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Saturday 31 December 2022

Top 20 Of The Year: Erick Willand

Erick Willand's Top 20 Of The Year

*In No Particular Order*

1. GWAR - The New Dark Ages

2. Wiegedood - There's Always Blood At The End Of The Road

3. Temple Of Void - Summoning The Slayer

4. Venom Prison - Erebos

5. Power Paladin - With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

6. Immolation - Acts Of God

7. Amorphis - Halo

8. Bloodbath - Survival Of The Sickest

9. Ghost - Imperia

10. Tribal Gaze - The Nine Choirs

11. Undeath - It's Time...To Rise From The Grave

12. Deathhammer - Electric Warfare

13. Hath - All That Was Promised

14  Crippled Black Phoenix - Banefyre

15. Lunar Blood - Twilight Insurgency

16. Midnight - Let There Be Witchery

17. Chestcrush - Apechtheia

18. Maul - Seraphic Punishment

19. Gaerea - Mirage

20. Goatwhore - Angels Hung From The Arches Of Heaven

Top 50 Albums Of The Year: Matt Bladen

Matt Bladen's Top 50 Albums Of The Year

1. Porcupine Tree - Closure // Continuation 
2. Marillion - An Hour Before It's Dark
3. Cardinal Black - January Came Close
4. Adharma - Mirror Mirror
5. White Ward - False Light
6. MWWB - The Harvest
7. Stray Gods - Storm The Walls
8. Gaerea - Mirage
9. Elder - Innate Passages
10. Fury - Born To Sin

11. Crippled Black Phoenix - Banefyre
12. Dim Gray - Firmament
13. Borealis - Illusions
14. Oceans Of Slumber - Starlight & Ash
15. Sergeant Thunderhoof - The Sceptred Veil
16. Tómarúm -Ash In Realms Of Stone Icons
17. Envy Of None - Envy Of None
18. Thy Listless Heart - Pilgrims On The Path Of No Return 
19. The Rusty Nutz - We Tried To Make It Big But Something Somewhere Went Wrong, We Can't Work Out What That Something Is
20. Terra Atlantica - Beyond The Borders

21. Fellowship - The Saberlight Chronicles
22. Arena - The Theory Of Molecular Inheritance
23. Avatarium - Death Where Is Your Sting?
24. Conjurer - Páthos
25. Pure Reason Revolution - above Cirrus
26. Lonely Robot - The Model Life
27. Darkest Era - Wither On The Vine
28. Megadeth - The Sick, The Dying...And The Dead!
29. Gospelheim - Ritual & Repetition
30. Absent In Body -Plague Of God

31. Isafjørd - Hjartastjak
32. Power Paladin - With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel
33. RXPTRS - Living Without Deaths Permission
34. Alunah - Strange Machine
35. Naxatras - IV
36. Threshold - Dividing Lines
37. Evergrey - A Heartless Portrait [The Orphean Testament] 
38. Vass/Katsionis - Ethical Dilemma 
39. Star One - Revel In Time
40. Cage Fight - Cage Fight

41. Amorphis - Halo
42. Cult Of Luna - The Long Road North
43. De Profundis - The Corruption Of Virtue
44. The Same River - Weight Of The World
45. Konvent - Call Down The Sun
46. Audrey Horne - Devil's Bell
47. Earthless - Night Paradise Of One Hundred Demons
48. Charlie Griffiths - Tiktaalika
49. Author & Punisher - Krüller
50. Vanquisher - An Age Undreamed Of

Friday 30 December 2022

Top 20 Albums Of The Year: Rick Eagelstone

Rick Eaglestone's Top 20 Albums Of The Year

20. DeathCollector - Time's Up

19. Iron Tomb - Vile Retribution
18. Ninth Realm - A Fate Unbroken
17. High Command - Eclipse Of The Dual Moons

16. Olhava - Reborn

15. Ultha - All That Has Never Been True

14. Sculpture - Feldwarts

13. Kvaen - The Great Below

12. Wiegedood - There's Always Blood At The End

11. Moonlight Sorcery - Piecercing Through The Frozen Eternity

10. Cairns – Keening

09. Darker – The Buried Storm

08. An Abstract Illusion – Woe

07. As The World Dies – Agonist

06. Abduction – Black Blood

05. The Antichrist Imperium – Volume III: Satan In His Original Glory

04. Firtan – Marter

03. Count Vornok – Guided by the Light of Felrisian’s Staff

02. Grima – Frostbitten

01. Blood Countess – Occulta Tenebris

Thursday 29 December 2022

Top 20 Albums Of The Year: Zak Skane

Zak Skane's Top 20 Albums Of The Year

20. Kirk Hammet – Portals

This cinematic four track brings a different side to the famous Metallica lead guitarist. Throughout this 27 minute journey we get to greated by waves of ambience, textures and orchestras that will take us through this emotional journey. I was very this outcome especially this being on of the first side projects to stem from Metallica.

19. Spite - Dedication To Flesh

The Deathcore meets Beatdown crew have came out in 2022 with the Dedication to Flesh. 7 years and 3 releases later the band can still pack a punch with low tuned of guitars with their signature sound of jolty riffage whilst the singer Darius Tehrani gives us some of his anger filled guttural gymnastics. Tracks like Caved In, Made to Please and title track will snap the necks of many hardcore head bangers.

18. Slaughter The Giant – Depravity

The Belgium Melodic outfits have stuck out me that you can still have young fiery passion but still come with an old soul. Check out their singles The Undead and Compliance.

17. Counterparts – A Eulogy for Those Still Here

Counterparts are still coming into 2022 more emotional and angry than ever with the furious Whispers of Your Death, and Unwavering Vow and the melodic A Eulogy for Those Still Here. This band still know how to create a good Melodic Hardcore album.

16. Silverstein – Misery Made Me

Misery Made Me still proves that the band still have the fire that they had on their earlier albums When Broken is Easily Fixed 2003 and Discovering the Waterfront 2005. With heavy songs like Die Alone and Ultraviolet to their classical emo driven track Cold Blooded this band are still willing to give us the goods to still bringing something new to the table.

15. Kublai khan – Lowest Form Of Animal

Kublai Khan still wearing their 5 track Lowest Form a Animal. Each track starting with their opening song Swan Song to their closing track Dynasty the band still know how to rip your face whilst still being honest and whole some.

14. Northlane – Obsidian

The Australian modern metal act have been melting minds with their mix up of ‘Djent’ and trance metal crossover, from the trance driven Clockwork, to the topical title and pop sounding Echo Chamber and the soaring Carbonized. After 12 years this band still know how to turn heads, especially mine.

13. The Devil Wears Prada – Colour Decay

I have been a fan of this since they released Deadthrone back in 2011. The band have been noticeably pushing the boundaries with the metalcore sound since their Space E.P in 2015. So when I checked out that they have done a post-hardcore driven album I was sold! This album is very songwriter driven by swapping well structured breakdowns for emotional lyrics and heavy pulling of heart string melodies with tracks such as Exhibition and Salt but fear not this album still has it’s heavy moments such as Watch Tower, Time and Noise.

12. Polyphia – Remember That You Will Die

Another installation from the modern kings of shred from the neo classical and trap mash up of Playing God, to introducing vocals into the mix from guest appearances from Sophia Black on ABC, Lil West in Chimera, Chino Moreno from Deftones on Bloodbath to appearances from the G.O.A.T himself…see what I did there Steve Via in their closing track Ego Death. This band are still pushing boundaries and still guitar driven music fresh.

11. Slipknot – The End So Far

The bands most experimental albums since Volume 3 Subliminal Verses, from the risky choices of songs like Adderal and Acidic to the crowd pleasing The Dying Song, The Chapletown Rag and Hive Mind to my personal favourite Yen. This was a satisfying to some but divisive to others.

10. Gutlocker – To Be Alive

Going from strength to strength Gutlocker have been gigging the UK underground scene for a good 6 years (according to their socials) and in 2022 they have treated us to their debut album. Through out the course 11 tracks the band have melded their Groove metal, Hardcore and Southern metal perfectly especially with personal favourites Sink or Swim, To Be Alive and Once a Snake. Defiantly go and check this band out if you are a fan of Lamb of God, the sludgy side of Mastodon and The Dillinger Escape Plan.

09. Lamb Of God – Omens

The groove metal legends still striding through 2022 with their second album with new drummer Art Cruz. In the this we get to see Art getting a lot more settled in the role with some coming up interesting drum grooves in the opening track Nevermore which we get to hear Rhandy Blythe mixing harsh and clean singing. The southern groove is still present as ever with Vanishing and they can still spit the venom with Ditch. 9 albums in and the band still know how to deliver the punch.

08. Messhuggah – Immutable

The modern masters are back with a raw approach, still adapting their polyrhythmic assault from their most recent albums but carrying on their organic production style at was featured on their previous album Violent Sleep of Reason. Tracks like Broken Cog, the lower tuned power of Phantoms and the groovy leads of Ligature Marks will please the followers and win the newbies.

07. Korn – Requiem

Back with their 13th studio album the grandfathers of Nu metal are still here to help us through their darkest journey. This album has been mentioned in quite a few Bad Albums of 2022 videos but I thought this album still continues their emotional turmoil from their previous album The Nothing but in a more polished form. In the this album we get to see Jonathan Davies stepping back from the harsh vocals to incorporate more melody in his vocal patterns, but fear not this album still punches. Monkey and Head are still delivering the low end punch especially on songs like My Confession, It’s On It’s Way and Disconnect, Ray Luzier still delivers the groove and Jonathan still touches our heart strings, so don’t hesitate on giving this album a listen.

06. Electric Callboy – Tekkno

The German party metalcore are proving that metalcore does not have to be serious with Tekkno. Containing dance floor hits like the chad energy filled Pump it, the bouncy We Got the Moves and the Pop Punk parody of Fuckboi featuring Conquer Divide. I am definitely placing this on my good mood playlist along side Tenacious D and Steel Panther.

05. Spirit Box – Rotoscope

Just after the metalcore community have just recovered from the silk smooth assult the band have a collection of them still pushing the sonic boundaries of what we know as Modern Metalcore. From the industrial opening track of Rotoscope, the bouncy Sew Me Up and the anthemic track Hysteria. After listening to this three track masterpiece this band leave us wanting more.

04. Bleed From Within – Shrine

The Scottish groove masters released their most commercial effort to date with choruses becoming more quote in radio friendly in comparison to their older releases fear not this band still know how to bring the heavy, especially with tracks such as I am Damnation, Levitate and Stand Down. I can’t wait to hear what this band has got in store for us in the future.

03. Bad Omens – The Death Of Peace Of Mind

The pop metal driven act have come out with their new master peace The Death Of Peace Of Mind. From start to end every track its own identity from the melancholic title track The Death Of Peace Of Mind, The fast paced of Nowhere To Go and the aggressive groove of Artificial Suicide. There is something for everyone in this album.

02. Fit For An Autopy – Oh What The Future Holds

Continuing the shire brutality from the their 2019 release the Sea of Tragic Beasts, Oh What the Future Holds uses the same formula but the band have smoothed the edges to make this one modern metal master piece.

01. Malevolence – Malicious Intent

The Sheffield crossover kings have made one of the best albums in their catalogue to date. Importing more hooks into this bands sound has not softened them by any means, this album may be more accessible in comparison to their older material but this band has kept their venom especially with tracks like Life Sentence, Karma and Broken Glass whilst inserting melodic driven tracks such as Higher Place On Broken Glass. This is one of the most consistent sounding metal albums since Machine Heads The Blackening and Parkway Drives Ire.

Top 20 Albums Of The Year: GC

GC's Top 20 Albums Of The Year

1. Armed for Apocalypse - Ritual Violence

2. Ithaca - They Fear Us

3. Rolo Tomassi - When Myth Becomes Memory

4. Lionheart - Welcome To The West Coast III

5. Misery Index - Complete Control

6. Carrion Vael - Abhorrent Obsessions

7. Birds In Row - Gris Klein

8. Terror- Pain Into Power

9. Knoll - Metemperic

10. Wake - Though Form Descent

11. The Devil Wears Prada - Color Decay

12. She Must Burn - Umbra Mortis

13. Mass Worship - Portal Tombs

14: Heart Of Gold - Beautiful Dangerous

15. Abest - Molten Husk

16. Brutus - Union Life

17. Eaten by Sharks - Eradication

18. Bonecarver - Carnage Funeral

19. Molder- Engrossed In Decay

20. Consumption - Necrotic Lust

Wednesday 28 December 2022

Top 20 Albums Of The Year: David Karpel

David Karpel's Top 20 Albums Of The Year

1. Stone Axe - Stay Of Execution

2. Vitskar Suden - The Faceless King

3. Abrams - In The Dark

4. King Buffalo - Regenerator

5. Wo Fat - The Singularity

6. Sergeant Thunderhoof - The Sceptred Veil

7. Freedom Hawk - Take All You Can 

8. Besvarjelsen - Atlas

9. Steak - Acute Mania

10. InTechincolour - Midnight Heavyweight

11. Valley Of The Sun - The Chariot

12. Elder - Innate Passage

13. Birth - Born

14. CB3 - Exploration

15. Voidward - Voidward

16. Eye Of Doom - Sapient

17. Greenbeard -Variant

18. Fostermother - The Ocean

19. AAWKS - Heavy On The Cosmic

20. Limousine Beach - Limousine Beach

Top 20 Albums Of The Year: Rich Piva

Rich Piva's Top 20 Albums Of The Year

1. Freedom Hawk - Take All You Can

2. Psychlona - Palo Verde

3. Obsidian Sea - Pathos

4. Wo Fat - The Singularity

5. Valley Of The Sun - The Chariot

6. Mos Generator - Time//Wounds

7. Umbilicus - Path Of 1000 Suns

8. Abrams - In The Dark

9. ZOM - Fear And Failure

10. Carson - The Wilful Pursuit Of Ignorance

11. King Buffalo - Regenerator

12. Caustic Casanova - Glass Enclosed Nerve Center

13. Sunczar - Bearer Of Light

14. Sleepwulf - Sunbeams Curl

15. Clutch - Sunrise On Slaughter Beach

16. Sergeant Thunderhoof - This Sceptred Veil

17. Sahg - Born Demon

18. Eye Of Doom - The Sapient

19. AAWKS - (Heavy On the Cosmic)

20. Sudden Deaf - Havoc

Tuesday 27 December 2022

Top 20 Albums Of The Year: Simon Black

Simon Black's Top 20 Albums Of The Year

In Alphabetical Order: 

1. Anvil - Impact Is Imminent

2. Avantasia - A Paranormal Evening With The Moonflower Society

3. Battle Beast - Circus Of Doom

4. Chaos Over Cosmos - A Dream If Ever There Was One

5. Evergrey - A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

6. Joe Lynn Turner - Belly Of The Beast

7. Lawnmower Deth – Blunt Cutters

8. Machine Head - Of Kingdom and Crown

9. Mad Symphony – Blood 2 Dust

10. Magnum – The Monster Roars

11. Nordic Union - Animalistic

12. PIST.ON - Cold World

13. Rammstein - Zeit

14. Satan - Earth Infernal

15. SiX BY SiX - SiX BY SiX

16. Sole Syndicate - Into The Flames

17. Stratovarius - Survive

18. Therion - Leviathan II

19. The Treatment – Waiting For Good Luck

20. Venom Inc. - There's Only Black

Thursday 22 December 2022

Top 20 Albums Of The Year: Richard Oliver

Richard Oliver's Top 20 Albums Of The Year 

1. An Abstract Illusion - Woe

2. Gaerea - Mirage

3. Wilderun - Epigone

4. Oceans Of Slumber - Starlight And Ash

5. Evergrey - A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

6. The Halo Effect - Days Of The Lost

7. Septicflesh - Modern Primitive

8. Brymir - Voices In The Sky

9. Kvaen - The Great Below

10. Carpenter Brut - Leather Terror

11. Amorphis - Halo

12. Xaon - The Lethean

13. Fury - Born To Sin

14. Midnight - Let There Be Witchery

15. Wiegedood - There’s Always Blood At The End Of The Road

16. Audrey Horne - Devil’s Bell

17. In Aphelion - Moribund

18. Thy Listless Heart - Pilgrims On The Path Of No Return

19. Sylvaine - Nova

20. Noctem - Credo Certe Ne Cras

Top 20 Albums Of The Year: Paul Scoble

Paul Scoble's Albums Of The Year

20. Kvaen - The Great Below

Kvean’s highly expected second album, still thrashy Black Metal but with more melody and complexity, whilst retaining the high speed soundtrack to a speeding ban feel.

19. Freedom Of Fear - Carpathia

Technical Death / Black Metal that is tuneful and memorable with great riffs, solos, vocals and Hannes Grossman on Drums as well.

18. Aara - Triad II: Hemera

Savage and blasting Black Metal that, despite its extremity is still full of melody with some of the best tremolo picked riffs I have heard this year. Black Metal essential.

17. Morbid Evils - Supernaturals

Massively angry, sludgy extreme Doom. Slow but incandescently furious. Haven’t enjoyed being screamed at by an album this year, as much as I’ve enjoyed being screamed at by Supernaturals.

16. Autonoesis - Moon Of Foul Magics

Fantastic mix of Technical Death Metal and Technical Black Metal full of great riffs, amazing solos and full of energy, drive and fun.

15. Famyne - II: The Ground Below

Great melodic mix of traditional Doom and Hard Rock with really good, and very original Vocals.

14. Swampborn - Beyond Ratio

Really interesting Black / Post Black Metal, that is full of creativity. Utilises Violins and Brass instruments without anything seeming incongruous, its doubly impressive as this is Swampborns debut album!

13. Witchery - Nightside

Great riffs, Awesome beats, cracking solos and a huge amount of great energy, pretty much the perfect Black Thrash album.

12. Falls Of Raurus - Keys To A Vanishing Future

Lush, folky Black Metal full of melody and beauty. Falls Of Raurus have never made a bad album, and as this is their best, they seem to go from strength to strength.

11. Sacred Son - The Foul Deth Of Engelond

Black Metal concept album about the Peasants Revolt in 1381. This is Sacred Sons first album as a full band, its great atmospheric Black Metal, on a fascinating subject.

10. The Otolith - Folium Limina

Beautiful, Folky Doom / Post Rock born from the ashes of SubRosa, with sublime melodies and beautiful Vocals.

9. 40 Watt Sun - Perfect Light

Patrick Walker has dropped any pretence to be a Metal act. Perfect Light is a mix of Folk and singer songwriter style material. This is definitely happier than anything he’s done before, the album appropriately feels as if its drenched in sunlight.

8. Mizmor/Thou - Myopia

My favourite Blackened Doom act makes a collaborative album with my favourite Sludge band, to produce an excellent album of Blackened Sludge.

7. Autopsy - Morbidity Triumphant

I’ve been a big fan of Autopsy since the early nineties, I love their sickening Death Metal with lots of Putrid Nastiness and healthy dose of Doom. Autopsy have never made a bad album, this one is particularly good, probably the bast since they reformed.

6. Voivod - Synchro Anarchy

Voivod were (Probably wrongly) first known as part of the first wave of Thrash Metal in the early eighties. In fact what they had done was invent Progressive metal, and have been at the forefront of that for many years. This album has a similar sound to their last album, the excellent The Wake, but pushed to a more taut and spikey extreme. After more than 35 years of producing incredibly creative music, Voivod are still producing some of the best Progressive Metal around.

5. An Abstract Illusion - Woe

An hour long journey through 50 years of progressive Music. Sublime Progressive extreme metal that gets better with each listen.

4. Wiegedood - There's Always Blood At The End Of The Road

Wiegedood took the intense and very controlled sound of the three De Doden…. albums, removed the brakes, fitted a jet engine, and pushed it down a huge hill. A staggeringly intense and aggressive Black Metal album that is incandescently angry and filled with rage. One of the most extreme pieces of music ever made.

3. Ultha - All That Has Never Been True

In my opinion the most creative Black Metal band currently active. The music is constantly changing, yet is coherent and massively tuneful, This album is a dark and brooding journey to a haunted Funfair.

2. Barabbas - La Mort Appelle Tous Les Vivants

Thunderingly huge French Doom, all the best bits from Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, Cathedral and Orange Goblin given a fresh, bouncy twist. This has become my favourite Doom album for many a year.

1. The Antichrist Imperium - Volume III: Satan In His Original Glory

A near perfect mix of Death Metal, Black Metal, Gothic and New Wave elements, my favourite of the bands that have come out of the Akercocke Musical Universe excel themselves on this release. Amazing riffs, Insane Blasts, Brilliant solos, and unhinged Vocals and Lyrics make this my album of the year for 2022.

Wednesday 21 December 2022

Reviews: The Temple, Evil Oath, Highway Queen, Rokets (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Temple - Of Solitude Triumphant (I Hate Records)

Formed in Thessaloniki in 2006 The Temple are a maudlin, grief stricken, doom band who bring only the biggest riffs and lowest notes possible. Of Solitude Triumphant is their second album and follows 2016's Forevermourn along with their previous EP and single split with Acolytes Of Moros, it's another compendium of foundation rattling riffs, mournful vocals and conceptual lyrics about a souls journey into being. As with many doom heroes, but especially Warning who The Temple use as a huge influence, the lyrics and music have a spiritual edge.

Me To Lichno Astrou the opening choral chants that are prominent in a sung mass, though of course they are put to the heavy rhythm of Father Alex (bass), Stefanos (guitar) and Pavlos (drums) as those harmonic leads of Felipe edge into the epic doom of While Heaven Wept, Atlantean Kodex and Solstice. With Profound Loss, the melodic lead shifting into the slowest offering here. The vocals of Father Alex too are vicious when he growls but the cleans not quite up to the earnest longing of Patrick Walker but near enough that there's a lot of passion and loss that comes through on Reborn In Virtue.

More chants come on the A White Flame For The Fear Of Death before there's much more riffage and yearning vocals, the bells toll for the speedier picking of The Lord Of Light. Of Solitude Triumphant is another superior selection of doom from The Temple, kneel at their altar and pray to the riffs. 9/10

Evil Oath - A Kingdom Of Fire (Self Released)

A debut back metal album can often be drawn into the world of toilet black metal where the production is tinny and hollow. No there's the trve cvlt lot that think this is how it should be, music played as if recorded on a worn out tape player, down the corridor from the actual recording studio, but I prefer the style that actually has production and broader sound range than just fuzzy tremolo riffs and washed out blast beats.

Thankfully Evil Oath have taken their musical influence from the second/third wave, the tremolo picking obviously still the major factor but the use of orchestras and synths to create atmosphere, building a stronger more cinematic foundation for them to build their extreme metal sound on. Recorded by the band members, Mexicution (drummer), M.C. Abagor (guitar/vocals), Rydall (guitar/vocals), Stormcrow (bass, vocals). A Kingdom On Fire was mixed and mastered by Van Voorst to make the record sound bigger than many others that are only on their debut full length.

What I will say is that the intro feels as if it's all out of whack sound wise, thankfully the first track proper As The Tenebris Vortex Opens, gets going the cleaner, bigger mix/mastering makes all the difference as the instrumentation is crystal clear, the riffs shift between traditional black and death metal, while the vocals bark and growl, conceiving and praising The Devil. 

After a few tracks of ferocious blasting we get a dark synth interlude before the vicious extreme metal comes back, Evil Oath reminding me of Celtic Frost, Darkthrone and even Morbid Angel, the vocals utilising that Tom G Warrior grunt as the technicality never overshadows the aura of the songs, just heightens their appeal. So many black metal bands try to be more 'authentic' than the other, by making it raw and ragged Evil Oath however are content in making well produced, song driven extreme metal. 8/10 

Highway Queen - Bitter Soul (Rockshots Records)

Finnish rockers Highway Queen have released their debut album Bitter Soul through Rockshots Records, coming just before the end of the year it's an album with a bit of proto-metal and melodic rock fused together in a style of Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult, Lucifer and The Blues Pills all melded in one place. Having released a few singles and EP's on Inverse records they have brought their grittier, occult rocking to Rockshots Records as the spectral vocals of Virpi Kääriäinen soar on top of the distorted riffs from Teemu Kääriäinen.

Get On Your Knees being one of the many witchy sounding tracks, though on I Lean On You there's a tribal feel to the drumming of Henri Backman as we go into some alt rock ala Skunk Anansie, Here I Am a bit lighter as the melodic rock/NWOBHM overtones kick in. Bitter Soul is a record that is perfectly listenable, but not much more than that, there are a multitude of bands doing this kind of music so Rocket Queen find themselves sitting in the middle of the pack. 6/10

Rokets - Break Free (The Sign Records)

More Finnish rock n roll, this time with bag full of attitude as Rokets release their second album, the five piece packing this nine song album with garage/fuzz and 12 Bar R&B, Burn Down The Wall gets things started with firebrand Wilko Johnson guitar stabs and some boogie woogie piano playing. Destroyer keeps the pace fast, the likes of Nashville Pussy, Lords Of Altamont and of course Swedish legend The Hellacopters can all be heard on Break Free

Formed in 2017 they have been carving up Europe and the USA since then, this second album coming from lots of honing on the live stage and also that the members of this band are all long time parts of the Finnish underground so there's a lot of experience to show. Things get a little lighter on Best Kept Secret before the punk rock comes back on Straight From The Source, which has to be a Ramones homage. 

Best played in a sweaty club through some fuzzy Vox speakers, Break Free gets wild and raucous but never evokves into anything more to than competent rock n roll. 7/10

Tuesday 20 December 2022

Reviews: Vented, Uncommon Evolution, Deathless Legacy, Lunar Mercia (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Rich Piva, David G & Paul Scoble)

Vented - Cruelty And Corruption (Metal.Hu Records) [Matt Bladen]

Vented features Sean Zatorsky (Daath/Sinsaenum/ex-Chimaira) on vocals, Austin D’Amond (DevilDriver/Bleed The Sky/ex-Chimaira) on drums, Gergo Hajer (Omega Diatribe) on guitar & bass and Simon C. Bondar (White Tiger) on keys & samples. Originally a vehicle that was supposed to feature Joey Jordison behind the kit his untimely death put paid to that, the entire album a tribute to their fallen brother, Vigil is about him along with losing another one of Sean Zatorsky's close friends.

So a long time in the ringer, Cruelty And Corruption has finally seen the light of day just as 2022 comes to a close and it's a heavy duty way to end the year with some crushing groove metal riffs that delve into Lamb Of God, Chimaria, Devildriver and also Fear Factory. The drumming throughout is absolutely brutal, even when they slow things down for the middle section of Desire, the drums are relentless, like an artillery barrage of war-like proportions, A New Trend, too has juxtaposed drumming as their speed counteracts the slower crunching, doomy riffage. Vented are trying to capture that NWOAM sound from the late 90's/early 00's, doing so very well due to members being part of many of these genre-leading bands. 

Besides the drumming there's some expert use of samples on Vitriolic and Withered, where there's a massive breakdown groove. Featuring guests such as Ahrue Luster (LATG/ex-Ill Nino/ex-Machine Head), Matt Szlachta (Broken Hope/ex-Chimaira) and Dustin Lei Griboski (Arise In Chaos), Cruelty And Corruption is a record that is trying to capture a specific period, a collection of bands who rapidly became world beaters, as groove metal took over the world. With some great production from HK Krauss, Vented have made an album that should be spoken about in the same breath as the genre leaders. If you're looking for a heavy way to close out the year, this will be it. 8/10

Uncommon Evolution - Fry (Argonauta Records) [Rich Piva]

A band that sounds like a combination of Clutch/Down/Pantera would seem like a sure thing, right? Well, the Montana band Uncommon Evolution on their latest effort, Fry, had me hooked until a couple of missteps almost ruined the entire offering for me. Outside of one very unfortunate and cringy track on this EP, there are some heavy and fun Clutch worship tunes and some mountain moving riffs that make this enjoyable. Now if they would have left off that last track this would have scored considerably higher.

Fry to me sounds like Clutch with Phil Anselmo on lead vocals and most of the time this works. The opener, Widow Makers Breeze has some killer heavy riffs but still that groove you would expect from a band that mentions Clutch first in their bio. The guitar work is great on this track and throughout the six tracks on Fry. Rut Struttin is serious Fallon worship, maybe a little too much, but I am a Clutch fanboy, so this works for me. Smolder is a slow burn along the same vibes of the first two tracks and could have been a lost track from the Elephant Riders sessions. Funeral Samba is leaning more on the Down side of things, slow and heavy with some serious riffs and some serious emotions. Good stuff. 

Mask is probably my favourite track with more of a heavy stoner vibe and some nice heavy blues riffs until the tempo picks up and I am reminded of Pantera big time. We go off the rails with the last track, which the less said the better about Deep Sea Loving. Which is the not subtle at all telling of how mermaids are created.  It is dumb and not funny at all. I had secondhand embarrassment for the band as I listened, and I disliked that track so much it took away from the five killer songs before it. Maybe that is not fair but that is how turned off to this track I was. I am fine with comedy in music, but this was just not funny at all. 

I love Clutch, so a band that is so influenced by them doesn’t insult me in any way. There is just enough from Uncommon Evolution on Fry to make them not be a cheap rip off of anyone, even if they lean a bit more on the worship side than the influenced by side. That being said, Clutch would never have a song so cringe worthy on any of their records. You can be funny and clever without something being so blatantly stupid, so maybe on the next offering keep with the riffs and grooves and maybe lay off the comedy or figure out some subtlety instead. It will go a long way in delivering a quality, end to end record because Uncommon Evolution has some serious skills and potential. 6/10

Deathless Legacy - Mater Larvarum (Scarlet Records) [David G]

Self-dubbed “Occult Horror Metal” (eye roll), Italy’s Deathless Legacy are causing me a bit of a headache if I’m honest. This, their fifth album, is a bit of a blend of quite effective and blunt metal edges, very effective songwriting and flourishes that almost invite a bit of laughter or further eye rolling. 

Lead off track Ora Pro Nobis strides those different lines, the chord progressions are orderly and though somewhat trite, still quite effective; the layered vocals are evocative and bewitching, leading the song with assurance leading grandiosity. It's the keyboards that bring the kook, providing overstated organ-like backing that combines with the Latin chanting to provide a cartoonish interpretation of horror. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing though because if there was a really serious feel about this release it might be a bit off-putting.

Hollow also strides those same lines but a lot less comfortably, staccato quintuplets delivered underneath power vocals of finest eighties balladry, it isn’t terribly unique, but again there is a sense of crafting involved. They just can’t resist the goofy plinky-plonk organ boards in the chorus that are akin to taking a Heart music video and sticking Hammer Horror zombies in the background (and not the ones from the excellent Plague of Zombies).  

As you’ve now gathered the Horror part of the band descriptor seems to be largely derived from the keyboard presence, and we’re probably using horror in more an Omen 2 sense. It’s cheesy, daft, at times hilarious, but can also be somewhat adorable too. Let’s be clear, there is nothing remotely Horrific about all of this, this isn’t Diamanda Galas doing Plague Mass, this is good time metal that could probably draw a comparison to Ghost here and there.

The aptly titled Run, a high energy number based around a breathless spider dance on the guitar neck, integrates the atmosphere more holistically and is a jolly good bit of entertainment. More often-than-not though the keyboards are bolted on to more conventionally shaped and well-done tracks, and though that is somewhat frivolous it does something that paradoxically works but doesn't.

I feel like the more I write about this album the less sense I’m making. To put it plainly, Mater Larvarum is over the top. There are the weird steps that are confusing and attention-diverting, but there is also a core that seems resilient, built to withstand what silliness may get thrown at it. Whether the album is likeable because of, or in spite of, the kookiness is hard to pin down, but it’s an experience, that’s for sure. 7/10

Lunar Mercia - Leaving The Fragile Space (Self Released) [Paul Scoble]

Hailing from the home of heavy metal (Birmingham), Lunar Mercia have been making music together since 2018. The four piece, made up of Stephen White on drums and vocals, William Southworth on vocals and guitar, Simon Alexander on guitar and Steffano Bassi on vocals and bass, have released one EP in that time in 2020’s Departing and Adoring, Leaving The Fragile Space is the bands first full length release.

Lunar Mercia’s sound is a mix of black metal and post black metal, with some surprising additions. The album is split into 4 songs 3 long 12 to 14 minute songs and one short, but very beautiful shorter track. The album opens with the track On The Veiled Road, which blasts off with some old school Tremolo Picked riffs that are half black metal and half OSDM, the riffs are fast and savage. The track then slows down and some NWOBHM influences come in giving this an early black metal feel. 

At this point we hear the surprising addition for the first time; a clear, pure falsetto voice that is a little bit like King Diamond, but is also reminds me of the kind of voice you would find in church music, if you went to a sung Mass, this is the kind of voice that you would find singing it. This voice does make me think of Mercyful Fate, particularly when it is coupled with some of the NWOBHM riffs. 

The song then goes into a blasting section with harsh vocals that are also very good. The song then takes a turn back to a softer sound with some very pleasing guitar harmonies which also feature both clean and harsh vocals in harmony. The track then takes another sharp turn towards very soft and gentle church music with the falsetto voice layered so it is beautiful and affecting. The track comes to an end with the opening aggressive old school black/death metal riffs to blast the song to its end.

Next track Sombre Corruption opens with mid-paced riffs that are black metal, but have a bit of a pagan metal feel to them, there is a choppy quality to the riffs. The song then injects some NWOBHM guitar parts into the mix, before the falsetto voice comes in to smooth everything out. The song then goes into vacillating between two distinct sections, one fairly aggressive black metal riffs, again with a pagan feel to them with harsh vocals and expansive sections with keyboards added to the more ethereal guitar riffs, coupled with the clear falsetto voice. These two section swap places a couple of times before the expansive style takes the song to its end.

The Loss is a short section of gentle, clean guitar and the falsetto voice layered to make a beautiful, restful piece of music that should by rights be played in a Cathedral.

Final title track Leaving The Fragile Space has a post black metal sound. The riffs remind me of Deafheaven, and Italian band Falaise, the tempo is relaxed and dreamlike. We get a blast beat that again is far more post black metal than the blasts that have been used so far in the album, coupled with the harsh voice. The song then goes into a full on black metal blast beat, with tremolo picked riffs that are far more like the other blasting on the album, the guitars have a different, harsher sound on this section of the song. The song then changes tack back to the blissful post black metal sound, with maybe a little more aggression than at the beginning of the song, and this feel takes the song and the album to its end.

Leaving The Fragile Space is a great piece of  black/post black metal. Musically it is inventive, tuneful and affecting, but the thing that stands out is that falsetto voice and the way the band have melded ethereal religious music together with OSDM and a more modern post black metal sound. Lunar Mercia have produced something that is genuinely original and striking, which is not easy to do these days, the fact that this is the bands debut album makes this even more startling. If this the bands debut, I am very keen to hear whatever they do next. 8/10

Reviews: Sabu, Nevena, Tarmat, Tommy DeCarlo (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Sabu - Banshee (Frontiers Music Srl)

I thought this was Sammy Hagar...I really did, Paul Sabu is a dead ringer vocally to the Red Rocker but Sabu has been performing for three decades, mainly in the melodic rock/AOR genre. Banshee is his sixth Sabu album but the first since 1998. Collaborating with Barry Sparks (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen, Michael Schenker Group, UFO, Dokken, and Ted Nugent) the two of them play everything here along with producing and engineering it. Sabu is something of a sensation having been a part of AOR heroes Only Child while also having produced/engineered many massive names like David Bowie, Alice Cooper and others, it's his own musical style that's on show with Banshee

That musical style is driving melodic rock, with Sammy Hagar, Billy Squier and Tesla all coming through on the first two songs alone. These comparisons continue throughout the album on Kandi, the big rocking Skin To Skin which even has touch if DLR to it as well. We also have the electronic and synthy sounds on Love Don't Shatter and Back Side Of Water, the silky AOR of Turn The Radio On throwing it back to his early days. Banshee is melodic rock record guided by two experienced hands, hopefully there won't be such a long wait until the next Sabu album. 8/10

Nevena - Nevena (Frontiers Music Srl)

Known to many as part of the Frontiers signed The Big Deal, Srdjan Brankovic discovered vocalist/pianist Nevena Dordevic, introducing her to the label who have teamed her up with guitarist/producer/songwriter Michael Palace for an album 80's rock that is similar to that of label mate Chez Kane and legends such as Lita Ford, Lee Aaron et al. She's a Serbian music teacher who sings, writes and plays as well as appearing on the first series of "First Voice Of Serbia" and studying at Berkelee College Of Music to hone her craft. 

With Frontiers and Palace behind her, Nevena has released a rock record with big bouncy choruses, riffs that have an 80's shimmer somewhere between Whitesnake and Van Halen, which are Palace's speciality. There's some tender balladry on Miracles where Nevena's vocals are restrained and beautiful. There's a strong pop inclination too on the punchy You Two, the Leppard-like Fire In Me and the thumping danceable Outrageous. On this debut album Nevena has set the bar high, so I'll be looking forward to the next one. 8/10

Tarmat - Out Of The Blue (Frontiers Music Srl)

Brazilians Tarmat signed to Frontiers Music for their debut album and they are pretty the peak style of music for the label soulful AOR that is on the lighter side of things as they shift from Boston and Toto into other 'Yacht Rock' alumni such as Richard Marx and Michael Bolton. The synths are a primary instrument Gabriel Aquino building layers of tinkling electronics and melodic lines against the guitars of Eduardo Marcolino, who can play restrained on the slightly ragga feeling More Than Less but also on a track such as Rosetta Stone he unleashed his prog credentials, having been in instrumental prog band Anxtron with Gabriel. 

Joining Eduardo and Gabriel is bassist José Marcus and vocalist Alexandre Daumerie, the drums on the record performed by Rafael Marcolino, all the members joined by a love of creating slick, AOR that should be coming out of the boombox on The Highlander (look it up) circa 1985. The prog background of the members means that is a band such as Toto who they take much of their style from, tracks such as Dinner's On The House, Moving Backwards and The Knight, all use those more theatrical, jazzy, proggy elements that the 80's supergroup deal in. 

I didn't know what to expect with Tarmat but this is great laid back, virtuoso AOR rocking from these Brazilians, I want some more as soon as possible. 8/10

Tommy DeCarlo - Dancing In The Moonlight (Frontiers Music Srl)

Having been the voice of Boston since 2007, Tommy DeCarlo knows how to deliver a chorus. His band Decarlo released their album Lighting Strikes Twice in 2020 but now he's back under his full name not just his surname with a set of musical works that are more similar to the 70's/80's rock of his day job. Dancing In The Moonlight starts out with the anthemic title track and the jangling Change Our Fate, both of which fall into the soundscapes created by Tom Scholtz since 1975. Like Scholtz an album like this needs a production whiz behind the desk so it's lucky that Alessandro Del Vecchio is not only behind the desk but plays keys and bass. 

His production technique here is based around the old analogue system and tries to capture that live-on-tape sound that bands strives for in the 70's. It's means that tracks such as Life Is Just A Game, the triumphant Home To You or the massive ballads of In The Hands Of Fate and Spread Your Wings And Fly are all similar to the Boston songbook with the guitars, keys and vocals in harmony. DeCarlo does here what he's been doing behind the mic with Boston, but with another band behind him, it's simple but effective. 7/10

Monday 19 December 2022

Reviews: Landfall, Coraxo, In The Woods, Gondhawa (Matt Bladen, Paul Scoble, David G & David Karpel)

Landfall - Elevate (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Brazilian band Landfall bring a vibe, leaning towards the grittier end of the 80's melodic rock sound they've been compared to White Lion, Extreme and Dokken, all of whom are perfectly good comparisons to these South American rockers, as is Mr Big, that invoice looming large on opener Never Surrender. Led by the great vocals of Gui Oliver. Elevate is their second record and it's more than a title but a state of mind when approaching the album, feeling like they could create music that was more authentic to how they wanted to sound as a band. 

With Oliver's great vocals up front they are very Eric Martin meets Arnel Pineda (current Journey vocalist), the rest of the band; guitarist Marcelo Gelbcke, bassist Thiago Forbeci, and drummer Felipe Souzza all drive the music in these songs, Olivier's experience songwriting for others such as Jimi Jamison and Bobby Kimball finally paying dividends to the band who were finding their feet on their debut The Turning Point, but have arrived properly on Elevate. 

Tracks like Waterfall, Elevate and Feels Like Summer, bring big Journey melodies while Rescue Me is a bit Toto, as Shadows Of Love is a father paced rocker that leads into the big ballad of the album The Wind. Landfall nail their sound here, ones to watch on the melodic rock scene Landfall have hit the ground running with their second album, there'll be no stopping them now. 8/10

Coraxo - Luna (Snow Wave) [Paul Scoble]

Coraxo are a Finish duo who have been making music since 2013. The pair are Ville Vistbacka on drums and Tomi Toivonen on vocals, guitar and programming. In the 9 years the band have been together they have released 3 Ep’s called Starlit Flame, Part 1 and 2 in 2014, and Part 3 in 2019, they have also released 2 albums in that time in 2015’s Neptune and Sol in 2017. Usually Coraxo play an electronic infused style of death metal, however on Luna the band have decided to abandon their customary style in favour of making an experimental album featuring several guests. 

Ilkka Ferm plays saxophone on most of the tracks, Elena Cor Tauri provides vocals on the song A Star Broken, and Emi Path and Aly Queen do vocals on Wolves Of Valhalla. The album does not have a single style, preferring 6 songs that are all quite different from each other, ranging from jazz and post rock to aggressive hardcore and harsh noise. As with all experimental albums there is a chance that the experiments might not work, but without this sort of experimentation music would not move on or develop.

The album opens with the song A Star Broken, which features Elena Cor Tauri on vocals, begins with a post rock/new wave feel to it, this builds in intensity until it drops into a heavy doom section. After this the saxophone comes in and this feels more like art rock and drives the song to its end. A Star Broken is followed by the track Abyss, which again has a post rock sense to it, and features Ilkka Ferm’s saxophone (probably the most dominant instrument on the album). The track features some interesting riffs, but also doesn’t really go anywhere, it wanders about for a while before slowly fading out. 

Black And Void is a short track of atmospheric electronic noises. Dance Of Shiva is big and doomy for the first half and aggressive and nasty in a Hardcore kind of way for the second. The second half features a sort of blast beat that is very loud, staccato and heavy on the snare so that feels like the band is challenging their audience, as if this part is deliberately provoking the listener. To be honest it doesn’t do anything for me other than be irritating, this feels like Coraxo’s version of the “I know a song that will get on your nerves” song. 

The Cartographer is a mix of brooding bass heavy post rock and some very heavy doom riffs, which really work very well. The album comes to an end with the song Wolves Of Valhalla which features Emi Path and Aly Queen on vocals. The song opens with beautiful choral voices before the Saxophone comes in. The song is mainly minimalist drums and electronic, with great vocals and interesting saxophone riffs. In places this song reminds me of Portishead with its minimal production and fantastic vocals. The song is less coherent as it nears its end, where it falls apart in a very interesting way. 
Luna is definitely and interesting album. 

Not all of it works in my opinion, but that is going to happen with anything that is truly experimental. Coraxo have moved so far out of their comfort zone that they couldn’t see it on a clear day, and that should gain them respect as artists. However, does this work as an album? Well, yes and no, both songs with Vocals work well for the most part, but the rest feels a little lacking in direction, and doesn’t go anywhere. On balance this probably averages out at a six out of ten, if the band want to develop a new sound from this experimental album then the songs A Star Broken and Wolves of Valhalla would be good starting point to building an interesting sound. 6/10   

In The Woods... - Diversum (Soulseller Records) [David G]

Norway’s In The Woods... reformed in 2014 following a hiatus from a career in which they released seminal albums that combined black and doom metal in a one-of-a-kind plaintive approach. Now with drummer Anders Kobro as the only remaining original member they plow on into something that is rather more mundane and lacking that magical touch they previously held.

Diversum opens with the rather somnolent The Coward’s Way, at first this seems to be a rather interesting gambit as it largely moves along in ponderous fashion. It sounds positively fatigued, the slowly breathed dual vocals backed by resonant but not particularly interesting guitar work. There’s some aggression in the harsh vocals that kick in, but even this is tempered by the laboured atmosphere. The chorus provides a rather interesting antidote, the rattling bass drums picking up the tempo and singing begins to soar.

What becomes obvious in following tracks is that most songs on the album have a similar mood and approach. In fact, by the album’s close it felt like time was lost, because the repetitiveness of the affair caused it mostly to blend into a morass of melancholia. It’s all very competent, but also so very formulaic. There’s a moodiness to it all, certainly, but also a dreary atmosphere that actually becomes tiresome after a while, trudge and wail, trudge and wail. The other-worldliness that lived in Heart Of The Ages or the dreaminess of Strange In Stereo seems to be largely gone, replaced by something that seems run of the mill.

There are some interesting sideways glances at other bands too. Moments opens with a piercing guitar line that would probably be at home in late-90's My Dying Bride, Humanity is driven by a weary riff and stark lead that would equally be at home in late-90s Katatonia. It’s weird to hear this band, known for its uniqueness, sounding like other bands. Something of the aura that surrounded the name is pierced.

It’s hard to lay my expectations at the door here, because In The Woods... were a special band that released some special music, admittedly that must be a difficult legacy to live up to especially when the band as it was is all but gone. What this current incarnation have released in Diversum is a rather ordinary album, one that does something competently, but doesn’t capture the imagination or draw a significant response. 5/10

Gondhawa - Maanthagori (Stolen Body Records) [David Karpel]

Gondhawa are a tripped out, electrified psych trio out of Angers, France. Maanthagori is a two song EP that, for me, was an introduction to a sound I’m absolutely sure I never want to hear again. But that’s just me. It’s not the music, which is pretty cool, and it’s not the fact that they sing in an Asian language, Gondhawii. Both of those things sound like a recipe for something fascinating and fun. But for the nasally, repetitiveness of the vocals, it might have been. 

If you dig the quirky and don’t care to understand the lyrics and don’t mind those lyrics pounding you like a square peg into a tight circle with the same atonally expressed 8 lines or so repeated over and over like a taunt, then go give them a listen. If it’s your thing, you’ll need room to dance around and get a sweat going about a third of the way into the 10 minutes of mostly high energy when not space-out music. 

It sucks that the last review I’m probably writing this year is so negative. While my musical tastes run the gamut of genres, languages, and styles, I still don’t have the space for Gondhawa. 5/10

Thursday 15 December 2022

Reviews: Mos Generator, Green King, In Which It Burns, Moral Corruption (Reviews By Rich Piva, David Karpel, C Hunter & Matt Bladen)

Mos Generator - Time//Wounds (Pale Wizard Records) [Rich Piva]

Tony Reed may be the most underrated man in rock and roll today. His contribution with all his bands, his production and mixing credits, and from what I understand just being a great dude and an amazing ambassador for the music that I love makes him a legend that more people need to become intimately familiar with. The announcement of a new album from his most prolific band, Mos Generator, is a nice Holiday surprise, and dare I say Christmas miracle, given how amazing their new record, Time//Wounds, is, given the shift in styles and how long these guys have been putting out quality proto/stoner/heavy rock and to have maybe their best record this far in is nothing short of said miracle.

This is the most prog Mos Generator album that they have released for sure, but Time//Wounds goes in so many directions and has so many influences leveraged here, but never does this album go off the rails or sound too scattered; it is a perfectly cohesive listening experience even with all the places it wonders to. You have catchy as hell 70s classic rock with the opening track Aja-Minor (I have heard some Steely Dan references thrown around). The track (Don’t) Wait Until Tomorrow sounds like a Pink Floyd and Genesis mash up that is played by Cave In. You have some 90s punk vibes sprinkled with some of the heavier Kyuss/QOTSA stuff with Getting Good At Revenge. Burn Away The Years (also catchy AF) that has 90s alternative/grunge dripping from every note.

Only Yesterday sounds like Rush at times in the best kind of way. Until We Meet Again (Parts I-IV) is a fifteen-minute opus that is a 70s prog rock epic journey and is the closing track of the year (a tie with Big Scenic Nowhere track The Long Morrow). The playing on this album, from the drum work by Sean Booth that is next level, and of course the amazing everything that Mr. Reed brings to the table, is something to behold. The production is top notch as well but given who is involved this is par for the course. An end to end perfect album.

A new and amazing Mos Generator record released in December that is an album of the year candidate was not on my 2022 music bingo card but no matter, we have all won the jackpot with this one. Tony Reed and company have maybe released their best record which is saying a whole lot given all the amazing output we have seen from them, but Time//Wounds is a Christmas miracle indeed. Everyone should experience this record. 10/10

Green King - Hidden Beyond Time (The Sign Records) [David Karpel]

It’s important to keep in mind that Hidden Beyond Time is Green King’s debut album for two reasons. First of all, the band’s tight as all get out and they’ve produced a ripper. Secondly, they sound a lot like the bands they love. The Helsinki four piece kicks out the NWOBHM jams like nobody’s business, immediately bringing to mind Maiden with their twin guitar attack and galloping martial rhythms, and makes any ffo references outside of 80s metal nearly impossible or at best a waste of time. 

I love that this album kicks open with a pair of songs like Gates Of Annihilation and God Killer, with those guitars playing off each other immediately in both. It’s a statement of knowing their roots and influences and giving their heroes their due respect. While this is evident throughout the album, the opener sets the tone well. In just under 4 minutes, they squeeze in a lot of Maiden love. Besides the guitars and the solid drums, the bass playing mimics Powerslave-era Steve Harris with panache. Eliel Salomaa sounds nothing like Paul, Bruce, or the other guy, but he does have a sinister Blackie Lawless-ness to him. So by Steel On Ice we know the territory. Can Green King maintain the listener’s interest beyond novelty? 

A Maiden fan since 1982, my answer is yes. Salomaa’s gravelly yowl gives their dark lyrics the edge they need over the clean guitar interplay and all-around tightness of the band. Oftentimes, he sounds like he’s got too many lyrics to sing, that he’s on the verge of losing control, but he always seems to keep it from going over the edge. When he sings “Strike to Kill!” in Steel On Ice the words cut through the blaring with an urgency that matches the driving bass and drums. 

Tervaklituri is the darker Green King, bringing to mind some of the more growling moments of Master of Puppets-era Metallica, incorporating some awesome duelling solos and doomy tones. Meanwhile, Where Speedian Dwells, a Motorhead like banger, will break your neck and you’ll love it. Closing the album, Lifetakers maintains all of these themes, but brings more doom, more solos, and more jam time at just over 8 ½ minutes. While Green King aren’t doing anything really new–and this is something I’ve criticised in other bands who I believed didn’t pull it off–but they’re earnestness pays off. Yes, they sound a lot like Maiden, sans Bruce or Paul or the other guy, and bits and pieces of an entire classic metal genre, but they’re good at it and add their own flair to it, especially with Salomaa’s voice and style. Green King is hard to resist, especially played loud. 7/10

In Which It Burns - Consume Kill Repeat (Creature Sound Records) [C Hunter]

Former Metal To The Masses runner ups In Which It Burns, the four piece metal band from South Wales release their second feature length album, and first with their new line up. Consume, Kill, Repeat was recorded by Creature Sounds Records and tackles abuse, anti war, male suicide, poverty and politics 

Consume opens the album with a soft lulling of acoustic guitars, the rhythm a pleasant Opeth vibe and an overlaying lead that sounds like Kirk Hammett trying his hand at flamenco. A satisfying beginning, excluding a slight tuning issue. 

Once Peaceful Minds Now Slaughter brings in the metal! thrashy, heavy and with the groove of Lamb Of God. A powerful start, and I’m especially fond of the diminished stops. A proper headbanger . 
Dead and Rotting starts with the feel of some of Slayer’s slower dark works. With black metal sections into chuggy nu metal riffs and a tasty guitar solo of tremolo arm work and speedy diminished runs, ending with the chaos of an early slipknot number.

Replicate once again replicates the mood of early Lamb Of God and Slipknot garnished with some old school swap over leads. Your Undoing is pure late 90s/early 2000s metal with vocalist Wayne Stretch Mayhew practically rapping in growl. Wayne, If you are reading, I’d like you to know that my laptop tried to autocorrect Mayhew to Mayhem…Something to think about . And lead guitarist Steven Flynn taps harder than Hector Salamanca on a meth binge.

How Became The Rules is another headbanger, making it easy to picture walls of death and circle pits. Bringing back memories and a desire to return to the pit. A good solo is unfortunately damaged by recording problems that I can’t quite pinpoint, whatever it was, it removed me from the song. Strangely enough, this isn’t an issue on the second solo of the track. Love that bass drop though!

Kill is such a beautiful dark riff, taking note from Slayers Dead Skin Mask with a haunting echoing voice of a child mirroring the spoken vocals. Lies For War continues with a spoken word performance and 10 year old Brandon's metal album debut. With lyrics that wouldn’t be out of place in a System Of A Down album; Those who have more rally the poor, Those who vote war don’t know the score, Those who are poor fight in your wars, Lie for the war, DEATH TO THE POOR.

The Eyes Of My Enemy (They Are Mine) tackles self loathing, the antagonist; the enemy In the mirror. Which I think is a great metaphor and probably my favourite lyric in the album. Musically the song contains all the hallmarks of late 90s metal. A lead of Kerry King-esque wankery that doesn’t really give the song anything extra but neither does it take anything away. Perhaps a necessary brief respite for Stretch Mayhem’s stretched orifice/vocal flaps.

Hands That Cup The Blood Of Innocence rides the riff line between Machine Head and Slipknot once more. One of the weaker songs on the album and both guitar solos sound a little like they weren’t tuned for the take. They do pull it back together at the end though. Using more fake outs than the most prolific porn stars. Keeping the listener on their toes as they tease out the big finish.

Rotting And Dead is heavy as bears, which is great! The vocals are so indecipherable though, it also sounds like a recording of bears. Dean Hopson gets his moment, beating his skin unashamedly for a short and punchy drum solo. Repeat repeats with an altered Consume, effectively ending where we began. A satisfying way to wrap up an album, and much like the abuse, anti war, male suicide, poverty and politics tackled in this works, we’re seemingly back where we started… A depressing thought.

Mate Feed Kill Repeat is an ambitious album, Full of impressive experimental and prog elements that Slipknot are still yet to weave into their newer works. As an early album in their career and without the financial backing of a major label, it’s not surprising that it falls short in the production department.

Consume Kill Repeat also suffers in the production department; with a lot of the nuances, vocals, drums and bass becoming lost in the mix. In Which It Burns are at their best with their early 2000s hard moshing riffs, perfect for a live experience. 

At times, they are a little too derivative of the likes of Lamb Of God and Slipknot, but I’m sure they’re more than capable of adding flavours of their own over time, as they clearly know how to play their instruments. The lyrics read like a slayer song, with a barrage of lines usually ending in rhyme. The social and political angle is a good touch, a necessary outlet for the disenfranchised and with the odd bit of poetic flair. Alas, I did find myself craving a little more depth than what the majority the liberal minded already believe. 

Regardless of my nitpicking, I’m going to recommend In Which It Burns Consume, Kill, Repeat for what they stand for, and their pit friendly riffs that should take any metalhead in their 30s back to those teenage years of watching people throw themselves around in jumpsuits on Kerrang TV. Regardless of what I said about the production; I must state my appreciation and the importance of grassroots studios and that they are an essential and hard working part of the music community, regularly working with passion ahead of financial gain. That being said, I’d be interested in hearing what In Which It Burns could accomplish within better facilities. 

Brutal and Groove laden sounds from the metal underground. 7/10

Moral Corruption - Reborn (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Greek band Moral Corruption's last album Divided was recorded when they were barely teenagers in 2017. But now they return with their new record Reborn and it's nine tracks of breakdown fuelled metalcore/groove metal, and they are an older, meaner unit determined to start some pits. Kicking your head in with Dogma, this socially/politically motivated record starts as it means to go on with croaking vocals, punishing drums and weighty riffs. Next comes Insomnia which brings a bit more thrash, as they have some Lamb Of God ferocity to them. Moral Corruption are the sort of band that would make small venues erupt into spontaneous violence. 

The drumming on this record is particularly very good, giving grooves to the energetic Imp Of The Perverse while they bring some deathcore pace shifts on Fragments, which is where the guitars are used the best as there's fret slides, palm muting and dive bombs, though Wrath Of Heaven has a tasty solo section in the melodeath vein. Cactus comes back to being fierce death while also having some Gojira like fret slides, Moloch. Nearly 40 minutes of Athenian intensity Reborn is the sound of young band making their mark on the music world, it's more mature and focused than the debut, a modern 'core' album that will definitely get the crowds going. 8/10

Reviews: Scream Maker, Rob Moratti, Highlord, Heron (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Scream Maker - Blood King (Frontiers Music Srl)

Having already released this album in January of this year, Scream Maker are now signed to Frontiers so the Italian label are reissuing this Polish bands most recent album in anticipation of their next one coming in 2023. From Warsaw Scream Maker perform some classic heavy metal that's part NWOBHM, part thrash with some meaty riffs and powerful vocals. Formed by guitarist Michał Wrona, he's joined by vocalist Sebastian Stodolak, bassist Jan Radosz, drummer Tomek Sobieszek, and fellow guitarist Bartosz Ziółkowski. 

Their move to Frontiers seems a sure thing seeing as they have collaborated numerous times with Alessandro Del Vecchio who has produced and mixed in the past, and mixes two tracks on this record, the chugging When Our Fight Is Over and the NWOBHM-like Hitting The Wall, the former utilising keys as well. That's not to say Tomasz "Zed" Zalewski doesn't do a bad job either, the rest of the album (all 13 tracks) sound big and boisterous from the Maiden-like Mirror Mirror, the thrashy title track, while Scream Maker reminds me of Queensryche due to its mid-pace riff and histrionic vocal, Die In Me too is a Tate-like ballad. 

Over an hour in length Scream Machine's third full length has a lot of great classic metal on it but with differentiation that brings in prog, melodic rock and even thrash at times, the 15 tracks don't ware out their welcome. Expectation will be high for thei next album on the back of this one. 8/10

Rob Moratti - Epical (Frontiers Music Srl)

It's mad that Epical, the fifth solo album by singer Rob Moratti, is his debut on Frontiers. I'd have thought they'd have snapped him up years ago but no the Final Frontier/Moratti/ex-Saga vocalist hasn't been on their books all these years. Consider the universe balanced as now Moratti has the melodic powerhouse of Frontiers behind him he can remind everyone what a hell of a vocalist he really is. 

I love Moratti's voice I liked it when he was in Saga, though I remain a Michael Sadler man, but here he really goes for it, the keyboard heavy rocking of Masquerade tapping into both the AOR and prog styles from Moratti's past. AOR especially present on Nothing Left To Say. His vocal harmonies and choruses ring out on the album, making you want to attempt to sing along, but if course miss those stratospheric high notes. Drummer Felix Borg and keyboardist Fredrik Bergh co write these songs, flexing their creative muscle over these excellent melodic cuts. Joining them in the band are Joel Hoekstra (guitars), Pete Alpenborg (guitars/keys) and Tony Franklin on bass. 

There's a couple of guests here too but it's about Moratti, tracks like Valerie better than anything on the most recent Journey record, Hold On too has that Schon/Cain/Perry drive to it. Epical is such a treat for melodic rock fans, great musicianship and brilliantly soulful vocals that soar, it's got pretty much everything you want. A collaboration made in paradise. 9/10

Highlord - Freakin' Outta Hell (Rockshots Records)

This is an odd one! It's heavy power metal with the emphasis on the heavy, that also has prog and symphonic elements to bring in as well. This Turin based band have been around since 1997 and have released eight albums before Freakin' Outta Hell, but this ninth album could be their heaviest yet.  Andrea Marchisio's vocals grittier but still have a great range. 

As with the vocals the guitars of the title track are dirty and distorted making this a more American sounding power metal, muscular riffs, powerful drums and orchestral swells all part and parcel of Highlord's style. The prog influence too is much stronger here, though with Sweet Unknown and Eyes Open Wide they retain their power metal roots. Freakin' Outta Hell is a solid record from this Italian band, bringing in the progressive sounds present on Off The Beaten Path they manage to carry on their legacy with more heavy metal moments. 7/10 

Heron - Empires Of Ash (Sludgelord Records)

If it's on Sludgelord you know it's going to be heavy as a safe full of gold, and similarly contain some sparkling examples of heavy sludge/doom/stoner etc. Heron's new album Empires Of Ash is in the middle of the Sludgelord remit definitely, nihilistic roared vocals, paint stripping heavy riffs and otherworldly synths that dwell in the post rock realm adding a dissonance and aggression to their downbeat lyricism and overall feel. 

Created by an experienced Vancouver quartet Empires Of Ash, leans on the heavy even when they delve into some ethereal percussive styles on The Middle Distance, it isn't long before they come back with doom riffs and harsh screams. Their songs climb and descend building atmosphere as they go before the punishing heaviness returns again, the likes of Hauntology emphasise this with some hardcore coming on Hungry Ghosts and the growling With Dead Eyes. Jamie (vocals), Ross (guitar), Scott (guitar) and Bina (drums) have packed this record with all manner of disgusting noises, unveil it at Xmas when you want family to leave. 7/10

Wednesday 14 December 2022

Reviews: Avandra, Ripper, Thy Listless Heart, Mother Vulture (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Avandra - Prodigal (Layered Reality Productions)

I gave Avandra's previous album a very good 9/10, so with my love of prog, would their new record score just as high. Well Prodigal keeps the level of talent at a high, with the non-linear songwriting and use of electronics/synths given by Silent Skies man Vikram Shankar as a special guest to flesh out their prog metal credentials. I compared Skylighting to Haken, Karnivool and Octavarium-era Dream Theater and these comparisons stick on Prodigal as an Eisenhower speech, bleeds into the grinding riff of Codename: Pharoah, the lyrics about the nature of war, reflected in the music, which has the single determination of a tank plowing through a battleground. Christian Ayala and Luis Javier Rivera are the guitar duo of the record, downtuning where needed for maximum effect but also utilising repeating clean guitars and fluid leads. 

Ayala also brings some additional synths and also great vocals which sound a little like one Mr Dave Grohl, a little rough but still passionate, he even continues to use harsh vocals on The Downpour which is the first track of the conceptual theme running through this record it "explores the meaning of 'home' and the freedom to attain your own destiny." The record based around this idea, the lyrics telling the story of the protagonist introduced on the propulsive The Downpour, a track where bassist José Miguel Vázquez (Chemie) and drummer Adrián Arroyo both are the key feature, as the time signatures chop and change. It's the story line that drives this record, the idea of how a person deals with isolation and betrayal, especially by the military complex that are a part of, is dealt with well, the broad cinematic brush strokes of the music creating a masterful listen. 

With the brooding beginning of A Trace Of Home, it soon flourishes into some more Opeth-like sounds the growls against the heavy prog riffing, David Fremberg of Andromeda adding his vocals. Bringing poignancy with the synths, but muscles and technical know how (listen to that solo on In Memoriam) with their prog metal heaviness, Avandra may be a band that fly a little under the radar for most, but they are worth your time if experienced, dexterous, heavy prog metal is up your street. 9/10

Ripper - Return To Death Row (Self Released)

The vocalist Tim 'Ripper' Owens, is often the butt of many heavy metal jokes however when you weigh it up he has had a stellar career, having been in Judas Priest and Iced Earth (can we mention them anymore?), he is also a member of The Three Tremors with Sean Peck and Harry Conklin as well as being one of the 'go to' heavy metal screamers for plenty of bands. 

For me though it's his solo/self named bands that are often his best work, Beyond Fear especially I consider to be much better than any of his records with Priest and it's in that heavy speed/thrash style the Ripper returns to on the debut release from Ripper, his new solo project. Produced by Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta along with drummer Nick Bellimore, Return To Death Row reminds you of how good Ripper is at this sort of high octane heavy metal. Much like Jasta did with Dee Snider's last solo record; it brings the metal in droves, both Nick and guitarist brother Charlie play with Snider in his band are also in Ripper, the band rounded out by bassist Chris Taylor. 

At 22 minutes this EP gives you exactly what you want, the full force blast of Die While We're Alive getting the heartbeat elevated before 'that' scream hits and lingers with Rippers trademark power. From here he snarls and shrieks through another 6 songs that are either the face melting thrash of The Night (Take It Back) or the swaggering classic metal of Silent Cage. It's Ripper performing classic Ripper the influence of Jasta as important here as it was with Dee Snider, augmented by a top notch band, Return To Death Row is brimming with electricity. 8/10

Thy Listless Heart - Pilgrims On The Path Of No Return (Hammerheart Records)

At this time of supposed comfort and joy, Simon Bibby is not the guy you'd want to invite to your staff Xmas party. However with the current cost of living crisis, energy crisis and everything else that will make this a very long, cold, bleak winter, his band Thy Listless Heart, is ideal audio accompaniment to these long, dark, cold nights (so long as there aren't electric blackouts). 

Pilgrims On The Path Of No Return, is the debut album from Thy Listless Heart, the band in name only as it is just Bibby that performs here. I have to say at this juncture that he has an immense talent, crafting these atmospheric, esoteric, yearning, mournful doom songs that take aim at your heart and pierce it songs such as When The Spirit Departs The Body, the hymnal organs, deft drumming, orchestral swells and folk instruments put in mind if the most cinematic parts of The Wall, with the doom trappings of Cathedral, My Dying Bride and early Anathema. 

It's all very different to Bibby's former life as an thrash metal musician. A track such as the lilting, folksy Aefnian as far away from thrash as a band can get, the traditional instrumentation coming from bands such as Primordial, The Search For Meaning too is a heart breaker that is a stunning closer, Simon's vocals extremely powerful on this closing track, as they are throughout, both his bellowing cleans and guttural growls impress. 

The hairs stood up on my neck when I heard The Search For Meaning, build and build into a 14 minute masterpiece. Much like Pantheist who I saw recently, Thy Listless Heart, bring a high level of emotion with sorrowful doom, that often doesn't even need a trench digging riff to create a mood, see the opening moments of The Precipice though of course they are a pretty innate part of doom so there's a lot of them. One of the doom metal albums of the year, I'm gutted I overlooked it back in November as this will be my festive soundtrack for sure. 10/10

Mother Vulture - Mother Knows Best (Lockdown Records)

A band that are always incendiary live, it was only a matter of time that they put their music down on record for the masses to consume. Having been taking the UK stages by storm, Mother Vulture are one of the most positively touted live acts around, having played Bloodstock amongst others, all while still being disgustingly young and very talented. I approached this record with trepidation as, very often a band who are so mind blowingly good on a stage often don't quite have the same hit on record. Two examples that come to mind are The Graveltones and Vintage Trouble, bands that absolutely kill it when in front of baying audience but their recorded material falls a little flat. 

Perhaps it's feeding off the energy of the crowd or the reciprocity of appreciation but so many times I've gone to listen to an album of a shit hot live band it's is been a little bit disappointing. So on to the debut album from these blues-punk upstarts it's obvious they can still draw you in with sense of danger and flickering flame of mischief that infuses their, short shocks of punchy rock n roll (no songs go past the four minute mark), it's fuzzy, frantic and designed to get you moving, the vocals especially good. 

However there does seem to be a lack of significant hooks, something that isn't always obvious live due to the performance/movement/interaction but when all of that is stripped away, the songs just sort of start, rock out then stop with not a lot of, 'oof' moments and not a huge amount of variation either. I assume this was a lockdown driven decision to put all their live cuts on a disc (digital file?), so as a way to prepare yourself with knowledge of the band I can't fault them as it will get them to places they have yet to play. However if you really want to see what Mother Vulture can do, go and see them live! 6/10

Tuesday 13 December 2022

Reviews: Dead Meadow, Omni Of Halos, Flash Forward, After Lapse (Reviews By Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

Dead Meadow - Force Form Free (Blues Funeral Recordings) [Rich Piva]

Dead Meadow have been flying the heavy psych flag for a quarter century and are one of the leaders of the genre. Their fuzzed out heavy psych jams are almost always interesting, exciting, and to be celebrated when new material is thrust upon the world. Unfortunately for the D.C. band’s latest record, Force Form Free, the interesting and exciting is kind of missing in a constant way throughout the record resulting in a muddled, plodding experience for the listener. This is unfortunate given how much I love their back catalogue (and for how quickly I pre-ordered the vinyl…but that is a separate issue).

Force Form Free is a tale of two halves of an album. The first half is a bit of a snoozer. The mostly instrumental jams The Left Hand Path, The Lure Of The Next Peak, and Valmont’s Pad fail to grab me in any sort of way and are just kind of there. I guess I just want them to be a bit more rock and a bit fuzzier. These songs seem a bit hallow, especially The Lure. Valmont’s Pad has a nice 60s psych feel to it, but it could be any band playing it; nothing makes me think this is another Dead Meadow classic. 

The second half of the record picks up a bit, with To Let The Time Go By, which is the first song with significant vocals, and is a nice psych/folk track that would fit even better if we had some heavier tracks surrounding it but is a nice addition to the catalogue on its own. The title track is a nice slow burn fuzzy jam to maybe bend your mind to, while Binah is an eight-minute head tripping jam that would fit nicely on several of their other albums.

I love Dead Meadow, but there is something missing for me on Force Form Free. Maybe I am looking for more vocals, or more fuzzy guitars, or more heavy jams, or more rock, or maybe all the above, but there is nothing that really grabs me or keeps my interest like most of their back catalogue does. A disappointment from a band I historically really enjoy. 6/10

Omni Of Halos - Omni Of Halos (Lövely Records) [Rich Piva]

I do love me some 90s grunge/heavy alternative when done right, especially when a band is not afraid to let their pop sensibilities shine through. The debut self-titled album from Sweden’s Omni Of Halos is all about that 90s life, down to getting their record being mixed by a guy who worked with legends such as Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and Chavez (a personal favourite of mine). The ten tracks delivered here are fun, 90s inspired, pop infused, alternative rock executed extremely well but also with room to grow.
Omni Of Halos call themselves “lo-fi indie rock” on their Bandcamp page which is a bit of an insult to this reviewer who happens to be a huge Guided By Voices fan. 

This is not lo-fi indie rock (I get the indie but the lo-fi not so much), and I think if you went into it thinking it was you would be disappointed. This is 90s heavy power pop and maybe even some 2000’s heavy indie. Think the aforementioned Dinosaur Jr. mashed up with say, Japandroids, and you get a bit of what Omni Of Halos is peddling. That being said, the album is great fun. The opener, You Suck, which is a perfectly titled track for a band so influenced by the 90s, lives up to the description. This would be their single for sure and would have got a ton of airplay in 1996 given how infectiously catchy it is but has just enough of a crunch to trigger a concert goer to hoist up a flannel clad crowd surfer when the first note hits. 

Birds Follow My Path is Dino Jr. worship for sure, but with vocals reminiscent more on the punk side of things rather than Mr. Mascis unique stylings. I get why they call themselves “indie”, but to me this is more like when indie became more mainstream and less when bands like GBV and Sebadoh where recording on boomboxes in their basement. Think more like White Trash Heroes era Archers Of Loaf. Carefree, especially in the vocals, reminds me more of the pop punk explosion in the 90s than anything indie, including how damn catchy the track is, but is still more indie than 90s pop punk, but there is a bit of both going on, in all the best ways. 

Darkest Hour/Final Hour moves more into the Catherine Wheel/Swervedriver territories, and the result is probably my favourite track on the record. Tracks like Empty Shell and No Sleep are catchy and fun alt rock tracks that have just enough snotty attitude to them to keep yourself on the grungy side of the equation, with the latter bringing some steel guitar action (this is sprinkled throughout the record) with great results. Out Of Control is a great closer that is a perfect example of what you get throughout the entire record.

Omni Of Halos wear their influences on their sleeves and leveraged their love for that time in music history to create a fun, catchy, and impressive debut. If I was to nitpick, I would say I would love to see some growth on their next album to include some different sounds or directions, but Omni Of Halos debut is worth your time if you are a lover of all things 90s alt rock. 8/10

Flash Forward - Endings = Beginnings (Uncle M Music) [Matt Bladen]

Endings = Beginnings has more hooks than a haberdashery, 13 tracks of modern alternative rock from a band who are in their 12th year having formed in 2010. This sixth record shifts their sonic template a little as they get poppier but adds the electronic moments that are all the rage at the moment. These Germans have embraced the pandemic and come out of their studio with one of their best albums yet, blending the pop punk sensibilities of their early career with the some metalcore riffing (and vocals) and layered repeating synths. 

To me it sounded like Panic At The Disco, Bring Me The Horizon and even a bit of Shinedown too on Bloodshot Eyes, with the angsty vocals taking center stage on the massive choruses of Young Blood which features Between You & Me, Over You which is a ballad with As December Falls in duet, though for some electro pop of Our Of Love, which sounds like The Weeknd as does Criminals, may be a little too far for some people. 

Still these Germans have packed in a lot of contrasting styles into this record, though I will say the sequencing could have been a bit better as out of thirteen songs 3 are intro/interlude/outro and Saviour is a guaranteed closer but does not end the record. Other than though Endings = Beginnings is a catchy, alt rock record that is about as modern as it can get, but may be a little light for some in the 'rock' circles. 7/10

After Lapse - Face The Storm (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Formed in 2018 by drummer Roberto Cappa, keyboardist Pablo Sancha, and guitarist Arturo Rodríguez, only Cappa and Sancha remain from that initial line up but since then they have brought on guitarist Jorge Escudero, bassist Javier Palacios and singer Rubén Miranda and have just release their debut record Face The Storm, having been written and recorded over the course of 2021 and 2022, it was quickly snapped up by Frontiers as After Lapse play the sort of melodic progressive/power metal they love as After Lapse take cues from Circus Maximus, DGM or even Pagan's Mind combining together a technically proficient compositions that also have big chorus hooks and melodies, while also keeping some of their Spanish heritage in the music too. 

Face The Storm balances and the melodic on tracks such as Come Undone where the blast beats and djent riffs are a counterpoint to the soaring choruses. With an odd addition of some applause at the end, the title track much more melodic while Beyond The End is a anthemic ballad Rubén Miranda's vocals sky scraping as the keys of Pablo Sancha so integral to Face The Storm. Even with the riffier tracks such as Through This War have a strong use of synths against the riffs of Jorge Escudero, this track and More both deeply indebted to Dream Theater. After Lapse play classy prog power metal with this debut record a very welcoming introduction. 8/10

Monday 12 December 2022

A View From The Back Of The Room: Magnum, Vega & Theia (Live Review By Simon Black)

Magnum, Vega & Theia – Tramshed, Cardiff, 07.12.22

We joked over here on these pages through lockdown about how we all had a bunch of tickets for over a year. Well, there wasn’t much else to laugh about in those times, but then one year became two, then three… but finally, 2022 has seen these long-held tickets finally get used up. All bar one that is, which finally got dusted down for this evening. Most of this tour did actually happen finally in Spring of 2022 to be fair, but a combination of her Madge popping her clogs and a bout of Covid in the touring party meant that the last four shows of the tour have only just now finally taken place, with this being the final one out in the suburbs before the band return to their traditional end of tour finale in the West Midlands.

Was it worth the wait? Well, yes, abso-bloody-lutely.

Opening the show are the two brothers who make up Theia (8) Kyle and Ash Lamley. What they lack in physical musicians they make up for in comic banter, with a short but punchy show that’s part Alternative Rock and part comedy stand-up duo. Front man Kyle makes the most of not having to share the micro part of the front of the stage that whoever has to open up always gets stuck with on a three-band set in a club venue, and bounds around full of energy... Or maybe he just needed to get warm, as it was literally freezing outside. The songs are lively, energetic and with plenty for the audience to go “Hoo Woo” to, but sadly this early on a freezing Wednesday night the graveyard shift early doors punters are choosing not to bite, which is a shame, as they played with honesty and a great sense of fun that left me wanting a little bit more.

Vega (7) had the advantages of a much fuller room and an audience more likely to be familiar with their brand of Melodic/AOR Rock. They played expertly, proficiently and with a lot more welly than I expected, coming across way rockier in the flesh than on record. Having only come across a couple of their songs in the past, they are very much in the category of what an old fart like me would have referred to as “radio friendly” back in the day. That extra beef and heaviness live though stands them well with this crowd, and the band put in a strong performance with a crowd that grows in size and appreciation throughout their set. What didn’t quite come off was a decision to close their set with a cover of Def Leppard’s Animal, which is a track I loathe from a band I'd tolerate, but when you’ve got a five-album back catalogue of your own and only seven songs to win a potential new audience over it seemed an odd way to end.

Magnum (10) were absolutely on top form tonight.

With the pent-up energy of all those cancellations and having new songs to air from both the current The Monster Roars and the previous The Serpent Rings album to christen there was plenty of new material mixed in with the classics, although they did choose to open with more established material (Days Of No Trust and Lost On The Road To Eternity) – a wise choice which got the cold (nay freezing) crowd warmed up and lively.

The core of this band remains guitarist/song-writer Tony Clarkin and singer Bob Catley, who have, as Bob reminded us, been working together in this outfit for 50 years. With everyone else in the act being a relatively new face, there’s actually a lot of drive and energy again, but more importantly the dynamic of Magnum has tangibly changed, and for the better.

I would argue that although Lee Morris is a really solid drummer, Harry James’s are a difficult pair of shoes to fill (he went back to Thunder), but what he misses in technical technique and stage antics, he amply gains by feeling like he’s absolutely part of the musical tapestry of the band. The same applies to Dennis Ward on bass (replacing Al Barrow, who emigrated to the USA) and the quite frankly astonishing Rick Benton’s contributions on the keyboards (we won’t mention who he replaced, but he’s a very silly boy). 

Whereas in the past it felt like a case of two session guys supporting the three older members, this time this feels like a cohesive, fluid and joined up band in a way that hasn’t really been seen since the glory days original incarnation of Clarkin/Catley/Lowe/Barker & He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named called it a day in the mid-90’s. With two albums under their belt as a recording team, there’s been plenty of time for that chemistry to gel, despite the impacts of touring of recent years, and this feels like a band reborn in so many ways.

A further word or two on Benton, if you will. I joked with a fellow journalist colleague at the show that we probably wouldn’t hear staple track Sacred Hour in the set, since it was always Benton’s predecessor’s trademark moment, but they surprised us both by not only closing the show with it but also by delivering possibly the best performance of it I have ever seen (and I have seen this band many, many times over the years). 

He really is another level of player than we are used to in this band, and throughout the night I had also noted who he had brought a kind of fluid instrumental meshing between not only Clarkin and himself, but also Ward’s work. These are three really experienced and highly talented musicians who can weave and spar without feeling like they are hogging the lime-light. The end result is the kind of fluid interplay that wouldn’t go amiss in a really tight progressive band, but without changing the fundamental essence of the songs – just enhancing them. It was spectacularly well delivered.

Equally Catley neither looks nor sounds like a 75-year-old man. OK, there’s a few more wrinkles, but he prowls, and even jumps around the stage, owning the audience in the same way he has since I first saw them play live 35 years ago. His voice has also changed over time, having developed more of a husky and bluesy tone that perfectly suits the music, without loosing any of the power and showmanship of yore. If anything, I would say that element has improved with time, and although we do still get some of the trademark hand movements, they don’t distract as they did in the 80’s and his comfortable, relaxed and utterly entrancing performance, matched by a really keen set of ears on the mixing desk bringing absolutely the right balance.

The set list of sixteen tracks was an even fifty-fifty mix of 80’s classics and post reformation modern classics, and half of them again from those two most recent albums, but Magnum’s audience is a dedicated one that has as much love for the old as the new so they can deliver that kind of balanced set with confidence instead of just relying on established songs. Either way, this sacred hour and a half absolutely flies by. I really hope we don’t have to wait that long to see them again.

Friday 9 December 2022

Reviews: Krilloan, Arrayan Path, ITsALIE, Pharm (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Krilloan – Emperor Rising (Scarlet Records)

Krilloan's debut EP only came out in 2021 but my lord is it some classic power metal from the class of bands such as Blind Guardian, Helloween and Evertale. So Emperor Rising is deeply indebted to the German power metal scene, though the band themselves hail from Sweden, so of course when they sing about banners being held high on Fireborn, you can't help but think about the Swedish Templars Hammerfall. 

Bandleader Klas Holmgren locks into some rampaging gallops with co-guitarist Steve Brockmanm and bassist Marco Toba, the twin axe attack and unstoppable bass womp making you want to throw your fist in the air, as drummer Christoph Brandes blast for his life. With lyrics based around fantasy and warfare, Krilloan use much of the same folky, symphonic, cinematic elements as Blind Guardian on tracks such as the title track and the anthemic Break Of Dawn (Brothers In Arms) where Alex VanTrue shows off his Hansi Kürsch-like range. 

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this record, Krilloan's style isn't anything new but they nail that Teutonic power metal style. Featuring Matthias Graf (Evertale), Jack Reynolds (Battle Born) and Johan Karlsson (Evermore), it's a homage to the greats of the fantasy metal genre, but a splendid one. I expect big things from Krilloan in the future but they light the beacons with Emperor Rising. 8/10

Arrayan Path - Thus Always To Tyrants (Pitch Black Records)

Thus Always To Pirates is the 9th album from Cypriot metal band Arrayan Path and it's their first concept album where the songs all continue the story. Coming two years after their previous record Arrayan Path bring us the story of the King of Salamis, Evagoras, telling the story in chronological order. 

Now this isn't the same Salamis as the Greek one where the famous battle was held, this Salamis is the Cypriot one and Evagoras is a revered figure in the Cypriot history as a politician and this record tries to fit in as much of Evagoras' life as possible as frontman Nicholas Leptos puts it: "There will be Usurpers, there will be Persians, there will be Spartans, battles and sieges, there will be blood!"

So into the music and it's yet more epic power metal from Arrayan Path, big, sweeping orchestral/symphonic elements that bolster the galloping power metal style. Produced by Slava Selin, mixed/mastered by Simone Mularoni, both of them giving a solo as well, the record opens with Oh Dark Tears which rages along at light-speed, before it shifts into two more epic tracks in The Usurper and the cinematic, proggy The King's Aegis...They Came From the Taygetos Mountain

Like a lot of concept records there are some special guests with Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery), Paolo Viani (Warlord), Enzo Donnaruma (Enzo and the Glory Ensemble), Louis Syrimis (Zivanished, Infected Syren), Harrys Pari (Minus One) and lyre player Christina Polycarpou all adding their skills. With some Judas Priest on Crossing Over To Phoenicia, a bit of Helloween on In Salamis and even Candlemass-like doom on Raid Of The Achaemendis, Arrayan Path arrive again with more epic power metal, one of their countries' most valuable metal exports, Thus Always To Tyrants is strong exemplar of this. 8/10

IT'sALIE - Emosphere (ROAR Rock Of Angels Records)

Managed, co-produced and guided by Mat Sinner (Primal Fear/Sinner) IT'sALIE roll around with their second album and I'm kicking myself why I haven't heard of this band before. If the title of Emosphere puts you off then don't let it, as there are no floppy fringes and whiny lyrics here. What this Italian band do is hard hitting rock with a powerhouse vocalist. Singer Giorgia Colleluori, formed the and with drummer Camillo Colleluori, they released this debut album Lilith in 2020, with the band filled out by guitarist Raffaello Indri and bass player Simon Dredo, the kudos flying in for their style of shout along rock n roll and Giorgia's incredible vocals. 

With a similar power and range of Skunk Anansie's Skin or Heart's Ann Wilson, she brings the thunder on the choppy Breath Of Fire and the pumping Light Up while slipping into some Zeppelin blues on Undeniable and NWOBHM-like galloping on Unbroken. Her skill behind the mic is the key factor of this band, even bringing out a Pat Benatar in Heartbreaker. However it's not just Giorgia as IT'sALIE just write great songs that have some punchy rhythms and of course the obligatory firebrand soloing. 

It's a record that has a knack of turning out some superior rock tracks while towards the end of the album they re-write the formula a little as Promise brings some moodiness, Crowds is proggy, modern and drenched in synth and closer Million Years is a sturdy power ballad to end on. I didn't expect a lot from this album as I'd never heard of the band, however it's blown me away with some fantastic heavy rock. 9/10

Pharm - Vortex (Self Released)

Pitched as Hyper Stoner Rock, Canadian trio Pharm preceded this album with three singles (all of which feature on this album). It's been in the works since 2019 but has now finally seen the light of day and as Texans The Sword come to an end, this Kelowna, BC, band could easily slot into the void they will one inevitably leave. In their own blub they mention Sabbath, Rush and Mastodon, all of which I can hear, the latter on Orbiting The Vortex

However on riffers such as Tear At The Wall they remind me so much of The Sword that I found myself checking it was the right band. Tumbling drums and throbbing funk bass carry Embryo before it crashes into some dirty doom riffs, it's just part of the bands "aggressive progressive" approach as they incorporate mellotron, Hammond, theremin and other additions to the guitar/bass/drum format to create a much broader sound than many three pieces, focusing on the progressive side of their work while keeping things heavy and groovy too. 

They work through their prog credentials on Acolyte, a previous single that is driven by Hammond, the organ reappearing on the frenzied riff-fest Conqueror, but there's so much going on here you may miss it. The drum build of Tear At The Wall, unleashing into some more grooving, fat riffs. That's where Pharm's strengths lay, their style of psych/stoner music is very progressive, the main bulk pierced by little intermezzo of weirdness like when Rat Milk Pt. 1 segues into the fuzzy Crystal Ships, which reminds me of Ozzy's Perry Mason as Six takes from Astronomy Domine, or the electronica of The Time Borrower Pt. 1 into the swirling Orbiting The Vortex. There are influences galore on this record but it is a uniquely Pharm record. New to me but Vortex will be on repeat from here on out! 9/10