Myles Kennedy: Year Of The Tiger (Napalm Records)
Listen to the entire Alter Bridge discography, when you do pick out tracks such as Watch Over You these are the 'Myles' songs mainly solem, blues influenced, acoustic ballads that show off his unique amazing vocals. So now imagine an entire record of these kind of songs, none of the metallic bluster of Alter Bridge in full flight, the louche sleazy hard rock of his work with Slash, or the soul/rock of his first band The Mayfield Four. Year Of The Tiger is Myles' first solo album and is built upon an intensely personal concept of his father's passing in 1974 (the Year Of The Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac).
Kennedy of course liberally applies his excellent vocals but he also brings guitar, banjo, lap steel, bass guitar, mandolin to the record as Zia Uddin takes drums, Tim Tournier bass and long time Alter Bridge/Tremonti producer Michael "Elvis" Baskette handles keyboards with both the producing and mixing of the record. Year Of The Tiger opens with the mandolin led title track which has a sonic similarity to Joe Bonamassa's Black Rock record, however we're back on familiar ground for The Great Beyond as it sounds like one of those moments on Alter Bridge records I mentioned earlier.
With this record you do get a sense of what a good musician Kennedy is, both Mark Tremonti and Slash have said what a good guitarist he is and here it's evident as he manages to impress without the presence of a virtuoso on the record. At its core Year Of The Tiger is an acoustic blues record, smoky and slick it was never going to be terrible, Year Of The Tiger is nothing like Kennedy's day jobs and that's good as a solo record should show another side to a performer and here he is a blues troubadour for the modern day. 8/10
Tax The Heat: Change Your Position (Nuclear Blast)
Suited and booted Bristol four piece Tax The Heat return with their sophomore album and it addresses the turbulent state of the world right now and impact it is having on people, it builds upon their debut Fed To The Lions by adding some razor sharp modern rock influences to make sure the swaggering riffs cut with all the precision of a Katana. The move towards the modern day was a natural progression from their rock n roll roots as Tax The Heat seem to be making it their mission to keep the guitar band relevant.
Money In The Bank has the fuzz and echoed vocals of Wolfmother. All That Medicine is a grooving funky tune with some great percussion and a stuttering rhythm not heard since the early Franz Ferdinand tracks. There's a celebration of all things guitar based on Change Your Position, pitched between classic blues based British hard rock and the axe slinging indie guitar bands favoured by the now deceased (in print form) NME. It's cutting edge rock and roll that's as sharp as the bands suits, shake, shuffle and rock out with some modern sounds. If this the new then count me in. 8/10
Valis Ablaze: Boundless (Long Branch Records)
Valis Ablaze's debut EP Insularity in 2017 was one of the major surprises of the year, the modern sound of djent but with atmospheric synths and most importantly soaring clean vocals. On their full length album they have tweaked their sound again thankfully maintaining the scintillating clean vocals of Phil Owen, the pulsing synths (Lumen) and the expressive guitar melodic guitar lines of Tom Moore and Ash Cook but this time they have supercharged the riffs with Moore, Cook, George Demner (bass) and Rich New (drums) adding a snarl to the rhythm section which has a heaviness that offsets and compliments the cleaner top end.
Just take a double whammy like Signals and Faster Than Light which highlight the mix of heavy and light well although the heaviest track on the record is the punishing Paradox which has bassline and down tuned riff like a bulldozer. Accessible technicality is one of the excellent tricks Valis Ablaze pull, their songs have hooks that will pull you in but the musical backing is a progressive as they come. With bands such as Tesseract, Skyharbour, The Contortionist all having successfully developed into the cleaner sound of djent, Valis Ablaze choosing to take this path is a positive step towards their longevity as a band. That's not to say they don't know when to add some harsher vocals on a track such as Evade where it is an integral part of the songs chemistry, or The Static Between Us where you get a short blast to build emotional weight.
However with a track such as the nu-metal groove of Hex the lofty vocals are met with chunky palm muted riffs and scratched electronics. Boundless has an monstrous sound, the production is ace letting every instrument breathe, letting you really feel the power in these complex compositions. A record with rousing choruses set to a backing of lush soundscapes and progressive riffs that will have you gurning like Les Dawson. With themes, riffs and melodies recurring throughout to give the record a feel of circularity, Boundless is a fitting title for the bands debut full length as on the strength of this record you they could go anywhere they want, their music could get heavier, more progressive or even take on new forms entirely, as the record wraps up with Reflections it becomes cyclic in nature harking back to the beginning of Afterlight and baiting you to start the listening process again. This is an ambitious record that achieves everything it sets out to be, listen and observe but don't get too close Valis Ablaze are currently en fuego. 9/10
Sleep In Heads: In The Air (Noizr Productions)
Ukraine band Sleep In Heads debut album is one that took a few listens to really latch on to, their sound is one of atmospheric heaviness and dream-like vocals, the contradiction between the two means that at first it’s jarring but on repeated plays the record opens up into something a little special. If I was to make a comparison I’d say that they sound as if Katatonia were fronted by Dolores O’Riordan (R.I.P) of The Cranberries, the spectral voice of Sonya soaring high above the progressive metal. However opening track Pacifying only hints at the prog metal trappings as Serj (guitars), Fann (bass) and Erland Sivolapov (drums) (replaced by Roman) only really kick in towards the climax, the majority of the track is build on the folky violin of Natali and Sonya’s beautiful vocals that here have the ghostly quality of Enya.
Since the arrival of this album they have added a keyboard player Katerina (Session keyboards on In The Air were by Nikolay Kirsanov) to make sure their sound is properly built up live as on record Sleep In Heads have more layers that a large onion. The sound is majestic underpinning the distorted riffs are the plucked violin strings, but they dissipate into solemn bow playing behind a wall of noise when the volume is turned up and the keys bring an electronic twist at odds with the organic sound of the violin, especially on Vagrant. Elsewhere Times Like The Sand brings a Tool-like bass thump and Secret Shelter has a touch of British proggers Panic Room about it, there is a lot of boundary blurring going on and that’s a very intriguing thing it means that In The Air is and ideal album for anyone that loves the sombre, emotive metal of Katatonia and Anathema. 8/10