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Wednesday 30 March 2016

Reviews: Joe Bonamassa, Almanac, The Golden Grass

Joe Bonamassa: Blues Of Desperation (Provouge)

The master of modern blues returns with his twelfth studio album, Joey Bones has managed to create twelve albums that are all a little different, while staying true to both the spirit of blues and rocks, what Heston Blumenthal does with food Bonamassa does with the blues, he coaxes it, teases it, shifts and rewires it to his own ends making all of his records have the same seam running through them but with variations every time. Blues Of Desperation comes two years after 2014's Different Shades Of Blue and unlike it's predecessor which was a paean to the old big band blues sound backed by horns throughout and full of dance ready rhythms. After seeing Joe live last year I was of the opinion that he needed to add a bit more of the hard rock grit he showed on his earlier, breakthrough records, thankfully if you love Joe when he's channelling Jimmy Page then Blues Of Desperation will be right up your street the opening duo sets the tone perfectly with This Train building on it's shuffling drumbeat, bridged with some boogie woogie piano from Reese Wynans it's a propulsive opening getting you into the groove for Mountain Climbing harking back to Zep-like riffage of John Henry which saunters before erupting into a superb chorus where Joe's rich voice is aided by his trio of backing vocalists led by Mahalia Barnes and exploding into a fret melting solo in the middle eight.

Yet again this is an album of Bonamassa originals and they stand up toe-to-toe with the covers Bonamassa has been known for. The slinky, soulful Drive has a layered acoustic approach with a smoky electric guitar cutting through when it's needed and paves the way for No Good Place For The Lonely which is modern day blues standard that could have been Clapton or Beck all over it with Jeff Bova's string arrangements all over it pushing the emotional factor to it's limit, the shadow of the blues hangs low too on You Left Me Nothin' But The Bill And The Blues. In change of style the title track has Middle Eastern flavour driven by Michael Rhodes bass and some echoed phasing on Bonamassa's voice, the track has an air of Kashmir about it and that is no bad thing. What is clear on this record as well as his previous records is the influence of Kevin Shirley in terms of both the production and indeed the inspiration on Bonamassa himself, Shirley and Bonamassa have also assembled another all-star cast with the aforementioned Rhodes, Wynans, Bova along with Anton Fig and Greg Morrow sharing drum duties.

With yet more railfandom (real word look it up) on the percussive Distant Lonesome Train and a searing guitar showcase on How Deep This River Runs Bonamassa still oozes quality on every song, especially with the rockier tracks on this record. However it's not all heaviness though the old brass section from the last album returns on the jazzy Livin' Easy which showcases the sax brilliantly and the spirit of New Orleans is for all to see on the album closer What I've Known For A Long Time which I'd guess is about a past relationship and is dealt with like a true bluesman with an aching heart and a nod to redemption. Blues Of Desperation is a great piece of work that once again shows Bonamassa's pure talent, he will never really release a bad album, but happily this brings the rock back in spades and is all the better for it. 8/10

Almanac: Tsar (Nuclear Blast)

Victor Smolski is no stranger to the metal world he was a member (and one of the primary songwriters) of German metal legends Rage from 1999 until last year, when Rage founder Peavy Wagner split the band and decided to replace the band with younger musicians. Since leaving Rage Smolski has concentrated on creating this album that obviously has elements of Rage but for the most part is more akin to Rage off shoot Lingua Mortis Orchestra as it is symphonic/neo-classical metal performance album with multiple vocalists and hand picked metal musicians playing alongside the Orquestra Barcelona Filharmonia to give this conceptual piece, based on the life of Ivan IV Vasilyevitch the first Tsar of Russia, a cinematic experience, at it's most grandiose on Self Blinded Eyes which has a massive backing choir in it's huge chorus.

Smolski naturally plays all the guitars on this record and my god can he play, his virtuoso solos and riffs are the main hook for all the songs he shreds like a demon and his fleet fingers rip up the fretboard, you just need to bear witness to the middle section of Hands Are Tied to see his supreme guitar skill. Backing him is the machine gun percussion from Michael Kolar who plays like hell from the opening title track driving the songs at a mighty pace, Armin Alic provides some booming bass keeping the tempo and directing the rhythm, add to this the stylish melodic keys of Enric Garcia and Smolski's backing band play in beautiful unison with the orchestra meaning that the scope of these songs is wider than on many albums of the same type. In my opinion no band are complete without it's vocalist and Almanac has three top quality singers at its disposal one is Jeannette Marchewka who was part of the LMO album as it's singer, she contributes lead and backing vocals to most of the tracks but they are most noticeable on Reign Of Madness.

She is aided by her two male counterparts Andy B. Franck from Brainstorm and David Readman Voodoo Circle/Pink Cream 69 who takes the lion's share of vocals. The three vocalists work in unison together giving this album a unique edge in the vocal section, Franck's grittier delivery is the great counterpoint to the incredible vocals of Readman (a man who I rate very highly) especially on the heavier tracks like Nevermore where Franck even adds some growls. This is some top quality symphonic metal based around superior musicianship and performances, if I had one gripe it would be that I would love to hear more of Jeannette Marchewka taking the lead vocals rather than just adding depth in the choruses, maybe this can be rectified on future releases but for now Tsar is a great opening gambit that picks up from where LMO left off and I hope to hear more from Smolski and this project sooner rather than later. 8/10       

The Golden Grass: Coming Back Again (Listenable)

Professor Plum Brandy, The Golden Goose and The Fireball make-up New York rockers The Golden Grass and as the band members names probably suggest they are a little odd as a group. Delving into the rich sun-drenched psychedelia of the late 60's early 70's with nods to the Southern boogie of The Allman's and Grand Funk on Shadow Traveller which has mouth harp and cowbell. Factor in a edge of the kaleidoscope of British colour that acts like The Move brought to the table evident on Reflections and add the grit of The Groundhogs and Blue Cheer on Get It Together which starts off with The Who-like flurry before slowing in the verse to a heavyweight drag. With dual vocals of guitarist Plum Brandy and drummer Golden Goose blending the more melodic with the bluesier howl the band have a sound not much heard at the moment.

They are a true power trio and create some magic on the folky Hazy DayBreak which segues into the rough and ready riff-fest Down The Line which would sound out of place on a Admiral Sir Cloudeslley Shovell album, especially when it all goes trippy in the middle section before the riff thunders back in on top of Gooses' relentless drumming and Fireball's bass. The band have progressive elements throughout meaning that they sound very much like some of the best bands of the late 60's with a Californian, Southern, psych rock sound that is rich and inviting making want to get down and just rock out. 7/10

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Reviews: Spiritual Beggars, Blood Ceremony, Dakesis

Spiritual Beggars: Sunrise To Sundown (InsideOut)

Swedish 'supergroup' Spiritual Beggars' new album Sunrise To Sundown is their third album with third vocalist Apollo Papathanasio (ex-Firewind) and their ninth overall. The band have developed their sound over the nine albums moving from more stoner metal with Spice (vocalist #1), to stoner rock with J.B (Grand Magus) before settling into a 70's hard rock groove, that yes has always been there but is now more pronounced. This album especially draws from the 70's influence more than ever, this is at it's most noticeable on Diamond Under Pressure which builds from Per Wiberg's bubbling organ into a strutting rocker that owes a debt to Deep Purple's Mistreated and makes for a strong first single. As usual the production is rich like a fine mahogany and the analogue sound that Staffan Karlsson creates behind the desk is very natural, letting his years of experience in engineering and mixing, for many of the band members day jobs, shine through. Obviously the production would be wasted if the performance was below par but this is never the case with Spiritual Beggars as Sharlee D'Angelo (Bass/Arch Enemy) and Ludwig Witt (Drums/Grand Magus) give a solid backroom with soulful rock groove see No Man's Land, they act as the foundation for Per Wiberg (Keys/ex-Opeth) and Michael Amott (Guitar/Arch Enemy) to really rock out and in places duel like Blackmore and Lord, see What Doesn't Kill You all while Apollo soars above the noise with his unique fervent vocal. The track credits are split between Witt, Wiberg and Amott and each track encompasses all the bands talents, from the rollicking Hard Road, to the percussive clatter of I Turn To Stone all the way through to the restrained rocker Southern Star. From start to finish Sunrise To Sundown is a classy classic rock album from 'the band that refuses to die'. 8/10

Blood Ceremony: Lord Of Misrule (Rise Above)

Canadian psychedelic folk doomsters Blood Ceremony make their comeback with fourth full length, their first album in three years, The Lords Of Misrule continues with Blood Ceremony's bewitching, retro styled rock filled with riffs a plenty and towering organs and of course the trademark flute that echoes the sound of the legend Ian Anderson. The record starts off with 7 minute The Devil's Window which opens with a flute blast and some rocking riffs from Sean Kennedy and bassist Lucas Gadke rumbles in unison while Michael Carrillo clattering along with the jazz drumming allowing the song to breathe in it's mid-section that sees acoustic folkery and a flute solo the order of the day before it builds up again into a stomping doom riff. Blood Ceremony's frontwoman has always been the bands special attraction her quirky vocal phrasing and haunting delivery, used to it's full on the proggy organ filled Loreley and the driving The Rogue's Lot but at it's most understated on the creeping The Weird Of Finistere. Things get ethereal on the opening on the title track, then Half Moon Street brings back the Jethro Tull influence featuring a flute guitar duel while Flower Phantoms is propulsive power pop that is The Beatles tripped up to the max. Everything about this album screams retro from the production to the songwriting and it is all the better for it, Lord Of Misrule doesn't vary wildly from Blood Ceremony's previous releases but this is no bad thing they still sit near the top of the retro rock pile brimming with occultism and pagan ritualism, this is a good album and as the last subdued acoustic chords of Things Present, Things Past trail off Blood Ceremony once again prove their credentials. 8/10   

Dakesis: The New Dawn (CapsAArx)

Coming from the heartland of metal Birmingham Dakesis are a progressive power metal band that despite being relatively young in their inception (they formed in 2010) The New Dawn is a tour-de-force in modern prog-power metal, the pre-requisite stirring classical intro is a stable of the genre but as the riff of title track kicks off any kind of complacency is washed away by the rampaging riffs and frontwoman (the band's former keyboardist) Gemma Lawler's amazing strong vocals that are not the usual soprano wailing above the noise she has a tough but melodic set of pipes that mean the band are sitting on the same bracket as Welsh metalists Triaxis, think Thunderstone, Kamelot, and more modern Maiden all with a strong progressive element found in Symphony X and you wouldn't be far off. The pace doesn't let up on Betrayal which is very Kamelot as a duet with Matt Gore of The Mighty Wraith allowing Matt Jones to shred his head off, the man is literally possessed with the power of the riff thrashing away on Destined For The Flame which borders on Dragonforce territory especially with the keyboards, Adam Harris' pulverising drums and the fret melting solos.

A lot has changed since Darkesis' debut album but Lawler's move to the mic has been the most dramatic she is a revelation and gives this album it's melodic bite both behind the keys and by belting away on every track of this concept album...yes thats right folks a concept album but one that doesn't sacrifice the songwriting for the overall feel of the album, the soloing is incredible too with Amie Chatterley's fleet fingered bass playing steering the meaty rhythm sections. This album is brimming with metal anthems in the making To Conquer Or Die could be a Manowar track with it's thundering drumming, Judgement Day slows everything down with more symphonic elements filling things with some soul, The Sacrifice brings a more Gothic element to proceedings hinting at Evanescence with the opening building into a haunting track that builds the layers with chunky riffs coming in underpinned by keys. Autumn has beautiful classical guitars (that permeate many of the tracks giving them scope) along with some superb vocals from Lawler in duet with Harris that evokes the Mostly Autumn style of progressive folk rock.

All before quieter more straightforward elements and indeed shorter songs are brushed away by The Seventh Sky which is a progressive tour-de-force with frequent time changes, acoustic interludes, huge keyboard swathes, frenzied guitar riffage, the impressive vocals, thumping rhythms and amazing songwriting. Dakesis are an amazing band, they have a talent that reaches far beyond their years, I am actually amazed this is only their second album, it's  brilliantly realised collection of songs that has you reaching for the play button as soon as the final epic By The Fading Light has finished. With a collection of songs like this Dakesis have stepped up to show they are indeed a force to reckoned with and one that you need to watch out for as I predict bigger and better things for them very soon and I can't wait to see them in Cardiff at the end of the month. 9/10  

Monday 28 March 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Von Hertzen Brothers

Von Hertzen Brothers & Messenger - The Fleece Bristol

Two of rocks most interesting bands in one place was a gig to good to miss so myself, my other half and Paul all descended upon Bristol's historic Fleece to take in what was sure to be an interesting night of music.

With what was a later start time than usual Messenger (7) finally came on to the stage and proceeded to tune their instruments and soundcheck, this took a while and ate into the bands time but finally the London group were ready to start their set, we would find out later that they had no time to soundcheck before the gig. Their performance was drawn from their psychedelic debut album and their as-yet-unreleased second record, the set was a little disjointed if I'm honest with the newer stuff a little heavier and more streamlined than the dreamy progressive music that the debut was full of. the set itself was dampened by the mix in the room with Khaled Lowe and Barnaby Maddick vocals being drowned out by Jaime Gomez Arellano's drums and Dan Knight's keys, the guitars too were a little fuzzy in places meaning that everything was just a bit too noisy to be heard. After around 35 minutes the set was over and the band celebrated their final gig of the tour by thanking the fans in attendance. Messenger were impressive but they were muted by the mix in the room and that the new material was not known by much of the audience but they were well received.

A short break and the stage was cleared ready for the headliners and as drummer Mikko Kaakkuriniemi and keyboardist Juha Kuoppala took to the stage everything was set for the brothers, bassist Jonne and guitarist Kie took to the stage first and Kie hit opening chords of New Day Rising before Mikko ran on and backed his brother on the guitar, the song built and Juha hit the keys for the song itself to kick off thoroughly, it was a strong start with Mikko singing with passion on the furious chorus. What was immediately evident was how good the sound was, all of the instruments were audible and blended well for the Brothers power rock assault, with a start like New Day Rising it was only right that dove right into thundering rocker You Don't Know My Name which got the crowd bouncing, the two tracks come from the Brothers latest album and as they give that album a strong start they did the same to this set, allowing everyone to take a breath Mikko did a bit of talking to tell everyone this was the last date of the tour and he wanted them to shout as loud as they could, with that Kie played the opening melody to the epic Flowers And Rust which did get the crowd in full voice as expected, now the set was mainly focussed on the last three VHB albums but the band were celebrating the anniversary of their breakthrough album Approach so three tracks from the set came from that album first up was creeping Endlessly which harked back to the band's progressive heritage as it built up with atmosphere before exploding into the massive chorus that had me shouting every word.

After the slowing of the set's pace things shook up again with the folky Always Been Right from Stars Aligned which showed off the keys in true styles and was followed by the heavyweight rocking of Miracle also from Stars Aligned which was a showcase for the brother's vocals harmonies. The band were a joy to watch with Mikko and Kie leaping around the stage as Jonne switched between bass and synths perfectly, Mikko became unhinged in the heavier tracks but he also showed off his more restrained side with ballads like Sunday Child and on River which has more Eastern promise than Turkish Delight as the final few songs of the set came into view the brothers once again went back to their progressive side with the off kilter bass driven Voices In Our Heads and the powerful and breathless Prospect For Escape ending the main set. A bit of speech from Mikko thanking everyone and introducing all those involved before starting the encore with Gloria which has become their anthem and the song that the ignorant prick next to me had shouted for in every quiet bit since the beginning of the set, more bouncing and one happy prat later and the final song of the night the euphoric Let Thy Will Be Done climaxed things with intensity. Von Hertzen Brothers' are an excellent live act brimming with energy and wide reaching approach to their music, with virtuoso performance and unrivalled clarity in the sound VHB's live show can't be missed, I for one can't wait to see them again at Steelhouse in July! 9/10              

Friday 25 March 2016

A View From the Back Of The Room: Blaze Bayley

Blaze Bayley - Fuel Cardiff

Iron Maiden are headlining Download this year in what is their sixth year at the festival (starting at the Monsters Of Rock) while this will be amazing, it's always nice to have the ability to see a former member of the band (who in my opinion has the most consistent and best solo material of all the Maiden mothership) in a small club for £12 is always something a bit special.

Now I've seen Blaze fronting Wolfsbane and that was an hour and a half of non stop heavy metal fun, Blaze is ever consummate frontman, he has a knack of getting the crowd onside from the first five minutes. So after witnessing Wolfsbane my appetite to see him again fronting his solo band was strong, happily being able to see him in Fuel proved to be the ideal. This tour was in support of his latest album, the sprawling Sci-Fi concept piece Infinite Entanglement, meaning that a fair share of the set was devoted to the album although we were treated to choice cuts from the back catalogue encompassing Blaze, Wolfsbane and of course Maiden. Over the years Bayley has had a lot of members to his solo band but it's current line up is probably the best as drummer Martin McNee, bassist Karl Schramm and guitarist Chris Appleton also tread the boards as British metal upstarts Absolva, who are one of the most gifted bands on the current metal circuit. The three men are the ideal foils for Bayley's gurning, swearing, heavy metal Uncle Fester, they came out to the stage first and the intro to the latets albums title track kicked things off strongly as the riff kicked in and Bayley stormed to the stage dramatically delivering the powerful vocals in his own inimitable style. Blaze has always known how to right a chorus and the hook on Infinite Entanglement is excellent, the pace was kept up by A Thousand Years also from the new album and saw Appleton and Schramm shredding like mad while McNee smashed the hell out of the drums.

What I will say from the off is that the sound was actually pretty good you could hear all the instruments perfectly and Blaze's voice was clear and booming, the set progressed and we got the first Iron Maiden cover with Futureal coming from the Blazes years and getting some of the Maiden fans up and rocking. Following this was the chugging Kill And Destroy, where Blaze playfully teased the crowd for not being loud enough noting that the owner of Fuel told him that the crowd would be all for killing and destroying and after a bit of coercion the partisan crowd of Head Banging Bastards (to give them their official name) were louder than they were at the beginning of the set. The set was slowed with Solar Winds and the mini epic Calling You Home which blended well with Stare At The Sun while the set was ramped back up by Human which deals with the same machine meets Descartes as Robot which kept the pace after the thrash-like Watching The Night Sky. Blaze was on fire rapidly raging through the songs, allowing Appleton to take centre stage to show off his incredible guitar prowess when needed, in what was a bit of a curveball the band played Virus which was a never played, Blaze fronted Maiden song that featured on their Best Of The Beast album, he and the band ri-jigged it and if you didn't know it was by Maiden you wouldn't. Blaze's between song speeches were entertaining, funny and enlightening, especially when he said about his struggle with previous record companies, which ended in Blaze now owning all of his previous releases (victory for the little guy!)

After this came two from Silicone Messiah Blaze's debut album with the title track and Ghost In The Machine speeding things up yet again. A break an introduction and we were getting near to climax, it was now time to go really old school with Wolfsbane's Man Hunt that had the old school members of the crowd shouting at the top of their lungs, as Appleton took to centre stage to solo Blaze tried to come back on to finish the song but no the solo wasn't over, this swiftly turned into a drum solo and then a pantomime of Bayley the comedy villain trying to take back over the stage usurped by his young backing bad, as Appleton and Schramm duelled playing each others guitars, McNee filled with power. Finally Blaze reclaimed the stage and introduced the band to applause and the end was approaching, another Maiden cover this time Fear Of The Dark which Bayley did a lot of justice particular kudos to Appleton who became Murray and Gers in one man. The set came to a close with Man On The Edge and the crowd erupted at final moments of it. This had been a blinding set, the band were tight, technical and disciplined in making head bang, Blaze himself was funny, filthy and in fine voice showing why he is criminally overlooked as a frontman. A great night with excellent sound, fine performances and metal madness all round, I urge you to see Blaze in person you will not be disappointed. 8/10

*One last thing: If you are watching a live band in a small venue, when that band play the quiet bits your drunken conversations are very audible to those around you, especially the band on stage. Everyone there has paid for a ticket, including you, if you want to have a conversation about something other than the band on stage, or indeed if you want to make stupid noises, go outside the venue. I'm all for people having fun at a gig but if you want to be obnoxious to the point the staff notice you, kindly for the sake of the performers and the punters in attendance shut the fuck up no one wants to hear you!*             

A View From The Back Of The Room: Amorphis (Live Review By Paul)

Amorphis – The Fleece, Bristol

Having had the luxury of four gigs in a row in my home city, it was back across the Severn to one of my favourite venues, The Fleece in Bristol for only my second ever viewing of Finnish outfit Amorphis, having previously seen them at BOA in 2010. Now initially I thought that was poor on my part, as I missed what was reported to be a stunning set at BOA a few years ago when I was otherwise engaged in activities involving crabs and robots in the Sophie Tent with Evil Scarecrow. However, a quick piece of internet research found that the band are rare visitors to these shores and since that August day at Catton Hall in 2010 they’ve only played in the UK seven times, four times in London and solitary appearances in Manchester and Glasgow. This gig was their first in Bristol.

Having missed the opening band, we arrived just as the main support were taking the stage. Textures (5), a metalcore/djent outfit from Holland. I was familiar with their name but not their music and unfortunately I won’t be actively hunting any of their music in the near future. Although the band made a decent fist of things in their short set, their genre does nothing for me and the constant time changes, intricate patterns and extremely shouty vocals did little to enthuse me. Sure, you can nod your head along to them but although they received a polite reception, I can’t report that the place was overwhelmed either. A strange choice of support.

A completely different response for the main band though as Amorphis (9) ripped through a ninety-minute set excellently paced and which built in momentum from the opener Under The Red Cloud through to set closer The Smoke. In between the Finns treated a very healthy crowd to tracks from throughout their 25-year catalogue. Although the focus was on material from 2015’s stunning Under A Red Cloud, with six tracks aired, Amorphis dipped way back into their catalogue with some of their heavier works, My Kantele and On Rich And Poor from 1996’s Elegy and Drowned Maid from second release Tales From A Thousand Lakes along with more recent tunes from Circle and 2009’s Skyforger.

Shorn of his massive dreads, Tomi Joutsen still remains the focal point of the band, with his unique microphone stand and hugely impressive vocals range switching effortlessly between clean vocals and the death growls that were very much the feature of the earlier works. The band retains three original members; the superb lead guitar of Esa Holopainen ably supported by the reserved Tomi Koivusaari who dipped back into the past when he was also the band’s vocalist with some co-vocal death growls. Drummer Jan Rechbeger is the other 1990 era band member, having re-joined the band in 2002 after a break of six years and he laid down the foundations throughout the evening along with bassist Niclas Etelävuori. The subtle keyboards of Santeri Kallio completed the line-up.

The works from Under A Red Cloud comprised the three opening tracks, with Bad Blood ferociously heavy and prompting much head banging around the venue. The band returned to the album later in the set with the awesome Dark Path and The Four Wise Ones sitting comfortably alongside firm favourites House Of Sleep and a phenomenal Endless Days from Circle. Their fusion of Paradise Lost, Katatonia, Amon Amarth and Opeth hits all the right spots with me and this was confirmed with the encore which eclipsed everything that had gone before. The quite incredible Opeth tinged Death Of A King had the entire audience singing along at full pelt before Silver Bride from Skyforger and Eclipse’s The Smoke brought a faultless set to a close. This was an evening of real quality and I hope it won’t be too long before this fabulous band are back in the UK.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Toseland (Live Review By Paul)

Toseland – The Globe

A Monday night is rarely going to get the pulses racing for a gig. However, there were decent numbers at one of my favourite Cardiff venues, The Globe, for the arrival of British Motorbike legend James Toseland and his band in what was their first ever Welsh headlining show.

First up were Brighton based classic rock outfit Colour of Noise (8). Entering to the mighty Clutch’s Firebird (earning them a bonus point for taste), after a slightly shaky start the band quickly got into their stride and with the help of some devout fans in the front row soon had the audience clapping and singing along. Led by Matt Mitchell (Furyon) whose experience and energy was infectious, Colour Of Noise were a curiously assembled bunch who made a superb sound. Guitarist Bruce John Dickinson has lots of road experience with Little Angels and demonstrated the best fretwork of the evening with some high quality playing. At the back of the stage the experienced Randy Nixon on drums laid down the beat with impressive “Silent” Ben Daniel on bass and snazzy stage outfit. Meanwhile rhythm guitarist Dan Electro won best shirt and also most impressive Tyrion Lannister look-a-like award as he chopped the riffs. The band played a decent length set which improved as the evening moved on. Tracks from their pledge backed self-titled debut came thick and fast with Hit Rock Bottom possibly the stand-out track of the evening in terms of audience participation. If you like your music played in the classic rock vein, with Thunder, The Answer etc. your bag, then check Colour Of Noise out. For me they stole the show. Oh, and they were spotted dining the Tandoori Mahal as I left the venue at the end of the night. That makes them legends. (Too bloody right - Ed)

I was fully aware of Toseland (7) before I attended this gig but had little knowledge of their music. Championed by Planet Rock, I knew that lead singer James Toseland was a motorcycling champion but that was about it. I also knew that they’d put the hours in with regular gigging. Coming days after the release of their third album, Cradle The Rage, this was the second night of their tour but the band were not at all rusty. If anything, they were a little too polished. With little ceremony, Toseland hit the stage and immediately you could see that James Toseland has the shapes and moves to be a natural frontman. Fitter than a butcher’s dog, he has what can only be described as ‘pretty boy’ looks but he was also a fantastic frontman; warm and honest and in particular very appreciative of the hardy souls who had by now filled the venue to a very decent number.

Kicking off with Too Close To Call from the new release, the band demonstrated boundless energy, with the audience soon jumping and getting fully involved. Toseland are a decent bunch of musicians with drummer Joe Yoshida going full pelt which was really noticeable at such close quarters. Once again The Globe’s sound was first class although damn loud. Flanking James was Georgian Zurab Mehua on guitar, calm and understated but occasionally rocking out. Meanwhile stage left there was little reserved about the attitude of bassist Roger Davis and guitarist Ed Bramford (complete with token LOG T-shirt) who didn’t stop moving, fist pumping or urging more from the crowd. In fact, a little too hard on the shape throwing which at times felt a little contrived.

Anyway, what about Toseland’s sound? Well, it’s pretty generic hard rock with the immediate and unavoidable vocal comparison of James Toseland with Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy. In fact, if you closed your eyes it was almost uncannily like him. Toseland’s songs are radio friendly rock with a driving stomp. Living In A Moment, Puppet On A Chain and Heart And Bones are all out and out rockers, ideal for the Planet Rock listeners which is what the audience appeared to be comprised (and I suppose that includes me!). Clean vocals, big riffs, brash trashy drums and pumping bass lines. You get the picture. And to some extent that was the problem. The generic nature meant that the tunes began to blend slightly until the keyboard was brought front and centre as the pace slowed a little with Fingers Burned and Never Love Another from the new release. I’m not a big fan of the rock ballad but Fingers Burned at least allowed for a bit of prime guitar work. Interspersed with the new stuff were a number of tracks from the first album, Renegade which went down well with the die hards.

Things really went up a gear though during the final couple of tracks of the encore. Firstly, the title track of the new album, a real rocker which segued into the track of the evening for me, an extended and very powerful Renegade which had the audience roaring their approval. I have to say that for the admission price of £8.80, you really got full value for money from two bands who appear to wear their hearts on their sleeves. I’m looking forward to giving Toseland another view at Steelhouse in July and I’ll be watching for another opportunity to catch Colour Of Noise in the near future. Excellent stuff.

Monday 21 March 2016

Reviews: Blaze Bayley, Shooter Jennings, Dyscordia

Blaze Bayley: Infinite Entanglement (Blaze Bayley Recording)

Blaze Bayley is a man who will always be overshadowed by his past, unlike Paul DiAnno who was there at the beginning and is still held in the same regard as Maiden's current and long term vocalist Bruce Dickinson, Blaze came into the band at a turbulent time and had to try and compete with Dickinson, ultimately this never worked but many thought this was Blaze's fault which I think is a little harsh. Blaze is a different singer to Dickinson, he has a lower register yes but the same dramatic power as the current Maiden frontman. In Wolfsbane he was pure rock n roll fury and his solo albums have been the heaviest of any of the other Maiden members, dating back to Blaze and his current outfit Blaze Bayley he has consistently released heavy albums that incorporate NWOBHM, thrash and speed metal that means he can rightly call his fans Head Banging Bastards.

The other trademark of Blaze's solo records is Science Fiction, most of his albums deal with Sci-Fi themes, most within a concept dating back to his debut solo record 2000's Silicon Messiah and it's follow up 2002's Tenth Dimension, Infinite Entanglement continues that theme of Sci-Fi concept records with one that deals with the themes of artificial intelligence and quantum physics that appear on the two previously mentioned albums. The record is the first part of a trilogy following Bayley's central character on a quest to dealing with what it is to be human, high concept indeed but luckily everything is backed by Bayley's trademark pounding heavy metal style. Now Bayley does seem to change his solo band from record to record but this one he has settled on his most recent touring band of Chris Appleton (Guitar), Karl Schramm (Bass) and Martin McNee (drums) who are also known as the band Absolva. The three men are all superb players McNee and Schramm locked in to rampaging grooves throughout the album which allows Appleton to riff and solo like mad, exploding when needed.

The opening trio of songs sets the album's tone, the proggy title track starts things off with off kilter rhythms and almost a breakdown on the chorus, then things go to the arena on A Thousand Years as it has a massive hook and Human is a superb slice of proper metal. Things get slower on What Will Come which has long time Bayley collaborator Thomas Zwijsen playing the nylon classical guitar behind accompanied by Anne Bakker on the violin, Stars Are Burning and Solar Winds bring back the steel before The Dreams Of William Black sees a dreamscape comprised of numerous Bayley fans saying "Where Are You?" but this leads into the galloping Maiden-like Calling You Home a trick that's repeated on the closing A Work Of Anger which is a classic Maiden epic starting off slow burning before turning into swaying fist-in-the-air anthem. Infinite Entanglement is a great record, it works well as a concept, has strong metal themes, intelligent lyrics and proper metal anthems all of this is brings together yet more powerful music from this often overlooked icon, for metal fans Blaze always delivers. 8/10 

Shooter Jennings: Countach [For Giorgio] (Black Country Rock)

Shooter Jennings started his follow up to The Other Life in 2014 around the time of his last EP Don't Wait Up (For George) and just as that was a tribute to country legend George Jones, Countach is Shooter's tribute to film composer/synth pioneer/disco king Giorgio Moroder, it was initially slated to be released last year but was delayed due to the death of Jennings' longtime manager and friend and Black Country Rock co-founder 'Colonel' Jon Hensley. So the album is as much a tribute to Hensley as it is to Moroder and what a tribute it is skillfully blending synth driven neo-noir with Outlaw Country. The album is primarily all covers drawing from Moroder's solo work, collaborations and his soundtracks, only the opening title track is one of Jennings' own starting out a country on Loading where he proclaims "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit Has Got Out Of Hand" the track builds and the synth cuts in halfway whisking away the country bit quickly for swathes of 80's-tastic repeating electronic pulse that did so much to inspire the House/EDM genre years later, it even has Moroders trademark synthesized vocals that lead into From Here To Eternity (from the Moroder album of the same name) where Shooter goes back to his normal Southern grit vocal at the end.

Shooter has never been afraid to take risks but on Countach he's taken a fair few, much of the country styling of earlier records are done away with, albeit not completely as there is still plenty of acoustic guitar and fiddle, on From Here... and the creeping I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone supplied by Aubrey Richmond and Cliff Wagoner, but all the traditional instrumentation is used to bolster the synths and keys from Shooter himself. His support unit and band are a tried and tested set of guys with bassist Ted Russell Kamp and drummer Jamie Douglas providing the backline, along with Mark Rains recording, Pete Lyman mastering and David Spreng producing with Jennings to give this album it's thick, layered, authentic late 70's/80's sound. Jenning's has also brought in few friends to help out with the father of outlaw country Steve Young on a traditional Country sounding version of Moroder's Born To Die. Video game designer Richard Garriott de Cayeux (who's Shroud Of Avatar served as the platform for this album's launch) crops up on Chase which is the man himself explaining his passion for games over the originals synthetic backbeat.

This album is not a collection of songs but more like with the modern dance artists and of course Moroder himself the tracks all flow together as if they were one song with small snippets from the movies Moroder has scored in between. The album builds up after the break of Born To Die with Chase quickly moving into Love Kills where Jennings' channels Freddie Mercury on the Hi-NRG styled song that ramps things up ready for a full on honest to the original version of the title theme from The Neverending Story albeit featuring Brandi Carlile adding a note of heartbreak and Neal Casal adding a mean guitar before the album climaxes with the disturbing cover of Cat People where Manson tries to reach the darker part of Bowie (the original's vocalist). Countach is I will admit is an odd album, if you don't like Country music or Giorgio Moroder then you won't get much out of it however once again Jennings has impressed with his sheer versatility and for a music fan like me this is very interesting indeed. 8/10

Dyscordia: Words In Ruin (Road Mark Productions)

Belgium has always been a bit off the grid for metal but they do have some bands that are big players in the metal genre, brutal death metallers Aborted are possibly the most well known but it's in the progressive/power metal genre that Belgium makes it mark with Ancient Rites, Dushan Petrossi's two projects Iron Mask and Magic Kingdom, Fire Force all coming from the Dungeons And Dragons Metal. Dyscordia are Belgian and they are not Aborted, in fact the band owe more to Nevermore, Iced Earth, Evergrey than anything else.

Formed from the ashes of noted Belgian progressive metal act Gwyllion (named after a Welsh monster) Dyscordia features that band's drummer and guitarist; Wouter and Martijin Debonnet respectively, as well as former members of Anesthesy & Artrach, bassist Wouter Nottebaert, lead guitarist Guy Commeene and singer Piet Overstijns (who was also in Battalion with Commeene), Dyscordia's final member is Stefan Segers you plays yet more guitar and adds this bands secret weapon the death grunts. With the dual male vocal and three (yes three) pronged guitar assault Dyscordia are an interesting prospect and sees the band revamping their style since their Gwyllion days, Words In Ruin is their second album as Dyscordia and sees the band improving and  perfecting their craft to play heavy progressive power metal, with down tuned guitars, blasting drums and a distinctly Gothenburg melod-death sound, matched with the robust vocals from Overstijins who has a wide range much like Warrell Dane or Tom S Englund that work well with the deathy grunts of Segers giving the songs an extra edge of heaviness.

Harlequin's Grief opens proceedings with a blastbeat driven thrashing rager, A Perfect Day is a galloping power metal track, the pace is kept heavy for most of the album, the folky Blind Guardian elements creep in on Sacred Soil Of Souls, with the pace slowed and rage abated the final two songs Chthonic Star and Words Of Fortune go back to kicking the hell out of you. Dyscordia have taken me by surprise, but it's a pleasant surprise I may add, I picked up this album blindly and I am very impressed the mix of Gothenburg-death metal and progressive power metal and the bands obvious musical talent, Words In Ruin is a superior release and one that should mean the Belgian band are held in high regard. 8/10

Saturday 19 March 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Exodus (Live Review By Paul)

Exodus - The Globe

With aching necks and ringing in the ears from Machine Head’s monumental performance the night before, we dragged our aching carcasses to The Globe for more Bay Area thrash. I’m so glad I did as we were treated to another stunning evening of top drawer metal.

A few weeks ago I picked up support band Lost Society’s third album Braindead. (the review is posted on the site) This release was sufficient to ensure that I got into place in time for the Finns to hit the stage in a frenzy of hyperactivity. Led by the energetic Samy Elbanna, the band ripped through a very quick passing 40 minutes of quality thrash which incited early pit action, much head banging and a hugely receptive response from the assembled throng. With insane shredding courtesy of Arttu Lesonen and Elbanna and the intense and excellent drumming of Ossi Paananen, Lost Society delivered tracks from their three albums with a decent serving from Braindead including the stomp of I Am The Antidote. The band possess huge reserves of energy and this had a symbiotic effect on the intensity in the crowd which surged ever higher as the set moved on. Lost Society were thoroughly entertaining, with an infectious groove and blitzkrieg approach. 8/10

At their last appearance at BOA in 2013 thrash titans Exodus more than held their own on a day that also included Anthrax and Slayer. Since then we’ve witnessed the return of Steve “Zetro” Souza and the release of the excellent Blood In Blood Out. The Globe was at full capacity for the arrival of the band who arrived on stage with no pomp or ceremony (although it is virtually impossible to do anything other than fall on stage at The Globe) and proceeded to set the scene for the evening with Black 13, the opener from their latest release.

Although Gary Holt has been absent from this tour due to his Slayer commitments, you wouldn’t have noticed as his able replacement Kragen Lum from Heathen shredded and thrashed with similar aplomb. In fact, if you didn’t know that Holt was a member of the band you’d have been none the wiser. Blood In Blood Out followed, the second of four tracks to be played. Cue stellar audience participation on the choruses and frenzied head banging throughout the venue. In fact, the crowd was excellent throughout the gig and Souza made several references to the loudness of the assembled throng in front of him.

One of the great things about The Globe is that everything is up close and personal wherever you are and I reflected that my only regret about the gig was that it should have been in a much bigger venue. Exodus are a superb band, with Tom Hunting’s drumming on a par with Gene Hoglan in my opinion. As the gig developed, the band spliced old classics with the newer material. And Then There Were None was just brutal, whilst the sole track from The Atrocity Exhibition – Exhibit A, Children Of A Lesser God was fantastic. Alongside Souza, bassist Jack Gibson’s expression rarely changed, content to focus on laying down the rampaging bass lines. Lee Altus’s razor sharp guitar work and constant mouthing of the lyrics demanded that you joined in.

Salt The Wound (with a nod to the solo that Kirk Hammett contributed to) and Body Harvest were the other choice cuts from Blood In Blood Out before it was time for old school and even higher levels of intensity in the pit. Metal Command got things moving, starting a trio of brutality from Bonded By Blood. Piranha and the incredible A Lesson In Violence were succeeded by three from Tempo Of The Damned; Firstly, Blacklist, then a blistering War Is My Shepherd and then the set closing destruction of Impaler. During the set Souza paid a massive tribute to Lemmy which was warmly welcomed by the audience and prompted a spontaneous round of chanting of the great man’s name. Well played sir.

Whilst the band took a deserved breather, the crowd steeled itself for the inevitable and highly anticipated encores. As Exodus tore into a breath-taking Bonded By Blood, it seemed that 90% of the audience was swirling around the floor. Of course, if you want a tune to really get things moving, look no further than The Toxic Waltz which maintained the action on the floor. Strike Of The Beast concluded the evening and the band left the stage to huge applause.

After the gig Steve Souza spent time with the fans, answering questions and happily having photos taken. A genuinely pleasant and engaging man, when asked about a new release, he was extremely positive and noted that it would happen when Holt returned from Slayer duties. For a band now well into the veteran stage, this is heartening news and if they can maintain the form of the last release, not to mention the incredible levels of live performance, I’ll be picking up tickets to see these guys whenever they hit our shores. A fantastic evening and a quite spectacular end to a heavy heavy week. 9/10

Friday 18 March 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Machine Head (Live Review By Paul)

Machine Fucking Head: Great Hall Cardiff

There are some gigs where it is a privilege to be able to say “I was there”. This was one of those nights.

I count myself as a veteran MFH fan having seen them many times over the years; my eldest has racked up a couple more shows than me and all of our party had seen the Californians before. This show ranked amongst the best I think I’ve ever seen. When Robb Flynn and co promoted their tour as ‘An evening with Machine Head’ it was difficult to see past the ego but boy did they prove the doubters wrong.

Although the start was later than expected which meant the room temperature in the venue was already high when Diary Of A Madman hit the PA, a full two-and-a-half-hour set of superbly chosen songs soon laid to rest any grumbles. In a previous review of Sabaton I suggested that Ghost Division was possibly the best opener a band could have. Well, you can fuck that in the eye because when the first strains of Imperium hit the air, the desire to be in the pit was almost uncontrollable. Luckily for me, age and injury has curbed that enthusiasm and I was content to bang my head (muthafucker) from my vantage point near the sound desk. Of course, there was no shortage of willing volunteers who did throw themselves into the fray, and that set the tone for the evening. The MFH crowd do love a circle pit, and with Flynn’s encouragement there was plenty of opportunity. Imperium set the tone for the evening; hard, fast and heavy as hell.

Whilst MFH is definitely Flynn’s machine (oops!), he has some very trusty lieutenants to support him. The incredible drumming of Dave McClain was elevated about the main stage, Phil Demmel’s stunning fretwork sliced away to Flynn’s right and everything was soundly cemented by the Burton-esque windmilling of Jared Maceachern on bass who has rightly banished the memory of Adam Duce (at least until Game Over was played!). The opening salvo gave no quarter; Beautiful Mourning was followed by Now We Die and a monumental Take My Scars which incited action in all quarters of the venue. Huge amounts of pit action along with some real hard-core head banging. A trip back to Unto The Locust with Locust (which is a tune) before possibly THE track of the evening: From This Day is nestled amongst Machine Head’s relatively unloved release, The Burning Red, but dear god was it well received, with huge audience participation on the chorus. Well done Cardiff; it was awesome.

Ten Ton Hammer followed immediately after, leaving battered bodies gasping for air but there was no let up with Flynn playing ringmaster, coercing extra effort from those brave enough to step into the pit whilst the rest of us were content to bang the fuck out of our necks. This Is The End was brutal but paled into insignificance compared to the epic Elegy which was followed by the crunching The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears. Damn, this was vintage Head. A rather uninspiring guitar solo from Demmel slowed the pace and a slight pause in the madness continued with Darkness Within which had superb crowd singing and an emotional performance from Flynn. He’s had his critics but Flynn is an imposing front man, encouraging the crowd and limiting his speeches throughout the evening. He rightly acknowledged that it has been six years since MFH had played in South Wales (Newport 2010) and whilst he vowed to not leave it that along again, one can only feel grateful that the mighty MFH deemed it appropriate to play in our fair city.

Drum solos? I love Rush but I find Neil Peart’s self-indulgence a little tiresome. Dave McClain is just incredible but solos just don’t float my boat. If I was feeling charitable I’d concede that it is an opportunity for the drummer to demonstrate their skills. It also gave the rest of the band a breather However, from small acorns grow mighty oaks and from McClain’s solo we were treated to the full frontal assault of Bulldozer and Killers And Kings before all hell broke loose with the strains of Davidian. Cue mass destruction and much screaming along as “Freedom reigned with the shot gun blast”. To be able to throw your most incredible tune before the set had ended was remarkable.

A six song multiple encore followed and by now MFH had proved their metal and were flying. A stunning Descend The Shades Of Night, complete with acoustic guitar was greeted like an old friend. A rare outing in the shape of Now I Lay Thee Down followed, before Aesthetics Of Hate and Game Over poured more fuel on the raging crowd. Things really heated up with the arrival of Blood For Blood from Burn My Eyes which segued into Halo to bring the evening to a close. Flynn and co were on fire and all around the response was incredibly favourable. This is a band who are technically brilliant musicians and who produced a flawless display. An Evening with Machine Head? More like a masterclass in how to deliver. It really was an honour to witness this one. Fucking A! 10/10

Thursday 17 March 2016

Reviews: Circus Maximus, Bombus, Sunburst

Circus Maximus: Havoc (Frontiers)

I'll admit I have come very late to the party in when Norwegian progressive metallers are concerned, having only recently discovered their charms, they have rapidly become one of my most played artists at MoM towers. So when I heard that the band were nearing the release of their fourth album then you can imagine that my palate became whetted. Circus Maximus are styled as progressive/power metal and this is true they do have songs that are complex and intricate but they also have a really knack of merging this with melody and an accessibility that will endear them to even the most avid anti-proggers. They move between power metal and melodic rock in an instant with everything meshing together flawlessly, The band have ramped up everything on this fourth record, the heavier parts are far heavier, the melodic parts of Havoc moving things occasionally into AOR territory, but overall the band play with enough virtuosity that they firmly stay as a progressive band just one that can write an accessible song.

Like all great album you have a journey with the early songs building until the final third where the band really raise their game to become more ambitious and impressive, this is reflected in the song times which go from around 5 minutes at the start of the album on The Weight which owes as much to Coheed And Cambria as it does to Dream Theater, before we get into the much longer songs like After The Fire which starts as dark, electronica before ramping up into a much heavier prospect that fuses the melodic stylings of Muse and more modern djent sounds. The band are all superb musicians Glenn Mollen's bass leads the off kilter rhythm on Highest Bitter and along with drummer Truls Haugen lends an industrial sound to the title track. In the treble sounds Mats Haugen's guitars are ever present in the bands sound, whether giving little flourishes over the rhythm on Pages or really rallying his mettle on After The Fire.

It's Lasse Finbråten's keys that lift this band up to another level though, adding the heartbreak to Loved Ones which has all the emotional punch of a 30 Seconds To Mars song, although clocking in at a longer time, while also giving an understated performance on Flames where the single keys add the extra dimension to the galloping rhythm once again bringing to mind Muse and also Von Hertzen Bros while also giving Remember a driving eurodance backbeat. A hearty well done too to vocalist Michael Eriksen who has a voice that can adapt to any of changes in the musical score. Havoc is another amazing album from Circus Maximus who are not your normal prog/power metal band they have a sound that makes them very special indeed, I just wish I'd discovered them earlier. I'm glad that Circus Maximus are still delivering the impressive music that first endeared me to them, with Havoc being the culmination of the bands career so far condensed into one fantastic disc. 10/10    

Bombus: Repeat Until Death (Century Media)

Gothenburg natives Bombus are now on their third album and yes they will indeed repeat until death on this record. Having a similar style to Mastodon or Red Fang, Bombus play riff driven heavy metal with relentless power and stoner influences. The album opens with Eyes On the Price which has an almost dance like rhythm to it and hits you at full force from second one. Both the guitars and the vocals are shared by Feffe Berglund and Matte Säker and they make the bands sound, on the classic metal chug of Rust they fuse perfectly as Ola Henriksson rumbles away on the four strings. As I've said the Mastodon influence is huge most notably on Deadweight and Horde Of Flies but the band also have nods to fellow countrymen Mustasch with groove-laden riff fests and the husky vocals. The album is a bit odd in the middle section as it gets to I Call You Over (Hairy Teeth Part II) which is a slow burning ballad that does feel forced and a little out of place if I'm honest. The album title is a bit very apt, much of this album is very samey but if you are waiting for the new Mastodon record you could do worse than this. 6/10

Sunburst: Fragments Of Creation (Inner Wound)

No I've reviewed a lot of Greek metal on this blog and Greek power/prog metal is always of the highest quality, there does seem to be something about the country that always deals in top quality prog/power metal. Sunburst seem intent on carrying that flag forward and as the rampaging Out Of This World explodes out of the speakers with thundering blast beats from Outloud's Kostas Milonas and top quality riffage from Gus Drax who is also in symphonic metallers Black Fate along with singer Vasilis Georgiou. This is powerful progressive metal that owes as much to Symphony X and Fates Warning as it does to Kamelot or Serenity, Drax's guitar playing is excellent fluid and full of technicality but providing the songs with their melodic hook as he blazes up and down the fretboard on tracks such as the thumping mid-pace Dementia and the excellent Symbol of Life which powers away at 100mph and opens out into a huge melodic chorus. The melodic elements are bolstered by the keys of Outloud/Firewind ivory tinkler Bob Katsionis who plays on eight of the ten tracks, including the Herculean ballad Lullaby where he adds the stirring piano on a track that builds into a glorious chorus and a superb solo from Drax.

What I like about Sunburst is that they are progressive and do have a lot of lighter moments but mostly they are heavy as hell with Nick Grey's low bass rhythms driving songs such as End Of The Game, on Reincarnation which has Wylde-esque pinched harmonics and on the relentless instrumental Beyond The Darkest Sun listen past Drax's guitar clinic (which is hard I admit) and you hear Milonas destroying the drumkit. It's this heaviness that endears me to Sunburst as it reminds me a lot of Kamelot which is no bad thing, with the comparison completed by the resonant dramatic vocals of Georgiou who is a dead ringer for Kamelot's former singer Khan, of course there is also some Firewind in there because why wouldn't there be they are Greek after all? Fragments Of Creation is a strong debut album that gets better and better as it goes along, it's progressive, powerful and in places phenomenal and when the final 10 minute epic Remedy Of My Heart is over you want to do the whole thing again. A tremendous first effort from the Larissa natives I look forward to more soon. 8/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Avantasia (Review By Nick)

Avantasia: O2 Forum, London

So a few months back I heard the news that Tobias and his crew would be sending one of the greatest projects in metal on tour again, supporting their new album Ghostlights. What's more, they would be bringing their tour to the UK for only the second time in almost 20 years. This news led to a “take my money!” scramble on my phone to secure tickets, even though a trip to London was in the offing, this was after all... Avantasia.

Arriving in the forum fifteen minutes before the advertised time all fuelled and fed we made our way near to the front of stage right where we found a perfect view of the dimly lit set which had been dressed as the ruins of a castle, with a haunting backdrop of the mascot of the Ghostlights album the atmosphere was set. Before we could make ourselves comfortable the lights dipped and the music kicked in ten minutes ahead of schedule, shortly after the familiar faces of Sascha Paeth, Felix Bohnke, Oliver Hartmann and Amanda Somerville entered the stage to a loud applause... as the opening riff for Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose kicked in; Tobias appeared and proceeded to flawlessly deliver the opening song of what was to be three hours and ten minutes of pure operatic metal at its finest.

Jumping about the stage costume clad and energetic I was amazed to see that Sammet didn't drop a note, a high standard to set but with so long left, I was intrigued to see whether his voice would last, as although brilliant, Sammet's voice is unique and highly pitched and can at times easily be strained. With little hesitation the band smoothly transitioned into Ghostlights and before the man himself had the chance to appear the crowd erupted into applause and screams as this meant only one thing... it was time for the mighty Kiske. Cooley strolling on the elevated backdrop of the stage, dressed in his usual leather biker jacket and jeans, he had a cheeky smile on his face (who could blame him with such a welcome) and delivered the opening verse of the song with the smooth high pitched tone that Kiske has made his own throughout his career. To me this man is up there with the best in music, let alone metal. Tobias and Kiske led the anthemic song with great aplomb, involving the crowd and messing about as they usually do, its clear to these guys are great friends. Leaving the stage Tobias spoke a few brief words thanking the crowd for coming and for the success of the album, before being joined on stage by Ronnie Atkins to produce the best live version of one of my favourite Avantasia tracks; Invoke The Machine.

Atkins has always impressed me with his versatile voice, switching between his rough, torn almost screaming vocals to his smooth Roy Khan like clean vocals... a blind man would not think they were the same person. Both sides of his vocals however compliment this track brilliantly, in Atkins Tobias has found another great his voice collaborates with perfectly. Remaining on stage Kiske returned to another generous applause and the trio proceeded to break out Unchain The Light, the presence of three such vocalists on the stage blew me away, but little did I know what I was to expect later. For the next tow tracks Tobias was joined on stage by a British legend and Musipedia favourite; Bob Catley. No matter his age (103?) or how silver his hair gets Catley will never lose his voice till the day he passes. With his edgy voice yet smooth delivery A Restless Heart and The Great Mystery were presented with sheer professionalism that we expect from Catley. The crowd joining in loudly to Catley's surprise at times... although these songs are ballads they are just as good as the heavy stuff, and they clearly mean a lot to the Avantasia fans, especially when offered to us by such a great.

Moving on to the next track and possibly the loudest part of the entire night... the appearance of Jorn Lande as the jigworthy opening of fan favourite The Scarecrow kicked in. There are few if no words to describe the quality of Lande's voice and the ease in which he delivers it, throughout the whole of The Scarecrow and Lucifer he flawlessly hit every note high to low with the passion and emotion the each word demanded, why this man doesn't preform live more often I'll never know, this though was a treat.

The Watchmakers Dream, one of the shorter Avantasia tracks was next. This time Tobias supported by guitarist Oliver Hartmann on vocals saw one of the weaker tracks from The Mystery Of Time album given some live zest, however for me, Hartmann's vocals although tuneful, were simply just too weak to compete with Tobias or any of the other vocalists on display tonight, which was a shame. Considering the plethora of talent on offer, this seemed like an odd move. Moving swiftly on, next came one of my all time favourite songs by this project; What's Left Of Me. This ballad is purely beautiful in every sense, from the lyrics and the choice of artist to preform it... Eric Martin. As the lights rose upon the stage we found Eric sat on the steps cutting a lonely figure, but he proceeded to dazzle the crowd with his heartfelt and powerful delivery of this amazing song. The crowd stood in silence taking in the song and only voiced their delight as the song hit its crescendo and Tobias once again joined in for the climax of the track... wow! Another of the industries greatest voices on display at its finest. Eric remained on stage for the next behemoth of a song The Wicked Symphony, which saw Tobias make a timely exit. Fourteen minutes long this was a testament of what Avantasia is all about. Kiske, Lande, Martin, Atkins, Somerville and Langhans all on stage bellowing out this symphonic masterpiece supported majestically by Paeth, Hartmann and Bohnke on their instruments, this one the crowd did not want to end... and I agreed! Chills running down my spine, this track is truly what Avantasia is all about, and what music should be about, damn!

Draconian Love with Herbie Langhans returning was next on the agenda, this song has always been the weakest on Ghostlights, to the point that I would almost go as far to say that I do not like it. However Langhans display of a deep devilish almost Barry White like depths of tone at times, really did put a new angle on this song live. I still don't rate this song brilliantly, but live it did the trick nicely. Soon the entire cast returned to the stage once more to serve us a Wicked Symphony standard version of Farewell, Somerville of course taking the lead and demonstrating once again why there are only a few ladies in the game that can match or surpass her. The crowd swaying their arms and mobiles arisen... Farewell is always a crowd pleaser and clearly a track that the band take pleasure in providing to us too.

Now the Mighty Catley returns to the stage (presumably after a nap?) to pound out The Story Ain't Over, which in itself is a Magnumeque track, clearly written with Catley in mind. Joining him on stage Kiske and Tobias return and mix their vocal talents to supply us with a thunderous version of Shelter From The Rain; Kiske's voice again on ridiculous form here. Next the moment that Matt and I had joked about all night and what I eluded to earlier, Lande entered the stage and broke out in to Let The Storm Decend Upon You. Giving it his all the crowd memorized by his voice, when suddenly Kiske appeared and continued the track. Surely this is too much talent on one stage... the mere thought of these two greats singing together was almost a health risk in itself, alas we did not get this. Handing the baton back and forth, Kiske and Lande clearly engaging in a mini vocal battle, that completed the duo of Let The Storm and Promised Land with sheer brilliance to leave the crowd singing to an empty stage begging for more.

The encore now and Tobias and Kiske were reunited while belting out the anthems that are Reach Out For The Light and Avantasia. The crowd singing and jumping along with delight, taking in evry last note. Three hours were bearing down upon us but the energy level had only dropped a small amount, its amazing what music can give you in the form of energy. Two of the final three tracks saw Eric Martin return to the stage euphoric, high or both, as he rambled on for a few minutes about anything and everything, much to the crowds amusement. Leading Tobias to tell his to shut the f*ck up. Martin played his apart in tracks that he isn't usually involved in, however you wouldn't have realised it with the performance he gave. Twisted Mind and Dying For An Angel were given to us in smooth style, Dying For An Angel showcasing Martins voice and really making me want a Mr Big reunion too... hmph!

The finale was a brilliant mix of Sign Of The Cross and The Seven Angels, which saw a reversal of the band taking in the crowd. Wandering about the stage singing, taking snaps with their cameras and phones, while still emphatically nailing this symphonic end to a show that was not just a show of what music can do for the crowd, but what the crowd can do to the artists too. Talent like this clearly humbled can only involve themselves in such a project for the love of the music and the fans, as I can see very little financial gain for these guys at the ticket prices offered. To be honest this was proven in the way every artist filled every lyric and note with pure passion and live to make this without doubt one of, if not the greatest concert I have had the privilege of attending in my 27 years on this planet. Musically Avantasia and brilliant, many different styles spread across the symphonic genre on show. However for me tonight was about the vocal talent on show, and f*ck me were we treated to some of the greats, on top for their game... all in one place. If I could give this more than 10 I would, I really would however the powers of the Musipedia have spoken which leaves me nothing left to say (I could actually go on) but... 10/10.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sabaton (Live Review By Paul)

Sabaton, Alestorm & Bloodbound Tramshed Cardiff

Earlier in the day I'd been reading with interest a discussion on social media between a number of Northern Irish metal fans who were airing various views about the atmosphere at the Machine Head gig at The Limelight the night before. Whilst some of those engaged in the debate were insistent that you go to a gig to watch the band (true) and not the crowd, the counter argument was that a good gig is often fuelled by the enthusiasm of the crowd. A decent crowd can make an average band impressive whilst a flat audience can wipe even the best bands.

So, what's my rambling introduction got to do with a Sabaton review? Well, to put it simply, the crowd at one of the first real metal gigs at the very impressive Tramshed absolutely made the evening.

Arriving around 7.20, I found Swedish power metalled Bloodbound (6) were already getting stuck into their set and with a large percentage of the ticket holders also hitting the venue early, the atmosphere was impressive. There were burgeoning pits that increased in size and ferocity as the evening wore on, much fist pumping and a decent number of the crowd clearly familiar with the material from Bloodbound's six albums. Whilst their brand of power metal was pretty generic they were certainly mildly entertaining and in their role as opening band did a sterling job of increasing the temperature although the disappointing “scream for me Cardiff” from singer Patrik Johansson drew a similar response to that of  Wisdom, who opened for Sabaton on their 2012 visit to Cardiff and who threw in a poor cover of Wasted Years.  At least there was no Maiden cover in the Bloodbound set to drop them further points. The band certainly appeared genuine in their appreciation of the reaction and the band left the stage to a strong reception.

There was certainly a fair number of folk dressed in pirate garb in anticipation of the next band and it is fair to say that Alestorm (6) whipped up an absolute storm. With the venue close to capacity the temperature noticeably increased as the Perth lads hit the stage. With the crowd in quite frenzied mood, this was probably one of the easiest gigs Alestorm has ever had. I think they could have farted and the audience would have jumped up and down. I just don't get this band. What the fuck is pirate metal? Songs about pirates but yet you don't dress like pirates? What's that all about?  Having seen them several times I'm always amazed by the intensity they create amongst the crowd. To me they appear very much a one trick pony; Keelhauled, Ship Wrecked, Walk The Plank, Nancy The Tavern Wench. They all sound exactly the same with the sea shanty sound of Elliot Vernon’s (good pirate name there) ludicrously positioned keyboard and the keytar of Christopher Barnes grating after a few songs. Still, As I said, Alestorm generated a fervour rarely seen in these parts and the crowd responded wholeheartedly.

Having a co-headline tour means that the last band on doesn't get the full set length to ply their trade. Luckily, with a band like Sabaton (8) that doesn't really matter as the fly through their songs at speed anyway. There was a noticeable thinning of the numbers in the Tramshed by the time The Final Countdown blasted through the PA. Why the band insist on using this godawful song is beyond me but it really gets the crowd pumped. Crash, bang, lights, smoke and it was “Good evening Cardiff. We are Sabaton, we play heavy metal … and this … is …” and Ghost Division kicks in as the place went bat shit crazy. If ever a band is stuck with the same opener for life, it is Sabaton.

When the band changed two thirds of the line-up back in 2012, there were fears that the cohesive unit that existed and provides the driving energy within the band would dissipate. Not a chance and this slimmed down outfit are now on top form. Joakim Broden remains the main focal point but the band are really stepping up to the plate now. Few other outfits would ditch their singer to sing a song in their native tongue but yes, they did on Gott Mit Uns. Some of the banter and interplay is cheesy, but the crowd love it; never a chance they wouldn't play Swedish Pagans though the buoyancy of the crowd and the constant singing and chanting played its part in the skit.

No real surprises in the set list, apart from a bemusing bit of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, but some blistering renditions of old favourites like Midway, Uprising, The Art Of War and Attero Dominatus which maintained the pace throughout and linked well with newer material from Heroes including a blistering Resist And Bite and Soldier Of 3 Armies. It's easy to forget that underneath all the comedy and foolery Sabaton are actually a fine heavy metal band. The twin guitars of Chris Rorland and Thobbe Englund slice and shred whilst founder member Par Sundstrom (who never stops grinning) and drummer Hannes Van dahl provide a solid spine. It's also frightening to realise that these guys are only in their early to mid thirties. They've achieved a huge amount already.

One of the highlights of the evening was undoubtedly Carolus Rex which really had the crowd singing and demonstrating there devotion to the band. They closed with the same three as they did at BOA last summer; Night Witches, Primo Victoria and Metal Crue and brought a good evening to a close. With the band clearly amazed at the energy and excitement in the venue on a Monday evening, I was heartened that maybe the metal scene in South Wales does have a heartbeat after all. Well done to all who attended and put the effort in. It made the evening.

Footnote: one chap had made a huge amount of effort to look like Joachim. Camouflage trousers, kevlar waistcoat, sunglasses and even the haircut. He then proceeded to spend the entire evening at the back and unfortunately became a fascinating sight throughout the Sabaton set.. This was because at no point did he smile, applaud, sing or even raise an arm. I make no judgement …

Monday 14 March 2016

Reviews: Billion Dollar Babies, Church Of Misery, Oceans Of Slumber

Billion Dollar Babies: Chemical God (Metalville)

Billion Dollar Babies are from Sweden and they have made their name with incendiary live shows full of dramatic theatrics, blockbuster visuals and most importantly hard rocking songs. With influences that come from KISS, WASP, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and of course Alice Cooper (just see the sexy nun on the cover that could apply to any of these artists) BDB have made their name peddling sleazy, schlocky rock music with a metallic edge that cuts through like a butcher knife. Chemical God is their second album and since their debut they have really ramped things up, the three piece of Pat Kramer and Max Lander on guitars and Frankie Rich on vocals work together flawlessly on every track, Rich's vocals especially have an air of twisted ringmaster about them as he moulds his vocal style to fit every devilish twist change  I Want To See You Burn opens things up with big riffs and creepy synths that immediately tell you what to expect, Everyone's In Love With A Chemical God continues fusing Manson with Zombie with a pummeling bassline, more synths on the sleazy Junkies Ball will get heads banging in the chorus.

BDB's are not trying to be a shameless rip off they are drawing on their influences to create something very modern sounding, One slows the pace but President Payne once again pummels you with a Zombie-like stomp rich with B-Movie cuts. There is barely a dull moment on this record all the songs a forged in with skill they will all be live anthems getting fists in the air and heads banging. When The Light Goes Out is like a mix of Frantic and Backstreet's Back (this is no bad thing) and The Nightmare Began and the bizarre melodramatic House Of Dreams are two tracks on this record that Mr Cooper would be proud of. Naming your band after Alice Cooper's most famous album is a risk but Swedes have managed to do their namesake justice, this is filthy, horror-based metallic hard rock is just what the (mad) doctor ordered; Catchy tunes and dirty thrills all round. 8/10 

Church Of Misery: And Then There Were None (Rise Above Records)

Church Of Misery have always been Japan's and indeed one of the Doom Stoner scenes most revered and unique bands. Sticking to writing purely about serial killers since their 2001 full length debut their latest and fifth (sixth if you count Vol:1) follows a familiar pattern comprising six songs based on serial killers, this time we have The Bender Family, Harold Shipman, Arthur Shawcross, Heaven's Gate Cult but we have the same bludgeoning, stoner doom with huge slabs of riff driven doom led by Tatsu Mikami's excellent bass work, on this record Mikami is the only remaining original member of the band with the rest of the band leaving before this record was recorded, this maybe the influence for the title of the album, but despite the lack of members Mikami has managed to employ the talents of Eric Riddle who adds the percussive concussion to this record, Dave Szulkin has the grinding fuzzy guitars that makes Make Them Die Slowly so harsh.

Finally rounding out this new era of Church Of Misery, Repulsions Scott Carson adds the biting growls. With the hazy Doctor Death tells of Shipman one does get the odd feeling that you are essentially reliving these horrible crimes through music but hey serial killers and crimes in general make interesting topics and have been a source of inspiration for many musicians and media (see Netflix's Making A Murder). River Demon  is Vol.4 era Sabbath by another name with it's almost tribal drumming and clean guitar line, before Confessions Of An Embittered Soul slows things down to a heavy crawl. The songs on this record are all over the five minute mark except for Suicide Journey which is almost a psychedelic warm up for the last track the 8 minute slow burn of Murderfreak Blues. It's a case of all change in Church Of Misery however the song remains the same, mind bending, drug-fuelled doom is still the order of the day. 7/10     

Oceans Of Slumber: Winter (Century Media)

Oceans Of Slumber are all about one thing...atmosphere, their progressive nature means that they can effortlessly move from jazz, to rock, to extreme metal in an instant, the Houston natives are very much progressive in the traditional sense that they do not stick to traditional melodies and rhythms. A lot has changed since their debut album, most notably they have a new singer in the beguiling guise of Cammie Gilbert who has devastatingly beautiful vocals that move from graceful, soulful quietness to booming power at the flick of a chord change. On their last EP Blue they came to many people's attention due to their excellent covers of Candlemass' Solitude, Zeppelin's Kashmir and Pink Floyd's On The Turning Away, however on this their major label debut the focus is purely on their own songs, yes there is a cover, The Moody Blues' Nights In White Satin, but it's a little surplus to requirements, but slots in well to the album, although there will be a few purists that will despise it.

Thankfully their own songs stack up the title track has the same feel as a Katatonia or an Opeth track, building and building into it's dark brooding middle section with guitarist Sean Gary taking the guttural vocals as a direct counterpoint to Gilbert's soaring clean vocals. I've mentioned about the atmosphere of this album and much of it is the work of Sean Gary and drummer Dobber Beverly who are the albums main writers that approach every song with the idea of doing whatever they want, from furious black metal blast beats on Devout which also has Gary and Anthony Contreras shredding like hell underpinned by Keegan Kelly's jazz-like bass playing and the extra layers of added by Uaeb Yelsaeb.

Lullaby is one of the best songs to show the beauty of Cammie's vocals with just her vocals taking centre stage leading up to the haunting Laid To Rest which serves as a precursor to the album's most accessible track the groove filled Suffer The Last Bridge. The band mix full length tracks with little inserts that serve as intros and outros for the next phases of this musical journey. At times the sheer force of the emotion on offer here can be a little overwhelming but with the right mix of technical prowess and songwriting ability the band's affecting, impassioned music does a lot to draw you in to the world Oceans Of Slumber have created. These Texans are as big and bold as their home state and they have the same take no shit attitude that means that this record lurches wildly between genres which can be jarring but never fails to be interesting. 8/10   

Sunday 13 March 2016

Reviews: Headspace, Reckless Love, The New Roses

Headspace: All That You Fear Is Gone (InsideOut)

When looking back at the numerous (1,000 +) albums we have reviewed here it's always interesting to see which albums I keep coming back to. One of these is Headspace's 2012 full length debut I Am Anonymous which continues to get better every time I listen to it, each play reveals deeper meaning and more complex parts that I hadn't heard on previous listens. Now as many will know from these reviews I'm a bit of a prog fan so to have what is essentially a prog supergroup playing complex, intelligent, heavy music with an overarching high concept lyrical content that deals with the Kübler-Ross model of dealing with grief is an interesting and emotional prospect. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw that Headspace were on the verge of releasing their second album which deals with the on going journey of the first albums protagonist (the listener) who has cast off their obedience to experience their own life independently, becoming in frontman Damian Wilson's words "Free thinking, fighting against natural grouping, what appears as destructive rebellion is in fact evolution. Written to make the listener think, whilst capturing the ear with complexity and simplicity combined." So more high concept stuff combined with technically gifted performances drawing from various stylistic influences but filtered into superior songwriting so the album never feels totally inaccessible.

The gestation period of this album has been five years but this time has meant that the band have had time to properly craft this record in the way they see fit, with all but drummer Richard Brook returning from the debut record, his drumstool has been taken by noted session man Adam Falkner but the quality is still here in droves. Once again the trio of guitarist Pete Rinaldi, keyboardist Adam Wakeman and bassist Lee Pomeroy are the bands' musical soul, Rinaldi especially has really left his mark on this record, his guitar playing is technically impressive and along with Pomeroy gives the record it's heaviness however he can also do more than riff and solo, going into acoustic blues on Polluted Alcohol and even some classical guitar on the beautiful title track.

Pomeroy's bass playing is not relegated to just rhythm though it slinks under the surface adding flourishes whenever possible rooting all of the music's dense riffage and time signature changes along with Adam Falkner's expressive drumming. This allows Rinaldi to soar and Wakeman to do as his father has done before him and add swathes of luscious melodies that create an atmosphere that is hard to ignore drawing you in especially when combined with the majestic vocal prowess of Wilson who soars with same power and fragility that he shows in his own band Threshold. All That You Fear Is Gone is yet more proof that Headspace are the best kind of 'supergroup' one that relies on the talent of the members more than notability and history of them. 9/10  

Reckless Love: InVader (Spinefarm)

"Marty! We've got to go back!!" these iconic words from Back To The Future couldn't be more apt for the 80's-tastic Reckless Love that have always gleefully reveled in being an amalgamation of Def Leppard and Van Halen wrapped up in one band. However InVader is a deliberate step away from the retro pomp metal sound of their first two records, this change has been coming since their previous release Spirit where the band toyed with electronica and more pop-like sounds, this influence seems to be what has carried over to this fourth album on tracks like Child Of The Sun which is pure synth pop, as is the saccharine Scandinavian Girls which is ludicrously throw away. As well as the more synth-led aspects they have also added a huge amount of modern radio rock on the opening We Are The Weekend which sounds a lot like many of younger bands around such as All Time Low with it's huge sing along chorus, a trick they repeat on the Euro-Pop metal Pretty Boy Swagger.

Things get a little tougher on Monster which is more like fellow Finns Lordi although the band still have the ability to sound like they come from the Sunset Strip with Bullettime and the filthy Hands both having the sordid hard rock of Ratt, Poison or Van Halen. The band are by no means amateur's everything is delivered with style and wrapped in the thickness of production that means everything sparkles brightly, with all of the progression on this album it does mean the whole thing may be a bit too slick for a lot of people. This is a well made, produced and played album but the band are on dangerous ground moving away from their hard rock history towards a much more mainstream sound. Only time will tell whether this pays off but for now it may take some getting used to. 6/10

The New Roses: Dead Man's Voice (Napalm)

The resurgence of bluesy hard rock seems to be gathering pace every year with The Brits, Americans and The Swedes leading the way with The Answer, The Temperance Movement, Rival Sons, Scorpion Child, Bonafide and Free Fall all coming from that legacy of great hard rock bands, channeling Zeppelin, Free, The Black Crowes, hell even old Whitesnake. Well all the way from Germany comes a new band you can add to the list of blues based hard rock booty shakers, The New Roses are more 80's/90's than 70's styled with shaking blues base mixed with a lot of the sleaze of the strip, in a as far as influences go they are firmly in the American/Australian sound with Black Crowes & AC/DC overarching added to a big heaving load of Cinderella mainly due to frontman Timmy Rough's vocals which are rough by name and rough by nature, sounding like he smokes 50-a-day his vocals are gritty and raspy but also have a soul that is a rarity these days. The band have garnered a lot of experience having supported ZZ Top , Black Stone Cherry, Joe Bonamassa, Die Toten Hosen, Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet in their native Germany they have gained bags of exposure, which has bolstered and honed their skills since their debut full length record Without A Trace (the title track featured in trailers for Sons Of Anarchy on German TV).

This experience is evident from the off as Dead Man's Voice kicks things off with a punch to the nuts on Heads Or Tails which has muscular backbeat from drummer Urban Berz and bassist Hardy that makes it similar to a Quireboys track albeit it a little heavier than that band will ever get. The bluesy swagger continues on the slide guitar filled Thirsty which due to some dirty riffs from Norman Bites and Rough sounds a lot like Rose Tattoo with Rough taking up the mantle of Angry Anderson. There's a distinctly modern sound too on Partner In Crime which could be a Soundgarden track, a style that abates on the quiet-loud dynamic of the country tinged neolithic title track which is built on huge guitar riffs and thundering drums. The sheer heaviness of this record is to it's benefit it makes the songs seem fresh. The rampaging I Believe is a showcase for the gag vocals on an Alter Bridge rhythm, while Ride With Me is more Black Stone Cherry with a huge chorus. Rough and Bites' riffage is awesome with the two trading solos throughout most noticeably on the explosive Try (And You Know Why).

The sublime songwriting continues on the Black Crowes-alike Hurt Me Once (Love Me Twice) and the impressive ballad What If It Was You which could have been a number one back in the 80's with ease. The final track is the monstrous From Guns & Shovels before we get four bonus tracks (two coming from the band's debut). Make no mistake with big riffs, big choruses, more cowbell (The Secret) and an album full of hip shaking rock and roll The New Roses are a true hard rock revelation. If you love true honest hard rock with a sizable portion of the blues that is distinctly modern ala The Answer,The Temperance Movement or The Black Crowes, then pick up Dead Man's Voice, grab a bourbon, a pack of smokes and turn it up loud, you will not be disappointed! 9/10

Saturday 12 March 2016

Reviews: Magnum, Onslaught, Entombed A.D (Reviews By Paul)

Magnum: Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies (SPV)

I have a massive soft spot for Magnum. Steeped in history, Magnum is a true story of resilience and determination; a band that has experienced the highs and lows of the music industry over a marathon 40+ years. For the uninitiated, the band’s roots can be traced back to the West Midlands in the early 1970s where the two main members, guitarist Tony Clarkin and vocalist Bob Catley grafted the clubs and pubs. Their first release came in 1978 with greater commercial success arriving in 1982 with the quite brilliant (and still an all-time favourite of mine) Chase The Dragon. Their success was maintained with high quality releases The Eleventh Hour and then On A Storyteller’s Night which spawned the hit single Just Like An Arrow and I was fortunate enough to catch the band at the long defunct New Ocean Club on Rover Way in Cardiff on that tour. I still have the pin badge. Wings Of Heaven provided their biggest hit with Start Talkin’ Love and the band reached their peak with arena shows throughout the UK. Having split in 1995, the band reformed in 2001 and have continued to produce albums on a regular basis. Magnum are an iconic band who have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity over the past few years. The last time I saw them was at the Steelhouse Festival in 2013.

Since then they’ve released the excellent Escape From The Shadow Garden and now Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies. The title track opens the album; if you could describe a track that summarises this band then Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies would be it. Some excellent guitar work courtesy of Clarkin who delivers magnificently throughout the album, the majestic vocals of Bob Catley, the softer keyboards of Mark Stanway and the solid rhythm section of Harry James and bassist Al Barrow. The orchestral pomp of a band who are masters of their craft follows on Crazy Old Mothers, Catley belying his 68 years whilst Stanway's keyboards expertly underpin the track. Magnum has always been a melodic rock band, never sitting comfortably in the heavy metal category. The keyboards have always been an integral part of the band’s sound, although Clarkin can throw down the riffs with the best. Gypsy Queen demonstrates this fantastically, with Catley soloing during the verses supported by some understated keyboards before the chorus crashes in, complete the harmonies. Clarkin, a veteran these days at 69 teases out a wonderfully constructed solo as the track steadily increases in pace. Princess In Rags (The Cult) follows, a superb melodic rock song, combing the storytelling approach that Catley often adopts, with a huge hook and some stunning melodies; this is one to get the crowd moving (okay, shuffling these days).

Of course, being Magnum, there is always the odd ballad type tucked away and Your Dreams Won’t Die arrives right on cue, supported by some pleasant strings and heavy emphasis on the keyboards. The anthemic chorus will not doubt get the lighters in the air (Am I showing my age now?). If you are looking for heavy metal action, you won’t find it on this release or indeed any of Magnum’s previous 18 albums. What you will find is perfectly crafted rock, sometimes dramatic: Afraid Of The Night; sometimes delicate and emotional before stomping along to a cracking singalong chorus: A Forgotten Conversation and sometimes just plain old quality rock music: Quiet Rhapsody. Don’t Cry Baby brings the album to a close, possibly the weakest track on an album that oozes quality. Their gig at the Tramshed in May will be epic, I have not doubt. I’m gutted that I’m likely to be working away for that entire week. Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies is possibly the best melodic rock release of the year. I highly recommend giving this classic British band an hour of your time. Quite super stuff. 9/10

Onslaught: Live At The Slaughterhouse (AFM)

We don’t often review live releases here at MoM Towers but when this quite frankly fantastic slab of UK thrash arrived on the desk, well, it would have been fucking rude not to. When you discuss the thrash movement of the 1980s, Bristol’s Onslaught are often overlooked. They really are one of the most underrated UK thrash outfits of all time. If you’ve never seen these boys live then you’ve missed out on a real treat whilst some of their studio offerings really kick you in the nuts such is their power. Having split in 1991, the band reformed in 2004 and have been active ever since. Live At The Slaughterhouse is a record of their 2014 UK tour, mainly recorded in London and it truly captures the essence of Onslaught.

If you ever doubted that this band can thrash with the best of them, then the evidence is nicely presented with some of their heaviest and most powerful works on display. One of the many highlights is the quite blistering In Search of Insanity, title track of their 1989 album which features vocalist Sy Keeler giving it his all (as he does throughout) whilst the battering ram drumming of Mike Hourihan absolutely destroys. To be fair, the whole release is excellent, and it really is a reminder of how bloody heavy Onslaught actually are. This is top quality UK thrash, with the twin guitar attack of Nige Rockett and the now departed Leigh Chambers shredding and riffing at 150mph. Jeff Williams demonic bass lines combine with Hourihan's quite incredible drumming to drive the whole thing forward without respite. The quality never dips, with classics such as Fight With The Beast and Metal Forces mixing comfortably with the newer tracks from 2013’s superb VI; including the haunting Children Of The Sand and the all-out attack of 66 Fucking 6. My only complaint is that the crowd noise appears muted, giving the impression of a small turnout and slightly taking the shine off what was a quite stunning set. Onslaught have never really reached the heights that they should have and this is a shame. If you love thrash metal, then this is an essential listen. If you have never heard Onslaught, then this is the introduction you need. “Let’s have a muthafucking pit out here” snarls Sy before Onslaught (Power From Hell) kicks in. “Let’s have some good violent friendly violent fun”. Well, exactly. Thrash ‘til death indeed. 8/10

Entombed AD: Dead Dawn (Century Media)

Back in 2014 Entombed AD emerged from the ashes of Entombed with a powerful debut release, the impressive Back To Front. Less than two years later and the band return with another hard hitting release, Dead Dawn. In a similar vein to its predecessor, Dead Dawn is 40 minutes of melodic death with some really impressive changes in pace. The title track for example retains the dark cutting guitar work of Nico Elgstrand and the relentless drumming of Olle Dhalstedt but doesn’t do what many of the genre do and go flat out. Down To Mars To Ride builds slowly but when it goes then hold on as this is a runaway beast. However, it’s still not 110mph, but an Anthrax style chug which gets the head vigorously nodding very quickly. With an abundancy of chunky riffage this is a storming release. As always, the gruff yet distinguishable vocals of Lars-Göran Petrov are at the forefront with Elgstrand’s fretwork impressive as always. In some ways the band has moved slightly away from the death metal tag they have carried for a long time but just when you think they might have mellowed they hit straight back with a slab of brutal all-out power; see Total Death and Silent Assassin for evidence of this. Entombed AD has also built real atmosphere into many of their tracks, creating a real oppressive deathly vision on the foreboding behemoth Hubris Fall and album closer Not What It Seems. This is another solid release from a band who show pretty intense resilience. Well worth a listen. 7/10