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Friday 5 August 2016

Reviews: Tarja, Skillet, Bloody Hammers

Tarja: The Shadow Self (earMusic)

I reviewed the accompanying album to this The Brightest Void earlier this year and said that the odds-n-sods collection hinted at what we could expect on this the former Nightwish singer's fifth (if you count it's precursor) hard-rock/metal album (she also has two classical albums to her name). Well finally the album has dropped and it's probably Tarja's most diverse offering to date, the lady herself said that she felt transformed by this record going through as she says "some self discovery in recent years" you can hear it on this record it's a much more confident, assured piece than some of her sometimes hit-and-miss earlier material.

There is a myriad of styles present on this record the opening salvo of Innocence is led by some impressive piano playing it's one of the many classically influenced operatic pieces on this record where Tarja shows here impressive vocal range, it has metallic guitar sound that sounds like her previous employers in it's baroque nature, Love To Hate and Diva are both overwrought and dramatic with Diva having a vaudeville nature of a Broadway performance due to it's theatrical lyrics and Lloyd Webber-like soaring orchestra's.

With the classical moments dealt with we get the The Living End which is more of a Celtic/Folk style ballad, some electronic synths on the paranoid Eagle Eye, while Demons In You is the album's heaviest effort with Tarja backed by Arch Enemy frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz's barking harsh vocals. I must say The Shadow Self is a little bit of a let down most of the songs are mid/slow paced ballads and the cover of Muse's Supremacy is rubbish if I'm brutally honest, it does strike me that some of the best songs from this album were on the precursor EP, The Shadow Self is a confident as I've said it's just a bit tame. 6/10  

Skillet: Unleashed (Atlantic)

Christian Rock band Skillet are back with their 10th(!) album of modern alt-metal and this time they are taking no prisoners, it's an aggressive effort with the opening two songs, Feel Invincible and Back From The Dead having big fist pumping choruses and high energy  rhythms kicking the album off strongly. Defined by their use of keys from Kory Cooper who is the wife of frontman/bassist John, his huskier tones are complimented by the saccharine treated female vocals of drummer Jen Ledger making for powerful vocal harmonies which is backed up by strong, intense musical backing, special kudos to lead guitarist Seth Morrison who shoots fireworks with his axe. The pace slows on Stars is a mid paced key led inspirational track.

Skillet can be put in the same bracket as Shinedown Breaking Benjamin with a modern alt-rock sound full of hook-laden songs. This record is diverse with its sound with driving processed beats (Famous) and harder edged metal anthems (industrial stomp of Out Of Hell) sitting next to epic emotive hard rock (I Want To Live which is a great duet between the two vocalists) and huge pop choruses. I will admit I'm not usually a fan of bands tagged with the Christian Rock label, due in part to Stryper but Skillet are not overly preachy, they stick to singing about feeling inclusion and unity, Lions is the only song with overtly Christian overtones but it's done with so much passion and actually is such a good song that I can over look it. Ten albums in, world tours everywhere and no sign of settling down, this record is an outstanding demonstration of hard hitting modern alternative metal. 8/10

Bloody Hammers: Lovely Sort Of Death (Napalm)

Doom-laden Goth rockers Bloody Hammers return with their fourth record and once again they bring doom, gloom and heartache along with a heaps of kitsch, the occult and a schlock horror influence. Bloody Hammer's have always sounded like lost soundtrack to a Hammer Horror loaded up on mind-expanding drugs and filled with murderous intent. Even the title of the album refers to a 1967 LSD movie also called The Trip, featuring Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper. (Even the title itself is an acronym of the third-eye opening helpers).

So much like Brits Electric Wizard you know these Charlotte, NC natives aren't messing around with the occult, horror and psychedelic drug related imagery they create, it flows through their music as they worship heavily at the altar of Sabbath, Bauhaus and even H.I.M in a similar groove to contemporaries Purson, Ghost and Uncle Acid. The band is the brainchild of frontman/bassist Anders Manga whose booming voice and bass are two of the loudest elements of the record while the organs of wife Devallia rapidly switch from delightful to imposing in a moment adding the texture to the doom-Goth riffs Anders brings along with guitarist Bill Fischer all anchored by Doza Mendoza's percussion.

This fourth record is Bloody Hammers Gothiest album so far moving away from the heavier early records adding more keys and atmospherics, Anders vocals in particular have improved tenfold, they are more varied and dramatic than before. Bloodletting On The Kiss has Depeche Mode vibe to it with lots of sexy synths cutting through the malaise, Lights Come Alive is airy and percussive a little like the darker side to U2, The Reaper Comes brings an oppressive and haunting feel but brings the rock back. Messalina comes in at a heavier prospect with fuzzy guitars and starts the louder part of the record as Stoke The Fire kicks off with stomping glam Goth rich with dual vocals. It's left for the final part of the record for the doom to lumber in with Ether and Shadow Out Of Time both creeping towards the albums climax. Lovely Sort Of Death is a strong, more considered piece that owes a lot to the 3 years it's taken to make 8/10

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