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Sunday 30 July 2017

Reviews: Alice Cooper, Byzantine, Rage, Thunderstick (Reviews By Paul)

Alice Cooper: Paranormal (earMusic)

Where do you start with a legend like Alice Cooper? From the late 1960s the man has been a real survivor with a string of anthems that litter his vaudeville shock rock theatrics in the live arena. It's fair to say that Cooper relies heavily on the early 70s for the bulk of his live material and if you listen to 2011's Welcome 2 My Nightmare you'd understand why as it was bunk. In fact you'd have to go way back to 1991 and Hey Stoopid to find a live staple in Feed My Frankenstein. However, that might well be about to change with Paranormal.

Written in collaboration with long time producer Bob Ezrin who shits this kind of throwaway rock before his first cup of tea, there is sufficient classic Cooper here to interest most rock fans. I have to admit I find Cooper's recorded music overrated and due to my reliance on Planet Rock for DAB listening, a bit overplayed. His vocals are as raspy as ever but the music is a little more interesting. Guest appearances by Roger Glover on Paranormal gets the album off to a strong start, whilst The appearance of the Rev.

Willie G from the mighty ZZ Top on Fallen In Love adds a dose of class. Larry Mullen from U2 is amongst the other guests on the release. Fireball with its ZZ Top backing beat gets my vote as the best track on the album, a high intensity tune with some additional effects on Cooper's voice mixing it up superbly. A real foot tapper. Of course, it's not all great stuff and Holy Water with its Jebus praise is quite disturbing but unsurprising given his born again status, whilst Genuine American Girl also curdles your milk.

Still, after his last release this is a slick and polished release which in the main is rather better than expected and includes a couple of tracks with the original remaining band members. A few live cuts add little to the extra addition but do demonstrate that Cooper's live show is heavier than the candy floss sound on record. Not essential but certainly an enjoyable listen. 7/10

Byzantine: The Cicada Tree (Metal Blade)

This is the sixth release by the progressive metallers from Charleston, West Virginia. It's a tasty beast, and from opener New Ways To Bear Witness there are sufficient hooks and grooves to grab you by the throat and drag you in. Get stuck into the Pantera/LOG hybrid of Vile Maxim and revel in something rather special. There's bits of everything in the mix, from nu metal to thrash with clean vocals alongside gruff deliveries.

It's frantic and energetic stuff. Brian Henderson's guitar work is imaginative with chopping riffs intertwining with the numerous time changes and shifts in direction. Chris OJ Ojeda has a strong range and his clean/gruff mixed sound during Map Of The Creator is curiously reminiscent of bands such as Scar Symmetry and even Staind at times.

The whole album really does ebb and flow in direction and style, at times complex and at others down right dirty. The battering ram of Trapjaw showcases the quality of Matt Bowles powerful drumming whilst the title track changes pace completely. It's an interesting release and one that requires a little bit of investment. It won't be to all tastes but certainly worth a listen. 7/10

Rage: Seasons Of The Black (Nuclear Blast)

Close to 12 months ago I gave Rage's last album a paltry 5/10 and a rather scathing review. Much of that was down to the sheer temerity of the band's cover of Rush's Bravado. But like a good STD it's hard to get rid off and yes, here is album number 23 (or is it 24?) To be fair to Peter Wagner and his two band mates, Marco Rodriguez and Vassilos Manitaopoulos, Seasons Of The Black is really enjoyable with the band playing to their strengths. Raucous rampant balls out heavy metal, which gets the head nodding and the blood pumping.

It's still rather generic but with the songs stronger and the band focusing on no-nonsense heads down metal, overall it kicks much harder. The power metal roots shine through on tracks such as Justify with its Alestorm like swagger, whilst the title track hits the thrash button. It's Germanic metal, ala Accept, Grave Digger et al. Nothing special but continued hi fives to a band that just continues to rock out. 6/10

Thunderstick: Something Wicked This Way Comes (Self Released)

Any mention of the underrated NWOBHM outfit Samson prompts two immediate responses. They were the band where Iron Maiden found Bruce Dickinson and they were the band with that “nutter” of a drummer, the gimp masked Thunderstick. Well, many years after the world of rock last heard of the masked Barry Graham Purkis, he is back with a new release, Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s a weird release, stuck way back in the 1980s both in tempo and style of writing and production quality.

Thunderstick is joined by long time guitarist Dave Kilford and new arrivals Martin Shallard, the fantastically titled Rex Thunderbolt on bass and vocalist Lucie V. A promising start with Dark Night, Black Light, which stomps its way into the album in classic NWOBHM style, but it becomes a little routine and tired the longer the album progresses. Lucie V’s vocals are decent, her dusky tones comfortably meshing with the hard rock on offer and old Thunderstick can still hammer the skins with quality. It’s just that the songs are just not very good.

The Shining lumbers for over seven minutes without going anywhere, Go Sleep With the Enemy (I Dare Ya) belongs on a NWOBHM compilation of also rans, whilst the closing acoustic I Close My Eyes is just awful. Full marks to Barry for resurrecting the mask. Unfortunately, it’s 2017 not 1981. Time has moved on. 5/10

Friday 28 July 2017

Reviews: Cats In Space, Formicarius, Bad Solution

Cats In Space: Scarecrow (Self Released)

Do you remember those halcyon days when Foreigner, 10cc, Supertramp, ELO and Cheap Trick ruled the airwaves? Well Cats In Space remember and haven't really looked forward since, their music not only has an AOR vibe it's an unashamedly grandiose tribute to the massive acts that ruled the airwaves in the late 70's and 80's check out Mad Hatter's Tea Party it has the insistent piano and phased guitar made famous by Foreigner but lyrics from Lewis Carroll. Scarecrow is the band's second album and it hasn't changed anything, the album is chock full of sunny melodies that put a smile on your face and nod your head vigorously, they shift between pacey hard rock, kooky pop rock (Clown In Your Nightmare) and everything in between, they go full baroque and roll on the closing title track which is a climactic epic for the record.

Ably led by guitarist Greg Hart and keyboardist Andy Stewart the band are by no means a bunch of fresh faced kids Greg and Andy have worked together for over 30 years, guitarist Dean Howard has played with such varied acts as T’Pau, Bad Company, Ian Gillan, Airrace & Toby Jepson, bassist Jeff Brown is the current bass player/singer of The Sweet (which explains the massive choruses on Scars), Steevi Bacon (has the best name) is alumni of Robin Trower and frontman Paul Manzi not only has incredible hair but a massive soulful voice that naturally lends itself to any style from the Queen meets Supertramp of September Rain, the spirit of Tramp returns on the poppy Felix & The Golden Sun.

The album is real restoration piece hand picking the best bits of the late glam and early AOR sound and making them shine as brightly as possible, it's overblown, over-produced, multi-tracked and doesn't take itself too seriously, take a song like Two Minutes 59 which is a track that has that running time about a track with that running time (it's meta). Scarecrow much like the band that recorded it has no agenda, the idea to rock out as often as possible and with feeling. Having seen the band briefly at a concert it will be good to see them in the confines of The Globe in September. With an album this strong it should be a heck of a show. 8/10

Formicarius: Black Mass Ritual (Schwarzdorn Production)

It's easy to forget that black metal is a British invention, it was Venom that truly set the template but as musical tastes changed this darkest of all metals moved Northward to the frozen forests of Scandinavia where it gained popularity, notoriety and infamy in equal measure. Acts such as Akercocke and Cradle of Filth have flown the British black metal flag for years now but within the last 10 years I'd say British black metal has had somewhat of a resurgence due to the myriad of underground and extreme festivals popping up.

The most recent addition to this unholy cauldron of bands are Formicarius (they get their name from Johannes Nider's 1475 book which was the second book ever printed to discuss witchcraft).The band are formed from members of De Profundis, Phyrexia and Premature Birth, with an extreme pedigree and a feature on the Speed Kills VII compilation this London mob are dead set on grabbing the black metal throne with both bloodstained hands. They set about it in the right way unleashing furious riffs straight away and thunderous blastbeast carry the songs like the horses of those men of the apocalypse.

What Formicarius do have in spades though is atmosphere, something that is as important to black metal as it is to symphonic and Gothic acts, there are unnerving synths throughout that simmer just beneath the chaos. There are times when the album knocks you back with it's sheer grandeur, waves upon waves of furious riffs, squawked vocals and keys pounding away make for an exciting listen from the first few notes, Black Mass Ritual also has a song called May The Rats Eat Your Eyes which instantly gives them extra points. Hail to British black metal! 8/10 

Bad Solution: The War Within (Self Released)

Bad Solution are a Polish/UK based band from London, their music has been described as a "chunkier Shinedown" and I couldn't say it any better myself, Bad Solution love a big riff, a love that is only surpassed by their love of a massive chorus, The War Within is their debut full length following an EP in 2015 and it's a love letter to the American radio rock sound with the groove of FFDP and the aforementioned choruses tracks such as Drowning grind along with a crunch but I'd say there are one too many weaker offerings, Nothing (You Don't Know Me) takes more of a nu metal turn, Self Destruct is a saccharine ballad and Echoes Of The City is boring.

Therein lies the problem with Bad Solution they are competent but nothing particularly interesting, it's straight down the line American radio rock that is good listen for the length of the record but almost instantly forgettable. The War Within has a lot of promise but it's not harnessed for anything more than a few songs The Last Lie being one. They may have the tag of being a chunkier Shinedown but unlike their American comparison this debut lacks that 'it' factor. 6/10

Reviews: Accept, Paradise Lost (Reissue), King Leviathan (Reviews By Paul)

Accept: The Rise Of Chaos (Nuclear Blast)

After Blind Rage failed to impress back in 2014, the German masters are back very much alive and kicking with album number 15. just over 45 minutes of traditional Accept heavy metal, demonstrating that if it ain't broke you don't fix it. The Rise Of Chaos stomps from the opening thrashings of Die By The Sword, only pausing when final track Race To Extinction closes. It is heavy as hell, pacy and full of jagged riffs that cut deep. Check out the power of the title track, a total anthem, or the battery of new drummer Christopher Williams on No Regrets. Wolf Hoffman and Uwe Lulis, making his debut on record for the band, produce heads down no nonsense metal which cannot fail to warm the most metal of hearts.

I especially enjoyed the nostalgic look back to the older recording styles in Analog Man, an observation on society outlined in typical Accept style. "My cell phone is smarter than me" bemoans Mark Tornillo, with a Balls To The Wall riff permeating throughout. it's the fourth vocal outing for Mark Tornillo and the man excels himself with a quite magnificent performance. His gutter soaked growl has slotted so comfortably into the band that you'd rightly ask Udo who? It's simple and that is what makes Accept so brilliant. They do simple fantastically well. Produced by Andy Sneap, this is an album that defines pure heavy metal in 2017. An essential listen. 9/10

Paradise Lost: One Second [20th Anniversary Reissue] (Music For Nations)

Few bands have evolved their sound in such dramatic ways as Halifax’s doom merchants Paradise Lost. The 20th anniversary reissue of One Second allows a breather, time to reflect on just how technically good the band is, their continual metamorphosis always managing to retain the darkness. As the band prepares for the imminent release of Medusa, which promises more of the sombre death growling of 2015’s superb The Plague Within, the differences between album number six could not be more different. 

One Second was another change of direction from the band, who had already moved slightly away from their gothic doom tinged metal for a more industrial and electronic style. 1995’s masterpiece Draconian Times received positive reaction, with the 20th anniversary shows in 2015 selling out. So, two years after Draconian Times, One Second received a much more lukewarm reaction. Full of electronica and synths, there appeared little to grab the death doom metal fanatic by the hair. However, with the benefit of hindsight, One Second is a fabulous album. From the opening lines “And for one second, I lost my head …” Nick Holmes clean and controlled vocals shine. The Numan-esque Mercy, with its dark atmospheric feel, is a superb rock/goth song with beautiful melody. The title track remains a blisteringly good song, whilst the stomp of Say Just Words remains a fan favourite to this day. 

One Second, 20 years after its release, still sounds fresh. The boldness of tracks like Soul Courageous, a track that The Mission could quite easily slip into their set, and the haunting album closer Take Me Down, with its eerie synthesizer lines, still hold weight today. Blood Of Another provided a reminder of the gloomy melancholic which the band revelled in, which we loved them for then and which remains with them now. I find this album more enjoyable now than when it was first released, mainly as Draconian Times had proved to be such a solid release. Disappear wasn’t fantastic as a track, the sound of the drum machine unwelcome but overall One Second stands alongside the rest of the Paradise Lost catalogue with its head held proud. A worthwhile reminder of the confidence of one of the UK’s best metal bands of all time. Oh, and the extended edition gives you a welcome live show from Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 1998. 8/10

King Leviathan: Paen Heretica (Infernum Records)

Blackened thrash metal from Brighton? Yes indeed, and King Leviathan are not fucking around. Their debut album is a masterful mixture of occult, thrash and black metal which entwines the listener from the opening bars of Primative Baptism, and then assaults with an aural battery that is sadistic in intent but pleasurable all the same. Adam Sedgwick's mix of growling and clean vocals works surprisingly well, giving the tracks breadth and substance. The guitar work is brutal, Rob Kuhler's slicing lead work sharper than the master butcher's cleaver. 

There's no respite from the pulverising drumming of Danny Yates and Sam Forrester's thunderous bass lines. With the imperious swagger of Behemoth and the all out energy of Sylosis, King Leviathan certainly have delivered one of the albums of the year. Check out Kingdom, a pure masterpiece which crushes all. This is a band that will make you shiver, scream and roar. Get this album. It's a monster. 9/10

Thursday 27 July 2017

Reviews: Prospekt, Galderia, Death Valley Knights

Prospekt: The Illuminated Sky (Sensory Records)

Oxford natives Prospekt's second album is a revelation. It's their first with singer Michael Morris and he really has an incredible voice, high and powerful he soars above the top quality progressive metal. The band sit in the American style of prog metal with Dream Theater and Symphony X the main references, there is also influences of Euro Prog/Power band such as Circus Maximus and Pagans Mind.

These are some of my favourite bands so naturally I will like this record however like is not the word I would to describe it, I love this record it's chock full of cinematic progressive metal, in fact 10 songs of it, complexity blends with simplicity and it is a wonderful thing. Lee Lulands guitar prowess is up there with Pertucci and Romeo technically brilliant but with passionate, classically trained expressionism.

You can't even hear the join when Greg Howe unleashes his six string fury on Alien Makers Of Discord. Lee is not the only member of the band with virtuosity as Phil Wicker and Blake Richardson play the chunky, heavy rhythms of modern prog, it's Rox Capriotti's keys provide the cinematic soundscapes and all together the band are simply stunning.

Just check out Cosmic Emissary, Titan, the powerful Akaibara and the epic finale of Where Masters Fall which features Dragonforce's Marc Hudson. The Illuminated Sky is a stunning album, before now Prospekt have never really come on my radar but mark my words I will be following this band closely from now on. A perfect progressive metal album. 10/10

Galderia: Return Of The Cosmic Men (Massacre Records)

Galderia play bouncy symphonic power metal, the type the Germans do perfectly, Galderia though are not German they come from France and have had a potted history only releasing their debut album in 2012 despite being around since 2009. Clearly they take their time as this is only their second record. Return Of The Cosmic Men is a galloping slice of power metal with the rapid fire riffs and orchestral synths of modern day Helloween or Blind Guardian with High Up In The Air, Shining Unity, Legions Of Light and the folky Celestial Harmony are the obvious examples.

They mix up their traditional power metal with more varied sounds on tracks such as the rockier Blue Aura, the electronic thump of Living Forevermore and the power balladry of Wake Up The World, what also sets them apart is that guitarists Seb Chabot, Tom Schmitt and bassist Bob Saliba all take it in turns behind the lead mic (Seb taking the majority) it's this vocal trio that really make this record interesting as they intertwine and give each song a different edge.

Away from the trio drummer J.C batters his kit and Julien embellishes it all with his soaring keys. It's evident that taking their time pays off for Galderia, Return Of The Cosmic Men is a top drawer power metal record up there with the best of the big German hitters, kudos to the men from Marseille for a great album. 8/10   

Death Valley Knights: Valhalla Vintage (Self Released)

Dirty biker metal crew Death Valley Knights are an act steeped in British metal history (even though they were founded by a Texan), their sound is the sort of bass heavy leather clad metal favoured by Priest, Saxon and even Motorhead, with a debut under their belts this EP is their most recent release and it's very impressive, firstly it sounds huge, the production is colossal, as soon as the opening bars of the title track kick in your head starts nodding with the twin axe attack of Priest.

They aren't a one trick pony though it's not all Maiden/Priest/Saxon worship with Be The Grizzly having a progressive edge, Taste Of The Kill takes in 80's thrash and Shut Up And Drink is a party song written by Saxon on a boozy night out, as Jake Thorsten sings just like Biff. Death Valley Knights and Valhalla Vintage in particular is air guitar heaven, make sure they are tuned properly, crank up the volume, press play and enjoy! 8/10  

Wednesday 26 July 2017

A View From The Field: Friday At Amplified 2017

Amplified Festival

What could be better? The beautiful location of the Gloucestershire countryside, three days of established headliners and the cream of the UK metal and alt/rock scene all in one place. Sounds great until you remember the fucking British weather. After several glorious weeks of wall to wall sunshine the weather turned in the days before the event leaving anxious checks of the forecast which appeared to change every five minutes.

However, the omens looked promising as I left storm battered South Wales early on Friday morning. The sun reappeared and having negotiated my way through the parking and the steep hill which led to the campsite, it was time to have a look around the layout. Fair play, an ambitious four stages set across a couple of acres of farmland, with the Tavern stage nicely sheltered, the Shoot Your Hoops stage more exposed and the main arena housing the Very Metal Art stage at one side and the Red Stripe Main at the other end of the vast expanse. I’m not sure how many the organisers were expecting but you could have fitted 5000 in this area comfortably. A variety of bars and food outlets circled the main arena along with a couple of traders. Having purchased a pint of potent cider mainly to secure my Amplified/SOPHIE polycarbonate cup, it was time for some music.

Opening the Very Metal Art Stage was female quintet Dorja (7). The band had played Fuel in Cardiff the night before but showed no signs of ill-effects as they punched out their hard rock with gusto. Although there was a strong wind blowing Ayim Almas’ mighty fine vocals cut through with ease, the sound crisp and clear. Alongside her, the twin guitar attack of Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill and familiar face for those in the South West scene, one Becky Baldwin with her thundering Rickenbacker bass. Tracks from the band’s debut EP Target Practice were well received by the small but enthusiastic crowd. A small drum solo was unnecessary but Dorja finished with a storming cover of Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules, the instantly recognisable riff getting heads nodding whilst Almas carried the RJD vocal with aplomb.

Across the arena to see Liverpool duo Rival Bones (8) blast out 30 minutes of impressive hard rock. For a duo, guitarist/vocalist James Whitehouse and drummer Chris Thompson make hell of a noise and whilst the Royal Blood comparisons are inevitable Rival Bones struck me as having a bit more to offer. Mixing tracks from their debut EP alongside a newie written for the festival the band demonstrated great energy and enthusiasm which quickly won over the sparse gathering in front of the main stage. Whitehouse has a gritty but appealing voice and his between song banter was spot on. Closing with the rocking You Know Who You Are, the band are one to watch and well worth checking out if you get the chance.

So far so good and with the weather windy but dry it was back to the VMA stage to catch the Metallica infused thrash of Glaswegians Damaj (7). Their brand of groove ridden thrash was thoroughly enjoyable, with The Wrath Of The Tide particularly agreeable. Front man Daniel Stewart has a Hetfield style delivery, and this worked well with the type of thrash which is very much focused on early Metallica. Alongside Stewart, lead guitarist James Haggart shredded for his life, with some brutal solos. Bassist David Douglas hammered the shit out of his five-string bass whilst new drummer Ciaran Whyte, resplendent in A Farewell To Kings Rush shirt looked incredibly comfortable for only his second gig with the band. Damaj played like they were headlining and are another UK band well worth a look.

After an aborted attempt to catch Departed for an interview (delayed and ultimately didn’t play) the metalcore tones of Brighton’s Bleed Again (7) blasted across the field. I don’t like metalcore one bit but these guys gave it everything, encouraging and coercing another very small gathering to get involved. With new release Momentum receiving enthusiastic reviews, the set consisted of that material. Vocalist James Dawson delivering with gusto, bursting the veins in the neck whilst the brutal riffage of Simon Williams and Chris Pratt delivered real damage. If you like your metalcore with an extra dose of brutality then the South Coast outfit will be very much to your tastes.

The Fallen State (8) are about as far away from metalcore as you can get but their generic hard rock worked well in the blustery conditions. With melody and enthusiasm, the band looked sharp from their recent support to Trapt and in fine shape for some forthcoming action with Puddle Of Mudd. Impressive frontman Ben Stenning has a superb voice and the charisma necessary to win over the small but enthusiastic throng stage front. The band blasted through their 30 minutes, with songs from The View From Ruin EP which ranged from calmer rockers to all out headbangers allowing guitarists Jon Price and Dan Oke to up the riffage. Certainly, a band with promise.

Another band with promise but a totally different sound is Codex Alimentarius (8). The Exeter outfit’s crushing groove based metal takes no prisoners. It’s probably unsurprising given that these guys have serious support time logged with legends like Vader and Krisiun that they were sharp and focused. The three-pronged guitar assault was impressive and vocalist Ray Arall possesses a death growl which could wake the dead. Tracks from The Hand Of Apophis EP were welcomed by the hardy souls at the VMA stage whose skulls had visibly caved by the time that Baptised finished the impressive set. Think of Lamb Of God meets Obituary with a technical slant and you won’t be far away. If these boys play near you it’s worth getting an earful. Just be warned. This band should come with a warning.

A quick listen to Tess Of The Circle as I wandered back to the tent didn’t impress enough to stay and judging by the handful of punters assembled in front I wasn’t the only one. However, one band who do impress is The Amorettes (7), the Scottish three-piece of Gill Montgomery, Hannah McKay and Heather McKay who I’d last encountered with a solid opening set for Black Star Riders. The girls kicked out all the jams as the rain started to enter the equation. Another solid set comprising tracks from their three albums and finishing with a decent bit of audience participation on Hot And Heavy. The band’s enthusiasm always wins me over and today was no different.

As the rain took hold of the site, coming down in biblical proportions ala Download 2016, it was from the bar area that I viewed Exist Immortal (7). The West London outfit were visibly encouraged by the few hardcore members of the crowd (also known as nutters!) who formed an impromptu mosh pit to the band’s melodic technical metal. Even from across the arena their enthusiasm was evident and whilst they don’t float my boat their energy could only be admired.

At this point all hell broke loose weather wise, with torrential rain swamping the entire site. I made the decision to pack up and head for home. With a leaking tent and half of my gear already soaked, I didn’t fancy getting even more wet and miserable overnight. Sure, I may be soft, but I hate camping at the best of times so I don’t really give a shit what anyone else thinks to be honest. It’s not an award-winning endurance event. I understand that several bands were cancelled before the bar area hosted Acid Reign and an intimate set from Puddle of Mudd.

I’m glad that the organisers managed to sort it out and for those that stayed, well done. With a night in a warm bed and a day of torrential rain following, my first Amplified Festival was shorter than anticipated. I hope the crowds turn up as Friday’s attendance was slim.

Oh, and one suggestion. Outdoor festivals in the UK live and die by the weather, so whilst the cost is obviously an issue, why not place some marquees strategically in front of the stages? It would allow punters to watch whilst not drowning and on those rare occasions provide some respite from the sun. Just a thought.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Reviews: In This Moment, Minus Inferno, The Kindred

In This Moment: Ritual (Atlantic Records)

Ritual is LA ban In This Moment's sixth album and it sees them yet again advance their sound, they have successfully tackled metalcore before moving towards the more industrial soundscapes of their most recent records. This album sees the band adapt their sound again with guitarist Chris Howorth saying "stylistically, I think we went a little bit more raw" while vocalist Maria Brink went as far as to say there is a definitive less sexual side "I wanted to show people and definitely women a different side of strength in me that was a really powerful force in me that didn't need the sexual part" the change is obvious from the outset the electronics have been toned down in favour of mystical blues vibes.

The album was inspired by Brink's trip to Salem Massachusetts and you can really hear the occult, spiritual side come through, struggles with God and the Devil are evident on the clap and stomp of Oh Lord as Brink prays for mercy, you can hear Howorth really playing up a storm aided by Randy Weitzel, Black Wedding has the throbbing heaviness of previous albums riffs on Billy Idol's White Wedding and features the Metal God himself Rob Halford on guest vocals, this heaviness moves through to Joan Of Arc and the crushing River Of Fire.

Ritual is an impressive, dark record that shows a more mature side of the band, they even manage to pull off a evil sounding cover of Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight. Those who thought the band were a little style over substance will be pleasantly surprised with this record, it's the band playing at their best and taking their sound in another direction, In This Moment have reinvented themselves again and this time their serious. 8/10

Minus Inferno: Blizzard Of Souls (Morning Star Heathens)

Classic heavy metal or traditional heavy metal is best from the UK, sorry everyone else, we invented it. The NWOBHM was instrumental in creating thrash, power and black metal, it made global superstars of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and yes even Def Leppard. In more recent times the genre has been adopted and some may say perfected by both the Swedes and the Canadians but the plucky Brits can still strap on a bullet belt, skin tight trousers and rock it like it's 1982. This is where Minus Inferno come in, they play the classic dual guitar slinging metal that was born in the NWOBHM they pay tribute to it on the song Minus Inferno which tells you to rock out and that the metal will be both forever and for life. Musically they don't stray too far from the trad metal blueprint with James Ennis and Charlie Peterson trading riffs and solos as Casey Hastings and Craig Meadows lock down the rhythm section and James Mitchell has an ideal vocals for the band. The production is a bit wispy but it means there is an authenticity to the record, it's neither big nor clever but it's proper British metal from the Gloucester band. 7/10

The Kindred: The Weight EP (Sumerian Records)

Well...this is a bit good. Ottawa natives The Kindred are right at the cusp of the modern progressive rock curve, they have intense technicality, but they also have a knack for songwriting shared by UK act Haken. It's not djent as it's not strictly metal, though they have a heaviness and a groove of acts like Tesseract, they also have a alternative element due to Johnny's melodic vocals and the huge keyboards of Matt Young. Stray Away takes a big vocals hook and pairs it with Gojira fret slides, building to a anthemic end. Wake has a driving rumble from Eric and Kenny as Ben and Steve play the off kilter guitar riffs. The Weight EP is a very strong EP that is right at the forefront of modern progressive music, emotive, heavy and technically gifted without slacking on the songwriting. 7/10

Sunday 23 July 2017

Reviews: Wintersun, Necromandus, Rock Goddess (Reviews By Paul)

Wintersun: The Forest Seasons (Nuclear Blast)

It’s been a long time since the metal world went a little weak at the knees when the Finns delivered Time I, one of the most epic albums of all time. There was pretty much universal praise, such was the quality of this release and the band proved they could deliver it live. Five years have since passed, and it’s been a bumpy road for the band. If you follow the band and/or main driving force Jari Maenpaa on any social media platform then you’ll know all about it. In order to deliver Time II the band wanted to created their own studio and to do this they needed to raise funds. Their crowd funding campaign was dramatic and relentless, with close to €500,000 pledged.

However, instead of Time II, Wintersun has delivered The Forest Seasons, an intense four track piece which captures the four seasons of the year. Each track is lengthy, with The Forest That Weeps (Summer) the shortest at just over 12 minutes in length. All the Wintersun trademarks are present. Blast beats, epic tempos and time changes, clean vocals interchanging with intense harshness, huge guitar solos and operatic sweeps. The heaviest season is probably Eternal Darkness (Autumn) which rages relentlessly for over 14 minutes. It’s either magnificent or some of the most overblown bollocks ever recorded. I am somewhere in the middle on this. Whilst clearly appreciating the intricacy of each composition, you can’t help but wonder if there is sometimes just a little bit too much sophistication. Loneliness (Winter) is case in point.

The song contains some beautiful flowing sections with Maenpaa’s synths sustaining the majestic feel, soaring vocals capturing the epic flavour but bloody hell it goes on. And on. And maybe that’s me missing the point. After all the sheer majesty of Time I was the complexity of the pieces. That’s where I struggle with this album. It’s not Time II. It’s not Time I. But it feels like the band have tried to create Time I ½. Whether repeated plays will allow me the time to warm to it I don’t know. I just don’t know if I have the time to commit (no pun intended). 7/10

Necromandus: Self Titled (Mandus Music)

I must admit I knew nothing about Necromandus. They split up in 1973 when I was three years old. Their first album Orexis Of Death, produced by none other than the Iron Man Tony Iommi didn’t see the light of day until 1999. By the time the band re-emerged last year, only drummer Frank Hall from the original line-up was still alive. So, with only one original member, does Necromandus capture that 1970s sound? Well the answer is a resounding yes.

Full of the atmospheric stoner doom that Sabbath made their own but which is now captured so well by bands such as The Sword, the album is 45 minutes of trippy riffage, melancholic keyboards and some decent hard rock. John Branch has a vocal style perfect for the band. The groove of Alauna and Limpert Man contrasts with the psychedelic space rock style of Hymn To Her. Guitarist Dan Newton does a great job throughout, with some very crunchy riffs whilst John Marcangelo’s keyboards add depth and texture. It’s unlikely the band is ever going to remain anything other than a “what might have been” but this is a good stab at bringing more focus to the name. 7/10

Rock Goddess: It’s More Than Rock ‘N’ Roll EP (Bite You To Death Records)

Back in 1977 sisters Jody and Julie Turner formed Rock Goddess. A power trio from Wandsworth who rode the crest of the NWOBHM and alongside Girlschool raised the flag for UK female metal bands. The original line-up was completed by Tracey Lamb and it’s that line-up that has returned on this new EP. Rock Goddess’ history is littered with bad luck and it’s good to see the band back up and running. Whether this EP will help their profile at all is debatable. The three tracks are all formulaic and routine with the closing track We’re All Metal on a par with the worst of Anvil do little to elevate the pulse. Perhaps it might be better to stick with the old stuff? 5/10

Friday 21 July 2017

Reviews: Carach Angren, Limbonic Art, Execration (Review By Rich)

Carach Angren: Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten (Seasons Of Mist)

Dutch symphonic black metallers Carach Angren are back with their fifth album Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten. Carach Angren seem to be a very polarising band in metal at the moment being either adored or despised and that opinion is unlikely to change with this new album as Carach Angren stick to their tried and trusted sound.

If you haven't heard Carach Angren before their sound is very much in the style of melodic Scandanavian black metal mixed with a classical, symphonic sound. They take the most melodramatic parts of Cradle Of Filth and the most epic parts of Dimmu Borgir and mix them together. This is a sound that has worked for them on four previous albums and they don't stray from it here. Also like previous albums there is a concept behind the album. This time the story involves a young girls obsession with a ouija board.

Whilst still a very enjoyable album most felt that previous album This Is No Fairytale was a weak point for the band with the material being very formulaic and less inspired than previous albums. Although Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten is an improvement over the previous album it still falls into a lot of the trappings where many of the songs are easily forgettable and the band feels like it is going through the motions. Where this album does work though is through the stunning symphonic arrangements which are equally epic, bombastic, dark and haunting.

Carach Angren have released another enjoyable album which although is an improvement over the disappointing This Is No Fairytale does not match the bands stunning early albums such as Lammendam or Death Came Through A Phantom Ship. 7/10

Limbonic Art: Spectre Abysm (Candlelight/Spinefarm)

Norwegian black metal fiends Limbonic Art return with their first album in seven years Spectre Abysm. Finding out information about this new release has been difficult with very little information being released as to who is currently in the band. (Since their previous release Limbonic art have been essentially a solo project of main founding member Daemon - Ed). All I do know is that this is a belter of a black metal album and a much welcomed return for Limbonic Art.

The music on Spectre Abysm is the perfect fusion of the more atmospheric and aggressive sides of black metal. Layers of keyboards add a feel of real dark malevolence whilst savage tremolo riffs and blastbeats tear your face off. There are seven tracks here of black metal majesty with highlights being Triumph Of Sacrilege, Omega Doom and Ethereal Traveller.

My only criticism of Spectre Abysm is that two of the tracks are pretty much wasted only really serving as an interlude or introduction to the track that follows but overall Limbonic Art have made a triumphant return with an album that mixes old school black metal ferocity with mood and atmosphere. 8/10

Execration: Return To The Void (Metal Blade Records)

Although well known for its black metal Norway has a very good death metal scene with one of those bands being Execration. Return To The Void is the fourth album by the band and is a very interesting take on the death metal sound.

There are an array of influences evident as well as death metal with a sound that incorporates elements of black metal, doom metal and progressive metal. It's an album that mixes moments of sheer aggression with moments which can only be described as psychedelic.

It's a very unique take on death metal and proves the genre still has a few tricks up its sleeve but unfortunately it's not an album that really sticks with you. Being such an intense listen and with so much going on this is an album that will likely take several listens to truly get it. Regardless it's good to hear an alternative and progressive take on a genre that many people say has run out of ideas. 7/10

Thursday 20 July 2017

Reviews: Kabbalah, River Black, Impure Wilhemina (Reviews By Paul)

Kabbalah: Spectral Ascent (Twin Earth Records)

Spanish trio Kabbalah play retro occult rock. It’s an unmistakable sound, one which will either get you excited or pass you by. Sabbath style doom laden riffs, harmonies a plenty and an underlying current of evil, it’s all here. The band make a sound much larger than their number. Check out the show stopping The Reverend with its unmistakable fuzzy guitar sound, or the White Stripes stomp of The Darkness Of Time, both rather splendid in their 70s sound, and both supernaturally different. It’s the haunting Dark Revelation which steals the plaudits for me, slightly longer with several changes of tempo, it undulates and manoeuvres through a sinister path, reeking of malevolence. Reminiscent of many occult bands doing the rounds, Kabbalah are closer to Lucifer, Orchid and Witch Mountain than the more commercially accessible Ghost. Atmospheric, ominous and full of character, Spectral Ascent is a worthy release. 8/10

River Black: Self-Titled (Seasons Of Mist)

Coming at you hard and heavy from the East Coast of the USA, River Black is a punishingly aggressive metal/hardcore outfit comprising stalwarts of the scene Mike Oldener, Dave Witte, Brett Bamberger and John Adubato. It’s terrifying in parts, Oldener’s visceral delivery intense and brutal. Huge sledgehammer riffs courtesy of Adubato and machine gun intensity drumming from Witte combine to deliver the aural assault that you probably didn’t need but are sure as fuck going to get. Most of the tracks are short, to the point and bristling with anger. South X South, the stomping Move and the mighty album closer Everywhere are all bruisers with additional forearm smash. The pits for this mob would be substantial, frightening and far too extreme for an old man like me. Still, if it floats your boat, it’s rather tasty. 8/10

Impure Wilhelmina: Radiation (Seasons Of Mist)

Another day, another band who have been around for years ploughing their artistic pathway. In the case of Geneva based Impure Wilhelmina, that’s over 20 years. Radiation is their latest release, the sixth album in their catalogue. The band is led by Michael Schindl, vocalist, guitarist and main composer and lyricist. The band specialises in a more eclectic emotional brand of hard rock, tipping across the line to a more metal approach on occasion. This release is no different with a myriad of sounds from The Smiths to Anathema all buried in the mix. Every track is a complex animal, with multiple layers and complex arrangements. Shcindl’s melancholic vocals wring with emotion. It’s a soul-searching album, intelligent and clever. If you like alt-rock with a harder edge, it is certainly worth investing the time. 7/10

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Reviews: Desolate Plains, Soulskinner, The Shadeless Emperor

Desolate Plains: Practicing The Inner Arts (Molon Lave Records)

Athens act Desolate Plains are a two piece that seems to be the project of Lampros Potamianos who plays guitars and bass as well as also writing all of the music and lyrics, he is joined by Aliki Katriou who takes the mic as well as contributing lyrics and music, the band's music deals with "the human spirit and its continuing evolution through the centuries" they do this by playing very impressive modern metal tracks move between crunching groove metal to classic orchestral thrash, Shadow Of Eternity especially could have come off any of the latest Metallica albums, it serves as just a small part to what this band can do they successfully merge black, death and thrash metal with the symphonic swathes of black metal coming through on top of the double kicks of session drummer Hugo Ribeiro.

What makes the band an entertaining prospect is that Potamianos is a very talented guitar player and composer creating complicated musical pieces for Aliki to sing over, they get much more elaborate as the album progresses adding layers of acoustics and the aforementioned orchestral touches to Taming An Inner Storm. It's in the vocals where Desolate Plains are really interesting Aliki's vocals are so low you'd be forgiven if you didn't realise shes a woman, she snarls and screams on tracks such as Being Of Despair and Beneath My Skin but she also has a low clean vocals that is really alluring for the listener. Desolate Plains is a perfect name for this band their songs are full of a ringing desolation starting out with faster more aggressive songs before they slow things down into swaying bleak doom-laden grooves Crippled Black Phoenix would adore. As I've said Desolate Plains are intriguing their music is difficult and takes a few spins to really grab you but when it does it rewards you with progressive, genre spanning heaviness. 8/10

Soulskinner: Descent To Abbadon (Xtreem Music)

Unlike Desolate Plains their is no subtlety in Soulskinner's fourth album, they play gut ripping brutal death metal with touches of grind to really crush your bones to dust. The Athens based band have been bludgeoning the Greek scene since 1997 (when they were known as Terra Tenebrae) but they have only been in this incarnation since 2000, in that time they have released four studio albums and plenty of splits meaning they are well versed in battery and they aren't going to change tact yet the record opens with Fratricide which moves into Soul Of Death seamlessly the drumming not dropping a beat and the shredding attacking your vital organs.

Clearly the band are influenced by bands such as Bolt Thrower, Carcass, Benediction and Autopsy as they are comfortable riffing at lightning speed as they are slowing things down for thundering doom on Nemesis. Heavy as a really heavy thing and twice as angry Soulskinner are like an artillery barrage, loud, raucous and earth flattening if you like your death metal as pure is it can be descend into abaddon with this Greek death machine. 7/10

The Shadeless Emperor: Ashbled Shores (WormHoleDeath Records)

Ashbled Shores is the debut record of Larissa based metal band The Shadeless Empire they play style of melodic death metal that incorporates some epic folk elements from the outset, the record opens with the title track which has a middle section which has some hot flute action from frontman Ethan which comes back on Shades Over The Empire. Their music is like Amon Amarth very heavy but with melodic touches throughout, they have classic metal, death metal and as I've said folk tendencies in their music the dual guitars of Tasos and Chris are excellent, riff happy and progressively dexterous they lead the charge of this record and also add the acoustic guitars that sprinkled in and out of the record.

In the rhythm section Thanos is blastbeat happy but can also give heartbeat to the acoustic parts while Filippos has a big bottom end, the record is grandiose with a piano interlude in the middle of the record before Helios The Dark brings back the heavy as Ethan roars over every track with a vengeance and plays a mean flute too as I've mentioned. The Shadeless Emperor have a lot going on on their debut record, it's interesting, heavy and will appeal to anyone who like Amon, Enisferum and Insomnium. 8/10

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Reviews: Sivert Høyem, Shadowside, Bearpit

Sivert Høyem: Live At Acropolis – Herod Atticus Odeon, Athens (314 Records)

Norwegian singer/songwriter Sivert Høyem made his name in the Alt-Rock band Madrugada, he was the singer of the band until the untimely demise of guitarist Robert Burås put paid to group, however since the Høyem has gone on to forge a successful solo career with his latest solo effort Lioness being released in 2016. (Metal fact he also sang vocals on Satyricon's 2013 self titled album) Now you will be forgiven for not knowing any of this as Høyem has never really broken out of the Norwegian music sphere with the exception of a few shows in Holland and Germany his major spheres of influence are the Nordic countries and oddly Greece, having played the country on virtually every tour he (and his band before him) have amassed a devoted following in the country so much so that recently he was special guests to Placebo at the Rockwave festival in Malakasa Greece (a festival that's on our must do list).

Live At Acropolis – Herod Atticus Odeon, Athens 
is a 2 disc live album from the historical monument that is in the shadow of the Acropolis, the album records Høyem's headline set from his 2016 Lioness tour, he is accompanied by his solo band as well as a string section meaning the music on this record is suitably as epic as the surroundings. My advice is to listen to the album first then watch the DVD, this way you can really concentrate on the music being played without the, admittedly gorgeous, visuals to distract you. From the start of the record you can hear from the crowd noise that this was special event there seems to be an electricity in the air, Høyem takes to the stage and the band dive into Lioness itself with his acoustic guitar the the base layer for the rest of the instrumentation to build on, all of the arrangements on this album are lush and lavish, some of the songs have been tweaked to fit the more classical setting but it improves the songs no end.

Now anyone who has listened to The Tea Party, The Tragically Hip, Anathema will naturally gravitate towards this album each song is so different from the previous one but they all retain a collective individuality, from the countrified Black And Gold, through the powerful duet of My Thieving Heart which features Norwegian jazz/pop artist Marie Munroe, the sadness of Honey Bee and the psych-rocking Give It A Whirl he and his band craft beautiful music which takes blues, soul and jazz as it's groundwork and adds quirky pop, Pink Floyd guitar lines and a rock n roll spirit, there is an emotion to these songs mainly due to the devastating, low, deep and resonant vocals of Høyem himself who sings every line like his heart is breaking. Live At Acropolis... is a great record, not a great live record a great record full stop, you fell as if it's happening right in front of you, not a note is dropped and no quarter given, nearly an hour and a half of incredible music and then you get to watch the DVD too. 10/10

Shadowside: Shades Of Humanity (Spiritual Beast)

Shadowside are unlike the numerous female fronted bands around, they play a thrashier style of power metal favoured by bands such as Crystal Viper and Benedictum, they play a faster more sabre-rattling kind of power metal with furious drumming, distorted thrash riffs and gruff vocals from frontwoman Dani displaying the bands knack of mixing the melody with savagery, check out a track such as The Crossing which has a frenzied riff in the verses but moves into a hooky sing along chorus. There music has a very cerebral nature to it, this record deals with depression, abortion, the Mariana dam disaster in Brazil (Stream Of Shame) and mankind`s moral values, weighty subjects that reflects the band's heavier style, if this was bouncy power metal it wouldn't work as well, they experiment a bit with the feel of what is their fourth record, there is a nu-metal feel of Disturbed to What If, a steady groove to Parade The Sacrifice, electronics galore on Drifter and Alive is massive track that closes out the album where Dani and guitarist Raphael really show their chops from the ghostly opening to the typical symphonic metal sound of the song itself. Rounding out the band are Fabio on the drums and former Hammerfall bass player Magnus Rosen and together they make Shades Of Humanity another good release from this Brazilian band. 7/10

Bearpit: Blacklist EP (Self Released)

Bristol mob Bearpit play a ferocious kind of metalcore that really slams you into the guts then breaks down to get you banging your head.The band is composed of Rory Field and Rob Tygree on guitars, Dan Brotherton on bass, Kurt Thompson on the skins and the excellently named Maximus Day on vocals, they are a young band and as such their debut EP is brimming with youthful exuberance, all six songs fizz with electricity opening with Eclipse they have dual leads driving their sound as Rory and Rob play fleet fingered leads over the heavy rhythm section. With musical nods to early Lamb Of God and Machine Head. Bearpit really know how to make an impression, .

The action picks up and Maximus screams his lungs out, but there is no angst here just fury, his vocals are strong with the music behind him having the right level of epicness to it, they dabble with progressive touches throughout having a bit of bass break on Eclipse before all hell breaks loose again on the raging thrasher Hands That Feed and Human which is the most 'hardcore' feeling track on the album. Now I'm usually one for metalcore or 'core' bands in general but I know what I like and with a mix of modern heavy metal, technical prowess, metalcore groove, nearly all harsh vocals (some cleans appear on Human) and most importantly the fact that the production, songwriting and performance sound like band that have been doing this for years. The Blacklist EP is a real statement from Bearpit, it proves that the British D.I.Y scene is probably the strongest around. 8/10  

Sunday 16 July 2017

Reviews: Stone Sour, Five Horse Johnson, Ulvedharr (Reviews By Paul)

Stone Sour: Hydrograd (Roadrunner Records)

It’s been four years since the double concept release The House Of Gold And Bones Part 1 & Part 2 was released. Since then Jim Root has been the most notable departure of the engine which fuels much of Corey Taylor’s creativity. The resurgence of Slipknot with several world tours in between along with his spoken word efforts and his creative writing made him appear almost as busy as Dave Grohl. Album number seven has now arrived, a 15-song beasty crammed full of delicious hooks and melody whilst retaining the aggression and cutting edge that the band has always possessed. It’s one that really requires repeated listens to appreciate the quality. 

From the reggae fused Rose Red Violent Blue (This Song Is Dumb And So Am I), the killer opening tune Taipei Person/Allah Tea to the hook laden single Song #3, there is much to appreciate and enjoy here. Taylor’s voice, surely one of the best in the business, is on top form, snarling one minute, crystal clear smooth the next. Guitarist Christian Martucci has slotted in perfectly, his riffs brooding and dangerous. 

The obligatory ballad St Marie sees backing vocals from Pearl Aday (that’s Mrs Scott Ian folks) but one thing that Taylor can do well is a heartfelt ballad. Full of slide guitar, it’s a real country sound which fits surprisingly well. As with most albums containing 15 sons, there is a little filler and it tails away slightly towards the end. Overall, this is a solid and reliable addition to the catalogue. They band play the Motorpoint Arena on 5 December. Live, they are tremendous and I shall certainly look forward to how the new stuff translates. 8/10

Five Horse Johnson: Jake Leg Boogie (Small Stone Recordings)

I should admit I knew nothing about this band. Jake Leg Boogie has changed that. This is album number eight for a band who are now 20+ years in the making. Blues soaked hard rock ‘n’ roll if you must pigeon-hole them. Cross early the grit and guts of early Aerosmith, throw in a large spoon of Clutch, a pinch of George Thorogood and the Destroyers and the ball smacking sound of Orange Goblin and you’ll have a fair idea. 

There’s the smoulder of Little Lonely, the stomp of the title track, the driving rock of Hard Times and the harmonica drenched Overload. Eric Oberlander’s voice reeks of unfiltered cigarettes, whilst Brad Coffin and Phil Durr lay down the riffs with as much soul as the Grim Reaper after a good night’s work. It jumps, it glows and it kicks ass. A beauty of an album. 8/10

Ulvedharr: Total War (Scarlet Records)
Old school death metal is having something of a resurgence with a slew of cracking releases this year. If you like the battery of Entombed, Unleashed and Obituary and the Scandinavian scene then Italian outfit Ulvedharr’s third full release Total War should sit comfortably in your collection. With skull crushing riffs from start to finish, frantic fretwork and an assault and battery from the thrashing of Mike Baid’s drumming, Total War is as brutal as you would expect.

Ark Nattlig Ulv’s guttural vocal delivery fits perfectly for the merciless onslaught. It’s occasionally mellow, providing welcome space and atmosphere, such as the pause in Flagellum Dei, which divides the six-minute track superbly. There is some quality guitar work amid the chaos, with Ulv and newish guitarist Guiseppe Ciurlia shining. Powerful, imposing and full of strength, Ulvedharr’s latest release is a fine addition. 8/10

Saturday 15 July 2017

Another Point Of View: Sunn O))) (Live Review By Charl)

Sunn O))), SWX Bristol

Having been a fan of Sunn O))) since the beginning, it may come as a shock to most that this is the first time I've seen them live. Two and a half hour performance. My fucking God. It's honestly difficult to review their live performance. Perhaps if you were in a sweat lodge with a shaman chanting over you with two speakers attached to your face, you'd understand. I was disappointed on learning that the gig had been moved from Trinity centre to SWX, but I can now see why. Not only the demand for tickets, but Trinity's roof would more than likely have crumbled to bits.

Sunn O))) are a sonically challenging experience live, and the only way to describe that it *is* an experience. Ever breathe a frequency? Fuck, I have now. My eyeballs shook and I can honestly say I cried like a little bitch. I'm not entirely sure what emotions I was having. Excitement mixed with fear? Joy? Arousal? Possibly all of these. At one point the sound is so thick I can feel it pushing against my skin, forcing my head down. Sexy drone suckjob. Glancing about the immediate area, all I see is heads bowed and hands clasped in front of people, like at a sermon, and it honestly does feel like some sort of ritual.

Atilla gutturally invoking and gesturing, Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley shrouded in smoke in the background, raising their arms and crashing them down brutally upon their bass. I occasionally catch a glimpse of Anderson's face and by God if the man isn't grinning with pleasure at the crushing noise he's causing. Bless. There are several 'costume' changes by Attila, starting out relatively normal .. cloaked up, cloaked up with a melting face (unless I was tripping balls from the vibrations, entirely possible) and signalling the end of the set, what appears to be a gimp statue of liberty, covered in glass, spikes and lazers. It honestly comes as no surprise. And then it's over. Smiling, they bow, wave and leave. Two and a half hours has felt like mere minutes. 

Perhaps I went into some sort of different realm at some point. I felt like I had my soul well and truly fucked by vibrations and noise. My nose was leaking a tiny amount of blood and my legs feel like jelly. I needed a moment to get my bearings. Everyone around me looked in a state of confusion or near catatonia. What's just happened? Was something fucking special, that's for sure. 10/10

Note - keep the earplugs in. Out of curiosity I removed mine for less than a second and thought my head was violently collapsing inwards. Which I'm pretty sure it was.

Friday 14 July 2017

Reviews: Riverdogs, Scardust, Next To None

Riverdogs: California (Frontiers)

The Riverdogs were originally formed in in Los Angeles at the end of the 80's the band are notable in that they managed to tap the then Dio, ex-Sweet Savage, ex-Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell to produce their EP, going one better he joined the group only leaving when he became a part of Def Leppard in 1992 replacing Steve Clark. The band split up in 1993 but reformed in 2011 with three of the founder members; Campbell, bassist Nick Brophy and vocalist/guitarist Rob Lamonthe joined by the bands second drummer Marc Danzeisen, this is the line up that has continued through to this their fifth album coming six years after their previous effort. Obviously the gap is due to other commitments of Campbell but it has made the band rediscover their roots tapping into the sunny blue-driven hard rock heard on their debut.

The songs on this record shimmer with a blues rock base that moves into melodic rocking, in fact with the intricate leads Campbell lets loose on American Dream and The Revolution Starts Tonight paired with Lamonthe's soulful vocals means they will appeal to fans of their label mates Mr Big as it's the sort of virtuoso-yet-radio friendly music they have always delivered.  The blues is plainly the major influence to tracks such as Something Inside and Welcome To The New Disaster while Golden Glow is the de-rigueur ballad.

The Heart Is A Mindless Bird starts out slowly and ramps up in the end into a guitar solo masterclass that continues into the hard rocking Searching For A Signal. California is brilliant album from a band who many may have thought had put their glory days behind them, I hope the busy schedule of their lead guitarist doesn't get in the way of another album or some live shows as Riverdogs are a band right up my street. 9/10

Scardust: Sands Of Time (Self Released)

Israeli progressive metal act Scardust used to be known as Somina but after their formation they discovered a band had trademarked that name they changed it to Scardust (which I think is better) but anyway enough about the history lets get down to the record itself. Scardust are female fronted with Noa Gruman having classically trained vocals that are very strong and have a wide range moving between soprano highs and guttural roars, her vocals are a revelation, better than many of her higher profile contemporaries. She is complimented by a choir and orchestrations and the band themselves play highly technical progressive metal with odd time signatures, frequent changes, a thundering rhythm section (with a drum solo), complex guitar and bass riffs (and solos) and melodic keys.

Their music is busy and incredibly well performed, the album opens with a five part title track concept which like all of the songs on this record were written by Noa along with the bands 'ghost writer/composer' Orr Didi and they have really captured the cinematic nature of Epica and Devin Townsend. The concept starts things as they mean to go on, from the Overture that sets the scene right up to the final epic part Sands Of Time it's an exercise in the bands obvious talent, outside of the concept Out Of The Strong Came Sweetness is a tough but operatic duet, Arrowhead more straight ahead prog metal (with a bass solo) and Queen Of Insanity takes things back to the symphonic heaviness of Epica. You can hear that Sands Of Time is a good album from the first few bars however only after numerous listens can really hear how good it is you pick up every nuance, every time signature change and you are continually astounded by Noa's insane vocals. Israel has great pedigree with prog metal and Scardust are the latest act to enter the fray bringing a superb debut full length with them. 9/10

Next To None: Phases (InsideOut)

"Watch this space" that's how I ended my review of Next To None's debut album in 2015, the young band had oodles of talent and also name recognition due to drummer Max Portnoy but their album only showed glimpses, they were a little rough around the edges but everything was in place for them to both improve and explode as a new name in modern day progressive metal. So album number 2 is finally here and have the band done this? Well the first tick in the box is that they have maintained the same line up with Portnoy Jr behind the kit again with Derrick Schneider on guitar, Kris Rank on bass and Thomas Cuce on keyboards and lead vocals, this time they have drawn on their touring experience and time as band to craft an album that has given them a definitive sound rather than just a result of their influences, which was one of the things that let them down on their debut.

Here they take their own path, 13 opens the record with a haunting solitary piano piece before the downtuned heavy riffs kick in, it builds and builds getting faster as the piano runs increase, then it explodes into a percussive palm muted riff Slipknot would proud of. So ok their influences are still there in droves but I hoped they were being used to add familiarity rather than complacency. The Apple starts with a drum break from Portnoy before bringing in more palm-muted guitars and even some scratching which I thought went out of fashion in 2001 and once again it's Slipknot, by Beg their seems to be a theme developing and the nine man wrecking machine may have to launch an investigation into copyright infringement. Alone takes us away from Iowa and into the realm of Tool with a moody nine minute piece punctuated by screaming parts that ruin it for me.

The virtuosity is still here, the four of them a incredible musicians there is nothing that can diminish that but this album just sounds like Slipknot there is very little variation, Thomas' vocals have changed but not for the better now he screams well but his cleans are of the angsty pop-punk style which really annoys me. Phases for me doesn't see Next To None improve for me, the musical performances are of a high quality but the songwriting grew stale in 2008. Next To None? In Taylors shadow more like! 6/10

Thursday 13 July 2017

Reviews: Manilla Road, Pristine, Nekromant, Adrenaline Mob (Reviews By Paul)

Manilla Road: To Kill A King (Golden Core)

Manilla Road have been about in numerous guises since the late 1970s. The sole remaining original member, Mark "The Shark' Shelton continues to drive the band forward. Now, I'm not particularly familiar with their sound, but one listen to their latest release, To Kill A King provides immediate confirmation. The band sit firmly in the Cirith Ungol/Manowar epic fantasy metal camp. The title track opens the album, a soaring riff setting the scene before the song commences its 10 minute journey, a calm setting belying the rage to come.

Time changes a plenty, rolling drums and a clipped vocal style narrating the story before Shelton's superb guitar work takes centre stage. Conquerer is almost BLS in style and delivery whilst The Arena is a thrashy power trip. To Kill A King comprises many elements of the metal scene, thrash, progressive and old school. It's certainly worth catching a copy of a band who have been on the scene for over 40 years. 7/10

Pristine: Ninja (Nuclear Blast)

First impressions count. Norwegian psychedelic outfit Pristine create a good one. Opening album number four is You Are The One, and immediately comparisons are made with their neighbours The Blues Pills. Ironically Pristine have been around much longer, and their blend of alternative rock, blues and psychedelia is delivered incredibly well. This is a band that has been together for some time and has gelled well. Lead singer Heidi Solheim is the driving force, being the main writer and lyricist since the band's inception.

Tracks like The Parade and the Hammond heavy title track would warm the coldest heart with their honesty and passion. Solheim possesses hell of a voice, very much in the Elin Larrson and Lynne Jackaman style. It's not all blues rock though, with some of the more delicate tunes such as the delicious Forget which change tack completely amongst the most memorable. A discovery this year for sure. A real find. 8/10

Nekromant: Snakes & Lies (Transubstans Records)

Having listened to about three minutes of Snakes & Lies was ample time to identify yet another Swedish stoner doom outfit. Very much in the vein of The Sword and many others, the raggar-doom, as it's categorised is the product of a powerful trio, Adam Lundqvist, Mattias Ottosson and Joakim Olsson. Previously known as Serpent, there is a huge Sabbath/Pentagram sound on several tracks including opener Funeral Worship with a filthy riff which the dark lord Tony Iommi himself would enjoy. There is much to enjoy here if you like all things Sabbath, such as the riff from A National Acrobat which has a fleeting appearance on the rampaging Mardrom. Ultimately, it's the final track, Spelmannen, sung in their native tongue which provides the standout song on an album that is well worth a listen to. 8/10

Adrenaline Mob: We The People (Century Media)

This is album number four by the supergroup originally formed by Symphony X frontman Russell Allen, Mike Portnoy and guitarist Mike Orlando back in 2011. The current line up includes Allen, Orlando and new members Jordan Cannata on drums and bassist David Zablidowsky. 13 tracks of hard, heavy and bombastic American metal, with a massive sound which allows Allen to show his chops. It's hard radio friendly metal in its composition with stomping bass lines, shredding guitars and angst ridden vocals. Orlando is on fine form, especially on the title track. Easy listening if you like your metal hard, heavy, dripping with hooks and not too complicated. 7/10

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Reviews: Mr Big, The Midnight Ghost Train, Dead Soul Communion

Mr Big: Defying Gravity (Frontiers Records)

They're back, Gilbert hits the riff the immortal line of "OK We're Rolling" is sampled and like that Mr Big are back with Gilbert and Sheenan trading fleet fingered leads on guitar and bass respectively, Pat Torpey still keeps the funky beat and Eric Martin's voice hasn't diminished at all, however there is a little bit of reserve on Open Your Eyes, it grooves but it doesn't instantly hit you like the title track that follows it, swap these two songs around and the record sums up everything Mr Big can do, yes they are always going to be defined by 'THAT' song (much like Extreme) but I've always loved how Mr Big can easily pair accessible Californian radio rock with technical prowess most bands would never be able to achieve.

As I've said Eric Martin can still belt it out, his voice is unique and soulful, Gilbert knows when, to coin his phrase, shut up and play yer guitar, adding flourishes in the main riffs then letting loose in the solo sections, the same can be said of Billy Sheenan who is not your average bass player not content to sit and pluck he is constantly trying to out virtuoso Gilbert even getting his own solos on Mean To Me. They bring New Orleans soul to Everybody Needs A Little Trouble Gilbert indulges his Beatles fetish on the breezy Damn I'm In Love Again, the songs on the record are your normal Mr Big fodder with rock, soul, funk and even pop all catered for.

The worst of the bunch though is the dreadful Forever And Back followed by Shes All Coming Back To Me Now, it spoils the record a bit for me and while Mr Big will be able to revisit their glory days of their heyday, something they poke fun at on the heavy rocking 1992 where they lament having a hit single, they still produce quality music and their more recent output is better than anything they did after 1997 until their breakup in 2002. Mr Big are still Mr Big, yes we are still rolling but the songs remain the same. 7/10       

The Midnight Ghost Train: Cypress Avenue (Napalm Records)

I've heard a lot about Buffalo, NY natives The Midnight Ghost Train but I've never listened to any of their albums, so it's about time I rectified that starting with their fourth album Cypress Avenue. It's an intelligent record that straddles stoner, sludge, blues, funk and classic rock, this three piece have their influences with Sabbath, Kyuss with Brandon and Mike thundering in the engine room, there's the spirit of old bluesmen like John Lee Hooker and Lead Belly imbuing Steve with a voice that sounds like he has eaten gravel and washed it down with whiskey as he plays the huge riffs on Tonight and the Clutch-like Red Eyed Junkie Queen.

As the album progresses they shake up their sound with the parping horns on The Boogie Down which pairs funk with NY street rap from Sonny Cheeba of Camp Lo. They dabble with psychedelic country on The Watcher's Nest, New Orleans swing on Break My Love, a depressive, sparse, blues shuffle on Black Wave and creeping blues on I Can't Let You Go. The Midnight Ghost Train are referred to as metal band but on the back of this record I'd say that they are so much more, full of metallic bluster they also are rooted deep in the delta blues and it makes for a very expansive, engaging listen. 8/10

Dead Soul Communion: S/T (Self Released)

Dead Soul Communion is the new project of Devilment founder Daniel Finch, that project has continued with vocalist Dani Filth, but Finch has gone on to pastures new, Dead Soul Communion are a different beast to Devilment, this is melodic groove metal with power clean vocals working with harsher roars. Musically Finch and his ex-Devilment bandmate Dan Jackson are the riff machines behind this record but with Kev Jackson (ex-Fifth Season) and Simon Dawson (Steve Harris British Lion) in the rhythm section the album has a thick heavy groove throughout it that reminds me of Machine Head, this comparison is due in part to Edwin Mascorn's vocals sounding remarkably like Robb Flynn, check out The Last Grains Of Sand and it could easily have been on The More Things Change.

What sets the band apart from the large amount of groove metal acts out there are the bans use of synths, these I believe are from multi-instrumentalist Paul Jensen who brings the orchestral layers on Masked Deceiver, Ghosts and Suicide Lullaby it's these parts of the bands sound that counteract and in my opinion compliment the massive riffs. Finch has dabbled again with a lot of the sonic experimentation present on the Devilment record but I prefer Dead Soul Communion mainly due to the vocals, as I've said before that Filth's vocals really grate on me, this is modern metal with a progressive edge and it's a very strong debut from Finch's new project. 8/10     

Tuesday 11 July 2017

Reviews: Gods Of Silence, Wraith, Ward XVI

Gods Of Silence: Neverland (Rock Of Angels Records)

Gods Of Silence are a melodic metal band based in a Basel, Switzerland, their musical influences are clearly audible from the off with Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica and even Edguy all equally comparable, heck I'd even go as far to say Unisonic who's Dennis Ward produced the album with his usually quality. The band are five piece with solitary guitarist meaning the bass playing is more like a rhythm guitar and the keys taking a prominent role still the band have a heaviness that is offset by their excellent melodies clean guitar solos and intricate keyboard patterns. As is only right for a band such as Gods Of Silence the quality rarely drop the orchestral Intro builds up the cinematic tension meaning Army Of Liars can kick things off with a chunky riff and drumbeat powering it but this like a lot of the record twists and turns with progressive elements creeping in here and there.

The orchestral elements continue throughout, Against The... is more AOR styled and lets Gilbi show off his vocals, they get heavier and proggier on the creeping Neverland, in fact they change styles regularly meaning the songs never repeat or grow stale from the classical touches of Full Moon (which is about Werewolfs) to the careening muscular melodies of the Iced Earth-esque Demons. Neverland is a very strong record from this Swiss metal band, for fans of progressive melodic metal it's a real treat. 8/10 

Wraith: Revelation (Ice Rain Records)

Let's party like it's 1989! This was when Wraith's debut EP was released, they were hailed as the newest thing in UK melodic metal/hard rock, they had Lemmy singing back up vocals on that record and they were affiliated with both UFO and Waysted. However with many of hard rock bands facing the onslaught of grunge the band split in 1998, joining other projects or opening bars in Spain, guitarist Gregg Russell joining Tigertailz. There was demand for them to reform so reform they did for an album in 2007, since then the drummer they tapped for that release succumbed to cancer and the band stopped again.

Finally the latest chapter was written when they reformed for a one of concert in Nottingham which has led to this record, still led by Gregg and a very tight cast of musicians the band are back with an album of swaggering sleazy mid nineties hard rock, they have a touch of Motley Crue about them, mainly due to the vocals but also in their songwriting check out Under The Hammer which is the ideal track for sashaying in your leather pants and perm. The music is heavier than say acts like Little Angels, with distorted guitars the order of the day, but the band are unafraid of a ballad, Leaving Me Again is very Def Leppard-like and you'll either sing along or you'll want to stab needles in your ears, however they make up for it on No Respect which riffs like a bastard. There seems to be a lot of hype surrounding Wraith and their legacy but you're only as good as your last record and this is solid album. 7/10 

Ward XVI: The Art Of Manipulation (Rock N Growl Records)

Preston act Ward XVI‘s debut album The Art Of Manipulation is a 12-track concept album telling the intraspective story of a female psychopath locked away in a high security asylum. As such it's an avant-garde theatrical record that mixes hard hitting metal with theatrical elements, think Alice Cooper and Wednesday 13 playing songs with Lordi and In This Moment and you're on the right track, layered instruments, hazy psychedelia are par for the course on Take My Hand which explodes into riff heavy thrash, this moves into the the bludgeoning title track and from here the songs become stranger, heavier and more intriguing, The Flight has a pumping synth that is reminiscent of the Mortal Kombat theme, while Crystal Ball is the music to the kind of carnival you'd read about in an R.L Stine book.

As with all concept pieces the songs tell a story with little interludes driving the narrative along, the band take the personalities of the characters with protagonist Psychoberrie on vocals, Lex Whittingham and Dr. Von Stottenstein playing guitar, Jake has drums, Min adds the keys/accordion and Beardy McStumble is the bassist, with all of them taking the roles in the storyline, it's great to hear how they all enter and are even dispatched within the concept. Ward XVI are taking their metal sound to the furthest reaches of it's capabilities, with bands such as Avatar and the aforementioned In This Moment all dabbling with the theatrical and the baroque it's great to hear a British band having the balls to attempt something different. By all accounts their live show is something else, well their recorded music ain't half bad either! 7/10

Monday 10 July 2017

Reviews: Amplifier, Starsick System, Bloodclot (Reviews by Paul)

Amplifier: Trippin' With Dr Faustus (Rockosmos)

Mixing Soundgarden, Tool, Sabbath and Floyd with a smattering of Oceansize, Manchester veterans Amplifier's sixth full player is a magical release. Mixing the Mancunian indie edge with some of rocks biggest bruisers in style, I even detect chunks of Anderson era Yes in the mix. Opener Rainbow Machine is a kaleidoscope of sound, time changes a plenty, psychedelia mixing with all kinds of rampant movement, Matt Brobin's complex and intricate drumming combining with Sel Balamir's effect pedal.

Amplifier have been around since 1998 and they ooze confidence. Balamir's live use of the pedal is renowned the worlds over and he doesn't let up. The harmonies and supporting vocals are impressive, and it's no wonder these guys have supported such luminaries as Opeth and Porcupine Tree. Freakzone is a joyous rambler possessing a memorable middle eight. Shades of Placebo also surface from time to time. It's lighter than our usual stuff but there is a genuine feel of quality. most of the songs clock in at six minutes plus, but they really do reward the listener.

Kosmos (Grooves Of Triumph) hauls the listener back to the late 1990s, a combination of acid flower power and the Manchester scene, jangling guitars a plenty. It's laden with groove. From here on it's a crazy mix of styles, with fuzzy stoner (Old Blue Eyes), the indie rock of Big Daddy and the Chili Peppers funk of Horse. This is a super album, far left field of usual listening. Amplifier are a really interesting sound. Check them out. Do something different today. 8/10

Starsick System: Lies, Hopes & Other Stories (Pride & Joy)

When you list your influences as Alter Bridge, Shinedown, Sixx AM (yes, really!) and Nickelback then it's a pretty good bet what the sound is like. The sophomore release from Italians Starsick System follows the radio friendly hard rock of those bands to the letter. Big polished sound, chugging guitars, huge drum sound and a Bon Jovi edged vocal that will no doubt appeal to the Planet Rock crowd in spades.

Marco Sandron's voice sounds like a million others, pearly white and sweet as sugar. The guitar work of David Donati slick and competent whilst the rhythm section of Valeria Battain and drummer Ivan Moni Bodin holds things together neatly. It's just a bit insipid and routine. The cover of Chris Cornell's Bond theme You Know My Name is adequate but lacks the panache and style of the original. Decent enough but I'd save the cash for something with more bite. 6/10

Bloodclot: Up In Arms (Metal Blade)

Featuring Cro-Mags John Joseph, the duo of Nick Oliveri and Joey Castillo (QOTSA) and Todd Youth, it's been a long time since the hardcore groove punk metal combination of New York City's Bloodclot hit the airwaves. 2008 to be precise. But that was just Joseph. Up In Arms is fast, frantic and like my best sex, over in a matter of minutes (*Spits out tea* - Ed).

There's no let up, from title track opener, to the one minute Fire or the three minute Siva/Ruda, it's all cleverly knitted together in a maelstrom of chaos. Battery of the highest order and ideal for those early morning commutes when every bastard in the world gets in your face. 'ave it!'. 7/10

Sunday 9 July 2017

Reviews: Stallion, All 41, Gehtika

Stallion: From The Dead (High Roller Records)

High Roller Records only deal in one kind of heavy metal, it smells of leather, wears a bandana and high tops and gets played at full volume with riffs faster than a bullet train. High Roller is home of so many traditional metal bands it's difficult to keep up with them as the nature of the genre, as witnessed by the NWOBHM the first time around, does tend to throw out bands that sound very similar. As such Stallion sound like Accept, early Helloween and Running Wild it's German metal at it's most Teutonic, the band hail from Baden-Württemberg in Deutschland and you can hear those influences come through with the razor sharp riffs weaving in and out throughout the drums rarely dropping below 120 bpm and high shrieked vocals shattering glass if played loud. That's really all I can say about this record, listen to Underground Society and the stomping Down And Out and you'll hear all you need to, although I would say Underground Society would have been better at the end of the record. Still if you haven't moved on from 1985 then Stallion will gallop it's way into your heart. 6/10

All 41: The World's Best Hope (Frontiers Records)

Another month another Frontiers Collab, this time it's Giant and Strangeways singer Terry Brock teaming up with Robert Berry (bass & lead vocals) and Gary Pihl (guitar) of Alliance (Pihl also has time served in Boston and with The Red Rocker Sammy Hagar), rounding out the quartet is drummer Mat Starr who has played for Ace Frehley and Mr Big. Just before I get to the record, let me say just how good the band name and album title is All 41 or All-4(four)-1(one) it really got my linguistic sense tingling. Musically the only thing that will be tingling is if you love a total cheese fest from start to finish, I know a certain Mrs H that will love this (sorry Paul) it's saccharine, with dual vocals of Night Ranger, in Berry they have the ideal counterpoint to Brock's soaring vocals. Take the more melodic parts of Mr Big, add a sprinkling of Van Hagar and Foreigner then set it all to laser guided precision musicianship and All 41 are like a good jigsaw puzzle, it may seem a little twee at first but when all the pieces fit the completed project is actually very satisfying. 7/10    

Gehtika: The Great Reclamation (Self Released)

Gehtika are a blackend death metal group from Coventry but they state their music has a twist, which anyone who has seen them live will attest to. Similarly to their Italian counterparts Fleshgod Apocalypse Gehtika play a furious, style of death metal that brings intelligent lyricism, with a concept and orchestral touches such as piano and strings to their music meaning that the blastbeating, groove heavy, carnivorous riffs are interrupted by the haunting piano or cello break, Existence Or Oblivion has both and the way they are brought into the song they add to it rather than detract.

This isn't Andrew Lloyd Webber though (or indeed Julian) the metal is still the order of the day, Beneath The Catacombs has drumming Behemoth's Inferno would be proud of, the shredded vocals are brilliant as well strong and Satanic just as they should be. Having release two albums, shared the stage with Fleshgod, Crowbar and Raging Speedhorn, played Bloodstock twice this EP shows exactly why the band have had so much success, it's five songs are a brutal caption of Gehtika's brilliance as a band, support the underground pick this up. 8/10  

Saturday 8 July 2017

Reviews: Bare Infinity, Humanity Zero, Barb Wire Dolls

Bare Infinity: The Butterfly Raiser (Blackdown Music)

Athens band Bare Infinity sell themselves as one of (if not the) first female fronted symphonic metal bands in Greece and whether that is true is debatable but there is no doubt that they play some great quality metal that sits in the vein of Nightwish and Within Temptation as Artemis brings in folk elements to the heavy sounds of founding guitarist Thomas Papadopoulos and second guitarist Steve Davis who are aided on this record by bassist Nick Laskos and drummer Simos Lantides, the Within Temptation influence is all over this record with the music straddling Gothic and power metal as the synths and classical elements blend well with the tougher metal sounds on tracks such as In Desertis which is near enough black metal.

Thomas even brings growls on Ashes as Italian singer Ida Elena impresses throughout, her vocal is not a glass shattering soprano but it works perfectly for the music on this record when taking the lead by herself as she does for most of the record or when paired with Max Morton on In Desertis or with Thomas' grunts. The music on this record is varied and engaging with the band unafraid to branch out of their comfort zone with tracks such as Sands Of Time which has metal riffage that is mingled with excellent use of Bouzouki. The Butterfly Raiser is Bare Infinity's second album (their first was in 2009) and it sees the band playing symphonic metal at a high quality, if you're waiting for the next WT or Delain record give Bare Infinity a chance to impress you. 8/10

Humanity Zero: Withered In Isolation (Satanath Records)

Funeral Doom Metal is one of the genres that can be like Marmite, you either love the crushingly slow pace, sandblasted vocals and general sense of dread it gives or you'd rather listen nails on a blackboard. Humanity Zero are now on their eighth album of misanthropic doom/death metal and when Withered In Scars opens the record with blastbeat drums underpinning massive slow motion riffs you know that the Athens band haven't had an attitude adjustment it's still absolutely devastating nihilistic and gut wrenchingly sorrowful, it's also boring, laborious and sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom. Humanity Zero will appeal but for me a band that can make a 9 minute song go by in a flash is doing something write but Humanity Zero make you wish their 4 minute songs were a bit shorter the album doesn't really get out of first gear. 5/10          

Barb Wire Dolls: Rub My Mind (Motörhead Music/Warner Music Group)

Cretan grunge/punk rockers Barb Wire Dolls were personally signed to a record label by Lemmy himself so they have pedigree to live up too. I was expecting the bang crash wallop of 70's punk rock due to the attitude of the album cover. When I pressed play and that's what I got from the opening salvo of Back In The U.S.S.A but then it changes tact as the swinging bass heavy If I Fall is not punk by any stretch of the imagination moving into the pop spectrum a theme that continues on Desert Song and Hole Of Isolation both of which are in the grungy sound of The Pretty Reckless and even Halestorm.

Gold and Call Me (not a Blondie cover) both have the soft/loud dynamics and the punk elements do rear their heads again but not enough, there seems to be absolutely no attitude to this record, nothing at all it's not punk, it's not even rock n roll for the most part. Isis Queen (vocals) Pyn Doll (lead guitar) Krash Doll (drums) Iriel Blaque (bass) Remmington (rhythm guitar) can play and write but what they play and write is uninspiring, uninteresting and a bit crap. 3/10     

Friday 7 July 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Agrona, Levitas, Tides Of Sulfur, Trolls In The Mist & Sepulchre

Agrona, Levitas, Tides Of Sulfur, Trolls In The Mist, Sepulchre, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

It's finally come, this was Agrona's first date on their first headline tour of the UK, their main support for the tour was Levitas but in Cardiff they brought on board three more local bands in what was an extreme metal showcase. Each band were individual in sound and style which meant that there was something for everyone, providing you like being shouted at for four hours! With a flagon of Road Crew in hand it was time to head in for the first band

Sepulchre (7) were up first, they are an old school thrash/death three piece from Swansea with riffs galore. They really went at it considering they are an opening act and even though they played to a small crowd which was disappointing as they deserve more, they built a crunchy groove on Kill Me but most of their sound sat in the Slayer/Kreator camp start stop riffs and blitzkrieg soloing with touches of grindcore thrown in for good measure. They were a little chaotic between then songs but hey you can afford to be as an opening band, they get a nod of appreciation too for bringing a white t-shirt in their merch.

Next up came the absurdly named Trolls In The Mist (7) who were a pagan black metal band who based their sound around blisteringly fast riffs and, grunted vocals and songs about orcs, trolls and mythical creatures in general. Painted faces and songwriting put them firmly in the clutches of Kampfar or Drudkh, hell their song Battle Troll was even growled in Orcish. Noisey and evil sounding Trolls In The Mist counteracted Sepulchre's more classic approach well.

After two lots of fury it was time for a more ambient but yet still ground levelling heaviness the four piece of Levitas (8) took to the stage with both guitarist Rhys and bassist Liam providing the vocals the music was atmospheric, bleak and desolate it's keening post metal built on discordant metallic passages and dual roared vocals. The loud/quiet dynamic worked really well with more ambient passages seguing nicely into the blasts of total chaos. Musically they are similar to Alcest or Ghost Bath relying on technical instrumentals and vocals that blended into the chaotic soundscapes as another instrument rather than as an individual element, Levitas were a key element of the eclectic nature of this line up with probably the most varied sound on the bill, as the main tour support they are ideal to setting the scene for the headliners.

However they were not the main support here, the 'special guest' slot was reserved for the aggressive, disenfranchised, nihilism from Cardiff's purveyors of filthy sludge Tides Of Sulfur (8). It's been a long time since I've seen TOS and a while since they played the capital but with a set fulled by plenty of alcohol and massive riffage, they are still as angry as ever supplying plenty of ear splitting riffs throughout with sandblasted vocals barking at the crowd. Their songs can be drawn out and ominous head bangers or faster riff hungry pit inducers, either way this three piece are still one of the heaviest bands I've seen live, TOS hurt after a few songs but it's kind of the point, they rally against society in general, their music is supposed to be combative and it left everyone deafened enough to want more.

With the band's patented smoke machine from hell pumping dry ice throughout the venue, it was time for the Undertaker...no wait sorry that's wrestling, this was the intro for headliners Agrona (9) who have finally decided on a line up after a lot of experimentation, mainly in front of my eyes at the last few gigs, their 7 headed beast of a line up means they can bring dual riffs, dual vocals and keys into the act adding a density to their traditional black metal sound. Drawing the largest crowd of the night, which would only be expected of a headliner at a local gig the smoke was pumping throughout and the band played for their lives. Rampaging black metal was the order of the day, with their line up now set and their performance honed to within an inch of its life the band conducted themselves in a manner befitting a headliner.

Imaterium called for violence and it was given as they furiously shredded their way through their hour long set. The dual harsh vocals both merged seamlessly into a cacophony of noise as blast beats, bass beatings, lighting shredding and symphonic elements crept in. The crowd reciprocated the effort on stage with gratuitous headbanging and some pitting. Once again they brought on Steve Jenkins of Democratus for one song to add clean vocals but a band such as Agrona are one you have to take in the entire package, they are utterly relentless live with only the climaxes of the songs allowing you to refrain from headbanging but soon enough they bludgeon you again. The numerous shows and honed performance mean that Agrona are worthy of a headline performance, they are currently on tour around the country if you miss them then more fool you.

Thursday 6 July 2017

Reviews: Mutation, Decapitated, Kill For Eden (Reviews By Rich)

Mutation: III-Dark Black (Undergroove)

Mutation is the extreme metal side project of Ginger (of The Wildhearts fame) and Dark Black is the third album from the project. For this album Ginger has teamed up with Scott Lee Andrews (formerly of Exit_International) and they have succeeded in creating an album of absolute chaos and total sonic destruction. Dark Black is a combination of noise rock and extreme metal sounding like the most extreme end of Ministry crossed with grindcore.

It is an album which is completely unrelenting and the intensity levels are through the roof but there is also a certain degree of catchiness especially on Irritant. The album also features several guest musicians such as Phil Campbell and Devin Townsend amongst others. Dark Black is my first exposure to the Mutation project and is not a style of music I had associated with Ginger which is why this album is such a pleasant surprise for me. It's not an album for the faint hearted but is one that will appeal to fans of extreme metal and noise rock alike. A truly beautifully abhorrent album. 8/10

Decapitated: Anticult (Nuclear Blast)

Poland's Decapitated have been pushing the limits and sticking their middle fingers up at the so called rules of death metal for 21 years and continue to do so with their seventh album Anticult. First off if you don't like the direction the band have been taking since their reformation in 2009 then you are not going to like this album as it strays further and further away from pure death metal of the early albums. Decapitated build upon the changes they made to their sound on previous album Blood Mantra and take it even further displaying a far more streamlined sound with further emphasis on groove, simplicity and (to the horror of death metal fans everywhere) melody.

A far cry from their technical death metal beginnings. Despite this new approach the music has lost none of its ferocity with songs such as Kill The Cult, Anger Line and One-Eyed Nation still having the ability of reduce your neck to rubble. Old school Decapitated fans are no doubt going to find this album disappointing but this is a change that has been developing since the Carnival Is Forever album so should really come as no surprise. that with this new sound Decapitated have lost a lot of their own identity now sounding more like an extreme metal Lamb Of God. There's still plenty to enjoy here though. 7/10

Kill For Eden: Petty Crimes (Self Released)

Kill For Eden are a London based hard rock band and Petty Crimes is their self-released second album. Kill For Eden are not a band I had heard of prior to this review and reading up on them they sounded like an interesting band and something definitely out of my comfort zone. There are a myriad of influences apparent on this album from classic rock to contemporary hard rock to modern pop music to pop punk. There are many different sounds and styles to hear on this album which is a positive in that it keeps things varied but a negative in that the album feels rather disjointed.

The songs that work the best for me are the harder more driving songs such as Give In To Me and Toe The Line whilst special mention must go the blues leaning Halley's Comet which features guest vocals from the legendary Doogie White. Songs such as Woke Up Alone and Love You So are far too on the pop side of the spectrum for my tastes and leave me completely cold but thankfully this type of song doesn't dominate the album. The band put in impressive performances especially frontwoman Lyla D'Souza whose powerful voice definitely carries this album.

Petty Crimes is a decent hard rock album which works best with it's more classic rock and hard rock leaning songs. It is let down by some truly horrible songs which stray into pop territory for my liking. 6/10