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Thursday, 6 August 2020

Reviews: Creeper, Blue Oyster Cult, Onslaught, Ramos (Alex, Paul H, Simon & Matt)

Creeper: Sex, Death And The Infinite Void (Roadrunner Records) [Alex Swift]

On the last show of the ‘Eternity, In Your Arms’ Tour, Creeper proclaimed that they would not be playing any more concerts as a band, before proceeding to lay down their distinctive callous heart blazers. Many fans recognized the stunt as a tribute to the late, great David Bowie who performed a similar act when killing off the character of Ziggy Stardust. Just as Bowie’s decision was born partly out of the toll his persona was taking on his health, Creepers re-enactment was bound up in the struggles of their guitarist Ian Miles suffering mental-health issues and later being committed to a psychiatric ward. "There was all sorts of stuff going on. Like I thought I could kill people by blinking at them. I thought religion and the police were collecting money and handing it up to the government and MI5 to buy nuclear weapons to end the world” Miles said in an interview with the BBC. This understandably took its toll on other members of the band, especially frontman Will who amongst the stress of his friend being sectioned, and having lost a family member earlier in the year, was under pressure to write a new album.

Remember that they had garnered a cult fanbase of the back of their debut, who eagerly awaited the acts next steps. Late last year they returned, wearing white suits and smart haircuts, contrasted against the dark imagery of a red rose or a black lightning bolt, retaining their gothic imagery, in a way that elucidated the change in direction – a la, Thin White Duke. Sex, Death And The Infinite Void certainly proves a bold change in sound, the allusions to classic rock, post-punk and musical theatre, coming together in a romantic yet mysterious combination. Loosely concept bound the album follows the story of ‘The Fugitives Of Heaven’ – two lovers who escape the clutches of eternal paradise, in search of a more liberating existence. Vitally, the piece grows on you – I found myself initially taken aback by the different sonic palate, yet after repeated listens growing to appreciate the reincarnation of Creeper.

After a strangely dark intro, Be My End proves an anthem of love in a time when the worlds exploding around you. ‘Would you be my armageddon, as we fall out of heaven’ the opening lines impart, as the joyous playing and vibrant melodies serve to create a sensation of interstellar joy. For me personally, though, the album doesn't truly begin its musical arc until Born Cold – a huge, dramatic and sensual ballad, the anthem starts out on a ruminating note before firing into an emancipating chorus, where the guitars, pianos and Will Gould’s exaggerated yet emotive voice, defines the new era. Cyanide is brilliantly beguiling, the clever use of slide guitar and traditional sounding key melodies, feeling like psychedelia fused with a 1950s speakeasy-style twang. There's a relaxing and luscious feel at play, yet the dramatism is kept in play by the infused lead musings, the tone-setting presence of the rhythm section, and the deliciously accented vocals from our frontman. Emanating Queen vibes Anabelle makes immediately memorable use of riffs and huge harmonies to create powerful bombast, the refrain of ‘God can’t save us, so let's live like sinners’ ending slightly ridiculous, yet exhilarating. I remember hearing this song and feeling won over on the less goth, more glam concept which seemed to be prevailing.

Contrary to the lack of black imagery though, the record exudes darkness. Take Paradise And Poisoned Heart which sees Gould adopt a charmingly villainous persona, as he details his dissatisfaction with the archaic castles of heaven and longs for escape. The memorability is kept intact by the mesmerizing choruses, as well as the strings and synths which swirl around the perimeter of the tracks in uncanny style. Underpinning everything else though is a gothic emotionality which is more Nick Cave than Gerard Way this time around, yet keeps the concepts of allure and loss feeling real and convincing. Thorns Of Love begins on more of a doo-wop note, except in tandem with the escapist theme of the entire record, the feeling is more one of our protagonists stumbling into a forbidden bar, where their love of music and their common struggle as outsider binds them together in harmony – a feeling given life by the explosive guitar solo which brings the anthem to an enormous, earth-shattering conclusion. Four Years Ago makes us realize this tale is being told in retrospect – and brings keyboardist Hannah Greenwood to the forefront to offer a mournful perspective, on the events our lead character remises so delicately on. That concept of how we see the past, and the sentimentality we attach to our former lives is one which the entire work expounds on excellently and is especially pertinent considering the maturation these musicians have endured both lyrically and musically.

Napalm Girls is that vicious, and biting anthem I expect a lot of fans may have been expecting, except rather than being an except replica of the music on album no. 1, there’s more grit and rawness present here – in just three to four minutes the track brilliantly captures that feeling of inner turmoil and feeling like a war is being waged inside you through the violent performances and the harsh yet precise production which sets the gloss of rose-tinted romanticism to burn in a way which feels emotive and poignant. Black Moon brings that moment of sweet yet lonesome resolve, which brings more of an ambiguous ending to the story in a way that you have to in making albums about life and life. The intertwining harmonies, the encircling darkness, and the tale of a heart that is older yet no less callous. We finish on All My Friends – a song written by Will Gould for Ian Miles which tells in beautiful detail of everything the band has been through, and why they will endure into the future, as a creative, innovative, and relatable project. 8/10

Blue Öyster Cult: 45th Anniversary - Live In London (Frontiers Music) [Paul Hutchings]

One of the biggest cult bands in the world of hard rock, Blue Öyster Cult are racing towards their half century as a band. This live album, the third to be released by Frontiers in 2020 by the way, captures the energy and passion of the New York outfit in all their pomp. Recorded at the 2017 Stone Free Festival, the recording starts with their entire debut album, before the band throw in several other treats and classics. If you’ve ever seen BÖC in the flesh, then this will only confirm what those of us who have seen them already know. They are simply superb live. The line-up for this show featured Eric Bloom - Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser - Guitar, Vocals, Richie Castellano - Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals, Danny Miranda - Bass Guitar, Vocals and Jules Radino - Drums, Percussion and it is a magical recording.

Whilst the band will be forever known for (Don’t Fear) The Reaper and Godzilla, there is so much more to them. Consummate musicians, it’s somewhat ironic that BÖC have more compilation albums than studio ones. Something to do with changing labels and rights no doubt. Regardless, what’s great about this recording is that you get the whole of Blue Öyster Cult live. The debut album was released in 1972 and contains tracks that the band have featured in their setlists ever since those early days. It’s easy to see why as the songs sound as fresh on this recording as they must have back then. The scintillating guitar skills of ‘Buck Dharma’ on the extended Then Came The Last Days Of May is breathtaking, the combination of the band kicking out the jams whilst the guitar simply sings over the pounding rhythm is sheer poetry. Having seen this lot live, I can attest to the way this singes the hairs on the back of the neck such is the intensity. Stairway To The Stars features superb interplay between keys and guitar work, the tightness of the band immense. There’s little chatter between songs, as the band let the music do the talking.

Amongst a fluid and flawless performance, picking out highlights is almost impossible. Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll is majestic, Buck’s Boogie allows a bit of ego with the extended guitar workout and a total on stage jam which is as captivating through the earphones as it is in the live arena. If you needed any convincing what a superb bunch of musicians BÖC are, this should be all the evidence you need. And then you get the monsters, literally. The riff to Godzilla may just be one of my favourites of all time, whilst (Don’t Fear) The Reaper remains timeless. The closing duo of Tattoo Vampire and the funky Hot Rails To Hell close out a stellar performance from a band whose influence across the rock and metal world remains as vital today as it ever did. A thoroughly  enjoyable live release. 9/10

Onslaught: Generation Antichrist (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

Casting my mind back a couple of years ago to the day, I remember watching Onslaught early on in the day at Bloodstock. I remember rain, I remember a blinding hangover courtesy of a bottle of Ardbeg single malt whiskey and I remember a band absolutely on fire kicking the day into life. I also remember back in the day that Onslaught were a significant (but in that incarnation short-lived) influence of the British Thrash scene, so to finally get to see them all those years later was a real buzz and one of the highlights of the festival. So I was somewhat sad when I heard that vocalist Sy Keeler had moved on (again), as his voice was a huge part of their revival and the thought that they could lose momentum and once again drop off the radar seemed a damn shame. The band clearly thought so too, and listeners need not have worried as new boy Dave Garnett absolutely nails it this album.

Onslaught always had brutal tracks, but the production on those early albums was frankly piss poor, and live was their domain and the main basis for their reputation. This album perfectly captures the energy and brutality that make their live performances so captivating (such as that hungover August morning) and sounds like a new hungry band. Thrash has always been about controlled anger, and lyrically the openers Strike Fast Strike Hard and politically brutal Bow Down To The Clowns do not pull their punches. This is a band who still have something to say and that message is carried loud and clear aided by some absolutely blistering musicianship. The title track has some of the most brutally proficient drum work I have ever heard, which is somehow kept up for the nearly six minutes of running time and more than any other track on the album tips the nod to their punk roots.

Addicted To The Smell Of Death does not let up either – piling on the energy and fury, with some interesting vocal mix effects to subtly change the game on the mix side. Empires Fall showcases the machine gun sound of Nige Rockett and Wayne Dorman’s guitar work with a classic thrash guitar intro and sound that sticks through to the end and with its frankly brilliant, brutal singalong chorus – this is the song to bang your head into a bloody stump to. In the 80’s the band raised eyebrows with some of their more satanic motes, back when this was usually more overt, and this has evolved into a more mature ‘angry atheist’ approach, as Religiousuicide indicates. It’s fast, it’s tighter than a gnat’s rectum and it’s really fucking pissed off. A Perfect Day To Die, which feels like a heartfelt nod to Motörhead closes the album and although it’s been around for a few years, it feels like the right thing to do to record with this line up. The galloping baseline is pure Lemmy, the guitar riff pure Fast Eddie and a perfect toast to the band that inadvertently birthed the whole Thrash movement.

The sound on this album is absolutely spot on, with Daniel Bergstrand of Behemoth, In Flames and Meshuggah fame doing an absolutely spot on job of catching the rawness and energy, giving just enough technical edge to hear what the musicians are down without falling into the trap of making the sound to sharp and clinical. This is how every great thrash album should sound in my head. 9/10

Ramos: My Many Sides (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

My Many Sides is the debut album from guitarist Josh Ramos (Hardline, The Storm, Two Fires) and in true Frontiers Records style he has managed to assemble a star studded cast of guest singers from the melodic/hard rock genre. Amongst the line up are Eric Martin (Mr. Big), Danny Vaughn (Tyketto), Harry Hess (Harem Scarem), Tony Harnell (ex-TNT), and Tony Mills (ex-Shy, TNT), though Joe Retta (Heaven & Earth) features on the most. Ramos is a hell of a guitar player and My Many Sides is a way for him not only to showcase his guitar playing prowess but also his songwriting ability across 12 songs. Opening with the heavy rocking of Today's The Day which is reminiscent of Black Country Communion due to Joe Retta's Glenn Hughes like vocals and some sweeping orchestrations from bassist Fabrizio Grossi (Supersonic Blues Machine) that bring that epic Zeppelin sound, also in the rhythm section is Tony Morra on drums who gives the thumping beat to the bluesy Unbroken

Adding to the classic hard rock sounds are Michael T Ross (Pianos, Keyboards), Alex Alessandroni Jr (Hammond) and Eric Ragno (Keyboards), used for good on Blameless Blue where Danny Vaughn shows off those soulful pipes of his, on a track that is a little reminiscent of Audioslave. Now this album is made to show the different sides to Ramos' playing and compositions with a bit more Zep-style on Immortal which has Tony Harnell crooning at his best, I've Been Waiting is a bit more AOR styled as you'd expect from any song featuring Harry Hess, while the biggest ballad on the whole record is Forefather which features Eric Martin's smoky voice. There is also one instrumental in the shape of Ceremony where Ramos does some fireworks on an understated guitar workout. Now many of you may not of heard of Josh Ramos before this album but anyone who has featured as a part of Hardline and with ex-Journey alumni in The Storm knows their way around a song, worth checking out if you like some bluesy hard rocking. 8/10

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