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Monday 22 March 2021

Reviews: U.D.O, Nine Treasures, The Hirsch Effect, Trollfest (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Alex Swift, Paul Hutchings & Matt Bladen)

U.D.O. - Live In Bulgaria 2020: Pandemic Survival Show (AFM Records) [Richard Oliver]

There have been a lot of live albums released the past year. With all touring revenue gone a lot of bands have been releasing live albums with material recorded prior to the 2020 pandemic. Where this live album really differs is that it was recorded in the midst of the global pandemic in front of a crowd of 2500 people. U.D.O. have seemingly done what seemed impossible and managed to perform a huge show whilst conforming to the coronavirus restrictions of the country. Aside from applauding the logistics of pulling off a show like this it is utterly fantastic to see some live music persevere in what has been the absolute worst year for live music. The show itself was recorded in Bulgaria on 18th September 2020 at the stunning Roman amphitheatre in Plovdiv - a venue that has been the host venue for many spectacular live concerts including artists such as Devin Townsend, Katatonia, Anathema and Paradise Lost amongst others. 

There is a palpable excitement both from the audience and the band and it must have been an incredible show to attend considering the circumstances and an uplifting experience. Add to that that this is a show from one of the stalwarts of German heavy metal - the mighty Udo Dirkschneider. This is a passionate performance especially since it is the first performance from Udo and his band for many, many months and is a whopping near two and a half hour show. It is a career spanning show for U.D.O. including cuts from all eras of the band plus the inclusion of some songs from the mighty Accept who of course Udo Dirkschneider is the former frontman of. Latter days songs such as Make The Move, Metal Machine and I Give As Good As I Get sit comfortably alongside older cuts such as Time Bomb, Man And Machine and Animal House whilst we get Accept classics such as Princess Of The Dawn, Fast As A Shark and Balls To The Wall. 

The pace does suffer slightly with the grouping of some slower songs towards the end of the first half and there are drum and bass solos which pad things out but these are probably there to give the 68 year old Udo a bit of a breather. Whilst his vocals aren’t as strong as they used to be, Udo does sound fantastic for his age and there are few people of that age still with the stamina to perform heavy metal on stage for two hours plus. Like any live album this would work better with the visual aspect of the show especially considering this show took place in the spectacular setting of a Roman amphitheatre and thankfully this has also been released as a DVD and Blu Ray. This is still a fantastic show and an amazing achievement in one of the worst times in living memory for musicians and artists. 8/10

Nine Treasures - Awakening From Dukkha (Self Released) [Alex Swift]

With the aim of ‘taking Mongolian folk metal worldwide’, from the outset I admired Nine Treasures' ambitions. To start a band and take your music across the globe is a lofty aim in itself. Moreso, if few know how your – as it happens distinctly optimistic take on metal - sounds. The music in question is an intriguing bringing together of old school heavy metal and traditional Mongolian folk which sees Nine Treasures utilise both conventional vocals and Mongolian throat singing Awakening From Dukkha is a best-of album aimed at distilling this bands flair and personality, so far captured across three records, into one experience. Symphonic and traditional elements also cascade into the mix, adding to the grandiosity. Black Heart spares no time in impressing. Pummelling guitars intersect with feverish string arrangements and technically awe-inspiring acoustics. 

I have to say that the combination works far better than you’d expect, each instrument working together in brilliant harmony and rhythm. Halfway into the first song and you will already be hooked – that is, if you can see past the vocals. Look, for me while the throat singing initially took me back, after a while I learned to appreciate the style as part of this acts overall charm and presence (as well as, from what I understand, an important part of Mongolia’s musical heritage) However, this is an acquired taste and particularly if you don’t care for acts with strange vocal delivery, this might be enough to put you off the project altogether. Thankfully, although they are still probably my least favourite aspect I couldn’t resist the call of the instrumentals – Arvan Ald Guulin Honshoor made me want to dance and experience this music in all its excitement in a live setting. Fable Of Mangas beguiled with touches of mystery and bewilderment. Nomin Dalai proved confident and exciting while Tes River’s Hymn made for an exploratory and multi-layered journey of a piece. 

The intrigue continued onto Ten Years where the metal instrumentals are seen to separate a little more from the folk ones to allow both a chance to shine. Even with the vocals, this one is amazingly memorable the chorus providing an elusive lynchpin for the rest of the elements to latch on to in their quest to be outstanding. The Dream About Ancient City proved distinctly darker to my ears, the dense and rich instrumental layers making for a mesmeric experience. Moments like these helped prove to me that Nine Treasures are far more than a fluke in the music world, as did the stampeding anthem of Praise For Fine Horses and the cleverly paced End Of The World. Almost psychedelic in nature is the wavelike Wisdom Eyes which contrasts the quiet and loud aspects of their sound with cunning and complexity. 

The Stubborn relentlessly challenges the listener with outlandish rhythmic textures, the oddness lending yet more originality. We finish on Three Years Old Warrior, the choice managing to be arousing and motivating one to end on. To end, while this acts music might not be for everybody and certainly is not something to return to every day, the skill, precision, and writing has to be admired. 8/10

The Hirsch Effekt - Gregær (Long Branch Records) [Paul Hutchings]

It’s nice to take something a little outside the comfort zone on occasion. German experimental trio The Hirsch Effekt’s latest EP was certainly that for me. The band gathered 17 young classical musicians from Hannover and recorded orchestral versions of their songs Natans, Domstol and Kollaps and new song Gregær, all arranged by composer Anthony Williams. The EP opens with the ten-minute Natans, which is one of the most confusing and chaotic songs I’ve heard for some time. The awkward juxtaposition between the strings, choral sections, jazz and progressive passages and grunting roars that contrasted with melodious clean singing was something I didn’t want to listen to more than once. That probably makes this review a little unfair, but life is short and wasting your time on such explorative expressions seems pointless. Additional brass didn’t increase my enjoyment one bit. 

It was all a bit jumbled, and at times sounded like they were playing several different songs at one. But it gets more challenging. Domstol is the sound of a seven-year-old with ADHD. Intense passages of high-speed drumming, screaming and semi-death metal vocals competing with high pitched choral singing, all in German to add to the confusion, before an abrupt halt slows the tempo dramatically. It’s either very clever or tripe. I can’t decide but let’s just say it didn’t get me excited in anyway. The orchestral intro to Kollaps which segued into a sultry bass line promised better. The atmospheric build up with more brass slowly evolved but once more it was all a little disappointing with the jangling guitar and disjointed combinations really jarring. 

That left the new song Gregær to provide any redemption. I’m afraid it didn’t despite the increased electronica style tempo. It’s all a bit too messy and whilst I appreciated the effort and undoubted talent, I just couldn’t warm to anything I heard. I have admiration for the band’s determined drive and originality, and many will no doubt embrace the avante garde approach. I’m sorry.  4/10

Trollfest - Happy Heroes (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

This a mental release make no mistake. Now I'm not stranger to so-called Balkan music as my other half was brought up with it, being from the North of Greece. Trollfest are from Norway, they are an 8 piece using traditional instruments from Bouzouki, Saxophone and Accordion with guitars, drums, bass and various vocalists. They are apparently legendary, playing this Balkan Metal for a long time so they are very well versed in creating a maelstrom of beer fuelled troll metal. The only 'new' track on this record is the title track which is exactly as you'd expect, full of silly fantasy lyrics and quirky musical flourishes. The other three tracks are covers with Miriam Renvåg Müller adding the female vocals on Cartoon Heroes (Aqua), which receives a galloping overhaul while the oddest cover is Bobby McFerin's Don't Worry Be Happy which is fucking awful! Finally there's a version of Happy by Pharrell Williams which isn't much better. The definition of stopgap, this will be dreadful to anyone who isn't a fan of the band. 3/10

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