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Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Reviews: Skaldic Curse, Vile Apparition, Ty Morn, Chaos Realm (Paul H & Matt)

Skaldic Curse: Devourer (Apocalyptic Witchcraft) [Paul H]

This might be one of the best releases of the year. It will certainly be in amongst the best re-releases of 2019. The irony of this is that Devourer, the third album by Skaldic Curse, should have been released over ten years ago. The album did appear digitally in 2013, as various reviews do exist on the internet but let’s roll with the official press release that accompanied this magnificent piece of British black metal and suggest that this is only now seeing the light of day. Founded in 2001 and lasting until 2011, Skaldic Curse featured members of Akercocke and Fen and released two albums, Pathogen in 2006 and World Suicide Machine in 2009 before the band split. Formed in part along with the wave of new acts who were seeking to re-establish the UK’s reputation on the international extreme metal stage, Skaldic Curse adopted a resolutely cold, intricate path – searing melody, crushing dissonance, and an almost overwhelming intensity which, when you consider where the band members came from was unsurprising.

The band adopted rather ridiculous names; bassist Monolith (Adam Allain or Gunrgyn from Fen), vocalist Woundz (Jay Logan), drummer Vermin (Paul Westwood formerly of Fen and De Profundis), guitarist Astynax and Scapula (Paul Scanlan – ex Akercocke) but there is nothing remotely humorous about their music. Devour is aggressive black metal, crammed full of tritone chord progressions, ragged riffs and blastbeats, dissonant melodies and rasping vocals. At times this album is reminiscent of Voivod merged with the atmosphere that Swedish giants Enslaved bring to the table. Unorthodox time signatures abound underneath the frantic jagged riffing. Devourer is an intensely satisfying piece of work. Intricate, powerful and haunting, it blends the excellent musicianship with a nihilistic fury. There are some astonishing passages of play; Abduction Void for example rages with a venom before slowing but rarely losing the sinister tone, the ragged almost indecipherable vocals don’t even start until almost five minutes have passed. 

The title track contains a striking solo whilst the bass and guitars rage in their battling duel throughout. With the shortest track just shy of six-minutes, this is an album that demands attention, patience and devotion. The reward is, in my opinion, one of the most impressive UK black metal releases of all time. Creative and innovative, Devour also contains an accessibility that many other bands do not offer but that doesn’t detract from the brooding menace and aggression that lurks within. 9/10

Vile Apparition: Depravity Ordained (Memento Mori) [Paul H]

This is the debut release from Vile Apparition, a four-piece death metal band from Melbourne, Australia. Whilst the band may be relatively new, the members are no new boys on the block with a history in other death metal outfits. It’s a filthy, solidly produced slab of old school death metal which leaves little to the imagination. The retro-sound sitting firmly towards the New York death metal sound of the 1990s-mid noughties. Mauled and Nameless kicks things off with gusto, Jamie Colic’s gruesome growling in sync with the band’s wall of sound, Oliver Ballantyne’s blistering opening drumming salvo a taste of the consistency that he delivers throughout this release. Avoiding the relentless chug that many bands use ad nauseum, Vile Apparition have chosen to focus instead on a thrashy style whilst retaining all the elements necessary. 

Visceral guitar work, bass that is constant without overwhelming and a slightly muddy mix essential for this genre. There are no flashy gimmicks here, just four musicians (Dave Kearns on bass and Dan Harris on guitar make up the band) whose intensity and focus on their sound forces Depravity Ordained high in this year’s releases. Aeon Of Impalement with its brutal machine gun drumming and rumbling bass, jagged riffs and mid-way pause for breath sits amongst a plethora of highlights on an album which really is impressive. 8/10

Ty Morn: Istor (Self Released)

We get a lot of one man projects here at MoM Towers most of them are basic, bedroom black metal with production that sounds like it was recorded in a tin bath. Now you could class Ty Morn as a solo project as all of the songs were composed by Aron Biale who plays the rhythms guitars and bass on this record, however unlike many of these one man projects Biale has used the power of the internet to gather together a number of musicians to contribute to this album. It's not black metal either, no from the Piotr 'Kenshin' Bednarczuk designed cover art to the music contained on this nine track album is a glorious tribute to 80's heavy metal influenced by Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Dio. 

The album contains as the band put it "tales of despots, petulant gods, war & honour, sea monsters, creatures of the night" so it's the ideal soundtrack for a Game Of Thrones Marathon. Biale's compositions are very good from the epic chug of Fall On Your Sword and the cinematic The Language Of Beasts to the faster speed metal riffs of Bring Forth The Night and Reign Of The Hunter. It's unashamedly retro and catchy as hell. He has a myriad of lead guitar players on this record (as solos are important) with seven contributing six string wizardry as Per Mikkelsen lays down the grooves behind the kit and Eugene Moiseienko brings some organs to the doomy Kings Of Dishonour and the bouncing Hunt Leviathan

Thankfully for me he only has one singer on the record and Raphael Gazal is somewhat of an undiscovered talent having a great set of pipes for this traditional metal fayre. From the compositions and arrangements to the performance and production Istor is a fantastic debut album for fans of Grand Magus et al a truly great release with everything you could want in a 'proper' heavy metal release. 9/10  

Chaos Realm: World Under Attack (Self Released)

I do like a bit of thrash and Chaos Realm’s opening riffs on the interesting 1066 (The Battle Of Hastings) had my attention instantly. It has the combination of old school and current razor-sharp slashing riffs. Disappointingly, the vocals of Jim Lambrou (who also plays bass and manages the band) are just awful and destroy everything. From here on in it was going to be painful and whilst I normally love a bit of the growler in a vocalist, this is something else. And that’s a shame because the band’s approach musically combines many top-quality influences including Death, Maiden, Priest and Pantera. Unsurprisingly then, the best track on the album is the measured instrumental Helpless Human. The Athenians have plenty of potential, but I’d suggest that Lambrou steps back from doing the vocals and finds someone with a little more variety and tone. A real shame. 4/10

Reviews: Vile Creature, Pissgrave, Body Harvest, Acid Death (Paul S & Paul H)

Vile Creature: Preservation Rituals (Prosthetic Records) [Paul S]

Vile Creature are a duo based in Ontario, Canada. The band, made up of Vic on drums and vocals and K.W. on guitar and vocals, have been making music since 2014. Vile Creature recently signed for Prosthetic records, and this double album is a collection of everything they have released before signing to the coolest of metal record labels. The band define their sound as Blackened Doom, which is a description that I’m not going to argue with, as it’s pretty accurate. The collection features Vile Creatures first album A Steady Descent Into The Soil (2015), and the EP A Pessimistic Doomsayer (2016) on the first CD, and the album Cast Of Static And Smoke (2018) makes up the second CD. A Steady Descent Into The Soil starts with the track A Constant Yearning To Leave, which starts with a slow buildup, before crashing into a huge, blackened doom riff the size of a planet. The track has very harsh, aggressive vocals, which, despite the anger are also deeply mournful. The aggressiveness of the vocals increases as the track goes on. The pacing is slow, but there is a huge amount of inertia in this; it’s slow but it’s also very powerful, and feels as unstoppable as continental drift. I listened to this album at work quite a lot, the title always resonated. Motivated By Guilt has the same slow but unrelenting quality that the first track had. The song has a huge build up, which is released in the second half.

The vocals are confrontational and in some ways deeply anguished. Next we get the title track A Steady Descent Into The Soil. This is huge slow and mournful. The vocals are initially harsh and feel like the singer is in pain. The track has a quieter section mid way through, with a simple, sad but beautiful melody brought forth by some very lilting clean vocals. The track gets heavy again, but this time those beautiful clean vocals carry on making the ending of this song cathartic and meaningful. The EP A Pessimistic Doomsayer is one (very long) song. The track has a slow build up before a huge and heavy riff kicks in, with clean vocals. The track moves into a heavier, harsher section before tempering all of the nastiness with some very tuneful clean vocals, that remind me a little of some of Sisters Of Mercy’s backing vocals. Again the band mix the heaviness with the beautiful clean vocals, giving the ending of the track a tempered mix of nasty with elegance. The second CD in this collection is the bands 2018 album Cast Of Static And Smoke. This is clearly a concept album, but unlike most concept albums, the band give you a spoken word short story as the last track on the album. I’m assuming that the album started with the story, and then they wrote the songs to fit in with the story, lyrically and thematically. 

The songs on this album are shorter than their previous work. All the song titles are taken directly from the short story, and most of the tracks feature sections of the audiobook that makes up the final track. Water Tinter Gold and Tainted Copper gets the album off to a huge and nasty start. Both members of the band are featured doing harsh vocals and the intensity of this track is off the scales. As the song goes on it feels more harsh and intense, before a climactic ending. Circuits Bending And Breaking opens with drums, before a minimal riff comes in. The vocals are harsh and the riff becomes increasingly discordant. In fact this track is all about the build, getting more and more harsh, intense and brooding. Forest Subsists As A Tomb starts with feedback before an enormous riff and bellowing vocals crash in to wash all of the feedback away. The hugeness couldn’t last, so we also get a section that is more minimalist, but is still as heavy as all fuck. Sky In Descending Pieces starts in a slow, soft intro before it gets crushingly heavy, harsh and nasty. This is the last track that is a song, and it batters and crushes the audience into submission. 

This is almost a definition of heavy. Final track is called Audiobook, which is also a description. This is the short story that all the songs have been based on. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale of self aware robots and sentient trees. It’s very well written, and read. In style it reminded me of the more intelligent sci-fi writers like Philip K Dick or Ursula Le Guin. The track does have some very minimalist musical accompaniment, but it’s mainly about the story. Vile Creature are making a lot of noise at the moment. They are going to be huge in the next year or so. This is not hype. They are every bit as good as the praise they have garnered. This collection shows that so well. They are innovative, breathtakingly creative, heavy as anything I’ve ever heard, and incredibly beautiful. This 2 CDs collection is well worth having, nearly 2 hours, and it’s all great. Vile Creature are going to be huge pretty soon, this double album shows why. 9/10

Pissgrave: Posthumous Humiliation (Profound Lore) [Paul S]

Pissgrave erupted on to the death metal scene in 2015 with their staggeringly savage debut Suicide Euphoria. The four piece, based in Philadelphia blew thousands of minds with their brand of ultra extreme death metal. Everything about Pissgraves debut was savage and breathtakingly over the top; production, guitar, bass and drum sound, insanely angry vocals, song titles, lyrics. If it was possible to push thing to ridiculous levels of extremity, then Pissgrave did. Now, four years on they are back, and if you are expecting them to have mellowed, well, you’re wrong. The album opens with Euthanasia, and we are dropped strait into a blast beat, and an extremely nasty spiky riff. Pissgrave haven’t mellowed at all, if anything they’ve got more savage, monstrous and bestial. The guitar sound is just as insane, bass and drums are even more ridiculously savage, the vocals are still soooooo horrifically angry. The other thing that is obvious from the first track is how good the solo’s are on this album. 

Imagine a solo played by Eric Cutler or Danny Coralles from Autopsy, then make it faster, squealier, and all round nastier in every way, and you are getting close to how insane the solo’s are on this album. Next up is Canticle Of Ripping Flesh, which is dense, fast and aggressive. It’s absolutely brutal and battering, ferocious and fierce. Funeral Inversion is slow and very heavy for the first half. Although slow, it is so intense that it doesn’t feel like a drop in extremity. There is a faster section, just for some variation in nastiness, before going back to the slow and heavy again. Catacombs Of Putrid Chambers is back to fast again, with a relentless, battering and driving feel. Into The Deceased is fast and attacking, with unrelenting savagery. The song has a slow and grinding ending, with some really nasty, putrid harmonies. Title track Posthumous Humiliation has some very nasty, spiky riffs, the vocals are particularly nasty and filled with rage. This track also boasts another great solo and a slow grinding ending. My god this is album is horrific. Celebratory Defilement is mid-paced, but is still aggressive and savage. 

The guitar, bass, drum and vocal sound is so extreme, and the overall sound is so intense that mid-paced is just as extreme. The album comes to a close with Rusted Wind, another unremittingly nasty piece of work. The song does have one surprise, the second half of it is all guitar harmonies. Don’t get me wrong, they are still vile, nasty and squalid harmonies, but harmonies nonetheless. Posthumous Humiliation is a staggeringly extreme death metal album. Only a few bands can manage this amount of extremity, Drawn And Quartered manage it, but I can’t think of any other death metal acts that are this extreme. Usually, the only place to find this level of ridiculousness is in the War metal scene. This album sounds a little like Revenge playing Autopsy covers, and as those 2 bands are 2 of my favourites, I’m loving this album. Metaphorically, this is like swimming in sewage, with your mouth wide open; it’s utterly putrid and vile, sickeningly disgusting, and totally wonderful. Pissgrave don’t have that much in the way of variety, they do one thing, but they do it very, very well. If you like that thing (and I do), then this album is essential. 8/10

Body Harvest: Parasitic Slavery (Comatose Music) [Paul H]

This album should come with a fucking health warning. Listen to it through noise reducing headphones at even a reasonable volume and you may well be unable to speak to people for the next week. I’m still dribbling now! If you don’t know about these guys, then check out our interview with them before they played the New Blood Stage at Bloodstock last year. Formed in 2011, Body Harvest have been delivering true old school Bristolian death metal for the past eight years with an aggression and trauma inducing style that shatters bone and destroys ear canals. Parasitic Slavery is their sophomore release, coming after 2014’s debut album Futile Creation. Whilst that album bludgeoned listeners with its sheer intensity of delivery, Body Harvest have moved up a level on Parasitic Slavery. Will Pearson’s drumming is relentless, driving the band forward at unbelievable speed, hammering away at his kit like Bob The Builder on amphetamines. The swirling, visceral guitars of Gareth Nash and Jake Ettle-Iles slash mercilessly, their intricate patterns surviving just above the bone crushing bass of Dan Shaw Odell. 

The album opens with a dramatic intro, The Wrath Of Ra, the Egyptian echo to the military drumming before Body Harvest hit accelerate and Global Decimation kicks in. Huge, machine gun drumming, swirling razor sharp guitars and the deathly rasp of vocalist Gareth Nash intense and powerful. Hierarchy Of Grief, the band’s single from 2018 follows, and if anything, the pace increases, multiple patterns churning as the band plough forward with unyielding force. Consumed by Tyrants is next, a wall of sheer brutality, the sound blistering the paintwork and cracking door frames, guitars firing full force and as for that drumming, it is unstoppable. There is no let up from start to finish, Body Harvest show no mercy as they destroy with a passion that few bands can summon up. By the time you reach closing track Apocalyptic Abomination there should be nothing left. 38 minutes of the most brutal death metal I’ve heard all year, the tank is fully emptied by the time this album concludes. It is a ferocious monster of an album which should catapult Body Harvest forward in deserved style. 9/10

Acid Death: Primal Energies (7hard Records) [Paul H]

Originally in operation between 1989 and 2001, the Athenians reformed and refocused in 2011, producing their fifth album Eidolan and sixth album Hall Of Mirrors for their new German label 7Hard in 2015. Five years have passed but the Greek quartet are back with a blistering seventh album that is crammed full of full, heavy riffs and massive grooves that are as infectious as an Amsterdam whorehouse. Seven-minute opener My Bloody Crown starts with some atmospheric female vocals before a huge riff kicks in, the band opting for a classic thrash tinged metal sound. It’s meaty, the groove addictive and the growling vocals of Savvas Betinis perfect. There is even some raging saxophone which whilst bizarre fits in perfectly. The pace intensifies with Godless Shrines, a blistering raging maelstrom of riffs played at a frenetic pace. 

The title track is a vicious all out death metal beast, with an unusual melody and hook adding to the interest. With several changes of pace, direction and style, Acid Death stomp their way through the middle of the album. Fire Of The Insane and the burning Reality and Fear both pulse with power, the latter diverting mid-song with some haunting keyboard to add atmosphere whilst the riffs still rage alongside. It’s groove all the way on Regret/Repent, a blisteringly fast track which has a clean singing section and is reminiscent of Trivium in its melody. Final track H.U.M.A.N is an industrial edged Rammstein style tune which brings a complex and intricate album to a fitting end. Well worth the exploration, numerous styles and approaches warrant several listens to grab what is really going on here; should you invest you are likely to be rewarded. 7/10

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Review: Children Of Bodom, Roulette, Dark Seal, Good Fall (Alex, Rich & Sean)

Children Of Bodom: Hexed (Nuclear Blast) [Alex]

Children of Bodom are different. Influenced by the guttural vocals and doom-obsessed lyricism of black metal, they also place tons of emphasis on hooks, contributing a melodic core to their darkened sound. Albums such as Hate Crew Deathroll, Hatebreeder and Follow The Reaper undeniably deserve to be seen as classics of whichever subgenre of metal they belong in. Whatsmore, they continue to hone their unique qualities across Hexed, an album overflowing with sinister, yet also exalted metal. Opening with This Road, we begin on a charging gallop, as a ferociously distorted guitar riff sets in and keyboard touches contribute to the dusky tone. In quintessentially Sabbath-esque style, we are granted to an exciting tempo change, before synths and lead guitars are seen to engage in an epic stint of soloing, both rebounding off one another as if caught in an enthralling battle!

Whereas the first song is incredibly dark, Under Grass And Clover are upbeat in tone, glistening melodic motifs creating an atmosphere which is joyously Eighties inspired. That is, until you read the lyrics, which read like albeit less graceful tale from Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, as they recount the thoughts of a madman, desperately trying to recount the vile sin they have committed: "Fuck me, there's blood on my hands/That's nothing new but now they're shaking too/Everything's soaked in sweat/Here comes the ‘forgive and forget’/Who should I forgive? Forget that plan/I really don't give a damn". Ultimately, this goes some way towards proving the ease with which Children Of Bodom are able to contrast macabre imagery, with positive and life-affirming composition or vice-versa. Admittedly, they don’t perform it to the same extent as Ghost, for whom irony is a defining feature, yet it is definitely a technique on show, accentuating the creativity of these musicians. Perhaps some of the greatest songs across the entire album are the visceral anthems of defiance, like Glass House. ‘’Distress and nothing less you breed/Confess and you're blessed/set free from sin, well ain't that something?/Absolution leaves me nothing’’ Alexi Laiho screams here, evidently incensed by fundamentalists and extremists. 

Platitudes and Barren Words is another moment of pure, unbridled anger where our frontman condemns apathy and meaningless sloganeering as a means for solving the world's problems, all against a set of bright, lively guitar melodies and thrashing rhythms. On a technical note, Hexed is one of the most commanding moments across the entire experience, the hurtling tempo, and unexpected juxtapositions in tone, making for rousing listening. Following this, Relapse and Say Never Look Back, make a return to the classic influenced, and tuneful instrumentation analyzed earlier. Admittedly, though it seems somewhat cliché and slightly ridiculous to see incredibly aggressive vocals screamed over bright and glimmering keyboards, there is enough crunch in the guitars, and stomp in the rhythm, to maintain a ferocious presence from start to finish! 

Overall, Hexed is far from the greatest Children Of Bodom album. As I have said time and again in my reviews, I appreciate greatly when albums go above and beyond to impress, even if that involves verging on the absurd or exaggerated. While this doesn’t quite meet my expectations, it has more than enough charm, mixed with aggression, to justify these musicians place as colossuses of modern metal. 7/10

Roulette: Now (Black Lodge Records) [Rich]

After a short period of inactivity long running Swedish AOR band Roulette are back with new album Now. AOR isn’t the most complex or forward thinking of genres and if you have heard any other AOR bands you pretty much know what you are getting. Now is no exception to this rule. When it is done right and done well AOR can be very enjoyable and Now is a great example of AOR done right and well. All the typical characteristics of the genre are in play but wrapped up in a bunch of really well crafted and enjoyable songs. The songs are all driven by strong melodies, an uplifting and positive vibe, great guitar work and the fantastic vocals of Thomas Lundgren. 

The ten songs on Now have enough variation in them to keep things interesting throughout the albums duration - some songs veer in a more hard rock direction, some songs are softer and some songs get a nice balance between the two. Roulette are one of a massive legion of AOR bands and whilst they do nothing to distinguish themselves from any other band in the genre they just do it well and with conviction. Probably not recommended for those with a heavier taste but if you are in the mood for something light and uplifting then you can do no wrong with this album. 7/10

Dark Seal: Země Našich Předků (Murderous Music Production) [Sean]

Something ancient has dragged itself from the Czech Republic, through forest and fire with all it’s heathen fury ready to unleash. I speak of Dark Seal, Brno based bards whom worship at the blackened altar of ancient ones. What’s that? This lengthy preamble doesn’t hint of the power that dwells within? FINE! Pagan Black Metal! Yah happy now!? *hastily regains composure* Indeed, there is no other way to describe Dark Seal’s olden onslaught. Having already sharpened their blades across 2 releases, Dark Seal return with 3rd album, Země Našich Předků. Steeped in ancient beliefs and an anger towards all thing monotheistic, the finished product is a skilled demonstration of druidic darkness. Truly, I’m only but a few minutes in and am already in the thrall of these Moravian marauders. I guess all that’s left is to fully succumb….
When A Voda quickly establishes the crux of what Dark Seal are all about, scathing blackened melodies accompanied by throat tearing howls. The strong rhythm section propels their assault onwards, a choir bringing up the rear to complete their arsenal. The din of war occasionally dissipates, with clean strumming allowing a modicum of breathing space before fading out to the sound a thunderstorm. Země Našich Předků dispenses with the speed in favour of a slower tempo and a heavier atmosphere, the returning choir increasing its power tenfold. Sluence continues this, though the mournful air has been replaced by something altogether more sinister. The riffs become more hookier in nature, with the pace alternating to accommodate a clean chorus. Exodus Niterne Slabych begins in an almost trance like state, it’s cascading guitars falling on each other with hypnotic grace. Zrade Nasich Oren introduces a change of key, melancholy and muscle melded seamlessly with some syncopated blast beats for good measure. The most melodic (and longest) track thus far, lead melodies leading the charge, occasionally harmonising with each other to great effect. Duse is a somber number, almost introspective, contrasting nicely with the battle hymn that is Lughnasad. Reminds this author of old Falkenbach, which can only be a good thing. Gelert’s grave, my arm hairs are ‘a standing! Alban Arthuan closes Země Našich Předků, it’s deliberate march eventually fading into nothingness. Goosebumps receding, I exhale, taking pleasure in knowledge that my time with Dark Seal was well spent. Best give the verdict then, hadn’t I?

When something is done with this degree of sincerity and zeal, it’s difficult to find fault with Země Našich Předků. The quality of the songs and the air they conjure is constant throughout, arranged by those with a keen ear and a story to tell. Would the inclusion of some shorter, more immediate songs be of any benefit? Perhaps, but dwelling on what “could” be is futile in the face of what Země Našich Předků IS; a damn good album. The performance is tight, the riffs are strong and it never wanes in atmosphere or ferocity. Wrapped in a suitably crisp production, Dark Seal have produced a fine piece of work, certain to make necks move and the spirit soar. If you yearn for the old ways and wish to see all Rome (or Christendom, for that matter) burn in heathen fire, Země Našich Předků is a worthy clarion call. 8/10

Good Fall: Editors Letter (Self Released) [Alex]

Performing a style of alternative which is experimental, with multiple dabbles in ambiance and atmospherics, Good Fall remind me comfortably of acts like Multisensory Aesthetic experience, or Jellyfish. Now that I have successfully alienated everyone who isn't familiar with the weirder side of Indy, which happened alongside the heyday of the genre in the early 2000s, how about I recommend Y'all an album which tries to reinvent that style for the modern day. Editors Letter is accessible enough to be loved by alt-rock fanatics while maintaining an air of uniqueness about it which sets it apart from more widespread titles.

A light twinkling of piano opens Iababo, before swelling of guitars come in, perfectly complimenting the light and shade aesthetic which Good Fall embrace throughout their debut album. Schematics feels almost sensual and swaying, in tone, before a huge middle section takes hold, later giving way to some precisely plucked guitar arpeggios. These two tracks alone paint a vivid and detailed musical experience. One perfectly summed up by the colorful wave on the album artwork. The exploration of different sonic palates doesn't cease though, as Relevance feels decidedly morose and anxious in tone and Song Three (the fourth track on the album) rejoices in unpredictable complexity. 

Only getting more fascinating from there on, Something Dark is precisely as the title suggests, incorporating discordant noises and outlandish effects, to create an atmosphere which you don’t usually expect to hear brought to life a record bearing the label ‘alternative’! Knows is formed of gracefully executed ascending and descending guitar and key patterns, while Windows plays around with distorted frequencies, in a way which is disquieting yet incredibly effective. The final three songs bring the piece to a gorgeous end, as Physics sums up the chaotic and aggressive side of these musicians’ musical personalities, Light Something flirts with jazzy or symphonic textures, while One More Thing again demonstrates their excellent use of dynamics and contrast.

Perhaps part of the reason I am so excited by this record is that I simply did not expect to hear one like it, coming from a new act. Yes, there has been an influx of bands bringing together emo and prog recently, yet they rarely capture the textured and layered nature which Good Fall brings to the table. I look forward to hearing what they present in the future 8/10

Reviews: While She Sleeps, Truth Corroded, Forged In Black, Atlas Pain (Liam)

While She Sleeps: So What? (Spinefarm Records)

This is an album I've been looking forward to since the release of the first single, and it did not disappoint. Starting off with the first single Anti-Social, this album goes head fist to show you what the boys have been doing since the release of their previous album You Are We. Full of hooks and singalong and air-drumming moments this is a strong start from the Sheffield based metalcore quintet. I’ve Seen It All start with head bobbing drums and some funky finger work on the guitar. A more serious sounding song with some heartfelt lyrics about the state of the current world all blended together to make an infectious sounding song that’ll make even the most elitist metalhead bob their head in enjoyment.

Three songs in and we’re hearing more of Sean Longs wonderful clean vocals mixed with the guttural screams of Loz Taylor creating a magnificent song on Inspire. The blend of both vocals really makes this album hit hard. Title track So What? Is a bit more melodic but still retains that signature While She Sleeps sound throughout. The Guilty Party is a singalong and pit party made for big crowds providing both a melodic chorus and a blistering start. Haunt Me & Elephant join together perfectly with the pure heaviness & melodic make the two songs sound so beautiful played back to back. The last four songs of the album are nothing to really brag about. They're not bad, but they’re not brilliant. Still, a belter of an alum from the metalcore boys. 8/10

Truth Corroded: Bloodlands (Unique Leader Records)

Some thrash/death metal from Australia, and it’s f*cking heavy. Starting their 6th studio album off in good fashion, To The Carnal Earth is pure death metal at its finest with enough solos and riffs to make you want to quit playing the guitar before you’ve started. The Leeches Feed is pushing toward the line of thrash, but it’s still death metal venom-filled onslaught of brutality with a riff so good you’ll be humming it the rest of the day. Conquest Of Divide is a slower song, but doesn’t mean it isn’t as heavy as the others. This just proves the band can make death metal sound heavy in any form. Victims Left Lepers and The Storm are two powerful metal anthems designed to snap your f*cking neck and test your headbanging stamina. 

They’re just non-stop brutal riffs coming at you like a freight train. Title track Bloodlands is a small thirty second interlude with a unique style for a death metal band, but when Of Open Eyes And Willing Hands kicks in it blows your dick off with an unrelenting barrage of blast beats and gutturals to make you gurn with delight. The End Of He Who Reigns and I Once Breathed are the perfect songs to end this album with searing riffs and guitar work blended perfectly with the drums and vocals. It’s going to be one of the contenders for best death metal album out there. These guys on the rise and can’t be stopped. 8/10

Forged In Black: Descent Of The Serpent (Fighter Records)

I loved this album more than I care to admit. The mix of power metal combined with elements of thrash is right up my alley. This album is beautifully done front to back. With the mixture of Chris Storozynski’s vocals, reminiscent of Blind Guardian, to the duel guitar work and down to sticksman Kevin Rochester. All of this makes the perfect power/thrash album of the year so far. There are plenty moments in this album that stick out, such as One In The Chamber with its catchy chorus and small breakdown within the song that sounds familiarly like Pantera’s Domination. Nice touch there. I would pick a favorite song but I really can’t myself. They all go together so well that you can feel the emotion and energy put into each song, with plenty of singalong & headbanging moments that will leave you repeating this album for days. I would recommend this album to anyone who is skeptical about getting into heavy metal as it has everything you need to start off. Perfection. 10/10

Atlas Pain: Tales Of A Pathfinder (Scarlet Records)

This one was a difficult one for me as I don’t really think much about concept albums, but this one is different. With intro The Coldest Year giving hints to the story is was on the line of what to expect. Then The Moving Empire kicks in. A mixture of folk/symphonic metal and thrash. The vocals are like old school Children Of Bodom (Hatebreeder era). Weirdly enough, it all goes together pretty f*cking well. The music compliments the vocals and vice versa. The tale of the album itself is set in 1899 London giving you the story to come. The rest then is completely up to you to decide. My interpretation may be different to yours. Only being their second studio album, the Italian metallers have brought their all on this record. But have they peaked to soon? Only time will tell. Until then, enjoy this banger of an album. 8/10

Monday, 18 March 2019

Reviews: JD Simo, Tempered, Black Anvil, Mike Tramp (Paul H & Mark)

JD Simo: Off At 11 (Crows Feet Records) [Paul H] 
The quality of the Blues Rock released this year is superb. Hot on the heels of albums from Robin Trower, Gary Hoey and Eric Gales comes JD Simo and his latest release, Off At 11. Kicking off with the instantly impressive reworking of Little Walter's Boom Boom Out Go The Lights, you can tell straight away that this is a man who delivers the blues in his own style but with more than a nod to the past masters. Short but oh so sweet, this is a man whose own PR describes him as sounding like “the surge of sound from a classic car.” I can’t disagree as the temperature stoking title track follows; A rash of concentrated chaos followed by a more meandering expression of fluid guitar playing. It’s liberating, visceral. Certainly intense. Simo embraces the intricacies, subtleties and necessities required; they are all here on an album that echoes the ghosts of those blues legends of the past. This is a man whose home is in Nashville. What else would you expect then? This isn’t a fashion choice. It’s a lifestyle. As the man says "The blues is not for kids. Blues to me, it’s an art form. It's not supposed to be flashy. And that fools a lot of people." Expressions of joy and sorrow, deep soul and the simple throw away hooks that come so easy, it’s all contained in this album. Listen to the simply timeless workouts on You Need Love, the groove and soul in his version of Slim Harpo's Got Love If You Want It. If you aren’t moved by the way Simo shares a slice of his soul in Sweet Little Angel, which acknowledges the legends B.B. King and Mike Bloomfield then you need to reevaluate what is important in your life. 52 minutes of light and dark perfection, Off At 11 is at times simply breathtaking. 9/10

Tempered: Greenwashed (1181259 Records DK) [Mark]

This short EP from Glasgow based thrashers Tempered is a nice departure from all the sludge and doom I’ve been listening to recently, just for the change of pace and upped fury in the playing, there are some tight compositions on this EP, but at roughly 200 bpm it’s a lot easier to fit in a lot of riffs over a short period of time. Greenwashed kicks off with Tempered, an instrumental thrash song, a quick introduction of what’s to come, fast drumming, tight riffs and playing, good start. Monotonous is the second track on this six track EP, the song opens with a nice dive bomb and lead with all the classic feel of thrash in its primal anger. Some gang vocals add a bit of depth to the otherwise slightly strained sounding vocal performance. Inversion has some excellent musicianship, the guitars and drums are tight, the solo is a flying machine, really rips it up, a nice breakdown rounds out this EP highlight. Greenwashed seems to be the only track to depart from the pure thrash formula and it benefits from it the most, hearing a band here who could have their own style in forthcoming releases.

Unfortunately this EP is too formulaic, there’s nothing inherently wrong with just being a thrash band, and Tempered do the thrash bit really well, they’re unashamedly playing thrash, but for all the tempo, aggression and musicianship, I’m left feeling ever so slightly deflated by this offering. If you want twenty minutes of thrash demo then this EP is for you, if you can handle the slightly jarring vocal performance I think you should check it out, the instrumentation is excellently played, the song structures are standard thrash numbers with everything you’d want from a band who can clearly pen a decent tune. Ultimately, this could be a demo from a large number of late 80s/early 90s bands and that’s a shame, to come to the realisation that thrash is somewhat stuck in a feedback loop at its ground level. I’ve no doubt this would be a blast to see live but the EP won’t make it into my rotation. 6/10

Black Anvil: Miles (STB Records) [Paul H]

Frantic occult tinged Black metal is packaged up in Miles, an EP recorded over a period of three years and the follow up to 2017’s EP As Was. The New York four-piece initially recorded merely the title track and their cover of Mercyful Fates A Corpse Without SoulMiles was written in tribute to Selim Lemouchi, a friend and former mastermind of Dutch occult rock band The Devil’s Blood, after his untimely passing in 2014 finding the band take a more hauntingly melodic form, but it was shelved to focus on As Was. So Black Anvil have finally concluded this EP and it’s an impressive release, consisting as it foes of a mere four tracks. Iron Sharpens Iron explodes in a frenzy of demonic riffs and blast beats but with a massive punk style vocal delivery. The title track shares clean, progressive rock stlye vocals with plenty of death growls and to be honest, this is faster stoner rock than black metal, albeit an infectious song with its driving rhythmic pulse. Two covers to conclude, the solid cover of A Corpse Without A Soul and The Devil’s Blood's Everlasting Saturnalia. The latter pulls at the heart strings, full of emotional sentiment and sensitively and carefully crafted reconstruction of a loved song. 7/10

Mike Tramp: Stray From The Flock (Target Records) [Mark]

Let me just come clean straight away, I don’t know how to review this album, I don’t know what comparisons I can make, where it sits for me as a listener, where it sits in the musical landscape, or who it appeals to. Let me take you back to when I put this album on for the first time, I was in the car with my partner and told her I had an album to review, could she write some notes for me as I blabber my way through the listening process, she agreed and by the time we got half way through the first track I asked her to turn it off. Second attempt, I managed to make it to track three, then it went off, I was resolute that I didn’t want to review this, I didn’t have the capacity to critique songs of such low quality country rock sung by a Danish man with an American accent. Attempt number three, sat at my desk in my office, head in my hands cringing my way through every chorus, every contrived rhyming scheme jammed into this 53 minute sack of wet grass that I do not like. Sorry to Mike, I am sure he’s a lovely chap but this album is terrible 2/10

Reviews: Nightrage, Mother Of Millions, The Great Discord, Lightfold (Matt]

Nightrage: Wolf To Man (Despotz Records)

Greek/Swedish metal band Nightrage have been in existence since 2000 when friends Marios Iliopoulos and Gus G formed the melodic death metal band. Over the course of 7 albums they’ve had guest shots from vocalists Tomas Lindberg (At The Gates) and Tom S. Englund (Evergrey), guitarist Olof Mörck (Dragonland/Amaranthe) along with many others, each of these albums had a revolving line up with only Marios’ flesh ripping guitar playing the constant.

So after two years they have returned for their eighth album with a new rhythm section in place, remaining from the two previous records is vocalist Ronnie Nyman who has throat shredding screams, growls and barks and guitarist Magnus Söderman whose interplay with Marios is at the heart of this record. Check out a rager like Embrace The Nightrage and you’ll hear why, Francisco Escalona (bass) and Dino George Stamoglou (drums) lay down a blistering thrash beat that lets the two guitarist trade off riffs, leads and solos on one of the strongest tracks on the album.

Melodic death metal will always be seen as Swedish invented genre with the big hitters well known but I’ve always thought Nightrage should be included in that list, they’ve got the technical ability of Arch Enemy or Soilwork, on first single By Darkness Drawn especially, the progression of In Flames and the heaviness of At The Gates (God Forbid) all wrapped up together and as this juggernaut of an album shows they can do it all with flair, never really taking their foot off the gas until the last song, which is the acoustic instrumental. If you worship the HM-2 and love a bit of intricate fret destruction to go with your thrash/death metal then you should really like(an) Wolf To Man. (Sorry for the joke) 8/10

Mother Of Millions: Artifacts (Black Lodge)

From Athens Greece Mother Of Millions blew me away with their second album Sigma, it was modern progressive rock tour-de-force with enough melody and heaviness for anyone’s taste while being bang up to date with the current trends in the genre. After touring the record hard, supporting Textures on their last European tour, sharing the stage with Pain Of Salvation, Devin Townsend, Leprous, Oceans Of Slumber, their new phase is more of the same to be honest as Artifacts picks up where its predecessor left off. Rites starts the record off with building fluid guitar playing that breaks as the dense grooves kick in, then with some drum flair we go back to the atmospheric guitar playing and the emotive vocals begin to drag you in to the album properly.

You could, I suppose make comparisons to the bands that have grown out of the djent scene with Tesseract and even Leprous the major comparisons, especially on second track Soma which is down-tuned, dark track, with open guitar chords jangling over, a purposeful bass and some very good drums, as some synths creep in to take to the track to its key change that brings a touch of catharsis, but there is much more here. Artifacts is, on the whole, a much darker album than Sigma. There is a lot more use of electronics and ambient textures to build a mood, the keys here are very important they take the lead in so many of the songs that they’re impossible to ignore, especially on Nema which is a piano instrumental and sits in the middle of the album as delicate sorrowful piece of beauty that gets disturbing as it climaxes into the juddering riffs of Anchor.

Anchor once again has some hypnotic drum flair and discord before building into a brilliantly brief guitar solo, leaving you prepared for Artefact and 8 minute monster of a song that seems hell bent on taking every last drop of emotion from you with the vocal chant at the beginning then the wistful piano and drum pattern as a woman narrates in Greek, it’s a mercurial track that intensifies as it progresses, adding more layers to the sound before it bursts into cascading riffs. Finally we get to Amber probably the most progressive song on the record as choirs are juxtaposed with fluctuating riffs that remind me of Vola (swoons). Artifacts sees Mother Of Millions still enjoying a very productive and inventive part of their career where they can make albums like this really stand out in a crowded genre. 8/10

The Great Discord: Afterbirth (The Sign Records)

Much like after their debut record Duede once again Swedish prog metal act The Great Discord have released an EP that serves as both a follow up to the previous album and a hint towards the next. That previous album was the excellent The Rabbit Hole a complex dark record that installed The Great Discord as one of the most intriguing vital prog acts for years, a claim bolstered by their brilliant live show, which I have witnessed in both Bristol and at Damnation Festival. Afterbirth is as I’ve said a follow on from their darkest record yet, it is also their lightest musical forays (especially vocally) but you wouldn’t expect anything less from a band that have an obsession with light and dark, the bruising music using vocalist Fia Kempe as the vessel for putting these crafted emotions forward.

The EP consists of two new songs, a remix from The Rabbit Hole and a cover of Bjork’s Army Of Me. So we’ll deal with the four tracks in order Heart starts us of with Fia utilizing her brilliant clean vocals against a straight forward track that pounds away like Lacuna Coil or Within Temptation, a joyous number to kick things off that leads into the punchy, marching beat, title track which I have to describe as Alannah Myles singing over Rammstein, the industrial edge continues on the chugging cover, which I much prefer as Bjork’s vocals do get on my nerves a little, it’s a stunning version full of the technical heaviness The Great Discord are renowned for. The finally is a ghostly version of Neon Dreaming from The Rabbit Hole which ends the EP on a more reflective note. It’s a neat little thing this the new tracks hinting at a newer direction and that cover has to go into their live set, pick it up if you want just that little bit more of these unique Swedes. 7/10

Lightfold: Deathwalkers (Pitch Black Records)

Two of my favourite albums begin with a car crash, a weird sentence to start a review with but hear me out. Both Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence by Dream Theater and Mercy Falls by Seventh Wonder have a car crash at the beginning and deal with the aftermath differently, both telling stories using the medium of progressive metal to do so. Lightfold’s new album also starts with a car crash and is full of progressive power metal, the storyline though deals with the idea of deathwalkers which I believe are: astral beings that “are releasing that which is trapped, moving that which is beyond life, but not yet truly within the clutches of death”.

They do this with changing time signatures, melodic keys and metallic riffs telling the story across the course of this 13 track album where we are introduced to a deathwalker named Julia on the track of the same name. This track really sums up what Lightfold are all about, it’s your normal prog/power style well executed but a little one dimensional. One of the major issues is new vocalist Martin Deathwalker’s voice which I did struggle to enjoy, still for many prog power metal fans this could be added to a playlist. 5/10

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Reviews: Nik Turner, Nekhrah, Callus, Arabrot (Paul H & Mark]

Nik Turner: The Final Frontier (Purple Pyramid) [Paul H]

At the age of 78, Nik Turner shows no sign of slowing down and the former Hawkwind man’s latest album is as psychedelic in parts as those early space rock albums where he donned bizarre outfits and played freestyle jazz saxophone. Indeed, at times it is hard to distinguish where Hawkwind ends and Turner begins. Aided by Nicky Garrett (UK Subs), Jürgen Engler of Die Krupps as well as former Hawkwind members Simon Howe and Paul Rudolph, The Final Frontier ranges from the opening surge of Out Of Control and the space rock of Interstellar Aliens to the Eastern influences of the two part title track. A relaxing, calming album, this provides me with all the stimulus I need to explore more of Turner’s extensive back catalogue. Massively enjoyable. 7/10

Nekhrah: Cosmic Apostasy (Self Released) [Paul H]

Established in Nicosia, Cyprus in 2011, under the name Impalement, this four-piece black metal outfit’s debut is quite something. A massive wall of spine-crushing riffs blended with enough melody alongside some of the most brutal guttural vocals all add to a blistering face melting 29 minutes. Tracks such as Closed Casket Funeral, the seriously intense title track and the rage of opener Acheron

With their name an Anglicised version of the Greek word “Νέκρα” which means Death/Deadness and/or emptiness in Greek, it’s apparent early into this release that there is some pent-up rage manifesting, such is the brutal approach. With a nihilistic philosophy rooted deep in the band it’s no wonder that the lyrics revolve heavily around misanthropy, cataclysm, self-destruction and a desire of non-existence. Cruel and vicious in delivery, hauntingly aggressive but strangely captivating, this raw album is hopefully the first of many. We can but hope as there is much promise contained in this dark and evil collection. 6/10

Callus: Hogpocalypse (Self Released) [Mark]

Can’t fault a band with ambition and Callus seem to have no short supply, self described stoner with doom, sludge and thrash thrown in for good measure, that’s a healthy mix of genres and all of which I have a healthy dose of in my regular listening schedule. Boar opens the album with an uptempo affair, riff and snare drum driven, in your face with attitude and approach. An uneasy feeling is left by the kick drum sound, like the original has been replaced with a sample, and one that lacks any real weight behind it at all, not the mark of a stoner, doom or sludge outfit, the track does flip on its head about halfway through into a more deserty stoner feel with a very rhythmic build-up, the leads over this section are well managed and really help the melody of the song, then the track ends like it starts, with more of an uptempo offering, unfortunately the vocal performance feels a little forced and the song structure a little obvious.

Infinite Beef Machine, great title, is the second track that is another mish mash of styles, more along the stoner lines, if you’re stoned and on amphetamines at the same time, cancelling each other out into a kind of middle of the road, mid paced jog through a swamp, I feel that a track called Infinite Beef Machine should be dripping with all the vitriol the title suggests, but this doesn’t quite capture that, the middle section is really well put together, but what surrounds that section is a bit damp. Callus are a band brave enough to post their lyrics online, I had a chuckle at these but truthfully they are not great.

Track four makes its entrance with a more considered and well paced feel, I can see a room full of doom fans with their hoods up rocking along to Skunk, the vocals seem to take a departure and the slightly less gruff and more melodic performance here are a welcome change to the shouting style on much of the other material. The end of this track does completely depart and end up in almost-thrash territory which throws off the balance of the track for me. Much of Hogpocalypse follows the same pattern as the tracks mentioned. This album is ambitious but flawed. 5/10

Arabrot: Die Nibelungen (Pelagic Records) [Mark]

A landscape of avantgarde noises flutter between my speakers as I am reminded of something almost anti-music at times, like Scott Walker but without much in the way of song structure, or semblance of being melody driven. This is a challenging piece to review, it’s hard to place what this is in the terms of an album, which I suppose is right for the soundtrack to a silent movie. I was expecting a wall of noise, a cornucopia of distortion and unusual vocals but that’s not what I am greeted with.

To really get to the bones of what this release was all about, I had to dig and do some research, on the film in question, I haven’t watched it and at 5 hours long, I don’t think I will, but it’s a fantasy tale following the exploits of a hero named Siegfried. Part I - accentuated by breathing noises and a note combination that appears often throughout the 22 minutes, the end of this section does build up with a melody which is a nice break from the monotones of the rest of the track. Part II - this part has more in the way of a rhythmic build with something akin to almost being a song, but it’s more soundtrack-esque than a song really has the right to be so again, it’s 22 minutes of noise and ambience with the odd build or break, the last four or so minutes do jarr you out of any sense of complacency while listening with heavy guitars and gunfire, I can only assume that this goes along with a part of the movie, but without context it’s difficult and not nice.

I am sure this will have its place in someone’s collection, probably fans of Sunn O)))) or Scott Walker, but not my own, I don’t dislike what’s being offered I just find it an accompaniment to nothing am going to do, it isn’t something I will put on to get pumped up, to relax to in the evening, to drive along with, it doesn’t really fit for me and feel like it should have two separate ratings, 8/10 for the performance they managed to put together as an accompaniment to a silent movie but a 4/10 as a record to sit and listen to. 4/10

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

Godsticks & And The Sky Darkened, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

It may have been a ghastly night weather wise, but the temperature inside Fuel was nicely warming as two of South Wales’s most impressive hard rock bands provided a masterclass in quality musicianship. A small but dedicated crowd made sure that both bands received deserved applause.

Opening the night was And The Sky Darkened (8), whose brand of hard rock/metal is incredibly enjoyable. The band’s music mixes several influences to create a fluid and organic sound which is infectious. On stage the four members of the band radiate energy and despite the small stage they are captivating to watch. It’s hard to take your eyes away from drummer Matt ‘Animal’ Thomas, his constant movement as he smashed his way around the kit, firing out fills and rolls every few seconds mesmerising. Clad in cut off shirt and shorts, you soon realised why as his efforts soon created a bath of sweat.

Up front Ryan Lewis has a presence that simply fills the stage, his calm and composed manner belying a ferocity in his vocals and burning guitar work. Alongside Lewis, bassist Jason Price, resplendent in his hat and flowing beard dipped in and out of centre stage, his thunderous bass lines adding heft to the band’s sound and locking tightly with Thomas to allow guitarist Ollie Hansen to crank up the riffs. The 35 minutes swept by, with tracks from the band’s EP The Fracture taking centre stage. I’d seen the band before when they impressed but tonight, they took the level up a notch. A band well worth checking out.

I’d missed Cardiff’s Godsticks (8) at their last gig at the now defunct Buffalo Bar but had seen them a couple of years ago supporting The Pineapple Thief at the Bierkeller in Bristol where they had been a delight to watch. The band are technically superb, progressive and a fusion of styles with a muscular hard rock sound. Playing a set of around 75 minutes, the band focused on a number of tracks from their 2017 album Faced With Rage as well as a selection of older material including Emergence and a rampant Exit Stage Right which rounded off the evening. Dressed simply in black t-shirt and jeans, vocalist and guitarist Darren Charles is the centre of attention, his clear vocals spitting out the intelligent lyrical content. Dan Nelson’s driving bass lines lock with Tom Price’s solid drumming whilst guitarist Gavin Bushell’s intricate guitar work doesn’t go unnoticed.

The band’s music is clever, a mix of hard and progressive rock, with their ability to switch between the killer riff and the quieter darker emotional passage exceptional. With new material on the way, Godsticks teased us with a nine-minute newie, described by Darren as “pretentious as fuck.” It might have been, that’ll depend on your point of view but it sounded good to me. A band that deserve to be playing to much bigger audiences, maybe the cleverness of their music bypasses many. Still, their loss was our gain and as the band finished their set, deserved warm applause from the audience greeted their concluding notes. Another band that you really should see.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Lacertilia

Lacertilia, Not Since The Accident, Zinc Bukowski & Lighthammer, Andrew Buchan, Cardiff

The Andrew Buchan is an odd venue, it's pub that used to be a video shop (remember them?), but it was a place for what dubbed an Antipodean Expedition as it was all for Mark Fry brother of the Lacertilia frontman who was moving to Australia. Mark has been a staple of the South Wales music scene for a good long while so the Lacertilia crew put on a show featuring four of the South Wales most eclectic acts. Crammed into a the back of a room that is essentially a corridor the first band on was Cardiff based Lighthammer (7) who are a spunky, punky, alt rock trio with and big sound and some massive riffs. Though the drums were a little drowned out in the small venue. They then switched gears Soul Of Orion which was a more progressive bass led number that's brought the first touches of psych however it was back to rampaging riffs for Adventure Time before concluding their tales of galactic exploration. A great little set that kicked off the evening with a bang.

Next up were shouty Zinc Bukowski (7) they had a chunk of heft with as much reverb in the vocals as there was in guitars. Their ear piercing volume meant that their psych noise rock was a real shock to the system after Lighthammer but there's guys have been doing this for long while now and the shimmering stabs of guitar over the low slung bass playing got the groove nice and ready for the heavier passages where the vocalist tore his throat screaming down the mic. Their music can be described as noise rapidly veering between heavy psych to hardcore punk but played with same amount of attitude, there was a lot of instrumental grooves going on really raising the temperature of the venue yet again as the beers started to flow.

The final support of the evening was Cardiff punks Not Since The Accident (7) who finally came on stage after waiting for guitarist/vocalist Steve, they finally got going (twice in fact) with some jangly melodic punk that pairs some clean guitar lines with an Oi attitude. From the t-shirts and patches should be enough to tell you their influences Bad Religion, Dead Kennedy's etc, you know the punk bands metalheads can like, as the music has a bit more depth to it. With two lots of vocals trading the shouting they were inspiring some movement down the front with a lot of pogging happening. They're set was relentless never really slowing things down too much and spilling attitude with every single note, it caused a frenzy that meant everything was ready to boil over as the headliners for the evening.

Lacertillia (8) are a band I've seen many times, in fact I often joke that a few years ago I basically saw them at least once a month! This was the second gig I've seen with the new rhythm section in force. It was great to see drummer Tom Lee doing some shameless self promotion with his white Tides Of Sulfur shirt standing out. However when he got behind the kit he was a different beast to his other band, a drum roll and they opened with the well known Crashing Into The Future which is still a cracking song, but as they playing to a partisan audience, they threw in some new songs (which are sounding great) along with Abstract Reality, as fans and former band members looked on full of smiles.

The new songs were now more fully formed than when they had been aired the previous outing, which bodes well for album 2. Further especially, has a dirty blues feel to it with an almost sharmaic chant. But it's with the rockier numbers they got the front row jumping like bunnies on speed as Matt cavorted and crawled through the crowd in his usual style, the rest of the band cranked out riff after head banging riff. Still as vital as ever Lacertilia were on fire here, buoyed by celebration of probably their longest serving fan this was great send off. Good luck Mark!

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

UFO - Last Orders Tour, O2 Academy, Bristol & The Tramshed, Cardiff

I’ve written and eulogised about UFO plenty of times before in these pages. Frontman Phil Mogg publicly stated that this tour would be his final fling; “this decision has been a long time coming. I've considered stepping down at the end of UFO's previous two tours. I don't want to call this a farewell tour as I hate that word, but next year's gigs will represent my final tap-dancing appearances with the band." Well, celebrating 50 years as a band isn’t a bad way to finish, especially if you ignore the rather dodgy years from 1985 – 1995 when Mogg was the only consistent member. With the line-up having been solid for the past ten years and the core of the band cemented for over 15 years, this is as good a band as the classic line-up of Mogg, Schenker, Way and Parker who carved their way into hard rock history in the 1970s. Tickets were duly purchased for two of their farewell shows, and I braced for nights of high emotion. I wasn’t disappointed. If these were to be their final performances in Bristol and Cardiff, the band certainly went out on a high with two massively impressive performances.

I reflected in my review of the band’s 2016 gig at The Tramshed in Cardiff that UFO have a habit of picking poor supports for their tours. St Petersburg’s Red’s Cool (remember them? – of course not) and the slightly better Greek outfit 4Bitten (nope, can’t say that they have reappeared since their 2013 support slot) are two of the recent choices. Having read Matt’s recent review of Tara Lynch’s Evil Enough and given it a couple of spins in the days leading up to the Bristol gig I was hopeful that UFO may have picked a winner at last in their selection of a warm up act. In Bristol I arrived earlier than intended; disappointing indeed, given that the O2 Academy Bristol is one of the worst venues in the UK. With the gig sold out in all but name, it was another night in a venue filled way above capacity, and as usual people pushing their way through the crowd with double cups of beer overflowing, squeezing into non-existent spaces with no concept of spatial awareness and as usual for many, the frustrated disappointment of poor sight lines that the venue manages to deliver from nearly every angle. Meanwhile in Cardiff, which was formally sold out, early arrival offered sanctuary on the balcony and a view above the heaving mass below. Neither venue is a comfortable experience when full. [It was notable that at Cardiff one large punter took a turn for the worse midway through UFO’s set – fingers crossed it wasn’t his last orders but if so, what a way to go!]

Onto the single support. Californian guitarist Tara Lynch (5) and her band initially held the attention for the 40-minute set she delivered but disappointingly this didn’t last. The partisan Bristolian crowd, who sang along with gusto to intro track Since You’ve Been Gone, were reduced to polite applause by the end of this set. An even more reserved response arrived in Cardiff. Lynch opened with a smoking instrumental, designed to highlight the Californian’s fretboard prowess. There’s no doubting Lynch’s talent, she is a multi-instrumentalist and has been schooled by Steve Vai and Derek Sherinian amongst others and got a multitude of celebrities to contribute to the album, but live, god is it dull.

Looking more like a country singer with her coloured tousled hair and long leather jacket, Lynch’s guitar playing was fluid, easy and impressive whilst her smoky soulful vocals recall a rockier Beth Hart and shades of the great Pat Benatar. Accompanied by a totally anonymous backing band who remained glued to their spots throughout the set, Lynch played several tracks from Evil Enough, including the terribly named Kringeworthy, which has one of the worst choruses in living memory, along with another two more instrumentals, Gui-tara Rises and Feckless Lock before concluding the evening with Antidote. Whilst on record the music sounds reasonable, live it was soulless, and at times just leaden. Some clunky changes between songs didn’t help and at both venues large section of the audience began their conversations long before the break, the fare on offer insufficient to maintain their interest. Despite hoping that her performance would be better in Cardiff than it was in Bristol, it was if anything, even flatter, which was disappointing given that the band were by now well into the tour. Whilst it wasn’t helped by a muddy mix, the second viewing confirmed that being a flashy guitar player isn’t enough; you need the songs and a bigger presence on stage which was sadly lacking on both shows.

If you want a band with the songs and the presence, then you could not find better than UFO (9) who hit the stage both evenings to a heroic welcome. Live, the band are totally engaging, with Phil Mogg continuing to remind you of the eccentric uncle who turns up for Christmas dinner with a load of historic tales about family you’ve never met, before drinking all the whiskey and buggering off late in the day. He was fabulously dapper on both evenings, his dark check shirt accentuated by a set of tan braces in Bristol, whilst in Cardiff he opted for a simple black shirt and waistcoat, complete with watch chain. Mogg’s on-stage patter is legendary, his comments naturally funny, whilst he regularly supped his drink between songs with an ease which marks his veteran of the music scene and thousands of concerts across the world. His voice remains remarkable for someone now entering his eighth decade and whilst he might not possess the soaring power from Strangers In The Night, he ensures that his pitch allows all the classics to be delivered without a complaint.

The set list varied little from Bristol to Cardiff, both evenings opening with Mother Mary before segueing straight into two scorching versions of We Belong To The Night, the sole offering from Mechanix. For a 50th anniversary, picking a more career representative set list would have been welcome but with 22 albums to choose material from, playing it safe was probably the right option. There was a nod to more recent output with Run Boy Run and Messiah Of Love from A Conspiracy Of Stars and Burn Your House Down from 2012’s Seven Deadly as well as Baby Blue from 2004’s You Are Here. Cardiff was treated to Makin’ Moves from The Wild, The Willing And The Innocent instead of Messiah Of Love in Bristol. Disappointingly we didn’t get Let It Roll on either night. BOOOO!! Of course, this is UFO and they know how to please a crowd, the bulk of the set stuffed with a fistful of reliable classics from the back catalogue.

Now, don’t get me wrong for one minute. I was singing along to Lights Out, Only You Can Rock Me and Cherry and loved every minute of each of the sets. But to labour my point, and indulge me for a minute, their 50th anniversary might just have encouraged the band to dig a bit deeper. Eight of the tracks played are immortalised on Strangers In The Night, and whilst the band have to play Rock Bottom and Doctor Doctor, a few changes to the set would have been welcomed, even if only by me! I’m not asking for a 26-minute version of Flyingor The Coming Of Prince Kajuku, but swap a couple for I’m A Loser or even Just Another Suicide if you want to stay retro. Personally, a couple more from the recent albums would have been just as welcome.

Still, with the greatest hits set cemented in place, UFO delivered the goods with their usual confident style (and having been playing these same songs for so long it was unsurprising). Drummer Andy Parker batters his drums so hard; bassist Rob De Luca, fantastically decked out in a velour suit of dubious colouring lays down the bass lines in a way Pete Way managed all those years ago alongside rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Paul Raymond (stunningly good at 73 years of age) and the three of them provided a rock solid platform for youngster Vinnie Moore to once more deliver his tribute to Michael Schenker in his own stunning fashion. His solos on all the UFO songs have evolved organically over the years, and he is no longer trying to match Metal Mickey’s perfect delivery but adds his own feel to it. Massively talented, one wonders what Moore will do after UFO but he won’t be short of offers. Lights Out was moved up the set list in Cardiff and ignited an even higher level of frenzied air guitar than it did a few nights before across the bridge.

Full marks as well to Mogg for his “lights out in Cardiff” line, causing much appreciation from the packed Welsh crowd. Love To Love from Lights Out, Only You Can Rock Me and a massive Too Hot To Handle caused grown men to lose it at both venues before Rock Bottom, complete with Moore’s masterful solo which drew sharp intakes of breath at the sheer sublime quality brought the main set to an end. With the band a little sharper and into their stride after a few dates, the Cardiff date just edged it in terms of atmosphere and performance but there wasn’t much to separate each evening. The inevitable Doctor Doctor and Shoot Shoot brought two fantastic evenings to an end. Getting what is likely to be my final fill of one of my all-time favourite bands was an absolute joy, a band whose name should be treasured in the halls of Great British classic hard rock for all time.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Reviews: BloodBound, Parallel Minds, Perdition, Statement (Manus)

Bloodbound: Rise Of The Dragon Empire (AFM Records)

You have to go into this record without expecting anything too serious. It’s delightfully fun, if a little cartoonish, but boasts some impressive musicianship and sturdy song-writing. These Swedes have taken their fantasy-fused elements to new highs with record number eight, but this time around, the power metal is infused with a strong folk metal influence. The fusion works well, though it must be said that the chorus of Slayer Of Kings sounds more than a little like Alestorm’s Keelhauled. It’s still a great tune, as are most of the songs on this album. There’s some hints classic metal or even NWOBHM style sounds going on throughout the album, but there’s nothing that at all sounds like it doesn’t fit. Bloodbound has successfully fused a few related styles together, but done it without going off in any genre-bending directions. This album may not have anything the world has never heard, but what’s done on it is done very nicely.

The album opens with the title track that does a bang-up job setting the tone for the subsequent 10 songs of sheer over-the-top bliss. Every song has to have the epic, triumphant chorus and the soaring guitar leads, and the record never gives you a minute to breathe between all its singalong-worthy parts. With tunes like Blackwater Bay and Giants Of Heaven coming right back to back, the fast-paced excitement that defines the record simply never dies down until the final track, Reign Of Fire.

For a lot of bands, its easy to rely on older material by the time they are eight albums into their careers. It’s doubtful this will be the case for Bloodbound. They play new material live, for one, and fans should expect to keep hearing songs from Rise Of The Dragon Empire once Bloodbound is onto the next album cycle. They should welcome that idea, too. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable set of songs. If it’s promoted well, it won’t be surprising to see this record earn Bloodbound a few new listeners as well—any fan of their power metal contemporaries should feel comfortable having Rise Of The Dragon Empire sit in a collection alongside Blind Guardian and Wintersun, to name a couple groups. Basically, if you own a collector’s sword, you’ll probably dig this album. 8/10

Parallel Minds: Every Hour Wounds… The Last One Kills (Pitch Black Records)

French thrashers Parallel Minds have cooked up some groovy licks for their sophomore record, Every Hour Wounds… The Last One Kills. The songs are made up of chugging riffs, machine gun-paced drums and a few different vocal styles, some serving the instrumental work better than others. Each track comes together with a mechanical sort of tightness, which is particularly impressive on the shred-filled songs like Amerinds. There are old-school thrash components on this record, but it’s not reminiscent in that it easily sounds like a modern work. Some songs drip with the grooviness of 21st-century heavy metal, like the electrifying I Am C and the jumpy How. Others have echoes of extreme metal like Kolyma and The Last One Kills.

Vocalist Stéphane Fradet has a versatile voice, to say the least. His thrashy yell and full-on growls fit perfectly over the energetic songs. He’s proficient when it comes to cleans too, and they work well on the slower songs like On Your Own and Syria, but not so well on the metalcore-sounding choruses of the faster tracks. Maybe fans who enjoy thrash and metalcore will think differently, but it just seems like two styles that don’t really mix. With so many different sounds to take in on the record, though, this is only a small complaint. Overall, it’s a respectable effort. 7/10.

Perdition: The Arrival (Imminence Records)

Perdition, in the band’s own words, plays symphonic death metal. They’ve been around since 2008 and toured with some fairly big names, but this newest record sounds like it has the potential to carry them into some new territory. The full-on death metal assault is accented by dark classical features that explore the atmosphere and depth that strings and piano parts can bring to the compositions. No brutality is sacrificed for the sake of increased technicality, and vice versa. The riffage and vocals are typical of the modern death metal style, but where Perdition stands out among the scene is with the symphonic aspects. They’re pulled off pretty successfully, at some times even blending in with the cores of the songs rather than sounding like they’ve been placed on top. The Locker contains an instrumental passage wherein the symphonic sound comes right from the guitar work.

Most of the songs sound like they were written as death metal tunes and had symphonic bits added. There’s nothing wrong with this, but Perdition show they’re capable of blending the styles into one, and more of this would further separate them from other modern death metal bands, since there are an awful lot of those out there. While more could be done to further the symphonic aspects, its worth mentioning that Perdition plays death metal very skillfully. From lumbering, chuggy tracks like The Undertow to speedy, mosh-worthy songs like The Pit, nearly everything a modern death metal listener would look for can be found on The Arrival, along with some other things. 7/10

Statement: Force Of Life (Mighty Music/Target DK)

Danish old-timer rockers Statement have reached for new heights on their new record, without breaking from their mould or straying from the path its members have spent their days blazing. While Statement has been around since 2011, most of the guys in the band are veterans of their country’s metal scene, and have support slots for some pretty high-profile groups under their belts. Force Of Life is a punchy, straight-up hard rock record. Where it pounds, it pounds hard, and it’s got some pretty catchy hooks in a few of its songs. Higher Ground has a nice earworm chorus, and a sufficiently ripping solo to complement it.

Not all of the songs are quite so memorable, though. The tracks on Force Of Life seemingly have everything you’d want in rock songs, but they just lack the character that the legends of rock have all possessed. Maybe it’s the smooth production, but the tracks sound like they’re being played by regular guys, with no rock star charisma coming across through them. They’re still well-written songs, and the band obviously plays at a professional level, but a little more personality being captured in the tunes would go a long way. 6/10

Reviews: Queensryche, Tesla, Matt Mitchell & The Coldhearts, Atorc (Paul H, Matt & Sean)

Queensrÿche: The Verdict (Century Media) [Paul H]

Album number 15 for the band who formed in Bellevue, Washington, way back in 1980. It’s also album number three with singer Todd La Torre, who replaced Geoff Tate in 2012. Even though La Torre has been in the band for seven years, for many fans, me included, it is a challenge to get past the band after 1990’s Empire. Whilst Queensrÿche which surfaced in 2013 was a solid album, the follow up with La Torre, Condition Human in 2015 was a bit on the lethargic side. Live, the current version of Queensrÿche mix up old and new tracks, and La Torre’s stunningly similar vocal delivery to that of Tate’s means that this is never a problem. The Verdict starts strongly with the riff heavy duo Blood Of The Levant and Man The Machine, which both sound like classic Queensrÿche. Catchy melody, screaming guitars, fast paced tempo and soaring vocals. This is promising. Even more impressive is that with Scott Rockenfield unavailable, it’s La Torre who delivers a rock-solid performance on the drums. The writing of the tracks has been shared around the band, with original members, Michael Wilton and Eddie Jackson sharing the load with La Torre, and rhythm guitarist Parker Lundgren.

It’s a real team effort and it shows. Lightyears changes the style completely, futuristic in delivery and construction, Wilton’s tidy guitar work a highlight. The Wilton/La Torre Inside Out follows, a chilled start building slowly into a thumping, medium paced track which swirls with an Eastern flavour before a great hook kicks in for the chorus. The one track that I’m not over enthused with is Propaganda Fashion, a head down style delivery but with a weak middle section and chorus doing little for me. The second half of the album starts with the emotionally charged Dark Reverie, a semi-acoustic epic which broods and smoulders, La Torre putting in a strong vocal performance whilst Bent is a stunning piece of work, simmering moodily, thick riffs adding emphasis before the track accelerates. Inner Unrest delivers in the way I expect Queensrÿche to sound, technically excellent, the progressive elements underpinned by a hard rock core. Launder The Conscience is possibly the proggiest track on the album, and closing track, the majestically confident and calming Portrait returns to the days of Empire in its feel. This sounds like Queensrÿche, it feels like Queensrÿche, it is Queensrÿche. This might be a bold claim, but The Verdict might just be the band’s best album for 20 years. 8/10

Tesla: Shock (Universal Music)

I like Tesla, I really do, from their classics to their most recent albums they've always hit that 'slightly heavier' Aerosmith vibe for me. So I was excited for their new album Shock, even the news of Def Leppard's Phil Collen producing made me prick my ears up as his work with Delta Deep and Girl showed that he could do more than his day job in terms of influence. However Tesla seem to have taken his presence as a challenge to sound as much like Def Leppard as possible, the first five songs on this 12 track album try as hard as they can to have the big drum beats cliched lyrics and backing choirs that the Sheffield band are known for.

The worst offenders being the sexist Taste Like and the diabolical title track, which has has very stupid electronic drums. Things get marginally better from there where they do a few Aerosmith ballads such as Forever Loving You but it's only Tied To The Tracks that actually has some guts (and slide guitar). Things go back to crap on I Want Everything which is a rock version of We Didn't Start The Fire, mostly though it's Def Leppard lite and the least said about We Can Rule The World the better (I still feel ill). Shock does what it says but in the wrong way, an unimaginative, mess of a record that I don't want to hear ever again. 3/10

Matt Mitchell & The Coldhearts: Self Released (MMRecordingworks)

You may know the name Matt Mitchell, he is/was the singer of both the critically acclaimed Furyon and Colour Of Noise, with both groups now on hiatus this self titled debut is a long gestated solo album, that was proceeded by the rocking first single Black Diamonds back in January (though we’ve been getting emails about it since July last year). It’s this familiar noise that opens the album properly and stylistically it sounds like Guns N Roses playing a Bond theme (I know they’ve already done that before you write in!) It’s got a cinematic sound to it, some heavy organ stabs and the kind of guitar solo I refer to as a ‘mountain top’ solo.

However this first single is a little misleading as Mitchell is a singer/songwriter first and foremost so his rock star histrionics are saved for when they are needed. Much of the album is a more stripped back bluesy affair focusing on the song writing, and here he’s also focusing on people, meaning a lot of the album is reflective in tone. Take a track like Old Enough & Ugly Enough it’s a stirring ballad with acoustic strums and a piano making most of the noise, for a song that could feature on a Blackberry Smoke record or even some more recent Bon Jovi.

Apparently the piano is the one Freddie Mercury composed Bohemian Rhapsody on so it’s got precedence, as it sits in the legendary Rockfield Studios, which is where the album was skilfully recorded to bring out the maximum audio quality. On the other hand Wave Goodbye has hip shaking Velvet Revolver sound to it bringing the rock back however like most of the album it’s undercut by the acoustic guitars and organs and has an orchestral outro. It’s a musically diverse album that suits Mitchell’s husky but soulful vocals, Everything To You has the ringing guitar sound of U2, Waiting For The Sun the immediacy of a Chris Cornell song (in fact there is a lot of Cornell in this record). Those who enjoyed Mitchell's work with the underrated Furyon and the sadly misses Colour Of Noise will be quick to snap up this solo debut, however I'd say if you like intelligent, emotive rock music then Matt Mitchell & The Coldhearts should be on your shopping list. 8/10

Atorc: Under The Raven Banner (Self Released)

“An lo, did we smite our enemies! With them routed and scattered to the winds, we retired to our halls and got verily smashed! Hail Odin!” That’s more or less the gist of what happening here. You’d think that there were other cultures to provide inspiration but let’s be honest, Vikings are fucking cool and always will be. Drinking, fighting, plundering and prophecy. What more can be said? Whilst I do prefer my skalding to be of the blackened variety, I’ll always lend and ear to the traditional and true, which is exactly how to describe Suffolk Norse nutters Atorc. Big riffs, big choruses and all the silliness you can shake an inflatable axe at. Sounding closer to Falconer than Falkenbach, Atorc wield folk and fire with relative ease, armed with tales of heroic deeds and debauchery. Returning to pillage a second time with new album, Under The Raven Banner, will Atorc enter Valhalla’s halls as heroes? The answer lies on the field of battle! TO ARMS!

Intro track, Hravansmerki, is a sombre yet cinematic opener. It soon fades into the title track, with Atorc sprinting right into the fray. Traditional riffs bulk out their advance, with a mixture of thrash and clean vocals painting war’s bloody picture. It’s simple, yet anthemic structure provides enough sing along moments to ensure memorability, punctuated by some tasteful shredding. ‘Mead Hall” is the genre necessary trope, shoehorning any reference to mass alcohol consumption to amusing effect. It’s a fun wee ditty, with vocalist Hellbard doing his best Dickinson/Kiske impression followed by a duel between violin and axe. Occasionally Hellbard misses his notes, though this doesn’t derail the boozing by that much. Hammer To Anvil (overused much?) brings us back into the fray, with more sing along moments and tasty leads. You should know the drill by now, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, widdly bit and FINAL UPLIFTING CHORUS! A well worn template to be sure, but very effective and Atorc employ it with commendable proficiency. Why change what can already decapitate a Saxon in one stroke?

Maidens Of The Shield is a stompy jig, folky melodies melding nicely with the muscular metallics. Sovngarde provides some tranquility amongst the fighting, leading perfectly into Voice Of The Storm. Isle Of The Brave and Ragnarok carry on in a similar manner, though the harsh vocals on the latter are a touch underwhelming. ShieldWall draws the battle to a close, a touch more mean that it’s predecessors but no less memorable and a fitting end to Under The Raven Banner. Yah know what? I had a grand ol’ time with Under the Raven Banner. It may not be super tight in its execution but the oomph and energy is undeniable. There may be no surprises and about as much originality to match, yet Atorc are a scrappy wee beasty and make up for it with guts galore. The riffs are meaty, the choruses are meatier and Atorc power through these 10 tracks, not once being frugal in their boisterous bravado.

Sure, a few of the more trve listeners may be put of by it’s power metal inclinations, but there’s an ample amount of might beneath all this cheddar. The core of Under The Raven Banner is strong, muting it’s imperfections, accentuating it’s strengths and ensuring you’ll be humming these battle hymns for days on end. Now be off with you! I have lands to conquer, foes to crush and much mead to drink! Hails! 7/10

Thursday, 14 March 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Vibrators (Live Review By Alex)

The Vibrators, Poetic Justice & Ill Fate, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

Fuel was always going to be busy tonight. Both Rugby and football have conspired to pack out nearly every pun in the Capital. On top of that though, the band topping the bill tonight have a small yet hardcore fanbase. The Vibrators narrowly missed out on being considered a seminal punk rock act, along with the Clash and the Sex Pistols. Nevertheless, Stiff Little Fingers took their name from a Vibrators song, and their first two records – Pure Mania and V2 – have been named by such outlets as NME and MOJO, as being among the best punk albums of all time. They are well supported as well. Both Ill Fate and Poetic Justice are well attended and exceed in their showmanship skills.

Of course, Ill Fate (7) have the hardest task of the night, in being the opening act. Nevertheless, they are greeted by a warm reception, even if everyone has yet to flow into the back room. Sound wise, they have a style reminiscent of early pop punk and ska acts, perhaps in the vein of NOFX or Operation Ivy. Lyrics adopt a tongue in cheek attitude – ‘’your band has 100 Facebook likes, and your band thinks that matters’’ – while fast-paced guitar riffs are offset by frenetic soloing, and exciting tempo changes. Throughout their set, frontman and bassist, Rhys, urges the audience members to step closer to the stage and has the courtesy to allocate the crowd designated drinks breaks. They close their set, having made everyone watching feel elated and enthusiastic for the next two acts!

Poetic Justice (8) play to an already packed out room. All the better for them, as they seem to feed off audience interaction. They certainly make their set time count, displaying remarkable energy and constantly getting the audience to sing their socially conscious poems back at them! Band members bounce playful jibes off each other, and off crowd members. Their manifesto: You aren’t allowed to not have fun! Equally as entertaining as the performance, anthems lurch from moments of mellow reggae to raucous freneticism. Lyrically, everything is subtly political, yet far from being preachy or cliche, we are treated to humorously performed stories, each of them, carrying a message! As Poetic Justice depart the stage, everyone is suitably warmed up for the headliners!

Now a three-piece, The Vibrators (8) sound just as powerful as they always have. Spurred on by an enthused audience, they charge through a comparatively long set of catchy, memorable punk rock anthems. Expectantly, most of the set consists of cuts from their first two albums, including Baby Baby, Wrecked On You, I Need A Slave and of course, Automatic Lover. More than one of these provoke loud and powerful singalongs, even from people like me, who despite not knowing many of the lyrics, are inspired by the beguiling and likable nature of the tunes on display. Surprisingly, they even throw in a couple of unexpected and different covers into the setlist, namely, Have Love, Will Travel ("oh look, its that song from the car insurance advert") by Richard Berry, and Sound Of The Suburbs by The Monkees. The only apparent pitfall is the set is that the three musicians make so much noise that the monitors occasionally cut out the vocals. At one point, lead singer, Pete Honkamaki, has to ask me to crouch next to the speaker in front of me, and tell him whether he was coming through or not (He was). Minor quibbles aside though, this was a fun show. It’s actually impressive how our headliners have managed to keep going for so long. Despite their declining success, they still sound raw and energetic!

Reviews: Wheel, Sisters Of Suffocation, Fallujah, Mindlane, Doro (Paul H)

Wheel: Moving Backwards (OMN Label Services)

There are occasions where you listen to an album and are instantly able to review it. There are other times when you really need to spend some time getting more intimately involved and spend time before you can consider your words. Moving Backwards is one such album. Wheel comprises James Lascalles on guitar and vocals, bassist Mikko Määttä, lead guitarist Roni Seppänen and drummer Santeri Saksala. Lascalles relocated to Helsinki from England to pursue his career and having met the other members of the band, formed Wheel in 2015. Two EPs, The Path and The Divide has led to their debut album, released a couple of weeks ago.

This is a superb album, full of twisting and expansive progressive rock which switches instantly from bone splitting heaviness to gentle melodic passages. Opener Vultures is instant in its appeal; the title track less so with its ten-minute plus path interchanging melancholic elements with screaming ferocity. With seven tracks included in this release, and a running time of 48 minutes, it is a well-balanced (no pun intended) album, three lengthy tracks countered with four shorter but no less intricate pieces. Tyrant changes the pace completely, another ten-minute track ebbing and flowing with a creativity that recalls Tool, Karnivool and even Radiohead. The album features some sublime guitar work, with the band fluid and cohesive whilst Lascalles vocal delivery provides that haunting style which works so well with the style of music.

Up The Chain with its choppy guitar, rolling drums, anguished vocals and schizophrenic time changes varies the style again, some heavyweight elements adding to the dark themes. The subtly crafted instrumental Skeletons allows a pause for breath before a rampant riff opens Where The Pieces Lie; an aggressive track which crashes hard before pulling back to allow the vocals to take centre stage. Intense and passionate, the repetitive riff working in synergy with the rhythm section to add groove and texture to an explosive track. Wheel closes with the intelligent and beautifully sculpted Lacking, another track that shifts in pace, texture and ferocity as it develops.

This is an album that you need to listen to several times to fully appreciate, with the band holding their magnifying glass up to censorship and institutionalised mind control throughout. Lascalles explained that “rather than looking at environmental or economic dystopia, we’re anticipating more of a more social one.” This is a truly stunning debut release and will be likely to feature highly in my end of year list. With the band having supported Amorphis in Europe and forthcoming dates with Swedish art-rockers Soen [featuring ex-Opeth drummer Martin Lopez] in the diary, 2019 could well be the year of the Wheel. 10/10

Sisters Of Suffocation: Humans Are Broken (Napalm Records)

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned …” the quote which is attributed to 17th century playwright William Congreve and also to fellow playwright Colley Cibber. Well, a recent article in Loudersound.com, the online site that took over from Team Rock and which is the home of Metal Hammer amongst others, recently ran an article which had the heading WE GOT TWO OF METAL'S BEST FRONTWOMEN TO TAKE DOWN SOME ANGRY SEXISTS. This article allowed Svalbard’s Seena Cherry and Ithaca’s Djamila Azzouz the opportunity to respond to some of the typically offensive and misogynistic comments made by male metal fans. The response was to be expected, with a flood of sexist comments pouring in from the Neanderthals that follow metal. It was a sad indictment that even today, in 2019, such meat heads continue to use this approach. Well, I’d give them five minutes with Els Prins, vocalist with Sisters Of Suffocation. Formed as a fully female outfit but now incorporating drummer Kevin Van Den Heilrgenberg, Humans Are Broken is the band’s second full release, and follows on from 2017’s Anthologies Of Curiosities. Prins’ delivery here makes Alissa White Gluz sound like Stevie Nicks, such is the ferocity and aggression contained within her growling performance.

From the opening pulverisation of Humans Are Broken, this is a savage affair. Van Den Heilrgenberg’s blistering drumming underpins the whole thing, his beats per minute excelling at times, whilst the intensity of the riffing of lead guitarist Simone Van Straten and rhythm guitarist Emmelie Herwegh is lacerating. This is direct for the jugular in approach, Prins death growls inhuman and savage. War In My Head demonstrates the softer side of the band, with some clean haunting vocals juxtaposed with the controlled wildness of Prins usual style. The Next Big Thing takes a measured approach, a single guitar picking out individual notes before the track explodes in a bloodbath of jagged death metal. There is plenty of melody, carefully threaded through the album, but the overriding approach is pure intensity. If you think the sisters can’t do it for themselves, then you need to get your head around this album. It’s just brutal. 8/10

Fallujah: Undying Light (Nuclear Blast)

Fresh from their brutal main support with Obscura, the Californian progressive death metallers return with their first album with new vocalist Antonio Palermo. The follow up to 2016’s excellent Dreamless in terms of chronology, this isn’t so much a continuation of the journey as an abrupt departure necessary and essential to move forward. This is Fallujah stripped down and raw, with a mark razor sharp and emotionally changed release. The scene is very much set with opener Glass House, which cuts deep, such is the jagged ferocity with which it is delivered. Ultraviolet maintains the intensity, Palermo’s screaming vocals are a sharp contrast to the styles on Dreamless, which featured clean guest vocals. No such worry here, but also reassuringly Palermo sits comfortably with the Fallujah sound and having seen the man live I know he can deliver.

So, what prompted the change from the more ambient progressive sound of the last album. Guitarist and primary writer Scott Carstairs commented that “I think the last couple of albums we spent a lot of time experimenting with different elements, such as clean guest vocals, synthesizers, or different kinds of instrumentals. This time around we knew from the get-go that we wanted this record to be raw and honest. We wanted to move the music further but still showcase the sound and emotions this band has always evoked.” Dopamine is the perfect illustration of what Carstairs means. Retaining that underlying melody and complexity, a touch of clean vocals juxtaposes with the guttural roar of Palermo, whilst the soaring lead guitar of Carstairs is given free reign whilst the engine room is completely locked down by drummer Andrew Baird and Robert Morey on bass. Baird excels with some unbelievably tight drumming, shifting from barrages of blast beats to the lighter ambient side of the band with an ease that one can only dream of. The Ocean Above sees him move without effort between full speed aggression and an almost jazz fusion style in the hauntingly ethereal middle section before re-opening the fire power once more whilst Hollow contains patterns and breakdowns to die for.

With over ten years now under their belt, Dying Light is an album that Fallujah needed to make. Utilising Palermo for the lyric writing ensured a fresh approach and as a result Undying Light centres on an ego-driven and apathetic society as a result of social media consumption and reliance. Bringing back their sound to the honest and raw style whilst retaining the complexity and challenge of their previous releases, this is a statement of Fallujah in 2019. A demonstration of what the band is about. As Scott Carstairs commented “We believe this is the truest sound we have honed on in yet.” It succeeds. Massively. 9/10

Mindlane: Darkest Matter (Self Released)

Progressive melodic rock with a melancholic twist, Mindlane hail from Skepplanda, Sweden and Darkest Matter is their second album following on from 2016’s debut Unspoken Silence. The band is a three-piece, which is somewhat surprising given the complex patterns and rhythms which feature from the opening track Light The Torch through to closing song Everlasting Mind Ghosts. Vocalist Reine Svensson has the right style of vocal delivery for the band’s music, varying from the type of introspective ethereal approach of Katatonia (If I Forget You) through to the more progressive bands such as Tesseract (e.g. The Filth In Your Words). Joonas Niskanen handles all the guitar work on the album and whilst there is a fair amount of loops and trickery involved there is no doubt that he is a fine player; some his intricate work is very impressive. Meanwhile drummer Hannu Mäkelä’s technical approach adds to the depth and quality. This is an impressive release, full of solid and intricate music which should appeal to a wide section of rock and metal fans. 7/10

Doro: Backstage To Heaven EP (Nuclear Blast)

A four track EP to coincide with the Metal Queen’s European tour, Backstage To Heaven features four tracks, two revised studio tracks and two live versions of songs from her last release, 2018’s Forever Warriors, Forever United. As I said in my review of that album last August, it’s hard to feel anything other than admiration for Ms Pesch, with her devotion to the metal cause unstinting since her debut way back in the early 1980s. However, this isn’t her finest hour. Of the four tracks on offer here, the highlight is probably the sublime saxophone solo from Helge Schnieder on the title track whilst Doug Aldrich appears to add a solo on the routine Heartbroken.

The live version of Blood, Sweat And Rock ‘N’ Roll captures Doro’s strong vocals in all their glory but oh dear, If I Can’t Have – No One Will merely reminds you that Johan Hegg from Amon Amarth really should not be allowed to sing with anyone else, his limited vocals on this live version of the duet from the album astonishing in their awfulness. Hegg’s vocals work with his own band but here he just growls inanely as the track comes to a chaotic end with enhanced crowd effects. Unless you are a die-hard fan of Doro, this EP is unlikely to end up nestled in your collection. 5/10