Stonewall Noise Orchestra: The Machine, The Devil & The Dope (SPV)
My first thought when I pressed play on my tower of power (I mean my stereo, you kinky buggers) was "Oh I like this...I like this a lot" my initial enjoyment was proven as the record progressed each song put a broader and broader smile on my face until I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Stonewall Noise Orchestra are Swedish stoner metal merchants, they have released four albums previously to this and I haven't heard any of them, however on the evidence of The Machine, The Devil & The Dope I really should as SNO are a band that do Sabbath better than Sabbath. They utilize a dual guitar set up giving their songs that extra dynamic and crunch with Snicken and Jansson, a driving back room that comes from Jonas and the amazingly named Mr Pillow, with heavy riffs reminiscent of Vol.4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath when Sabs put more melody into their music.
The key to the bands sound coming from Singe's Ozzy meets Dave Wyndorf vocals which are at their best on the wah-filled Superior #1, the psych-laden Stone Crazy and album opener The Fever which has meat and potatoes riff and a 1-2 drumbeat but is all the better for it's simplicity. Nearly all of the songs on this record bow down at to the altar of Birmingham's biggest band, the heavy riffs are omnipresent and they don't relent they only change and encompass more layers to them, especially on songs like I, Servant which builds upon the percussive mastery of Mr Pillow into a reverb drenched, solo filled song that has some swirling organs simmering under the surface.
I, Servant presents itself as one of the album's best songs in a style that evokes Orange Goblin playing The Who, while Welcome Home is a tour-de-force in Goblin-style stoner rock, On A Program is trippy break in proceedings before the slabs of riffage returns on the pot worshiping title track that closes the album strongly. The Machine, The Devil & The Dope is rapidly becoming one of my favourite albums of the year if you love classic metal chocked full of odes to the leaf then I'm sure it will be a favourite with you too. 9/10
TILT: Hinterland (Self Released)
Tilt stylised as TILT to distinguish them from the Californian punk band of the same name are a relatively new name in the prog game but they are no means upstarts the band was formed by Steve Vantsis who is the bassist and co-writer to Fish, he has got together with drummer Dave Stewart (also previously of Fish), studio guitarist/teacher Paul Humphreys rounding the band out with singer Paul Dourley so not a super group but a band of consummate professional musicians who have paid all the dues owing.
These four men are pretty much the core of the record contributing to nearly every song, especially Vantsis who I think plays every instrument ever looking at the credits, with only Humphreys absence being on No Superman. Due to the incestuous nature of Britsh prog TILT have sought help from Fish guitarist Robin Boult on No Superman and others, along with John Wesley, Fish keyboardist John Beck and It Bites/Frost*/Lonely Robot man John Mitchell giving a solo to Bloodline as well as expertly mixing the album (which of course is produced by Vantsis). So a glut of guests are present but the band themselves don't really need to rely on them as Hinterland is a strong debut record and is set deep into the neo-progressive sound that Steven Wilson is de-facto top echelon of.
Hinterland comes off the back of five years work, the 8 songs on this record are dramatic, emotive and played with precision that many bands would shy away from. A range of styles come through on this diverse sounding record, the opening pulsing electronics of _Assembly give way to the ominous title track and the more traditional prog rock/metal fare of Bloodline with No Superman also standing out from the crowd with it's melodic mastery, as a conceptual piece the same style electronic style of the opening is revisited on the closing Disassembly_ which is a chanting almost open ended track that nods to a continuation in the future. Hinterland stands up as one of the most interesting progressive albums of the year, almost out of nowhere TILT have suddenly shaken up the Prog scene with this excellent debut. 9/10
Spellcaster: Night Hides The World (Prosthetic)
Let's just start now, Spellcaster is not the best name for a band, maybe they settled on it because there was already a band called Wizard? The name just screams NWOBHM worship but when you consider the band used to be called Leatherwitch, it's a step up anyway you look at it. Night Hides The World is Spellcaster's third album and despite the name, what is contained on the record is actually superior to a lot of the NWOTHM bands currently doing the rounds. OK so there is a dual axe attack sound, well in fact there is a triple axe attack, giving the songs an added dimension and means they are heavier than a lot of their compatriots but also have more of the modern Maiden melodies where the harmonies are increased and shared between the three guitarists, add to this a galloping rhythm section and some strong vocals and Night Hides The World really has some serious oomph to it.
The title track just screams Iron Maiden and would fit in on any of the post Brave New World releases, despite it being an album that wears it's influences on it's sleeve there are some more modern heavy sounds on the record including touches of Metallica in there earlier years. There's an overriding element of darkness on the record it's the element of darkness that sets Spellcaster apart from the contemporaries, this isn't shiny, happy power metal there is a moodiness to the record that is counteracted by the lead guitar harmonies and the soaring vocals, it's almost like the mature power metal with progressive touches favoured by Iced Earth and Mystic Prophecy, it's this mature almost aggressive sound that makes Spellcaster stand out from the crowd. Night Hides The World really shows this bands talent, it's a powerful, progressive and heavy classic sounding metal album that shows you should never judge a book by it's cover. 8/10