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Monday 6 July 2020

Reviews: A.A Williams, Lighthammer, Voivod, Angeles (Matt & Bob)

A.A Williams: Forever Blue (Bella Union) [Matt Bladen]

Forever Blue I'm sure there are huge amount of people feeling that this could be a setting for their life during this lockdown/pandemic period, with the never-ending sense of unfinished business and, for those of us that don't think life begins or ends with Wetherspoons, no real sign of life returning to how it was due to neglect and stupidity from all angles. The general feeling is of a 'frustrated meh' about most things. A feeling that death-gospel pioneer (along with Chelsea Wolfe and Louise Lemon) captures on her latest introspective debut full length opus Forever Blue and album that has been forged off the back of Williams mesmerising debut live show at Roadburn Festival and supports/collaborations with some of the 'rock' spheres most atmospheric and musically dextrous acts such as Mono, Russian Circles and Cult Of Luna, whose Johannes Persson gives his growl to the mountain moving of Fearless and Fredrik Kihlberg duets on the yearning Glimmer.

The music on offer is not rock, or indeed metal but gorgeously emotional darkness that is both bleak and europhric at the same time, if you don't feel a lump in your throat during the glorious arrangement for Melt then you can't feel. Melt also moves William's away from the more sparse sound she has had previously, though this doom folk reappears on Dirt with her rich, deep, mournful voice hauntingly floating over just a reverbed and acoustic guitar as the deep baritone of ex-Wild Beasts bassist Tom Fleming just adds that edge and actually makes me thing that Williams collaborating with Madrugada's Sivert Høyem would be thing of beauty. William's is not just the luscious affecting voice, she is also a multi-instrumentalist playing piano, guitar and cello here while Geoff Holroyde provides the sparse use of drums/percussion and Williams; husband Thomas plays bass.

William's states that she uses her music as therapy and you can hear the emotion, worry, joy, fear all pouring out of this record. With music this emotionally charged, there has to be massive amount of care in the heart of the woman that produced it and since she cannot support this album by playing live she has endeavoured to make things just a little better with the‘Songs From Isolation’ video project, which sees her playing solo renditions of songs suggested by her fans. Of which some include Radiohead’s Creep, Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind and Nick Cave’s Into Your Arms. With these brief flutters of joy coming out of such bleakness, hearing an entire of this pessimistic optimism will help you reconcile the current events but also allow you to focus on the future that shines a little brighter every day. Forever Blue? Perhaps it seems like that now but the colours are mounting and will be bright again, meanwhile Williams' debut full length, is a perfect way of letting out that built up frustration in a constructive way. 10/10

Lighthammer: Galaxy (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Cardiff based rocker Lighthammer made an impression when I saw them last year with Lacertilia in a small pub. Their take on 90's alternative rock was infused with some desert rock/stoner and dose of punk. Imagine the jangly guitars of The Pixies with the thrust of early Foos (I'm talking first two albums) and the experimental brain of Hüsker Dü. They come apparently from Perseus arm of the Milky Way Galaxy (that's where Earth is fact fans) and they describe their sound as spreading strength, courage, hope and riffs, which is a hell of a motto to have, but it rings true as this three piece create music that is joyful and emotional. The final two tracks 4 Million Stellar Masses and Exiting The Exosphere really giving you that feel of The Pixies-like euphoria.

In fact the whole record has flow to it that moves from lift off on Entering The Atmosphere which straddles grunge and post rock, as the album then unfolds like a journey through space and time each song the next part of the story. As the drums and bass work from the rhythm section give you plenty of groove to get your head around, locking in to grungy heaviness but also giving space rock dreaminess when needed. JT's guitar meanwhile rings out with echoed clean but also gets a little dirtier on tracks such as Galaxy Rise. His vocals to carry weight too moving from a rapid punky snarl into some crooning on the slow burners. As I said there is a real sense of storyline on these tracks with the longing instrumental Esperanza setting up the for the more progressively influenced last part of the record, as some synths creep in like 90's Rush. Galaxy is a record brimming with hope and blissful melodies underpinned by cavernous riffing, a great debut full length record from these space adventurers. 8/10

Voivod: The End Of Dormancy - 7 Inch Special Release (Century Media Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Normally, reviews will feed the reader a bit of background information about the artist they are reviewing by way of illumination, but while I am aware of their existence, they are a band that has never appeared  on my playlists, but after 14 albums, more personnel ins and outs than your average cabinet office and various style changes since their 1982 inception, unlike me,  most self-respecting metal fans (and there’s 167,000 of them on Facebook) will be aware of the name, if not necessarily their entire back catalogue. By their own admission, they have been through various metamorphosis from thrashers in the 80’s through Prog-Metal to 2018’s eclectic experimental fusion of styles on their last full release, the award winning The Wake. Their own press release sums their current status perfectly, both musically and physically; “The one predictable thing about Voivod is their unpredictability”.

What we have here is a three track E.P which is a remix of the opening 8 minutes from their last album, The Wake; with The End Of Dormancy (Studio Version), The End Of Dormancy – (Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival) and The Unknown Knows –  also Live at The Montreux Jazz Festival. Like me, I can hear you ask, what on earth are proto 80’s thrashers doing at the Montreux Jazz Festival of all places, but when you hear these latest tracks it kind of makes a lot of sense. They have moved SO far into a fusion of styles and experimentation since those days you might struggle to recognise them if you haven’t kept up. It’s a bitch to describe where they are now, but I can tell you that both the studio and live version of The End Of Dormancy have large slabs of a brass section blowing a riff at the start that gives the track a kind of Roman fanfare feel. The track breaks at various points, interchanging between some more recognisable, lumbering metal guitar (echoing the aforementioned riff) and some alt rock vocals.

The brass section stays with it throughout and, despite an initial ‘wtf is this’ moment or two, it actually does gel well together. It breaks down again about 4 minutes in to a Holst’s Planet Suite style march (Darth Vader’s theme for Millennial types) and then again off into a 15/4 time signature jaunt, and a doomy spoken section. (you see, I told you it was difficult to describe). This track mixes up elements of classical composition, experimental jazz, avant-guard prog metal, and yet still, in small parts, you can still detect their 80’s metal roots. The live versions are, for obvious reasons, slightly less experimental, although the brass section are still there, and the third track,
The Unknown Knows, is a more straight ahead thrash/prog crossover.

I was uninitiated in the ways of Voivod prior to this review and it’s safe to say that their latest style and mash up of ideas is probably an acquired taste, as it incorporates a whole raft of previously untested elements which can catch you off your guard. After repeated listens I am left with a feeling of admiration for their bravery of experimentation within their form. It’s often said that it’s a very thin, creative line between genius and madness. Voivod walk this line without a care and show that metal can be so much more than just blast beats and shredding. Left-field but infectious. 8/10

Angeles: Hell On High Heels (Dark Star Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Originally formed as far back as 1977 by original member Dale Lytle in (unsurprisingly) Los Angeles they released their debut album in 1984. They are and were a classic LA ‘strip’ band and in their time have rubbed shoulders with all the faces of the 80’s, even playing alongside Motley Crue in their early days. According to their history they have also ‘shared a stage’ with Quiet Riot, Ratt, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, and Ronnie James Dio, Jefferson Starship, Great White, The Tubes, Foghat, Y&T, Michael Schenker, Dokken and more. So, basically if you played in LA in the 80’s there’s a fair chance Angeles could have opened for you. Since then they have been on a journey of epic Spinal Tap proportions, twelve albums later with no less than 24 ex members, including 10 vocalists, 6 bass players and 5 drummers! Even founder member Lytle was out of the band at one time. The latest in a long line of vocalists, Louis Collins, was only recruited this year and, judging by the promo photos is possibly the grandson of one of the band. The promo photos show that the main cast of the band have a LOT of mileage on their clock, but they’re an LA metal band so there’s still shaggy hair – check (albeit with a little coloring assistance), headbands – check, shades – check, leather pants – check, the leggy blond in lingerie & stilettos with a muscle car on the front cover – check, bus passes – probably.

It’s fair to say I am a sucker for a hair metal band, they are totally of my time and my CD collection is awash with lacquered poodle perms and stick twirling drummers but I do have to recognise that this shtick is forty years old now and, while I still love it, it’s only really killing it on the nostalgia circuits. Angeles say they’re a platinum selling band yet this is my first encounter of them so, what of Hell On High Heels? Is there still life in the old dogs, does the format still hold up? Truth be told, like its members, LA hair metal is starting to show its age and if you’re not a fan of the era & style, your cliché-o-meter will jam firmly in the red with these guys. I AM a fan of the era and I’m struggling with them. Angeles obviously nailed their chops in the 80’s but unfortunately it seems, they never it. The title track, Hell On High Heels is point in question, a pedestrian riff-fest that takes ages to get going and never really sticks in the memory other than the unnecessary, of-its-time cowbell and the pinch-harmonic’d guitar solo that grates like nails down a chalkboard (and like several other awkward screechy solo’s which do similar throughout) and, why oh why are guys of this vintage still turning out songs about partying with the band drinking with the boys and long-legged blonds like they’re still at The Whiskey in 1985 with not a hint of irony.

Latest vocalist Louis Collins has a decent voice and I can see why they’d bring him in, his sound sits perfectly between Vince Neil and close to Jon Bon Jovi which works perfectly for their purposes like in the Wanted Dead Or Alive-a-like Heal The Wounds and the decently performed Run, his contribution is probably one of the few highlights of the album. Rolling Thunder riffs around cars on the LA strip and by the end of the album you can see why Angeles were always the bridesmaids and never the brides back in the day, it ticks all the boxes sure, but it is all very obvious and very dated. If Crue’s Girls, Girls, Girls is the sort of track that floats your boat, you will probably enjoy songs like Start Living and the oddly named, standout track, the hooky rocker Holly Fenton where Collins does his best Vince Neil impression and they get somewhere near to a smile from me. I can understand and still enjoy bands on the nostalgia circuit doing their original thing for their fans of the day but Angeles, well into their dotage, are still trying to be those headliners and still recycling the same old formula. 6/10

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