Absolva: Never A Good Day To Die (Rocksector)
Since their debut there has always been something a bit special about Absolva, they seamlessly blend the traditional sounds of classic British metal with the more American and indeed modern sounds of thrash, which is always bolstered by their albums crystalline production. For the band that used to be Fury UK, Absolva was always a much heavier, faster more aggressive prospect. Having started as four piece they have more recently turned into the power trio format led by vocalist/lead guitarist Chris Appleton, drummer Martin McNee and bassist Dan Bate. However since their last record their line up has changed yet again with a new and a familiar face joining the ranks, the new is bassist Karl Schramm who replaced Bate last year, but the most intriguing addition is Chris' brother Luke once again taking up the rhythm guitar like he did in Fury UK, Luke is probably more well known as the most recent four stringer for American metal legends Iced Earth, but since that band is currently on hiatus (and has the biggest revolving line up on earth) Luke is the prodical son (or indeed brother) returned.
You can hear the difference he makes adding a crunch to the riffs meaning Chris can express himself with the leads a little more, it also means that they can do the old twin-axe attack or Maiden, Priest and Accept, in fact all three of these bands influence permeate the sound of Absolva. From the off they play fast and hard riffing like mad, from the slow burn intro of Disguise business picks up and the pace rarely drops. As with their previous releases once again the band fuse their metallic playing with huge choruses sung by Chris Appleton with the most unique voice this side of Udo Dirkschneider, speaking of Udo No One Escapes has the chug of his former band Accept (you can see the perfectly symmetrical guitar swings from here), while The Light is Maiden-like with it's bass lead assault. The album slows with the monstrous ballad How Black Is My Heart? which like all of the songs on this record has a some amazing guitar soloing and picks up in the middle to gallop along at pace before fading out at the end as an awesome centre piece its just one example of an album full to the brim with cracking songs, with No Tomorrow and closer All Alone being some of my personal favourites. Never A Good Day To Die continues Absolva's run of excellent albums! 9/10
Mercutio: Back To Nowhere (Diverge Records)
I first saw Mercutio at Camden Rocks festival earlier this year and their fusion of alternative and progressive ambient rock music really caught my attention at 11 am. Originally from Italy the band now reside in London and have been playing gigs throughout the capital for a while, so when I finally got my hands on their debut album I was keen to see what they sound like with all the expressionism the studio gives you. Happily the band's sound is a lot more well rounded on the album than live (although they had triggers and synths from a laptop on stage so not much of their sound was lost). Everything is just a bit more polished on the record but with the kind of music Mercutio play it's all the better for it. Fusing alternative rock with electronic backing puts you in mind of Deftones,a darker sounding Muse and Porcupine Tree at their most accessible (in fact the latter's Colin Edwin plays bass on the rap-like In Front Of You), much of this is due in part to Mirko Petrini's rich crooning baritone that has similarities to Anathema's Vince Cavanagh and Nick Cave. The electronic darkness of Shed Your Skin brings to mind the industrial thump of Nine Inch Nails, while the title track is propelled by the fuzzy bass of Emanuele Nazzaro. The band are excellent players their years of experience really showing on every track from the sparse emotive A Part Of Me that builds on it's acoustic Radiohead-like beginning into a euphoric final part and back again with ease, through the rockier phases like Anytime and Fake which have some superb fluid guitar playing from Fabio Staffieri who adds the technical melodic flourishes on top of the thudding bass rhythm of Nazzaro, with some more introspective efforts on the beautiful No Compromise. It's the breadth of this album that lends itself to ear of the listener with the more traditional themes of the grungy The Ghost That Is You at odds with the dreamy Mother and more contrasts that take place as the album progresses. Back To Nowhere is a band honing their talent to create music without boundaries and for the most part they are very successful one to keep an eye on. 8/10
Major Instinct: Roots & Wings (AOR Heaven)
For 20 years a Swedish band called M.Ill.Ion have provided powerful classic hard rock, however as of this year the band has taken a break meaning that the members are able to indulge in other projects, M.Ill.Ion main man bassist B. J Laneby set about producing more high quality hard rock getting some high quality musicians to help him out. From the cowbell toting title track you get an idea of what you are going to get this is swaggering hard rock with Laneby's bass and his M.Ill.Ion cohort Johan Hall's drumming driving tracks like the rampaging 316 as Magnus Mild and Gabriel Glamheden weave and duel on guitar on keys respectively, with nods to Rainbow, Purple, Whitesnake etc I don't need to say much more, this is hard rocking power adding some AOR elements to the M.Ill.Ion framework, see the saccharine ballad Eyes From Above which is actually very good and is followed by the joyous uplifting Don't Come To Me. With the musicians all firing on six cylinders it is frontman Stefano Marchesini is a real find with his hearty Coverdale meets Graham Bonnet style vocals that are bawdy on I Need A Drink, heroic on the crunchy Kicked To The Ground which features killer organ solo and defiant on Follow The Trends. Where as M.Ill.Ion relied on the harder rock edge Major Instinct have the 70's style honey hued, organ drenched rock, with the album concluding with the Gothic organ fuelled Mother Of All. Roots & Wings is great album from a 'new' band building on their years of experience to play quality hard rock. 8/10