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Friday 6 May 2022

Reviews: Pure Reason Revolution, Fozzy, Märvel, Lionsoul (Reviews: Matt Bladen, Rich P, David Karpel & Simon Black)

Pure Reason Revolution - Above Cirrus (Inside Out Music) [Matt Bladen]

No this is what I like to see! After many years with no Pure Reason Revolution albums, two are released within two years of each other. Above Cirrus follows 2020's incredible Eupnea with yet more PRR goodness as classic prog is thrown into a pot with art rock, intelligent pop and lots of electronics. The core duo of Jon Courtney (vocals/guitars/keys) and Chloë Alper (vocals/bass/keys) are joined once again Greg Jong (guitar/vocals) who hasn't played with the band since their debut EP in 2005. Unlike Eupnea which tried to reconnect with the bands prog roots, Above Cirrus returns more to the bands hybrid style of driving heavy riffs, thumping electronics and those excellent vocal harmonies, fans will have come to expect. 

The album isn't conceptual like the previous offering but it still deals with quite personal topics, possibly more so than on any other record. It's centered around relationships how we can all be loving one minute and hateful the next and how pressures like restrictions, the pandemic, and worry all affect our relationships, it's also drawn from Courtney's daughter being born premature during the pandemic and the fear that caused. This shift between light/dark is explored with the searing New Kind Of Evil which has a darkness to it that comes from being part Muse, part Porcupine Tree, distorted guitars cut through with fuzzing synths as Courtney's vocals repeat the chorus with conviction. 

Along with opener Our Prism these are certainly the rockiest tracks on the record, getting the mood established that the conceptual prog of the previous record has become much more direct but also more reflective. Cruel Deliverance welcomes us into a hazy dreamworld, building the layered vocals on the atmospheric synths, as it creeps into the final part where the riffs are once again distorted, Phantoms is drenched in percussive EDM, while Scream Sideways brings combination of sounds trip-hop, Tool, dubstep and jazz (much like Haken). Making both of them ready for all of the awkward dancing that runs riot through a PRR concert, something they have been waiting to do for two years now. 

These two heavily synth fuelled tracks (though there's still lots of distorted guitars) signal the transition to the lush soundscapes of the pulsating Dead Butterfly which pairs foreboding elements with ethereal vocals. As the impressive Lucid closes this album, as if purging the demons that have come before, embracing the chaos and confusion with acceptance. Of course this is all about the way it's interpreted, but what is apparent is that Pure Reason Revolution have undergone a myriad of emotional torrents in the creation of this album, all of which are reflected in the complex, potent and exceptional album. 9/10

Fozzy - Boombox (Mascot Records) [Rich P]

Full disclosure: I am a huge wrestling fan and a huge Chris Jericho fan dating back decades. But even with my love for the Ayatollah Of Rock N Rolla I never really spent any time with his band, Fozzy. At first, I thought it was more of a joke side project but even after a bunch of albums in I still never found any of what I heard interesting enough to take them as a serious rock band. Granted his theme song in AEW, Judas, is an absolute ripper, but even with that I have never really dove into the discography, choosing to separate my wrestling fandom from my music world. Until now, where my next assignment is Fozzy’s eighth full length album, Boombox. Let’s see if his work on the mic musically keeps me as interested as his top-notch promo work I have loved over the years in the ring.

On Boombox Fozzy continue to be that arena rock band they think they are, and they do not venture too far away from that formula. It is an extremely slick and radio ready produced album and the first track, Sane is the perfect microcosm for the entire twelve tracks. Jericho’s voice sounds great, but he has obviously had some technological help there (no judging, just saying). The guitar work on the record is top notch, and his band sounds super tight, but there is really nothing that pops for me or that is unique to what you would hear on heavy rotation on your local rock station. 

I Still Burn could be any of those bands that I don’t know the names of but hear in passing. I almost think Fozzy has become too serious, which is why the cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax is a highlight of the album for me. It's a mostly straight ahead cover but it has the fun aspect that Boombox seems to be missing. Sure, there are bunch of rock anthems on here, but none that I am going to sing along to any time soon.

I usually will do a bit more in depth on the tracks, but honestly none really stuck out for me enough to comment on. Sure, these are well played and well-constructed (probably in a lab) tracks that make up Boombox, but there is no new ground covered and nothing that makes me want to go back to this to keep it in rotation. If you like the recent Fozzy material you will dig this and if you enjoy very slick produced heavy radio rock, you will dig this too. But there is no new ground covered and barely a smile cracked on Boombox, and that would have really helped here. 5/10

Märvel - Grace Comes With Malice (The Sign Records) [David Karpel]

Blasting out of a sweaty Swedish garage comes Märvel, 20 years into their career and sounding as electrified as ever. While they cover the similar 70s rock rooted jukebox as Askvader and The Hellacopters, they do so with a lot of practiced flash and panache. Graces Come With Malice is their 9th studio album. The King (guitar, vocals), The Burgher (bass), and The Vicar (drums) wear costumes with masks and load every one of these 10 tunes with bittersweet ironies, tongue-in-cheek imagery, and saccharine harmonies that go well with the caffeinated pace of most of the record. 

References are here aplenty: the sonic cheekiness of Kiss, the lightning licks of Thin Lizzy, the cloying pop sensibilities of Cheap Trick, and even some ZZ Top Texas boogie in A Hot Nite In Dallas. Their take on these roots is their own. So much so that even with all of those great influences showing up in their sound, it’s Märvel’s ubiquitous use of harmonies, ridiculously catchy melodies, and fun, guitar-slinging, power trio vibes that keep me coming back to this album and ultimately adding songs like Slasher With A Broken HeartGreat Man, and Sorry State Of Affairs to my driving music playlist, which is often my cooking playlist as well: energized, sing-along songs with which to soundtrack good times.

Where Märvel succeeds the most here is that while they are rooted in the great rock sounds we first heard on AM radio and later on 8-track K-Tel rock compilations, Graces Come With Malice never sounds nostalgic. Their performances feel fresh. The album is alive with energy. The King has solid vocal chops, and when his guitar playing calls attention to itself, there's a good reason for it. The Burgher doesn’t hold back, playing bass lines that lace the harmonies and swing under guitar solos like a safety net. 

Holding it down, The Vicar’s sense of pace and power and whatever keeps them balanced helps keep things dangerous. Together, these Swedes are a tight band who write great, memorable rock and roll songs and bang the hell out of them. 8/10

Lionsoul - A Pledge To Darkness (Rockshots Records) [Simon Black]

This is a frustrating album for a whole bunch of reasons. After three listens I am still struggling to know what to make of it… 

First off the basics. The band hail from Italy and are a five piece with power metal roots, but mercifully sound nothing like the usual flavour of the genre that Italy produces (Rhapsody et al), with this being their third full length album. That’s in their favour, as it at least means they are different, but sadly they are far from distinctive, at least on this release. Content wise we are dealing with a conceptual piece of futuristic intentions, but again after three listens I still couldn’t tell you hand on heart what it was actually about. Secondly let’s talk about style. Although clearly having Power roots, the stylistics in the mix are highly eclectic, bouncing from power, to synthwave, melo metal, 80’s hard rock and even bits of thrash on occasion. Variety may be the spice of life, but here it makes for muddied waters. 

Thirdly we have some real production issues unfortunately. I suspect some wise soul was trying to recreate the kind of feel many 80’s records had, but misses out on two important details. Those recordings were often the product of musicians working with archaic equipment being pushed to its boundaries with engineers who didn’t ‘get’ the sound of a metal band. When you try and recreate that feel using digital standards, it frequently falls flat unless the actual recording process apes the urgency with which older material was laid down. In addition, most bands still in the game have all long since gone back and remastered and remixed these things numerous times, because frankly if you do go back to the old vinyl from then, it does not stand the test of time. This is why the trend of retro soundalike bugs the hell out of old farts like me.

The net effect is that way too much treble and reverb have been added in, both to individual instruments and the overall down mix, making it really hard to distinguish between the players unless they go all hard rock and hold back, let one player restart and layer it all back in one instrument at a time. At that point it becomes clear how good the playing on here actually is, but the rest of the time it’s all lost in a swirling maelstrom of bad mixing. The press release talks about its futuristic thematics, but the mix just sounds so cheesy that it feels like the aural equivalent of an early 1980’s British Sci-Fi show where staff directors thought to make things futuristic, all you needed was to dress the female members of the cast in silver lamé leggings.

Which is a shame, as some of the performances in here are fantastic, with some spot on arrangements, lovely lead and drum work and an absolutely enthralling performance from vocalist Ivan Castelli (who also has to take some of the blame for the production). It’s like going to a gig where the man on the desk has no clue about metal, but the vocalist saves the day by grabbing the audience by its throat. I want to be more generous, but the production really kills the vibe which is a shame, because there’s a lot in here worth listening to. 6/10

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