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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

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