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Monday 31 October 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Pain

Pain, The Vision Bleak, Dynazty & Billion Dollar Babies, The Fleece Bristol

Heading to the Fleece is always a joy, the Seven Stars next door is always a good shout for good beer and parking for the venue is always free. With a stacked four band set the doors were open early and 15 minutes after they let the 8 people that were in the room into the venue, Billion Dollar Babies (5) arrived on stage. Personally I was interested how they would fair in the live arena as their album is very polished affair, as the all packed themselves on to the tiny stage that was taken up mostly by the headliners' drum kit the amount of fishneting and eyeliner was enough to scream GOTH in capital letters and as they played every song basically blended into one samey, uninspired, song. Shame as I liked the album but live there wasn't much spark, maybe it was due to the crowd size but with a good band that doesn't matter.

So out to the pub we went for a tasting platter of ales to compare, all of which were finished by the time Dynazty (7) had started their set, with an album produced by Peter Tägtgren these Swedes (one of three Swedish bands on the bill) place was assured, however they did stick out like a sore thumb as they play bouncy power metal which was in strict opposition to the rest of the bands playing, still they are entertaining enough with dual guitar licks, galloping rhythms and strong vocals and I would have scored them higher had they not committed the cardinal sin of freaking bass solo mid way through the set. I realise bassists are an almost vital part of most bands but  bass solos are the pits equal only to most drum solos that aren't played by Neil Peart. Still the now bigger crowd gave them a warm reception and after another short change over we decided to stick around for the only band on the bill we didn't know anything about.

With an ominous intro and dressed head to foot in black and corpse paint, the self described 'horror metal' band The Vision Bleak (8) slid onto the stage took their positions and then unleashed hell. The German band is made up of guitarist/vocalist Ulf Theodor Schwadorf and imposing vocalist Allen B. Konstanz both of whom pretty much play everything on the records, relying on a session drummer and guitarist to help out on stage, no bassist for this band going against my earlier statement, not that it mattered as the discordant wall of guitars was enough to get heads banging to the thumping metal sound created by the band.

The Vision Bleak are a mix of the stomping industrial metal of Rammstein, the doom -laden imagery of Paradise Lost and occult stage mastery of Ghost, especially from the dapper frontman who had a throaty baritone for tracks such as Descend Into Maelstrom and the mighty Kututlu! Metal with an unhealthy dose of Lovecraftian horror was an excellent way of preparing for the more off the wall approach of the headliners, setting the scene for Peter and co excellently.  

So the time had come all the rest of the stage was cleared and the mammoth drumkit sat in the middle of the stage now empty except for three mic stands. Returning bassist Andre Skaug led the way, followed by new guitarist Greger Andersson and Peter's son Sebastian perching behind the kit. As the cheers increased the twisted genius himself took tot he stage clad in a straight jacket, guitar slinging and taking off with the riff for the adrenaline fuelled Designed To Piss You Off the elder Tägtgren shouted the songs confrontational and deliberately annoying chorus as the die-hard crowd lapped it up bouncing about like mad. For what started out as side-project for the Hypocrisy frontman Pain (8) now has a life of it's own, the mix of industrial, techno and crazy metal getting the crowd going in a frenzy.

The live show was unrelenting rattling off Suicide Machine, The Great Pretender and Zombie Slam in quick succession taking the bulk of the set from his most recent disc Coming Home, the title track was one of the few slower moments in the set, but for the most part the band switched positions frequently, taunting each other on stage and at one point Andre even played the bass in the crowd. Musically crushing, visually there was an impressive light show and the addition of a crawling hooded figure stalking the stage and Sabaton's Joakim arriving in puppet form to 'sing' his part on Call Me. Given a bigger stage I think Peter's brain would concoct a stage show to rival the Coop but we may have to wait for that one.

Still with a set packed with killer cuts like Pain In The AssSame Old Song and the climactic Shut Your Mouth (complete with expletives) the enthusiastic crowd were both pleased and knackered from exerting the energy, I was exhausted from just watching them. I hope it doesn't take them another 3 years to tour again (their last UK leg concluded at Bogiez Cardiff in 2013) as for as much talent Tägtgren displays on the records this one man project is just as splendid live.

Saturday 29 October 2016

Reviews: Korn, The Answer, The Pretty Reckless, Pelander

Korn: The Serenity of Suffering (Roadrunner) [Review By Paul]

It only seems like yesterday that Korn were being labelled the flag bearers for the Nu-Metal movement with their self-titled debut crashing into the scene with all the finesse of Donald Trump in a brothel. Since Korn hit the shelves in 1994, the band have stuck faithfully to their own sound, distinct and immediately recognisable. Three years since 2013’s The Paradigm Shift, The Serenity Of Suffering is their 12th studio release and it hits hard and heavy. Opener Insane has a brutal riff, the usual throbbing bass lines that we’ve come to expect from ‘Munky’ whilst Brian ‘Head’ Welch is now firmly back in the fold and shredding harder than ever. It’s as heavy as anything Korn have released since those early days and with the line-up stable these days, it’s easy to hear how this has benefited the band. With Ray Luzier firmly ensconced on the drum stool, ‘Fieldy’ driving his guitar and Jonathan Davies in fine vocal form, this is a pretty solid album. Of course, if you don’t like Korn, this won’t change your mind on iota, even with Corey Taylor adding his unmistakable roar on A Different World. Produced by Nick Raskulinecz, full of crashing riffs, big hooks and thundering bass, Korn continue to follow their own path, unaffected by fads or fashions. 22 years on from that stunning debut, the Korn juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down. 8/10

The Answer: Solas (Napalm) [Review By Paul]

For many The Answer are the ultimate good time band, full of anthems and sing-a-long songs, heart and passion. The Answer has always been one of THE bands to see live. On record, they’ve blown hot and cold. After the impact that debut Rise had in 2006, great things were expected. Everyday Demons, Revival, New Horizons and last year's Raise A Little Hell all contained a mix of good stuff and some average songs. Maybe they've just plateaued a little too much? Solas will do little to change that situation. Coming off the back of some of the most unfortunate personal issues you could imagine, it’s astounding that the band ever wrote again.

So maybe it’s unsurprising that there is a profound change in sound present on the album. Focusing more on a lighter, traditional feel but with a huge amount of reflection and introspection, the band have returned to their Celtic roots with fiddle and folk influences all present. The title track is a stunner. Full of atmosphere, intense and brooding, it is without a doubt one of the tracks of the year. Hearing it on record cemented the live experience when the band debuted it at the Steelhouse Festival in the summer. The power continues on Beautiful World which maintains the change in direction. Battle Cry requires a couple of listens but gets better with a folksy blues feel. It’s on track four, Untrue Colour where the band really move away from their Zeppelin stomp, with a sound reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age. Less rock, more pop but a good track. Thief Of Light fuses the new style with some heritage, a return to the Gaelic influences. 

From here on it all becomes a touch weaker and apart from the driving rocker Left Me Standing which is very much in the vein of old school sound, the rest are just a little filler. Demon Driven Man, Real Life Dreamers (with additional vocals from Fiona O’Kane) and closer Tunnels do little although the lyrical content tugs at the emotions. The deluxe edition adds three bonus tracks; an acoustic version of In This Land, a demo of Light In Darkness which is actually one of the best tracks with its heartfelt feelings and Paul Mahon’s honest guitar work excelling and a cover of Pink Floyd’s Money which adds little but does allow Mahon to show his chops again.

It’s hard to be tough on such a great band. Live they are one of those bands I’d never tire of seeing. They have energy and power, with the natural and engaging charm that the people of Northern Ireland possess. They’ve also been through a lot of shit, with Cormack Neeson in particular clearly using some of Solas to verbalise the world of darkness he inhabited for four horrendous months. And it’s not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just not the brilliant release we all hoped it would be. 7/10

The Pretty Reckless: Who You Selling For

Third album from The Pretty Reckless sees them spreading their musical wings a bit more which shows the band are trying hard to impress more with their songwriting and musical nuances than the fact they are fronted by the incredibly attractive and more than a bit naughty (especially live) former actress and model Taylor Momsen. The band, and Momsen especially have been trying to define themselves as musician, rather than just a project, their previous release achieved this part of the way but with this third record it looks like they will get the recognition that, on the evidence they deserve. Here Momsen displays her vocal versatility while the band make sounds that are far more mature than before, The Walls Are Closing/Hangman opens the record with grinding progressive grunge, which itself is a misnomer. Many would have been drawn to the record due to first single Take Me Down which is a jangly rocker with some great percussion and Taylor using her husky vocal to perfection on a track that sits well with more recent Halestorm approach.

The classic rock vibe continues on the soulful stomp clap of Prisoner, the funk fuelled Wild City which contains a smattering of Doobie Brothers-like guitars, on a track that sounds like it should be in a Shaft episode. There is a jam-like feel to this record, it's sounds as if it was recorded live in the studio. They've drawn from their influences with punk (Oh My God), Country (Back To The River which features Warren Haynes), blues (the moody title track). Who You Selling For really does let the music do the talking. This record shifts the focus of The Pretty Reckless from them being a actor's other project to being just a band in their own right, with a well constructed, performed piece packed with some of the band's most accessible and strongest material yet. 8/10

Pelander: Time (Nuclear Blast)

Pelander is the solo project of Witchcraft main man Magnus Pelander, Time is his debut solo album and sees the multi-instrumentalist/vocalist exploring paths that his main band would fear to tread. Despite Witchcraft having an expansive style of doom/occult rock, Time takes it's cues from the pastoral side of music featuring mainly acoustic sounds this record brings to mind Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull and even Opeth in their quieter moments, with the guitars backed by violins on The Irony Of Man as Magnus uses his dulcet tones to sing songs of change, love and loss with the title track one of the best on the records with tapping percussion and some haunting female vocals. This is a relaxed fireside album that merges the occult sounds of Pelander's day job and takes them into the acoustic realms never before heard. Time is not a metal album, neither is it a rock album but it has a presence all of it's own, listen to it on a cold winter's night in front of a warm fire and you will be bewitched by it's charms. 7/10


Friday 28 October 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: InMe, Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics, Empire

InMe, Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics and Empire, The Globe, Cardiff

A trio of British bands descended upon The Globe on a Tuesday night, all three playing different styles rock/metal but as the night progressed all of them, endeared themselves to the crowd. The headliners due to their longevity (this was their 20th anniversary tour) and headline status and supports due to their disregard to be labelled as such both taking the stage with confidence and doing what they do to win the hearts of the reasonably full venue.

First to take flight were the South West based band EMP!RE (8) who play riff heavy modern rock with a metallic sheen, the dual guitars riffed in tandem with the flowing melodic intricate guitar lines trading off throughout as the rhythm section pumped out driving heaviness that had the radio play ability of  Biffy Clyro. EMP!RE were immediately impressive and the stage banter of Joe Green was understated and welcoming warming the hearts of the early birds with his humour and humility. He then proceeded to unleash one the best vocal performances I've heard this year, his range is staggering (and I say that as someone that has studied singing) soaring to almost soprano highs as well as adding guttural lows, telling the crowd in jest after this bowel rupturing scream that they wouldn't like him when he's angry. Songs such as Sparrows were excellent and the entire presence of the band persuaded me to pick up their new EP and meant I could have a very interesting and human conversation with frontman (later seen shimmying to the other bands). The heady mix of At The Drive In, Coheed & Cambria and Forever Never made for staggering opening effort, proggy, heavy and hooky enough to appeal to a broad audience EMP!RE are a band I will come back to again.

The same can be said for second supports Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics (9) who expertly meld classic hard rock with modern sheen. If the name seems familiar then there is a good chance you've heard frontman Aaron before in his previous guise as the young long haired crooner for Heaven's Basement. He left the band to form this outfit (cut his hair!) and if I'm brutally honest it was a very good move, Buchanan was the standout in Heaven's Basement and he seems more comfortable with this band than he ever was playing the larger venues with his previous act. That's not to say that they are resting on their laurels, all five members of the group took tot he stage with a swagger a plunged into a set of unknown songs that due tot he sheer performance level were greeted like old friends.

This was groovy, hip-shaking rock n roll with a 21st Century crunch, Kev Hickman and Chris Guyatt laying down a sturdy foundation while the twin axes of Tom McCarthy and Laurie Buchanan (Aaron's sister) conjured fuzzed and strutting guitar riffs and slinky solos. Working through songs from their soon to be released debut album, the one or two technical hitches were the only cracks in the bands armour revealing their relative youth as a collective. However with songs such as The Man With The Stars On His Knees which has Aaron display his wonderful rock star vocals, then builds breaks into trade off solo between Tom and Laurie that evokes the spirit of Skynyrd with McCarthy as Allen Collins and the wide brimmed hat wearing Buchanan taking the Gary Rossington role (with a smidgen of SRV too). Nigh on perfect and with a bit of tweaking The Cult Classics will ascend to a higher echelon than just a cult act. Catch them now!

With heavy gauntlet to pick up from their opening acts, headliners InMe (8) had a lot to live up too, but as the 80's megamix played between the sets subsided the band now in their 20th year hit the stage and kicked things off with the Myths & Photographs which got the partisan crowd bouncing from minute one. A band that have always been more than what their tag suggests InMe have always fused angsty alt-metal with a technical precision favoured by prog metal bands, watching the band play their instruments is like witnessing four virtuoso's at work. Massive kudos to drummer Simon Taylor who was visibly extremely ill but still played like his life depended on it, hanging his head in exhaustion after every song. With the McPherson brothers, Dave vocals/guitar and Greg bass/vocals and guitarist Gazz Marlow up front the songs came a rapid rate.

The set list containing 15 slices of the bands signature sounds (with the bonus of no encores) with more modern tracks such as the trio of Hymn: Ivory Elder, Creation: Amethyst and Reverie: Aquarium coming from their Sci-Fi concept record Trilogy: Dawn rubbing shoulders with cuts from their debut record Overgrown Eden, the gaps were filled in with crowd-pleasers such as 7 Weeks, Legacy and one of my personal favourites Nova Armada (excellent arpeggios from Marlow). Again there were sound gremlins mainly for Dave's guitar but no-one noticed really with everyone in the crowd already onside, the band could have sung nursery rhymes and the crowd would have gone nuts, they didn't do this instead it was up to sing-alongs such as Safe In A Room and Firefly to give the tonsils a flex, not that Dave needed our help belting out every line with the same raw emotion as he has always had as brother Greg aided and abetted him with the harmonies. Once again InMe displayed why they receive such affection and devotion from their fanbase as they rounded out the the set with Underdose and Faster The Chase. 20 years is a long time for any band but InMe show no signs of stopping now.                

Thursday 27 October 2016

Reviews: Electric Six, Mobius, Be The Wolf (Reviews By Paul)

Electric Six: Fresh Blood For Tired Vampires (Metropolis Records)

Dick Valentine and his crew blast back with their latest long player, and as always it's full of witty, clever tunes which appeal to the widest of audiences. In the 13 years since Fire debuted the Six has maintained a work ethic second to none with an album a year and a touring schedule that would put the majority of bands into shock. Although the band are still most famously known for the hits from Fire, namely Gay Bar and High Voltage, their music is so much more. The satirical lyricism combined with the sheer brilliance of their fusion of rock, punk, electronica, new wave and even a bit of metal make them a must see.

Fresh Blood For Tired Vampyres continues where last year's Bitch Don't Let Me Die! and 2014’s Human Zoo left off. The Number Of The Beast follows the intro track Acid Reducer, and it is a beast alright with a thumping bass line, electronica and Dick Valentine’s distinctive vocals immediately stirring the desire to cut the most appalling dad shapes. The funk sound of Mood Is Improving is followed by I'll Be In Touch, with the ridiculous lyrics which are a staple of this most brilliant band. “I hate you … but I'll be in touch”. Ridiculous stuff. Lottery Reptiles is old school Six, quick moving and engaging, whilst more of the crazy dance moves are required for Dance With Dark Forces and the new wave synth drenched (Be My) Skin Caboose. Infectious is synonymous with Electric Six and I fail to understand how you cannot be truly under the spell of them after one song. I Got The Box and the B-52’s sounding Lee Did This To Me keep the momentum fired as the album moves to the fine conclusion of The Lover’s Pie and the insanity of Space Walkin’. Yet another eclectic release from one of the world's most original and enjoyable bands. Always worth it. 9/10

Mobius: The Line (Self Released)

Lyon based five piece Mobius have pulled together a real fusion of influences on their debut release The Line. Whilst Djent bass lines and time changes is the dominant sound, there is a huge nod to Opeth, Dream Theater and Symphony X as well as the world of jazz and the progressiveness of Porcupine Tree. The female vocals of Heli add an interesting symphonic metal feel ala Epica. At 54 minutes and only eight tracks The Line consists several lengthy tracks which feature some amazing talent. The percussion of Adrien combines with Julien’s driving bass lines and some searing guitar work from Anton. The keyboards of Guillanme work well to add depth and layers to the band’s sound. An interesting debut which demands extended listening to appreciate the complexity and energy that flows from opener Cosmopolis to the final, epic Mist Of Illusion. 8/10

Be The Wolf: Rouge (Scarlet Records)

The immediate comparison when listening to Rouge was that of The UK’s Brother and Bones. However, on further listens it moved away from the B&B sound and more towards the poppier end of the rock world. A lightweight rock edge, very clean boy band type vocals and some pretty accessible songs, the Turin outfit’s release crosses many genres. I've got to admit that it is pretty generic but very polished and accomplished with some neat hooks and oodles of melody, heart and soul. Federico Mondelli is the driving force behind the band, vocals and guitars all sit with him whilst the rhythm is supplied by bassist Marco Verdone and drummer Paul Canetti. If you fancy something a little more indie edged than the stuff we usually review then give Be The Wolf a try. 7/10

Reviews: Amaranthe, The Black Moods, Suicide By Tigers

Amaranthe: Maximalism (Spinefarm)

Amaranthe are concerning themselves with premium quality poppy electro metal with one ear to the mainstream, they have the guts of a metal band and rippling synths that wouldn't sound out of place in Ibiza, on Fireball the synths are at their thumping best. This record has all of the musical touches that have been part of Amaranthe's style since their debut. They dabble a bit on the record too however as That Song has a touch of Halestorm to it and would sound perfect at a major sports event, while 21 is an ode to luck and gambling that is harder edged and powered by the guitar of Olof killer solos.

The electronica elements are still heavily prevalent with the drums bass and keys all being the main driving force behind the pumping music as Olofs guitar cuts in with heavy riffs and serious solo chops. Again the vocal interplay is impressive with Elize showing a wider range to her vocals putting a bit of grit into On The Rocks. With the Jake E Lundberg and Henrik Englund Wilhemsson supplying clean and harsh vocals, they are the ideal counterpoints and companions to the main vocals of Elize. Her voice is still the stand out though she can out sing most of the pop strumpets doing the rounds at the moment providing the melodic power to the faster tracks but also handling a slower songs such as Limitless with a grace that is only shared by a few vocalists around.

Endlessly is her magnum opus, it has the huge musical backing and sees Elize moving into diva levels of pomp with a simply stunning performance. Amaranthe are now four albums into their career and they have carved out a niche as the premier purveyors and some would say originators of their sound. It's another album that will see Amaranthe gain more fans, play bigger arenas and ultimately cement themselves as a headliner of the future. 8/10

The Black Moods: Medicine (Another Century)

With that name and the album title you'd be forgiven for thinking The Black Moods were the kind of fringe wearing emo band parodied so brilliantly by Evil Scarecrow on their song Blacken The Everything. However on this assumption you would be wrong, The Black Moods are hard rock band from Tempe Arizona, fronted by singer/guitarist Josh Kennedy who is a born rockstar, with his leonine Plant-like hair, he supplies the swaggering guitar riffs with the loucheness of Keith Richards and compliments it with his whiskey soaked vocal, backed by Chico Diaz on drums and rounded out by Johannes Lars on the bass the trio play a mature type of alternative rock that puts them in the same category as Muse, CandleBox, Chevelle but with the pop sensibilities of The Killers and even our own Ash.

Think The Foo Fighters with a classic rock ethos and you'll get The Black Moods' sound, they go to arena rock on How Long driven by jangly power chords, add an indie sensibility to Paralysed, but they are at their best on the driving hard rockers such as Someone Save Us and the thumping Right Now Anywhere. The trio bind together as one and this record moves away from the crafted multi tracked albums that seem to flood rock at the moment stripping things back to their basic state of just instruments and vocals. Medicine is a tough, direct and punchy debut that is a promising start for the Arizona rockers. Keep an eye out for the band as they have lot of promise. 7/10

Suicide By Tigers: S/T (Self Released)

Despite sounding like what could be a very nasty way to end it all, Suicide By Tigers are a Swedish hard rock n roll band. Being from Sweden this means that they are very retro, expansive drumming from Johan Helgesson kicks off Death On Your Tail as frontman Nils Lindström croons with a soulful vocal comparable to Glen Hughes but with a lower register. Helgesson's drumming is exquisite throughout and the main draw for this record especially his fills on Vicious Malicious. SBT take from the late 60's blues and soul backed rock that Rival Sons have helped bring back into the public consciousness, the production helps the record no end it makes the walking bass of Peter Broch sound warm and inviting, defines the drums from the percussion on Beautiful Nights and it also means that Petter Rudnert's guitar has a crisp tone to it when it cuts in for his firework displays.

As I've said SBT have that late 60's early 70's vibe that can be heard on the Black Country Communion records with Pack Of Wolves being one of the picks of the record with its groovy riff and numerous razor sharp guitar solos. This self released, self titled album is a cracking record that sounds like it should be on a much bigger label than it is, soulful, bluesy, brimming with cocksure confidence and oozing with coolness these cats definitely have claws. 8/10  

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Reviews: Blackberry Smoke, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Testament (Reviews By Paul)

Blackberry Smoke: Like An Arrow (Earache)

With a swagger born of the confidence of a band at the peak of their game, the Atlanta outfit hit the target once again. If 2015’s Holding All The Roses hit the country road, then the latest release sees the ‘Smoke well and truly into the journey and hitting all the right notes. Twelve songs, balanced and well-paced, vary in style from the Wild West bar sound of What Comes Naturally, the Country soaked Ain’t Gonna Wait through to the rockier tracks Waiting For The Thunder and the title track, this is a band who continue to do the simple things with such class and skill that they make everything look effortless.

The velvet harmonies are superb, enhancing the clever song writing whilst the Georgian drawl of Charlie Starr just draws you in. Despite the apparent simplicity, the musicianship of the band is once again first class. The Skynyrd flavoured Workin For A Workin Man has hooks galore, the reassuring Hammond keys of Brandon Still and the double edged guitar work of Starr and Paul Jackson. Hell, there’s even a funked up tune in Believe You Me that Stevie Wonder would be proud of. With their fifth release, Blackberry Smoke have once again staked their credentials as one of the premier Southern County rock outfits of modern times. The UK tour in April can’t come quick enough. Yeeeehaww!! 9/10

Joanne Shaw Taylor: Wild (Axehouse Music)

Wild is the fifth studio album from blues singer and guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor and it’s a fine release. Soaked with her now trademark smokey vocals and dripping with some of the best guitar work you will hear this year, Wild opens with the by now familiar Dyin' To Know, continues with the stomping Ready To Roll which has some lovely backing vocals from Mahalia Barnes (Jimmy Barnes' Daughter - Blues Ed), Juanita Tippins and Jade MacRae and doesn’t stop from there on in. Such is the quality and warmth of JST’s playing, you feel like these are old friends you are welcoming back into your house rather than new visitors. There are a couple of fine covers on this release too. First up is Wild Is The Wind, written by Dimitri Timokin and Ned Washington for the 1957 film of the same name and performed over the years by a multitude of artists as diverse as Nina Simone, Johnny Mathis, George Michael and probably most recognisably by David Bowie. JST treats this fantastic tune with a great amount of respect and adds another quality version to the catalogue.

The other cover is slightly more well known. Summertime, originally written by George Gershwin and DuBose Heywood for the opera Porgy and Bess in 1934 has, according to Wikipedia, been recorded over 25,000 times so take your pick of your favourite version. All I can say is that this version sits comfortably amongst all the other tracks on this album and JST’s guitar playing adds personality and individuality to one of the most recognisable songs of all time. Perfect to relax to with some beautiful piano playing enhancing the guitar work. With superb production from the renowned Kevin Shirley and supported by a plethora of excellent musicians, this is one of the releases of the year. It’s worth shelling out the extra Welsh pound or two for the deluxe version which has two additional tracks, both real quality with the final track, the rocking Your Own Little Hell bringing a superb album to a close. 10/10

Testament: Brotherhood Of The Snake (Nuclear Blast)

It’s been four years since the Bay Area thrash monsters Testament hit us with possibly the best album of their long career, Dark Roots Of The Earth, which was a mighty slab of anthemic and memorable thrash metal at its best. Four years. Since then, the band have toured relentlessly, albeit sporadically in the UK with a full tour substituted by smatterings of shows far away from our stomping grounds.

Brotherhood Of The Snake is the band’s 11th studio release, and the first to feature returning bassist Steve DiGiorgio since 2001’s First Strike Is Deadly. Musically it is tighter than my mother-in-law on holiday. The drumming of the legendary Gene Hoglan is astonishing, whilst the twin guitars of Alex Scolnick and Eric Peterson is razor sharp. Up front, Chuck Billy is as robust as ever, full of snarling aggression and power with as much energy as those early days in the 1980s when anthems such as Into The Pit and Over The Wall were pretty much glued to the turntable. And I suppose therein lies my only problem with what is a competently excellent album. The songs lack that little bit of pizazz which grabs you by the bollocks and slams you into the wall and leaves you demanding more.

The title track is a stomping opening to the album and The Pale King is memorable but after that it pales into a bit too much of the same. Breakneck speed drumming, riffs and solos galore but just a little repetitive. Seven Seals adds a little variety on an album lyrically inspired by ancient astronaut hypothesis and Ancient Alien TV programmes and Neptune’s Spear is classic Testament. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad album by any stretch of the imagination and Andy Sneap’s mixing combined with Juan Urteaga’s production make it a high-quality listen. You just get to the end and think, what did I just listen to. Maybe the bar was just set incredibly high with Dark Roots. Still a thoroughly enjoyable release. Just not the smack in the face you might have expected. 7/10

Tuesday 25 October 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: GUN

GUN - Thekla Bristol

As Paul and the younger Hutchings males were in London with the emotive tones of Katatonia, Mrs H, Dan, Nicola and myself headed to our second home Bristol, to catch the Scottish rockers on the boat. I last saw the band at Camden Rocks and they blew my socks off with how tight and actually how heavy they were live. So I was excited to see whether they could replicate that performance in a smaller more local venue and also it was a great way for them to show those undecided that they were a great addition to the Black Star Riders tour next year.

As we entered the venue, after the first pint of the night of course, we were in time to catch SKAM (7) who I have seen before at Hard Rock Hell, however here they did make more than a fleeting mark, with a muscular brand of power trio hard rock that saw them flying through songs from both of their albums. They have a knack of mixing big riffs with sing-along choruses (much like the headliners) and by the time they were near the end of their set they had drawn quite a reasonable crowd all of whom were clapping along and heartily sang the opening parts of War Pigs when the band dived into a snippet from it in their final song. The almost relentless touring of this band is to their advantage as they are a formidable live force and seemed to be loving their time on stage, even if guitarist Steve's guitar did go out of tune, but as group of consummate professionals bassist Matt Gilmore and drummer Neal Hill treated us to a jazz odyssey as Steve tuned. A firebrand start to the night and one that set everyone up for the main event.  

As the room filled out, however there were not as many I would have liked to see on a Friday night, the banner on the back of the stage was exposed and as the PA closed out the band took to the stage in their new 5-man version, this tour has seen them reunite with original guitarist Alex Dickson who was in the band during the Gallus era. This addition made GUN (9) a much louder prospect than before, as Dickson and founding member Jools Gizzi traded licks and riffs right from the opener of Let It Shine, behind them the rhythm section of Paul McManus (drums) and Andy Carr (bass) drove the hard rock groove, most effectively on Word Up! which came second in the set to many people's surprise. Still we all sang along and shook our hips as frontman (and original bassist) Dante Gizzi crooned with his tough vocals.

There wasn't a break as the tempo was kept high during Don't Say It's OverBetter Days, which still has a cracking guitar sound to it, even after all these years and Hold Your Head Up. Most of the set was drawn from their debut record Taking On The World with the title track sitting mid set as huge crowd participation piece and the nearest thing they get to a ballad. Live GUN have a toughness that has never really translated on their records (except maybe their latest Frantic, off which three songs were featured). Dante was a genial host keeping the stage banter to a minimum, which was a benefit as many couldn't hear his broad Scottish accent, he just belted out the songs as the rest of the band rocked hard Jools and Alex sharing out the solos.

Alex taking most of the songs from the Gallus era, including the impressive Welcome To The Real World (sing along alert), my favourite track Steal Your Fire and Freedom which kicked off the encore, that was rounded out by Shame On You and Fight For Your Right To Party. A groovy, raucous show packed with should-have-been-classics GUN provide a quality hard rock show, personally I hope Alex sticks around until at least the BSR tour as GUN's sound deserves the dual guitar sound witnessed hear. If you're going to the shows next year go early as GUN will be throwing down a serious gauntlet to pick up. 

Monday 24 October 2016

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

Katatonia: Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

In the melancholy hall of fame, few would argue that Swedes Katatonia occupy a slot in the top five. Along with bands like Paradise Lost and Anathema, the band have navigated the choppy waters of doom death metal and moved their sound toward a progressive more cultured approach which has rightly earns them many plaudits. Their last two studio albums, Dead End Kings and this year's The Fall Of Hearts cemented that reputation, but it was the chance to hear 2006’s splendid The Great Cold Distance in full at the lovely Empire in Shepherds Bush which persuaded me and the three lads to head to the Smoke.

Unfortunately we missed all but the final song of opening band Vola, an Icelandic progressive outfit who received a warm reception from the well populated venue. Fellow countrymen Agent Fresco’s (5) brand of pop fused progressive “math rock” merely confused the hell out of me. Although they too got a solid response from the audience, their schizophrenic tunes bounced off me like rain off a duck and I struggled to understand what they were all about.

No such problems with the main event. The first hour of Katatonia’s (9) two and a half hour performance consisted of The Great Cold Distance in full. An album full of contrasts, crushingly heavy, delicately light and full of top tunes. Played in order, the band arrived on stage in unassuming style, crashing into Leaders and closing with Through The Landscape. Minimum chatter from frontman Jonas Renkse who was on fine form, his voice delivering the melancholic darkness so long associated with the band. Flanking the stage on either side, guitarists Anders Nystrom and new boy Roger Ojersson wasted no time in reminding us that, despite their lighter sound on record, live Katatonia are brutally metal. Riff after riff cascading down from the stage. Drummer Daniel Moilanen looked as if he'd been behind the kit since 2006 and not 2015, blistering bass drumming combining perfectly with bassist Nicklas Sandin. Particular highlights of this first set included the magnificent My Twin, Rusted and July, a real treat tucked away at the end of the album.

After a break we were treated to a second half that contained just about everything you could want. Tracks from the entire back catalogue, Serin from the latest release, the breathtaking Dead Letters from Dead End Kings sat alongside older tracks such as Evidence, Forsaker and the set closing treat of Gateway To Bereavement, a flash back to the debut album Dance Of December Souls. Breathtakingly heavy although Renkse is no longer as comfortable with the death growls as he was way back in 1993. The band were on fire during the whole evening and whilst they are not always the most captivating to watch, their sound draws in the enthralled audience, clearly demonstrating why the band, after 25 years in the industry continue to get better at every show. The obligatory group photo signalled the end of the show and the crowd began to drift reluctantly to the exit. However, the hardcore on the floor had other ideas and a persistent chant of “one more song” was rewarded as the band returned to whip through a magical Ghost Of The Sun. A fitting end to a quite fantastic evening.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Reviews: Anaal Nathrakh, Mono, Crusado Orchestra (Reviews By Rich)

Anaal Nathrakh: The Whole Of The Law (Metal Blade)

Take a deep breath before hitting the play button on this album as you are about to have the wind knocked out of you. Birmingham's purveyors of absolutely terrifying noise have returned with new album The Whole Of The Law and oh boy they are sounding rather angry. At the heart of The Whole Of The Law is Anaal Nathrakh's core sound which is a hybrid of black metal, grindcore and industrial but this album adds a few twists and turns to their sound. This album is a very angry beast spewing hate and vitriol in every direction through a frenzy of razor sharp guitars, insane blastbeats and jarring industrial sounds and electronic noise ably accompanied by the deranged screams of frontman Dave Hunt. T

he cleanly sung choruses have been a staple part of Anaal Nathrakh's sound for many years now but they are taken to a new level here with Dave Hunt showcasing an impressively dynamic range especially on Extravaganza! where he pulls off King Diamond like falsettos. After 2014's slightly disappointing Desideratum it's great to hear Anaal Nathrakh firing on all cylinders once again. Songs such as Hold Your Children Close And Pray For Oblivion, ...So We Can Die Happy and On Being A Slave are absolute fury incarnate and the album as a whole does not have a weak moment. It barely lets up from start to finish. This is the most intense and driven Anaal Nathrakh have sounded for years and this is definitely one of the best albums they have put out. 9/10

Mono: Requiem For Hell (Temporary Resistance Limited)

Post-rock is one of those genres which has been taken as far as it can go which unfortunately means that it's very difficult for a band these days to produce an album which shines new light on the genre or provides many surprises. Whilst lacking in originality Japanese four piece Mono have produced in Requiem For Hell an album which showcases the best features of a genre that has reached saturation point. This is the band's ninth album and contains five songs which cover a duration of 47 minutes which means that the album doesn't overstay its welcome.

 Highlights include the somber Ely's Heartbeat, the epic 18 minute title track which contains the album's heaviest moments and opener Death In Rebirth which builds up layers and layers of atmospheric guitars culminating in a heavy, noisy and dramatic crescendo at the song's conclusion. The flow of the album is a little uneven and there are some moments which are rather forgettable such as closing song The Last Scene but Mono have released another enjoyable and atmospheric album of post-rock which will please fans of the band and the genre. 7/10

Crusado Orchestra: Sjunde (Self Released)

Sjunde is a debut release by Crusado Orchestra who hail from China. China isn't a country well known for its metal scene (not from my perspective anyway) so I headed into this album with a high level of interest. Crusado Orchestra play symphonic black metal being slightly reminiscent of bands such as Dimmu Borgir and the recent releases by Cradle Of Filth though with a far greater emphasis on the symphonic part of the sound. The album comprises of eight songs split into three acts. The first act is more of an introduction than anything with neither of the three songs really going anywhere.

Things improve with the second act especially with the song Diabolus Melancholia with the very epic and grandiose orchestral parts mixing with brutal black and death metal parts and also some more atmospheric parts towards the end. The momentum increases further for the third act which contains the album's highlight - the almost 12 minute epic Pallida Morte Futura. This is a good attempt for a debut album but unfortunately a lot of the album is uninteresting and simply goes nowhere. Where it is good though it is very good indeed. 6/10

Friday 21 October 2016

Reviews: Nightstalker, The Silent Rage, Ink

So in what's becoming a bit of theme yet another three bands from Greece, including Greek legends Nightstalker.

Nightstalker: As Above, So Below (Oak Island)

Nightstalker are a band that have a massive following their native country but are something of a non entity outside of Hellenic. They have always been refereed to as a stoner rock band, a tag rejected by the band as they consider themselves to be a 70's style hard rock band. While this is true they can be seen as pioneering the stoner rock scene in Greece, with their walls of riffs, groove-laden rhythms and psych elements, there are literally hundreds of bands in Greece that owe their sound to Nightstalker's early records.

The band have been around since the early 1990's and have been releasing albums periodically between the touring. As Above, So Below is the band's fifth full length album and it continues with the sound they have favoured since after their third release Superfreak this saw them expand their resume from distorted Sabbath-like riffs into the more ethereal spacey trippyness of acts such as Monster Magnet et al while also being able to knuckle down to the proto-metal attack of Motorhead. The directness of Naked Fire brings you into the experience as frontman Argy hollers over sounding like Ozzy and Wyndorf at full pelt, Space Matter takes in the sights and sounds of Hawkwind with an echoing crunch and a phasing middle section and the grinding My Electric Head is guaranteed to give you a bad trip.

Zombie Hour would sound perfect nestled into an Orange Goblin record as Tolis adds the clean leads over the groggy rhythms of Andreas' bass and the drums which depending on what info you have are either Dinos of Argy himself. As Above, So Below is the ideal continuation of Dead Rock Commandos which saw Nightstalker gain fans outside Greece, the mind bending harmonics loom large on The Dog That No-One Wanted and the creeping We Belong To The Dead, while for a band that don't want to be called stoner rock having a song called Forever Stoned is not doing yourself any favours especially when it is the soundtrack to a freak out.

Nightstalker have done it again, their cult status has made them one of the most revered Greek bands, full of Sabbath-groove, Kyuss-sparseness and the mind-bending weirdness Nightstalker demand your attention if you think you know anything about stoner rock (συγνώμη παιδιά). 9/10

The Silent Rage: The Deadliest Scourge (Alone Records)

The Silent Rage (previously Silent Rage) are a power metal band from Korydallos and after a demo and two EP's The Deadliest Scourge is their debut effort and it's taken 10 years to make. Well that wait has been very much worth it. Signal Of War is a great traditional power metal intro song with Greek instruments augmenting the solitary keys tension and excitement is build and as it fades My Race Won't Last explodes like a cannon and pairs thrash-like riffage with, rumbling drums and galloping bass. This is chest beating power metal that sits on the heavier end relying on the dual guitar riffs over heavy use of keys, there are even harsh backing vocals that battle with the cleans for extra aggressive effect.

The songs but they are at their most effective on the title track. The rhythm section of Steve T and Stamatis are the backbone of the speedy Stormwarrior with Stamatis' drumming particularly fearsome, Nikos riffs like a bastard (and screams like one too) while Kostas shreds at every opportunity. Rounding out the band is vocalist Steve V who has a booming mid range not to dissimilar to an amalgamation of Matt Barlow and Joakim Broden, it's a powerful delivery and on tracks such as Between Harmony & Sorrow it's at it's best, he also is more than capable of sparring with Spiritual Beggars Apollo on Sin Of A Pilgrim.

Apollo is one of two guests on this record with ex-Orphaned Land man Yossi Sassi being the other, supplying Oud on the acoustically laced Shadow Spirit. The record is excellently recorded, mixed and mastered by Fotis Bernardo singer of one of my favourite Greek acts SixForNine and he makes this record sound huge. The Silent Rage are a very heavy metal band sitting comfortably in the same bracket of Iced Earth, Sabaton and fellow Greeks Mystic Prophecy, if you like your power metal with a bit of guts then this rage is far from silent. 8/10

Ink: Loom (Self Released)

Alternative metal Ink identify with bands such as Alice In Chains, Tool and Canadian act The Tea Party and with these influences you'd expect the band to mix cutting, sharp alt metal with heavy dose of psych and that's exactly what you get. At times it's aggressive, at others oppressive and every song is filled with paeans to humanity and emotion and takes itself pretty seriously. Opening with Desert Son which brings the mystical elements of The Cult while Sell Me is a chunkier sounding track that has echoes of Tool. Vocally Chris Tsantalis sounds an awful lot like The Tea Party's Jeff Martin with a rich baritone giving the songs added depth, take a track like Little Story which strips things back and lets Chris' vocals take the lead. Backing Chris are Kostas Apostolopoulos on guitar whose riffs are ever present.

It's nothing fussy but they move from melodic on the frankly excellent Persephone to the insistent on Legend all while providing some crushing distorted sounds on the tracks with the dynamic range favoured by the Seattle sound. Persephone has more than a nod to Depeche Mode especially due to the almost industrial rhythms of Dra (bass) and Chris' brother Stavros, their boiler room is burning on all cylinders throughout the record even on the slower more deliberate songs like Days Of Storm. Loom and even on Sirens which takes the Alice In Chains route of pairing heavy riffs with acoustic guitars in glorious layers.

Ink are a revelation taking on what is quite a North American sound and pulling it off very well. If you love any of the bands mentioned previously you will love Loom it's a throwback to the early/mid 90's style and as it climaxes with the stunning Ophelia it's a trip into the dark-side of the human psyche that you won't want to come back from in a hurry. 8/10           

Thursday 20 October 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Joanne Shaw Taylor (Live Review By Paul)

Joanne Shaw Taylor, The Globe, Cardiff

She’s a bit of a blues phenomenon, has released six albums, gigged with BB King and Joe Bonamassa and is just about 30 years of age. Yes, Joanne Shaw Taylor is a bit special. Her latest tour, for a girl who gigs as hard as she rocks, took in The Globe, probably for the last time as she is surely destined for much larger venues in the future.

Promoting her new release, the excellent Wild, JST hit the stage shortly before 9pm to a rapturous reception. Such is her burgeoning reputation, this gig sold out several weeks in advance of the actual date. The audience was as you’d expect but totally absorbed in the talent of JST and her fabulous backing band who included Oliver Perry on drums and the amazing Luigi Casanova on bass and giant hair stack. Of course, focus was always on JST, her blond locks flowing as she threw her head back and laid down a 14 song set which proved superb entertainment. From the opening Dyin' To Know, to the closing Going Home, this was a brilliantly paced set which kept attention at all times. Five tracks from the new release were strategically placed at the start and finish of the set, with the cover of Wild Is The Wind, known for the Bowie cover but originally recorded by Johnny Mathis particularly impressive.

You’d expect that solos would be in plentiful supply at a gig of this nature, and there were occasions when JST’s dexterity up and down the fretboard was just amazing to observe. However, what is so captivating about JST is the humble simplicity of her songs which are soaked with soul and emotion, whilst retaining a raw edge that provides the necessary grit.  Her interaction with the fully appreciative audience was simple and genuine, the crowd responding with huge cheers and applause. Looking around the venue as the crowd streamed out, wide smiles and contented looks were everywhere. No greater endorsement of one of the best young talents in the rock world today. Stunning songs, great musicianship and a level of modesty which makes her appeal even more. This was my first JST experience in the live arena. It won’t be my last. 9/10

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Reviews: Kansas, Charred Walls Of The Damned, Plagueship (Reviews By Stief)

Kansas: The Prelude Implicit (Inside Out Music)

The first album in 16 years, it's a pleasant surprise to see Kansas recording again with new lead vocalist Ronnie Platt taking centre stage whilst doubling up on keyboards. Platt has a great set of pipes, and settles right in with the band's sound, which remains as strong as ever. Kansas seem to have veered more towards a more mellow sound with songs such as Refugee and Southern blues tinged The Unsung Heroes making up most of the album's sound. It's not a bad thing to be honest, and the band still have a few songs with that classic rock feel, in Summer and Rhythm In The Spirit. David Ragsdale's Violin soars through many of the songs, sometimes taking front stage such as in the opening of the aforementioned Summer, a song with that classic Kansas sound many know and love, breaking into a delicious solo halfway through. This is all backed up by Kansas Veterans Phil Ehart and Rich WIlliams on drums and guitar respectively, Billy Greer on bass, newcomer Zak Rizvi's rhythm guitar and David Manion backing up Platt on keyboards, with the majority of the band backing up the vocals. Chances are, if you're a fan of Kansas, you're already a fan of the album, and even if you aren't, if you like your classic rock, this is an excellent shout. 9/10

Charred Walls Of The Damned: Creatures Watching Over The Damned (Metal Blade)

The brainchild of Ex-Iced Earth Drummer Richard Christy, and featuring the vocal talents of Tim "Ripper" Owens, the basswork of Testament's Steve DiGiorgio, and Jason Suecof of Capharnum on guitars, Charred Walls Of The Damned is a brilliant slice of heavy metal supergroup goodness. Ripper Owen's career has seen him fronting Priest and Iced Earth, and his vocal style is well known throughout the metal world. With Charred Walls... it works excellently alongside the brilliant drumming of Christy and Suecof's riffage, DiGiorgio's bass giving every song a meaty foundation on which the band layer their respective sounds. Musically, Charred Walls... seems to takes the best parts of each member's past work with their respective bands and squeezes it into an excellent sound with definite Power metal influences being heard in songs like Lies and Living In The Shadow Of Yesterday. My one criticism of the album is that many of the songs seem a bit too short, and just as you're getting into them, they fade out, or in some circumstances, just end abruptly. This can especially be seen in Lies, where towards the end of the song, Suecof pours out an excellent solo only to finish as it reaches its crescendo. That minor problem aside, the album is an excellent listen. 8/10

Plagueship : Shrykull (Unsigned)

The debut album from the Leeds based Plagueship, it mixes excellent vocal work with tight, progressive guitar work, groove laden bass with death metal guitars. Madness, Escaping is a brilliant example of the technical work the band can do, with great chugging bass from Adam Parkin and soaring riffs from guitarists Alexis Giovoglanian and John Richardson working with the blastbeats of Stephen Wilkinson. Other songs on the album showcase the vocal talents of Jonny Byrne, whose growls are vicious and sinister and sit comfortably on the fence between the guttural sounds of Amon Amarth and the screeches of Cradle Of Filth. An excellent album, and definitely a band to keep an eye on. 9/10

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Reviews: Eden's Curse, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Crystal Breed

Eden's Curse: Cardinal (AFM)

Cardinal is the second record that UK/European melodic metal band Eden's Curse has released since the departure of co-founding frontman Michael Eden. The ship is still steered co-founding members bassist Paul Logue and guitarist Thorsten Kohne, they are still the main creative force behind this band meaning that Eden's Curse still maintain their high gloss metal sound, as well as the penchant for religious and historical imagery in their lyrics and the obligatory beautiful women on the album covers. Eden's replacement Nikola Mijić displayed his skills first on previous record Symphony Of Sin and proved he could handle and even surpass Eden's vocals on the older tracks on their live release Live With The Curse. Once again here he wipes away any naysayers by demonstrating his strong, powerful, Tobias Sammet-esque vocal throughout.

Logue and drummer John Clelland lock in for galloping power metal on Messiah Complex and the pounding, swaggering hard rock The Great Pretender they switch between the two with ease even packing a punch on the slower more emotive songs such as Find My Way and Unconditional (which also features former Leaves Eyes singer Liv Kristine), the band even tackle some funkier influenced rock on Kingdom Of Solitude. Kohne's guitar playing is exhibited across every song riffing like hell and soloing with precision, technique and passion he also duels with the killer keys of Christian "Chrism" Pulkkinen who takes over from Power Quest's Steve Williams who intern took over from Alessandro Del Vecchio (probably because he's in every other band ever). His classy keys are all over the record bolstering the rockers like Prophets Of Doom and giving the AOR touches to Sell Your Soul. Cardinal retains the high level of musical ability and classy songwriting they have always done so well. It's melodic metal at it's finest! 9/10

Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell: Keep It Greasy (Rise Above)

In what is now the post Lemmy era it's always very exciting to hear another band that plays sleazy, gritty hard rock unmoved by popularity and fashion. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell are neck deep in the tradition of the spit and sawdust blues based rocking popularised by early Lizzy, The Groundhogs, Stray and Budgie, it's buzz saw proto-metal at it's rawest. Everything about the band gives a defiantly refreshing, couldn't give a shit attitude, the facial hair, the clothes and lyrical content are all decidedly retro. This is music made in dingy pubs and grotty cafes over a plate of bacon, eggs and spam (topped with extra spam) and my does it sound like it, the analogue production adds an air of authenticity to the fuzzy rocking.

The bands third record doesn't stray too far from those first two with the trio of Bill Darlington on drums, Louis Comfort Wiggett on bass and Johnny Gorilla on guitar and shouting they all attack their instruments with gusto. It's plug in turn up and rock out conjuring the images of long haired oiks in skinny bell bottoms banging their heads while swigging a bottle of Newcastle Brown. Like the famous wood stain this record does exactly what it says on the tin and keeps it greasy from the opening chords dropping in punk, psych, doom and early metal sound. ASCS keep cranking out sweaty riffs played at full volume, long may it continue!! 8/10

Crystal Breed: Barriers (Keymedia)

German heavy prog rockers Crystal Breed's debut record The Place Unknown was somewhat of a revelation, fusing the classic prog sounds with a heavier sound they took cues from acts such as Porcupine Tree, Enchant and Spock's Beard. Their debut was released in 2012 so it's taken four years for this second record to see the light of day, so has that wait been worth it? Well yes it has they pick up where they left off with intelligent, intensely progressive music that skews genres and relies heavily on impressive musicianship. Brain Train starts the album off an a particularly mad note with changing time signatures a bass heavy groove from Nico and vocal harmonies Neal Morse has always done well.

The band have two vocalists shared between guitarist Niklas and keyboardist Corvin and they are also the two members that power most of the songs trading off with their skill at every moment, while Thorsten keeps the tubs thumping and driving songs such as the complicated Barrier Of Ignorance which is the album's longest song and draws from rock, classical, Latin and various other genres in the keyboard heavy middle section that Yes would be proud to call their own. Barriers is another complex album from this German progressive rock band, the songs are long and intricate meaning that it's one for prog fans only. 7/10  

Monday 17 October 2016

Reviews: Cry Of Dawn, Blind Ego, Exist Immortal

Cry Of Dawn Feat Goran Edman: Cry Of Dawn (Frontiers)

Goran Edman has a pretty good case for being THE voice of AOR, especially in the Scandinavian realm. Cry Of Dawn is his current project and features Michael Palace (who's own debut record was reviewed recently) handling guitars and bass, Sören Kronqvist on keys and Daniel Flores (Mind's Eye, Murder Of My Sweet) tackling the skins and twiddling the knobs allowing everything to get the shine it needed.

Goran Edman's vocals are as usual spot on clear, soulful and he has a supreme range scaling the highs and crooning with attitude on songs like Tell It To My Heart. Palace's talents lay with his guitar playing clearly as he is the ideal foil for Edman's vocal prowess cutting into the layers of keys with virtuostic solos that Steven Lynch (Autograph) would have plied his trade with. Cry Of Dawn is yet another feather in the cap of one of AORs premier performers and reinforces why Scandinavia is the best breeding ground for it. 7/10

Blind Ego: Liquid (Gentle Art Of Music)

Solo album from the RPWL guitarist Kalle Wallner, bringing the same kind of progressive bluster that he brings in his day job. As you'd expect it's very guitar heavy and perfect for six string nerds but it is also full of great songwriting even the instrumental Quiet Anger is an interesting song that keeps the attention. This record has a fluid nature drawing from various influences similar to Roger Waters/Steven Wilson guitarist Dave Kilminster's solo output. Just listen to the first two tracks A Place In The Sun and Blackened and you will get an ideas of the duality of this record A Place... is a driving prog rocker with intense double tapped guitar solo, whereas Blackened is an acoustically laced more emotive track.

It seems almost perfunctory to talk about the guitars on this record but they are amazing, displaying that when Wallner is away from the German Pink Floyd mothership of RPWL he confirms how versatile a player he is. Wallner has assembled a great group of musicians too taking his pick from three different bassists and vocalists while the only constant are the drums of Micheal Schwager formerly of Dreamscape. The album marries the sounds of his two previous records melding glistening melodic melancholy with thumping hard rock. Kalle Wallner's third solo record is yet another impressive slice of experimental yet engaging rock music. 8/10

Exist Immortal: Breathe (Primordial Records)

Heaviness at it's fullest is the order of the day from the London five piece Exist Immortal, stomping palm muted riffs teamed with clean, melodic guitar lines. Think bands such as Fallujah and you'd be in the right playing field. The drums and bass power the heavy grooves, with the drumming especially impressive on Invisible Lines which also highlights Exist Immortal's use of clean and harsh vocals that are a major part of the current metal scene.

This can be considered to be djent but it has a wider remit too, still the crunchy, mechanical groove laden riffs work well with the much cleaner guitar playing that soars along with the excellent clean vocals and they spread their wings a little on Follow Alone which stands out as one of the best on the record. It's not rocket science but it works well, there's enough guts to bang your head too, lashings of technicality but also actual songwriting which is where a lot of the more djenty acts fall down. Breathe should be the opening into the wider consciousness Exist Immortal need to drag them out of the underground, ready to beat down anyone that listens. 7/10

Sunday 16 October 2016

Reviews: Hardline, As Lions, Hieroglyph

Hardline: Human Nature (Frontiers)

Hardline have always had a hard time (rhyming is cool - Poetry Ed) trying to follow in the footsteps of their monumental debut record Double Eclipse. All of their records since them have struggled to live up to it and has seen them shed their hard rock edge faster than they shed members. Frontman Johnny Gioeli is the only original member remaining from that period but along with producer/writer/keyboardist/guitarist extraordinaire Alessandro Del Vecchio he has put together another set of musicians and once again returned with another iteration of what is really Gioeli's band. Unlike previous elements however Human Nature is the closest thing they have made to the debut, the opening two tracks (Where Will We Go From Here and Nobody's Fool) have hard rock stomp to them as Gioeli's vocals soar over the excellent guitars of Josh Ramos.

He can shred like a maniac but also is perfect on the slower ballads such as Human Nature where he just adds an explosive solo to the orchestral piece, Del Vecchio at his saccharine best. On Double Nature Johnny's brother and Neal Schon (of Journey) handled the guitars and Ramos does a fine job here playing a style that is familiar but not repetitive. The rest of the band too are excellent bassist Anna Portalupi and drummer Francesco Jovino both provide a sturdy rocking backbone to the propulsive Running On Empty to the groovy numbers such as bluesy Trapped In Muddy Waters. This is the band's classic sound updated for the modern day, it focusses on rockers rather than ballads with Gioeli giving a tremendous performance, it's a grittier harder edged sound reinforced by Del Vecchio's always perfect production. For those that still long for that Rhythm From A Red Car Hardline's new record Human Nature will be a blast from the past brought into modern day. 8/10

As Lions: Aftermath (Better Noise)

As Lions are the new band from Austin Dickinson and one that shows a different style to his previous band Rise To Remain. It's a far more melodic effort displaying a much more mature sound than before. The guitars and drums are joined by electronic touches which lends an emotive note to the title track. It's actually heartening to here Dickinson use his clean delivery and move away from the metal core screaming he started with, that train pulled out of the station a long time ago, so much like bands such as Bring Me The Horizon, As Lions have added alt-metal elements, with impassioned vocals and driving rock that has thumping electronics infecting it making it highly radio repeatable. Songs like Deathless walk the heavy/accessible tightrope very well and all four songs on this record are well written, played and skillfully produced, step forward David Bendeth (BMTH, Paramore) and Kane Churko (FFDP, Disturbed). On the evidence of this EP As Lions could be a much more superior outfit for Dickinson and co, this band follow their own path on their own terms. I'm personally waiting for the full length with baited breath. 7/10

Hieroglyph: Ouroboros (Self Released)

Leeds/London bruisers Hieroglyph have an excellent sound that yes is in the djent style with down tuned/palm muted riffs, odd rhythms and time signature changes but they add atmospheric synths and electronics to the songs to broaden the sound, they also define themselves as something a bit new and different with the female/male vocal interplay Valentina Soricaro soars while Mark Howes roars so we have a duality to all of the songs with the melodic Soricaro being matched by the lead guitar on opening number Solar (The Fool) it's a great way to open the album with all of the bands elements togetehr in one song, The chunky, techincal Samsara (The Wheel Of Fortune) follows and yet again is driven by Valentina's clean vocals, she can sing very well having a voice not to dissimilar to Christina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil.

Mark's screams too though need to be mentioned as they too are a  key element. Underneath the two vocalists the band are seriously talented the rhythm section of Helen Tytherleigh (bass) and Bradi Nixon (drums) pack a meaty punch with heavyweight riffs the order of the day while guitarists Sam Butterfield and Richard Barnes play intricate guitar riffs that cleanly glide over the thumping rhythms as a juxtaposition Rise And Fall (Strength) and also as a contributing factor. The release is a concept album, based around the story of a rise to consciousness and higher thinking that is encoded into the first 11 Tarot cards, the Major Arcana. Each song corresponds with a different card and takes you on a journey through the story. This is a very good album of modern heavy music that maintains the hallmarks of Djent but adds their own spin to it. 7/10

Saturday 15 October 2016

Reviews: Verbal Delirium, Spellbound, Fliptop Box

I've consolidated albums from three Greek bands here, first is a prog rock band Verbal Delirium, second is melodic death metal band Spellbound and third is the modern alt/rock of Fliptop Box.

Verbal Delirium: The Imprisoned Words Of Fear (Bad Elephant Music)

First up then are Verbal Delirium from Piraeus in Athens, they are a progressive rock band that ply their trade with complex melodies, virtuosic musicianship and nods to the classics of Floyd, Jethro Tull, Van Der Graaf Generator and King Crimson but also more modern acts such as Opeth and Steven Wilson. Words is a piano led haunting opening that sees vocalist Jargon floating above his keys/synths and the piano adding the stabs of emotion underneath.

It is the prelude to Close To You which has the Opeth-like riffs cutting into the pastoral flute of Nikolas Nikolopoulo who also gives s stunning sax performance as the track builds from it's jazz leaning start to the heavier middle section that menaces with crunchy guitars and bass from George 'K' and George 'La Trappe' it's hell of a lot to fit into 6 minutes but they manage to pull it off and make it look easy in the process.

The songs on this record are all very musically dense layering many instruments on top of one another and having the confidence of bands like King Crimson to not be restricted to just one genre. Misleading Path again takes from jazz especially the bass but it also has swirling synths and marries it to the trippy psychedelia of The Beatles especially due to the incredible use of sax once again. Images From A Grey World brings the heavy allowing drummer Stellios 'Primordial' to really blast a bit, this is one for the Dream Theater fans and actually with Jargon's huge organs it could easily appear on Arjen's Ayreon projects with George K soloing like a master.

It's also the last track to be under 10 minutes so strap in folks when you get to this point, as even the sub 10 minute songs are intensely progressive so when The Decayed Reflection (A Verbal Delirium) starts off you expect progressive fireworks and my my  do you get them, taking you through a kaleidoscope of colours and time signature changes relying on the bass and piano which is also contributed by Nikos Terzis, it's an exciting piece in the old school prog tradition.

Fear the record's longest song, kicks off slowly with acoustic guitars and just Jargon's impressive vocal styling along with yet more piano and deft drumming. It's a very relaxed song compared to the rest of the album but after about 6 minutes the guitars kick in and it gets much rockier augmented by an orchestral arrangement, it's a massive piece that may put off some of the less hardcore proggers but stick with it and you will be rewarded it is followed by yet another massive piece in the shape of In Memory which takes a left turn as the album closes by using electronics and samples giving a darker more melancholic tone. The Imprisoned Words Of Fear is a very difficult album in places, it's incredibly progressive and gloriously rewarding after repeated listens. If you like intelligent musically intense prog music then Verbal Delirium rank highly. 9/10      

Spellbound: Among Death's Shadow (Self Released)

Not to be confused with the NINE other Spellbounds that are out there, one of which being from Athens, this Spellbound are from Thessaloniki and play rapid fire melodic black metal that's all about harsh, snarling vocals, machine gun kick drums, speedy keyboard runs and more shredding than a large office Fellows (A type of paper shredder - Admin Ed). Spellbound start as they mean to go on battering your senses with lightning quick guitars and drumming, they slow a bit and stomp for the closing moments of Sleepy Hollow but Hate Embraced speeds everything back up and also has a church organ, which reappeares on the galloping Blood Ain't Last. This is the band's debut record and at times it is a little disjointed as if they are trying to pack a few too many riffs and changes into the songs, the production too is a little sparse but at times it can add to the sound meaning giving you a a Burton-like bass thump but a rather tinny top end. Still it's a promising debut from this Northern Greek five piece. 7/10

Fliptop Box: Catch22 (Self Released)

Athens rockers Fliptop Box play a modern style of hard rock that has touches of prog in it too. They style themselves as a Greek version of Therapy?, Volbeat and on the opening noise of Blast and Promises To Stay you can hear the influence of Andy Cairns with vocalist/guitarist John P. sounding like an amalgamation of Cairns and Michael Poulsen but with a Greek accent. Blast is the start to this aggressive record that brings 8 rallying cries together in one place there's a alt rock sound throughout the record bolstered by touches of grunge and punk metal of bands such as Danzig on the dark and ominous Class Of Underdogs.

Behind John P he has The Cptain Frikis on drums,vocals, Kostas M on bass, Stavros Gulielmo guitars and Christina contributing the backing vocals and all of them add to this record they are the backbone behind tracks such as Borderline which is chunky riff mixed with a solo fest. There is a mid-90's feel to this record it's born out of the grunge and married itself to the post-punk. Catch22 is the sort of album that dresses itself in black and stands in the corner cursing under it's breath, full of attitude, darkness and discord. For fans of grungy alt metal Fliptop Box are a treat. 7/10

Friday 14 October 2016

Reviews: Suicidal Tendencies, Alcest, Allegaeon (Reviews By Paul)

Suicidal Tendencies: World Gone Mad (Suicidal Records)

World Gone Mad is album no.12 from Mike Muir’s happy band, and possibly the final one if reports are to be believed. If it does come to an end then World Gone Mad is definitely a high on which to finish. A social commentary on the state of US politics at present and in particular the system that can let the indescribable fuck trumpet known as Donald Trump stand for President, World Gone Mad retains the thrashy punk aggression of the classics from yesteryear whilst also heaving in a large slab of melody and hooks.

It's pretty straightforward stuff but also superbly crafted with the instantly recognisable vocals of Mike Muir alongside long serving guitarist Dean Pleasants, newbies Jeff Poga and Ra Diaz (bass) and some blasting drumming from Dave Lombardo. From opener Clap Like Ozzy, One Finger Salute, the anthemic The Struggle Is Real and the calmer poignant album closer This World. Muir and co stand firm to their beliefs, if this is their swan song, it's a pretty damn fine one. 8/10

Alcest: Kodama (Prophecy Productions)

2014’s Shelter moved Alcest to a slightly different feel from previous releases. More accessible whilst still retaining the dreamy shoe gaze which the band has made their own. Shelter was highly  acclaimed, meaning album number 5 needed to be something special. Luckily it is totally that, a beautifully constructed album which retains the ethereal delicacy of previous releases whilst adding the thunderous wall of Winterhalter’s drumming and Neige’s powerful guitar.

A concept about the confrontation between the human and natural world, inspired by the film Princess Mononoke by Hayao Miyazaki, Kodama (Japanese for Tree Spirit) is seven gorgeous crafted tracks, the majority of which are substantial in length and complexity. The deluxe album includes the beautiful Notre Sang Et Nos Pensees, well worth the extra couple of pounds. Neige once again writes all of the tracks with Birgir Jon Birgirsson taking care of arrangements, engineering, mixing and production.  Haunting, melancholic and quite lovingly crafted, Kodama is a genuine stunning piece of work from a band that get better and better. 9/10

Allegaeon: Proponent For Sentience (Metal Blade)

Fusing themes of science fiction, astrophysics and alien life into a maelstrom of styles, Fort Collins, Colorado's technical death metallers fourth full release certainly provides food for thought. New vocalist Riley McShane does a sterling job, his gruff style fitting the speed and power of the band well. Proponent for Sentience is technical beyond technical, with time changes galore, intricate patterns and huge break downs. Incredibly powerful drumming of Brandon Park underpins the duel guitars of Greg Burgess and Michael Stancel. It's a long beast, clocking in at 72 minutes and with the best will in the world, at times a bit of a challenge.

With a range of styles, from the operatic introduction on Proponent For Sentience I – The Conception to the flamenco guitar intro and lengthy outro on Grey Matter Mechanics, it pushes the listener to the limits. A ragged, industrial/operatic version of Subdivisions by Rush closes the album, a brave take on a massively loved track. McShane sensibly brings the vocal down a few octaves which suits him and the song better although sounding a little like Ivan Moody is unfortunate but. It is nowhere near the worst Rush cover I've ever heard (take a bow, 3 Inches Of Blood). 7/10

Thursday 13 October 2016

Reviews: Meshuggah, Kyng, Gone Is Gone

Meshuggah: The Violent Sleep Of Reason (Nuclear Blast)

With the recent uprising in Djent over the past few years it's sometimes easy to overlook the bands that inspired the entire movement. Meshuggah are the most definite influence on the entire down-tuned, palm muted riff fests of bands such as Periphery, but as the innovators have they been left behind by the young generation? Far from it in fact The Violent Sleep Of Reason continues to re-establish why Meshuggah are the originators of the genre and why this one of the most highly anticipated releases. The Violent Sleep Of Reason almost deconstruct metal to it's most primal form, it's an aggressive record as you might expect but lyrically the themes are a commentary on terrorism, extremist views on ideals, religious dogma.

The music reflects the rallying cry of the lyrics with the immediacy of MonstroCity sees Jens Kidman roaring as the chugging riffs come at a flurry the lead guitars shredding over the rhythm on the breakdown middle section. It's very much a case of riff and repeat with Meshuggah, their music is not based upon intricate solos and massive hooks, it's made to bludgeon with technical fury and bludgeon it does. From the 7 minutes opening Clockworks, through the off-kilter By The Ton, the melodic, percussive Nostrum and climaxing with the fuzzy, noisy Into Decay Meshuggah beat you into submission and you keep wanting more. This record isn't going to win anyone over who's not a fan, but what it will do is bring Meshuggah to the generation that may have heard the name but not felt the full force of the Swedes power. 8/10

Kyng: Breathe In The Water (Razor & Tie)

Fresh of a tour with Clutch, stoner trio Kyng unleash their third full length record. At 14 tracks its a bit of a monster and has the stoner sound Kyng do well and the touring between records has obviously been to their benefit as this record is a honed piece that sees the band stretching their remit a bit on the stomping hand clap driven title track, adding some slow burning blues for Show Me Your Love and a Soundgarden edge to Song For A Broken Masque. The three piece are all superb musicians drummer Pepe displaying his dexterity and power on Closer To The End with flailing drum patterns that allow the loud/quiet parts to be more effective, it's a progressive number but the drums maintain the powerful beat.

At the front end of things Tony's bass is the anchor and main exponent of groove while Eddie's guitar is usually fuzzy but at times can be melodic, his vocals are a whiskey hued bonus too preferring the clean sound of Neil Fallon than the rougher stoner metal vocal. What's very evident about Kyng is their professionalism, they sound like they should be on their eighth or ninth record rather than their third. On the evidence of this record Kyng have a bright future, it's the sort of stoner rock music I love and I for one look forward to seeing Kyng on these shores soon. 8/10

Gone Is Gone: S/T (Rise Records)

Another week another supergroup featuring a member of Mastodon, first was Killer Be Killed (Troy Sanders) then more recently Giraffe Tongue Orchestra (Brent Hinds) and now we have Gone Is Gone which once again features Sanders on bass and vocals, along with him are no members of Dillinger Escape Plan (who also seem to have an affinity to supergroups) but instead on guitars is QOTSA's Troy Van Leeuwen, behind the drums is At The Drive-In's (no strangers to supergroups themselves) Tony Hajjar and keyboardist/guitarist/everything else Mike Zarin who along with Hajjar composes video game/movie trailer music. This record started out as another selection of instrumental soundscapes from Hajjar and Zarin but they added Van Leeuwen and Sanders and both have lent their stamp to the record.

It's a much more radio bothering album than the sometimes abrasive works of the members day jobs, this is a softer, darker, morose sound than any of the main bands using reliant more on the synths and keys in the mix than there would be in any of the component parts. This is not a criticism by any means it gives all those that have already got a pedigree a new avenue for their talent, but it does mean that if you enjoy the direct ferocity of any of the bands mentioned earlier you may find this record a bit ponderous. Sanders vocals too may grate slightly, his gruff battle worn throat is given room to sing on this record, but he struggles with the softer pieces. Gone Is Gone lacks that oomph many will expect and due to this the songs do blur into one, one for just a passing interest. 6/10

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Reviews: Winterfylleth, Sonata Arctica, Giraffe Tongue Orchestra

Winterfylleth: The Dark Hereafter (Candlelight Records) [Review By Paul]

When Winterfylleth, arguably the UK’s most advanced and technically excellent black metal outfit released their masterpiece The Divinity Of Antiquity in 2014, few would have complained if the band had followed in the steps of Bolt Thrower with Those Once Loyal and never recorded another album, such was the quality of that release. Fortunately, the English Heritage metallers moved forward and The Dark Hereafter incredibly tops their previous release. With the usual power and might, the band pursue more anthems focusing on nature, the English countryside and the folly of man’s approach to the natural world. The title track opens the album with incredible pace and gusto, the sheer technicality of the band immediately noticeable. In fact, the technical skills of an already brilliantly competent outfit have improved even more.

Dan Capp and Christopher Naughton’s guitar work is exceptional throughout, with the subtle nuances demanding repeated plays for full appreciation. There are two massive tunes on this album. Green Cathedral, a 13 minute epic which considers the relationship of nature and the rural world as a more enriching source of spirituality than any religion. Based on a concept by author Ben Myers, it is a powerful moving piece which demonstrates that whilst the band can slow the pace without losing the charge and it also highlights the impressive changes that Winterfylleth have made to their sound in recent years. Closing track Led Astray In The Forest Dark is the other beast, a faithful cover of Ulver's I Troldskog Faren Vild. The chanting vocals gives the band an almost monastic quality, with the slower pace losing none of the heaviness we associate with the band, thunderous drums from Simon Lucas anchoring the band solidly with Nick Wallwork’s bass lines running riot. The Dark Hereafter is stunning in every aspect. An underrated band who continue to surprise. 10/10

Sonata Arctica: The Ninth Hour (Nuclear Blast)

Sonata Arctica's ninth album (thus the title) continues to reintroduce the wolf theme that seemed to disappear on Unia but has re-emerged since The Days Of The Grays and was especially prevalent on Pariah's ChildThe Ninth Hour also deals with the well worn tropes of nature, spirit and also politics the band are seen at their most politically aware on Fairytale which is a damming indictment of the current political culture especially one haystack-haired individual. Musically the band are possibly the grandiose they have ever been, all of the tracks are multi-layered to hell and back taking from Nightwish's and Epica's current mindset of more is more this does mean that sometimes the nuances of the music are lost a little, something not helped by the slightly flat production.

However as ever the songwriting and lyricism of frontman and band talisman Tony Kakko is the bands saviour, the lyrics are striking, stirring and passionate conjuring the emotion to the songs. Elias Viljanen (guitar), Henrik Klingenberg (keys) Pasi Kauppinen (bass) and Tommy Portimo (drums) are the musical backing that moves effortlessly between the progressive power metal sound Sonata have cultivated (Rise A Night) and delves deeper into the classically influenced bombast that they are now more comfortable with. Klingenberg's piano /keys/synths are the key part of this adding the multiple layers to the songs.

As I've said many of the songs deal with human beings being the shepherds of the earth and explicitly pro-nature and talks at length about the humans predisposition to ignore things on We Are What We Are as well as our care for our furry brethren (especially wolves) on Animals and it's slight return On The Faultline (Closer To The Animal). Don't fret though it's not all doom and gloom and neither is it overly preachy, these are informed opinion set to music told in Kakko's unique way with a wry smile and a big heart. Moving away from the thematic tracks we have Among The Shooting StarsFly, Navigate, Communicate both of which deal with other issues, Werewolves and flying respectively meanwhile White Pearl, Black Oceans (Part II: By The Grace Of The Ocean) continues the story theme established on Reckoning Night.

The Ninth Hour is probably the strongest album of the post Unia period, it is the culmination of the bands metamorphosis from power metal purveyors to classically influenced dramatic rockers. Sonata Arctica have always been one of my favourite bands and Tony remains one of the most unique voices in metal but with a few tweaks the band could break out of the prog/power scene infect the mainstream charts too. 8/10

Giraffe Tongue Orchestra: Broken Lines (Cooking Vinyl) [Review By Paul]

Supergroups. Pah! Ten a penny these days as artists look for alternative paths to creativity or perhaps the cynical would say look to earn an extra penny or two. On occasion though the collaboration just comes together magnificently to provide something different and exciting, piquing the interest. Killer Be Killed certainly did this and now we have Broken Lines, the maiden release from Giraffe Tongue Orchestra. With the double shred of Brent Hinds of Mastodon and Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan), William Duvall of Alice In Chains, Thomas Pridgen (The Mars Volta) and drummer Pete Griffin (Dethlok), GTO deliver 40 minutes of jazz fused, biker styled hard rock which constantly changes, intrigues and roars. Blood Moon with its bat shit crazy gore filled video and the politically charged themes of Crucifixion provide plenty of interest. and the metal stomp of Back To The Light with its intricate guitar work scurrying away like rodents is how the Manics would sound if they had the balls to really rock out. The funk flavour tastes delicious. Duvall in particular has really been allowed to unleash, his voice the perfect fit to the massive riffs and cross shredding. This is a fantastic release. Can we have a UK tour please? 9/10

Monday 10 October 2016

Reviews: The Mission, Darkthrone, The Brew (Reviews By Paul)

The Mission: Another Fall From Grace (Eyes Wide Shut)

Back in the mid 1980s when I was in high school, metal was my religion. It still is of course but at that time anything without a thumping riff, long hair and tight as hell jeans was of no interest to me whatsoever. This changed when one of my best friends, who had always veered away from the heavier elements of music introduced me to the Sisters Of Mercy. Their debut album First, Last And Always was still very much rock but lent in the opposite direction to the path I was following. Full of sorrow and dark moods, The album was special.

Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams then left to form The Mission and the classic Gods Own Medicine was soon a regular on the turntable. Hussey's twelve string guitar work and mournful yet melodious voice combined with Adams solid bass lines and Simon Hinkler's hypnotic guitar produced a real monumental piece of work. Wasteland, Blood Brother, Severina, Stay With Me and the beautiful Garden Of Delights all cast their spell and remained etched in the memory. Over the years The Mission have continued to produce high quality music staying true to their Gothic overtures whilst always having more than a nod to the rock world.

Roll forward a mere 30 years and album no.12 Another Fall From Grace provides evidence, if that was ever needed that Hussey, Adams, Hinkler and drummer Mike Kelly are still able to produce the quality that oozed through that first album. Indeed, Hussey has stated that AFFG is “the lost link between First, Last And Always and God’s Own Medicine”. The link is undeniable, from the first stalking bars of the title track through to the haunting Phantom Pain which closes the album. Imperious, confident and overall just pretty special, AFFG is almost the perfect blue print. Hussey retains the mystery and arrogance in his vocals, with stand out tracks Jade and the magnificent Met-A-Morphosis highlights.

The cutting yet delicate guitar sound combines with piano with some panache on Jade whilst the oriental laid back flavour of Bullets And Bayonets hits the mark. The pacier side of the band with its indie guitar sound is prevalent on Can't See The Ocean For The Rain and Met-Amor-Phosis, a track that really returns you to 1986 albeit with a fresh feel. Throw in some heavyweight names on backing vocals (Gary Numan, Martin Gore from Depeche Mode, Him’s Ville Vallo, Julianne Regan from All About Eve and Evi Vine) and this album has it all. 30 years later, The Mission sit comfortably in the legends of Rock column and remain as vital today as they did back in those dark days of the 1980s. 9/10

Darkthrone: Arctic Thunder (Peaceville Records)

Few bands have been as influential in the world of black metal as Norwegian duo Darkthrone. Formed in 1986, and heavily influenced by Bathory and Celtic Frost, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto (real name Ted Skjellum) produced some of the defining black metal albums with their unholy Trinity (A Blaze In The Sky, Under A Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger) hailed as classics. Since 2006 the band has moved away from the traditional black metal style and headed towards more traditional metal sound which primarily features speed and punk influences. Arctic Thunder, the band's 16th release maintains this direction, although there is a massive nod back to those early influences of Thomas Gabriel Warrior and co throughout the album.

It's a pretty reliable slab, thrashy and stomping, with tracks like opener Tundra Leach and Burial Bliss pretty straightforward but also mighty fine. Fenriz’s vocals are reassuringly guttural and gravely, whilst the musicianship of the pair is excellent. Massive riffs and pounding rhythms leave no question about the heaviness of the album. Check out Inbred Vermin for evidence. The album contains more than a passing nod to Venom as well as Celtic Frost along with the induced speed of  Motorhead. The album drips with hooks and opportunities to bang that head, with the stomping Deep Lake Trespass possibly the pick of the songs. This is an album well worth checking out, regardless of your tastes in black metal. 8/10

The Brew: Shake The Tree (Jazzhaus Records)

British powerhouse blues rockers The Brew have long been on our radar at the Musipedia. It took several years to finally catch them live, due to a combination of bad luck and cancellations but in 2014 we did finally see them at Hard Rock Hell. Their gritty, earthy blues rock certainly appealed then and their sixth full release, Shake The Tree certainly reinforces our earlier views on them. A straight forward ten track album, Shake The Tree oozes quality from the start with the skilful playing of Tim Smith, Kurtis Smith on drums and lead vocalist/ guitarist Jason Barwick gelling superbly. Barwick’s gritty voice is ideally suited to The Brew’s sound and his guitar sound is excellent. Downright dirty, soulful and bluesy and just all out hard rocking are the key descriptions of an album laden with hooks and melody. Black Hole Soul, Johnny Moore and the title track are fine examples of the band kicking out the jams. If you like your music with a hard rock edge and dripping with melody, this is an essential purchase. 8/10

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

The Mission, O2 Academy, Bristol

Imperious. Magical. Confident. Captivating. Four words that sum up The Mission live. The hair may be shorter or in Craig Adams case gone, the energy slightly less but replaced with a maturity that only comes to bands that are masters of their craft.

Opening act Peter Murphy (6) did a fine job of warming up the slowly filling venue. It’s been several years since the “Godfather of Goth” spent much time on British soil, with only sporadic appearances but the man forever associated with Bauhaus has never lacked confidence. An interesting 'Stripped’ set consisting of songs from his solo albums and of course a smattering of Bauhaus covers was enjoyable with his two New York City musicians particularly impressive.

Of course, there was only one band the crowd had come to see and the anticipation reached fever point as the house lights dimmed and The Dambusters March blasted out of the PA. A mixture of old school goths, metal heads, youngsters and older fans who were around when the band first toured. Kicking off with Beyond The Pale, The Mission (10) were on fire from the start, Wayne Hussey the central figure with his voice retaining both the deeper tones and the higher pitches needed. His twelve string guitar prominent, it’s only when you watch the band live that you remember how pivotal his guitar work is to the band’s sound. To his right, bassist Craig Adams weaved in and out of the action, rightly stopping the show after a stunning Serpent’s Kiss when some overzealous security staff waded into the exuberance of the mosh pit with all the grace of a herd of hippopotami. Hussey was decisive, ordering them out of the main floor unless “I tell you to go in”. The crowd reacted in fine style, self-policing the pit for the rest of the gig.

After announcing that the excellent Another Fall From Grace had become the first album to hit the top 40 since 1992, the band launched into Tyranny Of Secrets from said album. The new material fits seamlessly with the rest of the band’s catalogue, with the brilliant Met-Amor-Phosis inciting almost as many outstretched arms as the more recognisable songs. The lovely Evi Vine provided backing vocals for a number of tracks, essential for the likes of Severina which saw the audience reach new heights of ecstasy. It would be remiss of me not to mention the other two band members, guitarist Simon Hinkler maintaining the same position he did back in the 1980s, totally focused on his craft and looking majestic in shades and hat. Meanwhile the hyperactive Mike Kelly laid down the backbone on the drums and wine swigging duties.

As the set powered towards its first encore, the tracks that generate the most enthusiasm arrived. The awesome Tower Of Strength included the traditional human tower in the pit, with many younger ladies on shoulders giving the goth hands in fine style. The band provided an extended version, fusing the track with the Eastern style it has always retained. A blistering Wasteland concluded the main set, allowing time to reflect on just how good this band actually are. Two sets of encores included fan favourite Butterfly On A Wheel before the most epic version of Deliverance concluded a quite magnificent evening that left the audience buzzing.

30 years has passed in the blink of an eye. It only seems like yesterday that The Mission were a breaking band on TV shows like The Tube. This is a band who have matured during that time. Imperious. Magical. Confident. Captivating.