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Sunday, 15 December 2019

Reviews: Thunder & Lightning, Murray & McGowan, House Of Shakira, Ancient Crown (Reviews By Paul Hutchings)

Thunder And Lightning: Demonicorn (Self Released)

No end to the German conveyer belt of power metal with Thunder And Lightning’s latest release Demonicorn. The Berlin based outfit have been delivering their brand of metal since 2004 and whilst I will admit they are new to my ears, their style of music is actually a lot easier to bear than many of the hyperactive delivery of some of their countrymen. Opener All Your Lies combines traditional metal with the frenetic speed of power metal and instantly Norman Dittmar’s clean strong vocals grab the attention. The title track follows, a thick riff heavy track, with much more heft than maybe expected. This is solid fast and enjoyable. There are elements of Sabaton, Priest and Helloween mixed here.

Demonicorn contains some superb guitar work, lead guitarist Fabrizio Agabiti making his full-length debut with the band after joining two years ago shredding for fun on Demmin, a song about the largest mass suicide in German history which took place in May 1945 in the German town. A brave move to tackle a subject that for years was banned in East Germany. The album impresses as it progresses, The Temple Of Death a soaring, bludgeoning track which captures some of the best elements of power metal and uses it in a much heavier style. Gods For A Day continues the journey, and by now I’m thoroughly engaged. Salt To The Wounds drips with melody but carries a steel backbone Whilst closing track Telltale Signs tackles terrorism in a robust and bombastic manner. Demonicorn is bombastic, fun and above all a cracking listen. 8/10

Murray And McGowan: Out From The Inside (Self Released)

Neil Murray: bassist with a multitude of rock bands ranging from Whitesnake to Thin Lizzy to Black Sabbath and all stops in between. He’s been part of the We Will Rock You musical for many years and is still part of Snakecharmer. Even so, this album is a bit of a mystery, with little information available. It’s been released almost under wraps. Recorded at Ken McGowan’s Blackberry studio on the South Coast over a nine-month period, Out From The Inside is 13 tracks of classic rock, in the vein of Lizzy, Bad Company and Skynyrd. Slick and competent, the shock here is that Murray takes not only the bass lines and keyboards but also the vocals.

At least that what’s I’ve gleaned from the magic of the interweb. If so, this will be the first time I’ve ever heard Murray open his mouth. In all previous bands I’ve seen him in he has rarely even added the briefest of backing vocals, content to lay down the bass whilst avoiding the spotlight. Well, whatever, this album is a polished piece with McGowan adding some sweet blues style guitar work and Chris Allen keeping time with ease. With Christina Wood adding backing vocals on Living The Dream, a funky honky-tonk number which adds brass to the mix. All in all, a rather comfortable but highly entertaining release. 7/10

House Of Shakira: Radiocarbon (Frontiers Records)

Formed in Stockholm in 1991, House of Shakira is a band with some pedigree. Radiocarbon provides 39 minutes of high-quality melodic rock which echoes their influences such as Journey and Van Halen. With the smooth vocals of Andreas Novak leading the way, there is plenty for fans of melodic rock to enjoy. Elements of Def Leppard on tracks like Radiocarbon should get the Joe Elliott fans dancing whilst the high-pitched harmonies of Matts Hallstensson and Basse Blyberg will appeal to those whose tastes sit with Journey, Foreigner and Eagles. I can’t hear much in their sound of Sabbath, but the glam trash of Kiss does surface from time to time, for example on Sweet Revenge which is a banal song but one that is delivered with an upbeat tempo. Melodic rock is a genre I generally struggle with; its lightweight feel and dramatic lyrics often too overblown for me. Here, the band are tight and polished, a up-beat almost pop-rock flavour for most of the time. It really does little for me, but as melodic rock goes this is near the top. 7/10

Ancient Crown: Blood Evolved (Self Released)

Blood Evolved is the debut release from this five-piece from Syracuse, New York. It’s a right gnarly bastard, a hybrid cross of thrash and death metal with the faintest hint of industrial gothic. Ghost of Future Vision is a roaring opening, the strained vocals of Andrew Hulburt better when he’s spewing up his lung as the duel guitars of Buddy Fishcal and brother Barry Hurlburt rage with chainsaw effect. Clean vocals are employed on Helm Of Awe, a raging Mastodon influenced almost death-sludge beast which races away, increasing in tempo and ferocity to a punishing velocity. On Primal Fire continues the intensity, thick heavy riffs, punishing drumming and a guttural delivery combine. This would be exhausting live. Think the intensity of early Mastodon combined with Neurosis and a chunk of fat death metal. Continue to pour oil on water and the flame will increase. Such is the obliterating progress that occurs here and by the time you arrive at Above And Beneath this is simply a pummelling that the referee should stop, such is the brutality. A vicious, aggressive and back breaking slab of metal to end the year. 7/10

Saturday, 14 December 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Spectral Voice (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Spectral Voice, Flowering Blade, Tides Of Sulphur & Cryptworm, Fuel Cardiff

So another mid-week gig at Fuel Cardiff and again another mix of acts. I once again was accompanied by Mr Deeper Shades himself for three acts I'd never seen and an entire show that was new to him.

First at bat were Bristol death metal act Cryptworm (7), the trio took to the stage and plowed a furrow with some evil sounding death metal, no for me the bass was not audible for much of their set with the nasty guitar and loud as hell drums dominating except for on one song where the bass was only audible for some slinky bass leads. An impressive first viewing of some down the line death metal from just over the bridge

Next up were a band I'm very familiar with Tides Of Sulfur (7) are probably one of the angriest bands on the South Wales scene with their politically inspired music that blends sludge, death and even some hardcore sounds was perfect for a gig taking place on the week of one of the most important elections ever. Just two songs in the guitar cab seemed to fail from the sheer fuzzy force as Snake fixed it Chris and Tom noodled a little before they returned to the intensity ending with the raging 'Orrible Cunt which broke down at the end, they weren't everyone's cup of tea but I'm always love watching Tides play live.

Then things got weird...Flowering Blade (0) were next now this was a member of the headliners playing an industrial/noise set, now noise I struggle with but at least they often use instruments what this was, was one long pulse with the occasional stab to change the sound, but essentially he was 'playing' one long stomach churning pulse. Now it was less a performance rather live intro that eventually segued into the headliners but I'm sorry, it lost the attention of much of the room, especially me who basically generates pulses of different types for a living.

Still with the previous 'set' coming to an end, it was time for Spectral Voice (6) who enveloped the room with doom/death metal, now considering they feature 3/4's of Blood Incantation you could expect sci-fi technically but this is very earthbound, yes it's ominous and very bloody heavy, but it's also really, really repetitive (and I love doom) especially after the appalling intro. Unfortunately after two drawn out numbers we'd had enough and left walking into the miserable night reflecting that some times it's the more underground acts that make the night.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Reviews: Mammuten, Selefice, Vultur, Shadowmass (Matt & Paul H)

Mammuten: Prophet Of Disaster (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Characterised as 'Apocalyptic Stoner Metal' the band hail from all over but are based in Thessaloniki/Aberdeen (the two couldn't be more similar really). This is trippy shit folks, an 8 minute opening track Augury is just the first part of a two part Premonition suite with fuzz drenched bass from Makis and Nikos it's the rockier of the two tracks starting the album off with an insistent beat based on the drum patterns of Thodoris as Rachael's vocals phase in and out of the heavy psych sound. Part two is a little slower starting with Sissy's keening guitar, things get all distorted again with major doom vibes meaning you can hear more of Rachael's shamanic voice. Part two (The Hex) makes its predecessor look like a punk song clocking in at over 15 minutes of mind altering psych. This album is made for headphones it's one you can just plug into and drift away with, I've always said I was a massive fan of the stoner genre especially when the bands use their music to take you on a journey and Mammuten definitely do this, even on 'shorter' rockers like Disenchantment (ideal as I listened to this album on election night) they have an otherworldly force about them with large swathes of desert rock, as numbers such as The Vacillant slow burn into thunderingly heavy doom that drags itself along exploding into the darkest number on the album. There seems to be an overarching theme here of the end of the world and the music other-worldly enough to conjure those images in your mind.  Prophet Of Disaster is a blissed out stoner rock record that you can ignore your in-laws with this festive season. 8/10

Selefice: I Met A God (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Oof this is as meaty as a double stacked gyro! I Met God is the latest EP from Athenian death metal band Selefice, formed in 1990 and releasing an album before splitting in 1994, the band reformed in 2017 which has culminated in this four track record of death metal with some melodic flair running through it. Final track Damned shows this better than most, with some clean proggy guitar at the beginning moving into the groovier, heavier style yet keeping things very proggy as it ploughs through it's 7 minute plus run time, bringing a climactic end to this EP, it's in opposition to the blistering opener Mora which is driven by blistering blast beats. There's a real thump of groove metal on this album with touches of Pantera especially with some of the superb guitar playing, but it's mostly aggressive death metal with some melodic sections such as the opening of Kol Haneshama which brings some crunching doom. I Met A God is a fine welcome back for this Greek band, over 20 years since they split they can still deliver quality music. 7/10

Vultur: Drowned In Gangrenous Blood (Memento Mori) [Paul Hutchings]

Brutal death metal takes many shapes and forms and this sophomore release from Greek death metallers Vultur has one apparent aim; total obliteration. From the opening strains of, Groans of Excruciating Torture the lumbering beast of the title track through to concluding track Postmortem Lividity this is just spine crushing.  As well as having typically gory song titles (DevirginisedButchered And Eaten, for example), the Athenians follow a simple enough path. Demonic guttural vocals, chopping chainsaw guitars and a total battery of drumming. Vocalist Giannis ‘Grim’ Panagiotidis is a seasoned veteran of the Greek Death metal scene and it shows in his visceral performance on this release. 2018’s Entangled In The Web Of Fear was sinister enough. More blood, guts and gruesome imagery spew over here. If your thing is honed by Cannibal Corpse, then Drowned In Gangrenous Blood will probably excite you a little more than maybe it should. 7/10

Shadowmass: S/T (Soman Records) [Matt Bladen]

The trio of Stamatis Syrakos (guitars, vocals), Constantine (bass), Maelstrom  (drums) make up blackened thrashers Shadowmass who have released a 37 minute, 9 track debut of music that owes a debut to Slayer, Kreator and Venom. Exploding out of the speakers with the frantic Exitium, the intense Make It B-Rain and the galloping Killing which takes a lot from Kill 'Em All Metallica. These youngsters play with their hearts and their influences on their sleeves, firing on all cylinders for every track they rampage through this albums 37 minute run time with ease. For just being a debut Shadowmass is a very mature sounding thrash record, it makes me think a little of Black Tide when they first hit the scene, full of youthful exuberance and music taken from a wide spectrum of the bands that have made Shadowmass form with down the line thrash on Exitium, the more technical Tolerance Of Intolerance, crossover on Skeletal Remains and the occult loving Felicity. Shadowmass is a vicious debut release from this Athenian three piece. 7/10

Reviews: Fen, Cutting Teeth, Paladin, What We Do In Secret (Paul H, Liam & Matt)

Fen: The Dead Light (Prophecy Productions) [Paul Hutchings]

Has it really been over two and a half years since Fen delivered Winter? My gushing praise of one of 2017’s most impressive albums was perhaps a little too effusive at the time, but this is a band who really excite me. March’s EP Stone And Sea whet the appetite for this sixth full length release and now it has arrived, there is little to disappoint.

Yes, the band has changed their sound a little. Is it due to the popular progressive black metal scene? Is there even such a thing? Maybe bands are evolving organically rather than attempting to court the populace. Hardly the biggest market in the world either is it? So, what does The Dead Light offer?
Witness opens the album. A haunting, atmospheric and ethereal piece that echoes Alcest, elements of Opeth, In Mourning and others. Ambient tones echo as deep resonate bass tones and delicate guitar notes harmonise in tandem, allowing space before the slow drums kick in. Shimmering guitar riffing takes hold as the track builds, leading us to The Dead Light Pt. 1 and the first surprise. A gentle intro, almost alternative in feel but with The Watcher’s customary snarling vocals before the pace quickens, the riffs sharpen, and bass and drums increase in velocity before receding to be replaced by a gentler approach. The contrasting tempo and styles work well and whilst this will not be to everyone’s tastes, it works well. The Dead Light Part 2 is a blistering instrumental piece that leads into the intimate delicate opening of Nebula, which expands into another post-metal track, clean vocals giving way to a battery of intense drumming, tremolo riffing and more snarling growls. Full of haunting rhythm and melody, this is seven minutes of exploration, the tempo switching several times as the song develops.

The longest piece on the album follows; Labyrinthine Echoes clocks in at just shy of ten minutes and contains some of the most complex work here. Tool like in its bass lines; the track contains some intricate breakdowns as well the more traditional riffing. The tempo varies enormously, the rasping vocals adding an earthy element as the track ebbs and flows, at times frenetic in pace whilst other times easing back. More progressive elements in Breathe Of Void which follows, the undulation of the track intricate. Plenty for the non-black metal fan to get to grips with here, the underling melody emergent but never overwhelming. The Dead Light is strong on atmosphere and Exsanguination which follows sees clean vocals over death growls, a slower, darker pace increasing into a post-black metal evolution. The cleans are added effortlessly, the interchange with the more traditional vocal delivery. As with every song on this album Exsanguination follows several different paths along its journey, the haunting change in the final two minutes a step or two away from their previous music.

Crisp jangling guitar chords lead into a crushing riff open track eight, Rendered In Onyx, and if you haven’t by now realised that this is an album that needs time and devotion to fully absorb, then there is little hope. The track is another which deceives with its intro, explodes into a cascade of pummelling drumming and intensive riffing before dropping the pace but none of the intensity or feel. Another track that weaves its magic, spinning a musical web of delight, the darkness and light bouncing, the interplay at times breath-taking. The closing trio maintain the variation. Monochromatic Ossuary is spine crushing black metal, ferocious and raging. Searching ventures once more toward the Alcest territory, the subtle and gentle composition allowing breath to flow and peace to return. With a slightly oriental edge to it, this penultimate track builds to the climax of Echoes Of The Crowpath, a gentle acoustic piece that sits perfectly as the closing song; as unexpected as it is stunning. It rounds off this quite superb release in magnificent manner. With The Dead Light Fen have moved the bar, and closed off 2019 with one of the best releases of the year. 9/10

Cutting Teeth: Fracture/Decompose (Self Released) [Liam True]

This is a and I’ve heard a lot about, but never actually gave them a listen. And I’m disappointed in myself because they’ve blown me away. Being the perfect blend of Hardcore Punk and Metalcore, they intertwine the genres with perfect results. With the venomous vocals from James Thurlby the band have a point to prove, and they’ve made it. They’re aggressive. They’re in your face. And they’re here to change the Hardcore scene. With their beefy riffs and brutal breakdowns the band charge at you with a full head of steam. Pulling no punches and not letting up for an second, there’s no end to what the EP consists of. While not a huge fan of Hardcore music, the EP is the perfect gateway into the genre, while not being to light, they can still blow your dick off with their brutal instrumentation. And while not being the most original sounding band out there, their blend of genres make them a rising band to be noted in the scene. And you can catch these guys on tour in January 2020. If you can handle the intensity they bring. 7/10

Paladin: Anamnesis (Prosthetic Records) [Matt Bladen]

Paladin released a brilliant album called Ascension, earlier this year full of blistering speed metal that had the right amount of extremity to it to differentiate it from the other power metal acts around. So I was looking forward to this EP when it dropped into my inbox as anything from Paladin will now be welcomed with open arms. However what got me more excited was that this is three track EP of Nevermore covers, who still stand to this day as one of my favourite bands of all time. The progressive mix of thrash and death metal makes them the ideal band for Paladin to attempt the songs of. Guitarist/vocalist, Taylor Washington stated that the song choice was to make thing a little eclectic. It opens with River Dragon one of the bands best tracks and it's followed by Final Product from The Godless Endeavor again a popular choice from one of their later records but it ends with 42147 from early album In Memory, it's this last song that really shows that Paladin are true Nevermore fans picking this album cut to close out the EP. All three of these numbers are delivered with the serious chops witnessed on Paladin's debut, they are treated with deference not straying too far from the originals, but make for an entertaining distraction. 7/10

What We Do In Secret: Repose (Facedown Records) [Liam True]

With the heaviness of The Ghost Inside combined with the vocal styles of While She Sleeps and the catchy chorus’ of Architects, What We Do In Secret are a little Metalcore lovechild. While the first fee songs aren’t anything special, the further you get into the album, the more you’ll come to love the direction if where the band is going. Yeah it’s straight up Metalcore, but with a few twists that make it hit the mark more than other bands in the scene right now. Whether it be the combined vocals of Josh Adams and Clay Crenshaw, or sticksman Frankie Forbes, the band are firing on all cylinders through Repose. While most albums don’t contain either personal or topical issues, this album is both about themselves and hot topics right now. I’m not going to give anything away but there are some heartfelt moments here that hit me. If you like your Metalcore with a mixture of both heavy and melodic approaches, WWDIS are the hot band for you right now. 7/10

Thursday, 12 December 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Brutality Will Prevail (Live Review By Liam True)

Brutality Will Prevail, Guilt Trip, Mass Worship & Asidhara, Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff

With a very short time allotted Asidhara (8) delivered a three song set, and they were not pissing about. The Cardiff four piece unleash their Hardcore to the half empty room. That doesn’t matter because they dominated the stage with their presence and everybody was banging their heads in tune with the grisly vocals and beatdowns. Looking into the crowd asking everyone to take a few steps forward to the stage to become more intimate. The band themselves were on point and crushed the room with their blend of Thrash and Hardcore. The only issue I had with the set is the sound of the bass drum. It was louder than the band at some points, almost drowning out the vocals and instrumentals completely. But they power through the issue and deliver a powerful small set. And I think I've found a new favourite local band.

With their heavy riffs and breakdowns to match, Mass Worship (8) laid waste to Cardiff. The Scandinavian five piece weren't messing around and go full force through their set. While not speaking a word to the audience through their set, they let the music do the talking. Whether it’s the demonic like growls of vocalist Claes Nordic or the violent instrumentals, Mass Worship showed us they have the means to become bigger and better and to fill out their own headline tours in these sized venues. But tonight they’re also plagued by the insanely loud kick drum. Not their fault by any means, because they blew me away with their downright dark style. This is a band to keep an aye on. Who knows, next time the come back around they may be headlining? Here’s hoping.

Being the heaviest and most aggressive band of the night so far, Guilt Trip (8) have shown that Hardcore is stronger than ever in the UK. Coming from Manchester, the quintet blast their way through the violent set and lay waste to any concerns that anyone may have had about them tonight. With vocalist Jay Valentine heading the charge he patrolled the stage and never stops moving and commanding the crowd to do that same. With the first mosh pit of the night Guilt Trip pulled no punches and make sure the crowd left happy at the end of their set. The band themselves were on point tonight, being technical yet straight up Hardcore with the beatdown riffs and destructive breakdowns, there’s not a single head that wasn't banging to the down tempo guitars. From start to finish GT don’t let up, don’t slow down and above all, they’ve blown some minds and made a whole lot of new fans.

Here comes the moment we were all here for. The hometown boys playing their first show in Cardiff for quite some time, so it was going to be a special one. Taking to the stage to do a quick sound check before vocalist Louis Gauthier urges everyone to take a few step forward so he can "See all of your beautiful faces." Before saying "Kill the lights". The room goes dark and the build up to opener Misery Sequence starts. Through the darkness you can barely see the band on stage getting themselves ready for what’s about to being. Then with no warning, the band launch into Misery Sequence barking at the crowd to move and get the pit opened. For the next 60 minutes the band does not stop moving, the crowd is thrown into chaos with the flailing limbs from the mosh pit. 

With Louis getting up close and personal with the crowd by giving a few select people the microphone to scream the lyrics with him or being in the pit himself, there’s no shortage of energy from the band and that’s what made the show better because you can see the passion in their faces when they play and when they singalong with everyone themselves. From start to finish it’s complete chaos, and that’s what the band thrive off. And when the show comes to a close, the band don’t want too leave the stage and thank everyone for tonight and their support. If there’s one band you need to see, it’s Brutality Will Prevail (10), because these guys have worked themselves to the bone for this moment. And it did not disappoint.

A View From The Back Of The Room: Blood Church (Live Review By Paul Hutchings)

Blood Church, Incursion, ??? & Hellfekted,  Fuel Rock Bar, Cardiff

And so, it came to pass, that a mere 19 days before consumer ecstasy, the hordes were summoned by Legion Promotions to their second evening of dark, sinister metal and malarkey. There was plenty of the former and even more of the latter, which we will get to in a short while. Kudos to Legion Promotions for putting a stellar bill together and even bigger cheers to all those who made the effort to get there. It was well worth it.

Fuel, like most of Cardiff city centre, was in vibrant move, and during the night the gig drew a reasonably healthy crowd. The curse of the opening act is that they invariably draw the smallest numbers of the night. Those that made it in time were richly rewarded as Stoke-on-Trent’s blackened thrashers Hellfekted (7) stomped a size 12 hole in the venue. A bruising and brutal set full of power and intensity, the band roared their way through their set, with riffage galore from vocalist and guitarist Liam, whose snarling delivery added spice and fire to the band’s sound. Alongside him, bassist Chris, splendidly attired in his Metallica battle jacket (who I found out later works with Demon’s Dave Hill) brought the thunder, linking neatly with drummer Myles whose rapid-fire attack cemented the band’s sound. With influences ranging from Power Trip to Bolt Thrower evident in their sound, Hellfekted certainly have captured the punishing side of those influences and threw a raging gauntlet to the floor for those to follow.

Shortly before arriving at Fuel, social media announced that Swansea thrashers Sepulchre had been forced to pull out at short notice. The reason? Because Darren Evans is a melon head who managed to pump petrol in the band’s diesel van. Cue much mirth but also a frenzied hour of sheer panic for Alyn and Tim who desperately searched for a last-minute replacement. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and with Uber duly dispatched, Agrona, Cranial Separation and Levitas drummer Sam arrived in the nick of time for the Agrona Stripped (???) set. With Jonny from Incursion stepping in as well, their four-song set which consisted a cover of The Windmills Of Your Mind by Val Doonican, Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe And Wine and a rather lovely When A Child Is Born, most famously covered by Johnny Mathis. At least that’s what I thought I heard from outside the door. Reality may have been slightly different. Feedback from the weeping punters as they streamed out varied from “fucking awful” to “best thing I’ve seen in a long time”. I guess you had to be there.

2019 hasn’t been the easiest for RCT’s hob knob wielding holocaust survivors Incursion (8) and main man Jonny Foxhall but with the drum seat now occupied by maniacal Josh Griffiths and Thom Taylor giving the bass rumbles for a final time before heading to Canada, the band reminded all in the room that there is plenty of mileage in the Incursion wagon yet. Continuing with their green camo theme, the three emerged on stage in their battle garb, and hit through a knockout set which struck all the right chords. After the Agrona-lite show a bit more grit was welcomed, and the return of the hob knobs saw a slightly less violent but still energetic scuffle amongst the audience. With Scourge purged of those clean vocals Incursion proved there is still life in the old dog and 2020 should be an interesting year for the band.

It’s always good to be exposed to new bands and Telford Satanic blackened death metal four-piece Blood Church (8) were another ‘new’ band to add to the list. Their aural battery was intense, the meaty bass and extreme vocals of Chris Thomas pulverising whilst the razor-sharp duel attack of guitarists Liam Simpson and Scott Gater shattered ear drums. The Metal 2 The Masses finalists are a force to be reckoned with and their death metal was at best spine-crushing. A cover of Sepultura’s Roots Bloody Roots got the venue pumped and it’s fair to say that the atmosphere picked up. Thomas has a striking appearance, stripped to the waist, covered in chains and corpse paint, his wild image linking perfectly with the deathly sound the band deliver. Duel blasts from Chris Massey anchor this interesting outfit together. With time running out it was with regret that I headed for the last train, Blood Church continuing to punish those who remained.

*NB: There may be some artistic licence in this review. May be. *

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Devin Townsend (Live Review By Rich Oliver)

Devin Townsend, Great Hall, Cardiff

It will be no secret to people who read this blog that I am an enormous fan of Devin Townsend. His latest album Empath received a full 10/10 score from me and in my opinion he has rarely put a foot wrong in his long and extremely varied career so when it was confirmed that Devin would be playing in my home city for the very first time there was no doubt that I was going to be there with bells on.

Unfortunately due to some confusion to the start time with conflicting times shown on the tickets and the event page on social media I missed the vast majority of the support act Haken walking into the venue for the last half of their final song so this review will only be covering Devin’s set.

Devin had previously announced that the tour for Empath would comprise of different stages starting with the total deconstruction of his music and rebuilding it step by step throughout the various stages of the tour. Stage 1 was the acoustic tour back in April which was Devin’s music in its most raw and stripped down form and this show was part of Stage 2 which is taking Devin’s music and performing it in a freer almost improvisational style with the usual backing tracks removed and the vast majority of the music performed live by Devin and his supporting musicians. For these shows Devin gathered together a bunch of seasoned musicians from various backgrounds. A few of these had played on Empath including bassist Nathan Navarro, drummer Morgan Ågren (who also played on the Casualties Of Cool album), multi instrumentalist Mike Keneally and singer/guitarist Ché Aimee Dorval (who also collaborated on Casualties Of Cool as well as the Ki album). You also had Haken keyboard player Diego Tejeida pulling double duty, guitarist Markus Reuter (known for his King Crimson related work) as well as a trio of choral backing singers.

Now onto the actual performance itself. This was a bit of a different Devin show. The set drew heavily from Empath and was quite light on the crowd pleasers instead drawing on material which matched the skills of the musicians he had joining him. There was also plenty of jamming and doodling between everyone showing that they had magnificent musical chemistry. It was a quite self indulgent set and I don’t think a chunk of the audience quite got what they were seeing but the self indulgent nature of the set was offset by the usual goofing around that is synonymous with a Devin Townsend show from Diego’s on stage cocktail bar to jazz hands to the entire audience screaming KITTENS in a death metal growl Devin ensured that entertainment was the key of the evening and as stated at the start of the show “You shall have fucking fun!”.

Songs wise it was a good mix with plenty of picks from Empath such as Borderlands, Evermore, Sprite and Genesis. A good chunk of songs were played from Ki many of which I had never seen performed before including Coast, Gato, Heaven Send and Ain’t Never Gonna Win. For the older fans we also had War, Lucky Animals and a jaw dropping performance of the magnificent Deadhead which was a clear highlight for me and pretty much everyone else in the room. Other highlights for me were the absolute silliness of Why? which saw both Devin and Ché wearing tutus and a quite frankly beautiful version of Spirits Will Collide which saw Ché and the backing singers take the lead on the vocals to absolutely stunning effect. After a routine mocking of the ritual of encores at rock and metal shows the band returned to stage and performed the last song anyone was expecting (unless you knew it was coming of course) which was a cover of The Trammp’s disco classic Disco Inferno. Most people got into the spirit and danced along apart from the staunch metalheads who stood there arms folded looking decidedly unimpressed. Another curveball was thrown as then Mike, Morgan and Markus started jamming on the Frank Zappa song The Black Page #1 which added to the bewilderment of some of the audience. Things were brought back to a semblance of normality (as much as you can expect at a Devin show) with a finale of the classic Kingdom.

I thoroughly enjoyed this show and whilst not the best Devin Townsend show I have seen it was still hugely entertaining and enjoyably different. I’ve heard a few mixed opinions from people about the show with others fully enjoying like myself and some others not enjoying it at all. I think a good chunk of the audience were expecting a more traditional Devin Townsend show (if there is such a thing) so were a bit put off by the more improvisational and experimental nature of the music performed. In a set of two hours there were a ridiculous amount of musical tangents from calypso to funk to disco to avant-garde to fusion as well as the usual progressive rock and metal. For those wanting a more standard Devin show I recommend going to see a show in Stage 3 of the tour which will be more metal based and will also see Devin revisiting the Strapping Young Lad material which is gonna be a sight to behold. All in all I would give this show an 8/10.

Reviews: Ironvolt, At Night I Fly, Artillery, Beyond Chaos (Matt & Paul H)

Ironvolt: Grimm (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

An insistent string intro belies what is to come on this debut album from Bristol's Ironvolt as The Pale Red Gentlemen brings some funky guitars as the grooves work their way in. This is Ironvolt's raison d'etre low slung groove metal with some alternative metal intrigue. Led by the soulful vocals of Minka Miles who has a snarl of attitude on Satan Taxi where she decries "show me that your just no good" as the funk-styled guitar continues. Ironvolt bring a melting pot of influences to this album, Aaron Miles' lead guitar is unique sounding, kicking out choppy riffs and twisting solos bring punk to a band that owe as much to RHCP and No Doubt as they do to Korn (Pigs) and Soundgarden. The rest of riff focussed energy come from  Lewis Weyman (rhythm guitar), Butters (bass) and Sam Harbridge (drums) they creep on Sloth but Defiled is more of a classic rocker, and a raging pit starter I'd think, there's even a killer cover of Filthy/Gorgeous by Scissor Sisters. The songs on Grimm are made to be played live, riffs that breakdown into thick grooves, funk/punk and alt influences abound and hooks-a-plenty it's no wonder why this band are making a big splash across the bridge. 7/10

At Night I Fly: Mirror Maze (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

At Night I Fly are something of a supergroup, they were formed by prominent members of the Hungarian progressive metal scene. So because of that you can probably assume, rightly, that Mirror Maze is a progressive metal album. A distinctly good progressive metal as well, based in the style of Dream Theater, Psychotic Waltz, Evergrey and even Pain Of Salvation. After the choral Silent... it's Gethsemane that opens the record with some melodic guitars and keys a the grittier metal sound runs through this track, The Pit brings some more Pink Floyd styled atmosphere and a seriously superior guitar solo. The music here has introspection, it's emotive and filled with power due to the heavy distortion of the rhythm section on tracks like Uriel, as the guitars soar with intricate fluidity and the excellent voice of Zoltán Bátky carries the passion of the lyrics. It's prog metal as straightforward as it can be if you like you'll fine a lot here to love, if not then I'd suggest you look elsewhere. 7/10

Artillery: In The Trash (Mighty Music) [Paul Hutchings]

Raw, loose and totally honest, this 11-track compilation from the Danish thrashers consists of songs from their formative years, 1982 -1986 when the band were starting to make a name for themselves in the burgeoning thrash movement which was mushrooming. Early songs, such as their first ever demo We Are the Dead with the line-up of Per Onink on vocals, Jørgen Sandau on guitar, Michael Stützer on guitar, Morten Stützer on bass and Carsten Nielsen on drums are ragged but show the potential the band had. The demo In The Trash was recorded for Neat Records at the time but was never released. It’s earthy, gritty and full of vibrant enthusiasm. Listening to tracks such as Bitch in 2019 isn’t pretty, with the vocals rather poor but overall this is an album that holds interest for those who love their thrash unadulterated and straightforward. 6/10

Beyond Chaos: The Mind Trauma (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Apart from the fact that Beyond Chaos are from Sweden, I have very little information about this band. What I can tell you is that they play a vicious style of explosive death metal which is slightly marred by the duel vocals. Whilst I appreciate the Johan Hegg style roar, the additional screeching which runs in parallel with many of the vocals, such as on The Last Minute fail to impress. Musically it is tight enough, with some interesting melodies and switches in style providing atmosphere. Thick heavy riffs aplenty, as you would expect and at 35 minutes it is a reasonable listen. Few memorable tracks though and some of the more formulaic styles fail to elevate overall. 5/10

Reviews: A New Tomorrow, Power Theory, SL Theory, Cursed Sun (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

A New Tomorrow: Universe (Frontiers Records)

Formed by ex-Power Quest & Arthemis vocalist/guitarist Alessio Garavello, Andrea Lonardi (bass) and Tim Hall (drums) in London in 2009, adding Michael Kew (guitars) later. A New Tomorrow return with their debut full length having released 2 EP's before. Those expecting the power metal or thrash of Garavello's other bands will be surprised to hear that A New Tomorrow are a slick well honed hard rock machine that are influenced by Alter Bridge, The Foos and Metallica (Black Album onwards). Universe has been crafted by years on the road through all the good and bad times making melodic riff driven music, built around the brilliant vocals of Garavello and the hook filled hard rock they bring, Universe is an album of sing along numbers made for rock radio.

Now this is where the problem is as they do sound a little too much like Alter Bridge, musically and vocally, to say that they are influenced by the American megaband, at times A New Tomorrow sound like a pastiche, bordering on a tribute at times. Take a song like Golden Sands, it's got layered acoustics underneath everything, the AB backing vocals and slows things down with some added drama similar to much of ABIII. There's nothing wrong with how A New Tomorrow go about this record, the songs are as good as anything Alter Bridge is currently releasing, it's just they sound so much like Tremonti and co that they limit themselves any expansion of their fan base...still Alter Bridge are bloody massive so maybe I'm being cynical. 7/10

Power Theory: Force Of The Will (Pure Steel Records)

So in the power metal/heavy metal genre, there are distinct differences between the European style and the American style, while the Euro sound has lots of keys/gallops and shrieking vocals the US bands have heavier riffs and lower register singing. For an easier comparison see the obvious differences between Stratovarius and Iced Earth who were both formed around the same time. Power Theory are American and they stick to the US style of power metal, full of thrashy riffs, heavy rhythm sections and bellowed vocals the Pennsylvania five piece have been around since 2007, with Force Of Will being their fourth album. It's the first with new vocalist Jim Rutherford who took the mic in 2018, The Force Of Will has an epic feel to it from the intro track that segues into the blasting title track this is heads down heavy riffs from moment one the classic heavy metal style getting those fists pumping.

Power Theory share a lot of similarities with their countrymen Iced Earth, in the vocals chiefly but also with the muscular riffage. They bring a bit more modernity with If Forever Ends Today which sounds a little like Disturbed, though they ramp up the metal savagery on Mountain Of Death, the album does slow with almost cinematic Albion (though there is a little bit of irony as an American band play a song about Albion). Albion sits in the middle of the record as a great split between side 1 and side 2, which kicks off with the Th13teen which is a brilliant battle metal anthem and the rampaging Spitting Fire. In fact it's the second half of this album where the heaviness really increases until the grandiose finale of The Hill I Die On. Force Of Will is an excellent fourth album from these US Power Metal stalwarts. 8/10

SL Theory: Cipher (Self Released)

"Sturm–Liouville theory is the theory of a real second-order linear differential equation of the form where y is a function of the free variable x" complicated Maths, not the most entertaining way to open an album review but the music of SL Theory is equally as complicated but much more accessible. Formed by multi-instrumentalist Sotiris Lagonikas who has amassed a now 8-piece band for this band who play heavy prog band with AOR touches. This is their third studio album and their first after a live release that captured their spectacular audio-visual shows. On this record Lagonikas has shown you immediately what they are about with a 13 minute first track that could have come off a Kansas album as the AOR singalongs are wrapped around numerous time and tempo changes. Although the band are lot heavier than Kansas with their heavy riffs nodding to numerous Mike Portnoy releases, especially Transatlantic, so it must be soemthing about drummers.

Like with Portnoy's projects this album too has hints of Queen, The Beatles and of course Pink Floyd (what prog band doesn't). You Never Happened is a more direct rocker as Devil's Suites brings some Toto level shimmer, mainly due to the smooth vocal style of Mike Karasoulis, who is ably backed by Margarita Papadimitriou and Anna T. TaRba, the girls bringing some harmony vocals, for those tracks perfect for Miami night cruising. I could go on ad-nauseum about the styles on this record but really all you need to know is that there's an ideal balance between sunny AOR rocking and progressive mastery as the rest of the band; Alex Flouros (guitars), Giannis Nigdelis (guitars), Chris Kollias (bass) and Manos Gavalas (keyboards), are all as virtuosic as their band leader. Clearly picked for their prowess they are equally adept to rock tracks such as Grave Danger as they are with the dramatic double ballad of If It Wasn't For You/Anyone, Anymore. Now these two tracks do kill a little of the atmosphere but Anyone, Anymore is still a brooding number, with down-tuned guitars it's the second longest song on the record but better for it. Cipher is an enigma of an album, full of musical dexterity and great songwriting, for some it may peter out towards the end, though they will miss Happy the blistering funk rocker that sits at the end of the record, along with an alternative version of If You Saw Me Dead. An accomplished, progressive rock album. 8/10

Cursed Sun: Vendetta (Sudden Strike Records)

It's probably fate that I was listening to this EP from Cursed Sun on the anniversary of Dimebag's death as it's got the same power groove that Pantera had in the early days, as thick riffs beatdown while the lead guitar flourishes fire up in the background on Replicant, as well as face melting solo towards the end. There's also the aggression of Lamb Of God due to the barked vocals and pit ready riffage that comes across on these four tracks. Vendetta is the bands fifth EP following on from four previous EPs and a full length album, Cursed Son are one of the longest running bands on the Northern Irish metal scene, they've been carrying the flame since 2007 which is no easy feat in the current disposable music market where the underground is all but ignored by major publications. Still they have battled on with very aggressive style of metal that brings thrash, death and groove together, but it's nothing haphazard here the songs are written by an experience band built for live arenas, with progressive flourishes that lead to changes of pace especially on Crawlspace which slows in its middle section adding some melody to the metallic assault, while Fallen City has a stripped back beginning and big breakdown to it. The strength of this EP is probably why Cursed Sun are still surviving 10 years plus into their career, let's have some South Wales shows please guys! 8/10

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sacred Reich (Live Review By Paul Hutchings)

Sacred Reich, Night Demon, Eradikator KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton

Following the chaos and intensity of Municipal Waste the night before was always going to be a challenge. Luckily this bill certainly provided similar value and entertainment. Hauling our still aching arses across from the second city to the heart of the Black Country on a freezing cold day we holed up in a welcome (and warm) hostelry to recover and prepare for the next round on our thrash mini break. Despite the failure to meet up with Jarvis Leatherby (Lead singer, Night Demon) as planned for an interview, we were in place on the barrier well before the opening band of the evening hit the stage.

The Steel Mill Is an interesting venue. Kenneth (KK) Downing, former guitarist with Judas Priest if you’ve been under a rock, has invested some finances into the venue, creating a premier rock and metal venue in the industrial heartland of the Midlands. A Grade II listed building, the venue is located on the site of the Star Motor Company, run by Edward Lisle at the turn of the twentieth century. Look closely and you’ll see steel columns supporting parts of the original A frame roof. A bar and merchandise area are located separate to the main hall, a concrete floored arena holding, according to Ticketweb, 3000 punters. I’d hate to be in there with over 500 to be honest so I’ll consider that slightly inaccurate. Nevertheless, it has an industrial feel which is in keeping with the location and the venue’s history.

It’s been a couple of years since I last saw Birmingham’s Eradikator (6) and I was excited to see how the band had developed since that encounter at Hard Rock Metal in the Birmingham O2 third venue back in a chilly February 2017. Their latest release Obscura earned a very deserved and favourable review back in July this year with a change in their style which retained the thrash elements of their earlier work but with an added progressive edge. Sadly, the band’s 30-minute set was plagued with challenge. Drummer John MacNevin was clearly quite unwell, struggling after a couple of tracks and having to leave the stage at one point to use his asthma inhalers. That, combined with Liam Priest suffering technical nightmares with his pedal board throughout the set meant that Eradikator experienced a bit of a ‘mare and whilst bassist and singer Pat Cox declared that the crowd had been “awesome” at the end it was a relief for punters and the band alike when everything stopped. The band appeared on edge throughout, the absence of any evidence of enjoyment palpable and the small crowd, feeding off the band’s discomfort were in general rather silent. A bit of reflection would probably be useful.

Wolverhampton on a freezing damp Wednesday night is far removed from Ventura, California but that didn’t stop traditional metal trio Night Demon (8) from bringing the full show. A huge red banner proudly proclaimed their name at the back of the stage as the band’s intro tape started the set. For the next 40 minutes front duo Jarvis Leatherby (vox and bass) and guitarist Armand John Anthony simply tore around the stage, shredding with abandon and delivering a highly energetic up tempo set which drew from their three studio releases. Leatherby is an old stager, currently bassist with the legendary Cirith Ungol and his mere presence was enough to command respect. Anthony shreds for fun, his hyperactive racing across the stage captivating but the guy can play too. Meanwhile drummer Dusty Squires maintained a brutal artillery of double bass drumming which gave this three piece a mighty tone. The Chalice saw the arrival of Rocky, the band’s mascot, a skeletal figure cloaked and carrying a smoking chalice, much to the audience’s bemusement. Earlier we’d also been treated to a blast of Overkill which warmed the crowd. Closing with their anthem Night Demon this was a stellar set from a band who can only give 100%. Oh, and they were brain meltingly heavy as well.

The Boys Are Back In Town heralded the dimming of the house lights and the arrival of the revitalised thrash legends Sacred Reich (10). August saw their first release in 23 years with Awakening and despite the small audience the Americans showed exactly how to deliver a master class. 70 minutes, 15 songs and an exercise of simple quality. I had the pleasure of interviewing frontman Phil Rind in late July and the guy was a joy to chat with. Here he could not stop beaming, his joy at being able to do this evident. Anecdotes, stories and general positive vibes exude from the guy and rub off on all. How can you stay in that work rage with such a bubbly character grinning at you?

Alongside Rind, veteran guitarist Wiley Arnett showed his chops with some fluid and impressive work whilst new rhythm guitarist Joey Raziwill held the engine tight, his youth masked by a confidence and stage presence which looks good for the future. Early tracks included Divide & Conquer, one of five from Awakening and a thick American Way which got the old school roaring. Rind was comfortable asking younger fans questions and confirming that the craziness in the main pit was from a group of Cypriot metalheads who had been raging at Municipal Waste the night before. Meanwhile the incredible Dave McClain nailed everything down with his blistering drumming. Rind’s vocal performance was as impressive as it was on record, the fluid, relaxed style earning a lot of new fans.

All too quickly this masterclass was ending, with a thumping Killing Machine, Death Squad from Ignorance and then of course, Surf Nicaragua which finished off a remarkable set in style. Some of us had waited years for this. It was worth every minute of it and I will be front and centre when the band hit Bloodstock 2020.