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Tuesday 31 May 2016

Reviews: Hatebreed, Sixx A.M, Messenger (Review By Paul)

Hatebreed: The Concrete Confessional (Nuclear Blast)

Let's be fair. You either love Hatebreed or they do fuck all for you. The Concrete Confessional isn’t going to change that opinion. This is full on in your face aggression and it really hits the buttons. A.D. Opens proceedings, Jamie Jasta’s emotional outpourings right at the fore, riffs galore and a total assault on the senses. Plentiful riffs cascade through every track, urgency the name of the game. Looking Down the Barrel Of Today is the metal equivalent of blitzkrieg, no place to hide as all gauges are set to destroy. And so it continues; Seven Enemies, In The Walls and From Grace We’ve Fallen all follow the same formula. 

It's pit stomping stuff, crashing and rampaging all over the place. From Grace We've Fallen contains a Testament style chorus which moves slightly away from the usual ‘Breed style but otherwise this is a continuation of the Hatebreed onslaught. It's brutal, unforgiving and ideal for venting that anger following a hard day in your mundane existence. Anthems Of Oppression and Rebellion, born from a million frustrations with the state of the world manifest in the themes that run through this release. Us Against Them, Something’s Off (which departures from the usual fare in no uncertain terms) and Dissonance all shout rebellion and to be fair, who can argue. It may not contain the immediacy of their earlier anthems but The Concrete Confessional still kicks your arse from start to finish. Sure, it may not grab you in the same way that Destroy Everything or Become The Fuse did, but by my white beater (a vest no UK folks) is it heavy. Get your arse in the pit and enjoy. 8/10

Sixx A.M: Prayers For The Damned (Eleven Seven Music)
Sixx A.M is the side turned full-time project of Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx and it is probably the most accessible of the band’s three releases. With the first album a companion to The Heroin Diaries, Sixx’s cathartic account of his descent into heroin addiction, and their second release a mixture of more radio friendly tunes, Prayers For The Damned moves the band fully into the ‘real’ status. It is pretty standard radio friendly fare but it ticks all the boxes if you like this type of routine polished rock. Opener Rise and You Have Come To The Right Place both have Planet Rock airtime stamped on the underside, whilst I'm Sick maintains the pomp stomp. 

The title track threatens to unleash an epic, a heartfelt emotive rocker with a large dose of catchy hooks to attract those in need of a good dose of short catchy anthems. Musically it's pretty generic. The likes of Better Man steal riffs from a billion other tunes; Can't Stop maintains the simplicity, enhanced by some heavier chords, singalong chorus and synthesiser layers to pad it out. Of course, there is the obligatory power ballad, this time When We We Gods which is average at best. Belly Of The Beast was clearly intended to be a brooding, smouldering monster and whilst it has an edge to it the final effect falls short. As the album reaches its conclusion the fare remains pretty average although Everything Went To Hell is one of the better tracks. It's listenable middle of the road hard rock. It just doesn't grab you by the lapels and scream “Listen to me!!” I'll be interested to see if the band can hold my attention for their full set at Download. Somehow I doubt it. 6/10
Messenger: Thredonies (InsideOut)

The London outfit’s first album Illusory Blues was one of the albums of the year when it was released in 2014 and a stunning live support slot for Hevy Devy’s Casualties Of Cool at the Union Chapel in London demonstrated that promise could be delivered in the live setting. Follow up Thredonies has been long anticipated at MOM towers. Clocking in at just shy of 50 minutes for eight tracks, Thredonies demands attention and commitment. Allocating your time to listen to this beautiful album is well worth it. Thredonies contains a kaleidoscope of intricate and delicious tunes which cascade and immerse the listener in an ethereal musical journey from beginning to end. 

Opener Calyx is light and complex with shades of Muse springing to mind. Messenger flex their muscles on the eight minute epic Oracles Of War, which contains some delicious riffs and a harder edge than many of their other tracks. Musically Messenger are on stunning form and this track demonstrates their progression, full of stomp and swagger and an indie edge many of that genre would die for. It also illustrates exactly why the band were such a perfect fit for the Von Hertzen Brothers on their March tour. Balearic Blue cements the band firmly into their progressive sound, layered guitars and keyboards merging with the frantic drum beat and James Leach’s rolling bass lines. The guitars and vocals of Khaled Lowe and Barnaby Maddick are just stunning with the Floyd and Opeth fusion of sound incredibly appealing. 

Indeed, throughout the album snippets of the Swedes complex sound regularly catch the attention. This is breathtaking in both composition and performance. Celestial Spheres continues the complexity with a large dose of funk and some chunky Hammond organ riffs transporting you not only back to Opeth but to the 1970s, albeit with a fresh and modern sound. In fact, I’ll stop listing the tracks and invite you to head onto the band’s website and pick up a copy immediately. Thredonies is a superior release to Illusory Blues and a more ambitious one too. However, it is also more accessible; check out Nocturne; instant, simple yet beautifully intricate. I can’t praise this album enough. Khaled Lowe, Barnaby Maddick, Jamie Gomez Arellano Daniel Knight and James Leach take a bow. One of the releases of 2016. 9/10

Monday 30 May 2016

Reviews: Whispered, Spell, Black Magic Fools

Whispered: Metsutan - Songs Of The Void (Inverse Records)

Finland has a bit of a history with progressive, symphonic folk, melodic death metal bands with Wintersun, Ensiferum, Finntroll as well as Insomnium, Children Of Bodom and Norther. Whispered are the latest in line of bands that follow this style and they are somewhere between Wintersun and Children Of Bodom with razor sharp almost power metal riffs, played in progressive music that takes a lot influence from Japanese culture and music, they call it "Samurai Metal" and it's hard to argue otherwise. Opener Strike! gets you going sounding like the soundtrack to a Samurai film played by Bodom, the balstbeats are lightning fast, no way has drummer Jussi just got four limbs, while bassist Kai gets to show off his talent in the middle of the track building up to the epic solos that are shared between Mikko and Jussi, with Jussi also adding the harsh vocals, that are thankfully intelligible meaning that personally I was more drawn to the band than I am normally to melo-death.

The pace stays similar to a bullet train on second track Exile Of The Flooding World which once again has inhuman drumming and a heroic chorus choir before it slips into the middle section of solos and circuses. The lyrics and themes revolve around Samurai, Bushido and Japanese Mythology and this is audible in the music at every turn with some traditional Japanese instruments present throughout, yes it is a bit gimmicky but the band play so well it can be forgiven. Much like compatriots Wintersun the songs are complicated intense pieces that take you on a journey for their duration with the shorter numbers coming in between the album's longer more progressive tales.

I just have to mention the drumming again as it is continually astounding just how good it is but doesn't detract from the stellar performances of the rest of the band, it seems to me that while Japan does have a lot of power metal bands there doesn't seem to be an abundance of bands that deal with countries rich mythology meaning that Whispered have sort of taken the initiative and all the better for it, they also have contributed a theme to the newest Megaman video game which for a band that are not Japanese is kudos indeed.

Why be stuck with Babymetal and Karate when you can have Whispered bringing fire, honour and Katana to songs such as Kensei and Our Voice Shall Be Heard? They merge complexity with atmosphere providing a very strong set of ten songs that climax with the immense eleven minute final cut Bloodred Shores Of Enoshima which like the tales of Yūrei from Japanese legend rise from auspicious beginnings to evoke you with their power. Metsutan - Songs Of The Void is yet another superb album from the Finnish band (their third) and by rights it should get them the plaudits they deserve, or at least onto the Bloodstock bill, in the meantime you'll just have to play this record to death as it is brilliant! 9/10 

Spell: For None And All (Bad Omen Records)

Spell hail from Vancouver British Columbia and along with what seems to be a  new band every week they are firmly part of the NWOTHM that seems to be coming from the country, obviously the leaders of traditional Canadian metal scene are the unkillable Anvil but more recently bands like Cauldron and Striker have taken the spiked gauntlet and made the music their own. Up until 2013 Spell were called Stryker but probably due to the recognition of the other band with a similar name and the number of bands with the same name, their debut was released and 2014 and now 2 years later they have followed it up with For None And All.

By the negative tone of the title you can tell this is not going to be a tongue-in-cheek metal record with occult, dark references in the lyrics the band sound a lot like Cauldron due to their three piece bass heavy set up, the songs are proto-metal with nods to doom and psychedelia, however with music like this it is difficult not to be repetitive and unfortunately Spell do fall into that trap as a number of the songs on this record do sound very similar, yes there are some keys employed on Whipping Sigils and Seance and the band really tackle the stoner doom with River Of Sleep but tracks like Madame Psychosis and The Veil just have almost identical riffs and they are not the only songs that do this. For None And All is not a bad album but it is just a little too lacking in progression and scope to make much of mark. 5/10

Black Magic Fools: Soul Collector (Self Released)

Folk metal seems to be the genre that will never day, right the way back Skyclad in the 90's the mix of crunching guitars and folk instruments seems to stir something in even the most hardened metal fan, meaning that usually the gigs end in much jigging, dancing and of course ale quaffing. Black Magic Fools hail from Sweden and play what is essentially medieval folk with the metallic backline so expect powerful drumming, guitar riffs and solos mixed with the bands dual violin/fiddles from Ida and Katja as well as bagpipes, flutes and jew harps from frontman Pontus.

One look at the press release and you can see the band go all out dressing the part and blending the two genres together especially on Lies which has modern metal breakdowns and the dual violins doing their work in an almost shanty style song. There is almost a Pirates Of The Caribbeanesque sound to many of the tracks, due to the mix of traditional and electric instruments, with Black Jig a morbid tale of torture and death, infact this is a theme that goes through the album especially on the title track.

Unlike Whispered the songs on this record are shorter and more direct similar to Korpiklaani or indeed a folkier Breed 77 as Black Magic Fools have a similar modern groove metal sound setting the rhythm for the folk instruments to built upon, they even dabble with acoustic guitars on A Jester's Confession. Soul Collector is BMF's debut full length and it has enough on it to appeal to folk metal fans, it's let down a little by the muffled production but it's a jolly good start moving away from the happy clappy nature of normal folk metal and adding a touch of darkness to proceedings. 7/10      

Saturday 28 May 2016

Reviews: Frost*, Lacuna Coil, No Sinner

Frost*: Falling Satellites (InsideOut)

Excuse while I get  abit nerdy at the beginning of this review. Frost* is the brainchild of Jem Godfrey who in a previous life wrote songs for Blue, Atomic Kitten, Holly Valance and Shayne Ward (that bloke from X Factor) however thankfully he stepped away from the forces of evil and embrace the good by following his heart and forming Frost* in 2004. Their debut record Milliontown in my opinion is one of the best examples of post-millennial progressive rock there has ever been and pips their second record Experiments In Mass Appeal to the accolade just because it was the debut. However things never ran smoothly in the frost* camp and the band broke up just after Experiments...only to reform several times for live tours but no actual studio albums.

Around 2012 however Godfrey confirmed that their would be a new Frost* album and in true to the bands way of doing things this has finally been released in 2016. So what if anything has changed? Well I'd say this could be the best Frost* album yet, it's just as ambitious and intensely musical as it's predecessors but these songs sound like they have had time spent on them, they've been able to mature over the album's long gestation period. What has stayed the same is the talent of those involved, Jem Godfrey is still the band and be default the albums Commander-In-Chief with his melodic Gilmour-like vocal style, the beautiful production work and the swathes of keys, piano and synths that drive this album forward and make up the bulk of the bands sound, happily the keys work in perfect synchronicity with the impressive guitar work (and vocals) of Godfrey's long term collaborator John Mitchell (It Bites, Arena, Lonely Robot) the two match each other throughout riff for riff, solo for solo which means that they are the focus of the record. For the first time Mitchell has collaborated on the songwriting with Godfrey meaning that both men can add their own mark to the record.

Now with the excellent lead instrumentation leading what can be quite technical pieces you need an engine room that can cope and luckily Godfrey has one in the shape of Craig Blundell (Steven Wilson) who is no stranger to the prog sphere and adds a powerful but deft touch to the record behind the kit, aided by the son of possibly one of the best bassists in the world Level 42's Mark King, Nathan King has all the talent of his father as he fleshes out the songs with his virtuoso plucking. So with four of the best musicians in Britain together on a record (and a guest spot by one Mr Satriani) the album has to be good, luckily Falling Satellites is better than good, it's phenomenal, split into two parts from track six, the synth heavy Heartstrings until track 11 the reflective Last Day you get a 6 song suite that moves between instrumentals and vocal tracks with ease defining it as one long piece that sees Mitchell and Godfrey duelling with keys and guitars and on the pulsing electro pop of Closer To The Sun sees Joe Satriani rip one of his trademark solos which is matched by Jem.

Away from the suite which also features the rocky The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light Blues In 7/8 (showcasing that excellent basswork), the euphoric Hyperventilate and as I've already said climaxes with the haunting Last Day, we come on to the stand alone tracks, First Day serves as an intro, albeit one that harks to David Gilmour's solo work, to Numbers which has distinct Marillion flavour, this is before they go darker and more angular with the sample heavy, twitchy, industrially sparse Towerblock that builds up to dubstep drop with the synths rattling the speakers, some might call this a misstep but personally I like the experimental factor of the song it is totally different to the rest of the album and is better because of it as it shows the band are in a place where they aren't afraid to take risks. With the darkness abated Signs has a Muse-like quality full of twisting electronics, but not as much as on the synth pop of Lights Out which sees Godfrey duet with Tori Beaumont adding a new dynamic to the song and bearing witness to Godfrey's pop career as this track could be on any modern chart.

Falling Satellites is the culmination of Frost*'s immense talent a triumph of progressive but accessible music, even the CD only bonus tracks are well above many bands best shots, Lantern is a folky romantic simple but effective song while British Wintertime encompasses all the melancholia of what that title brings and finishes Falling Satellites perfectly. I'm so glad I've got a ticket to see this band live at the end of July as one I get to see them perform tracks from the genre beating first two albums but also their equally as fantastic new record, my advice is to play this album often as each time it reveals more of itself meaning you fall in love a little more. 10/10                      

Lacuna Coil: Delirium (Centrury Media)

Lacuna Coil have always played with their Gothic Metal tag adding industrial and even some pop touches to records but never straying far from their normal style, they have always been a safe bet for New Rock sporting, eyeliner wearing Gothic rockers the world over. Well no more after long term drummer Cristiano "Criz" Mozzati along with guitarist Cristiano "Pizza" Migliore left the band on February last year, followed by guitarist Marco "Maus" Biazzi, the band have found their inner brutality.

As the House Of Shame starts off the thrash/groove metal battery is laid down by new drummer Ryan Blake Folden which means that founding frontman Andrea Ferro now screams and growls with haunting vocals of Cristina Scabbia acting as the perfect counterpoint. Ferro's vocals have always been hit and miss for me but I think he has found his niche with the screams as he is a very good harsh vocalist leaving the cleaner stuff to Christina's sublime soaring pipes. This change of style also means that the album features many guitar solos from various guitarists the most high profile being Myles Kennedy on the majestic sounding Downfall with the rest of the musical backing supplied by bassist Marco Colti Zelati who plays bass, guitar, keys and also produces and is the album's renewed creative spark.

This sounds like the album Lacuna Coil have wanted to make for a while, there last couple of records have been darker but this one is their darkest and heaviest, only the title track and Take Me Home both with their bouncing electronic influenced bass driven style harks back to their early years meaning that the sound change is more pronounced on tracks like Blood, Tears, Dust and Broken Things ramping up the more modern metal style with a tip of the hat to Lamb of God or Machine Head with touches of the In This Moment driving industrial metalcore on You Love Me Cause I Hate You. Lacuna Coil have taken a big step in their evolution this album seems more deliberately targeted at turning the band into a more powerful aggressive beast and it's all the better for it. Delirium is the band's best album in a while, let's hope they stick with the newer style as it has reinvigorated Lacuna Coil. 8/10

No Sinner: Old Habits Die Hard (Mascot)

Coleen Rennison the vocalist of Canadian blues rockers No Sinner has a few habits that she can't break, luckily she has an album full of blues rock to tell the world about it. No Sinner burst on to the scene a few years ago with a debut album that centred around driving blues rock riffs and Coleen's impressive vocal performance somewhere between Janis Joplin and Robert Plant with the attitude and passion of those two and many besides. As she explains on the opener All Woman she is indeed that but this album slinks it's way in and out of several stories with sultry and sometime explosive style every song recounted by the powerful, husky pipes of their frontwoman. This second record builds upon the first by adding some more blues influences see the parping mouth harp infecting the stomp of Leadfoot, working through the Southern harmony of Tryin (very Susan Tedeschi) the bayou march of Mandy Lyn and the strutting Fading Away.

The whole album sounds a bit more worked at with the band adding more flavours to their work, this is no 'difficult second album' no it's as good as if not better than their debut and has a greater amount of influences throughout all driven by some top-class musicianship and and Rennison's stunning vocals. When The Bell Rings adds a Zep-style rock out, whereas the homesick Lines On The Highway and barroom ballad Hollow slow things down and allow the powerhouse voice to croon a bit, the percussive filthy One More Time has the hip-shaking groove of The Stones while we go right back with duck walking Chuck Berry Rock N Roll on Saturday Night and the new protocol of soul Vintage Trouble loom large on bonus track Wait.

No Sinner have once again produced a sterling effort putting Rennison up there with some of the best blues rock vocalists in the business her sass and supreme talent are this bands main focal point but with a great backing band bolstering her performance and giving the tracks one hell of a licking as they mesh together with power and passion. If you love your blues rock filthy, flirty and full of excellent talent then pick up Old Habits, Die Hard and get your boogie on. 8/10           

Thursday 26 May 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Haken

Haken, Special Providence & Arkentype, The Fleece Bristol

The last few gigs I've been too have been a bit of a mix style wise, from Magnum's melodic pomp, too a stripped back Virginmarys set, through hard rock of Buffalo Summer and Blind Guardian's power metal majesty, what's been missing is prog. Thankfully Haken have got that covered with their triumphant return to Bristol's The Fleece for the first show of their Affinity tour in support of their fourth full length album.

Heading to the gig post work, I dived in The Seven Stars next door for swift pint of Coffee and Vanilla Porter (which was unique but very nice indeed), however due to the allure of beer I unfortunately missed openers Arkentype but from what I heard through the walls, they seemed to be djent based band with palm muted heavy guitars and soaring vocals. I came into the venue just as they had finished their set to an applause. Due to this it would be unfair to score them so I won't, I'd say just listen to them and make up your own mind.

Special Providence

Next up we had Special Providence from Budapest, they are a totally instrumental progressive jazz band, that played four or five jazz fusion numbers that while technically impressive, were just a little dull for my taste. This maybe due to the lack of vocals but there is only so many times you can hear a fleet fingered 5-string bass and drum combo matched with jazzy keys and complex 7-string guitar playing before it all gets a bit dull. That's not to say it was bad or indeed repetitive the songs were all different but they did sort of blend into one another meaning it was a bit like one long instrumental and because Haken have so many facets to their music the band preceding them just didn't get the place as excited as they should have as the music was little too laid back for many and a bit too virtuoso for the others, still they were received by those that liked their instrumental jazz fusion style however for me there just something lacking. 6/10


Thankfully Haken's debut show of their AffiniTour v1.0 (yes folks more retro computer referencing) tour in support of their most recent album Affinity was anything but dull as affinity.exe played over the PA as an intro tape, the six piece band took to the stage and kicked off the set with rocky album opener Initiate which had the band and the crowd rocking from the word go, although the band couldn't do much rocking due to the cramped conditions on stage relegating bassist Connor Green to the back of the stage and almost invisible due to the stage lighting. Much of the stage was taken up by Diego Tejeida's massive keyboard set up, but it's him that is the key to much of Haken's sound, as shown by the synth heavy 1985 which is the most Yes song not written by Yes as it features electronic drums and even an amazing keytar solo by Diego.

Breaking these two debuting songs was a classic Haken number Eternal Rain which will be in the set eternally as it is a song that sums up much of the band's past and present very well. In the back corner of the stage was Raymond Hearne who controlled the pace with his immense percussion skills knowing when to ease off and when to apply gas to the heavier tracks, bolstered by the intricate bass playing of Green who despite not being seen could be heard anchoring the more complicated harsh and melodic tones of Richard Henshall and Charles Griffiths guitars that fire off riffs aplenty, along with the occasional lighter more deft touch and a heaving tonne of intense soloing.

The band were clearly reveling in playing the new stuff live but happily for old school Haken fans like myself they didn't forget about their early albums with debut Aquarius represented by Eternal Rain and Visions by Deathless. The rest of the set saw them drawing mainly from Affinity and The Mountain, the first song from which was the eleven minute plus, emotional epic of Falling Back To Earth which served as the first showcase for Ross Jennings incredible vocals that are all at once powerful yet fragile, he always reminds me of Yes' Jon Anderson as he has a similar style and pitch, although Jennings has a wider range.

The band's performance was enhanced greatly by the amazing light show distracted you from the semi-static performance, I say semi static as Jennings has enough energy for two full bands, considering the nature of the music he was adamant about people dancing. How you can dance to The Mountain's Cockroach King is beyond me but there was some Dad style shuffling of feet to the glorious Earthrise. Cockroach King is a real tribute to the bands talent as any band can play a long multi layered song but this song is so complicated vocally and also musically that it could go horribly wrong but manages to be one of the band's most accessible songs.

Now the previous sentence is not to say Haken haven't got longer songs, oh no sir the debuting The Architect clocks in at 15 minutes plus but takes you along for the ride, meaning you are fully invested in the song from start to finish. In a similar vein after the set closer of The Endless Knot it was time for the normal encore, with the rapturous cheers subsiding, the opening chords said it all, another cheer as the 19 minute epic Crystallized was the solitary encore piece but what an encore it was once again moving between sounds and styles balancing light and shade and generally just bewitching those that had stayed late (the show was running later that it should have been). Haken proved on their last tour that they are capable of headlining their own shows, on this one they showed that they are not only capable they are made for being top of the bill! 9/10         

Reviews: Avatar, Buffalo Summer, Mother Feather

Avatar: Feathers & Flesh (Entertainment One)

Avatar have steadily upped their game on every release, with 2012's Black Waltz announcing them to the world at large only to be improved upon greatly by 2014's Hail The Apocalypse, this is where the band varied their scope bringing together a mix of groove, death, black and even some progressive and power metal influences fusing them together to produce a unique sound, their sixth album sees them once again improving their game and expanding their sound. Feathers & Flesh is a concept record that frontman Johannes Eckerström explains: "It's about this owl who goes to war against the world to prevent the sun from rising. It's a fable inspired by the work of the famous French fable writer Jean de La Fontaine so the creatures in the fable represent a side of the human psyche or different behaviors" so a high concept piece but one that is delivered with some of Avatar's most ambitious but accessible music they've produced.

The album kicks off with the sorrowful Regret that introduces the protagonist Owl and what will become the overarching theme of the record, then we are taken back when the Owl is at the top of his game on the pure metal House Of Eternal Hunt which is rampaging power metal-like track laced with classical acoustics and insane two-hand tapping solos showing the skill of Jonas "Kungen" Jarlsby and Tim Öhrström who really impress throughout the record with their guitar skill giving the record it's modern but classic sound, House... moves into the commanding stomp of The Eagle Has Landed which has the vaudeville call of "Ladies & Gentlemen" on which Johannes Eckerström shows off his dual personality vocal and his ringleader caricature welcoming us to the rest of the album backed by a rhythmic groove-laden stomp.

Eckerström's vocals are at their very best on this record dividing their time between a sonorous, insistent clean vocal before unleashing his harsher side. New Land is one of the better tracks to show this off as it is almost choral in places with the occasional foray into screams, New Land also is driven by the progressive drumming of John Alfredsson who along with bassist Henrik Sandelin is key to the stripped back verses in heavy creeping surf rock influenced Tooth, Beak And Claw which has nearly all snarled vocals a counterpoint to the more upbeat musical backing, the rhythm section are also used to their fullest on Pray The Sun Away (do I detect cowbell?)

Feathers & Flesh is certainly the bands most progressive output so far, I'd say it has mix of Von Hertzen Brothers, Lamb Of God and Rob Zombie all meshed together but it makes for an interesting listen, because of the wide variety of styles on offer most people will be able to find something that will tickle their fancy, but at 14 songs it could be a little too complicated for those of the thrash disposition (joke) however stick with the record as you'll be rewarded by some interesting, intricate, impressive and downright heavy metal with artistic flourishes.

Tracks such as the ballad Fiddler's Farewell, the county-fied heaviness of Black Waters (very Sons Of Anarchy) along with the anthemic folky Night Never Ending all add balance to the record meaning that nothing ever grows stale over it's length right up to the gurgling, orchestral final track Sky Burial. This record is absolutely excellent and if nothing else it ensures my presence at their mainstage opening performance on the Saturday at Download, luckily it does more than that and is an album that I and hopefully you will revisit numerous time this year. 9/10    

Buffalo Summer: Second Sun (UDR)

I went to the launch night of Buffalo Summer's sophomore record the day before it's official release, I heard most of the record live meaning that I sort of knew what to expect when I heard it however from the first listen the band sound a lot more accomplished their songwriting has improved significantly, although they were no slouches on their debut, their is also more a professional edge to this recording, it sounds like a major label record, possibly due to the influence of producer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees) who also adds the percussion, hammond organ and vibraphone. As you can probably tell from that list of instruments the Neath quartet have also added more varied flavours to this second effort adding to the hard rocking their debut was packed with, although that is still there on stomping opening twosome of Money and the groovy Heartbreakin' Floorshakin' and the direct Into Your Head.

The funk comes on strong with Little Charles, there is a definite blues base to Priscilla, while High As The Pines has a stoner focus, Levitate and Water To Wine bring a country twang and they even try their hand at a ballad with Light Of The Sun which is done well avoiding smaltz and adding a touch of muscle. Still the racket is made by Gareth's powerful drumming, Darren's rhythmic grooving bass, Jonny's soaring, flowing guitars and Andrew's hollering vocals all of which lock together perfectly on the songs meaning that this record has an organic feel to it. Second Sun is a classy hard rock record that shows the band have learnt a lot from the high profile tours; it's a slickly produced, expertly played and full of accomplished songcraft. This second album that will see the band on a steep upward trajectory, do yourself a favour and pick up Second Sun as it proves Gene Simmons wrong, rock n roll is very much alive and kicking. 8/10  

Mother Feather: Mother Feather (Metal Blade)

New York band Mother Feather were formed by frontwoman Ann Courtney after growing disillusioned with the scene at large, at the same time she found her kindred spirit in Elizabeth Carena or Lizzie and with one small Freudian slip while trying to swear Mother Feather's name was born. The band style themselves as pro-feminist pop cock rock and their album is glitter bomb of garage rock wrapped in a glam rock bacofoil cape and covered in face paint and ostentatious make-up.

Think The Stooges, New York Dolls or The MC5 with pop sensibilities, a distinct alt-rock edge and girl power lyrical content with a dominant, defiant purr by Courtney and her partner in crime Carena. It's the duality of the vocals that gives this record it's decided edge, the pop sensibilities of the record are heightened by the dual vocals working in tandem meaning that there are 50's doo-wop/rock n roll call and response elements as well as some more 60's style harmonizing, all of the tracks are driven by the rhythm section of Gunnar Olsen and Matt Basile who push the thumping stomps of the glam rock on the title track allowing Chris Foley to add some staccato, fuzzy guitar riffs and shimmering lead breaks while Carena handles the keys and organs that make a lot of the songs on this record have an innate danceability to them, especially the funky, filthy Trampoline with its' superb innuendo laced smile raising chorus.

Mother Feather's debut has all the hallmarks of a genre straddling classic that will appeal to wide audience as there is enough pop for those that love to shake their booty but enough grunting rock for the long hairs' listening, Mother Feather have balanced both sounds very well on their debut showing a lot of the male dominant bands what it really means to have balls! 8/10  

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Reviews: Crimson Fire, Silverbones, Nightmen

Crimson Fire: Fireborn (Pitch Black Records)

Well this is something I didn't expect at all. When I first saw the press release for Greek band Crimson Fire's sophomore album I expected it to be another quality power metal release that had similarities to Firewind, Innerwish etc I'm talking heavier than normal power metal with passionate vocals and virtuoso guitar playing. However from the opening few minutes of Fireborn I found that the band based in Kallithea were more than that, yes they can be categorised as power metal but they have a distinct macho hard rock vein that separates them from a lot of their countrymen and plonks them in the NWOBHM camp but with the melodic ear of The Scorpions. The band have had high profile guest spots with Canadian legends Anvil, NWOBHM survivors Tokyo Blade, Elixr, as well as American speed metal masters Helstar.

As well as The Scorpions influence that is writ large over this release the Harley riding Priest middle period slides in throughout, battling with Fighting The World style Manowar and also some Queensryche comes with both the backing vocals and on the slower numbers. Crimson Fire are a four piece with the engine room powered by Nemo's bass and Kostas' drums, the riffs and squealing solos supplied by Johnny with Stelios singing over the top, part Rob Halford, part Klaus Meine. You can just imagine the band clad in denim, leather, tasseled jackets and high tops riding motorbikes through a city at midnight on their way to a fight with a rival gang, with the songs on this record as their soundtrack.

In fact the video for (dreadfully named) Bad Girl is exactly what I've just described but it's gleefully tongue in cheek too, there is not a shred of po-faced Manowarisms, Crimson Fire know that it's all a bit of fun and it shows through with their music. On my first listen to the record I wanted to play the whole thing again from Take To The Skies, to the 80's loving Young Free, the rampaging Knightrider (sadly not about the Hasselhoff show), missing the one misstep of Her Eyes but revelling in the rest of the mad metal might. Fireborn is a great record which will see Crimson Fire jump out of the Greek scene and onto the world at large. 8/10        

Silverbones: Wild Waves (Stormspell Records)

There is no other way to describe this record than sounding like Running Wild, Italian's Silverbones do such a good job of emulating the Germanic kings of Pirate Metal that really they could be a tribute act much like Swedes Blazon Stone, reviewed previously. Wild Waves has tracks such as Queen Anne's Revenge, Riders Of The New World, the title track and the epic finale of Black Bart; along with the cover art which features a solitary pirate facing down an enemy ship, Silverbones are definitely Under Jolly Roger for all of their debut album. With speed metal shredding and galloping rhythm section and raspy vocals that are part Rock N Rolf, part Chris Boltendahl sitting the band in the studs and gauntlet's of mid-80's heavy metal. Despite the blatant copyist sound Wild Waves is not a bad album, the band all play well and the songs carry the right amount of bombast for band's of their ilk, the songs will get you head nodding and your fist pumping but with pirate metal being a bit of a now-overlooked genre in the power metal pantheon Silverbones may be walking the plank commercially if they stick to the sound too rigidly. 5/10

Nightmen: Fifteen Minutes Of Pain (Lövely Records)

I have a bone to pick with Swedish garage rockers Nightmen and their debut record, if you are calling it Fifteen Minutes Of Pain then don't make the album 28 minutes long, it's false advertising. I joke of course as the Malmo rock n rollers spit out fuzzy, punky leather jacket clad riffs at a furious pace harking back to the 70's New York scene when CBGB's was the best night of your life. With 12 tracks the album fuses spiky punk, D.I.Y garage rock, surf tendencies and infectious power-pop, think Juliette & The Licks, Blondie, The Ramones, Cheap Trick, The Cars and Iggy Pop in a blender and you'll get an idea of what's to come. The four piece have a trio of vocalists with guitarist's Tony, Christine and bassist Erik all sharing the mic, separately or on a few tracks all at once, leading to many instances of playful call and response in the album's more romantic/lustful moments.

With speedy guitar stabs and sprinting basslines and drummer Nopan hammering his snare the songs on this record rarely make it past the 3 minute mark with only the final song Down And Out proving the exception clocking in at 4:02. The shortness of the songs is not a problem though, as music like this has to feel urgent, insistent, ready to explode into a shower of beer and hysteria at any point, which happily is what Fifteen Minutes Of Pain feels like, there's a sense of playfulness and filth about the record that pervades every song giving the album replay value as the soundtrack to your next beer bash with your leather-clad mates. A record that begs to be played loudly, don't disappoint folks! 8/10 

Monday 23 May 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Blind Guardian

Blind Guardian & Gloryhammer, Rock City, Nottingham

Blind Guardian do seem to be somewhat of an elusive act for UK shores, their last few tours have been one off shows in London and nothing more really. All of us not lucky enough to frequent London enough have been regaled heartily by Paul about the time he was lucky enough to be in the Big Smoke for one such gig. So when the opportunity to see them in the beautiful city of Nottingham on a Saturday no less arose, myself and my long term compatriot Mr Hewitt set about on our quest to finally witness The Bards at home on stage.

Leaving reasonably early, so we could make the most of the plethora of real ale pubs Nottingham has to offer, after our journey took us up to the hallowed ground of Strensham services, I had a homesick epiphany that I'll explain at a later date, after the mandatory stop, bottle of Tizer and bag of Maoam, we set back off passing through Leicester (who I assume still have a hangover), the even more hallowed ground of Donington Race Track before arriving in the home of Robin Hood and his merry men, parked up, shipped out and booked into our hotel around the corner. After briefly schooling my colleague in my hardcore Catchphrase skills (life in the fast lane folks!) we set out in search of food and more importantly ale.

If you ever do go or have been to Nottingham, you will find it is a very easy city to navigate, everything is quite centralised but the hills make it seem larger than it is, we made our way down to the canal to The Canal Alehouse (what else would you call it) which boasts over 200 ales available, where as this tends to be just hyperbole, The Canal did indeed have this many, or near as dammit, as well as some very scoffable food, the burgers were especially yummy. With several fine beverages down us, along with myself introducing Nick to the Untappd app, we made our way to the legendary Rock City as the door time was 6pm, which meant an early start but also an early finish for the gig (Mr H would be well pleased). Into the Tap N Tumbler which is a spit an sawdust rock pub that have their own brew, we drank and tried to convince a few people in there to pop over the road to see Blind Guardian, but alas the lure of beer was too much so we headed off just in time to catch the final few songs of the one support band.

The support came from Gloryhammer the heroic power metal project of Alestorm's Christopher Bowes were not new to me as I saw them blow away the crowd at Hammerfest a few years ago with their silly, hyperactive brand of power metal that will get even the most po-faced metal head grinning from ear to ear. As we entered the venue the bassist Hootsman, Barbarian Warrior Of Unst (or James Cartwright) was regaling us with how he turned from shirtless warrior to beer swilling Bay Area legend before the band dove into The Hollywood Huntsman which had Nick cracking a smile due to the bands overtly silly nature, virtuoso playing and Angus McFife (Thomas Winkler's ear piercing vocal), after the chants of "Hoots" we were treated to the band's ballad Magic Dragon then the jaunty Angus McFife which did it's bit to be the silliest song of the night only over shadowed by the final of The Unicorn Invasion Of Dundee which fully converted Nick to Gloryhammer's cause. They are a great band with real technical musicianship under the silliness and served as the perfect aperitif to Blind Guardian getting those in the audience raising their (inflatable) swords in the air as we awaited the headline act. 8/10

With a little change over we awaited the arrival of the German masters of cinematic/power/speed metal and at 7:45 the opening riff to The Ninth Wave opened the night with band taking the stage one by one before starting the song proper, this would be one of only two songs from the latest album Beyond The Red Mirror which struck me as odd considering all of the merch pointed towards the fact that this tour was in support of that record, still the set was laced with classics as 9 minute The Ninth Wave went straight into two from their concept near-masterpiece Nightfall In Middle Earth with Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill) and Nightfall coming in rapid succession, the latter having the first crowd choir of the night as we sang our hearts out to the songs refrain.

What myself and Nick noticed was that where we were at the back under the balcony, which was not open, we couldn't hear Hansi's amazing vocals at all so we moved forward to the second row no less and then we were able to hear his vocals soar over the frantic riffs of Marcus Siepen and Andre Olbrich, the duo on the six strings are so great to watch with Siepen working in slick conjunction with Olbrich, as well as drummer Fredrick Ehmke and bassist Barend Courbois creating a heavy back line while also underpinning the jaw dropping solos of Olbrich.

After the euphoria and passion of Nightfall things got darker with the solitary cut from A Twist In The Myth the dark and ominous Fly, which is one of the bands heaviest tracks yet still had every member of the audience singing gleefully with fists, claws and horns held aloft. The Blind Guardian fans are part of the band's appeal as they are obsessive about the bands and know every lyric of every song meaning that the whole night becomes a massive sing along from minute one. The Nottingham chorus continued on Tanelorn (Into The Void) from At The Edge Of Time and Prophecies which rounded off the duo from Beyond The Red Mirror.

Hansi encouraged everyone to sing louder with every song, so much so that it was difficult to hear Michael "Mi" Schüren's keys at times as he had to compete with the choruses and the dual guitars, still it meant that to my ears the band sounded stripped back. It was pretty much classics from here on out with the dramatic The Last Candle followed by the always excellent Lord Of The Rings (both from Tales From The Twilight World) Hansi once again encouraged the crowd to sing as loudly as possible and they got their opportunity on Bright Eyes and The Script For My Requiem with both leading to just mass choirs, that lasted a little too long but with no one taking the initiative to stop we sang and sang right through to the main set closer of Imaginations From The Other Side which once again shredded the gathered masses vocal chords with its fists in the air refrain.

Imaginations...was the eleventh song in a 17 song set so after a breather to warm our voices came the encore, now the encore has been mixed up on a few different times on this tour so I was intrigued which order we would get, my questioned was answered by War Of Wrath playing as a tape which meant we went back to Nightfall... as the band dove into Into The Storm getting things started properly again, this was followed by Journey Through The Dark (cue more singing) before they took everyone right back to their speed metal roots blasting out Valhalla like it was 1989. There a few bands that can pull off a double encore and Blind Guardian are one of them, with the crowd still baying for more they once again returned to the stage with a dynamic (if truncated) Sacred Worlds showing the band's progressive side to it's full.

Then it was down to serious business, with the end of the set approaching and only really two songs left there were only really two songs there could be, as Siepen and Olbrich took to stools with acoustic guitars, Hansi introduced the next song as "the one many of you will have been waiting for" yes it was time for The Bard's Song - In The Forest which was the final sing along of the night, yes it's a silly song when you think about it but the folky number is a real crowd pleaser with Rock City in full voice along with Hansi, as quickly as it started the finale came and Mirror Mirror was the coup-de-grace for the evening ending what was a superior night of metal music. It's a shame the band don't tour more places as they are a spectacle to behold, personally I hope Bloodstock get them back sometime soon as they have the ability to headline to what I'm sure will be a a partisan crowd. As far as the Rock City show goes Blind Guardian were on top form doing what they do better than anyone 10/10           


Friday 20 May 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Buffalo Summer

Buffalo Summer, Florence Black & Staticland; Sin City, Swansea

A day before it was unleashed on the general public Neath's own classic rockers Buffalo Summer staged a little shindig at Swansea's legendary venue Sin City, to launch their long awaited second album. The record called Second Sun is officially released 20/05/16, so the show was geared to giving fans a flavour of the album, along with some favourites and hand picked supports making for big rock an roll party. The gig was an early doors affair with the first band coming on stage only 30 minutes after the doors opened, the opening act were a very late announcement and sealed the deal for me on the night meaning that a set off on the reasonably short but infuriating journey to Swansea for the show.


Into the venue and as I said bang on 7:30 the three piece of Walking Papers/Missionary Position men Jeff Angell (guitar/vocals), Benjamin Anderson (Keys) and Post Stardom Depression (Angell's other project) drummer Joshua Faunt took to the stage for what was their first show ever in this form. Happily the relative roughness of the set was to it's advantage as the blend of alternative rock and modern fuzz filled blues would not be as effective if it was cleaner sounding, the band's debut album comes out the same day as Buffalo Summer's so I couldn't tell you any of the songs that were played but what I know is that they played with a lot of swagger and take no prisoners attitude, Anderson is probably the key element to the sound underpinning the fuzzy swirling guitar playing of Angell perfectly with organs, keys and plenty of bass pedals giving Staticland more scope than the guitar/drum combo's of The Black Keys and White Stripes. There is an element of that sound to Staticland with Angell cutting the shape of Jack White on his guitar, vocal and styling (the whole band were suited and booted) playing off-kilter guitar riffs and searing blues based solos while propelled by Anderson and Faunt who managed to continue drumming even as the kick-drum was being repaired. Despite this being the band's first show the talent an experience of all three men shone through leaving those that had turned up early greatly appreciative of the Seattle native's debut show. 8/10

Florence Black 

Due to the early nature of the show and the impending doom of a club night coming after the show within sight it was a brief switch over and Merthyr Rockers Florence Black took to the stage and really ramped things up with high octane hard rock that was part Grand Funk, part AC/DC full of massive, ragged, unhinged riffage and powerful, frantic, gritty vocals from Tristan, thumping heavyweight, distorted bass from Fozzie and sledgehammer tub thumping from Perry. The band rocked through songs from their EP and then disaster the amp blew up leaving Tristan's guitar soundless, the young band took it in their stride with Fozzie and Perry doing a bit of drum and bass set with an impromptu drum solo thrown in until there was life, the song was restarted and we were off and headbanging again. Florence Black had very healthy and vocal following in the room and this was thrown into madness with the bands furious cover of Budgie's Breadfan which came in at the climax set as the penultimate number. This is the first time I've seen Florence Black but they will be repeat viewing for me as the are a great live rock act. 8/10

Buffalo Summer

Then it was time for what we were all hear for, to see the Neath rockers launch their second album in fine style. The record is their first major label offering, produced by Screaming Tree's Barrett Martin and their set drew mainly from the second record playing nearly every track from it, mixed in with some classics. The new stuff sounds a bit more accomplished and has a more varied sound with some funk, country, blues and other elements thrown in to the bands already Zep-like stew. The setlist kicked off with three from the new one with Into Your Head stomping in first announcing the intent for the rest of the night with a classic rampant rocker before early boogieing with with Heartbreakin' Floorshakin' getting the asses shaking early, Buffalo Summer have always had the groove many other bands struggle with, the trio of new songs was rounded out with Make You Mine which has a big singalong chorus and sat alongside the head banging March Of Buffalo and Truth From Fable both of which come from the debut record, the latter driven by the walking bassline of Darren King and the pace setting drumming of Gareth Hunt, the older songs were more recognised but this was about the new stuff and As High As The Pines started a run of tracks from Second Sun, As High As The Pines has a rocky stomp which blended well with the swampier bluesy Levitate both of which show the guitar skills of Johnny Williams who channels Page with every riff and solo.

The funky twosome of Little Charles and Priscilla is where Andrew Hunt was able to showcase another side to his voice before the blues tinge kicked back in on their first single Neverend and Bird On A Wire. The band were really playing their asses off on that stage, your eyes are drawn immediately to King who jumps around the stage wildly, nearly always within inches of destroying his bass, himself or another band member. Garteh is locked in behind the kit beating the power of the band, Williams cuts a steady form but manages to cast magic with his six string, so too does Andrew who's hair covers his face while he belts out every word. Back to the debut for the final part of the evening with Horse Called Freedom, Rolls On Through and the foot-stomping modern classic Down To The River coming in rapid succession before the night was wrapped up with Money from Second Sun that was a song that would have converted you to the new record if nothing else did. This album launch was a tipping point for the band, on the eve of their second album they seem on the precipice of greatness, with a live wire live show and now a glut of top quality songs Buffalo Summer could become the latest band to really break through. 9/10 

Thursday 19 May 2016

Reviews: Destruction, Devildriver, Electric Citizen

Destruction: Under Attack (Nuclear Blast)

14 albums? Destruction have made 14 albums? This is what sprang to mind when Under Attack came into my review pile, but after a check online it is indeed the bands 14th studio album. Now much of this surprise may come from the fact that I've never invested that much time into Destruction or indeed their compatriots in the "Big Four Of Teutonic Thrash" with the exception of Kreator and the first couple of Sodom albums (hail Wodos!) however after Destruction frontman Schmier was part of the German Panzer project I went back and visited Destruction's work. I'm happy to say that Under Attack is exactly what you would expect of them, it's pure Teutonic thrash and not the weird now ignored unofficial groove metal period they went through in the 1990's, from the outset the maelstrom of snarling riffs, thunderous bass lines and rapid fire drumming are all present and correct with the three piece just blitzing the listener with pure thrash fury from minute one.

Well that's not strictly true the title track starts off with slow clean guitar build before the track kicks in and the pace switches throughout the 6 minute opener, with Schmier deploying his snarl/shriek to full effect as founding member and the band's only constant, Mike darts in and out with six string fireworks as the song builds to its explosive abrupt climax. They say there is no rest for the wicked, Destruction have obviously been evil as next track Generation Nevermore is a rapid fire thrasher, although once again things slow down on Getting Used To Evil which has a death metal chug to it with the loud quiet dynamic on the verses and chorus with more modern influences coming in on Conductor Of The Void.

Under Attack is another album of Teutonic thrash but with enough variation to keep it interesting, there are even nods to Destruction's black metal roots in both the sparse production of the record and tracks like Elegant PigsStigmatized and their cover of Venom's Black Metal that comes as a bonus track for the record. It's Destruction still bringing the thrash at the max but with enough nuances to keep your interests, still if you do not like thrash then I'd avoid this record, for thrashers however there is enough here to get you heads banging. 7/10     

Devildriver: Trust No One (Napalm)

It's almost all change in the Devildriver camp on their seventh album with the departures of founder members John Boecklin (drums) and Jeff Kendrick (guitar) meaning that only front man Dez Fafara remains from the original line up he's aided on this record by long time guitarist Mike Spreitzer who calls this "the record I've been wanting to write for 12 years". Why he thinks that I don't know as really I can't see any difference with record to any of Devildriver's previous works, yes the band have a sound but they do seem to plow an already well worn field if you put their debut record next to this one and really there won't be much difference, yes their later albums do have a bit more melody in than tracks but other than that Trust No One is another groove metal album that doesn't really vary in style from the bands previous releases.

Saying that it isn't actually as good as some of their previous releases, in my opinion the band's magnum opus is Pray For Villains which was almost a perfect unison of extremity and melody, Trust No One is not that record, it sounds like the band are in third gear just cruising along in the middle lane, it never really shifts up, nothing really jumps out at you, that's not to say there are bad songs, far from it, it's just all a bit boring really. Fafara's vocals are the usual guttural style he prefers backed by the stable punishing groove, Bad Deeds is a heavy thundering track with some melodies that save it, This Deception too will cause the pits Devildriver always try to incite. Mostly this is just another Devildriver record, they are never going to radically change their sound, this is probably why Coal Chamber reformed, but that means that they will never really get out of the routine they have been in most of their career, not that it'll matter to the shirtless pit warriors they'll love it, for others though it's just all a bit safe and pedestrian. 5/10

Electric Citizen: Higher Time (Riding Easy Records)

For what is a relatively young band Electric Citizen have a reasonable workrate for modern music, their debut Sateen came in 2014 and now after almost two years and hell of a lot of touring later their second record Higher Time is now ready to once again bring the Sabbath worshiping heavy rock to the (black) masses. I saw the band supporting Wolfmother and they impressed despite the poor sound, although personally I thought their debut album had flashes of excellence but suffered a little from the band holding back a little, but this has been addressed on their second record, yes the Iommi-like riffs of Ross Dolan still pump out of a Gibson SG as his wife Laura wails and bewitches casting occult spells on Social Phobia while the booming rhythm section of Randy Proctor and Nate Wagner keep the voodoo coming on Misery Keeper.

Laura's vocals are unique in that they are deep and resonant fitting the band's occult style of retro riffage perfectly, the songs are underpinned and fleshed out by Andrew Higley who adds the brooding organs and keys to tracks like Evil and most effectively on Devils In The Passing Night which sounds like Fleetwood Mac with more sorcery and has an impressive solo section from Ross. Witchcraft and Wizardry was once a staple of British and American bands such as Black Sabbath Pentagram but in recent years European's have had a grip on it since with bands like Ghost taking off in a big way, now with retro mystic rock becoming big business it's time for us Brits and Yanks like Electric Citizen to take it back, the psychedelic, trippy riff fuelled occult rocking featured on Higher Time along with high profile support slots with Wolfmother as I've said and coming up with legends Orange Goblin will launch them in the consciousness of the world at large. 8/10  

Tuesday 17 May 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Virginmarys

The Virginmarys & Ragsy, Retro-Vibe Records, Cardiff

The Virginmarys are currently in the mist of their UK/European tour (one that continues into June) supporting their latest album, reviewed here:

The first part of the tour didn't come anywhere near Wales (although there is a Bristol Thekla show on the 19th of June) but Cardiff record store Retro-Vibe Records got an exclusive acoustic in-store, which would go down as the tour's longest in-store with the band playing for 30 minutes plus. This exclusive gig had the bonus of being a free ticketed event meaning all we had to do was go to or contact the amazing shop and reserve a ticket. Simples.

Due to the early start time it was a bit of a push to arrive for the start but happily I did. With most of the punters already down stairs, I made my way downstairs and saw the cameras of Made In Cardiff TV set up to record the evening. Fame and fortune at last I thought until I saw they were trained on the performance area, still maybe a cheeky nod to camera would do it. As everyone shuffled around the room looking for a good view point I hid just under the stairs and I was just in time for support act Ragsy to start his set. Wales based singer songwriter Gary Ragsy Ryland has been featured on BBC's The Voice and plays world weary acoustic ballads in the true troubadour style, his voice is emotive and commanding fully conveying the poignant content of his songwriting. Ragsy was a very last minute addition to to bill due to the original support being struck down with illness on the day of the gig. Still Ragsy made an impression on the sizeable crowd in the basement of the record shop, his songs were well constructed and performed and he was warmly received by the crowd. Ragsy's performance was proof of the Welsh music scene's importance and wealth of talent. 8/10

As the crowd chatted amongst themselves in excited anticipation, I headed upstairs to have a bit of a chat and to get some fresh air, due to the heat emanated from the room downstairs, which is a good thing in a venue but during the breaks it's nice to escape a little bit. Then as the crowd roared again I swiftly went back in as the three piece band took up their instruments, Ally Dicktay on vocals and acoustic guitar, Danny Dolan on snare and brushes and Matt Rose with an acoustic bass and backing vocals. Their half an hour set was punctuated with a lot of tracks from their new sophomore album Divides (only released that day), happily many of those in the crowd knew the songs from the record so happily mouthed along to the tracks, no singing possibly due to the cameras, however they were vocal when the songs ended clapping, cheering and hollering, during the music there was thankfully movement from the head nodding of the old-schoolers with the youngsters dancing away to the bands indie-blues-punk fueled groove.

The songs played sounded just as good in the stripped back format, carrying enough gusto to convey the messages in the lyrics, but also highlighting the band's incredible musicianship and Ally's rough, passionate vocals that carried with them an angst that is rare, with the vocals and the way the band attacked their instruments there was raw, intimate feel to proceedings that evoked the atmosphere of small pub gigs in a raucous pub. The sound was perfect for this very special gig acting as the icing on the cake for what was a brilliant night of live music in a thriving independent record shop that supports both the local and British rock scene strongly, here's hoping that Retro-Vibe do many more in-stores/signings in future as it's a great venue for it helped in no small part by the excellent performance of The Virginmarys, I suggest you catch them on the June leg of their tour as on the basis of their acoustic performance their full amped up show looks to be dazzling. 9/10      

Reviews: Grand Magus, Kvelertak, Secret Rule

Grand Magus: Sword Songs (Nuclear Blast)

Sword Songs is Swedish trio Grand Magus' eighth album and it once again shows that if you were to collect all the retro loving NWOBHM/True Metal bands that are currently around, with new ones coming every week, together in a pile Magus would be somewhere near if not on top of that very sizable mountain, there is just something just so pure and joyous about the music they create that not only separates them from many of the bands doing the same but also gives them enough differences to avoid being just copyists. I'll get this out of the way, I love Magus, I love their records, their live show, their uncompromising infectious enjoyment of what they do, so don't expect this record to be slated, it will not be however, as sycophantic as that previous statement sounds I think Sword Songs is the natural progression for the band.

After their previous record Triumph And Power the band were straying into the over-the-top realm of Manowar (no bad thing) adding some orchestral parts and lots of polished shirtless, greased up chest beating, Sword Songs retains the latter, but it has a snarl that was present on the early albums, the production to isn't over polished and that's to the records benefit as well. Happily Magus are still a three piece machine (for every song bar two, discussed later) with Ludwig Witt still the hammer of the north (sorry/not sorry) behind the kit while Fox's bass is the riffmaster general when JB is burning up and down the fretboard and locks in to the classic metal groove when the two work together. The opening tandem of Freja's Song and Varangian a war-like feel is created with another duo of fist pumping metal anthems, Varangian especially will slay in the live arena with a chant-along chorus to shout aloud with hammers held high. Forged In Iron-Crowned In Steel starts off with some classical guitar and erupts into the albums most Maiden-like track replete with Steve Harris bass gallops from Fox and JB's booming call-to-arms vocals approach that doesn't let up. It is also one of the two songs that features and outside member with Entombed A.D's Nico Elgstrand providing the restrained acoustics.

No such restbite on Born For Battle, Master Of The Land, Frost And Fire which make up the bulk of the album and are evidence to this being one of Magus' best works, they fire on all cylinders throughout right up until the epic finale Everyday There's A Battle To Fight. It's a testament to the band's confidence and indeed their songwriting that they leave a song as good as In For The Kill relegated to the bonus track, In For The Kill is one of two bonus tracks on this record the second being the other song that has an extra member; a cover of Stormbringer which is a heavier interpretation of the Purple classic but still retains the powerful organ lines of Jon Lord, here provided by Witt's Spiritual Beggars bandmate Per Wiberg. Stormbringer is the perfect cover to close the record but the album that proceeds it will stand out as one of the best from the group. Roll on Download as I want to see these tracks live asap, until then though I'm sure Sword Songs will get repeated plays at MoM towers!! 9/10          

Kvelertak: Nattesferd (Roadrunner)

It seems strange to think that Nattesferd is only Kvelertak's third record, they seem to have been in the public consciousness for far longer than their nine years as a band. Maybe it's due to their rapid ascent, which is mainly due to their interesting and unique sound, stylised as Black 'n' Roll the band have improved on each release and have developed their sound over the course of three records, their last record Meir saw them take a much more commercial sheen, pipping them as future arena headliners, while also keeping their aggressive black metal influenced sound. Their live prowess was instrumental to the success of their records, they impressed me when I saw them opening for Anthrax and Slayer and it was heartening to see so many come out early for them.

With such high profile tours you'd be forgiven for thinking that the band would add yet more commercialism to their sound but this isn't the case with Nattesferd they have in fact stripped things back a bit focusing more on the black metal influence in their sound, aiming for the jugular with a more violent, frantic approach than previously. The band's major trick is managing to be all inclusive with their music while still performing in Norwegian, at no point does the language barrier get in the way of the impact of Erlend Hjelvik's intense vocal delivery. As he shrieks, screams, growls and squawks, the multi layered but unrelenting triple guitar assault of Vidar, Bjarte and Maciek peel off riff after pit-inciting riff, reinforced by the irrepressible force of Marvin and Kjetil's nuclear engine room.

At just 9 songs and 47 minutes the record doesn't sound to taxing but by the final chord of Nekrodamus it leaves the listener struggling to regain their thoughts after the pulverising but it does you have you reaching for the repeat button as with each listen the songs reveal a little more especially the 9 minute Heksebrann which comes as the record's penultimate number. With the black metal coming back in droves 1985 still throws one of the bands trademark curve balls with the blackened Sunset Strip rock which plows into the the rampaging title track, Bronsegud is a punkier number that leads into a more melodic Ondskapens Galakse and the impressive fast Beserkr (not a Fuck Your Yankee Blue Jeans cover). Nattesferd is another excellent album from the Norwegian masters of heavy metallic rock n roll. 9/10

Secret Rule: Machination (Scarlet Records)

The female fronted metal genre is swamped, (much like the aforementioned retro-metal genre) every week another band comes out featuring a raven haired singer with a piercing soprano warbling over classically influenced power/pop metal. Some are good, some are not good and many others just fade into obscurity, the ones that survive are the bands that are not afraid to change their style. Secret Rule have done away entirely with former and gone straight to the latter, their debut record Transposed Emotions was a concept record that put them more in the NWOBHM camp with progressive touches, none of the usual classically influenced stuff that many in the genre rely on. So on their second album they have added elements to their sound again this time due to the introduction of Sonata Arctica keyboard player Henrik Klingenberg who really puts his stamp all over this record adding layers of keyboard arrangements to the band's heavy sound meaning that sound wise their second album is more akin to Within Temptation's recent releases with classic metal fused with some symphonic elements from Klingenberg.

Secret Rule hail from Italy, they are fronted by Angela Di Vincenzo who has a first-rate vocal style. Her wide range and accent means she stands out above many others in the female fronted genre, she sounds like a mixture of Sharon Den Adel and Lacuna Coil's Christina Scabbia which is indeed a good thing as behind her is a heavy style of metal that brings to mind Kamelot or Serenity as Andy Menario (guitar) and Michele Raspanti (bass) supply the quota of riffage that's down tuned and modern sounding in style with the drumming of new boy Sander Zoer (ex-Delain) being a particular highlight in the speedier songs. I've said that Secret Rule sound a bit like Serenity, Within Temptation and I also say Delain too and as it happens the guests on this album are all from those bands with guitarists' Stefan Helleblad and Timo Somers coming from Within Temptation and Delain respectively and bassist Fabio D'Amore from Serenity, with these guests it's plain to see why Secret Rule remind me so much of modern WT.

Unlike WT they also have some harsh vocals from Janneke De Rooy of Paper Doll Decay which add a bit more meat to tracks like Foolish Daisy. The records sound is fleshed out by some industrial touches on Ex Machina and pulsating The Saviour which mixes choirs with EDM and metal, Dolls is a bit more of the traditional metal style, it's not all great though as the lazy, poppy I Will and the Goth mega ballad The Image slow the middle of the album but things get back on track in the last part of the record. Machination has to make people stand up and take notice of Secret Rule as it's a big leap towards securing a future for the band. 7/10

Monday 16 May 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Magnum

Magnum & Vega, Tramshed, Cardiff

Let me set the scene I haven't seen melodic rockers Magnum live since they played what was or indeed what seemed like a labyrinthine set at Steelhouse. At a festival it's usually de-rigueur to play a greatest hits set but I'll be honest and say I didn't really recognise anything they played, so I thought I'd give them another shot seeing as they were playing The Tramshed which is probably the best venue in Cardiff at the moment.

Coming into the venue early I had a swift pint in the onsite bar before we were let into the venue about an hour before the show started, I swiftly exited the venue and enjoyed another pint in the dying sunlight before once again returning just before support band Vega took to the stage, having seen Vega before, I'll admit I still wasn't impressed by the six piece who pretty much sound like a Def Leppard tribute act, they seem to have a following but I found their live set a bit tame and the songs far too saccharine to have any real bite, they can all play yes but the major let down are the vocals and posturing of frontman Nick Workman, his voice is not good, straining to hit the notes at points meaning that they grate after a few songs. The songs too all blended into one and other meaning that after half way through gave up and headed back to the bar. 4/10

The change was thankfully fast and the venue filled for Magnum, although not full there were enough hardcore fans at the front to give the room an atmosphere. Then bang on time they took to the stage, keyboardist Mark Stanway played the opening chords to Soldier Of The Line, Harry James started tickling the cymbals, as Al Barrow's bass and Tony Clarkin's famous guitar sound pumper out the riff, then just before the first verse Bob Catley strode on to the middle of the stage, in a double white denim number and opened his mouth. Unfortunately this is where is started to fall apart, Catley's once fine vocal was nothing more than a croak, the magic was wearing thin as Soldier... ended and A Storyteller's Night began but by the end of that song for me it was turning into a bit of a slog. Magnum are not the most visual band either so unfortunately there was nothing to distract you from the vocals. I think Bob moved the lower half of his body after about 8 songs, Clarkin was stationary throughout so it was up to Barrow as the youngest member to inject some visual distraction with his boundless enthusiasm.

With a mix of new stuff and older classics Magnum had a set list that got the faithful jumping throughout but for me the band had more than an element of Spinal Tap about them from the stage moves especially Catley's illicit shapes, coupled with Denim whiter than JBJ's teeth (see Paul's Jovi review), the most Tap of all was Mark Stanway's one man battle with the wind machine which became the best thing to watch on stage, in my eyes (and indeed some of my colleagues) the set was descending into farce. As they went into How Far Jerusalem after a few newer numbers form the most recent record, I noticed that the new songs didn't really stand out as well blending into what was becoming a dulcet malaise of a set. The band wrapped the set up with Les Morts Dansart, All England's Eyes and the final 80's-tastic Vigilante, the latter two tracks getting the crowd moving and sounding at least a bit better but for me it was enough, I took my leave before the encore of The Spirit and Kingdom Of Madness as really I was very disappointed. Magnum are a band very dear to me but they have lost it, maybe Bob Catley's long tour with Avantasia and the preceding 17 dates of this tour caused the problems, leaving his voice was rough as a badgers' bits, or it might just be more tellingly that these old dogs have had their day, personally I'll be sticking to listening them on record. 5/10        

Sunday 15 May 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Metal Church (Review By Paul)

Metal Church: The Underworld, Camden

It's been over 20 years since Metal Church graced UK shores and on the back of one of the albums of the year in XI, this was a gig not to be missed. Fortunately I was in London for the week on business and a mere eight stops on the Northern Line meant that I was comfortably ensconced with beer in hand in time for the opening outfit.

Sometimes the support bands at gigs really increase your enjoyment and there have been many occasions where new discoveries or quality sets have made the event extra special. Tonight was not one of those nights. Opening off proceedings was Dutch three piece Distillator (6) whose honest but dated thrash approach did little to impress. Plenty of endeavour and the full range of heavy metal cliched poses alongside bullet belts galore but insufficient quality to light my fire in any way. A band whose lead guitarist and vocalist tags himself Desecrator whilst his band mates are Frankie and Marco added to the ludicrousness although the icing on the cake was the audacity of the band to throw in a cover of Slayer’s Black Magic. Ironically, Distillator’s best track was a slower atmospheric number, probably because it contrasted with the generic offerings either side.

Having perused a very disappointing merchandise offering from the headliners (no tour dates on the tees?) I grabbed another beer and settled down to watch Belgian five piece Bliksem (4) produce one of the most dire support slots I've ever seen. For a band with two full length albums and over eight years under their belt, their schizophrenic thrash with a random doom track thrown in was as bizarre as it was dull. However, the biggest problem by a country mile was the appalling vocals of front woman Peggy Meeussen. A screeched and strained approach meant that her voice, already suffering from a poor mix came across as pretty weak. A 45 minute set didn't do much to stimulate the interest, and despite the efforts of the other members of the band I was pretty glad when they got off the stage.

According to vocalist Mike Howe it was 22 years since Metal Church (9) had played in London. Unsurprising then that the Underworld had swollen to a healthy number when the West Coast outfit hit the stage to deliver a 90 minute set that demonstrated exactly why they remain a much loved outfit. One of the few bands I'd never seen live, the bonus of the evening was the opportunity to witness Kurt Vanderhoof, founder member of the band on Stage with a huge smile as he liberally churned out the riffs. The engine room powered by drummer Jeff Plate didn't let up whilst bassist Steve Unger’s energy was infectious. Most of the lead work was handled with aplomb by Rick Van Zandt who was even given the opportunity to indulge in a short solo spot during the set.
Kicking off with Fake Healer, which prompted a hilarious stage dive from a older gent dressed in suit, the band delivered a well constructed set which unsurprisingly centred on Howe's work. And what about Howe? Well, for a small man he has a huge presence on the stage and his voice is in top condition. Sensibly steering away from the higher parts during classics such as Start The Fire ensured that David Wayne’s legacy was respected (ironically 10 May is the anniversary of Wayne’s passing). Splicing three newbies across the set allowed the older fans to reminisce although Reset, No Tomorrow and a blistering Killing Your Time were greeted like old favourites. Inevitably the real old school stuff received enormous reactions and Watch The Children Pray produced goosebumps. As the band closed the main set with Beyond The Black, the sole track from the debut album, a glance around the venue noted beaming faces on young and old. 

This was a night which drew both the old school dressed in shirt and jeans and the youngsters with their battle jackets, high tops and significantly more hair. It didn't matter. It was an “I was there evening”. To conclude the evening we were treated to Badlands and The Human Factor, both still thunderous metal tunes before the band exited the stage and headed to an open meet and greet. An excellent evening, and at long last I can tick Metal Church off the list. Let's hope they don't leave it quite so long for a return.

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Reviews: The Virginmarys, Mystic Prophecy, Vektor

The Virginmarys: Divides (Wind-Up Records)

The Virginmarys are often referred to as a punk rock trio, but I'd say they are more pitched somewhere between the 90's garage/alt rock explosion and 70's rock. The Virginmarys have an ear for the mainstream too that cuts through all of their work, giving them a jangly indie vibe that is anchored by a harder, fuzzier rock edge. Divides is the Macclesfield band's second full length and sees them widening their scope of sound, from the Kings Of Leonesque opening stomper Push The Pedal which does exactly that, through the snotty Frank Turner-like rallying cry of Motherless Land, along with songs that dip their toes into the pub singalong mentality of Britpop kings Oasis, the angular riffs of The Pixies and the post grunge of early Foo Fighters, possibly due to the production of Gil Norton who has worked with both bands.

There is a bigger sound on this record with layered vocals from Ally Dicktay that admittedly have a punk rock snarl to them as he spits bile about modern life on first single Into Dust while he attacks his guitar with an unhinged ferocity, behind him is the crashing percussion of Danny Dolan and the fuzzy bass riffs of Matt Rose, with the three men never letting up the record continually keeps you on the edge of your seat with the immediacy of it all, the lyrical content to is intelligent, political and brutally honest, it's where The Virginmarys have always been at their best and Divides is no different. With the sound so big, the lyrics so contrite and bare, it means that the songs have to shine and like 12 newly set diamonds they do.

The album building into what could really be a live set saving the most impressive, anthemic songs to the end while the ones that come before such as the marching For You My Love, the moody, drum driven, fuzz filled Kill The Messenger, the Arctic Monkey's style bluster of I Wanna Take You Home and the bluesy ragged Walk In My Shoes all add to the first part of the record that climaxes into Into Dust which welcomes you to the anthemic final quarter of the record. Divides is a superb sophomore album that not only builds on the talent shown on the debut record but increases it exponentially, these are songs made for arenas (see Moth To A Flame) which is where The Virginmarys will no doubt be going on the back of this fantastic record. 9/10 

Mystic Prophecy: War Brigade (Massacre Records)

German power metal band Mystic Prophecy return after three years with what is now their ninth album of heavy power metal along the similar vein of the tougher sounding US power metal bands like Iced Earth but with the more melodic European touches too on The Crucifix. Nine albums in and it's tough for any band to keep it fresh, but Mystic Prophecy have a sound that has served them well thus far, the band is the brainchild of frontman R.D Liapakis who is still the only constant member of the band since it's inception, more recently he has also been the vocalist of hard rockers Devil's Train, still Mystic Prophecy is his main concern and it's clear that without his rough vocals the band would lose some of their dark power. The songs as always are a drawn from war, evilness, death, with the focus on war for this record explicitly the Spartans battle with the Persians at Thermopylae on Good Day To Die and Fight For One Nation, however it's not all doom and gloom the clarion call of Metal Brigade celebrating the unifying force of heavy metal music with a Manowar style epic, that dives into the thrashy Burning Out.

Liapakis' vocals are powerful booming over the sledgehammer basslines and rapid fire drumming which give the songs their rugged fist pounding rhythms, with the rhythm and lead guitars working in ideal union. Having not been overly familiar with Mystic Prophecy in the past I was struck by just how heavy they are, songs like blastbeat heavy Pray For Hell and Follow The Blind on the other hand they still have more melodic side on semi-ballad 10,000 Miles Away and War Panzer.  War Machine is a good album from the German band, it does nothing new but what it does do give you is 11 tracks chest beating power metal and a metal cover of Sex Bomb by Tom Jones which is either genius or a travesty, leaving that for you to make your own mind up about, the rest of the record is a lesson in heavy metal 101. 8/10

Vektor: Terminal Redux (Earache Records)

What is there to say about Vektor? The Philly band could have quite possibly released one of the albums of 2016, Terminal Redux is an extreme, progressive, thrash metal album that has so many twists and turns it could be a Formula One track. Opening with a 9 minute song and then being followed by an 8 minute song this is an album that you really need to listen too a few times to really understand what is going on, the songs are extremely complicated, technical pieces that move between blitzkrieg blackened thrash metal, into more deathly doom territory and beyond, sometimes in just one track. Terminal Redux is not an album for those easily bored it's challenging piece but that's kind of the point, it's been five years since Vektor's last release and they once again have outdone themselves with the sheer bravado of this record that clocks in at over an hour but with each song having so many facets to them that sometimes they can be a little overwhelming but they demand your attention.

Vektor are David DiSanto, Erik Nelson, Blake Anderson and Frank Chin and these four men immediately make their mark with lightning fast riffage that wouldn't be out of place on a black metal album before it turns into a choral doom monster at the end, into the chugging breakdown heavy Cygnus Terminal that builds and builds until LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease) arrives in your ears in blaze of synchronized two hand tapping from DiSanto and Nelson which unfurls into Megadethisms on speed middle section and ramps back up again as Anderson blast beats his ass off. With three unstoppable tracks Mountains Above The Sun provides a welcome break with the relaxed instrumental that plows into Ultimate Artificer which although shorter in length is faster than anything coming before it bringing to mind Strapping Young Lad, in fact Hevy Devy could have easily released this album back in his early years such is the complex, radical uncompromising nature of the songs featured. Pteropticon echoes Slayer sound wise although Slayer if they played at lightspeed and had Nergal fronting them and played with classic twin guitar harmonies.

I've mentioned the guitars already but the need another mention as DiSanto and Nelson are mind blowingly good guitarists, just check out the duel they have on Psychotropia, one that also features bassist Frank Chin holding his own as he too shows off his fleet fingered fretwork illustrating that he can easily do with four strings what they can with six. The middle part of this record contains the shortest most direct songs on the record but the final two tracks make up for that, as Collapse starts out dreamily finally showing that DiSanto has clean singing voice rather than his evil rasp which is in evidence on the rest of the record, Collapse could be a Metallica song with it's building balladic pace and clean sonic soundscape that shifts into a jazzy middle eight counterpointed by the rasp returning for the heavy final section. Still the true progressive nature of the band comes out in the 13 minute plus final song Recharging The Void which again starts out with explosive super fast thrash but then as quickly as it it arrives it disintegrates into a section that sounds awfully like Pink Floyd, recalling On The Turning Away that washes over you as the female vocals soar in the background, before once again erupting into a faster section with the harsh vocals acting as a opposite as the thrash once again creeps in led by Anderson's frankly terrifying drum work. Terminal Redux is a tour-de-force in modern progressive thrash metal, Vektor owe a debt to Voivod, Cynic and yes Devin but they create their own style of music, that will be very hard to replicate or imitate by any band. 10/10             

Reviews: Vodun, Heavy Star, Hypnos

Vodun: Possession (Riff Rock Records)

Vodun means spirit in the Fon and Ewe languages of Ghana, it is pronounced [vodṹ] with a nasal high-tone and is for all intents and purposes a form of Voodoo. Vodun the band are a three piece unit from London (but they would say they were from Mother Earth) the band is made up of Ogoun on drums, Marassa on guitar and Oya on vocals and they play what can only be described as shamanistic ritual rock that is part soul, part stoner and wrapped in psychedelic blanket of quirkiness. Possession is their second album and it stays deep in the soulful, afro-centric rock rhythms of the debut with slabs of fuzzy riffage and the furious tribal beat drumming that cuts like lightning through the static rhythm created by Marassa. As Loa's Kingdom gets started with the explanation of the Vodun religion before the riffage kicks in and Oya unleashes her special, natural vocals that merge gospel with more hard rock style, the record doesn't hang around the with the primal fury of Bondeye moves into Bloodstones which has a slow burn beginning but has a heavyweight second half with superb riffs working in conjunction with Oya's wailing on this psychedelic proggy track, then we speed up again into the punk styling of Oya. Throughout this record you get real love for the bands use of just guitar and drums to create the rhythmic body moving jams featured here, if you don't believe me then check out Leba's Feast which employs some frenetic drumming and some melodic furious riffage. Possession is an album that want's to creep into your soul and take it over turning you into a dervish of sound and colour as Vodun translate the noises in your head into an impressive musical palette that will let you expand your mind. 8/10             

Heavy Star: Electric Overdrive (Perris Records)

Heavy Star are an Italian heavy rock band, aiming for the same swagger of bands such as Tesla, Ratt, Skid Row and Kiss Electric Overdrive is full of big ballsy guitar playing, a powerful rhythm section and melodic vocals that sound a lot like Jeff Keith with that right amount of grit and melody. Electric Overdrive is the band's debut record and see's the band coming fully formed with eight rocking tracks that show what the band can do, yes there's the usual mix of ballads and rockers, but from the opening riff of Love And Affection you are locked into a late 80's rock groove, still the opener is the a bit weak actually and it's up to Blessed to start the album properly as it really has the punch the album needs blending Motley Crue and Def Leppard and showing founding member Marco K-Ace's guitar work, as the album progresses we get more slabs of rock with all of the band displaying their talents, however as they cover Love Gun you realise that this record is just a bit meh throughout, it never really moves out of third gear, it's all a bit safe, there is a lot of promise but for the most part this is middle of the road hard rock, hopefully a second album will let them flesh their sound out a little. 5/10

Hypnos: Cold Winds (Crusher Records)

Sweden's Hypnos play denim washed boogie rock of early Status Quo fused with bullet belt wearing NWOBHM by way of Jethro Tull, see singer Phillip's liberal use of flute on opening track Start The Hunt. Like many of their compatriots Hypnos are decidedly retro with Lizzy-like twin guitars, a rocking backline and some wild eyed layered vocals all coming together to make you want to throw on your bell bottoms, put your fist in the air and headbang like you are half your age. Cold Winds is the bands second full length and after seeking out their debut before this review I can see that the band have stuck to their initial style of riff laden classic rock that exhibits some excellent guitar interplay from Oskar Karlsson and Fredrik Bäckström by the two on the jam session middle section on The Captive but also add the heart to the emotive Det Kommer En Dag which starts out slow and builds into a heavier second section, the everyone contributes magic to the 8 minute plus stoner finale 1800 which once again has flute bolstering it and slow steady jazz like back beat, as it switches pace frequently. The band work in harmony throughout with everyone playing brilliantly throughout really bringing a sense of live-in-the-studio to proceedings, enriched by warm production, the classic sounds Hypnos can now stake their claim to the Swedish retro rock title which is currently passed between Graveyard, Blues Pills, Truckfighters, Lugnet and Troubled Horse. Cold Winds could be the album that announces Hypnos to the masses. 7/10

Monday 9 May 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Snake Oil & Harmony Tour 2016

Dan Reed & Danny Vaughn, Snake Oil And Harmony Tour 2016,  Fuel, Cardiff

Reprising their two man acoustical jam from last year veteran rockers Dan Reed (he of the self titled Network) and Danny Vaughn (Tyketto & Waysted) along with singer songwriter Craig MacDonald, played to an almost packed out Fuel Cardiff. The three men had earlier played a session spot in Retro-Vibe Records for local station Made In Cardiff but the Fuel was the full event that was made up of Vaughn and Reed trading songs and stories in one performance.

Firstly though was Craig MacDonald or WhoIsThisCraig? as he is also called opened the show as a one man singer songwriter unit playing his own songs which were emotive, powerful driven by some great use of the acoustic guitar and his excellent voice, MacDonald had Danny Vaughn as a guest on his last album which is testament to both men's talent, this is something that MacDonald has in droves, his songs really grab your attention and his voice is key to keeping you interested. I'm a little gutted I couldn't see his whole set but from what I saw he was excellent. 7/10

The room was full by the time Dan and Danny took to the stage, over the P.A came the dulcet strains of Eric Serra's Little Light Of Love and the two men took their seats that faced each other and strapped on their acoustic guitars and started, Dan Reed took to the mic and asked who recognised the song, I duly shouted but wasn't heard from the back (I went on to tell him after the gig in what was the the first of many brilliant conversations with both men). Reed then went on to say about who we'd lost this year in a heartfelt speech which culminated in him talking about Prince and how much of an influence he was, so because of this they opened the set with a cover of His Purpleness's The Cross with Reed showing off his excellent vocals as he sang the chorus with all his might. The nature of the gig was that the men took a song each with the other accompanying them where needed for extra backing vocals/guitar. The set was a mix of tracks from each, Dan Reed played songs from his solo repertoire as well as the bigger hits from Network with the obvious additions of Ritual and Rainbow Child included, with Ritual's call and response refrain lapped up by the crowd and Rainbow Child was dedicated to the Retro Girls from Retro-Vibe Records who were dancing their hearts out at the front (the benefits of youth you see).

Danny Vaughn too mixed his excellent sometimes introspective but mostly country/blues based solo material with the obvious addition of Tyketto's Wings being one of the stand out. Every song was well received by the hardcore fanbase that filled Fuel, in between the songs were asides, stories from the road and also a bit of competition between the two men with Vaughn joking numerous times that he has to follow the epic ballads of Reed with more upbeat songs constantly, vocally both men are superb Reed has a strong soulful vocal while Vaughn's pipes are bluesier and rougher but still deliver that emotive punch. For the final part of the set the two men were joined by Craig MacDonald who added yet another layer of guitar and another harmony to the vocals, climaxing in a sublime cover of Space Oddity dedicated to David Bowie. Snake Oil & Harmony was a chance to see two oft-overlooked rock frontmen in an intimate playing songs in a stripped down style, it was the cosy, personal nature of the gig meant it was over all too early but after the set the three men spent a long time meeting, greeting and chatting with all those that had come to see them.

As I said I had  a few conversations with them and both are perfectly affable down to earth individuals with a lot of great stories from hard rock's lost era (late 80's early 90's). Overall a great night with some fantastic songs and company, I look forward to the next time these men play together as it makes for a splendid night of performance. 8/10