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