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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Reviews: Troubled Horse, Elysion, Amoral

Troubled Horse: Step Inside (Rise Above)

Sweden does seem to be in it's purple patch at the moment with some very fine rock and roll bands coming out of the country in recent years Troubled Horse are the latest in a long line, but they are pretty special. They play riff heavy, retro garage rock that comes out of the late 60's and early 70's, so you need to think Free Fall, Graveyard and Witchcraft in terms of style, especially the latter as the band is made up of former and current members of the Swedish occult rockers. The band throw in the creeping organs of Ghost on Bring My Horses Home and also nods to Sabbath on Another Man's Name (which has pinched the riff of Supernaut). The bass of Ola Henriksson rumbles like thunder keeping the band moving along metronomically and along with the drums of Jens Henriksson the band have a The Doors style percussive drive that is topped by the unforgiving guitars of John Hoyles which riff and solo with like Iommi, rounding off the band is vocalist/guitarist Martin Heppich who is the band's ace as he provides the extra muscle in the guitars section and also also hollers like a wounded animal on tracks like Fears and the powerful One Step Closer To My Grave, which is one of the albums best tracks with it's jangly but rifftastic delivery, it's clapping middle eight and the sumptuous solo. Heppich vocals are similar to fellow Swede Ralph Gyllenhammer of Mustasch and the music Troubled Horse play suit his voice to the ground. This is an album taht does a rare thing, it blows you away with it's combination of retro riffage, psychedelic tendencies (Shirleen) and nods to doom on the first listen and then gets better with every subsequent spin. The band have created an album as good as any of the bands I mentioned in the initial list, the album is sublime with everything coming together excellently. 2014 is truly the year of the (Troubled) Horse!!! 9/10

Elysion: Someplace Better (Massacre Records)

Elysion are classed as goth metal and from the opening strains of Made Of Lies this is proven to be 100% accurate with the light and shade of the guitars moving from clean to distorted in a heart beat with the verses lighter and the choruses having that big meaty riffs. I know it's a genre cliche but the band feature the angelic, haunting vocals of Christianna who sounds a lot like Christina Scabbia in terms of delivery and when coupled with the pulsing Gothic metal it gives these greeks a similar style to Lacuna Coil albeit without the male vocals, with some Within Temptation and Evanescence thrown in for good measure. The second track Someplace Better introduces the keys which are handled by guitarist Johnny Zero with the rhythm section made up of Petros Fatis on drums and FXF on bass. The songs have big riffs, lots of keys and synths and a massive dubstep section in What Lies Beneath. The band have some dark imagery, emotional lyrics and big ballads like The Promise which is replete with plantative piano, violins and a soaring guitar. All of these elements, makes for premium gothic metal, along with the Christianna's strong and frankly excellent, non operatic, vocals (she also sounds a bit like Hydrogyn's Julie) the band do what they do very well. Yes they do sound a lot like Lacuna Coil and usually this gets less marks from me but in this style of music it is very hard to stand out so sounding like the genre leaders is not necessarily to the bands detriment it just means that they have absorbed enough of the LC's charisma and musicality to progress upwards and when they have some pretty heavy riffage, see Our Fate, and Christianna's vocals the band can't really fail. Strong Gothic metal 8/10

Amoral: Fallen Leaves And Dead Sparrows (Imperial Cassette)

Finns Amoral are a bit of an enigma, until 2009 they were a Death/Thrash metal band until they dramatically changed their style leaving just guitarist Ben Varon and drummer Juhana Karlsson with a new line-up that played straight down the line power metal. This is not a bad change as the I went back and listened to their early stuff and it's good however I do have a soft spot for power metal and there post 2009 output is a lot better a it merges classic power metal of galloping basslines, dual guitars and strong clean vocals, however this is mixed with some modern metal riffage and lots of time signature changes in the longer tracks and indeed the shorter ones!) It's on the first track On The Other Side Pt. 1 that the band nail their colours to mast with the double kick drums rampaging, the pinched harmonic laden drop D riffage, the bassline driven verses and the Trivium-like soloing. Ari Koivunen's vocals are powerful but not ear splitting or helium fulled, yes they are in the upper register but they don't distract you, in fact he has similar style to fellow Finn Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica or even James LaBrie. The guitars of Varon (rhythm) and Masi Hukari (Lead) are awesome with some massive modern riffage and Hukari's love of spectacular solos coming through. The songs are varied coming away from the power metal base in places but Prolong A Stay features some amazing orchestral stuff on top of the galloping riffage that wouldn't sound out of place on a Maiden album with some lead breaks that are very Djent like before everything turns into a Wintersun-like rampage. This goes straight into the acoustic almost Zeppelin-like Blueprints which also has some killer organs in it and moves into the folksy-ballad of If Not Here, Where which kicks up into Queensryche territory after the intro and also has some growled vocals. If i was forced to make a comparison its like Baroness were mega NWOBHM fans (the album cover alone would give you this idea) but this would be pigeonholing a band that can't really be. The band are never a pastiche they balance the right line between classic and modern with progressive flourishes and quality songwriting throughout. The more I listened to this album the more I fell in love with it, it is just everything you could want in a metal, it's an engaging sometimes challenging listen that both makes you nostalgic but plants you firmly in the present day, they have done more in eight tracks than many bands do in their careers. Well done Amoral you originally had my curiosity, now you most definitely have my attention. 10/10


The View From The Front Of The Room: Evil Scarecrow

Evil Scarecrow & Ten Cent Toy, Bristol Exchange

So once more along the bridge the merry travellers did go, this time it was for the the mighty Evil Scarecrow who continue to draw us to their presence. After rounding up our posse we did a tour of watering holes to make sure we were properly lubricated cyborgs. Into the Exchange and having missed the first two bands we got in just in time to see Ten Cent Toy who hail from Wales.

Ten Cent Toy

TCT burst onto the stage and immediately bludgeoned the crowd with their LOG style groove metal, playing tracks off their album as well as a new track called Contra (up,up,down,down,left,right,left,right,A,B, Start) that still had the heavy, groove style of their earlier stuff. Yes they are not doing anything different but when you can pull a crowd and suitably make them headbang and jump around then I'd say job done. Having seen TCT a fair few times for me they do always seem to sound the same but for anyone discovering them I would say that they would be pleasantly surprised, they are heavy, aggressive and full of vitriol! A good way to open up proceedings but desperately in need of new tracks in my own opinion but for anyone watching them for the first time will have their heads crushed 7/10  

Evil Scarecrow

Gathered in the corner of the room (nowhere to hide and make a grand entrance) the five members of Evil Scarecrow make a motley crew of crazies in their black metal stage gear replete with corpse paint, spikes and chains. The band burst on to the stage and straight into Choose Metal which with Brother Pain, Dr Hell and Kraven Moredeath all providing the riffage, Monty Blitzfist drumming like a demon and Princess Luxury adding the keys and samples that give the band more scope. Before rocking the crowd they proceeded to make them cry with the emo-epic Blacken The Everything which saw the crowd giving their best sobs, then they moved into The Thundercats theme (which your writer ruined the intro of) and then into Morbid Witch which prompted more claws tot he sky. Then the drums signalled to the crowd to raise a claw to the sky for the arrival of Crabulon, seeing a room full of metal heads scuttling is still hilarious and this needs to be a single soon! At the end of the set we were treated to Vampyre Trousers which again had it's intro ruined (not by me) before the band ran off to hide in the corner again. Encore time and first it was the now legendary Robototron with the crowd providing more perfect robot squares during it's chugging breakdown which then moved into the band introductions and Brother Pain's crowd surf (I didn't drop him this time luckily) and then into War And Seek   which with a Arnie like stomp brought the set to an end. Evil Scarecrow again show that they are truly fantastic live and they just need everyone like us to fund their quest for world domination!! 10/10

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Out Of The Beyond 31

Royal Southern Brotherhood: S/T (Ruf 2012)

What do you get if you form a band the features the son of an Allman Brother with a Neville Brother? Well you get 12 tracks of soulful blues rock from the smooth opening phrasing of New Horizon, the Santana-like funk of Fired Up! which has Cyril Neville's percussion all over it, as well as his soul drenched vocal delivery, the band then move through the blues balladry of Left My Heart In Memphis on which Neville shows off his excellent pipes again. This isn't a one man show however with both Devon Allman (son of the great Gregg) and Mike Zito providing the six string heroism with lots of slide guitar and good old fashion blues rocking, Yonrico Scott on the drums providing a foil for Neville and Charlie Wooton on bass, who is at his most prevalent on the funky almost reggae style of Fire On The Mountain. The band look to the past and also the future by using the classic blues phrasing and lots of rock, funk, soul and also country (Nowhere To Hide) and creating some modern blues rock in the process. The album is obviously a testament to the heritage and the skills of the contributors, all of them play excellently providing the album with a free-flowing live-in-the-studio feel and a silky segue of every track into the next ensures that this album oozes with groove and knowing confidence of a band that do what they do drawing from their heritage and pumping out some top quality blues rock. 8/10

Myrath: Desert Call (XIII Bis Records 2010)

Desert Call is the best band to come out of Tunisia's second album and it affirms just how good they are from the off with Forever And A Day opening with the Middle Eastern flavour and the downtuned riffage. The band have a lot in common with Orphaned Land mixing metal with lots of Eastern promise, however unlike OL the band have no growls or death vocals and favour a more progressive symphonic/power metal style than many in the genre. The album moves from Forever And A Day into the very heavy Tempests Of Sorrow which has some crushing riffs designed to level buildings. The band have some amazing sounds with Malek Ben Arbia's guitars powering the main bulk of the songs but that's not to dismiss the amazing keyboards and orchestrations of Elyes Bouchoucha who along with Zaher Zorgati's vocals give the band their sound, as Zorgati has a real eastern feel to his vocals which sit somewhere between chanting and crooning. The rhythm section of Saif Louhibi's drums and Anis Jouini's bass too are excellent and provide the band with some amazing technical playing, Jouini even gets a bass solo on the title track! (Lucky guy!). The band show off there technical ability and their progressive tendencies with the Dream Theater/Symphony X like Silent Cries which clocks in at just over 10 minutes, features several changes of pace and tone and ends the first half of the record brilliantly, this style is also most prevalent on Empty World and Shockwave The song reaches it's pinnacle with Zorgati's awesome vocals, this guy can sing excellently, the song also features keys out of the Jordan Rudress school of ivory-tinkling. A great album from one of the bands at the forefront of the 'oriental metal' genre (blame Metal Hammer) a cacophony of metal, Arabic sounds and musicianship of the highest order, find this album and then work your way through the bands other two and you will find that Myrath are more than just a label. 9/10  

Malison Rogue: S/T (Inner Wound Records 2011)

Malison Rogue are a metal band from Sweden and from the opening chords of Friend Or Foe? one name came rushing to my head and that was Queensryche, Malison Rogue sound an awful lot like the Washington natives with every track having that progressive punch that Queensryche bring to their works. The riffs of Bjoerkborg come thick and fast with both speed metal tendencies on tracks like The Pain You Cause but also the 'ryche's melodic power rock on songs like I Grieve which is straight off the Empire album with its pulsing bassline of Pete Fury and the marching drums of Doc, all of which is topped off with the powerful vocals of Zeb who doesn't hit the highs of Geoff Tate but he certainly has the crooning power of the man himself, these songs have power on We're All Born Sinners, emotion on the mega ballad My Mistakes and also heaps of musicality, see the orchestral Scars which features choirs and keys orchestrated by in demand vocalist Mats Leven who also provides backing vocals. This is a great album if you like Queensryche or bands of their ilk then you will really get a kick out of this! 7/10     

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Another Point Of View: Limp Bizkit (Review By Lee Burnell)

Limp Bizkit, Crossfaith, Nekrogoblinkon & Baby Godzilla, Great Hall Cardiff
On a dampened night, nothing dampened the spirits of God knows how many people who turned up to see them in The Great Hall. With strong support coming from Nekrogoblikon and Crossfaith.

Baby Godzilla

Without a doubt the second worst band I have ever seen. This quartet of confused and I'm guessing tone deaf band haven't found their sound yet. If this was their sound, they should quit. They started off with the front man, they really aren't worth researching so no name’s to be thrown out, getting in the face of the crowd screaming and trying to play….something. Out of a 20 minute set, they managed to spend 10 of those jumping off their amplifiers and falling down, which made them watchable. They are definitely a young band because they didn't have a look… the front man looked like Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro, the guitarist looked like a ginger Misfits ripoff, the bassist, I overheard a friend that he reminded him of a butcher (Your guess is as good as mine) mixed with a fat kid dying for a dump, the later I could understand, teeth clenched throughout the set and the crowd were worried about whether or not he would/did cut one. Thankfully the smell of weed overtook the potential of any chemical warfare. If I had to say one good thing about Baby Godzilla, would be that they reminded me, granted marginally, of Minor Threat, but even I understood Minor Threat. To sum up, they should split. Absolutely garbage. At best 1/10.

Nekrogoblikon

I've listened to Nekrogoblikon’s impressive 2011 album Stench a couple of times before the gig and was told they put on a good show. Boy were they right, we were greeted by John Goblin, yes, he was actually a goblin dressed in a shirt and tie, work trousers and converse. He did a great job warming the crowd up for the band’s arrival, which they kicked off with A Feast. The vocals were even more brutal in person and I loved it, the band were tight. Nothing out of sync and they all seemed to enjoy John Goblin jumping round the ring getting the crowd going. The band took their time and played songs such as Goblin’s Ahoy! and Army Of Goblins from their debut album Goblin Island to No One Survives, Prince Of The Land Of Stench and Bear From Stench through to Powercore and Giraffe from last year’s EP Power. This is definitely a band to keep an eye out for and if you're into gimmicks and metal and never listened to this band. I suggest you do immediately! Only downside was the frontman Scorpion being noticeably drunk when trying to react to a fan throwing a bottle on the stage. Other than that, superb and I’ll definitely be seeing them again. 8/10

Crossfaith

I missed this band in May last year and have been loving their EP Zion as well as their 2013 featured release ApocalyzeI've heard great things about their energy, their performance and their showmanship and I was kind of hoping this band were worth the ticket price alone. The band took a commanding stage presence and after 90 seconds the band’s Synth/DJ/Keyboard player Tamano Terufumi stage dived into the crowd as they blasted We Are The Future. An awesome mix of metalcore and dubstep blended to perfection. They are a few bands I've seen that have perfect rhythm and timing, especially with all the synth drops but Crossfaith are definitely one of the best all-rounder bands I've seen live. They then followed up with their fantastic Monolith and they had the crowd in their hands. Bone crushing riffs, Dubstep that people didn't hate, what more could you want? By this time the crowd were lively, mosh pits were starting, raves commencing, I was very confused, even more confused when I joined in with jumping along with the rest of the crowd. There was one song that would follow suit perfectly, Jagerbomb, which they went immediately into and everyone freakin’ lost it! This was certainly an intense gig now! Kenta Koie, the lead singer then asked the crowd to form a wall of death...yeah….they drew a good number to do it but I was lucky to not get caught in it for once before belting Countdown To Hell before asking the crowd to get down to the ground in a Corey Taylor-esque manner before the band got into Eclipse and the band finished off with their impressive track Leviathan. They were worth the £20 alone and if you’re going to the Download Festival in June, check them out! Band of the night so far, 9/10!

Limp Bizkit:

It was like 2001 had come round and I was 13 again and I was very happy. The setup was unusual, Wes had a hawaiian theme, booze in Pineapple’s, proper luau going on there and Wes took the stage with a ukulele and just playing away and singing a cheesy old timey song. The crowd weren't amused by this, he went on for far too long and people were pretty drunk now. The band came on and Fred greeted the crowd with “Keep on Rollin’ baby, you know what time it is.” Wow, right out of the block with Rollin’. Holy shit, crowd surfing, mosh pits after 10 seconds. Surely a record? Could they follow it up with something to calm the crowd down? Nope, Hot Dog. I was so happy. Sang along with the words, remembered them all and I wasn't the only one. I wonder why, needs more fuck words in there I think, only 46. It was time for the band to break it down with Bring It Back, my favourite song from Gold Cobra and you could start to tell that not many people listened to anything after Chocolate Starfish And The Hotdog Flavour Water. Fred kept teasing the crowd saying they weren't allowed to play Break Stuff in case it ensued a riot and changed the tone with Gold Cobra. A pretty tight set so far, entertaining, great setlist so far, happy days. If the crowd needed perking up (they didn't) they started playing songs from Three Dollar Bill Y'all by playing the first verse of Pollution. When they stopped and said they weren't playing the rest but were going to play another, I was disappointed. Although the second song was Counterfeit but yet again they stopped after the first verse. I didn't like that, it seemed like Fred and the band wanted to coast their way through the rest of the show now. I was proven right for the next 15 minutes after they went through My Generation, Livin’ It Up and My Way in quick succession. I don't blame Limp Bizkit for stopping for a couple of minutes after that, the venue was unbelievably hot. But they recomposed and went into Re-Arranged, happy face. I forgot Limp Bizkit did this but they cover songs in their setlist and we were treated to Killing In The Name Of by Rage Against The Machine, Fred had already mentioned they had a 70 minute set so I wonder why the didn’t play something else instead of KITNO, that kind of got to me a little bit. But Wes started playing the Take A Look Around riff and the crowd got into top gear. Well I thought that was top gear until the finished with Break Stuff and everyone just went nuts! I’m in two minds about what to give this, 13 song set list with 2 of those finishing after 90 seconds and one was a cover…. The band were solid and I was very happy to see them, I’d see them again but wouldn't be amused if they did the same again. 9.5/10 although I’m tempted to give Crossfaith band of the night.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Reviews: Primal Fear, Chrome Division, Augustines

Primal Fear: Delivering the Black (Nuclear Blast) (Review By Paul)

2014’s power metal season opens on a high with this offering from German veterans Primal Fear. Opener King For A Day opens at a blistering pace with multiple solos, driving bass lines and thundering drums along with the soaring vocals of founder member Ralf Scheepers. This is German power metal at its best. Think Helloween circa 1986 and you have the standard. There are no surprises but many excellent tracks which really get the head nodding vigorously. Rebel Faction follows with a similar driving pace, huge driving rhythms and crunching guitars from Magnus Karlsson and Alex Beyrodt. The drumming on this track is monstrous, Randy Black running on his double bass pedals ably supported by the driving Harris-esque bass lines of Matt Sinner. When Death Comes Knocking has a slightly calmer opening and slower pace throughout allowing Scheeper to deliver his lyrics assisted by the harmonies that one would expect from old school power metal. As you would expect from a band with nine previous releases under their belt, this is a tight and crafted release. Alive And On Fire is a rocky fist pumper with traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo and one that should really produce some fantastic air guitar in the live arena. As with the majority of German power metal bands, this is an album that follows a formulaic and well-trodden path but hey, don't get me wrong. This is great stuff and sits comfortably alongside Accept and the awesome Freedom Call in the genre. Delivering The Black, the title track has massive Dio influences and the lyrical content of many of the tracks have the great man’s lyrical themes. Penultimate track Born With A Broken Heart is the obligatory power ballad that will have lighters aloft. Album closer Inseminoid ensures that the ballad is a distant memory, powering through with similar drive and gusto to the majority of the tracks on the album. This is power metal at its finest. How about a slot at BOA? 8/10

Chrome Division: Infernal Rock Eternal (Nuclear Blast) (Review By Paul)

The fourth album from Dimmu Borgir frontman Shagrath’s side project and a cracker it is too. Opening with a brief instrumental Good Morning Riot the tempo is cranked up immediately with Endless Nights which is a straight in-your-face heavy rock track. A stomping rhythm underpins the track, with the vocals of Athera (From Susperia) grabbing your attention from the off. Some top soloing from Kjell Aage Karlsen (Aka Damage) on lead guitar throughout this track and this is an opener of intent, totally setting the scene for what is about to come. Some ingenious use of a vocoder adds a little extra. This is pretty far removed from the symphonic black metal that Shagrath is better known for with the next track (She’s) Hot Tonight continuing in the heads down metal vein. Group choruses, driving bass and drums and excellent soloing; it’s all here. This is biker rock with a flavour of 1980s metal at its best. The Absinthe Voyage maintains the momentum, thundering along like an out of control juggernaut before the pace slows with the anthemic Lady Of Perpetual Sorrow. The pace picks straight back up with the next track The Moonshine Years swiftly followed by No Bet For Free which has Motorhead’s classic influence coursing through it. This is good stuff. On The Run Again takes a more bluesy rock approach but continues to blast out, Athera’s gruff vocals complemented by the sing-along choruses and Age Troite’s driving bass lines. Mistress In Madness is the fastest track on the album, with pulverising drums from Tony White the main feature as this wild horse gallops along. This is straightforward heads down rock ‘n’ roll metal, pure and simple. However, it is delivered with style and confidence, grabbing you in the nuts from the start and dragging you along for the ride. No fillers on this album and the closer Dirty Dog is downright sleazy filth, Motley Crue but with more guts. If you like your metal served with no-nonsense then this is one for you. Excellent stuff! 9/10

Augustines: S/T (Oxcart Records)

Augustines (formally We Are Augustines) are now on their second album and they have really hit the overdrive button on this one. Their debut was based upon the personal experiences of Singer/guitarist Billy McCarthy, mainly the deaths of his mother and brother, delivered with the workingman, Americana style of The Boss and The Gaslight Anthem. On Augustines the mood is still serious but more celebratory, after the ghostly electronic opening of Intro (I Touch Imaginary Hands) the album picks up pace with wall-of-sound like production and as many instruments as possible thrown in to create a African spiritual style song Cruel City replete with the chanting backing vocals. This opening song sounds like it was pulled straight off Paul Simon's seminal Graceland album and it plunges straight into Nothing To Lose But Your Head which has all the reverberated staccato guitar of early (and relevant) U2 albeit with a McCarthy's grizzled, wounded vocals that howl over these layers of sound provided mainly by multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson who has bass, guitars, keys all under his remit and keeping the beat is Rob Allen who does a stirling job by adding little flourishes in many of the songs and is the main driving force behind the reflective Weary Eyes which is the kind of song Brandon Flowers wishes he could write and it is followed by another powerful anthem Now You look Back which shows off McCarthy's voice at it's best, yes it's an acquired taste but it works so well with this rootsy style of songwriting in both rockers and the plaintive ballads like Walkabout. Yes the ghost of Springsteen is there with the soul stirring songwriting and every man storytelling, but the band also have the musical chops of Neil Young, the edginess of Nick Cave, the sadness of Leonard Cohen and lots of modern influences to keep them as contemporary as possible, like alluded to earlier the band sound like a more mature version of modern 'rock' bands like The Killers, Kings Of Leon etc. With Arise Ye Sunken Ships their debut it was the sound of  band finding their feet and convincing themselves that what they were doing was worth the adversity they wrote about on the album, this record however is the sound of a band showing the world at large that they are not only talented songwriters and performers but they are also vital for both their honesty and their integrity. This is an excellent album that will set Augustines on a path to world wide recognition!! 10/10    

World Of Metal 5: Valtari, Unscarred, Running Death

Valtari: Hunters Pride (Self Release) (Review By Nick)

Coming from the land down under Valtari is a melodic Death Metal project with a twist… there is but one of them! Fronted and indeed solely brought together by Marty Warren, this brave man has undertaken a big project that could go one of two ways. Warren’s second full-length album under the name of Valtari opens with Bitterness, which is a solid punch in the face if ever such a statement was needed. Filled with the heavy hitting drums and melodic riffs that this genre mixes so well, new album Hunters Pride gets off to a flying start. Undefeatable and Can You Hear Me continue much in the same vein with background melodies thrown in from soft yet somehow aggressive sounding keyboards. Into Shatter The Myth and In Slides that flawlessly slither into each other with ease, they slow things down a little and its Warrens voice that stands out particularly in these two tracks. Raspingly high at times with short rumbling growls when called upon but at the same time both as pure as silk. Vocally it’s hard not to compare Warren to that of Immortals old school Abbath vocals at times. From With A Childs Smile through to Tyrant the album picks up pace again, the face smashing relentless thumping riffs continue, at the same time forcing your head to bounce in every direction possible. Soon the album must finish with The Gift and Hunters Pride, and wow… what a way to finish! Slowly building up steam The Gift is a final tribute to the vocals of this album, Warren’s voice being tested at both ends of the scale without failure, beautifully supported by the snapping rolling drums and the melodical riffage I have come to expect. The encore of Hunters Pride is the epitome of Warren’s work; filled with everything that is right about this album and this genre. Rammed with enough keyboards, pounding drums and grinding guitars to wave a stick at, that all inevitably finishes in great style, changing its pace to keep you hooked into one final triumphant solo. Thankfully my earlier worries we swiftly dismissed by a brilliant effort from Marty Warrens mind. Needless to say I like this album; I like this album a lot! Watch out Sweden, Melodic Death has a father now too, and its name is… Australia?? 9/10

Unscarred: Fake Democracy EP (Contorted Records & Finisterian Dead End) (Review By Nick)
Unscarred is a powerful pounding-groove machine, wild and slightly crazy Thrash band formed in Paris. My initial opinions as the first track 100 Lashes struck my ears were “Damn this girl can sing!” Lead vocalist known simply as “Nelly” springs straight into action with quick strike up the octaves Sean Peck (Death Dealer) like opening. Followed quickly by an onslaught of groove-laden thrash. The next two offerings Fake Democracy and Puppets Territory come from different ends of the spectrum; Fake Democracy continues the groove filled bouncy bass led trend from which it was born from thanks to Bassist “Brice”, who brings good depth and strength to the track while not detracting from the vital thrash element of Unscarred. Puppets Territory as mentioned before is a different brand of music all together and enters the EP into a darker part of thrash. This time Nelly bringing slow deep growls to the forefront of the track. Although musically still of the same quality unscarred have already delivered us, this did spoil the path the EP was taking a little for me and briefly took the smile from my face as the fun seem to dissipate. Soon though the pitch perfect chorus quickly brought my smile back as Nelly reaches of the high notes again. This track was a little confused I think, and so was the next track Reborn. Despite the return of the growling vocals the funky thrash returns in this track and that for me is what Unscarred are good at. The life is brought back into the album here with the bass bouncing and the constant running guitars supplied by Boris and Nico holding the song well while keeping you intrigued as to where the album is going. Finally Meet Your Fate is a departure back to where the album started; honest groove filled thrash, only this time with a little more pace. Nelly’s vocals return to what they do best and the band seem a lot more attuned to this style of music, we’re even offered a solo or two here. The song ends with a hammering statement on the drums from Franck and leaves me with a smile on my face. Not the heaviest of stuff you’ll ever hear from this genre and Unscarred seem to be a little confused in themselves at times. Just a little more direction needed. However what this EP and band represent so far is good music with lots of fun, and there is simply nothing wrong with that in my book. A great band to catch live I highly suspect and I really hope I do have the chance in the future. 7/10

Running Death: The Call Of Extinction (Self Released)

From the opening chords you can tell what is going to happen and when the heavy, speed riffage kicks in all double kicks and razor sharp guitars you can tell that Running Death are: one a thrash band and two a very good one, especially on the solo front as Unleashed features some great fret-wanking throughout. The Germans wear their influences on their sleeves with Kreator and Slayer being the main two especially with the vocals of Simon and Julian who move between shouts and growls throughout. This is a great E.P with 5 strong thrash tracks that move like a whirlwind with lots of speedy riffs, good old fashion stomping rhythms see Call Of Extinction the songs have progressive tendencies as they move between different tempos on Celebrate Your Aggression which has sounds remarkably similar to South Of Heaven stylistically. Yet another German thrash band showing the yanks what for!! 7/10

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Reviews: Transatlantic, The Treatment, No Sinner

Transatlantic: Kaleidoscope (InsideOut)

So the pro-rock supergroup release their fourth album and it is a possibly their most adventurous yet, their last release The Whirlwind was a concept tour-de-force with the album being one song split into separate tracks. On this record the band go one better by having two 20 minute plus epics start and close the album and in between they have 3 shorter (less than 10 minute tracks). The band haven't changed their style as they still play prog in it's purest form with lots of instrumental passages huge keyboard hooks, technical bass and drums, great guitars, harmony vocals and lots of time and tempo changes. For a band made up of lesser mortals achieving this level of musicianship over the course of four albums without a dip would be very difficult however Transatlantic is now (and has always been) ex-Spock's Beard and prog-mastermind Neal Morse tinkling the ivories, Ronnie Stolt of the Flower Kings on strumming and crooning, Pete Trewavas slapping, plucking and also crooning before the motley bunch (not crew) are rounded out by Mike Portnoy, he of Dream Theater infamy manning the skins. With all the usual suspects recruited we can move onto the music which is as rich and varied as the contributors day jobs. Opening track Into The Blue starts off with a hard rock instrumental before sweeping into classy strong prog, then into and jazz middle section before Stolt is allowed to really let loose with a solo as the track slows and moves into it's euphoric final third (which features Pain Of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlow). The three middle tracks are a nice respite from the prog-epics with Shine sounding like a late period Beatles song with it's acoustic delivery and sitar intro, despite the musicianship it's a little throwaway, they change tact on Black As The Sky which is an ELP fans dream full of pulsating organ from Morse and finally out of the middle tracks is Beyond The Sun which is pedal steel powered obligatory Morse ballad that serves as an intro for the title track which closes the album (yes 5 tracks folks how very prog). This track is over 30 minutes long and goes through so many styles and time changes that mentioning them would take up the whole review, needless to say this a bit special (as all their albums are) and the title track shows just how good these guys are in their composition of epic tracks. So in conclusion the two epics are awesome but the shorter stuff is a little whiny, still a massive album for true prog fans and one that really blows you away after a few spins! 9/10

The Treatment: Running With The Dogs (Spinefarm Records)

Cambridge rockers The Treatment came to be noticed through Classic Rock magazines Powerage records initiative and they have gone from strength to strength after re-releasing their debut on Spinefarm they have embarked on some high profile tours that has honed their rock and roll skills and in the live arena they certainly look the business clad in their G'N'R/Ramones chic. However has it improved their recorded output? Well in a word yes, they have bolstered their classic rock sound with some sleazy swagger on the opener I Bleed Rock + Roll which is part Motley Crue, part AC/DC (which seems to be one of the major influences), the arena baiting Get The Party On which even has a big clap-along drum break in the middle, the title track is straight out of the Sunset Strip, as is The Outlaw which is the best G'N'R song released in last 20 years and then there is Emergency which is a big Def Leppard style track. Yes The Treatment do wear their influences on their sleeves but they add enough of their own modern influences to stop them sounding like copyists. The twin guitars of Jake Pattinson and Tagore Grey bring the riffs thick and fast, with Swoggle and Dhani Mansworth anchoring the rhythm on every track and Matt Jones' great rock and roll vocals commanding the debauchery. At 13 tracks the album is a little long with a few of the tracks filling space, but on the whole this is ballsy, brash, British rock music done by a band that are drawing from the past to influence their future, they are drawing from all the right places and I can see this album being stage one of their global take over. 7/10           

No Sinner: Boo Hoo Hoo (Provogue)

Canadians No Sinner are a traditional blues quartet with lots of balls and bluster, fronted by the awesome voice of Colleen Rennison (No Sinner the right way around fact fans) whose smoky vocals drips with an authentic whiskey hued, tobacco fuelled huskiness that is only shared by the likes of Janis Joplin and even Amy Winehouse if she rocked. The band have an early 60's vibe with the opening title track having the R&B drum shuffle and a slow break in the center of the track before the sing along chorus kicks back in, this is followed by the blue eyed soul of Love Is Madness which so Motown Vintage Trouble may want it back and until you hear If Anything you haven't heard as much raw emotion in a song, Rennison truly has a one in a million voice full of unchained emotion and moulded by years of hard living. The band straddle the line between early Stones, Motown classics and good old southern blues with a production job straight out of the Phil Spector era with songs about love, loss and general alcohol fuelled misbehaviour with the cover of Nina Simone's version of Work Song. The album slows down in the middle a bit but with a band that have as much soul as No Sinner you can forgive them for stretching their emotional muscles a bit with Rise Up which with Devil On My Back is something that Ms Winehouse would have released if she had been backed by rockers! This is good album with a nice old school feel a tour with Vintage Trouble is calling and I for one will be in the front row. 8/10   


Friday, 7 February 2014

Another Point Of View: Molly Hatchet (Review By Paul)

Molly Hatchet, Islington Academy, London

My first gig of 2014 finally arrived in the shape of legendary Southern rock outfit Molly Hatchet who were in the UK for a short round of dates in some quite bizarre locations including Llandudno(!!!)

Iron Horses

Opening the proceedings were German outfit Iron Horses. I have respect for anyone who has the guts to get up on stage and perform but I'm afraid that this band were truly abysmal. Iron Horses have been together for over a decade and have released two albums, Titan ‘n’ Bones in 2007 and Black Leather in 2013. They opened with the routine hard rock of Cowboys Of Rock and the sparse crowd clearly had difficulty in determining what the hell was going on. Singer Sebastian Wegner certainly tries to provide a stage presence with his Iggy Pop style swagger and physique but unfortunately the guy just can’t sing. The second track The Boneshaker opened with a thumping bass intro from Sven Moeller and was a completely different style from the opening track, backing vocals and time changes helping to make it a bit more interesting and this was followed by The Game which at least allowed the guitar work of Manuel Arlt to come to the fore. However, the band appeared to struggle with their style, chopping and changing from hard rock to thrash with a variety of styles in between, none of which were particularly inspiring.   As I said earlier, Wegner works hard to try and get the crowd interested but his flat guttural delivery did not inspire and some of his gestures were straight out of the Spinal Tap manual. A couple of other tracks were delivered before the title track from their latest album Black Leather witnessed the quite ridiculous Wegner waving an enormous flag with the band logo on. They finished with possibly their most clichéd track of the night, a bland and tired song called The Stage Is On Fire which thankfully it wasn’t. Unfortunately neither were Iron Horses. They left the stage to a reasonable round of applause and are clearly well thought of by Molly Hatchet, several of the band watching from the side of the stage and Phil McCormack giving them a very positive comment during Hatchet’s set. 3/10

Molly Hatchet

Back in 1985 Molly Hatchet released Double Trouble Live, two disc live album which captured Hatchet at their most impressive. Nearly 30 years later this album sits alongside UFO’s Strangers in the Night, Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous and Live Killers by Queen in my top five live albums of all time. I’d never managed to get to see them though and so as the band arrived on stage and launched into Whiskey Man a swell of emotion ran through me. Although Hatchet have had numerous lineup changes over the years, the current lineup features a number of long serving members. No messing about from Hatchet who kept the Southern boogie moving with the brilliant Bounty Hunter. Vocalist and harmonica playing Phil McCormack, fronting the band since 1996 is incredibly engaging, encouraging the crowd to respond with not a “Yeah” but “Hell Yeah” in true Southern style.  His vocal delivery is reminiscent of the late Danny Joe Brown who featured on many of the early Hatchet releases but also has his own Southern stamp on it. A second track from Molly Hatchet, the cracking Gator Country followed with the guitar playing of Bobby Ingram and original guitarist Dave Hlubek shining through.
When you think of Southern Rock, bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers and Blackfoot come to mind. Hatchet sit comfortably alongside these classic bands and they have the songs to rival all of these bands. Of course, it helps that all members of the band are pretty damn fine musicians with the twin guitar attack so often the signature of such bands prominent and backed by the water tight rhythm section of Tim Lindsey on bass and Shawn Beamer on drums. Second track from the classic Flirtin’ with Disaster, One Man’s Pleasure came next and then it was the turn of longstanding keyboard player John Galvin to demonstrate his quality during a quite stunning Edge of Sundown and Fall of the Peacemakers before Devil’s Canyon and then a quick drum solo from Beamer. Beamer’s solo was impressive, even more so when you take into account that he suffered a heart attack less than two years ago.
This also allowed Hlubek in particular to have a rest. He is not in the best of health, years of substance abuse clearly having taken their toll and he required a stick to walk off stage. However, he is the only original member of the band, having returned at Ingram’s invitation in 2005, and is the co-songwriter of many of the Hatchet classics, none more so than Beatin’ the Odds which followed the drum solo. Son of the South allowed Ingram to show his quality with a guitar/vocal duel with McCormack before Jukin’ City and their staple cover of The Allman Brothers Dreams I’ll Never See  brought the main set to a close with smiles all round. This included me and I found myself beaming from ear to ear throughout the evening. A swift encore included a rousing cover of Honky Tonk Women before the inevitable Flirtin with Disaster brought the evening to a close. So, after a wait of 30+ years I finally ticked Molly Hatchet off my list. A superb band who can still cut it live and who ooze the quality of a genuine classic group. A great start to the year for me gigwise and a possible contender for my top five even at this early stage. 10/10

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Reviews: Grand Magus, Mayan, The Vintage Caravan

Grand Magus: Triumph And Power (Nuclear Blast)

J.B, Fox and Ludwig together they are the trad metal tour-de-force that is Grand Magus. Triumph And Power is their seventh album and their fourth since they moved away from their doom direction to play leather studded metal. So will this seventh album give you anything different? In a word; no but what it does do is prove once more that Grand Magus are one of the finest metal bands to come out of Sweden ever, Triumph and Will much stronger than The Hunt bringing the Heavy Metal pomp and circumstance that was on Iron Will with the marching, fist pumping On Hooves Of Gold starting things off in epic style before the heavy battle metal feel of Steel Versus Steel keeps the warrior style going. You will never get a love song from Grand Magus but who cares with songs about Vikings (Holmgang), war (the doomy Fight) and everything in between (so long as it can make Chuck Norris weep). This is an album that will make your beard grow without warning, with the title track being the bands rally to arms (and a future set closer, mark my words) Again Grand Magus are the heaviest three piece around with Fox and Ludwig's rhythm and percussion sounding like the drums on distant longboat and J.B's guitars cut like a broadsword and his voice calls to Valhalla. The album is well split with two instrumentals the acoustic Arb and the atmospheric Ymer which is an intro to the truly epic The Hammer Will Bite. yet again Grand Magus have done it again creating 11 tracks of metal so true it would beat Manowar in a lie detector test! All I can say is roll on Hammerfest as I can't wait to see these songs in the live arena and bask in The Triumph And Power!! 10/10

Mayan: Antagonise (Nuclear Blast)

Mayan (or MaYan) is the project of former After Forever keyboardist Jack Driessen, death metal guitarist Frank Schiphorst and former After Forever/Epica founder Mark Jansen, the first album Quarterpast was released in 2011 and mixed the AF members symphonic metal past with a death metal bite. The album was a collaborative effort featuring many guest vocalists and Sanders Gommans. This second album ups the ante again as it still has the operatic symphonic death metal approach of the debut and guest vocalists Floor Jansen (Ex AF, current ReVamp and Nightwish singer) and Marcela Bovio (Stream Of Passion) both contributing. However something’s have changed as now the band has more stable line up with the grunts and screams coming from Jansen, as well as Henning Basse (ex-Metallum) providing the clean vocals (also can I put Basse's name forward as the new Firewind singer) and Laura Macri being the major female soprano on the album. This three prong attack gives the band the sound of a more aggressive Amaranthe, mixed with the metal opera delivery of Avantasia and the brutality of bands like Deicide. The lyrical content too has become more poisonous as the band use this album to put across their ideas on the Edward Snowden issue and makes the link between the current National Security crisis in America and the visions of George Orwell. With all this going into the album the music needs to reflect the weighty nature of the lyrics and it does, the opening bonus track sets the scene by providing a movie-like orchestral intro to the album that explodes into furious death metal, the pace is kept high throughout with the amazing drumming of Arien Van Weesenbeck who destroys throughout the album blast beating like machine gun on every track and when mixed with the riffage, the keys and vocal trifecta it all comes together as a brutal but melodic assault that only really lets up on the acoustic/operatic Insano which is followed by perhaps the album's heaviest track Human Sacrifice. If you like your metal heavy, violent but full of melody and technical prowess then you won't get better than Antagonise. Stick it on, let it sink in and enjoy the brutality! 9/10       

The Vintage Caravan: Voyage (Nuclear Blast)

Hailing from Reykjavik The Vintage Caravan play fuzzy, hard rock that has been influenced by the band's parent’s record collection and perhaps some medicinal cigarettes. The band are a three piece that play garage rock that has is influenced by Cream, Hendrix and been brought back to life with bands like FreeFall, Wolfmother and Rival Sons. The album straddles many genres with Let Me Be being a propulsive rocker that explodes into a killer solo before returning with a nice bass intro for the final part, they have funk in the way of Expand Your Mind and even some bell bottom blues on Cocaine Sally. Oskar Logi Agustsson (the main writer) vocals are deep and resonant on the slower songs like the country-fied Do You Remember and his guitar playing is pretty good too cranking out the fuzzed-up riffs and electrified solos backed by the relentless one-two drumming of Gudjon Reynisson and the power line bass of Alexander Orn Numason. This long haired, hip shaking, mushroom taking psych rock from a band that are too young to write trippy psychedelia songs called Winterland which sounds like the Cream of Clapton, (sorry) and they really notch up the prog mysticism on The King's Voyage which is over 11 minutes plus and goes all Hawkwind in the middle ending the album with massive magical mystery tour before the finale of Psychedelic Mushroom Man which HAS to be a lost Zappa track. A very strong mind altering album from these Iceland natives and one that will see them turn into a band to watch. 8/10   

Monday, 3 February 2014

World Of Metal 4: Frozen Hell, Morguenstern, Jesus Christ

Frozen Hell: Rise! (Self-Released)

Thrashers Frozen Hell come from Italy and when the percussive intro subsides they explode super speed thrash metal with some great dual guitar riffage, shouted vocals and lashings of heaviness. This is the band's first EP and they have a great showing on theses 6 songs mixing thrash with death and sounding like a less power metal version of Amon Amarth and even some COB in there for good measure. Songs like the battering ram of Face Me, the swaggering Rise! is another strong track from this E.P and has some great soloing. As with a lot of bands in their early stages the production is quite raw on the record and the bass is a bit high in the mix and the drums a bit flat but in some places this adds a bit of authenticity to the mix showing that not all bands have to be highly polished to be accomplished. A nice debut from the Italian's. 7/10

Morguenstern: Sepulchral Burden (Self Released)

Morguenstern are industrial/gothic/horror metal band that have obviously listened to too much Lacuna Coil, Rammstein and even some Horrorpops. The band have gothic keys and synths from vocalist Morganna, who has the big crooning gothic vocals that work well with the heavy metal backing from the band. Despite being horror metal I can't really see it as the Russian band have more in common with bands like Nightwish than they do say The Misfits especially on tracks like Sonata but then on Posledni Put they have lots of industrial beeps that make them have a sound industrial and also Gothic. The press for the band say that they sing about vampires, werewolf’s and the like but because the album is in Russian I wouldn't know but they do create atmosphere with the songs and for those that speak the lingo they are a good band with lots of Lacuna Coil parts from because of the dual vocals of Morganna and Guitarist Morok. Like I said there is nothing wrong with the album the music is good but without the lyrical images the band lose something. 6/10

Jesus Christ: We Will Fight (Self Released)

Thrash: fast guitars, speeding drums, and usually songs about death, destruction and violence. Invariably the music incites circle pits and causes grown men to act like teenagers again. The controversially named (possibly mostly in their own native Russia) Jesus Christ play thrash, although with a name like that you could be forgiven if you thought it was Christian metal but no this is fast, loud thrash metal that sounds a lot like Anthrax with the shouted gang vocals and the singers enthusiasm being greater than his actual ability, however this never matters in thrash as it's all about the attitude and JC have buckets of it with the The Deadmen Attack and Eternal War both having that Scott Ian style metal stomp with bags of soloing. The production is nice and raw like the thrash bands of old; the riffs of Max Shcheglov and Sergei Morozov are nice and meaty the bass and drums are both clearly audible and powerful driving the pit inducing madness and the vocals of Andrei Mironov screech over the metal madness like Joey Belladonna or Overkill's Bobby Blitz. For a first try this is a great album that harks back to the bullet belt wearing days of yore, these Russians are taking thrash back to basics. 8/10
  

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Another Point Of View: Less Than Jake (Review by Neil Lewis)

Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, Zebrahead + Ryland Steen, Cardiff University Great Hall

The three bands on this bill are close friends off stage and tour together in various configurations regularly in the states. As far as I'm aware though this is the first time that all three bands have toured the UK together. This sold out 1,500 capacity venue is a large upgrade from the last time any of the bands played in Cardiff, which pretty much solidified this date as being more anticipated than those previous dates long before the show rolled around; the touts outside were offering tickets for over three times their face value on the night.

The first thing that greeted early arrivers to the venue was the sight of Reel Big Fish's drummer Ryland Steen performing a short intimate acoustic set. This was an unadvertised appearance which I mostly missed so I won't give a review except to say it was a nice surprise.

Zebrahead

Despite being mostly in their mid to late 30's or older Orange County's Zebrahead are still writing songs about partying, drinking and girls - not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that. Their pop-punk/rap hybrid is pretty unique and the songs are played with such enthusiasm and vigour that you can't help but enjoy the show. Rapper Ali Tabatabaee bouncing around the stage whilst spitting out his rhymes with machine gun accuracy. The usual “Zeebrahead” versus “Zebrahead” pronunciation of their name cropped up again (which I guess was the reason for the “this is an American bus, speak American only on this bus!” sign in the front of their tour bus), whilst the band rattled through some of the crowds favourite songs (Rescue Me, Postcards From Hell, Anthem) also dropping in some of my personal favourites from last years tenth album Call Your Friends (I'm Just Here For The Free Beer, and the title track most notably). They may come across as frat boys who refuse to grow up but Zebrahead still put on a fun show that is - as always - totally infectious. And there was some mightily impressive facial hair being sported by guitarist Dan Palmer and drummer Ed Udhus (8/10).

Reel Big Fish 

By the time fellow Californians Reel Big Fish take the stage the venue had filled to capacity. I am not joking when I say it was seriously heaving in there. And by the sounds of things the atmosphere from the afternoons Six Nations rugby match was transferred straight into the Great Hall. This crowd had come to sing along, and sing they did. I've seen Reel Big Fish live upwards of half a dozen times over the past few years and their annual early year tours (which have featured a Cardiff date since 2011) appear to be getting the band some momentum, at least in the live arena. The setlist was familiar to all in attendance and featured some of the bands very best tunes (Trendy, I Want Your Girlfriend To Be My Girlfriend, Thank You For Not Moshing plus a ska-ed up Imperial March intro'd Where Have You Been) along with their usual between song banter - the pick of which was frontman Aaron Barrett's “these are the four worst words a band can say to their audience: here's a new song”. Their set closed with an excellently chosen quadruple-hit of She Has A Girlfriend Now, Sell Out, Beer and their superb ska interpretation of A-Ha's Take On Me. The sound of practically the whole venue singing and dah-dah-dahdahdah-ing (yes, really!) along with all three tracks (including a mid-song segue of Beer into The Offspring's Self Esteem and back, because as Aaron put it “it's the same song!”) was absolutely electrifying, as well as pretty deafening. The performance of the band as usual was technically excellent and damned entertaining but that atmosphere was something else. Well played Cardiff, well played (10/10).

Less Than Jake 

Arriving on stage to no fanfare and no intro were Florida's Less Than Jake, who had a pretty hard act to follow. Sadly they simply couldn't follow the previous act as the audience appeared to be a little drained as well as thinned out for their set. Again a sort of greatest hits setlist ensued featuring the bands excellent song titles (Sugar In Your Gas Tank, Help Save The Youth Of America From Exploding, Last One Out Of Liberty City, The Science Of Selling Yourself Short et al) along with a light sprinkling of the best tracks from last year's rather excellent See The Light album, most notably set opener Good Enough and My Money Is On The Long Shot. A snatch of the RBF atmosphere briefly returned for the audience participation number Look What Happened but frankly the crowd appeared drained by this point and the enthusiastic reaction to the start of the songs had petered out a bit by the middle of most of them. It was something of a shame as the band were certainly putting on a great show but the electricity in the audience was fizzling out. Oddly the band chose to end their regular set with what I would say is their most recognisable song (All My Best Friends Are Metalheads) and the encore threesome of Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts, Plastic Cup Politics and Gainesville Rock City were rather odd choices in this writers opinion. Always leave them wanting more, so the saying goes, and there was certainly one band on this bill that did just that. Sadly, and as good as they were, that band on this night were not Less Than Jake (8/10).