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Friday 31 August 2018

Reviews: The Vintage Caravan, Circles, Immortal Guardian, EverRise, Forager

The Vintage Caravan: Gateways (Nuclear Blast)

Bubbling organs swell into a huge riff and the hazy days of Hendrix and his Experience wash over you with as the driving rhythms of Alex Örn (bass) and Stefán Ari (drums) power opener Set Your Sights into it's guitar heavy climax which has Óskar Logi setting his fretboard alight. It's shamelessly retro but has the swaggering confidence of youth, you must remember that this is Icelandic trio's fourth album, their first was released when they were still in school so they have had nearly a decade to craft their 60's styled sound. Having played all over the world Gateways is their most mature record, the songs whizz by without getting bogged down by some of the jams that plagued the earlier records.

They've also turned everything up to it's highest setting, the analogue production letting fuzzy rockers like Reflections make their mark, it's 48 minutes of classic rock song writing tweaked to it's most vital with Óskar's often reverbed vocal floating over the huge riffs and screaming solo freak outs that Hendrix, Purple and Rainbow all had in their arsenal, just listen to the stomping On The Run or the excellent Farewell and you'll hear the influence of Mr Blackmore coming out of every soulful note. I've been following The Vintage Caravan since their early days and I must say they have managed to put themselves on on a pedestal with The Blues Pills, Kadavar, Graveyard and Rival Sons as some of the figureheads in this retro rock revival, Gateways is an addictive record that makes you feel good when listening, it's almost primal, well worth a purchase. 9/10  

Circles: The Last One (Season Of Mist)

Circles debut EP came about right as the 'djent' bubble was starting to inflate to full size, when many of the bands sounded similar only the bands willing to make a change managed to survive and these forward thinking Australians have adopted their mainly Djent beginnings by introducing stadium baiting melodies (Breaker) and soaring vocal lines that are a staple of Tesseract et al. This second full length takes things a little further by adding some ambient (The Messenger) and even jazz textures while also retaining the groove laden heaviness of their past. A track like the atmospheric Alone With Ghosts brings to mind Everything Everything due to percussion and Ben Rechter's clean vocal delivery, although kudos also to bassist Drew Patton for adding screams to the heavier tracks bringing an extra level of emotion to the frenetic Winter (which Patton's bass also drives). I do hope this isn't the last one from Circles as their brand of Djent is one that I really enjoy, it's melodic, anthemic and best of all heavy as lead at times. 8/10

Immortal Guardian: Age Of Revolution (M-Theory Audio)

Age Of Revolution is the debut full length album from Austin Texas band formed by Gabriel Guardian (guitars/keyboards) this has been a a few years in the making with a few line up changes the band have finally settled as a four piece that features the explosive pipes of Carlos Zema and a rampaging rhythm section of Cody Gilliand (drums) and Thad Stevens (bass) as Guardian himself handles all of the shred taking both guitar and keys (sometimes simultaneously) Since the release of their EP Revolution Pt 1 they have set about on a guerilla marketing tour playing US festivals on their 'Shred Shed' but finally after honing their 'Super Metal' they have managed to put out a full length, but is it a case of style over substance? Well once the orchestral intro warms you up it's heads down for finger twisting technicality as the keyboards and guitars intertwine with the blastbeats and thunderous bass for opening track Zephon where Zema just shows himself as being in a class above with his massive range that stretches from guttural roars to Kiske highs.

and the political Hunters will satisfy those folks who want a bit of Dragonforce it's definitely super metal although Never To Return takes the title for the best representation of Immortal Guardian's sound with everyone getting a solo on this speedy number that turns into a sax backed Gary Moore-like outro. As a debut album it's pretty much everything you could want from a band who have been doing their best to get their shred metal to the masses through any means necessary. It's the culmination of a few years work but it pays off with a power metal album that stands out with its mixture of virtuosity and hook-filed numbers like the chest beating Stardust showing they're not style over substance. It's the Age Of Revolution so don't get left behind! 8/10

EverRise: After The Eclipse (Self Released)

EverRise are a melodic death metal band from Toulouse and like the sausage that bears its name they are a meaty morsel. Taking from the Gothenburg scene bludgeoning drum patterns keep the aggression in the red as the guitars bring technicality and the vocals a real brutality. The title track After The Eclipse has an almost relentless black metal blastbeats with groove driven riffs similar to Behemoth, but the comparisons don't stop there as My Kingdom is an In Flames song by another name and Anything gets chunky with so thick riffs. After The Eclipse is solid modern melodic death metal record from this French band, I'd you want a bit of rage then you can do much worse! 7/10

Forager: S/T (Self Titled)

Manchester band Forager are a five piece math rock band and this self titled EP sees them expanding their sound from it's instrumental origins by adding vocals. Floss Is Boss (not the anal variety that you may see on the South Wales music scene) opens the record with an immediacy bringing you into their expressive edgy alternative sound that brings in experimental influence from Fall Of Troy, Press To Meco and the technical toughness of Biffy Clyro. I'll admit it's not what I usually listen too but with a good vocalist in tow Forager have clear direction of where they want to in the future so it's hard to find negatives I would say if you're in need of pummelling black metal or heavy djent then stay away but if you want modern, dynamic music then stop looking in the bushes as you've found what you're looking for. 7/10 

Thursday 30 August 2018

Reviews: UDO, Massive Wagons, Diemonds, Wilson (Reviews By Alex)

U.D.O: Steel Factory (AFM)

Since Udo Dirkschneiders departure from metal titans Accept in 1987, he has had a prolific career with U.D.O. With the help of Volbeat Producer, Jacob Hanson, Steel Factory emanates all the intensity ay you would expect. The vocals, despite understandably brittle, have lost no of attitude and command, reaching glorious heights on the opening Tongue Reaper, maintaining a low and sinister growl on Keeper Of My Soul and proving darkly melodious on Rose In The Desert. Yet while our frontman may take centre stage, this is by no means a solo endeavor. Guitar parts change from stints of carnivorous complexity to periods of straightforward, in-your-face chugging, a contrast best bought to life on songs like One Heart One Soul, In The Heat Of The Night and Rising High.

On a complimentary note, the drum and bass can, of course, add to the marching tone created by so many good metal songs by keeping the rhythm, yet in the spirit of power metal often take on a stampeding character, Eraser and Rising High being more than happy to show off that quality. Still very much grounded in the classic Eighties metal sounds, as well as paying homage to influences from Judas Priest to Iron Maiden, the fingerprints of Dirkschnieder's time in the spotlight, may be all over this record, yet it is all the better as a consequence. Huge anthemic songs, sure to be sung by millions in arenas, are a testament to the intriguing stage presence and determination of these musicians. 7/10

Massive Wagons: Full Nelson (Earache Records)

Massive Wagons wearing a range of influences proudly on their sleeve. Whether that's the ambition of classic rock, the rootsy charm of blues, or even the aesthetic of punk, they commit to each style with enthusiasm and humour, making it difficult not to be instantly intrigued! We begin with the traditional rock n roll swagger of Under No Illusion, where guitars are crunchy, the rhythm section is steady, and Baz Mills’ vocals are crisp and commanding. Exploring the idea of refusing to sign your life away on a dotted line and playing by your own rules, a clear sense of optimism mixed with defiance takes hold; A sentiment which proves handy, with the angsty and brash China Plates taking down show-off’s and snobs with a good helping of sarcasm and raw liveliness. Billy Balloon Head and Sunshine Smile, are based in memorable riffs and beats, emanating traditional, almost bluesy vibes, yet never losing the signature vigour or bravado, which Massive Wagons have down almost to perfection.

Of course, every good band has a sense of restraint, which we see in the storied and romantic Northern Boy, beginning as subdued and blossoming into a fully-fledged guitar ballad. On a more unique footing, Robot has a futuristic and sinister stamp, the guzzling riff, weird dissonant effects and eerie lyricism proving inspiring, albeit different. Back To The Stack is another romper, a few well-placed references to idles like status quo not left amiss. Hate Me can be envisaged as a singalong moment, ‘’scream a little louder, get it off your chest’’ serving as a rallying cry to rock audiences across the globe. Drawing to an end on the danceable Ballad Of Vernon Hayes, the climatic and soaring Ratio and the endearingly strong closer Tokyo, you are left with a desire to spin the record again. Not to shore up your opinion but to pick up the nuances, after being hit with a rush of personality and charisma, tinted with a whole load of respect for the classics! 8/10

Diemonds: S/T (Self Released)

Juno award nominated Canadian hard-rock quintet, Diemonds return with their third album following Never Wanna Die (2015) and The Bad Pack (2012). Despite not yet achieving considerable success outside of Canada and North America, creating a name for themselves has involved making lots of friends in the rock and roll world, notably by working with the producer of Billy Talent and Cancer Bats, Eric Ratz , as well as touring with raucous and legendary rock including lending support slots to The Darkness, Megadeth, Steel Panther and even Guns N Roses! If you thought from reading the titles of their past works that Diemonds would have a certain style of traditional rock n’ roll grit, you would be exactly right! From the opening moments of Breath, the rhythmic drumming, and confident riffing grab your attention, before the female lead vocalist, Priya Panda cuts through the static with a ferocious yet striking tone.

The momentum is kept up on the chugging and grungy Our Song, as well as the anthemic Shoulda Listened To Ya. Later, Waiting For Something exudes the catchiness and memorability of a pop song, yet the execution still has the attitude and realness of the harder moments, as does the equally beguiling yet sentimental I Miss. These are still strong rock songs, instrumentally at least, yet they prove an ability to diversify songwriting, away from the hard-hitting and frenetic songs in the vein of Burn It Down or I See Red, at times where a more touching or danceable moment feels needed. Not to say they don’t close out on a strong note, Warrior being a gigantic, adrenaline driven, fist-in-the-air anthem for the downtrodden. ‘’We’re Warriors, We’ll never back down’’ rings the closing line, bringing a determined end to an album bursting with hooks, energy, and rock songs which don’t forget the all-important element of fun! 7/10

Wilson: Tasty Nasty (Century Media)

Fusing styles from hip-hop to metal, Wilson certainly knows not to take themselves too seriously, spending their songs unashamedly mocking the clichés, preening, and grandiosity, which many genres begin to ooze after they losing their original charm, becoming stale and forcing everyone to jump ship to escape the rancid stench of mediocrity. There's only one problem: attempting to parody music so smothered in its own ego and braggadocio – e.g the raunchiness of hair metal or the pseudo machismo of later era nu-metal - that it becomes a joke in itself, leads to some mixed results. Lead single, Like A Baller funny, the snooty, nerdy tone mixed with a story of a car salesman fantasising about living the life of fame and wealth, pointing and laughing at the fake-edginess you're typical of ‘sick of this day job, they will worship me one-day’ cliché. My Hustle takes this joke to the extreme, the sheer exaggeration warranting a good laugh. 

Act My Age and Spanish Coffee are examples of cringe comedy at it's finest, the not so subtle sexual innuendos of ‘’Six ounces of hot lovin’, whipped cream, cherries yum’’ proving quite hysterical, at least to anyone with an immature side. Yet for every well-mocked platitude or extravagant instrumental piece, there are moments like Wrong Side Of History or Everyone Gets A Round On Me, which aside from appearing on a comedy album, do very little else to remind you that they are actually jokes and not cuts from some obscure rap-rock band. True, the music being ridiculed can be quite ridiculous, but no one is going to want to laugh at a carbon copy of the styles they would rather be seeing ripped to shreds, especially when there are examples of the same gag being made better 5/10

Reviews: Krisiun, Bast, Leeched, Rebel Wizard (Reviews By Paul S)

Krisiun: Scourge Of The Enthroned (Century Media)

Krisiun are 2 years short of their 30th anniversary. The Brazilian band, formed in 1990 have been an important and influential death metal act. Black Force Domain (1995), Conquerors Of Armageddon (2000), and Southern Storm (2008) have been landmark, deeply influential albums on the death metal scene. The band has always had a reputation for incredible intensity and ferocity. Over time their sound has become more technical, this culminated with 2015’s Forged In Fury, where this increased technicality maybe went too far, and diluted the bands customary brutality. Scourge Of The Enthroned seems to be a reaction to the bands last album. Although the album is still technical, it’s pointed in a different direction this time. The technicality is used to make the album more brutal, more nasty, more extreme, just MORE. There is a battering, slightly unhinged quality to all of the tracks here.

There is a similarity to some of Origins output, the band are using their amazing musical skills for brutality, rather than for any kind of progressive reasons; this is almost the opposite of progression. Most of the album takes place at breakneck speed, battering the listener into submission. But, even when they slow down, the riffs they use are slightly off kilter, giving a lurching, aggressive, angry feel to slower parts. The track Demonic III, has a rhythm that, although not particularly fast, has a furious, battering feel to it, that makes it one of the most violent tracks on the album. It’s hard to pick any stand out tracks on the album, due to the high quality of all the tracks on offer (although A Thousand Graves is a staggering display of chaos and ferocity, and Whirlwind of immortality are my personal favourites). Scourge Of The Enthroned is a cracking piece of aggressive, brutal, technical death metal. It’s an album that batters the crap out of you in such an enjoyable, pleasing way. Krisiun have blasted back with an album they can be rightly proud of. 8/10

Bast: Nanoångström (Black Bow Records)

London based Bast describe themselves as a ‘3 piece experimental vortex of blackened intensity and forlorn mournful doom’. Which is a pretty accurate description. this is their second album, after 2014’s Spectres. Their sound is a blend of doom and black metal, with maybe a little drone and post black metal thrown in as well. So, blackened doom, or possibly doomy black metal. This is an album that has many different moods and colours. The intro Distant Suns starts with quiet notes that slowly become tremolo picked, in a delicate, post black metal style. This leads us into the first track New Horizons, which starts with a huge doomy riff, and massive bellowing vocals. After this huge beginning, the song slowly morphs from doom to black metal, by the last few of minutes the song is all tremolo picked riffs and blast beats. 

The really clever thing about this album is how well the transitions between different styles are handled. This is a band that really understands dynamics and how to build intensity, but also how to bring a song back down again, the ebb and flow of this album is fantastic. Title track Nanoångström goes in the opposite direction to New Horizons; starting with a section that has an atmospheric black metal feel to it, before slowing down and introducing a post black metal feel, before this then morphs into a slower, almost stoner doom feel, that then has chanted vocals and a melody lead guitar part. All in 1 song, and it all works effortlessly. Each part is a natural progression, this is songwriting at it’s best. All the tracks on offer here have this beautiful shifting of mood and style that works so well, it’s experimental, but it’s an experiment that is insanely successful. Nanoångström is a brilliant doom/black metal album. I liked it the first time I listened to it, and it has grown on me with every listen. It’s beautiful and nuanced, massively heavy, intense and ferocious, all in one album. Highly recommended! 9/10

Leeched: You Took The Sun When You Left (Prosthetic Records)
Mancunian three piece Leeched have been going since early 2017. This is their first album, coming less than a year after an EP called Nothing Will Grow From The Rotten Ground. Leeched sound is mainly hardcore, but with elements of sludge and maybe a little black metal (although the black metal is more in the sound and attitude, rather than in any more obvious way). You Took The Sun When You Left is a 34 minute blast of rage and anger, a massively violent rampage of an album. There are slower parts to this album, but don’t expect any letup from the anger or violence, the slow parts are every bit as heavy and intense as anything Eyehategod have produced. 

The band does seem to be happier to use slower parts than most hardcore bands, but they all fit with the faster material, the slow parts aren’t respite, this isn’t a breathing space. The slow parts batter the listener into submission. The production job on this album is fantastic. In the sense that this is a very aggressive, nasty production job. The guitars sound viscous and the rhythm section is so fucking heavy. In places the production is a little like Dragged Into Sunlight, or Nails. In fact this is one of the most incendiary hardcore albums I’ve heard since Nail’s Abandon All Life. This album has a unique feel to it, the mixing of slow and fast, whilst not loosing any intensity is rare, and these guys pull it off brilliantly. Sublimely viscous, beautifully nasty. 8/10

Rebel Wizard: Voluptuous Worship Of Rapture And Response (Prosthetic Records)

Rebel Wizard is a 1 man project from Australian Bob Nekransov, who also has a hardcore project named after his surname. Rebel Wizard has been a very prolific beast releasing 7 EPs and 2 full length albums since 2015; Voluptuous Worship Of Rapture And Response, being the second album. Rebel Wizard seems to be an attempt to mix black metal and NWOBHM/power metal. Broadly the sound on offer here is musically NWOBHM/power metal, with vocals that are clearly supposed to be black metal in style. Occasionally the intensity and speed of the music increases to reach a sound that is basically messy thrash, possibly an attempt at black thrash. There aren’t any blast-beats or tremolo picking which you would usually expect from black metal. The vocals are harsh and shrill, and are recorded in a way that is supposed to emulate the sound of early low-fi black metal. However, that effect has been achieved by putting a constant hum and white noise on the vocals, so the vocals don’t really sound like early black metal, they just sound crap. 

The other problem with this, is that she same technique has not been used on the music, which has a slightly noisy, modern production to it. This leads to a feeling that the vocals don’t really fit with the music. This album seems to be an attempt at humour. All the songs have ridiculously long names, that give the impression of trying to satirise the black metal scene. To be honest the only one that works is the track Drunk On The Wizdom Of Unicorn Semen, which I will admit to finding amusing. The rest are just long and unwieldy, Mother Nature, Oh My Sweet Mistress, Showed Me The Other Worlds and It Was Just Fallacy, ok it’s very long, but I wouldn’t really call it funny. The vocals don’t really help, as you can’t hear any actual words, so there's no way they can add to the laughs on offer. You just have to find not very good power metal with shit, unintelligible vocals funny, and I don’t. I realise, I’m probably coming across as a poe faced, humourless idiot, who needs to lighten up, and grow a sense of humour.

After all isn’t funny subjective? However, I do think I’m allowed to have an opinion on this for one very important reason. I’m a standup comedian. I gig a lot, and also promote and MC comedy gigs. And in my opinion, this is painfully unfunny. What this reminds me of, is a comedian trying new material at an open mic night. Funny is so subjective, when you write it, you don’t know if it’s actually funny till you’ve tried it out in front of an audience. Sometimes it works, you get big laughs, sometimes you die on your arse. And quite often, you don’t know why some bits work and some bits don’t, you keep doing the bits that work, and dump the ones that don’t. This is material that should be dumped. I’m sure when Bob told his mates down the pub what he was planning they thought it was hilarious. 

Bad power metal with loads of mediocre solos (and there are so many, very generic solos, which are also far too high in the mix), terrible vocals and overlong, not overly funny song titles, probably sounds amazingly funny when you’re pissed down the pub, his friends probably thought the idea was ripping! But this is material that just doesn’t work, and needs to be dropped. The fact that this project has produced 7 EPs and 2 albums in 3 years might be a clue to the lack of quality here. Maybe if Bob had only made one Rebel Wizard album in that time he might have made one good album rather than lots of fairly mediocre music. Then again, maybe he should stick to hardcore. 2/10

Wednesday 29 August 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Metal Night At The Green Rooms (Live Review By Alex)

Metal Night At The Green Rooms, The Green Rooms Treforest

The Green Rooms – a tiny rehearsal space hidden away in Treforest industrial estate, dedicated to the promotion of small bands and artists – is reopen and under the new management of, friends of Musipedia Of Metal, Incursion! So what better excuse for a metal night, as one of the first gigs to kick-start the new era! The three bands on tonight draw a small yet dedicated audience. Nearly everyone is a regular to the exciting live music scene in South Wales!

Sepulchre (7) kick off proceedings. The room is still sparse for audience members at this point and the evening is still early, yet the band has a plan to get us hyped! ‘’You lot could do with a sugar rush’’ asserts singer/guitarist Darren as he chucks ‘round sugary sweets. While the image of grown adults stood around listening to metal while chomping on blue-tongue painter’s sweets may have appeared comical to anyone just walking in, the humour of the situation does not detract from the music. Here is some aggressive Slayer-esque thrash, low on the tuning yet high on the intensity! Tinged with hardcore punk, vocals are shouted against frantic riffs and beats, before solos ridden with screechy distortion powerfully cut through the air. Admittedly, I was taken aback at first, yet whether it was the sugar or the metal, the opening band soon had me and a few more moshing!

Beneath The Divine (9) is next in line to impress. By now the room has filled out a little more and its dark outside. Certainly, this calls for some on stage aesthetics. The Green Rooms has been decked out with some nice lighting effects since last time I was here, making for a nice touch. An overzealous smoke machine, while being in keeping with the dark and mysterious sound of the second band, becomes something of a problem as the smoke quickly begins to become a domineering presence in the tiny performance room. Again though, nothing is going to stop anyone enjoying the music! We are presented with a doomier, bluesier, more melodic type of rock, imbued with commanding choruses’ and hooks, yet also excellently utilizing suspense and tension to its advantage. Some of the best moments come in the guitar soloing where the music takes on a distinctly classic rock feel! For the half an hour they have to play, they certainly make an impression!

Finally, Hyperion (7) takes the stage. Contrasting melody and aggression, and slow introspection with visceral grooving, theirs’ is certainly a more unique and complex take on the traditional metal. At times, it seems like the sound systems can’t keep up with the ambitious singing exchanges between members with a large amount of the vocals also lost on the sonic greatness: a point conceded by the musicians themselves when they joke’ ’we aren’t usually this bad’’. We don’t think they are bad at all, their phenomenal playing and strong onstage – or in a lot of cases, offstage – presence, firmly making up for any small production discrepancies I happen to have as a writer. Audience members are happy to lend their support as well, as the room reaches the most energetic it has seemed all night a fun and loud way to signal the re-opening of the Green Rooms!

Funny Business: Funny Fuel Review By Paul H

Funny Fuel,1st Anniversary Show at Fuel Rock Club

Comedy is a challenging business. A saturated market, with everyone convinced that they can do what Michael McIntyre can do and make a fortune from being funny. And I don’t think he’s that good. With TV shows always pushing the so called ‘cream’, it’s unsurprising that at the lower end of the scale, thousands slog away trying for the break, or maybe sometimes, just doing it because they enjoy entertaining. I think they are all nuts. I can’t think of anything more terrifying than trying to make people laugh on tap. So full marks to fellow Musipedia scribe and all round excellent human being Paul Scoble who has been running Funny Fuel for one year. Yes, that’s 12 months of comedy in Cardiff’s premier rock bar. With free entry and a range of talent that ranges from side splittingly funny to stunning in its hopeless naivety, Paul has cajoled and bullied (no, Paul wouldn’t do that) a range of acts to perform. With free entry, and a relaxed atmosphere, it’s an evening that can be and should be attended.

I’m embarrassed to admit that this show was my first time at Funny Fuel. It won’t be my last. Five acts, six if you count Paul’s musings as host, over two and a half hours. Great stuff. So, who did we see and what did we find out? Well, opening the evening was James Dunn (7), a porky funster from Newport who started strongly, with some decent material, before fading on the last few minutes. To be fair to James, he was given a lengthy opening slot and maintained the laughter for most of his set. After a brief break, the hysterical Fazil Darren (8) deservedly brought applause and belly laughs galore with his set. Full of crappy old jokes which were delivered in a zany style. Using several props, including a bed of nails, this was a routine which had clearly taken much thought, and which was worth attending for on its own. I haven’t laughed so much for ages. Not so much for the next two slots. Luke Courtman (4), a local lad was delivering only his third set and was gripped by nerves, his set punctuated by swear words as he tried in vain to remember his routine. Luckily the poor bastard only had a few minutes and he was relieved to be able to get off the stage. Practice makes perfect. The final support was Penny Matthews (6), who had potential and some promising material, albeit rough around the edges. Penny soldiered through her set, with the nerves again evident.

However, the headliner made the evening fully worthwhile. Darren Masterton’s Return of the Seagull (9) was every bit as bizarre as Paul had promised. Dressed as a seagull in a smoking jacket, Masterton’s Geordie accent somehow fitted perfectly as his 30-minute slot whizzed by. His ability to handle an incredibly annoying and not very good heckler was applauded and having put up with “creepy Al” for 10 minutes or so, finally snapped and told him quite correctly to fuck off. He was joined by most of the audience and the atmosphere was much improved when “creepy Al” did indeed crawl back to the bar. An absolute tosser with no social awareness (Al not Darren). With plenty of improvisation and deviations from his set, Masterton’s set was genuinely funny if slightly disturbing at times.

I would recommend a night out at Funny Fuel. Paul works very hard to keep it running, and as is usual in comedy, the slightly chaotic approach is part of the attraction. The next event is planned for September, so check Facebook for details and get along to enjoy an evening of free and funny entertainment.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Reviews: Alice In Chains, Monster Truck, The Magpie Salute, Federal Charm (Reviews By Paul H)

Alice In Chains: Rainier Fog (BMG)

The return of Alice In Chains with vocalist and rhythm guitarist William DuVall in 2009 was a real highlight for me. Black Gives Way To Blue was a beautifully crafted release and their subsequent live shows were fabulous. 2013 saw The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, an underrated album which contains some solid heavy metal. However, in Rainier Fog, the band has surpassed their previous efforts by some margin. The duel singing of Duvall and Jerry Cantrell works magnificently, and at times it’s hard to establish where one finishes and the other starts. Cantrell is an undervalued vocalist; his mournful style fits the sound superbly. The One You Know opens the album, a rip-roaring track that flexes some AIC muscle, hard riffs and thumping rhythm section a plenty. Rainier Fog, a tribute to the Seattle music scene and a descriptor of the mist from Mount Rainier, a volcano that overlooks the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area follows; a powerful, emotional track full of soaring guitar.
Fly decelerates the rampant pace, acoustic style pitched elegantly to allow Duvall’s vocals to lead, whilst Cantrell provides some sublime lead guitar work.

Partially recorded at Studio X in Seattle, where Alice In Chains, the last work with Layne Staley was made in 1995, and with Nick Raskulinecz at the helm for the third time, Rainier Fog is a polished piece of work, yet retains the heaviness that has always set AIC apart from many of their peers in the Grunge scene. The slab dragging heavy Drone sees former Queensryche guitarist Chris DeGarmo make an appearance on acoustic guitar, transporting the listener back to their 1990s prime. This continues with So Far Under, another crushing piece. Never Fade, a driving piece of hard rock, is a tribute to Duvall’s Grandmother, but also references Staley and the late Chris Cornell. The album closes with the epic All I Am, a seven-minute track which allows Cantrell, Duvall, Sean Kinney and Mike Inez to close the album in superb style, the Zeppelin-esque elements demonstrating the quality of a band which has nothing to prove. Rainier Fog is a superb release, certainly the best album with Duvall and a contender for top ten. 9/10

Monster Truck: True Rockers (Mascot Records)

As a live force, Canadian quartet Monster Truck have few equals. Their rampant set in the pouring rain at 2017’s Steelhouse Festival was a highlight and the band riff hard and loud at every opportunity. True Rockers is their third album, following 2016’s Sittin’ Heavy and it is a solid, heavy rock album that gets the head nodding and the foot tapping. Anthemic songs from start to finish, there is little subtlety involved here; it’s heads down riffarama with Brandon Bliss adding huge chunks of Hammond organ and keyboards to provide melody and appropriate layers. Dee Snider drops in on the opening title track, a true fist pumper, and the pace rarely slows.

Chanting the chorus is a key element of the Monster Truck delivery, evidenced on Thundertruck and the Shinedown style Evolution. Totally suited to the Black Stone Cherry crowd, it’s no surprise that these guys are part of the American rockers UK tour later this year. Jon Harvey’s vocals remain gritty but full of warmth, whilst the guitar work of Jeremy Widerman once again is comfortably ensconced within the overall Monster Truck sound. A bit of the blues sneaks in from time to time; the soulful Devil Don’t Care being the obvious standout tune. If you fancy some clean, routine but thoroughly enjoyable hard rock, check out True Rockers. 7/10

The Magpie Salute: High Water I (Provogue Records)

Rich Robinson is undoubtedly a legend; the guitarist with one of the most incredible and incendiary bands of all time, The Black Crowes, who shifted over 30 million albums during their career. Having finally split for good with brother Chris in 2015, Robinson put together the first collective The Magpie Salute for a one-off gig in 2016. The band, with ten members in all, eventually played many more gigs, delivering a range of covers, Black Crowes tracks and the odd original tune. The band has now slimmed to a six-piece, featuring former Crowes Marc Ford on guitar and bassist Sven Pipien, alongside Matt Slocum on keyboards, drummer Joe Magistro and vocalist John Hogg. High Water I is the debut studio release and it is a sublime piece of Americana, mixing blues, rock, Southern swagger and all stations in between. 48 minutes which contains commentary on modern politics, broken relationships and anger at the way the banking world rules everything.

Hogg’s drawl is perfect, whilst the guitar work is understated, subtle and magnificent. Take It All combines some stunning slide work and Slocum’s organic keyboard work; the title track is stunning whilst Colourblind looks at Hogg’s upbringing in London, being of mixed race origin. There is the obvious Crowes edge on the guitar work, whilst there is plenty of Tom Petty evident on Walk On Water. The countryside is not neglected with You Found Me demonstrating where The Temperance Movement’s draw their influences from. This is an album that becomes more delightful with every play. The band has recently announced dates in the UK in December. That should be a beautiful occasion. 8/10

Federal Charm: Passenger (Wire-Sound)

The third album from Federal Charm, a four-piece from Manchester, Passenger is a delicate yet robust release that follows the quality of Rival Sons in every way. Soaked blues with a delta style, Federal Charm sway and swagger their way through 11 tracks which are thoroughly absorbing. New vocalist Tom Guyer has a smashing voice, moderating his style to suit each track. First single Choke, the bombastic Can’t Rule Me and the stomping Swing Sinner which kicks the album off all allow Guyer time to show his quality. Guitarist and founder member Paul Bowe uses deliciously licks to enhance the tracks, adding layers to some of the light touch keyboard work. Federal Charm are co-headlining a UK tour in a few weeks with The Bad Flowers and Those Damn Crows. If you enjoy some quality 70s tinged rock, with the fusion of Zeppelin, Free and bad Company then you will appreciate Passenger. 8/10

Monday 27 August 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Graham Bonnet Band (Live Review By Paul H)

Graham Bonnet Band, Muni Arts Centre, Pontypridd

A three-band tour that is covering the length and breadth of the UK now. Full marks to all the bands whose energy belied the fact that they’d played at The Button Factory in Dublin 24 hours earlier. Whether I like the band or not, touring is bloody hard work. This tour has been in full swing for over a fortnight, so it would be expected that any initial creases had been ironed out.

This certainly was the case for Wolverhampton hard rockers Gin Annie (6) whose stage show was a lively, enthusiastic affair in front of what can only be called a sparse crowd. If there were 30 people in the venue when they took the stage I’d be amazed. Still, Gin Annie ploughed straight into their set, and provided 30 minutes of generic hard rock, very much in the mould of Black Stone Cherry. The band are tight, they play well but the music is just a little bland for my tastes. New single Chains was routine, but the enthusiasm of guitarists Bri and Byron was warming, with lead guitarist Bri throwing all kinds of shapes. Vocalist Dave has a strong enough voice and the crowd, with one punter losing his shit from the off, responded with huge applause. It comes as no surprise to see the band are playing at Planet Rockstock this winter, where I am sure they will earn many new fans.

A week earlier I’d seen Derby based Doomsday Outlaw (8) kick out the jams at Bloodstock Open Air, where their bluesy stomping hard rock had been a decent break from the thunderous death and black metal that had filled the air. I knew that I liked this band live and once again they didn’t disappoint with a swaggering 40 minutes of tracks from their latest release Hard Times and a smattering from their debut album Suffer More. Vocalist Phil Poole swirls around the stage like a bastard mutation of Jarvis Cocker and Robert Plant, with a voice to match. Hard Times, Break You and Bring It On Home all hit the right spot with the talented Stephen Broughton demonstrated some demon slide guitar playing as well as some blistering lead work. His energy increased as the set progressed and by the end he could well have exploded, such was the power. Drummer John ‘Ironfoot’ Willis also impressed, his solid drumming only eclipsed by his magnificent beard. Having seen these guys play twice in a week, I can thoroughly recommend them. Deep, soulful hard rock with a stage performance to match.

A few weeks ago, I was effusive in my praise of The Graham Bonnet Band’s (7) latest release, Meanwhile, Back In The Garage. A superb album crammed full of quality hard rock songs and Bonnet’s voice on top form. So, it was incredibly disappointing to only get one track from the album throughout an evening which was saturated by tracks from Bonnet’s past. Night Games was inevitable, but the numerous Alcatrazz songs, a couple from MSG, albeit a cracking Desert Song, and the mandatory Rainbow tracks from Down To Earth. Hell, he even did a couple of tracks from Impellitteri’s back catalogue, surely not something many want to hear. On stage, the band were a shambles at times, uncoordinated and over reliant on the Mac for the start of songs. Whilst the old school members of the audience, which may have swollen to around 100 by now, were in full voice, the set list was a let-down, as I was really looking forward to some of the new songs. Bonnet still possesses a killer voice, and for a man in his early 70s you can’t fault him for looking after his vocal chords superbly.

Supported by a decent band with his current flame Beth Ami Heavenstone on bass and sour looks (particularly when Bonnet shouts at her, “look at me when I’m talking to you” … not alright Graham), original Alcatrazz keyboard player Jimmy Waldo, Yngwie Malmsteen wanna be Kurt James on guitar (and double sunglasses!) and drummer Marck Benquechea, there was much potential to pull out a stunning show. Alas, it wasn’t to be, with the inter-song changeovers clunky, Bonnet’s narrative somewhat cabaret in style and his Tony Blackburn style delivery perhaps justification of the small crowd. Bonnet has always been somewhat of an enigma to me. ‘Legend’ is probably over-hyping the man, whose superb voice is always tempered by some slightly bizarre behavioural traits. Sadly, I doubt I’ll be rushing back to see him again.

Sunday 26 August 2018

Reviews: The Guess Who, Monte Pittman, Ethernity

The Guess Who: The Future Is What It Used To Be (Cleopatra Records)

Probably best known as the band that recorded American Woman that featured Randy Bachman later of Bachman Turner Overdrive, they have been playing live ever since 1965 with a few gaps of course, but this marks their first studio album in 20 years! So is it any good, well it's definitely what I'd call a classic rock record When We Were Young opens things with a poppy bluesy glam number with Runnin Blind having the parping sax of Leonard Shaw bring to mind acts like Mott The Hoople. Membership wise the recording line up is the current touring line up: Garry Peterson (drums, vocals), Derek Sharp  (lead vocals, guitar, piano), Will E. (guitar, harp, vocals), Leonard Shaw (keyboards, flute, sax, vocals), and Rudy Sarzo (bass, vocals), they have been together in this formation since 2016 but the album features guest appearances from Tommy Shaw (Styx) on vocals, Brent Fitz (Slash, Gene Simmons) percussion, Jim Kale (Guess Who founding member) and Michael Devin (Whitesnake) on bass guitar.

Back to the music and The Guess Who have just brought their 60's sound into 2018. They have some psych on Give It A Try, Beatlesy vibes on Playin On The Radio and of course some ballads Haunted being the best but mostly the record is the same kind of thing The Guess Who have always been good at, bluesy rock that's about a natural sounding as possible, no big production or layers of synths just simple instrumentation and old-fashioned songwriting. There's nothing flashy on The Future Is What It Used To Be and yeah it's a bit bland at times but the record has competent rock. 7/10

Monte Pittman: Between The Space (Electric) (Metal Blade)

Monte Pittman has had pretty eclectic career as a guitarist being both a member of Prong and the guitarist for Madonna, he’s toured the world, played with the biggest and brightest, as well as also having a long running solo career, Pittman is a philanthropist, guitarist, songwriter and singer, so you won’t expect him to do anything by halves and on this most recent solo records he’s recorded two separate albums that fit together as two halves, Better Or Worse is an all acoustic record but Between The Space hits between the eyes with metallic riffs and fury, the crunchy Evidence kicks off the record with 90’s metal riffs and virtuoso soloing that moves into the Prong-like thrash of Ominous/Hope. It’s pretty standard groove driven metal stuck in the late-90’s early 2000’s style of low riffs and chunky riffage. If you’re a fan of Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam or even Prong then you’ll lap this up, it works well as a counterpoint to the acoustic record reviewed below but on its own it’s just ok. 6/10

Monte Pittman: Better Or Worse (Acoustic) (Metal Blade)

As well as the electric offering reviewed above Monte has released an 8 track acoustic record Better Or Worse an album that has heavy lyrics but soft musicality, it’s meant to be a polar opposite to Between The Space dealing with being attached to something and also being unattached, it’s a grower with the title track the darkest of the songs here due to its stripped back emotion, Whose Side Are You On? Has a delicate beauty to it and as the record progresses the songs build into more musically dense numbers with the Torchbearer having a heavy electric final third and military drum pattern, which leads into the unsettling Witch Trials. This acoustic album gives a new side to Pittman’s performance his voice becomes Bono-esque and his songs seem more personal here, as a juxtaposition to Between The Space it’s ideal but it holds its own as separate piece. 7/10

Ethernity: The Human Race Extinction (AFM)

The Human Race Extinction is the second album from Belgian prog metal sextet and in the style of Symphony X and Evergrey it's emotional, heavyweight music with buzzing electronics in conjunction with the modern metallic riffs make tracks like Mechanical Life really shine as Julie Colin belts out the dystopian lyrics that make up this concept album as the band of Julien Spreutels (keyboards), Nicolas Spreutels (drums), Francesco Mattei (lead guitar), François Spreutels (bass) and Thomas Henry (guitar) supply the cinematic soundscapes which is bolstered by the mix and mastering skills of DGM guitarist Simone Mularoni. The conceptual nature of this record is quite dark and gloomy (it's about extinction after all) but there are glimmers of light but with the thick djent riffs driving the majority of the record it never strays far from the dense progressive metal sound. It's a long record (14 tracks) but it's modern progressive metal with Ethernity adding their own take on  well worn sound. 7/10

Saturday 25 August 2018

Reviews: Mantar, Omnium Gatherum, A Forest Of Stars, Malevolent Creation (Reviews By Paul H)

Mantar: The Modern Art Of Setting Ablaze (Nuclear Blast)

For a two-piece the power that the German/Turkish duo of Mantar create is jaw dropping. Huge crashing riffs, blasting beats and a guttural vocal performance that leaves you reaching for the Strepsils. This is the third release from Erinc Sakarya (drums/vocals) and Hanno Klanhardt (guitars/vocals) and it ramps up the pace from early on. I’m vaguely familiar with their sound but The Modern Art Of Setting Ablaze is certainly a heavy beast of an album; the sludgy industrial blackened metal which they produce is certainly something to bang the head to. Obey The Obscene could easily feature on new releases by Combichrist, The Prodigy or Marilyn Manson, such is the infectious beat the duo generate. With some infectious, almost dance beats underpinning huge crushing riffs and wave after wave of thundering drum beats, this is an album that mixes Rob Zombie with the cement mixer heaviness of Crowbar. Snarling, angry and yet at times beguiling, I’m now a little annoyed I missed the band at BOA. 8/10

Omnium Gatherum: The Burning Cold (Century Media)

When we talk of epic pieces of work, we often exaggerate, using the term far too loosely. However, when this album arrived for review, I was intrigued. I knew that the band were Finnish, I knew that they’d been around for some time, although 1996 was a little longer than I’d believed, and I knew that they combined a mix of melody and death metal in an interesting combination. The Burning Cold surpassed all my expectations; a classic slice combining bone crushing metal with some AOR melodies which hit at the heartstrings. As original member, guitarist and main songwriter Markus Vanhala referred to the band: “AOR melodies meet the growling cookie monster”. Comparisons with their countrymen Amorphis is inevitable, although I would wager that the melody that underpins The Burning Cold is on a par with the Finns latest, the fabulous Queen Of Time. New drummer Tuomo Latvala makes his Omnium debut here and supplies a solid foundation for the band. The guitar work of Vanhala and Joonas Koto is sublime, whilst keyboard player Aapo Koivisto adds perfect layers and harmonies to add depth and melody.

The progressive side of the band is never far away, with the beautiful Rest In Your Heart, Be The Sky and penultimate track Planet Scale all crafted with care. The album focuses on two themes; the first on great human tragedies that happen all around us, whilst the second theme considers the human emotion condition, why we fear death so much and the impact our emotions can have on us. With such raw subject matter, it’s unsurprising that this is an emotional rollercoaster. However, all this talk of emotion doesn’t allow the intensity and heaviness to drop and there are times, such as the ferocious battering on The Fearless Entity where Omnium Gatherum really let loose with their death metal roots, vocalist Jukka Pelkonen’s guttural roar flawless. The Burning Cold is the band’s eighth album, and it is stunning. Complex, intricate, delicate and yet powerful and base at times. A piece of art which requires multiple listens to absorb. This is a faultless album and when Vanhala states that his songwriting has risen to a new level, who are we to challenge. Quite magnificent. 10/10

A Forest Of Stars: Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes (Prophecy Productions)

The star is very much in the ascendency for A Forest Of Stars. The Leeds based band have been delivering their ghostly black metal since 2007 and Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes follows on from 2015’s Beware The Sword You Cannot See. With the band very much focused on the mixture of black metal, folk, psychedelia and ambient, this release takes their level up a notch, with lengthy, meandering and chaotic tracks hypnotic in their effect. Take Tombward Bound for example; crazy blast beats, cascading lines which then transcend into a calming Opeth style middle section before the synths slowly rebuild the atmosphere. 

The desperate vocals of Mister Curse and the haunting vocal of Katheryne, Queen Of Ghosts merging with elements of Pink Floyd before the blistering black metal takes control once more. Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes is a captivating album, intricate, subtle, delicate and rampant, with the changing passages hooking the listener and enveloping you into the middle of the carnage. With the band having played a UK tour, Bloodstock and on the list for a good slot at Damnation in November, this is a fantastic album that demanded repeat listens. 8/10

Malevolent Creation: The Ten Commandments (Roadrunner Records)

With the recent untimely death of original vocalist Brett Hoffman, the chance to reflect on Malevolent Creation’s stunning debut album seemed apt. Originally released in 1991, this album contains ten tracks of thrashy death metal which remains as brutally impressive today as it did all those years ago. The opening crushing riffs of Memorial Arrangements, with its grim condemnation to rot forever, merge into the thunderous Premature Burial, Mark Simpson’s blasting drumming underpinning the entire album. It was here that Hoffman opens the snarling visceral vocals which would forever be a blueprint in the world of death metal. 

With Phil Fasciana and Jeff Juszkiewcz trading monstrously heavy riffs and the bludgeoning bass lines of Jason Blackowicz all in the metal pot, The Ten Commandments is an all-time classic of the genre and the opening salvo for a band who are still delivering quality death metal. Tracks such as the gnarly Multiple Stab Wounds, Impaled Existence with its undercurrent of disturbing aggression, the groove of Sacrificial Annihilation and the closing anthem Malevolent Creation all remain legendary tracks 27 years later. A must have album. 9/10

Friday 24 August 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: BMF 666 Legions Charity Event For S.O.P.H.I.E (Live Review By Paul H)

BMF Metal Forum Charity Fundraising Evening, Fuel Rock Club

Organised by two of the BMF Metal 666 Forum administrators, Craig Preece and Jenny Lou, this was a post-Bloodstock event with the sole aim of raising extra funds for The Sophie Lancaster Foundation; a worthwhile cause which we all support. Four bands gave their time and my understanding is that over £175 was raised. A grand effort less than a week after the Bloodstock Open Air Festival had concluded.

A busy city centre but as openers Crainial Separation (8) kicked off the evening with their usual brutal death metal, there were few punters within the darkened stage area. Even though Ray, Chris and Sam had destroyed the Jagermeister Stage at Bloodstock seven days earlier, the guys showed little signs of fatigue or arrogance and once again ploughed through their catalogue with the usual gnarly panache. Maintaining enthusiasm after such a momentous occasion was challenging but credit to Cranial Separation who delivered their set with as much enthusiasm as they had a week before. Time to now expand the repertoire and kick on to the next level.

Manchester black metal outfit Deus Mori (7) were next and a new one to me. All credit to the band who had made the effort to travel a long way for this event. Their snarling black metal was greeted with enthusiasm by the slightly larger crowd. Black metal done well is sublime, black metal done poorly is dreadful and Deus Mori sit somewhere towards the former. Their set improved as it progressed, with the enthusiasm of the band impressive. I’d be interested to see these guys again if only to check out the ridiculous sight of the fringed bass player who looked more like he should be in The New York Dolls whilst the lead singer, Mr Dødsklokken I’ll have you know, looked more like an angry panda and as anyone knows, pandas suck.

Why The Crimson Brigade (4) are so highly thought of is beyond me. Their stage outfits were borderline drag queen, their music flooded with backing effects including drum machine and synths, and to be honest, it was difficult to establish if this was a karaoke band. The two members who did camp it up on stage gave it their all, swaggering around the stage but although I’ll give them full marks for effort, I’ll need to be convinced at another viewing.

With Fuel now their second home, Agrona (9) are now a well-oiled machine (And often very well oiled!) but with the weight of their superb debut album now fully behind them, they are also now turning in stellar performances whilst making it look supremely easy. Frontman Taranis commands the crowd from the front of the pit, effortlessly roaring his way through a set which is now crammed with solid tunes. The rest of the band are focused and intense, with Kreulon making a rare foray off the stage as the heat intensified. A special guest in the shape of steve Jenkins, the lead singer of Democratus added heft to Storms End and as the band thundered through to their final song, once more it was a joy to watch a local band who are likely to blow the beer out of Beermagedon next weekend.

A superb cause, a chance to catch up with some old and new friends, and all for the princely sum of £5. Fuel should have been rammed. It wasn’t. And that is something we need to address. Other than that, a great night and the perfect pick up after BOA.

Thursday 23 August 2018

Reviews: The Spirit, Black Tusk, Unanimated, Throat, Iron Void (Reviews By Paul S)

The Spirit: Sounds From The Vortex (Nuclear Blast)

Based in Saarbrucken in Germany, The Spirit are a four piece made up of people who only have initials (MT - Vocals / Guitar, AK - Guitar, AT - Bass, MS - Drums). They’ve been active since 2015, and Sounds From The Vortex is their first album. There is a massive elephant in the room with this album, so lets get it out of the way strait away. Sounds From The Vortex is very, very similar to Dissection/Watain. The album is 100% in the style of melodic black metal that Dissection originated, and Watain perfected. There are Dissection / Watainisms all over this album. The intro to the album (Sounds From The Vortex), is very similar to the intro to Dissections album Storm Of Lights Bane (At The Fathomless Depths). The verse of the song Cosmic Fear is very similar to the verse of Watain’s Malfietor. But, after three or four listens this becomes less of a problem.

The familiarity of the parts that sound like Dissection/Watain, jump out at when you first listen to the album, once you’ve listened to it a few times, the other parts become more important. You realise that the album does have a significant amount of depth to it, and contains a lot of originality. The real strength of this album is the songwriting. The six songs on offer here are very well written, and after a few listens, will get into your head. The riffs are very memorable, you’ll be humming them for days. Cross The Bridge To Eternity is a great song, with real drive to it, I doubt any metal fan can listen to it without banging their head. Illuminate The Night Sky has a chorus the size of, well, the sky. The Spirit are a band that understand dynamics as well, the way the songs build to huge choruses, is something that a lot of black metal bands could learn from. 

Sounds From The Vortex is a great album. Once you get past the similarity of style to Dissection/Watain, you’ll discover a fantastic album, of depth, great songwriting, and an innate musical sensibility, I imagine people will be listening to the album for years to come. And, let's face it, ‘True’ orthodox black metal has many, many bands who sound the same. Maybe the skill required to produce this style of black metal has lessened the number of bands who will attempt it, so when a band like The Spirit come along, they are immediately compared to the two best known exponents. Probably best to judge the album on it’s own merits. Highly recommended for fans of melodic black metal. Fantastic piece of work. 8/10

Black Tusk: TCBT  (Season Of Mist)

TCBT can’t have been an easy album to make. This is the first album to be recorded since the death of long term bassist Jonathon Athon, who died in a motorcycle accident shortly after recording his bass parts of Black Tusk’s last album Pillars Of Ash. The band decided to keep going after the death of their bandmate, and recruited Corey Barhorst (ex - Kylesa). The albums title is an acronym for Taking Care Of Black Tusk, a clear indication of situation the band is in. Black Tusk refer to their sound as Swamp Metal. To my ear, their sound is loose, punky hardcore, that has grown out of a more sludgy template. This mixing of sounds, not quite hardcore, not quite sludge has always made Black Tusk an interesting, original beast. There is a similarity with Eyehategod’s more hardcore tracks, but with a looser feel to it. The band has also used, what sounds to me like a hammond organ on a lot of tracks, which really gives the material an original feel, that you won’t find on any other sludge, hardcore or punk album.

 In fact the use of keys on this album has made me wonder why other punk/hardcore bands don’t use them. The track Scalped sounds huge due to this. Ghosts Roam has a really spooky atmosphere brought about by the use of keyboards as well. It gives the songs it’s used on a huge amount of depth, it really makes the riffs sound colossal. The songs on the album are really good, well written, and this album has some great choruses on them. You will find yourself singing them after a few listens. The album also has a great line in tuneful riffs, very aggressive but beautifully tuneful as well. All three members of the band sing on the album, giving an interesting mix of different voices. The album if brought to an end by the storming Burn The Stars, probably the fastest track on the album, and it’s a great way to end this cracking album. Black Tusk might be Taking Care Of Black Tusk with this album, but they have also taken care of their fans with this excellent piece of Swamp Metal. Highly Recommended. 8/10

Unanimated: Annihilation (Century Media)

Unanimated are a five piece from Stockholm, Sweden. The band formed in 1988, were active until 1996 when they went on hiatus until 2007. The band has produced 3 albums in that time 2 before the hiatus, and 1 since reforming. Annihilation is the first release since the last album, 2009’s In The Light Of Darkness. This EP features 4 tracks of tuneful melodic orthodox black metal. Opening track Adversarial Fire is a ferocious beginning to the EP, blasting into a riff every bit as feral as anything Tsjuder or Marduk have produced, before bringing slower, more thoughtful parts into the song. Unanimated have a decent degree of depth and maturity to their sound, they aren’t afraid to slow things down, or introduce some melody. The whole EP has a feel of a band who know what they are doing, and are comfortable with their sound. The third track on the EP, Fire Of Obliteration is mainly acoustic and brooding, and in many ways is an intro to the title, and best track on the EP Annihilation, a six minute blast that brings Necrophobic, MGLA or Watain to mind, and is a great finale to the EP. Annihilation is a great little EP. I’ve really enjoyed listening to it, and will now have a listen to the bands older work. Well worth checking out! 7/10

Throat: Bareback (Svart Records)

Finnish four piece Throat have been going since 2009. In that time they have made one album, 2013’s Manhole, Three EP’s and seven splits. So, what have Throat served up for us on their second full length? Well, we get 8 tracks of original, quite experimental alternative rock. You can hear a lot of different influences on Bareback. Helmet, Tad, The Pixies, maybe a little bit of grunge, and early nineties alternative rock like Jane's Addiction. The band aren’t averse to a little noise as well. The last couple of minutes of opening track Safe Unsound descend into an industrial soundscape that could have been recorded in a foundry. 

The track Shortage (Version) is a very industrial sounding electronic track, that forms a brooding stopgap in the centre of the album. Although, what this album does mostly is ROCK. Second track No Hard Shoulder has a main riff and chorus that could have come off Monster Magnet’s Powertrip album. The fast, punky track Bone Strike is a fantastic beast of a song with a great chorus, which is something it shares with most of the album, Throat can really write a great chorus, that gets into your head and won’t go away. The album is brought to an end by one of the best songs on the album the uptempo and very tuneful Maritime, which is a beautifully satisfying way to end Bareback. The album is well played and produced throughout. It sounds like an album where the songs have a lot of time spent on them, so they work as songs, and the experimental touches have been brought in organically.

The more interesting, left field elements have come about because that was the best way to develop the songs, not because they have decided to be experimental. Bareback is a great album. Well written and played. I’ve mentioned a lot of other bands in this review as a way to get over what this album sounds like. But, in many ways Throat have managed to produce a very original, inventive album. Yes, you can hear their influences, but by being experimental and inventive, they have produced something that is truly unique. 8/10

Iron Void: Excalibur (Shadow Kingdom Records)

Iron Void formed in Wakefield in 1998, they broke up two years later, but after an eight year hiatus reformed in 2008. Excalibur is their third album since reforming, and the first album since 2015’s Doomsday. On Iron Void’s Facebook page it states that the band (Jonathon ‘Sealy’ Seal - Bass / Vocals, Steve Wilson - Guitar / Vocals, Richard Max - Drums) formed to make traditional doom metal in the vein of Black Sabbath, Pentagram and Saint Vitus. Well, mission accomplished. That statement is a perfect description of the album. If you looked up “traditional doom metal” in a dictionary, you’d find a picture of this album’s cover (if dictionaries had pictures or had definitions of phrases about musical genres). The riffs, choruses, lyrical content, vocals, guitar solo’s all conform to a traditional doom template, even the font the bands name is written in looks like the same font as the one Saint Vitus tends to use. 

This album could have come out in 1978. The lyrical content is even more old fashioned than the music, based around Arthurian legends, so lyrically it harks back to the 12th century. So, why should you care about an album that could have been released in 1978? A metal British Leyland? You should care, because this album is Fucking Amazing! Yes, it’s an old style of metal, but when it’s done THIS well, who cares if it’s an old style! The riffs are huge, the choruses are so good, so memorable, the solo’s are beautifully played and fit in well with, and add to the songs. As all the lyrics are about Arthurian legend, the album has a concept album feel to it, which gives it a pleasing ebb and flow. Due to the internet and digital technology, pretty much all music is available to anyone. This has led to bands made up of people in their early twenties, that sound like they have come from the early seventies. The whole concept of in fashion / old fashioned has gone out of the window, which is a great thing. There is simply no need to be current. There is nothing original or groundbreaking about this album; but when it is done this well, who cares. Excalibur is a fantastic piece of traditional doom metal, end of story. With riffs this good, who needs groundbreaking? 8/10.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

A View From A Muddy Field Part 2: Bloodstock 2018 (Live Review By Paul H, Stief, Nick & Matt)

Bloodstock 2018

Main Review: Paul H
Contributions By: StiefNickMatt where noted

Saturday 11th August

(Paul) Another early start for a quick check of The Brood (6) whose bombastic death metal was clearing the hangovers rather quickly. Heading for the Sophie Tent I paused to watch some of Nailed To Obscurity (7), a German five piece whose melancholic duel guitar and well composed songs caught the ear. Raimund Ennenga’s powerful clean vocals also appealed, and this is a band whose three full releases will be sought out. Kicking off proceedings in the Sophie Tent was a must-see band, Forgotten Remains (8) whose thrash and death metal proved very much to my liking. The Chesterfield based band played the New Blood Stage in 2015 and in Sam Marshall possessed one of the front men of the weekend; full of power and presence, he was impressive as the band delivered 30 minutes of ball crushing metal.

A short hop to the RJD Stage for another of my most anticipated bands of the weekend and once again I was not disappointed. The blistering ferocity of the outfit from Dallas, Texas, the mighty Power Trip (10). Having missed them with Trivium in April I was keen to ensure that I caught a full set from the band. Kicking any remaining fogginess into the early afternoon sky, vocalist Riley Gale cajoling and coercing the pit to work harder, faster and grow through every track. As well as a punishing Cro-Mags meets Exodus sound, the hooks that Power Trip exude snare and trap, pulling you in with the power of a tractor beam. A healthy setlist relied heavily on the magnificent Nightmare Logic, including the title track, Soul Sacrifice and the catchy as fuck Executioner’s Tax (Swing Of The Axe) which went down a storm.

Remaining at the RJD stage, Orden Ogan (8) had a huge job to follow the ballistics of Power Trip but the German power metallers coped admirably. A huge stage set, and backdrop suggested this is a band who play every set like a headline show and to be fair, this is how they approached their BOA debut. With three songs from latest album Gunman alongside four from other albums, the band wasted little time in getting down to business. Using duel guitars and bass pedals allowed Sebastian Levermann the freedom to charge around the stage in his full-length leather coat, punching the air and encouraging the sing-a-long from the healthy crowd. Some pyro and theatrics enhanced the set, well, it is power metal after all,and a rapturous ovation has hopefully encouraged the band to consider a return soon.

(Matt) After the slick Germanic metal of Orden Ogan on the mainstage it was over to the Sophie tent for some Irish groove with Dead Label (8) their slamming set saw the trio batter the amassed fans with heavy groove metal as they ripped through tracks from their debut album, having supported Machine Head and going on to support Devildriver after this show they have certainly honed their stagecraft to be an impressive metal machine. They had be building up their Wall Of Chaos on social media before this show and it didn't disappoint with most of the floor in Sophie stage descending into a massive pit as the two sides smashed into each other like a Hadron Collider of black t-shirts. Having built themselves to be a formidable force I hope we get some more Dead Label shows in the UK as the band are killer live. 

(Paul) Having returned to the VIP bar for a welcome beer, I returned to catch the second half of Greek Symphonic death metal legends Septicflesh (7). Seeing a band who belong in the dark in the middle of bright sunlight is always a challenge and it was difficult to get into the band’s set, but their orchestral death metal combined with the energy of Spiros Antoniou certainly increased the enjoyment. For a band close to 30 years in the business, maybe next time deserving of a headline slot in the Sophie Tent? Of course, there was only one place to be at 14:30 on Saturday and that was the Jagermeister Stage as South Wales third representatives, the death metal trio called Cranial Separation (9) took their turn. And what a turn. Lobbing dildos into the crowd at will, their crowd funding well spent, Ray, Chris and Sam grabbed the opportunity and blasted the crowd into oblivion. Getting Fucked With A Jackhammer in early was a blinding move, although I’m still disturbed by the memory of Democratus frontman Steve Jenkins swinging anal beads around with such grace and confidence. A massive reception and hopefully these guys, whose death metal is superbly impressive can keep the momentum to get on a bigger stage in future years.

In April 2018 it looked like Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn was on his last legs. He underwent heart surgery (a double heart by-pass no less!) but heading across to the RJD stage, there he was riffing the hell out of his guitar as Venom Inc (8) ploughed their way through a massive set of classic old school Venom, with a liberal dose of songs from last year’s Ave Satanas. Having seen the band earlier in the year, I knew that they possessed massive power and Mantas and Demolition Man (Tony Dolan) covered the whole of the stage as they put every ounce of energy into their show. With Jeramie Kling hammering away behind the skins, this was the real deal, rivalling much younger bands for effort, enthusiasm and sheer hunger. Black MetalWitching Hour and Die Hard are all legendary songs and the backbone of the early listening for many of the bands on the bill. Full respect to Venom Inc.

A visit to the New Blood Tent was rewarded by an opportunity to see some of the set from Northern Ireland MTTM winners Oracle (8), whose crushing metal and sheer power was encouraging and enjoyable. I’d like to see these guys again.

While Paul enjoyed reliving his youth as with Venom Inc I headed over to the Sophie stage for some modern prog metal as VOLA (8) played their brilliant blend of ambient influenced djent-like prog metal that harks back to classic prog acts while remaining in the now, bolstered by tremendous light show a crystal clear sound (something the Sophie tent excelled at this year) it was just a brief glimpse into why the Danish band are considered to be the future of prog, they were received well and were a refreshing alternative to the heavier bands they came between (Dead Label, Venom Inc, Combichrist and Conjurer who I unfortunately missed). In their own gig VOLA could really be a transcendent force so yet another band to watch out for.

(Stief) When the American aggrotech band Combichrist (8) were announced, you could hear the collective eyebrows being raised. However, when the first beats of No Redemption kick in, it's hard to see anyone in the main field not throwing shapes, however ironic they think they're being. Combichrist don't let down for the entire time they're on stage, and while Andy LaPlegua's vocals aren't the best, nobody seems to mind. Joe Letz and Nick Rossi provide a show within a show, tossing drumsticks back and forth, and just throwing them around with abandon. An odd choice, to be sure, but the band seem to go down well with the crowd

It's been 10 years since Alestorm (8) have graced Catton Hall with their presence, and their profile has increased greatly, as shown by the huge crowd, inflatables bouncing everywhere. Calls for orgies, sitting on laps, a guy crowdsurfing in a giant duck...It's all ridiculous fun from Keelhauled to Hangover, during which they bring guitar tech Joe Peters on acoustic guitar, and the balaclava wearing Captain Yarrface of Rumahoy. There's a brief lull during Captains Morgan Revenge where Chris calls twice for a wall of death (or a massive orgy) along with an injury in the crowd, that quickly gets sorted. As the crowd happily chants the lyrics of Fucked With An Anchor, you can tell the band squarely belong here, even if it seems at times they're just going through the motion

(Paul) I headed to the Sophie Tent once more and witnessed one of the most fantastic sets of the weekend. I’d reviewed Australian Progressive rockers Voyager’s latest album, Ghost Mile, last year and really enjoyed it. In the live setting Voyager (10) are stunning. Their combination of irregular time changes, polyrhythmic movements and sheer enthusiasm was captivating to the point of transcendence. With six albums to choose from, the band chose the perfect breadth of material, including a few from Ghost Mile and in front man Danny Estrin they have an absolute jewel. Deftones Chino Moreno likened him vocally to Simon Le Bon and one could see why. Having been completely entranced by their set, it was disappointing when they announced their final song. Come back soon. Please!

Avoiding the Hawaiian shirts who flooded the pit for the mighty Cannibal Corpse, it was disappointing when With The Dead announced they were unable to play. Instead we were treated to 15 minutes of Andrew O’Neill, the house comedian, who at least made us laugh. Another ‘I was there moment’ was shortly to follow as the groove metal legends from New Orleans, Exhorder (10) played their first ever UK show. An appreciative and knowledgeable tent buzzed with excitement for a band whose two albums were released over 25 years ago. DesecratorExhorderAnal Lust and Slaughter In The Vatican all got their UK debuts, as original members Kyle Thomas (vocals) and guitarist Vinne La Bella combined with NOLA veterans Marzi Montazeri (Ex-Superjoint Ritual) Sasha Horn (Forbidden) and Jason VieBrooks to devastate for their allotted hour. This was simply superb stuff and a stunned crowd was left wondering how this band had never made it across the pond before.

No time to waste though as the Saturday night headliners were already hitting their stride over on the RJD stage. A view from way back is still comfortable at Bloodstock and the sound was crystal clear as Gojira (9) proved why they were worthy headline material. I’ve seen this band at BOA twice before, I’ve seen them open for Annihilator, Trivium, Alice in Chains and Ghost and headline in small venues. They have never been less than incredible, but this headline set catapulted the French band firmly into the major league. A majestic light show, sensitive and well-planned screens and a set list to die for all added up to a frenzied 90 minutes. Flying Whales saw the sky full of inflatables, somewhat ironic given the likely resting place for most of those would no doubt be landfill. Backbone remains a spleen rupturing experience, whilst tracks from Magma and a thunderous L’Enfant Savage were greeted like timeless classics. Vacuity closed proceedings and you were left with the assurance that those in charge of booking at BOA really know their shit.

The fun wasn’t over for Saturday though and a dash back to the Sophie tent allowed us one more treat for the evening. Back in 2014 Orphaned Land (9) had wowed the Saturday afternoon with a fabulous set which ensured that those who were unaware of them then were certainly primed this time around. Despite some awful technical challenges at the start of the set, the Israeli band displayed all their qualities and proved why they were a fantastic choice of headliner. With tracks from their latest album, the stunning Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs, mixed with tracks from albums All Is OneMabool and The Never-Ending Way Of ORwarriOR, the mixture of lighter Eastern infused metal and some bone crushingly heavy sections worked magnificently. The hour flew by and when the band concluded the evening with Norra El Norra (Entering the Ark) I was once again marvelling at a band who have passed 25 years together. Few bands elicit such a response; their approach to all the conflict and strife in their homeland applauded to the rooftops.

Sunday 12th August

No rest for the wicked because there was only one place to be at 10:30 on the final day and that was in the New Blood tent where Staffordshire’s bludgeoning groove metal merchants Obzidian (9) had been handed the task of opening the day. Well, Matty, Matt, Baz and Paul were fully up for it and were at full bore within seconds. Matty Jenks was in imperious form, his snarling vocal delivery in total contrast to his between song humble persona. With four albums under their belt, these guys are a well-oiled machine and they battered the healthy crowd from the opening bars. By the time we’d hit Sins Here Are Purified the place was losing its shit. This band deserve a return on the Sophie stage in 2019. An awesome start to the day by one of the best UK bands around at present.

(Matt) Having been following the band since they grew out of the White Wizzard fold I was interested to see how NWOBHM revivalists Monument (7) had changed since I saw them in Bogiez. The stage show has certainly improved with the band bringing banners and augmentations, the instrumental section took to the stage closely followed by frontman Peter Ellis who is every inch the rock frontman from his look to his voice. Unfortunately this is where the problem was, due to the wind on the mainstage his vocals weren't really audible, meaning bassist Dan Bate was at times the only voice that could be heard. With rain in the air, the lacklustre sound didn't really make for the best showing and while tracks like The Chalice got your fist pumping it was difficult to get full immersed due to the lack of vocals and guitars. It meant that soon I followed my compatriots to the Sophie Tent.

(Paul) Skipping the British heavy metal of Monument, I headed to the Sophie Tent once more to check out Doomsday Outlaw (8) and was pleased I had. With a gentler rock ‘n’ roll approach, though still full of steel and backbone, the Derby blues machine had one of the shortest trips to the festival but also provided a huge amount of swagger, with vocalist Phil possibly the only wearer of braces on all four stages over the weekend. With a delivery that mixed Zeppelin with Alice in Chains, the band are certainly one to watch and I’ll be looking forward to their support slot with Graham Bonnet. Heading back to the RJD stage, it was my second viewing of Tom. S Englund and Evergrey (8). Considering Englund is one of the most miserable buggers around, this was a jaunty and upbeat set, full of passion, power and a confidence that comes with maturity and experience. A solid set maintained the interest throughout

Back to the Sophie Tent and another band I was desperate to catch. I’ve loved Paean Heretica, the debut release from misery riddled Brighton bastards King Leviathan (9) since I first heard it, and now it was time to hear it live. Fresh from his marriage, Adam Sedgewick and co laid waste to the tent, the demands to worship the old gods and block out the sun real as the desolation spread. Coffin SwallowerSanctificationThe Grand Congregation and Like Wolves To The Throat Of The Lion all spewed their way out, a huge pit allowing those in it a wry smile whilst the rest of us continued to wallow in our hate. Fantastic stuff from a band who will be missed when they start their hiatus later this year.

(Stief) Sound issues abound mean that the first half of Amaranthe's (5) set is replaced by the comedic stylings of bassist Johan Andreassen, who manages to keep the crowd entertained for a good 10 to 15 minutes before the band manage to sort out whatever was wrong, and Johan is finally joined by the rest of the band. It's obviously a shorter set than they intended, but the dance-laced melodeath sounds are good enough to get the crowd moving with the 3 singers, Elize, Henrik and Nils all working together to make that distinct sound Amaranthe have become known for, despite sound difficulties continuing to pop up throughout.

(Paul) There has been a massive amount of hype about New Zealand’s Alien Weaponry (6) which was evident by the swollen numbers in the Sophie tent as the band took to the stage. Whilst they certainly have the power and energy, they did little to inspire me, with their repetitive riffs going nowhere. I was pleased to find I wasn’t the only one who felt like this although I was in the minority.

(Nick) After seeing a few songs of Alien Weaponry and being generally unimpressed and wondering what all the hype was about, I made my way to the main stage to catch a band I've seen a few times in the past, Fozzy (7). The band fronted by professional wrestler Chris Jericho have always been one that change my mind every time I see them. Sometimes I walk away beaming, others I am left disappointed. This time I was left smiling, but mainly down to the persona of the self-proclaimed “GOAT” Jericho. Auto tuned throughout Jericho marched around the stage, crowd, amps and gantry owning every step. Controlling the crowd like puppets with the help of a smoke gun, Jericho commanded the 40 minutes with ease, showing any front man how it should be done. The disappointment for me was that the set was dominated by the new album, which, although good, for me doesn't hold a candle to some of Fozzy's earlier offerings. Songs such as God He Pounds His Nails or Friday The 13th would have gone down a treat with this crowd, instead the band opted to go with a set filled with their newer more pop rock/metal style music such as Bad TattooLights Go Out and Do You Wanna Start A War. This combined with the obvious auto tuning of Jericho's voice was a bit of a downer, nonetheless the powers of Jericho and the general passion that the band showed, together with the tightness of their musicianship won me over this time. 40 minutes well spent in my book.

(Matt) Just after Fozzy it was over to the Jager to see Dawn Of Anubis (7) ripping it up with their aggressive metalcore, born out of the cover band The Bench That Rocked this Leicestershire 5 piece were just the pick me up needed after the slickness of Jericho and co. Sending the smallest stage into a rage it was the ideal way to get wound up ready for what was about to unfold on the mainstage.

(Paul) Two minutes of Sangre was two minutes too much. That allowed me time to catch a bit of Jasta (8) and friends who were ripping up the RJD stage. I don’t mind a bit of the Hatebreed frontman on record, and I am partial to a bit of Hatebreed in the right mood. However, this was Jasta and Friends and he certainly has some good ones. First up was Howard Jones who showed that he still has the pipes. Next up was Dino Cazares, the Fear Factory guitarist cranking out the riffs to Edgecrusher and Replica, a move which saw multiple spontaneous losses of shit around the field as the old school began taking notice. I missed the arrival of Crowbar’s Kirk Windstein but his contribution included Bury Me In Smoke which by all accounts was epic. Back in the Sophie Tent Nepalese metallers Underside (5) had awful technical problems which segued into a schizophrenic sound which only confused me.

(Nick) A bit of a curve ball when announced for many, but nothing but happiness and excitement flowed through my veins when I heard the news that Mr Big (10) would be playing Bloodstock. Met with very mix opinions throughout the forums and social networks, Mr Big would have to prove a point to many, and oh lord did they?! Filing on stage with little pomp, the four-piece fronted by the great Eric Martin immediately broke out the big guns with Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (Yes, the electric drill did make an appearance) and Rock And Roll Over. Those in the crowd familiar sang along with gusto and showed their appreciation jut as strongly. While some confused and annoyed faces walked out of the crowd (Poor Sports), those who remained were slowly pulled in and converted over the next 45 minutes. Songs such as Price You Gotta Pay, an acoustic delivery of Cat Stevens Wild World and Addicted To That Rush gradually won over the crowd as the noise between each song got louder leading to the moment where thousands of metalheads were serenading each other with To Be With You, a surreal moment in my life I must admit! With the likes of Paul Gilbert, Billy Sheehan and Eric Martin on stage we were never going to get anything less than 100% and a bit of a party. Each musician showing why they are some of the best in the business, after all these years they are still having fun running around the stage with zero fucks to give. Without doubt one of my highlights of the festival. Come back soon Mr Big

(Paul) I watched the start of Mr Big but was determined not to miss Mumbai’s death metal legends Demonic Resurrection (10), a band who played BOA six years ago and who tore up Eradication Festival in Cardiff earlier this year. With Shoi Sen and Arran McSporran of De Profundis supporting Sahil ‘The Demonstealer’ Makhija and drummer Virenda Kaith, this was a vitally important gig for the Indian outfit and they absolutely tore the place apart. In between tracks which were mainly from their superb Dashavatar and their 2010 release The Return To Darkness, Sahil demonstrated a superb sense of humour which always goes down well. His stories about eating beef, “medium rare”, and this a song from that album … not that any of you give a shit” earned him warm laughter and his amazement at crowd surfers and a huge pit that saw young and old circling in a quite gentle style was heart-warming. The Unrelenting Surge Of Vengeance closed a technically flawless set, and one of the nicest people in metal today was left happy and content [especially when all his merch was sold out shortly afterwards].

(Matt) After the breeziness of Mr Big on the mainstage meant I missed Demonic Resurrection (bloody To Be With You was the culprit) I got caught up at the Jager stage for drink and the stoner riff rocking of Melbourne outfit True Believer (7) who brought a little Mastodon riffiness and some pop sensibilities to the smallest stage rocking to a pretty big crowd, they played well and seemed like they were having a bloody good time. Quickly though it was time to get ready for the last quarter of the last day.

(Paul) I’d been keen to see Act Of Defiance (8) since I reviewed their debut release Birth And The Burial, and the band didn’t disappoint with 45 minutes of slicing thrash metal. Led by the aggression and growls of Henry Derek, the band were tight and keen to demonstrate their quality. With Shawn Drover on the drum stool and Chris Broderick on lead guitar, this was always a band with quality and talent and the addition of Matt Bachand’s driving bass lines combined to provide a solid show of power and strength. Just a shame that the majority of the crowd were in between Devildriver and At The Gates. Talking of the latter, the last time I saw the Swedes was in The Globe in Cardiff, where they played a superb set. Buoyed by the positive reaction to the their latest To Drink From The Night ItselfAt The Gates (8) fully justified their high billing as special guests with a masterclass in melodic death metal. Tomas Lindberg prowling the stage, restless and unstoppable, although interestingly the band’s set list contained only three tracks from the new release, with the bulk of the set made up from At War With Reality and the seminal Slaughter Of The Soul. Ferociously tight, the band looked in command from the start with new guitarist Jonas Stålhammar ripping out solos for fun.

At last year’s Damnation Festival, I was a little underwhelmed by Americans Pallbearer (9) but the band dispelled any doubts I had with a majestic set which, similar to Voyager the day before had me transported to other places. Playing tracks from all three of their albums, including the superb 2017 release Heartless, Brett Campbell, Joseph Rowland, Devin Holt and Mark Lierly were perfect, and the crowd reacted accordingly. By the time their set closed, the emotion was high, and another festival highlight was added to an increasingly long list.

(StiefNightwish (10) make a triumphant return to the fields of Derby, and what better time to bring their Decades tour to our shores than 10 years after they last headlined and closed the main stage for the weekend. Since their last visit, Floor Jansen has taken up the helm as frontwoman and it's obvious from the beginning of End Of All Hope that she's a perfect fit for the Finnish band, engaging the crowd, inviting them to dance with her, windmilling with the best of them. Despite a slow start, she comes into her stride, covering all ranges of vocals, be it the operatic highs of Ghost Love Score or the great I Want My Tears Back. Marco Hietala's gruff vocals compliment Floor's well and the band is boosted with Troy Donockley, who has also become a permanent member since their last time here, on the uilleann pipes. Founding members Tuomas Holopainen and Emppu Vuorinen are more than happy on keyboards and guitars respectively, with Kai Hahto keeping a heavy beat throughout on drums. 

Being the Decades tour, there's something for fans of every album that Nightwish have produced since Oceanborn, with classics such as End Of All HopeWishmasterNemo, and Sacrament Of Wilderness all on the menu. The band are arguably one of the most prominent symphonic metal bands in the world today, and the stage production reflects this. The entire show is a journey, both visually and in regards to the discography of the band. One moment we're sailing through the forest, another moment, high in the mountains. One stand out moment (among many) is during The Greatest Show On Earth (Part III) with the words 'We Were Here' forming in the stars as the band sing it with a choral background. It's all over too soon as the classic Ghost Love Score indicates the close to an excellent lineup on the main stage, arguably one of the best Bloodstock has put out in years. There are chills as Floor hits the closing notes. We Were Here. Yes you fucking were, Nightwish.

(Paul) I struggled to watch 30 minutes of the Eurovision pomp of Finns, before taking up a decent position for the final band of the weekend. Few bands can match the intensity and self-belief that surges through the veins of Erik Danieslsson and Watain (10). Whilst their outdoor show as special guests to Behemoth a few years ago was impressive, this was something else; a true black mass. The heat from the burning stage and the smell from the sacrificial offerings powered through the tent, matched by a set that delivered three tracks of the 2018 Trident Wolf Eclipse, two from Lawless Darkness amongst others. A rammed tent stood in reverential awe as the band powered through their set, and by the time Waters Of Ain closed proceedings, there was nothing left. Watain and the audience was spent. A quite astonishingly intense climax to possibly the best Bloodstock ever. Can’t wait to do it all again.

Monday 20 August 2018

A View From A Muddy Field Part 1: Bloodstock 2018 (Live Review By Paul H, Stief, Nick & Matt)

Bloodstock 2018

Main Review: Paul H
Contributions By: Stief, Nick, Matt where noted

(Paul) Where to start? What a weekend. What an immense weekend. For those of you who were fortunate enough to be at Catton Hall for BOA 18 we salute you. A huge crowd, weather of all types and bands who played the most blistering sets. It all came together superbly and one can only marvel at the organisation and planning that the Gregory family continue to put into this event.

Thursday 9th August 2018

Once the initial chaos of pitching those tents and drinking as much as is possible in four hours was completed, the music begins in earnest in the Sophie Tent. Opening proceedings was Hundred-Year-Old Man (6), whose sombre post-alt metal seemed slightly out of place with the party atmosphere. However, kudos to a band who only appeared on the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage a year ago. Unfortunately, other attractions meant that only catching the final song of Fire Red Empress negated any real review.

That did ensure that by the time Bloodshot Dawn (9) hit the stage I was well primed for some technical death metal and boy did the South Coast outfit hit the stage with all guns blazing. Once the guitar gremlins had been removed, Josh McMorran and co unleashed 40 minutes of absolute fury. Visions was shorn of the slicing guitar work but that failed to hold back the hordes in the pit, intent on slamming each other to bits. With three albums to work with, Bloodshot Dawn now have enough material to mix up the set. With tracks from January’s Reanimation sounding massive in the tent, the machine gun drumming of James Stewart providing a huge platform to rest on, it was left to McMorran, Morgan Reid and bassist Giacomo Gastaldi to rip it up. Having seen the band in Fuel back in January, it’s apparent that their latest touring has tightened them up considerably. Their Japanese stint and a massive Hellfest appearance have given the band the confidence to really hit top gear and by the time they peaked with Reanimated there was a feeling within the tent that this is a band who with the right timing and promotion could really step up to the next level.

An air of mystery surrounds the headliners Arkona (8) and this was enhanced by the stage set and pagan rituals that introduced their entrance on to the stage. The Russian outfit are rare visitors to the UK, having completed a mere six dates prior to this headline show. Vocalist and frontwoman Maria "Masha Scream" Arkhipova swirled and captivated the audience as the band launched into their combination of folk, pagan and death metal with tracks from their eight full releases including this year’s Khram. What many of the audience were not expecting was the guttural growls that Arkhipova uses to great effect. Mixed with some stunning clean vocals made for entertaining listening, with the ethnic instruments of Vladimir "Volk" Reshetnikov adding bursts of cultural authenticity. Despite their entertaining delivery, by half way through the set I began to feel that I’d heard it all before; there is a certain repetition with Arkona’s music which doesn’t translate on record.

Friday 10th August

Hitting the main arena at 10:15am was a challenge but Scots Turbyne (8) had drawn the opening slot and proved to be well worth the effort. An energetic 30-minute set whistled by, partly due to the energy that duel vocalists Gary and Keith emitted, their contrasting styles proving an interesting mix, although I’d prefer the clean vocals which were superior. Their intense, complicated style didn’t detract from the heaviness that they are capable of and the lads from Dumfries demonstrated this with several tracks from their Origins And Endings release. A pleasing start to a long day. Having scampered around the main stage where Feed The Rhino were kicking up a storm (but not my bag), it was a quick return to catch Garshkott (6) back on the New Blood Stage. The Northampton five-piece ground out a huge sound but didn’t quite engage me as I’d hoped so I dipped out for a quick beer before one of the main events for many over the whole weekend.

Sacrificing the opportunity to catch any of Bristolian thrashers Onslaught it was vital that we were on the barrier for the next band in the New Blood Stage. South Wales brought three bands to BOA, and first up was Democratus (9). In the Semi-final in Fuel the band had raised their game in stunning style, romping through to the final with a show full of swagger and confidence. Whilst the nerves were very much in evidence as they hit the stage, this performance elevated Democratus another two levels. The band found their stride early, and quickly displaced their anxiety with a display of supreme confidence. Battering mercilessly, the band set the bar so high that many who followed just couldn’t get near. Guitarists Joey Watkins and Kerrin Beckwith were on fire, Zak Skane anchored everything with an iron grip whilst Stu ‘Spoon’ Rake was unable to stop grinning. By the time their anthem Life For A Life blasted out the tent was packed, the pit was moving, and frontman Steve Jenkins had expended every ounce of energy. A hot, sweaty mess who loved every minute. Full credit to the band who clicked superbly. Don’t be surprised if these guys are on the Sophie Stage in the next two years. There is plenty more to come from a band that is maturing splendidly.

(Nick) As the sky's opened and what seemed like an entire ocean was dumped on the grounds of Catton Hall, many retreated to the shelter of their tents, I however had come to see bands and hear some quality music, so I headed straight for the main stage to see Musipedia favourites, Memoriam (8). Taking no prisoners Karl Willetts et al ploughed through a set that can break down stone walls with the heavy, chunky riffs and the slow, deep and menacing growls of Willetts. There was no time for showmanship here as the band set about delivering there set with perfection. Memoriam produce the type of music that just forces your head up and down and there it stays until the set is over. The set opened with As War Rages On and carried on in the same vein as Bleed The Same and Resistance were sent pummelling through our ears, finishing where they started with a personal favourite Flatline. There are always gone to be similarities between Memoriam and Bolt Thrower highlighted, rightfully so. However, for me Memoriam have found a different style here, the sound is a little grungier and the topics darker. All this combined make for a band destined for great thing and one which I can’t quite get enough of, deserving of their main stage slot the guys proved their worth and made me forget about the shit storm of rain I was standing in.

(Paul) From there a quick traverse to the New Blood Stage, where Coventry three-piece Pelugion (7) were giving a great display. Across to the Sophie Tent to catch the tail end and one of the highlights of the day, as Godthrymm (8) pulled out a stunning set. The band, formed with former members of My Dying Bride, Vallenfyre and Anathema amongst others, were led magnificently by Hamish Glencross and delivered some doom and misery which went down a storm with those who preferred quality over the schlock rock of Wednesday 13. Totally humble, the band appeared overwhelmed by the response and I for one look forward to seeing the band again when they support Memoriam at their annual Christmas gig in Birmingham later in the year.

(Stief) The spooky theremin tinged intro to What The Night Brings rang in Wednesday 13's (7) horror-punk set. With several different outfits throughout his set along with some interesting choreography, the frontman seems to know what to do to entertain, and the introduction of scantily clad ladies wielding fire probably helped too. Playing mostly from last year's Condolences album, Wednesday throws in a few fan favourites including I Walked With A Zombie and Serpent Society, even going completely old school by closing with Frankenstein Drag Queens From Planet 13's I Love To Say Fuck, complete with an umbrella adorned with a middle finger. Delightful.

(Paul) Our second foray to the barrier was next, as South Walians Sodomised Cadaver (9) lined up to give the Sophie Tent 40 minutes of quite pulverising death metal. With Charlie Rogers dressed like a total clown, his Donald Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ cap at the ready, the riffs flowed from Ryan Howes whilst Gavin Davies did his best to destroy the drum set up with his massive pummelling. When you know some of the band it can be hard to do an objective review but its fair to say that the tent was completely sodomised. With Ollie Jones fronting your band anything can happen, and the Desecration/ENT vocalist never fails. His Newport lilt and complete fuck the world attitude is perfect for the band, who delivered one of the most crushing sets of old school death metal of the weekend. Humour, energy and power are all present and when the band climaxed with Raped By Ebola it was time to feel proud to be a Welshman once more. Don’t be surprised to see these guys on the main stage soon. They deserve it.

A rush from one tent to the other and another one of the regional MTTM winners, Leicester’s Seven Hells (7) who were giving it a huge push. The five-piece have some blistering tunes and were putting all the effort into their set. Their groove and hardcore was going down well amongst their support and this band could be a force in the future. Back to the main stage for a bit of Bloodbath (8) next. With Nick Holmes up front misery is guaranteed and the band were covered in what looked like the remnants of Watain’s offal truck. Bloodbath are veterans of the death metal scene, and when your band includes Martin Axenrot on drums there will never be any timing issues, the Opeth man playing a flawless set. Holmes, who is about as much from Sweden as I am, prowled the stage, delivering classics such as Eaten, Breeding Death, So You Die and Like Fire alongside Let The Stillborn Come To Me and Anne from the band’s most recent Grand Morbid Funeral with an ease not always noted in his Paradise Lost shows. Bloodbath are becoming a real force in metal again, and with Katatonia on hiatus, expect to see a bit more of the Swedes (and that miserable bloke from Halifax) in the future.

One of the sets of the weekend followed, with extreme metal legends De Profundis (9), whose crushing technical and complex metal was lapped up by the crowd in the Sophie Tent. With four magnificent releases under their belts, the band, who are into their second decade, wasted little time in demonstrating why they are so highly regarded. Tracks from their most recent The Blinding Light of Faith combined with older songs from their other albums. 40 minutes of superb death metal whipped past in the blink of an eye, and another note was made to catch these guys again as soon as possible. In contrast, the kings of UK slam, Ingested (6) disappointedly failed to stimulate and after a couple of their songs I retired to the New Blood Stage for a much more satisfactory set from Bristol MTTM winners Body Harvest (8). A cruel sound robbed the band of their guitars for some of their set, but these guys provided the stomp, the groove and another set of crushing death metal which was massively appreciated by those who had gathered. Yet another outfit whose ascent should be rapid. Following Body Harvest should have been a real challenge but if there was one band that was equipped to meet that challenge it was Birmingham’s Trivax (8) whose black metal fused with the cultural influences of frontman Shayan’s home country of Iran to great effect. These guys have all the attributes to move forward and their 30-minute slot steamrollered those brave enough to stand in their way. An impressive entrance, plenty of atmosphere and essentially some brutal black metal songs all contributed to a fine set.

(Nick) One of the bands high on my hit list this weekend and one that I have been a big fan of for a long time, Kamelot (9). With a reasonably high up slot allowing for a good amount of time to do their thing, I was hopeful of a high-quality set... and I was not let down. Since the departure of one of the greatest voices in metal Roy Khan, Tommy Karevik has stepped in and made himself a worthy replacement. Tommy's vocals were spot on throughout the set not missing a note as songs from the entire back catalogue of Kamelot were delivered,stretching from as far back as Karma, to the present day as Insomniac was chosen to represent the new album. Fan favourites and anthems such March Of Mephisto, Forever and Centre Of The Universe were offered with great appreciation from the majority of the crowd as they joined in willingly. The main difference between present day Kamelot and Kamelot of a decade ago is that Roy Khan used to offer a show and almost played a character on stage, that would really pull you in as he crept around singing, pulling facial expressions of anguish or delight. Tommy truly has a cracking voice and I enjoy every second of it, but, he is more of a front man that wants the attention for other reasons, which has changed the dynamic of the band as a result. This for me does detract from the experience a little, however with the entire of the band on form and the addition of the staggering vocals of Lauren Hart (Once Human), Kamelot delivered a set worthy of its place on the bill and leaves me keener than ever to see them at a headline show again, sooner rather than later.

(Matt) Due to flight delays Japanese power metal band Lovebites had taken their spot on the mainstage earlier in the day, so it was into the Sophie Lancaster stage for American crossover thrash veterans Suicidal Tendencies (8), it proved to be an inspired piece of line up shuffling as the tent was packed with mad-as-hell thrash fans who proceeded to unleash hell from the moment the band hit the stage. Playing a hits packed, breathless set with Mike Muir conducting pits, bouncing and crowd surfing (including one guy in a wheelchair) turning the Sophie Tent into a sweaty club as they played what was for many the set of the day. It was a short yomp over to the Jager stage to see the alt rocking of Kamikaze Test Pilots (7) who served as a quirky hors d'oeuvre for the black metal feast that was coming on the mainstage.    

(Paul) As the sun peered down, the temperature on the stage turned ominously dark as black metal legends Emperor (8) returned to the scene of their triumphant set in 2014. Ihsahn, Samoth and Trym delivered another fabulous show, playing their Anthems To The Welkin At Night album in full, to a rabid reception. It’s difficult to describe the importance of this band to the Black Metal scene but live they are as ferocious now as they were back in the 1990s. Ihshan, relaxed and comfortable, the screams and roars as visceral as ever, whilst the breakneck speed at which they play continues to astonish. Whilst I didn’t catch all their set, the bits that I did were breathtaking.

(Stief) Meanwhile over in the Sophie Stage circle pits galore as Glaswegian metalcore Bleed From Within (7) take to the Sophie stage. With a healthy mix of music from the Era and Uprising albums, the band seem pretty solid, with Scott Kennedy's vicious growls tearing the sophie tent apart along with Steven Jones and Craig 'Goonzi' Gowans on guitars. A blistering set from some angry men.

(Paul) The main reason I missed some of Emperor’s set was to check out the ballsy in your face Southern fried Heavy Metal of Plymouth’s King Bison (8) who concluded proceedings on the New Blood Stage in fine style. The band, who were very gracious in their pre-BOA interview played a proper headline set, with frontman and vocalist Karl owning front of house with his big shouty voice and stage presence. Flanked by guitarists Ali and Milfy and bassist Rohan linking with drummer Hardin, King Bison’s deep groove and honest Southern soaked metal was a perfect antithesis to the black metal chaos unravelling on the main stage. With huge tunes, a confidence and swagger of a band much more experience, the South Coast outfit stomped their way through a meaty set which even had a vegetarian such as me dreaming of a steak later that day.

Much has been written about the demand of the BOA crowd to have local legends Judas Priest (9) headline the festival. In fact, you could trace this back over the last eight or nine years. Now in their twilight years, the band had demonstrated that they will not fade quietly into the night with an astonishingly good release earlier in the year. In fact, Firepower is likely to feature heavily in the top tens of many of our writers and readers. Shorn of every original member apart from bassist Ian Hill, Judas Priest risked turning into a cabaret act, especially given Rob Halford’s penchant for costume changes between each song. Any concern about that was quickly blown away with an opening salvo which once again proved that when it comes to straightforward heavy metal, few can get close. Firepower, Grinder, Sinner, The Ripper and Lightning Strikes opened a set which contained a few surprises along the way.

This was a full fat show, no Priest lite here, with a stage set and lighting show that rivalled all who have trodden the boards before them, Halford camped it up with denim and leather outfits galore. Alongside him, guitar hero Richie Faulkner impressed with his ability to handle the legacy of Downing and Tipton, afforded sterling support from Hell’s Andy Sneap, who must still be pinching himself. Anchored superbly by Scott Travis and the ever-dependable Hill, the Priest continued with classic after classic; Saints In Hell from Stained Glass, Tyrant from Sad Wings Of Destiny and the singalong chaos of Turbo Lover and Freewheel Burning all made for a riotous and enjoyable conclusion to day 2. Despite Halford’s evidence reliance on the autocue for several songs, and the limited mobility of a man who continues to epitomise heavy metal, there was little to criticise. The dialogue was limited, certainly until the conclusion of the set, and that allowed the band to pulverise Catton Hall. A stunning Painkiller saw Halford doubled over the legendary Harley Davidson, the crowd willing him on as he maintained that ear splitting falsetto with an ease that should not have been possible. At 66 he’s by no means the oldest front man in metal but he remains one of the greatest.

Despite all the flames, lights and stage set, the encore provided both a joyous and sad sight as Glenn Tipton, weighed down by over ten years of battling with Parkinson’s Disease, emerged for the final four tracks. As we know, Parkinson’s is a bastard of an illness, robbing flexibility and dexterity, something vital for the speed and fluidity that Tipton’s guitar work has always been famous for. Priest had clearly rehearsed hard for this, with the four songs, Metal Gods, Breaking The Law, No Surrender and Living After Midnight, all tailored to ensure Tipton could deliver those killer riffs one more time. The inclusion of a new track in No Surrender was a particularly brave move, as Tipton’s muscle memory would have been limited in comparison to the other three which he could probably still play in his sleep. With Sneap playing anchor in the background, Tipton delivered the goods, albeit allowing Faulkner to complete the intricate solo work. This was undoubtedly the last time that we will see Tipton on stage with Priest and it was a poignant moment as Halford wrapped his arm around his long-time colleague as the set came to an end. A tear welled in my eye. As the screen announced THE PRIEST WILL BE BACK, you had to wonder in what capacity that might be. Whatever the future holds, this was a performance that fully justified the band’s inclusion as Friday Headliners.

Friday night wasn’t quite concluded though, and a quick sprint across the arena allowed a decent view of the metal queen, Doro (8), who delivered a typically bombastic Germanic set. Her music is decent, heavy and formulaic and the arrival of her former Warlock guitarist Tommy Bolan ramped up the amplification somewhat. A set built on Warlock classics ensured that those who knew her early stuff were content, with Burning The Witches a particular favourite. All For Metal from the new album and Raise Your Fist from her previous long player brought things up to date but it was the old school stuff that always gets the fist pumping. A solid conclusion to an exhausting but brilliant day of heavy music.