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Friday 16 July 2021

Reviews: NWOCR, Vandor, Velvet Insane, Marta Gabriel (Review By Simon Black & Matt Bladen)

Various Artists – New Wave Of Classic Rock Volume 1 (RPM) [Simon Black]

NWOCR – don’t you just love these acronyms we come up with in the Rock and Metal world? As if ‘NWOBHM’ didn’t trip off the tongue easily enough and then fail to just be an unmemorable flash in the early 80’s pan, we have to go and do it again with another acronym like an explosion of consonants in search of a few more vowels. Behind it though sits a musical movement truly gathering strength.

This particular musical evolution (or perhaps revolution) is proof should any be needed that what goes around, comes around. This is music made by a new generation, who grew up listening to the output of that original 80’s acronym and the decade preceding it that their parents loved so much, plus everything that came after and wear that influence loud and proud for themselves. I would argue (and given that most of the acts on here haven’t just popped into existence in the last few months) that this movement has been here a while, but just lacking a catchy acronym to anchor it and give it a distinct voice – as it’s not like Planet Rock et al have not been plugging these newer acts all along, albeit sparingly squeezed into the playlist alongside their established influences.

Like all good compilations it tries to grab your attention with the presence of some established acts whilst introducing you to a whole bunch more and like those classic compilations of the early 80’s that broke many of the Metal acts still headlining arenas around the world, this is all about the music baby. It’s all the more impressive because across these two CD’s are no less than forty-two tracks from forty-two different artists and a run time of over two and a half hours. Unlike those door-kicker releases of decades gone by it contains not only the output of a whole bunch of fairly large labels, but a healthy number of tracks from self-produced underground acts.

The quality of music is so consistently good here, that I was rarely tempted to jump ahead when listening as well, which is always a challenge when something this large comes your way. There are way too many tracks to give detail on each and every one though, so here are my personal highlights:

· DNA by Mason Hill illustrates clearly and succinctly why these folks are going to be absolutely huge one day. I hadn’t heard their debut Against The Wall album previously, but I can guarantee you that I will be soon. So should you, as it’s Classic Rock grooves are so beautifully spliced with a Modern sentiment and crispness, that I keep coming back for more.

· Sons Of Liberty contribute Fire & Gasoline, which for my money are more Southern than Classic Rock, but I defy anyone to not get sucked in by that groovy opening riff and nod along chorus.

· Tomorrow Is Lost offer Hideaway and show us another reason why this broad church has the new shoots of the future. It’s heavier and more Modern Metal in tone, but delivered with panache and groove, so still fits the tone of the compilation despite being down-tuned to hell and back.
· Shape Of Water’s The World Is Calling Me lulls you into a false sense of security with its gentle opening, before slapping you round the head with a deep dose of Stoner groove and a guitar shred that is one of the highlights of this album, as well as far and above the heaviest.

· Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons probably are the only act on here who technically count as being a part of both NWOCR and NWOBHM, given Campbell’s place in Motörhead’s story, but opening the second disk with Son Of A Gun does have a sense of coming full circle to it. Add to this it’s a belter of a track and illustrates clearly why this act deserve their place on the headline slots of mid-size festivals everywhere.

· I had the pleasure of reviewing Leicester’s SKAM’s Intra EP earlier this year, and here we have Iron Cross from their 2017 debut. Although their sound has evolved a bit since when, it’s still more than enough to see why this three piece are a force to be reckoned with.

· Swedish four piece Thundermother are another act I had the pleasure of listening to in the recent past and their brand of catchy driving music (watch for the speed cams, girls) is full of energetic buzz that leaves you wanting more, but Driving In Style should warm you up for their fantastic Heatwave album.

· King Creature’s Captives is another tune that borders on the heavy, with a baseline and rhythm that set my desk a rumbling. It’s down, it’s dirty and it’s moodier than my teenage daughter in a bad mood, with some cracking instrumental interplay.

· I’m also really delighted that South Wales’ very own trio Häxan have made it onto here. Their White Noise debut is an absolutely consistent cracker of a record and Killing Time from that makes its way onto here. Another band who absolutely deliver and with catchy, infectious hard rock grooves, these three girls are absolutely top notch and know how to write an absolute belter of a song.

· Tucked in near the end are Ward XVI - a British unsigned act that will, if there is any justice in this world, shortly be way too big for this sort of thing in exactly the same way that Metallica outgrew the scope of the Metal Massacre compilation that broke them to a national audience in 1983. If you haven’t come across these Northern Shock Rockers with their Classic groove and a stage show that’s the unnatural dark illegitimate child of Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson, who has been locked away in a mental asylum since childhood (which is exactly what their music is about), then you are really missing out. The spooky but groovy Broken Toys from their recent Metamorphosis album captures this zeitgeist perfectly. Five minutes ago they were a New Blood band at Bloodstock; two cracking albums later and they’re back on the opening night of that festival this year. I give it less than five more before they are headlining the Sophie stage there. These folks are going to go far, trust me.

The only real negative point I have on this release and one that harks back forty years, is that with forty-two different sources that the recording level really does jump around a lot. Now I don’t expect someone to set about remastering all this for a compilation release, but in future an attempt to at least ensure a consistent volume gain level is in place would have been really helpful. That minor niggle notwithstanding, this is an incredibly sound snapshot of movement just getting into its stride. 9/10

Vandor - On A Moonlit Night (Scarlet Records) [Simon Black]

The sophomore album from this Swedish team seems them taking a more overtly Power Metal direction than first time out. That said, there’s plenty of Symphonic and Progressive key/guitar interplay, with both instruments shredding together quite nicely, thank you very much. Vide Bjerde somehow manages to find the time to sing as well as shred, which he does with a clean and distinct timbre and the occasional incredibly high scream. Guitar duties are shared with Jack L. Stroem and no distinction being made between lead or rhythm roles, so I’m assuming equal share of the duties, as there’s two distinct playing signatures in there. 

Even with more than one guitar in the mix, a lot of the widdly widdlies are being handled by an uncredited keyboard player, so again this feels like an ensemble studio project which has allowed the musicians to push their instrumental boundaries a bit (and pass the time in lockdown) and presumably an additional player will be added to the mix live – although with the musical skill on here it would not surprise me if they manage to pull it off live anyway as they are.

It’s also seen them handle the production work themselves, which is perhaps an area they need a bit more help on in future, as the overall mix is a little on the trebly side. That’s a shame because the drum and rhythm work sounds like it should be positively thundering, but comes across as a little too tinny instead. The musicianship on the other hand is quite formidable and these folks can definitely play. The song writing is on the epic side which might be off putting for the casual listener, but which I personally I am rather enjoying unpeeling layer by layer. …And they don’t get much more epic than The Sword To End All Wars, which at over eighteen minutes of run time is not for the fainthearted.

What stops this album from being a footnote in a crowded marketplace is the sheer depth of musicianship and subtlety of the layering here. Power Metal albums so often display skill aplenty, but lack originality and anything to differentiate themselves from their many peers, but this one works because it reveals itself subtly the more you listen to it. That subtle blending of the Progressive elements really works so well, making this an album that keeps on giving. Had the production matched the playing and writing then this would have been out of the park. 8/10

Velvet Insane - Rock N Roll Glitter Suit (Wild Kingdom Records) [Matt Bladen]

We often talk about album titles perfectly encapsulating the sound a band have. Rock N Roll Glitter Suit is one such record, the second full length release from Swedish band founded by guitarist Jesper Lindgren who paid his dues in much heavier bands before the tragic death of his manager at Nottingham Rock City put him on the path to creating a much more melodic, chorus driven project. Velvet Insane is that project and much like bands like The Poodles, it draws it's inspiration from the 70's glam rock scene so get your flares and stacked heels out ready for an album of shiny pop rock, call back choruses and a throwback to bands such as T-Rex, Slade, The Sweet and the most over-riding influence Ian Hunter's Mott The Hoople. Now this almost guarantees them a support slot with Def Leppard due to Joe Elliot being a Hunter superfan but even if you think Velvet Insane are mere impressionists trying to relive the golden age of rock n roll, they do a bloody good impression.

I would say there is more to them than the 70's glam sound, adding sounds from Hellacopters and the aforementioned The Poodles to bring this glam rock sound bang up to date, there's switches into some 90's UK revival due to Sound Of Sirens sounding like a Oasis b-side, Backstreet Liberace reminds me of The Wildhearts, it's punk energy and handclaps propelling it. Sailing On A Thunderstorm features some layered acoustics and big organ stabs, belying their status as a three piece due to the numerous instruments used on this record. The most effective though is the boogie woogie piano on Driving Down The Mountain and Velvet Tongue which is very Mott indeed, they also add some brass parps for the Hunter feel. Rock N Roll Glitter Suit has lots of glam rock posturing but the fun of that music style. It is a throwback but Swedish bands do the throwback stuff so well that you can't really find too many faults. If gold lame jumpsuits and bouncy pop rock riffs get your toes tapping then I suggest you try Rock N Roll Glitter Suit for size. 8/10    

Marta Gabriel - Metal Queens (Listenable Records) [Matt Bladen]

Known to readers of this blog as the singer/guitarist/frontwoman of Crystal Viper, Marta Gabriel releases her debut solo record. It's a covers album that pays tribute to the influential female singers in the metal genre. Marta plays bass and sings, she's joined by Eric Juris on guitar and Cederick Forsberg on drums both of whom are from Crystal Viper. The track selection is quite varied with known names such as Warlock, Lee Aaron, Rock Goddess, Wendy O Williams and even Chastain covered but there's also a lot of more underground bands that feature as well. Kicking off with Max Overload by Belgian speed metal act Acid, the pace is established quickly as Metal Queen is a slicker affair, Marta handling Lee Aaron's vocals well on the mid-paced rocker. 

On the raging Call Of The Wild (Blacklace) we get the first guest vocalist, Riot V's Todd Michael Hall again displaying his powerful pipes in duet with Marta. The other guests are Jag Panzer's Harry Conklin on Chastain's Light In The Dark and John Gallagher of Raven adding bass to Rock Goddess' thumping My Angel. Yes it's a covers record but done with a respect to the female singers that forged a career in the male-dominated world of rock and metal, Gabriel also stays true to the originals not trying to make everything sound like Crystal Viper, though the best songs here are Count Your Blessings Christian metal band Malteze and of course Mr Gold originally by Warlock, surprisingly this is as close as you'll get Crystal Viper on this album. Metal Queens is a metal covers album with a defined message to pay tribute to these innovators. It's not something that hasn't been done before but delivered with passion. 7/10

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