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Friday 9 July 2021

Reviews: James Stevenson, Rampart, Psychic Hit, Bang Bang Firecracker (Reviews By Megan Jenkins & Matt Bladen)

James Stevenson – The Other Side Of The World (Pink Gun) [Megan Jenkins]

The Other Side Of The World is James Stevenson’s first release since 2017 and the high levels of anticipation surrounding it have paid off. Stevenson recorded the entire album remotely, along with writing all but one of the songs by himself. The album opens with Baby Come On, which is an extremely solid start to the album. It kicks straight in with a wailing guitar riff that immediately makes me think of Joe Bonamassa and his instantly recognisable playing style. When the brass is added during the second verse the mix seems to get a little messy due to the vocals getting drowned out slightly, but this is just personal preference. Gotta Find That Feelin' is if Park Life by Blur was a funk song. And, yes, I say that purely because of the cockney accent you hear throughout. Using spoken word in songs can be a little cringe inducing and here it treads the very fine line between tasteful and making me wince – I can’t lie. Musically, I’m a fan of this song. The guitar solo is impressive, along with the simple yet extremely catchy melody in the chorus. I just can't let go of the “I fought ‘at was laaavley” after a brass solo that sounds like it belongs on a Vulfpeck record.

When You’re Feeling Sad And Lonely, Ugly Beautiful, In The Nighttime and Point It To Your Head are all simplistic yet effective. They’re all full of catchy melodies, funky bass lines that drive them forward, guitar solos that desperately make me want to pick up my own instrument, and no complications whatsoever. Take A Little Love follows the same pattern yet its chorus is so catchy that it makes the song sound like it belongs on a modern day Sgt. Pepper. What more could you ask for? I’m Getting Over You Now is slower than the rest of the album, changing the pace slightly. Added use of an electric piano elevates the song despite its mellow nature and slower tempo. New York 10023 didn’t give me a great deal of hope because of the amount of repetition in the song, until the guitar solo at the minute mark. Instead of the base chord progression falling into the trap of sounding the exact same the entire way through, Stevenson uses the solo to change it up and makes it feel as though the song is constantly evolving with his playing. The ‘ooh’s and ‘ah’s at the end are similar to Fleetwood Mac’s Big Love, which is my absolute favourite song of theirs and a fact that made me love New York 10023 even more.

The Other Side Of The World is (obviously) the title track for the album and is a beautiful song. Like a lot of his music, Stevenson’s addition of an electric guitar enables the song to take on a whole other lifeform and it becomes something entirely new. The song became even more meaningful when I learned that it was written as a tribute to his late brother whom he lost to Picks Disease in the first Covid lockdown. The final track, Just Like I Do, is the perfect end to this album. There is nothing else I can say but that fact. The entire thing is extremely easy to listen to start to finish and I can’t wait to hear what else James Stevenson has up his unbelievably talented sleeve. 9/10

Rampart – WWII: Memories For The Future (Sleazsy Rider Records)  [Megan Jenkins]

Its great seeing so many more female-fronted metal bands come to the forefront of the scene and gain the recognition they deserve, and Bulgarian heavy metal group Rampart are no exception with their fifth, and latest, release - a concept album about World War II. There’s clearly a huge influence from the ‘Big 4’ and their classics - fans of Iron Maiden will find themselves thinking of Bruce Dickinson’s iconic vibrato-heavy vocals while listening to Memories For The Future. The wailing voice of lead vocalist Maria Diese cuts above melodic guitar lines to elevate instrumentals. Twice Occupied is a track that is particularly reminiscent of Iron Maiden and while some may find Rampart too similar, I find them nostalgic to listen to. 

It’s great to see a band emulate what one of the classics has done and not many have been able to come close to, until now. Overcast Omen breaks the album up slightly with a dissonant clean opening riff that left the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. I think this is one of the best on the album purely because of how different it is to the rest. It allows the band to showcase their talents as songwriters and musicians, displaying the variety of styles they can produce. The entire album is full of classic heavy metal riffs and thrashy drum beats that left me feeling oddly nostalgic. Yes, nothing will ever beat the ‘Big 4’ but I think Rampart come extremely close to it with this release. 7/10

Psychic Hit - Solutio (Seeing Red Records) [Matt Bladen]

Ah, yet another psychedelic rock band with lots of Eastern elements, fuzzy guitars, proto-metal thrust and wild vocals. Psychic Hit are in the same ball park as Lucifer and Kadavar, bringing that San Francisco/Swedish style of retro rock but with a garage rock edge adding a hint of danger to tracks such as Left For Dead and the gloomy Hand Of Fate show this perfectly as the latter especially moves into the headache inducing drug trip of bands like Hawkwind. Made up of guitarist Andrea Genevieve (Purple Rhinestone Eagle), vocalist/violinist Ariana Jade (Nik Turner’s Hawkwind), bassist Melanie Burkett (Ovvl), drummer Justin Divver (Funeral Chant), and rhythm guitarist/synth player Jake Palladino (Pins of Light). 

This five piece have a dense musical backing that never strays too far from their influences but brings a wide variety of sounds with the punk flavours really standing out due to Psychic Hit hailing from the cityscape of Oakland California rather than the retro heartland of San Francisco. I said dangerous before and a lot of this comes from Ariana Jade's vocals which are a little marmite, with a grungy sneer sometimes at odds with the more proto-metal sound. Still it's a bouncy 6 track EP that announce Psychic Hit as another addition to the retro psych/doom scene. 6/10

Bang Bang Firecracker - See Evil (Off Yer Rocka Records) [Matt Bladen]

This is the first of three EP's from Bang Bang Firecracker. I'd assume the next two parts will be Hear Evil and Speak Evil but I digress as we are on the first part of this trilogy from this band that are shamelessly part of the NWOCR. Only three tracks here but enough to get you invested. Things kick off with the slightly spooky opening of Unleash The Devil, an undulating rocker with a dark heart, it's 7 minutes and not the sort of track you'd expect from a band whose press release claim fans of Motorhead and AC/DC will enjoy. Unleash The Devil is more like a doom track that shifts it's way through the run time. although if Bang Bang Firecracker were a doom band they would be one fronted by Bon Scott, due to the vocals. 

I'll admit Unleash The Devil is the worst track here, it runs at a fairly slow pace never really going anywhere. Luckily G.F.Y (Go F*ck Yourself) brings the punk infused rock of Black Spiders or The Wildhearts, although again there's not much pace to it, this is resolved by the time we get to the speedier, Chase The Wasted, this will hopefully set out what the next EP will be full of. I know that the NWOCR is the current scene to be a part of but on the evidence of this EP Bang Bang Firecracker may just go the way of bands like Jaguar or Angel Witch in the NWOBHM in the 80s. 5/10

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