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Thursday 2 July 2020

Reviews: Nick D’Virgilio, Make Them Suffer, SVÄRD, Magick Touch (Bob, Liam, Rich & Paul H)

Nick D’Virgilio: Invisible (English Electric) [Bob Shoesmith]

It’s not often I get to report on a drummer’s burgeoning and successful solo career, in fact there’s Phil Collins…and…maybe some others that aren’t readily springing to mind (Don Henley? - Ed), possibly a good pub quiz question? However, Nick D’Virgilio has now been on a solo journey that began a few years before the release of his debut solo album back in 2001. Nick is probably best known for his time in Spock’s Beard where he started as the drummer and branched out into frontman duties. But Nick is much more than “just a drummer” he has some great vocals and is a decent multi-instrumentalist as well as being no slouch behind the kit, so having that kind of locker obviously helps immeasurably.

He has also been involved with projects like Big Big Train – and fifteen years working with Tears For Fears - while still finding time to record and/or perform with many of the best in the business including the late Kevin Gilbert, Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa) and a five-year stint as drummer/singer/assistant bandleader with the Cirque Du Soleil. For this latest offering Invisible Nick D’Virgilio (who prefers the snappier ‘NDV’ on his pages) has also surrounded himself with some heavyweight hired guns with some classic idiosyncratic bass contributions from Tony Levin, as well as appearances from Mr Big’s Paul Gilbert, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and Dream Theatre’s Jordan Rudess on keyboards. There is a heavy focus on high gloss, clean cut production, with a besuited Bonamassa look in photoshoots, and some accessible shiny pop/prog I’m sure the album is set to find interest in far wider markets than Spocks Beard. .

The first thing I should say about Invisible is that it is described and categorised as Prog rock and when people hear the term progressive rock their eyes tend to glaze over with thoughts of 70’s excess and grandeur. To many progressive rock fans, this is the kind of deal they’re looking for, but Invisible is quite a long way removed from triple gatefold epics, cloaks and wizard hats. NVD has floated his style way down to the cleaner, shallower end of the Prog pool. There are swathes of strings throughout (particularly on the introductory track Prelude), a commercial jazz-funk Ronson/Bruno Mars vibe of I’m Gone. There are occasions where the his clean, well pitched vocal range – reminiscent of Nick Kershaw, are nearer to Broadway crooning in Waiting For No One, Where’s The Passion and the title track Invisible. There’s also a clever, bluesy take on Barrett Strong’s Money (That’s What I Want).

NVD does occasionally push the ‘Prog button’ with some crunchy guitars and Wakeman-like keyboards on tracks like the technically adept Turn Your Life Around Wrong Place Wrong Time and Mercy, where he also gives us a several great demos of his still impressive drumming talents. All in all, Invisible probably does sit within the Prog community more than anywhere else, as it has echoes of the slightly harder edged more recognisable prog of Spock's Beard in places and even though NVD only goes back there once or twice, this is a far more commercial affair and cross fertilizes his Prog roots with several more accessible chart minded styles which will bring in a much broader audience, as I suspect was always the plan and that does makes commercial sense. It will possibly be way too saccharine for the beard stroking purists but is a very good, accessible album with some very well crafted songwriting that has already received some gushing reviews in shiny paged coffee table magazines. 8/10

Make Them Suffer: How To Survive a Funeral (Rise Records) [Liam True]

Make Them Suffer have been a band that has been on my radar since I saw them live back in 2017. Their not exactly a new sounding band, but they somehow stood out too me due to the nature of their music. By which I mean they hit hard and take no prisoners. And How To Survive... Is no different.

Step one is a slow burner until vocalist Sean Harmanis bellows ‘Speak from your heart’ as the Metalcore band blasts into their breath-taking signature sound of sounding heavier than a blacksmith pounding away at their anvil. From then on the band take no breaks, take no prisoners and don’t even give you a second to catch your breath. Bones proves they can blend both their heavy styles and their more mellow side to perform a melody that sits just right on your taste buds and soaks in all the juicy goodness of the song. Drown With Me has the helping hand of Booka Nile with her sublime clean vocals adding amore haunted feel to the already great song. Erase Me & Soul Decay sit back to back as two sounds that sound phenomenal on their own but join together as perfect as can possibly be. On How To Survive...

The band have taken a more melodic approach to other albums, but that doesn’t cancel out their heavy side on bit. In fact it even adds to it making the album much more enjoyable to listen with the addiction of background keyboard mixed in with Nick McLernon (Guitarist), Jaya Jeffery (Bass) & Jordon Mather’s (Drums) instrumentation stand out more as there’s a few things going on to capture your attention. The entire record is a phenomenal effort from a smaller Australian band that continues to rise in the ranks. Let’s hope in the coming years they venture to the UK shores again so we can see them rip a hole in the fabric of our world. 8/10

(Editors Note - Released digitally in June, the physical release isn't until July 24th)

SVÄRD: The Rift EP (Argonauta Records) [Rich Oliver]

The Rift is the debut EP from SVÄRD featuring members of In Mourning and Ahab. Unlike the progressive death or funeral doom metal stylings of those aforementioned bands SVÄRD are rooted in traditional heavy metal especially the bands from the NWOBHM movement. I definitely heard nods to bands such as Mastodon and Baroness in the melodic yet slightly sludgy approach to their sound and there is a definite psychedelic influence to the songs. This EP is comprised of five songs including a short atmospheric intro. A Rift In The Green starts things out hard and heavy with driving riffs whilst Palaeocene Flames plays to the traditional heavy metal elements with plenty of twin guitars. The Portal which closes the EP has a very doomy vibe about whilst also an epic scale of sound. SVÄRD have a promising EP here. It sounds equally old school and contemporary in its sound and is a good sign of things to come from this new band. 7/10

Magick Touch: Heads Have Got To Rock N Roll (Edged Circle Productions) [Paul Hutchings]

I reviewed Magick Touch’s second album Blades, Chains, Whips & Fire when it was released back in January 2018 and I was impressed with it. Like many of their Scandinavian counterparts, Magick Touch are reasonably prolific and Heads Have Got To Rock N Roll is their third full-length release since their formation in 2015. Add in six singles and 2019’s live album Inside The Cage and you begin to appreciate just how hard these guys must work.

A solid three piece, the band share lead vocals between guitarist HK Rein and bassist Christer Ottesen whilst drummer Bård Nordvik adds backing vocals. Heads Have Got To Rock N Roll is neatly performed heavy metal/hard rock. I’d class them as a bit of Kiss (Love Is A Heart Disease), some Van Halen and a sprinkling of early Def Leppard. The music has a rocking edge, and the songs are perfectly decent but there is something that isn’t quite right here. Musically there is a confident swagger which comes as standard, but the passion isn’t quite there as much as it was on the previous album. Rein is however, a confident guitarist; his lead bursts are fiery whilst his playing is fluid and natural.

But it’s all a bit hard rock by numbers. Love Is A Heart Disease is weak, a showy almost glam rock track whilst the smoulder of Ready For The Quake is a slow burn, the type that Whitesnake could do so well in the mid-1980s. There’s a Black Star Riders/Thin Lizzy feel to Bad Decisions, but its another song that doesn’t exactly excite. It may be that Magick Touch have found an audience who appreciate their retro sound. Certainly, there are plenty of fans of the ever-expanding new wave of classic rock and I would wager that these guys will kick up a storm live. For me, it’s just a bit formulaic and whilst there is little actually wrong here, there is a lack of sparkle which would allow it to stand out from the herd. 5/10

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