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Tuesday 3 May 2022

Reviews: Rammstein, Thunder, Jo Quail, Three Days Grace (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Rammstein - Zeit (Universal Records)

Adorned in a photograph from none other than Bryan Adams, Zeit is the eighth album from German industrial metal pioneers Rammstein. Unlike the way they have carefully stage managed their career and image up to now, Zeit was unplanned, born out of the COVID-19 lockdown and the postponement of their tour for two years, they went into the studio with no plan and started to write this album almost spontaneously, letting the creativity flow freely rather than crafting meticulously. It makes for a more emotional record than the band have released, the throbbing synths, programming and samples from Christian 'Flake' Lorenz as big a part as ever. It brings a synthwave touch to opener Armee Der Tristen, paired with the stomping rhythms of Oliver Ridel (bass), Christoph Schneider (drums) and Paul Landers (rhythm guitar). 

It's typical Rammstein, easing you into this eighth album, but immediately you are hit with a more restrained, some may even say romantic sound with the title track, which translates to Time, it's more atmospheric and contemplative, almost putting a stop to the record before it really begins. Though Rammstein have always been in a league of their own, on Zeit they have the sound of a band moving towards their 30th year, skillfully blending their earlier style on Giftig and the thumping Zick Zack with an new introspection. They don't do away with the lewdness mind, the thrusting OK is about safe sex (use of a condom especially), Dicke Titten is about, well guess, but Zeit feels a bit more mature as well as more adventurous. 

Richard Kruspe getting to be a bit flashy with his lead guitars while also chugging with the rest of the band. Till Lindemann also is still the most recognisable voices in the business, leading this teutonic charge with his versatile croon. A band showing their experience in bounds, Zeit is probably their most accomplished album. Roll on those summer shows. 8/10 

Thunder - Dopamine (BMG Management)

Since they reconvened as a band again in 2011 you've barely been able to move in the rock world without seeing the name of rock n rolls cheeky chappies Thunder. Their bluesy, hard rock swagger can be witnessed multiple times a year in tours and festivals, with classic rock festivals especially over the last few years managing to use the band as both a headliner and sometimes an emergency headliner when another band pulls out or can't attend. Thunder seem to be universally liked and respected in hard rock circles as they have just enough classics that everyone can sing along to as well as a wealth of new material that stands up and at times surpasses their older stuff. The present day Thunder in the studio have never been afraid to take risks, Wonder Days was a nostalgic blues record, Rip It Up and All The Right Noises tended to be more of a mix of hard rocking and balladry.

On Dopamine, their 14th studio album they are more ambitious than they ever have been. Firstly by making it a 16 track double album featuring an eclectic mix of songs that range from the big joyous rockers that celebrate returning to the road on Across The Nation and One Day We'll Be Free Again as well as smooth blues of Even If It Takes A Lifetime and Big Pink Supermoon, a track that features a hit of parping sax, making me think of guitarist Luke Morley's band The Union, which he formed in the Thunder hiatus.There seems to be political/social edge to the record as I Don't Believe The World, draws from the conspiracy/misinformation that runs rampant in our world, while Disconnected, which has a Beatlesesque feeling at the end. Is about the communication age forcing us apart rather than together, while the overall feeling is one of being reunited.

There's a jukebox feel to this record as Thunder broaden their horizons musically more than they have before. Dopamine is another hit of hard rock euphoria from Danny Bowes (vocals), Luke Morley (guitar), Ben Matthews (guitar/keys), Chris Childs (bass) and Garry 'Harry' James (drums), continuing this purple patch of releases with what is probably their most accomplished. Two discs that could each be great as standalone records, but together give you the full breadth of what this British rock institution are all about. They're out on the road this year so go and catch them, loaded with a load more great songs. 9/10

Jo Quail - The Cartographer (By Norse)

Split into 5 Movements The Cartographer is the latest release from in demand and revered cellist Jo Quail. Commissioned for and premiered at Roadburn Festival just last weekend, to much critical acclaim, this is the recorded version of the suite for anyone that wasn't lucky enough to make it to Tilburg. Quail's music is esoteric, evocative and experimental, using her virtuosic cello playing and looping to combine the classical and metal world's.

Having collaborated with artists such as Myrkur, Amenra and Boris, she's no stranger to the metal scene, having been embraced by it but on The Cartographer the idea is to prove that classical music can be just as potent and heavy as anything a metal band can muster. Along with Jo is Danielle Van Berkom (Electric Violin), Floris Verbeij (piano), percussion from Nils Jenster and Vito Guerrieri and The New Trombone Collective for the brass to augment those strings and keys.

Movement 1 begins from a spoken word passages, dramatically increasing the drama towards the end with heartbreaking melodies set against a Hans Zimmer 'thomp' (you will know what I mean when you hear it) and some Holst-like drums, Movement 2, is almost a clarion call and a slow steady tick of a clock as stabs of strings and off kilter piano build a sound of creepiness. As the swell of ominous drama comes on Movement 3 where there's distortion too beneath the whispers and Gregorian chanting, as well as some wonderfully driving vocals from Jake Harding, that remind me of Wardruna.

These first three Movements are all so different, yet they feel like they are part of a cohesive whole, a journey through the five phrases that each of the movements is inspired by, this cohesiveness continues for the final 2. Movement 4 for example is a bit more impatient, the repeating motif giving pace for the brass to play something akin to a chase or a stakeout scene from a 70's movie. When you're a metal writer and not a classical one it's often hard to describe classical music as you can't always talk about riffs ect, but there's certainly a 'heavy' quality to this work, the climax coming with Luice Dehli's operatic vocals on Movement 5 the song feeling like a finale due to its shorter nature and slow build into a stirring cello segment as the rest of the elements build up around it in arpeggios.

You can understand why By Norse have released this record as it's primordial in its force, similar to so many of their Scandinavian folk/metal artists. The Cartographer is beautiful way to spend your time. Music that touches your soul. 9/10

Three Days Grace - Explosions (Music For Nations)

I'll admit now, I don't know much about Three Days Grace, my fiancé loves them as a fan of anything angsty and from the early 2000's. Now doing a bit of research and the PR that accompanied it, I know that Explosions is their seventh studio album, their third with Matt Walst on vocals. For those that don't know, Three Days Grace are a Canadian post grunge band formed in 1997, very much in the post-grunge/alternative rock sound that North American bands do very well, the kind that was a mainstay of rock radio and music video channels in the late 90's early 00's. 

Now I'm not sure what their previous singer sounded like, though I'm informed by my other half that Walst has a lower grittier vocal, but I like his voice on Explosions. Matt can belt out ballads such as Lifetime with conviction while also having that angsty rock delivery that's needed for music like this. The founding rhythm section of bassist Brad Walst and drummer Neil Sanderson bring the groove as they have since the bands inception, it's a weighty thump as Matt joins on rhythm guitars while Barry Stock gives us some melodic lead guitars, that simmer beneath Souvenirs. What is evident is that Three Days Grace have embraced the electronic atmospherics that so many bands now use as part of their music, it's deftly done on Explosions augmenting the music rather than smothering it. 

As I said I hadn't heard much Three Days Grace before listening to this album but I get why they are held in a high regard by their fanbase (my other half included). For me though Explosions doesn't have enough big bangs, but they do at least shine brighter than most. 7/10

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