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Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Reviews: This Is Endless, Awake By Design, Fixation, Raider (Paul S, Simon, Liam & Lucas)

This Is Endless: Formations Of A World Below (Endless Records) [Paul Scoble]

Formations Of A World Below is the first full length album from This Is Endless. The band, who formed in 2016, have also released one EP in the year that they formed named Inherit The Sun. To say this band have some experience of extreme metal would be an understatement; the band features former and current members of Akercocke, Voices, Ted Maul, Pantheist, Order Of Apollyon and Meta-stasis to name just a few of the bands that members of This Is Endless have played with. Musically This Is Endless play what I would describe as broadly Death Metal with elements of Hardcore, Deathcore and Melodic Death Metal. 

Opening track Skin Cyst is a good example of the bands sound. A droney, dissonant intro goes into choppy mid-paced Death Metal, there's a nod to old school Death Metal in how the riffs are written, but it feels quite modern in execution and production, it’s very interesting rhythmically, the riffs are highly structured. The track then goes into a section that is all out blasting, and this is one thing that the band really excel at, all the blast beats are very fast and are pleasingly savage and brutal. We then get a slow and bastard heavy part, before a great solo and then the song blasts to the end. Although there is a decent amount of complexity in the individual parts, the songs themselves are quite simple. All the tracks (with the exception of the sixth track, Noise Track, which as you’d expect is an instrumental noise track) have the same juxtaposition of blasting fast sections and slower, mid-paced or very slow parts. 

Creature Of Habit is another example of where this really works well. The fast parts are beautifully fast and flowing, juxtaposed with some great slow and heavy parts, and also features a fantastically pounding ending. Insect has some very effective fast parts that have a bit of Grindcore feel to them, whilst its slower parts are a little bit reminiscent of Meshuggah. Into The Hive is another interesting track, it’s more melodic than a lot of the material on this album, it feels more like Melodic Death Metal and is packed with melody and tune-fullness. 

It’s not all good though; there are places where this album doesn’t work as well. The tracks The Damned And The Weak and Imprinted In Life both feature parts where it feels a little lacklustre rhythmically (which is usually one of this albums strong points) and it all gets a little bit deathcore, which is a shame as these riffs don’t really go anywhere and it lets the songs down. 

Formations Of A World Below is a very strong Death Metal album. It’s packed full of great riffs, blasts and solos, and is a great listen. It’s a shame that there are a few parts that are lacking in drive, where the aggressiveness drops; but it’s only in a few parts, and considering this is the bands first album, this is probably just me being picky. All in all, a very strong album. 7/10

Awake By Design: S/T (Self Released) [Simon Black]

This is the third time round the course for these boys, and it’s been quiet on the Awake By Design front since 2018. Although they are best known for being quite Symphonic, this feels much more of a Power Metal album with Symphonic seasoning, perhaps from the influence of produce Karl Groom (Dragonforce and Threshold). With a run time of an hour and twenty minutes and a total of thirteen tracks, this album takes its time.

The opener The Coming Tide is an inoffensive start to the album, hinting at the technical capabilities of the chaps, but somehow not ever quite grabbing you by the throat and taking you with them. To be fair that’s pretty much the case for a few of the opening songs on the album and it’s not until we get to Nothing Hurts, which is definitely one of the stronger tracks on here and benefiting from a strong sense of structure and pace that things start to liven up. Is there anything wrong with what gets us to this point, no. Technically these guys are on the ball and can certainly play, but up to this point the structure and energy is lacking. This is a slow burner of an album in many respects. You aren’t going to appreciate it on the first listen, so don’t rush this one and you do appreciate it more 2nd and 3rd time around, so don’t write it off too early.

Calling You Home is a promising ballad but which doesn’t build to a crescendo in the traditional way at the point you expect, because this song is nearly seven minutes long, but when it gets there it does so in a satisfactory way, albeit with a surplus of a minute of running time that could have been stripped out. Echoes For Eternity is a bit more satisfying, with some nice galloping breaks and some strong drive and energy and again a good ballad in The Unspoken Truth takes so long to get where it needs to that it has lost me by the time it gets there, despite some lovely keyboard sequences. As Strangers Divide with its catchy keyboard and guitar harmonised riff brings some much needed energy back to the album, followed by a pile driving bit of work from the drum stool, bringing to a great instrumental crescendo and again is a track I keep coming back to. If there were more like this I would be much happier. 

To be fair, there is more energy in the remainder of the album, but for some reason this album doesn’t quite gel for me overall, which is odd as all the ingredients are there. The production is spot on, the musicians and vocal performance are excellent, but the songs don’t punch hard and clearly consistently. I guess the challenge I have with this album, is that it needs some serious tightening up and the indulgences reigning in a little this could be a tight and punchy piece of work. 6/10

Fixation: Global Suicide (Indie Recordings) [Liam True]

Fixation are a newer band to the scene, releasing their first EP Global Suicide, tackling subjects like the climate crisis, political injustice and mental health. Starting the EP off with first single Neurosis it’s apparent they’re reintroducing the earlier style of Thirty Seconds To Mars with the gritty guitar tones, taking their own sound but paying respect to their elders with subtle differences. The soaring vocals of Jonas Hansen are some of the most emotionally charged I've heard in a while, as you can tell he’s putting every fibre of his being into this entire EP. While only being 4 tracks and covering just over 20 minutes, the band creates an atmosphere not felt in modern Metal/Hard Rock for a few years.

While the band does rely on the melodic sounding synths in the background, but it can easily sound this good without them, it’s just an added extra to make it feel more intense. Behind everything you have the remarkably talented Mats Holm on the drums creating the pounding backdrop. Then there’s duel guitarists Tobias Østerdal & Martin Selden who perfectly resonate into your eardrums with the crushing tone they provide. Then there’s Martin Gravdal on the bass who uses his ominous deep polished sound to create the balance of the EP.

There’s only one flaw with the EP that I cannot stress enough. It’s only four songs. Granted it’s not a full studio album, but when the final chime of What Have We Done lingers through your ears, it’s over. And there’s nothing else like it. With it’s unique sound it’s grasped the soul of modern music. Don’t miss your chance to jump on the hype train for Fixation. Global Suicide is just the start. 9/10

Raider: Tokyo EP (Self Released) [Lucas Tuckwood]

Tokyo is the new EP from South Wales hard rockers, Raider, featuring a wonderful homage to the rock and roll of the 1980s. Kicking off the EP comes the title track, which begins with a nice atmospheric intro blending rising electronic ambience and triumphant riffs, before kicking into gear. Featuring some fantastic vocals, it’s a slick little track, perfectly encapsulating its theme. Track 2, Boys Will Be Boys, bursts out of the gates with quick and heavy riffing reminiscent of Motley Crue. the speediest track on the EP is a satisfyingly heavy number that grabs you by the throat, and doesn’t let go till it’s bloody well finished. The fretwork featured in this track is electrifying, which, combined with soaring vocals, make it my favourite track of the EP.

Track 3, Going Down, is a slower, far groovier affair. Featuring a wonderful yet somewhat short jazzy interlude, incorporating clean piano, even groovier basslines, and some foot tapping drums. The momentary calm sweetens the payoff, when the guitar roars back into life with a vicious solo before the final reprise. The final track, Begging For More, is the definitive anthem of the EP, which feels perfect for a live setting, with a melodic chorus and slower tempo. Here the synth provides a nice extra layer to the thick riffs during the chorus, but some may find it a tad cheesy. A nice album closer, I find this song to be the one most emblematic of the 80s hard rock this band draws their inspiration from, but I’d say it’s overall my least favourite out of the bunch.

The fretwork and vocals on display here easily warrant a purchase. This is a wonderful little EP, and definitely worth a listen if you’re hankering for that glammy 80s feel. 8/10

Reviews: Kamelot, Divide By Design, Renunciation, Nervosa (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Kamelot: I Am The Empire - Live From The 013 (Napalm Records)

Filmed and recorded at the 013 in Tilburg, Netherlands back in 2018 the setlist for this show is similar to the one I saw American/European symphonic metal icons Kamelot play in Birmingham however here there are a few more songs debuted and some very special guests welcomed as this show was being recorded/filmed for this release. Despite being a live record the production, mix and master has been done by Sascha Paeth so the clarity is off the scale meaning you do feel as if you are at the show itself. As the orchestral/choral intro swells and the excitement builds, the members of the band taking to the stage to applause and cheers, the show properly kicks off with Thomas Youngblood's riffs backed by the heavy metal thunder of Sean Tibbetts bass attack and Alex Landenburg machine gun double kicks, obviously there is also the massive synths/orchestrations of Oliver Palotai which are as integral to the Kamelot sound as the metallic music. Phantom Divide features the first guest vocalist in the shape of touring co-lead/backing singer Lauren Hart giving a soaring cleans and growls in opposition to the wonderfully soulful voice of frontman Tommy Karevik. 

Now I know how good Karevik is as a frontman but you can hear from the first song that he's got the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand, although the call response stuff never really works on a recording without the visuals. From a newer song they plunge into the moody Rule The World accompanied by much audience participation, we go back to Haven with Insomnia, in fact the Haven and The Shadow Theory tracks make up a lot of this show but the classics such as the double hit of The Great Pandemonium and When The Lights Are Down. The whole show sees the band going full tilt from the off, which with a 21 song setlist is no mean feat, special mentions have to go to Tommy who never fails to hit a note, while also being the amiable MC and crowd stoker-in-chief, as well as drummer Alex who only really gets one or two brief chance to stop blasting at full speed and Oliver who is the on stage composer of all the huge walls of orchestrations even leading when string quartet Eklipse come for My Confession

As I said guests have always been brought in to enhance the Kamelot experience and here there are a fair few as I noted earlier. Ballad Under Grey Skies features Delain chanteuse Charlotte Wessels, the theatrical March Of Mephisto has Arch Enemy screamer Alissa White Gluz who also re-appears on Sacrimony (Angel Of Afterlife) with Amaranthe's Elize Ryd but also she adds the growls to Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy), they even bring out the producer (Paeth) to shred a bit on Ravenlight. After Sacrimony there's a bit of Drum/Key solo which again is not really that interesting on a record but it's the indicator that the end is near as the band power through Here's To The Fall and the always great to hear Forever which elicits the biggest reaction even though it was released 19 years ago, it's still an anthem. The last three songs are from the last two albums but they are future classics for sure Burns To Embrace has a Children's Choir, Liar Liar is a big hitter and the finale Ministrium (Shadow Key) is a grandiose outro essentially to finish things properly. If you love Kamelot's music or are just missing gigs, I'd say that you should pick up this (with the DVD/Blu-Ray) as it's got a very talented and always impressive live band at the height of their powers in front of a rabid audience. 8/10 

Divided By Design: Stages To Osiris (Self Released)

Stages To Osiris is the 5 track debut album from instrumental technical metal band Divided By Design. Liam Stephenson (guitar/programming), Joe Messingham (bass/programming) and Tom Chambers (drums/percussion/programming) make up the band and they create intensely progressive, heavy yet atmospheric soundscapes. Hailing from Leeds, all three members of this band are instrumental wizards, Liam's virtuosic guitar playing seamlessly shifts between crunching djent inspired riffs and clean melodic passages, while Joe and Tom bring a thumping rhythmic assault that can shift into jazz or ene death metal realms at a moments notice.

The tracks are all part of the Orion suite with the second one Reactionary bringing a really heavy touch that moves into some post metal leanings. If I were to make a comparison I'd say Divided By Design share similarities to Animals As Leaders or Plini where the lack of vocals don't take anything away from the amazing complexity of the music, just listen to the insane bass playing on The Negotiation, a song that moves into Tool realms you'll understand the talent on offer. Expanding the sound of this record are Sara Chamber (violin/viola) and Joanna Wislocka Lidgett (cello) as the band take us through this musical journey of different styles with the opening of Collapsing Reality having an industrial throb before the insane lead guitar kicks it off properly, as things shift into a classic prog metal sound that you could find from Dream Theater etc. 

Stages To Osiris is a stunningly progressive, intensely musical offering from this Leeds based band, they would certainly leave you a little gobsmacked if you saw them in a little Leeds pub! For prog metal fans this is a delicious morsel of incredible playing and emotive songwriting. Don't sleep on it. 9/10

Renunciation: The Terminal Archetype (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

From Moscow, Russia Renunciation class themselves as a black/technical death metal band. The Terminal Archetype is their debut EP, four full length tracks and a piano intro the whole point of this release is to grab you by the collar and shout about their music. How they do this is with technically precise yet uncompromisingly aggressive black/death metal, Deliverance From God has raging black metal/hardcore like screaming but some killer lead guitar playing, something that continues on every song, both guitarists channeling Chuck Schuldiner but also the more melodic touches of bands like Dimmu, although Arrogance Of Worms really ups things into the sounds of Obscura as the time changes shift and one songs segues into another the lush twin guitar harmonies leading the charge as the intense boiler room blasts away. Russia has really been upping it's heavy metal game over last couple of years and Renunciation show that they're extremity is up there with any of the countries you'd associate it with more. Ferocious from the start, musically impressive throughout and slickly delivered The Terminal Archetype is a killer start for these Moscow Metal Maniacs! 7/10

Nervosa: Wasteland (Self Released)

No not the Brazilian thrash band this Nervosa are from Cornwall and rather than pointy guitars and speedy riffs, they take a much more melodic and progressive approach, full of introspection and beard stroking. This 6 track album is full of breezy alternative edged rock and ambient progressive textures, it's Nervosa's second full length with many of the tracks having the elongated run times you expect from progressive music. The band cite influences such as Arcade Fire, Porcupine Tree and Muse, which gives you a flavour of what to expect to hear, I'd say they move much more into the Steven Wilson realms than anywhere else due to the intelligent lyricism delivered by Jon Winter's keening vocal that does have some Wilson and Soord-isms to it. Chevron is the first song on the record and it starts out as poppy art-rock number before evolving into some Pink Floyd-esque guitar explorations as Jon and axe man Andy Cunningham weave a thick tapestry of long drawn out notes and echoed riffs towards the end. 

What's immediately noticeable about the album is that every instrument sounds bold as brass (especially the sax) due to the wonderful production/mix of Dean Forrest while Pineapple Thief's Steve Kitch handled the mastering. The second and third tracks on the record are suite called The Wasteland; Part 1 is an instrumental featuring some guitar playing David Gilmour would be proud of, while the second part is a emotive lyric set to an almost jaunty piano rhythm from Bethany Wade, in fact if you've ever heard Cannonball by Supertramp you'll get what I mean about the piano, it's dramatic but also playful, leading things into the hooky chorus as the drumming of Ant Barrett lets the song move from solem to epic in a matter of moments. After this we get the throbbing Prelude the simple bass line of Matthew Duggan aided by some synths and then a minor key chord, it builds from there in a Oldfield like repeating pattern before that bass gets fuzzier as the atmospherics are increased at time just leaving Winter's voice. 

Despite this only being their second album, it's of an incredible skill level, fusing the deft emotive alt/indie strains with electronic prog rocking Wasteland is not the heaviest album you'll hear all year but the musicianship and compositions are brilliantly realised. On Countrycore we get a persistent drumbeat and some synths ripped from the Genesis songbook as Bethany Wade's vocals take the lead rather than just providing the harmonies, that is until the middle/chorus section where those country vibes do really shine through suiting the sense of longing in Bethany's vocal. Finally the record closes out with the 8 minute Circle Of Friends a moody little number that brings back those Porcupine Tree/Pineapple Thief/Anathema sound I mentioned earlier, again using emotive lyrics and this time some slightly jazz-inflected playing, (along with the Echoes bing) that segues into the sax I referenced a paragraph ago, with a clear synthwave sound at the end. I'd never hit upon the UK Nervosa before but I've obviously been missing out. Time to rectify that with a splurge on their back catalog, hopefully too they will end up laying somewhere near us once this is all over. Until then though you need to check out Wasteland if intelligent, poetic prog rock is your thing. 9/10   

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Reviews: Ingested, Atræ Bilis, Robbie Krieger, The Human Veil (Charlie/Dr Claire, Paul S, Paul H & Matt)

Ingested: Where Only Gods May Tread (Unique Leader Records) [Charlie & Dr Claire]

A highly anticipated release from the self proclaimed Mancunian Slam Kings, Where Only Gods May Tread is a triumphant proclamation of intent. It’s Ingested but not as you know it.

Bludgeoning from the get go, the pounding drums of Follow The Deceiver beats your ears into oblivion. Laced with classic slam rhythms, it’s a song built with precision, airtight and calculated. There’s no room for sloppy slam riffs here. Riffs that tease and excite the listener build anticipation for what’s to come. No Half Measures is an even more high octane offering with relentless blasts and double kicks from resident Welshman Lyn Jeffs. Matching Lyn’s ferocity Jay Evans, gives a stunning vocal performance, showcasing the full extent of his jaw dropping range. Even at this early stage in the record, you can already tell the boys are bringing their A-game; introducing more melodic components, their evolution is clear. This track is certainly going to be a crowd pleaser - with tasty hooks acting as an unavoidable invitation to pit yourself into a frenzy.

Commanding instant presence, Impending Dominance exudes a steadfast arrogance; a tone that Ingested have mastered on this album. Guitarwork from Sam Yates and Sean Hynes on this track is sublime, in particular the way the bending riff meshes perfectly with the onslaught of drums. Picking up low end duties for the album is Dominic Grimard, who sustains the steamroller of a track that is The List. It’s a much slower paced, lumbering song, that contrasts with the band’s established sound, and yet is no less impactful. Taking the tempo down further, The Burden Of Our Failures sees the first guest vocal of the album from Vincent Bennett. It beefs up the mid-level vocals but feels superfluous - it’s nothing the band couldn’t achieve on their own. Clean guitar lines mimic the returning motif established during Impending Dominance; a recurring theme throughout the record, showing that the band have really thought about the album as a cohesive whole.

Dead Seraphic Forms is an absolute banger, the epitome of savage and swagger. So much so, Dr Claire attempted to start a pit on the sofa while we listened. Several times. It’s a memorable track, and certainly one of the highlights of the album. It contrasts dramatically with the next track Another Breath, which opens with a sombre tone echoing the motif. With guest vocals from Kirk Windstein, this track was initially jarring as it strays far from the norm. Yet on repeat listens, and hearing it in the context of the album, it's a real grower. The cleaner vocals are a definite marmite moment, but the musicianship surrounding it is unmistakably genius.

Following this, Black Pill somewhat pales in comparison. While still being a solid track, it’s got a heavy deathcore influence (courtesy of guest vocals from Matt Honeycutt) that falls flat among some of the more innovative material on this record. Forsaken In Desolation features some seriously tasty bass action, and some really anthemic guitarwork that inspires movement. The layered vocals are a particularly novel element. Most surprising on the record, is the final track. Weighing in at a hefty 9 minutes and 17 seconds, Leap Of The Faithless is a brave inclusion. But it pays off. Showcasing the combined talent of each member, it really adds to the theme of this album - Ingested mean business. Moving from killer riff to killer riff, to an epic solo midway through, to a reprisal of the motif, ending with an ethereal outro that captures a transcendent feeling. This song is a masterpiece nobody expected.

Where Only Gods May Tread exudes self-esteem. Stuffed to burst with big riffs, this album is the pinnacle of the band’s musicianship thus far. Hearing everything in context is a must to appreciate the intricacies. The singles are insane in their own right but integrate seamlessly into the record. Ingested still reign supreme but are so much more than Slam Kings. 9/10

Atræ Bilis: Divinihility (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Paul Scoble]

Atræ Bilis are a four piece from Canada. The band, made up of Jordan Berglund on Vocals, David Stepanavicius on Guitar, Brendan Campbell on Bass and Luka Govednik on drums have not released any material so this is their debut album. Atræ Bilis play a very technical style of Death Metal, although not in the melodic and sweep picky way, this is closer to bands like Origin where the technicality is used to make things nasty and brutal. There is a definite amount of nasty dissonance in their sound as well, giving them a similarity to some of the more extreme acts on the Death metal spectrum, although I should point out that Atræ Bilis have their own sound and don’t really sound like anyone other than themselves.

The album opens with Gnode a short instrumental of taut, dense and technical riffs and leads us into the first track Sulphur Curtain. Sulphur Curtain blasts into life with choppy and dissonant riffs, before going into more direct, driving section. The riffs are intricate and nasty, but there always seems to be enough melody to keep it palatable. The track then returns to blast beats and very fast riffs, before a really pleasing mid-paced section with complex but beautifully flowing riffs which then dissolve into a slow and dissonant part, before bringing the song to an end with complex blasting.

Phantom Veins trumpet is a mix of complex mid-paced riffs and really fast blast beats with intricate technical riffing. Next track Ectopian has a simpler start with a riff that is more direct and very rhythmic before getting very nasty, blasting and dissonant, this then returns to the simpler and more melodic style that the song opened with. This juxtapositioning happens a couple more times before the song slows down and gets much more expansive in feel. The expansive sense is added to by the addition of chanted vocals, for a very melodic and tuneful section. The song ends with a very dense, tight and driving riff.

Upon The Shoulders Of Havayoth is probably the nastiest track on the album. It’s packed with high speed, spiky and nasty riffs, the harshest vocals on the album and some serious aggression, beautifully nasty. The album is closed by the track A Ceremony Of Sectioning. The song opens with some super tight blasting, before the track goes into a very dissonant, slow and heavy section. The track builds to being mid-paced before we get some very effective blasting to bring the song and the album to an end.

Divinihility is a great album. It’s very original, there isn’t anything that sounds exactly like this, and in Death Metal that is rare. Everything on this album is high quality, great music, great musicians, very well recorded and produced. The material is harsh and extreme but it also manages to be melodic, tuneful and very accessible, which is a very clever trick to pull off. However, there is an issue that I have with this album, despite how high quality it is. The problem is the length. This album is only 23 minutes long, more like an EP, which is what I originally thought this album was. The six track (one of which is an intro), just don’t feel long enough to be an album. So the quality is high, but it’s over too quickly. If Divinihility had had 2 or 3 more tracks of a similar quality to the rest of the album then this would be a contender for AOTY lists. A very, very good, if very short album. 8/10

Robby Krieger: The Ritual Begins At Sundown (The Players Club) [Paul Hutchings]

Forever to be known as the guitarist in The Doors, which is no mean accolade by any stretch, there is plenty more to the man who at the age of 74 can still play the most beautiful guitar. Born in 1946, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Krieger co-wrote many of The Doors most famous songs. He’s continued to play and is also a talented artist. The Ritual Begins At Sundown is his first album since 2010’s Grammy award nominated Singularity. Once again Krieger has teamed up with long time writing partner and co-producer Arthur Barrow, who worked worked with Frank Zappa through the 1970s-80s. The album also features other Zappa alumni Jock Ellis (Trombone), Sal Marquez (Trumpet), Tommy Mars (Keys) and Chad Wackerman (Drums), as well as AeB Bryne (Flute), Vince Denham (Sax), Chuck Manning (Sax) and Joel Taylor (Drums).

Through the course of this 52-minute release we are treated to ten laid back numbers which feature some superb brass playing and keyboards reminiscent of The Doors alongside Krieger’s smooth and relaxed guitar work. Tracks such as The Drift, the rocky Chunga’s Revenge and Hot Head all allow Krieger to remind us just what an influential guitarist he is. It’s a work of quality, ideal for a bit of down time and whilst the words ‘smooth’ and ‘nice’ fall readily to mind, this is a superbly crafted album. Whilst it’s certainly musically out of kilter with what we would usually listen to, if you fancy some time detoxing from raging guitars, The Ritual Begins At Sundown is a fantastic album to enjoy. 8/10

The Human Veil: Fractures (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

The new EP Fractures by Manchester based metalcore mob  was apparently inspired by the story of Hannibal Lecter, dealing with  the "battles people can experience in their own minds; from the most disturbing issues of psychosis and trauma, depression and addiction". The record endeavours to mix the heavy negativity with the more hopeful numbers. Take a track like 8612 which slams with massive hardcore breakdowns and huge heavy grooves, it's a perfect pit music but with that more emotional lyricism I mentioned earlier.

Though fiction was the inspiration much of it overlaps with vocalist Matt Wall's own journey, his screams, grunts and melodic clean vocals that become much more used on the later tracks. At just five songs this is brief look at what The Human Veil can do, it's clear this Manchester band are focussed on unleashing these songs on the stage to baying, pit hungry fans, however there is a lot more here than just chunky metalcore, they also have some ambient texture on Lone Wolf that move into BMTH, Architects realms. A hopeful but aggressive EP from The Human Veil. 7/10

Monday, 10 August 2020

Reviews: Curses, Selenseas, Zebadiah Crowe, Tennessee Champagne (Liam, Simon, Mike & Matt)

Curses: Chapter ll - Bloom (Sharptone Records) [Liam True]

Chapter ll: Bloom is more or less a contemporary Metal album that takes elements from different styles of genres and packs them neatly into the 36 minute package to provide one of the most technical Metalcore albums this year. Having an album that’s both technical and progressive in the genre isn’t unheard of, but it’s hard to come by one that’s actually nailed the formula and can pull it off this ease. Bloom is up there with the albums that sound terrific and push the boundaries to create the bands base sound. Metalcore with hints of Djent, touches of electronically-enhanced ambience and even some of the more atmospheric aspects of post-metal. The instrumentals themselves sound absolutely gorgeous with Davey Nicewander taking the helm of guitar duties, he does it flawlessly making it sound like the band has two guitars battling each other at the same time. We then have Michael Olivares on double duty with backing vocals as bass guitar providing the booming background. Shane Cyrus creates the pounding beating heart of the band with his ability on drums, surveying the kit like Neil Peart has been reincarnated as an octopus.

Then we have the duel vocalists. Both Brando Casto & Eli Fry combine their vocal efforts together to cause a whirlwind of destruction of both clean and guttural vocals that entwine to create a vicious sound. Taking inspiration from other Prog/Core bands such as Tesseract and Periphery (Who’s frontman makes a cheeky appearance on Follow The Fire) they take everything they’ve learned from their elder and applied it to their own will and sound to create a beautiful record. You could be mistaken for this album being one of many of a band while a huge discography. But this album is only their second studio album, and with this big of a sound on their second output, they’re only going to get bigger and better in the future. This isn’t a band you want to sleep on. 9/10

Selenseas: The Outer Limits (Rockshots Records) [Simon Black]

Although Russian Power Metallers Selenseas have been around since 2010, this is only their second full length studio EP, and the line up has been so fluid since their debut За гранью возможного in 2017 as to be almost a new band. The difference is more noticeable perhaps as this first album was originally sung in Russian, whereas The Outer Limits is in fact the same album re-recorded in English, so to all intents and purposes this is a new band reaching out beyond their borders. That said, I tend to treat debut albums with gentler words to compensate for the fact that a lack of experience in the ways of the studio, a paucity of budget and a bit of naivety about what works and what doesn’t (which is a long hand way of saying many bands don’t always find their sound first time out). So there’s no excuse when you’ve already had a go with the same material. And actually it’s not bad at all, so if you come from the early Stratovarius, Excalion or Rhapsody Of Fire end of the spectrum, then this is for you.

Once you get past the token introductory instrumental track, Hope kicks in with the kind of energy you need from this genre, with the technical virtuosity badges out for a polishing in the day, particularly in the guitar department. Next up Frigate takes us into nautical territory, another touchstone of the genre, although sadly isn’t pushing the boundaries of the style, although it does showcase vocalist Mikhail Kudrey well (think Blaze Bailey at his best). About him then. His voice has a nice strong timbre, and he’s a recent addition to the line up. His challenge remains that he’s working with material written for someone else in another language, and consequently doesn’t always come off as confident on some tracks as others. Dante has much more of a distinctive backbone than some of the other tracks and works the better for it, and with more like this the album would be a killer, especially as vocally the confidence is here in spades, and the more simple structure works brilliantly. I particularly like The Mirror, whose galloping baseline is pure Maiden and again benefits from a tighter structure allowing the instrumental pizazz to show itself sparingly, particularly in the wonderfully high tempo solo section.

It’s strong conceptual Power Metal material covering all the usual semi historical/mythical tropes you expect from Power Metal; enough of a tinge of the Progressive to stop it being predictable, and plenty of variety in the sound with lyrics at the forefront of the mix. That said the instrumentalists are on top of their game, with plenty of experimentation and complexity thrown into the mix. One slight frustration is that with so much going on in the songs, many of them feel like they are missing a musical anchor – a clear and catchy riff, or phrasing to hang their hat on and give the complexity some context. With a bit more structure consistently throughout, this could have gone a lot further, but then the Russian metal scene is another world to me and they are definitely the kind of band that take a couple of listens to really appreciate. When this line up actually sits down and writes together for their own abilities, they may well prove a force to be reckoned with. 7/10

Zebadiah Crowe: Host Rider (Sefl Released) [Mike Chapman]

Anyone familiar with Black Metal knows its brutality, with a punk DIY attitude to playing and production it conjures up images of a rabid animal. What I admire most is when artists of today keep flying the Black Metal flag in their own creative way, Zebediah Crowe are one of those bands. A talented duo that blends their influences of HP Lovecraft & Edgar Allen Poe with the ferocity of Black Metal had my attention from the off, their dramatic voices and imposing kicks hit you right from the off with Knucklebones, from then on out you are at their mercy. Despite the modern production the use of programmed drums help to give the feel of lofi production somewhat, packing a punch but with a restrain that keeps them from dominating the mix. 

It's the production that reels me in with this record, the inclusion of eerie intros on tracks such as A Tincture Of Malice and The Neon Goat Of Crimson Grief, the latters intro gives me flashbacks from the boat scene from Willy Wonka, you feel transported to an ethereal realm before being bludgeoned over the head with relentless riff that show a controlled aggression that doesn't end until the track concludes. As much a fan I am of the genre I do find myself yearning for a little more variation but that is a personal gripe that shouldn’t detract from a very solid record. I look forward to more of Zebediah Crowe in the future. 7/10

Tennessee Champagne: S/T (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Ooh this goes down smooth like the beverage of designated origin they are named after (Tennessee Whiskey - Alcohol Ed) Tennessee Champagne are a band that has a smoky feel, a taste you recognise and burns on a trail left by their forebears. Hailing from the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, Elizabethon, TN, the band have that mountain rock grit and a Southern swagger of bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blackberry Smoke, Blackfoot and even the Outlaw Country heroes such as Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson on Can't Get Over You which also doffs a cap to The Black Crowes with it's bubbling organ. From what I can tell this self titled album is their debut and it positions them firmly in the new Southern Rock revolution spearheaded by Blackberry Smoke, Cadillac Three and Whiskey Myers.

Now they have rockers here as you'd expect, Wicked is an excuse to let your hair down and shake your beard around, while the bands tribute to their home Mountains In My Bones has a funky hip shaking quality of Stevie Ray Vaughan, those guitar solos duelling with Hammond as things turn into The Allman Brothers at the end. As you you can tell from the numerous comparisons I've made here Tennessee Champagne clearly understand their roots; Chris Kelley, Jonathan Grindstaff, Tim Hall, Bill Cowden and Ryan Kendrick expertly blend rock, country, blues and Americana (in Oak Barrels I'd assume) into one big flavoursome mix of good time rock n roll with a distinctly laid back attitude on tracks such as the stomping, slide guitar driven, honky tonk of Corn From A Jar and the breakup ballad Selfish WaysTennessee Champagne are a bunch of Southern boys with an understanding of their musical heritage and the creativity to write music that doesn't fall too far in to being a pastiche. Grab a jar of corn, easy the seat back and let the Tennessee Champagne work it's magic. 8/10  

Reviews: Deep Purple, Black Crown Initiate, Cory Marks, Mattias Ohlsson Project (Paul H & Matt)

Deep Purple: Whoosh! (earMusic) [Paul Hutchings]

A word of advice before you dive into Whoosh! Don’t judge it on one listen. At first the 21st studio album presents as an episode in self-indulgence. On second listen you begin to appreciate the work of the master craftsmen a bit more. By the time you get into your fifth or sixth spin, it’s clear that despite the advance of time, Deep Purple remain consummate musicians. Sure, they are at a stage in their career where they get selected as the Radio 2 album of the week, but when they are in full flow there is still little that can touch them.

2017’s Infinite hinted at the end of the road for the band but whilst they are three years closer to the finish line, it would take something tragic or dramatic to write off Deep Purple from continuing for some time yet. An average age of 72 means that except for Steve Morse, all the band would be subject to shielding requirements in the current climate. I’ve seen numerous posts stating that Purple are a pale imitation of their former selves. To me, this is utter nonsense. The current line-up has been together for 18 years and in the past decade have made some of their best work.

So, what does Whoosh! bring us? Well, it was never going to be the fire and muscle of 1972. But it’s 50 minutes of high-quality rock music for a start. Ian Gillan’s understated delivery remains as cool as it ever was. He may not hit those screams of Child In Time and Speed King but his voice remains smooth and bluesy, restrained and playing to his strengths. The clever use of double tracking and harmonies filling things out. Steve Morse’s guitar playing is as fluid as ever, whilst the continual interplay with Don Airey’s lush keyboards playing once again conjures memories of those classic duels between Messrs Blackmore and Lord. Check out the interplay on first single Nothing At All. It’s clever, simple yet delightfully complex.

It’s the ever-present Ian Paice who continues to amaze, with his jazz-fused drumming a delight to listen to. Locked in with long-term partner in rhythm Roger Glover, Purple have always had an unshakable engine room and they remain astonishingly solid.

At this stage in their career, it would be a surprise if Purple were delivering groundbreaking music and whilst there are clear links with the styles that surfaced on the previous two releases, there is still enough to enthuse hard rock fans. There are a few songs of the weaker variety. I’m not over fussed about Step By Step with the overproduced organ sound, but the driving riffs on the anthemic The Long Way Round which includes some delightful guitar work, the dark and moody Man Alive and the catchy opening song Throw My Bones are of the highest calibre. They’ve outlived Zeppelin and Sabbath, can still headline Wacken and Hellfest and with another polished production from Bob Ezrin, Deep Purple confirm that there is still plenty of life in the old dogs. Take your time, spin it several times, and appreciate the fact that these legends are still able to produce music of exceptional quality. 9/10

Black Crown Initiate: Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape (Century Media Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Now housed with Century Media, Pennsylvanian progressive death metal band Black Crown Initiate’s third album is a sweeping soundscape, blending a myriad of styles. Through 50 minutes of intense, bludgeoning black metal, progressive passages and more gentle breaks from the mainstream, this album is ambitious and at times epic. Part of the Rivers Of Nihil tour that hit Bristol late last year, the band’s expansive and detailed approach will either draw you in deeply or fail to ignite the internal fires. It was four years ago that we reviewed Selves We Cannot Forgive, an album which showed much promise and this release pushes the boundaries further. The blast beats remain, the razor-sharp riffing still slices at the skin and the counterbalance of clean and aggressive roaring vocals works well. Andy Thomas’s cleans are much improved and prove the ideal foil to main vocalist James Dorton.

There have been comparisons with Opeth in the past, people likening BCI to the Swedes prior to their move away from the death growled vocals. Whilst the sonic display available here does touch on Opeth’s grandeur, BCI’s style sweeps forward in dramatic manner which to me on occasion flagged elements of Devin Townsend’s musical genius. Original guitarist Ethan McKenna returns for the first time since the band’s debut EP and provides a stellar show with some exceptional guitar work. BCI’s complex, layered sound certainly give the listener something to work with. When the band explode, the death metal is as intense as any band on the scene, and yet the melody remains a constant. Thomas’ cleans remain a surprise every time they kick in. Years In Frigid Light is a classic example, the song ebbing and flowing from skull crushing heaviness to soaring, emotion-soaked segments. Unafraid of a curved ball, Bellow is simply two minutes of demonic growling.

Most of the songs on this album clock in at longer than the average length, providing the opportunity to expand and explore. Explore the intricacy of penultimate track Holy Silence, which changes direction and tempo beautifully and almost at will. The tours with established outfits such as Behemoth, Rivers Of Nihil and 1349 in the past have allowed BCI to absorb aspects of each band and create a sound that is sonically complex and pleasingly unique. This is an album that should appeal to fans of Opeth, Cynic, Gojira and Mastodon. If you want your music to challenge, then I suggest you take the time to listen. 8/10

Cory Marks: Who I Am (Better Noise Music)

Who I Am is a statement of intent from Canadian Outlaw Country/Southern rocker Cory Marks. Yes you read that right Mr Marks is Canadian, from Ontario in fact and before you start shouting about country being a USA thing, Canada is really the last true frontier so shut up and put that Southern Cross away. Marks comes from a salt-of-the-earth upbringing that always makes for great country music but rather than spending his formative years balancing baseball/football and music, Marks spent most of his time either on the ice playing hockey, flying planes or touring across North America like a true road dog. Anyway to the music and Who I Am is a rampant mixture of country, Americana and North American radio rock, produced by Kevin Churko (Ozzy Osbourne), it bounces out of your speakers with a bandana and bottle of bourbon.

Sort of like Shooter Jennings fronting Nickelback (which to some of you may sound like absolute hell) but for me makes it an album full of sing along anthems, the biggest of which is first single Outlaws & Outsiders, a foot stomping rocker full of fire and defiance as well as special guest appearances from Country legend Travis Tritt, Ivan Moody of Five Finger Death Punch behind the mic and Motley Crue's Mick Mars giving his guitar a good bashing for the solo. Cory has been on tour with Toby Keith and Brantley Gilbert and I know his musical gumbo would have gone down like a house on fire with their fans. The lap steel driven Devil's Grin kicks us off before the clap/stomp of the single keeps us in the country realms however things move into the realms of syrupy American balladry on Good To Be Us which is happily followed by the heavy rocking ode to the dangers of drink Blame It On The Double.

The album moves between romantic road songs like Drive, fist-in-the air ballads like Better Off, big bad boy rockers like Keep Doing What I Do and acoustic numbers such as the excellent Out In The Rain which features the wonderful Lzzy Hale duetting with Marks. If you're a fan of that whole modern Outlaw Country meets Southern Rock radio vibe then Who Am I will be an ideal summer release. Pour yourself a glass of Crown Royal (with one ice cube), ease into your favourite chair and turn up the volume right as the sun goes down. Who is Cory Mark? One to watch! 9/10

Mattias Ohlsson Project: Illumination (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Mattias Ohlsson Project is the newest band of musician Mattias Ohlsson (obviously) and Illumination  is his first release under the new moniker, having previously released music under the Octavarium banner. Illumination is a lot heavier in terms of sound than anything he has done previously. This album is a conceptual piece spanning 67 minutes of impressive progressive heavy metal built around thumping djent-like riffs, bristling ambient textures, soaring choruses and a knack of keeping the attention across elongated run times that they share with bands such as Devin Townsend Project and Haken. The concept behind this album is one man's descent into madness and from the first track, a 2 minute odd intro The Long Dark Night built around twinkling synths and hushed vocals, it's almost like your psyche warning you about what is to come, it slips into the first heavy song on the record.

Inferno Within which ramps up the double kick drums, the palm muted riffs and pulsating electronics behind it. It's also the first track to give you a taste of the harsh/clean vocals that the album sticks with throughout, the vocalist here is good with some classic harsh screams that are a staple of the Swedish metal scene. It sets you up for a dark journey through the protagonist's descent, I'm unsure of the players on this album due to a lack of information surrounding the release but I believe Ohlsson does everything himself, if that is so then he's an extremely talented man as all of the instrumentation here is top level. I know from the info that came with this he works as a mixer meaning that this record is excellently mixed giving every instrument chance to shine as it all blends together in layers, he's aided by the mastering talent of Adam Bentley of Arch Echo, but it's very much Mattias Ohlsson's twisted vision.

Usually when you get one man projects it's uninspired bedroom black metal but Illumination has a huge scope. As you get to the longer numbers such as the anthemic 9 minute Unforgiven or the 14 minute title track that closes the record you can hear that there has been maximum effort put into this with even shorter numbers such as Innocence Lost the musical dexterity is there. Illumination is great modern prog metal record that has sort of come out of nowhere. I urge you to seek out if you love DTP or Haken! 8/10 

Friday, 7 August 2020

Reviews: Avatar, Arctic Rain, Black Rose Maze, Wicked Sisters (Simon, Matt, Mike & Lucas)

Avatar: Hunter Gatherer (Century Media Records) [Simon Black]

It’s been a couple of years since Avatar Country was released, and a lot longer since I caught the tail end of this Swedish outfit’s visually distinctive set at Bloodstock back in 2014, so this eight album is well overdue. I’ve never taken the time to listen to one of their albums in full before, so it was a bit of an eye opener, as Hunter Gatherer doesn’t pull its punches and album opener Silence In The Age Of Apes leaves you in no doubt at who the brunt of their ire is directed at. It’s an explosive energetic start to an album that as you come to expect from Avatar, this is theatrical metal in full no holds barred mode.

Colossus is slower paced slab-like riffage, and vocals that run the gamut of Marilyn Manson to soaring Power Metal and back down to the extreme lyric phrase by lyric phrase – it’s dizzying. A Secret Door almost fools you into thinking it’s a ballad from the opening introductory whistled melody and delicate lyrics verse before exploding into galloping double bass drum territory and an explosion of vocal anger that caught me so much by surprise that I nearly fell off the chair. There’s also a guest spot on there from Corey Taylor to keep an ear out for.

What I like about this album is the stylistic twists and turns, from the more Industrial Metal slide into God Of Sick Dreams, to the more Groove Metal influenced Scream Until You Wake with spots in so many different camps that you sometimes wonder if you’re listening to a compilation. Lyrically this album is pushing the point that we seem set on a downward path of clueless relentless stupidity, and that anger and frustration makes this album work no matter what musical direction they’re toying with. Gone is the tongue in someone else’s cheek of the past – this is a band with a point to make, and they sound pissed off at a world that’s forgotten its values. No song encapsulates this more than Justice with the embittered lyric “I can see the future/Through the barrel of a gun/This is Justice”, this is a long way from the Feathers And Flesh days.

The theatrical approach isn’t for everyone as I am well aware, but personally I love it, as if music rock music isn’t pushing the boundaries and giving the grandparents something to bitch about on Facebook, it’s probably not very good. In terms of timing, they really picked the right year for it, as with all the theatricality mixed with a liberal portion of justified fury, this album really delivers. 9/10

Arctic Rain: The One (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

Formed by songwriter/keyboardist Pete Alpenborg, guitarist Magnus Berglund, and singer Tobias Jonsson, Arctic Rain are a relatively new band from Sweden. The One is their debut album adding bassist Gert Daun and drummer Jonas Jönsson to the band just before recording this album, their overall sound is that of late-80's early-90's melodic rock sound. Marcus Berglund states that band such as "Whitesnake, Mr Big, Def Leppard and Dokken, we believe the result of our album is a distillation of our combined interpretation of that era of music”and you can really hear why they would say that, with massive ballads such as Free My Mind and the title track have those American radio vibes. While the rest of the album contains some bouncing, choppy melodic rockers such as like Love Of My Life and Breakout which has real Mr Big style to it. 

Berglund's guitars guide those strutting riffs and intricate soloing similar in sound to Reb Beach or Paul Gilbert but it's very much Pete Alpenborg who drives the songwriting here, as he has contributing to bands such as Revolution Saints, House Of Lords and also Kee Of Hearts, featuring former Europe guitarist Kee Marcello who are another band that Arctic Rain get their influence from. The Swedes know how to do classy, slick melodic rock and Arctic Rain really subscribe to that description on this debut record, just check out Madeleine for those luscious walls of synth and you'll understand what I mean. The One is a great debut from these Swedish rockers that will make you think grunge never happened! 7/10

Black Rose Maze: ST (Frontiers Records) [Mike Chapman]

For those of you that enjoy your Rock Hard and your vocals powerful yet melodic, you are about to have your musical needs fulfilled. Hailing from Montreal, Canada vocalist Rosa Laricchiuta has experience, with two albums of her own after cutting her teeth on The Voice Quebec culmination in a performance with Def Leppard, Kelly Clarkson, and Melissa Etheridge you can rest assured this woman has talent. Now with her new project Black Rose Maze Rosa delivers a hard hitting & well produced selection of tracks that despite not breaking new ground per say, provide quality and consistency to the Hard Rock genre.

Your introduction to the band’s style is the foot stomping Into The Dark, remember I said melodic? Well this chorus is melody smothered on melody, its killer and I’m still humming it as I type. Another standout track is the slower Look At Me Now, not a ballad but a down tempo number that really allows Rosa to showcase her powerful vocals, a real treat I must say. A great way to sum up Black Rose Maze and their self titled debut would be the namesake track Maze. If a song could sum up all of a bands qualities then this is one of them, bombastic riffs, melody, power & presence, the guitar work of Andrea Seveso should not go unnoticed. All in all a satisfying record for fans of HIM, Alice Cooper and the like, Black Rose Maze deliver a steady debut that serves a welcome addition to the Hard Rock fold. 8/10

Wicked Sisters: Wired_Backwards (Self Released) [Lucas Tuckwood]

Wired_Backwards is the newest album from the Sydney based Wicked Sisters, taking doomy riffs and splicing them with a strong dose of industrial. Having dabbled in industrial in their past output, here they decided to dive headfirst into the electronic void, with rather poor results. Track one, D.O.G, begins with a promising slow build, with very heavy, if slightly simple riffs and foreboding electronic ambience. It later breaks out a wonderful cacophony of chanting, guttural and distorted vocals, before suddenly and quite bizarrely ending on two minutes of instrumental, with the guitar endlessly slinking back and forth from the same few chords for far longer than it has any right to.

Track two, Straightrazor, is just an electronic interlude, a minute and a half in length. Track three however, Advanced Delusional Schizophrenia, is far and away the best track on the record, and only a minute and thirty seconds of it are original. The riffs may be simple, but the pace of the song, and the ferocity of the vocals make it a lot more palatable. But again, the song abruptly stops just as it’s finding its rhythm, and slinks back down to the slow duet of guitar and drums from D.O.G, the only difference being the addition of some extra electronic distortion and ambience. I have no earthly idea as to why they did this, and as a result neither of the two real songs out of the three have any room to flourish. 

The band’s previous album, We Suck, contains some far better constructed songs, each containing an easily identifiable beginning, middle, and end, so what on earth has happened here? They’ve clearly got the talent, but any potential these songs had was squandered, the result being an aimless, dull little album that has promise, but goes nowhere. 3/10

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Reviews: Howling Giant/Sergeant Thunderhoof, Geoff Tyson, Misery Signals, Vampric (Paul H, Lucas, Liam & Rich)

Howling Giant/Sergeant Thunderhoof: Turned to Stone Chapter II - Masamune & Muramasa (Ripple Music) [Paul Hutchings]

Sometimes the low hanging fruit is further from the ground than you think. Reviewing a split EP is often a straightforward listen. Not this time though. With Ripple Music’s second installment of their Turned To Stone split 12" series, they invited Nashville's psych-metal purveyors Howling Giant and Somerset's own cosmic fuzz groovers Sergeant Thunderhoof to deliver two interconnected 20-minute epics telling the story and face-off of legendary Japanese swordsmiths Muramasa and Masamune.

The routine approach to a split EP would be for each band to contribute stand-alone pieces which fit each side. Not in this case, with each band combining to craft two epic tracks that are thematically and sonically cohesive. The result is a 40-minute piece of stunning sonic soundscapes which demonstrate the quality of the two progressive riff lords. It’s like listening to two giant megalodons tussling on the tundra, their heaving bulk clashing in harmony as they sway together.

Side one sees Howling Giant embark on a twenty-minute opus, weaving their brand of progressive stoner rock as they tell the story from swordsmith Masamune’s perspective. Lush Hammond organ permeates the driving guitar riffs, the powerful punchy passages mellowing with slower, calmer passages. Melodic harmonies and chunky guitar all combine in a free-flowing track that is a joy to listen to.

Then we have side two as Sergeant Thunderhoof’s slightly heavier, yet less aggressive approach focuses on Muramasa. Thick fuzzy guitar and bass hammer out over nearly 22 minutes of rich, pumping, and roaring rock. Soaring vocals combine with rougher edged singing as the song evolves in impressive style. It really is work of some beauty. With the bands sharing melodic ideas, this translates to a cohesive flowing release that feels more like an album that a split EP. It’s ambitious yet totally achievable and with a story that hooks the listener in deep, this is a release that is well worth spending time with. Superb musicianship from start to finish, I’m sold. 8/10

Geoff Tyson: Drinks With Infinity (Geoff Tyson Music) [Lucas Tuckwood]

Geoff Tyson’s debut instrumental album, Drinks With Infinity, is thirty six minutes of pure rock n roll, and positively oozes with technical prowess, and meshes a number of different styles and genres into one neat little package. Having learned from guitar maestro Joe Satriani, his teachings shine through on every song, as the listener is treated to numerous styles, all held together by Tyson’s magnificent fretwork.

Track five, Bark, is a fast, blistering little piece, featuring multiple soaring solos, tight woven basslines, and drumming so precise you could set your watch to it. Track three, Strawberry Napalm, feels like it would fit perfectly into the score for a video game, featuring funky electronic background beats which run perfectly in tandem with the guitar. Track six, Asabara, is a slow, melodic piece, and the solo gracefully soars over the top. Each different style utilised is done so with incredible precision, and is a true testament to Tyson’s skill on the six string.

Now, I’m no guitarist, but even I can clearly see that there’s some real talent on this record; each song bristles with that cosy feeling of real musicianship, and every component of the music works flawlessly. While I can see some finding the lack of vocals causing some tracks to blend in together, the sheer technical prowess on display more than makes up for any shortcomings. No matter if you’re after that classic bluesy feeling, or some fast paced hard rockers, Drinks With Infinity has easily got you covered. 9/10

Misery Signals: Ultraviolet (Basick Records) [Liam True]

Blending Hardcore and Metalcore together is an odd thing to do as they don’t really go hand in hand (Really? - Ed). But Misery Signals have perfected the art of it. On their fifth studio album the band have reignited their stance as one of Metalcore's most influential bands. Their not the most brought up band while talking about the subject, but between 2004 – 2008 they were on top of their game. And with only one album and one EP release since 2008 they’ve been on the quiet side of things. Until now.

On their first studio album in seven years, and reunited with original vocalist Jesse Zaraska on his first full length with the band since their debut back in 2004, the band are on fire with their signature sound that so many other bands have modelled their current sound from. First single and first track The Tempest is a brilliant introduction back into the band as it starts with the lyrics’ We will be lifted again’. And their not wrong. From start to finish it’s a whirlwind path of destruction. Sunlifter is the more melodic riff orientated side with hard hitting breakdowns. Through Vales Of Blue Fire is an intense, yet short burst of energy all cylinders.

Old Ghosts & The Fall fade flawlessly into each other to create a track that needed to be put together as one. Cascade Locks is proof that you don’t need to start of heavy and in your face, but the softer melodic sounds builds it up and entices you in to the song before filling you with their classic sound. Some Dreams is then the perfect ender to this great album. Combining the heavier and softer sounds together as one creates the song that the album needed to end on to make it more of a varied sound.

All in all it’s a terrific comeback for the band who’ve spent 7 years in the dark, only releasing an EP 4 years ago and taking their time readying ourselves for their return into the genre that they once ruled. Granted it’s not a phenomenal album, but it’s a great sounding album in the sea of bland same noise records. But Ultraviolet stands out as a contender for one of the best they’ve released. 7/10

Vampiric: Supernatural Tales (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

I have a bit of a problematic history when it comes to one man bands. A lot of them are absolutely dire but like with anything there are exceptions to the rule. Vampiric is the Arizona based project of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Nik Williams and Supernatural Tales is the second album from the project.

Supernatural Tales is nine songs with a vampiric or supernatural lyrical theme whilst the music is a mixing pot of gothic metal, symphonic and orchestral leanings and direct influences from the heavier end of the metal spectrum such as thrash metal, death metal and black metal. This does mean the songs can be a bit all over the place but there is a cohesion to the music that binds all these influences together. This is music that is crushingly heavy as well as melodramatic and over the top. Nik is an excellent musician and his talents shine throughout the album as well as his compositional skills. His vocals are fraught with shortcomings however but whilst not very good are definitely serviceable and don’t detract too much from the music.

Vampiric have a very good album with Supernatural Tales which seamlessly mixes gothic melodrama with an extreme metal bite. It is probably not essential listening but there’s no denying that this is a very decent album. 7/10

Reviews: Creeper, Blue Oyster Cult, Onslaught, Ramos (Alex, Paul H, Simon & Matt)

Creeper: Sex, Death And The Infinite Void (Roadrunner Records) [Alex Swift]

On the last show of the ‘Eternity, In Your Arms’ Tour, Creeper proclaimed that they would not be playing any more concerts as a band, before proceeding to lay down their distinctive callous heart blazers. Many fans recognized the stunt as a tribute to the late, great David Bowie who performed a similar act when killing off the character of Ziggy Stardust. Just as Bowie’s decision was born partly out of the toll his persona was taking on his health, Creepers re-enactment was bound up in the struggles of their guitarist Ian Miles suffering mental-health issues and later being committed to a psychiatric ward. "There was all sorts of stuff going on. Like I thought I could kill people by blinking at them. I thought religion and the police were collecting money and handing it up to the government and MI5 to buy nuclear weapons to end the world” Miles said in an interview with the BBC. This understandably took its toll on other members of the band, especially frontman Will who amongst the stress of his friend being sectioned, and having lost a family member earlier in the year, was under pressure to write a new album.

Remember that they had garnered a cult fanbase of the back of their debut, who eagerly awaited the acts next steps. Late last year they returned, wearing white suits and smart haircuts, contrasted against the dark imagery of a red rose or a black lightning bolt, retaining their gothic imagery, in a way that elucidated the change in direction – a la, Thin White Duke. Sex, Death And The Infinite Void certainly proves a bold change in sound, the allusions to classic rock, post-punk and musical theatre, coming together in a romantic yet mysterious combination. Loosely concept bound the album follows the story of ‘The Fugitives Of Heaven’ – two lovers who escape the clutches of eternal paradise, in search of a more liberating existence. Vitally, the piece grows on you – I found myself initially taken aback by the different sonic palate, yet after repeated listens growing to appreciate the reincarnation of Creeper.

After a strangely dark intro, Be My End proves an anthem of love in a time when the worlds exploding around you. ‘Would you be my armageddon, as we fall out of heaven’ the opening lines impart, as the joyous playing and vibrant melodies serve to create a sensation of interstellar joy. For me personally, though, the album doesn't truly begin its musical arc until Born Cold – a huge, dramatic and sensual ballad, the anthem starts out on a ruminating note before firing into an emancipating chorus, where the guitars, pianos and Will Gould’s exaggerated yet emotive voice, defines the new era. Cyanide is brilliantly beguiling, the clever use of slide guitar and traditional sounding key melodies, feeling like psychedelia fused with a 1950s speakeasy-style twang. There's a relaxing and luscious feel at play, yet the dramatism is kept in play by the infused lead musings, the tone-setting presence of the rhythm section, and the deliciously accented vocals from our frontman. Emanating Queen vibes Anabelle makes immediately memorable use of riffs and huge harmonies to create powerful bombast, the refrain of ‘God can’t save us, so let's live like sinners’ ending slightly ridiculous, yet exhilarating. I remember hearing this song and feeling won over on the less goth, more glam concept which seemed to be prevailing.

Contrary to the lack of black imagery though, the record exudes darkness. Take Paradise And Poisoned Heart which sees Gould adopt a charmingly villainous persona, as he details his dissatisfaction with the archaic castles of heaven and longs for escape. The memorability is kept intact by the mesmerizing choruses, as well as the strings and synths which swirl around the perimeter of the tracks in uncanny style. Underpinning everything else though is a gothic emotionality which is more Nick Cave than Gerard Way this time around, yet keeps the concepts of allure and loss feeling real and convincing. Thorns Of Love begins on more of a doo-wop note, except in tandem with the escapist theme of the entire record, the feeling is more one of our protagonists stumbling into a forbidden bar, where their love of music and their common struggle as outsider binds them together in harmony – a feeling given life by the explosive guitar solo which brings the anthem to an enormous, earth-shattering conclusion. Four Years Ago makes us realize this tale is being told in retrospect – and brings keyboardist Hannah Greenwood to the forefront to offer a mournful perspective, on the events our lead character remises so delicately on. That concept of how we see the past, and the sentimentality we attach to our former lives is one which the entire work expounds on excellently and is especially pertinent considering the maturation these musicians have endured both lyrically and musically.

Napalm Girls is that vicious, and biting anthem I expect a lot of fans may have been expecting, except rather than being an except replica of the music on album no. 1, there’s more grit and rawness present here – in just three to four minutes the track brilliantly captures that feeling of inner turmoil and feeling like a war is being waged inside you through the violent performances and the harsh yet precise production which sets the gloss of rose-tinted romanticism to burn in a way which feels emotive and poignant. Black Moon brings that moment of sweet yet lonesome resolve, which brings more of an ambiguous ending to the story in a way that you have to in making albums about life and life. The intertwining harmonies, the encircling darkness, and the tale of a heart that is older yet no less callous. We finish on All My Friends – a song written by Will Gould for Ian Miles which tells in beautiful detail of everything the band has been through, and why they will endure into the future, as a creative, innovative, and relatable project. 8/10

Blue Öyster Cult: 45th Anniversary - Live In London (Frontiers Music) [Paul Hutchings]

One of the biggest cult bands in the world of hard rock, Blue Öyster Cult are racing towards their half century as a band. This live album, the third to be released by Frontiers in 2020 by the way, captures the energy and passion of the New York outfit in all their pomp. Recorded at the 2017 Stone Free Festival, the recording starts with their entire debut album, before the band throw in several other treats and classics. If you’ve ever seen BÖC in the flesh, then this will only confirm what those of us who have seen them already know. They are simply superb live. The line-up for this show featured Eric Bloom - Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser - Guitar, Vocals, Richie Castellano - Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals, Danny Miranda - Bass Guitar, Vocals and Jules Radino - Drums, Percussion and it is a magical recording.

Whilst the band will be forever known for (Don’t Fear) The Reaper and Godzilla, there is so much more to them. Consummate musicians, it’s somewhat ironic that BÖC have more compilation albums than studio ones. Something to do with changing labels and rights no doubt. Regardless, what’s great about this recording is that you get the whole of Blue Öyster Cult live. The debut album was released in 1972 and contains tracks that the band have featured in their setlists ever since those early days. It’s easy to see why as the songs sound as fresh on this recording as they must have back then. The scintillating guitar skills of ‘Buck Dharma’ on the extended Then Came The Last Days Of May is breathtaking, the combination of the band kicking out the jams whilst the guitar simply sings over the pounding rhythm is sheer poetry. Having seen this lot live, I can attest to the way this singes the hairs on the back of the neck such is the intensity. Stairway To The Stars features superb interplay between keys and guitar work, the tightness of the band immense. There’s little chatter between songs, as the band let the music do the talking.

Amongst a fluid and flawless performance, picking out highlights is almost impossible. Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll is majestic, Buck’s Boogie allows a bit of ego with the extended guitar workout and a total on stage jam which is as captivating through the earphones as it is in the live arena. If you needed any convincing what a superb bunch of musicians BÖC are, this should be all the evidence you need. And then you get the monsters, literally. The riff to Godzilla may just be one of my favourites of all time, whilst (Don’t Fear) The Reaper remains timeless. The closing duo of Tattoo Vampire and the funky Hot Rails To Hell close out a stellar performance from a band whose influence across the rock and metal world remains as vital today as it ever did. A thoroughly  enjoyable live release. 9/10

Onslaught: Generation Antichrist (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

Casting my mind back a couple of years ago to the day, I remember watching Onslaught early on in the day at Bloodstock. I remember rain, I remember a blinding hangover courtesy of a bottle of Ardbeg single malt whiskey and I remember a band absolutely on fire kicking the day into life. I also remember back in the day that Onslaught were a significant (but in that incarnation short-lived) influence of the British Thrash scene, so to finally get to see them all those years later was a real buzz and one of the highlights of the festival. So I was somewhat sad when I heard that vocalist Sy Keeler had moved on (again), as his voice was a huge part of their revival and the thought that they could lose momentum and once again drop off the radar seemed a damn shame. The band clearly thought so too, and listeners need not have worried as new boy Dave Garnett absolutely nails it this album.

Onslaught always had brutal tracks, but the production on those early albums was frankly piss poor, and live was their domain and the main basis for their reputation. This album perfectly captures the energy and brutality that make their live performances so captivating (such as that hungover August morning) and sounds like a new hungry band. Thrash has always been about controlled anger, and lyrically the openers Strike Fast Strike Hard and politically brutal Bow Down To The Clowns do not pull their punches. This is a band who still have something to say and that message is carried loud and clear aided by some absolutely blistering musicianship. The title track has some of the most brutally proficient drum work I have ever heard, which is somehow kept up for the nearly six minutes of running time and more than any other track on the album tips the nod to their punk roots.

Addicted To The Smell Of Death does not let up either – piling on the energy and fury, with some interesting vocal mix effects to subtly change the game on the mix side. Empires Fall showcases the machine gun sound of Nige Rockett and Wayne Dorman’s guitar work with a classic thrash guitar intro and sound that sticks through to the end and with its frankly brilliant, brutal singalong chorus – this is the song to bang your head into a bloody stump to. In the 80’s the band raised eyebrows with some of their more satanic motes, back when this was usually more overt, and this has evolved into a more mature ‘angry atheist’ approach, as Religiousuicide indicates. It’s fast, it’s tighter than a gnat’s rectum and it’s really fucking pissed off. A Perfect Day To Die, which feels like a heartfelt nod to Motörhead closes the album and although it’s been around for a few years, it feels like the right thing to do to record with this line up. The galloping baseline is pure Lemmy, the guitar riff pure Fast Eddie and a perfect toast to the band that inadvertently birthed the whole Thrash movement.

The sound on this album is absolutely spot on, with Daniel Bergstrand of Behemoth, In Flames and Meshuggah fame doing an absolutely spot on job of catching the rawness and energy, giving just enough technical edge to hear what the musicians are down without falling into the trap of making the sound to sharp and clinical. This is how every great thrash album should sound in my head. 9/10

Ramos: My Many Sides (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

My Many Sides is the debut album from guitarist Josh Ramos (Hardline, The Storm, Two Fires) and in true Frontiers Records style he has managed to assemble a star studded cast of guest singers from the melodic/hard rock genre. Amongst the line up are Eric Martin (Mr. Big), Danny Vaughn (Tyketto), Harry Hess (Harem Scarem), Tony Harnell (ex-TNT), and Tony Mills (ex-Shy, TNT), though Joe Retta (Heaven & Earth) features on the most. Ramos is a hell of a guitar player and My Many Sides is a way for him not only to showcase his guitar playing prowess but also his songwriting ability across 12 songs. Opening with the heavy rocking of Today's The Day which is reminiscent of Black Country Communion due to Joe Retta's Glenn Hughes like vocals and some sweeping orchestrations from bassist Fabrizio Grossi (Supersonic Blues Machine) that bring that epic Zeppelin sound, also in the rhythm section is Tony Morra on drums who gives the thumping beat to the bluesy Unbroken

Adding to the classic hard rock sounds are Michael T Ross (Pianos, Keyboards), Alex Alessandroni Jr (Hammond) and Eric Ragno (Keyboards), used for good on Blameless Blue where Danny Vaughn shows off those soulful pipes of his, on a track that is a little reminiscent of Audioslave. Now this album is made to show the different sides to Ramos' playing and compositions with a bit more Zep-style on Immortal which has Tony Harnell crooning at his best, I've Been Waiting is a bit more AOR styled as you'd expect from any song featuring Harry Hess, while the biggest ballad on the whole record is Forefather which features Eric Martin's smoky voice. There is also one instrumental in the shape of Ceremony where Ramos does some fireworks on an understated guitar workout. Now many of you may not of heard of Josh Ramos before this album but anyone who has featured as a part of Hardline and with ex-Journey alumni in The Storm knows their way around a song, worth checking out if you like some bluesy hard rocking. 8/10

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Reviews: Stormzone, Lionheart, Katalepsy, Kosmogonia (Paul H & Matt)

Stormzone: Ignite The Machine (Metalapolis Records) [Paul Hutchings]

I’ve been a fan of Northern Irish outfit Stormzone since their superb set at BOA in 2014 which led to their fourth album, Seven Sins. 2018’s Lucifer’s Factory maintained the quality and now the band are back with their latest long player and yet again they’ve delivered the goods. Over an hour of cracking quality UK classic metal, oozing class and overall a fantastic listen. A solid production ensures the duel guitar work is crisp and clean, Steve Moore and Dave Shields breaking through with some razor-sharp riffs and blistering solos. Vocalist John ‘Harv’ Harbinson possesses one of the best voices in metal, hitting the notes with ease whilst the rhythm section of Graham McNulty and drummer Davy Bates keep the engine room motoring.

The album kicks off with a relatively routine opener, Tolling Of The Bell, but fires into real life with the title track which is a rip-roaring power metal escapade. It’s fast, furious and damn good fun. The melody and harmonies are catchier than Covid 19 on a Bournemouth beach, whilst the song itself pushes the boundaries. This is music that demands a beer in hand, good friends on your flanks and a raucous festival crowd roaring along to every note. Fuck. That’s blown the good vibes. Ironically, the next track is called My Disease which is another melodic rocker which has a beautiful Queensryche vibe.

In fact, it would be fair to say that there is little filler on this album. No, scratch that. There is no filler on this album. It’s bursting with superb power and heavy metal, the type which just fills you with joy, delight at the sheer goodness which it brings. Ignite The Machine is clever, competent and fabulous in its exuberance. Dragon Cartel simply bursts with anthemic goodness, a power metal classic which races along. The mandatory ballad, Nothing To Fear is one of the weaker tracks but still manages to stay classy. Follow up song Revolution clears the head, another powerful driving track that emphasises the melodic undertones that Stormzone bring without compromising their metal roots.

The final third of the album maintains the momentum, something that doesn’t always happen, and Dealer’s Reign keeps things moving whilst the slower paced Flame That Never Dies surprisingly accelerates and once more the fists are raised high. At this point, I’d have been completely satisfied but whilst the final duo doesn’t add much more, they are both enjoyable. The Maiden-esque Under Her Spell is followed by the clichéd yet amusing This Is Heavy Metal, a montage of metal songs in the vein of early Sabaton’s Metal Crue, a call to arms and homage to the genre we all love. It doesn’t detract from a thumpingly good album and one that sits high in the 2020 hall of fame. 9/10

Lionheart: The Reality Of Miracles (Metalville Records) [Paul Hutchings]

2017 saw the second album from UK AOR legends Lionheart, a mere 33 years after their debut. Our Rich loved the album, something that always surprises me about the gnarly old bastard as he’s far more suited to grinding thrash metal than thick, rich melodies and sweet harmonies. But he was spot on about Second Nature, which finally saw the promise the band had shown all those years ago come to fruition. And now, 40 years since the band originally formed, album number three arrives. The Reality Of Miracles features the same line-up as Second Nature, and it’s a highly polished, smooth and impressive record. 

The mandatory intro leads into an opening trio that would be best served with crackers, celery and some nice chutney. It’s cheesy but oh so enjoyable. Thine Is The Kingdom allows guitarists Dennis Stratton and Steve Mann to strut their stuff, whilst singer Lee Smalls is on magnificent form throughout. Each track is deliciously composed, featuring beautiful melodies and harmonies, keys that enhance rather than hinder and the odd glimpse of the old power from the 1980s when the band first flexed their muscles. Five Tribes rocks as hard as any other band, a hard rocking song that rattles along at a fair clip. It’s enjoyable and slick. 

As was the case on Second Nature, the keyboards with their retro sound take centre stage on several of the tracks, adding a sound that when done well, as here, is unbeatable on a cool summer evening. Behind The Wall is case in point, almost Germanic in its anthemic quality, the symphonic elements add panache to the grandiose feeling of the track. Stratton and Mann can certainly still play, their interplay subtle yet vital. The perfectly balanced stomp of Widows contrasts neatly with the oriental flavours of Kingdom Of The East. There is little to criticise throughout this record. In the true vein of UK AOR, think FM, Vega, as well as the old school of Tobruk, Airrace and Shy, Lionheart have added to the catalogue of albums that stand toe to toe with those 80s US giants, Foreigner, Styx, Journey and Reo Speedwagon. The Reality Of Miracles really is one of the best AOR releases I’ve heard for many a year. 8/10

Katalepsy: Terra Mortuus Est (Unique Leader Records) [Matt Bladen]

Mr Rogers (no not that one), the bass playing extreme metal madman who occasionally reviews the most extreme technical death metal records we get here, called Katalepsy "Generic Russian Slam" so with that ringing endorsement in my ears I pressed play on their latest release, the bands second full length Terra Mortuus Est which has been released on extreme metal label Unique Leader Records. So is is as bad as Charlie says? Well if you like rabid, unleashed slamming death metal with huge pit starting grooves, massive skull crushing breakdowns that evolve into widdly solos. So you can expect drumming that never really moves from explosive blastbeating and guttural growls that start low and stay low. However despite the technical musicianship on display, these Russians can really abuse their instruments, by fourth song The God Of The Grave you've heard every trick they have. Terra Mortuus Est is ideal for wearing a vest, camo shorts and pitting until you can't stand up but unfortunately for me slam is another genre that really does very little for me. 4/10  

Kosmogonia: Enthrone The Gods (Cronos Productions) [Matt Bladen]

Just a quick question before you settle down to this review: Do you like Eluveitie? If the answer is no then stop reading. If it's yes then you'll not be surprised to find that pagan folk melodic death sound very much like the Swiss folk metal band and indeed other Northern tundra dwelling bands such as Leaves Eyes and Turisas however Kosmogonia come from Athens Greece, but their sound is almost spot on to the pagan folk metal bands of the North lands. Formed by Kostas Magalios (vocals/guitars) and Christos Drossos (guitars) in 2015 they started out as a much more thrash/death orientated  band but Kostas seems to be a man of ambition and began to add folk instrumentation and finally operatic female vocals resulting in the line up that has recorded this album; Maya Kampaki is the other singer, Dimitris Poulos and Spiros Aleksandropoulos on bass and drums respectively.

However fleshing out the more cinematic edges of this band are  Odysseus Poulos' keys and Ismini Vasileiou's Flute which is used to great effect on the swaying folkery of Raven's Call while the title track attempts to reach the heady heights of Septicflesh, with a few dramatic tone changes, as does the industrial grind of Triiris. The overriding influence though is that of Eluveitie or even the MaYan project with the growling death vocals in contrast to the soaring operatic tones as the riffs gallops against the orchestral stings on Melody Of Persephone which shifts style throughout moving from out and out death into a folk jig led by that bewitching flute which is so key to the bands sound. If you're  folk metal fan then Kosmogonia (Cosmogony) for those of us that don't speak Greek, should definitely be in you to listen too list! 7/10

Reviews: Dukes Of The Orient, Dee Snider, Deathstorm, King Gorm (Paul H & Matt)

Dukes Of The Orient: Freakshow (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

Now a lot of albums are said to be 'eagerly anticipated' however in the case of Freakshow the second album from Dukes Of The Orient is very much anticipated by myself. I loved the their debut album so the chance of getting a second record was very much something I was looking forward to. For those that don't know Dukes Of Orient are the collaboration of vocalist/bassist John Payne (ex-ASIA, GPS) and keyboardist Erik Norlander (Last in Line, Lana Lane, Rocket Scientists), Norlander joined John Payne's version of Prog/Pomp/Rock band ASIA when original keyboard player Geoff Downes reformed the classic line up of the band that featured John Wetton on vocals/bass. Payne is ingrained into ASIA mythos meaning that he carried on his version of the band with Norlander.

Until the death of Wetton in 2017 made him rethink the name of his band out of respect for Wetton and to avoid further confusion with Downes shifting from the use of ASIA to Dukes Of The Orient which is a very clever in-joke for anyone who knows the connection between ASIA and Payne. Now I do love John Payne's voice, it's well weathered and soulful, in fact the one album he made with Jay Schellen (drums), Guthrie Govan (guitar) and Ryo Okumoto (keys) as GPS still ranks as one of my favourite albums ever! So what have Dukes Of The Orient come up with in the two years since their debut release well the prog pomp is flying high on opener The Duke's Return a nostalgic look at the classic Duke's of the past returning from battle, it's bouncy and features a neat sax break from newest band member Eric Tewalt in it moving into the funky blues based The Ice Is Thin which has yet more sax drawing from the sexy AOR of bands such as Foreigner.

Both of these tracks show that DOTO are expanding their sonic palette on this second album, it's more dramatic moving away from the Asia model and into the realms of Styx and even some touches of the Roger Waters oddness on the title track. It means that Payne can utilizes his excellent bass as well as show off his bass playing against the virtuoso keys/synths/organs of Norlander with Frank Klepacki (drums) and Alex Garcia (guitars) rounding out the band however the majority of the solos here are split between Norlander and Tewalt. The Monitors brings back that slick prog pomp rock that followers of Payne will recognize. This album is somehow pulls a marvellous trick of being both much more pop friendly but also proggier than their debut, bathed in the radio ready smoothness of 80's radio it's Asia but also brings some Foreigner, a heap of ELO and even touches of Kansas on The Last Time Traveller (all it needs is some violin). It does however have a much weaker second half after the synth instrumental  A classy record that even though is so deeply ingrained in the sounds of yesteryear is distinctive enough to help them stand out from the numerous bands in the crowded AOR scene. 7/10

Dee Snider: For The Love Of Metal Live (Napalm Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Does Dee Snider need any introduction? A motormouth of mammoth proportions, more opinions than Donald Trump, rightly revered in metal quarters and a showman who cut his teeth the hard way in the clubs of New York in the 70s and 80s. The glam image of Twisted Sister was all about shock tactics and it worked back in those early 1980s when getting the crowd to chant ‘SMF’ was considered a bit racy. Live, Snider has always been electric, although seeing him at HRH a few years ago was a less than enjoyable experience. His most recent solo album For the Love of Metal saw him up the ante, aided massively by the writing skills of Jamey Jasta who added a backbone of steel to Snider’s vocal prowess. 

This release is part of a wider package which features a DVD/Blu-Ray release which contains ample value for money with nearly three hours of entertainment. It’s the music that does the talking though and the live album that accompanies the DVD is what I focused on. Much of the recording comes from his triumphant 2019 Bloodstock Open Air Festival appearance, which followed two headline appearances with Twisted Sister including the finale in 2016, as well as being intertwined from other festivals across the world. And whilst there is the odd issue with the splicing, it’s exactly as you’d expect from Snider. It’s arrogant, brash and in your face from start to finish. Introduced as the ‘Legendary Dee Snider’, the set consists of a combination of solo works and a healthy dose of Sister tracks. There’s no doubting Snider can still deliver. It’s muscular and bombastic. 

What For The Love Of Metal Live also demonstrates is that Snider’s best music was written over 30 years ago because it’s the Twisted Sister tracks that shine brightest. Under The Blade retains the sinister feel it had way back in 1985, You Can’t Stop Rock N Roll remains an anthem and Burn In Hell is still a monster of a song. Whilst the recent material is way from poor, the posturing of American Made simply irritates, given the country’s status on the world stage now and Become The Storm is mediocre at best. Backed by a ferociously riff heavy band, everything is at least heavier and faster which is no bad thing.

For years Snider’s inter-song banter has been either endearing or cliched, take your pick. Multiple demands to give me a “fuck yeah” are lapped up by the crowds on this release, but yawn, could there be a change in patter from 1989? Numerous digs at other music seems a little inappropriate in current times. Live music is live music, and it’s somewhat ironic that Snider comments that “We cannot let the spirit of live entertainment die within us”. C’mon Dee. Let’s be a bit more all-embracing.
I Wanna Rock has the inevitable singalong segment, which is great if you are eight pints in and standing in a field with your mates. Sitting in your living room? Well, maybe to you it is. The cover of Highway To Hell is unnecessary and to be brutal, pub band level but at least the live recordings finish with a rip-roaring The Fire Still Burns. To complete the package, a new track is included. Sadly, Prove Me Wrong is about as routine a Snider song as you can get. There is little memorable and seconds after it had finished, I was struggling to recall what it sounded like. 

This may sound like sour grapes. It isn’t. Snider has my respect for his dedication to the world of metal. But, and it’s a big but, he’s not contemporary in the way other musicians of his era have managed to be. Maybe it’s the price he has to pay for being in a band that ruled the MTV era with their high school anthems. Dee Snider live is never less than good fun. Dee Snider live on CD? Maybe not quite so much. Maybe it’s time to seek out those old Widowmaker recordings. 6/10

Deathstorm: For Dread Shall Reign (Dying Victims Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Up until two weeks ago I’d encountered very few Austrian metal bands. Suddenly I’ve got almost a deluge as the latest thrash outfit to hit the radar arrives in the shape of Deathstorm from Graz. Formed in 2010, Deathstorm are a three-piece who play what I would consider old school thrash. With their debut full length As Death Awakes released back in 2013, Deathstorm have lasted for a decade with For Dread Shall Reign their fourth long player. The music is competent enough, retaining a rawness that one might expect on the first and second releases. It’s a surprise to have it quite so rough this far into a career, but I suspect that this is the band’s desire. Tracks such as Bloodlusted, Ripping And Tearing and Unforgotten Wounds aren’t particularly complex but thrash ferociously, with a gritty, earthy and endearing quality. 

Slowing the pace on Sulphuric Scents adds a bit of Sabbath into the mix, straying into a bit of doom territory. Bassist and vocalist Marco Stebich has a delivery which won’t be to everyone’s tastes. His strained style leaves something to be desired but it fits the type of blackened thrash that Deathstorm play. You don’t want Hansi Kursch when your riffs are dirty, rusted and downright dangerous. If you wanted me to describe Deathstorm’s music I’d throw a bit of Venom, some razor wired Exodus and a splash of Metallica. For Dread Shall Reign isn’t a bad album by any stretch and their mix of slower and full assault gives plenty of variation. If you worship at the altar of thrash, I’d encourage you to explore this album. 6/10

King Gorm: S/T (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

King Gorm come from San Diego, CA and is comprised of members of Old Man Wizard, Beekeeper, and Grim Luck. Taking their name from a historical Danish King Gorm the Old. Their music has a very old school approach unlike their day jobs it's got  massive organ swathes, huge deep lead bass riffs, explorative guitars and massive drum parts. King Gorm are influenced by Deep Purple, Rainbow, Budgie, Rush and the more modern strains of Ghost. The album is a conceptual piece about four heroes that are on a  quest to save the village of Irondale but that doesn't really matter as it's all about the bombastic rock grooves that this album brings from the opening rocker Freedom Calls, through the organ heavy beginning of Four Heroes which moves into some King Crimson-like progging, just listen to the drumming and you'll know what I mean. Francis Roberts writes the music and lyrics here while also playing the guitars influenced by Robert Fripp Steve Howe and providing the excellent vocals too. Erich Beckmann's bass as I've said is a lead bass player driving tracks such as Beyond Black Rainbow while Dylan Marks' drumming is spacious and powerful at the same time. The key to this band's sound though is the addition of Saki Chan on Hammonds, Mellotron giving those lush 70's sound. King Gorm is a great fantasy influenced hard rock record that delves into the 'classic' sounds of the past. Ideal weekend listening. 7/10