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Wednesday 31 March 2021

Reviews: Wythersake, Trope, Odd Dimension, Maverick (Reviews By Richard Oliver & Simon Black)

Wythersake - Antiquity (Scarlet Records) [Richard Oliver]

Washington D.C. symphonic blackened death metallers Wythersake strike hard and fast with their debut album Antiquity. There seems to be a growing movement of bands mixing majestic symphonic sounds with extreme metal and this has my full seal of approval as this meeting of two worlds works so well to my ears. Wythersake are a welcome addition to this movement and Antiquity is an incredibly accomplished and stunning debut release. Although billed as symphonic blackened death metal and those being key components of Wythersake’s sound, there is a lot more going on here from progressive metal complexities, gothic metal atmosphere and melodic death metal hooks. All these elements are combined together in a very pleasing and cohesive form. 

The album starts with the chunky death metal leaning intro Prediluvian before the blackened death assault of the title track. From the start there is an epic feel and a tasty use of melody throughout before the symphonic elements come to the fore in The Advent. Whilst these tracks are very good the album really comes to life from the title track onwards. The scale and grandeur really burst forth and the melodic death metal elements to the sound really are pushed to the forefront. The centrepiece of the album and its finest moment is the absolutely stunning Through Ritual We Manifest which although the longest song on the album feels far shorter than it actually is due to some killer songwriting and absolutely phenomenal musicianship especially from drummer Daniel Salamanca who performs some absolutely insane blast-beats whilst the guitar work from Gabriel Luis and James Siegrist is slick as hell. 

Gabriel Luis is also the vocalist for the band and he performs with a number of styles from death metal gutturals, blackened screams and baritone gothic cleans, His clean vocal style isn’t the strongest but neither does it distract from the phenomenal music on offer. Other album highlights include Feast Upon The Seraph Within and album closer My Profane Goddess. Wythersake have a beast on a debut album here. This sounds far more accomplished and mature than a debut album and this is down to both songwriting and musicianship both of which are at an exceptional level. Wythersake manage to juggle the symphonic grandiosity and the metal aggressiveness and maintain a healthy balance between the two. I am seriously impressed with Antiquity and cannot wait to hear more from this band. 9/10

Trope – Eleutheromania (Beats Mee Records) [Simon Black]

Trope are an Alternative Progressive Rock band from Hollywood in California. Yes, you read that right – they come from the same place as Guns’N’Roses and Motley Crüe, despite sounding like a musical side-genre borne in a student bedsit somewhere in the vicinity of Slough, UK in 1991. The name of the album and it’s humorous nod to Pink Floyd’s Animals cover conjures up similar feelings and when by the time (as an English Graduate - oh the shame) I as forced to go and look up the meaning of ‘Eleutheromania’, then the old ‘pretentious album title’ bell was clanging like the introduction to Hell’s Bells (it means a mania or frantic zeal for freedom” apparently). I could not have been more wrong with my stereotypical journalist reactions however, as this album was a positive delight on the ears. 

Musically it’s exactly the sort of combination that I found myself searching for in the 1990’s, when you came across an Alternative act and wondered what they would be like if the playing was way more technical and progressive, the mood darker and the sound heavier – which is precisely what Trope deliver. The production is really strong and mature, perhaps unsurprisingly when you have Mike Fraser at the helm (which is quite an achievement on your debut album), but then this is an act that despite having been fermenting on the pot for a few years have also managed to make a few waves. This album has been gestating for a while and consequently the ten tracks selected are focused, to the point and a great example of their song-writing prowess. There is also an impressively heavy version of Tears For Fears' Shout on there, which should help people do the all essential double take needed to bring in a new audience. 

Musically the songs are hypnotic in their more moody guitar picking style and like many alternative acts, are not afraid to keep the semi-acoustic sounds equally strong in the mix alongside the power-driven guitar sounds. Add to that a down-tuned bass and very deep heavy sound that would not be out of place in a full on Metal band. When they do turn on that guitar overdrive, it’s deep, rich and can be as heavy as a brass elephant in places. Add to this Diana Studenberg’s haunting and equally hypnotic voice, which despite the low down and dirty instrumental feel manages to sound both dusky and high enough to take the song into unexpected corners when you least expect it. What you get is a sound that is a unique fusion of influences in a rich warm and effective sound mix – as disconcerting as that first time you heard Soundgarden, but darker, moodier and richer. This is an incredibly promising debut and a band that really sound like they are going to cross the aisles in a whole bunch of musical fan bases. 8/10

Odd Dimension - The Blue Dawn (Scarlet Records) [Richard Oliver]

The Blue Dawn is the third album from Italian progressive metal band Odd Dimension. They are not a band that I have previously heard of but they are certainly an ambitious one with an album that is cinematic in scale with guest vocalists, guest musicians and an overarching science fiction concept with a story of two space travellers stranded on a new planet called 'The Blue Planet'.

The Blue Dawn is the first album by the band since 2013 and sees the addition of a new drummer Marco Lazzarini and new vocalist Jan Manenti to the line up. Both put in impressive performances with powerhouse drumming from Marco and melodic yet gritty vocals from Jan. The music itself is in a classic melodic progressive metal style akin to bands such as Queensryche, Fates Warning and Dream Theater but there is also some melodic hard rock influences prevalent throughout as well. The songs are all pleasant and melodic sounding but there is little in the way of dynamics. It is quite a safe sounding bunch of songs though there are highlights such as the driving Life Creators, the highly melodic Sands Of Yazukia and the relaxed feel of Escape To Blue Planet. Some of the songs especially the lengthier ones simply do not have the strength of material to justify the song lengths with songs such as the title track and The Supreme Being feeling like they could have been trimmed somewhat.

Odd Dimension channel that classic prog metal sound to good effect but The Blue Dawn is a fairly safe and uninspiring album that lacks a lot of dynamics. Although it all sounds very pleasant, apart from the aforementioned few songs it works well as background music and not much else. Not a terrible album by any means but just a very placid one. 6/10

Maverick – Ethereality (Metalapolis Records) [Simon Black]

For a band trading in a sound that’s essentially about 35 years old, Maverick have done remarkably well. This Belfast based Hard Rock five piece have worked hard, churning out an album a year since 2017 and getting on the right support and festival slots for the audience they need, which let’s face it is not what it was in 1985. And I cannot fault them for that, as old fashioned Hard Rock with that slightly Hair Metal feel may not be novel, but when delivered well can be timeless. I’m not familiar with the rest of their back catalogue yet, but this has the feel of an album that would have been shifting like hot cakes when I was a teenager back then.

The ten tracks take up a modest thirty-eight minutes of run time, but then I prefer it when an act is to the point and doesn’t pad their records out for the sake of it. Consequently you have a record that is short, but focussed and consistently crafted. The production sound is of the ‘rich fat retro meets Pro-Tools’ camp and straddles the decades well, as it’s always refreshing when a band can keep their output this prolific whilst retaining the energy and freshness of a new act. The tracks are in the main punchy and to the point and apart from some 80’s elevator music keyboard parts on a couple of tracks sound fresh, lively and overall it’s got a good heavy sound given the major tuning.

The Last One is the only ballad, and a bit soppy and dated to be honest, but otherwise high tempo delivery is the order of the day. The guitar work is not over the top and too flashy, which would be intrusive in this sort of act, but there is some fairly nifty footwork going on from new drummer Jason-Steve Mageney and co-founder David Balfour’s soaring vocals are solid, clear and hold the attention well. The mix of catchy melodic songs, clean but raw vocals and hard and heavy rhythm section works really well, and apart from that one ballad is an enjoyable ride with a really consistent and high quality of writing and delivery that rather cheered me up after a difficult week. 8/10

Tuesday 30 March 2021

Reviews: The Dust Coda, Greenleaf, Karma Violens, Paladine (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Dust Coda - Mojo Skyline (Earache Records)

There was a time, years ago, when Earache Records were the go to label from angry, underground metal, they spawned the careers of bands like Napalm Death, Entombed and Morbid Angel however in the last few years they have perhaps mellowed in their middle age as the output on the label has been spearheading another type of music all together. With Rival Sons, Blackberry Smoke, Massive Wagons, Those Damn Crows all signed to the label Earache have been instrumental in the New Wave Of Classic Rock revival that has been storming the FM/DAB rock radio stations for a few years now. In 2017 The Dust Coda released their self titled debut album, launching themselves into the NWOCR melee as a labelmate to some of the most well-known bands in the genre.

 It was a hell of a record, The Dust Coda clearly influenced by bands like Zep, Free and Humble Pie with the modernity of Wolfmother and Rival Sons as well. Their debut was packed full of attitude and swaggering riffs and follow up Mojo Skyline continues this groove, Breakdown and Limbo Man kicking you in the guts with ballsy riffs and wild solos, it's raw, frenetic and full of grit. Though it's not without melody, the band getting reflective on Dream Alight a clear single and future live favourite. 

Although they are a four piece John Drake (vocals/guitar), Adam Mackie (lead guitar) Scott Miller (drums) and Tony Ho (bass) they give a huge amount of credit to their producer Clint Murphy for the sound of this record and it's clear on tracks such as Jimmy 2 Times where they employ horns and on Bourbon Pouring there's a sweet Hammond for that feel of laid back Americana, he's their 'fifth Beatle' for sure making this second record sound huge with a multi-layered hard rock album. As it closes out with It's A Jam, a number that could come from Use Your Illusion, you become keenly aware that Mojo Skyline is The Dust Coda taking their shot at being the new face of the NWOCR movement. 8/10 

Greenleaf - Echoes From A Mass (Napalm Records)

Sweden has a long storied history with the retro/stoner rock, many of their bands draw their sound from the bluesy classic rock style of the 1970's. Bands like Graveyard, Blues Pills, Horisont have all come from the country and have done well with their decidedly retro sound but one of the originators of this revival in Sweden are Greenleaf a band who have been around since 2000 and have steadily evolved their sound from riff-filled stoner rock into the more ear friendly retro rocking. This shift comes from 3/4 members being in stoner rockers Dozer so this 'side project' has changed into something different. Mixing psychedelic desert rock, with the bluesy riffs and some fuzzy garage rock. 

It's a a gritty record with a widescreen sound to it. From the cascading Tides, to the crunchy fuzz of Needle In My Eye (very Rival Sons) and the muscular A Hand Of Might which sounds like fellow Swedes Grand Magus, this record is the continuation of Greenleaf's hypnotic musical journey shifting between each track to keep your attention. Echoes From A Mass is a strong follow up to their 2018 release Rise Above The Meadow continuing their retro exploration while staying true to their stoner roots. 7/10

Karma Violens - Mount Of The Congregation (Self Released)

Mount Of The Congregation is the fourth album from Greek brutalists Karma Violens. This is a band who I was made aware of on their previous record Serpent God in 2018 as I was impressed by their fusion of aggressive death (Great Old Ithaqua), flesh ripping thrash (The Observer) and explosive black metal (One Way Journey). Built around the furious double kicking of Thodoris, Mount Of The Congregation is yet another devastating slab of modern groove metal that builds upon the metalcore template with a much nastier style, that has crept in since their debut EP in 2007 (though they have been around since 2002). It's an album that doesn't rely too much on additional musical additions, just battery. 

Mount Of The Congregation is their most abrasive record yet, bursting at the seams with the unrelenting drumming of Thodoris, who lays the template to be followed for Steven's grinding bass and the immense guitar playing from George and Costas which not only carve grooves wider than a ship stuck in the Suez canal but also bring a technicality of double tapping and tremolo picking. There's little respite on this album, it comes at you at 100mph across 13 tracks. The vocals of Ilias sit between Randy Blythe and Nergal adept at the black or death metal styles but really just bringing a primitive aggression to the record, even when in duet with Natasha Tsirou of The Mighty N on the title track. A brutal record from these Greek heavies, if Lamb Of God, Behemoth and Gojira light your fire then Karma Violens will get it roaring. 7/10

Paladine - Entering The Abyss (No Remorse Records)

Coming from Athens but living in their own fantasy world Paladine are essentially the Greek version of Italian symphonic/cinematic/power metal band Rhapsody. Their albums revolve around the fictional Dragonlance universe which is full of fantasy imagery, telling tales of warriors, wizards and dragons in a conceptual storyline. Thankfully to the benefit of the conceptual lyrics there is a cinematic musical backing for it, War Of The Lance the initial blast of power metal to bring you into the world of Dragonlance. Now I said they are similar to Rhapsody but Paladine having a more direct power metal sound favoured by Hammerfall and countrymen Firewind, especially on Between Gods And Men. 

That's not to say they don't have symphonic elements as Darkness And Light and Brother Against Brother both show in different ways. What I do like about Paladine is the low vocal of Nick 'The Metalizer' as he adds depth and a little differentiation to the usual sky scraping high vocals bands like this usually have. (He sounds a lot like Fury's Julian Jenkins). With a rampaging power metal band behind him full of galloping kicks and twin guitar harmonies Paladine are a band that shouldn't be overlooked by fans of fantasy based power metal! 7/10 

Monday 29 March 2021

Reviews: Evanescence, Band Of Spice, Day Of The Jackal, Marasmus (Reviews By Simon Black, Paul Hutchings, Matt Bladen & Richard Oliver)

Evanescence - The Bitter Truth (BMG) [Simon Black]

Evanescence seem to be one of those all-important ‘marmite’ bands that crop up from time to time. The devout Metalhead on principle dismisses them because they aren’t really Metal, but to the wider population this is as Metal as their music collection gets. And this band has one of ‘those’ albums that ubiquitously crossed the aisles into popular music consciousness when their huge selling debut Fallen was released back in 2003. Since that time and despite that unrepeated initial huge multi-platinum success they have been remarkably un-prolific in their output for most of their career and only fairly recently having upped the ante and started producing outputs in a more conventional and regular album cycle after their lengthy hiatus in the mid 2010’s. 

This album is clearly and distinctly Evanescence, but anyone expecting a straight reboot of that initial era is going to be disappointed. Long gone are the Nu-Metal tropes of Bring Me To Life (which by all accounts was the consequence of a record label struggling to cope with the concept of a female singer in a heavy rock act). This is a much more mature and crafted piece of music, that plays on the signature sound of Amy Lee’s haunting and emotive voice and takes the whole Symphonic, epic feel and runs with it to a slightly different place. For a start musically although in general the overdriven guitar sound is more Rock rather than down-tuned and dirty crunchy Metal, there are some really heavy moments in here. 

To achieve variety whilst retaining the distinctive sound is a credit to the careful song-crafting that has gone into this record and to be honest the only real weak point for me was the initially released Wasted On You which struck me as a little obvious, but perhaps coming from the heavier end of the spectrum I am not the intended recipient. Use My Voice was an obvious single, and it’s got the kind of catchy layered vocal melody hook that tends to grow your audience, so is definitely a good choice for the lead track even though it crops up quite late in the album running order. Added to this there is a much more strongly political streak to the subject matter, with the dark tone of Use My Voice in particular being a million miles away from the Emo-rock appeal the band had in their infancy. 

What’s more scary is that this song could have been written about events in the US Capitol even though it was released last year. Equally commercial but much more likely appeal to the heavier tracks are liberally interspersed throughout though – from the faux Industrial beat of Better Without You and the sharp weight of Broken Pieces Shine this album does deliver the goods and I find myself happy to keep playing rather than moving on to the next item in the slush pile. Lee’s voice as always is not always the focus here and the instruments often take the prime spot in the mix, which really helps with the atmospherics and mood. Bands like this are crucial to the Metal world, whether some corners of the community respect this or not. 

Without acts with broader appeal that open up the heavier end of the musical spectrum to people who might not otherwise have listened to heavy music, then our ranks will dwindle. Back in 1991 the Metal community initially derided Metallica’s ‘black album’, but it propelled the band and heavy music in general to a whole new level and brought many new fans to the fold who then found they were open to trying more extreme stuff. That cannot be a bad thing, and neither is this record which is definitely one of those growers. 8/10

Band Of Spice - By The Corner Of Tomorrow (Scarlet Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Few voices in rock hit you as clearly as Christian "Spice" Sjöstrand. The voice synonymous with those early Spiritual Beggars albums returns with Band Of Spice, which sees Spice accompanied by Alexander Sekulovski on bass and drummer Bob Ruben. Using Heaven And Hell and Blizzard Of Ozz as his reference points, this is apparently the first album he’s recorded in standard tuning. It’s worked, with the opening three or four tracks all catchy, heavy rock numbers that race along, full of hooks and a classic feel. The Fading Spot that opens the album is an addictive track, well-paced with a calm mellow middle section that slows things down before the beat kicks off again. As the album progresses, there’s plenty of spiraling guitar work, supported by a solid rhythm section whilst Spike’s guitar work is not too shabby.

Of course, it’s his voice that takes the songs to the next level and the man can still hold a note with his slight gravel-soaked tones surging with his undoubted charisma. The Sharp Edge is slower, but retains the rockier edge of the man’s writing, with a neat chugging riff. Things slow down with the title track, semi acoustic with emotion. But if you want variety, then wait for Midnight Blood which goes full Hawkwind with a quite bizarre psychedelic passage with maniacal laughter before the track gets back to what the band do best, rock out. After that it goes a bit South, with some les exciting songs. Reglutina isn’t the best song for Spike’s voice, whilst closing song Rewind The Wind is a little dull. Overall, it’s an enjoyable if unspectacular release which contains some moments of punchy, fast paced hard rock. Probably worth a listen but maybe not enough to purchase. 6/10

Day Of The Jackal - Day Zero (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Hard nosed, boogie rock from Leeds now as I take the debut record from Day Of Jackal. I'd never heard of the band before this but trust me when I say you will hear a lot more of this band in the Planet Rock circles (Rockstock, Steelhouse, HRH) very soon indeed. They have been schlecking all over Yorkshire since 2015 but when faced with the Covid pandemic they grabbed their instruments, organised their writing and brought several bottle of Jack Daniels (probably) ready to record this debut full length. The album was recorded by Gentlemen's Pistols James 'Atko' Atkinson at The Station House and stylistically Day Of The jackal have the same sort of retro boogie/biker rock fusion as Gentlemen's Pistols with influences such as AC/DC (Afterburn). Status Quo, ZZ Top and Motorhead. 

Atkinson's production means that there is a warm vinyl sound to the record, meaning that these raw jams are caught without too many overdubs giving you an idea of DOTJ's live sound. At ten tracks we get thumping hard rock on Riskin' It All, blues on Rotten To The Core, then there's some snarling Wildhearts-like punky riffs on Coffin Fix all of which feature wild soloing filtered through EVH (R.I.P) Peavey 5150's. Day Of The Jackal are made up of the rocket fuel injected engine room of the Rich's, McLachlan on bass and Maw behind the kit. While the riff machines are Steve Murray and Andy Overfield who is also the band's vocalist, his rough hewn voice ideal for their muscular rock. Day Zero is suitably titled as it seems like this is just the start of DOTJ's quest for rock domination. As focussed as a sniper scope on a far away target, don't bet on them missing! 7/10 

Marasmus - Necrotic Overlord (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Richard Oliver]

Necrotic Overlord is the new album from Kansas City death metallers Marasmus who are a five piece featuring members of Unmerciful and who formed in 2007. Necrotic Overlord is the third album from the band and it is an unrelentingly savage bit of death metal. Marasmus have a sound that merges ultra brutal death metal with licks of technicality and an old school grittiness. Over the course of ten songs Marasmus bludgeon the listener into submission with a whirlwind of savage riffs, blast-beats and the guttural roar of frontman and guitarist Andy Nagorski. 

Songs such as Ectoplasmic Violation, Carrion Ascension and the title track are an artillery barrage on your senses but the most effective songs for me were the ones which incorporated a bit more atmosphere, dread and some effective keyboard intros into the sound such as Voices Of The Wailing Deceased, Archaic Burial Rites and Forsaken Graves Of Infant Kings. The keyboard intros provide atmosphere and an effective build up before the death metal carnage erupts forth. 

Necrotic Overlord is a solid death metal album. Its flaws lie in its lack of memorability as a lot of these songs sound virtually identical but pummelling death metal is not a genre that has or ever will rely on progression and individuality. The production is also quite thin and robs a lot of these songs of their power but on the whole this is good, solid and reliable death metal. If you need something to clear the cobwebs out of your ears then Marasmus is the perfect soundtrack for that. 7/10

Saturday 27 March 2021

Disability & Metal Part 2 (Paul Hutchings Interviewing Lee Burgess, Steve Jenkins & Jon Davie)

This second part deals more with the physical disability as Paul Hutchings managed to grab an interview metal fan Lee Burgess his friend/carer Steve Jenkins (Democratus) along with musician Jon Davie. 

Paul Hutchings in conversation with Lee Burgess & Steve Jenkins

Picture this scene if you will. One of your favourite bands comes to town. The excitement surges as you scroll through the internet to purchase a ticket. And then you stop. Bitter disappointment sweeps through you as you see the venue. It’s got stairs, many stairs, no level access, and the toilets are on a different level to the performance area. Crushed, you chalk it down to the familiar frustration that is faced by many metal fans who face barriers not only in their daily routines, workplaces, and transport but also when venturing out to see live music.

Lee has spina bifida. He is reliant on a wheelchair and has other health conditions associated with his illness. He’s been gigging for years and speaks fondly of the days when he was still able to walk, however wobbly, to venues like TJs and Neon in Newport; he laughs as he recalls taking his life in his hands as he crossed through the pit at a Black Dahlia Murder gig to get to the toilets. Steve has been gigging with Lee since 2012. Steve is well known frontman and has been around the metal scene in South Wales and the South West for many years. The pair are a regular sight at gigs, with Steve acting as Lee’s carer.

The Equality Act 2010 introduced protection from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It developed the concept of reasonable adjustments but whilst it has undoubtedly made vast strides in the public sector, the changes that need to be applied to many music venues are caveated; only if reasonable to do so, practical to do so and if the size, practicality, and the cost of making the changes allow. So, sadly, it seems the chances of some of these venues being upgraded to allow those with mobility issues to get to see more music seems at present a distant dream.

Getting access to many venues is a challenge for anyone with mobility problems. The Thekla, The Gryphon, The Exchange, The Moon, Clwb Ifor Bach, The Globe, all venues where metal bands on the circuit play with regularity. Lee can’t do gigs in any of these venues, the majority of which are situated within older buildings with limited access for able bodied punters and few if any options for improvements for access. But it’s not just the older, tightly squeezed venues that are letting their disabled customers down. SWX in Bristol has seen the likes of Thy Art is Murder, In Flames, Lacuna Coil, The Pineapple Thief and Sons of Apollo grace their stage in recent years. It has no lift and a plethora of raised areas which require the ability to climb a step. It’s another no-go zone.

So, what makes a good venue? Lee can name it in two words. The Fleece. “The Fleece is my favourite venue by far. It’s on one level, it’s got street parking and the staff are absolutely lovely. They’ve also got a flawless carer’s ticket system. If I want to go to a gig by myself, there's a lovely Travelodge just down the road which I just book myself into”. As well as The Fleece, Cardiff’s rock bar Fuel also gets the thumbs up for its good accessibility and friendliness of staff and punters.

What about the attitude of those who run the venues? The approach of those in charge can make or break an evening out watching live music. We’ve all had run ins with overzealous security. The offer to help you get upstairs is one thing, but if you are then on your own after that then it becomes even more of a challenge. Getting to the loo in a crowded gig is challenging enough for the able bodied. Fighting through an intoxicated crowd risks losing the much-desired viewing space, sustaining injury, or just feeling that you are an inconvenience. 

Lee recalls a nightmare at a Cardiff venue with stair access. “We got hold of the promoter because we knew there were stairs to deal with. We knew what we were in for. The promoter had promised us that if we could get upstairs, we could have a space on the balcony, which he had done, but he hadn't told the manager”. When Lee and his carer Steve arrived, they faced a barrage of abuse, no help and intimidation with an initial refusal to admit followed by the comment “we won’t help you”. Steve adds “the attitude just floored me; that was the first time I have properly seen hostility like that towards you like customers. It's ridiculous”.

Steve is a big lad and not afraid to speak his mind, but this is the kind of barrier that is commonplace. Lee estimates he misses as many as 30-40 gigs a year because he can’t access the venues. This is unacceptable.

You might expect the more established corporates to be a little more clued up. The O2 Academy in Bristol has a limited viewing section for disabled fans. It’s always full in there. “They shrunk their disabled space by quite a margin and so now they can hardly fit any wheelchairs” Lee explained about a promotion which was running which reduced the number of people who could access the disabled section. “The manager, who I know quite well, because I've been there loads of times said you can't go, I can't fit you in. There's absolutely no way because we've got this promotion going on where people can win tickets. I said, well, I'll tell you what you should do. Take 2 tickets off the promotion. I said we've paid for those tickets”.

The Motorpoint in Cardiff attracts arena sized bands. Some of metal’s biggest names have played there including Iron Maiden, Slipknot and Slayer. “The Motorpoint is good. There is good access, and they have brilliant staff who are lovely, and they've actually got a girl in a wheelchair that sits and helps all the disabled people out and she knows all her access points. But they have this thing where you can't book a disabled ticket. You gotta be put in this, almost like a tombola and if you if you don't ring in time it you miss out and they won't sell you a ticket”. Lee has resorted to buying a general admission ticket and then relying on the arena staff to sort him out with suitable viewing access when he arrives but it’s not good enough.

At Hammerfest a few years ago, the site cut the water off during the day. “It was a nightmare beyond anything. They cut the water supply. Part of my medical needs is water for catheters and things. I went half a day holding in, because I know I can get kidney infection is really easy. We were ringing up and saying, look, this is stupid, and the most annoying and totally wrong thing was there on the bar next to the disabled toilet that had no water in it, were bottles of water ready to be sold and this complete jobs worth of a security guard is refusing to give me a bottle of water”.

The Tramshed in Riverside in Cardiff opened in 2015 in refurbished grade II listed premises. It’s an example of how to do things properly. The venue staff are amazing, the accessibility spot on and the venue’s policy ticks all the boxes https://tramshedcardiff.com/venue-information/

I know from personal experience how good the venue is, having been there with my wife when she was recovering from abdominal surgery and accompanying the Ed when he had back issues. Lee is full of praise for the venue. “The Tramshed is an absolute dream. They've got a brilliant system where you just ring this disabled hotline and they never say that they've never said there's no space. They've said right because the balcony is a great big space and people stand on it, we need to make space for you so the standing punters can bloody well go downstairs! And that makes me so that makes me so happy because it basically means, you know we can go to the gigs. I went with my wife (who also uses a chair) to see The Flaming Lips and the place was sold out and they made space and they gave us vouchers because we were, so crammed in they gave us vouchers for like free drinks and stuff. They really look out for you.”

If you can get into the venue, bolt on the time old challenge of the music venue toilet. It’s fair to say that many of the smaller venues around the country struggle to maintain cleanliness in that small but oh so important room. So, imagine trying to get into a venue’s ‘disabled’ toilet, only to find you can’t get your chair in there, let alone perform the basic functions needed to maintain your hygiene. “I have to find ones (venues) with suitable toilets and when I say suitable, I mean that. I think the venues that say they've got disabled toilets and they basically just converted a broom cupboard, but you can't get a wheelchair it”. And of course, the disabled toilet is often used by those not disabled. It may not be possible for the disabled fan to wait for four people ahead of them in the queue. Always give priority to those that the toilet is designed for.

These issues are frustrating enough, but if you’ve ever camped at a festival, you’ll have the utmost appreciation of how challenging it must be if you are disabled. Steve’s band played Bloodstock in 2018 so Lee, who has been to BOA before, was not going to miss his best mate playing there. Whilst BOA is felt to be more on point with their approach then many festivals, there is still a lot of work to be done. Steve: “They definitely make the effort to be as accommodating as they can but there were always things that can be improved on. There have been issues with the management side of things; they tend to move the on-site staff away from the disabled camp and over to the VIP section so if there are issues for the disabled members in the camp, we've not always been able to get hold of people. If there's been issues with say, a shower or toilets or something like that.”

The viewing platform at Bloodstock is located to the left of the central sound desk. If you’ve ever paid attention to it, you’ll have noticed it’s often very full. “We've asked for a couple of years in a row now to for them to extend the riser so that carers can be allowed to stay with their friend. On the busiest point, you've not even been able to get all the disabled up to watch, let alone their carers”. And surely that’s part of the experience, being there with your mates? “Exactly, but also say Lee needs a toilet break. Or you know, even if he needs to go back to camp for anything, I can't immediately get there because I'm not allowed to be on the stage at the time where I'm needed. It's a frustration, but it isn't something that damaged all weekend. It's an inconvenience more than anything”.

The site layout at BOA is reasonably level, but a little more thought is needed. In 2018 grooves had been marked out across the site to help with drainage. As soon as it rained, it caused problems. Steve: “it was an absolute pain in the arse to move Lee because the small wheels on his chair would consistently get stuck in these grooves, which just made it twice as bad to move moving around”. Lee adds “for some reason they had thought it would be clever to dig grooves into the field to help with the drainage and it was hell for wheelchairs. Absolutely hellish”.

The rain is as inevitable at a UK festival as someone throwing up in a portaloo. I’ve seen people in wheelchairs in absolute agony at festivals like Download when the rain turns the arenas into swamps. Bloodstock hasn’t been too bad but again, there are reasonably simple solutions which would make things a lot easier. Lee commented, “My wife and I went to Glastonbury in 1999, and they had wooden planks along every single pathway. They also had golf style buggies to get people around”. It doesn’t have to be a massive investment but when you reflect, there are many members of the metal community who have mobility issues and who aren’t classed as disabled. This type of adjustment would help all festival goers, but especially those who already face the biggest challenges over the weekend. “I'm not a good camper because my legs get really cold, and I’ve got my toiletry issues on top. I've got to keep good care of my hygiene. The last time I went to bloodstock I came home with the with raging infections and and my wife was like, please don't go again. And I said, I've got to go again, 'cause it's amazing, you know”.

One of the most reassuring things during our conversation was that metal fans don’t often cause a challenge. Steve remembers an issue with a drunk fan at a gig at the Newport Centre. “there were issues with some drunk guy at a previous gig, who was falling over Lee and his wife, treading on their feet and it got so bad that Lee lost his temper. We went to see Killswitch Engage and Lee pointed out the same the same people that gave him crap before. So, it got me on edge as I spent the evening thinking whether or not I was going to have to get them out of the way or not”. Most carers are likely to be huge metal fans as well, so whilst keeping an eye out for their friend is their priority, it should be reasonable for them to also enjoy the gig.

Lee can see the funny side. “I get disappointed if I don't get sat on at least twice every gig! I remember seeing Raised by Owls at Eradication a few years ago and I'd never seen them, so I didn't know what was going on. I went down the front and I got stuck in the middle of a circle pit. I mean a proper full-on pit and I fell out of my wheelchair. One of the local lads just pushed me over and I mean he was mortified, poor thing!”

He also has some positives to report. Having spoken to Howard Jones (ex-KSE, Light the Torch) at a meet and greet, when it came to the gig, Light the Torch raged through their first few songs. “They got to the third song and he (Howard) put his hand up in the air, stopped the entire song, all the pits. He looked at me and went, “yeah, didn’t think you were getting away with it, did you?” And he comes off the stage, parted the entire crowd and gave me the biggest bear hug I've ever had. And he said, “dude, you are important, and you are important as anybody else and he said thanks for coming”.

Finally, let’s look at some facts. According to Scope, (https://www.scope.org.uk/media/disability-facts-figures ), there are 14.1 million people in the UK who are disabled, with 19% of working age adults are disabled. More than 4.1 million disabled people are in work. Disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people.1 in 3 disabled people feel there’s a lot of disability prejudice. but only 1 in 5 non-disabled people agree. That's a big difference between the public’s perceptions of disability and disabled people’s experiences. It also means the chances of a metal head being disabled in some shape or form are likely to be high. I’ve focused on the mobility aspect of disability, but it is a complex multi-layered topic. Disability comes with a vast variety of conditions and diagnoses.

So, what would be on the Wishlist? Well, we shouldn’t have a Wishlist for starters. This is about ensuring equality, not treating everyone the same. For promoters, thinking about where that tour will be playing is important. Not every band can play the Tramshed or the Motorpoint, but even small bands can ask the question. For venues, and god knows times are hard enough now, small changes can help. Can you install a lift? If you can physically accommodate it, do you need funding? Have you applied for grants, or looked at fundraising? Can you ensure your toilets are in decent condition and that the disabled toilet is available for the disabled fan who may not be able to wait for four people in front to use the facilities? The festivals can think more about walkways, covered areas to keep fans drier and wider viewing points. As a minimum.

Steve is stoic about his support for Lee. “When he wants to get out to gigs and stuff like that, I will find a way to do what I can to get him where he needs to be. Might not be the easiest way. Might not be the nicest way, but by hook or crook I'll get him where I need to because that's what he wants and at the end of the day, it's the one thing that I can do”.

Lee: “You know now when I'm in a wheelchair I can go to gigs, but it does not make things a bit more complicated, it makes things very much more complicated because there's so much you have to think about. But, if they were to make those changes their fan base, the amount of disabled metalheads would skyrocket.”

Paul Hutchings interview with musician Jon Davie

When I considered disability in music my initial focus was on the fans. The access to venues, the challenges that they face at the events and the prejudice that confronts them when they are at the gig. And then a friend told me about his mate, Jon Davie, a musician with disabilities. Jon was an absolute legend and completed an email interview. When you read about the extent of his disabilities, you’ll understand why this was a challenge to do. I can’t thank Jon enough for his time and efforts to break through the pain barrier for this piece.

MoM: Firstly, can you tell me a bit about your disability.

Jon: Firstly, I have a high-level spinal injury, meaning I have limited use of my body below the shoulders. No hand function but have a strap attached to my hand with a stylus for using my iPad.

MoM: I believe that you were a musician before you had your accident. Can you explain what you did, where you played and what you enjoyed most about it?

Jon: I was the guitarist and singer in my band Guttergodz as well as doing solo acoustic shows varying from 30 minutes to 4 hours incorporating a wide range of covers alongside my own band/solo material. Though most of the time I played in my hometown of Aberdeen, I’d played as far up as Inverness and as far down as London with various places in between. I mostly enjoyed the fact that I could be onstage, doing the one thing that I loved and entertain people with it. I treated every gig the same, whether there were 4 people, or 400 people made no difference. I would put the same heart and energy into every show as I was lucky enough to be given a platform in which to do what I loved, so every performance deserved 100%. It was never for the recognition but hearing people tell you how much they enjoyed what you were doing made it all that much better.

MoM: As a gigging musician, prior to your accident how aware were you of the challenges that people with disabilities faced when watching live music?

Jon: Prior to my accident I had a couple of disabled friends, one of whom sadly passed away at the start of 2021, so I was already aware of some difficulties regarding disabilities and live music. Whether it being access to the venue itself or particular seating arrangements etc. Most venues would try to accommodate as best they could but it’s just a sad fact that disabled gig goers never get the best view in the house, to my experience. Larger venues are more catered to disabled fans as they need to be, but smaller pub/club venues could sometimes have their issues.

MoM: And what about disabled musicians? Did you encounter anyone who had disabilities who was playing live on a regular basis?

Jon: As for disabled musicians, I can’t say I’d come across any to my memory, no. I did have a penchant for alcohol so that memory may be a bit battered though 😂

MoM: Since your accident, have you played live at all?

Jon: No, I have not played live since my accident. My disability means the chances of me playing guitar again are essentially nil unless I were to try a sort of lap slide kind of style which I don’t really have an interest in. I have however started singing again, recording some covers with friends over the internet. They’ll send me tracks they’ve recorded, and I’ll do the vocals on GarageBand and send them back to mix and edit. That has been a big boost for me as even though I can’t sing like I used to, given that my injury has affected my diaphragm muscles, I can still be involved in making music. I’m having to relearn how to sing via breathing techniques that work for me now but it’s a challenge I’m willing to fight for. So hopefully in the future I can perform live vocally.

MoM: will you ever be able to play live and I suppose, as important, do you want to?

Jon: In terms of getting back to live music, I suppose that remains to be seen regarding distancing, wearing of masks and vaccines etc so I’m not sure how any of that will play out unfortunately.

MoM: Who provides your support?

Jon: In terms of support, I’m not sure what you mean so I’ll answer both ways I see the question. My family are and always have been the main support group. They have helped me from the beginning of my musical endeavours, and It gives them immense pride seeing what I’ve done pre accident but even more so post-accident. Also, my friend Kevin Green has been recording the tracks for me to put vocals to during lockdown so he has been a major player in helping me back to it. If you mean support in day-to-day life, e.g. going to gigs etc, my mum and dad and a small group of friends would take me to gigs and help me in, get drinks or anything else I need help with.

MoM: Do you have friends in the music business who are able to support you?

Jon: I have a number of friends involved in a range of different aspects of the music business who have or would help to support me with different things, however, it once again comes down to what the music scene is going to look like in the future given Covid-19’s effect on the world.

MoM: And what would three things do you think it would be realistic for venues to address to enable people with disabilities to access their premises safely

Jon: In terms of accessibility, it’s entirely venue dependent. For instance, older buildings can’t feasibly install lifts or such like. I would say having ramps available for wheelchair users if there are reasonable steps to climb otherwise possible entrance through back or side doors if possible. Layout of furniture etc within the venue to allow wheelchair access. I can’t actually think of a third as I think I’ve been lucky that the small number of venues I’ve visited haven’t had many issues.

Friday 26 March 2021

Reviews: Smith/Kotzen, Black Spiders, Silent Winter, Sky Valley Mistress (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Smith/Kotzen - Smith/Kotzen (BMG)

Recorded in Turks & Caicos in February 2020, blues/funk/rock virtuoso guitarist Richie Kotzen and Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith teamed up to create this nine track record of guitar-fuelled hard rock. Now this collab may seem a little random, but Richie Kotzen is so versatile in numerous forms of music having contributed to numerous bands and also has multiple solo albums that shift between genres. Adrian Smith meanwhile is probably the most eclectic musician in Maiden having been a part of more bands outside the Maiden Mothership than any other member from Psycho Motel to Bruce Dickinson and most recently Primal Rock Rebellion. So both men are brilliant players that's a given but does this collaboration live up to their lofty reputations? Well the short answer is yes it does. it's full of nifty, slick guitar playing, with both men trading both six string fireworks, grooving bass-lines and vocals. 

The only thing not played by both men are the drums which are handled mostly by Kotzen with Tal Bergman on 3 tracks and Nicko McBrain on one. So there's a 'power trio' feel to the album, with lots of locked in blues rock grooves that remind me of Joe Bonamassa's early years. Taking My Chances has a nod to Kotzen's record Get UpRunning shifts things into The Winery Dogs level of thumping rock as 'Til Tomorrow has some Audioslave-like rocking. Some People is funky both men laying down some slinky rhythms and playing off each other with smokey riffs. Smith and Kotzen aren't all about bluster though they know when to slow things down on You Don't Know MeGlory Road and I Wanna Stay all of which really allow both men indulge in their blues influences playing the sort of songs you'd expect in a small smoke-filled club not from musicians more used to arenas. 

Vocally Smith holds his own against Kotzen's much more experienced singing working together well. So to answer the question more thoroughly yes the collaboration does stand up to their reputations, it's very polished and ultimately satisfying but the risk factor is low in terms of what they've done before. 7/10 

Black Spiders - Black Spiders (Dark Rider/Cargo Records)

In 2008 a motley band of rebels came from the streets of Sheffield to try and revolutionise the rock scene fusing the dirty rock n roll of AC/DC, the dirty punk/metal of Motorhead and even the glam touches of KISS (who famously tried to kill them). Both on record and live they got fans sticking their middle fingers in the air and shouting their tagline of "Fuck You Black Spiders". Eight years later the fuse had obviously burnt down to the point of an explosion and Black Spiders were no more. This was particularly upsetting to me, as some of my favourite gig memories involve the band. Subsequent projects featuring Black Spiders members never really lived up to the ferocious nature of their previous act. 

However time off is never really anything of the sort for a band and last year with the world gripped by a pandemic, there was a light of Black Spiders announcing their reformation and that they were writing a new album. There has, as you may expect, been a line-up change, with Pete 'Spider' Spiby (vocals/guitar), Ozzy 'Owl' Lister (lead guitar), Mark 'Dark Shark' Tomas (lead guitar) and Adam 'The Fox' Irwin (bass guitar) all returning the new percussive base is Wyatt Wendels who has been a drummer longer than he's been a Planet Rock DJ. With a little coaching, their words not mine, he was brought into the Black Spiders fold as the band looked to unleash another slice of feel good rock n roll from theses Sons Of The North. 

Many will have already heard the first single Fly In The Soup and in Black Spiders tradition this kicks off the third full length record with a strutting AC/DC bang. At 13 songs it's the longest Black Spiders record but that's what a no-pressure recording process will bring out of creative beings like Spider and Ozzy (who wrote most of the record). There's a lot of the beefy rock n rolling but songs like Wizard Shall Not Kill Wizard bring a Sabbath doom vibe, Give Em What They Want has a fuzzy garage rock groove, there are some stoner vibes on Nothing Better and great psych rocking on Free Ride/Crooked Black Wings. These shifts keep the record from just being one-note so to speak, much like their skits did in the earlier records. Black Spiders is the band's most mature releases but it's still a great big dose of feel good rock n roll., if you're waiting for your vaccine I suggest you inject a bit of this beforehand and make yourself feel better. 8/10 

Silent Winter - Empire Of Sins (Pride & Joy Music)

The second full length record from Greek heavy metal band Silent Winter it's the third release from the Volos band since their reformation in 2018. Obviously this record was a little more difficult to complete than its predecessor but after the recording process that took place between July and October 2020, they are finally ready to unleash their classic metal assault again. Silent Winter play a gruff style of metal that is from the power metal base, full of rampaging double kicks (John Antonopoulos), bass gallops (Vangelis Tsekouras) and dual leads (Kiriakos Balanos & Vangelis Papadimitriou) but has some tougher riffage that is taken from thrash. The recording process has given this album a vintage sound meaning you have play it loud to hear the keyboard nuances and backing choirs, but that's not a bad thing at all. 

So then what does Empire Of Sins sound like? Well it's certainly got a the feeling of European power metal, with Helloween (Mirror), Masterplan and Stratovarius all jumping out as influences though personally I'd make more comparisons to a band such as Angra with the progressive tinges, understated use of keys and vocals where Mike Livas has the same kind of range as Andre Matos (R.I.P), shifting from mid range crooning, into what is quite a ravaged high. Empire Of The Sun tries very hard not to let the pace slacken, you feel the compulsion to bang your head to nearly every song, but the "shout the battle cry" chorus refrain on Shout will have you pumping your fist in the air, while Dragon's Dance is fantasy metal 101, while they even make sure the cover of Belinda Carlisle's Leave A Light On For Me is a galloping metal cheese-fest number to close the album. Empire Of Sins carries on Silent Winter's run of epic power/prog metal records. 8/10

Sky Valley Mistress - Acoustic Sessions (New Heavy Sounds)

Record label New Heavy Sounds is 10 years old this year, they are known for their championing of the stoner/doom/psych rock genre. Home to Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Vodun, Mountain Caller and Black Moth (R.I.P), they are also the home of Sky Valley Mistress who released their album Faithless Rituals on the label last year. The Blackburn blues stoners are one of the bands who have contributed to this special Limited EP Series from the label where band's reinterpret their songs in an acoustic format. As it's blues based music as it's core, their songs translate perfectly into the acoustic format It Won't Stop the best of the bunch with it's heavy stabbing piano accompanying the soulful vocals of Kayley. As a special EP it's an interesting collectors curio. 6/10 

Thursday 25 March 2021

Reviews: Of Mice & Men, Metalite, 1782, My Own Private Alaska (Reviews By Liam True, Simon Black, Paul Scoble & Alex Swift)

Of Mice & Men – Timeless EP (Sharptone Records) [Liam True]

Whatever your feelings about the state of metalcore over the past decade or so, it’s hard to deny that Of Mice & Men have sat pretty near the top of the scene for a while now. Formed in 2009, their self-titled debut was one of several records which helped shape metalcore as we know it today. Since then, they’ve repeatedly mastered the genre’s chugging riffs and massive hooks over five more studio albums. Even the 2016 departure of founder and vocalist Austin Carlisle didn’t knock them off their stride. 2019’s Earthandsky quickly became a fan-favorite, with the band sounding fresher than ever. A follow-up has been hotly anticipated ever since, and now it’s here in the form of a three track EP entitled Timeless.

The record is the first of three EPs Of Mice & Men plan to release in 2021. These form a sort of trilogy, set to culminate in the release of the band’s seventh studio album. In an increasingly common trend, they were written during the COVID-19 pandemic, pieced together over platforms like Twitch and Zoom. No strangers to challenges, this new way of working doesn’t seem to have phased the four-piece. Timeless reveals a band still very much at the top of the game when it comes to crushing melodic metalcore.

Musically, Timeless doesn’t throw up many surprises. Every track features the kind of gigantic arena-ready chorus we’ve long come to expect from Of Mice & Men. On the first two songs, there’s the melodeath-inspired riffing which has been a genre staple for at least two decades now. There’s also of course plenty of tight, technical and chugging metalcore riffs which the band lock into with ease. Guitarists Phil Manansala and Alan Ashby deserve a special shout-out, providing quality lead work throughout, and especially on Obsolete. The rhythm section of vocalist/bassist Aaron Pauley and drummer Valentino Arteaga hold their own too, giving everything a firm and thundering grounding. All three tracks would sit comfortably in the band’s setlist, but the highlight is surely Anchor. This one is easily the most dynamic song on the record. As well as providing the usual massive chorus and riffs, it features moments of delicate soundscapes and electronic beats. At points, it even draws Deftones comparisons, most of all from Pauley‘s lighter vocal stylings in the song’s verses.

One of the band’s intentions with Timeless was to give fans an “experience in headphones.” For the most part, they seem to have achieved this through the addition of synths and textures. These make the band sound bigger than they ever have before – not that they needed much help with that. This is great, but it would definitely be interesting to see them push further into the moments of relative quiet heard on Anchor for Timeless' planned sequels. In doing so, they could provide fans with a genuinely dynamic record – something of a rarity in modern metalcore. If Timeless, and specifically Anchor, signals the start of new era of experimentation for Of Mice & Men, that’s pretty exciting. If not, and that’s about as far as the band go in terms of new sonic territory, then that’s unlikely to be much of a problem either. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear a band at the height of their powers doing what they do best. Either way, Timeless marks a solid first entry to Of Mice & Men‘s 2021 trilogy, and a record that should have listeners eagerly looking to the next one. 8/10

Metalite - A Virtual World (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

OK, so this was a little different.

Most regular readers of my entitled ravings may have noticed that I tend to cover a lot of Power and/or Progressive acts. This is partly my own fault, because most of the gang can only tolerate these genres in relatively small quantities (not strictly true, it's mainly that you don't like unclean vocals much - Ed). However, it’s always nice when something comes along that breaks the mould slightly, as after a while all the multi-album mythological/pseudo-historical concepts arcs get a little wearing even for me. So who are this lot then? Well Metalite hail from Sweden, whose population of ten million or so souls seems to have a much larger proportion of technically gifted Metal musicians than the rest of the world put together (I’m guessing that this may be as a consequence of the need to pass the time in those long, snowy winter months in a country where alcohol is prohibitively expensive). Either way they produce a lot of acts that consistently score highly from me, and that odd one or two that seem to break out globally.

The band position themselves in the Melodic Metal and Power camps, but I quite deliberately mentioned the more Progressive side of things, because technically the musicianship pushes beyond their own modest descriptions – particularly in the ivory keys department. And then there’s the decision to use the kind of Pop synth sounds and sequencing that you might expect to hear in a Trance club than a Metal one. It’s a fairly unique approach and one that often sees the crunch of the guitars very much take a back seat to the vocals, keys and drums in an upbeat major key tone. It’s a futuristic tone that fits the subject matter of the album, which is exploring topics like artificial intelligence, virtual reality and technology in a largely positive way, making a refreshing change from the more negative tone that many peers have chosen when they explore the negative impacts of that tech. Vocally front woman Erica Ohlsson’s voice nicely fuses the Pop/Melodic Metal direction of travel – it’s light and inoffensive when it needs to be, but she can belt out the Power as and when needed and this sits nicely in a series of songs that are clearly more about the journey than the direction of travel.

If you are a traditional Metalhead then this probably won’t be for you (although I defy any of you not to raise an appreciative, if slightly taken aback eyebrow at the Synth based blast beats that crop up in Running), but it’s important to remember that it’s acts like this that push the boundaries and crossover into the more popular worlds are the ones that ultimately increase our ranks. So you can bitch how bands like this “aren’t metal” but the reality is many people start from there and consequently find themselves more open to experimenting with other, heavier bands in the genre. …And it’s not like the band’s choice of name doesn’t clearly state where they are coming from! Upbeat, cheerful and a refreshing change from the Melodic/Power norm. 7/10

1782 - From The Graveyard (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Paul Scoble]

Anna Göldi was the last woman in Europe to be tried, tortured and murdered by the state for the crime of Witchcraft. The final victim of several hundred years of religious psychopathy. Anna was murdered in 1782, and that is why Marco Nieddu and Gabriele Fancellu named their band 1782, as a tribute to her. 1782 formed in 2018, and Marco and Gabriele released their first, self titled album a year later in 2019. 2 years later we get the follow up, what have 1872 got for us this time? 

After a suitably spooky intro in the track Evocations (Intro), we get 7 tracks of huge and heavy doom. The sound is big and fuzzy, with a huge guitar and bass sound that is verging on Electric Wizard levels of hugeness. Most of the the riffing is fairly simple, several of the songs have only one or two riffs, which isn’t unusual for doom. This is an album that works mostly on repetition and dynamics, in several tracks on the album there are minimal and soft riffs that slowly build to huge and very heavy proportions, the track then drops back to the style it started with, still playing the same riff. On some tracks this works very well, the tracks feel hypnotising and dreamlike, in a way that works very well. However there are places on From The Graveyard where this doesn’t quite work. 

Sometimes I found myself yearning for some complexity or something more from this album. The fact that there aren’t any solos doesn’t help, everything has the same feel, there's no variation to keep you interested. From The Graveyard is not a bad album, a lot of what is here is very good. There just isn’t enough going on to keep me interested, if the band can add a little more to the mix to make it more interesting, they could go from making a solid good album, to making something great. 6/10

My Own Private Alaska – Let This Rope Cross All The Lands (AWAL) [Alex Swift]

Performing in a genre known as ‘piano core’, french act My Own Private Alaska are dark if captivating. The song compositions take musical cues from post hardcore or metalcore except…you guessed it, the primary instrument driving these compositions is not the guitar but the piano. While I admire the use of pianos in rock, I’m not actually sure what Let This Rope Cross All The Lands achieves, except to swap out one instrument for another. Admittedly, there are moments such as the emotion fuelled Your Shelter and the exalting Ego Zero where the keys swell to dramatic and lofty heights, granting an almost classical flair to these tracks but strange as this might sound to say, I can’t hear anything else that distinguishes them from other acts in the ‘core’ genres. 

I will pause to admit that this is simply a five song EP of B-sides and rarities, and so may not fully represent the whole range of everything this band is capable of. Indeed, upon listening to their 2010 album Amen, I noticed a far more distinct and interesting variety of influences from post-rock to avant-garde. That piece demonstrates that this band are capable of deconstructing the core fundamentals of their influences and creating something new from the shards of those concepts. Remember though, I am critiquing what I am presented with on this EP, not the band as a whole and while I won’t go as far as to say these songs shouldn’t have been released, they don’t demonstrate the full scope and ability of these musicians. 5/10

Reviews: Distant, Primitai, Agent Steel, Ghosts Of Atlantis (Reviews: Liam True, Simon Black, Paul Hutchings & Paul Scoble)

Distant – Dawn Of Anguish EP (Unique Leader Records) [Liam True]

The six piece hailing from Rotterdam, The Netherlands and Bratislava, Slovakia are set to bring part two of the tale of Tyrannotophia – the realm of the doomed and worlds damnation with the follow up to Dawn Of Corruption. The band began in 2014 and released their debut EPs Slither in 2015 followed by Tsukuyomi in 2017 and 2 years later saw the release of the debut full-length Tyrannotophia before the First chapter of this story was released in 2020. This monster EP clocks in with only six songs reaching only twenty one minutes of jaw breaking brutality with a moody intro that guides us to outrageously crushing riffs and a blistering vocal that melts your skin and boils your fat. 

The drums pummel your bones like being underneath a whacker plate as the breakdowns are like gurgling bowels with aspects of Tech Death thrown in with astonishing Deathcore and a sprinkle on Slam. By the time we reach The Eternal Lament, you would be forgiven for thinking that there is no way of getting darker and more stunningly broken down – however, you are wrong. This shit is just getting started, with Brutal Death Metal gutturals and a pace that reaches stationary, this track certainly has ‘Oh crap, I’m going to get absolutely pounded by the next track’ moments. The EP seems to go from strength to strength as the following track Cryogenesis adds a hint of samples and includes a guest vocal appearance by Lochie Keogh of Alpha Wolf. 

I think its fair to suggest that whilst the EP features this and another track with a guest appearance (Dusk Of Anguish featuring John Robert C. of The Last Ten Seconds Of Life) this is more of an optional extra than a necessity. Distant can more than hold their own against Deathcore band and would smash the fuck out of most of what is considered ‘heavy’ as this EP displays their incredible power and stunning ability to capture such ferocity and leaves you just yearning to start this blistering musical offering again as you try and take in its true destructive might. 8/10

Primitai - Violence Of The Skies (ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records) [Simon Black]

This London (ish) based group of Classic Metallers have been steadily building their credibility and presence since 2005. They have also managed to get some great guest appearances on their albums in the past and this is a trend that continues with Violence Of The Skies, which has appearances from Saxon’s Paul Quinn and a whole bunch of other players. They also have one of the most original websites I have come across in a while, which replicates the kind of explosion of desktop windows that most of s used to have to suffer using Windows circa version 3.11, which alone is worth checking out (at http://primitai.com/) which comes complete with a retro video game, so I’m guessing someone in their camp pays the bills with a career in IT and has been busy whilst the band have been unable to tour.

So what about the record? Well musically although you can clearly hear the Classic Metal tropes and influences, this is a remarkably modern sounding record despite following the current trend of trying to sound like it was recorded on forty year old technology. It’s got a lovely crisp and clear but no frills production sound and can’t resist adding liberal amounts of reverb magic juice vocally, because quite frankly it just works when you want an expansive sound. The downside of this is it’s not a particularly heavy sounding recording, which may not be for all, but this is more than compensated for by a bunch of well-crafted songs that fly off the platter in a blur. What it does capture brilliantly is the pent up energy and urgency that often found its way into old recordings when studio time was such a limiting factor. Considering this was recorded during the pandemic, that’s quite an achievement as many acts have struggled to capture that zeitgeist with a remote working model. 

Musically the straight ahead Metal is not without some subtly effective Prog/Power flourishes which often find their way into the instrumental and solo breaks and a great soaring vocals turn from lungsman Guy Miller, whose gutsy, soulful and powerful delivery carries each song – and he’s very high up in the mix. That’s probably the only gripe I have with the record – there’s some great stuff going on musically but that only really steps into the limelight when the vocals are taking a break, which is a shame as there’s some great technical guitar work buried in there outside of these sections. The positive side of this is it feels like a musical and cohesive whole and therefore a bit more catchy overall to the more casual listener than when you ear is trying to differentiate individual players and, let’s face it, if you don’t hook in the casual listener you don’t grow. 7/10

Agent Steel – No Other Godz Before Me (Cherry Red Records) [Paul Hutchings]

For those of a certain age, Agent Steel were a band that completely bewitched. Formed by vocalist John Cyriis was fired by Megadeth in 1984, their first two albums, Skeptics Apocalypse and Unstoppable Force, as well as the bizarre EP Mad Locust Rising were all speed metal classics. It was Cyriis’s incredibly high-pitched vocals that stood them apart from other bands of the time, along with a turnover of members and background legal chaos that would set them apart and lead to their split in 1988. Having reformed in 1998, the band released three albums without Cyriis, who did briefly return in 2010, before he reformed the name Agent Steel once more in 2018, with an entirely new line-up. No Other Godz Before Me sees Cyriis joined by guitarists Nikolay Atanasov and Vin Obscurious (really?), Shuichi Oni on bass and drummer Rasmus Kjaer. 

It continues from where Unstoppable Force left off over 30 years ago. After the intro of Passage To Afron – V, it’s all systems go with a blistering trademark Agent Steel full on speed metal assault as Crypts Of Galactic Damnation explodes through the speakers. For those not familiar with Cyriis’s unique style of singing, this is the man who makes King Diamond sound like Cliff Richard. His piercing shrieks are astonishing, making cats cry and dogs howl, such is the sheer sonic audiological assault. But, and it’s a big but, if you enjoy this individual style then Agent Steel are simply full-face melting. 

This is 40 minutes of galloping, sci-fi inspired metal that doesn’t draw breath. The Devil’s Greatest Trick races along, Sonata Cosmica thunders like a hundred racehorses on the final furlong and throughout it all the band rage underneath the soaring vocals. If you were around when Agent Steel burst onto the scene back in the mid-80s, this album is likely to do one of two things. It’ll either allow you some pleasant flashbacks to those early albums and the sheer velocity that Agent Steel operated at, or have you scratching your head at why you ever liked this band. 

Hopefully the former. Veterans Of Disaster slows the tempo slightly, but there’s still blastbeats galore, and riffs that drive hard. At all times, it’s Cyriis’s quite magnificent voice that stands apart, the overlapping harmonies and escalating scales that he emits remain utterly ludicrous. But there’s also something quite epic about Agent Steel, who at times sound like Queensrÿche on acid. It’s feisty, fiery, and always frantic. Outer Space Connection brings the album to a speed induced conclusion before the outro of Entrance To Afron – V guides the album to a close. For me, Agent Steel were always a band worth listening to and this album is a welcome return to one of metal’s most eccentric and fabulous bands. 8/10

Ghosts Of Atlantis - (Black Lion Records) [Paul Scoble]

Hailing from that Heavy metal hotspot of Suffolk, Ghosts Of Atlantis have been making music together since 2019. The five piece, featuring Phil Primmer on Vocals, Colin Parks on Guitars and Vocals, Dex Jezierski on Guitars, Al Todd on Bass and Rob Garner on Drums, are on their first album with however the band have a lot of previous experience as the band contains current and ex members of Devilment, Sower, Extreme Noise Terror, Cold Lazarus and Failed Humanity in their ranks. The band and album are themed around the mythology of ancient Greece and as the name suggests, Atlantis. Vocally this album is very impressive, particularly the clean vocals. The harsh vocals are very good; closer to Death Metal than Black Metal, but the clean vocals stand out and are especially good when they are harmonised. The album features some very impressive performances throughout, the drums are particularly good, and this really works when the band hit the accelerator pedal. 

The fast parts of the album really work Halls Of Lemuria, When Tridents Fail, and Gardens Of Athena all have very impressive uptempo parts that are close to Melodic Death Metal and in places with a nice thrashy edge. Although has some very impressive elements, as a whole the album doesn’t really hold together. The problem is some issues to do with songwriting, and some much bigger issues to do with the bands overall style. I’ll come back to the songwriting issue later, let’s deal with style. The bands style is a mix of Melodic Death Metal, Melodic Black Metal with the addition of a style that is commonly known as Symphonic. What this sounds most like to my ears is the style of ‘Symphonic’ Black Metal that you will find on Dimmu Borgir's albums Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia (2001) and Death Cult Armageddon (2003), and a certain amount of British band Cradle Of Filth. As anyone who knows anything about Black Metal knows, Dimmu Borgir are the Westlife of Black Metal, and Cradle Of Filth are the Aqua of Black Metal, unfortunately this would make Ghosts Of Atlantis the Venga Boys of Black Metal. All joking aside, this album does sound like it was made around the turn of the century. The huge overblown production job is impressively massive, but it also feels false and plastic. 

The album is drenched in synths unashamedly dominating everything, along with very dramatic drumming, but this has pushed the guitars very far down the mix. I have mentioned that the fast parts of this album are very enjoyable, however, these fast parts are few and far between. Most of the album is at a slow or mid-paced tempo, and the guitars seem to just chug in time with the drums in a very staccato way that has no syncopation (a little bit like in Nu Metal). This means that these parts feel very ploddy as there is no speed or inertia to the riffs. In the sections where the guitars just chug in time to the drums they become part of the tracks rhythm, and the song ends up sounding like synth and drums. The songs plod along feeling overblown and maybe a little pompous, and the lack of decent pacing or inertia also means most of the tracks feel very similar. The issue with songwriting is that on a couple of tracks there are some of the slow and ploddy but huge parts don’t feel like they fit together. Yes, they are in the right key and at the right tempo, but there is a feeling that the structure is just lashed together, with very little thought for how well the riffs fit together.

In several of the tracks there are sections that feel incoherent and disjointed. Taste is always a difficult thing to deal with. To my ears this feels dated, synthetic and (probably worst of all) boring. However, if you love those two Dimmu albums I mentioned, and you don’t think Cradle Of Filth are a joke, then by all means jump in, you’ll probably love it. However, if you’re like me then all this will do is remind why Symphonic Black Metal died a death once Atmospheric Black Metal bands like Agalloch, Wolves In The Throne Room or Altars Of Plague hit the scene. 5/10        

Wednesday 24 March 2021

Reviews: Sanguisugabogg, Exist Immortal, Storm Siege, Aziola Cry (Reviews By Paul Hutchings & Matt Bladen)

Sanguisugabogg – Tortured Whole (Century Media Records) [Paul Hutchings)

Where do you start with this? Ohio gore monsters with the unpronounceable name produce one of the most repulsive albums of 2021. And it’s their debut to boot. A fierce 33 minutes of perverse, vile and festering puss-balled death metal which has been described as music for “fans of sewage”. Combining the best or is that worst of slasher movies with the OSDM sound of the likes of Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower and Obituary and adding a fresh take, Tortured Whole is a putrid example of the extreme; or ‘down tuned drug death’ as the band have named their sound. The album is pure filth. Battering drumming, gruesome riffing and a demonic vocal delivery that rumbles Satan’s bowels, even though he doesn’t feature here. Just about every other expulsion of body fluid does though. Wade through this cesspit of depravity and you’ll be confronted with Menstrual Envy, a song about drug consumption followed by the removal of one’s own penis. 

Let’s hope this is from imagination and not bitter experience. Elsewhere the band include anti paedophilia rages amongst the other slasher influenced topics. It’s brutal sludgy death metal, splatter style, Dick Filet, Dead As Shit, Dragged By A Truck and Felching Filth would struggle to get through customs but demonstrate just what perverts these guys. But guitarist Cameron Boggs, who is joined by Cody Davidson – Drums, Devin Swank – Vocals and Ced Davis – Bass, also want you to have some fun. The gore may be front and centre but as Boggs explains, “We want to make people feel welcomed around us, rather than intimidated by darkness because that ain’t us”. It’s dirtier than the train toilet on international day but if you like your death metal spewn forth in a stream of stomach contents and with some trepidation about how much matter brain splatter will end up in your ear, this is an album to get stuck into. In every sense of the word. 8/10

Exist Immortal - Act Two: Gold (Seek & Strike) [Matt Bladen]

Part two of their trilogy of EP's dealing with internal struggles, Act Two - Gold is about finding positivity with a healthy attitude rather than dwelling on the past trauma's. Exist Immortal are progressive metalcore band in the djent style of thick grooves, flittering electronics and anthemic emotional vocals. As I said this EP is the second of three and it continues with a concept that is positive in nature powered by Exist Immortal's innovative take on djent/metalcore, a track such as Gold highlights this with it's almost pop sound and anthemic refrain. At only four tracks Act Two - Gold is a short jaunt into Exist Immortal's world but when you take it as the middle part of this project it builds on what has come before and sets the tone for the final part. 7/10

Storm Siege – Satanus Sum (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

This record was initially released in August 2020 but has only now arrived at our attention. Storm Siege is a Spanish thrash outfit, from the Spanish Capital Madrid, or to be correct, Storm Siege is all the work of one man, Salvo Campuzano who plays and sings on everything. For a debut solo project, it’s a reasonably well produced release, with ample old school rawness. This is someone who doesn’t want clean, crisp lines on his production. It shows in the music which crosses the boundaries of straight forward thrash and dives headfirst into the blackened thrash pond. There’s a feisty mix of Venom, Sodom and Motörhead, all explosive and aggressive. 

The songs power forward, the drumming ragged and energetic, the riffs frantic and the vocals a snarling roar. There’s little variation, although the high tempo of the title track and the likes of Inquisitor and Flagellator (I think you’ll start to guess the themes by now if you haven’t twigged from the album title) do slow a little on parts of Plague which merges a thicker chug with more full-on riffing. There’s the odd blistering solo that roars out of the melee, with some decent harmonies and melody. It’s not all brilliant though and some of the songs are a little ragged. But I’m sure that’s partly the appeal from a project that like so many these days, worships more at the blackened old school altar. If like me, you enjoy your thrash with a charred blackened edge, this album is most worthy of your attention. 7/10

Aziola Cry - The Ironic Divide (Sensory) [Matt Bladen]

When a band is signed to Sensory records, you pretty much know you're about to get some highly complex prog metal. The Ironic Divide is their first album in 2007, so with nearly 14 years between them this album is basically the rebirth of this Illinois trio comprised of Jason Blake on Warr Guitar, Mike Milaniak on guitar, and Tommy Murray on drums. I know you're asking what a Warr Guitar is so I'll explain that it's basically like Chapman Stick featuring bass and guitar strings designed to be played by two hand tapping. It means that there is a a massive amount of two hand tapping across these four tracks and 48 minutes! Yep it's certainly prog with the title track clocking in at a mammoth 21 minutes. Now that is usually no problem however Aziola Cry are all instrumental meaning that despite the obvious variation in their playing styles across the songs they never really feel truly different enough to keep the attention of non-musicians. If you play an instrument or you're REALLY into bands such as King Crimson of Behold...The Arctopus you will lap up this slice of virtuoso playing but for others there may just be a little too much chin stroking. 6/10   

Reviews: Memoriam, Wheel, La Morte Viene Dallo Spazio, Servants To The Tide (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Memoriam - To The End (Reaper Entertainment)

Memoriam don't need any introduction, the organic continuation of one of the best death metal bands of all time, the mighty Bolt Thrower, they have only been in existence for just five years but they have already unleashed three slabs of mechanized, war influenced death metal, but in 2021 they are about to unleash their fourth record To The End. It's a record that further evolves Memoriam as a band, their relationship with Russ Russell pushing them in to realms otherwise unknown to their death metal pedigree. 

Yet again they team up with Russell along with new drummer Spike T Smith who plays in Sacrilege with bassist Frank Healy so their rhythm section is tighter than ever before, providing an artillery barrage that was last heard at the Somme. Much like their previous three albums, To The End is the start of a new conceptual storyline, something of prequelle for the character featured in the first three albums, perhaps taking a storytelling advice from George Lucas. 

To The End  has some new elements for sure, most coming from Scott Fairfax's incendiary guitar playing but it opens as only a Memoriam record can. Onwards Into Battle is a mid-paced, mud stomper, grinding out the riffs welcoming you into the heaviness, which shifts into the aggressive This War Is Won a track full of dynamics moving between blast beat driven speed and low grooves. However we do a get a change with more Gothic intro to No Effect which has modern death sound to it (it's the dive bombs), though no matter the musical backing it still has that unmistakable growl of Karl Willetts whose politically charged and historically influenced lyricism, carries the story of the record. 

I mentioned dynamics earlier in the review and this album has them ingrained into every song making it a more diverse offering with songs such as the slow, doomy Each Step (One Closer To The Grave) and As My Heart Grows Cold and the almost punk sound of Failure To Comply adding new types of round to the already devastating Memoriam cannon. Five years is only a short time as a band but with a legacy behind them To The End shows that Memoriam aren't resting on past glories. 9/10

Wheel - Resident Human (Wheel Music/OMN Label Services)

Wheel have rapidly become one of the favourite bands here at MoM Towers, their emotionally charged, brooding prog metal is an instant winner if you're into bands such as Karnivool, Tool, Porcupine Tree and even Opeth. The band have also steadily risen through the ranks of live acts and in February 2020 they set off on their first ever headline tour, one of the final gigs we attended last year. This was to be a major milestone for this Anglo-Finnish act, but then there was the very obvious spanner that has been in the works since then. Their studio time was pushed back, guitarist JC left the band (with Jussi Turunen taking over) and the record was put together from the barebones, just as it was coming together frontman James found himself burnt out but these challenges have lent themselves to being part of a massive step up for the band in terms of songwriting. 

Dissipating is a shifting, undulating track that takes inspiration from the Hyperion Cantos series of books by Dan Simmons, it's themes of what makes us human is one that continues throughout the record. James finding empathy in our continued move towards being a less sociable society, a state that has been all but increased by the pandemic. The labyrinthine Hyperion too draws from this book series sitting as an impressive mid point. Tracks such as Movement which covers the Black Lives Matter protests is not only one that has those high concept lyrics but also shows what Wheel do as a band. 

It's the sort of song that would have made Fear Inoculum more than just self indulgent claptrap. Wheel are like Tool when they had something to say and a way to say it. The rhythmic, almost tribalistic percussion and stop-start riffs (Ascend) are what have brought Wheel to the dance but they have new moves. James relinquishing some of the control that made Moving Backwards such a mechanical force, for a more organic sound. Fugue having a slithering bassline from Aki Virta paired with the expressive drumming of Santeri Saksala, for a shimmering atmosphere brought in by James' guitar. Fugue and the closing Old Earth are tracks that carry this emotional heart giving you moments of clarity between the heavier, complex remaining tracks.    

While I loved Moving Backwards this move towards evolution makes Resident Human a more natural sounding album, the band all adding their individuality to it rather than being the hooded, almost robotic act they were previously. This of course is deliberate with the discourses on what makes us 'human' the albums central theme. Sometimes in this reviewing lark you not only latch on to something special you also get to see it evolve in front of you and this is the case with Wheel. A band who started out brilliantly with their EP's and then their stunning debut Moving Backwards, have, on their second album redefined themselves as one of the most important bands around today. 10/10      

La Morte Viene Dallo Spazio - Trivial Visions (Svart Records)

Translating as Death Comes From Outer Space, the band name and indeed the music on this record are very much influenced by the 50's/60's B-Movie Sci-Fi spearheaded by Dario Argento. Massive, hypnotic space rock sounds clash with black metal violence on Trivial Visions, and while sometimes you get a song similar to early Porcupine Tree, Cursed Invader sounds alot like Voyage 34 most of the album is full of acid-induced space rocking of Barrett-era Floyd, Hawkwind and Ozric Tentacles, but also the occult stoner of Blood Ceremony and Purson. Jazz odysseys sitting side by side with Jethro Tull inspired flutes on tracks like Lost Horizons.

Elsewhere the Krautrock of Tangerine Dream (Oracolo Della Morte) is juxtaposed with the intergalactic doom of Electric Wizard (Ashes). It's certainly a mind-trip, the kind only replicated by strong hallucinogenics (don't do drugs kids), but it's also a soundtrack to the maddest sci-fi movie you've ever seen. The album is full of snippets from movies, heavily effects leaden elements and more synth than Jean-Michel Jarre's house! It also means that Trivial Visions is near impossible to categorize, it it really an album you have to listen too, rendering my score all but meaningless as you have to take this in to make a judgement. Still here goes casting into the endless futility of space. 8/10    

Servants To The Tide - Servants To The Tide (No Remorse Records)

Servants To The Tide is the debut release from then new project formed by Leonid Rubinstein (ex-Craving) to pay homage to his musical heroes. He plays the bass, guitars and keys on this 30 odd minute slab of epic doom metal, inspired by Atlantean Kodex, While Heaven Wept, Solstice, Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus. Now with such established, genre defining influences it could be difficult to walk the line between inspiration and pastiche but luckily Leon treats his subject matter with a reverence that allows Servants To The Tide speak for itself. It's packed full of lumbering, cavernous riffs, thumping drumwork from Lucas Freise and the broad voice of Stephan Wehrbein, who has a dramatic, commanding delivery, really giving guts to the already powerful compositions.   

As with the epic doom sound itself there is much more to it than that though with lots of stirring clean guitar work from Leon while there are additional guests; Jeff Black (Gatekeeper) Luc Francois (Mind Patrol) add piano and gutturals to the title track while Paul Thureau (Frostide) provides a speech on the riff heavy On Marsh And Bones (The Face Of Black Palmyra). There's a distinctly nautical theme to album, the travels between Gallic/Nordic/Germanic Europe and Albion a central theme on the brilliant North Sea which has lots of cinematic synths, plenty of storytelling and plaintive piano. Mixed and mastered by Michael Hahn to bring that authenticity to the record, he has worked with Atlantean Kodex and Warning) Servants To The Tide is a very accomplished piece of work, for epic doom/classic heavy metal worshippers such as Leon (and myself), the inspiration is obvious but it has its own clear vision. 8/10  

Tuesday 23 March 2021

Reviews: Liquid Tension Experiment, Draken, Grande Royale, Celestial Sanctuary (Reviews By Paul Hutchings)

Liquid Tension Experiment – 3 (Inside Out Music)

How to describe the third album by Liquid Tension Experiment? The supergroup that contains Mike Portnoy (Transatlantic, Sons Of Apollo), John Petrucci (Dream Theater), Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), and Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel). An utter wankfest of noodling self-indulgent exhibitionism – yep, that’s one way. But for those that fancy some progressive noodling and self-expression, played by some of the best musicians in the world, this may be an album to savour. What is certain is that it will divide opinion right down the middle.

Having formed in 1997, LTE quickly released their self-titled debut in 1998 and LTE2 in 1999. Their sound was dynamic, frantic, and utterly creative. And then other stuff happened. Mainly Dream Theater of course! It wasn’t until July 2020 that the four managed to get back in the same studio with the hope of rekindling the energy and chemistry of those early albums.

The first thing to say about LTE3 is that the musicianship is off the chart. These are the elite after all. And they have certainly gelled with over an hour of instrumental music that varies between the downright explosive to the more bizarre and all stops in between. LTE3 comprises four fully composed tracks, two duets, one on-the-fly jam and one meticulously arranged cover.

Opener Hypersonic was the last track to be written. It’s opening 30 seconds is almost unbelievable such is the frantic pace that erupts. It continues in a muscular workout for over eight minutes and if ever there was a song to prove these guys can still cut it, this is it. Beating The Odds that follows is described as the “feel good song of the pandemic” and has an upbeat style which branches out into a typically expansive jam. Liquid Evolution clocks in at the shortest track and is a calming three minutes, mellow and relaxing and ideally placed to calm the soul after the frantic first duo.

Things get heavier with The Passage of Time, Petrucci kicking out a fine riff which drives the song forward. Rudess’s thick keyboards duel with Petrucci’s barely controlled guitar work in a sonically structured musical battle. I don’t care for the avant-garde Portnoy/Levin duet Chris & Kevin's Amazing Odyssey which leads to the progressive arrangement of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue. Known to millions, this explorative arrangement will no doubt get the progressive haters spinning because it is just so over the top. Full of pompous, overblown passages, you’ll either love it or hate. It’s sheer musical masturbation in its purest form. You can see the smiles on these guys as they cranked this one out.

This leaves us with the final duo. Shades Of Hope, recorded in one take, is a gentle, carefully crafted duet which allows Petrucci’s guitar to sing, accompanied by Rudess’s piano and sounds like the ghastly ballad type guff that Dream Theater churn out for James LaBrie to warble over. Key To The Imagination brings the album to a close, but not in any hurry. It’s 13 minutes long and possibly the greatest track on the album. A short solo gives way to a chunky riff which adds a darker feel, Portnoy’s always impressive drumming propelling the track before a break sees Petrucci hit the millionth soaring solo. We then get some symphonic backing as Rudess takes centre stage. The song ebbs and flows, back and fore with classic duelling, all the while carefully anchored by Levin and Portnoy’s solid engine room heroics.

So, there you have it. LTE3. Sonically stunning, crafted with a spontaneity that few can achieve. It may also be a throwback to the days when prog ruled the land, when gigs were eight weeks long and littered with as many solos as you could fit in. I’ve come to respect it during its residency. Is it something I’d reach for time and again? Probably not, but I can see those who love this having it on repeat. One for the individual. Take a trip, enjoy the ride, and see what you think. 7/10

Draken - Draken (Majestic Mountain Records)

Another day, another mightily impressive debut release. This time, it’s Draken, a progressive rock power trio from Norway.

Draken aren’t your typical progressive outfit, incorporating ample fuzzed up stoner vibes into their meandering compositions. There is plenty to explore on this wild voyage of discovery. The riotous Realm Of Silence opens the album in glorious form before the rolling and tumbling of Way Down Low kicks in, maintaining the momentum with huge riffs and a galloping feel.

The longer compositions such as (We Walk In) Circles and the ten-minute beast The Master which sprawls magnificently, grabbing slices of Thin Lizzy into its kaleidoscopic portrait, add to the pace of the album, a more measured but no less impactful duo of songs that bring a psychedelic element to proceedings. Digging into a wide variety of influences, the trio, Spidergawd/Orango bassist Hallvard Gaardløs, close friend Andre Drage and jazz/progressive virtuoso, Even Hermansen (Bushman’s Revenge) on guitar, deliver a compelling and versatile record that impresses on every level. 8/10

Grande Royale – Carry On (The Sign Records)

‘Does the world need any more foot stompin’ rock n roll that owes a debt to The Rolling Stones and The Black Crowes’ asked Matt, when reviewing Grande Royale’s 2019 release Take It Easy?

Well, regardless of what our esteemed editor felt, and he didn’t dislike Take It Easy, the Swedes have ploughed on, stripped back some of their sound and now present album number five, due for release on 26th March via The Sign Records. 11 tracks in just over 32 minutes should give you some idea of the speed, energy and attitude that comes at you on this album. It’s a back-to-basics release that would go down a storm at somewhere like Steelhouse Festival. It’s that type of high tempo wham, bam, thank you mam in your face stompers that works in the right environment. And that is likely to involve a beer or two!

The band, led by Gustav Wremer (vocals/guitar), have that classic Swedish rock n roll style that seems to come so natural to that part of the world. It’s a well performed and produced album, and you can take your pick of the songs because they all share the same dynamic drive and catchy hooks. Pick the title track, the pumping Ain’t Got Soul or the fist waving Troublemaker. They all do the same thing. Sing-along anthems like the Thin Lizzy styled Stayin’ Dry (Ideal Steelhouse anthem no? - Ed) are catchy and entertaining. It’s all good fun. Self-produced, with Robert Pehrsson helping with the mix, and they entertain Dregen (Hellacopters, Backyard Babies) for a guest vocal slot on Just As Bad As You. An album that would be the ideal theme tune to a raucous house party (remember them?), Carry On reeks of good times and at the moment that can’t be a bad thing. 7/10

Celestial Sanctuary - Soul Diminished (Church Road Records)

The UK is blessed with many solid death metal outfits. It’s likely that Celestial Sanctuary will soon be on the list as well for this debut release by the band formed in Cambridge in 2019 is a strong piece of work. 

Soul Diminished tells the story of a soul trapped in a vessel of a body, gaining consciousness. Over the course of the album, they become aware their sentience is a hell they must suffer as they realize their existence is predetermined and their fate already sealed by a disgusting, faceless entity.... a shapeless master. The being’s sanity deteriorates as they descend into madness. It’s clear from the ferocious riff of opening song Rid The Gormless that the band have absorbed plenty of old school influences but there is plenty of contemporary flavour contained within. Rid The Gormless is the perfect opener, nasty and feral, it ebbs and flows from thrashing pace to slower, riff heavy segments which rely on the intensity to slowly crush. 

There’s ample headbanging opportunity throughout. Relentless Savagery is well named, a pounding aural sense assault with a slicing guitar riff, dark growling vocals, and some punishing changes of tempo. It broods, pauses then smashes. Relentless indeed.With a message about the destructive nature of humankind, Celestial Sanctuary’s music fits neatly. Wretched Habits draws deep on old school death metal influences but with its own modern twist. As the album progresses, tracks such as Suffer Your Sentence, with its foreboding intro that spills into a grisly march, Yearn For Rot with its sinister, dark atmosphere and the blistering pace of Endless Chasm all get the head nodding in agreement.

This is a well rounded and played album with enough originality to allow it to stand proud on its own. The four band members, Tomas Cronin (Vocals & Guitar), James Burke (Drums), Jim Rutterford (Bass) and Matt Adnett (Guitar) look set to be a part of the UKDM scene for some time to come. 7/10