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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  

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