Shinedown: Attention Attention (Atlantic Records)
Huge in the USA, becoming increasingly big in the UK and Europe, there is no doubt that Jacksonville quartet Shinedown have worked incredibly hard since their formation back in 2001. Their sound has been categorised as alt-metal, alt-rock, post-grunge and nu-metal. I think it would be fair to say that the band are a hard rock band, touching on some if not all the above. Attention Attention is the band’s sixth album and has a darker, heavier tone and feel than 2015’s Threat To Survival. The album has a conceptual theme which depicts a human overcoming their negativity through personal struggles to be reborn as a new person.
Crammed full of the arena rock that the band has crafted as their own, there are few decent tracks, including Devil, Pyro and Monsters, all which contain enough despair and gloom to make them feel a bit uncomfortable. Brent Smith’s distinctive vocal is as prominent as ever and Shinedown’s sound is of course, instantly recognisable, so it’s a challenge to listen to this release without dismissing it as “typical Shinedown.” Shinedown don't do a lot for me, and their lighter elements on tracks like Darkside fail to ignite the spark, but overall, the band, who I’ve seen several times over the years, have produced another polished and impressive release which sits comfortably alongside their outstanding Sound Of Madness release, a decade ago. 7/10
Amorphis: Queen Of Time (Nuclear Blast)
Few albums were as impressive in 2015 as Amorphis’ 12th full length release, Under The Red Cloud. An absolute masterpiece, it remained on repeat for many months. Three years on and the Finns may have just pushed the envelope even higher. Queen Of Time is a stunning piece of work. 24 years since their sophomore release, the legendary Tales From A Thousand Lakes, the mix of metal, folklore, oriental fusion and rock continues to surprise. Queen Of Time contains a mix of prophetic storytelling which provides a dramatic, cinematic feel from beginning to end. Guest musicians including Eluveitie's Chrigel Glanzmann, laryngeal singer Albert Kuvezin and saxophonist JØrgen Munkeby add depth and quality to the songs. The already classic opener The Bee starts the album in typical Amorphis manner, melodies flow seamlessly with the contrast of raw harshness, grandeur, elaborate orchestration and melancholy combining perfectly.
The voice of Tomi Joutsen nestles comfortably, his growls and clean vocals adding elements of light and shadow. The inclusion of orchestra and choir merely enhances the compositions. The black metal growling during Daughter Of Hate challenges the oriental melodies whilst Wrong Direction is deliberately gentle and reduced by comparison. Heart Of The Giant is a massive song, bursting with power, choral backing, Eastern styles and a blistering pace whilst penultimate track Amongst The Stars sees Anneke Van Giersbergen make a textbook contribution. Lucky 13? It really should be. Queen Of Time is flawless. 10/10
Witchsorrow: Hexhammer (Candlelight Records)
With a mission to celebrate the traditions of doom as practiced by such legends as Black Sabbath, Cathedral, Saint Vitus, Trouble and Candlemass, Hampshire’s Witchsorrow have delivered three albums of doom metal which has placed them amongst such illustrious company. The Hampshire outfit, formed by frontman Necroskull and bassist Emily Witch over a decade ago (later completed by drummer Wilbrahammer) deliver another doom obsessed offering, with a new collection of hymns. The Hexenhammer, the alternative name of the Malleus Maleficarum, the dreaded book by fifteenth-century Catholic clergyman Henricus Institoris that detailed and endorsed the torture and extermination of witches by violent means.
Recorded at Skyhammer studio with long-time co-conspirator Chris Fielding (Conan, Primordial, Electric Wizard), the songs on Hexhammer crush completely, with tracks such as The Devil’s Throne and the fantastic Eternal exploding the darkest doom with blisteringly strong heavy metal, contrasting with the macabre funeral pace of the title track and Demons Of The Mind. Focusing on the extinction of humanity, the album is bleak, dark and swamped in gloom. As Necroskull commented, “I’ve always been obsessed with the end of the world. On previous albums I’ve been wanting it to happen, because I was caught in a very dark place. On No Light..., I was almost angry that it hadn’t happened. This time, it’s a massively confusing time where we’re basically staring at it and waiting for it. I have no solutions. There are none to be had”. If you haven’t tasted the soundtrack to 2018, Hexenhammer may well be it. 8/10
Big Boy Bloater And The LiMiTs: Pills (Provogue)
As a change from the usual grinding chainsaw action we tend to focus on, the latest album from the blues maestro Big Boy Bloater is as welcome as the brief blast of summer sun we experienced recently. Pills reflects the Surrey born guitarist and singer refocusing. As he stated reflecting on the 2016 Luxury Hobo tour “I guess a lot of stuff happened on the Luxury Hobo tour. Maybe after the depression, my minds a bit more open and turned on to things, so I have observed more.” Pills was recorded in December 2017 with producer Adam Whalley, the band trimmed down to a power trio of Big Boy Bloater (Vocals/Guitar), Matt Cowley (Drums) and Steven Oates (Bass). With the fabulous title track kicking off proceedings, it highlights the constant need for pills today with a sinister edge. From there on it’s a composite of quality tunes which can’t fail to raise a smile and get the foot tapping. The autobiographical Friday Night’s Alright For Drinkin, the poppy Stop Stringing Me Along through to the sinister tales that weave themselves into place on the beautifully juxtaposed Oops Sorry and the Tom Waits style Mouse Organ.
What’s most impressive is how the band effortlessly flit through styles and pace, creating an album full of depth, emotion, humour, anger and sheer fun. “I always used to like the Portmanteau horror films where they have 3 or 4 different stories in the film. So you’ve always got this constant change and you never really got bored of one story and then there this theme tying it all together” said the Big Boy. With a packed recent history of top quality gigs under their belt, included Camden Rocks Festival and Ramblin’ Man Fair in 2017, there is an air of quiet confidence and a quality that is rare, especially in the saturated blues market. Pills is well worth checking out, with an anthology style making this album such an engaging proposition. 9/10