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Thursday 12 May 2022

Reviews: Halestorm, Stöner, Famyne, Robin Trower (Reviews By Matt Bladen & David Karpel)

Halestorm - Back From The Dead (Atlantic Records) [Matt Bladen]

One of hard rocks biggest bands Halestorm return with their hardest hitting record yet, picking up where Vicious left off, Back From The Dead is Halestorm coming out of the pandemic with axes sharpened, ready to take on all comers. Fit to bursting with feminist, sex positive anthems, such as the dark Wicked Ways, the swaggering Bombshell and the double entendre strewn I Come First, frontwoman Lzzy Hale delivers some her most anthemic yet personal lyrics yet, grabbing at the chance to perform again with both hands on the big riffing title track, that claims that they (and by the same token the rock community) are now ready to come back swinging. 

My Steeple also is a call for unity and inclusion, welcoming everyone into the church of Halestorm with heavy riff and a nursery rhyme lyric. Finding catharsis from the endless battles with mental health caused by the pandemic, in some arena friendly hard rock. Though like Vicious, the slickness that Halestorm have built up is paired with a more aggressive, cocksure style that sees Lzzy cranking out huge guitar riffs and delivering her strongest, rawest vocal performance yet. You can literally hear the pent up frustration being released in every single word she sings. There are two more tender moments including closing ballad Raise Your Horns, where the piano is employed and the acoustic Terrible Things

Mostly though Back From The Dead relies on tried and tested rocking, Lzzy and Joe Hottinger a guitar duo, that lock in brilliantly together trading off riffs with each other throughout the gothic thrash of Wicked Ways, Hottinger getting to show off his chops on Brightside amongst many others with short blasts of guitar hero soloing. Bassist Josh Smith and drummer Arejay Hale are the masters of groove for track such as the fuzzy Strange Girl or the anthemic My Redemption. The four piece in a musical unison that's almost symbiotic. Crafting an album made to be experienced live Halestorm are well and truly bringing heavy rock Back From The Dead here, it can't be long until they're a festival headliner. 8/10

Stöner- Totally (Heavy Psych Sound) [David Karpel]

Stöner’s third release reminds me of what some teachers and parents will say to the winey kids: you get what you get and you don’t get upset. This being their third album, the two lead guys being desert rock icons, progenitors of the scene that spawned Kyuss and more, we kind of know what we’re getting into on a Stöner album. With a greasy pepperoni pie on the cover that would cause anyone with the munchies to salivate, totally… is a collection of 8 blazed party songs that swing, groove, and crunch, each of them smoked down to sticky roaches.

Brandt Bjork and Nick Oliveri are as natural to the desert groove as fudge is to an indica dosed brownie. Here, for the most part, they strip down the songs to the bone and play like they’re jamming at a skatepark. Youthful, energized, and insistent most of all, this album is a wild time. Escape into it or let it drive you to move, dance, and careen about, however you delve, it’s all for fun. Party March is emblematic of all of this: the punk energy, the humor, the fight-for-your-right-to-party. A Million Beers follows, and well, yeah, that’s the thing we’re doing. Strawberry Creek (Dirty Feet) starts with a slower pace, Bjork starts singing, Oliveri harmonies with him, and suddenly we’ve got some sand-fused bluesy sway that rocks steady and tight.

Space Dude & The Burn, the longest tune here, breaks out with a fun, if urgent, space-rock narrative. Oliveri and Bjork trade vocals here, the blues man and the punk, and none of this is out-of-character, the crunch, the power, the sustained chords, the casual swing of the groove. Turn It Around Now gets meditative amid the fuzz, and Driving Miss Lazy turns up the sarcasm. The album concludes with its best song, Great American Sage, which displays all the prowess the names Bjork and Oliveri also bring with them. In the end, these guys are doing what you want them to do, expertly play the music that combines their favorite influences and their own previously well-worn garb: classic hard rock, heavy blues, desert rock, and psych rock jams. And they do so with tons of earned swagger. 7/10

Famyne – The Ground Below (Svart Records) [Matt Bladen]

The Ground Below is the second collection of introspective, atmospheric tomes from Canterbury doom-mongers Famyne following on from their 2018 self-titled debut. On this sophomore effort everything the band do has been amplified and improved upon, exponentially. It means that The Ground Below is a thrilling, chilling, brooding listen that straddles a wide musical cavern containing doom, psych, stoner and even more extreme metal flourishes of bands such as Opeth. It’s from the Swedes song Famine where they get their name and those Akerfeels are strong on Babylon, a song wrapped in haunting, jazz melodies, that shift into crushing distorted doom and a passionate solo. 

Having had a lot of success early in their career, winning Metal 2 The Masses etc, they have gone from strength to strength but The Ground Below out does anything previously hand picking the best bits of British doom legends such as Sabbath (of course), Cathedral, Warning, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost with the Scandinavian bleakness of Katatonia, Draconian and Swallow The Sun. This cherry picking of the finest slices of misery, means that Famyne do something innovative with the genre, creating vast, desolate soundscapes that are all their own, paying dividends to the past but not repeating it. It also means that they sound as if they have been doing this for decades rather than 8 years. 

The Ai is a track that is steeped in those classic doom styles the twin guitars of Martin Emmons and Tom Ross, craving up some Iommi-inspired riffs, Defeated does the same transitioning between repeating distorted riffs and a steady throb from Michael Ross and Chris Travers laying down beats that will shake your bones on drums and bass respectively. The solo section of The Ai evolving into a gurning chug that will bring to mind bands such as Orange Goblin too. There are plenty of these moments, where the riff comes back heavier, or evolves There’s so many references here it’s like who’s who of doom but all wrapped up in a shiny new bow to make it feel modern and fresh. 

The delivery of vocalist Tom Vane too is spectacular, I haven’t found a voice this captivating and unique since Hywel of The Dead Shed Jokers, Vane sings almost as if he’s conjuring some kind of primeval force, chanting, beckoning and wailing like a Priest in an Orthodox church. At times the fusion of his distinctive voice with the mountainous riffs is breath-taking, taking you into the astral plane on For My Sins, stirring in some more of the hazy shoegazing on A Submarine as Gone brings a dose of that bitter Nordic sound favoured by Katatonia and Opeth. The Ground Below is probably the best doom album you will hear all year, richly layered with influences from all around the spectrum, carefully woven into a beguiling, thundering record that is as close to a masterpiece as you will get. 9/10

Robin Trower - No More Worlds To Conquer (Provogue Records) [David Karpel]

When Robin Trower’s name showed up in my box I’ll admit that Whiter Shade Of Pale immediately resounded in my head like a pleasant childhood memory. There’s no denying Trower’s an icon, having been the essential sound of Procol Harum’s brief fire and his own Robin Trower Group, whose Bridge Of Sighs in 1974 led to stadium tours. I’m not sure how many of you have been following Trower’s six decade career, but he’s kept busy over the years since the Robin Trower Group as part of supergroups and releasing his own material. In all his time as an active musician, he’s garnered some respectable mentions as an influence on the guitar playing of Steve Lukather of Toto or even Opeth guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt. Nothing, though, has matched the success of what he did with Procol Harum or Bridge Of Sighs.

No More Worlds To Conquer is quite the sentiment for the title of an album put out by a musician who’s reached 76 and is still making his guitar sing, moan, and cry the blues. It also might sound pretentious, or it might sound defeatist and tired. It could also just be an old rock and roller being clever and, well, truthful about the limits of rock and roll longevity. You’ll hear songs about broken hearted love, struggles with addiction, and social commentary played earnestly, with exactitude, and loads of blue tone. While Richard Watts’ voice can sound like Don Henley on a summer’s night, the band is tight through and through. Wrapped in funky bass lines or played like a slow burn, these songs evoke the sultry or the sardonic or the sadness of a toothless dog who’s found a bone with steady ease. Track to track you’ll find a pleasant consistency of sound despite the varied pace or emphasis–the technique and skill evident, admirable even, but ultimately boring.

In the time between Bridge Of Sighs and No More Worlds To Conquer, the audience for rock and roll and the blues as Trower plays them has maintained certain traditions and tastes, but it has also evolved. Personally, this album sounds great to me if it’s not something I’m trying to listen to. People are over, the coals are getting hot, the meats are marinating, the beer is cold (as a teacher, I’m in that time of the year where imagining the summer is practically mandatory). This album comes out just in time for your gatherings for drinks, light conversation that you want to hear, and good company. Playing unobtrusively in the background, the guitars bend the air with a sound you might recall if it’s what you were trying to do. But you’re not. 6/10

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