Cardinal Black - January Came Close (Jump In Records)
The oldest young band on the UK rock scene, 3/4's of Cardiff based band Cardinal Black were once known as the Tom Hollister Trio a decade ago. Guitarist Chris Buck, vocalist/bassist Tom Hollister and drummer Adam Roberts were tapped to be the future of rock music but with Hollister struggling to balance singing and bass, it was the firebrand guitarist Buck though who was for many the center of attention so TH3 split but have remained friends with Buck forming Buck And Evans with singer Sally Ann Evans, Roberts going into session work as Hollister went solo then into tour management.
The pandemic stopped any touring activity so the three mates reconvened, with the addition. of bassist Sam Williams to rehash some old tunes but as with all creatives they could help themselves knocking out their EP which was released out of nowhere. Met with critical acclaim, the kudos of course for Hollister's brilliantly smoky vocals and Buck's incredible guitar playing, they focussed on producing a debut full length for 2022.
Now I believe I reviewed the EP from TH3 and was won over by straight from the off so when I heard the Cardinal Black EP I was transported back to that impressive rock n soul sound of TH3 but it's on this debut album that Cardinal Black really come into their own. 11 songs of slick, soulful music that spreads itself between late night soulfulness, swaggering rock n roll, groovy funk all cradled in the bosom of the blues.
When a band has this much experience, recorded a live show at Abbey Road, had a show at Cardiff Castle as their debut and now are looking at headlong Chepstow Castle next year, it's no surprise this album oozes with quality. The insistant Where Do You Go? has the jangling reverb of Fleetwood Mac's Lyndsay Buckingham, Buck feels restrained there but not stifled, the tracks driven by its bottom end and those worn, warm hued vocals of Hollister.
The music in general on January Came Close is not about flashiness, all four band mates are a virtuoso in their own right but together they let the songs speak for themselves Buck having the same deft approach on Tell Me How It Feels like Stevie Ray Vaughan a man he's been compared with in the past. With Terra Firma, the style is stripped back Roberts' drums and Williams' bass taking pride of place as the main duo here a Fender Rhodes twinkling in the background as it builds into another towering solo.
You can feel the emotion seeping through this record, while the faster more 'rock' based songs will get the radio play, it's the middle album treat; On My Own will bring tears to the eye, it's such a wonderful piano driven ballad which could easily be mistaken for an artist like Rag N Bone Man, the washing of the cymbals, haunting guitar harmonics and Tom's vocals pure audio magic. On the second half of the album, they do slow down a bit but things become a bit more reflective with Jump In having gospel but there's a bit of funk on Warm Love.
I haven't felt this good about an album since the first Temperance Movement record, I've always been a sucker for soul, blues and rock combining and Cardinal Black do it spectacularly. A stunning record that needs to be heard. 10/10
The Grand Mal - II (APF Records)
The Grand Mal are basically an Oxford metal/rock scene supergroup formed by the brothers Cole, Ryan (guitar) and Elliott (drums), Rob Glenn (bass), Lee Cressey (guitar) and Dave-O (vocals/keys). Elliott and Ryan also do time on Desert Storm/Wall while Rob is a part of Möther Cörona, the other band members all experienced members of the Oxford scene. This alone was enough to make me listen to their self titled debut, the fact that it was on APF Records (one of the best UK labels) just the cherry on top.
Released in 2018 their debut took the brothers down a slightly different route to the louder brasher Desert Storm and Wall, The Grand Mal moving things towards alt rock and grunge while retaining those trademark fat riffs of the Southern/stoner scene. With The Grand Mal the word of the day is feel, it's a free form approach that brings them into line with bands such as Clutch or any of the Kyuss side projects that active pursue a sound that isn't constrained by a particular genre. In that spirit their second album is proof that this is no side project, despite the release of Desert Storm's Omens, stopping this follow up, here it is the aptly named II here to show again why The Grand Mal deserve their place on APF.
Recorded by the band at Shonk Studios only Rule My Soul gets over 5 minutes the rest of the record stays tight and punchy as the Vangelis tribute Another Replicant gets the record started as an intro before Peitit Mal is the first proper song, a runaway train of fuzzy riffs, igniting The Grand Mal flame, the rest of the album goes in ages different directions but worships the riff throughout, some Sabbath arrives on the trio of I Live For Today, Rule My Soul and Smash The Grave, the last one filthier than Matt Hancock in a closet, as Dave-O beats on the tambourine.
Rule The World features lap steel by co-producer/engineer/Sixth Beatle Jimmy Heatherington who also provides loops/samples and mellotron on interludes The Lingering and Lost In Time as well as additional guitar on the closing Blood Moon which is where things go fully Clutch. II is The Grand Mal upping both the volume on tracks such as the grooving Hellbound Blues and Seas Of Glory, similarly to their other projects but also trying to create their own identity away from the various other bands. Much like their debut, it's a summation to the fertile Oxford scene, play loud and enjoy! 8/10
HWDU - Better You Than Me (Self Released)
Swansea Strigiformes boyos HWDU are back with more of what they call "Twp Rock", a band who are never afraid to poke fun at themselves bring some more fuzzing riffs, shouting multiple vocals and lots of attitude. Their first EP Love Crime was meaner and leaner with an integration between punk and stoner but on Better You Than Me they have dove deep into their bag of tricks for some new noises. HWDU bring in a grungy sound for the title track which feels like a lost Nirvana record, Squat has the country picking of alt country man David Allen Coe. With that said though they still have a lot of stoner punking on tracks such as the riff twosome President and White Horse.
The dual vocals and guitars of Matt Williams (Suns Of Thunder/Sigirya) and Jonny Randell (Estuary Blacks) intertwining and colliding on the 6 songs Machine and White Horse showing this very clearly as drummer Owen Foote also bellows down the mic and bludgeons his percussion. The exception to this is the more psychedelic final track Lotus Eater where there's and added dexterity and steady rhythms from the winding bass of Gavin Smith.
Better You Than Me is a brilliant follow up to HWDU's debut EP, keeping that stoner punk power that they first showed on the Love Crime but with plenty of new sounds added to their already stocked coffers. A real name to watch on The South Wales scene, see them soon supporting Nick Oliveri and get your rocks off. 8/10
Fallen Temples - Reborn Every Dawn (Self Released)
South Wales riff merchants Fallen Temples return with a four track EP. I say return but this an end of an era, these are the final tracks recorded with previous bass player Joe Lewis before they head back into the studio soon with current bassist Shane Phillips. It's a fitting final fling for their former band mate as these four numbers have the big, trench digging grooves Lewis is very keen on, Blood From Stone for example has that wah-infused style of Black Label Society, getting it's stomp on as Joe Stirland pounds out steel behind his kit.
The chugging Phoenix has been a live set staple for a while so it's only natural it's here, in it's recorded form, Adam Vaughn letting loose with his six string as they carve out the huge riffs and that resplendent solo section. The rampaging Broken is the most cathartic track here Vaughn calling to "remember better days", his vocals still both raw and melodic while his guitar chops are undeniable.
Following this is more muscular rocking on As Long As I Can Stand, that brings more striding riffage. Four more tasty morsels from Fallen Temples rounding off their MK. I line up in fine style. With more promised, it's great to have Fallen Temples bringing the rock again. 8/10