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Friday, 20 April 2018

Reviews: Boss Keloid, Reigning Days, Temples On Mars, Sixcircles

Boss Keloid: Melted On The Inch (Holy Roar Records)

Holy Roar have really established themselves as purveyors of high quality interesting new music, recently we’ve had Conjurer and Mol but now they’ve really out done themselves by getting the release for the third record from Wigan progressive, space stoners Boss Keloid. Having started out a sludge act this third record takes leaps into the great blue yonder with one of the best records I’ve heard this year, firstly it’s a grower only opening up into something truly spectacular after repeated plays, it doesn’t hang around either at six elongated tracks the album gets into its groove quickly and takes you on a weed powered journey into the unknown.

There is of course a strong doom/stoner sound to the album but it’s what they do with it that makes this record truly masterful, each track is expressive with a dynamic range of sounds delighting the ears as the stop-start Chronosiam bleeds into the jazzy but with smashing riffs Tarku Shavel each pairing Mastodonesque shouted vocals with Hawkwind space psych. The five piece benefits from the two guitars that can bring syncopated leads over the top of crushing stoner doom riffs while the keys twist and escalate the whole songs onto another plain. Melted On The Inch sounds so fresh that at times you’d think they were inventing a new genre. Peykruve starts with some tribal sounds and jazz-inflected percussion, the psych styled Jromalih is a trippy middle section that ramps up into a failing final part, Lokannok has a killer electronic keyboard coda and a real darkness to it as it builds into yet more heavy but oh so melodic mastery.

I mentioned Mastodon earlier and they are always seen as being at the forefront of the progressive/stoner/doom/sludge movement turning Neurosis influences into golden age progressive rock workouts but Boss Keloid do it with a rare elegance and the careless abandon of Clutch. In a world where so many bands try to play safe they’ve thrown out the book changing the rules as they contort the ‘rules’ of structuring and genre’s by just doing what feels right for the song. With the crushing grooves on final track Griffonbrass you have been privy to band who have matured into a diverse musical force. Melted On The Inch is in my Top 10 already and it’s only April folks! 9/10

Reigning Days: Eclipse (Marshall Records)

Paul saw Reigning Days in Fuel late last year with King Creature and while he wasn't won over there is quite a bit here to enjoy. It's not what we normally review here as Devonshire trio Reigning Days have the arena rock of Biffy Clyro (Gravity), the electo-prog of Muse (Chemical) and even the staccato The Arctic Monkeys (Friendly Fires) meaning it's music more at home in the pages of Kerrang or on the airways of Radio 1, there's nothing wrong with that but for many who prefer the more indie style of rocking then Dan Steer, Joe Sansome and Jonny Finnis will have you in their pocket for all 14 tracks of this album. For me much like my colleague the music here is a little too lightweight and too long with not a huge amount of differentiation over 14 songs. I'm not saying that it isn't good it's just not my thing really. 6/10

Temples On Mars: Temples On Mars (Primordial Records)

As the bristling guitars of this album weave in during intro Bon Voyage you can hear the discord start to build as Gods & Kings starts the album proper, the djent riffs cut swathes through the melodic layers on this debut album from London based progressive rockers Temples On Mars. It's music that's made for this modern age of progressive music fusing the alternative edge with intelligent complex musical soundscapes. The album has several songs that hook you in before the groove heavy riffs get your head nodding with appreciation, So In Love With Your Own Drug is an ideal example of this as it's got a solid foundation of thumping bass driven riffs with a hooky chorus, while How Far Will You Go builds into the the euphoric final third and Black Mirror is a triumph of melody and technicality. Temples On Mars is a complicated but easy to digest album with some thick Tool passages, the alt rhythms of A Perfect Circle and the mass appeal of 30 Seconds To Mars. With an influx of excellent progressive rock coming from these shores Temples On Mars will be another name to look out for on the basis of this strong debut. 8/10      

Sixcircles: New Belief (Phonosphera Records)

From Palermo Sixcircles play dark, sexy psychedelic rock, they are a two piece with both members sharing vocals but only one handling the instrumentation. Making up the band are Sara B and Giorgio T and their voices sync throughout with a hypnotic underbelly swirling underneath, it's got desert rock moroseness of Mark Lanegan with the sauntering surf rock of Time Of Erosion, the jangly acerbic venom of Velvet Underground (Come, Reap), heavy disorientating fuzz with The Prison and a psychedelic soul of the Brian Jonestown Massacre (albeit without the fractious working relationship hopefully). At nine songs it's an ideal album for anyone with a sinful psyche and a passion for the more disturbing side of music, hold onto your belief as this new one seems a bit immoral. 7/10  

Thursday, 19 April 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Trivium

Trivium, Code Orange, Power Trip & Venom Prison, O2 Academy Bristol

Floridian metal band Trivium are one of the first ‘new’ bands I got into when I was first getting into heavy music. Having been brought up with classic rock and prog, Trivium were a perfect mix of Maiden melodies, Metallica thrash while also serving as my gateway into the more extreme genres such as death and black metal. Since then I have followed the bands progress with great interest and while on record they do tend to be a little inconsistent on record, although this maybe due to the amount of attention garnered by second album Ascendancy, live they have always delivered the goods, except for that one Bloodstock headline shot.

So with the nostalgia of Andrew W.K still at the forefront of my mind it was time to head to Bristol’s premier venue for their most high profile tour yet. Promoted by Metal Hammer and subject to a lot of press, this tour could have been seen as a passing of the torch as it featured three support bands that are all being touted as the next big things in metal much like the headliners were at the beginning of the 2000’s.

The O2 Academys ridiculous policy of opening the doors at 6pm meant there was little time to dilly dally and it was straight into the venue and upstairs (thankfully open) for the first band. I was hugely excited to see Welsh death metal crew Venom Prison (8) take the still filling room by the scruffs and set about destroying everything in their path. A maelstrom of blistering riffs from Ash Gray and Ben Thomas, a vicious rhythm section consisting of Mike Jefferies and Jay Pipprell came together from Hell’s undercarriage. Venom Prison were determined to make a name for themselves on this larger stage and my god did they, taking tracks from their debut album Animus the entire band were a flurry of unadulterated rage with Larissa conducting the mayhem and spitting bile with every line she barked down the mic.

What stood out though was the clarity of the mix meaning you could hear every note that was being played opening your eyes to the complexity of these songs rather than thinking it was just pure fury. 30 minutes flew past and the pits were already kicking off in the middle of the room incited by the hostility that was coming to the stage. With the room only half full as they started playing I thought that Venom Prison got a bit of a raw deal as it was only towards the end of their set that they started cooking on gas and the crowd responded in kind. Acts like VP thrive on this symbiosis between band and audience so in a slightly smaller venue they are unstoppable but here they gave a great account of themselves despite a mostly unmoved crowd.

With probably the rawest and heaviest band of the night opening proceedings Power Trip (9) had to do things a little differently and they burst onto the stage with scything crossover thrash riffs and loads of stomping grooves. The Texas band was on fire their most notable song Executioner’s Tax (Swing Of The Axe) coming early in the set, it was a bold confident move that paid off as the slightly unruly pits started to kick off again buoyed by encouragement from Power Trip, their music needs to be head banged to and the now packed O2 acquiesced this request with vigour. With the majority of the group statically plugging away frantically at their instruments your eyes were drawn to the wild hardcore slam dancing of the frontman who when he wasn’t slugging Bourbon, bouncing around like a nuclear powered Energizer bunny and fly kicking thin air he was barking down the mic usually while on the floor. Elements of Anthrax, Suicidal Tendencies and Slayer were all firmly fixed in place for 30 minutes of an unrivalled thrash metal assault. If Venom Prison were here to make an impact through the medium of head trauma, then Power Trip were trying to take the rest of the body out too. Now if we could see this in a field in Derby sometime in August that would be great?

With the room now full to the gunnels it was time for the exclusive UK support act Code Orange (6) a band I’m really nonplussed by. Hardcore is not a genre I find appealing and when they supported Gojira they were bloody dreadful in my opinion, with the frequent stops killing their momentum. This time they faired a little better, seeming to be a slicker unit using their reckless, untempered performance style to great effect as bassist Joe Goldman prowls the stage and the dual vocals added to the overall effect of a danger the band rely on in their music. The problem I have is that their songs all seem to drift into one and they did kill any momentum with quite slow track to finish, the audience went nuts however so maybe it was me or perhaps fatigue was starting to set in by now as it did start to feel as if I’d been locked in a cage with Brock Lesnar.

Still a nice 30 minute change over allowed time to prepare for a for what was about to come, with Maiden’s Run To The Hills exploding out of the PA Trivium (9) confidently took to the stage with new drummer Alex Bent behind the colossal kit and hit the ground galloping with the title track of their last album The Sin And The Sentence a tour de-force of a song and the closest thing to their breakthrough as they’ve gotten without sacrificing their more technical approach, next came Throes Of Perdition from Shogun which increased the complexity again prowling the stage frontman Matt Heafy was in fine vocal form leaving Corey Beaulieu to handle the harsh vocals as both of them linked to create an awesome guitar pairing as Paulo Gregoletto bass work could be picked out as some of the finest around.

Much of the set was drawn from The Sin And The Sentence but they played at least one song from every album, with Vengeance Falls the only exception, this was due to the addition of Light To Flies and Drowned And Torn Asunder were two extra tracks from their UK breakthrough record Ascendancy near the end of the set, they replaced Strife meaning nothing from VF was showcased. Before then this though Ascendancy (the song) gave the first sing along of the night as Sever The Hand and Inception Of The End got yet more pits sort of moving. (I could rant about pit etiquette but I won’t).

Like I said I’ve seen Trivium many times but here they seemed like real arena headliners, the performance was slick, the light show was mesmerising and the set list had enough peaks and troughs to keep your head banging away and your fist pumping, with the between song speeches kept to a minimum rather than becoming overbearing, there were a few thanks and a little side note about the UK being ‘home’ for the band, then it was back to guitar shredding and proper metal. Becoming The Dragon sat nicely as mid set melodic track with Beaulieu and Heafy duelling in the solo section. Trivium were on imperious form here and when the encore of Shattering The Skies Above, Pull Harder...and In Waves has concluded the entire crowd was hanging on every last note. A pretty good way to spend a Monday evening, ushering in the reign of the latest wave of world beating heavy metal bands.

A View From The Back Of The Room: Andrew W.K

Andrew W.K, Y Plas, Cardiff

Supposed to be taking place in the Great Hall in November 2017 the return of Andrew W.K (8) to Cardiff actually took place in April 2018 to smaller but more intense audience. The tour was moved to coincide with the Prince Of Positive Partyings most recent album You’re Not Alone a record that sees him returning to the high energy rock of his early discography. Having arrived late to the show I missed the opening band’s set but as the room was nicely filled with not a lot of space for those in their to move, as the band took to the stage the volume increased and the audience surged to the front.

What followed was one of the most exciting live sets and audience reactions to a gig I’ve seen a long time, The Power Of Partying intro neatly slipped into the anthemic Music Is Worth Living For which got fists in the air and voices trying to hit those high falsetto’s, it was a masterful start building drama with a huge arena filling track that led into another newbie Ever Again which is a defiantly kooky number. Andrew was in full flight mastering both the classical pianist and frontman roles brilliantly, tucking his mic into his waistband when he was attacking the keys like a rabid Liberace (although the trademark white T-Shirt and Jeans combo would be frowned upon surely), then when he was singing the arms were failing like man Kung Fu fighting with invisible Ninja.

Ready To Die, She Is Beautiful and Tear It Up is where things got tasty and the whole floor descended into chaos with pits, crowd surfers and madness coming from the first 7 rows, if you didn’t want to move you had no choice it was stick to the back wall or get your body grooving. The band were ship shape crunching through Party Till You Puke, Never Let Down and the turbo-charged We Want Fun, the triple guitar attack coming from Amanda Lepre, Erik Payne and Dave Pino (shredding leads), keys from Erica Pino and a power party of a rhythm section of Gregg Roberts’ bass with Clark Danger’s drums (who played W.K covers on YouTube and is now in the band), Andrew’s wife Cherie wasn’t part of this line up so handling her vocals were Amanda and Erica with the Erik giving us the big thrash howls only an man in an Obituary shirt could muster.

As the set progressed the throng got more mental by the second and soon there were bodies everywhere as the main show was rounded out by I Get Wet and You’re Not Alone. 14 songs in and not a hint of slowing down, the pace was breathless with everyone involved needing the encore gap to recover. What had been noticeable that was despite the volume there was a real clarity to the mix, to write of Andrew and co as ‘just a party band’ is to give discredit them, they are all musicians that excel in their field, Andrew also took time to extol the virtues of his party philosophy Violent Life the instrumental that began the encore was enough to prove this point as the band themselves have enough charisma to carry a show without their frontman namesake.

It’s Time To Party came next building up the crowd into near frenzy, however it was followed by the slower Pushing Drugs which I will admit killed a bit of the momentum, that said the final track was ‘THE’ Andrew W.K song so it was enough to whip up the masses again, had it been anything else there might have been a damp squib of an ending but when a song has been played on every music channel and metal club night since it’s release, the final euphoric statement of Party Hard kicked the entire evening into overdrive prompting numerous crowded surfers most of whom aided by our man Stief. I’ve been waiting since I was 13 to see Andrew W.K live and it was everything I wanted it to be and more. Come back soon Andrew the party is still raging in Cardiff.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Reviews: Louise Lemon, Glorior Belli, Inkvisitor, Betrayal Incorporated (Reviews By Rich)

Louise Lemón: Purge EP (Icons Creating Evil Art Records)

Now for something a bit out of my comfort zone as this is not a rock or metal album. This is the debut album by Sweden's Louise Lemón and I've just spent the duration of the album with the hairs on my arms standing on end. Louise Lemón has a very dark atmospheric sound which combines elements of folk, soul, pop, gothic and ambient almost sounding like an apocalyptic gospel. These songs are hugely immersive and the music takes you on a journey along with it.

Dripping with darkness, melancholy and beauty I found it impossible not to fall head first into songs such as Appalacherna and Let Me In. The vocals by Louise herself are captivating and soulful reaching a peak on the stunning Shipwreck. Louise Lemón has fully impressed me with her debut album and opened my eyes to a style of music I normally wouldn't check out. If you are a fan of Chelsea Wolfe or Myrkur then this is a must hear album. 8/10

Glorior Belli: The Apostates (Season Of Mist)

Glorior Belli are a name I've seen mentioned but haven't up until now checked out any of their material. Hailing from France, Glorior Belli are on album number seven with their latest release The Apostates. Glorior Belli play an interesting combination of black metal mixed with southern sludge metal. It's a very refreshing change from the tried and tested black metal formula and definitely got my attention. You still have the characteristics of black metal such as tremolo riffs, harsh vocals and blast beats but they are underlayed by a groove and some bluesy riffage.

It may sound polarising but it's a combination that works. As the album progresses the sludge elements are more brought to the foreground but unfortunately that does mean that the album does get less interesting as it goes on. The strongest songs are definitely in the first half of the album such as the killer title track and Deserters Of Eden. The last half does have its moments such as Runaway Charley which is a ridiculously catchy number. This is a cool album which shows that black metal still has a few tricks up its sleeve but the lack of consistency throughout the album prevents this from getting a higher score. 7/10

Inkvisitor: Dark Arts Of Sanguine Rituals (Ain’t No Hääv Records)

Inkvisitor are a thrash metal band from Finland and this is their second album Dark Arts Of Sanguine Rituals which is the first new material with the bands new line up. Dark Arts Of Sanguine Rituals is a concept album which is a rarity in thrash metal though the songs can be listened individually. Unfortunately I found Dark Arts Of Sanguine Rituals a bit of a flat album. I'm a huge thrash metal fan and know what makes a good thrash album which is plenty of speed and aggression but also with that sense of fun.

 This album rarely picks up the pace and most songs fall into a mid paced lull with uninteresting riffs and forgettable songwriting. There are one or two songs where the album did perk up which is Paradigm Shift and The Revenant (Redeemer) but on the whole I was bored throughout this album. These guys obviously know their thrash as the good moments were very good but it seems to me that they concentrated too much on the album concept rather than the individual songwriting and as a result we got a rather dull album. 5/10

Betrayal Incorporated: Everything Is Backwards (Self Released)

Everything Is Backwards is album number three from British metal band Betrayal Incorporated. Betrayal Incorporated are not a band I am familiar with and based from this album unfortunately not a band I shall be revisiting as Everything Is Backwards generally is a mess. The band seemed like they could not decide on a style to play so they try and incorporate as many different styles into one album and sometimes one song which leads to a wildly inconsistent listening experience. You have elements of traditional heavy metal and hard rock, blues rock, groove metal, stoner metal and thrash metal all combined together which is just a bit too much and it doesn't help that the songs generally are forgettable.

There is more than one instrumental song on the album which is a bit self indulgent but at least it gives you a break from the truly dreadful vocals of frontman Carlo Caci who butchers nearly every song he sings on sounding horrifically off key at many points. The one song where his vocals don't grate as much and probably the best song on the album is Metal Up Your Ass where the band adopt a thrashier style and Carlo gives a more aggressive and improved vocal performance. The guys in Betrayal Incorporated can certainly play their instruments but they need to refine their songwriting and try not to throw so much into an album. They should definitely consider getting a frontman who can sing as well. 4/10

Reviews: Temperance, Whyzdom, Messa, Shadygrove (Reviews By Stief)

Temperance: Of Jupiter And Moons (Scarlet Records)

Having followed Temperance from their self titled debut, it's great to see them release yet another album, and what an album! This album introduces two new singers in Michele Guaitoli and Alessia Scolletti, who takes the place of Chiara Tricarico. While it's sad to see Chiara go, it's evident from the outset that Alessia and Michele are great choices, both of them working off each other perfectly, allowing Marco Pastorino to focus on guitarwork, which seems tighter, while also providing backing vocals. Speaking of tight, everything seems tightened from previous albums from the band, with production being top notch as well as the band's overall sound.

As mentioned previously, Scolleti's vocals soar with Guaitoli's, both of whom seem to fit into Temperance's Symphonic/Synth-pop (Synthonic?) fusion. Every song is laced with orchestral blasts, and not a single one seems out of place. The album's closing track Daruma's Eyes (Part 1) is the essence of Temperance's music; strings over fast paced drumming, synths paired with awesome guitar work with soaring almost-operatic vocals weaving throughout the music, all of which leave you wanting more. Here's to part 2! Back in 2014, I said this is a band to look out for, and I meant it. 3 releases later, their sound is still great and if you haven't listened to them, now is the time! 9/10

Whyzdom: As Time Turns To Dust [Scarlet Records]

Symphonic metal from across the channel, Whyzdom's latest album is a bombastic collection of choirs, strings, heavy drumming and lofty vocals with an almost eastern feel in places, bringing to mind bands such as Orphaned Land. While it's a great sound, there are points where the main guitars and bass are drowned out by the oft-over saturation of brass and strings. While it gives a certain epic feel to each song, it's sometimes a bit overwhelming. Despite that, Marie Mac Leod's vocals work excellently within the music, but again, feel like they're pushing out of their confines; This isn't to say her operatic vocals are bad at all, but they sometimes feel slightly jarring, especially when moving from one style to the other. It's a great album for fans of Symphonic metal, with echoes of old-school Nightwish and Rhapsody, but as mentioned before, sometimes overwhelming in places. 7/10

Messa: Feast For The Water [Aural Music]

Beautifully ambient music from Italy here with dashings of doom throughout. Right from the start, the aquatic theme of the album is evident, with the sounds of bubbles over an eerie backing track, building up to pure static before dropping you in the calming waves of Snakeskin Drape, with lead singer Sara's ethereal voice floating on the soft guitar of Alberto and Mark Sade, before Mistyr's drums smash the calm, the song breaking into some great doom metal, where Sara's voice becomes even more ghostlike. The pattern persists throughout the album, with the music flowing (Pun intended) between calm and rough, mirroring the overall theme of the album; waves of music you can easily float on before you're hit with a crashing of bass and percussion. Overall, a great listen if you like your doom with something a little different. 8/10

Shadygrove: In The Heart Of Scarlet Wood [Rockshots Records]

Featuring Fabien 'Lethien' Polo of Elvenking fame, you know exactly what to expect from this band from Italy. It's great folk metal with all the trimmings; piano, violin, flute, this album has it all. Lisy' Stefanoni's Vocals, as well as her flute skills work perfectly within the genre, with Lethien's violin adding another layer, especially when paired with Simone Morettin's percussion, using a mix of drums and other ethnic percussion instruments.

Shadygrove sit well within the folk part of folk-metal, with the pace of some songs being a bit slower, easy to listen to, while others such as The port of Lisbon pick up the pace, and would not feel out of place in a fantasy game. However, while it's a good album, there isn't too much in the way of diversity between songs, each one tending to blend with the others. Despite that, In The Heart Of Scarlet Wood is definitely worth a look if you're a fan of folk music. 7/10

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Reviews: Spiders, Kalmah, Hamerex Jari Tiura (Reviews By Paul)

Spiders: Killer Machine (Spinefarm Records)

Down and dirty rock n’ roll from Gothenburg is the name of the game with Spiders’ third album, the fabulous Killer Machine. Full of fuzzy stomping riffs, fast paced tempo, neat guitar and the stunning vocals of Anne Sofie Hoyles. It’s inevitable that comparisons with fellow rockers Blues Pills will be made, with Hoyles voice reminiscent of Elin Larsson. Spiders are much more straight forward and less psychedelic although it’s fair to make a comparison with similar influences. Spiders sound sits slap bang in the 1970s. One glance at the album cover and band photo and you’ll see that the association is reasonable. Although it’s pure rock n’ roll, there is a myriad of styles such as Like A Wild Child with its pure pop chorus and almost disco swagger, the darker title track, the biker rock of Swan Song and to prove me wrong, a psychedelia breakdown on So Easy. The Blues melting Don’t Need You shows a mellower side to the band including John Hoyles delicious guitar work. This is a real grower of an album which improves on every play. A wonderful release. 8/10

Kalmah: Palo (Spinefarm Records)

Finnish Melodic death metal outfit Kalmah’s eighth album is three quarters of an hour of Amon Amarth and Children of Bodom wrapped up neatly into a visceral package that illustrates why the band sit alongside Bodom and Wintersun in terms of status within the metal scene in their homeland. The guitar work is intense throughout; World Of Rage echoes Wintersun in terms of speed, style and delivery. Opener Blood Ran Cold is full on Amon with Pekka Kokko’s Hegg-like vocals. There is plenty of melody throughout although the style changes from Viking to thrash to melodic death as it progresses.

Antti Kokko’s lacerating shredding is complimented by a sweet undertone of keyboards whilst the rampaging drumming of Janne Kusmin maintains the pace. This is superbly evidenced on Take Me Away, the interplay of guitar and keys integral to the song. Whilst the pounding and roaring is all well and good, there is a slight bit of repetition towards the tail of the album, and in the same way that I sometimes find Wintersun overpowering, there are times when the sheer intricacy overwhelms you. Having said that, Through Shallow Waters is a stunning track, combining about five different styles in just over four minutes. I can’t argue with the technical quality and at times the desire to bang that head is irresistible. 7/10

Hamerex: The Abyss EP (IX Music)

The first in an EP trilogy, The Abyss features two brand new songs by traditional heavy metal band Hamerex alongside new recordings of two older tracks. Hamerex have been around for over 10 years and have experienced several line-up changes but have also released several albums and EPs during this time. Recorded at Laurel House Studios in Wakefield, the songs sit comfortably side by side and having not been familiar with their catalogue, it’s fair to say that its impossible to differentiate which tracks are new.

The music is solid, heavy and singer Steve Blower can certainly hold a tune. The one down side is Crucifixion which features the inferior vocals of bassist Marc Hood, which lets a fine song down slightly. With some tasty riffs, Hamerex avoid the dull plod that so many of the current wave of NWOBHM influenced outfits churn out, with reworked The Dark Tower, a frantic thrashing beast which one would imagine is a beast in the live arena. With elements of Maiden, Priest but also the heavier side of things through Metallica and even Slayer, The Abyss should appeal to all metal fans. 7/10
Jari Tiura: King Of Lions (AOR Heaven)

In case you didn’t know, and I admit I was amongst them, Jari Tiura was the singer for the Michael Schenker Group between 2004 – 2007 when the band released Tales Of Rock N Roll and toured Europe, the States and of course, Japan. Prior to that the Finn had been vocalist for power metal outfit Snakegod and currently sings for both Stargazery and Century LostKing Of Lions is his debut solo release, and has an AOR stamp throughout. To be honest, the songs are a little bland and unimaginative at times, with tracks such as London and Human steady rather than exciting.

Musically there is little to criticise; it has huge swathes of synths, sufficient riffs and hooks which ensure that you can remember the tracks, and it is all perfectly played thanks to Yrjö Ella on lead guitars, Jaan Wessman on bass and drums and the keyboards of Jussi Kulomaa, Jani Kemppinen and Mikko Kangasjärvi. Unfortunately, there is little to really fire the imagination. Tiura’s voice doesn’t work on all the tracks, and falls short in some, such as the ponderous ballad Lion of Judah which is one of the weakest songs I’ve heard in a long time. This was a struggle to get through, and I’m afraid it does little to hold the interest. 5/10

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Reviews: Kamelot, Mustasch, Dewolff, QFT

Kamelot: The Shadow Theory (Napalm Records)

Symphonic metal mainstays Kamelot return with their latest opus which is their third album with Tommy Karevik and it continues in the same style of previous Kamelot records by expertly fusing classical orchestrations with crunchy power metal where the main factors at play the virtuosity of Thomas Youngblood (guitar) and Oliver Palotai (keys) as Sean Tibbetts (bass) and Johan Nunez (drums) provide blistering rhythms that can rampage with blastbeats or subtly add a groove to anthem. Add to this the extensive use of symphonic elements and choirs and you get a sound that Kamelot have pioneered for well over 20 years and one that still sees them producing excellent thought provoking music.

As with so many of their albums there is a conceptual nature to The Shadow Theory here they have forged ahead with the ever darker sounds they have been using since Karevik’s arrival and this record particularly is “A dystopian glimpse at the complexity of the human mind and its place in an oppressive society” so there are parallels to the modern day as Kamelot explore the darker side of human psychology splitting the record into three pillars of psychological theory “The Shadow Empire (The global mind), The Shadow Key (The Resistance) and The Shadow Wall (The veil that blinds us from the truth)”.

If you don’t like a conceptual album then don’t worry as these songs are independent on their own merit, in the middle of the album there are four tracks specifically that really have your ears pricking up, The Twilight Hours is a stirring ballad which has Karevik soulfully pairing his velvet vocals with Jennifer Haben of Beyond The Black, it’s followed by the heavier Kevlar Skin that closes out with a guitar/keyboard solo duel, Static is a mid-pace emotive track with pop flourishes and theatricality, rounding out the foursome is Mind Fall Remedy which has the harsh vocals of Once Human’s Lauren Hart opposing Karevik’s dulcet tones. The Shadow Theory is yet another set of wickedly deep and dark power metal from these mainstays of the genre. 8/10

Mustasch: Silent Killer (Headbangr)

I didn't have a lot of positive comments for Swedish band Mustasch's previous album, I thought it was a little too light, there were too many middle of the rock songs rather than the aggressive macho metal that came on proceeding albums. Well clearly I wasn't the only one that wanted the band to return to their earlier sounds as their ninth album Silent Killer will be a relief to anyone who like me loves Mustasch's earlier releases. Its head kicking from the first second as Winners, Liberta and (fucking) Barrage all hit your ears like artillery fire as Ralf Gyllenhammar riffs away like a true guitar toting madman and his raw vocals are almost required by law when a band play this heavily. With elements of Metallica (1991-1998), the driving hard rock of Audrey Horne. There's a special guest turn from Hank Von Helvete (ex-Turbonegro) on the funky Fire, a big groove on Grave Digger and bang it's all over in 30-odd minutes.

However like Millenium Falcon at warp speed, there's not rest throughout these 10 tracks, they are all driven by riffs to bang your head too recalling albums such as Latest Version Of The Truth with just pure metal riffs built on hard rock grooves. The production plays a pivotal role in this records appeal, it's clinical but inviting approach making the bass sound like a Bofors Cannon, the drums like an earthquake and the the guitars chug away like a The Flying Scotsman. It really brought a smile to my face to hear that the Mustasch of old had returned with all the bluster they could muster. Silent Killer is definitely not silent but it is all killer, a glorious slice of heavy metal fury. Welcome back Mustasch! 9/10

DeWolff: Thrust (Mascot Records)

Dutch act DeWolff have released 5 studio albums, have played Paradiso in Amsterdam, PinkPop Festival in front of 30,000 at Lowlands Festival, 15,000 at Sziget, as well as Reeperbahn, Rockpalast, Rock Oz Arena and they have supported The Black Keys, Blues Pills, Ten Years After and Deep Purple. They took their slightly odd name from the character Winston Wolfe in Pulp Fiction and they are formed by Pablo (singer/guitarist), his brother Luka van de Poel (drums) and Robin Piso behind the Hammond organ. They are only in their mid-twenties but their music is decidedly classic sounding it’s the swirling neo-psychedelic soundscapes of Woodstock using analogue instruments to create effortless rock tracks that have a Southern edge and a Hippie heart.

There's an overriding feel of The Black Keys jamming with Jon Lord as both Sometimes and Deceit & Woo has that garage street blues undercut with organ, elsewhere though there are titanic Zep riffs (Big Talk & Tombstone Child), Doorsesque freak outs (California's Burning), Southern shuffles (Outta Step And Ill At Ease), blues laments (Once In A Blue Moon) and even a helping of flared Stax funk (Swain). It's a brilliantly realised album full of the styles that made some of the best rock music in history, a veritable greatest hits of classic rock.

The organic and analogue nature of this record allows the band to fully explore numerous sound palettes making each one their own. Thrust has retro rock riffs for a modern audience, in a world where Wolfmother and Rival Sons have taken this sort of music to new heights hopefully DeWolff will be seen as one of the acts able to challenge for their title, now I just need to do more investigating of their back catalogue. 9/10

Quantum Field Theory: Live In Space (Despotz Records)

Quantum field theory (QFT) is the theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of subatomic particles in particle physics and quasiparticles in condensed matter physics. This project however features Therion vocalist Linnéa Vikström backed by members of Dynazty and Loch Vostock. The idea behind this record was due to Vikström's fascination with quantum physics, space, blackholes, the Big Bang etc the songs are all concerned with these high concept theoretical physics questions along with the occasional diversion into extra-terrestrials on Aliens.

Sitting between hard rock, cinematic style of Therion or any of Arjen Lucassen's projects and with a bit of Black Sabbath sprinkled over the top with some evil riffs. It's build on the sheer majesty of Linnéa's awesome vocal range, however there are a few too many mid-paced and lower songs on the record but most of that is due to the emotional pipes of Vikström. Live In Space is a pretty good album, I think it's probably the sort of rock album Professor Brian Cox would approve of. 7/10

Reviews: Gozu, Axel Rudi Pell, The Ugly Kings, Odcult (Reviews By Paul)

Gozu: Equilibrium (Metal Blade Records / Blacklight Media Records)

Now in their 10th year, Gozu, from Boston, MA, have delivered a meaty slab of hard stoner metal which screams “repeated plays”. The band has roots firmly in 60s psychedelia and classic rock, the fuzzy stoner riffs of the 70s, the grit of 90s grunge as well as genuinely dirty rock n' roll. 2016's Revival took their sound in a more aggressive direction and Equilibrium has raised the stakes. "We wanted these songs to hit a nerve, make people shake their ass and enjoy simply being alive," says vocalist/guitarist Marc ‘Gaff’ Gaffney, who founded the band with lead guitarist Doug Sherman. It certainly does that, with huge riffs, big choruses and solos and ear worm melodies. The songs are catchy, full of life and spit, from the opening riff that signals the start of Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat until the final feedback of spiritually haunting closer Ballad Of ODB. Although many of the songs boast a profoundly uplifting feel, the lyrics are largely informed by grief experienced by Gaff, who lost his father in June 2017.

King Cobra, with its Alice In Chains Stayley/Cantrell feel and the smouldering tank of a track that is Manimal are particularly memorable. This is the second release to feature drummer Mike Hubbard and bassist Joseph Grotto and Gozu are clearly at a point where the tightness is evident. "I would have to say that the band is sounding the best it ever has right now," Gaffney states plainly. "It takes a bit of time to feel everything out. When you are serious about it, you have to work as a team, and we are four guys that dig the same kind of music and love to play, but we all bring in different elements that give us our sound.

It is not just one-person channeling, it's the four of us bringing in the ingredients and together making it a delicious meal”. They Probably Know Karate or Prison Elbows contain some ferociously heavy riffs whilst the existence of a song that could be described simultaneously as "Alan Holdsworth meets Fuze" and "Neurosis meets Jeff Buckley" is evident with the eleven-minute sprawl of Ballad Of ODB. Mesmerising at times, played with gusto and a quality sometimes lacking, Equilibrium is an impressive piece of work. 8/10

Axel Rudi Pell: Knights Call (SPV/Steamhammer)

Axel Rudi Pell is one of those musicians who everyone knows but who are unlikely to be able to name much of his music. Having been integral to the band Steeler in the 1980s, Pell has been delivering his hard rock for 30 years. “I’d rather have long-term success than the hit album everybody is always referring to” he states. Well, he’s certainly done that and with his 17th studio album, he’ll continue to fly under the radar as there isn’t much here that will blast him to the stratosphere. It’s more of the same, and as his press release stated, you know what to expect from him. With a trusted team including singer Johnny Gioeli and drummer Bobby Rondinelli Pell has delivered what I would class as a solid, traditional European heavy metal album which features some superb playing from Pell and the other musicians in the band.

The Deep Purple sounding instrumental Truth & Lies adds something a little different, whilst the ballad Beyond The Light is on a par with most rock ballads; the choir adding to the level of awfulness. Lyrically, a mix between medieval mysticism and fantasy folklore remains consistent with other albums. The final track, Tower Of Babylon, with its mix of Kashmir and Stargazer is possibly the best track on the album. Having found a formula that works, Axel Rudi Pell deserves plaudits for sticking with his vision. It’s rather tepid in places, but there is enough here to make it an enjoyable album. 6/10

The Ugly Kings: Darkness Is My Home (Kozmik Artifactz)

The Ugly Kings comprise Russel Clark (vocals), Christos Athanasias (guitar), Nicolas Dumont (bass) and Andy Alkemade (drums) and draw from an eclectic musical background. They have supported Airbourne on their successful sold out east coast Australia tour in January 2017 with Joel O’Keefe saying of the band; "Great show! The Ugly Kings have really got their own thing going on and it rocks! I love all the dynamics, pushing and pulling and then always smashing it out. Great intensity and power”.

The band also supported Rival Sons in 2016 in Melbourne and you can hear the influence of the Sons in opening track Promised Land. Darkness Is My Home offers a range of songs that drip with emotion; the driving riffs of Sabbath sit comfortably with the darkness of Nick Cave, whilst the driving elements of Royal Blood and The White Stripes can also be easily identified. Clark’s deep reaching and soulful emotive vocals suit the powerful blues which underpins this very listenable album, with several songs also containing more than a nod to The Doors. 7/10

Odcult: Into The Earth (Mighty Music)

More rampaging riff heavy energised tracks from Odcult, whose sound merges numerous styles to create some tasty hard rock. With an edge of the punk of Green Day (not their radio friendly stuff mind) and a throwback to the 1970s but with a fresh modern sound, Into The Earth is a very listenable and enjoyable release. Another power trio whose sound belies their number, Coffe Fransson (vocals, guitar) Dennis Åhman (drums) and bassist André Svensson have delivered a solid album that is well worth a listen. 7/10

Saturday, 14 April 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Kris Barras & Blackwater Conspiracy

Kris Barras & Blackwater Conspiracy, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

On the evening of Wrestlemania we were getting ready for a knockout night of another kind, in the darkness of Fuel Rock Club, cage fighter turned next big thing in blues rock Kris Barras was just about to take to the stage to packed house. However before this it’s worth backpedalling a little to the start of night, we’d arrived early as the gig was promoted by our good friends at Fate Entertainment so we managed to grab some pre show conversation (and Guinness) with both bands, where we discovered that Irish band Blackwater Conspiracy had eaten at Toby Carvery on every date of the tour so far (it’s all glamour ladies and gentleman). With the soundcheck out of the way and Blackwater Conspiracy posing for a photo shoot with us (available soon) it was time for the show to begin and the room filled up pretty quickly as the lights went down and there was anticipation in the air.

For me especially it served as an opportunity to see one act that is going to be stratospheric by next year and to see another who I have been following since their inception as a Classic Rock supported band called Million Dollar Reload. At this time they were signed to the now defunct Powerage records but with new members joining they changed into the band that were in front of us now, with the name change came the new Delta Blues influenced sounds of The Stones and The Black Crowes as they morphed into the fully developed band they are now. I highly rated Blackwater Conspiracy’s (8) debut album to see tracks from that record with bluesy numbers like Waitin’ On Hollywood and Penny For Your Dirty Mind mingling with the glistening grooves of ’85 Rockstar. With Phil Conalane’s rough vocal style and his Keef-like rhythm playing, he leads the band in the jangling blues rocking with the effortless of a rock n roll scoundrel. The band was giving it everything and from the audible reaction and the amount of merch shifted after their set I’d say they more than won over those who weren’t as familiar with them as me.

So back to the beginning of the review and with little time to get a refill due to the expanse of bodies in the small room, the heat was rising and the audience waited with baited breath as Kris, Elliott, Will and Josiah walked on the stage, Kris especially had the swagger of a man who’s been doing this his entire life, his tattooed figure cut a swathe at the front of the stage his Telecaster slung around his neck like a weapon and as the anticipation reached fever pitch the headliner began with some thick, tasty blues rock riffs filling Fuel with material that has seen Kris Barras (9) compared to Joe Bonamassa. As he made his way through an hour material, most of which came from his new album The Divine And The Dirty, he played the guitar with a fire rarely seen by artists that are so early in their career, screaming, soulful solos were met with filthy riffs and a voice that was huskier and rawer than normal (due to a cold) but it added to the blistering performance, Barras was imperious on the stage the obvious focal point of the entire evening as the T-Shirt wearing partisan audience hung on every single riff and solo.

Keeping the tempo at a maximum the temperature inside the room increased with every single song and the voices grew louder as the songs were recognised, Hail Mary got the biggest response, due to the radio play it receives on Planet Rock. The noise only dropped, quite rightly, for the heart wrenching Watching Over Me which is seriously affecting ballad on which Kris is at his most fragile vocally. The set was wrapped up with a storming run through of All Along The Watchtower which was neither a copy of the Hendrix version or the Dylan original but took from both for a unique take on a classic. After this the crowd were in rapturous applause as the band took their leave of the stage, an encore beckoned but the music was ramped up and the houselights turned on.

No encore to be seen, cue confusion and frustration from the band and management. Despite this little bit of disarray the rest of the evening ran smoothly. Both acts left a lasting impression, Blackwater Conspiracy are a band probably best enjoyed with an (Irish) whiskey and a roaring log fire while Kris Barras and his superb band is a smooth, disciplined unit led by a man bound for superstardom. Catch him as support to Beth Hart later this month and as the new frontman of supergroup Supersonic Blues Machine later this year. If you missed this then you missed one of those moments where you will be able to say “I was there” in the years to come.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Reviews: Blackberry Smoke, The Amorettes, Lowdrive, Crisix (Reviews By Paul)

Blackberry Smoke: Find A Light (Earache)

Arguably one of the finest bands in rock music today, album number six from the five-piece from Atlanta, Georgia cements their reputation. 18 months on from Like An Arrow, Blackberry Smoke maintain the momentum with Find A Light containing the same high quality we’ve come to expect. Their music sounds simple, but there’s a lot going on here. From the stomp of opening track Flesh And Bone through to the melancholic Mother Mountain, the country rock which this band deliver with such ease just purrs out of the speakers.

Clever, reflective lyrics are backed by simple yet oh so impressive music which on closer inspection proves to be anything but that. Humble and honest, there is a delicate intricacy about Blackberry Smoke which can easily be overlooked. Just like some of their peers and heroes, such as Skynyrd, Mule and the Allman Brothers, it’s the effortlessness in which they distribute their music which makes it so damn irresistible. For example, Medicate My Mind initially sounds like a throw away country ballad, but underneath it all there is the subtle Hammond organ lines, delicious harmonies, intricate throw-away guitar work all disguised by the wonderful drawling vocals of Charlie Starr. I’ve Got This Song sings sweetly, a gentle lilt with the beautiful fiddle of Levi Lowrey adding to the pedal steel of Starr and guest Robert Randolph.

In comparison to Like An Arrow and its predecessor Holding All The Roses, Find A Light takes a lighter slower paced route, more gentle in comparison. Starr has either written or co-written all the tracks here, but it’s much more than just the frontman, with the harmonies of guitarist Paul Jackson, ably supported by Amanda Shires and Oliver and Chris Wood essential. Best Seat In The House begins with a riff taken from The Bangles back catalogue, Starr allowing himself time to explore emotions whilst Jackson’s rhythm guitar and Richard Turner’s bass chug sweetly together. The introduction of The Black Bettys, Sherie and Sherita Murphy on I’ll Keep Ramblin’ carries the listener to the joyous gospel halls of the Deep South, whilst Let Me Down Easy where Starr duets with Amanda Shires conjures up reminders of the magnificent Raising Sands that Robert Plant and Alison Krauss produced several years ago.

Like all Blackberry Smoke’s music, repeated plays allow the listener to discover delicious hidden extras, such as the solid drumming of Brit Turner, the subtle keyboards of Brandon Still that nestle under the covers but without which a valuable layer of the band’s sound would vitally miss. I could write all day about a band that are without doubt one of the hottest properties in the rock world. The Smoke tour the UK in November. I have tickets for Cardiff and Bristol. It will be magical. 9/10

The Amorettes: Born To Break (SPV)

The Amorettes are an enigma to me. The Scottish trio have supported some big names in the rock world since they arrived on the scene in 2009, yet have managed to churn out the same song for three albums. Born To Break, produced by Thunder’s Luke Morley, continues in the same vein, with another 12 tracks of routine, painting by numbers hard rock which is totally inoffensive, mildly enjoyable and no doubt classed by the Planet Rock massive as “the future of rock n’ roll”. Having seen the band live, they certainly have the balls to kick out the jams with any of their male counterpart. But on record, well, it’s all a bit samey. Everything I Learned (Learned From Rock N’ Roll) is cringeworthy, Hell Or High Water and You’ve Still Got Rock N’ Roll are polished but oh so repetitive. By the time you get to Bat Shit Crazy it’s time to pull the needle off the record and move on to something with a modicum of substance. Throw away rock at its finest. Great at Hard Rock Hell when you’ve had a few beers, The Amorettes are a band who I have admiration for … but I’d never listen to them out of choice. It’s all a bit tedious. 5/10

Lowdrive: Roller (Cargo Records)

The clear plan of Lowdrive: To write and record great riff heavy songs and to play live regularly. Whilst I can’t vouch for the latter, this Sheffield based band has certainly made a flying start to the former with debut album Roller stuffed to the brim with riffs that just demand your attention. Lowdrive is former Warrior Soul/Goat Leaf guitarist John Hodgson and Goat Leaf drummer Mat Washington, former Indra and Flip The Pyramid vocalist Andy Sawford and former F.T.P member Martin Gargalovic on bass.

With a bluesy foundation and a gritty, thumping delivery, Lowdrive conjure up numerous comparisons, including Witch Tripper, Blind Haze, Orange Goblin and Scorpion Child for starters. It’s not pretty, but it’s gnarly and determined and hits all the right spots. The title track, the chug of Into The Fire, the driving anthem Puppets (which has shades of Monster Magnet and demands to be played when driving at high speed) and in your face opener The Last Stand all demand a nodding reception. Sometimes the requirement is dirty, fast riffage and Lowdrive give it to you with both barrels. Meatier than a butcher’s apron. This is the nuts. 8/10

Crisix: Against The Odds (Listenable Records)

This is the fourth album from the Barcelona quintet whose music is a cross between thrash and hardcore. To be fair, two plays of this highly spirited release was sufficient but if you like your Hatebreed, Jasta, etc then Against The Odds should be very enjoyable. Self-produced at Axtudios in Spain and mastered by Jens Bogren (Arch Enemy, At The Gates, Bloodbath, Kreator et al) at Fascination Street Studios in Sweden, the bull is straight into the china shop from the off with the raging Get Out Of Head.

Nine tracks, all powerfully delivered, cover a range of topics as far ranging as the abuse of the church (Leave Your God Behind), the addiction to technology (Technophiliac) as well as Ridley Scott’s Aliens in Xenomorph Blood, novelist George R. R. Martin’s fantasy worlds in The North Remembers, and Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball characters in Prince Of Saiyans. Clench your fists, circle the pits and enjoy with your best beater. Bracing stuff. 7/10

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Epica, Myrkur & Oceans Of Slumber (Live Review By Paul)

Epica, Myrkur, Oceans Of Slumber, O2 Academy Bristol

It’s hopefully a sign of the times that women in metal finally appear be increasing in number. Whether intentional or not, this three-band bill pleasingly starred an all-female front row and it was damn good too.

The Banished Heart, the latest release from US outfit Oceans of Slumber (8) certainly stirred the interest pot earlier this year and the band proved that their material is as strong live as it is on record. A shortish set was initially masked by a muddy sound but once the microphone of front woman Cammie Gilbert was given prominence, it was a phenomenal show. Cramming six musicians to the front of the stage meant that movement was restricted but Oceans Of Slumber let the music do the talking to great effect. Their combination of dark and heavy progressive death metal blended perfectly with the intense and delicate passages which allowed Gilbert to highlight her stunning voice. Tracks from The Banished Heart were well received by the small but slowly increasing numbers in the crowd. A superb, understated set which led to a deserved ovation. With a better sound this would have brilliant.

Having seen Myrkur (9) at Damnation in November, anticipation was already high, and Amalie Bruun and her hooded cohort delivered in stunning style. The atmosphere heightened by swirling smoke combined with the inverted Danish flag strategically placed behind Bruun contributed to a mesmerising 40 minutes with songs from 2017’s masterful Maerdit and 2015’s debut M interspersed through the set. It may be hard to distinguish what song is which in the live arena, but Bruun's incredible voice, high pitch magnificently controlled, meant that it doesn’t really matter as you are exported to a different place for most of the performance. Thunderous black metal combined with beautiful passages captivated and enchanted the audience. Dressed in her trademark white flowing dress, Bruun limited her interaction with the crowd to a couple of “thank you Bristol”. However, the mystique that has emerged over the past couple of years remained unbroken, and the concluding percussion only folk tale only elevated the experience to one that transcended mere mortals. Closing one's eyes allowed you to be transported to another plane. Quite magnificent.

I’ve never been a massive fan of symphonic metal. The multiple layered sound which pervade the songs tend to overwhelm me, with the female vocals soaring above the cacophony often merely adding to the maelstrom of Eurovision style rock. As a result, Epica (8) is a band who have rarely crossed my radar, but tonight, on my second viewing of the band, the Dutch outfit oozed confidence and polish as they blasted through an impressive set which unsurprisingly focused heavily on tracks from their most works, The Quantum Enigma and 2016’s The Holographic Principle. Having to follow two splendid opening acts, was a challenge, but with the benefit of a crystal-clear sound, Simone Simons’ operatic vocals cut through the huge riffs and double bass drumming with ease, her stage presence impressive as she commanded the enthusiastic audience with each twist and turn.

Flanked by guitarists Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye, Simon demonstrated poise and self-assurance whilst the enjoyment of the band on stage was evident with their enthusiasm at times greater than that of the crowd. If there was one irritant, it had to be the constant Sabaton-like interplay, with keyboard player Coen Janssen the main culprit. His rotating keyboards appeared gimmicky, as did his frequent and unnecessary forays to the front of the stage, and bassist Rob Van Der Loo seemed at times to spend more time messing around with Janssen than focussing front and centre. That gripe aside, Epica are truly a polished outfit, with their interplay seamless. I still find their music too similar, with little at times to distinguish them from their peers in Nightwish, Within Temptation, Delain et al, but that’s probably me doing this classy and striking band who are, despite my reluctance, a quality act in the live arena.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Magenta

Magenta, The Globe Cardiff

This was the first of three special nights for Welsh prog band Magenta, it saw them play a special set of shows where they would play two albums back-to-back. The two records chosen was their most recent opus We Are Legend and perhaps their finest hour Seven. The band took to the stage and explained the idea behind the two albums in full concept as singer Christina had a note of self depreciating trepidation in her voice about what they were about to do, (namely launch into the full version of Trojan for the first time), so to get their arm in so to speak they opened with Speechless to warm themselves and the crowd up. Remember folks they were about to play their most recent album which is about 50 minutes and only three tracks long in its entirety. As the drums were counted in the monstrous Trojan filled the room with Magenta’s most recent probably densest music to date, The Globe allowing every single note to be heard from every instrument, the bass plucked with technicality, the drummer (rightly behind a screen) bashing away while Rob Reed kept everything in check with his wall of synth.

This meant that Christina could use her breathtaking vocals to woo the audience with emotion and it let Chris Fry do more than merely keep a rhythm as he elected to do the full guitar hero shtick, especially on the latter more melodious half of the evening. Trojan ended and as Christina joked about not talking until the audience had finished applauding they once again geared up for the long haul with Colours and Legend coming next both songs come in at about 21 minutes so when there was little break in the action for the special guest flautist and oboist to take to the stage it was a welcome rest from the, admittedly marvellous, but exhausting musical dexterity on display (no wonder Chris worked his way through a banana in the changeover). Stools and acoustics started to move around and Magenta once again paced the set by playing a folky acoustic number to settle the guest players and once again refocus the crowd. It was gorgeous number that echoed the lighter moments of Mike Oldfield. Once this was over there was an anticipation in the air, much of this album hasn’t been played in long time so Christina once again asked in advance for forgiveness if anything went wrong (albeit slightly tongue-in-cheek) she also was pleased that she didn’t have to tell anyone to “Shut the fuck up” this time. However there were a collection of folks on the balcony with me that deserved the tongue lashes as they talked incessantly mainly through the more reflective moments.

Then it was time for Seven in full but not necessarily in the right order as Mr Morecambe would put it as is only right it started out with Gluttony which has lots of swirling synth and poppy melodies. It’s with just this song you can hear why Magenta are so loved by their crowd, their songs are classic prog with the style of Yes, Oldfield and Genesis, the technical acumen of the band never outshining the songwriting, they worked through Envy and the stunning Lust as things once again slowed for Anger a truly wonderful song that really showcased the flute and oboe for a whimsical folk moment in amongst all the progressive mastery. The main set ended with the tribal sounds of Sloth on which Chris had his guitar hero moment I mentioned before, playing his guitar as if it owed him something, it was a stunning climax to the evening and rightfully so they hit the backstage for the customary break before the encore. Coming back onto the stage the last two tracks were Glitterball and the one song from Seven that was not in the main set, ending the night with the brilliant Pride. It was another fantastic gig from Magenta who continually impress as a live act. A great Friday was had by all! 9/10

Monday, 9 April 2018

Reviews: Yes, Bulletboys, Yossi Sassi, BlackWater Holylight

Yes: Fly From Here - Return Trip (Pledge Music)

The original release of Fly From Here was the the first record to feature Oliver Wakeman (keyboards) and Benoit David (vocals-replacing Jon Anderson), the record was produced by Trevor Horn who himself is a Yes alumni and was a very good album. Since then they have had a new vocalist, Jon Davidson (of Glass Hammer) who remains the singer to this day, he appeared on Heaven & Earth which was the last album to feature Yes founding member Chris Squire. So with Squire now sadly deceased and the band celebrating their 50th anniversary and as Yes have done numerous times they have relied upon their massive amount of previous members to celebrate this anniversary.

They have chosen to re-release Fly From Here with Trevor Horn re-recording Benoit David's vocals and remixing the album so with Horn on vocals this is a performance from the line up that performed on the Drama, who are for those who don't know are Trevor Hor (lead vocals), Steve Howe (guitar), Chris Squire (bass), Geoff Downes (keyboards), Alan White (drums), so you've got the precision rhythm section of Squire and White one last time driving the excellent five part title track and the dramatic Life On A Film Set. Along with new vocals from Horn (which are very good as you'd expect) there is one new song Don't Take No For An Answer, which features Steve Howe on vocals and a full length version of Hour Of Need which is classic Yes.

It's a good album and as Horn puts it a "real labour of love" originally the album was available at the Yes UK fan convention and now it's ready to be picked up by the public at large. It's a triumphant celebratory release for this legendary band with one of their most popular line ups. 8/10

Bulletboys: From Out of the Skies (Frontiers Records)

Formed in 1988 smack bag in the middle of the LA glam scene, back then they were compared to Aerosmith and even Van Halen as they were more rooted in the blues and 70's hard rock roots than the flash in the pan, style over substance acts that were all over MTV at the time. Bulletboys membership came from King Kobra and Ratt and they have been plugging away since those heady days and throughout their existence have featured two ex-G'N'R members Steven Adler and DJ Ashba. The guitarist and bassist Nick Rozz and Chad MacDonald have been in the band for about 8 years, but drummer Anthony "Tiny" Biuso is new boy in the band but they all meld together on what is the band's eleventh.

They are led, as Bulletboys have always been, by Marq Torien whose vocals are the cornerstone of the band, it's fireworks from Apocalypto which is a rocking start to the record that actually brings to mind Velvet Revolver, it's not Bulletboys dwelling in the past, they seem to have adapted their 80's sound for the present day, D-Evil is a dirty garage rocker and features Jesse Hughes of The Eagles Of Death Metal (but less said about him at the moment the better). This record rocks hard but as I've said it's got a modern sound of Foo Fighters but also the classic blues rocking of Tesla and Winger, it's melodic rock but not as we know it. 7/10 

Yossi Sassi & The Oriental Rock Orchestra: The Illusion Of Choice (Self Released)

The self proclaimed 'Pioneer Of Oriental Rock' returns with his new record with his band the grandiose Oriental Rock Orchestra. The Illusion Of Choice is a record about just that, trying to define what choice actually is and how it determines us as human beings, it is in the bands words "an open album that was recorded open heatedly next to the open sea on a secluded Island, by a group of musicians who broke away from everything for a few days and tried to really choose what they feel and want to do". Sassi's 8 piece band are really used to great effect on Reveal you can hear the metallic leanings of Sassi's past (in Orphaned Land) with 7-String guitar, bass and drums rocking heavy and proggy.

However it's when the flutes, percussion, strings and Sassi's smorgasboard of stringed instruments all work together on Maktoob for the quintessential Oriental progressive rock track, it's like the OL of old with the backing chants used an instrument in itself. The Illusion Of Choice is a primarily instrumental record but does feature vocals from Israeli singer/actor Ester Rada on the beautiful Choice and from Ross Jennings (Haken) on Reveal the heaviest track on this record, if you want some Middle Eastern promise that is both beguiling, technically gifted and mostly a very entertaining, if you have a choice choose to pick up this record as your ears will thank you. 8/10

Blackwater Holylight: S/T (Riding Easy)

Portland band Blackwater Holyland are sonically and emotionally heavy, their swirling psychedelic, gothic garage riffs and haunted distant vocals are captivating, with some Krautrock, indie and folk rock. Kicking the record off with huge bar chords and spacious drumming Willow is a slow build into a a jangling surf rock final third with a syrupy bass holding the music together like a musical flapjack.

This four piece comprise of vocalist/bassist Allison Faris, guitarist/ vocalist Laura Hopkins, drummer Cat Hoch and synth player Sarah McKenna, forming out of the ashes of Faris' former band  they've adopted a multitude of sounds from the sparseness of Barrett led Floyd on the creepy Babies, the odd pop of Sunrise which morphs into a a feedback driven psychedelic freakout with McKenna's space age synths.

It's a sonic collage of noise with all of the songs having the heaviness I talked about now but they are not heavy in a metallic sense but as they slither along built on the leviathan soundscapes this debut record can be disconcerting, nausea inducing but also get that head of yours banging. It's an uneasy listen at times and if you like your music unpredictable and adventurous then Blackwater Holylight could be one of your albums of 2018. 8/10


Sunday, 8 April 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Teethgrinder (Live Review By Rich)

Teethgrinder, Foetal Juice, Casket Feeder & OMV, Fuel Rock Club

A Bank Holiday Sunday and with no work the following day it seemed rude not to pop along to Fuel in Cardiff for an evening of grind and death metal. Unfortunately I missed the first two bands Pupil Slicer and Total Consumption but managed to get there for the majority of Liverpool's hardcore street metal band OMV (5). The band played a hybrid of metal and hardcore which reminded me of New York hardcore bands such as Biohazard and Madball plus I heard a bit of an influence from Prong in their sound. The band played a tight set including a cover of Redneck by Lamb Of God but for me the music was just a bit lacking.

Next up were Casket Feeder (8) who have a sound which mixes old school Swedish death metal and hardcore. It's a sound that really works reminding me of bands such as Trap Them, Nails and Black Breath. The band played a crushing set including songs from their Venomous Tongues EP and had myself and fellow members of the audience utterly impressed. One band I shall definitely be keeping an eye out for.

In the main support slot were the band I had mainly come to see which is Manchester's Foetal Juice (8). I utterly love the EP and album that Foetal Juice have released but have never managed up until this point to see them live. Thankfully they did not disappoint with a brutalising set of old school death metal and grindcore. The majority of the set was taken from 2016's Masters Of Absurdity album with tunes such as Phantom Visions, Grave Denied and Nun So Vile laying everything to waste in their path.

And to the headline slot taken by Dutch grind bastards Teethgrinder (10). Apart from a handful of songs heard on Spotify this was my first proper exposure to Teethgrinder and they damn sure left a lasting impression with a set of crippling intensity. The band had ridiculous amounts of energy with frontman Jonathan Edwards spending the entire set off the stage in the pit with the audience. The band have a sound which encompasses grindcore, black metal, sludge metal and elements of post-metal and are so damn heavy they make your teeth ache.

A shout out to Gav from Eradication Bookings who gets some absolutely fantastic bands to play in South Wales. This was absolutely no exception. After some bigger shows I'd forgotten how much fun these small intimate club shows are especially when you have grind bands playing. All in all a fantastic evening.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Reviews: Monster Magnet, Desert Storm, Eliminator, Firegarden (Reviews By Paul)

Monster Magnet: Mindfucker(Napalm Records)

The first new album by the Space Rockers since 2013’s Last Patrol, Mindfucker is just fabulous. A hard driving rocker from the opening strains of Rocket Freak, full of raging guitar, Dave Wyndorf's distinctive vocals and those ear worms which get in your head and chew upon the brain. The swirling Inferno Of Soul, the title track and the superb cover of Robert Calvert’s Ejection from 1974’s Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters transport you far away. Sure, it’s no Dopes To Infinity but this isn’t the 1990s. There’s a couple of bits of filler included, such as the throw away rampage of Brainwashed but you can’t have everything. Closing track When The Hammer Comes Down is imperious, classic Magnet and a fitting end to an album that deserves attention. 8/10

Desert Storm: Sentinels (APF Records)

Oxford’s Desert Storm has been delivering their Southern stoner metal for over a decade and Sentinels is their fourth full release. It’s savage, with Matt Ryan’s grizzly vocals fitting the stomp and fuzz-balled riffs neatly. Shades of Mastodon surface in opening track Journey’s End although the following song Too Far Gone sounds more like distorted Orange Goblin, punishingly heavy and as gnarly as a wizard’s jock strap. The roaring eight-minute Kingdom Of Horns encapsulates the unrestrained power of the band whose sound is undeniably honed despite its rawness. Sharp and punchy tunes like The Drifter balance out an album that needs to be played loud, preferably in a sweaty environment with a beer in both hands. This is a hard punch to the face … one that brings a crooked smile every time. 7/10

Eliminator: Last Horizon (Dissonance Productions)

Apparently, this has been over eight years in the making. Well, if you really want to listen to some mundane ‘traditional’ heavy metal I suppose you might find it mildly entertaining. It’s not appalling in the same way that some of the rubbish we review here is, but two tracks in to Last Horizon and it already begins to grate. Danny Foster’s weak vocals may well be the challenge here, with the band’s high tempo pitch forcing Foster to strain and struggle. The Iron Maiden influence is clear throughout the album, especially on the title track, with dual guitars adding melody. Echoes, the first of four lengthier tracks at over six minutes contain more Lizzy/Maiden style guitar, marred by the strained vocals. Procession Of Witches contained some hope but Fall Of The Seer was the final straw. Sorry, but this is another album marred by a vocalist whose performance is way below the quality of the rest of the band, 4/10

Firegarden: Voyage To Crab Mountain (Riffids Records)

This is a journey through psychedelic classic rock which is crammed with storytelling, chunky fuzzed up riffs and a general good time vibe. The band hail from Sheffield, and comprise Jake Mann on guitar and vocals, Ashley Tuck on drums, Chris Heald on bass and vocals and Adele Smith on vocals. If I’m right, Smith is making her recording debut with the band, and Voyage To Crab Mountain allows her soulful voice to add a new dimension to the band’s sound. Although the band sit firmly in the classic rock camp, there is a distinct stoner edge to some of their songs, such as the short Crushed By Falling Rocks which meanders around Mann’s riff.

The album has more than a nod to the 1970s, and some familiar influences appear; Shoot For The Moon has more than a passing resemblance to Patti Smith’s Because The Night on the chorus, Adele Smith’s vocal a little Pat Benatar in delivery. Pigeons is a different beast altogether, a mellow eight-minute instrumental ramble which changes direction and pace as the band flex their progressive rock muscles and Mann demonstrates some neat guitar work. Voyage To Crab Mountain is an interesting piece of work, let down by some awful artwork but don’t let that put you off investing time. 7/10

Friday, 6 April 2018

Reviews: Behemoth, The Octopus, Headless Crown, ShadowKeep

Behemoth: Messe Noire (Nuclear Blast)

Messe Noire is the album portion of the Live DVD of the same name that brings together two live shows, the full The Satanist album recorded at Progresja, Warsaw, Poland on October 8, 2016 and a live show from Brutal Assault Festival in 2016. The CD is the full The Satanist album performed live in front of a baying Polish crowd. The issue I always have any live albums that accompany a DVD is that obviously the performance was based for the cameras so there's a lot you miss especially because Behemoth are such a visual band the pyro, costumes and lights can't be replicated on to an audio only recording. Still it's an exciting enough to release and you can hear what Behemoth sound like live, playing their most impressive album to date. The record needs to be played loud to truly do Behemoth's punishing live performance but if you want the full package buy the DVD. 6/10

The Octopus: Supernatural Alliance (Rise Above Records)

Detroit band The Octopus were formed in 2008 by the core duo of vocalist Masha Marjieh and lead guitarist Joe Frezzato, this debut record has been 10 years in the making due to the band having more rhythm sections than Spinal Tap, however with the addition of Adam Cox as studio engineer and keys they set about creating the music you can hear on this record, the steady rhythm section on the debut comes from Matt O’Brien (bass) and Todd Glass (drums). It's 10 years put to good use as The Octopus have a winning mix of Deep Purple (Slave And Master) meets The MC5 (Strike While The Iron Is Hot).

It's psychedelic, due to the swirling organs, but it's got some garage/stoner rock grooves and wailing shamanic vocals all coming together from the woozy riff rock of The Center and sticks with the supernatural 70's grooves for the remaining 9 tracks. The guitar/keyboard interplay is marvellous both are lead instruments like those classic Lord/Blackmore but with Sabbath riffs on The Unknown, or the haunted Moody Blues-like style of All The Love. Marjieh's vocals are sat to waft across the music much like Alia O'Brien of Blood Ceremony. Apparently these songs took shape organically while the band jammed over the course of their history and they've arrived fully formed on Supernatural Alliance giving The Octopus a multi limbed appeal much like their mollusc namesake. 8/10

Headless Crown: Century Decade (Massacre Records)

The Swiss are pretty hit and miss when it comes to heavy metal, for a small country they've got a fair few bands and they can range from great to not so good, while this is true for a lot of countries it's more obvious when a country has such a small population and numerous bands. However Headless Crown fall into the positive category as they've got a real grip on tough proper heavy metal that takes its sound from Accept and Judas Priest.

Their second album Century Of Decay is a dark concept record but if the concept element doesn't win you over the music here stands out on its own merit with a rampaging at times thrashing rhythm section, skillful lead playing and gravelly vocals. You can hear from the strength of this record that Headless Crown are probably an excellent live act but their honed, aggressive style of classic metal is a winner for any fans of classic heavy metal. 7/10

Shadowkeep: S/T (Pure Steel Records)

Power metal now from Guilford and Shadowkeep's fourth album has been in digestion for 10 years now, after their luck with vocalists ran out on their previous record The Hourglass Effect they couldn't find the right singer for the band until very recently, taking up the microphone here is James Rivera of Texas speed/horror metal band Helstar who adds his high pitched powerful vocal prowess to the lighting fast progressive/power metal assault. As you can appreciate the music here sounds a lot like Helstar with the speed metal influences shining through from Guardian Of The Sea which is built on the solid foundations of original members Chris Allen  and Nicki Robinson's six stringing which is technically proficent, complex but also has those masters of Maiden, Priest etc.

The other major influence is that of Queensryche, Little Lion has the layered acoustic approach of the Seattle but most of the music here is great power metal that also has touches of Iced Earth. We see a lot of bands from the history of UK metal be revived after a long period of absence and usually they are crap but hopefully it won't be as long before they release another record as this is one UK metal act that should still be heard. 7/10

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Reviews: King Goat, Skeletal Remains, Cattail Brew, Nale (Reviews By Paul)

King Goat: Debt Of Aeons (Aural Music)

Hard on the heels of their debut album Coduit, UK doom outfit King Goat return with a massive album, full of sprawling lengthy tracks which pound and crush. With only one track delivered in under eight minutes, you quickly realise that this album needs time to appreciate. Opener Rapture, at just under ten minutes in length quickly sets the scene, a meandering, thunderous track which conjures up Candlemass and Electric Wizard amongst others. Eremite's Rest follows, a skull crushing, haunting beast which sees vocalist Trim in full flight.

If you saw Paradise Lost on their February UK tour, then you’ll have had the opportunity to see King Goat in action and you may well have been impressed by what you saw. Certainly, Debt Of Aeons has masses to excite; dynamic and operatic, such as the soaring title track whilst there are many crashing riffs which thunder throughout the release. Powerful from start to finish, with complex changes of pace and time and aching with atmosphere, this is a beautifully paced and intense album which can only impress once you’ve committed to the journey which King Goat will take you on. Solid, impressive and massive. 8/10

Skeletal Remains: Devouring Mortality (Century Media)

There is little to say about this release. It simply destroys! From the opening track Ripperology to Internal Destestation, the Californian’s who took their name from a line in a Demolition Hammer song go full throttle for the jugular. It’s 100mph, a swirling slashing maelstrom of sinister and evil intent, underpinned with a groove and melody that makes it accessible yet retaining the lacerating approach of all-out death thrash metal. For a three-piece, SR make an awfully intense sound that demands your attention. Adrian Marquez’s driving bass combines majestically with Mike Delao’s powerful drumming whilst the Schuldiner-like vocals and blistering guitar of Chris Monroy adds to the sound.

As he stated “It’s a bit more technical compared to our first two albums and we have also used seven string guitars for some songs to add a heavier edge at times, but overall it has the same sound and feeling of our previous releases: Old school death metal from the late 80s and early 90s with a little bit of our own taste added to it!” With the Album mixed and mastered by Dan Swano (Opeth, Bloodbath) and impressive artwork courtesy of Dan Seagrave (Suffocation, Entombed, Dismember) and influences of such legends as Death, Obituary, Carcass, Cancer and Testament all on display, this is an album that every metal head needs to listen to. Brilliantly brutal. 9/10

Cattail Brew: It’s A Bit Difficult Really (Cargo Records)

Cattail Brew: three quarters American and a quarter Scottish. The Scot in question is Fin Muir, the voice of Waysted, the band formed by ex-UFO bassist Pete Way who achieved a high level in the 1980s. Muir’s smoky, husky voice, often drew comparisons with countryman Rod Stewart, but it’s in this latest guise, with two thirds of Ohio based hard rock outfit American Dog in guitarist Steve Theado and drummer Keith Pickens along with bassist Joe Viers from Southern Rockers Snowblynd that Muir is currently hitting the heights once more.

It’s A Bit Difficult Really is a quality album, merging Southern rock, blues, and hard rock to produce all killer and no filler. The necessary arrogance of The Faces, Skynyrd, The Black Crowes and even a soupcon of UK blues rockers UFO is all present and combine to provide some superb music. Theado’s guitar work is magnificent, for example on the eight-minute plus Glitter, or the extensive closing track The Time’s Come. and the blues-soaked Fishbowl Blues. This is elegant, creative and full of self-assured playing. So, worth getting a copy and wearing the damn thing out as this is one of the releases of the year.  10/10

Nale: Death Skulls Satan (Black Lodge)

Formed in 2007, Swedes Nale hit the ground running on their second full release with opening track Slither, a dirty cross of Devildriver and Rammstein. It’s gnarly, aggressive and in your face. It doesn’t slow down, and the ferocious assault continues with Filth, which hits more traditional metal core territory. In fact, sticking a label on this snarling pit bull is quite a challenge. Tomas Åkvik’s crunching riffs, Mathias Blom’s hostile vocals delivery and a mix of styles make Death Skulls Satan an intriguing release. Dead Man’s Song changes pace again, a roaring biker anthem that Orange Goblin would tiff the hat toward and that continues with the high-octane title track which has more than a ladle of the mighty Motörhead thrown in.

The acceleration continues as the album motors forward, Exit and the blistering No Escape simply race away at top speed. Drive sits alongside such luminaries as Napalm Death with a 54 second track full of pace and power before the slower, pounding hammer of The Black restores the girth. By the time you get to the balls-out Pigs, if you aren’t breathless then you haven’t got a pulse. This is brutal, chaotic and heavier than Satan’s dirty laundry. 8/10

Reviews: Ayreon

Ayreon: The Best Of Ayreon Universe Live (Music Theories Recordings)

Prog mastermind Arjen Lucassen, has been creating progressive concept records for 20+ years, his records all link together to make a sprawling conceptual story about a blind minstrel that makes his way through time to warn of mankind's doom. It's very intelligent and complicated to really go into and it would take 15 pages to really explain it all. What information you need from this review is that he has rarely performed any of the Ayreon material live. The last live record was The Theatre Equation which was a staged version of the Human Equation album featuring many of the original vocalists returning to perform on a stage but this is different idea, The Ayreon Universe is a ‘proper’ gig with a full band and individual performances rather than the Broadway show format of The Theatre Equation. This kind of gig has been anticipated for almost the entire lifespan of the Ayreon project but finally in September 2017 fans from around the world flocked to the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands, to witness the best of the Ayreon universe live in three sell out shows.

With tracks from the The Final Experiment debut right the way up to the most recent entry The Source, and some Star One material thrown in for balance this is live recording that’s a must have for any fan of the over blown, theatrical progressive music Arjen has been at the forefront of now for 20 years. Filmed using 30 cameras, the DVD and Blu-Ray part will let you relive the concert in full 5.1 surround audio and while the audio CD that I’m reviewing here only gives you the audio part of the night, it’s still pretty special to hear all of this incredible music performed live with a full band, most of whom were the players on the majority of the studio albums (especially drummer Ed Warby who I believe has appeared nearly all of them). There is also an extensive list of guest musicians all of whom have contributed to the Ayreonsphere. The list includes Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Damian Wilson (Headspace), Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gentle Storm), Marco Hietala (Nightwish), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Marcela Bovio (Stream of Passion) and many more.

They all contribute their amazing vocal prowess (Arjen never hires anyone less than fantastic to sing on his records) to this album which uses various songs from the Ayreon back catalogue to propel an individual storyline that runs throughout the show. The songs appear to have been chosen to compliment each other and drive an ongoing narrative, giving a synopsis of the entire Ayreon history. The crowd are hanging on every word with all of the singers doing their best to interact with the audience getting them to clap, chant and shout along with some of the best known tracks in the discography, you could spend all day picking out favourite tracks but Tommy Karevik does a breathtaking job on Into The Black Hole (originally sung by Bruce Dickinson), Anneke Van Giersbergen is on fine form duetting with Jonas Renske on Walking Dreams and giving girl power to Valley Of The Queens with Bovio and Floor.

The inclusion of the Star One tracks is a real treat for a fan like me as I'd always wanted to hear Intergalactic Space Crusaders live, everyone needs a song about Blake 7 and of course the finale of The Eye Of Ra (Stargate) features all the vocalists and is preceded by Ayreon's big 'hit' Day Eleven: Love. Arjen himself only makes a fleeting appearance during the evening but he of course gets the biggest reception as the creator of the entire project but it’s wonderful to hear so many talented individuals on stage together performing this cinematic music together. If you want the best of Ayreon pick up Timelines the three disc album that is a great overview of the Ayreon history, however if like me you've always wanted to know what the Ayreon project would sound like on stage then pick up the full DVD/Blu-Ray/CD version of this record, turn down the lights, settle in to your comfiest sofa and let the Universal Migrator take you away. 10/10

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Reviews: The Sword, Caliban, Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik, The Dead Daises (Reviews By Paul)

The Sword: Used Future (Razor & Tie)

The first time I saw Texan’s The Sword as supporting Clutch at the sadly missed TJs in Newport was back in the mid-2000s. The band had not long released Age Of Winters, their Sabbath influenced doom and stoner laden debut which contained sufficient meat to pique the interest. Roll forward 12 years and those initial Sabbath riffs remain an integral part of The Sword’s modern sound, albeit in a much more subtle and understated way. Album number 6, Used Future, is another change in comparison to 2015’s High Country

John D Cronise’s distinctive vocal delivery remains, the band can still draft a tune with the fuzzy riffs of Deadly Nightshade and Twilight Sunrise sitting comfortably alongside the heavy as hell instrumental The Wild Sky. The retro vibe is never far away, and Sea Of Green allows the pace to slow, whilst the Western psychedelia of album closer Brown River and Reprise demonstrate a maturity in a band whose determination to move in their own direction is admirable. Used Future is another quality release from a band whose catalogue is increasingly varied and impressive. 8/10

Caliban: Elements (Century Media)

Ferocious metalcore rarely comes much harder than from these Germans. Album number 10, and this is about as incendiary as you can get. I struggle with this genre more than any other apart from sleaze, with so many of the bands sounding the same. Elements has more bite than many of their counterparts, with the intense This Is War, Ich Blute Für Dich and Delusion all heavy and aggressive. 

However, after 30 minutes you tend to forget which song is which as they blur into each other, the continual double bass kicking, the looping bass and the switch between clean and harsh vocals repetitive. Carry On has shades of Linkin Park which at least adds some variety. Caliban are without doubt one of the leading lights in the metal core scene and if you like this style then it may well be one of the albums of the year. It’s just not my cup of tea. 7/10

Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik - Hugsjá (Norse Music)

Far away from their day jobs, the Norwegian duo of Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved) and Einar Selvik (Wardruna) have followed up on their previous collaboration Skuggsjá with an album which is imposing, interesting and completely different to their usual sounds. Hugsjá means to see with, or within, the mind, and it reflects the idea that one’s mind has the potential to see further than the eyes can reach. With the use of contemporary and traditional musical instruments, the duo explore the distant history and traditions along coastal Norway in an hour of captivating music. 

The tracks vary in pace and duration with the lengthier songs capturing the attention; Ni Døtre av Hav and Nattseglar are enchanting, with Ni Mødre av Sol and Um Heilage Fjell featuring a mixed choir under the management of Stine Kobbeltvedt. Selvik covers lead vocals and a range of traditional instruments including the Kravik-lyre, Taglharpa, goat-horn, Bronze-lure, flute and percussion whilst Bjørnson handles guitars and electronics. If you fancy a change from the norm, then I certainly recommend getting a copy of this album. 7/10

The Dead Daisies: Burn It Down (SPV)

One of the biggest mysteries in my life is why The Dead Daisies are as popular as they are. Their music is routine, overblown and overproduced hard rock littered with cover versions from some of rock’s also rans just doesn’t do it for me. Despite my prejudices, I really tried to give this a fair chance. I failed. Miserably. Opening track Resurrected steals the riff from Sucker Train Blues by Velvet Revolver, whilst the title track is big on production but it’s Doug Aldrich’s wah wah pedal that takes centre stage to the detriment of the song. Judgement Day doesn’t get going, What Goes Around has far too much going on with John Corabi’s Steven Tyler wannabe approach lost in the mix of Marco Mendoza’s bass high in the mix and tangled with Aldrich’s guitar work. 

It’s polished, hard cock rock that appeals to those who like their music without having to think. Listen to Bitch, an absolute dog-shite track which is typical American puff your chest out crap. And I could go on, but the final straw is the horrible cover of the Lennon-McCartney composed Revolution which demonstrates all that is wrong with “new rock” in general and this band in particular. If they were playing in my garden I’d draw the curtains. Thousands love this band. I can’t contain my contempt. I hate it. 3/10

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Reviews: Beth Hart, Ross The Boss, Earthless, Underside

Beth Hart: Front And Center - Live From New York (Provogue)

Recorded in the intimate setting of NYC’s Iridium Jazz Club the first lady of blues Beth Hart culminates her post-millennial career revival with a special performance held as part of Public Television’s Front And Center series of shows. The record has Beth performing 15 tracks that range from new tracks from her Fire On The Floor and classics from her back catalogue. You get a great mix of music on this record with Badass Blues an early contender for the showstopper giving Beth a chance to really impressive with her superior vocal talents, moving swiftly between blues, jazz, soul and even rock n roll she’s backed by an excellent band who are interpreting these songs for a live audience but give Beth enough room to express herself with her huge range.

She’s been called a mix between Janis Joplin and Etta James and the latter is really obvious on Jazz Man where she tries some scat singing as the piano bashes away. This is followed by the grunge rocking Delicious Surprise which is a really good track that proves the record is live do to some awful call and response with the small crowd struggling to get the power of Hart but it’s a testament to them that they tried. The record is rich in emotion and really exhibits that the best way to experience Beth Hart as a performer is in a live setting, on St Teresa I assume there wasn’t a dry eye in the house and Isolation is a track that hints at Hart’s future diagnosis of bi-polarity in a very prophetic song.

The setlist here is eclectic as I said with the slower torchlight ballads usually followed by a strutting blues rocker such as Fat Man. Live From New York is a great introduction to Beth Hart’s music if you’ve only ever had a passing interest, however for fans it’s a great chance to hear her where she shines and serves as a warm up for her UK tour at the end of the month. 8/10

Ross The Boss: By Blood Sworn (AFM)

Since the second Ross The Boss solo album Ross Friedman has reactivated his punk band The Dictators and released another album with Death Dealer, he has also changed the membership of this solo band wholesale. This was due to Ross wanting to work more in conjunction with New York musicians to get a more cohesive feel to this third record. Now I liked his first two albums they were big slabs of powerful heavy metal this one, I’m not too sure about, it was co-written by Symphony X’s Mike LePond and as I pressed play the title track did little to interest me, it’s by far the weakest cut on the album and I didn’t really warm to Marc Lopez’s vocals however things get better from there with Among The Bones and This Is Vengeance having riffs, bass lines and vocals that could have easily been on Battle Hymns especially This Is Vengeance which has the rapid fire riffs and expansive vocal range of classic Manowar.

The issue here is that it’s a bit hit and miss some tracks are great others just fade into blandness; much of this is due to the variable vocal work of Lopez who can be terrible or excellent depending on the song. The compositions are usually consistent if nothing else but By Blood Sworn doesn’t seem to have the cut and thrust of first two records and Faith Of The Fallen no matter how poignant is a rubbish song. Like I said I don’t know how to feel as for every great ‘True’ metal anthem there’s more filler than a plasterer's trowel. 6/10

Earthless: Black Heaven (Nuclear Blast)

San Diego's Earthless have explained their new album Black Heaven like so “It has six songs, and most importantly it has vocals on about 70 percent of the record. There goes being pigeonholed as an instrumental band, I guess…” Yes before this Earthless were known more for their sprawling instrumentals but on this record they have trimmed it down to two instrumental tracks the rest are Krautrock influenced, heavy, psychedelic, desert rock music that sees Isaiah Mitchell comfortably settling into his role of singer as well as guitarist linking up with Mario Rubalcaba's drums and Mike Eginton's bass in what is a very retro sounding album.

It has the production techniques of the 70's all over it, the songs are soupy with the percussion and vocals high in the mix but if you're here for the riffs then you're in luck as there are plenty of them. The hard rocking Gifted By The Wind is pretty much 80% guitar solo and from the wild riffs of this track the journey begins with kaleidoscopic, frenzied guitar playing, tight knit rhythms and a big heaving slab of proto-Sabbath rocking. The abrupt ending of the woozy Electric Flame let's Volt Rush rumble on by in a flurry of axe slinging. At 6 tracks Black Heaven doesn't stick around most of the vocal based tracks are reasonably long but when the whole record flows like a river of retro rocking you don't zone back into reality until it's over and that has no chance of happening until the title track has finished with you. Still relying on their instrumental prowess to control the course of these records the addition of more vocals will bring evolution for Earthless. 7/10

Underside: Satan In Your Stereo (Self Released)

Satan In Your Stereo blares out groove-laden metalcore that has been a part of the American music scene since the heady days of Lamb Of God, Killswitch Engage, Hatebreed and Devil Driver. Underside have adapted this sound though to make it more modern throwing in some Gojira technicality, the outright mentalism of Slipknot on Right To Hate and a healthy mix of harsh and clean vocals. As this album sticks so religiously to the NWOAM you'd think that Underside were American but they actually come from Nepal which is a bit further East.

To get to this point Underside have really had to struggle Nepal is very poor and as a result there is a lack of opportunities and platforms for emerging talent, however the resourceful members of the band started the Silence festival in Kathmandu six years ago to support heavy metal in their country and it has now become the biggest metal festival in India and Nepal attracting 4000 metalheads a year. This hardship and their unwavering support for their metal scene has meant that Underside have had to work doubly hard to get this album out there. I suggest you pick it up as it's got the muscle of FFDP, the aggression of Lamb Of God and the melodies of BFMV (Scare) and keeps you guessing as to what's coming next. An album born out of adversity these tracks will likely tear a live stage apart. 7/10