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Wednesday 31 October 2018

Reviews: Bloodbath, Ascaris, Them, Festerday (Sean, Matt & Paul H)

Bloodbath: The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn (Peaceville Records) [Paul H]

Four years ago, I waxed lyrical about the fourth studio album from the outfit known as four Swedes and a Yorkshireman. Yes, Grand Morbid Funeral was ferociously evil and earnt a 9/10 from me. Well, by Satan’s hairy ball bag, this album is even fucking better. From the opening filthy riffs of Fleischmann, there is something special happening here. It’s dirtier, heavier and earthier than anything they’ve ever done. Nick Holmes performance is inspired; I’ve never heard him as sinister and guttural before whilst the interplay between Anders Nystrom and new guitarist Joakim Karlsson from Craft is subtly disguised but never hidden under the frantic riffing and Martin Axenrot’s blistering drumming. Jagged, cutting riffs on Fleischmann are relentless, segueing rapidly into Bloodicide which maintains the frenetic pace, a pace which hardly ever slows throughout the 41 minutes on offer. Bloodicide offers no relief, with additional vocals from three of death metal’s legends, Carcass’s Jeff Walker, the mighty Karl Willetts and John Walker of Cancer increasing the savagery.

Whilst Bloodbath pin their flag to the Floridian old school death metal mast they have moved far closer to black metal on this release, with the ominous echoing atmosphere on Levitator merging with the darker death metal with ease. Filthy reverb and down tuned guitars really make the difference on this album, superbly mixed by Karl Daniel Liden to allow the full morbid malevolence to spew forth. Utilising the state of the world as inspiration for the themes, Nystrom and his wretched souls have created a fetid, stench ridden release which demands repeated plays. Tracks like Deader, the harrowing Morbid Antichrist and the closing B-movie horror-soaked Chainsaw Lullaby all combine on one of the most rotten, stinking and repulsively incredible death metal albums of 2018. 9/10

Ascaris: The Raised Hand (Self Released) [Sean]

Some say that patience is a virtue, others that great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance. As Guinness used to be fond of saying, good things come to those who wait. And indeed they do! In case you haven’t been paying attention for the last few years, dapper destroyers Ascaris have been steadily cementing their reputation as one of the most formidable acts spawned on these shores. Finally following up on their impressive Initiation EP, the Gloucester based trio are now set to let loose their creation upon all who dare bare witness. Enter The Raised Hand, the forbidden fruit of their arduous labour made flesh. 

Incantation screams into being, a monstrous opening statement as Ascaris proceed to flatten to my brain into puppy mush. No holds barred here, just the full fury of each member actively trying to kill their instruments with blistering blackened death metal fury. The dual vocal attack of guitarist Sam Godding and bassist Dave Marcovecchio interplay with the merciless precision, the raspier style of the former perfectly complimenting the more inhuman of the former. Anchoring this storm in place is drummer Chris Barton, a man mountain unleashing torrent after of unyielding blast beats. Apocalypse Eternal continues this, altering between time signature proving some variation amongst the chaos. Old favourite Crimson is reborn, the muscular production providing merciless cutting edge to the razor sharp riffs. Sundered Creation introduces some symphonic elements, adding a welcome layer of atmosphere. “Sin of the flesh”, whom yours truly did demo vocals for many moons ago, combines every aspect the band has to offer as the riffs come fast and more manic than the ones before it.

The Raised Hand is nothing short of triumphant. Everything has been refined to knifelike sharpness, culminating in what is essentially one of the most intense listening experiences of 2018. If anything, too intense! There were a few moments where this poor author almost suffocated under the sheer tenacity of it all. But after the dust had settled? After I had finally been given a chance to breathe? You can bet Dio’s hip replacement that I immediately pressed repeat. Like an adrenaline shot to the face or a sledgehammer to the soul, Ascaris have created a stunningly heavy debut with little pity for those that cannot endure their victorious onslaught. Rip and tear boys, rip and tear. 9/10

Them: Manor Of The Se7en Gables (SPV/Steamhammer) [Matt]

International metal band Them released their debut Sweet Hollow in 2016, it set about establishing the overarching story-line that focuses on vocalist KK Fosser who is a Gravedigger/Warlock and head of the titular manor in Salem Massachusetts. This follow up record deals with the aftermath of the first and sees KK, his sidekick Remsen and Sarah the Scullery Maid/Witch being hunted by a Witchfinder and ends with them both being met with grisly fate as a secret is revealed at the climax. So to get this story-line across Them have made yet another theatrical metal record that will appeal to fans of King Diamond, Hell, Alice Cooper and even GWAR, frontman KK really embodies his character taking the image on cover his top hat and scarred face giving him the look of both The King and Cooper.

Vocally as well he is the master of these occult ceremonies, having a huge range to his vocals on a few tracks he sounds like a totally different person having the shrieks, growls, croons and snarls of several different personas on the album. Musically they sit at the heavier end with a lot of rampaging thrash on the blistering CircuitousAs The Sage Burns and The Secret Stairs where as the impressive finale of Punishment By Fire has black metal shredding mixed with some Gothic/symphonic touches, as the spoken word pieces are ideally placed to further the story. It's not one of those records you can pick out individual songs on, they all have to be taken in as part of this album to really understand what's going on. With the final track not leaving the story open for the next chapter, it'll be interesting to see where they go, however for now Manor Of The Se7en Gables sits as the perfect follow up for the debut and stands by itself as quality metal album. I know at least one other member of the MoM universe that will love this record and if I'm honest I do too.  8/10

Festerday: Cadaveric Virginity (Season Of Mist) [Paul H]

This is a two track bludgeoning from the Finnish underground cult death metallers which is apparently the precursor for 2019’s long awaited full length debut. Named after a track on Carcass album Reek Of Purification, the band released three demos before splitting in 1993. Having reformed in 2013, this EP is released via Seasons Of Mist Underground Activists division. The two tracks contained on this release, The One Who Strangles Stars and Suns and the 1:12 Let The Sun Vomit It's Beams Upon Your Cold Swollen Skin are uncompromising, fused with raging punk anger and massive slashing riffs. Apart from that, there isn’t really much else to say. Savage, angry and bursting with an intensity that is obviously screaming to be heard. The album will be interesting. 6/10

Reviews: Anti-Flag, Black Peaks, Flat Earth, I Am Pariah (Reviews By Alex)

Anti-Flag: American Reckoning (Spinefarm Records)

Championing strongly politicized punk rock, Anti-Flag occupies a place in my tastes also presided over by the melodic-hardcore music of Billy Talent, NOFX, and Rise Against. The passion of one kind or another has always been a dictator in what has stuck with me and these Pennsylvania quintets have it in abundance, as their works, The Terror State and For Blood and Empire solidifies. American Reckoning sees them bring together songs from their last two albums in a raw acoustic setting. Unsurprisingly then, they have chosen the melodic and somber sections for transformation, often lending them more depth and emotion than channelled in their original forms. The Debate Is Over - a beautiful account of a character who has only just begun to see the destructive effects of humankind on the natural world – is made more genuine by its swaying and contemplative nature here. Same can be said for the fervent address of self-destructive and disregarding tendencies that make up Set Yourself On Fire, or the border-defying love anthem of Brandenburg Gate.

They are still able to omit all the anger and call to action, yet in a more nuanced and restrained way. Where the stripped down and the unplugged idea doesn’t work as well it’s on the more visceral Racists and American Attraction, which despite still sounding decent acoustically, just proved more effective within the harsh chaos of a traditional punk setting. We do see the instruments plugged in for three surprisingly chosen yet well-executed covers: Gimme Some Truth by John Lennon, while originally dreamy and distant, here takes on a frenetic and no-holds-barred hardcore edge. For What It's Worth by Buffalo Springsteen, while more contemplative in its folksiness, is given a pulse to express the discontent at its heart.

Meanwhile, Surrender by Cheap Trick, while quite reserved in its studio version is made to seem more in line with the instrumentally rich live version of the rebellious youth anthem. American Reckoning has some thoughtful forms of original songs and some even more cleverly reworked covers. As expected, the lyrical themes so not shy away from tough political themes or ideological leanings, yet they are very clearly not lacking in consideration, care or attitude. 7/10

Black Peaks: All That Divides (Rise Records)

Synthesising post-hardcore with something a little more avant-garde, Black Peaks have honed a style uniquely brooding, yet also triumphant and elated. Marking their second full-length release, following their breakthrough debut, Statues, All That Dives continues to cut out an intriguingly ever-changing career or strong hooks and experimentation. Starting from the beginning, Can’t Sleep is one of the most enthralling singles I have heard all year, the opening riff sounding like an ominous stomp. Soon, however, we are left with an atmospheric mood to compliment the discontented lyricism: ‘How their hateful seed it grows, breath out now. How we hold each other tight as we slip into the night’ is the last line we hear, before being immersed in a writhing chorus. Midnight Sun is equally as emotionally fuelled in nature, the contrast between the screamed and sung voices only adding an extra layer of mystery to the already elusive instrumentation, with lines the type of ‘Don’t let the words of the weak grind you down to bone’ proving a positive facet in the deeply immersive music.

Aether is strained and tortured - the mellowness only cut away in the finishing seconds, while Eternal Light is rabid and unleashed and strange in the finest way possible. Even those moments where you think the tone and mood are established in the first few minutes as on Across the Great Divide or Slow Seas, take on multiple forms over the course of their run length, transforming from acoustic dirges to angered theatrical pieces. Fate I & II is a multi-part closer encapsulating everything heard so far meticulously and with hypnotic power and distinctiveness. Black Peaks may take you off guard on first or even second listen, yet it is their combination of the familiar with the unsettling or different, that will keep you enticed, proving beyond a doubt why they are actually an exciting and game-changing new act. 9/10

Flat Earth: None For One (Drakkar Entertainment)

Comprised of ex-members from Amorphis and H.I.M, Flat Earth draw prominently from alternative metal, yet also incorporate classic and progressive ideas into their ethos. Not to allow themselves to be beleaguered by any particular styles, their sound melds the ferociousness of traditional instrumentation, while throwing unexpected synth textures into the mix. The result is a project which in all honesty bears the scars of its debut status while holding some potential. Beginning on Subhuman, we get the first taste of the combination between alt and traditional metal as obsessively clean lead parts are layered over the top buzzing keyboards and a steadily chugging rhythm. Pikkarinen’s vocals are in the higher register here, gelling well with the soaring tone of the opener.

These prove to be the most exciting moments overall as evidenced by the rollicking Noble Swine, the spacey and impressively played Freedom or the assertively swaggering closer of Kill My God. In these instants, the contrast between glimmering synth-enhanced sheen, and bluesy retro vibe shimmers, contributing towards the memorability factor. Sadly, the slower and mid-tempo sections, no doubt intended to be ominous or introspective have a tendency to translate into slovenly sluggishness in practise. Blame starts off intriguing enough, with some decent fretwork, yet soon becomes lumbering and downtrodden, with the growling sounding more nasal than angst-ridden. Cyanide and Limelight have the same problem, the seemingly serious themes robbed of promise by the irritatingly grating production and vocal elements.

Then there are the ballads, Given Time and Blunt, which despite begging for some of that polish and instrumental virtuosity praised earlier, are given nothing to make them stand out or inspire a hint of genuine emotion. Make no mistake, where None For One shows promise it really shows promise. Yet, as a debut, there is too much filler, too much imitation of classic artists and too many uncomfortably pulled off experiments, to make me beg for more, or even establish a solid sound. As I said, there undoubtedly exists potential in the project, yet in between now and album no.2, these four genuinely talented musicians, need to focus on expressing that 5/10

I Am Pariah: Procreate Annihilate (Self Released)

Fusing ferocious hardcore punk, with traditional thrash metal, Procreate Annihilate serves as the debut EP from I Am Pariah, introducing them by bleeding chaos from every facet, its gory title to its frantic tempo. Lest you think that they don’t know how to foster a unique sound though, they keep this work bizarre and elusive. A Place To Belong starts slowly before kick-starting into chugging riffs, blast beats powerful lead work and hooks to keep you intrigued amid the carnage. Big Shot is stylistically close to a nu-metal song, which despite not sounding like high praise, is here pulled off superbly, creating an enormous performance, and an attitude that isn’t afraid to use outlandishness to its advantage.

Cult Society is fully let off the metaphorical leash, the sheer zing bringing to mind images of rabidly animated crowds, inspired by the ardent fierceness of the music. Heavy In Japan closes out with a pure, honest thrash anthem, which despite not fully living up to the drive of the previous three songs, still makes adrenaline surge through my veins, while paying homage to the influences at play. Overall, some elements – Benjamin’s melodic yet also strangely guttural vocals, the sheer magnitude of the mix – may take some getting used to, but they stamp the project with a sense of buoyancy, making it difficult to not devote your full attention. Procreate Annihilate leaves you brimming with energy by the end, pining for a full length 7/10

Tuesday 30 October 2018

Reviews: Hate Eternal, Alunah, Wrath, Sacrosanct (Reviews By Paul S)

Hate Eternal: Upon Desolate Sands (Season Of Mist)

Upon Desolate Sands is Hate Eternals 7th studio album, coming 3 years after their last album Infurnus. This is the first album to feature new drummer Hannes Grossmann, a drummer who has played on so many classic death metal albums over the years. There aren’t that many drummers that could play with Hate Eternal, due to the staggering level of technicality that is business as usual for this band, but Grossmann is definitely up to the job. In fact, he may well be the best drummer they have had, his performance on Upon Desolate Sands is stunning. In fact all the performances on this album are staggering, but in many ways that's exactly what you would expect from Hate Eternal. The band have become bywords for extreme levels of technical brilliance, and this album is no different.

The track What Lies Beyond has some amazing sweep picked solos, and deeply complex rhythms. All Hope Destroyed's ending is a beautifully realised maelstrom of solos and intricate rhythms. The fast stuff you expect from Hate Eternal are there, but there are slower moments as well, Nothingness Of Being has a far slower, heavy feel to it, which is brought out by Grossmann’s drumming and interesting layered guitars. The track Dark Age Of Ruin is a very interesting beast of a song. The track starts fast and blastbeaty but becomes deeply atonal, with a lurching off kilter rhythm, that is reminiscent of Gorguts more out there material. Title track Upon Desolate Sands is a massively heavy track. The song starts with interesting chanting and melodic riffs, this lulls the audience into a false sense of security before a relentlessly pounding riff comes in to make a song that hammers the listener into the floor. 

Do I need to say the album is really well produced? This is Eric Rutan’s band after all. Of course it’s well produced, in fact it sounds fantastic! This is a really great album, it has a variety of moods, but always sounds like Hate Eternal. The band isn’t repeating themselves, but they haven’t pushed it so far that they are unrecognisable. Hugely accomplished death metal album! 8/10

Alunah: Amber And Gold (Self Released)

Midlands based band Alunah have been making interesting doom/hard rock since 2008. In that time the band has released 4 albums. The last album Sloenial was well received, but this was overshadowed by the departure of original member, and front woman Sophie Day. A lot of bands would have called it a day, but Alunah have recruited new guitarist and vocalist Sian Greenway to fill the void. Amber And Gold is the first release to come from this new lineup. The EP features 4 tracks, 1 short intro, 2 original track and a cover of Chris Isaak’s song Wicked Game. The 2 original tracks (Amber And Gold and Awn) are both great pieces of hard rock infused doom. The songs are heavy but with lots of melody. Greenway's vocals are really good, quite low register and with lots of personality and power. 

There is a very good sense of dynamics with these songs as well, the ebb and flow work really well. The cover of Wicked Games is a fantastic piece of work. It does what all good cover versions do; it retains what was great about the original (stunning chorus and the instantly recognisable melody guitar part), whilst also having its own identity. The band has made the song their own, without loosing what made Wicked Game is a great song. This is a really enjoyable EP. I reacted to it in the way I always react to great EP’s; I wanted more. I’m now really keen for this lineup to do an album, 4 tracks simply isn’t enough! 8/10

Wrath: Rage (Combat Records)

Wrath have been with us since 1982. Rage comes 4 years after their last album Stark Raving Mad, which was their first album since 1990’s Insane Society. The album features 9 originals of fairly Exodus style trash metal, which is also a little reminiscent of early Sacred Reich, and a cover of Ace Of Spades by Motorhead. Most of the material is mid paced, solid trash metal, as you would probably expect it has a decidedly late eighties feel to it. The speed does go up in places. Wrath have an ability to write songs that, although they don’t have a high BPM, they feel like they have a lot of velocity and inertia to them. Probably the best example of this is the song Tension On High which skips along at one hell of a pace. 

Really great, high speed riffs, make this song a standout on this album. The band can also do huge and heavy; What You Crave is a thundering, dense track that pounds you into the ground. They can mix the two as well; My Rage starts in a mid paced way before building relentlessly.The cover of Ace Of Spades is a little odd. It’s played strait, but when about 40,000 other covers of this song exist, what is the point of another? Motorhead have masses of lesser known songs that would have made a far more interesting cover version, maybe something from Orgasmatron. Rage is a good, solid trash album. I’ve enjoyed listening to it. Maybe a few more faster songs and a different cover might have improved things, and made this a great album. As it is this is a very strong album. 7/10

Sacrosanct: Necropolis (Rock Of Angels Records)

This is the first album from Sacrosanct since 1993’s Tragic Intense. The band, originally formed in 1988, have been on hiatus for 25 years, and now only have 1 original member, in guitarist Randy Meinhard. Back in the late eighties and early nineties Sacrosanct were a trash band, they now consider themselves to be progressive metal. But, to my ears what we get on Necropolis is a power metal album. The album is similar in style to Dream Evil, particularly Dream Evil’s album The Book Of Heavy Metal. So that's mid paced, fairly plodding power metal.The pacing on this album is a bit of a problem. Most of the songs have a similar pace to them, a lot of the time I was listening to this album I was hoping the band would push the accelerator a little bit. There are a few places that the speed goes up. The track Grim Sleeper has that faster power metal rhythm, which makes it stand out from the rest of the album. 

As soon as the track starts it has a different feel from the rest of the album. The extra pace make the song sparkle in a way that the rest of the album just doesn’t. Although, at the end of the song that slower plodding pacing is back, and stops the excitement. From a band that used to play thrash, this is a bit disappointing. The songs on this album all feel a bit lacklustre, about 10% faster and the album would be transformed, but the excitement never really arrives. Don’t get me wrong, there are good choruses, interesting solo’s and musically it’s all played with skill. However, the problem with the pacing does spoil the songs, which all tend to be a little on the long side. The album simply doesn’t feel exciting enough, if the band can take the pacing they have used on Grim Sleeper, they might have something, but at the moment they are just a little bit too boring. 6/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Halloween At The Green Rooms

Halloween At TGR, The Green Rooms, Treforest

Normally a recording space for bands The Green Rooms has been relatively recently taken over by Jonny from Incursion and as such is re-establishing itself as a live music venue. Held over two days the Halloween spooktacular (sorry) was made up of a lighter rockier day and the harder edged metal day. Obviously we opted for the latter so we rolled up to the venue just in time for doors. It sits on an industrial estate, which was far scarier than the costumes on offer, although one Beetlejuice was particularly good. It's a little like a TARDIS inside a lot bigger than it looks outside, but the place is neatly arranged with a compact stage in a big room. With smell of beardy blokes, facepaint and hotdogs filing the air it was time to kick things off.

Starting the night with some groovy modern metal infused with a punk attitude, were We Come From Ashes (7). The vocalist barks for all he's worth prowling the floor (yes floor) as the riffs and breakdowns come thick and fast. They've got the hardcore punk elements which mean the songs are fleshed out through the sheer aggression on stage. A few technical bugs were evident but they took it in their stride and got the room rocking in the early evening. Next up were five piece metal machine Voidcaller (7) who were once again bringing violence through blistering death/grindcore riffs and barking vocals. Once more the singer stalked the floor creating his own one man pit at times, he's a big dude so if you see him at a gig I wouldn't pit with him. The distorted brutal riffs and a note perfect cover of You Suffer by Napalm Death worked into one another with of their own vicious numbers getting the long hairs windmilling voraciously.

So far so good with two bands I'd not seen, next it was a band both Paul H and Alex have seen so now it was my debut viewing of In Which It Burns (8) the progressive, experimental, extreme metal act that changed genres constantly one minute a ferocious thrash assault that took it's cues from Machine Head, Lamb Of God, the next minute they have some ambient prog thrown in to make sure they keep you on your toes. As they chop and change riffs the drummer Dan Mayhew blasts away letting Steve Flynn's lead take flight and Mike Thomas (bass) and brother Wayne Mayhew (rhythm guitar) back him up with these enthralling riffs. If I'm honest one of the major things I took away from the show was that they have a lot of similarities to Devy back when he was heavy as the SYL sounds come in on Hatred In Disguise especially in Wayne's expressive vocals that move between death roars and black metal screams. The Pembrokshire band are trying to broaden their touring horizons so any potential bookers give them a chance you won't regret it!

Next is the one ink blot on the night a dual fronted heavy metal crew Remnant (5) have serious stage presence bringing banners and a monumental drum kit. The shredding guitar solos were the first real does of classic metal of the evening but for me it was all a bit too much. Having two vocalists doing the same thing in unison does very little for me, when you have both the male and female singer screaming and singing clean simultaneously there's not a lot of duality which makes you wonder why they bother with having two at all. The size of that drumkit meant that it did all get quite muddy sound-wise too and as much passion as the singers had to my taste it very rapidly became quite samey. Check them out you might like them, I didn't I'm afraid.

After this it sort of became my own personal gig as the crowd dwindled and the other bands set off on their way it left the folks at the Green Rooms, some assorted costumed revellers and your friendly neighborhood metal blog, still we weren't complaining as two of the bands on my most watched list were up next.

A man down and with frontman Steve suffering from a bad throat (everyone say aww). The Bloodstock Metal 2 The Masses 2018 winners Democratus (8) set about playing their four piece set on a wing and a prayer. Rattling through their truncated set Zak battering things at warp speed we got the brilliant sort of new song Revenge Eternally which displayed not only how good Kerrin is as a guitarist but how good Spoon is as a bassist covering for Joey admirably in the chords. They fired out the big guns sticking to the growled tracks for Steve's voice meaning the menacing BTK was at its most dramatic since Bloodstock and the final shout along of Life For A Life had those of us who know the words singing along. As always Democratus are a pleasure to watch but the lack of audience was a real travesty.

Self described as "The Most Exciting Band In The Milky Way" the Space Trippers that are Fury (9) pulled their rocket ship into Treforest I'm search of metal, rum and Greggs. They had about 45 minutes to show a mostly unaware audience what they were about so relied on their most anthemic tracks the opening duo of Lost In Space and Space Trippin' started things off nicely into When The Hammer Falls and The Dragons Song which always goes down in Wales as we do love a bloody good dragon. The entire set was a party, the rhythm section of recent addition bassist Tom Fenn and depping bassman Josh Cureton brought vitality to the band as they gurned, posed and joked throughout their set. (The irony of session bassist wearing an And Justice For All T shirt was not lost on me)

Lead by the affable frontman Julian who leaves the flashy solos to Anthony Difford, as he carries the riffs and provides the smoked soulful vocals. Whether it's 4, 40 or 400 in the audience Fury are always about having a good time and with some of us more seasoned than others at watching them, I led the chants, call backs and singalong to alternate national anthem (of England) Britannia and the Queen tribute Now Or Never they had the few of us who were there waving and headbanging with all of our might. I may have lost my voice and done my neck in but my god I'm glad it was because of this band, criminally underrated see them if you get chance I guarantee you'll leave grinning like a mad thing. Most exciting band in the Milky Way? Maybe. In all of Albion? Probably.

Monday 29 October 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Robert Plant (Live Review By Paul H)

Robert Plant And The Sensational Space Shifters, Wales Millennium Centre

In August this year Robert Anthony Plant CBE turned 70. Just take that in for a minute. 70. The rock god who fronted the world’s biggest band of all time, Led Zeppelin, is 70. He is still the most incredible performer.

This year I've been fortunate enough to see a number of the rock and metal world’s elder statesmen continuing to ply their trade to a high standard. From Graham Bonnet, to Rob Halford, Glenn Hughes and (twice) Biff Byford amongst others. None of them, as fabulous as they all are, can hold a torch to Percy. His sheer presence penetrates and intoxicates, and whilst I was too young to breath it all in as Zeppelin ruled the world in the 1970s, it is easy to see why his 20 year old self would have been a bit too much for so many fans. In a time when giants walked the earth, he was the alpha male. Today, healthy, mischievous and thoughtful, his tousled mane at shoulder length, the man simply glides across the stage with an ease that cannot be learnt.

The opening act for the evening’s intimate(ish) performance was Dartmoor born Seth Lakeman (7). Lakeman, at 41, comes from a musical and talented family and he’s been making music since 1998, with an impressive discography which contains several solo albums. Lakeman is a folk musician but plays it with a rock edge. Accompanied by an impressive backing band, Lakeman, who sings, playing tenor guitar, fiddle and viola, has been touring with Plant for much of the year. His foot stomping tunes, including a couple from his new release Well Worn Path got the crowd enthusiastically clapping and hollering from the start. Lakeman’s music is a little too twee for me, but I appreciated his energy, and obvious talent. He’s touring a set of headline shows later this year with a date at The Tramshed on 18th November, should you be interested.

Precisely on the advertised set time, the lights dimmed and African tribal chanting and sounds filled the air. When the lights dim at WMC they really do drop to almost pitch darkness but from our position high in the Upper Circle we could see Robert Plant and The Sensational Shape Shifters (10) make their way on stage. With superb lighting which was a highlight in itself, the band eased into an amended and free style version of When The Levee Breaks, complete with Lakeman adding fiddle. In fact, Lakeman flitted on and off the stage throughout the evening, his fiddle playing perfectly complimenting the superb guitar work of long standing Plant sidekicks Justin Adams and Skin Tyson.

Having seen Plant several times before, quality was assured and the only question that needed answering was which songs he was going to play. With a vast catalogue, he does vary the set list from night to night and here he opted to dip in and out of several Zeppelin songs, with breathtaking versions of The Rain Song, completed perfectly by some beautiful interplay between Tyson and keyboard player John Baggott, Ramble On and The Lemon Song leaving the majority of the audience holding their breath. I say the majority, because once again the odd member of the Welsh crowd appeared unable to behave or respect their fellow audience members. In particular, a couple of lowlife pond dwellers were particularly irritating and appeared unable to contain their excitement at having been let out for the evening as they hollered and hooted at the most inappropriate times. Luckily for them they were seated far to our left and rear, but it was astonishing that those sat near them didn’t address the matter. Enjoyment yes. music takes and grips us in different ways but for fuck’s sake, have a thought and a bit of respect for those around you.

Ignoring the idiots with typical cool, Plant didn’t neglect his recent works with a couple of tracks from his two recent albums with The Shapeshifters; Turn It Up and Little Maggie from Lullaby … And The Ceaseless Roar and The May Queen and the title track from 2017’s delicious Carry Fire all included in the setlist. One of Plant and band’s subtle but impressive skills is how they manage to segue each track comfortably with each other, and with each Zeppelin song given new refrains and arrangements, only history and your prior knowledge of the songs would allow you to establish which song was less than a year old and which had almost half a century in age. 

Further tracks previously covered by Zeppelin which featured in Plant’s set included a magnificent Gallows Pole, or to give it the correct title, The Maid Freed From The Gallows, a 200 year old traditional song, whilst Fixin’ To Die, originally attributed to Bukka White held most of the audience entranced as Plant explained the dark origins of the song which can be traced to the Mississippi slave trade. Another cover, this time one of Zeppelin’s more famous tunes, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (originally a Joan Baez song) was given a lengthy and astonishingly powerful makeover with Adams astounding playing given ample time to explore and expand. With the band introduced, a fitting climax to the show included an extended Black Dog, before Plant wistfully gathered his troops around him for a fitting and well deserved standing ovation.

Robert Plant is an incredible performer, intoxicating, beguiling and totally captivating. His voice remains crystal clear, and he comfortably hit the high notes that he managed in the 1960s, albeit at a slightly changed key and timing. If you’ve never seen this genuine rock god at work, it should be on your bucket list. Just book it on a night when the arseholes in the audience are back in their basement rooms.

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Melvins (Live Review By Rich)

Melvins & Jon Spencer at Y Plas, Cardiff

It had been a good long time since I went to a gig in Y Plas (or as it was formerly known Solus) and I had forgotten what a nice venue it is with great sound and great views from around the room. It was for a nicely varied and unusual mix of music for which I returned to the venue.

There was no local supports on this tour so the evening started with the mighty Jon Spencer (7). Jon Spencer is a name I have heard mentioned many a time by my music loving friends especially The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion so I was interested going into this set with no prior knowledge of his music. On this evening he was playing simply as Jon Spencer in promotion of upcoming solo album Jon Spencer Plays The Hits and what we got was a mix of garage rock, punk rock, rockabilly and straight up dirty rock and roll. The band was made up of Jon Spencer himself on vocals and guitars backed by Quasi frontman Sam Coomes on vocals and keyboards, M. Sord on the drums and Bob Bert on percussion which was a rudimentary drum kit made up of various metal items which Bob would rhythmically strike with hammers to great effect.

This was a pure rock and roll assault with Jon’s loud distorted guitar riffs mixed with the low end provided by the keyboards positively making the room shake. As I am completely unfamiliar with his material I cannot tell you what was played but material off the upcoming album was definitely played as well as material from Jon’s previous projects and maybe a cover version or two. Although this isn’t really music I would go out of my way to listen to I did thoroughly enjoy the set. It was complete badass rock and roll and Jon Spencer is a wonderfully charismatic frontman with a brilliant almost stream of consciousness vocal style. A great way to get things going.

Headlining the evening were the legendary Melvins (8). Despite prolifically touring the UK many times over the last few years I have never managed to catch Melvins live before until now and with the band having such a long and varied discography and having dabbled in so many different musical styles I really had no idea what to expect. All I hoped was it would be heavy and weird and my hopes were met on both accounts. Apart from the main core of frontman King Buzzo and drummer Dale Crover for this tour the band comprised of not one but two bass players - regular Melvins bassist Steven McDonald and the awesome J.D. Pinkus (formerly of Butthole Surfers). Melvins are known for being intensely loud generally but they were a force of sonic devastation with the twin bass attack. The material ranged from crushing sludge metal tunes to more straightforward alternative rock tracks as well as avant garde experimental tunes and a good few cover versions including songs by David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and of course Butthole Surfers. 

The band made a good effort to cover as many of their albums as possible in the set with highlights for me being The Kicking Machine, Anaconda, Honey Bucket, Don’t Forget To Breathe and The Talking Horse. There was very little in audience interaction during the set with the band proceeding to let the music do the talking and sonically batter the audience. The hero of the show though was definitely Dale Crover whose drumming had my jaw scraping the floor. Truly one of the finest drummers out there. Melvins played a fantastic set which was varied and a great representation of their unique sound.

Sunday 28 October 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Cybernetic Witch Cult, Lacertilia & Ritual King

Cybernetic Witch Cult, Lacertilia & Ritual King, Le Pub, Newport

As you've probably seen we love a bit of groove here at MoM Towers, so a chance to see three of the UK's grooviest mothers wasn't one we were going to pass up. Yet another gig in Newport's public art space/bar/cafe Le Pub (Paul H has already waxed lyrical in the Vodun review) the D.I.Y stoner, psych vibe of the evening was really helped by this creative menagerie that surrounded it (and the smell of vegan pizza really got me hungry for some meat-free food).

First up were Manchester trio Ritual King (8) who are a heady mix of classic Southern blues and progressive stoner rock. The rhythmic vibes of Dan Godwin (bass) and Gareth Hodges (drums) meant that the mostly instrumental numbers swung with a voodoo groove that allowed Jordan Leppitt let loose with some cosmic guitar playing that was part Josh Homme (Kyuss years) and part Howlin' Wolf. Leppitt is also the bands vocalist used sparingly his reverbed singing adding that extra bit of mysticism. Flying through their set it was a great bit of fuzz driven stoner rock from Ritual King to get the groove juices going.

Next it was a favourite here at the MoM we've seen Welsh shamans Lacertilia (8) probably as much as we've seen Agrona and Democratus/anything Steve Jenkins is in. They've had a pretty turbulent year replacing their engine room wholesale, joining Matt, Mike and Lucas are Tides Of Sulfur kit destroyer Tom Lee and low end merchant Ed Hughes, having had their honeymoon with the band they added a freshness to Lacertilia's sound, the riffs were louder, maybe due to Tom's extreme metal background, and the songs more heavy than before. Matt is still a great frontman with his humorous ad-libs between the tracks and shouting down the mic during the set made up of older and newer tracks, always unpredictable and on fire it was great to see Lacertilia again having missed a few of their more recent shows and hopefully we'll see more of them in 2019.

After a bit of refreshment it was time for the final band of the night the audio-visual psychedelic stoner experience of Cornwall three-piece Cybernetic Witch Cult (8) Alex, Doug, Lewis employ a unique gimmick to their hook-laden fuzzed up stoner metal by pairing it with B-Movies and swirling visuals inspired by the likes of John Carpenter, Sam Raimi and other old-school Sci-fi/Horror masters. The video draws your attention but it's the glorious noise that keeps you in the room, once described as Hawkwind meets Monster Magnet it's a trippy, blissful heaviness which assaults two orifices they were the best way to round out this groove-driven riff-fest! 

Reviews: Greta Van Fleet, Nothgard, Windhand, Oracle (Paul H & Matt)

Greta Van Fleet: Anthems Of The Peaceful Army (Republic Records) [Matt B]

This was a difficult album to review there was a temptation to be cynical and make the obvious Zeppelin comparisons saying that it's a pastiche etc, read the Pitchfork review if you want a review like that. But I've opted to go the other way and try to prove the claim that by sounding the way they do, they have garnered an appeal that has made them go stratospheric in very short time. I thought I'd talk about the music itself, Age Of Man the song that opens this record is an organ drenched atmospheric, anthemic beginning with Geddy Lee waspishly harping over the top, it's followed by The Cold Wind which I will admit sails too close to the Zep template with the funky blues guitar, walking groove and the Plantisms in full swing as does When The Curtain Falls. So yes they do sound a bit like Zep, but equally they are the epitome of that hippie sound from the late 60's, a time period that is probably ancient history for this youthful band.

Still there are plenty of band's that use the Zep/Free mold to make music, Rival Sons being the obvious example, the only difference here is how uncannily vocals sound like Percy without being a complete rip off, they haven't quite got the honeyed lower register but that may develop with age, only time will tell. The rest of the band play the Delta-blues aping hard rock rich in groovy rhythms and jangly guitar playing, they aren't reinventing it for new era but drawing on it to create new songs that sound oh so retro. Whether their naivety in interviews about trying to sound like Zep is honest or not, I don't know but for such a young band to be churning out this very slick accomplished rock is something that needs to be applauded. In a world where rock is supposedly dying having bands such as Greta Van Fleet, Rival Sons, The Temperance Movement and even Inglorious playing new music that is instantly recognisable (for better or worse) can only be a positive thing. Yes it's nothing new but there are only so many songs/sounds and styles in the world and Greta Van Fleet do it better than most. So baulk if you want, make snide comments, this is a young band who know how to navigate the torred seas of the music industry, The Song Remains The Same as it always has give the people what they want! 8/10

Nothgard: Malady X (Metal Blade Records) [Matt B]

Singer and lead-guitarist Dom R. Crey formed Nothgard in 2008, 10 years into their career (Malady X geddit?) they continue on the maxim of epic symphonic arrangements and intensely technical playing. This is melodic death metal that ventures into the power metal realm with some neo-classical guitar playing added just to really get you nice and excited, if you're expecting high shrieks and powerful crooning you won't get that here as Crey opts for harsh death vocals meaning there's a lot of comparisons to be made to Children Of Bodom but also Dragonforce.

I will say that for fans of this kind of music Nothgard are at the higher end, especially with this record they have tried to set the bar higher than ever before which can hear in every orchestral swell or blistering guitar solo (of which there are many), they've got pumping synths driving Guardians Of Sanity, thrash touches on Serpent Hollow, fist pumping symphonic metal for Herald Of Death and a cover of Ninja by Europe (yes, really) that give you a pretty decent overview of what Nothgard are all about. I'd not heard much about Nothgard before this album but I'll be doing some digging as Malady X is a very accomplished epic melo-death. 7/10

Windhand: Eternal Return (Relapse Records) [Paul H]

Windhand is a psychedelic doom band from Richmond, Virginia. The band comprises Dorthia Cottrell on vocals, Parker Chandler on bass, drummer Ryan Wolfe and guitarist Garrett Morris. This is the band’s fourth album, since they formed in 2008. At over an hour long you certainly get value for money with this release. Opener Grey Gardens, complete with distorted bass and filthy fuzzy guitars certainly sets the tone and pace. A theme which focuses on life’s highs and lows, joys and sorrows is represented here with the sanguine Pilgrim’s Rest sandwiched between Grey Gardens and another crashing doom riff laden track in First To Die.

The band has experienced loss, changes and death in between 2015’s Grief’s Infernal Flower, including the departure of founder member and guitarist Asechiah Bogdan, which is reflected in Eternal Return. Whilst the monstrous Sabbath and Sleep riffs remain, Cottrell’s hauntingly soft vocals move the band slightly more towards Soundgarden and even Alice In Chains at times with a sludgier feel. Windhand follow a clear pattern, and it’s the gargantuan heavy Eyeshine which really shakes the foundations. 11 minutes of crawling, thunderous riffs, atmospheric vocals and crashing drumming and if this wasn’t enough, Feather rolls in shortly afterwards at a crushing 13-and-a-half-minute ride full of punishing doom, distorted feedback and rolling bass lines. Windhand won’t be everyone’s thing. The ponderous style works fabulously if you like your doom at chest crushing levels. 7/10

Oracle: Tales Of Pythia (Self Released) [Paul H]

This debut EP from Northern Irish groove bastards Oracle was released in June, ahead of their balls out performance at Bloodstock in August. I was impressed with the band on the day in the New Blood tent and this release is a solid example of what they threw into the mix on that day. Four hefty songs as well as an intro track including the thunderous No God Waits For You, which stomps and kicks like a unbroken horse. Harsh vocals fit the heavy stomp and the thunderous cacophony that envelopes the listener pummels from left to right and back again in a relentless pattern of abuse. With more heft than an Ulster Fry, Tales Of Pythia is a debut to be proud of. 8/10

Saturday 27 October 2018

Reviews: Soulfly, Nazareth, Skålmöld, Dirge (Reviews By Paul H & Matt)

Soulfly: Ritual (Nuclear Blast) [Paul H]

It’s been three years since Archangel, an age between albums for Soulfly but with Max Cavalera busy with Cavalera Conspiracy and the Return To Roots tour with brother Igor, it’s probably not a surprise. I missed the band’s recent UK tour which by all accounts saw Soulfly on blistering form. Well, Ritual is worth the three year wait. As soon as Marc Rizzo’s unmistakable trademark riffs open the album on the title track, which then explodes into a melee of tribal thrash you know exactly where you are.

It’s hard, it’s heavy; it’s Soulfly. Chunky riffs combine with explosive drumming coming from Zyan Cavalera’s third appearance on the drum stool. Dead Behind The Eyes has the bonus of Lamb Of god’s Randy Blythe laying down his characteristic gnarly vocals on a fiery, ferocious track which slices and lacerates. It’s intense, a whirling maelstrom of aggression. One of the standout features on what is a fabulously brutal album is the underlying groove which hasn’t always been present in their recent music. The Summoning combines death and thrash metal but with a huge underlying groove throughout the track. 

Immolation's Ross Dolan adds gravitas to Under Rapture, another bludgeoning head banger which accelerates to warp speed within seconds and doesn’t break until it hits the brick wall at the end. Rizzo is a massively underrated guitarist and this release showcases just how fine he is with some astonishing lead breaks. Mike Leon underpins the entire album with foundation shaking bass lines, former bassist Tony Campos now on duty with Ministry and Fear Factory not missed at all. Mixed with the usual tribal elements, the album maintains the traditional conclusion with an instrumental track, this time it’s Soulfly XI, sharply contrasting with the scorching ten tracks that precede it , and which features some haunting saxophone and beautiful acoustic guitar Josh Wilbur’s fine production adds to the quality on an album that stands proudly alongside the band’s finest works. An essential listen. 9/10

Nazareth: Tattooed On My Brain (Frontiers) [Paul H]

Four years after the Scots final album with the gravel-soaked voice of Dan McCafferty, one of the UKs most legendary rock bands are back with a new album. I’ve always had a soft spot for these guys, ever since I heard a live version of Razamanaz on a heavy metal compilation in the very early 1980s. That song, the title track from their 1973 Roger Glover produced album has always been a favourite. I was a little disappointed with the band at Steelhouse a couple of years ago, but I think that’s due to the lightweight mix which rendered the band limp in the riff stakes. Having brought Carl Sentance, the former Persian Risk and Krokus vocalist into the fold in 2015, this release demonstrates that he is the perfect fit for Nazareth. 

Tattooed On My Brain consists 13 songs, the majority of which are good solid hard rock in the style of boogie kings AC/DC. In fact, the only weak track on the album is the ballad Rubik’s Romance, which is pretty insipid. The rest of the tracks, all allow Sentance to show his chops, whilst original member Pete Agnew’s simple bass lines thump out of the speakers, combining neatly with son Lee on drums. Elsewhere, long-serving Jimmy Murrison adds enough meat with his tasty guitar playing. There are many highlights on this rock solid release, and whilst it won’t win the big plaudits, there is still plenty of life in this dog. 7/10

Skålmöld: Sorgir (Napalm Records) [Paul H]

I admit to knowing little about the Viking metal of Icelandic outfit Skålmöld. Relative veterans of the scene, this is their fifth album. As with most Viking metal, there appears to be a range of styles all wrapped up with random shouting and screaming. Scotta is case in point; plenty of thundering metal with the vocals all over the place. Lots of horn in the air style gestures and pumping riffs, backed by batteries of drumming and fast paced. It certainly isn’t as shocking as some of the rubbish I’ve heard this year. In fact, at times it’s very catchy. Take Gangori as an example. This is an explosive emotive and rousing track with some terrific guitar work. Sorgir opens in majestic style, combined riffs and neat hooks pull in the right direction on Ljosio, the image of longboats crashing through the waves as hordes of bearded long-haired broad raiders worked their hardest to get to their prize. 

Much like the other bands in this genre, there’s a typical format which they follow. The sing-along style of Sveroio follows Ljosio whilst the more focused straightforward approach of Brunin adopts the usual blueprint of heads down heavy, almost thrash power metal, with a meaty Anthrax style stomp welcome halfway thoroughly as the chanting to the god’s kicks in. Atmospheric introductions are not far away and Mori, at over six minutes in length can build dramatically and impressively, choral voices soaring as the riffs of the track kick in. Unlike some of their counterparts, it’s the rather grating vocals of Bjorvin Sigurosson which cause me the most grief. Gruff like Hegg is fine, but I find Sigurosson’s delivery the weak point here. As I said, Viking metal doesn’t always do it for me and this is a mixed bag which doesn’t quite hit the spot. 6/10

Dirge: Lost Empyrean (Debemur Morti Productions) [Matt B]

We've got a term here at MoM Towers for when something is particularly heavy, we say it has heft. Lost Empyrean the 7th album by Parisian sludge mongers most definitely has heft, a molten brew of early Baroness, Pelican and Isis with huge slabs of crushing ferocity it "Serves as a soundtrack to the dual relationship between the primordial quintessence colliding with the earthly body and the illusory nature of providence upon the somber, meager trappings of existence."

Meaning that it's packed with highly conceptual doom riffs that switch between punishing thunder of down tuned savagery to post-metal ambience in an instance flowing like glacier. Having been around since 1994 the band have a been purveyors of noise for a bloody long time which means that the music here has been carefully constructed for maximum impact, it's primal and uncompromising coming from the same gloom as Neurosis with added industrial oppression to really freak you out (Algid Troy). A heady mix of beauty and brutality Lost Empyrean is a heavy hitting album that will have you transcending earthly realms from the word go. Just play it loud! 8/10

Friday 26 October 2018

A(nother) View From The Back Of The Room: Evil Scarecrow (Comparative Live Review By Paul)

Special Brucey Bonus Review

Evil Scarecrow – The Garage, Glasgow

You may have read Neil’s recent glowing review of Nottingham parody metal outfit Evil Scarecrow from their recent gig at the Motion in Bristol as part of their Antartartica UK tour. The band have steadily built a reputation for their live shows and I admit with no shame that I was scuttling across the main arena at Bloodstock in 2014 when the band drew a huge number to watch their early morning set. However, since then the band has failed to interest me in the same manner and whilst I don’t deny that they are adored by many who would argue that they are fun and a good time, I for one find their set now a little dated.

Ten Foot Wizard (8) have been around since 2009 and despite only catching their final four tracks, I liked what I heard and saw. Heavy stoner riffs and energy a plenty from front man Gary, the band careered through their set with real drive and determination. The Mancunians warm fuzzy tones pleasing and closing track Covered In Tits complete with microphone taped to heron and loud speaker was just ridiculous.

With the tarps pulled away the stage set revealed a giant igloo amongst many other props and as the band hit the stage the place went nuts. Quickly retreating to a safe distance, I watched from further back as Evil Scarecrow (6) got stuck into their set with a couple of new tracks from the weak Antartartica album. The sound was abysmal, with the vocals buried in the mix and the guitars non-existent. Whilst this didn’t appear to impact on the rest of the crowd, it accentuated my reservations about the band. Props were everywhere, partly to disguise the fact that musically, this band isn’t that good (something they openly acknowledge). An early place in the setlist for Robototron did raise a smile from me as the band attempted to get a ‘square pit’ going only for the crowd to get it hopelessly wrong.

As the 90 minute set developed, it was clear to me that the new material isn’t up to much, with the Ballad of Brother Pain particularly awful. Flying saucers, robots and spacemen are all well and good but it would be much more enjoyable if the band had more songs to match the onstage antics. I found myself looking at my watch and checking my phone several times as the set continued, not a good combination. Red Riding Hood saw a ridiculous dance off competition whilst the bloated title track from Antartartica saw many lose attention. As it was, the expected antics of Crabulon, Space Dementia and closing encore Hurricanado ensured that the vast majority of the crowd lapped it up and went home happy. We had a lengthy debate about the band afterwards, with the conclusion being that I just don’t find Evil Scarecrow as funny and enjoyable as I did a few years ago. Maybe I’ve want more from my music than inflatable crabs and robots. Maybe the sound marred it. Maybe  I’m just a miserable bastard. Whatever the case, if you like Evil Scarecrow, then good for you. Enjoy and have fun. I’ll just pass next time they come round.

A View From The Back Of The Room: Hogjaw

Hogjaw, Henry's Funeral Shoe, Lifer, Ebbw Vale Institute (EVI), Ebbw Vale

It's been a long time since I've been to the Ebbw Vale Institute, the last band I saw here was Absolva back in the mists of time. The venue hasn't changed at all the huge ceiling means the venue is probably one of the loudest in South Wales, they also have a superb bottle bar with numerous quite rare ales.

With a crowd starting to fill the venue it was time for the first band and taking full advantage of the huge sound were the groove-laden Lifer (8) who I've only ever seen in Fuel and I'll admit haven't really enjoyed, here though in front of a partisan crowd they were miles better than I'd ever seen them, this was probably due to the sound being a lot clearer meaning you can hear the sludgy discord of their NOLA-influenced riffs. Getting a 45 minute slot Lifer played their best tracks every one having thick syrupy riffs and shouted aggressive vocals, as I've said I've never seen Lifer better and I'd love to see them again when I'm bit more acquainted with their tracks. A pretty heavy way of starting the evening.

Now here's where it gets odd, next up were Henry's Funeral Shoe (7) a modern blues two piece who have a cult like following in these parts, as witnessed by the now largely expanded crowd most of which stuck down the front for the entirety of the bands one hour set. Now their music is good, Aled is a very expressive guitar player moving between Hendrix-like freak-outs, fuzzy riffs and old school blues slide, his vocals are raw while Brennig is a demon behind the kit, a frontman in his own right getting the crowd going urging them to get moving. Now as good as Henry's Funeral Shoe are as a band I will admit an hour was little too long as a support, especially because as soon as their set ended many people did leave the venue, I want to say that this was due to transport issues (the headliner didn't come on until 10pm) but it's probably more due to most treating this as a headline set over the lesser known main band. Still a great show that eased a little more melody into the evening.

Then it was time for the headliner and the band I'd come to see, as you'll know we're a bit partial to some Southern rock here at MoM Towers so we couldn't pass up the opportunity to catch Arizona's premier Southern rockers on their first UK tour. Hogjaw (9) are supporting their 2017 album Way Down Yonder meaning that a lot of the set came from this album, exploding out of the gates clad in their best Southern threads, I'm talking beards, Stetsons (bassist Elvis DD), camo and slinging some Gibsons they came out swinging with Rollin Thunder and Beast of Burden (Roll On) they let rip with some hard rocking fury however Jonboat Jones' guitar was not audible for the first few songs only coming back by the third song in, as both him and lead guitarist Jimmy Rose share the lead breaks in the style of the Allman Brothers it did detract a little, Jonboat Jones is the main vocalist his hollar towers above it all in similar timbre to David Allen Coe.

However this band are multi-talented and versatile meaning that both Jimmy Rose and drummer Kwall take lead vocals on North Carolina Way and Road Of Fools respectively. Balancing hard rock and country they've got the boogie of ZZ Top, the swagger of Skynyrd and of course those slick soaring leads, best witnessed on the magnificent County Line which is 13 minute guitar workout from Rose. A great use of slower numbers dotted throughout the set meant that it was very well paced getting the now more noticeably sparse crowd in the groove, although there was the dreaded talking during the quieter passages which is still very bloody annoying. As the set came to a close the technical gremlins came back with a vengeance but by that time nobody was that bothered (even me).  If you missed them here then next time you better come Way Down Yonder with Hogjaw.  

Thursday 25 October 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Saxon (Live Review By Paul H)

Saxon & FM, Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Saxon. It must be close to ten in the last six years alone. One of the hardest working bands in the world of hard rock, the band continue to release high quality albums and put in two hour shows despite their veteran status. Having seen them blow the roof of the Great Hall in Cardiff earlier this year, we tripped the EasyJet fantastic and headed to the iconic Barrowland Ballroom to catch the band on Part II of the Thunderbolt European tour.

Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom is a fabulous venue. Located in one of the less salubrious parts of the city, the venue is split over a couple of levels with the main Ballroom at the top level. The iconic sign which lights up the outside set the hairs standing on the back of the neck whilst the security at the main entrance were welcoming and full of humour.

We deliberately missed opening act Wayward Sons as we were having a drink in the very decent Solid Rock Bar, a venue so impressive and one that our own local venues could learn a thing or two from. Clean, spacious and with a decent variety of beers, this looked to be the place for a pre-gig pint.

Entering the Ballroom with its 2100 capacity about 90% full, last minute support FM (8) were in the process of blasting out That Girl, their seminal track receiving a superb response. Every time I see this band I remember how slick and polished they are. Steve Overland has a superb voice whilst the rest of the band, Merv Goldworthy, Jen Davies, Jim Kirkpatrick and Pete Jupp are one musicians. Their smooth AOR style may not suit everyone but the band played it straight, picking out a range of tracks from their 11 album back catalogue including a couple from their most recent Atomic Generation album which received a warm Glasgow roar. Little chat, just plenty of music and the place was close to bouncing by the time the band finished their 40 minute set.

We moved to the far side of the venue which proved to be a good move as the show had sold out on the day of the gig and like many buildings of a similar age, the installation of air conditioning had clearly passed by without a thought. It was pretty warm. I’ve reviewed Saxon (9) many times in the past and there are few superlatives left to use. Led as usual by the reliable Biff Byford, whose voice shows no signs of aging, the band crashed through a 22 song set which contained several tracks from Thunderbolt, as well as title tracks from Sacrifice and 2016’s Battering Ram. In essence, the set list changed little from that gig back in Cardiff, with one of the weaker songs from Thunderbolt, Sons Of Odin replacing Sniper and the reintroduction of Solid Ball Of Rock into the setlist about the only variations.

It was clear that whilst the new songs were known to the majority of those present, it was the 1980s stuff that most Saxon fans wanted to hear and as always, they didn’t disappoint. Pick your hit list from the first few albums, and that’s the set list in a nutshell. Motorcycle Man appeared early, a thumping Dallas 1PM nearly took the roof off whilst the standout track was the brooding The Eagle Has Landed which opened the first set of encores. Saxon do it old school, and that’s usually alright for me. Occasionally you wonder whether they would do something a little different, and throw in some curved balls from other albums, but as they arrive at their 40th anniversary next year, it’s hardly a surprise. The famous Glasgow roar arrived at various times, with the volume of the crowd impressive. Despite their reputation, I did feel that the energy levels in the audience at times didn’t match that of those on stage and towards the end of the set it appeared a little subdued. Wheels Of Steel, complete with sing-along and the reemergence of a balloon that Brett had released over 90 minutes earlier which bounced off Biff’s head galvanised the crowd for one last push before the anthem that is Denim & Leather sent everyone home happy.

Saxon have been on the road for most of 2018. Their tour schedule is punishing. The list of countries they’ve travelled to this year lengthy. It’s amazing that they can still do it and with drummer Nigel Glockler showing no ill effects from his subarachnoid haemorrhage from a few years ago, the band appear tighter and healthier than they have in years. Sure, it is at time a bit of a cabaret with Biff playing the ringleader with aplomb, but there is no doubt that Carter, Glockler, Quinn and Scaratt remain fantastic musicians. Their energy and intensity, even on tracks they play night after night is incredible. 2019 should be a brilliant year for one of the best British metal bands of all time. Let’s hope so. They deserve it.

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Reviews: High On Fire, Earthless, Mirrors For Psychic Warfare, Sunless Dawn (Paul H & Paul S)

High On Fire: Electric Messiah (Entertainment One Music) [Paul S]

Matt Pike has been really busy this year. Not content to release a brilliant new Sleep album (The Sciences), he’s also back with a new High On Fire album, Electric Messiah. It’s been 3 years since their last album Luminiferous, so what have High On Fire got for us this time? First track, Spewn From The Rock, sets the pace for this album. It absolutely rages! This album is insanely fast. Pure simple thrash, fast, in your face and with a real punky edge. Second track Steps Of The Ziggurat / House Of Enlil seems to have a slower more 6/8 timing, until about half way through, when the pace picks up and were back to high energy thrash again. Sanctioned Annihilation does a similar thing, more of a slower track, until the band get bored of it and put their collective feet to the floor, and the song gets turbo charged again. When ever High On Fire try to slow down and be more measured and sensible, the red mist clouds their vision and off they go again.

This isn’t a complaint, this is wonderful. High On fire are at their best when they are at full speed, and they know it. The title track, which was inspired by, and is an homage to the late, great Lemmy. My god, what a tribute this song is. Definitely one of the fastest songs on the album, to my ears it sounds like the Motorhead track Overkill pushed to ridiculous levels of fury; an absolute raging explosion of a song! The production is great as well, this is the 3rd album produced by Kurt Ballou and he knew exactly what this album needed. It’s raw and in your face, but at the same time clear enough to allow the songs to shine through. 

The band all excel themselves. Des Kensel’s drums sound like amplified thunder, Jeff Matz’s bass could start earthquakes and Pike’s vocals are probably the best he’s managed with High On Fire. Every song on this album is cracking, they all have their own personality, and I didn’t get the urge to skip any of them. The album is brought to an end by the track Drowning Dog, another storming fast track with an absolutely brilliant chorus, which will get stuck in your head. Electric Messiah is probably High On Fire’s best album, from a band that have only made good albums. Do yourself a favour and get this album, it’s impossible to listen to it without smiling! 9/10

Earthless: From The West (Nuclear Blast) [Paul H]

The savagely jazz free form style of San Diego’s Earthless has been impressing audiences around the world since their formation back in 2001. Their latest live album, their third, captures the band in their natural environment. Lengthy psychedelic and Krautrock pieces, mainly instrumental in nature, showcase the talent of the three musicians in the band. The band once delivered an astonishing set at Roadburn in Norway, the recording of which was released live and this release, recorded at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco in March encapsulates their ferocious approach. The Baroness/Rory Gallagher fusion of Electric Flame is one of the few tracks which features the vocals of guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, although it is his fluid finger picking that stands out, with some impressive lead work. 

The band is completed by bassist Mike Eginton and Mario Rubalcaba on drums, whose solid rhythm work allows Mitchell space to work. Tracks such as the 20 minute Uluru Rock allow you to become fully immersed in the band’s evolving styles, whilst a rather tasty cover of Zeppelins Communication Breakdown doesn’t let down the original in any way. A fine release that is worth repeated playing. The band are on the bill for 2019’s Desertfest in London and if you are heading to that these guys are sure to be worth checking out. 8/10

Mirrors For Psychic Warfare: I See What I Became (Neurot Recordings) [Paul S]

Mirrors For Psychic Warfare are Scott Kelly from Neurosis and Sanford Parker; musician and producer extraordinaire. The pair have worked together on Corrections House, this is the second album from this industrial project. First track Animal Coffins starts slowly, dissonant electronic sounds fade up and down, becoming more and more oppressive before a slow, powerful beat pulls all the disparate parts together. The song has an eastern feel to the later parts, with the inclusion of Tabla drums and chanting. The pacing on the album is all mid-paced, these aren’t the kind of beats you could dance to, much more hypnotic and relentless than that. There are also elements of Glitch Techno in the sound as well, the track Body Ash is a good example of this. In some ways this sounds like Godflesh jamming with Aphex Twin. Most of the individual instruments on this album, whether real or software, have lots of reverb and echo on them. However, the vocals don't. This allows the vocals to cut through the music, no matter how dissonant and cacophonous the music might be.

Although there is a real feeling of darkness and menace in the music, the vocals have a feeling of intelligence and control, which act as an interesting juxtaposition to the music. The song Crooked Teeth has a heavier feel to it, particularly the latter part of the track, the rhythms feel like they are in opposition to each other, and what could be an organ gives the song real depth and weight. There’s a dreamlike quality to the album. The constantly morphing music, combined with eerie samples and the clean vocals feel like a fevered dream, a dream that is confusing, that you want to wake up from, but can’t. The final track Coward Heat is the slowest song on the album. A dark, desolate, dissonant soundscape that brings the album to a really disquieting finish. This is not an album for the faint hearted. But if you are willing to let some incredibly dark industrial noise into your life you will find a lot to enjoy in this album. Give the album a little time and you’ll get a great deal out of it. 8/10

Sunless Dawn: Timeweaver (Prime Collective) [Paul H]

This is the debut release by Danish progressive death metal outfit Sunless Dawn. Complex patterns, deep and intricate passages as well as mood changing reflections are all contained in a soundscape of truly interesting tracks. Having waited for some time to produce Timeweaver, the Danes, who earned a slot at Wacken in 2016 by winning their national battle of the bands competition, have clearly taken their time to ensure that it’s a memorable piece of work. The opening three tracks segue into the intrinsically linked middle trio, Biomorph I, II and III, which provide an Opeth style exploratory sound. Biomorph I: Polarity Portrayed switches easily from delicate and fragile into Biomorph II:Collide Into Being, a much more raucous and aggressive piece which still retains melody, haunting atmospheric guitar work and some perfectly pitched keyboards which add both depth and warmth.

The track ascends to epic proportions with the introduction of choral voices toward the end before easing gently into part three, Biomorph III: Between Meadow And Mire. This is another stunning and intricate piece of work, retaining hooks and pitch whilst the organic evolution develops in Ne Obliviscaris style. Whilst the band are described as progressive death metal I’d also add a good dose of black metal and even a teaspoon of djent into the mix. Timeweaver is a beautiful piece of work with closing track Sovereign, all 15 minutes in length, a perfect conclusion to an explosive, balanced, natural and complex album. With influences amongst the band cited as far ranging as Dream Theater, Opeth, Alcest, Cynic, Tesseract and Cattle Decapitation, it’s still a surprise just how mature and thought provoking this album actually is. An enormous debut from a band who clearly have potential for a massive future. 8/10

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Reviews: Impellitteri, Send Request, Atlas, Onkel Tom (Reviews By Rich & Matt N)

Impellitteri: Nature Of The Beast (Frontiers) [Rich]

Impellitteri are a band I’ve never heard of before considering they have been going since 1987 and about a minute into their new and eleventh album Nature Of The Beast I was wondering why the hell I hadn’t heard these before as this is right up my street. Named after founding member and lead guitarist Chris Impellitteri the band play a super intense and fast style of heavy metal with absolutely face melting guitar shredding. The songs are all very melodic and catchy as well. It’s not just about Chris Impellitteri's guitar gymnastics though as frontman Rob Rock proves himself to be one of the most underrated singers in heavy metal. This is a fantastic heavy metal album full of fierce yet melodic anthems. The album is about two songs too long. The two cover versions - Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera and Black Sabbath’s Symptom Of The Universe - serve little purpose but it’s only a very minor criticism. 8/10

Send Request: Perspectives (Sharptone Records) [Matt N]

Perspectives by Send Request screams into life with an irresistibly cool riff in Dr Dare Rides Again. As a man who loved Simple Plan and Sum 41 in my youth I must admit the similarities to the vocals in those bands and other American pop punk groups is unmistakable. Hearing those vocals took me immediately back to simpler days of being a mildly emo teenager who wanted the world to listen to his pain. The second track Talk A Lot is a little bit different and is much more comparable to A Day To Remember, the vocals take on a harsher quality and the drums lead the way with faster and more complex rhythms. The tone of this song retains the teenage angst of the previous track but adds in the more aggressive qualities that only metal can provide in music. This seems to be the line that Send Request is attempting to walk, a balance between the more alternative rock bands and some metal influences.

That being said there isn’t a shortage of variation in this work. Send Request’s fourth track Let It Die takes on a more acoustic and simplistic tone. The vocal harmonies help reinforce the summer sunsets vibe. Lyrically the song is about having to let things change, a common human experience that I encourage the readership to listen to when they’ve experienced a recent change in their life. Both tracks Trust and Make Like A Tree are songs that didn’t 100% stick. I felt that neither of these songs achieved anything that the previous songs had accomplished. The choruses don’t quite hit strong enough to be truly impactful. I would have liked to hear more of those metal influences in these tracks to elevate the music rather than leaving it at the level of The All American Rejects. That’s not meant as a criticism of TAAR, simply as a statement of comparison. I think at this point in the album, Send Request reveal that they aren’t yet comfortable being aggressive as much as they prefer a more melancholic anger.

Here’s To The Years brought me right back on board with this band. As a lyricist myself I was able to overlook somewhat uneventful instruments to really appreciate how wonderfully conversational the lyrics are. So often in listening to smaller bands do you hear lines that do not link together properly but this song has lyrics that consistently flow into one another. Often I have a habit of assigning a time of year to a band’s music and this track is meant for autumn listening. Do yourself a favour and listen to this at the end of a school year, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to truly appreciate this gem. In fact I almost wish this song had been drawn out and left as the ending of the entire album, it has a beautiful sampling of what I assume is band conversations to accent the meaning of the song

Send Request is doing everything in their genre well, but I do question the individuality of the music. I’m not sure I’ve necessarily heard enough from this band to truly separate them from others in the same peer group. That all being said, the band has the uncanny talent for being able to perfectly structure their mid sections and endings. I am encouraged to listen to this band more and I do think that they should be selling out stadiums to packed teenagers, it’s music that directly appeals to adolescence and I hope that they find the millions of fans that they deserve. 8/10

Atlas: In Pursuit Of Memory (AOR Heaven) [Rich]

In Pursuit Of Memory is the debut album by Manchester based melodic hard rock band Atlas. This is the band's second release having previously released the EP World In Motion last year. Atlas have a sound that in rooted in classic AOR bands but also manages to sound contemporary and takes influence from progressive metal bands such as Dream Theater. The song themselves contain plenty of melodies and hooks with hummable piano lines and some impressive lead guitar playing with standouts being As Time Goes By, Lock And Key and Flesh And Blood (for which a video was filmed). The songs generally are all high energy and sound very professional for such a young and inexperienced band.

The vocals by frontman Craig Wells are definitely something of an acquired taste sounding absolutely awful and off key on the first couple of songs which sound like they were written for another singer altogether. Thankfully his vocals do improve drastically as the album goes on and the later songs do suit his vocal limits. Atlas have produced an enjoyable debut album which whilst not completely wowing me is definitely more than listenable. With some more experience under their belts I’m sure Atlas will become a big name in the modern AOR scene. 7/10

Onkel Tom: Bier Ernst (Steamhammer/SPV) [Rich]

As well as fronting the thrash legends Sodom, Tom Angelripper has released many solo albums under the guise of Onkel Tom. The latest of these and album number seven for Onkel Tom is Bier Ernst a double album of drinking tunes and party anthems. Don’t come into this album expecting a thrash metal attack as what you get is a mix of punk rock, heavy metal and rock & roll and splashes of folk music. There are odd moments which are far more thrash metal influenced such as the crossover song Ich Finde Nur Metal Geil but the majority of the songs are pure party rock influenced by hard drinking and good times such as Wir Trinken Wenig and Bier, Bier, Bier.  The second disc switches it up and is a bit more serious but still with the fun element which is carried through the entire album. Despite the language barrier (the entire album is in German), Bier Ernst is very enjoyable and would be a great album to put on for an evening of beer drinking and partying. 7/10 

Monday 22 October 2018

Reviews: Heir Apparent, Bearfist, Void Titan, The Outlaw Orchestra

Heir Apparent: The View From Below (No Remorse Records)

Formed in Seattle by guitarist Terry Gorle in 1983 Heir Apparent are a band who suffered a fate similar to many at that time by breaking up/going on hiatus until around 2000. The line up that appears on this record have been in place since 2015 with Gorle on guitar as usual with Will Shaw (vocals), Derek Peace (bass), Ray Schwartz (drums) and Op Sakiya (keyboards). The View From Below is has been picked up by Greek label No Remorse Records and it's the bands third full length record and if you're a fan of progressively tinged classic metal then this will be right up your alley. They have always been compared to their fellow Washington state compatriots Queensryche who I will admit they sound a lot like although I'd also add in that on The Door they sound like early (first two albums) Dream Theater when they had a lot of grit, mainly due to Shaw's vocals.

It's got that swirling keyboard and heavy riff that made the Kevin Moore/John Petrucci partnership, these touches re-appear on the brooding Synthetic Lies. There's not often when bands have such an extended break and come back better but Heir Apparent have bucked this trend, they're progressive tinged heavy metal is confident, assured with a lot of effort having been put into write this record with time taken to add some experimentation bringing in Eastern influences for The Road To Palestine. You've probably overlooked Heir Apparent but I'd urge you pick this album up if you like progressive heavy metal. 8/10 

Bearfist: Smile You Son Of Bitch (Self Released)

Smile You Son Of A Bitch is the third EP from Chelmsford heavy's Bearfist, after winning the London M2TM's they have played Bloodstock Festival 2016, HRH Metal 2017 and Hammerfest 2018 you can see why they have a 'ones to watch' buzz about them from the songs this EP, big ballsy riffage combines with aggressive screams to really get the pulse racing with canal deep riffs right from the first second. Built on a bedrock of rage tracks like Death's Emissary and Bleed The Wrong Way are pit-starters of the highest order and across the four tracks the pace never drops below that of absolute carnage. Drawing influence from the NWOAHM there's the brutality of LOG and Devildriver but with the complexity of Brit ragers like Sikth (it's produced by Justin Hill) or Architects, jump out of your seat and show your teeth Bearfist are here to bring the noise! 7/10 

Void Titan: Harbinger (Self Released)

Having seen Bristol based doom crew Void Titan a couple of times, I had been wondering when they were going to make some recorded tunes and as if by magic here is Harbinger the EP literally heralds the arrival of the nastiest, most epic doom this side of London. Monstrous riffs are paired with barking death metal vocals, clean melodic leads and elongated tracks that weave, contort and twist as the rhythm section of Fionn Moore (drums) and Nick Lowry (bass) set a uncompromising precedence on opener Void Titan that is kept up across the remaining two tracks. Starting out with Phil Wadley's clean, atmospheric lead guitar, Void Titan then blasts into down tuned and thunderous riffage with Moore, Lowry and Rob Cooper blasting away as Cooper also barks down the microphone with guttural vocals, things shift back to ambience before your head is smashed in again rounding out the track with solo.

Second track Harbinger brings the doom (just as you'd expect) with a faster riff making this the shortest track on the album adding the grooves of Bolt Thrower. The band self recorded this album with Richard Parsons aiding with the engineer and it being a D.I.Y record, the production is a little rustic however the band wanted this EP to sound as similar to their live show as possible and they've pulled it off giving the EP an old school sound. Rounding out the EP is the impressive March Of Astartes (based on the Warhammer 40K universe) which chugs away like a a doom-laden trooping of the colour. A band who impress live also manage to capture their sound in the studio, don't ignore the warnings the Void Titan is coming. 7/10

The Outlaw Orchestra: The Devil Made Me Do It (Self Released)

Not a tribute to Thunder's song of the same name The Outlaw Orchestra are a Southern/Country rock band who hail not from the swamps of Georgia or the Bayou but the Deep South, that lawless city known as...Southampton. Having got in touch with us recently they sent us their three track EP that serves a precursor to a debut album that will (hopefully) released next year. The last track on this record is Back To Georgia which apparently is a a true story of "guitar player Dave getting a flat tyre on the car as he and girlfriend drove from Birmingham Alabama to Atlanta Georgia. After half an hour of cussing he suggested she do something useful like 'use your sweet ass to hitch them a ride back to Georgia'....hence the song was born"

Well if it works do it I say, especially if it makes a good song. The Outlaw Orchestra aren't a tribute or a pastiche they've got real Southern swagger in their blood boasting an upright bass and a banjo, the three tracks on here, it means that there are touches of bluegrass, country, flamenco, cajun and Southern rock. They've played all over the country with acts such as King King. The Dead Daisies, Dan Baird and Kris Barras gaining quite a reputation for themselves in the live arena, they've already been approached by our mate Rob Stampede and Toby Jepson so it looks like they're making the right people sit up and listen. If the devil made them do it then that contract was worth it. 7/10 

Reviews: Nosound, Vitja, Walking Dead On Broadway, Rise Of The Northstar (Reviews By Lee & Sean)

Nosound: Allow Yourself (Kscope) [Sean]

Shockingly, there are many genres of music other than metal. Outside the walls of blast beats, shredding and shrieks exists vast eco systems of sounds. Said sounds encompass an even broader spectrum of thoughts, moods and overall aesthetic beyond the metallic horizon. Italy’s Nosound are one such band though the mood here is bittersweet, the aesthetic is stripped down and austere. Once ranging from prog, post rock, ambient and electronic, Nosound's latest offering Allow Yourself casts aside the traditional in favour of a more minimalistic mindset. Guitars have been abandoned, drums absconded with and synths and all manner electronics taking the centre stage. Let us begin….

Ego Drip and Shelter share similar compositional qualities. An ostinato serve as the backbone as layers are gradually added and slowly growing into a crescendo of sweeping synths and pulsing electronics. My Drug plays with the formula more, soaring vocals atop a playful drum beat resulting in a very introspective ambience. Despite this, it all feels a bit….passive? Somewhat akin to silence coloured in. Then everything changes. Miracle is absolutely haunting and beautiful in equal measure, introducing a lonesome cello and providing a much needed change in dynamics. This Night and At Peace are equally strong offerings, perfect examples of Nosound's vision of a sparse sound employed to great effect.

Occasionally Allow Yourself buckles under its own ambition, the newly adopted barebones design robbing the songs of any spark or engagement. Yet the transition is far from a failure, as there are moments where this paradigm shift works beautifully. It’s in these moment that Allow Yourself succeeds and does so with stunning results. When it does work, Nosound create a dense ethereality, one of sadness, aching loneliness and a profound yearning for something better in this world. For those moments alone, Allows Yourself deserves to be experienced. 7/10

Vitja: Mistaken (Century Media Records) [Lee]

When asked to review this album, I saw Djent/Metalcore and I was immediately in. Hailing from Koln, Germany and having opened for some respectable Metalcore bands such as Texas In July and Iwrestledabearonce on the back of their debut album, Echoes, the band were destined for great things. Their entire back catalogue reminds me of bands such as Veil Of Maya, Volumes, Our Hollow, Our Home and Mistaken is no different. Their material is good but not strong enough to move them into the upper echelons of metalcore such as Architects but getting some decent outings as a support act will definitely help their cause. 

Mistaken is a nice mix of metalcore and djent with some melodic parts and if I could describe it in two words, it’d be Angsty Teenager and you only need to look at some song titles to get a feel of this, songs such as Friends Don't Lie, for example. The tracking of the album has a nice pace, a mixture of mellow and metal is an easy 30-minute listen. Standout tracks on the album are dependent on whether you’d prefer either a heavy or an easy listen, Anxiety is definitely a winner here whereas High on You is a complete polar opposite. A solid release but metalcore is such a tough sub-genre to catch a break but having already supported some of the best, they’re doing the right things and it won’t be long before they get to where they want to be. 7/10.

Walking Dead On Broadway: Dead Era (Long Branch Records) [Lee]
Deathcore seems to be a more progressive sub-genre in recent years and recent controversial releases such as Suicide Silence’s self-titled album and Whitechapel’s Our Endless War are prime cases here. Diversity in deathcore is not exactly new, bands such as Winds Of Plague have always included synths and organs in their discography and Walking Dead On Broadway take a page from their book. Dead Era pays homage to both Whitechapel and Winds of Plague and have come out with a belter. After the introduction song, Dead Era, which belongs in a Fallout advert, the album comes into full swing with Red Alert, followed by 50 minutes of ruthless aggression. Utilising technical prowess across the board, the band evidently are growing and have found the right path for them. It’s hard to pick out any standout tracks from the album, after going through the title track, the pace is relentless.

The Fire Never Lies is a favourite of mine along with Anti-Partisan but it’s a struggle to narrow it down to a single standout track which definitely has the makings of a solid album. The only criticism from me is having an instrumental track, Standstill, which has shades of Death’s Voice Of The Soul (one of my favourite songs of all time) two songs before the end of the album but that’s really the worst criticism I can say which is a testament of the strength of the album. Great work from a talented bunch and I really can’t wait to see where they go from here and if they end up on an Impericon Never Say Die tour, I’d advise on checking them out. Worth a listen if you’re a fan of Whitechapel & Winds Of Plague. 8/10

Rise Of The Northstar: The Legacy Of Shi (Nuclear Blast) [Lee]

Holy fucking shit, if you love Japanese Culture and hardcore music, get this in your ears. This is such a hard hitter of an album and checks so many boxes, this is one of the albums of the year. Regardless of the pace of the album, it’s still unbelievably heavy. Standout Hardcore albums rarely happen with the last to be Code Orange’s Forever at the start of 2017 but 18 months later, I think I’ve stumbled on the next big thing in hardcore. The Legend Of Shi takes elements from Hatebreed and makes it their own with heavy riffs, rap vocal elements in a sort of Emmure-esque way. We start off with The Awakening, a very small sample of what’s to come, a nice build up with a finale of aggression. Then Here Comes The Boom, which will get everyone off their feet and is my standout track from the album along with Teenage Rage which has French rap in it because why not? 

The album takes you in so many different directions that it truly is an unpredictable album. RotN vocalist Vithia does an outstanding job with his vocal range on the album, both clean and growl were hypnotic to the ears. He’s supported by 4 very talented hardcore musicians, Evangelion-B on lead guitar supported by Air One on the rhythm, Phantom behind the kit and Fabulous Fab (move over Flava Flav) on bass. This band deserve to get something big out of this release and as this is their “difficult second album” – they proved that if you’re really talented, that’s non-existent. For me, a definite album of the year contender and if you’re a fan of Hatebreed, Emmure and Terror, you’ll love this. I really can’t wait to see where the band goes from here. 9/10

Sunday 21 October 2018

Reviews: The Brew, Drift Into Black, Arion, Widetrack (Reviews By Paul H)

The Brew: Art Of Persuasion (Napalm Records)

The Brew were one of those bands that we appeared destined never to see live. Several cancelled gigs in Bristol and Cardiff frustrated the flip out of us before we cornered the bastards at Hard Rock Hell in Pwllheli in 2014. They didn’t disappoint. Their previous albums (amongst several in their back catalogue) did receive glowing reviews from Matt (9/10 for 2014’s Control) and me for 2016’s Shake The Tree (8/10). Two years on and the lads from Grimsby are back with another quality release. Once described as ‘earthy, fertile and sometimes wonderfully grainy’, the opening Seven Days Too Long demonstrates that the lads have lost none of the confidence and swagger that made them such a hot prospect a decade ago. Tim Smith, Kurtis Smith and Jason Berwick have once again released an album that combines the spirit of Soundgarden with the passion of Wolfmother and the gravitas of Zeppelin. This album is crammed full of stomping hard rock which should please all but the most stubborn rock fans. Gin Soaked Loving Queen, Excess and the excellent Shaking The Room are amongst the plethora of highlights on another quality release. 8/10

Drift Into Black: Dead Suns Under The Forever Moon (Self Released)

One of the bonus points of writing for this blog is the range of music that we get sent. I was recently contacted by Craig Rossi, a multi-instrumentalist from the States who sent me a friend request on Facebook. Craig is the mastermind behind Drift Into Black, a doom metal and dark rock outfit from Sayreville, NJ. Dead Suns Under The Forever Moon follows the 2017 debut EP Shadow People. Dibs handles the vocals, guitar, keys and production with guest musicians Paul LaPlaca on bass, drummer Kleenex Markelji, Rick Habeeb on additional guitars, Melissa Hancock on vocals and Elizabeth Weaver on cello. Dead Suns Under The Forever Moon is a concept album which deals with revenge, going too far and coping with the aftermath of it and trying to be normal again. Heavy stuff! The monstrous opening Reign segues into falling rain before a huge riff opens Sifting Through The Dead, a track that is dripping with atmosphere and haunting imagery.

Melancholic yet ominously heavy, clean vocals comfortably weaving into the very living breath of the track. Subtle keys add depth as the track builds to a crescendo. The massive sound continues on Left In The Ash, highlighting the excellent production quality. Waves of doom metal crash down, the sheer depth of emotion almost suffocating. An unexpected pause hits halfway through, the riffs take a back seat as there is a change of pace. The heat intensifies substantially on Hollow, the huge drum sound underpinning an initial charge before once again the direction suddenly shifts. Weaver’s cello features on the haunting Gone But Not Forgotten, a melancholic reflection, enhanced by Hancock’s beautiful backing vocals. The blackness descends with a lonely guitar riff, accompanied by a piano key on Death From Above, a track that then explodes into a wall of thunderous doom, sweeping powerfully like an avalanche descending a mountain side. Fuzzy dirty guitars open up No Return To The Light, another tune that skulks in the shadows before the ambient style instrumental track Home, complete with cello, provides a fitting finale to an impressive release. 7/10

Arion: Life Is Not Beautiful (AFM Records)

Symphonic metal band Arion follow up on 2014’s debut Last Of Us with their sophomore album Life Is Not Beautiful. Now I’m not much of a fan of this genre, much of it is lost on me and it’s as close to Eurovision as we get in the metal world. At The Break Of Dawn captures that feeling completely, with the duel male/female vocals, huge melodies and rampaging 100mph power metal style approach. The band comprises Greg Velinov on bass, Lassi Vagranen on vocals, Topias Kupiainen on drums, guitarist Ilvo Kaipainen and keyboard player Arturo Vauhkonen and they really give it everything, such as the frantic The Last Sacrifice which fires along after an enormously dramatic introduction in full power metal style.

The tempo is halted by the obligatory ballad, Through Your Falling Tears which is truly dreadful. From here on in it is rather standard fare, unimaginative and melodramatic, veering from AOR to power metal and always with the overblown symphonic elements exaggerated beyond necessity. Punish You at least has a bit of balls, some aggressive thrash style riffs pumping away but it’s marred by weak vocals. Overall, Arion do little for me and whilst life may not be beautiful this is just plain  average. 5/10

Widetrack: Widetrack III (Self Released)

This is the third album from multi-instrumentalist Ron Tippin. The American formed the band in 2007 and released two albums in quick succession before a series of personal challenges caused a hiatus in the band’s status. Having finally got his shit back together with the support of guitarist Brian Burleson, a lifelong friend and fellow Pink Floyd devotee, and enlisting his young son Zach on bass, Widetrack III finally emerged. 12 songs which range from Tool to The Smashing Pumpkins in style and approach, this is a expertly composed and produced album, containing some superb guitar work and with a general appeal to those whose tastes in music may be considered a bit more sophisticated with a range of moods and reflections, generated with an ease and quality which appears easy. Ghosts, Gift and the impressive Life Force are cleverly constructed in an album that provides both an easy and challenging listen. 7/10