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Tuesday 21 September 2021

Reviews: Spiritbox, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Doro, Edge Of Paradise (Reviews By Megan Jenkins, Matt Bladen, Simon Black & Paul Hutchings)

Spiritbox – Eternal Blue (Rise Records) [Megan Jenkins]

If you haven’t heard the name Spiritbox over the last 18 months, then I hate to break it to you but you’ve definitely been living under a rock. Formed of previous members of IWrestledABearOnce and Living With Lions, the Canadian band exploded into the mainstream back last July when they released the brutal, djent-y Holy Roller. After teasing their debut album ever since, the group finally released Eternal Blue last week and it did not disappoint.

Spiritbox have employed a lot of the things that made me fall in love with the band when writing and recording this album. It begins with Sun Killer, a song that starts with a haunting synth, deep basslines and progressive drums that keep driving the song forward to the point of no return. Mike Stringer’s guitar kicks in with the same beat as the rhythm section and adds another layer to what was already shaping up to be a heavy song. Whispers of “sun killer, sing me to sleep” bring the song back down to a ‘normal’ level. Then just as you would have turned the volume up to hear them, the breakdown kicks in with vocalist Courtney LaPlante’s aggressive screams. 

All of the songs use variations of these elements in completely different ways throughout the album. You can clearly hear the different inspiration that derives from a diverse music taste with elements of metalcore, djent, and progressive metal to create the 12 tracks we can listen to. Hurt You is a prime example, with clear influence coming from nu-metal in the deep guitar tone that is so recognisable as Stringer’s. LaPlante immediately lets loose in the song and begins screaming along – they really don’t mess around with this one. The chorus however is a lot more mellow, and she lets her other vocal talent take over and sings, yet still keeping those heavy undertones we’re all coming to love.

Spiritbox have this tell-tale sign that a breakdown is coming. Everything but the ambient synth or drum pad drops out and it begins to ever so subtly build until you think you’ve fully prepared yourself to be hit by the tonne of bricks that is Stringer’s bottom-heavy guitar tone and chunky riffs. But no matter how heavy and brutal they may make their music; they have a knack for the gentler stuff too. Tracks like The Summit are extremely progressive and use a clean guitar tone to bring the pace of the album down slightly and allow you to rest. But you’re not allowed to rest for long because by the end of the song, both of LaPlante’s vocal styles are layered over each other to create a contrasting melody.

It's obvious that I’m a huge fan of Spiritbox and pretty much everything they produce but it's oddly rewarding to see this band grow from having a seemingly small number listeners at the start of 2020, to collaborating with huge names like Architects’ Sam Carter on this brand-new album little over a year later. They're a band that can do pretty much anything in my eyes; contrasting the raw power of songs like Silk In The Strings with Constance, a haunting ballad about dementia that was dedicated to LaPlante’s grandmother. I know a lot of people are hesitant to jump on the bandwagon of the new ‘flavour of the month’ but I have a feeling Spiritbox will be around and releasing music for a lot longer than that. They’re just that good. 10/10

Joanne Shaw Taylor - The Blues Album (KTBA Records) [Matt Bladen]

Having been establishing herself as one of the premier players of blues rock for a long time now, it's only with her most recent releases that Joanne Shaw Taylor has become revered in her field, reaching wide critical acclaim and success. The reception to her two previous albums and the numerous tours in support of them means that any new material by her is highly anticipated. Obviously like all artists touring was stunted by the pandemic so JST, quickly found a way to flex her creative muscles by recording the album of blues covers she had been planning for a while. Much like 'Blues Titan' Joe Bonamassa did with his blues covers album Blues Deluxe Joanne has looked to refine her own appreciation of the blues by paying homage to the heroes of it, but unlike Joey Bones she has come to it after establishing herself as one of the premier blues rock songwriters. 

What better way to record an album like this then with Bonamassa himself who co-produced the album with JST guitarist Josh Smith at Ocean Way Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Not content with that, the album is being released through Bonamassa's KTBA Records where 10% of the profits go towards the Keeping The Blues Alive Foundation created by Bonamassa and his manager Roy Weisman. I mean he also pops up with some guitar licks and co-vocals on Little Village's Don't Go Away Mad as anyone knows he no stranger to a guest spot. The album though is about Shaw Taylor as both a player and for me a vocalist, she has shown on previous albums that her guitar prowess is superb, she has brilliant command over her instrument eeking out emotion and power from it wherever possible, be it on a Chicago Shuffle, some New Orleans funk, a Texan strut or even a bit of British blues earthiness, she leads the way with slinky solos and striding riffs. 

On The Blues Album though I found that I was more impressed by her vocals than on any previous album, perhaps it's because these aren't her songs so Shaw Taylor has to really concentrate on the vocal side of the record something Bonamassa confirmed when talking about the record saying he want to make "vocal centric straight blues record". Instrumental in most of the song choices Bonamassa and Smith have found songs that both test and highlight the strengths of JST as a performer and while there is some recognizable numbers such as Can't You See What You're Doing To Me by Albert King but also rarer cuts like Stop Messin' Around by Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac or Let Me Down Easy by Little Milton. 

For me the though the song of the record is If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody which has been performed by Aretha Franklin, Eddie Floyd and Bonnie Raitt meaning that Shaw Taylor really impresses with her vocal chops here on a version worthy of those other performances. Those that have jumped on the JST hype train on the last two albums may find this a bit of a left field release as it's a very traditional blues record but it's one that is very good indeed. 8/10

Doro – Triumph And Agony Live (Rare Diamonds) [Simon Black]

Now, I’m old enough and lucky enough to have seen Warlock touring this album originally back in late 1987 in support of Dio at Nottingham’s Royal Centre - which still remains acoustically one of the best venues I’ve ever been to by the way. The set lists for this have been since lost to the mists of time, but I can bet we only got a couple of tracks at the time from what would prove to be Warlock’s (and Doro’s) magnum opus. It was actually one of the first gigs I ever attended as a spotty seventeen year old and I remember being disappointed that Warlock only got such a very short set, with barely enough room to move on the quite large stage (but then this was the tour when Ronnie went crazy ape bonkers with animatronic spiders, dragons and other space consuming theatrics to distract you from what a great front man he was).

That said, I left the venue a firm fan of Warlock and have enjoyed seeing them and Doro’s subsequent projects at every opportunity since. Any live set is always going to be peppered with tracks from this album, but getting the whole thing played end to end is obviously a special occasion, with this one being recorded at Sweden Rocks back in 2017, but held back until the 35th anniversary of the original release. All eleven tracks from the original album are on this disk - if you were there, you got a couple of extras in the encores, but these aren’t included. Like the lady herself the material does not show its age at all, with a deliberately rough and ready recording that doesn’t sound like it’s been over-engineered after the fact in the slightest. 

Doro’s voice strikes the right balance between power and rawness and the infectious energy of her delivery jumps out of the speakers. The original studio album had its slower moments, but with the benefit of thirty-five years to tighten the arrangements this is a performance that flows perfectly. Like a fine wine, the Triumph And Agony material just improves over time and this recording captures a moment of Metal history like a fly in amber perfectly. 8/10

Edge Of Paradise – The Unknown (Frontiers Music Srl) [Paul Hutchings]

I’d vaguely heard of Edge Of Paradise before receiving this album to review. A quick scan at the blurb tells me that The Unknown is their fourth album, and the current line up comprises founders Margarita Monet on vocals and keys and guitarist Dave Bates joined by drummer Jamie Moreno and bassist Ricky Bonazza.

Going in blind can be a blessing and a curse. With no knowledge of their previous records, the first thing that was noticeable was the quality of the production. Combining the talents of producer Howard Benson (Halestorm, Seether, Black Stone Cherry, etc.) Mike Plotnikoff (Halestorm, Three Days Grace) and Neil Sanderson (Three Days Grace) and mixing and mastering by Jacob Hansen (Amaranthe, Volbeat, Pretty Maids), it’s unsurprising that The Unknown is polished with a huge sound.

So, what do Edge Of Paradise sound like? Well, there are elements of pop-punk, hard rock and swathes of symphonic metal all wrapped up in a maelstrom of anthemic songs that combine Monet’s powerful vocals with band’s sonic soundscapes. There are plenty of hooks, such as the opening track Digital Paradise, which sets the tempo for the album. Edge Of Paradise don’t stick to one formula, variation within reason and some impressive and dramatic songs forming the middle part of the record. The darkness of the title track is followed by the lively Believe which sees Monet hitting the highest notes on the album.

The band can riff it out, as noted on the industrial stomp of False Idols. A more straightforward song, it drives hard and should be a good one to add to the live list. They can do the emotional ballad, such as One Last Time and the dramatic such as Leaving Earth.

I can see why Edge Of Paradise are getting such positive feedback. Monet has the sweet vocals that appeal, a cross between Taylor Momsen and Cristina Scabbia whilst the band’s commercial sound will appeal to fans who like their metal with a melodic undertone. It may not be my cup of tea but its certainly a refined record. 7/10

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