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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

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