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Thursday 30 May 2013

Reviews: Timo Tolkki's Avalon, Blood Ceremony, Leprous

Timo Tolkki's Avalon: The Land Of New Hope (Frontiers)

The former Stratovarius guitarist hasn't had much luck on the solo front since leaving the band he formed his Revolution Renaissance project tanked after three albums as did Symfonia his band that eh formed with Andre Matos. This apparently was the album that 'saved' Tolkki he says himself that he "sort of rediscovered myself musically" on this album. So has he? Well yes this is the strongest album since the Symfonia project. Things start off with driving Avalanche Anthem which features the three main voices on the album who are Symphony X's Russell Allen, veteran screamer Rob Rock and Amaranthe's Elize Ryd. The album is a concept that will work retrospectively over (hopefully) three albums Ryd is the main character (appearing on 6 out of the 10 tracks) and her voice is a perfect fit having the power and melody to fully compliment her billing. As for Rock and Allen they are both two of the best in the business and contribute to their songs excellently, the Allen parts make it sound similar to some of Arjen Lucassen's works with Ayreon and Star One though. Tolkki still stands up as an excellent guitarist with some lightning fast fret runs and some soulful phrasing, his production is also crystal clear and he has managed to recruit a glut of great musicians with all strings handled by Tolkki, drums come from Rhapsody Of Fire's Alex Holzwarth but it's with the keyboard players that he's gone all out on, Mikko Harkin also from Symfonia contributing the lion's share but both former BCC and Dream Theater man Derek Sherinian and current Stratovarius ivory tinkler Jens Johansson both add their two cents and duel on To The Edge Of Time. Vocally as well there is an all start cast with the aforementioned three main characters Tolkki has also wrangled help from Tony Kakko, Michael Kiske (hard to think of a concept/project without him) and Sharon Den Adel to fully flesh out the voices. However despite this being Tolkki's rediscovery, this album is a bit samey, it is full of galloping power metal with some orchestral backing (see soaring ballad I'll Sing You Home) but there are many doing this as well if not better, with a certain German coming to mind, still a good first whack that should see this last more than one album. 7/10  

Blood Ceremony: The Eldritch Dark (Rise Above)

Blood Ceremony are psych/doom band from Canada and their third album is another slab of down-tuned, fuzzed up retro riffage that also has an incredibly folky sound that comes from front woman Alia O'Brien's liberal usage of flute. The band all cite Black Sabbath as an influence (what self-respecting doom band wouldn't) however they also are part Uriah Heep, part Fairport Convention and also have a lot of Jethro Tull hanging around too. The record kicks off with the open chord San Fran haziness of Witchwood which plunges into an organ fuelled creep that bursts into a heavy middle section that turns into a trippy progressive outro. With some heaving bass lines and good drumming from Lucas Gadke (who provides some vocals on the acoustic fire side incantation of Lord Summerisle) and Michael Gadke, the band tear through a set of excellent doomy tracks that are topped by some fuzzy riffage from guitarist Sean Kennedy, it's Alia O'Brien though that makes this album (and band) as her smoky vocals enchant and bewitch as she moves seamlessly from organ to that beguiling flute adding a unique stamp to every track. The tracks move from heavy weight doom, to floating folk in heart beat sometimes having both in one track, the fiddles of Ballad Of Weird Sister hark to Sandy Denny and company and the massive freak out of The Magician ends the album in suitably gothic style. This is another strong album from Blood Ceremony that shows that occult influenced rock is still an interesting and entertaining prospect. 8/10

Leprous: Coal (InsideOut)

Leprous have had something of a schizophrenic nature being both a fully formed band with their own identity and the backing for black metal legend Ihsahn, this style of extreme progressive metal is noticeable in Leprous music but they have a much more broad progressive scope encompassing rock, folk, jazz and metal and throwing it all into one album. This isn't a case of backing band going into the solo arena as Leprous have been releasing their own material under their own name since 2004 and this is their third full length album. The vocals and keys are handled by dreadlocked frontman Einar Solberg who has been Emperor's live key player since 2009 it is in Leprous however that we get to hear that as well as being a superb key player he is also has a very unique voice that is slightly operatic in the way Devin Townsend's is; drifting from high melodies see the church-like middle/final section of opening track Foe, through to the more scarred screams and croons of the darker more extreme tracks of like Chronic which features some superb blast beats and off kilter percussion from Tobias Ornes Andersen as well as some tight black metal riffs provided by Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Oystein Landsverk. One of the major factors of this record is that it is very progressive with every track differing in style so the middle of the album has a very melodic and euphoric ballad in the shape of the The Cloak which moves into the bass heavy breakdowns of The Valley which has a distinct electronic crackle behind it. With the extremely progressive nature of this record it brings to mind bands like Porcupine Tree, whereas the darker passages are Katatonia and obviously Emperor but there is also major influence of more mainstream prog bands like Muse in places, this is a very good album from an extremely talented band. 8/10 

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Another Point Of View: Rush (Review By Paul Hutchings)

Rush – NEC Birmingham 26 May 2013

Friends of mine will know that I have a small admiration for Canada’s finest power trio and, coming on the back of a magical three day visit to Venice, this was the perfect end to a spectacular few days. When Rush announced their UK dates almost a year ago, the cost of the ticket made me think twice if not three times before committing. However, as always, when the house lights dimmed and the anticipation rose, that dithering about whether or not to buy a ticket was dispelled immediately.
As the band headed on stage to a huge ovation (let’s face it they could fart Spirit of Radio and we’d love it) I realised once again that despite all their critics, this is one band who rarely play it safe. Opening with Subdivisions from Signals, the first part of the set was heavily based on the synthesiser era of the 1980s. Four tracks from Power Windows including the brilliant Grand Designs and Territories, two from Signals (Subdivisions and The Analog Kid) and another from Hold Your Fire (Force Ten) indicated that this was not going to be a greatest hits show (that was on the 30th Anniversary tour). The first drum solo crashed in during the instrumental Where’s My Thing and the first set wrapped up nicely with Far Cry from the previous album Snakes and Arrows. As usual, there was plenty to keep you occupied; constant video backdrop changes, cartoons and close ups of the band in action, overhead shots of the Professor at work and random popcorn machines at the edge of the stage. These guys don’t lack humour, as demonstrated in the intro video and also at the start and end of the second half. Anyone who has seen the quite brilliant Beyond the Lighted Stage will appreciate that for all their professionalism, Rush really don’t take themselves too seriously. However, in terms of the quality of their music, they really are the most consummate professionals. Thunderous bass lines and ear splitting lead breaks make Rush a much heavier proposition live.

The second set started with the arrival of the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble, who proceeded to enhance nine songs from the 2012 album Clockwork Angels with an orchestral style. Remember what I said about playing it safe? Not this band. Not only did they play nine songs from a new album, but they rearranged Dreamline, Red Sector A and unbelievably YYZ to incorporate the violins, violas and cellos.  That’s right, YYZ, the air drummer’s dream. Played with strings!! This time I only counted three full air drummers and no-one throwing and catching the imaginary stick which happened on the last tour, I kid you not. Rush closed with The Spirit of Radio which tore the roof off the LG, everyone singing alone with Geddy whose voice remains incredibly strong and able to hit all the notes (unlike a certain Snake). (Now, now! M) To complete the evening, we were treated to Tom Sawyer and then 2112, Parts I, II and VII. Three hours of the highest quality music, lighting, sound and overall entertainment.  The comments made by Geddy at the end of the gig suggested strongly that nights like these will become much rarer in the future and once again I felt extremely privileged to have seen them again. Fingers crossed that they do cross the water again one day. It may well be the last chance and if so, I’ll finally realise my ambition to follow them around the UK. 10/10 (Sorry Matt, no surprise there!!)


Monday 27 May 2013

A View From The Back Of The Room: Journey

Journey, Whitesnake & Thunder - Motorpoint Arena Cardiff

So another year another package deal featuring an opening band and a double headliner for a reasonable sum. This time it was on again/off again band Thunder, Dave Coverdale and his band of youngsters and the continuing resurgence of Journey. So with a night of classic rock ahead of me, myself and my friends piled into the Motorpoint.


A band I have wanted to see for few years and finally my waiting paid off as with a hit of AC/DC's Thunderstruck and the band arrived on stage and plunged straight into Dirty Love looking like they'd never been away the guitars of Morley and Matthews riffed for their lives and Danny Bowes ran around the stage like a man half his age weaving his cheeky spell over the audience from the off and also treating us to some hardcore dad dancing. The hits continued with River Of Pain and the anthemic Higher Ground with every song the band oozed with talent with each member showing off their chops with particular praise going to Danny Bowes' voice which still is unbelievably strong and soulful. The band then launched into the guitar overdrive of Backstreet Symphony and the hard rocker The Devil Made Me Do It before the super ballad of Love Walked In. This was a short, sharp, shock of some sublime hard rock from the youngest band on this bill; let's just hope they stay together for a while yet. 9/10


So ol' leather lungs burst into life after My Generation rang out through the arena they burst into life with Gimmie All Your Love and Ready And Willing. What immediately hits you is that despite the tight young band Coverdale can't really hit the notes but he still oozes rampant sexuality and prowls the stage like a panther. The wild swinging of the mic stand and the thrusting of hips were abound from the off. The set was a mix of classics and the two most recent albums, Can You Hear The Wind Blow from Forevermore blended into Don't Break My Heart Again before Gambler was unleashed in tribute to former members Cozy Powell, Mel Galley and Jon Lord. The lighters burst out in their masses for Is This Love before Coverdale went and rested while Reb Beach and the bleach blonde Doug Aldrich duelled and while both have talent it's Aldrich who really shines as the better guitarist of the two, the band returned with Steal Your Heart Away from Forevermore which featured a drum solo from veteran drummer Doug Aldridge who threw away his sticks halfway through an continued with his hands this was another break in proceedings but when Coverdale returned for Forevermore and sounded revitalised as they broke into the heavy metal sounding Best Years from Good To Be Bad before they started to wind things up at the end, Coverdale in full flight physically and vocally as they ran through the big hitters of Fool For Your Loving and Here I Go Again and then finally it was time for Still Of The Night which still remains the best song Zeppelin never recorded. An extremely noisy, hard hitting set of songs from the rock legends who built their set into a fitting crescendo that blew the audience away. 8/10


So with a slightly thinner crowd the opening keyboard pulse of Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) got the crowd moving from the off and started with a mass sing-along as Arnel Pineda blasted out the words with his superb voice that is every bit Steve Perry ever was if not better. The band were all on top musical form (as usual) but seemed a little rigid as if they were going through the motions, Pineda was animated as was bassist Ross Valory and keyboardist/guitarist Jonathan Cain however guitarist  Neal Schon was stoic and almost silent throughout. It was from Separate Ways into Any Way You Want It and the cavalcade of hits continued through to Ask The Only and Only The Young and then this is where things came unstuck. I realise that this was a day before Memorial Day in the USA however for Schon to play the entire Star Spangled Banner backed by images of fireworks and the American flag fell flat on its face with the Welsh crowd who were stunned into silence, this meant that it was hard for Journey to recover from this faux par with the next few songs failing to connect no matter how much Pineda tried to incite the crowd to get excited again. It was with Lights and the splendid Open Arms that finally got the crowd back on side which went into Escape and Faithfully even at this late stage Schon still insisted on mucking about between songs adding some unnecessary instrumentals before things returned to normal with Wheel In The Sky (My personal favourite) Be Good To Yourself and then 'that song' the sing-along Don't Stop Believing which ended the set on a massive high. However for a band like Journey, who were supposed to be the headliner, to have so much stalling in their set is not very professional, the sound too was against them with every song sounding muddied and in places even quiet (compared to the previous bands) this all played against Journey despite the musical ability on offer. So all in all Journey were good but were let down by two factors the muddied sound and Neal Schon's ego. 7/10  

Thursday 23 May 2013

Reviews: Alice In Chains, Kylesa, Invictus

Alice In Chains: The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (Virgin/EMI)

So this is the second album in AIC post Layne period and its a case of if it ain't broke don't fix it, this follows on immediately from Black Gives Way To Blue (which itself was a continuation of the AIC heavy grunge sound). From the opening downward dirge of Hollow all of the hallmarks are present, the dual vocals of Jerry Cantrell and William DuVall, Cantrell's excellent lead work working it's way over the doomy metal rhythm, which is backed by Sean Kinney's drums and Mike Inez bottom heavy bass. Cantrell has been quoted as saying this album is unique in it's delivery but maybe I'm an idiot but to me it sounds like AIC of old, which is by no means a bad thing, but apart from the occasional Sabbath reference or hard rock tendency this is AIC's own brand of grunge with some classic rock leanings with the stirring guitar solo on Stone which surprisingly comes from DuVall not from Cantrell. This is an album full of some excellent songs like the aforementioned Stone as well as the atmospheric title track which builds to a massive crescendo before returning back to just stripped down guitars and the amazing and progressive Phantom Limb (which features another solo from DuVall). This is the second album of AIC's new age and if they continue in this vein then it looks to be as good as their original incarnation good stuff indeed 8/10

Kylesa: Ultraviolet (Seasons Of The Mist)

Sludge Metal masters Kylesa return with their sixth album and unlike their previous effort this album is more introspective and darker both lyrically and sonically. The band still have their own unique musical style with the twin vocal, twin guitar and twin drum assault leaving just bassist Chase Rudeseal as the only single instrument member. The dual drums work well on the bands sonic attack as they can bring a haunting percussive vibe to all the tracks and is especially prevalent on Long Gone. The drums are topped by the hazy and riff heavy guitars of Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasant's, both also contribute vocals however Pleasant's has the monopoly on vocals this time around with the album based on her personal tragedies, she does an excellent job having a wounded wail that infects the slower restrained tracks and also an aggressive Maria Brink-like roar on the more biting tracks like We're Taking This. With tracks like the full on chant of Unbroken the Lizzy-like dual guitars of Grounded and the punk rock styling's of What Does It Take. The band are clearly have taken their mantra of making every record different seriously as they have managed to make this one a dark, brooding, atmospheric record full of lazy psych, merged with some heavy metal riffage bolstered by some strong vocals and song writing. 8/10

Invictus: Unconquerable (Self - Released)

The first thing that strikes you about Invictus' debut E.P is that it is strong in terms of song writing and also from the production standpoint (debut production job from Seven Deadly's Archie Wilson) from the opening melodic guitar lines of Master Of My Fate (which have a similar sound to InMe). Then it builds into the double kicks and heavy breakdowns of modern metalcore. The band are a six piece and feature two vocalists both handle screams the one providing some black metal screaming and the other some more metalcore based growls and roars. However on the clean vocals they fall down a little with one having quite a good clean delivery but the others is a little flat in places which is noticeable at most on Lazarus. However the that aside the rest of the band have a good sound with some technical guitars laying beneath the heavy riffage and skull smashing drums they even have some progressive tendencies on final track Cimmerian. With a bit of refinement and some more experience the band could do well as it stands they have a good musical backing but are let down slightly on the (clean) vocal front. 6/10

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Reviews: Queens Of The Stone Age, Airbourne, Joe Bonamassa & Beth Hart

Queens Of The Stone Age:...Like Clockwork (Reckords Reckords)

So Josh Homme and his cavalcade of stoners, clowns and madmen return for their first album since 2008's Era Vulgaris and it is a return to more natural sound in juxtaposition to the electronic influences of the previous album. With Homme handles all the lead vocals as well as guitar, with Troy Van Leeuwen helping on the six strings, Dean Fertita handles the keys and Michael Shuman brings the bass. All of the playing comes across excellent as usual on the creepy and haunting opening track Keep Your Eyes Peeled which also features Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters) on co-vocals and opens the album with a restrained eerie vibe. The drums are split between three men: Frequent collaborator Dave Grohl, former drummer Joey Castillo and current drummer Jon Theodore. I Sat By The Ocean is a psychedelic rocker that features some fuzzed up classic QOTSA noise. The Vampyre Of Time And Memory is next this is a restrained piano ballad with some crackling synth behind it. If I Had A Tail is a milestone track as it is a features guest vocal from Arctic Monkey's Alex Turner, former member Mark Lanegan and most notably former bassist Nick Oliveri. Other guests are Trent Reznor on electronic swing of Kalopsia and Elton John, Reznor, Lanegan and Oliveri on the massive noise explosion of Fairweather Friends which has all of the QOTSA hallmarks along with John's stabbing piano. This is pulsing, brooding, psychedelic record that leads you on a magical mystery tour of musical adventure that is full of the hallmarks that QOTSA are known for an so much more and excellent record from a band that are still relevant and unique. 9/10

Airbourne: Black Dog Barking (Roadrunner)

Airbourne bring back the balls the rock once again with this their third album and this one merges their two previous releases bringing the straight up no nonsense rock of their debut with the slightly wider range on their second album (which if I'm honest was a little too long with 13 tracks and four bonus tracks too) This album kicks off with a chant and then the bursts into the rip roaring Ready To Rock which will be a live opener for a while and has a reprise of the chant in the middle of it. The first half of the record is taken up with songs like Animalize and Firepower coming off as vintage turbocharged Airbourne with songs of lust, sex and drinking, Back In The Game is a swaggering blues rocker that blows up into a massive solo. It's with the first single Live It Up that we get a hint of Airbourne's arena credentials as it kicks off with a cracking melodic opening guitar intro from Joel O'Keefe before working up into the classic frenzy which features one of the best pre-chorus I've heard in a while that will be a live staple for a while. This album is one that sees Airbourne bringing together their high profile tour experience and laying it down on a record meaning that it is paced like an Airbourne concert. As usual Joel's voice is a whiskey soaked snarl, the guitars of him and David Roads are classy and rocking and the rhythm section of Justin Street and Ryan O'Keefe is tight and metronomic throughout. Airbourne are that rare thing in life consistent, they know what they are good at and they stick to it yes the riffs are similar, the vocals don't vary but the songs rock like motherfuckers and really that's all you need from rock n roll. (See not a single mention of AC/DC...bollocks!) 8/10

Joe Bonamassa & Beth Hart: See-Saw (Provogue)

So the Queen of blues vocals and the King of blues guitar return for their second collaboration of soul, jazz and funk covers. Again Hart's voice is amazing throughout equally at home with the swinging horn filled jazz of opener Them There Eyes (originally by Billie Holiday) the raucous rock and roll of Nutbush City Limits and moves through the soulful spectrum on slow burners I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know and Strange Fruit. Duelling for supremacy with Hart's lush vocals is the guitar of Mr Bones which also goes through the several genre shifts showing off his chops on a variety of styles and each time inspiring and mesmerising especially on I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know. Through these 11 tracks you see just how good a vocalist Beth Hart is (Bonamassa's guitar prowess is a given) and after the first collaboration with Joey Bones she was propelled back into the limelight and now with a her first US released solo album in a decade under her belt she has teamed up with him again to show that these two records were no fluke. The two of them are backed by the same group that backed them on the first album with Blondie Chapman on guitar, Anton Fig on drums, Carmine Rojas on bass and a stinging horn section all of which is bolstered by the retro production of Kevin Shirley who adds his Midas touch to the record keeping it feeling fresh but also true to the original recordings. With this collaboration Joe Bonamassa has shown that he is a master of many genres and Beth Hart shows why she truly has an amazingly soulful voice. 8/10 


Thursday 16 May 2013

Reviews: TesseracT, Battle Beast, Shooter Jennings

TesseracT: Altered State (Century Media)

So the British djent originators return with their second album, between the two albums TesseracT have been through two vocalists and have finally settled on Ashe O'Hara who makes his recorded debut on this release. Again the band focus on polyrhythmic, technical guitars coming from founder member Acle Kahney and James Monteith and some heavy palm muted bass from Amos Williams (who gets a bass break on Of Energy - Singularity), the drums too of Jay Postones are good too providing both the soft airy percussion on the more ethereal tracks like opener Of Matter - Proxy and second track Of Matter - Retrospect (which has a few nice little time changes in it to mix things up) as well as some big double kicked O'Hara's voice is suited to these ethereal songs as his high register delivery gives the tracks a ghostly feel. Like the debut this is a concept record with all of the tracks split into sections that relate to different states, because of this the record has a more of an esoteric feel than its predecessor starting out slowly before building, by the time Of Mind - Nocturne kicks in we are into metal territory with an upbeat djent riffage and some extremely strong vocals from O'Hara and an extended outro which is followed by the off kilter Of Mind - Exile which snakes through several time changes in its 8 minute plus run time. This second album has a more expansive soundscapes especially on the sax filled Of Reality - Calabi-Yau and goes much further than just being a djent album, with every listen you pick up another intricate guitar or bass riff, the band have managed to create a modern progressive metal masterpiece. 9/10

Battle Beast: Battle Beast (Nuclear Blast)

So Finns Battle Beast return with their second album and a new singer in the shape of the silver haired Noora who immediately shows her skills on the pulsing opener Let It Roar which wouldn't sound out of place on the last Stratovarius album. Noora is phenomenal talent her voice stretches between heavenly clean crooning and some screams that Rob Halford would have trouble hitting. On the musical front they still play the muscular traditional/power metal that would sound at home on a Sonata Arctica or an Accept album with some massive guitar riffs and solos from the two guitarists a bucketful of keyboards underpinned by some powerful bass and drums. Battle Beast have done one of the hardest things in music and made vocalist change for the better, Noora has a fantastic voice which suits the heavy metal style of the record that has made people call them a female fronted Dio. A comparison like that is apt because of tracks like Neuromancer and Out On The Streets which wouldn't sound out of place on a Dio album (the former having a Euro-pop backing that also lends them a bit of Amaranthe). Battle Beast is an extremely strong album that features some high quality heavy metal that rips and tears throughout threatening to explode out of the stereo with every track and it is topped by a phenomenally talented vocalist who can match the best metal singers out there note for note and some she walks all over! This is a trad metal experience par excellence! 9/10

Shooter Jennings: The Other Life (Black Country Rock)

So Waylon's baby boy returns with a new album from his new band The Triple Crown this is the follow up to last year’s Family Man which saw the Outlaw Countryman return to his roots but also he has merged this with the atmospheric rock styling’s of his side project Hierophant. From the spooky opening salvo of Flying Saucer Song which sounds like it has been taken off Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds, before moving into some mellotron backed train of thought vocal delivery. The second track A Hard Lesson To Learn is back to Jenning's country stomping grounds but with lashings of keys and organs from collaborator jazz pianist Erik Deutsch, he is just a part of Jennings' extremely talented backing band and shows his chops on The White Trash Song, while the rest of the band have that focussed looseness that comes only from country players. Jennings' himself covers a myriad of topics from heartbreak, to family, to religion his voice croons and roars in equal measure meaning he can move from forlorn to downright aggressive when he hits out at all the fake country stars out there on Outlaw You (Kid Rock beware!), Shooter Jennings has managed to create some fantastic songs on this album with the heart rendering sorrow of the slide-guitar and fiddle propelled title track, through the Yes styling’s of Mama, It's Just My Medicine to the blues rock of 15 Million Light Years Away (which features guest rasps in the from Black Oak Arkansas Jim Dandy). This is an album that draws from a wide palate but is rooted in the Southern roots of Shooter Jennings' heritage. 8/10

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Another Point Of View: Killswitch Engage (Guest Review By Steve Jenkins)

Killswitch Engage, Great Hall, Cardiff

Having already acted on my fan boy instincts, the afternoon of this gig was spent loitering outside the Doc Martens store, queuing to meet Mike and Jesse from tonight’s headline band. After this my friends and I made our way to Cardiff Uni, excitement already mounting.

Burn The Headlines
Taking my spot at the barrier soon after a long keyboard led intro brought in Burn The Headlines hailing from East England. The singer was attempting a shorter, podgy Ian Watkins look; these were awful from start to end. Playing bland hard rock with little in the way of hooks and a muddy sound hampering the lead guitarists attempt to salvage any credibility. Their (thankfully) short set drew nothing but polite applause from some and heckles from others 2/10

Second up were Killswitch label mates from California, Heartist. This at least swung things over to the metal spectrum. Their take on metalcore wasn't original but were enhanced by some impressive high pitched clean vocals from their singer. Marks lost by their guitarist's attempt at "Rock n Roll", spitting water in to the crowd that mostly hit my eye! 4/10

Right, pretenders over next up were Reading bruisers Sylosis. The crowd noticeably gained momentum for these British heavyweights, inciting 2 walls of death and constant circle pits. A technical progressive take on thrash, this was where the heat really kicked in! Whipping up the crowd in to frenzy was exactly what was needed after a turgid first half. Many felt their set ended way too soon. 8/10
Killswitch Engage

And so for the moment many metalheads never thought they would see. Cheesy 80's pop tune (that I can’t remember) brought Adam D strutting a funky dad dance and the rest of the band following behind. They wasted no time in tearing the Great Hall apart with The Hell In Me, A Bid Farewell and Fixation On Darkness Any thoughts of Jesse not matching Howard lasted a microsecond. For 16 songs the Great Hall melted into one sweaty mass sing a long! The band were clearly enjoying their new relationship both musically and as friends and the crowd lapped it up as the band never let the intensity drop. Adam D's douchebaggery hasn't changed and watching him fire wristbands in to the crowd with a badminton racquet was one of a truckload of highlights. No album was left untouched but for most, hearing Jesse sing the Alive Or Just Breathing material were the ultimate magic moments. A stunning End Of Heartache gave the crowd and band a quick breather before coming back on stage to start a drinking game involving My Last Serenade and swigs of beer every time a pinch harmonic was played. Even with Adam D squealing through the entire song the band finished it in style, leaving the crowd breathless, grinning and hoping the next trip to Wales doesn't take 8 years! 10/10

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Reviews: Tracer, Purson, Failure To Follow

Tracer: El Pistolero (Mascot Records)

Australia's Tracer come back with their second album of grunge influenced hard rock. The trio have gone all Mexican on this album with four tracks making up the Suite Del Desperado which is a concept based around the titular gunfighter with the opening title track we are back on familiar territory with some fuzzy bass from Michael Rhodes (replacing Leigh Brown, subsequently replaced by Jett), some hard hitting drumming from Andre Wise and the bluesy riffs and Chris Cornell-like vocals of Michael Brown, who shows his guitar chops on Dirty Little Secret which goes straight into the heavy bottom end of Dead Garden before the Suite Del Desperado is picked up on the acoustic Mariachi-style Ballad Of El Pistolero and the slightly psychedelic Santa Cecilia (which makes it sound very like QOTSA). The suite ends with the penultimate track the hazy Until The War Is Won, but it is proceeded by the ZZ Top boogie of Wolf In Cheap Clothes the woozy verses of Scream In Silence which bursts into a heavy chorus and the Middle Eastern influenced Hangman. This second album is not a massive stylistic difference from their debut, and it still blends Soundgarden, QOTSA and heavy blues rock together to create some hard rocking tunes and some tuneful tracks that bring together melody and aggression. A solid album which does seem to be a little less immediate than its predecessor however after a few spins it opens up into a good rock album. 7/10

Purson: The Circle And The Blue Door (Rise Above)

Rise Above has always been the last bastion of the occult and the downright weird with the space prog of Astra, jazz rock of Diagonal, retro riffage of Gentleman's Pistols and the world conquering Ghost all coming from Lee Dorrian's record label. Newest to the roster are occult folk rockers Purson (who is The King of Hell apparently) despite this fearsome sounding name the band themselves play a unique brand of self-described "Vaudeville, carny, psych, prog" that brings together acoustic guitars, huge organs and mellotrons, along with some searing electric guitar and some defiantly witchy vocals from front woman Rosalie Cunningham (who also provides all of the former), the dreamy acoustics of Wake Up Sleepy Head bleed into the voodoo spiralling carnival soundscape of The Contract which has a menacing arpeggiated bass from Ed Turner. This is then followed by the frantic percussion of Spiderwood Farm and the Sailor's Wife's Lament which sounds like an evil Beatles track. Purson have managed to create some very evil sounding music full of occult imagery, dreamy soundscapes and some seriously good musicianship from Cunningham who is supremely multi-talented showcasing all manner of stringed and keyed instrumentation as well as having a voice to die for. Welcome to the kingdom of hell we're sure you won't want to leave. 8/10

Failure To Follow: Walk Away (Released through Bandcamp)

Bristol's FTF have come back swinging with their debut album Walk Away and much like their Wasting Away EP this is bone breaking British Hardcore with a very melodic edge. The band have added a guitarist and this shows with the instrumental opening bringing the atmosphere before the opening salvo of the title track brings some clean vocals from singer Tom Williams and some machine gun drums from Ollie Coghill providing a backing the melodic guitars of Harry Burrows and Russell Prosser. There is a definite growth on this on this record it's the sound of a band that have honed their craft in the live arena and have transferred this onto the record. Dogs Of Hell brings back the screams and has a killer breakdown at the end. The band have added yet more strong songs to their live arsenal with this record and images of Hardcore dancing and mosh pits come to mind with every snare hit, every bass rumble and every piercing guitar riff (and bluesy wah break on Retribution). This is a strong, professional album from a band doing it for the love, BCHC at its most focussed. 8/10

Sunday 5 May 2013

Reviews: Deep Purple, Malefice, Sacred Mother Tongue

Deep Purple: Now What?! (earMusic)

Deep Purple two words that are forever engrained in the minds of rock and metal fans, much like their peers Sabbath and Zeppelin they are band that will always be held in high regard. Deep Purple have weathered their fair share of changes both stylistically and in their line up and are still releasing albums. This is their 19th album and their first since 2005's Rapture Of The Deep much has changed since then the biggest being the loss of founder member organist Jon Lord who died while the album was being made, his replacement; veteran Don Airey, does his best Lord impression throughout providing some Hammond riffs and solos as heavy as any guitar and are especially prevalent on opener A Simple Song which explodes into a massive middle after a subdued intro and also manages the organs and indeed orchestrations are at their peak on the doomy Weirdistan. The orchestral theme continues on Out Of Hand which sounds an awful lot like Perfect Strangers stylistically, albeit with better production (something which can be attributed to Bob Ezrin), Out Of Hand is also Steve Morse's first introduction pulling out a killer guitar solo. Deep Purple are at a point in their career where they can mix things up a bit (and have never been afraid to) so when tracks like the funk filled Body Line (shades of the Mark VI line up) and the lounge jazz of Blood From A Stone. The band also stretch out their musical muscles on the proggy Uncommon Man which is based on the Fanfare For The Common Man and as such means the song sounds like ELP (who famously covered the original). As with all Purple records the performances are brilliant with THAT rhythm section of Ian Paice and Roger Glover dictating the pace, the aforementioned leads of Morse's guitar and Airey's keys and the still excellent but less ear shattering vocals of Ian Gillan all showing that they are still very much part of why Purple are still making records. Despite this Now What?! still has some weak points; first single Hell To Pay sounds like a Purple pastiche, Apr├Ęs Vous which is just the band in cruise control and the pseudo horror of Vincent Price is just hilarious (which might be the idea). Despite this these tracks are still stronger than a lot of current bands ideas. Still when a band have been going since 1968 and have released some of the most influential albums in rock history then it will always be hard to rediscover that magic. On Now What?! Purple aren't threatening to top In Rock, Machine Head or Stormbringer but that was never the intention. What they have done is added another good album to their collection and shown that even after all these years they are still relevant and are still capable of producing some quality music. 7/10

Malefice: Five (Transcend Music)

Reading modern metallers Malefice are back and once again they are bringing their distinctly heavy brand of British metal to the masses. Five is a 7 track EP designed as a stop gap to tide fans over until the next full length (and give them some new stuff to play in the live arena). Things kick off with the thrash arpeggio riffage of V which is bolstered by some electronic backing and some heavy as hell breakdowns. The Great Deceiver shows the more melodic side of the band which shows off Dale Butler's excellent vocals and has a massive gang vocal chorus. Malefice sound enthused on this EP but there is something more they also sound like they are finally able to grab the brass ring, the guitars are tight peeling off razor sharp riffage, the drums pummel and the bass rumbles your bones, all of which shows that Malefice have honed their skills over long touring cycles to become an excellent band and this EP is a testament to that. With this new maturity the band can afford to open up their sound a bit by bringing in a djent style palm muted riff on Never Say Die and on Wasted they have aimed at arenas with its massive chorus hook add to this the piano based instrumental of Time and altogether you can see that Malefice have become a real jewel in the British metal crown and if this EP is anything to go by their fourth full length may be their masterpiece. 8/10

Sacred Mother Tongue: Out Of The Darkness (Transcend Music)

Northampton natives Sacred Mother Tongue return after a long gap with their second album. A few of the tracks were already featured on their EP A Light Shines released earlier in the year so I'm not going to focus so much on these songs (http://musipediaofmetal.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/reviews-kiss-sacred-mother-tongue.html) Instead I'm going to focus on the rest of the album and for the most part it's riff heavy modern metal with some fantastic melodic solos and vocals. Ah yes the vocals gone are the screams from the debut and in their place frontman Darrin South gives his best clean vocal performance not that this is a bad thing as he truly has an excellent voice however many may lament the loss of the screams. These people can rest assured however that the band have lost none of their aggression, the drums of Lee Newell kick like a mule on tracks like the opener Demons and Just A Ride he is aided in his rhythm method by bassist Josh Gurner who provides the heavy bottom end in tracks like A Bird In Hand. The shit kicking rhythm section is the perfect foil for guitarist Andy James who can pull out muscular riffs from nowhere and then wows with his tight concise but extremely proficient and technical soloing that never strays into fret wankery. Evidence of this can be seen on the thrashy A Light Will Shine, the Maiden-like Believe and on the melodic opening to Bleeding Out (before all hell breaks loose). SMT have managed to create an album that merges metallic ferocity with some huge hard rock hooks (mainly from South’s vocals) and they seem to be in a transition period much like Trivium were a few years ago (a band they share a lot of similarities with) much like the Floridians emerged as world beaters so too will SMT if they keep this up. 7/10

Saturday 4 May 2013

Another Point Of View: Saxon (Review by Paul Hutchings)

Saxon at O2 Academy, Bristol 28 April 2013

Many readers will know the anticipation I was experiencing for this gig. After popping my gig cherry 31 years ago, Saxon will always be incredibly special to me.


Openers Redline, formed in Birmingham in 2006, took to the stage to a reasonable crowd. Unfortunately they proceed to play 30 minutes of mediocre hard rock which did absolutely nothing for me. Vocalist Kez Taylor did his best and demonstrated a reasonable vocal range, but the rest of the band had absolutely no stage presence. This, combined with some appalling dress sense (when were red camouflage trousers ever popular?) meant interest quickly waned although there was a fascination watching them akin to rubber necking at a car crash. I’ve researched them on the web and found a comment which stated “if you want something to compare them to, simply classic hard rock like Chariot with some heavier moments of journey thrown in!” Well, that sums it up nicely. 4/10

The Quireboys

Now, whatever you think about Spike and the boys, one thing they don’t lack is stage presence. Whilst many of my party were not particularly keen, I actually really enjoyed them. The Quireboys have been around since the early 80s and I’d actually forgotten how many of their songs I knew. They’ve always been in my peripheral vision, but I’d forgotten songs like Tramps and Thieves, Mona Lisa Smile and This is Rock n Roll were actually theirs. As they crashed through a nine song set, their main influences of The Faces and The Black Crowes were clear. Keyboard player Keith Weir was superb, enhancing their real rock n roll approach. The twin guitars of Paul Guerin and Guy Griffin added real swagger to their songs and the rhythm section of Dave Boyce and Matt Goom anchored the sound. What struck me most was how much fun the band were having, wide grins on all of their faces and Spike enjoying some banter and storytelling with the very healthy audience. By the time that they got to the final three songs, the sing-a-long Hey You, Mother Mary and their chart hit 7’O’Clock the crowd were really engaged. The complete opposite of Redline, The Quireboys had experience, style, charisma and presence. They were thoroughly enjoyable and great to watch. They would have had a 9 but for the fact that they teamed up with Joe Elliott as Down ‘N’ Outz. That will always get a demerit in my book. 8/10


And so to the main event: House lights dimmed, and the intro track on Sacrifice, Procession played out to a capacity crowd. Saxon launched straight into Sacrifice followed by Wheels of Terror from the new album. The crowd were in fine voice, with new songs welcomed as keenly as the old classics. Classics? There aren’t many bands around today with a back catalogue of classics like Saxon. Tonight these included The Power and The Glory, Heavy Metal Thunder, Motorcycle Man, Conquistador, And The Bands Played On, Rock n Roll Gypsy and one of their most famous, the cover the Christopher Cross track Ride Like the Wind. Biff was in fine form, earning bonus points by acknowledging that there might be “few in from Wales” which was met by a massive roar from the large Welsh contingent in the audience. I always forget how heavy Saxon are live, but Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt’s guitars soon reminded me, with some brilliant soloing and riffing. Nigel Glockler’s drumming was effortless and combined superbly with Nibbs Carter’s bass lines to keep the momentum. Saxon played a very healthy number of tracks from the new album, all of which came across well in the live setting. Guardians of the Tomb, Night of the Wolf, Stand up and Fight were well appreciated. I did have to laugh at the sight of Paul Quinn with a double neck six and 12 string guitar for Made in Belfast though; He isn’t Alex Lifeson that’s for sure. You know what you get with Saxon, and sure enough, apart from the tedious drum solo which lasted about eight minutes, the rest of the set ws stuffed full of old school brilliance. Wheels of Steel, Dallas 1PM and 747 led to a killer encore of Strong Arm of the Law, Denim and Leather and finally Princess of the Night, which I’m not ashamed to say brought a little tear to my eye. A night of solid old school British Heavy Metal, performed by a band that mean so much to many UK metallers. Roll on Steelhouse. It’s going to be blinding! 10/10