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Wednesday 29 July 2015

Reviews: Wearing Scars, One Machine, Krysthla

Wearing Scars: A Thousand Words (Candyman)

Bands come and bands go but some burn very brightly and then just disappear without warning. Mutiny Within and Sacred Mother Tongue are two such instances, Mutiny Within's first album was released on Roadrunner Records and the band were tipped for big things mainly due to their mix of classic and modern metal coupled with British born singer Chris Clancy's superb vocals and wide range, similarly Sacred Mother Tongue found huge fame in Asia but never reached as lofty heights in the UK until the release of their second album. However both bands were victims of the system and disbanded Mutiny Within in 2011 and SMT in 2013 (shortly after the release of their sophomore album). This was very disappointing for me as I was a massive fan of both bands so when these splits left Clancy without and band and SMT without a singer. Cue a meeting of Clancy and SMT's guitar virtuoso Andy James and the beginnings of some song writing. This eventually led to the formation of Wearing Scars, an apt name due to the pairs torrid history with the music industry. Clancy and Andy James rounded up the SMT rhythm section of bassist Craig Daws and drummer Lee Newell as well as being joined by guitarist Daniel Woodyear, with the band now in place they set about recording their debut album.

A Thousand Words is that debut and it naturally is a mix between Sacred Mother Tongue and Mutiny Within, as the first track Become Numb starts out with James and Woodyear's guitars parrying before the super modern groove laden rhythms that SMT did so well kick you in the guts and bounce the song along as the chorus brings a more classic metal base and melodic anthemic choruses of Mutiny Within, James as always is on fire his guitar playing in places melts your mind with his fleet fingered solos and technical guitar licks although new boy Woodyear holds his own supplying six string magic to proceedings, the album is full of muscle mainly coming from the muscular rhythm section who drive tracks like the propulsive I Could Never SayA Last Goodbye and Letters. However they are not adversed to a slower moment especially the over-wrought Heart In Your Hands which is a display of Chris Clancy's amazing vocals not reaching the the soaring ear piercing highs he did in Mutiny Within but he doesn't need to as his vocals now are more mature and equally as powerful relying more on the passionate delivery and wide natural vocal range than trying to show off with how high he can go. Heart In Your Hands is a proper ballad (as is Gone Forever and Wearing Scars) but the proceeding song Butterfly is a slower moment but one that echoes the chart bothering modern radio rock of Shinedown with a lighters aloft paen to lost love, this is one of the best tracks on an album that mixes light and shade perfectly meaning that those who love the technical excellence of the band, the heaviness of metallic passages and also huge chorus hooks that they have will all be catered for in spades. A Thousand Words is a superb album that perfectly takes the next logical step for these men, hopefully with this collection of songs they will finally get the recognition they deserve! 9/10 

One Machine: The Final Cull (Scarlet)

One Machine is the brainchild of former Nevermore, Forbidden, Testament and Dragonlord guitarist Steve Smyth, The Final Cull is their second album and it follows hot on the heels of their debut with the same kind of modern sounding thrash metal that the first album did very well. Smyth's former bands were always ones to adapt their sound bringing in elements of death, black and extreme metal as well as heaps of classic metal for good measure, One Machine bring in all these elements and as Forewarning pummels you with a barrage of riffs you instantly get what One Machine are about from the first few seconds, Ne Motive Power too has a riff Dave Mustaine would kill for. However the band are not a one man band by any stretch of the imagination, Smyth has rounded up some seriously talented artists to accompany him. First mention has to go to former Mercenary singer Mikkel Sandager who has an expansive vocal range that encompasses between a guttural roar, a scream and some shrieking highs that Nevermore's Warrell Dane would be proud of.

 Sandager moves between them effortlessly sometimes in the space of one song, like the title track which has the same kind of furious orchestral backed progressive black metal riffs that Smyth was part of in Eric Peterson's side project Dragonloard. Instrument wise Smyth has got Biomechanical six stringer Jamie Hunt as a guitar foil which means that much like Biomechanical the guitars rarely dip in speed of ferocity, both men riff for their lives but in the more progressive passages they can also add a deft touch to the songs, backing them in the engine room is Chaoswave sticks man Raphael Saini who is the one driving the frequent pace changes and the rampaging speed helped by Tomas Koeford's technical bass playing which shines on tracks like Screaming For Light and Born From This Hate. With all the pounding metal on this album it's when the band stretch themselves a bit that they really shine, the introspective Ashes In The Sky which has some shimmering classical guitars and The Grand Design which has an Eastern flavour. Yet another modern progressive thrash album from Smyth and One Machine, if you know of his other work then this will be an album to check out, preferably loudly. 8/10           
Krysthla: A War Of Souls And Desires (PHD)

Violence now from Northamptonshire with Krysthla who were formed from the ashes of Gutworm and Deadeye, they play skull smashing heavy metal in the vein of American metal titans Lamb Of God with rapid guitar riffs supplied by Noel and Neil that rip and tear at you like a set of knives while the drums of Wayne fire like a chaingun battering you at every possible moment see Caged Earth for a true almost black metal style of furious percussion. The band are extreme metal at it's most extreme, not a clean vocal in sight as Adi screams, growls and roars on every track rallying the metal troops to his cause on tracks like Minority Of One, The Human Cipher and Praise Thee In Flesh as the band cause a cacophony of noise behind him. Carl's bass playing adds the groove to tracks like Luminosity and By Way Of Deception allowing the tracks and indeed the listener to catch their breath before the next barrage.

I mentioned Lamb Of God as being the most familar band to Krysthla stylistcally but this is not the modern era LOG these Brits focus on and deliver the same kind of violence and aggression that Randy and Co did in their Burn The Priest years, it's raw, primal and beats you around the head at every turn with the 8 tracks of extreme metal battery. Because of it's almost abusive nature the album it maybe in parts a little too much for most fair-weather metal fans, however if you are part of the hardcore that like their riffs coming in spades, their drums in-suppressible, the bass rumbling your bowels and the vocals snarling and barking at you at every opportunity then A War Of Souls And Desires may just be your new favourite album. It is an album of metal at it's most extreme that demands you get in the pit and destroy everything in your path!! 8/10    

Sunday 26 July 2015

The View From The Top Of The Mountain: Steelhouse 2015 (Review By Paul)

Steelhouse Festival 2015 – Hafod y Dawal Farm, Ebbw Vale

Now in its fifth year, the Welsh International Classic Rock Festival as it is badged is going from strength to strength. With the support of Planet Rock, (along with the South Wales Argus and Peter’s Pies!), the festival has attracted high quality rock acts from the start and in the last three years has had quality headliners such as MSG, Saxon, Europe and Black Star Riders. Although the Sunday of 2015’s bill didn’t really appeal, (Dee Snider minus the rest of Twisted Sister?) the Saturday line up had sufficient to attract Matt and I for a day ticket at the very reasonable price of £50.

Having camped at the festival two years ago we knew how quickly the weather can change on the top of the mountain. It can be sunny one minute followed by merciless torrential rain the next. Such is Wales in the summer time. Luckily we arrived the morning after a horrendous night of rain to find the sun bursting through and punters in good spirits. The stewards at Steelhouse could certainly teach those miserable fucks at Download a thing or two; friendly greetings all round, bales of hay laid to soak up the huge mud puddles in the car park and a general feel good vibe. The food prices very reasonable, the choice is decent and let’s talk about the beer for a second. Now, many of you will know that we loves our real ale here at the Musipedia, and at Steelhouse you get the extra option of the fine locally brewed ale from the Tudor Brewery, a mere two miles away. The options were plentiful, with Skirrid, Sugar Loaf, Tudor IPA, the specially brewed Mountain Rock and the intriguing and surprisingly tasty Blitz, a pomegranate and sherbet fruity ale. Offering three tokens for £10, each token securing you a pint, this was just perfect and during the day we managed to comfortably work our way along the bar. The usual selection of merchandise stalls flanked the left side of the arena, and provided us with the opportunity to browse CDs and patches throughout the day.

Kicking off the music was Florence Black (6). A three piece from Merthyr, FB played a decent opening set with some catchy if generic rock tunes. Tristan, Jordan and Perry gave a good account of themselves and got the slowly filling field into the mood. A decent sound helped and with the wind having dropped FB’s music probably drew a few more from the camp site.

Next up were Massive Wagons (6). Now, we saw these guys at Hard Rock Hell in Pwllheli last November and whilst they received a huge reaction, we were unable to fathom out why. So, in the interests of fairness, we gave them another go. An unfortunate start saw Baz Mills microphone cut out, unbeknown to him to start with, whilst the band kicked into their opening number. Once the technical difficulties had been sorted, Massive Wagons got into their stride and once again completely passed me by. They are energetic and watchable but make no impact whatsoever. Maybe it’s just me; Massive Wagons seem to be one of the bands destined to be on the Hard Rock Hell/Steelhouse circuit for some time and they clearly appeal, getting a healthy response from the crowd.

Planet Rock’s Darren Redick made an appearance on stage to introduce the powerhouse duo of Henry’s Funeral Shoe (8). Brothers Aled (vocals and guitar) and Brennig (drums) kick up a real storm with a set full of rhythm and blues. Delivering tracks from their two albums, Henry’s Funeral Shoe have the classic delivery of The White Stripes, and as well as making a ferocious noise for a two piece, they also have Aled’s typically South Walian deadpan delivery. Making several references to the number of kids he had (“well, look at me” he jibbed) Aled also extolled the virtues of touring during the school holidays (to avoid the kids and the missus). Another well received set from a band well known in the South Wales circuits, but also a band who have received real acclaim and credibility from their hard work and touring. Well worth checking out.

Two years ago it is fair to say that Northern Ireland’s Trucker Diablo (8) were one of the stars of the weekend. With their aggressive hard rock and some quality tunes from The Devil Rhythm and Songs Of Iron, the big truck was definitely rolling. Since then, the band has had a bit of turmoil, with the band going on hiatus, then returning with a pledge album and a change in the line-up. The release of their third album Rise Above The Noise has clearly galvanised the guys back into action and they took the stage to a huge ovation. Although some of the new stuff has moved the band dangerously close to the province’s own Black Stone Cherry (complete with Tom Harte's stage look mirroring that of Chris Robertson), the big truck still know how to deliver the ideal beer drinking tunes and older tracks such as Drink Beer, Destroy, Juggernaut and The Rebel ensured that the band provided another Steelhouse highlight.

Cambridge rockers The Treatment (9) then increased the temperature within the arena by a few degrees with a storming set which oozed class and confidence. Having seen the band a few times before, the band are really improving every time New singer Mitchell Emms fitted in perfectly and demonstrated a fine pair of pipes whilst delivering a quality frontman performance, sharp, confident without a hint of arrogance and really engaging with crowd. Alongside new guitarist Tao Grey also fitted in seamlessly alongside Tagore Grey, energetic Mohawked bassist Rick Newman and drummer Dhani Mansworth. In a cracking set crammed full of punk edged rock, the Treatment generated a very positive response and their aggressive approach paid off and the very apt Shake The Mountain was a very apt and enthusiastically received set closer.

After all of these youthful energetic bands, it was time for some real old school with Scottish rockers Nazareth (7). Having been in the business for over 40 years and a back catalogue of hits longer than your arm, I'm ashamed to say that I’d never got around to seeing them. Only bassist Pete Agnew remains from the original line-up, with the sand-papered vocals of Dan McCafferty sadly forced into retirement in 2013. However, the core of the band has been solid for a good few years with guitarist Jimmy Murrison a 20 year veteran and drummer Lee Agnew (Pete’s son) on board for a good 15. The latest addition to the line-up is vocalist Carl Sentence, yes, mouthpiece of South Walian NWOBHM outfit Persian Risk amongst others. Carl is a great frontman and despite a shaky start to the set with a horribly tinny thin sound which was rectified by actually plugging in Agnew’s bass, he soon put his own take on a range of the Naz’s classic material. Miss Misery and Razamanaz were weak, with the latter suffering from the absence of a second guitar to drive it forward. However, the tempo increased with Bad Bad Boy, This Flight Tonight, Expect No Mercy and a stonking Love Hurts before the set ended with a rather disjointed Morning Dew. Still, it was great to see this band, despite the absence of McCafferty.

If ever there was a band designed for a classic rock festival, it has to be Y&T (9). A massive favourite in Wales (this was their third visit to the principality in a year with another scheduled for late October), the Californian outfit must have wondered where the hell they were when they pulled up in their tour bus. However, Dave Meniketti’s band stormed the stage and provided an hour and a quarter of absolute joy. This was in part because of their decision to play all of 1982’s classic Black Tiger, which contains some of their best works. Indeed, Black Tiger has some of the meatiest riffs ever committed to record, with the title track, Mean Streak and Open Fire all cutting across the sky. It also contains the appalling lyrics of Bar Room Boogie, the ballad Winds Of Change and of course, Don’t Want To Lose You. Meniketti is in fine form for a man of 61, with his voice holding up brilliantly and his fretwork absolutely blistering. The man can rock out with the best but also has a tender side with some delicate work on the slower, bluesier tracks. He is the only original member of the line-up, and is ably supported by guitarist John Nymann (earlier witnessed wandering around the arena talking comfortably with the legions of Y&T shirted fans), Mike Vanderhule on drums and Brad Lang on bass. Y&T closed with the barnstorming Forever, which incited much shaking of heads and boogieing across the field.

As the sun started to set, it was time for the headliners. As I've stated before, I absolutely love UFO, and Phil Mogg and co. delivered another quality set. Opening with We Belong To The Night, the band tore up the field with their hard edged rock and a superbly paced set which contained a mix of classic tracks interspersed with tracks from their recent releases. Fight Night, Run Boy Run and a blistering Lights Out followed, with Vinnie Moore proving once more what an exceptional guitarist he is. Throughout the set Mogg engaged the crowd with some rambling chat, a combination of classic uncle and East End gangster. Amongst the other tracks delivered was Cherry, Burn Your House Down and Venus. Ably supported by the ever reliable Andy Parker, keyboard and rhythm guitarist Paul Raymond (again hugely underrated in my book) and bassist Rob De Luca, UFO (10) were tight, focused and thoroughly captivating. As the set sped to its conclusion, Moore once again took centre stage to deliver that solo in Rock Bottom which was received with a massive ovation. Closing with Doctor Doctor and a battering version of Shoot Shoot, UFO once again demonstrated why they deserve the title of legends.

An excellent day out and great value for money. Now Steelhouse, get Motorhead to headline next year please? That would really blow the roof off!

Friday 24 July 2015

Reviews: Symphony X (Monster Review)

Symphony X: Underworld (Nuclear Blast)

American progressive metal legends Symphony X are finally back, they are a band that release albums with such infrequency that every release is a bit of an event. Their last album Iconoclast was a double disc record that was very heavy, both musically and conceptually meaning that many were put off by the albums thrashier tone and frontman Russell Allen's reliance on his gruffer lower register than his soaring highs. On Underworld the band have defityl looked back to move forward, the cover alone harks back to their debut album with the two masquerade masks featuring prominently along with images linked to the nine circles of Hell mentioned in Dante's Inferno; which is the overriding theme of this album. Notice I said theme not concept as this album is not a concept album but it does deal with the literary concepts that Symphony X have always done so well on previous albums (Divine Wings Of Tragedy, The Odyssey, Paradise Lost).

Now with all this taking into consideration, it's time to focus on the music, this is where Symphony X have always made their name, with the band made up of virtuosos the music is always the bands major force. Happily as the intro Overture starts things off we get the choral chants, swelling orchestrations and cinematic themes before mainman Michael Romeo's guitars take things forward before is crescendos at the end and Jason Rullo's drums kick in with ferocity for the opening of Nevermore, as Romeo's guitars spar with Michael Lepond's bass to bring the riffage which allows Romeo to throw in licks and flairs, showing off his prowess by adding some tapping and firing up and down the fretboard throughout the songs five minute duration. This is something very noticeable on this album the songs are concise, not outstaying their welcome with long drawn out passages but filled to the brim with time changes, melody shifts and intensely technical prowess. This is a very guitar heavy album Romeo takes centre stage showing off his talent for both riffs and also for his impressive solos that will have guitar fans exploding with glee. However keyboardist Michael (yes another one) Pinnella supply's plenty of melodies and synth runs on the album but he fleshes out the sound adding a more ethereal, vivid, symphonic and electronic aspects, especially on the title track which also shows off Russell Allen's phenomenal vocals where he moves between his towering highs and some guttural lows meaning he is bound to please everyone, his vocals are highlighted more on the melancholic, emotive Without You which has some great classical guitar playing from Romeo and wouldn't sound out of place on their album Paradise Lost (one of my personal favourites).

Without You gives way to on of the albums faster tracks Kiss Of Fire which is just that all blaze and bluster tearing along at pace allowing Lepond to add bass fills in the gaps while Rullo quickens the pace and lets the song move and twist. Charon is a striding metal track with a big riff and the lyrical content based upon Dante's Inferno with Charon relating to the ferryman to Hades (history lesson folks), this lyrical theme continues on the To Hell And Back which is the albums longest track at just over 9 minutes, it is also one of the albums best with some huge choruses, changing time signatures, a face melting guitar solo from Romeo and a marvellous keyboard solo from Pinella (Don't worry folks Lepond gets a bass solo on the albums final track), in fact To Hell And Back sounds like classic Symphony X the guitar keyboard interplay is spot on and once again Russell Allen shows why he is one of the best singers in the business. In My Darkest Hour is introspective with massive chorus that Russell belts, the melodic vocals and a sing along choruses continue on Run With The Devil which is one of the albums fastest but also most progressive tracks with yet another keyboard/guitar duel, in fact as the album moves towards its conclusion Pinella's contribution increases tenfold especially his mournful piano on the epic, heart wrenching ballad Swan Song before everything comes to a close with the surprisingly sprightly Legend which ends the album with style with it's neo-classical glory and chanting outro. This is the best album Symphony X have produced in a very long time, brimming with fantastic musicianship, intricate song writing and powerful performances, no matter where you came on to the Symphony X train this is an album you should buy as it takes all of their calling cards and creates real magic. 10/10             

Thursday 23 July 2015

Reviews: The V, Enertia, City Of Thieves

The V (Veronica Freeman): Now Or Never (Frontiers)

Veronica Freeman will be familiar to many who know a thing or two about the metal scene, the voluptuous Amazonian queen of scream has fronted American metal act Benedictum for a good for years now so if you have listened to the band then you will be familiar with her powerful vocals that will blow your speakers when she lets rip. However on this her debut solo album she moves away from the all out metal attack of her day job moving more into the hard rock sphere, this may be due to her recent collaboration with Stryper's Michael Sweet, this meeting of minds continues on this record with Sweet producing two tracks and writing others on this album as well as contributing guitar. In fact The V has acquired a huge line up of guests on this album with the most notable being Jeff Pilson (Dokken) and Michael LePond (Symphony X), Aric Avina (Benedictum) supplying bass, Jim Durkin (Dark Angel), Mick Tucker (Tank) and Benedictum's Pete Wells slinging the six strings.

There is only one drummer in the shape of Unearth's Derek Kerswill behind the kit but there are a couple of vocal foils for Ms Freeman to challenge with Chastain's Leather Leone on Kiss My Lips and former Sabbath man Tony Martin on the excellent last track the epic ballad (the albums only) King For A Day. The tracks on this album are very good, the title track is filled with swaggering riffs and backing horns and sees Freeman really letting loose, before Rollercoaster has the dirty sleaze of the 80's sunset strip and L.O.V.E borders on AOR with it's speedy melodic guitar licks. In fact much of this album is deep in the 80's vibe with Pat Benatar and Joan Jett both coming to mind as you listen to tracks like Line In The Sand, Love Should Be To Blame and Below Zero. With an album full of great songs that moves between melodic hard rock, to bluesy rock tracks while having a pinch of metal too. They really let you see how good Veronica's vocals are (and also you can see where a lot of In This Moments Maria Brink influences comes from). Now Or Never is a strong solo album from a metal legend, The V is definitely one of a kind and this album is proof! 8/10  

Enertia: Piece Of The Factory (Divebomb Records)

Enertia call themselves 'Pure American Metal' and it is hard to argue as they are indeed American, hailing from the Empire State and they do play pure classic metal in the vein of Iced Earth, Manilla Road, Armored Saint, Queensryche and have been doing so since 1996. Funding most of their career themselves the band have kept a constant line up since their inception and they have plied their trade as a D.I.Y style band for years all of which has culminated in Piece Of The Factory their fifth studio album released through Divebomb records (who also released Eradikator's most recent effort). Musically the band have a strong showing honed over years this four piece are all consummate musicians and virtuoso players, from the opening blast of Do It Again which is driven by Jeff Dahley's huge drums sound before Roman Singleton's guitars slice through the beginning of Demons Of Silence.

The pace stays high through the tracks that follow with the anthemic The Hardest Sorrow having the same kind of lyrical sentiment but crunchy instrumentals as Symphony X. The title track starts out with percussion and turns into a thrash attack that allows Singleton's guitars and Joe Paciolla's bass can provide the huge riffs and groove, now I've talked a lot about the instrumentation which is great but the band also have one heck of a vocalist in Scott Featherstone he has a great voice that handles this metal really well with his gritty vocal style and booming delivery that would equally suit power metal bands and more groove based bands like Pantera. Enertia have produced another competent effort with great songwriting and precision performances, Enertia need more recognition than they have and hopefully with Piece Of The Factory they will get recognised on these shores. 8/10     

City Of Thieves: Incinerator EP

Another British rock band comes bursting out of the gates full of vim and vigour with big riffs, swaggering basslines and snarling vocals, City Of Thieves have a pedigree that betrays their years, much of this is due to their great songwriting, professional playing and the excellent production from Toby Jepson (who is rapidly becoming the go-to guy for up and coming rock bands when they want to create magic) This EP has four huge tracks driven by the monstrous riffs of Ben Auswick and Adam Wardle who show their mettle on Lay Me To Waste which does just that, they are backed by the big beats of Will Richards drums and Jamie Lailey's thumping bass and scarred, attitude fuelled vocals which are at their best on the razor sharp Buzzed Up City which has a riff Angus will probably find a little familiar. As with all young bands they have influences to draw on with AC/DC and Aerosmith being the two biggest but like all good bands they add enough of their own style to stop them becoming a pastiche and they show their blooze prowess on the final track which is an acoustic 'live' version of Mr 50/50. Yet another serious rock and roll band from our hallowed ground and with a strong EP the debut album bodes well! 7/10  

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Reviews: George Lynch, Nuclear Assault, Orchid (Reviews By Paul)

George Lynch: Shadow Train (Rat Pak Records)

Let’s make this statement right at the start. George Lynch is one hell of a guitarist. One of the main hard rock guitarists in the 1980s with Dokken and his own band, Lynch Mob, he is a prolific recording artist with a huge back catalogue. Shadow Train is a whopping 18 track double CD and features the vocal talents of Gregg Analla, Gabe Rosales on bass, Donnie Dickman on keyboards and drummer Jimmy D’Anda. It’s a real eclectic mix, with some all-out rockers, opener Vulture being a great example, and a variety of styles reminiscent of a range of hard rock; bits of the Deftones, Alice In Chains and Audioslave immediately apparent. Lynch’s guitar work has always been excellent, the man was voted in the top 50 all-time guitarists by Guitar World not so long ago and he hasn't eased up with some blistering soloing as well as more delicate and intricate work.

Shadow Train contains a number of themes. These include the anti-religion rage during the brooding Ghost, which contains Analla rapping away and a number of pro- Native American Indian tracks including White Clay and Sioux Wake Up, which segue with Lynch’s forthcoming Shadow Nation documentary about the tribulations they face in the USA today. Fight No More demonstrates a more subtle edge to Lynch’s song writing with acoustic guitar work and more anti-authority lyrics. Shadow Train is littered with decent songs; the only problem I have is the absolute monster length of the album. It just becomes a little wearing and by the time album closer World On Fire kicks out the jams for a final time I was ready for a lie down. If you like a massive slab of generic hard rock, Shadow Train is definitely worth a listen. 7/10

Nuclear Assault: Pounder EP (Dry Heave Records)

A fresh release from 1980s thrash outfit Nuclear Assault described bluntly as “four killer old-school thrash songs”, this EP contains all the groove and hooks of the 1980s thrash scene but is badly let down by the dreadful production. Analog Man is possibly the pick of the tunes, furious drumming, shredding guitar work, Anthrax style hook (unsurprising even after all these years with Dan Lilker remaining a main man) and John Connelly’s trademark vocal delivery. This isn’t going to match the iconic early works on Survive and Handle With Care but will add to the mix in the pit and shows that there is life left in the old dog yet. 6/10

Orchid: Sign Of The Witch EP (Nuclear Blast)

Whilst Nuclear Assault is firmly embedded in the 1980s, San Francisco doom merchants Orchid are truly cemented in 1970. Sign Of The Witch is a four track EP which once again highlights that whilst Tony Iommi wrote all of metal’s great riffs, he clearly lent them out to Orchid whose monster riffage sits comfortably in the Black Sabbath/Paranoid album era. John The Tiger is probably the pick of the tracks in the Fairies Wear Boots style. Theo Mindell’s vocals are the perfect foil for the crashing rhythm of Keith Nickel and Carter Kennedy’s drumming whilst Mark Thomas Baker’s fretwork effortlessly transports you to the Black Country of 45 years ago. Amazingly fresh and vital despite the clear step back in time, Sign Of The Witch is a tasty slab which any Sabbath fan will love. 8/10

Monday 20 July 2015

Reviews: We Are Harlot, The Protomen, Eradikator

We Are Harlot: We Are Harlot (Roadrunner)

A lot has been made of We Are Harlot in the mainstream rock press, they are hailed as being one of the bands proudly flying the flag for the next generation of rock along with Halestorm, Black Stone Cherry et al. With so many harking back to different eras and drawing from the past, We Are Harlot are no exception having the imagery and indeed the lyrics of the Sunset Strip's premier sleaze and party merchants like Motley Crue, Guns N Roses and Skid Row, the latter being all the more prevalent when you realise founding guitarist Jeff George played in Sebastian Bach's solo band before forming this group. However setting the music aside for a bit; much has been made of this band's singer Danny Worsnopp who made his name with modern metalcore kids Asking Alexandria, Worsnopp lasted three albums with the band before finally setting sail to pastures; new following his love of classic hard rock and setting up We Are Harlot who are sonically different to Asking Alexandria in nearly all respects.

So what of this new hard rock sound then? Does it work? Well as Dancing On Nails hammers out of the gates all big riffs, honky tonk piano and sexually charged vocals you are kicked in the teeth by a rocker that would sit comfortably on Aerosmith's Permanent Vacation, the major thing that strikes you too is Worsnopp's vocals which are whiskey soaked with hardcore rasp (Never Turn Back and Flying Too Close To The Sun) but on the more melodic tracks like Someday they keen longingly like Brent Smith from Shinedown, yet another band who We Are Harlot echo musically albeit with more of a bar fight atmosphere and the sordid lick of lust that the Toxic Twins have always given rock music, Worsnopp has said that this album "is basically about sex!" and that is clear to see on DLT (Dirty Little Thing) and Love For The Night, in fact nearly all of the songs speak of carnal knowledge (whether unlawful or not remains to be seen) with Worsnopp having the right amount of grit to melody to make you feel he knows what he's talking about.

However he is not the only member of this band as Brian Weaver's bass and Bruno Agra's drums give the songs a fat, juicy rhythm section allowing Jeff George's guitar to riff like hell and give brief flashes of solo brilliance that explode from the songs like fireworks, see One More Night. With this short blast of hard rock fury (the album clocks in at just under 40 minutes) you can see why We Are Harlot are seen as being one of the torch-bearers of the modern rock age, they draw from their influences but they add enough of their own influence to make them sound fresh, modern and yes even vital, if you love the modern American radio rock bands like Shinedown, Halestorm, Hinder yet still hanker for a bit of Jack Daniels fuelled gutter rock then We Are Harlot will be guaranteed to get your party started with this frisky debut, album number two may just be take them to the top of the pile. 9/10        

The Protomen: Cover Up (Sound Machine)

In the music industry today it is very difficult to be truly mysterious, a quick Google search can easily give you the identities of Slipknot, GWAR, Ghost and Lordi however The Protomen are truly mysterious very little is known about the band other than they create concept albums based around the Mega Man videogame franchise and that they take their names from various films and media and all linked to androids. The Tennessee natives have been making music since around 2005, although they usually deal with concepts they also litter their live sets with 70's and 80's covers; they have now compiled an album made up of songs that follow their preferred themes of struggle, heroism and self determination with an 80's style action movie drama happening between the parts which pitches man verses robot. So with all this taken in this to account, how does the album sound? Well bloody terrific if I'm honest with some fantastic covers making it almost a jukebox of great late 70's and 80's hits, first off you get Because The Night which is performed with the same level female tenacity as Ms Smith by The Protomen's sole female member The Gambler who duets with lead vocalist Raul Panther III on the perfect opening track before you get the one two punch of Princes Of The Universe (Queen) and Mr Roboto (Styx) which is a synth filled perfect fit for a band that features a member called K.I.L.R.O.Y, to really draw you into this mad idea for an album.

The first part of the story is wrapped up with Robert Tepper's No Way Out. So far so good, the musicianship is amazing fuelled by keys and synths from Commander B. Hawkins, Jr, the aforementioned The Gambler, Raul Panther III and Murphy Weller who is the bottom end of the band with his bass and bass synths, they are aided and abetted by Reanimator's sterling drum work, which is at it's best on In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins) as well as the searing lead guitars of Sir. Dr. Robert Bakker and Shock Magnum, see their rousing version of The Trooper for evidence that they can play like the best metallers. This album plays like a compilation of great songs, albeit with someone else playing them, this is bolstered by the songs not really changing much from the originals just with little additions here and there; Roy Orbison's I Drove All Night gets a harder edge, while The Gambler gives a good account of herself on Total Eclipse Of The Heart having a sweeter but equally as powerful voice as Ms Tyler. For those brought up on this music or indeed those who love a bit of retro this album will be played repeatedly, so a score? Well can you score a covers album? The songs are not new but the finale of Danger Zone (Kenny Loggins) and the piano-led solemn rendition of Mike And The Mechanics' Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground) is enough to warrant high praise indeed, if you want to know what The Protomen sound like then get this album (on vinyl or cassette only) and then try their own stuff I'm sure you will be impressed. 9/10 

Eradikator: Edge Of Humanity (Self Released)

Birmingham's Eradikator (not be associated with the German thrashers Eradicator who Paul reviewed earlier this year) are a thrash metal band set deep in the American thrash style of Megadeth, Testament and Metallica with the youthful exuberance of Brits like Shrapnel, Incinery and most notably Evile a band who they are very similar to  musically and vocally with Pat Cox's drawling shout sounding like a mix between Matt Drake and James Hetfield. This is proper thrash that relies on furious riffs from guitarists Liam and Andy who parry and duel with each other throughout providing the riffs and solos the heavier tracks like Season's Of Rage as well as the slower more introspective tracks like Fortress Unknown and which features some soaring guitar melodies, as does the instrumental Karios Passing which yet again is a testament to the guitar prowess. Backing the superb guitar work is a barrage of drums from Jon who provides a blitzkrieg on the thrashier tracks like The Great Deception, Mesmerised but also providing intricate percussion on the slower tracks.

Eradikator have really stepped up their game again on this second album honing their skills and producing some seriously good metal music that manages to merge aggressive vocals, thrash riffage with, and this is the most important factor, a heap of melodies and huge hooks that get you chanting along on tracks. Songs like the title track which could have come off The Black Album with it's changing time signatures and anthemic middle section that you can see commanding the arena, this is definitely the bands step up with everything improved, musically and sonically, drafting in veteran metal producer Russ Russell to give them a booming sound for their metal attack. Eradikator is the is the latest in the new wave of British thrash metal that pick up the gauntlet laid down by Evile and run with it destroying everything in their path. 9/10

Friday 17 July 2015

Reviews: Maya, Naxatras, Lethal Dose

Maya: The Prophecy Is Broken (Underground Symphony)

There is a a band called Royal Hunt who hail from Denmark and they play progressive/symphonic/melodic metal, now they are somewhat of a cult act in the power metal scene having the superb vocals of D.C Cooper and Mark Boals (Yngwie Malmsteen's vocalist), now I personally love Royal Hunt (as does Mr Hewitt) and think that they are a little underrated in their genre. Now why am I on about Royal Hunt when talking about Italian's Maya, you ask? Well Maya sound a lot like the Danes with galloping synth driven melodic metal with huge hooks, great riffs and huge synths from Daniele Chierichetti, the synth based sound is due to their collaboration super producer and keyboardist extraordinare Alessandro Del Vecchio, who is known for the lashings of keyboard riffs over the solid rhythm section and melodic rocking guitars, Maya have all this especially on the title track which powers along like, yes, Royal Hunt, however with all of the harder edged songs they do have, it's the keen ear for melody that makes the band, melding both aspects of their sound perfectly to produce some slick powerful symphonic metal. Like most melodic metal bands they are not adversed to slowing things down on Fight, Spirit the epic The Chosen Ones yet still retaining the powerful metallic backing, but they also excel on the speedier tracks like StrangersThe Day After and Treasure World. Yes Maya do sound an awful lot like Royal Hunt but this is no bad thing as they have created an album that sparkles with the same kind of musicality and passion as Brits Neonfly, Maya have set the bar high with this album. 8/10
Naxatras: Naxatras (Self Released)

Warning! You will need some mind altering substances to fully get the benefit of this album, the 10 minute plus I Am The Beyonder starts this album with swirling psychedelia, fat sunshine grooves and jazz-influenced blissed out music. Naxatras are from Thessaloniki in Greece and they are a D.I.Y band that play on all analogue equipment that give them a late 70's hue with huge fat bass and haunted echoed vocals from John Vagenas, jazz fuelled drums Kostas Harizanis who seems to be playing a completely different song on tracks like The Sun Is Burning which also shows off the mind-expanding guitars John Delias which also shine on Shiva's Dance that is the kind of song you would have in a Shisha bar. The band show their doom chops on Downer with the sounds of Sabbath shooting through it, apparently all of the music on this album was recorded in one day and that shows this bands chops as this album is performed like it was crafted over a long time, with rarely a missed beat and songs that take you on a dreamlike journey into your own mind, Waves washes over you like prime period Santana (before the guest vocalists), The West is all whimsicality and psychedelic madness. Naxatras have some serious guitar chops, thundering percussion and voodoo basslines with shamanistic vocals and if you are ready to squeegee your third eye (as Mr Hicks would say) then these mystical Greeks are ready to welcome you to their world. 8/10

Lethal Dose: The Clan Of Lethal Skulls (Self Released)

Lethal Dose hail from the metal heartland of Brazil and they play as you would expect, fist pounding traditional metal forged by the metal gods. With searing riffs, thunderous drums, rumbling bass and screaming vocals this is the sort of metal Priest have always made their name playing, it's all leather and studs throughout with the odd flash of American glam metal on Hard To Swallow and Fanatical Killer. The shredding guitars come from Arthur Faria and Daniel Lamego who play well supplying the fast riffs and fleet fingered solos with Lamego also providing the Tim Ripper Owens' style vocals especially on Vengeance In Trains. His vocals soar on top of the riff filled guitars and thumping rhythm section of Dower Lopez and Bernardo Blumrich. This is a neat little debut EP from the Brazilian band filled with obvious nods to their influences but with the band also lending their own style to the songs, with the traditional metal scene still in fine fettle I'd be surprised if Lethal Dose can't make an impact. 7/10

Another Point Of View: Robert Plant (Review By Paul)

Robert Plant And The Sensational Shape Shifters – Westonbirt Aboretum

It was only in November last year that Robert Plant and his band played a stunning and almost intimate set at the Newport Centre; a gig so good that it ranked within the top five of the year. As part of the Forest Live concerts run by the Forestry Commission, Percy was scheduled to appear at the beautiful Westonbirt Arobretum near Gloucester along with another gig the following evening in Staffordshire. An unusual setting for a gig and another opportunity to see a true rock god and legend seemed a good idea.

Arriving just after 7:00pm, we parked the car, grabbed our camping chairs and followed the crowds heading for the arena. It was simply set out, with a large stage surrounded by many mighty trees, routine food stalls and bar to the right, merchandise and Forestry Commission stall at the rear and a healthy number of portable toilets to the left (remember the average age of this crowd was probably late 50s or older!).

Support was provided by Nugent And Belle, a five piece outfit fronted by two female vocalists/guitarists, Audrey Nugent and Amy Belle who provided a pleasant enough distraction from the hundreds of middle-class punters cracking open the fizz and Pimms whilst reducing the weight of straining picnic hampers. Nugent and Belle have a decent track record, opening for Robert Plant on a number of occasions and confirmed for a prestigious slot warming up the crowd for a one-off Counting Crows show later this year. They played a country style rock, which was pretty routine and nice enough to listen to although nothing that was particularly memorable, unlike The Last Internationale who really caught the imagination at The Newport Centre. Anyhow, Nugent and Belle got a decent reception and a 6/10.

9:00pm arrived, the strains of Sonic Youth faded through the PA and onto the stage strides Robert Plant and the Sensational Shape Shifters. There are really insufficient superlatives to describe the legendary frontman, but he really is every inch the rock god. Kicking off with The Wanton Song, Plant prowls the stage with the most incredible presence. He is in fantastic shape, his mane still very impressive and the six foot one inch height seemed much taller. However, regardless of the man’s genetics, it is his voice that remains the most captivating element of his armoury. Plant has also surrounded himself with a band of exceptional talent; the same personnel as listed in our November review, guitarists Skin Tyson and Justin Adams displaying dexterity and fluidity all evening; Tyson’s combination with keyboard player John Baggott later in the evening on a beautifully constructed The Rain Song was delicious. Drummer Dave Smith and bassist Billy Fuller provide a solid backbone whilst Gambian multi-instrumentalist Juldeh Camara adds depth and colour to some of the non-Zeppelin tracks, most noticeably on tracks from Plant’s most recent release, Lullaby … and the Ceaseless Roar such as Turn It Up, Little Maggie and the delicate Rainbow.

As always with Plant, the set list is littered with his heritage, but he has added his love of the Mississippi Delta Blues scene to avoid pure repetition of those Zeppelin tracks. Black Dog was delivered with a completely different aspect, and whilst Trampled Under Foot remained reasonably faithful, Dazed And Confused segued effortlessly with No Place To Go. A rare outing for The Lemon Song was a real treat along with a number of covers from some of Plant’s favourite Blues artists, including Crawling King Snake (Big Joe Williams) and Willie Dixon’s Spoonful. The Rain Song was possibly the most moving track of the evening, as I mentioned earlier with some superb interplay and guitar work from Tyson and Baggott.

A montage of classics closed the main set, with I Just Wanna Make Love To You, Who Do You Love? and as Matt noted in November, THAT riff for Whole Lotta Love, which really gets the hairs on the neck standing tall. I've seen this performed a number of times live and it never fails when either Page or Plant is standing on the stage. Quite brilliant.

A double encore of Satan You Kingdom Must Come Down followed by the inevitable Rock ‘n’ Roll, albeit in a completely reworked blues/world music style concluded a fantastic evening and another event that was worth every penny. Plant is the supreme frontman, relaxed, charming, witty, fantastically dry humour and totally confident in allowing the rest of the band to take centre stage for much of the time. He was often noted to be adding to the percussion with a tambourine whilst Adams, Tyson and Camara took centre stage.

In a year where many of the gigs I've seen are in soulless arenas, to be able to mix it up with alternative settings such as this or venues like Liverpool Cathedral (Anathema – March) makes the world of music so much more attractive and refreshing. Even a light sprinkling or rain at the end of the set and the 30 minute wait to get out of the car park couldn't spoil our evening and we saw broad smiles on virtually everyone as they left. 10/10

Sunday 12 July 2015

Reviews: Jaded Star, Freedom Hawk, Blizzard Hunter

Jaded Star: Memories From The Future (Sensory Records)

Jaded Star are a metal band hailing from Greece, they were formed by former Visions Of Atlantis vocalist Maxi Nil along with guitarist Kosta Vreto, bassist Babis Nikou and drummer Raphael Saini (both former live members of VOA), despite having members of the Austrian symphonic metal band, Jaded Star don't sound anything like VOA, they prefer a more direct style of metal driven primarily by Kostas' chunky guitar and the huge synths that are present on every song giving them a sound not to dissimilar to Amaranthe albeit without the electro-pop or indeed a less Gothic Lacuna Coil. Yes the synths are as much a part of the bands sound as much as Saini's drums or Nikou's bass are, they set many of the songs apart Healing The Inner Child is a particular example. The songs are all well composed, adding sprinkles of everything while retaining a sound that is metallic but melodic. They are not the power metal band many claim them to be they branch out into prime pop-metal on Wake Up (which has an 8-bit sounding intro) sing-along ballads on Keep On Fighting, acoustic balladry on In Memory both of which shows off Nil's soaring vocals which quite rightly is at the forefront of the music. They have chart topping qualities on Stars which is Lacuna Coil goes 80's before Kostas brings the heavy on Into The End Of Time and Raining In Sao Paulo, the band play melodic metal with a poppy edge relying on huge hooks and riffs to create some great songs. A strong debut from this Greek metal crew! 8/10   

Freedom Hawk: Into Your Mind (Small Stone Records)

America is the home of stoner rocker and Freedom Hawk are following in a long line of psych loving hard rocking predecessors, with huge slabs of desert rock riffage the band are deep in the vein ploughed by Clutch (the title track has Neil Fallon all over it), Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet. This stoner rock sound is driven by the feisty rhythm section of drummer Lenny Hines who brings a percussive narrative to the record especially on the tracks that change pace throughout like Lost In Space and the Celtic flavoured On Your Knees. With Hines' powerful drumming (and liberal use of cowbell) aiding him bassist Mark Cave brings the groove with some fat and dirty bass licks adding to the albums other worldliness while keeping everything nice and tight, the riffs come from frontman T.R Morton who sure can play his guitar adding a louche, relaxed, fuzzy tone, channelling the harmonics and wild eyed fury of Grand Funk Railroad's Mark Farner supplying the swaggering towers of riffs and the slinky soloing. Morton is also the voice of the band and vocally he is dead ringer for Ozzy back in the glory days which means that the band do share a lot of similarities with the latter more spacey Sabbath as well as Texan riff machine The Sword. This album has a superb use of dynamics with quieter moments building into bursts of riff fuelled rock that gets your head nodding as well as your brain melting, stoner rock is an odd genre at times as it can encompass a myriad of sounds, however if you love Clutch, Sabbath, The Sword and Monster Magnet then Freedom Hawk will be a must for you. Vintage sounding, mind-expanding, heavy rock for those who live for Vol.4 and it's ilk. 8/10 

Blizzard Hunter: Heavy Metal To The Vein (Pure Underground)

Blizzard Hunter are a trad metal band from Lima, Peru, they play lightning quick old school heavy metal with bullet belts, hi-tops and large amounts of denim and leather. they are yet another band to show South American's love of all things metal and they keep it true as Manowar would want. The band start as they mean to go on with the superfast I'm On My Way having the dual guitar attack of Lucho Sanchez and Tono Rojas De La Cuba weaving a  mighty metallic rhythm on top of Lalo Salas's thumping bass the guest drumming of Juan Migel Leon. This is prime early 80's classic metal in the vein of Priest but with the thrash edges of  Megadeth and Anthrax, from rampaging title track to the more progressive Nemesis which has Maiden epic written all over it. With the relentless riffage coming from the band on tracks like The Murder, My Revenge and The Joke as well as the more melodic fair of Heart Of Fire, it's up to vocalist Sebastian Palma to carry the songs to that next level with his sky scraping vocals. The band have the chops, the songs and the attitude to set them apart from the rest of the trad metal pack and with a well produced and performed debut the band play a tried and tested from of metal that will get fists raised and heads banging. 7/10

Thursday 9 July 2015

Another Point Of View: AC/DC (Review By Paul)

AC/DC: Wembley Stadium

The trouble with stadium gigs, like most large events, are the other people. Idiots with no consideration for others, who spend their time trooping back and fore to the bar, ignoring the excellent support band and only really getting excited when the main outfit play their biggest hit; Welcome to the event wanker...

Surprisingly, despite 80,000 people descending on the home of English football on a gloriously hot summer’s day, the event wankers were quite limited. Maybe we were a bit luckier than at past gigs, or maybe it is because AC/DC have nothing in their arsenal but massive songs but hey, I’m always grateful for small mercies.

We hit the edge of the Capital with plenty of time, spending a pleasant couple of hours seeking shade from the blistering sun with a beverage or two, chatting and people watching. And there were people everywhere. Like many of the biggest gigs, the vast majority sported a range of AC/DC t-shirts, with the merchandise doing an absolute killing; queues forming at every outlet. Wembley isn't the most attractive place to hang out, with a high percentage of the surrounding area concreted which is always unforgiving on a boiling hot summer’s day.

Anyway, managing to remain pretty cool, we headed into the stadium around an hour after gates had opened to be greeted by the massive stage, complete with decaying ironwork effect and the classic AC/DC logo incorporated into the top of the semi-circle which curved around the stage. Huge screens flanked the stage and a walkway stretched out into the standing area. Around 40,000 were already in the main arena, with the front of the stage crammed with those willing or desperate enough to stand in the heat for three hours.

Vintage Trouble

At 7.15, all the way from Los Angeles, California, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Vintage Trouble. Now, regular readers of the Musipedia will know that VT is a particular favourite around these parts, with our latest viewing a mere three months ago in the slightly more intimate surroundings of Motion in Bristol. VT is in the ascendancy; they've completed massive tours with the Stones, The Who and most recently Paloma Faith whilst they put in a fantastic shift at Glastonbury, earning many new admirers along the way. They've been the AC/DC support throughout Europe, and I for one was extremely pleased to get the opportunity to have a further opportunity to catch one of the hardest working bands on the planet.

Unfortunately, large swathes of the audience clearly didn't share enthusiasm and although there was a solid response directly in front of Ty and the boys, it was clear that a support band were almost an irritant to many. Undeterred, VT hit the stage bursting with their usual energy, Ty Taylor leading the charge with his soulful intro into High Times (They Are A Coming). Immaculately dressed as always, in a dark suit, red shirt and black cravat, he charged around the stage for the entire set. Second song, the infectious Blues Hand Me Down got a few more of the audience interested with the backing vocals of Nalle Colt, Rick Barrio Dill and Richard Danielson combining with Ty’s infectious delivery. Total Strangers maintained the momentum, with VT deliberately adapting their set to a higher tempo to match the headliner. Taylor’s interaction with the audience, usually so fluid and responsive, struggled at times and was not helped by a reduced volume in the mix which meant at times it was hard to ascertain what he was saying.

This was by no means a poor VT show, don’t misunderstand me. If You Loved Me and newie Angel City, California showed the bluesy side of the band, before Ty’s obligatory crowd surf during Run Like The River allowed Nalle Colt opportunity to demonstrate some mean fretwork and peaked the interests of a few hundred more. Set closer Shine Your Light (Right On Me) obtained a decent response and they ended to a decent round of applause. Not a vintage display but another solid show from a band whose rise will surely increase in pace when the new album hits the shops in a few weeks. 7/10


A 35 minute change over allowed us time to use the facilities, refresh the glasses (okay, plastic cups) and move further back but more central for the arrival of AC/DC. It’s been a very long time since I saw this band, and if you believe the media, this was likely to be the last opportunity to catch them live. There was massive anticipation around the stadium as the stage lit up with one of the most impressive light shows I've ever seen; videos flashed across the giant screens and then, bang! Straight into Rock Or Bust, Angus and co. hit the stage with the entire stadium bouncing and singing along. Shoot to Thrill followed with frontman Brian Johnson delivering a masterclass, his imitable growly vocals still impressive after 35 years with the band. If ever there was truth in the adage “If it ain't broke, don’t fix it” then this is the band that demonstrate it to the full. With a set packed full of classics, it was highly unlikely that there would be any surprises. Indeed, AC/DC merely pin you to the wall with the sheer quality of their blues based boogie and then trample over your head. Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be was up next before the massive Back In Black crashed in early in the set.

AC/DC don’t care what the media think about set lists; they give the fans exactly what they want and that is staple after staple. Apparently 13 of the tracks aired at Wembley featured in a set list in 1982. So what is all I can say? As well as the title track, the band also featured two other songs from Rock Or Bust, the catchy Play Ball and the rather weak Baptism By Fire. Huge ovations for Dirty Deeds and High Voltage from the Bon Scott era, with an absolutely enormous cheer as Angus struck the opening chords to Thunderstruck. And here’s the thing: AC/DC is really all focused on Angus Young, at 60 years young still scampering around the stage at 100mph, pulling faces that make him look like he’s fitting, whilst all the while showing why he remains one of the world’s greatest ever fretboard musicians. Back in the 1980s, when Kerrang! was a decent magazine, Angus would regularly win the best guitarist category. Probably unthinkable now.

Meanwhile the backline and heartbeat of the band pumps away; sure, Malcolm has been replaced by Uncle Stevie (looking every one of his 58 years!) and Chris Slade, no stranger to the band having played and recorded with them several times, is now the recognised tub thumper and absolute powerhouse at 67 but elder statesman Cliff Williams continues to pound out the rhythm as if it is 1978. A quick nod to Black Ice with the mighty Rock ‘n’ Roll Train before 80,000 spines tingled as the bell appeared and sounded the start of the epic Hell's Bells. As Angus became more and more animated, a slight calming in tempo with the magical Sin City, one of my favourite all-time tracks. It was a limited respite though, as Shot Down In Flames and a mighty T.N.T stoked the heat back up a few degrees, with Johnson continuing to prowl the stage like a panther.

With time flying it was time for the inflatable lady to arrive, yep, Bon's tribute to a rather large conquest. Whole Lotta Rosie, complete with obligatory “Angus” chants absolutely destroyed the stadium, the thousands of flashing horns that people had purchased creating a great sight around the place. Set closer was the classic Let There Be Rock, complete with an Angus Young guitar solo that lasted at least 15 minutes but which didn't seem anything like as long (take note please, Zakk Wylde). The band exited with the crowd absolutely breathless and all working out which monster tunes had been saved for the encore. Of course, we all knew and as the timeless riff to Highway To Hell ripped around the stadium, there was nothing to do but to indulge in some rock ‘n’roll air guitar and air punching to the chorus. As the giant horns above the stage lit up, the horns all around the stadium once again contributed to a magnificent sight. Inevitably, the final song was as it has been since about 1981; For Those About to Rock, complete with six cannons mounted on the massive Marshall stacks, saluted all those assembled in front and the 21 gun salute, followed by a blast of fireworks concluded a fantastic evening. I've since read that the sound wasn't good; I think that it in part due to the fact that this was in a football stadium and the sound ricochets around the place, but also depends on where you are situated as I wasn't aware of any sound problems. AC/DC may charge a lot for their tickets but hell, it was so worth it. A band in a class of their own and absolutely captivating live. Never has two hours gone so quickly in the live arena. I can’t drop a point anywhere. Utter brilliance. 10/10

Reviews: Bill Ward (Monster Review By Paul)

Bill Ward: Accountable Beasts (Aston Cross Music)

The third solo album from original Sabbath drummer Bill Ward, arriving some 18 years after his previous release. Over the past few years, Ward has been very vocal in his on-going spat with his former band mates, especially Ozzy. Neither side has covered themselves in glory, but it seems that Ward has been the one left with egg on his face as Sabbath’s last run of incredible shows and very impressive album 13 proved.

Accountable Beasts is an album that Ward has apparently been working on for a number of years. So what’s it like? Well, Ward’s vocals are interesting, with a high pitched, jazz infused delivery supported by some operatic style vocals; a cross between Muse and Serj Tankian from SOAD. The music is an eclectic mix of hard rock, jazz rambling and electronic edges. Overall it is just a bit mad; plenty of abstract time changes and obscure lyrics. For example, First Day Back contains a funk fusion breakdown in the middle of it. Opener Leaf Killers (is that a song about road sweepers or drug users?) has a gritty riff, wild piano and crazy Zappa style vocals. You’ll either love it or hate it. The title track has a QOTSA feel about it, driving guitars with the falsetto vocals whilst Katastrophic World contains some more than a flavour of Sabbath with some doom laden riffs but a 1970s psychedelic edge.

Ward has amassed some excellent musicians with the percussion of Walter Earl enhancing the drumming of Ward and Ronnie Ciago. Meanwhile the lead guitar work from Keith Lynch, a Ward stalwart and solo artist in his own right, is excellent with hard edged rock juxtaposed with jazz and funk elements. As the album progresses the 1970s influence becomes even more apparent, with As it is in Heaven a particularly eclectic and insane tune with some nice brass complimenting the sound. Ashes has a harder edge, an anti-capitalist song with huge change of pace and again the Tankian verbal delivery jumping around all over the place. To conclude the album, nothing better than a ten minute track; The Wall Of Death which combines elements of Pink Floyd with the grandiose style of Pulp and the early 90s indie scene. Whilst I’d describe it as Marmite album, at times I found myself completely ambivalent and at other times quite captivated with aspects of it which are completely different to the majority of music today. Chaotic and crazy in parts, it really is an interesting listen. 7/10

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Reviews: Empire Of Fools, Against Evil, Soulthern

Empire Of Fools: Devil Inside (Self Released)

OK! OK! I'll hold my hands up, I missed Empire Of Fools when they supported BlackWolf in Bristol a month ago, so I was more than happy to receive their new mini-album to review, as I have wanted to listen to them since to see what I was missing (I am a masochist like that). As the drums of Dean Stevens you immediately get brought into the Alt/hard rock of the Devon three piece, with shades of Audioslave, Stone Temple Pilots and RATM, Empire Of Fools play swaggering, riff heavy music that is deep in the alternative groove driven by Mark Pascall's Brandon Boydesque voice, his chugging guitars and his thumping bass (although not all at the same time surely?) he is aided and abetted in the guitar stakes by Steve Cobbin to provide the sledgehammer riffs on tracks like the thunderous Higher and the Southern rock vibe on the title track which is tribute to an evil woman (aren't all the best Southern rock songs about that though?). Empire Of Fools have something very rare in the rock business, they are individuals, they have their own identity they don't really sound like anyone, yes the have influences that show but with six totally different songs that cover a myriad of styles, from the cowbell driven rock of Down To Earth, the melodic thrust of Unstoppable, the percussive and chart bothering Hope and the heart rendering ballad of Dirty Mind, Empire Of Fools throw a huge amount in the pot and have created an EP that shows this bands many styles all together in one place; modern, unique and bursting with energy Empire Of Fools' debut can't come quick enough! 8/10   

Against Evil: Fatal Assault (Self Released)

India has seen it's metal scene explode in the last few years with many of the bands coming (deliberately) from the more extreme side of metal. However Against Evil literally go against the more evil sounding side of metal with some straight ahead traditional metal, hailing from Steel City (I shit you not) in Visakhapatnam, the band play a mix of true metal and classic thrash, The Enemy Within carries the shadows of Priest while Speedbreaker has the Teutonic stomp of Accept the band have a unique dual vocal delivery with both bassist Siri Siri and rhythm guitarist Sravan handling the vocals, one having a gruffer tone on Speedbreaker while the other has the cleaner register. The production is crisp allowing Shasank's leads to cut through the rhythm laid down by Siri, Sravan and drummer Noble John, fans of classic traditional metal will lap this up as it perfectly blends old and new with some perfect vocal delivery, a fist full of metal riffs  and songs that are all different and don't outstay their welcome, each one different, see Bulletproof which features both singers working in tandem and comes from the latter Megadeth songbook. India's scene is currently brimming with top quality bands and Against Evil are yet another to add to the list drawing just enough from their influences to get similarities but with enough of their own style to set them apart. 8/10

Soulthern: Demo (Self Released)

Brazilians Soulthern play old school metal in the style of the kings of NWOBHM, this four piece have bullet belts and are not afraid to use them, they also have a demo loaded with three fist pumping, head banging tunes that rampage in true 1980's style. Packed with searing solos, galloping basslines, metronomic drumming and high pitched wailing vocals, in fact due to the D.I.Y production this EP sounds like it could have come from the 80's, however the tinny production doesn't take anything away from this record in fact it endears me to it, it sounds like the kind of demos that Tokyo Blade, Angel Witch, Raven and Demon would have churned out to get a feature in Sounds back in the day. It has that raw power that made the NWOBHM so great, Soulthern have created an EP you would expect from a band hailing from the country that boasts the worlds most loyal and passionate metal fans. Raise your fist and yell!! 7/10

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Reviews: Chaos Magic, Dendra, Mantra Vega

Chaos Magic: Chaos Magic (Frontiers)

Timo Tolkki is a name known to anyone who has been around the symphonic/power metal scene since it's inception, he is the founder member of Stratovarius and after leaving Stratovarius he has formed or been a part of many bands an projects including Allen - Lande, Ring Of Fire, Revolution Renaissance, Symfonia and most recently his ambitious concept opera Avalon. Like I said the guitarist, multi-instrumentalist/producer is a name most involved with the metal scene are sure to know, however Chilean vocalist Caterina Nix is probably less known having only one band behind her, she came to Tolkki's notice when she supplied vocals to the last two tracks on his last Avalon album Angels Of The Apocalypse. Now Avalon was a metal opera and as such used cinematic set pieces and multiple vocalists, Chaos Magic is different; this is pure symphonic metal in the vein of Nightwish or Within Temptation, in fact Nix vocals sound very similar to Sharon Den Adel, see Serpaphim where Chaos Magic is at it's most symphonic goth metal.  Tolkki handles all of the music providing the riffs and solos all, something he excels at moving between the heavier riffs of From the Stars to the lighter moments. He also takes care of the bass rumbles and keys having the synths on the bigger more orchestral moments and piano on the slower more emotive moments  such as Dead Memories, in fact the only instrument he doesn't play are drums, luckily Jami Huovinen is on hand to give the tubs a good thumping. This yet another great project from the master of prog/power metal, with the numerous failed or abandoned projects that Tolkki has been a part of, this could be one that goes the distance with as Nix's vocals are superb, the playing is top drawer as always and the production is and songwriting is slick and modern, with an air of familiarity yet not a whiff of pastiche. This album is a must for any fans of Within Temptation, Nightwish and even Amaranthe with it's mix of radio bothering hooks but with classically influenced metal stomp and as The Point Of No Return finishes the album in style you realise that the band's name is apt as from out of the chaos comes a lot of bright flashes of magic. 9/10 

Dendera: Pillars Of Creation (Metalbox Recordings)

Britain invented heavy metal... that ladies and gents is a fact with some of the biggest names in heavy metal coming from these hallowed shores. Now Dendera are the latest in a long line of British metal warriors to don their leathers, strap on a guitar and start to shred, from the ominous Sabbath-like opening of Claim Our Throne you can hear that yes the band do draw from the illustrious history of metal but much like Welsh metallers Triaxis they also add a modern touch on their songs that harks to post-millennial bands like Machine Head and Trivium as much they owe a debt to legends such as Iron Maiden. Claim Our Throne explodes into a high speed guitar workout for guitarists David Stanton and Stephen Main; with Stanton providing the same style of rumbling riffage that Maiden do so well on In High Tide while Main handles the powerful leads and sublime solos. The band mix old school metal while adding the thrash elements on The Daylight Ending which speeds along thanks to the bottom end of Bradley Edison and the superb drumming of Andy Finch which climaxes into a huge chorus. In fact this whole album has massive hooks throughout all of them delivered with passion by Ashley Edison who has a very unique voice that sits in a powerful mid and occasionally strays into the upper register where he is also very comfortable he has an element of the Ripper and Russell Allen about him but it is a unique delivery that snarls, croons and shrieks in all the right places. The songwriting is great with all the songs buzzing with modern metallic style with tracks like Bloodlust, the thunderous Disillusioned, the riff monster that is The Chosen One and the finale epic track Edge Of Tomorrow that ends the song in fantastic style. Dendera have released a strong sophomore album with mature songwriting and a whole heap of riffs that follow in a very long tradition of British heavy metal, I'm looking forward to seeing these guys open for Death Angel and Queensryche in Bristol. 8/10 

Mantra Vega: Island EP Sonic Reality Records/RecPlay

Now as many of you may know Mostly Autumn are up there in my top five bands of all time so any project that is linked with that band is of great interest to me, Mantra Vega are one such band and really they can be called a supergroup. The band is a veritable who's who of the British progressive rock scene, it was formed by Mostly Autumn co-founder Heather Findlay and Sound Of Contact Co-founder Dave Kerzner who provide vocals/guitar and vocals/keys respectively as well as taking the lion's share of the writing. They have recruited Halo Blind founder and ex Mostly Autumn man Chris Johnson on guitar and keys, We Could Be Astronauts and Sound Of Contact bassist Stu Fletcher with the band rounded out by the current Mostly Autumn drummer Alex Cromarty and guest guitars from former Roger Waters and current Steven Wilson guitarist Dave Kilminster. So with the best an brightest of the British prog scene Mantra Vega was always going to have some gravitas behind it and on this three track 'single' that is very evident from the first track the title track Island which has the hazy, acoustic, honeyed tones of Kate Bush while bringing in jazz elements all wrapped up in a percussive almost elemental sound that culminates in laid back solo. There are of course huge Mostly Autumn influences but also the musicians add their own stamp on the songs with Findlay providing her keening, folky, ethereal vocals with Kerzner giving a lower, gruffer vocal performance as a perfect counterpoint, his keys are understated too just providing the electronic synths and some organ on Mountain Spring so it doesn't intrude. Mountain Spring builds it's sound throughout but everything is based on the thumping acoustic guitars giving it the same kind of feel as bands like Portishead or even some of Steven Wilson's more ethereal work. The final track Every Corner is a spoken word piece that ends this three track single in an elegant and graceful way. This single is a nice snapshot of what Mantra Vega has to offer let's hope they can all organise their busy schedules and make a full album as that could be something special on the basis of this. 8/10  

Saturday 4 July 2015

Reviews: Borealis, Whiskey Hell, Jackaman

Borealis: Purgatory (AFM)

Purgatory is a good name Canadian melo-power metallers Borealis as it seems the band have been languishing there since their second album Fall From Grace in 2011. Now Fall From Grace has to be near the top of my 'most played' list with numerous enjoyable playthroughs since 2011, this left me with both anticipation and hesitation for this release, so as I pressed play it was time to see whether or not their new release will get the same high number of plays as it's predecessor; Past The Veil starts things off and it's business as usual with Michael Briguglio and Matt Marinelli's killer guitars sparring with each other and Sean Werlick's keys and yet again what sets Borealis apart are Matt's impressive vocals, he has an amazing set of pipes that echo Russell Allen at his most aggressive yet he can croon in the bands trademark huge choruses; see The Chosen One, that bring to mind both Symphony X and masters of melodic power metal Evergrey a band Borealis owe a huge debt to. Marinelli's voice duets beautifully with Sarah Dee on From The Ashes and croons mightily on Destiny which has chunky rhythms driven by Sean Dowell's amazing drumming and Jamie Smith's technically precise bass that gives this track it's djent like rhythms.

Considering these few songs begin the album they make an immediate impact showing all that makes Borealis great, it's then we get Darkest Sin which slows everything down with the acoustic guitars, orchestral/choral backing and Marinelli's superb vocals (I'll stop talking about his vocals soon I promise). This even isn't the biggest ballad on the album with Rest My Child getting that honour due to it's plaintive first half that explodes into a solo of epic proportions and the passionate finale. Borealis bring a modern metal edge to the power metal genre here giving it a mature legitimacy with emotive lyrics and heavy post-millennial guitar work as well as adding the power metal mainstays of guitar solos galore, huge over blown keys and rampaging songs with lots of light and shade on tracks like Place Of Darkness and classical Kamelot-style influences abound on Welcome To Eternity which has elements of modern day Stratovarius. Looking back on it I shouldn't have worried, Purgatory is equally as brilliant as Fall From Grace if not better, Borealis have always been very high on my must-see list and with this album they get higher again; this is an album of top drawer, sophisticated, grown up melodic power metal for fans of Evergrey, Symphony X and Kamelot, with some amazing playing and yes THAT voice!! One of my albums of the year!! 10/10

Whiskey Hell: Bullets N Burritos (Self Released)

Germany have a strange love of Southern Rock, they love a good song about drinking, pick up trucks, and partying while wearing a Stetson and spurs. Olly Wallenberg's Whiskey Hell hail from Hamburg and they play good ol' Suverrn rock n roll with a fist full of whiskey and a hell of a lot of attitude. However Whiskey Hell are not your traditional style Southern rockers they have the same kind of 80's style melodic southern rock that .38 Special, Molly Hatchet, Black Oak Arkansas did so well, tracks like Weed N Whiskey and the Bullet's N Burritos kick that kind of party rock off with aplomb having a rocky boogie style driven by Wallenberg's searing guitar work and on Weed N Whiskey enough cowbell to suit any taste. However he also dabbles in the more metallic styles of Priest on Blood, Sweat And Wrenches (which is probably the most patriotic song not written by an American) simplistic four chord hard rock of Rose Tattoo and AC/DC as witnessed by their cover of The Aussie band's classic Kicked In The Teeth. As they dabble in the blues on Time Flies and even some KISS-like stomping on Mr Rock N Roll you see that the band can play very well as a the this three piece pack a punch with Lars Linder's drums and Carsten Meyer's bass giving the songs a rhythmic thump allowing Wallenberg to indulge in hearty riffs and searing solos while he sings with a voice that is part Gene Simmons, part Johnny Van Zant. All the songs on this album are good especially 2013 which details Wallenberg's struggle and eventual abstinence of alcohol and drugs in a heartfelt and confessional way, however it doesn't really break any ground for the most part and with two covers (the other being Mountain's Misssippi Queen) it may not do it for anyone but if you like polished American sounding Southern rock then Whiskey Hell will get you grooving in your seat. 7/10

Jackaman: No Halo (Self Released)

Lynne Jackaman is the founding front woman of Brit blues rockers Saint Jude, after releasing one album to critical praise and being pushed as the next big thing the band seemed to take a back seat and went on hiatus. The band's ace was always Jackaman's expressive rock n soul voice so it was great to see that she has been working on her own songs that she says "Didn't fit with the band". Right she is too as the songs on this four track EP are far more at home in the soul, funk and blues sphere than they are in a rock band, what immediately hits you about this EP is the production equally modern and old school giving the funky synths and bass real pop (Stevie Wonder would be proud) while showing off Lynne's amazing vocals, she has the lungs of a true soul diva with Roberta Flack, Etta James and even a bit of Amy Winehouse all audible in Ms Jackaman's vocals. She belts out every song on this record with gusto and having the kind of vocal that just quivers at the top end of her vibrato as she passionately sings of what she wants from a lover on the title track. She has assembled some cracking musicians who send things along with funk guitars Nile Rogers would be proud of, some hip shaking drums and lashings of synths, the first two tracks are upbeat numbers letting Jackaman go a bit wild however on Honesty (Can Be So Cruel) things slow down with a modern soul feel before the final track brings the mood up again. Now when the new Saint Jude album will come I don't know, but it's front woman could be at the start of a whole new career with this slick and stylish EP; moving away from the rock genre to indulge in her passion for soul and R&B she has the talent to break into the mainstream. 8/10

Thursday 2 July 2015

Reviews: Status Quo, Unleash The Archers, Next To None

Status Quo: Aquostic (Stripped Bare) (earMusic)

Cased in one of the most terrifying covers in history, mainmen Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt in the all-together their crown jewels covered only by their acoustic guitars, Aquostic is the legendary boogie bands 31st (!) studio album and as the title suggests it features some of the bands biggest hits reinterpreted in the acoustic style some stripped back and some like Pictures Of Matchstick men are given string treatment making the track sound like it should appear on Sgt Pepper's (seriously this has to be THE definitive version of this song now) in fact nearly all of the songs (and there are 24 of them) work very well in the acoustic format giving the band a chance to go back to their blues roots on Down The Dustpipe which has the addition of harmonica from Andy Bown, who usually supplies keyboards but on here it's mouth harp, mandolin, guitar and guitar. The track listing is a complete retrospecitve of the bands career and follows in a chronological order with Pictures... starting the album through two off Piledriver; All The Reasons turns into a Faces style ballad, five from Hello! the honky tonk of Reason For Living through the percussive shuffle of And It's Better Now which shows of new drummer Leon Cave's skill, then we get to their including their magum opus Caroline which comes straight from the saloons on this version dripping in both honk and tonk.

We then carry on before moving on through Quo and On The Level a double header of a countrified Break The Rules and a chicken pickin' Down Down? Yes please!! All of the bands 'hits' are here but the lesser known songs are perfectly chosen to get the best out of their reinvention, where as Rockin' All Over The World is closer to Fogarty's original than ever before. In fact as I've said nearly all of the songs on this album are familiar (of course) but they get a new lease of life in this format, you can clearly hear that Rossi revels in the more stripped back sound still singing brilliantly but with a bit more guts and grit than usually, in fact Parfitt too sounds like a new man on Whatever You Want his scratchier vocals working well on the more orchestral version. For a band who have been around for so long it's great that they feel that they can take the risk of changing the style of some of their most well known songs, however what is even more clear, is that even though they are known as the band that play four chords, in the stripped back setting it's the song writing that shines through, yes even on Margarita Time (which sounds like a Dolly Parton song now, in a good way). If you want a Quo 'Best Of' then there are several million available, however if you want a clever experimental career retrospective that shows why Status Quo are one of our most treasured bands then look no further than Aquostic. 9/10 (Point lost for the poor pun and the cover)   

Unleash The Archers: Time Stand Still (Napalm)

You'll have to bare with me for a moment here, Unleash The Archers are a Canadian band and this is their third album, with that out of the way I can get on to what they sound like. Now imagine Halestorm's Lzzy Hale fronting Amon Amarth, while jamming Dragonforce songs with Manowar; I'm serious...Unleash The Archers have all of those influences on this record merging extreme power metal with melodic death metal to great effect. As soon as Frozen Steel starts the album off proper you are thrown straight in at the deep end of a maelstrom of supersonic riffage from Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley who shred like bastards throughout providing the light speed rhythms and face melting solos. Kyle Sheppard rumbles at high speed in the bottom end (and even gets a solo himself). The band's real drawing point though is one; the frankly awe inspiring drumming of Scott Buchanan who doesn't stop raining down thunder for the whole record making sure that the listener cannot catch their breath.

The second drawing point is his wife Brittney Slayes' frankly astonishing voice the woman has an amazing range able to sing with a gritty lower register before unleashing a shriek that can make your ears bleed especially on Tonight We Ride which is pure Amon Amarth without the Vikings. The band however are not stuck in a rut though adding lots of elements to their sound, they manage to add very modern influences to their base level of power metal with melodeath touches, Hail Of The Tide is Arch Enemy sounding, while Test Your Metal echoes Priest in full flight, Crypt harks back to Kind Diamond, while No More Heroes has the beatdowns of bands like Killswitch Engage. The album is relentless it beats you around the head with 5-6 minute tracks that just kick your face in with the amazing performances on display here, the only real slowdown is the epic 9 minute plus Dreamcatcher and the choral finale of the title track (thankfully not a Rush cover). This album is a brilliant menagerie of metal with numerous styles lapping on top of the power metal assault. A staggering, breathless display of metal fury!! 9/10       

Next To None: A Light In The Dark (InsideOut)

We hear at the Musipedia always go on about new young bands that are on the scene, however I think ridiculously young is the only way to describe Next To None. The band play progressive metal with some modern and varied influences throughout, but what is startling about this band is that they have an average age of 16 years old, however they play with the maturity of a band in their late 20's. The band are made up of Thomas Cuce on keys and vocals, on guitar is Ryland Holland, on bass is Kris Rank and behind the kit is Max Portnoy, yes he is the son of Winery Dogs, Flying Colours and ex-Dream Theater man, who lends a hand in the producer chair. So with that musical pedigree is success in the genes? Well there is certainly a lot of promise from these immensely talented youngsters (just check their biography to see just how much talent these polymath's have). The album starts with the sound of rain and tolling bells and this writer was expecting the opening chords of Hallowed Be Thy Name to kick in but no we get orchestral swells and then with a flurry of Portnoy drumming The Edge Of Sanity starts in classic DT style.

Driven by chunky riffs and and elongated opening section that sees the bass and guitar of Holland and Rank work in tandem and as the organ's kick in we get our first taste of Cuce's voice who is trying to emulate James LaBrie albeit with added growls that bring to mind LaBrie's solo work. So far so DT with the nine minute played in odd time signatures and a crazy mid section that Theater's Jordan Rudress is so keen about. You can hear the boys influences on this album too as You Are Not Me is straight ahead metalcore bringing in A7X, Slipknot and even Pantera and the album continues in this vein with great musicianship throughout especially on the longer tracks however there is an overriding sense of immaturity on the record, not in the playing no, but Cuce's voice can get a bit whiny at times see ballad A Lonely Walk and they do tend to air on the side of more emotional almost childish lyrics, now this is clearly to do with their age and lack of life experience, but as I've said a band of very young virtuosos that have the chops but now just need the songs that will come with age and time. So for now it's watch this space. 7/10