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Friday, 22 June 2018

Reviews: The Darkness, Zeal & Ardor, Satan's Empire, Null 'O Zero

The Darkness: Live At Hammersmith (Cooking Vinyl)

The Hammersmith Apollo is a legendary venue in the annals of rock history Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, Ted Nugent, Kate Bush and countless others have all recorded live albums in this historic venue and now Lowestofts purveyors of rock and roll debauchery The Darkness have added their catsuited mark to that list. Playing a set familiar to anyone who saw them on their most recent headline tour last year, this is the brothers Hawkins, Frankie Poullain and Rufus Taylor in full glam rock splendour in front of a baying crowd. Kicking off the show with the explosive Open Fire we're off and running with chugging dual guitar riffs, a swaggering rhythm section and Justin's still amazing vocal gymnastics. Funded through Pledgemusic Live At Hammersmith has an old school touch, sounding like it was recorded on The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio in the height of the 70's there is a crackle and an echo to the record that is pure 70's magic.

Open Fire moves into the big hitter Love Is Only A Feeling which highlights Rufus' more delicate drumming and also gives the crowd a chance to belt out the memorable chorus with aplomb. Justin's between song banter is still bonkers, baiting photographers  but he sounds like a man loving every minute of his time on stage. The rampaging Southern Trains is followed by the crunchy Black Shuck (that dog still don't give a...), One Way Ticket is a cowbell fuelled AC/DC rocker (cowbell supplied by Frankie), riffs supplied Dan Hawkins who locks down the show on every song especially on this heavier start to the show keeping the pace high with Givin' Up (cue more singing), All The Pretty Girls and the chest beating Barbarian.

With tracks from Permission To Land all the way to Pinewood Smile along with some deep cuts the fire is lit and burning bright the entire set but obviously towards the end of the set Get Your Hands Off My Woman, Growing On Me, Christmas Time (it was in December after all) and I Believe In A Thing Called Love get the loudest reactions of the evening but Live At The Apollo perfectly captures the raging fire that is a The Darkness live show, if you missed it in December pick up this record, turn it up loud and dance in your pants (shiny or not)! 9/10

Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit (MKVA)

Swiss/American Manuel Gagneu has expertly led Avant Garde metal act Zeal & Ardor through 2 full length albums. It's rare these days that metal really takes you by surprise by being totally different to anything else around but this is totally at the end of the spectrum. It's a fusion that shouldn't work but the mix of black metal fury and African American spiritual music sounds like it shouldn't work but it not only works it's bewitching to hear, thumping gospel tinged blues mixes with furious extreme metal shredding on Don't You Dare it's like Gary Clark Jr fronting Immortal (which I'd pay to see) and singing about Lovecraftian horrors, Servants is a bit more clean but Fire Of Motion is just pure Satanic fury featuring a sample from Aleister Crowley.

At 16 tracks it may seem long but four of those tracks are instrumentals that build on the already established dark atmosphere but Row Row is infused by Motown handclaps but adds frenetic heavy guitars and is followed by it's sequel the chanting Ship On Fire. There is a concept running through the album is complicated and bittersweet but it revolves around death and insignificance with the message hidden in the sometimes indecipherable lyrics. Stranger Fruit is a dark and unsettling record with blast beats and screams sitting as comfortable bedfellows with gospel, soul and blues, it's arresting and begs for repeated lessons to really open up it's magic, it's an impressive follow up to a brilliant debut which will peg Manuel as a world beater in the coming year. 9/10 

Null'O'Zero: Instructions To Dominate (Rock Of Angels Records)

From Athens Greece Null'O'Zero bring their second album Instructions To Dominate to Rock Of Angels Records and it's a heavy record based in the later Megadeth style but with some Symphony X virtuoso flourishes and especially vocally with Geo Sinner having the melodic viciousness of Russell Allen. The sound of this record is massive, production wise everything is in overdrive you can hear every slap of the bass, pound of drum skin and impressive technical guitar riff can be heard from the groove of My Last Disguise, through the widdling Imprisoned In The Dark, the slow burning Until The End Of Life and the thrashy The Last One. It's well performed aggressive metal but it fails to leave a lasting impression and after one listen you'd be reluctant to give it a repeated spin. 6/10 

Satan's Empire: Rising (3Ms Music)

Coming out of Dundee Scotland it's the return of NWOBHM band Satan's Empire after 30 years, those who were around the first time may remember Soldiers Of War on the Neat Records released Leadweight compilation album. So after 30 years they have brought some old and new songs (including Soldiers Of War) and finally released their debut album which is full of gritty NWOBHM could have been anthems. The current membership is a reunion of their 'London' line up and as Slaves Of Satan opens with a distorted NWOBHM gallop and a vocal uncannily similar to Biff Byford, it isn't Biff (he's busy lets be honest) but close your eyes and Derek Lyons embodies his style perfectly.

Elsewhere Wayne Hudson brings the distorted bass with the singular titled Magpie behind the skins (who's the bands newest member), the dual guitars (which there has to be by law on any classic British metal record) here are Paul Lewis and Sandy McRitchie who play their best on the progressive Soldier Of War and Dragonslayer which pinches from Diamond Head. It's formulaic yes but for NWOBHM fans the return of Satan's Empire will prick up a few ears. 7/10

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