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Wednesday 31 August 2016

Reviews: Gloryful, Palace, Wretch

Gloryful: End Of The Night (Massacre)

German power metal group Gloryful have returned with the third album in their series of records charting the ongoing war between the characters introduced on their debut, it's the concept revolving around the Ocean Goddess Sedna and King Guerkin who leads the fight against her. However much like their two previous records you don't need to follow the thematic story of the record to enjoy it, this is modern power metal that sits in the same category as Orden Ogan or Powerwolf (who's Charles Greywolf takes the producer chair) they have powerful battle metal anthems such as Hail To The King and For Victory that come in quick succession but they also add the folk elements of countrymen Blind Guardian on End Of The Night which swaps the dual electrics for acoustics, mandolin and violin.

The band are great musicians the rhythm section of Daniel Pearl and Harmut Stoof rumble along with the pre-requisite power metal pace, flailing drumming and punching basslines are the norm on this record. While the guitars of Jens Basten and new boy Adrian Eric Weiss weave in and out in dual axe attack with solos galore but without the normal fret wankery that can infect the genre, it's all done with precision and to advance the song not detract from it.

This is high class power metal as I've said with particular focus being drawn by frontman Jonny La Bomba who has a unique vocal delivery that sets him apart in the genre on songs like the progressive On Fire and blazing This Means War his throaty rasp sits well with the music and gives the band a sound that is rare in power metal. End Of The Night continues the tradition of Gloryful producing excellent power metal that puts them near the top of the pile in what they do, it has anthem after anthem and gets your blood and your fists pumping. 9/10      

Palace: Master Of The Universe (Frontiers)

Master Of The Universe is as cheesy as a large Brie, dipped in Stilton and served with a side order of Fondue. For frontman Michael Palace the 80's have clearly never ended as this record evokes the sound of Night Ranger, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, Toto et al looking at the promo shots the band even look the part with stick-like frames, coiffured perms and skin tight trousers about all that's missing are scarves on the mic stands and teeth so shiny they can be seen from space.

On the back of this album though all of that could be in the future as these songs have been written for stadia, Palace himself has been an in-house writer and guitarist for Frontier records for some time working with AOR acts as First Signal, Kryptonite as well as legends such as Toby Hitchcock and Göran Edman of Yngwie Malmsteen and Karmakanic fame. So it's clear to see why this record is chock full of emotive ballads and hard rock anthems, this kind of music comes easy to Palace and his band make sure that the every song is full of big hooks.

The title track sounds like a lost Survivor song with the Tron-style keys and the massive chorus, the use of synths continues throughout the and on the fist pumping Cool Runnin' (not about a Jamaican bobsled team) the saunter in the background whereas on Man Behind The Gun they merge with the double tapped guitar soloing.

None of the song on this record are heavy yes they have guitars and solos but they are clean and much like Brits Def Leppard they are firmly in AOR camp with saccharine ballads such as Part Of Me and Rules Of The Game allowing Palace to show off his vocals matching with the pacier songs for pure bubblegum AOR deliciousness. Many of the heavier readership will loathe this record but if you love your music with a side order of Gouda then Master Of The Universe will definitely not be a Stinking Bishop. 7/10     

Wretch: Wretch (Bad Omen Records)

Wretch was formed in 2013 by front-man/guitarist Karl Simon, out of the ashes of Indianapolis doom merchants The Gates Of Slumber, the band's name comes from the final TGoS record The Wretch. After this last record and the EP in 2013, bassist Jason McCash quit the group, sadly in 2014 McCash passed away Simon has used the debut Wretch record as a cathartic way of dealing with his friends death, Running Out Of Days is dedicated to Simon's lost friend and kicks you in the guts immediately.

Due to the circumstances surrounding the record the doom metal contained on this record is more raw lyrically than usual with the lyrics dealing with loss, addiction and burden hitting home more so than usual as the low and slow riffs bludgeon your ear drums. Simon's guitars maintain the fuzzy, reverbed tone for the entirety of the record as it changes pace between huge power chords and faster riffs, Bryce Clarke's bass aides perfectly slotting in like Simon's fallen comrade did throughout their TGoS tenure, with the riffage sorted the percussion is down to former TGoS drummers Chris Gordon and J.Clyde Paradis (now also sadly deceased) and both of them thunder behind the kit on this 7 track record.

In a marked difference to TGoS the songs on this record are truncated most not more than 5 minutes the only exception being Icebound clocking in as over 8, along with the a Judas Priest cover Winter, (from Rocka Rolla no less) the record also features two instrumentals that do well to break up the record. Wretch serves as a fitting tribute to Jason McCash and as a fierce new beginning for Karl Simon. 8/10      

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Reviews: Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Orphaned Land, Armory (Reviews By Paul)

Chris Robinson Brotherhood: Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel (Silver Arrow Records)

The voice of The Black Crowes. A voice that can make you melt. A voice used as an instrument. I fail to see how you cannot be moved by Chris Robinson’s voice. The acrimonious relationship with brother Rich that led to the final split of the Crowes disappointed many but has led to several albums from Robinson’s Brotherhood. The latest release, Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel is the first release to be self-produced by the band and the first to feature drummer Tony Leone and bassist Jeff Hill. It’s hell of an album, a fusion of psychedelia, funk, rhythm and blues and rock.

From the haunting emotional Some Gardens Green fine slide guitar through to the Jamiroquai soaked funk of Narcissus Soaking Wet and Ain’t It Hard But Fair, this is an album that stinks of quality from start to finish. Alongside Robinson, Neal Casal continues to provide quality guitar work whilst Adam MacDougall’s synths and keys underpin much of the album’s eight songs. At 46 minutes long it really is good value for money and stunning in its quality. Just grab a glass, sit back and relax to the likes of Oak Apple Day. Brilliant stuff. 8/10

Orphaned Land & Amaseffer: Kna’an (Century Media)

So who do you turn to when you are looking for a soundtrack to match your modern perspective on the biblical tale of Abraham? Orphaned Land lead singer and all round nice guy Kobi Farhi and Amaseffer’s Erez Yohanan seems like a good place to start. With the help of the rest of Orphaned Land, Farhi and Yohanan composed the soundtrack which consists of ballads and more mainstream metal songs about all the characters and inner conflicts of the heroes in this complex episode, a story that still reflects till this day in the three Abrahamic religions.

The first thing to comment on is that Farhi’s voice is as superb as ever, with his ability to soar given full range throughout. Secondly the musicianship is fantastic, such as the classical guitar work on A Tree With No Fruit and the rocking There Is No God For Ishma’el. As one would expect with two bands from Israel who really wave the flag for their country and the Middle East, the regional flavours which make Orphaned Land’s music so unique and appealing are strong throughout.

The quieter ballad type songs probably edge the rockier tunes, with the emotion soaked A Dove Without Wings a stand out tune. The harder edged Akeda is full of atmosphere and Uri Zelcha’s thundering bass lines combine magnificently with the haunting guitar work of Chen Balbus and Idan Amsalam. As soundtracks go, this is as good as you get and taken on face value it’s well worth a listen, especially if you are a fan of either band. 7/10

Armory: World Peace … Cosmic War (High Roller Records)

The resurgence in the 1980s has manifested itself in many ways. Recycled TV, food trends and fashion. I see people walking down the street dressed in exactly the same way a lot of my school colleagues did in 1984. Hideous fashions that were never cool. And as with all other fads, there is a little bit of a wash over to the world of metal. This currently applies to the numerous bands who have fashioned their sound on those early pioneers of the thrash and power metal scene. Which brings me to Hisingen’s Armory, not to be confused with the multiple Armory’s that seem to be around these days.

World Peace…Cosmic War takes you right back to the mid-1980s and the overlap with the formative thrash of Metallica circa Kill Em All, Slayer’s Show No Mercy and the power metal of Priest, Accept, Sacred Reich and Helloween. Throw in the breakdowns of Iron Maiden and Megadeth and you’ve pretty much nailed the sound that Armory make.  So far, so good and musically there is nothing to dislike. It’s fast, it’s frantic, the drumming sounds like Animal from The Muppets is keeping time and there are riffs galore, scorching solos and some decent changes of pace. The stomp of Hell’s Fast Blades and blitzkrieg of High Speed Death are testimony to this. Unfortunately, like many good band, Armory’s sound is defined by the vocals and I’m afraid that Konstapel P’s delivery just isn’t that good.

With a mixture of Tom Araya, King Diamond and Sy Keeler of Onslaught, his shrieks become irritating quite fast. The guttural delivery is fine, and when Konstapel does this I have no complaints. His weaknesses are highlighted on Spinning Towards Doom with a quite bizarre performance. Overall World Peace…Cosmic War is an average thrash release. If you want to use your cash wisely, pick up a release from Reign Of Fury or push it towards the old school and Onslaught. A band that did it right all those years ago. 6/10

Monday 29 August 2016

Reviews: Twilight Force, DGM, King Company

Twilight Force: Heroes Of Mighty Magic (Nuclear Blast)

Twilight Force hail from Falun Sweden the same town as war crazed mad men Sabaton and if you think Sabaton are a little OTT then stop reading here as this isn't the band for you. Twilight Force's second record ramps up everything heard on the debut to the Nth degree, from the first moments this record is musical Marmite you'll either love it or loathe it.

Personally I love it but it is a bit immense in places with the massive layered orchestral/symphonic ingredients, the warp speed guitar playing, skyscraping vocals and general outrageousness of the record it may put even be too much for hardened power metal fans, still if you love the likes of Avantasia, Rhapsody, Aina and bands of that ilk that play concept heavy fantasy metal you will lap this up as like I said it seems to take everything done before to the next level.

Think Dragonforce and Avantasia writing songs with Hans Zimmer for a fantasy movie made by Disney and that only hints to the sound of this record. The band is made up of Borne on bass, Blackwald on keys, piano, cembalo and violin, De'Azsh on drums (the man must be a robot he drums so fast) Aerendir takes guitar along with Lynd who also has acoustics and lute to contend with while the band is rounded out by Chrileon's glass shattering vocals, he even give Fabio Leone a run for his money when he guests.

Battle Of Arcane Might kicks off at lightning speed with the solo section leading into a orchestral section in quick succession, there is no stopping from there the pace stays at almost lightspeed through Powerwind when Guardian Of The Seas merges the bands Medieval lyricism with backing choirs and more dragons than Alestorm offshoot Gloryhammer, in fact Gloryhammer or Hammerfall on speed would be another good way to describe this band.

Flight Of the Sapphire Dragon is one of the album's most cinematic songs making this writer think of Trans-Siberian Orchestra's classical metal fusion. Over the course of the 12 tracks on this record only really Epilogue gives any respite as it is purely a spoken word song but the rest of the songs are gloriously mad symphonic power metal full of folk elements and Hollywood calibre orchestration, the bouncy Riders Of The Dawn is sure to be a live favourite as is the floaty, cheesy Rise Of Hero which could be Eurovision track it's so stupendously silly while Keepers Of The Fate has a darker edge to the sound.

With most of the songs clocking in at around five minutes, the most epic songs are the title track which is finale of the album and has Sabaton's Joacim guesting on vocals and the sublime and ridiculous There And Back Again which not only takes it's name from Tolkien but has all the drama of the great writer's work, these two songs are worth the price of the record alone. It's overblown, it's absurd, it's at points overwhelming but more than that this record is brilliant, like a B-movie you keep coming back to again and again, it seems like a guilty pleasure but you derive so much pleasure from it that there is no guilt at all. Heroes Of Mighty Magic is incredible, pure joy in audio form. 10/10      

DGM: The Passage (Frontiers)

DGM are an Italian progressive metal band, doing a bit of research I see that they have been around since 1994 and since then they have gone through numerous lineup changes, to the point that the current incarnation has no original members but still they continue to release melodic progressive metal in style of Circus Maximus and Symphony X.

The Passage is their ninth release and it opens with two of the longest tracks on the record meaning that at 15 minutes The Secret starts the record as you'd expect from a progressive band, with twists and turns throughout every instrument getting a workout especially the bass and drums that are key to the time signature changes. With technical proficiency throughout the album DGM show how they have plenty of experience in the prog scene the guitars and keys interact very well the keys especially give the band their emotive power.

As I've said DGM have similarities to Symphony X and also to bands such as Evergrey so much so that both Michael Romeo and Tom S Englund appear on this record, the vocals too are in the vein of Russell Allen with s gritty power to them that add the melodic touch to the songs, it's these elements that stop the band being too complicated and makes the record much easier to digest.

There's metal, rock and even some AOR on this record and the Italian band follow the great tradition of American progressive metal bands with a sturdy heavy rock base layer topped with flourishes of excellence and a keen ear for a huge hook. The Passage is a must buy for fans of Symphony X, Dream Theater and Shadow Gallery! 8/10

King Company: One For The Road (Frontiers)

As the title track starts you'd be forgiven for thinking you were listening to Whitesnake or MkIII Deep Purple and the huge slabs of organ, speedy rock guitars and bluesy vocals certainly give that impression but it's only when you look deeper you see that King Company are a Finnish act made up of members of Thunderstone, Warmen and Kiuas and they have taken a more hard rock based sound much like the primarily German act Voodoo Circle.

The band two main members are ex-Thunderstone drummer Mirka "Leka" Rantanen who has recruited Antti Wirman from Warmen on guitar and the voice of Thunderstone Pasi Rantanen on vocals with Jari Pailamo and Time Schleifer on keys and bass respectively. It's a long way away from the members day jobs in the power metal scene yes there are still the superior guitar and keyboard solos but they are more of the Lord and Blackmore than the bands day jobs.

What I did notice with this record is that Pasi's vocals are more suited to this type of music his rasp fits with the hard rock template as he delivers chest beating bravado on Coming Back To Life, AOR crooning on Wings Of Love and full on heartbreak on Cast AwayOne For The Road is meat and potatoes hard rock based on the 80's and 90's traditions of Rainbow, Mr Big and Europe, it's a summer soundtrack fit for BBQ's and Beers, if you've never lost your highlights and penchant for leather trousers then One For The Road will be your soundtrack in those cold winter months. 7/10

Reviews: Welcome Back Delta, Meshiaak, Castle (Review By Paul)

Welcome Back Delta: Sucker (Self Released)

Three years since their debut release Shocker Cheltenham’s Welcome Back Delta’s sophomore release is well worth the wait. Sucker is just over half an hour of blues soaked dirty rock ‘n’ roll in the style of Clutch and Lionize, to name but two. There’s foot tapping stomp of Beast Mode and Snake In The Grass, the sing-a-long Arms Dealer features Damon T and some sweet blues guitar work whilst it’s not surprise that Bison Steed from Reign of Fury pops up on the fabulously raging Dadgerous. Sucker conjures up images of the roof down on the Cadillac, cold one in hand and the open road ahead with your lady in the passenger seat (Something I’ve never felt when I’ve been to Cheltenham but hey, maybe I took the wrong road).

Joe Kelly has the whisky soaked voice ideally suited to their sound; check out Jeremy’s Iron, which shares its no-nonsense approach with the big noise of Northern Ireland’s Trucker Diablo. Rob Duncan’s guitar work is superb whilst the engine room of Phil Davies and Steve Roberts on bass and drums respectively ensure that the foundation is oh so solid. It’s not all balls out rock and the calmer soul filled The Magic Of Flight reminds you of some 1970s greats, with a single guitar riff and some delicious harmonies. The Southern feel of Black Tie would sit well alongside the likes of Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke and who could fail to raise a smile to the dirty riffs of the innuendo soaked Don’t Hold It Against Me, Unless It Gets Hard? This is a damn fine album which deserves to be heard. Get involved. 9/10

Meshiaak: Alliance Of Thieves (Mascot Records)

I have to admit that I had a massive fondness for Aussie thrashers 4Arm to the extent that I actually pledged for their last album. Of course, by then the band had made appearances at Download and opened for some of the big thrash merchants in the States, including Slayer. However, in 2014  the voice and lead guitar of the band, Danny Camilleri left and 4Arm’s last release didn't quite match their earlier duo of long players.

What is our gain though it the arrival of Meshiaak (apparently Hebrew for ‘messiah’) which features Camilleri alongside one of the best drummers in the thrash scene, Jon Dette who has occupied the seat for Slayer, Testament, Anthrax and Iced Earth to name but four. With extra shred brought to you by Dean Wells and thundering bass lines delivered by Nick Walker, the four piece who come at you out of Melbourne  have served up a very tasty slab of quality thrash metal.

It's not just heads down balls out thrash though. I Am Among You retains the power and drive but has a more complex and intricate feel, soul searching solos giving the track some real heart. The aggression which Camilleri showed with 4Arm remains and his vocal delivery continues to give that Hetfield/Araya combination which really works. Opener Chronicles Of The Dead is area. Statement of intent and Dette’s drumming is just insane. The melody provided by Wells’s backing vocals also adds to the mix. With a dash of early Bullet For My Valentine as well as the more obvious Metallica and Megadeth influences coursing through this beast, tracks such as It Burns Both Ends with a neat oriental flavour and the harmonies of the guitar work on Drowning, Fading, Falling really work and add variety to the all out assault.

This is a solid solid album, well written and excellently performed. At The Edge Of The World utilities some keyboards to provide a Trivium edged track whilst Last Breath Taken really does leave you gasping for air. This is a circle pit anthem which could do some damage given half a chance. Alliance Of Thieves picks up where Submission For Liberty finished. Get some Meshiaak in your life. It's a decision you won't regret. 8/10

Castle Welcome To The Graveyard (Prosthetic)

I have to admit I'd not come across Castle, a powerful. Three piece from San Francisco and Toronto but I'm glad I now have. Welcome To The Graveyard is their fourth full length release, not at all bad for a band that only formed properly in 2009. As the title suggests, Welcome To The Graveyard is heavy on the occult and dark themes, with tracks such as Black Widow and Hammer And The Cross not hiding anything away.

Despite the traditional doom sound of the genre being rather slow and ponderous, Castle really don't sit back and for a three piece they make an excellent sound. Al McCartney’s drum noise is loud and proud, sat somewhere in the 1970s but with a contemporary twist. Mat Davies’s guitar work is excellent and I use the comparison with Tony Iommi as high praise rather than as the standard comparison for all heavy doom outfits. His fret work on Black Widow and Flash Of The Pentagram are just two examples of his quality. Leading it all on vocals and driving bass is Elizabeth Blackwell whose voice is just so suited to Castle’s sound.

Powerful, aggressive and not afraid to really kick out the jams, Castle’s eight track release is a pretty fine piece of work. The magnificent Down In The Cauldron Bog with its atmospheric intro, haunting gothic vocals and crushing riffs is perhaps the pick of the album, but that might just be splitting hairs. It's all damn fine stuff. Get yourself down to the graveyard. You won't be disappointed. 8/10

Saturday 27 August 2016

Reviews: Delain, Chariots Of The Gods, Illustr8ors

Delain: Moonbathers (Napalm)

Since their symphonic metal debut Delain have been refining their sound on each album cutting the fat and adding some nuances to set them apart from the rest of the female fronted pack, for the most part they still play symphonically powered metal but they also add some electronica, lots of Gothic elements and wrap it all up with a dark pop sheen. Moonbathers is the Dutch band's fifth record and sees them consolidate the more experimental sounds from previous records to create a more definitive one, the Gothic sounds on this record come from the lyrical content which seems to have an obsession with death both the haunting Chrysalis - The Last Breath and Danse Macabre both deal with subject although Danse is much more reliant on pulsing electronics than Chrysalis.

The band's sound has always been built upon the keyboard playing of founding member Martijn Westerholt and here for a fifth time he shines never overdoing his contribution but adding enough to flesh out the songs and give them an extra edge whether that be the operatic orchestral elements on cinematic opener Hands Of Gold and the heartrending Turn The Lights Out, a song that Ville Vallo would be proud of, plaintive piano on closing instrumental The Monarch and some shimmering synths on Suckerpunch or with Queen cover Scandal which has just right amount of pastiche and their own sound to work very well, I see this one being added to the live show.

Westerholt is not the only member of the band however the rhythm section of Ruben Israel's drums and the amazingly named Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije on bass can shift the sound in an instant from thumping industrial grunt on The Glory And The Scum a bouncy bottom end on Suckerpunch which was the standout track from their taster EP. As the backroom pumps out such powerful sounds it's up to guitarists Timo Somers and Merel Bechtold to provide the riffs and riff they do Bechtold especially bridging the gap between the rhythm section and top end.

Her amazing heads down riffage allows Somers to show flashes of brilliance in his leads on Suckerpunch, the classic metal feeling Fire With Fire and the album's heaviest track Pendulum which borders on thrash and has bassist Otto adding his own grunts. The record is well paced building and falling at the right times and once again Westerholt doing a sterling job behind the production desk making everything sound huge and evoking a sense of scale on the songs which is a benefit to Charlotte Wessels still stunning vocals she has a fragility to her vocal that is forgotten when she gets to the jaw dropping top of her range which sprawls opera and pop defiantly.

Every record Delain has produced they have added a little bit more to their sound while taking away the bits that don't work, they have become more progressive as they have matured as a band and all of this musical alchemy has come to fruition on Moonbathers, Delain have come of age with this record it will hopefully see them break away from the female fronted metal stamp into a league of their own. 9/10   

Chariots Of The Gods: Ages Unsung (Self Released)

Ages Unsung is Ottawa five piece Chariots Of The Gods' second full length album and comes three years after their debut, after a short hiatus and a line-up change they were ready to record again and for the second time they bring the sounds of the NWOAHM to the modern day, Chariots Of The Gods play groove heavy, thrash influenced metal that straddles classic sounds and metalcore with clean/harsh vocal dynamics, searing lead riffs, massive breakdowns and great songwriting. Fans of In Flames, Machine Head, Killswitch Engage and especially Trivium will love this record, from the haunting opening instrumental piece Primordial Dawn the sound is akin to the Florida band's Ascendancy opening and drives straight into Tusk (not Fleetwood Mac cover) which builds up into a flurry of blastbeats, pumping basslines and nasty riffage with impressive lead guitar dancing over the top.

Lead guitarist Mathieau St-Amour is the main songwriter for the band and he knows exactly how to construct almost perfect modern metalcore. The vocals of frontman Christian Therien are great we get barked at and sung too all in the same song and unlike many in the genre both are good his roars a bone rattling and his clean delivery is powerful and sounds like Matt Heafy mixed with Rob Flynn.

There is a lot of melody on this record balancing out the heaviness Of Prometheus And The Flame has the Killswitch influence running through it, As The Sky Falls is a drumming masterclass, Resurrection brings back the Trivium sound while New World slows everything down as an atmospheric piece that explodes in it's last part. Ages Unsung is an album that looks back to an early millennial period of music but brings it modern day showing that it's still relevant. 8/10

Illustr8ors: S/T (Self Released)

OK so I've gone about this backwards, I reviewed Illustr8ors debut record back earlier this year, but now I'm faced with what is their debut EP. Maybe I was a little harsh on the record but I was expecting to review the second album from Bristol hard rockers and MoM favourites BlackWolf but during the Pledge Campaign they changed their name and adapted their sound to a funkier style of hard rock. Now musically I loved the record it was hard to find fault but I don't like the name (particularly the 8) however I probably let that influence my review a little too much, so this EP is a great way to reassess the band and their music.

Opening with the impressive hip shaking Your Animal Scott Sharp's vocals are still some of the best in the business and Ben Webb (bass) and Tom Lennox - Brown (drums) and Jason Cronin (rhythm guitar) lay down a sturdy foundation for John Greenhill to let his fireworks let loose. The hard rock influences still loom large on Something Biblical but Swimming With Anchors has a furious rocking groove but  moves the band away from their previous incarnation enough to sound fresh while Shush Shush has the groove of bands such as Vintage Trouble and stands out as the strongest declarative statement of something fresh.

In retrospect I was unduly harsh to Illustr8ors PledgeMusic full length but for those that haven't heard the full length, this EP is an excellent precursor to the rebirth of this band, I still have my reservations about the name but BlackWolf is dead this is Illustr8tors time now. 7/10

Thursday 25 August 2016

Reviews: Evergrey, Winterstorm, Lacrimus Profundere

Evergrey: The Storm Within (AFM Records)

Evergrey are a band who are now on their ninth album and with the release of The Storm Within they are following up what many would consider to be their best album Hymns For The Broken, which is a lofty statement considering most of the bands releases are in the top tier of their genre. Now Evergrey have always been something of an enigma merging European progressive power metal with with a rich vein of emotion and darkness that stems from the mind of band founder Tom S Englund. After dealing with a lot of personal issues after The Glorious Collision, Hymns For The Broken was the band's first record in three years and it was not only their most accomplished, hardest hitting output in years but quite possibly the most impressive work of their storied career.

So how then do they follow it up? Surely The Storm Within can't stack up? Well it not only stacks up, in a lot of ways it's superior to it's predecessor (and stop calling me Shirley). Yet again the album is full of epic songwriting, with a cinematic feel from the first chord, the record melds intricate melodies with heavyweight progressive metal that is complex but not elitist, it's the kind of music Evergrey have always been masters of but they seem to be deep in a purple patch at the moment and once again the magic is evident.

The record opens with Distance which sets the tone for this ninth release, it opens with a haunting piano from Rikard Zander before the powerful riffage kicks in with Englund and Henrik Danhage handling guitar duties as Jonas Ekdahl and Johan Niemann provide the propulsive drums and bass respectively, the song is very modern feeling with it's chugging rhythm driven by the flaring drums, the down tuned riffs as the keys filter into the equation nicely behind Englund's impassioned vocal delivery, he has a rare gift for powerful emotive vocals. His rockier range is displayed on Passing Through which has some incredible guitar solos punctuating the hard rock. With two harder songs starting the album Someday allows the band to slow the pace with huge, uplifting chorus and a backing chant of "hey hey" that will sound simply stunning in the live arena, this is how modern arena metal should sound.

It leads into the excellent Astray which once again ramps things up but in the solo section it injects some passion as they put a choral touch to the final part. When there is so much talent on display sometimes it's difficult to take it all in and this is true about The Storm Within it's an album that grows the more times you listen to it, there's so much to discover as the record ebbs and flow there is polar opposition abound with tracks like The Impossible, which is led by a solitary piano and regretful vocal from Englund in direct contrast to the thunderous My Allied Ocean which is pure power metal full of pounding blast beats and dual guitar harmonies and The Lonely Monarch has the dramatic, prog sound that once again is written for stadia.

As the record goes into it's final part the the quality is maintained adding the two guests that appear on this record, first is In Orbit which is a stirring piece featuring Nightwish's Floor Jansen and on The Paradox Of The Flame Englund's wife (and long term vocalist) Carina adds her amazing vocals to the devastatingly beautiful orchestral piece. The Storm Within once again deals with internal and external conflict, mature themes and wraps it all up in some affecting, sensational music that doesn't just live up to Evergrey's previous feats it surpasses them and as the record comes to a close with the muscularly dense title track leaving you breathless but ready to replay the record from the beginning and basque in its opulence once again. You need to buy this album if you love intelligent, interesting metal music, it could just be the band's masterpiece. 10/10     

Winterstorm: Cube Of Infinity (NoiseArt)

The Germans do power metal better than most with such a wide range of acts singing about fantasy, wars and battles, with such a glut of acts coming from the country some can be over looked. Winterstorm thankfully are one band that won't be having released an album every 2 years since 2010 they have always challenged the Teutonic Power metal sound making it more progressive and adding the traditional folk elements heard in bands such as Sweden's Falconer or countrymen Blind Guardian and Orden Ogan.

With two new members (drummer and guitarist) the Bayreuth band has dispensed with many of the hard progressive sounds from their earlier records for a more direct approach this time round the record I believe is a concept piece based around the titular cube as many of the songs seem to form a story surrounding it, as I've said the songs are a lot more immediate than on previous records most don't creep over the 7 minute mark but they all feature some excellent fluid playing from all concerned.

The guitars in unison with the keys the rhythm section galloping away with harder edges than before, some of the tracks on this record could lend themselves to thrash acts such is the riffage. Winterstorm continue to develop their sound and it's this constant improvement that will set them apart from many power metal acts around. 7/10  

Lacrimus Profundere: Hope Is Here (Oblivion) [Review By Paul]

This is a real grower. On first listen the vocals of Rob Vitacca and the gothic overtures of the German outfit’s first release since 2013’s Antiadore was difficult to absorb but repeated plays have released substantial depth and context of a band that has slowly moved away from its death doom roots to a cleaner more mainstream sound. In fact, repeated plays have made it a 2016 favourite with the range of tracks completely in tune with my aural tastes for all things in the Paradise Lost and Anathema region. Add in some symphonic and classical elements and Radiohead influenced indie leanings and it is quite a fantastic album.

LP was founded in 1993 by Oliver Schmid. Hope Is Here is the 11th studio album from a band whose mix of styles switches from melancholic gothic to industrial to metal. Listen to the title track, Aramis, A Million Miles and the classical leanings of Awake for an illustration. Crushing Korn style riffs on A Million Miles still allow Vitacca’s individual delivery to be heard clearly whilst the addition of the symphonic element on Awake mixes it up quite brilliantly. In fact the vocalist who has been with the band for the best part of a decade has a quite stunningly miserable yet incredibly memorable voice that provides the narrative for Hope Is Here, a concept album about a young boy named Aramis drifting deep in a forest.

The band may have moved away from the darker doom delivery but the subject matter and delivery still allow the rainclouds to gather. It’s not all gloom though and this isn’t a plodder by any means. Short sharp tracks such as No Man’s Land race away with driving rhythm from Clemens and Christop Schepperle on bass and drums respectively. Schmid’s clever keyboards add layers whilst the guitar work of Tony Berger and Schmid is both delicate and amply aggressive when called for. Pageant strays from the metal scene with a mix of Iggy Pop, Bowie and Marilyn Manson, demonstrating the versatility of the band.

The highlights for me are the haunting penultimate track Black Moon with its acoustic delivery haunting, the title track which begins in similar acoustic fashion before soaring with a roaring chorus and the industrial stomp of album closer and remix Aramis (Eisbrecher Neuschnitt). However, there isn’t a dull track on this release and I realise that I am now on a mission to hunt out their extensive back catalogue and hope for a visit to the UK in the not too distant future. 9/10

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Reviews: The Pineapple Thief, Witherscape, Equilibrium (Reviews By Paul)

The Pineapple Thief: Your Wilderness (Kscope)

Since their formation in 1999, Somerset’s The Pineapple Thief has built a wide and loyal following, laying down solid foundations. Their tenth album, Your Wilderness continues to cement their reputation as one of progressive rock’s leading lights. Main man Bruce Soord, along with bassist John Sykes, and keyboardist Steve Kitch have delivered another superb record, which contains some of the year’s most delicate and intricate compositions.

As with 2014’s Magnolia, Your Wilderness is beautifully performed. In Exile and No Man’s Land build slowly before adding some steel to Soord’s hauntingly misery drenched vocals. Comparisons with other leading lights in the genre are impossible to ignore, but TPF are very much now leaders in the field. Although the band’s sound sits much more towards the indie and alt rock field, That Shore demonstrates that the band can still rock out. With drums provided by Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison, and guest appearances from Supertramp’s John Helliwell (clarinet) and Caravan’s Geoffrey Richardson who provides a string quartet, there is no doubting the quality. Add in some superb guitar work from Godsticks’ Darren Charles and this becomes one of the must buys of the year.

That Shore and Take Your Shot are both densely layered songs which provide all the evidence needed that Sykes and Kitch are integral components of the band. Harrison’s drumming is exceptional, working brilliantly on Fend For Yourself which allows Soord’s voice to combine with Kitch’s haunting keys and Helliwell’s mournful clarinet. The masterpiece on this album is the stunning penultimate track, The Final Thing On My Mind which ebbs and flows with ethereal elegance before a storming climax to a song that clocks in at just under ten minutes but which really flies by. The album closes with another melancholic piece, Where We Stood, which brings a fantastic album to a perfect conclusion. This really is a superb piece of work. Miss it at your peril. 9/10

Witherscape: The Northern Sanctuary (Century Media)

If you like your death metal with a huge scoop of atmosphere and a side serving of progressiveness, then the latest release from Sweden’s Witherscape is going to be right up your street. With complex patterns, death and clean vocals, swathes of sweeping keyboards and a sound that fuses Opeth with early Dream Theater and some classic heavy metal, The Northern Sanctuary continues the story set in 2013’s The Inheritance.

It’s amazing when you listen to The Northern Sanctuary to realise that this is the work of just two men, multi-instrumentalist Dan Swanö and Ragnar Widberg, who provides all of the stunning guitar and bass work. Looking into the history of Swanö is exhausting; the guy has been around the metal scene for a couple of decades and is best known for his work with Edge Of Sanity, Nightingale and Bloodbath. His discography is vast.

But what about the music? Although it is a concept album which appears obvious at certain times when the effects used flesh out the atmosphere, many of the tracks stand alone. Full of hooks, intricate time changes and variation in style, it’s almost schizophrenic in approach. Swanö’s vocal approach is impressive, switching between his death growl and clean vocals with ease. I personally prefer his clean delivery as he has a powerful voice which enhances the quieter sections. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than on the climatic fourteen-minute title track, which is a real epic. Huge riffs, powerful drumming and melodic keyboards all combine to produce a pretty epic conclusion to the tale, which switches from progressive to extreme metal several times. If you wanted a track that acted as a show piece to around ten genres of metal, this would be it.

As well as the clear Opeth comparisons, bands such as Amorphis and Symphony X also come to mind as you work through this release. Rapture Ballet contains a fine Opeth style stomp, whilst there are hooks galore on In The Eyes Of Idols. The quality of the musicianship is quite something; powerful drumming and 70s style keyboards from Swanö mixes brilliantly with Widerberg’s blistering guitar work. Album closer Vila I Frid changes pace completely, an emotional haunting piano solo bringing a quite unique and interesting album to a close. 8/10

Equilibrium: Armageddon (Nuclear Blast)

For those of you who like your metal with a healthy mixture of styles, get your heads around the fifth album from German outfit Equilibrium. Armageddon has to be one of the craziest albums I’ve ever heard, a fusion of folk, death, black and symphonic metal with the added flavour of a typical European style metal Eurovision Song Contest entry. Crushing drums and powerhouse riffs merge effortlessly with classical synthesisers and keys and a guttural vocal approach from vocalist Robse Dahn that brings to mind Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis. Some of the tracks as just bat shit crazy; check out the balls out Born To Be Epic if you don’t believe me. The folk element of Turisas and Eluveitie skips alongside all the chaos. It’s power metal madness with a dollop of high speed Greek dancing on Zum Horizont, which just gets the foot tapping and the body aching (more so than usual? -Ed) for a jig in the sun whilst guzzling down a cold beer. Yes, this lot should be on the main stage at Bloodstock next year for sure.

The album was solely written and composed by original member, guitarist, keyboardist and clean vocalist Rene Berthiaume and opens with the epic Sehnsucht (no, not a cover of their industrial countrymen), soaring keyboards and emotive hooks. It is the first album not to feature Andreas Völk and Sandra Van Eldik who left shortly after 2014’s Erdentempel. It’s also the first to feature some tracks performed in English. It’s a kaleidoscope of sounds and styles that has no right to work but it does so well. Erwachen, the stunningly good Heimat with the Eurovision stomp once more and the riff heavy industrial tinged Prey are just three examples. Tuval Refaeli’s drumming, Dom Crey’s guitar and Makki Solvat’s solid bass work combine with Berthiaume and Dahn magnificently to deliver some of the most insane tunes I’ve heard in a long time including the anthemic seven-minute closer Eternal Destination. Get out and pick this up now. It’s that good. 8/10

Monday 22 August 2016

Reviews: Idlewar, Subrosa, Vader (Reviews By Paul)

Idlewar: Impulse (Self Released)

Last year Dig In, the debut EP from Orange County’s Idlewar received a decent 7/10 and a seal of approval from MoM Towers. A year later, the debut long player Impulse has arrived and it’s a goodie. Full of the same Zeppelin fuelled stomp as Dig In, Impulse has moved the band up a level, retaining those same influences and heaviness in the riff department whilst displaying a greater maturity. Criminal screams Zeppelin and Kings X, whilst All That I Got focuses on and achieves a more classical feel of a band rooted in London in the 1980s. James Blake’s heartfelt vocals are right on the money, with a great range. Innocent is a stormer, full of wicked hooks and opener Stone In The Heel has anthem all over it. With the stoner feel still very much in residence and adding to the groove, the drumming of Pete Pagonis and Rick Graham’s subtle guitar work enhance Blake’s delivery. With the band due to hit the UK later this year in support of Walsall’s Stone Broken (sadly not near South Wales) the UK rock fraternity will get an immediate opportunity to hear this fine album in the live arena. A fine debut. 8/10

SubRosa: For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages (Profound Lore)

Hailing from Salt Lake City in Utah, SubRosa’s fourth album is an atmospheric melancholic release. At sixty-seven minutes in length and just six tracks, it isn’t fast paced but at times is crushingly heavy. The haunting violins of Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack resonate throughout whilst Rebecca Pendleton’s psychedelic crashing guitar and angst filled vocals take centre stage. A fuzzy rhythm section supplied courtesy of Levi Hanna and Andy Patterson (bass and drums respectively) complete the outfit. Each track builds in strength and passion and whilst the pace at times is glacial, there is an intricacy and balance which becomes more apparent on each listen. Opener Despair Is A Siren is a perfect example, drifting from delicate vocals and simple percussion to pounding sludgy riffs. More For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages is a definite “grower” with many layers to peel away. It’s worth a few listens if you like the mix of ethereal eeriness combined with brain damaging heaviness tinged with a classical undertone. 7/10

Vader: Iron Times (Nuclear Blast)

Tibi Et Igni was one of the metal releases of 2014, an album that still gets repeated airtime. The much anticipated 12th full release from the Polish Death Metal Masters The Empire is preceded by this small but beautifully formed package. Consisting of four tracks including a pretty tasty cover of Motorhead’s Overkill, Iron Times contains few surprises but just over nine minutes of original works as well as Overkill. Pick of the other three would be Piesc I Stal, a stomping march with the band sounding exceptionally tight and Piotr "Peter" Wiwczarek showing once again why he stands at the top of the death metal vocalist tree. Although The Empire has been pushed back to November, it remains one of the must buys of this year. This taster is a timely reminder of just how good Vader are. 8/10

Saturday 20 August 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Ministry

Ministry & Devildriver, Tramshed Cardiff

Two days removed from Bloodstock Open Air and with the festival blues kicking in hard, it was time for a little bit of hair of the dog. This was the first of only a handful of UK dates on the tour for the American masters of industrial metal Ministry who are still led by the eccentric genius that is Al Jourgensen. As I met up with Hutchings the younger and his lovely lady, as well of the excitable Retro Girls we took in a few Butcombe Golds and headed into the venue, taking residence on the balcony (having seen the support act a fair few times this is always the best vantage point) as we waited we once again admired the venue which is one of the best in Cardiff.

Then the waiting was over and the five piece wrecking machine that was Devildriver and as the instrumental pieces started to riff frontman Dez stormed the stage and we were off with one of the most aggressive performances I've ever seen from the band, Dez seemed intensely pissed off stalking the stage and barking the lyrics to End Of The Line and Not All Who Wander Are Lost and between the songs flipping the bird and encouraging the crowd to reciprocate the gesture. Devildriver have always been a band that live for the live arena, unfortunately many of those gathered don't realise that in a Devildriver show pitting is mandatory, so it was up to a couple of veteran fans to start the pits for Daybreak and the confrontational I Could Care Less.

Finally there was action on the floor so the band ploughed on but with little interaction except for Dez's occasional attack of the crowd for being stationary but this anger translated into a vicious setlist that contained Before The Hangman's Noose, Clouds Over California and wrapped up with the powerful Ruthless and Meet The Wretched. This was the most direct and violent I've seen Devildriver in long time and Dez himself seemed honoured to be supporting Ministry and claimed he would watch the band from the front with a bottle of wine in his hand (I thought they didn't allow glass in a venue?). Devildriver seemed to me to be an odd fit but it made sense at the climax of their set, it made the blood inside you heat up and got you ready for aural battering that was about to start. 8/10

So the stage was set and the bass started to throb, John Bechdel's keys and electronics providing an integral part of the Ministry sound, with the industrial stomp of the band on display it takes you by surprise just how much of a heavy prospect they are on stage. The dual guitars of Sin Quirin and Cesar Soto, who is the latest to take up the mantle left by Mike Scaccia after his death in 2012, riffing together as one tight unit while the heavy bass rhythms of Jason Christopher is matched by Roy Mayorga's impressive drumming. The set kicked off with Hail To His Majesty (Peasants) which serves as the introduction to "Uncle Al" as he strode on stage with his mask hat and cane ready for the amassed peasants to worship.

The aggression didn't let up as Punch In The Face was accompanied by images of his Trumpness as Ministry aurally and visually assaulted the crowd with a mixed set including more modern tracks including the amazing Rio Grande Blood and a sprinkling of classics such as the colossal sounding N.W.O and Just One Fix. There was no let up with Ministry no chit chat just a barrage of pounding riffs and shout along choruses that Jourgensen spits through his vocoder as he prowls the stage while his band kick the crap out of the of you, occasionally he picks up a guitar and adds some discord to the madness showing why he is such and impressive multi-faceted  The sound in the arena was almost deafening, possibly one of the loudest gigs this year, luckily the venue suited for the noise however the vocals of both bands did suffer a little. Still the main set was 13 songs long and as Stigmata and Thieves finished the main event in fine style.

We were allowed to get the ringing out of our ears before the twisted sermon recommenced Jourgensen downing two beers before starting with Psalm 69 and So What which got the pits going again before Khyber Pass and Gates Of Steel finished everyone off one last time. An audio/visual treat, Ministry's influence can be seen in acts like Rammstein, Rob Zombie and Slipknot with this set being an amalgamation of all three of those acts but obviously as witnessed here, they are the original and they are the best! 9/10        

Friday 19 August 2016

Reviews: Mitch Malloy, Preacher, Blind Saviour

Mitch Malloy: Makin' Noise (Self Released)

Mitch Malloy came to prominence by signing to RCA back in the early 90's releasing his debut record Mitch Malloy in 1992, he proceeded to release records throughout the 90's and into the 2000's chalking up some top 20 hits, an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and even auditioned for the job of Van Halen vocalist after Sammy Hagar's departure (the job actually went to Gary Cherone and we all know how that went, so maybe he dodged a bullet). Malloy is something of a name in his native USA but he has never really broken this side of the pond. Well on the back of this his seventh solo album things are set to change as Malloy will set out on UK tour (including Cardiff), so does the album warrant the tour? Happily it does, if you love classic American hard rock then Makin' Noise will get you very excited, with nods to Bon Jovi, Tesla, Winger, the Red Rocker himself littered throughout, there's even some old school British rock present with Speak Of The Devil having the heavy organ riffs of Deep Purple.

The songs on this record are very strong, with fist pumping rockers like Rock N RollMy Therapy and Shook sitting pretty with ballads like It's Just A Word which is a little Beatlesesque and the Blue collar storytelling of the lighter-waving I Was Wrong which has a sound developed in the heart of Malloy's adopted home Nashville. What's impressive about this record is that Malloy, plays, sings and produces everything, there is real care and attention it's authentic hard rock music that was all over MTV in it's heyday, tracks like Alone conjure images of driving a muscle car through the desert with your luscious locks blowing in the wind and a smokin hot babe in the passenger seat.

It's decadent but with a working man's grit, for all the posturing that comes through there are tender moments as mentioned but mostly what is evident is the talent of Malloy, his vocals are practically perfect see Life Has Just Begun and his musicianship is incredible from the first chord. Makin' Noise is a great hard rock record and really whets the appetite for the upcoming live dates, pick up the album, learn the songs, get yourself down to one of the shows and get ready to party like it's 1995!! 9/10

Preacher: Aftermath (Self Released)

When you listen to Preacher you have to ask yourself a single question. Do you like Pink Floyd? If the answer is no then move on, however if it;s a solid yes then welcome to the best Pink Floyd album released since Division Bell. Aftermath is pure Floyd from start to finish, the emotive guitar playing backed by the swirling synths will bring to mind the legendary sounds of Gilmour and Wright especially on War Reprise with atmospheric music where the silence speaks just as loud as the sound. The eight piece Scottish band are heavy touring combo that features three guitarists, Greg Murphy only one playing the searing leads, the other two being Martin Murphy on rhythm and Ron Rodger acoustic respectively.

In the rhythm section they also have Gordon Munro on bass and Iain Duncan on drums echo the rhythmic power of Waters and Mason which is fused with the massive use of keys from Arny Burgoyne all of which comes together to create epics soundscapes not seen since the heyday of progressive rock. Vocally too the spirit of Floyd is worn all over Aftermath Martin Murphy's vocals simultaneously evoke Waters and Gilmour but also Bowie on Hold On and Mark Knopfler on the incredibly good Welcome To The Fray, Martin's smooth tones often give way to gritty shouting on the harder edged songs.

The record opens with the title track which is built upon a single piano piece and a haunting vocal as the synths bubble underneath, it's slow burning opening that explodes into an amazing guitar solo to end the piece as Angela Bell and Kerry McWhinnie provide the "ooh" choirs. This sophomore album harks back to the glory days of progressive rock with a massive amount of Pink Floyd but also King Crimson and Yes, if you love classic progressive rock then you must buy this album it's simply stunning. 9/10          

Blind Saviour: The Master Plan (Self Released)

Blind Saviour are apparently Malta's best and only power metal band formed by bassist Karl Friggieri, guitarist Aldo Chircop and drummer Robert Friggieri out of the ashes of thrash/speed metal band Phantom Lord. Along the way they were joined by singer Rachel Grech and guitarist Campos Gellel and after a brainstorming session Blind Saviour was born. The Master Plan is the bands debut release and follows the story of the Blind Saviour character so yes it's a concept album but one where the individual songs are used to tell the story rather than the Rhapsody-esque segues and spoken word sequences.

The power metal style is similar to that of Blind Guardian (a notable influence), Iced Earth, Freedom Call or really any dual guitar wielding heavy power metal band, there is not much room for keys relying mainly on the shredding, bass galloping and rattling blasts of percussion to power the sound. Musically it's been done before but Blind Saviour do it well with enough enticing riffs and solos for any discerning power metal fan.

They also have scored big time with vocalist Rachel who has a wide range soaring into highs from a powerful mid, similar to UK band Triaxis the band are not you usual female fronted mob this is fist pumping metal that just happens to have female singer. The Master Plan is a tough sounding, accomplished debut from a band that are both the originators and innovators of the sound in their fair country, hopefully those outside Malta will also take Blind Saviour to their hearts. 8/10  

Reviews: Sabaton, Gene The Werewolf, Electric Fence

Sabaton: The Last Stand (Nuclear Blast)

Swedes Sabaton are back with yet another record of more bouncy power metal based on yet more war themes. I suppose the lyrical content will run out when they run out of wars, but still they seem to find inspiration from somewhere. So what make The Last Stand different to it's predecessors well this is Sabaton so nothing, which will come as a relief to new fans but may irritate longer term listeners as they seem to be continuing with the lighter weight sound from their last few records. This record seems to be a lot more keyboard orientated than their live set, something that I think is lacking in their stage show, it would be a lot more representative of their sound much like it used to be.

Here they are a blessing and a curse as they make tracks like Sparta sound like an excellent symphonic film score but equally the synth bagpipes on The Battle Of Bannockburn turns an already weak song into a bit of a joke. The playing on the record is as usual good and Joacim still has a chest beating vocal delivery but this album just screams "reason to tour" i.e just an excuse to add new songs to their live show which is where the band shine, this isn't a bad thing by any means, stick with what you are good at but the quality of the songwriting is much lower than on Art Of War, Coat Of Arms and Primo Victoria, in places it's almost a pastiche of itself. The songs vary in quality and move from the sublime leg pounding classic Sabaton on Rorke's Drift to curveball of throbbing electro industrial of Lost Battalion then to the the title track where I defy you not to sing the theme from Chuckle Brothers during the middle section.

Like I've said I'm surprised about the extensive keyboard use on this record and I think they'd benefit getting a keyboardist in the band again, but that's not my call. There is a bit of a goofy laziness to this album, it's Sabaton doing what their newer fans expect; slightly silly by the numbers power metal with an ear to the pop mainstream. I urge you to get the limited edition version because even though the Judas Priest cover is not necessary the other bonus track Camouflage is actually one of the strongest tracks on the record. The Last Stand is Sabaton being Sabaton but at nowhere near their best. 7/10

Gene The Werewolf: The Loner (Self Released)

I loved Gene The Werewolf's first international release Rock N Roll Animal it's been played to death at MoM towers since I first heard the record. The bawdy, sleazy, fist pumping biker rock contained on it still puts a stupid smile on my face every time I play it. I must say I did lose touch a little with Gene and Co after the album, so you can picture my grinning face when I stumbled upon The Loner which is Gene's newest album, his first in 2 years and his third (in the US) album overall.

The Loner is an apt title to the record as Gene and his band of merry men are really iconoclasts due to the music they play, there is no urge to be famous or part of the crowd, they play music that is ingrained in the hard rock tradition, they do so for their own enjoyment mainly as there is not a shred of compromise to be had anywhere. It's the music they love, played their way and if you love it too jump on your Harley and come along, if not then keep walking while the rest of us bask in the hard rocking that take place from the opening swagger of The Walking Dead which has Gene covering the zombie apocalypse in his own unique style while Whitesnake/Winger axe man Reb Beach adds some scorching guest guitar solos (Beach is from the band's home city of Pittsburgh).

What follows from this are 9 tracks of pure unadulterated rock n roll harking back to American hard rock sleaze driven early 80's heyday think Motley Crue and G'N'R jamming to Ted Nugent, KISS and AC/DC this will tell you all you need to know. Gene handles the howls, croons, wails and screams of the vocalist position as well as playing a mean guitar (SG of course) aided and abetted by Drew Donegan also on six-strings, bassist Tim Schultz, drummer Nick Revak and Aaron Mediate bringing the keys/organs, he has assembled a supremely competent band to support him among more guests who rear their head throughout.

Once again I'm in awe of Gene's vocals, he has such an expansive expressive range to his Southern drawl, applying it with gusto on the cracking tracks that fill this album with the ZZ Top-like Too Kool For Skool which is full of blues harp and the honky tonk title track. The second half of the album moves away from the Southern sounds to a more classic hard rock feeling with Let It Loose and Fortune And Fame bringing to mind G'N'R. The Loner is another great album from Gene The Werewolf check it out if you love classic rock at it's best! 9/10

Electric Fence: Motorkiller (Self Released)

Electric Fence hail from Madrid but their sound is rooted deep in the late 60's early 70's hard rock legacy but with massive amounts of Southern rock power. Stole The Fire which opens the record sounding like lost Cream track but with a nod to Wolfmother with the riff and the howling vocals. Much like with the Gene The Werewolf record they have an eclectic sound the title track sounds like Lynyrd Skynyrd mixed with driving AC/DC riffage. The album grabs you by the balls and doesn't let you go with it's fusion of modern meets classic sounds the guitarists play laid back slide blues on What I Am which also shows off the frontman's incredible soulful vocals very similar to Myles Kennedy but with a much grittier bottom end.

Motorkiller astounds on every song it's the Spanish band's third album and this shows, all of the songs on this record are well written played and most importantly produced, they just sound warm and welcoming bringing you into the record as the drumming work get hips shaking on Don't Dare while Red Moon Rising has a bass driven Zeppelin sound while Black Widow once again brings the heavy Country of Molly Hatchet. There are just so many sounds on this record that any discerning rock fan will find something they will love, especially those that love a Stetson wearing, whiskey drinking Southern rock

Electric Fence have bit of a duff name but their music is just that brimming with electricity and a fresh approach to classic rock as well as having the flavours to some of the biggest modern bands such as The Temperance Movement, The Cadillac Three, Blackberry Smoke, Airbourne and so many others. The album plays as almost a jukebox of classic rock music and yes there is a bit of a mish mash of sounds but they are all anchored by a love of rock music. Impressive stuff from the Spanish rockers, now let's organise a tour shall we? 9/10    

Wednesday 17 August 2016

A View From A Sunny Field: Bloodstock Festival 2016 (Sunday)

Bloodstock Festival - Sunday

Third and final day of Bloodstock, the mind was willing but body was falling apart as is only natural on the third day of bands (fourth day overall), but after yet another bad nights sleep it was an early start. The third day was a bit more hit an miss only really taking off towards the evening. Due to work constraints on Monday, this was going to be an early finish meaning that Slayer was going to have to be sacrificed. That was then this was now and we made our way into the arena after the obligatory bacon (at Bloodstock every morning involves bacon).

As we hit the main stage for Ghost Bath (4). Now on record Ghost Bath an instrumental band that play heavy blackened atmospheric doom with subtle background vocals, however live the atmospheric and frankly great music, however the banshees like squeals are brought to the fore and sounded comical cutting through the instrumentation, with a bit more balance they would be listenable but unfortunately it wasn't a great start.

Still lots to see and it was over into the Sophie tent for Desert Storm (7) and Oxford heavy blues metal outfit with a similar riff based style of Clutch and Orange Goblin and the whiskey soaked vocals to match, they managed to get some very sore heads banging in the early morning and were warmly received once their set had ended, finally things were back on track after the previous travesty and we were off and rocking.

Sticking in the Sophie tent, following Desert Storm was another UK band, I was intrigued to see what the alt rock styling of Sanguine (6) sounded like live and to be honest the band are reasonably generic almost rap style metal with songs that blur into one and other. In the New Blood Tent we caught the whole set from instrumental stoner Kahtet (9) who play excellent music that just makes you want to bang your head and lose yourself in the sounds.

Over to the main stage for Unearth (7) who's stage banner left you in doubt of who you were watching repeating the name five times in very large letters. Unearth are perfectly watchable modern metalcore, they don't do anything particularly new but to see a band that came out of the New Wave Of American Metal still pull a larger crowd is always heartening.

Back to the Sophie Tent for British bruisers Krysthla (8) who took to the stage and proceeded to destroy it with the primordial brand of heavy metal that batters you into submission. The riffage was loud and brutal the two guitars (Neil Hudson & Noel Davies) and the bass (Carl Davis) working together to punish the strong crowd that increased throughout the set as Wayne Minny's rapid fire drum beats, the big riff breakdowns and Adi's blood curdling roar all got fists pumping an heads banging. Playing songs from their excellent debut album the band seemed to be loving every minute and showed those that had not seen them before that they mean serious business, more of this soon chaps please?

After Krysthla had demolished the stage it was up to Divine Chaos (8) to burn the wood so there was no coming back and my gosh did they do that, their laser guided thrash metal ripped the last remnants of life out of the crowd as the blitzed them with supreme speed and breakdowns inciting as many pits as possible.

As I came out deafened by the two proceeding bands I began moving to the Main Stage it was time for Metal Allegiance (2) the all-star tribute group orchestrated by bass player and music mogul Mark Menghi has had numerous members take part in the two full length records and one EP that they have released so there was speculation about who was going to be playing. We already knew it wouldn't be Mike Portnoy as he is locked in to Twisted Sister until their tour finishes but with so many of the contributors all available, on the same day even, there so much potential for this to be something special.

It wasn't special not even in the slightest, in fact it was dire, bilge for the entire set. Behind the drum stool was Charlie Benante (my pick for the role), on guitars was Testament's Alex Skolnick, bass was obviously Menghi, and on the vocals was Death Angel's Mark Osegueda. They played just two songs from their album of originals and the rest of the set was made up of covers including some curveball choices of Wrathchild, Into The Void and Fast As A Shark.

The band are all great players but this was nothing more than a karaoke set on the main stage of a major festival where another band could showcased their own songs rather than a slightly self-indulgent set from established rockstars, hell I'd have preferred Testament or Death Angel. As the tribute to Bowie (Suffragette City) Lemmy (Iron Fist - featuring Gary Holt) and RJD (Heaven And Hell - one from the Anthrax repertoire) were all included I found my attention wandering wishing I was somewhere else.

What was most annoying though was that Mark insisted upon adopting the vocal mannerisms of the singers during the songs, this reinforced that this was nothing more than famous musicians indulging in a tribute act similar to the Hollywood Vampires project. Had they stuck tot heir own songs and thrown in the Lemmy, Dio and Bowie covers I think it would have been much better.

As it stands I left the stage as Heaven And Hell was playing to catch some heavy occult doom with Witchsorrow (8) who are possibly the most miserable fuzz filled band this side of Electric Wizard (there's a Sophie Tent headliner if I've ever heard one), they managed to clear my head ready for my next jaunt to the main stage.

In between the main stage bands there are always a few bands on the small Jagermeister stage, this year every band was an underground British band, unfortunately we only managed to catch one of the bands playing, who happened to be one of the best bands we'd seen all day. The band were the politically, ethically, socially and zombie motivated Outright Resistance (8) whose modern take on metal field with sledgehammer riffs, blast beats and the uncompromising no bullshit approach of vocalist Paige who channels her own transitioning and personal internal struggles into the songs creating a defiant unifying fuck you to anyone that cares to oppose them.

The music is aggressive, modern metal evoking bands such as Chimaira, Machine Head, Lamb Of God and Parkway Drive, as Paige jumped around the stage, bar and field barking her lyrics into the mic with her guttural vocals as the band battered the small but lively audience, they even made a wall of death which saw Paige actively participate in while singing. Outright Resistance are something of a eye opener I've seen very few bands with this much passion, sheer aggression and with such a revolutionary spirit for a long time. The MoM camp was right  next to their's too and despite their loud, late night discussions they were all very affable, lovely people. Check out Outright Resistance where you can as they have oodles of potential and better still they are a unifying force against hate.        
Mainstage time and band I've only ever seen once but can't remember at all so I was excited to see Satyricon (6) but as soon as the opening strains of The Dawn Of A New Dark Age kicked in myself and Mr Hewitt (who was probably more excited to watch the band than anyone) noticed something was dead wrong with the sound, the drums seemed to just swallow up everything else there were no keys at all, not the best thing for a 'symphonic' black metal band and the guitars were every low in the mix, in fact for most of the set all that was audible were the drums and Satyr's vocals.

The horrible sound made the set drag long as every song sounded the same even though we knew they weren't and the incessant and over loud drumming ruined the set that was drawn heavily from their Nemesis Divina album. I may have to see Satyricon again to make a proper judgement but here they suffered at the hands of the sound.

The gremlins continued into the next band meaning that British extreme power metal mentalists' Dragonforce (7) had to truncate what was supposed to be their triumphant return to just five songs, three newies including Cry Thunder and two classics ending with 'that' song (Through The Fire And The Flames) during the set the band did their normal ultra-speed riffing and metal posturing but once again the keys were inaudible and as the road crew frantically tried to fix it the consummate professionals Herman Li and Sam Totman not only solo'd their asses off but also handled the keyboard solos as well. Marc Hudson's voice gets better with every show (he recently had illness forcing him off stage) and the crowd did seem to really enjoy the shorter more focused set. I hope Dragonforce do a full UK tour soon as I love the band and this was nowhere near a full show.               
Running over to the Sophie tent I was just in time to catch a bit of Vektor (7) who were laying waste to the tent with their expertly technical progressive thrash coupled with black metal vocals and changing time signatures to make sure they kept everyone on their toes and more importantly moshing.

Then it was back to the mainstage for Americans Symphony X's (8) debut at BOA and they plowed through a set made up of the majority of the their latest album Underworld including one of the weekends few power ballads Without You. Symphony X were on winning form even with a couple of technical hitches they powered through their brand of muscular prog/power metal with particular kudos going to Michael Romeo and Russell Allen who are the focal points of the band on the live stage. Their set wound up with three classics leaving the audience very receptive and won over those in the group who had not seen Symphony X at all or indeed for a long time. During the set (the majority of which I had seen earlier in the year) I managed to catch a couple of numbers from Valous (7) on the New Blood tent and I was impressed with what I saw having missed them at Fire & Forge festival last year, ones to go on the list.   

Our final band of the day had the prospect to be very special, Memoriam (10) is a British death metal 'supergroup' made up of members of legendary Benediction and Bolt Thrower and serves as a fitting tribute to the latter after they have hung up their instruments for good. This was the first performance for Memoriam and the collected talent on stage was evident due to it's faultless nature. The stage dressing was affecting and horrific, depicting rotting soldiers in far flung battlefield, the intro music saw a piano piece played and the band took to the stage. The band are Benediction/Sacrilege bassist Frank Healy, Benediction guitarist Scott Fairfax, former Bolt Thrower drummer Andy Whale (who was replaced by the now tragically deceased Martin Kearns) and headed up by the thunderous definitive roar and white mane of Bolt Thrower's Karl Willets who received a heroes welcome as he strode onto the stage.

As with Bolt Thrower the songs are about war, death, sadness and grief, Willetts himself has said that the music is catharsis for dealing with the death of Martin Kearns. They drew the set from the as yet released debut record and what we heard was indeed new, to us and the band but was exactly as you'd expect, classic British death metal that chugs, roars and evokes evil with every concussive drum hit, crunching riff and scream. They played two tracks from their demo single War Rages On and Resistance which joined the excellent opening Memoriam, Dronestrike and Surrounded (By Death) as the new Memoriam material.

They also threw in some covers from their other bands in the shape of The Captive from Healy's influential act Sacrilege then in the middle of the set they plumped for Spearhead and Powder Burns from Bolt Thrower ending with another new song Flatline which had mine and Mr Hewitt's pulses stopping. The band were excellent but the show bittersweet, it was great to see the band on stage and especially Karl having an amazing time, but it reminded both of us that we may never see Bolt Thrower again, which brought a small tear to my colleagues eye, or that could have been the pain in his neck after head banging to this simply amazing new band full of old faces and a classic sound.

I wasn't going to go to Bloodstock this year due to life constraints and the fact that many of the bands playing I had seen on the touring cycle since BOA last year, however I'm glad I did as there were still so many "I was there moments" that I couldn't think of being anywhere else. The weather was perfect, the company was excellent (including some of my best and for the first time my oldest friend) the beer plentiful and the music, well it's the best in the world and all of this means that year upon year I will return to Catton Hall, putting up with the camping and the raucous, drunken noise at night to be in place where everything I could ever want is all together. For me personally this year had one notable exception but this won't happen again I'm sure. Bloodstock continues to cement itself as the UK's premier metal festival! (Tickets on sale now folks!!)      

A View From A Sunny Field: Bloodstock Festival 2016 (Saturday)

Bloodstock Festival -Saturday

Saturday held some heavy hitters for the MoM crew with the likes of Rotting Christ, Paradise Lost and Gojira still to come the heaviness was increased tenfold since the Friday, so up beer, bacon and lazily we made are way to the arena as the thought of Cambion and Kill II This didn't interest me at all we chilled at the campsite for a bit too long unfortunately missing Mage but in time for the third band on the main stage the excellent Vallenfyre (8) the side project of Paradise Lost guitarist Gregor Mackintosh the death metal outfit are a particularly evil mob with lots of extreme tendencies bringing a gap between death and black metal, swathes of riffs hit you right between the eyes as Mackintosh gives a particularly volatile performance on the vocals screaming, screeching and roaring at every opportunity. I'd never seen Vallenfyre before but I would definitely see them again, it severed as the perfect aperitif for the heaviness that was to come.

There had been a lot of wrangling going on about the next band. Were they in? Were they out? Had they breached some kind of agreement? Whatever the truth was finally it was sorted and Akercocke (5) took to the stage for their first gig in six years, they seemed to have considerable performance rust on them as the vocals seemed shot and after a couple of songs I gave up and headed over to the Sophie Tent for the spiritual awakening of Vodun (8) the London three piece was the right antidote to Akercocke, their groove laden, percussive hard rock got you body moving as the band stirred themselves up into a frenzy on stage their voodoo groove, Ogoun pounding the rhythmic, tribal beats while Marassa peels off riff after fuzzy riff being both guitarist and bassist, but your eyes are focused most of the time on Oya the vocalist who howls and moans like she's possessed using percussion instruments to augment the already propulsive sound. In the live filed Vodun are magnetic and mystical getting everyone in the Sophie tent caught up in their musical spell.

From Spells to curses back on the mainstage for the Greek metal legends Rotting Christ (10) a band that we first saw at BOA two years ago laying waste to the Sophie Tent with a stunning headline performance, filled with ominous atmosphere they create along with mountains of visual aides and lighting effects. There was a lot of talk in our camp whether they could have the same impact in the middle of the day in the bright sunlight but as the Diamanda Galás' Orders From The Dead blared out of the PA the band led by the incredibly charismatic Sakis took to the stage a blasted into Ze Nigmar from most recent offering Rituals which rapidly moved into the first of three from Katá ton Daímona Eaf̱toú (True To Your Own Spirit) the excellent Kata ton Demona Eautou with the other two tracks from that album being the impressive encompassing In Yumen-Xibalba twinned with Grandis Spiritus Diavolos meaning that the majority of their set came from their two most recent albums interspersed with some classics like Thy Sign of Evil Existence.

What is always so impressive about Rotting Christ is that just how sonically powerful they are, their songs encompass a few styles from death, to black, through doom, to classic metal but they are all delivered with a commanding performance from the four piece led by Sakis. If you consider the occult lyrical content of their songs many focus on spiritualism, Satan and the occult, welcoming everyone watching and listening to their unholy church which puts Sakis in the position of Bishop leading the dark sermons as he and George Emmanuel play riff after earth moving riff as the rhythm section of Vangelis Karzis (bass) and Themis Tolis (drums) conjure thunder in the backroom. As the set progressed with very little interaction from the band, another key to their imposing stage show, our collective necks were throbbing from the headbanging taking place until finally with the climatic Noctis Era the show was finished and we all took a collective breath.

All of our fears were washed away by the band, they are equally as impressive in the middle of the day as they are at night headlining. Yes that was special but this was yet another fantastic set from a band who cross genre and indeed language barriers with every album performing songs in English, Greek and Latin meaning that the Church of Rotting Christ is one that knows no factions just come together and bang your head.

We had to take well earned beer and food break after that forgoing Fear Factory's industrial stomp and retreating to the campsite for yet more dirty Strongbow (Dark Fruits and Cloudy), John Bleeding Smiths (Extra Smooth no less) and as much pot pasta as we could eat. With Mr Hewitt sticking to the camp myself and the rest of our group Stief and our resident love birds made our way to the main arena for British doom-mongers Paradise Lost (9) who were on seriously good form playing a wide set drawing three songs, No Hope In Sight, Flesh From Bone and Benath Broken Earth from their killer recent record The Plague Within although the growls have been toned down since I last saw them. Paradise Lost's frontman Nick Holmes is one of the major parts I love this band, his vocals can be a bit hit and miss but today he was at his best, however other than his vocals his between song banter is some of the best.

He is possibly the grumpiest man in rock music dedicating one song to "The worst lighting man in the world, God" due to the fact the sun was hitting him in the face for the duration of the set, as Holmes is the old curmudgeon, Gregor Mackintosh is his silent partner in crime (albeit not so silent in Vallenfyre) chugging away along with Aaron Aedy and Steve Edmondson. The set was strong drawing from classic such as Gothic with Eternal and Rapture along with the The Last Time and Hallowed Land from the monstrous Draconian Times, Paradise Lost once again showed why they have such longevity with a back-catalogue of stone cold killer songs and a performance style that is endearing and entertaining.

From the pounding Gothic doom to razor sharp modern thrash in the shape of late additions to the bill Bull Riff Stampede (8) who stepped in at the last minute to replace Myrath. This proved to be a masterstroke by the BOA bosses as Bull Riff are currently riding an upward curve and to see them not far off releasing their excellent second record was great as they set the Sophie stage ablaze with their intense aggressive brand of pure thrash metal dual guitars shredding, drums flailing, bass galloping and vocal snarling, their set went by in frenzy of technical guitar playing, blazing solos and proper thrash songwriting which was the perfect pick me up we needed after the slower pace of Paradise Lost to ready us for the monstrous (pun intended) special guests that were about to take to the main stage.

 I'm going to say this now and most of the MoM agreed with me (which is unusual) the French masters of only the heaviest metal Gojira (10) should have headlined the Saturday they have enough albums, memorable songs, outright heaviness and most importantly a stage presence that rivals Rotting Christ's earlier in the day. They also have a stunning new album with Magma which meant that they didn't have the L'Enfant Sauvage light up head to use as a visual piece this was backdrop banner and four men playing the most crushing groove heavy metal but by Odin's Beard that is all they needed as they opened proceedings with a thrilling trio of Toxic Garbage Island, L'Enfant Sauvage and The Heaviest Matter In The Universe. As is always true with Gojira playing you feel them rather than see them every song shifts your internal organs with the massive down-tuned riffs credited to Joe Duplantier and the ever bouncy Jean-Michel Labadie the fret slides and general rhythmic discord is driven mercilessly by the magnificent drumming from Joe's brother Mario who uses his kit like a weapon.

On new songs Silvera and Stranded Christian Andreu displayed his lead guitar skills with the more melodic touches they bring, however there was no rest, some breif snippets of interaction from Joe but then it back to bone shattering and turning your insides to jelly with Flying Whales, Wisdom Comes and the neck snapping Backbone. At 12 songs the set was hand picked for maximum impact and volume with small gaps in proceeding to allow the huge crowd to compose themselves before the next aural battering, Gojira should have definitely headlined Saturday and they shouldn't be playing third fiddle to Alter Bridge and Volbeat, but that's an argument for another time. The Bloodstock was triumphant bore witness to Gojira the arena band!

With the strains of the French groove metal still ringing in our ears it was time for the main stage headliners Atlanta Wildlings Mastodon (8) who I've personally seen numerous times and yes they are a good band but they did seem a little out of place as a headliner still with mountains of psych filled, stoner metal riffs along with some very recognisable songs such as Colony Of Birchmen, Blood And Thunder, Megalodon all coming at the end of the set it was up to them to fill the rest of the set with some of their other more progressive numbers sprinkling in a recognisable number here and there playing a mammoth (again pun intended) 20 song set list backed by some trippy visuals the band ploughed through their set with little interaction, triple vocal delivery and riffs a-plenty however despite this being a festival headline slot they didn't do what both Twisted Sister and indeed Slayer did and stick to 'the hits' playing 6 songs from their most recent album and neglecting the massive sing along Curl Of The Burl yes OK we got some older tracks from their breakthrough record Blood Mountain as well as from Leviathan but The Hunter was all but ignored. Despite some glaring omissions (in my opinion) in the setlist, the crowd were receptive in spite of the band just locking in and playing off in their own little world.

I think there was just a sense of apathy from myself after being destroyed by Gojira mere moments before, Mastodon are a band that bring continuity with their live show, they will probably never start incorporating the vaudeville elements of Twisted Sister neither will they have the sheer live power of bands such as Slayer but it was good to see them getting some recognition for their years slogging away in the live field. No Mastodon may not have been the most popular choice for headliner (or indeed special guest) some of the message boards were down right derisive and personally I think the headliner and special guest roles should have been flipped, but Bloodstock likes to mix it up and showcase headliners that many may not have seen in that position before (if ever).

It always does seem to be a little sink or swim doing this and Mastodon didn't sink but there were moments where they were treading water a little still, the amassed hordes were there to witness a bit of history that hopefully will make many other festival operators realise that there are new headliners rather than the same tired ones we've all seen before. They just ignore them where as Bloodstock embrace them. As we headed back to the campsite, we stupidly forgot Acid Reign were in the tent and missed them (next time it is), we talked about future headliners (Judas Priest?) and then turned our attention to the eclectic final day that was waiting for us.   

Tuesday 16 August 2016

A View From A Sunny Field: Bloodstock Festival 2016 (Friday Review By Paul)

Bloodstock 2016 – Friday

Early this year I took the decision to give BOA a miss, partly due to the lazy bookings of Slayer, Anthrax, and with several of the on the bill still resonating in my ears following their recent UK tours. However, with my oldest buddy Brett reaching a milestone birthday, a day ticket for Friday was purchased for his birthday and we found ourselves off to Catton Hall again.

Accommodation was a hotel rather than camping and with a short taxi ride affordable we were on site not long after 9am. Once again the event staff were professional, friendly and welcoming, in stark contrast to the rent a mob at Download and we were allowed into the site an hour early to catch up with the crew.

As the sun blazed down, the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage filled nicely for opening band Witch Tripper (9). Coming out of Mansfield meant that the guys were almost local and their infectious hard driven stoner rock went down a storm. Energetic, enthusiastic and humble, the band’s short set contained some new material mixed with older tunes. The band are fun to watch and can play a good song, earning  appreciative nods all around. My only complaint was that their freebies thrown into the crowd didn't get near me! C’mon guys! A seriously good start.

Heading across the field and ignoring the battering that Hark were giving the main stage we hit the Sophie Lancaster Tent in time to catch the fantasy core lyrics of Worcester’s Fury (8) who put in a strong shift for their 30 minutes. With two full releases now behind them including their recent album Lost In Space, they had no trouble filing their set. Julian Jenkins’ voice is excellent and the band delivered musically with their thrash tinged metal memorable. A superb Britannia and the concluding round of sea shanty Drunken Sailor surely earned this hard working band some new fans. Excellent stuff.

Back into the sunlight and the main stage for the arrival of Gloryhammer (7). Led by Alestorm’s Christopher Bowes, Gloryhammer’s science fiction themed tales of hammers fuelled by their frantic power metal was well known to many in the field, with the tales of Angus McFife and set closer The Unicorn Invasion Of Dundee getting huge reactions. Much merriment and dancing throughout although my attention did wander as the set progressed.

The silliness was cranked up to 11 as Nottingham’s Evil Scarecrow (8) returned to the scene of their epic 2014 early morning set which has now gone down in BOA legend. Since that glorious day the band has released their third album, the crowd funded Galactic Hunt which provided new material and thankfully enabled them to drop The Final Countdown. Despite a 40 minute slot the band managed to get through a mere six numbers, but don't take that as a bad thing as it was riddled with ridiculous amounts of audience participation. From the early robot action as Robototron kicked in at song number two, the hilarious double pronged circle pit action in newbie Hurricandao and set closer Crabulon which saw the entire field scuttling left and right once again, it was all brilliantly good humoured fun. I was skeptical about the longevity of this band but once again they proved that when you've had a few beers and the sun is shining Evil Scarecrow is just the ideal festival band. (They didn't play Sheep though even though we here at MoM requested it)

With the idea of watching both Misery Loves Company and Stuck Mojo unpalatable, an hour or so of rest in the shade of the crew’s tent was very inviting. Next up was Pepper Keenan and Corrosion Of Conformity (5) on the RJD stage. I've never warmed to the sludge rock that CoC churn out and ten minutes of their baleful dirge was sufficient to convince me that nothing much had changed. As we wandered around the site to the well appointed Lemmy’s Bar, CoC ground out just under an hour which largely bypassed my senses. Boring and bloated, with little to really focus on? Maybe a little harsh but not much else dulls the senses in that way.

As we awaited Black Metal I (Matt) went over to the Sophie Tent for party rock heaviness XII Boar (7) kicking off to a raucous die hard crowd as hundreds poured to the main arena for Cronos & Co.

The originators of Black Metal, Venom (8) have long been touted for BOA. With only original vocalist and bassist Cronos in the ranks these days, some would argue that Venom Inc currently have more claim to the crown. Whoever is right I don’t know, but to me it’s the voice that always signifies the band and Cronos’s Geordie roar is Venom and no mistake. Disappointingly for the old schoolers amongst us, putting Venom on at tea time in the blazing sun is akin to having red sauce with your bacon sandwich; heresy! (Stief!) When they were first announced we assumed it would be as headliners, complete with the full pyrotechnic show. Unfortunately not to be and it was slightly surreal seeing the originators of the thrash and black metal movements stripped back to the basics in the early evening sun.

A rip roaring set which started five minutes early and overran slightly saw the band open with two from 2015’s excellent From the Very Depths, Long Haired Punks and The Death Of Rock ‘n’ Roll before the Venom Legions roared their approval as Bloodlust erupted into the arena. Oozing the confidence that has always given him the balls to lead the band in his focused way, Cronos stalked the stage, guttural vocals and demonic bass lines flowing. At the back of the stage behind his double bass drums and extended cymbal set up drummer Dante holds all the power that original drummer  Abbaddon had whilst guitarist La Rage (Stuart Dixon to his mum) strode about slicing and shredding at will.

The set contained a wide mix of tracks, with Venom focusing more on the present than the past. A decent selection from From The Very Depths was spliced with a trio from Fallen Angels alongside the real old school classics. Whilst the pyro was missing, the energy wasn’t and the band increased in intensity as the set developed. Countess Bathory was greeted with a huge pit and appreciative nods from Pepper Keenan and CoC at the side of the stage. Cronos kept the chatter to a minimum although he took the opportunity to have a dig at the promoters who hadn’t put the band at the top of the bill along with the incredulity that they were performing in bright sunlight. Finishing the main set with a massive Warhead and the fast paced Rise it was inevitable that the band would return to speed through Black Metal. Venom’s shows were always reliant on the stage show and if they can get the headline slot in a year or two the result could be very rewarding for all.

Hitting the Sophie tent after Venom, we found Beholder (7) in full force, ripping through the new more progressive and melodic tracks from their recent 3rd album, Reflections. Playing to a fairly sparse crowd didn’t bother one of BOA’s house bands and they had made the decision to stick mainly with material from the new release. Unfortunately that meant that the songs merged into each other a bit and a mix of older material might have enhanced the set. Frontman and BOA honcho Simon Hall's voice was in fine form though and the band looked and sounded tight and solid

Back to the main stage we arrived as Behemoth (8) arrived with their impressive stage set up. Playing the whole of The Satanist Nergal and co just ripped the stage apart. Their intimidating corpse paint and stage gear is totally supported by the blasting black metal they play. If you were at BOA in 2012 when the band put in one of the most impressive headline shows ever seen you’ll know what we saw. Although the show would have been better in the darkness, the flames still burned as the band hammered the crowd, Inferno battering the skins whilst Seth and Orion prowled the front. Highlights of the set? Well with such a massive album, you could say from start to finish but Ora Prob Nobis Lucifer, Ben Sahar and the title track stood out. I doubt that any black metal band can match the might of the Poles at the moment. Impressive stuff indeed.

Forgoing the final moments of Behemoth’s set, a thinly populated Sophie Tent was the next destination for the first UK festival appearance of German symphonic metal outfit Beyond The Black (9). Not unknown to us (they opened for Saxon in Bristol 2014 - Ed) we watched the band play a stunning set, with Jennifer Haben’s fantastic voice one of the highlights of the day, the band is in the process of being totally overhauled with Jennifer looking for an entirely new band. Now I’m not sure whether the band that played were those musicians who are leaving or just hired guns, but you wouldn’t have guessed anything was different as they powered through some quality European symphonic metal. (They did feel like a totally new prospect to the band we saw open for Saxon - Ed) The band play a single UK show in February with Powerwolf and Epica in London. I would bet a full Welsh pound that members of the Musipedia will be in the audience for that one.

In 2010 Dee Snider and Co. performed a greatest hits sets that rounded off the festival on exactly the right note. Six years later and the band are bringing things to an end. The death of drummer AJ Pero has given the band a reality check and other irons in the fire along with the creep of a band entering their 60s makes a final fling a sensible option. But if you are going out, go out with all guns blazing and make no mistake about it, Twisted Fuckin’ Sister (10) went out in style.

Sister have always been a mighty juggernaut in the live arena, far heavier than on record and their final UK show was an absolute stormer. Playing well beyond the scheduled 90 minutes, every classic was greeted with joy by the crowd and for those of us old enough to remember the days in 1982 when the band hit the UK with such force, choice cuts from the first album were extra special. The skins were thumped in expert style by Mike Portnoy, who must have been very comfortable with the simpler patterns than some his more intricate Dream Theater work. Nevertheless, he did his job superbly and laid down the beat with Mark ‘The Animal’ Mendoza effortlessly. This allowed the riffage from Jay Jay French and Eddie Ojeda to cut across the night, with stunning fretwork all evening. Of course, the mouth of TFS is Dee Snider, and the man himself, looking incredibly fit and as energetic as those days at the Marquee in 1982, bounded across the stage all evening.

Throughout the emotionally charged set the band referred to the support from the UK which allowed them to continue their career back in the 1980s. French took the opportunity to have a pop at manufactured bands and Simon Cowell’s ‘industry’, whilst Snider made a couple of references to Download and other festivals that were not true to the ethos of Twisted Sister.The set was incredibly well balanced with enough of the real retro stuff to keep the old guard happy. Destroyer, Under The Blade and Shoot ‘Em Down sat comfortably alongside the more recognisable I Wanna Rock and We’re Not Going To Take It. Snider was at pains to confirm that this tour really is there last, barbs thrown at Scorpions, Priest and Kiss at this point.

Closing with a cover of The Stones’ It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, you suddenly realised that this was the last time the make-up wearing shock rockers would be seen on UK shores. At least I hope it is as after all the statements a return would be greeted with shouts of ‘money grabbers’. And then we were into the final song. A brutal and raucous S.M.F. brought the curtain down on the UK live performances of Twisted Sister. Forty and Fuck It read the backdrop. Forty and still amazing would be my statement. Long live Twisted Sister. You will be missed.