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Friday, 23 August 2019

Reviews: Spread Eagle, Sinner, Vitriol, Frantic Amber (Paul H & Manus)

Spread Eagle: Subway To The Stars (Frontiers Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Formed in the late 1980s, New York outfit Spread Eagle released two albums before disbanding in 1996. Reforming in 2006, the band now return with their third album, Subway To The Stars. Spread Eagle will be most well-known thanks to founder member Rob De Luca, bassist and vocalist with the band but also a staple in the UFO line-up for the past decade, as well as having worked with a list of legends including Sebastian Bach, Joan Jett and Helmet. Alongside De Luca, cousin Rik on drums, long time vocalist Ray West and guitarist Ziv Shalev complete the line-up. Just short of 50 minutes of hard rock with a melodic twist and its decent stuff. There is plenty of variety, such as the strings opening to Dead Air which simmers with a gorgeous riff throughout.

Grand Slam could sit on a Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons album, a high paced rocker which allows West to show his quality. Interspersed through the album are subway stops (from what I assume is the New York Subway). Little Serpentina changes direction again, shades of Soundgarden pulse through the song, along with a delicious hook and some shimmering guitar work whilst the Manic Street Preachers come to mind on the indie style Gutter Rhymes For Valentines, the song title also something that Bradfield, Wire and Morgan would use. Subway To The Stars is a polished, melodic hard rock album that was enjoyable from start to finish. Plenty to explore, and a welcome mix of styles that allow it to stand apart from others wearing the same badge. 7/10

Sinner: Santa Muerte (AFM Records) [Manus Hopkins]

Sinner has been releasing albums at a much steadier and more regular pace than many of its peers since the early 1980s. Unfortunately, the band has suffered from a lack of promotion throughout its long career, and its releases have often gone unnoticed or been largely forgotten. (In North America maybe - Ed). The band (or at least frontman Mat Sinner) has trudged on despite this, and album number 17 brings no big surprises but packs its share of punches. Santa Muerte consists of a healthy mix of heavy rockers like Last Exit Hell and Fiesta Y Copas and melody-driven anthemic tunes like What Went Wrong and the record’s title track. The biggest instance of straying from the straight hard rock sound on the album is the successfully country-infused Death Letter. Overall, the album is a solid and easy listen, and should fit nicely in Sinner’s ever-expanding catalogue. 7/10

Vitriol: To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice (Century Media Records) [Paul Hutchings]

I suppose it’s fair to say that with the title of the album and the name of the band, I knew this wasn’t going to be something from good ole boys Blackberry Smoke. Instead, a vicious aural assault from the violent trinity from Portland, Oregon. Vitriol is fronted by the dual vocal assault given from guitarist Kyle Rasmussen and bassist Adam Roethlisberger and driven by drummer Scott Walker. Having created waves with their 2017 EP, Pain Will Define Their Death, we come to the group's much anticipated debut record, To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice. Punishing, relentless and utterly destructive in terms of their assault and battery. Technically intricate, at times it’s astonishing that there are only three people making this immense wall of noise. Sincere and raw in its delivery, the razor blade assault slashes and gouges without mercy. For those who want their death metal with edge, variation and a change from the congested mainstream, check out Vitriol. It’s brutal. 7/10

Frantic Amber: Bellatrix (GMR Music Group) [Manus Hopkins]

Sweden’s Frantic Amber makes melodic death metal that is both unrelentingly heavy and insatiably catching at the same time, never sacrificing one of those attributes for the other. Bellatrix is a monster of a record and a triumph for the group as it prepares to enter its second decade of existence. At nine tracks long, lots of musical ground is covered on Bellatrix. Along with the sheer heaviness is an ambient atmosphere, adding depth to the masterfully written songs. The Ghost That Kills is a definite highlight, though there’s not one song on the album that falls short in the crushing riffage department, or when it comes to articulate drum work and throat-wrenching growls. 9/10

Reviews: Equilibrium, The Colony, Mortal Infinity, Excalion (Matt, Paul H & Rich)

Equilibrium: Renegades (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

Equilibrium are a folk metal band who hail from Germany, over the course of a quite long career they have established themselves as one of the leading lights of the folk metal scene mixing sounds of their traditional music and mythology with symphonic black metal. Now despite their major billing you may not have heard of them, unless you are a fan of folk/pagan metal. This maybe because most of their albums are in German but Equilibrium and their leader/guitarist René Berthiaume have had a singular vision to make Equilibrium match his vision of what it could have always been. His drive to experiment with this band saw them move away from their traditional pagan metal roots to add some more cinematic elements and some more English language songs to broaden their appeal.

On this album though there has been a massive leap between Armageddon and Renegades, it's almost as if they have developed into another band, René has brought on board Skadi on keyboards and Skar on live bass and clean vocals, it's that last part that elevates this album. Robse's harsh vocals are still there growling as you'd want in a band built around pagan metal but now the myths and legends are gone giving way to more personal themes. As soon as you play this album you can hear that this is the sound of a band taking no prisoners at all the opening two numbers have big electronic synths cutting through the galloping power metal riffs and on Tornado the dual vocals gives things a feel of Amaranthe but with a bit more guts, though the Asian trance sound of Hype Train is almost exactly like it due to the additional vocals of Julie Elven. Himmel Und Freuer meanwhile almost sounds like AOR with the death vocals counteracting the joyous musical backing.

It's a lot to get your head around especially if you've heard the bands early work as this album is a lot different really amping everything up to 11, take a track like Moonlight which is anthemic and epic in equal measure like Amon Amarth playing a Sabaton song. I didn't know what to expect when I saw the pr surrounding this album but my god it blew me away, with some massive production it's one to play loud, if this is the sound the band have been aiming for then it's a vein they need to continue with as Renegades is a cracking release, unlike a lot of albums you will hear this year. 9/10

The Colony: Smoke & Mirrors (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Well this is a life affirming album if I've ever heard one, drawing from being tired and jaded with modern life The Colony's melodic metal  brings crunchy modern metal riffs and grooves the likes of latter-day In Flames, Killswitch and Trivium bring to the table but with some cinematics and industrial touches. It's the sound of those glorious latter noughties, early 10's albums from bands mentioned above building on the foundation of metalcore but bringing in some djent and more classic metal. Much of this is due to the vocals which are as you'd expect are aggressive screams but mainly The Colony use clean vocals to drive their point across adding a emotive level to their heavy riffing metal style.

The twin guitars of Aaron Hobkirk and Konnar Anderson work in glorious unison on Soul Saviour adding technical riffs and fluid leads as the rhythm section of Riki Hobkirk (drums) and George Struthers (bass) adds the heavy grooves but also manage to dial things back on the middle section on The Flood which is a really affecting due to the powerful vocals of Peter Cullen. Things get heavier on Here We Stand which has dual guitar leads running through it and that classic metal sound. The Colony have made an album that have passion and emotion mixed with crushing riffs and melodic hooks, it's a very mature, anthemic release. 7/10

Mortal Infinity: In Cold Blood (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Two long players and one EP into a journey that started ten years ago, Mortal Infinity may only boast one original member in Marc Doblinger, but this band from the sleepy lower Bavarian village Zeilarn (located in the Passau region) are anything but a chocolate box cover. Opening track Fellowship Of The Rats gnaws and scratches at the door in a frenzied slashing of claws and teeth. Changes in tempo, razor like lacerating guitar work and a sound that switches from Testament to Exodus to Death Angel in one foul sweep all bode well. I’m not keen on the spewed vocal intro to Misanthropic Collapse, but the heads down thrash works well with some feisty chugging buzz saw guitar work from long time guitarist Sebastian Unrath and more recent recruit Sebastian Brunner.

Doblinger’s feverish vocals switch between guttural death metal and the higher shrieks of legends like Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza. Dream Crusher contains a melodramatic mid-pause before launching into a change of direction, all the time the riff counter is hitting the top of the dial. The changes in style work well on an album which demonstrates a maturity forged from adversity. With a history of struggle, challenge and line-up changes almost bringing the band to an end around 2014, it is to their credit that they have been able to continue. Adding Alexander Glaser on bass and Adrian Müller on Drums in 2014 their second-long player Final Death Denied breathed new life which was enhanced with the arrival of Brunner filling the gap on rhythm guitars in early 2016. Now, with In Cold Blood, Mortal Infinity have released the album of their career. A brutal mixture of death and thrash, there is much to enjoy. 7/10

Excalion: Emotions (Scarlet Records) [Rich Oliver]

Emotions is the fifth album by Finnish power metal band Exacalion and is ten songs of excellent melodic power metal. Much like a lot of Finnish power metal the keyboards are a very prominent instrument almost taking centre stage along with the guitars and they are used to full effect heightening the various melodies through the album. Another well used weapon in Excalion’s arsenal is singer Marcus Lång who has a voice very similar in sound and style to fellow Finnish metal singer Marco Hietala (of Nightwish and Tarot fame). Emotions is by no means a groundbreaking album but features great vocals, splendid guitar work, sterling melodies and quality songwriting.

 Apart from a couple of ballads the songs follow a similar style and structure but the album remains interesting and ear catching from start to finish with the highlights for me being Sunshine Path, Nightmariner and Callsign. I remember not being overly keen when hearing Excalion’s previous album Dream Alive but going off my enjoyment of this new album I definitely need to revisit that album and the other albums in the Excalion back catalogue. 8/10

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Reviews: Superterrestrial, Sacrilege, Dialith, Mister Misery (Paul S, Matt & Alex)

Superterrestrial: The Void That Exists (Green Flaw Productions) [Paul Scoble]

Superterrestrial are a British 2 piece, who have released 1 album before this album 2018’s Ocean Of Emptiness. The band play Black Metal inspired by the dark, cold depths of interstellar space. The band class their sound as being Ethereal or Ambient Black metal. Although the bands sound is very reminiscent of what is becoming known as Space or Astral Black Metal. There is a definite similarity with some of the bands using that classification; bands like Voidshere, The Negative Bias, Stellar Descent or Starless Domain. The album pretty long at 42 minutes (in fact I thought this was an album until I saw everyone else calling it an EP, but is an album), and 7 tracks. Most of the tracks have the same basic template. The songs are a mix of very dense, harsh blast beats, with insanely taut tremolo picked riffs, and very ambient sections of synth-wave style dungeon electronica. The riffs are some of the best harsh riffs you will hear. If you thought Black Metal inspired by frozen tundras were cold, you need to hear some inspired by the frozen depths of space.

That’s Minus 50℃ versus Minus 273℃, space is so much colder; and so are these riffs. If you get excited at how cold the riffs are in some very well known second wave black metal albums, prepare to be re-educated on how cold a riff can be. The Dungeon Synth parts are very cold and void like as well, all warmth and feeling has been systematically removed from this album and the result is fantastically hostile. The vocals are very harsh and shrill, if a black hole had a voice this is what it would sound like. After saying all that, there is a little warmth; Earlier in this review is said ‘most’ of the tracks had a cold feeling to them. Final track Morton Wave, has a warmer, more melodic feel to it. The track is 10 minutes long and does have blast beats and tremolo picked riffs, but they are slower, with more melody. The keyboard sections have more warmth and tunefulness, the band have saved all the warmth till the end. In many ways the album ending this way emphasises the coldness of the rest of the record. The track also feature an amount of layering of riffs and keyboards, that gives the track a huge feeling of depth. The Void That Exists is a stunning album.

It’s cold and desolate (just like the depths of space), but does also have some warmth and musicality. It’s deeply original, and is a nice alternative to the orthodox style of Black Metal that usually attempts to be this cold and extreme. It’s harsh and uncaring, just like the void. Sometimes if you stare into the void the void stares back at you. Sometimes it screams blast beats and tremolo picked riffs. Personally, I’ll go for the Screaming Void. 9/10

Sacrilege: The Court Of The Insane (Pure Steel Records) [Matt Bladen]

Four years since their previous album the revitalised NWOBHM band Sacrilege who were inactive from 1987 and 2012, but since then they have been releasing records quite frequently. This is their third album on Pure Steel Records and it keeps their purple patch going with some excellent heavy metal. In their lifetime time they haven't tried to change their sound at all relying on the classic sounds of that glorious period of British heavy metal that spawned Iron Maiden and Saxon and has seen a resurgence through bands such as Hell and Satan band's who Sacrilege sound a lot like relying on historical lyrics from the 1600's where plague, witchcraft and fire were rife.

The ominous vocals of lead songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Bill Beadle are perfect for creating drama and conjuring doom on numbers such as the galloping Bring Out Your Dead, the anthemic I Can Hear The Silence, the crunchy Depression and the doom-laden No Bequeath. Beadle provides the rhythm guitars, keyboard along with the vocals but backing him are Neil Turnbull on drums, Jeff Rolland on bass who lock down the rhythm section with Beadle for proper heavy metal synergy as Paul Macnamara's lead guitar are technically sound add that extra level. In The Court Of The Insane is a very dramatic, dark album it's got a lot of theatrical elements to it with the keyboards on tracks such as Unhinged Mind which has a brilliant guitar solo outro. The Court Of The Insane is a very mature NWOBHM styled album, drawing from the original style with a distinctly modern edge, join the court of Sacrilege. 8/10

Dialith: Extinction Six (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Hmm does the world need another symphonic metal band with soaring female vocals, cinematic elements and metal riffs. It's been done before and to be honest it's been done to death. That's not to say Dialith aren't a talented band they are and their symphonic metal sound takes influences from Nightwish and Epica, blending the lighter classical sounds with a harder edged metal, Quiver Of Deception doing this the best with it's neo-classical style. However it's all very down the line and the vocals aren't that inspiring considering they are usually an integral part, I was 5 tracks in before I realised they were different songs and that's the point, everything is a little meh. I'm sure there will be people that disagree with me but maybe I'm just over this genre now! 5/10

Mister Misery: Unalive (Arising Empire) [Alex Swift]

On their debut, Unalive, Mister Misery present a gothic, dark style of Metal which, while abiding by the genre conventions, ultimately doesn’t roam outside of the limits of gothic alternative. Make no mistake, Mister Misery have a seamless production style which complements their spooky and ethereal nature, underpinned by their sound and image. Musically, they are talented, and have an excellent sense of dramatic flair which definitely shows potential: The sneeringly ironic ‘La, La, La’s’ on My Ghost, the huge choruses on Blood Waltz and Legion, the subtle piano and violin melodies which weave their way throughout the album – we are definitely presented with a consistent musical theme throughout, and I am sold on the idea that these musicians genuinely bear a lot of passion for the shock rock and horror metal genres. And yes, the influences are very present and there are illusions laced throughout the entire experience, to the tongue-in-cheek proto punk of acts in the vein of The Misfits or The Damned, not to mention the obvious, always present and continuously lurking My Chemical Romance comparisons, which rear their head whenever any alternative album attempts to achieve a grandiose yet gothic sound. I have said before how an act wearing their inspirations on their sleeve doesn’t necessarily bother me, unless there’s a serious defilement or dilution of those classics happening.

In the case of Unalive, there’s no desecration of the classics taking place, and indeed anthems the like of Valentine and Alive serve as apt, if not particularly breath-taking tributes to a tradition that has existed in music since even before Robert Smith decided to pick up a guitar and let the world know how bloody miserable, he tends to be. However, nothing happens here which you wouldn’t have heard a million times before. You don’t need to be a scholar in goth culture to know that a combination of pummelling guitars, ominous synths and angsty, snarled vocals, lends itself vividly to a generic form of the genre yet not to an innovative one. I can definitely understand that Mister Misery are just starting out as a band – Indeed, part of the point of a debut album is establishing a core sound. Most acts don’t want to try anything too risky or weird on their first outing, and I can respect that. Still, another aim of a debut is to give listeners a reason to return, to become fans. Acts who innovate to an unnecessary amount on their first album alienate people straight away yet failing to innovate enough also raises worries for an act’s longevity.

Don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t say that this Stockholm-originating four piece are at a point of murdering their career before the outset. As I said, there are scraps of intriguing ideas present throughout, yet the overall presentation of them is generic and unexciting. So, what should Mister Misery do on future albums? That’s up to them but from my point of view, I would like to see them expanding upon the theatrical and traditional elements in their sound, making music to truly complement their elusive image and living up to the ambition of their influences. I will wait with bated breath until then 6/10

Reviews: Saxon, Tungsten, Rebel Machine, Darkened (Paul H & Matt)

Saxon: The Eagle Has Landed 40 Live (Militia Guard Music) [Paul Hutchings]

Three CDs of live Saxon, personally chosen by frontman and metal legend Biff Byford. This could be awful I hear you say.Well, with the number of live albums and compilations that the Yorkshire outfit has released over the years, it certainly could have been. Fortunately, this release, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of the band and comes ahead of their much anticipated October shows, is anything but dull or packed with filler. Recorded at selected shows over a 12 year period, CD 1 opens with a number of lesser known tracks recorded in Berlin (2007, 2009 & 2011), London (2009) and Sheffield (2007). Mainly tracks that at the time were from the relevant new album at the time of the recording, the only irritation is that the introductions tend to follow the same patter: “this one is from the new album …” However, there are some gems hidden away, such as a raucous Witchfinder General from Berlin 2009, the emotionally charged Red Star Falling about the fall of communism, and a pumping Play It Loud from Berlin 2011, humorous in it’s Spinal Tap style as Biff tries to update some of the lyrics to reflect modern times, replacing ‘radio’ with ‘Youtube’.

Disc 2 brings us into 2013 & 2014 with the majority of the tracks recorded at Wacken Open Air 2014. This allows a bit more of the classic Saxon to come to the fore, with Crusader, The Eagle Has Landed, Power And The Glory, Dallas 1PM, Princess Of The Night and Denim And Leather all given the Saxon treatment. It’s only when you hear Saxon live that you appreciate just how heavy they can be. Shredding guitars, pounding drums and Biff’s soaring vocals all reliable and consistent. Bringing us up to date on Disc 3, with some neat guests joining in to add a bit of spice. Helsinki 2015 sees Phil Campbell join for 747 (Strangers In The Night), London 2016 captures the late ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke jamming on Ace Of Spades whilst 2018’s show in San Antonio supporting Judas Priest enabled the band’s producer and current Priest guitarist Andy Sneap to join the band on a balls-out version of 20,000FT. With a smattering of the most recent songs from the Battering Ram release recorded in Manchester, Stockholm and London last year, the catalogue is completed with They Played Rock And Roll, The Secret Of Flight and Battering Ram.

Whilst there are some moments on here which I could do without, a drum solo for example during Conquistador, there is still a majestic feel to Saxon in the live arena. The Eagle Has Landed at Wacken, complete with string section gives me goosebumps with its steady build up and the opening meandering guitar work of Paul Quinn, the crunching riff a classic heavy metal style which no band does better. Still one of the hardest working bands in the World, Saxon have never taken anything for granted. They have a devoted fan base who will have lapped this release up. October can’t come quick enough. Saxon at 40. Still totally epic. 8/10

Tungsten: We Will Rise (Arising Empire) [Matt Bladen]

This is the debut album from brand new Swedish melodic power metal band Tungsten. It was formed by former Hammerfall and Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force drummer Anders Johansson after his sons Karl (bass) and Nick (guitar) let him listen to some songs they had composed together. He then started to refine the songs with his sons bringing in Mike Andersson (Cloudscape, ex Planet Alliance, Fullforce) on vocals. The style of this album is odd with Anders' older school influences blending with his son's more modern styles, many of these come in the middle of the album bookended by the power metal sounds. There's a some jazz on the beginning of Sweet Vendetta which kicks into some industrial almost pop sounds giving a carnival feel, but much of the album is what I would call Hammerfall-lite, if the legendary power metal Swedes continued on their path started on Infected this is what they would sound like, power metal at it's heart but with modern sounds coming through.

Animals has a goth metal meets SYL sound, but there is more traditional fayre on We Will Rise, Misled and The Fairies Dance which are all folk styled classic metal tracks more in keeping with the theme shown by “Volfram”, the man on the album cover who is holding a guiding lantern and a battle axe designed by the man who has drawn Hammerfall's mascot Hector. For a debut record We Will Rise is a strong statement of intent, it is a little all over the place but with a little refinement they could be a real force on the melodic/power metal scene bringing sounds that many wouldn't expect. 7/10

Rebel Machine: Whatever It Takes (Big Balls Productions) [Matt Bladen]

Hmm Brazilian four-piece from Brazil made up of bearded guys? It's going to be stoner rock right? Well actually no...Rebel Machine are more akin to Foo Fighters with some notes to Swedes The Hellacopters and Backyard Babies. It's full of sleazy hard rocking songs that are made for beer drinking and hell raising, though with a ear for a massive hook and an occasional ballad to show another side of the band. Now even though this band are from Brazil, they have a style that is very American sounding with nods to the European influences mentioned previously. I listened to this album twice fully and neither time it really stuck with me, yes the songs are good and they're catchy, hard rocking and encourage you to play them loud, but 10 minutes after you've finished listening to the record I struggled to recall any of them, maybe it's me, maybe a bigger fan of bands like this would be singing these tracks for weeks afterwards. Unfortunately for me this album is well executed and written but a little throwaway. 6/10

Darkened: Into The Blackness (Chaos Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Four songs. 15 minutes. Sufficient to lay a marker in the ground. Enter Darkened. A heady mix of death metal alumni. Drummer Andy Whale (Ex-Bolt Thrower/Memoriam) links with guitarists Hempa Brynolfsson (Excruciate) and Linus Nirbrant (A/Canorous Quintet/ The Ending), bassist Daryl Kahan (Dimsa) and the gruesome vocals of Gord Olson (Demisery). Into The Blackness is powerful. It’s imposing. Full of heavy riffing and thunderous blast beating drums, delivered with experience, maturity and confidence. Comfortably paced, controlled and yet with an air of menace and malevolence that leaves you slightly uneasy. How Death Metal should be. Become absorbed Into The Blackness. 8/10

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Reviews: Arctos, Skillet, Wicked Stone, Pathology (Paul S, Alex, Paul H & Liam)

Arctos: Beyond The Grasp Of Mortal Hands (Northern Silence Productions) [Paul Scoble]

Arctos are based in Edmonton, Alberta and have been in existence since 2014. The five piece have released one EP in One Silent Spire, which was released in 2017. The band claim to be inspired by frozen wastes and the mountains of the Canadian Rockies, which is appropriately grim and frostbitten as these Canadians play Black Metal, and it does have a little bit of Northern Darkness to it. The band refer to their sound as ‘Melodic Black Metal’ which is fine, but as a reviewer I feel I should go a little further than this in detailing the sound. There is a similarity to Sons Of Northern Darkness era Immortal in some of the material (The opening track The Ancestors Path features a sample of waves that sounds very close to the sample used at the beginning of Beyond The North Waves), there is a similarity in some of the riffing. However, classing Arctos as Immortal copyists would be unfair in the extreme. There is a touch of Immortal, but there's loads of other influences in here, as well as a lot of originality. The overall sound is a mix of Orthodox black metal, Atmospheric black metal and Epic black metal. The other thing that marks Arctos out from a lot of Black Metal bands is the use of Piano, something that gives that Epic feel I’ve mentioned. The album opens with the aforementioned The Ancestors Path, which kicks off with a blast beat that is fairly reminiscent of Immortal before going into a more mid-paced section with harsh vocals, which is driving and purposeful but always melodic.

These 2 moods are repeated before a blasting ending. Shattered Tomb is beautifully melodic, whilst also having a slightly thrashy feel to it. The song also boasts a slow and heavy section before the track blasts to an end. This is a massively energy packed piece of black metal. The first 2 tracks are great uptempo blasting but melodious pieces of black metal, but it’s track 3; Somnos Aeternus where things get really interesting. This track opens with a slow and very melodic segment, it uses keyboards and piano in a way that is much more reminiscent of Epic Black Metal, the style originated by Summoning. Epic Black Metal is just that; EPIC. Somnos Aeternus is huge and multifaceted, it isn’t all about blast beats, but rather about melody, and depth. The track also features some very effective chanted vocals that remind me of the album Echo’s Of Battle by Caladan Brood, and that's just about the best Epic Black Metal album ever released. The Spectre is a short, very quiet instrumental. Autumn's Herald… Interitus brings the epic back, again in a beautifully melodic and tuneful way. There are fantastic chanted vocals, and in the places where it does blast it has a bit more of an Atmospheric feel to it; more measured, less spiky and nasty, smoother blasting than orthodox black metal. The parts where we get piano and chanting at the same time are just sublime. A Realm Beyond is a shorter and more direct, but still has bags of melody. There's a great part to this song where there is blasting mixed with some very florid piano work, that pushes the epic to such levels that I found I couldn’t stop myself from smiling at how great it was, just fantastic.

The Light Beyond The Sky (The Passage II) brings the album to an end in a very pleasing way, as it brings all the different sounds used on this album, together. It opens with some very Orthodox Blasting, before going into an Epic middle section. After this we get more blasting, but it’s in an Atmospheric style, the track then feels more Epic till the end, which is slow and very dramatic. Beyond The Grasp Of Mortal Hands is a fantastic album, which features different styles of Black Metal, but the band manage to unify these different styles. Whether they are doing cold and frostbitten blasting, smoother atmospheric style blasting, or a more Epic and melodious mode of black metal, it’s always Arctos. If you like any of the styles I’ve mentioned, or you like any kind of black metal, or metal in general, there will be a lot to like about this album. The fact that this is the band's first album is amazing, this sounds more like a band that have been making music together for decades. Highly recommended. 9/10

Skillet: Victorious (Atlantic Records) [Alex Swift]

A reading from the book of Alex:

In the beginning, there was only metal. And the Lord looked down in shame at the genre, for he knew that the Metal-heads were wicked, and scornful of thy creator. In his wrath at these entanglements with Lucifer he created the Parents Music Resource centre to decapitate the serpent, Drum’ n Bass to dethrone the serpent and nu-metal to embarrass the serpent, yet with every miracle weaved the beast grew stronger and prospered. Until one fateful day an epiphany did appear to the Lord thy God. ‘Let there be Christian metal’ he commanded, and in scant numbers Christian metal acts petered out, year by year. After his work, the Lord looked at his creation and saw that it was satisfactory. Stryper did emerge yet to heavens woe became a meme. Creed did emerge, yet to Satan’s delight, formed a far better band, fronted by an atheist. Until, one day a band emerged whose copycat antics of the alt metal sound would grow so popular that the scene kids in their multitudes would be heard to sing such anthems as SICK OF IT, blissfully unaware that they were not singing about their parents, but their sin. Skillet would the band be called, ‘like the kitchen utensil but more edgy’ the Lord observed as these hormonal juggernauts of God grew in strength.

Yet a fact we must confide, dear worshiper, is that our heavenly father works in mysterious ways – a rationalisation for everything that doesn’t not quite make sense, and one we must apply for the review you read on your screen. For as the years wore on, Skillet wrestled with the changing of the times. First, the process was laborious as their angsty praises became tiresome to hear. In the year 2016, they damned the world and music with a new album. So vile is that piece that we daren’t often speak of its name in the chambers of music critics, yet many sacred monks were heard to observe at the time that even chapel choirs were more exciting than the dross strewn throughout Unleashed. Find fear though, in the fact that the full extent of Skillet’s decline has been witnessed on Victorious. I too have temporarily sacrificed my decent taste to write these words, for song titles in the vein of Rise UpReach and Finish Line, would surely be enough to make god himself cringe. In flogging this work, the band themselves promised an album with the bite of a crocodile – I dread to imagine the great lizards teeth being wrenched out. Truly though the worst to come was a performance by Skillet on Trump's favourite show, Fox & Friends. So vile and led astray was the act that writers more talented than I have correctly described witnessing the show as comparable to staring straight into the mouth of hell. I might add an addendum to those comments – Akin to hell, only with worse music

Only the fabled prophet Lemmy may ever truly know how the lord reacted on the day he first heard Victorious. Yet trending wisdom foretells, he wept at his mistake and cursed the day he created Christian metal. At his side Jesus – who, upon just returning from a Slayer concert, had no time for his dad’s holier than though crap – shook his head, as if to say ‘I told you so’. At admitting he was wrong for once, the Lord was left flabbergasted and speechless, yet saved the members of Skillet these words: ‘From obscurity you came and to obscurity you shall return, you shall crawl on your belly’s to the tune of Motorhead, and may never again set foot in the garden of heavy metal. I am well disappointed in you.’ From that day forth our master in heaven vowed to never again scorch the earth with a foe as destructive as Victorious by Skillet, to which he quickly added, ‘At least until I get bored’. Sat on his throne in paradise he contemplated how anyone should be able share in the joys of Metal regardless of their race or religion. He remembered how Lucifer, citing punk as an influence, had led a rebellion against the angels. Smiling his wry, godly smile the lord realised that the Devil might have the greatest music after all

Here ends the lesson

Note: No, but seriously, this album sucked 2/10

Wicked Stone: Devil In Me (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Another day, another band from the New Wave Of British Classic Rock. One of a hundred or so bands tipped by Planet Rock as ‘ones to watch’, Wicked Stone have a generic riff heavy sound that is perfectly enjoyable but sounds like a zillion other bands. Big thick chugging sound, solid rhythm section and Joe Hawx’s crisp vocal delivery all point in the direction of Ramblin’ Man, Steelhouse Festival and Planet Rockstock as a future direction. Unsurprisingly, given a quick listen to single Unchained, and the rest of this five-song EP, the band are influenced by Black Stone Cherry and Alter Bridge. Yes, it’s a carbon copy of all the other bands who flood Wyatt Wendell’s faux New Rock Show on the digital station. I have nothing against Wicked Stone; I’ve never met them, seen them live or even listened to their music before. They can play, so I have admiration for them. Unfortunately, they are another band caught in what Matt described in his review of their debut release Ain’t No Rest in 2017 as the ‘Planet Rock Effect’. Two years later, and the ‘effect’ is working its magic once again. It’s just a bit mediocre and does little to light the fire. 5/10

Pathology: Reborn To Kill (Pavement Music) [Liam True]

This may be an odd review, but we’re going to give it a shot. I’m going to split this review into two sections. Instrumentally & vocals, because I need to talk about both.


Musically, this is such a versatile Death Metal album. From your standard headbanging riffs to sweep picking and everything in-between, it’s got enough heat to melt your face and regenerate another before you can notice what’s even happened. With the ridiculous fret work from both Tim Tiszczenko and Daniel Richardson (Only being in the band since last year) it’ll take some talent to learn what they’ve plucked from their minds and laid bare on this record, but even more talent to do it as flawlessly and easy as they make it sound, with little to no effort at all. The majority of people either don’t care or don’t notice the presence of a bass guitar on Metal albums, but it would be a lonely desolate recording without one. Bassist Richard Jackson (Also in the band since last year) has hit it right on the head. The bass is neither too loud nor too quiet, but it’s there and you can feel its presence. Also not being to technical and not too simple, it’s in the right ballpark for a Death Metal bass sound, making it look and sound technical, but being easy to play. Very nice touch on that one. Then there’s founding member and drummer Dave Astor. The man behind the kit who’s creating the majestic sounding racket, and making it sound as devastating as humanly possible without being a show off. By the end if the album you’re either familiar enough with the music and into it. Or it’s not your cup of tea. It’s all down to your perspective. 7/10

Now we get to the vocals of the album. I don’t want to sound like someone who doesn’t know anything about Death Metal vocals, but I honestly cannot stand the vocals on this album. Forgive me for my blasphemy, but it is just 100% pure cookie monster vocals. You can argue that with me all you want, it’s what I hear. And whenever I hear that, I just can’t take it seriously. I wouldn’t necessary mind, but there’s barely any differential with the vocals on the record. Maybe once or twice on every other song or so it’ll be a different pitch for a few seconds, but that’s it. There’s no grisly tormented sounds. Just, the cookie monster yelling at me for 40 minutes. Shame really. 1/10

Album overall: 6/10

Reviews: Dead Shed Jokers, Klone, Liv Sin, Deadthrone (Matt, Rich & Paul S)

Dead Shed Jokers: All The Seasons (Pity My Brain Records)

Following up on their two previous releases Peyote Smile (2011) and their eponymous album (2015). Dead Shed Jokers return with an album that is once again deeply personal and deals with some very important and at times raw topics such as chronicling mental health struggles, addiction, marital breakdown and then catharsis. It's a heady work that is reflected by the intelligent compositions of the band who are not shackled by any one genre. Recorded in just five days, live at Tim Hamill's Sonic One Studios in Llanelli, All The Seasons is a band who have taken their experimental sound to new heights by plundering new depths of their collective psyche. Phantom Pains has the swirling heavy riffs of Soundgarden (but early Soundgarden) the vocals of Hywel Davies hollering over the fuzzy riffs. It's a pretty emotional opening meaning that Feel Some More takes a more psych tone from the clean guitars and a Pearl Jam styled groove as the open chords wash over you.

Drumming and percussion is driven by Sean Mahoney who is a constant behind the kit while bass and guitars are shared between Kristian Evans, Nicky Bryant and Christopher Metters who provide the swaggering riffs on Dreams Of North Korea a trippy rock number that deals with addiction in the desert rock style of Kyuss. There's an immediacy to this album due to its recorded live nature, you can hear (and I know from experiences with the band) that these songs have been thrashed out live on stage so by the time they were ready to be put on tape they were perfectly formed. It's means that All The Seasons has a rawness to it but one built on a solid foundation of musicality. The title track itself is a introspective number that reminds me of Nick Cave at his most maudlin, building layers as it goes but keeping as a torchlight anthem that Cave does so well. The brilliant 764 is born of Houses Of The Holy where experimentation was king and it's has that 60's psychedelic bent as it drifts into a cymbal-led fade out. 

You could pick out any of the 10 tracks on this album and understand why this album is so good, but it's together that the album works best, like all the best long players the entire album needs to be played in one sitting to get the full effect especially of tracks such as the You're A Thief, which has more layers than an onion along with some jangly guitars and even some bubbling Fender Rhodes, it culminates with freak out that is Enough Is As Good As A Feast, a definitive ending track that carries you to the end of your journey as the band just jam away. All The Seasons is a fabulous return from a band I've been following for a good long while now. Hopefully it will bring them into the wider conscious as they deserve big things. 10/10

Klone: Le Grand Voyage (Kscope)

French atmospheric rock band return with their first album since 2015's Here Comes The Sun. Once again the band focus on the more existential parts of life their guitarist Guillaume Bernard says that the album deals with such concepts as "What is the spirit? What is the matter? and those kinds of questions", it means that Klone's introspective soundscapes are able to delve deep into these ideas using the traditional rock instrumentation to broaden the scope beyond love, sex, beer etc. Philosophy plays a huge part in their lyrical content but it's at a level that anyone without a philosophy degree can understand it, these are the things that run through our heads all the time making them universal "why are we here, where are we from, where are we going" are all questions we ask every day on our own great journeys so it will resonate.

Klone have never been a straightforward band, they have always been firmly in the progressive, experimental and art-rock scene and as Yonder (the first single) begins the album they link their previous release and this one with their trademark moodiness, sounding part-Floyd part-Tool as the keening vocals, solitary guitar sound are matched by jazz piano and crushing down tuned riffs, it's got real light and shade which can be said of the whole album, benefitting from the brilliant production work it's a slow burning beginning to this album but one that sets the wanted tone, it's over 7 minutes of anthemic music that shifts it's feel between hope and despair which as an opening track is pretty special. On to the rest of the album and I wouldn't say it's more of the same as it isn't, there is an overarching 'sound' of the album with echoed clean guitars switching to heavy riffs showing the dexterity of Guillaume Bernard and Aldrick Guadagnino.

However the could not bring these guitar motions on tracks such as the very Tool sounding Keystone without the shamanic rhythm section of Jean Etienne Maillard's throbbing bass and Morgan Berthet's measured drumming. It's Matthieu Metzger and Yann Ligner that add an extra level though with Matthieu adding the samples and some Dark Side Of The Moon--style Sax to Indelible as Yann has a vocal that is filled with yearning captivating you from the outset. Klone are a brilliant act who balance the up and downbeat with music that really invites you to let it breathe, and album that requires multiple plays, Le Grand Voyage is near enough a masterpiece! 9/10

Liv Sin: Burning Sermons (Despotz Records) [Rich Oliver]

Burning Sermons is the new album from Swedish heavy metallers Liv Sin. It is the second album from the band who were formed by frontwoman Liv Jagrell following the dissolution of her previous band Sister Sin. Liv Sin combine traditional heavy metal with a harder edged modern metal sound resulting in songs that have plenty of hooks and melodies but plenty of bite and aggression with some pummelling riffs and rhythms. This is a winning combination on the whole resulting in anthemic and yet crunching songs such as Blood Moon FeverWar Antidote and Hope Begins To Fade (which features guest vocals from Bjorn “Speed” Strid of Soilwork and The Night Flight Orchestra fame). 

The vocals from Liv Jagrell very much match the music with the perfect balance of melody and aggression though she does soften her voice when needed. Whilst this is a very enjoyable album it does start to get a bit repetitive around the halfway mark with most songs following a similar structure, sound and pace and I did find my attention starting to wander through towards the end my attention was firmly grabbed once again with the softer Ghost In The Dark and the balls out aggression of Dead Wind Intermezzo bringing some much needed variety. Burning Sermons is an enjoyable piece of hard hitting yet melodic metal though as mentioned above it does have a bit of a quality dip halfway through. 7/10

Deadthrone: Premonitions (Arising Empire) [Paul Scoble]

Deadthrone are a four piece based in Manchester. Initially I worried that the bands name was a derivation of Darkthrone, making this a fairly derivative TN Black Metal album. However, when I first saw the band title, I had no idea what sickening, disgusting evil Premonitions had in store for me; Deadthrone are a Metalcore band! Yes, you’re right, The Horror! As you can probably guess from that intro, I am not a Metalcore fan. As far as I am concerned, the suffix ‘CORE’ refers to Hardcore, so adding ‘CORE’ to the end of a genre denotes a hardcorey feel to the music as in :GrindCORE. It’s something that I would expect to have a punky feel or to have grown out of punk, as HardCORE did. But there is nothing punky about Metalcore (or Deathcore for that matter). To my ears Metalcore has always been a mix of Nu Metal music with Emo vocals, and that is not a combination that excites me. Once I realised that this was a metalcore album, I tried to give it a fair hearing, maybe this would be the album that converted me? No, not even close. This album is almost an explanation of why Metalcore is crap.

Firstly, let’s deal with the music. One of the major problems I’ve had over the years with Nu Metal is the lack of riffs. I’m sorry, but bouncing on one note is not a riff. Yes I know Meshuggah have done stuff like that, but they always have sooooo much more going on than just bouncing. Most of the tracks on this album have this lack of actual riffs, but the tracks Feel, Wide Awake and Stand Your Ground are particularly bad. The problem with this style is that is stops the songs from flowing, there's a distinct lack of syncopation which just makes this sound boring. When the rhythm isn’t bouncing on the same note the tracks tend to be incredibly soft and ballad like; there's no middle ground. The musicians playing on this album are clearly competent, there's some nice guitar work on the parts where they play more than one note. This overly simplistic approach is clearly something that is done by design, rather than due to a lack of talent.

The vocals are an issue as well (in many ways this album is a microcosm of the macro that is Metalcore). There are 2 styles on offer, either massively over emotional, saccharine sweet clean vocals, or ultra guttural harsh vocals. The overly emotional clean vocals are fairly vomit inducing, over the top, and have no range to the emotion put over. There's a sense of teenage angst, which I would have hoped the band had grown out of, and that stops the listener from taking this at all seriously. I could go through the album to find examples of where the clean vocals don’t work, but it’s pretty much every track. The guttural vocals are a problem throughout the album. At no point does the music get heavy or harsh enough to warrant this kind of vocals, so it just sounds wrong. A good example of this is the track Beacons which sounds a bit Djenty, in a clean way, but then has harsh vocals on it that sound totally incongruous.

I realise that my dislike of Metalcore has affected this review, feel free to take it with a very large pinch of salt. If you like Metalcore and overly emotional vocals and onenote chugging are your thing, then by all means dive in, but for me this is wank. 4/10

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Black Hounds, Fallen Temples & Mother Vulture

The Black Hounds, Fallen Temples, Mother Vulture, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

As the embers on Bloodstock Open Air finally started to cool, what better opportunity to banish those post-festival blues than a long-overdue return to Fuel, and one of the first ventures for the newly formed Legions Promotions. Full marks to Alyn and Tim who ensured that the night ran to time, smoothly and with minimum drama off stage. On a filthy night and preceding a Wales v England egg -ball encounter the following day, it was pleasing to see a reasonable turnout reward the hard work.

There are very rare occasions where you see a band and simply cannot respond. Not because they are so bad (although that has happened – Iron Horses supporting Molly Hatchet several years ago certainly fit that bill) but because what you see is just so special. This was the case with Mother Vulture (10) who kicked off the evening with possibly the most high-octane performance I think I’ve ever seen in Fuel. A quick foray through the band’s Facebook page confirms. This is a band who are accelerating straight to the top. Currently in the middle of their UK tour supporting their new single Mr Jones, the band are kicking up a storm at every show.

Who is Mother Vulture? A four-piece from Bristol, the band play intensely revved up punk rock n’ roll in an original style which takes influences from RATM, Wolfmother, SOAD, Crobot and numerous others. The initial impression for me was a cross between the MC5, The Stooges, RHCP (in their heyday) mixed with The Rolling Stones and Jane’s Addiction. Certainly not the heaviest band to ever play Fuel, but a raucous mix which was accentuated by the non-stop movement of the front three. Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and roberto Firmino have nothing on vocalist Georgi Valentine (vocals), bassist Chris Simpson and Brodie Maguire (guitar). Valentine is a bundle of excess energy, his diminutive frame disguising a voice that was just amazing and unexpected. High pitched, totally in-tune and with a range that is rarer than hen’s teeth, his shock of curly hair bouncing around as he rampaged arounds the pit area, becoming more and more animated as the set progressed.

On stage it is a wonder that Maguire and Simpson haven’t beheaded each other yet, such is the frantic twists, jumps and turns that they insisted on performing. On several occasions you winced at the near misses and there were times I was pleased for their safety that the venue wasn’t as full as it could have been. Meanwhile drummer Matt West nailed everything down solidly, looking out at the antics in front of him with a degree of relief and jealousy I’m sure. By the end of their 45-minute set, most of Fuel was enchanted as well as exhausted with what they had just seen. A band who are destined for great things … quickly. You read it here.

Following that was going to be a challenge but fresh from their triumphant set at Bloodstock Open Air, Fallen Temples (9) grabbed the baton with a gusto that was impressive given the emotions of the week that had gone before. A similar set list to that at BOA was unsurprising, but the blast of Sabbath (was that a bit of Supernaut I picked out?) mixed in as well as a corking Immigrant Song helped mix things up a little. This was a relaxed performance and Fallen Temples never let you down. Joe Lewis never stops moving, his newly shorn head banging like a harbour buoy in a storm, whilst drummer Joe Stirland sucked up all the remaining energy from a tiring week to beat the crap out of the kit once more whilst adding those vital backing vocals. 

Although Adam Vaughan’s vocals were slightly down in the mix, his guitar work was sublime as always and Broken and Blood From Stone were exceptional. Fallen Temples are a band I never tire of seeing. Their new style of classic rock stands apart from the more generic sound of current media favourites (e.g. Those Damn Crows, Gin Annie, Wild Stone) and with such a solid grounding, this is a band who deserve all that they are receiving. A big night at Newbridge Memo is looming large. Be there to see one of South Wales’ best bands deliver once more.

A partisan home crowd supporting local heroes, and a fresh new band that blew the (leaking) roof off. It was that level which The Black Hounds (7) had to follow and they didn’t quite make it. Nevertheless, the Black Country metal outfit, hampered by the worst sound of the night, delivered a solid set of tracks from their two EPs. Love & Death and Gallows, as well as a couple of newer songs. Plenty of heavy riffs kept the heads nodding, and their energy was high. Having travelled from Wolverhampton on a Friday into South Wales, they were rewarded with a good response. I’m not a fan of drum solos and Joe’s short blast didn’t do much for me, but a good classic split the crowd in two always gets a response. Stand out tracks on the night were Clarity and To The Gallows and although they were slightly outdone by the two bands before them, The Black Hounds will be worth a watch if they venture across Offa’s Dyke again soon.

Reviews: Hammerfall, Lacrimas Profundere, Solitary, Gurt (Matt & Paul H)

Hammerfall: Dominion (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Dominion is Swedish metal kings Hammerfall's eleventh studio album, that's not a bad innings when you consider this band have been playing their 'Templar Metal' since 1993, in that time they have very rarely deviated from the power metal pole position they have occupied since their debut record Glory To The Brave, they did have a little bit of a misstep on Infected but their last two albums have been glorious celebrations of their power metal roots, with the band drawing on nostalgia but also keeping their focus squarely on the present. So what about Dominion? Well it's and album that closes with a huge emotional ballad And Yet I Smile which is probably the most emotional song they have done since Dragon Lies Bleeding letting Joacim Cans give his pipes a good work out.

However it's only one of two slower numbers on this album, the rest of the album being the normal galloping  power metal assault that you'd want from Hammerfall. It's the second album to feature David Wallin behind the drumkit who double kicks like a mule on speed allowing Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren to bring the twin axe attack, highlighted on the Maiden-like One Against The World, as Fredrik Larsson keeps everything in line with his bass rhythms. Never Forgive, Never Forget explodes with frantic pace but it's the title track that follows that gets the head nodding and the foot tapping, it's a mid paced stomper that will quickly be added to their live show, as to will the first single (We Make) Sweden Rock a gloriously silly song that could be their new Hearts On Fire. At this point in their career Hammerfall don't have to prove anything they have been doing this for too long to radically change anything, if you want pure power metal glory then get ready for their Dominion. 8/10

Lacrimas Profundere: Bleeding The Stars (Oblivion) [Paul Hutchings]

I’m a few weeks late with this review but it has been worth the wait. I was captivated by 2016’s Hope Is Here and this latest album, the German’s 12th release, on their 25th year, is another special piece of work. With the departure of vocalist Roberto Vitacca in 2018, a mainstay in the band since 2007, the band moved quickly to secure the vocal talents of Julian Larre from Finnish band Lessdmv. Whilst always badged as a gothic metal outfit, Bleeding The Stars really returns to the band’s roots with Larre’s deep, mournful vocals fitting perfectly. Guitarist Tony Berger has also departed since the last release leaving Lacrimas Profundere as a trio in the studio. Founder Oliver Nikolas Schmid handles bass, guitars and keyboards whilst drummer Dominik Scholz returns to the position he vacated in 2013.

Bleeding The Stars is, like its predecessor, an album that grows on the listener with every play. Celestial Woman and Mother Of Doom are deep, richly gothic tracks that blend harsh riffs with melancholic keyboards and sombre vocals. Father Of Fate moves at a faster, semi-industrial speed, swirling keys and a repeating guitar riff combine with clean and growling vocals to create a maelstrom of darkness. There is an epic feel to A Sip Of Multiverse, strings and clean guitar lines adding to an already emotionally complex piece of work whilst A Sleeping Throne concludes this relatively short but enchanting album to a perfect close.

Disappointingly, the band are visiting the UK a mere once this year, on 21st November in London. I’d love to get there but regardless, this stunning release will bring me many hours of listening pleasure. If you like the darkness of Moonspell and the like, then ensure that you get your listening bits around one of the best albums of 2019. 9/10

Solitary: XXV (Doc-Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Preston thrash legends Solitary celebrated quarter of a century together with a blistering set in the Sophie Lancaster Tent at Bloodstock 2019. In conjunction with that, the band has released XXV,  three classic songs re-recorded from their rich past which includes the Requiem, a gruesomely vicious beast which features Rich Sherrington’s snarling vocals. We also get the thundering Within Temptation which doffs the cap to Megadeth whilst the other track, Keep Your Enemies Closer is a well-developed rager.  In addition, you get two tracks from their last London show, at the Camden Underworld with Darkane. Architects Of Shame and The Diseased Heart Of Society which despite the rather tinny sound provide ample evidence of the punishment these guys dish out in spades in the live arena, Bassist Gaz Harrop is back for the first time since 2001, and whilst the solitary (sorry!) original member is Sherrington, there is still much sparking in the belly of this beast. Their Bloodstock Open Air appearance was fresh and powerful, and we can now prepare for a full-length release in 2020, Year 26 promises to be a thrashing good one for this underrated UK band. 7/10

Gurt: Bongs Of Praise (When Planets Collide) [Matt Bladen]

Cracking album title firstly but then it's exactly what you'd expect from party sludgers Gurt, this is an album that takes filthy sludge/doom riffs and tongue-in-cheek lyrics (it's the song titles that give it away) for an album of songs that worship the leaf. In fact there are so many mentions of weed on this album that I'd love to know who is Gurt's dealer as they are getting some very good shit. Musically this is dense, aggressive sludge/doom that remind me of Eyehategod or Phil Anselmo. The album is a muddy mix of sounds full of distortion and growled vocals but occasionally things get a humorous on One Hit Wonder which nicks the riff from Main Offender by The Hives before descending into a thick doom breakdown, but mostly the band attack the listener with a sound that has become bigger with every release. Even here on cuts such as The Joint Of No Return they add some space rock, Jazz Cabbage is a short stab of violence and the title track creeps with some synths before the thick stoner riffs come in. If the more aggressive sludge stoner style with a wicked sense of humour is your thing then take a knee for Gurt's Bongs Of Praise. 7/10

Monday, 19 August 2019

Reviews: Entombed AD, Winterfylleth, SiXforNinE, Scarlet Rebels (Sean, Paul H & Matt)

Entombed AD: Bowels Of Earth (Century Media Records) [Sean Morgan]

HECK! MUCH HECK! WHY AM I TALKING IN DOGGO SPEAK!? Well, if you were a chainsaw welding, HM-2 worshipping son of a gun like myself, anything Entombed related is gonna get you into a tizzy. Scratch that, Entombed AD! Whilst Alex and co remain in a semi catatonic state (Clandestine Live ain’t enough, sorry guys), the LG Petrov fronted Entombed AD continue to fly the flag for Swedish savagery. Although AD’s last two releases were fairly solid affairs, they didn’t quite scratch that itch, that inescapable yearning for the massacres of old. Then last years Fit For A King happened and BOY OH BOY, was that itch scratched! THE RIFFS! THAT FUCKING SOUND! THEY’RE BACK! Upon reattaching my face, Fit For A King left me yearning for more. More, I say! Fast forward to 2019 and Bowels Of Earth is upon us, chomping at the bit to unleash pure Swedeath carnage. Get yer boots on boys, we’re returning to the left hand path!

Tormented Remains kicks your teeth in, right out of the gate. Filth is turned up to the max, from that instantly recognisable chainsaw tone to LG’s gargling roar. It blasts along at breakneck pace, relentless tremolo riffs running at full force and it’s just so damn satisfying! And for Entombed AD, it’s effortless. Elimination ups the intensity again, blast beats and d-beating with murderous glee. It’s just so….if only y’all, could see my face right now! Gurn inducing, gory glee! Remember when you first heard Left Hand Path or Clandestine? Yep, similar levels of necromancy is being conjured here! Hell Is My Home, another pit starter, is a thrashy wee ditty delivered with force akin to a jackhammer to guts. It relents some halfways through though not for long, as tasty lead work rears it’s head above the ensuing cacophony of carnage. Fairly straightforward stuff so far, if by straightforward you mean devastating! Title track Bowels Of Earth switches it up a bit, opening with a brief atmospherics, until it bulldozes it’s merry way into the fiery beyond. The groove is more apparent, reminiscent of the last two Entombed AD albums, but provides a pleasing and comfortable contrast in styles.

Embracing both melodic and anthem sensibilities, it’s one hell of a stomper! Bourbon Nightmare has pleasing pinches of the ol’ death’n’roll here and there, if the addition of slide guitar is any indication, but things remain disgustingly deathly. FIT FOR A KING IS GREAT AND YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN. “Worlds Apart” doesn’t sound a million miles away from the underrated “Morning Star”, whilst Through The Eyes Of The Gods summons some suitably delicious Dismember vibes (alliteration, yo!). They both rip, with the latter making me do that face again. Excellent. I’ll Never Get Out Alive is an alright Hank Williams cover, though kinda pointless and has the unfortunate honour of being completely outclassed by doomy closer To Eternal Night. That was killer. There’s no other way to describe Bowel Of Earth other than…well…killer! It’s been a while since anything Entombed related sounded this PISSED, this fucking URGENT and HELL BENT on pulling spines out of asses! Hellid and co may be keen on revisiting the past, but it’s Entombed AD that are in complete and utter command of the future. RIP AND TEAR! 9/10

Winterfylleth: The Siege of Mercia (Candlelight/Spinefarm Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Recorded live at their main stage appearance at Bloodstock Open Air in 2017, this six-track release captures the ferocity, emotion and atmosphere that Winterfylleth, one of the UK’s most revered and respected black metal outfits, generate live. For those there on the day, this is a superb aural souvenir of that rarest of things … a Winterfylleth show free from technical difficulties. Opening with The Solitary One Waits For Grace (The Wayfarer Pt. 1), one of two tracks from 2010’s The Mercian Sphere, the band power through their set of five classics with an ease that only comes with time and practice. The Swart Raven includes their traditional breakdown and heartfelt choruses, balancing the snarl of Chris Naughton. Musically tight, this is a set of classic proportions, with the central pillar of their set a magnificent performance of Whisper Of The Elements from 2014’s The Divination Of Antiquity.

Before closing the set with a blistering Defending The Realm from 2008’s The Ghost Of Heritage, the band express their gratitude to the Bloodstock family and to Candlelight Records for their support. A heartfelt message and hopefully one that will see the Manchester outfit return in the very near future. Atmospheric black metal in the middle of the afternoon in bright sunshine are not easy bedfellows, but this recording is the very essence of this seminal band. As a bonus track, the album features an eerie ten-minute synth version of Children Of The Stones, which provides a different take on the favourite track from The Mercian Sphere. An essential release for fans of the band, and a great representation of just how important this band are to the UK extreme metal scene. 8/10

SiXforNinE: Parallel Universe (Eclipse Records) [Matt Bladen]

Athenian rockers SiXforNinE return with their second album and it has a lit to live up to as their debut was something of a sleeper hit for me which perfectly blended classic rock muscle, with alternative rock grooves and a heap of prog rock virtuosity. Their second album kicks off with two more direct numbers the punchy Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining which takes a little from Dream Theater's Train Of Thought period and is followed by Life Devouring Demons which has a tonne of groove starting on a heavy note before it breaks into a shimmering proggy middle section, before getting heavier again.

Handling production once again is Fotis Benardo (former Septicflesh & Nightrage drummer) who also again lends his muscular pipes to the record, he is a very accomplished singer giving an emotionally charged performance, at times aggressive and powerful but at others restrained and almost pained. It means that not only do the musical contributions of George Kapa (guitars), Herc Booze (bass), Pete Outfox (drums) sound huge on massive rockers like Never Ending Road but that the band can also experiment a little with light and shade as Benardo can handle any changes they may make such as when Never Ending Road goes into the ambience of Deftones before roaring back again.

Considering this only a second album with a reasonably long gap between both releases Parallel Universe is massively accomplished doing what many more established bands do much better, even when they really explore their alternative roots on the intensive More Than Words Can Say. In fact this album sees them moving towards the more modern rock style away from the classic sounds of their debut. Whether this is the influence of mixer Paul Pavao and masterer Tom Baker who have worked with such acts as Disturbed, Rob Zombie, Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails and Breaking Benjamin remains to be seen. Though when Meditation Hyperjam sounds so much like a heavier Nickelback (not a bad thing honestly) it's not exactly a secret that they are looking to the mainstream on this sophomore album.

There has been no dropping of the prog which remains on the spacey Karnivool sounding Counting Stars (A Parallel Universe) and it's all the better for it with the slower pace really emphasising the band's talent and Fotis' vocals on a track that lets everything breathe. SiXforNinE are a band who are evolving, keeping their roots but realising that if you don't adapt you get left behind, this is the sound of adaptation, it's heavy and groovy, packed with guitar solos, huge chorus hooks and intelligent songwriting that will appeal to both masses and the minority. 8/10

Scarlet Rebels: Show Your Colours (Rock Of Angels Records) [Matt Bladen]

Ah yes V0iD a band we saw opening for Aaron Buchanan back in May last year, we only managed to catch the end of their set but noted that they played a very radio friendly style of rock. Since then the band have rebranded themselves as Scarlet Rebels, as three members of V0iD Wayne Doyle (vocals and guitar) Gary Doyle (drums) and Wayne ‘P’ Esmonde (bass) were joined by new members lead guitarist Chris Jones and Josh Townshend on guitars and keys, it's a change that seems to have been a positive move as they are now releasing their debut album a 12 track (14 with bonus tracks) record that features Planet Rock fodder by the bucket load. The addition of Jones especially means that Wayne Doyle has found the Mike Campbell to his Tom Petty, his keening guitar playing soaring over the anthemic, down to earth songwriting of Doyle as Gary and Esmonde lay down steady rhythms and Hammond plays the role of the departed Paul Raymond with ivory tinkling and some rhythm guitar.

There's a myriad of classic styles on the record from the sleazy You Take My Breath Away, to the chunky defiant Head's In The Ground as tracks such as Part Of Me have the Southern sound of Black Stone Cherry as Heal is a proper ballad with the the moodiness of the Foo Fighters. Yes it's all well written and composed but much like the other bands in the NWOCR Scarlet Rebels draw on their influences making them more modern, however this album doesn't break any barriers in terms of creativity, the tropes here are well worn and it is a little ballad heavy, in fact it's a little too long to be honest with some of the fat such as Shattered Dreams and Blinded By The Pain needing trimming. Inoffensive rock from South Wales that will be on heavy rotation on Planet Rock and see them featured on numerous classic rock festivals, more power to them but after about 7 songs it was same old same old. 7/10

Sunday, 18 August 2019

A View From A Muddy Field: Bloodstock 2019 Review Part 2 (Live Review By Paul H, Liam, Stief & Nick)

Bloodstock 2019, Catton Hall, United Kingdom

Saturday 10th August

(Paul H) Whereas Friday had dawned relatively calm after the heavy rain, Saturday would be challenged by the 40mph winds that were sweeping across the entire festival. With the weather changing every few minutes, it was time to man up, move away from the swaying tent and focus on the music. And what a start. Opening the main stage was none other than one of our favourite bands, Northamptonshire’s Krysthla (9) who were simply devastating. Frontman Ade Mayes was in no mood to fuck up his big moment, and this bear of a man was pumped to the eyeballs as he stalked the stage, his massive roars heard miles away. Alongside Mayes, the duel guitars of Neil Hudson and Noel Davies shredded like there was no tomorrow, alongside bassist Carl Davies and the precision drumming of Liam Turland. Krysthla’s technical extreme metal is not to everyone’s tastes, but if you do enjoy their distinctive surgically meticulousness approach then this would have had you crying tears of joy. New tracks Remembrance and Zero-Sum Game from the forthcoming Worldwide Negative album were well received with Neil’s clean vocals impressing and the translation to the main stage comfortable. Closing with the massive Luminosity this was one of the sets of the weekend.

Across to the New Blood stage to catch some of Nicosia and Brighton’s combined metal talent with Stormcast (7) whose variety of influences quickly made themselves apparent. With a cross between Opeth, Rotting Christ and Gojira, the band went down well, and I was impressed with their delivery.

Back to the Sophie Stage for one of the discoveries of the weekend, Bulgarians Odd Crew (8) who have been going for 21 years. Their diversity in sound proved a winner and as the crowd slowly swelled, the band relaxed and delivered an impressive set. Their final track, a semi-ballad, took the band in a different direction again but a huge ovation told you all you needed to know. Back to the New Blood Stage for the next band, the notable thrash of Corby outfit Reaper X (7). With drummer Carl Sheldrick wearing an intimidating mask, he and the rest of the band provided a gutsy 30 minutes of new style thrash which was certainly sufficiently impressive for me to follow them with more interest now. Plenty of shredding riffage, tight compositions and full throttle approach. This was good stuff.

(Stief) It’s not surprising that Guardians of Time (8) drew a great crowd within the Sophie Tent, their Norwegian heavy metal stylings clearly popular with the festival goers. It’s not hard to see why. It’s a great mix; a frontman with as brilliant a range as Bernt Fjellestad, backed up with guitar work from Paul Olsen and relative newcomer Anders Danielsen (who I managed to have a brief chat with later on in the day) as well as drummer Jan Willy Aarass and Jonkis Werdal on bass, all working together to make a tight sound. There’s even some comedy when Bernt introduces their track As I Burn (sans Tim “Ripper” Owens), twice after Jan Aarass misses the mark first time.

Overall a brilliant set, which unfortunately can’t be said for Bloodstock favourites Evil Scarecrow (6), as I headed over to the main stage to catch the end of their set. Despite drawing a large crowd, the band have their sound marred by the heavy winds battering the fields of Catton Hall. Extra points for perseverance, however, as they battle through the winds to deliver the audience participation we’ve all come to know and enjoy.

(Paul H) A few minutes of North Wales M2TM winners Scars Of Remembrance (6) followed, their mix of influences resulting in a schizophrenic sound which was certainly worth listening to. Vocalist Mike owned the stage, his presence important. By now the wind was at its height and we raced across to catch Teutonic riffers Dust Bolt (8) on the Sophie Stage. Another band who sit very much in the 1980s thrash style, Dust Bolt are actually very good, and their set had much dandruff flying in the main tent. Sadly, an emergency tent repair meant I missed some of the band’s set, but they were vicious with their thrash onslaught.

(Matt) Just before Thy Art is Murder took to the mainstage we got a big solid chunk of old school death metal from Pemphigoid (8) who brought their flesh rotting death metal to the Bloodstock stage on its smallest but often most interesting stage. The three piece used all.of it to full advantage sounding bigger than their component parts, fully prepared to bludgeon anyone that dared to stand at the stage. Never ones to move around they concentrated on bringing the riffs and splitting as many skills as possible. One of the sleeper hits of the weekend.

(Liam) When the Aussie Deathcore titans Thy Art Is Murder (9) were first announced I'd have no idea that they would have gone over so well with the Bloodstock crowd. But with the tongue-in-cheek humor of CJ McMahon and the brutality performed by the band themselves, they’ve certainly gained a new fan base. Although the strong winds disrupting their set and not allowing for any pyro the band still set their sights on Bloodstock and perform a blistering set including song from new record Human Target, including the title track and New Gods go down a treat. While classics such as Reign Of Darkness & The Purest Strain Of Hate send the crowd into a frenzy of circle pits and crowd surfers, When performing Slaves Beyond Death, McMahon takes advantage of the winds to perform a ‘Michael Jackson’ moment with his shirt blowing behind him. And while joking they’ll be back to headline next year, there’s no doubt next time they’re here, they’ll be a few notches up the line-up.

(Paul H) Having resolved the tent issue, I made it back to the tent to catch a bit of 3 Headed Snake (5), the project of Ministry guitarist Sin Quirin. Despite the high-quality line-up, 3 Headed Snake were typically generic metal and interest was not held for long, so it was back to Belfast progressive thrash merchants in Lock Horns (7) on the New Blood stage who amongst other things incited a one man mosh pit which was funny to observe. On stage the band carved their way through their well written numbers and they delivered a storming set.

With the wind now stopping play on the main stage, it was down to those in charge to make the tough calls. And without much of a problem, they jigged things around to ensure the day continued. With the lighting rigs lowered to the stage, the Cradle of Filth fans waited patiently to hear that Dani and co had been rescheduled to Sunday, with several other switches as well. With a risk to life and limb, this was a superb reaction by the whole Bloodstock crew, and they deserve kudos for their decision making.

Back at the VIP bar it was a chance encounter with Slay Duggee (5), the children’s metal outfit whose motto is to bring metal to the U.10’s. They were certainly entertaining enough and probably on long enough as well. Meanwhile, one of the must-see acts of the weekend, Black Country’s Master’s Call (8) brought an air of mystery with their bludgeoning black metal. Pits a plenty as the band dished out misery and despair. A hop across the muddy field to the Sophie Stage whilst there was still no action on the main stage found me watching Saturday special guests Divine Chaos (8) tear the Sophie stage apart. A last-minute replacement for Skeletal Remains, who were stuck at the mercy of a ferry, Divine Chaos brought the monstrous thrash metal and were one of the stars of the weekend.

Meanwhile on the main stage Anthrax (8) had now started the music again and despite seeing them three times last year, they remain an entertaining force to watch despite a rather predictable set list, although the return of A.I.R. was welcomed. Before the festival, the announcement of Australians Parkway Drive (6) as main headliners was met with derision by those with an elitist attitude. Whilst I watched about 40 minutes of their set, I simply do not get why these guys are so revered. A flashy stage show appears to wow those wanting a flash bang wallop approach. Their songs whilst catchy are somewhat repetitive and after about six songs I was ready to return to the Sophie Tent for the headliner, Taake (7). His brutal black metal was intense and the scene in the tent was one of chaos as the occult metal swirled around. A neon blue sign with the Norwegian’s name on it at the back of the stage was an interesting choice and as the embers burned, so the crowd of the curious slowly filed in. By this time, the efforts of the day had caught up and it was time to head back to VIP.

Sunday 11th August

Having survived the night and a rather unpleasant stomach pains, the final day arrived and promised to be just as busy. First up was the BOA veterans Resin, who hadn’t played at the festival for five years. With a string trio backing up violinist Emma Bennett, Resin (7) provided some respite from the raging fires of the previous days and their Alice In Chains style was a great start to the day. The arrival of Krysthla frontman Ade Mayes for a bit of additional vocal support didn’t do any harm either and the Leicestershire band were roundly applauded at the end of their set. Heading over to the New Blood Stage, 28 Double (6) were in full flow. The Leicestershire winners of M2TM, the band were utilising their hard rock with a passion and with a solid support got a deserved response.

(Liam) Some destructive death metal from Belgian on an early rainy Sunday morning, could always be hit or miss. But Aborted (6) wake up the groggy crowd and soon have us all headbanging and circle pitting. The rain gets progressively worse, but no one cares, as the band rip through their set with no cares in the world. With material from both their latest offering & going back to 2001, it’s quite the sight to see the band rip through their classics and new songs as they stand side by side sounding like they belong together. It’s a brilliant set but does get a tad repetitive, but hey, what can you do? I’m just glad I've seen the death metal outfit prove that they’re needed higher up on the bill.

(Paul H) Why does it always rain just before Welsh bands play? The deluge that had occurred on Friday returned just minutes before Fallen Temples hit the stage. Sadly, the rain departed as quickly as it had arrived, and the tent was suddenly less full. Not that this bothered our Welsh heroes and Fallen Temples (9) proceeded to provide the second stellar set by a Welsh band of the weekend. Quickly getting into their stride through Cut The Wire and Phoenix, the band revelled in the extra space and whilst drummer Joe Stirland was bathed in dry ice from most of the show, his backing vocals and excellent drumming were certainly not quiet. Out front Joe Lewis, resplendent in his Musipedia Of Metal shirt bounced around the stage whilst Adam Vaughan focused on his superb guitar work and vocals. Roared on by the vociferous Welsh support, the set flew by. This was a stellar performance from a band who seriously deserve all the plaudits they get.

A quick dash to the Sophie Stage once more for a bit of Nottingham’s Witch Tripper (9). These guys are massive favourites, and this was my fifth time seeing them this year. The power trio never let you down and their groove infested dirty rock n’ roll went down a storm in the packed tent. Richie Barlow was as hyperactive as ever, shirtless from the opening bars as the band blasted through the quickest 40 minutes I’ve ever experienced. It appeared that bassist Chris Stoff had a minor amp issue which happily he was able to resolve. The true professionals that they are, nothing phased them at all and by the time they had hit White Lines the crowd were down and grooving. A fabulous set and another one to remember. Following Witch Tripper were Solitary (8), the UK thrash veterans who belied their age with a fresh, spunky attitude.

Fired on from their excellent XXV release, the band’s intensive thrash assault went down a treat. And then we arrived at that moment of the weekend when you hear a band you really hoped would be half as good as they were. Finnish progressive rockers Wheel (10) proved to be everything we wanted and more in a mesmerising set. English born vocalist James Lascalles is a captivating front man and appeared genuinely moved by the response of the crowd. For those who were unaware of Moving Backwards before, it will surely be on their shopping list afterwards. Roni Seppänen’s guitar work was sublime, whilst Mikko Määttä’s pounding bass is the driving force for their songs. Any band that can throw a ten-minute track in Wheel into their festival set really need it to work and it was simply stunning. Possibly the band of the weekend and I cannot wait to see them again at Damnation.

(Matt) It was Wigan band Boss Keloid (8) who had the unenviable task of following the amazing Wheel but this proved to be an inspired move as what is better than prog on a Sunday afternoon than double prog? Stylistically different to Wheel, Boss Keloid are much more of a spacey affair with the sludgier, stoner riffs matched by the at times overwhelming keys that were quite high in the mix which added to the space rock feel of the band who played a set mainly from their new album Melted On Inch. It was a great way to while away 40 minutes in another world away from the heaviness on the rest of the bill.  

(Paul H) At last time to get back to the main stage and what a set to do so. Swedish Death Metal legends Hypocrisy (8) played a blinding set, full of heavy riffing and visceral thrash sections. Peter Tägtgren, was on ferocious form, his snarling rants about being asked to play in the morning (it was 3pm) and constant haranguing of the crowd to get involved. A set list to die for included tracks from several releases, including a monumental A Fire In The Sky and the mandatory set closer Roswell 47. Mikael Hedlund, Horgh and touring member Tomas 'Elof' Elofsson added all the meat you needed, and this was one of those sets that it was vital to watch. Not over yet as a further trip to the Sophie Tent introduced us to Crescent (8), whose Egyptian death metal was brilliant and deserved a bigger audience. Clashing with Dee Snider was not helpful, but the Egyptians were robust and quite fantastic. With incense wafting through the whole tent this was what we wanted.

The two European bands put through as M2TM finalists were Golden Core (6) from Norway and Seithist (5) from Poland. Whilst Golden core impressed with the two piece’s talent and age, they struggled with the occasion, the size of the stage. Seithist were hexed by an awful sound but just were not very good. In between these I’d watched Suffolk’s most famous son scream his guts out as Cradle Of Filth (8) put in a commanding performance. Following Seithist, we were treated to the hyperactive Leadrobot (6), the machine metal from Leeds who varied between worst band of the weekend and most intriguing. It was the arrival of the blackened thrash of Damim (8) which restored faith as Nathanael Underwood, Flo, Edd and Faust blasted through their set with a ferocity that was incredible for the penultimate band of the weekend. Fresh from their latest excellent release, A Fine Game Of Nil, this was uncompromising stuff and for those unsuspecting souls who had wandered into the tent out of curiosity, probably quite a shock.

(Nick) One of the bands that I was most looking forward too this weekend, Queensryche (9) entered the stage with little fanfare, having been bumped up to the special guest spot due to Dimmu unfortunately having to pull out. Immediately breaking out heavy riff filled Blood Of The Levant, from new album The Verdict, the band set about introducing their new sound to the crowd. However, only really accepted by the die hard Queensryche fans the song finished with an undeserved splattering of applause. From here on though, it was to be hit after hit. Delving deep into the band's back catalogue at times, songs from the Operation:Mindcrime, Rage For Order and Empires were offered up.

Starting with title track Operation: Mindcrime and moving on to Walk In The Shadows and Queen Of The Ryche the band drew the crowd in, mainly due to the yet again flawless voice of Todd Le Torre. Hitting every note perfectly and mostly effortlessly Todd is the key to the modern version of this band. As the majority of the crowd joined in singing along to hits such as Empires, Screaming In Digital and the beautiful Take Hold Of The Flame, the combination of Wilson, Rockenfield, Jackson and Lundgren with La Torres voice offer up a majestic brand of prog metal that has and will carry on to live throughout the years. Queensryche are have always been one of my favourite bands, no matter who fronts them and here they proved why.

*On a side note, to the greasy numpty who was stood next to me proudly proclaiming "I don't know who these guys are, but they're just trying to be Iron Maiden... Desperate". You sir did nothing but embarrass yourself, nonetheless; you are a heathen, you should not be allowed to speak let alone listen to music. You should be banned from all music and your family should be ashamed of you.* (I think Nick was a little tired and emotional here)

(Matt) As we moved towards the main stage for the German hard rock legends in the Jagermeister stage for Womenowar (8) made up of members of Dakesis and Fury who, in the wake of their male counterparts not playing Hellfest, said that they would not be pulling out of Bloodstock as it was not a valid method of contraception. They crammed onto the stage with Erica Had'Ems (Dakesis Singer - Gemma Lawler) using her amazing pipes to blast out Manowar, Kings Of Metal, Hail And Kill and of course Battle Hymns as Joanne Lmao (Dakesis Bassist - Amie Chatterley) cranked out the low end (even treating the unworthy masses to the world's greatest bass solo), the guitars were taken by Davina Shenkels (Dakesis Guitarist - Matt Jones) and Floss The Boss (Fury Guitarist - Jake Elwell) while The Pleasure Slave (Occasional Fury Bassist - Josh Cureton) sat behind the drumkit. The keys (for what is a Womenowar show without massive orchestrations to get hysterical over were handled by The Man-O-Whore (Fury Bassist Becky Baldwin) and Thunderprick (Dakesis Drummer - Adam Harris). They truly played a headline set turning Bloodstock Fest into WomenowarFest. As is only right they played when no other band were performing making them the most authentic tribute to Manowar in the world. Other bands play Womenowar kill so hit The Gryphon later this year to see them make the wimps and posers leave the hall!

(Paul H) And so, we arrived at the Sunday headliner. German legends Scorpions (7) have been touring their Crazy World tour for several years. Slick, choreographed and at times a little self-indulgent, this was still a show that demonstrated why the band are so well regarded. Klaus Meine’s voice started ropey but improved although there were times when he really did show all his 71 years. Rudolph Schenker, meanwhile, didn’t stop, running along the walkway which split the crowd and going through several costume changes. The set-list was almost identical to the set I’d seen in Lille several years ago and the absence of some of their heavier tracks was disappointing. Still, Make It Real and The Zoo both still send shivers up and down my spine, Blackout was thrilling, and Winds Of Change is still in my most hated songs. Mikkey Dee may be a fabulous drummer, but a ten-minute drum solo was unnecessary. Mathias Jabs remains a superb guitarist and it was a pleasure to watch him play. Closing with a ghastly Still Loving You and the inevitable Rock You Like A Hurricane (to the wildest sing-along of the evening), this was possibly the German’s swansong in the UK.

Heading back to the campsite, I reflected that this had been one of the most demanding Bloodstock festivals for a long time. Huge numbers of bands to see, challenging weather and a tiredness which has yet to leave. But it was amazing, and I am sure that this time next year I’ll be writing up my summary of the 20th anniversary.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

A View From A Muddy Field: Bloodstock 2019 Review Part 1 (Live Review By Paul H, Liam & Stief)

Bloodstock 2019, Catton Hall, United Kingdom

(Paul H) With every type of weather thrown at us, you’d have to be a complete moron not to appreciate the impact that climate change is having. The UK’s number one metal festival endured everything mother nature could throw at it, but not without a few casualties. Preparations are key, and overall, the Bloodstock family coped admirably. With the emphasis on recycling and the reduction in single use plastic this year, it was noticeable around the site, there was substantially less litter strewn across most of the campsites and particularly the main arena. Additional bins would have made it easier for people to recycle, those that were there were often overflowing. In VIP, the cleaners worked admirably to keep the toilets and showers functional and the main arena portaloos were also impressively useable even late on Sunday afternoon. Reports of the usual animalist behaviour reached us via social media, but apart from the odd punter who missed the bowl and shit all over the seat in one of the loos (how???) it was less of an ordeal than in previous years. Mind you, the story of the shit on a stick which appeared in Midguard was just off the chart in grossness. Human beings eh? What a bunch of idiots. Anyway, let’s talk about the music.

Thursday 8th August

Refreshed from an overnight stop, we set up camp as gates opened and with the short walk to VIP, we were tucking into cold beers in the bright sunshine by early afternoon. The campsite appeared fuller this year, but the main arena certainly was emptier than in previous years. As always, action on day one was in the Sophie Tent and it was certainly a warm one to whet the fans appetite for the forthcoming festivities. Opening proceedings, Mancunian doomsters Barbarian Hermit (6) whose heavier sludgy riffs almost broke the girders. Their bruising intensity was perfect for the opening slot, and a huge crowd were roaring their approval with their NOLA doom style. I’d like to see these guys in a smaller show to get the real feel.

If it was warm in the tent before, Blind River (9) stoked the fires completely with a 30-minute set that oozed class from start to finish. Debuting promising new track Made Of Dirt alongside now classic tracks such as Bone House, Freedom Dealer and a raucous Can’t Sleep Sober finale, this was BR at their most majestic, with frontman Harry Armstrong whirling around the stage like a man possessed. Having seen these guys several times, they are maturing like a fine wine and their new album is on my most wanted list.

The food run got in the way of more Mancunians, this time the insanity of Footprints In The Custard and so with apologies to them (not that they needed it as the tent was rammed and a good time was had by all) we encountered our first run in with Irish metal beasts Ten Ton Slug (7) whose crushing metal was mighty impressive With a newish bassist on board in Pavol Rosa, the Slug oozed their way through a particularly filthy slime trail of merciless gastropod goodness. Tracks from Gluttonous Beast and Blood And Slime got the party firing even harder.

Some of our brothers had travelled to Lords of the Land earlier in the year and witnesses the might of Greek Death Metal legends Rotting Christ (9) there. I’d seen the band several years ago in the same tent at BOA and that evening was one of high intensity. With new guitarist Giannis Kalamatas and bassist Kostas Heliotas fitting in comfortably alongside Sakis Tolis and brother Themis on drums, Rotting Christ demonstrated why they are still ascending in popularity amongst the metal community. This was a set to enjoy, with old classics blending neatly with tracks from their excellent Heretics release. Closing with Non Serviam, the Greeks delivered one of the weekend’s most punishingly brutal sets; thoroughly enjoyable and a great start to the weekend.

Friday 9th August

Friday dawned damp and wet after a night of biblical levels of rain. It was destined to be a day of some drama but even worse was to follow on Saturday. With most punters holding their heads after the inevitable first night of partying, it was a quick change into sturdy boots and down to the New Blood Stage for the opening band of the day, Xero (6), from Newcastle. A powerful sound from the band, who play a kind of alt-metal style like Tesseract and Karnivool. Vocalist Steff was having to work hard to maintain the levels needed and whilst the band were certainly giving it their all, I wouldn’t day that it was my type of music. Much more likely to blow the morning cobwebs away was Zealot Cult (7), in the Sophie Stage. The Limerick based outfit play a Floridian death metal in the style of Morbid Angel and Obituary and were in no mood to do anything but level the tent. Crushing riffs ensured a brutal assault which left the punters gathered with melted faces.

With new album Forevermore already a regular on the playlist, I was looking forward to seeing Bristol based Control The Storm (8) who drew a sizeable crowd. Investing in the first pyro of the weekend, the band moved from a cumbersome soundcheck into a slick symphonic metal outfit and provided a solid and spectacular show. Vocalist Firouzah was the star of the show, her eye-catching outfit not distracting from her powerful, operatic vocal delivery which fitted well with the band’s sound. One of few bands to use keyboards over the weekend, Raedon Mac (who still owes me a physical copy of Forevermore!) added layers to the duel guitar assault and was also able to command the first circle pit of the band’s career! 

Then came the first difficult choice of the weekend with UK death metallers Blasphemer clashing with the might of Death Angel (8). I went with the Californian outfit mainly because I’d already seen Blasphemer earlier this year and it proved a decent choice as the Americans scorched the earth with a quality set. Two from debut The Ultra Violence (including a fiery Voracious Souls) sat alongside more recent tracks from Humanicide, The Dream Calls For Blood and The Evil Divide. Whilst Mark Oseguda’s stage-patter remains a little contrived, there is nothing false about the band’s approach with lead guitarist Rob Castanavy and fellow shredder Ted Aguila swapping sides at will. With bassist Damien Sisson and drummer Will Carroll locking down the engine room, this was a fabulous flex of the thrash muscles.

No challenge about the next choice of band, oh no, as the thrash of the mighty Metal Church (9) finished off the bits that Death Angel had left. With Mike Howe in imperious form, the only challenge was which tracks to deliver. Opening with the title track of their excellent Damned If You Do, Howe was all over the stage like a rash, his flexibility and soaring vocals impressing. Little chat between songs as the band hit Needle And Suture. A double tip to the Badlands album was enhanced by a blistering Beyond The Black and Start The Fire from the band’s first two releases. This was fine show which once again demonstrated that Metal Church are one of the most underrated bands.

Things were about to get feisty in the New Blood tent and a quick dash to Lemmy’s Bar for a beer allowed us to reach the New Blood before the heavens absolutely opened. Cue many soggy punters pouring into the tent. Sadly, the crowd thinned as the sun came out and Soulfly hit the main stage. For those of use from South Wales, the New Blood Stage was way more important as our M2TM winners Blind Divide (10) proved the voters, judges and Rob Bannister right. Ferocious, with an intensity not seen in previous shows, the Cardiff band hit the accelerator and didn’t take the foot off the pedal until the 30 minutes was exhausted. Vocalist James EB prowled the stage like a caged tiger, revelling in the extra room but also harnessing every bit of lung capacity for his draining vocal roar which was spectacular. New track Betrayer Of Blood feels like an old friend, the groove from Adam Duffield and James Ponsford infectious. I’ve never seen drummer Anthony Ellis focus so intently whilst bassist Declan McCabe was pure concentration, soaking up every minute. With the front few rows roaring the band on, this was a special set and one that left us all beaming. The lads done good.

In between our scurrying around a few of the other folks on the blog managed to catch a few more bands on the main two stages.

(Liam) Being one of my favorite bands of the weekend I was so excited to see Children Of Bodom (7). But when they hit the stage, I was a little let down, but it’s not the bands fault. The sound system wasn't on their side so it felt like they were playing another field or two over. Apart from the little technical hiccup the band ploughed through classics such as Are You Dead Yet? Angels Don’t Kill & Hate Crew Death Roll, while also adding a few new songs from Hexed to please the newer fans. From the rasped vocals of Alexi Laiho to the furious drum work by Jaska Raatikainen the band are on point and deliver a blistering set to the Bloodstock crowd.

(Paul H) After that, it was time to ease back a bit and a visit to the VIP Bar to see one-man blues/punk machine Noisepicker (7) (Harry Armstrong from Blind River whose drummer was absent). An interesting set, demonstrating the multiple talents of the former Earls Of Mars man which was quickly followed by another foray into the Sophie Tent to catch a smattering of Demolition Hammer before a stunning show by Countless Skies (7). The Hertfordshire band play rich melodic death metal and were on form, their set one of the more enjoyable ones of the weekend.

(Liam) While Djent is not my favorite genre, Tesseract (5) have proved that Djent does belong here. But really, it’s not for me. The band perform a solid and tight set but they’re not really a main stage band. Not yet anyway. The first few songs were decent and sounded great, but not enough to win me over. They have their fair share of fans here, but they need a little longer and a few more crowd inducing sings to be that higher up. Shame really because they do have potential.

(Paul H) Nothing has prepared for the brutality in the New Blood as Weymouth outfit Anakim (8), complete with The Drowning’s vocalist Matt Small played a 30-minute set that literally smashed the roof off, such was the attack. These boys gave the punters exactly what they wanted and that was a good half an hour of old school death metal. A quick watch of Northern Ireland’s Skypilot (7) proved entertaining, but it was challenging to get near the front of the Jaeger Stage due to the supportive hordes.

(Stief) Out of the many bands that have played Bloodstock in previous years, Powerwolf (9) have had one of the biggest leaps. Having last graced BOA nearly a decade ago, where they were headlining the Sophie Lancaster Stage, the band are now support to the headliners, and it’s a long overdue reunion. With a set filled to the brim with classics such as Resurrection By Erection, We Drink Your Blood, and Werewolves Of Armenia, along with a selection of stuff from their latest release such as Demons Are A Girl’s Best Friend and Fire & Forgive, there’s something for everyone. Attila Dorn is as charismatic as ever, with Falk Schlegel acting yet again as keyboardist/hype man whenever he isn’t playing. The Greywolf brothers are solid with their riffs and drummer Roel Van Helden does not hold back on the heaviness. The crowd are happy, the band are happy. This is definitely Bloodstock

(Paul H)When Sabaton (6) previously played BOA, as main guest to Trivium in 2015, they had blown the headliners off the stage. It was only natural with the progress the band has made to make them headliners this year. However, whilst I enjoyed their early work, recent albums have left me cold and the latest release, The Great War, isn’t one that has impressed me at all. Sabaton had a massive stage set, including a tank drum riser and the eager crowd were buzzing with anticipation as the Swedes hit the stage in traditional style with Ghost Division. The Great War followed, with the crowd in raptures before Resist And Bite got more singing. However, their set was understandably based heavily on their last two albums and as soon as the comedic side of things started (encouraged by the audience who lapped it up – e.g. the constant gibberish around Swedish Pagans) It was time to head to the Sophie Tent for the final band of the evening.

Whereas Sabaton had all the show, Grand Magus (9) relied on their music to do the talking. A blistering 12 song set list, this was an hour of classic heavy metal, undiluted and distributed with epic style. Opening with I, The Jury, this was a set that contained many massive tracks. Like The Oar That Strikes The Water, Raven’s Guide Our Way and a rare outing for 2005’s Kingslayer all got the crowd pumped. JB was in fine form, his skullet and mutton chops flowing, whilst Fox never changes, although he did take more vocal work this time. Drummer Ludwig Witt spent much of his time shrouded in dry ice but didn’t miss a beat. This was magical stuff and a closing Hammer Of The North had the tent singing long after the band had left the stage. It had been a magnificent day. But much more was to follow.