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Thursday 31 January 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats (Live Review By Nick)

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats, O2 Academy Bristol

During the second week of January  we headed into Bristol for the first time this year, a quick pint and some fine Greek food on board it was a brisk walk, to the O2 Academy for a night filled with folky rock swing blues... If that’s a thing? Both Matt and myself have missed out on these gents a few times, so we were both a little excited. Arriving as usual to a dangerously oversold Academy, we were just in time to catch the last song by support LION and I’m glad that’s all we were in time to see. Usually I’m a fan of the deep course gravely voice but this lady just seemed to try to screech above that and seemed intent on swallowing the microphone, while trying her best to look like a young Bonnie Tyler... No, no... Not for me. Finding a relatively decent spot on the balcony, we settled in for Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats (9).

Entering the stage the 7 piece band all supporting some form of headwear and facial hair, immediately broke out into a fanfare of some really catchy folky swing, rammed full of sax and trumpet the crowd were already in their feet dancing around and making their joy known, shortly Rateliff joined the band to rapturous applause in his usual hat, lumberjack getup and straight away broke into a duo of fan anthems I’ve Been Failing and Be There. The sheer brilliance of both Rateliff and the band already evident in these songs I found myself swept away and not able to stand still myself.

Moving swiftly on to a trio of songs from new album Tearing At The Seams including Say It Louder the crowd duly sang along on the top of their voices as the band broke into a mini bluesy breakdown seems to be improvised yet so unbelievably tight it left Matt and myself pretty speechless. With no let up, a personal favourite of mine Howling At Nothing was offered with perfect aplomb. This blues- laden track is chocked full of emotions, highlighted by the uniquely brilliant voice of Rateliff. Hitting both the high long notes of the chorus and the low major keys of the verses, Rateliff was putting on a clinic of how not just sing, but stir emotion that song intended.

Over the next hour we were treated to a mix from songs off both albums, with the band adding a bit more meat to the more mellow songs from the newest offering. Allowing for the crowd and bands energy to be maintained throughout. Only once was there a lull in proceedings, but that was forgiven as it was for the insatiable song... Shake. This song on album is slow menacing and sexy, live however, with band lurking behind Rateliff and the feeling in his voice, this song just oozed sex, blues and passion from start to finish, I’d be surprised if someone didn’t mysteriously become pregnant it was that well delivered!

Other songs that had the crowd singing and dancing around were You Worry Me, Look Here and a massive fan favourite I Need Never Get Old. These were offered with the same high standard as the band had started with, then the song that started it all for Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats... S.O.B, and wow was this a moment to remember! Drums being smashed, trumpet, sax and harmonica being blown with no surrender as the guitar lay down a filthy bluesy riff all supported by the flawless vocals of Rateliff describing the perils of alcoholism and the withdrawal. Damn, you could feel the hurt and emotion in this song. Every word was echoed by the crowd as the band left the stage to unified “woaahs” that didn’t let up til they returned for a three song encore, including the endearing Hey Mama.

This truly was a night to remember from a musical and vocal display point of view. From the way the crowd participated in every song with singing or dancing to the raw emotion that was so easily felt in the venue. Rateliff and Co are onto something special here, this melting pot of genres that they deliver musters up feeling for the music, from the very depths of your soul, and takes you over. The same can be said for the band, tight performances throughout, meant for a cracking display of musicianship and a perfectly faultless display, which topped the whole night off. The only sour notes of the evening that took the edge off were, as already mentioned the oversold, cramped venue and the usual drunk student numpties talking all the way through clearly there from one song only.

After being told to shut up a few times they finally took the hint and moved on, but it frustrated me that tickets were wasted on them, when so many fans would have missed out on this sold out event (as we had on two previous occasions)...it will forever perplex me. Nonetheless it wasn’t anywhere near enough to ruin the occasion as all of the crowd left with beaming smiles, still humming and singing as they walked up the street. If you can get hold of tickets to see Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats I couldn’t encourage you more, trust me, you simply will not regret it. Cannot wait for my next fix!

Reviews: Tara Lynch, Cats In Space, Quantum Pig, Lugnet

Tara Lynch: Evil Enough (Cargo Records UK)

Multi-Instrumentalist/songwriter/vocalist has got a pretty high level of technical ability she studied with Steve Vai, Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Black Country Communion), among others, however she maintains that her songwriting relies primarily on inspiration and instinct. This album has her displaying her talents across 10 classic metal anthems, nicknamed Gui-Tara her six string mastery is on full display on the instrumental Gui-tara Rises where she has incredible levels of virtuosity, however this not an album of showing off, Lynch has written songs that are accessible by all fans of heavy metal, the songs here are both melodic and heavy with huge choruses on Unbreakable and thundering riffs throughout especially Antidote, using her guitar skills to play catchy metal anthems where she also lets her bluesy vocals add some soul to the songs.

Lynch also has an all star cast contributing to the record, on drums is Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio) and Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper), handling bass is Björn Englen (Dio Disciples, Yngwie Malmsteen) and Phil Soussan (Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol), Tony MacAlpine has keys (not guitars oddly) along with producer Brent Woods and vocally Mark Boals (Dokken, Yngwie Malmsteen) adds his powerhouse screams to Trustless. It's a bloody good album this, not reinventing the wheel by any stretch but for classic metal fans it'll hit many spots, Gui-Tara will be supporting UFO on their final UK tour later this year so I suggest you head down early! 8/10

Cats In Space: Daytrip To Narnia (Cargo Records)

Third album from the UK's purveyors of sickly sweet, epic power pop/AOR can be viewed as a tribute to the wondrous 1970's, a time period that Cats In Space have firmly rooted themselves in since their inception. Daytrip To Narnia is set out like a 70's long player and has all the trademarks of rock music from that era. Musically they try to sound as authentic as possible as the clever lyricism deals with tribute bands on the overblown Queen-ness of Tragic Alter Ego, the reasoning behind just because you can do something doesn't mean you should, on the glam stomp of Hologram Man. They also have a massive dose of ELO on Narnia some odd off the wall numbers like She Talks To Much which does sound a lot like Supertramp in it's composition, they've also got the obligatory ballad called Chasing Diamonds a track that should carry a health warning for sweetness.

Then comes the ingenious part of this album at track 8 we get the first song in what then becomes a 22 minute space travelling conceptual suite which in old money would take up side 2 of a vinyl record, the B Side if you will and it enables the band to stretch their prog muscles moving between epic rock into disco(?!), Lloyd Webber and everything in between. At times a bouncing pop rock record at others an off the wall journey through rocks outer reaches, the most expansive record the band has made so far and one that will be conquer the radio waves for sure! 8/10

Quantum Pig: Songs Of Industry And Sunshine (White Star Records)

Another record from the denizens of modern prog rock White Star Records, London duo Quantum Pig are a little more politically aware, a bit more uncompromising and a bit more punk than many of their labelmates. However their sound is one of propulsive, synth driven, progressive rock music that doesn't run away with itself but deals with "cultural and philosophical influences" meaning that this debut album deals with a "stark, relevant and thought-provoking message." Opening with the two most recent singles Statement Of Intent is that paring shimmering synths with intelligent defiant lyricism, while Citizen & State is a bouncing rocker that swings it way into the epic Long Letter Home which has a dense beautiful soundscape. 

The two members of this band Ian Faragher and Mark Stevenson, share vocals and play the guitar, bass and keys with session musicians adding a rhythm section and more guitar. According to the press blurb the band are influenced by Queen, Husker Du, which appears the punchy Things and most importantly Carl Sagan whose ideas are explored on Long Letter Home the entire album actually deals with the idea of futurism due in-part to Mark Stevenson's double life as an author, public speaker and 'reluctant' futurist. Music that deals with some very big ideas, in a way that has down to earth, straight talking optimism against a very downcast future. A clever and interesting listen Quantum Pig have really tested the 'prog' tag on this record! 8/10

Lugnet: Nightwalker (Pride & Joy Music)

Swedes Lugnet exemplify the grittiness of 70's rock but on this sophomore effort they have really laid on the dirt, much of this is due to their new singer Johan Fahlberg of Jaded Heart, who like his predecessor comes from the school of Ian Gillan screaming but has much more of a snarl so on he dirty grooves of Never Again they can make the sort of music you hear in a Saturday night grindhouse double feature, filthy riffs are bolstered by expressive rhythms that make you want to slap on a leather jacket and prowl the streets at night while the Hendrix inspired Death Laughs At You creeps in the background. There's a lack of organs like there was on the debut but that doesn't really matter too much it just means these songs are leaner and a bit nastier. This is nothing like Jaded Heart (sighs of relief) it's scuzzier, 70's influenced hard rock made for bandanas and bikes. 7/10

Wednesday 30 January 2019

Reviews: Magnum, Kane Roberts, Secretpath, Contrarian (Reviews By Paul H)

Magnum: Live At The Symphony Hall (Steamhammer)

The last time I saw Magnum they were dreadful. Turgid, with a poor choice of setlist, I was broken about a band who have consistently delivered possibly the best progressive melodic hard rock around. So, I avoided their last tour, and listening to this album has me kicking myself in the arse. Recorded at the beautiful Symphony Hall in Birmingham in April 2018 on their European Lost On The Road To Eternity tour, I would strongly argue that this might be the best live Magnum release of all time. An impressive setlist focuses on their newer material for the first half of the set, although opening with When We Were Younger from 2007’s Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow is a curved ball. With tracks from Lost On the Road To Eternity and Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies dominating early on, there is also a surprise cameo from Tobias Sammet on the title track of the 2018 release. Hearing Sammet scream “Magnum, the best band in the world” as he leaves the stage is also very amusing.

Magnum are incredibly slick, Tony Clarkin’s guitar work often underrated and whilst he is very much laid back, there is plenty of opportunity for him to flex his guitar wizardry. Of course, he is the main writer for the band, so this is also a showcase of some of his quality over the years. Alongside Clarkin, Bob Catley gleefully defies his age to give a fantastic vocal performance and his between song chatter is thankfully limited, but what is appears coherent and joyful. With Lee Morris having replaced Harry James on drums in 2017, and Mark Stanway having thrown his toys out of the pram, it’s new boy Rick Benton who handles the numerous keyboard duties with ease. In fact, you’d never know that there had been a change. Underpinning it all, the steady bass lines of Al Barrow, a stable figure in the band since their reformation in 2001.

Two epic songs enhance the show; a blisteringly powerful How Far Jerusalem, which builds in a brooding manner which never was the case on the studio version and allows Clarkin to really let rip, and Don’t Wake The Lion (Too Old To Die Young), the standout song from 1988’s Wings Of Heaven. Les Mortes Dansant, All England’s Eyes and Vigilante are all over 30 years old now and still retain their pomp whilst the penultimate track The Spirit is the sole nod to their distant past. Closing with the anthemic When The World Comes Down, complete with Sammet, Rebecca Downes and Leigh Smalls on accompanying vocals, this is a perfect performance capturing a band who remain one of the UK’s best loved outfits. 8/10

Kane Roberts: The New Normal (Frontiers Records)

Kane Roberts may not be a name you recognise; however, he was quite a well-known sight in the 1980s, the Rambo style guitarist with Alice Cooper during Constrictor amongst others, shooting fires on the crowds from his M-80 shaped guitar. Releasing his first solo album in 1987 and three more during the 1990s. A varied musical background saw him write and tour with a huge range of artists, from Rod Stewart, Berlin to Guns N’ Roses and Desmond Child. He’s also contributed to several film scores and has now returned with his latest album, which includes some interesting guests.

You can’t argue with the calibre of Alice Cooper, the man himself appearing in typical sinister style on single Beginning Of The End, a raucous rocker which sees Arch Enemy crybaby Alissa White-Gluz deliver some great clean vocals but disappointingly add unnecessary gruff vocals which are out of synch with the rest of the track. The track also features Babymetal drummer Aoyama Hideki who hammers the shite out of it. Kane also managed to get former Alice Cooper bandmates Kip Winger, Paul Taylor and Ken Mary on the album, specifically on Above And Beyond, an unremarkable but catchy pop-rock track. Current Cooper guitarist Nita Strauss appears on lead guitar on the album opener King Of The World, a routine melodic rock track which contains some appalling lyrical rhyming couplets, whilst Wonderful is Nickelback country. 

Lzzy Hale adds a co-write on The Lion’s Share, another dramatic piece of melodic rock which builds ever so slowly without really getting started, focusing on Roberts vocals and piano for most of the song. Throughout the album, Roberts adds some virtuoso guitar work, peeling off solos for fun. Having taken three years to make, this is an interesting release with Roberts wholesome voice at times reminiscent of Ricky Warwick from the Black Star Riders. There is enough in this album for most rock fans to enjoy. It’s not a metal album, but if you like the kind of music that the likes of SIXX:AM deliver, this will no doubt be a hit. 7/10

Secretpath: Domination Tempestati (Masked Dead Records)

This is a strange one. Initially, this appears to be full frontal black metal which is confusingly wrapped around a concept which I don’t admit to getting close to understanding. The Italian trio replicate the Immortal sound on the opening track Crystal Ice, which follows the instrumental intro Antiqua Tempesta. Plenty of tremolo picking, frantic drumming and the growling Abbath style delivery. But then we get to the title track, a single acoustic guitar plucks away as a basso profondo voice utters some weird incantations, a double bass or similar underpins it all before Paolo Ferrante decides it is time for some operatic vocals. What’s going on? I haven’t got a clue. 

There are progressive elements, neoclassical styles and even some straightforward power metal with death metal vocals on Raptus before the song explodes with more bizarre and eerie operatic style vocals. This is either a masterpiece or utter bollocks. I just can’t tell. Final track Storm Of Revenge is astonishing in its craziness; there are elements of death and black metal crashing all over the place as the song follows a more melodic path than many, and the vocals are once again schizophrenic in their nature. If I had to take a punt, I’d say this is a bag of utter poop, but I’m strangely drawn to the eccentricity and insanity of it all. At 19 minutes long, it wasn’t any hardship to listen to a few times but whether I’ll be searching for their full-length work Wandered And The Choice is doubtful. 5/10

Contrarian: Their Worm Never Dies (Willowtip)

This album is a bit special. The third release from U.S. progressive death metal band Contrarian, Their Worm Never Dies combines some classic death metal styles with some crashing new approaches. Whilst Contrarian nod massively towards the sound that Chuck Schuldiner’s Death were so instrumental in developing, this is much more than a simple replica band. Spearheaded by guitar player Jim Tasikas, alongside Nile’s George Kollias who simultaneously handles drum and vocal duties, Contrarian are organic sounding but retain the aggression and complexity needed. 

Over a fifth of the album is given over to one track, the magnificently sprawling eight minute Whomsoever Worships The Whiteworm which provides a demonstration of the exceptional talent and quality on display. Intricate breakdowns, melancholic passages segueing into ferocious thrashy workouts and Kollias delivering a vocal performance that fits snuggly into the fold. With Brian Mason on lead duties and Ed Paulsen laying down a blistering bass delivery, the album provides numerous atmospheric variations on this wild yet compelling ride. Certainly, an album that deserves to be listened to repeatedly and at high volume. 8/10

Reviews: Rival Sons, Hecate, Enthroned, State Of Ember, Hath (Paul H & Sean)

Rival Sons: Feral Roots (Atlantic Records) [Paul H]

2016’s Hollow Bones was the album that really catapulted Rival Sons to headline status. A phenomenal force live, I’ve been fortunate enough to see them a few times, most recently a couple of years ago with a weekend stealing show at Steelhouse Festival. With their sixth album, Feral Roots, the band has moved up another level and provided some of the most gloriously delicious retro sounding rock that you’ll hear in 2019. Scott Holiday once again demonstrates his quality with some stellar guitar work, soaring skywards to the stratosphere on more than one occasion but certainly excelling on the psychedelic All Directions, the gritty title track and the stunning Imperial Joy.

Anchored by the reliable duo of Mike Miley and Dave Bente throughout, Holiday and vocalist Jay Buchanan are free to duel it out in classic Page/Plant style. Buchanan is, in my view, one of the greatest frontmen in hard rock today, and Feral Roots allows him free reign to demonstrate his incredible range and versatility. The End Of Forever is case in point, as he hits the higher echelons with ease; balanced by a soulful performance on Shooting Stars where the band are accompanied by a gospel choir to stunning effect.

A band that have toured as support to numerous bands; I recall seeing them open for Judas Priest in Newport whilst they also were the main support for Sabbath on The End tour in 2017, are no longer in need of such slots. Feral Roots is a slick, professional and top-quality album. If you like hard rock, you need this in your life. 9/10

Hecate Enthroned: Embrace Of The Godless Aeon (M-Theory Audio) [Sean]

Before I became enamoured with all things HM-2, there was my first love; symphonic black metal. The the amalgamation of the grim and grandiose blew my teenage mind, how the two contrasting yet emotive elements synergised into works of evocative majesty. Whilst it may have also spawned some rather cringe inducing moments, there is thankfully more quality outweighing the cartoonish. From Norway’s Emperor to Australia’s Nazxul, a sudden surge of potent power was emerging from across the globe in the 90’s, and on our own shores too. Which brings us to the Welsh born stalwarts Hecate Enthroned, who along with Bal-Sagoth and of course, Cradle Of Filth, have been proudly flying their blackened banner of British BM for over 20 years. Returning once more with Embrace Of The Godless Aeon, Hecate Enthroned are set to conduct a veritable symphony of destruction. Are you sitting comfortably?

Ascension gradually builds atmosphere, leading into the fiery expulsion of Revelations In Autumn Flame and am immediately assailed by blastbeats, shrieks and somewhat overbearing synths. Whilst the symphonic elements occupy a bit too much of the dynamic space, I can’t deny the sheer power on display. Blunted the axes may be, Hecate Enthroned still succeed in conjuring a vast swarm of theatrical sorcery, the slight shifts to major briefly allow the guitars to shine. Temples That Breathe is more of the same, ferocity balanced with pomposity. I notice that the guitars lean towards providing more of an accompaniment than riffs, though they still provide adequate muscle in propelling this inferno orchestra onwards (THOUGH THEY COULD BE LOUDER!). Goddess Of Dark Misfits is a wonderfully melodramatic piece of campy theatre, bolstered by the prodigious vocal talent of one Sarah Jezebel Deva.

However hard I try to hold onto what little trve sensibilities I have left, they’re swept away by this concert of infernal carnality. Whisper Of The Mountain Ossuary is a more depressive number, though the synths start to irritate me some halfway through. Enthrallment doesn’t truly grab until the band strip down to haunting acoustics, embracing it’s inner suicidal vibes before The Shuddering Giants blasts into life. Silent Conversations With The Stars meanders ever so slightly, though the power contained within is undeniable. Erebus And Terror is quite simply spellbinding. Layers build as a bell chimes out in the darkness, both band and Deva wielding ethereal energies in maelstrom of malefic might. A powerful and cinematic closer.

I’ll admit, I’m rather picky regarding the integration between the metallic and the symphonic. Too often, the elements jar and the whole thing can turn into an awkward pantomime of silliness. I still dislike the inclusion of grand piano in black metal, don’t ask why, it’s just always come across as gimmicky and often poorly implemented. Here though? I don’t mind. A small concession to make, if it means enjoying an otherwise fine display of orchestral black metal and Embrace Of The Godless Aeon is just that. Sure, things deflate a touch after the halfway mark, but one cannot deny the power of the compositions and the individuals that crafted them. Every blast, every throat shredding scream and riff contribute to much larger piece of art, sure to satisfy all with a taste for the opulent and oppressive. To summarise, Embrace… is solid offering and you’d be lying out your arse if you didn’t make some connection with Hecate Enthroned’s brand of blackened wizardry. 8/10

State Of Ember: Broken Horizons (Self Released) [Paul H]

I shuddered when I received this to review. It had the alt-rock tag on it. But I was pleasantly surprised from start to finish. A punchy 19 minute six-track release, full of snarling punk attitude but with a hard rock edge, and superbly performed. The band formed in Worcestershire in 2016 and released an EP in 2017, Clouded Views. With their song Denial part of the soundtrack to a PS4 game (this is something that appeals to young persons apparently) the band, Chris Tamburro (vocals/guitar), bassist Mike Landreth and drummer Chelsea McCammon have clearly taken full opportunity to maximise the momentum. From the blistering Reasons through to Fear Of Falling with its fuzzed-up bass sound via the hyperactive opener Time & Time, there is nothing here to find fault with. Short, sharp and in your face, this is a three-piece with a big sound who have the kind of energy that these days I can only dream about. It’s a real joy to be proved wrong and State Of Ember did exactly that. 8/10

Hath: Of Rot And Ruin (Willowtip Records) [Paul H]

Hath are a four piece from New Jersey comprising Peter Brown (guitars), drummer AJ Viana, Frank Albanese on guitar and vocals and Greg Nottis on bass and vocals. Having released an EP Hive in 2015, the band has now completed it’s debut long player. Of Rot And Ruin is badged as death metal but present with many of the attributes of a black metal outfit. The soaring vocals which compliment the guttural spewage which pours forth, the tremolo picking and the blast beat drumming all point towards the blacker side. Anyway, regardless of what label we stick on them, Hath are a very impressive outfit and Of Rot And Ruin a sweet piece of meat. The opening salvo is as intense a battery as you will, Usurpation and Currents crushing all that are foolish enough to stand in their path.

The band blast through several brutal tracks before moving to a slower but monstrously heavy Withered, which ebbs and flows, searing speed mixed with slower, doom laden passages which still slay all. And then we arrive at Worlds Within, which starts with some of the most intense death metal on the album but morphs into some beautifully crafted acoustic instrumental work which whilst being at odds with most of the album fits perfectly. Think Opeth slowly jamming freestyle in the middle of their heavier stuff and you’ll get the picture. Of course, it doesn’t last, and we are soon off and running with those riffs of severity, bludgeoning drumming and sinister growls. Acoustic calm provides further respite on Kindling, at 2:32 the shortest track on this interesting release whilst penultimate track Accursed mixes things up again with a combination of brain pulverising riffage and calmer melody. At 57 minutes you must give this a few listens to get really involved but it is certainly worth the investment. 8/10

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Reviews: Gloryful, Aephanemer, Trep, Warish

Gloryful: Cult Of Sedna (Massacre Records)

Fourth album from the German power metal act sees them explore heavier sounds than on their previous three ramping up the speed metal sound of their early years as guitarist Jens Basten, drummer Hartmut Stoof and bassist Daniel Perl bring the snarling riffs and fast paced rhythms nearly always giving way to Adrian Weiss who makes magic with his six strings. Teutonic power metal has always had a bit more grunt than many of its predecessors and Gloryful has always produced strong material Brothers In Arms continues the bands knack of writing fist clenching anthems that will get you shouting it back at the top of your lungs. The bands motto is 'keep it true' which is evident with their no nonsense approach to the genre, as the styles move between rampaging speed The Hunt and stomping rockers like When The Union Calls On Me mean that you never get bogged down in boredom. Singer Jonny La Bomba gets to show off his vocal prowess with gritty power. Cult Of Sedna is German power metal at its most aggressive. 7/10

Aephanemer: Prokopton (Primeval Records)

Scandinavian melo-death is one of those things that requires a genre all of it's own, bands like Dark Tranquility, Soilwork, Scar Symmetry and even Amon Amarth all have a similar unique style that makes them instantly identifiable. It also means they are imatatible so that's what Martin Hamiche did in 2014 in the French city of Toulouse, he started the band as a one man project releasing an EP before getting some other musicians to form the band proper who released the debut album Memento Mori, establishing themselves as a force in the melo-death world. In the lead up to this album the line up changed again and the band also played Wacken Open Air last year. So now the four piece have made this second record with some melodic death royalty involved as Niklas Sundin (Dark Tranquility) designed the album cover, with Dan Swanö and Mika Jussila producing.

It means that this album positively zings every note is audible from the soaring lead guitar lines of Martin to the galloping rhythm section of Mickaël, Lucie and Marion who have that particular blend of death metal ferocity and power metal melody. The Sovereign is the first real welcome to the record as the riffs come thick and fast, Marion barking like a cross between Johan Hegg and Angela Gossow. Synths and orchestrations come through the tracks as well (Dissonance Within) fleshing them out as more than just standard death metal, if I had a criticism I'd say that I would like to hear Marion sing clean a little more but when you've got tracks such as Bloodline and the bouncy Back Again it's a mild gripe. If you are still mourning the loss of In Flames to the alt-metal crowd then blast a bit of Aephanemer to cheer you up. 8/10 

Trep: Lucian EP (Self Released)

South Wales prog/rock/metal trio Trep impressed our writer Alex when he saw them in Fuel Rock Club, so when their EP came to MoM Towers it was only right that we gave it a listen. This EP is the first part of a conceptual piece telling a story of a future that may come, according to the press the album deals with "dystopia, a dictatorship and the use of technology for a chance at a better world, but at what cost" With this in mind then it's time to actually listen to the EP opening with Silence The Crows it's been around as a single for a while and it gives you your first taste of the groovy heaviness kicking off with some Tool vibe, however next is the melodic The Time You Have Lost which blends Breaking Benjamin with Muse and It'll Never Happen brings some great guitar solos as Architect ramps up the heavy. Trep are Rhys Evans (vocals/guitar), Sam Green (bass/vocals) and Max Hill (drums/vocals) and their fusion of styles wrapped up with modern progressive touches it's a complex but welcoming listen, that sets up for part 2, they will be playing venues near you soon so keep an eye out! 7/10

Warish: S/T (RidingEasy Records)

Warish is the new band from Riley Hawk, the son of Tony Hawk, his other band is the stoner rock project Petyr. This one isn't stoner rock, Warish has a bit more grunt it's got a punky edge to it which has led to the band to be compared to Incesticide era Nirvana were crossed with Static Age era Misfits, it's frantic, fuzzy stuff with Riley's vocals massively effect-laden vocals and Melvins-esque guitar riffs as Bruce McDonnell smashing the shit out of his kit. At just 11 minutes long it doesn't outstay it's welcome but it runs away with evil sounding horror/grunge/punk rock n roll unlike Riley has ever done before. Fair play to him he could easily sit on his surname and his own skateboarding prowess but he seems to enjoy creating music that's as diverse as it is exciting. Get a little Warish for 11 minutes of bluster. 7/10

Reviews: Thunder, Wretched Fate, Eyes Of The Living, Maniac (Paul H & Sean)

Thunder: Please Remain Seated (BMG) [Paul H]

If you’ve ever seen Thunder, you’ll have to have been made of stone not to have enjoyed them. Their show last summer at Caerphilly Castle (supported by the magnificent Hand Of Dimes) was one of the gigs of the year and showcased their strengths and qualities perfectly. They may well attract the Steelhouse and Planet Rock crowd but there is something about Danny Bowes’ dad dancing, Luke Morley’s unassuming rock star style or the unflappable drumming of Harry James that make their appeal as welcoming to hardcore metalheads as it is to your mum and dad. Of course, it’s their music that attracts such a vast variety of fans so Please Remain Seated is something of a risk. Taking a bunch of your own songs and revamping them in a semi-acoustic style threatens to split the hardcore fan base.

Thankfully, this album works beautifully. Recorded in five days, there is a genuine ‘warts and all’ feel about it, with some chatter and unintended sound effects included from across the sessions. Whilst Thunder have always had ballads and slower songs, Please Remain Seated takes some of the rockier tracks like Girl’s Going Out Of Her Head and revises them; this one for example has a swing style. It works. Just Another Suicide and Blown Away are two of the stand out tracks on an album which is unlikely to do anything but increase the band’s popularity still further. Calm controlled and crafted, this is an album that also allows Luke Morley to show just what a superb guitarist he is. They may joke about their age but with a nine-date all-seated UK tour due to start next week this may be Messrs Morley, Bowes, Matthews, James and Childs most mature performance yet. 8/10

Wretched Fate: Fleshletting (Redefining Darkness Records) [Sean]

Ah, 2019. You’ve not excited long and already there’s mighty evil afoot. Fresh your first inhale may have been, a rank odour now fills your lungs, supplanting youthful vigour with staggered coughing and retching fits. The shadow of death dogs your every step, drawing closer with each passing second, accompanied by the sound of filthy gutturals and grinding riffs with all four knobs dialled to 11. Yes, you know of what I speak. Fucking Swedeath! Lengthy preamble out of the way, we come to our first rotten slab of Scandinavian slaughter with Fleshletting, the debut monstrosity from newcomers Wretched Fate. And what a debut it is! I'm not saying this out of shameless adoration of all things HM-2 related, but I’ll be a damned if Fleshletting ain’t a hell if an impressive debut. Get your axe boys, things are about to get blood(bath)y……

Opening track, Wretched Fate, quickly establish itself at breakneck tempo, all tremolo riffs and blasts with reckless abandon. You know the drill folks, though Wretched Fate take care to insert flashes of technicality amongst the razor sharp riffing. Savage opener, though nothing too surprising. Altars Of Misery somehow manages marry symphonic elements into the butchery, usually anathema to this sort of things. And yet it works! Fear Expulsion strays a step further, embracing all manner of angular riffing and greater sense of melody, it’s haunting choirs truly making for an expansive listening experience. Once again, another slight curveball amongst the killing. Taker Of Souls is back to genre basic but delivered with much intensity, though it’s a more Germanic muscle than the traditional Stockholm being flexed here, somewhat reminiscent of Vomitory. This is comes again on Heading For A Beheading, veering between d-beat groove and furious blasting. Epitaph is a more measured beast, slowing the tempo to a crawl as layers of soaring guitars inviting a more epic flavour to set in. Split Tongue Illumination draws the bloodshed to a close, bringing those choirs back once more and showcasing bands shameless love for horror. A fitting end, indeed.

I love this sort of stuff, I really do and Wretched Fate clearly love it too. Sure, Fleshletting isn’t original but neither is it cookie cutter. There’s plenty of meat ’n’ spuds to satisfy genre purist, but there are also instances where the band introduce subtle notes of experimentation, tweaking the formula just enough to elevate the carnage into something beyond Bloodbath worship. Swedeath doesn’t usually allows for much experimentation, after all, if it ain’t broke then why fix it? For the most part, Wretched Fate don’t BUT they do far more than simply ape the sound carved by their forebears. By injecting their own identity into the carnage, “Fleshletting” becomes a monstrous debut that will be on repeat till my neck gives out, my arteries harden and my flesh become sustenance for the crows. The Swedish Saw is the fucking law! 8/10

Eyes Of The Living: War On Dead - More Dead (Pavement Records) [Paul H]

A four-piece thrash outfit from Philadelphia, Eyes Of The Living make no bones about their style. This is their second album, following on from 2017’s War On Dead, and it is another rich and confident performance. Thick riffs, driving beats and some neat guitar work combine with a vocal style which reminds me of the Aussie thrashers 4ARM. The four members of the band are no newcomers to the metal scene, having served their dues in the 1990s US underground metal scene. Tim Swisher on vocals and guitar leads to charge, with Chris Moore on bass, guitarist Mike Straiton and drummer Cliff Fritts the able lieutenants. 

The biggest problem with this album is the length. Clocking in at 61 minutes, there is a sense of repetition by the time you hit Pull The Trigger, one of many similar tracks on an album that rocks hard and is an enjoyable listen. Maybe I’m being a little harsh here, but I can’t help thinking that 45 minutes of the hard hitters such as Run For Your Life and Hell On Earth would have allowed the attention to remain focused just a little more. 6/10

Maniac: Ruthless (Self Released) [Paul H]

Toulon based Maniac deliver some of the filthiest hardcore blackened death metal I’ve heard for a long time. Pulsing and throbbing, full of groove and some thick riffage, and backed by the most guttural vocals this side of Corpsegrinder. With a lineup change in 2017, the outfit that formed in 2005 may not be the same as that which delivered the first two albums, but there is still plenty to sink your canines into here. The curved ball arrives in the middle of the release, the instrumental almost electronica infused start to Modus Operandi which then erupts into more violent filth. When a band state that their influences are murder, suffering, insanity and death they are either complete fucktards or a death metal band. I’m plumping for the latter and the band, made up of Naythan on vocals, Ludo on guitar, bassist Laurent and drummer Alex, certainly make a pornographic noise. If this was on the top shelf, it would come in a plain jacket. 7/10

Monday 28 January 2019

Reviews: Dust Bolt, OOMPH!, Leash Eye, Tempest (Paul H)

Dust Bolt: Trapped In Chaos (Napalm Records)

The thrashers from Bavaria return with album number four and it’s an improvement on 2016’s decent Mass Confusion. There is more structure and melody to the songs, which still retain all the ferocity and thrashy goodness of their previous releases. The slow burning Another Day In Hell which closes the album has the Metallica feel but is constructed with thought and style. Elsewhere it’s all systems go from the powerful opener of The Fourth Strike which sets the tone and rages hard to the Hendrix riff hidden in the middle of the fiery Rhythm To My Madness. I was critical of Lenny B’s vocal delivery last time out but this time he’s on point with a snarl and urgency necessary for decent thrash metal. Crammed full of searing riffs, tracks such as Shed My Skin feel like old friends after just a couple of tracks. This band is improving, and whilst it’s never going to be ground breaking, their old school thrash metal is certainly on my radar once more. 8/10

OOMPH!: Ritual (Napalm Records)

It may come as a surprise to some that Rammstein were not the pioneers of the German Industrial rock movement. Having been raised on EBM, rock and new wave, OOMPH! were however, part of the so-called Neue Deutsche Härte dance scene that influenced Rammstein and many more. Ritual is the band’s 13th album, coming 27 years after their self-titled debut. The nucleus of the band has remained as it was since the band formed in Wolfsberg in 1989; Dero Goi – lead vocals, drums, programming, Andreas Crap – lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals and Robert Flux – rhythm guitar, samples, bass guitar, backing vocals. Ritual is described by Goi as "Our most aggressive, heaviest and darkest album in a while." 

He’s not wrong, with a thumping opening triumvirate of Tausend Mann Und Ein Befehl, Achtung! Achtung! and Kein Liebeslied marching and stomping all over the place. Europa (feat. Chris Harms / Lord Of The Lost) is followed by a bit of a dancefloor monster, Im Namen Des Vaters which would qualify for any gym workout compilation. With much of the album tackling politics, war and abuse, there’s a bit of light relief with the splendid electro tune TRRR – FCKN – HTLR. I must admit that I’m not great overall with the German Dance Metal scene, but this is an album that really works. A one-off date at the Islington Academy in March should be an enjoyably moist affair. 8/10

Leash Eye: Blues, Brawls and Beverages (Self Released)

Poland isn’t exactly renowned for its southern hard rock, but Leash Eye have been flying the flag for several years. Originally focusing on grunge as you might expect for a band who started in 1996, they latterly changed their sound and now have a rich and warm style which is very much in keeping with the harder side of the Southern rock style. 2013’s Hard Truckin’ Rock is finally followed up with the gritty new release, Blues, Brawls And Beverages and it is a fine listen too. With some huge riffs, the Hammond sound of Piotr Skora’s keys adding depth to the tracks, and the whiskey-soaked vocals of Lukas Podorski giving the whole album gravitas. 

53 minutes of thunderous rock with a blues underbelly that demands attention from the start. On Fire is a foot stomping rocker, which is impossible not to get the head nodding. There are huge chunks of 1970s Deep Purple which appear nicely throughout the 11 tracks and at times the album veers sharply away from the Southern rock to a more straightforward hard rock style; One Last Time is a prime example. Throbbing keys, crashing cymbals and soaring vocals all work to solid effect on an album that doesn’t disappoint in anyway. 7/10

Tempest: Reflections (Self Released)
Crushing riffs, soaring clean vocals that interchange with gruff singing at rapid speed, and battering drums. Yep, it’s another metalcore album. This time from Eastbourne based Tempest. It’s routine stuff I’m afraid, and whilst it is skilfully compiled, after about track five it’s all just a little bit repetitive; such is the genre. 

Typical metalcore with clean and gruff vocals interchanging relentlessly, savage guitars and frantic drumming and very little which sticks in the memory for more than a couple of seconds. I’m sure if you like this style of metal then this may well be one of the emerging bands on the scene, but it does little for me. Sorry. 5/10

Reviews: Fever 333, Puppy, Breathe Atlantis, Bury The Traitor (Reviews By Alex)

Fever 333: Strength In Numb333rs (Roadrunner Records/333 Wreckords Crew)

Capricious passion spills from every aspect of Fever 333. Unsurprising, given their lineup consists of members from Letlive, The Chariot and Night Verses. Together they create a powerful blend of metal, alternative and rap which is just as socially conscious as it is uplifting. My praise may seem odd, considering my apparent habit of complaining about rap or nu-metal albums, which are either poorly written, performed or in some cases, both. Strength In Numb333rs possesses neither of these problems, emanating a revitalized desire for change, both in a political and musical sense. We hear the sound of chanting, a crackly news bulletin blares out, reporting on ‘’a raucous yet focussed gathering, brought together to boistrestly demand change’’.

From this raucous prelude, we burst into BURN IT, where the sound of splicing synths creates tension, a juggernaut bass riff leads the charge, and the exchange between melodic hooks and passionate rapping proves a fiery combination! ‘I got a mind like Malcolm, and hands just like Ali, Black Panther, white mother, you best not try me’ Butler screams here, making sure no one questions Fever 333’s political principles. Animal shows the same sense of fierce defiance, its sporadic changes and glorious rising and falling, stimulating images of people coming together in solidarity, regardless of difference. The same praise could be paid to Prey For Me, which brings the melody to the forefront until a random chant of ‘you’re not the only one, who feels like the only one’ proves that true to their word, these musicians can disrupt normal service and continue to be enthralling. ONE OF The US and The Innocent are some of the most powerful anthems on the entire record, confronting inequality and segregation, with acerbic satire in the vein of ‘‘Another one in jail, another young black male, he kinda looks like me/ A law you did not make is gonna seal your fate.

Like you had no voice like you got no choice but we the remedy." Despite being more sombre and reserved, Inglewood is just as moving: "Centinela hospital where I was born to die, That is of course if it doesn’t get to gentrified" our frontman muses, wrenching at the listener's emotions as he describes in vivid detail, the ghettoized suburban lifestyle he was born into. These moments, among others, elevate this above a collection of protest songs and into a sincere and honest emotional experience. A striking feature of this debut full-length is that each subsequent listen feels more affecting, real and heartfelt. Fever 333 themselves are trying to do more than making a statement by donating a percentage of the revenue from their concerts – or demonstrations, as they refer to them – to local charities. Music has inspired and empowered them, Believe me, after your second, third or fourth listen to Strength In Numb333rs, you may feel the same way! 9/10

Puppy: The Goat (Spinefarm Records)

On a surface level, Puppy is your prototypical punk rock act, combining power chords with flagrant energy and fast-paced tempos. Look again though, and their wonderful knack for melody stands out. True, these songs are as sneering and ironic as the cover art – a lush pink, emblazoned with a skull – may suggest. Indeed, there has been significant hype surrounding The Goat from within what remains of the DIY punk community, Regardless, this London originating trio know their way just as well around a danceable jaunt as they do a mosh inspiring rocker! Black Hole confidentially opens proceedings. A sudden hit to the drums is immediately followed by a crunchy riff that is almost reminiscent of grunge-era griminess. Suddenly, a chorus emanating classic rock vibes gives birth to the realization of just how well Puppy bring together brashness with catchiness.

The same principle is continued onto the boisterous Vengeance - a song which certainly lives up to its title when it is assaulting your eardrums with ferocious distortion, yet not so much when it adopts a rock n roll swagger. Refusing to become generic, however, Poor Me throws a spanner in the works, changing the formula to resemble a stamping style of metal, proving different yet enthralling. Developing on the weird cross-section of styles we have seen so far, Just Like You poses the potential for metalheads punks, and pop fans come together in one giant circle pit of musical unity. The same could be said for the visceral And So I Burn, the retro feeling World Stands Still, or the raucous Bathe In Blood. Every song on this album plays a part in making up an experience which is both intriguing, and incredibly enjoyable.

True, the militant divisions between punk and rock fans disappeared a long time ago, with the birth of alternative and the spawning of several more subgenres, practically erasing sectarianism. Puppy reminds me of all my favorite alternative and power pop acts, yet copies none of them. Of all the bands I have discovered in my time writing for this blog, these will undoubtedly be one of those I continue to enjoy on a regular basis 8/10

Breathe Atlantis: Soulmade (Arising Empire)

Playing alternative with an enthusiastic sense of melody, and atmospheric touches, Soulmade certainly have a potential shot at the mainstream. I don’t mean that in a cynical way, not much anyway. These musicians just possess a slickly produced and arena-sized sound which utilizes emotional anthemic nature to its advantage. Soulmade is strong guitar driven yet also deceptively accessible. Take the opener, Supernova. A light patter of synths set the atmosphere before Schiesewitz Pop R&B inspired vocals to help to change the mood, leading up to a chorus which explodes in a flurry of soaring guitars and sharp quick drums. Without question, it displays a great use of dynamics, sets a mood, and sets my heart racing. Despite this, I can’t point to anything which intrigues me on a deeper level, nor are there any aspects of it I haven’t heard performed before.

Again, it’s rich, powerful and sounds excellent, yet not particularly immersive or deep. In fact, the reason I ruminate on the first song so deeply is that it sets a precedent for the entire album. Cold was one of the singles, and I can certainly describe it as a stadium anthem. The instrumentation is bright, the singing impressive, and it all ascends to a euphoric guitar solo in the closing moments. However, while it may grab me in the moment of listening, the overall beginning to end development fails to make me clamour for more. Fall is complete with chanting, reserved verses and larger than life choruses. For all those reasons I can see it be a staple at live concerts, but sadly not in my listening schedule. Spirit and I Think It Isn’t Fair, prove slower instants in the tracklist, and could be interpreted as heartfelt if it weren’t for a few overly generic tropes acting as a distraction.

On the other hand, as the names suggest, Savage and Addiction To The Worst are two of the more exciting, fast-paced songs, yet retain an overly Blasé, repetitive and entrenched feeling. Following on from that, I think it is fair to say that Soulmade lacking something vital. An essential quality if you will, which could make its emotionality worth caring about. Call it uniqueness, originality or integrity, I believe Breath Atlantis fails to live up to their potential here, yet certainly, have the musical chops to prove themselves in the future. It's by no means a bad effort, and I can see it being successful yet it is one which will leave many begging for something more thought-provoking 5/10

Bury The Traitor: Ascend To Clarity (Self Released)

In the complex puzzle of metal subgenres, Bury The Traitor fit firmly in the modern metal space, next to acts such as Parkway Drive, August Burns Red and of course, Killswitch Engage. Blast beats, breakdowns and melodic/screamed contrasts run throughout the six-track EP. In many ways, Ascend To Clarity is your typical metalcore release, standing up incredibly well from within the conventions of the genre, yet not exactly doing anything to win over those who may be less accustomed or friendly to the style. Embers/Season To Burn is the huge opening acts short metal release like this need. Admittedly, Bury The Traitor do a great job proving their conviction here, ‘And now we all will burn’ Loewenbech screams in his mangled as a spidery riff sets in, a persistent lead part sets up the blackened melodic themes, and the rhythm section does tier metallic duty of making the anthem pummelling.

Undoubtedly, Bury The Traitor excellently contrast harsh abrasiveness and carefully placed sensitivity, as evidenced by the single A.S.I.F, where the throttling verses, are juxtaposed with the ascendant choruses and solos. Heads Down, Thumbs Up and Lion Vs Wolf achieves contrast with yet more elegance, the harmonious and visceral sections seemingly dueling with each other in a competition of epicness. In the former the heavy side wins out, in the later, melodiousness dominates. I’m aware that I’m pointing strictly to standard metalcore practice here. Yet if Bury The Traitor's biggest crime is that they wear their cited influences on their sleeve, that’s commendable in my book.

No, it's not exactly ground-breaking, yet for an EP designed to set up a core sound, it achieves this passionately. Again, if you are not the biggest fan of the genre, Ascend To Clarity probably shouldn’t be your starting point. For those who are in that circle, or at least on the outskirts of it, you may just have found a new band to keep an eye out for in the future 6/10

Sunday 27 January 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats and Blood Ceremony, The Globe, Cardiff

When I saw that two of the occult rock scene's biggest acts were going to be touring together in Cardiff, I dosed myself up to combat the man-flu and went down to The Globe on a cold Thursday night for a night of witchery and retroism, in the hope that the headliners didn't destroy an amp much like they did last time they came to the capital.

With only two acts playing it was a later start than usual but just as Canadian four piece Blood Ceremony (7) took to the stage The Globe was rammed, I'd guess almost sold out, although that could be due to the impromptu seating area that seemed to appear on the balcony. Fronted by the catsuited Alia O'Brien this band looked as if they stepped right off the set of a Dario Argento movie all beards and bare feet. Their songs pairs witchcraft with acid-induced paranoia driven by the head throbbing heaviness of Sean Kennedy, Lucas Gadke and Michael Carrillo who play analogue instruments with analogue amps as O'Brien has her work cut out for her with hammond organs, vocals and flute but moves between all of them effortlessly, playing tracks from their three albums including a new unreleased song, there was very little movement on stage mainly due to the organ but when every head is nodding very few would have noticed. A band I've wanted to see for a while now (mainly due to my love of the 1970's) Blood Ceremony were exactly what I expected the only major flaw was that I wish the vocals were higher in the mix as I struggled to hear them (maybe it was man-flu). An ideal opener for this evening of occult heaviness it got the room swaying like a black magic conjuring.

With a switchover complete Kevin Starrs' band of greasy longhairs made their way to the stage for the headline show of the paranoia inciting Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats (8) who drew mainly upon their most recent album Wasteland for the set of discordant, fuzz-driven doom that saw the riffs swirl as the backing screen displayed the blood red logo mixed with some 60's B-Movies and other assorted nasties on Mt. Abraxas which swished into Mind Crawler as they moved through the set the songs were down tuned retro Sabbath worshiping affairs with the occult ramped up to the full as the four members of the band locked in to colossal heavy grooves that saw the band moving through Death's Door, Shockwave City, Pusher Man and I'll Cut You Down to a wild crowd and ferocious headbanging. Uncle Acid are a primal force on stage very little chit chat between the songs meant it was almost a sermon of noise from the opening bars until the closing clatter, possibly the loudest gig in The Globe (except for THAT Dragonforce gig) it's music to dislodge a brain cells and the huddled masses left with a few less than they walked in with. Proto-metal evil at it's finest Uncle Acid are a dirty little thrill, best enjoyed with chemical help (in my case cold and flu), don't pass them by next time.

Saturday 26 January 2019

Reviews: Darkwater, Antarticus, Omicida, Grande Fox

Darkwater: Human (Ulterium Records)

This has been a long time coming. Darkwater's first two albums were excellent chunks of melodic progressive metal. Where Stories End their previous album was released nine years ago so this one has had a long gestation period but one that has really paid dividends. Produced by the genius Jacob Hansen and delving "into a world of you and me, how we affect the world around us and the struggles we deal with as humans."

These lyrics are delivered embodied by the still stunning vocals of Henrik Båth who croons with soul as the band; Markus Sigfridsson (guitars), Simon Andersson (bass), Magnus Holmberg (keyboards) and Tobias Enbert (drums), play a cinematic style of metal such as Kamelot and Serenity, with a track like Reflection Of A Mind being full of drama as the pianos (Magnus Holmberg) lead along with the drums (Tobias Enbert) and guitars (Markus Sigfridsson & Simon Andersson, these layered compositions are really bolstered by the production of Jacob Hansen making this probably the best sounding Darkwater album ever. When progressive metal is done well it can really impress and Darkwater do it as good as any of the big boys. 8/10 

Antarticus: S/T (Green Needle Records)

Antarticus are a trio that hail from the Great White North (Whitehorse Yukon), their debut full length album is bookended by two simmering 80's synth reminiscent of synthwave, Crystal Caravan the intro builds like a Vangelis number. The rest of the album that sits in the middle is full of chunky stoner riffage as this three piece lock in for heavy grooves and jazz improvisations. To my critical ear Antarticus sound like a fusion of The Sword and Mastodon with songs such as Wöld War having a Sabbath-like swagger that grows, like many of their songs, into cascading guitar solos. Holding down the rhythm are Dustin Parsons (drums) and Mack Smith, who not only plays bass, but also sings and gives the synths, while Addam Parsons has some exploratory guitar playing mainly on the psychedelic Cosmic Exile. As Stoneburner's electronics fade into memory like a replicant in the rain, Antarticus is a very strong debut release from these Yukon natives. 7/10

Omicida: Defrauded Reign (Self Released)

I've talked about White Wizzard before, mainly about how the sum of it's parts are actually better than the whole. Omicida is yet another band featuring members of that band (most of whom are now in Monument), their debut EP hinted at a much nastier direction than Monument and Holy Grail (the most well known post WW bands) and on this full length they have really become a tenacious, take no prisoners thrash act. They have changed their line up since then with only drummer Giovanni Durst (WW & Monument) remaining as the rest of the band are fleshed out by vocalist Giovanni Barbieri, guitarists Will Wallner (Will Wallner/Vivian Vain, ex-White Wizzard), Dan Baune (Monument) and bassist Daniel Bate (Benediction, Monument, ex -Absolva).

This is the line up that has this album snarling from the very beginning and I will tell you something if you're already missing Slayer then I'd pick up Defrauded Reign as it's the nearest your going to get, double kicks and down-tuned thrash riffs are met by explosive lead bursts and Barbieri's Araya screams, the subject matter too is akin to Hanneman/King lyrics with tales of horror, murder and politics especially Violent Resolution, Burn The Cross and The Supremacist which explode out of the speakers like they could have come off South Of Heaven (a riff nicked on Unborn) while elsewhere Protect And Serve and State Of Terror have a heavy Testament stomp to them. Full thrash fury from start to finish absolutely intense, dry those tears a new reign has begun. 8/10    

Grande Fox: Space Nest (Self Released)

Characterised as space psychedelic stoner heavy rock Thessaloniki act Grande Fox play fuzzy heavy riff rock that Greeks love, don't expect a lot of melody, this is about riffs, thick sludgy riffs in fact and from a band that cite Karma To Burn as an influence it's easy to see why these songs are so discordant with some grizzled vocals over top of distorted riffs that are only matched in their aural power by the mind twisting psych elements, Burned Beard is the best example of this having the space rock force of Hawkwind. At the moment the band are a three piece of Lefteris Zaoskoufis (guitar), Nick Berzamanis (vocals) and Vasilis Theodosiades (guitar) with a session drummer and bassist who must be as mad as the rest of the band to really make sure this album fucks with your mind as much as possible, if QOTSA and Neurosis float your boat then Grande Fox the grab a handful of quaaludes and phase out. 7/10   

Friday 25 January 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Powerwolf (Review By Stief)

Powerwolf, Amaranthe & Kissin Dynamite, SWX, Bristol

Not long after entering the SWX - a great venue for this sort of gig - we were greeted by the sounds of AC/DC’s Kissin’ Dynamite, before Kissin’ Dynamite (7) themselves blast onto stage. This is their first tour on British soil, but they seem made for this crowd, some of which are evidently steadfast fans. With songs such as I’ve Got The Fire, Sex Is War and I Will Be King (during which vocalist Hannes Braun donned a Mercury-esque regal cloak), it’s clear the band love what they do. Guitarists Ande Braun and Jim Muller pulled out all the stops, harmonising, riffing, solos galore with Steffen Hailer and Andi Schnitzer working double time on bass and drums respectively. The band definitely have the sound to fill a venue like this, along with the attitude to fill an arena.

A brief break, and Amaranthe (5) take the stage. Having kind of caught them at Bloodstock Open Air last year, where they were plagued with sound problems, leaving them with only half their set, I was looking forward to seeing the proper thing. With the band starting off with Maximise, the setlist was a good mix of old and new, the band’s debut album and latest albums dominating the set, with a few fan favourites such as Digital World and Drop Dead Cynical pumping the crowd up with the Amaranthe brand mix of melodic metal, industrial beats and clean, harsh and symphonic vocals. However, after Drop Dead Cynical, the majority of the band left the stage, leaving bassist Johan Andreassen to perform an impromptu comedy set to fill the time. Now, a similar thing happened during the aforementioned technical difficulties at Bloodstock, and at that point, it served a purpose. However, tonight in Bristol, I wasn’t sure why it had to happened at all, with Johan swearing at the crowd, sticking his finger through his fly and attempting a viking clap, the only purpose it seemed to serve any momentum the band had built up, and the last two songs unfortunately felt like a struggle to regain any of that.

Thankfully, Powerwolf (9) were on top form. Having first caught Powerwolf at BOA on the Sophie Lancaster stage nearly a decade ago, it’s been brilliant to see the band go from strength to strength. While at their core, they’re still the humble, wacky band that stood on that stage in 2010, it’s clear they’re now very comfortable with the clear adoration the crowd give them. With this being the Sacrament Of Sin tour, it’s no surprise the majority of songs tonight were from the album of the same name, with Demons Are A Girl's Best Friend, Fire And Forgive, and Incense And Iron dominating the opening minutes of the set. Attila Dorn seems born to play the role of frontman, using whatever gaps he can to whip the crowd up, often dragging the classic band tactic of ‘I’m not sure that was loud enough’ out a bit too long.

The Greywolf brothers both work brilliantly, the guitars weaving in and out of each other, Matthew’s solos and riffage tight. Drummer Roel Van Helden also seems built for the band, blasting out salvos of machine gun drumming. However, props have to be given to keyboardist Falk Maria Schlegel, who not only provides the church like atmosphere with his keys, but seems to act as the band’s hype man whenever he’s not playing, running back and forth across the stage, pumping his fist and whipping up the crowd into a frenzy. Highlights of the night included Stossgebet from the latest album as well as classics Amen And Attack, We Drink Your Blood and personal favourite, Resurrection By Erection, a perfect example of how a band with a great sound can still be goofy as fuck. If tonight was anything to go by, Powerwolf’s main stage slot at BOA will guarantee smiles all round.

Reviews: At The Gates, Toby Hitchcock, Starbreaker, Delfinia (Reviews By Paul H & Matt)

At The Gates: With The Pantheons Blind (Century Media) [Paul H]

In support of their European tour with Behemoth and Wolves In The Throne Room, ATG has released a special digital EP. What you get are six tracks from 2018’s excellent To Drink From The Night Itself, but with Rob Miller (Ambiex, Tau Cross) adding guest vocals (The Mirror and Daggers Of Black). Opening with Daggers Of Black Haze, this EP is a reminder of just how good ATG are. Raped By The Light Of Christ, The Chasm and The Mirror are all superb slabs of melodic death metal which Rich covered in his review back in May 2018. Full of jagged riffs and Tomas Linberg’s trademark gruff vocals, this is an appetizer to what promises to be one of the gigs of the year. 7/10

Toby Hitchcock: Reckoning (Frontiers Records) [Paul H]

2019 promises an onslaught of melodic hard rock as the Frontiers label goes from strength to strength. Toby Hitchcock is the lead singer of Pride Of Lions, handpicked by Jim Peterik, founder member of AOR giants Survivor, way back in 2003. Joining Hitchcock on this solo release are Daniel Flores - all keyboards and drums, Michael Palace - guitars and bass and Yngve "Vinnie" Strömberg - drums and percussion. Hitchcock has a soaring, powerful voice, in the style of Bobby Kimball, Jimi Jamison or Lou Gramm and Reckoning is the perfect showcase for him. With Pride Of Lions currently on hiatus, Hitchcock has taken the opportunity to deliver 51 minutes of polished, AOR which will appeal to fans of Survivor, Toto and Foreigner.

As you would expect, it is drenched in thick keyboard sounds, and the lyrical content focuses on relationships and expressions of love so beloved of the genre. It takes a mere two songs before we arrive at Show Me How To Live, the typical ballad which is sickly in its sweetness. Behind The Lies is reminiscent of Mr Mister, with bombastic keyboard riffs dominating. Melodic rock is not my genre of choice, the lightweight pomp and ghastly lyrics rarely appeal whilst the multiple harmonies that drench the choruses do little. However, in terms of quality, Hitchcock has a voice that is amongst the best in this field, smoother than Rob Halford’s head. Reckoning is stuffed full of similar songs, some impressive musicianship and follows a traditional path but in the world of melodic rock, this is one of the better offerings. 7/10

Starbreaker: Dysphoria (Frontiers Records) [Paul H]

Another Frontiers release and album number three for Starbreaker, the collaboration between former TNT frontman, Tony Harnell and Primal Fear and Allen/Lande guitarist Magnus Karlsson. Starbreaker started as Harnell's side project while he was still in TNT but although this was initially a solo project, it soon morphed into Starbreaker with Karlsson, former TNT drummer John Macaluso, and bassist Fabrizio Grossi. The band recorded its first self-titled studio album in 2005 with the sophomore Love’s Dying Wish released in 2008 featuring new bassist Jonni Lightfoot. It’s been 11 years since that second album but with Harnell no longer in TNT, the time for Dysphoria has come.

Joined by new drummer Anders Köllerfors, this is another solid melodic rock release with the occasional jagged riff giving the album a bit more grit. Dominated by Harnell's strong vocals, the content follows a familiar pattern; Tracks such as How Many More Goodbyes, Beautiful One and My Heart Belongs To You should be all the clues you need to confirm that there are no lyrics about rotting meat, chopping off heads or grinding genitalia on this release. A respectable cover of the Judas Priest song Starbreaker from 1977’s Sin After Sin closes this release, Harnell showing the appropriate level of reverence in his singing, wisely avoiding the Halford scream at the end of the song and Karlsson capturing the solo work perfectly. 6/10

Delfinia: Deep Elevation (Self Released) [Matt]

Sometimes you need a bit of power metal, all the intelligent metal in the world can sometimes be surpassed by galloping riffs and a wall of synths so along comes, especially when one opens with a intro that reminds me of Terminator with a plaintive piano. Delfinia is a project from vocalist/sound producer Konstantin Laars Naumenko and singer/keyboard player Daria Naumenko who along with a number of musicians such as Olaf Thorsen (Labyrinth, Vision Divine), Aldo Lonobile (Secret Sphere), Ross VC Thompson (Van Canto), Jocke 'Aerendir' Johansson (Twilight Force), Krzysztof Gunsen Elzanowski (Pathfinder) and most famously Roland Grapow (Masterplan, ex-Helloween).

The majority of the instruments are played by Konstantin with numerous session musicians adding bass, guitars and solos, vocally he's also very strong sounding a little like Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica fame, something that you can also hear in the music itself, the synths pulsate, the riffs bounce along leading to soaring melodic solos, it's standard power metal by the numbers, simple, dumb and after a while a bit dull, still for power metal purists this will satisfy. 6/10

Thursday 24 January 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Help For Heroes 5 (Review By Paul H & Matt)

Help For Heroes Chapter 5, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

Now in its fifth edition, there was no better way to banish the winter blues than a hard rock all dayer at Cardiff’s main rock and metal hub. As it happened, this gig coincided with the march to Guildford Crescent, the latest show of opposition to the Rapport family’s decision to close the Independent Music Venue Gwdihw and the two restaurants next door, The Thai House and The Madeira. The show of feeling was impressive, and the numbers that turned out on a cold, damp afternoon were far larger than the march to save Womanby Street a couple of years ago. Having joined the march, and then stopped at the excellent Beelzebub’s for a cheeky pint, it was off to Fuel.

Opening the event was Foreigner’s Son (6), a three piece who were apparently playing their first ever gig. It didn’t show and although the band played a set mainly consisting of covers, they were comfortable and competent throughout. A couple of Thin Lizzy songs are never going to disappoint me unless they are badly performed, but Sam Hermanis possesses a soulful voice which captured the spirit of Lynott perfectly. Regulars at Fuel would have recognised guitarist Jack Davies from behind the bar but this time it was his playing that was welcomed rather than his pint pouring skills. Some sweet solos were probably the highlight of their set but there is plenty of potential for this band and their hard rock has a captive audience in South Wales, an area which loves the classic rock feel.

With Fuel already swelling to decent numbers, next up was Dark Valley (6), another three-piece from South Wales whose range of classic rock went down well with the assembled crowd. The band comprises Jamie Little on vocals and guitar, Marcel Mertens on drums and Dafydd Robbin-Hill on bass. They powered through their set and whilst it was a little generic, their compositions were interesting and well played.

Elliot Cadmore is a well-known face to most regulars in South Wales and his one-man project Sounds Of Insane Music (6) soon garnered a few new fans. Whilst the extreme progressive metal that Elliot plays was a little out of kilter with most of the bands on display, there can be no doubting the man’s talent and his set flew by. Having been plying his trade since 2011, his dedication and perseverance is impressive. Insuna (6), a melodic metal outfit from Cardiff. Led by the powerful vocals of A.K, the band introduced some new riffage to proceedings and received a healthy response from the ever-growing crowd. The band has shared the stage with some bigger names including Leaves Eyes and Triaxis, and their brand of metal was certainly watchable.

Female trio Firebrand (6) have been around for several years and in guitarist/vocalist B.J. they possess a striking frontwoman who can play a mean guitar and sing with power. Supported by Sarah and Chelsea, the girls proved once more that the ladies can match anything the lads can do and by the end of their set there were a lot of grinning faces around the venue.

And so we headed to the final two. Organiser Julian Birch had lost two bands in the run up to the event but that didn’t bother anyone, and we wish those who had to pull out all the best. [Matt] First up was Ill Fate (7) featuring a former member of Triaxis on the six strings, the Cardiff based punk powered trio, created a bouncing atmosphere, with some snot nosed abrasive punk but a pop vein sneaking in, a nice change of pace in the set shying away from the brazen rock of the majority of the

That left us with Haxan (7), the three-piece which comprises sisters Sam and Charlotte Bolderson, (Vox/guitar and drums) and bassist Harriet Wadeson on bass. On a day of trios, the three ladies brought the power and the grit to demonstrate who they were worthy headliners. A packed room roared their approval as the band crushed all with their classic rock style. Plenty of riffs, hooks and melody which showed their influences and a fine end to a decent day.

Full marks to Julian, whose heroic efforts in setting up the whole event were well rewarded with £720 raised for the charity. A staggering turnout during the day, and to all who generously donated their time, a huge well done.

Wednesday 23 January 2019

Reviews: Mono, The Mound Builders, Papa Roach, Static Tension (Paul S & Alex)

Mono: Nowhere Now Here (Temporary Residence Limited) [Paul S]

Mono are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, and are celebrating by releasing their 10th album. The band have made their first ever lineup change recently, recruiting a new drummer in Duhm Majuri Cipolla. There is also a track featuring Takaki on vocals for the first time. The track, Breath, is the only song on the album to feature vocals. All the other tracks are instrumentals, most of which feature many, many instruments, the album also contains electronic elements for the first time. The album has some very quiet moments and some very loud moments, clearly relating to Mono’s traditional theme of darkness and light.

First track God Bless is an intro to the album, the track takes quite a while to fade up, when it does it is simple swells of Brass instruments (these could be real Brass, or electronic elements, lets just say, they sound like brass). Second track After You Comes The Flood starts with a very simple guitar lick, which slowly builds, before it becomes a big riff, without changing the tune from the lick. The riff continues for the rest of the track. Sounds boring? Well it isn’t, it’s amazing. The riff might not change, but the way the riff is played, and the mix of instruments that play it, constantly mutate. The track gets bigger and bigger as it goes along, a guitar solo is added, and that riff just won’t leave your head, man this is huge, and beautiful.

Next we have Breath. The only track to have vocals, Breath is sung by Takaki in a very, well, breathy way. Her voice is quiet, and hesitant, the track feel delicate and fragile, as if it could shatter at any moment. Takaki’s voice is a little like Bjork’s when she is being really quiet (definitely not Bjork when she is being noisy!). In the second half of the track a guitar riff comes in, with some delicate tremolo picking, before it gently fades out. Nowhere Now Here has a very slow, quiet build up of guitar and brass, before a drum fill signals the arrival of a huge riff, this then builds with strings, getting bigger and bigger until it all abruptly stops for a short interlude. After this rest the song comes crashing back in, but even huger this time. The guitar riff is now tremolo picked, and this helps boost the dynamics of the track to a huge, dramatic ending. Far And Further starts with a quiet, constantly repeated guitar lick which is very reminiscent of Philip Glass, for at least the first half of the song, before this starts to get louder. The song, although having the quiet start/loud finish, has such a relaxed, and dreamlike quality to it, it becomes beautiful and cathartic.

Next up is Sorrow, which starts with a slow gentle riff, before the track goes into a beautiful tremolo picked guitar riff, which I think has the a tune which is very similar to the song Can’t Smile Without You (recorded by Barry Manilow, and The Carpenters), I realise that might sound a little strange, but that is what it sounds like to me. The track builds, but always has a dreamlike, ethereal feeling to it, even at the very end where there is distortion on the guitar. The track ends with electronic elements drifting off into silence. Parting is very simple. String swells, with a piano playing over the top. Achingly beautiful. Meet Us Where The Night Ends again builds slowly, till a mid-paced riff arrives. The song is maybe a little more direct than some of the other material on the album, there are less instruments in the mix, and the drumming is more purposeful. Funeral Song is a short interlude made up of brass and strings.

It’s simple and charming, and takes us into the last track Vanishing. The song has an uplifting quality to it, as if the turmoil of the rest of the album has come to a resolution, and it has a blissed out, contented feel to it. It’s a suitable ending to a fantastic album.Nowhere Now Here is a stunning piece of work. It’s beautiful, dreamlike, ethereal, subtle, delicate, huge, noisy, quiet, gossamery and exquisite. This is a beautiful piece of art, every note has meaning and relevance, it gets into your head, and is very affecting. You have to be patient with this album, give it time to grow on you and you will discover something truly amazing. 9/10

The Mound Builders: The Mound Builders (Failure Records & Tapes) [Paul S]

The Mound Builders hail from Indiana, this self titled album is the bands second, seven years after their debut Strangers In A Strange Land. The style of metal served up on The Mound Builders is a mix of doom, sludge and hardcore, there is a similarity in sound with British bands Allfather and Mastiff; whether they are slow or fast, they are always heavy. First track Torchbearer kicks the album off in a great way, definitely one of the highlights of the album. The song has a slow, but powerful beginning, before a cracking up-tempo riff blasts in and we are in huge and bouncy, punky hardcore territory. Hair Of The Dogma has a massive intro, before morphing into a more driving and aggressive hardcore part. The song has a relentless quality that I really enjoy. Third track Separated From Youth has a slower, more measured feel to it. The riffs are a little less aggressive, maybe with a little bit of a stoner vibe to it. Acid Slugs starts slow, really slow, and is massively heavy, with a little bit of an Eyehategod feel to it. Then the track kicks off into a hugely nasty piece of hardcore, with a punky flavour, you could shout Oi Oi Oi during this track without anyone batting an eyelid.

Next up we have the fastest track, and my favourite song on this album; Star City Massacre. Star City Massacre is an absolute blast of hardcorey thrash, so much fun, head banging is mandatory with this song! Regolith has a looser, stonier feel to it, the tempo (possibly a 6:8) is relaxed and lazy, which works well after the speed and fury of Star City Massacre. Broken Pillars brings back the sickeningly heavy and slow again. The song pounds the listener into the ground in a delightfully nasty way. Final track Vanished Frontier is a pounding, unremitting mid-paced song that has a unstoppable feel to it, seriously, don’t stand in front of this track, it will run you down! It’s a great way to end a really enjoyable album. The Mound Builders is a great album (and band!), it has a lot of variation, but still feel like a coherent whole. The songs have depth to them, and feel like there has been a lot of work and care gone into writing and recording them. Highly recommended. 8/10

Papa Roach: Who Do You Trust? (Eleven Seven Music) [Alex]

Those of you who read my end of year lists in 2018, will know that my lack of hope in mainstream rock to produce anything substitutive, is thankfully ignorable due to the diverseness of the genre. Papa Roach is, of course, a charting act of the Nu-metal era. Characterized almost entirely by the ‘Cut My Life Into Pieces’ meme, their brand of angst has not exactly held up gracefully. Yet give them this, their later years have seen them at least trying to mature and adapt. However, they always lacked the creativity, and Who Do You Trust? Is yet another example of them straddling the line between guarding that acerbic Papa Roach attitude, and desperately trying to stay relevant.

Take one of the singles, Elevate. Attitude-ridden rapping pervades and a spike of lead guitars on the chorus tries and fails to lend some edge, all while a meandering beat, trap synths, and millennial whoops make this the pastiche of those charting acts, mislabeled as ‘rock’. Then there's Not The Only One, a song dictated by a semi-tropical acoustic guitar part which feels placated from a stock of generic riffs. Perhaps the most noticeable thing here is Shaddix’s signature ‘’I was screwed up/ I was angry at the world/ I was a loser’’ lyricism, showing up in an anthem apparently penned to inspire hopeful defiance in the youth!

Speaking of the defiance theme let's discuss Renegade Music. Does that sound like a Rage Against The Machine title? Well it should, because in trying to cash in on the idea of political anger, Papa Roach appropriates a number of rebellious lyrics, displaying none of the insight which would be required to drive a compliment anywhere beyond a backhanded: ‘really sticking it to da’ man there I see, how is the trend-chasing going?’ Finally, we come to the title track. To be fair, Who Do You Trust? has a level of stomp and power to at least keep you hooked for the duration, yet is nothing to get excited about or sell you on the album as a whole. In this particular case, they released the heaviest track as the first single for calculated and clever reasons.

Overall, Who Do You Trust? will likely not just be forgotten and shrugged off by cynics who never cared for Papa Roach in the first place, but by fans who feel let down. While it is very easy to point and laugh at a song like Last Resort, the small age group of people who got into music by watching Kerrang will be all too familiar with Papa Roach, and may even defend them for the dirty, angst-ridden appeal which they undeniably possess. Forgive me those of you who can identify with the new material, but it is hard to see how anyone will defend the 2019 incarnation of Papa Roach, 20 years from now. 2/10

Static Tension: Ashes To Animation (Buried By Sky Records) [Alex]

Calling themselves progressive grunge rock, Static Tension certainly embraces a wide variety of influences: A facet which displays itself across their first full-length album, harnessing the rawness of Nirvana, the weirdness of Tool, and just a touch of the disquiet capitalized on by elements of the industrial metal movement. Ashes To Animation certainly has the hallmarks of a debut, the production quality being decidedly dirty, definitely championing the unfiltered nature of grunge in that respect. Yet I would be a fool to ignore the experimentation and shifting dynamics imbuing this release and showing limitless promise for the future of this Ohio quartet.

Kindling begins the album on a discomforting dirge, the resonant acoustics, and the hypnotic vocals already enticing the listener with candid curiosity. Bury My Body then rips you out of the elusive state, with a trudging yet driving riff, steering towards an epic progressive crescendo. No Return is equally as dark, the stonerific, sabbath-esque riffing creatic one atmosphere, contrasted with the mellow ambiance of the chorus. We never stand still for long, as we hear solos reminiscent of classic rock, vocal passages inspired by alternative, and guitar parts with the crunch and distortion of underground metal.

One of the most unique parts across this entire experience is the morose mellowness of In Spite, which despite remaining relaxed for most of its run length hooks us in with the macabre nature of the imagery and the intense, burning feeling which swells, in the steady climb towards the final few moments. Not that Static Tension needs to rely on huge payoffs. The following piece Absence is composed entirely of gentle guitar musings, proving simple yet effective. Got To Give takes advantage of the unpredictability which pervades the debut, staying unsettling as it sways from seconds of nuance and introspection to anger and zeal, without feeling unnecessarily jarring or alienating.

Serpentine dials the prog up a notch, a wildling and precisely plucked guitar part proving how skill, as well as emotion, factors into the musicians ambitious genre fusions. In condrum with progressive stylings, the anthem is ever shifting, later developing into a throttling gallop, reaching spectacular heights with a euphoric lead solo, all before gracefully spiralling back into its original form. By contrast, Blank Silhouette pays homage to the stripped down melancholy of grunge, paying homage to the father's of the Seattle sound. The two tracks alone demonstrate the promise held by Static Tension as an act who can bring together two contrasting genres into reconciliation, under one name.

Like I hinted earlier, this is not a flawless debut. In some respects it can be seen as very amateure. Yet aside from establishing a core idea, it makes an effort to experiment, play with dynamics, and subvert typical genre conventions. The end result is an incredibly dark, yet intriguing record, which leaves your ability to predict the sound of future albums narrow, and the possibilities wide ranging and diverse! 7/10

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Reviews: Inglorious, The Riven, Hell Fire, Hellnite (Paul H & Matt)

Inglorious: Ride To Nowhere (Frontiers Records) [Paul H]

Let’s face it, Nathan James hasn’t covered himself in glory in recent times. His outburst against former band members, fuelled by his every swelling ego backfired and made him look an absolute tool. With three of the five members having left in 2018, leaving just James and drummer Phil Beaver. Well, regardless of his inability to keep his gob in check, album number 3 with Inglorious MK II is a decent piece of hard rock. It’s full of catchy, well-paced hard rock, and as usual, James’ steals the show with his phenomenal vocals. I dislike him as a person, wasn’t impressed by the band live at Steelhouse a few years ago but there is no denying his voice is amongst the most distinctive and powerful in the hard rock.

The opening duo of Where Are You Now and Freak Show have steel before the medium paced Alter Bridge style Never Alone allows the band to show a more measured and stylish approach. Recorded with old line up Andreas Z Eriksson (now left) handles the lead duties with ease, whilst rhythm guitarist Drew Lowe (now left) and bassist Colin Parkinson (now left) nail down the engine room alongside drummer Phil Beaver (still remains). Sure, at times Ride To Nowhere is a bit classic rock by numbers, with tracks such as Time To Go and the title track leaving little impression; the acoustic closing number Glory Days is a weak finish and I prefer it when the band are rocking out. This album is likely to be lapped up by those who enjoy their rock unchallenging and it won’t change my opinion one jot. I can, however, appreciate that James has one hell of a voice. 7/10

The Riven: S/T (The Sign Records) [Matt]

Debut album from heavy blues band The Riven. Born from the same streets as The Who and The Rolling Stones this is a band that skillfully mix classic blues riffs with desert rock, proggy textures, traditional metal bite, the PR calls the four members musical vagabonds and from the grooves here you'd have to agree taking their sounds from Grand Funk Railroad, Thin Lizzy along with contemporaries like The Blues Pills and No Sinner this is soulful proper rock n roll played without boundaries. If they want some throbbing rhythms and drum fills with psychedelic leanings then they will on Fortune Teller, if they want some proper blues they'll play it on Sweet Child, if they want prog then Far Beyond takes it to the realm of the wizard.

They moved from London to Sweden and you can here that Swedish retroism running through this record it screams of loon pants and paisley shirts, the kind of music made for letting it all hang loose on a Friday night. Musically tight as a gymnasts outfit the holy trinity of guitarist Arnau Diaz, bass player Max Ternebring and drummer Olof Axegärd explore with their instruments giving this album it's eclectic grooves as hell soundscapes while singer Totta Ekebergh has one of those voices with more grit than a John Wayne western, she can croon on I Remember but really let's rip on The Serpent and Leap Of Faith. London's loss is Sweden's gain as only good things can come from immersing yourself in that stew pot of Scandinavian creativity, expect big things from The Riven as this debut is a proper rock record! 9/10

Hell Fire: Mania (RidingEasy Records) [Paul H]

Firmly cocooned within the Bay Area thrash scene, and most notably the 1980s, San Francisco quartet Hell Fire are unashamedly focused on the old school thrash combined with the histrionics of NWOBHM. The band developed when bassist Herman Bandala moved to San Francisco from Tijuana in Mexico and caught the attention of guitarist Tony Campos. With drummer Mike Smith and vocalist/guitarist Jake Nunn completing the line-up. Mania is the band’s third album and it is fast paced with intense drumming, high pitched squeals, galloping guitar picks and soaring harmonies that punch you in the face. Jake Nunn’s vocals are an acquired taste and personally I see them as the weak link.

Whilst the opening track Warpath contains enough grit to power through, the title track which follows exposes the limitations. Otherwise, there is plenty to enjoy here with tracks reminiscent of the days of Angel Witch, Iron Maiden circa 1980 as well as Exodus and Riot and even early ‘Tallica. There are blistering rhythms a plenty, melody and driving hard heavy metal which varies from thrash to more routine metal, with the duel guitar work throughout mirroring early Maiden, especially on Transcending Evil and the closing double of Knights Of The Holy and Masochist. This isn’t going to pull up any trees but it’s enjoyable enough. 6/10

Hellnite: Midnight Terrors (Sliptrick Records) [Paul H]

Opening with a mellow introduction it’s pleasing to report that Hellnite’s debut release then explodes like an oil tanker in a Vin Diesel movie. Solid if uninspiring thrash metal with hell of a story behind it. Born in Mexico and now operating out of Edmonton, Canada, Hellnite released one EP, Manipulator before dissolving. With vocalist and guitarist Paolo Belmar relocating to Canada, he set about sourcing a live band.

With that now a reality, Midnight Terrors arrives as the sole work of Belmar who plays all the instruments. You must admire the drive and determination of Belmar, who has kept his dream alive. Influenced by Death, Kreator and Slayer amongst others, this isn’t groundbreaking by a long stretch, but it is competently delivered, the songs are formulaic and routine but bristling with energy and enthusiasm. 6/10

Reviews: Carnal Forge, Dark Mirror Ov Tragedy, Desert Fear, Jinjer (Reviews By Paul H)

Carnal Forge: Gun To Mouth Salvation (ViciSolum Productions)

Now this is more like it; the welcome return of one of Sweden’s most impressive thrash outfits some 12 years since 2007’s Testify For My Victims. Founder member Jari Kuusisto quit the band “because I was just fed up with the music industry and everything about being in the band.” Luckily for those who like their thrash with a good dose of death metal style, the band emerged from hibernation in 2013 and finally Carnal Forge are back. Having released seven studio albums since their formation in 1997, there is quite a history to the band who are one of several outfits named after Carcass songs. With almost as many personnel changes as any team managed by Claudio Ranieri, the current formation is led by original founder Jari Kuusisto on rhythm guitar, new vocalist Tommie Wahlberg, long suffering Lars Lindén (bass) and Petri Kuusisto (lead guitar) completed with Lawrence Dinamarca on drums.

Gun To Mouth Salvation leans heavily on the groove of Lamb Of God and the roasting ferocity of At The Gates, a raw combination that works far better than it might. With Dimmu Borgir style harmonies on the backing vocals on the opening Parasites and Reforged, there is plenty to explore. It’s bone shatteringly heavy, with Wahlberg’s guttural roar enough to break paving slabs, the heaving riffs crunch with an intensity usually reserved for the finest peanut butter and as for the speed; let's just say there is some insane drumming and explosive acceleration. King Chaos and Endless War are both explosive, all power and drive combining with some blisteringly vicious guitar work. This album kicks, it punches and above all it pulls the listener close and threatens nasty things to kittens in your ear. Listen to it at all costs. Otherwise it’ll be your fault. 8/10

Dark Mirror Ov Tragedy: The Lord Ov Shadows (Sliptrick Records)

The Dark Mirror Of Tragedy was the mirror in which Nostradamus saw the dark cruel future. An apt name for a black metal band who hail from South Korea. With lyrical themes of suicide and death, their symphonic sound is all enveloping, reaching far from the abyss with tentacles of despair that wrap around the listener in a magical but sinister manner. Formed in Seoul in 2003, this is the band’s fourth full length release and it’s a pretty impressive aural assault. Sweeping symphonics vie for space amidst the thunderous blast beats, huge riffs and soaring keyboards.

The opening two tracks pale into insignificance when you hit Chapter III: The Annunciation In Lust. At over 13 minutes in length it’s a brooding hulk of a song but it is merely a warm up to the massive lurking beast that is Chapter V: I Am The Lord Ov Shadows which brings this five track release to an astonishing crescendo at just shy of 21 minutes. With Material Pneuma handling the raging vocals, the other five members of the band cope comfortably with the intricate time changes and ferocious increases of pace and power. At times haunting and ethereal, at others as blunt as a builder’s hammer, The Lord Ov Shadows seems to be as good a place as any to get to know a band that had been a mystery to me prior to this release. 7/10

Desert Fear: Drowned By Humanity (Century Media Records)

Formed in 2007, Deserted Fear spent the first three years preparing and reconfiguring. The core of the band— Manuel ‘Mahne’ Glatter (vocals; guitars), Fabian Hildebrandt (guitars), Simon Mengs (drums) then released Demo 2010.  Two years later, with F.D.A records having offered them a deal, death metal legend Dan Swanö helped produce the band’s debut album, My Empire. With Swanö at the helm once more for follow-up album, 2014’s Kingdom Of Worms the band began to create interest across Europe. In 2016 Century Media Records offered Deserted Fear a new multi album deal and in 2017 the band delivered album number three, Dead Shores Rising. That brings us up to date and to album number four, Drowned By Humanity.

Produced by Henrik Udd (At The Gates, Miasmal) at Studio Fredman, Drowned By Humanity is indeed a hefty chunk of thrash and death metal. However, to class it as sitting at the “very top of the Germany—no, European!—death metal heap”, as pronounced by their press release is complete bollocks. It’s solid, it’s brutal, and tracks such as All Will Fall, An Everlasting Dawn, and A Breathing Soul are ferocious death metal. But, and it’s a massive but, there is little here which suggests that Deserted Fear can really stand out from the herd. Violent aggression may be the essence of this release, Glatter’s broken glass growl fits perfectly, whilst the melody and groove which underpins Sins From The Past and Scars Of Wisdom adds to the listening pleasure but I’m not convinced that this promotes the band into the arena of the behemoths of the European death metal scene. Plenty of promise, and some meaty portions to get your teeth into but still some way to go before the summit can be attempted, let alone conquered.  6/10

Jinjer: Micro EP (Napalm Records)

I’ve got to be honest, the Jinjer juggernaut has passed me by in recent years. Massively touted by those who run Amplified Festival, to the extent that they are top of the bill this year, there is clearly something that people see in the Ukrainian outfit. Personally, I’m not so sure. It’s certainly different from some of the more run of the mill stuff out there now, and their intense mix of progressive hard rock, death metal and metalcore will surely attract an audience. The irregular changes between clean and growling vocals of singer Taitana Shmailyuk which sounds like a hybrid of Angela Gossow and Christina Scabbia on most tracks but especially Dreadful Moments are confusing and chaotic.

I struggled with the nu-metal Teacher, Teacher! with its constant changes of direction and style and overall this must be one of those bands I’m always going to stand there and say, “I just don’t get it”. If you like muddled and inconsistent metalcore merged with the arse end of Arch Enemy then you may well dig this but it’s all a bit meh to me. 5/10