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Tuesday 31 October 2017

A Review From The Back Of The Room: Arun Ghosh (Album & Live Review By Paul)

Arun Ghosh: But Where Are You Really From?

For those who might like to branch out from the usual smashing and crashing of the hard rock and metal may I recommend a listen to the fourth album from the incredible clarinettist Arun Ghosh. I was lucky enough to be in London on 11 October when the British-Asian composer and musical educator premiered his new album But Where Are You Really From? and, so I popped along the album launch at the Roundhouse in Camden. A small but enthusiast audience had gathered to watch Ghosh and his fabulous band of superb musicians play over an hour of tracks from the release.

Ghosh is an endearing figure, full of enthusiasm which he delivers in the natural style of someone brought up in Bolton and Manchester. His music, whilst predominantly jazz, merges a huge variety of sounds including folk, hip hop, rock and classical Indian to create some fantastic tunes. The high energy of Snakebite With Bacchus opened proceedings for the evening and is also the first track on the album. Four minutes of intertwined clarinet and saxophone jousting backed by a funky rhythm section. The dark Daggar Dance followed, a brooding smouldering tune that combines Ghosh’s clarinet with the duel tenor and alto saxophones of Idris Rahman and long-time collaborator Chris Williams.

Live the music has much more chance to develop and as you would expect, there were twists and turns at the Roundhouse which were not available to the artist during the recording process. However, the album version really manages to capture the live feel and it’s a super track. The album takes a slower pace with the calming Pastoral Sympathy (This Land Is Mine), allowing Ghosh to demonstrate his quality not just as a player but as a composer. His music really does calm and sooth and this track is possibly the mellow moment that we all need in a busy day. It’s usually not far away from the play button for me.

Meanwhile back at the album launch, Ghosh has tried to flog his album about six times with increasingly desperate humour by the time they launch into Made In England (for Parv), a track which has more than an ounce of Eastern flavour about it. On stage the band are a mixture of calm and furious energy, Ghosh moving constantly as he counts the others in and out, taking deep breaths to capture even more lung capacity for some stunning efforts. Smash Through The Gates Of Thought is almost rock, with a driving guitar and bass pushing the track along at pace. It’s smooth, relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable both in the live launch and on the album, with more than a hint of 70s cop show theme about it. It’s addictive and marvellous in every way.

The evening closed with the riotous, punk edged jam of Voice Of Freedom, possibly Ghosh’s raciest ever song and it is just brilliant. Dragging Rahman on stage to join the fun was a stylish finish to a superb evening. If you get an opportunity to check out this rather fine album I guarantee that you’ll be left feeling calm, relaxed and fully at peace. It’s fun, paced to perfection and of the highest quality. 10/10

Monday 30 October 2017

Review: Vuur, Cyhra, The Radio Sun, Wildestarr

Vuur: In This Moment We Are Free - Cities (InsideOut)

Vuur is the latest band from the enchanting Anneke Van Giersbergen, it's an often proven point that anything she lends her vocals too is usually of the highest quality, be it The Gathering, The Gentle Storm, her solo records and her guest vocals for Devy, Ayreon and many others. Vuur's debut record has been written with Joost van den Broek (Producer/Ex-After Forever) as well as Mark Holcomb (Periphery), Esa Holopainen (Amorphis), Daniel Cardoso (Anathema), the lyrical themes of this debut album "revolves around cities and freedom."

Accompanying her in the band are drummer Ed Warby (Hail Of Bullets, Ayreon, ex-Gorefest), guitarists Jord Otto (My Propane, ex-ReVamp) and Ferry Duijsens along with bassist Johan van Stratum (Stream of Passion). Much like The Gentle Storm project from a few years ago this is at the heavier end, the songs on this record are tough progressive metal in the Devin Townsend attitude of more is more. Each song reflecting the cities they are a tribute to, My Champion - Berlin uses stop start djent style riffs that conjure an industrial battle scarred landscape with a beauty cutting through, Time - Rotterdam have a Gothic overtones to it, Days Go By - London is the most progressive, The Martyr And The Saint - Beirut seeks to unify.

It's glorious stuff and sees this band of supreme musicians playing with all their power. Elsewhere Fire - San Francisco breaks into a thrash middle section as is only right and is one of the heaviest tracks on the record, juxtaposed with the beautiful Freedom - RioIn This Moment We Are Free is more of a straight up metal record than anything Annie has been involved in before, her lyrical, folksy vocals glide like an angel over the seasoned metal assault, it's an interesting and engaging listen as much as I enjoy Anneke guesting, she always seems to fit in a band situation and her uniqe vocal phrasing always means she is in class of her own. A killer debut from the Dutch metal act. 8/10  

Cyhra: Letters To Myself (Spinefarm)

Cyhra are a band formed by ex-Amaranthe vocalist Jake E, ex-In Flames guitarist Jesper Strömblad drummer Alex Landenburg (Rhapsody & Annihilator) as well as bass player Peter Iwers, also of In Flames. With members of In Flames in the band you'd think there would be melodeath battery present even with the clean vocals of Jake E at the forefront but there isn't, this record could be classed as power metal on some of the earlier tracks but as things progress the AOR influences creep in and the record becomes limp.

Tracks like Black Wings have a gothic AOR hook and Inside A Lullaby is stirring piano driven Euro-ballad but much of the record is filler. As I stated at the beginning it starts out heavy and gets much lighter with too many ballads lumped together, the result of which is that I lost interest. It's not what you'd expect from former members of heavy metal acts, still it's not really the style of the music that's the problem (a bit of lighter fayre never hurt anyone). The real crux of my issue is that the songs are  poorly written, many would be ok for a local act starting out but with the experience of this band it's all bit too tame and easy. Listen to it if you want to but with the lacklustre songwriting and the heavy sag in the middle, I found once was enough. 6/10

The Radio Sun: Untouchable (Pride & Joy Music)

Another month another The Radio Sun record, this Aussie band seem to have an almost endless mine of AOR rocking to spare, every album is slickly produces and filled with sun worshipping anthems of love and having a damn good time. All of their records are packed with feel good anthems that in these cold winter days give you that warm feeling of the height of summer. Dreams That Last Forever has big Queen harmonies, We'll Set The Night On Fire rocks with working man strut while Heaven On Earth, You've Got The Touch and Tonight's The Night are punchy rock numbers allowing to Stevie Janevski to once again work some six string magic while Jason Old still has a voice to melt butter with.

The Radio Sun's records are always extremely confident and stick rigidly to the American FM rock formula but when they do it this well you can forgive the likenesses between a few of their songs, there are only so many breezy keyboard passages, lyrics about love and 80's guitar solos in the world and The Radio Sun have pretty much used them all. Still they continue to come back again and again with new material that never fails to bring a sunny disposition. Autograph once told you to turn up the radio, take their advice let The Radio Sun into your life and feel better. 8/10

Wildestarr: Beyond The Rain (Scarlet Records)

The PR compares this three piece to Judas Priest and Queensryche, while that is the style they are aiming for they never really achieve it. This record is bargain basement power/trad metal from former Vicious Rumors guitarist David Starr who has brought in wife London Wilde on vocals unfortunately this is what causes me the most ire about this album, she simply cannot sing, she tries to emulate Rob Halford but comes across as a bad Ralf Scheepers. It meant that I could only get four songs in before having to shut it off. A shame really as it promised so much but delivered little. 4/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Gov't Mule (Live Review By Paul)

Gov't Mule - Tramshed, Cardiff

The announcement of rare UK dates by Gov't Mule (10) earlier this year was made even more appetising by the fact that one of the two dates was in Cardiff. A packed Tramshed witnessed an evening of superb musicianship as Warren Haynes and the band made their Welsh debut.

For those unfamiliar with Mule, the band play what is best described as Southern rock jams and was formed as a side project by Allman Brothers band members Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody, who passed away in 2000. Their line up has been stable for many years with drummer Matt Abts, keyboardist/guitar/trombonist Danny Louis and bassist Jorgan Carlsson. With The Allman Brothers history, much of the Mule's music echoes the sound of that legendary band and throughout the evening there was much off piste action with virtuoso displays from all band members.

With 11 albums to their name, Mule have a veritable feast of music to choose from. They are legendary for mixing and swapping set lists and, so it proved at The Tramshed, with a range of material from their back catalogue intertwined with tracks from this year's excellent Revolution Come, Revolution Go and covers including The Allman Brothers and a crushing One Of These Days by Pink Floyd to open set 2. I must admit that I'm not familiar enough with their music to identify their older material and in the live arena my hearing is often insufficient to pick up on variations and covers.

That didn't detract in any way as Mule often extended songs for several minutes with superb duelling guitar and keyboards, soloing from Haynes of the highest quality. In fact, with each member of the band astonishingly accomplished musicians, it was an absolute joy, such as the Highway Star tease during Mr Man. Jorgan Carlsson's epic bass lines ably matched by Abts' tactical drumming. Danny Louis, sporting a natty striped beany hat was astounding, his backing vocals adding deftly to Haynes' rich soulful voice, his keyboards integral to the Mule sound and we also had the treat of some trombone work and a couple of tracks where he added beef with neat guitar work.

Mule mix their Southern rock with soul, funk and blues to great effect and whilst there was little movement on stage it was not needed. For most of the evening the sheer quality of their sound captivated most of the crowd, although as inevitably happens these days, the quieter moments during some of the lengthy jams meant that some present lost interest and started talking. Regardless of the poor gig etiquette, the main section of the packed crowd revelled in the epic set, soaking up every note.

A first set of 80 odd minutes was quite magnificent and after a short interval we were treated, and I mean treated, to another extensive set which culminated in a two-song encore which featured Bernie Marsden (yes, him again! The man can't stay away from Wales after his earlier performances this year at Steelhouse). Suffice to say that the Welsh crowd, who love a bit of Bernie, were ecstatic and roared their approval as Mule kicked out the Michael Price/Dan Walsh 1974 classic Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City, made famous in rock circles by Whitesnake. An Allman Brothers classic, Blue Sky, finished the set with Marsden and Haynes delivering delicious guitar harmonies. A magical end to a breathtaking gig. Mule's first visit to the Welsh capital will hopefully not be their last.

Sunday 29 October 2017

Reviews: Beast In Black, Butcher Babies, Fire Red Empress, Iain Jennings

Beast In Black: Berserker (Nuclear Blast)

When Anton Kabanen left Finnish metal band Battle Beast in 2015, there wasn't much of a chance he was going to start playing folk, he dove straight into making another metal band and it seems that it was Kabanen that was the old school metal fan, evidenced by the changing sound of Battle Beast's last album. Thankfully if you like chest beating, macho, power metal then Berserker will take you back to the first three BB records, it's Sabaton on steroids with the lycanthropic elements of Powerwolf thrown in for good measure. He hasn't really tried to disguise his involvement with BB by naming the band Beast In Black and using Roman Ismailo (the original artist of Battle Beast) to draw the cover, still he lets the music do the talking and the music shouts louder than anything else.

Beast In Black kicks off this record's classic metal assault with Sami Hänninen's frantic drum patterns and the expressive vocals of Yannis Papadopoulos, who screams with the power of a proper metal singer but also has a strong mid-range. From here it's business as usual for the band Blind And Frozen has a bouncy Euro-pop synth part, although not as Europop as Crazy, Mad, Insane. It's with these synths that the Sabaton comparisons can be made, the fist clenching Blood Of A Lion is a perfect example of high class power metal. The synths are there to give a more decidedly epic sound letting Anton and Kasperi Heikkinen let loose with the solo's, which they do frequently, however they don't always need the heavy use of synths, they can ramp up the speed metal too on Zodd The Immortal but they show their worth on the infectiously catchy End Of The World. 

According to the PR the overriding theme of Berserker is apparently based upon the Japanese manga/anime Berserk, I've never heard of it but if it's as overblown as this record then I'm sure it'll be jolly good fun. Beat In Black have pulled a blinder here, anyone who was a little disappointed with the last Battle Beast album need not fret, Beast In Black have everything you could need, a killer debut. 9/10

Butcher Babies: Lilith (Century Media Records)

I've never really enjoyed the Butcher Babies, I'll admit that now before I continue. When they first arrived on the scene they were a thrash/groove/death metal band, fronted by two women who looked liked every metalheads fantasy, they both sang clean, screamed and growled and if I remember rightly rarely wore any tops save for some duct tape strategically positioned as not to be arrested. Many wrote them off as just titillation but since their debut they have reinvented their look with frontwomen Heidi and Carla now wearing more clothing on stage and focusing on being part of the band, rather than the visual elements. Unfortunately due to the masculine nature of metal 'female' fronted bands are still considered by some to be a novelty.

They fought back at this with their last record Take It Like A Man, by adopting an aggressive feminist ideology which was at the heart of the recording. It's this take no shit attitude that continues on their third record Lilith (who is a dangerous sexually wanton demon of the night and steals babies in the darkness - Jewish Mythology Ed) as Heidi and Carla growl, roar and spit venomous lyrics while the groove metal battery is non stop. Unfortunately this record like their others does get a little samey after a while sticking fairly rigidly to the metalcore pummelling of Slipknot or early In This Moment (due in part to the clean vocals). It means that midway through the album it's all too familiar and the for me they have failed to win me over. Obviously this is my opinion and some of you will love this but for me the technical expertise shown, is just at odds with my enjoyment. 6/10

Fire Red Empress: Black Morphine (Self Released)

I reviewed Fire Red Empress' debut EP what seemed like a millennia ago now and throughout I couldn't be more pleased with Nik Taylor-Stoakes vocals, he definitely had the voice for this band. However since that EP he has left (and joined Voodoo Six), the band have had some line up changes and now Jennifer Diehl is behind the mic and that has changed the dynamic of the band significantly. Fire Red Empress are now a different beast, they still play gritty, distorted alternative metal but Jennifer's vocals mean that there is a punk and grunge edge to their music. Think the early music of Halestorm, The Pretty Reckless and even Marmozets with the riff worship of QOTSA for clearer indication of the band they are now, the songs on this record are pretty good the first part of the record is fierce with Jennifer alternating between poppy cleans and raw passionate screams over heavy groove driven metal.

Dead Nature
starts the record off with a colossal Soundgarden-like riff, where as Giants has a punk rock spirit, from there it doesn't really relax at all the songs keep the fists flying and you just get dragged along for the ride, only Under The Barren Light allows you to hear the lighter side with a song that starts out as a torchlight anthem but gets heavier, the title has a start stop heaviness which evolves into a great fluid solo and The Little Death is beautiful a real change of pace and style that gives Jennifer's clean vocals a chance to shine before moving into a hypnotic groove. This record is loud and boisterous, it deserves to be played loud, when the riffs bite they don't let go. Little has changed musically but with the new vocals they are able to skillfully make a classic rock track like Dear Mister FM radio ready. It's Reading and Leeds crowd baiting music with enough metal integrity to give a broad appeal. Roll on their show at HRH! 8/10

Iain Jennings: The House (Self Released)

The House is keyboardist Iain Jennings' third solo record (his fifth if you count the two Breathing Space albums), it's a continuation in style from his previous My Dark Surprise, that style is one of dark, conceptual progressive rock that relies heavily on synths and soundscapes. The concept behind the record is a young boy who dies and his ghost becomes another young boy's imaginary friend when they move into the house years later. This record much like songs he has written as member of Mostly Autumn is at the darker, cinematic end of the prog spectrum with suitably English vein running through it, I'm always intrigued how Jennings and MA are so obsessed with Englishness and it's traditional values, their records are Patriotic but never jingoistic.

Returning from the last record are guitarist Andy Newlove, bassist Stu Fletcher (Mantra Vega/Halo Blind) and the undiscovered gem of a vocalist named Mark Chatterton. Also appearing are drummer Alex Cromarty (Mostly Autumn) and Mostly Autumn mainman Bryan Josh (who had to do something while his wife was pregnant), it's these last two additions that adds a sense of familiarity to the record, the Floydian guitars and expressive drumming mean that it never strays too far away from the Mostly Autumn template, albeit one that also includes some pumping electronica and jazz. The House is another great solo record from a member of the MA mothership, all of which are slightly different but compliment each other greatly. 8/10  

Saturday 28 October 2017

Reviews: Cannibal Corpse, Blues Pills, The Offering, Heretic (Reviews By Paul)

Cannibal Corpse: Red Before Black (Metal Blade Records)

2017 has been a year when so many heavy hitters in the death metal scene have delivered absolute monsters. Beasts from Obituary, Suffocation. Immolation and Dying Fetus demonstrated that the old school remain the masters. It’s no surprise that one of the grandfathers of the entire genre, Cannibal Corpse have also hit hard, fast and with a clear statement of intent. With their last gore fest, Skeletal Remains now over three years old, Red Before Black welcomes back the Corpse to the fold with blistering intensity.

46 minutes, 12 tracks all absolutely skull crushing but oh so impressive. Slicing vicious guitar work, batteringly heavy drumming, thunderous bass lines and the delicate vocal delivery of George Corpsegrinder Fischer combine on tracks such as Shredding My Human Skin, Head Shovelled Off and the pretty love song Scavenger Consuming Death. It’s exactly as you’d want Cannibal Corpse to be. But there is much more. The sound is as raw as their early releases yet technically Red Before Black may well be the band’s most technically competent release. It’s so fucking tight. Cannibal Corpse: Brutal. Clinical. Concentrated. Intense. Absolutely devastating. These guys hit the UK next year. Get in the pit. 9/10

Blues Pills: Lady In Gold - Live In Paris (Nuclear Blast)

Recorded at Le Trianon in Paris in October 2016 on the Lady In Gold tour, this album captures the band in full flow. If you’ve never seen Blues Pills, then you’ve missed out. Fronted by the astonishing Elin Larsson, the band play a psychedelic blues fusion which carries a distinctive hard rock underbelly. Live In Paris provides an accurate representation of the band in the live arena. More jams, heavier and with free reign to deviate from the studio, tracks such as Bad Talkers, Black Smoke, High Class Woman and Devil Man are enhanced and captured in their rawest form.

The guitar work of Frenchman Dorain Sorriaux is special enough on records but here he is on scintillating form, demonstrating his talent of making the most difficult things sound effortless. Ably supported by bassist Zach Anderson, Andre Kvarnström on drums and Rickard Nygren on rhythm and organ, Sorriaux and Larsson kick through 15 tracks from their two full releases. Other highlights include the opener Lady In Gold and the solo I Felt A Change which sees Larsson and a piano centre stage. Live albums can be a bit of a waste of time at times. Lady In Gold – Live In Paris isn’t one of those. 8/10

The Offering: Self-titled EP (Century Media Records)

A five piece from Boston, Massachusetts, The Offering’s debut EP is an absolute maelstrom of sounds and influences. There’s death metal, power metal and classic rock all neatly tied up in a sledgehammer blow. Huge riffs and thundering drumming combine neatly with some impressive varied vocals from Alexander Vice. Technical guitar work of Daniel Martinez and Nishad George, who also produced the release recall Nevermore and Iced Earth, and that can only be a good thing. From the opener Rat King to the massive Witch Pit through to closing title track, The Offering grabs the listener by the throat and maintains the stranglehold for the full 25 minutes. A very impressive release. 8/10

Heretic: A Game You Cannot Win (Dissonance)

Heretic formed in 1985 before disbanding in 1988 and reformed in 2011. A thrash band from Los Angeles, they are probably best known for early vocalist Mike Howe, who joined the mighty Metal Church in 1988. The current line-up features guitarist Brian Korban who formed Reverend with ex- metal Church singer David Wayne. Korban is on superb form on the third album from the band, the first since 2012’s A Time Of Crisis.

Vocalist Julian Mendez, on board since the reformation in 2011 knows his limitations and plays to his strengths, hitting a decent range of notes throughout, and sounding a little like Anthrax’s Joey Belladonna and even Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson at times. Heretic play uncomplicated thrash which gets the head nodding and the urge to mosh tingling in the veins. It’s fast, furious and infectious. Tracks like This World Called Hell, Before The Fall and the Maiden/Priest styled Master At Her Game are all worth a listen, with Korban and guitarist Stuart Fujinami in blistering form. Grab a copy, strap yourself down and pound that head. 7/10

Thursday 26 October 2017

Reviews: Kansas, Hallatar, Stormbringer, Noturnall

Kansas: Leftoverture Live & Beyond (InsideOut)

Taken from various shows on legendary prog rockers Kansas' 40th Anniversary of Leftoverture tour, made up of two discs this expansive live record features deep cuts and hits from their entire career including 3 songs from their most recent release The Prelude Implicit on the first disc and then a run trhough of their classic Leftoverture record. Disc 1 opens with the two 7 minute plus tracks Icarus II and Icarus (Borne On Wings Of Steel) reinforcing the band's progressive rock credentials, the band are led today by founder members drummer Phil Ehart and lead guitarist Rich Williams and they take this band through some of the best songs in prog rock. It's a "good start" as singer Ronnie Platt puts it after Icarus (Borne On Wings Of Steel) ends leading into Point Of No Return which sees David Ragsdale really show why he replaced Robby Steinhardt in 2006.

This is a live record for real Kansas fans three tracks from Point Of No Return those being Paradox, the title track and the staple of adverts and TV shows, favourite Dust In The Wind. They go right back to their debut on Journey From Mariabronn then Lamplight Symphony from their second record, this of course would all make a fine live record but they up the ante and as soon as that acapella opening of Carry On My Wayward Son the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and it's all up from there through The Wall, Cheyenne Anthem and the concluding Magnum Opus all bring a huge sense of nostalgia and the performances of the band are outstanding, finishing with Portrait (He Knew) (from Point Of No Return) this is a true reflection of both the band Kansas were and the band they are now. 9/10
Hallatar: No Stars Upon The Bridge (Svart Records)

“After the death of my beloved and my life partner Aleah Starbridge last April, I have been gathering writings, lyrics, and the poems of Aleah to keep them safe and close to my heart. About one month after the world came down on the blackest day of my life on April 18th, I knew I needed to pick up the guitar and try to create something or I would be truly destroyed. I wrote the music for the Hallatar album in a week’s time. I don’t have much memory of this week, not a memory of a single day of writing the music. But all I remember a promise to myself that whatever music would come out, I would not touch or change anything of it afterwards." these are the words of Hallatar guitarist and songwriter Juha Raivio, Juha is the guitarist of Swallow The Sun and Trees Of Eternity, you may remember I scored that record very highly, it was recorded by Juha and Aleah before her tragic death and serves as her debut and her swansong.

Hallatar as you can see from the harrowing quote that starts this review is the band formed by Juha after her death as a reaction to it. He acquired the services of Amorphis vocalist Tomi Joutsen and former HIM drummer Gas Lipstick, you can hear that this record was produced after immense heartbreak, the songs on this record are devastating to listen to, slow, mournful and at times hopeless, it rips the heart out of your chest with every deliberate cumbersome riff and raw vocal scream of Joutsen. The record has six bludgeoning doom metal songs split by recordings of Aleah reading her poems, these serve as small glimpses of beauty between the grief-stricken heaviness.

Joutsen's adaptive vocals are ideal for the musical backing and are complemented by the whispered vocals of Draconian's Heike Langhans and interplaying with previously recorded Aleah's for maximum emotional devastation on Dreams Burn Down. The music here is desolate, melancholic, abjectly hopeless and brilliant, not for anyone in a nervous disposition but it's an incredible piece of work, you have no excuse get this record. 10/10

Stormbringer: Born A Dying Breed (Attic Records)

Northants rockers Stormbringer return with their third album Born A Dying Breed, one listen to the record and you can hear that the album's title is a falsehood at least musically, they are not a dying breed at all they are bang up to date with the most modern sounding hard rock music around, their driving metallic hard rock is born of the classic rock styles with very modern bent to it. A closer listen to Dying Breed  reveals they are referring too the patriots who are ignored by so many, it's a great song with Southern Skynyrd style to it. They have been on a upward trajectory since their inception and on this third record they continue playing highly polished heavy rock in the vein of A7X, Bleed For could have been from any of the most recent Avenged records due to the sneering vocals, the thundering riffs and melodic hook.

Their sound is honed from their numerous performances at Download and Bloodstock it's professionally performed and the songwriting brings yet more kudos avoiding the normal tropes and cliches for more intelligent lyricism for the heavyweight battering of Pay Your Respects, it's one of the many songs on this record built on the theme of defiance, Stormbringer have a rebellious attitude from the flag waving album cover to the rallying cries of Stick To Your Guns, Through These Eyes. Stormbringer are really on the cusp of greatness, if they were American they would be already be all over the radio and a big deal, however their geographical location just means that they have to work a bit harder, the songs are there it's now all about exposure. Dying breed? Hardly this is band right on the pulse of modern metallic hard rock. 8/10     

Noturnall: 9 (Rockshots Records)

Something of Brazilian supergroup Noturnall is made up of former members of Angra and Shaman, two legendary names in the Brazilian metal scene. 9 is their third record, their debut was one of the best selling records in Brazilan metal, so they have a healthy pedigree and a lot of experience to display. It's a weighty slab of metal featuring low slung riffs and a progressive approach that has orchestrations throughout. Symphony X and Shaman are the notable comparisons but halfway through the first song Hey you realise that this song is pretty much the level Noturnall can reach, it's not particularly inspiring, bog standard prog metal with neoclassical flourishes. It's not bad, with the experience involved it couldn't be but it's just not particularly memorable with Thiago Bianchi's vocals being the weakest links. 6/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: W.A.S.P (Live Review By Paul)

W.A.S.P. - Tramshed, Cardiff

It never fails to amaze me that W.A.S.P. continue to pull impressive crowds when they come to Cardiff. Maybe it’s because the Welsh love the classic old school hard rock and metal. Whatever the reason, the return of Blackie and co to the Welsh Capital saw a rammed Tramshed witness a memorable show.

Opening proceedings were The Cruel Knives (8) whose energetic and lively set stoked the already bubbling temperatures of the venue a little higher. The band may be familiar, as they are one half of the outfit formerly known as Heaven’s Basement who underwent name and personnel change around nine months ago. New frontman Tom Harris has a fine clean voice, and worked the crowd with the professionalism of a veteran. Alongside him Sid Glover and Rob Ellershaw cut the rock star pose on guitar and bass respectively, Glover managed to lose first his jacket and then his t-shirt before the end of their short but engaging set. Completing the line-up was Al Junior on drums. Of course, Heaven’s Basement had cut their teeth for several years, so it was no surprise that tracks from Side One, their new EP sound polished with The World We Sold and On A Fucking Leash particularly impressive. Their music sits firmly in the hard rock camp which houses Halestorm and similar artists, but the future would seem to be bright on this showing and the excellent reception received.

It’s been five years since W.A.S.P. (9) played in Cardiff. I checked my review of an unsatisfactory night on 4th October 2012 at The Great Hall on this blog which brought back painful memories of a skimpy 70-minute show which left the crowd disappointed and frustrated. Two years before that the band had delivered an 11-song set at the Millennium Music Hall which only fuelled Blackie Lawless’s reputation as a diva. No such problems with tonight’s show as we knew what to expect. The 25th anniversary of 1992’s The Crimson Idol meant the album in full, with a couple of classics thrown in for the encore.

The Crimson Idol was a seminal album for W.A.S.P, receiving reasonable reviews at the time but reputationally becoming the band’s classic piece and a move away from the four-minute raging hard rock songs of previous releases. The stellar line-up that recorded the album comprised Bob Kulick on guitar and the drumming prowess of Quiet Riot’s Franki Banali and Stet Howland, most recently hammering the skins for Metal Church and currently engaged in a fight against cancer. We wish him well.

As a concept album, it worked well. The story of Jonathan Aaron Steel, unwanted and ignored son whose brother Michael dies when hit by a drunk driver, causing him to descend into chaos before he steals a crimson red guitar. Steel becomes a rock star with all the excesses before calling his parents one last time. Crushed by their dismissal of him, he takes his own life during his concert. Musically it was fantastic. Immensely heavy in parts, acoustically delicate in others, Blackie Lawless’s vocals superb.

The stage at the Tramshed was dominated by two large screens either side which slightly restricted the movement of the band but were pivotal to the show. As the band arrived to The Titanic Overture, the hour long story unfolded on the screens. Some of it we’ve seen before, but having the whole film backed by the live tracks really worked. As ever, Lawless was focused on his work, no smiles or engaging with the crowd during this part of the evening. In fact, he spent quite a lot of it with his back to the crowd, the Lawless 35 shirt the latest piece of merchandise on display (beats the 28th anniversary shirt from seven years ago). Although it’s a fact that Lawless now looks like Ann Wilson from Heart (or does Wilson look like Lawless?), like Wilson he can still hit the notes he did back in the 80s.

If anything, his voice is stronger and more powerful now than it was then. Flanked by long time bassist Mike Duda on bass and 11 year guitarist Dug Blair, the band ripped through the album with a ferocity and style not seen for some time. As the pace intensified so did the reception, with Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue) seeing much headbanging and fist pumping. Blair is a fine guitarist, throwing the shapes and peeling off the solos but also showing his ability on the double neck during The Gyspy Meets The Boy and the gargantuan Hold On To My Heart. At the back of the stage, new drummer Aquiles Priester hammered seven shades out his kit. The sound, whilst loud was crystal clear.

The main set concluded with the epic ten-minute The Great Misconceptions Of Me, a track that pulls the album together and allows the band to showcase their quality. The enormous ovation as the film credits rolled (interestingly I noted that the film was produced by former Machine Head and current Once Human guitarist Logan Mader) was fully deserved as W.A.S.P. left the stage. A rather lengthy break allowed everyone the opportunity to get their breath back before the band returned for another 20 minutes. The Real Me and L.O.V.E Machine from the 1984 debut album preceded the religious themed Golgotha from 2015’s album of the same name before the riotous I Wanna Be Somebody brought the evening to a frenzied climax and allowed the old school to leave a W.A.S.P. gig for once with a smile on their faces.

Editor's Note: It seems that Blackie fell into old habits after this show, as the next night's gig in Bristol was cancelled for a yet, undisclosed reason. 

Tuesday 24 October 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Justin Currie & The Pallbearers

Justin Currie & The Pallbearers, Les Johnson And Me, The Globe Cardiff

If the concept of nihilism was a human being it would probably be Justin Currie, the man is all consumed by a bitter self depreciation that comes through in all of his work no matter how jovial it is musically, the lyrical content ranges between morose, incensed and utterly hopeless. Previously known as the lead singer of 90's band Del Amitri, (you know that band that did that song you've heard on the radio) Currie semi-retried the band and struck out on his own, since then he has been writing and performing the music he wants, it's not really to satisfy anyone but himself, the honesty and broken heart-on-sleeve appeal of the music really makes his live performances (or Parades as he calls them) something to behold.

Last time he played Cardiff it was a solo show in The Gate, a superb venue that was an ideal showcase for Currie to play the guitar, the piano and yet again relive the heartache and pain of his songwriting. His stage banter is kept to a minimum, he's an aloof, passive aggressive figure who seems to feel most comfortable on stage. This time Currie had moved down the road to The Globe and on this tour he had brought his new band called The Pallbearer's, three experienced equally serious looking dudes all clad in black and dangerously proficient at their instruments.

We made our way into the venue and took our place at the provided seating (I currently have a very bad back so standing for more than about 20 mins is not an option), happily the seats provided us an unrestricted view of the show, the promise of a support act was interesting and got even more exciting when the lanky solitary figure took to the stage. Kenny MacDonald's Country music project has the name Les Johnson And Me, it's a very neat concept of him delivering songs by the late musician Les Johnson who was clearly a very talented Country music writer. Songs such as 15 Hands are imbued with the spirit of Nashville and impeccably played by MacDonald who has the imposing looks of Bill Drago (The Untouchables) and the commanding deep bass voice that sits between Nick Cave and Johnny Cash.

There was a magic over most of the audience (with a few not being able to shut the hell up) as we got swept away with the troubadour country music unfolding. There was beauty in it's simplicity and by the end of the set we were won over by both the songs, the performance and the humility of the man, I hope that Les Johnson And Me does more shows outside of his native Scotland as for an opening act this was very high calibre. 8/10

Had Justin Currie decided to play a solo show here it would be tough competition between him and his support act however the decision to bring a full band with him was an inspired one, as it saw the songs take on new life. Tracks that started out as acoustic renditions morphed into full blown blues rock epics with massive drum lines, fluid Mark Knofler-esque lead guitar playing. Opening the set with the staggering duo of My Name Is God and This Is My Kingdom Now you can feel the difference in style with the full band these songs jump out at you like rock epics, the dark lyrics and tone only bolstered by the full band situation. All of his solo songs were reinterpreted into the band format Hey Polly and Not So Sentimental coming as early diamonds.

Then in the middle of the set it was time for some of the music of his former band we got the slinky Just Like A Man (which was eaten up by the two women on the left of stage), the bittersweet This Side Of The Morning and Tell Her This from the Del Amitri days. The Del Amitri songs were kept pretty faithful to the originals, the small detour concluding with a one man rendition of Always The Last To Know which was ably sung back at Justin by the Welsh crowd. The Del Amitri stuff got the louder reception and recognition from the audience but I think he had a lot more scope to experiment with his solo recordings, take At Home Inside Of Me which was a fiercely heavy and ominous, letting Currie smash away at the keyboard while Stuart Nisbet fluidly soloed, turning the song into a wild and reckless number The Who could have written in their pomp.

As the main set wrapped up two more Del Amitir songs in the shape of Move Away Jimmy Blue and the beautiful Driving With The Breaks On set the course for the finale of I Love The Sea, which became a mini prog epic full of time changes, powerful organ, finger-style bass playing and impressive slide guitar. A short changeover and they came back on stage for the encore of My Soul Is Stolen which morphed into a country stomp through of Kiss This Thing Goodbye and the emotion inducing Be My Downfall. Eyes dabbed and composure regained the final song of the night was the atmospheric stream of consciousness, rallying cry of No Surrender. With a final piano chord the band finished bowed and swiftly made their way to dressing room engaging in no chit chat along the way. A measured, professional and breathtaking performance from a man who always seems to relish his relative obscurity, it means less of the human race he has to interact with and allows him to play whatever he damn well pleases. 10/10 

Reviews: Jag Panzer, Vandenberg's Moonkings, Air Raid, Wild Lies (Review By Paul)

Jag Panzer: The Deviant Chord (SPV/Steamhammer)

Album no 10 from Colorado Springs power metal outfit Jag Panzer, who’ve been around in some shape or form for over three decades. In fact, their origins can be traced to 1981. The current line-up contains three of the band that were there at the beginning, vocalist Harry Conklin, Mark Briody (rhythm guitar and keyboards) and bassist John Tetley. It’s reasonably entertaining if a little one dimensional, although dated in feel and sound. That’s until you get to Foggy Dew. Yes, the Irish folk song and lament which chronicles the Easter Uprising of 1916 and which Sinead O’Connor and The Chieftains, Shane McGowan, The Dubliners and just about everyone in Ireland has covered. I just can’t work out if this good, bad or brilliant. No such problem with Salacious Behaviour, one of the best/worst power metal tracks I’ve heard for years. Conklin’s voice isn’t the best although he hits a reasonable number of the high notes, whilst the band are tight. Long Awaited Kiss is just bollocks though. 6/10

Vandenberg’s Moonkings: Mk II (Mascot Records)

Three years since the imaginatively titled Moonkings comes the even more creatively named Mk II. Featuring the exceptional guitar work of Adrian Vandenberg and the same personnel as 2014’s release, Mk II follows on where the debut left off. More middle of the road hard rock, filled with the expected lyrical content. Jan Hoving continues to hit the notes that Coverdale no longer can, to the extent that at times you must check you are not listening to 1987 Whitesnake. The comparisons with Coverdale’s mob are impossible to avoid. It’s another highly refined piece of work, but it’s all been done so many times before. Tracks like What Doesn’t Kill You, Love Runs Out and If You Can’t Handle The Heat are pedestrian and with all the lyrical charm from three decades ago. Vandenberg is a superb guitarist and shines throughout but this album isn’t anything to get over excited about unless you love your cock rock. 7/10

Air Raid: Across The Line (High Roller Records)

For a band who only formed in 2009, Gothenburg’s Air Raid have focused their sound firmly in the 1980s. Traditional heavy metal, sitting squarely in the NWOBHM category, Across The Line is an album that will either get you excited or leave you wondering what the fuss was about. The band have a duel guitar approach ala Maiden, Saxon and about a million others at the time. Yep, it’s harmonies all the way and it’s decent stuff. The re-recorded A Blade In The Dark contains a galloping Maiden feel which whilst nothing new, makes you smile with guitarists Andreas Johansson and Magnus Mild giving it their all as they swap solos and riffs. Vocalist Fedrik Werner who only joined the band this year has a touch of Demon’s Dave Hill about his vocals which I really appreciate. Elsewhere, opener Hold The Flame, Hell And Back and Black Flame all follow the blueprint. It’s tried, tested and perfectly good heavy metal. 7/10

Wild Lies: Prison Of Sins (Wild Recordings)

Wycombe isn’t usually regarded as a hard rock outpost but Prison Of Sins, the debut release from quintet Wild Lies may help to change that. Full of hard-edged anthemic songs with a huge sound, oozing with melody and radio friendly hooks, the band display an impressive confidence. Matt Polley’s clean powerful vocals certainly have echoes of Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows and that is exactly the sound that springs to mind if you are searching for comparisons. Opener Voices sets the scene, pacey and stuffed full of chunky riffs, whilst Heart Cry contains elements of Metallica, AX7 and Sixx AM. Yes, the band are aiming high, with a stadium sound that is enhanced by an excellent production. Inner Lizard varies the style, hints of Shinedown and Alter Bridge on this one with the band maintaining the arena rock volume. Meanwhile Save Your Breath just demands your attention. Prison Of Sins is a superb debut, not a ballad in sight and an album which is well worth checking out. 8/10

Sunday 22 October 2017

Reviews: Samael, Dr Living Dead, Phantom V, Psychedelic Witchcraft

Samael: Hegemony (Napalm Records)

Here's a blast from the past! The Swiss Industrial Black metal act named after Archangel last dropped a record in 2011 so it's been a long wait for fans but the waiting has been rewarded with yet another extreme metal monolith it sees frontman Vorph leading his band in another load of brutal riffage, twisted through electronic synths, it's bleak and beautiful with the icy delivery of the band's homeland. Hegemony is the band's eleventh full length and continues to pair thumping basslines with cinematic choirs, unhuman cinematics, thundering guitar riffs and snarling vocals from Vorph.

Samael is as a close to a classic metal track as you'll get but it too has the glass cutting synth and a foot to the throat repetitiveness than you can't help but bang your head too. Hegemony is the sound of a band in their 30th year drawing from their long career to make this record their most complete yet, barely drawing breath it's at time overwhelming having an unceasing battery only reserved for Behemoth and Septicflesh, there are plenty of strings but they are by no means delicate being just as stirring as the electronic instrumentation reinforcing it on the head kicking Rite Of Renewal. Over the course of 13 tracks Samael give you everything they have taking through their career from the black metal of their early days right up to their current industrial metal stomp, with both intertwining on Black Supremacy.

This is a record not for the feint of heart there's never really a drop in the aural ordinance of the hypnotic riffs never cease and it's all the better for it, if you like the feeling of a Dr Marten stomping on your throat then buy Hegemony it's the result of Satan, his metal band and a symphony orchestra having a fight in a trance club. A thrilling piece of work. 9/10 

Dr. Living Dead: Cosmic Conqueror (Century Media)

Crossover thrash had it's heyday in the 80's early 90's bands such as Suicidal Tendencies, D.R.I, Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags all took the emerging thrash scene and mixed it with the more riotus hardcore punk, the resulting music was the soundtrack for numerous skaters, surfers and all kinds of bodacious dudes. More recently Municipal Waste have been led the resurgence for this kind of party on thrash, Dr Living Dead are trying to claim that throne for their own with this second full length, fast paced riffs, an adrenaline driven attitude and hardcore shouted vocals are all in place.

The first three songs are a flurry of riffs and drumming but they bring a slam dance groove to the creeping Terror Vision before ramping it back up again on the title track which is probably the fastest track on the record, but it's not all chest beating hardcore thrash, they really give a melodic touch to Into The Eye but it's not long before the noise returns. Crossover thrash and hardcore in general has never been up there in my list of favourite genres, but playing this album after shredding a huge line on your board and downing some brewski's with your buddies will make sure your party is 'the bomb'. *Throws Shaka sign* 7/10

Phantom V: Play To Win (Frontiers Records)

Another collab project from Frontiers, this time one that is on it's second record, Phantom V is the collaboration between producer/guitarist (and for this record, bassist) Michael Voss and vocalist Claus Lessmann they have brought the same band from the debut record to fill out the band and they haven't even tried to move away from the formula they set out on their debut, Play To Win is Germanic hard rock, think the Scorpions crossed with Pink Cream 69, there's big melodic synths but the songs are driven by the powerful riffage of Voss who not only plays some of the best guitar of his career, he also gives the slick production and co-writes all of the songs with Lessman who's silky gritty vocals are a perfect fit, nestling into the Jorn mold.The so silly it's good Baptised is a song that features the line "baptised by rock n roll" yes it's all a little lightweight conceptually but sometimes you just need a bit of slick AOR and a song like Read Your Mind to belt out at the top of your voice. Phantom V definately Play To Win on this release, polished hard rock with songs that just radiate warmth. 7/10

Psychedelic Witchcraft: Sound Of The Wind (Listenable Records)

Italian band Psychedelic Witchcraft owe as much to Ennio Morricone as they do Sabbath and Jefferson, they cast dark haunting soundscapes that have a foundation of low fuzz riffs bluesy rhythms and Virginia Morti's bewitching vocals. Sound Of The Wind starts off with Maat a woozy acoustic number that is based upon the ancient concept of truth and order, harmony and justice. It's nothing more than an intro with strutting Lords Of War (no Nic Cage in sight unfortunately) which sees Jacopo Falla giving a reverb boosted solo. There's something a little otherworldly about Psychedelic Witchcraft their music is deeply spiritual in nature basing tracks on nature both human and environmental and what effect these have on us as beings.

A hippie mantra on title track Sound of The Wind which does steal some of it's sound from White Rabbit as Morti gives a breathy performance Grace Slicks would recognise, it's not the only track that wears a strong influence though as Turn Me On could be a lost Hendrix track, elsewhere though the famous paranormal investigators The Warrens are committed to record on the track of the same name, a track with neat use of creepy organ and they get down and dirty with Sin Of Mine a filthy blues number about sex. Sound Of The Wind keeps Psychedelic Witchcraft's knack of conjuring bluesy doom rock, it's a record that's darkly intriguing and full of occult rock mastery. 8/10   

Saturday 21 October 2017

Reviews: Robert Plant, Sons Of Apollo, Ancient VVisdom, Bigfoot (Reviews By Paul)

Robert Plant: Carry Fire (Nonesuch Records Inc)

Three years have passed since Robert Plant released the beautiful Lullaby And The Ceaseless Roar, an album that saw the former Zeppelin frontman once more reinvent his style. Carry Fire sees Plant work with The Sensational Shape Shifters once more and provide a perfect reminder that even at 69, Plant has few peers who can produce such pieces of quality. Much of the album continues in the same delicate folk and world music style of Lullaby... with Plant’s voice in fine form. Opener The May Queen is a slow paced stomp, whilst Season’s Song is a calming, meandering piece. Whilst they are not credited on the album title.

The Sensational Space Shifters help to make this another superb album. John Baggott, Billy Fuller, Justin Adams, Dave Smith and Liam Taylor may not be household names, but these guys are stunning musicians. The Eastern flavours of the title track combines the band’s multi-instrumental approach with the addition of Redi Hasa on cello and Seth Lakeman on viola (they also add their strings to a couple of other tracks). Bones Of Saints has a bit more pace, music to dance to if you like whilst the cover of Ersel Hickey’s 1958 Bluebirds Over the Mountain features Chrissie Hynde on guest vocals and the drumming of Richard Ashton. If you like Robert Plant then it’s a fact that you’ll love this release. It may not be contemporary, but Plant once again does his own thing, to great effect. 9/10

Sons Of Apollo: Psychotic Symphony (InsideOut Music)

A veritable smorgasbord of rock luminaries on this one and it shows. Sons Of Apollo include Mike Portnoy, who is one hell of a drummer regardless of what you think of him as a person, Derek Sherinan who did time with Dream Theater and is currently keyboard player with Black Country Communion, as well as Mr Big’s Billy Sheehan (but who remembers him in Talas?), Jeff Soto formerly of many including Journey and guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, who spent time with G’N’R amongst others. Opening with the epic God Of The Sun which clocks in at over 11 minutes, Psychotic Symphony is big, brash and thoroughly entertaining. In fact, it might be a bit of a masterpiece.

Coming Home has a Bon Jovi stomp to it, Soto’s vocals impressive whilst Sherinan and Bumblefoot trade keyboard and guitar licks. In fact, it’s Sherinan’s keyboards that give this album the real foundation, as they rampage unrestricted. Portnoy’s drumming is magnificent, especially on tracks such as Lost In Oblivion which moves at real pace and the nine-minute thumping Labyrinth. Bumblefoot’s guitar work is majestic throughout especially on the Deep Purple stomp of Divine Addiction and the mighty instrumental Opus Maximus which allows each member to let rip and closes a very impressive and mightily tasty release. Well worth checking out and a contender for this year’s top 20. 9/10

Ancient VVisdom: 33 (Magic Bullet Records)

Those happy Satan worshipping fans from Texas return with the follow up to 2014’s Rise Of An Ancient Evil which we gave 8/10. 33 Proceeds down much the same pathway, with tracks such as In The Name Of Satan, Light Of Lucifer, The Great Beast and The Infernal One leaving little to the imagination. There’s a bit more electric guitar and even the odd riff on this album, intermingled with some rather splendid acoustic guitar work which hints at flamenco at times. True Will has a heaviness that is delivered without any effort or intensity, Nathan Opposition’s soulless delivery matching the subject matter but it’s a little repetitive and by the time you get to the title track it becomes just a little boring. 33 has a bit of oomph to it, Opposition’s monotone delivery adding an indie feel to the track. If you like this band then 33 will be a welcome addition to the collection, with some interesting changes in direction at times. If you don’t want to have dinner with Beelzebub then you may find the lyrical content a little tedious. 7/10

Bigfoot: Self-Titled (Frontiers Records)

Wigan’s Bigfoot created quite a splash with their debut EPs and some rousing appearances across the UK including a sterling effort at 2016’s Steelhouse Festival. Their debut album has finally arrived and it’s a decent chunk of hard rock. I can’t say that it's mind blowing, stunningly original or even that memorable but it does provide just under an hour of solid, honest and engaging music. Antony Ellis has a fine voice that soars and caresses, guitarists Sam Millar and Mike McCullagh duel with aplomb on Karma, The Fear and add some delicate touches to the excellent Prisoner Of War and Tom Aspinall and Matt Avery bring the heavy rhythm.

Their straight forward drive on Freak Show is impressive although the slower paced tracks actually work better. For example, The Devil In Me is a track that Thunder would be happy to pinch. I found myself tapping the foot along as I listened to an album that will do the band no harm at all. Bigfoot have a loyal following behind them and with some airplay on the likes of Planet Rock will soon find themselves another in the stable for the station’s numerous winter festivals. Worth a spin. 7/10

Friday 20 October 2017

Reviews: Samarkind, Skarlett Riot, Riffocity, Seed Of Sorrow

Samarkind: S/T (Self Released)

Oof now we're talking, those delicious bluesy riffs, the soulful Glenn Hughes mirroring vocals, glistening solos and rough and ready hard rock edge, Samarkind bring a swagger to their debut album right from the off, they have a strutting Zepalike riff on Sun Stroke Heart but they also sit themselves in the Southern sounds on the rootin' tootin' Skinny Rivers, the slide drenched Black Rain and the percussive semi-acoustic Touch Stone Man. The band have global membership, the thrilling pipes of David Paul Byrne and throbbing bass of Mark Dempsey hail from the Emerald Isle, the hammer behind the kit is South Africa's Marius Appelgryn and the impressive guitar prowess comes from Polish guitarist Michal Kulbaka.

Together they've latched on to the spirit of real British 70's rock putting Samarkind up there as the natural successors to the likes of Thunder, Little Angels and Reef, raised on a diet of Zeppelin, Free, Whitesnake and the US Blues masters which gives this record not only it's arrogant stride but backs it up with dazzling songwriting. The record is only 8 tracks but that's all that's needed, it satisfies your craving but leaves wanting more meaning the only option is to play it again, sitting in the middle of the record is the incredibly atmospheric Good Man Call which rides on the coattails of Still Of The Night and In My Time Of Dying for echoed dramatic rock and roll, a creep of Purple comes in for Fire And Blood as the organs ramp up in the colossal chorus where Byrne gives his all vocally. A blues drenched, confident slab of hard rock with a Southern soul Samarkind are on fire with their debut. 10/10   

Skarlett Riot: Regenerate (Despotz Records)

I first saw Skarlett Riot supporting Devilskin in a small pub somewhere in England (The Iron Road, Evesham) they impressed due to the commanding pop savvy vocals of frontwoman Skarlett and their alternative metal riffs were impressive bringing a youthful exuberance but a sense of confident experience to them. Since then they have released a critically acclaimed EP and now they have dropped their second album. As you press play you can hear why this album is called Regenerate, Skarlett Riot are heavier than they have ever been guitarist Jonny riffs like a madman with the thrash yet classic sound of BFMV (Paralyzed).

Opening number Break showcases Luke's impressive drumming giving a battery that pricks up your ears, there's a lot of In This Moment-esque industrial heaviness due to the vocals of Skarlett who has a similar sneering candour to Tori Amos, classic metal riffs on The Storm while Outcast has the attitude of Paramore taking things back to the earlier releases. Regenerate sees Skarlett Riot poised to explode out of the UK scene and into the wider consciousness, they have skillfully balanced heavy metal and melodic rock for a sound that is all their own, keep and eye on them they'll be huge very quickly. 8/10 

Riffocity: Under A Mourning Sky (Soman Records)

Thrash metal from Northern Greece Under A Mourning Sky is their debut full length album, it's a thrash album in the usual Slayer and Exodus styles. This Eternal Secret Lies Above and Hail hy Father have the speedy riffs and aggressive vocals while they show there other side on the more melodic Arnis Oblivion which gives a different style to Dimitris Kalaitzidi's guitar playing. It's perfectly competent thrash metal with gruff vocals counterpointed by the female vocals of Vicky Kapsali on Perish Unloved. Riffocity have a good grip on heavy thrash, there's some doom on Above The End but it's mostly tough stomping thrash metal, expertly produced by Bob Katsionis, at the beginning I wasn't enamoured with the vocals but they did grow on me and they fit the aggressive music well. The only thing I would say is that i really don't like the name but I suppose it's not as bad as some thrash bands. If you want a thrash-orientated band with pumping riffs and a rawness Riffocity will hit the spot. 6/10

Seed Of Sorrow: Vice Like Grip (Holier Than Thou Records)

Inverness is not where you'd think of for ball busting heavy metal but Seed Of Sorrow are looking to change that. This debut EP is a raging slab of melodic death metal with barked vocals, explosive technical guitars and relentless drum battery. It's breathless stuff for sure with big hitting riffs and all out audio assault, with tracks like Tearing Me Apart and Death Fuck Ritual blast beating away, there are no melodic elements, no lightness just outright brutality from riff one. Probably the heaviest thing to come out of Inverness in a long time, don't expect anything light or fluffy just play loud. 7/10

Thursday 19 October 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Legions At Fuel Rock Club

Legions: Formicarius, Nonserviam, Misanthropic Existence, Incursion, Cranial Separation, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

HAIL SATAN! Now I have your attention I can tell you that Legions is an extreme metal underground showcase that takes place sporadically at Fuel Rock Club in Cardiff. Organised by those folks from Agrona, there's always a good mix of extreme bands on offer and enough to appeal to any fan of loud noises. It's a shame then that this particular event was very under attended, despite it being October, with no other major event on and it also coinciding with Friday the 13th, still those that did turn out made sure to cause as many violent 4 man pits as possible (one taking out our photographer!).

We descended into the bowls of darkness just as the show started with Cranial Separation (7) who's grindcore battery never fails to leave a ringing in your ears, it's neither nuanced or melodic just a non stop barrage of supersonic riffs and skull rattling kick drum. Cranial Separation are always a short, sharp, overly aggressive shock to the system and all the better for it.

Following on from the grind were Incursion (8) who were the first band to bring a bit of variation, their blackened industrial thrash was the almost polar opposite to the first band the three piece were decked out in Fallout-inspired Post-Apocalyptic gear, their songs feature heavy use of atmospheric tapes making the songs more cinematic in tone. Johnny (guitar) and Adam (bass) are up front and bring the zippy thrash riffs as Robbie brings up the rear with percussion, the band debuted two new songs at this show and they sound broader in scope than their earlier material although the vocals of Johnny still drip with venom as the riffs are a relentless industrial barrage much like SYL or Devildriver, whom Incursion follow by trying to incite as many pits as possible even making a wall of death that was properly done and led to many sweaty men bumping beer bellies, which is what you want at a metal show.

Once again everything changed when Misanthropic Existence (7) took to the stage now this trio were good musicians and they certainly believe 100% in what they are doing on stage but for me their brand of misanthropic, nihilistic extreme metal was just a little too jarring, that's my taste, I've never been fan of the rawer, truly cvlt black metal, bands such as Shining (the Swedish self-harming one not the jazz one) never do it for me. The pulled a healthy crowd but I had to pull myself out a few times as the Midlands extremity did get a bit overwhelming, probably the most stylistically different band on the bill but obviously for any band that subscribes to nihilism the show, this review or any comment made will mean bugger all.

London black metal act Nonserviam (7) came next now this was traditionally a purer forms of straight up black metal and defiantly sticking two fingers into what many consider to be the most sexist style of metal music (look at all the issues with Myrkur) Nonserviam are made up of Nadia (vocals), Dionne (guitar) and Louisa (guitars) with an unnamed male drummer behind the kit. The focal point of this band has to be Nadia who stands confidently and regally at the front of the stage, growling like a demon with the blackest of black metal roars only pausing to snarl what the next song is or get her waist length hair out of her corpse-painted face with one flick of her head. Standing astride her Dionne and Louisa riff away with ferocity both working the entirety of their fretboards peeling off riff after riff, however at times it did melt into a malaise as with out a bassist there wasn't enough oompf, still it was a glacial black metal at it's wildest readying everyone for the headline act.

The headline act were London based bombastic black metal act Formicarius (8) who not only had the biggest membership of all the band, also had the densest sound, oddly they also attracted the smallest crowd which was very annoying for those of us that like to see support of a scene, maybe the drink had stated to kick in but it's not much of an excuse. Especially when Formicarius were on top form imperious melodic black metal the twin screamed and growled vocals of Lord Saunders (vox/guitar) and Hægtesse (vox/bass) meant songs such as May The Rats Eat Your Eyes had all the bluster and grandeur of Cradle Of Filth and the early British black metal bands that favoured twin lead guitars and keyboards, Formicarius had all these basses covered the songs rang out thick fast and very heavy through as the sped through their 45 minute set. I'd have like to have seen more of them if I'm honest but this was clubnight after all so what we got was mere glimpse of one of the rising black metal stars. Yet again another excellent showcase of underground metal from the Legions team, it's a real shame there were so few people there, we can't stress this enough, if you want to keep it, support it.

Reviews: Luantic Soul, GWAR, Revolution Saints, IronBird (Reviews By Paul)

Lunatic Soul: Fractured (KScope)

There is no doubt that 2016 was an incredibly tough year for Mariusz Duda, bassist, vocalist and songwriter of Polish progressive rock outfit Riverside. The death of founder member and guitarist Piotr Grudzinski was followed three months later by the sudden passing of Duda’s father and at times like that you would have totally understood if Duda had called it a day. The fact that he didn’t is testament to the steel and drive of the man and not only did he and the rest of the band complete their Toward The Blue Horizon tour (see review on the blog earlier this year) but he also completed the fifth album by Lunatic Soul, his progressive side project. Unlike the previous release, 2014’s Walking On A Flashlight Beam, Fractured moves more away from the ambient progressive rock and embraces a variety of styles whilst still retaining an element of previous releases. There are glimpses of Numan inspired industrial pop, electronica of Depeche Mode on tracks such as Anymore, loops and rhythms as well as a journey close to the progressive rock in the 12 minute plus A Thousand Shards Of Heaven. Duda plays all the instruments apart from Marcin Odyniec’s stunning saxophone and the magical input of the Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra on Crumbling Teeth And The Owl Eyes and A Thousand Shards Of Heaven.

Duda has described this album as “coming back after a personal tragedy, inspired by what happened in 2016, by everything that’s happening around us, and what’s making us turn away from one another and divide into groups, for better or worse”. Everything that happens on this album reflect that. Crumbling Teeth And The Owl Eyes has segments that would sit comfortably on the latter Opeth releases, whilst there is the individuality of Steven Wilson’s work sewn throughout. This is an album you cannot categorise, and despite its melancholy and sadness it should be heard by many more than it will be. I’ve played it repeatedly and still allow it to envelope me each time. One of the best releases of the year. You’d be a fool to miss it. 10/10

GWAR: The Blood Of Gods (Metal Blade)

33 years after they first crashed onto the metal scene, and despite being shorn of all original members, Richmond’s shock gore fest known as GWAR return with their first release since 2013’s Battle Maximus and the first to feature Blothar (Michael Bishop) on vocal following the senseless death of Dave Brockie from a heroin overdose in 2014. It’s fair to say that GWAR’s reputation is built on their chaotic live performances rather than any stellar musical output, although I do have a slight fondness for 1990’s Scumdogs Of The Universe. However, the title track which opens the album is a blistering seven-minute epic, full of Sabbath heavy riffs which Tony Iommi would be impressed with. There’s an Orange Goblin feel to the stoner infused Viking Death Machine and whilst it remains raw, there’s a pleasantly surprised feeling as the album progresses. The industrial punk stomp of El Presidente, a critical statement about the state of the US political situation, is catchy as is I’ll Be Your Monster.

I’ve seen GWAR a few times live, and after the first time which was just insane the next shows descended into a wall of noise. The screaming punk-infused Auroch returns to the sound that I’ve come to expect from GWAR, a thrashy almost Anthrax style stomp. Swarm and The Sordid Soliloquy Of Sawborg Destructo do little although Fuck This Place, the band’s tribute to Oderus Urungus genuinely rocks. Closing with a binary cover of AC/DC’s If You Want Blood (an obvious choice!), I reflected that this is an album that many thought would probably never happen in the darker days of 2014. It’s not ground breaking and we wouldn’t expect it to be. It’s much better than some of their drivel of previous years, focusing on some actual music rather than the gimmicks that litter everything they do. It won’t make my top 50 of the year, and I won’t be rushing out to buy it but yeah, it’s okay. 6/10

Revolution Saints: Light In The Dark (Frontiers Records)

If you follow the melodic rock scene then the names of the three members of Revolution Saints will be familiar. Drummer Deen Castranovo did his time with Journey, Ozzy and Bad English, Jack Blades in Night Ranger and Damn Yankees and gun for hire Doug Aldrich will sling the shapes for just about anyone. Following their debut release in 2015, Castranovo had an unfortunate high profile break down which resulted in, well, his world falling apart. Two years later and the man has begun to get his life back on track in an admirable fashion. He’s clean living and places much of his recovery in a newly discovered faith in the man upstairs. It’s clear throughout Light In The Dark that this is the case, as the spiritual themes are evident in many of the tracks.

Light In The Dark is a typically polished affair, full of big drum sounds, saccharine coated harmonies, Aldrich’s peeling guitar work and generally forgettable radio friendly melodic rock. These are quality musicians of course, and musically the album is tight and well knitted. But it also contains several pieces that would have me reaching for the cyanide tablet if you locked me in a room with them. Of particular note is the quite revolting I Wouldn’t Change A Thing, which is an outpouring of emotional gut churn, and the acoustic version of Can’t Run Away From Love, which is just appalling. Alongside that, tracks like Freedom and Ride On are catchy enough, sing-a-long throwaways that do little. I know there’s a market for this, I’m just glad I don’t shop there very often. 5/10

Ironbird: Self Titled (Transubstans Records)

Ironbird is the follow up to 2014’s Black Mountain, the debut from Swedish outfit Ironbird whose sound is stuck firmly in the 1970s. A sound that is unashamedly based on the deep groove and riff of Sabbath, so close that at times you wonder if this is an unreleased piece of music from the Brummies. There is a slight shift on Equation, which starts off in the Zakk Wylde and BLS mould before unleashing a psychedelic and stoner meander for a good seven minutes. Rasmus Janssón’s vocals allow you to reminisce about when Ozzy could almost sing in tune, full of soaring melody and Magnus Jernstróm’s massive riffs leave you unable to think of anyone else but the master Iommi. Whilst the band’s sound is firmly rooted in the 1970s, it’s not merely a copycat exercise and tracks such as River, Chains and the Zeppelin/Groundhogs feel of closing track Sleep deserve plaudits. 8/10

Wednesday 18 October 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Dragonforce & Power Quest

Dragonforce & Power Quest, The Globe Cardiff

Dragonforce and Power Quest's histories go back a long time and have intertwined since then. When the opportunity arose to see both bands in one place I jumped at the chance. Both acts most recent albums are very good I knew that we'd get strong sets from each band and with no opening act elongated ones at that. Heading into the venue it was clear that this gig was 'sold out' the 350 person venue was packed to the gunnels meaning our photographer had to fight her way through the masses to get to front.

As the room started to get nice and sweaty the intro music hit and Power Quest (8) took to the stage one by one, obviously the loudest cheers were for founder member Steve Williams and Welsh guitar wizard Glyn Williams (ex-Triaxis) but all of the band were rapturously applauded as they launched into their set. Power Quest have always delivered excellent power metal built on the traditional British metal foundations and bringing in the European sound that features heavy keyboards from Steve giving the huge symphonic edge to Kings And Glory and Magic Never Dies. In the back room Rich Smith is a whirlwind beating the heck out of his kit as fill in bassist Bradley Edison brought the low end.

The crowd were jumping and singing along with the songs, even the ones from the most recent record which was only going to be officially released the day after this gig. Leading the crowd was vocalist Ashley Edison (also of Dendera, with brother Bradley) he's an ideal frontman commanding the stage with his energy and his insane vocals that I'll always liken to Michael Kiske in his Helloween heyday, he's certainly the most entertaining frontman Power Quest have had, air-guitaring along with Glyn and Andy Kopczyk who's synchronised shredding and soloing was a wonder to behold. They threw down a sizable gauntlet for the headliners to pick up, I urge you to head down to Fuel Cardiff at the end of the month to see a full headline show from them as they are probably the most vital they have been in their career.

On to the headliners, now I've seen the London based 'extreme power metal' band a fair few times, starting with the Sonic Firestorm tour. I've witnessed nearly all their line up changes and in many different arenas, however this was probably the worst showing by the band I've seen. Reduced to a five piece for this tour the lack of keyboardist Vadim proved to be a real bummer as the synths were heavily toned down meaning that Herman Li and Sam Totman's guitars were ramped up in the mix, this ultimately led to their downfall for me as it seemed that the volume increased with every song so that the drumming, bass and vocals were all eventually drowned out.

Now I realise this is a metal blog and there is the an old adage of "if it's too loud, then you're too old" but this was too loud, I mean ear splitting volume, people around me who had earplugs were complaining of the same issue. The music got distorted to the point of not being able to hear Marc Hudson's vocals and at certain times he couldn't hear himself falling a little too flat once too often.  it's a shame as they played some really deep cuts and the new songs fit better with their older material than anything else they've done with Hudson, it's just the overall presentation and noise level was too distracting. It seemed as if Li and Totman were just messing around on stage a little too much (it's bee a long standing tradition that these two are the real stars of the show) but with the chicanery and loudness they were trying to push the tolerance of the crowd.

As things progressed the set was broken up by a guitar solo of video game tunes from bassist Fred I left before permanent hearing loss crept in and the guitar nerds really started to salivate. I'm going to sound like a hipster here but I was a Dragonforce (5) fan before Guitar Hero and it seems that now they are trying to appease these newer fans rather than those in it for the music. Not the best show I've seen from them, they seemed out of sync on this showing I hope this was a one time thing as personally I'd love to see them back at their best.

Sunday 15 October 2017

Reviews: Fireball Ministry, Sorcerer, Kardinal Sin, RSO

Fireball Ministry: Remember The Story (Cleopatra Records)

Fireball Ministry records are few and far between, there last was in 2010, but when they do come out, you always know what to expect. There's no frills from this Los Angeles band, the self proclaimed "First Church Of Rock N Roll" talks the talk but the fuzzy stoner riffs of Jame A. Rota and Emily Burton certainly walk the walk. The End Of Our Truth has a strutting riff straight out of the gate, with Rota (accompanied by Burton) giving out his unique vocal delivery before they fire up the cylinders of this bad boy, bringing the Sabbath worship in the final part and on the following track the sauntering Everything You Wanted. The curse of Fireball Ministry bassists rears it's head again with Kyuss's Scott Reeder the latest in along line of four stringers to record with the band locking in with sticksman John Oreshnick for the powerful grooves, check out Back To Earth for some cowbell bashing.

Their 2010 self titled record had a crisper modern sheen to it, the songs were cleaner cut with modern hooks, here it's back to the Fireball Ministry of old, fuzzy guitars, strutting riffs carved out of granite, proper rock n roll as it should be. Only on the final I Don't Believe A Word shifts the musical focus from rest of the record to what I would refer to as almost a ballad, it might be a bit contentious for some (me included) so good that it comes at the end of the record. This is probably the most consistent Fireball Ministry record since Their Rock Is Not Our Rock, in this day an age consistency is nothing to be sniffed at, welcome back to the church! 8/10  

Sorcerer: The Crowning Of The Fire King (Metal Blade Records)

I'd never heard of Sorcerer before this record landed at MoM towers but bloody hell this is the sort of epic doom metal I really like. The obvious comparison would be Candlemass but also the earlier releases from Grand Magus as there is a big classic metal sound throughout. Originally formed in 1988 by bassist Johnny Hagel and vocalist Anders Engberg the band released a few demos but ultimately folded when Johnny left to join Tiamat. In 2010 the band returned for the German Hammer Of Doom festival and Up The Hammers in Athens, they released their critically acclaimed debut album in 2015.

Not wanting to leave a similar gap between their next record this second full length comes only two years later and it's got the epic doom down to a tee. The monolithic riffs of Ship Of Doom take it to over 7 minutes of dramatic, cinematic doom-laden pirate metal, this segues nicely into the Eastern influenced touches of the head nodding Abandoned By The Gods. Hagel and Engberg have a strong cast of musicians backing them, the guitars of Kristian Niemann and Peter Hallgren are the heavy, down tuned riffs and clean passionate soloing bringing a brilliant classically influenced guitar duel to the hailing Satan of The Devil's Incubus as well as swelling out the sound with acoustic guitars which are haunting on instrumental Nattvaka.

In the back room Hagel does the Leif Edling thing of pacing the lumbering heaviness as Lars Sköld takes the drum stool to meld with Hagel. I haven't heard a doom metal album this good in a long while, it does away with the usual malaise preferring to take the clearer more traditional metal influenced route of colossal riffs and clear powerful vocals from Engberg. The Crowning Of The Fire King is monster of an album and a must have for fans of epic doom metal that the Swedish do brilliantly. While you wait for the next Candlemass record console yourself with Sorcerer's latest masterstroke. 9/10

Kardinal Sin:Victorious (Tramp Music)

Please whatever you do don't confuse this Swedish/Finnish heavy metal band with Cardinal Jamie Sin, the 30th Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila. No Kardinal Sin are a proper heavy metal band symphonically charged with keys they play fist-in-the-air heavy metal like Hammerfall playing with Kamelot, the lyrical content on this record is also taken from the Kamelot/Serenity book of songwriting having a historical theme on Bonaparte and Bells Of Notre Dame, they use religious iconography on S.I.N and they even take on fantasy with Attack. Victorious is their second album, their first was only released earlier this year and they have rapidly followed it up with another passionate piece of power metal. I'd not heard anything of Kardinal Sin before this record but I'm sure I'll be hearing a lot more from them in the future such is the strength of this record. 7/10  

RSO: Rise (BMG)

Ritchie Sambora has been a part of one of the biggest rock bands in the world, he's even released a pretty decent solo album in the past, meanwhile his new beau and muse Orianthi has plied her trade in Alice Cooper's band and most famously as the guitarist for Michael Jackson's final This Is It concerts (which he ultimately would not perform due to his untimely death)

Opening title track is a fuzzy rocker with dual vocals as Orianthi and Sambora's vocals compliment each other well but there's none of the virtuosic flair you'd expect from two guitar wizards, it's competent but nothing more. Unfortunately this mediocre pop rocker is the best song on the record, Masterpiece is dog shit, a late 90's/early 2000's pop song Bryan Adams would have rejected, the synthesized drums are a Mutt Lange special and the lyrics are coy and unappealing. The EP goes from bad to worse on the vomit inducing Truth a song so vile I'd rather stick needles in my eyes, saccharine and overproduced, it's budget X Factor fodder in the highest order.

Take Me is shit, ripping off those million selling Santana records albeit without the guest singers, coolness or even the guitar ability and finale Good Times has the pop country of Sugarland and even a rap for goodness sake! With talk of Bon Jovi heading into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame, it seems the door for Sambora is always open at the BJ mothership, I suggest he accept their offer as Rise just makes me want to dig a big hole and throw this album in it. 1/10

Reviews: Rock Candy Funk Party, Santa Cruz, Neuronspoiler, HateMore

Rock Candy Funk Party: The Groove Cubed (Provogue)

The force of nature that is Joe Bonamassa returns again with a new record, the man releases albums faster than I can eat a hot dinner with solo records, collaborations with other artists, the return of Black Country Communion all taking the mans time, however the Rock Candy Funk Party albums have always been the most interesting part of the mans career. Different by definition RCFP are a funk/jazz/rock ensemble formed by session drummer extraordinaire Tal Bergman (Billy Idol, Chaka Khan, Rod Stewart, Joe Bonamassa) and his friend funk guitarist Ron De Jesus, they recruited Bonamassa, bassist Mike Merritt and ivory tinkler Renato Neto to the cause with one goal in mind "there are no rules, just expect the unexpected".

Unexpected is right the record draws heavily from funk and jazz but there's samba on In The Groove, while Don't Even Try It ramps up the funk due to the additional vocals of Vintage Trouble's Ty Taylor who brings his requisite coolness to the song that comes from the 70's/80's disco scene, Nile Rogers be praised. He's not the only vocalist on this record as Jimmy Barnes daughter and Bonamassa collaborator Mahalia Barnes adds the sass to some I Got The Feelin' the rest of the record is strictly instrumental though, each virtuoso cranking out the groove driven funk as the songs weave in and out of different genres, at 14 tracks long many who are not totally taken in by this style of music will be losing interest by Mr Funkadamus Returns And He Is Mad which is essentially a drum solo from Bergman but for those groove seekers Rock Candy Funk party is a joyous experimental fusion record. 7/10

Santa Cruz: Bad Blood Rising (Universal Music Group)

The Finns love a bit of sleazy glam metal and it doesn't get much glammier than Santa Cruz, this young band have the spirit of the Sunset Strip coursing through their collective veins, they've even got a track called Get Me Out Of  California which is pure Sixx:A.M. Part Motley Crue, part G'N'R with the modern sheen of Asking Alexandria and Avenged Sevenfold these Finns bring dirty rock riffs, Archie vocals/guitar, Johnny guitar, Middy bass, Taz drums have epic choruses, that get heartfelt on Drag Me Out Of The Darkness and the acoustic Breathe but mostly it's big hard hitting riffs, with a modernity that sees them classed as glamcore. Labels aside Bad Blood Rising is an attitude driven record that is the sort of record you'd expect for a band full of red blooded youngsters, it's a record that's full of chest beating bravado, it's full of Pure Fucking Adrenaline, if you like Asking Alexandria, BMTH, Escape The Fate and bands of that ilk with a shining slice of 80's sounds then Santa Cruz will make your blood pressure rise, not my thing normally but no doubting the talent. 7/10

Neuronspoiler: Second Sight (Dissonance)

Well this is a blast from the past, I remember reviewing Neuronspoiler's debut album in 2013, it was a strong slice of traditional metal and it's taken the band four years to make and release this follow up as the scything riff of Reclaim Your Path scurries out of your speakers at a fair old pace, in the intervening years between the albums the sound hasn't changed one iota, Neuronspoiler play riff happy British heavy metal with some speed metal trappings even branching out into thrash on Slay The Beast the twin guitar mastery comes from David del Cid and Pierre Afoumado who shred up a storm letting Matthew Monroe and Erick Tekilla build a strong rhythm section. This record has a defiant tone to it, Hidden Agenda and This Is Revolution both scream out about the madness that is our current society, vocalist JR gives his best performance on the slow burning This Brave One that sits in the middle of the record and is filled with classical guitars and is followed by the Priest-like Queen Of The Darkness. Neuronspoiler still have a tight old on their sound, they're a band comfortable in their skin and are still performing the classic metal staples at the same high level as they were on their debut but for a modern audience, let's hope it doesn't take them another four years to follow it up. 7/10

HateMore: The Pain Of Loss (Monster Promotions) 

HateMore's Facebook page say their artists we also like are Exodus, Testament and Slayer and while This Is How We Die does have a bit of thrash to it, I'd say they have more of and Alice In Chains motif running through their records, slow, heavy grooves with reverbed vocals, things get a little faster on The Dream Is Dead. It's standard stuff but the addition of organs to the mix shake things up but this record is boring, it never gets out of cruise and there are much better ways to spend your time. 5/10

Saturday 14 October 2017

Reviews: Enslaved, With The Dead, Silius, Marvara (Reviews By Paul)

Enslaved: E (Nuclear Blast)

Possibly on of the most astonishingly good albums of the year, the Norwegians latest release combines huge swathes of black metal, which is where their roots lie, with massive progressive elements which echo Floyd, King Crimson and even Steven Wilson. Nowhere is this more apparent than on album closer Hiindsiight, where a rampaging saxophone rages across a heaving power chords and guttural vocals before concluding with echoing Floyd style vocals. Sacred Horse, centrepiece of this quite magnificent album mixes styles to monumental effect, pure black metal segues into an Opeth type jazz fusion before a progressive format. Axis Of The World see the band add layered keys to an addictive hook, gruff vocals balanced with clean harmonies that work superbly. E is a concept album, based on the Nordic rune which means horse. It’s long. Six songs at over 52 minutes requires investment. Do it. It’s worth it for one of the albums of the year. Catch them on tour with Opeth. Forgo that extra pint and treat yourself to a band who are evolving with every release. 9/10

With The Dead: Love From The Dead (Rise Above Records)

The return of Lee Dorrian, the former main man of doom rockers Cathedral is something that will no doubt be celebrated. Joining forces with former band mate Leo Smee on bass and the Electric Wizard duo of drummer Mark Greening and Tim Bugshaw on guitar, Love From the Dead is possibly the heaviest, sludgiest, most doom laden album you’ve heard for a long time. The band have actually been around for three years and this is their sophomore release. Unsurprisingly, given the composition of the band, there is little fast paced action here, with all the emphasis on bone crushingly heavy riffs, behemoth sized tracks crammed with an intensity which could level buildings and Dorrian’s slightly out of tune drawl unnervingly evil in both intent and delivery. From the crashing doom of opening track Isolation, the Eastern flavours of Egyptian Tomb through to the pendulous 18-minute closing track Cv1, there is a suffocating power which is relentless. With the Dead will not be to everyone’s tastes but if you like your skull caved in by pure pressure then this is for you. 8/10

Silius: Hell Awakening (Massacre Records)

No messing about with Austrians Silus, whose debut Hell Awakening starts at full throttle and doesn’t stop. Seven Demons nails both the influences and style of the band, huge chunks of Pantera reach out and grasp you by the throat. Immortalise adds the might of the Bay Area, with Testament and Exodus evident. Whilst this isn’t in any way original it's delivered with huge style and aplomb, guitars shredding viciously at every opportunity and a crunching rhythm section that may down massively heavy foundations. War Planet echoes Cowboys From Hell with Anselmo style vocals to boot and it works. If you need to work out what some of their themes are about then you need help. Message In A Molotov, leaves nothing to the imagination but assaults the aural equipment with thunderous drumming whilst the slower, hauntingly Megadeth hooked delivery of Tools Of Destruction reflects the world today.  Play these guys loud. A very tasty release 8/10

Mavara: Consciousness (Self Released)

Formed in Tehran in 2001, Mavara is a five-piece progressive rock band who play in a style which follows their main influences of Marillion, Pink Floyd, Riverside and Porcupine Tree. Consciousness is the Iranian’s fourth release and it’s a reasonable listen. I’m not over enamoured by Ashkan Hamed’s vocals that stray into the out of tune park a little too often for my liking. The keyboard heavy opening track Invasion (636 Gregorian Calendar) sees Hamed range struggle to manage the numerous time and direction changes. This is repeated throughout the album, for example on the meandering Childhood. However, there is much to commend here. Living The Fast Life has the band rocking out with some meaty riffs, Scott Abene delivering some neat guitar work which is complimented by layered synthesisers although Hamed’s vocals take off some of the shine once again. The title track, a lengthy piece which clocks in at just under ten minutes contains some intricate and delicate interplay. Hamed and Anis Oveisi’s keyboard playing is excellent throughout, such as during Mandatory Hero. Musically, Marana deliver some decent progressive rock. It’s just a shame that the vocals can’t quite put the cherry on the top. 6/10

Thursday 12 October 2017

Reviews: Supersonic Blues Machine, Radio Moscow, Egonaut, The Face Of Ruin

Supersonic Blues Machine: Californisoul (Mascot Records)

Start up the engines, the machine is ready to roll again, the core trio of Lance Lopez (guitars/vocals), Fabrizio Grossi (bass/producer) and Kenny Aronoff (drums) are back for another journey through the belly of the blues bringing the soul back to this music and grabbing some special guests along the way, this isn't an orchestrated thing though, the guests on this record are friends of the players which means that this record is almost a tantalising look at some of the most talented blues players around jamming some tunes. This time it's Steve Lukather (Toto) on Hard Times, Robben Ford  adds some soulful guitar to Somebody’s Fool, Walter Trout is as ever the blues master on What’s Wrong, while returning from the debut are Eric Gales on the soulful reggae-tinged Elevate and the Reverend Willy G adds a smouldering solo and writes the gospel blues of Broken Heart.

I played the first SBM record to death and it looks like I'm going to do the same with this record as well, Fabrizio Grossi is the bands glue he's the reason everyone is jamming these songs his bass holds everything together and his production/music industry experience gives the record it's slickness and warmth. Lance Lopez's vocals carry so much soul the Devil wants some of them back and his guitar playing slides in with ease against the blues rock legends that feature while Kenny Aronoff displays his session skills behind the kit It's top class blues rock with a soulful streak making The One and Hard Times slow and slink their way out of your speakers with Aronoff's drums and Alessandro Alessandroni Jr.'s keys giving their all, but every song on this record is packed with modern blues rock, Supersonic Blues Machine    

Radio Moscow: New Beginnings (Century Media)

Retro- rock jams are what you get from this Southern Californian power trio, Parker Griggs has the wild shirtless riffs of Grand Funk's Mark Farner and the gruff vocals of Steppenwolf's John Kay with Paul Marrone hurting his drum kit and Anthony Meier ramping up the groove with some finger-style four stringing. Radio Moscow are unabashedly retro, reverbed guitars and bell bottom jeans are the ethos and their psychedelic streak bring to mind the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Blue Cheer or Atomic Rooster, the Hendrix comparisons can be heard in the way Griggs makes his guitar cry on the wah drenched Deceiver or on the Eastern flavoured instrumental Woodrose Morning. Every song brings another familiar sound played by some young guns. No One Knows Where They've Been is built on some funk staccato that builds into a wild guitar freak out. The psychedelic vibes carry through the whole of this record with Griggs on fire on every track his guitar playing is mesmerising but it's always anchored by the solid rhythm section. Swirling riffs and electrifying retro rock are what Radio Moscow bring to the table and it's good enough to eat! 8/10

Egonaut: The Omega (Mighty Music)

The fourth album from Sweden's Egonaut is a satisfying slab of organ drenched dark heavy metal that owes a lot to Paradise Lost and also countrymen Ghost, massive doomy riffs come from Fredrick Jordanius (guitar) and Dennis Zielinski (keys) whose Gothic keys are the main element of this record. It's good stuff, melancholic hard rock with a metal edge, since their last record Jordanius has stepped down as vocalist focusing just on guitar letting new vocalist Emil Kryk give his deep croon a flex on the fist pumping Alienati but getting more melodic but grittier on Totentanz. The Omega is a good album of darkened heavy metal, there's a gloom hanging over the record which means that you can't help nodding your head along as they change between monolithic doom riffs and classic metal rocking on Deathsworn a song built on Rainbow-like keys. If I'm honest the keys make this record what it is, there are so many times that it could become just another doom metal band but the orchestrations and bubbling organs keep it fresh. I'd never heard of Egonaut before but they impressed me with their fourth release, a solid record of heavy music. 7/10

The Face Of Ruin: S/T (Self Released)

Apparently The Face Of Ruin are a sexy melodic death metal from Warwickshire, well they seem sexier than the Swedish long-hairs that usually play the genre but musically they stick to their Gothenburg-sound guns playing the razor sharp, harmonised riffs made famous by At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity and In Flames, this three song EP is a violent tornado of riffs, flurries of blast beat drumming and vocals that move from bowl clenching growls to piercing screams, they bring some frenzied shredding to Beyond Life which features a big beatdown guaranteed to cause some damage in the pit. The three tracks on this record give an overview of The Face Of Ruin technically precise, modern melo-death, this is the new face of the music I expect big things. 7/10