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Sunday 24 February 2019

Reviews Backyard Babies, Buckcherry, M.A.D, Autumn (Manus)

Backyard Babies: Silver & Gold (Century Media)

Nässjö, Sweden’s hard rock veterans, Backyard Babies, sound like a well-oiled machine on their eighth studio album. Marking the band’s 30th anniversary, Silver & Gold shows off the sound of an experienced band, and doesn’t feel out-of-touch or give off a sense of trying too hard like the newer music from several bands of their generation. The songs are written like straight up rock & roll tunes that could’ve easily come out decades ago, but it’s clear there is no scene into which Backyard Babies are trying to fit.

It’s the bluesy punk rock guitar riffs that really drive these songs, with singer Nicke Borg’s gravelly voice adding a gritty flavour, even on ballads Laugh Now Cry Later and Yes To All No. The album’s single, Shovin’ Rocks, is the catchiest tune, but the real highlights are the more intense tracks like Bad Seeds and album opener Good Morning Midnight. Almost every song also sounds like it’s meant to be performed live--there’s a rawness in these tracks that would seemingly be better captured onstage than in the studio. For anyone looking for timeless, feelgood rock & roll, Silver & Gold is an album to pick up, and Backyard Babies is a band to try and catch live. 8/10

Buckcherry: Warpaint (Century Media)

Nobody was wrong for being worried when the first single from Buckerry’s Warpaint was a cover, even if their take on the Nine Inch Nails classic, Head Like A Hole, is a solid effort. There are other songs on Warpaint that could’ve qualified as a single. The title track is punchy enough, and Closer could easily be a rock radio hit. But certain songs, such as Right Now and The Alarm sound like they would have benefitted from being given more time and attention to be fully fleshed out. To its credit, the guitar work throughout the record is impressive. Nearly every song is carried by crawling lead riffs, and beyond being catchy, the riffs are all written in a signature style. Buckcherry may not be the first or only band with riffs like these, but they certainly make good use of them.

Somewhat surprisingly, Warpaint’s peak is its rock ballad, Radio Song. It sounds more thoughtful than the rest of the record, and has a chorus that could have been pulled from somewhere in Elton John’s back catalogue. Unfortunately, the songs that stand out, like the country-infused No Regrets and The Hunger, actually take away some of the album’s cohesiveness. Warpaint is a decent record, but eight albums in, Buckcherry still sounds like a band trying to find its own musical identity. 6/10

Manente/Alonzo/Du Bose: M.A.D. (Self Released)

While Manente/Alonzo/Du Bose (M.A.D.) as a group is in its infancy, its three members had worked together and collaborated before deciding to come together to churn out an old-school heavy metal record, and it shows. The chemistry between Matheus Manente, Jesus Alonzo and Jon Du Bose shines throughout their debut album, making newly-written songs sound tight and well-rehearsed. The songwriting is a strong point as well. The horror-tinged tracks are reminiscent of the 1980s occult rock scene, complete with operatic vocals and soaring guitar solos. After its chilling intro, Twelve Gates, M.A.D. wastes no time getting to the substance that defines the record. The one-two punch of Reinventing Life and Shades Of I should be enough to immediately turn the classic metal fanbase on its ear, before giving way to slower and creepier songs Portals and Thief Propane

Eventually, though, the latter travels back into the fast-paced territory the album marks as its place. Much of the album’s lyrical content is derived from stories of insane people, including scientists and priests, but the Brazilian music and blues-inspired Yemanja tells a personal story of a Brazilian navigating Louisiana. Like all the others, it’s a well-written song, but neither its musical style nor lyricism really fits in with the rest of the album. Overall, M.A.D.’s debut record boasts an impressive array of traditional heavy metal elements and distinct musicianship. M.A.D. is a group that has the potential to go further, with this record setting a high bar. 8/10

Autumn: Stacking Smoke (Painted Bass Records)

After a five-year hiatus, Stacking Smoke is a strong return for Dutch symphonic metal septet Autumn. The atmospheric compositions are carried by Marjan Welman’s powerful voice and complemented by full-sounding production. This is particularly important on tracks like The Phantom Limb and Old Fuel, which pair melodic vocal and guitar melodies with heavy drums and could only really work if the listener is immersed in the songs. Complex songs like Blackout also benefit from the production quality. With three guitar parts, keyboards, bass leads, and even some strings, there’s a lot going on at certain points in the album. 

Without being properly blended, the abundance of instrumentation could have made the songs sound convoluted. Stacking Smoke as a whole shows unfaltering mastery of Autumn’s melodic elements, but the heavier riffage on Stacked Smoke and Thursday might leave listeners wanting more of that side of the band. Still, there is much to be heard in the down-tempo songs like Cyanide Sky 2 and Where The River Ends. Tracks eight through eleven are taken up by four-part epic Forging Tempests. It’s clearly meant to be the climax of the record, and definitely serves as such. It could probably even be an EP on its own, but it works just as well as four separate tracks on an album with songs that fit together like these ones do. 7/10

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