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Thursday, 13 December 2018

Reviews: Nordic Union, Thomas Giles, Kosm, Wardruna (Reviews By Alex & Paul H)

Nordic Union: Second Coming (Frontiers Records) [Alex]

A power metal act with symphonic elements, in principle Nordic Union, is perfect to my taste. I adore when there is a strong pulse of theatricalism pulsing throughout the metal, to relinquish on the intensity which the genre traditionally relished. Yet the combination also has the glaring potential for failure. While Second Coming possesses some inspired ideas, it doesn’t earn itself a place among its inspirations or leaves enough of a grandiose impression for my liking. Without a doubt, there are insanely enjoyable moments scattered throughout. Walk Me Through the Fire, has a stomping beat, a determined chorus and a sense of tension as the anthem climbs upward in intensity. Proving the heaviest song here, The Final War is driving, its gnashing distortion imbuing a sense of defiance and bravery. Even, The Best Thing I Never Had proves an excellent example of how to perform an inspirational anthem right. Make no mistake, a lot of the tone set here is still pompous and over the top – for power metal especially, braggadocious glamour has become something of a defining feature – yet it is executed in a way which inspires a sort of self-mocking humor.

Problems come on moments which try and embrace a slower pace while continuing on an epic scale. Take It Burns: Starting off gloriously enough, we hear a lone and solemn piano before an explosion of joyous guitar’s storm in, a point which further shines on the euphoric lead parts at the end of the song. For the larger part, however, we ride along at mid-tempo, the underwritten melodies, and tame rhythm instrumentation undermining my investment. While such a small blunder would not usually worry me, it becomes a recurring problem. Because Of Us, New Life Begins and Rocks Still Rolling, while bringing to life some great instrumentation, would benefit enormously from deciding on a direction, by becoming either reserved ballads or raging Stormers. Instead, they occupy an awkward space in the middle, which takes away from the ambitiousness and adds to the cliché.

At its finest, Second Coming is a fun, exciting, and unashamed album. At its most disappointing, however, it is a belated attempt at executing the theatrical sound, which falls short of landing the essential punches which are needed to create a truly impressive experience. I admire its lofty ambitions while lamenting its lackluster finishing. 6/10

Thomas Giles: Don’t Touch the Outside (Sumerian Records) [Alex]

I’m not sure what I was expecting from a solo project by the Between The Buried And Me frontman. Perhaps a more stripped down, minimalist work in a stark departure from the proggier styling he is known for? Or maybe it would be a different take on a heavy, and visceral style. Of the endless possibilities and predictions which swirled around in my head before pressing play, one which almost certainly didn’t spring to mind was how Don’t Touch The Outside actually sounds. I’m not for a second saying that the experiment is one gone wrong – I was quite intrigued by the vexing nature and the different directions the project goes in. Lurching from noise rock to ambient to experimental hip-hop, it’s difficult to distinguish it as by the same man who created alums like Alaska and Coma Ecliptic as part of BTBAM.

Openers, Church Friends and Incomplete are experimental and raw, the distortion and subtle electronics proving deeply disquieting. Like Giles’ prog material, the transitions are unexpected and full of creeping tension, yet the tone seems more angst-ridden than aggressive or crushing - a welcome departure indeed which demands your attention. Just in case there was for some reason any semblance of comfortability in the first two songs though, Radiate and Milan are ambient and strangely oriental pop ballads, which despite not being quite as multifaceted as my tastes dictate, are certainly an interesting and unique change. Then there's the hip-hop anthem I Win which proves weirdly uplifting and disturbing at the same time, the clusters of synth effects, beats and wordplay adding to the already puzzling journey I have already been taken on. Not content with the strangeness served up in the first half, the second attempts to execute ideas which are vaudevillian in their morose, yet modern in their progressions and instrumental flourishes. Take Mr. Sunshine, definitely one of the best moments on the entire record, Thomas begins on a contemplative and traditional note, before conjuring a maddened and inspired chorus, emanating space opera vibes.

Weather Moods/Panic Start proves equally as beguiling, starting as a barely coherent piece of beat poetry before exploding into a wonderfully erratic stints of theatricalism. Even the largely instrumental closers, Take Your Seats and 1709, insist on not staying static for too many seconds at a time, lurching between alluring electronics and enticing traditionalism. Almost schizophrenic in nature, Don’t Touch The Outside is unexpected until the closing moments, While I can certainly say I found this solo project interesting, its erratic persona can leave me feeling more cold and confused than excited. There are certainly great songs here which will be feasting on for years to come, yet I find the work as a whole to be held back by a desire to be different and latch on to as many stylings as possible. Again, a worthy effort, yet not one which is wholly coherent 7/10

Kosm: Cosmonaut (Rosenbridge Records) [Paul H]

Five-piece progressive metal outfit Kosm hail from Vancouver, British Columbia and their debut release Cosmonaut is an interesting one. Opening with the psychedelic Space Mead, which rapidly transforms into something altogether heavier, mixed with some ferocious picking and beefy drumming, one is immediately entranced by the clear vocals of Jessie Grace, who mixes in some ferocious growls to change the feel. I’d prefer her to stick to her clean vocals to be honest, but it doesn’t detract too much from a solid opening track. Drummer Sterling Paterson is relentless from the opening bars, switching from full-on death metal drumming to progressive jazz fills with ease.

At 66 minutes long, this is an album that requires staying power, but if you like the complexity of bands such as Tool, The Agonist, Mastodon, Gojira, A Perfect Circle and Animals As Leaders then you should welcome Cosmonaut with open arms. At times bone crushingly heavy, at others lighter and delicate, the undeniable constant throughout the album is the progressive rhythmic patterns that push the band somewhere between Tool and Mastodon. A rather tasty listen all round. 8/10

Wardruna: Sklad (By Norse Music) [Paul H]

Depending on your tastes, the fourth album by Norwegian music group Wardruna will either be stunning, or absolute bilge water. Formed in 2003 by Einar Selvik alongside fellow former Gorgoroth member Gaahl and Linday Fay Hella, Wardruna on record is now essentially Selvik (vocals and all instruments) and Hella (vocals and flute) with Gaahl long gone. As their Wikipedia page states, Wardruna is dedicated to creating musical renditions of Norse cultural and esoteric traditions. Using a variety of traditional instruments, the band has also enjoyed fame with their soundtrack to one of the Vikings Series. This album is Selvik singing Norse songs accompanied by the odd instrument such as Tagelharpe or goat horn. At 50 minutes it’s a bit of an ordeal, and you need to be in a very special place to allow this to wash over you and absorb the undoubted emotion contained here. I struggled to know what to score it but despite the undoubted quality here, it bored me senseless after about 20 minutes and by the time I’d reached the 15-minute Sonatorreck I think I was asleep with my eyes open. You may enjoy it. I didn’t. 5/10

Reviews: Chapel Of Disease, Space Coke, Bane, Green Death (Reviews By Paul S)

Chapel Of Disease: …And As We Have Seen The Storm, We Have Embraced The Eye (Van Records)

Chapel Of Disease are a 4 piece from Cologne in Germany. …And As We Have Seen The Storm, We Have Embraced The Eye is the band's third album coming 3 years after The Mysterious Ways Of Repetitive Ant. In all the research I’ve done for this review Chapel Of Disease have been classed as a death metal band, in fact their name comes from 2 Morbid Angel songs, but this album doesn’t feel that deathy to me. The first 2 songs are a mix of melodic death metal and melodic black metal. They have a strong melodic feel due to a melody lead guitar that runs through most of the material, in some ways a little like excellent British black metal band Wode. The second half of opening track Void Of Worlds is a curve ball as well. The song goes into a very pleasing soft section, with clean rhythm guitar and a lead part that is quite jazz like. This softer section has a part to it that is faster and actually sounds like Making Movies era Dire Straits! 

After a soft opening, third track on the album Song Of The Gods has a simpler, punky main riff that drives through the song, giving it a strong melodic theme. The song ends up sounding quite black and roll, it reminds me of some of Vreid’s material. Null begins with a soft melodic opening before settling down to a fairly doomy feel for the first 2 thirds of the song before getting all blast beaty for the last third, in a style that is quite reminiscent of MGLA. 1000 Different Paths has a very different riffing style to it, the vocals are also in a contrasting style to the rest of the album. Both riffing and vocals feel very gothic, but with lots of melody (something this album excels at). The final track The Sound Of Shallow Grey has that black and roll feel to it that was present on Song Of The Gods, in fact, in some places the riffing sounds more like a country rock album. 

It’s a great uptempo track that brings the album to a close with bags of energy. …And As We Have Seen The Storm, We Have Embraced The Eye is a very good album. It has lots of different styles, but doesn’t feel disjointed; the album is held together by it’s innate musicality and melody uniting all the disparate parts. This is a really enjoyable album, highly recommended. 8/10

Space Coke: L'Appel Du Vide (Self Released)

Space Coke are a acid rock/space rock 3 piece from Columbia. On their Facebook page, and on anything else they get to write they have used the statement “If the amp don’t smoke, it ain’t Space Coke” which after listening to this album, must be pretty accurate, you can almost smell the burning cones. Space Coke play a brand of huge psychedelic doom. Massive guitar riffs that are backed up by enormous Hammond organ riffs, at a tempo that makes head-banging mandatory. Title track L'Appel Du Vide kicks things off in suitably huge fashion, clean vocals fit in with the immense riffing, in a way that makes me feel a little stoned just listening. Kali Ma is a little slower and maybe a little more measured, but still mighty despite the slightly less over the top style. Corpsewood Manor is a cracking uptempo piece of rock. 

Probably the most direct track on offer here, channeling those early seventies riffs, maybe a little like Deep Purple (reminds me of Highway Star, now there's a great song to be compared to!) Next up we have a very good cover of The Velvet Underground's Venus In Furs, which Space Coke have made their own, but without changing it so much it is unrecognisable. After a short instrumental (Noise Jam), comes Lucid Dream, possibly the heaviest thing on this album, it has a very driving, powerful rhythm. Thelmic Ritual keeps the huge psychedelic rock/doom feel going. Before final track Evil, brings the album to an end in a kind of psychedelic, soulful way. Evil is half space rock half gospel soul. Evil is a cracking track, really original and a great way to end the album! I have really enjoyed this album! If you like hugeness, or massive riffs you need this album in your life! 8/10

Bane: Esoteric Formulae (Black Market Metal Label)

Bane were originally from Serbia, where they released 2 albums, before main-man Branislav Panic relocated to Canada. Esoteric Formulae is the first album since that move and since Branislav put together a new lineup. The music on offer here is basically melodic death metal with maybe a little melodic black metal as well. We get 10 tracks, an intro and an outro with 8 proper tracks in the middle. The first track The Calling Of The Eleven Angels kicks the album off with fast, tuneful melodic death metal. After a fairly uptempo beginning the song settles down to a mid-paced cadence, which seems to be a standard feel for Bane on Esoteric Formulae. The next song Beneath The Black has a fairly choppy thrash feel to the verse sections, with that mid-paced feel to the chorus.

The album continues in this vain, fast occasionally blasting parts, that always seem to go back to slower paced sections that feel interchangeable. Although all the bits on their own are fine, none of the songs on here stand out as they all have the same template. The only exception is the track Into Oblivion, which has a slower, more death/doom feel to it. The song feels like it has a definite intent, and is powerful and driving; by far the best track on the album. I realise that this review is probably sounding pretty negative, but this is in no way a bad album; it’s a perfectly acceptable piece of melodic death metal, very solid and enjoyable. However, there are a lot of good melodic death metal albums about at the moment, and if you are going to make this style of death metal you need to stand out. The songs on this album are just to similar, it needs more originality if it is going to stand out. A good, solid, but unremarkable album. 7/10

Green Death: Hallowmass (Combat Records)

Green Death hail from Des Moines they’ve been going since 2012 and Hallowmass is their third album, coming 3 years after Manufacturing Evil. According to the bumf that came with this album “Green Death are re-defining Thrash”, I have to take exception to this as, well, they aren’t. There are only 2 tracks on this album that come close to thrash (we’ll come back to them later). Most of the material is a fairly modern take on heavy metal. There are elements of power metal, doom, NWOBHM and even some Nu Metal mixed up here. A lot of it is quite slow and plodding, and doesn’t feel that inspired. The music is a problem, but the vocals are a far bigger problem. Vocalist Sol Bales has a pretty good voice he can hit notes and hold a tune, that isn’t the problem. The problem is how he sings. He has a style that is so over the top it’s almost comical. It feel like he wants to prove how well he can sing so much, he just tries too hard. 

There are places where he hits a big note and then half a dozen other notes as well in the style of Mariah Carey; which is fine if you are a pop diva, but on here it sounds like an affectation. It’s almost like a metal version of the posh voice your Auntie puts on when she is on on the phone. The ‘over the topness’ of the singing isn’t helped by the music being very low in the mix, Bale’s affectation wouldn’t be so irritating if this was mixed well. Probably the worst example of how much this album doesn’t work is on the track Sacrament, which is slow and plodding, with a terrible chorus, genuinely a dreadful, risible song. Another awful track is She Couldn’t Live which is slow and dreary. This is quite a frustrating album. Although at least 80 percent of it is dire, there is a quite decent 20 percent. 

The tracks I Am Eternal and last track Sickle And Scythe are really good pieces of thrash. Plus on these two tracks Sol Bales changes his singing style and suddenly it works. These are two great tracks! Bales voice gains a rasp and become a little harsh, and it’s great. If he’d sung the whole album like this, Hollowmass would be getting a much higher mark. The title track Hollowmass is a decent song. Although it isn’t fast and harsh, the vocals are handled in a much more subtle way, no histrionics, the chorus is very strong and it stands out on the album. Another way this album doesn’t work is that it’s too long, with 14 tracks, some of them quite long, Hollowmass seems to go on forever. Simply cutting 4 tracks would massively improve the album (although they might have a hard time working out which tracks to cut). 

This isn’t a good album. If the band can concentrate on the bits that work; the faster thrashier music, and harsh rasping vocals, they really could have something. But this album really doesn’t work. I am relieved that I have now reviewed this album, as I now can stop listening to it! 5/10

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Molly Hatchet & Federal Charm (Review By Paul H)

Molly Hatchet & Federal Charm: The Globe, Cardiff

Music is usually one of the more certain things in life. You pays your money, you takes your choice but with a bit of research, knowledge and confidence you rarely get sold a dud. There are very few gigs that I’ve left feeling angry and disappointed. This gig took the prize for one of the worst I’ve seen in my 32 years of gigging. Leaving a close to capacity crowd on the pavement outside the venue for 25 minutes after the advertised doors was the first signal that this might not have been the best of evenings. No merchandise was set up when we entered the venue and although the bar was making a tidy profit it was gone 8.30 before support act Federal Charm (8) hit the stage. The Mancunians have spent the past few years making a large impact on the Planet Rock scene, and with three albums now under their belt they now have plenty of material.

Their blues soaked rock warmed the audience nicely, with tracks from their latest release Passenger mixed with songs from their previous releases. The band took their time to get going, but their energetic Zeppelin/Free influenced music was at the very enjoyable. I enjoyed Passenger when it was released earlier in the year and it is even better live. New singer and drummer Tom Guyer and Josh Zahler have fitted in neatly and for the uninitiated you wouldn’t have known any different. Original members Paul Bowe and L.D Morawski flank Guyer in a supportive manner, all throwing their own energies into a performance that clearly had attracted a lot of their own fans, judging by the response as the set developed. With 45 minutes to fill, the band made the most of their slot eking out every last second. Whilst they are one of a thousand bands in the ‘classic rock’ style movement that is so popular at present, Federal Charm do seem to possess something a little different to the rest.

And so we waited. And waited. And finally, at about 9:55pm, the current line-up of Molly Hatchet (4) ambled onto the stage. There is no excuse for this when your doors were advertised as 7:30pm. With Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again blasting through the PA, we had the farcical sight of the band waiting to start but seemingly powerless to turn the music off. No dramatic entrance, just a shambles, with lead singer Phil McCormack particularly disorientated. I saw the band a few years ago in London, with original guitarist Dave Hulbeck still on board (he sadly passed away last year) and they were so much tighter and professional. 

At last we got some music as Whiskey Man, Bounty Hunter and Gator County all pleased the packed house. But something was missing and it was that second guitar which makes bands such as Hatchet, Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers so special. The absence of that duelling sound makes Hatchet sound, well, ordinary. Bobby Ingram, guitarist since 1987 and sole owner of the Hatchet name and working trademark is a fine guitarist (as well as purveyor of fine pies judging by the size of him … that ain’t no small moon) but despite the keyboard work of John Galvin (hidden to many behind the speaker stack) it just wasn’t as warm and, well, Southern.

Four songs in and it was time for the band to have a break with a mundane drum solo from Shawn Beamer, whose flowing locks were constantly flowing throughout the evening thanks to a very strategically placed fan. It’s a well known fact that most of us here at Musipedia dislike drum solos and this was as dull as it gets. When the band meandered back on stage, McCormack announced, “It’s great to be back here”, before adding, “wherever here is. I only woke up ten minutes ago”. Whether he was being ironic or not, his performance was hugely disappointing, with an arrogance which I found particularly hard to live with. He appeared confused and at one point wandered across the stage to find out how many XL t-shirts the band had left for sale (Merch finally appeared ten minutes into Hatchet’s set). 

Whilst he managed the Southern drawl on the songs with ease, it was poor fare overall. By the time the band got to Fall Of The Peacemakers, I’d had enough and left the building with a heavy heart and many illusions shattered. Molly Hatchet were a band I loved for years and when I saw them in London I was overjoyed at being able to tick them off the list. Maybe I should have left them at that because the band we saw here were nothing more than a glorified tribute act.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Reviews: Corpsessed, Frozen Land, Johnny Gioeli, Oracle (Reviews By Paul H & Matt)

Corpsessed: Impetus Of Death (Dark Descent Records) [Paul H]

Imagine being trapped in a dark cave network with hordes of starving alligators hunting you down? Well, Impetus of Death is the soundtrack to just such nightmares which haunt your dreams. The chilling repeated riff on the opening title track with its pulverising wall of sound is just the beginning. Indeed, the whole of this second album by the Finns is akin to being hit repeatedly by a sledgehammer such is the sheer onslaught. Nikko Matilainen’s fine vocals are impressive, the man’s ability to hurl his voice at length in such a low growl impressive. At times this is malevolently dark, at other times eerily haunting but always the cavernous sound underpinned by the thunderous kick drumming of Jussi-Pekka Manner and enhanced by the duel slashing of guitarists Jyki Lustig and Matti Makela crushes with impunity. Graveborne, Paroxysmal and the massive Starless Event Horizon all deliver in an album crammed full of quality death metal. 8/10

Frozen Land: Self Titled (Massacre Records) [Matt]

The debut album from Finnish power metal band Frozen Land sees them comfortably trying to sound as much like fellow Finns Stratovarius as possible. That's not really to their detriment I mean Stratovarius are one of the most renowned power metal bands so if you're going to copy someone  then it's probably best to take your inspiration from the band that are one of your country's finest export. However this record isn't influenced by the songs here are almost identical to Stradivarius numbers. Vocally Tony Meloni sounds almost exactly as a young Timo Kotipelto with the band behind him filling your speakers with pumping classical keys, melodic guitars and a rhythm section that can get your fists in the air (Underworld) or your head banging (The Rising). There's little else to say I'm afraid if you like Stratovarius then you'll like this album, if not then I'd stay clear. 6/10

Johnny Gioeli: One Voice (Frontiers Records) [Matt]

Johnny Gioeli is probably one of the best vocalists around singing for Hardline, Crush 40, and Axel Rudi Pell to name three. He's made a name for himself fronting bands that rely heavily on melodic guitar driven hard rock and as such his first solo album does the same, big riffs are bolstered by keyboard lines from Alessandro Del Vecchio, who also produces, It means that Gioeli can unleash his smooth saccharine tones on the balladic title track or the Jovi-like Mind Melt the choruses are made for arenas you can hear the hordes singing them back. The influence of Mr Jovi is actually one that overwhelms this record and unfortunately it's the more recent Bon Jovi which it means that this is about as safe as you can get musically, there are very few risks and no matter how good all the musicians on this album are it can't make this album anything more than just above average. A real shame, it's certainly one for the fans but as that's the point of the record my opinion is muted. 5/10

Oracle: Live At Bloodstock 2018 (Self Released) [Paul H]

If you ever wanted to capture 25 minutes which aurally describes the intensity and desire that bands demonstrate when they hit the New Blood Stage at Bloodstock, then Northern Ireland’s bludgeoning thrashers Oracle have totally nailed it. Stunning in their passion and energy, with a crisp quality sound, this is exactly how I remember the band’s blistering show. From the opening bars of No God Waits For You, the pounding groove is monstrous whilst Jason Kerr’s gravel-soaked vocals suggest that he must have been unable to speak for days after this, such is the effort he applies. By the time the band demolish the remains of the tent with Burn The Nameless, you can hear then eking out every last ounce of effort. This is a superb recording of a superb band whose show in August was one of the highlights and if you want the visuals then hunt it down on YouTube. It’ll be well worth it. 8/10

Monday, 10 December 2018

Reviews: Bernie Tormé, Emigrate, Altitudes & Attitudes, Captain Caravan (Reviews By Paul H)

Bernie Tormé: Shadowlands (Retrowrek Records)

Having recorded over 24 albums in his career, reviewing a double album from a guitarist who has been around for decades was some challenge. I remember Tormé as the fresh-faced guitarist in Gillan, the band formed by Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan who I absolutely loved at the turn of the 1980s. Then Bernie picked up the challenge to step into the tragically deceased Randy Rhoads shoes for Ozzy, keeping the Double O from collapsing and maintaining the Crazy Train on the tracks. Since then this superb guitarist has delivered numerous solo releases as well as working with Dee Snider in Desperados and GMT with former Gillan colleague John McCoy and drummer Robin Guy. Shadowlands sees Tormé deliver a new double album, bursting with blistering blues-soaked guitar work.

His vocals aren’t his strong point, often reminiscent of Ace Frehley with an Irish drawl, but there is no doubt about his guitar work. Tracks such as Come The Revolution, One To Blame and the epic Forever demonstrate his quality. With his trio completed by drummer Mik Gaffney and bassist Sy Morton, this is 74 minutes of laid-back hard rock which can just be appreciated and enjoyed. A guest appearance from former Gillan keyboard player Colin Towns adds to the flavour, whilst the 15-minute Innovative Jam/Chaos Theory features contributions from pledgers. Quite how he’s managed to pull this together is a mystery to me, featuring the dark arts of studio magic no doubt, but it works. Tormé has recently completed his final tour, but there are no plans to hang up the guitar. If you like your guitar in the style of Rory Gallagher, with some free-flowing innovative playing without boundaries, then you should enjoy this release. 8/10

Emigrate: A Million Degrees (Vertigo Berlin)

I enjoyed the debut album of Richard S. Krupse’s project and was reasonably impressed by the sophomore release Silent So Long, which Emigrate released in 2014 and featured guest appearances from Lemmy and Marilyn Manson amongst others. Despite several spins, A Million Degrees has yet to really interest me in the same way. Opener War is a typically industrially tinged rousing start, but I struggled with the pop-style of 1234 featuring Billy Talent vocalist Benjamin Kowalewicz. Lead You On which features vocals from Kruspe’s current flame and French Ex-pat Margaux Bossieux had my attention with its catchy rhythm and haunting melody, its Depeche Mode style electronica working well. Not so impressive was You Are So Beautiful, the less said about that the better whilst the plodding We Are Together also failed to interest. 

It’s taken three albums but at last Till Lindemann finally makes an appearance on Let’s Go, adding lyrics in German on an anthemic electronic driven tune. I’m Not Afraid lingers in the memory, with Tobias Forge of Ghost adding vocals to a keyboard dominated track which could well have come from the pen of Cardinal Copia in parts. Some blistering guitar work adds a bit of meat to this track. The seeds of growth are buried deep in this album and repeated plays will probably get me spinning round the room. Certainly, penultimate track Spitfire has plenty of dance potential. Krupse has driven his band forward and whilst I’m not there yet, it certainly has moments. 6/10

Altitudes & Attitudes: Get It Out (Megaforce Records)

This is an interesting release to say the least. With the roots of the project formed way back in 2010, Altitudes & Attitudes combines two of the thrash world’s most important bassists in Frank Bello of Anthrax and Megadave’s Dave Ellefson, supported by A Perfect Circle drummer Jeff Friedl and Stone Sour guitarist Christian Martucci and additions from several guest musicians. Bello handles all the vocals and rhythm guitar work, Ellefson covering bass and additional guitar work. The result is far removed from the usual output that the two legends are renowned for. 48 minutes of solidly crafted melodic hard rock, very much in the vein of the Foo Fighters, with Bello’s clean and warm vocals surprisingly good. 

Every track on this album is a sing-along style, except for the instrumental Leviathan, which features guitar work from Steel Panther’s Russ Parrish (that’s Satchel to those that give a bollock about SP), and some Ellefson low-end eight string ESP bass work. Other luminaries contributing include Ace Frehley on Late, a throwaway paint by numbers hard rock track and Alice Cooper’s guitarist Nita Strauss on Part Of Me and Slip. There are some deep lyrical themes behind seemingly lighter musical songs, such as Out Here (Anthrax lead guitarist Jon Donais adding his fire), which sees Bello tackling the abandonment issues he felt when his father left the family when he was young whilst Slip documents his Bronx upbringing and the neighbour who fell into a spiral of alcohol abuse. 

You also get Gus G shredding on Here Again and Randy Walker’s Hammond organ on the brooding All There Is. If you like the Foos then you should love this album. If you want Anthrax and Megadeth you’ll be bitterly disappointed. However, if you appreciate melodic hard rock then Altitudes & Attitudes may well be a surprisingly good start to 2019. The band tour the UK for four dates in February before hooking up with Slash for his European Tour. 8/10

Captain Caravan: Shun The Sun (Cursed Tongue Records)

This is the debut release from Norwegian four-piece Captain Caravan. Sitting solidly in the Southern stoner rock drawer, Shun The Sun offers many surprises over 40 minutes of thunderously impressive crashing hard rock which allows fuzzy guitars to combine with explosive drumming and crushing bass. Meandering tracks such as Illusion Of Meaning smoulder with malevolent menace, the change in pace and tone alarming and sinister. Vocalist Johnny Olsen hits the spot, his strangulated drawl and strain merging with the chaos in the background. 

Eschewing the typical stoner approach, there is variation aplenty here, with the title track seeing Olsen pushing the vocal limits, BK Saestad adding psychedelic edged guitar work reminiscent of the great Tony McPhee in The Groundhogs, whilst the rhythm section can follow their own path as the track twists and winds its way independently of any constraints. The brooding Godkiller changes style once more, a hauntingly ominous vocal aided only be vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar to great effect before the band explodes once more into the groove licious Zombie Killer with a hook and undercurrent that demands you plug in. Shun The Sun is an impressive debut from a band who ooze confidence. 7/10

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Reviews: Ayreon, Bloody Times, Blasphemer (UK), Deus Mori (Reviews By Matt, Rich & Paul H)

Ayreon: Into The Electric Castle - 20th Anniversary Edition (Mascot Records) [Rich]

Into The Electric Castle was the third album by progressive super project Ayreon released all the way back in 1998. It’s one of the fan favourites amongst the Ayreon back catalogue and so to commemorate its 20th anniversary the album has been re-released and completely remixed by Arjen Lucassen. Into The Electric Castle was an important album in Ayreon history. Previous album Actual Fantasy hadn’t sold as well as expected and wasn’t as well received by the fans so this was very much a make or break album. Thankfully the album was a success and ensured that Ayreon lived on. As previously mentioned the album has been completely remixed and sounds quite frankly magnificent. It doesn’t take anything away from the original mix of the album which still sounds fantastic but adds extra clarity and depth.

Although not my personal favourite from the Ayreon discography (01011001 will always be top for me) it’s clear to see why this is such a defining album for the project and such a fan favourite. It’s the classic mix of progressive rock, progressive metal, psychedelia, folk and electronica that Ayreon is so known for all combined into this magnum opus of a concept album spread across two discs. Arjen Lucassen didn’t hold back in his ambition with this album and the results show from the out-there science fiction concept to the frankly astonishing musicianship and songwriting throughout the album. As is given with an Ayreon album there is an impressive cast of vocalists throughout including Anneke Van Giersbergen, Fish, Sharon Den Adel, Damian Wilson and Peter Daltrey amongst others. This album also heralded the first appearance of drummer Ed Warby who would go on to drum on every Ayreon album from here on as well as the Star One albums. It was nice to revisit this album although listening to the album in one sitting is a mammoth undertaking as there is so much for you to take in.

Ayreon is a project that is definitely not for everyone with its science fiction concepts to the excessive and overblown sound and song lengths. I personally love this sound and look forward to hearing how Arjen Lucassen is going to blow my mind with every new Ayreon release. The formerly reclusive Arjen will be bringing Ayreon back to the stage in 2019 with several live performances of the entirety of Into The Electric Castle which will be a definite treat for fans. If you are a prog fan and have never heard Ayreon then this is a great starting point. 8/10

Bloody Times: On A Mission (Self Released) [Matt]

Bloody Times were founded by bassist and songwriter Simon Pfundstein, on the debut album he did pretty much everything except drums which were ably beaten by Raphael Saini. Again he's got Saini behind the kit but has ramped things up on the guitar front adding Kikidakis S. Nickolas for solos,  Balasz Fleischhauer, Marco Cossu, Rainer Pfundstein (Simon's dad) for rhythms and solos along with Judas for rhythms. The headline name though is Ross The Boss Friedman who plays rhythm and solos meaning that you can count this as another act the legendary guitarist has contributed too. Adding his chunky riffs and blistering solos to the record mainly to the 8 minute epic Alliance.

Behind the mic too is a name that fans of 'proper' metal will recognise; John Greely the singer of Iced Earth on their Night Of The Stormrider album (the one that really broke them) his muscular voice means that yes there is a big dollop of Iced Earth on this record but also the metallic power of Blaze Bayley (Die In A Hole) and of course Manowar. On A Mission is a stomping, fist pumping rager of a metal record, it's as I said classic heavy metal with roaring vocals, big chugging riffs, thumping basslines and pounding drum beats but unlike the hundreds of bands that do this style of music Simon clearly has a vision for this band that he began on the debut but he's managed to up the ante for this sophomore record recruiting some well-known faces to the band to really let it grow from a solo project to fully fledged Bloody Times are definitely On A Mission to bring back proper metal and its mission accomplished. 8/10   

Blasphemer UK: Lust Of The Goat (Grindscene Records) [Paul H]

Quite simply, this is a blisteringly excellent release. Intense and bursting with ferocity, this is death metal performed the old way. From the days of tape trading and when the scene was erupting with new talent. Having returned in 2014, Blasphemer have become a band that quite rightly are talked about with deep reverence. Lust Of The Goat opens the album, four and a half minutes of chainsaw guitars, demonic growling and abusive drumming. 

It’s tight, powerful and massively effective. Arno Cagna and Mass Firth’s double fret assault adds to the hideously monstrous sound, with the solo work lacerating. There is no let up, with brutality the watchword here. Suicidal Execution, Command To Kill, The Scythe and the bludgeoning heavy Nazarene all flatten all in their path. It may have arrived late, but this is one of 2018’s most impressive releases. 9/10

Deus Mori: And From The Trenches Bore Darkness (Self Released) [Matt]

We've seen Manchester black metal horde Deus Mori tear up the stage with our own Agrona in Fuel this year and we will again at Winter Eradication on the 15th December. So it's with glee that this debut EP landed in my inbox, although this being black metal this is the only glee that is present. What we have here is punishing, furious black metal that hails Satan, with a sound that pairs explosive black metal and a hint of punk similar to America's Necrot. Opening with the spoken word piece And From The Trenches a spoken word piece that laments the existence of God from one man who has suffered the horrors of the first world war. As the piece ends a furious bluster of tremolo picking bursts out of the speakers with some delightful D.I.Y production making the EP sound like those early black metal masterpieces.

It's Enecate and Exigne that are the twin axes here they play destructive riffs for Dødsklokken to scream out his lungs over, he's got harsh but clean sounding vocal that's almost echoed but totally understandable (which is rare). On Uprising Kronis adds a bit of cowbell and it's the first opportunity to hear Skogen's basswork when the track slows down, the punk element barrels in on The Guilty Ones which flashes by with aggression while Gospel builds before exploding into  None of the tracks are that long and it's rhythm that's the big winner here with lead breaks replacing any solos. The album is bookended by Epilogue a wartime tune played in the distance, augmented by blowing winds and crackling fires of battle lost. And From The Trenches Bore Darkness is a killer debut EP that hints at great things to come for the Mancunian band, come down to Cardiff on the 15th and see them in full flight. 8/10

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Reviews: Serpent Lord, Godsleep, Theo, Scorcher

Serpent Lord: Towards The Damned (Alcyone Music Records)

Formed in January 2017 in Thessaloniki Serpent Lord are a metal band whose songs "talk about rituals, about magic and religions, about demons, so we try to create the appropriate atmosphere on our shows" so it's occult influences bullet belt wearing classic metal which sees them taking a more theatrical route on their stage shows using "two big banners with seals from Archangels, a table with skulls, candles, books about magic and a Testament and they put candles all around the stage. Also, they have two people dressed as monks near the banners" so they have the stage conjuring of Demon or Venom but musically they sound a lot like the classic heavy metal acts and the early thrash proponents albeit filtered through a modern sheen.

Bringing some layers of acoustic guitars in on Nephilim but the  Evvio Oitovo Iman takes its cues from the grooviest Rotting Christ sound, Sodom And Gomorrah takes more acoustics for one of the albums shortest songs almost like a classical interlude into the chugging Serpent, The Lord. Musically strong and vocally better than a lot of bands that hail from Greece doing this kind of metal, Towards The Damned is a great debut album that has had a lot of time to gestate the record and they have managed to create music that sounds like the early Iced Earth and as it ends with Seed Of Divine you do find yourself reaching for the play button again for another shot of proper heavy metal. 7/10     

Godsleep: Coming Of Age (The Lab Records)

Athens based stoner metal band Godsleep have returned with their second album after their 2015 debut album, Thousand Sons Of Sleep. In that intervening years they have replaced previous singer Kostas with Amie Makris who does a brilliant job behind the mic her voice reverberates over the repeating heaviness of first track Ex-Nowhere Man, she's got a vocal similar to that of Royal Thunder's Mlny Parsonz, Blood Ceremony's Alia O'Brien or Lucifer's Joanna Sadonis, it's more soulful and raw than a lot of female vocalists but perfect for the droning, distorted, heavy riffing.

Johnny who pulls out the Sabbath licks meaning that Dennis (drums) and Fed (bass) can bring the huge thick grooves to tracks such as N.O.U which has a thundering rhythm and some grunge-like drawling vocals, it's Puku Doom that gives a melodic break ready for Basic (The Fundamentals Of Craving) to bring some psychedelic trimmings with a ceaseless building riff that bursts into the final chorus. Coming Of Age is a record that opens up as it progresses moving into more space rock realms expanding on the heavy riffage for more mind melting noises as the track length increases. Great stoner metal from the Helles, crank it up. 8/10 

Theo: Through My Eyes (Self Released)

Big fat riffs kick off this second album by the eponymous Theo who plys his trade as the guitarist for Greek melodic death metal act Descending. This is not melodic death metal at all, here he tries his hand at more alternative genres such as stoner metal and alt metal, the creeping grooves of The Truth Is Grey introduces the swampy vocals of Thanasis making his tracks have the groovy sound of Alice In Chains, however his is not the only man behind the mic Dead Inside and the title track features Alex Wamp who has the Americanized roar of Ryan McCombs in his Soil prime.

Noir lends his vocals to the creeping No More Sound and punky In Limbo  and Fotis Tampas sounds a lot like Corey Taylor when he's in Stone Sour. All of the songs here have been matched to the vocalists meaning that there is a lot of different sounds on this record but most come from the American style of heavy metal. It's Thanasis who I have affinity with though as his vocals are the most adaptable and his songs are really the best here, other than that though the album is pretty standard modern metal, good to try something different but there's a lot more out there that's better. 6/10

Scorcher: System Of Time (Steel Gallery Records)

Coming at you from Serres in Northern Greece holding their swords high and covered in armour Scorcher are power metal band who are now on their third album and they sound a bloody lot like Swedish act Steelwing as the songs whizz by with furious dual guitar riffs, galloping basslines and powerful vocals. I'd also compare them to White Wizzard as they started out as a one man project by guitarist/vocalist Vangelis Tekas which has now filled out by Chris Tekas on bass, these two men have embraced the denim and leather mentality of that 80's metal sound. System Of Time has a lot of great hooks running through it with power metal, speed metal and NWOBHM all present and correct, they've even got a progressive streak on the epic In The End which is the penultimate song on the album. Nothing ground-breaking here but enough NWOBHM-like riffs to get you through a cold winter's evening, if you like a bit of the old-school metal then this will get some rotation. 7/10

Friday, 7 December 2018

Reviews: Roine Stolt, Anneke Van Giersbergen, Jason Becker, Master's Call (Matt & Rich)

Roine Stolt's The Flower King: Manifesto Of An Alchemist (InsideOut) [Matt]

If you know anything about European prog rock then you'll probably know the name of Roine Stolt he's the guitar/singer/writer of numerous bands including Transatlantic, Anderson/Stolt and more recently The Sea Within, here though he returns to The Flower King moniker that he's always been associated with, he has with him a host of Flower Kings collaborators in the shape of Jones Reingold, Hans Froberg & Michael Stolt, this is not a Flower King's album, if anything it's a Stolt solo album using the sounds that he has always created no matter what project he's been apart of. On Lost America the first 'proper' song brings once again those huge progressive soundscape in a song that moves between floating The Beatles-like psych and big riffing rock music.

Here Stolt takes the lead vocals like he did on the first The Flower Kings album (he's the main lead vocalist for most of the album) but he's backed by many of his buddies with additional musicians being Marco Minnemann, Max Lorentz, Zach Kamins, Rob Townsend & Nad Sylvan all of whom have worked with Stolt on other projects. So it's a menagerie of prog rock musicians making some complicated but brilliantly realised melodic prog music from the buzzing synths that start off the 10 minute plus High Road which builds up into some soaring guitar playing before the triumphant conclusion, to the primal, jazz percussion of Rio Grande, Manifesto Of An Alchemist is 70 minutes of music that incorporates what Roine Stolt has been crafting his entire career, if intelligent progressive music that looks back but stays relevant is your bag then you'll need this album. 8/10

Anneke Van Giersbergen: Symphonized - Live With Residentie Orkest (InsideOut) [Rich]

Anneke Van Giersbergen is easily one of the hardest working singers in music. She has a career spanning 25 years from her tenure fronting The Gathering to her Agua De Annique albums, her solo records to her countless collaborations with artists such as Arjen Lucassen, Devin Townsend and countless other bands. To commemorate those 25 years Anneke performed two shows alongside the prestigious Residentie Orkest The Hague one of the most renowned orchestras in Europe and this is the result a stunningly beautiful live album containing jaw dropping renditions of songs from throughout her career.

Unlike a lot of live albums of this type where you usually have the band playing alongside the orchestra the music is provided solely by the orchestra. Anneke worked alongside artistic director Sven Arne Tepl to create new renditions of her songs and the results absolutely speak for themselves. Material is drawn from her solo albums, The Gathering, VUUR and The Gentle Storm and it sounds simply magnificent. Songs such as Feel Alive, Amity, You WIll Never Change, Freedom - Rio and Shores Of India are elevated to new levels sounding both gentle and intimate and huge and bombastic. Pretty much the entire duration of this live album I have had my arm hairs standing on end. Anneke is easily one of my favourite singers and she sounds simply incredible throughout the album.

This is simply a must hear live album. It will have broad appeal to fans of many genres of music not just rock, metal or classical. The choice of songs is strong and a great representation of Anneke’s 25 year musical career. I hope the shows were filmed as it was be amazing to watch this concert on a DVD or Blu-Ray. 9/10

Jason Becker: Triumphant Hearts (Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group) [Matt]

I'm not a musician, I've said this before, I did used to sing in a metal band, but I know very little about playing an instrument. However having said this I like to think I understand musicians and the story of Jason Becker has always been one that I've followed quite closely. Becker was a child prodigy and rose to prominence as one half of Cacophony with Marty Friedman (who later joined Megadave), he also took over from Steve Vai as David Lee Roth's guitar player in his solo band. Right as his career was on the rise he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, this debilitating illness meant that Becker lost his ability to walk, talk, play the guitar and even breathe on his own. This was 29 years ago and his struggle was documented in the documentary Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet which if you haven't seen it is both heartbreaking and inspirational as even though he has MND he still writes music, communicating through a series of eye movements with a system developed by his father, Jason spells out words as well as musical notes and chords, which in turn are notated by a computer for musicians to play.

So to the album and it's brilliant, Becker's knowledge of classical and orchestral compositions is on display throughout starting with the beautiful title track which has huge string swells from Glauco Bertagnin (violin) and cellist Hiyori Okuda with her husband Friedman contributing guitar playing at the end of this fantastic opening overture showing just how talented Becker is a musician. Friedman is not the only guest as Uli Jon Roth and Chris Broderick on Magic Woman, Joe Satriani and Guthrie Govan on River Of Longing all add their guitar talent along with Becker himself on Once Upon A Melody and We Are One (culled from old Cacophony tracks). it's not string wizards though he's also got the beautiful vocals of Codnay Holiday on the gospel-tinged Hold On To Love, Flypside singer Steve Knight on We Are One along with a Ukulele master and talented session crew bringing these dense cinematic compositions to life, this isn't a fret fest much of the music here is orchestral with the guitar used to embellish but it could be Becker's masterpiece. A thoroughly excellent album for any music fan to enjoy, the performances from everyone involved are at the very top of the class but it's the writing that makes it the fantastic album it really is. This has come late in 2018 but damn it may sneak on to some end of year lists. 9/10     

Master's Call: Morbid Black Trinity (Self Released) [Matt]

The debut EP by Master's Call has been conjured up by some of the most experienced members of the extreme metal world. It's blackened death metal at its most ferocious as Shayan (Trivax) barks, growls and snarls his way through the unholy darkness of blistering drum blasts and frenetic tremolo picking all stuck together with the thump of death metal. It's only three tracks long but the vast darkness of this record is clear from the off, the EP "encompasses darkness of faith, body and spirit" and splits this across three excellent tracks. Opening with From Once Beneath The Cursed which tells of the manifestation the hate and evil in the world into a physical embodiment as a groove-infected death metal track.

The EP has great production finish to it and some progressive songwriting that twists these songs into gnarled Satanic death metal. They rally against dogmatic religion on The Spire Cranes which is the straight forward black metal rager Dave Powell and John Wilcox unleashing six string savagery while Adam Trickleback and James Williams unleash (un)holy hell with a pummelling rhythm section. The EP closes with the more gothic stylings of My Eyes Are The Night which is a triumphant way to finish this record, at just three songs it's a brief dalliance with what Master's Call are about but I hope they can conjure this evil again for a long player. 8/10

Thursday, 6 December 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Magpie Salute (Live Review By Paul H)

The Magpie Salute & Maker, The Fiddlers Club

A damp and drizzly night in Bristol saw a capacity house crammed like sardines to witness an impressive if slightly soulless show from The Magpie Salute, the band formed by Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes. A later start time is the norm at Fiddlers, and whilst I have been here a couple of times before, it doesn’t have the warmth or character of other Bristol venues such as The Fleece or The Exchange.

At 9pm support band Maker (8) ambled onto the stage. By this time the main room was already packed to the rafters and having secured a decent vantage point for Mrs H we spent some of the evening with a very inconsistent security guard who insisted on standing in front of us because “it’s where I have to stand” before wandering off and returning at various intervals during the evening. Anyway, Maker is a four-piece from Kent who play bluesy rock n’ roll which was perfect for the evening. Vocalist Alessandro Marinelli was in fine form, his soulful voice matching the music and his humour also impressed.

“We’d love to chat, but we’ve got thirty minutes to get through first”. Alongside Marinelli, Andre Donaldson played some fine guitar whilst brother Gavin laid down a steady beat on drums. The band is completed by John Austin on bass. Their swagger has a warmth which was heartening whilst their Zeppelin, Faces and Primal Scream sound was both retro and current. With a selection of tracks from their recent debut album Dead Ends And Avenues (recorded at Rockfield Studios) aired through their set, this is a band who are worth a listen.

With the temperature soaring still higher, the 40-minute wait for The Magpie Salute (8) was a bit uncomfortable. Penned to one side of the venue, the bar was inaccessible due to the huge scrum in front of it. Still, we were there for the music and eventually Rich Robinson, Marc Ford and Sven Pipen, all former members of the Black Crowes of course joined by John Hogg, Joe Magistro and Matt Slocum entered the stage to a huge ovation and proceeded to deliver an eclectic and compelling two hours of delightful musical magic, drawn from their vast history and influences. Opening with the explosive title track from their High Water I album (from which eight tracks were played), the quality of the musicians on stage, which was never in doubt, was immediately demonstrated by a ten-minute extended jam which allowed Ford and Robinson to flex their fingers. The remainder of the set was incredibly varied, with What Goes On and Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ by the Velvet Underground, a track from Marc Ford’s own solo work, the fabulous Smoke Signals and a Rich Robinson solo song Yesterday I Saw You amongst the setlist.

Hogg is an efficient frontman, with a smoky drawl and an interesting stage presence. At times it was difficult to tell whether he was amused or irritated by the constant heckling that a couple of boorish members of the crowd felt was appropriate to hurl at the stage after each song had finished. Despite this, the band moved swiftly through an 18-track set, which also included a slower paced three song acoustic set, featuring Hogg, Ford and Robinson on acoustic guitars as they played Sister Moon from High Water I, You Don’t Have To Cry (Crosby, Stills and Nash) and the first of five Black Crowes songs, Lay It All On Me. Unfortunately, this was somewhat marred by the inevitable chatter that appears so prevalent at gigs these days. People. Shut the fuck up!

As the set moved into Black Crowes territory, and despite the obvious quality on stage, Magistro looking almost disinterested as he moved around his kit with consummate ease, whilst I don’t recall Slocum breaking his frown all evening, there was a feeling of a band who despite their close bonds and long history, appeared to lack the warmth you might expect to see. Maybe that’s down to the individual members, but there was little laughter, few smiles and an absence of the camaraderie you might expect from musicians who’ve worked together, in some cases for many years. Musically superb, the songs were brilliant and there was no doubting that this was a gig where the opportunity to be up close and personal was not to be sniffed at. Yet at the back of the mind, a slight niggle that there should be a bit more enjoyment on display. This may have been as much about us as it was about the band, as the sound was also variable throughout the evening, despite the prolonged sound check.

As The Magpie Salute finished their main set with the Crowes’ Horsehead and their own Send Me An Omen, we decided to beat a retreat before the rest of the crowd. An enjoyable evening slightly marred by the overfull venue and the inevitable idiots in the crowd.

A View From The Back Of The Room: You Me At Six (Live Review By Alex)

You Me At Six, Marmozets & Xcerts, Cardiff Students Union

You Me At Six have grown up musically, which adds up as their audience have as well. Taking a quick look around Cardiff University Students Union, the fans are mostly young adults, and likely the same people who fell in love with the band upon the release of their critically acclaimed debut, Take Off Your Colours. As adored as that album is though, there’s only so many times one group of musicians can sing about petty relationship drama while lacing their lyrics with not so subtle innuendo, before they outgrow the look. I personally switched off shortly after that debut and haven’t really thought about Josh Franceschi and co. much since. I am pleased to say that on the show today, is a far more refined, matured YMAS, playing a style of Indy, which while still bearing the marks of late-era pop punk is not bratty or teenage, but rather memorable and inspired.

New and upcoming act the Xcerts (7) are an enjoyable opener. Their bright and danceable style of Indy-pop proving rather infectious, as the colorful keyboard work complements the equally vivid guitar melodies. Standing out most though is vocalist Murray Macleod’s part confident and part pretty, audience interaction between songs. ‘We have a new record out called, Hold On To Your Heart, who has heard it?’ he shouts at one point before singling out a group of people on their phones, asking ‘have the people your texting heard it?’ To be fair though, seeing people actively taking a lack of interest in your set can't be appealing, and the rock world is no stranger to smug arrogance. While his demeanor is somewhat more meaningful than joking, it does not detract massively from my enjoyment of the fast and uplifting music

Next up to impress is Marmozets (9) and I do mean Impress. Their particular style of traditional hard rock, mixed with Riot Grrrl Punk, is only enjoyed by a certain subset of the crowd tonight, probably owing to the somewhat strange lineup. Yet their ferocious performance undoubtedly wins over some people tonight. One concertgoer behind me expresses to their friend, a distaste for the main support act beforehand, yet gushes glowing praise after the end of the last song. Pooling mostly from their new album, Knowing what you know Now, Becca Macintyre’s entire performance is commanding and brave, as are those of the rest of the band. My initial reaction is that they would prove an extremely difficult act to follow, especially given my relationship with each of the bands performing tonight. Little did I know, next up was my turn to be pleasantly surprised!

Let me be clear, as much as I may kid, I have no resentment towards You Me At Six (8) none. They can certainly play, have kept playing despite not exactly gathering many new fans over the years, and even their amateurish debut was decent for an introductory release. Even more so, the dancing and singing they inspire from the crowd is a pleasant sight indeed. From old favorites – Loverboy, Stay With Me, Save It For The Bedroom – to newer songs – Cold Night, Straight To My Head, Night People – our collected voices climb above the blaring amplifiers to create a chorus of excited fans. Franceschi confesses that he is struggling to sing tonight, and is visibly overjoyed to see the audience helping him out at every opportunity. Clearly feeding off the energy in the room the band play and perform as if this is their first time having the privilege of performing for the Welsh. They do however make clear their love for playing here, our frontman reeling off a list of venues that he has enjoyed playing before - Newport Centre, Brangwyn Hall, TJ’s - before proudly reminding everyone that he is, in fact, half Welsh himself.

Finishing on Underdog, there is seemingly a competition of how much crowd surfing can there be in five minutes, adding to the fun in the room, at least for those of us who aren't crushed. Overall, I am incredibly surprised at how much I enjoyed You Me At Six, given my years of overlooking them. While I’m perfectly aware that this may say more about me than anyone, it’s a great experience to rediscover a band in a live setting, finding that they've matured and grown as musicians.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Reviews: Death Is Just The Beginning, Hundred Year Year Old Man, Goblinsmoker (Reviews By Paul S)

Death Is Just The Beginning MMXVIII - Various Artists

Nuclear Blast have been releasing Death Metal since the late eighties. Part of their output has been their Death Is Just The Beginning compilation albums. Before the internet the record label sampler was an important way to find out about bands, and a way to decide which albums to risk your hard earned cash on. Well, Nuclear Blast have brought their well loved compilation back, but is it any good?

Benediction - Tear Off These Fucking Wings (Demo) (8) Old school death/doom. Brutal, guttural and heavy as fuck. Being a demo it’s raw and low-fi, perfect sound for the material.
Kataklysm - The Awakener (Re-recorded) (7) Fast and brutal old school death metal. Nice melodic break in the middle of the song.

Hypocrisy - They Lie (Exploited Cover) (8) Death metal band covering a punk song. Sounds quite thrashy, which is fair enough. Enjoyable blast of energy.

The Spirit - Illuminate The Night Sky (8) Cracking piece of Watain / Dissection style Black Metal. Tuneful, melodic whilst also being pretty brutal. Probably the strongest track from their album Sounds From The Vortex.

Memoriam - The War Wages On (Demo) (8) Mid-paced old school death metal. Driving and powerful, with a really good sound considering it’s a demo.

Insidious Disease - Soul Excavation (Unreleased New Song) (7) Fairly melodic and tuneful track from this Death Metal super group.

Possessed - Abandoned (Unreleased Demo Of New Song) (7) Quite thrashy death metal from these pioneers of the genre. Enjoyable head banger!

Thy Art Is Murder - The Son Of Misery (7) Technically proficient deathcore. Not too bad, considering it’s deathcore.

Immolation - Morbid Visions (Featuring Max Cavalera) (Sepultura Cover) (8) Really fast cover of one of Sepultura’s best songs. Lead singer sounds very familiar!

Nailed To Obscurity - King Delusion (Unreleased New Song) (6) German Melodic Death Metal. Doesn’t flow very well, I can understand why this track hasn’t been released before!

Bleeding Gods - Beloved By Artemis (7) Fast Death / Thrash from the Netherlands. Brutal moments, separated by nice melodic parts.

Decapitated - Sane (Meshuggah Cover) (6) I’m afraid I’ve never been much of a Decapitated or Meshuggah fan, not sure why, they’ve always left me cold. So this cover of a Meshuggah track by Decapitated really isn’t my cup of tea, but if you are a fan of these bands it’s probably brilliant. But, I have to give my honest opinion, which is: Meh.

Aenimus - Before The Eons (Unreleased New Song) (7) Very technical Deathcore, clearly great musicians, melodic and tuneful.

Paradise Lost - Frozen Illusion (Previously Released Japanese B-side) (8) Really heavy piece of doom from Paradise Lost, verging on Death/Doom. Harsh vocals throughout. Similar in style to their album Lost Paradise.

Carcass - A Wraith In The Apparatus (6) Choppy technical death metal, mid-paced and a little lacklustre. Definitely not Carcass’s best.

Brujeria - Viva Presidente Trump! (Previously Only Available Digitally And On Vinyl) (7) Bonkers, Trump hating hardcore, lots of samples, lots of fun!

So, there you go, not bad at all. Lots of good, interesting music with only a couple of duff tracks. I’ll be giving the whole thing a mark based on the average of those scores (which should annoy our editor, as we aren’t meant to give scores that aren’t in whole numbers, however, that's how averages work so he’ll just have to argue with Maths about that). One observation that I’d like to make (not a criticism, just an observation) is that this wouldn’t work very well as a sampler, as most of the tracks are rarities or oddities of one sort or another, so you aren’t hearing what the bands usually do. Obviously that isn’t a problem now, as we have YouTube and Spotify to check bands out on, so compilation albums can be collections of rarities as this is. Death Is Just The Beginning MMXVIII is on the whole, a very good collection. Definitely worth a go. 7.1875 /10 (One time you're allowed it - Ed)  

Hundred Year Old Man: Breaching (Gizeh Records)

Leeds based Hundred Year Old Man describe themselves as ambient post metal, which is a label I’m not going to argue with. The bands style isn’t immediately obvious, they aren’t a band that fits easily into any predefined genre, and ambient post metal is a good description. In addition to the ambient and post metal elements I can hear some doom, sludge and drone in there as well. Breaching is the bands first full length, released only a few months after their an EP called Rei.

The album starts with a dissonant ambient intro called Breaching, which draws the listener into the album. Next track Black Fire is a huge, slow droney doom song. The pace is slow but powerful, like continental drift, with angry sludgy vocals that cut through the huge riffs. The song has a couple of very soft ambient sections that intersperse the huge crushing riffs. The Forest is a more aggressive and relentless track than Black Fire. Despite the power and aggression of this track, it also manages to have a mournful feel to the layered guitars. This song also has a softer middle section, complete with spoken vocal samples (something that happens on several tracks). Next is a short ambient piece called Clearing The Salients. It has a drone quality to it that gives the track an ethereal and minimalistic sense. Clearing The Salients has a palate cleansing effect on the listener, a brief respite from the heaviness and anger.

Long Wall starts with slow and unrelenting riffs, played in a restrained way. The song gets more and more powerful and intense as the song goes on. The second half of the song has a faster, more attacking pace to it, until the last part of the song where the layering of instruments gives it a slightly more ethereal feel. Disconnect has a mellower feel to the material that comes before it. There is more melody and the track has a floaty, dreamlike quality to it. The song does get more intense as it goes along, and the vocals are more measured, and maybe a little less angry. Cease is another palate cleansing piece of ambient, similar to Clearing The Salients but a little more dreamlike.

Final song Ascension has a similar feel to Disconnect. The track fades up slowly, with simple guitar riffs and single tones, before an uncomplicated undistorted riff comes in and introduces a drum beat to the song. The song has the same dreamlike quality that we met on Disconnect, there seem to be many layered instruments by the time we get to the last third of the song. The final two songs; Disconnect and Ascension have a less aggressive, or angry feel to them. The album seem so be moving from anger and pain on the first few tracks, to a resolution on the last two tracks, and this feels so satisfying. Breaching isn’t an album that will be rushed, all the songs take their time to get going, and the band is quite happy to fade songs out over a long time. This is a band that takes their time, but that is a great thing. The songs have time to develop properly, and this gives the album real depth. I’ve really enjoyed listening to it, if you are patient and give the album the time it deserves, you will get a lot out of it. 8/10

Goblinsmoker: Toad King (Sludgelord Records)

Goblinsmoker are a 2 piece from Durham, Toad King is their debut EP. Goblinsmoker is A (Guitar, Bass and Vocals) and C (Drums). So, what do we have from Goblinsmoker as their first try? Well we get 3 tracks of horrifically heavy sludge. First track Toad King is a massive slab of huge, aggressive sludge. The riffs are immense, with a guitar sound that is as fuzzy as it is huge. The tempo is slow, but with an energy that makes you head-bang, whether you want to or not. There is a similarity in feel to early Electric Wizard to the riffing and guitar and bass sounds. The vocals are unbelievably harsh and nasty. The vocals wouldn’t be out of place on a black metal album, the anger is visceral and rasping; or to put it another way, they’re fantastic.

Take The Dead has a long slow intro that just makes the opening riff even huger, and more powerful. The dynamics of this song are off the scale, so monumentally huge, and the vocals are even nastier that the opener. Last track Time To Ride goes strait for the enormous, right from the start. This song is off the charts in terms of how heavy and how huge it sounds, I’m genuinely impressed they have managed to fit it into the known universe. Toad King is a great EP. I’ve really enjoyed listening to it. It has the thing that all great EP’s have; I wanted more. If I get to the end of an EP and feel sad that it wasn’t an album, then that is a great sign. Superb EP guys, now make a full length so I can enjoy being beaten to a pulp for a bit longer! 8/10

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Those Damn Crows, Blind River & Tayn (Review By Paul H)

Those Damn Crows, Blind River & TAYN, The Patriot, Crumlin

It’s been hell of a year for all of the bands on this bill, with Those Damn Crows hitting new heights across the classic rock world. A number of high profile tours, the most recent as support to Skindred has seen their music played with regularity on Planet Rock. Further appearances at Planet Rockstock and main support to Stone Broken in the New Year suggest that the Bridgend boys will hit even greater popularity next year. However, it wasn’t them that Mrs H, the Ed and I were interested in. Nope, it was Blind River, who we saw at the same venue in June as support to Marco Mendoza (don’t worry, we didn’t watch that strutting cock).

We’ve described The Patriot MC before in these pages; suffice to say it was brilliant to return to this fabulous welcoming venue once more. A relaxed approach to timings saw doors at 8 but no bands hit the stage before 9. Opening act TAYN (8) were a pleasant discovery. The Cornwall four-piece play a doom soaked gothic tinged dark rock which was slightly out of kilter with the other bands but as their set developed the blues edge to their music came through more and more. Led by the enthusiastic Lucian on vocals, the band blasted their way through a number of songs which will hopefully surface in the near future as I’d really like to spend a bit of time listening to them. Bassist Darren threw ever increasingly hysterical shapes as the set progressed whilst I had hat envy over drummer Tats’ choice of headwear. TAYN were an impressive opening act who would be worth checking out again.

Whilst TAYN have some exciting potential, Guildford’s Blind River (10) are on a different level. This was the fourth time I’d seen the band and they are improving with ever show. Honing their craft with hard work and numerous gigs, the band are confident and have a swagger that never comes across as arrogant. Kicking off with Going Nowhere, the band quickly hit warp speed. Having released one of the albums of 2018, it was a joy to hear tracks such as Enter The Creature, Bonehouse and Peacemaker live once more. Led by the fabulous Harry Armstrong, the crowd swelled and the dancing increased in number and veracity. Sharp guitar work from Dan Edwards and Chris Charles is assured with this band and they showed their experience as the set developed. With a semi naked rhythm section attracting attention from many in the room, the set flew by and it was suddenly time for Can't Sleep Sober, an anthem that resonated with many in the room. The band have a support slot with Inglorious in the New Year; disappointingly they aren’t on the slot at Bristol but if you do get to see them, you certainly won’t be short changed. A superb band who deserve all the plaudits they are getting.

After that, it was a real challenge to maintain any interest in Those Damn Crows (7). The Bridgend boyos have worked exceptionally hard and have proved themselves the masters of self promotion. The number of shirts bearing their name in the packed venue is evidence of that . I just find them a little bland and after four numbers their songs were already blurring into one with their format too repetitive to maintain my interest. I remember being very impressed with the band at Hard Rock Hell a couple of years ago. They were raw and full of energy. Whilst that energy and hunger still remains, they have inevitably smoothed out their songs and their radio friendly hard rock just doesn’t do it anymore. Good luck to them though; another Welsh band that are breaking into the mainstream and I wish them every success. I’m unlikely to be there for the ride though.

Reviews: Metal Church, Sigh, The Three Tremors, Sarah Longfield (By Paul H & Matt)

Metal Church: Damned If You Do (Nuclear Blast) [Paul H]

Two and a half years after the excellent XI announced the return of Mike Howe to the Metal Church, the San Franciscan powerhouse is back with a thunderous new release. Bolstered by the arrival of new drummer Stet Howland who has been behind the kit for their live commitments for the past 18 months, this is ten tracks of solid, enjoyable and thoroughly magical old school Metal Church. The title track opens proceedings, Howe on superb snarling form, his lower tones complimented by his ability to still hit the higher notes with ease. The Black Things follows, a thick beefy tune which chugs along at pace, guitarists Rick Van Zandt and Kurt Vanderhoof exchanging visceral riffs. If XI was an intense ride, Damned If You Do at the very least accelerates even harder. The riffs are bigger, heavier and more crushing, whilst Howland and Steve Unger have the rhythm section locked down perfectly.

This is the band’s 12th album and they show no signs of weariness. Mike Howe always stated that the intention of the band was always to put out more music or as he put it “then it’s time to go away for me”. Well, Mike might as well settle in because if the band continue to deliver quality at this level there will be no chance that he will be allowed to leave. By The Numbers is a standard Metal Church song, punchy and ferocious, whilst Revolution Underway is doused in melody and a hook big enough to catch Moby Dick, the calmer less thrashing approach providing welcome respite after the intensity of the opening three songs. Metal Church has always delivered the epic piece well, and this is no exception.

It’s followed by Guillotine, another five-minute chuck of angry vociferous thrashing metal which may not be the strongest but certainly isn’t a filler of a song. I particularly enjoyed the stomp of Monkey Finger, maybe a little bit different to their usual approach but it certainly ticked boxes with me, a catchy chorus and robust structure getting the head nodding. A final cracking double of Out Of Balance with its speed and power and the thumping The War Electric with Howe’s shrill pitch working overtime bring this extremely strong album to an epic conclusion. 9/10

Sigh: Heir To Despair (Candlelight Records) [Paul H]

Extreme black metal legends Sigh have evolved their sound over many years since they emerged from Japan back in 1989. They are very much more experimental and avant-garde in their style today and their latest release, Heir To Despair is an interesting combination of extreme thrash, symphonic black metal which combines industrial and even jazz elements into one massive ball of crazy. Homo Homini Lupus is case in point, with a 70s style Hammond breakdown sandwiched between some full on 100mph metal which verges on the power metal boundary. The introduction of a flute adds to the Rammstein style Hunters Not Horned, which has gallons of groove underpinning it. With percussion, woodwind, vocoder and saxophone amongst the instruments engaged across the entire breadth of this album, there is both variety and bat shit craziness. The three part centre-piece of the album, Heresy I – Oblivium, Hersey II – Acosmism and Heresy III -Sub Specie Aeteritatis illustrate the sheer variety on offer. It’s certainly retained some of the early sinister darkness but really, you just have to listen to this for yourself to form a real opinion. No boxes or pigeon holing of one of the most interesting albums of the year. 8/10

The Three Tremors: S/T (Steel Cartel Records) [Matt]

The Three Tremors (I know, I know) are a band featuring Tim 'Ripper' Owens, Sean Peck and Harry Conklin their mission statement is to be “Three times louder than a sonic boom" and the "three fingers on the hand of doom!" so as soon as you press play you can hear why there is such hyperbole around this record, it's mad from moment one with three insanely powerful voices working in unison screaming to the heavens over the top of speed metal riffs. Tim Owens is probably best known for his tenures in Judas Priest and Iced Earth, Sean Peck is the voice of Cage and Death Dealer meanwhile Harry Conklin fronts Jag Panzer.

With so much vocal power and machismo on display it's hard to think this record is going to be subtle and it isn't, it's full of chest beating, sabre rattling heavy metal based on classical and fantasy themes. The backing tracks are supplied by guitarists Dave “Conan” Garcia and Casey “The Sentinel” Trask alongside bassist Alex Pickard and drummer Sean Elg but all three voices blend into one another due to their similarity which is no bad thing as it adds depth to this album that doesn't differ much from any of these three men's normal bands. If you're looking for lullaby's or prog noodling this won't be the album for you, however if you want some balls to the wall metal posturing then The Three Tremors are a seismic force to be reckoned with. 7/10 

Sarah Longfield: Disparity (Season Of Mist) [Matt]

Sarah Longfield is a Wisconsin based multi-instrumentalist and YouTube star, her guitar tutorial and other videos seem to be the scourge of some of the guitar playing members of the MoM. She's renowned as one of the best 7 & 8-string guitar players in the world and on this album she shows that guitar playing is not just full on shred, here she plays technically proficient guitar full of appreggio's but there is no Friedman style distortion, the tracks on this album are all played cleanly, with ambient soundscapes that build the amount of instruments on every track bringing in horns, keys, loops and of course Longfield's lilting voice.

Musically it's all over shop with some heavy grooves The Fall giving way to soothing smooth sounds (Citrine) and world music influences (Sun). It's a complex album for sure but with broad appeal those not musically accomplished as it can be fluid music to relax too and enjoy, while those who are musos will obsess over the playing on this record. If you can imagine Anneke Van Giersbergen fronting Terria-era Devin and you'll understand what Disparity sounds like. An interesting eclectic album worth investing in. 7/10

Monday, 3 December 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Conan (Review By Rich)

Conan, Conjurer & Made Of Teeth, Clwb Ifor Bach

Whilst Wales was being battered by Storm Diana, Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff was about to have its own storm of epic proportions unleashed upon it. One that would have the venue shaking as if the building would collapse entirely provided ably by three incredibly loud and heavy bands.

Despite knowing most of the band this was the first time I had seen local noisy bastards Made Of Teeth (7) perform their own brand of noise (sorry guys). Drawing from material off their self titled debut album and their upcoming second album Made Of Teeth made sure to set the tone for the night and that tone was loud and ugly. The band draw from a wide range of influences and to me they sounded like a cross between the heavier side of Melvins and Black Flag with dirty sludgy riffing mixed with hardcore punk ferocity. The riffs were plentiful, the drums were battering and the dual vocal attack of Chris West and Tom Cole was gnarly and pissed off. A great way to get things going.

I have previously gushed about my love of Conjurer (9) and how they seem to improve every time I see them live and they carried on this tradition by absolutely stealing the show. The band have a vast and varied sound and so they cannot be pigeonholed into a specific genre taking cues from sludge metal, death metal and post-rock amongst others. Conjurer are simply utterly mesmerising live with their songs are so perfectly crafted between atmospheric build up and crushing pay off. Conjurer songs can make you feel like you are floating in a warm soundscape before dropping you back to earth and pummelling you with gargantuan riffs. Conjurer are still one of the most exciting underground UK bands and I implore you all to see them live if you haven’t already.

Conan (8) are one of the heaviest and most intense live bands out there with a severely downtuned and distorted sound which you can feel as much as you can hear so seeing them in a small room was definitely going to be a treat. Conan take the formula of doom metal and take out any complications or sophistication forging it into a force of complete and utter brute force. This is music as a weapon and is the equivalent of having boulders launched in your direction. The riffs whilst simplistic are so damn effective and it is impossible not to bang your head when those crushing moments come as many of the Cardiff audience very enthusiastically did. Whilst Conjurer were a very difficult act to follow Conan rose up to the challenge and delivered in spades. An absolutely fantastic and brutal show.

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

Lazuli, The Exchange, Bristol

Racing across the country to get to a gig is never much fun, but having sat on the Transport For Wales train for 90 minutes longer than necessary because some poor sod got hit by a train, it was rewarding to find that French progressive outfit Lazuli (9) were playing a two hour set. With eight albums to choose from, there was no shortage of material to play and the Frenchmen set about their task with a vigour and enthusiasm that deserved and demanded a much larger audience than the 50 or soul hardy souls who made the effort. For those of you who have missed this fantastic band, Lazuli hail from Southern France and were formed in 1998 by brothers Claude and Dominique Leonetti. The band play everything from soft, instrumental progressive rock to harder, rocky songs but all with an unique style, although at times reminiscent of Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree. Claude uses a Leode which he invented and designed himself after losing the use of his left hand in a motorbike accident. Add in percussion, vibraphone and French horn as well as keyboards and guitar and you have a potent mix.

Despite the small audience the band soldiered on as if they were headlining a venue twenty times as big and although there were a few minor technical difficulties, the band raced through a fabulous set from their catalogue including several from this year’s fabulous Saison 8. Having seen the band three times before, I know what the band are capable of and with no support and free reign this was a couple of steps up from previous shows. Tracks from Nos Ames Saolues included the hauntingly beautiful Le Temps Est A La Rage, Le Lierre and the stunning Chaussures A Nos Pieds. Poignant moments included Dominique’s broken English as he wished that the UK would not split from Europe post Brexit, and the refugee references in the introduction to the spectacular Le Cotes. Humble beyond belief, the smiles of Dominique, guitarist Gederec Beyar, keyboardist Romain Thorel and percussionist Vincent Barnavol and Claude (once he had sorted his technical gremlins) were infectious and as you scanned the room, everyone was beaming with sheer joy.

This is a band that grab your attention and refuse to let you change direction for a second, such is the joy that they generate. Having played for over two hours, Lazuli concluded their evening in their usual style with a dramatic five person vibraphone climax. An enormous ovation saw the band take a lengthy bow which was totally deserved. If you like music, then Lazuli should be checked out immediately. They may not be bone crunching metal but they are some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever seen. A fabulous evening yet again from a band who are just astounding.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Tesseract

Tesseract, Between The Buried And Me & Plini, SWX Bristol

I'm a bit partial to Tesseract their style of anthemic djent has cemented them as one of the genre leaders along with Periphery. This was their biggest tour yet bringing with them American oddballs Between The Buried And Me and Australian guitarist Plini playing venues such as SWX in Bristol (which is rapidly becoming one of my favourites). The nightclub-come-venue was full when I arrived and due to the traffic I all but missed Plini's set arriving for the last two songs but he's an incredible guitar player backed by a very impressive band, due to the instrumental nature some could have been turned off but most of the room were nodding their heads in unison to the groovy riffs and fluid guitar lines, in between the songs Plini's warm nature shone through looking genuinely happy for so many people arriving early to watch his set.

A bit of break and the change over in darkness before American's Between The Buried And Me (5) took to the stage, now I'll admit that I've struggled with them on record but I never write a band off until I've seen them live and unfortunately BTBAM did nothing to change my opinion on a Tuesday night in Bristol. Their music is complex, jazz influenced almost improvisational similar to Van Der Graaf Generator or King Crimson although with a modern metal heaviness but where I really struggle is with the vocals which veer wildly from slightly off-key heavily vocodered clean mumbling to emo-screams neither of which sat right with music. The other major issue was the sound which made everything really muddy meaning nothing was overly audible. As they finished there was a real hardcore at the front that loved it but I just don't get the appeal I'm afraid.

No such sound issues for the headliners, bringing their own sound engineer with them, the change over was different to anything else as a slow steady pulse played over the PA, it was all deliberate building an atmosphere as their lighting rig was brought on to the stage. Having seen them play last supporting Devin Townsend it was their light show that really impressed me well this has been stepped up as soon as the pulse gave way to first track Luminary which saw the band take to the stage triumphantly the string section of James, Acle and Amos bringing thick chunky grooves mixed with more ethereal ambient textures over the top, the Acle and Amos moving and riffing away as James cuts a large figure on the left of stage.

It was all anchored brilliantly by drummer Jay who plays with flair and gives lots of space on the more recent melodic material. All eyes though were on frontman Dan who's voice I swear gets better every time I see them and his stage presence is brilliant leading the crowd in their enjoyment throwing his hands in the air and bouncing like and energiser bunny. The stage show was still majestic the lighting rigs span, flipped and flashed throughout casting the band in shadow for much of the set but occasionally giving you a glimpse of them in full flight, as they brought out their heavier songs early playing Concealing Fate Parts 2 & 3 in succession getting those who have been there since that first Concealing Fate EP going before moving into the more recent tracks from the brilliant Sonder and Polaris with Dystopia, Hexes, Juno and King the highlights each track matched by the visuals which were breathtaking. The obvious climax was Concealing Fate: Part 1 but with a 14 song setlist with definite peaks and troughs throughout it was an amazing set from the UK djentlemen who have outgrown that tag to be honest, turning into a much more mature prospect. Despite the supports not really floating my boat Tesseract (9) put on a masterclass in stage performance in Bristol.          

Saturday, 1 December 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Skindred (Live Review By Alex & Konstantina)

Skindred, Those Damn Crown, Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics, Tramshed Cardiff

[Konstantina] When one of Wales biggest bands come to town you know it's going to be a party and because of that you need a opening act that lights the flame on the evening. It was up to Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics (9) to start the night creating a wild opening atmosphere. Brilliantly dressed in a fabulous suit to compete with the The 'Dred's always immaculate frontman while also adding a dash of Freddie Mercury. It was a frenzied performance from Aaron and his band that got the crowd going as the skilled band cranked out their now well worn, honed setlist of fiery rock tracks taken from their debut album (Fire In The Fields Of Mayhem) and the Heaven's Basement full length (Heartbreakin' Son Of A Bitch).

Having more space on stage than the venues we've seen them in previously it meant that master of ceremonies Aaron had more room to work his magic. As the set continued at full pace from the opening song he spent a lot of time in the crowd and completed his usual headstand, as security scrambled around. With hard rock passed through a Queen sound they even included snippets of Paranoid, My Sharona, The Trooper, Can't Stand Losing You during Dancin' Down Below again competing with the headliners. A brilliant way to start the night (although I am a little biased) setting the bar high for the local acts to follow.

Next up were Those Damn Crows (7) who we last saw supporting Aaron in Clwb Ifor Bach, since then they have signed to Earache Records and re-released their album for a bigger audience to hear. On stage they are still very impressive with Shane Greenhall commanding the stage as they play thick modern rock riffs, they do what they do very well but we have seen them do this numerous times (and will again very soon) still this local band got the Welsh crowd really going for it, the Steelhouse faithfull in full voice for every single sing-along anthem. As they played songs from their debut release showing their great stagecraft by getting the audience involved wherever possible. They continued to fan the fire started by The Cult Classics keeping the excitement at a high ready for the headliners and earning a pretty big applause because of it. 

[Alex] Newport’s finest dub-metal act, Skindred (9), bring one hell of a show to the Tramshed! Only a small venue, frontman Benji Webbe commands the room as if he is playing to a stadium. In fact, having seen them play to larger crowds, twice: Once at Merthyr Rock festival and again at Newport Centre, this gig is definitely the wildest, the intimacy owing perfectly to their unruly genre-blending and remarkable stage presence. Concertgoers chant in the unison as the lights dim and Thunderstruck by AC/DC blares from the speakers lined up above the small stage! Never ones to shun the opportunity to make a grand entrance the Imperial March from Star Wars sounds as the band members triumphantly saunter up to their positions. Powering into Big Tings, they refuse to let up the intensity across the first three songs, as we are also treated to Pressure and live-rarity, Selector. Surprises dispersed throughout include a homage to Back In Black, and the most awesome rendition of ‘If your happy and you know it, clap your hands’ anyone has ever seen!

Whereas for some acts the audience interaction is insignificant and trifling, in Skindred’s case it serves as a huge crowd pleaser, with Beji taunting us at every opportunity! ‘Who wants a t-shirt’ he screams at one point, prowling the stage, and watching audience members anticipation growing, before declaring ‘Fuck off, one of them’s £25, what do ya think we are? Made of money?’. At a later opportunity, the left and right side of the audience compete against each other in loudness, with our charismatic frontman sparing no mercy in playfully jibing both sides for being less enthusiastic than the opposite, with their chants of ‘Whoop Whoop’ and ‘That's My Jam’. Before playing Machine, an anthem with the powerful refrain of ‘Rock n Roll, Saved My Soul’, Webbe reels off a list of legendary acts – Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry David Bowie – every name eliciting huge cheers from the crowd, in a great show of respect

We do get an especially somber moment, with the addition of an acoustic ballad in the set. Saying It Now is dedicated to a recently deceased friend of our frontman. His intention in telling this deeply personal story in front of strangers is simple. ‘Tell the people close to you that you love them before it's too late, because we only get one life’ we are reminded before achingly relatable lyrics and sensual harmonies play out. While I am pleasantly surprised by the addition of a softer song at a Skindred show, it proves a wonderful opportunity to reflect and contemplate the inherent sense of community fostered by concert experiences.

As the set draws to a close and Benji strides back on stage in a gold coloured reflective jacket, we are presented with the two songs everyone here was undoubtedly excited to hear: Nobody and Warning. While large circle pits prove difficult in the small venue, the audience compensate with lots of smaller mosh pits, crowd surfing and unbridled energy. Completing the performance is the trademark, ‘Newport Helicopter’ whereby we are ordered in no uncertain terms to remove an item of clothing and propel it in the air, adding to the fun for the audience and surely proving an enjoyable sight for the band members, After all, to make a statement I’m sure our pals in Skindred will wholeheartedly agree with, at a show it is right that both the audience and the performers enjoy themselves.