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 Up, Running 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 Me, Glory 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
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