Blind Guardian: Live Beyond The Spheres (Nuclear Blast)
Few gigs are as close to a religious experience as a Blind a Guardian concert. Crammed to the gunnels with themes of epic fantasy, long, intricate sections with numerous opportunities for the fans to demonstrate their devotion and above all some blistering power metal. The band's rare appearances in the U.K. only make their gigs even more rapturous events. Live Beyond The Spheres splices live tracks from various venues on their Beyond The Red Mirror 2015 European tour and it is blistering. 22 tracks, over two and a half hours of music, bookended by The Ninth Wave and Mirror Mirror. If Hansi Kursch didn't name check the venues you'd believe it was one evening recorded in its entirety. Such is the intensity of the band's fans and their sheer professionalism every night.
The band were on astonishingly good form on this tour, as I know from their sole U.K. date at the O2 Forum in London, and it's evident in every track. Italy, Czech Republic, Poland and of course Germany all feature. Each Guardian fan has their favourites. For me, the essence of the band is captured in four songs. The opener, The Ninth Wave, a ten minute rampage which doesn't draw breath until the closing bar, the imposing and grandiose Imaginations From The Other Side, the incredible full audience participation of the acoustic Lord Of The Rings themed The Bards' Song and the Eastern influences and drama of Wheel Of Time, another ten minute monster with huge riffs, a battery of drumming, changes of pace and tempo, orchestral harmonies and a demonstration of just how fucking massive this band can sound.
However, there is not a bad song in this package. Fredrick Ehmke's drumming is immense, turbo charged, ridiculing the complexity of the manoeuvres he performs. The guitars of Andre Olbrich and Marcus Siepen slice, rip and then stitch the wounds back together whilst up front the vocal dexterity of Hansi Kursch never ceases to amaze. Live Beyond The Spheres captures the band at their peak. As an aperitif before their guest set at Bloodstock this year it's probably unfair ... because you'll demand all three courses plus an after dinner cigar. An exceptional release. Miss them at your peril. 10/10
Owl Company: Horizon (ONErpm)
Charging at you from Sao Paulo, Horizon is the debut album by Owl Company and it’s well worth a listen. My immediate thoughts were of the Texas Hippie Collective, crashing riffs and pounding rhythms, a huge sound that is totally driven by the gravel edged vocals of Enrico Minelli. Opening with a paragraph from nineteenth century poet Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman at the end of a chaos filled intro, the band proceed to lay the hammer down for the next 30 minutes. It’s big, brash and quite superb. Like Black Stone Cherry if they had bollocks and attitude, this is a sledgehammer to the face. Felipe Ruiz lays down the riffage, Fabio Yamanoto plots with his murderous bass lines and Thiago Biasoli just batters. There are many influences on display here, with Play With Fire brooding malevolently. The pace rarely lets up and whilst it’s by no means original the sheer intensity of the assault is impressive. 8/10
Space Witch: Arcanum (Hevisike)
Heavy as the proverbial bag of anvils, trippier than Jeremy Corbyn on The One Show and with more sludge than a 20-year-old heating system, Space Witch finally provide a reason for Stoke On Trent (other than Slash). Arcanum beats you up, drags you into the space ship that Hawkwind abandoned in the 1970s and then allows you to tumble on an interstellar journey of over 45 minutes lunacy. Elements of stoner and psychedelia fuse with space rock to deliver an experience that is well worth participating in. Climb aboard. Enjoy the ride. 8/10