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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Reviews: Helker, Junkyard, Morass Of Molasses

Helker: Firesoul (AFM)

Helker are probably one of Argentina's top metal acts, although kudos if you can name another without Google. Firesoul is their fifth full length album and it's been released on AFM records meaning that it will open the band up to bigger audiences on this side of the world. They are a band that do need to be heard by a wider section of the metal world, mainly due to the similarities in style and sound to the Dio's solo outings. It's ironic that I listened to this record on the anniversary of the great man's death and if you close your eyes and listen hard Diego Valdez could be RJD in another body, his raspy but soul driven vocals are perfectly suited to the fist pumping heavy metal witnessed on the melodic Stay Away, the stomping Where You Belong and the organ friendly The One all of which are so reminiscent of the Holy Diver/Sacred Heart era.

The record was produced by the uber-talented Mat Sinner and the thick production technique means the guitars of Mariano and Leo can bring tough riffs on Break Your Chains while the thunderous rhythm section of Christian and Hernan batter you on the title track. This record gets very heavy towards it's latter part and at 14 tracks that means that the final third of the record holds your attention as grinding Rise Or Fall adds the Black Sabbath tones to the Dio-worship before the transformation is complete with their spot on cover of Neon Knights. At 14 tracks it takes lot of patience but it is rewarded with classic heavy metal riffs and a instantly identifiable vocal style, pick up this album if you're sick of the two bands trading on Dio's legacy, Helker are doing no such thing and they are more authentic than any of the 'tributes'. As an extra buy the special edition that comes with the album recorded in Spanish which makes is equally as good. 8/10

Junkyard: High Water (Acertate Music)

Junkyard fromed in Los Angeles in 1987, the band featured former members of Minor Threat, The Big Boys, Decry and Dag Nasty and their punk fuelled rock n roll was enough to get them signed to Geffen Records at the same time as Guns N Roses drawing comparisons between the two back in the day. High Water is their first length album in 26 years and it opens with the snarling punk of Walk Away a short sharp shock of attitude that's followed by Faded which is Bon Scott AC/DC when they had a bit of danger about them. This musical trend continues throughout the record with a mix of bar room rock n roll, aggressive punk and a sleazy Los Angeles sound that has only really been replicated outside of the USA by The Quireboys, The Wildhearts and Danko Jones. Styrofoam Cup sees the band trying their hand at Country and they do it well especially on Till The Wheels Fall Off which was written by Blackberry Smoke's Charlie Starr.

David Roach's vocals are battle scarred he wails and sneers on tracks such as the swaggering Hellbound. In fact his vocals maybe the deal breaker for some as it is a very punk sounding voice. Underneath him guitarists Tim Mosher and Jimmy James are backed by Pat Muzingo (drums) and Todd Muscat (bass). Like I said this record has quite myriad of influences to it but with a country swagger, a punk rock grunt and a heaving load of rock n roll High Water is a strong return to the breech by these Sunset Strip survivors. 7/10

Morass Of Molasses: These Paths We Tread (HeviSike Records)

Lumbering into view like a Godzilla stomping through tar Morass Of Molasses are the audio equivalent of their namesake it's sludgy, angry and discordant and from the beginning of My Leviathan the band set out their stall with creeping riff, barked vocals and a woozy psychedelia, this is washed away with the thick stoner grooves of So They Work. This UK three piece marry sledgehammer heaviness with slow moving doom on Serpentine which slithers along like a cold blooded reptile and they bring bluesy elements to Centralia. With a melting pot of drug induced sounds Morass Of Molasses have foreboding sound that whispers one minute and shouts the next. Having seen the band live this power is translated to the record, if you love your metal with a hefty dose of ear splitting volume then Morass Of Molasses will be your new sweetness. 7/10     

Friday, 26 May 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Iron Maiden (Review By Paul)

Iron Maiden - Motorpoint Arena Cardiff

There was no getting away from the shadow of Manchester. An arena gig in the capital of Wales, two nights after the atrocities meant that everyone was on heightened sense of alert. However, in the words of the mighty Maiden, these colours don't run and arriving in the Capital four hours before the Irons hit the stage, those colours were everywhere. Iron Maiden shirts flooded the City Centre as Welsh metal heads joined forces with English, Scottish, Polish and Brazilian in a show of love and metal. Arriving at Fuel for the pre-Maiden Trooper session, Womanby Street was rammed with Maiden fans from across the globe, united in their love of one of the most iconic bands ever to have graced the planet.

I've seen Shinedown sufficient times to avoid most of their 45 minute set, arriving only to catch frontman Brent Smith urging the crowd to "jump up" on the count of three. After an impassioned plea to unite against terror, the band closed their set with their anthem, Sound Of Madness which at least raised the ante somewhat.

Matt - *Having seen all of the Shinedown (7) set, the whole thing was laced with their big hitters such as Devour, Cut The Cord, Diamond Eyes and mega ballad Second Chance it was hard to criticise the music, yes they use taped segments and audio enhancements to bolster Brent's vocals but we've said this before about the band so maybe it's time to just accept it as part of their show.

What put me off was the large breaks in the set to talk to the audience, the aforementioned jump up section had been preceded by Smith, splitting the crowd, giving a rambling explanation and talk trying to psych the audience up like a high school football coach. This section could have been cut for another song or two but I find this to be an all too frequent occurrence with American bands. Still the performance was energetic from all four members of the bound but it was dogged by the large gaps and the muddy at time painful sound mix.*

Forty minutes later and the strains of Michael Schenker and Phil Mogg filled the arena. Doctor Doctor has always heralded the arrival of the Irons and it remains not only one of the finest UFO songs of all time but also one that gets hairs standing on the back of my neck. And then there was Bruce, crouching over a steaming cauldron as the opening to If Eternity Should Fail commenced.

What followed was the predictable metal theatre that we've come to expect from Maiden (9). The lengthy tracks from The Book Of Souls balanced with a few old school classics, including Wrathchild, Children Of The Damned and a ball busting Powerslave. The newer material has weight and complexity but fails to captivate the audience in the same way that The Trooper always has. The older stuff just grabs the fans more aggressively. A ponderous Red And The Black was a typical example. Still, the Maiden outfit is a pretty strong beast and the double whammy of Fear Of The Dark and Iron Maiden brought a solid and spectacular show to a close.

To be fair to Maiden, the band were on fire, with Bruce flying across the stage, Steve Harris mouthing all the words as his rampaged from monitor to monitor, whilst Nicko McBrain just batters the shit out of his huge kit. The three pronged guitar attack of messrs Gers, Murray and Smith were muffled due to the notoriously poor sound in this shed of a venue. Backed by their always impressive stage set and enormous lighting show, the Maiden gig is always pure pantomime. Bruce never still, constantly urging the crowd to "scream for me, Cardiff". The arrival of the Mayan Eddie during The Book Of Souls, the usual Union Jack waving during The Trooper and a huge Eddie at the back of the stage as the main set closed All added to the show.

The triple encore saw a storming Number Of The Beast giving the old school something to get stuck into, whilst the impassioned speech from Bruce before Blood Brothers was well received, even if I couldn't hear half of it. Final encore Wasted Years was over in a flash and with a puff of smoke the band were gone. An amazing show as always, even if the set list wasn't as exciting as it could have been. Whether we ever see the band on a Welsh soil again is questionable but this is a band who ensure that Wales is included in their UK tour. A great evening. Up the Irons.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Reviews: Ursinne, Earth Electric, Running Death (Reviews By Paul)

Ursinne: Swim With The Leviathan (Transcending Obscurity)

What happens when you allow two death metal legends to combine on a project? Absolute brutality and one of the best old school death metal releases of the year, that’s what. Dave Ingram (Hail Of Bullets, Bolt Thrower and Benediction) has joined forces with Jonny Pettersson (Wombbath, SYN:DROM, Ashcloud) are Ursinne and Swim With The Leviathan is their debut release. It is, as you’d expect, crushingly heavy, huge swathes of bludgeoning riffs smash down relentlessly, with Ingram’s guttural delivery essential to the sinister sound.

From opener Talons to the absolute raging The Chimes At Midnight, this is vital listening. A monster of an album, with the bonus of some of the best curved ball covers I’ve ever heard. Death metal versions of The Osmonds’ Crazy Horses, QOTSA’s Monsters In The Parasol are brilliant but when you get to The Vapors Turning Japanese I defy you not to lose your shit. Throw in Siouxsie And The Banshees’ Spellbound and you pretty much have the ultimate death metal party album. Blisteringly heavy. Thoroughly brilliant. 9/10

Earth Electric: Vol 1 – Solar (Seasons Of Mist)

The combination of Norwegian guitarist Rune Eriksen and an Italian stable consisting the impressive operatic voice of Carmen Simoes, Alexander Ribeiro on bass and Ricardo Martins ferocious drumming has delivered an intriguingly and enchanting debut release. Full of driving psychedelic hard rock, interspersed with dramatic time changes and the keyboard wizardry of Messenger’s Dan Knight, this is a breath-taking piece of work. At only 35 minutes it must get its message across sharpish which it really does.

There is no pause for breath as the tracks whirl by. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the manic yet perfectly controlled Solar, which envelopes into a cascade of trippy guitar work. It’s not all hippy shit though with some of Eriksen’s guitar work mesmerising. Simoes’ vocals are haunting, eerie and yet compelling at the same time. The stomp of Sabbatical Moons, enhanced by some chunky keys and retro guitar work challenges you to get involved; it’s irresistible. Quite a fantastic release. Well worth your time. 8/10

Running Death: DressAge (Punishment 18 Records)

Running Death are a no-nonsense thrash outfit from Kaufbeuran, Bavaria. DressAge is their second release, following on from their 2015 debut Overdrive. It’s functional thrash, with chunky fat riffs cascading over the usual pummelling drums and hyperactive bass lines. What is apparent from opening track Courageous Minds is that whilst guitarist/vocalist Simon Bihlmayer and Daniel Baar can shred, Bihlmayer really can’t hold a note.

Unfortunately, this distracts from the overall songs because I couldn’t get past the cat wailing that soars over each song. It’s not too bad on the Megadeth style of Delusive Silence, but when there is more focus on the vocal, such as the bizarre DressAge, then it’s oh so evident. It’s clear from the off that Running Death are influenced by Dave Mustaine’s lot alongside Testament and other heavy weights such as Annihilator. They just are not as good and the album cover, oh my god. What were you thinking? 5/10

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Reviews: Hate, Vandroya, Gurt (Reviews By Rich)

Hate: Tremendum (Napalm Records)

Hate are a long running Polish death metal band who formed back in 1990. They are a band I know about but am not too familiar with so with the release of their tenth album Tremendum it was my first proper exposure to the band having only previously heard odd songs here and there. On Tremendum Hate play a mix of death metal and black metal perfectly mixing brutality with atmosphere and with a nice mix of songs that range from blast beat riddled assault of Indestructible Pillar and Fidelis Ad Mortem to slower brooding numbers such as Svarog's Mountain and Numinosum

Frontman and guitarist Adam Buszko puts in a stellar performance with throat ripping vocals and some very tasty lead guitar work whilst drummer Pavulon puts in a tight and furious performance. With Tremendum being the first entire Hate album I have listened to the band have certainly impressed me and I shall be busy catching up on the bands extensive back catalogue. A fantastic album that combines the best elements of death and black metal in well crafted and memorable package. 8/10

Vandroya: Beyond The Human Mind (InnerWound Recordings)

Brazilian power metallers Vandroya return with their second album Beyond The Human Mind. This was the first time I had heard anything by Vandroya and as it turns out it was a very pleasant listening experience. Vandroya play a style of power metal in the vein of classic bands such as Helloween but also add in progressive influences in the style of Symphony X and fellow Brazilians Angra. The songs on Beyond The Human Mind are generally fast paced with plenty of melody and hooks especially evident in songs such as The Path To The Endless Fall and I'm Alive.

There are also a couple of ballads (one of which works, one of which doesn't) whilst the progressive elements come to the fore in the lengthy title track. Their sound is ably assisted by the immensely powerful vocals of frontwoman Daísa Munhoz and the fretboard wizardry of guitarists Marco Lambert and Rodolfo Pagotto. Beyond The Human Mind is a fantastic power metal album which combines all the best elements from the classics of the genre with elements from the more progressive end. If you are a fan of power metal or melodic metal in general this album is highly recommended. 8/10

Gurt: Skullossus (When Planets Collide)

Sometimes as a fan of heavy music you just want to be hit face first by a barrage of riffage. Gurt are the band for the job especially with their third album Skullossus out now on When Planets Collide. Gurt play absolutely filthy riff drenched sludge metal mixing in elements from doom metal, hardcore punk, classic rock and extreme metal. The music throughout the album is dense, malicious and should come with some sort of warning sticker but there's a tongue in cheek/sense of humour approach also running throughout the songs.

The album is also nicely varied with stomping crushing riff barrages such as Battlepants, Double Barrelled Shot-Pun and Meowing At The Fridge to the short sharp hardcore fury of Broken Heart Heroin Man and the funky jam of Existence Is Pain which sounds a lot like Primus. This isn't a groundbreaking album by any means but if you are after something to crank up with some friends and a shedload of beers on a weekend then Skullossus will do the job admirably. An unessential but immeasurably fun album. 8/10

The Big Story: Iron Maiden - Choices Of The Beast (By Paul)

Iron Maiden – The Choices Of The Beast
With the Maiden juggernaut about to hit South Wales for the first time in six years and reports of their live shows thrilling audiences around the UK and Europe, I thought it might be a bit of a fun to add to the anticipation and plough through the Maiden catalogue and pull out my favourite track from each one.

Iron Maiden – Running Free

The raw, punk edged debut which saw Maiden crash on the UK and World metal scene in 1980 contained several tracks that would remain staples for years and includes the anthemic Iron Maiden, the perpetual set closer for the band. However, I’ve plumped for the mighty Running Free. A song that encapsulated the wild spirit of a band blasting into orbit. The gritty riff, the drumming of Clive Burr alongside the galloping trademark bass of Steve Harris, the duel guitar work of Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton and of course, the voice of Paul Di’Anno. Featured on several compilations in the early 1980s, Running Free demonstrated the clear potential of the band.

Killers - Killers

The first Iron Maiden that I bought, or in fact was bought for me by my dear father who returned from the record store in Pontypridd where he worked with a couple of vinyl’s for me every other week. Amongst the precious early releases that Dad brought home were Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades and Love Gun by Kiss, but it was Killers caught the eye immediately with the sinister cover of Eddie having killed in the East End under the burning street lamp. The album, produced by Martin Birch, marked the arrival of Adrian Smith from Urchin and was a much more polished affair but retained the gritty punk attitude of the debut release. There are many great tracks on Killers but for me the title track stands out. The razor-sharp guitar riffs, electric solo work and the sheer pace of the track were just incredible at the time, capturing all the atmosphere and menace that was intended. Di’Anno’s performance is incredible, haunting and malevolent. It remains my all-time favourite Iron Maiden song.

The Number Of The Beast – Gangland

You may be surprised why Gangland is my choice on an album filled with killer Maiden tracks. The departure of Di’Anno had shocked many in the metal world at the time but the choice of Bruce Bruce (as he was known) from Samson was felt to be a good move. Now, I had a few discs by Samson, including the great Head On and Shock Tactics, which was the last to feature Dickinson so I was familiar with him. However, it was something of a shock when during my usual Friday night ritual of listening to the Friday Night Rock Show with the legendary Tommy Vance Gangland arrived out of nowhere. I can still recall the thundering drum intro, similar to Motorhead’s Overkill, the slicing guitars and the driving bass before Bruce opened the air raid siren for the first time in Maiden. It was a jaw dropping moment and I can still remember sitting there at 12 years of age going “fucking hell, that is something else”.

Piece Of Mind – Where Eagles Dare

May 15th 1983. Front row of the balcony, St David’s Hall, Cardiff. The lights dimmed and out of the PA came the main theme to the 1968 movie of Alastair MacLean’s Where Eagles Dare, starring Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Mary Ure and Ingrid Pitt. Minutes later Iron Maiden burst into view and the place went crazy. Having been forced to miss their Cardiff date on The Number Of The Beast tour due to the collapse of Sophia Gardens Hall roof, this was the first chance the hordes of Maiden fans had to see the hottest property in UK metal since their 1980 appearance at the Top Rank Club. Where Eagles Dare not only opens Piece Of Mind but is just a stonking tune, all six minutes 14 seconds of it and it set the bar for an album that I would say is better than Beast.

Powerslave – Powerslave

1984 and album number five, the Egyptian themed Powerslave and no sign of the band slowing down. Indeed, the tempo continued to increase with the double opening of Aces High and Two Minutes To Midnight, both absolute blistering tracks. However, it was the ambitious closing duo of Powerslave and the Coleridge inspired Rime Of The Ancient Mariner that caught the attention, mainly due to the length and complexity of each track. Mariner clocks in at over 16 minutes, and seeing that live on the World Slavery Tour, complete with moving mast lighting rig was something special. However, once again the title track takes my vote, mainly because it is such a rampant blast of heavy metal combined with the progressive elements that have now become traditional components of the Maiden sound. Once again, the duelling Smith and Murray provided the unique guitar style copied by many whilst Bruce was by now in full flow. Meanwhile the drumming of Nicko McBrain, now firmly ensconced in the engine room is massively underrated but incredibly skilful and Steve Harris was winning bassist of the year awards for fun.

Somewhere In Time – Wasted Years

By 1986 Maiden were the band to see and tickets to catch them on the Somewhere In Time tour were like gold. On October 6th 1986 St David’s Hall once again played host to the Irons and this time it was the theme to Blade Runner that opened proceedings. The cyborg Eddie which adorned the cover of Time was one of Derek Riggs’ best creations and the album maintained the high level of previous releases. The album contained one of Maiden’s anthems, the Adrian Smith penned Wasted Years. It has everything; squealing guitars, driving bass, Smith delivering harmonies on the chorus and sing-a-long parts for all. It’s also the only track on the album not to feature synthesizers. It is just an essential Maiden and no wonder it features in the set to this day. If you fancy hearing it acoustically, check out Daniel Cavanagh’s version on his covers album Memory And Meaning.

Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son – The Clairvoyant

Album number seven arrived in 1988 and yet again it was difficult to be disappointed. Moonchild, Infinite Dreams, The Evil That Men Do, the title track and Can I Play With Madness, with its video filmed at the majestic Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley, are all goodies that most bands would be proud of. The arrival of the synths that Steve Harris had begun to experiment with didn’t go down so well with the purists but most of the fan based lapped it up. I’ve chosen one of the less well known tracks on the album, the rampaging The Clairvoyant which did feature in their set at their first appearance in Newport Centre in 1988. It’s another strong track with the synths underpinning the melody which surges through the song. Double guitars remain at the forefront and Dickinson still hits those ridiculously high notes.

No Prayer For The Dying – Tailgunner

For the first time in several years the Maiden waggon began to wobble. Adrian Smith left the band after expressing his discontent with the direction the band were heading, to be replaced by Janick Gers, who I’d enjoyed very much in his time with Gillan as well as Tattooed Millionaire, which Gers co-wrote with Dickinson. There was a sparser collection of notable tracks on the album, but Tailgunner continued the Maiden tradition of a pacey opening track with the usual formula hitting all the right spots. Their live show in Newport remained a fantastic spectacle and the exposure of Bring Your Daughter … To The Slaughter ensured that Maiden remained in the field of vision.

Fear Of The Dark - Afraid To Shoot Strangers

With grunge and Indie taking hold Maiden released their final album with Bruce until his return seven years later. Fear Of The Dark is a curious album, with some superb tracks, such as the anthemic title track which remains almost untouchable on the tour set list and the powerful Be Quick Or Be Dead which opens the album. Fear Is The Key with its almost middle Eastern stomp and Gillan-like performance from Dickinson was a statement about the fear created by AIDs whilst one of my favourites is the penultimate track, the observation of football hooliganism in Weekend Warrior. The style of writing being influenced more by Gers, who co-wrote five of the 12 tracks. I’ve picked Afraid To Shoot Strangers mainly because it is a bit different to many of the other tracks on the album with a calmer, melodic element before it picks up. It’s written by Steve Harris and has the political theme from the first Gulf War. Obviously, most would plump for the title track but its overplayed and I detest it when the crowd sing it live (although I’ll no doubt be humming along this time around despite all that!).

The X Factor – Blood On The World’s Hands

Despite the panning that this release received from much of the metal media and a substantial number of the Maiden fan base, I find it to be one of the most consistent and reliable Maiden albums. Blaze Bayley’s voice is suited to the tracks and whilst it was clear when Bruce re-joined that they could transfer with ease to the returning frontman, the calmer, more paced and yet dark subject matter continues to please on every listen. Blood On The World’s Hands is a six minute track that contains all the traditional hallmarks of a Steve Harris composition. Alongside Sign Of The Cross, Lord Of The Flies, Man On The Edge and Fortunes Of War, Blood On The World’s Hands proved that there was much life left in the band.

Virtual XI – Futureal

Whilst The X Factor contained a lot of good stuff I found Virtual XI a more difficult release to deal with. Fewer memorable songs, less pace and more padding and Bayley’s vocal limitations were becoming apparent. He just isn’t as strong a singer as Bruce. Aside from The Clansman and The Angel And The Gambler, the strongest track on the album was Futureal, a three-minute belter that opens the album in style. It’s still a favourite of mine, hence my choice here.

Brave New World – The Wicker Man

The return of Bruce in 1999 was welcomed across the metal world. Anticipation was high for the first release which also included Adrian Smith’s return and the band’s expansion to a six-piece with a three-pronged guitar attack. Brave New World proved a real return to form with a much-needed increase in tempo, a more bombastic approach and a return to the older classic era. Regardless of what much of the media felt, this was a superb album with Blood Brothers becoming a staple in the live set. The title track is impressively powerful but it’s the Smith/Harris/Dickinson composition The Wicker Man with its killer opening riff which gets my vote. After eight years, the upturn in energy was evident for all to see. A great track.

Dance Of Death – Paschendale

Three years later and album number 13 Dance Of Death delivered just short of 70 minutes of Maiden metal. There was only one track I could select on here, despite my fondness for Rainmaker, and that is the epic eight minute Paschendale. Majestic, mighty and quite astonishingly good, Paschendale is superbly crafted with light and dark, soft and heavy sections and guitar interplay par excellence. Dickinson’s performance is exceptional, his story telling delivery chilling. The pure riff half way through screamed essence of Maiden. Another classic crafted by Harris and Smith, there isn’t a better track in the entire Maiden catalogue.

A Matter Of Life And Death – The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg

Maiden created some controversy with this album by taking it on the road and playing it in full. The hardcore fans loved it but many of the lightweights moaned like bitches when the band limited the number of classics to three. It was a brave move but I think it worked. A strong album with some great songs including These Colours Don’t Run and Different World, The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg is a thumping good tune, a killer opening which then smoulders before igniting into a classic Maiden paced gallop which builds to a crescendo. The irony of the internet furore about the identity of Breeg was brought home when it was revealed that the character was fictional.

The Final Frontier – Isle Of Avalon

I love this album. The ethereal feel of being lost in space oozes through the tracks and songs such as El Dorado, Coming Home and The Man Who Would Be King are memorable. There was much speculation about the title and whether it would be the swansong but the band soon put that to bed. Isle Of Avalon is my favourite song on the album. A nine-minute piece which has some magical hooks, melody and scintillating playing. Dickinson’s performance is brilliant whilst the bass runs of Steve Harris are incredible. The track ebbs and flows, climbing and diving at speed. It’s great. Only four tracks featured in their live show at the Motorpoint on 1st August 2011, the last time the band played in Cardiff or Wales.

The Book Of Souls – The Book Of Souls

The final piece in this jigsaw and what a way to end. The double album which stormed to No.1 in 2015 and swept up the awards for best album in the rock and metal worlds. A highly ambitious release, with several of the tracks real heavy weights on an album that is over 92 minutes duration. When I reviewed this behemoth for the Musipedia in September 2015 I stated that it was ‘a quite breath taking piece of work and one that demands repeated listens to really grasp its full scope and breadth’. I haven’t changed my mind. It is still as epic 18 months later. The title track for me demonstrates that far from being a bloated dinosaur, Maiden can still rock out with the best and their whole approach is to give one big finger to the establishment. My review said ‘Title track The Book of Souls is one of two Gers/Harris penned tracks on the album and it is another beast of a track. Using keyboards to underpin the Maiden sound has been a standard approach since the late 1980s and the Seventh Son album and once again it works most impressively. Weighing in at over 10 minutes and telling the history of the Mayan people, The Book of Souls, like all Maiden epics builds and builds, a solid pace to start with Dickinson’s vocals soaring the heights, before, at over halfway into the track things kick off with McBrain leading the charge with his battering ram of drumming, closely followed by the traditional guitar work and Harris’ bass powering away. It is once again classic Maiden and top quality heavy metal. Interestingly, unlike several of Maiden’s previous lengthy pieces, Dickinson remains involved throughout, adding verses as the track races to its conclusion’.

Come 24th May, the Motorpoint will be filled to the brim with fans, some who will be there for the first time, some like me will have been there since the early days and will be well into double figures and some will no doubt be in the hundreds. It will be an astonishing show and one of the highlights of the metal calendar. When Iron Maiden are in town, it’s always worth the effort. Thanks for reading and enjoy the show.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

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

Riverside: The Marble Factory, Bristol

Few could have imagined the horror that Riverside would go through in 2016. Back in October 2015 we watched as the band, well into their 14th year together, glided effortlessly through a magnificent set at The Marble Factory in support of their recent beautiful Love, Fear And The Time Machine album. We now know, all too painfully, how on 21 February 2016 Piotr Grudzinski would pass suddenly and the band were sent spiralling into the depths of despair and grief. The outpouring of support for the band was so heartfelt that the band decided, in time, to continue as a trio. The release of Eye Of The Soundscape and the emotional live album Lost 'N' Found - Live In Tilburg earlier this year has no doubt helped.

The tour, 19 European dates as well as a few select gigs on home soil has been entitled Towards The Blue Horizon. No support act, just two hours of the band. Just before 8pm the trio entered the stage. Led as always by Mariuz Duda, flanked by drummer Piotr Kozieradski and keyboard player Michal Lapaj, the band stood unflinching whilst Duda explained. 2016 had been a disaster for the band, but they had finally decided to continue as a trio. The evening, and the tour, was intended as a cathartic experience for not only the band but for the fans as well. Two hours of music, descending into darkness at times before hopefully climbing into the light and allowing everyone to leave with a smile. Simple, yet oh so challenging. Duda introduced Maciej Meller, touring guitarist and long time friend of the band, who has actually recorded with Duda in the past.

What followed was nothing short of spectacular. Opening with a stripped down version of Coda, and backed by a clever light show, Riverside (10) delivered a stunning performance. well paced, with tracks carefully chosen to allow maximum expression, the majority of the audience (much larger than their last appearance) stood in genuine awe as the evening progressed. Second Skin Syndrome, Conceiving You and Caterpillar And The Barbed Wire were magnificent, with Meller fitting in perfectly, nothing flashy and totally at one with the rest of the band. I've raved about their exceptional musicianship before in these pages but it bears repeating that Riverside are masters of their art. The jam session at the end of The Depth Of Self Delusion allowed them to unleash their inner rock. One of many highlights from the evening was the semi-acoustic version of the opening track from Time Machine, a hear stopping Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By A Hat?), slightly spoilt by some very noisy punters at the rear of the venue whose conversation was clearly much more interesting that watching the sublime performance of one of the best progressive bands around. Fools.

As the set headed towards its conclusion, Duda's voice showed no signs of cracking. His delivery is impressive, as is his bass playing, wild and yet fully controlled. Lapaj's keyboard work is almost wizardry, such is his movement and depth of playing. Meller's guitar work was exceptional and the whole thing is in the steady hands (and feet) of the Slayer shirted Kozieradski. The extended Escalator Shrine and Before closed the set before the emotional encore arrived. Duda commented on 2016 before the band launched into Towards The Blue Horizon, which had me on the verge of tears. the lyrical content of a song written before Grudzinski's death is so poignant, and so sadly apt. Watching the band you could see them calling on inner strength to get through and the audience willing them to do so. They did, and with a huge thank you concluded the evening with a different version of Coda. The audience provided an enormous ovation thoroughly deserved. It's going to be a tough ride for this band but they have the strength and support to get through it. A quite breath taking performance from one of the most important bands in rock today.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Reviews: Dragonforce, Danzig, Mark Slaughter

Dragonforce: Reaching Into Infinity (earMusic)

In the review for their previous album I said that Dragonforce MkII were going from strength to strength with Marc Hudson on vocals, the songs were faster, the solos madder and the vocals more intense than ever. Since then the band have released a career retrospective and clearly they have reverted back to type as their latest album seventh in total opens with the Ashes Of The Dawn which has the familiar blitzkrieg guitar riffs, thunderous million miles per hour drumming from Gee Anzalone, the twitchy electronics and speedy keyboard runs of Vadim, it's old school Dragonforce but distilled into their more recent trend of shorter songs.

I will admit having been following the band since the Dragonheart days this first song brought an instant smile to my face, it's an incredibly simple trick but 'play guitar fast' is one Dragonforce have always done better than anyone else. They also shake things up as the album progresses, they add the video game 8-bit chip-set to Judgement Day and Curse Of Darkness is an organ-driven horror themed track that stretches the band creatively and gives Marc a chance to show off those pipes. In what is a recurring theme Silence is a big power ballad slowing the album in the middle before they explode into the euphoric Midnight Madness and they once again switch styles to stomping thrash on War! which could be mistaken for Municipal Waste et al if it wasn't for the high vocals in the chorus. The records finest moment is The Edge Of The World a Maiden-like epic that sits as the albums longest track and even brings in harsh black metal vocals.

As usual the solos, lead breaks and riffs of Herman Li and Sam Totman are set to warp speed but it's the duels that have always been the material for air guitarists to emulate and there are tonnes of them here with every song having the classic Dragonforce solo section. Even Fredric Leclercq gets in on the act with a bass solo on Astral Empire. Reaching To Infinity is a Dragonforce album and it sounds like how you'd expect it to sound, for fans it's a sparkling return to former glories with one foot firmly in the present. Feel the force and get widdling ladies and gents! 9/10

Danzig: Black Laden Crown (AFM Records)

He's back, 7 years since his last solo record Deth Red Sabbaoth the man they call Danzig (or Glenn to his mum) returns with his first album since hell froze over and the original Misfits line up reformed at Riot Fest last year, on the back of this Danzig has confirmed his own festival called Blackest Of The Black that also features Ministry, Suicidal Tendencies, DevilDriver and CoC. So with his stock so high it's about the right time to release a new album and as a heavy metal fan that's a good thing as Danzig's solo output has always been nearer the heavy doom and classic metal circles than the punkier Misfits music.

The first thing I'll get out of the way is that the cover art is awful looking like something from a D.I.Y Mercyful Fate style band the large breasted woman has been done over and over again. Danzig has had H.R. Giger create cover art for him in the past so this is a let down but hey never judge a book so onto the decks of death it went. Both the title track and Eyes Ripping Fire are slow moving doom rockers with Danzig bellowing over the top but his vocal does seem a little weaker than it used to be, this might be because of the production which is poor at best. I was expecting so much from this record but it's not what I expected at all the music is ok moving between Sabbath doom and Doors psych (Last Ride) but this is record for die hards only. Sorry Glenn I've got something to say, I think you've lost it today. 6/10

Mark Slaughter: Halfway There (EMP Label)

Mark Slaughter is probably best known as the singer of American glam rock band Slaughter their biggest hit was probably the 1990 single Up All Night. Halfway There is his second solo album and it takes from his old school rock sensibility with modern techniques. Hey You opens the record with the glam rock stylings he is known for it's an upbeat number that opens the album, he adds more 90's sounds on Devoted and Conspiracy which lends a nod to Alice In Chains due to Slaughter's reverbed vocals on both tracks, the heaviest song on the record is the lumbering Reckless and Disposable has a hint of Beatles-psych to it.

As he's an offshoot of the glam rock scene in the US you'd expect there to be a ballads and the title track is a rock ballad up in the best, whereas Forevermore is slower and built for waving lighters. A good hard rocking album from this veteran of the radio rock era, Halfway There might be the album title but he's been there and done that which shows on this album. 7/10     

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Reviews: Astral Doors, Ghost Bath, Bare Infinity (Reviews By Rich)

Astral Doors: Black Eyed Children (Metalville Records)

Swedish heavy/power metallers Astral Doors return with new album Black Eyed Children which is their eighth album and out on Metalville Records. Astral Doors have previously merged together traditional melodic heavy metal with power metal but with Black Eyed Children the power metal elements are scaled right back and almost completely absent with this being a very straight up melodic heavy metal record. This is an effective approach with songs such as God Is The Devil, Die On Stage and Slaves To Ourselves being impressive melodic metal anthems but the albums failing is that it is too straightforward in its approach and the songwriting generally is quite mediocre for a band of Astral Doors standing.

 One strength throughout the album are the vocals by powerhouse frontman Nils Patrik Johansson (also of Wuthering Heights and formerly a member of Civil War) whose soaring, melodic yet gravelly vocals never fail to impress during the duration of the record. Overall this is a disappointing release from Astral Doors where an attempt to write a more straightforward heavy metal album results in a rather dull and mediocre affair. A few highlights here and there but generally quite forgettable. 6/10

Ghost Bath: Starmourner (Nuclear Blast)

Starmourner is the third album by depressive black metallers Ghost Bath and their first release for Nuclear Blast Records. Ghost Bath are a very divisive band within the metal community from their early claims that they were based in China when it turned out the band are from North Dakota to the extremely polarising vocals from frontman Dennis Mikula. To their credit though they must be doing something right to get signed to a large label like Nuclear Blast. Personally I don't mind Ghost Bath and Starmourner isn't a bad album. It is unfortunately a very bloated one. The band continue where they left off on previous album Moonlover with a sound mixing atmospheric black metal with shoegaze elements albeit performed in major key resulting in a sound sitting somewhere between happiness and melancholy.

The band definitely need to learn to edit their songs as a good few on the album either overstay their welcome or just get nowhere and achieve nothing. There are songs though which do work well such as Ethereal, Celestial and Luminescence. The wailing screaming vocals by Dennis Mikula are easily the most disliked part of Ghost Bath's sound but on Starmourner they are placed quite low in the mix and as such don't drown out the rest of the band (unlike 'that' set at Bloodstock) managing at times to compliment the music. All in all Starmourner is a flawed album with an excessive running time and songs which drag on too long. When at its heights the album does stand out and impress but there are not enough of those moments throughout. 6/10

Bare Infinity: The Butterfly Raiser (Blackdown Music)

The Butterfly Raiser is the second full length album by Greek symphonic metallers Bare Infinity. This is also the first release with a new line up including vocalist Ida Elena who has replaced Angel Wolf-Black (who has gone on to front Wales' very own Triaxis). The music on The Butterfly Raiser is as standard for female fronted symphonic metal. Guitar riffs are standard chugging with the songs being carried mainly by the strong melodies from the keyboards including some folk and middle eastern style melodies and the impressive vocals of Ida Elena who goes for a more pop rock style similar to Charlotte Wessels from Delain rather than a classically trained or operatic approach.

It's all fantastically produced and sounds very pleasant to the ears but it's basically treading ground covered by many bands before albeit very well but it really offers nothing new. The material on the album isn't strong enough throughout to justify the hour plus running time though songs such as Race Of Destiny, Hear Me Out and the title track stand out more than others. If you are a fan of female fronted symphonic metal bands then there is something for you to enjoy with this album but this style has been done better and with more originality by many other bands within the genre. 6/10

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Reviews: Solstafir, Backwood Spirit, Distillator (Reviews By Paul)

Solstafir: Berdreyminn (Seasons Of Mist)

It's been three years since Icelandic metallers Solstafir released the stunning Otta, an album that really put them on the radar in the U.K. Live performances at Damnation in 2014 and a U.K tour the following year along with further festival appearances enhanced their reputation as a superb live band. 2015's rather acrimonious departure of drummer Guomundur Oli Palmason didn't do them any favours but the band has since recruited Hallgrimur Jon Hallgrimsson who is superb and at last the follow up album is here. 

If you've never heard Solstafir it's quite difficult to adequately define their sound. Sung in their native language provides a totally different dimension to the tracks, which regularly vary between the crushingly heavy and the beautifully delicate and fragile. Berdreyminn contains all of these elements, and has taken a step forward from Otta. Opening track Silfur-Refur builds slowly, twangy steel guitars and haunting tones in the background before the band crash into full flow. Aoalbjorn Tryggvason's straining emotional vocals combine with some ferocious riffs whilst Hallgrimsson's drums demonstrate how well he has settled. It's a powerful opening which is underpinned by some shimmering guitar work. The industrial feel of Isafold follows, a more serene almost indie rock sound in comparison. It's an immediate change of pace which works well. The ominous intro of Hula conjures images of swirling mist across windswept lakes, whilst the calming feel of the track is beautiful. A mild tempo, with piano adding depth and melody. It's a cracking song, echoing vocals and a simple, almost ghostly style at times. 

Solstafir rarely do short songs, allowing each track time to breath and grow. Naros is a classic example, with Tryggvason's opening vocals accompanied by a lone drum beat and atmospheric electric guitar. It's finely layered and very dramatic. After three minutes the song takes off, driving guitar work and the pounding bass lines of Svavar Austmann pushing the track forward whilst retaining the intensity. Naros is almost rock pop in it's feel but there is so much more to it. The alternative break downs, the relentless bass lines and solid drumming provide so much interest. A doom laden piano intro for Hvit Saeng fits perfectly with the string arrangement before the band let rip once more with a powerful and uplifting second half. Repetition is used to great effect with a fuzzy guitar sound complementing the intricate solo work. Saepor Marius Saeporsson and Tryggvason's guitar playing is fantastic with duel vocals adding fire once again.

Dyrafjorour lifts the album still higher with sparkling violins and piano complimenting the baleful progress of a darkened track. Yet pockets of light shine through it and it becomes quite uplifting in places, with the arrangement just stunning. Once more, it's almost impossible to find the right words and penultimate track Ambatt continues the theme, brooding piano and muzzled guitar mixing with Tryggvason's melancholic vocals. It's simply stunning. Album closer Blafjall's contemplative organ and angst filled vocals combine with a simple bass drum, all adding to the mix before the guitars slowly increase in tempo and intensity as the song builds. Blafjall is a slow burner, with more understated but essential keyboard work really providing depth to the sound. It's an epic way to close what is one of the best releases of the year. Captivating. Spellbinding and thoroughly enchanting. 10/10

Backwood Spirit: Self Titled (Pride & Joy Music)

Take a trip back to the 1970s with Backwood Spirit, a five piece from Orebro, Sweden whose self-titled debut is firmly rooted in the classic rock style of Free and Bad Company. Opener Give Me Good Lovin’ is about as close to that sound as you will get. This is in no small part due to the astonishingly Paul Rogers sounding vocals of Goran Edman, who spent time with Yngwie Malmsteen and Europe’s John Norum. His soulful vocals are full of blues rock and complement the band’s sweet sound. Founder member Kent Engström delivers some delightful guitar work whilst the rest of the band pitch in to bring a retrospective flavour.

The keyboards of Tobias Aslund (now replaced by Peter Emilson) tinkle in the background, whilst a robust organ fleshes out the sound magnificently. See Piece Of The Peach for example. There are lashings of other influences in amongst the tracks, Zeppelin and most evidently The Black Crowes whose riffs are stolen with gay abandon on the opening to both When Love Comes Around and Soul To Soul whilst the effects at the start of Water Of Change/Rainbow bring Rush’s Xanadu instantly to mind. If you relax and open your mind, Backwood Spirit is a perfectly solid album which transports the listener back to a simpler time, of rainbows, vinyl and inappropriate lyrics. It’s worth the journey. 7/10

Distillator: Summoning The Malicious (Empire Records)

Almost a year to the day, Dutch outfit Distillator earnt 6/10 for their opening slot for Metal Church at The Underworld in London. At the time I reported that they were honest in their endeavours but a little bullet belt heavy and dated. Well, album no.2, the ludicrously named Summoning The Malicious has now arrived and it's exactly as you'd expect. Old school thrash metal is a beautiful thing when it gets going properly. Unfortunately the problem with this album is that it doesn't get onto the starting blocks that often. 

Opening track Blinded By Chauvinism is one of the most confusing titles I've ever heard but it kicks hard. And to be fair most of the album does exactly that. The problem is that it's all a bit routine and predictable. The better tracks include Enter The Void, closing track Megalomania and the fantastic Algorithmic Citizenship. If you like your thrash in the meat and two veg variety then you may well like a bit of Distillator. Not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, apart from the cover which is just awful. 6/10

Friday, 19 May 2017

Reviews: Seether, Sabbath Assembly, Apocalypse Orchestra

Seether: Poison The Parish (Canine Riot)

I like Seether I really do, but the last few albums have been a bit too lightweight moving away from their Nirvana-like grunge stylings they favoured in their early work. But with Poison The Parish they have said goodbye to the radio for a darker heavier approach, Mr Seether himself Shaun Morgan has said that this record will have "heavy guitars" and "loud drums" and he's right tracks such as Something Else has a grinding riff with the light and shade of Fragile but also features a reverb drenched solo with Morgan playing some of the best guitar of his career.

I'll Survive starts slow and gives way to the chunky riffs of its latter part and the creeping Let You Down makes things darker. However it's also got lighter moments with the anthemic Against The Wall and the angst ridden Let Me Heal both moving more towards the radio-friendly rhythms until the riffs lumber back in on angry Saviours. Shaun Morgan clearly hasn't chilled out at all with most of the songs rallying at something or another but for old school Seether fans this record takes them back to their heavy roots with Dale Stewart and John Humphrey the thick as steel engine room (see Nothing Left) they have added lead breaks to most of the songs to give them a more classic metal sound. After lingering in the doldrums of the alt rock seen for a while Seether are back, bigger, badder and more pissed off than ever. 8/10  

Sabbath Assembly: Rites Of Passage (Svart Records)

So what do you think they sound like? This review could write itself really as Rites of Passage is the fifth album from psychedelic/doom band Sabbath Assembly and it once again has lighter end of Iommi and co stamped all over it with Kevin Hufnagel and Ron Varod riffing, David Christian (drums) and Johnny DeBlase (bass) contributing the low end to the slabs of heavy doom. The swirling psych touches really give a woozy feel to the album highlighted by Jamie Myers' bewitching vocals on the trippier tracks such as Angels Trumpets and I Must Be Gone. Its occult mystery from the get go on Rites Of Passage the band straddle the line between crushing doom and Hawkwind-loving space rock with lyrics from the book of Crowley. It's nothing new from the band but for those that ascribe to the alternate spiritualism Sabbath Assembly will soundtrack your next coven well. 7/10

Apocalypse Orchestra: The End Is Nigh (Despotz Records)

Never has a band had a more suitable name than Apocalypse Orchestra, their fusion of devastating doom metal and medieval folk, the 8 minute plus The Garden Of Earthly Delights opens the record with low bagpipes serving as a base layer and creating a discord for the rest of the song to build on, it's disconcerting stuff alright and it allows the band to build layers of bass, drums, guitars and other authentic medieval instruments such as cittern's, lutes, hurdy gurdy etc. The drama of the opening builds until the heavy doom riffs are unleashed halfway through, it's a mostly instrumental track but the low vocals do appear howling out the cries of anguish, Flagellant's Song is another creeping doom riff but with Latin chants, plenty of hurdy gurdy and a chamber feel, it's like Ghost if they were more morbid. Lyrically we're in HELL territory with Plague doctors, fire and brimstone but these Swedes forgo the NWOBHM for a doomier vibe but it's suits giving this record the feel of a soundtrack to Armageddon (no Aerosmith or Bruce Willis here). The End Is Nigh I hope is a starting point for this band (it is their debut after all) their folk metal sound is authentic and merges well with the lumbering doom making for an interesting listening experience. 7/10

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Reviews: Nad Sylvan, Nighon, End Of The Dream

Nad Sylvan: The Bride Said No (InsideOut)

Nad Sylvan's name may not be well known to those outside of the prog circles but his voice will be recognisable as the Gabriel in Steve Hackett's Genesis Revisited shows and on in it's live line up. The Swede is and interesting character affectionately known as a Vampirate his flowing locks and shirt put him in the 18th Century from looks alone and this is where his latest album is also set. Following on from the Vampire concept record Courting The Widow released in 2015 The Bride Said No is a continuation of the story line, albeit with a much broader musical scope, it's dramatic even cinematic at times having the feel of a Broadway musical (think Meatloaf) with Sylvan handling the keys, orchestration, programming and most of the guitars with Anders Wollbeck aiding with additional sound design, keys, programming and orchestration which gives this record it's unique sound.

There's Gothic tendencies, some pop flourishes and of course prog rock but it's all very understated with the songs able to speak for themselves. Obviously with Rolodex (old school folks) like Sylvan's he's calls upon some friends to help him out and they are high profile of course, What Have You Done features guest guitar solos from Steve Hackett and Guthrie Govan, most of the drums are performed by Nick D'Virgillo and bass from Jonas Reingold, however on three of the tracks most notably When The Music Dies, which is a tribute to all the stars we have lost recently, the bass is taken by Tony Levin who plays some dirty distorted Chapman Stick on this song in particular.

Other guests are Ronie Stolt (Flower Kings) on guitar and Jade Ell, Tania Doko and Sheona Urquhart on backing vocals with Jade duetting with Sylvan on What Have You Done and Urquhart providing sax on A French Kiss In An Italian CafeThe Bride Said No is a fascinating record with rich musicality to it that is bolstered by the performances, Sylvan has a unique voice with a wide range that tells the story well with all of the performances on top form. It may be a bit overwhelming for those that prefer their music a bit simpler but for fans of complex, theatrical music this is excellent. 8/10

Nighon: The Somme (Inverse Records)

War huh? What is it good for? So asked Edwin Starr in 1970, well one answer would be nothing as Starr himself said but one thing war is good for is lyrical inspiration on metal albums, so many bands have covered war or wars as themes with Sabaton being the first name that comes to mind for most. War is also the theme of the second album of Finnish industrial metal band Nighon, not just any war though 'The Great War' the so called "war to end all wars" (complete bollocks of course) and in particular the battle of The Somme which one of the most famous and most bloody battles in all of human conflict.

The darkness and harrowing nature of this conflict is perfect for an industrial metal band as they can really mimic the relentless march of war machines on tracks such as the Blow Them All To Hell which has a grinding black metal riff backing the harsh vocals of Nico Häggblom, while Alva Sandström sails above the heaviness like an angel watching over the damned souls, see a tracks such as The Dirge and Lest We Forget which has her repeat the line "all hail the glorious dead" like a chant of regret.

The groovy down tuned riffs of this record flawless mix with the cinematic elements of the record the instrumental elements are really strong with a fist pumping heaviness that allows the duality of the vocals shine through. It's an impressive piece of work with excellent use of light and shade to really draw you into the album's darkness on ScharnhorstReclaiming Ravenpoint and I Fear For Tomorrow but adding the female vocals and orchestration for great effect. 8/10

 End Of The Dream: Until You Break (Painted Bass)

Any band from The Netherlands that has a female singer will instantly draw comparisons to fellow Dutch acts Within Temptation, After Forever and Delain but it's whether or not the comparisons are complimentary or not is the real kicker. So with that in mind I put on the second album from End Of The Dream and I must say that this is happily in the former, it is quality female fronted metal that is nearer to Delain, Within Temptation and even The Gathering in terms of sound there are lots of synths that bring delicate orchestrations which adds to the records Gothic feel. It's the Gothicness of Erase Me that also puts them in a similar vein to Evanescence due to Micky Huijsmans vocal prowess and the emotive power of the song. On the other hand Wakeless and The Heart In Me both have the symphonic sounds of Sharon Den Adel and co.

The performances are slick and the production clear as you'd expect from Joost van den Broek (After Forever, Everything) with songwriting that knows its audience but doesn't do anything new, you can compare them favourably to their compatriots but much like Within Temptation and Delain have done they will need to tweak and advance their sound to survive in a very cramped genre. Still the talent shines through and End Of The Dream deliver a high quality second record that reaches it's peak on the incredible I Am Nothing in the middle of the record. 7/10

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Reviews: Below, Sideburn, My Regime The Ruins Of Beverast (Reviews By Paul)

Below: Upon A Pale Horse (Metal Blade Records)

Doom metal from Sweden? Hey, that's a new concept! Meet Below, a five piece from Nykoping whose second album Upon A Pale Horse was nearly mistaken for a new Candlemass release, such is the doom laden morbidity that crashed down from the first chords of Disappearing Into Nothing. Wave after wave of crushing riffs, pounding rhythms and the demonic screams of vocalist Zeb. If you enjoy the doom melancholic approach then this release will light your black candle. It's a solid, powerful opus which belies the relatively recent time the band have been together. Five years and two albums isn't that bad.

The Coven plods a little but the title track is a stunning ten minute epic complete with narrative intro and soaring vocals in the tradition of Johan Langqvist and Mats Leven. A little more pace with Suffer In Silence, a solid chugging track which allows Zeb to hit his best King Diamond operatic heights. It's good stuff. There is no let up with Hours Of Darkness and the magnificent 1000 Broken Bones dynamic and impressive and uncannily reminiscent of the late great Ronnie James Dio, the 7th anniversary of his untimely passing weirdly coinciding on the same day as the review. Powerful and creative. Closing track We Are All Slaves is another gargantuan piece, full of emotion and huge sound and a fantastic ending to a superb release. Upon A Pale Horse is essential listening. 9/10

Sideburn: #Eight (Fastball Music)

The world of rock and metal continues to present bands who have been plying their trade for decades with little appreciation from the wider world. Or that’s how it feels at times. When you come across a band like Sideburn, who have been chugging away for 20 years and are on album number eight, you begin to wonder who else you are missing out on. Anyway, Sideburn are one of those few bands who come from Switzerland (so not the Swedish outfit of the same name - Ed). #Eight is a dusty, rocky, blues soaked fuzzy guitar driven affair which follows the standard pattern of such legends as AC/DC, Rose Tattoo and Airbourne. In fact, I was convinced they were Aussies such is the swagger which is usually associated with those loveable antipodeans. (Or Countrymen Krokus - Ed)

Sunshine, beer and the faithful 4/4 beat, guitar riffs that ooze with sleazy pub rock, it’s all here. Roland Pierrehumbert not only has one of the best names in rock but a cigarette drawling voice which sits superbly with this type of music. The aptly named Mikael Riffart lays down the simple but efficient guitar work with axe partner Lawrence Lina whist the rhythm section of Nick Thornton and drummer Lionel Blanc are as reliable as the Williams/Rudd affiliation of old. Yes, this is good time rock ‘n’ roll, no frills but lots of thrills. The band kick it out for 45 minutes and include a routine cover of Motorhead’s No Class to bring a raucous release to a stomping finish. If you fancy something for a summer drive then grab the Sideburn. It’s good fun. 8/10

My Regime: Derranged Patterns (Scarlet Records)

Swedish metal output is currently in overdrive with the entire range of genres crossing the decks. Welcome to My Regime, a four piece thrash outfit who nail their colours to the mast from the opening salvo of the intro track for this, their second album in a year. It's a merger of Slayer, Anthrax and Testament rolled into a reasonable thrash bundle. It's certainly nothing new but if you feel that the crunching drive of Araya and co do it for you then you should enjoy it. Apart from the fact that vocalist Spice sounds exactly like the Slayer front man, there is also some heavy doomier elements ala Sabbath.

Check out the mid-section of Off To War which segues neatly from the obvious Slayer riffs which are everywhere on this release. As I said it's not at all new but there are certain tracks which move a little outside the blueprint. The Cage contains the clearest Slayer riff since World Painted Blood but also tries to add some subtle atmosphere and changes which I think works well. The band are tight, with some fine guitar from Marvin Kairenus whilst the engine of Alexander Sekulovski and Bob Ruben provide a concrete platform to thrash it up at full speed. Album closer Time Slipping Out Of Tune shifts to Testament's trademark rampant bass lines whilst retaining the all out Slayer thrashfest of old. Possibly the best Slayer album since, well, probably Repentless. 7/10

The Ruins Of Beverast: Exuiva (Van Records)

Multi-instrumentalist Alexander Von Meilenwald’s project The Ruins Of Beverast return with album number five, the haunting and quite astonishing Exuiva. There are some bands where labels just don’t work and The Ruins Of Beverast is one such unit. Although Von Meilenwald is the sole performer, you would never believe this listening to this work. It is epic in its magnitude and ambition, a shimmering peaceful yet chaotic release which demands repeated plays to absorb. With black metal, doom and death metal juxtaposing comfortably throughout, the only difficulty is trying to determine the massive layered effects which occur in every track.

The title track kicks off with a 15-minute descent into madness before the most unbelievable Sutur Barbaar Maritime, a quite exceptionally evocative piece. The melancholic atmosphere combined with severe heaviness is almost overpowering on occasion, such as during Maere (On A Stillbirth’s Tomb) which meanders and then detonates with equal levels of sinister resolve. The choral echoes in the background merely embellish an already devilishly ominous sound. There are so many influences which ease in and out of this release.

You hear bands such as Finland’s Vainaja, the UK’s Fen and Winterfylleth and Norwegian Black Metal legends Darkthrone weave around you as the music does its work. The Pythia’s Pale Wolves, another magnificent 14 minute plus track even contains the eeriest bagpipes in the background. I cannot conceive of how this sound is created but it is just majestic in every respect. Cross the bridge between Agard and Midgard and enter The Ruins Of Beverast. A journey you cannot regret. 9/10

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Reviews: Snakecharmer, Inglorious, The Picturebooks, Roguenoire (Reviews By Paul)

Snakecharmer: Second Skin (Frontiers Records)

Back in 2013 the debut album from the Blues soaked rock outfit Snakecharmer earned high praise here at the Musipedia with a 9/10. For those of us who loved old school Whitesnake, Snakecharmer were a delight. With Neil Murray and Micky Moody from Coverdale’s original line-up combining with Laurie Wisefield, Harry James, Adam Wakeman and the magnificent voice of Chris Ousey, the band filled a void and brought a modern touch to the sound that Whitesnake gave us in those halcyon days of the 1980s.

Well, Moody has moved on, replaced by Simon McBride (Solo Artist/Sweet Savage) and the band has released sophomore album Second Skin. On first listen I wasn’t over enthused, a couple of decent tracks, some superb blues guitar work underpinned by Wakeman’s reliable smooth keyboards and Ousey’s voice soaring in and out but several routine mid-paced tunes. And then I realised that this is never going to be full of innovative new music. Snakecharmer do what they do and they do it well. The two live shows I’ve seen from them have contained around 50% Whitesnake songs, so whilst they are now only 1/6 Whitesnake, they remain firmly rooted in the Snake history.

Second Skin isn’t going to change the world in any way, but it is a pleasant solid and well produced album that is enjoyable to listen to without being particularly memorable. Opening track Sounds Like A Plan kicks off proceedings with gusto, and the album then cruises without ever really hitting top gear, listen to tracks such as Punching Above My Weight, Follow Me Under and Forgive & Forget for examples. Ousey’s voice remains a delicious hybrid of Coverdale and Paul Rogers and he is given several opportunities to really let the lungs open up, especially on the slower pace of tracks like I’ll Take You As You Are.

Wisefield’s playing has always been a joy, melodic and measured and he doesn’t disappoint whilst McBride adds a new dimension to the formula. Harry James, who obviously doesn’t have enough to do in Thunder and Magnum must do this type of stuff in his sleep and demonstrates what a great drummer he is throughout. At 50 minutes long, it’s probably a little too long but given the four year interval the band are perfectly entitled to restate their musical chops. By all accounts their recent show at The Globe was beset by sound issues so maybe it’s as well I was unable to make it. A reasonable follow up by a collective who may have been expected to deliver slightly stronger. 7/10

Inglorious: II (Frontiers Records)

Inglorious are a band whose trajectory is certainly in the ascendancy. They have wowed all who have seen them since they broke on the UK rock scene around three years ago. Huge amounts of exposure from Planet Rock, impressive performances across the Country in the live arena and at festivals has cemented their status as a band to see. Last year’s debut release was well received and hot on the heels comes II. It's fair to say that Nathan James and band mates nail their colours firmly to the old-school rock sound mast of bands like Zeppelin, Purple, Bad Company and of course Whitesnake. If you haven’t heard this man sing, you could be forgiven for thinking it was David Coverdale (expect of course he won’t hit such notes these days). His voice is really something. Blues soaked rock n’ roll from start to finish, what Inglorious have in comparison to Snakecharmer is desire, stomp and a vibrancy that was absent for much of Second Skin.

I Don’t Need Your Loving, Taking The Blame and Tell Me Why are all strong songs which form the opening salvo. There is little original about II, it follows the hard rock blueprint which the legends laid down all those years ago. Produced by the legendary Kevin Shirley, it is exceptionally polished, has a huge sound and harks back to the days when bands created music organically in the same room, rather than the piecemeal approach of Pro Tools. With Wil Taylor having left the band after recording, original rhythm guitarist Drew Lowe has returned to the fold to work once more with lead guitarist Andreas Eriksson, bassist Colin Parkinson and drummer Phil Beaver. I don’t for one minute think that inglorious are the future of rock as a certain Planet Rock presenter has proclaimed but they have done is carved a niche for themselves in a market which has an insatiable appetite for the retro sound. II is a solid release and I look forward to seeing them in July as they perform on the top of the mountain at Steelhouse. 8/10

The Picturebooks: Home Is A Heartache (Another Century Records)
The latest in the alternative rock and blues duo, this time The Picturebooks from Gutersloh in Germany. Home Is A Heartache is 14 tracks which take Rival Sons, The White Stripes, The Graveltones, Royal Blood and The Record Company and mix it into a blast of angst driven blues and rock which is at times catchy and interesting and at other times a little dull. My problem with this … it’s just the same song 14 times over. Sure, there are subtle differences but this is drums and guitar echoing around the same format. Play track 2, Wardance and then play track 13 Heathen Love with its Zeppelin riff and it is the same thing all over again. I’m sure the good people at Planet Rock will think this is revolutionary. It’s just boring. 5/10

Rouge Noire: M.I.L.F. (Self Released)

Okay, I’m going to put this right out there. This is one of the most routine albums I’ve heard for years. It’s not rubbish, it’s just mundane. RougeNoire are a female outfit from Milan who have been kicking around for over 10 years and whose press is either poorly translated or hyped beyond belief. Hard rock it may be, but there is little here to suggest this is genuinely original or inventive. They can play and the songs are totally inoffensive. Half way through and I was yawning and searching for the next release to review. A Night Of Perdition may shade it as the best song on here but that’s not really saying much. Calling yourself Black Mamba, Hellcat and Foxy Lady doesn’t do you any favours either. Probably one to side-step if truth be told. 4/10

Monday, 15 May 2017

Reviews: The Night Flight Orchestra, Other View, Imperivm

The Night Flight Orchestra: Amber Galactic (Nuclear Blast)

Björn "Speed" Strid and David Andersson will probably be best known respectively as singer and guitarist of melodic death metal/metalcore Soilwork but in parallel they have experienced a fluffier career as the 80's loving AOR driven rocking of The Night Flight Orchestra. The album covers are spacey, neon drenched pieces that contain hard rocking numbers that you would hear on any mid 80's American rock album.  This record opens with the keyboard friendly Midnight Flyer which is the sort of song Blackmore recorded with Graham Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner with David Andersson and Richard Larsson taking the roles of Blackmore and Airey duelling in the solo sections.

I must say Speed's vocals are so suited to this music, he has always been a good vocalist in Soilwork but here he really shines, very Bonnet-like delivery on the soulful Gemini and the bluesy Sad State Of Affairs. The band also features Sharlee D'Angelo (Arch Enemy) on bass, Jonas Källsbäck on drums and Sebastian Forslund who plays congas, percussion and guitar so it's a bit of a Swedish supergroup that have come together to recapture the classic late 70's to mid 80's melodic-driven rock and they have done it very well.

This is their third album and once again it's at a very high level from the funkier stylings of Domino to the saccharine Josephine which continues the traditions of naming big ballads after women while Space Whisperer draws from their namesake ELO and Something Mysterious blatantly copies from Survivor. Amber Galactic would have been a million seller in 1985, with the music scene the way it is now that won't happen but you can indulge at hope in some of the best melodic rock of 2017 get on board with The Night Flight Orchestra it's a wild ride indeed. 9/10

Other View: When Daylight Is Gone (Self Released)

We're a bit like the Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701) here at MoM, we like to go boldly and seek out new bands from around the world, now there are hundreds of bands releasing albums every month from all over the globe and some are terrible but some are thankfully great. As many of you may have noticed I'm the progger in the group, if it's complicated and a little OTT I'm probably going to listen to it. Italian progressive metal band Other View are one such band, after a little digging I found that this the band's second full length record, their first was more straightforward power metal affair but this one takes their sound to exciting places.

the song that starts the record has synths to die for, they are really the lead instrument here relegating the guitars to the background. When The Daylight Is Gone is a very modern progressive album that sounds takes it's cues from Haken, Coheed & Cambria and Circus Maximus there's a lot of edm style electronics from Matteo Cidda on Dead, thick riffage from Van and Francesco Tuscano on Carnivore which is an ode to the lycanthrope and Lon Hawk's vocals are emotive and soar high with clarity and passion especially on Lightyears which is a superb 80's style rocker. In the outer reaches of the Milan music scene Other View are a band that you may not know but I urge you if you like concise but progressive metal with melodic touches this 8 song record will really get your blood flowing, live long and prosper Other View this is very good work. 8/10

Imperivm: Rome Burns (Virus Records)

As you can probably see Imperivm are a band that deal in Roman history, their name is in the Latin style (v's no u's). It's useful then that they come from Italy so this is their history and they can treat it with respect. Personally I love an album that deals with history and I'm especially drawn to the lyrics on this record as it deals with Ancient Rome, now I've got a degree in Classics so I always find it interesting to see how bands interpret the stories of the era into song, where as Ex Deo do this with blood gore and death metal, Imperivm take the Sabaton route of doing it with histrionic power metal.

This means guitar/keyboard duals galore, rampaging drums and galloping basslines throughout, the songs all deal with historical events, the opening salvo of Last Breath sounds like Helloween (the overarching sound of the band in general) and deals with the end of the Republic with the Ides Of March. The almost choral title track is built on big organ riffs with orchestrations, while Spartacus Never Dies is a rampaging rally against Pompey The Great. The vocals of Spartacus (yes the band use pseudonyms) are good suiting the power metal backing, he doesn't sky scrape but they are by no means gruff and his European pronunciation is endearing.

Mostly the band are versatile ably dealing with folk metal on Behind The Alps, the Maiden-like The Final War and the ballad No Wife No Queen with ease. Rome Burns is a great power metal album based on a subject I hold dear, I can see myself playing this album a lot and in our continuing journey to find new bands Italy's Imperivm really stand out. 8/10

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Reviews: The Lonely Robot, Selene, Revival

Lonely Robot: The Big Dream (InsideOut)

Musician/producer/writer all round Renaissance man John Mitchell has returned to his solo love affair that is the no rules, no boundaries Lonely Robot project. Since the release of the record Mitchell has been busy with Frost* touring and recording as well a his usual job of producing, mixing for other bands. In between all this he has managed to record another Lonely Robot album, once again there is a loose concept but whereas Please Come Home saw the astronaut isolated in the darkness of space, now he awakens in a surreal garden that Mitchell supposes "mirrors 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' [almost] a solipsistic haze" with the astronaut trapped inside his own mind this has allowed Mitchell to bring the album 'down to earth' so to speak allowing more organic textures to the songs. T

his has been helped that since the debut Lonely Robot have been established as a live band featuring Steve Vantsis (Fish/Tilt) on bass, Liam Holmes on keys and his Frost* bandmate Craig Blundell behind the skins. Blundell also contributes drums to the album with Mitchell pretty much playing everything else, although Nick Beggs adds some additional bass. The songs shine once again with the album having a texture of their own that are both different to the previous record but audibly continue the themes established. Pop, rock, prog, folk and many more are all covered here with the songs shorter more direct and at time softer, where as Sigma and Everglow are the heavy hitters of the record and will be the rock radio staples, the more subtle softer tunes like The Divine Art Of Being and the folky In Floral Green which features mystical backing vocals from Bonita McKinney.

Elsewhere the album pairs interesting musical soundscapes with spoken word narration from Lee Ingleby (Inspector George Gently/Line Of Duty). With two albums of uncompromising musical experimentation, a third on the way and more 'one-off' live shows planned to once again weave his musical tapestry John Mitchell has returned with another sterling release that will seal his position as one of the (usually) British musical polymath's in the realms of Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and more recently Steven Wilson. 10/10

Selene: The Ravages Of Time (Self Released)

I reviewed Selene's EP in 2014 but somehow missed out on reviewing their debut full length in 2015, the EP got a solid 7/10 and I mentioned that the band could diversify a little to really hit home in what is crowded genre. It looks as this is what the band have tried to do on this their second full length, the record is tighter, harsher and faster with guitarist/founder/songwriter John Connor describing it as "leaning more on our Power Metal roots" and while that is true it's still a record that sits comfortably in the symphonic metal genre due to the operatic vocals of Shonagh Lyons. I would say my review copy had scratchy production which detracted from the listening experience but The Ravages Of Time is a good enough album for fans of this style, there are risks but not too many to change anything drastically, still if operatic, orchestral backed metal is your bag this Irish band will be for you. 7/10

Revival: Demo Album (Self Released)

Welsh metal four piece Revival has wowed me twice when I've seen them onstage so when their demo album dropped in to MoM towers I put it on the decks of doom and cranked up the volume. The album is a mixture of their Madness demo and their newest unreleased demo named Season Of The Wizard as such the production is a bit all over the place and a couple of the tracks are repeated, it's the songs on the Season Of The Wizard that stand out in audio quality as they are produced by the legendary Chris Tsangarides. In terms of influence the sounds of Down, Orange Goblin, BLS all loom large with I Am God, Chains are heavyweight stoner riffs favoured by Down but the band add the BLS style shredding to Tap Out and Danger.

Obviously with these sort of influences to their sound they also have a huge shot of Sabbath on Season Of The Wizard and their cover of Paranoid is pretty good too. Limited to just 100 physical copies pick this album up as it's a snapshot of a band at the very inception of their career and it bodes well for the rest of their career, the songs are punchy, the performances mature and the overall package is presented with professionalism. Revival are definitely bringing back the rock. 8/10

Friday, 12 May 2017

Reviews: Avatarium, Hawkwind, Woodhawk (Reviews By Paul)

Avatarium: Hurricanes And Halos (Nuclear Blast)

One of the hardest working men in metal is Leif Edling, bassist of doom godfathers Candlemass and about a billion other projects. We recently reviewed the fabulous doom laden debut from The Doomsday Kingdom and now Edling returns with the third full release from Avatarium, the band who formed in 2013. It's been two years since the sophomore Girl With The Raven Mask which was a superb follow up on the self titled debut. Hurricanes And Halos has a real 1970s Deep Purple feel throughout, and nowhere more so than the opening two tracks, especially the Hammond soaked opener Into The Storm. Carl Westholm's keyboards take centre stage as Into The Storm and The Starless Sleep both race at full pace. Jennie Ann Smith's unique blues soaked vocals come into their own on the blues rock tinge of Road To Jerusalem which contains some beautiful guitar work from Marcus Jidell. This track is quite a departure from the usual melancholic doom, featuring a slower paced acoustic approach that is one of the most atmospheric tracks the band has ever written. It's quite stunning. Medusa Child contains a skull crushing riff guaranteed to stove the cranium whilst the child vocal is both apt for the song and hauntingly scary.

The Sky At The Bottom Of The Sea is next, a super Dio era Rainbow tune, high paced and full of pomp and ceremony. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking this had been written by RJD and Ritchie Blackmore. More crunchy keys here, the highlight of the whole album for me being the way they underpin virtually every track. In additon, there is some brilliant Ian Paice jazz fused drumming thanks to the sterling efforts of Lars Skold. The pace slows right down on When Breath Turns To Air, a moody, measured beauty which would sit perfectly in a smoke filled cafe or bar. Jennie Ann Smith's soothing velvet tones supported by sublime keys, relaxed rhythm and delicate guitar work. It's an astonishingly good piece. Penultimate track A Kiss (From The End Of The World) starts with intricate flamenco style guitar before exploding into a massive doom laden riff which evolves majestically during the nine minute epic journey. Powerful and brooding, it slows but loses none of its strength. It is imperious. The album closes with the instrumental title track, a lone bass drum joined by deep resonating bass which then peaks before fading eerily into the distance. This is one of the best albums of the year, by a mile. Treat yourself to Hurricanes And Halos. It is fantastic. 10/10

Hawkwind: Into The Woods (Cherry Red Records)

Album number 30 for the sonic masters and it’s another fantastic release. Last year the band’s take on EM Forster’s dystopian novel The Machine Stops was just thrilling and the band show no sign of stopping. Beautifully paced and delivered, the combination of Dave Brock’s wisdom and guidance along with more recent additions to the band is evident. As with all Hawkwind releases, Into The Woods is a combination of driving space rock which is synonymous with the band and some more bizarre compositions. Tracks like Magic Mushrooms, Have You Seen Them and the trippy Space Ship Blues are ageless. The themes of nature and environment are up front and unapologetic. Vegan Lunch is just pure space boogie whilst the title track, Cottage In The Woods and the gorgeous melody of Wood Nymph all place nature in majesty.  By now you’ll either get Hawkwind or dismiss them as aging hippies. For me the band remain rock’s consciousness about the state of the world around us, standing proud alongside the likes of Gojira and Crippled Black Phoenix. Prophetic as always, the band’s views are as accurate now as they were in the 1970s. As Dave Brock and co. Continue to deliver the goods, we should remain thankful. The Machine has not stopped yet. Long may they continue. 9/10

Woodhawk: Beyond The Sun (Self Released)

Straight forward fuzzed up stoner rock with a Sabbath riff coursing through every song. Welcome to Woodhawk, a power trio from the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Beyond The Sun is a stomper of an album, albeit following a tried and trusted formula. Turner Mizdan plays a dirty mean guitar, Mike Badmington thunders the bass and Kevin Nelson hits seven shades out of the drums. If you like the sounds of The Sword, Mastodon, Clutch and the craft of RavenEye (A New Hope is especially reminiscent of the Milton Keynes trio) then you’ll dig this release. At just under 40 minutes it does the business and then heads off to the pub. Can’t fault it. 7/10

Reviews: Magenta, The Unity, Earth Witch

Magenta: We Are Legend (Tigermoth Records)

Magenta's new album should have been titled 'the prog returns' as it harks back to the band's first three records. With the three (yes three) songs on this record all having that progressive lushness that RevolutionsSeven and Home featured, along with the band also exploring new sounds and themes. Having heard the three tracks on this record at their recent live show I knew what to expect but hearing them laid down with the production and all the nuances of the music, the songs sounded amazing. Let's address the idea of a record having three songs and still calling it an album not an EP, well this is due to the track lengths opening number Trojan is nigh on 27 minutes long (that's one side of vinyl folks) with Colours and Legend both clocking in at over 10 minutes.

I'll try not to go into too much detail on every song as they need to be listened too to be fully appreciated but Trojan is staggering a masterpiece in composition and creating soundscapes the influences are clear Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield and pre-Duke Genesis, the core trio of Christina Booth (vocals), Chris Fry (guitar) and band leader Rob Reed (keys) are all at the peak of their powers Christina soars powerfully over the colossal synths and processed beats of Rob Reed, it's his mastery of the keys that drives this band much like bands such as Yes, Genesis and Marillion they are an integral vital part of the bands signature sound and hear they hold the entire band together propelling us through the 27 minutes with ease.

That's not to understate the contribution of the other band members Chris Fry has been there since the beginning and his guitar playing is deft, expressive and stunning his Gilmour-like solos are at times the only rest-bite in the elongated musical passages. The record also features a Herculean effort from new boys and Kinky Wizzard Jon 'Jiffy Griffiths (drums) and Dan Nelson (bass) who are a linchpin for so many of the songs just check out the percussive middle section of Trojan which uses tom-toms and a bass throb like Floyd do on Time. Colours is a more melodic piece with a slightly different sound to the opening song, it's got an almost paranoid quirkiness, it's about Van Gogh so that could be why, the classic prog sound is still there but it's a bit more relaxed, fluid and dramatic, while Legend finishes the album on huge high with more direct, darker song. Magenta are back folks, they are oft overlooked but if you are a fan of any progressive rock this is must buy. 10/10

The Unity: Unity (SPV)

Formed by two members of Gamma Ray, The Unity is the new project of Henjo Richter (guitar) and Michael Ehre (drums) with countless hours spent in the studio and on the live stage the duo found that they were creating music together that wouldn't fit into Gamma Ray sphere so they recruited talented writers and players in the shape of Italian Gianba Manenti (vocals), Stef E (guitarist), Jogi Sweers (bass) and keyboardist Sascha Onnen all of whom were in Ehre's previous band Love.Might.Kill. This album takes parts of the Love.Might.Kill sound bringing in a slick AOR stylings on the latter part of the album which suffers from ballad bloat while  Never Forget is great others like the Always Just You is overblown, elsewhere it's prime melodic rock with the opening duo of Rise And Fall and No More Lies kicking the album off with a bang as tracks such as Firesign ramp up the heavy. The musicianship is of a high standard throughout with Richter and Stef playing up a storm, Manetti's vocals shine too principally on the bluesy The Wishing Well and the incredibly Whitesnake sounding Redeemer. The Unity's debut is full of powerful European melodic rock delivered at the level you'd expect from those involved. 7/10

Earth Witch: Out Of The Shallow (Self Released)

Urbana, Illinois is probably not that known for anything outside of agriculture and being the place HAL 9000 was made operational in 2001: A Space Odyssey. They don't have a particularly rich musical heritage but Earth Witch are looking to change that. This trio play the scuzzy type of metal that hails Sabbath and nods to Sleep, the hypnotic doom of Butterfly shows the band at their trippy best, but the rest of the album is thundering riffage, colossal instrumental sections on Mermaid that has swirling organs and a repetitive riff, gruff vocals shout the lyrics as the doom heaviness continues without abatement, this record apparently speeds things up since their debut EP and while that is true the band excel at bearded doom favoured by bands ranging from Earth to Electric Wizard. Out Of Shallow pairs formidable guitars with hefty use of synths in this trippy doom laden debut. 7/10       

Thursday, 11 May 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Katatonia

Katatonia, Ghost Bath & The Great Discord, Marble Factory, Bristol

First gig in Bristol for a while and it was one I was anticipating was going to be good indeed, this was to be my first viewing Swedes Katatonia in the live arena (I think, my memory is going) and in a cosy venue it was going to be excellent to see them modest sized venue. In fact the only band I had seen was the main support Ghost Bath and that didn't bode well, but I digress, with my snapper/other half in tow we hit the venue and got ready for openers.

With a band dressed in all black they took to the stage in relative silence with the stage cloaked in darkness, then they started their set of thumping progressive alternative metal similar to djent bands but more melodic, the members carrying instruments played the riffs but the focus was on vocalist Fia Kempe who cuts an impressive figure on stage with her whitewashed face and feathered headdress she dramatically threw herself around the cramped stage, a visually arresting display the music was confident to carry her wild performance and strong vocals that were marred by technical problems with the microphone which kept cutting out intermittently until the last song where it gave up the ghost for most of the song. Still despite these issues the assembled throng reacted well to the The Great Discord (8) after the initial bemusement they managed to win around the audience with their accessible but almost post modern take on, definitely a band I'd see again as they were breath of fresh air as a opening act.

A reasonably short change over so as to accommodate three bands and next it was time for the only Americans on the tour, Dakota natives Ghost Bath (7) first woke us up at Bloodstock last year with blood curdling screams and little else, meaning that I didn't hold out much hope this time round. The bands name is derived from "the act of committing suicide by submerging in a body of water" so they are a cheery bunch but this time the were at least more audibly appealing, their depressive post metal is primarily instrumental based upon the five members (who all use Chinese symbol as their names) playing repeated heavy riffs backed by furious blast beats, but I guess I haven't addressed the screaming, well that comes from the frontman who uses his voice as an instrument squealing and screaming down the mic like someone in their death throes.

Now on the record due to the production techniques this is kept as part of the sonic landscape however live there is a tendency to ramp the mic up more than everything else, fine when there are lyrics but screeching not so much, this was the issue at Bloodstock but thankfully not here, the live mix in The Motion was much more balanced meaning that the vocals were at the same level as the instruments, this proved to be a much more enjoyable show because of it. The band played a well built set that climaxed brilliantly, unfortunately there was just a little bit too much tuning silence between the songs to really let you immerse yourself.

Another fast turn around and this was the moment I wanted to see the Swedish merchants of doom-laden, depressive heavy rock Katatonia (10) playing in a small venue almost close enough to touch, in the direct opposition too the openers there was very little fuss on stage, little movement with the exception of Jonas Renske who shuffled on his feet as he delivered his booming, resonant, emotive vocals as the set opened with Last Song Before The Fade the first of 6 tracks from their most recent record The Fall Of Hearts which led into the grinding Criminals from Viva Emptiness, it's one of my favourites from their back catalogue, its a bitter piece that set the stage well for a return to The Fall Of Hearts Serein.

Three heavy hitters first and the room slowed to one indistinguishable mass of hair and heads banging in unison, the crowd mesmerised by the bands hypnotic playing. Cheers of recognition came for riff friendly Dead Letters that to me echoes Opeth in composition and along with Buildings allowed Anders and Roger let loose on their guitars. Kudos again to the sound engineer as the band were powerful but not too heavy that everything was distorted, a crisp sound was bolstered by the expert use of backing tapes to let the songs sound as they were recorded while not distracting from the performance.

The songs moved and twist spellbinding those in attendance, with only a few breaks for thank you the attention level was high and the set list was strong although with only 1 song from Night Is The New Day (the admittedly epic Forsaker) and Last Fair Deal Gone Down which was Teargas which is as near as this band get to light, some may have complaints but personally having 6 tracks from your latest album and 5 from probably your most accomplished (The Great Cold Distance) your bound to get a great set and as it progressed we got Soils Song, in The White, Residual Leaders and Passer but in the encore they took things up another notch with My Twin, Lethean and perennial favourite July. Katatonia give a masterclass in performance, almost perfect sound, tight musicianship, honed performance and light and shade to draw you in, they are untouchable.