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Friday 17 March 2023

Reviews: The Answer, Kamelot, Ice Age, Elysion (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Answer - Sundowners (Golden Robot Records)

Seven years is a long time in rock n roll but only a few years after the release of their last album Solas, one rock radio station, which was built on the NWOCR revival started by The Answer back in 2000, audibly asked the question "Whatever happened to them?" after playing one of their songs. Well it turns out they didn't go anywhere they just took a bit of time off, feeling like they needed to reset a little.

They went back to their native Northern Ireland, frontman Cormac Neeson recorded a solo album and engaged in some roots music and they all spent time with their families to just be outside of the constant album/tour rigmarole for a while. I mean The Answer's initial career saw them supporting some of rocks biggest bands, playing their own packed shows and riding high as being one of the best homegrown rock bands in the post-millennium age.

Now, older, wiser and raring to rock again, Cormac Neeson (vocals), Paul Mahon (guitars), Micky Waters (bass), James Heatley (drums), have returned as The Answer and that fire is reignited. Heading down to Middlefarm Studios in Devon, the first time they had played together in a studio since 2015, Dan Weller behind the desk to capture the sparks and from there they started to write what would become Sundowners.

Using the atmospherics they utilised on Solas, with the swampy belly of the blues, that they've always carried, the rhythmic tribal sound of the title track kicks us off, unlike Led Zeppelin, who, along with Free, they have always been compared to, Sundowners (the song) feels like the Robert Plant solo records from his days with The Strange Sensation.

It's moody, sexy and animalistic, really grabbing you with its slow burning, karmic magic, the rolling and tumbling drumming of Heatley hooking this opener. From here we're given a fuzzy glam stomp on Blood Brothers, if that T-Rex like guitar tone, stomp/clap percussion and plenty of cowbell, doesn't get your ass shaking then you've got no soul.

So far The Answer are back with a vengeance, not the band of their debut but the more mature version of them, with a life given to rock n roll infused into every song. Saying that though California Rust is very similar to the infectious, blues rock jams of their debut Rise while Oh Cherry brings some slinky surf rock reverb and bass mastery from Waters.

Sundowners is eclectic but every track sounds like The Answer did on one of their six previous records, drawing inspiration from the biggest and brightest in the rock arena. However behind all the hard rock trappings there's always been a rootsy vein of Americana to them which shines through on the gospel influenced No Salvation where Neeson's hued, honeyed, (Irish) whiskey soaked vocal is used to its fullest.

As Sundowners gets into its groove with the swaggering Cold Heart, the prowling All Together and the pounding Livin' On The Line all 'classic' The Answer, Paul Mahon's guitar kicking out the riffs. As the solemn but hopeful Always Alright closes out this rebirth for The Answer, it's a fantastic, fabulous return for a band who mean a lot to me and my journey as a rock fan. "Whatever happened to The Answer?" Well life got in the way but rock n roll never truly dies, consider them back in business. 10/10

Kamelot - The Awakening (Napalm Records)

Still captained by guitarist Thomas Youngblood Kamelot are comfortably in the driving seat of being the most experienced symphonic metal band around. The Awakening is their 13th studio album, their first in five years, and they are again embracing the dark for some of their heaviest, most cinematic music yet, while always keeping their impetus of being a power metal band at heart. Having always been more Gothic, brooding and dramatic than many of their peers, Kamelot have always been more Phantom Of The Opera than say Starlight Express.

I make reference to Lloyd-Webber as Kamelot have had a flair for the theatrical since their early days, that side becoming more pronounced with the addition of keyboardist/composer Oliver Palotai. He weaves his magic here too with the addition of violinist Florian Janoske and cellist Tina Guo who gets a hell of a solo duel with Youngblood on Opus Of The Night (Ghost Requiem).

As with most of their albums Sasha Paeth produces and Jacob Hansen masters, for audio perfection, from the swelling Overture (Intro) to the finale of Ephemera (Outro), it's more crystalline Kamelot soundscapes. First track proper is The Great Divide, Sean Tibbetts' gallop and Alex Landenburg's double kicks building the power with Youngblood's riffs and Palotai's synth runs and then it's Tommy Time as Tommy Karevik unleashes that brilliant voice for the first time, captivating you from the first notes and then it's off we go on another Kamelot adventure.

I always struggle to be critical of Kamelot as I've been a fan since the early 2000's so you won't hear me say this is bad, though I have criticised one of their previous albums, not this one though it's got exactly the right amount balls and baroque that Kamelot music needs. From the achingly modern One More Flag In The Ground additional vocal layers by Brian Howes who has produced/written with bands like Nickelback and Halestorm.

There's also Celtic folk on Midsummer's Eve, a soaring ballad in the shape of Willow and the huge chorals of New Babylon which also features Melissa Bonny of Ad Infinitum while Bloodmoon has pumping synth and choppy riffs. Having been masters of their craft for years now, and The Awakening is another strong display of their skills. 9/10

Ice Age - Waves Of Loss And Power (Sensory Records)

Forming in 1991, in Long Island New York and playing progressive metal it's almost impossible being compared to Bostonians Dream Theater who at this time were right at the nadir of being the biggest prog metal band on the planet. In fact if you listen to The Needle's Eye, the first track on Waves Of Loss And Power it's incredibly reminiscent of Images And Words but the band don't get stuck in that rut for long. 

More on that later as I want to say I hadn't heard anything about Ice Age when this dropped on my desk but apparently they were formed by Josh Pincus (vocals/keys) and Jimmy Pappas (guitars) drummer Hal Aponte joined but after their 2001 album original bassist Arron DiCesare was replaced by Doug Odell. They have had ups and downs since then with a hiatus called but in the 2010's they realised they were were still a progressive force to be reckoned with and my do they show it on this new album, only their third!

Going fully prog on the go to prog label (Sensory) they adopt a take no prisoners, do what we want attitude and have made a prog rock/metal jukebox, paying tribute to their influences, shifting genres with every tune. Seriously one minute you're listening to them continuing themes from their previous albums in Perpetual Child and To Say Goodbye Parts IV/V retrospectively, where the band fall into that class of Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Psychotic Waltz style, but then you're in a Kansas record (Riverflow), the next minute a Rush record (Together Now) and then shifting into Genesis (Float Away).

Musically all the members are virtuoso, the guitar playing built on chunky, shifting riffs, fluid guitar solos while the drumming regulates the pace, power and direction of the songs, especially the longer ones. The bass is played as a lead instrument, getting lead breaks and solos of its own. Finally the keys are used brilliantly great walls of synths joined by organs and piano, but for me the vocals truly stand out they're almost operatic, bombastic and diverse. Waves Of Loss And Power is a stunning progressive metal album, you need to hear it. 10/10

Elysion - Bring Out Your Dead (Massacre Records)

The third album from Greek band Elysion is more of their style of gothic, symphonic, alternative metal, but now refined to be bigger and bolder. Now I'm quite on board wit the Greek metal scene but I hadn't heard of the band before so I jumped into this record a little blind, as soon as I hit play on the chugging. Blink Of An Eye my initial thoughts were that Elysion have a lot of similarities to Italians Lacuna Coil.

There's lots grooving metal riffs from Johnny Zero and Nid but all are given big choruses, lots of synths and orchestrations, a song such as Blue Seasons as stripped back as it gets, oddly where they sound the most like their Italian comrades. Christianna's vocals are very wide ranging, she's the star here for sure, soaring high on the operatic tracks such as Eternity, then giving it all on the pumping Amaranthe-like offerings such as Crossing Over and Far Away but restraining herself on the ethereal Raid The Universe.

The concept behind this record is light coming from darkness, which explains the duality of their music as the metal riffs and the pummelling rhythm section of drummer Ilias Laitsas and bassist FXF are then balanced by more mysterious, dramatic ballads such as Buried Alive and the electro-metal stompers like As The Flower Withers. The band have used their longer time to record, to make sure that Bring Out Your Dead is their biggest album yet. 8/10

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