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Saturday, 17 November 2018

Reviews: Lacuna Coil, Pete Spilby, Hex A.D, Crucible Of Hate, Rising (Reviews By Paul H)

Lacuna Coil: The 119 Show – Live In London (Century Media)

A celebration of 20 years of the Milanese based metal outfit Lacuna Coil, The 119 Show was recorded in front of a sold out and extremely passionate audience at the Kentish Town Forum in London on 19th January 2018. It captures the Italians in impressive form and delving into their back catalogue to play a range of older songs that rarely get aired. Whilst the enthusiasm of Andrea Ferro and Christina Scabbia between songs can be a little irritating, there is no doubting that when the band are on form their symphonic pomp can be brilliant. If you love Lacuna Coil, you’ll probably have been at this show. If you like them, then this live release with 27 songs is as complete a collection of their best songs as you’ll ever find. If you don’t like them, this won’t change your mind at all. 8/10

Pete Spiby: Failed Magician (Be Lucky)

The former singer and guitarist of Black Spiders releases his first solo album and it’s a lengthy piece of work. A double CD package with the inevitable sound of the Black Spiders due to Spiby’s distinctive vocal, especially on tracks like Bible Studies which could easily have been a Spiders song. This album is divided into two parts, with CD 1 comprising the harder rockier tunes whilst CD 2 is primarily acoustic in style, melancholic and bluesy. It’s best described as background music, the kind that could play whilst you got on with other stuff although I have no doubt it would work well in a candlelit room with a glass of wine.

It’s neatly written and performed with his guitar work particularly tasty at times (see Friday Night and Wrap Me Round Your Little Finger for examples). Following the life-span of the different stages of making the album, there is certainly some creativity flowing here and whilst the hard rock badge is worn proudly throughout, the variation is one of the main attractions of Failed Magician with the delicate second CD probably just edging the pair. 7/10

Hex A.D: Netherworld Triumphant (Fresh Tea Records)

Opening with a 2:35 minute piano piece called Himmelskare, Hex A.D. return with their third full length release. Originally the brainchild of drummer/singer Rick Hagan and producer Chris Tsangarides who died at the start of the year, this is a doom soaked progressive odyssey that becomes more enjoyable on every listen. The title track is a stunning two-part psychedelic trip with the deepest riffs around, huge swathes of Hammond organ and mellotron and a production that is as big as the song. Hagan now delivering all guitar duties is joined by brother Matt Hagan on drums, Magnus Johansen on Hammond and mellotron and Are With Gotstad on bass.

The Norwegian band list a plethora of classic old school bands including early Floyd and Tull, Candlemass, Sabbath, Grand Magus, Alice Cooper and Electric Wizard amongst their musical influences and it’s easy to see why. The large range of horror movies and classic writers which also feed into the foundation of their sound are also instantly recognisable. Ladders To Fire which concludes the album is a monstrous 13 ½ minutes of crashing riffs which descend slowly but with maximum impact. An album that demands repeated plays to appreciate but worth every minute. 8/10

Crucible Of Hate Dark Metamorphosis (Self Released)

34 minutes of ferocious snarling death metal liberally laced with groove and melody. That’s what you get with Crucible Of Hate, a four-piece hate filled outfit from Lancaster, Ohio. Whilst the ferocity is instantly recognisable, there are several tracks towards the end that move closer to the melodic end of the spectrum with Dan Rivera’s clean vocals a huge contrast to the roaring growls on tracks such as Termination Of The Narcissist. The variation in style, the hammer driven speed and the intensity which propels the band forward make this a reasonable debut. 6/10

Rising: Sword And Scythe (Indisciplinarian)

Hovering around the ten-year anniversary, Denmark five-piece Rising’s latest album is 45 minutes of solid if unspectacular heavy metal. The tracks presented on Sword And Scythe are decent, full of thumping riffs and pounding rhythm sections. There’s little to really ignite the fires, with a couple of lumberingly dull tracks such as Camp Century uninspiring. At the heart of this band is a decent heavy metal band that demonstrates occasional bursts of quality. Overall, just a little too routine and average. 5/10

Reviews: Ten, Striker, Mallen, Heaven's Trail (Reviews By Rich)

Ten: Illuminati (Frontiers Records)

When I see I have an album to listen to by a melodic hard rock band on Frontiers Records I do usually let out a little sigh as generally these bands have a very similar and generic sound which is very much stuck in the 1980’s. I had the same reaction when I did a little reading about Ten but my misgivings were dispelled when I actually hit play on the album and was presented with a very mature and different melodic hard rock sound. Ten are a band that have been going since 1994 with Illuminati being the 14th album by the band and it’s a cracker. It’s far less cheesy than most melodic hard rock with an almost progressive and symphonic sound with some fantastic musicianship and equally strong songwriting. Frontman Gary Hughes has a lower register voice but it’s very clean and rich without ever becoming overbearing.

There are some fantastic riffs and solos provided by the three guitarists in the band and the keyboards whilst very present and up front mix well with the guitars with neither drowning each other out and actually being a nice compliment to each other. As previously mentioned the songwriting is incredibly strong throughout Illuminati with songs being catchy, memorable and even epic with highlights being the magnificent title track, the catchy Shield Wall and Jericho and the melodic and anthemic Rosetta Stone. Illuminati definitely caught me off guard with just how enjoyable I found it and if on their 14th album Ten are sounding as strong as this then I might have to go and discover their back catalogue. An epic and anthemic piece of melodic hard rock with plenty of unique character which definitely makes it stand out. 8/10

Striker: Play To Win (Record Breaking Records)

Canadian heavy metal heroes Striker are back with their sixth album Play To Lose which is another instalment of old school styled anthemic heavy metal. I’m a massive fan of their previously self titled album (which I gave a glowing review) and whilst this album doesn’t quite reach the stratospheric heights of that album it is still an absolutely brilliant collection of songs.  Striker have a sound which incorporates traditional 80’s style heavy metal with elements of power metal and hair metal.  On the previous album the sound started leaning a little bit more towards the hair metal and traditional heavy metal influences and Play To Win continues with a further lean in this direction with a bit of an 80’s AOR influence as well. The album is chock full of absolute earworms from the get go with the opening triple punch of Heart Of Lies, Position Of Power and the title track all demanding fists are pumped in the air. This momentum keeps going throughout the majority of the album though it does start spluttering a bit towards the end with the rather flat Summoner.

Things pick up again with the pumping Heavy Is The Heart before things go completely flat with the closing cheesy power ballad Hands Of Time. The huge melodies and hooks that are abundant throughout the album are carried by the magnificent vocals of frontman Dan Cleary who puts in a career best performance throughout. The band play like a well oiled machine throughout with some fantastic 80’s metal riffs and some extremely tasteful shredding by lead guitarist Chris Segger.  There’s even some session drumming by Canadian drummer extraordinaire Randy Black of Annihilator fame. Whilst Play To Win does splutter a bit towards the end there’s no denying that this is a brilliant album and whilst not meeting the heights met by the self titled album this is still an essential listen for any heavy metal fan who appreciates the fun in their music. 8/10

Mallen: Polarity (Self Released)

Polarity is the debut album by Birmingham hard rockers Mallen. Mallen play a very contemporary style of hard rock with definite influences from bands such as Alter Bridge and Shinedown but Mallen aren’t a copycat band and definitely stand out from the crowd with their dark edged pop rock style. For a debut album Polarity is very professional in it sound and in the maturity of the songwriting. The songs are all catchy and melodic with very strong hooks and sung very well by the talented Kelly-Jane whose vocal range and control is very impressive indeed. Whilst this is not a style of rock I would listen to out of choice it’s clear that this is a very strong album with a lot of hard work put in with both the songwriting and the sound.  Not my cup of tea but I’m sure Mallen have great things ahead of them. 7/10

Heaven’s Trail: Lethal Mind (Escape Music)

Heaven’s Trail are a new hard rock/heavy metal band from Germany featuring members and ex-members of Masterplan and Jaded Heart with Lethal Mind being their debut album. Heaven’s Trail play melodic hard rock and heavy metal which is very riff driven with no keyboards in sight. Vocals are handled by Masterplan’s Rick Altzi whose coarse yet melodic vocals are unmistakable whilst the songwriting is mainly handled by guitarist Barish Kepic. With the wealth of experience in their other bands the music and performances on Lethal Mind sound very crisp and professional but the songwriting is fairly pedestrian.  I mean it all sounds very pleasant but there’s just something lacking which prevents these songs from making much of an impression. A small handful of songs stood out more than the others such as On The Rise, The Flame and the title track but the album was pretty much forgotten by the time it had come to an end. Good background music but not much else. 6/10

Friday, 16 November 2018

Reviews: Accept, Artillery, Wasted Theory, Bitter Heart (Reviews By Paul H)

Accept: Symphonic Terror - Live At Wacken 2017 (Nuclear Blast)

A two-hour show recorded at last year’s Wacken Festival captures Accept at full force. Split into three parts, after an opening salvo of classics and new material, the middle section is handed over to guitarist Wolf Hoffman, presenting a best of from his recent solo album Headbanger’s Symphony accompanied by a symphony orchestra before Accept reassembled to conclude the show with a range of Accept classics supported by the orchestra. Whilst the new material ticks all the boxes, listing tracks such as Restless And Wild next to Koolaid highlights that the older songs still work best. The orchestral section works fine, although I struggled with Hoffman’s release at the time it came out. Big, bombastic and fabulous sounding on the stereo, I did wonder how this would have presented itself during a mud-drenched festival where what you really want is banger after banger. Its more suited to a classical concert hall but entertaining enough.

Once the band return to the stage, things get a lot more interesting with a racing Princess Of The Dawn followed by a majestic Stalingrad kicking off the best part of the set. A mix of classics such as Breaker, Metal Heart and Fast As A Shark mix with newer tracks and if you like Accept, and let’s face it, if you don’t you are wrong, then this is where the band show their strength. The orchestral strings and brass that accompanies these latter tracks do provide a neat touch, with the atmospheric backdrop to one of the original thrash tracks Fast As A Shark particularly good but you do get the feeling that Accept are just doing what they do and the orchestra have been told to “keep up”. It’s easy listening in metal terms, no-nonsense and thoroughly enjoyable. I’m just glad I didn’t have to stand in the pissing rain to listen to it. 8/10

Artillery: The Face Of Fear (Metal Blade Records)

Named after a Tank track, I’m somewhat surprised that we’ve never reviewed an album by the Danish thrashers Artillery. The band, who reformed in 2007, have been stable in line-up since 2012 and The Face Of Fear is their ninth album. Original members Michael and Morten Stützer continue to bring the shred, with some excellent trash riffage throughout. Old school thrash when delivered and constructed with care can be very enjoyable and I enjoyed the retro style which the band doggedly follow. Sworn Utopia screams ‘faster’ as the track progresses, whilst New Rage is a gnarly old thrash beastie which any metal head should enjoy.

Vocalist Michael Bastholm Dahl can hold a note and shows a superb set of pipes throughout. Clean, powerful and most impressive. Whilst I could have done without the sentimental mush of Pain, which appears to have been pinched from the Scorpions cutting room floor, a couple of rerecorded versions of Mind Of No Return and Doctor Evil round off an enjoyable album which is well worth a listen. 7/10

Wasted Theory: Warlords Of The New Electric (Argonauta Records)

Thumping American weed rock is brought to you by the letters W and T; Wasted Theory mix a 70s swagger with blues undertones, more than a nod to deep fried Southern metal and some fine stoner anthems to massive effect. The influences of COC, Alabama Thunderpussy, Orange Goblin and the like are evident, but this is no covers band. Larry Jackson Jr on vocals and guitar, Andrew Petkovic on guitar and drummer Brendan Burns have a sound all their own and whilst it is very much in the dope smoking groove style, there is much to enjoy on a riff heavy beast of an album. 7/10

Bitter Heart: Rotten (Dualism Records)

Formed in Tunisia in 2016, this is a satisfying release from somewhat surprisingly, a power trio. Blending the anguish of Grunge, the raw energy of metal and the heavy riffage of stoner rock into an interesting and eclectic selection of songs. Melik Melek Khelifa, who delivers some heartfelt vocals and sweet guitar work is joined by Dawser Kheddher on backing vocals and bass and drummer Selim Jabbes. It’s not all navel gazing mind, as the retrospective flavour of Kill Your Dreams and Heartless is matched by the slightly less serious Psychopathic Evil Woman From Hell and the equally delightful Dense Motherfucker Piece Of Shit. Well worth a listen. 7/10

Reviews: Lethean, Sylvaine, Richard Sjoblom's Gungfly, Estrons (Reviews Paul S, Rich & Alex)

Lethean: The Waters Of Death (Cruz Del Sur Music) [Paul S]

Lethean have been going since 2013, this is their first album, coming 2 years after an EP. The band is a 2 piece Thurmi Paavana on vocals and James Ashbey on, well, everything else. The band class themselves as Epic Heavy Metal, which sounds great, but isn’t a label that is easily definable. To these ears it sounds a little like what I would think of as pagan metal.

First track Idylls Of The King sounds like a combination of Primordial and Kampfar, but maybe a little less extreme, it has that organic, slightly folk influenced sound, but not anywhere near full on folk metal. At this point I should mention the vocals on this album. Thurmi Paavana has a voice that is bordering on operatic, at first I was a little worried that this wouldn’t fit with the music. However she handles the vocals with so much subtlety and nuance that it never seems over the top. The fact that the music here is a fairly aggressive and harsh, helps the vocals fit, I do think that if this had softer music, then the vocals wouldn’t have fitted so well.

Seafarer is a little slower than the first track, and also has a bit of a galloping horse rhythm, with a much slower ending. In Darkness starts slowly, but gets faster as it goes along, with a bit of a 6/8 time signature. Time And The Gods is slower, more of a ballady feel to the first half, before getting more aggressive and faster in the second half. The vocals on this track are great, with very memorable melodies. Across Grey Water is a soft acoustic ballad for 3 of it’s 4 minutes before getting much harder for the last minute.

The album comes to a close with the 10 minute epic Devouring Fire, which vacillates between slow and heavy and fast and galloping, all with Thurmi’s amazing vocals making this very special. This album is beautifully musical, whilst not lacking in power or extremity. The music is very well written and realised, and the vocals take it to another level. Highly recommended! 8/10

Sylvaine: Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone (Season Of Mist) [Rich]

Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone is the new album from French/Norwegian multi instrumentalist Sylvaine and what an album this is. Deeply moving and atmospheric Sylvaine has a sound that draws upon doom metal, black metal, shoegaze and ambient influences bringing to mind such bands as Alcest, Oathbreaker, Solstafir and Deafheaven. Sylvaine could very much fall under the blackgaze tag with the mix of soft, shimmery guitars, dreamy clean vocals and black metal shrieks. Although very reminiscent of the aforementioned bands Sylvaine knows her craft and with the aid of session musicians Stephen Shepard and Alcest’s Stéphane “Neige” Paut she has cut an album of deep and immersive music which definitely takes you on a journey with its altering soundscapes. This album whilst extremely good is very reminiscent of Alcest to my ears - maybe a little too similar but considering I absolutely adore Alcest I don’t whether to regard this as a strength or a weakness. If you are a fan of the blackgaze or post-black metal sound then this album is a definite must listen though it will sound very familiar. 8/10

Richard Sjoblom’s Gungfly: Friendship (InsideOut Records) [Alex]

Inspired by ideas of relationships, the loss of childhood innocence and age, Friendship is told through the lyrical lens of memories of a treehouse while utilizing a vast instrumental palate. Ghost Of Vanity begins by setting a mood, giving music to a naïve sense of fantasy, which many might associate with childhood. An adept bass line floats above mesmerising synths which soon burst into vibrant colour, a contrast of thunderous instrumentation dramatically disturbing the ambiance. From there, the song adopts a playful tone before taking on a more frustrated face, proving conceptually inspiring yet by no means wonderfully textured, as neither movement seems definite. Friendship, on the other hand, feels cohesive. 

With winding instrumentals, the piece is able to musical evoke thoughts of comradeship, resentment and loss across 14 minutes never alienating the listener. Consequentially, when the lyricism does finally appear it take a striking and purposeful, not fabricated for the sake of serving a narrative. While I do not quite detect the same swell of emotionality from A Treehouse In A Glade, upon further reflection I respect how its intricate nature lends itself perfectly to the themes of creation and perseverance, especially when we begin to spy those values in settings outside of the hideaways we had as children. Outside of the occasional odd decision, the compositions on this album are usually either impressive, inspiring or both. Yet it would be difficult and unwise for me to overlook the deeply personal themes Richard Sjoblom touches on throughout.

While you can never fully detach the melodies a musician creates, from the words they write to accompany them, Friendship is an album that requires that treatment. Interesting ideas are brought to the fore here as our narrator challenges preconceived notions of adulthood, questioning on the aforementioned opener ‘what would you do to become as beautiful as those you see on TV?’ More often than not, however, the poetry settles for nauseating nostalgia and rugged romanticism. A large part of the problem is ballads in the vein of They Fade are not allowed to remain contemplative or wistful, without the shallow proclamations proving phony and distracting. Stone Cold is intended to present painful feeling over losing a friend, yet the end result is totally confused, due in large part to the absence of authentic emotionality in the wordplay. 

Of course, it’s not all cliché and sentimentality, some moments will evoke a smile with their thoughtfulness or humour, yet there are so many concepts destined to be better fleshed out, that you can’t help feeling a little taken out of the experience as a result. Sjoblom is, of course, conscious that he is making a prog, yet refuses to let restrict him. Drawing on Jazz, classical and traditional influences, the music is indeed puzzling, though by not unnecessary or wholly pretentious. 6/10

Estrons: You Say I’m Too Much, I Say You’re Not Enough (Gofod Records) [Alex]

Championing a style of angst-ridden alt rock, Cardiff’s own Estrons have been making quite a name for themselves in recent months. Chances are, if you pay attention to Womanby Streets live music scene, you may have seen them hit up Clwb-Ifor-Bach or play the annual Swn fest. While you can compare them to female fronted post-punk acts that came before them like Elastica, they have received some attention outside of their home-country, partly due to being an angsty, intriguing and unique product of their time, regardless of their presumed influences. Lilac opens the album with an exhilarating dose of distortion, as a fast paced rhythm sets in, and an infectious chorus destined to inspire sprightly audiences kicks down the door. Unafraid to show their socially conscious stripes, the song is a massive condemnation of emotional and physical abuse, something which becomes an enduring theme throughout. 

The adrenaline is carried across onto Killing Your Love and Make A Man, both of which have feisty instrumentation, euphoric lead parts, a positive and determined message, and Tali Kallstrom screaming every word with conviction. If there is one thing that makes this debut translate amazingly however, it’s the raw unfiltered attitude. Even the decidedly pop inspired moments like Stranger, Cameras and Aliens, are performed with a sneer and intensity, which despite not being a touch on the feeling emanated by their live shows, stamps in stone that these four musicians are ready and willing to leave an impression. From the unruly and thunderous Drop, to slow burning and bluesy Jesus…, there is a type of unpolished catchiness, standing somewhere between the huge hooks of AC/DC and the mawkish, punk attitude of the Clash. Estrons are capable of sombre thoughtfulness, and unchecked fierceness. Again, it’s not the easiest feeling to describe in words, except to say that it fills me with an inextricable surge of energy and vigour, making me hungry for more. 8/10

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Review: WOMAN II (Review By Paul S)

Various Artists: Woman II (Blackened Death Records)

In the article I wrote on Anti-Fascist metal and NSBM a few weeks ago (https://musipediaofmetal.blogspot.com/2018/10/opinion-anti-fascist-black-metal-nsbm.html)

I mentioned a compilation called WOMAN (Worldwide Organisation of Metalheads Against Nazism), and said that WOMAN II was on the way; well it is now out. The album is available on Blackened Death Records, in fact you can buy it on Bandcamp for whatever you want to pay. All proceeds from the album will be going to the charity Doctors Without Borders. WOMAN II contains 44 tracks of Anti-Nazi metal of all kinds. Coming in at 3 hours 16 minutes, this must be one of the best value compilations ever released. But is the music worth it? Here’s what I thought.

Ghoul - Nazi Smasher (9) Cracking piece of Splatterthrash from Creepsylvania. Mmmm Nazi Pie. Neckbeard Deathcamp - Terf Crisis (8) Dense, unrelenting war metal, not for the fainthearted, or those who hate Trans people.  Gaylord - Filosofemme (8) Mid-paced, relentlessly hypnotic black metal. Libtrigger - Dethroning The Tyrants (9) Decidedly nasty black metal, fantastic blastbeats!  Redbait - Dick Punch (9) Properly ANGRY crust punk. Gloriously Incandescent. Ithaca - Otherworldly (8) Mathy hardcore, ragingly angry while at the same time melodic and tuneful. Immortal Bird - The Sycophant (8) Blackened crusty punk, must be great fun live!

Allfather - The Great Destroyer (9) Insanely heavy, but with a massive groove to it. Like watching planets dance!  Void Ritual - Bastards (9) Brilliant piece of orthodox black metal, worth buying this compilation for this song on it’s own. Twilight Fauna - Crooked Road (8) Savage black metal interspersed with ambient sections. Really nice juxtapositions. Forbihavet - Part II - Unnatural Sleep (8) Atmospheric black metal/blackgaze. Beautiful and viscous at the same time. Stansfield - Chaos Engine (8) Alternative sludge, huge grooves! Kosmogr - Vision (9) Fantastic atmospheric black metal, really great track! Hellripper - Demdike (In League With The Devil) (9) Awesome black trash, impossible to listen to without head-banging. Grimorium Verum - Mirages Of Imminent Mortality (8) Blackened death metal from Bangladesh, brutal and tuneful; great track. Impalement - Into Obscurity (8) Nasty old school death metal, beautiful filth.

BATARD - Sans Dogme (7) Lo-fi post black metal, interesting and enjoyable. Stormland - The Marcenas Legacy (8)  Cracking piece of death/grind. Great riffs! Garden Of The Ark - Where We Stand (9) Really great alternative rock, fantastic chorus! WHITEPHOSPHOROUS - AbSOLUTION (7) Horrific experimental noise, with unsettling samples, like a childhood nightmare tuned into sound. Dead Labour - Autumn Rains (7) Glitchy industrial, hypnotising. Jucifer - White Lie (8) Angry grinding destruction, batters you into submission! Ergo I Exist - Bochdalec (8) Heavy as all fuck, sludgy, punky metal. Fukpig - Dogshit Hair (9) Insanely crusty grinding nastiness, viscous in the extreme. Cockbastard - Shattered (8) Unrelenting powerviolence! DICKSUCKER - Gay Guerrilla Terrorism Unit (7) Punky, angry gay grindcore. Hayyoth - Alien (7) Droney, doomy experimentalism. Misandr - Invocation/Decolonization (7) Horrific, experimental noise. Nasty, shouty and in your face.  Alien Queen - Xenomorph (8) Mid -paced death/doom. Batters you into submission. FILTHxCOLLINS - Fashionable Fascism (8) Blasting grindcore, blink and you’ll miss it! Bodies On Everest - (I Quit My Stupid Job As A) Mitsubishi Extractor Fan (7) Lo-fi grinding extremity, bass and screaming. Reminds me of The Filthy Christians. Sludgecrow - Sludgecrow (9) Electronic, extreme sludge. Really shouldn’t work, but does, brilliantly. Genuinely one of the heaviest things I’ve ever heard.  Wintercrown - The Last Of Us (8) Great piece of atmospheric black metal, really enjoyable.

My Lonely Sea - The Lost Scraps, Pt. 2 (Frozen Inside) (9) Fantastic post black metal from Siberia. Breathtakingly beautiful.  Suicide Wraith - Lungs Of Coal And Gravel (8) Lo-fi depressive black metal, unrelenting, batters you into submission.  Heretics Fork - Transmission (7) Particularly nasty old school death metal, really evil vocals. Ludwig - Sick Of Your Dreams (7) Nasty, angry noise rock.  Uten Hap - Life Obliteration (8) Ethereal, otherworldly depressive black metal, traumatic and cathartic at the same time.  Vulgarian - Alt-Reich (8) Punky blackened sludge, crusty, angry Nazi haters.  Nunca - Corda (9) Blackened crust from Brazil, real anti-fascists from a country that really needs bands like this! Serpentine Skies - Shadows Burned In The Street (6) Dreamlike ambient.  Elk - Funeral For The False (7) Dark, brooding understated acoustic folk. Armed Jouissance - The Contradictions And The Cracks (7) Dark, blackened noise. Initially feels depressive, builds for a strangely positive ending. Rampancy - Moronization (9) Nasty, grinding black metal. Cracking tremolo picked riffs. A beautifully angry way to end the album!

This is a really great compilation. All the tracks are high quality, or if the track is of a more experimental nature, they are at least interesting. There isn’t a single throw away track, everything on WOMAN II has value and worth, and is worth having. Considering the price and the fact all proceeds go to charity, and the huge amount of great music on here, I can’t think of a reason not to buy it! It’s even got a really cool cover! Average Score 8/10

Reviews: The Black Queen, Cerebrum, Atreyu, Sick Of It All (Alex & Paul S)

The Black Queen: Infinite Games (Federal Prisoner) [Alex]

Formed by members of the Dillinger Escape Plan and Nine Inch Nails, The Black Queen make a deliciously dark and intrinsically affecting style of synth wave. Despite bearing the marks of their past projects, Infinite Games, is a new beast indeed - and with both of the aforementioned bands either disbanded or turned into solo ventures, who could blame them for feeling the need to explore captivating musical pathways?

One thing the album certainly is not is a tranquil listen, the title track beginning on ominous synths, slowly increasing in intensity, while Puciato chillingly laments ‘We’re both so full of pain, so I’ll cut mine out of you’. Thrown Into The Dark is in some ways a typical Trip-Hop song, with dense layers of swirling synth work, a distinctive chorus and looping beats – except here, there is a more hypnotic texture, a gothic ambience which makes for an anxious yet beautiful listening experience. No Accusations is made disturbing by its chillingly black romantic poetry, one line ringing out ‘there nothing I want more than to hear you dying next to me’, the deliberately ambient instrumentals serving to encircle you in a depressed atmosphere.

For all the strangeness, every experiment only serves to make you more enticed and morbidly fascinated to hear more. Your Move feels distant, mesmerizing and weird, yet never dull or timid. Lies About You, makes you feel disquiet with its contrast of a upbeat tempo, fascinating sound effects and psychotic wordplay, yet never allows you to turn away due to how much of challenging listen it may prove. Even Impossible Condition and Spatial Boundaries are truly enchanting in their weirdness, and oddities.

Make no mistake, these three musicians have still created a pop album, yet nothing that would feel comfortable in any subgenre you applied to it, or indeed seem in keeping with the typical definition of pop. Undoubtedly an intriguing piece of art, the enjoyment I derive from it either reveals something about my particular tastes, or proves that typically disparaged feelings – fear, discomfort, and confusion – can be utilised to fascinating effects in works which capture those sentiments with honesty and bravery 8/10

Cerebrum: Iridium (Transcending Obscurity) [Paul S]

Cerebrum are a technical death metal band from Greece. They have been going since 2002, and in that time have released 3 albums, Iridium is their first album since 2013’s Cosmic Enigma. The brand of technical death metal that Cerebrum play is fairly brutal, closer to Dying Fetus or Origin than to Necrophagist or Obscura.

Opening track Time Reversal is a great example of this. Dense and aggressive, it batters the listener into submission, using the incredible technicality to increase the brutality rather than adding melody. The level of virtuosity on display here is very impressive, on A Face Unknown we even get a bit of classical guitar, which sounds as good as John Williams or Julian Bream. Cerebrum are also very interesting rhythmically as well. This is another way they show their technicality, Euphoric Control and Astral Oblivion both have overtly complex arrangements and tempos. On these songs the rhythms are closer to Gorguts more challenging work.
The extreme technicality is also on display on the track Cognitive Dissonance, which has a lot of space in it’s mix, there are minimal rhythm guitars, which allows the other instruments to shine through, we also get a cracking solo. The production and mix on the album is also very impressive. There is a decent amount of separation of all the instruments. This allows you to hear what each member of the band is doing, rather than the rhythms degenerating into a de-tuned mess.

Final track Escape To Bliss is an absolute rager, it starts with an insanely fast solo, before blasting the album to an end in a very satisfying way. Iridium is a great album. It will take a little time to get your head around the technicality, but if you give it a few listens, you will get a lot out of it! 8/10

Atreyu: In Our Wake (Spinefarm) [Alex]

Allow Atreyu some respect, they are a metalcore band who lasted, and while their quality may not have exactly always been consistent, works like The Curse and Lead Sails Paper Anchor have identifiable artwork and music which transcends the hefty genre label. Even their 2015 comeback, Long Live, remains a particular favorite of mine, showcasing a significant maturation and passion. All things considered, there was no reason not to set expectations high for their future. However, in trying to sound brash and confident, In Our Wake comes across messy and disjointed: a look made to fail miserably at the hand of utterly bland production elements, and pitiful writing. Openers, In Our Wake and House Of Gold, are probably as exciting as the album gets, with some impressive rhythm work, singalong hooks and excitable tones. 

Yet at the same time, they carry the same problems as the weaker points: Varkatzas’ clean vocals and Miguel’s guitar are overly sterile, and the changeable nature sounds more chaotic than coherent. At around the 12-minute mark, any promise this album initially possessed suddenly falls off a cliff. Nothing Will Ever Change and Blind Deaf & Dumb bring to life an awful emo scream-rap hybrid, while insultingly generic riffing and electro effects rips away any unique identity or character. Terrified and Safety Pin are ridiculously cliché, lyrics in the vein of ‘I ruined everything that’s perfect’ holding none intended emotionality. Meanwhile, the instrumentation remains compressed to the point of sheer inaudibility, until the final few seconds which see deafening guitar solos roar in, presumably for the sake of an epic finish. As the album comes to a close, moments like Paper Castle, Anger Left Behind and No Control do utilize decent choruses, which would probably be quite powerful if they had competent production or an intriguing songwriting to complement them. 

We finish on Super Hero, which could have admittedly been pretty, had Atreyu not tried to make it as grandiose as possible, chucking everything they could at the song in a desperate attempt to make up for the dire lack of suspense, virtuosity or ingenuity throughout the main run length. Like I made clear, this album is an utter mess. Yet that’s strangely not my main gripe. It’s not messy in a way which screams of the band reaching for the stars and falling short. Rather, every idea, every so-called experiment feels hackneyed and betrayed, either by the squeaky-clean production, poor composition or terrible lyricism. Hardcore Atreyu fans, In Our Wake, is best listened to with a hot water bottle and headache relief tablets at your disposal 2/10

Sick Of It All: Wake The Sleeping Dragon (Century Media)

Still waving the flag for shouty, angered punk long after many have written it off as a dead genre, Sick of it All have lost none of their angst, discontent or aggression. True, they haven’t strayed far from the in-your-face hostility of Built To Lost or Call To Arms. Instead, they succeed by being the best at what they do and remains one of the last barricades in defense of American Hardcore. With most of these songs barely spanning the two-minute mark, there is a focus on ferocity. You know the idea, a fast riff, a galloping rhythm section, meaningful lyrics, all wrapped up in a succinct few minutes of unfiltered vigour. It’s a method which is about five decades old, yet deserves all the praise and tribute it has inspired. If the music itself doesn't give me much ammunition as a reviewer, the lyrics more than make up for that. Time to get political again! Not that it's always divisive. Anthems like That Crazy White Boy Shit and Robert Moses Was A Racist are staunch in their condemnation of racial hatred, while The Snake, Mental Furlough and To The Wolves, are powerful songs of solidarity with those undergoing mental health struggles. 

Concepts which you would hope bridge sectarian divides, even in today's landscape. That said, Lou Koller and co, make no secret of where they stand politically. Bearing lyrics as vague as ‘Oh say can you see, oh can you see me’ Self Important Shithead could theoretically be about anyone with a towering ego if it were not for said tower proudly flaunting the name of our shithead in chief. If that were too subtle, however, Bad Hombres, Wake The Sleeping Dragon and Deep State are unequivocal in their attacks on Fake News, Nazis, and Right-Wing politics, the former passionately declaring ‘Ignorance will build that wall, someday its gonna fall!’ When they're not sticking it to ol’ Cheeto Benito however, they're taking on animal abuse on Bulls Anthem (albeit, with a little help from Tim Mcilrath of Rise Against), lamenting wealth disparity as on Work the System or calling out media dishonesty as on The New Slavery. While Wake The Sleeping Dragon lacks any huge hooks, a staple on earlier albums, it has no lack of passion, and stays brutally relevant, in an age where protest music is more needed than ever 6/10

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Reviews: Burning Witches, Ursa, Karybdis, Chaos Over Cosmos

Burning Witches: Hexenhammer (Nuclear Blast)

Once again packed with proper speed metal riffs and produced by V.O Pulver and Destructions Scheimer the second album from Swiss metal band is the ideal accompaniment to its predecessor, there’s no honing to be needed here they had the defiant classic fist pumping heavy metal sound perfected on the debut so this doesn’t need to do anything else really. The band have garnered attention as they are an all female metal band, which is still sadly a rarity, however they should be judged as musicians and they can really play, check out a track like Open Your Mind which has thunderous rhythm gallops, slicing riffs and vocals that go from Halford shrieks to growls in an instant.

You get Priest throughout along with Mercyful Fate and Doro also both clear influences, it’s not all rampaging metal though they can do a ballad too, Don’t Cry My Tears has a Maiden-like hook too it but the style doesn’t really suit the vocals the band are better when they’re in full flight on big hitters such as Maiden Of Steel a feminist metal anthem. The record is based around the famous historical book the Malleus Maleficarum (a.k.a. The Hammer Of The Witches or Hexenhammer) that legitimated witch hunting. The album speaks about oppression, violence against the week and manipulation of facts all of which resonate today. Not a band to take it lying down Burning Witches are fighting against the macho world of metal at their own game with their own iron clad heaviness. Pure, classic metal like it's supposed to be! 8/10

Ursa: Abyss Between The Stars (Blood Music)

Ursa are a band that eek out slumbering sonic doom, they hail from the Sun drenched Bay Area of California, but their sound is lot colder and darker, it’s possibly why Blood Music in Finland have picked up this record for release. If you want to know what they’re all about listen to The Mountain that closes this 6 track album, it may only be 5 minutes long, the shortest song on the album but it’s got the scale of epic, fantasy influenced doom metal that owes as much to Candlemass and Rush as it does to The Sword and Neurosis, for every towering fuzz riff there’s a dreamy aura that floats past like a haze washing over you before the riffs come back to rattle your skull loose.

The sprawling doom riffs are well crafted by this trio who employ not only organs but also a banjo on Cave Of The Spider King added to the unearthly vocals and impressive sky reaching guitar solos (Serengeti Yeti), it’s the kind of cosmic epic doom metal that really gets my metal senses going. No major improvements needed or minor points deducted Ursa are seeking out that abyss with all the pot-powered focus they can muster. 8/10

Karybdis: In The Shadow Of Perception (Self Released)

Both breathtakingly savage and technically adventurous London based Melo-deathers Karybdis return with their third full length of blistering riffage, aggressive vocals and knack of going against expectations, lyrically especially they have shunned the bloodsplattered gore of their contemporaries instead they are focusing on the damage to the planet human beings are causing. The record opens with an orchestral swell but soon enough the bludgeoning begins, juicy breakdowns move into some sweeping strings and melodic uplifting solos adding the Swedish gleam of At The Gates to their American rage Lamb Of God mixed with Trivium and a hint of Sylosis.

The first track is American groove metal, the title track is pure fucking death metal with explosive blast beats and intricate guitar motifs exploding into a gloriously big chorus and beatdown at the climax. Manifestation is where the prog comes creeping in the orchestrations once again used to great effect before the insanity continues. Tech-metal continues to evolve from the realm of guitar nerds into the coolest train in town and Karybdis seem to be one of the bands spearheading it deftly balancing their brutality with their technicality, welcome the next chapter of these Brit metal warriors evolution! 8/10

Chaos Over Cosmos: The Unknown Voyage (Self Released)

So weird one this Chaos Over Cosmos are a two piece from Spain/Poland who didn't meet once during the making of this record such is the power of the internet. Javier Calderon is the vocals and lyrics while Rafal Bowman takes guitars, synths and programming, which is pretty much all the band need, there are no authentic drums here synths create the majority of the backing music with the guitars and vocals over the top however you don't notice due to the sheer musical journey this album takes you on. It's a heady brew of ambient synth textures that owe a debt to Yes, Hawkwind and Pink Floyd and galloping power metal which sounds like Maiden, Hammerfall or actually our own Fury. It's a strange concoction but it works, the ambient passages are enough to separate the rampaging drum blasts, searing solos and powerful vocals.

It's sort of like if Genesis played Maiden, I can't really get my head around it but I bloody enjoy it! It's only 5 songs long but they all have healthy run times clocking like prog epics the second track Armour Of The Stars (Xenogears) is a pretty good opening statement changing numerous times with some spoken word parts in there as well to make it totally overblown. Ok so the production is not the best but what do you expect from a DIY effort there are professional established bands doing this sort of thing much worse. It's and intriguing listen that's I'd encourage any progressive metal fans to pick up. 7/10

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Blackberry Smoke (Live Review By Paul H)

Blackberry Smoke, The Tramshed, Cardiff

It has taken a while but Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke finally made it to Cardiff in support of their latest album, Find A Light which was released in April this year. I’ve seen them in Birmingham, Bristol and London so it was pleasing not to have to travel far for this sold out event. Of course, the problem with a sold out event at The Tramshed is that it becomes just a bit too crowded. Luckily we were afforded seats as a result of the MJR Group’s really helpful support and assistance to Mrs H’s current health issues and this made the whole evening a lot more bearable. The whole vibe I get from the staff and security at this venue is always fantastic.

The Quaker City Night Hawks (QCNH) (7) hail from Fort Worth, Texas and have been together for close to ten years. They’re a rock n roll band in the true Southern tradition, steeped in the blues heavy rock from the 1970s but with a fresh modern spin. The band kicked through their set with pace and style, lead guitarist and vocalist David Matsler trading lead vocals with rhythm guitarist Sam Anderson. The band were enjoyable to watch and their music was certainly worth hunting out.

Main support was provided courtesy of the feisty punk garage rock of Junkyard (7), who come from Hollywood. Their latest album was given a solid review by Matt last year and whilst he didn’t feel the raw power of the band, their aggressive approach won over several fans, although maybe not the lady in the front row who looked aghast when vocalist David Roach climbed the barrier and inadvertently thrust his crotch in her face. The band, who formed originally in 1987 cross the stomp of AC/DC with the frenzy of the MC5 or The Stooges, and they certainly went for it. Clearly a challenge for some of the audience, I found them compelling and thoroughly entertaining.

I’ve written reviews about Blackberry Smoke (9) several times before. Their live shows just don’t disappoint. The band is slick, professional and extremely talented. They are also aware of heritage and threw in Come Together by The Beatles during the Sleeping Dogs medley along with a bit of Little Feat’s Sailin’ Shoes in their final medley. With a wider catalogue than ever their set list has become more varied in recent years. The band have a core number of songs and vary the reminder of the set from night to night which adds to the surprise. Older songs such as Ain’t Got The Blues, Shakin’ Hands With The Holy Ghost and Good One Comin’ On sit comfortably with newer songs such as Like An Arrow, Medicate My Mind and Flesh And Bone. Highlight of the evening was possibly The Whippoorwill, a track that is beautifully constructed and was fabulously delivered, the calm and gentle song perfect at slowing the pace right down. Charlie Starr may not interact with the audience that much, although he was taken with the Welsh flag on the barrier, preferring instead to let the music do the talking. His easy relaxed style is replicated by the rest of the band, including the no frills calmness of bassist Richard Turner who in the 18 months since the band were last on these shores has sprouted the most magnificent beard. 

The packed venue responded with gusto throughout the night and from our vantage point above the main floor it was great to see the reactions of the various audience members to this band’s music. In general, in a week where audience behaviour has left much to be desired, the crowd seemed generally respectful of the Atlanta boys, although the man who decided to relieve himself against the bar door in the main arena should never be allowed to enter a music venue again. Closing with a stomping Ain’t Much Left Of Me, you could only marvel at the continued energy of a band that are always on the road, clocking up in excess of 250 gigs per annum. Blackberry Smoke deserve their success. Hopefully there is even better is to come for one of the hardest working bands in the business.

A View From The Back Of The Room: Reef

Reef & Broken Witt Rebels, Tramshed Cardiff

Everytime 90's Brit rockers Reef have played anywhere near me I seem to withere be away, working or at something else on the same night. Thankfully there was nothing stopping me from heading to the Cardiff date on their Revelation tour this time around. Having just the one support band meant a late start but as the room swelled to capacity the four souls tasked with warming everyone up stode onto the stage picked up their old school instruments and began with a blues-drenched fury.

Hailing from Birmingham (UK) the four piece blues machine that is Broken Witt Rebels (9) play the music of Birmingham (Alabama) infused with rump shaking grooves right down to their core, the rhythm section of Luke Davies and James Dudley get the body moving none more so than vocalist Danny Core who writhes with every single beat and hot tasty licks from James Tranter. Coming out of the gates with some bluesy rocking of Loose Change it was hot and sweaty work from band who have certainly perfected their craft every motion was choreographed to perfection as Core traded in his tambourine for a guitar allowing the band to really rock it up. With a sound not too dissimilar to Rival Sons the mix of alternative, blues even jangling indie it's the vocals of Core that really hook you, he's got the most whiskey soaked voice I've ever heard, raw and full of passion even when riffing his pipes left my gig partner open mouthed. Broken Witt Rebels are one of the bands tagged with 'ones to watch' status and for once I'm in agreement, a heavy gauntlet to lay down for the Bristol based rockers.

One of the bands that were part of that 90's Britrock school, Reef (8) have left a legacy of stone cold hits that are repeated on DAB & FM radio ad nauseum, just count how many times you've heard Place Your Hands, Come Back Brighter, Naked and Yer Old and you'll see that I'm right. Now these hits were nicely dispersed throughout their set with Place Your Hands coming as the tenth song just before Revelation from their glorious most recent album of the same name, opening with Naked and Stoned For Your Love it was a pretty raucous way to get the faithful and part-timers on board before exploring the wider reaches of their career. Soulful, blues based and knowing when to rock they are a live five-piece consisting of founder members Gary Stringer who's voice hasn't changed at all in all these years, his gravelly tones are still perfect for blasts of gospel such as How I Got Over and the brilliant Lone Rider while Jack Bessant's wizard like form stalked the stage cranking out the thick bass riffs.

They're joined by Jesse Wood on guitar who is cool, calm and collected peeling off licks like nobody's business flanked by their live keyboard player and drummer (founding drummer Dominic Greensmith left the band recently). The years of live performances meant they were a polished unit and playing to a devotee audience had them feeding off the crowd Stringer especially getting involved with the front row at times. I'm happy to have seen Reef and they were brilliant despite one or two of their fans being absolute pains in the arse the whole shebang was a great throwback but with enough newer material to remind you that they have plenty more in the tank.      

Monday, 12 November 2018

Reviews: Allfather, Alastor, The Prodigy, Damn Dice (Paul S, Paul H & Matt N)

Allfather: And All Will Be Desolation (Rotting Throne Records) [Paul S]

Allfather are a 5 piece from Kent, they’ve been going since 2014. And All Will Be Desolation is their second album coming 2 years since their very well received debut Bless The Earth With Fire. Allfather's sound is broadly doomy sludge (or possibly sludgy doom), but with influences from all over the metal spectrum. The album opens with the song Black Triangle, which starts with a clean, brooding guitar riff, before a riff the size mountain kicks in, and we are in massively heavy territory. After a slow pummelling start the track has a more mid-paced feel, but is still insanely heavy. The next track Citadels is faster, it has a similar pace to Crowbar’s faster material. This track has a relentless driving rhythm to it, it pounds the listener into the floor. Lord Betrayer has a slower feel to it, but in a way that is unfaltering and single-minded.

By Sword, By Famine, By Plague has a very slow start, the first half is as powerful and unstoppable as continental drift, and as heavy as a neutron star. Have you picked up on the fact that this is a really heavy album? The second half of the song is much faster, with a huge, headbanging groove to it, and a cracking solo, till the end where it slows down again for one of the heaviest riffs I’ve ever heard. Although Allfather have a very Doomy, Sludgy feel to them, there is a massive hardcore, punky attitude to all the material here. On the track Jackals Night the hardcore feel is brought to the fore for an absolute blast of a track; angry, fast and spitting blood and fire. After the ferocity of Jackals Night, comes the track Inherit The Dust, which has a slower more measured approach, don’t get me wrong, it’s still heavy but in a more tuneful melodic way. The final song Lampedusa is an eleven minute epic doom track which is based around a thundering bass riff, my god this stuff is heavy. And All Will Be Desolation is a fantastic album.

Well written, and with pacing that is nigh on perfect. When Allfather want to be insanely heavy they have the perfect tempo for it. When they want you to headbang, again, they have the perfect tempo, these sort of near perfect dynamics must make them an amazing live band. They have the heaviness of early Electric Wizard, the groove of Carnival Bizarre era Cathedral, the furious anger of Eyehategod and the swagger of Orange Goblin, whilst not actually sounding like any of those bands. Allfather have their own sound, they aren’t trying to anyone but themselves. Don’t be surprised if this album is featured in all the best album of the year lists in about a month, it’s going to be in mine. Did I mention that this album is really heavy? 9/10

Alastor: Slave To The Grave (RidingEasy Records) [Paul S]

This is Stockholm based Alastor’s first album, they released 2 EP’s in 2017. After a short intro, the album kicks off with Your Lives Are Worthless, which starts with a huge Sabbath infused riff. The track has a slight stonery feel to it, a relaxed tempo which induces gentle headbanging in the listener. The track has a real seventies feel to it, which is carried through the whole album. Drawn To The Abyss has just as massive guitar riffs as the first song, but this time we are joined by a hammond organ, increasing the hugeness, whilst also giving the track a bit of a psychedelic feel. NW588 is a much faster song than the first two, with more urgent drumming and great vocals. About halfway through the song slows down and gets more of a hard rock sense to it, with a really nice bluesy solo, and after having the sonic register filled with sound for most of the album, the space left in this section is a nice touch.

Next up we have the biggest curve ball on the album. Gone is a soft, gently strummed acoustic track. It acts as a midpoint to the album, clearing the pallet between the two huge half's of this album. In the last 2 minutes of the track, a drum beat comes in, which gives the song a bit of a jazz feel, a little like a rhythm from a Django Reinhardt song. The title track Slave To The Grave is another massive slab of psychedelic doom. Immense riffs, and a fantastic chorus. Final song The Spider Of My Love is a seventeen minute piece of epic hammond infused doom. An enormous track, slow grinding and in some ways quite menacing. The second half of the song is a huge instrumental, with extremely engaging solo’s and some great hammond work. The song is a great ending to a great album, beautifully musical, while at the same time being achingly heavy. Slave To The Grave is a really enjoyable album, it gets into your head after a while, you’ll be humming these huge riffs for weeks. Highly recommended. 8/10

The Prodigy: No Tourists (BMG Rights Management)

I really enjoyed The Prodigy’s last release, 2015’s The Day Is My Enemy. No Tourists falls significantly below that bar. Weaker, tired, unimaginative and far less stimulating, apart from the odd banger such as Timebomb Zone there is little to get excited about here. Of course, if you want new, innovative music from Liam Hewlett and co then you probably don’t really like The Prodigy. Their strength lies in the live arena, where the sparks can be generated from incendiary performances with the likes of Breath, Firestarter and Omen will still ignite the passions in a way No Tourists is unable to do. 4/10

Damn Dice: Thriller Killer (Self Released) [Matt N]

DAAAMN! This album was described to me as Guns N Roses meets metal but I felt like the lead singer of Damn Dice has more in common with Brian Johnson of AC/DC (higher acclaim in my books). But regardless, what a cool sound that I absolutely… didn’t care about at all. I’m not exactly sure why, my usual complaints about vocals being hidden in the mix don’t apply here, the album is well mixed, the guitars are awesome and heavy as all hell. The drums are interesting, fast paced and add a lot to the music unlike a lot of work I’ve reviewed. The guitar solos are classic rock and badass. And yet, I don’t like this album. Don’t think that means I don’t believe everyone involved in this is unbelievably talented; I fully believe Damn Dice are all incredible. In fact every opening riff immediately grabbed me and threatened to never let go. But when the vocals kick in… I lost interest.

And I suppose that’s the problem. I think the vocals are good; I just don't like the singer’s voice. Which is a horrible and deeply personal thing to say in a review. It almost seems unfair to write this review because the band is clearly incredible. I think I’d feel differently if I heard them live because these guys are unbelievably good. Go listen to this album, hear for yourself what I’m talking about. This album works on almost every level, the lyrics, the melodies, the rhythms, the solos… but I don’t like the vocals as they’ve been recorded. Maybe this is a case where I would prefer the vocals to be lower in the mix, I’m not entirely sure. Or maybe it’s that with this kind of metal/rock hybrid I am so used to hearing screamed vocals and gruffer vocalists that I am just not prepared to listen to Damn Dice at this point in time. That being said the big exception for me was the song Turn Back The Clock that I felt really suited the singer’s vocals, but then contrast that with Leaving With Nothing where I’m pretty sure some of the high notes are awkwardly flat. Still for what is their self proclaimed 'final album' it's a good one. 8/10

Reviews: Haken, Deathrite, Lost In Thought, Bitch Hawk (Alex, Sean, RIch & Paul S)

Haken: Vector (InsideOut Records) [Alex]

Despite straggling contemporary progressive metal as Opeth and Dream Theatre by at least twenty years, while Haken have lacked in permanency, they’ve excelled in quality - Visions and The Mountain, are already held up as classics within some circles. Showing their more humoured stripes, Affinity was in one part quintessentially 21st Century, and another part perfectly executed throwback. Notability posed the question of whether they would continue on a retro inspired pathway, or return to their visceral and dramaticized nature. Choosing instead to do both, Vector stands as a dark, brooding and venomous. Not shy conceptually, we deal with harsh clinical realities of experimentation, psychological torture, and medical vigilantism: Concepts precisely captured by the warped and vivid tone of the melodies intersecting and duelling with the instrumentation.

Clear begins proceedings. While only an introduction, the domineering synths emanate a chillingly psychotic anxiety. Disturbing the tension The Good Doctor, cuts through the atmosphere with a splicing lead melody and gnashing synths. ‘Electricity is the cure that he really needs, bring an empire to his knees’ relishes the voice of the surgeon portrayed here, the maniacal soundscapes, stressing the extremity of electro shock therapy, a condemned form of surgery, described in disturbing detail. Although the lyrics to Puzzle Box are left to be deciphered by the listener, they appears to tell of paranoia and obsession, musings in the vein of ‘A fleeting sense of self-worth, melts away into oblivion’ proving graphic while scarily relatable. Guiding our sensations, is the changeable and schizophrenic tone which staggers from quiet introspection, to panicked hysteria to a beautifully melodic chorus, poignantly asking ‘how can truth set us free when lies are all we have’. While being just as enthralling, Veil takes the approach of beginning a slow ballad with lush harmonies and subtle piano, before gradually swelling in dramatics, as sprawling complexity takes hold, and the words describes one desperately cleansing themselves of regret and guilt.

Already taken on an emotional thrill ride, Nil By Mouth guides us into a strange and alluring instrumental, taking us through all the different aspects of Haken’s musical character while making us reflect on the dystopian and difficult themes explored so far. To be saying so of an instrumental is high praise indeed, yet that’s testament to how excellently these songs flow and lead into one another. For another perfect example look at Host, which while despite a lot less dense and expansive than other moments on Vector, has the darker tone carried by downtrodden instrumentals and sombre lyricism, with such lines as ‘Sail away, goodbye, I’ve been left down here to die’ sending chills riveting through my nervous system. A Cell Divides closes the album, its precise nature speaking to the scientific and tentative themes. That said, as the record reaches its crescendoing seconds, the words ‘It’s the beauty in the flaw, the grace of imperfection’ ring out, emphasising that while this band and entire genre has a habit of cloaking any relatedness behind elaborate tales, at their core, they remain incredibly emotional and immersive. 9/10

Deathrite: Nightmare's Reign (Century Media) [Sean]

Death metal, death metal, death metal. You’ve always been there for me when black metal left me cold, when power metal mad me feel sickly and when prog straight up sent me to sleep. In many cases, I love you when you’re at your most simple and direct. No fucking about, just straight up impalement and more filth than an unwashed abattoir. Germany’s Deathrite very much belong to this category, highly influenced by the Stockholm rumblings with lashings of good ol’ crusty punk. A solid foundation to be sure but upon listening to new album, Nightmares Reign, it’s clear that’s there’s other demons lurking in the deep. Does tweaking with a well worn formula reap rewards? Or do Deathrite fall completely into the abyss? Let the ritual begin!

Ough! Fucking Ough! That’s what greets me after When Nightmares Reign atmospheric crescendo, transitioning into filthy d-beat beats and crunchy riffs. Consider me sold, as the punishing stomp is elevated even further by some really ripping solos. Then another “OUGH” as vocalist, Tony Heinrich, is intent on vomiting the entire contents of his being across Appetite For Murder. Then it slows, melody seeps in though this is a mere illusion. What comes is something akin to proto-black metal, briefly rearing it’s ugly head before returning to its deathly beginnings. And there we have it, the crux of the experimentation as Deathrite shift slightly between these different stances. At times embodying a Celtic Frost/Hellhammer stomp, other times like prime Dismember or even Autopsy during their slower moments. Demon Soul is downright nasty, whereas Bloodlust leans somewhat more into blackened territories, though still with one foot firmly planted into the grave. Temptation Calls is the strangest beast on the album. Starting with the typical death metal stomp, it suddenly slows down to settle in more melodic, dare I say, progressive waters. At 9 minutes, it’s a fitting if slightly overlong end of a filthy ride.

Let’s get down to it then; Nightmares Reign is not a huge departure from ye olde metal of death. Deathrite are far from leaving their deathly beginnings, but it’s evident that the Germans are indeed looking to different horizons. And for the most part, it works really well though it’s not without a few minor quibbles. There’s far more of an emphasis on groove than outright speed, which may disappoint and turn off some. For myself, the only issue was the length of the longer songs. Despite containing some great moments, they buckle ever so slightly due to their length, though this is hardly a blemish. In closing, Deathright’s more playful nature of Nightmares Reign empowers the Germans with a newfound air of versatility, neatly fitting into their rot ridden oeuvre. One more time lads, OUGH! 8/10

Lost In Thought: Renascence (Self Released) [Rich]

It’s been seven long years since Swansea based progressive metallers Lost In Thought released their debut album Opus Arise and this band has overcome a lot in that period from a horrific road accident which completely derailed the band to the band pretty much splitting into two to members leaving and for a while it looked like we would never get a second album out of the band. Thankfully with the addition of new members album number two Renascence is finally here and it has very much been worth the wait.

The original members of the band remaining are guitarist David Grey and drummer Chris Billingham and they have been joined by bassist Josh Heard, keyboardist Diego Zapatero and vocalist Deane Lazenby. The vocals by original vocalist Nate Loosemore were a definite highlight of the debut album but with Deane they have most an ever better singer with an incredibly rich powerful voice and an incredible range. The musicianship and songwriting throughout the album is second to none.  The band is still very reminiscent of European progressive metal bands such as Anubis Gate, Pagan’s Mind and Vanden Plas but there’s a definite influence from bands such as Haken and Leprous this time round especially with the contemporary sounding keyboards and some of the guitar riffs almost veer into djent territory but this is by no means a bad thing with Lost In Thought ensuring that their progressive power metal style sounds very modern and up to date.

Renascence had me in awe from the get go with the opening double punch of A New Life and Ascendance sending my mouth agape and the hairs on my arms standing on end. The quality remains at this astonishingly high level throughout the entirety of the album with other notable songs being the melodic Save me whilst the heaviness is brought forth on Delirium and Legacy and the band reach epic proportions on the massive album closer Absolution.

It’s clearly evident that an incredible amount of love and hard work has gone into this album as it easily surpasses Opus Arise in terms of quality and Opus Arise is a brilliant album. Progressive metal fans seriously need to hear this album as it’s easily one of the finest releases of the year. A huge welcome back to Lost In Thought. 9/10

Bitch Hawk: Joy (Adrian Recordings) [Paul S]

Joy is Bitch Hawk’s second album. In fact it’s Bitch Hawks second album this year; their debut was released in January. The Stockholm based four piece clearly aren’t afraid of a bit of hard work, but is the album any good? Or are Bitch Hawk just putting out any old crap they can cobble together? Luckily for this reviewer, it’s the former, as this is a great piece of work.

The music on offer here is a mix of crossover thrash, hardcore and punk. First track Good News kicks the album off in very thrashy fashion, in fact this is probably the purest thrash on the album. Tight, fast riffs, aggressive vocals and great drums. Really impressive simple, crossover thrash. But, as I said this is an album with a few different moods. Baby Love is a slower looser track, more punk than thrash, but still with lots of energy, and a very heavy ending. EDM is slower still, and has a bit of an alternative metal sound, it’s got a fairly relentless feel to it, in some ways the slower tempo gives the song this relentless aspect. Optical Character Recognition has a fairly measured feel to it, probably the most controlled, well behaved track on the album.

Slime is a fairly loose hardcore track, faster than the songs that came before it, possibly a little power violence in execution. The hardcore is tighter and more aggressive with the sing Get Up Your Fine, fast and in your face, this track has a definite intent. The next track Rikspsyk is an out and out blast, in some ways it’s close to grindcore in it’s ferociousness. Joy is a great album. Although there are lots of different sounds on this album, the one thing they all have in common is energy, lots of energy. In fact Bitch Hawk have so much energy if science can find a way to tap into this energy, we might have found a replacement for fossil fuels! If you like fast music packed with exuberance, fun and masses of energy, definitely check this out. 8/10

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Reviews: Opeth, Kalidia, Red Dragon Cartel, Algy Ward's Tank (Reviews By Paul H & Alex)

Opeth: Garden Of The Titans: Live At Red Rocks Amphitheater (Nuclear Blast) [Paul H]

Those of you who follow the Musipedia will know that Opeth sit in my top two favourite bands of all time. This release captures the band on the US leg of their Sorceress tour from 2017. Recorded at the stunning Red Rocks amphitheater in Denver, Colorado, it is a fabulous setting. This DVD/CD release was recorded at Red Rocks on 11th May 2017.  I was fortunate enough to catch them later that year and this is a solid representation of the form that the band were in on that tour. With a dry sense of humour, Mikael Akerfeldt’s between song banter is always a highlight, including his continued deflection of the inevitable shouts for Freebird. Here it’s the music that really does the talking Garden Of The Titans captures Opeth in imperious and majestic form.

The DVD provides the visuals, with an impressive light show and clever imagery on the screens, as well as multi-angle shots of the band. All the musicians in this band combine to deliver some of the band’s complex and lengthy progressive songs that are both crushingly heavy and ethereally light. The fusion of prog, death metal, black metal, hard rock and jazz which makes Opeth unlike any other band around today. The setlist at Red Rocks was more varied that the UK tour but still contains some very heavy beasts indeed. The band opened the evening with the jazz intro segueing into Sorceress, the gruesomely heavy Ghost Of Perdition and then the intensity of Demon Of The Fall.

The Wilde Flowers and In My Time Of Need allow more delicate exploration and includes some impressive audience participation.  It’s noticeable that keyboard player Joakim Svalberg is playing more of a role with his Hammond prominent but also his backing vocals supporting the others. Akerfeldt’s death growls do appear less effective but it’s a minor point as the pulverising Heir Apparent and an absolutely punishing Deliverance close the set. As live albums go this is just superb. 10/10

Kalidia: The Frozen Throne (Inner Wound Recordings) [Alex]

Theatricality and grandiosity are values I hold dear in music. Acts in the vein of Kalidia have the potential to create vast and gorgeous textures by daring to experiment. It’s not an objective measurement of quality, nor is it a standard I apply to everything. though it is a taste probably owing to an early love of Queen, film scores and – as an unashamed guilty pleasure - musical theatre. The Frozen Throne is certainly ambitious and even commendably takes some paths that I didn’t expect, only really falling short of being great in the comfortability of tired old clichés, and lack of obligation to their splendorous ideas

Let me stress that for a second album, this is by no stretch of the imagination a disappointment. Each member of the band plays with precision and Nicola Rosellini's vocals are beautifully melodic. Often you can see the makings of a great symphonic power quartet. Circles Spell introduces some alluring Middle Eastern influences, beginning with sitar and with a charming oriental hook lacing its way throughout, while aggressive instrumentation roars alongside. Likewise, To The Darkness I Belong contrasts distortion and thundering rhythms, with Celtic or Vaudevillian instruments, making the twisted fairy tales told across the lyricism feel animated and alive. Myth Of Masada and Go Beyond take these experiments to epic heights, placing the orchestration front and centre, rejoicing in their eloquence. It is in these moments among others, that The Frozen Throne sparkles and Glimmers with royal prestige.

With everything I’ve already said, my criticisms aren’t so much harsh as they are concepts which I think will be improved on, not far into Kalidia’s future. Firstly, for all the dazzling moments that exist, songs such as the opening Frozen Throne and the closing Queen Of The Forsaken do not display enough of a multifaceted nature or instrumental palate to make for a believable aesthetic. Incidentally, while I can respect Black Sails and Orpheus, for effectively creating tension they the same issue. Finally, if I can allude to film soundtracks again, one potential pitfall incurred in attempts to sound powerful is that every song ends up sounding like a battle sequence. That said, we do get a little nuance here, and that’s a skill which I’m hoping will bloom into radiant colour. Indeed, where there are problems, they are the pitfalls of talented musicians cutting out their own sphere of influence, as of fashioning a throne from ice 7/10

Red Dragon Cartel: Patina (Frontiers Records) [Paul H]

If I read right recently in the media, Patina may be Jake E Lee’s last album. Period. Featuring Phil Varzone (Skid Row) and bassist Anthony Esposito along side Lee and vocalist Darren James Smith, back in the fold having sorted his differences with Lee, we move forward four years after their eponymous debut. Patina is solid without being ball grabbing. This is classic rock in every sense, with an American larger than life production. Songs like Crooked Man with its Alice In Chains breakdown and the foot stomping Speedbag really catch the attention. However, there are a few turkeys here; average Chasing Ghosts and My Beautiful Mess both contenders for blandest song of the year. Whilst Lee’s guitar work is grittier and gnarly than before it retains the quality that secured his slot with Ozzy for those few glorious years albeit sans the songs with anything near the quality of the double ‘O’. One for background music whilst cooking methinks. 5/10

Algy Ward’s Tank: Sturmpanzer (Dissonance Productions) [Paul H]

Synonymous with the original Tank line-up which formed in 1980, Algy Ward was part of the band responsible for the legendary Filth Hounds of Hades album in 1982 at the height of the NWOBHM movement. Tank were regularly compared to Motörhead, mainly because they were a three-piece and because they displayed a similar punk-edged playing style. It’s been a pretty shambolic history ever since though, with the band changing line-ups, splitting into the Tucker/Evans Tank releasing three albums (and playing as a five-piece) whilst Ward released Breath of the Pit in 2013. This is, as it appears, a solo effort from Ward as he sings and plays all instruments. There are a couple of listenable songs here, but his vocal delivery was never his strong point and he reinforces that with a ropey performance. The seven-minute plus instrumental, Revenge Of The Filth Hounds Pt 1 & 2, a brooding affair, at least partially restores some pride to an otherwise simply average album. 4/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Eden's Curse

Eden’s Curse, Fuel Rock Club

I’d been looking forward to this gig for a while, after the hugely well attended gigs we’d been to on the weekend it was nice to back to the smaller more ‘local’ shows. Having said that upon arriving just before the support I was a little disheartened to see just how few people were at the gig, especially because Eden’s Curse are currently on tour with Michael Schenker. This was a one off headline show on that tour before they made their way up to Prestatyn for Hard Rock Hell, support came from Traitor’s Gate (6) who we’d seen the previous month supporting Diamond Head and the set was pretty much the same just on a smaller stage, although this time there was not a lyric sheet to be seen. Playing to a few people has to be disheartening for many bands so kudos for them for putting in the effort but I’m just still not too fussed on Traitor’s Gate’s middle of the road NWOBHM on stage.

Next up were multi-national melodic metal band Eden’s Curse (8) who are a slick professional unit with years of experience on the stage, on record and in the case of bass player Paul Logue behind the producer’s chair. The band is currently touring their Testament record which showcases the best songs from both eras of Eden’s Curse with Michael Eden and Nikola Mijić behind the mic. When you listen to the album you can hear that the style doesn’t change much between the two singers only that AOR elements creep in with Mijić as the prog touches fade out. Coming onto the stage with their big backdrops they did seem a little cramped with keyboardist Christian "Chrism" Pulkkinen relegated to by the stage door, however it’s his table full of tech that allows Eden’s Curse to get that studio sound in the live arena, it means there’s big (taped) backing vocals and a well rounded sound bolstered by the use of an extensive sound desk!

The performance was more static than normal as the conditions of the venue wouldn’t allow much room to move but there was enough movement and passion from the band to keep the visual interest especially Nikola who’s voice is perfect. Guitarist Thorsten Köhne, takes a solitary position for most of the set but shreds with ease peeling off solos during every track. A brief mention to for John Clelland (drums) who brings the thump with Logue live. The set was basically the first disc of their new record in full and I believe in order (though I’d have to check), it was a good plan as essentially playing a ‘greatest hits’ meant that most knew at least a few of the songs. Now this is where I got a little annoyed, with the show, the crowd was small with even Nikola commenting (I mean they are used to playing to bigger crowds with Schenker) and for such a small crowd many of the ‘hardcore’ that is folks with Eden’s Curse t-shirts stood and talked through the first four songs with it being the most notable on ballad Turn The Page, although when I can hear the guys in front of me during a rocker like The Great Pretender then it strikes me that they might be at the wrong gig. I know we speak about this a lot but we’re all huge music fans here and it’s a collective pet hate of ours about ignorant people talking so loudly you can’t hear the band, especially at intimate gigs.

I could go on but I won’t only to say that Eden’s Curse got better as the night wore on with Kane’d co-vocalist Stacey taking the roles of Liv Kristine and Pamela Moore on Unconditional and Angels And Demons respectively, she unsurprisingly got the biggest cheer of the night (mainly due to half of Kane’d being in attendance) but for the most part this was brilliant set let down by a miserable Wednesday night crowd. Eden’s Curse are coming back next year and playing bigger venues in the Spring, go and check them out then as they are still one of the best and often overlooked bands in the scene.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Slayer (Review By Paul)

Slayer, Lamb Of God, Anthrax, Obituary, Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

There wasn’t enough pyro over the entire fireworks weekend to match the ferocity that accompanied the final show in Wales from arguably the most influential metal band of all time. The juggernaut that is Slayer, accompanied by a bill that was sufficiently robust to have sold out many arenas without the headliners, rolled into the Welsh capital for one final reminder of their supremacy and sheer power.

Slayer have never been the most frequent visitors to Cardiff, having made a mere three appearances before this gig; all at the Motorpoint Arena with their last show the 2008 Unholy Alliance III show. Their last visit to South Wales had seen them sell-out the Newport Centre with ease in 2015. Now, 30 years after their initial appearance in South Wales when I was present at the Newport Centre on the World Sacrifice tour, it was time to pay respects and throw those horns as the Slatanic Whermacht assembled once more on the streets around the Motorpoint Arena. The buzz had been building for weeks but walking from the station one could sense the anticipation and excitement in the air.

With doors at the early time of 17:30, the MIA staff appeared to have done a bloody marvellous job of getting everyone through quickly and it was with relative ease and little queuing that we headed into the darkness in time to see the glinting backdrop of Floridian Death Metallers Obituary (8). If you want no frills, gnarly yet superbly executed death metal no-one does it better. With a short slot the band wasted no time in levelling the arena with an eight-song set which tore through the packed arena like chainsaws. Redneck Stomp set the pace, which didn’t let up. The buzzing guitars of Trevor Peres and Kenny Andrews hit low and hard, John Tardy prowled and growled and as the pits erupted it was pleasing to see that the Cardiff crowd were able to respond in appropriate style. As the strains of Slowly We Rot faded at the end of their blistering set, the arena was already gasping for air and steeling itself for round two.

There’s a standard reliability about Anthrax (7). They have some massive tunes and they hit the stage 20 minutes ahead of schedule with an urgency that was breathtaking. Thumping out Cowboys From Hell before launching into a rabid Caught In A Mosh, the arena melted into chaos and carnage and when the band then burst through Got The Time and I Am The Law it was, for a brief moment, 1986 all over again. With Scott Ian as intense as ever, Frank Bello running back and fore as it trying to extinguish a fire and Joey Belladonna on fine vocal form, Anthrax were looking good. Be All, End All from State Of Euphoria was a welcome addition to the set list, allowing guitarist Jonathan Donais to show his chops. All the while Charlie Benante hammered seven shades out of his kit. Evil Twin dropped the pace a little and as I’ve commented before, Antisocial weakened the set further. As I headed toward the back before the end of the set the traditional pantomime of Scott Ian stopping Indians for the 'War Dance’ cry played out. Don’t get me wrong, Anthrax were great, but out of the four bands this night they were the weakest for me.

I’d missed Lamb Of God (9) on their last tour but there was not a chance in hell I was doing that tonight. As the Virginians caused mass explosions across the arena with their choice to open the set with a monstrous Omerta. I know various people who don’t like LOG but they were clearly in the minority as the bulk of the crowd lost their shit. The groove metal that the band from Richmond play is infectious, and with a killer set this was a demonstration of potential future arena headliners. Ferociously heavy at times, Randy Blythe was the very picture of focus and intensity he prowled the stage, flanked by guitarists Willie Adler and Mark Morton. John Campbell’s thunderous bass lines linked with stand in drummer Art Cruz, the Prong drummer who has been filling in for Chris Adler for the past few months. Ruin was simply huge, whilst the three beasts dragged in from Sacrament destroyed. Walk With Me In Hell encouraged huge vocal support whilst the pits never stopped moving. The middle section contained two tracks from VII: Sturm Und Drang whilst it is unlikely that there are many better double endings than Laid To Rest and Redneck. It was infectious stuff and, in my opinion, fully justified the decision to put the band directly before Slayer.

9.25pm. The house lights dimmed, and four huge white crosses hung above the stage. Slowly, as Delusions Of Saviour poured out of the PA system, the crosses inverted and disappeared, replaced by the Slayer logo. Huge explosions and it was time for an hour and a half of unrelenting Slayer (10). I’ve seen Slayer many times, and there have been occasions when the band have been less than inspiring, but this show was as aggressive and violent as anything I’ve ever witnessed from them. The set list was immense, top track after top track bludgeoning the rabid crowd, all drawn towards the massive stage set, complete with copious amounts of flame and pyro. Repentless passed in the blink of an eye, Blood Red and Disciple came and went with similar ferocity, before the slower Mandatory Suicide allowed the old school to loosen necks and limbs. With Tom Araya almost static in the middle of the stage, and suddenly looking old and slightly unwell, it was left to Gary Holt and Kerry King who sliced, diced and shredded with a brutality almost beyond comprehension.

The speed was punishing. Little conversation from Araya allowed the band to bulldoze through the set, although his introduction to War Ensemble did allow for the crowd to join in. Paul Bostaph's battering ram drumming was exceptional. Postmortem and Black Magic were welcome additions in the middle of the set, both greeted by huge roars from old school fans. And so, it continued. Song. Bam. Song. Bam. Flames and pyro and lighting. Fast, furious and epic. So much lighting, cleverly matching the several switches of back drop enhanced the set and focused on separate periods of the bands career. This was a band who clearly wanted to ensure that they do go out with a bang. In what seemed like minutes it was Hell Awaits, with raging infernos at the back of the stage, it really looked like the band were playing in Old Nick’s front room.

The encore was perfect and if there were four songs that encapsulated what Slayer is all about, then it was these four. South Of Heaven segued into the most gargantuan Raining Blood I’ve ever seen, and suddenly it dawned that this was the end. Chemical Warfare snarled and ripped, played at breakneck speed before Angel Of Death, complete with Hannerman backdrop picked off the final survivors. As Araya said goodbyes, this was it. Hopefully it will be. As fantastic as Slayer were, one can only hope that their farewell tour really is that. Memories galore abound, and this was an evening with which to cement those memories and pay tribute to a truly legendary band.

Slayer, Lamb Of God, Anthrax & Obituary, Birmingham Arena

With ears still ringing from their epic finale in South Wales a mere two days before, I ended a busy work day with a rush across the second city to catch Floridian death metal legends Obituary (8) pick up from where they left off a couple of days before. The Birmingham Arena is at least twice as big as the Motorpoint in Cardiff and whilst the hardcore were crammed down the front there was vast spaces in the seats and towards the rear of the standing area. Undeterred, Obituary crashed through the same set as earlier with even more intensity and power. There is nothing about this band that isn’t worth watching, with the buzzsaw guitars decimating all around. From the opening bars of Red Neck Stomp to the grinding devastation of Slowly We Rot, Obituary continue to be one of the seminal bands from the death metal camp and remain mesmerising to watch despite the limited movement on stage. Crushing death metal at its absolute best.
Movement has never been a problem for New Yorkers Anthrax (8) who upped their game substantially from their performance a couple of nights earlier. Whether it was being in the home of heavy metal, the larger crowd or just a bit of rest between shows I don’t know but this was Anthrax hitting top gear. I still get irked by a double cover in a set of eight songs but whilst Antisocial still does little for me, Got The Time was blistering. Evil Twin remained a weak link but when you can bookend your set with Cowboys From Hell and include the monsters from Among The Living it certainly wasn’t a bad set. I’d still prefer Madhouse or Metal Thrashing Mad but fair play, Belladonna, Ian and co played a blinder.

On Monday I was close to the front for the raw aggressive groove of Lamb Of God (9). I’d taken a position much further towards the back but despite the additional distance there was no less fire in the Richmond outfit’s performance as they ripped through their set. Randy Blythe continues to run around the stage like a man possessed and his short speech about Black Sabbath raised a massive roar. The addictive groove laden metal these guys deliver really gets me moving and I was given a number of curious looks as the small bloke in a Motörhead Cymru t-shirt repeatedly lost it to the likes of Ruin, Laid To Rest and Redneck. Whilst the Birmingham crowd may have the numbers, the Welsh crowd certainly have the passion. A huge circle pit ensured that the action at the front was ferocious but towards the back there was lots of static observers. Such is life I guess.

Slayer (10) played an unrelenting barrage on Monday and didn’t look as if they had stopped. The larger arena allowed me a bit of distance to admire the stunning stage set, the pyro and lighting as heat inducing from 50 metres away as it was from ten. The set list may not have changed but there was nothing routine about the band’s effort. Holt and King riffed and shredded with a venom not seen for a long time, with War Ensemble and Dead Skin Mask particularly epic. The spectacle of Hell Awaits with huge swathes of flames burning at the back of the stage produced gasps from the audience whilst I was able to stand back and soak it up. The very bowels of hell on stage. Seasons In The Abyss and an even faster Dittohead also stood out, but it was the smooth taper from South Of Heaven into Reigning Blood that once again captured essence of Slayer. With the Hanneman banner once more choking me up as the band closed their set with Angel Of Death, I reflected that I still have one more opportunity to see this most relentless of metal outfits once more; roll on Madrid for viewing number 3.

Reviews: Anathema, Cancer, Terrorizer, Abstract Void (Reviews By Paul H & Sean)

Anathema: Internal Landscapes 2008-18 (Kscope Records) [Paul H]

The tenth anniversary of progressive label Kscope is a milestone that is worth raising a glass for. The label has been massively influential in the progressive rock scene, with a real who’s who of artists stabling with them. Iamthemorning, Steven Wilson, Gazpacho, Blackfield, Porcupine Tree, Godsticks, Lunatic Soul, Nordic Giants and Porcupine Tree are just a few. Add to that list Anathema. The Liverpudlians have spent the past decade nestled under the label’s wing, and it has certainly coincided with the emergence of one of the finest bands that the UK has ever produced. In his opening liner notes on this beautifully curated compilation, Daniel Cavanagh says “from the moment we agreed to a deal with Kscope in 2008 it felt that we were ready for a new beginning”.

During that decade the band released four quite breath-taking studio albums, each evolving organically, as well as a plethora of live releases and what Cavanagh terms “interim albums”. What’s particularly interesting about this release is that whilst it contains some of the best loved songs that the band have ever released, it also charts the highs and lows which they experienced. The creative peaks, the camaraderie in the studio and on the road, through to the melancholy that individual members experienced as they dealt with their personal demons and managed the slow but steady trajectory that their craft so richly deserves.

Tracks from Weather Systems, We’re Here Because We’re Here, Distant Satellites and 2017’s The Optimist all fit perfectly with the inevitable anthems of Untouchable. Part I and Part II sandwiched between Anathema and Thin Air. The inclusion of two tracks from those ‘interim albums’ ensures full representation from across the catalogue. The Goosebumps stood highest with the Dave Stewart collaboration and orchestral reinterpretation of J’ai Fait Une Promesse, released on the 2011 Falling Deeper album but originally on the band’s 1993 debut album Serenades. The 2008 acoustic release Hindsight is represented with Are You There? which originally featured on 2003’s A Natural Disaster. If this was the last set list I ever listened to, I would die a contented man. If there is a better, more progressive and intelligent band than Anathema then I don’t want to hear them. This is perfection. It may be a compilation album, but what a superb showcase of ten years’ worth of work from a band who can do no wrong in my eyes and ears. Buy it. Listen to it. Smile, weep, reflect and enjoy. 10/10

Cancer: Shadow Gripped (Peaceville Records) [Paul H]

Ironbridge death metal legends Cancer return from the studio with Shadow Gripped, their first release since 2005 and the first to feature the original line up of John Walker, Carl Stokes and Ian Buchanan since 1995. It was first time to return to 1990 and a quick spin of To The Gory End which always stokes the fires before commencing the wrestling match with album number 6. Shadow Gripped doesn’t disappoint, with ten tracks of gnarly, fiery and positively filthy old school death metal. Sometimes the simplest approach is the most effective, and tracks such as Ballcutter, Organ Snatcher and the brutally sinister Garrotte bludgeon without mercy. This is Cancer stripping back to the old days, peeling off the crap that critics have showered and lambasted them with post Death Shall Rise.

Having played the festival circuit for several years, the trio decided to head back to the studio with the sole intention of pleasing themselves with their output. As John Walker stated in the latest edition of the excellent Zero Tolerance, “we got the bug again. Yet we didn’t have any expectations, beyond pleasing ourselves”. It may be nothing particularly new, but the return to the sound which made those first two albums such cult classics is certainly in evidence on Shadow Gripped. There may not be as much flair and the band are possibly playing it safe but fuck, this is Cancer. They dictate their own path. If you don’t like it, I doubt they really care. 8/10

Terrorizer: Caustic Attack (The End Records) [Sean]

As we unwillingly subjected to passage of time, some of us are privileged to age like fine wine and mellow with each passing year. Others, however, remain as cantankerous and as angry as the day they were freed from their fleshy prison. No signs of mellowing here, always kicking and forever screaming which is thankfully the case for death/grind grandaddies Terrorizer. For those unaware, legendary skinsman Pete “Commando/The Feet” Sandoval has been leading the charge since their inception in 1986. Now back with a brand new line featuring current and former member of Monstrosity, Terrorizer are revamped, rearmed and ready to open fire. As soon as intro Turbulence, Terrorizer aren’t taking any prisoners with as son a Invasion fires it’s opening rounds. With Lee Harrisons's scathing tremolo riffs, Sandoval impeccable drumming and Sam Molina’s grunt, Caustic Attack continues to bulldoze it’s way through trench after trench of furious death metal. Crisis is an absolute ripper, opting for a more syncopated pace but no less punishing than its predecessor Devastate. Infiltration embraces some punky riffing before succumbing to rapid fire blast beats.

Poison Gas Tsunami is the equivalent of  warfare, whilst Failed Assassin contains some truly stunning drum work. It’s heartening to hear after all these years that Sandoval has lost none of his potency, with Molina and Harris strengthening the pure power on display. Caustic Attack does exactly what it says on the tin, succeeding in being the veritable blitzkrieg that it set out to be. The only gripe here is a slight lack of variance among the carnage, due to the largely absent punk/grind flavour that meshed with the older works so well. The more death metal focused assault, whilst pretty fucking savage, does get at times a touch repetitive. Whilst undeniably brutal, it may turn off those hoping for the grinding glory of World Downfall. Musical pedantry aside, when it’s good it’s really fucking good and an enjoyable sledgehammer to the system. There’s plenty of righteous rage left in the tank, plenty of ire in the fire and Terrorizer still are as mean and brutal as the world we live in. 8/10

Abstract Void: Back To Reality (Self Released) [Paul H]

It took about 30 seconds to realise that this album was the output of a one-man project. It sounds it. There’s little soul or feeling here. Blackgaze, synthwave, whatever label you add to it can’t disguise the fact that it is awful. Programmed, muffled and lacking originality, no wonder the person behind it remains anonymous. I’ve read some very positive feedback about this and debut release Into The Blue so maybe it’s just me but I feel generous giving it the score I have. 1/10