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Wednesday 5 August 2020

Reviews: Dukes Of The Orient, Dee Snider, Deathstorm, King Gorm (Paul H & Matt)

Dukes Of The Orient: Freakshow (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

Now a lot of albums are said to be 'eagerly anticipated' however in the case of Freakshow the second album from Dukes Of The Orient is very much anticipated by myself. I loved the their debut album so the chance of getting a second record was very much something I was looking forward to. For those that don't know Dukes Of Orient are the collaboration of vocalist/bassist John Payne (ex-ASIA, GPS) and keyboardist Erik Norlander (Last in Line, Lana Lane, Rocket Scientists), Norlander joined John Payne's version of Prog/Pomp/Rock band ASIA when original keyboard player Geoff Downes reformed the classic line up of the band that featured John Wetton on vocals/bass. Payne is ingrained into ASIA mythos meaning that he carried on his version of the band with Norlander.

Until the death of Wetton in 2017 made him rethink the name of his band out of respect for Wetton and to avoid further confusion with Downes shifting from the use of ASIA to Dukes Of The Orient which is a very clever in-joke for anyone who knows the connection between ASIA and Payne. Now I do love John Payne's voice, it's well weathered and soulful, in fact the one album he made with Jay Schellen (drums), Guthrie Govan (guitar) and Ryo Okumoto (keys) as GPS still ranks as one of my favourite albums ever! So what have Dukes Of The Orient come up with in the two years since their debut release well the prog pomp is flying high on opener The Duke's Return a nostalgic look at the classic Duke's of the past returning from battle, it's bouncy and features a neat sax break from newest band member Eric Tewalt in it moving into the funky blues based The Ice Is Thin which has yet more sax drawing from the sexy AOR of bands such as Foreigner.

Both of these tracks show that DOTO are expanding their sonic palette on this second album, it's more dramatic moving away from the Asia model and into the realms of Styx and even some touches of the Roger Waters oddness on the title track. It means that Payne can utilizes his excellent bass as well as show off his bass playing against the virtuoso keys/synths/organs of Norlander with Frank Klepacki (drums) and Alex Garcia (guitars) rounding out the band however the majority of the solos here are split between Norlander and Tewalt. The Monitors brings back that slick prog pomp rock that followers of Payne will recognize. This album is somehow pulls a marvellous trick of being both much more pop friendly but also proggier than their debut, bathed in the radio ready smoothness of 80's radio it's Asia but also brings some Foreigner, a heap of ELO and even touches of Kansas on The Last Time Traveller (all it needs is some violin). It does however have a much weaker second half after the synth instrumental  A classy record that even though is so deeply ingrained in the sounds of yesteryear is distinctive enough to help them stand out from the numerous bands in the crowded AOR scene. 7/10

Dee Snider: For The Love Of Metal Live (Napalm Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Does Dee Snider need any introduction? A motormouth of mammoth proportions, more opinions than Donald Trump, rightly revered in metal quarters and a showman who cut his teeth the hard way in the clubs of New York in the 70s and 80s. The glam image of Twisted Sister was all about shock tactics and it worked back in those early 1980s when getting the crowd to chant ‘SMF’ was considered a bit racy. Live, Snider has always been electric, although seeing him at HRH a few years ago was a less than enjoyable experience. His most recent solo album For the Love of Metal saw him up the ante, aided massively by the writing skills of Jamey Jasta who added a backbone of steel to Snider’s vocal prowess. 

This release is part of a wider package which features a DVD/Blu-Ray release which contains ample value for money with nearly three hours of entertainment. It’s the music that does the talking though and the live album that accompanies the DVD is what I focused on. Much of the recording comes from his triumphant 2019 Bloodstock Open Air Festival appearance, which followed two headline appearances with Twisted Sister including the finale in 2016, as well as being intertwined from other festivals across the world. And whilst there is the odd issue with the splicing, it’s exactly as you’d expect from Snider. It’s arrogant, brash and in your face from start to finish. Introduced as the ‘Legendary Dee Snider’, the set consists of a combination of solo works and a healthy dose of Sister tracks. There’s no doubting Snider can still deliver. It’s muscular and bombastic. 

What For The Love Of Metal Live also demonstrates is that Snider’s best music was written over 30 years ago because it’s the Twisted Sister tracks that shine brightest. Under The Blade retains the sinister feel it had way back in 1985, You Can’t Stop Rock N Roll remains an anthem and Burn In Hell is still a monster of a song. Whilst the recent material is way from poor, the posturing of American Made simply irritates, given the country’s status on the world stage now and Become The Storm is mediocre at best. Backed by a ferociously riff heavy band, everything is at least heavier and faster which is no bad thing.

For years Snider’s inter-song banter has been either endearing or cliched, take your pick. Multiple demands to give me a “fuck yeah” are lapped up by the crowds on this release, but yawn, could there be a change in patter from 1989? Numerous digs at other music seems a little inappropriate in current times. Live music is live music, and it’s somewhat ironic that Snider comments that “We cannot let the spirit of live entertainment die within us”. C’mon Dee. Let’s be a bit more all-embracing.
I Wanna Rock has the inevitable singalong segment, which is great if you are eight pints in and standing in a field with your mates. Sitting in your living room? Well, maybe to you it is. The cover of Highway To Hell is unnecessary and to be brutal, pub band level but at least the live recordings finish with a rip-roaring The Fire Still Burns. To complete the package, a new track is included. Sadly, Prove Me Wrong is about as routine a Snider song as you can get. There is little memorable and seconds after it had finished, I was struggling to recall what it sounded like. 

This may sound like sour grapes. It isn’t. Snider has my respect for his dedication to the world of metal. But, and it’s a big but, he’s not contemporary in the way other musicians of his era have managed to be. Maybe it’s the price he has to pay for being in a band that ruled the MTV era with their high school anthems. Dee Snider live is never less than good fun. Dee Snider live on CD? Maybe not quite so much. Maybe it’s time to seek out those old Widowmaker recordings. 6/10

Deathstorm: For Dread Shall Reign (Dying Victims Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Up until two weeks ago I’d encountered very few Austrian metal bands. Suddenly I’ve got almost a deluge as the latest thrash outfit to hit the radar arrives in the shape of Deathstorm from Graz. Formed in 2010, Deathstorm are a three-piece who play what I would consider old school thrash. With their debut full length As Death Awakes released back in 2013, Deathstorm have lasted for a decade with For Dread Shall Reign their fourth long player. The music is competent enough, retaining a rawness that one might expect on the first and second releases. It’s a surprise to have it quite so rough this far into a career, but I suspect that this is the band’s desire. Tracks such as Bloodlusted, Ripping And Tearing and Unforgotten Wounds aren’t particularly complex but thrash ferociously, with a gritty, earthy and endearing quality. 

Slowing the pace on Sulphuric Scents adds a bit of Sabbath into the mix, straying into a bit of doom territory. Bassist and vocalist Marco Stebich has a delivery which won’t be to everyone’s tastes. His strained style leaves something to be desired but it fits the type of blackened thrash that Deathstorm play. You don’t want Hansi Kursch when your riffs are dirty, rusted and downright dangerous. If you wanted me to describe Deathstorm’s music I’d throw a bit of Venom, some razor wired Exodus and a splash of Metallica. For Dread Shall Reign isn’t a bad album by any stretch and their mix of slower and full assault gives plenty of variation. If you worship at the altar of thrash, I’d encourage you to explore this album. 6/10

King Gorm: S/T (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

King Gorm come from San Diego, CA and is comprised of members of Old Man Wizard, Beekeeper, and Grim Luck. Taking their name from a historical Danish King Gorm the Old. Their music has a very old school approach unlike their day jobs it's got  massive organ swathes, huge deep lead bass riffs, explorative guitars and massive drum parts. King Gorm are influenced by Deep Purple, Rainbow, Budgie, Rush and the more modern strains of Ghost. The album is a conceptual piece about four heroes that are on a  quest to save the village of Irondale but that doesn't really matter as it's all about the bombastic rock grooves that this album brings from the opening rocker Freedom Calls, through the organ heavy beginning of Four Heroes which moves into some King Crimson-like progging, just listen to the drumming and you'll know what I mean. Francis Roberts writes the music and lyrics here while also playing the guitars influenced by Robert Fripp Steve Howe and providing the excellent vocals too. Erich Beckmann's bass as I've said is a lead bass player driving tracks such as Beyond Black Rainbow while Dylan Marks' drumming is spacious and powerful at the same time. The key to this band's sound though is the addition of Saki Chan on Hammonds, Mellotron giving those lush 70's sound. King Gorm is a great fantasy influenced hard rock record that delves into the 'classic' sounds of the past. Ideal weekend listening. 7/10 

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