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Tuesday, 11 December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 10 December 2018

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

Bernie Tormé: Shadowlands (Retrowrek Records)

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

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

Emigrate: A Million Degrees (Vertigo Berlin)

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

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

Altitudes & Attitudes: Get It Out (Megaforce Records)

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

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

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

Captain Caravan: Shun The Sun (Cursed Tongue Records)

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

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

Sunday, 9 December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Reviews: Serpent Lord, Godsleep, Theo, Scorcher

Serpent Lord: Towards The Damned (Alcyone Music Records)

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

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

Godsleep: Coming Of Age (The Lab Records)

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

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

Theo: Through My Eyes (Self Released)

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

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

Scorcher: System Of Time (Steel Gallery Records)

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

Friday, 7 December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 6 December 2018

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

The Magpie Salute & Maker, The Fiddlers Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

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

Death Is Just The Beginning MMXVIII - Various Artists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hundred Year Old Man: Breaching (Gizeh Records)

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

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

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

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

Goblinsmoker: Toad King (Sludgelord Records)

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

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

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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