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Thursday, 23 October 2014

World Of Metal 20: Dreadnox, Viathyn, The Black Stymphalian

Dreadnox: The Hero Inside (Die Hard/Nightmare)

Dreadnox are a metal band that hail from the most metal loving country in the world, Brazil. One thing Brazil have always been keen on in their metal, apart from Sepultura, is the classic old school style of bands like Maiden, Priest and especially their own home grown bands like Angra. Dreadnox are definitely the type of band Brazil have always produced and they play their style of classic/power metal with precision, flair and even branch out a little into heavier territory. The band is made up of
Fábio Schneider's excellent vocals, he is somewhere between Ripper Owens and his kinsman Andre Matos in terms of style, with gritty mid range and some sky scraping highs. On guitar is Kiko Dittert who riffs with dual harmonies of Maiden but also the harder thrash riffage of 'Deth and 'Tallica. He is supported in the rhythm section by Dead Montana on the bass and drummer Felipe Curi on machine gun duty. The gunshots and sirens start off Final Siege with a bit of atmosphere before we are driven straight into riffage galore at the beginning with what is a strong opener, the pace then rarely lets up from there with the band throwing in lots of elements to their sound but not drifting too far from their traditional metal sound. Abuse Of Power has the chugging guitars of 'Tallica behind it before we are back in Iron Maiden territory with Who Can Be Sure Of Anything which has that authentic epic feel that 'Arry and co do so well, before the finale gets faster and even has some screams for good measure, the Maiden theme continues on the title track which even has a bass led gallop! This Brazillian quartet have some real chops and merge classic metal with heavier styles seamlessly, this is proper metal how it's supposed to be done, no frills, nothing too complicated but just big, quality metal tunes. Go and find out about Dreadnox you won't be disappointed! 8/10

Viathyn: Cynosure (Independent)

There has been a slew modern power/progressive metal bands coming out of the great white north of Canada and Viathyn have one album behind them with Cynosure being their second release. Much like the debut this is a concept album that is (as the band put it) an "exploration into the chaos and the beauty of the natural (and unnatural) world, with themes of discord, affliction, disillusion, enlightenment, and grandeur, as seen through the eyes of nine storytellers". So nothing to complex then *gulp* but I wouldn't expect anything less from a progressive band. The band are all amazing musicians with both guitarists playing for their lives with riffs and solos galore on tracks like The Coachman which also has a snippets of In The Hall Of The Mountain King (Greig not Savatage), the drumming is fast and furious and the bass playing is as usual the basis of all the rhythms. Tomislav Crnkovic also, helpfully, has a superb voice adept to crooning melodies and also the occasional growl. He and Jacob Wright are also the excellent guitarists Crnkovic on rhythm and Wright providing the solos and leads, they work together for immense effect on the songs that twist and turn with loud and soft dynamics used to full effect on Shadows In Our Wake with it's melodic middle section, the slower pace of Time Will Take Us All explodes into a rapid fire and melodic final part and the final track Cynosure. Viathyn are a great band that play progressive music that is heavy, technical but never overly so, the focus is on the excellent songs played with skill, the band blend genres at will with Albedo having a death metal vibe from the dual kick drumming and screams before ending with a choir and Three Sheets To The Wind has plundering folk/pirate metal sound. Viathyn are of the same ilk as Borealis or Above Symmetry, two other bands I find excellent, this is yet another awesome addition to the North American progressive/power metal stable. 9/10     

The Black Stymphalian: Khaos Sigma (Self Released)

"This is a bit tasty!" that was my first remark upon hearing this the second EP from Darlington UK based The Black Stymphalian. The 'band' is made up of Jaymez Stephenson who handles all the stringed instruments providing both the guitars and the bass as well as keys etc he is joined by the blitzkreig drums of Lyle Cooper and vocalists Greg Fender and Ian Gillings, who are both from the Robb Flynn/Randy Blythe school of growls and screams. As Chaoskampf erupts from the stereo we are battered by superfast drumming and the amazing riffage of Stephenson who channels the modern thrash of Machine Head even incorporating the more recent progressive elements on tracks like Rules Of Engagement which also draws influence from American's Trivium (especially their Shougun faze). This EP is a bit special, 5 awesome tracks that show of the frankly stunning playing and songwriting of Stephenson who is a one man band in the truest sense, he has brought the dual riffs of modern American metal, merged it with searing solos, a progressive edge, crystal clear production and recruited some top notch musicians to aide him. With some great tracks like March Of A Blackened Christ, Martyr No More and the excellent closing shot of The Awakening this is an EP of top notch metal, could we have a full length soon please? 8/10

The View From Back Of The Room: Blackberry Smoke (Review By Paul)

Blackberry Smoke: The Institute, Birmingham

Another trip to England’s second capital within a week for another quite brilliant evening.

After a smooth journey we arrived at the venue with three hours before Atlanta’s good ‘ole boys Blackberry Smoke took to the stage. An interesting hostelry a short walk away caught our eye and proved to be a real treat. The Old Crown Inn reputed to be Birmingham’s oldest pub dating back to the 1300s looked warm and inviting. Serving some lovely draft ales and possibly the best burger I've ever had in a pub, we spent a happy couple of hours pre-gig. If you come this way make sure you check it out.

The Institute is a strange venue and the Google reviews are quite damning. Having spent a few hours in the smaller Library venue last week, this event was at least being held in the main hall. It turned out to be decent enough, and having squeezed our way through the crush at the rear of the hall we actually ended up with ample room and decent sight lines for once. Of course, the idiot magnet that I possess worked like a charm and once again a total tit ended up very close to us. Absolutely blasted, he became something of a distraction with his flailing arms, poorly timed jumping and general crashing around inviting the potential of a large slap from the less than amused lady behind him. Luckily his mates saw sense and moved him to the middle where he was less irritating. TWAT!!

Just after nine, Blackberry Smoke made their way onto the stage amidst a quite epic amount of incense burning. This was inspired as the whole evening was scented with the pleasant aroma of this rather than the usual farty, beerery stench which we have come to associate with gigs (and no, the burger hadn't taken effect at this time!). The band wasted little time, powering through their highly crafted Southern country rock anthems; Like I Am from Little Piece Of Dixie was followed by Testify from their first album Bad Luck Ain't No Crime. Clad in denim and sporting the most incredible chops ever seen, the Smoke were on fire and their playing was exceptional. Lead vocalist and guitarist Charlie Starr has a quite incredible stage presence, understated and yet imposing at the same time. His solos were excellent and he quickly demonstrated what a fine talent he is; he also has the best sideburns North of Billy Gibbons I've ever see.

A collection of tunes from their 2012 release The Whippoorwill followed; Lucky Seven and the sing-a-longs of Pretty Little Lie and Six Ways To Sunday had the buoyant crowd mouthing every word (and who wouldn't want to hear their baby “speaking in tongues” after a good roggering?). Unfortunately a rather unsavoury incident then occurred at the front as one of the audience was violently assaulted by another member of the crowd. As the perpetrator fled there was an air of confusion on stage, mainly as bassist and all round smoothie Richard Turner had witnessed the event directly in front of him. Charlie Starr checked that all was good and then wise-cracked about it being like back home on a Saturday night before ironically launching into Good One Coming On! Not for the poor bloke with his nose all over his face though. As the injured party was led out by ShowSec and St John’s Ambulance, the pace picked up and the track extended into a showcase of quality guitar work from Starr and Paul Jackson combined with the fat Hammond sounds from Brendon Still on the keys. A snippet of Midnight Rider from the Allman Brothers was also included and received a very warm reception before the pace slowed with a couple of bluesy numbers which culminated with the title track from their last album.

The set was perfectly paced, with ample opportunity for the band to make everything look absolutely painless and totally effortless. That is surely the mark of an excellent band, top quality on every level with absolutely ease. Up In Smoke got the crowd moving again before a departure from the usual subject matter with Ain't Got the Blues. We then got a rare treat with two booze flavoured tracks, both from their 2008 EP New Honky Tonk Bootlegs. First up the lovely Lesson In A Bottle, followed by Son Of The Bourbon, this had the diehards singing along. Penultimate tune One Horse Town maintained the audience participation levels before the band closed the evening with Ain't Much Left Of Me. A short pause as the traditional breather was taken before a final duo of Leave A Scar and Freedom Song rounded off a quite brilliant evening of top quality music. Blackberry Smoke has the confidence and ability to be headlining much bigger venues than this is years to come. Absolutely Top Drawer. 10/10

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Reviews: Evil Scarecrow, Audrey Horne, Messenger (Reviews By Paul)

Evil Scarecrow – Galactic Hunt (Deadbox Records)

The scarecrew’s third full release has been a bloody long time coming. Forged out of a massively successful pledge music campaign and capitalising the momentum deservedly achieved from their constant gigging, not to mention two fucking incredible BOA appearances, Galactic Hunt is certainly packed full of new goodies from Dr Hell and his cohorts. Opener Rise is a full on heavy metal rocker, whilst Space Dementia, all homage to Red Dwarf races along, ringmaster Monty Blitzfist’s drumming powerful and combining with the guitars of Dr Hell and Brother Pain. However, throughout the album it is the subtle synths of Princess Luxury which have been enhanced in the excellent production, adding a soothing and essential layer to many of the songs. Of course, if you've seen Evil Scarecrow live, the opening few tracks will be familiar already. Space Dementia is greeted like an old friend whilst Crabulon has been around so long it seems scandalous that it is only now committed to record. Evil Scarecrow make no bones about their parody element; their lyrics are ridiculous yet right. However the band can really play and Galactic Hunt certainly justifies their right to THAT Saturday morning slot at BOA. Flight Of The Dragons, one of 12 tracks, certainly provides a demonstration of their musical prowess, building atmospherically from an Arthurian setting into a full on heads down metal attack, harmonies in full use, before the pace slows and showcases Pain’s guitar work. In fact there is little for me to criticise on Galactic Hunt except for … and this is a minor issue, the vocal delivery. Dr Hell’s voice is really suited to the live arena and although it fits the band perfectly, on record it can become a little difficult to live with after the first few tracks. Having said that, this is a really decent release, we'll worth the wait and the pledge. The opportunity to see them convert these songs in the live arena should be taken with both claws; Hammerfest can't come quickly enough. 7/10

Audrey Horne – Pure Heavy (Napalm)

Regular readers of this illustrious blog may recall that I waxed lyrical over Audrey Horne’s 2013 release Youngblood. Indeed, if memory serves, it made my top 10 of last year [They did- Matt]. It was with delight that I discovered that Pure Heavy had been released, albeit below my radar. So what is it about Audrey Horne that makes them so damn fine? Well, a listen to Pure Heavy should answer that very easily. Excellent musicianship, beautifully crafted heavy rock songs with no hidden agenda and of course the brilliant voice of Toschie. I won't provide a history as this has been done before, save to say that in my opinion Norway has produced nothing finer. Highlights on this album? Opener Wolf In My Heart rocks comprehensively, whilst Out Of The City is pure AOR filth. The whole album just reeks of classic rock, influences of many rock giants evident including Van Halen and one of my all-time favourite bands Thin Lizzy but all what the Audrey Horne stamp. Harmonies adding to the the sing-a-long choruses (Tales From The Crypt is a prime example), hooks galore and an overall great feel. Unfortunately Audrey Horne are rarely on the UK shores although I had the massive fortune of seeing them live at Sonisphere a couple of years ago (and at the same time introduced the legendary Brett Perry to Jagermeister but that’s another story) but they are really worth catching if you get the chance. Into The Wild, possibly my favourite track on the album, demonstrates the excellent guitar work of Arve Isdal (Enslaved) and Thomas Toftenharg (Sahg) and really is the essence of the band. Powerful rhythms and swirling guitars topped off with great hooks and vocals. Pure Heavy continues the excellent work laid down in Audrey Horne and Youngblood. Another great release in a year of quite exceptional music. 9/10

Messenger – Illusory Blues (Code 7-Svart)

Messenger first appeared on my radar when I was fortunate enough to see them support Casualties of Cool at the Union Chapel in September. Even in their short set their complex delicate compositions pricked my interest and the subsequent purchase of their first long player left me with the feeling that I'd uncovered a bit of a gem. Formed in London in 2012 the core of the band consists of Khaled Lowe, Barnaby Maddick and Jamie Gomez Arellano. This album sits very comfortably in the KScope stable, alongside the likes of Anathema, The Pineapple Thief, Lunatic Soul and Blackfield.  Combining the best elements of the progressive movement with folk, rock and even Jazz, the album is delicately crafted and beautifully constructed. The Return starts with harmonies and an instrumental opening that quickly develops in an acoustic epic complete with flute action! The track slowly meanders to a dramatic and thunderous conclusion, rolling drums and chords a plenty. Piscean Tide is awash with folk, violin and acoustic guitar providing a folksy opening which progresses into another quite delightful track, mellow and relaxing with the violin enhancing the rhythm. The vocals are pristine throughout, warming melodies and soaring harmonies combining to quite stunning effect. Dear Departure captures the huge Pink Floyd influence that surges through the whole of Illusory Blues, no bad thing. Atmospheric sound effects provide another layer to the compositions. The combined vocals are of the highest quality, rich and powerful yet measured and composed. The Perpetual Glow Of A Setting Sun contains oriental influences along with the. Swirling keys and effects synonymous with bands like Hawkwind. Somniloquist sweeps you on a journey which ebbs and flows, intricate time changes and some quite heavy riffs in the middle section, contrasting perfectly with he overall calming vibe which flows through the album. String sections and keyboards are used to great effect, adding a number of complex layers to the tracks. The Eastern feel continues with final track Let The Light In, Led Zeppelin influences fusing into a fitting climax. This album requires some dedication, each listen allowing you to discover more and more of the delicious elements which are almost hidden within each song. A quite enchanting album. 9/10

Reviews: The Datsuns, Antemasque, Immortal Guardian

The Datsuns: Deep Sleep (Hellsquad Records)

The Datsuns have been peddling their high quality fuzzy garage rock since 2002 and their sixth record is yet another trippy, reverbed, fuzzed up slice of down and dirty rock. The album kicks off with Caught In The Silver which is driven by frontman Rudolf de Borst's rumbling low end and Phil Somervell and Christian Livingstone's distorted guitars, Bad Taste is a radio rocker that comes straight out of the QOTSA playbook, Claw Machine has a shuffle that the Hellacopters would love. The band merge classic hard rock, noisy garage rock That's What You Get, punk rock on Shaky Mirrors, all combined with huge slabs of psychedelia especially on 500 Eyes which has a 60's Jefferson Airplane vibe that with a gorgeous slide solo in the middle. For a band that have been around so long you can really hear the years of touring and recording have paid off as this album is slick and flawless in it's execution. The guitars sear, the bass rumbles, the drums tumble and they all come together brilliantly. As the album rounds off with the trippy title track, you've been taken on a journey into The Datsuns little world rock and roll that encompasses elements of 60's psych, the blues rock of The Black Keys and lashings of professionalism. A great album with broad appeal. 7/10

Antemasque: S/T (Nadie Sound)

So after the explosion of The Mars Volta. Thw two main men Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala had somewhat of a falling out leading many to believe that neither The Mars Volta or indeed At The Drive In would ever return and they in part are right as even though the two have buried the hatchet they have returned with a new band and a sound that seems to be an amalgamtion of their two bands as well as drawing from all of their other projects. Unlike The Mars Volta, Antemasque are a more straight up prospect as the songs like 4AM and I Got No Remorse are based more around driving punk rock mixed with Rodríguez-López's extremely talented guitar playing, so think progressive punk rock/hard rock and you wouldn't be far off. In fact as this album progresses it becomes clear that this is what The Mars Volta had been aiming for on their two final(?) albums. I've already mentioned about Rodríguez-López's excellent of kilter, noodling, jazz guitar which set this album out like an upbeat, progressive The Smiths see In The Lurch. Bixler-Zavala's vocals are also very good he keeps his caterwauling to a minimum on this project preferring to concentrate on his normal mid range meaning that he is a lot more listenable for those that found his vocals in The Mars Volta to be a little overbearing. Former TMV and Killer Be Killed drummer Dave Elitch provides the crazy percussion sometimes sounding like he is playing a completely separate song, think Stewart Copeland, the funk bottom comes from funk bass pioneer Flea (who notably contributed trumpet to TMV). Everything gets a little Zeppelin on Drown All Your Witches before making everything gets dark and fuzzy and in the finale heavy on Providence. I'll be honest I've always been a fan of The Mars Volta but they have always been a little too out there for many, Antemasque is the bridge between the gap, it's proggy enough for TMV fans but also mainstream friendly enough for fans of At The Drive In, RHCP's and accessible rock music. 8/10   

Immortal Guardian: Revolution Part 1 (Independent)

American extreme power metal band Immortal Guardian first came to my attention with their first EP Super Metal. I thought it was a hell of an album with the kind of speed metal riffs that wouldn't seem out of place on a Symphony X, Dragonforce or indeed any Japanese metal album. However the album was lacking vocally, that was until it was re-relased with their then new, now current vocalist Carlos Zema who has a hell of voice in the style of Russell Allen, gritty, powerful but also stratospheric. Revolution Part 1 is the precursor EP for their debut full length album and yet again it features some insane musicanship from these madmen the rhythm section of Thad Stevens bass and Cody Gilland's drums are insane with Steven's gallop having more horsepower than a Mazerati and Gilland's blast beating putting some black metal drummers to shame. To add the melodies and riffs we look to Gabriel Guardian who contributes guitars and keyboards (most of the time simultaneously) and Jyro Alejo who shreds like Malmsteen at lightspeed. Over these five tracks we have the two opening tracks the power metal rampage of Beyond The Skies, the heavier darker tone of Walk Alone before the middle of the album delivers one it's finest tracks, the excellent Immortal which features Roy Z who has contributed to both Rob Halford's and Bruce Dickinson's solo projects and also produces this EP, this track is phenomenal featuring lots of light and shade, a progressive nature and shit loads of guitar solos from the Guardian boys and Mr Z himself. Before we are treated to a huge ballad on Between Fire And Ice which has huge backing vocals and slows everything down fleshing out IG's sound a bit more before the finale of Victory Shore ends the album in true IG style. If this is an indication of what the album will sound like then it's guaranteed to be a real treat for metal fans!! 8/10


Monday, 20 October 2014

Reviews: Decapitated, Cannibal Corpse, Black Moth (Reviews By Paul)

Decapitated: Blood Mantra (Nuclear Blast)

When it comes to technical metal you immediately think of Meshuggah, giants in the world of polyrhythmic time changes. Add the word death to the technical metal and there is no finer artist than Polish quartet Decapitated. Following on from 2011’s excellent Carnival Is For Ever, Blood Mantra elevates an already high bar into orbit. Crammed full of intricate and subtle time changes, this is a work of the highest quality. From the aggression of opener Exiled In Flesh to the atmospheric Blindness, the whole album just oozes brilliance. Blast beat drumming combined with powerhouse riffs which stick in the memory entwine with the stunning soloing from the main heartbeat of the band, Waclaw ‘Vogg’ Kieltyka. Dripping with hooks and no little dose of groove, Blood Mantra provides vocalist Rafal Piotrowski with the perfect platform to demonstrate his prowess and his growling delivery fits the bill completely. Each of the tracks are crafted brilliantly with the supporting rhythm section of bassist Pawel Pasek and new recruit Michael Lysejko on drums ensuring that the heaviness remains ever present. Just as an example, album closer Moth Defect contains an absolute blitzkrieg of powerhouse drumming. Blood Mantra is without doubt a masterclass for the genre of technical death metal. This album will definitely feature in my end of year top 10. A stunning piece of work from a band now firmly established in the top percentile. Roll on 12 December and their supporting role to Behemoth. Nergal and co had better watch out. His countrymen might well blow them off the stage. 10/10

Cannibal Corpse: A Skeletal Domain (Metal Blade)

The blueprint for death metal over the past 26 years has been crafted and delivered by New York’s gore masters. With A Skeletal Domain, their 13th release, Cannibal Corpse continue to demonstrate why they are the absolute masters in their field. Granted, if you don’t like death metal, this album won’t change your view one iota; however, if you happen to like a bit of extremely fast aggressive violent bloody death metal, this album will tick your boxes. 2012's Torture was a decent release and maintained the momentum that Cannibal Corpse have built over the years. Yet whilst the subject matter remains very much par for the course, (Sadistic Embodiment or Ice Pick Lobotomy anyone?) this album is a real improvement with some excellent writing and playing. The band are tighter on this album that a bull dog clip on your nut sack; blast beat drums hammer away from start to finish, crashing down with tsunami force; riffs drop from the sky at intense speed, solos peel off at an alarming rate and as always George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fischer’s vocal delivery remains the ultimate pinnacle of death metal frontmen. Take Kill Or Become, nothing says death metal more than Corpsegrinder growling “If you want to live you have to kill or become”; and the catchy refrain of “Fire Up the Chainsaw”. This album won’t change the world but what it does do is cement the position of Cannibal Corpse as the ultimate Death Metal outfit. No band from this genre has sold more records than them and they remain the true ideal for thousands of pretenders to their crown. Top quality death metal at its finest. Now, where was that chainsaw again? 8/10

Black Moth: Condemned To Hope (New Heavy Sounds)

Leeds outfit Black Moth’s second full release is a glorious mixture of doom, gothic, indie and hard rock. In fact, it's difficult to actually put a label on them. Opener Tumbleweave displays the doom influences of Sleep and Sabbath, stomping riffs and dark atmospheric lyrics cascade around you. Set Yourself Alight has the brashness and aggression of Iggy And The Stooges with elements of many of the guitar based indie bands; think of Sonic Youth or the Breeders for example. However, what provides Black Moth with an edge over many of their contemporaries is the haunting vocal delivery of Harriet Bevan. Sticking to a doom laden delivery, Bevan’s vocal suites the dark and witty lyrics: “your eyes say rock n roll but your lips say pepperoni” (Tumbleweave). Condemned To Hope displays pleasing variations in style, memorable hooks and catchy choruses, laced with the introspection of Siouxsie and the Banshees amongst others. The biggest problem facing Black Moth may the difficulty in categorising them and trying to gain the exposure they deserve. Are they metal, are they indie, goth or as I would suggest a magnificent hybrid of all genres. Having seen them live at Temples Festival earlier this year I know they can deliver live and I'm looking forward to another viewing at Damnation in November. 8/10

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Another Point Of View: Opeth (Review By Paul)

Opeth – The Institute, Birmingham

Having been unable to get to the Bristol date of the Pale Communion tour it was a first ever visit to The Institute in Birmingham to check out the last leg of Opeth’s UK tour. Getting to Birmingham at tea time on any evening is always a massive ball ache but with the gods on our side we made it shortly after doors opened and in good time for openers Alcest.

I have a lot of time for French outfit Alcest. Their music is moving and emotional and Shelter earlier this year was a quite beautiful release (see review earlier this year in MoM). This was my fourth viewing of them in the live arena, following their magnificent headline set in the Sophie Tent at BOA in 2012 and two stints as support on the last Katatonia tour. A short set consisting of five songs represented their works from their four albums. Opening with Opale from Shelter, Neige’s voice was initially lost in the grubby mix, overwhelmed by an overpowering bass line. Alcest need a clean mix to highlight the nuances and complexities in their compositions and once it was sorted their quality began to shine through. Heavier live than on record, Neige’s vocals vary from clean to death growl. Autre Temps followed, Winterhalter’s powerful drumming looking easy. Indria’s bass playing blends perfectly whilst Zero’s guitar playing combines with Neige’s to provide the riffage alongside the shoe gazing. Zero’s backing vocals were excellent and look very strange coming out of a mountain of a man. Closing with Deliverance from Shelter, Alcest received a very warm reaction from the packed crowd, even from me who had been dozing off; we call that the Alcest effect! Warm and dreamy, they really do make you lose yourself for a few minutes at time. 8/10

Opeth are fast approaching classic status. After over 20 years in the business, a band much loved by many (yours truly included) and surely but slowly but surely increasing in status, they also attract quite a lot of negativity from members of the metal community. There are those who feel that they have lost their heaviness and abandoned their black metal roots with their last two albums moving effortlessly to a progressive and 70s sound far removed from their debut Orchid. How wrong they are. What we were treated to was an absolute master class in metal and how to construct the perfect set list. This was my 11th evening with Mr Akerfeldt and company, and with the exception of the sensation Albert Hall gig in 2010 this was the best set list and performance I think I've ever witnessed. As the strains of Through Pain To Heaven faded out, the band launched into a double header from Pale Communion; Eternal Rains Will Come and Cusp Of Eternity. Opeth had a few dates before Birmingham to get used to playing these live and both were pretty astounding; heavier than on the album but also allowing the delicate and clear tones of Akerfeldt to come to the fore. Any suggestion that this was going to be a set consisting of the quieter side of Opeth was immediately blown away as a thunderous Bleak blasted any cobwebs away. As usual, Akerfeldt was in fine form, dry humour and his self-depreciating approach evident every time he engaged the crowd. A comedy moment followed as guitarist Fredrick Akersson launched into Advent, only to be hauled back as the next track was actually The Moor from the excellent Still Life. As several of the crowd laughingly shouted that Akersson would be “sacked in the morning”, Akerfeldt made light of it. What never fails to astound me is the technical ability of all members of the band. Both Akerfeldt and Akersson are stunning guitarists, able to peel of solo after solo as well as add the layers required to the complex structures of the songs. Martin Mendez’s bass playing is consistently solid and he combines with Martin ‘Axe’ Axenrot superbly. Axe’s drumming is so impressive, powerful bass drumming hammering away whilst he effortlessly moves around the rest of the kit. However, what was really noticeable this time around was the influence that keyboard player Joakim Svalberg has on the music. His mellotron and Hammond keyboards flow through the tracks, enriching the sound and adding a fresh dimension to older songs. He also has added a welcome harmony to the backing vocals, an area most recently shared somewhat limitedly by Akersson. Following The Moor it was indeed a welcome rare airing for Advent from 1997’s Morningrise, a powerful and complex track, full of atmosphere and numerous changes in mood and speed. The tempo was then reduced as Opeth slowed the tempo, delivering the beautiful Elysian Woes from Pale Communion before dipping back to Damnation for the delicate and fragile Windowpane. After this though it was heads down for an all-out assault as Opeth demonstrated that when you need heavy, there aren't many bands that will come close. April Ethereal bludgeoned its way towards the sole nod to Heritage with The Devil's Orchard before the band closed with a brutal combination of The Lotus Eater from Watershed and The Grand Conjuration, an evil and twisted piece from Ghost Reveries. An encore followed and despite several shouts for my favourite track Blackwater Park, it was the crushingly heavy Deliverance, all 13 minutes of it, which ended a performance that had lasted well over two hours. A complex journey through much of Opeth’s catalogue with some rare outings adding to the overall excellence of the evening. Opeth just get better and better. 10/10

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Reviews: Slipknot, Flying Colors, Sanctuary

Slipknot: 5: The Grey Chapter (Roadrunner)

The world's most dangerous band have been in turmoil as of late, with the passing of bassist/primary song writer Paul Gray in 2010, something that shocked the band to it's core and saw them on the verge of collapse. This feeling of loss has been doubled by the resignation of drummer Joey Jordison in 2013 meaning that this album, the band's fifth, has been gestating for six years. In the meantime the disagreement between Jim Root and Corey taylor around their other project Stone Sour has caused conflict between the two, however Slipknot have always been a twisted family and it is all of the members first love that they always return to. Because of this the release of a Slipknot album is always an event and .5: The Grey Chapter (title is a homage to their fallen brother) has been teased for months the full reveal coming with the video for The Devil In I which the band debuted their new masks, Taylors being the most radical change and also their new rhythm section. However the music is the same as it's always been, animalistic percussion from the new drummer, the twisted genius Shawn Clown Crahan and the gonzoid Chris Fehn, samples galore from the silent killer Craig Jones and the evil gimp Sid Wilson, murderous riffs from man mountain Mick Thompson and the Viking bearded joker Jim Root before the twisted master of ceremonies, Taylor, sings, croons, growls, barks the aggressive lyrics becoming the mouth piece for another slice of fervent rallying becoming a clarion call for the disillusioned and the angst ridden. The overall sound of the album is a mixture of the melodies present on Vol. 3 and the aggression and primitive nature of Iowa. XIX is a call to arms with just a single electronic sample and Taylor's scarred vocals showing the scars of their recent past before Sarcastrophe starts off subdued but as the guitars kick in they proceed to bludgeon just like the old days with everything going 100 mph, AOV kicks it up another gear with a riff meant to cause huge pits. The pace doesn't let up on The Devil In I which has more melody in it harking back to Vol 3 but still has enough bile and violence to ensure that you are still aurally beaten. Killpop slows things down and is a percussive violent love song before Skeptic takes things back to the boilersuits and blood of Iowa, with Taylor screaming his head off. The riffs are brutal, the percussion is bone breaking and Taylor shows why he is considered one of the best singers around, see the change between barks on Lech the croon on the electronic ballad Goodbye (a song that is heart breaking) and even the expletive filled machine gun spoken word delivery on Custer. The finale is in two parts, the first is Negative One which is Slipknot distilled and the second is the sparse, haunting, depressive If Rain Is What You Want. So even though they have matured and had their fair share of tragedy the nine man killing machine is still pumping out some of the most confrontational, influential metal music in the world. Lock up your loved ones, Slipknot are back whether you like it or not! 9/10    

Flying Colors: Second Nature (Mascot)

When supergroup Flying Colors relased their first album in 2012 expectation was high, here you had one of the leading lights in prog Neal Morse, his Transatlantic bandmate and frequent collaborator Mike Portnoy, joining forces with Deep Purple's Steve Morse and his fellow Dixie Dreg Dave LaRue, the only unknown being singer Casey McPherson. With the talent involved everyone a expected a prog extravaganza but what they got was a technically proficient, brilliantly executed mix of pop, rock, funk and jazz all brought together in one place with the immense musicianship of the the musos mixed with the pop voice of McPherson. However many felt the album didn't scratch their prog itch so Second Nature aims to redress the balance doing exactly what the title suggests, prog is in these men's blood so as the Transatlantic style opening of Open Up Your Eyes we dive straight in at the deep end with some airy keyboard fuelled majesty that then changes into a synth filled 13 minute stunner of an opener that echoes ELP and Yes, Neal Morse's fingerprint is all over the opener and as the song progresses we get changes in key, pace and style as LaRue lets his jazz side out, Portnoy turns from easy patterns into huge fills and Steve Morse solos like a demon in the middle eight and at the climax. Again it is McPherson's voice that is a revelation as he can really sing, his voice reminiscent to a cleaner version of Dave Grohl and his pop phrasing means that he hasn't got the overblown histrionics of many prog singers. Yes prog certainly is in this bands nature and they show this to full effect on this record with most of the songs over 4 minutes and the album is bookended by one 12 minute track and one 11 minute track the glorious finale Cosmic Symphony. In between we have Mask Machine which is big rock track followed by the orchestral backed power of Bombs Away and the Queen-like ballad of The Fury Of My Love which again is pure Neal Morse. The band gel so well on this record there is no self-indulgent nonsense, everything is for the good of the song, we are taken on a journey through the members influences from the Beatles-like A Place In Your World, the Celtic flavoured One Love Forever and of course the likes of ELP, Yes and even Floyd on the plaintive acoustic strummed Peaceful Harbour which gives McPherson ample opportunity to show off his impressive voice. This is a passion project from all those involved they created the songs, performed them and produced the album meaning that this album pips it's predecessor only because; one it is what is expected and two a true labour of love. So the prog is most definitely back and Second Nature is the sound of five men doing what they do best and doing it with style. 9/10      

Sanctuary: The Year The Sun Died (Century Media)

Move along Axl Rose your album Chinese Democracy took 14 years to make, well Sanctuary's last album, the excellent Into The Mirror Black, was released 25 years ago, and in the year 2014 it now finally has a follow up. This gap between albums is because the band broke up after their last album and only reunited again in 2010, this isn't to say the band faded into obscurity, frontman Warrel Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard formed Progressive metallers Nevermore with guitarist Jeff Loomis. Nevermore was a totally separate entity from Sanctuary, it was far more progressive with wider style and themes explored on their albums. Sanctuary on the other hand were smack bang in the middle of thrash (their first album was produced by MegaDave himself) so they managed to make strong aggressive but also progressive thrash/traditional metal albums. Now I don't have a preference, I think both bands are excellent so thankfully The Year The Sun Died has all the elements you would want from Sanctuary with the modern, mature touch of Nevermore. As the opening riff of Arise And Purify kicks it is clear the thrash is definitely back with Lenny Rutledge and Brad Hill proving some expert riffage along with the speedy gallop of Sheppard's bass and the frankly excellent drumming of Dave Budbill, obviously one of the major selling points of both Sanctuary and Nevermore was the amazing vocal range of Dane who shows his form off brilliantly here from the bellowing lower range croon on tracks like Let The Serpent Follow Me and the monolithic doom of Exitium (Anthem of the Living) to the ear piercing shrieks (not favoured in Nevermore) of I Am Low which is a surprisingly Nevermore sounding track as is The Dying Age which ends with cries of "Exterminate". The Year The Sun Died is glorious return from Sanctuary, it picks up where Into The Mirror.... left off and adds everything that Dane and Sheppard have been part of since, the songs are heavier, bolder and more mature than before and as the emotive and passionate title track ends the album perfectly I felt as if Sanctuary have continued their legacy by carrying on the sound of both the bands they are associated with, this is one for fans of the original Sanctuary and also happily for fans of Nevermore too. 8/10