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Wednesday 2 November 2022

Reviews: Spell, Hellsingland Underground, The Jokers, Sheer Cerebral Power (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Spell – Tragic Magic (Bad Omen Records/Metal Blade Records)

Fantasy metal band Spell, emerge from the magical realms with their third album Tragic Magic which leaves the escapism of their previous two albums for a more down to earth lyrical inspiration though still brought with plenty of black magick and occult tendencies. Their mix of proto metal, NWOBHM, prog and Gothic rock likens them to bands such as Blue Oyster Cult and Budgie, fellow Canadians Rush and Triumph, as well as more modern names such as Unto Others, Tower and even Ghost (though Spell don't rely on the visual gimmicks). 

Hooky as a room full of pirates Tragic Magic lays down 10 tracks in 38 minutes closing with the instrumental The Watching, the performance spilt between Cam Mesmer (bass, vocal, rhythm guitar) and Al Lester (drums, lead guitar, vocals) as some friends help out on tracks such as A Ruined Garden, which has Ian Chains of Cauldron (another band Spell are influenced by), Max Sample adds piano to Watcher Of The Seas, Rachel Layne brings counterpoint vocals (Souls In Chains) and producer Felix Fung also gets in on the gang vocals. 

Spell have taken the occult and hypnotic to their hearts with this music, tracks such as the synthy Hades Embrace bring that sense of 'the otherside' as does the woozy malaise of Fever Dream. Though Fatal Breath goes into some fuzzy Motorhead galloping, then there's proto thrash on Sarcophagus and lead guitar mastery on A Ruined Garden. Tragic Magic is rougher, more mature Spell but still born of the mystical realm. 9/10

Hellsingland Underground - Endless Optimism (Wild Kingdom)

Hellsingland Underground have had a lengthy career, they'll be in their 20th year in 2026, but they are ageing gracefully as a band, not wanting to play songs about being in their 20's anymore their songwriting has matured as vocalist Charlie Granberg meditates on getting older but without the need for nostalgia, it's the same mentality as country singers and southern rock bands, the idea that looks fade, health deteriorates but if you can strap on a guitar and play some music you'll always feel 21. Hellsingland Underground don't have to prove anything to anyone, they're in a band because they enjoy it still, and after the last few years, there was a collective feeling unity when they were able to resume playing together.

So with this album they've attempted to make the ideal Hellsingland Underground album, the experimentation of their previous record replaced by the love for guitar riffs and blue collar rock n roll ala The Allman Brothers and Tom Petty. Recorded in their own studio Endless Optimism happily mixes classic, bluesy rock n roll swagger with down to earth storytelling lyrics and a pocket full of tasty riffs. There first album with new drummer Johan Gröndal, Endless Optimism is a record that is based around the concept of its title, whether it be ageing, the world, or anything else, the songs here are all there to tell you to approach life with optimism no matter the outcome. 

The music here a testament to that out look as the songs drift on by getting your toes tapping and your head nodding to the way rock grooves, it's a record that can just as easily be enjoyed on a solitary night by the fire or at a gathering with your best friends, the sense of friendship spilling out as Granberg and Gröndal, are joined by Peter Henriksson (guitars), Jerry Åström Ask (guitars), Martin Karlsson (bass), Thomas Pettersson (piano) to kick off with the rollicking Mott The Hoople-esque Young And Dumb, those driving riffs of Ian Hunter appear on Red Number One too. 

With It Started With A Tear Drop and Old White Men, they move into Tom Petty while the over arching sound for me is that of bands such as The Tragically Hip and even R.E.M. It's rock n roll but with the jangling indie hipness and some Americana too especially on Time Is Elastic. I'd not heard of Hellsingland Underground before this record but their rootsy sound kept me interested throughout. 7/10

The Jokers - Rock N Roll Bones (Metalapolis Records)

There was a time when The Jokers looked set on being the next leader of what we now call the NWOCR, forming in 2006 I'd always been a fan of their rump shaking rock n roll that as it evolved from a glam stomp of Mott The Hoople into a style that was as much The Black Crowes as it was AC/DC, with plenty of touring it looked as if it was all going great their 2015 album Hurricane getting great reviews, followed by more extensive touring. Then in 2018 they started to write this record and without major label backing it took a while to be release, with the pandemic ensuring that it was shelved until now. 

As they wanted to wait until they could get back out on the road to support this record, mainly as The Jokers are pretty much always on the road. So seven years since their last and do The Jokers still have that rock n roll soul or are they just having a laugh? Well after the tribal sound of the Ritual we go straight into the strutting You're Gone the guitars of Paul Hurst with some Robertson/Kossoff bluesy licks on top of the steady rhythms of bassist Paul Hurst and drummer Chris Poole who give the rock n roll bones to the title track, the persistence to Slapback

Hurst having a bit of country picking on the hip shaking Cold Heart where Wayne Parry's vocals can be compared to those of Paul Rogers, smoky and soulful but also with those Robert Plant melodies on Find My Way Home and Snake Oil Devil which is very Zep. 14 track of great rock n roll, The Jokers are back and that's not laughing matter, it's a cause for celebration! 8/10

Sheer Cerebral Power – Sucker Punch’d (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Formed by the songwriting partnership of Azhar Kamal and John Jones, Sheer Cerebral Power are a new band based in Munich. Azhar wrote all the music hear with some vocal melodies before John finished them off to give them a debut album that is thematically and conceptually inspire by the famous 1974 Rumble In The Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire. It’s a strange concept for a record, especially one that musically is inspired by bands such as Yes and Rush, while Azhar’s guitar style is a tribute to jazz guitar icons Allan Holdsworth and John Maclaughlin, having been under the learning tree of both these icons of the experimental (check out the dreamy solo on Hero). 

Sucker Punch’d thrives on bizarre time signatures, layered vocal harmonies, complex arrangements and a special kind of key instrument called a celesta which is like a xylophone but played like a piano. Azhar wanted this record to be free form and fluid so along with drummer Tommy Eberhardt and bassist Horst Polland play without a framework other than what the song entails. For example Skip is written in 5/4 timing inspired by a skipping rope boxers use to train, it’s things like this that make Sucker Punch’d such an enthralling and layered release. Songs have been released as singles but this album needs to be listened to in its entirety much like bands such as King Crimson or early-Genesis. 

The opener Suckerpunch comes from the Yes/Glass Hammer dynamic, 12 minutes of musical dexterity that never loses its accessibility. From there we get Blow that is part Steve Wilson/part Rush (listen to the drumming), SLAB brings a bit of Tool, as does grooving rhythms on Boma Yè. Prog for the prog minded, its experimental music that won’t have the majority of their listening audience scratching their heads, but will get lovers of interesting music and instrumental virtuosity very excited. 8/10

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