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Friday 8 December 2023

Reviews: Blue Öyster Cult, Dimmu Borgir, Inner Circles, AAWKS (Reviews By Paul Hutchings, Matt Bladen, Mark Young & Rich Piva)

Blue Öyster Cult – 50th Anniversary Live: First Night (Frontiers Music Srl) [Paul Hutchings]

Another live release for the New York legends on the Frontiers label, and this is the first of three recordings from the band’s sold out shows at Sony Hall in NYC from September 2022. Special nights indeed, for BÖC celebrated their 50th anniversary with play throughs of their first three albums, Blue Oyster Cult, Tyranny and Mutation, and Secret Treaties. Over the course of nearly two hours, the band flexed their musical muscles in their own inimitable style.

If you were in the crowd at Stonedead Festival this summer, you’ll have seen BÖC demonstrate why they are so revered in the world of hard rock and roll. The original core duo of vocalist/lead guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and vocalist/rhythm guitarist Eric Bloom are joined by Richie Castellano on guitar and keyboards, and the longtime rhythm section of bass guitarist Danny Miranda and drummer Jules Radino. There is also a special guest appearance by founder member Albert Bouchard.

I’m working from the audio version of course, and it’s a delight to sit back and enjoy classics such as Transmaniacon MC, the awesome guitar work of Dharma on Then Came The First Days Of May, and the rock n roll fluidity of Before The Kiss, A Redcap.

It’s astonishing to think that Bloom and Dharma are both closing in on their eightieth year (Bloom has just turned 79!) for their performances for many a year have been brilliant. Here they are in imperious form. They are ably supported by Castellano who takes on vocals for several tracks. Although many have called for the rock dinosaurs to depart and make way for the newer bands, there is something compelling about listening to this seminal band – the interplay and complete cohesion is something that you cannot create; this is a natural flow which the band have – check out Screams or She’s As Beautiful As A Foot (still one of the funniest song titles of all time).

As well as the superbly executed debut, the second part of the set comprises a plethora of classic songs that are delivered with perfection. The lead work in Tainted Blood for example, is stunning, whilst songs that might be less well known, such as Harvest Moon ooze with a class that can’t be bought. But of course, it’s the bigger tracks that always get the foot tapping the most. Career Of Evil has one of the most infectious riffs, whilst the inevitable Godzilla and the fantastic musical work out that leads into (Don’t Fear) The Reaper both get huge receptions.

If you’ve never spread your musical experience of Blue Öyster Cult wider than a couple of their greatest hits, diving deep into this set of releases would be a brilliant place to begin your education. If like me, you simply can’t get enough of this iconic band, then 50th Anniversary Live – First Night, and those to follow, will be a joy from start to finish. 9/10

Dimmu Borgir - Inspiratio Profanus (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

Inspiratio Profanus (Profane Inspirations) is a covers EP that sees them interpreting some of the bands they take influence from in their own style. Released as part of their 30th anniversary celebrations and with a new album of original material on the way, consider this to be a satanic Xmas gift from Shagrath, Silenoz and Galder along with bassist/guitarist Victor Brandt. The Norwiegian black metal pioneers have never released a covers release before so while Venom’s Black Metal, Bathory’s Satan My Master or Celtic Frost’s Nocturnal Fear are obvious due to their place in extreme metal history. 

The inclusion of G.G.F.H’s Dead Men Don’t Rape takes in their industrial influences while Burn In Hell by Twisted Sister is given a doom metal snarl, making nastier, hinting at the new stripped down version of Dimmu that Silenoz has talked about being on the next album. More classic rock comes with Perfect Strangers, which weirdly sounds like a Dimmu song due to the drama and theatricality, while a cover of Accept’s Metal Heart is brave but they do it well. 

The EP closes with another version of Nocturnal Fear which sounds more like the original sonically, deliberately given a rough production. A little treat for fans as they wait for a new album, Inspiratio Profanus is Dimmu wiping off the corpse paint and letting their hair down a little. 7/10

Inner Circles - Obscured Memories (Self-Released/Independent) [Mark Young]

This EP forms the third review for this week and forms a very welcome change of pace from the melo-death/symphonic stylings that have been bouncing between my ears. Having a band just come in and present without trying to shoehorn a thousand riffs into one song, especially when they provide moments of beauty amongst the grey and dark notes. 

Drowned starts proceedings with that classic bass-driven ‘gaze sound with those melancholic vocals that rise with the arrangement, providing the heavy when required but only to underpin the song and not to take over. The melodic breaks fit so well, and that 80’s goth tinge sits heavily. Unravelling keeps that motif in place, with a gentle ebb and flow to the song as it progresses. Both songs have that innate ability to draw you in, so you miss some of the nuances the first-time round which are suddenly there on the next listen which is fantastic.

Inner Circles build those soft and subtle soundscapes and present them in a way that comes across so well. The arrangements allow for each of the parts to swell and add, or to reduce and step back dependent upon what is required. Circles has this insistent melody line that sits and ushers the song forward, providing a dynamic against the synths acting as a choral feature. The solo break has this rich and warm tone and really stands out as how to provide simple and effective solo’s where sometimes less is more. 

Ashes is just a beautiful song with a riff pattern that is gently struck with drums and bass matching and even when they go loud, it still stays true even with some guitar fireworks that light up the closing moments. Its this level of control and confidence they have which makes this a joy to listen to.

End completes the EP with an instrumental stroll, an easy-going piece that meanders like a forest stream and provides a fitting closer to one of my most unexpected highlights of the year. As I said earlier, its great to review something that isn’t blasting along at a 1000mph or relying on super-fiendish fretwork. These are just good songs, harking back to both goth and shoegaze movements of the 80s and 90’s. 

Its well worth your time. 7/10

AAWKS - Luna EP (Black Throne Records) [Rich Piva]

The fuzzy, spacy Canadians from AAWKS are back with a quick EP, Luna, containing a new track, two covers, and a live song. I am all about AAWKS, as their debut full length Heavy On The Cosmic was my 19th favorite album of 2022 and their split with the also awesome Aiwass from a couple months ago was excellent as well. Let’s see if they can keep the sting of quality releases going with Luna.

The EP is a more of an odds and sods type experience that is a bit of a teaser, leaving you wanting way more from the band than just these four tracks. All four are great however, especially the cover of A Flock Of Seagulls megahit, I Ran, which on the surface seems like a weird choice, but if you are a fan of either band it makes way more sense than you think. 

AAWKS keeps what is great about that song and adds their fuzzy version of doom to it, slowing down the chorus and the end instrumental part, taking the track from a blast off to a slow orbit but keeping all that catchiness that made it one of the best songs of the early 80s. The second cover is a fuzzier but way more straight ahead cover of the early Pink Floyd song Julia Dream which fits perfect with the overall vibe of the band as I am sure they have spent many an evening in altered states listening to early Floyd. 

The one new original on Luna, The Figure, gives us a glimpse of what to expect for the next AAWKS full length. This one is some fuzzy heavy doom, with a killer riff, cool vocals, and some sweet oohs that separate AAWKS from your everyday doom band. This one is chunky psych doom goodness and is on the short list for being one of their best songs so far. Love the crazy psych guitar work. The EP closes out with a very cool live version of a track off their full length, All Is Fine, which provides proof that AAWKS is a must-see live band.

A fun little EP from one of my favorites, Luna is a nice bridge between their debut and what will come next from the Canadian psych rock dealers. Any AAWKS is great, so let’s hope they keep bringing the fun. 8/10

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