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Sunday 31 May 2015

Reviews: The Darkness, Valkyrie, Section IV

The Darkness: Last Of Our Kind (Canary Dwarf)

Fourth album from the new reinvigorated The Darkness and finally the spark has returned after the hit-and-miss Hot Cakes, now I'm not saying that their comeback was bad, it was just not the glorious return to form many would have come to expect from a band who's debut took the world by storm. However Justin, Dan, Frankie and new drummer Emily Dolan Davies (who has subsequently been replaced by Rufus 'Son Of Roger' Taylor) are giving it another go with Last Of Our Kind to try and reach the heady heights of their debut., so achieved the comeback they had been threatening to release since they reformed? As the intro monologue tells the story of the decapitation of Edmund The Martyr the band smash straight into the the sledgehammer proto-metal riff of Barbarian which explains the story in more detail with Justin and Dan riffing like bastards, Frankie Poullain underpinning the riffs as Dolan Davies smashes away at the kit, with the ott lyrics, mid-song speech and guitar solo from nowhere there is no doubt that the songwriting flare of old is back.

Mixing tongue in cheek lyrics with Hawkins still insane vocal delivery and walls of glam-inflected thumping rock riffs, Open Fire is part Queen, part The Cult, and has Justin giving his most gonzoid vocal performance before bursting forth with another fuzzy solo at the end. Hawkins has said that this album is Medieval rock and this is most evident on the title track which is both a battle cry and a mission statement for the band as they add mandolins and 80's style solo to this huge Queen style track. The mandolins continue on Roaring Waters, before they stray into ballad territory on Wheels Of The Machine which sounds like it could have come off Pink Floyds Momentary Lapse Of Reason album. Stylistically the band mix it up throughout while sticking with ballsy hard rock, see the synth-laden sky scraping ballad Mighty Wings which would fit right in on Hot Space, before some bluesier tracks in the latter part of the album on Mudslide and Hammer & Tongs, hell they even give Frankie a chance to sing on the majestic final track Conquers who shows that he has great vocal delivery too (Something that those, who've seen them live already know). The Darkness are indeed the last of their kind, they seem very happy about that and are determined to defend their position at every turn. They do this by being in the unique position that they can really do what they want, as they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They have come back with what could be their second best album which for a band with The Darkness' potted history is a huge compliment I can assure you! They are back folks just deal with it and embrace it! 9/10   

Valkyrie: Shadows (Relapse Records)

Valkyrie have been treading the boards for over ten years now yet this is only their third full length album. The band is made up of guitar slinging brothers Jake and Pete Adams along with bassist Alan Fary and drummer Warren Hawkins, they play pre-metal style stoner rock with a serious blues backing that brings to mind Graveyard, Witchcraft, The Sword, Pentagram, with the dual guitar attack echoing that of Thin Lizzy (see rollicking opening Mountain Stomp for a slice of prime Robertson and Gorham wizardry) and Wishbone Ash especially in the more psychedelic methods. The gaps between the albums can be attributed to Pete being the lead guitarist in Baroness a band who Valkyrie also share some traits with. This album bristles with stoner rock professionalism big riffs, hollered vocals and lashings of groove. Valkyrie have always produced quality and Shadows is no exception from the slow burning old school doom of Temple to the mind expanding Wintery Plains which sees the brothers playing for their lives as Fary and Hawkins punish with their rhythm section through to fine finale of Carry On which sees guitars slither and slice through the rhythmic fug and the brothers call you to "Carry On" like a shaman from the void. Valkyrie have always released quality and yet again they impress, if you like your rock with a fat order of riffs then Valkyrie will be right up your street. 8/10  

Section IV: Superhuman (Self Released)

A long time ago (the late 80's and nineties) there was an influx of new progressive bands in the UK, bands that came from the same musical background as Marillion; keyboard driven music, mixing progressive, technically played music with mainstream pop edge. Among these bands were It Bites, Pendragon, Arena and the criminally underrated Frost*, now with the exception of Pendragon all of these bands are now gone but their spirit lives on, mainly through John Mitchell who has played in three of the bands mentioned, but also through Steven Wilson and now Section IV who are the perfect baton carriers for the sound of Arena and It Bites. The band start their album with the 12 minute plus title track which is a concept within itself  and it nails their colours to the wall showing that the band deal in accessible, intelligent music with swathes of keys, technical rhythm section, undercut with flowing guitar parts and keening vocals. The songs are cathartic, romantic (Inside) but also thought provoking and intelligent So Far Away and Guiding Light and they are played with some expert musicianship. Now I will admit this kind of music has always been a bit like musical Marmite (even for prog fans) and many will ridicule the music for being too poppy in places but for those that have an open mind, Section IV play it so well that they are close to reaching the Premier league of neo-prog. 7/10

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Reviews: SiXforNinE, Hinder, Banditos

SiXforNinE: S/T (No Regrets)

SiXforNinE are alternative/progressive metal band from Athens Greece, the band was formed by guitarist George Kapa, Bassist Herc Booze and drummer Pete Outfox, while writing their debut album they acquired the services of former Septicflesh drummer Fotis Bernardo as producer and sound engineer, during the recording process they found that Fotis also has a hell of a voice and he duly became the bands lead singer. This was a superb step for the band as Fotis' voice is the cherry on top of what is already a very sweet musical cake. Sound Of Perfection starts things off with Floydian Run Like Hell style before the heaviness kicks and we move straight into the Alter Bridge/Disturbed style metal with a huge bassline from Booze, Kapa's furious guitar work and some cracking drumming as Bernardo uses his powerful vocals that are perfect fit for this kind of chest beating metal, in fact while I was listening to this album I immediately thought of bands like Adrenaline Mob or Sacred Mother tongue that tried this style of progressive tinged alternative metal but ultimately couldn't pull it off; SiXforNinE however do it with style part Alice In Chains, part Porcupine Tree bringing in progressive elements throughout their muscular riffs.

All My Heroes Are Dead is of that style with some big grooves augmented by Booze's voodoo groove, Kapa's melodic flowing playing style in the solos that flash like lightning before moving back into the thumping metal rhythms. Hourglass slows up the pace relying on a funky prog bassline to move things along as Bernardo howls with his superior voice. His production too allows everything to stand out, from the thunderous drumming, to the anchoring bass, impressive leads and great vocals, the production is modern and gives you a crystal clear sound meaning that all elements can sparkle. More Floyd comes in on the opening to Save Me which has a staccato reverbed guitar riff to open before turning into the albums most emotive song until the acoustic When The Roses Turn Back which is classic AIC, featuring some beautiful lyrics and orchestral swells behind. The rock kicks back in on 649 and the punky Drifted before climaxing with the heaviest track on the album God Among The Silence which ends the album perfectly. SiXforNinE are an amazing blending classic metal influences with heaps of modern metallic goodness, couple that with spellbinding performances from all those involved, sterling production and most importantly excellent songs that bridge that gap between mainstream and underground. SiXforNinE remind me a lot of Brit groove masters Panic Cell, I loved them and I love SiXforNinE, pick up their album and you will too. 9/10      

Hinder: When The Smoke Clears (The End Records)

Hinder hit the big time with their debut album Extreme Behaviour the album sold over three million copies in the U.S and their debut single Lips Of An Angel went in at number one on the rock charts, things looked great for the band, they continued a strong streak on second album Take It To The Limit. However the band had a few problems with their singer Austin Winkler who became increasingly erratic with his behaviour and fianlly he entered rehab, it also saw the band moving away from the Buckcherry like sleaze rock into a Motley Crue pastiche on All American Nightmare and Welcome To The Freakshow, I'll admit both of these albums were uninspired in my eyes however Winkler has gone now and the band are in a new era. When The Smoke Clears can be seen as metaphor for their rise from the ashes with drummer Cody Hanson producing the album with new singer Marshal Dutton who has been writing with the band since All American Nightmare, Dutton has breathed new life into the band his voice is cleaner than Winkler's having a more Bon Jovi-like croon which gives the band a new edge on the Hit The Ground and first single Rather Hate Than Hurt. Hinder have moved back into their hard rocking American radio rock style fusing Papa Roach with Guns & Roses all wrapped up in a Nickelback blanket, cue big guitars, big hooks and chant along choruses. There are also some country elements creeping in on Wasted Life, I Need Another Drink with the heaviness supplied by Intoxicated, electro elements on Dead To Me. As with all bands like this there are more than enough lighters in the air balladry with If Only For Tonight, the very JBJ Foolish Eyes and the shout along Nothing Left To Loose. Hinder have really stepped up their game on this album, welcome to the party guys it's nice to have you back! 7/10

Banditos: S/T (Bloodshot)

Southern to the core Banditos hail from Birmingham, Alabama but are now based in Nashville (yes folks that Southern) these Stetson wearing, banjo toting, gospel howling, bourbon drinking, blues loving, country pickin' good ole' boys (and girl) have all the necessary elements to impress a crowd in a spit and sawdust honky tonk bar (that play both country & western) and down & dirty rock show. The band were formed by singer/guitarist Corey Parsons and singer/banjoist(?) Stephen Pearce who spent their time in D.I.Y punk and hardcore bands and you can hear that punk ethos throughout this debut album the band sound a lot like Dylan when he went electric (Can't Get Away) mixed with some early ZZ Top, some Drive By Truckers with a bit of Grateful Dead and Brother & The Holding Company thrown in for good measure. The band have a wide eclectic sound with three vocalists giving a breadth of delivery the opening The Breeze has all three giving blast over fuzzy electric rocking, a U-turn comes next with the hillbilly explosion of Waitin' which is a banjo led bluegrass track and shows of Mary Beth Richardson's seriously soulful delivery, she made her name in gospel choirs and it shows through on this track where she does her best to channel June Carter Cash and Janis Joplin howling as the song gets faster.

The band are all talented musicians their technical prowess perfectly understated and loose while never missing a beat, the locomotive shuffle of Golden Grease shows this driven by Randy Wades shuffling drums, Danny Vines double bass, the dual chugging guitars of Jeffery Salter and Corey Parsons (who also shows off his pained gruff voice) and underscored by Stephen Pearce's banjo. As I've said this is 'proper' Southern music honed on the road and drawing from a multitude of influences including doo-wop on No Good and Old Ways on which Richardson does her best to take the roof off the place. Banditos have managed to distil all of the sounds of the South into 12 distinct tracks and as the rollicking Cry Baby Cry and the smoky blues of Preachin' To the Choir end the album this six piece have taken you on a journey through the history of Southern music with Banditos as your hariy, denim clad guides. 9/10

Sunday 24 May 2015

Reviews: Blurred Vision, Magic Kingdom, Chaos Divine

Blurred Vision: Organised Insanity (Self Released)

Blurred Vision are a three piece rock band with a progressive edge hailing from Canada, the band is made up of to Iranian brothers Sepp Osley on vocals and guitars, Sohl Osley on bass and their friend Ben Riley on drums. The band draw influences from many places but mostly you can hear Pink Floyd, The Beatles (especially in Sepp's vocals), Muse and Von Hertzen Bros, they play a progressive kind of music brimming with melody but also intricate and with a wide breadth of musicality provided by the three members and their fourth contributor Joel Lightman on keys. The band have a patron in Floyds founder Roger Waters and due to that it is the spirit of Floyd that looms the largest from the sax break on marching opener No More War and the dreamy Rollin' On which sounds a little too like Pigs (Three Different Ones). Unlike Floyd there are no long freakouts or solo sections the songs are concise and well written allowing for the most amount of experimentation without compromising the songs structure, melody (something they have a keen ear for) and message.

The band are very politically aware and active and this is reflected in their lyricsim (10% of their album proceeds go to the poverty charity WhyHunger) Arms Of Our World and Dear John being the two most evident, the latter being a paean to the departed Mr Lennon but also to the the legacy of peace he sought. The band however they aren't preachy using their music to inform rather than ear bash. Tonight has the chart bothering euphoria of Kings Of Leon while Long May You Run sees Sepp use his deep hushed voice to mirror Roger on this dreamy piece of music where he shows of his Gilmour-like solos as his brother and Ben Riley keep the pace with superb drumming, stirring basswork and contribute the backing ah's to make this one of the most Floydian tracks on the record. The album has a great sound to it with every nuance captured by Terry Brown's excellent production, many will know him as a the man that has produced Rush for many years and this experience shows as he makes this young band sound like they have been treading the boards for years. Promise is a modern sounding up tempo rocker that driven by a repetitive guitar and keyboard riff before exploding at the end, it is also one of the tracks that doesn't really have an influence to it, it is a song that sounds fresh and new. This is a top quality debut album that both draws from it's influences perfectly allowing them to shine through but also create their own sound around them. 9/10      

Magic Kingdom: Savage Requiem (AFM)

Belgium guitar virtuoso Dushan Petrossi is now on his fourth Magic Kingdom as well as five albums with his other band Iron Mask. The man clearly has riffs and solos coming out of every pore and whereas Iron Mask is straight up neoclassical power metal about historical at all and war themes, Magic Kingdom focuses on the lives of Mickey & Co in Disneylan....no sorry that's not it (although that idea needs to happen). No the Magic Kingdom albums focus on fantasy themes played to a symphonic metal backing, since their last album in 2010 it's been all change in the Magic Kingdom camp with only long term bassist Vasiliy Molchanov still around since the bands inception (he is also the other founding member in Iron Mask) Petrossi has recruited Michael Brush behind the skins and a new voice in the shape of former Adagio and current Random Eyes vocalist Christian Palin. Palin's only album with Adagio Archangels In Black was one of their best and showed that Palin is equally adept with sky scraping highs and guttural lows, this stays him in good stead to join Magic Kingdom who added some guttural vocals for their previous effort (something that needed two vocalists). So back to Savage Requiem and what immediately strikes you is that when Petrossi has a formula he sticks to it, Magic Kingdom is symphonic metal at its purest and even though Iron Mask are similar there are enough differences in both bands to separate them. Petrossi is a hell of a guitarist, playing with style and flair contributing rocking riffs and fleet fingered solos that burn the fretboard, he also contributes the orchestral arrangements that make this album sound so big in scope, think Yngwie Malmsteen playing with Rhapsody and you wouldn't be far off Rivals Forever is a rampaging metal track on which Brush impresses on the drums, then without a beat it is followed by the slower fist in the air filled with orchestral power. Yes it's cheesy and things go a bit Spinal Tap on Ship Of  Ghosts when Petrossi adds Beethoven's Ode To Joy to his solo section (all that's missing is playing it with a violin) but if you like your metal with a cinematic scope and more guitar wankery than you can shake a stick at then Magic Kingdom will be right up your street. 8/10

Chaos Divine: Colliding Skies (Firestarter)

Chaos Divine (not be associated with thrashers Divine Chaos) are modern progressive rock/metal band hailing from Perth Australia. I say modern as they will fall into the djent category along with Tesseract and Karnivool with palm muted, off kilter riffs, filled with groove but they also draw from influences as wide as Opeth, Devin and even Mastodon. Despite the elements of djent the band are so much more than a tag using bass heavy riffs from Michael Kruit in conjunction with clean flowing guitars from Simon Mitchell and Ryan Felton the band set about creating music with a wide scope and intense musicality, the songs spring from the record drawing you in with massive hooks backed by some technical drumming from Ben Mazzoral, an intricate weaving of guitars and David Anderton's sublime vocals, he serenades Badge Of Honour before tearing at the jugular on Painted With Grey which sees him move between roars and his normal vocal delivery. This album is made up of some great tracks such as the anthemic Soldiers, the dreamy Tides, the Muse meets Tool of Before The Dawn but it is difficult to pick out individual songs however as this album needs to be taken in as whole piece because of the musical breath to it. Chaos Divine are just that a perfect mix of metallic fury and melodic precision. 8/10

Another Point Of View: Flotsam & Jetsam (Review By Paul)

Flotsam & Jetsam: The Underworld

Another overnight stay in London with work allowed me the opportunity to pop along to the Underworld in Camden for what was apparently Flotsam & Jetsam’s first UK visit (sans last years’s BOA appearance) for 27 years. Given that the band are always going to be most famous for the Jason Newsted connection, I don’t suppose this was that surprising.

For the uninitiated amongst you, F & J first hit the metal scene in 1981 but gained popularity with their debut album, Doomsday For The Deceiver in 1986. This was a mighty slab of thrash metal which had massive potential and some killer tunes. The follow up, No Place For Disgrace in 1987 no longer contained Newsted on bass but contained a few blistering tracks (see the title track and the all-out assault of P.A.A.B); however, from here on in the Phoenix outfit kind of disappeared from the radar, struggling to maintain the momentum that bands like Metallica, Anthrax, Testament and Exodus were achieving. I have to admit that until I saw that they were playing in London, it had been a long time since I had listened to any of their stuff.

A sparsely populated Underworld were treated to two support bands. I arrived in time to catch the last track from openers Desolation; quite an apt description given the small crowd and I was not at all surprised to find pretty solid thrash metal. It would be unfair to review them on one song so I won’t. Twenty minutes later and main support Bliksem hit the stage. Now, I can name very few (okay none) thrash metal outfits from Belgium and the band from Antwerp gave it their all. Double guitars in the shape of flying Vs, thumping bass and some solid drumming all sounded okay, but the vocals of Pegg Meeussen were just not very strong. Having been treated to the superb voice of Krissie (Triaxis) three nights earlier, a shouty, screamy vocal assault just did nothing for me. The band gave their all, but their songs were not brilliant and overall they just passed me by. 5/10

Bang on 9:20, the riff for No Place For Disgrace rang out and F&J hit the stage. The band consists of original vocalist Eric A. 'A.K.' Knutson, old school guitarist Michael Gilbert, Steve Conley (guitar) Michael Spencer on bass and newest recruit drummer Jason Bittner. The slightly larger crowd of around 200 provided a rousing response which was heart-warming. The band launched into the first of six tracks from Doomsday, the all-out thrasher Desecrator which ignited a small but ferocious pit in the middle of the floor. Although the band were tight and at times provided glimpses of their obvious talent, such as the awesome Iron Tears and Swatting At Flies from 1992’s underrated Cuatro, overall F&J just don’t have the arsenal of quality tracks to have pushed them from the second division of the thrash metal league.

Despite this, Knutson remains an excellent front man, warm and engaging and still able to hit some of the notes which he screamed all the way back in the 1980s. The band were able to riff it up and the old school heavy set (12 tracks from the first two albums) certainly stirred some memories. I certainly got goose bumps when the atmospheric build-up to Doomsday For The Deceiver arrived before crashing into the monstrous riff which provoked mass head banging throughout the venue. A few of the more recent tracks balanced the set although it was the older stuff that received the most positive responses from the audience.

However, as I watched, it felt quite sad to see a band that had never pushed on in quite the way expected back in 1986 going through the motions on a UK tour 27 years in the making, and a mere three dates long; London, Nuneaton and Glasgow. It was perhaps no surprise that the crowd was pretty low. Still, they ended on a high with the brutal P.A.A.B concluding the evening with one final mosh pit swirling around the floor. It was certainly worth seeing the band in a headline capacity, and on occasion I was taken back to that 16 year old sat in the bedroom with a copy of Doomsday For The Deceiver on the record player. It was also clear why the band are the Bradford City of metal; the occasional foray towards the top but generally average lower division fare. Overall a 7/10 and a reasonably entertaining evening.

Saturday 23 May 2015

Reviews: Sammy Hagar & The Circle, Howlin Rain

Sammy Hagar & The Circle: At Your Service (Mailboat Music)

We here at the Musipedia don't really review live albums all that often but this was a massive exception. As many of you may know Sammy Hagar made his name as the second singer of Van Halen, he was the man that brought them into the nineties and skilfully stepped into the void left by Diamond David Lee Roth. However Hagar is much more than that; he was also the first (and arguably most famous) singer of classic underrated rock band Montrose, he has a successful solo career for many years, he formed supergroup Chickenfoot with Joe Satriani, Chad Smith and VH's Michael Anthony and he is shrewd businessman creating his own brand of tequila and his own restaurants/bars. A man of many talents then but one who is obsessed by music, his previous band Chickenfoot had run it's course due to the commitments of Satch and Chad Smith so Hagar was left at somewhat of a loose end, here was his chance to record and album featuring some of his best friends in the business, this came to fruition in the album Sammy Hagar & Friend album which saw him hook up with guitar virtuoso Vic Johnson. Since this album, Hagar has found some kindred spirits and he has formed another band this time called The Circle.

The band is formed by longtime cohort Michael Anthony on bass, Vic Johnson on guitar, Hagar on vocals (obviously) and behind the kit one Mr Jason Bonham (a man who is no stranger to a supergroup himself). This album is taken from various dates on their US tour and while it shows the band in full flight showing all of their collected skills it also is a picture of four guys having a great time, the production is slick, the crowd is not too intrusive, the performance is mesmerising, Hagar is humble yet fierce frontman and while you do get a bass solo (mercifully short) and a guitar solo (also short) all can be forgiven by the tracklist that includes a drum solo that breaks into Bonham's Dad's magnum-opus Moby Dick. Yes it is indeed the track listing that is the best part of this album never has the word 'greatest hits' been so apt. Opening with Hagar's own There's Only One Way To Rock the band kick off with full steam ahead, however when this is followed by Rock Candy from Montrose, Good Times Bad Times from Led Zeppelin and Poundcake from Unlawful Carnal Knowledge then you know you are in for a good time. The set brings in Zep classics like When The Leveee Breaks, Rock & Roll and the perennial Whole Lotta Love on which Hagar does his best Plant impression while Johnson and Anthony are Page and JPJ respectivly, through some Hagar era Van Halen tracks like When It's Love, Finish What Ya Started, Right Now, The Best Of Both Worlds and Why Can't This Be Love and a sprinkling of Hagar solo stuff with Can't Drive 55 and Heavy Metal.

These well known rock songs combine perfectly with a band that have passion and skill, special kudos to Vic Johnson for having Page's feel and EVH's flair, to create a live album that makes you wish you were there. There are some failings in Hagar's voice at times but this is live album capturing the band in raw environment not with studio overdubs or trickery. A passionate, powerful album that has seen these legends come full Circle (although I still think Bonham's suggestion of Red Zeppelin would be better). A must for fans of The Red Rocker, Zep, Van Halen and indeed rock music itself! 10/10

Howlin Rain: Mansion Songs (Easy Sounds)

Howlin Rain's last album The Russian Wilds was widely critically acclaimed, the band are the creation of Ethan Miller frontman and guitarist for the band, the album was released on a major label and despite the critical plaudits, as Miller puts it himself he "walked out of the back end of my major label run and the first 9 years in Howlin Rain with no band, no label, no foreseeable immediate move forward" however he also goes on to say that he had "a figurative suitcase full of songs, my talent, invigorated by having nothing else to lose, exhausted by the bullshit and grind of the music business, this musical life, and all it's absolute bullshit and fucked tests" that inevitably made him cynical but not bitter. The Russian Wilds has the honour of being one of my most played albums so I was very excited to see what Miller had up his sleeve next. To his latest record then, apparently the first of a supposed trilogy, Mansion Songs which was made with a handful of musicians and continues the last album's Americana infused Californian rock vibe while adding new elements and stripping it back with more country and folk additions.

Big Red Moon opens proceedings with a Nashville twang, sounding like it could have come off Blackberry Smoke album, all blustering mouth harp and slide guitar (both coming from Miller) topped with Miller's full throated howl and Southern honey croon which is part Springsteen, part Young, part Petty with the same kind of delivery of an ageing punk rocker although Miller himself evokes the spirit of The Big Lebowski's The Dude or a hard rocking Rabbi. This song is an upbeat whiskey drinking song that hides the dark subtext, a theme that continues on Meet Me In The Wheat which could have featured on a Outlaw Country record with it's "Hallelujah" refrain and pounding electric organ. Miller handles most of the instrumentation but he has acquired some top level musicians to help him out with Meg Baird being the one that reoccurs regularly and is most notable by providing drums, acoustic guitars and vocals; most notably on the haunting Coliseum which has all the the hallmarks of a self-loathing, emotion filled track from a Roger Water's album as Miller whispers his vocals as Baird floats in and out of the song built on just two acoustic guitars providing great juxtaposition from the two preceding tracks. The New Age is a song that speaks of redemption and reinvention think a folky version of U2 driven by a viola and a double bass, this song passes by quickly resetting things for the organ drenched 70's stomp of Wild Bush a song that would sound great blasting out of an open top Chevy in 1970's Harlem.

For an album with only 8 tracks this album is a grower after repeated listens it opens up into something else entirely, there are immediate elements but on the slower more atmospheric songs like Restless they take a few spins to really grab you. This is a good thing however as it means you have to really listen to this album, I suggest playing it through a set of headphones, or outside as the sun sets. Everything on Restless is numbed and smothered leaving just Miller's broken vocals to tell the tale of a man descending into madness, Lucy Fairchild is a song of redemption and morality set to an Elton John-like backing full of driving piano and orchestral swell in the finale. This final part of the album is slower burning affair than the opening part which could be due to the trio aspect creeping in, this is only part one of the story that leaves you in a dreamlike state on Ceiling Fan filled with references to the most creative directors, musicians, artists and writers and driven by one acoustic guitar hook, whispered train of thought vocals and a choral chorus before bursting into a crescendo at the end that sees guitars fizz behind the Floydian track that imitates The Walls hope filled finale. I do hope the second part of this trilogy comes soon as yet again Ethan Miller has shown why Howlin Rain are the thinking man's rock band, intelligent lyricism merging with deft considered playing to create a vibe that is both nostalgic and fresh. A truly fine piece of music yet again 10/10

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Reviews: The Vintage Caravan, Lesoir, Godsized

The Vintage Caravan: Arrival (Nuclear Blast)

The history of rock music is littered with classic three pieces but The Vintage Trouble draw from the early 60's style of Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and Mountain. Now all three of these bands are seen to be based around their legendary guitarists but they were also made up of bunch of legendary bassists and drummers such as Felix Pappalardi, Jack Bruce, Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker. Those band's sounds were due to the fact that all those involved were immensely talented worked together to create the fantastic songs that they were known for. The same can be said for The Vintage Caravan, Óskar Logi has a sonorous wide vocal range and plays his guitar like demon on rockers like Babylon while Alexander Örn shuffles the bass licks on Carousel on which he gets a bass solo and Stefán Ari Stefánsson who plays for his life anchoring everything especially on the latter part of Innerverse on which he really shows his mettle. Now as I said the band draw most of their influence from the late 60's early 70's style of hard rock based in blues and adding psychedelic elements that allow them to have wig outs in their songs relying more on the feel of the songs than too much structure, Shaken Belief's is a prime example of this, where as Crazy Horses (not a Osmond cover) is a balls out rocker that is part Neil Young, part Ted Nugent with it's Western piano playing and chugging riffage, Sandwalker has the sound of another three piece echoing the boogie of Billy, Dusty and Frank. The Vintage Caravan have upped their game on this second album really honing everything they showed on their debut, Arrival is a testament to just that; this is The Vintage Caravan's statement of intent more so than their looser debut and because of that this may be the album that sees them explode in the next 12 months. 8/10

Lesoir: Luctor Et Emergo (V2 Benelux)

I will admit I hadn't herd too much of Lesoir but with some research I found that they are Dutch rock band formed and fronted by Maartje Meessen, they fall into the Artrock category drawing influences from Anathema, Skunk Anansie, Crippled Black Phoenix and A Perfect Circle. The album title translates to "I Struggle And Emerge" and this echoes the dark tone of the record with loud dynamic guitars from Ingo Dassen (with Eleen Bartholomeus and Meessen contributing live) who also provides the pulsing synths and electronic beats on tracks like the Porcupine Tree-like (A Lady Named) Bright and the pulsating Flawless Chemistry. The rhythm section of Ingo Jetten's bass and Bob Van Heumen's drums provides the band with a wide and compelling backing that gives them a real sense of force on the rockier tracks such as Going Home and Deliberate but equally on the quieter moments they both show off their expertise and technical prowess mostly on Hold On To Fascination which has progressive tendency. With the wall of sound style of playing Dassen's guitars sound like a tidal wave of sound bringing to mind Anathema and CBP who also get a nod in the lyrical content with struggle and strength all being included. The sound of Lesoir is very much anchored by their front woman she is the reason for the dark, chaotic heaviness and the fragile, whispered emotion her piano and flute undercut the electric assault on the more melodious quieter moments such as the title track. Her voice however is where her true talent lays it is stunning, effortlessly moving between an almost aggressive operatic roar to a lulling, hushed chant, vocally she sounds a lot like Alanis Morrisette with her feisty fired up vocal delivery that can move from sweet to shouted in an instant on Press Play From Start and the thunderous In Reverse. Luctor Et Emergo is a stunning piece of work that sits perfectly in the same category as Steven Wilson, Anathema, A Perfect Circle and British Artrockers Panic Room this is alternative rock music with a progressive bent and a hell of a lot of talent on show. Buy this album! 10/10    

Godsized: Heavy Lies The Crown (Metalville)

Godsized have always been compared to their American cousins and multi time tour mates Black Label Society and yes they do have a similar style to Zakk and his boys; huge slabs of riffage based on a pace setting rhythm section that bring everything together. Things kick off slow on Welcome To Hell with some intricate clean lead playing starting the song before it gets heavier and faster from there on in. As I've said the band have a pounding rhythm section in the shape of Dan Kavanagh and Gavin Kerrigan and when underscoring the twin guitars of Chris Charles and Glen Korner their contribution speaks for itself. Charles and Korner are no slouches themselves riffing like bastards throughout bringing some big rockers that Charles can boom over with his Myles Kennedy like vocals. In fact the band have drawn a lot more from the Tremonti school of musicianship with a modern metal sound with heaps of melody they play well and their songs are good. However there is a problem, they are trying a little too hard to be Alter Bridge on this record, this maybe to move away from their British BLS crown but it makes them sound like a different band. There are glimpses of their old biker metal background but not as much as I and indeed anyone who enjoyed their debut album would want, the songs on this album are a little boring in places. I have no doubt that in the live arena they will still punch you in the mouth but this record does seem a little restrained. 6/10    

Monday 18 May 2015

Reviews: Karmaflow, Anekdoten, Ghost Ship Octavius

Karmaflow: The Orginal Soundtrack Album (Self Released)

Karmaflow or Karmaflow: The Rock Opera Videogame to give it, it's full title is the soundtrack album to videogame that is part puzzle platformer, part rock opera, the game is entirely sung with an emphasis on the symphonic and power metal genre and as such features some of the biggest names in the game lending their talents to it, all of them are no strangers to rock operas or indeed symphonic metal. The vocalists involved are:

Simone Simons (Epica)
Mark Jansen (Epica/After Forever/MaYan)
Dani Filth & Lindsey Schoolcraft (Cradle Of Filth)
Marc Hudson (Dragonforce)
Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy)
Elize Ryd (Amaranthe)
Charlotte Wessels (Delain)
Henning Basse (MaYan)
Mariangela Demurtas (Tristiania)
Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica) 
Daniel de Jongh (Textures)
Lissette Van Den Berg (Scarlet Stories)
Bas Dolmas (Ex-Xystus)   

So with this amount of talent backed by musicians coming from members of Epica, Within Temptation and HDK and MaYan and of course the extremely talented and versatile Metropole Orkest who are the solid backbone of the album there was always going to be a lot of talent on show throughout the album. An album that really has to be listened too to be believed but much like Tuomas Holopainen's classical album, the Avantasia and Ayreon projects. This is a bit like audio Marmite some will love it, some will hate it, I am firmly in the love pile as I am enamoured the overblown nature of this record that successfully merges classical music and metal a great album from an interesting concept. 8/10

Anekdoten: Until The Ghosts Are Gone (Virta)

How do you start a prog rock album properly? A ten minute song full of swirling organ-led psychedelia, clean, sinuous guitar work, chugging bass and percussive, technical drumming, that will do it. Anekdoten are from the old school of prog with long instrumental passages, haunting vocals and virtuoso musicality all producing some pastoral, jazz influenced music on tracks like All Comes Down To You as well as rocking freakouts on Get Out Alive. The band have been doing the rounds for a while which means that they have honed their sound to play the best they can. As far as what they sound like goes they are not too dissimilar to the last two Opeth albums indeed Per Wiberg supplies some more organ to this album that is laready stuffed with more organ than you can jangle your keys too. The other organs come from main man Nicklas Baker (guitarist/mellotron/organ/vocals) and Anna Sofi Dahlberg (mellotron/organ/Rhodes) who are backed by Jan Erik Liljeström's jazz-like bass and Peter Nordins' superb drumming. With long spiralling songs filled with instrumental prowess Anekdoten are band that will entice and excite prog fans that love the Canterbury scene and classic folk flavoured progressive rock. 7/10   

Ghost Ship Octavius: S/T (Self Released)

Van Williams is the ex drummer of Nevermore and current drummer of Ashes Of Ares, he has recruited Ashes Of Ares guitarist Adon Fanion on guitars and vocals and former God Forbid guitarist Matt Wicklund to add their talent as the nucleus of this band taking most of the instrumentation between them. Sound wise we are in the prog metal territory with the ghost of Nevermore looming large, Fanion's vocals are a booming mid range that echo Warrell Dane and Matt Barlow and work well with both of their heavy prog metal riffs and Williams' excellent drumming. Now a man like Van Williams has some high quality contacts and he obviously went through his contact book to get some guests on this album, first of all is Dagna Silesia handles the bass playing, but nearly all of them are guitarists adding leads and solos with Scar Symmetry's Per Nilsson, ex-Nevermore and Ashes of Ares man Jeff Loomis, Savatage man Chris Caffery, Freak Kitchen six stringer Mattias Ia Eklundh and virtuoso session man Rusty Cooley. This album is nothing wildly removed from William's other work but when you play drums like a Gatling gun with progressive flourishes then this kind of music will always be the easiest to produce. If you love Nevermore, Iced Earth and modern day Symphony X then you will love Ghost Ship Octavius as it features some powerful, progressive metal played by some great musicians. 7/10

Another Point Of View: Triaxis (Review By Paul)

Triaxis: Fuel, Cardiff

An opportunity to see one of the brightest bands in the UK is rarely missed and when it happens to be a band from your own back yard launching their third album, well, it was a done deal.

Much has been written about Triaxis in the pages of the Musipedia and it is always positive; Matt’s very extensive and complimentary review of new release Zero Hour being the most recent. Our last encounter with the band in the live setting was in the very same venue where the band played a great pre-Christmas set which included Victorious from the new release.

Having pledged for Zero Hour, I was lucky enough to have the download of it into the in-box about 72 hours before the gig, allowing a little time to have a listen to the new compositions and whetting the appetite for the new stuff in the live arena (okay sweaty little club).

Arriving in time to catch the end of main support band Collibus, it was noticeable that there were many more packed into Fuel than on previous occasions. A large number of Triaxis t-shirts were in evidence, always a good sign. Having been greeted warmly by lead singer Krissie, we made our way to the front, catching up with a couple of old acquaintances before Triaxis signalled the start of a quite brilliant hour of heavy metal. CJ hit the blistering riff to Liberty, the opening track on Zero Hour before the band hit full throttle. Glyn’s shredding, Becky’s pounding bass lines, Giles’ brutal powerhouse drumming and of course, the quite stunning vocal delivery of Krissie all combine to make Triaxis one of the best live bands around today and the confidence flowing through the band in the opening track ensured that any fears about their delivery of the new stuff in the live setting evaporated immediately. A quick one-two of 2012’s Sand And Silver and Under Blood Red Skies followed, both delivered with power and passion, gaining a massively positive and raucous reaction from the crowd.

As it was the album launch party, it was only proper that the bulk of the set came from the new release and we were treated to a hefty six newbies. Kicking off with Stand Your Ground, the band played with a confidence and polish born out of many hours of practice and more importantly gigging in the live setting. Although the whole is usually greater than the sum of the parts, what makes Triaxis so special to us at Musipedia is that all the parts are so bloody good. They have always been extremely professional but the arrival of Becky and her demonic Rickenbacker bass lines has enhanced the Triaxis sound further. The band always look like they are enjoying themselves and tonight it was a real joy to observe; CJ constantly smiling and singing every word (even more than a certain Steve Harris!) whilst playing with more freedom and confidence than I've ever seen before. Mr Wilson behind the kit is a total drumming machine and the engine room of the band. His driving momentum on the heavier songs such as Death Machine and the blistering Victorious is stunning on the album but in the live setting increases to 11. It’s not all 100mph with him though as demonstrated by the more delicate elements of the epic (and very brave choice) set closer Zero Hour, all 11 minutes of it. He even cracked a smile a couple of times. With the engine room working at optimum level, lead guitarist Glyn was confidently throwing out solos and licks like they were going out of business and once again having an absolute blast. Like CJ, his playing was more relaxed and smoother than in previous shows. The band have added more backing vocals to their new tracks, such as the Iron Maiden styled Terraform, which worked brilliantly, allowing the fantastic voice of Krissie to do its stuff. There are not that many vocalists in the metal world that can deliver on record and transfer exactly the same quality to the live stage, but Krissie is one of those who genuinely can.

During the gig we were also treated to a bit of the bizarre. Party hats and cupcakes were handed out in the middle of the set, enhancing the already buzzing party atmosphere whilst a heavy metal happy birthday to two members of the crowd (including esteemed Ed Matt) just about worked! Having admirably demonstrated that the new music works in the live setting, Triaxis made the brave decision to close with their ‘behemoth’ title track, Zero Hour. A brave decision alright, but one that worked magically, plenty of heads banging in the audience providing ample evidence of the quality of the track. One final song, obviously the anthemic Black Trinity complete with crowd participation brought the set to a close, leaving one very hot 45 year old man extremely content. Its nights like this that remind me why I choose to attend metal gigs and spend my money on music. Triaxis are on fire at the moment and have the momentum. Metal Hammer’s decision to stream their album can only be a good thing and we at Musipedia Towers are already planning our assault on the barrier at the Sophie Lancaster Tent on August 10th at BOA. It’s going to be epic. 10/10

Sunday 17 May 2015

Reviews: Kamelot, Cain's Offering, Mammoth Mammoth

Kamelot: Haven (Napalm)

Haven is Kamelot's second album with new singer Tommy Karevik who first featured on Silverthorn which brought back the symphonic/progressive style of their early years while also maintaining the more progressive style that featured on the latter albums with former singer Khan. Having been underwhelmed with my initial viewing of the bands live show at Hammerfest, but having always loved them on record. I will admit I was a bit hesitant about this new album of all new material, however any doubts are quickly washed away by the plaintive piano intro to Fallen Star before the strings sweep in and Thomas Youngblood's guitar takes up the baton, he is the major part of Kamelot's sound and his interplay with keyboardist Oliver Palotai is what thei band have made their name on, his riffing is unrelenting  and his solos never outstay their welcome like a flash of brilliance in every song. The doom laden Fallen Star moves in to Insomnia which could have easily come off the band's breakthrough Ghost Opera album driven by Sean Tibbett's low bottom end, Casey Grillo's driving drums and of course Youngblood's guitars. As is usual with most major power/symphonic metal albums the production comes from Sascha Paeth and mix from Jacob Hansen so everything is crisp and sharp allowing the bands talents to shine through. Once again Karevik shows off his amazing vocals moving between a low croon and a dramatic highs on all of the tracks, he once again shows himself to be the perfect replacement for Khan by having a similar operatic delivery to his predecessor meaning he fits in perfectly. Silverthorn was a Gothic more romantic album, (something that has always run through Kamelot's music) but this album is heavier and more dynamic than their previous effort relying more on the guitar work of Youngblood and Palotai's theatrical keys and orchestrations was witnessed on the thrilling Veil of Elysium which powers along at a fair pace. As with most Kamelot albums they have the odd helper to contribute to the sound, on the folk balladry of Under Grey Skies they have Delain's Charlotte Wessels and Nightwish's Troy Donockley and once again Arch Enemy's Alissa White-Gluz adds her growls and indeed vocals to Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy) and Revolution. No matter what I think of Kamelot live (next time they are anywhere near I may give them another chance) their talent and magic lies in their recorded output and yet again they have struck gold with Haven. 9/10

Cain's Offering: Stormcrow (Frontiers)

The first Cain's Offering album was released in 2009 shortly after main man Jani Liimatainen left Finish power metal veterans Sonata Arctica, it was an album full of love songs performed in a power metal style. Happily then they have returned with their second album which is still an album that deals with love, relationships and isolation, played in the style that Liimatainen and indeed the other musicians he has recruited are known for. These musicians are a relatively unknown rhythm section that bring the rampant drumming and bass work this kind of power metal are known from, he has also yet again acquired the services of Stratovarius men Jens Johansson and Timo Kotipelto. Johansson's keys provides a perfect foil for Liimatainen's guitar, as well as the orchestral swells that give this album a cinematic sense on the title track and an almost electro-pop feel on The Best Of Times. Timo Kotipelto is one of the best vocalists in the business and he shows this time and time again on this album except on the instrumental I Am Legion. He has a powerful set of pipes and one of the most emotive voices in metal, see the ballads on this album like To Tired To Run which needs to be on film score and even rockers like Constellation Of Tears and the fantastic I Will Build You A Rome which has all the slushy romance of a pop song set to a rapid backing and is the kind of song Liimatainen's previous band would kill for! Yet another excellent album from this power metal supergroup with the best elements of Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica thrown together with and played with passion and technical expertise. 9/10  

Mammoth Mammoth: IV: Hammered Again (Napalm)

Mammoth Mammoth are the Australian love child of Motorhead and Monster Magnet with a punk rock edge on Lookin' Down A Barrell and a drug reference filled stoner stomp on Fuel Injected. The four piece band play dirty scuzzy rock and roll with a bollocks to you attitude, with a rhythm section that is like a runaway train, some choppy four on the floor guitar playing, slicing solos and shouted vocals Mammoth Mammoth are the soundtrack to an all night bender. Still as the album rolls on very little changes in regard to style or indeed speed, with only Promised Land having a more doom-like feel, but if you want music to drive and drink beer to (not at the same time please) and you love bands like Motorhead, Mustasch and indeed the punk n roll of The Wildhearts; Sick (Of Being Sick),  then you could do much worse than Mammoth Mammoth. 6/10  

Reviews: Satyricon (Monster Review By Paul)

Satyricon: Live At The Opera (Napalm)

18 months ago I was fortunate enough to catch Norwegian black metallers in Belfast in support of their excellent self-titled album. That was a fantastic evening and I awarded them a 10 for a quite astonishingly excellent show. Two months before that night, Satyricon had performed with the Norwegian National Opera Chorus and the resulting release is nothing short of breath taking.

The opening strains of Voice Of Shadows give little clue as to how effective the combination of Satyricon’s dark metal groove, Satyr’s gruff delivery and the operatic choral will be but this soon changes as Now Diabolical followed by Repined Bastard Nation are given an incredibly sinister edge. At first, I thought this was going to be another of the many combined orchestral/band releases, some of which can be pretty special and some of which are utter dirge. However, this is Satyricon plus choir, so the metallic edge remains throughout with the usual demonic drumming from Frost propelling the band. Each track benefits from the enhancement provided by the choir, whether it be from the soprano voices on Our World, It Rumbles Tonight, the tenor and bass harmonies during Die By My Hand which really add The Omen type atmosphere to the song or an absolutely captivating Phoenix from Satyricon, complete with a tenor duet with Sivert HØyem, reprising her vocal duties from the studio album.

As I said, every track is enhanced by the operatic choral voices, but also retains the brutal metal assault that Satyricon deliver. In fact, as the concert moves through the middle section, with Den Siste, (and then what would have been at the time new tracks) Tro Og Kraft and The Infinity Of Time And Space you can feel the pacing slowly increasing towards an absolute classic crescendo: To The Mountains and The Pentagram Burns once again highlighting the incredible drumming skills of Frost, blast beats powering out whilst the rest of the band provide musicianship of the highest quality. The encore of Mother North, complete with excellent audience participation which merges with the Chorus and favourite K.I.N.G bring one of the best live albums I've ever heard to an end. 92 minutes of absolute quality and I defy any metal head who listens to this not to be desperate to catch them live at some point in the future. Quite brilliant. 10/10

Thursday 14 May 2015

Another Point Of View: The Prodigy (Review By Paul)

The Prodigy: Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

The devastating results in the general election ironically segued into the arrival in Cardiff of THE drum and bass outfit of the last 20 years, The Prodigy. Ironic because the government was Tory when the Essex outfit’s first release hit the shelves, and it’s the fucking Tories who find themselves in control again on the day The Prodigy roll into town.

Anyway, enough of the political analysis (Agreed - Ed) what about the live experience of The Prodigy? Well, first off, it is worth saying that The Prodigy can draw a crowd. The MIA was rammed to capacity, busier than any metal gig I've seen in there since Maiden in 2006 and even surpassing the last visit by the Foo Fighters, a gig so hot I was sweating in the balcony.

It has to be said that away from the metal/rock festivals of Download and Sonisphere, The Prodigy draw a much more varied crowd than just the Slayer or Metallica fan. However, despite the limited metal contingent, full marks to all of those present; a complete absence of menace or any aggravation which I have to admit surprised me; just a lot of people who enjoyed a few beers or chemical enhancements and a chance to blow off some steam.

Our crew numbered 10, which included Sir Rhod Of Moose, complete with the smell of the 20 litres of oil he had spent most of the day cleaning up. After a reasonably early meet in the Gatekeeper, we headed to the MIA at around 8.20 and caught some of the most insane sights ever witnessed in this god awful venue. Massive queues at the bar, huge numbers trying to access the loos and overall just a bit of a cluster fuck. Did the management not know that the crowd was likely to want to booze? It was Wales for fuck’s sake!

Although the security staff had told us it was 9 pm start, the opening bars of the immense Breathe didn't blast out until 9:15 pm. However, it was so worth the wait. For the next 90 minutes, Howlett, Flint and Maxim controlled the rabid crowd, exhorting and coercing them into a pit of absolute insanity. What can I say about the set list? Blisteringly good, a mixture of tracks from the latest album The Night Is My Enemy, and a greatest hits package (Firestarter, Invaders Must Die, Omen, Run With The Wolves) which maintained momentum throughout the evening. I have to be honest here: I spent little time looking at the stage (impressive lighting aside) as I was too busy kicking the shapes which this band demand from you.

A brutal encore of Their Law and Take Me To The Hospital concluded the evening by a civilised 10:40 pm. We were exhausted, soaking wet with sweat (even Stief had begun to glow) and having given a really good account of ourselves (some shapes thrown hadn't been seen since 1996). The Prodigy live are a force of nature; breath-taking, impressive and unstoppable. I doubt that a better gig will cross my vision this year (and I have two Opeth gigs to cover yet). My bitch was truly smacked up. A most awesome evening all round. 10/10

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Reviews: Triaxis

Triaxis: Zero Hour (Rocksector)

Welsh metal band Triaxis are technically the MoM house band (though they may disagree I'm sure). I discovered them a fair few years ago and I've slowly introduced all the members with each one of them being won over by the bands immense stage presence and great songs. So yes we all follow this band but for me especially the forthcoming release of their third album was much anticipated. As the digital version of the album that I pledged for arrived on my Pledge Music page (Yep crowd funded in record time folks!) it was downloaded immediately and the played repeatedly upon arrival to; one to learn the songs for their album launch show this Friday, two to get the best review possible for you the discerning reader and three rock out to one of the best bands on the UK scene.

So album three what's itall about? Taking a leaf out of Mr Hutchings' book I decided to dedicate this one blog to the album in order to give a comprehensive overview of the album in full. So as I turned the volume up to beyond my normal settings (a band like this needs to be played on or near 11) I pressed play the album started and with no pre amble it was straight into riffs from the outset. First song Liberty has a guitar driven, building intro echoing the classic thrash era before exploding into ultra quick thrash metal riffage from CJ and Glyn the twin axe attack; as frontwoman Krissie croons with her powerful lyrics. The song moves along at pace like the golden age of thrash replete with gang shout vocals on the chorus. The album has a theme of rebellion with many of the tracks dealing with struggle and overcoming adversity which gives it a loose concept and leads neatly into the punishing razor sharp riffs of Death Machine which features some death vocals from guitarist Glyn and superior drumming from Giles (and his resplendent beard), the riffage of Glyn and CJ is more akin to the recent NWOAHM bringing in a modern metal sound of Machine Head or Trivium. Ministry Of Truth is an Orwellian influenced tale with a more progressive delivery yet maintaining the modern metal tendencies with a mid song breakdown before a lighting fast solo from the fleet fingered Glyn whose solos shine throughout on this album.

The Modern metal influence takes a back seat and we move straight into Maiden territory for the Sci-Fi space opera of Terraform which has all the hallmarks of a Maiden tale having Steve Harris' treasured backing whoa's and as with many of 'Arry's finest it deals with a story; this one being the loneliness of space travel and has the man himself's big bass sound from new girl Becky that anchors the track perfectly. From there we go diving head first into the first longer track and one that once again gets fists pumping with its classic metal nod. Dying Sun is the perfect sequel to the proceeding track as it follows the Sci-Fi theme and makes a mean a mid-album concept one-two. This track especially really shows off Krissie's impressive vocal range, she can really belt out theses songs as well as soften her vocal when she needs to to bring emotion to tracks. Not needed on the next track Victorious however as this is the sound to an invasion spearheaded by the band and one that will have Joey DeMaio and co quaking their boots as Krissie gets into her Amazonian Queen mode in chest beating style backed by the speed of Glyn and CJ's shredding, Becky's bass rumble and Giles' machine gun drumming. Back to the old school with some 80's motorbiking music on Stand Your Ground. This is the kind of sound that Priest, Saxon et al used to make back in the day and will get many an old rocker nodding heads. An uplifting raise your fist in the air and shout metal with twin axe attack and plenty of guts backing it.

We go back into Maiden territory on Queen Of The Iceni this track is stuffed full of the historical lyrics Maiden have always relied upon. In this case we are drawn to the story of Celtic warrior queen Boudicca; with the historical lyrics, meeting the galloping metal that moves and twists its time signatures like a Maiden epic. The band have also thrown a little folk metal (see Blind Guardian) on this track to flesh things out a little casting their net a little wider and sounding all the better for it. This is a cracking powerful track which is great for history buffs like me. Back to the more modern sounding thrash, on End Of Time, driven by rapid drums and searing riffage before building at the end into a solo and a piano led break, before things resume with the speed and passion of the early part of the track. Each song sounds huge due to the production of the band's guitarist Glyn and James Stephenson at Stymphalian studios, they produced the band's last album as well and makes this album sound huge, strident and as the song has says Victorious! The drums are recorded and mixed by Scott Adkins who has worked with Sylosis, Cradle Of Filth and Savage Messiah and he makes our man behind the kit sound like a thunderstorm in a power station. From power to a poignant reminder of those lost in the field of battle on Lest We Forget. The stirring lyrics are backed by some muscular musical backing. The song was particularly resonant as I was listening to this album not long removed from the 70th anniversary of VE day.

The next track Voices is the penultimate on the album and blows away any lingering thoughts of sadness by rampaging along like a psycho on a killing spree, which surprisingly is also the lyrical content as well. The album closes in style with a 10 minute epic in the shape of the title track Zero Hour. This final blast of Welsh heavy metal, balances light and shade throughout moving between slow and fast time signatures, balancing fury with finesse and even expanding the musical palette more by bringing in acoustic guitars in the intro that build the drama and pathos before adding keys to make it sound very cinematic. It's after this slow burn build that we get CJ and Glyn shredding like hell in the metallic bulk of the songs main body while the rhythm section bring everything together and set the pace throughout. This track yet again brings more thrashy heavy metal to the table albeit this time with an apocalyptic bent ending the album in suitably grandiose style.

So then Zero Hour is yet another fantastic addition to the bands catalogue and the perfect follow up to their last album Rage And Retribution. The band are only on their third album and yet they effortlessly merge classic and modern metal, perfectly blending melody and aggression through passionate and professional performances. All of this then melds together to create songs that are made to be played loudly and repeatedly. With Zero Hour they have not only added yet more anthems to their live set they have also crafted an album that could well be the first step towards world domination!! 10/10

Sunday 10 May 2015

Reviews: Luciferian Light Orchestra, Omicidia, My Refuge

Luciferian Light Orchestra: S/T (Adulruna)

LLO is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Christofer Johnsson who is the founder member and creative mind behind symphonic metal project Therion. This album is a collection of songs deemed to retro sounding for that bands OTT, symphonic, Gothic and more metallic influences. This retro style is evident from the outset as this album has the same kind of occult retro feel as Purson, Black Widow, Blood Ceremony and indeed Ghost. Johnsson plays most of the instruments on this album with the help of many current and former Therion members all handling different parts of the record. He has also found a some great vocalists who bewitch and beguile with their her haunting female vocals, especially on Church Of Carmel which encourages the listener to "Take off your dress, join us at the sabbath" as well as chant and worship with the male leads. Every song is filled with occult and sexual references see Sex With DemonsVenus In Flames and Black Mass In Paris and is imbued with the honeyed textures of the late 60's and early 70's. Johnsson's musical history is one of overblown epics in Therion with more than their fill of occult lyricism and he adds all of this experience to this record. He really 'gets' the genre, filling this album with spooky organs, clean guitar lines and backing chants see the doomy Moloch. The album draws authenticity from the analogue style production and Gothic styled retro rock, LLO are the sound of Jeff Lynne worshipping Satan with multi-layered songs, that are keen on the ear but filled with blood, guts and sexual deviance (and in the end isn't that all you need?) 8/10

Omicidia: Certain Death (Self Released)

Former White Wizzard drummer Giovanni Durst grew tired of the internal band politics of White Wizzard so struck out on his own to form a heavier style of band. Omicida is that band and he recruited ex-White Wizzard alumni guitarist Will Wallner (also of Will Wallner & Vivian Vain) and vocalist Joseph Michael along with guitarist Roy Levi Ari and bassist Roman Kovallik to the cause. These men set about creating this album that is far away from anything White Wizzard were known for; this is straight up rip your face off Bay Area thrash metal, drawing from Testament, mainly due to Michael's vocals, but also Exodus and even Slayer. With excellent use of light and shade the album kicks off with Cult Of Fear which some melodic guitar lines before Wallner and Ari let loose with riffs galore shredding for their lives as Durst himself blast beats like a madman. From here on in there is very little restbite with only some intros and middles sections slowing things down and letting you breathe. Tracks like Disobey, Star Striped Death and Strike Back all having the snarling, political rallying of the early 80's thrash scene coupled with some great guitar work, punishing drums and perfect vocals. This is the kind of thrash that has scene a revival of late and Omicidia do it better than most, with seven perfectly crafted tracks that all bludgeon you from start to finish. Things look good for this band and with a new vocalist in tow I hope they start destroying the live scene soon! 8/10  

My Refuge: A Matter Of Supremacy (Bakerteam)

My Refuge hail from Italy and as such tap into that countries vein of progressive power metal favoured by genre legends Labyrinth but also drawing in influences from Rage, Evergrey, Crimson Glory and Iced Earth. The band are by no means a happy band they rely on a darker and more melancholic influences than many power metal bands but for the most part the music is heavy, melodic with a hint of progressive. Musically they are still very much power metal vein albeit the more modern vein with dual guitars, thumping rhythm section and sky shattering vocals especially on Living In Anger. The song writing on this album is very good; Calling Of The Wind is a fast thrashy song that is bookended by the mid-paced and paranoid The Cage and the soaring ballad Endless Night. Their influences are worn clearly on their sleeves the Maiden-like This Wall which is one of the best tracks on the album, but if you like modern, power metal with a bit of prog and lot of melody then you would do worse than My Refuge. 7/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Uriah Heep

Uriah Heep: Y Plas, Cardiff

So myself and Mr Perry rocked up to the university building to watch one of British rocks oldest bands, having always been ridiculed as Deep Purple copyists, Uriah Heep have gone through many phases but after their particularly dodgy middle period they have been experiencing somewhat of a 'purple' (no pun intended) patch since 2008's Wake The Sleeper. Uriah Heep are a band I have never seen live but I have always heard that they give 100% for every show so I was eager to see if the stories were true:

Blurred Vision

As we waited for The Heep we were welcomed by three white suited gents who were the support act Blurred Vision, they took their places guitar, bass, drums respectively and started off the night. Blurred Vision are a Canadian band that have only recently released their debut album which was produced by Terry Brown (Rush, Tiles etc) so that gives you a hint to what this band sound like; part Von Hertzen Bros, part Orphaned Land; due to their Persian heritage and songs dedicated to it and part Pink Floyd fusing prog, pop and psychedelia together with virtuoso musicianship from the two guitar slinging brothers Sepp and Sohl Osley and drummer Ben Riley. With tracks like the driving No More War, the Floydian Rollin On and their set piece Organised Insanity the band have a great set of songs that were played in their stripped back three piece style (different to the album versions, which I will be reviewing soon). The set finished with their cover/re-interpretation of Floyd's Another Brick Part 2 (Hey Ayatollah) which is a protest song about their native Iran and was given to them to perform by their patron Roger Waters. A great way to open the night from a band that I will definitely keeping an eye on. 8/10

Uriah Heep

So it was time for The Heep, the 45 year veterans burst onto the stage to Speed Of Sound from their latest record The Outsider, which was the first of 5 songs from that album nearly all of them being big ballsy rockers The Law, Can't Take That Away and The Outsider, as well as ballad single One Minute. Nearly all the songs off this album have a western theme to them accentuated by front man Bernie Shaw's holster for his mic. Shaw is a great front man and has a great and at times ear piercingly high voice, drummer Russell Gilbrook works like a fucking machine, he was the sweatiest man in the room by far, new bassist Davey Rimmer works the stage as the youngest member of the band while the two oldest; members stood their ground and matched any energy with professionalism. Keyboardist Phil Lanzon (who had a fantastic and dazzling white shirt to match his feathered and lethal hair) worked his keys like Lord and guitarist and founder Mick Box cut a solitary but spellbinding figure, busting out riff after riff. As well as having a great voice Shaw is an affable front man encouraging participation with humour and joviality.

As I said much of the set list comprised of half of their new album but as this was their 45th anniversary they hand picked some songs they hadn't played in a long time as well as old favourites and classics; two came from The Magician's Birthday with Sunrise and the prog rock epic title track (which is still bonkers) both getting and airing, before they showed they still have that prog rock streak with the What Kind Of God? coming from Wake The Sleeper. However it was tracks like Stealin'July Morning and main set ender Lady In Black that won the crowd over the most although the new stuff slotted in perfectly showing how their prowess as a band steeped in history but able to sit in the present quite comfortably. As the encore of Gypsy and Easy Livin' came in rapid succession it was quite obvious why people rate Uriah Heep so highly as a live act. Despite the small crowd everyone was involved during the set which was non stop fun bolstered by some truly legendary tunes. 9/10

Saturday 9 May 2015

Reviews: Kiske/Somerville, Palace Of The King, Klogr

Kiske/Somerville: City Of Heroes (Frontiers)

Second album from the Kiske/Somerville project, brings to the table all of the talent that both these singers posses and backed by a collection of the finest musicians Power Metal has to offer, nearly all of the songs are written by bassist Mat Sinner, the hardest working man in the metal scene and his partner in crime guitarist Magnus Karlsson. Now Mr Hewitt reviewed the first album many moons ago but he found it to be a bit of a mixed bag. Since then everything seems to have clicked a bit, as the title track kings things off we have the same kind of Teutonic metal Helloween, Primal Fear (of whom Sinner & Karlsson are both members) are known for, the unmistakeable vocals of Michael Kiske start things off before Amanda gets involved matching Kiske for power and intensity. From speedy metal to more melodic rock feel as the emotive Walk On Water brings a symphonic element making the sound more in the Nightwish camp especially with the huge drum sound of Veronika Lukesova which is bolstered by production legend Jacob Hansen's amazing mix. This album still has the mix of ballads and rockers meaning and it's an even split however there are a lot more symphonic elements this time around making it more accustomed to Somerville's operatic vocals see Salvation but there is enough metallic grit for Kiske to snarl and scream like the good old days. As I've said these songs are all very well written with Breaking Neptune being a guaranteed single to my ears; weirdly it was written by After Forever guitarist Sanders Gommans (and Somerville, who is Gommans wife) a man more accustomed to heavier works, yet this song is very like Amaranthe in it's poppy electro-backed style. This will appeal to fans of everyone involved as well as anyone that loves quality power metal. 8/10      

Palace Of The King: White Bird/Burn The Sky (Listenable)

Palace Of The King have been lauded by Airbourne's Joel O'Keefe  as "six-stringing, soul singing, stomping Rock’n’Roll! They are the real deal!" and he's right. The band play riff filled, blues based hard rock and roll favoured by Rival Suns, Crobot and fellow countrymen Wolfmother. This Aussie band spent their formative years touring every corner of Australia and by doing that they Have honed their craft so they can play guitar slinging hard rock with a stomping blues inflection and a whole heap of psychedelia coming from the organs and keys. As with many bands of this ilk they owe a lot to the legends like, Aerosmith, Zep (Take Your Medicine) and Purple, they even have a track; Another Thing Coming, that does half inch Smoke On The Water but what is music without a little homage. Luckily their own stuff is as good as any of the masters with the huge hip swinging riffs of Maden and Harrison forcing your head to nod along while the rhythm section of Gilpin and Troiano as good as JPJ and Bonzo ever where see the chaotic White Bird (Bring Your Armies Against Me) for this where it all goes a bit trippy in the middle driven by Troiano's drumming. As I said the band have created some storming tracks filled with huge riffs, Sean Johnston's swirling organs and Tim Henwood's classic shirt ripping rock vocals that are part Axel Rose part Robert Plant, Got Nobody To Blame But Myself has slabs of guitars, Leave Me Behind is a shimmying sleazy track that would be right at home on an album by The Answer, (with a sax break mid-section) as well as the blistering hard rock of No Chance In Hell which is a real old school rocker. The band are the newest in a long line of retro styled hard rockers previously mentioned but they have the talent and the songs to rise above the froth and really go somewhere, a huge amount of promise trading on some well worn grooves but as their song says If It Ain't Broke. 9/10    

Klogr: Make Your Stand (Zeta Factory)

Italian alt-metallers Klogr ranked up there with one of the best albums of last year in my opinion so when I recieved this EP I got a little spike of excitement. This EP is a one that has three new studio tracks and then a live album too, the album starts off with Breaking Down which has the bands big thrashy riffs, mixed with some chunky groove and Rusty's scarred vocals. The band merge influences perfectly deep in the grunge vein and 1990's Metallica with Make Your Stand having the same kind of riffage that Mr Tremonti is known for. The first two tracks on this album are heavy ballsy rockers but Breathing Heart is a slower moment with a a bit more gravitas meaning it can;t really be called a ballad. So the three album tracks all bode well for another album as this band do seem to have a knack for coming up with great songs. So onto the live part of the album and this again shows off the bands older material perfectly in the live arena, the tracks sound a little rawer but still sparkle. A great little stopgap that looks forward to a good future for these Italians. 7/10  

Friday 8 May 2015

A View From The Back Of The Room: Panic Room

Panic Room: The Fleece, Bristol

British progressive rockers Panic Room are now four albums into their career and they have been producing some inspiring and staggering music for a fair few years now separating them from the glut of female fronted prog rock bands the British scene is full of. This Wildfire Tour was a celebration of their career in the still stunning Fleece, with a night made up of two sets, the first an acoustic set hinted at on their last tour and also in the wake of their all acoustic pledge music album. The second set was their impressive, passionate electric set finishing things off loudly. 

Bang on 8pm I walked into the Fleece awaiting the 8:15 start time, which came and went, then at 8:45 the band came on the stage strapped on their acoustics and kicked things off with Song For Tomorrow which was a jazzy number driven by drummer Gavin Griffiths' drumbox and the keys of Jonathan Edwards who was unfortunately tucked away at the back of the stage leaving the front of the stage to be dominated by bassist Yatim Halimi, frontwoman Anne-Marie Helder who also plays a mean rhythm guitar while bewitching with her vocals on songs like the jaunty Cat. For a band that seem to have a problem with lead guitarists they unveiled their latest lead guitarist Dave Foster who swapped between acoustic and electric leads and melodies during this set. The band moved through the set with aplomb giving the gig an almost fireside feel, Screens (one of my favourites) was funky in acoustic mode and they even experimented a bit turning one of their heavier tracks Black Noise into a reggae song (and adding a whole new aspect to the lyrics). There was a relaxed feel that throughot the set with Helder sipping wine and the band laughing and joking throughout especially with 'new boy' Foster. The band took this opportunity to debut a new song Rain & Tears & Burgundy which is a true acoustic song laid back and emotive. The set finished with Firefly and Promises by which time everyone was well warmed up and after a brief break the band were back for their electric set. 

This set opened with the awesome Into Temptation which saw Helder showing off her pipes and her prowling the stage in her Rock Goddess mode, her range is magnificent and as they plunged straight into the rocker Freedom To Breathe it was evident why she is constantly nominated at the classic rock awards, she has the kind of voice that could make Pink Floyd's The Great Gig In The Sky look easy, she is also a multi instrumentalist taking up her Fender Telecaster for many of the songs as well as a bongo on Tightrope Walking and the obligatory flute on the slinky Chameleon. Still this is very much a band effort as Jonathan Edwards is veteran of the scene and is a keyboard and synth wizard providing the majority of the bands sound, on the Eastern influenced Yasuni he goes a bit ELP and also on the The Waterfall which is poppier proposition with a New Age leaning that the band do so well. The band are anchored by the superb drumming of Griffiths who has won numerous awards for his skills he can rumble with the best of them on the rockier tracks but he can also play subtle on more laid back tracks like the romantic The Fall, he is aided by his partner in crime Yatim who plays 'lead' bass driving much of the rhythm. This tour was a celebration of the bands career and they drew tracks from their four albums with Incarnate from their latest album preceding Apocalypstick which comes from their debut, it was great for an old Roomie (the name for their fans) like me to hear the old stuff especially when it has an amazing keyboard solo from Edwards and indeed an incredible guitar solo from Foster. This man is a talent and a half and I hope he stays for the duration his solos and lead playing was spot on throughout considering this gig was his fourth with the band having only a month to learn the songs! He knows when to use his speed techniques, but he also plays with soul and passion. Skin moved into the heavy Darkstar which still has that beautiful organ opening before the riffs kick in. 

The set ended strongly with the creeping Dust and a track that could be an alt-rock number one Hiding In The World, Panic Room has always been a band to adapt their sound moving away from their early 'classic' prog sound to a more accessible progressive style however their defining moment is still their jaw dropping epic Satellite which despite being a beautifully crafted song is a bit morbid and sad, the band thought this to so their parting shot was the also fantastic Sandstorms where Helder gets in touch with her inner Kate Bush leaving us with a an upbeat number (this is a celebration after all). A simply staggering set from one the UK's best kept secrets, a band with such a wide appeal that they really should be more well known than they are. Go and see this band when they are next on tour I promise you won't be disappointed, this could be in my top gigs of 2015. 10/10

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Reviews: Byzantine, Tribulation, Dopethrone (Review By Paul)

Byzantine: To Release Is To Resolve (PledgeMusic)

Byzantine are a progressive thrash outfit from West Virginia, comprising of Chris “OJ” Ojeda on vocals and rhythm guitar, Brian Henderson on lead guitar and rhythm section Sean Sydnor on bass and Matt Wolfe (drums). Having formed in 2000, very much part of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, the band split in 2010 only to reform by 2012. To Release Is To Resolve is their fifth album and it is a really solid release. Byzantine combine a number of different styles in their sound which makes them an interesting listen. The guitar work of Henderson is excellent with solos thrown out with almost careless abandon, whilst the compositions contain elements of light and shade; some really heavy parts on a par with Pantera and Lamb Of God segue with some much quieter balanced segments; for example on track two Justinian Code where the tempo changes from all-out assault to a much calmer pace. Ojeda’s vocals cover a wide range, from brutal metal core style through to almost Myles Kennedy in places although I think I’d mention Ivan Moody from 5FDP as a similar peer. The technical aspect of Byzantine has been compared to Meshuggah and I can hear that, although I’d throw Xerath into the mix in terms of quality technical playing as well. Underpinning the whole album which lasts an old school 43 minutes and eight tracks is a massive slab of groove, unsurprising given their heritage but sufficient to get the head moving and the foot tapping. This is a stomping and brutal album which is well worth a listen. 8/10

Tribulation: The Children Of The Night (Century Media)

Another death metal outfit from Sweden, this time Tribulation from Arvika who have released their third long player. Formed in 2005, the band play pretty no-nonsense death metal with a real punk rock feel combined with the faster elements of Dimmu Borgir and the like. The Children Of The Night contains solid playing and a less familiar death metal style; indeed some of the tracks are positively slow by comparison though still retaining a very dark and sinister approach. Tracks such as Melancholia probably don’t need much of a description but suffice to say there is a black atmosphere whilst the vocals of Johannes Andersson who also plays bass are traditional death growls which fit nicely with the rest of the band. The guitar work is haunting at times, with Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén giving the tracks some meaty riffage as well as a more balanced and introspective feel. All of the tracks on this generous serving (just under an hour) are well paced following a reasonably standard formula, but if it isn't broken, keep with it. In The Dreams Of The Dead clocks in at just under six minutes and is a killer track, with several time changes and some evil death vocals to support the frantic soloing of the guitarists. Many of the tracks have a rather epic feel about them, with huge build ups ultimately climaxing in a fireball of death metal gloom. This is an album you can put on to listen to when you want to really annoy the neighbours. It’s noisy, it has death growls and a massive feel to it. If you like the doom style vocal work of Shagrath and Satyr then get involved. But be warned, it’s not going to cheer you up! 7/10

Dopethrone: Hochelaga (Totem Cat Records)

Canadian sludge/doom metal outfit Dopethrone’s third album does exactly what you would expect. Dirty, no, change that to filthy crushing riffs, smashing heavy bass and guitar and putrid vocals are all present and correct as this visceral outfit deliver seven tracks of pure slime. Each track has a spoken introduction before the distortion kicks in; Chameleon Witch for example, which possesses some of the darkest riffs since Electric Wizard spewed out the classic stoner/sludge based Dopethrone in 2000. Now I'm not a fan of this grinding heavy onslaught by any means, and I would rarely put the Montreal outfit, or Electric Wizard on for a spot of easy listening. However, I can appreciate that in the stoner/sludge scene this is top drawer. If you like your metal slow, powerful and as mucky as Caroline Street (notable Cardiff tourist era - Ed) at 2am on a Sunday morning, grab yourself a listen to Hochelaga. It’ll burn a hole in your mind. 7/10

Reviews: Moonspell, Apocalyptica, Hasse Froberg & Musical Companion

Moonspell: Extinct (Napalm) (Review By Paul)

Moonspell’s excellent and very heavy 2012’s Alpha Noir and its Gothic twin Omega White saw Portugese gothic metallers pay homage to both the thrash metal world and Gothic heroes Sisters Of Mercy and Type O Negative. Three years later, the quality of their music continues with Extinct. Another storming album comprising light and shade, Extinct once again demonstrates that when you get it right, boy do you get it right. Fernando Ribeiro combines the best of Andrew Eldritch with some almost death metal growls to great effect. Orchestral samples courtesy of Pedro Paixao and the massive guitar riffs of Ricardo Amorim swirl with the rhythm section of Aires Pereir and Miguel Gaspor to produce dark and depressive heavy rock that drives forward at pace. Opener Breathe (Until We Are No More) could have been written for The Mission or The Sisters, whilst Medusalem includes some riffs and hooks that Jaz Coleman would love get hold of. If you don’t like your rock soaked with the introspective, blackened elements of the 1980s then you may not like this. However, I think it’s an absolute stunner which improves on every listen. Tracks like Domina and The Last Of Us capture the very essence of the Gothic metal scene, shades of old school Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and early Anathema immediately come to mind. Another marmite album I suppose; for me the songs are beautifully crafted and capture the heart and soul of another excellent band who still fly under the radar in the UK. 9/10

Apocalyptica: Shadowmaker (Eleven Seven) (Review By Paul)

I’ve never paid much attention to the Finns. When they first arrived on the scene they were just a bit of a gimmick to me, playing orchestral Metallica covers and trying to establish a niche in the world of metal. They have substantial staying power though and 22 years since they first appeared they release Shadowmaker, album number 8. Interestingly, it is the first album to feature just one singer, who happens to be Scars on Broadway guitarist Franky Perez who was also a member of Slash’s original live band. So, what is Shadowmaker like? Well, the cellos are still very much in evidence, leading the charge on the 7 minute title track, and Perez’s vocals are easy on the ear, very much with an AOR bent although containing a much harder edge at times. The Metallica influence runs deep and the majority of tracks have more than a nod to Hetfield and co. The sound and style of the band varies throughout, some hard rockers weaving in and out softer radio rock ala Sixx AM style softer rock; see Slow Burn for an example. Reign Of Fear has an atmospheric intro, with the cellos supported by the percussion of Mikko Siren and some heavy guitar power chords.

It helps that the band have secured the excellent producer Nick Raskulinecz, who has a list of credits longer than your arm and he has done a super job, capturing the classical elements of the band whilst allowing the heavier side of the band to come to the fore. In fact, it is on the instrumental tracks that you get a real feel as to the true soul of Apocalyptica, with the frenetic yet controlled orchestral elements setting the band apart. Although Perez has done a great job, it’s the classical side of the band that has earned their reputation. It’s not all good stuff mind; Hole In My Soul is just horrible mid-paced soft rock whilst House Of Chains, stomping riffs and all is second rate Soil.

As I said at the start of this review, my attention was never focused on Apocalyptica. Although there are some decent enough tracks on Shadowmaker, it isn't going to make me change my mind and seek them out with any great effort any time soon. A reasonable release but there is much more out there more deserving of your hard earned cash. 6/10

Hasse Froberg & Musical Companion: HFMC (Glassville Records)

Hasse Froberg is the vocalist and occasional guitarist of prog rock titans The Flower Kings, that band are one of the top bands in the prog rock sphere and over eleven albums they have consistently developed their sound while retaining the true sound of progressive rock favoured by Yes etc. As well as the numerous Flower Kings albums Hasse Froberg also has a solo career HFMC is his third album he handles his the vocals and rhythm guitars, Anton Lindsjö on lead guitar, Ola Strandberg on drums, Kjell Haraldsson on keys and Thomas Thomsson on bass. Thompson and Strandberg have already collaborated with Froberg in the 80's band Spellbond and were hand picked along with the other members of the band. All of these men are excellent musicians each one adding their own talent to this album that has a huge scope of influences, this album draws more from various genres than sticking rigidly to the prog rock format drawing from blues, folk, jazz, classic rock and yes prog rock. As things kick off with Can't Stop The Clock we are in prime prog territory with huge organs and some big riffs before we get into Everything Can Change which is steeped in jazz, the first real epic is Pages which clocks in a over 15 minutes taking the listener on a musical journey before Genius strips things back with an acoustic based Steven Wilson-like track. In fact this album has a lot of Steven Wilson about it as well as Neal Morse which is mainly due to Froberg's high vocals and the poppier overtones to tracks like the very Morse-like In The Warmth Of This Evening which has swathes of keyboards and a melodic upbeat delivery. Hasse Froberg and his musical companion have crafted an album that has a wide palette of colours and sounds, however there will be few that may be put off by the sheer density of the music here. 7/10   

Monday 4 May 2015

The View From The Local Scene: Red Sun 2015

Red Sun 2015: The Moon Club, The Full Moon Clwb Ifor Bach & Fuel, Womanby Street Cardiff

A three day festival in Cardiff; featuring the finest in local, national and international talent, all falling under the stoner/doom/heavy category? Well yes please!! Happily this exactly what I was attending on this fine bank holiday weekend, a festival in my own city where I could watch a day of heavy (and I mean heavy) metal before returning to my own house seemed like a godsend. Also it was interesting to me as I only knew a few bands playing so it was a nice way to see some of the new talent in the current 'underground' scene. So post work Friday myself and my old friend Lee packed up and descended, along with most of the Cardiff metal scene, on Womanby street in our fair city to watch as the alcohol-fuelled brutality started in earnest. With three venues to choose from there was enough for everyone, split into genres (for the most part), the three venues served as a guide to what was happening where.


Firstly we descended on the Moon to witness our first band; Swansea's Attercopus (7) a trio that bring a cool brand of riff filled metal (a running theme for the weekend) however they shook things up in the finale and also proved that there is a lot of room for experimentation in this genre as Guitarist/Vocalist Rob put down his guitar and took up a flute for while the rhythm section pounded away, it was during his freakout flute solo that bassist Lloyd took another drum both men began to rhythmically back the parping flute. The crowd lapped it up before the band took up their instruments again and finished to a roar. First band in and already anything can happen I think I'm going to like this festival I thought to myself. As we waited for the next band the brilliantly named Baron Greenback (7) who I think took the name from the American slang for money rather than the DangerMouse villain although I could be wrong. We waited and waited and finally the band arrived after some travel trouble with a doom, stoner blues sound the band immediately caught the crowds attention, I was particularly impressed with Max's vocals however the band could only play  three song set yet they did enough to impress. Over to Fuel where the more extreme end of the spectrum was opening up we walked in as The Art Of Burning Water (6)were in full flight their breakdown heavy extremity really bludgeoning the assembled throng, not really my cup of tea but my companion and those watching enjoyed them thoroughly.

Back upstairs to the Moon for Vails (8) who were recommended by another couple festival goer, their recommendation was well received as Vails are a two piece with Bass and Drums but they sound like a lot more members, their sprawling bowel rupturing assault shook the walls and caused many pained expression however they played with so much style that it was hard to not like the band, this was a clinic in fusing melody with extremity which left many breathless, almost like they'd been winded to be honest. Back on more familiar territory with Trippy Wicked (7) who do exactly what it says on the tin, low, slow, fuzzy Goblin style stoner riffs that were the perfect antidote for Vails. After calming down with the fuzz we moved over to Clwb to catch the end of Valleys Punk rock anarchists Gung Ho (7) who managed to stir up a frenzy in the downstairs bar. So we came to the end of the day with local boys Lacertilla (10) who once again blew away the competition with their blissed out space rock. Every time I see this band they are still fantastic, with the instrumental part of the band now featuring new bassist Tom they immediately slip into a heavy groove that gets your head nodding. Kicking things off with Do Something! they followed up with a new song which shows the band still on top form, with a set made up of Tryin' To Do A Good Thing and Crashing Into The Future the band were all on top form as the rhythm section of Tom and Carl drove the groove, Lucas riffed like a bastard and Mike's lead playing added that extra edge to things. Once again all eyes were on frontman Fry who is mental dressed like an insane version of Clint Eastwood in a poncho and rubber gloves while acting like a crazy shaman throwing himself around the room as he performs in the packed out room. They are still one of the most entertaining bands on the local scene consistently trippy, brilliant and a perfect end to day one. Smiles all round then as we taxied it home (due to the few shandy's we'd had) awaiting tomorrow.


Day two and a 1:40 start was just right for the sore heads that had come from the previous day's festivities and it was straight into Fuel for heavyweight death/doom metal band Conjurer (7) who were a vicious way to start the day and pulled double duty after some bands failed to turn up. Mr Burnell loved this band and I found them to be a tight, powerful young band with some huge songs. Over to the Moon for Anta (8) who had so much stuff on stage they couldn't actually fit on it. They are an Instrumental stoner/doom band that sound similar to Karma To Burn and The Sword albeit with lashings of organ for good measure. Stoner/doom metal/rock is one of the few genres that works equally in instrumental form due to it's worship of the riff. Anta have a huge atmospheric sound with furious percussion, powerful guitars and of course the aforementioned organ all contributing to the bands immense sound. Over to Fuel for Welsh noiseists Tides Of Sulphur (Set 1 7) (Set 2 8) who also played two sets both of which were aggressive, violent and full of fury, part one of their set was fuelled by vitriol and was warm up for their slightly drunker 'greatest hits' set later. With songs like the monolithic Trench Foot and Ypres Tides Of Sulphur never fail to excite and indeed deafen. Back again to The Moon to calm down a little with Vena Cava (7) who are trippy psych rock featuring some haunting vocals from the front woman frequent changes of pace meant that they were a nice change of pace as they had a little bit of alt/psych in their mostly instrumental sound.

Any calm was blown away by Leeds scuzz rockers Blind Haze (9), coming down from Leeds (and then proceeding to liberate the venues of beer all weekend) this three piece play old school, dirty biker rock fusing NWOBHM with a bit of Orange Goblin and a shitload of Motorhead to boot with some rapid drumming from Jason Hope, shredding from Joe Clements and a Rickenbacker bass assault from leviathan frontamn Conan who also has a mighty hollar! This was just relentless riff age with Take A Look Around You and The Quick And The Damned causing a pit in the floor and copious amount of beer drinking, this band are amazing and I for one was longing for a longer set. Back down to Fuel for some extreme noise terror with The Air Turned To Acid (7) who brought a thunderous ominous riffs to the bunker stage (that's what I'm calling it now). With all of the venues being less than thirty seconds away it meant we could sample a good number of bands in a very short space of time. More stage hopping back upstairs for Valfader (7) and this young bands final gig together, this is a shame as this three piece had the right chops and some groove for good measure. They definitely went out in style with an impressive set. Next up were the South West's answer to all your riff dreams, I had seen Grifter (9) before at Hammerfest and they impressed but this time they rocked the hell out of The Moon, this was classic stoner rock with nods to Sabbath, hell they even covered Fairies Wear Boots (brilliantly I might add) with Goblin in the vocals, the southern style of Clutch and songs about Princess Leia it means that Grifter are intensely watchable and I for one will be watching them again! Ten Foot Wizard (7) were up next with more of the same with riffs a gogo in the classic style.

Over to Clwb for the heaviest band of the day (so far) with three guitars, two vocalists and a drummer that looks like Willie Nelson this Newport based band encompass colossal doom walls of doom riffage with an experimental bent, imagine if you will The Eagles meet Electric Wizard and you wouldn't be far of. All three guitars in Spider Kitten (8) make a cacophony of noise while both drummer Chris and guitarist Chi provide the sparse vocals (the band focus on their instrumentals rather than vocal work) but their noise was very good heavy metal with some southern swagger played through vintage equipment, add to this to a brave cover of Frank Zappa's Muffin Man and Spider Kitten are a band that I would absolutely watch again! Back upstairs to watch Suns Of Thunder (8) whose style of blissed out retro rock I've seen before and they played the best set I've seen them play which was a great final act of retro riff rock before the nights headliners. Saturday's headliners were a band who I will admit that when I saw them first I was not impressed by their heavy, sludgy audio assault however this time with their added theatrics and almost laser guided precision Hogslayer (10) were one of the bands of the day. As the gong was struck the hooded figures of the band arrived on stage one by one to an apocalyptic atmosphere and as their frontman made his way to the stage the band exploded into life with their sinister sludge/doom that is violent, oprressive and all-consuming. Their mix of one guitar and two bass players backed by volatile drumming and their frontman's guttural screams, the band whose appearance is even auspicious decked in hoodies and black facepaint (something mirrored by the baying mob in the crowd) The audio assault didn't stop for their entire set and the crowd lapped it up. There is a reason why they are on the upward trajectory and pulled the largest crowd of the day. A terrifyingly good way to end the second day!


Third day, less booze and more music, with the capital busy as hell it was a nice to have a restbote filled with heavy music. First up is Tradish (7) a three piece who have expansive desert rock sound full of blissed out rhythms and grit and provided a cool opening for the day. Next up were local lads Ak'bal (9) who once again were phenomenal, otherworldly and heavy as hell. The familiar opening of The Ride started things of with their tribal power as Thoby and Rob played frenzied guitars, as Michael provided intricate bass patterns and Mic played double kick drums with ferocity, their unique progressive delivery is always awesome to watch and as they moved through the anthemic Equilibrium showing off their dual vocal delivery. The band finished up after three songs, their finale being  Totally Recalled which brought things to a heavy close. A more stripped back than usual only relying on their wide pedal set up for the changes in sonics a fully charged electric set, that was to be followed by an acoustic set later in the day. Away from the progressive to the downright weird with valleys oddities Dead Shed Jokers (8) the bastard sons of stoner rock, The Doors and Frank Zappa. the jokers are gonzoid hard rock with a trippy edge. Swirling psych meets thumping hard rock. They get better every I see them and since the last time I saw them I feel I understand the band  now they are finally on the right kind of bill, they were perfectly suited for this bill with their hip shaking mind expanding rock n roll.

After the weird and wonderful Dead Shed Jokers it was time for Gulah (9) They ply their trade with proggy, classic Sabbath style doom, huge riffs and some Down style vocals, even if frontman Chong had been caning it a bit hard meaning the vocals were a little raw, along with the Stoner doom they also have a huge chunk of southern groove. This was bud smoking, beer drinking, hard riffing rock music to bang your fucking head to. The band finished their set with a song christened Red Sun which like the rest of the set was a hard rocking solo filled riff-fest. Moving on from the stoner riffs we went into see the hardcore crossover of Grand Collapse (7) who delivered maximum aggression with stabbing guitars super fast punk and buckets of noise. A real wake up call to shake off the evening comedown. followed by yet more aggression with Nomad (7) who were brought their riff based beatdowns, huge noise and harsh vocal delivery to the table and brought to mind Superjoint Ritual with the shouted vocals massive booming bass and guitars and a nod to the more extreme side of doom/stoner. Something quickly washed away by the dreamy hippy psych of Elephant Tree (8) who have a a unique delivery of the traditional instrumentation plus the added effect of a sitar pitching them somewhere between Monster Magnet, Ravi Shankar and Captain BeefHeart especially in Riley Macintyre's vocals, who knew that the sitar would combine so well with stoner rock riffage? Elephant Tree were a worthy addition to the bill with their hippy influenced blues based stoner rock. Back to Fuel with the local Instrumental stoner legends Thorun (8) who showed yet again why they are revered with a solid set of bass driven stoner rock that got heads a-bobbin and fists pumping yet again showing that vocals are optional.

 I am a little annoyed that I missed Bast however the allure of an Ak'bal acoustic set was too much as the band collected in the small Full Moon for their second set. Ak'bal (9) they were sans wires this time with acoustic guitars, Mike on tabla drums/bass, extra man Jimmy on cello, drummer Mic on bass and indeed drums, with Rob fixed to the guitar and Thoby moves between guitars on Equlibrium which still retains it's power while getting an Eastern twist, they then played  stripped down acoustic cover of Comfortably Numb before taking everyone on a journey with the Tool like Pacha Mama which saw Thoby on tank drum before moving to violin for the finale, never ones to do what what is obvious they waived a Tool cover in favour of a Puscifier cover to finish which saw Thoby using a unique Bohran/guitar. The band have a problem though which is that really they need to fuse both of their style however this would require a lot more members however this is minor in regards to my other problem; which is that the Full Moon was a free entry venue meaning that their were many there just on a night out and had no interest in the band which destroyed the ambience, still this is a minor gripe in what was an otherwise fantastically organised festival. These small gripes were washed away by the no-nonsense, balls to the wall filth and fury rock and roll of The Admiral Sir Cloudseley Shovell (10) who are style wise a cross between Chas & Dave, Budgie, Motorhead and The Goodies. This is rock n roll with no frills just punch you in the face biker rock. Opening with the immediate Do It Now! which came after the set up, no warm up bollocks just straight into madness. The band are all very professional in their looseness looking as if they don't know what they are doing is a skill. There was a major cockup with a broken string and no back up guitar but time was filled by bad jokes and one note bass solo and it was all gloriously shambolic. with tracks like 2 Tonne Fuckboot, Tired And Wired, Bulletproof, Scratchin And Sniffin' and the final one two of the doomy Red Admiral, Black Sunrise and the chugging The Thicker, The Better (dedicated to the ladies). A fitting final band for this hard rocking, hard drinking, hard living festival! Same time next year guys yeah!?