moves away from that and although the guitar sound remains very much at the forefront there is more of a Blue Öyster Cult/ Roky Erickson style on this record. There are also shades of Tom Petty (check out Reruns for an example) and a move towards the Americana flavour. It’s all solid stuff and the hooks and melody of songs such as Too Late and Kill Them All rock along. I can’t say I’m enamored by the ballad Leave Me Be but overall this is a perfectly enjoyable release. 7/10

Thursday, 7 September 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Banditos

Banditos, KFC Nantgarw

So yeah as you can see from the title above this was an odd one. To coincide with KFC's Southern Legends burger tour they organised an actual tour of Southern bands, each band hailed from the place the burger was named after and the bands in question played two gigs in two restaurants. For the Alabama chicken burger (which is pretty much a McDonalds Quarter Pounder with Cheese but with chicken instead of beef) the band was Alabama Southern Psych rockers Banditos  and luckily enough their two shows were in Wales. I opted for Nantgarw over Merthyr Tydfil purely for convenience. Picking up a free ticket online I arrived at the venue and went in to the surreal sight of an empty restaurant with a drumkit, amps, guitars, a banjo and mics all in front of the desk.

Now here's where I do get a little annoyed so bear with me, the ticket included a free burger, fries and unlimited drink, no I know that the idea of the campaign is to advertise the food but around 70% of the crowd came for the free meal, 25% were staff roped in to fill the numbers and only 5% were there for the band. These small numbers were probably due to the lack of advertising on KFC's part, with only a Facebook advert promoting the tour at all, if they had broadened their scope a bit I'm sure there would be a lot of rock fans who would have loved to see the band.

Still rant over burger eaten, seat at the front (yes the front) taken. Banditos are a six piece band from Alabama who's debut album impressed me a lot, I've recently picked up their second album so expect a review for that in due course, what attracted me to this gig was that Banditos haven't played a lot in UK so this was a rare treat. With an introduction in place Corey Parsons (vocal/guitarist), Stephen Pierce (vocal/banjo), Randy Wade (drums), Jeffrey Salter (guitar), Jeffery Vines (bass) and Mary Beth Richardson (vocals) all took to the stage confined by the cramped conditions but looking ready to go in their Southern bohab chic of Stetsons and bell bottoms. Then they struck the first cord of the smooth and smoldering with Strange Heart and their almost workmanlike southern grooves blew your head off crystal clear sound, killer guitar playing from Salter who plays spindly guitar leads over the rhythms of Parsons and Vines as Wade keeps a rocking beat going for Pierce's banjo shuffle.

With the band reasonably static it was up to Mary Beth to hold the attention and she did with soulful vocals, sultry delivery, tambourine encouragement and even a mean kazoo (Fun All Night). They shook things up with Fine Fine Day, before the first Richardson showcase came with Healin' Slow which had her sashaying through the seated crowd using her choir trained vocal power to really drive home the tragic romance of the piece. As this was not their crowd they tried their hardest to win over the blank full of food faces in the audience by rocking out a little with new songs the psych drenched Visionland and the swaggering Still And Quiet. Trading vocals with every song Mary Beth and Stephen compliment each other well with Stephen's Dylan-like delivery working well with Mary Beth's gospel training.

I was wondering how long the band would play for but they still had a lot to play bringing classic boogie woogie of Still Sober After All These Beers and swamp blues of The Breeze saw Corey taking the first vocal of the evening but it was the showstopping Old Ways and their incredible cover of Screaming Jay Hawking's I Put A Spell On You that really brought those of us who were there to watch the band to our feet. I really, really hope Banditos play a 'proper' venue as even in what is a fast food restaurant (which admittedly had amazing sound) they were incredible. 9/10

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Reviews: Septicflesh, The Quill, Night (Reviews By Paul)

Septicflesh: Codex Omega (Seasons Of Mist)

It’s been a lengthy wait for album number ten from the Athenian extreme metal outfit, following 2014’s magnificent Titan but the wait is finally over with arrival of Codex Omega. This is the first release with drummer Kerim ‘Krimh’ Lecher who matches his predecessor Fotis Gianakopoulos beat for beat. Produced by Logan Mader, diehard fans will be pleased to note that the soaring operatics remain firmly in place, lightening the brutal assault which breaks on the listener with opener Dante’s Inferno. The intensity rarely slows, with Spiros ‘Seth Siro Anton’ Antoniou’s gruesome unclean vocals in immense form. The majesty of the band is captured in Portrait Of A Headless Man, a high-octane ride which combines spiralling choral vocals, massive chunky guitar riffs and forceful time changes. There are moments of calm, such as the opening build up to Martyr which lurches powerfully into a highly charged, passion filled epic, horn sections segueing into a cascade of explosive riffs. Martyr doesn’t obliterate with pace but with pure power.

Communion, The Great Mass and Titan all showed the band’s ability to intertwine the dramatic operatic elements with brutal death metal and Codex Omega continues with this voyage. Faceless Queen allows Sotiris Vayenas the brief opportunity to flex his clean vocals whilst Christos Antoniou's lead guitar slices and shreds with vicious intent. Gospels Of Fear is possibly the most accessible track on first listen, a Slayer type guitar riff, a haunting bell and classical symphonies all merging to produce an astonishingly fast three and a half minutes which leaves you gasping for air at the pace of it all. The evocative and unorthodox construction works to impressive effect, the impact stunning. Trinity, which closes the main album provides a much more sedate sound, almost hard rock in parts before the mammoth riff and more guttural vocals pound the skull with impending doom. Black clouds gathered as I listened to this atmospheric song.

The three bonus tracks are worth the purchase with the 11+ minutes of the monumental orchestral Martyr Of Truth worth the price in its own. Septicflesh are a band who merit enormous respect. Like their brothers Rotting Christ, the band follow their path and are not persuaded to follow anything else. Codex Omega is a welcome return from one of the bands who continue to make extreme metal interesting. Don’t be afraid. A stunning release. 9/10

The Quill: Born From Fire (Metalville)

More Swedish hard rock and an absolute beauty here with the eighth album from The Quill. Combining the hard rock edge of Sabbath, Purple, Zeppelin and Motörhead with the alt-grunge of Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and the stoner edge of Monster Magnet, Born From Fire marks the return of vocalist Magnus Erkwall for the first time since 2006’s In Triumph. From the Motörhead style raw power of Snakecharmer Woman, the Sabbath type doom laden riffs of Ghost Horse and the stomp of Electric Sons, Born From Fire is a treat laden album which showcases some solid musicianship. A release well worth picking up. 8/10

Night: Raft Of The World (The Sign Records)

The opening 4 minutes and 45 seconds of track one of Swedish rock outfit Night’s album Raft Of The World was enough. Fire Across The Sky was a reasonably decent hard rock track until Oskar Andersson opened his mouth. I couldn’t reach for the off button in time for track 2, Surrender to start but by then I was waving the white flag to make it end. As Mrs H said, “it was nice when it stopped”. The remaining seven tracks may be great. I’m not taking the risk. 2/10

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Reviews: Serious Black, End Of Green, Tower Of Babel

Serious Black: Magic (AFM)

International power metal band Serious Black have been pretty consistent with their releases, they have brought out a new record every year since 2015, when Rich reviewed their last record Mirrorworld and while he enjoyed it he noted that the band was more melodic than many power metal acts with some of the record straying into AOR, this was something I noticed as well, happily the balance has been redressed on their third outing as the opening duo of Binary Magic and Burn! Witches! Burn! definitely ramp up the fury with Helloween style shredding from Dominik Sebastian (Edenbridge) and Bob Katsionis (Firewind/Outloud) the order of the day as Alex Holzworth (Rhapsody Of Fire) do what he does best behind the kit by really letting the skins fly.

They do bring in melodic touches here as well though on Now You'll Never Know which has tinkling keys from Jan Vacik but still tough guitar riffs. There seems to be a theme of...well magic...running through this record with numerous mentions of magic (Serious Black Magic, I Can Do Magic) and witches they even have time for some vigilantes on Lone Gunmen Rule which unfortunately is not a tribute to the very underrated X-Files off shoot The Lone Gunmen. Magic certainly gives Serious Black their edge heading back to the German sounding power metal of their debut record, although with Urban Breed's vocals the Teutonic sound was never very far away. Magic is a good record, at 13 tracks there is some filler but for the most part it once again shows there is longevity in this 'supergroup'. 8/10

End Of Green: Void Estate (Napalm Records)

Stuttgart Gothic/Doomsters End Of Green have been spreading miserablism for 25 years and they are still as cataclysmically sorrowful as ever with droning doom metal riffs building around the mournful vocals of Michelle Darkness. The band are a well drilled unit and the songs speak of aging, loss and loneliness but with pearls of optimism buried deep within, Send In The Clowns opens the record like a sprawling dirge of Paradise Lost where Darkness emotively begs begs for the titular clowns, unfortunately no such luck as the mood doesn't lighten on Dark Side Of The Sun where the melancholic slow moving riff meets with Darkness doing his lowest, gravel swallowing vocals that is so reminiscent of the late Pete Steele.

 After two heavy hitters things get a bit lighter on The Door and the atmospheric Head Down and the pulsing The Unseen which both have the electronics and layered acoustics of Depeche Mode. End Of Green do depression well with marching doom riffs one minute and some Dire Straits bluesing on Crossroads throwing in The Mission style  Green is the colour of hope and as their name states there is an air of hopelessness about their music, these unhappy German's are the ideal soundtrack to your next Goth gathering, they even have a song called Dressed In Black Again to reinforce the dress code. Make sure you get the memo, smiles not required. 7/10 

Tower Of Babel: Lake Of Fire (Lion Music)

American guitarist Joe Stump is influenced by Yngwie Malmsteen, Ritchie Blackmore and Gary Moore and as such so is the music he produced with his band Tower Of Babel who are made up of numerous high profile session men. It's neoclassical hard rock that sounds like Rainbow or Dio, big chunky riffs, explosive fretwork and powerful vocals, these come from Csaba Zvekan who has the identical soulful growl to Jorn.

You get exactly what you'd expect from this record, a rocking rhythm section from Mark Cross and Nic Angileri drives the heavy hitting tracks along as Maestro Mistheria fleshes everything out giving big 80's organs to Addicted and the keys mean Stump can let the shredding do his talking for him on the title track which is a veritable fret-fest as is Midnight Sun If you like Jorn, Dio or Rainbow then you'll love Tower Of Babel, they do nothing new but they do it well enough that it will tide you over until the next Jorn record. 7/10