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Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Reviews: AC/DC, Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons, King Creature, Accuser (Reviews By Paul Hutchings)

AC/DC: Power Up (Colombia Records) 

Thursday 9th July 2015. Wembley Stadium. Probably the last time that I’ll ever see AC/DC and I’m alright with that. If we ever get gigs again, the thought of a giant stadium event may not be the most enticing. But if it was the last time, it was a good way to go out. To be honest, I thought the band had fallen in on itself at the tail end of the Rock Or Bust tour. Brian Johnson departed under doctor’s orders, drummer Phil Rudd who hadn’t played on the tour faced charges of procuring murder, threatening to kill and possession of methamphetamine, Axl Rose took up the microphone and then Malcolm passed away, Cliff Williams retired and for even the most hardened fan, it was time to dust down those High Voltage and Highway To Hell albums and think wistfully about one of the most amazing rock n’ roll bands of all time. A band that rivalled Status Quo for formulaic yet addictive rhythm and blues, a band that changed line-up extraordinarily little over four decades and a band who have sold over 200 million albums worldwide. 

And then, earlier this year, as we dug out Back In Black and revelled in what was an extraordinary record which was celebrating its 40th anniversary, the rumours that had started circulating back in 2018 with photos of Johnson, Rudd, Williams, Angus and Stevie Young at a recording studio in Vancouver, British Columbia were confirmed, bizarrely by Dee Snider amongst others. And here it is. The 17th album by AC/DC. Power Up is 12 tracks, 41 minutes of well, AC/DC. But there’s more. The legacy of Malcolm looms large. All tracks on Power Up are credited to Angus and Malcolm, Angus having raided the vault to find unreleased songs, and the album serves as a tribute to their late rhythm guitarist. Purists will argue over whether Bon Scott or Johnson is the definitive vocalist. I’m a bigger fan of the Aussie, but it’s an academic debate. Johnson has been in the band for 40 years, give or take and this is his 11th album. His performance here is as solid as ever, his growling, smoky gravel-soaked delivery on tracks such as Shot In The Dark, opener Realise, and Witch’s Spell brings a kind of comfort. Johnson is back on the mic, and all is right in the AC/DC.

Opening track Realise is like greeting an old friend. Rudd’s solid thumping, the pumping bass and Stevie Young’s rhythm guitar carrying on the straightforward but oh so clever style that Malcolm patented over all those years. It’s all there and then there are the feisty, blues-soaked lead riffs that Angus has done so well. It’s a quick slap, to remind you that AC/DC are back and still rocking. If you claim that AC/DC are a one trick pony, then Power Up will not change your mind one bit. The tracks are similar in style and sound, Rejection slightly slower, allowing Angus to flick out those little licks and show that he still can cut it, Johnson’s vocals astonishingly good for a man in his 73rd year. This band are well past veteran status but to me they do what they do, and they do it damn well. One of the criticisms about Rock or Bust was that the songs were in general a little flat. That isn’t the case here. 

Single Shot In The Dark is a real fist raiser, Through The Mists Of Time retains the blues rock that is what the band have always been about, and the ZZ Top smooch of Demon Fire just purrs. Elsewhere Power Up simply does what AC/DC have always done. It provides several tracks of high quality that are perfect for listening to whatever you are doing. Sure, much of it has been done before but even the weaker tracks like Wild Reputation and No Man’s Land are delivered with such class that you find yourself nodding along with pure enjoyment. Brendan O’Brien’s production is as flawless as it was on Black Ice and Rock Or Bust. The whole album is polished, crafted and in times where old friends are but a distant hope, the reassuring thump of AC/DC may just be something to lift the spirits. It certainly did for me. 8/10

Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons: We’re The Bastards (Nuclear Blast)

It’s always amused me that whenever PCATBS get played on Planet Rock, and let’s face it, that’s a reasonable amount, the digital purveyors of blandness and keeping it safe have to squirm and pass over the word bastard. Yeah, the same station that happily broadcasts songs about domestic violence, objectifying women and hard drug abuse can’t say the word bastard. Where is Sean Bean when you need him? Anyway, I digress. We’re The Bastards is the second full-length album from Phil Campbell, his sons Dane, Todd and Tyler and the powerful pipes of Neil Starr. And it’s a bloody marvellous release, full of swagger, confidence and solid hard rock songs that demonstrate an organic progression from The Age Of Absurdity. Produced by Todd during lockdown, it’s got a huge sound to it. The playing is sublime, Phil Campbell demonstrating once more what an underrated player he is, ably supported by Todd whilst Tyler and Dane lock things down nice and tight. It’s an album crammed with memorable songs, full of hooks and groove that linger long after they have finished. 

The obvious place to start is the blood and thunder tribute to the band’s legion of fans of the title track which rips and roars. The ideal set opener, should we ever get to those sweaty beer filled gigs again, We’re The Bastards and Son Of A Gun which follows are both classic PCATBS tracks. This is an album that may strut and preen, but there isn’t an ounce of arrogance within the 53 minutes. The band move to the bluesy stomp of Desert Song, showcasing Starr’s smoky emotion filled vocals, a song ideal for taking the temperature down a notch mid-set. Flanking that the raging good time rock n’ roll of Bite Your Tongue and Keep Your Jacket On. Both typically fluid and memorable, this is the kind of music that we take for granted. It sounds easy, but that’s because this is one classy outfit, regardless of what you may think. It’s evident that Phil remains fulfilled by playing, and after Old Lions Still Roar last year, his third full release in three years proves that the fire still burns. 

With huge touring runs behind them, including stadium gigs with the likes of Guns N’ Roses in 2017, the band is now a well-oiled machine. I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived with this album for several weeks. It soaks into the memory banks and it is now as familiar as a comfy jacket. And it finishes in style with the pounding rocker of Hate Machine and the gung-ho Destroyed (another destined to become a firm fan favourite) leading into the curveball of the grunge soaked Waves which closes the album in style with some of Phil’s playing sublime. Mixed and mastered by Soren Anderson (Glenn Hughes, The Answer), there is a necessary polish for the band’s sophomore release. Underneath it all, there is still dirt under the nails, oil on the overalls. We’re The Bastards works on so many levels. It’s a classic hard rock album in the truest sense. It needs to be heard. Over and over again. It cries out for the live experience. We can but hope that one day soon these tracks will be blasting out of a huge Marshall stack. 9/10

King Creature: Set The World On Fire (Marshall Records)

2017 saw the debut release by Cornwall’s King Creature. Vol I was a solid release, good enough to make the top 20 of one of the team and came on the back of a great show at HRH. The band were however, a little flat when supporting Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons in November 2019 so it was with some interest and a little trepidation that I began this review. The first thing to note is that the band are not afraid to move things forward. They have placed their faith on an epic ballad Wisdom Told, a celebration of fathers, past and present. Does it work? It certainly carries gravitas, aided by some excellent production values. At over six minutes it is the longest track on the record by some distance, and the final couple of minutes are an extended, emotive guitar solo extravaganza which criminally fades out. 

It’s when they are at their most bombastic that I find King Creature at their best and there are a few balls out rockers to contend with here. Opener Desolation (which didn’t pull up any trees live) and Falling Down Again and the melodic yet crunchingly powerful No Getting Out Alive are amongst the better songs. The heartfelt The Storm will appeal to the classic rock fan, with it’s melodic, Stone Sour feel. There is more than a touch of Corey Taylor in the delivery of Dave Kellaway. It’s evident that King Creature have improved. Musically, they are tighter and more confident that they were on Vol I. There is, however, a distinct absence of real hooks which grab your attention and pull you in. The songs are decent enough, but do they really live long in the memory? Not hugely and that’s the biggest problem for me with Set The World On Fire. Their progress is still upwards even if a little stunted for now. It’s not a blaze but a smouldering heap. 6/10

Accuser: Accuser (Metal Blade Records)

I enjoyed Accuser’s 11th album, The Mastery when I reviewed it in 2018. The Germans are one of the supporting cast who stand behind the big four German Thrash outfits. Formed in the 1980s, the band have continued to deliver consistent thrash metal and this self-titled release is no different. Vocalist/guitarist Frank Thoms continues to deliver hard cutting aggression, his vocal delivery still echoing Max Cavalera in gruffness. Accuser are bolstered on this album by the return of lead guitarist René Schütz, appearing on his first album since 2011 whilst bassist Frank Kimpel and drummer Olli Fechner remain the powerhouse engine room of the outfit. They have a distinctive sound but vary their style throughout the album. There is little rest in the tempo, it’s a thrash album after all, but tracks such as Psychocision and Temple Of All contain contrasting delivery in both pattern and pace, with more melody in the choruses in comparison to the bludgeoning opening salvo of Misled Obedience and Phantom Graves

Lux In Tenebis switches pace and feel multiple times without losing any of the power. The melodic lead breaks shine through the ferocious wall of heavy riffs, Schütz’s slicing work one of the standout features of this album. Thoms has always followed hardcore punk in his themes, challenging political systems and calling out injustices. This is no different on Accuser, with several tracks focusing on similar topics and the inevitability that man will ultimately be reliant on himself. Temple Of All considers the contradictions of religion, and Seven Lives sees the question of regulated coexistence. Be None The Wiser, with it’s slower, softer change of tempo highlights the limitations of Thoms vocals, which are much better suited to snarling, roaring thrash. Thoms admitted that he had no voice for three weeks after the recording of the album and it’s easy to see why. 

Ultimately, Accuser’s strengths lie in the fast, heads down battery that has long been their trademark. Songs like Rethink and the piledriving Contamination are what Accuser do best. Recorded before lockdown, Accuser is a solid album with enough moods and styles to keep the listener engaged. Long-time collaborator Martin Buchwalter, who has worked on five Accuser albums, was once again the producer’s chair with mastering by Dan Swanö. If you like your Germanic thrash, then this album is certainly one to get involved with. 8/10

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