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Saturday 31 October 2015

Another Point Of View: Deathcrusher Tour (Review By Paul)

Deathcrusher Tour: Marble Factory, Bristol

Five of the heaviest bands to walk the earth in one place? It was a given that MoM ensured a presence at the Deathcrusher tour; in fact there were several members of the crew present even though we didn’t all connect during the evening. Part of the reason for that was the sheer volume of people crammed into the Marble Factory despite the larger Motion venue being available. Sir Rhod of Moose was already wedged onto the barrier by the time we arrived. Due to logistical issues and the early start we missed the sets from Herod and Voivod but I guess in a review of this tour, you can guess what they sounded like. In fact, we arrived just as Voivod finished and to a pretty impressive reception from the crowd too.

They've been around for yonks and really hold a special place in the metal fraternity; Birmingham legends Napalm Death (7) brought their unique brand of grindcore metal to Bristol and kicked the shit out for nigh on 40 minutes which meant about 300 songs! I've never been much of a fan to be honest but watching the band provoke such a faithful reaction, I can fully understand why they do appeal. Championed by the iconic John Peel many moons ago, the band line-up has remained pretty static in recent years with sizeable bassist Shane Embury and hyperactive scream machine Barney Greenway joined by touring guitarist Erik Burke (filling in for Mitch Harris) and the powerhouse drumming of Danny Herrera. Slab after slab of aggressive flat out riffage and absolutely unintelligible vocals pretty much sum up Napalm Death for me. Of course, with many of their songs incredibly short there was plenty to go round with a handful of tracks from their latest album Apex Predator – Easy Meat thrown into the mix alongside many older classics, Suffer The Children from 1990s Harmony Corruption a particular highlight. Inevitably it was still Scum that received the biggest cheer of the evening and incited one of the most ferocious pits seen for a long while. Barney’s chatter between songs is entertaining, astute social commentary aligning the majority of the crowd’s political views if nothing else. Napalm Death continue to do what they do. All power to them.

A short turnaround and then it was time for Florida’s finest death metal merchants Obituary (8) to power through 45 minutes of brutality. Obituary, much like all the bands on the bill don’t give a fuck about anyone else. They have a sound, it pulverises you and then they leave. Opening with Red Neck Stomp, the twin guitars of Trevor Peres and lead axeman Kenny Andrews laid down their groove laden death over the rock solid foundation of Donald Tardy’s drumming and Terry Butler’s hammering bass lines. John Tardy, one of the most distinctive voices in death metal stalked the stage, snarling and spitting out his lines with venom. A couple of relative newbies from their most recent release Inked In Blood were interspersed with older cuts including an absolutely killing Bloodsoaked. Inevitably the set concluded with the anthemic Slowly We Rot, cue mass pit action and some of the best clawing of the sky seen this side of an Immortal gig. You know what you get with Obituary. They always deliver.

A huge bonus on this tour was the opportunity to see another of the bands vigorously supported by Peel, Liverpool’s forefathers of death metal, Carcass (8). An even bigger bonus was to discover that they had pegged their merchandise prices to £15 for a shirt and even better, a mere £10 for the Surgical Steel Complete Edition. Happy days! Once again, you pretty much know what you are getting with Carcass although it was interesting that the crowd had thinned slightly before they hit the stage. 1985, the intro track from Surgical Steel gave way to Unfit For Human Consumption as the combined guitar pile driving of Bill Steer and Ben Ash sliced the air, backed up by the blitz of Jeff Walker’s bass and Dan Wildings non-stop powerhouse drumming. Plenty of movement at the front of the stage as the band crashed through their catalogue, including a pretty gruesome Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System and a crushing The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills.

Walker’s vocal delivery is one of the best in death metal, although I'm never sure if he is just a cantankerous old bastard or incredibly dry with his between song banter. Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle. The set also contained a couple of old school monsters from Necrotism: Descanting The Insalubrious (including Corporal Jigsore Quandary) and a handful from the Heartwork album. An hour of Carcass leave you exhausted, like a really heavy circuit session. As Heartwork brought the curtain down on an evening of brutal intensity, the huge response from the incredibly healthy crowd indicated that despite what Gene Simmons thinks, the metal scene is further away from life support than we might have dared imagine. Death metal in particular appears alive and kicking … mainly right between the legs!

Friday 30 October 2015

Reviews: Antimatter, Sadist, Lion Shepherd (Reviews By Paul)

Antimatter: The Judas Table (Prophecy Productions)

Melancholic moods, gothic atmosphere and delicate themes feature heavily in the sixth release by Liverpool’s Antimatter, the long term project of singer/Songwriter Mick Moss who has used a revolving door of musicians throughout the years. According to the band’s website, The Judas Table is a ‘concept album exploring the residual bad energy left in the psyche after falling in and out of a relationship with a toxic personality’ as well as examining the ‘driving force behind betrayal, lies and manipulation …’ So there you are then. No songs about Satan or hot dogs (What?-Ed)on this album.

It is a fantastic album, beautifully constructed with complex sounds, drum beats and haunting piano/keyboards underpinning Moss’s excellent song writing skills. The Roxy Music infused Killer is one of the standout tracks, along with the gentle Comrades which features a background string section and a sole acoustic guitar before slowly increasing the tempo ever so slightly. In fact, every track is crafted to the highest quality, with the musicianship superb, instruments connecting almost symbiotically. Hole is stunning, emotional and powerful but so simple in composition. The title track The Judas Table would sit comfortably on any of Anathema's recent works (and I really apologise for this as I know the Anathema connection haunts Antimatter thanks to former member Duncan Patterson’s tenure with both). The Judas Table is an album that demands repeated listens, and is clever and complex yet is also accessible at first listen. The Judas Table is another excellent release from one of rock music’s most intriguing and gifted artists. 9/10

Sadist: Hyena (Scarlet Records)

Technical death metal? Progressive metal? Yes, both of these genres pulse through the veins of Hyena, the latest release from Genoa’s death merchants Sadist. Formed in 1991, they split in 2000 and reformed in 2005. Hyena is their seventh album and it’s a pretty crazy ride. Flutes, keyboards, blast beats and death growls combine with more traditional crunching guitar riffage and 100mph pace. All kinds of influences thread through Hyena, from the Jethro Tull/Opeth fusion of opener The Lonely Mountain to the eccentric and chaotic Dream Theater on steroids track The Devil Riding the Evil Steed, complete with what sounds like Arabic narrative in the middle. Every track waxes and wanes, changing direction numerous times during each song. Gadawan Kura is a mellow, gentle instrumental, sandwiched between the much more aggressive Scavenger and the Thief And Eternal Enemies before the manic African Devourers throws jazz and avant-garde breakdowns into the mix.

There is more than a dash of nu-metal thrown into the Sadist mix, providing yet another element to an already crowded and increasingly randomly constructed release. Closing with the lovingly entitled Genital Mask, complete with African drums, I've come to the conclusion that Sadist are exactly that; torturing my ears with some of the most complex, eccentric and eclectic metal I've heard for a long time. Do I like it? Well, Tommy’s vocals are an acquired taste and do little for me but I like Steve Souza and Bobby Ellsworth’s styles and this isn't a million miles away from that. The ethnic influences that run throughout the album make it quite unique and the transfers from all out death to progressive rock work quite well. An interesting release. 7/10

Lion Shepherd: Hiraeth (Self Released)

One of the great joys about live music is the odd occasion where you manage to catch a support band that absolutely demands your attention. This happened at Riverside’s recent turn at The Marble Factory where the opening band Lion Shepherd delivered an impressive set, sufficient to persuade me to purchase Hiraeth. I wasn't disappointed. Lion Shepherd is a project by Kamil Haidar and Mateusz Owczarek and their debut release contains some quite beautiful music. An eclectic mix of ethnic fused rock, Hiraeth delivers a range of tracks that take in progressive rock, trance, blues, metal and several Eastern and world music influences. Think Orphaned Land but throw in Klone, Messenger, and even Depeche Mode, all with an Iranian twist, courtesy of guest musicians Rasm Al Mashan and Jahair Azim Irani amongst others.

Highlights include the controlled aggression of Brave New World and Smell Of War, the excitement and promise of opener Fly On, and two of my favourite tracks, the Eastern sounds of Music Box Ballerina and Lights Out. Haidar's vocals are superb, whilst the acoustic and electric guitar work of Owczarek provides exactly the right shade of light and shade for each song. The percussion of Slawek Berny and the subtle bass work of Wojciech Rucinski provide a foundation which truly allows the album to develop, captivating and transporting the listener far away. For me, Lion Shepherd and Hiraeth is the discovery of 2015; inspirational and innovative. In a year when some absolutely great pieces of work have been produced, this stands proudly alongside them. 9/10

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Reviews: Spock's Beard, With The Dead, Satan

Spock's Beard: The Oblivion Particle (InsideOut)

American progressive merchants Spock's Beard are now into their 20th year and after all these years the band are still going strong with their third singer, Enchant frontman Ted Leonard, who replaced long term singer/drummer Nick D'Virgillio, who himself replaced founder Neal Morse. Leonard has been on board since 2013's Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep and he fits into the band perfectly, Enchant themselves have the same kind of classic progressive rock sound as Spock's Beard so he was the natural choice. On this album he once again shows off his powerful almost pop-friendly vocals that croon above the intensely technical but beautifully luscious soundscapes created by founder members Alan Morse's guitar, Ryo Okumoto's huge keys, Dave Meros' dexterous bass playing and new boy Jimmy Keegan's percussion. The album deals with the a science fiction narrative based around time travel and freedom from tyranny both funky Tides Of Time and the Yes-like Minion (which is not about those yellow buggers) deal with these issues the best, using the time signature changes of of the rhythm driven by Meros' bass to keep your interested piqued, while Morse stabs heaviness and floats above deftly as Okumoto's organs over arch everything. The Yes theme continues on the acoustic pastoral Hell's Not Enough which is a lilting ballad that builds into the fantastic Bennett Built A Time Machine which is one of my favourites on this record built upon a mandolin riff with lyrics about going back in time to change your past for a better future, this track initially sounds like a throwaway but it draws you in with it's whimsical narrative. As the album progresses the final parts get longer and heavier with trio of the atmospheric A Better Way To Fly, the jaunty classically influenced The Center Line and the guitar driven To Be Free all clocking in at over 6 minutes showing off this band's obvious talent. You don't me to tell you how good this twelfth album is, if you are a fan of 'proper' progressive rock the you' will love, those who aren't will avoid it like the plague luckily I'm in the former and I'm going to play it again! 9/10   

With The Dead: With The Dead (Rise Above Records)

With The Dead are the new project from original Electric Wizard rhythm section Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening, now that really tells you all you need to know about this EP as the British Doom legends are imprinted all over this record. Bagshaw provides the fuzzy, hissing distorted guitars and droning, buzzing bass that supply the thick as syrup riffs that boom as Greening pounds through the discord crashing cymbals and thumping the drums bringing the crushing ominous rhythm that Electric Wizard have always relied upon. The six songs on this album are blood-curdling, formidable and heavy as hell with the record building from the percussive and rumbling Crown Of Burning Stars through the Sabbath-like bounce of The Cross, the atmospheric stoner metal of Nephthys which sounds a lot like Orange Goblin at their most doom laden, before ending with the double header of the woozy I Am The Virus and the leviathan final track Screams From My Own Grave. As I've said the band features two former members of Electric Wizard but they are not the only veterans in this band as the satanic vocals are supplied by former Cathedral man (and Rise Above boss) Lee Dorrian who once again wakes the dead with his roars on Living With The Dead, which has trademark snippets of old movies to throw you off guard as the riff smashes you in the head. Yes the band sound a lot like Electric Wizard, and indeed Cathedral in moments, however can you accuse a band of plagiarism if the members have been in said band? As you mull this put on With The Dead I'm sure it'll help you think, or spin you out into a drug induced binge, but with music like this either is good! 8/10 

Satan: Atom By Atom (Listenable)

After their comeback in 2013 with Life Sentence NWOBHM also-rans Satan have been in demand at festivals and have toured more than ever, they have also got around to writing and recording their fourth, yes fourth, record. Atom By Atom builds on the comeback yet again combining razor sharp proto-thrash riffs, stomping rhythms and Brain Ross's shrieking vocals, which are the first things you hear on Farewell Evolution before the shredding guitars blast along as Sean Taylors drums gallop with aplomb. Where as Life Sentence saw the band coming back after 26 years to blow away any doubts that they were doomed to languish in the what if? pile by creating a strong, accomplished record that was as modern as it was retro. On Atom By Atom the band have cemented this idea by crafting 10 strong tracks of British heavy metal, that move and twist like those dark figures Bruce sang about brining to mind  fellow NWOBHM resurgents HELL, the songs are not linear pliling as many riffs as they can into every track as Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins duelling with every melodic passage, lead break and crunchy rhythm, tracks like Fallen Saviour, The Devil's Infantry are the real neck snappers forcing you to band your head and will cause pits in the live setting, Graeme English's bass gets highlighted on the very old school Ruination and the title track does have a whiff of Anvil about it. Still this is quality British metal at it's core with superior tracks like Ahriman excellent The Fall Of Persephone being two of the best on the record. Put it on and turn it up Satan are here to stay! 8/10

The View From The Back Of The Room: Riverside (Review By Paul)

Riverside: The Marble Factory

Arriving half way through the opening set, we were immediately taken by the sight of a lute at the side of the stage. This later came into play during the latter part of the set. Lion Shepherd (8), Polish associates of the headliners, played with aplomb and panache, their progressive tones fused with lush Oriental and Eastern sounds very appealing. A combination of Orphaned Land, Messenger, Porcupine Tree and many others, Kamil Haidar cuts a fine figure at the front of the stage, with a strong and imposing vocal range, demonstrated in fine style on set closer Smell Of War. Sufficiently impressive to prompt me to purchase their debut release Hiraeth (full review to follow but it is excellent).

The Sixxis (6) are confused. The Atlanta outfit are a confusion of influences although Dream Theater stand head and shoulders above everyone else (add in anything from Muse, Alice in Chains and even a smattering of Rush). They certainly put in the effort but a lot of huff and puff doesn't always work if your songs are a bit disjointed. Vocalist Vladdy Iskhakov combined his lyrical duties with synth work at the front of the stage and at one point comically introduced an electric violin which provided Spinal Tap flashbacks. Unfortunately he isn’t blessed with the most powerful of voices and was often smothered by the guitar riffs of Paul Sorah and Cameron Allen. The band appear unclear which direction they want their sound to develop and as a result their songs suffered somewhat. A reasonable response from the crowd indicated that they hit a few of the right notes but it was noticeable that Lion Shepherd attracted more attention at the merchandise table.

No such problems for Riverside (10). A rapturous welcome greeted the band as they arrived on stage and launched into Lost (Why Should I be Frightened By A Hat?), the opening track from the stunning Love, Fear And The Time Machine. Over the next hour and forty five minutes the Poles delivered a masterclass in progressive music, with a range of tracks six of their albums (heavily based on their last two; LFATTM and Shrine Of New Generation Slaves) and a mix of styles; from the Floyd soaked Escalator Shrine and The Same River to the Depeche Mode/The Cure influences in Saturate Me. Whilst all eyes are rightly fixed on the talents and warmth of Mariusz Duda, frontman, bassist and vocalist, Riverside is truly a band where the whole is greater than the individual parts. Piotr Grudzinski’s stunning guitar work, often understated and intricate was breath taking whilst the Hammond organ and keyboards of Michal Lapaj added layered depth and substance. Underpinning the whole sound was Piotr Kozieradzki on drums. The band cleverly book ended the set with Found (The Unexpected Flow Of Searching), the final track on LFATTM and left the stage to a deserved huge ovation from the small but appreciative audience.

Monday 26 October 2015

Reviews: Queensryche, Operation Mindcrime (Reviews By Nick)

Queensryche: Condition Human (Century Media)

Having been a big Queensryche fan for about eight years or so, it was needless to say that when all the hooha and kerfuffle broke out around the band three years back I was both gutted and concerned. Thankfully the band found the perfect replacement in Todd LaTorre, who on first listening live last year, I found him to sound almost exactly like Tate, but with that little more edge. He is easily able to roll off all of the bands greatest hits and quite frankly I was blown away by his voice. However now is the time to see what LaTorre and the gang are really made of with their new offering Condition Human.

In this case I'm not going to go through the album track by track as I'm sad to say it would be a bit of waste of time. After a few listens this album has one big downfall, and it’s a damn shame. The majority of the songs served up on Condition Human all have the same theme... Revolution is coming my friends, yup you better believe it. At least eight of the tracks on this twelve song album continue with this theme and no matter how good you are, this just isn't sustainable. I'm pretty sure this theme rings a few bells from previous offerings too? What's more annoying about this album is that the track Just Us offers us a beautiful ballad that pulls together everything that is good about Queensryche old and new, similarly Hourglass in a more rocky manner. This just left me thinking... why can't we have more of this?

Don’t get me wrong, the musicianship on this album is brilliant as always and I'd expect nothing less from such experienced pro's. Throw LaTorre's spine tingly good voice into the mix and if you're not paying too much attention to the foundation of the songs, it sounds just great. Rockenfield's drums at times are simply majestic and Wilton and Lundgren throw out the sharp high pitched riffs we have come to know and love from Queensryche. Ironically this album is the opposite to Tate's new offering with Mindcrime: throw it on in the background and you'll no doubt find yourself walking around the room air banding with a little smile on your face, but, sit down and listen to it properly, and the cracks in the albums foundation are clear to hear. I'm unsure as to the reasoning for this, either the band got a little lazy and were keen to get a release out at the same time as Mindcrime (understandable) or are they hanging on too tightly to the past of Queensryche? Either way, to make your "new project" stand out, something a lot more stronger and dare I say brave was needed here. It’s a good listen, but it could have been so much better 7/10.

Operation:Mindcrime: The Key (Frontiers Music)

So as you people may or not know, me... I'm a BIG Queensryche fan, and possibly an even bigger Tate fan. For me there are few better voices out there, past present and hopefully future! So, needless to say this album has been eagerly awaited by myself. Since its announcement of production Tate has stated from the off that The Key is to be the first of a trilogy. A concept piece, The Key ushers in work that Tate has been sitting on for a few years now. It will be difficult not to compare this against Tate's outstanding work with Queensryche, but I'll do my best. We'll see if it's all been worth the wait! Without any spoilers the concept of the album in its most basic is; A man discovers "something", realizes that this "thing" could change the world for both good or bad, man wrestles with his conscious to decide if he should destroy said "thing", sell said "thing" or release said thing himself for free. Okay, got it?

Opening track Choices immediately throws back to late 80s/90s Queensryche with an audio cut, reminiscent of album Empires and Mindcrime itself. However what follows is more of an atmospheric narrated opening which sets the scene of the story nicely. The next track and second single Burn again kicks in with another audio cut, which is interrupted by a a heavy thudding grungy riff filled with bass and deep melody. Throughout Burn the tone remains dark and almost melancholic, with very proggy solos thrown in by guitarist Kelly Gray. Reinventing The Future is the first single from The Key and is probably the most anthemic track on the album. Probably the closest thing we get to Queensryche on The Key, this track picks up the pace with a lot bouncier riff and faster paced drums, the prog theme stays firmly put however, with stronger vocals from Tate here and a brief but succulent solo again, supported by a Nick favourite emphasized bass line, kindly donated by Disturbed's John Moyer.

Ready To Fly and Discussions In A Smoke Filled Room return to the slower atmospheric stylings of Choices, the synthesized voice of Tate adds to the futuristic theme that The Key tries to convey. The stand out element during these two tracks however, is the precise and almost dramatic drumming of Simon Wright. At this point the story that Mindecrime are trying to convey is starting to well and truly take shape, that is until track six; Life or Death? which has a very random appearance from Mark Daly (The Voodoos) on vocals. This really threw me initially as his voice, although good, deep and gravely... just doesn't fit into the atmosphere or character of the album, the song itself is also very different to what has been offered thus far in the album. Very rocky, bouncy and lively and upbeat, contrary to the previous five tracks. As a stand alone the track is solid, but it really does halt the charade of the album and stick out like a sore thumb.

The Stranger and Hearing Voice really hit you in the face with more deep bass filled grunge. They are angry emotive songs, both musically and lyrically, also chocked with scurrying tight riffs. Tate is really able to highlight the franticness in the characters decisions across these tracks. The smashing percussion adds another futuristic twist to the story with the industrial edge of its sound, which is immediately halted in its tracks with some sophistication by On Queue and the interlude An Ambush Of Sadness. On Queue builds up beautifully to a great vocal and solo crescendo courtesy of Tate and Gray. Kicking In The Door and The Fall return the album to back where it started musically. Atmospheric proggy music laced with Tate's voice as he brings the first part of his tale to an end. The Fall does this nicely by finishing with a musical wall of sound that builds and builds with well placed layers slowly drowning out Tate's vocals in an almost mystical way, leaving us waiting for the next album to see what becomes of him... it really is a nice touch.

The Key is a very much new direction for Tate and his crew, on one hand, unlike their previous offering this feels as if it has been thought through and some care and love has been put into it. However on the other, the fact that the stand out track is very much that of a Queensryche song suggests that there is probably something missing from The Key that makes this album Mindcrime's own. A concept album, although a concept album, needs an identity musically as well as the story it tries to convey... The Key hops about in its stylings, a little lost at times. After listening a few times, I have come to the decision that I really do like this album, its different, filled with grungy bass and a new sort of prog I've not quite heard before, so I do look forward to the following two parts to accompany it. Hopefully Mindcrime will have found their identity by then. Nonetheless, I feel this is not an album you can just throw on and listen to in the background (unlike Queensryche for instance), it's an album you have to understand and give your time to and work at, which I feel may be difficult to convey live. As a result I can see The Key taking a bit of a hit by critics, probably for all the wrong reasons, which is a shame 8/10

Sunday 25 October 2015

Another Point Of View: An Evening With Opeth (Review By Paul)

An Evening With Opeth: Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London

Sunday trips to London for gigs are never particularly enjoyable but when Opeth announced that they would be playing a special 25th anniversary show, combined with a performance of 2005’s masterpiece Ghost Reveries all thoughts of discomfort and lack of sleep were put to one side and tickets were quickly purchased. A last minute change of venue moved the gig from the Palladium to the opulence of the Theatre Royal but tickets arrived in good time and we headed to London filled with expectation, not hope. This is Opeth after all; supreme musicians and consummate professionals. My 12th viewing of the Swedish maestros and very few duds in that list. Following Opeth is an enjoyable experience, and has taken me (and son Ant) across the country; Bristol, Birmingham, Prestatyn, Nottingham, Bloodstock, Sonisphere, Download and the Albert Hall to be precise. Not once have they played in Wales but that is the cross you are happy to carry when it comes to this innovative, classical and heavy as lead band.

We arrived in the Capital with a couple of hours to kill and having smirked at the display of Motörhead dildos proudly displayed outside a ‘private’ shop on Oxford Street, proceeded to get a couple of pre-gig ales and a bit of supper before heading to the venue. Unsurprisingly, given the proximity to Covent Garden, the area was packed and the local pubs full of black t-shirts and long haired metallers. According to the tickets, doors opened at 7:00 pm but disappointingly they appeared to have been opened much earlier and as we studied the scrum around the merchandise table it was clear that we had been far too slow to grab a souvenir t-shirt; only XXL available at 6:55 pm. Obviously the band only carry a limited amount of stock on the road so hopefully the on-line store may stock some at a later date. Never mind. It was the music we had travelled for.

Entering the theatre, one was immediately impressed with the splendour of the venue along with the height of the theatre with three circles rising to the gods, flanked on either side by several boxes. We quickly found our seats, guided by the very helpful theatre staff who were clearly taking the invasion of two thousand mainly beery, hairy white males in their stride. Plenty of leg room and a great view of the stage, although the overhang of the lower circle slightly clipped the sight lines for the top of the three screens which had been positioned at the back of the stage.

The stage was ornately decorated with candelabras and the lighting enhanced the atmosphere, one of death and foreboding and totally in keeping with the atmosphere of the album. The screens eased into life, the ghostly mist of the album cover drifting around flickering candles and the house lights dimmed as Opeth took to the stage. What followed was 90 minutes of sheer breath-taking music as the band played Ghost Reveries from start to finish. Opening with Ghost Of Perdition, a blisteringly heavy track laced with some typical classic Opeth harmonies and quieter parts, the band were clearly hitting their stride as they neared the end of this particular run of shows. The sound was astonishingly clear, possibly the best I’ve ever heard at a gig and this really enhanced the delivery, with the interplay of guitars, bass and keyboards all crystal clear. As Ghost... came to an end it was clear that Mikael was in a good mood, willing to take the time to engage with the audience with his dry wit and coping well with the more boisterous elements heckling incredibly well. (More of this later). Into The Baying Of The Hounds, visceral death vocals, crushingly heavy riffs and pure Opeth brutality; possibly the most evil thing ever heard within the grandiose setting, more used to the sound of Willy Wonka than death metal.

And so it continued as the band eased through the track listing; Beneath The Mire played for the first time on UK soil, the eastern promise of the beautiful Atonement, complete with integrated keyboard and guitar solos which fitted perfectly with the mood of this track and then the more recognisable Reverie/Harlequin Forest ramped the volume back up again. Meanwhile the screens displayed various images which fitted perfectly. Unfortunately, it was as the band began the delicate Hours Of Wealth that a few of the more boorish elements of the audience decided that a “quiet bit” was a good time to a)head for the toilet/bar and b)have a little chat at top volume. Honestly, there were some right fuckwits amongst the audience. As distracting as this was, the band maintained their professionalism and delivered it perfectly, with the interplay between Mikael's guitar work and keyboard player Joakim Svalberg on what is essentially a duet stunning. The demonic and pulverising Grand Conjuration increased the temperature again before a further oafish element heckled once more as a beautiful Isolation Years brought part one of the evening to a close.

After a short interval, and the set stripped back to the basics, Opeth returned to the stage and ripped through the now familiar opening duo from Pale Communion, Eternal Rains Will Come and Cusp Of Eternity. The clarity of the sound was helping to really pick up on the intricate musical interplay and allowed you to establish the different lines of each instrument. The guitar work of Mikael and Frederik Akesson particularly impressive. The Leper Affinity, a staple from Blackwater Park followed, the driving bass of Martin Mendez and the power of Martin ‘Axe’ Axenrot especially impressive. A calmer middle part of the set followed, with some humorous interaction with the crowd. Of course, even an intelligent band like Opeth attract the stupid and the moronic, and as Mikael referred to Damnation, the oafs in front shouted, nay, bellowed for The Moor (which is from Still Life you tools!). A snippet of Face Of Melinda and Closure led to a perfect To Rid The Disease before a rare outing for I Feel The Dark from the much maligned Heritage album.

On the home strait, and it was all too much for one punter, who managed to fall over a number of other patrons as he staggered down his row, completely trolleyed. This was the cue for an exchange of pleasantries which included a classic “Why don’t you fuck off and die … and then fuck off and die some more you cock weed” from a particularly unimpressed young lady. Said drunken punter was by now on his hands and knees at the end of the row and crawled to the door where the staff quickly removed him. Meanwhile shouts for old school tracks such as Black Rose Immortal and obviously further calls for The Moor continued. One classic put down came after a cry for Slayer (how original). “Fuck off, we want to play our own songs!” Despite all of this diatribe, Opeth then delivered a superb version of Voice Of Treason, which confused the old school brigade as it is from Pale Communion. Moving back to the Deliverance release, a crushing version of Master's Apprentice brought the set to a close before the band returned for an encore.

Although the second set was a little disjointed one of the highlights of seeing Opeth is always how Mikael deals with the crowd and his humour has become legendary. My favourite heckle of the evening came as he introduced the rest of the band, to which one wag shouted “what’s your name?” One of the few times Mikael Akerfeldt had no response. A protracted opportunity for the audience to shout out requests (which encouraged the dullards once more) was rewarded with A Lynyrd Skynyrd style snippet of Bleak, the first verse of A Fair Judgement, a blast of The Moor and a smidgeon of Credence before the band launched into The Lotus Eater from Watershed to complete a triumphant evening which was brilliant in so many ways.

It defies logic to me that you would pay £40 to see a band in a seated venue, and then spend most of your evening back and fore to the toilet and bar, drinking cans of Budweiser (yuk) and no doubt waking up the following day having no recollection of a spectacular evening of music. If it just me that feels like this, then I’m glad. Opeth 10/10 Certain members of the audience 1/10

Friday 23 October 2015

Reviews: Lucifer's Child, Sebastien, Violent Divine

Lucifer's Child: The Wiccan (Dark Essence Records)

Lucifer's Child hail from Athens Greece, they were formed by guitarist George Emmanuel who normally wields his axe in Greece's premier extreme music merchants Rotting Christ and Bassist Stathis Ridis who fields the bottom end in Greekl Gothic doomsters Nightfall. So with the band founders day job being in the more underground realms you will get a good idea what Lucifer's Child sound like (as if the band name didn't give it away), this is occult influenced, evil summoning black metal riffs with deathy vocals from new boy Mario Dupont who has a scream from the bowels of hell as witnessed on the propulsive A True Mayhem on which he growls like a demon while Emmanuel supplies down-tuned riff after down-tuned riff and Ridis and drummer Nick Vell apply a heavyweight rhythm section that brings the doom to Spirits Of Amenta and some thrash-like Behemoth blasting to He Who Punishes And Slays, in fact the band have a sound that is part Rotting Christ (obviously) and part Behemoth as they play the same kind of unrelenting blackened death metal with some orchestral filling on a few tracks, the best evidence for this comparison is the the track Lucifer's Child which is a huge fear laden track that has a that has keen guitar melody over the barrage of a rhythm section that chugs along, before the aptly named Doom is a track so slow that I was afraid it was going to go backwards. With ominous riffs, powerful bottom end and guttural vocals Lucifer's Child are good side-project that takes enough from their respective day jobs to win over long time fans but also adds enough influence from other bands that they stay fresh and interesting. If you like your metal with a side order of evil then Lucifer's Child will conjure up magic for you! 8/10   

Sebastien: Dark Chambers Of Deja Vu  (Pride And Joy Music)

I picked up Sebastien's debut album Tears Of White Roses from a second hand store, purely due to the awesome looking cover and that it had some huge guests on it; these included enchantress Amanda Somerville, former Firewind man Apollo Papathanasio, Temple Of Rock's Doogie White, Rhapsody Of Fire's Fabio Lione, Riot vocalist Mike DiMeo, Ex-Helloween and current Masterplan axeman Roland Grapow and guitarist Tore Moren. Although theses were the reasons I initially parted with my money the reason why I loved Sebastien, was that the album was filled with intelligent, tough, classy power metal with excellent symphonic elements giving the band a similar sound to Kamelot, Serenity, Sonata Arctica and Blind Guardian all rolled into one. The band are all great musicians with founder member vocalist/guitarist George Rain creating some superb power metal that allowed the guests to contribute and duet with Rain's voice, fleshing out the songs but not overshadow the songs. Tears Of White Roses became one of my most played albums, so I waited with growing anticipation as they announced they were working on the follow up.

So five years later Dark Chambers Of Deja Vu is that follow up and my god was it worth the wait, the songs are just as song, with a collection of darker themed song, Sebastien have stepped up their game from their debut meaning that this album whizzes past with some excellent power metal anthems that Rain and Andy Mons trading riffs and solos like the well versed tandem they are duelling with each other on the Kamelot flavoured Stranger At The Door, as well as each other they fight with keyboardist Victor Mazanek who has his fair share of solos too. In the engine room Cradle Of Filth's Martin Skaroupka's (replaced by Lucas R) drumming thunders like a storm in full flight, while Petri Skalainen's basslines gallop, rumble and rampage with the guitar riffs and finally on top of everything Rain shows off his potent vocals that have air of Jon Oliva about them, crooning with rasp that just fits the bands harder edged power metal. One thing that is noticeable is that the guests have been reduced on this record with only Roland Grapow returning from the debut, he adds his vocals to the thrashy My Deepest Winter.

As well as Grapow the band have recruited other guests including Sirenia's Ailyn Gimenez adding her haunting soprano to the wistful final track Last Dance At Rosslyn Chapel, while the chugging Lamb Of God features the (in my opinion underrated) vocals of Tony Martin Black Sabbath's longest serving vocalist, Circle II Circle and Savatage vocalist Zak Stevens on the symphonic The Ocean which is one of the heaviest tracks on the record. So the guest appearances have been reigned in but this is for the better as it let's Sebastien show off their talent on this great sophomore album that really is a masterclass of symphonic power metal. Don't leave it too late like I did, find this album now and discover Sebastien doing what they do so very well. 9/10    

Violent Divine: Hyperactivity Disorder (Self Released)

Swedish hard rock with modern twist on Violent Divine's fourth album with influences drawn from the 80's hard rock of sleaze merchants Motley Crue on Restart My Heart (yes it is close to Crue's own song), gritty punk on Temple Of Love but also a bit of  that decades Goth styling on Heartbroken but they also bring things right up to date on tracks like Incubus, For I Am Sin, Beautiful Disaster all having the same radio bothering metal crunch as Shinedown and Alter Bridge, this is most evident in the crooning vocals of Mike who is a dead ringer for Shinedown's Brent Smith vocally will adding some Myle Kennedy on Worms Beneath. Violent Divine are a clearly very experienced band with a lot of style shown on this record the guitar stab and shimmer, the bass rumbles and roll and the drums smash and bang with power and persistence, unlike a lot of the more modern bands I've mentioned the band are focussed on the faster more rocking songs than the heart tugging ballads that Shinedown have favoured recently, the pace rarely shows up with nearly every song supplying fast and furious metallic hard rock keeping the energy high and the attention piqued. At thirteen tracks this album could a be a slog but with the right mix of fast and slow all played with passion and style Hyperactivity Disorder which keeps up Violent Divine's faultless record for supplying great quality modern hard rock. 8/10       

Monday 19 October 2015

Reviews: Killing Joke, Graveyard, Ozone (Reviews By Paul)

Killing Joke: Pylon (Spinefarm)

Pylon is the 16th album by Killing Joke, a band that shows absolutely no sign of slowing down. In fact, if anything the band have upped the intensity of their performance and built on the foundations of their two previous releases, the fine Absolute Dissent (2010) and 2012’s tremendous MMXII. Pylon features the original Joke line-up with ringmaster and enigmatic frontman Jaz Coleman in stunning form. The industrial tinge remains, fused with the punk and synth sound that is a characteristic of their key works but as with most of their works since 1994's Pandemonium, a harder, rockier edge is now part of the staple KJ sound. The cutting riffage of guitarist Kevin “Geordie” Walker combined with the ever reliable engine room of Martin “Youth” Glover and “Big” Paul Ferguson powering the band forward.

Coleman’s vocal performance has always been one of the key features of the band; his Gothic style delivery combined with the anger and frustration of the lyrical content continues to provide an intimidating, original and unique delivery. From the haunting Dawn Of The Hive, the apocalyptic foreboding contained in New Cold War and War Of Freedom to the almost all out thrash assault of first release, I Am The Virus, Pylon contains everything you could ask and much more. Killing Joke has been around since 1978 remaining true to their beliefs, roots and vision. In recent years Coleman’s eccentricity has become more focused and his focus on a world going to hell in a handcart has become quite prophetic. If you have never heard Killing Joke, all I can say is that Pylon is a worthy entrance point and one album that in 2015 should not be missed. Oh and where the hell have you been? 10/10

Graveyard: Innocence And Decadence (Nuclear Blast)

Whilst Killing Joke are focused in the here and now, Swedish hard rockers Graveyard sit firmly in the 1970s with their blues and psychedelic mix of rock. Innocence And Decadence puts Graveyard firmly back into public view after a quieter period since their last release, Lights Out in 2012. Although their fourth release continues in a similar vein to their previous offerings, Innocence And Decadence also contains some real gems to illustrate that the three years between albums has not been wasted. The vocal delivery of Joakim Nilsson and Jonatan Larocca-Ramm is gritty, bluesy and filled with soul. From the real Uriah Heep/Groundhogs feel of The Apple And The Tree, complete with some grungy bass courtesy of Truls Morck, to the straightforward rocker Can’t Walk Out which contains elements of The Stooges, this album leads you on a merry dance of colours and sounds which feel fresh and vibrant despite the deep rooted sound of a bygone era. Nilsson and Larocca-Ramm provide sensitive and heartfelt guitar work throughout, with the laid back blues filled Far Too Close a particular highlight. 8/10

Ozone: Self Defence (Escape Music)

The first release from melodic rockers Ozone features two of the really heavy weights of the AOR world and really should be served up as a dessert, complete with crackers, celery and a fine glass of port. Yes, this contains more cheese than the deli counter at Tescos (other supermarkets also available). The production expertise of Mike Slammer, who contributes sterling guitar and bass work throughout, ensures that this is as smooth as silk and crystal clear. Christian Wolff, now sadly deceased, also adds to the crunching guitar sound. The whole album is underpinned by solid drum work from Kerry Denton and the layered keys and organ of Eric Sabo. However, as with any top quality AOR, it is the vocals that allow the cream to rise to the top. Ozone must be the cat in that case as they possess two of the best vocalists in the genre; first up the stylish voice of Chris Ousey, most recently seen in the blues based (and bloody good) Snakecharmer alongside the dulcet tones of Steve Overland, yes that Steve Overland from UK’s premier AOR giants FM. 

 Ably supported by excellent harmonies of Ronnie Platt and Billy Gleer on backing vocals, Self Defence is a definitive blue print for top quality melodic rock. As I listened to it, my mind was drawn back to the brief encounter with the main stage at HRH AOR earlier this year, when I happened to observe a packed crowd rocking out to H.E.A.T. Ozone possess sufficient quality to headline an event like that. Full of radio friendly (is that still a term because it probably doesn't apply these days) anthems, mix in the best of FM, Def Leppard (difficult I know) and a large helping of Thunder and you get the picture. Tracks like Visionary Man, Practice What You Preach and Save My Soul all contain a steely rock frame, whilst the saccharine filled ballad So Blind might put you into a diabetic coma; it’s that sickly. If you like your rock served with a large slice of melody and velvet harmonised vocals, this is right up your avenue. 8/10

Saturday 17 October 2015

Reviews: Devilskin, Mustasch, Alphastate

Devilskin: We Rise (Devilskin/Rhythm/DRM)

New Zealand based Devilskin play an accomplished style of post millennium heavy metal fuelled by huge slabs of riffs, powerful rhythms and a big old heap of groove, from the breakdown heavy opening track, the fantastically titled, Elvis Presley Circle Pit the band immediately impress with concrete riffs married to catchy as ebola hook. What the bands major strength is that they are able to turn their hand to a variety of different styles, this album weaves and moves between so many nods to so many genres the record is always engaging, but even though many may see this as a band not sure of their sound, this is far from the truth as their anthemic metallic rock music is brimming with confidence and melody lines to die for but it all has a sound that is most definitely the bands own. Start A Revolution would be at home on a Shinedown album with it's arena bothering chorus, while Never See The Light is a bass driven slide guitar flavoured slice of White Zombie-style hard rock which allows guitarist Nail to give his best Slash rundown solo, once again the band catch you off guard on Until You Bleed which is part Iron Maiden played by Five Finger Death Punch all galloping bass from Paul Martin and antagonistic violent lyrics.

Another jerk and we move straight into Fade which is a ballad of Aerosmith proportions replete with orchestral backing, a searing guitar solo and more emotion than the X Factor editions (in fact this song could be the soundtrack for one of the contestants montages). I've already mentioned how good the band are, their playing is superb, Nic Martin's drums hold everything together like super glue giving every song it's heart beat, but it's frontwoman Jennie Skulander who gives the songs their voice, she gives of the most unique, amazing vocal performances I've heard in a long time on We Rise, her resonant pipes are dark, sultry and alluring one minute; insistent, emotive and compelling the next before she unleashes mighty screams and roars that would send many of her contemporariness scurrying for cover, just give Violation a blast to see what I mean. It's the way she can adapt her vocal to any style that means that even with 14 tracks this album never gets boring or repetitive (although two of those tracks are intro/outros). I'd never heard of Devilskin before but I'm so glad I have now, this is the kind of thing that got my blood pumping when I first got into metal, bands that play well, can write a mean song but do it all with a true style and flair. A cracking album from the Kiwi's now get over to these shores asap!! 10/10

Mustasch: Testosterone (Gain Music)

I've always had a bit of an affinity with Gothenburg's prime purveyors of man-metal, in fact the title of this eighth album is very apt because Mustasch have always filled their music with as much chest beating, rip snorting, big riffing metal as possible, but be that as it may they also have a keen ear for melody that gives them radio staying power. I've always likened the band to Black Album period Metallica and once again Testosterone shows that the band can not only rock out but write a song too. Yara's Song starts things slowly building into an orchestral driven opener that lures you into a false sense of security which allows Breaking Up With Disaster to beat you around the head with a massive guitar hammer before they show their tender side on The Rider which sees frontman Ralf Gyllenhammar giving his all vocally his scratchy delivery shouted with gusto. Now I said about Mustasch always knowing what makes a good song well they branched out a little on this record with the trippy Dreamers moving them away from the massive guitars, while Be Like A Man has a Muse-like percussion and synth behind it that breaks down into a dirty electronic breakdown at the end. I will say though that with all the experimentation on this album they do seem to be stuck in neutral with most of the songs just going along at a mid pace rather than the mix of speedy thrashers, big strutting rockers and massive ballads, there just seems to be the middle two with a high number of slower songs on this record with only the title track and Breaking Up With Disaster picking up the pace. Now I love Mustasch I really do ever since Latest Version Of The Truth but Testosterone just seems to be playing it a bit safe, the bands trademark lyrical excellence stays but the songs are just a bit too safe, please guys next time a bit more oomph! 6/10      

 Alphastate: Out Of The Black (Self Released)

Greece does have an affinity with power metal and Alphastate are just the latest band to come roaring out of the Mediterranean with axes aflame and all guns blazing. Out Of The Black stylistically in the Judas Priest/Iced Earth bracket with thrashy riffs and crunching rhythms. Musically the band are good it's a simplistic but fun style of power metal that is quite generic but that really is kind of the point. The album really falls down vocally, their singer is dire, yes he has got the atypical European pronunciation, which I actually like, but he seems to be struggling to hit the notes as the majority fall flat. Three tracks into this album I realised that this was not going to get much better so that is where stopped, now if someone like me who is a dyed in the wool power metal fan can only take three songs then how do the band expect to get more notice. We don't ever get too critical here at the musipedia due to our love of music and also my own personal experience in the music industry, but Alphastate need to do something drastic if they want to carry on up the ladder in my opinion. 5/10

Reviews: Saxon, Tank, My Dying Bride (Reviews By Paul)

Saxon: Battering Ram (UDR)

The mighty Saxon roar back into the metal fray with their 21st release, the aptly named Battering Ram, a fine follow up to 2013’s awesome Sacrifice. Few bands hold such affection in the metal community and I've yet to meet a metal head who doesn't like them. As readers of this blog will have become fed up of me saying  (No Never- Ed), Yorkshire’s finest hold a massive place in my heart due to their being my introduction to live metal in 1982.Since then the band have experienced some massive highs and dreadful lows but in the past few years have really picked up again with some really solid releases. Of course, it is in the live arena where they are at their most powerful and with a catalogue of quality songs the only problem with releasing more music is maintaining sufficient quality to allow the new stuff to mingle with the old school classics. 

So what is Battering Ram actually like? Well, it’s fucking Saxon isn't it? What do you expect? Blistering riffs from Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, powerhouse drumming from the fully recovered drum machine Nigel Glockler, pounding bass lines courtesy of the human dynamo Nibbs Carter and of course, the legendary voice of Biff Byford. Added to this heady mix are the fine production skills of Hell’s Andy Sneap. Anthemic tracks such as Queen Of Hearts, Stand Your Ground and the war themed Kingdom Of The Cross sit shoulder to shoulder with the full on metal assault of the title track (with a Hell like riff to open), a fine Saxon balls out ride, Destroyer which thunders along in classic style and the Hell inspired The Devil’s Footprint. The Hell influence is unsurprising given the presence of Dave Bower on additional vocals, Sneap’s production and their recent touring partnership.

If there is one word to summarise Saxon’s output in recent years then it would have to be consistent. However, what Battering Ram has in spades is all out heavy metal, a conscious shift made from the more rock ‘n’ roll influenced recent releases. Hard And Fast gallops along at break neck speed, Eye Of The Storm commands you to bang your head hard whilst Top Of The World contains possibly the ultimate Saxon opening riff before motoring into an Iron Maiden paced attack. Whilst the performance of the entire band is brilliant, once again the quality of Biff’s majestic voice, balanced and still able to hit the higher notes, is outstanding. This is about as good an album as you can get, and I look forward to breaking the speed limit (only by a mph or two you understand) over the next few weeks; Battering Ram is destined to take up residence in the car CD player. Even the closing track, the humorous drinking song Three Sheets To The Wind (the natural successor to Standing In A Queue?) gets the head nodding. All hail Saxon. Long may they reign! 9/10

Tank: Valley Of Tears (Metal Mind)

Around the same time that Saxon and fellow NWOBHM stalwarts Iron Maiden eased into the good times of the early 1980s, another band from that cohort released their debut, the aptly titled Filth Hounds Of Hades. Tank, like the majority of the NWOBHM bands never really reached greater heights and faded from sight. Filth Hounds Of Hades was actually a really good, gritty punk influenced metal album, similar in vein to Motorhead and with a comparable trio led by bassist and vocalist Algy Ward (formerly of The Damned). Ward reformed Tank in the late 1990s although the line-up continued to change with numerous members joining and leaving. In 2008 a new line-up with guitarists Mick Tucker and Cliff Evans who had been part of one of the earliest line-ups putting together a five piece outfit. Valley Of Tears is the first album from the band for many years and it is a pretty good slab of heavy metal. Aside from Evans and Tucker, it features the vocals of ZP Theart (ex-Dragonforce and current I Am I front man), Barend Courbois on bass and Bobby Schottkowski on drums.

Unsurprisingly the music style is much closer the power metal genre and is about as far away from the aggressive raw debut album released way back in 1982. Now, I'm no fan of Mr Theart, who I always considered a bit of a bell end but his vocal performance on this album is nothing short of stunning. He has always had a strong set of pipes and Valley Of Tears really does showcase his prowess. A very powerful rhythm section combined with some really powerful guitar work from Evans and Tucker and some excellent tracks make this a very listenable album. Opener War Dance allows Theart to really open up; there is heads down heavy metal with gritty riffage (Hold On and Heading For Eternity) and a more bluesy feel during Living A Fantasy. The final two tracks on the album, World On Fire and Hold Your Fire are both no-nonsense power metal assaults, with the former powering along at 100mph whilst the latter, a balls out instrumental brings proceedings to an end with some quality guitar work (ala Steve Vai). Although this is highly unlikely to set the metal world alight or progress this version of Tank (for Algy Ward is still promoting his own vehicle) to greater things, it is a demonstration of the dedication that so many musicians have for their art. And for that, I for one salute Valley Of Tears. 7/10

My Dying Bride: Feel The Misery (Peaceville)

Bradford’s death/doom merchants My Dying Bride return with their 12th long player, Feel The Misery and yes, you sure do. As one of the Peaceville Three (completed by Paradise Lost and Anathema), MDB were at the forefront of the doom movement in the UK. Feel the Misery maintains the despair which the band delivered on 2012’s A Map Of All Our Failures. And My Father Left Forever is a morbid tale, complete with the melancholic vocals of Aaron Stainthorpe and the devastatingly heavy guitar work of Andrew Craighan, both original members of the band who formed in 1990. Thunderous drumming, damning bass riffs and haunting violin and keyboards (courtesy of Shaun MacGowan) litter this release. Death growls remain a feature of the band, with Stainthorpe comfortably shifting from clean to the more gruesome style on To Shiver In Empty Halls. Even with the heating on this chills you to the bone. MDB have stuck firmly to their classic sound and whilst their counterparts have changed sound and style through the years, consistency remains the watchword here. Clocking in at 62 minutes for eight tracks, Feel The Misery provides total value for money. A mausoleum of deathly compositions, Feel The Misery isn't one to put on during a sunny afternoon in the park. In fact, as I've already hinted, it is bloody depressing but yet, somehow remains enchanting. The quality of the musicianship is excellent and Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw combine light and shade in their guitar work. Lena Abe’s brutal bass work underpins the powerful driving riffs which one has come to expect. The title track is an impressive example, combining all of the key elements that make MDB such an interesting outfit. MDB are really not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like a bit of doomy misery, this album may just make you feel a little better. 8/10

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Reviews: The Winery Dogs, Tesseract, Gloryhammer

The Winery Dogs: Hot Streak (earMusic)

With ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy now settled on two 'main' bands one being the more progressive Flying Colours and the other being this hard rock trio The Winery Dogs, it means that both bands now have two albums under their belt with The Winery Dogs newest being Hot Streak. This is pure power trio territory with three virtuoso musicians challenging other bands to be as technically proficient and catchy as they are. The band as you probably know features guitarist/vocalist Ritchie Kotzen, bassist Billy Sheenan and the aforementioned Portnoy and as such the playing is without comparison Oblivion has Sheenan doing his trademark 'lead base' thing keeping up note for not with Kotzen's guitar giving the track the feeling of Sheenan's other band Mr Big. For all the virtuosity, which is a given, The Winery Dogs focus on song writing above all else, they are drawing from all elements of hard rock from the AC/DC-like swagger of Captain Love that moves into a Bad Company-vibe at it's climax, through the percussive title track, into the bluesy, euphoric Empire and beyond. All their songs are delivered with real skill and talent, the star of the show is Kotzen who is still possibly the 'least' famous (despite being in Poison and having a long standing solo career) but my god can he play, Empire shows his fleet fingered guitar playing at it's most thrilling.

Vocally too he is superb part Glenn Hughes, Part Chris Cornell his gritty but sharp voice adds a warmth to the ballads like the beautiful Fire which sounds like it could have come off Cornell's most recent album Higher Truth but also delivers fury on the rockers such as Devil You Know and Think It's Over which has a nod to Stevie Wonder with Kotzen handling the Hammond organs and guitar on the soulful track. Whereas Kotzen takes the lead, in full rock star mode his fellow band members are still great although Portnoy has an understated role, in comparison to his previous works, but still plays like thunder from the outset working in tandem with Sheenan efficiently on the funky The Bridge which is led by the rollicking baseline and some deft soloing from Kotzen. The Winery Dogs struck gold on their first album doing the late 80's hard rock thing as good if not better than some of the originals of that time while updating it for a modern audience. Well on Hot Streak they have done it yet again with 13 tracks of hard rock gold, no wheel reinvention but a strong collection of hard rock. 8/10     

Tesseract: Polaris (Kscope)

Tesseract are now 3 albums and 2 EP's into their career and they have had three different vocalists, in that period, since their last album Ashe O'Hara left the group and they have once again recruited original vocalist Dan Tompkins, who left to concentrate on Skyharbour, but who has come back to apply his excellent vocals to the bands cleaner more melodic approach that has always been present separating them from the rest of the djent pack, however this was much more pronounced on their previous album where they sculpted more luscious soundscapes over the thumping down tuned rhythm section. As I've said this continues on Polaris especially on second track Hexes which is very bass heavy as Amos Williams does his thing, Polaris does seem to be the album Tesseract have been working towards, it doesn't do anything radically different but what it does do is tighten and enhance everything that has come previously with huge swathes of melody on tracks like the heart rendering Phoenix which is Tompkins' masterpiece showing off his impressive vocals brilliantly, it's tracks like this that shows why Tompkins is really the only vocalist for Tesseract as they seem more at home than they ever have been. In addition to this they still have the massive technical riffs underpinned by an airy clean guitar on Messenger but also the same kind of ambient space rock that Anathema have as their stock on trade on songs such as the propulsive, building Tourniquet. I've said they sound more whole than they ever have letting their creative juices flow a little on the electronic backed jazz-style playing of Cages that once again moves into the soaring anthem Seven Names that ends the album by tying everything the band do well together in one song. The band have always been near the top in their genre but they have been plagued by line up changes meaning that they have had a bit of trouble defining their sound properly. Thankfully with everything now seemingly stable the band can build on this excellently delivered, played and produced album that may lead to them releasing their first album to have the same vocalist on two consecutive records. 8/10      

Gloryhammer: Space 1992: Rise Of The Chaos Wizards (Napalm Records)

The second project of Alestorm keyboardist/frontman Christopher Bowes is back for another album of Scottish themed fantasy metal. Unlike his day job Gloryhammer is a more symphonic affair dealing with the ongoing concept of Angus McFife, Crown Prince of Dundee, Heir to the Kingdom of Fife (played by vocalist Thomas Winkler). The band members take up all the roles of the characters, the first album told the tale of McFife's battle against the Dark Sorcerer of Auchtermuchty called Zargothrax (Christopher Bowes), with help from Ser Proletius, Grand Master of the Templar Knights of Crail (guitarist Paul Templing), the Hootsman: Barbarian Warrior of Unst (bassist James Cartwright) and Ralathor, the Mysterious Hermit of Cowdenbeath (drummer Ben Turk). Now on this second album all the characters return travelling forward to an alternative year of 1992 when the titular chaos wizard returns to once again destroy the Kingdom of Dundee. So yes this is all a bit nuts to think about at the beginning of the album but putting the concept to the side the album is full of some cracking power metal songs but with a bigger more cinematic feel than the previous record, Bowes ramps up the symphonic elements throughout fusing the Hammerfall sound of the debut with synth filled force of Sonata Arctica or Stratovarius, as featured on Questlords Of Inverness and the pounding EDM of Universe On Fire. This slight change in sound maybe because of the more modern and futuristic setting of the album, with nods to Californian metal on the The Hollywood Hootsman and once again a great epic track to end that sets up for the final battle on the third album. Gloryhammer. Yet another trip into the power metal world of Gloryhammer and once again it will have it's detractors, but they can snub if they want to, this is a glorious, silly and great album. 8/10

Sunday 11 October 2015

Reviews: Trivium, Metal Allegiance, Parkway Drive

Trivium: Silence In The Snow (Roadrunner) [Review By Paul]

As the classical and very atmospheric intro Snofall starts, an air of anticipation grips you. The opening riffs of the title track kick in and your head starts to bang in time to the chugging beat that pours out. Clean vocals, harmonies and melody powered by new boy Matt Madiro's double bass drumming. It’s good stuff, catchy well-paced heavy metal. Yep, it’s one of the bands that cause a real division in opinion, Florida outfit Trivium. The band that had the audacity to blast into the metal scene over ten years ago with Ascendency and a memorable Download debut which had the metal media wetting their knickers. The band that have been caught between a rock and a hard place in styles, moving from thrash almost death elements to classic rock to technical to just good heavy metal. I've got to be honest, I've seen Trivium many times and they've been excellent for the most part, ignoring one gig at Cardiff University where I walked out as they savaged Sepultura and put in a lousy performance. Even at BOA, in front of hardly their most comfortable crowd they delivered. So musing about the history of the band aside, how is their sixth album? Well, after the title track, Blind Leading The Blind is a decent tune with plenty of meat to it. Unfortunately Dead And Gone is a horrible track; I'm not sure where Matt and co. were going with this but it doesn't work.

The Ghost That’s Haunting You is reasonable but doesn't contain much to retain your attention although it’s got a decent chorus and hook, and what it does allow is Matt Heafy to demonstrate that he has got a very good voice for this type of music. Musically, Trivium have long been solid and very competent. The heads down approach of Pull Me From The Void is welcomed, but the track becomes a little similar to several others on the album, with little to distinguish between them. This changes with Until The World Goes Cold, which is almost old school Trivium, if there is such a thing. Refreshingly different from most of the other tracks, slower in pace and utilising dual guitar layers alongside a gutsy riff, this is a very good song. And I suppose that is what is difficult about this album. Much of it is just the same. Rise Above the Tides sounds just like Pull Me From The Void. There is nothing wrong with this album. It is well composed, reasonably produced and the guitar work of Corey Beaulieu and Heafy constantly high quality. But I've listened to it about seven times and it is just bouncing off me. Nothing about it is grabbing my attention after that opening track which I absolutely love. I've heard many worse albums over the years but the word that keeps popping into my head here is bland. Caught at a crossroads, it would appear that Trivium have struggled to choose a road and as a result have stalled. 6/10

Metal Allegiance: Metal Allegiance (Nuclear Blast) [Review By Paul]

I'm not a huge fan of collaborations. It usually equals pretty turgid results and frequently makes massive egos appear just a bit more pleased with themselves. The recent collaborative tribute to RJD, whilst perfectly well meaning was for me, case in point. However, Metal Allegiance, whilst containing some of the most vital members of the current metal world, more importantly actually contains some really storming music. Who are the constants? Well, Alex Skolnick of Testament, David Ellefson (Megadeth), Mark Menghi and of course, Mr Drummer for Hire Mike Portnoy feature throughout and these guys have been the drivers behind the whole project. So, with your musicians pretty much top class, the focus is on the quality of the vocalists who add their pipes as well as their own influence on the tunes. Opener Gift Of Pain features LOG frontman Randy Blythe and Exodus/Slayer guitar god Gary Holt; it’s brutal; it’s tub thumping and snarling LOG style track. Blythe also contributes screams to Let Darkness Fall, which has Mastodon’s Troy Sanders provide his distinctive lyrical style. Dying Song allows Phil Anselmo to deliver in his inimitable style, this could be Down with slightly less sludge and more metal. It’s pretty damn good. Chuck Billy provides the oral assault on Can’t Kill The Devil; vicious slicing guitars (the addition of Sep's Andreas Kisser helping out) and a thunderous all out thrasher. What else would you get with Chuck at the front? Yeah, it’s pretty much Testament and that is alright with me.

The most intriguing track on the album for me is Scars, which features the classic aggression of Death Angel’s Mark Osegueda duet with the dulcet tones of Lacuna Coil’s Christina Scabbia. Both hold their own, with Scabbia's ballsy delivery complimenting the Bay Area Thrasher's more direct style. Some superb guitar work from Skolnick (possible the most underrated guitar hero around today) on this track. Matt Heafy pops up on vocals and guitar on Destination Nowhere (possibly should have been the name of his new album?) [Now Now -Ed] which has classic Ellefson bass lines running all over the place whilst the riffage increases exponentially. Some decent harmonies on this track; in fact it’s better than several tracks on Snowfall. And so it progresses, with further guest appearances from Hatebreed’s Jamie Jasta, Rex Brown, Bumblefoot and the unusual sound of a four pronged guitar attack from Skolnick, Holt, Kisser and Anthrax skinsman Charlie Benante (who did all the guitar work on Stomp 442) on the anthemic Pledge Of Allegiance. This track is another Exodus/Death Angel thrash assault and perfect for Osegueda to return with his rapid fire vocal delivery. There are hooks and riffs dripping from everywhere on this bad boy. However, for every silver lining there is a cloud and it comes on the final track, an all-out cover of Dio’s We Rock which is just a bit too smug and has a back slappy “aren't we great kind” of feel. Plus it has Chris Jericho on it. Yeah, that sucks. Even some killer shredding from Phil Demmel doesn't save it. It’s a pretty good album which contains some pretty heavy thrash metal. Well worth a listen. 8/10

Parkway Drive: Ire (Epitaph)

Since their breakthrough record Deep Blue in 2010 Australian metalcore merchants have been near the top of the pile of their genre since, they have always prided themselves on writing thought provoking lyrics and teaming that up with intense riffs and brutal breakdowns, this has always set them apart from their peers in the metalcore scene. Since Deep Blue the band have improved on every album adding more dynamics to their songs and expanding their sound, all of which has culminated in Ire their fifth release which steps things up again moving them away from their metalcore roots and into the bracket of bands like Lamb Of God and Devildriver by building on the metalcore base and adding more melodic flourishes. This album kicks off with sweeping guitar harmonics of Destroyer which beautifully fuses the more traditional heavy metal guitars with thundering rhythm section that Parkway Drive have always had as their stock-in-trade. This traditional heavy metal style is retained on Vice Grip which echoes Trivium and even Metallica with it's massive hook-laden chant along cry of "Rise" and some cracking guitar work from Luke Kilpatrick and lead guitarist Jeffrey Ling who peppers this album with sublime solos.

 As this album progresses you can feel the metalcore shackles coming off with every song, they have widened their scope massively, Crushed is one track that differs from their early days with some sauntering riffs and even some rap-like verses from frontman Winston McCall who is on fine form throughout snarling, roaring and growling with passion and power delivering every line with venom, his political rallying at it's most effective on Fractures which has nods to their metalcore roots as it creates thoughts of Killswitch Engage with the huge backing vocals and mid-paced delivery that is to the tracks benefit. Fractures gives way to the bang-clap intro of Writings On The Wall which is an orchestral and percussion propelled number that builds from its beginning to the head nodding final part that imitates both FFDP and Shinedown in one song (an impressive feat indeed), Writings... neatly splits the album providing an end to side one, showing that every aspect of this record has been thought about in detail. From the writing and performing to the production and sequencing, the album has the required ups and downs to keep the attention bolstered by the perfect production from George Hadji-Christou.

Equal parts catchy and brutal Parkway Drive have indeed shrugged off most earlier style and moved into the more accessible category allowing their songs to breathe and their song writing to improve tenfold, Vicious merges LOG with some Maidenesque melodies as the chiming guitars drive the song along, we get a brief beatdown on Dedicated but this is washed away immediately by the expansive closing piece A Deathless Song which is a striding, brilliant track punctuated by some classical guitars and a massive riff and ends the album beautifully as it signals that this new traditional influenced sound is here to stay, hinting towards more of it in place on the next album. On Deep Blue Parkway Drive started to get noticed by the wider spectrum of metal fans but on Ire they have stepped up their game and transformed into something all the more exquisite. If you want to hear a band at the peak of their powers look no further that Ire. 9/10

Reviews: Molllust, Acrania, Pokerface

Molllust: In Deep Waters (Self Released)

Molllust (yes the three l's are deliberate) style themselves as Opera Metal and they are most definitely that, with eight different members all contributing the band combine the compelling musical emotion of classical/operatic music with the forceful intensity of heavy metal. I would compare this record similarly to those of Trans Siberian Orchestra, Therion, Diablo Swing Orchestra and Mike Batt's forgotten but excellent project The Planets (which similarly had classical instrumentation with fused with electric instruments). In Deep Waters starts off with it's opening overture, as all great operas do, which highlights the classical instruments more so than the electric ones, Janika Groß's pianos are used to great effect with the violins of Sandrine B. and Luisa B, weaving well with Lisa H's cello and everything being underpinned by Frank Schumacher's buzzing electric guitars. This overture moves straight into the first track Unschuld which has a heavy metal base layer of Schumacher's guitar Clemens Frank's drums, Simon Johanning's bass and Carsten Hundt's drumming. For a song ion German you still can understand whats going on due to the atmosphere it creates before it moves on into Evenfall which is a track that could be featured on a Nightwish or Epica album due to Groß's soaring soprano vocals as Schumacher counteracts with his tenor. The band are all sterling musically you can tell they are all intensely dedicated to the instruments and they use them to craft this impressive album that is a fusion of the classical tradition and metal flourishes, from the doom of Paradise Perdu and Voices Of The Dead, through the emotive Paradise On Earth, the rocking Spring and the operatic Number In A Cage. This album features some great songs (15 of them in fact) and it is well played and produced but it is a bit of a slog if you don't 'get' it but for those that love classical metal fusion then Molllust will take you on a journey you will greatly enjoy. 7/10 

Acrania: Fearless (Self Released)

So there are very few times as a reviewer that you come across something totally unique, well Fearless and indeed the band that made it, Mexico's Acrania are unique. The band seamlessly fuse death metal with both progressive and Latin jazz influences. This means that as well as the guttural vocals Luis F. Oropeza R. you also get the death metal-styled super fast riffage and blistering solos from him and César Cortés. However you also get the jazz tone infected bass and drums of Alberto Morales and J.C. Chávez and the furious Latin percussion of Ignacio Gómez Ceja who bongos' like Tito Puente throughout keeping up with Chávez on tracks like Poverty Is In The Soul which has a drum fuelled middle section and a bit of Maiden at the end, as well as Man's Search For Meaning which starts off with throbbing drums and explodes into some parping brass. This all seems reasonably normal yes? Just a bit of Latin music thrown into the mix, making the band have the same percussive drive as Soulfly? Well yes other bands have attempted this and it can be seen as common place, although the real craziness comes when Cortés adds saxophone and Oropeza R. starts blowing on a trumpet and the band take their songs through faster and slower parts getting proggier on every track. From around I Was Never Dead things get more technical and wide ranging culminating in the En El Puerto which has Spanish guitars and leads into the truly insane Hypocritical Conflict. This album is madness but brilliant part Mars Volta, part Soulfly, part Cynic, with heaviness, melodies and fusion galore, if you like things a bit different then checkout Acrania. 8/10

Pokerface: Divide And Rule (Molot Records)

Russia has burgeoning metal scene producing some quality bands of all kinds of genres from black, through death and into rock and straight up metal. Pokerface have taken up the thrash metal gauntlet and it has led them into supporting Sodom, Sister Sin and Sepultura on their Russia and Belarus tours. With some high profile support under their belt you'd expect some good things from the band and you would be right, as All Is Lie kicks in after it's harmonic intro we are straight into the blastbeat heaven of Doctor (the band perform under pseudonyms) with furious riffs coming thick and fast from Nick and Maniac under pinned by Free Ride's bass that is actually quite high in the D.I.Y mix which benefits the band on the groovier tracks like Kingdom Of Hate. Yes this is an album that is pure thrash with songs that blitzkrieg along at a rapid pace, see Existence but they are not just about the speed and no style, in fact quite the opposite they no when to slow down and flesh out the songs, with some drama before speeding back up and unleashing hell, commanded by frontwoman Delirium's deathy vocals, the girl can scream with the best of them roaring and growling with a bratty clean delivery that is sparsely used but overshadowed by the aggressive roars. This is a great debut from the Russian five-piece who show that they know their thrash and play it with tenacity. 7/10     

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Reviews: Denner/Shermann, Between Waves, Black Forge, Freeway Mad

Denner/Shermann: Satan's Tomb (Metal Blade)

Any self-respecting metal fan should know the name of Michael Denner and Hank Shermann, they are the original guitarists of Mercyful Fate and as such you can kind of guess what this EP is going to sound like, this is furious dual axe wielding occult metal with songs of Satan, the occult and evil in all it's forms. Yes this album sounds an awful lot like Mercyful Fate but that's the point, luckily they have brought some great guests players to help out with their insane levels of guitars skill; Snowy Shaw (who's played for everyone) handles the drums and Marc Grabowski rumbles the four strings, the star however (other than the titular axe men) is Death Dealer's Sean Peck who's wide range can emulate the King himself with satanic growls and shrieking howls. From the title track right through to the parting shot of Seven Skulls these four tracks do everything you would expect from Denner and Shermann and it takes you older rockers back to the days of Don't Break The Oath and that can only be a good thing. 7/10 

Between Waves: Paper Chain (Self Released)

Bridgend's Between Waves' first EP is a real diamond of a release, they can be categorised as power/prog rock with alternative influences, in fact as the title track starts things off the band reminded me a lot of Deftones, Perfect Circle as well as The Gathering, Panic Room and Touchstone, mainly due to the vocals of Helen Page who has a distinctive powerful, expressive voice. Musically the band are intelligent and accomplished the rhythm section of Grant (Drums), Andrew (Bass), Richard (Guitar) drives things along with a thumping power that allows Lee's lead guitars to play the intricate melodies over the top. The 5 songs on this record are impassioned, down-tuned, deftly played and delivered, Revelation has a thundering bassline and drum part and is the albums heaviest and proggiest track by far, climaxing in the furious solo as Helen gives a performance that The Gathering's Anneke would be proud of. Deceiver is a grungy track that has AIC in places and Place To Fall is the definite first single as it is a weaving, striking track that has a real story to the lyrics but a radio friendly sheen to it that gets your head nodding. The final track Fathom is a swirling ballad with bratty lyrics and a loud-quiet dynamic that lends itself to the EP ender. This Bridgend five piece have crafted something very rare here an EP that leaves you in no doubt that their debut will be excellent. 9/10     

Black Forge: I Am The Dark (Self Released)

I Am The Dark has four tracks that betray this bands relative newness (they formed in 2012), the title track explodes out of the speakers with some sledgehammer riffage, huge drums and vocals that are totally Anselmo if he was from Frome, where this three piece hail from. I Am The Dark (the song) is the albums definite draw with shouted aggressive verses and a melodic chorus that mentions Dime's old favourite "Black Tooth Grin" and slows to an atmospheric middle led by Gavin Rodriguez's drums before the relentless riff of frontman Matt Walpole kicks in again turning into a riff off with bassist Chris Pilmore picking up the bottom end. With the great title track finished we get the more Mastodon flavoured Into The Blackness (the band have something about the night obviously) which once again is all about the riff and Walpole's scarred vocals. This is burly biker metal with adorned by beards and decked in tattoo's and these four songs show that not only do the band deliver in the live space but also on record because of this well produced, expertly played EP. Whereas I Am The Dark is a song with such a driving riff that it doesn't need a solo, Into The Blackness sees a few fireworks at the middle eight before My Ghosts brings yet more stoner metal to the table to finish the electric part of this track before they reprise the title track in an acoustic format that loses none of it's authority. The band that bill themselves as "Pure West Country Metal" have delivered a metric fucktonne of it on this EP. 8/10   

Freeway Mad: Dangerous EP (Self Released)

When your debut EP has a cover that features a sexy girl on a Jaguar at the end of a orange-hued street and it is called Dangerous the you will know what is in store. This is late 70's and early 80's hard rock that focusses on sex, sin and fast cars with nods to Montrose, Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake and more recently Jettblack. Throw It Away has a real swagger to it and gives George Twydell a chance to show off his serious soloing skill, which he obviously revels in on the  The title track has the tried and tested cowbell from Craig Carlaw while the bass funkiness from George Ives is the bedrock of Still Alive. Every song has huge riffs and solos and sees vocalist Tom Rampton delivering his parts with his best hard rock vocal I've heard for a while he can really sing with gusto. This is classic rock at it's finest from band who I hope will get bigger and brighter as the years pass. 7/10 

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Reviews: Clutch, Hollywood Vampires, W.A.S.P (Reviews By Paul)

Clutch: Psychic Warfare (Weathermaker)

It’s two and a half years since Clutch released the incredible Earth Rocker, without doubt their most well received release and one that finally made many people realise what some of us had known for many years, Clutch are brilliant. Psychic Warfare builds on Earth Rocker in many ways, with Neil Fallon’s lyrical genius showing no sign of slowing down, Tim Sult’s blues soaked riffs wandering all over the place and the groove laden rhythm section of Jean Paul Gaster's frantic drumming combining with Dan Maines crack laced bass lines. Back in 2013 Matt commented in his Earth Rocker summary that if you know the band then the review becomes irrelevant as the band have a unique sound. Psychic Warfare is no different but is an album of sheer quality. We are all acquainted with X-Ray Visions by now, a superb opener which races out of the traps like a greyhound, all stomp and groove. As usual the melody and hook are mightily infectious and you find yourself tapping along very quickly. This one will incite the pits when they inevitably open with it in November.

As usual with Clutch, they don’t fuck around with lengthy tracks; the overwhelming majority of songs come in around the three and a half minute mark. Firebirds! maintains the momentum, seguing neatly from X-Ray Visions. It contains all the hall marks of a classic Clutch track, Fallon’s vocals on top form. Although Clutch do driving hard rock magnificently, they never stray far from the blues influences which have always flooded their sound and this is illustrated in fine form on A Quick Death In Texas and Our Lady Of Electric Light complete with some quite beautiful guitar work from Tim Sult. Psychic Warfare retains some of the punk tinged hard-core edge of early Clutch, infused with the hard rock and stone metal sounds. Check out Sucker For The Witch and Your Love Is Incarceration and the full-out assault of Noble Savage. Album closer Son Of Virginia is the odd one out on the album, a six minute slow burner that smoulders and entices you to listen harder. With an edge reminiscent of The Regulator from 2004’s Blast Tyrant, Son Of Virginia is very cleverly composed and demands repeated listens. Another outstanding release from a band finally getting the recognition they deserve. 10/10

Hollywood Vampires: Hollywood Vampires (Republic)

In the 1970s the Hollywood Vampires was a legendary drinking club which comprised some of the biggest names in music at the time. President of the club was Alice Cooper whilst other members included such shrinking violets as Keith Moon, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Micky Dolenz, Berine Taupin and Harry Nilsson. Cooper has collaborated with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and actor Johnny Depp to create a super group who perform live with guest appearances from many of the rock world’s Gliterrati. Cooper has also put together the self-titled Hollywood Vampires in tribute to those who have long since departed.

The album features guest appearances from a host of rock legends including Paul McCartney, Robby Krieger (Doors guitarist), Dave Grohl, Slash, Brian Johnson, Perry Farrell and Zak Starkey. It consists mainly of 70s covers with a couple of new songs written by Copper and Depp. Opening with the last ever recorded work of the late Sir Christopher Lee who contributes a voice over on The Last Vampire, a passage from Dracula, the album starts with a new track, Raise The Dead which is a rabble rousing anthemic two and a bit minute typical Cooper rocker. This segues immediately into a montage of covers, starting with a pretty average My Generation. And I suppose this is my problem with this album. Yes, it’s a tribute and it is all very well played but it just smacks a little bit too much of just being all rather pleased with itself. I'm not a fan of cover versions at the best of times and some of the covers are of tracks I don’t particularly like; Itcychoo Park, for example I despise, whilst the inevitable School’s Out towards the end just leave me cold. Whole Lotta Love will no doubt get the average classic rock fan very excited but I'm afraid it just leaves me cold. Cooper has no doubt earnt the right to do whatever he wants and given the rubbish he churned out in his last solo release Welcome 2 My Nightmare 2, it might be small mercy that he’s focused on this instead. The other new composition, My Dead Drunk Friends is another typical Cooper composition with pretty limited lyrics saluting those who drank themselves to death. I'm afraid that this album does very little for me and whilst the musicianship is excellent throughout, I find Cooper’s constant retrospective a little tiresome at times. C'mon Alice, let it rest. The World has moved on. 5/10

W.A.S.P: Golgotha (Napalm Records)

Babylon, the last release from W.A.S.P in 2009 demonstrated that, as much of an arse as he undoubtedly is, Blackie Lawless could still write a metal tune. Six years on and the power is still there. Lawless’s voice remains powerful, with that gravel edged rasp still as strong as it was back in 1982 when his band first crashed onto the metal scene. Yes, the guy has erased part of his back catalogue, with some of the old tunes which made the band a shock to the system all those years ago now filed away for ever. Yes, he’s become a born again Christian (surprising how many metallers are bible bashers these days) but Golgotha contains some excellent hard rock tracks, accessible and catchy, with pounding drumming from the recently departed Mike Dupre, and some fine lead work via Doug Blair who has been with the band for nine years. Underpinning the whole thing is the rhythm work of Lawless and long serving bassist Mike Duda (20 years and counting). With a mere nine tracks, Golgotha surprisingly delivers value for money, six minutes shy of an hour’s worth of tunes.

Opener Scream is classic W.A.S.P, quickly getting the pulse racing as it charges along and the rest of the album is pretty similar in terms of what you expect. I'm unashamed when I say that I really enjoy a bit of W.A.S.P from time to time. It is hard rock/heavy metal reminiscent of the 1980s. Sure the lyrics aren't going to win any prizes for intricacy and some of the tracks on here are pretty tepid; the ballad Miss You for example is just dreadful, Eyes Of My Maker moves a little too close to the God squad for my liking and the tile track is just too “Dear Jesus” (Yes, I know what the title refers to) but there is sufficient on Golgotha to keep the fan base happy and let’s face it; at 60 years of age Blackie isn't looking for the big break now is he? Slaves Of The New World Order is another example of a typical W.A.S.P song, galloping along with a sound very similar to Iron Maiden and that is no bad thing. W.A.S.P are never going to appeal to a large section of the metal world; deemed irrelevant and in all honesty a bit of a joke despite the fact that they have soldiered on following their own ideas and really not giving a fuck. Golgotha is a decent heavy metal album and really worth a listen. 7/10

Monday 5 October 2015

Reviews: Once Human, Death Dealer, Sailing To Nowhere

Once Human: The Life I Remember (earOne)

Oof, this is the first word that comes to mind as you spin Once Human's debut album, the production is crystalline, the playing sublime and the band have a professionalism not always evident on a bands first album, it's only when you look at the bands biography that you see that this isn't one member's first rodeo so to speak. Once Human is the brainchild of one Logan Mader the man who made his name as the axe slinger for Machine Head in the early days of the bands inception but he has since shunned the limelight in favour of knob twiddling for FFDP, Gojira and many more, in a union forged by former Roadrunner head Monte Conner, Mader started to have creative ideas with up and coming multi instrumentalist Lauren Hart who moved to vocals rather than guitar as planned. The collaboration between these two has resulted in The Life I Remember which starts off with a stirring orchestral theme before the riff heavy Ground Zero hooks you with it's sheer outright brutality, this is Mader at his explosive best his flying V unleashing riff after snarling riff as his melodic and flaming hot leads are bolstered by Hart's rhythm playing, but also her brilliantly aggressive vocals that have a lot in common with LOG's Randy Blythe or Arch Enemy's Angela Gossrow, she screams, growls and barks inciting a riot with the savage lyrical content of this album that also has links to the MFH early days and indeed LOG at their most political.

Backing all of this is rhythmic noise of Ralph Alexander's blastbeats and snare drum explosions (Demoneyes) who along with Damien Rainaund's pummelling bass riffs give this album it's stomach flipping bottom end that lets Mader add guitar flourishes to lighten the songs barbarity. The album kicks off with 5 thunderous tracks that sees them going hell for leather and Hart shredding her throat, but on Devil Can Have You she shows that she can also sing just as well cleanly on the songs slower passages, this is blown away by the more industrial elements on Time Of The Disease which is an atmospheric piece with a start-stop riff, an orchestral/choral break before we get a black metal influenced second part that really shows off Alexander's drumming, in fact the second half of this album is where things get interesting, we know Mader can do modern thrash metal but he stretches himself on the latter bit of the album, I Am War is an introduction that builds on the industrial part and then we get the almost djent influenced title track that is bookended by the outro Siren before the album ends with the climactic Growing Colder. As I've said this is a debut in name only Logan Mader has been around long enough to create an album of this high quality, he can still shred like a demon and his chest beating song craft remains undiminished, if you've followed Mader's career thus far you need this album. 8/10         

Death Dealer: Hallowed Ground (SMG)

They're back folks, three years after their storming debut War Master the American (by way of Australia) power metal masters come back to once again reclaim heavy metal as their own. This is American Power Metal at it's sword wielding mightiest the shrieking vocals, the super speed riffs, the machine gun drumming and songs of war and power, the band have their influences in Judas Priest and Manowar and these shine through from the opening bars of Gunslinger. Once again Sean Peck's vocals are stratospheric he can really destroy those highs shattering glass with his voice that would make Eric Adams quake (see U-666) as the twin axe attack of Stu Marshall and Ross The Boss continue to just bring riff after beautiful riff with both men showing the kind of playing that has seen Marshall be very in demand in the metal world and Ross The Boss being THE Manowar guitarist no matter what Karl Logan may think. They link well on the true metal licks and trade solos like the veterans they are, however no band can function without a solid engine room and Death Dealer have one of those too with Steve Bolognese's drumming and Mike Davis' bass adding the guts to songs like Break The Silence and the speed to Plan Of Attack (which is a song about Iron Man).

There hasn't been any major deviation in the bands sound since War Master this is traditional heavy metal played by five men that have immersed themselves in for years (hell one even helped create it). This lack of evolution is negated by songs such as Way Of The Gun which is the perfect example of this pure metal sound, with it's strutting riff, triumphant guitar solo and even a drum solo, it encapsulates traditional metal excellently. In fact this whole album is a testament to the shirtless wild metal of America's 1980's heyday that drew from the NWOBHM, added a dash of thrash and then proceeded to take a war axe to the whole thing. With tracks like the rumbling Total Devestation, the thrashy K.I.L.L, ode to metal The Anthem and Running Wild-like Skull And Crossbones are all part of this albums classic appeal. At thirteen tracks the record will mean you have to catch your breath at the end but if you love throwing your fist in the air and banging your head liberally then Hallowed Ground will do for you what War Master did three years ago and what Sign Of The Hammer did 30 years earlier. Glorious true metal! 8/10   

Sailing To Nowhere: To The Unknown (Bakerteam)

Italian band Sailing To Nowhere are a bit of unique offering as they mix heavy metal and hard rock much like Tobias Sammet does in both Edguy and Avantasia. Comprised of a drummer, bassist, keyboardist, guitarist and two singers (one male one female) the band play progressively tinged metal that is filled with melodic keyboard passages and chunky rock riffs opening gambit No Dreams In My Night has everything you would want from band like this. The dual vocals work well on the melodic tracks like Big Fire (which has a pop element) and the two soul stirring ballads Lovers On Planet Earth and Strange Dimension, which sees both vocalists having an impassioned delivery similar to that of countrymen Lacuna Coil, albeit with a more power metal backing so think Hansi Kursh singing with Elize Ryd and you would be on the right lines. Every track has booming drums, shredding guitars and the keys adding the classical symphonic layer that Blind Guardian pride themselves on, this is at it's most obvious on You Won't Dare, which is blast beat friendly and features some orchestral flourishes throughout. This is an album that will appeal to lovers of strong metal with a metal edge, they also do a hard rocking cover of Anastasia's Left Outside Alone which ends the album in the same manner that it started. Great debut from the Italians!! 7/10