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Saturday 31 December 2016

Reviews: Deathvalves, Debackliner, Jonas Lindberg & The Other Side

Deathvalves: Dark Stories From The Past (New Dream Records) (2016)

I was informed that Thessaly band Deathvalves were an alternative metal band but my how wrong that was this is sublime heavy metal/hard rock with groove and thrashy sounds influencing the record. As the Intro commences we get a Morricone flavoured Western Theme with the sounds that made those Leone movies so iconic.

The Morricone sounds make their way into Vengeance that pairs thunderous drumming with layered wall-of-sound riffs that stop and start like Gojira's. Dark Stories... is the band's third record and it is a strong third shot the songs have good mix of fuzzy distorted guitars, heavy echoing basslines, especially on Pantera which has Dimebag-esque tapping solo, along with vocals that fit the music well, they are gritty and raw perfect for the heavyweight instrumentals. Like I said this isn't 'alternative' metal there are too many other components with stoner and doom on So Much To Kill and some grunge filtering through meaning it's a cerebral but aggressive record. Burn The Sun could be the missing Mastodon song such are the atmospherics and incredible drumming while Into This Ocean has an insistent riffing from the tech metal scene.

The record culminates with The Emperor which uses brass and synths as part of the very evil triumphant feel, it would sit comfortably on a Behemoth record and even the vocals get harsher on this song with many of the black metal trappings. Dark Stories From The Past is a superior metal release using a plethora of influences to make sure it doesn't become stale. For a record that will tide you over until the next Mastodon or Gojira release Deathvalves third record could be the worthy alternative. 9/10
Debackliner: Debackliner (Pitch Black Records) (2016)

Pandora the song that kicks off this debut record record has a dirty riff, withs some melodic leads over the top of it, there is a power metal tinge to the song with Maiden-like galloping and some muscular expressive vocals. It's a good start to the record merging power metal style soloing and orchestrations with heavy groove passages much like Nevermore with a hint of latter Metallica thrown in. On Rise Of The Angel the vocals become deeper and more resonant even adding in some growls to the mixture of a song with numerous time signature changes and a stomping middle eight. There is a lot going on on this record a fusion so styles mean that all of the songs twist and turn, the one curve-ball is Jolly Roger which is the sort of Pirate-themed madness Rockin' Rolf would write, but the song speaks volumes about the rest of the record, it's all over the shop with many schizophrenic changes of pace in throughout the songs on this record, some are needed some less so, despite strong performances from the Marseille group, especially the guitars, in parts it loses its way. With a little bit of streamlining on the next record they are well on their way to something quite good. 7/10
Jonas Lindberg & The Others: Pathfinder (2016)

The debut full length album from the Swedish progressive group, formed by band leader/bassist/keyboardist and namesake Jonas Lindberg, he has a very audible obsession with the more pastoral, melodic style of prog favoured by Spock's Beard, Enchant, The Flower Kings, Marillion and Genesis. It's the intensely progressive but well structured, accessible music that makes this band so appealing to someone like me.

His bass playing really underpins the rest of the music on this record having the delicate, jazz infused playing style of Pete Trewavas, his band on this record are all as equally talented as Lindberg, Calle Stålenbring provides the guitar playing adding heaviness to the jazz fusion styled Zenith and Square One but also putting in the more acoustic textures to Closer To The Sun before giving the record one of it's most beautiful solos (live Nicklas Thelin has joined to flesh out the Gilmour meets Ronnie Stolt six stringing)

In the back room Johnathan Lundberg takes the drums and while Maria Olsson takes the percussion meaning that rhythm-wise the record is very dense with both doing more than just keeping time, they are the ones that change time signatures and back Lindberg's bass. As with Spock's Beard the music is very keyboard heavy, Michael Ottosson is the main provider of synth and keys and he does a mighty fine job his keys are thick and melodic fleshing out the tracks with swathes of majestic melodies on Peace Of Mind, giving the darker sounds to Lost and the electronic beats to Zenith.

With so much musical proficiency on show you need a vocalist with the sweep of Neal Morse, Steve Hogarth and even Phil Collins and Jonas Sundqvist definitely fits the bill his emotive handling of the lyrics shines through and he blends effortlessly with Jenny Sandgren who reinforces the vocal melodies. Pathfinder is a superior record with some outstanding performances throughout, it's a fantastic progressive rock album and I urge you to seek it out asap. 9/10

Saturday 24 December 2016

Reviews: Blackfield, Boneyard Dog, Psycho Kiss

Blackfield: Blackfield V (Kscope)

Blackfield V is the fifth collaboration between Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen and it sees them returning with yet another Blackfield record even though Wilson did say he intended to leave the project as his solo career increased in stature. Wilson's solo career had meant that Welcome To My DNA and Blackfield IV were primarily written by Geffen over Wilson, however once again the collaborations are shared equally like they was on their first two records. Over the course of 18 months they created this record with famed producer Alan Parsons in England and Geffen's native Israel with Wilson and Geffen interchanging between vocals, guitars and keys while Tomer Z re-takes his seat at the drum kit.

The songs of the high quality you would expect from the pair, taking a more alternative influenced approach that has been key to the Blackfield since the outset, much of this is due to Geffen's background in the pop/glam and alternative rock field, his vocals are part of the bands charm blending with Wilson seamlessly on Lonely Soul which also has some beautiful female vocals to while his solo voice adds emotion to We'll Never Be Apart.

The record is a concept piece with all of the tracks loosely themed around the ocean and the life cycle so it means lots of emotive pieces that have rapidly become part of the Blackfield trademark, especially when the musical arrangements are augmented by the London Sessions Orchestra who provide the delicate string sections on tracks such as How Was Your Ride? I always welcome a Blackfield album as it is a chance for Wilson and Geffen to stretch their remit outside of their already expansive musical influence. With gorgeous arrangements throughout, produced by legend of the craft it's another sublime album from this duo. 8/10

Boneyard Dog: Bluesbound Train (AOR Heaven)

Imagine the titular dog, a dog in a boneyard, nothing else just a yard full of bones, imagine how happy he is. Now what this has to do with blues rock is anyone's guess but sometimes these are the images that come to mind when looking at a bands name unless of course you're Unforeseen Prophecy because any images of prophecy would be unseen naturally.

Still I digress Boneyard Dog are a new name but as far as membership it's old dogs new tricks with the the main duo of the band being German/Italian singer Rob Mancini (Hotwire/Crush) and Irish blues guitarist Davy Kerrigan, they are the backbone of the band and take the bulk of the songwriting, helping them out on the percussion is Ron Wisko who has played with Cher, Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Foreigner, David Lee Roth (Van Halen), The Storm, Gregg Rolie (Santana/Journey) amongst others, rounding out the group is keyboardist Tony Carey who is probably most well known as the man supplying the keys to Rainbow's seminal Rising record.

The record is full of bluesy hard rock music on which Kerrigan gets to channel the blues rock heroes, Rory, Stevie and The Reverend Willy G with Carey's classy organs and keys providing the foil as guest bassists Marc Lynn (Gotthard) and Neil Murray (Ex-Whitesnake) work well with Wisko's tub thumping. Atop the powerful blues rocking are the rough, smoky vocals of Mancini who has the atypical blues singer delivery and suits the style down to the ground especially on Mother Lode and Lay Down The Law, they play heavy when they can, funk things up on Paid My Dues and get a little dirty on Fire Down Below it's a blues rock album that smacks of quality with everyone involved at the apex of their power.

In the positives too is the info that the band have created the Boneyard Foundation, it benefits victims of motorcycle accidents or their immediate families. A very philanthropic gesture especially when all the proceeds from the track Lonely Road goes towards the foundation, with the track itself featuring Gotthard's Marc Lynn who's singer Steve Lee tragically died in a motorcycle accident in 2010. A great album and from what seems to be a very charitable bunch of fellows, Boneyard Dog are ruff (sorry) an ready to rock. 8/10

Psycho Kiss: Grit (Self Released)

Neath/Swansea band Psycho Kiss are local favourites on the South Wales music scene, Grit is their third record and it maintains their mix of heavyweight riffage and infectious hooks. The five piece are fronted by Helen Ceri Clarke who has very tough vocals matching the riff heavy backing that has nods to Alter Bridge and Halestorm especially on the thumping Scream Queens. The band use a lot of dark horror themes in their music with odes to sociopaths on the twisted Sociopathic Superstar the antichrist on Devil Inside and the intro to the record is happily titled The Ballad Of Pennywise (the killer clown from Stephen King's IT).

The musical backing is muscular Pete (rhythm), Tom (bass) and the brilliantly named Penfold (drums) taking the rhythm section by the collar and shaking it around a bit as Paul plays the searing Tremonti like leads. Psycho Kiss are an outfit that sound very professional, years of touring and three albums in they have managed to channel their energetic live show into the record, they rock hard put power into songs like Even Better If aren't afraid to take risks on The Haunting and I Grieve which are both slower injecting more drama, they also put a bit of southern flavour into Down which has the always appreciated cowbell. A really classy, modern rock record from these folks from West Wales. 8/10

Friday 23 December 2016

Reviews: White Widdow, Heaven Below, King Hiss

White Widdow: Silhouette (AOR Heaven)

When I say Australian rock music to you what comes to mind? Probably big power chords, brawny vocals, heavy drinking and a man in a school boy outfit who should know better. Yes Australia does tend to get stereotyped with their rock music, with AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, Airbounre however they do a good trade in modern metal (Parkway Drive), power metal (Black Majesty) and as I've demonstrated on a few occasions they can really pull off the sunshine AOR of the Sunset Strip with bands such as The Radio Sun evoking the melodies of Journey and their contemporaries. Well here we are again in FM radio territory with White Widdow who've been around since 2007 and who I have actually listened to before but never realised were Australian until now.

I actually thought they were American or at least Scandinavian (the other big AOR stalwarts) but no these are Aussies that play the sort of synth heavy 80's rock that should be the backing track to a stylish, lens flare heavy movie starring Tom Cruise. Brothers Jules (formerly of Welshies Tigertailz) and Xavier are the soulful vocals and layered shiny keyboards of the band with Enzo Almanzi on the lead guitars, Ben Webster on bass and Noel Terry on drums.

The music on this record is as slick as Crockett and Tubbs dress sense, it purrs like a bright white Lamborghini, Silhouette is chock full of driving anthems like Stranded, Wild At Heart and Game Of Love that you can just hear playing out of s supercar as the sun glows orange over the bay on the horizon. The perfect album to do away with the winter blues White Widdow are sweeter than a candy cane dipped in Golden syrup, if you love this music Silhouette is a shining example of the genre. 8/10

Heaven Below: Good Morning Apocalypse (eOne Entertainment)

Reading the info for this band I made a lot of suppositions and I have been proven wrong on most of them. Good Morning Apocalypse is the third record from LA band Heaven Below, formed in 2007 by Patrick Kennison formerly of Union Underground, a band that I know from a theme they did for WWE Monday Night Raw in the early 2000's. After the breakup of that band Kennison formed Heaven Below, they have released two records and have gone through multiple line-up changes with Kennison being the only consistent member since the beginning.

For musicians that are normally associated with the Nu-Metal scene this record spreads its wings and adds choirs to Nefarious Angels which puts it in the realms of symphonic rock, while on Devilina And The Damage Done it's full heavy metal fury with Kobra Paige duetting with Kennison, Nightfall Comes Again brings some electronic touches then Killing The Deadman blows you out of the water with ferocious blastbeats. It's a very heavy album that sits in the harder rock bracket as there are big choruses but chunky riffs, while listening to the record I couldn't help but think of Sixx A.M as this record shares a lot of similarities with Nikki Sixx and James Michaels band.

This record is a concept piece based around one soldier (Corporal Todd Grant) that intersperses the songs with spoken word pieces however the songs stand up by themselves as individual pieces especially on the tracks that feature guest vocalists like Lita Ford (Running Under Satan's Hand) and Udo Dirkschneider (Black Sunrise/War Of The Gods). Don't let the previous bands of the members put you off Heaven Below are an excellent modern metal band and this record is very impressive, polished, slightly progressive and filled with towering heavy rock songs. 8/10

King Hiss: Mastosaurus (Self Released)

Another concept piece now but this one deals with themes that are black as tar, mainly the story of a doomed antihero fighting his own demons. Luckily King Hiss pack riffs strong enough to level mountains, Belgium is probably not the place you would immediately go for thundering stoner metal but my God King Hiss mean that you might do after this. The four piece are a musical hodgepodge with thick, sludgy stoner riffs (Renegade), crushing doom (Homeland), a rock n roll swagger (Killer Hand) and some hardcore influences (Egomaniac), hell they even throw in a breakdown on the rapid fire Tourniquet.

The music on this record is tight as hell and has genuine urgency to it, from the distorted We Live In Shadows and the drum fuelled almost tribal title track through to the acoustic laced, Alice in Chains-esque Stuck In A Hole. King Hiss are a mighty noise from the land of chocolate and much like their countries beer they hit hard and leave a lasting impression rattling your brain for a solid 36 minutes before the minor key piano of Requiem For The Lost plays you out giving rest-bite from the riffage yet still having ominous overtones. Mastosaurus is a superior stoner effort with these Belgians needing more your attention. 8/10      

Reviews: Piledriver, Vesen, Battery (Reviews By Paul)

Piledriver: Brothers In Boogie (Rockwall)

You've got to hand to the Germans. With their love of David Hasselhoff, sauerkraut and Grave Digger, they really don't give a shit. Enter Piledriver, a band formed in Essen in 1995 with one intention, “to preserve the legacy” of the original “Frantic Four”; yes folks, that is Status Quo. But none of this namby pamby acoustic shite, the original hard rocking denim clad pre-1981 band who used to be revered in the hard rock circles and who were responsible for the epic Quo Live.

Piledriver didn't leave it as a tribute band though, oh no. They decided to hit out on their own with their own Quo like boogie, four bars that will never die. Brothers in Boogie is the band’s third full release and mostly  work. It's alright, listenable and inoffensive. Ironically vocal delivery of Michael Sommerhoff and Peter Wagner sits closer to Udo Dirkschneider than Parfitt or Rossi and the stomping beat veres from Quo to Scorpions to Lightweight Accept. Rock In A Crossfire Hurricane? Yeap, that's here. Fat Rat Boogie, One Way to Rock and perfect Quo replica Good Times Again make you smile. In fact, these would be the ideal band at a party or wedding. You will either hate this or love it. I'd love to see them live. It must be hysterical. I think the Grammy can be put back in the cupboard for another year. 6/10

Vesen: Rorschach (Soulseller)

Straight out of Satan’s arse hole comes Vesen, a four piece thrash black metal who hit hard and don't stop. Some of the most gruesome vocals I've heard for ages, cut throats riffage and rampaging bass and drums all combine to make a fearsome noise. It's not pretty but then I don't think the band are looking for pink and fluffy. Rorschach is their fifth full length album, and it pounds like a hammer to the head. Pray for Fire has a galloping pace, with Ronny Ostil’s screaming haunted vocals reminiscent of Behemoth’s Nergal. In fact the whole release has more than a nod to the Polish lords of the black metal world. It's crushing stuff and with tracks such as the demonic Blood, Bones and Pride and the battery of Vulgar, Old and Sick Blasphemy (with a large nod towards old school Celtic Frost) it'll scare the shit out of those who think hard rock is Stone Broken.  Break out the black candles and the goat skull, time for a bit of  Vesen in your life. 8/10

Battery: Martial Law (Punishment 18 Records)

I went to Aarhus once. I saw Cardiff City get thumped in a European Cup match in 1988. It was a dismal game which matched the place. Battery are still stuck in that year, such is the dated style of their thrash. But it's not all dreadful with some fine aggressive riffage and speed the name of the game. Vocally it's bloody awful, with Chris Steel’s screeching voice a poor man’s combination of about a million better thrash throats, Bobby Ellsworth, Paul Balfour and Steve Souza for three. Andreas Joen batters the shit out his kit from start to finish whilst raw fury drives the guitars of Steel, Jokull Johannesson and Jesper Campradt. Jannick Nielsen’s rampaging bass lines impress in the Frank Bello style. It's unfortunate that the vocals do nothing to enhance any of the songs, with Battery By Authority particularly dire but with some harnessing Battery may yet fire a charge or two. 6/10

Thursday 22 December 2016

Reviews: Ulysses, Lux Divina, Saboter

Ulysses: Law And Order (Black Glove Recordings)

Bath based band Ulysses can rightfully claim to be the UK kings of Glam/Psych/Rock on the back of this their third full length record. It's one that I have criminally overlooked until now as it was released earlier in the year and I missed reviewing it so consider the balance redressed. My am I glad I revisited this record as it contains some of the most upbeat, dirty glam rocking since Roy Wood and Wizzard (very festive). Much like Purson, who's singer Rosalie Cunningham contributes vocals to this record, Ulysses make full use of the kaleidoscopic musical backing of the 60's and early 70's with stomping glam on the title track and Smiling a liberal sprinkling of The Beatles pop-psychedelia and the big wailing guitar riffs of Hendrix cutting through the cheeky lyrical flights of fancy such as Dirty Weekend and the proto-Quo of Mary Jane. Think Super Furry's with sparkling guitar solos and you'd be in the right stacked heeled, facial fuzz toting field.

The influences are worn on the collective sleeves with The Cars, Syd Barrett, Thin Lizzy and even Sailor creeping in. The record is deftly produced by Steve Evans (Robert Plant / Siouxsie / Goldfrapp) at the legendary Monnow Valley Studios and as such has an organic analogue quality to it which lends itself to the retro vibe of the bands ethos. The four piece are Luke Smyth on vocals and guitar, Julyan Wells-Cathedral on bass, Denny Peppers on guitar (lead) and finally Shane Maxymus on drums, with all of the these three contributing backing vocals for those gorgeous harmonies that Brian Wilson would lust after. The third record by Ulysses is their strongest to date encapsulating a sound from one of the most creative times in music, poppy, rocky and a little bit naughty get on your leather gloves and give in to Law And Order. 8/10

Lux Divina: Walk Within The Riddle (Einheit Produktionen)

Catalonian pagan black metal is not something you hear very often but Barcelona four piece Lux Divina have been the major exponent of this since 1998. Walk Within The Riddle is their third full length record and it takes traditional folk and Latin elements (The Oceans Are Bewitched) putting them with the black metal overtones of Ireland's Primordial or are own Winterfylleth. The guitars of Gangreal and Javi Bastard switch between frantic heaviness and more progressive touches on Waters Of Tomorrow - Woods Of Yesterday where things slow down as Iberian's bass adds groove.

It's musically very good with the slower sections punctuated by the blitzkrieg speed on Macchiajolo as Norax's vocals switch between demonic screams and booming clean vocals. Walk Within The Riddle is a powerful statement from the Spanish band, with the holiday season upon us I can't think of anything better than hailing Satan with this slab of pagan metal. 7/10

Saboter: Mankind Is Damned (Witches Brew)

Athens based Saboter have only been doing the rounds since 2014 but they have managed to release an EP and now a full length album, when I say full length I mean in the traditional sense of 8 songs and just over 45 minutes, much like the Maiden and Priest albums of the past. Saboter are a band that draw heavily from these acts with furious speed metal and NWOBHM trappings and songs dealing with political issues and war wrapped in a cover that features a robot wizard in a future world.

I said that the band have only been around since 2014 but that's not to say they are rookies three (both guitarists and the vocalist) come from a 90's thrash band called Overcast, the bassist has spent time in thrash/black metal acts and the drummer seems to have been in every underground band in the Greek metal scene.

Like a lot of 'traditional' metal acts the members have all spent time in the black/death/thrash metal circles before coming together, it means that some of the fury from these extreme acts comes through especially in the drumming but the songs have bigger hooks and lots of melodic guitar playing. Mankind Is Damned is a punchy debut album for this group of experienced musicians with fire of Priest and the slightly progressive sounds of Sanctuary, a superior addition to the traditional metal pack. 7/10    

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Reviews: Deadwood Lake, Defiant, Gravebreaker (Reviews By Paul)

Deadwood Lake: Remembrance (Self Released)

This six track EP is astonishingly good. Created by vocalist and bassist Bruce Powell in memory of his late brother Gary, and available for free download with contributions to charitable causes, it is technically superb and blisteringly heavy. Powell’s vocals are spot on for a black metal band whilst his powerful bass combines with drummer Tom Warren’s assault. There is also some delicate moments, notably the opening of Garden Of Remembrance which takes the pace down for a minute or so. Guitarist Ryan Willis cuts some ferocious riffs and his playing throughout is impressive. UK black metal is often underrated but this trio from Chard demonstrate that there is some real talent out there. Awesome stuff! 9/10

Defiant: Time Isn't Healing (Self Released)

Power metal from Ukraine isn't a staple at MOM Towers but Time Isn't Healing, the second album from the band isn't that bad musically. What destroys it is the abjectly awful vocals. Unfortunately lead singer Stanislav Proshkin can't hold a note. That is a problem when. The rest of the band are actually quite tight. Tracks such as Funeral Feast, The Jericho and the title track have the right mix of hard edge and melody with the keyboards of Victoria Terzieva mixing nicely with the guitar work of founder member Andrey Turkovsky. It's disappointing as this has promise but in a world where power metal bands are ten a penny, it is superb vocalists such as Hansi Kursch and Tobias Sammet who set the benchmark. 5/10

Gravebreaker: Sacrifice (Gates Of Hell Records)

Jesus, where to start with this one. Gothenburg has produced some immense bands over the years. The sound of black metal, the home of melodic death metal as well as a myriad of other fabulous bands. But for every swan there is a multitude of ugly ducklings and we may well have the absolute minger here. Gravebreaker, a name which conjures up the most welcoming of images. Sacrifice has an album cover which screams STEREOTYPE and that's before the trio who use the monikers, I shit you not, Fury, Devastation and Nightmare have opened their demonic cake holes. Boy, then you really wish they hadn’t. With all the sound quality of a portaloo at Download this album wins the worst production of the year by a fucking mile. I really hate slating bands but this is just shockingly bad. Aiming at the punk edge of very early Iron Maiden but with all the panache of 1990s Anvil minus any talent whatsoever, it is turgid, dull and quite simply rubbish. The fact I had to listen to it twice to confirm I wasn't hallucinating the first time means they get the lowest rating I've ever given. Avoid at all costs. 1/10

Sunday 18 December 2016

The Spotlight: Interview With Lionize (Interview By Paul)

Before the Clutch gig in Cardiff, we were lucky enough to have ten minutes to chat to the band’s bassist Henry ‘Hank’ Upton.

Interviewing bands isn’t as glamorous as you might imagine and we conducted the interview in the luxurious setting of an alley outside the venue, next to the service lift which was in constant use during the interview. Still, we soldier on and Hank was the most engaging and charming dude. We started off by asking Hank about his musical influences.

Hank: “I started out really into funk music. My favourite band was and still is Parliament [legendary funk band from New Jersey led by George Clinton in the 1970s]. I liked Parliament and James Brown and The Mears. I thought funk was the coolest thing when I was growing up, and then I got into classic rock around high school. Because we were in the DC area we heard a lot of Go-go [funk sub-genre which originated in DC in the 1960s and 70s] like Chuck Brown and stuff and that came into the funk world too. Then through Nate [Nathan Bergman – Lionize vocals and guitarist], Nate had a giant reggae collection and was super into reggae so through Nate I got very into reggae … and the classic rock stuff was always there; so basically, all of those things”.

We moved on to talk about Steel Pulse, the legendary reggae band from Handsworth, Birmingham. Hank wasn’t aware of the huge reggae scene in Cardiff so we put him right on that and then asked him how Lionize’s relationship with Steel Pulse had started.

Hank: “Well, we were already fans of Steel Pulse and we got a gig opening for them in the DC area. We got to talk to them a bit … and for whatever reason they took a liking to us. We were different at that time as we were playing on reggae bills, with more reggae elements but we were still playing riffs, doing more of the heavier stuff; what you might call rock reggae you know. I think we were different and just sort of developed a friendship with those guys. They were there last night, hanging out actually”

MOM: “Oh really, of course, you played the Institute last night didn’t you”.

Hank: “Yeah, in Birmingham. They live in Birmingham and Selwyn and Griz from Pulse came out last night and that was awesome. They are actual living legends. It’s a crazy thing”.

Next up on the list of questions was to discuss Clutch. Lionize go way back with them and are on Clutch’s Weathermaker label. We asked how touring with Clutch was.

Hank: “Well, at this point, I just think of them as our friends and these tours are always the most fun tours you can do; they are arguably the best band on the planet. They have the smartest lyrics of any band and we just get along very well with them. They really took us under their wing and taught us a lot, helped us immensely and continue to do so and we are just very fortunate to have developed that relationship”.

When we mentioned that Clutch are finally getting recognition Hank laughed “Yeah, they are a 25-year overnight success!”

It was quite surprising to find that Lionize played at the infamous annual GWAR-B-Q in Richmond in 2012. We asked Hank what that was like and how they went down.

Hank: “It’s wacky. They do it by this lake, in a mini water park and a camp ground … and there is all sorts of interesting people around and GWAR fans are interesting people. I loved GWAR since I was a kid actually, so the shows, their shows are always crazy and everyone there is just the most intense GWAR fans. We did get a good reception; most of the bands there were way more metal than we were but yeah, we did get a good reception”.

With five albums and three EPs under their belt, including this year’s EP The Voyage, we asked Hank what was next musically for the band.

Hank: “We’ve already written a whole record, which when we get home we are going to record and hope to release it around Summer 2017”.

Disappointingly the band hadn’t had chance to get a look at our fair City, which is hardly surprising given their intense schedule so we moved onto our final question, the inevitable “which is your favourite sheep?” [for the uninitiated, the interviewee is presented with a poster of British Sheep and asked to select their favourite].

Hank: [perusing the poster] “you can judge them by just their appearance but then you have to take into account their names … I’m taking this seriously, I think the North Ronaldsey, he’s stately, the sheep ambassador!”

So there you have it. A warm and engaging guy, our massive thanks to Hank for giving up his time prior to the show to talk to us.

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

Clutch – Great Hall, Cardiff

The final gig for 2016 saw the mighty Maryland outfit Clutch play one of just four UK dates at the Great Hall. Supported by Montgomery County’s Lionize and North Carolina nutters Valient Thorr.

This show had sold out and the Great Hall is always a sweaty venue when full, so we got in early and settled onto the barrier for the start of the show. Lionize (9) were first up, full of their funk fused rock. Frontman Nate Bergman was wearing a camo pyjama set and the cleanest pair of trainers I’ve seen since Jax Teller in Sons Of Anarchy. It didn’t matter as the band delivered the goods in magnificent style, with their 30-minute set over in a flash. The band is cohesive and tight, with drummer Chase Lapp battering the kit whilst keyboard player Chris Brooks and bassist Hank Upton supported Bergman with superb backing vocals. Their playing was pretty damn fine too. The band were joined at one point by Clutch guitarist Tim Sult, who laid down a sweet solo before humbly exiting to allow the band to finish their set. A massive ovation from the packed hall was fully deserved and let’s hope these guys continue to get recognition over here.

With three bands on the bill turnover was sharp and bang on cue the craziness of Valient Thorr (6) hit the hall. Now, I appreciate the effort that the band put in but they unfortunately didn’t do a lot for me. The chaos on the stage in front of us, which looked like a redneck convention, was bewildering with frontman Valient Himself off the scale of nuttiness. The band play hard rock but it often sounds like they are playing three different songs at the same time. The muddy sound didn’t help. A decent reception from the masses although by now there were also quite a lot of bewildered faces who didn’t quite understand the band from outer space.

I’ve seen Clutch (10) many times now, starting in TJs back the summer of 2009 and they never disappoint. In fact, they continue to amaze. Not only do they mix the set list up every night, but they just lay down the most incredible music. Tonight it was exactly the same. How many bands would open with the title track from their second EP, released in 1992? Well, Passive Restraints was the song, and that pleased the old school immensely. The band followed this with a track from their debut album, The House That Peterbilt from Clutch before hitting hard with Pure Rock Fury which got the place moving. With Clutch it’s all about the music, little chat between songs but quality at every turn. Sole Earth Rocker tune The Face was up next before the stomp of Sucker For The Witch and the frenzy of Power Player and You Can’t Stop Progress. As ever, it’s Neil Fallon who captured the attention with his hyperactive movement and crazed expressions. Tim Sult, Jean Paul Gaster and Dan Maines are more reserved, content to play the music.

Unlike recent tours the band didn’t focus exclusively on their most recent release with a modest five tunes from the excellent Psychic Warfare, which included Quick Death In Texas and Decapitation Blues. To the joy of many, the band returned Burning Beard from Robot Hive/ Exodus to the set list and it was welcomed with open arms. The pit in full flow, the air hot and humid, beer sloshing around. Yes, it was a good Clutch gig. Chris Brooks joined the band to play the anthemic 10001110101 and Escape From The Prison Planet before another treat, The Regulator from Blast Tyrant closed the set. A blistering encore of Electric Worry and X-Ray Visions followed and then they were gone. One of the quickest 1.5 hours of my life. Clutch live is the quintessential live experience. See them. Change your life.

Reviews: Conjuring Fate, Iron Bastards, Vanik

Conjuring Fate: Valley Of Shadows (Self Released)

Belfast's Conjuring Fate play proper British metal and Valley Of Shadows is their debut full length. Now what I mean by proper British metal is heavy, leather clad metal that throws the horns to Maiden, Priest and Saxon as influences with tight guitar harmonies, a rhythm section that runs at light speed, muscular vocals (Tommy Daly take a bow) and tough guy posturing with songs about horror and fantasy themes. They are particularly heavy too more in the Iced Earth style (or UK based Intense).

The shredding of Phil Horner and Karl Gibson is top notch see the thrashy Dr Frankenstein which sees the band attacking their instruments the rhythms section of Bogdan Walczak (drums) and Steve Leager (bass) ploughing away as Horner and Gibson trade-off solos with ease. This is just one of the strong metal anthems on this record as for the rest of the record the standard is maintained Trust No One is more Maiden-like with a serious gallop developing and is fully realised on Chasing Shadows which has more horsepower than a Gold Cup winner.

The album is made up of 8 new tracks and three tracks that have been re-recorded but were originally released on their debut EP, of these the shout along Mirror Mirror and House On Haunted Hill are the picks, with gutsy, proper metal Conjuring Fate have breathed new life into an old sound, a great mix of classic sounds delivered with modern toughness Valley Of Shadows is an excellent debut record of proper metal. 9/10 

Iron Bastards: Fast & Dangerous (FDA Records)

You can probably guess what French band Iron Bastards sound like, well here's a clue, they are Iron Bastard and they play rock n roll, yes folks it's an unashamedly blatant Motörhead copying taking it as far as naming themselves after two of major Motörhead tropes and lyrics featuring references to 'white line fever' on Vintage Riders. The band is a three piece (naturally) with the David Bour taking the gravel gargling vocals and Rickenbacker bass (also naturally) backed by David Semler on guitars and Anthony Meyer on drums.

From the title track through The Code Is Red the painfully silly Rock O'Clock, the percussive proto-thrash of Out Of Control and the tough as nails Ballbreaker Number One its just one big Lemmy love-in, while that's fine and dandy it won't win any prizes for originality and equally it displays why Lemmy was so revered, anyone can play fast and loud rock n roll but it was Lemmy's lyrics that really made the songs stand out and this is where Iron Bastards let themselves down, still if you have listened to every Motörhead album 100 times and need another fix then put Fast & Dangerous on, turn it up loud and turn your brains into a cocktail with headbanging. 7/10 

Vanik: Vanik (Van Records)

Vanik the album is the debut from Vanik the band who are led by Vanik the man (with me so far?) They (he) have come out of the gate (of hell) playing dirty speed metal with punk snarled vocals and a horror fetish Rob Zombie would love. The debut record is just over 30 minutes of furious, riffs, shouting and aggression. It's not big or clever but if you want something to beat you about the head for half an hour you could do worse than Vanik, there's not much else I can say really, dirty speed metal from the USA like Ronseal it does what it says on the tin and like or lump it. 6/10

Friday 16 December 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats & Vôdûn, The Globe Cardiff
This to me was an interesting gig as I have yet to see Vôdûn or Uncle Acid in a small venue as the former has only been at festivals and the latter only when supporting Black Sabbath in Birmingham, so I was anticipating a good night of music as both bands have their own take on music and both deliver in the live arena. As I headed into The Globe it was nice to see Cardiff staying true to form and swallowing beer by the pint until they were rat-arsed on a school night, still I headed upstairs and took my place for both bands.

First up was London based voodoo rock band Vôdûn (9) who took to the stage to no fanfare and decked out in their normal warpaint and tribal clothing, many weren't interested but as Minos Army started the set they ensured that those who turned up early were quickly watching the stage. Now I've seen the three-piece before and it can take crowds a little bit of time to adjust to the shamanic, frenzied performance of the band but once they do inhibitions are forgotten and the groove takes hold. It's almost cult-like in nature as all three members know how to get the most out of their respective instruments, Ghede (Lindz) plays his heavy gauge stringed guitar for maximum discord swirling riffs around the frankly astounding drumming of Ogoun (Zel), watching her from our vantage point was mesmerising, power, precision and controlled aggression meant she was the driving force of the bands percussive style of metal. 

Right of her was singer Oya (Chantal) whose voice is astounding soulful, passionate with a wide range that moves from shouts to shrieks and back again and when she's not singing she plays all manner of percussion instruments while going wild to the psychadelic grooves of their songs, as the set progressed through Bondeye, Erzulie, Oya, Kanpay Rejete the pace was never dropped, with more and more of the crowd going wild until the closing number Legba's Feast featured various percussion instruments given to those in the crowd while Oya and Ogoun had a cowbell duel (and you can never have enough cowbell). Vôdûn are a band made for the live arena their music is sort of frenetic, furious, spiritual heaviness that draws you into the truly stunning spectacle of the power of music. 

The headliners had a mountain to climb but they made their way to the stage with an assured confidence. The Cambridgeshire four piece were greeted by very warm (and now full) Cardiff crowd and with the opening chord of Mt. Abraxas from Mind Control kicking off the heads started to bang and continued to during Waiting For Blood as well as one of my personal favourite Over And Over Again. With the four Hairy Herberts engaged in some heads down riffing, Kevin Starrs wailing down the mic and taking the Iommi-loving leads the visuals were left to the lights and smoke, however the smoke left an acrid smell in the air but as it cleared it became more recognisable, it smelt like burning, particularly electrical burning. As the band ploughed through, finally in flurry of movement from the event staff they jumped on stage and the show was halted. As there was numerous people crowding around one of the PA's a few restless punters couldn't keep cool and started to heckle but if it's a choice of stopping the show for a few minutes and there being a fire I know which I prefer (it's not Rammstein folks). 

After a short time the signal was given the show restarted and everything was heavy again. Vôdûn's Oya was brought on to help with the excellent Pusher Man (dedicated to Phil Spector) before they chilled things out with the creeping Slow Death which burnt slowly from embers into a raging fire and ended the main set with oppressively heavy metal. A short encore (not needed) and back they came for the first song of the encore Melody Lane which is an amalgamation of early Sabbath and Syd fronted Pink Floyd before ending things properly with Withered Hand Of Evil. On a night when they had to deliver, they did and although the gap broke the vibe a little Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats (8) proved that they deserve their top billing, who needs Black Sabbath when you have UAATDB. I urge you to forgo watching Sabbath on their current 'final' tour and go see Uncle Acid instead it's crushingly heavy doom laden occult rock, the soundtrack to bad acid trip, it's the music that killed the summer of love and more power to it.

A great gig to start the wind up to the end of the year.

Reviews: Super Vintage, Nash B.C, The Mighty N

Super Vintage: Welcome To Mojo Land (Grooveyard Records)

Stavros Papadopoulos leads Greek rockers Super Vintage into their third full length disc, again it's full of bluesy, soul-driven, twin-guitar toting hard rock that bridges the gap between Aerosmith and Lynyrd Skynyrd. With a keen ear to the 70's (they started as a covers band) Stavros plays the leads and takes the mic aided by Panagiotis Zabourlis on second guitars and the incredible slide playing.
Together they play some mean riffs and great harmonies that wouldn't sound out of place on a Blackberry Smoke album especially the sunshine sounds of Kiss Your Bad Feelings Goodbye and the dramatic Still Alive.

In the engine room Jim Moralis (bass) and Lazaros Simitis (drums) supply the groove, rich and syrupy like Manuka honey while Stavros' Sammy Hagaresque vocals are bolstered by the soulful backing vocals of Areti Valavanpoulou. Welcome To Mojo Land is a very good album full of searing guitar heroism, whiskey hued vocals, it's heavy in places (Rock N Roll Revolution), funky in others (Let Me Be What I Want To Be) but mostly it's pure rock and roll with a Southern edge and plentiful guitar solos a very good album harking to the glory days of American hard rock. 8/10    

The Mighty N: Retribution (Self Released)

The Mighty N are Athens based alt/progressive rock band or as they call themselves "praggressive" formed by virtuoso musician Natasha Tsirou the band is her own project and pseudonym and is a great showcase for musical talents, she writes all of the music and lyrics, plays the keys and sings on this record, she is so skilled musically, (Natasha is a classically trained pianist and singer) that she was offered a place at the Berklee College of Music on a scholarship. She turned it down only to apply to the Conservatorium of Amsterdam, this defiant confidence is reflected in her music having spent time in jazz bands, funk soul bands, numerous collaborations with Greek musicians but her true passion and calling is rock music.

The Mighty N released their first album in December 2013 and now 3 years later their second record Retribution is finished, so what is it like? Well it's a very varied album that draws from a myriad of musical styles with heavyweight grungy riffs reminiscent of  Soundgarden, Kill Your Enemies, the musicial experimentation of The Mars Volta, and the jazz crooning of Ella Fitzgerald which is at it's finest on How I End The Show the smoky country flavour, kicks into a great groove as Natasha displays her sultry croon.

The record is chock full of great songs Gone is an acoustic laced, emotive jazzy progger giving Natasha's vocal a real work out with the trippy fade out at the end, Ground Zero is more of a hard rocker but with odd time signatures and led by a cracking bassline while Devils Advocate is swaggering wah fuelled hard rock song with some special help from few male vocalists duetting with Natasha. An interesting album that will make you sit up and take notice. 7/10

Nash B.C: Burning Babylon (Rockshot Records)

Thessaloniki trio Nash B.C are here to make an impact on their debut record, Nash (guitars), George Bacchus (vocals) and Costas Matis (drums) play riff driven hard rock with more than a whiff of sleaze, it's confident, catchy and very modern bringing Alter Bridge heavily to mind, with Nash's riffs particularly impressive balancing heaviness with the melodies to great effect much like Mr Tremonti. the entire sound of this record is bolstered by the production quality which stands up to the usual Valve Studio quality and means that the riffs feel fat and juicy.

The drums are tough and the vocals are gritty and robust. With a handful of good tune Nash B.C do make an impact but too much of this album feels a little like coasting and doesn't keep the attention as it should still there's time for the band to evolve and broaden their musical palate, still the debut has just enough to keep you interested. 6/10

Thursday 15 December 2016

Reviews: Church Of The Cosmic Skull, Thunder & Lightning, Bronco

Church Of The Cosmic Skull: Is Satan Real? (Kozmik Artifactz)

Band, cult, collective call it what you will Church Of The Cosmic Skull are a group of musically inclined individuals all of whom are performers in their own right. They have come together to form this new collaboration under the leadership of Bill Fischer under the idea of new music driven religious movement who "seek to free mankind from their material possessions and unify all living beings into a singular cosmic whole" a lofty ambition but this Nottingham 7 piece band aim high with their 70's inspired prog/psych/pop influenced rock that owes a debt to Queen, Hawkwind, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and The Beatles with a kaleidoscope of colours displayed throughout the record.

The massive doom riffs created by Fischer's guitar and Sam Lloyd's bass are backed by the tub-thumping of Loz Stone for maximum impact but what really shines are the swirling sometimes dizzying organs/keys of Michael Wetherburn, these give a the woozy, psychedelic edge, especially when aided by the electric cello of  Amy Nicholson who is one of three female members of the band contributing to the vocals and harmonising with Jo Joyce and Caroline Cawley for an almost spiritual, choral polyphony.

With seven members and six vocalists, Withers and the girls taking most of the lead vocals, while Wetherburn and Lloyd bolster the ELO levels of vocal layering, you may think that it might all be a bit overkill but it's all nuanced well the riffs are fat and juicy, while the pop melodies get their hooks in you quickly and the girls waft in and out of the discord with syncopated beauty. Whatever the description of COTCS this debut record sets out their stall from the opening few seconds of Mountain Heart through to the final crescendo of 11 minute closer Evil In Your Eye.

In a time when Ghost, Purson, Kadavar, The Blues Pills are all at the forefront of the psych/occult retro hard rock scene, this church needs a congregation, so raise your hands high and give praise as this is very good indeed. 8/10

Thunder & Lightning: The Ages Will Turn (Self Released)

As Phil Lynott once said Thunder & Lightning should "hit you like a hammer" so let's see if the German power metal troupe live up Mr Lynott's exacting standards on this their sophomore album.T&L are a power metal band and play towards the heavier end of the style with crunching dual guitars and a furious rhythm section beating out the hard edged power metal with gruff vocals. The Ages Will Turn like I said is their second record and sees the band focusing on the urban myths, the darkside of the moon on Welcome To The Darkside, the infamous Mary Celeste on the track of the same name along and on Silent Watcher they deal with the Slender Man.

It's not all tin foil hat stuff though, the title track is a lament of war and Colombia is a homage to the Bioshock: Infinite videogame (Seriously). With such a wide range of subjects influencing the album the music varies very little from the standard heavy metal template not that it's a band thing as the band are all good musicians and the songs get your head nodding, The Ages Will Turn is 45 minutes of competent power metal, for fans of Iced Earth, Mystic Prophecy and early Blind Guardian. It does indeed hit you like a hammer but it's the workmanlike claw rather than the more specialist sledge or ball-peen, still it does the job and hits the spot numerous times. 7/10

Bronco: Modern Mythology (Self Released)

Modern Mythology is a record of muscular hard rock, it kicks off with the chunky Falling Free, then 122dB brings a more melodic sound while retaining the bands stoner influenced groove. Bronco hail from Quebec and are a four piece with a female singer, from what I can decipher from their all French biography. The songs on this record are filthy with distorted riffs the order of the day but there is and overarching laid back sound to the band, it's blues influenced music to smoke a medicinal plant to. With smoky female vocals, fuzz guitar riffs and hip shaking rhythms on Never Ending Dance and Starting Again it's nothing hasn't been heard before but Bronco play bluesy stoner rock  well and if you love a bit of filthy riffage and soulful delivery they will be up your alley. 6/10

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Reviews: Obzidian, Ranger, Sonus Mortis (Reviews By Paul)

Obzidian: Obliteration Process (Black Rock Records)

This is the fourth full release from Stafford’s thrash and groove metal four piece Obzidian. It’s fair to say this is the UK’s answer to Lamb Of God with the snarl of Matty Jenks so close to Randy Blythe that on occasion I had to look up and check I hadn’t put Richmond’s finest on by mistake. But that is no bad thing. Obliteration Process is full of groove and power and a sound that is impressive for a four piece.

It’s also dripping with aggression, brutality and sounds damn fine. Jenks’ voice is guttural in the extreme, at times verging on wild hog but overall quite fantastic. Matt Jeff’s stomping bass lines and the blasting drumming of Paul Hayward allow guitarist Baz Foster to slice it up. It’s not for the faint hearted as it rages from start to finish with time for a minor sortie into sludge country for the delightfully titled Like Maggots They Infest. This is a tasty release which ticks all the boxes. 8/10

Ranger: Speed And Violence (Spinefarm Records)

Thrash metal from Helsinki with a distinctive sound set in the early 1980s? Yes, that is exactly what Ranger have managed to capture, with early Slayer, Exciter, Morbid Angel, Armored Saint and Exodus amongst the influences which hit you from the opening bars of Speed And Violence. Its fast, its furious and at times almost uncontrollable.  With a production that belongs way back in the past Ranger are a throwback to the days of skin tight jeans, battle jackets and white hi-tops. Speed And Violence is the follow up to 2015’s Where Evil Dwells, which to be fair, sounded the same.

It does exactly what you would expect from a thrash band firmly cemented in an old-school sound; Dimi’s vocals a mix of King Diamond and Mille Petrozza. As well as the thrash influence, there is a huge Iron Maiden sound here as well; Without Warning contains parts that are lifted straight of the Irons debut. It’s not going to win awards for originality, with the 1984 Slayer-like sound of Satanic Panic and Night Slasher frankly ridiculous but it’s good fun if you like your thrash fast, heavy and routine. Oh, and don’t forget to gasp at the quite ludicrous album cover which may well win the worst of 2016. 6/10

Sonus Mortis: Hail The Tragedies Of Man (Self Released)

We seem to get a lot of multi-instrumentalists to review here at Musipedia and Sonus Mortis is another interesting piece of work. Hail The Tragedies Of Man is the work of Kevin Byrne who plays all instruments and sings too. This is the third release and follows last year’s War Prophecy. The combination of death and doom metal works well and the former Valediction man demonstrates his technical excellence throughout.

The combination of death growls and gothic tones of despair, themes of anger, despair and anti-religion and above all a pounding combination of heavy riffage, impressive battering blast beats and driving rhythms, the influences of such heavy weights as Behemoth, Septicflesh, Opeth, Anathema and the industrial drive of Gary Newman all hit you in one massive curled fist. The melancholic elements impress more than the more generic death grunts but this is a worthy slab. 7/10

Tuesday 13 December 2016

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

Memoriam – The Asylum, Birmingham

As the year winds to a close, it was fitting that my 40th gig (including three festivals so many more bands seen) in 2016 was an absolute monster. Travelling with Matt and our death metal loving buddy Lee to Birmingham on a dour Sunday in December isn’t most people’s idea of fun but we really love the live music buzz.

I’d never been to the Asylum before. It’s a decent venue, despite a shocking lack of appreciation for the real ale. With a 600-person capacity, it gives the Midlands a decent sized venue for bands slightly left off field and who pull the 400+ crowd. Mind you they’ve had a range of bigger names too, with Exodus and Trivium unsurprisingly selling the place out in recent times.

Opening the evening were local outfit Absolution (6), back in the metal fold following their return in 2012. Some of our older readers may remember them skirting around the edge of the early 1990s death metal scene. The band stated that they played old school death metal. Well, they certainly played death metal, with vocalist Neil Hadden, a veteran from the beginning of the band grunting with gruesome delivery. The band’s apparent curiosity with serial killers manifested in many of the songs, such as Shallow Grave. They were aggressive, brutal and unfortunately repetitive.

A Celtic Frost cover was a brave choice in the middle of their set and it just about edged over the line. I was struck by how amazing Frost had been, delivering such complex sounds as a three piece; the five members of Absolution just didn’t get close. However, credit where credit is due; the band obtained a reasonable reaction from the crowd although inter-song change overs were sloppy and there appeared limited cohesion at times.

On a bill of death metal a doom soaked band didn’t seem the obvious choice. However, this was a night for Birmingham bands and Kroh (7) are another local outfit. A 40-minute set flew by, the combination of their Sabbath/Portishead/My Dying Bride induced misery and dirty riffs met with wide approval. All eyes were focused on the elfin Olivia Sobieszek whose powerful vocals and enthusiastic response to any applause was warming. Flanked by the duel guitar fuzz of Paul Kenney and Paul Hampton and supported by the energetic drumming of Rychard Slanton and the crushing bass lines of Dewan Donovan, Sobieszek did a great job, commanding her space centre stage. The band played a selection of tracks from their vinyl only release Altars and were rewarded with a warm round of applause at the end of their set.

There was only one band that the assembled 350 or so punters had travelled to see and that was Memoriam (9). For the uninitiated, the band are fronted by legendary Bolt Thrower vocalist Karl Willetts, who spent much of the evening wandering around mixing with the crowd. Absolutely no ego with this man. Alongside Willetts Benediction/Sacrilege bassist Frank Healy, Benediction guitar ace Scott Fairfax and former Bolt Thrower drummer Andy Whale. Although the band originally formed to deliver cover versions the creative juices have been flowing nicely with The Hellfire Demos whetting the appetite for 2017’s full release.

With The World At War theme blasting out the band launched into Memoriam, a crunching battering which left those in the audience who may have been dozing with a rude awakening. Willetts amazingly deathly growl is just immense, his timing superb. Grinning like a Cheshire cat as he spotted friends and family in the crowd, this event was part Christmas party part jam room. It was also pretty fantastic and when the band slipped in their version of Captive (Sacrilege) as well as the pounding of Spearhead from Bolt Thrower’s The IVth Crusade there was much banging of the head. Alongside these classics, the new stuff from the band sounded fucking mean, with the merciless assault of Resistance, the grinding battery of Drone Strike and the majesty of War Rages On impressing.

Willetts is the complete frontman, giving a shout out to the Cardiff lads who had made the trip along with those battle-hardened Germans who made the trip from their home country. As the band slipped into Inside The Wire from Bolt Thrower’s Honour, Valour, Pride it was with some warmth that I reflected on the reward for our efforts getting to Birmingham. This was an evening to savour. Brutally brilliant.

Monday 12 December 2016

Reviews: Oni, Solitude, Crown Of Earth (Reviews By Rich)

Oni: Ironshore (Metal Blade)

Canada's Oni set out to impress with their fantastic debut album Ironshore and impress they most certainly do with an album which fuses progressive metal, metalcore and technical death metal in spectacular fashion. The music on Ironshore is amazingly technical but without being self indulgent and is also equal parts brutally heavy and stunningly melodic. The rhythm sections are dizzyingly complex with some absolutely savage guitar riffs and stunning leads performed ably by guitarist Brandon White. The vocals by Jake Oni switch between impressive cleans, guttural death metal growls and high end screams.

The bass playing and drumming must also get huge rounds of applause as they both performed amazingly though special mention must go to xylosynth player Johnny DeAngelis whose fantastic playing gives some of the songs a new dimension (seriously watch the video on YouTube of Johnny DeAngelis playing through Barn Burner - it's glorious!). Opening track Barn Burner gets things off to a stunning start being one of the most death metal leaning songs on the album. The Only Cure is also one of the heaviest songs on the album and also features guest vocals by none other than Randy Blythe of Lamb Of God.

The highlight for me is the eleven minute proggy masterpiece that is The Science. Other highlights include the technical madness of Spawn And Hate and the xylosynth driven Kanvas. Ironshore is an absolutely stunning debut album mixing jaw dropping musicianship and fantastic songwriting. My only tiny criticism can be that one or two of the songs are overshadowed by the rest of the album and are slightly less memorable. If Oni are this good on their debut album then they have an extremely promising future ahead of them. This is one band I shall keeping a very close eye on and already cannot wait to see what they do next. A modern day metal masterpiece. 9/10

Solitude: Reach For The Sky (Spiritual Beast)

Reach For The Sky is the second album by Japanese old school heavy metallers Solitude. This album was originally released last year in Japan but has only now been released globally. I'm gonna start this review by saying that if you are a fan of old school heavy metal then this album is essential listening and probably the best straight up heavy metal album I have heard this year. Solitude take influence from bands such as Accept, Saxon and Motorhead and also mix in some speed and thrash metal influences to create the ripping metal storm that is Reach For The Sky combining tearing riffs, catchy melodies and a thunderous rhythm section.

The vocal style of Akira Sugiuchi might not be to everyone's taste with him employing a gruffer and grittier style quite in the vein of Chris Boltendahl from Grave Digger. The songs on the album range from the speed metal attack of Venom's Angel and Don't Need Mercy to fist pumping yet melodic metal anthems such as Reach For The Sky and Escape For The Crime. All the tracks have a sense of urgency and a ridiculous yet addictive energy about them which will have your head banging whether you like it or not.

Reach For The Sky is an absolutely fantastic album with great songwriting, fantastic performances and ridiculous amounts of energy. It may be in the vein of classic eighties heavy metal but this album feels modern and contemporary rather than a retro release. An essential listen for any self respecting heavy metal fan. 9/10

Crown Of Earth: Crown Of Earth (Cochise Entertainment Inc)

Crown Of Earth are a Philadelphia based band playing classic 1980's style heavy metal and this is their self titled debut album. The music on Crown Of Earth is classic old school heavy metal with crunching riffs and catchy melodies. The guitar playing by Michael Ellis and Christopher Graziola is impressive with crunchy riffs and some impressive leads. The vocals of frontman Danny Knight are both gritty and melodic. The bass playing and drumming is fairly pedestrian but holds everything together.

Crown Of Earth is a band who have a clear love and passion for old school heavy metal especially shining through on tracks such as Frank (The Hellraiser), Born Again Warrior and Into The Night. The band wear their influences on their sleeves and you can hear everyone from Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Manowar and early Queensryche in their sound. The problem with a retro heavy metal band is that they are never going to sound as good as the bands they are imitating but Crown Of Earth is a vastly enjoyable yet somewhat unspectacular debut album. 7/10

Sunday 11 December 2016

Reviews: Nightmare, Bad Touch, Sister, Vanderberg (Reviews By Paul)

Nightmare: Dead Sun (AFM)

The origins of Nightmare can be traced all the way back to Grenoble, France way back in 1979. The band were active in the NWOBHM scene until 1987 when they disbanded. Reforming in 1999 with drummer Jo Amore taking on vocal duties, the band has moved from classic rock, through death metal to their current thrash tinged power metal. The current line-up includes original member Yves Campion on bass and backing vocals and the impressive pipes of Maggy Luyten. Dead Sun is their 10th full release, eight of which have come since 2001. It is the follow up to 2014’s The Aftermath.

Within these parts female fronted bands are always measured against South Wales’ own Triaxis, whose front woman Krissie Kirby possesses one of the best voices in metal today. What Nightmare have over Triaxis is a more composed sound, with standout tracks Inner Sanctum, Ikarus (sic), Starry Skies Gone Black and opener Infected all impressive in their strength and sheer power. Luyten’s voice contains a gritty husky edge which adds to each song, with the battering of Olivier Casulan’s drumming combining with Campion to lay down a hugely infectious foundation which is topped off by some viciously dangerous guitar work from Frank Milleliri and Matt Asselberghs. Dead Sun is a listenable slab of hard metal, simple yet intricate at times but full of pace and potency that obviously comes with the experience that Nightmare holds. 7/10

Bad Touch: Truth Be Told (Bad Touch Records)

Just over a year ago, Norfolk’s Bad Touch opened for Snakecharmer at The Globe. Their high-energy show won over the crowd and ensured that their debut release Half Way Home was snapped up. It was a gutsy debut, oozing the swagger of the Black Crowes and infused with a Zeppelin like feel which is often evident in this type of band. A year later and their sophomore release Truth Be Told is a bit of a damp squib. It’s routine stuff with little to catch the imagination. Stevie Westwood’s vocals remain the best thing about this band, and whilst the groove and swagger dips in and out, for example on opener One More Night, it isn’t maintained in the manner which bands such as The Answer and The Temperance Movement can do with ease. It’s easy to listen to and competently played but just a wee bit dull. 6/10

Sister: Stand Up, Forward March (Metal Blade)

Don’t get confused with the 1970s outfit that spawned one Blackie Lawless, this is Stockholm’s Sister. Formed in 2006, Stand Up, Forward March is the third release from the band who were signed to Metal Blade in 2010 by Primordial’s Alan “Nemthenga” Averill. It’s full of aggressive fast powered punk-driven metal, lots of anthems and sleazy riffs and some impressive hooks. A bit like Motley Crüe without the bloat mixed with the edge of early Guns ‘N’ Roses.

Jamie Anderson’s dirty vocals fit perfectly whilst the guitar of Tim Tweak chugs away alongside the filthy bass of Martin Sweet and drummer Cari Crow. Lost In Line, Carved In Stone and Dead Man's Dirt are all disgustingly infectious, and whilst the glam punk rock sound isn’t my bag this lot could raise the dead with their infectious approach. Album closer Piece Of Shame is dreadful, old school Hanoi Rocks without the class but overall this is a decent album which won’t have you thinking hard but may get you close to a speeding ticket. Drive with caution. 7/10

Vanderberg: Devil May Care (Self Released)

Guitarist Marc Vanderberg is another German virtuoso influenced by the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen, Kee Marcello and John Norum; all whose styles can be heard on this very competent melodic hard rock release. Not to be confused by the Dutch master Adrian Vandenberg (different spelling folks) and his Moonkings, this release has some spectacular guitar work but suffers from a lack of variation in compositions and too many vocalists. Goran Edmann (ex-Malmsteen) and Tave Wanning (Adrenaline Rush) add some solid performances but it’s Columbian Paulo Cuevas who steals the show with the best Joey Tempest impression I’ve heard for years on Key To Your Heart and balls out rocker Corrosion Of Society which is by far the best track on the album, full of power and pace.

Spirit Of The Dragon features Boban Vasileski and if you like your rock heavy but full of melody you’ll dig this immensely. Basically, Devil May Care takes you back to the mid-1980s when Swedish rock was taking a foothold in the world. There are some dull tracks on here, such as the weak Pray and closer Smoking Kills which is just garbage. However, if you can cope with these this is a decent album, especially if you want to live in 1986 again. 7/10

Thursday 8 December 2016

Reviews: Eternal Idol, Dario Mollo's Crossbones, Hevidence

Eternal Idol: The Unrevealed Secret (Frontiers)

For many who love their metal like they love their TV shows, full of Dragons and battles then Italian legends Rhapsody(Of Fire) or whatever they are called now, are pretty near the top of the list in terms of genre leaders their cinematic fantasy power metal has been around since the dawn of scene in the early 90's. In that time the band has split, reformed, split again and are now Lione has left the Of Fire version and they have come together one last time and are about to do their farewell tour as the original Rhapsody.

Those familiar with the band will already know what a great singer Fabio Lione is and with four active bands, six former bands and having guested on over 30 projects, if any metal band worth their salt needs a vocalist Fabio seems the man to go too. So then now he has settled down again and formed Eternal Idol with members of Hollow Haze a band he once fronted but are now led by Giorgia Colleluori who along with guitarist/keys Nick Savio and drummer Camillo Colleluori are all part of Eternal Idol, this means that you get the best of both worlds as Lione's and Colleluori's vocals work in glorious tandem atop the symphonic musical backing.

Giorgia has a powerful rock delivery different to the multitude of operatic singers in this genre her vocal is a revelation, while Fabio has his normal wide style. The Unrevealed Secret is good symphonic metal project there are heavyweight rockers like Another Night Comes In and more melodic tracks such as Awake In Orion as well as the emotive Is The Answer Far From God? it's everything you could want from a symphonic metal album, nothing new but well delivered. 7/10

Dario Mollo's Crossbones (Frontiers)

Dario Mollo has been known for projects involving Tony Martin and Glen Hughes, the Italian guitarist knows how to pick a vocalist and now he has aligned himself with Carl Sentance of Persian Risk and most recently Nazareth. Sentance has stunning Bruce Dickinson-like voice and gives the songs his full range especially on the strutting opener Red. He was recommended for the job by Don Airey and this high praise is rewarded by a great performance throughout the album. The Crossbones project is an homage to Mollo's first band Crossbones and takes him back to the driving hard rock he stared his career with, Rainbow and Whitesnake being the major influences.

Along the way he has brought back original Crossbones drummer Ezio Secomandi who plays for his life on this record as the beating heart of the band. Mollo's guitar playing is fantastic as usual with touches of Blackmore throughout he riffs when he needs to and cuts in with impressive guitar fireworks as the tracks peak. Augmenting him are the bass and keys/organs of long term collaborator Dario Patti who takes the Hughes/JPJ and Jon Lord role all at once. Sentance is the perfect foil for the guitar moving between soaring and snarling on the title track and giving it the full Coverdale on ballad Gates Of Time. A great hard rock record sitting near the top of Mollo's other projects, this has to last longer than one album! 8/10

Hevidence: Nobody's Fault (Frontiers)

Before you put on the debut record from Hevidence on you might want to listen to all of the albums by Alcatrazz, Yngwie Malmsteen' Rising Force, Impellitteri, Dokken, MSG and Racer X. If you see a pattern arising then congratulations Sherlock as all of these band feature classically trained shredders in a band situation. Diego Reali is such a shredder having been the six string wizard for Italian progressive act DGM until 2005.

Since then he has tried his hand at various styles but has always returned to classic hard rock/metal of his youth, Hevidence is the second incarnation of a solo band (that used to be called Evidence) and it's an album that could quite easily slot into any of the band outings by Malmsteen, Vai, Gilbert or Mr Scary himself George Lynch, the neoclassical guitars are the focal point of this record Reali shreds and shreds hard double tapping with panache and playing those arpeggios from hell.

What stops this being sheer guitar porn though is that this is an album full of songs, from Dig In The Night through to All I Ever Needed the showing off never gets in the way of the songwriting, even the instrumental is constructed well rather than just being nonsensical soloing. As good as Reali is he would be nothing without a strong supporting cast (which can be said of any of the bands mentioned).

Luckily the bass and drums of Andrea Arcangeli and Emiliano Bonini are equally solid and skilled as every guitar hero needs a vocalist to match Corrado Quoiani does an ample job behind the mic. For any fans of neoclassical guitar playing and songs that range from swaggering hard rock to thundering power metal then Hevidence will be on your Christmas list for sure! 7/10

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Another Point Of View: Electric Six (Live Review By Paul)

Electric Six- The Globe, Cardiff

It's been three years since the Six has graced our fair city so it was unsurprising that that this gig sold out way before the night. A cold night outside but fully heated indoors with the temperature rising as the crazies got into their stride as the evening progressed. Opening act Nightmares From The Discotheque (7) got the evening off to a splendid start, the Cardiffians humour on the same wavelength as many of their countrymen. Front duo Rick Schaple and Canz Rickman got everyone chortling to their song about Kanye West You've Been Kanye’d and their ode to the unsung nightclub heroes, the toilet lurking aftershave sprayers with No Spray No Lay. These guys have been pushing it hard for several months and were a very good choice of opening act. Closing with the close to the knuckle A Yewtree Christmas Carol, Nightmares are well worth seeing for their typically local brand of humour.

Next up were We Are Z (7), a collection of French and London based multi instrumentalists led by the charismatic Gabriel Cazes. The band arrived on stage sporting an image which appeared to have been generated from the end of year lost property box in a primary school. Their brand of indie rock pop went down a storm with the crowd getting more involved as the set progressed. A range of observational songs from their debut release Animal proved to be just what the audience wanted.

Two years since I last saw Dick Valentine’s crew but Electric Six (9) remain the consummate live band. Although the  line up changes quite regularly, and with the White Wolf absent due to impending fatherhood (thanks to Dave Sugarman for the info), the drive, humour and infectious grooves remain constant. With albums released annually their set list becomes more varied every year. New tracks from their latest album Fresh Blood for Tired Vampyres were interspersed between classics such as Gay Bar and Down at Macdonnalzzz  as well as a couple from last year's Bitch Don't Let Me Die including opener Electric Six (a song about Electric Six!) and When Cowboys File For Divorce.

In between songs Dick Valentine is witty and dry, his deadpan delivery so funny. Encouraging the crowd to head to Swansea for the finale to their tour the following night “it's all free, free entry …”. Of course, it's sometimes easy to miss the quality of the music during all the fun but this band are just the business. A raucous High Voltage!  was received with joy and the unexpected but very welcome Synthesiser from debut release Fire got the place moving. Hit with Improper Dancing and closing track I Buy the Drugs the place went nuts. Another really enjoyable evening from one of the best bands around.

Tuesday 6 December 2016

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

Marillion, The Tramshed, Cardiff

I have to admit that I've not seen Marillion since the 1986 Misplaced Childhood tour rolled into St Davids Hall. Thirty years is a long time to leave it and it was with much anticipation that I headed to the Tramshed to renew acquaintances.

Since that tour Marillion has morphed into a totally different beast. With the arrival of Steve “H” Hogarth the band were released from many of the difficulties they had experienced with the “Scottish singer” and over the past 28 years their sound has changed dramatically, far removed from the punk fused neo progressive rock that many who don't follow them still associate with the name of the band. In fact, the Hogarth era sound is much closer to the progressive nuanced indie style of Radiohead and the like. Clever without being arrogant, delicate and intricate, intriguing and thought provoking and beautifully played. It's fair to say that Marillion don't make music for the three minute single generation.

The Tramshed is a cracking venue but boy does it become hard work when full to capacity. For the vertically challenged it's inevitable that sight lines will be interrupted or even completely blocked and the temperature rockets very quickly. Sensible action by the ever excellent staff in opening the doors to allow airflow during the main set helped but this was only after at least one member of the audience required assistance. Perhaps the demographic of an audience for a band such as Marillion needs to be given more consideration. These aren't spring chickens we are talking about.

Opening act John Wesley (6) faced a stern challenge. With a stellar reputation thanks to his time in Porcupine Tree and of course with Fish, he didn't have to win over the crowd but his solo approach with programming to support his guitar and vocals was a bit dull for a partisan crowd who were there for only  one reason. Despite a game effort and some pleasing interactions with some wags in the audience prior to his last song, A Way You'll Never Be, Wesley was unable to maintain the attention of many which caused frustration for those who did want to listen.

The start of two and a half hours of quite superb music began with Marillion (9), minus H, gently arriving on stage and launching into The Invisible Man, the digital backdrop projecting H’s vocals before the man himself arrived on stage, dapperly dressed in suit and tie. As the evening progressed H’s appearance matched the mood of the music, losing the tie and later jacket and by the encores changing from a sweat drenched shirt to tee and leather. It's no coincidence that this band evoke such loyalty from their audience. This was akin to a religious experience with the commitment of the band fully matched by the crowd who soaked up every minute, passion and emotion present throughout.

Whilst H is the focal point of the band, and he is a damn good frontman, the unassuming work that goes on around him is remarkable. Ian Moseley is a fine drummer, his work with bassist Pete Trewavas solid and crafted. Mark Kelly’s keyboards and programming provides the layers and textures which are the Marillion sound whilst the underrated guitar work of Steve Rothery, the sole original member was just beautiful. Never one to push it, his work meshes perfectly with the band's, but he can let rip when he wants. Of course, it's the vocal performance that makes or breaks a band and H cannot only sing but perform as well, theatrics enhancing his lyrics. He also took the audience banter brilliantly, swearing like a trooper and greeting an impromptu “oggi oggi oggi “ with genuine surprise.

A large chunk of the set was unsurprisingly devoted to the quite magnificent F.E.A.R , possibly the album of 2016. Politically astute and observationally accurate, F.E.A.R reflects the world we live in, ruled by wealthy corporations to the expense of the rest. Chillingly clear and oh so accurate. Living in Fear was the first track, many of the audience fully familiar with a release a mere two months old. Solitary pre H track Sugar Mice from Clutching At Straws  allowed those around at the time to open up the vocals, H only needing to sing about a third of the song thanks to the Cardiff choir who were in full voice. I’m sure there is a massive cross over between the Fish and Marillion fan base and it was no surprise to hear many sing it word perfect.

The most accurate and frightening part of F.E.A.R, The New Kings held everyone captivated. A quite masterful piece of work, H’s Performance was astonishing, dripping with emotion and anger. The ovation that was received was fully deserved. The fragility of the rock star life was hammered home during King with a poignant montage of those stars who died before their time. Enough legends to fill the entire song, Lynott, Presley, Lennon and Winehouse amongst them.

A deserved encore brought more new treats in the shape of El Dorado from F.E.A.R which sounded majestic in the live arena. Sadly a few of the crowd were by now restless and some of the quieter parts were spoilt by mindless chatter. The finale of This Strange Engine, introduced by H as a mad song that even he didn't know what was  about, brought a fantastic show to a close. Two and a half hours in length and quite technically astonishing, Marillion really did deliver.

As a footnote, it would be remiss of me not to comment on the quite idiotic behaviour of some of the fans. It appears to be increasingly common for the crowds in the Tramshed to get tanked up as the night progresses. This got to ridiculous proportions when during Marillion’s set a fight broke out! Yes, grown middle aged men for fuck’s sake. Whilst the Marillion army is devoted to the core, they also contain some of the biggest assholes. A real shame but a bit of tarnish to an otherwise glorious evening.

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

Bigfoot, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

Maybe we've just been spoilt in recent weeks with our gigs. Maybe the sun and beer back in July messed with our judgement and maybe we got caught up in the social media frenzy. All I know is that this gig was a crushingly underwhelming evening.

Arriving in time to catch most of The Boom Sons (6) set, the three piece from The Rhondda grooved away with their fuzzy hard rock sound. Performing to 12 people is unlikely to be the most inspirational event of your life but the diminutive Vanessa Morgan, grappling with a giant bass guitar didn't worry with a solid vocal performance. Playing a range of tracks from their debut release Weird is the New Black there was some welcome variation in their style although set closer Move Your Deriere reverted to type to close the set. Whilst the band were okay, their inter song manner was pretty chaotic. Something to work on but a bit of promise.

Most of Bigfoot’s traveling entourage slowly wandered into the room for main support from the dirty ‘Port Everyday Heroes (7). These boys had played the Friday night at Steelhouse and earned some positive reaction. The crowd had swelled to around 35 by now, although we later realised this was mainly due to the band's friends and family. In fact, there were probably fewer than 10 non-associated punters in the room. Everyday Heroes are South Wales’ Answer to Northern Ireland’s Trucker Diablo, full of Black Stone Cherry, Nickleback and the like. Led by the towering Luke Phillips who shoulders both lead vocals and lead guitar duties the band are competent if a little routine. Their supporters certainly increased both volume and temperature but their set went on about four songs too long; there's only so much BSC lite I can take.

Back in the summer we had been sufficiently impressed by the headliners to purchase advance tickets for this event. Social media suggested that it was heading for a sell out. With a large percentage of the crowd having left after Everyday Heroes but bolstered by their own supporters, this was clearly a load of bollocks. With possibly 30-40 people in the room Bigfoot (5) hit the stage in confident manner, riffs wailing but Antony Ellis’s vocals way down in the mix. This continued for the next four songs by which time some of the audience including their “supporters” had resorted to chatting and taking selfies. Bigfoot’s songs were bland, repetitive and thoroughly uninspiring. Maybe it was the sound which once again influenced the opinion, but I was expecting much better. Sadly, by 10.50pm we'd had sufficient Bigfoot for one year and headed out.

So what did we learn? Don't believe the hype. There was plenty of room and this was nowhere near capacity. If  you are the main band, sort your sound out. It was fine for the two before you. Fuel is still a crap venue for live music. And finally, reaching a wider audience still relies on spreading music. Some EPs on your merchandise stand would have been welcomed.

Monday 5 December 2016

Reviews: Sixx:A.M, Sirenia, Superjoint, Haddock (Reviews By Paul)

Sixx AM: Prayers For The Blessed Vol 2 (Universal)

Back in May I reviewed Prayers For The Damned Vol 1, album number four from Sixx AM, giving it a 6/10. I stated at the time that it was probably the most accessible of the band’s four releases. Prayers For The Blessed Vol 2 follows swiftly on the heels of that release and it’s not bad. The compositions remain focused on the rock radio fare which we’ve come to expect. Vocalist James Michael possesses a decent set of pipes and with tracks like The Devil’s Coming and Wolf At Your Door he really lets rip.

The former track is a fine rip snorter of a track with some chunky riffs and sweet guitar work courtesy of DJ Ashba whilst That’s Gonna Leave A Scar thunders along with a melodic hard rock edge. Once again Nikki Sixx and co have drawn up some anthemic tunes which will get the fists pumping. Generic but perfectly listenable. 7/10

Sirenia: Dim Days Of Dolor (Napalm Records)

The Norwegian symphonic metallers have been around the block a few times since their formation in 2001 and return with their 8th full release and the first with new vocalist Emmanuelle Zoldan. She replaces Ailyn Gilmenez who had been with the band for eight years. For Zoldan this is a step up, having been a member of the Sirenian choir for 13 years. Her classically trained mezzo soprano fits the band’s sound perfectly and she is of course no stranger to the metal scene having been a big part of Trail Of Tears’ Existensia and Turisas’ Battle Metal in 2004. Meanwhile the engine of Sirenia Morten Veland remains the composer and instrumentalist for all this album.

With fewer harsh vocals from Veland than in previous releases and a limited input from the choir in comparison to before, the focus is very much on Zoldan’s vocals and she doesn’t disappoint with a commanding performance. The title track allows her to demonstrate her calibre and she hits some stunningly high notes with apparent ease. The 12th Hour does see Veland’s gruff tones contrast with Zoldan’s delicate yet powerful delivery and the backing from the choir adds atmosphere to a busy track. It’s a little too similar in parts but symphonic metal is often like that. Worth a listen 7/10

Superjoint: Caught Up In The Gears Of Application (Housecors Records)

Formerly Superjoint Ritual but now just Superjoint for legal reasons, the filthy beast that is Philip Anselmo crashes back with the band’s first album since 2003’s A Lethal Dose Of American Hatred. Caught Up In The Gears Of Application is pretty much as you’d expect with an outfit that contains Anselmo associates Jimmy Bower, Kevin Bond, Jose Maneul Gonzalez and Stephen Taylor. It’s brutal, it’s dirty and it’s full of sludgy punk attitude. The hardcore edge, Anselmo’s guttural snarling shouted vocals and some quite disgustingly crushing riffs leave little to the imagination. Titles such as Sociopathic Herd Delusion and Rigging The Fight are full force anger. Listen with caution. 6/10

Haddock: Captain Wolfe’s Journey (Self Released)

I kid you not. Possibly the worst named band in the history of fish based rock, Haddock are a four-piece fuzz balled stoner outfit from Sweden. This five-track release is dirty, scruffy and very competent. Merging The Sword, Graveyard, High on Fire as well as the desert howlings of Kyuss, Captain Wolfe’s Journey continues very much in the vein of the stoner rock format, with crashing cymbals, rampaging riffs and distorted guitar work. If you like the stoner sound then this will be a pleasant addition to your collection. It’s nothing new and won’t win any awards but this is a genre which isn’t really about originality. 6/10

Sunday 4 December 2016

Reviews: Burning Point, Chronos, Lucifer's Friend (Reviews By Rich)

Burning Point: The Blaze (AFM Records)

Finland's Burning Point return with their seventh album of power metal goodness The Blaze which is also their first full original album with vocalist Nitte Valo (formerly of Battle Beast) with previous album Burning Point being a mix of new and re-recorded songs. You pretty much know what you are going to get with a power metal album so you have to judge an album's worth on songwriting and performances. Thankfully both are on top form. Burning Point play a more melodic brand of power metal with huge singalong choruses and hooks that will bore into your subconscious for weeks.

The standout star of the album is frontwoman Nitte Valo who absolutely dominates with her aggressively edged yet soaring vocals. There is also plenty of guitar wizardry on display throughout the album and the eighties sounding synths give this album an old school feel. Burning Point won't win any awards for originality with The Blaze but balls to originality when you get power metal at this level of greatness. Stand outs include Master Them All, Lost In Your Thoughts and The King Is Dead, Long Live The King. 8/10

Lucifer's Friend: Too Late To Hate (Cherry Red Records)

Among a stream of high profile comebacks and reunions another legendary band has returned and put out their first new album in a very long time except many rock and metal fans will have never heard of this band. Time for a bit of a history lesson...

Lucifer's Friend formed in Hamburg, Germany and released their debut album way back in 1970 playing an early form of heavy metal. They released another seven albums throughout the 70's and early 80's dabbling in other genres such as psychedelic rock, progressive rock, jazz fusion, funk rock and AOR before calling it quits in 1982. A couple of members released an album under the name Lucifer's Friend II in 1994 but this did not last until a proper reunion in 2014.

Too Late To Hate is the first proper Lucifer's Friend in 35 years. Three of the original members play on this album - vocalist John Lawton (who also sang for Uriah Heep - Ed), guitarist Peter Hesslein and bassist Dieter Horns and they are joined by keyboardist Jogi Wichmann and drummer Stephan Eggert. So after a 35 year between album gap is Too Late To Hate any good? Well Lucifer's Friend seem to pick up where they left off playing a mix of hard rock and AOR reminiscent of the early 80's albeit with a 21st century sounding production. You get a mix of straight up hard rockers such as opener Demolition Man (Thankfully not a Sting cover - Ed) and Tell Me Why to the bluesy This Time and the ballad-esque When Children Cry. Performance wise the band sound fantastic.

John Lawton's voice sounds fantastic for a guy aged 70 whilst Peter Hesslein belts out some fantastic guitar riffs carried by the impressive keyboard playing of Jogi Wichmann. After a 35 year wait 'Too Late To Hate' is an enjoyable album with some great catchy rocking tunes. Not a groundbreaking album by any means and will probably sound fairly dated to any younger rockers but classic rock fans will lap this up.7/10

Chronos: Pallid Reflection (Self Released)

Chronos are a four piece melodic death metal band hailing from Bath and Pallid Reflection is their debut album independently released on Bandcamp. Chronos are at the thrashier end of the melodic death metal spectrum but also add a progressive metal influence. The material on this album sounds like a cross between Scar Symmetry, At The Gates and Opeth especially on the tracks such as Emerald Soul and Shadow Of The Sun which sound very influenced by the Swedish prog metal masters. Other highlights include the aggressive opener Blood River and the Spanish guitar influenced Shiver.

The vocals of frontman James Rideout alternate between death metal growls and clean vocals slightly reminiscent of Christian Älvestam (ex-Scar Symmetry and Solution .45) and Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth). The guitar playing is aggressive yet melodic with some great solos. The bass guitar and the drums provide a solid backbone to the songs. The main criticism of the album is the songs are generally far too long without enough interesting ideas to sustain the song length.

The main tracks that suffer from this are the bloated two parts of Thuribles Veil. Chronos also seem to lack their own distinct identity sometimes sounding all too alike the bands that influence them. That being said Pallid Reflection is a very strong debut album by a very talented band. 7/10

Saturday 3 December 2016

Reviews: Sacred Gate, Tower, Damaj

Sacred Gate: Countdown To Armageddon (Metal On Metal Records) 

They're back, a band that I have an affinity with despite many not knowing who they are, Countdown To Armageddon is Sacred Gate's third album of traditional power metal, however it is unfortunately the bands last album, as they split up shortly after recording the record, this is a great shame as yes it's standard fayre but they do bring a lot to the table. Think twin guitars, relentless drumming and passionate vocals and you are in the right ball park, much like Swedes Sabaton Sacred Gate deal with the themes of war but they are more adult, more serious sounding, Manowar would be proud as this is crunch driven true metal, so if you don't like it you know where to leave.

You could throw around names such as Accept or Helloween and you'd hear them in Sacred Gate's sound but equally there is a heaving load of Maiden especially on opener Angel Of Darkness which slows into a Harris-like chug in the middle, Legions Of The North takes from Priest even dabbling in skyscraping vocals and some grunts, this record sees them with a new vocalist who although good I prefer his predecessor. It's all very Anglo-Germanic in its sound as the Teutonic speed metal fuses with the NWOBHM for what is an excellent slice of proper heavy metal, as classic as it get's, a fitting tribute to the band's legacy, they have 3 solid records of heavy metal anthems and personally it's a shame they are no longer a going concern. 8/10 

Tower: Tower (The End Records)

As we've probably noted numerous times the rise of new bands that draw heavily from the late 70's scene where hard rock became heavy metal, this saw the rise of thrash in the USA but earlier still it was the birthing of the NWOBHM. There are literally hundreds of bands that are trying to reinvent and re-popularise this sound, if I were to list them it would number 100's so Tower from New York City have a steep mountain to climb as they have come late to the party, however they bring a lot of talent to the table, much like Thin Lizzy (Bad Reputation), Scorpions (Lovedrive) and Priest (Stained Class), they avoid the follies of the NWOBHM by taking from hard rock of the 70's and just making it quicker and adding an extra guitars. Looking at the band tells you all you need to know, tight bellbottoms, denim cuts, beards, waist length hair and a raven haired frontwoman decked out in velour, leather and tassles. 

Yep it's all here musically too there are axe harmonies, bass gallops and wild vocals from frontwoman Sarabeth who has killer husky hard rock vocal that's displayed when she sneers, croons and bellows over the big riffs of James and Zak who duel and harmonise like Robertson & Gorham or Downing & Tipton at their best while the rock n roll element is held down by the backroom of Philippe's bass and Justin's drums. The whole record rocks, grooving and riffing as Sarabeth really gets you believing the rock n roll gospel they are spreading, her voice is full of conviction and it bewitches converting you to their cause as soon as the first track ends. Tower is a great debut, classy, polished and with enough of their own charm to elevate them above many of the bands doing similar, put it on turn it up and rock out like it's '78! 8/10    

Damaj: The Wrath Of The Tide (Self Released)

Damaj are a Scottish heavy metal band and this their first EP it has an old school vibe, there's no glossy production or simmering ballads, just heavy metal like it was back in its early years of the American scene concentrating more on groove than outright speed. Much like Sanctuary or Annihilator the rhythms changes and progressive bent of The Wrath Of The Tide makes Damaj not just another thrash copyist, they are a very interesting prospect indeed. Dual guitars intertwining and a colossal rhythm section of David Douglas and Scot Macleod make for loud listening while the vocals of Daniel Stewart are clean and have hint of the Het although they need refining. It's the instrumentation that make this record, the solos of James Haggart are sublime and the riffs get the fist pumping and the head banging throughout. This is a great first shot from Damaj four songs that show what they can do, the four Scots in this band have hooked on to a sound that is rare, heavy but hooky and they deliver it well, I await the full length. 7/10