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Thursday 12 January 2023

Reviews: Anti-Flag, VV, Jared James Nichols, Draken (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Anti-Flag - The Lies We Tell Our Children (Spinefarm Records)

Nearly thirty years of being embodying the true spirit of punk, Pittsburgh legends Anti-Flag return with their 13th record and a while host of guest who have been influenced by them over the years. With Jesse Leach of Killswitch Engage on the heavy Modern Meta Machine, Tim McIlrath of Rise Against and Brian Baker of Bad Religion on the riotous Fight Of Our Lives, Shane Told of Silverstein comes on the anthemic Laugh. Cry. Smile. Die and even Campino from German punk legends Die Totem Hosen on the Celtic influenced Victory Or Death (Give'Em Hell)

A sprawling line up of guests but it's the defiant chorus driven punk rock of Anti-Flag that will be what brings their fans and hopefully new listeners to this thirteenth album. Never afraid to take risks The Lies We Tell Our Children is their first concept album dealing with the biggest issues that face society today focusing on universal healthcare, financial division and the environment, things that are so often taken for granted around the world especially in their native America. Though it's a concept record they aren't going prog any time soon and neither is their commitment to highlighting issues a new thing, Anti-Flag have been the flag-bearers for numerous causes throughout their career. 

However with the world the way it is, their optimistic position that if unity can make it better is both timely and welcome. Sing along punk rock with enough heaviness and folksiness to appeal to a broad spectrum. Pittsburgh's finest are still pumping out the anthems! 8/10

VV- Neon Noir (Heartagram/UMG/Spinefarm Records)

As a man in his 30's I remember a time where every one of your High School crushes were more interested in AFI's Davey Havok and Ville Valo of HIM their dark romanticism, unique vocals and bewitching presence was enough to light the fire if every teenage 'alt' girl I knew and secretly pined for. It also meant that Vallo in particular suffered a lot of ire from the 'metal' crowd as I'm sure most of their girlfriends would rather be at HIM than another Slayer gig. 

Personally I had nothing against HIM, I think Buried Alive By Love still has a killer riff, but after having retired his previous band in 2017 there was a time in music without the creator of the Heartagram (which was on every single desk in my school), but after such a long career it was inevitable that he Vallo would return, such is his ever presence in the late 90's early 2000's. So VV is that return, Finnish Love Metal returning to not only his adoring audience, those teens now women who probably still hold a candle for their fallen hero, but also to a whole new audience of Goths searching for a hero. 

Neon Noir is a electro throbbing, goth rocking, 12 track album that amalgamates everything Vallo has spent a career establishing in one place, from the poppy, poetic balladry of Baby Lacrimarium, to the synthy Echolocate Your Love and Zener Solitaire which is synthwave. Of course there are classic HIM strains on the title track, Salute The Sanguine and Loveletting. It's a how-to guide for those that have yet to discover their goth side, cloaked in a maudlin veil but with glimpses of hope on In Trenodia and others. 

VV let's you experience those halcyon days of gothic rocking yet again, donning your darkest clothes, daubing on some mascara and pulling some shapes all with a smirk on your face. Perhaps no longer infernal but still magisterial. 8/10

Jared James Nichols - Jared James Nichols (Black Hill Records)

Self Titled records so often mean a rebirth, a change of sound or focus, they are very much what bands and artists do when they want to make a point that the music contained within them is their most personal and reflective of who they are as a performer. So when Nashville, singer, songwriter and Gibson brand ambassador chose to title his third album Jared James Nichols, he is probably trying to showcase who he is now not where he has been. 

This third record is a mixture of influences as driving blues rock (My Delusion) moves into syrupy grunge (Down The Drain), the album is seen by Nichols as a tasting menu for his live show. Fuzzy, resonant rock n roll driven through Gibson humbuckers that get your toes tapping, head bopping and hips shaking. Lyrically he's focussed on some more personal lyrics, following his life as an artist but wrapped up in some signature blue collar rocking. After dealing with a broken arm (that left him with a plate and screws) he recorded this record mere months after his recovery ended, fuelling the songs with that fire to perform again. 

The excellent Hard Wired is a rock guitar fans dream as the swaggering riffs, Hendrix inspired lead guitars and hypnotic groove will win you over immediately, he can seemingly turn his hand to any style, maximum R&B on Easy Come, Easy Go, bass-driven Bad Roots, while the brooding Shadow Dancer seems more serious in contrast to Good Time Girl. It's on the introspective balladry of Our Of Time dedicated to Nichols' deceased father where the personal lyrics really stand out. 

Nichols is a firebrand on the live scene so the warm production of Eddie Spear who recorded this album live in the studio, means that it reflects his talents well. Self titled and packed with dirty riffs and smoky vocals, this is the epitome of the JJN sound. 8/10

Draken - Book Of Black (Majestic Mountain Records)

Formed in Oslo in 2018, bassist/vocalist Hallvard Gaardløs, drummer Andre Drage Haraldsen and jazz/progressive virtuoso guitarist, Even Helte Hermansen, this prog metal trio follow up their self titled debut in 2021 with their new record Book Of Black again through Majestic Mountain Records. They have tried to take a forward step on this record creating something altoghgehr heavier and more brutal than their debut album. It means that there is less Rush more Mastodon on this album. 

The punky tones of Bastards leads into the thundering We Deserve To Suffer, both come from the Atlantan bands songbook. It sticks in this sort of style as the groove metal riffs are driven by odd time signatures, the powerful, dextrous percussion lays down a strong foundation against the more aggressive vocals of Gaardløs who barks, shouts and growls across this 8 track record. 

The trio have brought in some help though as the bluesy House Of Horrors features organs from Vegard Lien Bjerkan and some guest vocals come from Anita Kaabøll on the woozy Symbiote. Book Of Black is Draken increasing the noise and the techincality on their second album. 7/10

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