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Thursday 29 January 2015

Reviews: Blind Guardian, Arcane, Kattah

Blind Guardian: Beyond The Red Mirror (Nuclear Blast)

Five years since Blind Guardian's last opus At The Edge Of Time and once again the German masters of symphonic metal return with another album of cinematic, orchestral metal mixed with classic German speed metal. The album is a concept piece and direct sequel to my favourite album Imaginations From The Other Side, so as you can imagine (no pun intended) I was very exciteted to see how this concept was going to progress. Things have changed a lot since Imaginations... for both the band and the concept, the band have become much bigger sounding act tahn they were back then, bolstered by modern techniques to create more bombast than ever before, which suits this album down to the ground as the world the album concept is based in has become a much darker place as the brooding electronically tinged Sacred Mind shows this means that things are heavier and the use of electronics is present throughout. Much like on their previous album At the Edge Of Time the album again starts off with the longest and most epic song; this time its the sprawling The Ninth Wave that begins as a film score before its electronic middle section makes everything more evil sounding and allows André Olbrich to show his six string skills on the fantastic solos that don't outstay their welcome in their ferocity. So far so good then, with Blind Guardian coming out of the blocks with a song full of atmosphere and drama, the first track is in direct opposite to the rampaging Twilight Of The Gods which harks back to Blind Guardian's early years with Marcus Siepen's rhythm guitars driving the riffage along with Frederik Ehmke's blast beat drumming and Barend Courbois' guest bass all combing to bring the speed. At The Edge Of Time is a song possibly left off the last album that moves from a creeping beginning into a majestic middle section with the huge orchestras and choirs Blind Guardian have always been known for. Hansi Kürsch's voice is once again majestic, he truly is one of the best vocalists in the world not just in the metal genre but in music in general, he shines throughout this record hitting highs, mids and lows with perfection. In my last review I said that fellow Germans Orden Ogan had laid down the gauntlet for Blind Guardian in this early year power metal battle but I think Guardian may just pipped them despite entering the fight second, Guardian are just untouchable in terms of musical scope, easily moving from speed metal on Ashes Of Eternity and Holy Grail, through symphonic metal on The Throne, adding their trademark folk elements on Prophecies, the obligatory orchestral, piano ballad on Miracle Machine before once again another nine minute plus epic ends the album in true baroque style. Blind Guardian have yet again outdone themselves with another album of amazing music that only they seem to be able to produce!! 10/10

Arcane: Known/Learned (Self Released)

Arcane are an Aussie prog metal band and Known/Learned is their second album and it is ambitious in it's concept, this is a massive double album one half is the more metallic side and the other is the more natural acoustic side. The band are from the more modern, intense style of progressive music favoured by their countrymen Karnivool and also Americans Tool see the final part of Final Burden for evidence of Maynard and Co. The bands sound is characterised by the unrelenting repetitive riffage, euphoric choruses, atmospheric keys, mechanical percussion and complex song structures all of which are characteristics of modern progressive metal, luckily Arcane seem to do all of these things brilliantly. The band are all superb musicians with Matthew Martins pianos, keys etc providing the ethereal backdrop of melodies that work in tandem with the Michael Gagan's amazing and in places heavy as f**k lead guitar work, see Impatience & Slow Poison which builds from a piano led beginning before exploding into it's finale. The haunting Known is the shortest song acting as bridge between the epics that surround it but shows off Jim Grey's amazing and yet harrowing, emotive vocals, a theme that continues on Nightingale's Weave which is a starts slow before once again exploding and leading into the relaxed, atmospheric jazzy Eyes For Change, then Black Coulson shows off his percussive skills on the intro to Keeping Stone: Water Awake before it changes into it's cinematic last quarter. The first disc finishes with the 23 minute Promise (Part 1) which is the amalgamation of everything previously heard in one heroic song full of time changes ending the first disc with impressive scope.
By comparison to the first, the second disc is sonically quieter but no less powerful as the the other part, in fact it is more affecting than disc 1 as the band strip back their sound to show off how good they are in a natural non electric environment and also it lets their songwriting skills and especially Grey's lyrics sparkle. Promise (Part 2) is the perfect companion to it's bigger brother and once again it's Grey who shines with his acoustic guitar and amazing vocals being fleshed out with Gagen's mandolin and yet again more organs and keys from Martin. Coulson has a percussive shuffle on Unturning. As I've said this side of the record is much more ambient and emotive than it's predecessor but the two tie together to form a cohesive musical journey building you up with the rockier side before bringing you down with it's acoustic second side. This album can be seen as concept or a journey and the second disc completes the tale with the excellent Keeping Stone: Sound On Fire which follows on from Keeping Stone: Water Awake, then the almost choral Learned finishes the journey on a restrained plaintive. Opeth tried something similar to this with Damnation and Deliverance a few years ago, having a harder and a softer record, the idea worked but whereas they were two separate albums. Arcane's effort is a lot more coherent with both records being part of a whole overarching concept. The scope of this album is too big to take in in one sitting but after repeated it listens it reveals it's treasures, this is a stunning piece of work that at times is difficult but more than worth it if you give it the time it needs. 10/10      

Kattah: Lapis Lazuli (Bakerteam Records)

Brazilian band Kattah have carved a bit of a niche for themselves as they play some classic sounding metal but based around Arabian themes (which seems odd for a South American band but still). As is the norm with most Brazilian trad metal bands the shadow of Maiden looms large, much of this is due to Roni Sauaf's Dickinson-like vocals; he is really the dead ringer for Bruce vocally and can match the man himself note for note from the air raid siren shrieks to the snarled mids, however there are also elements of Geoff Tate in the vocals too with the very high shrieks he can hit. However the metallic backing is a lot heavier than the normal Maiden fair with Behind The Clay especially sounding like Bruce's solo albums more than his day job. Much of this may be due to the influence of producer Roy Z who produced Dickinson's last three albums all of which were very heavier than Maiden but had the distinctive melody too. The guitars bring heavy riffs throughout and the band have distinctly progressive feel to their music with the Arabian elements at their best on Apocalypse, Rebirth Of The Pharaohs but for the most part the album is full of muscular progressive/power metal, with time changes galore, some bass galloping and a singer who apes one of the best singers in the game to a tee. Lapis Lazuli is a good sophomore album from these Brazilians who clearly wear their influences emblazoned for all to see, a lot of the time this would be a bad thing but Kattah play so well that you enjoy this album for what it is, imagine if Maiden just continued with the Egyptian theme of Powerslave for the rest of their career and you wouldn't be far off. This my friends is a good thing  8/10   

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Another Point Of View: Slipknot (Review By Paul)

Slipknot: Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

The return of the nine, albeit in edited form, seven years after they all but destroyed the venue, is likely to have been the hottest ticket in Cardiff this year. Selling out in just a few hours, anticipation for this event (yes, event rather than gig) was high and arriving into the City Centre at just after 17:20 it was no surprise to see the maggots out in force. In fact, wherever you looked, youngsters in Slipknot t-shirts were in full view. It is no secret that I detest the MIA. A shed with all the sound quality of a biscuit tin, gestapo trained security and all the usual crap that comes with these franchised shitholes in terms of catering (£4.50 for a 330ml Carlsberg anyone?). However, I've had far worse Christmas presents than the ticket that my lads got me for this gig and although none of the bands on the bill sit in my regular play list, it was difficult not to have a sense of excitement as we entered an already busy arena.

First up were King 810 (5) from Flint, Michigan. King 810 has received substantial media support from the team at Metal Hammer, and their 2014 release, Memoirs of a Murderer featured in a number of the top ten’s submitted for our end of year poll. Led by vocalist David Gunn, King 810 kicked off their set with energy and aggression, pounding out some vicious riffs in classic nu-metal style. As their set progressed, and with a strong reception from the masses, Gunn got into his stride, stripping his top half to reveal a ripped torso, which received some excited cheers from the ladies in the crowd. However, although I can see why they appeal to the type of crowd that was gathered, I struggled to maintain attention for more than a couple of songs. Granted, I'm not a big nu-metal fan, but more importantly I always want variety in my metal, which is where I struggled. King 810 sound the same in every song and in Gunn have an earnest vocalist who has difficulty singing. In fact, his delivery is just pretty grim at times. King 810 are a real Marmite band. Unfortunately, although I love Marmite, King 810 did absolutely nothing for me although they did get a decent reception. Maybe its me!

The last couple of Korn albums have completely passed me. However, on the four previous occasions I have seen them live, including their past headline show at the MIA, they have been pretty impressive. Tonight was no different and for an hour Korn (9) absolutely owned the arena. Aided by a clever and subtle light show and ample room to move around, including plinths at the rear of the stage, the Bakersfield outfit were primed to destroy from the starting gun. Opening with Twist, the band charged into Here To Stay which had the arena bouncing. On stage, Head and Munky delivered some quite chilling riffage, heads banging and marking their own piece of the stage as their own. Right Now got the audience singing along whilst Love & Meth, Falling Away From Me and Good God maintained the momentum. Fieldy thumped his bass in his unique style, driving the deep, throbbing pulse of the band and combined with drummer Ray Luzier who put in a masterful performance. As always, Jonathan Davies holds your attention, with even his microphone stand gaining a cheer when it was brought out. As the bagpipes blasted out to signal Shoots And Ladders, Davies and the rest of Korn were clearly having a blast, with huge grins on their faces. Davies' voice was on top form, and as the curved ball of Y’all want a Single crashed in, the entire arena joined in with the admittedly difficult refrain required, “Fuck that, Fuck that”. Suddenly it was time for the sledgehammer finish; Head tapped out the opening bars to Freak On A Leash, Jonathan Davies sang “go!” and the MIA lost its shit. As Luzier concluded the song with a mini solo, he then segued nicely and tapped out the intro to a song that is 20 years old; the mighty Blind. Oh my god! The place went ballistic with pits breaking out all around; old school metal heads, the usual meatheads stripped to the waist, hipsters and others all having a damn good time and ensuring that Jonathan Davies and co. left the stage applauding the Cardiff crowd.

A relatively short wait with an elegant and ornate curtain covering the stage as the crew prepared the set for the arrival of the headliners. Say what you like about Slipknot but they do not do bad shows. A decent if slightly patchy fifth album late last year was well received and built the anticipation for this tour. At 9:20pm the lights dipped, the strains of XIX blasted out of the PA (much improved sound for the entire night by the way) and then Slipknot (10) were there, hitting their stride from the off with Sarcastrophe. Corey Taylor takes centre stage, delivering his vocal and coercing the crowd. The set was impressive with a spectacular light show, a huge devilish goat head and walkways at the rear but without feeling overly lavish and never distracting from the quality of the music. Yes, it is raging aggression which at times merges into a wall of noise but some of Slipknot’s stuff is top drawer. For example, take the next two tracks: The Heretic Anthem and My Plague. As the huge Mick Thomson (still the most sinister member of the band in my opinion) and Jim Root (complete with Cristina Scabbia in the wings) prowled stage left and right, swapping the flanks at will whilst cranking out those bone crushing demonic riffs.

New track The Devil In I kept the momentum high, with Sid Wilson running all over the place, across the back walkways and leaping back onto his decks. Meanwhile, the insanity continued on either side of the stage with the mental percussion and backing vocals of Chris Fehn and the clown Shawn Crahan as their hydraulic platforms elevated and descended whilst always spinning. First sing-a-long of the night duly arrived in the shape of Psychosocial. The intensity continued with The Negative One before Corey, who pleasingly kept the narrative short all night, shouted out “Eeyore” as Root and Thomson once again ground out the riffs. Meanwhile Craig Jones, in the spiked gimp mask, kept a low profile at his decks whilst pulling the strings to the layering that provides Slipknot with their unique sound. As the band powered through Liberate And Purity, you suddenly realised that it wasn't Joey on the drums but Jay Weinberg. Such is the quality of Weinberg’s drumming, it was impossible to tell the difference. Weinberg played a stunning show, his machine gun assault relentless and combining with Alessandro Venturella, the UK bassist who maintained a low profile whilst still contributing to the overall atmosphere with fist pumps and the occasional foray up and down the walkways.

Just in case there was any slacking off, the band hit the crowd with four absolute piledrivers: Before I Forget, fans favourite Duality, a rare treat with Left Behind and then Spit It Out, complete with the traditional “jump the fuck up” which caused havoc to my torn knee ligament. I got down there but then could hardly get back up! Custer closed the set and allowed the audience a breather before the final three songs completed the destruction. Sic opened the encore, before the anthemic People=Shit pushed the buttons to absolute chaos. Unsurprisingly, the killer strains of Surfacing concluded proceedings. As the crowd streamed out of the MIA, I reflected on the power and professionalism of a band whose path has been chaotic and unpredictable since the day they got together. At times the band look totally unhinged on stage, and there has to be some tension between Taylor and Root as a result of their Stone Sour split; however, tonight they proved that, in the live arena, few if any bands around can live with them.

Monday 26 January 2015

Another Point Of View: Solstafir (Review By Paul)

Solstafir – The Exchange, Bristol

In a small venue in Bristol an incredibly polite Icelandic man asks the 100 or so members of the audience if they would be kind enough to “put your hands up if you've seen us before”. Welcome to Solstafir, a metal band from Reykjavik who have been plying their art for the past 20 years. For the majority of us, it was only with the release of last year’s beautifully crafted Ótta that the Icelanders crossed across our metal radars. With tracks laden with the melancholic flavouring of The Sisters Of Mercy, The Mission, The Fields of the Nephilim, the despair of Joy Division and a fair dollop of Scandinavian metal, Solstafir delivered a perfectly paced 90 minutes with a cross section of their back catalogue. The majority of the set was built on tracks from their last two albums, Svartir Sandar and Ótta, neatly sandwiched between opener Kold and closer Goddess Of The Ages, both from third album Kold.

The band make a substantial sound for a four piece, relying on samples and tapes for some of the more intricate and complex passages in their play but at no time allowing this to distract from playing of the members on stage with some heavy riffage from guitarist Sæþór Maríus "Pjúddi" Sæþórsson and front man Aðalbjörn "Addi" Tryggvason, as well as traditional Icelandic banjo at the middle part of the set, alongside the steady rhythm section of  Svavar "Svabbi" Austmann and stand-in drummer Karl Petur Smith who does a sterling job, showing his quality throughout.  The main focal point of Solstafir remains Trggvsason, who writhes, gyrates and squirms throughout the set, his voice ranging from hushed tones through to a forceful angst ridden cry as the emotions peak in tracks such as Lágnætti. Tryggvason also appears genuinely delighted to see a reasonable audience and thanks us profusely several times for joining them. His humour is well received and, similar to many of the bands from the Northern hemisphere, full of self-depreciation about the fact they sing in their native tongue, it their cowboy image and the absence of anything interesting in Iceland apart from volcanoes and the odd glacier.

As the set moved toward its conclusion, we were offered a couple more songs rather than the obligatory encore. Now, whilst this was partly due to the layout in The Exchange which would have necessitated the band leaving through the audience and then having to come back through them, it was also a welcome move which I for one fully endorse. As Addi announced the bad news that they only had one more song to play, he quickly raised spirits by introducing Goddess Of The Ages, all 14 minutes of it in a glorious finale full of musical peaks and troughs culminating in a convulsing finish which earned a massive roar of approval from the assembled throng. A quite brilliant set, from a band that offer so much more at a time when the metal world is stagnating with repetition and mediocrity. 9/10

Sunday 25 January 2015

Reviews: Orden Ogan, Beardfish, Adimiron

Orden Ogan: Ravenhead (AFM)

With such a glut of releases coming at the beginning of the year it's nice to see some of my personal favourite bands releasing album so early on, albeit making it harder for my end of year poll. I was very excited to see Power metal supreme from Germany, once again being the order of the day, with the epic strains of Orden Ogan's fifth and latest album Ravenhead (not to mention a new Blind Guardian album!) Now luckily Ogan have got in there first releasing their newest album just before their countrymen in Guardian release their latest opus (review coming soon) and they are all the better for it, as the theatrics and orchestral swell up on the intro before the battering ram drumming, lighting guitar work, keyboard flourishes and choir backed vocals get the title track moving along nicely before the keys come to the fore on the suitably anthemic F.E.V.E.R which distils Orden Ogan's sound perfectly and lets the you see the difference in style on the heavier yet still melodic The Lake. The band are terrific musicians with frontman Seeb supplying the vocals, guitars, keys as well the production, he luckily is backed by a band who play with precision and power driving along this album at a fair old pace. Ravenhead is pure unadulterated power metal throughout but its by no means light and fluffy, this is the sort of intelligent, classically influenced and bombastic power metal that Blind Guardian, Evergrey and Avantasia. It's because of this myriad of influences that the band can move from the galloping shout along of Evil Lies In Every Man which breaks down into a horror theme and classical guitars towards the end, with the almost thrash like militaristic metal of Here At The End Of The World (a track that features the gruff vocals of Grave Digger's Chris Boltendahl) then into bardic folk whimsy of A Reason To Give which sounds like it could come from Hans Zimmer then they show that they can do straight up marching power metal on Sorrow Is Your Tale which features the pipes of Hammerfall's Joacim Cans adding to the frivolity. So Orden Ogan have released yet another album of exciting, multi layered power metal laying down the gauntlet to their Tolkien-loving countrymen to try and beat it! 9/10

Beardfish: +4626-Comfortzone (InsideOut)

Swedes Beardfish have been releasing albums steadily since 2003 and since then every release has increased the bands musical scope and as such they have toured with Dream Theater, Flying Colors, Sound Of Contact, Spock's Beard and generally the great and the good of prog rock, yet they are still relatively unknown outside of prog circles focussing more on being musicians than trying to sell records, with an unchanged line up since 2003 the band have become somewhat of a cult but ever present force in progressive music drawing their inspiration from the glory days of 70's prog and honing it to a fine art. +4626-Comfortzone is the bands eighth album and yet again it is more of what the band do so well, intelligent, progressive music filled with pastoral whimsy, melodic pomp and the same kind of laid back, evocative music that Yes and Genesis played back in the day, for just a four piece the music has a real depth to it with all four members playing with technical virtuosity and a keen ear for melody, the staccato riff and jumpy guitar lines on Hold On is testament to this as it moves between fast and slow with lots of melodic guitars from David Zackrisson and Rikard Sjöblom that Steve Howe would be proud of, this along with some nimble bass work from Robert Hansen and sublime drumming from Magnus Östgren makes for an interesting start-stop opening track before we are taken to more spacey territory on Comfort Zone which features some Air-like synths and keys from Sjöblom as well as his great vocals on this big ballad that is at odds to the following track Can You See Me Now? which is part Glam Rock part Jazz and this genre bending continues throughout the album with the driving rock of King the pastoral country of The One Inside: Part 2, the metallic Daughter/Whore; with the show stopper being the 15 minute plus If We Must be Apart (A Love Story Continued). Beardfish are a genre defying retro throwback to 70's that encompass all kinds of music for their off-kilter sound that is not to dissimilar to Brits Bigelf. Yet another album of crazy, gonzoid but intelligent music from the Swedes and one that will keep them, keeping on for a good while to come. 8/10

Adimiron: Timelapse (Scarlet Records)

Adimiron play progressive thrash metal with touch of death metal thrown in, giving them a sound akin to modern Machine Head with some big breakdown riffs, fast paced passages and aggressive vocals from frontman Andrea. Opening track Collateral immediately drags you into the maelstrom of riffage these Italians produce, then State Of Persistence brings in the more progressive elements with nods to the wall of sound Messuggah are known for, Oz and Alessandro's guitars are muscular and drive the groove as Federico Maragoni's drums and Maurizio Villeato's bass playing are battering rams for the sledgehammer sounds on The Giant The Cow and the title track which has more than a hint of Gojira about it (fret slides and all). The band do what they do very well and if you are a fan of groove driven, progressive thrash then you will love their twitchy, progressive, brutal, and indeed thoroughly modern heavy metal however there are many bands doing this kind of thing with more success and more recognition. Still they do what they do well and the progressive nature of the band may put many off but it does mean that the band are not just another wall of riffage thrash band with no substance to them, the band have a little brains. Like I said a good album but tread carefully if proggy time signatures and unrelenting riffage are not your thing. 6/10

Saturday 24 January 2015

Another Point Of View: Amon Amarth (Review By Nick)

Amon Amarth - Thekla, Bristol.

On what was becoming a monthly pilgrimage to Bristol, we headed this time to see the mighty Amon Amath… on a boat no less. Throughout the previous 24 hours there was much debate as to the fitness of front man Johan Hegg, as the previous night, due to illness, he was not able to perform with his loyal crew. Leaving Huntress lead singer Jill to step in. Did we want to see or hear this? …God no! Thankfully word broke on social media that Johan was to be performing that night, leading to our great leader [*blushes* Ed] Matt stating; “thank f**k for that, 50% Johan is better than 100% Jill” Well-said sir! Well said indeed.

Savage Messiah and Huntress

Due to all of us having the, um… experience of seeing Huntress and Savage Messiah live we had initially planned to stay in the pub and give them a miss, however due to the nature and size of the Thekla we decided to head in a little early. Catching what was left of the Messiah set we got what we have seen many many times before as they seem to follow us wherever we may roam; generic heavy metal with little substance. This also meant that we had the entire of Huntress to stand through, which for me is more annoying than anything as the work put in from the band is actually pretty good and does get your head bobbing, unfortunately every time the tuneless screeching voice of Jill arrives, it ruins any momentum the lads get going in my eyes… she really does ruin this band for me, and I love female fronted bands! So to the Thekla’s bar we adjourned to wait for Amon to take stage.
Amon Amarth

This being the fifth time I have had the pleasure of seeing Amon Amarth, this occasion particularly excited me, as for some reason the band had chosen to do this what they called an “excursion” in tiny venues. This would give us the opportunity to see Amon in the raw flesh without all the pyro’s and stage sets... back to basics. 
Entering the stage to rapturous applause and shouts from the 300+ crowd the band broke swiftly into a set consisting of tracks from all eight of their albums, starting with Farther Of The Wolf, and damn were the Swedish metalers on form?! Had you not know of Johans illness you would never have guessed it with the performance he gave. The set consisted of what might as well have been a fan chosen best of set with tracks such as Live For The Kill, Death In Fire and Guardians Of Asgaard. The incredible thing about Amon Amarth is that they have formula that they use for every song, yet somehow have so much variety. A catchy lead riff from Olavi and Ted to open, followed by a crunching breakdown backed by Fredrik on the drums and the odd solo thrown in to break things up and repeat, with the power strength and rawness of Johan's voice thrown in on top it really does complete the package. As the set progressed it was clear to see the Johan's voice was suffering as he spoke between songs, however this was in no way conveyed into the singing. As the set drew to a close the crowd were a little less energetic due to the always-raging heat in the Thekla yet the final cards played by Amon were enough to spring anyone into life. One final tirade of; Victorious March, Twilight Of The Thundergods and Pursuit Of The Vikings gave the fans everything they wanted to hear, Amon's best anthems to date with a band truly on top form. 
Despite the fine display from Amon Amarth there did seem to be something missing, and alas I believe that is all the pomp that usually comes along with this mighty Swedish band. Amon has spoilt us over the years by not just repeated fine live performances, but also at times phenomenal visual displays to accompany them, and this may have become a proverbial shot in ones own foot, as without them there is that bit of emptiness lingering in their performance. Regardless of this Amon showed their roots and why they have become the massive brand they are today in the metal community today, as well as showing us how far they have come from the days in Swedish rock clubs. They can get down and dirty as good as any other band for sure! While did appreciate and truly enjoy the opportunity too see Amon Amarth in a more intimate setting, in future I would like to resume the normal service and continue to be spoilt by these Swedish legends in their full onstage glory. 8/10 Illness? What illness?!

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Reviews: Marylin Manson, Shattered Skies, Another Perfect Storm, Subterranean Masquerade

Marilyn Manson: Pale Emperor (Hell Etc.) [Review By Paul]

What can you say about Marilyn Manson? From the shock and outrage that he created in the 1990s when his notoriety reached a peak with Antichrist Superstar to the more recent substandard performances at Download and 2012’s poorly received Born Villain, Manson always provokes a reaction. Now, I’ll lay it straight here; I'm by no means the biggest Manson fan in the world. He’s disappointed me in the live arena, and I find some of his music relatively tedious and formulaic. However, he has written and performed some absolute ball-breaking anthems and intellectually has a lot to say which is worth a listen. His no-nonsense, couldn't give a fuck attitude along with his ability to remain relevant in a disposable world are inspiring.
So, what about the ninth long player from Manson, Pale Emperor? Well, I have to say it’s pretty strong. Opener Killing Strangers is classic Manson, heavy industrial tones with his familiar drawl provide you with a taster of the next 65 minutes. Deep Six is a rollercoaster of aggression, with some tasty riffage and a harder edge to his vocal delivery. The musicianship throughout the album is excellent, with Tyler Bates who delivers all of the guitar work particularly impressive. Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge returns to the snarling, disaffected Manson of old, equal levels of inspiration and disaffection evident. The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles veers sharply towards his dark side, whilst the God Of Fuck reminds us of his angst and twisted side during Warship My Wreck. This is Manson's best album for many years, with the industrial side of his music being allowed to the fore without the shock which was so evident on his earlier works. My only complaint about this album is that it never completely climaxes. The absence of the one killer track that grabs you by the throat and screams “I'm still fucking here”. However, his song writing remains of the highest quality and the majority of tracks on here are solid slabs of the dark, sinister and cinematic style industrial delivery that he has trademarked over the years. The Devil Beneath My Feet is a classic example of this. Pale Emperor, dedicated to his mother, who passed away last year after a long battle with cancer, suggests that Manson is still a relevant and important artist in the rock world. A welcome return to form. 8/10

Shattered Skies: The World We Used To Know (Hold Tight)

Hailing from Wicklow, Ireland by way of Southend On Sea, Shattered Skies are the most modern of metal bands with down tuned, palm muted riffs, technical bass playing, punchy songs and electronic elements throughout, I'm not a fan of the djent tag but Shattered Skies fall under it. What sets them apart from their peers is that frontman Sean Murphy sings with a great clean vocal delivery which gives them style similar to that of Tesseract and especially Brit proggers Haken. The World We Used To Know is their debut album and it is a strong showing with the intricate basswork of Jim Hughes anchoring every track from The End And The Rebirth through to the final title track; while Ross McMahon's drums are technical, jazzy and provide the flashes of ferocity that blur the rock and metal boundaries, he also handles the mixing too which is crisp and ensures everything is equal in terms of sound meaning that Ian Rockett's guitars can bring the chunky riffs thick and fast but also he can provide the laid back playing on the beautiful Elegance And Grace and a move towards more traditional progressive fair on Show's Over. Despite being referred to as djent in their press, as I have said the band actually have more akin with the classic progressive rock and metal of Haken, with only their palm muted guitars linking them too the djent scene. Much of this Haken comparison comes from Rockett's expressive use of keys, see As The Sea Divides and also from Murphy's impassioned vocals. So yes Shattered Skies are a modern progressive band that mix heavy metal and progressive rock perfectly but they are not overblown like much of the genre they inhabit, the band create concise musically dextrose music played with intense passion and flair. A truly impressive debut of epic, intelligent, modern, melodic progressive music. 9/10     

Another Perfect Storm: S/T (Self Released)

Another Perfect Storm are an American alternative rock band formed by Ben Draiman; this unfortunately is all I know about the band members as there seems to be no information at all about any of the musicians other than Ben. Still there is a lot about Ben so we'll concentrate on that for now; now if the name sounds familiar it could be because Ben is the brother of Disturbed singer David and as such his vocals are powerful and emotive but different enough to his brother to set this record apart. His piano playing is also a key part of proceedings especially on the ballads like Trust, but for the most part this album is full of American Alt-Rock in the vein of Daughtry, Three Doors Down, Evanescence and the relatively unknown RA who APS share a lot of similarities with. This is a good album with some chunky guitars, songwriting with pop radio baiting sensibilities and if you like any of the aforementioned bands then you will find yourself singing along to These Wrongs, Mister Mister, Covet while marvelling at the mix of influences present here from the acoustic feel of the title track, the electro stomp of Burden and the bombastic orchestral finale Conversation. As I've said if you love American Alt-rock then you will love Another Perfect Storm and hopefully the strength of this album will do a lot to increase the profile of Ben Draiman in the UK and elsewhere. 7/10 

Subterranean Masquerade: The Great Bazaar (Tanklit Music)

The Middle East seems to have  habit of throwing out great bands in the last few years, bands that carve out their own niche with their own style of music, called 'Oriental Metal' by the major magazines. Hailing from countries such as Tel Aviv, USA and Norway Subterranean Masquerade follow in the footsteps of countrymen Orphaned Land by playing metal fused with Middle Eastern influences and a dash of prog rock thrown in. The two bands do seem intrinsically linked as they also share a drummer in the shape of Matan Shmley who does a sterling job similar to the one he does in Orphaned Land. The comparisons don't end there though as the band have the right amount of metallic crunch in Tomer Pink and Or Shalev's guitars and Kjetil Nordhus' guttural vocals, however the two guitarists can also deliver clean, mellifluous tones that work in tandem with Shai Yallin's keys and organs on the more progressive tracks like Reliving The Feeling which mixes Genesis or Yes with jazz touches and obviously the Middle Eastern touches, these at the forefront on pastoral instrumental Nigen which features some great acoustic playing and lots of wind instrumentation, the Blanket Of Longing is proper prog and is a chance for Paul Kuhr to show off his pipes and allows the band to indulge in some Jazz Odyssey before the searing guitar solos shoot in towards the end. The album is rounded off by a conglomeration of all their influences in the nine minute plus masterpiece Father And Sun. Subterranean Masquerade are yet another band drawing influences from their culture into their music and creating some truly unique sounds, much like Orphaned Land Subterranean Masquerade are a band with their own identity and here's hoping they don't wait 10 years to release another album!! 9/10      

Thursday 15 January 2015

Reviews: Sylosis, Neopera, Lacertilla

Sylosis: Dormant Heart (Nuclear Blast)

Four albums into their career and Sylosis are coming of age, with Edge Of The Earth they really showed what they could do with a technical thrash near-masterpiece full of epic songs. They then took this more progressive style and went back to their extreme roots on Monolith. So where do they go now? Well as Where The Wolves Come To Die kicks off with it's slow, heavy riff replete with frenzied drumming the atmosphere is built as it crescendos and dives straight into the rapid death metal of Victims And Pawns which once again shows Sylosis' thrash roots but also their progressive tendencies as it slows in the middle before frontman Josh Middelton solos like demon. One thing that always strikes about Sylosis is just how damn fine their musicianship is; Middleton is both an amazing vocalist and a sublime guitarist ably backed by Alex Bailey's rhythm and the frankly abusive rhythm section of Chris Parnell and Rob Callard (who has since left). Dormant Heart is both heavy and melodic and shows Sylosis' keen ear for melody and also their use of light and shade to colour their works, they blend extreme and the more mainstream effortlessly and on this album with tracks like the thrashtastic Overthrown and Leech which echoes Rob Flynn and co. In fact as this album progresses you can't help but think of how the American acts like Machine Head and Trivium have progressed in their careers moving from straight thrash, through metalcore and then adding more progressive elements to their sound and comparing this trajectory to the one Sylosis are on, they seem to have done similar but in fewer albums, successfully mixing their past and their current more mature form together perfectly. This album is a musical experience with twists and turns throughout, every song gives gives you another facet to Sylosis' sound. Tracks like Indoctrinated move from brutal speed, an uplifting middle section a vicious breakdown and then back again, before being followed by the more 'proper' metal of Harm, the stomping metalcore of Mercy, the emotive Callous Souls before the album ends with the nine minute Quiescent which is a distilled version of everything Sylosis do from textured acoustics to extremity in one song. The two bonus tracks are also good with the atmospheric Pillars Erode which sounds a lot like Stone Sour and a cover of Smashing Pumpkins' Zero. Sylosis have come of age on this record and thoroughly staked their claim as the British equivalent and indeed successors to bands like Machine Head, expect them to reach these lofty heights soon because of this awesome album, produced by producer extraordinaire Scott Atkins, its the album Sylosis have been aiming for since their inception lets hope it translates to the respect and admiration they deserve. A great way to kick off 2015!! 9/10     

Neopera: Destined Ways (earMusic)

There does seem to be a fashion for bands with a trio of vocalists at the moment and Neopera follow that with two male and one female vocalist. Now what does this sound like I hear you ask? Well imagine a mix between Amaranthe, Lacuna Coil and Epica and you wouldn't be far off. This is your normal symphonic metal fodder with orchestrations galore, chugging metallic backing (with Gamma Ray's Henjo Richter providing the solos) and even some electronics thrown in. Add to this the trio of singers, these being a female soprano in the shape of Nina Jiers, Mirko Gluschke's aggressive harsh vocals and Thorsten Schuck's rich, deep baritone. The vocals work together well with all three having great voices and the musicianship is precise and well performed by all involved. However this album is not at all memorable, the songs blend into one and other and much of the music featured on this record has been done many times before. If you are a fan of symphonic metal (and I mean a real hardcore fan) then you may like this album however it didn't really grab my interest at all I'm afraid, it's just all a bit too safe and sounds like one long song towards the end. 5/10    

Lacertilla: Crashing Into The Future (Self Released)

I've seen Lacertilla live a few times now and they are band that get better every time I see them, so having heard these songs in their ear-splittingly loud live form, I was excited to see how it would translate to record, would the frenzied madness and shamanistic grooves still be as effective in the studio. Well as the rampaging riffage of the title track opens this 5-track EP everything looks good. This collection of South Wales based musicians, members come from The Witches' Drum, Throun and Akb'al, play psychedelic, doom laden, space rock; with nods to MC5, Kyuss and especially early Orange Goblin, much of this comes from vocalist Matt Fry who is a dead ringer vocally for Ben Ward with the right mix of anger and spaced out mysticism, luckily he is backed by some top quality musical backing with Carl Richards tub thumping and Neal Palmer's bottom end providing the thick, sludgy groove for tracks like Abstract Reality as well as some dirty funk on Do Something! (which features the now immortal cowbell) The guitar contribution is also great with Lucas Zaluniski and Michael Young-Temple providing riffs that cut like a laser beam through James Bond as well as more intricate melodies and solos. the tracks move and twist as with lost of light and shade and a metric fuck tonne of riffage throughout but also more spacious, blissed out passages like the beginning to the trippy We Are The Flood which also features some tablas from Young-Temple before everything comes together around three minutes in on this musical headtrip before finally turning into the final track Tryin' To Do A Good Thing which is driven by a repetitive all consuming riff that brings the album to a monumental close. This is a great release that really shows off Lacertilla's chops as a band and does give you a sense the bands live power especially when played live. A full album please guys as this is well tidy!!! 8/10  

Tuesday 13 January 2015

Reviews: Iris Divine, Karma Rassa, Melkor (Reviews By Paul)

Iris Divine: Karma Sown (Zinkferd)

Iris Divine is a three piece progressive metal outfit from Alexandria, Viriginia. Karma Sown is their second full length release and follows 2011’s Convergence. The band, is Brian Dobbs on bass, Navid Rashid on vocals and guitar and Kris Combs, drums, keyboards and programming. Karma Sown is a powerful release, with a heady mixture of eastern influences combined with epic soaring progressive sounds and some excellent playing. Dobbs' bass is prominent throughout; played more as an additional lead at times with climbing scales and driving rhythms. At times the band provide you with the scent of some of their influences; shades of early Queensryche and Dream Theater with the odd dash of Kings X all present. Rashid provides some stunningly good vocal work with his clean delivery fitting in perfectly with the band’s sound. He is no slouch on the guitar either with some soaring solos which complement the drumming of Combs along with the subtle keyboard work and sympathetic programming. As a huge Rush fan, it would be highly hypocritical of me to criticise the band for using programming to enhance their sound. Well worth a listen 8/10

Karma Rassa: Music Into The Void (Self Released)

Formed in 2013 in St. Petersburg, Russia, Karma Rassa’s debut is full of melody, introspection and the atmosphere you’d expect from symphonic and progressive European metal. As well as sweeping melodic keyboard and synth sounds, the band demonstrate a harder edge with some tasty guitar riffs and a crashing rhythm section. The vocals of Nagual are a combination of Jonas Renke and the growling edge of Insomnium’s lead vocalist Niilo Sevänen. In fact, Karma Rassa sit very nicely in the same camp as the Finns, as well as Ghost Brigade, Swallow The Sun and other such bands. The album has a quality balance of light and shade, with tracks such as Apology Of Regress allowing the guitar work of twin guitarists Sigmund and Naar to come to the fore whilst Melaer’s keys are allowed to dominate other pieces, for example during Drawing The Steel. However, the band maintain a heavy edge throughout and the clean vocals are refreshing and also demonstrate Nagual’s vocal prowess. The songs are details and complex with impressive compositions, containing frequent time changes and blasts of real almost death metal at times combining with the sound of Dream Theater and Opeth to provide some delicious contrasts.  Midway point in the album sees the band explore a bit of a psychedelic avenue with Explore Your Own Cosmos, which is a title that needs little explanation. Ice sits nicely in the melodic progressive metal genre and is a powerful track which merges some frantic riffing with delicate piano. This is a pretty decent album from a band who will hopefully get the opportunity to demonstrate their wares live before long.7/10

Melkor: Irlicht (Self Released)

A solo project from German Patrick Baumann, who has been a key member of several other bands, Melkor, named after a character from Tolkien’s middle earth, released this second full length album late in 2014. It is an interesting result, with Baumann delivering all of the music and vocals. With some mighty riffs, powerful drumming and vocals that sound like Cronos with a bad throat, Irlicht is very likely to appeal to the black metal fan. However, there is substantial melody and numerous hooks throughout the album. A variety of tempos and styles provide many complex layers and hidden depths throughout the eight tracks, and although the production isn't crystal clear, it is a solid slab of metal which has enough about it to warrant a listen. 7/10

Thursday 8 January 2015

Reviews: Forever's Fallen Grace, Premortal Breath, Gypsy

Forevers' Fallen Grace: Ascending The Monolith (Self Released)

Forevers' Fallen Grace are progressive power metal band from Massachusetts and they play traditional American Prog/power metal with nods to Shadow Gallery, Symphony X and Dream Theater. The songs are progressive but in no way are they lightweight, this is heavy metal with crunching riffs, rapid fire drumming and some booming vocals that are very Russell Allen but with elements of King Diamond especially on the Gothic Mausoleum Of Dreams which is pure Mercyful Fate. As well as the progressive influences, they also have nods to Iron Maiden on Crown The Night Blind Guardian on Iron Will (Not a Grand Magus cover). These songs are swaggering anthems full of technical guitar playing from Kenneth E. McKee and Nelson Moore, the progressive drumming of Jim Norris and the nimble bass work of Kyle Hannon, all of which is at it's most evident on Suffer Our Sins and the instrumental Wombshifter. Frontman Michael Ferro is no slouch either mind bellowing the lyrics over the metallic assault that backs him. This is a great album for fans of power/progressive metal that hits much of the competition over the head with it's heaviness, if you like your metal technical, melodic and most of all heavy then FFG will be right up your street.  7/10

Premortal Breath: They (Self Released)

Heavy metal from Mannheim now with some thrash and classic metal thrown in to the pot to create a modern mix of styles. Yes this album is on the heavy side with big, hulking riffs from Sebastian Herbold and Tobias Eymer who emulate the likes of Machine Head, Trivium and Pantera with their groove infected thrash driven by Dominik Eymer and Thomas Pettrich's chunky rhythm section, Pettrich's drums especially are very good sounding like a ten tonne truck. The album falls down a little with the vocals which are an acquired taste, a bit Hetfield, a bit but Anselmo, but they do fit the music well, with Thomas Greulich's roars and growls punctuating the metallic assault behind it. If you like your metal with slab of groove, a touch of thrash and a whole lot of balls then They will be right up your street. 6/10

Gypsy: Twisted Levity (Salute Records)

Twisted Levity is Indian band Gypsy's debut EP featuring 5 songs of 80's style Glam metal in the style of Dokken, Mr Big, Motley Crue and even Van Halen in places. I'll address the elephant in the room, the production is not great, but is does give it an authentic crackly sound. The songs kicking off with the filthy and misogynistic Give Me Your Load but this type of music has always been known for its attitude to women still the music is good with a hard rock backing being the basis for most of the songs while nearly all of them have virtuostic solos that George Lynch and Paul Gilbert would be proud, however in a bizarre and novel addition only a half of these are guitar solos with the others coming from a sitar, the first two tracks are speedsters, while New Boy In Town is funk rock song shamelessly aping Extreme. The music is good but the band are let down by Sayandip Pahari's vocals who does the croon well on slower tracks like Judgement Day but his higher register is very grating. (Since the release of this record they have changed their singer, so I hope Sankalan Samaddar's vocals are better than his predecessors. Overall a neat little Ep from a band that only need a few changes to become very very good. 6/10    

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Reviews: Incursed, Celtic Legacy, Dissorted (Reviews By Stief)

Incursed: Elderslied (Self Released)

The opening instrumental track, Song Of The Ancient transports you to a fantasy realm and sets you up for this movie-like album – the second by Spain's Incursed – which then breaks into Heart Of Yggdrasil, a heavy folk tune that gives many moments to bang your head to or jig to your hearts content. As mentioned before, the album feels almost movie-like with each song feeling like a different scene, from the instrumental introduction to the galloping riffs and drums of The Wild Hunt. Another song, aptly named Beer Bloodbath makes it feel as if you're in the tavern with the band, singing along and drinking. Jötnar places you right among the fabled giants of Norse mythology with its eerie chanting, chugging riffs and heavy bass. The music is solid and easy to listen to, Narot Santos and Jon Koldo Tera playing off each others voices whilst providing rhythm and Keyboards respectively. They are supported by Asier Amo's brutal drumming with Juan Sampredo providing bass and Aiser Fernàndez giving out the riffs.  Incursed are not afraid to use their native language, as is shown in Suaren Lurraldea (The Land Of The Fire) which is one of the folkiest songs on the album, almost bordering on power metal in places. As with every movie, there's an epic battle and this comes in the form of One In A Million, a ten minute song which ranges from Folk metal to fast solos to the spoken word, putting one in mind of Rhapsody of Fire in places, to brutal growls and heavy drumming and all the way back to folk again. The band close the album with Promise Of Hope which, for those patient enough to wait through two minutes of silence, has a heavy cover of the Game Of Thrones theme as a bonus (which can be found separately on the EP of Beer Bloodbath). Overall a great and varied album. 9/10

Celtic Legacy: The Lie Of The Land (Eternal Legacy Records)

The fourth album, and the first in five years from the newly reformed Celtic Legacy, The Lie Of The Land starts with an eerie instrumental track before breaking into heavy folk tunes. The title track sounds very Maiden-esque, with galloping bass and rocking guitars, but with folk elements thrown in to make a great sound. The third track Emerald Eye, has a slower pace, yet still retains the steady folk beat, with some excellent solos from Dave Morrissey. Ciaràn Ennis' voice reminiscent of Mr Dickinson's in places, albeit with an Irish lilt. The Body And The Blood is the album's 'main track' so to speak, sitting at an impressive 11 minutes, starting off with a folky theme, before calming down and letting Morrissey show his skills on bass, keyboard and guitars before picking up the pace again and breaking into some great heavy metal riffing. The rest of the album follows the heavy metal/folk fusion, Reckless Abandon being one of the more folkier (It's a word now- Stamped & Official Matt) songs, with plenty of areas to start jigging to, Irish elements scattered throughout the song. Album closer Journey's End is also an outlier, being more of a ballad with two excellent solos from Morrisey, Ennis' voice soulful and almost lamenting. A good mix of heavier and lighter stuff, here's hoping the band continue with this sort of sound. 8/10

Dissorted: I (EP) (Self Released)

The first release from Germany's Dissorted, this EP is a great indication of what's to come from this band. Opening with the brutal Bloodshed Divine, the band don't let up, keeping the brutality coming all the way through. Mirco's angry vocals ranging from clean to growls and screams are supported by the melodic yet ruthless riffs of Sebastian and Flo, Martin's fast and heavy drumming and Dillon's chugging Bass. Every song is savage, The Somnabulist bringing in a brilliant riff and breakdown halfway through. Very much looking forward to a full release from the band, especially if they keep up this level of thrash. 8/10

Friday 2 January 2015

Reviews: Amulet, State Urge, Renegade

So a round up of the last reviews of 2014 with two late releases and one released earlier in the year

Amulet: The First (Century Media)

Amulet are an English metal band that are so deep in NWOBHM that you'd think the last thirty odd years never happened. With an album split into two sides with every song full of rumbling bass, dual guitar attack, metronomic drumming and helium vocals. The songs don't relent from the first chords of Evil Cathedral, through the stomp of Bloody Nights and into the two instrumental tracks and beyond this is an album that is straight out of 1980's encompassing all the sounds of that come with it. The 13 songs on this album are dirty, sleazy, leather clad metal with the same occult lyricism that perennial black magic purveyors Angel Witch have always peddled with nods to Priest and of course Maiden. Amulet are one band in very wide genre and they can stand up to the Swedes in terms stylistic authenticity there is very little else I can say about this album other than if you like music that harks back tot he glory days of British metal then you will love Amulet. 7/10     

State Urge: Confrontation (Self Released)

Polish band State Urge make music that is steeped in classic rock style but it is also both technical and progressive without being pretentious. The claim their genre is 'White Rock' but what it actually is, is a mixture of sounds that is organ drenched 70's prog mixed with jazz and a some hard rock thrown in for good measure the first two tracks merge together into one cohesive song, with the second part Revival being mostly an instrumental piece that lets the band show off their musical chops. Despite the overarching progginess of it all the songs do not outstay their welcome with only three songs coming in at over 6 minutes long but most of them never seem like they are long pieces as the music keeps you interested as it moves through all manner of moods and indeed types of music with nods to Steven Wilson, Pink Floyd (Cold As A Lie) as well as 70's occult on Midnight Mistress which features some great organ and bells from Michał Tarkowski, the rest of the band too are all very talented musicians with the rhythm section of Krystian Papiernik's bass and Marcin Bocheński's drums providing the corner stone on which all of the songs are build finally rounding out the band is Marcin Cieślik who provides the soaring guitars and also the soulful vocals. If I'm honest Midnight Mistress is one of the weaker songs on the album but is perfectly positioned in the middle of album and ends very well before transitioning into the folk balladry of New Season and the fuzzing space rock of Before The Dawn before the album ends in strongly with the slow burning More. This is State Urges second album and it is one that will hopefully bring them to the attention of many more people, pure progressive bliss. 9/10

Renegade: Thunder Knows No Mercy (Pure Underground Records)

With so many power metal bands coming from Germany and Sweden its sometimes easy to forget that Italy have a rich power metal history and Renegade are part of that history having been around since about 2006. The excellently titled Thunder Knows No Mercy is their fifth album and unsurprisingly it follows in the same no compromise style of thunderous (sorry) heavy metal, With The World Is Dying leading the charge as the vocals hit highs only dogs can here. There is no room for emotion here with all the songs a fast metallic battering or a mid paced chug that echoes the Germanic style metal that Accept and Helloween have been playing since the 80's, they even have song called Screaming On The Eagle for God sake!! The only slowish song is Trail Of Tears but even that rocks up in the right places. There is no getting away from it Renegade are aping the Teutonic metal genre for all it's worth but they are a fun addition to any heavy/power metal fans collection and it proves the thunder indeed knows no mercy but also power metal has no shame. 7/10