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Sunday 27 April 2014

Reviews: Triptykon, Conan, Katatonia (Review By Paul)

Triptykon – Melana Chasmata (Century Media)

The follow-up to 2010’s Eparistera Daimones from Thomas Gabriel Warrior’s Swiss extreme metal outfit is an absolutely stunning piece of work and already in the running for album of the year in my book which is high praise indeed when you consider that both Anathema and Opeth have released scheduled shortly.
Opening track Tree of Suffering Souls begins at a blistering pace with huge drums and ferociously driven guitars, accompanied Warrior’s trademark gruff vocals. The intense opening lasts a full four minutes before the tempo slows slightly albeit with a continuing power that few bands can achieve. The track is inspired by French artist Jacques Callot series Les Miseres et Les Malheurs de la Guerre (The Miseries and Misfortunes of War ). It is instantly recognisable as a work of the former Celtic Frost and HellHammer man, with the subject matter in Callot’s work depicting the destruction unleashed on civilians during the Thirty Years' War; with the tuned down guitars and changing time signatures combined with Warrior’s haunting lyrics screaming “I am your lie” through the track. Clocking in at close to eight minutes, Tree of Suffering Souls provides you with all the clues you need for the rest of this album. If you like your music to talk about sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll then walk on by. This isn’t for you.
Boleskine House, track number two is a song that Warrior notes in his sleeve notes that he has carried with him since his Celtic Frost days. Both brutal and beautiful, this is possibly the track of the album. Boleskine House was of course the residence of Aleister Crowley, located on the shores of Loch Ness. The track has some stunning musicianship on it, driving rhythm from bassist Vanja Slajh, and some very eerie guitar work from Warrior and V. Santura. However, the haunting vocals of Simone Vollenweider combined with Warrior’s delivery and Santura’s backing vocals converge to provide the most melancholic track on the album. Altar of Deceit follows, and whilst it is flippant to refer to any of Triptykon’s work as straightforward this one is about as trademark as they come. Huge slabs of riffage, baleful vocals and some intricate guitar work combine to provide a slower but still epically heavy track. Next up is Breathing, which was the track premiered prior to Melana Chasmata’s release and this is a monster of track. Opening with some quite massive doomful riffs the track then hits you with freight train speed before continuing to vary in both pace and delivery with some huge hooks which will incite the pit at Solus in December. The famous “ooh” delivery from Warrior returns here before an all-out rampage in true death metal style towards the end of the track. An absolute favourite with blistering drumming from Norman Lonhard.
Aurorae is probably the most melodic track on Melana Chasmata, with massive gothic atmospherics throughout. It builds steadily, with a wall of guitar and melancholic vocals. Another track that Warrior revealed has been in embryonic state since the Monotheist days of Celtic Frost. Demon Pact follows with a slightly slower tempo but remaining crushingly heavy. In The Sleep of Death is pure Celtic Frost with Warrior’s drawn out vocals and some ominous guitar work. Once again a track that builds throughout with mighty drumming before returning to an eerie crescendo. Ironically, given the extreme metal badge that Triptykon are labelled with, this track is a homage to Emily Bronte and the title refers to the last line of her poem Sleep Brings No Joy To Me. The music in this track is wholly Santura’s and damn fine it is. Penultimate track Black Snow is an epic 13 minute piece initially penned by Warrior in, as you would expect, a snow covered clearing in a forest in Norway in December 2008. Another majestic track, with swirling guitars and pounding rhythms, Black Snow snakes its way around you, demonic lyrics creating an image of impending doom. Album closer Waiting is the second track on the album to feature the delicate voice of Simone Vollenweider. Another track with a hugely gothic feel, it features enormous riffs followed by intricate and elegant passages with Vollenweider’s delivery almost bewitching. A superb closing track to one of the most extraordinary albums ever written. As always, the art work in the album is by H. R. Giger, who Warrior has been associated with for over 30 years. The package is superb. This is absolutely stunning in every aspect. 10/10

Conan – Blood Eagle (Naplam)

Liverpool doom outfit’s latest release Blood Eagle came out a couple of months ago so apologies for the tardiness of the review. The Liverpool three piece are about as heavy as you can get, huge slabs of slow riffs and chanting vocals which oozes Sabbath and Electric Wizard throughout. Listening to this album is like repeatedly hitting your head on a brick wall, but in a good way. Opener Crown of Talons is ten minutes of hammering doom; enough to split your skull. You may not want to listen to this in a confined space as there is a strong chance that your cranium might fracture. Jon Davis on guitar and vocals, Phil Coumbe on bass and vocals and Paul O’Neil on drums combine to provide an immense sound, crushing all who dare to get in their way. There is no subtlety to this release. Total Conquest continues where Crown of Talons finishes, with more grindingly heavy guitar and bass with smashing drums and the same soaring voices. Synchronised changes are evident throughout, as Conan plough on like an out of control steam roller. Whatever you do, don't listen to this bad boy with a hangover. If you need any further description of what Conan sound like then merge High of Fire with The Sword and then get your best mate to hit you over the head with a sledgehammer. Yeah, that'll do it. Foehammer actually ramps up the pace for a bit but doesn't drop the pounding at all and continues to provide an absolute aural assault. And it doesn't stop for another 22 minutes as the remainder of the album continues in a similar vein. If you want your metal as heavy as a battleship then this is for you. Once again, if you want Steel Panther, you'd better keep on walking. In my view it blows every cobweb away, and whilst it can be a little repetitive, there can be no doubting that this is one of the heaviest releases of the year. 7/10

Katatonia – Kocytean (Peaceville Records)

A limited edition release for Record Store Day this is a six track EP from the Swedish band Katatonia. As melancholic a band as there can be, Katatonia’s sound has evolved substantially from their early death metal days into one that is much more intricate and delicate, whilst still retaining a sadness which continues to provide the themes that run through their music. This release groups together some rare b-sides and opens with Unfurl, a delicious piece which was originally released as a b-side to July and Soil’s Song in 2006 that allows Jonas Renkse centre stage. Sold Heart, a b-side to the Longest Year from 2009’s Night is the New Day features some intricate guitar work from Anders Nystrom and the usual time changes that one has come to expect from Katatonia. Ashen is a slightly more up-tempo track and is again from the Night is the New Day era, as you can tell from first listen. The EP also contains two tracks from the extended versions of their last album, Dead End Kings, Second and The Act of Darkening, both delivered in similar vein with a number of time changes, Renkse’s voice dominant without being overpowering and the musicianship elegant and fragile at times. Code Against the Code from 2006’s Deliberation EP is a beautiful track, and again highlights Nystrom and then guitarist Fredrick Norrman’s excellent fretwork. Whilst there is nothing new here for dedicated fans of the band, it is a tidy addition to an impressive catalogue of work. It will be interesting to see how the band’s direction continues to develop with the recent loss of guitarist Per Eriksson and drummer Daniel Liljekvist. 7/10

Saturday 26 April 2014

Reviews: Edguy, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Tuomas Holopainen

Edguy: Space Police: Defenders Of The Crown (Nuclear Blast)

Tobias Sammet is a man of two musical minds, one being the ott symphonic Avantasia project on which he is the leader of a massive band of musicians and singers and the other is his more straight up rock/metal band Edguy which he started at 14. The oddly titled Space Police: Defenders Of The Crown is Edguy's 10th album and according to the ever humble Tobias it's their best work, now most will think that Hellfire Club is their best album, personally I think the trifecta of Hellfire Club, Rocket Ride and Age Of The Joker are three of their best, would Space Police be up to Sammet's opinion of it? Yes it is in a few ways, the old school power metal is there from the opening salvo of Sabre & Torch which has the Teutonic fury of their early see (Mandrake and Hellfire Club) work as well as some massive backing choruses. This leads into the title track(s) first of which is the catchy, melodic, hard rock grunt of Space Police which is straight off the Rocket Ride album and has a Hawkwind style synth in the middle of the song which adds to the spacey feel to the song before the rampaging Defenders Of The Crown has all the hallmarks of a Maiden classic, which has a galloping rhythm section from Felix Bohnke (drums) and Tobias 'Eggi' Exxel (bass), some killer guitar solos from Dirk Sauer and Jens Ludwig and you get Tobi's awesome vocals throughout. The eclectic nature of the album continues on Love Tyger which is so 80's it actually hurts, think Reckless Love with more spandex, then comes the cover, a bit of Germanic genius in the shape of rock cover of Rock Me Amadeus, which is the first song they have done in German. So the humour and irreverence is still here in spades, the metal comes with The Realms Of Baba Yaga and Shadow Eaters the ballads come with Do Me Like A Caveman and mega ballad Alone In Myself. The album ends with the 8 minute plus epic The Eternal Wayfarer (The bonus tracks on the special edition are the Queen-like England which is Tobi's anglophilia in full swing and the Def Leppard pastiche Aychim In Hysteria). This is possibly the definitive Edguy album bringing everything from their back catalogue together in one place, yes Tobi may think it's the best but by listening to it I have to agree with him. 9/10

Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell: Check 'Em Before You Wreck 'Em (Rise Above)

The grease returns, yep denim clad hairy herberts Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell are back! Packing more fuzzy, filthy, furious riffage with a lot of LSD inspired psychedelia. With a sound harking back to Sir Lord Baltimore, Dust, MC5, AC/DC, Budgie and early Quo boogie ASCS have been gaining more acclaim since the release of their debut album, primarily through their incendiary live showings (where this kind of music is at its best). Still with all the crackle and pop (and yes snap) of old 70's vinyl ASCS kick off with the bass heavy, punk riffage immediacy of Do It Now which immediately shows the talent, Louis Comfort-Wiggett's thumping bass, Bill Darlington's primal drums and Johnny Gorilla's flanged and fuzzy guitars are combined with his howls to create some serious proto-metal. The BOC-like (and brilliantly named) 2 Tonne Fuckboot continues things in strong style with its heavyweight riffage before the trippy, Captain Merryweather provides and 8 minute, narcotic fuelled freak out, replete with some eastern flavour that wouldn't be out of place on Ravi Shankar's discography. Another riotous slab of molten metal from ASCS showing that no matter how much our music evolves there is always a place for ballsy, brash, meat and two veg rumbling metal. Another good album of animalistic rock with tracks like Shake Your Head, the voodoo bass heaviness of Don't Hear It...Fear It! and Bulletproof (which explodes into a big ending solo) and the rapid fire spit and sawdust of The Thicker The Better. Another good album from ASCS which takes you back to the smoke filled clubs of yesteryear with a one fist in the air and a bottle of Newkey Brown in the other. 7/10

Tuomas Holopainen: The Life And Times Of Scrooge (Nuclear Blast)

Tuomas Holopainen is the keyboardist and leader of symphonic metal band Nightwish; he is key to their stirring symphonic sound and has always aimed at producing a more cinematic feel to their music (see Imaginarium). Finally his dream has been realised with his first solo album, the album neglects the metal crunch of his day job and focuses solely on the orchestral/cinematic part of his musical output. The Life And Times Of Scrooge is not based on the Dickensian redemption story but instead the Disney adventurer/tycoon/multiplujillionaire Scrooge McDuck, an odd storyline for an album yes but for anyone that has read the comic novelisation it full of drama and adventure all of which is suitable fodder for a concept album. Things start off well with opening narration of native Scot Alan Reid before the Celtic flavoured Glasgow 1877 kicks in fuelled by the London Philharmonic orchestra and the Uilleann Pipes and low whistles of Troy Donockley (ex-Mostly Autumn, current Nightwish), the album is mainly instrumental with the countrified Into The West coming next full of Holopainen's saloon style piano and a lot of banjo to really put the point across, Duel & Cloudscapes is the song most similar to Holopainen's day job with its epic feel and big organs lending it similarities to Hans Zimmer at his most overblown. The story has very few vocal parts with the Metro Voices providing the choral accompaniments to the orchestral soundtrack, Tony Kakko appears on Cold Heart Of Klondike and with Johanna Kurkela (who provides a stunning performance on A Lifetime Of Adventure) and Johanna Iivanainen being the voice of McDuck's secret love and Scrooge's mother respectively before the final track features Reid's lilting singing voice accompanied by just an acoustic guitar ending things in a reserved but emotional style. No this is does not fall under the metal banner but it is an inspired, excellently played, stirring soundtrack based on what is actually quite an enthralling story. Nightwish need to look out as Holopainen will definitely be on many people's lists for film scores after this, an excellent album that while not being anything like the keyboard maestros day job it will still appeal to anyone that loves great music! 8/10

Friday 18 April 2014

Reviews: V/A Dio Tribute, Massacre, Lacuna Coil (Reviews By Paul)

Ronnie James Dio – This is Your Life

Okay, I'm going to get the following off my chest straight away.
This is a stonking album which highlights the huge variation in RJD’s work through the years.
It is for a good cause – The Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund
Ronnie James Dio was an iconic figure in the world of metal. I had the pleasure of seeing him live several times, most notably on the Holy Diver and The Last in Line tours in the 1980s as well as with Butler, Iommi and Appice in Heaven & Hell and he never disappointed. However, and I await the backlash here, for a proportion of his career he produced some absolute guff and several of the latter versions of Dio struggled to sell out smallish venues like the 02 Academy in Bristol. The constant adulation in death of a man who was shunned by much of the metal community whilst alive disturbs me. There. I said it.
Now onto the album.
As I said, this is a storming album with covers of classics from RJD’s time with Rainbow, Sabbath and Dio featuring a veritable smorgasbord of the metal world’s highest profile stars. This, combined with several combinations of former Dio members makes it an album which you cannot fail to sing along to whilst raising your horns in salute.
Anthrax kick proceedings off with one of Sabbath Mark II’s finest tracks, the power house of Neon Nights. Joey Belladonna does a fine job in matching RJD’s vocal range, and to be fair is one of only a handful of singers around who could do so today. After their butchering of Rush’s Anthem, Anthrax have redeemed themselves here. The Last In Line is next, skilfully delivered by that most metal of duos, Tenacious D who inject their own humour and quality on a Dio classic. This is one of the highlights of the album. The same cannot be said of the Ronnie Rising Medley which pops up later from Metallica. This does absolutely nothing apart from butcher four Rainbow classics. Why they couldn't have just picked one, such as their thrash version of Kill The King, is beyond me.
Further proof, if any was needed, that Sabbath remained a force to be reckoned with after Ozzy is demonstrated in the title track from the second album with RJD, the barnstorming The Mob Rules, with the almighty riff ably delivered by the Adrenaline Mob. Back to the Dio era for Rainbow In The Dark with a stunning vocal performance from Corey Taylor, ably supported by Stone Sour colleague Ray Mayorga and Satchel from Steel Panther amongst others. This is excellent stuff. The same cannot be said of Halestorm’s cover of Straight Through The Heart, which is formulaic, lethargic and adds nothing to the original. Startstruck, one of Ritchie Blackmore’s finest is ably covered by Motorhead and the powerhouse vocals of Biff Byford, with the Saxon frontman reminding you that he still has a fine set of pipes. A delicate and delicious version of Rainbow’s The Temple of the King by Scorpions. Klaus Meine adding his unique vocal delivery to by another of the Blackmore and Dio era compositions. The Germanic theme continues with the first lady of metal, the lovely Doro delivering a striking cover of Egypt (The Chains are On) in her own style before the much praised KSE version of Holy Diver blasts into view. A couple of decent collaborations follow with members of Dio’s band combining with Glenn Hughes on Catch The Rainbow followed by I with original Dio bassist Jimmy Bain combining with Lynch Mob’s Oni Logan and Rowan Robertson. What strikes you here is that no-one can match the Iron Man, Tony Iommi, for pure unadulterated evil riffage. Talking of metal gods, the unmistakable vocals of THE METAL GOD Rob Halford, combined with even more the talent of Vinnie Appice and former Whitesnake and Dio guitarist Doug Aldrich amongst others give another Rainbow classic, Man On The Silver Mountain the Southern treatment. Halford’s vocals aren't what they used to be and he plays it clever here, maintaining a much lower level of pitch than he is renowned for. It works. The album closes with two contrasting tracks. Firstly This Is Your Life, a haunting piece which originally appeared on Angry Machines in 1996. Dio in full flow demonstrating his quality accompanied by Scott Warren on piano. My version finishes with a really powerful cover of Buried Alive from Dehumaniser by Hatebreed’s Jamie Jasta’s solo band Jasta.
Despite my irritations, overall this is an astoundingly good album, which highlights just how many top class songs RJD touched with his magic over the years, particularly with Blackmore, Iommi and Butler alongside him. It’s “Bloody good”, as the great man often said. 9/10

Massacre – Back from the Beyond

American legends Massacre return after two decades with a massive slab of in your face Death Metal and boy does this melt your face off from the start. Being an old fart of many years in age, I can vaguely remember the name of Massacre from the mid 80s when thrash began to mutate into the Death genre. I admit I wouldn't have been able to have named any of their stuff. However, this is a band steeped in tradition with original guitarist Rick Rozz playing on the Death album Leprosy. Members of various incarnations of Massacre have appeared with Obituary, Kreator and Whiplash in addition to Death.
The latest line up emerged in 2011 and Back From The Beyond is result, a cheeky play on words given that their debut album way back in 1987 was named From Beyond. The album opens with the atmospheric intro The Ancient Ones before Massacre launch head long into opener As We Wait To Die. As a statement of intent it’s pretty powerful stuff. Massive bone crunching riffs, thunderous drumming in the Lombardo/Adler camp and the guttural growl of Ed Webb absolutely spot on. However, unlike much of the Death metal camp, Webb’s delivery is such that you can actually distinguish much of what he is growling about. He has more than a touch of Randy Blythe in his style which in my book can only be a good thing.
Ascension of the Deceased follows and again is full force aggression. However, there is a massive groove running through all of their tracks, most noticeably on Succumb to Rapture which really has a huge Lamb of God feel about it. Whilst there is an element of the formulaic about Massacre, I have to say that this album absolutely bloody rules. Every track powers along with Shield of the Son having a Testament tinge. Brutal break downs hammer at you from every angle and every time you manage to get back to your feet another slab of brutality slams you down on your back again. Webb’s vocals impress throughout with the powerhouse back line of founder and bassist Terry Butler and Mike Mazzonetto’s drumming pummelling at every opportunity. Rozz’s guitar work is superb, slicing solos at every opportunity. Things speed right up Slayer style on The Evil Within and before you know it album closer and possibly best track Honour the Fallen ensures that you are left totally breathless but strangely desiring of more.  If you like a bit of heavily groove laden death metal combined with a dash of Slayer and bay area thrash, then make sure you get a slice of this album at the earliest opportunity. If you can get to Radfest on 3 May in Builth Wells you’ll have the opportunity to see these guys destroy. I’m gutted I’m gigging elsewhere that night. Totally recommended. 9/10

Lacuna Coil – Broken Crown Halo

The seventh long player from Italian outfit Lacuna Coil is a bit tasty for fans of the band. However, if you aren't, then this isn't going to change your opinion one iota. Following on from their 2012 release Dark Adrenaline which I thought was decent enough, Broken Crown Halo opens with the usual power and pomp that you’ve come to expect from Lacuna Coil in the shape of Nothing Stands In Our Way. Stomping guitars laced with subtle keys and the delicious voice of Cristina Scabbia ably supported by the gruff vocals of Andrea Ferro. The tempo picks up for second track Zombies which allows Ferro to open up a bit; unfortunately Scabbia’s vocals are better and they really help to propel the song along. This is the last album to feature Cristiano "Pizza" Migliore and Cristiano 'CriZ' Mozzati, both long time members who had been with the band since 1998. It’s a fitting enough epitaph for both of them, with Mozzati’s drums given a solid level in the mix and Migliore’s guitar complementing other axeman Marco "Maus" Biazzi.
For me the appeal of Lacuna Coil (yes, there is something apart from Scabbia) is the songwriting of main composer, bassist and keyboard player Marco Coti Zelati, which combines catchy melodic elements with some much heavier passages. This is especially noticeable on tracks such as Victims, where the slower quieter tempo allows Scabbia’s softer vocals to contrast with a heavier delivery to support Ferro’s growling. Die & Rise is another fine example of Lacuna Coil at their best; hooks galore and a thumping beat driving the song along. Ferro takes the lead on this one and it works; Scabbia taking a back seat but adding harmonies to the chorus. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can make is that as soon as you hear this album you know that it is Lacuna Coil. Obviously the distinctive vocals of the Scabbia/Ferro combination are the main clue but I also think the band have developed a distinctive sound. As well as the melodic metal they also do a good bit of power ballad style as demonstrated in the album closer One Cold Day. This is another solid album from a fine band who are always good live. Whether it will push them any further forward is debatable, but I for one always enjoy their output and Broken Crown Halo is no exception. 8/10

Thursday 17 April 2014

Out Of The Beyond 32

Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock: Bridge The Gap (2013)

Michael Schenker is a name that will fill certain readers hearts with glee, the six stringer of UFO, The Scorpions and his own Michael Schenker Group, he created his own special style that has followed him throughout his turbulent career. So when he returned with the Temple Of Rock, his new project there was a lot of interest, however the first album really didn't have that spark that Schenker is known for. However on Bridge The Gap he has done what the namesake says this is album that links MSG and his early years, full of hard rock and classic metal anthems, Schenker is back to his best playing with the dexterity he has always shown cranking out some killer riffs and sublime solos. On this album he is backed by the rhythm section of former Scorpions Francis Buchholz plucking the bass and the madman Herman 'Ze German' Rarebell on drums (the first time the three have appeared on a record since Lovedrive) on the guitar front he has Wayne Findlay helping on 7-String guitar and keyboards to flesh out the sound, finally he has the adaptive vocals of Doogie White who is doing his best Biff Byford on this album. Things kick off with the almost Into The Arena style intro to Neptune Rising before the heavy riffage of Where The Wild Winds Blow kicks in in true MSG style. This is an album that covers all of Schenker's career with the UFO style of Horizons to the Celtic flavoured Lord Of The Lost And Lonely which has some amazing Schenker solos. This is a far superior album to the first Temple Of Rock record the songs are bigger, better, badder and Schenker is on top form as are his backing band, with these songs and his back catalogue he makes for an exciting liev prospect and also a damn good album too. 8/10      

Armory: Empyrean Realms (2013)

Look at their name, look at the album title. Now guess the genre? If you said European Power Metal you'd be half right. Armory are Yanks that stand in the shadow of Manowar and emerge with more symphonic bluster than you could handle. This is almost Rhapsody-like if they were fronted by Tobias Sammet, from the off Eternal Mind starts things with in fine style with the amazing dual guitars of Joe Kurland and Chad Fisher bringing some huge riffs, melodies and solos who work in tandem with keyboardist Peter Rutcho to provide some amazing melodies rich with layer upon layer of riffs and melodies all of which are pure European power metal. The drumming of Joe Kurland (on the album, Tom Vieira in live) is also immense full of blast beats and drive all the songs along when coupled with the galloping fingerstyle bass of Thomas Preziosi see the amazing rhythm of the epic Dreamstate which has Stratovarius written all over it. This is a great album that blends progressive/power metal with the awesome vocals of Adam Kurland who sounds so much like Tobias Sammet it's uncanny, especially on Beyond The Horizon which has the hard rock stomp of Edguy before it changes tempo and pulls out some killer solos. Armory are American yes but they have a clearly European sound with lots of melodic solos, huge keys, powerful drums and bass topped with some top class vocals, this is a band doing it themselves and doing it right. The songs are complex, well written, expertly performed and yes it is technical but it is not ridiculous like Dragonforce the solos last just long enough to entice and cast a spell without outstaying their welcome, the production too is excellent crisp, clear and bright. An absolute treat for power metal fans, I urge you to find this album and buy it, it is fantastic!! 10/10

Diamond Plate: Generation Why? (2011) & Pulse (2013)

Diamond Plate are thrash metal band from Illinois, they have two album both of which I am going to review here. First up is Generation Why? which is their debut full length and starts out well with some serious thrash riffage on the title track and Pull The Trigger. The guitars of Mario Cianci and Konrad Kupiec are awesome with lightning fast riffage and razor sharp solos galore on all eleven tracks, the drums of founder member Jim Nicademus are also great with blast beats galore throughout. The bands major downfall are the vocals of Jon Macak whose death metal like delivery (eg grunts and screams) are not good and detract a bit from every song, the instrumental song More Than Words is one of the better tracks along with Casualty Of War and the eight minute plus Empire Tomorrow. So for a debut this is strong on the instrumental front but is let down a lot by the vocals. 5/10
Next is their sophomore album Pulse which is a marked improvement on the debut, this could be due to the wholesale line up change leaving just Kupiec and Nicademus as the only two originals left from the first album. This album kicks off with the faded in intro of Walking Backwards which shows that the band still have the same strong musicianship, however the major improvement is with bassist/vocalist Matt Ares who has a much better voice than his predecessor somewhere between Mille Petrozza and James Hetfield meaning he has a snarl on the groove infected All Of It but can also croon on the big, ballsy Rainmaker. A much better album than the debut showing the need of a good vocalist! 7/10 

Tuesday 15 April 2014

The View From The Back Of The Room: Panic Room

Panic Room & Matt Cook: The Globe, Cardiff

So progressive rockers Panic Room once again grace The Globe for their strong, emotionally charged prog rock that brings in jazz, folk, rock and also some pop to great style. First though was Matt Cook who took to the stage to no real commotion but proceeded to start his set to the small crowd.

Matt Cook

Troubadour Matt Cook wields a Gibson Firebird and as such can make many guitar sounds ranging from acoustic to heavy rock. He also uses a looper device to create his backing band much like David Ford. He opened with one of his own compositions a driving indie rock song on which Matt showed both his guitar prowess and his strong vocals, so far so good but what really won over the crowd and offset the slower more melancholic songs that Cook plays was his razor sharp humor, he introduced himself first as Phil Collins (luckily it was a joke) before promising a massive finale to the set. As I said his guitar playing was excellent and his vocals were too especially on super ballad Letting Go. As this was a showcase he filled his set with his own songs (available at the back for £5!) and punctuated by covers the main one being Fast Car by Tracy Chapman which was a great cover done with true style. The humor kept coming and I for one found him very funny with his between song banter. Throughout his set Cook took us through his Counting Crows like indie rock filled with soul before after some more strong solo tracks. The promised and greatly hyped ending came in the shape of Avicii's Wake Me Up which evolved into him screaming adverts (Bodyform and Calgon being the two major ones) and then ended with Save Tonight by Eagle Eye Cherry. Yes the ending was spectacular and Cook was very well received, a great showcase for the man and his talent, his own songs are good but after checking his website (the excellently named http://www.thatguywesawlastnight.com) he's also available for parties, weddings, bar mitzah's (probably) and anything where live music is required. Well worth seeking out and watching due to his excellent performance and true stand up style delivery of between song banter. 9/10

Panic Room

With the room full of 'Roomies' already warmed up by Mr Cook, the headliners had very little to do to win over the crowd so without further ado they came on to the stage and ploughed straight into the excellent Into Temptation which immediately showcased the band working at full power. Founder Jonathan Edwards drove everything along with his amazing all encompassing keys and synths, they are the main component of every track and they weave a musical web throughout the night, he is accompanied by the technical jazz style guitar playing of Adam O'Sullivan (who showcased his skills on second song Velocity which has a driving guitar rhythm), not be ignored are the full fat, fingerstyle bass work (and chief cheerleading) of Yatim Halimi and the heavyweight drumming of Gavin Griffiths who showed their mettle on Picking Up Knives and the carnivalesque I Am The Cat. Last but by no means least we have vocalist/guitarist/flautist Anne-Marie Helder whose voice is astoundingly good, although she is no slouch on the guitar or flute either backing Sullivan on the guitars on the heavier tracks. Starting a set with three new songs is a brave move but when your latest album is as good as Incarnate then I for one wasn't complaining, plus the real 'Roomies' knew all the words to the new songs anyway. The set was a mix of old and new with the slinky sounds of Chameleon, the folksy whimsy of I Wonder What's Keeping My True Love and the emotional power of Picking Up Knives all coming from the bands first three albums. Back again into Incarnate with the excellent Waterfalls which is an excellent live song and was followed by the old school I Am The Cat on which Helder prowled the stage, so far the band had weaved their magic through a myriad of songs each one different to the last meaning that the band were never dull, however sound goblins (or possibly over enthusiasm on Anne-Marie's part) meant a small gap in the set as the mic had to be fixed, this didn't pose a problem to the band who embarked on a jazz odyssey interlude to fill the time before descending once again into Incarnate with All That We Are, Nothing New, the super strong title track and Dust ending the main set in terrific style! Off stage for a small turn around and then back out for the encore which started off with a small two song acoustic set of Screens and Song For Tomorrow before plugging in for the final two songs of Close The Door and Promises a majestic set from the prog rockers who play mature, emotionally charged, progressive rock. Catch them if you can!! 9/10       

Thursday 10 April 2014

Reviews: Black Label Society, Band Of Skulls, Foxy Shazam

Black Label Society: Catacombs Of The Black Vatican (Mascot Records)

So the rock, the beard and of course the pinched harmonics are back (see Heart Of Darkness) on BLC's ninth release. Lead Viking Zakk Wylde found his acoustic catharsis on the Unblackened all acoustic release so this means that Catacombs Of The Black Vatican is left to be a full on heavy metal from the stomping opening of Fields Of Forgiveness which is a slow moving bruiser and has Wylde's trademark vocoder and leads into In My Dying Time (not a Zeppelin cover) and features some sublime soloing from Wylde, the metal ploughs on with Believe which makes for a killer opening trifecta showing that even sans booze Zakk is still wild! However as usual Zakk is not by himself on this record he is backed by John DeServio on bass and Chad Szeliga who aide Zakk's guitar histrionics, the album is full of heavy metal anthems that BLS do so well but they are punctuated four acoustic country-like songs the best of which is Angel Of Mercy which is a massive ballad in the shape of In This River closely followed by Shades Of Grey (how many is not given) which feels a lot like Prince with it's almost swing backing and explosive guitar solo from nowhere. This is another great album from Zakk and co the metal is back but as usual Zakk is not afraid to show his sensitive side but can still rock like buggery for the most part! 7/10     

Band Of Skulls: Himalayan (Electric Blues Records)

Southampton's Band Of Skulls are a bit of an enigma hailing from southern Britain, they have always sounded like they come from the southernmost reaches of the USA with their sludgy, grungy, fuzzy, garage rock that has some big drums from Matt Hayward, some rumbling bass of Emma Richardson driving the majority of the rhythm and the melodic and riff heavy guitar of Russell Marsden. Now Band Of Skulls have always had an appeal to me mainly due to their dual vocals from Marsden and Richardson who share vocals duties giving their albums a very unique sound, Marsden has the midrange blues delivery of Jack White/Dan Auerbach from of The Black keys (a band they share a lot of similarities with) and Richardson has the smoky, soulful voice of Anna Calvi, both of their vocals meld well together to provide some excellent tracks. So three albums into their career do these down and dirty Brits still have what it takes, the answer is yes from the pulsating opening of Asleep At The Wheel, through the blues boogie of Hoochie Coochie, the haunting ballad of Cold Sweat and the almost U2 like Nightmares with its euphoric guitar. Band Of Skulls have always mixed many elements to their sound and this album is no exception, with fuzzy garage rock, through alternative rock/indie rock; see the Arctic Monkeys sounding Brothers And Sisters and even some killer blues-rock on the I Guess I Know You Fairly Well which has some serious soloing from Marsden. the latter part of the album is where the band really stretch their musical muscle on the brooding western feel too I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead And One Dying and the Latin flavoured Toreador on which Richardson gives a simmering, sexually aggressive performance much like Anna Calvi who I've already likened her too. This is another great album in Band Of Skulls' repertoire and they remain somewhat of a special band in my heart with their excellent songwriting and musicianship combining to create another superb album. 8/10   

Foxy Shazam: Gonzo (Self-Released)

Seemingly out of nowhere Foxy Shazam drop their fifth album and the band that are Queen's heir (no pun intended) apparent and once again its filled with hard, glam, funk rock explosion full of madness, mirth and a lot of sexy, tongue in cheek music that is part Queen (obviously), part The Darkness with some Zappa thrown in to really throw you off the scent. Yes this a musical menagerie carries on the spirit of their previous albums, with Gonzo having the slow almost New Orleans blues style which has a huge amount Alex Nauth's horn, who has much more of a presence on this album than on previous record The Church Of Rock & Roll, it is followed by the synth filled Poem Pathetic which has Sky White's tinkling all over it before the segue into the fuzzy glam rock of Brutal Truth. This album is a bit more pop and also more scatter gun than previous works relying more on slower songs than the big ballsy rock songs if previous records possibly why it is titled Gonzo. I said earlier that Foxy Shazam were cut from the same cloth as Queen and as Queen were known for their experimentation I'm not going to say that this a bad album but it has a wider ranging style most of which is not rock but more soul and pop meaning the band have an almost ADHD style of musicianship which ends with the funk rock Zeppelin of Story Told. With nine tracks this album is a bit short but anymore tracks would ruin the atmosphere. Once again Eric Nally's vocals are as wide as his songwriting and Foxy Shazam have added another good album to their expanding discography. 7/10

Monday 7 April 2014

Reviews: Lost Society, Kayser, Lord Symphony,

Lost Society: Terror Hungry (Nuclear Blast)

So last year young Finns Lost Society unleashed some quality thrashing for world on their debut album Fast.Loud.Death that record was full of speedy high tongue in cheek thrash full of songs about drinking, thrashing and more drinking harking back to the early days of Exodus and Anthrax as well as the new blood of Municipal Waste. Now Terror Hungry shows the band growing up (a little bit) and stretching their metal muscles a lot more with some riffs Jeff Waters would be proud of. Game Over still harks back to the debut with its riotous gang shout vocals and choppy guitar playing. The band have channelled their inner Megadeth and Annihilator on this album with some lightning guitarwork from Samy Elbanna and Arttu Lesonen who are ably backed by the blast beats of Ossi Paananen providing some skull rattling, fist pumping, pit starting thrash. No it's not big or clever as the lyrical content has gotten more adult but as with the debut there is still time for the occasional track based on drinking and partying see Overdosed Brain and Brewtal Awakening for your dose of silly alcho-fuelled metal. No this is not the reinvention of the wheel but it's not trying to be it's an album full of great thrash rich with razor sharp riffs, precision solos and the prerequisite amount of silliness for any thrash band. A good second shot! 7/10

Kayser: Read Your Enemy (Scarlet Records) (Review By Nick)

Looking for more unrelenting German thrash to add to your life but think you may have tapped the well dry? In that case might I suggest Kayser? Ok, they’re not German, but their music damn sure sounds like it! Hailing from Sweden the gents from Kayser present their brand of Swedish thrash in style with this offering. The fourth album Read Your Enemy is a prime example of what thrash should be, combining harsh vocals from the machine Spice, controversial lyrics with a barrel full of heavy throbbing riffs. From Bark And Bow to I’ll Deny You the albums pace is set and does not relent. Swaney and Jokke work hard in the background providing deep, heavy rumbling riffs that Spice (original vocalist of Spiritual Beggars) accepts with an open hand to lay down a brand of vocals not dissimilar to that of Beholder’s Simon Hall; Edgy, honest and emotion filled. As Dreams Bent Backwards is let loose the albums pace continues, but a more melodic tone is set. Jokke treats us to a few well placed solo’s while Spices vocals soften somewhat. Don't let this fool you though as Bob Rubens drums continue to hammer away at your ears throughout while the album soon returns to its original course with Read Your Enemy all the way through to Where I Belong. Read Your Enemy opens with a thunderstorm of a riff that is powerful enough to break your speakers. If you haven't picked up the theme yet, Kayser are loud and hey are heavy! Moving into the final part of the album the melodic undertone returns to the tracks. He Knows Your Secrets all the way to Roll The Dice have a great way of offering a soothing solo to let your guard down before beating you back in the face with more Kayser style riffage. Roll The Dice particularly has a brutal breakdown that will have you bent over your air guitars swooshing your real or imaginary hair side to side. Fake Rose is how Kayser chose to leave us; more of the same here but somehow stepped up a notch or two! Filled with everything this album has given us throughout. Fake Rose is the accumulation of what Kayser are all about: hard hitting relentless German esc thrash metal with a twist… a Swedish twist. Perhaps Sweden is more than Black metal band Sabaton after all? Only one criticism I have to tender here; Read Your Enemy is a twelve track brick of an album. I know there are longer albums out there, but being bombarded with this stuff for just under an hour with no let up was starting to become a little bit of work. However, if you're looking for straight up Testament like thrash meets Beholder attitude, I give you Kayser… 8/10

Lord Symphony: The Lord’s Wisdom (X-Production Records) (Review By Nick)

Keyboards, power solos, keyboards, drums and more keyboards I hear you shout? You must be referring to Lord Symphony… more to the point their latest album The Lord’s Wisdom. When the opening track of an album is a prelude there are two things that you can be sure of; there will be operatic backing vocals and you can be damn sure there will be songs as long as the quests they will inevitably to be describing. As the first full track Gate Of Lord kicked in I was truly taken aback by the musical masterpiece I was presented with. Keyboards, guitars, strings, operatic chants and majestic drums, for the first three minutes I was thinking the likes of Ayreon, Trans Siberian Orchestra and Rhapsody have missed a trick! That was until everything went horribly wrong. The vocals of Arif Hartoyo entered the equation and my borderline sexual feelings quickly diminished. Sounding like a very very poor Klaus Meine, Hartoyo simply cannot sing. Now I'm not one to unleash opinions like this on a whim and I feel bad saying this, truly I do, nut this is ultimately my opinion. To make things worse, every time Hartoyo enters a track the drums seem to be exponentially increased hiding the greatness of all the musicians but inexplicably not the vocals. Nevertheless I carried on listening hoping for a vocal improvement that alas did not come. Throughout the entire twelve-track album the band wow’d and astounded me with what can only be described as epic instrumentals and showcases of brilliant talent. Beautiful symphonic strings, majestic drums, sharp crisp guitar solos, memorizing keyboard support and obligatory yet haunting operatic backing vocals; but every time any kind of a head or crescendo was reached… it all came crashing down due to the earlier mentioned problems. For me this is nearly impossible to review as I feel it almost unfair to assign a score. Give me a Lord Symphony with a better vocalist or even presented simply as an instrumental project the potential could be endless. However as they are I fear they will really struggle to lift off. Call me shallow but the vocals and some of the production in this album is a mountain I tried to climb but couldn't get over and this truthfully disappoints me as there is something truly amazing here that may see the true light of day. 4/10

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Reviews: Sonata Arctica, Delain, Massive

Sonata Arctica: Pariah's Child (Nuclear Blast)

Finland's premier power metal maestros' eighth album is a return to their early roots, this change in style was first alluded to on their last album Stones Grow Her Name. where as that album was the sound of a band coming out of their experimental stage and reverting to type, Pariah's Child is the sound of a band actively rediscovering their youth by going back to the ramped up, keyboard fuelled, power metal gallop of their genre defining debut Ecliptica. Frontman Tony Kakko has gone on record to say that Pariah's Child is "the album that should have been done after Reckoning Night besides Unia." he's right this is Sonata's first 'proper' power metal album in a long time; the galloping bass of new boy Pasi Kauppinen, the blast beat drumming of Tommy Portimo are back along, with the lightning fast guitars and keyboard runs from Elias Viljanen and Henrik Klingenberg driving the album along with gusto so Tony can work his vocal magic over the songs, telling tales of war Half Marathon Man and What Did You Do In The War, Dad? as well as songs from the heart on Cloud Factory and Love and most importantly song about wolves, yes that's right a treat for older fans the wolves are back on opener The Wolves Die Young, before things come to a head on the 10 minute symphonic opus Larger Than Life which is just that full of orchestras, choirs and massive bombast. A riotous return to the sound that made them, this is Sonata rediscovering their past and bringing it into the present. 7/10

Delain: The Human Contradiction (Napalm Records)

Delain are now on their fourth album and much like their compatriots (and brother (?) band) they have grown up and developed their sound becoming more pulsing hard rock than symphonic metal of their early years. Yes Delain have moulded their sound and now they sound a lot heavier than they did on their last few albums, relying more on the guitars of Timo Somers than on Martijn Westerholt's keyboards. This means the band have a sound more akin to Amaranthe or the Annette Olson era Nightwish and even a female fronted Kamelot, this comparison is at its most prevalent on the opening Here Come The Vultures which strats out with twinkling piano before the heavyweight riff kicks in, this style is carried on through Your Body Is A Battleground which features Nightwish's Marco Hietala on the hook filled self esteem raising track that is the sequel to We Are The Others from their last album. As usual there are some great quality guest vocalists with Hietala and grunter George Oosthoek on the very heavy Tell Me, Mechanist, both of whom appeared on the bands debut as well as a great cameo from screamer Alissa White-Gluz (recently announced as the new Arch Enemy singer) on The Tragedy Of Commons. As usual Charlotte Wessels' voice is amazing part operatic, part pop diva, see My Masquerade and the beautiful Stardust for more evidence, if more was needed, Stardust especially could be a number 1 with it's electro-pop backbeat. On their fourth album Delain have adapted their sound again, the band are still evolving but they are evolving into something that could just explode. They are slowly adding to their live repertoire with some well known track and on this evidence they could just be the successors to the WT's crown. 8/10

Massive: Full Throttle (Earache)

Earache are quickly throwing off their extreme metal roots and starting to favour more classic rock orientated bands. It started with Rival Sons, continued with The Temperance Movement and now Massive have joined the fray. Now hailing from Oz you would think that the band would sound like AC/DC but no Massive have the sleazy, swagger of one Guns N Roses if they were fronted by Buckcherry's Josh Todd. This is snotty, alcohol fuelled rock full of dirty riffs, big solos and lashing of attitude. Burn The Sun is straight out of the Axel Rose playbook, Hollywood and the bass led Dancefloor must have been half inched from The Royal Republic before Bring Down The City sets the bands sights on arenas. Musician-wise Massive have a lot of talent for a young band the rhythm section of Aidan McGarrigle (bass) and Jarrod Medwin (drums) who bring the swagger and propulsion to the rockers like One By One (which will be played to death on both Planet and Team Rock) added to this are the riffs of vocalist/guitarist Brad Marr and the Slash-like, blues-based solos of Ben Laguda. Yes Massive are ready to take on the world and with tracks like Big Trend Setter which harks to the arena-filling anthems of Black Stone Cherry, and Lacey which has more cowbell than famous producer 'The' Bruce Dickinson and Gene Frenkle could ever need. So where as Rival Sons and The Temperance Movement draw from the late 60's and 70's rock, Massive are stuck firmly in the 80's Sunset Strip bringing a gritty, punk influenced, hard rock to the modern era much like their label mates have done with their own chosen genre. Hell they've even got a mega-ballad in the shape of Ghost. This is a strong debut album from Massive who could just be (and probably will be if their label mates are anything to go by) just that with time. 7/10