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Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Reviews: Thaurorod, Oblivion, Insanity Alert (Reviews By Rich)

Thaurorod: Coast Of Gold (Drakker Records)

As I’ve said in previous reviews there seems to be an influx of extremely high quality power metal at the moment and the new album by Thaurorod is no exception. Coast Of Gold is the third album for the Finnish power metallers and is my first exposure to the band and another pleasant surprise.  Thaurorod deliver up an album of absolute top quality power metal.  This is huge and anthemic stuff with a strong symphonic element running throughout. The songs on the whole are fast, speedy tunes with plenty of double kick and instrumental pyrotechnics by the hugely talented members of the band especially the guitarists Lasse Nyman and Emppu Pohjalainen (also of Amberian Dawn). The choruses throughout are massive and are guaranteed to be stuck in your head for days. Songs such as Power, The Commonwealth Lives, Feed The Flame, Cannibal Island and the huge title track are pure power metal anthems and will be irresistible to fans of the genre.  This is another superb power metal album released in the last few months showing that the genre is truly alive and well in 2018. 9/10

Oblivion: Resilience (Rock Of Angels Records)

Oblivion is the new project featuring ex-members of Nightmare Jo Amore, David Amore and Steff Rabilioud with Resilience being their debut album. With three ex-members of Nightmare involved you know they have the experience to pull off a new project and with Resilience they pull it off with ease. What Oblivion have offered up with Resilience is absolutely no nonsense power metal which definitely leans to the more aggressive side of the genre. The vocals by Jo Amore are melodic yet with enough grit and gruffness to match the vicious guitar riffs and pounding rhythm section. The songs on the album range from speedy power metal anthems to more mid paced traditional heavy metal songs.  Standout songs for me included Honor And Glory, Shine In My Galaxy, Evil Spell and my personal favourite Punished By The Crowd. There are one or two songs on the album which are a bit forgettable but on the whole this is an enjoyable piece of power metal. 8/10

Insanity Alert: Insanity Alert (Season Of Mist)

Austrian thrashers Insanity Alert have just signed to Season Of Mist records who will be releasing their brand new album later on the year. As well as that they are reissuing the bands debut album which is what I’m looking at here. The self titled debut album was originally released in 2004 on Empire Records and the music that Insanity Alert play on this album is a fun and energetic style of thrash metal highly influenced by the crossover thrash scene. That means lots of short and sharp songs with a massive sense of humour running throughout evident in songs such as Glorious Thrash, Macaroni Maniac, the bluesy Blunt In/Blunt Out and their reworking of Iron Maiden’s classic Run To The Hills renamed Run To The Pit. It’s a fun and enjoyable album but like a lot of the crossover thrash songs it’s over as soon as it starts getting enjoyable. The reissue doesn’t come with any bonus tracks and is simply the original album and nothing else which comes across as a bit of a wasted opportunity. Fast, fun but unessential thrash. 7/10

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Reviews: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Soldiers Of Solace, Amid The Barren And Lost (Reviews By Paul)

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Wrong Creatures (Vagrant Records)

Many years ago, I saw BRMC at Cardiff University in the Great Hall. I don’t remember much about the gig to be honest, but it was sufficiently good for me to stay until the end, something that doesn’t always happen at metal gigs these days. I knew they were still around, but it’s been a while since I heard any of their music. The San Francisco trio’s eight album and their first since 2013’s Specter At The Feast is a tasty hour of alternative and grunge style rock, ranging from the powerful Spook, the emotional soaked Echo through to the moody slow burn of the excellent Haunt, with its introspective slightly gothic feel. BMRC create a sound that belies their three-piece status, with Peter Hayes, Robert Levon Been and Leah Shapiro crafting a balanced and measured release which makes a smashing alternative to the ear-splitting noise we tend to favour. If you fancy something a little off the usual path, then Wrong Creatures may be just the job. 8/10

Soldiers Of Solace: We Are Immortal (Rock ‘N’ Growl Records)

In the maelstrom of sub genres, sometimes all you want is a beefy chunk of heavy metal. US metal outfit Soldiers Of Solace bring you heavy, in a traditional muscular style which initially fitted the bill perfectly. It’s not going to take your breath away with originality but opening double salvo Rude Awakening and the title track hit fast and with some weight behind the punch and my interest was fired. The power ballad which inevitably follows; Cold As A Stone is pretty routine. From there on it’s a little bit paint by numbers in the FFDP and Shinedown style, arena rock which would no doubt get those who love their music with little variation a little moist. Another power ballad, Washed In Flames allows vocalist Jason Longo to open the pipes, the similarities with Ivan Moody evident but does little. I’m afraid that for all the intensity at the start of the record, halfway through and it was just the same track on repeat. Penultimate track Freedom’s Children does at least get the neck muscles straining even if it is a bit Anvil-esque. Despite the big, brash production and throwaway riffs unfortunately this album doesn’t really prompt much excitement. 5/10

Amid The Barren And Lost: Shadow Self Psalms (Nemacystem Records)

According to their press release, London’s Amid The Barren And Lost is the focused and distilled sound of a quartet with one unified aim; the creation of the most uncompromising, and pummelling heavy metal. Well, they certainly do the pummelling well; this is one nasty full on assault. Crushing riffs and thunderous drums alongside a punishing vocal assault of dark, abstract lyrics take no prisoners. Its intensity is ferocious, with Sean Gibson’s guttural vocal delivery sitting comfortably alongside the brutality delivered by guitarist Doug Cartwright, bassist Chad McCamlie and drummer Leigh Costanza.

With more than a little groove underpinning their gnarly thrashing, Amid The Barren And Lost won’t be playing at your little sister’s wedding party any time soon. However, they will be opening up raging pits in the live arena with their relentless battery. Opener Of Blood And Bone sets a tempo which the band match with energy and fury throughout; four tracks in and Nameless Slave just destroys. I was breathless from listening to this onslaught. It rarely stops, and the ambitious eight-minute closing track The Beautiful Architecture Of Lies provides the ideal conclusion to superb debut. 8/10

Monday, 29 January 2018

Reviews: Ektomorf, Frozen Crown, Taste (Reviews By Rich)

Ektomorf: Fury (AFM Records)

I’ll fully admit that I had no idea that Ektomorf were still going. They are one of those bands that slipped under my radar and my only exposure to them were odd songs I found on Nuclear Blast samplers and I remember them coming across as Hungary’s answer to Soulfly. Well they are very much still active and their latest release and eleventh album is the very aptly titled Fury. Musically they are a mix of downtuned groove and thrash metal but this music is damn fucking angry! The opening trio of songs – The Prophet Of Doom, AK 47 and Fury – come charging out of the speakers like a herd of wildebeest flattening everything in its path and the intensity barely lets up for the duration of the album.

There is a slight lull in the middle of the album with a slight excess of mid paced groove heavy songs but it all comes back to the violence towards the end especially with furious album closer Skin Them Alive. There are still similarities in sound to Soulfly and frontman Zoltán Farkas vocal style has more than a passing resemblance to Max Cavalera but much like Soulfly have Ektomorf have moved away from the alternative and nu metal elements in their side and embraced the more violent elements in their sound. A fantastic album which is bound to responsible for a few neck injuries upon release. 8/10

Frozen Crown: The Fallen King (Scarlet Records)

There seems to be an influx of very high quality power metal and all coming from brand new bands. The latest of these is the debut album by Italian band Frozen Crown. The album is entitled The Fallen King and it is an absolute tour de force of melodic power metal. All the traditional elements of power metal are evident here and the band doesn’t stray from the tried and tested formula but what we have is an insanely strong selection of songs played to absolute perfection and with a powerhouse production to boot.

The songs on the whole are fast, powerful anthems with furious drumming and savage riffing with plenty of keyboards to add atmosphere or boost melodies. Songs such as Fall No More, The Shieldmaiden and Everwinter will be absolutely irresistible to any self respecting power metal fan. The vocals Giada ‘Jade’ Etro are suitably impressive varying from soft on the albums few tender moments to a powerhouse throughout the majority of the album.

The backing vocals by keyboard player and guitarist Federico Mondelli are enjoyable though his harsh vocals are a bit unnecessary and don’t add anything to the album. That is literally the only negative things I have to say about this album as a whole. It is an absolutely stunning piece of power metal which I can say I shall definitely be buying a copy of it. 9/10

Taste: We Are Back (Self Released)

Swedish rockers Taste return with their second album – the suitably titled We Are Back. Formed by brothers Christoffer and Felix Borg Taste is another band who successfully emulate the mid eighties AOR sound. Big huge guitar solos, walls of synth and melodic vocals is what is on offer here. I am in no way blind to the fact that this music is extremely cheesy and despite being a fan of the extreme side of rock and metal I simply cannot resist cheesy anthems with loads of retro sounding synthesisers.

On the whole this is a strong second album for Taste. Things get off to a great start with title track We Are Back and as the album progresses we are inundated with AOR anthems such as Our Dreams and Stay. There is a bit of a drop in the middle of the album with awful ballad My Rose but things pick up again with songs such as Doesn’t Feel Like Love and Fallen Angel. There are a multitude of bands resurrecting this classic AOR sound and a lot of the original bands are still recording and touring so this album doesn’t have originality on its side but it’s so well written and performed with such love that it’s impossible not to enjoy. 8/10

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Reviews: Anvil, Magnum, Abysmal Grief, Tamerlan Empire (Reviews By Paul)

Anvil: Pounding The Pavement (Steamhammer/SPV)

Just like clockwork it’s time for another Anvil album. Two years ago, we had Anvil Is Anvil, which I was comfortable awarding an 8/10, mainly due to the legendary drumming of Rob Reiner and the odd tune which was reasonable metal quality. Pounding The Pavement is about the 100th album by the Canadians whose resilience is astonishing. I’m immediately awarding extra points for the opening track, Bitch In The Box, which to my delight was not some crotch rubbing misogyny but a track about a SatNav! Fuck yeah! How much more metal can you get? From there on in you get 45 minutes of standard Anvil fare.

Thunderous riffs, ridiculous but honest and heart felt lyrics from Lips and let’s be fair, some rather routine vocals. However, the band can hold a tune, and with Chris Robertson remaining in place on the bass, this is another reasonable performance, albeit with the usual chunks of utter crap liberally sprinkled throughout. Whether Anvil should have been bigger is a debate which will rage for hours in the pub; what is not in question is their longevity, dedication and sheer doggedness. And for that, Anvil will always be welcome. 7/10

Magnum: Lost On The Road To Eternity (Steamhammer/SPV)

Less than two years since the quite majestic Sacred Blood Divine Lies, and Magnum are back with album number 20. It’s their longest release at 67 minutes long, and if you dislike their brand of progressive AOR then this would be absolute torture. Fortunately, as I said in my review back in March 2016, I have a massive soft spot for this band. With two major personnel changes, Lost On The Road To Eternity has a spring in its step; no mean feat for a band whose main players are now able to ride public transport for free.

The departure of keyboard player Mark Stanway, who I saw play with Magnum way back in 1985, was something of a shock although he walked out on the band during their last tour but he’s not missed on this release, with Rich Benton doing a fine job. Harry James, he of Thunder and Snakecharmer has also departed, a more permanent fixture required and James is replaced by Lee Morris who slips onto the drum stool with aplomb.

What you get as you’d expect with Magnum is highly crafted rock music full of pomp and passion. Bob Catley, now aged 70 is in fine form, albeit with a bit of a croak in the voice. Opening tracks Peaches And Cream and Show Me Your Hands are classic Magnum, romping along with style and comfortable ease. The pace slows for the start of Storm Baby before a classic Tony Clarkin riff kicks in, giving a bit of meat to the ballad. Clarkin, who at 71 looks younger now than he did 32 years ago, remains an underrated guitarist.

Much of his work is subtle, conservative but oh so effective. The title track has the bonus of Avantasia main man Tobias Sammet, performing as pay back some artistic dues for all the Catley input into Sammet’s project. A high paced, 50 piece orchestral backed track, Lost On The Road To Eternity is both ghastly and beautiful at the same time. The “Hey ho” chorus quite challenging but saved by the huge orchestral swathes that envelope the middle section quite magically. The first single Without Love has already become well recognised and is catchy without the awfulness of Just Like An Arrow from all those years ago.

Clarkin, who wrote all the tracks on this album has pushed for the lengthier style this time. Unsurprisingly for a band who have long worn the progressive stamp, several tracks clock in at over six minutes including the intriguing, Floydian and Moody Blues combination of Welcome To The Cosmic Cabaret, which ticks over eight minutes. What underpins most of the tracks on this album is an undeniable melodic thread underpinned by some epic story telling.

Now where is this more apparent than on the superb closing track King Of The World, where all elements of the band combine into a rather fine conclusion. Formed in 1972, the energy of this band remains astonishing. Another weird and wonderful album cover courtesy of the mystical Rodney Matthews enhances the package. Whether Mr Catley can do it live anymore remains open to debate but we shall see in February when the band arrive at the Tramshed. For now, enjoy another excellent release from a much-loved UK band. 8/10

Abysmal Grief: Blasphema Secta (Terror From Hell Records)

According to my internet research, Abysmal Grief hail from Genoa, Italy and have been peddling their doom occult metal since 1996. Blasphema Secta is album number five and follows 2015’s release Strange Rites Of Evil. Opening track Intro (The Occult Lore) sounds like it has been made by a 15-year-old on his Casio keyboard, attempts to make it a sinister mood limited by the tinny sound. However, the haunting violin which precedes the ten-minute Behold The Corpse Revived does the job a lot better. The track itself is an absolute belter, moving at sufficient pace to maintain the interest, crashing chords and the repetitive violin riff addictive.

The growling vocals combined with a Baroque macabre increasingly addictive and the huge, lengthy tracks do not slow for one minute. Maleficence follows, eerie and ominous with a sound that feels like a cross between Rob Zombie and Ghost but heavier and much more serious. When Darkness Prevails is just creepy as fuck, real Hammer House of Horror stuff before closing track Ruthless Profaners concludes with a chilling serenade to death. Grab your garlic, your silver bullet and close your eyes. Haunting stuff. 7/10

Tamerlan Empire: Age Of Ascendancy (Metal Hell Records)

Sometimes an album just takes your breath away. This is one such time. Symphonic black metal outfit Tamerlan Empire, named after the 14th Century Mongolian Warlord Tamerlane, have released a truly magnificent debut piece. Dripping with Eastern and oriental influences, this is an hour of stunning music. Combining the power of Immortal and Dimmu Borgir with the likes of Khalas and Orphaned Land, Tamerlan Empire expunge the myth that all Australians play pub rock. The fusion of Middle Eastern melodies and rhythms with more traditional black metal themes is not only impressive but unique and the style is immediately recognisable.

Led by drummer Khan, and with superbly gritty vocals from guitarist Ghorr, tracks such as Ottoman’s Demise and the epic Behest Of The Chosen drive with blast beats but are laced with stunning oriental arrangements. The strings on the latter just splendid. Retaining the sinister overarching devilment that underpins the genre, there are moments when you’d be forgiven for confusing the band with many others, until the symphonic elements cascade in a thunderous cacophony and then it becomes a whole different proposition. Album closer Scattered Sands even contains an Iron Maiden riff. This is a spectacular release and a breath of fresh air in the sometimes-stale world of metal. 9/10

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Review: Machine Head (Mega Review By Paul)

Machine Head: Catharsis (Nuclear Blast Records)

Much has already been written about this album. Few bands stir such polarised opinions as Oakland’s Machine Head. Three years since Bloodstone and Diamonds, an album that received mixed reviews but actually holds some significantly impressive tracks, the drip feed for album number 9 was probably a bad idea in retrospect, with the social media s**t storm fuelled by Robb Flynn’s indignation at the poor reviews that were flying in.

So what do we actually get? Well, things start off on the right tone with Volatile, Flynn’s snarling “F*** the world” in the first bars leading into a stomping track, albeit with more than an echo of Des Moines’ very own Slipknot. The duelling guitar work of Flynn and Phil Demmel rescue it, Jared MacEachern’s harmonies on the choruses providing a useful foil to Flynn’s trademark roar and continue to do so throughout the release. Halfway through the track slows in typical MFH style, the breakdown to shrieking solo inevitable.

My huge problem with this track is the tinny production, with minimal bass sound; we are at And Justice For All territory for a few minutes. We’ve already heard the title track as part of the pre-release tracks, but it’s worth dwelling on it again. Catharsis contains a slow, atmospheric build up, Dave McLain’s drumming steady as Flynn moves from clean to grizzly vocals. There are massive traces of the MFH circa 2003 here, crashing riffs and Flynn moving to a rap style (question: didn’t he always sound like this?) combined with melody and the hook which is going to have halls up and down the country head banging ‘muthaf**rs’. I can cope with Catharsis.

Beyond The Pale was subjected to huge criticism for its similarities to Strapping Young Lad’s Love. Indeed, there is huge correlation between the two tracks, and yes, the riffs are virtually identical. But then, most metal is recycled isn’t it? There’s not a lot wrong with this one, Flynn’s aggressive vocals spitting resistance and a welcome bit of clean singing allows him to demonstrate that he can actually sing, not just shout or drawl. The bass remains hidden in the mix but at least we get some classic MFH guitar harmonies. It’s not the monster groove bastard you are screaming for by now but it does pull some weight. The angst of California Bleeding is, for me, where the cracks begin to show for the first time. A throw away social commentary, it is routine, unremarkable and instead of pounding the skull it merely tickles.

However, things hit a new low with Triple Beam. A return to the rap nu-metal days of The Burning Red, this is a truly awful song. I’ve listened to it over and over again but I can’t find anything decent here. And then we roll into the car crash that is Kaleidoscope. The clapping, skipping intro is strange enough, Flynn’s roar all over the place, but all of a sudden Machine Head are roaring again. For a couple of minutes the band engages the gears of past glories, before introducing synthesiser lines and some orchestral elements. However, the lyrics are gibberish, with Flynn falling back on the tired and unnecessary “middle finger in the air”. Now, I’m all in favour of experimenting and this is a band that has earnt the right to say “f**k you” to the world; it’s just disjointed and unremarkable and not particularly exciting. For a man of 50, raging is just a little bit of a caricature. And we aren’t even at halfway yet.

If you thought the vitriol was bad for the earlier released tracks, that was nothing compared to the internet reaction that sped forth for the folk Celtic punk effort of B*s. Taking the track in isolation, it actually has grown on me but oh dear, that doesn’t mean it’s a screamer. As it develops it gets more and more cringe worthy, Flynn using provocative lyrics to make his point. I’ve always hated his drawling style on the quieter this tracks and this hits that nerve again. This may have seemed a brave move at the time but if there is one track on here that is divisive, then it is this track.

By now I’m beginning to flag, seven songs down and nothing has really grabbed me by the balls. And at last, here is a song that gets the pits moving and the head banging. Hope Begets Hope, a stomping tub thumper with Demmel at last allowed loose. Traditional metal drumming, Flynn on fire, both lyrically and vocally. 4 minutes 30 seconds. That’s all it takes. Screaming At The Sun is mediocre, a slower paced tune that doesn’t appear to know where it is going so inevitably goes nowhere. I quite like the echoing backing vocals though.

If you’ve managed to stay with it you suddenly realise that you’ve nearly made it through. An acoustic guitar provides the intro to Behind The Mask, which has grown on me despite its echoes of Corey Taylor and Stone Sour. The welcome addition of haunting female backing vocals is another departure from the norm on a song which is emotionally powerful and for me one of the better tracks. Hell, Flynn evens does a Mikael Akerfeldt turn halfway through. The flamenco style guitar enhances rather than hinders and the clean singing is superb. Heavy Lies The Crown is the jewel in amongst too much mediocrity. At just under nine minutes it is the central piece to the album; it builds dramatically, string sections add atmosphere, McLain’s percussion work moves the track along before it explodes into a massive track.

Not especially heavy, but with a repetitive riff which gets all parts moving; for once a MFH track that doesn’t need to go at 100mph to be effective. Reassuringly that doesn’t last and we are soon rampaging in familiar territory, a chunky thrash groove kicks in as Flynn’s take on Louis XI, the Spider King of France. The nu-metal edge of Psychotic is saved to some extent by a huge underlying groove whilst Grind You Down’s lacerating guitar intro leads to another schizophrenic track. The penultimate track, Razorblade Smile, is allegedly a tribute to Lemmy.

Well, the riff from Overkill is certainly visible, but the lyrics are yet more tripe; “All this debauched sh** came out” said Flynn about the writing. Well, I don’t recall the great Motörhead man ever writing about ‘eating p***’. Shame, really as the music does kick hard. And then we get to the album’s final track, the dark and haunting Eulogy. Unfortunately this sounds like a continuation of B*s with repeated lyrics and chords surfacing and it really doesn’t do much at all despite the apparent ‘epic’ status it is clearly attempting to obtain.

As I listened to Catharsis I pondered on a number of things:

Has the constant adulation heaped on the band since The Blackening contributed to the deterioration in quality of writing?

Was it ever right to expect another mammoth album? Who knows?

What did the rest of the band think when recording these tracks? Are they fully on board?

And what really fuels Robb Flynn? Consider his angry ripostes to negative reviews, his bizarre social media ramblings, his attacks on Phil Anselmo etc.

Machine Head were once rightly touted the great hope for metal. They still have the capacity to do it and I hope that their live shows in May will rip a hole in the venues they’ve chosen. It remains to be seen. What is clear is that Catharsis is not a great album. Solid, with some decent tracks but too long and with a change in direction that has polarised opinions once more. Maybe that’s the real beauty of the band. I intend to write a retrospective piece on this album later in the year, once the dust has settled and the album is a more comfortable companion. At this moment in time, there’s sufficient here only to give the album a solid 6/10

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Reviews: New Years Day, Lione-Conti, Tartarum, Wedge

New Year's Day: Diary Of A Creep (Century Media)

To satisfy their borderline obsessed fan base, New Year's Day follow up their breakthrough album Malevolence with a 6 track EP. It features one brand new song, the excellent Disgust Me whioch has the bands trademark mix of groove heavy riffs and catchy chorus as Ash Costello sings with an angst that's unmatched after the new original come five covers where New Year's Day have done their on versions of tracks from artists that have influenced them, New Order's Bizarre Love Triangle gets and industrial darkwave makeover, their take on Pantera's Fucking Hostile is a little slower than the original but one it's more rounded and two the lyrics are decipherable, it still punches you in the throat though so kudos for that and the solos are Dime worthy.

As I've said the covers are a little eclectic as after Fucking Hostile Linkin Park's Crawling is treated to a synth remix that really makes it a dark and poignant track, Ash teams up with Lzzy Hale for a salute to female rock icon Shirley Manson with a rocking version of Only Happy When It Rains where Lzzy gets to really let loose with the stomp/clap keeping going. Finally the record ends with Don't Speak which has No Doubt sounding like never before, it's a suitably powerful end to the record as the orchestration makes it sound like a modern Bond-theme.

Diary Of A Creep is an impressive stop gap that lets New Year's Day pay homage to their influences by putting their own spin on classic songs but also shows that they are still creating new music which bodes well for a new album soon. 7/10

Lione/Conti: Lione/Conti (Frontiers Records)

Frontiers have a knack of putting together dream team pairings, like the Allen/Lande records the newest dual vocalist album comes from Alessandro Conti and Fabio Lione. Conti is the singer of Trick Or Treat and was chosen by guitarist Luca Truilli to front his version of Rhapsody after he left the original group. Fabio Lione is the original singer of Rhapsody and Rhapsody Of Fire (the band changed name after Truilli left) and has recently sung for Rhapsody again on their most recent (and final) tour. So both men have sung with Rhapsody so you'd expect the record to sound a little like that and while the Rhapsody influence is their as the press releases says this is pretty much an Italian version of Allen/Lande but with more of a power metal vibe.

As with most of these Frontiers collaborative records the backing musicians make the record what it is and this is no exception, the album was written and produced by Simone Mularoni of DGM he plays guitars and bass with Marco Lanciotti and Filippo Martignano taking drums and keys respectively, they fire on all cylinders throughout as Lione and Conti stretch their tonsils. What the record gives you is 10 big power metal tracks and the occasional ballad like Somebody Else. Both vocalists are brilliant and play off each other well, Lione/Conti will be a treat for anyone who enjoys power metal and any previous Frontiers collections. 7/10

Tartarum: Tales Of Ancient Times (Self Released)

Cypriot band Tartarum used to be known as Khrysaor until 2017 when they decided to release their new record under a new name due to new band members, so Tales Of Ancient Times is the bands debut album an it's a strong first shot, the record has 8 tracks of atmospheric/symphonically charged melodic death metal, led by the maelstrom of riffage from founding member Alexis Yiangoulis songs like Cosmology are unstoppable with furious blastbeats running riot.

Yiangoulis also takes the keys adding the dramatic parts to tracks such as the chugging Titanomachy where Kotsios Kotsiou is free to explore with his lead guitar playing adding frenzied solos and more restrained moments on Capturing The Universe. Tartarum are stylistically reminiscent of their Greek counterparts Septicflesh as Chris Panteli balances his low growls with clean mids effortlessly, while the expansive musical backing really makes you listen, Tales Of Ancient Times is a progressive, atmospheric record with an extreme metal heart, it's one of those records that builds to a thrilling climax with Kuchisake Onna and Feasting With The Gods two of the best songs on the record by far. You need to hear this album if Septicflesh, Fleshgod Apocalypse and Wintersun are regularly played in your home, I promise you won't regret it. 8/10

Wedge: Killing Tongue (Heavy Psych Sounds)

There seems to be an influx of late 60’s/early 70’s influenced psych rock bands around at the minute and many come from Sweden, as Paul will attest due to him being the one to review most of them, not all of them are Swedish, for example one of the best are Berlin rockers Kadavar. So also out of Berlin come Wedge who scream mind-altering psych with their album artwork which sees a woman licking a tab shaped like a guitar pick.

It’s by no means subtle but then neither is the music, stomping hard rock that brings to mind Grand Funk Railroad, Stray and Status Quo but also modern acts like Lionize. If you want a feel for the band then listen to their first track Nuthin’ and their final track Push Air, the former is a riff friendly Lizzy-like rocker that gets the blood pumping before the organs swell into Deep Purple proportions, the latter is a musical menagerie with funk bass, electric piano and even a harmonica solo coming during its 6 minute run time.

That’s not to say the rest of the album is not worth dealing with because it very much is, Lucid flows freely with tasty riffs, Tired Eyes is all atmosphere as the sound effect of chains drag the song along underpinned by bassist/organist Dave Götz who has dextrous four stringing and bubbling keys, before exploding into some more Thin Lizzy harmonies. The time is kept to a frenzied steadiness (which I know is a misnomer) by drummer Holger “The Holg” Grosser as the fuzzbox riffs and wild vocals come from Kiryk Drewinski.

The music is atypical for a retro trio, part Wolfmother, part Kadavar the songs whizz pass with all the authenticity of the period, just check out the Eagles meets tabla/bongo on Quarter To Dawn or the jazz flourishes on High Head Woman. Killing Tongue is establishes Wedge as retro rock groove machine decked out in bell-bottoms and paisley shirts you practically smell the joss sticks across the 9 tracks. 9/10

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Bloodshot Dawn (Live Review By Paul)

Bloodshot Dawn, Reprisal, Vile Inscription, Democratus, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

It may have been a miserable rainy night in Cardiff but the temperature inside the Capital's premier rock and metal club was the opposite of the freezing drizzle outside.

First up was local melodic death destroyers Democratus (8). The band has pushed hard over the past few months, getting a solid number of gigs under their belts. Last time I saw them they’d put on a splendid opening set for Suffocation in Bristol’s Bierkeller. Tonight, they took that performance and ramped it up at least 25% Once again it was front man-mountain Steve Jenkins who was the focal point, his screams splitting the eardrums as the band kicked into their opening number. Tighter than a tyre welders grip, the band blasted through a six-song set, with tracks from their fine debut EP Starting Again comprising the bulk of the songs. Endless Prophecy and the politically charged Lie For A Life probably the standout tracks for me. Jenkins vocals consistently improve, and his confidence was evident with regular forays into the crowd, even starting an impromptu pit at one point. Democratus are gigging more in 2018 and I thoroughly recommend a viewing if you get the chance.

Cardiff’s Vile Inscription (8) brought an even heavier noise to the venue with their ballistic assault demanding attention. Skull crushingly heavy, the band’s vocalist, Matt Small, is anything but that, with a central presence and guttural roars which could wake the dead. Technical death metal is always a challenge to get right but the aggression of their songs combined with unexpected melody hit just the right notes. The mandatory cannibalism themed track produced a good chuckle whilst their other songs were just as lacerating. A biting set which deserved a few more punters.

Main support Reprisal (7) opened to about five in the crowd but really didn’t give a shit as their pulverising groove and death fused thrash fired up. Vocalist Tom is an imposing frontman with energy and an intensity which kept the increased crowd on their toes, not to mention a few feet away as his forages into the crowd just enhanced the maniacal glean in his eyes! Hammer Of Life stood out in a short but scything set which didn’t let up from start to finish. Self deprecating humour is a necessity at gigs where you are unknown to much of the crowd and Tom had it in spades. A well-earned ovation rewarded their efforts. The guys from Surrey are certainly worth a watch … probably from a safe distance!

Headliners Bloodshot Dawn (9) have regrouped and released their stunning third album Reanimation which is already looking good for a place in the top 10 of 2018. With drummer James Stewart on duty for Vader the band enlisted Guilio Gelati from Hideous Divinity to help alongside Canadian Morgan Reid on guitar and new bassist Giacomo Gastaidi. Opening with Vision from their still outrageously intense debut album to a raging pit, the band were on top form, kicking quickly into Smoke And Mirrors from Demons. Before first new track Survival Evolved demonstrated the increase in quality of their writing. It simply blew a hole in the room. A bizarrely quiet crowd punctuated the silence with chants of the band's name throughout, ferocious pitting and much head banging supporting each track.

The new material fitted snuggly amongst the older songs with Shackled particularly impressive. Some horrible feedback caused a challenge with the guitar sound, a little of the technicality lost in the mix but the band blasted forward, inciting a wall of death. As the small crowd warmed up chants of “bag of prawns” and “buttered scone”, variations on the band's name became more hilarious. A circle pit was hysterical too. With DNA Reacquisition segueing nearly into the title track of the new album demonstrating once more the strength of the new material the band closed strongly. A welcome return to one of the UK's strongest death metal outfits who are once more demonstrating the quality that got us so excited in the first place.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Reviews: Voodoo Circle, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Mutual Appreciation Society, Order To Ruin

Voodoo Circle: Raised On Rock (AFM)

Do you remember when Rainbow replaced Dio with Graham Bonnet? The overall style of the band didn’t change too much but with the Hawaiian shirt wearing frontman, Ritchie Blackmore’s men tightened up, got a little louder and bit more radio friendly; it was Rainbow for the MTV generation. It seems Alex Beyrodt is not content with just imitating Blackmore as a guitarist; he also seems to be taking the same route musically, after the previous record vocalist David Readman became involved with another three of four projects (the biggest being Almanac), Voodoo Circle searched for another vocalist, they settled upon Herbie Langhams (Avantasia) who Beyrodt met at Wacken festival. Langhams’ voice is a bit grittier than Readman’s once again supporting the Bonnet transition.

Musically as I’ve said they moved away from the heavy blues of the earlier albums bringing in some 80’s styled hard rock like Ultimate Sin and Running Away From Love, there's quite a deep AOR vein as well on Just Take My Heart and Where Is The World We Love. Even though I've compared the band alot to Rainbow both here and in the past there's actually a lot more Whitesnake on this record with Chase Me Away the track that really comes from the Coverdale book of slinky grooves, Unknown Stranger and Dreamchaser the two songs that are the VC of old. This isn't the Voodoo Circle I've loved from the first album, it's close but this record is slicker and brighter, it loses some of the blues based rocking of before but gains a more melodic edge that lets them seperate themselves from what's come before and establishes Herbie as their voice going forward. 8/10

Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard/Slomatics: Totems (Black Bow Records)

Black Bow records have brought two of the heaviest acts together on one EP, North Wales psychedelic doom merchants, four piece Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and three piece Belfast riff masters Slomatics. MWWB get two tracks and Slomatics get three but to be fair to MWWB both of their tracks come it at over 22 minutes. The Master And His Emissary is exactly what you'd want from the Wrexham band; Paul Michael Davies (synth and guitar), Jessica Ball (bass, vocals, synth) Wez Leon (synth and guitar), James ‘Carrat’ Carrington (synth and drums) wind up the synths and discord before letting loose with the crushing riffs they not only bring to the table, but that they use to smash it into pieces.

Four minutes in the haunting at time banshee-like vocals of Jess come in over a chugging riff while the percussion flays wildly. It's a breathtaking noise backing up the heaviness of the riffs with the rhythmic vocals and spiralling synths, it takes 10 minutes to get to the guitar solo which climaxes the song, letting you regroup for the second onslaught that is Eagduru, more immediate than it's predecessor, the leviathan slabs of riffage drag the song along at a blissed out pace. After you've been bludgeoned for 20 plus minutes it's time for Slomatics to ramp up the fuzz as David/ Chris turn their guitars to eleven while Marty howls and bashes away at the skins, Sliver Ships is a slow piano number that sits in the middle of the two riff fests, their type of music is built upon aggression but with atmospheric doom cutting through especially on final track Masters Descent. Totems is a five song showcase of some headache inducing volume from two of the UK's loudest bands. 8/10  

Sterling Ball, John Ferraro & Jim Cox: The Mutual Admiration Society (Mascot Records)

Sterling Ball (Son of guitarist Ernie) has probably been exposed to some of the best musicians ever and as a bass player he has played with some big names as well as being the CEO of Ernie Ball Musicman, his buddy's John Ferraro (drummer) and Jim Cox (piano/organ) round out the core trio of this instrumental group that have released an album of blues, soul and jazz covers with some odd choices thrown in. As you can probably see with the membership of this band there seems to be an integral part missing, on most of the songs Ball plays guitar but this album is all about the guests as Albert Lee strutting his stuff on Hey Good Looking, Steve Lukather sticks around for Baby Please Don't Go, Steve Morse plays on The In Crowd and Sugar Shack features Steve Vai who is co-releasing this album with Mascot. There are standards on this record as you'd expect but occasionally it throws up a suprise the biggest two being I Want You Back (Jackson 5) and Disney Medley which oddly features John Petrucci on guitar. If you like instrumental albums that are full of virtuoso musicianship then pick up this album for your regular Joe Bloggs the record may be nothing more than restaurant level muzak. 6/10 

Order To Ruin: The Return To Ceyrior VII (Self Released)

German act Order To Ruin are a studio based project formed rhythm guitarist Denis, who was joined by lead guitarist Simon. The band have released 6 albums before this one but according to the press release they believe that this may be their best yet, featuring Mike on bass and vocals the style of this record is rather eclectic featuring horror/sci-fi themes throughout the music is split between thrash, power and classic Swedish death metal, The Stormlake's Tale gallops away like prize pony, with blistering twin guitar riffs, furious drumming and squawked vocals The Return To Ceyrior reminds me of early In Flames due to the melodic elements interweaving with traditional death/black sounds. Dating Lucifer has more classic flavours, Mary-Jane whizzes past at lightspeed and The Conjurer starts out slow but kicks you in the guts much like the rest of the record. It's good stuff, melodic death metal played well, my only gripe is that the production is bit too rough meaning that all of the instrumentation does get a little muddy. 7/10

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Reviews: Black Label Society, Audrey Horne, Hyborian, Accuser (Reviews By Paul)

Black Label Society: Grimmest Hits (Entertainment One Music)

Zakk is back with number ten and to be fair there are once again few surprises but that doesn’t make this a bad release. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly comes to mind and Grimmest Hits, which sees recording debuts for rhythm guitarist Dario Lornia and drummer Jeff Fabb join Wylde and bassist Jo DeServio is a sultry smoking affair. Whilst the album doesn’t have the immediate crunch of The Blessed Hell Ride, Mafia or Order Of The Black, what it does contain is the usual superb playing, massive riffs and a retro feel that allows Wylde to channel his love of Sabbath and Zeppelin.

There are Sabbath riffs galore, check out Disbelief (A National Acrobat) or the riff on All That Once Shined which is about as close to Electric Funeral as you can get; Bury Your Sorrow contains a Zeppelin chug that is immediate and opener The Betrayal is classic BLS with Wylde’s drawl and over the top soloing welcoming like an old friend you’ve not seen for a few years. BLS do the Southern ballad with style. The Only Words is just beautiful, perfect tempo with a stunning vocal performance from Wylde, the track emitting a lovely Allman Brothers vibe.

As well as the 70s riff-fest, Grimmest Hits moves closer to the the New Orleans Chug of heavyweights Down, with a far sludgier feel than in previous offerings, such as the slab crushing weight of A Love Unreal. Of course, BLS can still throw down with the best, nowhere better illustrated than Illusions Of Peace, where a meaty, foot stomping beat rips hard and heavy. Zakk and co. don’t reinvent the wheel but what they do is always solid. 8/10

Audrey Horne: Blackout (Napalm Records)

I’ve been waiting for this album for ages and oh yes, it’s delivered on all counts. Four years since Pure Heavy, Toschie and his band mates pick things off with style with the hard rock of This Is War, a rampaging beauty crammed full of super guitar and hooks a plenty. The pace continues with Audrevolution, another thumper before the classic rock soaked title track takes centre stage. This One slows things, a balanced semi ballad which contains stylish twin guitar. In fact, there are shades of Thin Lizzy on several tracks, such as California, as well as numerous other influences, such as the Deep Purple thunder on Light Your Way, which features a chunky Hammond organ riff and some Blackmore-esque guitar.

Think Fireball and you’ll be spot on. The Norwegians have increased their harmonies for this release and it works well throughout with the choruses receiving oomph. Whilst Blackout is generally classic rock in sound, it’s not at all dated. Satellite, for example, would fit snuggly on a modern rock release whilst Naysayer would nestle comfortably amongst recent Priest or Saxon albums. At the start of every year we steel ourselves for the good, the bad and the bloody awful. Blackout sets the bar very high indeed. Now, let’s have some time in the UK guys. 9/10

Hyborian: Vol. I (Season Of Mist)

For a debut album this six-track release is an absolute gem. Stuffed full of fat riffs, sludgy choruses and some memorable hooks, the band from Kansas City have really pushed hard. It is furious, rampant and thoroughly enjoyable. Sitting very much in the Mastodon/Red Fang style, the release is influenced by Robert E. Howard; the story based on an interstellar, extra-dimensional cloaked being called The Traveller, whose legend is told through the album.

Martin Bush’s vocals sit comfortably amongst the maelstrom which is served by his fuzzy guitar alongside band mates Ryan Bates (guitar, vocals), drummer Justin Rippeto and Anthony Diale (bass). Stand out track is the majestic six-minute Blood For Blood, a balls-out careering bull of a track, full of the heaviest stoner rock imaginable. If you like your stoner dirty and teetering on the edge of chaos, then join the Hyborian machine. It’s a fabulous ride. 8/10

Accuser: The Mastery (Metal Blade)

Now I must admit I’d only vaguely heard of the thrash monsters Accuser, despite the band having been around in some shape or form since 1986. The Mastery is their 11th album and despite containing only one original member in the shape of Frank Thoms (vocals and guitar), The Mastery has a feel of old school thrash combined with the groove and feel of current times. It’s an impressive head banger of an album, unsurprisingly bursting with massive riffs, several changes of both time, pace and style.

Thoms brutally gruff delivery suits the band perfectly whilst their all-out assault is sure to grab the attention of those who like their metal served with an extra portion of savage. With the inevitable German Thrash scene’s influences of Kreator, Destruction and Sodom all evident, as well as a huge Slayer presence, it’s the underpinning groove that makes the musical element of this band impressive. Check Of Mission: Missile, the imperious My Skin and the title track for serious heavy thrash. 7/10

Friday, 19 January 2018

Reviews: Shining, Summoning, Asenblunt, Mystic Prophecy, Strikeback (Reviews By RIch)

Shining: X - Varg Utan Flock (Season Of Mist)

Sweden’s masters of depressive black metal Shining bring forth another dose of misery with tenth album X: Varg Utan Flock. This is definitely one of more intense albums Shining have released in recent years.  Helped by a brilliant production job this album has riffs which reach out of the speakers and grab you by the throat. A lot of the songs contain a real driving nastiness which has been lacking in the last few Shining releases. The folk and progressive influences which have been evident are still prevalent and mix nicely with the vicious black metal.

The vocals by Niklas Kvarforth are more on the tortured side this time round with both his pained black metal shrieks and his depressive cleans sounding like a man at the end of his rope. As with previous album IX: Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends the song titles and lyrics are all in Swedish so I cannot tell you the lyrical content of this album but it’s guaranteed to be dark and depressive. X: Varg Utan Flock is a definite return to form for Shining after a few disappointing releases and for me their best record since VII: Född Fölorare. 8/10

Summoning: With Doom We Come (Napalm Records)

Austrian atmospheric black metallers Summoning are back with their eighth full length album With Doom We Come. I have only been listening to Summoning for the past year and so am not very familiar with their back catalogue so can only judge this album off its own merits and not from what has preceded it. On With Doom We Come, Summoning have crafted an album which is equally dark and atmospheric and majestic and grandiose. The two members who make up Summoning – Protector and Silenius – are both massive Tolkien fans and this is very evident with a sound that evokes forests, mountains and an epic journey.

It’s music that definitely makes you feel like going for a long walk. The music on With Doom We Come is slow lo-fi black metal with layers of keyboards producing sounds such as horns and strings but with a very medieval sound about them. The vocals are a mix of harsh black metal croaks, some enjoyable clean vocals and some damn epic choral sections. The production on the album is nicely raw but not to the point where any of the instruments get lost in the mix. Summoning have produced an enjoyable album of atmospheric yet epic black metal although at times it does feel like a few of the songs could do with a trim due to most songs having the same pace to them. I will definitely continue to check out more Summoning from their extensive back catalogue. 7/10

Asenblut: Legenden (AFM Records)

Asenblut are a band that have seemingly slipped under my radar. They have three albums out and play a style of metal which is a mix of black metal and death metal but with plenty of melody and themes of paganism and Vikings. Their new release Legenden is an EP featuring four tracks taken from their debut album Aufbruch and re-recorded plus a cover of Manowar. I haven’t heard the original versions of the songs on this EP so cannot compare them. There are comparisons with fellow Viking metal act Amon Amarth in the use of rousing melodies in the music but Asenblut have a more intense rhythm section to them and a use of far more groove laden riffs. The vocals by frontman Tetzel are more on the guttural scale but are damn effective. It’s hard to say what the point of this EP is having not heard the original material it is sourced from but it’s an enjoyable release if you like your metal on the Viking side of things. 7/10

Mystic Prophecy: Monuments Uncovered (Massacre Records)

When it comes to power metal bands doing a covers album you are almost guaranteed to be able to guess the bands that will be covered. Generally with these covers albums you will get a collection of hard rock and classic metal songs covered from the 70’s and 80’s with songs by bands such as Rainbow, Black Sabbath and UFO pretty much guaranteed so it was very refreshing to see that Mystic Prophecy have gone down a different route with the song choices for their covers album Monuments Uncovered. There’s a few classic rock choices such as T. Rex and Creedence Clearwater Revival but on the whole Mystic Prophecy have thrown a curveball and covered artists as varied as Donna Summer, Lenny Kravitz, Kim Wilde, Patti Smith and Monster Magnet.

All the songs have been given a heavy metal makeover and on the whole sound pretty damn good.  Frontman Roberto Dimitri Liapakis sounds a bit strained on one or two songs but on the whole puts in a suitably impressive performance. As with all covers albums Monuments Uncovered is generally a bit pointless and you wish the band had released an album of new material instead but it’s a fun release and it’s enjoyable to hear these classic songs given a heavy metal makeover and props to Mystic Prophecy for trying something a bit different with a covers album instead of covering the tried and tested artists. 7/10

Strikeback: The Plague (Self Released)

Spanish thrashers Strikeback literally strike back with their second album The Plague. This was my first exposure to the band and it was a very fine first impression as Strikeback have put out one fine thrash metal album. The sound is very much rooted in old school thrash but the band have crafted the perfect balance between aggression, melody and catchiness which is definitely a winning formula when it comes to thrash metal. Frontman Liber has a vocal style that reminds me of an angrier and slightly gruffer Mark Osegueda from Death Angel whilst guitarists Rafa and Flo strum out chunky riffs and tasteful leads.

Bassist Mella and drummer Sebas provide a solid rhythm section. There’s barely a soft moment throughout the album with songs such as Wall Of Silence, B.H.S. and Anxiety Within are guaranteed to please any self respecting thrasher. Strikeback have released an album which is lacking in individuality and originality but makes up for it in sheer arse kickery. These guys know how to thrash and that’s all that matters in the end. 8/10

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Reviews: Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons, Raging Fate, Grimner, Thundermother (Reviews By Paul)

Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons: The Age Of Absurdity (Nuclear Blast)

I think most of us would be comfortable that Phil Campbell has nothing to prove. The Motörhead guitarist showed his quality during his many years as Lemmy’s wing man, and over time demonstrated that he is a fabulous blues based guitarist who can rock out with the best. Last year’s self-titled EP proved that rather than rest on his laurels, he has plenty of energy and desire to move forward. The debut album The Age Of Absurdity is a fine slab of hard rock, which ranges from the all-out thumper of opening track Ringleader to the soulful, superbly paced Into The Dark, which showcases not only Campbell’s stunning guitar work but also allows vocalist Neil Starr to show his colours.

Sandwiched in between are nine solid tracks which vary in style and quality. I prefer the Motörhead edge of the likes of Gypsy Kiss and Step Into The Fire which allows son Tyla to thunder away in true Lemmy style but to be fair there isn’t a duff track. Campbell’s guitar work is sublime throughout, subtle little licks and passages nip in and out whilst Todd and Dane supply ample support. Starr’s voice is ideally suited to the tracks, which retain the rock ‘n’ roll feel throughout. This is a very pleasing release that will grow as the tracks become more familiar. One of the classic rock albums of the year. 8/10


Raging Fate: Gods Of Terror (Stormspell Records)

There is nothing particularly wrong with this release. Proudly nailing its colours to the power metal mast, it thumps away from start to finish in a true to style manner. Influences include Running Wild, Grave Digger, Kreator and inevitably Helloween. Raging Fate hail from Sweden but have centred their sound on the Teutonic monsters of the metal world.

Disappointingly, the vocals of Matthias Lövdal are so poor they undo the solid musicianship which is contained within the band. Compact but unspectacular, with a frontman whose voice would sound more at home in the Hairy Arse Arms karaoke competition. Vampire and A Bitter Man’s Face are amongst the abject efforts whilst the pedestrian seven-minute Shores In Flames dies on its arse. Disappointingly rubbish. 4/10

Grimner: Vanadrottning (Despotz Records)

Celebrating their 10th anniversary, Swedish Viking/folk metallers Grimner roar into 2018 with a solidly pleasing release. With a new addition to the band’s vocal arsenal in Martin, who also adds some steadying rhythm guitar, this album is buoyant throughout, with a dynamic, high energy approach that is aurally addictive. The band’s sound is heavier than in previous releases, incorporating the traditional folk metal flute, mandola and bagpipes which we are now familiar with Vanadrottning translates to ‘queen of the Vanir’, referring to the goddess Gullveig from the Norse mythology. She is known mostly from the tale of the war between the Aesir and the Vanir, when she was captured and burned alive by Odin and his herd.

Each time they burned her she would be born anew, dying three times and resurrected three times, each time in immense agony. Well, there you are then! With a wealth of catchy melodies, folk instruments and heavy riffs blending aggressive metal with a softer, reserved style, Vanadrottning is at times captivating, especially with lyrics sung in Swedish. The focus on stories of Norse mythology, folklore and historical adventures are not new but this is an enjoyable release with a range of songs, some dark and mysterious; others faster paced and with a jovial slant. If you are at Hammerfest this March, Grimner will be well worth catching. 7/10

Thundermother: Self-Titled (Despotz Records)

On first listen I’d have taken a punt on Thundermother’s home country as being Australia, such is the AC/DC and Airbourne style of their classic rock. However, these ladies are from Sweden, and this release is their third album. It’s a pleasing album, with some gritty rock ‘n’ roll delivered in a classic style which will be guaranteed to get the foot tapping and the head nodding. The band has almost completely changed its line-up, with only guitarist and founder Filippa Nässil remaining in place but there is no detriment to their sound or performance. The band’s extensive touring throughout 2017 has helped.

Vocalist Guernica Mancini has a smoky raspy style which fits perfectly, whilst the fat drum sound, which the band wanted, has been fully achieved and allows Emlee Johansson to sit front and centre. Fire In The Rain is apparently the first power ballad that the band has ever recorded and whilst it doesn’t set the world alight, it’s decent enough. However, it’s the balls out heads down rock ‘n’ roll that really works for Thundermother and their third release is well worth a listen. 7/10

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Geoff Tate's Operation Mindcrime (Review By Nick)

Geoff Tate: Operation Mindcrime 30th Anniversary Tour, Muni Arts Centre Pontypridd

Thirty years ago one of the best progressive rock/metal bands of our time, Queensryche, produced what has since hailed to be one of the greatest concept albums of its decade; Operation: Mindcrime. Unfortunately due to the now well known collapse of the original band the album could not be celebrated the way it truly deserved, however this was not going to stop original lead singer and co writer of the masterpiece Geoff Tate give it a damn good go. Setting out of a solo world tour treating the flocking crowds to a complete live play through of the album with a few other hits thrown in for good measure.... if Geoff's voice was still up to par, this had one hell of a night written all over it.

For those who are unfamiliar with the album a brief explanation of the concept behind the album is: Recovering heroin addict is taken in by an evil Dr (Not Dr Evil). Dr X proceeds to control said addict by controlling his access to the drug he craves so much and brainwashes him to carry out his devious political deeds and assassinations as part of his revolutionary group. Meanwhile, the addict falls for a nun who is part of the group and starts to realise again what he has been made to do and the hold the drugs have over him, so sets about fighting back, sadly losing his new found love to the Dr in the process... freaky yet emotional right?!  Arriving fairly early we picked up our tickets and headed to the pub for a pint and a bit of food as the supports didn't really interest us too much, having seen one of them before and the other being Tate's daughters band. After all, tonight is all about one of the greatest voices in music and the masterpiece of an album we came to celebrate.

Entering the Muni Arts Centre, a converted church we found a rammed sold out venue of all ages predominantly supporting Queensryche merch, all waiting for the main event to start. We discovered a good spot towards the back by the sound man, stood back and watched as Geoff Tate's very young band entered the stage, soon followed by the man himself to rapturous applause. Looking fly as ever Tate was supporting his now signature trilby hat with waistcoat and tie... not bad for a 58 year old! Without delay the band cracked on with delivering Operation: Mindcrime in full. With a few technical issues to begin, however the band cracked on, once Geoff's mic and the lead guitar were fixed the room was delighted to hear the Tate's voice had not lost a note over the years, and was able to hit every note in his typical passionate style. Pulling and contorting his face every which way to hit the notes and express the true nature of the lyrics. Revolution Calling was the first real test to which he passed with flying colours, this was Geoff Tate of old and the crowd were loving it. Singing along and breaking out our air guitars at times I watched on really thinking Tate could have easily sat down and the entire crowd would have happily serenaded the entire album ourselves to Tate and his band. 

When given the opportunity by Tate to join in the crowd would happily oblige and lift of the roof singing. Ploughing into Speak, Spreading The Disease and The Mission there was a brief pause as Tate spoke to the crowd highlighting the importance of the album in music and why it needed to be celebrated, while at the same time thanking his ever faithful fans. Next the centrepiece of the album and eleven minute epic Suite Sister Mary was delivered with great emotion and ease by Tate and the band. Although young the band showed they were more than capable of reproducing such a great album in a way it deserved, breaking out seamless solos, deep riffs and thumping drums when needed to highlight the current feeling of the album. The band did themselves and the album great justice throughout. Moving on soon came another anthem from the album; I don't believe in love to which you could hear the crowd sing above 

Tate and his band, looking at Tate during this track you could see the fun he was having still, despite the countless number of times he has no doubt performed these songs. Following the two brief interludes built into the album it was time for the climax of the album and one of my all time favourite Queensryche songs; Eyes Of A Stranger. This would surely be the ultimate test of Tate's voice with the songs signature pitch changes and high crescendo as it ends, although the song had definitely been dropped an octave it was still nailed by Tate who easily transferred from high to low with little effort and didn't drop a note. The crowd again lapping up the performance while singing at the top of their voices it all soon came to an end too soon. Leaving the stage to applause and cheers the crowd demanded more and we were not let down.

Returning to the stage the band and Tate once again expressed their gratitude, with a surprise birthday cake to celebrate Tate's birthday the crowd and band forced a round of happy birthday on him to which he kindly received with some shyness. After this we were treated to a mini three song encore of the mesmerising and heart wrenching Silent Lucidity, Empires and Jet City Woman; all of which were performed with the utmost professionalism and quality we had come to expect from the previous hour and thirty minutes.

When attending a gig like this I always do so with a certain amount of trepidation; will Tate's voice be any good? If so will he be able to do this album justice still? Will the night be a bust? Well the answer to those questions in my head were two resounding yes's and a firm no! Geoff Tate's voice has barely lost a note through the years and is still as silky smooth as ever, as a result we were able to relive Operation: Mindcrime in all its glory once more, in a cracking atmosphere and venue thirty years after it was conceived. To that I say thank you Geoff!... and come back soon! 10/10

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Reviews: Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa, Apparition, White Wizzard, Gleb Kolyadin

Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa: Black Coffee (Provogue/Mascot)

The third collaboration between singer Beth Hart, Joe Bonamassa and Kevin 'Caveman' Shirley sees the modern guitar hero and the vocal powerhouse come back together for an album of covers that come from songs that have been written or covered by Edgar Winter, Ray Charles, Etta James, Steve Marriott, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Lucinda Williams, LaVern Baker. So a record of soul and blues covers from one of the best vocalists in the business and one of the most expressive guitarists around, the record welcomes back Anton Fig (Drums/Percussion), Ron Dziubla (Saxophone), Lee Thornburg (Horn Arrangements/Trumpet/Trombone).

It sees Reese Wynans (Keyboards), Michael Rhodes (Bass), Rob McNelley (Rhythm Guitar), Paulie Cerra (Saxophone), Mahalia Barnes (Backing Vocals), Jade Macrae (Backing Vocals) and Juanita Tippins (Backing vocals), jump in to fill out the ranks, it's who's who of co-conspirators from Joey Bones' past and they make for a formidable force. Opening with the parping brass infused soul of Give It Everything You Got this Edgar Winter song is not what you'd expect from a covers album due to it's lesser known nature. That was the point of this record so Bonamassa says “We’re trying not to dig into a playbook that’s been done many times, which is the old soul classics. We try and find a different spin on it; originally, it was about trying to find some songs that people didn’t know at all and bring them back to people’s attention.” 

Consider it job done as LaVern Baker's Saved has gospel coming through it while Soul On Fire is a completely different beast. They channel Steve Marriott on their version of Black Coffee Hart giving that blues howl all she's got and there is jazz on Damn Your Eyes and Why Don't You Do It? This third record is a collection of under appreciated songs given the slick performance and production you'd expect from those involved, if musical treasure hunting is your thing and you can't resist a reinterpretation then Black Coffee will be your Cup 'O' Joe (and Beth). 8/10

Apparition: The Awakening (Wormholedeath/The Orchard/Aural Musics Group)

Apparition: A remarkable or unexpected appearance of someone or something. This pretty much explains also how I came about this band. I literally knew nothing about this band when their presskit dropped into our in box but thanks to a very impressive detailed biography they have been around the UK scene for 20 years with this record marking their 20th anniversary. It started life as a female vocal project by bassist David Homer and has seen many vocalists and musicians filter through its ranks with only really Homer the main constant, for this album he has retained a relatively steady line up since 2015.

The record features Fiona Creaby behind the mic she also featured on the band’s debut album in 2006 so you could say this is a reunion album. The music is as ghostly as their name, emotive, partly symphonic gothic metal with haunting classical/operatic vocals. Homer and the band; Ashley Guest (drums), Amy Lewis (guitar) and Paul Culley (guitar) are excellent backing for Creaby’s beautiful vocals, the delicate keys and piano highlight the elegance and plight of Home but the dual guitars bring the guts to Break The Chains and the brilliant Dames Of Darkness (monikered after the festival of the same name).

Moving between slower dramatic pieces and outright thumpers The Awakening can be viewed as a validation of why Apparition have lasted so long on the UK metal scene, they are very good at what they do, their mature Gothic metal is refined and classy, with gold standard performances from all involved here’s hoping they retain this line up going forward. 8/10

White Wizzard: Infernal Overdrive (M-Theory)

The history of White Wizzard is somewhat potted, essentially a solo project of bassist/songwriter Jon Leon, members of the band have formed or been involved with Holy Grail, Monument, Huntress, Iced Earth, Witherfall, Will Wallner/Vivian Vain and Omicida. They haven't released an album since 2013 and I for one thought the band was over, however undeterred Leon persevered with two one-man show singles before recruiting guitarist James J LaRue, who appeared on the band's debut EP and the band's most utilised vocalist Wyatt 'Screaming Demon' Anderson who sang on Over The Top and Flying Tigers. Along with new drummer Dylan Marks on the skins Jon Leon has gone right back to the beginning with Infernal Overdrive it's purely traditional NWOBHM styled heavy metal.

Thundering drums power through and the Demon screams starting the record off with the speed metal sound of the diesel fuelled title track, White Wizzard know NWOBHM inside and out and yes you have probably heard these sounds before but who cares WW do it with such deference that it's hard to find fault, from the galloping Storm The Shores which has Jon Leon pumping out bass licks like Steve Harris, there is an instrumental called Chasing Dragons, while The Illusions Tears and Critical Mass brings the progressive noise that came in on Flying Tigers. Infernal Overdrive is a welcome return for White Wizzard they are one of the catalyst bands for the NWOTHM that came about 10 years ago and again they show that they are a vital part of the scene. 8/10

Gleb Kolyadin: Self Titled (KScope)

Gleb Kolyadin will probably ring a few bells for those of you who are up on their KScope bands, he's the piano virtuoso that is one half of chamber prog band Iamthemorning, the Moscow based pianist has recorded two albums with Iamthemorning and on the back of them he has now produced a debut solo effort. The album is apparently "an emotive exploration of self-identity; a story of two parts with interweaving leitmotifs. The album's central concept weaves through an elaborate tonal and thematic structure" and you can hear that throughout with tonal shifts and linking passages that move the record along. It's not just Gleb on the record though he has the extraordinary rhythm section of Gavin Harrison (King Crimson / Porcupine Tree) and Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson) to anchor his incredible piano playing.

With complex jazz passages, chord structures and arpeggios that bring drama reserved for classical pieces the record is not metal or indeed rock (no guitars) but it has a gravitas especially when Theo Travis' (Robert Fripp / Porcupine Tree / Steven Wilson) flutes and sax are left to let fly. The heaviest part of the record comes on Storyteller which features an explosive keyboard solo from Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), for a primarily instrumental album the tracks all seamlessly melds together as one long conceptual piece, that's not to say there aren't any vocals as both Mick Moss (Antimatter) and Steve Hogarth (Marillion) lend their voices to a couple of tracks. A beautiful record if you want something a little different Gleb Kolyadin is a triumphant debut solo album from an immensely talented individual. 8/10    

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Reviews: Magick Touch, Bloodbark, Raven Cain, American Glutton (Reviews By Paul)

Magick Touch: Blades, Chains, Whips & Fire (Edged Circle Productions)

Classic rock wrapped up in a ball of power and fury is the order of the day from Bergen’s Magick Touch. Blades, Chains, Whips & Fire is just under 40 minutes of hard rocking in the vein of Thin Lizzy, Tygers of Pan Tang, Whitesnake and hundreds of others, and at times it’s hard to believe that there are just three of them. Opener Under The Gun kicks the album off in style, a short, in your face blast. Vocalist and guitarist HK Rein has a decent voice, ranging from Phil Lynott to Layne Staley.

The Great Escape highlighting the inner Lynott with a track that Black Star Riders would be proud to own. The Nuge’s Cat Scratch Fever riff surfaces on Midnight Sadusa, which has a fuzzy combination of Witch Tripper and Gun! There are points in the release where the attention does wander slightly but the thick chunky riffs do tend to refocus the mind. Electrick Sorcery has a soaring, climatic feel, crashing drums and an AOR feel, and overall, the band has a sound which will go down well on their support to Audrey Horne in Europe shortly. 7/10

Bloodbark: Bonebranches (Self Released)

I have little information about Bloodbark. Bonebranches is the debut release, it is 39 minutes of atmospheric ambient black metal, delivered in three majestic epic tracks. Opening track Eyeless Winter starts with a lone piano, accompanied by some thick synth which quickly explodes into a typical black metal delivery, tremolo picking, thunderous bass drums and rasping vocals with a riff that repeats for the first couple of minutes before developing into an 11-minute journey filled with crashing riffs and tempo changes.

This is followed by the impressive Ferns And Roads, which at nearly 18 minutes long has ample time to develop. Beginning with a slow, macabre processional feel it is led by simple keyboard notes whilst the drums and guitars encase it, the track picks up both pace and intensity, soaring with snarling vicious vocals contrasting with the haunting melody that pulses throughout. As Wolves, another lingering track that is simply constructed yet effortlessly effective in its delivery. Bonebranches is an interesting release and whilst it doesn’t have the same quality of Winterfylleth, Fen and the like there is a lot to be interested in here. 7/10

Raven Cain: Oblivious (Maximum Volume Music)

One listen to the latest release from Raven Cain will leave you in no doubt where his loyalty lies. Tracks such as Outlaw Way, General Lee and the quite spectacularly awful flag-flying Son Of The South all contain chest thumping, stars and stripes waving patriotic themes which to a non-American are just quite alarming to be honest. Concentrating on the music and not straying into the political for a minute, Oblivious works just fine. Hard rocking with a Southern Country rock style, it’s neatly and smoothly done with decent production and decent musicianship.

Raven Cain’s bombastic biography may explain why this alleged direct descendent of Blackbeard the pirate comes across with a non-nonsense approach that is likely to make many feel a little uneasy. However, the ghastly ballad My Addiction, which has the skin crawling is bad enough but when you get to All American Bad Ass then it’s time to turn the speakers off. Confidence is one thing but Raven Cain, 6th degree black belt, ordained Buddhist priest and all-round patriot has an arrogance that really doesn’t appeal in the slightest. 4/10

American Glutton: Dish Served Cold (From The Ashes Records)

A five-track EP from American Glutton, which contains the same personnel who make up Raven Cain and his band. Comprising Raven Cain on vocals, Tommy Harrison on guitar and Dani Harrison, the band has a slightly harder rock edge than Cain’s solo work but contains the same swagger in the vocals and although the biog suggests that Cain’s own fans were surprised at his versatility, I can’t really distinguish anything substantially different in his delivery.

Five tracks of routine hard rock, slick and robust, but with little to stand out from the mundane. Lyrically it’s predictable, and in God Knows we have a candidate for one of the worst songs of 2018. If you like dirty, sleaze crusted rock then it may be of interest. I’m unlikely to ever play this again. 5/10

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Reviews: Savage Machine, Lechery, Meden Agan, Ares One

Savage Machine: Abandon Earth (Self Released)

We are merely 2 weeks into 2018 and I may have already found my album of the year, the apocalyptic vision of Savage Machine’s debut full length is a classic metal masterpiece. These Danes bring together everything I love about metal on album and over the ten songs on this record they bring a big goofy grin to your face again and again. The immediate reference points are Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Blind Guardian and Hell but they use these bands as influence not slavishly copy anything from them.

The record is a concept piece with an epic science fiction based story revolving around the end of the world and escaping to space, it’s propelled by 6 minute plus tracks that feature elongated guitar solos and time signature changes that range from melodic clean leads, to gallops and even a bass solo at the beginning of Fall Of Icarus. Only a few songs are shorter; Event Horizon, The Hunter, Welcome To Hell being the main tracks, with the majority over the 6 minute mark twisting and turning with all the grandeur of Blind Guardian or the recent Maiden releases.

Exodus starts the album with the well worn troupe of a thunderstorm, but it’s a slow burning, atmospheric song that sets the tone for the storyline, before bursting to life with the head nodding riffs. From here it’s a non-stop run through the history of ‘traditional’ metal Martin Helbo (drums), Benjamin "Atlas" Andreassen (bass) and Simon Kalmar Poulsen (rhythm guitar) keep the riffs coming letting Jacob V. D. Bruun play like Murray, Smith, Gers, Downing and Tipton all trading off on each other when he adds the exciting solos. As the record goes on the songs get better and better with the performance staying at a breathtaking level throughout.

I’m particularly enamoured with vocalist Troels Rasmussen who effortlessly fuses Rob Halford with Hansi Kursch. I honestly don’t know where to start with this record in terms of highlights; really it’s all a highlight Age Of Machines has the speed metal pump of Guardian, Event Horizon whizzes past in a flurry, The Hunter is a Priest Feast while Time Traveller is an epic of Maiden proportions. Skilfully produced by Jacob Hansen, Abandon Earth already makes it into my Top 10 of 2018, I love it! 10/10

Lechery: We Are All Born Evil (Bleeding Music Records)

Formed in 2006 by Ex-Arch Enemy bass player Martin Bengtsson, I’d never really been aware of Swedish band Lechery but with that name and the AE link I was expecting melodic death metal from the word go. As I fired up the decks of death it was with great surprise that this record revealed itself to be more traditional heavy/power metal album, digging a well worn seam of twin guitar melodies and shout along choruses the music rarely leaves the traditional metal sound but there are touches of speed metal (Even A Hero Must Die) and hard rock (Sacrifice) that worm their way in.

Bengtsson is the vocalist for this project and his gruff vocals are more Grave Digger than Iron Maiden but they suit the distorted metal style. Yes the record can get a bit silly in places Heavy Metal Invasion the obvious one (do we really need another song about heavy metal?) and it’s probably only an album for classic metal collectors but it’s harmless fun record that is the bands third, so they must be doing something right. 7/10

Meden Agan: Catharsis (No Remorse Records)

The Temple Of Apollo in Delphi bore the inscription “Meden Agan” it translates to “Nothing In Excess” (or Everything In Moderation) and the Athenian band who bare this moniker certainly didn’t get the memo. Released through the No Remorse Records label (a label that’s also a heavy metal record shop in the Greek capital) Their Gothic/Symphonic styled metal is at times excessive or grandiose but mostly brings just the right amount of symphonic elements with a punchy metallic edge. A band that can be lazily pigeonholed into the “female fronted metal” genre they have classically trained vocals and orchestrations that merge with the traditional metal troupes of blastbeat drums and incendiary solo guitars.

Catharsis is the bands’ fourth full length and having listened to their earlier work it doesn’t really try to be too experimental, sounding a lot like fellow Greeks Enemy Of Reality, in fact that band was formed when the singer and drummer of Meden Agan left. Dimitra the singer on this record has the ideal voice you’d want for the music and as is normal there are growls that give a beauty and the beast style to the songs. As Symphonic/Gothic metal is such an overcrowded genre that you really have to pick and choose and like with the New Year diet if you have everything in moderation you’ll be fine. Forget about that have a bit of a splurge with Catharsis, go on you know you want too. 7/10

Ares One: Optimist (Self Released)

Reece Spencer is one of those sickeningly talented people make music, a multi instrumentalist, his second EP from the Ares One project. Optimist is not a cover of Anathema’s most recent record no it’s a distinct work that has a atmospheric progressive nature of it's Liverpudlian cousin. The EP is sandwiched between the beautiful duo of A Better Place Parts 1 & 2 which start and close proceedings, in between, this all instrumental record adds brings touches of ambient on Supercruise and some modern prog on the title track and the melodic but fiercely technical The Precipice.

Spencer is a virtuoso player handling everything himself his talents really shine as it takes a lot to enthral me with an instrumental record but this one has feeling to it, it’s melancholic but also hopeful, the instrumentation betraying the need for vocals. It’s an intelligent record with an optimistic vision of humanity’s ability to evolve in the face of catastrophe (the spoken word excerpts come from The Day The Earth Stood Still). 8/10

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Reviews: Deathless Legacy, Lovebites, Mindpatrol, Satanic (Reviews By Rich)

Deathless Legacy: Rituals Of Black Magic (Scarlet Records)

Rituals Of Black Magic is the fourth album by Italian horror themed metal band Deathless Legacy.  Deathless Legacy perform a very theatrical style of metal which mixes in elements from various different genres. Throughout the album you can hear bits of traditional heavy metal, groove metal, thrash metal and black metal. Keyboards are a very prevalent instrument throughout from providing creepy organ sounds to adding a symphonic element. The vocals by frontwoman Steva are a mix of melodic clean vocals and deranged screams which works very effectively.

The performances by the rest of the band are very good indeed and brought to the fore by a fantastic production job. This album has plenty of wallop when played loudly! My main criticism of this album is that with a duration of over an hour the material is not varied enough throughout to maintain my interest. There are certain songs that jumped out and impressed me such as Bloodbath and the title track but overall it was a bit samey. Overall Rituals Of Black Magic is an enjoyable horror themed heavy metal album but it’s a bit repetitive and a bit too long. 7/10

Lovebites: Awakening From Abyss (Sliptrick Records)

Awakening From Abyss is the debut full length album by Japanese all girl power metallers Lovebites. Thanks to bands like Babymetal when you see a Japanese all girl metal band the cynic in me cries gimmick but these girls can fucking play and this is far from a gimmick and probably one of the best metal records put out in 2017. If I had heard this before writing up my top albums of the year this would have definitely been included. Lovebites play full throttle power metal with songs full of speed and power and irresistable melodies. The guitar playing alone is simply a thing to behold with guitarist and keyboard player Mi-Ya belting out savage riffs and absolutely shredding solos.

The vocals by Asami are full of power and she absolutely belts out these songs. Four of the songs on the album are re-recordings from the bands self-titled EP but the rest is all brand new material and is all rips. The influences throughout are European power metal, NWOBHM and a huge wedge of thrash. The songs just keep coming at you with a perfect balance of aggression and melody barely coming up for breath. You get very brief moments of reprieve such as at the start of the Liar or the complimentary power metal ballad Edge Of The World but on the whole the band are ripping and tearing away with tracks such as Warning Shot and The Apocalypse. Awakening From Abyss is an awe inspiring album which any fan of power or melodic metal needs to hear immediately. 9/10

Mindpatrol: Vulture City (Golden Light Records)

Mindpatrol are an extreme progressive metal band from Luxembourg and Vulture City is their third album. It is common for bands to look upon literary works for lyrical inspiration but it is quite rare for an album to be based upon a novel also written by the band but that’s what you have with Vulture City. You can listen to the album and read the full story in the novel which is a very cool concept. I don’t have the book itself to review so the following is based purely on the album itself. Tagging themselves extreme progressive metal Mindpatrol mix progressive metal elements with elements from within the extreme metal subgenres.

As you can imagine there is a fair bit going on throughout the album with a mix of clean and harsh vocals, melodic guitar playing, blastbeats, breakdowns and plenty of keyboards. It’s a very ambitious album but maybe a bit over ambitious as whilst the album is performed immaculately the songs themselves are generally forgotten by the time the album has finished. There are songs which stand out above the others such as the death metal influenced Calamity (The Cleansing) and the melodic title track but the band needs to put stronger focus on their songwriting and also put their own stamp on things as whilst there is a lot going on throughout the album there is nothing heard which hasn’t been done before. 6/10

Satanic: Architecture Of Chaos (Brutal Records)

Architecture Of Chaos is the debut album by Canadian death thrashers Satanic (formerly Satanic Glue Sniffers). This album sits somewhere in between the realms of thrash metal and death metal. You have the evil feel of the death metal mixed in with the franticness of the thrash metal. This is a raw and old school sounding release complete with a paper thin production which hinders the album more than enhances it.

A better production job would really bring these songs to life. There is some fantastic guitar work throughout the album and some neck wrecking riffage going on in songs such as World Of Chaos, Armageddon and Biotech Warfare. Whilst this is a fun album it’s a little uninspired and repetitive and the almost demo like recording quality really sucks the life out of a lot of the songs.  I can imagine in a live environment these songs truly shine and I hope one day I get to see these songs live up to their potential. 6/10

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Reviews: Corrosion Of Conformity, Bleeding Gods, Avatar, Leaves Eyes

Corrosion Of Conformity: No Cross, No Crown (Nuclear Blast)

It's been 12 years since Corrosion Of Conformity released an album with Pepper Keenan behind the mic, in that time Pepper has been a part of Down while the core COC trio of Woody Weatherman, Mike Dean and Reed Mullin have been touring and recording with their earlier hardcore influenced version of the band. With Keenan back though the band is a different animal, a much more riff induced act with Pepper taking the vocals again his Southern drawl taking center stage. He reconnected with the other three and talked about playing some shows, having seen one of those shows I can tell you that the Southern magic that was cast on Deliverance and Wiseblood was still there and this has been brought to record again on No Cross, No Crown.

The band didn't want to write the same song over and over again so this record is a cross section of all the sounds COC have ever brought to the table Nothing Left To Say is trippy stoner psych, Old Disaster comes from the Sabbath riffage, Cast The First Stone has the defiant punk attitude of the three piece, No Cross is a slow moving doom piece that is one of the interludes that flesh out this record stitching the tapestry of this record together and the Southern riffs wean their way in on Wolf Named Crow and The Luddite this is typical Pepper led COC big striding riffs, groove filled rhythms and stoner/doom tendencies. A new COC album is always greeted with excitement, but this one will be welcomed with open arms, COC are back to retrieve their crown. 8/10        

Bleeding Gods: Dodekathlon (Nuclear Blast)

Welcome in the New Year with some epic blackened death metal based on the 12 Labours Of Hercules, no it's not a new album by Septicflesh, this is the second album from Dutch band Bleeding Gods and it's their major label debut for Nuclear Blast. Formed by guitarist Ramon Ploeg he set about wanting to write his own songs culminating in debut record in 2014 since then they have bolstered their ranks with new members and come to the attention of more through Nuclear Blast. Just one listen to this record and you can hear why they are making such big waves.

Take a track such as From Feast To Beast it's got swathes of orchestral elements, some destructive blast beating from Daan Klemann and interwoven guitar assault from Ploeg, Rutger Van Noordenburg and bassist Gea Mulder which pairs black metal fury with some death metal chugging, that's not to say there aren't solo's as they come thick and fast on Inhuman Humiliation and open Birds Of Hate which evolves into some lightning death/thrash.

In places the solos and the synths are the only lightness in the songs which clobber you from Bloodguilt through to Hound Of Hell, Mark Huisman conducting the madness with his harsh rasp, instrumental Tyrannical Blood is the only calm amongst the maelstrom it opens with some classical guitars, a sliding solo and then a spoken word piece to end before the fire is re-stoked on Seeds Of Distrust and the symphonic Tripled Anger. Dodekathlon has 12 tracks of Homeric black/death metal with massive cinematic symphonic sounds, unlike with Hercules there is nothing laborious about this record it's very good indeed. 8/10    

Avatar: Avatar Country (Century Media)

Have Avatar suddenly become Manowar? Well listen to their seventh album Avatar Country and make your own conclusions, it kicks off with the triumphal Glory To Our King, which rapidly slides into the Legend Of The King which opens with a minute and half guitar solo and is the first instance of vocalist Johannes Michael Gustaf Eckerström dual vocal style delivering the majority of the song in his harsh style leaving the cleans for the big hook, the harsh vocals are in opposition to the rampaging power metal riffage but it fits like a well worn shoe.

Avatar have always tried to do something different on each album taking from various genres and here is no exception The King Welcomes You To Avatar Country is sort of like Airborne jamming with Blackberry Smoke as King Diamond sings, as odd as that sounds it's just another string to the masterful bow of Avatar. This record is not as grandiose or as long as Feathers And Flesh but it still has enough progressive textures and aggression to please everyone, no matter where you came in on the Avatar journey.

This seems to be a concept album based around the King of Avatar Country and features the weirdness Avatar rely on, just listen to The King Speaks and you'll get an idea what I'm talking about, musically though they take things seriously with scything riffs, massive drums, time/style changes across 10 tracks, rounding the record out with a 2 part mini epic. It's difficult to review Avatar as they are such an eccentric band but once again they deliver. 9/10

Leaves Eyes: Sign Of The Dragonhead (AFM)

Long held to be the custodians of Viking history Leaves’ Eyes have been regaling the metal audience with tales of the Bearded Norsemen be they mythical or historical the band have been through the mill recently with bands founding singer Liv Kristine leaving the band and while there has been some he said she said and legal action levied by the former singer the band have continued on with Angel Nation (EnkElination) vocalist Elina Siirala. She made her debut at the Hammersonic festival in Jakarta. This trial by fire has proved to be successful and the subsequent EP sold out in record time, this is their first record with Elina and as the title track opens this record you can see why she was chosen to take over as the singer.

Her powerful operatic vocal style means she slides into the beauty role of the bands traditional beauty and the beast vocals as she duets throughout with the harsh tones of keyboardist Alexander Krull. This is the most streamlined I’ve heard Leaves Eyes for a while there is lot less of the pastoral folk textures that came through during Kristine’s tenure, the first part of the album is a bit crunchier than previous releases however from Volva to Fairer Than The Sun the folk metal elements creep in before Shadows In The Night bring back the symphonic metal sound. None of the songs on this record linger too long and it’s business as usual, despite the major shift in the sound with a new singer, the song remains the same and Leaves’ Eyes are back doing what they pioneered. 7/10

Monday, 8 January 2018

Reviews: Tribulation, Black Moth, Sinistro, Trespass (Reviews By Paul)

Tribulation: Down Below (Century Media)

2015’s The Children Of The Night was a really enjoyable release and probably my first encounter with the band from Arvika, Sweden. They impressed hugely when supporting Paradise Lost at the Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton supporting Paradise Lost in 2015. Down Below is album number 4 and it is a superbly dark release. Johannes Andersson’s rasping black metal vocals remain intact, although the band have moved even further from their death metal origins to a much more gothic sound. Opening track The Lament sets the tone before Nightbound continues the haunting atmosphere. Crystal clear guitars combine with an almost electronic undertone, but there are shades of several other masterful outfits here; pick elements of Paradise Lost, Cradle Of Filth, Lacuna Coil and Moonspell as well as The Mission and The Sisters of Mercy.

Combining shorter tracks such as Lady Death with the longer songs works perfectly, allowing you to become absorbed in the ethereal Lacrimosa whilst not losing any focus. Lady Death is a short, three-and-a-half-minute voyage, the pomp and ceremony maintained throughout. Subterranea’s evocative piano intro leads into a powerful piece, the heavy riffs not smothering the melody and tune. Purgatorio would sit comfortably at the start of a horror movie, such is the lingering melancholy that exudes from the pores. A repeated chord, simple yet effective keys and some eerie sound effects send shivers up and down your spine.

It’s calm, poignant and yet completely in keeping with the album. It should come in black and white. Cries From The Underworld is heavy without thrashing it, the guitar work of Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén superb whilst new drummer Oscar Leander keeps it simple and effective. A return to the older style reappears at the beginning of the excellent and stimulating Lacrimosa before The World leads to the epic Here Be Dragons which closes the album in style. Down Below has set the bar high already for 2018. A superb release, dripping with atmosphere and imagery. 9/10

Black Moth: Anatomical Venus (Candlelight Records)

I first encountered the dark brooding of Leeds’ Black Moth at the Temples Festival in Bristol in 2014 and made sure I caught them again at Damnation later that year, although clashes prevented me from catching what was by all accounts a stellar show at 2017’s Bloodstock. Their third album has been much anticipated. Well, with the waiting now over, I can confirm that it was worth every second. By far the band’s heaviest work, it is 45 minutes of swirling darkness, a heady mix of garage rock with psychedelia, remnants of their previous gothic overtones and some very tasty riffs.

With a range of tracks that all contain captivating hooks and an intensity that was still developing on Condemned To Hope, Anatomical Venus moves the band up not just one but two or even three levels. It remains distinctive though, with the ‘Mothic’ sound instantly recognisable, from the opening bars of Istra which moves on to the first single Moonbow, a rampaging track which showcases not only vocalist Harriet Hyde but the whole band in a tight rocking composition. The fuzzy guitars of Jim Swainston and Federica Gialanze give a stoner vibe to the whole track, whilst bassist Dave Vachon trades musical punches with drummer Dom McCready.

The album never slows, with Sisters Of The Stone fast paced and A Lover’s Hate stealing a riff from Wolfmother to superb effect. Of course, the theme and name of the album focuses on 18th century wax models of the female form employed by male surgeons to learn their craft. Hyde has stated “The Anatomical Venus spoke volumes to me. She embodies the male gaze, a history of men dissecting women in an attempt to understand her, reveal her magic, snuff out her unruly flame, while all the time needing her to be beautiful and aesthetically pleasing to their taste.

These models are not simply practical medical models for education – they are fetish objects, women stripped back as far as you can go. But there is a look of defiance in their eyes as if to say, ‘keep looking if you like. I dare you. Peel back my skin and peep behind my ribcage, you won’t find anything unless I choose to tell you.” Listen to the album’s central track, the menacing A Severed Grace and you’ll understand exactly what Hyde means. Repeated plays allow the album to permeate deeply, and each spin cements what a stunning piece of work this is. 9/10

Sinistro: Sangue Cássia (Season Of Mist)

Massive walls of guitars, some of the most hauntingly beautiful vocals and an achingly melancholic effect dominate the fourth release by Portuguese ambient rock outfit Sinistro. I must admit that I was vaguely aware of the band’s name but unaware of their sound. The follow up to 2016’s Semente, Sanque Cássia is not an easy ride. Full of complexity, compellingly mature and intricate pieces and bookended by the 11-minute Cosmos Controle and the ten-minute Cravo Carne, this release is simply delicious.

With more twists and turns than the back streets of Venice, the dense keyboard layers, ambient introspection and quite stunning vocal performance of Patricia Andrade transport you into a different plane. At times erotic and lustful, soft, warm and wrapped in a velvet glove, tracks such as Lotus, Petalas and the majestic Vento Sul are gentle yet powerful whilst the crushingly thick guitar work on the likes of Absimo which breaks down into an ethereal middle section before ramping up the riffage once more remind you that this is a heavy, commanding outfit, who deliver in the same manner as bands like Warning.

It’s slow, methodical and very impressive. Be warned though. It cannot be rushed so ensure you devote sufficient time to allow this captivating release to snake its unearthly tendrils around your neck and pull you in. Lose yourself in quiet fascination.  8/10

Trespass: Footprints In Rock (Mighty Music)

Trespass were one of the very small lights in the NWOBHM; in fact, more of a tea light than even a torch beam to be honest. One Of These Days was probably their most well known song, due in no small part to Lars Ulrich and Geoff Barton including it in a 1990 compilation. The band hailed from Suffolk but fell by the wayside relatively early in the new wave. As happened to many of their peers, the urge to reform returned and in 2013 the band made their first tentative steps at a reformation. Several changes occurred before the current line up settled and recorded the comeback album Footprints In Rock.

You’ve got to admire the band for their effort and dedication but honestly? This is some of the most tired and dull hard rock I have heard in years. Ponderous construction, repetitive formats and a sound that is still stuck in 1982 all contribute to a pretty dull release. Tracks such as Mighty Love, The Green Man and the ghastly Music Of The Waves bounce off with no impact. At least on Prometheus guitarists Mark Sutcliffe and Joe Fawcett can let rip a little but even then, it’s stale and dreary. Sutcliffe’s voice is monotonous and grates after about three songs. Sorry, full marks for endeavour; few marks for quality. 4/10