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Thursday 31 October 2019

The Spotlight: Interview With Tainted Lady By Steve Haines

Tainted Lady Questions

Hi, lead singer Michael Catton here. I’m the lead singer of Danish rock band Tainted Lady, although I’m originally from the UK.. I joined the band in 2015, but the core of the band has been together for about 10 or 12 years. I’ll be glad to answer any questions and shed a bit of light on the band. Hope you all enjoy, and remember to go check out our music! After all, that’s what it’s all about.

SH: Where does the band name come from?

MC: When the guys chose the name (long before I knew them), they didn’t really know what it meant. At least not the word “tainted”. They were quite young, mid-teens, and had maybe just heard the word and thought it sounded cool. It wasn’t until later that they found out what it meant, Tainted Lady. It had a sleazy vibe that fit the music the band was into back than - Whitesnake and the like. The name probably makes us sound more sleazy than we actually are these days - but hey, every band has a history, and the band name is part of ours.

SH: Who were/are your influences?

MC: We all grew up listening to rock music from the 60s, 70s and 80s. The classic rock staples like Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC, The Who, Deep Purple, Led Zep. You know the list. Heavy metal influences from Metallica, Maiden, Priest. And of course there’s The Beatles. A lot of The Beatles! But we all have our individual quirks - some of the guys in the band listen to a lot of folk music, others to some soul, punk, heavy (very heavy) metal, 80s pop, classical music - you name it. It all seeps into our songs one way or another and adds something special to our sound. Also, we love a good vocal harmony or three, and groups like Queen and Eagles have definitely left their mark on us. On this album, we took a lot of inspiration from the folk and protest songs of the 60s; stuff like Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Not only musically, but lyrically too.
SH: Who are your favourite bands?

MC: Michael: Iron Maiden. Jonatan: The Beatles. Fred: AC/DC. Anders: Rival Sons. Daniel: Def Leppard
SH: What has been your favourite gig so far and why?

MC:That’s tough, there are a few to choose from. Our first gig outside Denmark was in Macedonia. People down there love rock and roll, and they’re all crazy. That was fun. We played the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, that was amazing too. But Copenhell is probably our favourite. Big crowd singing along, big stage so we don’t have to worry about getting whacked across the face with a guitar headstock, good weather (and seeing Ozzy Osbourne AND Lars Ulrich backstage!). Everything a rock band could wish for!
SH: What is your songwriting process?

MC: I’m not sure we have one. I mean, it’s not like there is a step-by-step guide to writing a decent song. Sometimes a cool lyric comes first, or a riff, or an interesting chord progression. Sometimes these songs fall from outer space.
SH: What are your goals for Tainted Lady on the back of your new album?

MC: Get out and play the songs for a live audience. We love the songs on this new album, and we can’t wait to play them for you all. We will be hitting a lot European stages in 2020!
SH: How do you feel your progress towards those goals is going?

MC: Hopefully this new album should help us move forward and open some doors for us. We certainly think it has the potential to do so, and the response we’ve had so far on released singles from the album has been great.
SH: Any plans to tour the UK?

MC: Definitely! As I mentioned, I’m from the UK and haven’t been back for a while, so I’m dying to get back home and shout a load of obscenities in my native language. And you can’t play in a rock band and never visit the country that invented rock music! So although it’s not planned out yet, we should be visiting you soon (if your government will let us in)!
SH: What should an audience expect from one of your shows?

MC: Sweat on your brow, a sore throat, ringing in your ears, and songs that you won’t get out of your head for days. We hope to see you soon!

Reviews: Babymetal, Bent Knee, Divided Multitude, Juggernaut (Matt & Alex)

Babymetal: Metal Galaxy (earMUSIC) [Alex Swift]

Ever get fed up with people being agreeable? I’m going to show you how to start an argument using one word (or two for the hair-splitting). Wander into any metal circles, a rock club or campus heavy metal society usually work and mention the name Babymetal. Responses will range from ‘they are the greatest thing to happen to metal in decades’ to ‘how dare you mention that name in my presence – they’re a blight on the metal genre’. Nuance and reasonable positions will be somewhere in between the two. Babymetal has an acquired sound that will certainly not be to everyone's tastes. However, they have a unique sound, have proven their longevity beyond Gimmie Chocolate, and have shone a light on Japanese metal acts in the vein of Silhouette From The Skyline, Man With a Mission and Band-Maid. Most importantly, they have succeeded in getting people who otherwise wouldn’t have an easy gateway into metal, interested in the genre. And I’m sorry, while it’s possible to have legitimate gripes with Babymetal or just be turned off by the frankly wacky combination of J-Pop and metal, they are not ‘ruining’ anything. Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth will still be revered and looked up to no matter how successful J-rock gets. And if a genre that’s been popular and growing since the ’60s is threatened by three teenage girls, and some musicians dressed as skeletons, then maybe the elitists should be giving them a bit more credit than they’re getting, I mean, wow! Personally, I think they rule and Metal Galaxy only helps to solidify that.

DA DA DANCE! Immediately starts the album off on an energetic note! Now here’s an album opener – essentially a dance metal song, the blaring synths are replaced with splicing guitars and commanding drums, while the melodies are infectious – a feature lacking from a lot of mainstream metal, and another reason why I find Babymetal so revitalizing. This is far from the last example of that kind of changeability taking place. Shanti Shanti Shanti incorporates Indian Bollywood melodies and instrumentals into the mix while keeping the guitars present – at a stretch, you could trace this to a trend that’s existed in pop since the ’80s, yet few display the effort and execution in order to give them flair and authenticity.

Sabaton’s Joakim Broden lends vocals to Oh! MAJINAI! Which can only be described as a Sea-Shanty style piece with the electric violins and accordion lending a wonderfully authentic touch. Polyphia’s Tim Henson and Scott LePage feature on Brand New Day, their bright, funk-laden guitar textures, contributing to an insatiably joyous anthem. Night Night Burn has a touch of Cuban dancehall, albeit via way of power metal. In The Name Of… has elements of gothic and black metal, incorporating choirs, traditionalist instrumentation, searing guitars, and guttural screams, all of which send chills riveting down my spine. Even PA PA YA!, the lead single and the most Babymetal sounding song here, believe it or not, is given a determined, marching feel by the growls, courtesy of Japanese metal star, F.Hero.

Don’t think that the guests in any way minimize the contributions of Babymetal proper because they take centre stage at all times, and play the main role in making Metal Galaxy so ambitious! Elevator Girl is a jaunty pop-punk number, sung in English, no less. Distortion and Starlight prove why they fill stadiums, with the arena-sized harmonies and soaring instrumentation lending that sense of magnitude, which has been present since album no. 1. Indeed, I would even say that they have touches of prog metal in the way the complex instrumentation blends with the unconventional songwriting. The vocalists still prove their remarkable chemistry on the inspiring Shine and glorious closer Arkadia, where the transcendent melodies and symphonic qualities prove uplifting.

The off the walls, crazy and uncanny approach that Babymetal has cultivated here, proves the recipe to their success. They never would have seen such enthusiasm, if there were no risks involved. Any reservations, misgivings or hesitations have been firmly blown into outer space with this record. Sure, the production is squeaky clean, the vocals an acquired taste, and the musical themes insatiably off the wall. Though, I will give a request to those who heard Doki Doki Morning in 2015 and noped hard out of becoming a fan of the project: Give them one more chance. Listen to this album, without prejudice. Who knows? You might surprise yourself. 8/10

Bent Knee: You Know What They Mean (InsideOut) [Matt Bladen]

Bent Knee are a musical collective from New York City consisting of lead singer and keyboardist Courtney Swain, guitarist Ben Levin, bassist Jessica Kion, drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth, violinist Chris Baum and sound designer Vince Welch (synth/guitar/production). They can be considered prog, I guess but they are a lot more than that, they fuse a myriad of styles on their records from pop, rock, jazz and unapologetic heaviness. This is categorized by the first proper song on this record Bone Rage which is fuzzy and heavy, the ideal opening after the live intro Lansing where the band deal with technical problems before an explosive feedback leads into it, it's one of two live/intro tracks on the record, splitting things pretty much down the middle. You Know What They Mean is the bands fourth record and according to vocalist Courtney (who has one of the most distinctive voices in rock) Bent Knee are "a big group with a lot of different personalities and a lot of voices, but our music brings us together. On the past albums, you could hear the music, but you couldn’t really hear who we are." This search for who they are has led Bent Knee to produce their most visceral album yet lurching between styles with serious musical acumen. Give Us The Gold kicks off with throbbing synth beats paired with the frantic violin it's music that defies borders with every note, it's edge of your seat stuff as you are taken along on this mind-expanding journey through the trance-like Hold Me In, the dramatic modern pop of Catch Light, the introspective, ambient, dramatic Garbage Shark before Golden Hour is an ethereal near-climax. Most definitely an art rock album, strange, intriguing and most of all satisfying to listen to. 8/10

Divided Multitude: Faceless Aggressor (Ram It Down Records) [Matt Bladen]

The orchestral piece Chapter 2 is the instrumental that opens this seventh album from Norwegian progressive/power metal band Divided Multitude, their first sine 2015. It is also the first album not feature co-founding member Sindre Antonsen as lead vocalist, he has been behind the mic and on guitar since 1999 but here the vocal position has been taken by Jan Thore Grefstad who the keen eared may recognise as the frontman of Saint Deamon for their two brilliant albums over ten years ago and also their most recent record released on the same label in September (which we will be reviewing soon now we know about it). He's got a great voice and is backed ably by Antonsen for a delicious dual lead sound on Prosperity Divine.

Now obviously you'll be drawing comparisons because of the shared vocalist but Divided Multitude are a more progressive sounding band with some heaviness from palm muted riffs on Divided Multitude, though the title track goes full power metal madness, it's mainly heavy prog metal sounds like Queensryche (Psalm Of A Soldier), Dream Theater, especially on the epic version of Alanis Morissette's Uninvited and also Symphony X who they are most similar too with those precision guitar lines impressing on Counterparts as False Prophecy ramps up the heaviness. I'd never heard of Divided Multitude (they've made seven albums! You idiot Matt) but I will be doing some discography digging on the back of this record, if you like heavy but melodic progressive metal then seek out Faceless Aggressor as it's a superior prog metal album. 8/10 

Juggernaut: Neuroteque (Subsound Records) [Alex Swift]

Decidedly massive in tone and employing of a lot of techniques aimed to foster a cinematic feel, Juggernaut certainly live up to their namesake – not all the progressions feel natural, and some just fell drawn out, working to Neuroteques determent, yet these musicians clearly have an excellent grasp on ambition, dynamics, and are keen to test those values to their hilt.

Limina opens, the distorted, drawn-out guitar passages and resonant drums lending a commanding feel, before slowing into a somber classical guitar ballad; Fires itself up again in the final minutes, the lead guitar melody echoes that of the acoustics, while rhythm section brings some of that blackened intensity to the forefront again, already giving the album a sense of thematic consistency, even if the sudden transitions can feel jarring or at times, forced. These musical themes are carried into the title track which opens on marching bass and drum before frenetic grooves take hold, the tuning still carrying a dark tone, yet the movements and musical arrangements, feel strangely infectious and charming. Indeed, I would actually say this is one of my favourites on the album in the way the song layers itself, creating an unpredictable atmosphere.

Ipnoauta emphasizes a more subdued side to Juggernaut’s personality, the clever usage of synthesizers and the subtle flourishes, creating an almost psychedelic, yet no less emotional experience – not that the song doesn't have peaks and valleys cause it absolutely does. At times, we lurch into moments of sheer euphoric madness or tension, as if the composition itself is a wave and the instruments are water particles, rising and falling in constant, though unpredictable motion. In fact, these players show from start to finish that they know how to utilize chaos just as well as bliss. Look at Charade for example which seems to thrive on keeping the audience in a state of awesome beguilement, this song's structure is incredibly difficult, if not outright impossible to discern. Still, the brilliant performances, their intelligent interactions, and the penchant the group as a whole have for randomness and changeability makes a seemingly structureless anthem thrive,

Titanismo is probably my least favourite song here, as while the experiments with oriental trappings and the reliance on keyboards make for a different experience, some of the tones and flavours which they attempt to capture a weird, hypnotic feeling, are not tasteful, and don’t blend well. Whatsmore, while the irregular and uneven changes work wonders at times, here’s where they feel messy, beginning to hinder the cohesion of the record as a whole. Aracnival has a hint of redemption, being based on a spidery riff that twists and contorts itself in a myriad of different directions, yet ultimately ends up displaying another flaw: in stages, Neuroteque is tiresome and laborious.

We close on Orbitalia, which makes good on the promise of ending on a dramatic note, progressing from small-scale, yet detailed and beautiful, into gigantic and crescendoing. The take away from the experience is that despite its flaws, you cannot deny the ambition on display here. Juggernaut carry more passion through their instrumentals than some artists carry through a million words. Not everything here is to my tastes, yet I feel this is one of those rare instances where I, as a critic, must step back and acknowledge the value of subjectivity. 7/10

Reviews: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Saint Asonia, Jan Akkerman, Evil Invaders (Matt, Alex & Manus)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Ghosteen (Bad Seed Ltd) [Alex Swift]

Grief or deep aching sadness is often understood in stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Perhaps these are the elements that make sad music seem the most uplifting Five years have passed since Arthur Cave was found dead at the bottom of that seaside cliff, aged 15. Despite his father insisting that most of Skeleton Tree was written prior, the tragedy inevitably cast a shadow over that albums themes of mortality and spirituality. Push The Sky Away, also contemplated those ideas. Beautiful in symbolism, yet haunting in honesty, Ghosteen sees our frontman contemplating the facets of sadness, while utilizing instrumentals in a delicate, elusive manner. I partly fear to review and analyse the piece, yet I hope to do well by the artist and the album. As Cave answers in one of his Red Hand Files, ‘writing fills me with a devotion to the mystery of the world with its deep oceans and dark forests. This notion of doubt contains an enormous amount of creative power and is always accompanied by a state of yearning for something beyond certitude, beyond comprehension’

Ghosteen opens on a parable about the ‘King of Rock n’ roll’. Held within that is the concept that we all leave behind a legacy, a presence that will not dissipate: ‘spin the feather and sing the wind’. The melancholic use of strings allows for the vocals and words to resonate as if they themselves are instruments, intent on charting the emotion and sensitivity. Bright Horses utilizes the same technique, when Cave's voice takes on a wept quality, which emphasizes the depth of his grief while setting up the dichotomy between imagined fantasies of the world, and cold harsh realities. ‘The bright horses have broken free from the fields, they are horses of love, their manes full of fire’ wonderfully contrasts with ‘the fields are just fields, there ain't no Lord, everyone is hidden, everyone is cruel there's no shortage of tyrants and no shortage of fools’. In the final moments, our frontman resolves to believe: ‘My baby's coming back now on the next train, can hear the whistle blowin', I can hear the mighty roar’. For those of us for whom a strong imagination comes naturally, these lyrics offer a kind of solace, making our fantasies seem justified, if not any more lifelike. Even on the mournful, yet beautiful piano ballad, Waiting for You, our narrator finds comfort in the strangest of places: ‘A Jesus freak on the streets says, he is returning, well sometimes a little bit of faith can go a long, long way’.

Night Raid is the song I’ve struggled with most, though I see the beauty in utilizing minimalism to describe the hollow hell of hotel rooms while recalling subtle memories of loved ones in a search for inspiration. Galleon Ship, accompanied by vivid instrumentation, speaks of a desire to escape the confines of a world obsessed with money, and fly to the sun. Still, the reality is once more brought into the picture, with our protagonists discovering that once they reach the sun, they can only circle aimlessly around, ‘The winds of longing in their sails, searching for the other side’. Ghosteen Speaks feels brought to life by the addition of choirs, whose ethereal wails rise and fall, appearing closer and further away. ‘I think they’re singing to be free’ Cave observes, lending to the idea of letting the ghosts of the past linger, without haunting or disturbing your dreams. Drawing this section of the album to a close is Leviathan, which feels like a pop song suffering an existential crisis. The tribal, Celtic undertones, and the repeated motif of ‘I love my baby and my baby loves me’ give the irony a subtle though affecting sting,

We soon move into Ghosteen, which begins on a positive note with blissful layers of colour and harmony, and a ‘chorus’ which feels like a waltz performed in a Fairytale setting. The setup tricks the listener into thinking they know the direction before a tale gets spun of a ‘moonlit man, moving down the road, things start to fall apart, starting with his heart’. From there we are cradled within the song, the gentle subtly, allowing us to move from moments of comfort to stints of sheer moroseness. Recalling The Fairytale idea, we are told a saddening retelling: ‘Mama Bear holds the remote, papa bear, he just floats, and baby bear, he has gone to the moon in a boat’. Finally, as the players fizzle out, leaving the project's centrepiece, standing alone, he concludes ‘There's nothing wrong with loving something, you can't hold in your hand’. Lyrics so open to interpretation pose a risk, yet here they are executed with a sympathetic nature that keeps you entangled in their emotional grip. The same could be said of Hollywood, which amounts to an aching contemplation on mortality. I’ve heard some say that ending the album on such a morose note, proves uncomfortable, yet there’s really no other way the entire experience could have finished. This puts the entire work in cruel, acute context. In the closing story, a woman named Kisa, in a desperate search to save her dying child resolves to collect a mustard seed from each house where no one died - she's not able to collect a single one. ‘Everyone’s always losing someone, it’s a long way to find peace of mind’

Ghosteen proves a fine tribute to Arthur, and a wonderful story of love, grief, and recovery. To end with another Red Hand Files quote: ‘Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny, trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence’ 10/10
Saint Asonia: Flawed Design (Spinefarm Records)

Canadian rock band Saint Asonia were named Loudwire's Best New Artist of 2015, now if you're into your post millennial American (or in this case Canadian) radio rock then you will probably know that they are soemthing of a mini supergroup featuring former Three Days Grace frontman Adam Gontier and Staind guitarist Mike Mushok. Flawed Design is their first album since 2015 and their second in total and it doesn't wildly differ from their debut though it does new members in the form of Cale Gontier on bass replacing Corey Lowery and on drums Sal Giancarelli taking over from Rich Beddoe, they have also brought some friends along with Sharon Den Adel duetting on the emotive Sirens while Godsmack's Sully Erna lends his unique pipes to the chunky The Hunted. Gontier's voice is great, carrying these anthemic songs with ease, it's not groundbreaking stuff but Flawed Design is a first-rate radio-rock album, balancing the bouncy rockers with the big ballads bringing together the styles these men are known for but keeping it very up to date with the gurgling synths as an undercurrent. Not many flaws here just an album that will be picked up by every US/Canadian rock radio station for sure. 7/10 

Jan Akkermann: Close Beauty (Music Theories Recordings)

Jan Akkermann is 72 years old, bear that in mind when you listen to his latest solo album. The guitar playing here (it is an instrumental album) is mind boggling. Close Beauty is a jazz fusion record with the intensely technical playing backed by some smooth organs and funky rhythms. If you're not a fan of exploratory instrumental guitar albums then it may be worth skipping over this collection from the founding guitarist of Focus. It's called the 'Akkermann Sound' as it mixes electric, acoustic and classical guitar styles for an album that will thrill and delight guitarists and those that have been following Akkermann's career for all these years. It's decidedly different to so many of the virtuoso guitar players out there something which Jan revels in, it means that this album has got a myriad styles with African touches on Meanwhile In San Tropez, the funky organ-drenched French Pride and the impressive Spiritual Privacy opening with some brilliant acoustic playing. If you're not impressed by the playing then this is good enough chill out instrumental album best enjoyed with a glass of wine. 7/10 

Evil Invaders: Surge Of Insanity: Live In Antwerp 2018 (Napalm Records) [Manus Hopkins]

It seems Evil Invaders are a little early in their career to have a live album out. Though the band has been active since 2007, they only have two full-length albums out so far, and maybe a third or even fourth before a live album would be a better idea. That being said, this is a pretty good live record, despite sounding very polished and touched-up. The songs incredibly energetic, making it so some accompanying video would serve the performance recording as well. At 16 songs, it’s a pretty long show, but the momentum doesn’t die down, and it’s straight thrash from beginning to end. One song that surprisingly stand out is a faithful cover of Venom’s Witching Hour. That’s not to say Evil Invaders don’t have songs of their own to stack up, however. 7/10

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Reviews: Bask, Runemagick, Alfahanne, Naut (Matt & Lee)

Bask: III (Season Of Mist) [Matt Bladen]

If there was a genre called Appalachian Mountain Rock then surely Bask would be the originators, this North Carolina four piece bring desert rock to the mountains as pinched melodic guitar lines are met with brooding heaviness just below the surface that occasionally boils over into monstrous riffs, that adds a freshness to their Southern rock trappings, they've been described as cinematic and they are that, music in widescreen if you will, there's so much going on you will have to spin this record a few times, preferably on headphones as the production has a very distinctive left-right split and if you don't have both sides it will sound thin. The drumming of Scott Middleton is breathtaking as this Allman Bros-meets-Mastodon amalgamation gets under your skin, with songs such as New Dominion which has those slick Allman/Betts guitar harmonies from Ray Worth and Zeb Camp, running right through it. III is the bands third record and it's their most accomplished, filled with melancholy and weighty rather than being the traditional heavy you'd think about.

Songs such as Noble Daughters I: The Stave get some grunting distortion from Jesse Van Note without going into the realms of Bask tour mates High On Fire or Weedeater, it segues into the rocking but an life affirming Noble Daughters II: The Bow which serves as a tasty progressive suite with that builds into a tremendous crescendo as the album closes out with Maiden Mother Crone a song that takes things down to the river as Jed Willis and Meg Mulhearn add some Pedal Steel and Fiddle to this folksy finale. I didn't know what to expect of Bask but this mix of stoner rock, post-rock, Americana and psychedelia really astounded me. A band that has an original sound is soemthing that should be praised and rightly so Bask get a lot of praise from this writer. 8/10

Runemagick: Into Desolate Realms (High Roller Records) [Matt Bladen]

Having formed in 1990 as Desiderius, the Gothenburg band then went by Runemagic from 1990-1993, coming back as Runemagick between 1997-2007, then after a 10 year hiatus they have returned seemingly for good in 2017. This long potted history means that Into Desolate Realms is the bands 13th studio album their first album for High Roller Records. Now High Roller Records usually does it's stock in trade with traditional metal bands so Runemagick is something a little different, I mean there are lots of twin guitar harmonies as Nicklas 'Terror' Rudolfsson and Jonas Blom trade off on the title track but the music here is death/doom metal, it creeps out of your stereo with a down tuned heaviness provided by the guitarists, who can switch from big chord hits to tremolo picking with ease. The death comes from 'Terror's growled vocal style, but the real grunt comes from bassist Emma Rudolfsson and the metronomic drumming of Daniel Moilanen. If you want some bouncy heavy metal then you won't find it here, the band themselves describe their music as slow to mid tempo and there will be no disagreements from me, as the album writhes with insistancy checkout Sorceress Reburned for some real heft.  A band who have never followed any rules musically Into Desolate Realms mixes death metal's nastiness, vocally/lyrically and the musically dexterous epic doom metal (the guitar playing is brilliant) it's a strong return from a band who I hope will flourish from here. 7/10

Alfahanne: Atomvinter (Indie Recordings) [Lee Burgess]

This was sent to be under the banner of Black metal rock thing. (I have a way with genre titles - Ed)  That may be because they are something of a supergroup made up of past members of BM groups like Vinterland and Maze of torment. Make no mistake, this is no BM rock mash up. It’s more of an 80s darkwave throw-back with a sprinkling of BM stylings, and it’s fucking massive! It has a clear-cut sense of identity within the music. Think Finntroll vocals and electro/industrial musicianship. There are heavier tracks like title track Atomvinter, balanced nicely with quieter tunes such as A Place To Call Home. This is political stuff, very aware of itself, but never self-indulgent. Black metal can sometimes be suffocating with its savage riffing and battering drum sections, but this proves that BM artists are more than capable of departing from their roots and reinventing themselves.

This is next level stuff, giving us something new, whilst infusing well-trodden ideas. It rarely loses its way and sometimes surprises us with well-timed passages of Editors era indie-rock. Where it really succeeds is in the tracks recorded in Swedish. Like Rammstein, it doesn’t matter about understanding the lyrics, because the music carries such weight. It has groove, beat, rough-edged production, darkness and a real sense of epic style. This is the kind of outfit that would be at home headlining the Sophie Tent at BOA. It’s designed to get people rocking out in their masses with its huge sound and dance-like sensibility. This is one for the goths and those who like a bit of fusion in their music. 9/10

NAUT: Semele (Self Released) [Lee Burgess]

I’m feeling rather lucky with my review picks lately. NAUT give us a real big dose of post-punk with their new-romantic tunes that sound as if we’ve fallen away from the stupidity of Brexit Britain and landed somewhere in Europe in 1985 to get shit-faced in a club with awesome live music thumping out all around us. This kind of reminds me of Fields Of The Nephilim doing the bad thing with Tangerine Dream. In short, it’s bloody glorious. I only have a 3 track EP, but if perchance somebody could send me over a never-ending supply of this stuff, I would be very pleased indeed. If you are a fan of The Cure or The Cult, please wrap your ears around this. It really is so good to hear dark rock of this calibre.

If you fancy getting trapped in an 80’s post-punk horror movie or a remake of Donnie Darko, then this is what you need. This isn’t heavy in the metal sense, but it is full of atmosphere with an almost witch-like quality. It’s clear that this band have designs on crafting music that has been and gone, but if this is the kind of resurrection we can expect, bring it the hell on. What is so great here is that NAUT borrow from so many great bands, but instead of ripping them off, or getting confused over styles and genres, NAUT get on with the business of making glistening dark rock that sounds theatrical and expensive in production. 9/10

Reviews: Wolf Jaw, Michael Monroe, Esoteric, The Whirlings (Matt, Paul H & Lee)

Wolf Jaw: The Heart Won't Listen (Listenable Records) [Matt Bladen]

Emerging out of the ashes of The Bad Flowers, the trio of Tom Leighton (guitar/vocals), Dale Tonks (bass/vocals) and Karl Selickis (drums) have had a name change since their debut record Starting Gun was released. Now back in 2018 Paul H called them "well worth checking out" comparing them to Led Zeppelin, Rival Sons and The Cult. So has the name change affected their sound in anyway? Well if anything it's given them a new fire, The Heart Won't Listen opens with a dirty rocker in the shape of Hear Me which sounds a little like Royal Blood as the fuzzy bass and guitar riffs are slung with reckless abandon as Selickis keeps it all in check with his powerful drumming. It's a statement of intent for sure bound to be blasted out on rock radio, however unlike a lot of the 'Planet Rock Fodder' bands we review here Wolf Jaw are not one dimensional as they have very bluesed based sound shown on I Ain't Ready with Ticking Time Bomb having that early brashness of Aerosmith, (that guitar sound is wicked by the way) boosted by the rawness of Tom's voice.

Like all great power trios, the songs here sound natural, full of soul and organically created by three men in a studio after a number of years touring with some of the biggest acts on the circuit to hone their craft. They also break the mold with some stoner/occult rock influences especially in the jangly guitars as Leighton starts to shout a bit on groovers such as The Fighter. He has said that as well as the normal rock influences he has been inspired by bands such as "All Them Witches, Red Fang, Kadavar and QOTSA" and those sounds infect this album with stoner/desert rock influences too comin in on Piece Of Me and the aggressive BeastThe Heart Won't Listen is a very modern hard rock album from a band who have taken to a new identity with a renewed fire, I'd do more than check them out, I'd say pick this album up and get it blasting! 8/10

Michael Monroe: One Man Gang (Silver Linings Record)

Now aged 57, Michael Monroe continues to plough his own furrow. Frontman of Hanoi Rocks, the Finnish glam punk rockers who took the rock world by storm in the early 1980s, he’s also been a successful solo musician for three decades and whilst glam is in the bottom one of my most disliked metal genre, there’s no denying that Monroe has proved himself to be a survivor. Astonishingly fact fans, in 1984 Hanoi Rocks were voted the second-best band in the world behind Marillion. I must admit I was never a Hanoi Rocks fan, their cover of Up Around The Bend about as much as I could take. One Man Gang is his tenth solo studio album and his first since 2015’s Blackout States and focuses on his approach to life with positive mental attitude. Guest guitarist Captain Sensible adds crunch to the opening title track, a punchy 2:25 song which has you pogoing within seconds. Last Train To Tokyo revives Monroe’s love of Japan. With his band full of veteran musicians there is no question of the quality. Sami Yaffa (New York Dolls and Hanoi Rocks) Ginger Wildheart's guitarist Rich Jones, Steve Conte and drummer Karl Rockfist (Danzig) join Monroe.

One Man Gang is feisty, at times fiery and fist pumping, full of devil may care rock n’ roll. Monroe contributes not just with his vocals, but a blistering harmonica on Wasted Years and Junk Planet. Midsummer Nights is awful, a wistful look back at a time long gone, whilst In The Tall Grass is weak. Monroe is at his best when the pace is fast, the beat heated and the chorus anthemic. He may not have Ginger in tow anymore, (in fact it was eight years ago on Sensory Overdrive when Mr Wildheart added his strings to the band) but there remain many opportunities for rawk and roll here, such as The Pitfall of Being An Outsider. I’ll freely admit that this isn’t my favourite style of music, but I can certainly appreciate the work that has gone into an album that retains sleaze, punk and generally good time rock n’ roll from one of the rock world’s survivors. 7/10
Esoteric: A Pyrrhic Existence (Season Of Mist) [Matt Bladen]

Esoteric are not a happy bunch, that could be because they are from Birmingham (joke) but you can almost feel the industrial decline in this music, dense and slow moving A Pyrrhic Existence opens with a 27 minute song that is no progressive masterpiece, it's the sound of a tortured soul as they push the sonic boundaries with some of the most boring doom metal I've heard. Nothing really happens on this record it's just snail pace riffs, that I suppose can be considered funeral doom capped off with low roars, the long run times mean that the songs blur into one long song which might be the point. At times they do try some cinematic moments but with the length of the songs it's difficult to sit through all 98 minutes of this record in one sitting. It's bleak and oppressive but too much for me. 6/10

The Whirlings: Earthshine (Subsound Records) [Lee Burgess]

Um, right, this is an odd one. The Whirlings is a real mind bender. I’m not even sure what it is right now. Do I like it? Yes, kind of. Is it heavy? No, not really. Is it metal? Not one bit. It’s kind of like listening to Alcest in one ear and then deciding that you need a bit more Sabbath. This is post rock, of sorts, Space Rock if you will. It’s a nice enough listen but (and I realise I may be fence sitting here) it’s something of a puzzle. The largely instrumental compositions are dreamy and swirling. This is a musically talented outfit with an obvious multitude of influences. My problem here is that the influences on show are sometimes at odds with each other. It’s almost as if the band members often argue and decide to agree to disagree on which direction to go in. The result is a confusing (if interesting) mixed bag of styles and genres.

Along with the bands I have mentioned, there are times when we could be listening to classic Fields Of The Nephilim or Monolord. You could be mistaken for thinking this is a good thing, and maybe you would be onto something if the various styles came together a little easier. The problem here is that actually I rather enjoyed a lot of this, but I was never quite sure what the band wanted me to hear. It all seemed a little at sixes and sevens. All this would really need to knock it into shape is a little pow-wow between the band members to solidify the ideas within the music. It’s cool to be complex, to give listeners something to mull over, but it should be driven by a clear vision that is obvious to consumers of music. 7/10

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Reviews: Hawkwind, Bruce Soord, Mayhem, The Elephant (Paul H, Val & Matt)

Hawkwind: All Aboard The Skylark (Cherry Red Records) [Paul Hutchings]

The remarkable thing about this album is that Hawkwind have never used this title before. Having benefited from a stable line-up for the past few years, Mission Control looks steady and focused on their forthcoming 50th anniversary tour including a night at the Royal Albert Hall which I am looking forward to. After last year’s diversion with the orchestral interruption of Mike Batt with Road To Utopia, album 32 sees the space rockers return to the direction that their previous two releases, The Machine Stops and Into The Woods had taken. A spine of tight psychedelic groove ensures that the album rarely drifts, with a relaxed feel allowing the band to showcase their own talents. Opening with Flesh Fondue, one of two classic space rock tracks with alien creatures sweeping through the galaxy feeding on life forms.

Flesh Fondue features a storming opening which allows the quartet of Dave Brock (guitar, vocals, keyboards), Richard Chadwick (drums), Niall Hone (bass, keyboards) and Magnus Martin (guitar, vocals) to grab the attention and envelope you in a swirling haze. Somethings never change with Hawkwind and there remains an element of madness which is integral to the Hawkwind sound throughout. Last Man On Earth and We Are Not Dead … Only Sleeping follows the destruction and resurrection of the planet with the former featuring some sweet saxophone courtesy of Michael Sonsa who also lends his instrument to the title track. We Are Not Dead … Only Sleeping is a typical soaring synth space foray, gentle harmonies and swirling elements which capture both the old and modern feel of this great band; the smooth jazz style breakdown mid-section is a welcome addition and surprise.

At around 40 minutes All Aboard The Skylark represents standard Hawkwind fare but there is nothing routine about the music. The title track winds and meanders, percussion and synths combining to good effect as the underlying rumble of imminent take off ebbs and flows, haunting saxophones and guitars adding to the maelstrom. The contemplative 65 Million Years Ago when the asteroid crashes into and wipes out nearly all life on earth, another timeless space rocker. In The Beginning and the continuation of the journey onwards in the gentle The Road To …. lead to the intricate closing The Fantasy Of Faldum, at nine minutes the longest track and based on a Herman Hesse fairy tale. The special edition includes Acoustic Daze providing acoustic reworkings of classic tracks such as PSI Power, The Watcher and Flying Doctor. Some of these were pre-Mike Batt Road To Utopia recordings whilst the final three, Get Yourself Together, Ascent Of Man and We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago are live versions which capture the band in their natural environment. There is no evidence of the mothership slowing down. Those dates in November should be stunning. 8/10

Bruce Soord: All This Will Be Yours (Kscope Records) [Matt Bladen]

Inspired by the exploration he has been spearheading with The Pineapple Thief, the second solo record from multi-instrumentalist Bruce Soord is a beautiful record that pairs stripped back acoustic guitar slinging singer-songwriter style songs with samples and synths. The songs on this album are the sound of a soul being laid bare, he doesn't have to deal with being in a 'rock' band on this album so it's a lot more introspective than The Pineapple Thief songs without losing any of that bands emotional depth, reminding everyone that Soord can be considered to be the heart of The Pineapple Thief. I said this album was introspective and that's because it was written after a change in Soord's life as he and his wife welcomed their third child, he has reflected upon this juxtaposed with the local deprivation in his hometown of Yeovil.

In fact Soord has talked extensively about being constantly surrounded by sirens and he has used these sounds throughout the record. Those looking for big rock anthems won't get that here, what you do get are songs that can be compared to those of Blackfield (Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen) but also Lunatic Soul, Tim Bowness and even Portishead, especially on the insistent, trancy title track, but his always warm, I'd even say comforting vocals work their best on the fireside number Time Does Not Exist which closes out the first half of this record. I say first half as this has been mixed to let both distinctive halves flow into each other, for the best listening experience. All This Will Be Yours is another feather in the cap of Bruce Soord, a distinctive, creative record that is simple but effective, layered but stark it's a record for tumultuous times but underlined with hope, because sometimes that's all there is. 9/10

Mayhem: Daemon (Century Media) [Val D'Arcy]

Five years since the release of Esoteric Warfare, comes Daemon; the sixth studio album from infamous True Norwegian Black Metal masters, Mayhem. Co-written for the most part by Teloch and Ghul Daemon takes yet another creative turn for the band. It's immediately clear this album is it's own entity with a distinct persona that is none of its predecessors. That said, there is an indisputable return to the old school at the very heart, in it's foundations this bears closer resemblance to the older guise of Mayhem. The band have shed some of the avantgarde, experimentation that were characteristic of recent albums for a more direct, traditional approach to Black Metal. Having recently completed a two hundred set tour of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, its probably not unreasonable to hear some influence from that record on Daemon, which of course is no bad thing. That's not to suggest the two sound in any way alike, they don't. Rather think of it as having left an imprint on the essence of whatever this band could have put out next. That dark, primitive presence of evil that imbued De Mysteriis is present here; like the ghosts of childhood returning after nearly three decades to haunt once more.

The production, as you'd expect is discernibly crisp with a real focus on the instrumentals. There is less of a divide between this and Attila's vocals than in previous albums. Particularly in Esoteric Warfare where quite often the vocal passages almost stood out as a solo act over a backing track; here everything combines to form a singular force of musical harmony. There's an equilibrium between the two that allows this album to flow with a beautifully natural cohesion. Vocally, this may be my favourite of Attila's recordings. Nekro's bass has not been ignored in the mix; audibly complimenting Hellhammer's superbly simple, succinct drumming. There's nothing outlandish or particularly complex in either of the latter, but the perfection of their execution provides a solid structure and drive to the songs throughout.

At just under sixty minutes it's not a short album, twelve tracks of varying pace but each an important movement in the overall composition. Having listened to the band talk on the subject of writing Daemon and having heard the record itself it's clear this is a very intentional album and more than just a collection of songs. There is a deliberate consistency and flow to its monolithic form. Equally, there are twists and turns along the way as we trace over the surface of this beast that keep you fascinated and guessing. There's almost a melodeath like quality to the riff in Falsified and Hated reminiscent of Emperor's Loss and Curse Of Reverence. The solo in Bad Blood is beautifully eerie; combined with the blast beat and melodic tremolo picked riff either side of it reminds me of the feeling I get listening to the (brief but perfect) solo in Dissection's Retribution. Synths have been used more liberally here than in previous albums which adds a somewhat different quality to the atmosphere than we may be accustomed to with Mayhem. Indeed the nods to the mid-nineties are plentiful, but Daemon succeeds in maintaining an overall feeling of progression without succumbing to indulgence in nostalgia. This is a modern classic in Black Metal. 8/10

The Elephant: The Elephant (Karma Conspiracy Records) [Paul Hutchings]

A smouldering blues-soaked journey awaits the listener who takes a punt on this Italian trio’s debut album. A mere 36 minutes in length, what the band lack in quantity they make up for in quality. The trio employ two basses as part of their set up and lyrically are inspired by the poetry of William Blake, Dylan Thomas and Henry Michaux. What is most impressive about The Elephant is the unique gravelly vocal delivery of Giovanni Murolo, who adds a truly interesting dimension to this album. With the blues and stoner fuzz combined to great effect, this is a genuinely exciting yet laid back release which deserved repeated plays and wide exposure. The band may be hamstrung by their name though, as there are numerous outfits with the same or similar moniker which distracts from the social media hunt. Regardless of that, The Elephant is an impressive release which is best served with a cold beer and a warm summer night! 7/10

Monday 28 October 2019

Reviews:The Great Old Ones, Rings Of Saturn, Cannabis Corpse, The River (Matt & Paul H)

The Great Old Ones: Cosmicism (Seasons Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

Active since 2009, French atmospheric black metallers channel the spirit and literary heritage of author H.P. Lovecraft throughout their works. Opening with the atmospheric drenched Cosmic Depths, the band then slowly launch into the nine-minute plus The Omniscient, which builds with sinister intent, and then explodes into an exploration and expansive developing track. The idea behind “Cosmicism” is that humans are godless creatures who are totally insignificant in the grand scheme of our cosmic universe. The record is a true journey in the cold deep of space. Each song features a Lovecraftian entity and parallel the dark destiny of the protagonist who meets her and in turn, slowly succumbs to admiration and madness.

The lyrics are inevitably inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, layered over haunting, melodic beauty and crushing death metal which for some will result in a perfect match. It’s difficult to do this album justice, such is the complexity and intricacy of the work. Spine Crushing elements blend with melodic atmospheric passages. Lengthy gargantuan epics dominate, such as the 12 minute A Thousand Young which edges toward black gaze in its delivery. My advice is clear. Get this album and immerse yourself in the world of one of the most influential writers of all time, all delivered with a Gaelic flair which is somewhat astonishing. 8/10

Rings Of Saturn: Gidim (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Hutchings]

Whether you class Rings Of Saturn as technical death metal or deathcore is merely splitting hairs. The band that was originally formed as a studio only project in the Bay Area, California in 2009 has mushroomed into a five-album beast. Now I’m not familiar with their catalogue so I’m taking this with full force and no preconceived expectations. Let’s start with the negatives. I dislike the amount of programming intensely. It is one of many roles that founder Lucas Mann takes on this release, but I really struggled with the lack of passion in the sound. Gidim is also as technical as hell and it appears that this is because the band can. With Joel Omans and Mann covering guitar duties, this is a sonic highway of intense picking, riffing and steaming fretwork which really struggles to demonstrate any warmth. It’s all a bit unconnected. The positives? Well, Ian Bearer’s vocals are immense. Deep, resonating growls works for me. The fast tempos work well with the interplay at times breathtaking. The high-speed riffing and ambient elements combine to underpin lyrics that refer to space invasion and extra-terrestrial life. The technical aspects work well, but it’s all a little too contrived and the intensity with which the band plays is at the expense of any warmth. I could feel the heat in Obscura, Allegaeon and Fallujah in recent months, their technicality worked alongside their music. I’m afraid this was too much. It left me cold. 4/10

Cannabis Corpse: Nug So Vile (Season Of Mist) [Matt Bladen]

So it's Cannibal Corpse but instead of blood and gore the lyrics are about weed and the titles are marijuana based puns of other band's songs with this albums title ripped off from Cryptopsy. This one line is all you need to understand what the newest release by Cannabis Corpse sounds like, formed by Municipal Waste/Iron Reagan bassist Phil 'Landphil' Hall and drummer Josh 'Hallhammer' Hall Cannabis Corpse have slowly but surely become one of death metal's more exciting acts as they pair blistering death metal with a strong strain of THC induced humour. The 11 songs on here whizz past in a fug of green and blastbeats though Dawn Of Weed Possession brings more of the thrash stomps you'd expect from LandPhil's other bands. Nug So Vile deals with a "hardcore marijuana abuser with the demented fantasies" so lyrically it stays the course of what CC have always been about picking up where Left Hand Pass left off merging horror and hash to great effect. Nasty death metal that never relents in any way Nug So Vile is a fat one ready to blaze from the first hit. 7/10

The River: Vessels Into White Tides (Nine Records) [Matt Bladen]

A decade in the making Vessels Into White Tides is the latest release from UK band The River. Slow, brooding and enriched with melancholy it's not one to listen to if you're a bit tired and emotional but my is it a beautiful record. The slow, heavily distorted riffs drag their way through marathon numbers such as Into White with the rhythm section of Stephen Morrissey (bass) and Jason Ludwig (drums) giving the songs lots of space, it's these gaps between the riffs that really draw you in much like John Williams' use of silence on the Jaws theme, the guitar playing of Jenny Newton (guitars, strings, percussion) and Christian Leitch (guitars/percussion), moves between single dissonant notes, to thundering riffs and even some beautiful folky sounds on Open all of which highlight the soul stirring voice of Jenny who takes cues from Sandy Denny and Maddy Prior, bewitching you on the more laid back jazz-inflected sounds of Passing. Vessels Into White Tides is not for the faint of heart as this 5 song release clocks in a monumental 45 minutes of primordial at times ethereal, there's times here that conjure genuine emotion it's exquisite. 9/10

Reviews: Voyager, Ray Alder, The Deathtrip, The Elysian Divide (Matt & Val)

Voyager: Colours In The Sun (Seasons Of Mist) [Matt Bladen]

Aussie proggers Voyager come back with their new album Colours In The Sun and it's a record that shows you the band Voyager are. They have toured all over the world and with each record they add another layer to their kaleidoscopic sound, which has resulted in this seventh record Colours In The Sun possibly their most cohesive and expressive release. Though it still veers wildly between stylistic choices, hooking in most of the record with chunky djent records but also bringing more old school prog sounds, pop hooks and walls of synthesisers and keyboards. Take the opening number Colours which kicks off with electronics that shimmer before the metal brings the grooves in, the dual guitars locking in for heaviness, though Brightstar is so loaded with synths that you could be forgiven for thinking it's an 80's styled synthwave song. 

Much like the new Leprous record there is massive amount of melody on this record, infact Einar Solberg of Leprous drops in on Entropy, with his  as the massive choruses swell made for playing live. Hard nosed proggers may be a bit snobby about Voyager shedding some of their more overtly prog sounds but I think it will benefit the band in the long run, appealing to their already wide fanbase. A fan base so big that it's seen them open Download Festival Australia in 2019, it also reflects the theme of this album which is "musical depiction of a personal journey to an adopted country" while also "celebrating Australia’s vast and varied beauty with their new album." With this in mind you can hear why this album is both eclectic and upbeat, it's a celebration of a diverse landscape from a band who are musically gifted and are looking to take that next step in their evolution. 8/10

Ray Alder: What The Water Wants (InsideOut Music) [Matt Bladen]

Those who have indulged in progressive metal will probably know the name Ray Alder, he has been the lead singer of progressive metal legends Fates Warning since 1988, he was also until recently, the voice of Redemption. You have to think that the creation of this solo album was one of the factors why he left the latter but was it worth it? Well it is Alder's debut solo record and he has written the record with Mike Abdow, (Fates Warning touring guitarist), guitarist/bassist Tony Hernando (Lords Of Black) and Craig Anderson (Ignite) on drums. The album was mixed by Simone Mularoni (Rhapsody, Michael Romeo, DGM, etc.) and yes there are some similarities to Fates Warning as you'd expect on A Beautiful Life but there is a lot more than just being a clone of his main job. There's emotion that reminds me of bands like Queensryche on tracks like Lost.

Crown Of Thorns is a lot more dramatic built upon a pulsating bassline as the chorus hook swells on a very modern sounding song. It's bolstered by the mix by Simone Mularoni (Rhapsody, Michael Romeo, DGM, etc.) who brings his talent to make the record really shine on the passionate stripped back Some Days. As I was listening to this album one word went through my mind and that was Marillion...What The Water Wants sounds like the kind of music the British art-prog veterans have played since H was behind the mic. Even on the more rockier numbers such as Shine there's it lingers on the memory, with the ambient sounds of The Road and the more traditional progressive numbers like the excellent closer The Killing Floor. What The Water Wants may not win over hardcore prog metal fans but it shows why Alder is so revered as a vocalist with some heartfelt lyricism on top of the intelligent, mature musical base. 8/10    

The Deathtrip: Demon Solar Totem (Svart Records) [Val D'Arcy]

Combining talents from (ex) DHG, Mork and My Dying Bride, The Deathtrip are very much an international act, peddling their own form of occult Black Metal. Five years since their first outing, Demon Solar Totem is the follow up full-length to their 2014 debut, Deep Drone Master. Clocking in at forty five minutes, with seven tracks, songs are on the longer side of six minutes which is fitting of the mid-paced tempo that carries the majority of this record. There are some outbursts of pace that show up occasionally, but the overall mood of this album is one of doleful transfixiation; that accidental pace acts more as an amplifier to the disconsonant, trance-like state I seem to find myself in as I listen; It's an abstractly elevating, sonic experience.

The album cover features art by Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos, Brazilian born artist who was featured some time ago in Cvlt Nation for her particular flavour of gothicly-obscure imagery. She is best know for paintings that conjure associations with occultism and the supernatural, which perfectly captures the essence of Demon Solar Totem. The whole album is imbued with a sense of otherworldly mysticism; it creates an atmosphere that's thickly intoxicating. There appears to be some influence from all geographic corners of the band present here. Overwhelmingly, of course this is a Black Metal album, but heavy doom overtones are at work. There is a ritualistic feel brought about by the passages of clean, chanted vocals.

The production is intentional and vast, whilst keeping some rawness and grit in the sound of the drums and of course Kvohst's captivatingly primal vocals. The combination of the two latter forces is superb throughout this album, it produces a real feeling of underground sophistication. The sixth track and only single released from this album, Abraxas Mirrors is probably the most intense and hard hitting. From the melodic, tremolo picked riffs in the opening bars to the spoken screams and primitive blast beats this track will give a good insight into the look and feel of this album. That said, its an entity best served whole. 7/10

The Elysian Divide: Beast EP (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

The Elysian Divide are a metal band from the UK, Beast is an EP that is the follow up to 2018’s debut album, Face Behind The Mask. Now they refer to themselves "female fronted metal" band, i struggle with this term so I'll call them a groove metal act with some traditional metal and gothic flourishes, frontwoman Atashi has a gritty vocal ideal for singing these songs that explore "human condition and the existential void" take Inspired By Hatred which is a bit poppier than first track Loser but features Atashi raging as the rhythm section of James Kelly (drums) Troy Michael Wicks (bass) bring the heavy with Jon Sick (guitar) double tapping and soloing with virtuosity. Even on their cover of Radiohead's Street Spirit (which is a bit heavier than The Darkness cover) the guitar playing is excellent as Atashi exhibits another side to her vocals as the rhythm section brings some power metal to Storm where things go a little Nightwish on the EP's longest number full of operatic madness.. A varied metal EP from The Elysian Divide that is a great addition to their debut record and a footing for their next. 7/10 

Friday 25 October 2019

Reviews: Airbourne, Crystal Viper, The Grand Mal, ADE (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Airbourne: Boneshaker (Spinefarm Records)

Five albums in and Aussie rock n roll machine Airbourne show no sign of slowing down, in fact they may have become bolder than ever before. This time they have entrusted the production of this record to Dave Cobb the biggest name in Nashville who has produced Chris Stapleton and the ‘Star Is Born’ soundtrack. He has lent this album warmth that previously hasn’t been heard on Airbourne’s albums, it means Boneshaker sounds like AC/DC (of course) but anything pre-Back In Black where it was all about getting it done. Just 30 minutes of music means there’s no time for messing about, this is high voltage rock n roll from the opening chords of Boneshaker, through Burnout The Nitro which gets the foot tapping and the head banging with its insistent percussion, open chords and sing along chorus that explodes into wild frenzied guitar solos. The band sound as wild as ever here, it’s got the same raw, stripped back feel as their debut record and is not short of anthems with the fist pumping This Is Our City the groovy Backseat Boogie and album closer Rock N Roll For Life all giving you that feeling of immense, but simple, pleasure as they pump out of your speakers. Airbourne are a band who does what they do better than probably anyone except for the originators and after a few albums of relying on the technology over the power of rock n roll (Black Dog Barking) Boneshaker takes things back to just the classic hard rock format. Play it as loud as you can and choose Rock N Roll For Life! 9/10

Crystal Viper: Tales Of Ice And Fire (AFM Records)

The Polish heavy metal act formed by singer, guitarist and composer, Marta Gabriel. Tales Of Ice And Fire is their seventh studio release, it's been heralded as a heavier, more intense and darker, release than anything before while retaining their classic metal sound. It's got a big heaving dose of Judas Priest as Gabriel trades off with guitarists Andy Wave and Eric Juris on opener Still Alive and they bring the Gothic sounds of Helstar on Crystal Sphere. Now musically I like this album, it's chock full of galloping classic heavy metal riffs, splitting the album with the classical sounds of Prelude and Interlude. The issue I have with Crystal Viper are Marta's vocals which for me fall flat, attempting the Halford sound but not really living up to it. Still as a NWOTHM band Crystal Viper are nothing groundbreaking but worth some of your time. 6/10

The Grand Mal: S/T (APF Records)

Hailing from that hub of groovy stoner rock, Oxfordshire, The Grand Mal are made up of members from Desert Storm, brothers Ryan and Elliot Cole (guitar & drums) and Mother Corona, Dave-O  (vocals) and bassist Rob Glenn. They formed in 2015 but this self titled release is their debut album, they haven't been idle though as like all good riff bands they have toured the country numerous times cranking out their own brand of heavy, forging these tracks in the fires of the live scene, so they can be unleashed on this debut record. Sound wise The Grand Mal are an amalgamation of both bands with some thick, sludgy riffs coming on Burning Truth which does occasionally move into desert rock and more traditional stoner riffs on Liquid & Dust.

However it's also more than that, every single track brings something a little different meaning that you're never complacent, Butthole Surfers mainman JD Pinkus said they were “like Queens of the Stone Age mixed with 80’s Ozzy.” and while that may sound like a car crash it's surprisingly accurate, take the funky Pig In The Python which has a acerbic vocal, some big swaggering riffs and a great solo section, it's on Black Spiral they get the closest to the Sabbath Worship with doomy riffs and drawn out vocals. The Grand Mal is a very impressive debut album from this semi-supergroup, ideal for those of us who follow the underground stoner scene closely, great then that they've signed to APF the label spearheading the riff monsters of the underground. This needs to be played loudly but to appreciate it's nuances, especially on the space prog-laden final track Significant as well as the distorted heaviness of what came before it. 8/10

ADE: Rise Of The Empire (Extreme Metal Music)

Fourth album from Italian death metal act ADE is more of the same from a band who can be seen as mixture of Fleshgod Apocalypse and Nile, however unlike the American sarcophagus enthusiasts, ADE are more concerned with the glory of Rome and on this album the rise of it's Imperium Sine Fine (Empire Without End), specifically the age of Julius Caesar as he declared himself both Emperor and God. ADE share a lot of similarities to Ex Deo, especially with the topics they sing about but musically this more technical death metal than Ex Deo's more symphonic sound. Now I have said before that I have classics degree, with particular focus on Caesar and the beginning of the Empire.

So I could go into how historically accurate tracks such as Chains Of Alesia and Ptolemy Has To Fall are, but I'll focus on the music. With the guttural vocals, explosive blastbeat barrages and rapid fire guitars underpinned by technical bass licks on numbers like Once The Die Is Cast. Now you could write this off as Nile with a different theme however the band avoid this by using a lot of traditional ancient Roman instrumentation in their music overtly on Once The Die Is Cast and the Arabic flavoured Gold Roots Of War. These last two songs slow the pace but the speed returns on Supress The Riot and Vendi Vidi Vici as Imperator closes the album out with the ascension of Caesar to emperor closing out this very violent part of Roman history and also this at times brutal death metal record. 7/10   

Thursday 24 October 2019

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

Gloryhammer, Beast In Black & Wind Rose, SWX, Bristol

Into what is rapidly becoming my favourite venue SWX in Bristol it was going to be an evening where you can leave your brain at the door and just enjoy the madness that was about to unfold. We were taken into the world of dragons, goblins, hammers, battles and dwarves with three power metal bands ready to put smiles on the faces of a sold out venue.

SWX filled quickly with the assorted masses many in fancy dress, carrying inflatable weapons, wearing furs, horns etc as Italian dwarven metal band Wind Rose (5) took to the stage opening the night. Unfortunately much like Alex mentioned in his (a little harsh) album review Wind Rose are quite generic in their sound with none of their songs standing out and the vocals of the frontman washed out by the two guitarists, though may have been for the better. Decked out in armour and furs like extras from Lord Of The Rings, they got the baying mob jumping mainly with the god awful Diggy Diggy Hole (a song from an internet meme video thing) but personally I would have rathered any other band open the night but they got a strong reaction, so maybe Alex was a little too hard on them but live they don't do themselves any favours.

Next thankfully was Beast In Black (8) who if I'm honest were the band I was there to see, they are much more traditional unit having the speed metal style of bands such as Judas Priest, the Finnish unit fronted by Greek vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos, brought the heavier twin axe attack to the evening along with some thumping 80's styled synths on numbers such as Cry Out For A Hero, From Hell With Love and the ridiculously overblown Sweet True Lies as Yannis flexed his at times unbelievable vocal range as Anton Kabanen and Kasperi Heikkinen traded solos and riffs, the rhythm section of Mate Molnar (bass) and Atte Palokangas (drums) blasted away as numerous shapes were thrown, Accept-style. Beast In Black are an excellent live act, slick and professional playing the crowd like it was their own headline show from the song selection (mainly from their latest album) they may not have had the entire room on their side, perhaps because they don't have enough songs about wizards, but for me they were the best band of the night.

Next though it was time for the main event, formed by Alestorm frontman Chris Bowes who wanted to make the silliest band imaginable, it was time for Gloryhammer (7). Or was it? Before they arrived on stage a cardboard cut out of Welsh crooner Tom Jones was put on stage against a mic and Delilah played over the PA resulting in a massive singalong, with the Welsh contingent in the audience the loudest of course. As 'Tom' finished the band took to the stage and plunged into The Siege Of Dunkeld (In Hoots We Trust) frontman Angus McFife, Crown Prince Of Fife (Thomas Winkler) singing with all of his heart as the band pumped out the bouncy power metal, next came Gloryhammer and Angus McFife as the setlist came from all three of the bands albums. For most of the first song Zargothrax, Dark Emperor of Dundee (Bowes) wasn't even there, though by magic the keys were still pumping out. He arrived halfway through the track to 'Fight' with McFife (the first of many).

Gloryhammer are totally over the top with songs about "laser powered Goblin smashers" (Legend Of The Astral Hammer), heavy drinking bass players; The Hootsman, Astral Demigod of Unst (James Cartwright) on Hollywood Hootsman and battles for eternity with Ser Proletius, Grand Master of the Deathknights of Crail (Paul Templing) on Battle For Eternity. These songs of battle, other dimensions and just general fantasy tomfoolery was exactly what the masses wanted each stupid lyric sung back at the band. The most excitement of course was for Unicorn Invasion Of Dundee the blast beats of Ralathor, the Mysterious Submarine Commander of Cowdenbeath (Ben Turk) like the gallops of those undead unicorns. It was with this finale that the epic quest ended and goofy grins were abound, having only seen the band supporting and at festivals I must admit that Gloryhammer's headline set is for the die hards in the audience but entertaining enough for the outside observer too. Raise those hammers high and embrace the absurdity!

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Reviews: The Pineapple Thief, Vinnie Moore, Messora, Angmaer (Reviews By Paul Hutchings)

The Pineapple Thief: Hold Our Fire (Kscope Records)

Recorded during their European Dissolution tour in 2018, Hold Our Fire is a significant recording of one of the best bands around in the live arena. Although it’s not the first live album the band have released (The most recent being 2017’s Where We Stood), this release does capture recordings of eight tracks from Dissolution, one of the band’s most perfect albums, along with 3000 Days from 2010’s Someone Here Is Missing. Tracks such as Threatening War, Far Below and Shed A Light sound as good on this release as they did back in September 2018 when I gave Dissolution top marks. As a moment in time, then Hold Your Fire captures the spirit and energy of a band who unbelievably are shortly to embark on their debut US tour. Having seen them earlier in the year perform to an ecstatic audience in Bristol, this is about as representative as possible. Perfect for those long winter evenings. 9/10

Vinnie Moore: Soul Shifter (Mind's Eye Music)

Another solo album from the UFO guitarist whose career has so much more than being the member of one of hard rock’s seminal bands. Moore has had an illustrious career, playing with his own band as support to Rush way back in 1991 as well as being a member of Alice Cooper’s band amongst other things. The follow up to 2015’s Aerial Visions, his ninth album features a host of special guests including Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy, Quiet Riot) and Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess. One of the originators of the ‘shred’ style, the majority of tracks on this instrumental album pay tribute to heroes both past and present. The reflective Mystified was written shortly after the tragic death of Chris Cornell, Brother Carlos pays homage to one of Moore’s heroes, the mighty Carlos Santana, whilst Gainesville Station tips the nod to Steve Gaines, another of Moore’s big influences.

Beautifully structured and composed, Moore is able to demonstrate with ease why he has been able to fill the shoes of such luminaries as Michael Schenker and Paul Chapman in UFO, with his natural fluid style and soulful delivery. Alongside the tributes to other stars such as Soul Rider (for Greg Allman) and Heard You Were Gone which raises a glass to former band mate and friend Elliot (Dean Guitars) there is some fun in the enjoyable Funk Bone Jam and Kung Fu Grip which allow Moore to let loose with some sweet guitar playing. Whilst I’m not the biggest fan of the solo album, Moore is a legend whose playing comes more naturally than breathing. A perfect album to sit back with a glass of vino, and just enjoy the quality of a musician who is underrated in my book. 8/10

Messora: The Door (1428936 Records DK2)

Canadian progressive death metallers Messora change and shift styles, sounds and boundaries throughout out this impressive and at times compelling album. Having formed as a solo project a mere three years ago, the band now appears a cohesive unit who deliver some brutal, room levelling riffs, undeniable groove and powerful hooks. Opening with the infectious title track, which has echoes of Lamb of god, this is a seven-track release which comprises a cross section of lengthy epics with more immediate in your face smashes. Linking The Door with the next dose of brutality is the one and a half minute acoustic Tethered, which provides unavoidable Opeth comparisons before the bludgeon of The Veil, just shy of ten minutes, kicks a hole in the wall. Chugging riffs, high intensity drumming and roaring gruff vocals all combine to excellent effect and demonstrate that there is much more to this band than heavy riffs.

As the track closes with some underlying synths adding texture and depth the gasping you hear you suddenly realise is actually you. This is a band who give massive effort for every track. The Falling Star follows, another lengthy track that combines the brutality of a Gojira with the melody of old school In Flames. It’s worthy stuff whilst the shorter The Pond and Untethered are no less mesmerising.  The band comprises Zach Dean on guitar and vocals, fellow guitarist James Cabral and the engine room of Joey Lariviere on drums and bassist Ben Bertrand. It’s bone splintering stuff, with pulverising segments of speed and also crushing heaviness which put the band in the doom camp at times. Certainly one I would recommend exploring. 8/10

Angmaer: Victoria Aut Mors (UKEM Records)

Victoria Aut Mors is the second album by one man outfit Angmaer, known to his mum as Oscar J. Taylor. Another in the endless stream of ridiculously talented multi-instrumentalists, at the age of 21 this is already the second full length release that he has issued, a nine track battery of old school style black metal, with everything that you would expect and want. Heavy tremolo riffing, thunderous blast beats and howling to the moon vocals. Whilst the intention in several of the tracks appears to be to blast as fast as possible, he has managed to retain a degree of melody and direction which segues neatly with the more frenetic song structures.

As The Rivers Flow With Blood for example rages at breakneck speed before a rhythmic interlude that still powers along before changing direction and adding a medieval acoustic breakdown at about 4 minutes. Heavy riffs soon crash back in to accelerate the intensity once more. The more interesting tracks on this impressive album tend to be the more structured longer songs such as Summoner where Angmar can really let rip. I can only be in awe of this artist, even if the black metal is nothing new. 7/10

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

The Struts, Great Hall, Cardiff

Having come in a bit late of openers King Nun, I can't really give them a fair review, but their jangly angst ridden indie did very little for me. However the very eclectic crowd lapped it up, so what do I know?

Yes an eclectic crowd, everything from suit wearing corporate types, numerous couples of all ages, students and of course fans all filled out Cardiff's Great Hall for a band who have opened for The Rolling Stones, Guns N Roses, The Who and The Foo Fighters with Dave Grohl calling them "the best band ever to open for the Foo Fighters". Clearly these support slots have really increased their popularity in the UK (they are already quite a big thing in the USA), meaning that this was something of a step up in terms of venue from when I first saw them at Bristol Thekla, along with a much bigger crowd. As the anticipation grew Delilah by Tom Jones came over the PA whipping the Welsh fans into a frenzied sing along as it was followed by Song 2 by Blur but as the peak was reached it was time for the headliners to take to the stage the lights went dark and Adam Slack (guitar), Jed Elliott (bass) and Welsh boy Gethin Davies (drums) took to the stage with one big chord hit it was time for the show to begin and in an explosion of glitter and pomp vocalist Luke Spiller romped onto the stage and Primadonna Like Me opened the show with the trademark tongue in cheek style.

The preening frontman a bundle of energy not slowing down for a minute reinforcing why he's called the lovechild of Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger as he effortlessly delivered his powerful vocal lines as Davies and Elliot gave the glam rock grooves and Slack peeled off easy riffs. The pace was kept high for the naughty Body Talks (alas without Kesha) and the defiant Kiss This. Spiller never dropping a single note despite running a marathon. In Love With The Camera came fourth, the irony not lost on our photographer who had only just left the pit. The crowd was singing every single line back to the band, engaged form the first moments they chanted, clapped, bounced and later on even jumped from the floor as the band plowed through their 17 song setlist, the massive Queen-like single One Night Only bringing the sleaze with Dirty Sexy Money and Tatler Magazine keeping the crowd going through a medley of tracks from their first album, the tracks were The Ol' Switcheroo/Black Swan/Roll Up/Young Stars as Spiller took to the piano in true Freddie style for the slower sections.

They were playing it like an arena show with the crowd eating out of their hand with every bombastic song hitting home there was no chatting even with ballads such as Mary Go Round, the obligatory guitar solo, Spiller's call and response schtick and even the cover of The View's Same Jeans featuring The View's frontman Kyle Falconer who opened the show. The main show ended with the huge anthem Put Your Money On Me and the glam rocker Where Did She Go leaving the crowd to stomp and clap for an encore. Having gone through a costume change during the main show, a more relaxed look was used for the the encore that started off with Somebody New that led into the Elton John moment of Ashes (Part 2), part 1 Fire had come earlier in the night, bringing a tear to everyone before their sports arena anthem Could Have Been Me ended this absolutely riotous evening of music. Surely this will be the last time we will see The Struts in a venue smaller than an arena, they clearly have the bravado and the songs, with a bigger stage and better production values (though their light show is brilliant) they will be the next generation of festival headliners. 10/10

Reviews: Lethargy, Blood Eagle, Ice Nine Kills, Temples (Matt, Liam & Paul S)

Lethargy: After All This Has Gone (Self Released)

After a lot of hard work and one album released through Classic Rock magazines record label (remember that) Neath based prog/grunge band Lethargy were destined for big things. They were quite clearly the best band on the label and they had enough of a wide range of styles for broad appeal. As they were working on a follow up to Putrefaction various factors caused the break up of the band. In their wake has come Buffalo Summer most notably but the uniqueness of Lethargy has been long in the memory of those who were there when the band were regularly touring. After nearly 10 years of silence Lethargy have returned, not only to the stage, their Swansea show was reviewed in these hallowed pages. But they have also let that abandoned album see the light of day for the first time since it was recorded back in 2010 at Mwnci and Boneyard Studios.

So has been worth the 10 years of waiting for this record? Let's delve a little deeper and see shall we? It opens with Amphetamine a melodic number wrapped in a crunchy riff that follows straight on from the debut album all big riffs and the short blasts of guitar mastery from Phil Humphreys. It's like Alice In Chains with more prog touches, as After All brings things down a bit with a moody sound and is the first to feature the bands trademark vocal harmonies from Humphreys, bassist Marc Trevelyan Jones and rhythm guitarist Andrew Hunt, it's with these harmonies that the AIC comparisons are at their most notable. Despite not contributing vocally drummer Gareth Hunt provides the impressive anchor for not only Andrew and Marc but also so Humphreys can do a bit of showing off without loosing any of the bands weight. The album was recorded in 2010 as I said but the mix and mastering was done at The Boneyard in 2018/19 and it means the record is clearly and crisp, it benefits the album as a whole but on more anthemic numbers such as Strike The Sky it means you can hear the glorious harmonies and intricate composition behind too, as well as giving depth to cuts like Electric Sin

The album is 13 tracks long but it doesn't feel that long due to the strength of the songwriting. To be honest those of us who have waited for this album for so long would never complain about how many songs as it gives Lethargy another chance at world domination. If they managed to stick around it could be their time as very few bands are doing this kind of thing so I hope the next album doesn't take nearly 10 years. 8/10

Blood Eagle: To Ride In Blood & Bathe In Greed II (Nuclear Blast)

The second EP from Blood Eagle starts with the grinding Eyes Sewn Shut, it's a properly nasty way to kick things off as it explodes into some head beating brutality. On this second EP we get a few more chances to hear what Blood Eagle have created as their debut album. Four tracks of old school death metal and it continues from the first EP brilliantly as Eyes Sewn Shut is a mid paced ripper that would sit well as track four and the album full of groove and aggression building you up for the next blast beating assault, it's followed by Doctrine Of Death is a bit more groove laden brining mind to Lamb Of God. In fact this entire EP has a much more modern death metal sound than the first EP, that's not a criticism as it gives things a bit of variation. The debut is shaping up to be a heck of record with lots of styles mixed with precision brutality. Releasing it on EP format just keeps the anticipation of the whole thing much higher. 7/10

Ice Nine Kills: The Silver Scream - Final Cut (Fearless Records) [Liam True]

With the original album only released last year, the Final Cut version is basically the same, just with a few live tracks added and a cover of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The album itself is a tribute to the 80’s slasher films, all of which have indirect names to the movies and villains themselves, but are obvious with the lyrical content, with a few of the songs naming them directly. I’ve heard of this band but never actually gave them a listen, and I'm disappointed in myself. The band are generic in the style of music they play, but it’s the delivery that makes the entire difference of a band. Ice Nine Kills deliver the album with such a punch and aggressive behaviour that it makes it stand out in the crowd.

The main thing that makes them stand out on this record is the content of their lyrics, as it’s a horror-based album, and you can tell by that beautiful artwork. The combination of 80’s horror villains, such as Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees etc. Mixed with the titanic punches of the Metalcore based sound is a beautiful sound that has originality, yet stays true to the Core scene. The melody and Krueger sounding growls of Spencer Charnas bouncing off the perpetual fretwork of Ricky Armellino makes for some great listening and air guitar moments. The bonus love tracks are a good feature but could have been added to their own album, and the cover of Thriller, while inventive, isn’t all that good to be honest. Still, the album as a whole is not far off damn near perfect and has plenty of replays. One that I’ll be keeping on repeat for some time. 8/10

Temples: Hot Motion (ATO Records) [Paul Scoble]

Temples have been going since 2012. The Kettering based band have produced 2 albums before Hot Motion, Sun Structures in 2014, and Volcano in 2017. The band tag themselves as Psychedelic Rock, something that was the basis of their sound previous to this album. However, Hot Motion has a bit of psychedelic rock about it, but it is mainly now closer to poppy indie or alternative pop. There is a lot of early seventies glam in their sound, but also some funk, pop, electro and indie. The band have toured with: Suede, Mystery Jets, Kasabian and the Vaccines, which should give you a good idea of the kind of sound they have.

The album opens with the title track, which is mid-paced, with a huge bouncy rhythm. The vocals are high register, which sometimes reaches falsetto, and the chorus is strong. Although this is quite a bouncy track, it also feels mellow and relaxed. Next is the brilliantly titled You're Either On Something (Or Your Onto Something), which is slower that the opening track, and has a blissed out, dreamy feel. Holy Horses opens with a bright, clean guitar riff, that is reminiscent of a Nile Rogers riff from a Chic song. The track is uptempo and poppy. The Howl is taut glam rocker that reminds me of The Sweet a little. It features a nice military snare drum riff, and is the closest thing to strait rock on this album.

Context is far more pop than the material that came before it. Its keyboard heavy, with a relaxed tempo, and a very strong chorus. The Beam is another piece of electro pop, this time a little reminiscent of Goldfrapp, there's also a seventies, Bowie sense to this track. Not Quite The Same is a mellow track, mainly bass and drums with a relaxed 80’s feel, the vocals are falsetto, giving the track a little similar to 80’s pop act Scritti Politti. Atomised is a mix of mellow, ballady pop, with more 70’s rock feel. It's All Coming Out is up-tempo, alt-pop, with a nice blissful chorus. Step Down is more alt-pop, this time sounding similar to Beck’s The New Pollution. The album comes to an end with Monuments, which is measured, taut, pop with a very strong chorus.

Hot Motion, has very little rock to it, there's a few rock riffs, but this is mainly alternative pop, or poppy indie. However, even though there isn’t that much rock, there is lots of interesting material to enjoy on this album. Ok, there might not be lots of riffs to get exited about; but there are hooks by the truckload to enjoy, and most of them are big enough to catch a Great White Shark. The album is packed with melody, great choruses, hummable tunes, singable vocal lines and bouncy tempo’s. If you give it a chance, you’ll be humming this to distraction. It’s not all about huge riffs you know. 8/10

Tuesday 22 October 2019

Reviews: Abigail Williams, Deez Nuts, R.U.S.T.X, Ditchwater (Liam & Matt)

Abigail Williams: Walk Beyond The Dark (Blood Music) [Liam True]

I’ve never been into Symphonic Black Metal, or many Black Metal bands really. But Abigail Williams has me craving more from the genre. From the disintegrating riffs to the shrieks of vocalist Ken Bergeron. While having the traditional Black Metal sound of the low-fi drums and guitars, the symphonic elements bring the music into a new light. Instead of being stuck in the dingy dark corners of the metal realm, it opens it up to a newer fanbase. The importance of this record is the balance between the vocals and instrumental, as most Black Metal albums are mostly filled with boring repetitive droned out riffs, Abigail Williams takes that formula, injects it with a beefy dose of adrenaline and lets it loose without a care of what will happen. I’ll spoil it for you. What happens is the most unholy, feral witch like vocals spat across the most technical offering Black Metal has in the scene at the moment. 8/10

Deez Nuts: You Got Me Fucked Up (Century Media) [Liam True]

I’ve heard of Deez Nuts but never actually checked them out and thought I was missing out on something. And to be completely honest, I was kind of disappointed. I’ve heard a lot about these guys being the new up and coming band in the underground scene, so I was hoping for attitude, aggression and straight up Hardcore pit-inducing headbanging madness. Instead I was underwhelmed, but enjoyed what they produced. With the addictive Pop-Punk like vocals on the chorus’, crunchy beatdown riffs and Speed Metal drumming it’s a change from what the scene usually produces. It’s a change from their older material as when first single Crooked Smile dropped, their fan base had split in two, with half saying they hadn’t ‘Stayed True’ to their original sound and the other half enjoying the new direction they’ve taken. I’m digging the new sound they have as it’s easier to get into, but everyone has different opinions. Me? I like the album because it’s full of catchy riffs and chorus’. But it’s no album of the year material. They’ve got a little more adjusting to if they want to make it big. But they’re on their way. 6/10

R.U.S.T.X: Centre Of The Universe (Pitch Black Records) [Matt Bladen]

Wow! Did the world need a band who use Graham Bonnet fronted Rainbow as their main influence? Probably not by Cypriot band R.U.S.T.X have done it anyway. From the bubbling Hammond, pop rock riffs and Bonnet-like vocals, Denfendre Le Rock is exactly what you'd expect from the Down To Earth-era. Next up though is the NWOBHM styled Running Man which is in a word dreadful, though Black Heart is worse. I'm not sure what this album wants to be and to be honest I'm not sure the band do either, its a mishmash of sounds that run through mainly 80's rock and AOR (Endless Skies) as they bring the pop rock, multiple male and female vocals, galloping NWOBHM, some synthwave sounds on I Stand To Live, folk rock on the proggy title track and a cover of Band On The Run for good measure. I does get a lot better as it progresses almost like the band change their approach half way through. I don't really know what to make of this record if I'm honest, it's music that sticks to its influences of late 70's early 80's rock music but when they stick to the melodic rock sounds they are better than when they try heavier stuff. I'm giving this a score based upon the bands talent and their songwriting prowess but as I said I'm still not totally sure. 7/10

Ditchwater: Never Say Never (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

I've never heard of Chicago rockers Ditchwater (not a great name), but Never Say Never is the bands 7th album. They have been around since 1993 formed by guitarist Mark Anderson, who remains the only original member. They have had a number of false starts and membership changes but with 'classic' line up vocalist Mike Meadows back behind the mic they are looking to once again show why they have shared stages with In This Moment, Otep, Mudvayne, Powerman 5000, and SOiL. In terms of musical style they have that atypical 'American metal' sound, huge chunky riffs are the order of the day and vocally Meadows reminds me of Disturbed's David Draiman, it's soulful and full of power handling the huge hooks of this band. Unlike Disturbed though the band favour guitar solos and more distorted riffs sounding a lot more like genre leader Alter Bridge. This 7th album opens with the rallying Enemy Of The People possibly aimed at the American President. It carries on like this with lots of macho heavy riffs carrying the album as tracks like The End and the anthemic This Pain. The album closes with a pretty straightforward cover of Motorhead's Iron Fist, but their own songs are a lot better (maybe not the Nu-Metal sound of The Way You Are). If you love American metal then I'd say to crank the volume up and crank out Never Say Never. 7/10  

Reviews: Nile, Angel Witch, Mass Worship, Profanantica (Paul H, Paul S & Charlie/Claire)

Nile: Vile Nilotic Rites (Nuclear Blast) [Charlie Rogers - Quality Control By Dr Claire Hanley]

With a strong opening, Long Shadows Of Dread is a first class ticket to riff city. It's business as usual for the sarcophagus botherers, with the signature thunderous drums blasting away from Greek God Mr Kollias, while Karl Sanders' wailing guitar leads evoke teary eyed images of the great expanse of sand surrounding the pyramids. True to form, Nile include a myriad of interesting song titles. The next track is the word salad titled Oxford Handbook Of Savage Genocidal Warfare - a ditty as brutal as it is to decipher at first glance. This track dials up the intensity with crushing breaks and tumultuous riffs, crashing against each other like the warfare it describes. As we move to the title track, Vile Nilotic Rites, there's no signs of reprise. Guitarist Brian Kingsland and bassist Brad Parris' vocals complementing Karl's unmistakeable gutturals, just as the pairing of guitars blend perfectly. When Dallas Toler-Wade left the group a few years ago, longstanding Nile fans were concerned that a suitable replacement would be difficult to find, and listening to this release left no questions in my mind - Brian fits perfectly in this group.

Fans of the atmospheric elements of Nile's previous catalogue will not be disappointed with track 4, Severn Horns Of War, which features an orchestral break with deep voiced incantations delivered halfway through the song. The skull crushing heaviness of the riffs juxtaposed with these theatrical aspects add to the overwhelming sense of eeriness, as the song transitions into "That Which is Forbidden"; a real headbanger if the involuntary neck movements I had while writing this review are to be taken into account. Despite the tracks being of a consistently high standard, none of the songs up to this point jump out as standalone tracks. Then, we're launched into Snake Pit Mating Frenzy - one of the strongest tracks on the album. Nile treated us to this at their recent run of shows with Hate Eternal and Vitriol, and I’ve been keen to hear the album version ever since. Lasting just less than 3 minutes, it lives up to the title of Frenzy, with rapid fretwork and a memorable chant to boot - it's a real highlight. Next up, Revel In Their Suffering stomps into the audioscape with a pounding selection of riffs, interlaced with longer pauses contrasting against the consistent high energy the previous track subjected us to.

It wouldn't be a Nile release without a sincere tribute to the musical style that influences their songwriting so heavily. Thus Sayeth The Parasites Of The Mind is an orchestration of Egyptian instrumentation that breaks up the metal. It's ruddy mysterious too. Thunderous drums crescendo in the distance sweeping us away to ask Where Is the Wrathful Sky? Indeed, as expansive as looking up at darkened storm clouds, this track pushes forwards and builds on the setting introduced by the previous composition. It feels like the two songs are interlinked. If you're looking for a palette of what can make a song heavy, then look no further. The Imperishable Stars Are Sickened takes us on a journey through a dense mesh of riffs, broken with dreamlike leads in the progressive songwriting style that Nile are known for. In the 8 minute expanse, we're treated to several separate styles of riffs that twist and entwine with each other, creating a sound that is dripping in foreboding. The last track We Are Cursed opens with long blasts of brass, before swallowing the listener into a murky pit of riff laced despair. Invoking a sense of dread is something this band are exceptional at doing, and closing the album out with this feeling was a fantastic choice; leaving the listener bereft of longing, other than to experience the album once more.

It seems like there's still plenty of gas left in Nile's tank, with this album easily fitting in with the repertoire, and indeed excelling as a fantastic example of what the band is all about. The production on this album is very much in line with their recent releases, with massive sonic space that leaves the listener with ample room to hear each individual instrument. For the under-rock dwellers who haven't experienced Nile before, Vile Nilotic Rites serves as good a diving board as any album prior. Those who don't enjoy the Nile formula, however, are out of luck here, as the group offers the same branding and style as they have done for over 2 decades. Nevertheless, fans of the group will no doubt have an enjoyable experience stuffing this into their earholes. 8/10

Angel Witch: Angel Of Light (Metal Blade Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Formed in 1975, Angel Witch are regarded as extremely influential in the metal world. Their self-titled debut in 1980 is widely regarded as one of the most important of the releases from the NWOBHM movement. Having careered through the next three decades with numerous line-up changes, the current line-up comprises original member and holder of the Angel Witch torch Kevin Heybourne (vocals and guitar), bassist Will Palmer, guitarist Jimmy Martin and drummer Fredrik Jansson. Overall, Angel Of Light is a reasonable listen. Steeped in the classic NWOBHM sound, opening song Don’t Turn Your Back is solid with neat riffs and Heybourne’s raw and melodic vocal showing no signs of change since that 1980 debut. Musically the band are as tight as they’ve ever been and whilst the production isn’t the best, the rest of the album is certainly enjoyable enough to listen to. I Am Infamy and Window Of Despair are my pick of the bunch, with the title track which closes the release another bone crunching old school song. Angel Witch are assured their place in metal history, and I have massive admiration for Heybourne’s dogged determination to stick with it for all these years. If you fancy heading back to those halcyon days when metal was just metal, this album will certainly take you there. 6/10

Mass Worship: Mass Worship (Century Media) [Paul Scoble]

Mass Worship have been in existence since January 2018, unsurprisingly, this is the bands first album. The five piece from Stockholm define their sound as ‘Darkened Metal’, which sounds, to this reviewer, as a mix of Death Metal, Hardcore and sludge. However don’t take the Death Metal and Hardcore tags to mean this sounds like Deathcore, the main sound is mid-paced to slow death metal, with very angry sounding hardcore vocals. At times the pacing slows right down, and that is where the sludge comes from. The album is quite short (clearly hardcore in length) at just less than 30 minutes, with short punchy songs, that do not mess about. The album kicks off with Celestial, which is slow and very heavy with hardcore style vocals. The track does have some mid-paced and driving passages, before ending with a beautifully ugly, discordant riff. Spiritual Destitution is faster than the opening track, it feels relentless and has a huge chorus. It’s also one of the shortest tracks on the album; turns up, kicks the shit out of you, immediately fucks off.

Sibylline Divination is slow and dissonant, and sounds huge. The verse is more direct and less dissonant. Serene Remains has a soft and clean opening before going into an aggressive, staccato extreme section. This track feels more Hardcore than Death Metal. Below is slow, relentless and driving, but has a more measured feeling. This is aggressive and nasty, but in a very controlled way, this track has a very strong feeling of intent. Proleptic Decay is slow pounding hardcore, the track builds to become a relentless monster of a track. Dreamless Graves has a clean intro, that then gives way to a an insanely heavy and unrelenting sludge, this track is as heavy as a herd of elephants stepping on your foot all at once. The album comes to an end with Downpour, which is mid-paced and relentless, the ending is very dissonant, which is an apt way to bring the album to an end. Mass Worship is a simple album. It does not mess about, it’s heavy, relentless, angry and battering. The album is very direct, you’ll know strait away if it is for you or not. It’s a 27 minute blast of energy that is invigorating and enjoyable, highly recommended! 8/10

Profanatica: Rotting Incarnation Of God (Season Of Mist) [Paul Scoble]

Profanatica have been in existence since 1990. They were one of the first US Black Metal bands to form, although it took them 17 years to release an album, clearly this is a band that likes it’s time off. I’ve heard other Profanatica albums, and I’ve always found them to be a little uninspired. The problem I’ve always had with them is that they don’t seem to be able to write songs. Each ‘Song’ has 2 or 3 riffs and some vocals, but none of them feels like complete songs. What it feel like is song fragments; a verse and one chorus, then it’s over. It feels like they get a couple of riffs, ram them together (some of the parts don’t fit at all), and think that's a song, it’s pathetic. Profanatica are one of the laziest bands in metal. The production isn’t very good either. The guitars are very low in the mix, so all you can hear are Bass, Drums and vocals. So, badly produced song fragments. The other issue with this album (and Profanatica) is a very overtly Anti-semitic song title. I’m not putting down what it is, if you want to know, I’m sure you can find it. I’ve heard about Profanatica being ‘Problematic’, so was a little wary of them, but this is overt; Profanatica are clearly Fascists. So, it’s a badly written, badly produced pile of shit made by a bunch of Nazis, musically and ethically worthless, avoid at all costs! 0/10