Cats In Space: Scarecrow (Self Released)
Do you remember those halcyon days when Foreigner, 10cc, Supertramp, ELO and Cheap Trick ruled the airwaves? Well Cats In Space remember and haven't really looked forward since, their music not only has an AOR vibe it's an unashamedly grandiose tribute to the massive acts that ruled the airwaves in the late 70's and 80's check out Mad Hatter's Tea Party it has the insistent piano and phased guitar made famous by Foreigner but lyrics from Lewis Carroll. Scarecrow is the band's second album and it hasn't changed anything, the album is chock full of sunny melodies that put a smile on your face and nod your head vigorously, they shift between pacey hard rock, kooky pop rock (Clown In Your Nightmare) and everything in between, they go full baroque and roll on the closing title track which is a climactic epic for the record.
Ably led by guitarist Greg Hart and keyboardist Andy Stewart the band are by no means a bunch of fresh faced kids Greg and Andy have worked together for over 30 years, guitarist Dean Howard has played with such varied acts as T’Pau, Bad Company, Ian Gillan, Airrace & Toby Jepson, bassist Jeff Brown is the current bass player/singer of The Sweet (which explains the massive choruses on Scars), Steevi Bacon (has the best name) is alumni of Robin Trower and frontman Paul Manzi not only has incredible hair but a massive soulful voice that naturally lends itself to any style from the Queen meets Supertramp of September Rain, the spirit of Tramp returns on the poppy Felix & The Golden Sun.
The album is real restoration piece hand picking the best bits of the late glam and early AOR sound and making them shine as brightly as possible, it's overblown, over-produced, multi-tracked and doesn't take itself too seriously, take a song like Two Minutes 59 which is a track that has that running time about a track with that running time (it's meta). Scarecrow much like the band that recorded it has no agenda, the idea to rock out as often as possible and with feeling. Having seen the band briefly at a concert it will be good to see them in the confines of The Globe in September. With an album this strong it should be a heck of a show. 8/10
Formicarius: Black Mass Ritual (Schwarzdorn Production)
It's easy to forget that black metal is a British invention, it was Venom that truly set the template but as musical tastes changed this darkest of all metals moved Northward to the frozen forests of Scandinavia where it gained popularity, notoriety and infamy in equal measure. Acts such as Akercocke and Cradle of Filth have flown the British black metal flag for years now but within the last 10 years I'd say British black metal has had somewhat of a resurgence due to the myriad of underground and extreme festivals popping up.
The most recent addition to this unholy cauldron of bands are Formicarius (they get their name from Johannes Nider's 1475 book which was the second book ever printed to discuss witchcraft).The band are formed from members of De Profundis, Phyrexia and Premature Birth, with an extreme pedigree and a feature on the Speed Kills VII compilation this London mob are dead set on grabbing the black metal throne with both bloodstained hands. They set about it in the right way unleashing furious riffs straight away and thunderous blastbeast carry the songs like the horses of those men of the apocalypse.
What Formicarius do have in spades though is atmosphere, something that is as important to black metal as it is to symphonic and Gothic acts, there are unnerving synths throughout that simmer just beneath the chaos. There are times when the album knocks you back with it's sheer grandeur, waves upon waves of furious riffs, squawked vocals and keys pounding away make for an exciting listen from the first few notes, Black Mass Ritual also has a song called May The Rats Eat Your Eyes which instantly gives them extra points. Hail to British black metal! 8/10
Bad Solution: The War Within (Self Released)
Bad Solution are a Polish/UK based band from London, their music has been described as a "chunkier Shinedown" and I couldn't say it any better myself, Bad Solution love a big riff, a love that is only surpassed by their love of a massive chorus, The War Within is their debut full length following an EP in 2015 and it's a love letter to the American radio rock sound with the groove of FFDP and the aforementioned choruses tracks such as Drowning grind along with a crunch but I'd say there are one too many weaker offerings, Nothing (You Don't Know Me) takes more of a nu metal turn, Self Destruct is a saccharine ballad and Echoes Of The City is boring.
Therein lies the problem with Bad Solution they are competent but nothing particularly interesting, it's straight down the line American radio rock that is good listen for the length of the record but almost instantly forgettable. The War Within has a lot of promise but it's not harnessed for anything more than a few songs The Last Lie being one. They may have the tag of being a chunkier Shinedown but unlike their American comparison this debut lacks that 'it' factor. 6/10