The Darkness: Pinewood Smile (Cooking Vinyl)
Steel Panther...the elephant in the room has been addressed, The Darkness are not and will never be Steel Panther, one they are far too English, two they are lyrically cleverer and finally they are all proper musicians. So thank goodness for that as I hate Steel Panther but The Darkness have always held a special place in my heart. Their songs are always over the top but nuanced with the glam rock riffs of Dan Hawkins, Frankie Poullain and new boy Rufus Taylor (son of Queen's Roger) hiding devilish lyrics sung in the instantly recognisable shrieking falsetto of Justin Hawkins. They have had something of rebirth in the last few years with Hot Cakes, Last Of Our Kind bringing back those glory days when they were number one, however now they do it on their own terms not for major label kudos (and the chemical rewards they indulged in back in the day).
They take a swipe at these early days on opening track All The Pretty Girls as Hawkins sings about the titular girls and their "M-m-m-m-m-mums" loving you when you're number one but less so when you're not, it's just another song in The Darkness's tongue in cheek repertoire which continues with Solid Gold. They get political on Southern Trains an embody all of frustration levelled towards the train company, swashbuckle their way through Buccaneers Of Hispaniola, ask Why Don't Beautiful Cry in a way Lionel Ritchie would with Rufus harmonising perfectly. As I said earlier it's the music that sets The Darkness apart, Japanese Prisoner Of Love has mad lyrics but the riffs are huge and Lay Down With Me Barbara to has thrusting 70's edge and uses the word candelabra as a rhyming couplet (seriously). Pinewood Smile is a bit lighter than their previous record, it's not as overtly riff friendly as Last Of Our Kind but then Thin Lizzy weren't all about rocking your socks off, they too brought in the warm Olde England folky touches that permeates Pinewood Smile.
The biggest riffs of the record are saved for the bonus songs which means that it's worth seeking out the limited edition, pick of the bunch is Rack of Glam which is probably the ultimate tribute to both glam rock and boobs. The Darkness don;t need to justify what they do, they are currently experiencing their second life as a band with legendary history but playing the music they want to play not what some suit wants, tip my hat to them, roll on December's tour. 8/10
Dave Kerzner: Static (Self Released)
Dave Kerzner is name familiar to numerous prog fans, he's a keyboardist and runs the Sonic Reality studio, plays numerous instruments, is instrumental in Sound Of Contact and Mantra Vega and has collaborated with a lot of prog's elite. Static is his second solo album and this one is "a progressive rock concept album and a "rock opera" about the distractions, chaos and clutter in everyday life and about navigating past this "static interference" in our heads toward clarity and happiness" apparently I mean it's a typical prog trope but there are few musicians that have the wealth of experience Kerzner has. He contributes lead vocals, keyboards, guitar, drums, bass to the record using many of his created soundscapes to give the record an expansive sound. His main collaborators for this project are Fernando Perdomo who plays guitar, bass, drums, Derek Cintron who plays drums and Randy McStine who plays guitar and adds to the FX.
These men could be considered to be the 'band' of the record with former Pink Floyd singer Durga McBroom and her sister Lorelei adding backing vocals as Ruti Celli provides cello. The Pink Floyd influence is writ large all over this record, Kerzner's keys bring Syd Barrett trippiness to Hypocrites but his vocals are so similar to David Gilmour it's uncanny, even taking the more restrained approach of Dave on the beautiful title track. Due to Kerzner's session career there are a lot of guests on this record, Dirty Soap Box features Steve Hackett on guitar and Nick D'Virgilio on drums, the title track has Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin making an appearance and Chain Reaction has his Mantra Vega bandmates Alex Cromarty (drums) Stuart Fletcher (bass) and Chris Johnson (guitar). Static is the sort of album you'd expect from Kerzner it's full of expansive prog sounds and has to be listened to numerous time to be fully appreciated. 8/10
Niviane: The Druid King (Pitch Black Records)
US band Niviane hail from Sacramento California and rather than going down the normal route of Cali thrash, they are a power metal band blending classic metal with an European edge, the clashing of swords opens this record and we're off into galloping with dual guitar attacks with gritty vocals. The music is pretty standard fayre and the vocals do get a little annoying coming across like a weaker Tobias Sammet or Matt Barlow without the range, what also lets down is the scratchy production. There's a theme running through the record which is the tale of The Druid King and while the music is acceptable and in places gets your head nodding it's nothing spectacular, although give it a listen if you're a power metal fan. 6/10
Regulus: Quadralith (Off Yer Rocka Recordings)
Sheffield space rockers Regulus play self described riff-drenched heavy blues, Regulus have been in relentless pursuit of the ultimate riff-fuelled groove. Named after a star cluster Regulus certainly have riffs, liking them soupy, heavy and reverbed to hell and back, Dominion the first track on this record delivers the riffs in fine style, with the low end of Martyn giving groove to the big six strings of Luke and Thomas who splice shredding solos with big stomping rhythms, they rub some funk on Seven Tales Told, things take a slower deliberate stoner metal turn on Bones and Heart Of Stone is dowsed in Southern smokiness. Regulus can be favourably compared to The Sword, Clutch and Orange Goblin, Poor Man's Grave being the song most similar to Ben Ward and co. Luke's raw vocal bark over the harmonized leads and dirty bass work, all of which is anchored by Joe's drumming. The band have been carving a hole in the live shows they've been a part of and this record shows that they know exactly what they are doing in the riffing, bluesy groove stakes. 7/10