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Wednesday 23 August 2023

Reviews: Moon Coven, Marc Hudson, Noveria, Gary Del Vecchio (Reviews By Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

Moon Coven - Sun King (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

I don’t think anyone would be surprised if at the end of the year my album of the year comes from Ripple Music. The editor of this fine blog has deemed me Ripple Music’s Biggest Fan, (Tell me when I'm telling lies - CM ED) and I will accept that title with honor. I am not sure, however, if you looked at this list of 2023 releases from the best label in rock you would pick out that the one atop my leader board would be the third album from Malmo, Sweden’s Moon Coven. 

The band has taken their occult tinged stoner rock to the next level with Sun King, which has it all and is pretty much perfect. The band sounds like no other band while giving me everything I love about heavy music. Killer riffs, catchiness without compromising the heaviness, cool/weird lyrics, unique vocals, and an aura of mystery. All of this comes together on Sun King, which has all the stars and planets align, creating a stoner/psych masterpiece.

Right away you know this is going to rule when the first note of the riff from Wicked Words In Gold The Wrote blasts from your speakers, never mind the guitar work towards the end of the track. There is a wall of psych/stoner sound that pulls you in and doesn’t let go for all nine tracks on Sun King. Seeing Stone has one of the riffs of the year and will be the track that seals the deal for the listener. The tack has that occult rock feel that is mentioned in their bio, but it is the catchiness of the melody in the vocals that gets you and guides you to the next time they break it all down with that killer riff. Glorious. 

The guitar tone on Sun King is awesomely unique and blows me away every time. The title track brings another killer riff and a “chorus” that will leave an earworm (“Let’s Behead The King!”). The riffs are not just chunky goodness, as they pair with a killer rhythm section for some pretty complex musical compositions. I absolutely love the dual guitar solo in this track, bringing us some classic metal vibes (maybe they were listening to Ride The Lightning right before they recorded this?) along with the stoner psych goodness. Behold The Serpent is the doomiest track on Sun King, but more hypnotic doom (a new genre!) as the pace is slowed but the riffs never stop. The rhythm section kicks us off on Below The Black Grow, setting an ominous and spooky scene around more riffs and a catchy as hell vocal pattern. The dual solo on this track is my favorite on Sun King

Gilden Apple is a stoner/doom ghost story with more of that killer guitar work and a riff and melody that stays with you always. This is not a demon you will want to exercise. There is no lapse in quality as Sun King rises and sets, with The Yawning Wild and the brief instrumental interlude Death Shine Light On Life nicely setting up the absolute ripper of a closer, The Lost Color which has a riff that will tear you head off and another unique vocal pattern that are perfect examples of why these songs stand proudly together atop of the heap of stoner rock mountain kneeling to the deity the album is named after. 

I listen to a lot of new music. Before a review I spend somewhere between three and six listens up to the start of my writing. I have listened to Sun King 25 times since I have had it, and it has gotten better and better each time. I keep hearing new and exciting elements to the album, and the killer riffs never, ever get old. Stoner/psych/doom that borrows but is unique, Moon Coven has a modern classic and an (my) album of the year candidate with Sun King. Who would have thought it… 10/10

Marc Hudson – Starbound Stories (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

12 years after taking the role of Dragonforce frontman Marc Hudson releases his debut solo record. Named Starbound Stories, its inspired by anime, videogames and of course power metal, a two of the tracks featuring Ryoji Shinomoto (RYUJIN, previously known as Gyze) on traditional Japanese instruments/vocals, Freedom Heart featuring virtuoso guitar player Syu (Galneryus), two tracks feature Galen Stapely of Azure, joined on Call Of The Martyrs by Youtuber Stevie T, while Dracula X has Jacky Vincent (ex-Falling in Reverse, ex-Cry Venom) and vocals by Adrienne Cowan (Seven Spires) as Stars has the violin of Mia Asano. 

It’s star studded but the focus is on Hudson, who uses his full vocal range here, soaring like Marc Boals did back in the day, even going higher on the galloping first track proper Freedom Heart. This will entice Dragonforce fans, as it’s at a ridiculous BPM, there’s lots of solos and huge choruses but leans heavily on the Japanese neo-classical/power metal scene, a style of music that often incorporates film scores, melodic rock/AOR and also pop. 

Hudson not only sings he plays guitar, joined by Dragonforce alumni Frédéric Leclercq (Kreator) who takes guitars and bass, while Shaz D is on keys and Rich Smith is behind the kit. Starbound Stories, is eclectic in true Japanese style, with the Celtic/Seafaring Stars, followed by the funky electro pop of The Siren, there’s some balladry with Swansong, melodic rocking on Call Of The Martyrs, much of the album sticking to that kind of sound, so if you’re waiting for blistering ‘extreme power metal’ you may be a bit underwhelmed. 

Still if you know the Japanese metal style where ‘mainstream’ music meets virtuosity, ala Loudness or the many Visual Kei acts out there, Starbound Stories will prick up your ear, Hudson even singing final song One More Sight Of The Sun With You does a lot to show his reverence for Japan and the musical and artistic culture. Anime metal from the Dragonforce frontman, it's that simple, you’ll either love it or avoid it completely. 8/10

Noveria - The Gates Of The Underworld (Scarlet Records) [Matt Bladen]

On a bit of a prog metal kick this week, with a load of bands that rely on virtuoso playing and complex song arrangements are all releasing albums. One of the highlights for me is this fourth album from Italian progressive/power metal band Noveria. Featuring members of DGM, Ethernity and Epysode, the Noveria style is similar to that of fellow Italians, DGM, Virtual Symmetry, Even Flow and two of the premier bands in this genre Symphony X and Evergrey. 

Produced by DGM’s Simone Mularoni, the bombastic nature of his production makes The Gates Of The Underworld a pin sharp expression of precision and power. The interplay between Francesco Mattei’s guitar and Julien Spreutels keys is present on every single track, the solos from both duelling each other on tracks such as Revenant. The atmospherics created by Spreutels keys bring cinematics and dramatic changes of pace on Overlord and Anima

Matteri’s heavy riffs are anchored by the grooving modern metal bass of Andrea Arcangeli, the drumming of Davide Calabretta offering various changes to the flow of the songs from spatial thumps to blasts of aggression. You expect this kind of playing from prog/power metal bands where the technicality is driven into moments of heaviness but also huge melodic hooks, it usually needs a great singer to pull it off and with Francesco Corigliano, Noveria have a great singer. 

From the 8 minute Origins, he displays his Russell Allen-like passion, set against a track that sounds like middle period Symphony X. He’s a hell of a vocalist, dealing with the darker edged prog/power that Noveria deal in. The album is inspired by stories of the human condition, each featuring real life stories form the band and fans, full of struggles, emotions and also the mysteries of life and the universe, there’s tracks about a psychotic break, escaping a narcissistic relationship, the aftermath of surviving a heart attack and also a near death experience. 

Both Descent and Venom are highly orchestrated, the former featuring guest vocals from Fabio Lione, while the latter is the albums heaviest cut, featuring some growls, though it retains the ear for melody. The title track has growls in it again displaying the versatility of their singer, but the large instrumental sections too are brain melting pitched perfectly in the prog metal/power metal vein. If this is the soundtrack to the underworld then send me on the Styx to Hades as, Noveria have impressed the hell out of me here. 9/10

Gary Del Vecchio - Buzzin (RidingEasy Records) [Rich Piva]

I love how RidingEasy Records has become the go to label for all things lost late 60’s and 70’s proto. The fact that there is so much lost late 60’s and 70’s proto is amazing, and how the label keeps unearthing these amazing pieces of rock history is something to behold. Starting with the Brown Acid series that is currently sixteen volumes strong and now taking some of the artists that we are discovering on said compilations and releasing “grail” full lengths from those bands of stuff no one has heard or thought of in decades. The latest is Buzzin by Gary Del Vecchio, an Ohio teenage prodigy who unleashed some killer early heavy rock starting at 16 years old. Gary never went on to superstardom, but he certainly could of considering the talent he displays on the nine tracks from Buzzin.

The title track, which we first heard on the Brown Acid thirteenth trip, is absolute killer proto, with amazing guitar work and a killer rhythm section, particularly whoever he had behind the drum kit for this session. It mentions in the bio that Del Vecchio was influenced by fellow Ohioan Joe Walsh, and you can hear the James Gang love in this track for sure. The next track, Head On has a nice crunchy riff and I get a Zeppelin/Kiss hybrid feel to this song (this track may have predated Kiss by a few months, so maybe they sound like him). Check out the solo on this bad boy too. What You See Is What You Get has more Ace vibes to it but coupled with a more of a heavy psych feel to it. This is the default for all nine tracks, but young Gary can certainly play that guitar, and there is no better example than this track. 

Laid Back Street starts with some cowbell and has more of a boogie to it than some of the more rockers on Buzzin but that doesn’t mean Gary holds back on the shredding. Buzzin checks just about everything off of my 70’s proto albums need to have list, as the next track Red Bird Fly kicks in with some organ as we start to get into some prog territory with some sax partnering with those keys with excellent results. There is at times a spacey feel to this one, where I can hear some elements of Hawkwind when the band kicks in at around the halfway point. I mentioned the prog direction, and the next two tracks solidify this as his next music direction as the song lengths and instrumentation take a further leap. I believe these tracks are in age order, so it cool to see his musical journey. 

Wasted King is first, and the bio doesn’t lie when it mentions some Pink Floyd love here. But it is way edgier than Floyd, as Gary doesn’t tone down his guitar work and his heavy riffing, but there is a lot going on musically in this song, as there seems to be multiple layers of sound going on here, with the rhythm section and piano pushing his guitar to do amazing things. Starman is his best track, an epic eight minute plus proggy/space adventure with all sorts of soundscapes, some killer organ, and is something to behold. The last two tracks, Dream Woman and Dreamland take a more of a folk psych vibe, showing the mail can chill you out and freak you out in addition to rocking your face off.

RidingEasy has given us so many gifts with the Brown Acid Series and then with unearthed releases from Fraction, Brotherhood Of Peace, Edge, and Randy & The Goats, and that is just from the last few months. The Gary Del Vecchio album may be the best of the lot, as this is something all fans of proto should seek out. Great stuff again from Riding Easy, and I can’t wait to hear what’s next. 8/10

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