Black Country Communion: BCCIV (Mascot Records)
Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham, Derek Sherinian (and Kevin Shirley) are back, the bridges have been rebuilt, the handshakes accepted and now everyone is back to being friends these men return to what brought them to the dance. I don't need to explain who these guys are you should know, but with what is probably the biggest gap between albums for any of the members this record has been highly anticipated for anyone that loves a supergroup. Now I'm a fan of any project Joey Bones is involved in but I do have a particular affinity to Black Country Communion, it's a real supergroup and there previous three albums have all been must-hear records. Yes the debut was more immediate and their third outing did show signs of strain but with the musicianship and experience these men have, the records are never going to be crap. Has the wait been worth it?
Well some may say that the first time round BCC squeezed the Zep/Purple influences for all they're worth, BCC are shamelessly retro but exciting and their ingeniously titled fourth album reminds you of that initial impact of their debut but with the folk and prog influences that crept in on albums 2 and 3. The record starts with the count in, Boham's torte snare and then the grooving riff as 'The Voice Of Rock' proves his mettle as both a vocalist and bassist giving the track it's walking bassline, On The Crow he even plays a bass solo in the songs elongated solo section. Contrive is the ideal start giving you instant gratification from the band with fat Zeppelin rocking, it's followed up by Over My Head which brings in lighter textures with Sherinian's organs bubbling away and Hughes reaching his higher register. Things take a turn into Free, The Faces and Zep 3 on Last Song For My Resting Place which is Bonamassa's first lead vocal of the record and it's real Isle Of Avalon stuff as the mandolin wind giving way to Bonamassa's incendiary soloing on a song that could have easily been kept for a Bonamassa solo record but suits the BCC ethos much better.
Since the band came about in 2010 Kevin Shirley has been twiddling the knobs and acting as the de-facto fifth member his production technique is brilliant, he really brings out the perfect sound for a band. Take the psychedelic swirling of The Cove as an example, the music is exemplary as it should be but he clarity of the production really makes it sparkle. At 70-odd minutes it might be hard going for some but you do get to hear four (five) experienced musicians at the height of their powers, BCCIV is a clarion call from BCC, the clouds that brought an end to the band have cleared and they are all once again on the same page playing the music they do so well. 9/10
Sparzanza: Announcing The End (Despotz Records)
Sweden's Sparzanza are one of those bands that I've seen posters of in various venues and ads in various magazines but I've never heard anything by them. I'd always assumed they were an AOR band but upon playing their eighth album I realise how dead wrong I was. Looking a previous reviewer have dubbed them "The Swedish Tremonti" and I'd say that comparison holds up, Sparzanza play a heavy style of melodic metal that has chunky riffs and big sing along choruses, I'd even say there was a lot of Evergrey in there too (To The One) albeit without the progressive nature although the epic Whatever Come is close. Vocally Fredrik sounds similar to Papa Het with booming croon which he sometimes shifts into a scarred bark, which lends a bit of LOG groove to The Dark Appeal.
Announcing The End is somewhat of a provocative title with the songs aimed at being an incitement to the apocalypse, there's no let up, it's about as far away from AOR as possible, the riffs are distorted and chug away from the self titled opener, there is very little time to compose yourself before the next song beats down on your ear drums. The only time the band ease off on the riffs is when they add melodic flourishes like the piano on Truth Is A Lie or on the gigantic fist-in-the-air choruses. Sparzanza have really impressed me on this record, they are nothing like I thought they were, I really enjoyed their muscular modern melodic metal, looks like I have two tasks now, find their earlier albums and see them live where I'm sure these albums get heavier again. 8/10
Metalite: Heroes In Time (Inner Wound Records)
Sweden seem to produce a new band every 40 seconds and they are always so widely varied it's hard to keep up. Metalite are Swedish and like fellow Swedes Amaranthe they have a very bouncy style of power metal that is built on EDM beats. Heroes In Time is the band's debut record and it's a collaboration between singer Emma Bensing and guitarist Edwin Premberg who along with their superior band do an admirable job of nailing the sound Amaranthe have done so successfully. It makes you think though how many of these types of band does one country and indeed a record buying public need? Yes there is no argument about Metalite's talent but they do sound exactly like Amaranthe with some Dynazty and Nightwish thrown into the pot. There's very little else I can say about this record, if you like Amaranthe then you'll love Metalite, as the advertising Meerkat says "Simples". 7/10
Haema: Insurrection (Sliptrick Records)
There must be something in the water in Northamptonshire, punishing groove metal seems to flow out of there like lava, it's invariably red hot and slow moving, bludgeoning you with every low end chord. Gutworm used to and Krysthla do this better than most, so when you see that Northampton troupe Haema's debut EP is produced/recorded by Krysthla/Gutworm's Neil Hudson it's safe to assume that it's going to have the razor sharp sound of their own records. Musically Haema continue with the hefty groove metal of their peers with the dark electronics of Fear Factory. Insurrection has five tracks or precision brutality featuring down-tuned riffs, buzzing electronics and bouncing nu-metal bottom end, it kicks into gear with Eden which has the clean/harsh vocals with waves of synths over big groovy riffs and breakdown in the middle section, sounding similar, as most of this record does, to Burning Red era Machine Head fused with the rap rock of Rage Against The Machine, listen to Free Man and tell me otherwise. Haema are a band out of time, their music would have seen them on top of the world in the year 2000, but with this nu-metal sound coming around it might be time for Haema to lead the revival. 7/10