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Friday 15 March 2019

Reviews: Queensryche, Tesla, Matt Mitchell & The Coldhearts, Atorc (Paul H, Matt & Sean)

Queensrÿche: The Verdict (Century Media) [Paul H]

Album number 15 for the band who formed in Bellevue, Washington, way back in 1980. It’s also album number three with singer Todd La Torre, who replaced Geoff Tate in 2012. Even though La Torre has been in the band for seven years, for many fans, me included, it is a challenge to get past the band after 1990’s Empire. Whilst Queensrÿche which surfaced in 2013 was a solid album, the follow up with La Torre, Condition Human in 2015 was a bit on the lethargic side. Live, the current version of Queensrÿche mix up old and new tracks, and La Torre’s stunningly similar vocal delivery to that of Tate’s means that this is never a problem. The Verdict starts strongly with the riff heavy duo Blood Of The Levant and Man The Machine, which both sound like classic Queensrÿche. Catchy melody, screaming guitars, fast paced tempo and soaring vocals. This is promising. Even more impressive is that with Scott Rockenfield unavailable, it’s La Torre who delivers a rock-solid performance on the drums. The writing of the tracks has been shared around the band, with original members, Michael Wilton and Eddie Jackson sharing the load with La Torre, and rhythm guitarist Parker Lundgren.

It’s a real team effort and it shows. Lightyears changes the style completely, futuristic in delivery and construction, Wilton’s tidy guitar work a highlight. The Wilton/La Torre Inside Out follows, a chilled start building slowly into a thumping, medium paced track which swirls with an Eastern flavour before a great hook kicks in for the chorus. The one track that I’m not over enthused with is Propaganda Fashion, a head down style delivery but with a weak middle section and chorus doing little for me. The second half of the album starts with the emotionally charged Dark Reverie, a semi-acoustic epic which broods and smoulders, La Torre putting in a strong vocal performance whilst Bent is a stunning piece of work, simmering moodily, thick riffs adding emphasis before the track accelerates. Inner Unrest delivers in the way I expect Queensrÿche to sound, technically excellent, the progressive elements underpinned by a hard rock core. Launder The Conscience is possibly the proggiest track on the album, and closing track, the majestically confident and calming Portrait returns to the days of Empire in its feel. This sounds like Queensrÿche, it feels like Queensrÿche, it is Queensrÿche. This might be a bold claim, but The Verdict might just be the band’s best album for 20 years. 8/10

Tesla: Shock (Universal Music)

I like Tesla, I really do, from their classics to their most recent albums they've always hit that 'slightly heavier' Aerosmith vibe for me. So I was excited for their new album Shock, even the news of Def Leppard's Phil Collen producing made me prick my ears up as his work with Delta Deep and Girl showed that he could do more than his day job in terms of influence. However Tesla seem to have taken his presence as a challenge to sound as much like Def Leppard as possible, the first five songs on this 12 track album try as hard as they can to have the big drum beats cliched lyrics and backing choirs that the Sheffield band are known for.

The worst offenders being the sexist Taste Like and the diabolical title track, which has has very stupid electronic drums. Things get marginally better from there where they do a few Aerosmith ballads such as Forever Loving You but it's only Tied To The Tracks that actually has some guts (and slide guitar). Things go back to crap on I Want Everything which is a rock version of We Didn't Start The Fire, mostly though it's Def Leppard lite and the least said about We Can Rule The World the better (I still feel ill). Shock does what it says but in the wrong way, an unimaginative, mess of a record that I don't want to hear ever again. 3/10

Matt Mitchell & The Coldhearts: Self Released (MMRecordingworks)

You may know the name Matt Mitchell, he is/was the singer of both the critically acclaimed Furyon and Colour Of Noise, with both groups now on hiatus this self titled debut is a long gestated solo album, that was proceeded by the rocking first single Black Diamonds back in January (though we’ve been getting emails about it since July last year). It’s this familiar noise that opens the album properly and stylistically it sounds like Guns N Roses playing a Bond theme (I know they’ve already done that before you write in!) It’s got a cinematic sound to it, some heavy organ stabs and the kind of guitar solo I refer to as a ‘mountain top’ solo.

However this first single is a little misleading as Mitchell is a singer/songwriter first and foremost so his rock star histrionics are saved for when they are needed. Much of the album is a more stripped back bluesy affair focusing on the song writing, and here he’s also focusing on people, meaning a lot of the album is reflective in tone. Take a track like Old Enough & Ugly Enough it’s a stirring ballad with acoustic strums and a piano making most of the noise, for a song that could feature on a Blackberry Smoke record or even some more recent Bon Jovi.

Apparently the piano is the one Freddie Mercury composed Bohemian Rhapsody on so it’s got precedence, as it sits in the legendary Rockfield Studios, which is where the album was skilfully recorded to bring out the maximum audio quality. On the other hand Wave Goodbye has hip shaking Velvet Revolver sound to it bringing the rock back however like most of the album it’s undercut by the acoustic guitars and organs and has an orchestral outro. It’s a musically diverse album that suits Mitchell’s husky but soulful vocals, Everything To You has the ringing guitar sound of U2, Waiting For The Sun the immediacy of a Chris Cornell song (in fact there is a lot of Cornell in this record). Those who enjoyed Mitchell's work with the underrated Furyon and the sadly misses Colour Of Noise will be quick to snap up this solo debut, however I'd say if you like intelligent, emotive rock music then Matt Mitchell & The Coldhearts should be on your shopping list. 8/10

Atorc: Under The Raven Banner (Self Released)

“An lo, did we smite our enemies! With them routed and scattered to the winds, we retired to our halls and got verily smashed! Hail Odin!” That’s more or less the gist of what happening here. You’d think that there were other cultures to provide inspiration but let’s be honest, Vikings are fucking cool and always will be. Drinking, fighting, plundering and prophecy. What more can be said? Whilst I do prefer my skalding to be of the blackened variety, I’ll always lend and ear to the traditional and true, which is exactly how to describe Suffolk Norse nutters Atorc. Big riffs, big choruses and all the silliness you can shake an inflatable axe at. Sounding closer to Falconer than Falkenbach, Atorc wield folk and fire with relative ease, armed with tales of heroic deeds and debauchery. Returning to pillage a second time with new album, Under The Raven Banner, will Atorc enter Valhalla’s halls as heroes? The answer lies on the field of battle! TO ARMS!

Intro track, Hravansmerki, is a sombre yet cinematic opener. It soon fades into the title track, with Atorc sprinting right into the fray. Traditional riffs bulk out their advance, with a mixture of thrash and clean vocals painting war’s bloody picture. It’s simple, yet anthemic structure provides enough sing along moments to ensure memorability, punctuated by some tasteful shredding. ‘Mead Hall” is the genre necessary trope, shoehorning any reference to mass alcohol consumption to amusing effect. It’s a fun wee ditty, with vocalist Hellbard doing his best Dickinson/Kiske impression followed by a duel between violin and axe. Occasionally Hellbard misses his notes, though this doesn’t derail the boozing by that much. Hammer To Anvil (overused much?) brings us back into the fray, with more sing along moments and tasty leads. You should know the drill by now, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, widdly bit and FINAL UPLIFTING CHORUS! A well worn template to be sure, but very effective and Atorc employ it with commendable proficiency. Why change what can already decapitate a Saxon in one stroke?

Maidens Of The Shield is a stompy jig, folky melodies melding nicely with the muscular metallics. Sovngarde provides some tranquility amongst the fighting, leading perfectly into Voice Of The Storm. Isle Of The Brave and Ragnarok carry on in a similar manner, though the harsh vocals on the latter are a touch underwhelming. ShieldWall draws the battle to a close, a touch more mean that it’s predecessors but no less memorable and a fitting end to Under The Raven Banner. Yah know what? I had a grand ol’ time with Under the Raven Banner. It may not be super tight in its execution but the oomph and energy is undeniable. There may be no surprises and about as much originality to match, yet Atorc are a scrappy wee beasty and make up for it with guts galore. The riffs are meaty, the choruses are meatier and Atorc power through these 10 tracks, not once being frugal in their boisterous bravado.

Sure, a few of the more trve listeners may be put of by it’s power metal inclinations, but there’s an ample amount of might beneath all this cheddar. The core of Under The Raven Banner is strong, muting it’s imperfections, accentuating it’s strengths and ensuring you’ll be humming these battle hymns for days on end. Now be off with you! I have lands to conquer, foes to crush and much mead to drink! Hails! 7/10

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