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Monday 30 September 2019

Reviews: Insomnium, The Neptune Power Federation, Implore, Children Of The Sun (Paul H, Matt & Rich)

Insomnium: Heart Like A Grave (Century Media) [Paul Hutchings]

With the Finns previous two albums rightly heralded as modern-day classics in the world of melodic death metal, and both receiving straight 10/10 ratings from me back in 2014 and 2016, the eighth release from Insomnium was anticipated with some wariness. What if they couldn’t follow Winter’s Gate and Shadows Of The Dying Sun? Well fear not, for Insomnium are back with another beautifully melancholic and crafted release containing more stories of bleakness from the North. Bolstered by Jani Liimatainen’s permanent addition to the band as third guitarist, Heart Like A Grave is ten songs and an hour of deep enjoyment. Four composers now reside within the band, Liimatainen’s addition adding to the consistent line up of Markus Hirvonen (drums), Ville Friman (guitar and vocals), Niilo Sevänen (Vocals and bass) and Markus Vanhala (guitar and vocals).

A lone piano opens Wail Of The North, slowly combining with subtle keys which build atmospherically before a wave of crashing riffs add texture. Sevänen’s familiar growling vocal kicks in as the track accelerates, the rest of the band unleashing their fury, with the guitars picking their way through the maelstrom. Hirvonen’s thunderous double bass kick underpins everything. A drop back to the piano before the segue into the full throttle of Valediction, and here we have Insomnium at their most glorious. Like their countrymen Amorphis, Insomnium combine heavy roaring battle metal with wonderful melody, sweet harmonies and intricate passages which warm the heart despite the raw and desperate themes. Neverlast continues the passionate assault, a pummelling intense driving song which you can’t help but nod the head to; the slick changes in tempo and the triple guitar harmonies working in unison.

Having delivered three short tracks, Pale Morning Star arrives. A nine-minute epic which starts with a wall of blast beats and heavy riffing over a solitary piano, before incendiary tremolo riffing blends with choral sounds to rapidly give way to death growls and another high-tempo song. The benefit of the three-pronged guitar assault is clear here, Insomnium now possess a muscular sound that enhances their melodic side rather than smothering it. Pale Morning Star builds in grand style, subtle breakdowns and calmer passages combine with some exquisite lead guitar and rampantly aggressive sections. Five and a half minutes in and the pace slows, a welcome chance to gain oxygen whilst appreciating the gentle acoustic guitars that embrace all, allowing time for the atmosphere to build once more before the song reaches its monumental climax. And Bells They Toll follows, and by now I’m totally sold. Another massively detailed and structured song, the keys are utilised once more to great effect before doom laden riffs kick in. Backed by soaring keys and orchestral arrangements, this is the first track where the clean vocal harmonies arrive on the chorus and they work magically.

It’s an emotional ride on The Offering, a heart string tugged by the perfect melody, which is both catchy and melancholic, whilst Mute Is My Sorrow contains similar hooks albeit at a faster and heavier pace. The use of subtle guitar patterns is evident, the band continuing to flex their song writing structures to excellent effect. Although there is crushing heaviness throughout Heart Like a Grave, the underlying themes are beautifully accentuated using shade and light. Each song contains gentle interludes which provide not only a blueprint for their song structures but allow the listener to truly appreciate the technicality on display. Mute Is My Sorrow contains everything I want in an Insomnium song.

Three seven-minute plus monsters conclude this immensely enjoyable and refreshing album. Twilight Trails starts the trio, a blasting epic with passages of sheer intensity, spiralling riffs once more balanced by slower, calmer sections which once again provide the atmosphere to rebuild. The title track follows, a gorgeously constructed song which starts with the lilt of acoustic guitar and synths before an all-encompassing wave of melancholy washes in, clean harmonies combining with the growling vocals superbly. Symphonic elements join in the middle section before a blistering breakdown strides atop a wall of textured layers. This is a track that demands repeated listening, such is its ethereal beauty. We close this gargantuan release with Karelia, an instrumental track that sits just shy of eight minutes. Karelia begins with acoustic elements that combine with electric riffs and synths, followed by a thunderous doom-laden passage which slowly progresses into a majestic piece. Sweeping and soaring along mountainous segments, this is Insomnium in full flight, the musicianship grandiose and imposing without arrogance. All I can hope for now is a tour to support this magnificent album. It’s time. 9/10

The Neptune Power Federation: Memoirs Of A Rat Queen (Cruz Del Sur) [Matt Bladen]

The Neptune Power Federation (TNPF) plays high voltage psychedelic heavy rock born out of Australian dive bar culture but enrobed in the occult nature of bands such as Ghost. It’s the bands fourth full length and it’s their first for Cruz Del Sur music, guitarist Inverted CruciFox stated that the album took a lot longer than expected but it sounds so huge that they can be forgiven, there are literally layers here to peel back on every listen. The swirling Hammonds vie for superiority with Fox and Search & DesTroy’s swaggering guitar prowess as bassist Jaytanic Ritual and drummer Mr Styx give the album its beating heart. The tracks vary wildly from the woozy psych of Pagan Inclinations which is followed by the galloping proto- metal of The Reaper Comes For Thee, to the Queen-meets-Toto sound of I’ll Make A Man Out Of You through the stomping glam of Can You Dig which opens the record.

As the ethereal Watch Our Master’s Bleed adds Wolfmother-styled riffs to some Enya ambience, finally we have songs such as the heavy rocking, cosmic blues of Rat Queen. The one linking factor being the bewitching vocals of their powerhouse vocalist the Imperial Priestess Screaming Loz Sutch, she has voice bigger than a planet crooning, wailing and conjuring magick with every note. Memoirs Of A Rat Queen is a mind-altering rock n roll album the likes of which I’ve not heard for a long time, it’s 8 tracks of near perfection and should be enjoyed loud but through headphone to truly take in the journey. 9/10

Implore: Alienated Despair (Century Media) [Rich Oliver]

Grindcore is a genre I don’t listen to a whole load of but it’s nearly always a satisfying experience when I do listen. Don’t get me wrong when it’s done badly grindcore can sound bloody awful but when you find a band that does it so right it’s nice to take comfort in the musical equivalent of having your face smashed into a wall for half an hour. Implore are very much a band that grind the right way and with their third album Alienated Despair they are on truly vicious form. Their sound isn’t straight up grind mixing in bits from death metal, black metal and hardcore punk and all the nastiest bits of course. 

Throughout the albums 31 minute duration there is absolutely no respite from the onslaught from opener Faculties Of Time to the aptly titled The Constant Dissonance to the teeth grinding intensity of Never Again (which features Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates on guest vocals). Alienated Despair is a short sharp attack of pulverising intensity that despite its short length leaves you breathless with its sheer intensity. If you like grind that is skull pulversing in its extremity but with moments of dissonance and punishing groove then this album comes seriously recommended. 8/10

Children Of The Sun: Flowers (The Sign Records) [Matt Bladen]

Hey man let's go on a trip, back to the time when the world was experiencing the Age Of Aquarius. I'm talking cheesecloth, peace, free love and flowers in your hair. Children Of The Sun encompass those heady days of 60's San Francisco and the 3 days of Peace & Love that took place in New York. Much like countrymen The Blues Pills Children Of The Sun have a folkier sound that reminds me of Fairport Convention or Buffalo Springfield with occasional hints of the early blues Fleetwood Mac. The title track really makes this hit home with it's rhythmic drumming, simmering organ and the passionate vocals, it's a song that must have been recorded while sitting on the floor in a commune surely?

It's a beautiful song which is part of bigger release that has really nailed that Woodstock vibe. Self proclaimed Hippies Children Of The Sun features 5 ladies and two guys who play as well oiled machine but with the feeling of the late 60's where much like today the political climate was red hot and desperate, however young people managed to gather together with music as their guide and got inspired to make their voices heard. Perhaps Children Of The Sun are looking towards a bigger picture reminding us, the listener that, music unites us so maybe we should focus on our similarities rather than our differences. Or maybe it's just really good psychsoulfolkrock. 8/10

Sunday 29 September 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Static X (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Static X, Soil, Wednesday 13 & Dope, Tramshed, Cardiff

The late 90's and early 00's was an odd time for metal music, grunge was dead and post-grunge had come out of it with bands like Nickelback and Godsmack leading the way, however on the heavy side bands like Slipknot lead the way, but in their wake their was glut of bands for disenfranchised youths and outsiders to latch on to. I will profess I was never one of these youth's purely because my musical upbringing consisted of 70's rock monsters and lots of prog so I was happy in my little world thank you. However for some bands such as Static X became cult acts, so when their frontman Wayne Static passed away in 2014, many were shocked and saddened, those same people made up when three quarters of the original band Tony Campos (bass), Koichi Fukuda (guitar), Ken Jay (drummer) reformed the band in tribute to Static, bringing in an unidentified vocalist/guitarist, only known as Xer0 sporting a Wayne Static death mask, to mark the 20th anniversary of their album Wisconsin Death Trip.

First though there was the support acts to get through and they two were in that group of bands who were at their height during the early 00's and who heavily featured on some of the WWF/WWE albums from that period. The first band of the night were New York Nu Metal crew Dope (7) who kicked things off with a band blasting out their thumping industrial tinged grooves to a packed house. Songs such as Blood Money, 6-6-Sick and Die Motherfucker Die all well received, frontman Edsel waxing lyrical about how they haven't played the UK a lot especially 'back in the day', continuing the retrospective feel of the evening, though with such a short set a little less talking would have been appreciated. Still it was a whirlwind of noise and groove and Dope had the grebos and goths in the audience bouncing along, there was even some singing along for their cover of Dead Or Alive's You Spin Me Round (Like A Record).

Next up was the modern master of macabre Wednesday 13 (5) who is part Rob Zombie part Alice Cooper but unfortunately for all of his visual stimuli, masks, paint, screens, props etc musically they were bog standard and vocally he is abysmal croaking through the set that concluded with I Love To Say Fuck a song from his days in Frankenstein's Drag Queens From Planet 13, he went down a storm but for me it was dire.

So it was with anticipation I waited for the band I'd actually come to see, American alternative hard rock band Soil (8) who exploded out of the blocks with Breaking Me Down their usual call to arms which had Ryan McCombs barking down the mic as they drew mainly from Scars with a smattering of Re.De.Fine, as they ploughed through the set there were numerous calls for their big hit Halo, but Ryan explained that if they played Halo at that point then the crowd would have walked out and had a cigarette with a deprecating humour, the crowd laughed at the remark as the band then played a track from Soil without McCombs who delivered it as if it was one of his own after which ti was time for Halo which got the bouncing going again ending their slot with a cover of Lead Belly's Black Betty and reminding me why I really enjoy watching this band, they are for all intents a hard rock band who happened to come at a certain point and were lumped in with a lot the early 00's bands but they have always been a bit more than that, they also served as the perfect special guest for the headliners.

With the stage decked out in massive screens it was time for the part of the evening everyone had been waiting for. The pounding industrial battery of Static X (8) blasted out Bled For Days and there was a massive roar from the audience as they basically played most of Wisconsin Death Trip with some of the rest of their catalogue also aired. The original members assumed their roles once again locking in as if the intervening years hadn't even been there, Xer0 barking down the mic it was like reliving the heady days of the bands glory years. The audience were in their element singing back every line, as images and the words themselves often flashed up on the screens, there was little chit chat save for tributes to Wayne Static with the band calling him their fallen brother. A 17 song setlist flew by in blaze of electronically charged heavy metal. I'd never seen Static X before for the reasons I discussed before but they certainly have a very voracious following on the evidence of the crowd in the Tramshed, especially as there was Bristol date the night after, they managed to impress me with the stage craft and served as a fitting tribute to their fallen talismen. With the promise of a new album too, it looks like this could be the resurrection of Static X.        

Saturday 28 September 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: And The Sky Darkened (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

And The Sky Darkened, State Of Deceit, Sepulchre, Good Morning Vietnam & Greywall, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

Once more into the breach of Cardiff on a Saturday. This time we were up against the Speedway closing off most of the city but luckily Womanby Street yet again provided sanctuary despite being a mere stones throw away from a bunch of mad people riding motorbikes with no gears or brakes and the baying mob armed with the dreaded vuvuzelas. Fuel in their wisdom had put on a free gig for the first fresher's weekend, showcasing a number of local acts. Me and my intrepid photographer headed in just before kick off I grabbed a beer before going into the backroom. The first thing I noticed though was that as this was free gig the doors were open so the music from the front bar was merging with  the PA in the back room.

However as soon as Greywall (6) hit the stage we were hit by the metalcore grooves that drowned out the front room. Ryan (guitar) and Shaun (bass) lay down the riffs, with Mitchell (drums) in the back room brought some traditional metalcore riffs for Leighton to scream over, his roar is mighty and his presences more so contorting in to numerous shapes for as he sang. Ryan and Shaun gave the clean vocals, though they weren't that great, and towards the end of the set the band were hampered by technical gremlins so Leighton had to use another mic for the final few tracks. For fans of breakdows and aggression Greywall will really appeal and they took the unenviable task of opening in their stride.

They gave way to Good Morning Vietnam (6) who are a more Post Hardcore styled band with some melodic touches too. Again they were full of aggression with all eyes on Glenn Tarplee-Hillier the frontman who prowled in the pit. Their emotionally charged music is very powerful with lyrics drawn from personal struggles. Again there were some technical hiccups but nothing affected the band more than one very drunk twat who at first was quite harmless, but then started to become more a nuisance, trying to grab the mic and the guitars until Glenn had enough and had him thrown out, and good riddance to him. The rest of the set continued as normal with the band giving their all to a much bigger crowd than the openers, again another band to enjoy if you love the style with a well trained stage show.

Next it was a band who are determined to try and beat King Kraken and Witch Tripper for most gigs of 2019. We've written about Sepulchre (7) before in these pages and each time they impress with their death tinged thrash metal as the call to arms of Darren brought in the biggest crowd so far and even a bit of action, with Dan and Jimmy flaking him and of course Aimee, who was dwarfed by the headliners kit they ploughed through their set with speed and precision playing set that consisted of mostly new material to a crowd who weren't as familiar with the band as I was, something that is always good when a band can make new fans. Warmly received and of course ever humble, South Wales' most adept and consistent thrash machine Sepulchre set the tone for what was to come.

So next were the organisers of the gig melodic thrash band State Of Deceit (7) who Alyn, Paul and myself had both seen this year, us in M2TM and Alyn at the Democratus Easter show, they once again pulled in the biggest crowd of the evening mainly due to their accessible heavy melodic thrash sound driven by Jon Russell's raw guitar sound and Pete Scammell's bellowing vocals that can both growl from the depths of hell and soar above the thick metal sound, they are an impressive band live really driving home their skill as a live act and supporters of the South Wales metal scene. Their heavy sound is mix of Pantera, Machine Head and even a bit of Slayer when they really push the accelerator, it's nothing groundbreaking sure but done well enough to keep your attention for their entire set even causing some action down the front. State Of Deceit are very well drilled, professional metal band with songs that get your head banging, which is all you can really ask from a live metal band.

So despite State Of Deceit organising the gig the headliners for the night are the more established name of And The Sky Darkened (8). Now the crowd had thinned a bit after SoD but that could be due to the alcohol consumption or that ATSD were probably the one band on the bill that were out of place, they are neither a 'core' act nor are they thrash/death metal, ATSD are a more heavy/grunge/progressive act melodic but also darkly heavy, the four piece are made up of Ryan Lewis (vocals and guitar) whos resonant voice really hits home while his guitar provides the downtuned riffs with Ollie Hansen (guitar) as the technically impressive rhythm section of James O' Donovan (bass) and Matt "Animal" Thomas (drums), it was a shame that fewer people were watching And The Sky Darkened but they are an act that do tend to stick out in the South Wales music scene with a lot more an complex but also straightforward sound than many of the bands on the scene, it means that they are a band who deserve to be in the headline spot but on a bill that is more suited to their sound.

That being said having what is quite an eclectic bill on a busy Saturday night at the beginning of freshers means that the South Wales scene is being exposed to a whole new audience and heck maybe even some Speedway fans! A showcase of just how good the South Wales scene is. More of this sort of thing please!     

Friday 27 September 2019

Reviews: Chelsea Wolfe, Villagers Of Ioannina City, Blacktop Mojo, Starset (Paul H, Matt & Alex)

Chelsea Wolfe: Birth Of Violence (Sargent House) [Alex Swift]

Chelsea Joy Wolfe makes mercurial textures of moroseness. From the twisted pop deviations of Pain Is Beauty, to the noisy, harsh qualities of Abyss, to the crushing, primitive nature of Hiss Spun, she reinvents her style with every album yet always keeps intact the hypnotizing, allusive and strangely beautiful makings which underpin her gothic charm. On Birth Of Violence, she has embraced acoustics, and traditional instrumentals, offering a minimalist yet emphatically disturbed nature.

Thudding tribal drums and echoing acoustics begin The Mother Road. A subtle wail in the background already sets the shivers reverberating throughout my body. ‘Afraid to live, afraid to die, building a broken yet precious web, like a spider in Chernobyl’ our frontwoman laments here, as the opener progresses on a gorgeously sombre path, the strings and horns swelling to the forefront. American Darkness follows, the dissonant effects and stark, ever-present vocal arrangements painting a sobering image of a widower imagining one last dance with a partner lost to the plunders of war – ‘last night your mouth was on my skin, and the poppies were like fire on the mountain’.

A subtle tapping introduces the title track, while a perfect combination of chords keeps the mood swaying gently from enraptured to romantic. Considering that the bass and synthesizers aren’t actually performing anything complex, they wonderfully capture the idea that there is a darker trace, embedded in the acute mystery of the already chilling words and melodies. Deranged for Rock n’ Roll, for instance, proves fairly innocent lyrically, yet takes on a sinister quality as sizzling electric guitars, and pounding rhythms swirl into inhuman cacophonies of noise, as Chelsea uses her voice as a serene yet woeful instrument.

Soon, Be All Things beguiles with a spidery riff which dances its way across the fretboard, while those unearthly strings rise to meet our narrators’ pristine cadences. Erde – or, Earth in English – appears to be about childbirth, and the connection a mother has with their son, with lyrics such as ‘I have a baby on death row’, complementing the dreamy yet wraithlike musical motifs. These moments make the album difficult to critique from a purely descriptive point of view, yet further the experimentally ethereal nature of the experience. ‘They'll hunt you, then they'll haunt you, their anger has them under a spell. Their hatred is like a poison that makes them feel again’ runs one line on the cunningly subtle though weirdly heartening When Anger Turns To Honey

Later, Dirt Universe makes perplexing use of sparse instrumentation and beat, being carried almost entirely by Wolfe’s almost chanted vocal arrangements – the perfectly strange production elements aiding in cultivating an unnerving mystery. And oh, how Little Grave captures the eloquence with which she melds beauty and fear, with the ever so slightly off time harmonies, and erratic, impulsive background noises, lulling the listener into a blissful state of disturbance. Closing out the larger part of the record, Preface To A Dream Play echoes gothic classical in the way the piano carries the piece, distorted choir sounds ring in the ether, and the lead melody gently rises and falls, inducing our emotions in doing so. In apt style, the album ends with the repeated cry of ‘Hell is on earth’.

I can't say much beyond once more remarking on the delicate way Chelsea Wolfe knits pain into a mesmeric sort of beauty. You often hear the adage that depressing music can often be the most uplifting or moving. Birth of Violence performs that balancing act with absolute precision, despite being another great reinvention, in a career imbued with exquisite sadness 9/10

Villagers Of Ioannina City: Age Of Aquarius (Mantra Records) [Matt Bladen]

Hailing from their namesake Ioannina City in Greece Villagers Of Ioannina City or V.I.C for short are a psychedelic rock band who fuse the Desert rock sounds of Kyuss with traditional Greek/Balkan instrumentation such as clarinets, kaval, bagpipes and various wind instruments. Their previous album and EP are a lot more freewheeling than this record which is a bit more reserved and mature, the songs are slower creeping with ambience, some Floydian single guitar sounds on Welcome, but it's songs like Dance Of Night show the bands unique power as it's got the the whirling wind instruments and a fuzzy repeating riff that conjures magic in the mind taking you away to the mountains of North West Greece as Arrival is just a Balkan folk song that can be seen as a way of transitioning into the dreamscape of Father Sun. Now Age Of Aquarius is a deliberate push towards a broader appeal than the one they just have in Greece, as the album uses the Balkan instruments more sparingly without reducing their effectiveness, but more importantly this record is sung entirely in English unlike their previous albums which were mostly in their native tongue. With the spacier tones of Cosmic Soul and the raging rocker For The Innocent, this is a mind-melding psych rock album of immense quality, turn it up and space out. 8/10

Blacktop Mojo: Under The Sun (Sand Hill Records) [Paul Hutchings]

2017’s Burn The Ships was a solid if uninspiring sophomore release from the five-piece from Palestine, Texas. Two years later and the band are back with album number 3 which provides similar fare. This is part of the Southern swagger of the New Wave Of Classic Rock, and Mojo are another band who provide that generic, yet comforting sound which will appeal to large swathes of the hard rock fan base. The band have certainly added a bit of steel to their sound, with some stylish guitar work from Ryan Kiefer. Vocalist Matt James possesses the exact style of voice necessary for this type of music, rich, warm and with sufficient rasp to add some edge to it. Tracks such as The Lashing (Ghost) show some variation, taking the mood down softly and less frantically paced than many of the songs here. They retain their hard rock edge and overall give another solid performance. My only real issue is that ten minutes after the album finished, I could remember nothing of note. 6/10

Starset: Divisions (Fearless Records) [Alex Swift]

The term ‘space rock’ fosters preconceived notions of precisely how the style should sound. Most tend to associate the genre with a futuristic, ultramodern sound, characterized namely by acts in the electronic alternative vein, while some would tell you that the genre owes to the shoegaze and noise rock. Neither definition is necessarily incorrect. Considering the ambiguity of the term you could just as easily point to Ziggy Stardust and you still wouldn’t be necessarily incorrect. (Personally 'space rock' means Hawkwind but maybe it;s an age thing - Ed)

Though, if one 21st Century act encapsulates the stereotypical sound of space, Starset is striving to create a sound for the genre. Their first album Transmissions was brilliantly formed, bringing together electric violins, searing synth work, and megalithic production into one impressive album. And yet, while I remember appreciating the follow-up, Vessels, the album failed to break into new territory and instead offered a largely disappointing imitation of their own sound. Still, even then I saw potential and was looking forward to their next album. Maybe that would see them re-engaging the sheer excitement of their debut. Alas, there’s little of real substance here as experimentation proves absent from the deluge of overly-loud production and generic composition, cloaked in a thin veneer of science fiction. 

After an intro which misleadingly promises that there might be a glow of innovation on the horizon, the album fully dawns with Manifest, a piece which manages to combine the tedium of the nagging moody R&B style which apparently wasn’t fully left in 2018, and that of one-dimensional Djent. In doing so, the opener attempts to capture a tense cycle of creating anticipation before bringing a moment of anger, yet ultimately creates a rigid and immovable feeling, which starts divisions on an unwieldy and graceless note. While Echo begins much as the last piece ended, I will offer some commendation for the intriguing interplay between synths, and the dramatic through-line which tries to take the listener on a journey. Even Where The Skies End has an almost ambient synth line, and manages to actually perform the contrast attempted on the opener, despite not justifying the 7-minute running length. And here’s where we need to discuss the production. 

While albums have fallen prey to the loudness war before, when the mixing becomes so terrible that the bass and auto-tune are amplified to create an ‘epic’ effect, while obscuring the orchestration, effects, and keyboard melodies, your music loses any brashness, becoming counter-productive to the cause of creating a dramatic and vivid piece of work. Divisions is absolutely brimming with these mistakes, from the irritating vocal lines which drown out the violins on Telekinetic to the pounding bass frequencies and awful vocal modulations which ruin Other Worlds Than These. The greatest moment on the entire album comes with the final two minutes of the appropriately titled Solace, where the guitars, drums, and bass completely drop out to finally give some much needed time to the string work, which has always made up a part of Starset’s sound and which has been gradually hidden in the background, more and more upon every release. Indeed, that serves as a fitting metaphor for their ambition. 

Ultimately, Starset irritates me, not because they’re terrible, but because they’re not. When they emerged, they were firmly on the list of acts I sincerely wanted to follow and stay a fan of. Given their musicianship and their knack for hiding great ideas in their music, I wouldn’t say that we should fully be discounting them as an act. Still, three albums in, I can’t deny that the holes in their spacesuit are beginning to grow visible. Seems as if we might be debating the meaning of space rock for years to come. Still, with multiple wondrous theories about the makeup of our universe, and debates over music continuing to weave on, many of us may need to be content with looking up at the stars, rather than getting close enough to touch them. 3/10

Thursday 26 September 2019

Reviews: Kobra And The Lotus, Stew, Conjuring Fate, Chasing The Monsoon (Matt & Paul H)

Kobra And The Lotus: Evolution (Napalm Records) [Paul Hutchings]

2017 and 2018 saw KATL release Prevail I and Prevail II. The latter had me eulogising that it was the best album of the band’s ten-year career. Well, within seconds of the title track roaring into earshot, that award was close to moving to the sixth album from the Canadian outfit. With a shift away from their metal roots to a harder rock feel, Evolution feels almost a natural progression. At times almost hard pop (WoundsGet The Fuck Out Of Here), this release contains a mix of styles which push Kobra Paige’s stunning vocals to the fore. The hard rock edge of first singe Burn! retains enough gritty guitar, We Come Undone hints at Disturbed whilst Thundersmith echoes Halestorm in its pomp and bravado and perhaps is one of the more average songs here. Circus reminds you that Jasio Kulakowski and Ronny Guitierrez can riff with the best, whilst the hook bears a striking resemblance to Lacuna Coil. Evolution is an album that grows with each play, and it is the variety which adds to the enjoyment. Whether it matches the band’s heavier style prior to this release is debatable, but with a broader scope now on offer, can you blame them for looking to widen their scope? 7/10

Stew: People (Ripple Music) [Matt Bladen]

Another Swedish retro influenced power trio, do we need another one? Well the answer based upon the Stew's debut record People is a definite yes, as this triumvirate are a rock band drenched in psych tendencies lending and ear to Cream on Goddess which crawls with some fuzzing rhythms and cutting solos. It's and album which has been recorded with a loose jam style the three men gelling together like one cohesive unit while letting the songs have that louche style of a band who are happy to let things breathe. The album like their EP was recorded live in the studio with only the vocals and solos recorded separately, meaning production wise it follows the songwriting style of keeping things retro.

It made me feel bad that I was listening to this as a digital version rather than on thick black vinyl. Along with their usual rocking psych style which also remind me of The Jimi Hendrix experience (Right On Time), they also bring in some bluesy fringes to Afraid Of Getting Nowhere and the strutting Sweet And True, even ramping up the cowbell for the title track. Stew are Markus Åsland (bass/vocals), Nicklas Jansson (guitar), and Nicklas Dahlgren (drums) and despite only being a band since 2017 they exhibit a maturity of a band going 10 years this can be heard on Morning Again which closes out the album with some breezy folk. People is a really robust debut album from a band who have come out as a fully fledged blues rock steeped in the sounds of some of the greats. 8/10

Conjuring Fate: Curse Of The Fallen (Pure Steel Records) [Matt Bladen]

Way back in 2016 I reviewed the full length from Norn Iron metalheads Conjuring Fate. Complimenting its traditional heavy metal style that merged the thrashier sounds of Iced Earth with the bounce of Helloween. So what about their second album? Does it live up to their debut well yes but it is different, here the band have focussed more on the energetic European style with Midnight Skies and the Jack The Ripper inspired Night Of The Knives having that definitive gallop which is also present on much of this album, mainly from the boiler room of Steve Legear (bass) and Niall McGrotty (drums) driving it along like it's coursing with rocket fuel. Though in Journey's End they have a slow fist pumping Maiden epic for the middle of the album and is actually the best song on the record.

Much like the first one there is a lot of horror influences on this album much like the first but it's not ott, well intro The Premonition is basically a gothic organ piece that moves into the anthemic opener Burn The Witch which re-introduces you to Tommy Daley's piercing but gritty vocals and the twin axe attack of Phil Horner and Karl Gibson, I was full of high praise for the debut but with more of a focus on the European sound the songs here don't jump out as much as they did on the debut. Maybe it's the gap between releases but Conjuring Fate are still fighting in that melee, rather than coming out with victory. Difficult second album syndrome? Maybe? But it's great to see where they will go in future. 7/10 

Chasing The Monsoon: No Ordinary World (Immrama Records) [Matt Bladen]

No Ordinary World is a folk/prog album from Chasing The Monsoon a band based in Swansea. It was formed by Ian Jones bassist/keyboard player of cult Welsh prog band Karnataka, renowned writer/producer Steve Evans (keys, guitars, vocals 7 programming) who has worked with many artists such as Rihanna and Karnataka and the third member of the writing trio is a guitarist, artist and designer, Ian Simmons. They have created an album of intellectual progressive music that draws from world music and as such has a sound very similar to the early Peter Gabriel albums or the work of Eric Serra, as the rhythms of African music, Celtic music and beyond fuse with the electronic elements for some ambient, driving musical compositions that feature the emotionally charged vocals of Lisa Fury who has played with Karnataka and the unmistakable flutes, Uilleann pipes and whistles of Troy Donockley who has played with pretty much every UK progressive rock band though most recently has become a permanent member of Nightwish.

This is life affirming music with a ethereal quality too it as electric guitar flashes ring out over Dreams with the one note power of David Gilmour, though the atmospheric Innocent Child shows this better as Fury gives her most dramatic vocal of the album. Things turn into Anderson fronted Yes on Into The Light with its major key appeal and Anderson-esque vocals, but mostly this is music that takes from the 80's art-prog scene where synths and guitars merged to take things away from the dragons and wizards realms of the early progressive rock into more adult themes and sounds. No Ordinary World is an album that came as a surprise to me as I had been immersed in the UK's often incestuous progressive rock scene for a long time and this slipped under my radar. Having followed Karnataka from near the start too I was also annoyed that Chasing The Monsoon are a Swansea based act with members from that band and I have overlooked them, however not anymore as this record was played multiple times and each time bewitched me with it's beauty, seek it out yourself, you won't regret it. 8/10

Reviews: Wednesday 13, The Crux, Cognizance, Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier (Paul H, Matt, Liam & Paul S)

Wednesday 13: Necrophaze (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Hutchings]

“Entering the necrophaze, we take the other form, exhuming bodies from the grave, to feast upon the worms. Decomposition’s my addiction, this I must confess, coffins full of rotting flesh, grotesque by request”. Sinister words, uttered by the Godfather of Shock Rock Alice Cooper, which open album number eight from The Duke of Spook. Wednesday 13 and his merry band of ghouls. Influenced by Wednesday’s real-life night terrors, historical serial killers and 1980s horror films, Necrophaze enters the world of the bizarre, the frightening and the all too familiar. Recurring themes of real-life horror underpin the Necrophaze character but also the terrifying circumstances of sleep paralysis. But it’s not all horror, with humorous sentiment evident as well. Tracks such as Bring Your Own Blood echo the bring your own booze parties that Wednesday attended in his youth.

Guest spots on the album include appearances by Alice Cooper, Roy Mayorga of Stone Sour (who provides an eerie, authentic, 80s inspired synth soundtrack-score to the album), Alexi Laiho and Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil who adds her own inimitable style on Monster. With recording and mastering completed with Michael Spreitzer; producer, recording engineer, as well as the long-time guitarist of Devildriver, this is a slick and polished release: 41 minutes of shock rock with the bubble gum style of Cooper and Zombie. Necrophase teases and taunts, chunky riffs and throwaway choruses combining with anthemic fist pumping sections. Songs such as Decompose and Tie Me A Noose leave little to the imagination, their gory lyrics masked by the thumping soundtrack whilst a faithful cover of WASP’s Animal (I Fuck Like A Beast) concludes the album in fine style. 7/10

The Crux: Immersed Somewhere Divine (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

A bit of Norn Iron metal, we have the latest (or first depending on how you look at it) releases from The Crux. Now if you see the part in parenthesis and think what? Well let me elaborate the band were previously known as Warcrux and released an album in 2011 and after a lot of touring they decided to take a break from the band to focus on their sound. They re-emerged in 2017 with an EP called Warcrux: Circa '09-13 under the new name of The Crux. So this is The Crux's debut album but the band as a whole first full length release, written by founding members, James Boyd (vocals) and Neil Ward (guitars) Immersed Somewhere Divine is a hard rock album with some muscular riffs and a sound that shifts from hearty rock albums to thrashier tones and even some alt rock with On The Fence, which has a clip of the legendary Bill Hicks at the beginning and some funk rock bass, where as the title track has a sleazier style. Immersed Somewhere Divine is a solid heavy rock album from a band returning from exile with an album that has a lot of variation and a collection of songs that get you invested in where this band can go from here. 7/10

Cognizance: Malignant Dominion (Prosthetic Records) [Liam True]

Just by the name of the album, you can tell it’s going to be either a Prog Metal album, or a full on Death Metal battle. In this case it’s the latter. And I must say, it an absolute earache of an adventure. It’s a brilliant album that does need a few things to sharpen up on. Even in that case it’s an intrusive assault on your ears and is worth a listen. From the furious fretwork of Alex Baillie, the destructive drum work of Romain Goulon and the foundation destroying vocals of Henry Pryce, the band as a whole fly through the album in a blaze of glory, yet predictable, Death Metal. As generic as it is, it’s done so well that there are plenty of riffs to get you coming back for more. 7/10

Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier: Corpse Flower (Ipecac Recordings) [Paul Scoble]

To be honest I’m not totally sure where to start with this album. I should state first off, that this isn’t rock or metal at all, without Mr Patton being involved in this I doubt a Metal Blog like this would have been asked to review it. It’s also not exactly clear how to describe this to you. Mike Patton shouldn’t really need any introduction to most rock or metal fans. He is, of course, best known as lead singer in Faith No More and Mr Bungle; but has also made music with Fantômas, Dead Cross, and Lovage amongst many others. Jean-Claude Vannier is a French musician, composer and arranger who has been making music since the early seventies. So, the music produced by this pairing is definitely Gallic in feel (not really surprising considering half the duo is French), but it also has a sense of slight strangeness, this isn’t business as usual. This has the kind of feel that artists like Frank Zappa or Tom Waits bring to their work. It feels like lounge music, but for the world's strangest lounge. The music is soulful and has elements of Jazz, blues and maybe a little easy listening of the Burt Bacharach kind, plus a little bit of Hollywood romanticism.

Vocally this is quite similar to Tom Waits, in that Patton is half singing and half talking, in a way that sounds a little like a smooooother Waits. The album has 2 cover versions, although fitting in with the style of the album they are strange versions of Chansons D’Amour and On Top Of The World. Both covers are very different from the originals Chansons D’Amour doesn’t have the irritating backing vocals and probably wouldn’t be appropriate for a Morecambe And Wise sketch. On Top Of The World is more recognisable but now has slightly scatalogical lyrics. A lot of the songs on here have very subtle, soft verses, but come alive for very melodic choruses. Several of the choruses are fantastic, stick in your head and really make the songs. Browning has a great chorus, and Insolubles has a beautifully dramatic chorus. Another stand out track is A Schoolgirl’s Day, which has a soft soulful backing to Patton’s spoken word style vocals. The track is quite reminiscent of the Tom Waits track 9th & Hennepin from the classic album Rain Dogs.

Corpse Flower is a very enjoyable album. It’s not metal in any way, but that's no reason to dislike it. It’s beautiful, intriguing, rude, soulful, melodic, effecting and fun. It’s been a difficult album to describe, because none of the musical styles featured are doing business as usual, but this is so creative and well thought out that that isn’t just ok, it’s essential. This album is odd, but in this case Odd means Brilliant. 8/10

Reviews: Burnt Out Wreck, The Defiants, Holy Serpent, The Lumberjack Feedback (Matt, Paul & Lee)

Burnt Out Wreck: This Is Hell (Burt Out Wreckords/Cherry Red) [Matt Bladen]

Gary Moat formerly of Heavy Pettin and Mother's Ruin and his band Burnt Out Wreck return with their second album. Swallow was a great slab of feel good rock n roll, but This Is Hell ramps it all up especially with the incendiary opener Dead Or Alive which has the pace of a runaway train (running off the tracks). Now as you can probably guess from the last line Burnt Out Wreck have a similar blue collar 'pub rock' sound as AC/DC, but specifically the early Bon Scott years when the band were a raw and fronted by the charismatic Scott, Moat's vocals have that same whiskey soaked grit as Bon as the rest of the band Alex Carmichael (Bass), Paul Gray (Drums), Adrian Dunn (Lead Guitar) and Miles Goodman (Rhythm Guitar) bring those head banging riffs on the furious numbers such as Dead Or Alive, but also the walking mid-paced rockers such as Just A Dog and the title track, without sacrificing their blues base on songs such as Paddywack. It's as close as you're going to and AC/DC album for a while and it really fills the hole well, bringing to mind those days of Highway To Hell and TNT especially Headfuck, there are the shouted backing vocals, wild guitar solos and of course some filthy lyrics such as Rock Hard Sticky Sweet which if sung out loud may land you in trouble. Burnt Out Wreck have successfully made a hard rocking good time album perfect swigging a few beers (or the bands own brand whiskey) and playing out loud, if This Is Hell then I'll jump on the highway right now! 8/10

The Defiants: Zokusho (Frontiers Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Occasionally we drift back to the Frontiers avalanche of melodic rock which shows no sign of stopping. I suppose for those of us who steer clear of the AOR sound (apart from the odd throw back to the 1980s at some god-awful power ballad evening – yes, Richard Oliver, I’m looking at you squire!) it’s a surprise that there are so many bands out there peddling this heart warming soft rock but why should it be? There are about a million death metal bands so why not AOR? The Defiants formed around four years ago, the remnants of the New York hard rock outfit Danger Danger, or D2, and Zokusho (The Sequel or Next Chapter) is their sophomore release after their eponymous debut. D2 drummer Steve West guests on the album, alongside vocalist/guitarist Paul Laine, bassist Bruno Ravel and Rob Marello on guitar.

Opening with Love Is The Killer, a rocking Bon Jovi style hands in the air song, Zokusho is 60 minutes of classic thick harmonies, smooth melodies and jagged riffs. Standing On The Edge includes a deliberate Whitesnake breakdown in the middle, Laine’s emotive vocals soaring all over the song, whilst the lyrics in Hollywood In Headlights are ghastly and typical of the love-sick guff that this genre is so fond of. It doesn’t really change, Fallin’ For You, the inevitable ballad Hold On Tonight and U X’D My Heart are polished and well performed but the constant bravado, machismo and pompous style are a little tiresome, despite the quality of the music. If you like your music styled on the 1980s AOR sound then this will float your boat. It makes me just a little queasy. 6/10
Holy Serpent: Endless (RidingEasy Records) [Matt Bladen]

Health warning: Do not listen to this album while using heavy lifting machinery or driving a car, such is the mesmerizing effect it has many will think you are on a high does of mind altering drugs. These Aussie stoners are inspired heavily by the ocean and it's evident why with their wave after wave of droning, almost neverending heft, the songs bring repetitive riffs and dreamy vocals that create layered rhythms to nod your head too as you zone out of the conscious world. Inspired by those desert rock pioneers of California Holy Serpent have crafted their third album to create a loose lyrical theme of two lovers walking into the ocean to end their lives and all that sadness and elemental force is reckoned amongst the 6 tracks on this album. Its 40 minutes of down-tuned fuzz and reverb drenched vocals that could have you mistaking them for Sleep as tracks such as the pacey (for them) Into The Fire chug past before breaking into a final shimmer and fade out, the bass and drums bring you back kicking off the monolithic hammering of Daughter Of Light which is the second longest song on the record only beaten by the rumbling might of For No One. This is not an album for those who want million note flurries and sing along silliness, Endless is a hard riffing psychedelic rock album that is best enjoyed when you expand your mind. 7/10

The Lumberjack Feedback: Mere Mortals (Deadlight Records) [Lee Burgess]

The Lumberjack Feedback, well, this is tough. It has groove, it has anger, it has energy and man does it chug like hell. It also gives us something to think about in its harsh delivery. Yet another group under the banner of post-something, something, The Lumberjack do well to have an original sound that stands them just above the long queue of outfits that seems never-ending right now. They give us blistering tracks that sound crisp and yet raw. In a lot of ways, this feel like old music, from HIMSA era metal, often mixing an almost impossible array of metallic sub genres, but never slipping into a cheap carbon copy. We have Sludge, Hardcore, Thrash and even doom but all with a walloping post-metaledge that kicks and punches us almost non-stop through unrelenting killer tracks. It’s sometimes difficult to know when this lot are not just trying to outsmart the metal scene in its mix of styles. But, in asking why this has to matter, I think we hit the nail on the head. It doesn’t matter.

Whether they are storming through white hot riffage or battering our lugholes with whatever-core breakdowns, it’s clear that genre is not something that The Lumberjack Feedback gives a shit about. What is also very obvious is they are not actually trying to feel anyone. They have a clear mission, and that is simply to make crushing music which will probably leave you wanting more. In a record that is nothing short of audio chaos, we have a great collection of tunes that are rich and bombastic, but as I say raw and hefty. It’s the kind of brutality that also shows beauty and craftsmanship. Personal favourite tracks include Kobe, which is a lingering track, showing real skill but also Wind Last Blow, with it its thrashing attack of chugging riffage mixed with an industrial crunch and a prog-like sensibility. I really rate this lot. They challenge, but never vanish up their own chocolate boxes. It’s nice to know that sometimes metal can be epic and atmospheric without needing to be arrogant and ultra-arty. 9/10

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Reviews: Blood Red Throne, The Agonist, Block Buster, A Joker's Rage (Matt, Paul S & Paul H)

Blood Red Throne: Fit To Kill (Mighty Music) [Paul Scoble]

Blood Red Throne have been in existence for 21 years, the five piece from Norway have produced 8 albums before Fit To Kill, the last being Union Of Flesh And Machine released in 2016. Blood Red Throne specialise in a fairly old school style of death metal, but like a few other old school death metal bands that have been going for a long time they are incredibly proficient and are very good musicians. This leads to old school death metal that is so well played, with fantastic solos and brilliant riffs. Last years Unleashed album had a similar feel; old school blasting and savagery, but with a technical ability that rivals any modern technical death metal. The album opens with one of the best tracks on the album; Requiem Mass. The opening of the song is almost perfect. A fantastic build up so that when the first rippingly savage blast riff comes in it’s just so satisfying, and the rest of the song doesn’t disappoint either, huge inertia to all the riffs, and beautifully melodic and well played solo, great start! Bloodity is a barrage of taut riffs, it has a dense powerful verse and more expansive chorus. Killing Machine Pt.2 is a mix of driving mid-paced riffs and and slower heavy as anything riffs. The mid-paced riffs have a little bit of a ‘Galloping Horse’ quality to them.

WhoreZone is uptempo and maybe a little bit D-beat, it’s driving and has loads of inertia, the track also boast some very pleasing slow and heavy parts as well. Skyggemannen opens with a massive blast beat before going into a slower and more measured section. The slow parts of this album have a really purposeful intent to them, they are aggressive and feel unstoppable. The song juxtaposes these two feels for the rest of the song, ending on a fantastic blast riff. InStructed InSanity has a nasty discordant opening, before mixing fast and savage with slow and heavy. Movement Of The Parasites is lacking in blast beat style riffs but makes up for it by having some insanely powerful slow and heavy, and measured and melodic mid-paced sections. Deal It Or Die is discordant at the beginning before being slow, grinding, unstoppable and heavy as all fuck. The song has a very melodic and tuneful solo and is a very impressive piece of mid-paced death metal brutality. The album is brought to an end by by the appropriately titled End. The song is a mix of mid-paced riffs and faster blast heavy passages, and is an absolute corker of a track, a really great track to end the album on. Fit To Kill is a great album. An album that sits near (if not at) the top of what Blood Red Throne have produced in their long career. The album has all the great aspects of old school death metal, whilst also having loads of modern chops and ability. This is an essential piece of Death Metal. 8/10

The Agonist: Orphans (Rodeostar Records) [Matt Bladen]

The sixth album from Canadian melo-deathers is the third with Vicky Psarakis behind the mic and it's probably their most melodic, extreme album so far with Psarakis' vocals the real feature of this record as her cleans soar above the thrashy riffs bringing the melodic touches on A Devil Made Me Do It but where she really shows her power is with the guttural roars on tracks such as the thunderous In Vertigo which has some huge choirs behind the complex guitar leads and blast beats. That's a perfect way to open this album but the power of this album is in it's diversity with the anthemic metalcore of As One We Survive to the almost power metal sound of Blood As My Guide. The problem is though technically impressive and vocally dexterous The Agonist are a melodic death metal band a genre that is massively over subscribed and there is a train of thought that says the band lost their biggest asset when Alissa White-Gluz, but I disagree they are as good now as they were then, possibly better vocally but melo-death is a genre that so often leaves me cold and unfortunately this album while good had my attention wandering about half way through, still if you're a fan you'll love it. 7/10    

Block Buster: Losing Gravity (Frontiers Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Another new signing to Frontiers, Block Buster are a four-piece outfit from Finland. Losing Gravity boasts one of the worst covers I’ve ever seen. However, their music is better than their artwork with a mix of styles making this an enjoyable listen. Out In The City opens the album, an energetic hard rocker, quickly followed by the Royal Blood sounding Gone By The Morning, the staccato stutter style working well. Flammable is another punchy rousing song, with some neat harmonies but it is the title track which really stands out. Some fabulous guitar work, a delicious hook mellow yet perfectly balanced and the first song to really grab the attention. It’s not all fabulous though, Sweet Mary Jane is a throwaway formulaic track and Walking Like A Dog isn’t much better, with pretty lazy lyrics and a dull pace which is interspersed high-pitched harmonies which add little. In fact, the second half of the album is substantially weaker with closing song Bulletproof possibly the runt of the whole litter. A solid enough debut, but nothing to write home about. 5/10

A Joker's Rage: The Rain Dance (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Three tracks into the new album from so called Northern Rock Powerhouse A Joker's Rage and my stomach churned as the electronically charge My Hero managed to bring to mind Don Broco, You Me At Six etc bands that I have absolutely no interest in and it goes on from there with a post-emo, meets modern radio rock tracks with some nasal vocals brought in for complete nausea. Apparently this band have a knack for using different styles and making an album sound cohesive and flow but all I hear is the music that has grown out of the Emo revolution in the early noughties, but still holds no reverence with me at all. Someone may love it, they may be daring and progressive to some but for me The Rain Dance is nothing more than a damp squib, which is a solid 5. However what I can't forgive though is their tribute to Freddie Mercury Ballet To The Masses which is an industrial rocker that name-checks Queen songs throughout and is bloody godawful! 3/10

Reviews: The Magpie Salute, Vultures, Urn, Dayseeker (Paul H, Liam & Paul S)

The Magpie Salute: High Water II (Mascot Records) [Paul Hutchings]

2018’s High Water I was a splendid affair with Rich Robinson and band on inspired form. Their live show in Bristol was slightly marred by the boorish audience and an oversold venue but having listened to the natural continuation of High Water II I am back on board. High Water II was partially written during the original sessions at the Dark Horse Studios in Nashville and additional honing was undertaken at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth. High Water II goes a little deeper than the band’s debut, with themes of human experience threading the songs together. With vocalist John Hogg co-writing seven of the tracks on the album, this album is more of a collective than perhaps the 2018 debut release.

Alongside Robinson and Hogg, the talents of Marc Ford on guitar, Sven Pipen and bass, Matt Slocum’s keyboards and the reliable Joe Magistro on drums remain, assuring us of the highest quality musicianship. And it shows with no duff songs in the 47 minutes. Opener Sooner Or Later and Gimme Something are high energy Southern blues stomps; there is plenty of slower, mellowness too, such as the calming Mother Storm as well as the bonus of bluegrass legend Alison Krauss on fiddle and vocals for Lost Boy. Whilst there is something comfortingly familiar about the sound that The Magpie Salute create, the quality of the musicianship, the simple and delicious melodies and infectious country feel is something that can only be applauded and enjoyed. Time to dive into the High Water once more. 8/10

Vultures: Hunger (Self Released) [Liam True]

I’m not a huge fan of the Hardcore scene as it’s just an excuse to crowd kill. But Vultures are a band I could get behind. Through the twenty minutes that they have, they create an assault of riffs, breakdowns and foundation crushing vocals. It’s that good that it just rushes by and feels like it’s over in an instant. Granted Rat King is only 51 seconds long, but the rest are 3 - 4 minutes each, giving an average song time. Even with that it speeds by and there’s nothing like it you’ll hear for a good while. The aggression. The rawness and the feeling are all laid bare in Hunger. If anything, Bitter Breath is the EP’s go to song. Giving everything they have to offer, and leave you aching for more. Vultures definitely have something going for them. They just need to tour the underground spots to gain a crowd. And I'll be in that crowd. 8/10

Urn: Iron Will Of Power (Season Of Mist) [Paul Scoble]

Finnish Black Metal stalwarts Urn have been going since 1994, The 3 piece are clearly in this for the long haul. Iron Will Of Triumph is the bands 5th album, which comes 2 years after their last album The Burning. Urn play a very melodic, tuneful style of black metal. There aren’t that many ridiculously fast blast beats, but there is bags of mellifluous up tempo riffs and melody leads. The vocals are harsh, but not so much that you can’t hear the lyrics, in fact this is a black metal album that has several huge choruses that I felt compelled to sing along to! The main style is very similar to the style of Black Metal popularised by Dissection and Watain, a style that has recently been used by German Black metal band The Spirit. Although I said there weren’t many blast beats, the ones that are here are very well done. Opening track Downfall Of Idols in particular has some very aggressive blast beats which kick the album off in great, brutal style. The track also has what is in many ways this albums best feature; huge melodies that stick in your head and have to be hummed.

Another great track for melody is Prayers, which is massively tuneful, and has one of those great choruses I mentioned before. In fact in the last 2 weeks in which I’ve been listening to this I’ve spent lots of time singing the chorus of this track (It’s got me quite a few odd looks at work). The melodious and tuneful aspects of this album come to a head on the track Spears Of Light which is very close to being a piece of Power Metal it’s packed with fantastic melody leads and the vocals are only a little bit harsh, it’s a great track really enjoyable. The final track Will To Triumph is a brilliantly powerful piece of Mid-tempo Black Metal, full of melody, but also driving and powerful, and a fantastically effective way to bring the album to a close. Iron Will Of Power is a great Melodic Black metal album. Huge riffs and melodies that stick in your head, and make you want to listen to it over and over again. I’ve really enjoyed listening to it, and will keep on listening to it. Highly recommended. 8/10

Dayseeker: Sleeptalk (Spinefarm Records) [Liam True]

It took me a few listens to really get into this album as I’m not a huge fan of Post-Hardcore, but it’s grown on me quite a bit. The record itself is a mix between Post-Hardcore and Pop music. Really weird combination by Dayseeker pull it off very well. It’s not a bad album in any means. In fact, it’s quite experimental, which is what the Metal genre needs right now. Instead of the same repetitive noise, Dayseeker are trying something new. And succeeding with the sounds they’re looking for. From the relaxed opener Drunk to the soaring chorus of Crash And Burn, it’s a hell of a ride through highs, lows, Poppy chorus’s & breakdowns. It will take a couple of listens to get really into the album as it’s more progressive into Pop than Metal, but when the heavy sections hit, they hit. With vocalist Rory Rodriguez sounding like Architects’ Sam Carter and the bands as a whole destroying their instruments, they’ll attract a varied audience. And hopefully, conquer the world. Hopefully the band will tour the UK soon so I can catch them myself. Because they can consider me a new fan. 9/10

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Reviews: Nox Irae, The 69 Eyes, Creeping Flesh, Sleeping With Sirens (Paul S & Manus)

Nox Irae: Here The Dead Live (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Paul Scoble]

Nox Irae have been in existence since 2015. The french four piece have recorded one demo in 2016’s Night Without Return. Here The Dead Live is the band's first EP. Nox Irae play either Thrashy Death metal or Deathy Thrash, it’s a mix of the two styles, with the emphasis on the Death. Phantom Parasite Trauma kicks things of in an explosive way as we are dropped strait into an insane solo that is very early Slayer in style. The rest of the song is blastingly fast death metal. The vocals are harsh and effective throughout the album. All Is Over is mid-paced but driving and powerful. There is a slight chuggy, thrashy feel to the song, and it has a very powerful ending.

Knife Under Throat is probably the most thrashy track on the album, it has a very good chorus and a cracking solo. Cold Wind vacillates between huge and heavy, and savage old school death metal, which is a very pleasing juxtaposition. Primordial Lie is mid-paced but has loads of energy, and a crushingly heavy and slow ending. The EP is brought to an end with Supposed Dead, another chuggy thrasher, that is beautifully melodic and a great way to bring Here Lie The Dead to an end. Nox Irae might not have been going for very long, and this is only the first thing the band have released, but this is a great EP. The band has clearly hit the ground running, this is packed with great riffs, great (blast) beats, and some very impressive grooves. I’ve really enjoyed listening to it, an I am now looking forward to a full length album so I can enjoy the band for longer. Great piece of work! 8/10

The 69 Eyes: West End (Nuclear Blast) [Manus Hopkins]

The 69 Eyes’ West End comes just in time to keep up the band’s consistent output, as they’ve released an album every two to three years since 1992. For the most part, West End is an enjoyable record, despite its air of commercialism. Not that it doesn’t hit hard when it hits, but there’s just something a little bit too friendly in these songs that sound as if they could be so much more sinister. The album kicks off with one its stronger pieces, Two Horns Up. It’s fitting that this track features a guest vocal by Dani Filth, as it’s got an undeniable very Cradle Of Filth sound about it, albeit a little lighter than most of Filth’s music. Slower, creepier songs like Change bring forth the band’s gothic elements, making use of piano and strings to accentuate the dramatic melodies. Another stronger work on the record is Burn Witch Burn, which sounds lie it would make an excellent live song. West End is a solid effort that is fits well in The 69 Eyes’ catalogue and adds some fine new weapons to their musical arsenal. 7/10

Creeping Flesh: Into The Meat Grinder (Growls From The Underground) [Paul Scoble]

Creeping Flesh have been making nasty music since 2013. In the intervening time they have produced 2 EP’s in 2014 and 2015, this album is the five piece’s first album. The main sound on Into The Meat Grinder is old school death metal, but of the slower and heavier kind. The vocals are harsh and nasty, which works very well, with the mainly war/military themed lyrics. The production job isn’t bad, the guitars could have a little bit more crunch to them, but I think that might just my personal taste, and me being a little picky. The band do speed things up in places, the second half of the track Black Twisted is nice and fast, and batters the audience. Meat Grinder is another track where the tempo picks up and things get speedy.

For the most part though, this is a slow and heavy album, rather than blast beat heavy death metal. However, don’t take that as a criticism; Creeping Flesh are very good at slow and crushingly heavy. Tank Core Unleashed is heavy and brooding, it feels unstoppable; battering the listener into submission. Panzerfaust Sacrifice has a relentless quality that I really enjoyed, it felt driving and unrelenting. The riffs are very well written, slow but full of melody and drive. The second half of the track Bones Of The Conquered has some of the best slow riffs on the album. They drip with tritones, and sound just a little bit like Bolt Thrower (slow, nasty, military themed Old School Death metal? There's no way I was going to get through this review without mentioning Bolt Thrower at some point).

Although there is a lot to like about this album, as with most things in life, it isn’t perfect. The risk of doing slow and heavy Death Metal is that if it doesn’t work, there is a possibility that things might end up being, well, boring. This album does suffer from this a little bit (It is only a little bit, but I have to mention it, if it’s there). The track Zaamurets does feel a little plodding and lacklustre in places. The track Shtrafbat has the same problem, just that little bit of sagging in the riffage, it isn’t all through the track, but it does effect your enjoyment of the song. Into The Meat Grinder is a very good album. It’s driving and powerful, it does slow Death metal very well. It’s a shame that in a few small places it looses the drive that most of the songs have, but it’s only in a few places. It’s only the bands first album, so this isn’t in any way a disaster, for a first try this is stunning. This could have been a fantastic album, but for a few riffs. However, it is a very, very good Death Metal album, there’s plenty of time for perfection. 7/10

Sleeping With Sirens: How It Feels To Be Lost (Sumerian) [Manus Hopkins]

It has to be asked why Sleeping With Sirens is even bothering to release new music in 2019. Earlier this decade, they were among a charge of bands that seemed about to take over the world—fortunately, the teenage fans lost interest when they outgrew their scene phases. In order to remain relevant, bands like Sleeping With Sirens would have had to mature with their fans. It doesn’t even take a full listen of How It Feels To Be Lost to know that hasn’t happened. It’s hard to decide whether the lyrics or the vocals themselves are more high school-sounding. They’re accompanied by easily forgettable, tired and typical metalcore chugs and breakdowns. It’s difficult to tell to whom this record is geared—Sleeping With Sirens’ “old-school” fans are in their 20s now, and hopefully no longer concerned with the vacuous teenage drama problems the album centers around, and the kids today have plenty of new, younger boy bands to listen to. It might be time for Sleeping With Sirens, instead of asking How It Feels To Be Lost, to ask how it feels to be a bunch of men in their 30s. 0/10

Monday 23 September 2019

Reviews: Opeth, Beth Hart, KXM, Crimson Moon (Paul H & Val)

Opeth: In Cauda Venenum (Moderbolaget and Nuclear Blast)  [Paul Hutchings]

Remember the outrage for some elitists when Stockholm’s progressive metal outfit Opeth changed direction on Heritage? Well, it is fair to say that the fury which the black and death metal diehards vented will remain stoked and burning if they listen to In Cauda Venenum. This is ironic, given that if you follow the route that the band took from the early days of debut Orchid through to Watershed, there were already more twists and turns than a game of Twister. I make no bones about it. Opeth are one of the few bands who genuinely excite me with every release. A defiant determination to follow their own direction, clearly led by Mikael Akerfeldt’s vision, this is a band who have evolved in a manner that few other outfits could.

In Cauda Venenum, their thirteenth observation, will not win back the haters and that is fine with me. Written and delivered in the band’s native Swedish, (With an English version as well), In Cauda Venenum is an intricately crafted and at times beautiful piece of work which requires time. Speaking with Akerfeldt recently (Yes, little me, talking with MA!), we discussed that music is something that requires patience, concentration and focus to really enjoy. You will need to be sitting comfortably to appreciate this album. You will need to listen to it several times. Standing at 67 minutes in length, apart from opening intro Livets Trädgård (Garden Of Earthly Delights), it contains only one track under six minutes. Opeth stretch their organic, progressive style to the max here. Notable influences stretch from Tangerine Dream to Judas Priest, King Crimson to Mercyful Fate (A nod to King Diamond in the Travis Smith designed cover by the way). There is little repetition but much to admire and explore.

Top tip at this point. Listen to the Swedish version first. And then listen to it again. This will afford the opportunity to totally immerse yourself in the musical side of the release. To admire the intricate interplay and creativity. Whilst critics have damned Opeth for moving away from their heavy side, the opening three tracks, Svekets Prins/Dignity, Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör/ Heart In Hand and De Närmast Sörjande/ Next Of Kin offer plenty of heaviness, but in a style that doesn’t require the skull imploding to get there. Akerfeldt said, “For us, at this stage with ​In Cauda Venenum , heaviness isn’t guitars tuned down with screaming vocals over the top”. Unlike some of the earlier records (Think Deliverance, Damnation) Akerfeldt enjoyed writing and making this release and it shows. There is a freedom and opportunity to include some gratuitously grandiose, outrageously overblown and pompous elements. The band liberally use strings, afford greater prominence for Joakim Svalberg’s thick, lavish Hammond and mellotron; all delivered in a style that perhaps only the five component parts that make up Opeth could deliver.

So, what are the highlights? Well, there is an inherent beauty in the fragility of Minnets Yta/Lovelorn Crime, with the simple opening of a duet with piano. Then we have the the sweeping string sections on Ingen Sanning Är Allas/Universal Truth, containing a doff of the hat to 1970s era progressive rock. Banemannen/The Garroter contains a disturbing jazz movement which haunts whilst there is a perfect and sweet melody on Kontinuerlig Drift/Continuum. Then there are deep and punishing bass lines of Charlatan, with its multiple, unpredictable direction shifts and harrowing keyboard passages. This dramatic and enchanting album concludes with a final flourish with Allting Tar Slut/All Things Will Pass and a shake of the head at what you have just heard. Intrigued, you will play it repeatedly before emerging with a smile. Opeth are a band that follows no fashion, channels its own pathway and direction and will continue to do so. This thirteenth record is a majestic piece of work. Respect it by listening to it without distraction. The rewards are worth it. 10/10

Beth Hart: War In My Mind (Provogue Records) [Paul Hutchings]

The latest album from the smoky blues singer follows the same pattern as previous albums. I enjoyed her Fire On The Floor album in 2016 greatly, along with her live at the Royal Albert Hall release from last year. This is album 13, if you include her three releases which included a certain Joe Bonamassa and if you like her strong warble then this will be right up your street. If her voice grates, then this will drive you insane. Like so many releases we listen to, there may not be much that really grabs you hard, but overall songs such as Bad Woman Blues, Let It Grow and Spanish Lullabies are enough to enjoy without trying too hard. I’ve never seen Hart live, and despite my 2016 review suggesting I was intending doing my best to get to a show, I’m not over sold on pursuing a ticket at anytime soon. Confident, polished and professional, Hart packs a punch which does what it says on the tin. She is a brawling, drawling talent which appeals to many. War In My Mind will not change that. It’s solid and enjoyable without being mind-blowing. 7/10

KXM: Circle Of Dolls (Frontiers Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Another supergroup. KXM comprise Korn drummer Ray Luzier, Kings X vocalist and bassist dUg Pinnick and guitarist George Lynch. Formed in 2014, these guys have already released two albums, a self-titled debut on 2014 and Scatterbrain in 2017. Circle Of Dolls is 63 minutes of creativity, pure hard rock with a variety of styles from three master musicians. It isn’t an album that grabbed me on first listen, but there are some excellent segments. Time Flies is a cool, measured track, which contrasts with the fire of opener War Of Words. Lynch is an excellent guitar player and he brings the chops once more. Ironically, although his flash explosive style grabs most attention, it’s his more soulful emotive solos (such as on Time Flies) that are perhaps more enjoyable. The title track is a raging rocker, Vessel Of Destruction plays it safe with a more routine delivery but there are some haunting atmospheric elements which accentuate Pinnick’s deep vocal range on Wide Awake and the haunting Shadow Lover. This was an enjoyable album without getting me particularly excited. It is polished and full of subtle high-class musicianship. Maybe a slightly shorter release would have helped. 6/10

Crimson Moon: Mors Vincit Omnia (Debemur Morti Productions) [Val D'Arcy]

Crimson Moon return with their third full length album Mors Vincit Omnia, or Death Conquers All as the translation goes. Crimson Moon have been around a while, since the mid-nineties in fact, albeit they have stayed relatively close to the underground despite their 2016 album Oneironaut receiving some critical acclaim. Released through Debemur Morti, it carries many of the trademarks of the darker side of black metal which have become synonymous with other names on the label. Think Deathspell crossed with Batushka and you'd be in the right ballpark. The album does indeed use a lot of liturgical chanting throughout (although sounding more of a western Christian rather than Orthodox tradition) to great effect, creating an ominous, ceremonial atmosphere that is both dark and emotive. Please don't fall into the trap of thinking this is some Batushka clone. For starters the heritage of Crimson Moon far outdated the aforementioned, then as already stated the flavour of chanting is not that of the Russian Church and furthermore, Batushka, although can be credited with putting liturgy front and centre to their themes, were by no means the first to use it in their music.

That said, Mors Vincit Omnia is a pretty wild departure from the sound on Crimson Moon's first record in 1996. Back then they were more of a straight up melodic black metal band with some symphonic spatterings and sampling that made it sound more like the soundtrack to a Lucio Fulci movie. Although melody is very much still there, it's taken on a new evolutionary form from the bands earlier outputs. Less overt, more subtle, hidden amidst extended, (almost drone-like at times) repetitive passages which build in intensity over time. Although the sound of this album is fairly consistent throughout its fifty three minutes, there are quite a number of different elements. From the ritualistic avantgarde, the dual lead melodies in the title track and the nod to first wave in Parcae, the organ and doom combo in Funeral Begotten, the list of cameos goes on. However its still overwhelmingly a second wave black metal album, thankfully so. Despite the experimentation this album feels honest and has none of the pretences or clichés of modern day post black metal. At no point do any one of these elements become overwhelming to the point where you think they're making a thing out of it, it's all rather well balanced.

I wouldn't describe this as an accessible record. For starters there's a lot going on, secondly a lot of it is obscured by what is for the most part a fairly flat and repetitive soundscape. It requires a degree of concentration and focus to pick it apart but your increased attention is rewarded further with each subsequent listen. Altogether it works incredibly well, this is an excellent work of modern black metal with all the integrity of a real classic. 

Sunday 22 September 2019

Reviews: Sascha Paeth, Flying Colors, Atlantean Kodex, Wash Of Sounds

Sascha Paeth’s Master Of Ceremonies: Signs Of Wings (Frontiers Records)

If you’re reading this blog an you are unfamiliar with who Sascha Paeth is then I suggest you go back and do some research. He’s probably one of the most talented men on the current metal scene. As a writer, guitarist, producer, mixer etc he has overseen over 200 albums (usually with Miro Rodenberg) by Kamelot, Rhapsody, Epica etc as producer along with playing in cult German metal band Heaven’s Gate and also more recently Avantasia (where he instrumental in the bands studio and live sound). Master Of Ceremony’s is his first ‘own’ band since his collaboration with the now departed Andre Matos in Virgo but unlike that he has focused his attention on making this a metal album much like his past in Heaven’s Gate but with the potpourri of styles from his time in Avantasia. It opens with The Time Has Come which has Paeth’s choppy guitar sound working with the Alien Drum Bunny himself Felix Bohnke (Avantasia/Edguy) on drums and André Neygenfind (Avantasia) on bass for some traditional Teutonic speed metal.

He’s picked the perfect musicians for this album relying heavily on his contact list to get the best players he can, duelling with Paeth’s guitars are the keys of Corvin Bahn while the only non-German member is singer Adrienne Cowan from the band Seven Spires who can move from soaring cleans to aggressive screams at the drop of a hat. She’s got a unique voice that I would compare to Tim Ripper Owens or even Rob Halford because of its gritty but powerful style. As I said they dabble with a lot of styles here from straight up metal of My Anarchy, to the nautical-themed Radar, the symphonic sounds of Weight Of The World through some melodic metal and even a bit of Goth on Wide Awake and yes there is a ballad for those wondering, The Path is the one slower paced number and it’s probably the albums weakest. Happily the harder edged Sick follows with its modern heavy metal sound. All are delivered with the high standard you’d expect from any band led by Paeth, of course he also produces which means it’s a big sounding record. Signs Of Wings is a sturdy metal album that does have one or two tracks that don’t really hit the spot however most of it will be satisfy any fan of Paeth’s other work. 7/10

Flying Colors: Third Degree (Mascot Records)

So with their third album in a decade, prog/pop supergroup Flying Colors return to the collective consciousness. The spacing between these albums should be explains really by the membership, Flying Colors are made up of guitarist Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, ex-Kansas), drummer Mike Portnoy (Winery Dogs, ex-Dream Theater, Transatlantic), keyboardist/vocalist Neal Morse (Transatlantic, ex-Spock’s Beard), bassist Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, ex-Joe Satriani), and powerhouse vocalist and songwriter Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev, The Sea Within). So with so many other projects Flying Colors has to be different and that could be said about their debut which mixed prog with pop brilliantly, even their second record upped the game a little becoming more progressive showing that this band were creating a bit of niche for themselves, unfortunately for them there are now many bands using this formula to great success, it will be harder for the band to maintain their winning streak.

This is really a record of two halves much of the first part is very similar, clear, melodic rock music with pop hooks and Casey’s lighter vocals as things move between Muse and Spock’s Beard on the melodic scale, especially lead single More. Everything is clean and crisp perhaps due to the album being engineered with the “award-winning Harmonic Phrase Analysis and Restoration (HPAR) technology, resulting in unprecedented fidelity” so while it’s clear it does make the sound a little lifeless, with the middle section of the album revolving around more emotional ballad-like tracks, it only really opens up in its second half as Geronimo brings in a distinct jazz sound, the overly poppy Love Letter is there to satisfy Portnoy’s Beatlemania with a nod to the Beach boys too and the 10 minute final number Crawl is probably the best on the record.

Now I will say that on repeated listens certain songs do get better, it is the definition of a grower, but I did find my attention wandering a little after repeated plays. For all the band vocalise about this being a bit different, it’s more of the same from Flying Colors, same tones, pitch, time signatures, and effects. There’s no for lack of a better word progression, meaning for me it just wasn’t as appealing as their previous albums. 6/10

Atlantean Kodex: The Course Of Empire (Ván Records)

Ok so why have I not heard of German band Atlantean Kodex before this album? As a lover of chest beating, leathern clad battle metal, the classic bands such as Manowar (even though it's cool to hate them), Cirith Ungol, Manilla Road are all held in high regard by your writer. Even more so are newer acts still carrying the flame like Grand Magus, Visigoth and even The Sword. This is epic metal built around those halcyon 80's days along with a nod to the doom acts like Candlemass, Cathedral, Saint Vitus and a explosion of the Bathory Viking metal sound (and also in the cover). Very little is known about this band but my God their music is good, it's a cinematic soundtrack to any fantasy film you can conjure up in your mind, with riffs that stand astride of a mountain cutting down it's enemies without remorse, tracks such as Lion Of Chaldea boom out of your stereo daring you to pump your gauntleted fist into the air with every massive riff.

This is only the band's third studio album and it's over an hour of bombastic heavy metal that just gripped me from the opening moments. The doom riffs of Chariots turns into huge gallops and a massive chorus sung with gusto by Markus Becker before the incredible guitar work of Manuel Trummer and Coralie Baier rings out over the Manowar like epic, which funnily enough is actually one of the shorter songs on the album at 8 minutes 29 seconds as it barely comes close to the 10 minute plus The Course Of Empire a monolithic piece of heavy metal on an album full of Homeric odysseys based on battle, heroics and folklore all wrapped up in heavy metal histrionics, choirs and traditional folk trappings. It's an album that builds as it progresses really showing what this band can do with heavy metal with the rhythm section of Florian Kreuzer and Mario Weiss the monumental engine room to these colossal tracks except on the finale Die Welt Von Gestern which is a synth outro. The Course Of Empire is a fantastic album that cements Atlantean Codex as in a league of their own. 9/10

Wash Of Sounds: Heaven’s Crying (Self Released)

Created in Athens in 2015 Wash Of Sounds are a band who draw their influence from the grunge and alt rock sounds, big dirty grooves come at you from moment one as the rhythm section of Giannis Soundias (bass) and Foivos Andriopoulos (drums) provide the low slug chug for founder members Kostas Mauros (guitar) and Nairouz (vocals) to do their thing. This is their debut album, it comes after the band won Metal Hammer (GR) and Remedy’s live battle of the bands last year. You can see why this is and in places there are the riffs of Alice In Chains (For Real), the stoner riffs of Sabbath (Fight), the quirkiness of Faith No More and the power of Lacuna Coil, which you can hear due to the dual vocal on The Fall.

Heaven’s Crying is an album that goes from strength to strength as song writing gets more varied and the vocals get stronger throughout the albums course leading to tracks such as the funk rocking Saddest Truth which even has the ‘wacca wacca’ guitar sound or the groove-laden final two numbers. I didn’t know what to expect from this band as they were new to me but their alt-metal sound mixed with grunge/stoner riffs, got my head nodding throughout and even at times shouting along. A band that live up to their name as they are a real wash of sounds but that does a lot to keep things interesting. 7/10

Ranked & Rated: Queen (By Alex Swift)

Queen. Their majesty. The name itself has etched itself into the collective consciousness in such a way that everyone with a decent musical upbringing can name an anthem from the iconic four-piece. This will be a hard piece to write, largely due to the fact that every album (well, almost every album) has at least one great song on. Most of them have a number of great songs on and a few are absolute classics. Every member brought something to the fold in terms of songwriting. Freddie Mercury brought theatrical bombast, Brian May made powerful guitar-led pieces. John Deacon introduced a pop-orientated charm. Even Roger Taylor had a knack for rock n’ roll ragers. Bear in mind that I am taking into account the strength of the albums as a whole, and have endeavoured to provide a fair and reasoned account of why I feel the way I do. Are we at an understanding? Then let ranking commence

15. Flash Gordon (1980)

In principle, getting the greatest rock band in the world to provide the soundtrack to a hilariously camp, over the top, sci-fi movie sounds ideal. Still, outside of being the only Queen album not to feature any great songs, Flash Gordon is also the only one not to feature any songs. Instead of huge, towering pieces about space, we get thirty-five minutes of keyboards, overlayed with out-of-context soundbites from the movie. The closest the record gets to accomplishing a flagrant level of flamboyance, are on Flash’s Theme and Hero, which despite bearing enough camp flair to make them salvageable, are likewise padded out with stints of nothingness. I hate to be cynical, though, from my point of view, the group was hired to make the movie perform better at the box office. Flash makes me feel actively bored. And boring, as I think we can concur, is not a look which fits Queen well at all.

14. Hot Space (1982)

In the liner notes to their 70’s albums, Queen boldly declared ‘’No Synthesisers’’. I do not hold the changeover against them. After all, they had successfully broken that rule before, and few bands last long without incorporating synths in some capacity, especially if they happen to exist during the’80s. Indeed, before we get to the records many flaws lets focus on the main redeeming quality, Under Pressure. The chemistry between Bowie and Mercury is fantastic, seeing both trade lines with an incredible amount of passion and emotion. Meanwhile, Deacons bass thuds along in a simple yet effective way. Aside from that memorable showstopper, there are a few songs where I can understand the intention. Life Is Real tries to be a sentimental tribute to John Lennon, yet both the lyrics and compositional elements leave me cold. Later, Las Palabras De Amor (The Words of Love) begins on a romantic note, yet never flourishes into anything grandiose. Then we come to the insufferable, tedious and lazy aspects. The failed experiments with dance and pop, which led the band themselves to express regret over the direction of the record. Staying Power, Back Chat, Body Language and Cool Cat. Needless to say, aside from the fantastic closer, Hot Space is largely forgettable.

13. The Miracle (1989)

With their attempts to adapt to modern trends yielding mixed results and facing struggles relating to Mercury’s Aids diagnosis, the 1980s were a turbulent period. The Miracle proves promising in places yet ultimately directionless. I Want It All features bombastic vocal arrangements, and ambitious solo work from Brian May, allowing the anthem to stand tall. Meanwhile, the title track proves an intriguing experiment, made inadequate by the absence of a distinctive chorus. Whatsmore, in spite of the Boys of Summer plagiarisms, I find myself returning to Breakthru for the infectious bassline and powerful chorus. Still, there are moments when bad habits rear their head. Party and My Baby Does Me could have been raised straight out of the recording sessions for Hot Space. The Invisible Man sounds like they were trying to construct a piece around the Ghostbusters theme tune yet forgot to write a decent keyboard melody. Scandal feels like wasted potential, especially considering how the theme of the endless press baiting around Mercury’s sexuality, could have been a template for a vastly more intriguing piece. Overall, despite bearing better moments, The Miracle refuses to hold up well overall.

12. Made In Heaven (1995)

I have a lot of respect for Made in Heaven. From the chilling ballads to the inspiring epics, there's a lot of emotion to be found. Mother Love is spine-tingling, made all the more poignant by being Freddie’s last ever vocal performance. A moment of realisation comes when Brian May takes over vocal duties. So the story goes, halfway into recording the song, Freddie told his bandmates: ‘I need to have a rest’. Too Much Love Will Kill You shows one of our frontman’s most awe-inspiring recitals, in which every word resonates with the pain he endured. Let Me Live has those familiar choir melodies which, in spite of the sad lyrics, create a triumphant feel. In fact, far from being woeful, each of these anthems are resilient at heart. So why the low position? Well, the placement has to do with the backstory. Freddie died in 1991. The song Made in Heaven is taken from Mercury’s solo album. Its A Beautiful Day is fleshed out from a soundbite. Furthermore, while I Was Born to Love You proves exuberant, the vocals are taken from a slow B-side, with the instrumentals reworked. While I by no means blame Taylor, Deacon, and May for deciding to finish their work, the assorted nature means I don’t feel I can sensibly place the album any higher than necessary. In interviews, the band described making the piece as a ‘labour of love’. After several decades of them performing with Freddie, I’m pretty sure they saw the task not as a contractual obligation, yet a mark of respect to their friend.

11. The Game (1980)

Here’s where I start to alienate people. Your opinion on The Game will depend on your taste for traditional rock n’ roll. Far from being generic, the album is bookended with larger than life anthems. Play the Game has a dreamy yet strangely sinister quality, swaying from mellow to ferocious in enthralling fashion. Save Me’ is brilliantly formed, climbing and subsiding in exactly the right moments to create a sombre yet resolute effect. Another One Bites the Dust has arguably the most memorable bass line in history, and clever, gripping use of tension which seizes your attention from the outset. Also, while I would hesitate to call Crazy little thing Called Love one of my favourites, I can appreciate an amusing frolic, which refuses to take itself too seriously. My lack of enthusiasm for the Game stems from the fact that, while I can respect a resolve to try something different, there’s a lack of scale and ambition present. Dragon Attack, Need Your Loving Tonight and Rock It (Prime Jive), feel like cheap knock-offs of the rock n’ roll Roger and May grew up with. Then, we get to Don’t Try Suicide - a tune I despise, largely for the questionable lyrical choices. Taken together, The Game shines in places, yet feels desperately lacking at times.

10. The Works (1984)

The Works saw Queen finally striding into pop. Still, distinct from later works, the album creates an air of variety and changeability which doesn’t make me feel like I need to be continuously hitting skip. Even though the Works was the very first alum to place particular emphasis on synthesisers and accessible song arrangements, these ideas are executed in a way which captures the melodic charm of earlier albums, albeit in a vastly different way. Radio Ga-Ga and I Want to Break Free are excellent pieces of power pop, bridging the divide between synth and guitar-led music in captivating fashion. Meanwhile, it’s a Hard Life and Hammer to Fall act as call-backs to earlier albums, the emphasis on loud rock instrumentals, sanguine piano touches and operatic vocals, making them gloriously reminiscent. Some of the lesser-known tracks are well-composed as well. Man on the Prowl and Keep Passing Open Windows are successful attempts at rock n’ roll and pop. Nevertheless, not everything works on The Works (sorry, you all knew that joke was coming). Tear It Up feels like the band thinking ‘let’s just do We Will Rock You again’. Meanwhile, Machines (Or Back to Humans) has many questionable keyboard and vocoder choices, massively holding the number back. There is also the fact that, while the random and unpredictable approach had worked wonders on past albums, the lack of thematic consistency or flow contributes to an experience, which although definitely worth your time, should not necessarily be a priority for those of you diving into the discography headfirst.

9. A Kind of Magic (1986)

A Kind of Magic is made both great and flawed by a strangely tousled nature. One Vision opens gigantically, setting you up with powerful strings before taking you off guard with those crunching guitars and commanding melodies. A Kind of Magic follows, the synthesizers and effects lending a canny artfulness, while the very present instrumentals keep in place that stadium rock feel. Who Wants to Live Forever? Furthers the bombastic prowess as the emotional epic majestically soars, utilising gorgeous orchestration and impassioned performances as a means of flight. Aside from the lauded triumphs on display, there are a few deep cuts worthy of your time. Standing out amongst them is Gimmie the Prize – which borders on metal territory, with May’s guitars roaring and Freddie ferociously screaming the words! Even Friends Will Be Friends and Princes of the Universe are deserving of a place in our memories, with the catchy harmonies and succinct playing bearing a friendly charm. So, why only no.10? Well, as I noted before the overall lack of direction means I very rarely return to a Kind of Magic as a cohesive experience. Whatsmore, with One Your of Love and Pain, is So Close to Pleasure, we seem to move through a lounge swing moment, which proves more strange than beguiling. Further, Don’t Lose Your Head consists of little else than overly loud drumming, vexatious synth textures, and dispersed samples. Once more we see another case of a record which is excellent and flawed in different measure. And yet, in this instance, I would add that the great moments definitely outweigh the mediocre.

8. Queen (1973)

Inspired by Metal, Prog and Musical Theatre, nobody expected Queen. They were unlike any band that had come before. In fact, if I can make one criticism before proceeding to gush over album no. 1, the production and scale elements do not speak to the full capabilities of these musicians. Still, we were a long way from Wembley and some roughness was to be expected. We open on Keep Yourself Alive, where joyous playing and exuberant melodies get a career, off to a roaring start. Great King Rat sees them adopting some of that darkly humorous strut which would bring so much character to future albums. Liar proves resolute and stands alongside the classically inspired My Fairy Queen as a piece which would set the songwriting style of Mercury and co. aside from that of other contemporary musicians. These were far from the first recorded specimens of long songs with diverse instrumentation, and risky genre-blending. Still, no one, including their detractors could deny they had their own unique spin on music. Of course, you could reasonably argue that the ideas conjured on the debut were buds which would later flourish into much more wonderful flowers. The Instrumental version of Seven Seas of Rye which closes the album proves evidence of that speculation. Still, you could apply that criticism to almost every band and for a debut, there is a surprising amount of ambition strewn throughout. Promise me that if you only listen once, you will do so from start to finish and with an open mind. Be prepared, here’s where we really start to get into great territory.

7. Innuendo (1991)

Arguably the most underrated and darkest of Queen’s albums, considering all the discussion which surrounds Mercury’s Death, Innuendo as a whole gets strangely overlooked. A spine-tingling nature runs throughout, so much so that the positive lyricism of which there is plenty, reverberates with a fiery, sizzling determination from Freddie and his bandmates to capture every hint of emotion. We open on Innuendo, a multifaceted piece which begins on an operatic section, painting a vivid and entrancing picture of life's capricious experiences before the song spills over into a galloping theatrical stint, comprising of careering electrics, Spanish guitars, abrasive drumming and gorgeously timed piano interludes. We soon rush into Headlong – an anthem brought to life by the harsh, exacting guitar textures, and our frontman's trademark snarl. I’m Going Slightly Mad proves one of the most creative uses of synthesisers, the repetition, and subtle key changes, elegantly capturing the hypnotic feel alluded to throughout. I Can't Live With You, All God’s People and The Hitman are more traditional Queen songs, made striking by the blackened yet strident lyrical content. Don’t try so Hard, Ride the Wild Wind and Bijou are ambitious and experimental in nature, proving that even at the end of their time together, these musicians could still innovate. These are the Days of Our Lives is a solemn beautiful moment, ending on the memorable lyric ‘I look and I find, I still love you’. We finish on The Show Must Go On, which reaches desperately sentimental heights, as the song and album climb towards an enthralling crescendo. Here, Freddie proves his commitment not only to music as a whole and his fans as he bellows ‘I’ll face it with a grin, I'm never giving in, on with the show!’

6. Queen II (1974)

Despite often being regarded along with the first album, as being amateur, Queen II is incredibly significant. We see hear choral vocal arrangements being utilised for the first time on Father to Son. Brian May hones his guitar style on moments in the vein of Loser in the End, while White Queen (As It Began) and March of the Black Queen see them learning the fine act of contrast, blurring light and dark if you will – creating a truly majestic experience in doing so. Some have called II, their loudest album. Ogre Battle certainly lends credence to that theory, with roaring instruments and a ferocious tone. Do not be fooled into thinking that there are no quieter moments. Nevermore proves truly beautiful, while Funny How Love Is feels like a 50’s doo-wop anthem, performed through the lens of musical theatre. At this time, Queen was already experimenting with eccentric techniques, which despite not having been perfected to an exact science, still lends to an uncanny experience. Instrumentals leap from one speaker to another and erratic cacophonies of composition whirl past you, creating the sensation of being trapped in the eye of a whirlwind. For those of you who regard album no. 2 as no more mature or ambitious than their first effort, I implore you to revisit. I can see a progression in almost every conceivable sense. The playing proves more complex, the compositions more fleshed out, from start to finish you feel like you are being taken on a journey – one which culminates in Seven Seas of Rye, again, personifying the powerful, honed and enriched qualities. Obviously, the album is still far from Queen at their absolute best - we would have to wait a year or two to see that. However, they undoubtedly set out on a promising note here.

5. Jazz (1979)

‘There’s no Jazz on Queen’s new record’ Rolling Stone condescendingly opine in their 1979 review. ‘Queen hasn’t the imagination to play Jazz – Queen hasn’t the imagination, for that matter, to play rock n’ roll’ they continue. The critic later goes on to ascribe Queen the title of ‘first truly fascist rock band’. Cut him some slack though - sometimes you have such a horrendously poor opinion on a band that you end up equating them with genocide, get humiliated, and have 21st-century internet critics dig up your content for cheap laughs! In fact, perhaps the reason that no Jazz appears on Jazz is that seemingly every other genre of music does. There are so many ideas at play which could have been a risk, if not for the bravery and execution. You can picture the wonderful scene, playing out: ‘Why don’t open the album with an adaptation on Arabic music? Sounds fantastic! How about a circus-esque piece casting Fred as an exuberant ringleader? Of Course! Can we have an epic all about Bicycles? Why not darling, it’s on-brand’. Fat Bottomed Girls begins on a jaunty nature before exploding into an energetic and instantly memorable chorus. Don’t Stop Me Now never fails to strike excitement into my heart! Bicycle Race meanwhile, proves a centrepiece - from the tongue-in-cheek call and response of the verses to the gigantic middle section to the bike bell solo, here’s the albums mission statement. They're more than accurate when they sing ‘we’ll give you crazy performance, we’ll give you grounds for divorce, we’ll give you piece de resistance, and a tour de force’. We see the same principle being applied across nearly all of Queen’s work. Take a ride through the freneticism of If You Can’t Beat ’Em Join ‘Em and Dead on Time, to the mellowness of jealously and Dreamers Ball, and tell me you aren’t crying out for More of that Jazz! With the imagination and creativity on display, here’s a far cry from fascism if ever I saw one!

4. News Of The World (1977)

We begin on the simple yet amazingly effective stomp-clap beat. Everything that follows proves a rallying cry to the disenfranchised: Are you a young man, hard man, and poor man rich man, ‘you’re going to take on the world someday!’ Not long after, we are met with the second of the uniting anthems on News of the World, the glorious we are the Champions. The magnificence of these two songs has nothing to do with complexity or pretentiousness – there’s a great reason why they’re the ones that everybody knows: the anthems are empowering. Through their combination of anthemic precession and striving realisation of life’s arduousness, they become persuasively optimistic. These set the tone for the entire album. Look to Spread Your Wings – arguably one of the most underrated Queen songs, ever – here, the uplifting tone and compassionate lyricism show a more empathetic approach to songcrafting, which would continue to inspire them years into the future. Even the faster moments are convincing. Sheer Heart Attack captures the feelings of anxiety and panic in acerbically danceable style. Fight from the Inside is another call to action, all about inner turmoil and struggle. Meanwhile, Sleeping on the Sidewalk Is a blues piece told from the perspective a common man who finds success playing the music he loves! Taylor once described this album as the closest the band ever came to writing a punk album. While the marks of traditional Queen are all still here, there’s an emphasis on making the audience feel valued and appealing to a sensibility which places artists and fans on an equal footing. We finish on Its Late and My Melancholy Blues, which capture the emotions of love, loneliness, and loss with precision and relatability, never once becoming caught up in their ambition. These elements combined make News of the World a unique piece in the anthology of Queen.

3. A Day At The Races (1976)

‘I can serenade and gently play on your heartstrings’ Mercury croons on the joyfully romantic Good Ol’ Fashioned Loverboy. Although the aim of his affections might have been a lover, Queen always had the ability to write complex music which made you feel everything. Beautifully sentimental whilst delightfully raunchy, a day at the Races feels like an album for heartthrobs. Somebody to Love stands tall among these – a gorgeously paced song which elegantly carries the passion of our protagonist, thanks in no small part to the awesome vocal harmonies of all four members. On a different note, Tie Your Mother Down proves a raucous and energetic opener, which despite the cheekily brazen tone, proves a blast of zealous fun-lovin’ enthusiasm. By charming us with the fine art of contrast, these connoisseur’s prove that the cherished tenors of a grand piano and the blatant riotousness of electric guitars need not be diametric opposites, yet companions in a mission to create a soaring and immense sound. You Take My Breath Away proves a romantic serenade tinged with the despair of longing. From there the song melts into the jubilant and folk-tinged Long Away. Soon, we indulge in some of that humoured while exquisitely performed grandiloquence, as The Millionaire Waltz, shows that Freddie’s overly sentimental croonings are not lacking a sense of wit. You and I is equally sauntering and jaunty in nature, in a way which still feels in keeping with the classical, operatic and carnival-esque indulgencies behind the album. White Man is a return to the crusading, stampeding sound which although less present throughout, rears into life in precisely the right moments. We finish on the distinctly 70’s sounding Drowse and the charmingly outstanding Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together). Album no. 5 wasn’t praised by everyone at the time, with Circus magazine saying ‘they’re silly now’. I say we embrace the term, Queen are and have always been ‘silly’, yet that comical, multifarious, eccentric nature lends them all of their signature brilliance.

2. Sheer Heart Attack (1974)

Lately, many have made the case for Sheer Heart Attack being the greatest Queen album. Indeed, I’m half tempted to label the album my personal favourite, if not the absolute zenith of their capabilities. If Queen I was them experimenting with the operatic rock sound and Queen II was them honing and refining the idea, then Sheer Heart Attack saw them coming within a whisker of perfection. Brighton Rock exudes melody, swirling from an excitable summertime anthem to a motivated operatic piece, containing the insatiably inspiring chorus of ‘Oh rock of ages do not crumble, love is breathing still’. Killer Queen served as the bands breakthrough hit and the perfect combination of corralled vocal melodies, striking instrumentation and quirky if cerebral lyricism, makes the piece an absolute wonder to listen to. Tenement Funster and Flick of the Wrist follow hot on the heels of the hit, brilliantly bringing together formerly disconnected forms of musical elegance, the latter bearing a mischievous strut to the fold, as dancers in the audience wonder whether to jive or waltz. Now I’m Here has become another well-known one and while the music is still amazingly brilliant, the lyrics magically tread the line between dark and joyful: an overlooked element in the tapestry of dazzling colours which define Queen’s panache. In the Lap of the God’s Pt. 1 may seem to bear some strange musical choices, yet becomes fascinating upon realising just how much all four musicians were experimenting with different compositional methods and musical textures at the time. Following on from that theme, Stone Cold Crazy proves a fast-paced rager, all about a dream Freddie had of being a 1950’s gangster; interestingly, the song was once described by Q magazine as ‘Thrash, before thrash was invented’. Relying largely on acoustics to carry a resolute tone, Bring Back That Leroy Brown and She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilletos), prove the obvious: that even with the fantastical production elements and roaring electrics stripped away, these musicians could still vividly impress. We close on In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited, granting the album the gigantic closer deserved and setting us up perfectly for the next album. There was no doubt in the air, Sheer Heart Attack had contained ambition only alluded to before. Queen was planning something absolutely massive, and fans at the time would only need to wait one year to witness those plans in fruition.

1. A Night At The Opera (1975)

Just like with the name Queen, A Night at the Opera is a piece so renowned, so vital and so revered that trying to form a perspective not already put to paper would prove difficult even for the most skilled of writers. Through an uncanny combination of musical grandiloquence, wit, and scale, the album perfectly captures the operatic idea alluded to in the title, while tipping a hat to a myriad of musical traditions, each as distinct and unique as the last. Death on Two Legs parts the curtains on a ferocious, thriving note, a bringing together of brash guitars with vaudevillian piano touches, setting the scene for a truly aspiring experience. You’re My Best Friend wonderfully captures that sweet feeling of knowing you’ve got somebody worth keeping promises for, the pleasantly engaged harmonies, and subtle though elated instrumentals, creating a feeling of true, unabashed joy. Providing melancholy to counter that songs elation, the subtle though moving elements which form Love of My Life are the unmistakable musings of one for whom undivided love leaves them deeply torn apart, for realizing loves fleeting nature. Earlier, Sweet Lady proves a familiar nod to glam rock – a scene which Queen grew up in, despite standing apart from. Meanwhile, ’39 proves folky in tone – Brain May’s gorgeous acoustics and succulent harmonies carry the song, while the ascending backing vocals contribute a mythical quality.

Such is the glory of the fourth album that even the straight-up silly moments exude genius, with the Roger Taylor led I’m In Love With My Car being absolutely sold from start to finish, despite the odd concept. Hey, Seaside Rendezvous is a ragtime jaunt featuring a kazoo solo, and still manages to be one of the most distinctive moments on the record. Though, of course, we need to mention an incredible epic which flows through multiple phases and has layers of harmonies which blend and fuse to create an experience which makes the record truly worth the title. That’s right…the Prophets Song – an epic which despite commanding, often goes damnably overlooked in contemporary debates around Queen.

Without further ado though, let us finish this piece by considering Bohemian Rhapsody – A composition so fantastic, unequalled and majestic that the label ‘Best song of all time’ wouldn’t seem a stretch unless you include famous classical movements in the definition of songs. Transitioning seamlessly from gorgeous melancholy to impassioned choirs of desperation, to sheer madness and then finally to stirring exaltation, nothing feels overwrought or pretentious. The vocal makeup, percussive elements, and guitar styles are able to change swiftly and feel entirely inspired. Just by writing these words I feel as if I’m preaching to the converted, yet let’s be honest with ourselves, Bohemian Rhapsody deserves every hint of praise allowed over the years, and more. A Night at the Opera encapsulates everything Queen should be, and everything theatrical rock should be. By standing away from seemingly every musical movement and cutting out their own sphere of influence, these musicians opened the floodgates to a world of possibilities, never previously considered. Their influence has resonated across the musical spectrum, and will continue to resonate, regardless of which directions music takes in 10, 50 or 100 years - ‘Any way the wind blows’.