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Sunday 5 January 2014

Paul's Review Of The Year

Review of the year 2013

So here I am listening to Voodoo Six’s Songs to Invade Countries To, one of the many albums that passed me by in a quite brilliant year for our genre, whilst reflecting on some of the events that made 2013 so memorable. Bear with me as I reminisce a little. After all, it won’t be long before I won’t be able to remember stuff like this; I am getting on you know.
2012 had finished with a double helping of Alcest and Katatonia in London and Bristol, and 2013 was already shaping up nicely with a number of classic rock artists lined up or rumoured to be touring. As it turned out, 2013 was indeed a year for the old guard to flex their muscles and keep the youngsters at arm’s length.

My first gig of 2013 didn’t arrive until 27 January and also involved my first visit to The Limelight venue in Belfast. Having been distraught at having to miss Orange Goblin at Clwb Ifor Bach due to work commitments, my joy at discovering that not only were the mighty Goblin in town when I was there but also that my hotel for the week, the god awful Holiday Inn in Ormeau Avenue, was directly across the road from the venue, was substantial.  Two sterling warm up sets from local band Triggerman and Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell led to a crushing evening from Ben Ward and co with the metal fraternity of Northern Ireland rocking out in frantic style.

 An early contender for one of albums of the year arrived around the same time in the shape of Audrey Horne’s Youngblood. A straightforward classic rock album with shades of Lizzy and Maiden, this remained on my playlist all year and deserved a better rating that the 7 given in Metal Hammer. Another release notable of praise around the same time was The Divinity of Purpose from Hatebreed. I don’t really care what others think, this band mix their hardcore with metal perfectly and whilst they are certainly a little formulaic, the Connecticut outfit usually do it for me. They will be welcomed back to BOA in 2014.
Deep into February now and a night of pure class at the Coal Exchange as rock legends UFO rolled into town. This is a band that means a great deal to me, having been only the second band I ever saw live (sandwiched between Saxon and Thin Lizzy with Lynott). A healthy crowd of mainly middle aged males assembled in Cardiff Bay to watch Greek outfit 4Bitten kick off the evening before a stunning set from Mogg, Moore, Parker, Lehmann and Raymond. Think UFO and you think of Doctor Doctor or Rock Bottom, but this band have a massive back catalogue of top quality music. The following night saw us head to Bogiez for an evening of Swedish Metal with the fantastic Grand Magus ably supported by speed metallers Primitai who put in a workmanlike shift before the packed house enjoyed some traditional heavy metal from a band that never disappoint. The sight of JB and Fox urging the crowd in sing-alongs with some of their anthemic tracks from Iron Will and The Hunt was just brilliant. As a certain Editor stated, ‘you could watch them every week and never get bored’.

A plethora of new releases arrived in February: These included the Andy Sneap produced Sacrifice from Saxon which is surely one of their finest ever works, Lights Out from Swedish outfit Graveyard and power metal at its finest in the shape of Nemesis from Finnish veterans Stratovarius. However, one of the albums of the year also arrived at this time in the shape of The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) by prog lord Steven Wilson.  Later in the year I was lucky enough to see him live. This album grew and grew on me throughout the year and was another that hit my top ten. Not quite so breathtakingly brilliant was the decidedly average Temper Temper from Welsh outfit Bullet For My Valentine which limped to a 6 in Hammer. I was thinking about BFMV recently, and realised that amongst all of our crew that frequent gigs with me, these are about the only band which generates universal apathy. The next great hope for UK metal don’t do it for any of use apparently. A couple of other releases that are also worthy of mention at this point: The bluesy debut from Mikey Moody’s Snakecharmer and the psychedelic fuzz of Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats Blood Lust. Both bands would feature in the live arena for me by the end of the year.
Moving into March and due to a nightshift which couldn’t be changed I missed out on the chance of seeing Charlotte Church in Clwb (Yes, you did read that correctly … and I would given half a chance) and so made do with Gibraltar’s own Breed 77 back at Bogiez two nights later. Now I often found myself half cut by the time I got to Bogiez to see bands and this event appeared to be no exception as I have a t-shirt from support band Seven Deadly which I had no intention of buying. Anyway, our usual cohort rocked up in good time for a change to witness a cracking performance from the ex-Panic Cell outfit which was just as well as the next two outfits Left Unscarred an For the Imperium were pretty dull (obviously fuelling my alcohol consumption). Luckily Breed 77 put in a top performance with their rather unique Latin/metal crossover sound lapped up by a small but enthusiastic crowd.

Another month and another storming album arrived. This time the Metal Hammer 2013 album of the year, Earth Rocker from Maryland outfit Clutch. And oh my god, what an absolutely incredible album it is. In my opinion this album is fully deserving of the accolade of album of the year; from the title track with its groove laden anthem, sure to remain a favourite on their set list for many years to come, through to the catchy choruses of Mr Freedom and the hard rocking Unto the Breach this is a masterpiece and sits nicely alongside the legendary Blast Tyrant in their catalogue. Super stuff. Of course, for ever masterpiece that arrives, a truckload of crap usually accompanies it and this month the winner was Anthrax for their cover of Rush’s Anthem on Worship Music/Anthems. Whilst I will admit it isn’t as bad as MFH’s cover of Witch Hunt it still sucks. No-one should cover Rush. Period. I missed a few albums this month. Apologies to Finntroll and Kvelertak in particular whilst I’m not at all disappointed at allowing KSE, Buckcherry and Bleed From Within to pass me by.

Back to the arena and the next gig saw us decant to our regular haunt at the O2 academy in Bristol for the Jagermeister Music Tour. Welsh rockers Revoker made a decent start to the evening before The Defiled bored me shitless. Luckily it was time for the French organ rearrangement known as Gojira to follow and as usual with these guys it was time to strap down your spleen whilst they blistered through 45 minutes of ear splitting classics. Following Gojira is a pretty difficult task but the nameless ghouls and Papa Emeritus who comprise Ghost did the job. I have to admit I wasn’t particularly impressed with them at this gig but found them a much more entertaining outfit supporting Alice in Chains later in the year.

Moving swiftly into April and a couple of early gigs to get the blood pumping. First off, a welcome return to the magnificent Coal Exchange and a chance to renew my acquaintance with Dave Brock and Hawkwind. The main set comprised of the 1975 classic Warrior At The Edge Of Time and a rather splendid show it was too. A very good turnout were given a real treat with dancers and the lightshow that the Hawks always provide. The following night it was back to Bogiez for a very different kind of evening. The always brilliant Bloodshot Dawn kicked of proceedings; the first of three gigs I would see these guys at during 2013, quickly followed by the kick in the nuts that is Beholder. At this point it is worth pointing out that Simon Hall, the man mountain that is front of house with Beholder, managed to encourage one of the most incredible sights ever seen in Bogiez … a four man mosh pit that included Nicholas Hewitt and your good self. A once in a life time opportunity which should have been captured on DVD for prosperity. Maybe not! Headliners Scar Symmetry were a bit of a let-down with their technical metal not really floating my boat but a pretty good evening overall.

Despite the 30 odd gigs I managed this year I also missed a couple of excellent shows. A couple of the most notable being the Von Hertzen Brothers a couple of nights later in support of their excellent Nine Lives album, the Zeppelin-esque Rival Sons and thrash veterans Ill Nino. Such is life. April also provided some very good releases which included the bubblegum trash Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor from shock rocker Rob Zombie, Elvis infused Metallica style Danish metal from Volbeat in the form of Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies and Infestissumam from Ghost, an album that has grown on me throughout the year. The final Cathedral album, The Last Spire was also released around the same time and proved to be a fitting swansong for one of the doom genre’s greatest bands. And whilst I’m wittering on about other releases, don’t forget Earth Blues from Spiritual Beggars, complete with ex-Firewind vocalist Apollo Papathanasio. A solid slab of 70s rock which is well worth a spin.

Finishing the month were two contrasting gigs. First up, california’s Counting Crows who played a breath taking Country/AOR set at the acoustically brilliant Colston Hall in Bristol before the month finished with a blast as Barnsley tea drinkers Saxon bludgeoned the capacity crowd at the O2 Academy in Bristol with nearly two hours of new stuff from Sacrifice and of course a plethora of old favourites.  As a certain Mr Brett Perry says, you never get a bad show from Saxon.
Missing the carnage of Hatebreed at the Solus the following night (how was the place still standing after that?) and avoiding KSE at the start of May my next gig actually took a whole month to arrive in the shape of Canadian legends (and my all-time favourites) Rush at the LG arena in Birmingham. This came directly after an incredible four day break in Venice so I was well rested and full of cheer as I sauntered from our hotel to watch three hours of sheer quality. Every time I see Rush I realise why I fork out a large wedge of cash for the privilege. Their shows are simply stunning and the addition of the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble for the middle section of the show was inspiring.  From the sublime to the ridiculous a few nights later as I finished a sparse month gig wise in the dirty ‘Port to see Cwmbran outfit Counterhold deliver a storming set before the Nottingham loons Evil Scarecrow delivered their usual set of parody combined with high quality metal. A brilliant warm up to one of the most enjoyable sets at BOA later in the year.

New albums continued to arrive during May and these included a real grower in the latest release from Alice in Chains, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here which did little to start but developed into one of my favourite releases of the year. Alongside this, Deep Purple proved that there remains plenty left in their tank with their Now What?! Release, heavy on Hammond in tribute to Jon Lord but also a pretty rocky release overall. Tesseract dropped in a contender for album of the year for many with Altered State, with more traditional fare from Airbourne and a return to form for Queens of the Stone Age.

Moving swiftly into June and again a slow start for gigs but not for the music with the arrival of a slab of the heaviest metal of the year in the shape of 13 from Black Sabbath. The return of the behemoths of heavy metal was welcomed in every quarter, and unlike many other heavyweights there is simply no-one I know who doesn’t love this album or this band. From the first single God is dead? To the sinister tolling of the bell at the end of the album this was a work of absolute quality. No wonder it won many of the awards for album of the year. They say timing is everything and unfortunately for Megadeth they put out Supercollider at around the same time. Some collision! Still, it will be interesting to see them headline at BOA next year won’t it? Won’t it? Other notable releases around this time included Furosity by Monster Truck. The self-titled Scorpion Child release as well as Skull by Evile.

Time for a bit of stadium rock next and a trip to the Cardiff City Stadium to see the pearly whites of New Jersey’s favourite sons, Bon Jovi. As regular readers will know, I saw this lot headline at Donnington in 1986 and this gig was about as far removed from that as it was possible to be. Having been thoroughly disappointed by the Tiny Rebel brewery’s offering in the City Centre the good CMH and I were confronted by the nightmare of a Bon Jovi crowd; all women in sparkly cowboy hats and pissed up on cheap cider, accompanied by the type of bloke who hugs his male friends at Sterophonic gigs. As for the music, well, there is a review on MOM; suffice to say it won’t make my top ten gigs of the year. A couple of weeks later however, we were fortunate, no honoured, to make our way to the legendary Hammersmith Odeon to see Southern boogie at its finest as those good ‘ole boys ZZ Top laid on my gig of the year. Stunning in simplicity and yet technically awesome.  Disappointed to miss the quality of Vintage Trouble in Cardiff two days later but sometimes things have to give.

Meanwhile the albums continued to fly out as we began the crew’s countdown to our annual pilgrimage to the hallowed turf of Catton Hall. New arrivals included All Hell Break’s Loose from Black Star Riders and the unnervingly Lynott sounding Rick Warwick, eastern offerings from Oprhaned Land and Viking tales from Amon Amarth. Obviously, checking out the blog is the easiest way to track the releases; I’ve just pointed out some of my favourites. The last day of June arrived and two new recruits for BOA were confirmed in Alex and Chris, fresh from the hell of Download earlier in the month. Despite the usual crap weather and exhaustion that goes with Download, they managed to see the Maiden England set including THAT spitfire. A good start to their festival days and more was to come.

A return to the Forum in Kentish Town was next on the agenda and a sold out show from Clutch. An extremely hot and sweaty gig with a very aggressive and raucous crowd saw the Maryland outfit deliver a near perfect set including nine numbers from Earth Rocker. The following night it was back to Bogiez for the Head Bangers Balls, the annual charity gig which saw me renew acquaintances with Bloodshot Dawn as well as witness some fiery old school from Reign of Fury and a super set from Triaxis who always impress. Two weeks later it was another chalk and cheese session, with Bloodshot Dawn (again!!) and the technically masterful Scandinavians Wintersun in the sauna known as the O2 2 in Bristol. I have only ever sweated once as much as that gig and that was at CF10 watching Sylosis a few years ago. Brilliant music, disgusting venue. The following night it was the marathon session which passes as a Bruce Springsteen show. Three and a quarter hours and the man was still going as we headed down Westgate Street. One of those to tick off the list for me; no doubting the man is brilliant but I got the feeling at the end of the show that he was actually enjoying it more than the crowd.

The end of July saw the inevitable change from the hot weather just as Brett, Matt and I embarked on our first trip to Ebbw Vale’s Steel House Festival. Matt has reviewed this one in depth but I’ll take a minute to reflect. What a brilliant festival this is and what a line up we had. Set in the beautiful surroundings of the Brecon Beacons national park on a working farm, the camping was just so easy, a two minute walk to the arena, local real ale from the Tudor Brewery ( a mere two miles down the road) on draft at a reasonable £3 a pint with decent food at tidy prices. The line-up was pure classic rock with a load of cracking newbies included too. Highlights for me: The Temperance Movement – storming rock in the vein of The Black Crowes, Trucker Diablo from Northern Ireland, Snakecharmer who delivered a healthy smattering of old school Whitesnake along with tracks from their aforementioned self-titled release and the headliners. Saturday night in pouring rain saw the return of THE FUCKING EAGLE as Saxon delivered a ball-breaking hour and a half of classic NWOBHM and Sunday evening finally (after a typical delay – who said the Germans were efficient) concluded with The Michael Schenker Group performing a really smorgasbord of old school MSG, Scorpions and UFO tracks. The huge advantage of this festival was that, as it had continued to rain for most of the weekend, we had packed up all our gear and headed for home as the final notes blasted out. Home in 30 minutes from a festival is not to be sniffed at. However, the rain did provide us with the idea of a hydraulic gazebo, and Saturday afternoon at Steel House saw the bizarre sight of the three of us successfully bidding on such an item in time for BOA. Excellent work and we were now festival ready for ever!!

Just for a change there was a limited amount that tickled my musical buds in July although special mention to The Wild Hunt from Watain that really grew on me with repeated listens. As for Five Finger Death Punch, I just can’t deal with these guys which is a real shame having seen their first UK live performance several years ago. They just leave me flat although the overexposure in Metal Hammer probably doesn’t help.
Anyway, onto the business month of the year and the return to Bloodstock Open Air. This year we thought we were virtually unbreakable in our preparations. Tents – check. Gazebo – check. Chairs – check. Table and fold out benches – check. Bacon – check. Beer – aarrgghhh! Ran out on Sunday morning. This led to your hero sat outside a Tesco express at 8:30am on the Sunday morning having casually strolled in to purchase beer only to be told by the assistant in no uncertain terms that Sunday opening prohibited the sale before 10:00am. Fuck. You have to remember that this was long after the corn beef tin incident and the visit to Burton A&E, the most metal A&E unit in the UK and the only one to get a review in a heavy metal blog. Apparently the offending corn beef was hovered up by a camp mate before we’d even got to the taxi. (you know who you are!) However, what a weekend. Beautiful weather, a great crew and some top notch music. My highlights included Evil Scarecrow’s crazy show in the tent, Slayer’s dignified tribute to the recently passed Jeff Hanneman, the teutonic metal of Accept, the old school thrash of Death Angel and Exodus and the triumph of Hell, complete with Brett’s now legendary tears. All in all this year BOA hit all the heights and I’ve already got my grubby mitts on my ticket for next year. Even with Megadave.

After a refreshing break in Turkey, which was about as far removed from BOA as possible, the next gig arrived in the form of Rome and Egypt albeit in Bogiez once more. Yes, the Maurizo Iacono driven side project Ex Deo were in town and following their set at BOA I was eager for more. They didn’t disappoint, unlike Nile who had blown me away at BOA in 2012 but for once really failed to connect in a much curtailed set (due to a schedule that involved catching a ferry I am led to believe). As much as Nile was a let-down,  the next band I saw were an absolute inspiration. Fleetwood Mac at the O2 arena in London were simply beautiful and two hours passed in seconds. Ignoring the usual twats in an arena crowd who were clearly there for the “event”, the Mac were just brilliant. Highlight for me: Lindsay Buckingham’s guitar playing. The man has a severe dose of Asperger’s but he can shred like few around him. And then there was Stevie. Enough said. *sigh* (I wholeheartedly agree Ed)
And that was it gig wise for September. What about the releases I hear you cry. Okay, September unleashed a massive load of metal that gushed all over us (enough of this smut). They included the rather good Feast from Canadian thrash merchants Annihilator, This Savage Land from the Black Spiders, the number one H classic rock tribute Hail to the King from AX7, Dream Theater’s self-titled release, The Temperance Movement, an absolute stormer from Bristol’s Onslaught in VI and the heavy hitting Fortress from Alter Bridge. Phew. I need a tissue. Oh. And I forgot Surgical Steel by Carcass. Ouch.

October promised much but started with an evening of absolute farce as White Wizzard disappeared up their own arse at one of the last Bogiez gigs. I’ve never seen such comedy before and all hail Monument and singer Peter Ellis who rescued something from the ashes. The diatribe that followed on White Wizzard’s facebook page in the following weeks was absolute comedy gold. Good luck in rescuing this situation Jon Leon. A couple of nights later it was off to another type of Odeon to watch Through the Never, the Metallica film. In summary, the music was great; the film was a bag of hairy balls. There. Luckily order was soon restored to my galaxy as Matt and I ventured to Bristol once more (we should rent a bloody flat there for everyone to crash at the amount of time we all spend there) to the Colston Hall for the quite magnificent Steven Wilson and his band. A quite superb evening of musical entertainment with only two moments to disturb me. One was the length of the queue at the gents halfway through the set (you get the idea of the audience demographic from that) and the other was seeing Nick Beggs on bass. Yes, the Nick Beggs who I had seen with Kajagoogoo in the mid-1980s at St David’s Hall when my sister had needed an older escort (yes, that is my story and I’m sticking to it *hums ‘too shy shy, hush hush, I do I’ quietly*).  A change of scene two nights later with an evening with Jeremy Hardy providing some excellent comedy before a rare visit to the soulless hanger that is the Motorpoint Arena for the triple bill of Halestorm, Shinedown and Alter Bridge. All I’ll say is that if you are going to do six songs, don’t include a drum solo and don’t EVER try and do Dissident Aggressor as a cover. Even Slayer struggled compared to the Metal Gods. Shinedown were great fun in the Great Hall last year although I reckon that might have been influenced by the amount of beer we’d had. This time they started brightly and then bored us senseless. At one point I saw the second member of the crew weeping at a gig this year as Matt broke down when they covered Skynyrd’s Simple Man. Alter Bridge did what Alter bridge do, and they played Blackbird so I don’t care.

After a week away with work in West Wales and our inability to get tickets to see The Answer in The Thekla, I trooped along to see something very different in the form of Ozric tentacles at the Globe. Great venue and next year The Answer will play there. I’ve already got my tickets this time. The Ozrics were ace. Totally spacey and a nice change. Three nights later and my father’s day present finally arrived although I had to travel to Wolverhampton for it! A great present though at the smashing Wulfrun Hall with an evening of gothic metal; Katatonia playing Viva Emptiness in full, Lacuna Coil delivering a great set before Paradise Lost blew away my memory of their last sound plagued set in Cardiff with a 25th anniversary set that was just incredible. This was another heavy month for new releases with gems from In Solitude, Fleshgod Apocalypse, a quality release from Trivium and an absolute belter from Motorhead with Aftershock. This album has become my best buddy in the gym. Ideal for training with, laced with a bluesy feel and some of Phil Campbell’s most soulful guitar playing. You have to check this out. It made my top ten.

Into the home straight now with new releases from Satyricon and Hell catching the ear in November. However, this month was all about endurance for me with a meaty four gigs in six days in three different countries. First to Belfast to see Satyricon in majestic form at the Limelight. Frost wins my award for the scariest drummer in metal, not to mention one of the finest and this was another of my top ten gigs of the year. Two nights later I was at the Garage in London to finally catch Israel’s Orphaned Land and I wasn’t at all disappointed. An excellent night with some cracking supports on a truly multicultural bill. Roll on Friday and it was off to the O2 in Bristol (inevitably) for the Hammer Defenders of the Faith tour. Now, I went purely to see Hell and thanks to Brett and his O2 phone we got in and on the barrier to witness a mere 25 minutes of pure quality. I haven’t washed my head since Dave Bower cast the devil out (not that he did a very good job). Anyway, we retreated quickly after that and suffered as Bleed from Within did their shouty thing before my first ever viewing of Liverpool’s finest Carcass which was far more enjoyable. I’m pleased these guys will be at BOA along with DOTF headliners Amon Amarth who delivered a set the Thunder Gods would have been proud of. Finally, the week ended on a massive high with great sets at the Newport Centre from The Walking Papers, Ghost and a fabulous Alice in Chains who I felt delivered their best performance I had ever seen from them.

Annoyingly I was too slow to get tickets to see The Temperance Movement at the Globe a few nights later (although I have made a quick move to secure tickets for next year at the Great Hall) and so it wasn’t until early December that my next gigs arrived. The annual December visit from Detroit’s magnificent Electric Six to the Glee Club duly arrived along with the guaranteed hang-over the following morning (too much Guinness your honour). Straight off to London to the underworld the following night (hangover still kicking me occasionally) for a kill or cure evening with bay thrashers Death Angel who were excellent. I missed the latest visit of Triaxis and Counterhold as I was on a Tolkien trip (good it was too) before the final gig of the year. And what a way to finish. A trip to the LG Arena in Birmingham in the Sabbath mobile to see Ozzy, Tony and Geezer deliver one of the sets of the year. Stunning all round. The return trip was driven heroically by our inspiration Brett who managed to negotiate, wind, rain, hail, fire and diversion to get us home in one piece despite a lousy cold (which he also shared with me … thanks L).
So there you have it. My year in review. I’ve deliberately avoided commented on some of the deaths that affected the world of metal or some of the other topics (Randy Blythe for example) as they don’t need my comment.

As 2014 comes tearing towards us, I’m looking forward to a lot in the world of music. New releases, gigs (already a number are booked including The Eagles in May) and a bigger, better and even more prepared crew for BOA 2014 which will include the first visit of a certain female member of our gang. On top of this, a house move, a few short holidays and the constant uncertainty in the workplace will ensure life is never dull.

Thanks for reading – A happy new year to you all.

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