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Monday, 30 April 2018

Reviews: A Perfect Circle, James Christian, Rotten Sound Frantic Amber (Reviews By Rich & Stief)

A Perfect Circle: Eat The Elephant (BMG)

It's been a long time since the last release by A Perfect Circle which was the covers album eMOTIVe back in 2004 so it's safe to say that Eat The Elephant is definitely one of the most anticipated albums of the year by rock and metal fans.

Thankfully the wait has been very much worth it as Eat The Elephant is a stunning album. It's a very different sounding album compared to previous works but it definitely still has the feel of A Perfect Circle album. The hard rock elements have been stripped right back to make way for a minimalist sound which is full of atmosphere with the album very much having an art rock feel to it. This is a very emotionally driven album with songs such as the title track, Disillusioned, And Down By The River and Feathers being flooded in sadness and melancholy. There are a few experimental songs as well such as the electronically driven Get The Lead Out and the overly positive tones of So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish as well as one or two more traditional sounding A Perfect Circle songs such as The Doomed and TalkTalk.

A Perfect Circle have taken a chance with this album by departing from their recognised sound and after such a wait for this album time will tell whether it will sit well with their fans but personally I think this is a fantastic album which will definitely be getting more plays from me. 8/10

James Christian: Craving (Frontiers)

Craving is the new solo album from the frontman of US melodic rockers House Of Lords frontman James Christian. This is his fourth solo album and the first material I have heard by him.

The material on Craving is about 50% hard rocking tunes and 50% softer more ballad-like tracks which is what is the downfall of this album. Way too many ballads which basically suck the life out of the album. When the album is more rocking and upbeat it is very good indeed with some killer tracks such as Wild Boys, Sidewinder and Black Wasn't Black but as these songs are surrounded by ballads the wind is very much taken out of the sails of the album.

Craving has its moments but overall this is a very underwhelming melodic hard rock album which would have benefited from a lot more hard rocking upbeat songs. 6/10

Rotten Sound: Suffer To Abuse (Season Of Mist)

Rotten Sound to me are one of the finest bands in the grindcore genre. They have a total of seven albums under their belts as well as a ridiculous number of EP's with Suffer To Abuse being the latest of these EP's.

Rotten Sound have always had a knack of writing grindcore that is equally nasty and catchy with solidly headbangable riffs. The songs on Suffer To Abuse are no exception being a super high dose of uncontrollably violent grindcore with examples being Privileged and Harvester Of Boredom.

With only seven songs and a running time of just under 12 minutes this EP is over before you know it and is really a release for the hardcore fan only. If you are a grindcore fan and have somehow managed to avoid Rotten Sound then seriously get listening to their albums. 7/10

Frantic Amber: Burning Insight 2017 Reissue (Self Released) [Review By Stief]

Some excellent melodic death metal from Sweden here. A brief dramatic musical intro leads into the blistering Burning Insight, the tight guitarwork never letting down throughout the entire album. The reissue brings in slightly tweak production, and the addition of the blistering Grainne Mhaol.

There are definite parallels with other female-fronted melodic death metal acts, with Arch Enemy and The Agonist immediately coming to mind, but that's not to say Elizabeth Andrews et al can't hold her own. Every track is solidly mixed, with none of the instruments or vocals ever taking precedence over the others, Madeleine G. Husberg's bass lines give each song that perfect amount of rhythm along with Mac Dalmanner's drumming, great melodies and harmonies being provided by Mio Jäger and Mary Säfstrand.

If you didn't manage to catch this album back in 2015 and you're looking for some good melodic death to listen to, then pick it up! 9/10

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Reviews: Dimmu Borgir (Review By Paul)

Dimmu Borgir: Eonian (Nuclear Blast)

It’s been a long seven years for fans of the Norwegian black metallers. Whispers lurked in the shadows, faint glimmers of light flickered and were then extinguished, crushing hopes and dreams. Finally, the news that the Borgirian hordes were desperate for leaked out, and with it the delicious taste of the forbidden fruits. Interdimensional Summit appeared, and the agonising wait suddenly felt worth every minute. A massively addictive song, huge in every dimension, and with enormous production values twitching the sinews, this was the appetiser that confirmed the exile hadn’t been in vain. The follow up Council Of Wolves And Snakes didn’t quite keep the fires burning as brightly, its different style not as instant.

Two minutes into The Unveiling and there is no doubt that the unleashing of the powers that Dimmu have been gathering over the past few years is imminent. The choral voices, the blast beats, the symphonic elements that soar and sweep blending with crushing intensity, technically intricate and achingly brilliant. Interdimensional Summit follows, a song that improves with every play. Two tracks in and the anticipation is bursting into sheer joy and astonishment at a band who are now in their 25th year. The raven black sound combines with their lavish symphonic orchestration is pushed to the limit on ÆTheric, allowing no time to draw breath.

Eonian captures the organic sound that the band were aiming for; the song writing core of the band remains Shagrath, and the twin guitar attack of Silenoz and Galder, whilst the familiar faces of Drummer Daray and keyboarder Gerlioz are still part of the team, and Gaute Storaas helped with the choral arrangements for the majestic voices of the Schola Cantrum Choir.

Council Of Wolves And Snakes pushes the boundaries, possibly infuriating the purists but if that disappoints in any way, then it is worth knowing that the folklorist elements and different style have proven to be one of the band’s favourites. Any negativity is swept away with the blistering The Empyrean Phoenix a delight, the devilish elements creating an atmospheric explosion that cascades and engulfs the listener. However, of this is just an aperitif to the majestic Lightbringer, a behemoth of a tune, which is matched in ferocious power by I Am Sovereign, the longest track on the album and one of the most complex and involved. The synergy which surges between the raw black metal and symphonic elements is magical. Eonian offers the listener the opportunity to interpret the music with their own eyes and ears, with Shagrath offering the following clue “Eonian represents the illusion of time, everything that is and always has been. For us, it also marks the 25th anniversary of Dimmu Borgir and the album itself is a tribute to our own history and the Norwegian black metal history.”

Although some of the songs on the album were written as far back as 2012, Eonian is a complete piece of work, which flows from start to finish. The ethereal and haunting closing track Rite Of Passage is the perfect finale to an album that is astonishing and incredible. With the band admitting that there was ‘no formula, no absolute', this is the conclusion of a journey along a path which even Dimmu Borgir would have been unable to predict. “We're definitely a band that does not follow any set of 'rules', if any; we're out to break them - for sure. Not that it's a goal per se, it's just who we are”. Quite magnificent in every aspect. Album of the year? It’s going to take something spectacular to even get close. 10/10

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Reviews: Black Stone Cherry, Lordi, Issa, Abramis Brama (Reviews By Paul & Rich)

Black Stone Cherry: Family Tree (Mascot Records) [Review By Paul]

After the Black To The Blues EP of last year, it’s time for album number 6 from BSC. The challenge for a band whose vocalist is as distinctive as Chris Robertson’s is how to deliver music that differs from the previous output. Well, on Family Tree the Kentucky outfit have taken a decisive step away from the middle ground routine that made Magic Mountain and Kentucky of limited appeal. There is a harder, bluesy edge which runs through the heart of Family Tree, and tracks such as Carry Me On Down The Road, which has a Stevie Ray Vaughan feel, New Kinda Feelin’, with its piano riffs as well as the gospel feel on My Last Breath demonstrate a stripped down approach to songwriting which was missing from their previous release.

A chunky Hammond underpins Southern Fried Friday Night, sure to become a live classic with its dirty middle section. Don’t get me wrong, BSC still have the feel-good arena packing songs that I don’t always enjoy, but in Family Tree the band has stripped away some of the bullshit and gone back to solid rock n’ roll songs. The appearance of the legendary Warren Haynes on Dancin’ In The Rain adds quality and has shades of Black Country Communion as well as the inevitable Southern rock influences, something that BSC can do very well when they get back to basics. Family Tree is a mature, well-crafted album full of decent hard rock songs and proves that there is still much mileage in the band. 8/10

Lordi: Sexorcism (AFM) [Review By Rich]

Finnish monster rockers Lordi are back with their ninth album Sexorcism which they have stated to be their most controversial album to date. Judging by the absolutely tasteless album cover I can see the direction Lordi are going with this album and that's down the Steel Panther road of overly sexual and rather immature lyrics. Lordi have always been a band with tongue firmly planted in cheek lyrically but it's just taken a bit further on Sexorcism.

Thankfully despite the silly lyrics the music is as good as ever. Hugely catchy tunes which straddle the line between hard rock and heavy metal but with a vintage 80's feel about them. Songs such as Your Tongue's Got The Cat, Naked In My Cellar and Polterchrist are irresistable anthems which make you want to equally sing along and bang your head. The album does go on a bit too long and two or three songs could have been chopped off. Sexorcism isn't a groundbreaking record but it's a very consistent, fun and entertaining one. One thing that Lordi have always been throughout their career is consistent with barely a misstep in their discography and very little deviation from their sound and style. Sexorcism is another enjoyable entry in the Lordi back catalogue. 7/10

ISSA: Run With The Pack (Frontiers Records) [Review By Paul]

I’d never heard of ISSA before but apparently, she’s a bit of melodic rock queen hailing from Norway. Run With The Pack is her fifth album and it’s a polished, melodic rock album that ticks every box for fans of the genre. Unsurprisingly this is crammed full of soaring vocals, beautiful harmonies, layered synths and huge production. ISSA certainly has a strong vocal delivery, reminiscent of the symphonic metal female frontwomen. Think Sharon Den Adel or more closely Charlotte Wessels without the blast beat accompaniment, performing some rip-roaring Pat Benatar tunes.

A rather ghastly duet with Revolution Saints frontman /drummer, Deen Castronovo on Sacrifice Me as well as a couple of inevitable mushy ballads which the mighty Heart deliver so well. The Sound Of Yesterday is a perfect example. With Alessandro Del Vecchio overseeing the recording, mixing, mastering and tinkling the ivories, Simone Mularoni of Italian progressive metal giants DGM on guitar and Andrea ToWer Torricini (Vision Divine) and Marco Di Salvia (Kee of Hearts) holding down the rhythm section, Run With The Pack is about as perfect a melodic rock release as you are likely to hear this year. 8/10

Abramis Brama: Tusen Ar (Black Lodge) [Review By Rich]

Tusen år is the seventh album by long running Swedish stoner rockers Abramis Brama. Another band I have never heard of before so I have none of their previous work to compare this new release to. What strikes you first with Abramis Brama is that they sing in their native tongue. I have heard black metal and folk metal sung in the Swedish language but it's a refreshing change to hear it sung on a hard rock album. The music on Tusen år is classic hard rock with a big wedge of 70's influence running throughout.

The riffs are big, groovy and plentiful with a nice bluesy edge and at times ably accompanied by a harmonica. The vocals by frontman Ulf Torkelsson are very suited to the music with plenty of soul and rock and roll swagger. Tusen år is a solid album with plenty to enjoy throughout but it does get a bit repetitive and my attention had started to wander towards the end of the album but if you want a good retro sounding hard rock album then you can't go wrong here. 7/10

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Reviews: Sleep, Mask Of Prospero, Dieselbeast, StoneLake

Sleep: The Sciences (Third Man)

If you’ve ever been to a stoner/doom/sludge gig that relies on ear-splitting volume and thick syrupy riffs then you’ve probably seen someone wearing a shirt from stoner metal legends Sleep, it’s probably the iconic front cover of their Holy Mountain record, such is the legacy that the band have, they are defiantly underground but are probably considered one of the originators of the stoner metal/rock genre. Well released on 4/20 (in the USA) they have surprised everyone with what is only their fourth studio album. This has probably been on the card since their reformation in 2009 but it is kind of a big deal as it marks the first Sleep album since 1998! Has this 20 year gap mellowed the perennial purveyors of maximum riffage? The short answer is bloody hell no. Playing like they have something to prove the record builds into the hypnotic style you’d want from these odes to the shamanic power of weed.

With down tuned, heavily distorted, lumbering bass-lines from Al Cisneros and similar guitar playing from Matt Pike The Sciences betrays it’s title by making everything a lot more organic and analogue, this record is the audio representation of the monkeys at the beginning of 2001: Space Odyssey it’s primal in nature with the drums of Jason Roeder giving space and percussive clout to the grizzled vocals of Cisneros which are used as another instrument when needed but are not essential. It’s all about the riffs and the album builds them up to, similar to scaling a (holy) mountain the most repetitive, mesmeric segments come in the form of the three longest tracks that sit in the middle of the record; Sonic Titan, Antarcticans Thawed and the brilliantly titled Giza Butler all of which build on those Sabbath staples with layer upon layer of distorted fug, while also throwing in some Dune references and their love of pot (Marijuanaut's Theme even has a recorded bong hit)

Produced by the band and released through Jack White’s Third Man records a new Sleep album is great news, especially when it comes as such a fully formed, well delivered surprise, that reminds you why Sleep are so revered by the leaf lovers and hard rockers alike. 8/10

Mask Of Prospero: The Observatory (Symmetric Records)

Athens based band Mask Of Prospero is the third release for Symmetric Records the label owned by Bob Katsionis after his own most recent effort and Terra Incognita's last album. The Observatory is Mask Of Prospero's debut release and let me say they make a complicated noise or as frontman Christos Kontoulis puts it "We tried to create an emotionally heavy album that reflects on how modern civilization is plagued by social prejudice, passiveness and indolence". So to say that this album dwells in darkness would be an understatement, it's a very intense progressive metal album has rhythmic djent riffs one moment and ambient passages the next.

There was a conscious effort by the band to play with the atmosphere collaborating with Katsionis (who also produces) bringing post-rock touches to Kontoulis' clean/harsh vocal delivery on Drown In Grey. Nikos Letsios and Panagiotis Kottaras shred away on their six strings with the angular riffage switching to calmer moods in an instant as Eleni Nota (drums) and Biller Perakis (bass) give punishing rhythms to Ignorance. With sharp production and emotionally charged performances The Observatory is a decidedly modern progressive metal album that will appeal to any fans of Tesseract etc. 7/10

Dieselbeast: Dieselbeast (Self Released)

Dieselbeast describe their genre as "swords & sorcery heavy metal" to everyone else this is traditional metal or power metal, taking influence from Maiden, Dio, Sabbath and Priest Dieselbeast are everything your leather and studded heart could desire. Maiden bass gallops come thick on fast on One Thousand Bloody Nights and Mammoth Hunt borrows riffs from Diamond Head quite liberally, usually this would result in me chastising the band but in the NWOBHM/Traditional metal scene it's pretty much a given, for every half inched riff and rhythm there's a sweet solo and and another song about the occult or sci fi with some brilliant soaring vocals. With a swords and sorcery style I'm not sure why they chose the name Dieselbeast but for anyone who likes the classic metal revivalism of Grand Magus etc it's worth a headbang. 7/10     
  
Stonelake: Thunder And Rain (Melodic Rock Records)

One of the joys of this blog is discovering bands that you’ve never heard of. One such recent discovery are Swedes StoneLake, having been active since 1999 their new album Thunder And Rain, their seventh record in total is an album built on a metal foundation with fluffy AOR trimmings, the power metal like riffs and flamboyant solos are matched by the use of keys and synths, through the course of eleven tracks the album has galloping metal, crunchy hard rock and yes some really sickly ballads. Vocally there are similarities to Tobias Sammet but musically this record is in the Place Vendome/Vanden Plas/Unisonic vein of melodic power metal. Well it would be if much of the album wasn't stuck in neutral sticking to the mid-pace for most of it, in fact one of the most entertaining parts of the album is their fire breathing version of Jennifer Lopez's Waiting For Tonight. Much like the British weather Thunder And Rain isn't as consistent as I'd like but fans of melodic metal should check this out. 6/10  

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Reviews: Witch Tripper, Wiegedood, Nekrokraft, 20 Watt Tombstone (Reviews By Paul & Rich)

Witch Tripper: I, Of The Storm (Self Released) [Paul]

You know that feeling; you wander into the New Blood Stage at Bloodstock. It’s about 11am in the morning and you are maybe a little jaded from the sun, beer and the nutters from Midguard charging through your camp site at 4am. The band up on the stage look interesting, all stripped to the waist and fired up. And then they start to play. Holy fuck! Yeah, I’ve just described Bloodstock 2016, and my first encounter with Mansfield’s Witch Tripper. Their self-titled debut was released in advance of their second show at BOA, and the esteemed Ed gave it a healthy 8/10. The band has gigged relentlessly, building up a decent following and an impressive 86 gigs in 2017 is nothing to be sniffed at. 

Well, with anticipation, the sophomore release has arrived and mighty fine it is. Maintaining the heavy stoner rock which the band is renowned for, I, Of The Storm is 35 minutes of your life that you should invest without complaint. Check out the snarling gravel-soaked vocals of Richie Barlow, the fat chunky riffs which are deliciously heavy, and which combine magnificently with the thumping bass of Chris Stoff and Jimmy Collins thundering drums. A superb production retains the gritty sound that is so appealing. Opener White Lines needs no subject matter explanation, the title track is immense, and the throwaway good time feel of Poonstar all instantly make an impression. 

The pace slows for the blues saturated Roll The Dice, Barlow delivering some sweet guitar work and the tunes continue until the final track, The Road (It Hurts) which salutes the challenges that gigging bands face. I, Of The Storm is a massively entertaining slab of riffage which moves Witch Tripper on to the next level. Fantastic stuff. 9/10

Wiegedood: De Doden Hebben Het Goed III (Century Media) [Rich]

Wiegedood are a band that seem to making big waves in the black metal scene right now and if their third album De Doden Hebben Het Goed III is anything to go by then the hype is rightly justified. Wiegedood hail from Belgium and feature members of Oathbreaker and Amenra (both fantastic bands who I highly recommend checking out) but unlike their other bands the members of Wiegedood play straight for the jugular black metal. Very much taking inspiration from the Norwegian second wave this is black metal that is uncompromising and absolutely takes no prisoners razing all in its path. 

Wiegedood also incorporate melody and progressive song structures especially apparent in the title track which also happens to be my favourite piece from the album. De Doden Hebben Het Goed III isn't a lengthy album with a duration of only 34 minutes and a tracklisting of 4 songs but the music in these 4 songs is some of the finest and most uncompromising black metal you will hear this year. 9/10

Nekrokraft: Servants (The Sign Records) [Rich]

Servants is the second album by Swedish black metallers Nekrokraft who are a band that I have not heard of previously but got my attention upon finding out that they share their vocalist with blackened thrashers Witchery (a damn fine band if you haven't heard them). Servants is an intense album with a sound that combines elements of melodic black metal, death metal and thrash metal into a devastating combination. It's a sound that is violent and abrasive but highly melodic especially in the lead guitar playing. 

The songs range from atmospheric mid paced numbers to full on blast attacks with vocalist Angus Norder angst screams and growls like a man possessed. Servants is a highly enjoyable album which mixes many extreme elements of metal together resulting in an album that is dark, powerful and aggressive but with a melodic sensibility. Highlights throughout include Mouth Of Ahriman, Servants Ov The Black And Plague. 8/10

20-Watt Tombstone: Death Blues vs The Dirty Spliff (20 Watt Tombstone / Left Lane Cruiser) [Paul]

Coming straight out of Northern Wisconsin, 20-Watt Tombstone play “death blues”. Well, they certainly have a swaggering blues rock style which appeals. Melding the sounds of Clutch, The Black Keys with country blues and the attitude of Motörhead. Opening this fine EP is the fiery Lair Of The Swamp Witch, a fantastic song title and a thundering tune. The duo, for there is only two in this band, make hell of a sound, with the Reverend Meantooth’s guitar and hollerin’ ably matched by the ferocious drumming of the ludicrously named Grand Master On The Zee, who apparently also covers the yellin’! Your Man’s A Jerk and the stripped down Now She’s Gone, complete with some superb slide guitar work, demonstrate different styles which both demand attention. Keep an eye on 20-Watt Tombstone, surely a band with a decent future ahead of them. 8/10

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Reviews: Witch Mountain, Stryper, Pale Bastard, The Kut (Reviews By Paul)

Witch Mountain: Self Titled (Svart Records)

Following their own destiny for over 20 years, the legendary doom mongers from Portland, Oregon return after a three-plus-year hiatus with a refreshed line-up that sees new singer Kayla Dixon and bass player Justin Brown join band stalwarts Rob Wong and Nate Carson. The result is imposing; a gritty mix of dark blues, thunderous doom and even some death growls. From the opening strains of Midnight, Dixon’s superb blues-soaked vocals take centre stage, soaring high one minute, then delving low into the Devil’s doorway the next as the deep doom which surges through this album kicks in. Dixon’s control is impressive, and she oozes soul and charisma.

Although Dixon and Brown are newcomers in the recording studio, they have toured with the band for much of the past three years which has helped them smooth out any wrinkles and develop a tight unit. “We’ve always been a patient band,” said founding drummer Nathan Carson. “Thanks to all the touring Rob Wrong and I have done with Justin and Kayla over the last three years, we were able to make this album as a full-fledged, road-tested, family unit.” Burn You Down moves at pace, with a fat Sabbath style riff particularly enticing but it is the mammoth 14-minute Nighthawk which is the biggest thrill here, an absolute brute that brings a crafted and polished release to its conclusion. 8/10

Stryper: God Damn Evil (Frontiers Records)

Unfortunately for those of us who like our metal on the fiery, slightly demonic side, those God-Fearing Christians from Orange County show no sign of disappearing in their sunshine coach. Having appeared way back in 1983, the band thankfully disbanded in 1992 before proof that there is no God arrived in the shape of a reformation in 2003. Since then, Stryper have continued to churn it out and by some miracle this is their seventh album since they returned. Astonishingly they have sold over 10 million records. To Who?? Opening track Take It To The Cross is absolute dogshite, the squealing Michael Sweet maiming the chorus and even the presence of Shadow Falls Matt Bachand doesn’t save it from eternal damnation in the septic tank of canine excrement.

It doesn’t get any better, with the title track stifled by lyrical content, the pace of a slug and Sweet’s saccharine sweet voice raising the bile in the throat. I managed to listen to this one all the way through, but second helping had me screaming for my water to be turned into a vat of wine that I could drown myself in. No such luck though. Closing track is The Devil Doesn’t Live Here, and that’s just as well because he certainly has better tunes than the guy in white robes. This is a musical crucifixion which is probably more undeserved than that of the carpenter’s son in that relatively famous book. Avoid. 2/10

Pale Bastard: Pale Bastard (Self Released)

Although their sound suggests that they are an integral part of the NOLA stoner movement, Pale Bastard hail from way out West; Swansea to be exact. With a motto that screams “Riffs, Beards, Beers and Blunts” you quickly paint the picture of a lifestyle that matches their thunderous music. For a debut album this is about as assured as it gets.

A massive sound which rolls elements of Crowbar, Down, Mastodon and Red Fang into a ball and then blasts them out at full velocity. There isn’t a bad track on this seven-song release, with The Ballad Of Clint Montgomery and Spider Blood vying for top spot. It’s sludgy, heavy, filthy and stoner rock at its finest. This is possibly the most impressive and addictive debut release you will hear all year. 9/10

The Kut: Valley Of Thorns (Criminal Records/Cargo Records)

40 minutes of alternative rock from The Kut, a female three-piece from the UK based around the multi-instrumentalist Princess Maha. Voted one of the breakthrough artists of 2017 by Kerrang! and with plaudits from both Metal Hammer and Classic Rock, Valley Of Thorns combines Courtney Love, L7, the raw power of The Stooges and The MC5 and wraps them all into a hard-hitting bundle which is well worth a listen.

Hard hitting riffs, clean melodies and perfect harmonies added to a variety of styles from grunge and industrial tinged hard rock make this an album well worth a listen. The band will be present at many festivals this summer including the second episode of Amplified and are reputed to be impressive live. Based on this release, The Kut are worth checking out. 7/10

Monday, 23 April 2018

Reviews: TesseracT, Derek Smalls, Dream The Electric Sleep, Emerald Sun

TesseracT: Sonder (Kscope)

TesseracT are surely one of those bands that defy both expectation and genre boundaries, their music has evolved from the early groove-laden djentisms, they have ridden the wave of ethereal ambient influences to create a sound now that will appeal to wider listenership, on fourth album Sonder they have taken this a step further again by fusing all these elements together for their most complete audio experience yet. It has all of the TesseracT stylistics you’d want with in demand singer Dan Tompkins again showing why he’s probably the best vocalist in the djent/modern prog metal scene at the moment, his ability to switch effortlessly between soaring emotional cleans and rasping but thankfully comprehensible harsh vocals.

As good as Tompkins is (make no mistake he is great behind the mic) he’s just one component of this musical machine with Jay Postones and Amos Williams carving out a rhythm heavy groove for Acle Kahney and James Monteith to both hook onto with riffs but also gives them space to add the atmospherics that have become their trademark. At just 8 tracks long the album is a strong from beginning to end, the shimmering opening of Luminary washes into heaviness juxtaposed by the sweetest vocal on the album and it segues nicely into the atmospheric density of King. The full length songs on the record are split by some electronic instrumentals that serve as both interludes and intros to tracks such as the epic Juno which is the hookiest song on the album. It's followed up by the bristling Beneath My Skin, which can be considered to be the midpoint of the record before the final part just lets you drift as this technical mastery envelops you in it's brilliance. Sonder is the nadir of TesseracT's career and is a must for any fans of heavy based atmospheric music. 9/10

Derek Smalls: Smalls Change - Meditations On Ageing (Twanky Records/BMG)

Derek Smalls AKA Harry Shearer is the bassist of real life fictional band Spinal Tap, possibly the most famous mockumentary film of all time it has been quote ad nauseum by every self-respecting rock fan in history. The film led to the creation of Spinal Tap as an actual real life touring band that has spawned three albums of their own music (as well as numerous records that have never existed) and they even played the Live Earth Concert in London. So with Spinal Tap now officially retired (probably) the erstwhile, cucumber hiding, bass player of The Tap has now released a solo album featuring numerous guest artists some of whom featured on 1992’s Break Like The Wind. These names are not limited to Peter Frampton on the memoir to life on the road It Don’t Get Old, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, Larry Carlton Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, who play on the familiar sounding Memo To Willie, Dweezil Zappa brings guitar bending to the weirdly metallic MRI.

The two best songs on the record are opener Rock N Roll Transplant which features Steve Lukather, Jim Keltner and Chad Smith and closing progger When Men Did Rock which has Michael League, Joe Satriani and Rick Wakeman. Other folks that make an appearance are Richard Thompson,Waddy Wachtel, Paul Shaffer, Steve Vai, Judith Owen and Jane Lynch but no amount of guest will detract from that the majority of these songs are poor even by Spinal Tap standards, yes they are satirical swipes at ageing rockstars but the vocals are dreadful and most of the songs rely on tired innuendo but it seems a little tame in comparison to the shocking Steel Panther. It seems that the magic of the Tap is when all three original members (and whatever drummer they have at the time) make music together. Not quite a shit sandwich but for completists only. 5/10

Dream The Electric Sleep: The Giants Newground (7Hz Productions)

DTES frontman Matt Page explains where this album came from “Over the years I thought about that album a lot. It haunted me a bit. The album meant so much to me on a personal level but I knew we had to move forward. In the summer of 2017 I realized it had almost been 10 years since that album came to fruition, this would be a great time to revisit the material and put together a 10th year anniversary release. It’s a way for the band to reflect on our origin and share that with all those who have supported us over the last decade.” The Giants Newground can be considered to be DTES’s ‘lost’ album, recorded by the duo of Matt Page and Joey Waters back in 2008, a year before DTES was even realised and it was the first instance of the two writing solely together with Page basing the lyrics around the Appalachian Jack novels that Page’s mother read to him as child.

The overwhelming theme of the album is drifting between one place and the next and that is something that suits the expressive, emotional progressive music that DTES have always been associated with. The record was revisited and they set about re-tracking guitars, bass, vocals, and drums while also mixing them with many of the original takes from 2008. So what does this celebration album sound like? Well it’s like the nucleus of what would grow into DTES when Chris Tackett joined on bass, there are some huge alternative rock riffs that echo the more recent instalments from the Foos but also there are lots of Floydian soundscapes (The River Current) with some Muse dynamism that have come from the DTES sound. A real insight into the men behind DTES before the band even came to fruition, the songs are incredibly well written for a first collaboration and the re-tracking means it’s in keeping the current DTES sound. With a new album due next year this is great celebration of their inception. 8/10

Emerald Sun: Under The Curse Of Silence (Fastball Music)

Emerald Sun play Teutonic sounding fantasy speed metal that is the bread and butter of Helloween but they come from the sunnier climes of Thessaloniki . There’s nothing to ground breaking here, it’s pretty standard speed metal, the production makes the drums tinny and the bass almost nonexistent, except on Blast but as is normal this sort of music is all about the guitars and vocals so they sit high in the mix so Johnnie and Paul can let the their fancy fretwork do the talking, speaking of talking Stelios’ is behind the mic using the raspier sounds of Deris rather than the constant highs of Kiske but with the music written at the heavier end with keys able to worm their way in it all works well.

Kill Or Be Killed is a pretty tough opening and much of the record is listenable with some tracks like Rebel Soul and Slaves To Addiction two of the better offerings. On the other hand there are a few low points that will drag it down, Carry On doesn't really go anywhere and Journey Of Life is an appalling ballad. Until some of the big hitters of the power metal genre start releasing later this year Under The Curse Of Silence will tide you over. Although the less said about the cover of Irene Cara's Fame the better! 7/10

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Reviews: Riot V, Seven Sisters, Desolation Angels, Michael Schinkel's Eternal Flame (Reviews By Paul)

Riot V: Armor Of Light (Nuclear Blast)

It was back in 1975 when Mark Reale started the band Riot. The band, from New York City bubbled under for several years, getting major publicity with 1983’s Fire Down Under, which was well received in the metal scene. The legendary Neal Kaye had long championed the band after their debut release Rock City struggled to make its mark. The NWOBHM played a large part in enhancing the band’s popularity but they couldn’t sustain it and drifted into multiple line up changes, whilst continuing to make solid if unspectacular heavy metal. Sadly, Reale passed away in 2012 and the name Riot was retired. However, the remaining members of the band reformed under the moniker Riot V and in 2014 the first Riot album without Reale, Unleash The Fire, was released. Armor Of Light is album number 16, and the second without Reale.

The original Riot sound was traditional heavy metal, but Riot V favour the power metal approach. Armory Of Light is a blistering 55 minutes of all-out power metal, with just about everything that you could want. The duelling guitar work of Mike Flyntz and Nick Lee is spectacular, the rapid-fire drumming of Frank Gilchrist thunderously heavy, supported by rampaging bass lines of longest serving member Don Van Stavern and up front the air raid siren style of Todd Michael Hall who can really hold a note or two. Messiah, Heart Of A Lion and closing track Raining Fire are all fine examples of the quality, the blend of Bruce Dickinson and Eric Adams working far better than it has any right to. This is pure power metal at its finest, verging on thrash at times but always driving forward at top speed. Despite their quite disturbing journey, with several former members no longer with us, Riot V demonstrate here that when it comes to quality, there is no substitute for experience. 8/10

Seven Sisters: The Cauldron And The Cross (Dissonance Productions)

In all the maelstrom of genres and sub-genres, we sometimes forget the good old heavy metal itself. The traditional British sound that emerged in the 1970s, following Sabbath, Priest, Saxon and Maiden via the NWOBHM route. Such is the intricacy of so much of what we hear these days that when a band does stick to the old school path, it tends to sound somewhat dated. Seven Sisters, who hail unsurprisingly from London, stick faithfully to the classic heavy metal sound. The Cauldron And The Cross, their follow-up to 2016’s self-titled debut, is crammed full of solid if unspectacular tracks following themes of fantasy, mythology and glory.

The centre piece is the measured Oathbreaker, an epic tale which allows guitarists Graeme Farmer and Kyle McNeill to express themselves whilst McNeill’s vocals cope comfortably with the undulating journey. Otherwise, it’s all heads down flying V style heavy metal and at times, this is just what one wants. A Land In Darkness has a magnificent Di’Anno Maiden era flavour, right down to the visceral spikey punk edged riffs. This won’t win any awards but it’s the metal equivalent of comfort food; sometimes that is just what the doctor orders. 7/10

Desolation Angels: King (Dissonance Records)

“Old warriors never die. They just wait for the perfect moment to storm the walls all over again!” So, reads the press release for the third release from another band who made a ripple back in the 1980s. A heavy metal blitzkrieg which apparently will national neck-brace manufacture tenfold. Well, given that neck-braces are no longer medically recommended that desire may be commercially disastrous but the music, whilst keeping one foot doggedly in 1986, is pleasingly retro and contemporary at the same time. Vocalist Paul Taylor can hold a note, whilst the guitar work of Keith Sharp and Robin Brancher is particularly impressive.

Another Turn Of The Screw motors along, opener Doomsday immediately grabs the interest and Your Blackened Heart has a delicious groove that screams Hard Rock Hell second stage joy all day long. The band may be closer the reaper than when their debut hit the shelves in 1986, but there is plenty of life in this beast. They have a cluster of gigs across the UK this year and I’d be getting right down there if they decide to cross the border. Top quality metal. 8/10

Michael Schinkel’s Eternal Flame: Smoke On The Mountain (Rock Of Angels Records)

It was back in 2002 that the second Eternal Flame album King Of The King was released. 16 years later and the band, now entitled Michael Schinkel’s Eternal Flame has finally delivered album number three. 53 minutes of polished hard rock which has shades of Michael Schenker and Rainbow throughout. With several guest musicians including vocalists Mark Boals and Göran Edman, the core of the band consists Schinkel on vocals and all guitars, Thomas Keller on bass and backing vocals, drummer Michael Hencky and keyboardist Helmut Kohlpaintner. Schinkel’s guitar work is superb throughout, with the instrumental final track Close To The End displaying his blues skills with a soulful display.

However, many tracks here, much like Schenker’s recent output are just a little bland and bloated. The inevitable ballad You Can Save Me is awful, marring the reasonable tracks which precede it whilst Whatcha Gonna Do has shades of the big brass misogynistic American hard rock of the 1980s, full of an arrogant, bullish swagger which isn’t impressive. Got A Rock N’Roll Fever is pure Rainbow, and if Graham Bonnett strolled in to take part you wouldn’t be surprised. In other parts it is solid, with decent, if rather routine hard rock blasting out. Overall, not a huge amount to get enthused about but by no means the worst I’ve heard this year. 6/10

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Reviews: Anthrax, Psychework, Alghazanth, Stonefield (Reviews By Paul)

Anthrax: Kings Among Scotland (Nuclear Blast)

Few bands are held with as much affection in the UK as Anthrax. They cross the generations with ease, their gigs filled with old school metalheads who were there when Fistful Of Metal and Spreading The Disease first hit the shelves alongside younger fans who know the legend, the music but may be discovering the band’s powerhouse live performances for the first time. Kings Among Scotland captures the band at full throttle during the For All Kings European tour in 2017. Recorded at a sold-out Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow on 15th February 2017, the band bulldoze their way through a set which contained mainly classics that Anthrax have been churning out for three decades, along with three from For All Kings and the sole track from Worship Music, namely Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t

Given the number of live albums the band has released, it’s unlikely that there will be much in the versions of Among The Living, Antisocial and Indians that will differ from other releases but Evil Twin, a superb Blood Eagle Wings and Breathing Lightning all stand up solidly. Joey Belladona is on fine form, his vocals continuing to hit the high notes with relative ease, his interaction with the crowd focused. Scott Ian’s gruff backing vocals remain comical with his predictable halting of the war dance during Indians now as staple as some of the set list. The Glaswegian crowd is fired up, their participation during Be All, End All impressive. Newish guitarist Jonathan Donais’ lead work is slick and feisty, whilst the dependable engine room of Ian, Frank Bello and Charlie Benante underpin everything, Benante’s drumming particularly ferocious.

Whilst the new music is more interesting to those of us who’ve been around the block a few times with the New Yorkers, the classics are what really pulls the crowds. The return of A.I.R. as an opener is pleasing whilst the stomp of Among The Living, Caught In A Mosh, A Skeleton In The Closet and Efilgnikufecin (N.F.L) are rightly heralded as early thrash monsters. Having missed this tour, I’m sure it’s a decent representation of the current Anthrax live show, and the full two-hours to boot. I’m always disappointed that the band completely ignore the John Bush era material as there are some real gems there but with Belladona now firmly back in the fold it is perhaps understandable. 8/10

Psychework: Karelian Hills (Ranka Kustannus)

We reviewed the debut release from these Finns back in October 2016, giving it a solid 7/10. Psychework return with album number 2, another 50 minutes of symphonic metal with Antony Parvianen once again delivering the operatic vocals. There is little variation from The Dragon’s Year in terms of approach or sound, with the band maintaining the Kamelot/Rhapsody/Avantasia style story telling epics. The power metal elements remain pleasingly front and centre, with the machine gun style drumming of new member Konsta Vehkala keeping everything on track. 

The melody is maintained, whilst Sky Keeps Raining has a hauntingly eerie piano riff which lingers long in the memory. Fury And The Beast’s Alestorm style accordion irritates The seven-minute title track eases the irritation with it’s combination of fast and slower paced passages, although Parvianen’s Dickinson style vocals struggle a little. Fire Still Burns is a challenge, with the choral parts decidedly cheesy but the closing duo of Ghost Patrol and the ten-minute epic There Beyond restore faith in an album that you’ll either really enjoy or hate. 7/10

Alghazanth: Eight Coffin Nails (Woodcut Records)

Sometimes a bit of mystery is good. I’ve never heard of Finnish symphonic black metal outfit Alghazanth prior to getting hold of Eight Coffin Nails, which is their eighth full release in a journey which started back in 1995. Eight Coffin Nails is the band’s first release since 2013’s Three Faced Pilgrim and ticks all the boxes for symphonic black metal with snarling, throaty vocals screaming over blast beating drumming and huge soaring sweeps of full speed riffing. The comparisons with many black metal bands are inevitable but given their years in the business, Alghazanth can be considered masters of their trade. 

Their panoramic sound enveloping the listener through the opening tracks Self-Exiled and Facing The North, strings increasing the intensity as the gnarly vocals of Thasmorg curdle blood over the top of the vast guitar work of Vexd and Mordant. By the time you reach the finale, the nine-minute To Flames The Flesh, you should be drawn deeply into an album that is magnificently structured, its reach profound and visceral. 8/10

Stonefield: Far From Earth (Flightless)

Darraweit Guim. Yeah, exactly. Stonefield, four sisters whose third album Far From Earth hail from this small town in rural Victoria, Australia. Having played together since 2006, Far From Earth is an impressive release, mixing rock with alternative styles in an assured and confident manner. The Findlay sisters, vocalist and drummer Amy, guitarist Hannah, keyboard player Sarah and bassist Holly have pulled together some delicious songs, from the opening rocker Sleepyhead, the trippy Delusion and the imperious title track. 

It’s an album that is both disposable and yet strangely enticing, the subtle keyboards often concealed but at times front and centre in an almost electro delivery. There’s even a bit of Eastern promise on Broken Stone, with its oriental intro and ethereal vocals which echo and swirl. An impressive release which I heartily recommend. 8/10

Friday, 20 April 2018

Reviews: Boss Keloid, Reigning Days, Temples On Mars, Sixcircles

Boss Keloid: Melted On The Inch (Holy Roar Records)

Holy Roar have really established themselves as purveyors of high quality interesting new music, recently we’ve had Conjurer and Mol but now they’ve really out done themselves by getting the release for the third record from Wigan progressive, space stoners Boss Keloid. Having started out a sludge act this third record takes leaps into the great blue yonder with one of the best records I’ve heard this year, firstly it’s a grower only opening up into something truly spectacular after repeated plays, it doesn’t hang around either at six elongated tracks the album gets into its groove quickly and takes you on a weed powered journey into the unknown.

There is of course a strong doom/stoner sound to the album but it’s what they do with it that makes this record truly masterful, each track is expressive with a dynamic range of sounds delighting the ears as the stop-start Chronosiam bleeds into the jazzy but with smashing riffs Tarku Shavel each pairing Mastodonesque shouted vocals with Hawkwind space psych. The five piece benefits from the two guitars that can bring syncopated leads over the top of crushing stoner doom riffs while the keys twist and escalate the whole songs onto another plain. Melted On The Inch sounds so fresh that at times you’d think they were inventing a new genre. Peykruve starts with some tribal sounds and jazz-inflected percussion, the psych styled Jromalih is a trippy middle section that ramps up into a failing final part, Lokannok has a killer electronic keyboard coda and a real darkness to it as it builds into yet more heavy but oh so melodic mastery.

I mentioned Mastodon earlier and they are always seen as being at the forefront of the progressive/stoner/doom/sludge movement turning Neurosis influences into golden age progressive rock workouts but Boss Keloid do it with a rare elegance and the careless abandon of Clutch. In a world where so many bands try to play safe they’ve thrown out the book changing the rules as they contort the ‘rules’ of structuring and genre’s by just doing what feels right for the song. With the crushing grooves on final track Griffonbrass you have been privy to band who have matured into a diverse musical force. Melted On The Inch is in my Top 10 already and it’s only April folks! 9/10

Reigning Days: Eclipse (Marshall Records)

Paul saw Reigning Days in Fuel late last year with King Creature and while he wasn't won over there is quite a bit here to enjoy. It's not what we normally review here as Devonshire trio Reigning Days have the arena rock of Biffy Clyro (Gravity), the electo-prog of Muse (Chemical) and even the staccato The Arctic Monkeys (Friendly Fires) meaning it's music more at home in the pages of Kerrang or on the airways of Radio 1, there's nothing wrong with that but for many who prefer the more indie style of rocking then Dan Steer, Joe Sansome and Jonny Finnis will have you in their pocket for all 14 tracks of this album. For me much like my colleague the music here is a little too lightweight and too long with not a huge amount of differentiation over 14 songs. I'm not saying that it isn't good it's just not my thing really. 6/10

Temples On Mars: Temples On Mars (Primordial Records)

As the bristling guitars of this album weave in during intro Bon Voyage you can hear the discord start to build as Gods & Kings starts the album proper, the djent riffs cut swathes through the melodic layers on this debut album from London based progressive rockers Temples On Mars. It's music that's made for this modern age of progressive music fusing the alternative edge with intelligent complex musical soundscapes. The album has several songs that hook you in before the groove heavy riffs get your head nodding with appreciation, So In Love With Your Own Drug is an ideal example of this as it's got a solid foundation of thumping bass driven riffs with a hooky chorus, while How Far Will You Go builds into the the euphoric final third and Black Mirror is a triumph of melody and technicality. Temples On Mars is a complicated but easy to digest album with some thick Tool passages, the alt rhythms of A Perfect Circle and the mass appeal of 30 Seconds To Mars. With an influx of excellent progressive rock coming from these shores Temples On Mars will be another name to look out for on the basis of this strong debut. 8/10      

Sixcircles: New Belief (Phonosphera Records)

From Palermo Sixcircles play dark, sexy psychedelic rock, they are a two piece with both members sharing vocals but only one handling the instrumentation. Making up the band are Sara B and Giorgio T and their voices sync throughout with a hypnotic underbelly swirling underneath, it's got desert rock moroseness of Mark Lanegan with the sauntering surf rock of Time Of Erosion, the jangly acerbic venom of Velvet Underground (Come, Reap), heavy disorientating fuzz with The Prison and a psychedelic soul of the Brian Jonestown Massacre (albeit without the fractious working relationship hopefully). At nine songs it's an ideal album for anyone with a sinful psyche and a passion for the more disturbing side of music, hold onto your belief as this new one seems a bit immoral. 7/10  

Thursday, 19 April 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Trivium

Trivium, Code Orange, Power Trip & Venom Prison, O2 Academy Bristol

Floridian metal band Trivium are one of the first ‘new’ bands I got into when I was first getting into heavy music. Having been brought up with classic rock and prog, Trivium were a perfect mix of Maiden melodies, Metallica thrash while also serving as my gateway into the more extreme genres such as death and black metal. Since then I have followed the bands progress with great interest and while on record they do tend to be a little inconsistent on record, although this maybe due to the amount of attention garnered by second album Ascendancy, live they have always delivered the goods, except for that one Bloodstock headline shot.

So with the nostalgia of Andrew W.K still at the forefront of my mind it was time to head to Bristol’s premier venue for their most high profile tour yet. Promoted by Metal Hammer and subject to a lot of press, this tour could have been seen as a passing of the torch as it featured three support bands that are all being touted as the next big things in metal much like the headliners were at the beginning of the 2000’s.

The O2 Academys ridiculous policy of opening the doors at 6pm meant there was little time to dilly dally and it was straight into the venue and upstairs (thankfully open) for the first band. I was hugely excited to see Welsh death metal crew Venom Prison (8) take the still filling room by the scruffs and set about destroying everything in their path. A maelstrom of blistering riffs from Ash Gray and Ben Thomas, a vicious rhythm section consisting of Mike Jefferies and Jay Pipprell came together from Hell’s undercarriage. Venom Prison were determined to make a name for themselves on this larger stage and my god did they, taking tracks from their debut album Animus the entire band were a flurry of unadulterated rage with Larissa conducting the mayhem and spitting bile with every line she barked down the mic.

What stood out though was the clarity of the mix meaning you could hear every note that was being played opening your eyes to the complexity of these songs rather than thinking it was just pure fury. 30 minutes flew past and the pits were already kicking off in the middle of the room incited by the hostility that was coming to the stage. With the room only half full as they started playing I thought that Venom Prison got a bit of a raw deal as it was only towards the end of their set that they started cooking on gas and the crowd responded in kind. Acts like VP thrive on this symbiosis between band and audience so in a slightly smaller venue they are unstoppable but here they gave a great account of themselves despite a mostly unmoved crowd.

With probably the rawest and heaviest band of the night opening proceedings Power Trip (9) had to do things a little differently and they burst onto the stage with scything crossover thrash riffs and loads of stomping grooves. The Texas band was on fire their most notable song Executioner’s Tax (Swing Of The Axe) coming early in the set, it was a bold confident move that paid off as the slightly unruly pits started to kick off again buoyed by encouragement from Power Trip, their music needs to be head banged to and the now packed O2 acquiesced this request with vigour. With the majority of the group statically plugging away frantically at their instruments your eyes were drawn to the wild hardcore slam dancing of the frontman who when he wasn’t slugging Bourbon, bouncing around like a nuclear powered Energizer bunny and fly kicking thin air he was barking down the mic usually while on the floor. Elements of Anthrax, Suicidal Tendencies and Slayer were all firmly fixed in place for 30 minutes of an unrivalled thrash metal assault. If Venom Prison were here to make an impact through the medium of head trauma, then Power Trip were trying to take the rest of the body out too. Now if we could see this in a field in Derby sometime in August that would be great?

With the room now full to the gunnels it was time for the exclusive UK support act Code Orange (6) a band I’m really nonplussed by. Hardcore is not a genre I find appealing and when they supported Gojira they were bloody dreadful in my opinion, with the frequent stops killing their momentum. This time they faired a little better, seeming to be a slicker unit using their reckless, untempered performance style to great effect as bassist Joe Goldman prowls the stage and the dual vocals added to the overall effect of a danger the band rely on in their music. The problem I have is that their songs all seem to drift into one and they did kill any momentum with quite slow track to finish, the audience went nuts however so maybe it was me or perhaps fatigue was starting to set in by now as it did start to feel as if I’d been locked in a cage with Brock Lesnar.

Still a nice 30 minute change over allowed time to prepare for a for what was about to come, with Maiden’s Run To The Hills exploding out of the PA Trivium (9) confidently took to the stage with new drummer Alex Bent behind the colossal kit and hit the ground galloping with the title track of their last album The Sin And The Sentence a tour de-force of a song and the closest thing to their breakthrough as they’ve gotten without sacrificing their more technical approach, next came Throes Of Perdition from Shogun which increased the complexity again prowling the stage frontman Matt Heafy was in fine vocal form leaving Corey Beaulieu to handle the harsh vocals as both of them linked to create an awesome guitar pairing as Paulo Gregoletto bass work could be picked out as some of the finest around.

Much of the set was drawn from The Sin And The Sentence but they played at least one song from every album, with Vengeance Falls the only exception, this was due to the addition of Light To Flies and Drowned And Torn Asunder were two extra tracks from their UK breakthrough record Ascendancy near the end of the set, they replaced Strife meaning nothing from VF was showcased. Before then this though Ascendancy (the song) gave the first sing along of the night as Sever The Hand and Inception Of The End got yet more pits sort of moving. (I could rant about pit etiquette but I won’t).

Like I said I’ve seen Trivium many times but here they seemed like real arena headliners, the performance was slick, the light show was mesmerising and the set list had enough peaks and troughs to keep your head banging away and your fist pumping, with the between song speeches kept to a minimum rather than becoming overbearing, there were a few thanks and a little side note about the UK being ‘home’ for the band, then it was back to guitar shredding and proper metal. Becoming The Dragon sat nicely as mid set melodic track with Beaulieu and Heafy duelling in the solo section. Trivium were on imperious form here and when the encore of Shattering The Skies Above, Pull Harder...and In Waves has concluded the entire crowd was hanging on every last note. A pretty good way to spend a Monday evening, ushering in the reign of the latest wave of world beating heavy metal bands.

A View From The Back Of The Room: Andrew W.K

Andrew W.K, Y Plas, Cardiff

Supposed to be taking place in the Great Hall in November 2017 the return of Andrew W.K (8) to Cardiff actually took place in April 2018 to smaller but more intense audience. The tour was moved to coincide with the Prince Of Positive Partyings most recent album You’re Not Alone a record that sees him returning to the high energy rock of his early discography. Having arrived late to the show I missed the opening band’s set but as the room was nicely filled with not a lot of space for those in their to move, as the band took to the stage the volume increased and the audience surged to the front.

What followed was one of the most exciting live sets and audience reactions to a gig I’ve seen a long time, The Power Of Partying intro neatly slipped into the anthemic Music Is Worth Living For which got fists in the air and voices trying to hit those high falsetto’s, it was a masterful start building drama with a huge arena filling track that led into another newbie Ever Again which is a defiantly kooky number. Andrew was in full flight mastering both the classical pianist and frontman roles brilliantly, tucking his mic into his waistband when he was attacking the keys like a rabid Liberace (although the trademark white T-Shirt and Jeans combo would be frowned upon surely), then when he was singing the arms were failing like man Kung Fu fighting with invisible Ninja.

Ready To Die, She Is Beautiful and Tear It Up is where things got tasty and the whole floor descended into chaos with pits, crowd surfers and madness coming from the first 7 rows, if you didn’t want to move you had no choice it was stick to the back wall or get your body grooving. The band were ship shape crunching through Party Till You Puke, Never Let Down and the turbo-charged We Want Fun, the triple guitar attack coming from Amanda Lepre, Erik Payne and Dave Pino (shredding leads), keys from Erica Pino and a power party of a rhythm section of Gregg Roberts’ bass with Clark Danger’s drums (who played W.K covers on YouTube and is now in the band), Andrew’s wife Cherie wasn’t part of this line up so handling her vocals were Amanda and Erica with the Erik giving us the big thrash howls only an man in an Obituary shirt could muster.

As the set progressed the throng got more mental by the second and soon there were bodies everywhere as the main show was rounded out by I Get Wet and You’re Not Alone. 14 songs in and not a hint of slowing down, the pace was breathless with everyone involved needing the encore gap to recover. What had been noticeable that was despite the volume there was a real clarity to the mix, to write of Andrew and co as ‘just a party band’ is to give discredit them, they are all musicians that excel in their field, Andrew also took time to extol the virtues of his party philosophy Violent Life the instrumental that began the encore was enough to prove this point as the band themselves have enough charisma to carry a show without their frontman namesake.

It’s Time To Party came next building up the crowd into near frenzy, however it was followed by the slower Pushing Drugs which I will admit killed a bit of the momentum, that said the final track was ‘THE’ Andrew W.K song so it was enough to whip up the masses again, had it been anything else there might have been a damp squib of an ending but when a song has been played on every music channel and metal club night since it’s release, the final euphoric statement of Party Hard kicked the entire evening into overdrive prompting numerous crowded surfers most of whom aided by our man Stief. I’ve been waiting since I was 13 to see Andrew W.K live and it was everything I wanted it to be and more. Come back soon Andrew the party is still raging in Cardiff.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Reviews: Louise Lemon, Glorior Belli, Inkvisitor, Betrayal Incorporated (Reviews By Rich)

Louise Lemón: Purge EP (Icons Creating Evil Art Records)

Now for something a bit out of my comfort zone as this is not a rock or metal album. This is the debut album by Sweden's Louise Lemón and I've just spent the duration of the album with the hairs on my arms standing on end. Louise Lemón has a very dark atmospheric sound which combines elements of folk, soul, pop, gothic and ambient almost sounding like an apocalyptic gospel. These songs are hugely immersive and the music takes you on a journey along with it.

Dripping with darkness, melancholy and beauty I found it impossible not to fall head first into songs such as Appalacherna and Let Me In. The vocals by Louise herself are captivating and soulful reaching a peak on the stunning Shipwreck. Louise Lemón has fully impressed me with her debut album and opened my eyes to a style of music I normally wouldn't check out. If you are a fan of Chelsea Wolfe or Myrkur then this is a must hear album. 8/10

Glorior Belli: The Apostates (Season Of Mist)

Glorior Belli are a name I've seen mentioned but haven't up until now checked out any of their material. Hailing from France, Glorior Belli are on album number seven with their latest release The Apostates. Glorior Belli play an interesting combination of black metal mixed with southern sludge metal. It's a very refreshing change from the tried and tested black metal formula and definitely got my attention. You still have the characteristics of black metal such as tremolo riffs, harsh vocals and blast beats but they are underlayed by a groove and some bluesy riffage.

It may sound polarising but it's a combination that works. As the album progresses the sludge elements are more brought to the foreground but unfortunately that does mean that the album does get less interesting as it goes on. The strongest songs are definitely in the first half of the album such as the killer title track and Deserters Of Eden. The last half does have its moments such as Runaway Charley which is a ridiculously catchy number. This is a cool album which shows that black metal still has a few tricks up its sleeve but the lack of consistency throughout the album prevents this from getting a higher score. 7/10

Inkvisitor: Dark Arts Of Sanguine Rituals (Ain’t No Hääv Records)

Inkvisitor are a thrash metal band from Finland and this is their second album Dark Arts Of Sanguine Rituals which is the first new material with the bands new line up. Dark Arts Of Sanguine Rituals is a concept album which is a rarity in thrash metal though the songs can be listened individually. Unfortunately I found Dark Arts Of Sanguine Rituals a bit of a flat album. I'm a huge thrash metal fan and know what makes a good thrash album which is plenty of speed and aggression but also with that sense of fun.

 This album rarely picks up the pace and most songs fall into a mid paced lull with uninteresting riffs and forgettable songwriting. There are one or two songs where the album did perk up which is Paradigm Shift and The Revenant (Redeemer) but on the whole I was bored throughout this album. These guys obviously know their thrash as the good moments were very good but it seems to me that they concentrated too much on the album concept rather than the individual songwriting and as a result we got a rather dull album. 5/10

Betrayal Incorporated: Everything Is Backwards (Self Released)

Everything Is Backwards is album number three from British metal band Betrayal Incorporated. Betrayal Incorporated are not a band I am familiar with and based from this album unfortunately not a band I shall be revisiting as Everything Is Backwards generally is a mess. The band seemed like they could not decide on a style to play so they try and incorporate as many different styles into one album and sometimes one song which leads to a wildly inconsistent listening experience. You have elements of traditional heavy metal and hard rock, blues rock, groove metal, stoner metal and thrash metal all combined together which is just a bit too much and it doesn't help that the songs generally are forgettable.

There is more than one instrumental song on the album which is a bit self indulgent but at least it gives you a break from the truly dreadful vocals of frontman Carlo Caci who butchers nearly every song he sings on sounding horrifically off key at many points. The one song where his vocals don't grate as much and probably the best song on the album is Metal Up Your Ass where the band adopt a thrashier style and Carlo gives a more aggressive and improved vocal performance. The guys in Betrayal Incorporated can certainly play their instruments but they need to refine their songwriting and try not to throw so much into an album. They should definitely consider getting a frontman who can sing as well. 4/10

Reviews: Temperance, Whyzdom, Messa, Shadygrove (Reviews By Stief)

Temperance: Of Jupiter And Moons (Scarlet Records)

Having followed Temperance from their self titled debut, it's great to see them release yet another album, and what an album! This album introduces two new singers in Michele Guaitoli and Alessia Scolletti, who takes the place of Chiara Tricarico. While it's sad to see Chiara go, it's evident from the outset that Alessia and Michele are great choices, both of them working off each other perfectly, allowing Marco Pastorino to focus on guitarwork, which seems tighter, while also providing backing vocals. Speaking of tight, everything seems tightened from previous albums from the band, with production being top notch as well as the band's overall sound.

As mentioned previously, Scolleti's vocals soar with Guaitoli's, both of whom seem to fit into Temperance's Symphonic/Synth-pop (Synthonic?) fusion. Every song is laced with orchestral blasts, and not a single one seems out of place. The album's closing track Daruma's Eyes (Part 1) is the essence of Temperance's music; strings over fast paced drumming, synths paired with awesome guitar work with soaring almost-operatic vocals weaving throughout the music, all of which leave you wanting more. Here's to part 2! Back in 2014, I said this is a band to look out for, and I meant it. 3 releases later, their sound is still great and if you haven't listened to them, now is the time! 9/10

Whyzdom: As Time Turns To Dust [Scarlet Records]

Symphonic metal from across the channel, Whyzdom's latest album is a bombastic collection of choirs, strings, heavy drumming and lofty vocals with an almost eastern feel in places, bringing to mind bands such as Orphaned Land. While it's a great sound, there are points where the main guitars and bass are drowned out by the oft-over saturation of brass and strings. While it gives a certain epic feel to each song, it's sometimes a bit overwhelming. Despite that, Marie Mac Leod's vocals work excellently within the music, but again, feel like they're pushing out of their confines; This isn't to say her operatic vocals are bad at all, but they sometimes feel slightly jarring, especially when moving from one style to the other. It's a great album for fans of Symphonic metal, with echoes of old-school Nightwish and Rhapsody, but as mentioned before, sometimes overwhelming in places. 7/10

Messa: Feast For The Water [Aural Music]

Beautifully ambient music from Italy here with dashings of doom throughout. Right from the start, the aquatic theme of the album is evident, with the sounds of bubbles over an eerie backing track, building up to pure static before dropping you in the calming waves of Snakeskin Drape, with lead singer Sara's ethereal voice floating on the soft guitar of Alberto and Mark Sade, before Mistyr's drums smash the calm, the song breaking into some great doom metal, where Sara's voice becomes even more ghostlike. The pattern persists throughout the album, with the music flowing (Pun intended) between calm and rough, mirroring the overall theme of the album; waves of music you can easily float on before you're hit with a crashing of bass and percussion. Overall, a great listen if you like your doom with something a little different. 8/10

Shadygrove: In The Heart Of Scarlet Wood [Rockshots Records]

Featuring Fabien 'Lethien' Polo of Elvenking fame, you know exactly what to expect from this band from Italy. It's great folk metal with all the trimmings; piano, violin, flute, this album has it all. Lisy' Stefanoni's Vocals, as well as her flute skills work perfectly within the genre, with Lethien's violin adding another layer, especially when paired with Simone Morettin's percussion, using a mix of drums and other ethnic percussion instruments.

Shadygrove sit well within the folk part of folk-metal, with the pace of some songs being a bit slower, easy to listen to, while others such as The port of Lisbon pick up the pace, and would not feel out of place in a fantasy game. However, while it's a good album, there isn't too much in the way of diversity between songs, each one tending to blend with the others. Despite that, In The Heart Of Scarlet Wood is definitely worth a look if you're a fan of folk music. 7/10

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Reviews: Spiders, Kalmah, Hamerex Jari Tiura (Reviews By Paul)

Spiders: Killer Machine (Spinefarm Records)

Down and dirty rock n’ roll from Gothenburg is the name of the game with Spiders’ third album, the fabulous Killer Machine. Full of fuzzy stomping riffs, fast paced tempo, neat guitar and the stunning vocals of Anne Sofie Hoyles. It’s inevitable that comparisons with fellow rockers Blues Pills will be made, with Hoyles voice reminiscent of Elin Larsson. Spiders are much more straight forward and less psychedelic although it’s fair to make a comparison with similar influences. Spiders sound sits slap bang in the 1970s. One glance at the album cover and band photo and you’ll see that the association is reasonable. Although it’s pure rock n’ roll, there is a myriad of styles such as Like A Wild Child with its pure pop chorus and almost disco swagger, the darker title track, the biker rock of Swan Song and to prove me wrong, a psychedelia breakdown on So Easy. The Blues melting Don’t Need You shows a mellower side to the band including John Hoyles delicious guitar work. This is a real grower of an album which improves on every play. A wonderful release. 8/10

Kalmah: Palo (Spinefarm Records)

Finnish Melodic death metal outfit Kalmah’s eighth album is three quarters of an hour of Amon Amarth and Children of Bodom wrapped up neatly into a visceral package that illustrates why the band sit alongside Bodom and Wintersun in terms of status within the metal scene in their homeland. The guitar work is intense throughout; World Of Rage echoes Wintersun in terms of speed, style and delivery. Opener Blood Ran Cold is full on Amon with Pekka Kokko’s Hegg-like vocals. There is plenty of melody throughout although the style changes from Viking to thrash to melodic death as it progresses.

Antti Kokko’s lacerating shredding is complimented by a sweet undertone of keyboards whilst the rampaging drumming of Janne Kusmin maintains the pace. This is superbly evidenced on Take Me Away, the interplay of guitar and keys integral to the song. Whilst the pounding and roaring is all well and good, there is a slight bit of repetition towards the tail of the album, and in the same way that I sometimes find Wintersun overpowering, there are times when the sheer intricacy overwhelms you. Having said that, Through Shallow Waters is a stunning track, combining about five different styles in just over four minutes. I can’t argue with the technical quality and at times the desire to bang that head is irresistible. 7/10

Hamerex: The Abyss EP (IX Music)

The first in an EP trilogy, The Abyss features two brand new songs by traditional heavy metal band Hamerex alongside new recordings of two older tracks. Hamerex have been around for over 10 years and have experienced several line-up changes but have also released several albums and EPs during this time. Recorded at Laurel House Studios in Wakefield, the songs sit comfortably side by side and having not been familiar with their catalogue, it’s fair to say that its impossible to differentiate which tracks are new.

The music is solid, heavy and singer Steve Blower can certainly hold a tune. The one down side is Crucifixion which features the inferior vocals of bassist Marc Hood, which lets a fine song down slightly. With some tasty riffs, Hamerex avoid the dull plod that so many of the current wave of NWOBHM influenced outfits churn out, with reworked The Dark Tower, a frantic thrashing beast which one would imagine is a beast in the live arena. With elements of Maiden, Priest but also the heavier side of things through Metallica and even Slayer, The Abyss should appeal to all metal fans. 7/10
Jari Tiura: King Of Lions (AOR Heaven)

In case you didn’t know, and I admit I was amongst them, Jari Tiura was the singer for the Michael Schenker Group between 2004 – 2007 when the band released Tales Of Rock N Roll and toured Europe, the States and of course, Japan. Prior to that the Finn had been vocalist for power metal outfit Snakegod and currently sings for both Stargazery and Century LostKing Of Lions is his debut solo release, and has an AOR stamp throughout. To be honest, the songs are a little bland and unimaginative at times, with tracks such as London and Human steady rather than exciting.

Musically there is little to criticise; it has huge swathes of synths, sufficient riffs and hooks which ensure that you can remember the tracks, and it is all perfectly played thanks to Yrjö Ella on lead guitars, Jaan Wessman on bass and drums and the keyboards of Jussi Kulomaa, Jani Kemppinen and Mikko Kangasjärvi. Unfortunately, there is little to really fire the imagination. Tiura’s voice doesn’t work on all the tracks, and falls short in some, such as the ponderous ballad Lion of Judah which is one of the weakest songs I’ve heard in a long time. This was a struggle to get through, and I’m afraid it does little to hold the interest. 5/10

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Reviews: Kamelot, Mustasch, Dewolff, QFT

Kamelot: The Shadow Theory (Napalm Records)

Symphonic metal mainstays Kamelot return with their latest opus which is their third album with Tommy Karevik and it continues in the same style of previous Kamelot records by expertly fusing classical orchestrations with crunchy power metal where the main factors at play the virtuosity of Thomas Youngblood (guitar) and Oliver Palotai (keys) as Sean Tibbetts (bass) and Johan Nunez (drums) provide blistering rhythms that can rampage with blastbeats or subtly add a groove to anthem. Add to this the extensive use of symphonic elements and choirs and you get a sound that Kamelot have pioneered for well over 20 years and one that still sees them producing excellent thought provoking music.

As with so many of their albums there is a conceptual nature to The Shadow Theory here they have forged ahead with the ever darker sounds they have been using since Karevik’s arrival and this record particularly is “A dystopian glimpse at the complexity of the human mind and its place in an oppressive society” so there are parallels to the modern day as Kamelot explore the darker side of human psychology splitting the record into three pillars of psychological theory “The Shadow Empire (The global mind), The Shadow Key (The Resistance) and The Shadow Wall (The veil that blinds us from the truth)”.

If you don’t like a conceptual album then don’t worry as these songs are independent on their own merit, in the middle of the album there are four tracks specifically that really have your ears pricking up, The Twilight Hours is a stirring ballad which has Karevik soulfully pairing his velvet vocals with Jennifer Haben of Beyond The Black, it’s followed by the heavier Kevlar Skin that closes out with a guitar/keyboard solo duel, Static is a mid-pace emotive track with pop flourishes and theatricality, rounding out the foursome is Mind Fall Remedy which has the harsh vocals of Once Human’s Lauren Hart opposing Karevik’s dulcet tones. The Shadow Theory is yet another set of wickedly deep and dark power metal from these mainstays of the genre. 8/10

Mustasch: Silent Killer (Headbangr)

I didn't have a lot of positive comments for Swedish band Mustasch's previous album, I thought it was a little too light, there were too many middle of the rock songs rather than the aggressive macho metal that came on proceeding albums. Well clearly I wasn't the only one that wanted the band to return to their earlier sounds as their ninth album Silent Killer will be a relief to anyone who like me loves Mustasch's earlier releases. Its head kicking from the first second as Winners, Liberta and (fucking) Barrage all hit your ears like artillery fire as Ralf Gyllenhammar riffs away like a true guitar toting madman and his raw vocals are almost required by law when a band play this heavily. With elements of Metallica (1991-1998), the driving hard rock of Audrey Horne. There's a special guest turn from Hank Von Helvete (ex-Turbonegro) on the funky Fire, a big groove on Grave Digger and bang it's all over in 30-odd minutes.

However like Millenium Falcon at warp speed, there's not rest throughout these 10 tracks, they are all driven by riffs to bang your head too recalling albums such as Latest Version Of The Truth with just pure metal riffs built on hard rock grooves. The production plays a pivotal role in this records appeal, it's clinical but inviting approach making the bass sound like a Bofors Cannon, the drums like an earthquake and the the guitars chug away like a The Flying Scotsman. It really brought a smile to my face to hear that the Mustasch of old had returned with all the bluster they could muster. Silent Killer is definitely not silent but it is all killer, a glorious slice of heavy metal fury. Welcome back Mustasch! 9/10

DeWolff: Thrust (Mascot Records)

Dutch act DeWolff have released 5 studio albums, have played Paradiso in Amsterdam, PinkPop Festival in front of 30,000 at Lowlands Festival, 15,000 at Sziget, as well as Reeperbahn, Rockpalast, Rock Oz Arena and they have supported The Black Keys, Blues Pills, Ten Years After and Deep Purple. They took their slightly odd name from the character Winston Wolfe in Pulp Fiction and they are formed by Pablo (singer/guitarist), his brother Luka van de Poel (drums) and Robin Piso behind the Hammond organ. They are only in their mid-twenties but their music is decidedly classic sounding it’s the swirling neo-psychedelic soundscapes of Woodstock using analogue instruments to create effortless rock tracks that have a Southern edge and a Hippie heart.

There's an overriding feel of The Black Keys jamming with Jon Lord as both Sometimes and Deceit & Woo has that garage street blues undercut with organ, elsewhere though there are titanic Zep riffs (Big Talk & Tombstone Child), Doorsesque freak outs (California's Burning), Southern shuffles (Outta Step And Ill At Ease), blues laments (Once In A Blue Moon) and even a helping of flared Stax funk (Swain). It's a brilliantly realised album full of the styles that made some of the best rock music in history, a veritable greatest hits of classic rock.

The organic and analogue nature of this record allows the band to fully explore numerous sound palettes making each one their own. Thrust has retro rock riffs for a modern audience, in a world where Wolfmother and Rival Sons have taken this sort of music to new heights hopefully DeWolff will be seen as one of the acts able to challenge for their title, now I just need to do more investigating of their back catalogue. 9/10

Quantum Field Theory: Live In Space (Despotz Records)

Quantum field theory (QFT) is the theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of subatomic particles in particle physics and quasiparticles in condensed matter physics. This project however features Therion vocalist Linnéa Vikström backed by members of Dynazty and Loch Vostock. The idea behind this record was due to Vikström's fascination with quantum physics, space, blackholes, the Big Bang etc the songs are all concerned with these high concept theoretical physics questions along with the occasional diversion into extra-terrestrials on Aliens.

Sitting between hard rock, cinematic style of Therion or any of Arjen Lucassen's projects and with a bit of Black Sabbath sprinkled over the top with some evil riffs. It's build on the sheer majesty of Linnéa's awesome vocal range, however there are a few too many mid-paced and lower songs on the record but most of that is due to the emotional pipes of Vikström. Live In Space is a pretty good album, I think it's probably the sort of rock album Professor Brian Cox would approve of. 7/10

Reviews: Gozu, Axel Rudi Pell, The Ugly Kings, Odcult (Reviews By Paul)

Gozu: Equilibrium (Metal Blade Records / Blacklight Media Records)

Now in their 10th year, Gozu, from Boston, MA, have delivered a meaty slab of hard stoner metal which screams “repeated plays”. The band has roots firmly in 60s psychedelia and classic rock, the fuzzy stoner riffs of the 70s, the grit of 90s grunge as well as genuinely dirty rock n' roll. 2016's Revival took their sound in a more aggressive direction and Equilibrium has raised the stakes. "We wanted these songs to hit a nerve, make people shake their ass and enjoy simply being alive," says vocalist/guitarist Marc ‘Gaff’ Gaffney, who founded the band with lead guitarist Doug Sherman. It certainly does that, with huge riffs, big choruses and solos and ear worm melodies. The songs are catchy, full of life and spit, from the opening riff that signals the start of Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat until the final feedback of spiritually haunting closer Ballad Of ODB. Although many of the songs boast a profoundly uplifting feel, the lyrics are largely informed by grief experienced by Gaff, who lost his father in June 2017.

King Cobra, with its Alice In Chains Stayley/Cantrell feel and the smouldering tank of a track that is Manimal are particularly memorable. This is the second release to feature drummer Mike Hubbard and bassist Joseph Grotto and Gozu are clearly at a point where the tightness is evident. "I would have to say that the band is sounding the best it ever has right now," Gaffney states plainly. "It takes a bit of time to feel everything out. When you are serious about it, you have to work as a team, and we are four guys that dig the same kind of music and love to play, but we all bring in different elements that give us our sound.

It is not just one-person channeling, it's the four of us bringing in the ingredients and together making it a delicious meal”. They Probably Know Karate or Prison Elbows contain some ferociously heavy riffs whilst the existence of a song that could be described simultaneously as "Alan Holdsworth meets Fuze" and "Neurosis meets Jeff Buckley" is evident with the eleven-minute sprawl of Ballad Of ODB. Mesmerising at times, played with gusto and a quality sometimes lacking, Equilibrium is an impressive piece of work. 8/10

Axel Rudi Pell: Knights Call (SPV/Steamhammer)

Axel Rudi Pell is one of those musicians who everyone knows but who are unlikely to be able to name much of his music. Having been integral to the band Steeler in the 1980s, Pell has been delivering his hard rock for 30 years. “I’d rather have long-term success than the hit album everybody is always referring to” he states. Well, he’s certainly done that and with his 17th studio album, he’ll continue to fly under the radar as there isn’t much here that will blast him to the stratosphere. It’s more of the same, and as his press release stated, you know what to expect from him. With a trusted team including singer Johnny Gioeli and drummer Bobby Rondinelli Pell has delivered what I would class as a solid, traditional European heavy metal album which features some superb playing from Pell and the other musicians in the band.

The Deep Purple sounding instrumental Truth & Lies adds something a little different, whilst the ballad Beyond The Light is on a par with most rock ballads; the choir adding to the level of awfulness. Lyrically, a mix between medieval mysticism and fantasy folklore remains consistent with other albums. The final track, Tower Of Babylon, with its mix of Kashmir and Stargazer is possibly the best track on the album. Having found a formula that works, Axel Rudi Pell deserves plaudits for sticking with his vision. It’s rather tepid in places, but there is enough here to make it an enjoyable album. 6/10

The Ugly Kings: Darkness Is My Home (Kozmik Artifactz)

The Ugly Kings comprise Russel Clark (vocals), Christos Athanasias (guitar), Nicolas Dumont (bass) and Andy Alkemade (drums) and draw from an eclectic musical background. They have supported Airbourne on their successful sold out east coast Australia tour in January 2017 with Joel O’Keefe saying of the band; "Great show! The Ugly Kings have really got their own thing going on and it rocks! I love all the dynamics, pushing and pulling and then always smashing it out. Great intensity and power”.

The band also supported Rival Sons in 2016 in Melbourne and you can hear the influence of the Sons in opening track Promised Land. Darkness Is My Home offers a range of songs that drip with emotion; the driving riffs of Sabbath sit comfortably with the darkness of Nick Cave, whilst the driving elements of Royal Blood and The White Stripes can also be easily identified. Clark’s deep reaching and soulful emotive vocals suit the powerful blues which underpins this very listenable album, with several songs also containing more than a nod to The Doors. 7/10

Odcult: Into The Earth (Mighty Music)

More rampaging riff heavy energised tracks from Odcult, whose sound merges numerous styles to create some tasty hard rock. With an edge of the punk of Green Day (not their radio friendly stuff mind) and a throwback to the 1970s but with a fresh modern sound, Into The Earth is a very listenable and enjoyable release. Another power trio whose sound belies their number, Coffe Fransson (vocals, guitar) Dennis Åhman (drums) and bassist André Svensson have delivered a solid album that is well worth a listen. 7/10

Saturday, 14 April 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Kris Barras & Blackwater Conspiracy

Kris Barras & Blackwater Conspiracy, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

On the evening of Wrestlemania we were getting ready for a knockout night of another kind, in the darkness of Fuel Rock Club, cage fighter turned next big thing in blues rock Kris Barras was just about to take to the stage to packed house. However before this it’s worth backpedalling a little to the start of night, we’d arrived early as the gig was promoted by our good friends at Fate Entertainment so we managed to grab some pre show conversation (and Guinness) with both bands, where we discovered that Irish band Blackwater Conspiracy had eaten at Toby Carvery on every date of the tour so far (it’s all glamour ladies and gentleman). With the soundcheck out of the way and Blackwater Conspiracy posing for a photo shoot with us (available soon) it was time for the show to begin and the room filled up pretty quickly as the lights went down and there was anticipation in the air.

For me especially it served as an opportunity to see one act that is going to be stratospheric by next year and to see another who I have been following since their inception as a Classic Rock supported band called Million Dollar Reload. At this time they were signed to the now defunct Powerage records but with new members joining they changed into the band that were in front of us now, with the name change came the new Delta Blues influenced sounds of The Stones and The Black Crowes as they morphed into the fully developed band they are now. I highly rated Blackwater Conspiracy’s (8) debut album to see tracks from that record with bluesy numbers like Waitin’ On Hollywood and Penny For Your Dirty Mind mingling with the glistening grooves of ’85 Rockstar. With Phil Conalane’s rough vocal style and his Keef-like rhythm playing, he leads the band in the jangling blues rocking with the effortless of a rock n roll scoundrel. The band was giving it everything and from the audible reaction and the amount of merch shifted after their set I’d say they more than won over those who weren’t as familiar with them as me.

So back to the beginning of the review and with little time to get a refill due to the expanse of bodies in the small room, the heat was rising and the audience waited with baited breath as Kris, Elliott, Will and Josiah walked on the stage, Kris especially had the swagger of a man who’s been doing this his entire life, his tattooed figure cut a swathe at the front of the stage his Telecaster slung around his neck like a weapon and as the anticipation reached fever pitch the headliner began with some thick, tasty blues rock riffs filling Fuel with material that has seen Kris Barras (9) compared to Joe Bonamassa. As he made his way through an hour material, most of which came from his new album The Divine And The Dirty, he played the guitar with a fire rarely seen by artists that are so early in their career, screaming, soulful solos were met with filthy riffs and a voice that was huskier and rawer than normal (due to a cold) but it added to the blistering performance, Barras was imperious on the stage the obvious focal point of the entire evening as the T-Shirt wearing partisan audience hung on every single riff and solo.

Keeping the tempo at a maximum the temperature inside the room increased with every single song and the voices grew louder as the songs were recognised, Hail Mary got the biggest response, due to the radio play it receives on Planet Rock. The noise only dropped, quite rightly, for the heart wrenching Watching Over Me which is seriously affecting ballad on which Kris is at his most fragile vocally. The set was wrapped up with a storming run through of All Along The Watchtower which was neither a copy of the Hendrix version or the Dylan original but took from both for a unique take on a classic. After this the crowd were in rapturous applause as the band took their leave of the stage, an encore beckoned but the music was ramped up and the houselights turned on.

No encore to be seen, cue confusion and frustration from the band and management. Despite this little bit of disarray the rest of the evening ran smoothly. Both acts left a lasting impression, Blackwater Conspiracy are a band probably best enjoyed with an (Irish) whiskey and a roaring log fire while Kris Barras and his superb band is a smooth, disciplined unit led by a man bound for superstardom. Catch him as support to Beth Hart later this month and as the new frontman of supergroup Supersonic Blues Machine later this year. If you missed this then you missed one of those moments where you will be able to say “I was there” in the years to come.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Reviews: Blackberry Smoke, The Amorettes, Lowdrive, Crisix (Reviews By Paul)

Blackberry Smoke: Find A Light (Earache)

Arguably one of the finest bands in rock music today, album number six from the five-piece from Atlanta, Georgia cements their reputation. 18 months on from Like An Arrow, Blackberry Smoke maintain the momentum with Find A Light containing the same high quality we’ve come to expect. Their music sounds simple, but there’s a lot going on here. From the stomp of opening track Flesh And Bone through to the melancholic Mother Mountain, the country rock which this band deliver with such ease just purrs out of the speakers.

Clever, reflective lyrics are backed by simple yet oh so impressive music which on closer inspection proves to be anything but that. Humble and honest, there is a delicate intricacy about Blackberry Smoke which can easily be overlooked. Just like some of their peers and heroes, such as Skynyrd, Mule and the Allman Brothers, it’s the effortlessness in which they distribute their music which makes it so damn irresistible. For example, Medicate My Mind initially sounds like a throw away country ballad, but underneath it all there is the subtle Hammond organ lines, delicious harmonies, intricate throw-away guitar work all disguised by the wonderful drawling vocals of Charlie Starr. I’ve Got This Song sings sweetly, a gentle lilt with the beautiful fiddle of Levi Lowrey adding to the pedal steel of Starr and guest Robert Randolph.

In comparison to Like An Arrow and its predecessor Holding All The Roses, Find A Light takes a lighter slower paced route, more gentle in comparison. Starr has either written or co-written all the tracks here, but it’s much more than just the frontman, with the harmonies of guitarist Paul Jackson, ably supported by Amanda Shires and Oliver and Chris Wood essential. Best Seat In The House begins with a riff taken from The Bangles back catalogue, Starr allowing himself time to explore emotions whilst Jackson’s rhythm guitar and Richard Turner’s bass chug sweetly together. The introduction of The Black Bettys, Sherie and Sherita Murphy on I’ll Keep Ramblin’ carries the listener to the joyous gospel halls of the Deep South, whilst Let Me Down Easy where Starr duets with Amanda Shires conjures up reminders of the magnificent Raising Sands that Robert Plant and Alison Krauss produced several years ago.

Like all Blackberry Smoke’s music, repeated plays allow the listener to discover delicious hidden extras, such as the solid drumming of Brit Turner, the subtle keyboards of Brandon Still that nestle under the covers but without which a valuable layer of the band’s sound would vitally miss. I could write all day about a band that are without doubt one of the hottest properties in the rock world. The Smoke tour the UK in November. I have tickets for Cardiff and Bristol. It will be magical. 9/10

The Amorettes: Born To Break (SPV)

The Amorettes are an enigma to me. The Scottish trio have supported some big names in the rock world since they arrived on the scene in 2009, yet have managed to churn out the same song for three albums. Born To Break, produced by Thunder’s Luke Morley, continues in the same vein, with another 12 tracks of routine, painting by numbers hard rock which is totally inoffensive, mildly enjoyable and no doubt classed by the Planet Rock massive as “the future of rock n’ roll”. Having seen the band live, they certainly have the balls to kick out the jams with any of their male counterpart. But on record, well, it’s all a bit samey. Everything I Learned (Learned From Rock N’ Roll) is cringeworthy, Hell Or High Water and You’ve Still Got Rock N’ Roll are polished but oh so repetitive. By the time you get to Bat Shit Crazy it’s time to pull the needle off the record and move on to something with a modicum of substance. Throw away rock at its finest. Great at Hard Rock Hell when you’ve had a few beers, The Amorettes are a band who I have admiration for … but I’d never listen to them out of choice. It’s all a bit tedious. 5/10

Lowdrive: Roller (Cargo Records)

The clear plan of Lowdrive: To write and record great riff heavy songs and to play live regularly. Whilst I can’t vouch for the latter, this Sheffield based band has certainly made a flying start to the former with debut album Roller stuffed to the brim with riffs that just demand your attention. Lowdrive is former Warrior Soul/Goat Leaf guitarist John Hodgson and Goat Leaf drummer Mat Washington, former Indra and Flip The Pyramid vocalist Andy Sawford and former F.T.P member Martin Gargalovic on bass.

With a bluesy foundation and a gritty, thumping delivery, Lowdrive conjure up numerous comparisons, including Witch Tripper, Blind Haze, Orange Goblin and Scorpion Child for starters. It’s not pretty, but it’s gnarly and determined and hits all the right spots. The title track, the chug of Into The Fire, the driving anthem Puppets (which has shades of Monster Magnet and demands to be played when driving at high speed) and in your face opener The Last Stand all demand a nodding reception. Sometimes the requirement is dirty, fast riffage and Lowdrive give it to you with both barrels. Meatier than a butcher’s apron. This is the nuts. 8/10

Crisix: Against The Odds (Listenable Records)

This is the fourth album from the Barcelona quintet whose music is a cross between thrash and hardcore. To be fair, two plays of this highly spirited release was sufficient but if you like your Hatebreed, Jasta, etc then Against The Odds should be very enjoyable. Self-produced at Axtudios in Spain and mastered by Jens Bogren (Arch Enemy, At The Gates, Bloodbath, Kreator et al) at Fascination Street Studios in Sweden, the bull is straight into the china shop from the off with the raging Get Out Of Head.

Nine tracks, all powerfully delivered, cover a range of topics as far ranging as the abuse of the church (Leave Your God Behind), the addiction to technology (Technophiliac) as well as Ridley Scott’s Aliens in Xenomorph Blood, novelist George R. R. Martin’s fantasy worlds in The North Remembers, and Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball characters in Prince Of Saiyans. Clench your fists, circle the pits and enjoy with your best beater. Bracing stuff. 7/10