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Thursday, 17 August 2017

A View From The Field: Bloodstock 2017 (Review By Paul)

Bloodstock 2017 10 – 13 August, Catton Hall, Derbyshire

A mouth-watering line-up of some of best heavy metal around meant that for the first time the weekend camping at Catton Hall sold out several weeks before the festival started. With a decent weather forecast the weather gods shone brightly once more on the righteous and there was more demand for sun screen than ponchos and wellington boots.

Before getting into the music, a few observations about the event. The positives as always far outweigh the negatives.


  • The simple but oh so helpful ramp at the pedestrian crossing on the way into the festival site was a godsend. No more lugging precariously loaded trollies up and down steep steps. A real positive move and one that made accessing the site so much easier
  • Then there was the sensible idea to open the gates earlier than advertised to keep the crowds moving. Being in and pitched with a cold one in hand by 12:30pm was a fantastic feeling and as the queues mushroomed as the day progressed due to the necessary bag searches, it was impossible not to feel a little smug for getting the arse out of bed and on the road a little earlier
  • The nightmare scenes which have confronted every festival goer when opening that portaloo only to be confronted by a turd mountain are a thing of the past at BOA. The toilets were cleaned regularly and every one I visited was clean, stocked with loo roll and hand sanitiser and about as much as I could demand as a punter. Plus points to the team for a brilliant job (haha!)
  • Apart from one year when the Gestapo took control of security, it has always been friendly and well organised. This year was no exception with most of security, be it ShowSec or the Festaff volunteers, magnificent. My one complaint is minor but for the guys on the entrance to the arena, use the word “please” when asking to search my bag. It makes it much more pleasant and costs you nothing. Thanks!
  • The overall running of this event blows my mind every year. 2017 was fluid, smooth and ran to time in most cases. The sound was generally spot on, the visuals stunning and getting Sy Keeler from Onslaught as a compare was a stroke of genius. The impressive performances from those at the Explosive Ape weight lifting ring, improved range of food stalls and merchandise made the whole event incredibly professional. A superb effort and my hat is very much doffed in your general direction.

There are few negatives. My main beef is one I’ve taken up directly with BOA. The fairground next to the Sophie Tent has irritated me for years. My frustration peaked this year when all I could hear was fucking Sandman when watching Seasons End. Move it or mute it. Please. My only other real beef is with the campsite fucktards who give not one shit for their fellow metal heads. Five in the morning is designed for quiet. I’m happy to admit that I hit the sack by midnight on every evening. I’m not a fart, I just need my sleep. I’m expecting to be disturbed until the early hours by choosing to camp in Valhalla. But 5am? Really? Anyway, I’m looking forward to VIP next year.

Thursday

Thursday is regarded as party day at BOA. Having arrived and set up the main goal is usually to chill out and relax with mates whilst getting a few beers down the neck. The serious music starts on Friday. But kudos to BOA, they usually whet the appetite with a few decent bands in the Sophie Tent on Thursday evening. First up and with the honour of opening the festival was Edinburgh based Ramage Inc (6). Led by the affable Brian Ramage, the Scots progressive ambient metal was sufficient to get a fair crowd enthused and they gave it their all. However, the band sounded slightly disconnected at times and their complex style was a struggle to appreciate fully. Ramage appears to have adopted almost full Devin Townsend intonation which often distracts from the solid sound which the band are clearly capable of making.

The power metal of Pisa’s Wind Rose (6) promised much. With three full releases under their belts including this year’s Stonehymn, the Italians confidently took to the stage dressed like extras from the Dothraki scenes in Game of Thrones. That’s where the promise ended as the band’s schizophrenic sound which combined folk, thrash and more time changes than a Meshuggah back catalogue. A strong reaction from the metal hungry and alcohol fuelled crowd was encouraging but the band’s confusing output was ultimately disappointing.

Finland’s Battle Beast (7) have built a solid reputation over the years with supports to Nightwish providing them with a good amount of exposure. Their visits to the UK has usually been limited to the odd night at The Underworld in Camden. The crowded tent told you that this was Thursday night and the masses usually lap up anything that is on offer. The Finns certainly offered a strong show and their symphonic power metal was appreciated with the harder edged Black Ninja and We Will Fight inviting the necks to warm up for the weekend ahead. In between songs, it was guitarist Juuso Soinio who did most of the speaking, coming across very much like a Eurovision Song Contest compere. The band’s vocalist Noora Louhimo captures the attention with her strong clear vocals although the head of steam which had built up dissipated quickly with the ballad Far From Heaven.

Friday

Shaking the cobwebs at the ungodly hour of 10:30am, Swindon’s Merithian (6) kicked off proceedings in the New Blood Stage. The band have a sound which mixes KSE with Slipknot and their heavy groove was designed to blow out any remaining beer aches. Unfortunately, with frontman Liam Engel masked up ala Corey Taylor and a vocal style to match, the band’s chunky style didn’t quite work. I’m not sure about the image or the sound but there is promise within this band.

The Copenhagen symphonic metal of Forever Still (5) did little for me last year when they supported Lacuna Coil and I should say that unfortunately their generic sound did nothing to improve my view of them. Lead singer Maja Shining has a decent enough voice although lacking the power of other singers of this genre. Maybe it was a big ask for the band to kick off the day.

No such problems for the groove stoner rock of Bradford’s Iron Rat (8) who took their opportunity to showcase their filthy sound with both hands and didn’t let go for the full 30 minutes. Their doom laden riffage soon had the crowd in the Sophie Tent moving and their enthusiasm was infectious. Playing tracks from the new album Monument, Chris Flear and co were the first of many to deliver their own headline set.

The deathcore of Salt Lake City’s Chelsea Grin is a sound I cannot abide and their opening assault was sufficient to drive me to calmer areas of the site. Luckily it was to catch the sheer dynamism and energy of Leicester’s Internal Conflict (8) whose groove laden metal was deservedly catching a warm reception. Slashing riffs and some screaming vocals from enthusiastic frontman Adam Kyle were well appreciated and this is a band to watch out for. Certainly a plus point for a Friday lunch time.

Next up in the Sophie Tent was Bristol outfit Endeavour (8) These guys have been kicking on the door for some time and their latest release Bring Upon The Rising Day has been on the stereo for some time since its release back in May. Chris Hawkins is every inch the front man with his strong vocals and continued encouragement of the crowd. Their progressive metal was well suited to a festival like this and the head crushing pieces soon got heads moving. One of several outfits who played their sets with such passion that you could have sworn they were the headliners. Big things to come from these guys.

Hampshire outfit Dendera (9) are another outfit who have big things ahead of them. Two years ago they put in a blistering opening set supporting Death Angel and Queensryche in Bristol and their set was one earmarked from the day they were announced. In vocalist Ashley Edison, who also has the front of house gig with Power Quest, the band have a natural front man and one hell of a singer. Their classic yet totally current sound won over the very healthy and receptive crowd. The twin pronged attack of guitarists Stephen Main and David Stanton retain a very British approach. Tracks from the newly released Blood Red Sky EP segued effortlessly with older songs. One of the sets of the weekend without a doubt. Catch these guys soon. You won't be disappointed.

Back on the main stage, having avoided the squealing Dani Filth and the mundane melodic death of Soilwork, it was time to change gear and oh yes, it was pushed into sixth. Poland's Decapitated (8) have visited BOA before but this is a supremely confident outfit whose latest release Anticult is surely a contender for album of the year. Opening with a double from said release, the band rode out a minor technical hitch with ease and eased into a 40-minute masterclass in death metal. Kill The Cult sounded as crushing live as on album and that hook is just immense. Rafa Piotrowski's gravel soaked vocal barked out the lines as Waclaw 'Vogg' Kieltyka made it sound like there was at least two of him, such was the intensity of the shredding. Spheres of Madness helped close the set down far too early. Just superb.

Hampshire continued to rule in the Sophie Tent with a breathtaking set from progressive symphonic metallers Seasons End (8) making their fourth appearance at BOA. In Becki Clark the band possessed one of the most beautiful voices of the weekend which contrasted perfectly with the brutality on display across much of the weekend, whilst David Stanton pulled double duty after his set with Dendera; 20 minutes to turn around and then back on stage. A real trooper. The band's live sound is encouragingly heavy and the audience knew how to respond with huge cheers. With a follow-up to 2005's The Failing Light promised soon, 2017 should be a good year.

If Decapitated pushed the temperature up a level, the next band on the main stage stoked the furnace even higher. Californian thrash veterans Testament (9) are approaching their 35th anniversary but these guys show no signs of slowing down. This was an astonishingly impressive performance, effortless and intense. With a catalogue to die for, the only problem that Chuck Billy and co had is what to cram into their hour-long set. The band went balls out with four from last year's Brotherhood Of The Snake, including a scorching Stronghold before a smattering of classics got the old school members of the crowd roaring. Into The Pit ensured that the action at the front remained intense whilst Low, Practice What You Preach and Disciples Of The Watch allowed Chuck Billy to prowl the stage playing his microphone stand, hitting ever note of messrs Skolnick and Peterson's solos. Meanwhile it was once again a masterclass behind the drums as Gene Hoglan laid waste to the field with his machine gun performance. Testament should have headlined by now and I'd have cash available for a bet on them getting there in the next couple of years.

The UK thrash continued to be represented by Shrapnel (7) whose incisive shredding made ears bleed in the Sophie Tent. The Norwich outfit have been carving their own niche in recent years and a previous appearance at BOA had impressed. It was no different this time as the band thrashed through their set.

One of the most requested bands for BOA on social media for many years has been German power metal legends Blind Guardian (7). The band are capable of headlining Wacken with ease so it was somewhat surprising to see large gaps in the audience as the intro music to The Ninth Wave filled the air. A rather muted performance from a band who are usually so spectacular live was quantified when vocalist Hansi Kursch explained that all their show and gear had been lost by the airline flying them into the Midlands. Guardian continued making use of Amon Amarth’s warm up gear and performed admirably. Kursch has a stunning voice and interacted with the audience superbly. An interesting set including Nightfall, The Script For My Requiem and Mirror Mirror before the audience participation of The Bard’s Song and of course, Valhalla. This band deserve another go and hopefully they will be back before too long.

Occupying the ghost shift in the Sophie Tent, Maryland funk rockers Lionize (10) took their hour long set to the max. As the tent slowly filled, the groove of a rock band who have been on the road for several months must have surely enticed many. For the uninitiated Lionize are unique. Their fusion of blues, rock, reggae and funk is spectacular. Technically there was not a band on the weekend who got close to them. Picking their heavier material and beefing up some of their lighter tunes, the band started hard with Replaced By Machines and didn’t slow down until they hit the end. Guitarist and vocalist Nate Bergman, resplendent as always in his shiny bacofoil jogging suit, played some mean licks whilst the clever lyrics never fail to bring a smile.

To his right, the soulful Hammond organ of Chris Brooks who adds mean backing vocals whilst left side stood Henry ‘Hank’ Upton, all charged up energy and rampaging bass lines. Securing the back line, drummer Chase Lapp looked at times to have many more than two arms as he flailed all over his kit. Closing with a stunning ten-minute plus freestyle session, the band pulled out one of the sets of the weekend. You get the feeling these guys play as hard to two people as they do to 20000. Possibly the highlight of my weekend and an honour to watch.

Few bands work as hard as Friday night headliners Amon Amarth (9). A band that have served their time on the circuits around the world and are finally in the big league. Their headline set promised much and did not disappoint. More pyro than the US 5th Army, rampaging Vikings running around the stage with their swords raised high, a huge long-boat dominating the centre of the stage and even a sea beastie appearing towards the end; visually it was captivating. However, all the props in the world mean nothing if you don’t have the tunes and by Odin do the Swedes have a locker full of anthems ideal for this event.

As the sun set The Pursuit Of Vikings heralded 90 minutes of chaos, rampage and most of all fun. A packed main arena raised their horns, sang and chanted, gasped at the ridiculously glorious spectacle on the main stage and banged their heads in salute to the pure heavy metal that was in front of them. And then we rowed. Oh yes, the sight of thousands of metal brothers sat on the floor doing the death metal equivalent of Oops Upside Your Head was glorious. This is what BOA is all about. Johan Hegg is an ideal ring leader, grinning from ear to ear, cajoling the masses in front of him to pump the air every few minutes with horns or fists. It was magical escapism and by the time Twilight of the Thunder Gods had blown the final bits of dry ice into the East Midlands night there was nowhere any of that crowd would have preferred to be.

Saturday

Technically progressive death metal may not be everyone’s cup of tea at 10:45am on a Saturday morning but a fair crowd gathered in front of the main stage to catch San Francisco’s Fallujah (7). Having lost their singer Alex Hoffman under a month ago put additional pressure on the band but they did a fine job of crushing skulls and shaking that Friday night hangover out of the system.

No strangers to BOA, Manchester black metal masters Winterfylleth (8) took the tent by storm a few years ago with a massive headline set. Watching the band in the blinding sunshine is an unreal experience and as often happens, the band’s detailed technical metal sound initially suffered from a poor mix with Chris Naughton and Dan Capp’s guitars drowned out by the punishing drumming of Simon Lucas and Nick Wallwork’s thundering bass. Despite this the band delivered yet another stunning set although interestingly nothing from the latest The Dark Hereafter. Their winter tour should be nothing short of breath taking.

Birmingham’s Kroh (6) changed the mood to a more gothic feel in the Sophie Tent but their rather routine metal was of limited interest and attention soon wavered. Meanwhile the routine thrash of Havok (6) on the main stage encouraged a decent crowd to open the pits and as the sun continued to beat down early casualties slowly emerged.

If you wanted a lesson in how to thrash with quality, then Canada’s top selling metal band of all time Annihilator (9) proceeded to hand it out on a plate. Jeff Waters may be as nutty as that other crazy Canadian Devin Townsend, but he knows how to craft a tune and the band raced through 40 minutes of very new stuff via the unreleased Twisted Lobotomy and plenty of old school with WTYD, Alison Hell, the splendid Phantasmagoria and set closer Human Insecticide all receiving huge receptions from a very healthy crowd. Long overdue and an outstanding debut.

South Wales MTTM winners Malum Sky (6) had managed to gather a decent turnout in the New Blood Tent but sadly their progressive metal appeared to be griped with nerves as the band struggled to be cohesive. The Welsh theme continued in the Sophie Tent as Merthyr upstarts Florence Black (7) followed up their boisterous Steelhouse Festival appearance with a raucous set which had the trio sounding as heavy as I’d ever heard them.

If you want carnage, then you invite US thrash head cases Municipal Waste (8) to your party. 45 minutes of absolute chaos ensued, with the valiant security at the front hoisting 711 crowd surfers [that’s about 5% of the entire crowd folks!] The band’s no-nonsense approach really is an acquired taste but for those that like it, the taste is delicious.

All this paled into insignificance in comparison to THE set of the weekend which followed. With a huge stage set in place, German thrash legends Kreator (10) delivered an absolute monstrous set crammed full of evil brutality. From the opening Hordes Of Chaos to the concluding Pleasure To Kill, Mille Petrozza and co hit the throttle hard and then pushed the boot through the floor. Huge blasts of red and silver confetti may not sound particularly sinister but it worked magnificently. Fallen Heroes contained a montage of rock legends no longer with us with the faces of Lemmy and RJD looming large. This is a band who are at the top of their game. Imperious and confident, Kreator have a game plan which they stick to and it works magnificently. If these guys are not headlining in 2019 then not even Satan is real.

After the announcement of not one but two headliners for 2018, a quick hop to the Sophie Tent saw UK thrash icons Xentrix (8) really in their stride with new vocalist Jay Walsh looking comfortable and adding quality to the really good quality sound the band make.  

After that it was a bit of an ask for Ghost (8) to match it. However, the mysterious Swedes (if that is what they still are) did their best. An impressive church stage set, cleverly targeted lighting and enough dry ice to fill the Vatican added to the spectacle. Of course, the music is still the main thing and even though the band has incredibly only three albums to its name, there is sufficient in the catalogue to keep most happy. The purists were no doubt secretly loving it whilst standing arms crossed and scowling or back at their tents consoling themselves on yet another can of lager. Rumours abound that Dave Grohl was hitting the skins as one of the nameless ghouls but regardless who it was, the ghouls rocked hard and were more animated than I’d ever seen them before. What slowed the band somewhat was the theatrics of Papa Emeritus III whose narratives were lost towards the back of the field and some long pauses between songs. The arrival of the Sisters of Sin was another five minutes where we could have been rocking. There was the difference with Kreator whose assault didn’t allow time for air. By the time encore of Monstrance Clock arrived, I was ever so slightly bored.

Sunday

The final day and the sun was still blazing across the field. The Strong Men were in full swing with their huge guns lifting astonishing weights. One of the most anticipated bands for me were GraVil (8) whose two releases No More Forgiveness and Thoughts Of A Rising Sun have received regular airtime. The technical groove supplemented by Grant Stacey’s roaring vocals ensured that the earth moved early on a Sunday for the first time in a long while. Visceral riffs sliced through the air and those who made the effort were rewarded by a far too short 30-minute set which flew by. More GraVil as soon as possible.

Two years ago, the Jager Tent reverberated to the sound of Leeds rock ‘n’ roll powerhouses Blind Haze (9) kicking out all the jams with Ben Ward from Orange Goblin looking proudly on. The band, whose recently released Bastard EP is stonking were the perfect tonic with their old school approach hitting all the right notes. Front man and bassist Conan’s self-depreciating humour belies a magnificent attitude and the band delivered a set of rollicking good three-minute songs which sit very much in the Motorhead/Budgie/Goblin/Tank box. Whilst Conan grabs the attention, it’s fair to say that John Nicholson on guitar is the author of many tasty licks whilst drummer Jason Hope is very much from the Philthy Animal school of drumming. I expect big things from Blind Haze. If you get the chance, see them. They rock!

I really wanted to see Brujeira (3) but their cacophony of regurgitated vomit meant I lasted one song before fucking off. It was not something to tolerate when other options were around and instead I got the opportunity to catch some of Wretched Soul’s (7) fabulous set. The Canterbury thrash/death outfit had drawn a good number and their intense honest metal was refreshing. The band led by vocalist Chris Simmons were on fire, another outfit who were taking their opportunity by the balls. Deep cutting riffs, intricate hooks and good heads down thrash always does the trick. Another band I’ll be keeping an eye out for in future months.

There were very few bands I hadn’t seen before at BOA 2017 but one I was determined to see was the grandfathers of death metal, San Francisco’s Possessed (9). With sole original member Jeff Becerra accompanied by long time drummer Emilio Marquez, guitarist Daniel Gonzalez, bassist Robert Cardenas and new boy Claudeous Creamer, this wasn’t quite the old school line up but boy was it hideously good. Becerra may be confined to a wheelchair but that doesn’t stop the legendary vocalist from coughing up those horrifying guttural screams as he rolled around the stage, headbanging with all his might.

The first of a double whammy of death metal, Possessed captivated the crowd with an astonishing set comprising legendary tracks from Seven Churches and 1986’s Beyond The Gates. When the intro to The Exorcist cut across the Catton Hall turf the hairs on the neck just leapt up. There are few times when it really is a privilege to say I was there but to see such a revered band having such a great time was amazing. With Possessed signed to Nuclear Blast and promising a new album in 2018 the legends may be back on our shores sooner than expected. Mighty stuff.

As if having the legendary Possessed wasn’t enough, the afternoon hazy sunshine was shattered again with the arrival of Floridian death metal masters Obituary (9). With necks still aching it was time to get back in the pit. It’s been three years since the band played BOA and nothing changes. John Tardy and co walk out onto the stage, lay waste to all around and then walk off again. It is simple stuff but oh so clever. Bookending their set with two of three tracks from debut Slowly We Rot, this was a band in imperious form. Tardy says little between songs, saving his breath for the growling delivery synonymous with the band. Two new tracks from this year’s excellent self-titled release fitted into the setlist without a problem, Ten Thousand Ways To Die particularly gruesome. Slowly We Rot inevitably closed a mighty display from another absolute masterful outfit.

Having seen Hell earlier this year I used the opportunity to sort the final bits out for the return journey. By all accounts the pyro was off the chart although some new material would be welcomed. New material will be forthcoming soon for Newport’s finest, who were making their BOA debut. Unsurprisingly, Skindred (9) destroyed the entire field, and despite the controversy of booking them for an all-out metal festival, there is no denying that in the live arena few bands can get near them. Sound The Siren, Doom Riff, Pressure and Nobody kept the action intense in the pit and encouraged a fair bit of awful bopping at the outer reaches. As Warning arrived with the inevitable excitement of the Newport Helicopter, a premature ‘copter allowed Benji one more potty mouthed tirade before the entire field erupted. Full marks to the ShowSec crew who all joined in, to much mirth.

Having seen Skindred three times this year allowed me the opportunity to pop into the New Blood Stage for a final time and catch Mist (8). A fantastic decision too as the Solvenian doom outfit blew me away with their Sabbath influenced occult metal. Bone crunching riffs and the atmospheric soaring vocals of Nina Spruk spiraled those in the tent away from the ragga metal raging outside and to a different place. Mist have massive potential and I hope to see them again. The hunt for their album has commenced.

Sadly it was almost time to depart the hallowed halls of BOA due to other commitments, but I finished on a massive high with a blinding set in the Sophie Tent from Italian power metallers Arthemis (8) who may have been playing for one of the smaller crowds of the day but delivered a headline set of stunning quality. With a catalogue of eight albums including this year’s Blood Fury Domination to choose from the band had little difficulty ramping up the thrashier side of their sound whilst Fabio Dessi’s infectious enthusiasm was as brilliant as his clear sky rocketing vocals. A huge ovation from a band rarely seen on these shores. If you get the chance check them out.

So with a heavy heart I skipped the Arch Enemy set and made my way to the car park and the drive home. I was aching from camping and walking more than 40 miles over the four days (yes, seriously, my pedometer recorded it all). This BOA was superb for all the right reasons. 2018 can’t come soon enough.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Reviews: Queens Of The Stone Age, Walter Trout, World Trade

Queens Of The Stone Age: Villains (Matador)

...Like Clockwork Queens Of The Stone Age previous album was dark and in parts ominous, Villains the band's sixth album is more upbeat and carefree, Feet Don't Fail Me Now starts with bubbling synth and builds into a funky as hell track that retains that QOTSA quirkiness as it changes into the desert rock leaning middle section, so with the darkness creeping a little on the beginning things go old school rock n roll for the first single The Way You Used To Do which has the twitching fuzz guitar and claps of The Black Keys. It's a record that brings together funk, soul and blues more than before.

Frontman Josh Homme said that the record was influenced by his interest in dancing, the song Uptown Funk and collaborating with that song's producer Mark Ronson. Villains is produced by Ronson and it has his normal production stamp, everything sounds like the early years of rock n roll but with modern techniques creeping in, the basslines are squelching (Domesticated Animal), the guitars jangle but maintain their early bite and the synths are more prevalent than ever before with Fortress and the industrial Un-Reborn Again. Queens Of The Stone Age have always made music on their own terms and are unafraid to experiment, this is a record that may be like Marmite to some, but there is no denying that Villains is ambitious. 7/10 

Walter Trout: We're All In This Together (Mascot Records)

Walter Trout shouldn't be here and for a while there wasn't going to be, the 66 year old battled and beat liver cancer, his trials and tribulations were documented on his previous record Battle Scars, so then We're All In This Together is more of a celebration, it's Trout looking back on his career and enjoying it but not being beholden to it, something chronicled on the rollicking Ain't Goin Back. Trout has always been very well respected by his peers so much like on his 2006 album Full Circle he has enlisted numerous high profile luminaries to help him out, he has written each song with the guest in mind which means that this record has 16 tracks of pure blues with each one a little different, obviously the binding factors are Trout's hang dog vocals, guitar prowess and his core band supporting him on every track.

Each song adapts to the guest players The Other Side Of The Pillow has Trout duelling with electric harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, She Listens To The Blackbird Sing has the rhythmic passion Mike Zito brought to The Royal Southern Brotherhood, it's a track that's sounds like an Allman Brothers piece, Allman alumni Warren Haynes appears on the groovy The Sky Is Crying. Elsewhere there is six stringing from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robben Ford, Eric Gales, Randy Bachman and Joe Bonamassa, parping sax from Edgar Winter and the legendary John Mayall who blows the mouth harp on Blues For Jimmy T as Trout is a former Bluesbreaker having John himself on the record is a real coup. With so much talent on this record, it is a celebration of Trout's music and his legacy, Walter Trout is still here, he's still playing great music and respect should be given. 9/10       

World Trade: Unify (Frontiers Records)

Take a look at this line up, World Trade were first around in the 1980's and feature guitars and keys from Bruce Gowdy and Guy Allison both of Unruly Child, drums from Mark T Williams, son of John (every movie ever) Williams and bass and vocals from Billy Sherwood who is probably best known as taking both guitar and bass duties in Yes, he was a guitarist between 1997 and 2000, then hand picked as Chris Squire's replacement when he fell ill, equally Sherwood is now both the vocalist and bassist of ASIA assuming the mantle after the untimely death of John Wetton. So all members are very busy chaps but still they find time to reactivate a project that released two albums, one in 1989 and one in 1995, so with this new release coming in 2017 you can't fault the bands continuing sporadic nature.

For those of you that can't guess World Trade are a band that play the particularly radio friendly 1980's prog-pop, it's the style that Yes adopted for their hit records 90125/Big Generator with the bass as the funky lead instrument all dexterous jazz playing with the keys and guitars adding the swathes of melodic rhythms, the drums sound electronic giving the record that authentic 80's sound.The key songs on this record are the title track, Gone All The WayOn Target On Time and they are all delivered by Sherwood's Peter Gabriel like vocals but it's a strong showing from World Trade. Unify is a great record full of sharp, biting, insightful songs that skillfully balance prog and pop melodies. 8/10

Monday, 14 August 2017

Reviews: Triggerfinger, Kryptonite, Carousel Vertigo

Triggerfinger: Colossus (Mascot Records)

Triggerfinger are an odd band their music is a jarring mix of smoky blues, jagged alt rock and trippy desert rock influences, their albums can move from a heavy thunderous battery to shimmering psych in the blink of an eye. Now all this is wasted if you have no idea who the band are the Antwerp based band have been making huge waves across Europe with 200 shows in the last 20 months, they have played shows with Muse, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Rolling Stones, Within Temptation, Clutch and Therapy, their popularity seems much greater in Europe than in the UK at Pinkpop festival in 2015 they were chosen as the replacement for headliners Foo Fighters when Dave Grohl broke his leg.

So with a little knowledge of the band behind us it's time to focus on the music which as I said is intriguing mix of styles the title track opens the record with (Monsieur Paul's) bass-led heaviness on a track that features 2 bases and a kookiness of bands such as The Pixies, Flesh Tight mixes the band's major soundalike QOTSA with the fuzzy blues of The Black Keys, with this element coming back on Upstairs Box. Colossus is the bands fifth album and it sees the band still taking risks that would deter other bands, there's a Sgt Peppers haze about Afterglow while Breathlessness is built around Mario's drums and Ruben Block's jangling guitars and reminds me of The Manic Street Preachers. 

This a record that may divide opinion every song is drastically different to the one that came previously it means that the record never gets boring but it doesn't find a groove either, I'd suggest building your way up from their debut as Colossus is their most accomplished but most complicated album to date, it sees the band taking a lighter touch than their earlier sledgehammer approach it's inventive, organic music drawn from the minds of three talented individuals. Check it out if you want something a little out of the ordinary that our European cousins are ahead of the curve on. 8/10

Kryptonite: Kryptonite (Frontiers Records)

Kryptonite are another collaborative project that has come to fruition under the Frontiers Records barrier the band are made up of Poodle frontman Jakob Samuel and Treat bassist Robben Egberg both are very familiar with the go to Frontiers melodic metal sound which is what you get with this record Keeping The Dream Alive brings the pounding pop rock of The Poodles with Fallen Angels and the horrible Knowing Both Of Us being the album's love ballads. Opener Chasing Fire is a latter period Dio-like song that puts Frontiers golden boy Michael Palace in the axe slinging Craig Goldy position, his playing is excellent throughout reinforcing his status as a modern virtuoso.

With Samuel and Egberg the band have name recognition but it's once again the backroom that makes these collaborative records work with Palace on guitars Mustasch's drummer Robban Back plays a lot softer than he does in his day job but still with a big powerful beat on the electronic rockers such as Love Can Be Stronger. The crisp production comes from long term Frontiers producer/keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio but a band is made by it's songs and there are one too many ballads and mid paced tracks on this album, when things get heavier on songs like Get Out Get Gone Kryptonite are dynamite unfortunately with these songs a bit few and far between meaning that this Kryptonite is more effective to Clark Kent than Superman. 7/10  

Carousel Vertigo: Revenge Of Rock N Roll (Molano Music)

Carousel Vertigo are here to save rock n roll and any band that gets the tag of "simply amazing" from "Whispering" Bob Harris are well on their way to bringing back our favourite type of music. The Parisian band draw heavily from the bluesy hard rock bands like Bad Company, Aerosmith, Grand Funk and Humble Pie Thunder fronted by Paul Stanley and that gives you something to expect. Revenge Of Rock N Roll is their second record and it's chock full of the typical sounds you'd expect from a blues based rock band. Frontman, the Gibson guitar endorsed Vincent Martinez is the nucleus of the band he sings with a range that moves from a whiskey soaked shout to a honey-hued croon that's the sum of two Paul's, Stanley and Rodgers.

As any real rockstar would he also combines singing with fretboard wizardry letting loose with his guitar when he sees fit and playing awesome leads on this record. His partner in crime is American Jansen Press who makes sure the foundations are taken care of Jansen is the walking blues beat on Honey Do and can switch to lead easily providing this record with a guitar partnership like Brad Whitford and Joe Perry or Marriott and Frampton. The songs on this record are great classic hard rock steeped in the blues, organs bubble on opener foot-stomping 80's riff of No More Hesitatin', there are brass parps on the title track which swings like a Thunder track, Hideaway is a slow burner with a solo that unveils it's majesty. They say rock is dead? Well long live rock! Carousel Vertigo are well on their way to saving it. 8/10

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Reviews: Quiet Riot, Klogr, Fifth Density

Quiet Riot: Road Rage (Frontiers Records)

"Bang Your Head! Metal Health To Drive You Mad" those lines are etched into many old school rockers psyche, Quiet Riot were at the height of their popularity in the 1980's (although they were founded in the 70's by Randy Rhodes) and it was Metal Health that was their anthem, the accompanying album of the same name it reached number one in the pop charts the first metal album to achieve this.

The band were a key mover and shaker in the US glam scene with big hair and big hits (two of which were Slade covers) and then like with so many glam acts things went wrong and they had a potted history since their 80's heyday, the band broke up and reformed numerous times but their real drama started after the death of original singer Kevin DuBrow.

What followed was the longest serving member and main writer drummer Frankie Banali forging ahead with the band aided by bassist Chuck Wright and their most recent guitarist Alex Grossi since their band leaders death they have performed with numerous vocalists including Love/Hate's Jizzy Pearl on their previous celebration record. However since that record they have managed to acquire the vocal talents of American Idol finalist James Durbin and decided to completely record the already released Road Rage with Durbin.

Now Durbin is no DuBrow, his vocals are a lot smoother but they are certainly strong, he sounds like a rockstar should an with an album of mature arena rock that stacks his sky-scraping vocals on top of big riffs. Road Rage is no Metal Health but it's not supposed to be, that album is 30 years old this is Quiet Riot for 2017 and it's the same old song and dance with a modern edge. Bang your head indeed! 7/10

Klogr: Keystone (Zeta Factory)

Italian-American band Klogr return with their second album of modern progressive alternative rock in the vein of A Perfect Circle, the band is led by Rusty who's vocals are angst ridden with a wide range, he croons mostly but knows when to angry things up when the guitars kick in even throwing in screams on Silent Witness. The guitars are played by both Rusty and PQ together they add heaviness and technicality, they are two major collaborators on the record and bonded over the 'Big Questions' about the universe mainly the arrogance of man.

Each song has a story behind it, Enigmatic Smile deals with the hidden meanings in art, Sleeping Through The Seasons is man turning off from the world letting it pass by while Prison Of Light and Technocracy are lamentations of the 21st Century apathy and reliance on technology. It's an album full of heavy themes luckily the music is equally heavy, Prison Of Light chugs, Pride Before A Fall has a Tool-like bassline and Something In The Air has the thumping grunge of Smashing Pumpkins.

It's not all heavy though Echoes Of Sin and Dark Tides are both more restrained more melodic tracks fleshing out the record from stomping metal. Keystone is an aggressive, intelligent record that weaves its spell over the course of 12 intuitive, progressive tracks, not as instant as it's predecessor but a look at what may be to come from this interesting band. 8/10 

Fifth Density: Dominion Of The Sun (Self Released)

Phoenix, Arizona's Fifth Density deal in conceptual progressive music, Dominion Of The Sun is a 77 minute rock opera with a storyline set in Ancient Sumeria with the characters struggling to find meaning in consciousness, it focuses on cyborg, a looming evil and winning back free will. If the storyline sounds bonkers then it's comforting the music is typical recent American prog metal with touches of djent throughout, the grooves come from twin brothers Johnathan (drums) and Matt Bond (bass) but the musical horizon is expanded by the jazzy keys of Derek Coulter who battles and augments the twin guitars of Jacob Bond and Tre McCracken, with this many members ever track sounds huge, vastly technical, cinematic in scope and sung with passion by Avidan Elijah Wolfgang Camey-Santana.

The record is a densely layered piece it take numerous listens to really sink in as there is so much going on on every song, The Ascent is a tribal instrumental that serves as an intro to the epic Reaching The Divine but both songs will make really take notice of the bands talents. If you love your prog metal full of conceptual flights of fancy and intense musicality then Fifth Density's second album will have to sit on your shopping list. 7/10

Reviews: The New Roses, Ruby The Hatchet, The Nights

The New Roses: One More For The Road (Napalm Records)

I cam across The New Roses reasonably recently and once I picked up their second album Dead Man's Voice it was on repeated for about a week afterwards. One More For The Road picks up what Dead Man's Voice set down, the record has 14 blues infused rockers which have the Southern American looseness and swagger of The Black Crowes, our own Temperance Movement adding the sleazy parts of Buckcherry on Dancing On A Razor Blade, funnily enough despite having a lot in common with the American and British rock styles The New Roses are from Wiesbaden in Germany not that you'd guess with vocalist Timmy Rough adopting a Southern drawl as he sings of heartache, whiskey and the road. One More For The Road starts as it means to go on with Quarter To Twelve which has sleazy similarity to Quireboys 7 O'Clock.

My Own Worst Enemy brings the heavy Southern swagger while Forever Never Comes is guaranteed to go down well on the live stage with it's woah refrain, repeating guitar riff from Norman Bites and a chorus with a big enough hook to catch Jaws. The record is 14 tracks long but it never seems that way, all the songs of course have similarities due to the genre they sit in but there is enough variation to keep your attention. There is little filler even Life Ain't Easy (For A Boy With Long Hair) could be a throw away track but it has a country rock emotion to it that makes it one of the album's best song, the country sounds also bleed through to boogie heavy Every Wild Heart and the torch song that is Fight You Leaving Me. One More For The Road is a heartfelt rock album from the German band, blues, country and booty shaking rock n roll all mix to form a hard rock soup that any rock fan will love. I can't wait to see the band in November at Hard Rock Hell. 9/10

Ruby The Hatchet: Planetary Space Child (Tee Pee Records)

Heads down folks it's about to get trippy, Ruby The Hatchet's newest release showcases seven richly layered songs that unite heavy, doomy psychedelia with acid-rock, proto-prog and melodic, hypnotic songcraft. Sean Hur's organs are the lead instrument adding spacey vibes to Killer as Johnny and Lake chug away. It's cornucopia of psychedelia as Jillian's haunting vocals sit atop the hypnotic riffs that back her, it's music that forces you to bang your head Pagan Ritual especially is guaranteed to give you whiplash, even when it breaks down into the tribal final part which sees drummer Owen bringing the band into a percussive frenzy. Planetary Space Child is a modern record that worships bands like The Doors, Sabbath and Hawkwind, like Blood Ceremony, Electric Citizen or are own much missed Purson, Ruby The Hatchet are the sound of the 60's with a thumping nod to the doom pioneers, good stuff. 8/10

The Nights: The Nights (Frontiers)

The Nights formed in 2015 when Sami Hyde (vocals) and Ilkka Wirtanen (guitar) brought their musical talents together, both were well known in the Finnish rock scene, Sami is a prolific writer contributing to songs by The Magnificent (one of my Frontiers favourites) while Ilkka has co-written numerous songs with Finnish glam rockers Reckless Love along with producing their albums. Together they bring their talents to the table on this their debut record and it's a melodic rock record of pristine guitar riffs, clear emotive vocals and pin-sharp production.

The record sparkles with pop sensibilities but has a metallic heart to it as Ilkka brings the fretboard fireworks of EVH or Steve Lynch (Autograph) to I Will Never Stop and the super smooth Juliette which balances the synth-led pulse with a crunchy guitar riff. The band have a similarity to fellow Finns and touring partners Brother Firetribe with a record of fist pumping anthems that sees the rhythm section Harri Kokkonen and Jan-Erik Iivari thump the heck out of things. It's really great to hear two immensely talented performers collaborate on what is a richly entertaining melodic rock album. 8/10

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Reviews: Steven Wilson, Prong, Voodoo Highway, Serperus (Reviews By Paul)

Steven Wilson: To The Bone (Caroline International P&D)

The sixth solo release from one of workaholic Steven Wilson sees him return to the progressive pop inspiration of his youth. Wilson has focused on the influence of artists like Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Tears For Fears and Talk Talk and the result is another beautifully crafted release. Tracks such as Nowhere Now retain the hard rock edge of previous releases whilst the pure beauty of Pariah with its dark undertones is enhanced by the support of Ninet Tayeb on guest vocals. With the usual cast of stunning musicians including Nick Beggs, Craig Blundell, Jeremy Stacey and Adam Holzman, the quality is of the standard we’ve come to expect from the perfectionist Wilson.

There is sufficient variety in the album to either embark on the full journey or dip in and out. It’s an album that works on all levels. The elements of indie synth rock such as Radiohead and Depeche Mode are evident throughout To The Bone, such as The Same Asylum As Before whilst the pop infused Permeating could sit on The Seeds Of Love. Wilson doesn’t do mediocre and To The Bone sits comfortably alongside the quality of his back catalogue. 9/10

Prong: Zero Days (Steamhammer)

It’s album number 12 from the American crossover thrashers Prong and maintains the band’s recent output of an album a year. Like every other Prong album, Zero Days is reliable and enjoyable. Tommy Victor’s energy and enthusiasm cannot be faulted and opener However It May End sets out the next forty-odd minutes. Zero Days is full of crunching riffs, an assault and battery on the senses which is not at all unpleasant. There’s also plenty of melody in this album. Check out The Whispers for evidence. The return of former bassist Mike Longworth, replacing Jason Christopher is the latest line-up change whilst Art Cruz continues behind the kit. Anthems abound throughout. Prong fill a much-needed hole in the metal market. Their continued efforts can only be applauded. 8/10

Voodoo Highway: The Ordeal (EU Import)

If you like your rock steeped in history and influenced by the classic rock giants whose presence still looms over the scene, then Italian’s Voodoo Highway should be a must have. The Ordeal is a short eight track release which mixes bits of Zeppelin, Purple and Bad Company but most importantly delivers with originality. The stomp of opener Litha, NY Dancer blend sweetly with the calmer Quietude. Frederico Di Marco has a voice that could melt the coldest heart. Clever use of keyboards ensure that the hard rock edge is retained whilst the layered sound appeals to those who welcome the lighter side of rock, especially on tracks such as The Rule. The Ordeal is well worth checking out. 8/10

Serperus: Infernal Seasons (697096 Records DK)

Think back to Evile’s debut release, Enter The Grave. Plenty of promise but with some rough edges. I had the same thoughts when listening to Liverpool outfit Serperus’s Infernal Seasons. A battering ram of old school thrash, with lots going on in the technical department. It’s fast and furious, but with one major flaw. Vocalist Joey Farrell’s delivery. Such is the resemblance to Slayer’s Tom Araya that it is nigh on impossible to focus on anything else. The scream on Into Ruin was almost perfect. Add in the cover of Spirit In Black and Infernal Seasons becomes too close to the thrash legends for comfort. 5/10

Monday, 7 August 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics

Aaron Buchanan, Florence Black & Those Damn Crows, Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff

Small sweaty venues are where rock n roll really shows it's appeal and it doesn't get much smaller or sweatier than downstairs at Cardiff's Clwb Ifor Bach. The room is pretty much just that but as with all of the venue the sound quality is always spot on (something a few venues could learn). Seeing three live wire rock bands on a sunny Friday is I think probably the best way to an evening so I hoped on a train with our photographer and we headed to the venue ready for the opening act, arriving at the venue with plenty of time to quaff a few cans of Tiny Rebel brewery's excellent pineapple infused ale Clwb Tropicana.

The opening act were Bridgend band Those Damn Crows (8) whose album was well reviewed on this blog, this was my first time watching the band live and they didn't disappoint, their modern Southern influenced hard rocking were treat to start the evening big crunching riffs, smiles all round and Shane Greenhall commanding the stage playing to the loyal crowd that had gathered for them. They seemed to have brought a lot of support and you can see why as they really play with a confidence of a band twice their size, with songs that sit somewhere between Foo Fighters, Black Stone Cherry and Alter Bridge the South Wales rockers banged their heads, shook their hips and sang along (Rock N Roll Ain't Dead) with band from the start to the finish of their set which comprised of cuts from their debut album and one new song that sounded huge. A triumphant opening act really encouraging the crowd to stick around and get involved, the strongly partisan crowd meant there were numerous and I do mean numerous selfies taken after their set, unfortunately during the other two bands' sets.

A short change over and Merthyr trio Florence Black (7) took to the stage, a relatively late addition to the set. Playing a set that was almost identical to their Steelhouse setlist a week previously (including their supercharged cover of Budgie's Breadfan) the band have been much maligned over last few months due to outside factors I'm not going into here but they have always delivered on stage, they excel on a small stage with hard rocking a wild solos the order of the day. The audience was noticeably thinner for them than it was for Those Damn Crows and the headliners but they didn't care they stormed through their set heads down and rocking. As the set finished the room was still rolling and rocking keeping the excitement high ready for the headliners.

A longer change over for the headliners but once all the kit was loaded in there was the briefest of soundcheck before Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics (9) kicked off with the storming Mind Of A Mute which was the touchpaper for the incendiary performance to come. Last time I saw The Cult Classics they were in their infancy with songs developing and growing, then they were very good, now they are stunning, everything is fully formed and played with a maturity rarely seen in a small venue like this.

This maturity is to with the confidence and stagecraft exuded by Aaron Buchanan, he is a natural frontman, keeping the crowd eating out of his hand from the off, bedecked in a silver jacket, his look, actions and incredible vocal dexterity are the reason why this band seem like arena headliners already, Buchanan has been there and done that fronting Heaven's Basement, but this project seems more real more natural working his way from the bottom up with just sheer talent.

On his right and left wing are six stringers Tom McCarthy and sister Laurie Buchanan who trade lead and rhythm guitars like the classic rock pairings of Robbo and Gorham or Moody and Marsden. The sweep in and out of dual harmonies and rhythms as McCarthy peels off the solos bringing the Brian May sound to the epic The Man With The Stars On His Knees (something that was confirmed as deliberate when I was talking to Aaron after the gig). Since the last time I have seen them they have had changes in the back room with Paul White battering the kit in the place of Kev Hickman, this gig also saw Fury's Martin Trail taking bass duties which I'm not sure is permanent fixture or not.

The two men provided the groove for Heaven's Basement track Heartbreaking Son Of A Bitch and Fire In The Fields Of Mayhem which is the live track only released as a B-Side but kills live especially when it follows HB's Fire Fire, there was a mix of Cult Classic and Heaven's Basement material meaning something for everyone as the largest crowd of the night filled the venue as the fans got involved by carrying Aaron around the venue as he crowd surfed from the 'stage' to the door and back.

The Cult Classics left it all on the stage a superior hard rock performance, in a few years time this gig will be one of those 'I was there' moments and when The Cult Classics are selling out arenas (which they certainly have the talent to do) this night in club will be seen as one of those 'classic' gigs you hear people talk about.

Kudos to Jamie and the team at Pity My Brain for booking this gig, they do seem to be able to get some of the best and most interesting talent in the UK to come to Wales, lets hope they are able to continue for a good while yet.  

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Reviews: Absolva, Exit Eden, Blind Haze

Absolva: Defiance (Rocksector Records)

Metal it's funny old thing, with so many sub genres and hybrid genres sometimes it can be hard to keep up and work out what certain bands will sound like. Absolva are not like that, there are no sub genres, no melting pot of influences, no dilution, just metal 100% proof. Absolva have been around since the dissolution of Fury UK in 2012 they have made four records (including this one), the core line up is the trio Chris Appleton (vocals/lead guitar), Karl Schramm (bass), Martin McNee (drums) with Chris's brother Luke dividing his time between playing rhythm guitar for Absolva and bass for Iced Earth.

As well as being in Absolva the trio are also the backing band for Blaze Bayley so they are well rehearsed, oiled metal machine, something that is evident on this record, the riffs snarl with a classic metal leads as the Appleton brothers put their name in the great guitar partnerships (although live Chris handles both parts simultaneously) with shinning examples on Rise Again and Midnight Screams while McNee batters the skins on Life On The Edge and Never Be The Same (which sounds a lot like Be Quick Or Be Dead) but slows down on the groovy Eclipse, Schramm too plays the bass like a lead instrument creating the Harrisesque groove on Fistful Of Hate.

Obviously Absolva are influenced by classic metal drawing on Maiden, Priest and Accept but they also bring in Lizzyisms on Who Dares Wins and slow things right down on Connections which is all classical acoustic guitars, it may be a new dimension to the band for some but if you pick up the 2 disc edition of this record the second disc features acoustic renditions of some of their earlier songs. Defiance is another proper metal album from Absolva it beats it's chest and challenges all comers, the entire ethos of the record and this band is encapsulated by the title track which is inspired by the Bataclan attack with the motto of Liberté égalité fraternité shouted aloud. No matter what the genre music has the power to unite us all, Absolva know this and Defiance is a blatant celebration of the music they and we love. 8/10

Exit Eden: Rhapsodies In Black (Napalm Records)

About 10 years ago there was a band called Northern Kings, it was made up of four notable metal/rock singers from Finnish bands, the most notable were Nightwish's Marco Hietala and Sonata Arctica's Tony Kakko, the songs were all vocal/metal reinterpretations of classic rock and pop songs such as Sledgehammer, Don't Stop Believing, Kiss From A Rose and We Don't Need Another Hero. The albums were very well performed and the songs chosen all worked in the metal genre, the real drawing power was vocalists involved and how well their voices mixed.

This brings me to Exit Eden which is a similar concept although this time it's the girls who take the lead and the band has a global feel, as with Northern Kings there are two perhaps lesser known ladies and two who regularly appear on records and tours. The amazingly talented singers are German American rock singer Anna Brunner, Brazilian Mariana La Torraca who fronts Phantom Limb, has played with Avantasia and has history on Broadway in Rent, the two recognisable names will be Parisian Clémentine Delauney who currently fronts Visions Of Atlantis and has sung with Serenity, Melted Space and Kai Hansen and finally rounding out the quartet is Amanda Sommerville who is no stranger to the metal scene singing for Avantasia, Epica, Kamelot as well as fronting Trillium and Kiske/Sommerville and frequently turns up on metal records.

If this wasn't enough Epica's Simone Simons features on Skyfall (originally by Adele) and Frozen (originally by Madonna) and Total Eclipse Of The Heart (originally by Bonnie Tyler) features Rick Altzi from At Vance. All four women compliment each others vocals perfectly and yet again they have chosen tracks that translate into metal very well Unfaithful (Rihanna), A Question Of Time (Depeche Mode) and Paparazzi (Lady Gaga) the best fits. This is fun project as it bridges the gap between mainstream pop and cheesy classics with symphonic metal, the whole project is given legitimacy by the four ladies involved. Like Northern Kings, Exit Eden could be throwaway but with the performances at such a high level it's hard not to appreciate the record. 8/10   

Blind Haze: The Bastards EP (Self Released)

There is no compromising with Blind Haze, the Leeds trio know what they like and what they like is LOUD. Their second EP, like their first, is a wall of relentless heavy rock riffs from beginning to end. It's the sort of music to make God bang is head, especially since that God is as we all know Lemmy. Blind Haze follow in the legendary footsteps of the man himself with Conan's Rickenbacker bass and bellowed vocals leading the charge while Jason Hope tries pummel his drumkit into oblivion. It must have been daunting for anyone to enter the hurricane of noise but John Nicholson is clearly mad, plugging his axe and letting rip with his new compatriots. The Bastards EP gives Blind Haze a few more songs to batter an audience with, play it loud with a Jack & Coke nearby it's what Lem would have wanted! 8/10

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Reviews: Paradise Lost (Review By Paul)

Paradise Lost: Medusa (Nuclear Blast)

2015 saw Yorkshire's doom merchants Paradise Lost return to their blackest roots for the monumental The Plague Within. Vocalist Nick Holmes focused on the death growls from way back in the mists of melancholy, whilst Gregor Mackintosh upped the riffometer substantially. It represented a huge shift in direction from a band who have never been afraid of forging new pathways.

Medusa continues along the heavy road, retaining the intensity and power whilst moving even deeper into the darkness. As soon as the crushingly heavy opening chords of Fearless Sky hit the aural senses, you know that this is one cold serving of despair. At over eight minutes long it's impressive. The band, now with drummer Waltteri Vayrynen firmly ensconced on the drum stool, have slowed down to almost sludge proportions. It is miserable and perfect for a band whose Northern misery has always been a huge feature in their music.

Medusa demands repeated plays. There is so much power contained here that there should be a health warning with it. Holmes sounds totally comfortable with the continued vocal change, although I still prefer his clean sound which surfaces from time to time. Gods Of Ancient maintains the sheer velocity, an increase in pace and power but still bone splintering in its power. The cheery From The Gallows follows, MacKintosh and Aaron Adey's combined riffs pulverising before the devastating power chords kicks in. This one will allow the dandruff to fly at Damnation. It's mighty heavy. Mackintosh unleashes razor sharp solos whilst bassist Steve Edmondson combines with the new boy to pounding effect.

The Longest Winter allows Holmes to deliver in more restrained and typical style, but fuck me, it's still heavier than rutting rhinoceroses on a battleship. The pain is intense, the dejection and forlornness crashing over the listener in waves. This will be immense at high volume in front of a roaring log fire on a cold November evening. The title track opens with a piano riff and Edmondson's sinister bass lines, measured at all times with Holmes morphing from clean vocals to death growl with ease. It's eerie, etched with pain and sorrow. The piano riff continues during a temporary haunting interlude but at all times the malevolence broods just below the surface.

There is no let up in the pummelling though, as another massive riff kicks off No Passage For The Dead. Every bit as despondent as the title suggests, this is an enormous gloom soaked offering, and whilst fierce the gothic period from the early career remains ever present. It stalks, watches and then crushes. A right gnarly fucker. The penultimate song is also the shortest track on the album, and it's one of the best. A typical Paradise Lost thumper, pacy and jumping, with Holmes moving into his early Wayne Hussey style between the continued growls, this is Blood And Chaos, an absolute beast of a tune. Album closer Until The Grave veers not one jot from the doom laden course. Death growls, colossal riffs and spine breaking rhythms hammer in the final nails.

If you can still stand after this, the bonus edition holds an extra three gems including Symbolic Virtue which has shades of the Faith Divides Us era but with an extra serving of heavy. In Medusa, Halifax's most miserable sons have shown that they remain one of the most essential UK bands of the last 20 years. Full of life despite their misery, this release is simply brilliant. Damnation Festival will be something special. Roll on November. 10/10

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Reviews: The Tangent, Shaman's Harvest, Eagleheart

The Tangent: The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery (InsideOut Music)

The Tangent are a long established prog group with fluctuating line up. They are still led by founder member Andy Tillison who takes the keyboards, guitars, drums and lead vocals, who along with co-founding member bassist Jonas Reingold are forging ahead with this the bands eleventh album, not bad when you consider this was supposed to be a one-off thing. The line up of The Tangent has been fairly fluid through the band's existence this record features such talents as jazz sax player Theo Travis playing all manner of wind instruments, along with Maschine members Luke Machin on guitar and Marie-Eve de Gaultier on keys and haunting female vocals.

It's a classic prog sound but with intelligent modern politically, morally and socially conscious lyrics. The massive The Rust rallies against the binary nature of computers, politics and the world in general, before moving into longing ballad about the plight of the refugees from Syria. Tillson shares a political stance with his compatriot Roger Waters, the singing is in places along spoken word like Waters best low, deliberate and soft. He takes aim at the extremism on A Few Steps Down lambasting the rise of the extreme right, the vote to take back a country for it's people and the blatant lies fed to the public to see foreigners as a threat a coda on Jerusalem sardonically rounding the track off as the revelation that all is not as it seems is made.

Then he really nails the ridiculous idea of Brexit on the pulsating Basildonxit localising it with great effect. The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery is yet again perfect British progressive rock music, double keyboards giving a thick sound, Machin's guitars soaring with unmistakable style. Fans of King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator and Roger Waters will lap this up, a masterstroke in progressive music. 9/10

Shaman's Harvest: Red Hands, Black Deeds (Mascot Records)

You can take the boy out of Missouri but Missouri will always be in the boy and Shaman's Harvest's six album is one that was conceived in the swamplands surrounded by witchy women and possessed men, the title track is an intro built on gospel claps and stomps as the repeated lines build the spookiness. Then riffs kick in and Broken Ones starts the record proper as Matt Fisher's bassline the heartbeat of the song as Josh Hamler and Derrick Shipp build the riffs. Shaman's Harvest have been lumped into the alternative/post grunge bracket and it;s easy to say why with a sound akin to Shinedown or Pop Evil vocalist Nathan Hunt having the low register of Shinedown's Brent.

Adam Zemanek powers the hip shaking The Come Up and the pace drops on the introspective A Longer View but this has is welcome after the thumping from the first to songs. Shaman's Harvest sit in the peripheral of acts like BSC and Shinedown but expect repeated plays on Planet Rock as their music is accessible, groovy and sprinkles the US hard rock with a large dollop of bluesy soul, which can be heard on Soul Crusher a track that Hozier could have played if he wanted to and they pull chicken-pickin off too with Off The Tracks. Shaman's Harvest's sixth record is a blues drenched modern hard rock album from a bunch of Southern boys who can play it like they own it. 8/10

Eagleheart: Reverse (Scarlet Records)

Czech power metal act Eagleheart come at you with the symphonic battery usually saved for Kamelot and Serenity. Reverse is their third record coming 6 years after their previous album Dreamtherapy since then the band have recruited new vocalist Roman Sácek who replaced original singer Vojta "Kai" Šimoník in 2012, on this record Šimoník returns taking four string duties for this record. Dreamtherapy was critically acclaimed and if this record is anything to go by those plaudits look to continue, Reverse is a galloping power metal record with twin guitar fury, it's a complex dynamic record that deals with the themes of reality, founding guitarist Michal "Mike" Kůs says that "while our previous record was about dreams and escape from the real world, this one is quite the opposite, it's a wake up call for reality".

As I've said before the band share similarities with Kamelot impassioned lyrics and shredding guitars bolstered by Blind Guardian-like symphonics. The record is produced by Roland Grapow (Masterplan, ex-Helloween) so it sounds huge through a good set of speakers, there is nothing revolutionary here but it's high calibre power metal that gets you head nodding. 7/10

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

A View From The Top Of The Mountain: Steelhouse Festival 2017 (Live Review By Paul)

Steelhouse Festival 2017 - Hafod y Dafal Farm, Aberbeeg, Wales

The annual Welsh International classic rock festival, situated high on a mountain top in South Wales, has grown in stature year on year. The feedback improves after each event, with the friendliness of the staff and the quality of the bands drawn to this remote location repeatedly highlighted. 2017's line-up contained a mouth watering selection of bands, arguably the strongest in the seven year history of the event.

Disappointingly, the dismal weather forecast for the weekend became all too real and once again UK hard rock fans spent an uncomfortable weekend wading through six inches of gloopy mud, soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone by the 14mph winds that at least ensured that the storm clouds were hurriedly moved across the open skies above the site. A disastrous start to the event, with massive queues snaking up the mountain side on the Friday evening, the car park eventually closed and punters told to leave their cars at the side of the track, slog up the steep hill to the sodden campsite and sort things out in the morning. It was immediately noticeable that there was an absence of stewards or communication from those running the festival. Sitting in cars for over two hours with no news was pretty frustrating although I appreciate decisions were being taken by those in charge.

Now, I am under no illusion about how challenging running any festival is. The Steelhouse Festival is set extra challenges due to its location. But that doesn't excuse some basic planning for the weather. Time and time again, festival goers are told that the "exceptional" weather causes the difficulties. I'm sorry but this is bollocks. It always fucking rains in Ebbw Vale, and it would be irresponsible, no, downright outrageous, not to have contingency plans. One of those has to be ensuring that those attending and paying good money for the festival receive at least some of the facilities and amenities offered. As it was, many who had paid for camper van parking were resigned to spending the weekend parked at the side of a dirt track with no access to toilet facilities or fresh water.

Similarly, many car drivers also chose to sleep in their cars for the first night, including us. The speed in which the site turned into a quagmire could and should have been prevented, through the use of straw or wood clippings (of which there will be a fuck ton available - our allotment site gets tons of it delivered every week). The lack of communication was abysmal, with the absence of security staff and stewards throughout the weekend noticeable. The eerie quiet of the site at 6am on Saturday morning as we attempted to locate some drinking water was astonishing. A single Show Sec member, asleep in the main cabin had no idea about anything, unbriefed and completely unprepared for any accident or incident. Clearly the impact of recent events was not utmost on the minds of the organisers. The absence of updates on social media was also very noticeable. Poor. Very poor.

So, having got that off my chest, what about the music. Well, unfortunately the Steelhouse Live winners Revival kicked off the evening whilst we were still sat in the queue, so it was left to Armagh regulars Trucker Diablo (8) to get our groove on. And what better band to take your mind off the pouring rain than the Northern Irish outfit. Their groove laden hard rock was just what was needed, and with a pint of the beautiful Tudor Brewery ale in hand, it was time to party. A mix of songs from the band's three albums got the heads nodding, and a cover of Proud Mary got the sing-a-long started. Tom Harte and the boys stuck to their drinking anthems with a well paced and refectory chosen set and having seen them a number of times, it's clear to see that despite the party attitude Trucker Diablo are improving on every viewing. Harte leads the band magnificently, and the rain was forgotten as the band closed with the anthem Drink Beer, Destroy. Suddenly things were a little better.

Another beer calmed the tension and as smiles began to emerge, another old friend of the festival and the South Wales music scene appeared on stage to really deliver some quality. Hand Of Dimes (9) played at Steelhouse in 2013 and 2016 but their performance this evening would obliterate that. Led by the charismatic Nev McDonald, the band's soulful melodic rock was absolutely superb. A lengthy set sped by, with more people braving the elements, drawn by the enthusiasm and sheer quality on the stage. Alongside Nev, guitarist Colin Edwards and Mark Maybry on bass, as well as drummer David Stephenson and co-founder member Neil Garland on keys and mean harmonica. The band whizzed through a number of their tunes including Bad Reputation, Pinstripe Arrogance and Jacobs Ladder

All fantastic stuff and delivered with such enthusiasm and joy. We'd also been promised a treat with the legendary Bernie Marsden due to join the band and he kept that promise, turning out to be one of the troopers of the weekend (more later). The band delivered four classic Whitesnake tracks, with Nev easily maintaining the 1980s Coverdale vocal range. Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues was the highlight for me although festival song of the weekend was Here I Go Again with the 1982 version from Saints and Sinners given the first of three outings. Full audience participation was a given, and allowed the small but enthusiastic crowd to end the sodden evening on a high.

Saturday

Pitching your tent at 6am in the dry is a damn sight easier than at midnight in the rain. So that's what we did, having spent a few hours trying to snooze in the car. We weren't the only ones. Having managed an extra hour or two of horizontal rest, it was time to layer up and wade back through the swamp to catch more music. First up, and with a lot of local support, was Merthyr three piece Florence Black (6). Despite a technical bass problem, the band made a real good start to the day, with their brash rock receiving a decent reception from the larger crowd. Their tracks are decent but forgettable, although their set was ideal to ease the first pint of Mountain Rock down the throat.

Following the Merthyr lads was Tequila Mockingbyrd (7), the female trio who hail from Melbourne. Having spent six weeks touring in Europe, Louisa Baker, Jess Reily and Josie O'Toole were sharp and enthusiastic. Their brand of punk-pop eliciting a warm response. The ladies gusto and sheer joy made watching them much more enjoyable, even though their music is pretty binary. Tracks such as I Smell Rock N Roll and Fight And Flight prompted a decent response from an audience who were primed to sing at any occasion.

Walsall's favourite rock outfit Stone Broken (7) were up next. Having seen the band support Cheap Trick a month previously, I was aware exactly what was coming. Lots of energy, huge pearly white smiles and pointing to friends and fans in the crowd whilst their inoffensive Black Stone Cherry lite rock touched bases with many in the audience. Maybe its the band's sheer determination, and youthfulness that drives them forward. They certainly fit the Planet Rock profile and the huge reaction from many in the ever swelling crowd suggests that this band will continue to climb for some time. I don't get the fuss personally. Too generic, bland and a little too manufactured in style for me. Still, they got a great reception.

Having trudged back to the tent for something to eat, it was time to catch Bernie Marsden's (8) acoustic set. The man is certainly a gifted musician and his voice was quite a surprise although I'm not overly familiar with his solo work. Marsden's set comprised solo work and another selection of work from his Whitesnake era, including a quite magnificent Ain't Gonna Cry No More. It was at this point that you realised that Here I Go Again was coming up for its second hearing of the weekend. Still, the crowd, by now larger and certainly with fewer sharp edges, went crazy and Marsden received one of the best ovations of the weekend. The man is a guitar god. And he wasn't done yet!

Now I'm in the minority within the classic rock world, but I don't see what all the fuss is with Inglorious (6). Nathan James has a stunning voice, but for the majority of this show he appeared as a frontman with a backing band, rather than as part of a group. His adoring public certainly lapped his kimono bedecked performance as he strode back and fore along the extended walkway but at times he appeared totally disconnected. Meanwhile the rest of the band certainly put the effort in. It just appeared a bit contrived. That may be me, but I'm mistrustful. 

Apart from anything else, any band who adds a bass/drum solo in the middle of their set needs help. their radio friendly rock is certainly listenable and they have some catchy hooks and melodies. Tracks like Holy Water, Change Is Coming and I Don't Need Your Loving all get the toe tapping. I just don't get the hype which they receive. Manufactured? Probably not but that's the way it appears to me.

There is nothing manufactured about the balls out hard rock of Canadians Monster Truck (9) Who took the mountain by the scruff of the neck and despite the pouring rain blasted through one of the sets of the weekend. Guitarist Jeremy Widerman made the decision to play the entire set shirtless and at the mercy of the elements, much to the appreciation of the dripping fans at the front. If you haven't heard Monster Truck then the best way to describe them is exactly what their name suggests.

The band are a careering exaggerated beast of a vehicle who play fast and dirty rock and roll. Vocalist and bassist Jon Harvey's energetic vocal is matched by his furious bass lines whilst Brandon Bliss's keys add some Southern flavour to the band's sound. Drummer Steve Kiely completes the line-up. The band roared through a good 45 minute set, which maintained momentum from the off. Don't Tell Me How To Live, The Enforcer, She's A Witch, the ironic Sweet Mountain River and the rousing The Lion all featured in a blistering set.

Rain continued to fall with only slight intermissions to allow any respite but the crowd, who by now had increased by my estimates to maybe 1500 - 2000, were certainly making the most of the day. Special guests Last In Line (8) needed little introduction. With three quarters of the original Dio line-up present when they formed, the band can rightly lay more claim to the Dio crown than any other band. With the passing of Jimmy Bain the band now has Phil Soussan pulling the bass strings and Erik Norlander tinkling the keys replacing original Dio keyboard player Claude Schnell. They are joined by Vivian Campbell and Vinnie Appice alongside vocalist Andrew Freeman, formerly of Lynch Mob and The Offspring. 

The band released a very competent debut last year, and their set contained a couple of tracks from Heavy Crown. Unsurprisingly the vast majority of Last In Line's set was Dio stuff. Campbell's slicing riff to opener Stand Up And Shout never fails to get the hairs on the back of the neck elevated and a range of classics including the ever popular Rainbow In The Dark gave the faithful an hour of nostalgia.

As darkness fell and the rain continued to fall, it was noticeable that the arena had become emptier. When Steelhouse announced that Newport's ragga metal outfit Skindred (7) were the first headliners, there was much derision, outrage and disbelief. Skindred live are a different class, and having seen them many times before, they rarely disappoint. Benji Webb and the gang blasted onto the stage with power, opener Volume allowing the hardcore fans at the front to bounce and jump. Rat Race followed before the first of several long speeches from the imposing frontman. 

Whether it was the weather, or the audience, this was not Skindred's finest show. Long breaks between music whilst Benji spoke to the crowd slowed the pace, and the preamble to Nobody has been doing the rounds for several months. As the crowd thinned further under the barrage of the relentless hammering from the skies, Skindred closed a short nine song set with Warning. The amazing sight of hundreds of Newport helicopters in the pouring rain as the band closed out day one was worth seeing but overall this was a below par show from one of rock's most scintillating live bands.

Sunday

Waking to find two of your party had left the site in early hours was a surprising way to start the day and we made our own decision to get off the mountain at the end of the evening after Saxon closed the day down. Having packed most of our gear into the car, the remaining members of our party headed back through the mud to the arena. Openers The Texas Flood kicked off proceedings, but not before a delayed soundcheck had pushed things back. This was a timing issue that got worse as the day continued.

An attempt had been made to make parts of the arena safer with segments of hay bales laid at the front of the stage and around the field. Far too little and too late. When The Texas Flood (8) did get started, the day well and truly improved. The Neath Port Talbot boys took their time, engaged in some terrific banter and laid down 30 minutes of Black Crowes style swagger filled rock. Tom Bradford, Ben Govier and Tom Williams are a band full of quality and no little amount of confidence. Having honed their skills with hard gigging schedules over recent years, the band were sharp, slick and most definitely on the same page. A band that are well worth looking out for. 

Another band I had been looking forward to seeing was Broken Witt Rebels (8), having not been able to get to their recent gig at The Globe in Cardiff. I was not disappointed as the Birmingham four piece encouraged the sun to break through the clouds with their indie fused with blues and southern rock 'n' roll. Vocalist Danny Gore's astonishing voice cut loud and proud through the Welsh countryside, close your eyes and you could be watching a band from the Deep South, not the industrial heartland of U.K. The band's set consisted tracks from their Georgia Pine, Howlin' and This Town Belongs To Me EP. With the swagger and confidence of a band on the up, Gore, flanked by guitarist James Tranter and bassist Luke Davies, supported by drummer James Dudley soon had the crowd baying for more. This is a band on the up and well worth a watch. A special afternoon indeed.

Jared James Nichols (7) provided a virtuoso set shortly afterwards with his tighter than a ducks arse backing duo of Erik Sandin and Dennis Holm.Nichols is a native of Wisconsin and plays American blues rock to great effect. His picking style is both laid back and intense and although many of the audience were unfamiliar with his work, he soon had the crowd interested with some smashing play. Two interesting covers in his set, with the Nuge's Cat Scratch Fever receiving faster, more urgent treatment before a version of Mountain's Mississippi Queen excited the oldies and youngsters alike. His recent stints on the road with Blue Oyster Cult and UFO have provided wider exposure and although the market is awash with good looking pearly white toothed guitar heroes, Nichols looks a good bet for top billing in the future.

As the crowd blinked in disbelief the sun continued to cause havoc and most, sat in waterproofs and multiple layers, just resigned themselves to the inevitability of the showers to come. Still, it was fun whilst it lasted although sustaining sunburn to the cheeks on a weekend like this seems more than a little unfair. Toby Jepson's latest outfit, Wayward Sons (6) strutted their stuff next. It was all a little routine and whilst there was nothing remotely unpleasant it was nothing special and a trip back to base camp for some food took preference.

With King King forced to withdraw due to illness, the mid-afternoon slot allowed a welcome return to Nev, Neil and Hand Of Dimes (7) for a bit extra. Amazingly, we also got Bernie Marsden again and unsurprisingly Here I Go Again (and again). Whilst the guys pulled out another quality slot, it was impossible to match Friday evening's classic gig despite the sight of Planet Rock presenters Reddick and Danter taking over bass and drum duties respectively alongside Marsden and the Dimes for Free's Wishing Well. Still, full marks to all for filling in at short notice.

A long wait due to a lengthy sound check preceded the arrival of Iron Maiden's Steve Harris and British Lion (7). As the weather once again threatened ominously, the band ploughed through most of 2012's self titled debut release with a muddy sound slowly improving. Vocalist Richard Taylor impressed with his clear voice, reminiscent of Magnum's Bob Catley at times. British Lion's songs focus more on the progressive and traditional classic rock but there is no mistaking Harris's thunderous galloping bass. The Maiden master only has one way to play, full throttle and 110% at all times. Foot on the monitor, charging from left to right, voicing every word of every song, this is Steve fucking Harris right there. What a pleasure, even if the songs aren't as memorable. Us Against The World is a tune though and the band, with David Hawkin and Graham Leslie shredding magnificently either side of the stage finished strongly to a well deserved ovation. 

Further showers arrived as the evening began to darken slightly and people started adding those extra layers to keep out the chill. Yes, it was damp and cold. There was no way we were going to stay cold though with Sunday's special guests. Long Beach, California must have seemed a million miles away to the astonishingly brilliant Rival Sons (10) whose master class in cool sophistication was just a joy to behold. The sheer quality of the band made all the shitty wading through mud, the horizontal rain and the lack of sleep worth it.

Up front the talents of Jay Buchanan, vocal range stepped in historical influences of Plant, Rogers et al, captured the breath. Strutting, every inch the rock star in black leather jacket and black shirt, Buchanan's inter song banter limited to a few short introductions and admiration for the stoicism of the audience. Like several other bands on the bill who had been interchanging venues over the two days, the Sons had performed at Rambling Man Fair in Maidstone the night before. There were no ill effects whatsoever. To Buchanan's left, one of the coolest guitar players around, Scott Holliday, whose sublime mastery of his art was mesmerising. The band played a full hour, opening with Hollow Bones Pt I and closing with Keep On Swinging. In between, we had several gems from the band's catalogue, including Electric Man and a breathtaking Memphis Sun. Holliday and Buchanan are ably accompanied by Michael Miley, Dave Beste and touring keyboard player Todd Ogren Brooks, whose performance was as great as his beard.

Thirty minutes behind schedule, it was finally time. As AC/DC's Long Way To The Top hit the speakers, anticipation peaked and in a blinding show of lights Biff and the boys stormed on stage opening with Battering Ram. Yes, the mighty Saxon (9) were back on the mountain. As in 2013, the heavens opened once more and it decided to pour down for the remainder of the set. That didn't put off Saxon one bit, with Biff in imperious form out on the walkway getting totally soaked. At one point the legendary frontman was singing under an umbrella. The closest comparison you'll ever get to Gene Kelly. As in recent years, Saxon's setlist comprised both old and new stuff although it was predominantly greatest hits which is what the crowd wanted. Their cutting edge remains as sharp as ever, with Sacrifice, 20,000ft, And The Band's Played On and a storming Dallas 1PM all as fresh today as when they first hit the decks. 

With the giant eagle lighting rig in situ, The Eagle Has Landed was possibly the track of the festival. Imposing, grand and majestic, Nibs Carter and Nigel Glockler held the powerful bass line whilst Paul Quinn and Doug Scaratt's razor edged guitar work was magnificent. It's Biff that keeps the attention though, and his voice shows no signs of aging. As the rain continued Biff confirmed that the band would continue without an encore, which allowed time for Wheels Of Steel and Crusader amongst others. Saxon are always magnificent. This was no exception and a fitting band to close another Steelhouse Festival.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Reviews: Black Path, The Curf, Skydawn

Black Path: Final Act - Martyr (Self Released)

Greek death metal is always of a high quality and Black Path are no exception, the gnarly riffs and gruff grunts burst out of your speakers on the back of blastbeat flurries, obvious influences would be Rotting Christ and Septicflesh with the latter more noticeable due to the technicality of the music on display and the melodic guitar playing that fills this record.

The Athens band have been around since 2009 and this debut album is a strong statement of intent, that intent is to rip your face off which it does, My Exile has complicated guitar pieces and a heavy groove that sounds like Nile, Blackened Requiem is based on insane drumming and The God That Lied is guitar fans wet dream with the fluid playing on display.

You can hear that their sound has been perfected in the live arena before being cut on to record, they are talented performers and they really know their craft pushing the limitations of it with every song. Black Path are a new name in the filed of technical death metal but they are a name to listen out for, if Suffocation, Bloodbath and Cannibal Corpse are your bag then you'll love the frenzied precision of Black Path. 8/10

The Curf: Death And Love (Self Released)

The Curf's tagline is "Where there is smoke, there is bong" and this love for recreational horticulture infects their music, Dark Hado sounds as if it's played at half speed with heavy rumbling basslines from Spyros vibrating your skull. I've written about the Greeks love of psych/stoner metal (I may even write a book about it at some point) but they really seem to indulge themselves when it comes to the genre.

On this the bands second record The Curf have really found an atmospheric style to their playing with Let Go a creeping doom laden piece that sees Pepper leading with his drums as guitarist/vocalist Chris rarely takes his foot off the fuzz pedal, as the fat stoner/doom riffs keep coming. Death And Love has an impending sense of doom about it, a chemically enhanced paranoia if you will but it's a great album for a late night session, if Kyuss was jamming with Iron Monkey and they had access to a bowlful of hash this may be the result. Hail to the leaf indeed. 7/10

Skydawn: Destiny Is Near (Self Released)

Ouch...Skydawn have a lot of promise, their 3 track EP has some good musicianship on it with the band taking a AOR driven approach to metal, but they are let down by the vocals. They frequently go flat and can't quite reach the highs. Three songs is enough. Avoid. 3/10