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Saturday 28 February 2015

Reviews: Temperance, Battle Beast, LEAH (Reviews By Stief)

Temperance: Limitless (Scarlet Records)

The second album from the Italian Quintet opens with an eerie choir of children singing, Oblivion then breaks into the distinct techno-infused metal we've come to enjoy from the band. Yet again the guitars are solid, Giulio Capone's drumming heavy and Chiara Tricarico's vocals soar between operatic and clean effortlessly supported by Marco Pastorino's distinct growls. As mentioned before, the keyboards add a more techno feel to the melodic heavy metal sound, similar to Swedes Amaranthe, which isn't a bad thing at all. Save Me has both an uplifting chorus, and a brilliant breakdown in which Marco shows off his growling, as well as some great riffing supported by Sandro Capone's rhythm guitars. Stay brings the pace down a little, whilst remaining heavy. Another highlight is Mr. White, a song dedicated to everyone's favourite meth dealer, Heisenberg, which even opens with a Breaking Bad-esque bass line from Luik Abbott. Again, Marco shows his vocal skills, supporting Chiara in the chorus with clean vocals before breaking into growls and heavier vocals for the verses. Never Say Goodbye is another song with more of a ballad-esque feel and in this song, as well as throughout the album, the use of strings adds to the melodic sound. The album constantly shifts in pace from song to song, be it the slower sound of Never Say Goodbye, or the faster pace of the title track Limitless, but no song seems to detract from the others. Overall the album is just as melodic and heavy as the last. Another great album by a great band. 9/10

Battle Beast: Unholy Saviour (Nuclear Blast)

Finland's Battle Beast start off with Lionheart, a slice of 80's Heavy Metal complete with Noora Louhimo's vocals, which are bloody powerful, never sounding strained no matter how far she pushes them. There's a very Doro Pesch-like vibe from Noora, and it's perfectly suited to the sound of the band. The third full album from the band, Unholy Saviour is a great mix of heavy, speedy power metal and slower more ballad-like songs such as; Sea Of Dreams and Angel Cry, in which Noora shows the softer side to her vocals whilst still blasting us away with how strong her voice can be. The album also cements the band as fans of Scarface, including not only a sample from the film in I Want The World...And Everything In It, but also an excellent cover of Paul Engemann's Push It To The Limit from the film's soundtrack. Madness is another great song, showing off the talents of the band, be it Eero Sipilä's heavy bass, Pyry Vikki's brilliant drumming, the melodic keyboards of Janne Björkroth or the riffing from Juuso Soinio as well as Noora's aforementioned vocals. Another song which showcases the band's skills is Hero's Quest, a completely instrumental sing replete with chants of 'hey hey' which sounds like it would be perfectly in place as the theme tune to an 80's adventure TV show. Having seen the band live before, it's obvious they're very talented, and this album is a shining example of that. 9/10

LEAH : Kings And Queens (Ex Cathedra Records)

Having been supported by members of Testament before, Canadian artist LEAH is supported by members of Delain and Blind Guardian in places on her third album, Kings And Queens (released last year). It's obvious LEAH has talent,with a varied symphonic style and quite distinct voice. Be it soft in the form of Arcadia and Heart Of Poison to almost Enya-level serenity in places such as Alpha Et Omega, and Hourglass. The album has a very Celtic feel throughout with various instruments being used in conjunction with the metal guitar riffs and drumming to create a unique, soft metal sound which is reminiscent of acts such as Emilie Autumn in places. The album closes with a cover of Siúil A Rún, an Irish love song, mixing English and Irish language, and a bonus rock version of the same song. Overall a mixed bag, but a good album 8/10

Friday 27 February 2015

Reviews: The Neal Morse Band, Wolfheart, Mojave Lords, Eradicator (Reviews By Paul)

The Neal Morse Band: The Grand Experiment (InsideOut)

Neal Morse has been kicking around the progressive scene for many years; Spock’s Beard, prog super group Transatlantic and a lengthy solo career to name but three. This latest release features Mr Rent-a-kit Mike Portnoy alongside bassist Randy George (Ajalon), guitarist Eric Gillette and keyboardist and vocalist Bill Huabauer. The group are credited with writing all of the music on this album, and musically it is a top quality release. Portnoy’s playing is excellent, once again demonstrating his technical skills whilst Huabauer’s synth work is progressive rock at its most flowing. Some very neat guitar work, time changes and various patterns of play draw you in. However, unfortunately for me, it turns out that most of this motley crew are mainly born again Christians and The Grand Experiment is actually a Christian progressive rock album. Yes, okay, song titles like The Call and the 26 minute closer Alive Again give you the clues. Opening track The Call actually develops during the course of its 10 minutes into an almost evangelical opus, with lots of multiple harmonies in the backing vocals. The title track has some delicious keyboards, coating the track in the vein of the late great John Lord and an infectious hook; but you can’t shake off the happy clappy lyrics which unsurprisingly sit quite uncomfortably with me. And that is where I leave this; before I vomit all over the keyboard as Jesus and his sunshine band continue their love in on Waterfall. Musically, this is fine progressive rock. Lyrically, it makes me want to heave and so happy that the devil has all the best tunes. 6/10

Wolfheart: Winterborn (Spinefarm)

So another release from a Finnish outfit arrives at MoM towers and this time it’s a release which appears to have slipped through our net. Wolfheart is a solo release from Tuomas Saukkonen, following the disbandment of numerous other bands, including Before The Dawn and Black Sun Aeon (ah yes, of course!) Wolfheart is melodic death metal in the vein of Winterstorm, Wintersun and any other band with winter in their name. If you like death vocals, oodles of technical guitar work and battering ram style drumming, give this a whirl. If you don’t it might be one to miss. On the plus side, the quality of musicianship, as typified in most of these bands is excellent with some really intricate playing whilst retaining the heaviness that sits in the death metal camp. On the negative side, much of it just sounds the same and after about 20 minutes you can be excused for wondering if the same song is on loop. There are some changes of pace; Routa Pt 2 starts with a string intro, kicks off into a head first charge, recedes to a classical vibe before heading back into the maelstrom once again. Whiteout is a stomping piece which has a slower, less frenetic pace but retains the death growls. It’s one to bang the head to. More of the same as the album continues, blast beats aplenty and you do wonder how Saukkonen’s throat is feeling by here. It must be raw! Chasm has an element of Opeth about it, death metal interspersed with acoustic parts and some rather tasty time changes to boot. This one has dark mood written all over it. Breathe is a brooding piece, firmly sat in the Triptykon corner with down tuned guitars and clouds gathering above. You just know it would rain if this was played at a festival. Overall then, a varied mix with some very interesting sounds. The biggest problem is getting past the first half of the album which is kinda ‘samey’ in order to access some of the more atmospheric and crafted tracks and it is for that reason that I'm giving it a relatively low rating. 6/10

Mojave Lords: Unfuckwithable (Self Released)

Combine members of the Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, Masters of Reality and the Eagles Of Death Metal amongst others and what do you get? A slab of steaming hot heavy stoner desert rock more groove laden than a field at harvest time. David Catching and Bongo Ritchey have produced a surprisingly heavy album, as demonstrated on opener Sweet Little Down And Out. The QOTSA sound oozes throughout. Hot Throwaway a case in point with a huge drum sound interspersed with some neat single note guitar work. Unfuckwithable doesn't let up at any point, galloping along in an almost throwaway fashion until you actually analysis that this is really good shit. Anytime Rock is a must for a driving compilation, but then so is most desert rock. It really is pretty damn fine stuff. Simple but deadly and so efficient. The fact that four different drummers feature on this album is quite impressive, as each of them maintain the slamming vibe needed to move the whole thing along. The guitar sound is raw and dirty, and the vocals remain level and in key throughout, apart from one or two interesting falsetteos. If you like your desert rock, this is for you. A very tidy debut from a group that are veterans of the scene. 8/10

Eradicator: Slavery (Yonah Records)

According to their Wikipedia page, Eradicator play classic Thrash Metal in the vein of bands from the San Francisco Bay Area, comparable to the works of Exodus, Death Angel and Testament. Well, it just proves that you can’t believe everything you read on Wiki. Yes, the German outfit play thrash, but so apparently do Madicide. Musically Eradicator are perfectly competent, if routine in their playing with the odd decent hook and some tasty riffs at times. However, the vocals of Sebastian Stober are just dire and destroy any hope of a decent song on the album. How in the name of Satan this lot have managed to release three albums is beyond me. Overall this could be the worst release of 2015. Avoid at all costs. 2/10

Thursday 26 February 2015

Reviews: Black Star Riders, Serious Black, Demolition Train

Black Star Riders: Killer Instinct (Nuclear Blast)

After their debut I was wondering where Black Star Riders could go in terms of their long term plans seeing as they started life as the reinvigorated Thin Lizzy before changing their name to create a new history rather than play on Lizzy's. With the shadow of Lizzy looming large on the debut Black Star Riders have to achieve a fine balance between carrying on that legacy musically and forging their own career as a band. On this second album the band have managed not to fall off the ledge as from the burly swaggering riff of the title track opens the album just like Phil and co used to, Ricky Warwick using his Irish croon to great effect over Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson's twin axe attack something Gorham's previous band perfected, so far so Lizzy then but the band have managed to walk out of the shadow a little with tracks that are not reaching for any particular sound except one of guitar slinging, whiskey drinking hard rock; tracks like Bullet Blues have their own sound with Robbie Crane and Jimmy DeGrasso adding to their engine room stamp all over this driving track, Finest Hour is a poppier affair that almost sounds a lot like The Almighty with it's "nana nana" refrain before we are thrown back into Celtic territory with Soldiertown that is prime Gary Moore as is Turn In Your Arms. As I've said the shadow of Lizzy does still loom over proceedings but there is enough on this record to advance BSR, take for example Blindsided which is a great song that is truly their own creation not sounding like anyone else and Sex, Guns & Gasoline which is more Southern USA than Emerald Isle. As I've said BSR have managed to forge ahead with this band harking back to their roots but also creating their own sound, this is a great second shot at glory for BSR. 8/10

Serious Black: As Daylight Breaks (AFM)

With a relative glut of power metal albums coming thick and fast at the beginning of the year, we get yet another collaborative project drawing members from other power metal bands, with the most well known of which being Ex-Helloween/Masterplan axeman Roland Grapow who oversees the production and plays the guitars along with Edenbridge's Dominik Sebastian (Grapow has since been replaced by Firewind/Outloud's Bob Katsinosis). He has assembled a worldwide line up with the rhythm section coming from Emergency Gate's Mario Lochert on bass and ex-Blind Guardian tub thumper Thomen Stauch firing like a machine gun. With Grapow and indeed Lochert's production expertise the rhythm section sparkles battering down the doors from the opening few minutes of I Seek No Other Life, before things get more melodic on High And Low which has more input from Jan Vacik's keys but retains the Teutonic metal assault of the bottom end and the simply stunning guitar work of Grapow and Sebastian both of whom show their skill and why they are revered in power metal guitar circles. This album comes from the heavier end of the power metal spectrum with crunching metallic riffs cascading throughout even on the 'slower' tracks like Sealing My Fate, the orchestral Egyptian themed Akhenaton, the more melodic Setting Fire To The Earth, with the one exception on the massive ballad As Daylight Breaks. The band are all excellent musicians in particular Urban breed (sic) whose vocals are excellent, the ex Tad Morose and Bloodbound man has a a hell of a voice expressive and brawny perfectly fitting on top of the mighty musical backing. As I've said there have been a lot of power metal releases at the moment with a lot of filler and few gems, Serious Black happily are in the latter category a real power metal gem that is up there with Helloween, Blind Guardian and indeed Firewind in terms of rampaging, melodic power metal that merges great songwriting with musical virtuosity. 9/10          

Demolition Train: Unleash The Hordes (No Remorse)

Trad/Thrash metal from Athens Greece now with Demolition Train who pack a punch with their thrashy style of metal released on Athens' No Remorse Records and this album is atypical of the their roster, nice speedy metallic riffage with scratchy guitars, shouting Tom Araya style vocals and thumping, machine gun rhythm section. Opener Wrecking Crew is prime Anthrax, Unleash The Hordes echoes Slayer and Kreator, so far so thrash but Kill Your Boss starts out in Judas Priest territory before going all Municipal Waste in the final part with the repeated chants of the the title. I'll say it now, Demolition Train don't do anything new but they do play solid thrash infused metal with a a nice natural sound, no production tricks here, we are in down and dirty territory with tracks like Metal Mayhem sounding like an offcut from Kill .Em All and Chase Your Blues Away pinching a Motorhead riff I'm sure. Like I said no new ground covered but a good enough retracing of steps with all the thrash bases covered from speed to melody, subtlety to power. If you want to just tune in, turn up and rock out you can do a lot worse than Unleash The Hordes; brainless thrash at it's best. Elli̱nikí̱ métallo kómma!! 7/10

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Review: Scorpions (Monster Review By Paul)

Scorpions: Return To Forever (Sony Music)

Now in their 50th year, Germanic rockers Scorpions have delivered what is very likely to be their final album, Return To Forever. Now, before I get stuck into this review, bear in mind that this is a band I have loved for a long time. From the psychedelic meanderings of the Lonesome Crow and Fly To The Rainbow; the move to harder edged rock era of In Trance and Virgin Killer and the more commercial but still hard rocking late 70s Lovedrive and Animal Magnetism as well as the early 1980s success of the blistering Blackout and Love At First Sting, culminating in the classic double live album World Wide Live, I have lapped them all up. Stunningly good live, full of power and drive with anthem after anthem, Scorpions were a staple part of my teenage years. Despite the god awful Wind Of Change and the dirge that they produced through the 1990s, they remained high in my affections, much to my wife’s bewilderment. 2010’s Sting In The Tail left fresh hope that the band had rediscovered their cutting edge that had been buried for a long time and as they embarked on a farewell tour that has lasted forever, a further release has finally arrived.

So, is it any good? Well, in truth, it’s a pretty mixed bag overall. Opener Going Out With A Bang starts with an almost Southern Country style riff before the classic harmonies kick in on the chorus, and the trademark riffs of Rudolph Schenker and Mathias Jabs punch in. Klaus Meine has one of the most distinctive voices in hard rock, and this album is no different. Fuck it, for a man in his late 60s, his high range tenor is still damn impressive. Going Out With A Bang morphs into quite a rocker before first single, We Built This House arrives. This feels more like the cheesy Scorpions that we've been used to for the last 20 years; lyrically Scorpions were never going to tackle world politics; love ballads, innuendo and the odd chest thumping is about as in depth as you get, and in the main, this is what you want. Rock My Car is a decent thumper of a track, some old school hooks and riffs surfacing along with the formulaic delivery and sing-a-long chorus, “Rock, rock, rock, my car, Let’s put the pedal, down to the metal”. Yep, it’s high intensity stuff but after eight pints this will blow your head off with some decent solo work from Mathias Jabs hidden in the middle. Unfortunately the Def Leppard style chanting make you feel a bit queasy at times.

Next up is the first real ballad, House Of Cards. Whilst I appreciate Meine’s vocals, I just find the rock ballad in any setting cringe worthy virtually without exception. However, I guarantee that the arenas of Europe will be lit by lighters for this one. It’s so sickly you should get a free savoury snack to balance the taste out. From here on in, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. All For One falls into the anthemic arena rock category but is really nothing special whilst Rock ‘n’ Roll Band starts like a steam train, reminiscent of Now from Blackout, and is quite a balls out rocker, allowing James Kottak and Paweł Mąciwoda, both stalwarts of the band to power the rhythm section forward. Despite the clunky lyrics, this is one of the heaviest tracks on the album and I’d give a few quid to see this live. Catch Your Luck and Play is all filler, another sing-a-long chorus and the opportunity for mass audience participation; several chances to sing “woo” and punch the air. Rollin’ Home is almost a Queen track with a We Will Rock You drum sound and some very eerie Freddie Mercuryesque vocals at times. It’s not very good.

Return To Forever is too long, especially by Scorpion standards. 17 tracks? Since when? Hard Rockin' The Place is formulaic, throw away stuff but still perfectly listenable with some driving riffs and melodies and Jabs peeling off solos for fun. However, Eye Of The Storm, another ballad induces the nausea and has you reaching for the sick bag. Unsurprisingly, the lyrical content throughout the album is reflective and sentimental, with the inevitable end slowly looming into view. The Scratch is a slight departure with a smashing rockabilly feel and one that would be pretty awesome at a drunken wedding with your best mates; you know, the kind of do where you think you can jive and twist but actually you look like a twat but it doesn't matter in the slightest. This might just be my favourite track. It’s like heavy metal Stray Cats! However, the fun doesn't last, as sombre guitars introduce yet another introspective ballad; Gypsy Life with lyrics such as “The years go by, the clock is ticking way too fast”. This is followed by The World We Used To Know, yet another self-reflection and even more Freddie Mercury style vocals. This is horrible stuff I’m afraid. Stay with me folks, we’re up to track 14, Dancing In The Moonlight, with a riff stolen from Steve Vai’s Surfing With The Alien; It’s an up tempo Eurovision style song; almost but not quite power metal. When The Truth Is A Lie is quite a mixture, some killer guitar work combined with an acoustic theme and Meine’s high vocals. Who We Are – well, just makes you want to vomit. It’s ghastly. Album closer Delirious is a reasonable offering; some of the old Scorpions fire threatens at times and brings an overlong album to a respectable end.

So, if this is it, which I am pretty certain it is, is it a fitting epitaph? For me no. It contains too many throw away tracks, far too many ballads and not enough of the Scorpions I loved. I’d still love to see them live again, although I fear that could destroy my memories. Tracks like The Zoo, Make It Real, Blackout, China White, I'm Going Mad and We’ll Burn The Sky; that’s where I live. Maybe we should just leave a slightly grumpy old man with his memories and old school music in the corner in his comfy chair and slippers; dreaming of the days when already receding Germans looked the mutt’s nuts in stripy yellow spandex and performed human pyramids on stage. 6/10

Sunday 22 February 2015

Reviews: Revolution Saints, The Experiment No Q, Winterage

Revolution Saints: S/T (Frontiers Records)

Revolution Saints is a definitely a supergroup, with all three members of this power trio coming from the A-List of Melodic Rock/AOR, the band consists of six stringer Doug Aldrich known for his time as David Coverdale's sideman, bass comes from Night Ranger/Damn Yankees mainman Jack Blades and drums and indeed lead vocals are from Journey sticksman Deen Castronovo. Yes I did say lead vocals, many Journey fans will know Castronovo contributes some lead vocals on Journey albums but never a whole album, so how does he fair? Very well indeed, his vocals are strong, soulful and perfect for this type of music, in parts he even sounds a lot like Journey's Steve Perry especially when he is duetting with current Journey singer Arnel Pineda on the super ballad You're Not Alone. Castronovo is not the only star though Aldrich shows why he was at ol' leather lungs himself side for all these years sliding up and down the fretboard like a madman and Blades adds the bototm end and helps out on the vocal front on Way To The Sun (which features guest guitars from Neal Schon) and the lead single Turn Back Time something that this track and indeed the whole album does in spades. We are in prime AOR territory here with and album that would fit well when nestled between Eclipse and Midnight Madness, this is quite a feat especially when you consider many of the tracks were written by Keyboardist/Producer Alessandro Del Vecchio, Eclipse's  Erik Mårtensson and guitarist Magnus Karlsson, men who were not around when these albums were released. With this all star cast they have produced an album of excellent melodic rock with some big choruses and staggering ballads in the shape of Don't Walk Away. If you love AOR and melodic rock, you will love this album it harks back to the 1980's heyday of these men's day jobs and shows that you can't teach old tricks but you can combine those tricks to create a magical album of prime radio rock. 8/10 

The Experiment No Q: The Experiment No Q (Nembo Records)

OK so bare with me here, The Experiment No Q is the project of Paolo Vallerga who is the lyricist, artistic director and (one of) keyboardist/guitarist of this project writing most of the music (with a little help) as well as the poetic lyrics that run through this record. He has assembled a large group of relatively unknown musicians (this is not an all-star project) to perform the songs. This album can be classed as progressive, but it falls into both rock and metal categories as well as numerous others too, with five vocalists (four male and one female), four guitarists, three bassists, three drummers, yet another keyboardist as well as violinist and flautist, this album is a real melting pot of influences and styles, To The Wise And Understanding Reader is a metallic start to proceedings with a heavy weight riff fest and powerful percussion to get you in the mood before throwing a curve-ball with Unpainted Leaves which is a lot jazzier in its style and even has some scat singing from vocalists Linnéa Vikström and Nalle Påhlsson, from jazz to driving marching industrial metal on Romantiquesque which strays into Rammestein territory another stylistic sway and we go into a piano led The Dream Of The Whales which sounds like a more restrained ballad track from Dream Theater or Threshold, The Ship And The Poet is exactly that a poem set to an ominous, dark musical backing. As I've said this album twist and turns leaving no musical avenue unresearched, but unusually the songs on this album are concise keeping all the experimentation into songs under 7 minutes which means that they don't outstay their welcome and become convoluted and bloated which can happen with some prog bands, it means that this album is incredibly accessible for those that are put off by 25 minute tracks favoured by proggers. Back to the songs and The Black Horizon Of The Monodist is organ fuelled 70's rock that ends with an explosive guitar solo, whereas Labyrinths is pure Porcupine Tree ending with a guitar solo over a sample from a space launch. As the album wraps up we are finally faced with an elongated track but The Testament Of Cremer is paced like a Maiden epic infused with epic poetry and galloping rhythm guitars before we get an acoustic bonus track that is totally Italian. This album a real musical journey that draws from rock, metal and jazz while bringing in other musical elements to flesh out their appeal and of course their sound, an album to absorb in it's entirety and one that gives more on every listen. This is a steampunk fairytale told by a multitude of talented artists and brought together by a man with great vision. This could be one of the prog albums of 2015. 9/10

Winterage: The Harmonic Passage (Self Released)

Italy is somewhat of a heartland for symphonic power metal and Winterage are the newest addition to the countries plethora of symphonic metal bands. What sets them apart though is their liberal use of Gabriele Boschi's violin which gives the album an almost folky feel for the most part, this means that they sound similar to fellow Italians Elvenking which is no bad thing in my opinion. Yet even with the addition of the violin, for the most part this is rapid drumming from Davide Bartoli, the staccato guitars of Riccardo Gisotti, who duels with Boschi, throughout and melodic keyboard flourishes of Dario Gisotti who adds a hint of 70's prog to proceedings on The Flame Shall Not Fade. I will admit the mix of guitars and violin is excellent and helps move Winterage into a different category musically as it allows them to move between classical Son Of Winter (which also features some majestic female vocals) and metal (the title track) with ease helping them do both very well indeed. With the operatic vocals of Daniele Barbarossa topping everything off nicely Winterage have constructed an album of classically influenced metal that is symphonic in its truest form. A great first strike from Winterage with a sound that will endear them to many fans of symphonic power metal. 7/10  

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Review: Blackberry Smoke (Monster Review By Paul)

Blackberry Smoke: Holding All The Roses (Rounder Records)

Holding all the Roses is probably one of the most anticipated releases of 2015; the long awaited follow up to 2012’s Whippoorwill and on the back of a hugely successful UK tour last autumn. Having been lucky enough to have seen a quite staggeringly brilliant show in Birmingham, it is fair to say that I was pretty keen to get my mitts on this release.

Favourable comparisons have been made between the Smoke and many of the great Southern rock bands such as Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, Hatchet and even ZZ Top and their previous releases contained many similarities. With Holding All The Roses, Blackberry Smoke have both distanced and closed the gap with their peers. Sure, the heavy keyboards of Brandon Still continue to ooze throughout, the lyrics still talk about the good ol’ boys singing the blues and tales of mischief and heartbreak and Charlie Starr’s vocals remains instantly recognisable. The guitar work of Starr and Paul Jackson is effortless, layered and textured and to be honest quite flawless. All of this quality is underpinned by the solid rhythm section of brothers Richard (bass) and Brit Turner (drums) to create Southern rock at its finest. Yes, the band play both types of music; country and Western.
Opener Let Me Help You is more infectious than Newport clap clinic and has a distinct Tom Petty feel to it. The title track is real feel good rattle and hum; galloping along and compelling you to pick up your Stetson, cowboys boots and shake your thang, all in a line now y’all. Some smashing guitar work from Starr and Jackson are hidden in the middle of this track which is likely to become a firm crowd favourite as soon as it hits the live circuit. There’s even some demonic fiddle buried in the track, reminiscent of the Charlie Daniel’s Band track The Devil Went Down To Georgia (how apt!). Living In The Song and Rock And Roll Again have massive shades of the mighty Quo, all strum and sing along with the classic that the Smoke provide on their choruses. My favourite track on the album Woman In The Moon is next, and what a peach of a tune this is. A slower and more melancholy track, it builds with some sterling Hammond action, Still tinkling those ivories throughout before the hook cuts in, and what a hook it is. This one hits you right in the middle of the chest, Turner’s cymbals crashing away as the track builds and then calms again.

Too High continues the quality, all Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson with another chorus that allows Starr and co to hits the heights whilst it also features some very tasty slide guitar work. Wish In One Hand is a classic Smoke track, some harder guitar creating the riffs in true Southern style with some fine duel lead work whilst all the while the keyboards massage and ease you along. Randolph County Farewell is a one minute instrumental that leads nicely into Payback’s A Bitch, a foot stomping hell yeah of a track that would get the rednecks throwing Budweiser bottles at the stage in appreciation. Yeehaaww!! Lay It All On Me contains both Country and Western, with some neat guitar licks just thrown in for good measure. It’s almost the kind of track that would feature as a soundtrack to an American serial; think The Littlest Hobbo or similar. Lovely stuff. Penultimate track No Way Back To Eden displays some serious Eagles influences, beautifully constructed with cleverly reflective lyrics and another really catchy hook. This track simply oozes class, magical in its simplicity and yet telling you all the time that it takes real talent to deliver music like this. Album closer Fire In The Hole proves that the Smoke can still kick out the jams, a real rocker full of groove and clever interplay between guitar and keyboard and for the umpteenth time a catchy and joyous chorus to sing-along to. Holding All The Roses isn't a metal album. At times it is not even a rock album. It is just a great album of Southern music from a band that can climb and climb.  10/10

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Another Point Of View: Black Label Society (Review By Paul)

Black Label Society: 02 Academy Bristol

Valentine’s Day eh? Another attempt by the corporate industries to cash in on the gullible public who seem to think that a display of affection need only happen one day a year. Well, I think not and this year chose to spend the “special day” with 1500 mainly bearded, sweaty and hairy men (and a few rather less hirsute ladies) at the lovely 02 Academy in Bristol. Regular readers will know that our happy band at MoM are often less than impressed with the venue, especially when it is filled to capacity. An inability to move on the floor due to the ridiculous layout and an overall unpleasant experience is often the result. Tonight was no exception with the venue full way before BLS hit the stage and a number of quite unpleasant fights broke out on the floor during Black Tusk’s set and prior to BLS’s arrival. A number of other people were observed receiving medical treatment at various stages of the evening. Paying for the privilege? It’s a bit shit to be honest. Anyway, due to the continued lack of a middle sized venue in South Wales it was another trip across the Severn for an evening with Zakk and co
Last year Crobot (8) crept in under the radar with their first full album, the rather tasty Something Supernatural. With a sound that contains elements of Zeppelin, Alter Bridge, Wolfmother, Clutch and Soundgarden, it was worth getting in early to catch the Pennsylvanian four piece. As well as obtaining an excellent vantage point on the balcony, we were treated to an excellent half hour of music. Frontman Brandon Yeagley is a natural; image wise a cross between Russell Brand, Myles Kennedy and a young Robert Plant, and vocally refreshingly good. A decent sound allowed the band to showcase tracks from their debut album, including the stunning opener Legend Of The Spaceborne Killer and a favourite of mine, The Necromancer. With the obvious exception of drummer Paul Figueroa, the rest of the band didn't rest for a minute throughout the set; Yeagley constantly twirling his mike stand, guitarist Chris Bishop spinning his guitar, jumping off the drum riser and adjusting his effects whilst bassist Jake Figueroa, resplendent in a mighty pair of flares cut some of the most magical shapes ever seen. The man just could not stand still. As our esteemed editor remarked, brilliant but paid up member of the Sunshine Bus (*send Ed on Equality and Diversity Training Course*).

The venue was filling up nicely as Black Tusk (7) arrived on stage. They proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes taking a sledgehammer to the head; full on punk edged metal, driven by the battering ram Jamie May on drums and the powerchord assault of Andrew Fidler’s axe, Black Tusk showed absolutely no mercy; not even when the bass drum pedal collapsed under the sheer ferocity of May’s hammering. This is a band that has overcome some pretty heavy recent tragedy with the untimely and tragic death of bassist Jonathan Athon. Touring bassist Corey Barhorst has slotted in so smoothly that if the band hadn't mentioned it you were unlikely to have even noticed. The sludgy Baroness style assault (sans the clean vocals) was impressive but slightly repetitive and by 35 minutes the sheer aggression had me tapping out. I can’t fault the effort or the huge amounts of energy on display and the Georgia outfit received an excellent reception.

A huge BLS curtain was lowered over the front of the stage as anticipation built for the main event. The floor looked quite horribly crowded and there was a substantial amount of aggro with the security staff working overtime to resolve issues. Then the sound of Whole Lotta Sabbath (a Wax Audio Mashup - Ed) blasted out of the PA and it was show time. As the sirens wailed and search lights scanned the venue, the curtain dropped to reveal the four piece outfit known as Black Label Society. Of course, all eyes focus on a certain former Ozzy guitarist, the phenomenal Zakk Wylde; a beast of a man, hair and beard flowing and stacked like the proverbial brick wall, elevated on a reinforced packing box as he soloed as if his life depended on it. The Beginning … At Last segued into the first of three tracks from The Blessed Hellride, Funeral Bell. BLS (8) are a huge live force, and there is little subtlety to their show. It follows a pretty routine format; perform the song, cue in Zakk who destroys with a brutal solo and then conclude with a further solo. Obviously Wylde is the star of the show but he was ably assisted by long serving bassist John DeServio and new members Jeff Fabb who demonstrated an excellent lesson on the drums and rhythm guitarist and pianist Dario Lorina. After seven songs which included three from last year’s underrated but thoroughly great Catacombs Of The Black Vatican (Heart Of Darkness; My Dying Time and Damn The Flood) came the inevitable; Zakk’s guitar solo: all 12 minutes of frenetic fretwork, little soul or construction but fast as hell. He maybe a brilliant guitarist but given that he adds about three minutes to the end of each song with his twiddling, a shorter solo would have been welcomed (add another song or two). Normal service resumed with the only track of the night from Order Of The Black; God Speed Hell Bound which got the crowd moving and head banging.

Following some rambling band member introductions, there was a change of tempo with the ballad Angel Of Mercy before the Dimebag flags were draped over the two Marshall banks (20 in total folks – no wonder my ears were ringing for ages) and Zakk ran through In This River; always a bit of an emotional one (For some of us more than others - Ed) A killer final three to conclude the evening opened with The Blessed Hellride before a stunningly good Concrete Jungle and the inevitable Still Born concluded the evening (without the need to have an encore – heartily endorsed) and produced a massive ovation from the assembled masses. A good evening with three excellent bands; just a shame that the venue sucks.

Sunday 15 February 2015

Reviews: Devil's Train, ShadowQuest, Air Raid

Devil's Train: II (earMusic)

This is the stuff indeed, like drinking a fine bourbon in your favourite dive bar (possibly while scantily clad ladies cavort on poles) Devil's train play hard rock the way it should be a sleazy, dirty and delivered with a punch to the stomach. This multinational band are now on their second album (thus the imaginative title) and they keep things simple with the kind of late 70's early 80's bluesy hard rock favoured by Whitesnake and American hard rockers Tesla who's sound is at it's most noticeable on Gimmie Love and the swaggering Satanic country rock of Mr Jones. The band also add some modern biker stoner thrown in for good measure. The band are made up of some of the best known names in world of rock and metal, the man doing his best Slash-meets-Frank Hannon-by way of Reb Beach and George Lynch is guitarist Danish axe slinger Laki Ragazas while the sleazy, gun slinging engine room is provided by ex-Stratovarius men Jorg Michael (drums) and Jari Kainulainen (bass) however none of this would be as effective without a snake hipped, leather lunged vocalist and Devil's Train have a great one in Stetson sporting Greek wailer R.D. Liapakis who has a voice like velvet with the right amount of grit to set the loins of any ladies aflame. So that's the players sorted what about the songs well Rock Forever is 80's cheese at Y&T levels but very welcome indeed between the driving hard rock Can You Feel and the booty shaking Let's Shake It. Yes OK the lyrical content has been done before love, women, rocking, drinking and having a good time but now as then there is not much else you need to get a make a good rock song, that and some big balls luckily Devil's Train possess a huge pair that they use to great effect on these hard rocking tracks. OK so no one needs another cover of Born To Be Wild or indeed Immigrant Song but on their original tracks they really show their talent on the the rumbling (sorry) Thunderstorm, the filthy Hollywood Girl and for guitar fans Ragazas' guitar workout on Suffocate. A burly, strutting rock album that harks back to hard rocks glory days but performed with modern sheen. 9/10       

Shadowquest: Armoured IV Pain (Self Released)

As many of you may know Sweden is one of the spiritual homes of Power Metal with few countries doing it as well and here we have yet another Swedish power metal band composed of members from many famous Swedish metal bands most notably drummer Ronny Milianowicz formally of Sinergy and Dionysus, ex-Stratovarius, ex-Symfonia and current Devil's Train (see above) and Masterplan bassist Jari Kainulainen and Bloodbound singer Patrik "Pata" Johansson. With the high profile members involved everything points to this album being a power metal tour-de-force. Well all the elements are certainly firmly in place with duelling guitars, symphonic keyboard flourishes and a rhythm section that hurtles along at a fair pace indeed with All One being one of the fastest tracks and gives Johnasson a chance show off his powerful Michael Kiske-like vocal range, the band have a lot in common with Stratovarius and indeed Helloween with some robust guitar work in the rhythms and solos on Blood Of The Pure but also the classical keys of Stratovarius showing themselves on Live Again, with Midnight Sun having a swashbuckling Running Wild style fist-in-the-air chorus and We Bring The Power yet again this bands' striking gang vocal choruses. As it stands Shadowquest have managed to live up to the talents of those musicians involved with some genuinely exciting power metal that will have fans of the genre lapping up every single shredding solo, bombastic chorus and head banging riff before ending with the monstrous ballad Where Memories Grow which would make Kiske weep before the album ends with a by-the-numbers cover of Priests' Freewheel Burning that really adds nothing to the original but is done well. Shadowquest are very much a sum of their parts and play some great quality Swedish Power Metal. 8/10  

Air Raid: Point Of Impact (High Roller)

Another week and another album on High Roller means another denim and leather clad trad/retro metal band channelling the spirit of NWOBHM. This time we have Swedes Air Raid who play explosive, duel guitar led metal full of solos and helium vocals. This album is an album that does hark back to those heady days of the early 80's but the band add a lot of youth and vigour to the music and the modern production means everything sounds huge. No as for the band themselves they are all great musicians, plus they have great pseudonyms with the axe slinging coming from Stormchild and Johnny Nightshredder, bass is handled by Rob Thunderbolt, drums by Dave Thunderbolt and the roof raising vocals are from Arthur W Andersson (which is is his real name). These men come together brilliantly with the right amount of energetic drumming, lively basswork and dynamic guitars, throughout to make sure they keep your attention, Madness deviates from one rhythm part to another, Victim Of The Night starts slow before allowing Stormchild and Nightshredder to flex their fingers a little on the solo section. As I said for the most part the band hark back to Maiden, Priest and their ilk (Wildfire) but their flashes of the Swedish speed metal that Europe were known for in their early career, especially the aforementioned Victim Of The Night and Vengeance (not a Yngwie Malmsteen cover) which has an air of Seven Doors Hotel to it. With some superb musicianship and an album of eight well conceived and played songs Air Raid have produced a very strong sophomore album that does a lot to endear them to the listener. 8/10

Friday 13 February 2015

Reviews: U.D.O, Lord Dying, Mechina (Reviews By Paul)

U.D.O: Decadent (AFM)

Udo Dirkschneider will be forever known as the voice of Accept. His unique growling delivery on the German thrashers early catalogue quite rightly sit in the category of metal classics. Restless And Wild and Balls To The Wall are top quality and created the blueprint for a million other bands. Since Udo left Accept in 1987, he has carved out a career with his own band, U.D.O and has delivered an impressive 14 albums, as well as fitting in a brief reunion with Accept in the mid-90s. Decadent is album number 15, and contains very few surprises. Opener Speeder is a no-nonsense head down thrasher, with Dirkschneider’s vocals instantly recognisable. The title track is also a decent tune, with chugging riffs and a catchy chorus which you can’t help but bang your head to. The album features some fine drumming from Sven Dirkschneider, yes, son of the main man and recently seen helping out the mighty Saxon at the tail end of their Warriors of the Road tour. However, after the opening salvo, the quality tails off dramatically with some tepid tracks which do little to get the blood pumping. House Of Fake is average at best, Mystery tries it’s best to build some atmosphere but falls flat with some ridiculously rubbish vocals in the middle section. The worst is still to come though and after the tired and flat Pain with a quite horrible spoken section, an absolutely dreadful ballad Secrets In Paradise had me reaching for the off button. With his original band having released two stunningly good albums in Blood Of The Nations and Stalingrad and a very respectable 2014 release in Blind Rage, the quality of the song writing between the two bands is noticeable. Unfortunately for U.D.O, Accept win by a country mile. Oh, and the cover is dog shit too. 4/10

Lord Dying: Poisoned Altars (Relapse)

Portland outfit Lord Dying’s sophomore release is a gritty, sludgy slab which will have you banging your head within minutes. A blend of Crowbar, COC and their ilk, Poisoned Altars comes at you from the opening bars and refuses to let go. Huge riffs crash out of the sky, combining with a real pummelling from the rhythm section of Rob Schaffer and bassist D. Capuano. Vocalist E. Olsen has a powerful delivery and combines his guitar work with C. Evans to hit the listener with a real riff heavy assault. The Clearing At The End Of The Path combines some of New Orleans finest with a massive dose of Sabbathesque doom. There is little original here but if you like your metal down tuned and as heavy as a 747 carrying a blue whale then this will get you interested in seconds. Tracks like A Wound Outside Of Time and An Open Sore leave little to the imagination; they just grab you by the head and kick away until you beg for mercy. It is a merciless onslaught of heaviness which many try but few succeed with. Lord Dying are one of the latter bands and whilst they are unlikely to suffer from a high profile in the UK any time soon, they certainly catch the attention with their ball breaking in your face approach. Good stuff 7/10

Mechina: Acheron (Self Released)

I admit I knew very little about this band. A quick search on the interweb advised me that Mechina is a four piece outfit established in Illinois in 2004, who comprise Joe Tiberi (guitars, programming), David Holch  (vocals) David Garvin (drums) and Steve Amaranos (bass) and who have managed to create a real kaleidoscope of sound. The music is a real mix of styles, with blast beat drumming combining with electronica, thrash type guitars and several symphonic elements. Earth Born Axoim is an early example of this heady mix, with deep choral  vocals supporting an operatic female lead; on top of all of this there is the narrative of the album which establishes the album in a futuristic setting. Vanquisher opens with a female character wailing whilst another vocal adds an Eastern element to the already crowded pot of sound. String sections fight with power riffs from the guitar work of Tiberi and the death metal vocals of Holch. Some of the drumming in this track is off the chart (although much of it sounds pretty well programmed to me) before it fades with some delicate keyboard and synth work that segues into On The Wings Of Nefeli. This track has a real Eastern feel to it, taking the best of bands like Khalas and Orphaned Land and combining it with the brutality of Behemoth. This is Mechina’s fifth full length release and as you work your way through it you realise that they have managed to create a reasonably unique style which is going to divide opinion. If you like a bit of symphonic metal combined with death vocals and elements of thrash then you might dig this hard. However, if you don’t like multi-layered elements to your music this may do little for you, as there are textures and layers galore. The Halcyon Purge changes direction again with a sci-fi Devin Townsend style opening before the sound of Garvin’s double bass drum take up the charge; Holch’s vocals gradually warm on you, although this track also contains a vocal sampling which reminds me massively of Linkin Park with clean vocals duelling with Holch. It is an acquired taste as the clean vocals sound totally programmed and add little to the track. Lethean Waves introduces some monastic chanting into the equation, with haunting synths and melody creating an atmospheric piece which swirls and builds with additional choral elements. It’s a quite beautiful piece but it doesn't actually go anywhere. A lengthy seven minute track, Ode To The Forgotten Few begins with some delicious piano work, and a female vocal which provides contrast to the death metal vocals of Holch; it is symphonic ala Nightwish and Evanescence, cascading ivories backed by chopping strings. And it is rather decent, albeit a little ponderous at times. Back to full speed for the final couple of tracks with The Hyperion Theory commencing at full pace, briefly drawing breath with more dramatic strings before some bombastic machine gun drumming and Holch’s brutal vocals combine with powerful guitar work from Tiberi and Amaranos. This is all out power metal for a time, before taking some short pauses; not that anyone told Garvin as he continues to batter the shit out of his kit as if his life depended on it. Album closer The Future Must Be Met has a sombre feel to it, closing this grandiose album in a death scene Sci-Fi style; all pensive synth and strings. So, is it any good? Well, this is my overall problem. It is excellently produced, it has a wide range of styles and elements to it and after a couple of listens it demands further listens. Having said that, I'm not convinced that this isn't a bit of a mixed bag with large swathes of programming leaving you unconvinced. Maybe it really is the marmite album of 2015. 7/10

Monday 9 February 2015

Reviews: Diablo Blvd, Night Demon, Profane And The Sacred

Diablo Blvd: Follow The Deadlights (Nuclear Blast)

Follow The Deadlights is Belgian rockers Diablo Blvds third album, their first in five years and it opens with some huge percussion from Kris Martens before the guitars kick in with some chunky six string work from Andries Becker and Dave Hubrechts on the opening track Beyond The Veil which powers straight into Rise Like Lions, with these two tracks the band smack you across the face with their strong writing and playing and arrangements that have a real sense of immediacy to them. The band successfully merge melody with heaviness, something that is hard to do, but they put an emphasis on propulsive, rhythm heavy rockers featuring some powerful percussion, hard rocking riffs and Alex Agnew's Baritone croon that evokes Volbeat's Michael Poulsen. With these ten hard hitting songs, the band aim straight at radio-airplay meaning that for the most part and especially on the title track, they sound a lot like American alternative metal heavyweights Shinedown, bringing that bands knack for huge hooks, catchy choruses and also chest beating anthems. This album is filled with some great tracks; We Are Legion is an arena track with a chant-along chorus, the faster paced Peace Won By War has more of a classic metal sound, End Of Time shows off Agnew's strong growls, before the album ends with a the DJ baiting Stone Souresque ballad InhumanFollow The Deadlights is a dark but uplifting album that means these Belgians have enough songs to challenge the radio dominance of Shinedown and their peers. 7/10   

Night Demon: Curses Of The Dammed (SPV)

So lets address the elephant in the room here Night Demon sound like Diamond Head, exactly like Diamond Head. This three piece have the riffs of Brian Tatler coming from Brent Woodward and the vocals of Sean Harris coming from bassist Jarvis Leatherby who also gallops as you would. The band have managed to merge NWOBHM with some of the swaggering hard rock that Tatler and co did so well. With some good guitar work and a strong rhythm section the band move between Diamond Head on Screams In The Night, Run For Your Life and Livin' Dangerous and Angel Witch with the occult lyrical content on Killer, Satan and Curse Of The Damned which is driven by Leatherby's bass and Dustin Squires drumset.  As I've said the spirit of  Diamond Head looms large and these Americans play their trump card to it's fullest and for all the blatant ripping off they do, they play well and they've written an album that harks back to a much more fun time in music. Nothing fancy but a great retro throwback for fans of the NWOBHM era. 6/10
Profane And The Sacred: Chapter 1: A Long Time Coming (Cargo)

London based stoner rockers Profane And Sacred were formed in 2010 and as their album title suggests this debut album has had a long gestation period but was it worth it? Well the dark acoustic opening of Bench brings to mind Alice In Chains if they came from a swamp in Alabama, the tension builds and as the reverb brings in the thick soupy guitars, the slow, creeping, deafening plod of the rhythm builds into some guitar playing Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein would be proud of, these head crushing guitars come from Luke Alleeson and Rick Spooner with Alleeson also providing the Southern, whiskey drenched howl that make the band sound like a stewing pot of the stoner riffage favoured by Down, Corrosion Of Conformity and perennial Southern underground sensations Alabama Thunderpussy in places, with some sludge of Crowbar and doom of Sabbath and fellow countrymen Orange Goblin thrown in. Big riffs are the order of the day and Spooner and Alleeson provide in abundance with the aforementioned Bench providing 8 minutes plus of mind expanding, brain melting, hammering riffs. This continues throughout with the more immediate Bleed That Stone sounding like it could have come off NOLA with it's hammering rhythm from Rob Taylor (bass) and Kieran Smith (drums) also see Weather The Storm and You Know, before topping all the tracks off with some shouting that sounds like Anselmo in full aggro mode. There has been a lot of time to perfect these songs and it shows they are all considered, planned and delivered in such a way that they still have that jam room feeling to them, they sound organic and gives the record a live in the studio feel, admittedly that studio should ideally be in the swamps of Louisiana and be littered with beer cans, bourbon bottles and King Size Rizla, but with the bookending of two of the more expansive sounding tracks, A New Leaf ends the album in a bass and guitar hazy, trip. Profane And The Sacred are stepping into what has always been exclusively American territory and rather than sneaking in unnoticed these Brits have decided to walk up and kick the door in on the the Yanks playing them at their own game and doing a damn fine job too. Crank it up, grab a beer, hail the leaf and let them take you into their house of riffage!! 9/10      

Another Point Of View: Saxon (Live Review By Paul)

Saxon: 02 Academy, Oxford

Back in December Saxon drummer Nigel Glockler experienced a life threatening brain haemorrhage which resulted in the band postponing the conclusion of their Warriors of the Road tour. Thankfully, Nigel appears to be on his way back to health. Thanks to Brett, the opportunity to catch the band with stand in drummer Sven Dirkschneider at the 02 in Oxford remained and we headed East to see how the band had coped with the disruption and the re-jigging of personnel.

Once again the 02 had an early curfew as the gig was on a Friday night and so we arrived too late to catch German outfit Beyond The Black, although this wasn't really an issue for us as we’d seen them at Bristol in late November 2014 on the original leg of the tour. We did arrive in time to catch one of Musipedia's faves, Hell doing their stuff. Sticking with the same set that they delivered on the original tour, Hell (6) struggled with a number of technical demons, most noticeably a lack of guitar sound early in the set and then some quite frustrating microphone difficulties with Dave Bower’s head microphone cutting out completely with three songs to go. Despite these problems, Hell have been around long enough to deal with such problems and provided a thoroughly entertaining 40 minutes. The frustration was obvious with Andy Sneap particularly irritated. As the venue slowly filled towards the end of Hell’s set, it was also clear that the majority were only there for the headliners with limited audience response to the theatrics unfolding in front of them. Hell did manage to obtain a very healthy cheer at the end of what must have been a difficult set. Having seen these guys destroy in the past, this was slightly below the standard we've come to expect.

Bang on 8pm the strains of AC/DC’s It's A Long Way To The Top... hit the PA, with the now very busy Academy bursting with anticipation. Blasting straight into Motorcycle Man, Saxon (9) proceeded to deliver yet another masterclass in how to work a crowd, supplemented by their massive back catalogue of quality metal anthems. Biff was in fine form, engaging with the crowd from the off, encouraging regular audience participation which is an easy thing to do with tracks such as And The Bands Played On, The Power And The Glory and Dallas 1pm which arrived early in the set. Our review of Saxon at Bristol in November 2014 provides a detailed breakdown of the set list but suffice to say it was classic after classic. So, what about young Dirkschneider? Well, I'm pleased to report that, with one or two exceptions, Udo’s boy did well, working with Nibbs Carter’s cavalier bass lines to underpin the excellent fretwork of founder member Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt. There were a couple of moments where the odd fill was missed, but overall Sven managed to keep the heavy metal thunder flowing. Biff, always the focal point was on blindingly good form; his voice is top drawer and he remains capable of hitting all the notes. The classic tracks flowed, with the crowd demonstrating their appreciation of the old school stuff which included The Eagle Has Landed, Crusader, 20,000 ft and Never Surrender. As always, main set closer Princess Of The Night provoked a massive response before the closing hat trick of Wheels Of Steel, Strong Arm Of The Law and the anthem Denim And Leather left everyone content and happy as they left the venue to brave the bitterly cold evening. I think I've said before that you rarely get a bad Saxon show, and this was no different. A full two hour set crammed with classic after classic. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish and once again a demonstration of a band who are always worth seeing when they tour.

Review: Venom (Monster Review By Paul)

Venom: From The Very Depths (Spinefarm)

Way back in the early 1980s, a black metal band from Newcastle blew the rock world apart. The album was Welcome To Hell. The band was Venom. Over the next few years, Venom tore up the rule book with a combination of satanic themed, thrash infused punk. They courted the media, performed limited but legendary gigs (ask Brett Perry about the 7th Date Of Hell gig at Hammersmith Odeon) and generally told the establishment that this was what they were about. Despite the fact that their music was never polished, the number of bands who cited them as an influence is legion. Over the years they developed cult status, in spite of some absolute shite that they produced in the 1990s. The popularity of the Venom t-shirt sits alongside the Ramones, Motorhead, GNR and Iron Maiden; unlike the latter two bands, they didn't shift anywhere near the volume of albums.

Their 14th album, From The Very Depths, which was always the introductory line at their gigs is a statement of intent and one of their finest works since the very early releases. Kicking off with intro Eruptus, Cronos, Dante and Rage launch straight into the title track which is absolutely bonkers heads down thrash. Powerful double bass drumming, demonic riffs and of course the snarling guttural delivery of Cronos’ vocals. From The Very Depths powers along like a run-away race horse, solos peeling your face off whilst the rhythm section anchors the track with a ball breaking battery. No let up after this face melter with the huge punk spiked The Death Of Rock And Roll powering along. Cronos’ bass pounding away. The lyrics, as with all Venom releases verge on the preposterous with some dubious rhyming (Kid Creole with Rock n’ Roll?) but hey, this is legendary stuff. Who gives a fuck! Smoke is slower, with more grit that a Rhondda Council snow truck and huge riffs which wouldn't be out of place on a Crowbar or Down album; sludgy and dirty.

Back to a kick in the face with Temptation, pile drivingly heavy, massive hooks and powerhouse drumming before the brilliant ode to the times before Venom, Long Haired Punks which is just so entertaining. This is absolutely classic Venom with galloping bass lines, shredding and furious drumming and Cronos’s delivery as savage as ever. Manic laughter and brilliantly ridiculous rhyming, Long Haired Punks is the absolute essence of Venom. Killer guitar work combining with the powerhouse rhythm section and Cronos snarling and laughing all over it. Awesome stuff. Stigmata Satanas is possibly the heaviest track on the album, with a chugging riff which you can’t help but nod along to whilst the Devil possesses Cronos' soul again as he spews forth his satanic bile in a biblical style.

Whilst Venom is indeed a legendary, historic outfit who have created a genuine niche in the annals of heavy metal music, there was a time when their playing was not particularly impressive. However, the arrival of Dante and Rage has upped the level of quality, and advanced from 2011’s Fallen Angels. More massive riffs in the next track, Crucified, which slips back into the sludge factory with some disgustingly dirty chords and an irresistible beat. Evil Law has an atmospheric but disturbing intro before building with a Slayer type construction with more of the huge power chords and a combination of old school black metal combined with the intestines of Kirk Windstein, such is the demonic nature and pure sludge of this track. Grinding Teeth provides a huge slab of Motorhead speed metal whilst the demonic overtures return as Ouverture builds into the epic Mephistopheles, an ode to the German demon, featured in Faust’s legends. Wings Of Valkyrie brings the album to a fitting close, massive bass lines combining with pummelling drums to completely finish you off. However, there is also the bonus of a live recording of Rise, which has some of the most brutal riffage you’ll hear this year.  This is a blistering album which has all of the edge and aggression that made Venom such a shock to the metal establishment all those years ago. Now, where the fuck are those UK dates? 10/10

Thursday 5 February 2015

A View From The Back Of The Room: Shattered Skies

Shattered Skies, Severed Illusion & Shadows Of Serenity, The Gryphon, Bristol

Having only recently listened to Shattered Skies' debut album, I was excited to see that they were doing their first headline tour of the UK stopping off in my favourite drinking establishment in Bristol The Gryphon. So a short jaunt to Bristol with an old friend was in order to catch this band that impressed me so much on record. As we entered the venue we went upstairs into what was essentially a small room with a drumkit at the end, this gave the entire evening a feeling of bands playing in your front room.

Shadows Of Serenity

First up were metalcore band Shadows Of Serenity who had a prowling vocalist screaming his head off while the band laid down a thick metalcore riffs and beatdowns. With their mix between brutality and melody Shadows Of Serenity are a good watch especially because their frontman is affable, funny and totally mental creating a one man mosh pit and then trying to do a frontflip and destroying a mic stand (for someone who is of my size this is no mean feat). Definitely worth a watch and a band that could go on to do well with the right support run. 7/10

Severed Illusion

They paint themselves as a hardcore band which immediately pushed me away; not my kind of music at all I'm afraid. However when they merged their Hatebreed style hardcore punk metal beatdown with what can only be described as progressive rap metal with rapid fire vocals and screams; I felt the walls of the already small room closing in. In a certain place and time this would be great but here they did seem slightly out of place. 5/10

Shattered Skies

So the main event and this Irish four piece arrived on stage and the intro Collapse Of Man started up before the band exploded The End And The Rebirth which kicked things off with their djenty palm muted guitar riffage and got every head nodding from the off. Jim Hughes' 6-string bass was the main rhythm punching you in the guts, while working with Ross McMahon's technical drumming to create the muscular riffs that Ian Rockett can add his amazing guitar solos and melodies, now as the song began, Sean Murphy's sang the first lines and then nothing, the mic had failed but with a bit of jiggery-pokery the sound came back meaning that Murphy's excellent clear, melodic voice was audible and singing with passion. As I said in my album review Shattered Skies are a very technical and progressive band but they also write some fantastic songs, keeping up the pace they moved straight into 15 Minutes before harking back to their Reanimation EP on Beneath The Waves which merged from their heaviness and melody brilliantly, things slowed a little on Attrition from the same EP adding light and shade to proceedings. More technical issues with the mics throughout meant that Murphy's voice dropped in and out, due to the size of the venue though and my proximity to the front (something that happens not very often) I was still able hear him. Into the thumping technical power of Show's Over and the band were wrapping up but not letting the pace drop at all, the band were going for the throat with their heaviest tracks, impressing the surprisingly large crowd as they did. Finally unfortunately it was time for the final track and as the piano intro of As The Seas Divide built up into the the strongest song as the night and as the first verse started once again the mic totally went kaput so with a quick switch to Rockett's second vocal mic and we were back on course for a song that is a natural finale sending the crowd home very happy indeed. Shattered Skies are an amazing band playing very technical modern metal with lashings of musicality, they know how to win over a crowd and they are humble about the fandom that has quite rightly evolved around them. In future I'm sure I'll be looking back on this as a the flashpoint for something much bigger. 9/10     


Tuesday 3 February 2015

Reviews: Angra, Scanner, Visigoth

Angra: Secret Garden (earMusic)

So the Brazilian purveyors of progressive/power metal return with their first album since 2010's Aqua and much like 2001's Rebirth it features yet another vocalist in the shape of  Rhapsody Of Fire and Vision Divine man Fabio Lione who continues the trend for excellent vocalists set by former singer Ed Falaschi (who notably took over from original vocalist Andre Matos). The music happily is the same with the bands dynamic brand of progressive/orchestral/power metal, Lione's vocals soar over founder member Rafael Bittencourt and Kiko Loureiro's guitar chug and the technical rhythm section, with Newborn Me setting out the stall, before Black Hearted Soul echoes Lione's day job with it's cinematic feel before he can really loosen his pipes on the dark, ballad supreme Storm Of Emotions and Violent Sky which starts off with a percussive verse and builds to a hard hitting chorus. It is almost uncanny how well Lione fits into the band but he is not alone as the the title track just has the enchanting vocals of Simone Simons and Crushing Room has the Valkyrie like pipes of Doro Pesch duetting with Lione. Angra have always been painted as a power metal band but many forget just how progressive they can be and on Upper Levels this is most evident as it has elements of Dream Theater and indeed the classic era of progressive rock and they have always incorporated the music of their heritage to their tracks to with Final Light having the Brazillian percussion throughout. Angra have returned in fine style with Secret Garden, they seem to have their mojo back and as Silent Call finishes the album in acoustic style Angra have once again proved why they deserve their place in the upper echelon of the power metal spectrum. 8/10

Scanner: The Judgement (Massacre Records)

Scanner are a German power metal band with a very turbulent history, splitting and reforming twice in their 25+ year career. The only original member is guitarist Axel 'A.J' Julius but the song as they say remains the same, Teutonic power metal with galloping tracks, aggressive guitar riffs and sledgehammer rhythm section. From F.T.B Fuck The Bastards through to The Legionary there is no let up in the pace, every song is fuelled by A.J and Andreas Zeidler's twin guitar attack, Jonathan Sell's bass and the destructive drumming of Patrick Klose and topped by Efthimios Ioannidis' soaring vocals and gang chants. This is perfect German power metal for fans of Helloween and Accept, but the band widen their remit a little with Warlord which is by far the heaviest song on the record moving into thrash for a bit, while Eutopia is a swaggering hard rock track, Battle Of Poseidon is an epic track that really ramps up the drama before Pirates echoes Rockin' Rolf and Running Wild. Like I said Scanner have had a turbulent history with the band starting and stopping throughout their career, but they do seem to gel as a unit on this record so here's to a more stable and successful future for this talented band. 7/10 

Visigoth: The Revenant King (Metal Blade)

Bursting out of Salt Lake City Visigoth are a heavy metal band steeped in retro classic metal riffs and clad in leather jackets. Taking their name from a Germanic tribe, the waft of German metal is present but for the most part this is the kind of guitar heavy retro metal that The Sword and indeed Grand Magus bring to the table, with some great guitar riffs, rumbling bass licks, tumbling drums and a booming singer the band play some very strong metal starting with powerful title track, then the twisting Dungeon Master is full of pace changes and has some awesome solos, Mammoth Rider has stomps like it's animal namesake and gets your fist pumping in unison with the songs rhythm before speeding up and then slowing down again in to a doom laden final part. The rhythm section is heavier than an anvil in a safe on Mars, the guitars provide a laser guided axe attack moving between the NWOBHM-like riffage and searing solos. The vocals too are amazing, powerful, sonorous and reminiscent of Magus' J.B, especially on Blood Sacrifice. As with many bands that hark back to the early 80's the lyrics are occult and fantasy based with Iron BrotherhoodCreature Of Desire and the finale of From The Arcane Mists Of Prophecy all sound like they are straight from the pages of Heavy Metal magazine and conjure up images of axe wielding warriors, leather clad women and desolate wastelands. If you love your metal full of masculine, chest beating battle anthems, you still wear tight spandex and sneakers and you have the Sign Of The Hammer tattooed on your heart then Visigoth will be right up your street, drawing from Manowar  (Iron Brotherhood is pure DiMaio), Grand Magus and indeed Manilla Road, who the band cover on the speedy Necropolis. With classic metal throughout and just a hint of doom Visigoth have produced a superb debut album for old school metal meatheads like myself!! 9/10  :

Reviews: Dethlehem, Starblind, The Cyon Project (Review By Stief)

Dethlehem: Destroyers Of The Realm (Self Released)

Kicking off with Knightmare, Dethlehem immediately show their melodic skills,The guitars of Hildor Anduv and Bovice supporting the vicious growls and roars of Brutalitus The Bloodbeard, giving you a good taste of what to expect. Although brutal, there are a few 'softer' interludes which include some great solos and piano skills. The band seem to sail the spectrum of heavy music, from the previously mentioned brutality to the use of strings and keyboards which give the songs a fantastical appeal, some songs akin to In Flames in places. The band have the comedic aspect of the album pinned down as well through the use of skits, three in total, which tie the album's story together, an adventure in which the band travel to stop Knightmare using Brutalitus' cursed sword to destroy the world. There are plenty of references to Lord Of The Rings, Princess Bride and pretty much any role playing game trope you can think of, one character even making reference to the 'level 7' enemy he fought before and the narrator telling us that the band 'don't play on easy difficulty'. Although almost childish in places, with characters such as 'Dildo Huggins', and more than a few gratuitous fart and burp jokes, the band definitely pull it back with the music, some of the more epic tracks including the nine minute Shadow Remnants Of The Guardian Shield. Overall it feels as if we're being given a Dungeons and Dragons session hosted by a group of brutal musicians, and I wouldn't change a thing 7/10

Starblind: Darkest Horrors (Stormspell)

The first full album from the Swedish quartet and from opening track Ascendancy onwards, it's obvious that Starblind wear their inspiration very much on their sleeves. From the galloping bass to the brilliant solos, the band show their NWOBHM chops. Each song is a trip through classic heavy rock, from Zackarias Wikner's excellent drumming to the guitars of Johan Jonasson and Björn Rosenblad, the quick-paced bass of Daniel Tillberg to the wailing vocals of Mike Stark. Throughout the album, Stark seems to channel all the greats, from Dickinson to Halford. Although his voice is great, there are times when it seems a little too much, his wails almost grating against the clean vocals in Ascendancy and Blood In The Night. This isn't to say his voice isn't good though, the same wailing working perfectly well in later tracks such as I Stand Alone, a very Maiden-esque track. Generally, it's a brilliant album with some great harmonies, blistering solos and you can tell great things are going to come from this band 8/10.

The Cyon Project: Tales Of Pain (Self Released)

Yet another first full album, this time from Italy's The Cyon Project. Starting off with Joe, a Morricone-esque guitar track that gradually builds up to cinematic proportions before resetting itself and building up again to a crescendo of guitars and chanting. Like most of the album, second song Cheesy Song is a great example of heavy rock. The use of strings in certain songs, such as Phantom Limb and Rulemaker give a refreshing outlook on the hard rock sound. The rumbling bass of Mad Mike and drums of Nicola Palma work brilliantly with Fabio Cyon's guitarwork and Marco Priotti's vocals walk the border of soulful and rough, both being used in equal amounts to great effect, especially in songs such as Hourglass, where it's completely soulful to John Ryder, where it's borderline-Hetfield. All in all, a great album with some awesome heavy rock and a Monty Python (Mr Creosote) reference can never go amiss. 7/10