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Friday 27 May 2022

Reviews: James LaBrie, Black Lung, Dust Mice, Ogives Big Band (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Rich P)

James LaBrie - Beautiful Shade Of Grey (Inside Out Music) [Matt Bladen]

For a long time now James LaBrie's solo albums are influenced by the harder style of metal, often using thrashy riffs and harsh vocals. Much of the music on these solo albums was crafted by guitarist Marco Sfogli and keyboardist Matt Guillory, however while Sfogli returns on this fourth solo album, Guillory doesn't, however LaBrie finds another high profile collaboration who spreads his magic across this album. That man is Paul Logue bassist/guitarist/producer/founder of Eden's Curse whose album Trinity LaBrie guested on in 2011. 

Logue approached LaBrie just before the pandemic about a collab but with the world in lockdown it came to fruition. Beautiful Shade Of Grey is a record that is much different to previous LaBrie solo albums, Dream Theater records and even Eden's Curse albums, this is semi-acoustic record, with Logue playing (6 & 12) acoustic rhythm guitar and acoustic bass, as Sfogli sticking to a acoustic and clean electric guitar style for the leads and solos. 

The remaining band members on this record are Eden's Curse ivory tinkler Christian Pulkkinen and James' son Chance on drums. Much of this record is heavily layered, with the acoustics fluidly driving the up beat rockers such as Devil In Drag which opens and closes the record, while Conscience Calling takes from both The Beatles and Octavarium-era DT. There's drama on the string laden What I Missed, a bit of sunny pop on Supernova Girl, Lation themes on Give And Take while Sunset Ruin is a heart wrenching ballad, delicately strummed by Logue, accompanied by strings as LaBrie sings a dedication to his late brother who died of pancreatic cancer in 2016. 

LaBrie draws from a long list of influences here, but if I was making a comparison it would be Led Zeppelin III which featured the acoustic elements heavily, though the one cover on this album comes from Led Zeppelin II as they take on Ramble On, but then many would say that this is precursor to the more folky style on the following record. I would say it isn't needed but then LaBrie has a history of Zeppelin covers with DT so, he at least gives it the beans, making for a decent rendition. Beautiful Shade Of Grey is an album that has a quite unique soundscape, unlike anything else James LaBrie is involved in, it's rock Jim...but not as we know it. 8/10

Black Lung - Dark Waves (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich P]

We have seen a lot of bands come out of the pandemic with some more introspective and darker material, for obvious reasons. Baltimore’s Black Lung’s newest offering, Dark Waves, is just that (in name and in content); darker than what the four-piece have delivered before without straying too far away from their signature heavy fuzz/blues psychedelic-tinged sounds that I have been digging since I first discovered them through my Ripple Music subscription. Dark Waves, their fourth full length and first for powerhouse Heavy Psych Sounds, as well as their first with their new lineup, is exactly what you want from Black Lung, and a lot more.

Dark Waves opens with an absolute burner, Demons. An awesome way to kick off the eight-track offering with serious riffs and heavy stoner groove. Lyrically I think everyone can relate to “demons will find a way” and “they found me all alone”, especially during these times. The guitar tone is excellent on this track and throughout Dark Waves. The two guitar Dave's (Cavalier and Fullerton) just spit riffs at you for the forty or so minutes that they have you. The title track has some QOTSA vibes to it and with an urgency as Cavalier tells us “We won’t make it to shore”, painting a picture of being afloat in the dark ocean with no way to escape, making the image even stronger with the rolling psych guitar solo. 

Lyrically this is next level writing for the band and that writing has caught up with what Black Lung has been offering musically making this their best record yet. The Cog slows down the pace but turns up the psych, once again putting the twin guitar work on display. The middle of the record slows down significantly, with three tracks at a more plodding tempo, which could have done with a bit of a track listing shuffle as the middle does drag a bit, but not for the lack of excellent songs, because Awaken and Hollow Dreams are both killer tracks. Death Grip has an amazing guest vocal performance from Shawna Potter from fellow Baltimore band War On Women that makes this my favorite track on the album. The emotion she sings with takes it to the next level, I would love a full album from that collaboration. Mad King is a perfect ender, with more of that fuzzy psych guitar that has made Dark Waves such a great listen.

Black Lung has come out of the uncertainty of the world and of the band (with their lineup changes) to bring what may be their best album yet. Amazing guitar work, great lyrical content, and some killer songs makes Dark Waves something I would highly recommend for all of us who loves this genre and is looking for something to get us through the continued crap that constantly surrounds us. 8/10

Dust Mice - Earth III (Wormholedeath Records) [Rich P]

I came across the (self-released) Dust Mice record Earth III last year as a recommendation from the Fuzz Guru Turbo and I was immediately digging what these guys were selling. Super catchy space rock with tinges of kraut and new wave and some killer sax. Now I am not usually one for sax leading the way in my rock (or in many cases even being present, like Riff Master General Mr. Rob In the Hood who will immediately poo-poo anything involving brass). But these guys do it perfect, where it not only doesn’t bother me, but it enhances the space trip Dust Mice are sending you on. Some killer songs are delivered on Dust Mice official debut release, the band now signed to Wormholedeath Records. 

It is a non-stop space rock party, with a constant forward moving rocket ship leading the charge, blasting sax, synths, and garage rock influenced guitars; a soundtrack to whatever a house party in space would be like. The opening track Choom Wagon starts the super catchy space party, with the sax/synth combo pairing perfectly with the tight rhythm section and understated yet effective guitar work. Planet earworm is next stop on this party ship, just try to not have Choom Wagon stuck in your head. Hawkwind vibes are strong throughout, but like if Hawkwind and A Flock Of Seagulls did a split single (this is a compliment). 

Eye Make You Eye turns up the space vibes and pairs the sax with a ripper guitar solo. Hepatitis X combines the sax and synths perfectly and even adds some cowbell, while once again creating a catchy-as-hell vibe that you can’t shake throughout the eight tracks on Earth III. Solitude is quite the sax and keys led ripper that will get you shaking in your spacesuit and continues that new wavy/Hawkwind vibe until a total sax/synth psych out brings you back to the surface of the planet. Sky King may be my favorite track, with the spacey synths and is just so damn catchy. At this point I think you can see the trend…This is such a great record. Super fun, unique, and amazingly catchy. If you can hang with sax being up front jump on the spaceship and join the party. You will not regret catching a rocket ride to Earth III with Dust Mice. 9/10

Ogives Big Band - Harm Redux (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Harm Redux is exactly what the title says it is. It's a Redux, i.e re-mixed, re-mastered version of their previous EP Harm. The re-mix was undertaken by Nathan Long, while the re-master is by Dave Draper. The reason for it is to introduce vocalist Steve Roberts to this wild, frenzied, experimental band from Bristol. Well I say band Ogives Big Band is a fleshed out version of Øgïvęš who I believe is just guitarist Ben Harris playing cinematic drone/psych soundscapes, he added the ex Lambhorn rhythm section of  drummer Oli Cocup and bassist Ben Holyoake to make the Big Band writing music that was more in the band format, the trio shifted the sound into a much heavier, sludge, doom sound with touches of mathcore and hardcore too. 

Now they move into their next chapter with vocalist Steve Roberts adding a new element to these tracks, his ragged, abrasive shouts bring about a more rounded style, without destroying the power of the original tracks, clearly they were written with a singer in mind but this Bristol band had to find the right one. The wild eyed delivery makes the chunky, glitchy Tethra similar to the oddness of Dillinger Escape Plan, as Harfynn Teuport brings a bit more of the psychedelics, searing lead guitars put to a throbbing rhythm section as the crushing heaviness kicks in after about 1 minute 30. Harm Redux closes out with the percussive Etna, bubbling like molten lava, there's lots of modern djent breakdowns here giving you something to mosh too as the EP comes to an end. This is sound of Ogives Big Band today and christ it's vicious! 8/10  

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