Find us on Facebook!

To keep updated like our page at:

Or on Twitter:

Or E-mail us at:

Thursday 25 February 2021

Reviews: Holy Monitor, Neptune Is Dead, Christoffear, Kostas Sampanis (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Holy Monitor - Southern Lights (Blackspin/Primitive Music)

Psych rock is one of those genres you either don't understand or you let it creep into your listening habits until it becomes a much loved part of it. I'm very much in the latter camp, having been exposed to the psych/prog/space rock sound since I was a kid (both my parents are children of the 60's/70's). I love bands like Hawkwind, Tangerine Dream, Soft Machine and Pink Floyd, which in tern has led to my love of Church Of The Cosmic Skull, Purson etc. So when the third album from Athenian psych rockers Holy Monitor dropped into my reviews pile I put on my kaftan and coke bottle glasses before letting the needle drop so to speak. 

What I was greeted with when I started the album was a atmospheric melting pot of skyward facing space rock, ambient krautrock and proggy time signatures which makes Psych rock so entertaining to me. you can hear that this record was recorded 'live in the studio' as song such as River sound like jams where the massive organs of Vangelis Mitsis are under hooked by Alex Bolpasis' throbbing basslines, before when shift into more cinematic scope the wide open drum patterns of Dimitris Doumouliakas and return to that mesmeric, groovy opening again. 

There's a balance between the heaviness and melody on Southern Lights with some bluesy touches coming on Naked In The Rain as the phased guitars of Stefanos Mitsis and George Nikas really adding a jam-band influence of The Grateful Dead. This also comes from the echoed vocals of Stefanos who brings the sound of Garcia to the Hellenic nation. As this 39 minute record progresses we are taken into hazy jazz with Blue Whale, the choppy title track has yet more bubbling keys and a shamanistic drive, The Sky Is Falling is a big freak out of a track full of keening guitar playing and thumping bass that transitions into a fuzzy final part. Hourglass is like a lost offcut from Meddle transitioning into the final two piece of the bright and breezy Ocean Trail and the trippy but reflective Under The Sea (which isn't the Little Mermaid song). Southern Lights is a brilliant psych rock record from Holy Monitor, plug in, turn up and tune out! 9/10  

Neptune Is Dead - Chronos (Self Released)

Difficult to find online as there is an album by Altar Of Plagues called Neptune Is Dead, this band have a bit more in common with their namesake as they come from Greece. In fact they come from Thessaloniki, a city that is essentially seafront, so even more linked to Neptune. Chronos (the father of Neptune) is their debut album and it packs a groove-laden heavy rock punch. Steeped in the Hellenic stoner rock traditions of bands like Nightstalker, 1000mods and Planet Of Zeus where the fuzzy riffs are the order of the day, six stringing brothers George and Thanos Ouzounoudis bring those titanic riffs with some gusto letting Handler For The Mob breakdown as Narcissus In Vain has a much punkier edge the weight of Manos Tzinieris bass and Konstantinos Alex Noulas' drumming locking it in as the definite first single as it has a little bit of Mastodon and a little bit of Clutch to it. 

On top of these waves of stoner heaviness are the raw vocals of Frank Lampadaropoulos who really adds guts to the record. I said about the stoner influence but there's also so psych passages, the occasional slide into doom and chugging biker metal as witnessed on the Worship What We Fear. Final track The Sky is a tribute to a fallen friend of the band who died at 26, it also happens to be the most progressive emotional track on the album. Chronos is a big heavy hitting record from these Greek rockers, play loud for the full experience. 7/10  

Christoffear - We All Have Daemons (Self Released)

Hailing from Argos in Greece, Christoffear are a band that draw heavily from the 90's Gothenburg scene founded by In Flames, Dark Tranquility and At The Gates. Yep it's melodeath, blasting double kicks, thrashy guitars, deathy shouted vocals and some additional keys as well. All the music here (guitar/bass/keys/production) comes from guitarist and bandleader Christopher Boufas, with drum programming coming from bassist Stathis Karoutis. Despite this they are a full fledged live act with drummer Vaggelis Argirakis and vocalist Rafael Bavelas rounding out the band, Bavelas giving this album it's aggressive vocals style as he screams, shouts and croaks through tracks like A Deal In Dark where the heaviness is counterpointed by more melodic guitar playing. 

There is a huge Gothenburg influence and if you listen to Death Toll it's glaringly obvious however there is also a little bit of Hellenic black metal that creeps in on Hang Loose. Now I'm not really the biggest melodeath fan on the planet but this record did get my head nodding along to it as the melodic/death styles are balanced throughout appealing to hardened death fans and those that like clean guitars and solos. 7/10 

Kostas Sampanis - Autumne EP (Self Released)

Kostas Sampanis is a graduate of the department of music in Athens. He is also a self confessed prog lover with Opeth and Porcupine Tree being two of his favourites. With this in mind it was time to press play on his EP and funnily enough there is a lot of Opeth/Porcupine Tree styled music on this EP. Totally instrumental it's a record full of emotional guitar playing where we are slowly lulled into the record with the fluid Remembering You before the compositional nature of this record explodes on the multifaceted A Heartbeat Away where the Floydian influences creep in along with some AOR brightness. It's followed by the wonderfully upbeat Birth where the virtuoso playing doesn't overshadow the melodies of the song. In fact throughout the emotive stirring melodies take centre stage over Samparis' obvious technicality. He's joined by George Pouliasis (drums), Ilias Karkavelias (bass),  Stelios Fragkous (piano) along with strings programmed by Dimitris Radis five excellent compositions by a very talented player, Autumne is best enjoyed late at night in front of the fire. 6/10

Reviews: Anneke Van Giersbergen, Mos Generator, Culted, Iotunn (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Paul Hutchings)

Anneke Van Giersbergen - The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest (InsideOut Music) [Matt Bladen]

Anneke Van Giersbergen's latest album The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest is not only her 23rd career record, it is also her most personal. Known to a many from her time in The Gathering, her collaborations with Arjen Lucassen, Devin Townsend, Danny Cavanagh and many others, her solo records are very eclectic with this one is her most surprising to date for most of her fans. The album was born out of adversity, after releasing her return to heavy metal on VUUR, Giersbergen struggled financially with recording the album and putting the band on tour. 

This was coupled with stresses in her long happy marriage, meaning that the VUUR project was shelved and Anneke started to write to cope with these personal challenges, retiring to a small house by herself with an acoustic guitar to work through these issues in the most personal album of her entire career. Musically The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest is a meditation on finding meaning and comfort in adversity, shifting between beautiful pared back folksy tracks (The End and Losing You), softly orchestrated numbers such as Agape that are bolstered by producer Gijs Coolen and emotionally powerful songs like first single My Promise which has a Eastern influence. 

For me I Saw A Car is one of the songs on this album that really speaks volumes about Anneke's mindset when recording it, it sounds jaunty with the stomp clap beat, nifty guitar playing and Anneke's brilliantly expressive voice singing counterpointed lyrics about being perfect in your imperfection. The album balances between tragedy and hope finding the latter in the former. As I Love You Like I Love You closes the album with a flood of optimism of a life back on track. A wonderful album from one of the most distinct and fantastic voices in the rock/metal. 9/10   

Mos Generator - The Lantern (Argonauta Records) [Matt Bladen]

Mastermind Tony Reed has been leading the musical explorers Mos Generator since 2000 releasing 9 full length albums in that time. The band have been very active both on record and on the touring front becoming one of the most recognisable acts in the post-Millennial stoner/doom/psych scene. So to their latest disc The Lantern which is remixed, re-released, re-named version of a 2007, 7 incher called Tales From The Vault. The songs here have been re-mixed as I said, but they have also been reordered and the EP has also a new title and cover, the re-release comes because Tales From The Vault is long out of print. Reed believes that The Lantern is so different soundwise to the original that it can be seen almost as a new album in its entirety. 

Originally recorded in a few days there's a rawness to the record that doesn't usually happen on the often multi-layered Mos Generator releases. So with The Lantern they have upped the sonic delivery of the record the title track taking things in the direction of Sabbath, while Nightwolf is a funky blues number the drums and bass locking into a solid groove for some great guitar fireworks over the top. The Lantern is Mos Generator in its rawest form six tracks of bluesy, doom hard rock, ready for re-discovery. 7/10   

Culted - Nous (Season Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

Complex, dark, and disturbing, the third full-length by industrial blackened doom collective Culted is not for those who like simple music. Nous is a departure from the norm and the listener needs to invest heavily to immerse into the concept. Michael Klassen and Matthew Friesen were first approached by Daniel Jansson to collaborate in 2008, with fellow Canadian Kevin Stevenson joining soon after. Their first LP, Below The Thunders Of The Upper Deep arrived in 2009. 

Organically formed. Culted allowed the music on Nous to emerge, locking away the interference of the outside, and experimenting with their already complicated compositions. Forays into the industrial, doom and black metal worlds produced a dissonant soundscape which scrapes and crawls, delving and diving deep into the darkest recesses of the mind. Nous explores religious and conspiratorial mind control, from the first biblical scriptures to the present day. The theory that powerful forces withhold secret information. It’s a journey of exhausting levels. Several of the songs on Nous are sonically unsettling, the structures abstract. Crown Of Lies for example, flicks from a cacophony of industrial sound to gentle passage to gargantuan, doom-laden, riff heavy glacial paced chords in the space of six minutes. Its pulverising power suffocating. 

Harrowing and devastating in their power, the tracks contained on Nous rarely fit into any stereotypical box. Huge riffs dominate at times, but without smothering. Opener Lowest Class only hints at the sheer size of this album. Daniel Jansson’s unearthly vocals echoing over a slow, pulse driven movement that searches deep. Black Bird unsettles with its unconventional time signatures and eerie, haunting effects. Opiate The Hounds is genuinely terrifying. Ankle Deep could shatter bone. The songs on Nous vary from over seven minutes in length to shorter four-minute tracks. Such is their impact, it’s hard to distinguish which are which. The sheer weight of each composition combined with the intense noise that erupts melds the album into one journey. 

With such an extreme departure from the more routine music we review, Nous has been an enormously difficult album to explore. At times, it overwhelmed with the sheer sonic impact. The walls of noise linger and damage. It’s not an album that I’d choose to listen to, but the sheer intensity was at times compelling. It needs time and investment to absorb. I may have been lighter in my approach then this release deserves. My recommendation would be to seek it out and experience Nous for yourself. Maybe then, you’ll see the conundrum I faced. 8/10

Iotunn - Access All Worlds (Metal Blade Records) [Paul Hutchings]

With their name meaning ‘Giant’, you’d want something huge from this five-piece from Copenhagen. The good news is that this debut album lives up to the band’s name. 

Badged as space rock, progressive power metal and various other genres, it’s refreshing to find it hard to genuinely slap a one-size fits all label on Iotunn. Formed in 2015 by guitarist Jens Nicolai Gräs and slowly perfected through a patient search for the right band members, it took until 2019 to get the pieces of the puzzle in place. An EP, The Wizard Falls, released in 2016 and mixed by no less than Flemming Rasmussen (Metallica, Morbid Angel, Blind Guardian, Rainbow) demonstrated the desire and talent on offer. With Jen’s brother Jesper and drummer Bjørn Wind Andersen firmly embedded in the band, it was the arrival of vocalist Jón Aldará and bassist Eskil Rask which completed the line-up and the move to the next step of the band’s progression.  

Access All Worlds is a big album. Seven songs which take a cosmic and contemplative journey which follows space travellers on a daring voyage. The compositions are long, intricate and reflect on human existence. The title track, for example, motors along for over 11 minutes. It ebbs and flows, Aldará using an impressive range which varies from soaring power metal vocals to guttural death metal styles to chart the story. The musicianship it tight, the rhythm section locked in whilst the fluid and organic style of the Gräs brothers is allowed ample time to breath and expand. 

Throwing in a battering reminder that Iotunn are able to stand tall alongside the big boys, Laihem’s Golden Pits sees the band thrashing at ludicrously fast tempo, whilst Aldará roars and soars in epic style. This is a primal melodic thrash/death metal approach which is both savage and welcome. It works as a clear contrast to the longer, more diverse tracks on the album, such as the ten-minute workout of Waves Below which adopts a more progressive metal feel and allows another opportunity for the creation of some fantastic sonic soundscapes. The music transports you far into space, which is no doubt the intention. But it’s no light proggy wander; it remains blisteringly heavy yet drenched with melody.

The creativity is unlimited, the passion endless and the tracks lengthy, yet always compelling. At times mysterious, the journey can be interpreted in many ways, although the band explain the idea as “based on space travellers trying to find answers to the apocalypse which reflects many of the impressions, feelings and thoughts human life holds that originates from something vast, mysterious, chaotic and breathtakingly spectacular”. Access All Worlds necessitates a deep dive. It’s over an hour in length, with the closing track Safe Across The Endless Night just shy of the 14-minute mark and something of an epic. It flows seamlessly from song to song, the cohesive progressive style rich and welcoming and is an album that is well worth investing a couple of hours to listen to. 8/10

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Reviews: Moonspell, Paranorm, Sunnata, Spelljammer (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Paul Scoble)

Moonspell – Hermitage (Napalm Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Do you have a band that you really enjoy every time you hear them, yet have never really engaged with in anywhere the depth that they deserved? Well, Portuguese gothic pioneers Moonspell are that band for me. I’ve dipped in and out of their career for several years, with 2012’s Alpha Noir, Omega White one of the albums I’m most acquainted with. Their most recent releases, 2015’s Extinct and 2017’s 1755 were both brilliant releases, and you can find my reviews of them both in these pages.

Now approaching their 30th anniversary, the band’s ambition and creativity is stronger than ever. Hermitage is simply stunning from the opening strains of The Greater Good to the closing bars of outro City Quitter. Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Jaime Gomez Arellano ((Paradise Lost, Primordial, Ghost, Sólstafir), the darkness, sensitivity and epic style remains pivotal to their music. Beautifully crafted, thoughtfully developed and superbly constructed, there isn’t a note here that is out of place. It’s a soaring, uplifting, deep and emotionally sonic soundscape that captivates, all the while retaining those metal roots which run deep within this sensational band.

Embarking on a journey through the darkest days of human existence, The Greater Good begins Hermitage with a slow build, then driven by Aires Pereira’s thunderous bass line and Fernando Ribeiro’s haunting vocals. The scintillating skill of guitarist trusty lieutenant Ricardo Amorim is woven through the song whilst newly installed drummer Hugo Ribeiro does a fabulous job of replacing Miguel Gasper, the band’s drummer since their formation in 1992. The Greater Good provides elements of everything that is good about Moonspell, from the gothic overtures to the fierce thrashier elements.

Whilst there has always been a rich seam of Pedro Paixão’s ever present keyboards that add to the more spiritual elements of the band, the riffs are never far away and on tracks such as Common Prayer and The Hermit Saints there is ample opportunity for those underused neck muscles to get to work. The darker. Introspective feel is integral to the band’s sound and it remains up front and centre on the the soaring All Or Nothing. The Floydian strains of the penultimate track Without Rule is the crowning glory, a seven-minute plus song, it’s progressive style veers sharply away from the band’s darker sound yet remains essentially Moonspell, the veils of blackness that linger adding to the eerie, echoing feel.

Hermitage is an album that demands repeated listens. It is instant yet holds so much more that repeated plays are essential. Even after a dozen or so listens, the melodies, intricate song construction and the overall musicianship make this an album that already looks to be one that will feature in the end of year lists. If not, then 2021 will be hell of a year. After years of skirmishing with their catalogue, it’s time to fully immerse myself. 10/10

Paranorm - Empyrean (Redefining Darkness Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Although formed in 2007, it’s only now that Swedish Formed in 2007, Paranorm is a progressive thrash/black/death metal band Paranorm are ready to unleash their debut album. The four-piece based in Uppsala, Sweden have slowly crafted their music and previously released two EPs. The first, 2011’s Pandemonium's Rise and the follow up, The Edge Of Existence in 2014. A change of line-up in 2018 saw the band recruit drummer Samuel Karlstrand of Wretched Fate who joined vocalist/guitarist Markus Hiltunen, guitarist Fredrik Kjellgren and bassist Marcus Blom. Empyrean is a well-balanced and crafted record that starts with the high tempo Critical Mass. A shredding delight, the immediate impressions are of a highly technical and competent outfit who play at frenetic pace. Hiltunen’s vocals are the one area which I struggled with, the one-dimensional gravel-soaked croak failing to lift the songs to the level that the intricate playing deserves. Some clean harmonies would add to the band’s sound. Apart from that criticism, there is ample to enjoy and explore in Empyrean. 

Varying the length of songs woks well, with the opening tracks laying the foundation for the impressive nine-minute Edge Of The Horizon. A detailed, expansive track, it rampages in an almost power metal style, segmented with slower, retrospective passages that provide welcome pauses to catch breath. The tempo rarely slows for longer than a few seconds, and at times the pace is so relentless that you wonder how it can be maintained. A combination of Carcass, Wintersun and Allegaeon are all in the mix on Intelligence Explosion, the choppy guitar work accentuated by blisteringly fluid solos.  There’s even a bit of Iron Maiden type gallop included. The title track is central to many albums, and Empyrean is no different. Standing proud at just shy of nine minutes, Empyrean is a towering piece, accelerating early before levelling into a more reserved tempo, pausing for a measured, gentle mid-section which provides an opportunity for the band to demonstrate their calmer, semi-acoustic side and then returning to the frantic explosive delivery. 

Ambitious, technically impressive, this is an album that should appeal to a wide range of metal fans. The passages of play are at times superb, and apart from the vocals it’s only the slightly repetitive style of the song construction that jars ever so slightly. A decent in-house production and a fine piece of artwork by David Östby all add to the package. 8/10

Sunnata - Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth (Self Released) [Paul Scoble]

Based in Warsaw, Poland, Sunnata have been making music together since 2013. In that time the band have been fairly prolific, Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth is the band's fourth album, it follows; Outlands in 2018, Zorya in 2016 and Climbing The Colossus in 2014. The band is made up of Michal Dobrzanski on Bass Guitar, Robert Ruszczyk on Drums and Percussion, Adrian Gadomski on Guitar and Vocals and Szymon Ewertowski on Guitar and Vocals. The band describe their sound as ‘Shamanic Doom’ which is a pretty good way to characterise, this mix of Doom, Psychedelia and Grunge. A lot of the material has a hypnotic and meditative feeling to it, which fits nicely into a style that is described as Shamanic. 

This feeling is best demonstrated in the track God Emperor Of Dune, which has a nice psychedelic opening that slowly builds into into a big relaxed riff that feels hypnotic, this again builds to huge proportions before returning to the more minimal feel the track has at the beginning, the song has a drifting and meditative sense throughout the track. Apart from the hypnotic and ‘Shamanic’ elements the album also has a certain amount of Gothic to it. The song A Million Lives shows this beautifully. The track starts with a big stoner style riff before kicking up the tempo into some driving Gothic rock, that is fairly reminiscent of the Sisters Of Mercy. The track has a softer more measured section before going back into uptempo Gothic rock til the end of the song. Although most of the album has a hypnotic and psychedelic feel to it, there are a lot of strait heavy as anything moments on the album, probably the most aggressive and dark songs is the track Black Serpent

The song opens in a measured and minimal way with some nice vocal harmonies, just as you are relaxing into these lovely vocals the track takes a turn towards a much darker and heavier sound that is nicely aggressive with nasty harsh vocals. The track vacillates between the minimal and harmonious and the dark and aggressive a few times before the minimal feeling sound drifts the song to an end. I mentioned that there are some Grunge elements on this album as well. For most of the album the Grunge influences are very subtle, however on the song Völva (The Seeress) has a section that has a huge Grunge riff that could be strait off a nineties Alice in Chains album. Burning In Heaven, Melting On Earth is a great album. 

It takes lots of different sounds and moulds them together into a whole that is Meditative, hypnotic, heavy, driving and as a whole deeply affecting. The riffs and melodies get into your head, and after only a few listens you will be loving it. A very impressive piece of work that is as innovative as it is hypnotic. 8/10

Spelljammer - Abyssal Trip (RidingEasy Records) [Paul Scoble]

If you do a Google search for ‘Spelljammer’ you’ll find lots of links about Dungeons And Dragons, as Spelljammer is an advanced level in that game, if you Google ‘Spelljammer Band’ you find this group of Swedes. Spelljammer the band have been making huge noises since 2007 when Guitarist Robert Sörling met guitarist and vocalist Niklas Olsson at a Fu Manchu gig. In the 14 years the band have been together they have released 2 Eps in 2010’s Inches From The Sun and 2012’s Vol. II, and one album in 2015’s Ancient Of Days, making Abyssal Trip their second album. On Abyssal Trip Niklas and Robert are joined by Jonatan Rimsbo on Drums.

Spelljammer’s earlier material was very Stoner in style, on this release the music is a mix of Stoner Metal and a much huger style of Doom, maybe think Sleep jamming with Electric Wizard. In fact the opening of the album, the track Bellwether starts in a very similar way to Dopesmoker by Sleep; huge slow riffs that slowly build into a slow devastating groove. Second track Lake is a much faster track for the first half, with a pounding riff that feels relentless. The second half of the song is a much more minimal and brooding affair, with a nice side order of menace. Among The Holy is slow, huge and aggressive for a while before building to a nasty head nodding groove, the song slowly disintegrates and fades.

The title track starts with a fantastically occult sample before going into some very slow and heavy doom, that feels nasty and portentous. There is some nice guitar work that feels bluesy in a way that I thought was reminiscent of Green Lung. As the song progresses the hugeness and heaviness feel like they slowly morph into a very nasty groove. The song has a soft and brooding section in the middle, letting the audience catch their breath a little before the huge and heavy return. Just before the end the soft and brooding feel comes back to take the song to its end. Peregrine is a short, clean instrumental that leads us into final track Silent Rift. Silent Rift opens with feedback before a simply massive riff comes crashing in. The track has a hypnotic sense to it, the mid-paced riffs feel meditative and allow the listener to drift off on whatever currents the music takes them on. The track has a very expressive guitar solo, and is a cracking song to end the album.

Abyssal Trip is a fantastic piece of stoner infused Doom. It’s massive in the way galaxies are massive, slow monolithic riffs that batter the listener, but always seem to grow into huge, highly enjoyable grooves. The album as a whole ebbs and flows in a very pleasing way, and the overall pacing is superb. If you like to be battered in a simply enormous way, then this is highly recommended. 8/10

Tuesday 23 February 2021

Reviews: Abiotic, Heave Blood And Die, Dawnbringer, Serenity In Murder (Reviews By Liam True, Paul Scoble & Matt Bladen)

Abiotic - Ikigai (The Artisan Era) [Liam True]

There’s a small number of Japanese and Japanese influenced Technical/Progressive/Melodic Death Metal bands or albums out there, but now we can add Abiotic’ third full length, Ikigai, to the list. A band renowned for mixing brutality with intricacy and technical brilliance, they make sure to establish the theme of the album from the first notes of the instrumental Natsukashii, in which the Eastern melodies and traditional instruments pay homage to the Japanese culture Abiotic are drawing from. Much of this influence is most visible during the softer or clean parts, such as the brooding keyboards on the title track. There are hints of melody in the riffs as well, but not of a particular Eastern character, just of a Death Metal one. Abiotic still loves their brutal slamming riffs punctuated by ripping blast beats, as heard on Covered The Cold Earth. The mix of sheer brutality and melodic moments is more or less evenly balanced, however, with multiple lead breaks and the odd jumpy Technical Death Metal riff here and there.

My personal favourite tracks on the album are those where the band skews heavily towards the technical rather than the brutal side of Death Metal, like Smoldered. There are so many floating, snaking, and leaping riffs that throw curveballs at the listener and fade back into the fabric of the song. Of course there are still blast beats and deep, cavernous vocals, but the jagged beauty of these riffs set against this backdrop defines perfect Death Metal for me. This kind of riffing always feels more exciting than constant chugging, as in the frenetic tapped arpeggios on The Wrath. It’s one of those rare times when a riff or a moment makes you stop and rewind to make sure you heard that right. Another great example is Souvenir Of Skin, even though it starts harsh and pummelling, that ferocity is soon channelled into acrobatic, melodic riffs cobbled together into a maelstrom of musical excellence. The lead and the sweep picking section are particularly good examples of this.

Abiotic goes hard when they need to, bringing stomping, overwhelming force to bear on tracks like If I Do Die, which apart from the slight keyboard interlude, rests on a foundation of marching, machine-gun blast beats from beginning to end. Her Opus Mangled is also a battering ram heralded by thunderous drumming and howling, demented vocals. And like I said earlier, the band’s Japanese concept shines through predominantly during the clean sections; the only hint of something Eastern on Her Opus Mangled came during the soft interlude. The riffs, the drumming, and the lead work are all Death Metal in the absolute. That is not a bad thing since it is unquestionably well-written Death Metal, but I am curious to hear a band weave Japanese melody into aggressive metal riffing, the way Ensiferum or Suidakra do for their respective cultures.

I think Abiotic has made a great album regardless of how influenced by Japanese music it is or is not. They have always been able to write good riffs and be as brutal as brutal gets, but on Ikigai they also show off a talent for songwriting that is dynamic and captivating. For example, the fade out into the clean section of Horadric Cube and then the gradual layering of elements on top of the melody shows that the band understands pacing and how to build up to a moment. Grief Eater, Tear Drinker is a more traditional Technical Death Metal song, as much of an oxymoron as that may be, and assails listeners with catchy riffs and frenzied movement, which somehow manages to make sense. Songs like Covered The Cold Earth demonstrate carefully honed judgement over when to unleash hell and when to balance out the mayhem with dizzying riffs.

This is a good album and certainly worth listening to if you are a fan of any of Abiotic’s earlier work. This also may be a good listen for those not fond of the band as well, since it is certainly more experimental than what they have released in the past. 8/10

Heave Blood And Die - Post People (Fysisk Format) [Paul Scoble]

Norwegian 6 piece Heave Blood And Die have been on quite a journey in the years since they formed in 2014. The bands first, self titled album was very sludgy Doom, huge riffs with angry, aggressive vocals. Their second album; Vol.2 was still filled with huge riffs, but the style was closer to Post Rock than Sludge or Doom, and the vocals; although harsh, were less aggressive and nasty than on their debut album. So, as Heave Blood And Die are clearly a band that is evolving fast, where have the band, made up of Karl Løftingsmo Pedersen on Guitar and Vocals, Jonas Kuivalainen on Guitar, Benjamin Nerheim on Guitar, Eivind André Imingen on Bass, Marie Sofie Mikkelsen on Synths and Vocals and Kenneth Mortensen on Drums, got to in the 3 years since their second album? Well, quite a long way from their Post Rock sound and even further from their huge Sludgy Doom sound. On this release the guitars seem to have taken a back seat, they are still there, but in a much more supporting clean way, and the synths have come to the fore.

The album opens with Radio Silence, probably the most Post Rock sounding track on the album. There are lots of layers of guitar and keyboards, with gang vocals, although there is a softness to the vocals that works well. There is a slight feeling of polyrhythms and a very pleasing big central melody. Second track Kawanishi Aeroplane has a soft opening with some very nice clean vocals, the track feels like a poppy ballad and has a very big melodic chorus. Metropolitan Jam is probably the most interesting song on the album. It feels like this track comes mainly from elements of the early eighties. The song has a New Wave feel as well as a driving electro pop sense to it, and a pulsing bass that is reminiscent of Killing Joke. The vocals are echoey and a little bit gothic, and as a whole the song feels like an early dance track. True Believer is a huge slab of driving electro pop with a huge synth riff. Everything Is Now is slow and brooding with chanted vocals, a kind of dark ballad that feels hypnotic and despondent. Continental Drifting is mid-paced electro pop with an unrelenting driving rhythm. The song has a very strong melody and feels as if it gets bigger and bigger till the end of the song.

Geometrical Shapes takes us back to the more dark and brooding parts of Heave Blood And Die’s sound. It’s minimal in construction, but with clear melodies. The song gets bigger and less minimal as it gets near to its end, which is nasty and feels like Industrial Doom. The album comes to an end with the title track Post People. Post People is a very bouncy, happy piece of electronic pop which is a little reminiscent of some of Devin Townsend’s happy poppy material. The song has a dreamy ethereal feel, and is uptempo, but gentle and is a very blissed out way to end the album.

Heave Blood And Die have definitely moved away from the sound on their debut album. The band is far closer to pop music now, with the synths coming to the fore and the guitars taking more of a back seat. I also think it is interesting that a band that have a definite anti-capitalist and anti-hierarchical lyrical stance, have slowly morphed into a style that is much closer to the big business of Pop Music. The band is clearly subverting this style, and that makes this a very interesting album. Ok, it’s closer to pop music than what I usually listen to, but it’s full of big, strong tunes and great melodies, and is an album I’ve enjoyed listening to. 7/10

Dawnbringer – Betrayed EP (Self Released) [Liam True]

Being heavy for the sake of being heavy is a common occurrence in Deathcore to stand out from the crowd and bring the heaviest breakdowns to the table. This is not the case for Dawnbringer. With their blend of Deathcore & Hardcore they make a superb and different sound from two twisted genre’s.

Betrayed is exactly this. The result of hard work undertaken also, and above all, under the yoke of the limitations that the pandemic has brought with it. Live shows being cancelled, the impossibility of seeing each other consistently or in any case with the tranquillity and relaxation that accompany hours in the rehearsal room or studio sessions. The six tracks by Dawnbringer convey the will to make their way despite everything, to get out of the negativity of the moment and to embrace their passion and their sound at 100%, also demonstrating a remarkable ability to emerge in a historical moment that sees the Italian scene in need of fresh forces.

The band lead the assault into both Deathcore & Hardcore territory with strong downtempo assaults, between Thy Art Is Murder and Brutality Will Prevail. Listening to Betrayed is necessarily to be performed wearing camo shorts and Air Max: an American school EP but made in Italy that doesn't only make a miracle cry for all lovers of the genre. Anticipated by some singles, on which Point Of No Return stands out, a song in which in fact condenses all their sonic aggression (never an end in itself, it must be said). The work of the Sardinian band flows smoothly and without smudges. But what is obviously striking when we talk about a band belonging to the island's underground circuit is the desire to collaborate with local realities that make the do it yourself spirit their workhorse. Betrayed goes straight to the point, between a slow-motion breakdown and the right amount of cheeky and indifferent attitude; an EP that rightly does not look anyone in the face, being a genre to handle without velvet gloves. But above all, a further step towards the complete transformation of Sardinia into the new Italian heavy hub. 8/10

Serenity In Murder - Reborn (Oyster Brothers Records) [Matt Bladen]

Reborn is the first Serenity In Murder since 2017's The Eclipse and it's the first time I've listened to the band but colour me impressed. Reborn is a rabid, beastly death metal album, but it's also a cinematic, symphonic record full of huge melodies and orchestrations. It's also the debut of new vocalist Ayumu who replaces original vocalist Emi. Now I had to go back to hear any differences and there aren't many as Ayumu much like her predecessor both have that snarling, Angela Gossow-esque delivery. With the opening track bringing you into the record with a wide scope, Plead For You Life brings a grooving heaviness taking things more traditionally the reasonably recent rhythm section of Yu-ri (bass) and Allen (drums) really adding a grind before the track explodes into a blistering melodeath battering full of twin leads from Ryuji and Freddy with the latter also adding the excellent orchestrations which reminds me of bands such as early Fleshgod Apocalypse, Arch Enemy and even Shade Empire. 

There's also a tip of the cap to Septicflesh on The Titans which is a stunner of a track. Reborn has magic about it, I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I do but the brilliant fusion of melodeath/symphonic metal leanings really won me over. If you're having a bit of crap week, I suggest playing Leaves Burned To Ashes and I defy you not to start headbanging at least until the closing acoustic outro. I assume the title of Reborn refers to the recruitment of Ayumu on vocals but this is clearly a band who are seasoned professionals playing a style of metal that can often be done badly. With just one listen I was thankful Serenity In Murder do it marvellously, as the final song The Four Seasons brings the record to a cinematic climax full of Hans Zimmer orchestrations, layers of acoustics and then some classic metal dual leads on top of the blistering blast beats, you want to go round all over again with a sense of wonder. Seriously recommended! 9/10      

Reviews: Evergrey, Architects, Korpse, 16 & Grime (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Liam True, Paul Hutchings & Paul Scoble)

Evergrey - Escape Of The Phoenix (AFM Records) [Richard Oliver]

There are some albums you review where there is a fine line between reviewing an album and fawning over it. That is very much the case with Escape Of The Phoenix which is the new album from Swedish dark melodic metallers Evergrey. I’ll be upfront that I am a massive fan of Evergrey or as our editor puts it “worship at the altar of Englund”. Evergrey are an astounding band that have been going 26 years and despite the sheer amount of amazing albums the band have released I feel they are a band that have never got the recognition that they rightly deserve especially over here in the UK.

For those of you who are in the dark about Evergrey they formed in 1995 and have released a total of eleven studio albums with Escape Of The Phoenix being the twelfth from the band. Despite being very much in a progressive power metal style, Evergrey very much veer into the darker side of things both in their lyrical content, imagery and musical tone. This is a band that is as similar to bands such as Anathema, Paradise Lost and Katatonia as they are to other prog-power bands like Symphony X, Kamelot and DGM. The band had a bit of a wobble around 2010 which saw a mix of poorly received albums and unstable line ups but in 2014 former guitarist Henrik Danhage and drummer Jonas Ekdahl returned to the band and helped usher in a new era for Evergrey. The band released a trilogy of albums - Hymns Of The Broken, The Storm Within and The Atlantic - which saw frontman Thomas Englund confronting issues in his personal life which were very much carried over into the music resulting in some of the most emotionally heavy and darkest albums in the Evergrey discography. They also happened to be some of the strongest albums the band has ever released which begged the question where would Evergrey go next? Thankfully the answer is very much up.

Escape Of The Phoenix is an album which sees Evergrey in absolutely blistering form. The darkness and melancholy which is synonymous with Evergrey is very much there but mixed in is a passion, energy and a glimmer of hope. Instead of a moody, atmospheric and scene-setting opening which is usually the case with the start of an Evergrey album we instead get the punch to the chops which is Forever Outsider. A punchy, heavy and energetic song to get the album going and it certainly shows that Evergrey means business with this album. It is followed by the single Where August Mourns which whilst a slow builder of a song it will find its way buried into your subconscious for hours to come after you have heard it. The album as a whole is a nice mix of heavier and more energetic songs such as Dandelion Cipher, the title track and the absolutely fantastic Eternal Nocturnal (which has to be one of the best songs the band has ever written) as well as gentle, emotional and melancholic songs like Stories, In The Absence Of Sun and You From You

Thomas Englund is one of the best singers in metal and he absolutely shines on this album. His soulful and impassioned vocal performance had my arm hairs standing on end for pretty much the entire duration of the album. We also get a guest vocal spot from James Labrie of Dream Theater on the song The Beholder and whilst James Labrie isn’t one of my favourite vocalists he and Tom Englund work together magnificently on this song. As well as an incredible vocal performance we also see some mighty fine guitar work from Thomas Englund with some great riffs and fantastic lead guitar work. Talking of fantastic lead guitar work we have to talk about Henrik Danhage who absolutely slays on this record. He is one of the most unrivalled lead guitarists in metal in my humble opinion with not only a killer tone but his solos really take you on an emotional journey. The keyboard work from Rikard Zander adds depth to these songs with it being more electronic sounds or beautiful piano melodies whilst bassist Johan Niemann and drummer Jonas Ekdahl put in powerhouse performances.

Although I absolutely loved the last few albums that Evergrey have put out and didn’t think they could get any better the band really have gone for it here and it does feel like a big step up. It sees the band sound more enthusiastic and impassioned than ever and whilst the darkness is very much prevalent in the music there is a huge feeling of hope in these songs. This feels like Evergrey telling us there is light at the end of the tunnel and I think that is just the sort of thing we all need to feel right now. Escape Of The Phoenix should go down to be one of the best received albums in the bands discography as there is not a weak song to be found here. As soon as it had finished I wanted to listen to the whole album again and if that’s not the sign of a good album then I don’t know what it. I may be coming from a slight bias here being an Evergrey fanboy but there’s no denying that this is a phenomenal record and a very serious contender for album of the year. 10/10

Architects – For Those That Wish To Exist (Epitaph Records) [Liam True]

When Architects dropped lead single Animals back in October, I have to say, I was pretty underwhelmed by it. The band made it clear that they were going to go slightly more melodic, so it wasn’t a surprise that they did that. But even with the knowledge of this I was put off the song. Now the album is here and I can safely say that any negative emotions I had toward the record has been well and truly squashed. The band have their signature sound (Minus the ‘Bleghs’ made famous by Sam Carter himself) but it’s an absolute treasure trove of an album that surpasses their previous work. Starting with intro Do You Dream Of Armageddon?, Carter soothes you in with his cleans with a background of orchestral movements and programmed beats combined to make it feel almost like a movie trailer and not an album introduction. 

As the band launches into Black Lungs, you’ll understand by what I mean when I said all my worries were squashed by the crunch of the heavy guitars of Josh Middleton & Adam Christianson. And when you think they’re going too light for you, they slam back down with their signature crushing breakdowns. Giving Blood is a catchy number with the wailing guitar noises emitted and the technical drum work of Dan Searle and Alex Dean’s bass work take charge as they go together in harmony with Carter hooking you with the chorus. Discourse Is Dead & Dead Butterflies give more of the melodic-heavy mix the band is known for. Impermanence is your first taste of their collaborative efforts as Parkway Drives own noise box Winston McCall lends his screeches to an already heavy scream fest which is made even more heavier with McCalls added growls. Flight Without Feathers & Littler Wonder, the latter featuring the voice of Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr is an interesting combination as they blend together perfectly and add a techno background to it which adds to the intensity the two voices bring. Animals is a song I wasn’t looking forward to listen too as I wasn’t happy with the single, but it would be rude not to give it another chance. 

On its own it’s not a song I enjoy. However, when you listen to the album all the way through, Animals actually fits in as the missing puzzle piece and is an absolute unit of a song that knocks down the misconceptions I had about it. Goliath adds the vocals of Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil, an odd choice for the Metalcore act to recruit. But Neil actually proves his capabilities by matching the screams of Carter to give his own vocal take which sounds absolutely vile and shows his vocal range extremely well. Demi God & Meteor are two unrelenting songs with the soft signature touch while album ender Dying Is Absolutely Safe touches more along the slower toned down side of the band which is backed by acoustic guitars and a choir singing you off the album. 

Architects are a band that took me a while to actually get into, and despite seeing them live in 2017, I never did when they were breaking through and being the only Metalcore band to headline Wembley arena. Since then they’ve only grown in the scene and have become one of the biggest bands to hail from the UK since Bullet For My Valentine. And with FTTWTE they’ve become one of, if not, the biggest band of the past decade. 10/10

Korpse - Insufferable Violence (Unique Leader) [Paul Hutchings]

Formed in 2013 by drummer Marten van Kruijssen in 2013 together with vocalist Sven van Dijk, guitarist Floor van Kuijk and bassist Robin van Rijswijk, Korpse is a death metal outfit from the Netherlands. Insufferable Violence is their third album and comes five years after sophomore Unethical.

Let’s not waste words here. This is brutal. Crammed full of heavy slamming breakdowns, grinding speed, indecipherable vocals and some of the harshest guitar work I’ve heard for years, Korpse have made this album is a damned uncomfortable listen. The opening track P.T.S.D. features a range of sound clips which I assume are from traumatised soldiers. It’s harrowing stuff but only a prelude to the sheer assault that explodes on the title track that follows. If you were to create the musical equivalent of a tornado, this would surely be it. If there is a heavier release this year, then I’d question whether I could cope with it. Insufferable Violence is a blitzkrieg of aural damage. The songs are generally short, around 3-4 minutes on average, but the sheer velocity with which they bludgeon is terrifying. 

Underneath it all, the band are tackling social commentary about the dark side of humanity. It’s hard to decipher without any lyrics but the grinding speed and intensity ensure that you are too busy hanging on to worry too much about meanings. Disposable Under Age Objects leaves little to the imagination, as does Molestation Condonation. But it’s the sheer battery of power that does the damage here. Punishing, aggressive and without doubt technically impressive, Insufferable Violence should leave you reeling. It does. 7/10

16 & Grime - Doom Sessions Vol. 3 (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Paul Scoble]

As the title suggests, this is the third split album from the Doom Sessions, this time featuring sludge legends 16, and slightly newer sludge noise makers Grime. 16 have been making harsh and heavy music since 1991, the band did have a 3 year break from 2004 to 2007 and are one of the main bands credited with defining Sludge. 16, who are based in Los Angeles have released 8 albums in their career so far. 16 get the first 3 tracks on this split album; Tear It Down, Death On Repeat and Nachzehrer. The style on these 3 tracks is probably closer to strait Doom than the Grime half of this album, with huge and heavy riffs that are slow but have a fantastic innate groove. The vocals are mainly harsh, but there are clean gang vocals that work very well. 

The tracks have a fairly relaxed tempo to the grooves, but second track Death On Repeat does kick the pace up a bit, and has a very pleasing fast ending. Grime are comparatively young upstarts compared to the band they are sharing this album with, they have been going since 2010 and in that time have made 2 albums in that time; Deteriorate in 2013 and Circle Of Molesters in 2015. The band are based in Trieste, Italy. Grime are on the more extreme end of the sludge market, the two tracks that they get on this split; Piece Of Flesh and Sick Of Life mix monolithically slow and heavy riffs with fast and savage hardcore that verges on Grindcore. 

The production on the Grime tracks is overtly revolting as well, with an extremely nasty guitar sound and very aggressive and vicious vocals. Doom Sessions Vol 3 is an enjoyable split, the two bands, although fairly different in style definitely compliment each other. The album is quite short at only 26 minutes, but there are plenty if great riffs to keep the listener happy. 7/10

Monday 22 February 2021

Reviews: Mogwai, Temperance, Natural Born Machine, Embrace Of Souls (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Mogwai - As Love Continues (Temporary Residence Limited)

Scottish post-rockers Mogwai were once hailed as the future of music. Their widescreen, cinematic style of electronica drenched progressive post rock is some of the best around, so much so that they really can be seen as originators. While they are now the elder statesmen of the genre they still have the ability to bring glorious, euphoric music in the hardest of times. As Love Continues is the sort of record the world needs right now, a cathartic exploration of mostly instrumental music richly textured for maximum effect. The first part of this record hooks you in, allowing entrance into the world of Mogwai if you've never visited before. 

As To The Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth segues into Here We, Here We, Here We Go Forever the record shifts into the realms of Division Bell Pink Floyd, all fuzzing electronics and brilliant guitar playing. Dry Fantasy has yet more electronics, making me feel like I'm listening to one of those New Age records of the early 90's before we get the indie rocker of Ritchie Sacramento which is the first track to feature vocals and a natural single. It's an album that has been recorded in spite of the pandemic, trying desperately to inject some positivity into things with these anthemic tracks. It does trail off a little towards the end, essentially after the Daft Punk-like Fuck Money but if you're looking for yet more expressive post rocking then you have to go to one of the most recognisable names in the game. 7/10  

Temperance - Memories Of Green And Blue (Napalm Records)

Italian's Temperance have become something of a big name in the symphonic metal scene, bringing a new edginess to the genre across their previous albums. Their best being the most recent release Viridian. Much like Ad Infinitum recently the lockdown has led to them reworking the songs from that album in an acoustic format. That means that I Am The Fire becomes a happy clappy pop song in this format while Nanook gets everything very folky with the fluid guitar leading it. What sets Temperance apart from many of their contemporaries is their vocal trio; Michele Guaitoli (Visions Of Atlantis) really showing how good his voice here especially in ideal unison with Alessia Scolletti's emotional power and Marco Pastorino' giving the vocals harmonies and the guitars too. It's this triumvirate of voices that really sells this record on songs like Start Another Round which feels a lot like Jethro Tull and the very fun Latin flavoured My Demons Can't Sleep. Yes it's a stopgap release but one that is a lot more entertaining than the Ad Infinitum release. 6/10

Natural Born Machine - Human (Pride & Joy Music)

Ah David Readman, the Pink Cream 69 singer has probably sung with every kind of band there is, but where he really shines is on melodic rock. It's useful then that when bassist/songwriter Alberto Rigoni founded melodic rock project in 2019 he tapped Readman to sing on any songs that were written. Well two years later the debut album Human has come to life an it's pretty much the style of melodic hard rock you would want Readman to be a part of. The band is rounded out by guitarist Alessio "Lex" Tricarico and drummer Denis "Denzy" Novello with quality performances from all unfortunately the songs are fairly generic for melodic/hard rock style, Won't Be Friends is a bit like modern Whitesnake, a band who are always mentioned when you talk about David Readman, Reborn takes a similar tact, while Beast In The Dark is bit more Dio-like. Enjoyable enough but nothing much to write home about, perhaps album 2 will change my mind. 5/10

Embrace Of Souls - The Number Of Destiny (Elevate Records)

The project of Chronosfear drummer Michele Olmi, The Number Of Destiny is the debut album of Embrace Of Souls and the name of the game here is power metal, big, boisterous power metal delivered by a well versed band an numerous high profile guests from the Italian power/symphonic metal scene. If were to make an immediate comparison it would be to Rhapsody, possibly the bastion of Italian epic power metal, Embrace Of Souls' debut album is a concept record that has the same kind of theatrical sound to it, kicking off with the rampaging New Hope and From The Sky both which feature heavy use of orchestrated keys and excellent guitar playing from not only Giovanni Paolo Galeotti but also guest guitarists Danilo Bar and Edward De Rosa both adding to the neoclassical sound of these songs.

Now I mentioned Rhapsody and much of that comparison comes from the sky scraping vocals of Giacomo Voli who sings with Rhapsody of Fire, but also there's elements of Labyrinth, Deridian, Visions Of Atlantis and Temperance, so it's only natural that all of these bands vocalists contribute to the album adding to the storytelling aspect of this album. At over an hour of music it may be a lot to take in for the casual listener but for Rhapsody/ROF/Avantasia etc fans then The Number Of Destiny will put a huge smile on your face. 7/10 

Reviews: Epica, Bonfire, SKAM, Marco Garau’s Magic Opera (Reviews By Simon Black)

Epica – Omega (Nuclear Blast)

The Dutch (predominantly) Symphonic Metal outfit are back after a lengthy gap, as despite the presence of a few cupboard-clearing stopgap releases it has been a full five years since The Holographic Principle, the protracted touring of which led to the band taking a much needed break. I use the word ‘predominantly’ deliberately, as there is such a melting pot of styles in their mix from Symphonic, to Death, to Power, to Gothic, via assorted snorts of Groove, Thrash, Folk, Djent and anything else that takes their fancy along the way that they can be difficult to pin down. This release feels like a ‘back to basics’ approach has been used, meaning the Symphonic and Deathy Gothic elements are definitely the loudest voices in the stylistic mix, and it feels like a distillation of the kind of tracks they are most well-known for. The usual counterpoint between founder guitarist/grunter Mark Jansen and Simone Simon’s powerful evocative clean voice are a constant back bone of the band’s sound. In this case this is wonderfully accentuated in this instance by the use of full choral vocals and an orchestra, which can’t have been easy to put together with the world in lockdown. 

The fact that it sounds more fluid, complete and well-executed is a testament to the abilities of this band. It’s a rich, flowing beast of a record, and I’m struggling to find a weak point for the core part of the package. The full on Symphonic delivery starts from the get go, and does not let up for the whole of the first disk, although the ballad Rivers is the first point when the tone and pace change and the more Gothic elements step to the fore. With its haunting piano melody and Simone Simon’s voice given full reign this is top notch stuff. Most of the heavier tracks are very much clearly of a theme, but after five years Epica are clearly trying to focus on a core sound and leaving some of the experimentation for the more light-hearted section of the release.

The version that fell across our desk is a two disk one, whose second disk has a smaller number of more acoustic and experimental tracks and comprises of some reworked versions of tracks on disk one plus some other oddities and not a death grunt to be heard. Not all of this works, although I defy anyone to not be blown away by the choral arrangements on the Acapella version of Rivers. Abyss O’Time and Omegacoustic do fall a bit flat, and feel more like something left over from the Travelling Willbury’s covers session, but the aforementioned Rivers is probably the best thing on the whole release. I’m not sure how the full on South American dance class music of the final track El Codiga Vital helps move things along, but it’s an unusual coda to a quite eclectic second disk. If you can ignore the second bonus disk, this is an album whose material is crying out for arena size spaces and production to be delivered in, and like Nightwish before them this feels like a band about to explode to the next level. 8/10

Bonfire – Roots (AFM Records)

OK, this is a little different. With their most recent album only getting released last March and getting a reasonable 7/10 thumbs up from me it seems remarkably soon for another release. The lockdown boredom must be getting to these guys and the energy brought by bringing Alex Stahl in so recently still needs an outlet. As always I approached this record with a little trepidation but find myself pleasantly surprised once again. Maybe they just want to crank the handle whilst this line up is stable, either way it’s a breath of fresh air.

So how is it different? Where this album plays with the audience is that although the tracks are all original, musically they very much display the band’s influences (hence the title) to the point of plagiarism. Well, if thousands of dance and electronic tracks can make a living sampling riffs from elsewhere, then I guess Bonfire can play homage to those influences by including their riffs in their. This often does not come in the main melody line, but in some of the instrumental breaks and riffs, and within the first few tracks of this double CD I’ve already spotted Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog, Eric Clapton's Layla, Aerosmith’s Walk This Way, Great White’s Angel Song and on it goes for twenty-two tracks. Add to this all the songs are semi-acoustic and nearly all ballads, which meant I had been putting off actually starting reviewing this one, until I actually listened to it. Once again Bonfire have surprised me though, so maybe I should just shut up and admit that this incarnation of the band are doing it right.

Musically this hangs together as well as you would expect for an act with their experience, but it’s got a really fresh sound, feel and energy to it and a crisp production that accentuates that effect. The added advantage of choosing this style is that it’s easy to write and record remotely, but this does not sound like a record made by people unable to get into a room together either, and the fact that they can carry this so consistently through a double record of this size is a tribute to their skills. Well, it’s a brave band that decides to releases a double CD of semi-acoustic original ballads based on riffs from famous rock tracks in the middle of a pandemic, but bizarrely this works well. The homage riffage becomes fun to try and spot throughout, and I can’t fault the song-writing on any of the songs here. Once again a well-deserved 7/10

SKAM – Intra E.P. (X Ray Records)

The beauty of this reviewing lark, is that occasionally you get to be really pleasantly surprised. Although the last year seems to have been a truly strong one for the Hard and Melodic Rock genres, this feels like it’s a field currently being dominated by the Swedes. So when a British act comes along and blows you away it’s a cause for a celebratory drinky-poos or five. This is the first of two sister EP releases on a similar thematic vein, although often one assumes that there may be contractual reasons for this sort of thing, it does feel like it’s the first half of a proper album. 

There’s a strong 90’s ethos to this album, with its distinctive riffage and sharp beats and with its dark mood but up-tempo pace this is strong, emotive stuff that feels like it’s going to tear the roof of any live venue it gets aired at. And at six quiet beefy tracks, it’s pretty good value for money for an EP – a format more often than not which is effectively about over-bloating a single. Not so here – the six tracks all stand on their own two feet and I would be hard pressed to pick an obvious single from this batch of belters. 

Don’t underestimate the power of this Leicester three piece – they punch well about their weight and I am reminded of Therapy? at their peak for sheer sharp snared heaviness and the feeling that there were way more musicians involved than these three Midlands lads. Strong, distinct and thoroughly likeable, this feels like the beginning of a really interesting year for these chaps. 8/10

Marco Garau’s Magic Opera – The Golden Pentacle (Self Released)

Now normally I am a bit of a sucker for Symphonic and Operatic Metal, but for some reason this record is not doing it for me. I’m struggling to put my finger on the reason for this, because it’s very much cast from the same mould as the examples of the genre that sit on the top of that particular musical tree. Side project from a successful musician in the genre – check (that’s Marco Garau from Italian act Derdian); the rest of the band pretty much a supergroup assembled from other well respected acts in the field variously from Wings Of Destiny, Seven Thorns, and Shadowstrike- check; well-crafted and complex original story – check; strong mix – and production – check … so why isn’t this rattling my cage in the way, say an Avantasia release might? I guess part of the problem is that whereas Tobias Sammet is a master at crafting songs for his guests that distil their essence and looping these disparate styles into a flowing story and stylistic mix, this unfortunately sounds like it could have come from any one of the extended Rhapsody family of bands and therefore although distinctly from that Italian tradition, not sufficiently different enough to stand above this. 

This is frustrating because all of the constituent parts should be right, but somehow the final mix lacks that magic essence despite some fantastic performances and writing. Now don’t get me wrong, musically this is top notch stuff – the challenge is it’s fairly samey throughout and clearly a bit too close to some of its country cousins. You listen to this and the various incarnations of Rhapsody are the most immediate influence. When you have a top notch keyboard player as your song-writer you always expect the keyboard parts to be high in the mix, but they also dominate the melody lines and Anton Darusso’s vocal lines follow them a bit too closely. The same thing happens on the instrumental breaks, as although there is some great Neo-Classical material here, again the keyboards very much log the limelight and there is precious little of that musical sparring when musicians who are more than capable step back and leave Garau to dominate. Well, it’s his project so fair enough but for me this falls a little short of what it could have been with a slightly tighter focus on creating a more varied and original style of their own. 6/10

Friday 19 February 2021

Reviews: El Pistolero, LÜT, Jakethehawk, Compile (Reviews By Matt Bladen, JT Smith & Alex Swift)

El Pistolero - Mexican Standoff (Metalopolis Records) [Matt Bladen]

The musical equivalent of locking Motorhead, Rose Tattoo and Status Quo in a Tijuana bar with as much alcohol/drums as they can inbide and the amps on full German rock n roll outlaws have been powered around the live scene in their native country for a fair few years now but have few releases under their belt. In May of 2019 they brought in a new frontman, a new drummer and a new guitarist and essentially became a new version of the band, with the song remaining the same. This means that Mexican Standoff is the bands' debut record and it contains seven new songs joining five re-recorded songs from their previous line up. 

You'll know what you're in for when you hear the snarling "Son of a bitch" and a strutting AC/DC riff kicks in. From there we get some raging on Stormbringer which conjures gleeful memories of bouncing around to Motorhead, Machine Gun Preacher is a snotty punk rock rager, Down Under sounds like AC/DC, Airbourne etc (I mean obviously) and the record goes on like this moving between Motorhead and AC/DC ramping up the sleaze and maximising the party rock feel. After member changes and a turbulent existence Mexican Standoff doesn't stay stationary for any length of time, cranking out good time rock n roll with as much gusto as possible. Pour yourself a Jack & Coke then play it LOUD! 8/10   

LÜT – Mersmak (Indie Recordings, Crestwood Records/Loud Media GmbH/Warner) [Alex Swift]

Gaining recognition after live streaming themselves shovelling snow in order to promote their 2020 album Bangkok Nonstop, both the aesthetic and music of this Norwegian band seems to radiate positivity, and that’s without understanding the lyrics. Their take on punk is rowdy yet relatable, monstrously noisy but memorable, anarchic but accessible. And while those might not be new conventions in this genre, LÜT certainly have a distinct take on the sound. They take a distinctly no-strings-attached approach to creating music whereby you could just as easily be watching them from the back of a bar as be listening to one of their records. That’s the type of energy they convey here (although something tells me that the former scenario would be even more unleashed). Mersmak translates into English as ‘lust for more’. 

It’s a joyous but also rebellious term, the sentiment of which is embodied in the animated vibe of visceral tracks like Viepa, and anthemic pieces like We Will Save Scandirock. If I were to name a close companion in sound to LÜT, I would probably point to acts like Donots, Jeff Rosenstock and Against Me! as obvious influences on the rustic, modest yet inspiring feel this band command with. While understanding the words that are being sung or screamed is usually an important factor for me as someone who places so much weight on lyrical meaning, words should never be a substitute for generally moving music. In this case I don’t so much need to understand what’s being said as to feel something from the immediate feel of the instrumentals and the vocals. Furthermore, Markus Danjord’s cathartic vocal exaggerations are matched brilliantly by the adrenaline fuelled way the other band members wield their instruments. While it’s more down to the odd decision to introduce muted production into the mix – maybe they thought the effect would aid the sentimentality? – The only song I don’t care for on this album is the tepid India , where they seem to surrender some of their signature aggression for more of a restrained feel. 

That said, I feel me not liking this one, is testament to how much I really did enjoy the sharp melodic phrasing, and unrestrained emotion on moments like the polar opposite opener, Mersmak or the exuberantly life affirming Strictly Business. The truth is that while it might be a stretch to call LÜT entirely unique or innovative, to me they represent that perfect spot between the more pop-oriented production methods set by emo and pop punk, and the riotous, frustrated sound offered by grunge and post-hardcore. The guitars play a huge tone-setting role here, knowing exactly when to dial back and provide a supportive yet momentum driving feel, and when to unleash. Meanwhile, the rhythm section does its job of keeping everything in pace while again being crafty enough to allow chaos to creep in when needed. It’s that combination of attitude, precision and…well…Mersmak for music which make these one of the most promising acts in their style, that you may not have heard of! Give this 30 minute record a try even if you don’t consider its label ‘up your street’. The effect is one of unashamed elation. 7/10

Jakethehawk - Hinterlands (Ripple Music) [JT Smith]

I always really enjoy it when a band tries something different within the confines of their respective genre. Stoner rock has a very definite sound, and so the opening, gentle clean guitar refrains of Counting are refreshing, and cold sounding, in usual contrast to the heavy, open desert feel of stoner. Of course, being a stoner band, they do the fuzzed out, sonically dense guitars known of the genre (and this is well displayed on Ochre and Umber, and on EP closer June), but this isn’t paint-by-numbers stoner rock. A nice counterpoint to the heaviness is the lush, layered, heavily reverbed, airy vocals. This is a band exploring the boundaries of stoner and post-metal, and it works really well.

Like all stoner rock, there’s a vibe of emptiness running through the record, but it’s a cold, wooded valley emptiness (which is why it comes as no surprise to find out that these guys are from the Appalachians). It’s an emptiness that echoes back at you, and is captured by some very inventively used guitar effects, not all of which are distorted. Along with the airy, floaty vocals, there’s almost a *folky* feel to the record in parts, and nowhere is this more apparent on the awesome Still Life, which is a tremendously cavalier showing off of the *balls* of this band. It;s the best song on the record and it’s mostly acoustic guitars until the absolutely crushing last two minutes. This is an excellent record that says in its six songs and 36 minutes more than a lot of other stoner rock bands do in 12 minutes with twice the songs. 8/10

Compile - Reaching (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

One look at Israeli prog metal band Compile's social media and you'd have to be blind not see their influences as in between the play along videos and behind the scenes looks at the making of this album you get endless and a I mean ENDLESS Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson/ Opeth memes. Their love of Steven Wilson is obvious not just here but also in the music on their debut record which brings the feeling of post-In Absentia Porcupine Tree on the jangling Keep You From Harm but also the big hitters of prog metal such as Dream Theater as tracks such as Illusive have those technical basslines, layered keys and tonal shifts that rarely stick to 4/4. 

From the limited info I could find Noam (bass) and Moshe (guitar) have been a few bands together which is probably why their contributions link so tightly with the drumming of Ben adding that third part of the musical backing for this record. From here they set about writing music but Reaching came together faster with the addition of keyboardist William and the smoky vocals of Eden. There are 8 songs on the record but none of them are four on the floors rockers, they are long winding mini-epics richly populated with musical shifts and solos as well as big choruses. It won't win over any non prog fans but if you're Porcupine Tree or Dream Theater fan then you'll enjoy the hell out of Reaching. 7/10 

Thursday 18 February 2021

Reviews: Inglorious, Degenerate Mind, Eternal Fear, Dovorian (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Inglorious - We Will Ride (Frontiers Music)

There aren't many bands who can survive a wholesale change of membership but that's basically what happened to 70's classic rock revivalists Inglorious after their previous album in 2019. The two remaining members are drummer Phil Beaver and singer Nathan James who has not only been leading the band since it's inception but has also dabbled with musicals in the meantime. With three new riffers aboard We Will Ride was written during 2020 and recorded in Cardiff against lockdown restrictions and it's the sound of a reinvigorated Inglorious, bringing a melting pot of influences to this record that go beyond the Whitesnake/Rainbow 'classic rock' style they have been associated with. There's the hip shaking hard rocking of She Won't Let You Down Messiah has a touch of Dio and Medusa could very much be a Glenn Hughes number (but isn't that Glenn Hughes number). However we also get some thunderous metal styling on He Will Provide, a bit of sleaze on Do You Like It and of course some emotional balladry that gives James a chance to show off his impressive vocals range. We Will Ride announces the second coming of Inglorious as much slicker, meaner prospect than before. 8/10

Eternal Fear – The Other Side EP (Self Released)

Having sown the seeds of heavy metal across their native Sweden since 2002’s Never Ending Existence, Eternal Fear are now in the process of writing their fifth full length record. Seemingly out of those sessions comes this quick release EP of 6 tracks to get the blood flowing ready for the new full length. The band have been exposed to UK audiences a few times due their London show which was recorded for a live release and their set at HRH Vikings. This EP celebrates the bands 25 years together and they have done this by putting together a mini-record full of thrashy riffs, power metal choruses and even some shouty death vocals. 

Heavier numbers such as Post War Dream have touch of Trivium to them as the thrash metal riffs shift into speedy lead breaks, Defenders Of The Realm and Dream Stealer shift into the power metal genre. For me though the best track here is the cinematic 1944/No Surrender a very, VERY, Maiden-like song. It’s pretty basic stuff but enjoyable. If you’ve never heard of Eternal Fear before then I would suggest checking out this EP as it gives you a brief intro to what these Swedes do very well. All eyes on the new full length. 6/10

Degenerate Mind - B​.​L​.​E​.​V​.​E. (Self Released)

It’s no secret that the Greeks love a riff, they have cultivated quite a stoner rock scene in the country that keeps getting bigger. What is evident is how most of these bands are all at a high level, giving reverence to the genre leaders while forging their own identities. The latest band to add to this pile of quality stoner riffing is Degenerate Mind from Athens who play the style of driving rock n roll that US Space Lords Monster Magnet and Greek legends Nightstalker are known for. It’s sort of hazy desert rock (Black Monday) mixed with filthy biker riffs, with a punk edge (Never Care). Stratos’ voice is rough and ready, thick with accent much like Nightstalker’s Argy or Planet Of Zeus’ Babis but with that wild vocoder of Wyndorff. 

Beneath him are songs packed with riffs from Manos (guitar) who feeds everything through walls of Orange Amps as the rhythm section of Tasos (drums) and Doros (bass), thunder along on Cross The Line while bringing a slumbering bit of doom on Rites Of Passage which like the rest of the album shifts gear into a more direct style of rocking. There’s a whole run of sounds from the stoner/doom/sludge scene here with the psychedelic Acts Of Sober a real favourite for me. B.L.E.V.E is a really strong debut album from these Greek stoner rockers. Crank it up! 8/10

Dovorian – The Light & Dark (Self Released)

Yet another project born out of lockdown. Dovorian is the first musical endeavour from Dover resident Adam Sayer who says that when he is not doing music things does a “9-5 office job and spends time with (his) wife and kids”. I’ll admit expectations were low, however as the first track Lost started off, above the thrashy, galloping riffs and very much programmed drums was a voice I had heard numerous times before. It seems that this budding multi-instrumentalist from Dover has managed to get Evergrey’s Tom S Englund sing and write the lyrics for this album. As well as that Evergrey’s Jonas Ekdahl mixed and mastered the album. 

Now Lost does sound a little like a B-side but as we get to Betrayal things improve significantly the music takes a power metal meets AOR tone, Englund has some broken hearted lyrics and there’s even some explosive soloing, from here the musical style really sits comfortably into the melodic metal sound of bands like Eden’s Curse, Royal Hunt and of course Evergrey where the anthemic qualities of power metal are joined by the pop smarts of AOR. This means that this record has a couple of ballads You Are The Reason the most saccharine, thankfully it’s followed by two stormers which once again show off the great guitar playing from Sayer.

Ache is particularly good, sounding like modern Evergrey. Yes the drums and keys are very much computers and there are too many ballads but there’s been a lot of time and musical skill put into these tracks and you have to applaud that. It will be interesting if this stays a studio project or evolves into something bigger. 7/10

Wednesday 17 February 2021

A View From The TV Screen: Puta Volcano - Stages A/Live Concert Film (Review By Matt Bladen)

Puta Volcano - Onassis Stegi: Stages A/Live, Live At An Club, Athens, Greece

Another livestream/Concert film event from the Onassis Foundation Stages A/Live series came on Valentine's Night where alt/prog/riff monsters Puta Volcano welcomed us into their heavy world of deliberate rhythmic riffing and evocative vocal passages. Filmed at An Club one of the oldest 'alternative' venues in Athens, tuck away in a basement down a side street like all the best venues.

Unlike the Nightcrawler show, which almost had a documentary style, 'playing in your backyard' sort of style to it. This felt like a much more like an intense gig experience the camera in line with the edge of the stage so it was like you were looking up at the band. This was deliberate due to the impressive lighting rig above the band which shifted colours as the mood of the songs changed adding a hallucinogenic nature to the show.

Front woman Anna Papathanasio cut an imposing figure the camera basically at her feet for most of the gig as she unleashed her unique, raw vocal style the backlight almost making her look like a shadow, albeit one that banged its head when Alex Pi (Guitar), Bookies (Bass) and Steve Stefanidis (drums) all locked into a floor shaking groove such as on the Sabbath-like Neon4.

The camera didn't fix on Anna though it shifted between the band members who were all doused in the light boxes on top of them the rhythm section driving away on the psychedelic Black Box as we get brief glimpses of the scintillating guitar work. Visually it was stunning but also the sound was incredible you could hear every nuance. A massive kudos to the production team involved who have been so great in recording/editing/engineering these concert films. They really capture the essence of the bands and help all those involved in the local music scene.

The show (and Nightstalker) is still available on the Onassis Foundation YouTube so go check it out as it's made me want to see Puta Volcano on a live stage very soon.

Tuesday 16 February 2021

Reviews: Mother Road, The Scalar Process, Kreek, Mars Era (Reviews By JT Smith, Paul Hutchings, Simon Black & Paul Scoble)

Mother Road - Mother Road II (Metalopolis Records) [JT Smith]

The most common phrase in my listening notes for this record is “What a riff!” and that is with *really* good reason. This album is absolutely stuffed to the gills with them, with the two that instantly stand out for me being Sticks And Stones and Spread It All Around. This is simply the best kind of balls-to-the-wall blues rock that you can’t help but tap your foot to, and it makes me want to visit a dingy, smoke filled dive bar to watch these guys playing their guts out behind a wire mesh stage.

While obviously the whole band are great (and have really great musical pedigrees, being variously ex members of Dokken, and Steelhouse Lane to namecheck a few bands), it is the crisp, nimble, and almost lazily easy virtuosity of guitarist Chris Lyne that really makes the record stand out. Even on tracks like Without You where the Hammond organ takes center stage to give the track a 70’s Americana love song vibe, the guitars still really shine. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Keith Slack’s incredible voice. 

It has just the right amount of rasp and gravel in the vocal acrobatics, and it’s one of the few voices that could deliver the line “...Send these motherfuckers back to the stone age!” without sounding in the slightest bit cringey. If you’re a fan of stuff like Free, and the Kenny Wayne Shepherd band, you’ll love this. This is designed to scratch the itch when you’re in the mood for riffs. 9/10

The Scalar Process – Coagulative Matter (Transcending Obscurity) [Paul Hutchings]

Technical death metal can be incredibly stimulating or an overindulgent wankfest. Thankfully, French trio The Scalar Process sit very much in the former camp, and in Coagulative Matter have produced a rather fine release that doesn’t focus simply on how fast they can shred. Instead, this sublime album incorporates the superior aspects of the genre and combines them with melodic elements, emotive soundscapes, and crushingly explosive passages. At 49 minutes long, the album isn’t an overly short listen but the tracks, except for the masterful 11-minute title track rarely tip above the five minutes, the band combining their technical mastery with an easy delivery. 

The time sweeps back as you sit back and immerse yourself. The title track, the penultimate song on the album is a sonic delight, combining thunderously heavy passages of incendiary explosive output with gentle, mellow guitar breaks that change tempo. Whilst some technical death outfits can present as mechanical and automated in their robotic delivery, this is not the position with The Scalar Process. Yes, there are ample blisteringly fast passages of play, battering blast beats and double bass kicking, tremolo riffing and walls of shimmering riffs, but there are also keyboards and less frantic sections that allow the listener to catch breath.

The band is listed as Eloi Nicod [guitars, bass, keys, composition], vocalist Mathieu Lefevre and drums from Fractal Universe’s Clement Denys. There is a flavour science fiction present without overpowering and the flamboyant and fluid style impresses. For a young band, this is a highly mature debut and one that suggests that they could push much further in coming years. 8/10

Kreek – Kreek (Frontiers Music) [Simon Black]

Now I never got to see Bigfoot before they folded, but that British Hard Rock outfit made some big waves considering their release catalogue never got much beyond one album and a couple of EP’s. A key part of that surf was the vocal talents of Antony Ellis and the band (although with a different front man by then) folded not long after his departure. So 2021 sees Ellis starting from scratch with Kreek – apparently at the behest of his label and with a new bunch of musicians to help drive him forward. 

As I get started on this record, ‘drive’ is an apt word – as in ‘driving music’, which this record absolutely is (assuming we are ever allowed to leave home again) - at least to begin with. Opener At The Bottom Of Hell is a kick starter and a half, with its foot-tappingly catchy intro, power chords and driving beat, this is a song that screams where this band are coming from before Ellis opens his lungs. With a lower pitched opening verse, Ellis slowly brings up the power and range to give us a solid mid-paced rocker and a great start to the album. Missiles gallops in with a catchy fast riff and hammering drums before settling down to another good, catchy crowd-pleaser track. 

This is a band that know how to throw catchy hooks that take what might be otherwise fairly middle of the road material into interesting and infectious directions. With only one guitar to play with, this is not about heavy metal style solos per se, although Nick Clarke is more than capable of holding the attention with his well-played, catchy and emotive melody lines. Meet Your Maker takes things in a slightly heavier direction, with Ellis’s vocals meeting that challenge with a simple, but effectively anthemic chorus that you just know is going to work well live.

Single Million Dollar Man though is much less effective than the tracks preceding it and seems an odd choice for a single, given the relative strength of some of the other songs on here. Unfortunately it takes a fair few tracks to go get back into their stride and it’s not until Down ‘N Dirty some five tracks later that they get their mojo back, although this one does feel a bit contrived, it does at least get the groove back before bizarrely fading out as if the band lost interest. This is a bit of a challenge, as when they’re firing on all cylinders I can’t fault them, but maintaining this level of delivery consistently seems to be the challenge.

The production is fairly stripped back and simple, but it’s exactly what this band need, providing enough clarity to hear what these four guys can do without any frills and showiness beyond some variety and sheer skills in the hugely varied selection of guitar sounds that Clarke opts for across the album. When it’s good, it’s great, but it struggles to maintain that strength throughout. Perhaps an arse-kicker of an EP was needed to get their feet under the table, otherwise this feels like a band that’s half formed. 6/10

Mars Era - Oniro (Argonauta Records) [Paul Scoble]

Italians Mars Era have been making Florence a noisier place since 2014. The four piece, Mitch, Dave Tom and Leo, have released one album before Onrio since forming in 2017’s Dharmanaut. The bands sound has grown out of a very Desert style of stoner rock, to a sound that is a mix of Hard Rock, Stoner Rock, Grunge and even a little bit of Gothic. The album opens with the track OBE which starts with a slow build up to a fairly minimal sound with just Drums and vocals, before a taut, rock riff comes in to drive the track forward. There is a more expansive and huge chorus before the minimal opening sound returns. The track is effective and driving with a tempo that although not fast, is compelling and delivers a decent amount of head nodding.

The grungy sound is most obvious on the song Brighter Than The Sun which is tight and riffy. The track is one of the fastest on the album, and is reminiscent of faster Alice In Chains or Stone Temple Pilots. A very interesting track is Into The Pyramid which is big, melodic and tuneful, with a distinct Egyptian feel to the riffs. The Gothic feel I mentioned before is best demonstrated by the track Cyclone. The song is a mix of minimal and deeply brooding sections with dissonant guitar and pulsing bass that feels Gothic, and a much more driving and aggressive rock riffs. The track has a fantastic interplay of dark and brooding sections and loud, pounding riffing. Onrio is a very good stoner / hard rock album. 

Although the style and structure of the songs is quite simple, the band have concentrated on making the riffs and melodies effective and high quality so this simple style becomes a strength. The album is packed with great tunes and eminently hummable melodies that stick in your head. Highly recommended. 8/10

Monday 15 February 2021

Reviews: Ricky Warwick, Lake Of Tears, 3.2, Arc Of Life (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Matt Bladen)

Ricky Warwick – When Life Was Hard & Fast (Nuclear Blast Records) [Paul Hutchings]

A favourite of the hard rock crowd ever since The Almighty burst onto the scene in 1989 with Blood, Fire And Love, Ricky Warwick has rarely been out of the spotlight for the past 30 years. His stint fronting the shell of Thin Lizzy saw him then move to the Black Star Riders whose last album, Another State Of Grace was released in 2019. Warwick has also released several solo albums, with his first the 2003 Tattoos And Alibis, whilst his last album was astonishingly 2015’s When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (And Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues).

Joined by bassist Robert Crane, drummer Xavier Muriel and guitarist Keith Nelson who also produced the record, Warwick has also called in a few favours and there are guest appearances from Joe Elliott, Andy Taylor (Duran Duran), Luke Morley (Thunder), Dizzy Reed and Warwick’s daughter Pepper. Warwick comments: “Fighting Heart is a celebration of how music, literature, art and movies can inspire and motivate us on a daily basis. Can these things change the world? Who knows for sure? But I believe that loud guitars and rock ‘n’ roll can save a little piece of us all.”

I’m not sure I share Warwick’s views, but his latest record sees 39 minutes of solid hard rock, competently performed with the occasional riotous moment when things get a bit punkish and the pogoing around the room can start. After four rather routine tracks, all hell finally breaks loose on the anarchic Never Corner A Rat, which conjures up the vibrancy of The Almighty in their pomp, rather than the over polished craft of BSR. It’s a pleasing kicking out of the jams, something that has been missing for too long. Of course, it’s followed by a gentle, semi-folk ballad that sees Pepper adding harmonies on the chorus of Time Don’t Seem To Matter. It follows the exact blueprint for a hard rock album and if you aren’t a fan of this type of song, it’ll never get any more exciting.

After this, it’s more of the same. Warwick can churn out these rock anthems for fun, and it’s a challenge to distinguish much of his music from what has gone before him. There’s a little more edge, a little more spunk but ultimately not huge variation. And that’s probably okay because Warwick has a fan base that would be disappointed with anything else. His distinctive vocal delivery blends the Celtic roots with Blues as he tells his stories in song. It’s just not always that interesting. Still Alive bucks the trend, a brooding driving rocker which summons the spirit of Lizzy and features some smashing slide guitar work.

At least he finishes with a flourish, the pacy You’re My Rock n’ Roll a raucous celebration and a decent finale. If you enjoy Rick Warwick, then this album will fit you like a glove. It’s by no means bad, and there are few songs that would be great with a beer in hand. 7/10

Lake Of Tears - Ominous (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

It’s been ten years since Lake Of Tears released their last record, Illwill. A decade of silence during which Daniel Brennare, the beating heart behind the Swedish dark rock pioneers has fought illness and depression. His return brings the ninth album, crafted into his vision at the end of the world, with main characters the cosmonaut and the ominous brothers. Composed to be listened to in a single sitting, the album is the anathema of how modern music is consumed. Dark and foreboding, melancholic yet dramatic in equal part, Ominous is progressive, gothic, and psychedelic. It doesn’t need a label to describe it, the music is organic and develops as the album expands.

Whilst there is little to delineate Ominous as a metal album, the themes, mood, and direction contain ample heaviness in emotion and feeling. There are crashing riffs on songs such as Ominous One and One Without Dreams although in general it’s the atmosphere of the entire album that generates the weight. Experimental, unorthodox, and intriguing, Ominous is searching, powerful, and almost without label. Elements of Bowie, The Sisters Of Mercy and Pink Floyd all flitter through the consciousness as Ominous sweeps and soars, painting its darkened soundscape. The combination of down tuned guitars, sting sections and semi-orchestral movements blending with more traditional elements. Brennare’s vocals comfortably fit the tempo and mood of foreboding. A welcome return. 7/10

3.2 - The Third Impression (Frontiers Music) [Matt Bladen]

Ok try to keep up on this one; Third Impression is second album by Robert Berry-founded band 3.2, itself a continuation of the band 3 (not the US prog band of the same name) Berry formed with Carl Palmer and Keith Emerson, they had an album under their belts but with Frontiers on board, the long awaited follow up began with the revival of 3 as 3.2. This revival culminated in 2018's The Rules Have Changed released after Emerson unfortunately passed away in 2016 but arranged by Berry around his last surviving recordings. Thus continuing the idea upon which 3 was originally formed as a more song-orientated AOR influenced band in opposition to the prog workouts of ELP. 

Clearly Emerson had more ideas than originally though as this collaboration has now produced a second 3.2 record The Third Impression, again full of catchy, tracks such as Black Of Night which shifts between bouncy pop rock to a more classical influences, as well as The Devil Of Liverpool which  exactly what you want from Keith Emerson's style of virtuosity as everything else is played by Berry, including the very melodic Greg Lake-like vocals. Similar to bands such as Asia and GTR there's certainly a big melodic vein on these tracks but with progressive flourishes and shifts towards jazz too on Emotional Trigger. As a Third Impression its another tribute to one of musics best players. 7/10

Arc Of Life - S/T (Frontiers Music) [Matt Bladen]

For as long as there has been yes, there has been Yes side projects, pretty much every single member and ex-member of the band, has been part of a another band usually surrounded with Yes alumni. Arc Of Life is the latest addition to this extremely dense and convoluted family tree. It features current Yes members Jon Davidson (vocals) and Billy Sherwood (bass/vocals) along with previous Yes guitarist Jimmy Haun and behind the kit is Jay Schellen (Asia/Dukes Of Orient) who has filled in on Yes' tour in the past. The final member is a name that has never played in the English prog rock ensemble but will be well known to fans of the genre, the extremely talented Dave Kerzner (Sound Of Contact) on keys. 

So with this line up behind it you can have an educated about what the band are going to bring to the table and you'd be correct to assume that there is a huge Yes influence on the record mainly due to the intricate bass lines of Sherwood and those melodic vocals of Jon Davidson, full of upbeat tracks such as You Make It Real  but there is also a modern prog influence on songs such as Talking With Siri which really shifts into the more familiar Kerzner sound. According to Davidson the idea of these many side projects is to bring the sounds experimented with here into the Yes mothership, so it'll be interesting to hear if any of these more modern stylings (Just In Sight) will creep their way into the next Yes album. 7/10