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Friday 31 March 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Ghost

Ghost & Zombi, Cardiff University Great Hall

When the opportunity to see Ghost on home turf came up it was an experience that was too good to miss, having only seen the band in Bristol, at Festivals and in *shudder* Newport, seeing them in The Great Hall on a Saturday night had all the opportunities of being a bit special. After pre-loading on real ale and mountains of food at a local pub we went into the venue and were met by the multi faceted crowd that always come to a Ghost concert, there were rockers, ravers, goths, a fair few nuns and those with an interest in the weirdness of it all.

After a bit of a wait Americans Zombi (6), took to the stage with Anthony Pattera behind the drums and Steve Moore on keys and bass and kicked off their support slot with pulsing synthwave, a few of the songs were good but the instrumental synth driven music did little to stir the crowd with many getting bored and staring at their phones. All except for the loud, obnoxious and totally pissed bloke that was standing a few feet from me who was sort of a fat Noddy Holder shouting Rock n Roll at the top of his voice along with other even more nonsensical things all delivered at full volume right behind my fucking ear!

As Zombi finished there was much running around to get the stage ready for the headliners 'sermon', as we waited pissed up fat bloke continually heckled, receiving the ire of those around him and then eventually his wife. Yes there was long wait between the acts, so much so that I was anticipating Lordi levels of problems but after about 20 minutes Masked Ball came through the PA, cue obnoxious man shouting "It's A Tape!" We fucking know mate yeah?

The Nameless Ghouls arrived on stage and with a puff of smoke so did Papa and they dove straight into Square Hammer every line was sung back at full voice as Papa III led the congregation in the Satanic verses of From The Pinnacle To The Pit and the doom-laden Secular Haze, the all-new (apparently) Ghouls were on fine form dual guitars a-gogo, thumping rhythm section and huge organs and Papa was singing well despite the use of backing tapes for the layered sections, his vocals were audible from our position, (although the same cannot be said from other parts of the venue).

Cardiff's Sisters Of Sin were introduced to the crowd with explicit warnings to take what they were given and no more in case anyone got too amorous over the sinful nuns. They gave Communion during Body And Blood and Papa decided to de-frock after this to go to his 30's vaudeville style, Year Zero rapidly followed Circe building the atmosphere with two of the bands most recognisable then after the acoustic interlude over the tape, the huge sing-along returned with the pseudo-spiritual He Is which really saw both Papa and the Cardiff crowd in full voice.

Then as the set wrapped up they progressed into the meatier riffs of Mummy Dust, Guleh/Zombie Queen and Ritual, Papa conducting the Gothic Mass as the band's focal point. The encore was of course Monstrance Clock which is stylised as the band and crowd's collective orgasm, as the final bell tolled the lights went up and that was it. A well paced set meant that this was one of the ebst times I'd seen the band, the sound got better as they progressed and the performances were full of fir and visually arresting. The only downside to the performance side was the extended wait before they took to the stage and it was all a bit to quiet until the last part of the gig, still you always get a brilliant performance from Ghost (9) every-time you see them and this was no exception.

I will however just mention one of main gripes about this gig and in fact a lot of the gigs that happen in The Great Hall, the majority of the crowd were fans ready to enjoy the music and the experience, however there a lot of pricks that seemed to be there purely for the 3 for £10 drinks offers and were using the evening as an excuse to get shit-faced. Now as it's a student venue you'd expect it to be the under 30's that were indulging a little too much but no there was a fair few gents who should know better, having been given free reign by their wives for one night. This meant a lot of the normal gig etiquette was not observed making the whole experience slightly dampened by the sheer amount of pissed-up twats at the venue. This was almost in complete opposite to previous night where the crowd at Thunder couldn't have been more well behaved. Still it does seem to be an increasing trend in live shows at the moment. Remember folks have a little respect for everyone else who have also paid their money to be there.               

The Spotlight: Interview With Sonata Arctica

Before their mighty show at the Tramshed I managed to grab an interview with Henrik Klingenberg (keys) and Pasi Kauppinen (bass) of headliners Sonata Arctica.

MoM: So this is your first gig in Cardiff since 2011, you played the Millennium Music Hall before which is now a trendy chain sports bar thing, the last few UK shows you've done are one off London dates. Do you prefer those or do you like proper tours?

Henrik: I prefer to tour a whole country and see different places, usually we don't have a chance to do that. 2011 that was the last and first time we were able to do that (a proper tour).

MoM: Well we prefer that, as not everyone lives near London so seeing you on our doorstep is great for us, how's it going so far, you've been going for a while now? Anyone annoying anyone yet?

Henrik: We've been doing this for a few weeks, not annoying each other too much as we are all used to each other now, it comes with age now we all give each other enough space.

MoM: Do you prefer European or UK audiences? Have you noticed a difference?

Pasi: I think everywhere is different, you are bit more involved than France, maybe that's a better understanding

Henrik: I feel the differences are from city to city rather than country to country

MoM: We've asked this a few times and many European bands say that we are a bit more reserved than European fans, have you found that?

Pasi: It depends we come from Finland, where people are really reserved, unless it's Friday or Saturday

Henrik: Alcohol helps

All: Laugh

Henrik: Whatever happens out there is whatever happens, some crowds are different people enjoy in different ways personally I like to go to a show and enjoy the music

MoM: Yeah me too

Henrik: But you pay for a ticket and enjoy it in your own way so there's not really a different

MoM: Going to the new album, you've got political songs and a lot of focus on the environment, was that a conscious effort or not?

Henrik: Well the lyrics are from Tony so we really don't control that much, Fairytale is really a funny song, like satire so we agreed to do it because of that. As a band our purpose is bring people together not divide them. But we decided not to deal with politics as we all have different views so we don't need one opinion for the while band as we are not about politics. The environment is one thing we all agree on so that was much easier, I think if you're a political band and you all agree then that's fine to deal with politics but not if you are all on different wavelengths.

MoM: You've moved away from your earlier hard power metal roots to a more symphonic/cinematic sound. Do you prefer this or would you rather play the older style?

Henrik: When we make an album we see what demos Tony brings and see what comes out, as a band we are happy with, which can be confusing for fans. Personally I prefer to play faster live as it's more fun, I think we have done our fair share great ballads too but I like the faster.

MoM: With the anniversary of you're debut Ecliptica did you expect maybe a bit of that to influence your last album, was it fun playing the older stuff live again?

Henrik: I thought, because I wish there could have been more influence because of that but you play what comes

MoM: What were your influences?

Pasi: I listen to a lot of stuff, a wide range of music from Slayer to pop music, but none of it has really influenced this band, but I like a lot of different kinds of music

Henrik: I grew up with Deep Purple, Bon Jovi, AC/DC, then Pantera and if you want more offbeat then Frank Zappa, not all of it

MoM: Nobody likes all of it, don't worry

Henrik: Then recent stuff I listen to Lana Del Rey a lot more stuff, but it influences your style than the band style

MoM: What's the plan for the rest of the year?

Henrik: We have tour until South America, then a break then festivals, touring throughout the year until middle of next year until we wind down for the next album

MoM: Finally as we are Welsh our last question is what is your favourite sheep

*Cue much debating from both amid gasps about how many sheep there are*

Henrik: I'd say North Ronaldsay, it's the horns

Pasi: Hampshire Down

Henrik seemed very impressed by the sheep, taking pictures of them after the interview

Thursday 30 March 2017

Reviews: Carnivorous Forest, Enepsigos, Laura Cox Band (Reviews By Paul)

Carnivorous Forest: Frozen Rivers (Blackened Death Records)

Multi-instrumentalist and multi-talented Richard Alan Weeks or Amarok to his friends is the man behind Carnivorous Forest. After single releases and several EP releases including Genital Mutilation In The Name Of God and Absolute Fucking Shit and A Waste Of Time, Frozen Rivers is the first full length release. It’s a real departure to what we often review and the immediate comparison must be with Ancient Vvisdom. Yes, this is nearly all acoustic blackened metal, with Viking and folk metal in both attitude and delivery. With influences ranging from Rush to Bathory, Skyclad to Hawkwind and Woods of Ypres to Sodom, the range is varied and interesting. Subject matter ranges from death to nature to anti-religion. It’s well written, superbly performed and hauntingly atmospheric. From opening song White Wolves through to closer Amarok, Frozen Rivers maintains the interest, adding contrast and reflection without needing to rage or thrash. Its malevolence seeps through the pores. Well worth a listen. 8/10

Enepsigos: Plague Of Plagues (Drakkar Productions)

True Norwegian Black Metal. Yes, fuck all that false stuff. The debut album from black metal trio Enepsigos is as true as you would demand and hailing from the home of the satantic church burning nothing less than you would expect. Smirking aside, this is a brilliant release. Massive riffs, haunting melodies and explosive blast beats from start to finish. The energy contained in this album quite frightening and with eight tracks clocking in at just shy of an hour it is neck breaking in its duration. The band, Thorns on drumming, Straff (guitar and bass) and the quite hideously evil vocals of V.I.T.H.R combine to crush with a wall of blistering noise. The more I play this, the more I enjoy it. The devil really does have all the best tunes. 8/10

Laura Cox Band: Hard Blues Shot (Self Released)

When I initially heard Hard Blues Shot, my first thought was which part of Australia does she come from? It was a bit of a surprise to find out that the band are from Paris, France. They play what they have defined “southern hard blues”. It certainly has elements of all three. Barefoot In The Countryside is about as country as you can get, with a banjo centre stage. Cox’s voice is husky and bluesy, initial comparisons inevitably lean towards Joanne Shaw Taylor although the Black Country virtuoso is in a different league. The rest of the band comprise Mathieu Albiac (rhythm guitar and backing vocals), bassist Francois C. Delacoudre and drummer Antonin Guerin. Tracks such as the title song and The Australian Way are routine, a mix of AC/DC and other antipodean influences. Too Nice For Rock n’ Roll illustrates why Cox was an internet sensation with her YouTube clips, as it features some decent guitar work. However, the album tails off tamely, with If You Wanna Get Loud and Going Down uninspiring. There is plenty of room for female guitarists in the world of rock and Laura Cox and her band has potential. 6/10

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Reviews: Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics, Art Of Anarchy, Order Of Voices, Damnation's Day

Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics: The Man With The Stars On His Knees (Self Released)

Do you remember Heaven's Basement? They released a very well received album a few years ago, with massive press coverage and many high profile shows their star shone brightly but much like the match that was on their album cover it wasn't to last, the band pretty much disbanded after vocalist Aaron Buchanan left the group due to personal demons.

Then there was a period of nothing, the band were pretty much dead in the water and their singer was out of the limelight, in this time out Buchanan rekindled his fire forging a working relationship with former Raveneye sticksman Kev Hickman, guitarist Tom McCarthy, bassist Ryan Woods (replaced by Chris Guyatt) and his sister Laurie on guitar. I witnessed the fruits of this labour supporting InMe in The Globe and I was blown away, the passion and fire displayed by the band was intoxicating so I was excited to see whether this would transfer to the debut record.

Opening with a percussive stomp Show Me What Your Made Of is a short almost intro song that fronts up and confronts you to listen to the rest of the record, its one of the many Queen influences that shine through on this record being akin to We Will Rock You in it's percussive nature and brevity. The first song proper is the autobiographical All These Things I've Said And Done which is constructed on a great rock riff and has Buchanan's tortured soul coming through on the stark lyrics, with a soulful full-toned voice that is an amalgamation of Vedder, Cornell and Kennedy the confessional lyrics are given gravitas as Buchanan doesn't anything by halves.

The rocking rhythm section drive the heaviness as Hickman pounds away, with McCarthy and Laurie arriving as one of the best new guitar duo's for a long time, the songs flit between numerous influences Dancin' Down Below is a snotty hard rocker with a punk attitude, The Devil That Needs You is a modern track built on Hickman's great stick work, things get more epic on Journey Out Of Here it could put you in mind of modern BMTH but it breaks into a superior guitar solo section at the end accompanied by some huge organ stabs.

As the record progresses the tunes keep coming, with the title track ramping up the balladry, it's got a Soundgarden sound to it as the passion is audible, slow burning and dramatic it's a perfect centre piece that climaxes into a Queen flavoured finale, the Soundgarden influence is writ large on A God Is No Friend which is a darker, bluesier and fuzzier track, while everything gets heavier on the metallic Mind Of A Mute which has a grinding dirty low riffage.

This record is fantastic debut, you can hear the fire I saw when I watched the band live, the songs have been constructed but they sound natural and fluid. Elements of 90's hard rock meet 70's pomp and it produces 11 excellent tracks that get better and evolve every time you listen to them. On A God Is No Friend Aaron shouts "I Ain't Got Nothing To Prove" and he is damn right, he and his Cult Classics have produced an excellent debut album. 9/10     

Art Of Anarchy: The Madness (Another Century)

Jon and Vince Votta (rhythm guitar and drums respectively) return with the second album of their supergroup that also features Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal on lead guitar and Disturbed's John Moyer on bass. The first record featured Scott Weiland on vocals, who was relatively negative about the whole band progressing past the first album, well with Weiland's death in 2015 another record with him was shelved and the band searched for another singer. Continuing their theme of recruiting redeemed singers who have fallen from grace their new vocalist is former Creed vocalist Scott Stapp whose past is hinted to on Won't Let You Down and Changed Man's telling lyrics, these two tracks are also the most Creed sounding song on the record with a big emotive choruses and chunky riffs.

The press behind this album hints at a new direction and yes that can be heard, this record moves away from the sleazier hard rock of the Weiland album for the more modern alternative rock stylings better associated with Stapp's former act, it's different yes but not a real leap from the debut. The playing is good, Bumblefoot the obvious attraction giving a great account of himself but it's not really and upward step, rather a sideward one. Maybe it's due to the upheaval that befell the band after the release of their first record but they seem to be at the same level they were then. Taken as a re-debut if you will there is a lot of promise, let's hope they are bit luckier as Art Of Anarchy Mark 2. 7/10

Order Of Voices: Constancy (Self Released)

Sheffield band Order Of Voices, have seen a lot change between their debut and this one, Constancy is an album that has taken the band through a massive journey of self-discovery and improvement. It means that this record draws strength and inspiration from all those events as any good writers would and it has translated into an emotive and mature second album that sees every member of the band adding their own individual mark on the songs. It's an album of modern progressively tinged alternative rock that is based around clean guitar lines and powerful vocals. There are nods to Tool and Alice In Chains throughout, the latter especially on Raise A Glass which apes the Seattle natives to a tee. Elsewhere Hand In Hand opens the record with a very modern melodic slow burning track with a massive driving chorus.

Diametric brings the big riffs and mixes the intricacies of Tool with the emotive power of Soundgarden both in the music and in the tough vocals. They even add touches of Floydian mystery on Speak Aloud which has electronic beats mixing with the analogue percussion well. The songs on this record are delivered with a intricate musicianship but also a keen ear for songwriting meaning that the whole album sounds confident and musically dexterous. It's never too heavy or isolating like Tool can be, it's not metal by any means but with the rockier moments complimented by the melancholic slower songs like Revelations & Ghosts you get true exhibition of Order Of Voices skill. A cracking album that demands repeat listens. 8/10

Damnation's Day: A World Awakens (Sensory Records)

Australia's Damnation's Day have returned with their second album of heavy thrash influenced power metal, the band are now reduced to a three piece with vocalist/guitarist Mark Kennedy and brother Dean on drums joined by lead guitarist Jon King. Mark's vocals are great powerful with a wide range, he can hit high notes with ease slotting in brilliantly against the tough metal backing. With touches of bands such as Iced Earth, Nevermore, Symphony X and even our own Haken, the thrash-like riffs mix with more progressive textures on tracks like I Pray where the melodic lead guitars are punctuated with furious riffs.

They slow things down on the acoustic Into Black where Mark really displays his vocal prowess. At nine songs A World Awakens doesn't outstay it's welcome the songs are textured, played with technicality, passion and although they may not be in the premier league of heavy/power metal bands as they are only two albums into their career and hail from a country that is not known worldwide for it's heavy/power metal (although we at MoM towers know that's not strictly true), however they could be well on their way with this second album just tweaking everything displayed on the debut and ramping it up and topping it off with amazing vocal prowess. 7/10

A View From North Wales: HRH United - Hammerfest 2017 (Review By Rich)

HRH United (Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park, Pwllheli)

Spring has arrived in the UK and with it has arrived the first festival on the calendar - HRH United or as it is better known Hammerfest. Taking place in the Haven Hafan-Y-Mor holiday park outside of Pwllheli in North Wales, it is a weekend of heavy drinking and heavy music but with the luxury of on site accommodation so everyone can get some sleep and have a good shower if they so desire which for me as a man in his thirties is absolute bliss.

Day 1: Thursday

After a gruelling but absolutely stunning five hour drive from Cardiff through the middle of our beautiful country I arrived early evening and checked into a lovely sizeable apartment. After a quick bite to eat, a few hefty glasses of rum and coke and a spot of socialising with some friends and familiar faces it was time to walk to the arena and check out some music. Bands were only playing on the main stage in The Cove venue this evening. First band of the evening for me were Bloodshot Dawn (7) who brought their technical style of melodic death metal to a large and enthusiastic crowd. Their playing was phenomenal with some extremely tasty guitar solos. Their music is very reminiscent of Scar Symmetry with touches of the Gothenburg melodic death metal sound and influences from thrash.

Although well played the songs were generally quite forgettable and as such their set was enjoyable but not particularly memorable. Next up were Venom Inc. (7) who were one of the most anticipated bands of the weekend for me. Having seen the Cronos fronted Venom at Bloodstock last summer I was eager to see how this version of the band featuring Abaddon, Mantas and Demolition Man would fare. The band played a great set chock full of classic Venom tunes such as Don't Burn The Witch, Warhead and the legendary Black Metal but seemed to lack a lot of energy. Tony 'Demolition Man' Dolan is a very competent frontman but lacks the stage presence of Cronos. It was an enjoyable set and the classics went down a storm with the crowd but the show just seemed to be lacking something.

Headliners and final band of the evening were LA heavy metal titans Armored Saint (9) who played a straight up masterclass in fist pumping, anthemic heavy metal. The band played a fantastic set with songs from latest album Win Hands Down sitting very comfortably alongside classics such as March Of The Saint, Aftermath, Reign Of Fire and Can U Deliver. The band were on absolute top form with frontman John Bush putting in an especially passionate and enthusiastic performance. A triumphant show and great way to bring things to a close on the first night.

Day 2: Friday

After a rather heavy cider and rum fuelled Thursday evening my head was a bit on the fuzzy side on Friday morning but nothing a strong coffee, hot shower and a nice mixed grill from The Mash And Barrel pub wouldn't sort out. Two stages were running on the Friday and kicking things off on the second stage in The Boardwalk venue were Desert Storm (9). These stoner metallers always play a great set and this was no exception. A great sound showcased the bands sludge/stoner sound with dense crushing riffs, plenty of groove and bags of rock and roll swagger. The band put on a commanding performance with frontman Matt Ryan dominating with his ferocious roaring vocals. An outstanding set from one of the best up and coming bands in the UK right now.

Next band on my schedule were the crushing Bast who unfortunately had to cancel last minute and so after an extended period of drinking and socialising the next band I made it to was the mighty Grand Magus (10). If there's one band flying the flag for true heavy metal in 2017 then it's Grand Magus who played to an absolutely packed out main stage. Kicking things off with I, The Jury the band played an absolutely phenomenal set with an absolutely crystal clear sound. Horns were raised and voices sang along to triumphant metal anthems such as Varangian, Steel Versus Steel, Iron Will and Like The Oar Strikes The Water. We were even treated to premiere performances of Crowned In Iron (Forged In Steel) and Freja's Choice from last years stunning Sword Songs album. The best was left for last though and the band parted with the truly anthemic Hammer Of The North which had everyone in the room singing along at the top of their voices. People were still singing along in the arena hours after the band had finished. Easily the best performance of the weekend.

Next up were Swedish power metal titans HammerFall (8). Following that Grand Magus set was not going to be an easy task but HammerFall rose to the challenge with an absolutely cracking set. (This despite the airline they came in on losing their gear meaning they had to rely on Magus and Napalm Death for guitars etc - Ed) Opening with Hector's Hymn from last years Built To Last album the band then proceeded to perform a greatest hits set with songs such as Riders Of The Storm, Blood Bound. Any Means Necessary, Renegade, Last Man Standing and Let The Hammer Fall. A loud and enthusiastic crowd sang the songs back at the band just as loud as they were playing them. A great set of sing-along power metal.

After two sets of anthemic metal it was time for things to get violent and nasty and one band who can deliver both aplenty are grindcore legends Napalm Death (9). The band started fantastically blasting out songs full of anger and vitrol at a crowd with an equally destructive appetite but suddenly the set was cut off due to an audience member becoming injured. The stage and venue had to be evacuated as paramedics attended. Fortunately after a bit of a wait the crowd were allowed back into the venue and the band picked up from where they left off with tracks from latest album Apex Predator - Easy Meat such as Smash A Single Digit and Dear Slum Landlord smashing the audience into oblivion along with well established classics such as When All Is Said And Done, Scum, Deceiver, From Enslavement To Obliteration and Suffer The Children. We were even treated to a trio of cover versions from The Offender's Face Down In The Dirt, Hirax's Hate, Fear And Power to band set staple Dead Kennedy's Nazi Punks Fuck Off. One notable absence was bassist Shane Embury who is currently touring with Brujeria so ex-Nasum bassist Jesper Liverod was standing in. Thankfully this didn't detract from what was a fantastic set from these Brummie legends.

Final band of the evening for me were Teutonic thrash legends Destruction (7). Running late due to the earlier audience injury during Napalm Death the German thrashers found themselves playing to a slightly sparse audience. The band were also suffering with a poor sound mix with Mike's guitars particularly affected. Destruction being the pros they are were determined not to let these obstacles overcome them and the band ploughed onward opening with the title track of last years Under Attack album and then proceeding to bring out a plethora of thrashing classics from their back catalogue such as Curse The Gods, Mad Butcher and Nailed To The Cross. They even brought out ex-Evile guitarist Ol Drake for a crushing finale of Thrash Till Death and Bestial Invasion. Unfortunately the sound issues did affect the show and brought a slightly disappointing conclusion to the second night of the festival.

Day 3: Saturday

With a long drive ahead of me on Sunday, Friday night was the last opportunity for me to really party hard which I very much did but unfortunately I overdid it as well resulting in an absolute stinker of a hangover which saw me bed bound for all of Saturday morning. I finally managed to crawl out of my pit around lunchtime. Plenty of strong coffee and painkillers were thrown down my neck plus another visit to The Mash And Barrel where I forced a plateful of hot food down my neck. Despite still feeling utterly awful I braved my way to the arena and managed to catch the majority of Power Quest (6). Playing to a fair crowd Power Quest played a set of over the top cheesy metal tunes such as Temple Of Fire and Edge Of Time which garnered a good response from the audience. The band put in a decent performance but after the greatness of the performances from the previous evening still resonating this just felt slightly underwhelming.

There wasn't much I wanted to see on the main stage this day so I decided to focus on the second stage which was host to a day of black metal bands. It was also a day of discovery for me as many of these bands I was completely unaware of before this weekend. After a little hair of the dog I was starting to feel more human just in time for Old Corpse Road (8) to hit the stage. A fantastic performance mixed different styles and sounds of black metal together from the violent and savage to folky and atmospheric to the overly dramatic. Three vocalists provided three different vocal styles such as dramatic spoken word, black metal shrieks and guttural death metal growls. Despite there being so much going on the band held it all together with a masterful performance.

I popped back over to the main stage to catch a little bit of Lagerstein (3) and wished I hadn't bothered. Lagerstein perform songs about drinking and pirates but unlike contemporaries such as Korpiklaani and Alestorm this band completely lacks any memorable songs plus their performance was dreadful. An absolutely awful sound mix buried most of the instruments apart from the drums and the terrible vocals by frontman Captain Gregaaarrr. The one thing the band did have going for them was the level of audience involvement as members of the band were amongst the crowd at points and also got the crowd to sit down for a campfire song. Despite my misgivings the band played to a packed out stage and everyone apart from me seemed to be enjoying immensely so maybe I'm just becoming a miserable old fart (Aren't we all? - Ed).

Anyway it was back over to the second stage for more black metal this time provided by Cirith Gorgor (7) who were a bit more a straight for the jugular style of black metal band similar to Marduk or 1349. The set was hampered slightly by a bit of a muddy sound but the band forged on regardless performing a cacophony of violent black metal with songs such as Total Annihilation and Into The Nameless Void which was eaten up by the respectable crowd watching.

My most eagerly anticipated band of the day were next up - the mighty Kampfar (9) who did not disappoint. With this being their very first time in Wales (and also their first time performing in a holiday camp) the band went all out. Their devastating mix of razor sharp blackened riffage and dark folk melodies went down a storm with the sizeable audience watching and songs such as Troll, Død Og Trolldom, Tornekratt and an absolutely devastating Mylder showing how good black metal can be when it's done right.

Next up were surprise of the weekend and highlight of the day the absolutely amazing Ereb Altor (9). Having virtually no knowledge of this band I was absolutely floored by this performance. A very Bathory inspired mix of old school black metal and rousing viking anthems with tons of heart and emotion especially in the absolutely stunning clean vocals employed by the band which brought goosebumps to my flesh. Highlights of the set was the absolutely beautiful By Honour and a stunning cover of Bathory's Twilight Of The Gods.

Unfortunately only a sparse audience were watching what was one of the best bands of the weekend. After a food and drink break I returned in time to catch Finsterforst (7) who were another band I was unfamiliar with. Performing a blackened folk metal style quite reminiscent of Moonsorrow their set was enjoyable but a little repetitive with the majority of the songs being of a mid paced nature with a few flurries of blastbeats here and there. Following the amazing sets of Kampfar and Ereb Altor, Finsterforst were enjoyable but a little bit underwhelming.

It was back over to the main stage for my final band of the evening reunited UK death metallers Cancer (8). Since reuniting the band haven't released any new material so this was a set of pure old school death metal carnage. Despite playing to a fairly sparse audience the band gave it their all and played a relentless set featuring old school classics such as Into The Acid, Tasteless Incest and To The Gory End. A fitting way to bring another successful day to an end.

HRH United got the 2017 festival season off to a cracking start with some fantastic sets by some well known bands and also a brilliant introduction to some previously unknown bands. The positives definitely outweighed the negatives with the top bands of the weekend being Armored Saint, Grand Magus, Napalm Death, Kampfar and Ereb Altor. There was only one terrible band I watched all weekend and that was the dreadful Lagerstein. A fun filled weekend with great company, great music and lots of lovely rum. Roll on the next festival.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Reviews: House Of Lords, The Raven Age, Blacktop Mojo (Reviews By Paul)

House Of Lords: Saint Of The Lost Souls (Frontiers Records)

Polished hard rock with an AOR edge? Then you’ll be familiar with House Of Lords, the Connecticut/New Jersey/Florida outfit who rose to prominence in the late 1980s before splitting in 1993. The band reformed in 2000, and has continued to produce decent AOR ever since. Saint Of The Lost Souls is album number 11 and it is another very solid affair. The line-up has been reasonably stable since 2005, with original vocalist (plus guitar and keyboards) James Christian joined by lead guitarist Jimi Bell and drummer BJ Zaupa.

New addition to this album is Chris Tristram who joined on bass in 2016. Over 50 minutes of glossy pomp rock in the 12 tracks here, with opener Harlequin kicking off the album in style. The Deep Purple Perfect Strangers keyboard riff leading into a decent rocking song. Hit The Wall slows the pace to the kind of stomach churning AOR that makes many feel a little queasy, the close harmonies and slower pace turning the song into mush.

Keyboards play a big part on Saint Of The Lost Souls, evident on every track and in the main they do what they need to do. Christian’s voice is clean, strong and perfectly suited to the lighter side of rock. The band do lose their shit occasionally, the stomp of the title track cutting a slightly harder edge. However, you are not going to get huge riffs and blast beats here. House Of Lords are masters of their sound and this album is perfect if you like this genre. Worth a listen if this floats your boat. 8/10

The Raven Age: Darkness Will Rise (BMG)

I first saw The Raven Age supporting Tremonti at the 02 Academy in Bristol in 2015. They didn’t do much for me although it would be fair to say that they got a solid reception from the crowd. Having supported Iron Maiden on much of their Book Of Souls tour and obtained decent reviews from their stint with Anthrax in the UK recently, exposure hasn’t been a huge problem. With Steve Harris’ son George on guitar helps, but if your songs are shite then you can only get so far. Darkness Will Rise is a tight slab of English metalcore.

At over 74 minutes it is far too long and songs do blend into each other after a while. If you are looking for comparisons, then Bullet For My Valentine and The Crusade era Trivium come to mind. Michael Burrough has a powerful voice, supported by a decent production. Dan Wright and George Harris’s duel guitar work is impressive whilst the rhythm section of Matt Cox and Jai Patel compact and firm. There are changes in pace, with Age Of The Raven an anthemic highlight. It is crushingly heavy at times, and the band can mix it with the best.

The Merciful One has an addictive chug and My Revenge haunts with its atmospheric intro before erupting into a metalcore explosion quicker than Mount Etna. There is melody aplenty, the songs are stable and well delivered. A decent debut, just too many songs. 7/10

Blacktop Mojo: Burn The Ships (Cuhmon Records)

Feel good southern rock with a clean edge. Welcome to Blacktop Mojo, from Palestine, Texas. Burn The Ships is their second release, following debut I Am. It’s a no-nonsense radio friendly release, very much in the vein of Black Stone Cherry, Nickelback, Shinedown and their ilk. I’m not convinced by their Soundgarden meets Skynyrd comparison but there is sufficient in this album to give it a try.

Lead vocalist Matt James has a voice totally suited to the hard-edged rock that the band play, clean but with a little bit of dirt. Guitarists Ryan Kiefer and Kenneth Irwin duel neatly throughout. Blacktop Mojo can mix it up, the title track smoulders whilst the openers Where The Wind Blows and End Of Days charge full steam ahead. It’s not all heads down boogie with the emotion charged Shadows On The Wall echoing Nickelback’s darker moments.

Burn The Ships is not a bad album. Competent and expertly crafted, it certainly doesn’t offend. In a genre with so much competition it takes something a bit special to really catch the attention and this release runs out of steam too early. Blacktop Mojo aren’t there yet. 6/10

Monday 27 March 2017

Reviews: The Obssesed, KXM, Doomocracy, The Mighty Wraith

The Obsessed: Sacred (Relapse)

Someone call Dave Grohl and tell him The Obsessed have a new album. The Foo Fighters frontman professed his love for anything involving Scott 'Wino' Wenrich on his Probot project and who can blame home as one of the guiding lights in doom metal. So many hundreds of bands owe their existence to Saint Vitus that it puts Wino in the pantheon of hard rock originals like the late Lemmy. You can hear Clutch in It's Only Money and Orange Goblin in Cold Blood but this isn't Wino following trends he was there first. If you've not heard of The Obsessed don't worry not many will have the band was Wino's first before he joined Saint Vitus after leaving them he reformed The Obsessed and then split them again reforming for various festivals before returning full time in March 2016.

Sacred is their fourth album and with a 20 year gap between records you'd think they may have lost their lustre but that frankly would be bollocks, the doom is still strong with this one it's a record steeped in the blues, given bite by punk (Haywire) and then played very low as to shake the walls, your fillings and maybe the state of California too. Wino has never been afraid to write intelligent, honest lyrics and his throaty delivery gives them added depth, for a three piece the play some monstrous riffs with bass rumbles like a T-Rex walking behind you, the drums shake the brain cells and Wino's guitars a dirtier than a whores knickers. The Obsessed do doom-laden, stoner rock how it should be, with 14 tracks it's a bit of a monster that may only be really appreciated by the diehards, still there is enough here to keep your attention so you give it's the time and attention it deserves. 8/10

KXM: Scatterbrain (Rat Pak Records)

There does seem to be a fair few of these collaborative projects featuring virtuoso musicians at the moment with Winery Dogs being he most recent notable example. Well KXM are a heavier proggier prospect as you'd expect with the membership on drums is KoRn's Ray Luzier (K), bass is King's X dUg Pinnick (X) and guitar comes from Lynch Mob's Mr Scary George Lynch. Bolstered by Pinnick's soulful voice and underpinned by his intricate but groove-laden bass lines he gels with Luzier's powerful drumming very well giving tracks like Big Sky Country a thud. As is normal for any record with Lynch he steals the show with his incendiary guitar playing especially on Break Out where the solos keep coming.

As I've said this record is very much a collaborative effort with all three players spitballing ideas off one another to make this record the dark, proggy piece that it's is. It's not as heavy as KoRn, or as progressive as Kings X melodic touches of Lynch Mob but when the players are this good it will always be well received. It's a shame them that much of the album tries a little too hard the Soulfly rhythms of Calypso are over done, Obsession veers to heavily into Sabbath territory, and the latter half of the record drops in quality and originality. At 13 songs it's over long but it will satisfy any fans of those involved for me though it's too much of hodgepodge the execution is faultless but the idea is convoluted. 6/10

Doomocracy: Visions & Creatures Of Imagination (Steel Gallery Records)

Visions & Creatures Of Imagination is Greek (Crete) doom metal band Doomocracy's second album and it starts very well with Ghosts Of The Past driven by massive pinched harmonic groove riffs and orchestral keys. The keys and synths are from classical composer Miguel Robaina and the four songs he features in are the best on the record to be honest. The more straight doom songs have impact but don't make as much of one as the orchestral numbers.

Still the band all play well with dual guitars of Harry and Angelos riffing with abandon and give Guardian Within great solos sections. The lower end of the music is as booming as it needs to be with Lucid Plains Of Ra driven by Manolis' bass, the production is excellent making all the instruments  recognition to the vocalist Michael who has staggering vocal prowess. Doomocracy play the epic doom metal of Candlemass et al it's heavy with melodic touches and filled to the brim with great doom anthems. 7/10

The Mighty Wraith: Outcast (Self Released)

Ah British traditional heavy metal, we seem to do it better than pretty much everyone. I suppose having pretty much created it we would but I digress next up to try and seal a place with the likes of Eden's Curse and Fury is Birmingham's The Mighty Wraith. They have released a debut full length but this record is made up of four new tracks and it's bursting with riffs, verbose vocal phrasing and harmonic shredding.

However unlike many of the trad bands around at the moment they are unafraid to get a bit thrashier on the title track which even features some harsh vocals. They sit right in Maiden worship with End Of Time which has open bass chords, a galloping riff and key changes that would be perfect on Killers. These four tracks are a brilliant introduction to The Mighty Wraith for those who may not have heard of them, grassroots British metal at its best. 7/10

Sunday 26 March 2017

Reviews: Mastodon, Lock Up, Mantar (Reviews By Paul)

Mastodon: Emperor Of Sand (Reprise Records)

I like Mastodon. I liked them ever since I heard March Of The Fire Ants. They have developed into an interesting band on record. Technically brilliant, not afraid to play what they wish, moving from skull crushingly heavy punk fused aggression to the progressiveness of Crack The Skye through to the more mainstream and popular recent releases of The Hunter and Once More Round The Sun. Emperor Of Sand continues in the more accessible vein of their last two releases.

Show Yourself and Sultan’s Curse mix Brann Dailor’s astonishing drummer with the mixed vocals of Drailor, Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds. Mastodon has always had a recognisable sound and Emperor Of Sand enhances that with some subtle and clever use of Hammond and mellotron. The swirling mix and rampaging gallop remains as does the fuzzy dirty guitar sound. Emperor Of Sand allows you the instant access of a top release but demands repeated listens to appreciate the complexity and nuances that are contained. Listen to Precious Stones three times in a row and unlock hidden treasures each time. It’s a superb song.

There’s plenty of diversions away from the kicking out of the jams. The intricate progressiveness of Roots Remain twists and turns, the guitar work of hinds and Bill Kelliher quite beautiful, the drumming just incredible and the piano outro perfect. Ancient Kingdom travels at pace, riffs galore but full of melody as it moves to an epic climax. It really gets better the more you play it. I know the band don’t like the metal tag but they still hit bloody hard. Clandestiny smashes from the opening bar, rugged vocals and brutal riffage the order of the day here before some fantastic harmonies add texture and depth and a change of pace. Swirling synthesisers give it a hugely progressive feel, albeit a progressive feel from many years ago.

It is retro and yet fresh. Andromeda has a djent touch to it. Emperor Of Sand is likely to be one of my favourite releases of the year. It needs repeated listening and investment. More challenging than The Hunter, 50 minutes of astonishingly well-crafted and performed music; strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. Several times. 9/10

Lock Up: Demonization (Listenable)

UK grindcore/death metal side project return with their first release in six years. It’s fast as a racehorse on steroids as you’d expect from any band featuring Shane Embury, Nicholas Barker and Anton Reisenegger. The arrival of vocalist Kevin Sharp in place of At The Gates’ Tomas Lindberg has given the band a new edge and it blasts a hole in the wall as soon as the opening three minute track Blood And Emptiness kicks in. It’s no-nonsense stuff, 110mph drumming, raging guitar and bass and Sharp’s guttural vocals crawling all over the place.

Most of the tracks sit firmly in the 2-3 minute camp, which is not a surprise. The pace slows on the title track, a pounding behemoth which drips with sinister malice. Not for long though as Demons Raging opens the artillery once again. Grindcore is a challenge to many, a wall of noise with little in between. Lock Up stick very much to the script but have enough to pull in many who like their metal hard, fast and more aggressive than a Pamplona bull with the elastic around its bollocks. Brutal but enjoyable. 8/10

Mantar: The Spell (Nuclear Blast)

Sludge metal from Hamburg? Why not. This heavy as fuck EP courtesy of Erinc (Drums and vocals) and Hanno (guitar and vocals) is just the job if you want to get unwanted relatives to leave. Only three tracks, but face melting ones all the same. Age Of The Vril is the pick of the bunch with some quite monstrous riffs. The title track has a guest appearance from Okoi Jones of Swiss extreme outfit Bolzer. An acquired taste for sure but worth a listen, even if it is just when the mother in law has settled in for the day. 7/10

Reviews: Helion Prime, Saille, Solitary (Reviews By Rich)

Helion Prime: S/T (AFM)

Helion Prime is the self-titled debut album by the Californian power metallers of the same name. This is a fantastically energetic album chock full of anthemic songs all containing lyrics of a science fiction nature. This is definitely the more aggressive end of power metal as well with the band definitely taking influence from the US power metal sound rather than the European one. Frontwoman Heather Michelle impresses with her strong melodic vocals but unfortunately they also lack any bite or aggression unlike the music. It's a very minor criticism though as the strength of the songwriting displayed definitely carries this album. With the level of playing and songwriting on the album it is difficult to believe that this is their debut album. If you like your power metal on the more aggressive side of things then this album is very much recommended. 8/10

Saille: Gnosis (Code666 Records)

Gnosis is the fourth album by Belgian black metallers Saille. Saille play a more melodic and symphonic style of black metal and have been compared to bands such as Emperor and Dimmu Borgir. Saille have all the component elements of black metal in their sound but their sound is more on the atmospheric side with the use of dark and sinister melodies. The symphonics are well used for atmospheric effect as well and are restrained enough not to be over the top . With Gnosis Saille have released an interesting album which shows the dark and atmospheric side of symphonic black metal and does not come across as bombastic or cheesy like some other bands which fall under the genre's umbrella. 7/10

Solitary: The Diseased Heart Of Society (UKEM)

Long running UK thrashers Solitary have released their third album The Diseased Heart Of Society. Solitary have been in existence since 1994 with their last album coming out in 2008 but have always been underdogs in the thrash metal scene rarely getting noticed outside of the UK. Unfortunately I doubt this will change anytime soon as whilst The Diseased Heart Of Society isn't a bad album it is a fairly weak one in comparison to what is being produced by other long running thrash bands in the scene. Where it is good though it is damn good indeed with some furious riffing and intense speed especially on Unidentified and Trigger Point Atrocity. Whilst perfectly good to bang your head to the album just feels like it is lacking a bit of spark and energy. Maybe in a live environment these songs would sound invigorated and full of energy. A solid but underwhelming effort 6/10

Saturday 25 March 2017

Reviews: Alunah, Cryonic Temple, Impavidus

Alunah: Solennial (Svart Records)

Solennial is the fourth record from East Midlands Doom troupe Alunah, led by the bewitching vocals and feedback drenched guitar of front woman Sophie Day, the band have been playing atmospheric, mystical, pagan folklore influenced doom metal for a while now and they have really made a name for themselves on the UK scene building their following and their maturity as a band with every album cycle. This record is their most accomplished with every song having the distinct fuzzy guitars of Sophie, David Day adds the melodious Iommi worshipping leads most recognisable on The Reckoning Of Time and the potent Fire Of Thornborough Henge.

It's doom how it should be done with massive rhythm section as the very low end of Daniel Burchmore fits like glove with drummer Jake Mason both giving a great account of themselves on the ominous Petrichor and in direct opposition to the haunting vocals of Sophie. Alunah have always been able to tell a story in a short time not relying on the mammoth playback times of many of their peers they do more in four minutes than some bands do with twelve.

Lugh's Assembly is the album's longest song at 7+ minutes and is followed by a cover of The Cure's A Forest where the band make the song their own. Solennial is a superior doom album showing that there just seems to be something about it raining all Spring and Summer that makes British bands so good at doom and it's the rich heritage of the country that Alunah's so damn satisfying. 8/10

Cryonic Temple: Into Glorious Battle (Scarlet Records)

Into Glorious Battle that is a title that leaves nothing to the imagination, Swedes Cryonic Temple are power metal through and through, every single note they play has leather, sweat and caress of steel pumping through it from Micke Dahlkvist's frenzied double kick drum pairing so well with Roland Westbom's deep bass licks. Their powerful rhythm section drive speedier tracks such as All The Kingsmen and the storming Prepare For War setting the foundation for the dual guitar harmonies of Markus Grundström and Esa Ahonen to really impress.

Like all good guitar pairings their axes are in perfect sync giving these tracks solos and lead breaks Dragonforce would be proud of. In fact Cryonic Temple sound more like Dragonforce than they do say fellow Templar loving Swedes Hammerfall. If Herman Li is listening to this album he may want to ask for some writers credits as this record sits very comfortably in Dragonforce's extreme power metal bracket. Much of this comparison is due to the synths and orchestrations of the unknown keyboardist called Miss U on the band's Facebook.

Cryonic Temple had their formation back in 1996 but this is their first album since 2008 and their first with the powerful pipes of Mattias L, his gritty vocals add gravitas to slower numbers like Heroes Of The Day (a song that has touches of Metallica's Unforgiven) which also features Karin Fechner bolstering the backing choirs. At 14 tracks and over an hour this album could be real slog but track after track Cryonic Temple deliver quality power metal in spades, it peaks and troughs well with every three or four hell (bent) for leather songs there are slower, cinematic pieces that serve as records stopgaps from the heroic battle metal that populates the rest of the record.

 Into Glorious Battle is everything you could want in a power metal album, it even has a track called Mean Streak which despite not being a Y&T cover contains more Meniketti-isms than is decent, I suppose to be critical I could say that the production is not as sharp as it could be but that's not important, most of the time you are too busy getting your face melted off to care. A magnificent album, pretty much perfect, buy it, grab broadsword and ride into battle with Crom in your heart! 9/10

Impavidus: Eradication Of Mankind (Self Released)

Manchester groove mob return with their second EP hot on the heels of their first in 2016, starting with thunderous drumming the EP kicks off in fine style, due to the production the bass and guitars are low in the mix but you can hear them clearly. The impressive drumming of Chris O'Rouke is unfortunately a second place in terms of what grabs your attention as that award goes too vocalist Michelle Adamson who has some of the finest dual vocals I've heard, guttural vocals that come from the depths of hell but also keening almost operatic clean vocals. Eradication Of Mankind has four excellent death/groove metal tracks, thick, fat riffs, bludgeoning drumming and binary vocals that are both angel and demon in one voice. Keep an eye out for Impavidus they may just become a serious contender. 7/10

Friday 24 March 2017

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

The Record Company, The Fleece Bristol

Those with good memories will recall that Los Angeles based The Record Company supported Blackberry Smoke on their 2015 UK tour. If your memory is even better, you'll remember that we were blown away by their set at the London Forum where they gave the headliners a real run for their money in front of a packed house.

The band have finally returned to UK shores with a brave headline tour taking in one of my favourite venues, The Fleece in Bristol. On a night fraught with traffic problems thanks to the nighttime closure of the M32 and M4, the band helped ease the trauma with a 70 minute set which once again oozed quality.

A sparse crowd made up largely of students there to see the indie tinged support band were treated to an energetic performance by Chris Vos, Alex Stiff and Marc Cazoria. The band played a wide selection of tracks from their debut release Give It Back To You, switching between country, bluesgrass, rock and the blues with ease. Stiff's Fender bass is the platform for the band, with the opening song so solid in the rhythm section that Vos was allowed to leave the guitar in the rack. In London, Cazoria spent more time climbing the front of the drum kit and whilst he was a little calmer in approach he still managed to break off his foot pedal in the penultimate song. 

This didn't cause Vos and Stiff any problems as they improvised with ease until he had repaired the damage. Vos is a exceptional guitarist, whether bluesing it up during their homage to John Lee Hooker or when ripping the crap out of the lap steel. Those in the audience who were intent on listening to the music gave the band a deserved ovation. This band deserved a far bigger audience and one that paid full attention. Too many pissed students talking loudly throughout the set irritated immensely. However, The Record Company were superb and next time they are in town you owe it to yourself to check them out. 9/10

Reviews: Steve Hackett, One Desire, Hydrogyn

Steve Hackett: The Night Siren (InsideOut)

After 2015's amazing Wolflight legendary guitarist Steve Hackett returns with his twenty-fifth (!) solo album, according to Hackett this record is "a bird's eye view of the world of a musical migrant ignoring borders and celebrating our common ancestry with a unity of spirit." The record was driven once again by the collaborative team of Hackett his wife Jo and co-producer keyboardist extraordinaire Roger King, the music was recorded direct to computers meaning that it is record that retains it's heaviness but is not intrusive.

The world-music influences are abundant throughout with Hackett not only giving his usual stunning guitar and vocal performance but also adding a sitar from India, a tar from the Middle East (played by Malik Mansurov), the charango from Peru fleshes out this record. The Night Siren features musicians from Iceland, Azerbaijan, Israel and Palestine, with vocals coming from Orphaned Land's Kobi Fahri, Arab Israeli singer Mīrā ‘Awaḍ, Hackett's touring singer Nad Sylvan, drums from Nick D'Virgillio (ex-Spock's Beard), uilleann pipes from Nightwish's Troy Donockley.

Martian Stream is Middle Eastern flavoured instrumental that leads into the spacey Fifty Miles From The North Pole which has some excellent classical strings that also drive the ominous percussive El Nino which has some great guitar playing from Hackett. Other Side Of The Wall is beautiful acoustic song with a political heart, one that beats heavily too on West To East, the whole record is reminder that music is the great unifier. The Night Siren is yet another excellent progressive rock album from the man that was the distinctive sound of Genesis for so many years. 8/10

One Desire: One Desire (Frontiers Records)

Hurt the song that sets this album off immediately gives you everything you need to know about One Desire, the huge keys, bouncy rhythm and emotive vocals firmly sit One Desire in the AOR category. However as Apologise brings a thumping Shinedown sound it's clear this is 21st Century AOR, the production is like cut glass, the songs sit between pop and rock, there is no room for distortion or jam sessions every part is measured for maximum impact.

Love Injection has the current trend of bringing in electronic touches, Turn Back Time is a fist clenching rocker and its followed up by the synth heavy ballad Falling Apart which could have been number 1 in 1985, while Where The Heartbreak Begins is a showstopper Bryan Adams would have trouble knocking off the number one spot. One Desire are a Finnish band who share similarities with fellow Finns Brother Firetribe and Reckless Love, the vocal hooks are huge, the songs bombastic and the whole package of this debut record is equally modern and retro. One Desire sees AOR being brought bang up to date while still clinging to its roots. 8/10

Hydrogyn: Redemption (HighVolMusic)

I've defended Hydrogyn for years, their mostly generic metallic hard rock was saved by vocalist Julie, who had a superb voice. A band that seemed to lose their way a few times during their career they have become another piece of evidence in why you should never work with your spouse as Julie left the band in 2016 after splitting with guitarist husband Jeff. The band however carried on recruiting Erica Parrott behind the mic and announced this record was going to be heavier than any of it's predecessors, well yes it is heavier, it's also terrible. Very little melody, overly crunchy guitars so they sound like white noise, the tracks seem roughly cut together and Erica unfortunately isn't sure what to do vocally, in parts she cackles as she tries to growl and then she tries to croon like Julie poorly, it's all a bit of a wreck really. No amount of divine intervention could give Hydrogyn Redemption, avoid if possible. 3/10

Thursday 23 March 2017

Reviews: Fen, Destroy She Said, Synaptik, Light Freedom Revival (Reviews By Paul)

Fen: Winter (Code666 Records)

It's hard to know where to start with Winter. Perhaps the most beautifully crafted black metal album for many years, the East Anglians fifth album is an astonishing mix of textured soundscape which envelopes the listener and transports them into a different place. Technically fantastic, the album ebbs and flows, ranging from blisteringly heavy black metal to delicate fragility. For a three piece to make this sound is incredible. Winter is divided into six sections, I to VI, all of which capture different parts of the season. 

They are lengthy too, with opener I (Pathway) a 17-minute epic. Each track segues perfectly into each other, providing the listener with an intertwined stunningly dramatic piece. Whilst there is the heaviness associated with black metal including blistering drumming, massive thrashing guitars and death vocals of Grungyn and The Watcher, there is so much more to this release. Part V (Death) is a perfect example. Repeated listens make this album more incredible. You should not miss one of the best albums of not only 2017 but of this century. Essential listening. 10/10

Destroy She Said: Origins Of O’Detta (Hellfire Records)

If you didn’t know, you’d quickly realise that Destroy She Said are from Australia. With a sound that combines the rawest elements of AC/DC and Rose Tattoo, the Melbourne five piece’s latest release is a gritty, raucous affair that delivers some of the dirtiest rock ‘n’ roll since Dirty Deeds dropped on the turntable. Now, it’s not ground breaking in any respect but what it does have is that filthy snarling soundtrack for the bar room brawl which countrymen Airbourne have polished out of their sound. It is blunt and crass, with tracks like Squirter (yes, really) Fat Lizzy and Hookers Don’t Kiss leaving nothing to the imagination. The Sabbath like stomp of You Might Think I Love You diverts slightly from the routine heads down approach in the other tracks, with a vocal performance from Simon McCullough that fuses Iggy Pop with Jim Morrison. Apart from that, with a band that is so adult that two of the members are called Scampers and Youngy what else would you expect. Crack open a tin, punch your mate in the face and bare your arse at the world. Destroy She Said. They certainly have. 7/10

Synaptik: Justify & Reason (Divebomb Records)

Norwich outfit Synaptik's 2nd album is a real hybrid beast. Elements of progressive metal, thrash, melodic death and power metal are all present. Whilst experimentation and incorporation of different genres is an admirable objective, the results here are mixed at best. The playing is excellent with lead guitarist Jack Murton shredding like his life depends on it. Vocalist John Knight has a strong clean voice which is a joy to listen to. In places the album is quite impressive, with some real cohesiveness, for example on the slower paced Conscience which builds majestically over its 9 minutes. However, some of the other tracks are just a bit too busy, with so much going on it's difficult to know where to listen. Human is a case in point. Huge riffs, some Iron Maiden style melody but then there is some djent type bass lines, numerous time changes and varying patterns which begin to make the listener really have to work to keep up. It sounds messy. There is some real potential here. The band are tight and talented. Whether they can push their complex sound into a saturated market is debatable. 6/10

Light Freedom Revival: Eterniverse Déjà Vu (Positive Imagination Media)

‘From the perception of the Light Omniverse, right now each of us are consciously or unconsciously, passing through quantum stargates by simply making decisions about where our lives are going, and our minds are slowly learning to use a sort of a holographic customized reality operating system, leading us into the kind of future we would like to experience. I know I’m headed towards this exit timeline, where Earth evolves to become the centre of a gigantic crystal space city of light called the Avatar that represents the point of focus for the entire Light Creation with a sealed cornucopian light society template. That is for me the true Ascension into the Eterniverse and I wanted the songs to reflect that!’

That’s the explanation from John Vehadija, Vancouver based singer songwriter about the debut (and hopefully only) album from Light Freedom Revival, with prog rock luminaries Billy Sherwood, Oliver Wakeman and Eric Gillette (Neal Morse Band). I’d really like some of what he’s been taking. The album is utter shite, a horrible bastard that should have been aborted at conception. With a sound that appears to have merged the worst of Asia, Weezer and Mike Oldfield, I can find nothing enjoyable in it. Vehadija’s voice is one of the most irritating I’ve ever heard, nasal mucus soaked in saccharine and wildly over produced. With Marisa Frantz’s harmony vocals attempting to smooth the sound but accentuating it, I was reaching for the knitting needles to ram in my ears after song number one. Anyone that enjoys this needs therapy. Utter bilge. 1/10

Wednesday 22 March 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sonata Arctica, Striker & Triosphere (Live Review By Paul & Matt)

Sonata Arctica - Tramshed, Cardiff

Paul- Having checked that all vital organs were still located where they were meant to be after the battering that Gojira gave them the night before, we headed the Tramshed in Cardiff for a night of total contrast. It's very rare that the UK gets a visit from the power metal Finnish outfit Sonata Arctica but combined with an even more rare appearance from Triosphere and Striker meant this was one not to be missed.

Unfortunately the metal crowds of South Wales clearly didn't feel the same as there were some rather large gaps in the venue. Kudos to those who made the effort on a Sunday night. Their noise for each band made it feel like the venue was full and we were rewarded with an evening of high quality as a result. With the battle for Womanby Street beginning, you do sometimes wonder whether the metal fraternity of South Wales gets what it deserves. Make sure you cram into the cowshed for Slipknot, Korn and Alter Bridge but don't support some of the hardest working bands. It makes my piss boil at times. Anyway, rant over and on to the music.

Norweigian four piece Triosphere (8) hit the stage promptly at 7:30pm and delivered some fine symphonic metal with a much harder edge. For a band that started out as a thrash band, their sound has certainly developed and anyone who has been wise enough to give 2014's epic Heart Of The Matter a listen will know that this is a band who can mix up their styles. Bassist and vocalist Ida Haukland may be diminutive in stature but her playing is solid and her voice, well, just fantastic. It's impossible to listen to her without comparing other leading metal ladies but alongside Cristina Scabbia and Kristie Kirby (ex-Triaxis), Ida has one of the most impressive voices around. Her soaring range, ably enhanced by an excellent sound (well done at the back!) ensured the band gained some new fans.

Flanked by Marius Silver Bergesen and Tor Ole Byberg and with Kenneth Tarneby pounding the skins Triosphere raced through their allocated slot, focusing mainly on tracks from their most recent release but with a dip into the past with Gunnin' For Glory from debut Onwards and Human Condition from sophomore release Road Less Travelled. Bergesen ensured that Haukland wasn't the centre of attention with some stunning guitar work, especially the bluesy solo on Breathless. He knows he is a rock star and adopts every pose in the book overdoing the posing a little for me at times. Closing with The Heart's Dominion Triosphere were worth the admission price on their own.

Fifteeen minutes later and Canadian traditional metallers Striker (8) crashed onto stage and proceeded to play as if they were headlining Download. Similar to Triosphere, Striker wasted few seconds in their set, careering around the stage and gurning in that goofy way only Canadians can. Imagine Anvil as a five piece, but with some decent songs and the energy of fellow countrymen Exciter in their heyday. It really was great to see a band having such a great time, playing quality heavy metal and loving it. And so was the crowd, who once again made a massive amount of noise for such a small gathering.

Dan Clearly is a charismatic frontman with a really powerful voice. Guitarist Adam Brown is hyperactive, climbing on monitors and generally acting the fool. It was engaging stuff and there were huge smiles all around. The band focused most of their set on their most recent two albums, the new self-titled release and 2016's Stand In The Fire. they even had the cheek to do the most Maiden style sing-a-long at the end during Fight For Your Life, which worked perfectly. A super live band with some solid songs to support the show.

Matt - Then it was time for the main event as the numbers of the crowd swelled a little, the mix of old-school rockers, lace covered goths and leather studded metallers was an overview of the style of music Sonata Arctica (8) play, it's heavy, dramatic, symphonic and joyous. Having last seen them in Cardiff in 2011 I was anticipating a similar level of energy and quality as then. As the intro tape of We Are What We Are played each member of the band took to the stage Tommy Portimo hidden behind his immense drumkit, Elias Viljanen stage right with his guitar held aloft, in fact he probably only had it horizontal twice during the show, the imposing Pasi Kauppinen was on stage left with keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg behind him cradling his keytar.

Portimo hit the switch and the set kicked off with Closer To The Animal and Life from the latetst album The Ninth Hour, just as the opening chords of Closer...hit frontman Tony Kakko swaggered on to the stage and started to belt out the words with his incredible voice, in fact the first four songs all came from their most recent releases with the excellent The Wolves Die Young from Pariah's Child and the furious In Black And White from Unia leaving the crowd breathless from fist pumping, singing and clapping. The songs demand participation but we were given a chance to breathe with the gorgeous ballad Tallulah that saw the first mass sing-along and even grown men cry such is the power of the song, it was a moving sight to see but the band effortlessly build the pace back up with the satirical Fairytale from the latest album that was followed up by going back to the beginning with classic FullMoon from Ecliptica.

There was genuine joy on the stage with Tony leading proceedings guiding the crowd through the motions, Pasi banging his head throughout and Henrik and Elias trading solos at blistering speed. As an old school Sonata fan the inclusion of Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited was very much welcome especially as it was sandwiched between the symphonic new tracks Among The Stars and We Are What We Are which carries resonant message about protecting the Earth we have. The main set ended with The Power Of One and the band were off stage for only a short time before returning because Tony "forgot his drink". The encore was made up of three songs two old favourites one modern classic and as Misplaced commenced the crowd went nuts, it sounds as good now as it was when it was released, I Have The Right sat in the middle as a clarion call, the set wound up with their normal final song the awesome Don't Say A Word and the breakdown into Vodka after a bit of crowd call and response.

Sonata Arctica are one of the top power metal bands in the business and this show deserved a bigger crowd than it actually got, three great bands for a good price, in a great venue (that still needs aircon) As Paul mentioned at the top, to really save the local scene we must attend these shows in larger quantities otherwise they may disappear all together.

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Reviews: Pallbearer, Eclipse, GraViL

Pallbearer: Heartless (Nuclear Blast)

Having only recently discovered Little Rock, Arkansas' Pallbearer I have avidly listened to their two previous records and I really think that they could be one of the best bands around today moving away from the abrasive sometimes overly slow delivery of other bands in the doom genre. Pallbearer add a much more psychedelic, melodic sound to their songs, yes they sprawl with most of the songs over 5 minutes long, two clocking in over 10 minutes but the musical dynamics involved means that the minutes fly by as the dual harmonic guitar playing from Devin Holt and Brett Campbell is reminiscent of bands such as Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy along with more modern purveyors like The Sword and even Mastodon. Lie Of Survival is prime example of this with fly away clean guitar riffs moving into the deliberate, heavy riffs associated with doom bands.

On the title track they display everything that makes them great, fuzzy bludgeoning riffs, a heavy low end from Joseph D Rowland (bass) and Mark Lierly (drums), shifting time signatures and sounds that are augmented by Campbell's excellent clean vocals. Heartless only has 7 tracks but they are all incredible, the first four blend so beautifully that you'd be forgiven in thinking they were one song, the album builds and builds releasing every single ounce of emotion on the incredible A Plea For Understanding, clocking in at just over 12 minutes it's a magnificent piece that serves as a fitting climax for a monumental album from the US band. I may be late to the Pallbearer bandwagon but I can see it gaining an awful lot more momentum on the back of this fantastic record. 9/10

Eclipse: Momentum (Frontiers Records)

Those of you that follow the Scandinavian melodic rock/AOR scene or indeed Frontiers records releases will have heard of Erik Mårtensson the vocalist guitarist is a key member of W.E.T, Nordic Union and his main band Eclipse. He also writes for and produces many of the albums released by Frontiers, clearly a man with a Midas Touch for gleaming melodic rock (and a huge work rate) it's only been two years since Eclipse last released a record and now their sixth is ready to drop. Once again it's probably some of the best melodic rock around, continuing Eclipse's upward trajectory as the worthy successors to bands such as Journey.

Since their last record they toured almost relentlessly for two years and having seen Eclipse live I can tell you that this Journey comparison is not hyperbole, they have the ability and most importantly the songs to make it big. Momentum builds just that raising the stakes established on Bleed & Scream and Armageddonize with a sharper focus, huge hooks, impressive guitar work from Mårtensson and long term collaborator Magnus Henriksson that mean that the songs on this record resonate in your mind for a long time. Opening with Vertigo they kick things off in style with a fist in the air rocker, one of many, it's music that makes you want to just go wild, shout along and air guitar with abandon, cue No Way Out.

This record is fun from beginning to end rarely dropping in quality, Black Rain is a heavy one, swaggering and moody it still has a glorious chorus and orchestral elements, The Downfall Of Eden is one of the records best tracks, immediate and driving with a slight folk influenced dramatic track that actually could represent Sweden at Eurovision (it even works in the acoustic version bonus track) even the ballads are tough, Hurt is a darker ballad that could have come off a Sixx AM record with the lush symphonies and sparse delivery but it's the superior hard rockers that frankly litter this album that will make you stay. Momentum is a truly great melodic rock album and I can't wait to see them in Bristol on the 23rd April. 9/10

GraViL: No More Forgiveness (Self Released)

London melo-death mob started out as just two men, since then the membership has expanded and changed with the one constant being frontman Grant Stacy, it's his evil vocals that are the link between this album and the early EP's, the first one I heard being Age Of Corruption which I got in a Darkstore (R.I.P) goody bag. They really found their feet on 2013's Thoughts Of A Rising Sun expanding and rounding out their sound very well and this has continued on this second full length, noticeably darker (if that's possible) than their first record the band has always been politically/personally charged and with the current state of the world this record is angry and remorseful in equal measure but with hope cutting through.

According to frontman Grant "There is a massive sub-context of loss within the new album, with 2016 notably being a brutal year, however No More Forgiveness pulls in a lot of strength from negativity." That brutality is reflected in the songs, it's pummelling death metal with furious guitar solos, bullet train speed drumming and industrial touches (Locate The Traitor) that means the tracks stomp, crush and groove in equal measure.

With the furious riffage of I Am Blood, the grinding riff of Plagues, Thieves And Murderers and the symphonic curve-ball of Fractured, Divided which adds soaring female vocals. GraViL are still a major force in the UK underground scene but I can see No More Forgiveness taking them to that next level, four years on from their debut and GraViL retain the high quality melodic death metal heard on their debut. 8/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Gojira (Live Review By Paul & Nick)

Gojira - O2 Academy Bristol

A sold out crowd in boisterous mood meant that this was an evening of high intensity for start to finish. Securing a place on the balcony early doors gave a great view and a much more bearable temperature for the evenings fun and games.

New Yorkers Car Bomb (5) kicked off the evening with the audience still filling the venue but already a high percentage had decided it was worth getting in early. Car Bomb are an acquired taste, their discordant polyrhythmic mathcore at times a disjointed cacophony. The band are high on intensity and aggression, which is conveyed in their sound. The buzzing crowd responded positively, although they made no impression on me. The band have toured with Gojira a number of times so it's likely that Car Bomb will be back.

Confidence is not something that Code Orange (6) lack. Hitting the stage with a swaggering arrogance that only American bands display, the Pittsburgh based outfit blasted the Academy with their blistering uncompromising hardcore approach. Drummer Jami Morgan is bizarrely the focal point, his screaming vocals and constant coercion to the enthusiastic pit strangely endearing. Amidst all the chaos of a set that was disjointed and chaotic, which I guess is part of the approach, Reba Meyers took lead for the one clean vocal track, but chaos soon returned with tracks like Forever from the album of the same name turning all those on the floor into a gibbering mess. "This is the new shit" screamed Morgan towards the end of the set. Hmmm. If that's the case I may stick with the old. But then I am old!

2016 was the year Gojira (9) really moved into the premier league. On the back of their brilliant release Magma, the band has developed into a slick headline band who have sold out virtually every show on their tour including Brixton Academy. No mean feat. Recent visits to these shore saw a blistering special guest slot at BOA and a show stealing support to Alter Bridge during the autumn whereby all accounts they blew both the headliners and main support Volbeat to shit. Judged by tonight's showing it's no surprise. The Frenchmen were imperious, laying waste to the venue with a set as intense as I've ever seen. The wall of sound these four men lay down almost defies description. Heavier than anything that had gone before, their sound envelopes you and sucks you in. Industrial, brutal and totally absorbing.

Gojira now have a set list to rival any of their peers. Six tracks from the monumental Magma were greeted like old favourites, whilst the veteran tunes from Ocean Planet and From Mars To Sirius elicited the mightiest roars. Opening with Only Pain and segueing right into The Heaviest Matter In The Universe the band didn't drop the pace for one minute. With Mario Duplantier destroying his drum pedals, the only cessation in the assault was due to technical support. The rest of the set list almost wrote itself, with the mighty Flying Whales, complete with beautiful footage of a humpback on the screen behind was just mesmerising. The new tracks sit comfortably in the set, with set closer Pray rivalling a pulverising Backbone for song of the evening.

My only complaint as is my usual beef was the inclusion of a drum solo. If ever there was a band that didn't need to showcase the drumming it is Gojira. However, there are always reasons and as solos go it was decent. Joe Duplantier, who has emerged as a Goliath frontman noodled a little at the start of the encores before Oroborus and Vacuity closed a phenomenal set. Bassist Jean Michel Labadie finally came to a stop as the show ended, having put in another energetic show whilst Christian Andrew never stopped smiling. As the sweat dripped off the walls of the venue, the band vowed to return soon. they proclaimed Bristol the best crowd of the tour and whilst bands often say that this time there was real truth. The crowd were as intense as the band, feeding off the energy of each other. A fine evening from one of metal's most exciting bands.

The Hewitt Perspective:

Gojira have been a favourite of mine since seeing them in the Cardiff union a few years ago, and no matter how much I prepare myself for their gigs I am always taken back by the sheer power and heaviness that they offer up, which, more impressively is never diminished by the astonishing volume they present it with. These guys are the epitome of a perfectly well oiled machine that clearly love what they do, pouring their heart and soul into every album and live performance. Throughout the hour and forty five minutes Gojira dipped into their entire back catalogue providing us with a plethora of songs including The Heaviest Matter Of the Universe, L'Enfant Sauvage, Toxic Garbage Island and the ever phenomenal Flying Whales which satisfied all fans old and new. From the Duplantier brothers Joe and Mario to Christain and Jean-Michel each member of the band showed their skills and tightness across the entirety of the set. Testament to this was the synchronicity in which the crowd banged there heads to the heavy bass laden riffs and breakdowns that Gojira constantly threw our way all night. 

Circle pits and walls were breaking out left right and centre with little encouragement from the band. Halfway through Mario lost suffered a heavy loss of a bass pedal (unsurprisingly) which thankfully was quickly replaced as that pedal is the centre of what the band do. Seamlessly working their way through the eighteen song set there was little time for chit chat, however Joe did seem a little taken aback at to the crowds reaction at one point, leading him to highlight the fact that last time Gojira were in town they had to cancel as they only sold four tickets! Sounds crazy I know, but this just shows the work this band have had to put in to earn their greatness and support... damn don't they deserve it??! 

Sadly the evening had to come to an end but it was done in style with a three track encore consisting of a guitar solo followed by a beefy breakdown and then bone crunching but brief songs; Oroborus and Vacuity. I left the venue like most people present; with a slightly broken body, buzzing ears but with a massive smile on my face which still remains as I write this. Gojira somehow manage to build upon perfection every time I see them, I cant wait for their next visit... next time hopefully in Cardiff.

Monday 20 March 2017

Reviews: Obituary, Svart Crown,The Crawling, Axxis (Reviews By Paul)

Obituary: Self Titled (Relapse)

The teaser EP Ten Thousand ad Ways To Die which signalled the return to the studio of the Floridian Death Metal legends back in November 2016 was a tasty morsel which really left a desire for more. Well, the wait is over as album number 10 has arrived and what a monster it is. Absolutely packed with vicious riffs and skull pounding death metal, the masters have once again shown that age is no obstacle to class. 2014's massive Inked In Blood was a brutal bastard but in my humble opinion Obituary kicks harder, stronger and more impressively.

With the pace changing from track to track, one thing that doesn't vary is the sheer heaviness. Opener Brave finds John Tardy on stunning form, racing his distinctive vocals at top speed. End It Now and Turned To Stone are just two highlights of the sheer power of one of the best bands in the genre but it's on Straight To Hell and Ten Thousand Ways To Die that the band really hit top gear, brooding sinister and absolutely unstoppable. In a year with some of the best death metal releases hitting the shelves (see Hour of Penance, Immolation, Benighted and Memoriam for examples) Obituary has delivered a contender for the top spot. Buy it. Crank it up. Split the skull. Magnificent. 10/10

Svart Crown: Abreaction (Century Media)

Blackened death metal of French outfit Svart Crown return after 2013’s Profane with a blistering release. Abreaction is full of cascading riffs, threateningly evil vocals and blisteringly heavy drumming. The band has been around since 2004 and they know what they are doing. JB Le Bail’s guttural grows adds a sinister edge to tracks like The Pact: To The Devil His Due which drips with haunting malice.

Opener Golden Sacrament nods the head to doom whilst Carcosa is a thrashy beast. With slicing vicious guitar work courtesy of Le Bail and new guitarist Kevin Verlay added to the powerhouse battery of Kevin Paradis’ drumming and Ludovic Veyssiere’s driving bass lines, Abreaction has plenty of slower pieces, drifting perilously close to the death doom metal line at times; Upon This Intimate Madness is a behemoth crashing along.

A hugely powerful industrial sound changes pace on Tentacion before leading nicely into the head splitting Orgasmic Spiritual Ecstasy. This is not music for the faint hearted. Svart Crown are crushingly heavy, dangerously brutal and clearly give zero fucks. 7/10

The Crawling: Anatomy Of Loss (Grindscene Records)

Anatomy Of Loss is the debut release from Northern Ireland’s The Crawling and it’s a mix of death and doom. The three piece make quite a noise and three years from their formation have started to find a sound which will appeal to fans of the death doom genre. There are elements of the melodic death metal sound similar to In Flames and Arch Enemy in places and a vocal delivery on a par with Angela and Alissa. Acid On My Skin is case in point. Doom has always verged between exciting and powerful (Candlemass) or a bit on the ponderous over bloated sound. The Crawling currently sit somewhere in the middle.

Stuart Rainey’s vocals fit comfortably with the more crushing and plodding elements whilst Craig Beattie’s thunderous drumming provides a powerful backdrop. However, it’s when the band really let loose, such as the middle section of closing track Catatonic that it gets a bit more fun and guitarist Andy Clarke can let rip. The difficulty with the death doom genre is that so much of it is just a bit average and repetitive. Few can match the power of Finland’s Vainaja who to my mind changed the blueprint with their recent releases. The Crawling have potential. Whether they can achieve it is up for debate. 6/10

Axxis: Retrolution (Nuclear Blast)

Axxis have been around since 1988 and this is album number 15. Original members Bernard Weib (vocals) and keyboardist Harry Oellers are currently joined by long serving bassist Rob Schomaker, drummer Dirk Brand and 2015’s addition guitarist Stefan Weber. Described in some quarters as national legends, the band do a great deal of charity work in their home town Lünen. (Cue Smashie and Nicey - Ed) 

I must admit my first thought was more about the use of Retrolution as an album title. For the uninitiated Retrolution refers to a right-wing reaction against modern society and politics. Phrases such as ‘taking my country back’ are associated with this. However, I’m not sure whether the Rhine Valley’s heavy metal veterans are extreme right wingers or not. Reading some of the blurb about the album release would suggest a more naïve explanation which is that they’ve merely merged the words retro and revolution to capture the current increased demand for vinyl in the rock world and the continued interest in older bands. Let’s hope it is that one.

So, what about the Axxis sound? Well, in the main, it’s routine and tepid Germanic hard rock. You won’t get the power metal surge of Primal Fear or Helloween or the onslaught of Kreator, Sodom or Destruction. No, Axxis sit firmly in the bland inoffensive section. Like the bloated commercial excesses of Scorpions, tracks such as Do It Better and the ballad Burn Down Your House are ponderous and unexciting. The acoustic Queen Of The Wind is the lighters aloft moment. It’s a decently constructed song, and Bernard Weib’s distinctive voice (a kind of hard rock Jon Anderson) copes admirably with the soaring range required. 

I just find all acoustic ballads a bit disturbing. Seven Devils and Somebody Died At The Party are just drivel. However, it’s not all bad. The pumped-up power of This Is My Day motors nicely and when the band put the foot down the output is pleasingly comforting, a bit like Scorpions in their prime. It just doesn’t happen enough. Unfortunately, overall this is just a bit bland. 5/10

Reviews: The Silent Wedding, Dead South Dealers, Quadrus

The Silent Wedding: Enigma Eternal (FYB Records)

Greek progressive/symphonic metal band with a male singer, sounds a bit like Kamelot or Serenity with the melodic metal sounds intertwining with cinematic synths (see Under The Veil Of Grey). The dramatic intro leads into first song Shadows & Dust which sets things in motion very well as it has changing time signatures, a crunchy riff and floaty keys and really displays the range of vocalist Marios who has a melodic but lower register voice much like Khan (Kamelot) or Georg (Serenity) that entirely fits the musical style there's a certain sadness to his vocal and it does wonders on the melancholic style of the band. This is the band's second album and it is a step up in songwriting as the tracks on this record are more complex and carry a gravitas that make you invested in them, this is helped by the production which is crisp if a little thin, it displays all of the facets of this bands talents. The Endless Journey has impressive double kicks, buzzing industrial electronics and the excellent vocals again. The other big influence I can hear in this record is Evergrey so it's fitting that Tom S Englund comes on board to add his weighty baritone to the Gothic A Dream Of Choices. I really like this record, it's the sort of mature, bittersweet, intensely musical I enjoy having named three of my favourite bands as influences I guess it's only natural that I'd like it. High quality progressive/power metal with an emotional punch. 8/10

Dead South Dealers: Walk Through The Line (Sliptrick Records)

Southern heavy metal that reeks of bourbon and beer, Walk Through The Line is the kind of bar brawling music favoured by the Stetson clad tattooed Dean Razorback wielding members of the NOLA crew. It may come as a surprise then that Dead South Dealers come from Athens Greece as their brand of blues-influenced dirty Southern metal sounds very authentic. D.S.D is a highlight of the record dripping with chest beating machismo and reverb drenched soloing layered over the groovy rhythms. Lost Within Time is a slower piece successfully pairing an acoustic opening with crawling riffs, Walk The Line has more acoustics and takes things into slow-moving impactful territory. DSD are as near to the Southern metal favourites as you can get, you can practically smell the bayou on Fairies Of The Swamp and if you love the NOLA blues influenced stoner metal then I urge you to Walk Through The Line as soon as possible. 7/10

Quadrus: Entropia (Self Released)

This an interesting record, sounding like a film score orchestra and a death metal band having a fight, John Galanakis is the brains of the outfit giving this record the rhythm guitars, orchestrations with the harsh/brutal vocals, he takes a similar role to that of Mark Jansen in MaYan or Epica, sound-wise Quadrus share similarities with Epica and Wintersun. However unlike those bands the sound quality of this record is shocking, it sounds like Epica and Wintersun playing together at the same time, but they are playing totally different songs. With operatic vocals, cinematic synths and furious riffing all the elements are there but they are so randomly placed and poorly produced but everything's a blur. Entropia tries to be so much but fails unfortunately. 5/10

Sunday 19 March 2017

Reviews: Sumo Cyco (Review By Neil)

Sumo Cyco: Opus Mar (Self Released)

“Listen to raggapunk” read the slogan on an old school Skindred t-shirt. This would be good advice if there were any bands other than the Dred making music of that genre (well, there was Zeroscape I suppose but let’s overlook their failed attempt to start a musical feud with Benji & co). Fast forward a mere decade or so later and enter Canadian four-piece Sumo Cyco whose style is probably best described as punk laced with elements of dance hall and who clearly owe a very large musical debt to Skindred and – by extension, as they are still a going concern today – Dub War.

Despite singer Skye “Sever” Sweetnam’s recent assertion that without Skindred there would be no Sumo Cyco rest assured they are no mere clones. Sprinkling their influences into their own musical melting pot they manager to evoke similar sounds yet clearly have their own musical identity. Much of this is down to Sever’s distinctive vocal style, effectively combining moments of rapid-fire delivery (as on The Broadcasters) with melody (Kids Of Calamity) and aggression (Anti-Anthem) all of which gives the Cyco's their own unique sound. Couple this with guitarist and co-songwriter Matt “MD13” Drake’s knack of writing catchy, spiky riffs (such as on Sleep Tight) and killer choruses (Free Yourself) and we have a very tasty musical feast here on their sophomore PledgeMusic-funded album.

Opus Mar’s lead single and opening track, the aforementioned Anti-Anthem, is in many ways the quintessential Sumo Cyco song, showcasing as it does Sever’s vocal flexibility, MD13’s riffing, the signature dance-hall-flavoured breakdown and of course that all-important killer chorus, all underpinned ably by the rumbling bass of Kenny “Thor” Corke and the rhythmic drumming of Matt Trozzi (who, oddly, isn’t credited as a full-time member of the band in the CDs notes, even though he played on every song bar one). The dance hall elements of SC’s sound appear to be more emphasised on this release than 2014’s debut Lost In Cyco City but in this writers opinion it’s to the benefit of the album as whole giving some of the albums quieter moments (such as during Brave II, a successor to a song on that debut) a funky swagger and attitude all their own.

There is also second single Move Mountains which features a guest verse from none other than Benji Webbe himself which is yet another highlight amongst a very strong set of tracks. It’s probably safe to say that if you enjoy the two singles released thus far then you’ll enjoy the rest of this album. Upon it’s release on March 31st, I strongly suggest you take the advice adorned on that Skindred t-shirt. In fact I’ll give you some more specific advice – listen to Sumo Cyco. 9/10