Banditos: Visionland (Bloodshot Records)
I really liked Banditos debut and fresh off seeing them live (in a KFC) I picked up their sophomore album Visionland named after the defunct $60 million theme park that was built in the late ‘90s near some of the band members’ childhood homes in Bessemer, Alabama. Apparently the park was shut down after only five years and it stands as a metaphor for the overlying optimism for life this album represents. Visionland also sees the band bring more psychedelic vibes to their already established Southern Country jams. Fine Fine Day starts the record with a New York glam riff driven (thanks to bassist Jeffery Daniel Vines) ode to vodka as the hazy middle section spirals wildly Jeffery David Salter woozily playing some slide while Stephen Alan Pierce II bashes his banjo. Everything stays groovy for Strange Heart the first outing for the soul drenched vocals of Mary Beth Richardson atop the psychedelic meanderings that creep and crawl.
The kaleidoscope of colours continues on the title track which brings sweeping guitars from both Salter and Timothy Steven Corey Parsons as Randy Taylor Wilde drives it with a shuffle. Banditos self titled record owed a debt to Neil Young, Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan but this on brings Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Buffalo Springfield and the Grateful Dead; Thick N Thin especially is a Jerry Garcia surf-rocker. With three vocalists to choose from each has their own identity Parsons takes the country rockers, Pierce a folkier Dylan twang and as I've said Richardson has an old soul with Etta James coming through on the shimmering broken heart ballad Healin' Slow, placing this in the middle of the record as the end of 'Side 1' is a stroke of genius, it allows for Lonely Boy to wash over you with it's laid back approach as Fun All Night has swagger to it and exhibits Mary Beth's mastery of the kazoo (yes folks the Kazoo).
I like Banditos, I liked their country rock first album and I like their psychedelic second album, there's an honesty here that is the sound of friends creating the music they want from their collective heart and soul. You can't really argue with that the optimism that at the heart of this record, let the music bring you in to Banditos Visionland. 9/10
Persona: Metamorphosis (Self Released)
Persona's debut album was highly rated by us here at MoM Towers, it was a very powerful debut with a mixture of progressive, power and extreme metal elements along with touches of the Middle Eastern themes of Orphaned Land or Myrath. So on their second full length Metamorphosis you'd think it would be more of the same but this second album sees the band ramp up the symphonic and death influences aiming more at the Epica sound than the previously mentioned Middle Eastern themes. Take a song like Hellgrind it's a furiously frantic with explosive drumming from Youssef Aouadi leading the charge as the death metal scythe through the rhythms of Aouadi, bassist Nesrine Mahbouli and rhythm guitarist Yosri Ouada. Frontwoman Jelena Dobrić gives a schizophrenic vocal performance with her soaring cleans and guttural roars throughout the track.
In fact she pulls this trick off numerous times during the album and every time it makes you really appreciate her vocal prowess, she's not the only member of the band that impresses though keyboardist Walid Bessadok moves the band out of your typical melo-death sound into a more progressive sound with the huge Gothic organ sound on In Memoriam really giving the track legs and it even features a piano solo for that proper baroque Jim Steinman playing Opeth sound. The Tunisian band have not improved on their debut but have maintained a high quality by evolving their musical output with some songs still meeting the 'female fronted metal' criteria with the final two piece of The Seeress Of Triumph and Epilogue: Final Deliverance but this record is so much more than that it has the rampaging death metal I've talked about but there are also the powerful Katatonia-esque The Omen Of Downfall, the electronic Netherlight and shred happy Esurience Guilefulness Omnipotence which showcases the guitar prowess of Melik Melek Khelifa. I have a bit of a soft spot for Persona and their latest album is heavier and more aggressive than their debut which can only be a good thing. 9/10
Wicked Stone: Ain't No Rest (Self Released)
There's a little theory I like to call the 'Planet Rock Effect', this is the theory that no matter how generic a band is if they given airplay extensively on Planet Rock, the UK's only 'rock' station on digital radio then the act will be hailed as the 'next-big-thing' and will play all of the Planet Rock sponsored festivals thereby getting a bigger audience and more airplay and a fandom that will inspire the next generation to do something similar until modern rock becomes bland. Now I know in my King Creature review I said they needed radio play but that's because they are a bit different a bit heavier than a lot of the music played on Planet Rock so unfortunately this is really the only way to establish yourself as a name act. Wicked Stone are the ideal example of the 'Planet Rock Effect' obviously talented musicians and by all accounts a crafted live show, their album is mediocre at best, the title track is also their first single and it has been given lots of airplay on the station, yes it exposes them to wider audience but a wider audience of people who already like this sort of music no matter what.
Unfortuantely for Wicked Stone their distorted rock riffs, numerous lead breaks and heavily cliched lyrics on tracks such as Another Round, Get In Get Out, Slide really drag the record down into the doldrums. Nearly every song is about women or drinking or driving, not that there is anything wrong with those things but it's been done by bands a thousand times before bands that do it so much better. Wicked Stone are sort of like Nickelback-lite without the ballads achingly formulaic and not very interesting, there will be those that disagree and they are entitled to their opinion but these are also the people that think playing Opeth's lightest song on rock radio station is a guilty pleasure. 5/10