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Saturday 30 April 2016

Reviews: Diamond Head, Texas Hippie Coalition, Savage Master (Reviews By Paul)

Diamond Head: Diamond Head (Dissonance)

It’s well-worn history about the influence that Stourbridge’s Diamond Head had on the early thrash movement. We all know the much celebrated Metallica covers of Am I Evil, The Prince and Helpless and if you’ve been to any festival over the past ten years there is a strong chance that you’ll have caught Brian Tatler’s outfit playing those songs. And therein lies the problem for Diamond Head. Forever fated to be one of the bands that influenced arguably the biggest metal band of all time. But with a catalogue of largely mediocre hard rock tunes.

Move forward 40 years from their original formation and Tatler remains the only constant from those late 1970s days. However, the core of 2016’s Diamond Head are all long serving members. Bassist Eddie Moohan and drummer Ken Wilcox had served in the band prior to their split in the mid-1990s and were both back in the fold by 2002; rhythm guitarist Andy Abberley is now in his tenth year. The one relatively new addition is vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen, who joined the ranks in 2014.
Diamond Head is a solid slab of hard rock. It isn’t going to tear up any trees and it won’t go platinum. It does however make you feel good, with a simplistic formula for the majority of the tracks which will appeal to the band’s fan base and to the average classic rock fan. Opener Bones is a quality rocking tune, whilst See You Rise contains a catchy riff which would encourage you to break the speed limit if you were pumping it through the stereo. Tatler demonstrates what we always knew; he is an excellent guitarist, peeling off solos for pleasure. The band are solid and the production is decent and in Andersen they have a vocalist with a typically radio rock friendly voice. It’s clean, it’s strong and unfortunately it sits in the same bucket as about a million others.

All The Reasons You Live smoulders with some delicious synth work adding depth to the track; a crunching riff underpins the song and Andersen gives the performance of the album whilst Tatler’s subtle guitar work is fantastic. It’s a great hard rock song, laced with AOR flavour. Wizard Sleeve transports you back to the 1980 debut Lightning For The Nations, such is its old school feel and style. You can really hear the origins of Diamond Head in this track, with a massive nod to the power of bands of the time; think Budgie. However, as the album reaches the final furlong, the songs tire somewhat. Our Time Is Now, Speed and Diamond are pretty run of the mill staples. Album closer Silence is a different matter altogether though. Full of Egyptian promise, soaring and sweeping, it builds magnificently to a roaring crescendo.

I am in genuine awe that Diamond Head still have the energy to craft and deliver a new album, 36 years after their debut release. They won’t set the world on fire with this release. However, they are an important band in the history of our much loved style of music and deserve respect. A solid if unspectacular return. 6/10

Texas Hippie Coalition: Dark Side Of Black (Carved Records)

Back in late 2014 I reviewed Ride On, the fourth release from rednecks Texas Hippie Coalition or THC. At the time I commented “This is decent, honest, American heavy metal delivered with quality and a vocal style from Big Dad Ritch which merges the grit of Anselmo with the balls of Ryan McCombs.” Well, roll on 18 months and THC are back with a quite superb follow up. Dark Side Of Black is 40 minutes of aggressive, gritty and passionate Southern rock which once again has a massive range of influences. The Southern Skynyrd style sound remains, especially in the slightly slower Knee Deep. However, the band have merged even more styles with a huge chunk of Clutch, a splash of Monster Magnet and even the hardened edge of Hatebreed evident; take a listen to Gods Are Angry for aural confirmation. Once again the vocal delivery of Big Dad Ritch dominates. This man has a huge sound, a voice that convinces you that he walks it as he talks it. Opener Come And Get It once again has the Coombs flavour, albeit with a hint of Neil Fallon.

As on their previous release, the sound is massive, with the same line-up delivering the goods from every angle. Angel Fall erupts into a track that would cause huge pit action in the live arena before a measured chorus and hook level it out whilst Shakin’ Baby has the Godsmack edge. THC may not challenge too much with the lyrical content, sexual innuendo and straight forward sexual intent all  present, but the drive and sheer addictive style allows you to immerse yourself in the driving riffs, powerhouse drumming and rampaging bass lines whilst BCH stomps a mud hole with his quite fantastic voice. It’s addictive stuff and impossible not to nod the head to. I defy you to listen to the hook on Into The Wall and sit still. Penultimate track Hit It Again screams Wyndorf, a seven-minute beat that would sit comfortably on a monster magnet release. I gave Ride On a 7/10. Well, the boys have upped their game with their latest offering. Top quality stuff. 8/10

Savage Master: With Whips and Chains (High Roller Records)

Whether it was William Booth or Charles Wesley who said “why should the Devil have all the best tunes” is open to much debate. Whoever it was, they were both fortunate not to have been around to listen to the complete antithesis of that statement in Savage Master, a female fronted occult metal outfit from Louisville, Kentucky. Amazingly this is their sophomore release, following on from their 2014 debut Mask Of The Devil and 2015’s EP Black Hooves. Now, if you want a band to demonstrate why heavy metal is still mocked in certain quarters, just take a look at their promo shots. Whilst I fully support a person’s right to dress and express themselves in whatever way they wish, singer Stacey Peak does her gender no favours at all, clad in minimal leather, all eyes front and centre on her cleavage. Much like the awful Butcher Babies, it is hard enough for female singers to be taken seriously in this male dominated genre; conforming to every stereotype does them no favours at all. I don’t see Doro or Christina dressing like this. The rest of the band wear hoods! Yes, fucking hoods. Although this was clearly intended to provide a sinister effect it actually just makes them look like total dicks

Anyway this would be a slightly academic debate if Savage Master were any good but alas, they are dreadful. I can’t work out if the band are tongue in cheek with their lyrical content but I have my doubts. Satan’s Crown, Black Hooves, Ready To Sin and the dire Path Of The Necromancer all have the typically occult themed lyrical content: mention of covens, witches, Satan and the like. The title track is a plodding dull affair, routine heavy metal at its most average. Whilst the core of the band can play their instruments perfectly well, everything is destroyed by Peak’s appalling voice. It came as no surprise to read that Savage Master had supported Grave Digger in the States. Another band with a singer who could be sued under the Trade Descriptions Act. Peak’s vocals are just awful, out of tune and screaming like a wounded cat all over a collection of pretty ponderous tracks; Burned At The Stake and Vengeance Is Steel are particularly bad.  For fans of Cirith Ungol, Bitch and early Mercyful Fate says their web page. Well, they’ve certainly captured the production feel of 1984 on this release. All the acoustic quality of a Wetherspoon’s toilet. Luckily their forthcoming European tour doesn’t stop in the UK. Long may that continue. 3/10

Friday 29 April 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Eradication Festival

Eradication Festival Day 1 Friday, Fuel Rock Club 

Eradication Festival has become a bit of a staple event in the Cardiff metal calendar, it tends to attract high caliber bands that are from the more extreme side of the metalsphere, this year their line up was the biggest ever with the Friday thrash dominated line up having the most well known bands. Headlined by Shrapnel and featuring Reign Of Fury, Divine Chaos and Incinery, it was perfect introduction to some of the most exciting bands on the thrash/death scene, all in one place. 

The festival itself started around 1pm on the Friday but due to work constraints myself and my heavy loving buddy Lee managed to turn up just after Oakhaart (7) had kicked off, the bands progressive/techincal style metal was a breath of fresh air for those expecting thrash all day as the songs were proggy and had a clinical precision about them, their vocalist too had the best vocal of the entire night effortlessly moving from pained scream to an aggressive growl through to a powerful Warrell Dane-croon (he also sports a fine skullett) the Gloucester band's set was over before they could really get going (something that would repeat itself numerous times) but they were a strong opening. 

Next up after a long set up were Birmingham thrashers Eradikator (6) who play thrash with a more modern edge blending Metallica with bands such as Machine Head and even Evile, as good as this sounds, they were let down massively by the sound of their set, every time frontman/bassist Pat Cox stepped up to the mic there was almighty feedback which at times actually hurt, this dampened my enjoyment of their set and meant that a few of the punters pulled back and retreated to the bar, this is a shame for Eradikator who I was looking froward to and when there was no feedback they sounded good, despite the guitars dropping out a few time making everything a bit bass heavy but I guess I'll just have to wait to see them again to really see how well they do. 

Another changeover that was almost as long as the sets themselves and it was time for Nottingham's Incinery (7) now they managed to shake up the room a little bit, many of those who had gathered early were decked out in Incinery patches showing that they had a lot of support in the room, this was obvious to see when the band kicked off, they provided a relentless battery of thrash with all of the band destroying their instruments and their frontman echoing Phil Anselmo in his early days snarling and commanding the stage spitting some violent growls which proved them to be a heavier angrier prospect than the previous band. Still the sound problems had not gone away and once again there was feedback that was distracting but the band were received well by the partisan crowd and finished strong. Myself and Lee then took a bit from the battery and popped to get some food, thankful that the venue was no more than five minutes from the still bustling St Mary's street which has many fine eateries, although a Greggs was more attractive than anything else, eating on the run we came back into the venue just before the next band kicked off. 

The next band in question was Wretched Soul (8) from Canterbury who's t-shirt bore the title "A Curse Upon Your Christ" which really is all you need to know, the band play incredibly technical death metal, with songs about the hypocrisy of religion delivered in a devastatingly heavy style, for a four piece the band rattle your brain with a cannon-like bottom end from drummer Andy Clifford and bassist Luke Mayall, while guitarist Steve Clifford shreds like a beast allowing the towering Viking-like frontman Chris Simmons to unleash his unbelievably wide vocal range going from the depths of hell to the thunder gods up high with his booming pipes. Wretched Soul got the ovation they truly deserved although a few down the front came out looking a bit dazed, possibly from the concussion that took place on stage. 

There seemed to be a longer gap between the switch over of bands but finally everything was sorted and it was time for the first of the last three bands to hit the stage, with most of the crowd just recovering from the brutal assault of Wretched Soul it was time for more explosive death-infected thrash with Divine Chaos (7) the band took tot he stage with a lot of power and a distinctly modern edge and a hostility that befitted their politician baiting lyrics and thrash metal fury, the band were technical and melodic with more harsh vocals that were surprisingly audible considering the sound problems earlier in the night, Divine Chaos do pissed off very well and rumbled through their set at a terrifying pace before finishing to a appreciative crowd. 

As the room filled with more punters you could feel the excitement grow and rightly so as the next band surely are headliners in their own right, due to the amount of t-shirts and patches visible at the front it was not just me that was looking forward to Reign Of Fury (8) the five piece from Cheltenham dove straight into their Anthrax-meets-Maiden style of classic thrash metal that brings in some traditional metal and progressive metal motifs to it. The band seemed to be having a blast shuffling and posturing around the small stage that saw bassist Paul Bielby and guitarist Jon Preistly trying to out do the other with their posturing and gurning, all while Magic Dave obliterated his kit (twice), the recent addition of guitarist Ross Lenny McLennan stood a stoic figure as he soloed for his life all while Bison Steed sang with the most melodic delivery of the night but it was the bands more traditional sound that made them stand out form the rest of the bands on the night, they were clearly having a blast on stage and even invited a lot of assembled rabble onto the stage to sing as a gang shout 'choir' for Born To Die (Dying To Live) before kicking them all back off and ending the set with the 8 minute epic World Detonation from their debut album of the same name. With the reception Reign Of Fury got they had definitively laid down a gauntlet for the headliners to take up. 

As the room cleared for the final time, there was possibly the longest set up of the entire evening before the headliners took to the stage but finally they did and we were off with the last band of the night Norwich's Shrapnel (7) now I last saw the band at Hammerfest a few years ago now and while they are entertaining I hoped that they would have expanded their sound a little since then but no apparently the band are quite content with sounding exactly like Slayer, I mean it's uncanny they stick to the Slayer sound for most of their songs except for when they sound like Kreator and Exodus, now I know thrash is not the most progressive genre, very rarely does a band come along doing something different, but Shrapnel unfortunately fall into those bands that border on pastiche, I think maybe if the roles had been reversed and Reign of Fury had come after Shrapnel then I could have been more forgiving of them, but as it stands myself and Lee left before Shrapnel concluded their set (myself having been up for nearly 20 hours by this point). 

Eradication is one hell of a festival and so I've heard day 2 and 3 were equally as good (I couldn't attend due to outside factors, namely work) showcasing the best local and underground death and black metal, however personally I think the Friday line up had more recognisable bands and therefore should have taken place a day later as many of the afternoon bands attracted smaller crowds due to work constraints. Still with an Open Air festival planned for the summer this local D.I.Y festival is going from strength to strength and as a supporter of the local scene this can only be a good thing.

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Reviews: Tiles

Tiles: Pretending 2 Run (The Laser's Edge)

If you've never heard of Detroit natives Tiles before then get your head around these figures, Pretending 2 Run is their first studio album in 8 years, their sixth overall, it clocks in at massive 92 minutes over two discs, it was produced by long-time Rush producer Terry Brown and has the artwork designed by Hugh Syme who has also worked with the legendary Canadian band. Now if all of this doesn't scream prog then I'm afraid you are reading the wrong blog, Tiles are most definitely a prog band and one that I first was aware of on their last album Fly Paper (which had Alex Lifeson playing on it) since then I have worked retrospectively through their discography and I have gained a higher appreciation for their talent as a band. So it was with a lot of excitement that found out that they were finally releasing their follow up to Fly Paper. Tiles have always struck me as a mixture of Rush and Dream Theater, so they are following the age old tradition of prog double albums, due to the records length and varying styles there is always room for guests and Pretending 2 Run is no different with Jethro Tull mainman Ian Anderson, ex-Dream Theater/Winery Dog/Flying Colours man Mike Portnoy and his son Max, jazz guitarist Mike Stern, vocals from long term contributor Matthew Parmenter, bass from former Tiles and Artension man Kevin Chown, extra synths and programming from Steven Wilson alumni Colin Edwin and Adam Holzman as well as a string section and a choir to really add to the bombastic nature of this record.

Still with all the additional help on this record to give it the huge sound it needs to really create a soundscape, it's the four members of the band that work the hardest with Jeff Whittle and Chris Herin the major factors to the sound Whittle providing the intricate, jazz infected bass work, Herin the soaring guitar melodies, deft acoustics and towering solos with both of them sharing the keys (Herin also gives us a blast of trumpet too). Accompanying the two guitars is the impressive percussive talent of Mike Evans who is every song's anchor playing in such a way that when Portnoy takes over on Stonewall and Fait Accompli unless you know that it is him playing you wouldn't be aware, Evans is great drummer in his own right channeling Jazz and rock into his playing as well as the obvious nods to Peart. Finally once again Tiles' vocalist Paul Rarick gets to impress with his vocal power and his wide range that has elements of James La Brie but with a broader scope to it.

The first disc doesn't ease you in, immediately you are confronted by complex instrumental pieces, rapid stylistic changes, dense levels of instrumentation, with the slow burning title track building up into the more Eastern influenced Shelter In Place and the classic rock of Stonewall. There are French inserts throughout linking things together meaning you really have to listen to the album to appreciate it, Drops Of Rain has a Beatles/Cheap Trick sound with a lot of cymbals, walking bassline and poppy guitars, this is juxtaposed with the previous instrumental the rougher Voir Dire and leads into the impressive 10 minute plus Taken By Surprise which is followed Refugium which can only be described as Chamber Music, then the first disc ends with Small Fire Burning and the listener has already run a gamut of sounds before even getting to the more free flowing second album.

With the first being more like a classic Tiles record, the second has more tracks at shorter lengths, meaning there is more of collective sound as one song segues into the next, with intermezzos and transitions the order of the day. It starts with the Afro-beat Midwinter which builds traditional wind instruments on top of dark electro, much like the pre and post So Peter Gabriel sound, second song Weightless is the longest song on the second disc and brings the King Crimson-like prog vibe with the liberal use of sax abound and a huge chorus, while Battle Weary is a more laid back folky affair, Meditatio is another chamber song that moves into a bubbling synth track that explodes into the ELP-style The Disappearing Floor. Pretending 2 Run is a progressive masterpiece, it may be overwhelming for some but after a few listens the 90 plus minute album drip feeds you it's secrets meaning that every time you listen you hear something new and interesting, with so many great prog albums this year already, Pretending 2 Run could possibly be the best. 10/10       

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Reviews: Hawkwind, Lita Ford, Dave Brock (Reviews By Paul)

Hawkwind: The Machine Stops (Cherry Red)

This is a concept album as concept albums should be. Based on the futuristic novel by EM Forster, The Machine Stops follows the descent from utopian dream into dystopian nightmare in a world where man is dependent on the omnipotent machine that he created.

Delivered in typical Hawkwind style, the album dives and swirls, driving space rock juxtaposed with poetry and calm melancholy alongside the usual bizarre shorts (Yum-Yum).
A few things really stand out. Firstly, this release demonstrates that Hawkwind are still capable of delivering some brilliant stuff. Synchronised Blues for example is them at the top of their game. Driving bass lines, crashing riffs and rolling drumming mixing perfectly with soaring synths and harmonious vocals of Mr Dibs and Dave Brock. Hexagone, written and performed entirely by Dead Fred is haunting and stunning in equal measure.

Secondly, Hawkwind have faithfully  followed Forster’s storytelling to create a soundtrack that is instantly recognisable to those fortunate enough to have devoted a few hours to reading the book. Thirdly, if you don't like Hawkwind then this album will not change your mind one iota. The Machine Stops contains all the craziness that the Hawks have been so famous for over the years. This includes the electronica and synth based dance fusion which they dabbled with in the 1990s, for example on King Of The World and The Harmonic Wall. And yet it is the driving space rock which still gets the blood pulsing the most; check out The Machine, A Solitary Man or Thursday.

Finally, The Machine Stops slots right into the Hawkwind live set as witnessed on their very recent date in Cardiff. New tracks from the album stood comfortably alongside old classics and yet the older stuff fitted superbly with the overall concept show. Who else could slot in Orgone Accumulator and Assault And Battery into a show based on their new album with such ease. The band may be getting on in years but The Machine Stops demonstrates that there is plenty of life left in Hawkwind yet. All hail the machine! All hail Hawkwind. 9/10

Lita Ford: Time Capsule (SPV)

The last time I heard Lita Ford was around 1988 when the awful Kiss Me Deadly was raging on MTV. Having returned from a lengthy hiatus in 2008 and released two albums in 2009 and 2012, Time Capsule sees Ford return with a release that borders on mediocre for the majority of the album whilst plunging to the absolute pits on occasion. Killing Kind is absolute dirge, radio friendly rock which Motley Crüe peddled so successfully. Christ, there's  a flipping banjo or ukele lurking on this one deep in the mix.

Ford’s mezzo soprano remains  pretty powerful, with her LA drawl still evident. However, her song writing, which to be fair was never brilliant, now verges between Bon Jovi-lite and Poison. War Of The Angels is ghastly, whilst Rotten To The Core is average pop rock at best. Suddenly there appears an instrumental cover of Little Wing, the Hendrix classic, which throws a real curve ball as it's actually not that bad. The rest of the release is just pedestrian, with tracks like On The Fast Track, another instrumental plodding along with some laboured guitar work, King Of The Wild Wind (yawn) and Mr Corruption following the same formulaic delivery. I was never the biggest fan of Lita, even though her sexually charged image appealed to a teenage lad in the 1980s. Much like Lee Aaron (who's also released a new album recently), the music was so often a letdown after the titillation. This is another tease which leads nowhere. 4/10

Dave Brock: Brockworld (Hawkward Records)

As well as releasing close to 30 studio albums with Hawkwind, David Anthony Brock has also released several solo releases, with Brockworld his latest and 11th. Released late in 2015,  as one would expect, it holds true to the main sound of Hawkwind, with thumping bass lines, swirling oscillators and the Westone guitar riff uniquely Brock’s. As the album unwinds, psychedelic space rock intersperses with more unusual instrumentals with a variety of colourfully choreographed tracks. Life Without Passion is pretty straightforward for Brock, who then kicks out the jams in an orgy of Hammond, driving bass, crashing drums, wailing guitar and oscillating synths during Manipulation. Building on 2012’s Looking For Love In The Land Of Lost Dreams, Brockworld really is an eclectic collection of individual compositions which range from space rock to abstract craziness. Domain Of Those Who Fly is just batshit crazy. Not content with the space rock, Brock turns his attention to dance fusion, Getting Old and a Single Man, piano concerto ramblings in The Last Tango and thumping electronica in Horizon. For a man who is nearly three quarters of a century old, Dave Brock is an enigma whose enthusiasm for music outside of the mainstream shows no sign of slowing. This is an album you'll either love or hate. I think it's brilliant. 8/10

Monday 25 April 2016

Review: Marauder, Solar Sun, Master Charger

Marauder: Bullethead (Pitch Black Records)

Since 1991 Marauder have been flying the flag for Greek epic/power metal, the band have a history of staggering albums by four years and Bullethead is no exception their previous release was in 2012 so this sixth album follows the pattern and once again comes four years after it's predecessor (maybe it's me being a bit OCD but I like this approach). The band once again have made an album that deals with the de rigueur themes of fantasy, war, history and of course metal itself, like bands such as Sabaton, Bloodbound and Majesty, Marauder are true metal, so if you are not a fan of chest beating metal power, then you'd better leave the hall as quickly as possible.

As soon as Son Of Thunder kicks in with powerful classic metal riff Marauder show that they mean business with the twin axe attack trading off licks and solos, bolstered by the frantic rhythm section, this is traditional metal by numbers but delivered with a grit that sees them harking back to the early days of NWOBHM where everything wasn't so polished. Kudos has to go to their new singer for having a gravelly baritone vocal that sounds a bit like DiAnno and holds up remarkably until the final track Set Me Free where for some reason it does seem to falter, maybe it's the pace of the track, but on tracks like the sublimely stupid Metal Warriors, Tooth N Nail (not a Dokken cover thankfully) and Predators he really shows his impressive vocal. The whole album is let down a little by the production which I will say is rather thin especially on the drums which sound a bit tinny for a few tracks, but putting this aside Bullethead is a traditional metal album full of fist pumping anthems that show that Marauder are still raiding a well worn seam but one that keeps on giving. 8/10 

Solar Suns: The Great Blue Divide (Self Released)

Dundee's (Scotland) Solar Sons are labelled as progressive band but one listen to their debut album, in this incarnation they were formally known as Inferior Planet, you can hear that prog is only half the story in fact the band are very good at blending more ethereal sounds with the gutsy thrust of Maiden, early Rush or bands such as Leprous, Haken Kings X or Canadian posse Tiles. They are a heavy prospect but not in a metal way, the three piece rely on intricate guitar playing from Danny Lee and a rock solid boiler room in his brother Rory and drummer Peter Garrow, Fold opens proceedings with a Maiden like epic song, before any sort of prog po-faceness is driven away by Twisted Mistress which is a jazz-laden schizophrenic track that could have come from London madmen The Earls Of Mars as it is silliness of the finest order. Bassist Rory definitely plays a lead bass, it is very high in the mix giving the songs a lot of groove and enforcing the King's X similarities (albeit without the God bothering), when combine their music with his unique gritty vocals you get the idea that Solar Sons are no normal prog band.

They throw everything into the musical melting pot; Peripheral Interest has Floydian guitar part with a more modern chorus and once again a Maiden style gallop which once again is driven by Rory's bassline and 'Arry and Co's sound is also all over Revolution's But A Dream especially on Pete's cymbal work. This album keeps your attention as you are not sure where it's going to next but also it does seem to jump from one style to another without much to link them. There are some weak links on this record too unfortunately Tatanka and Black Rain being the two I'd pick but all is forgiven on Lost To Psychosis which brings a SOAD weirdness to the metallic backing. The Great Blue Divide is trying to be a good album but it's a bit too scatter gun in places, a bit too Maiden in others and the production does it no favours at all, hopefully the band can streamline a bit on their next record to tighten everything up a bit. 6/10

Master Charger: Eroding Empires (Self Released)

Nottingham based stoner metal crew Master Charger have returned after a five year absence of recording. The three piece play bruising stoner metal that Monster Magnet, Down and Corwbar would be comfortable with, think heaving riffs, thumping basslines and powerhouse drumming. As the record kicks off with the riff fest of Damn Me Forever the band show their colours this is noisy heavy and aggressive with JP shouting and howling at the mic, with a distinctly American styled vocals, while he plays some slide and reverb drenched guitar on top of Dave Hayes fuzz bass, Dwell In The Doom has a hazy early Orange Goblin vibe to it with the trippy middle section that carries over into the colossal Turn The Tides which has slow sludgy riff and some impatient percussion from Jon Kirk which is just waiting for the chance to explode which does happen towards the end.

Eroding Empires is a great stoner metal release, there is a real sense of power throughout, it's the sort of record Monster Magnet used to make surrounded by a weed-smoke fug with a low-frequnecy audio assault that hits you in the kidney's, Blessed Be... brings back the Orange Goblin/Sabbath style bounce in the riff while the 8 minute plus In Hell's Grip slows the pace and shifts in style throughout, before Death Trails goes for the more is more advice with layer upon layer of headache inducing heaviness. Master Charger have returned with emphatic statement, they are back from the abyss and ready to once again shake your skeleton to dust with their heavy stoner metal. Eroding Empires just begs to be played loud with a herbal remedy at hand. 8/10   

Saturday 23 April 2016

Reviews: Inactive Messiah, Eths, Celestial Ruin

Inactive Messiah: Dark Masterpiece (Growl Records)

Greek melodic metal band Inactive Messiah have been on a relative hiatus (one would say inactive) for nearly 8 years now, their previous effort Sinful Nation was released in 2008 but since then there hasn't seemed to be any activity until now. Dark Masterpiece is the band's fourth album and sees them moving more into the melodic-death metal style of bands like Scar Symmetry (Apocalypse) while still retaining the atmospheric/industrial elements of countrymen Septicflesh. Lords Of Avarice is one track that nods it's head in the direction of Septicflesh with the pulsing electronics backing Thanos' rough guitars, and syncing with the unrelenting percussive brute force of Michalis' drums.

This track kicks off the album swiftly as a showcase for Xristos' growled harsh vocals which are counterpointed by Thanos' clean delivery giving them the traditional dual vocal approach of the melo-death genre, admittedly the clean vocals are employed only when needed and they are deeper than the normal higher register that is their to counteract the harsh vocals. 24 Carat Blood proves the industrial elements are still here in droves as it has the same chug and creepy synths as the maestro of spook rock Rob Zombie, the Gothic Blood Needs Blood slows the pace with a swinging gallows riff and the clean vocals coming to life, Whore Of Babylon has the modern breakdown style to it showing that Inactive Messiah can stretch their wings a bit on this record. If Industrial/Melodic Death metal is your bag then Inactive Messiah will be your bag most definitely, chunky riffs, harsh vocals and a cinematic edge Dark Masterpiece shows that Inactive Messiah is very much an active concern. 7/10 

Eths: Ankaa (Seasons Of Mist)

French metal does tend to deal in the groove-laden more bottom heavy end of the metal spectrum with Gojira and Klone both destroying bowels around the world, well add Eths to this list. The band are now on their fourth album, which is their first with new vocalist Rachel Aspe who replaced Candice Clot in 2013, it's also the first album without founding members, second guitarist Grégory "Greg" Rouvière and drummer Guillaume "Yom" Dupré, (replaced by R.U.L). Aspe stamps her mark all over this record and while here vocals still have the stomach shredding ferocity of her predecessor she has her own style that comes across when they slow down a little adding the nu-metal influences that are also part of their unique mix of nu, alt, groove metal all bundled in with some skull crushing deathcore, se Seditio which starts off with a plaintive piano intro before the heaviness kicks in.

With just the one guitar the sound is more streamlined but still as heavy as before it's just the bass has more power than before, it's the cornerstone of every track adding the groove to proceedings. the band are not afraid to play with their sound, Nihil Sine Causa has dual screams, some haunting Middle Eastern backing chants, heavy battery, a trance middle section and breaks down towards the end, it's progressive without being too ethereal. The Nu-Metal influence is evident on Amaterasu which could have come off a Korn record with it's heavy bottom end and electronic touches. For the most part of this record it's heavy, brutal and unrelenting but done in a way that tracks such as Vae Victis which starts out slower before the stop-start riff of the middle kicks in don't let you settle into a groove Eths are a bit of kitchen sink band throwing in so many elements that you really don't know where they are going to go next, which I have to say is an endearing feature. 7/10

Celestial Ruin: Pandora (Self Released)

Styling themselves as Vancouver's first Symphonic power metal band the collective of Larissa (vocals), Eriz (guitars), Mike (bass) and Adam (drums) will appeal to fans of Nightwish, Within Temptation, Delain, Leaves’ Eyes, in fact any female fronted symphonic band you care to mention. In what is an overcrowded genre bands have to really make a mark to stand out and with their Pandora EP that is what Celestial Ruin are trying to do. The EP comes off the back of a full length debut album The Awakening  released in 2012 and it ramps up the songwriting a little with the band firing on all cylinders from the off filling the tracks with lush orchestrations and keys by Ruben Wijga with the rest of the band crashing in with speedy riffs, frantic drumming of bands such as Kamelot and Nightwish, that are nothing new but are done with flair and with production coming from ex-After Forever, Epica and Revamp man Joost Van Den Broek so the EP has the right amount of bombast marrying symphonic metal with the more Gothic rock of Evanescence, especially in the lyrical content which focuses on horror & fantasy. The Gothic elements are most pronounced on the second track Sense Of Exile. The five tracks on this EP all move at pace with Murder Of Crows is a strong start and exhibits Larissa's fine vocal, No Quarter is slower track telling of a pirate giving his soul to Davy Jones, with Nevermore being the albums strongest track by far, a colossal ballad that builds into a cinematic track that is the perfect center piece for the record. Pandora sees this band stepping up their game hopefully this will translate towards their next release. 7/10 

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Reviews: Santana, Shiraz Lane, The Experiment No.Q

Santana: IV (Santana IV Records)

In 1969 San Franciscan Jam Rock band Santana, named after their founding guitarist/writer, exploded on to the Woodstock stage with a compelling performance of Soul Sacrifice that was unlike most of the bands playing, the Afro/Latin rhythms mixed with blues/psychedelic mind bending exploration, and free form jazz to create a unique sound. This performance was the catalyst for Santana's golden period starting with the self titled debut, through Abraxas which this year was was deemed "culturally, historically, or artistically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in their National Recording Registry in 2016, then concluding their classic trio with Santana III which was the first record to feature Neal Schon.

Now everyone knows what happens after that Keyboardist/Vocalist Gregg Rollie and Neal Schon left the band and formed Journey (you know how that went) but Santana went on to become more jazz based until his high profile worldwide number 1 collaboration album Supernatural in 1999 brought him back to the mainstream. A few years ago Schon pitched the idea of doing some work with Santana like the old days but Carlos himself was adamant that if they were to collaborate it would be with the inclusion of Rolie as well as original percussionist Michael Carabello and drummer Michael Shrieve, tragically bassist David Brown died in 2000 and timbales player José Octavio "Chepito" Areas is not part of the project either, so they are deputised by Benny Rietveld (bass) and Karl Perazzo (timbales) but five of the original members of Santana are present which is probably enough to make it officially a reunion.

Musically very little has changed either picking up where they left off with the Jazz influenced Afro-Latin rhythms still as impressive as they were originally, over the course of the 16 tracks on this record there is the usual mix of instrumentals and vocal tracks with Rolie especially having the same vocal prowess he did way back when. Instrumentally the music is key with Santana's smooth, intense, distinctive playing style working in conjunction with Schon's more traditional approach, add into this mix the hammonds and organs, the extensive use of percussion and the vocal harmonies and the stage is set for premium Latin rock.

However that never really happens at 16 tracks and 75 minutes it maybe a bit too long for most people and does drag a little in the middle, meaning everything becomes a little bit of a slog however with tracks like Fillmore East (dedicated to New York's legendary venue), Anywhere You Want To Go, Blues Magic, Love Makes The World Go Round and Freedom In Your Mind (both featuring Ron Isley on vocals) it does capture that classic Santana sound perfectly but there just needed to be a bit of quality control to really make an impression 7/10

Shiraz Lane: For Crying Out Loud (Frontiers)

For Crying Out Loud is Finnish band Shiraz Lane's debut album and they do as much as possible from the first chord to show you they mean business, their blues-based, sleazy hard rock vibe give them a similar sound to their obvious inspirations G'N'R, Skid Row and Aerosmith, with a bit of Cinderella and The Darkness thrown in on the tongue in cheek Begging For Mercy. For a young band they are accomplished musicians, all playing their instruments with precision and also the right amount of louchness that gives them the swagger of the 80's Strip.

The five members synch well and they can write a catchy tune with big ballsy riffs and more hooks that a fishing trawler but there is one thing that let's them down and that's the vocals, Hannes Kett tries to be the bastard lovechild of Axl Rose and Justin Hawkins but can't quite make it meaning that he squeaks and shrieks along through the songs rather than employing the wider range of Hawkins and Rose. It's because of this that I can see there being more than few listeners that are distracted from the actually very solid backline, especially on the title track and M.L.N.W where he apes Hawkins badly.

When he does reign it in he does have a good voice on Same Ol' Blues, but mostly it's the Vince Neil-like sky scraping shrieks that fill tracks like the Skid Row style Mental Slavery, the bluesy Behind The 8-Ball and Bleeding as well as the funky Momma's Boy. Shiraz Lane are a good band there is no denying that but if they want longevity they need to reign in the vocal histrionics a bit for the band and Kett's own sake. 7/10        

The Experiment No Q: Right After The Experiment No Q (AenimaRecording)

I reviewed the debut record by The Experiment No Q a while back and it impressed me with it's clash of styles and sounds fusing together under a conceptual banner. The concept revolves around a Steampunk Science- Fiction Rock Opera that tells of and inventor; "No.Q, mid-nineteenth century scientist who has imprisoned the souls of the musicians in a mechanical maze and the vital energy in a book of alchemical emblems, (he) is ready to use this book to the supreme blasphemy: create life, a real life for his inspiration." so not a rom-com by any means, however even bypassing the complicated back story there is enough here to intrigue and hook the listener. The project is the brainchild of Paolo Vallerga (No.Q) who like his narrative namesake has once again gathered a group of musicians together to lend their talents to this conceptual piece. It's this group mentality that gives the album it's considerable edge, every musician contributes something different bringing Vallerga's lyrics, music and storyline to life with expansive soundscapes that have their roots in 70's prog rock.

There has been some changes in line up since the debut with David Sugerman and Oxy Hart taking up the two vacant vocal positions although  Fabio Privitera, Kevin Zwierzchaczewski and Nalle Påhlsson all make a comeback, instrumentally Påhlsson still contributes bass with new boy Massimo Bozza, drumming comes from the returning Mattia Garimanno who splits his time with Andrea Falaschi, the guitarists are the returning pair of Andrea Palazzo and Jacopo Garimanno and keyboards from Marco Signore and Paolo Gambino. Theses are the more traditional instrumentation that are the main body of the sound adding but as this is a cinematic experience there are of course more than the traditional instruments with traverse flute and kalimba which comes from Dino Eldrisio Pelissero again (most evident on the folky Close To The Sunrise) and violin from Andrea Bertino.

The songs once again have to really be taken as a whole piece as the segue into one and other adding more each time driving the story along with a classic rock sound that blends Jethro Tull, Yes, Rush and Therion who also have the rock opera style to their sound. The album opens with the hammond fuelled heaviness of Don't Let Me Kill The No.Q which is a slow burning doom style track with bass-driven riff and a rapid fire rap-like vocal, this moves into the Goth-style The Overturned Dreamer, while we get an industrial theme on Welcome To The Garden and the first proper female vocal on the thundering The Secret Language.

This second record is a little heavier, a little darker than it's predecessor mirroring the change of pace in the storyline however with the first six tracks making up a suite so to speak, the final part of the album has flourishes of hope but it is still a darkly, theatrical piece, with Another Life as the most theatrical track. This is yet another sublime album from No.Q and his collection of musicians, with intelligent, poetic lyrical content and virtuoso performances yet again The Experiment No Q have released one of the prog records of the year. 9/10


A View From The Back Of The Room: Wolfmother

Wolfmother & Electric Citizen, O2 Academy, Bristol

Myself and Wolfmother go way back, they are part of the first few bands that I 'discovered' by myself, I remember my  Dad buying me their debut album from Virgin Records in Bridgend when I was 16, still to this day one of only two albums the Genesis and Pink Floyd mega fan, ever bought for me as a kid, the other being Metallica's St Anger (don't judge). I luckily got to see the original Wolfmother line up that following year at Download 2007 and despite being something of a Wolfmother fan this was becoming the only time I had seen the Aussie rockers live. Consider this rectified as finally after 9 years I have seen them again this time close to home in the O2 Academy Bristol.

This was their Gypsy Caravan tour supporting their new record but also the 10th anniversary of their self titled debut, I managed to wrangle my normally Djent loving brother to come and see a band that he too loved when he was younger, with the promise of mainly classics. We dispatched at a early time and made our way across the bridge before settling in the Hatchet and waited. Going into the venue with O2 Priority we took my usual place of middle balcony and waited for the show to begin, serenaded by a handful of classics by Deep Purple and The Rolling Stones the Academy began to fill with punters as the support band took to the stage to very little applause or fanfare.

This support band were Cincinnati Ohio's Electric Citizen who were on their debut UK tour, the five piece consisted of Rachel Dolan on vocals, her husband Ross on guitar (SG of course), bassist Randy Proctor, drummer Nate Wagner and newest member Katie on keys and percussion. With a flash Ross dove into some Iommi-esque riffs and the show began, Rachel seemed to be controlled by the music letting riff after retro riff wash over her before beginning to bewitch the audience with her haunting powerful vocals. There is a distinctly retro fell about Electric Citizen, they are firmly sat in the 70's rock boom, imagine a leather clad Stevie Nicks fronting Sabbath and you'd be onto a winner, as the set progressed the rhythm section kept the pace thick and fast which allowed Ross to peel off solo after solo guiding the onstage freakout as his wife pulled great shapes. As good as the band were they were let down by the mix, much of the set was marred by the inability to hear Rachel's vocals clearly even when they were echoed on the mic, still the band are a bit of firebrand and were warmly received and their 30 minute set flew by. Personally I can't wait to see them supporting Orange Goblin towards the end of the year to actually be able to be a better judge. 7/10

* This point about the crowd brings me to something I noticed and actually I thought would happen at this gig, due to Wolfmother's relative popularity when they first came out (Apple advert etc) many people who don't regularly attend rock gigs were present at the Bristol gig and while I encourage people to go out and watch live music, many of the crowd in attendance didn't stick to the unwritten code of gig etiquette, something that I won't dwell too much on but if you go to a gig, especially if it something you don't usually do; at least clap the support band, have a bit of respect for others personal space, realise not everyone wants to pit and if you do want to, don't get plastered and do it as you will cause yourself or someone else an injury, most importantly if someone goes down pick them back up and finally for the love of fuck do not STAND on your mates shoulders mid gig because if you do you are a twat. *

Anyway back to the gig itself and as the stage was cleared in record time the three areas were set up ready for Wolfmother to take the stage then dead on 9pm they did, the familiar afro of Wolfmother's Andrew Stockdale took stage right and slapped on the Gibson SG, while Ian Peres was stage left with his Rickenbacker and Korg keyboard, while touring member Alex Carapetis was behind the kit. With everyone in place they kicked straight into the first single off the latest album the chest-beating Victorious which immediately grabbed the crowd by the short and curlys as fists went up high and heads banged. Not a moment was lost as the dove into New Moon Rising with Stockdale on fine form his vocals were still the unique style he has always favoured mixing Bob Dylan with Roger Daltrey, while his guitar playing is a sparkling example, easily riffing like a bastard and soloing like Page and Hendrix combined, Carapetis slots in with flair anchoring the tracks with a percussive blast, however it's Peres who tends to draw the attention as he switches between the bass and the keys, sometimes playing both at once (one hand on each), he is like a firecracker on his side of the stage, bolstering everything Stockdale does letting him give his flourishes to the tracks.

On the back of New Moon Rising was the first real crowd pleaser with Woman causing anarchy in the now sardine-like floor, the crowd were singing every note back and yet more chaos ensued with Apple Tree. Finally the pace slowed with The Love That You Give and the jangling psychedelic White Unicorn backed with thundering White Feather still even in the slower numbers the band were loud as hell and Peres dived around the stage with boundless energy, between the songs Stockdale and Peres switched their vintage instruments for other vintage instruments maintaining the air of retor about them throughout. California Queen's frantic riff squealed out of Stockdale's amp and the crowd were off again jumping and smashing into each other with force, then into the How Many Times the sole song from their self released effort New Crown, after which Peres took up his box teardrop bass guitar for the fuzzy, ode to the summer of love Gypsy Caravan, which spiraled dreamily into the the driving Dimension which had the fans bouncing and shouting the chorus back as the band rocked out on stage. After this explosion it was time to relax again this time for The Simple Life, City Lights and the trippy Mind's Eye which was followed by the Dylanesque Pretty Peggy With the folksy number out of the way they led into the final two classics to close the set proper with Pyramid and Colossal which was indeed that.

I must commend Wolfmother on their lack of pontificating between songs, a quick "Thank You" and a brief discourse on how beautiful Bristol was (helped no end by the sunshine of the day), even after Colossal they were off rapidly, letting the crowd build themselves into a frenzy before slinking back on to the stage for the encore. Special applause to Peres who broke a string on the Rickenbacker (after playing it wildly) then managed to pick up, tune, plug in and play his other bass all while also playing the keys. As you can probably appreciate both tracks came from their debut (in fact most of the set was drawn from it) with Vagabond starting the encore with aplomb, getting the energy raised for 'that' song, back to the SG and the riff for Joker And The Thief cranked out at full volume was euphoria, with Carapetis banging hell out of the tubs and Peres making magic on the organ it was the perfect climax to a red hot set from these Aussie's. With this and The Sheepdogs earlier this year the classic rock bands are really sticking it to the metal acts in the live arena, I realise it was personal taste but Christ Wolfmother were good, an almost perfect set, played with passion and intensity to a packed out partisan and at times raucous crowd. I do hope I don't have to wait another 9 years to see them again as they are made for the live arena and the smile on my and my brothers face for the entirety of the gig was evidence of that. 10/10

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Another Point Of View: Hawkwind (Live Review By Paul)

Hawkwind: The Tramshed, Cardiff

It’s been almost three years since veteran space rockers Hawkwind graced the City of Cardiff, when they played their 1975 masterpiece Warrior At The Edge Of Time in full in what was one of the last gigs at the Coal Exchange. I’ve seen Hawkwind in many different guises over the years, but they are always brilliantly entertaining and not to be missed. The bonus of this evening was that the company was fabulous, as I was joined by my oldest and best mate Brett who I first saw Hawkwind with in 1985 when I was 15 and my valued work colleague and good friend Steve, who first saw Hawkwind on the In Search Of Space tour in the early 1970s when he was a mere 15 years old.

A very healthy crowd had gathered in Cardiff’s newest music venue and it was pretty much what you’d expect. A smattering of wizards, the odd goblin, many IT technicians and amazingly over ten ladies! Of course, if you are of a certain age then you’ve either seen Hawkwind or continue to see Hawkwind and alongside the leather clad metallers stood the psychedelic old schoolers and the chaps in their jumpers and polo shirts; none of whom were likely to have been Hawkwind virgins. It’s an eclectic mix alright and this gig also attracted a smattering of younger fans who were intent on pogoing and dancing all night. These may well have been the first timers.

For a band that have been around for over 45 years Hawkwind’s performance was nothing short of incredible. This tour and set was based around their latest album, The Machine Stops, a concept release based on the short novel by EM Forster. If you are unfamiliar with this work it is well worth a read. Written in the early 1920s it is a visionary warning of the dangers of isolation, reliance on computer technology and the effects upon society. Despite being nearly written 90 years ago it is frighteningly accurate and relevant to present day society.

A 20-minute electronica based opening set the scene; huge visuals on the full width screen kept the audience focused whilst Niall Hone twisted and twiddled his various pieces of kit to achieve the swooping space sounds as the extended preparation for the “evening’s lecture” continued. Meanwhile vocalist Mr Nibs sat impassively at the edge of the stage, reading a book, looking at his phone and monitoring information on a video screen.

The rest of the band ambled onto the stage and the band launched into The Machine, the opening track from the new album. Mr Dibs cuts an impressive figure, mainly due to his huge frame, dark glasses and bush hat but also because he can sing the Hawkwind stuff so well. Long-time drummer Richard Chadwick hammers away at the back of the stage whilst Haz Wheaton brings back memories of a very young Lemmy with his thunderous bass lines, flowing hair and general stage demeanour. This is not a criticism, far from it and the man who is also responsible for all of the psychedelic and mesmerising back drop projections is now an essential component of the Hawkwind sound. Of course, there is only one man when it comes to Hawkwind and Dave Brock, now aged 74 but still looking as fit as a butcher’s dog commands stage left in his gentle but steely manner, moving forward to join the vocals on some of the classics that segued seamlessly with the new songs, and controlling the input on keyboards from the rear of the stage. Since the departure and subsequent tragic death of Huw Lloyd Langton, Brock has been THE Hawks guitarist and a fine one at that. Whether it be the crashing riffs on Shot Down In The Night, intricate acoustic work or wandering solos during Arrival In Utopia, the man is just fantastic.

As the evening played out, Mr Nibs assumed the Michael Moorcock position, narrating parts of the show to enhance Forster’s story lines. All Hail The Machine began the journey with other sections interspersed with new tunes that mixed effortlessly with older tracks which included a magnificent Orgone Accumulator and the inevitable and warmly welcomed Assault And Battery. Having played for over two hours, the band brought proceedings to a close with a storming rendition of You’d Better Believe It from 1974’s Hall Of The Mountain Grill. A deserved ovation concluded proceedings and another Hawkwind gig had finished. As always, the musical prowess on display was stunning, and there could be few complaints. I for one missed Master Of The Universe, but that’s really small beer for a band who have consistently chosen to follow their own path for so long. In a year overshadowed by the death of so many older rockers, it was a joy to see one of the oldest legends still delivering the goods. An excellent evening. 9/10

Monday 18 April 2016

Reviews: Farseer, Subliminal Fear, Sinnery

Farseer: Fall Before The Dawn (Self Released)

Farseer, sounds a bit World Of Warcraft doesn't it? Well you win a coconut! (Figuratively we're not made of coconuts) it is a bit World Of Warcraft, Farseer play the speedy type of European power metal favoured by Helloween, Blind Guardian, Freedom Call, Heaven's Gate and Mob Rules, so naturally with a sound akin to those just mentioned you'd guess they were German, especially when you hear the soaring, ear piercing vocals of Dave Bisset, however you'd be wrong (coconut revoked) as Farseer come from that power metal haven...Glasgow...yes the one in Scotland, but happily they can more than play the Germanic power metal bands at their own game (of thrones) with galloping rhythm section from bassist Stu Clark and drummer Craig Rooney, lightning fast 7-string guitar talent from David Conolly and Jon Stewart and the inhuman vocals from the previously mentioned Dave Bisset, who is a dead ringer for Eric Adams. As the album starts off with a little intro track the first three tracks proper Luck Of The Joker, Way Of The World and Drag Down The Sinners start as they mean to go on with some intense power metal riffs, technical widdly solos and epic songwriting.

Farseer started out as a much darker prospect with throaty roars and a more melo-death sound however they moved towards to the sound they have now by Bisset moving from bass to behind the mic and what a find he is, his vocals are remarkable, up there with the best in the business in terms of scope and power. Echo in Time is the band at their heaviest while Nightmares Collide is more classically influenced, as the album progresses each track adds more warp-speed shredding and ear splitting vocals but with all the technicality you'd be forgiven to think that they might be in the early Dragonforce years of style over substance but Farseer is more than that they merge the virtuoso performances with melody and great songwriting meaning every track has variation keeping your attention. Second Strike is Maiden style epic, while Blindeye is more Manowar. Everytime slows the pace with a ballad Iced Earth would be proud of and as Chthonic Visions and the title track finish the album in muscular style. Fall Before The Dawn is Farseer's debut record and it's one that shows that they have a real professionalism about them it's an accomplished debut, that grabs you from the off, for power metal fans this might be one of the albums of the year. 9/10

Subliminal Fear: Escape From Leviathan (Inverse Records)

Well what do we have here? These were the first thoughts I had when I saw the cover of Subliminal Fear's third album, the artwork is instantly recognisable as a piece by Septicflesh frontman, Seth Spiro Anton, using his usual dark biomechanical Giger-esque style. The cover reflects the music inside, this is heavy metal machine music but not in the Lou Reed sense imagine more Fear Factory, meeting Enter Shikari with Septicflesh and Tesseract pitching in too. The band play industrial metal that relies as much upon the speedy riffs, djent palm muted breakdowns (Dark Star Renaissance) and blast beats as it does on the synths, samples and processed beats, All Meanings They're Torn is an early example of this driven by the pulsing EDM synths that fuse well with the metallic base layer, allowing the dual clean/growl vocals to do their work, with the clean vocals being particularly of interest as they have the same electronic treatment as FF's Burton C Bell but when they are allowed to go 'naked' as it were they croon majestically bringing to mind Jayce Lewis/Protafield, it also means that they are in sharp contrast to the harsher screams and growls but when used together they compliment each other and the music very well indeed, the band also use some guest vocalists in the shape of Guillaume Bideau from Mnemic, Jon Howard of Threat Signal and Lawrence Mackrory from Darkane who add their stamp to the record.

After the two great opening tracks Nexus is a bit of a filler track if I'm honest but it gives way to the superb cinematic title track and the relentless barrage of riffage that is Evilution, before a curveball of a cover of Talk Talk's Living In Another World which is given an industrial metal reboot which means that it is familiar but differs enough from the original to make it worthy of inclusion. These Italians give their all on this album and play very good industrially-tinged, melodic-death metal, they manage to merge the two styles effortlessly creating balance between the metal sounds and the electronic ones.  After the slower tracks in the middle it regains it's heaving stride in the last third of the record leaving begging for breath as the final chord of the haunting closing statement The Disease Is Human Emotion completing this records damning condemnation of human beings and almost welcoming the rise of the machines. All I can say is after this record you will want to side with the machines, resistance is futile. 8/10

Sinnery: Feast Of Fools (Pitch Black Records)

Israeli thrashers Sinnery explode out of your stereo from the word go, grabbing you by the throat and shaking you to the core, this group of youngsters play classic thrash metal that has the aggressive assault of Slayer, Exodus and Kreator with scything riffage, some throat scarring vocals, relentless percussive barrages and also a keen ear for melody. These guys have had one hell of a metal education as they throw everything at every song, almost like they are trying fit as many riffs into a song as possible bringing to mind cult act Sabbat in the process. The two opening tracks Built To Kill and Magic Bullet show the spectrum of the bands sound with the former speeding along at a machine gun pace while the latter slows a little but adds crushing doom laden riffs to the chorus, Showing Teeth adds some drama with it's orchestral opening again letting the heart (and neck) rest before starting the battery once again.

The band are a four piece like most great thrash bands with a dedicated rhythm guitarist and lead guitarist meaning that they never lose any of the technical proficiency or violent aggression in the solo sections, their sound too is bolstered by the production which makes everything just pop which along with the dexterity of the playing makes you forget that this is Sinnery's debut album as they sound like a much older, more accomplished band. Feast Of Fools is everything you could want in a thrash metal album with surf-style speed metal on Mad Dog, the old school thrash sound on Black Widow, before the final part of the album brings in some progressive themes, especially on Symphony Of Sorrow which takes it's cues from Metallica's Fade To Black etc. If you remember a time when thrash was young, fresh and full of ideas then you will love Feast Of Fools and more importantly you will have to check out Sinnery as they a brimming with promise. 8/10

Saturday 16 April 2016

Reviews: Overtures, Teska, Black Absinthe

Overtures: Artifacts (Sleaszy Rider Records)

Italy seems to be a hub of quality melodic power metal at the moment (although it has always been if I'm honest), Overtures is the latest band to come from the melodic power style, Artifacts is the band's fourth album and sees them continuing the trend of incorporating progressive styles into their music meaning that as opener Repentance kicks off the styles of Kamelot and Threshold are brought to mind with some progressive techniques, bombastic melodies and precision enveloping song-craft. The band is led by vocalist Michele Guaitoli who has an expressive and expansive vocal range and the European pronunciation, that he uses to great effect on the title track as it moves between the pounding start through to the soaring middle section replete with choirs, Luka Klanjscek's bass drives Gold giving the album one of it's heaviest but also more melodic tracks with Guaitoli once again impressing vocals even adding some screams to the mix.

Overtures are a technically proficient combo with Andrea Cum's drumming rumbling along with double kick drums coming thick and fast on Profiled and My Refuge which means guitarist Marco Falanga has to up his game also, which he does with the rampaging riffs on faster tracks like New Dawn, New Dusk where he also shows off his the scintillating solos and the classic power metal sound of Angry Animals which echoes Helloween, especially vocally, but also he plays with flair on on the slower, more dramatic tracks like Unshared Worlds and the orchestrally driven 8 minute plus epic Teardrop which is a cinematic piece that sees the band in full pomp bringing the Kamelot similarities loud and clear. Artifacts is a solid, prog/power effort from these Italians showing that Italy's power metal bands are equally as talented as ones from Germany or Sweden, if like your power metal progressive, with some dramatic touches then Overtures will be a band for you. 7/10      

Teska: Primal Scream (Self Released)

When an album you think is by a metal band kicks off with a lullaby bells then you'd be forgiven for thinking that you've put the wrong album in, but this then moves into some top drawer riffage that blends hard rock with thrash metal and Teska's debut album starts proper with Welsome. Teska are from France, now you'd be hard pressed to name many French metal bands never mind french thrash bands but happily Teska carry that burden with aplomb, their style of thrash metal is firmly rooted in the modern variety with nods to Machine Head and Trivium from the gruff vocal of Guillaume and the double lead shredding of Alain and Frank which gives a rockier touch to the songs so they are not all out thrash madness. The gritty crunch of The Outcome comes next and gets your fist pumping with a Disturbed style groove heavy track that has killer guitar solo. Teska are a very good band indeed they don't try too hard to stick with one style expanding their palate with an excellent fusion of thrash metal and hard rock touches that give them the appeal of mid-period Metallica and the latter Machine Head albums. On the tracks such as White Crow they mix heavyweight riffage with a cleaner vocal from the frontman, before the creeping I Don't Know Yet slows the pace but still kicks you in the balls with it's chugging rhythm.

What I was surprised by was the quality of the production on this record, it's clean and modern sounding meaning the songs sparkle and impress even more so showing that not only are the band great musicians but pretty competent producers too. As the album progresses the tracks do seem to improve with Chapter Hate blasting away any mid album blues you may have with it's blast beat driven drive before Time Out is evidence of the to the bands more melodic credentials with a mid-pace track that leads into Dark Side that echoes the more metalcore sounds of Killswitch and the like on the final track Mind Prison shows the bands more progressive side continuing the tradition of thrash albums closing with their longest track. Hopefully Primal Scream will open doors for Teska as they are a very good band indeed, if you love your thrash metal with more melodic modern feel then they are worth investing in as soon as possible. 8/10    

Black Absinthe: Early Signs Of Denial (Self Released)

Toronto trio Black Absinthe are riff-driven, alcohol fuelled metal popularised by Mastodon, Red Fang and High On Fire and over this six track EP they show their sound is one that merges the best of Sabbath with Motorhead with the previously mentioned bands. They show their stoner credentials on Is This Life which also let's Jack Cerre's vocalist use his roaring vocals to great effect, The Wild and Berj Khalifa both are major riff-fests that Mastodon would be proud of but with the clean leads of Lizzy or classic metal bands from Cerre. Much of this album's heaviness comes from the rhythm section duo of Kyle Scarlett and Austin Henderson who are the groove laden boiler room. This EP is a great introduction to the Canadian's sound, it's not revolutionary but it is done very well and hints at the bright future for the band. 7/10

Thursday 14 April 2016

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

Killfest: Overkill, Vader & One Machine The Fleece, Bristol

Openers One Machine (5) kick off proceedings shortly after doors meaning that they open up to a sparsely populated room. Full of aggression and powerful surging riffs, they also sound completely schizophrenic with vocalist Chris Hawkins high voice mixing uncomfortably with the band’s frenetic gallop. Partly due to a difficult mix, but in part because the songs don't appear that well constructed, the audience provide a polite if lukewarm response. Full marks for effort with Steve Smyth, ex of about a million outfits including heavyweights Testament and Forbidden, an imposing figure and Hawkins really hamming up the heavy metal frontman role. However, if your songs don't grab the punter by the balls then splitting the audience down the middle for a “heavy metal roar” just sounds limp.

No such problems for Polish death metal legends Vader (8) who once their muddy sound is addressed lay waste to the venue for the swiftest 40 minutes I've experienced in a long time. Opener Wings suffers due to the sound but Go To Hell from the excellent Tibi Et Igni is top drawer as the Poles deliver a lesson in death metal. Limited chat from Piotr Wiwczarck and little room to move on the stage due to the size of James Stewart’s kit, Vader pounded heads as they drew on their vast back catalogue. Reborn In Flames, Come And See My Sacrifice and a blistering Triumph Of Death get necks flexing and early thrashing at the front. Vader are incredibly tight if a little disjointed between songs but the guitar work of Marek Pajek and Tomas Halicki is obscene. Ending with old school tracks from the very early days,  Dark Ages and Helleluyah (God Is Dead) Vader exit to the Imperial March and a huge ovation from an appreciative and very busy Fleece audience.

Having thrashed their way from New Jersey all around the world since the early 1980s,, Overkill (9), one of the most important thrash bands of all time, are in no mood to fuck about and spend the next 90 minutes delivering a masterclass. Led by the centre stage veterans human dynamo Bobby “Blitz” Ellesworth and birthday bassist D.D. Verni, Overkill can do no wrong to the ecstatic crowd. Kicking off with the sole track from White Devil Armoury, the blistering Armourist, the band spend the rest of the evening plundering their back catalogue. Guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer are having a ball, all smiles as they race through over half of Horrorscope and a good serving of debut album Feel The Fire with a liberal sprinkling of other classics including the mighty Electric Rattlesnake and Hello From The Gutter. Meanwhile Ellesworth demonstrates all his years of experience, conserving energy between verses before springing back into action and hanging over the crowd from one of the central pillars that make The Fleece such a unique venue. “I'm in charge” he tells Bristol early in the set and no one would dare to challenge.  Barely pausing for breath between tracks, Bobby informs the crowd that this is their first ever visit to Bristol, which really seems amazing and a massive oversight on their part. Still it's been worth the wait as classics rain from the stage; Coma, Blood And Iron, Hammerhead, Feel The Fire and Rotten To The Core are all given a run out, much to the delight of the real old schoolers in the house. Overkill do what they which is to thrash your head off.  Overkill don't care about fashion or the times, they just don't care. Fuck you!

Reviews: Ihshan, Votum, Cult Of Luna

Ihsahn: Arktis (Candlelight)

OK I'll level with you despite many protestations from Metal Hammer, Matt Heafy and indeed many of my peers, I'm not a fan of Emperor, I realise how important they are in the Black Metal scene but they are not up my alley at all, because of this I have never really given Emperor mastermind Ihsahn the time I should have. I know that much of his solo work is progressive moving away from Emperor but still I've ignored even when I found out that Leprous, whom I really like were his backing band I wasn't tempted to check out the back catalogue. So what has tempted me to check this new record out? Well in the increasing drive to bring new music to the masses, I've heard that Arktis his first album in three years, sixth in total was a return to the progressive metal sound of his earlier work after some experimentation on his previous release.

Now as many of you know I love progressive music and I even like progressive black metal when it's fleshed out with other sounds rather than just blast beats and grunting. Arktis is fleshed out and as such I am impressed by it, the music is progressive, heavy and melodic with the classic metal tropes of the black metal all out assault, some classic heavy metal, interspersed with some jazz on Crooked Red Line as well as enough synths/keys and time changes to keep any progger happy. Ihsahn's vocals, which are always the sticking point to black metal for me, are actually quite superb, he snarls and screams clear and the lyrics are audible, his clean vocals too are booming and carry enough weight to work in conjunction with the harsh vocals switching back and for effortlessly. As with all of Ihsahn's solo work he plays everything sans drums, the percussive assault is from former Leprous/current Shinning (Norway) man Tobias Ørnes Andersen, who is not the only musician from the BlackJazz group on the record because frontman Jørgen Munkeby contributes the parping sax to Crooked Red Line.

The songs on this record are very good indeed this is not progressive black metal for the most part just a more extreme form of prog with nods to doom, gothic, electro (South Winds) and even some folk elements abound. The overall concept of the record is one of the dark, Nordic world that Ihsahn was born into and as such this record has sections of rapid, ferocious extremity but also haunting bleakness that evokes the images of the frozen tundra on the cover. Vocally the record is fleshed out by the aforementioned (and Ihsahn superfan) Matt Heafy on the thundering first single Mass Darkness, which is probably the albums most accessible song, then on the finale of Celestial Violence Ihsahn duets with live keyboardist/Leprous frontman/brother-in-law Einar Solberg to lend a little of the bands live sound to the record. Arktis is a great record, whether it's a return to form I don't know, but what it has done is spur me on to find Ihsahn's other solo records as this a fine release and one deserving of the legacy attached to Ihsahn as a musician. 9/10

Votum: Ktonik (Inner Wound)

Polish proggers Votum are fresh off the back of a co-headline tour with Italians Kingcrow, who's latest album was reviewed here last year. Ktonik is Votum's fourth album and sees them delve deeper into their progressive side, while maintaining the metal base they formulated at the inception of their career. However much like many of the more progressive metal bands around today, the songs are complicated and technical without suffering from dreaded curse of outstaying their welcome, most clock in at around 6 minutes letting the band conjure their magic over the course of 51 minutes, leaving you wanting more without getting stale. Votum is made up of Bart Turkowski on bass, Adam Łukaszek on drums, Adam Kaczmarek and Piotr Lniany on guitars with keys from Zbigniew Szatkowski and vocals from Bart Sobieraj, the six men work together in perfect unison on this record that begins with the impressive Satellite which moves from fleet fingered acoustic verses into the colossal riffs and swathes of synths that bring to mind Anathema, Katatonia and even Opeth. The Akerfeldt factor is at it's most prevalent on the haunting Greed which builds and builds into a stunning crescendo, bringing in some harsh vocals from Sobieraj. These songs are built upon layers of sound, the atmosphere is created from the first note of every track and continues through the entire album linking them all and ushering in more intense musical experience as despite being able to pin point and extract every track separately, the album works better as whole and to do so would dampen it's effect. Each musician is virtuoso and it shows, on Simulacra the rhythm is driven by the percussion with an ambient beginning that increases into the powerful final part of the track, Horizontal brings to mind Steven Wilson at his most euphoric a trend that continues on VerticalKtonik has some really excellent moments to it, continuing Votum's run of great albums it cements them as being at the top of their game. 8/10   

Cult Of Luna: Mariner (Indie Recording)

Cult Of Luna are one of 'big three' expansive post-metal along with Isis and Neurosis, Mariner is a collaborative album with Brooklyn vocalist Julie Christmas and it adds yet another layer to their already thick brooding soundscape, developed over their long career. Her vocals keen, yelp and cast spells through this records dream states where the band go spacier than before with the opening 8 minute plus A Greater Call grabbing you by the balls and pulling you into the 'trademark' sound COL have always been known for, this first track on the record is slow, heavy and sludgy with the deafening percussive assault, a wall of noise guitars and guttural roars as the counterpoint to Christmas' more ethereal singing and the waves of Floydian synth. The band describe Mariner as "a figurative journey through the cosmos after the gritty reality that was our last album, Vertikal" as full of itself as that sounds it quite aptly describes the sound of this record, with the bludgeoning noise of their early work fusing with the floaty space rock of bands such as Hawkwind or Gong, while Christmas' vocal versatility reminds you of Iceland's queen of the obscure and offbeat Björk. The concept of this piece is a journey and this really doesn't work, yes there are ambient, dream-like passages especially in the middle section of The Wreck Of S.S Needle, but you are almost thrown into the aggressive metal style which makes the whole thing a bit jerky. Still Cult Of Luna were never going to make a bad album it's just this doesn't really it's aim of being a progressive mind-trip interwoven with the bands post-metal assault. 7/10

Wednesday 13 April 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Romeo's Daughter

Romeo's Daughter & Blood Red Saints, Fuel Cardiff

Once again to the home city for more music, this time it was night of sugar coated, AOR from one of Britain's most critically acclaimed, but oft overlooked AOR bands Romeo's Daughter with support from one of the newest melodic rock bands on the block Blood Red Saints. As I headed to the venue with the the crew of Retro Vibe Records I was looking forward to seeing two bands that I had never seen (a rarity for me), as we congregated in the small venue it was heartening to see a a reasonable size crowd for the gig.

Blood Red Saints

Arriving on the stage, Blood Red Saints kicked of their set of traditional British radio rock, with a strong blues base they were in the tradition of Dare, FM or Newman. The band are made up of two founder members of In Faith, one from Angels Or Kings and the fourth serving time in Gary Hughes' (TEN) solo band. With the talent in the band it was no surprise that they took to the stage with a confident swagger, they had the look and the chops to back up their resumes, drawing from their debut album they played melodic rock with a bluesy edge to it which came mainly from Pete Godfrey's grittier vocals and the slick guitar lines from Lee Revill on the opening number Kicking Up Dust, Rob Naylor and Pete Newdeck locked into a steady driving groove as the band moved into the Foreigner-esque Best Of Me, a mass sing-along was triggered by a cover of Wanted Dead Or Alive and they even threw in an In Faith song to flesh out the set. The bands style of harder edged AOR was received warmly by the crowd and was a perfect setting for the night the four members of the band. A sturdy set of melodic rock set the tone of the evening and this band showed that their collective power is really a sum of it's parts, hopefully there will be more from this band in the future as they have a real energy live. 7/10

Romeo's Daughter

A quick change and the headline act came to the stage, the band formed in 1988 released two album son major labels and then split up only to then reformed in 2009. This tour was a mish-mash of their four albums with the majority being drawn from their debut and their most recent efforts Rapture and Spin. As the beautiful Leigh Matty took to the stage with her perennial sideman guitarist Craig Joiner the rest of the band followed and they burst into 1989 single Heaven In The Back Seat (as featured on Nightmare On Elm Street 5 film fans) which set the pace, with a pounding backbeat and Joiner's sublime guitar work the band were firing on all cylinders topped by the simply divine vocals of Leigh, she has a one in a million voice, her soulful crooning voice is still just perfect and she hasn't really lost a single octave, delivering every line of the following hour and a bit with real power.

After the initial Backseat came Velvet Tongue, Touch and Radio before hitting the groove again with their 2012 comeback single Bittersweet. The crowd were loving every minute Joiner peeling off lick after lick as Matty beguiled and bewitched like a mix of Stevie Nicks and Ann Wilson, they jumped when they needed, sang back when it was required and generally reciprocated the energy from on stage. The set progressed with the obligatory mix of rockers and ballads but as the final few songs approached the band pulled out the big guns with Attracted To The Animal rapidly followed by the double whammy of debut album tracks as I Cry Myself To Sleep At Night (Covered by our own Bonnie Tyler) and the excellent Inside Out finished the main set, with the final few songs also cuing some excellent shape throwing from some of the younger members of the party.

 An applause and a quick break then the encore saw Leigh and Craig take the stage by themselves for an acoustic version of Will Be which queued a mass singalong from the small but loyal crowd of AOR-lovers gathered, before they rocked it up for the final time with the superb Wild Child, which is the original and best version of the song Heart played on their Brigade album. I said at the beginning of this review that Romeo's Daughter are often overlooked in the history of melodic rock, but their early allegiance with Robert John 'Mutt' Lange has meant that the songs they made their name with have been kept alive in the public conscience, but what is more telling is that returning after such a long time away from the scene has also it meant that finally they can get the recognition as the potent force they are. 8/10      

Reviews: Cheap Trick, Black Stone Cherry, Immensity (Reviews By Paul)

Cheap Trick: Bang, Zoom, Crazy, Hello (Big Machine)

The richly deserved rock and roll Hall of Famers Cheap Trick return with their 17th album and it’s a cracker. Often described as the Japanese Beatles due to their sound and the idolisation they receive in the Land of the Rising Sun, Illinois’s favourite sons have produced a fantastically catchy follow up to 2009’s The Latest. Often known for their saccharine coated I Want You To Want Me, this release demonstrates that there is so much more to a band who are often overlooked for their huge influence on the rock world. I’ve loved Cheap Trick for a long time but I have to admit that my knowledge of their catalogue has been limited to some of their earlier classics such as The Dream Police and Surrender. I’ve often considered Cheap Trick as slightly poppier rock but on Bang, Zoom, Crazy, Hello they have a rediscovered a real edge to their sound.

In fact, they’ve delivered a variable palate of tunes, which all contain some exceptional work from the vastly underrated Rick Nielsen. His work is just scintillating, and he can solo with the best. Check out his work on Do You Believe Me? for just one example of sheer quality. Meanwhile the evergreen Robin Zander provides a masterclass in the vocal department, with his delivery ranging from the all-out rocker on tracks like Blood Red Lips, a real T-Rex stomper, to the beautiful Bowie tinged When I Wake Up Tomorrow all and even the cover of Billy Page’s The In Crowd. As you listen to this album, it’s crystal clear how influential this band have been to the rock industry. Whether it be the Americana style of Sing My Blues Away with its Jeff Lynne style hook, the raucous opener Heart On The Line, No Direction Home resplendent with their distinctive signature harmonies or the pumping Long Time No See Ya which would sit comfortably on a Devin Townsend release and you realise that Cheap Trick are clearly not imitators but originators.

The superb quality of each cleverly crafted composition is the result of the main team of composers; Julian Raymond who alongside Zander, Nielsen and bassist Tom Petterson has produced 40 minutes of high class rock. And what a debut for Daxx Nielsen, son of Rick and filling the legendary shoes of Bun E Carlos on the sticks for the first time. He combines brilliantly with Petterson to cement the platform which allows Zander and Rick Nielsen to really shine throughout. The almost throwaway casualness of Blood Red Lips, all seventies stomp and pomp is great whilst Roll Me allows Zander to demonstrate that even at 63 his voice remains in first class condition. As well as containing Nielsen’s stunning fretwork, Do You Believe Me? also contains a hook reminiscent of Billy Squire at his peak combined with the wilder side of Steven Tyler. Penultimate track The Sun Never Sets rocks and rolls with style whilst album closer All Strung Out adds yet another layer to this fine release with shades of one their peers, a certain Mr Iggy Pop. I cannot find fault with this album at all and it is already firmly ensconced in 2016’s top ten. 10/10

Black Stone Cherry: Kentucky (Mascot)

Arena powerhouses and friends of Jesus Black Stone Cherry return with album number five, titled after their home state and it contains few surprises. Having just missed the target with Magic Mountain in 2014, which was of variable consistency, it might be argued that they were under some pressure to deliver this time around. Kentucky isn't a ground breaking musical release. It’s an hour of big songs written in the country rock sound which fits so snuggly into the arenas where they are now so comfortable. In fact, virtually every track on this album will sound great in an arena with decent sound. From the crushing power chords that hit you full on in opener The Way Of Our Future, the sing-a-long anthem of In Our Dreams to the hideous acoustic closer The Rambler, Kentucky demonstrates that BSC has now established their sound and if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Their cover of War (Made famous by Edwin Starr fact fans - Ed) is pointless but will get a huge response from the assembled masses next time they play the shed known as the Motorpoint Arena. Why this is on this album is beyond my comprehension. It's just a little lazy.

As you’d expect from this bunch, Kentucky contains several nods to the man upstairs during the journey from start to finish; Rescue Me stands out in particular. To be fair to BSC, they've tried to move to a deeper soul and blues based approach in certain songs; Soul Machine is a decent example with some nice female vocals enhancing the choruses and a brass section complements Chris Robertson’s neat guitar work. Cheaper To Drink Alone promises much but falls into the typical BSC formulaic delivery with the verse chorus verse approach although it does diverge into a blues type guitar exploration before reaching its conclusion. By the time you get to the final third of the album it’s just a little bit too much padding. Feeling Fuzzy and the ponderous Darkest Secret repeat the earlier part of the album whilst penultimate track Born To Die feels like a left over from a previous session. Ironically, bonus track I Am The Lion is one of their better tracks, with a slight variation to their usual approach although with Robertson’s voice so distinctive I concede that it is hard to really vary their approach. The current popularity of the harder edged country flavoured rock will no doubt ensure that Kentucky mirrors the high chart placings of its predecessor. It’s just a little too bland and repetitive for me. 6/10

Immensity: The Isolation Splendour (Hypnotic Dirge)

The Isolation Splendour is the debut release by Greek Death Doom outfit Immensity. It is a dark brooding atmospheric release, reminiscent of the earlier works of such icons as Paradise Lost, Katatonia, Opeth although it was Ahab that immediately came to mind on first listen. The mix of death and clean vocals works stunningly well and the lengthy weighty tracks build slowly with the clean vocal sections providing respite from the sometimes crushingly heavy riffs. Powerful passages of interplay are evident throughout; check the opening single Irradiance (For The Unlight) which builds patiently and quite magnificently. With the release containing two remastered tracks from their earlier demo The Lonely Aquarelle this is a hefty tomb of work, clocking in at just under 68 minutes for seven tracks. However, repeated plays have turned it into one of the year’s most interesting releases. If you don’t enjoy slow tension filled melodic doom then this won’t be for you. Luckily I really enjoy this genre and The Isolation Splendour serves as a splendid aperitif for the forthcoming release from Katatonia. Without a doubt, one of the melodic doom releases of the year. 9/10

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Reviews: Martyr, Lizzies, Bus

NWOBHM is a tradition in the UK and one of finest exports, band's from all over the world took the NWOBHM sound laid down by Iron Maiden, Saxon and Judas Priest, so here we have four bands from all over the world that have been inspired by one of the most endearing styles in metal. Get your Denim and Leather on before reading!!

First up we have Dutch band Martyr (7), they can be considered to be contemporaries of the NWOBHM scene, You Are Next (Into The Limelight) is their fourth album in career that began in the mid 80's the band split in 1987 before coming back to life in 2011, this is their second album since their reformation and it's full of the galloping, bass heavy metal of early-Maiden, the sound is very authentic with some twin guitars harmonies on the tracks with solos cutting through the noise along with some proto thrash riffage on Infinity and an Anthrax stomp on Inch By Inch. This is music that is very much stuck in it's time but can evoke memories of a bygone era, You Are Next is Martyr continuing where they left off all those years ago. Over to Spain now for the debut album of Lizzies (8) whose debut album smacks of prime period Tokyo Blade and more modern acts like Cauldron, this female four-piece play speedy classic metal, that is a more stripped back affair than Martyr's but all the grittier for it, Good Luck (The Sign) is chock full of quality songwriting from the off with 666 Miles having a tongue firmly in it's cheek, Viper and Mirror Maze are indicative of the rest of the album with feminist lyrics tied with excellent classic metal sound, this quartet can really rock with touches of the legends but their own spin too. Lizzies are an excellent band and their debut is a sparkling slice of classic thrash metal that sees the four ladies kicking the ass of the male dominated NWOBHM scene. Finally we have Bus (7) from Athens Greece who are more at the doom end of the scale with elements of Angel Witch and some Candlemass, they have a proto-power metal sound with low end riffs and some demon conjuring on Masteroid and the bass driven New Black Volume they are heavier than both of the proceeding bands with big slabs of riffage that owe as much to Sabbath as they do any of the bands previously mentioned especially on the creeping Don't Fear Your Demons. Bus is a weird name for a band, I will admit but their self released album The Unknown Secretary (what is it about this band and weird titles) is the ideal introduction to their doomier sound.

As you can see the NWOBHM baton that was laid down at the beginning of the 80's is still be carried now these three bands all have the NWOBHM sound coursing through them but they also show that it can be evolved and adapted into many of the post 80's styles of metal.

Monday 11 April 2016

Reviews: Zakk Wylde, Tax The Heat, Gypsy Chief Goliath

Zakk Wylde: Book Of Shadows II (Entertainment One)

In all of Zakk Wylde's long and varied career, other than his first two Ozzy albums, my favourite albums by the Bezerker are Pride And Glory and his debut solo record Book Of Shadows. I find the work with Black Label Society a little too overbearing at times but the early roots of Zakk are country, blues and Southern Rock, when he eases off the pinched harmonics and furious solos he can create some beautiful music. Book Of Shadows II surprisingly is Zakk's second solo album and the sequel to BOS, now with 20 year gap between releases it would be easy to think that this would just be BLS record under Zakk's name but as Autumn Changes starts off with introspective acoustic strumming and, rich clean guitar lines you are keenly aware that this is not the furious, ax-wielding, guitar maniac that leads BLS. Yes there has always been some slower ballad like songs on the Society records (In This River) but since Unblackend Zakk has shown again that when he is turned down or unplugged he can be equally as powerful, hearing him croon with his mighty Southern drawl is a revelation as he doesn't need to ape Ozzy, this is more his own voice and the record is better for it.

First single Sleeping Dogs is a soul bearing, cathartic but up beat number that closes the album beautifully, this and Autumn Changes bookend and album that creates a hazy atmosphere throughout that gives the escapism, letting you slip away into the stripped back arrangements. BOSII is the sound of Zakk harking back to his roots and moving away from the metal sound that has seemed to become a bit stagnant on recent BLS albums, it's also the sound of a more mature more world weary Wylde, as a guitar he is still immensely talented but there isn't the showing off that comes from his day job, everything is a little understated, he also shows his often overlooked piano skills as well. As I've said the tracks are introspective, with a bit of the Allman's sunny harmonies, some Neil Young on The Levee and a lot of Skynyrd at their most mournful. If you are looking for the stomping BLS metal then you won't find it however for me Book Of Souls II could be Zakk's most accomplished offering to date, I've grown tired of BLS live if I'm honest however if he toured this record in conjunction with it's predecessor and the Pride And Glory work that I would go too. A new (old) side of Zakk but the more honest, poignant side of him that has made a great release. 9/10   

Tax The Heat: Fed To The Lions (Nuclear Blast)

Sharp suited Bristol four-piece Tax The Heat have been making waves for a good while now, but they have now finally gotten around to releasing their debut full length record. Fed To The Lions merges 60's inspired R&B with garage rock meaning that the band are like an amalgamation of The Kinks and (early) The Who, playing QOTSA songs, with the radio bothering songwriting of Royal Blood or Band Of Skulls. With the fuzzy bass lines laid down by Antonio Angotti and the driving percussion of Jack Taylor it means the songs are immediate and have a sense of urgency to them, this gets feet tapping and heads nodding from the opening two numbers Highway Home which has Josh Homme's imprint all over it and the quirky Animals. From these two songs you see that this record is not jumping on the retro bandwagon, it is merely influenced by the past, it has a distinct modern touch to it, much of this coming from the ultra-modern, almost dance-like production of Evansson, who ramps up the rhythms to almost hypnotic levels.

With this focus on rhythm being central to the record the guitars of JP Jacyshyn and Alex Veale are very riff-centric forming part of the punchy tempo, with some frantic strumming throughout augmented by the occasional use of a slide and the brief bursts of lead guitar breaks and white hot soloing, the record very rarely dips in pace and means that the 12 songs fly by in a flurry of blues rocking riffs and gutsy song writing. The tracks on this record don't always sit too easily in the genre boundaries, Learn To Drown (You're Wrong) is a spiky punk rocker, the title track has the stop-start stomp of Royal Blood with Veale playing with a reverb on his vocals, while Some Sympathy has the southern rock swagger of The Black Crowes, this means that the record constantly surprises and makes it a great party album as the spirit of the swinging sixties is evident under the modern flourishes, I can't wait to see how they translate to, what I've heard is a incendiary live show at Steelhouse. Fed To The Lions is a cracking debut record from the Bristol mob and one that should really get people talking. 8/10        

Gypsy Chief Goliath: Citizens Of Nowhere (Pitch Black Records)

Canadian's Gypsy Chief Goliath play the kind of deep-fried, stoner, blues Down, COC, Crowbar have made a name playing, filled with sludgy riffs that are interwoven with dual guitar Lizzy-like harmonies, snarling vocals, a bottom end stronger than a bong hit and songs that have a metallic but classic groove. Citizens Of Nowhere is the band's third album (their second on Greek label Pitch Black) and it continues with their stoner metal style, the band have a rhythm thicker than a rump steak and it shows as the riffs are heavyweight, packed with distortion but also searing melodic leads. The albums starts off with it's weakest track unfortunately but from Holding Grace it gets better as it progresses, this track is slower and heavier than the first track but also has the bands signature harmonica blazing through it, as it creeps the title track stirs the thunder again with slabs of guitars moving at pace. The band have good songs but they are let down by the production a little, I realise that this was recorded on analogue equipment reel-to-reel but much of the nuances cannot be heard, the bass is almost inaudible sounding like a phut behind the drums, still if you like your metal hazy, and dense as a weed-fug and a cover of Killing Yourself To Live then Citizens Of Nowhere will be right of your street. 7/10