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Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Reviews: Hammerfall, Crippled Black Phoenix, Devilskin, Hand Of Dimes

Hammerfall: Built To Last (Napalm)

Sweden's premier power metal band are now on their tenth record and in a move started on their last album (r)Evolution it sees them go back to the euphoric, might and magic power metal of their first albums. Built To Last kicks off in true Hammerfall style with the galloping Bring It! having the slicing dual riffs of Oscar Dronjak and Pontus Norgren shredding with a hearty crunch as Fredrik Larsson's thumping bass section bolsters the riffs. Joacim Cans again is on top form, his voice hasn't dropped an octave since Glory To The Brave and here he is still soaring high above many of those younger than him.

Hammer High has a fist-in-the-air epic quality and bears witness to the Templars returning to their roots and is driven by the huge drum beats. The thing with Hammerfall is that they sound like Hammerfall, since they rediscovered their mojo for writing classic power metal there doesn't seem to be anyway of stopping them, The Sacred Vow is battle metal by the numbers, Twilight Princess the album's folksy ballad that has Cans displaying his overwrought delivery and the remaining tracks on the record just solidify why Hammerfall are the masters of their craft. This record is not going to change the world but for a band nearly in their 20th year it proves that Hammerfall are Built To Last so try and knock them if you can. 7/10

CBP: Bronze (Seasons Of Mist)

CBP are special to me (and my lovely other half) the 2014 Athens gig it was the first gig we went to together as a couple so trying to be objective will be difficult but here goes. CBP are somewhat of a cult band that have much more of a following abroad (especially in Eastern Europe and Greece) than they do here but regardless they have always been a band that are a constantly interesting prospect, imbuing their vigilante, politically charged, humanist ideals with Floydian dynamics and an understated aggressiveness that comes from bandleader Justin Greaves and indeed several of the groups 8 members history in the more extreme realms of metal. 

This record is more studied, deliberate affair than their more direct, combative previous record, the songs are sprawling and experimental sitting the band back in their early days of psychotropic melancholy (Winning A Losing Battle) while also yet again adding new depth. No Fun is a doomy depressive track with Gilmour-like guitars over the discord, while Rotten Memories and the 9 minute long Champions Of Disturbance (Pt 1 & 2) make up two parts of one song segueing from one into the other style perfected on Dark Side Of The Moon

The bands music has always been largely instrumental in nature and they allow the sounds to grow, drama to build and on the elongated tracks they turn into a cacophony noise, with the four guitar set up of Justin Greaves, Daniel Änghede, leads from Jonas Stålhammar and the bass of Tom Greenway the riffs are monolithic in nature anchored by the drumming of Ben Wilsker. On top of the colossal wall of guitars Mark Furnevall's keys/synths put flesh on the bones as pianist Daisy Chapman is the emotional heart of the more melancholic parts, supplementing the harrowing distinct vocals of Daniel Änghede.

There is monstrous sound to some of these songs, at times ominous and at others fragile, CBP are a truly progressive band resolutely sticking to making albums they want to make, much like Waters et al did back in the late 60's, they also do a great cover version this time it's Joe Walsh's A Turn To Stone and is probably the rockiest track with expressive guitar solos and incredible drum fills from Wilsker as well as guest vocals from Greenleaf's Arvid Jonsson. The wealth of musical alchemy is always impressive and here Scared And Alone stands out as the fuzziness and sparse horns punctuating this solemn song that deals with the 'black dog' beautifully sung by newest full time member and Greaves' Se Delan collaborator Belinda Kordic.

There always seems to me at least to be a ray of hope in CBP's music no matter how dark it gets but such is the grandiose nature of the music that you can't help but get swept up in the bleakness of it all. CBP are musically colourful but yet again their palate adapts and they take wider brush strokes encapsulating what makes them a formidable musical force but also isolates them from being cool. I for one am proud to be uncool if the soundtrack is this good. 9/10

Devilskin: Be Like The River (Self Released)

New Zealand metal band Devilskin's debut only came out last year, but they have once again come back with another full length album featuring 13 more songs of their melodic, modern groove metal. the four piece are a much bigger prospect in their native land, their next tour sees them as headliners and the more well known name of Halestorm as special guests, as well as being the special guests to Disturbed but with another set of songs similar to their debut and another tour over here they will improve their standing over this side of the pond. The majority of the songs are driven by the rhythm section of bassist Paul Martin and his son Nic who takes care of the drums and the keys that are used to add a wider element of sounds to the metallic base, see the atmospheric Animal.

The groove is the main proponent of the music stylistically similar to Disturbed with guitarist Nail riffing like a demon and using the solos sparingly meaning the songs are riff driven fist pumping anthems that see frontwoman Jennie use her unique vocal sound to it's fullest, I mentioned in my previous review how good a singer she is and here she proves it again blasting out every line with a style that is in the lower register but more powerful than many of her contemporaries effortlessly switching between clean and harsh for the more aggressive tracks such as Believe In Me. The performance is Herculean and is the final piece of the musical puzzle for the band. Much like their debut there are should-be-anthems with first single Mountains and the bouncy Pray the two stand-outs as the heavier end with Voices the slower lighter rallying cry.

They also spread their wings with the Maiden-style F.Y.I, a thump of LOG on Bury Me and the proggy orchestral elements on Limbs. This second record is not as immediate as it's predecessor but sees the band morphing their sound refining it to carve themselves a bigger slice of the musical pie. Buy both albums and when the 2017 UK leg of the tour comes I encourage all of you to see this band before they ascend to bigger things. 8/10      

Hand Of Dimes: Raise (Coda Recordings)

Hand Of Dimes is the result of reconnection between Kooga keyboardist Neil Garland and former writing partner Neville MacDonald better known as the voice of hard rockers Skin. The two got back together and started to write the bluesy hard rock they started with in the pre-Kooga days, picture the classy swagger of bands such as Free (Pinstriped Arrogance especially), Rory Gallagher and The Faces, when guitarists played the blues of the American South, singers had a throat made of whiskey and grit and the songs were about gamblin, sinnin' and women.

Raise is the band's debut full length and it has all of the above MacDonald displaying the vocal prowess that made Skin a success back in the early 90's while Colin Edward's guitar playing is soulful and understated especially when paired with Garland's bubbling organs on the AOR infused Moonlight Mile. While Moonlight Mile takes the more melodic route Stranger In My Home Town is driven by the parping mouth harp, acoustic guitars and Hammond organs.

The obvious comparison to this record would be the debut album from Red, White & Blues, Skin guitarist Myke Gray's blues project and where that was the powerful blues rock favoured by Joey B, Hand Of Dimes go back to the old British masters adding the melodic touches from both the main men's previous careers. Jacob's Ladder smolders, Lookin At You packs a punch, Sail On carries a hint of Bad Company. Raise is a competent album from the Welsh blues rockers and one that will win them more fans. 7/10

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