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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Reviews: Tesla, Steven Wilson, Falconer

Tesla: Simplicity (Frontiers)

California band Tesla are now in their 32nd year of playing blues influenced, hard rock music but weirdly Simplicity is only their seventh studio album. As the title suggests this is a return to their roots forgoing the modern techniques they had on previous release Forevermore and going back to their roots bringing in analogue recording methods and keeping everything nice and simple. However that doesn't mean this album is stupid no as is the norm with Tesla they have some clever lyrical content and mature blue-collar hard rock that has always set them apart form their contemporaries. The from the first LP crackle of the album the guitars of founder member Frank Hannon and relative new boy Dave Rude (he replaced original guitarist Tommy Skeooch) immediately kick in with some melodic guitar runs before the big riff of MP3 which bemoans modern technology in general and has a talkbox guitar solo in the middle something I thought only Black Stone Cherry did now! Yes this certainly is the sound of Tesla returning to their roots with funky, hip shaking rock and roll throughout, Ricochet is the embodiment of this a hard rock song about being in a hard rock band that has a big fat riff and references Uncle Ted himself what's not to like? It also continues Tesla's tradition of having a great track as the second on the album. Hannon and Rude drive this album with their excellent guitars but on Rise And Fall you can hear founder members' Brian Wheat and Troy Luccketta's, bass and drums providing the main thrust of this slow burning track that brings the blues back to the album with its funky bass driven rhythm that leads into the acoustically boosted So Divine...which harks back to Tesla's seminal Five Man Acoustical Jam but it is crossed with a bit of Buckcherry in the chorus. Much of this is due to Jeff Keith's scratched vocals which have always been one of the drawing points of Tesla for me, he has one of the most authentic and recognisable voices in rock much like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith a similarity that becomes clear on the countrified Cross My Heart and Honestly both of which wouldn't be out of place on Toys In The Attic. Other great tracks are the rapid fire Time Bomb and Flip Side! as all the songs are very different but all have that quality stamp. In fact this idea of not conforming pretty sums up Tesla in general they are a band that do exactly as they want to whether it is popular or not. Some may think that their time is long gone but with Simplicity these 1980's survivors have produced a high quality hard rock record. 8/10   

Steven Wilson: Cover Version (Kscope)

Porcupine Tree main man and all round prog rock revivalist Steven Wilson has compiled his 2 track singles together for this release they were originally released on various formats between 2003 and 2010 through Wilson's own Headphone Dust label. The singles were made up of one cover and one original song (with The Uniquiet Grave being the only exception as it is a traditional arrangement) and were done on the spur of the moment while he was travelling etc meaning they haven't really got the production values and huge multi faceted sound of either Porcupine Tree or Wilson's solo stuff especially. So you have to ask yourself as you put the CD in the player how are these songs? For the most part they are good, with the cover versions being a particular highlight, the opening salvo of Alanis Morissette's Thank U he manges to make one of Morrisette's signature songs more melancholic than the original with his sparse use of piano and acoustic guitar and haunting vocals that bring the spiritual message of the song home without the rockier distractions of the original. The almost Pink Floyd sounding Moment I Lost You is a short song that wouldn't sound out of place on Wish You Were Here. Next is The Day Before You Came which is an ABBA cover that gets a dark reworking, does away with the synths of the original and shows that ABBA were so much more than a pop band. Like I said the covers actually stand out more than the originals but you can here a few hints to both the latter PT albums and his solo records in the original tracks but they are your usual Wilson stuff full of sadness, lament but performed in an uplifting way. A Forest originally by The Cure is made much harsher and slowed down to a crawl with the synths making it sound no to dissimilar to Wilson's No Man project. Four Trees Down is slightly folky and has a nice clean guitar solo from Wilson who obviously plays every instrument and leads into the The Guitar Lesson which was by Momus a band that seem to have a lot of similarities to Wilson's brand of morose music in a song with some serious relationship issues. Anyway things don't pick up in terms of mood on the The Uniquiet Grave which is a song about mourning a true love. As is normal it is up to his Purpleness to pick things up as Wilson throws in a cover of Sign O The Times which is still as bass and synth heavy as the original but does have a bit of a guitar freak out at the end which all comes together to be one of the best covers on the record and it is followed by one of the best originals in Well Your Wrong which sounds like latter period Beatles. This is a bit of mixed bag but some of these covers are inspired more so than the original tracks. A nice little filler album from the master of modern prog. 7/10  

Falconer: Black Moon Rising (Metal Blade Records)

I've heard of Falconer but I've never really heard anything by them, I thought Black Moon Rising is as good a chance as any as it has been touted by many the Power Metal album of the year. Well from as the heavy speed metal riffage of Locust Swarm kicks in you would be inclined to agree, these Swedes have all the hallmarks of pure Power Metal the double kick drums the galloping bass the dual guitars and lots of keys too. The band are linked to the more folk side of Power Metal and you can hear that influence in Scoundrel And The Squire, At The Jester's Ball and There's A Crow On The Barrow, all of which have lots of folk instrumentation as does Halls And Chambers which is possibly the best song on the album. So the guitars of Stefan Weinerhall and Jimmy Hedlund are great full of razor sharp metal licks and fret melting solos, the bass of Magnus Linhardt rampages and the drums of Karsten Larsson are strong and powerful. The downfall of the band is vocalist/keyboardist Mathias Blad who despite having a strong theatrical voice he doesn't really do it for me, a lot of his vocals sound laboured and jar slightly with the muscular metal behind it. This could be because I associate this kind of metal with Blind Guardian and he just doesn't have the range of Hansi Kursch, like I said his vocals are good if he stays in his mid range but they seem a bit strained in the higher notes. Still this is a strong album and after repeated listens Blad's voice does grow on you but it is likely to alienate a few Power Metal aficionados. Try it and make your own conclusions, you are guaranteed to find something you like. As for me Falconer will remain on my periphery in future. 7/10  

Monday, 28 July 2014

The View From The Back Of The Room: Mostly Autumn

Mostly Autumn, The Globe

Mostly Autumn are one of the most anthemic, emotive live bands on the UK circuit. Tonight was my 15(?) time seeing them and I brought two very good friends who had never seen them to witness the live power of the British prog/folk rockers. Coming on to no intro music the band immediately opened with what is now their signature opening track Deep In Borrowdale which gets everything rocking at a great pace as the beckon us to "Come On Up" and with the fast instrumental finale had front woman Olivia Josh spinning and bashing the tambourine like Ms Nicks. As is the norm with Mostly Autumn the touring line up changed again with the only band leader/singer/guitarist Bryan Josh, Singer Olivia, Keyboardist Iain Jennings and bassist Andy Smith the only members retained from the last tour, new drummer (former stand in drummer) Alex Cromarty showing he is perfect for the role playing with some serious drums on Gaze. The two other members on this tour are former members Chris Johnson on guitars and in a real treat for long term fans Angela Gordon on flutes and backing vocals. These two added a new dynamic to things with Johnson's rhythm playing being a particular highlight (as it always is). the set was drawn from the newer albums with Olivia on vocals. Second song in was Drops Of The Sun which is still one of my favourites, Changing Fast and Never The Rainbow came next and then we went into Rain Song which was a track Jennings, Johnson and Olivia used to play in Breathing Space and as is the norm with Breathing Space the track was led by Jennings' huge keyboard riffs that are a key to MA's sound. After Rain Song the band played the classic Evergreen which is so full of emotion it always gets the crowd going with it's raw emotion and explosive latter half. As the first set drew to a close we got more rock until the first set ended with the jarring and hugely emotive Questioning Eyes which builds up the drama as it progresses and shows off Olivia's amazing vocals before climaxing in a wave of joy at the end finishing the main set.

Here we got  a break before which Bryan announced that the second set would be the entire new album Dressed In Voices which piqued my interest as I think it is one of the best albums they have made. So without further ado they launched into Saturday Night before the piano led Not Yours To Take started to build the darkness that goes throughout this album, through the ballad Running and onto the very dark Home as the story of a man who is murdered and grabs the murder to show him what life would have been like if he had lived. The haunting First Day At School followed and changed the nature of the set totally with all the couples holding each other tightly as they had done on Evergreen and Questioning Eyes. This is the power of Mostly Autumn's music they can move you to tears or rock your head off shown on Down By The River this then moved into the folk of Skin On Skin and The House On The Hill. The penultimate track ended the album brilliantly with the Gilmour-like guitar of The Library showing off Bryan's guitar prowess and leading to the end of the album play through. The encore of classic epic Heroes Never Die exploded to life as always with Bryan playing his searing solo at the end before the acoustic folk of Tonight finished things off with power. Yet another great gig by Mostly Autumn and one that brought smiles to the faces of my compatriots, Mostly Autumn are a live band that should be witnessed live as they truly are one of the best live bands around!! I encourage people to see them whenever possible and if you have seen them take someone else as a joyous experience is better shared!! 9/10        

Friday, 25 July 2014

World Of Metal 14: Machinergy, Disforia, Cobra

Machinergy – Sounds Evolution. (Self released) [Review By Nick]

Hailing from Portugal the gents from the quite frankly awesomely named Machinergy bring us their new album Sounds Evolution. Filled with deep dark grungy thrash this album really is one to take your anger out on. Opening with title track Sounds Evolution we are thrown into a fast paced flurry of rhythmic guitars and drum destroying that really spikes your interest from the off. As the drums slam away relentlessly behind the guitars and vocals of Rui Vieira, you can hear how blatantly dark, evil the vocals are as they are delivered with an almost pained edge that really does add a touch of agony of emotion to the track, however this does not end here. Moving into Furia and Machine Gun Anger the beat down upon the band instruments continues, loud heavy and pain filled these tracks ooze both meaning and skill. Rui’s guitars although not outlandish become mesmerizing which is only further compounded by the whipping that Helder Rodrigues’s drums receive. Its only at this point it hit me… these guys are a three piece! But hell do they sound like one? …not in any way! The sound and brutality Machinergy manage to beat out of their instruments is truly brilliant. The album drops in pace but not in sound for Venomith, stuffed full of hard edged riffs the context on which he album is based continues. Antagonsita possibly the song of the album it is a beauty of track rammed full of everything a metal song should have; brutality, vocal and instrumental emotion and heavy dark undertones. Cada Falso steps up the game further, adding more lashings of hard sharp riffs with quick tone changes and direction of speed. As the album comes to a close Machinergy continue as they have throughout the album, but it is hard not to notice the slightly more melodic riffs that enter the game from as well as some sublime operatic female backing vocal Waterwar through the instrumental track Hammer which is crammed with wonderfully placed mini breakdowns that send your head shaking side to side and your fist hammering down on you knees with great assertion. Final track Paraphernalia is somewhat disappointingly placed in my opinion. Probably the weakest track on the album, that is stretched out and feels very bare compared to the rest of the album until the riff kicks in on the very simplistic chorus. It a shame really as an album of this quality deserves a much better ending! So, hard day at the office? Come home finding you want to break shit? Why not try this gem of an album first and save a bit of money. Let Machinergy forcefully insert their brand of dark emotion filled grungy thrash into your ears and see how that feels, let me tell you… it feels damn good! 8/10

Disforia: The Age Of Ether (Self Released)

Disforia come from the the home of the Mormons; Salt Lake City, Utah but don't expect any cheesy pop Osmonds style. No Disforia are a progressive/power metal band, The Age Of The Ether is their debut album and things start off slowly with intro Essence which explodes into the fast and furious opener Chaos which has some speedy intro before breaking into some off time riffage backed by some lush orchestrations, the band so much into this four minute track it leaves you breathless and baying for more. With dual guitars coming thick and fast as well as keyboard the melodic side of this band are well catered for with the six stringers and the ivory tinkler both catered for on the solo front. This is somewhat of a concept album with little snippets of storyline spliced throughout the album, it beats me what the concept is about but it seems like it is heavily reliant on Sci-Fi imagery, as every good prog metal album should be! The band sound a lot like early Pagan's Mind with their intensely progressive approach but with lots of power metal melody and gusto. Dream Eater has a tasty 8-bit keyboard intro to it as the drums furiously beat out the rhythm, the vocals too are great reaching the massive highs as well as some guttural roaring on Dream Eater particularly which much like its predecessor has so much going on it's hard to keep up with, from the technical guitars and the little synth flourishes over the top of the big metallic guitars, the track sounds like it should be on a 1980's racing game! The gutteral roars continue on Creator's Creator and put me in mind of a power metal Opeth (especially with the lavish use of organ and mellotron throughout) or indeed little known proggers Mutiny Within (a band I like a lot!). Creator's Creator marks the beginning of the long songs that every prog band needs, in fact the next four tracks, barring instrumental Infection are over 7 minutes long!! Vocally singer John Yelland sounds a lot like Blind Guardian's Hansi Kursch, a band Disforia sound a huge amount like and I thought I was going mad when I heard him apparently duelling with himself until I found out the other voice was Hansi himself appearing on The Dying Firmament. As you can appreciate I nearly injured myself when I found this out as I am a dyed in the wool Blind Guardian fan. After the second instrumental things kick off yet again with the gloriously cinematic Beyond The Walls Of Misery which leads into Lunar Sunrise which is the final 7 minute plus track and features the vocals of Miss Brittany Hayes from Canadian Power/Death metallers Unleash The Archers. As the final notes of The Ethereal ring out Disforia have taken you on a musical journey full of twists and turns. The performances on this record are amazing and they are only bolstered by the amazing production job. If you like progressive/power/speed metal that is intelligent, amazingly played and all encompassing then find this album!! It is immense!! 10/10

Cobra: To Hell (Austral Holocaust Records)

Leather, chains, bullet belts and heavy metal; things that go together wherever you are in the world and with the retro metal revival still going strong its time for the metal loving South Americans to have a shot at the crown co-held by the Swedes, the Canadians and the Brits. Peru based Cobra are here to play old school NWOBHM and from their album cover (a denim clad hero being sucked into the fiery depths) onwards you know what to expect. This is dual guitars, four-four drum patterns, low slung bass and helium vocals that echo Priest, Maiden etc that came before them. The inaugural track Beyond The Curse builds from it's guitar solo intro in way reminiscent to Diamond Head's classic Am I Evil? before the bass gallop kicks off the track proper and the guitars ring out like Dave and Adrian. To Hell is Cobra's sophomore album and it is played with real grit and determination, yes it has been done before but you have to have balls to open with an eight minute plus track, which admittedly is really good blending together all of the hallmarks of this kind of leather clad retro metal. Augusto Morales' bass leads everything with his Harris-like runs that pave the way for Nito Mejía and Andrés Rhor's twin guitar attack and Harry "El Sucio" (Dirty Harry in English language fans!) shrieked vocals that may be this bands Marmite, you will either love them or hate them. Personally I think they fit the music perfectly and he is doing very well to tell the stories of War on Fallen Soldier, bikers on Rough Riders, which has a hell of a solo outro and also sex on When I Walk The Streets. Oh yes these Peruvians have what it takes to challenge the big boys of Europe and North American, they have the riffs, the solos and indeed the ear piercing vocals to be featured on the next Enforcer tour for sure. It shows that when you have a passion for something you inevitably do it as well as your idols, good stuff indeed. 8/10  

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Reviews: Entombed A.D, Nothing More, Derdian

Entombed A.D: Back To Front (Century Media)

Swedish Death N Rollers Entombed are no more after a major bust up involving the name Entombed is now owned only by the four original members meaning that vocalist L.G Petrov and the most recent members of the band have now split from original guitarist Alex Hellid and formed their own version of the band called Entombed A.D. Now nothing has changed with this new band they sound an awful lot like Entombed which is no bad thing as this is powerful, hard rock with lots of death metal flourishes. There isn't the super speed of many death bands but there is lots of heavy dark guitar work and ripping solos from Nico Elgstrand who brings his talent to the table in abundance. Although Victor Brandt and Olle Dahlstedt are no slouches either mind with Bedlam Attack led by Brandt's bass and swelled out by Dahlstedt's blast beat drums. The band work through death metal, but they also add lashings of doom and some big stompy thrash on Second To None which has elements of classic thrash with vocals of Petrov being a real treat as he has a great death metal growl but also a harsh raspy 'clean' delivery. This album is good with some killer riffs from Elgstrand, a huge rhythm section and some massive gang vocals that will go down well in the live arena especially the one two of Waiting For Death and Eternal Woe which will get heads banging and fists pumping! A great album that doesn't deviate from it's predecessors, but is all the better for it; different name, same quality death metal. Can't wait to see the pits at BOA. 7/10

Nothing More: Nothing More (Eleven Seven Music)

Sometimes there are bands that defy all expectations, Texans Nothing More are one of those bands, when i first saw them they seemed to have the look and feel of a Kerrang! band, what I mean that is a band that will be heavily touted by the weekly rock mag who do at times seem to favour style over substance. Nothing More seemed like that band...until I played their self titled album. Yes it is modern record that can be lumped with the djent tag but Nothing More are so much than a genre tag. As the electronics of the intro Ocean Floor gives way into the This Is The Time (Ballast) the band set about blowing you away with their immense talent, yes the palm muted guitars of the Djenters are there but the band have lots of other things to add to the mix with the industrial sounding Christ Copyright based heavily on Mark Vollelunga's amazing guitar playing and Daniel Oliver down tuned bass. The band are very hard to place musically as with Mr MTV they have a lot of hard hitting nu metal mixed with a sample of Dire Straits' Money For Nothing (I kid you not!) then they move into Emo stylings of First Punch which sounds like Papa Roach. It moves into the acoustic instrumental Gyre which also features their heavy use of samples and drums from both Drummer Paul O'Brien and Vocalist Jonny Hawkins. This breaks up the album a bit and leads to their second half which builds kicks off with The Matthew Effect which has a killer stop start riff and a massive chorus and leads into another super ballad I'll Be OK which has some similarities to 30 Seconds To Mars especially with the final electronic outro. As I said Vollelunga's guitar is brilliant it is melodic, uplifting and for the most part very heavy even on ballads like Here's To The Heartache. The rhythm section of O'Brien's seriously excellent drums and Oliver's leading bass adding the massive bottom end to the tracks, the final cherry on the cake are Hawkins' voice which are amazing; melodic, emotional and varied pitched somewhere between Myles Kennedy; see If I Were Here, The Mars Volta's Cedric Bixler-Zavala on the proggy Sex & Lies and Coheed And Cambria's Claudio Sanchez. This is very much a post milleniual album taking ideas from everywhere to produce a strong debut full of big songs that will surely have them headlining soon enough, for once you can believe the hyperbole that the 'metal' magazines give you. Nothing More will live up to it!!! 10/10    

Derdian: Human Reset (Lion Music)

You can't think of Italian Power Metal without thinking of Labyrinth who are indeed the kings of this particular sound. Derdian have a lot to live up too but Human Reset is their fifth album so anyone would think that they would have established their own sound away from the bigger brothers. Unfortunately this album is dreadful, the production is dire with everything sounding very hazy and low in the mix, the instruments are good with some good riffs, solos and keyboard runs but when coupled with Ivan Giannini's awful vocals they are rendered limp as his poor voice overrides everything else on the record. As far as power metal goes this is above standard but its those two things I've previously mentioned that mean that this never really gets into the upper echelon. 5/10

Sunday, 20 July 2014

World Of Metal 13: Empty Yard Experiment, Nothgard, Gross Reality

Empty Yard Experiment: Kallisti (Self Released)

Dubai is not the usual place you would think of when you think of progressive/alternative rock but much like Orphaned Land, Empty Yard Experiment bring the spirit of bands like Pink Floyd, Tool and King Crimson from the heart of Middle East. The music is emotive and haunting much like their name suggest. The album is split between full songs with segues in the middle to help create the atmosphere that this type of music needs. Sunyata starts things with piano and strings building into the heavy guitar opening of Greenflash which kicks into double kick drums and some heavy filled guitars and ominous bass-lines that are the staple of Tool as is the rhythmic middle section that erupts into the heavy final part. With two guitarists a bassist, drummer and a keyboardist the band have a big sound meaning that their songs are heavy, powerful and atmospheric. The keys of Gorgin Asadi come into play on segue Red with its electronic synths that lead into the instrumental The Blue Eyes Of The Dog which has a real Pink Floyd vibe to it with sterling guitar work from Mehdi Gr and Bojan Preradovic who also provides the vocals on the tracks that call for them, he has a Maynard-like grunge howl which he uses to great effect on Entropy which features a driving bassline from Kaveh Kashani and some great percussive flourishes from Josh Saldanha as well as Untitled which is a progressive acoustic track with some Middle Eastern influences throughout. You can't really pick out a best track on this album as it more about the whole album than individual tracks much liek the work of Anathema. A good album but a sound that has been done, still if you want an eclectic, musical adventure from a band that are not following the trend set out by their geographical location then you can do much worse than seek out Empty Yard Experiment. 7/10

Nothgard: Age Of Pandora (Trollzorn Records)

Nothgard are melodic death metal band from Germany Age Of Pandora is their second album and it puts them in the great position of being able to expand their sound to encompass more sounds, with three guitarists and some massive orchestral pieces the band have a huge sound and as the Hans Zimmer-like intro Of Light And Shadow starts off creating a mood that build with it's cinematic feel its then that the full pelt metal kicks in with all four guitars kicking in to the super speed Bodomesque riffage. Skaal, bassist Vik S and guitarist Daniel K provide the rhythms. With K merging seamlessly with front man Dorn R Crey on the leads of which there are many with dual guitar attacks and face melting solos throughout all anchored by the lightning fast blast beats of D. Ziegler who rives things along at a rapid pace. The band are very Bodom-like with death vocals coming from Crey who sounds a lot like Alexi Lahio and with the melodic death metal they play the similarities are hard to miss especially on the slower songs like Black Witch Venture which ahs a more clean delivery but is prime Are You Dead Yet. It's not only Bodom though there are elements of the Gothenburg scene too but for the most part it is Bodom that overrides everything and yet that is no bad thing as the band do what they do very well. This is powerful, technical melodic death metal with a lot of symphonic elements to flesh out their sound. the lyrics are great focussing on true life topics that work well over the excellent musical backing. Yes if you like COB then you will lap up this album, there is enough similarities to bring you in but also enough differences to make Nothgard unique. So on their second album these Germans have created a great album with songs like the awesome final three songs Wings Of DawnMossback Children and the finale No One Holds The Crown they are ready to take on the world!! 7/10 

Gross Reality: Overthrow (Self Released)

America is the heartland of thrash metal and in the early nineties Gross Reality were one of the hundreds of Thrash bands that made their way across the country inciting circle pits and then dissolved however with the thrash renaissance in around 2009-10 Gross Reality came back to thrash again and thrash hard and heavy they do. With a sound that harks back to early Slayer, Kreator and Exodus they have lighting riffs, hollered vocals from Daniel Powell who assumes the Arya position of Bassist and Singer. The songs come thick and fast with speedy riffs from the two guitarists Roland Arthur and Jason Wheeler who also have the explosive soloing of King and Hanneman. Yes the band are treading over old ground but they do it well with some metal thrashing mad tunes like opener Worthless Humans, Generation 36 and the final title track Overthrow that are the longer more complex songs on the record that show that the band can expand their sound and write longer more technical songs. The band are no strangers to short sharp shocks either mind with I'm AbsentHaunting The Waters, the very Slayer sounding Human Resign all exploding from the speakers and kicking you in the teeth in under 3 minutes each. No it ain't big and it ain't clever but it is honest a band taking a second shot with some super speed riffs that will get the pits ferocious and will bring a smile to even the most hardcore Slayer fan. 7/10

Friday, 18 July 2014

Reviews: Judas Priest, Ted Nugent, Grave Digger, Demonic Resurrection (Bumper Review By Paul)

Judas Priest – Redeemer Of Souls (Epic/Colombia)

So a couple of years after the Epitaph finale, here is the return of the Metal Gods with their latest release, Redeemer Of Souls. Priest is of course comprised of living legends, led by one of metal’s true greats in the shape of the mighty Rob Halford. Their style has always been straight forward balls out heavy metal. They make no bones about it. This is what they do and if you don’t like it then you can fuck off.
I’ve always thought Priest were massively underrated in the UK until very recently; certainly for many years they appeared much more appreciated in the States for a long time. With Redeemer Of Souls, the Priest return to the quality of their reunion album, Angel Of Retribution, which was unbelievably released nine years ago? This of course is the first release to feature new guitarist Richie Faulkner and he has clearly given the band a new lease of life. Opener Dragonaut kicks off with a killer riff before crashing into its stride like a charging bull elephant. “Welcome to my word of steel” snarls Halford. Solos snake all over the place, Halford’s voice sounds excellent with his trademark operatic levels and harmonies on the chorus whilst the dual guitars of Faulkner and Glenn Tipton duel away in their customary style. Similar to old school Iron Maiden, the twin axe attack has long been the Priest trademark. Solid stuff with enough hooks to be memorable. The tempo continues with the title track which comes next; similar format, verse followed by chorus with driving bass and drums courtesy of Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis and the double guitar work of Faulkner and Tipton complementing Halford’s superb delivery. 

This is a 13 track album and as with many Priest albums, there is a little bit of filler included. Bloody hell, these guys are mainly in their late 60s so the fact that they are still delivering the goods (sorry!) is most impressive. Halls Of Valhalla isn't my favourite track on the album but the thing with Priest is that they are just masters of the metal riff. This track races along with aplomb and Halford proves that he can still hit the high notes. Solos are dripping through this album, with Faulkner and Tipton delivering killer efforts. Sword Of Damocles follows with thundering drumming but a slight variation in tempo, certainly more Maiden in delivery and a demonstration of their similar style. A sing-a-long chorus with a slower pace, Halford’s delivery is very similar to Mr Dickinson’s. No bad thing in my book. The second half of the album is, to my mind, a selection of traditional Judas Priest heavy metal. Down In Flames has the British Steel era feel about it, whilst Hell And Back would have slotted nicely into the Nostradamus opus released a few years ago. Meanwhile there is a very definite 80s feel to Cold Blooded with Halford providing his unique vocal style to strong effect whilst once again the dual fretwork is solid. Metaliser opens with the classic Halford scream and is a real headbanger of a track, galloping along, hooks reminiscent of the classic tunes from the Painkiller album. It sits nicely alongside Nightcrawler and Jawbreaker. The final tracks maintain a high standard, with Cross Fire the pick before the Beginning Of The End, a softer, introspective song closes the album. It isn’t going to set the world on fire but it is a rather tasty slab of metal from one of the old school masters. A new Priest album is always a welcome sound. Now let’s have a headline set at BOA 2015. That would be sweet. 7/10

Ted Nugent – Shut Up And Jam (Frontiers)

The motor city madman with the political views that would make Nigel Farage blush delivers his 14th album Shut Up And Jam to the unsuspecting rock world and it’s a bit of a stormer. I've had to set aside all of my views about Uncle Ted’s politics to review this piece of work so please don’t for one minute think I agree with any of his agenda. However, having grown up on a diet of the Detroit motor mouth thanks to Brett Perry exposing me to The Amboy Dukes, I have to admit that I've always had a soft spot for his musical ability. For me he is one of THE greatest guitarists to ever come out of the States. His earlier solo stuff like Free For AllWeekend WarriorsCatch Scratch Fever and Intensities In Ten Cities are all dripping with sublime guitar work and some top quality tunes (and like most rock in the 70s it was also dripping with misogynistic lyrics before you say it). His signature Gibson Byrdland provided solos that ripped you in half and who can forget the lengthy holding of the note at the start of Great White Buffalo? So what about his latest release? Well, Shut Up And Jam opens with the rock n’ roll driven title track, with the Nuge’s trademark vocals instantly recognisable and the licks flying around like a swarm of vicious mosquitoes. Nugent has combined with long time collaborators bassist Greg Smith and drummer Mick Brown along with the welcome return of the legendary Derek St Holmes on rhythm guitar and backing vocals. Fear Itself is a storming composition, with a blinding riff and catchy chorus. Although these lyrics are never going to win an award for depth, the Nuge writes to suit his style. A catchy hook on the chorus beefs the track up even more. Mr St Holmes takes lead vocal duty on Everything Matters, a bluesy number which has some really delicate guitar playing. St Holmes was of course, a staple part of the Nugent band for many years and supplied the vocals on a number of Nugent’s more popular tracks. He was also the basis upon which the writers developed the name David St Hubbins in Spinal Tap. 

She’s Gone features a guest vocal from Sammy Hagar whose voice fits the track superbly, with some ridiculous vocal interplay and another blistering track. This is followed by a mellower track, Never Stop Believing which kicks off with driving riffs, heartfelt soloing and then some of the Nuge’s most honest lyrics. A lovely song which focuses very much on Uncle Ted’s love of life, including homage to Martin Luther King. The album also has a bluesy version at the end which is quite stunning. Normal service is quickly resumed with I Still Believe, all about Nuge’s love of America and his patriotism is unwavering. As for the track, it clips along, tambourines and all whilst the Nuge’s guitar work crawls all over it like ants on jam. The next track is just brilliant. “Something smells good” says Uncle Ted before launching into I Love My BBQ. If you are a vegetarian tune out now! This is a tribute to the outdoor art of grilling. “Tofu just might kill you, a tossed salad makes you weak, I like to kill ‘em and grill ‘em, protein’s what we seek”. Hilarious stuff and it gets better. “Well the animals, they got rights, next to the mashed potato”. Throttledown does exactly what you’d expect from the title, a balls out instrumental which allows the entire band to showcase how tight they are. Whilst the focus is always on Nugent, his backing band really kick out the jams on this track. I don’t know how they recorded this album but I wouldn't be surprised if it was very much delivered in a few hits and in a group sound. Do-Rags and A.45 is a pulsing tune, with huge helpings of Dog Eat Dog from yesteryear. Ted’s usual vocal delivery with some excellent screaming vibrates through this one before the band launch into Screaming Eagles, another high paced track which races along. Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead has been kicking around in Ted’s repertoire for several years but is a fitting penultimate track with riffs and hooks galore. It is good stuff. I appreciate that Ted Nugent is a Marmite character. I don’t agree with his political views although I think he gets a worse press because of his giant gob. Ignoring that, this is an album which has some quite brilliant music and guitar playing of the highest quality. This is a return to form of one of rock’s most colourful characters. 9/10

Grave Digger – Return Of The Reaper (Napalm Records)

German power metal outfit Grave Digger have been around in various forms since 1980. Part of the early German metal movement, they have experienced many different line-ups and have an extensive back catalogue. Their debut album, Heavy Metal Breakdown is regarded as a bit of a metal classic. Return of the Reaper is their 14th album. I have to admit that, whilst I knew who they were, I would not have been familiar with much of their work. Opening with Return Of The Reaper, an intro track, the band then get the temperature boiling extremely quickly with Hell Funeral which has powerful drumming and some scorching riffs. However, if you are unfamiliar with this band the vocal style is either going to tick your box or get right on your nerves. I have to admit I found Chris Boltendahl’s delivery pretty poor. The guy just can’t sing. Power Play magazine recently referred to it as ‘unique’. That is being generous. Unfortunately the vocals took much of the focus away from the rest of the band’s playing. War God is another blistering paced track, huge riffs and almost blast beat drumming . Alex Ritt, the current guitarist is some player, cranking out solos at will, whilst the rhythm section of Jens Becker (bass) and drummer Stefan Arnold combine incredibly tightly. The musicianship is power metal at its best and this is a country that churns out power metal bands by the bucket load. The lyrics are exactly what you’d expect from this type of band; cue anthemic chanting and choruses, along with some abysmal rhyming. Using four lines which rhyme Agony, Mortality, Brutality and Tragedy is quite special. Tattooed Rider has borrowed the intro to Turbo Lover by Judas Priest, swirling keys washing over the driving guitars and stomping drive. This track really highlights the ‘uniqueness’ of Boltendahl’s voice, which is really gruff and tuneless. However, this band has clearly got a massive fan base so it must appeal to many.

Resurrection Day opens in familiar fashion, riffs galore with Ritt soloing furiously as the band gallop along. However, any band that uses the words ‘nasty smell’ in their lyrics loses points with me; “Shadows from a wasted land, Human rights facing end, wind carries a nasty smell, Evils breed ride straight out of hell”. Okay. Season Of The Witch is a stomper of a track, slower and bound to induce mass clap-a-longs. The lyrics are once again total gibberish, and given some of the shit that I listen to that is saying something; However, if you take this out of the equation then this is a quite brilliant metal track. Sing-a-long choruses, solos dripping out of every pore and a lovely change in tempo in the middle which has some of the worst singing I've ever heard. It would be brilliant in the sun at BOA with a beer in hand and 10,000 tone deaf metal heads singing along! The lyrics get even more ridiculous in Road Rage Killer, which as you will expect is a 100mph blaster. My favourite lyrics since Hail And Kill include the lines “On the road to Babylon, far away from Avalon, Walls can’t stop me, I’m on the prowl, Brought a couple to death, intoxicated by crystal meth”. Whooaa! What the actual fuck?? Despite all my sniggering at the classic metal lyrics I actually really enjoyed this album. It has all the Germanic influences you’d expect, with Helloween and Accept particularly evident. Grave Desecrator has early Udo all over it whilst Satan’s Host is Accept circa 1985. I won’t comment on the lyrical magic here apart from to tease you with another classic line, “Pray for mercy, I am your whip, Obey my prayer, suck my dick”. The obligatory power ballad Nothing To Believe which closes the end of the album allows Hans Peter Katzenburg to show his skills on the keyboard but despite that it is truly toe-curlingly awful. Grave Digger has obviously established a mark in the metal world and are deeply revered in some sections. This album isn’t dreadful by a long way and if you can accept the dreadful lyrics and vocal style then it may well float your boat. Mine is still aground. 6/10

Demonic Resurrection – The Demon King (Candlelight Records)

No messing about with Mumbai’s finest exponents of blackened death metal. A blood curdling roar of “the king is dead” opens their fourth album with The Assassination. This is blast beat heaven from the off with the frenetic pace that we’ve come to expect. Virendra Kaith’s technical drumming is quite breath taking throughout the entire album. The pace slows ever so slightly to allow some of the keyboard elements that have become essential to the metal genre; think Dimmu Borgir as just one example. Second track Facing The Faceless continues the relentless pace with Sahil ‘Demonstealer’ Makhija’s death growls ripping combining with the Trivium type harmonies. Indeed, it is the clean vocals that I really like in this band as they are of top quality. It has been four years since The Return To Darkness, an album that had synth heavy intros. No such luck this time, with each track hitting the ground at 110mph. New guitarist Nishith Hegde has a massive job in filling the strings of former guitarist Daniel Rego, who had a hand in the compositions on this release. The Promise Of Never is a more complex track, layered and with several opportunities for the clean vocals to shine through; Hegdge (from another band Albatross) delivering some tidy soloing whilst the synths of Mephisto finally get the opportunity to add some depth. Title track The Demon King is perhaps the most groove-laden of the tracks, opening with a heavy riff and spoken word before the blast beats kick in. The track still moves at a huge pace and is sure to open up the pits wherever it is played. Operatic synths swoop in and out of the track whilst Demonstealer’s vocals are pure evil. The rhythm section, completed by newest band member Ashwin Shriya power along as the track takes a deep breath, slowing to allow time for recovery as Hegde’s solo takes over and builds the momentum once more. Shattered Equilibrium could be the album’s masterpiece. Haunting keyboards provide an ethereal atmosphere which cascade over the carnage of the black metal assault underneath. This track remains true to the Demonic Resurrection death metal roots but demonstrates that the band, now in their 14th year have also progressed with real evolution in their writing. Although the blast beats can be a little trying at times, you have to admire the pure power and ability of this band and there is some beautiful elements of delicate technical playing evident in penultimate track Even Gods Do Fall. After witnessing their first UK show at BOA two years ago, it’s a shame that they aren't playing there again this year as they slay live. They are supporting Onslaught on their UK tour so if you get the chance check them out. Indian death metal is alive and kicking you in the knackers. A storming follow-up to The Return To Darkness and worthy of every minute you dedicate to listening to it. 8/10

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Reviews: (Hed)Pe, The Trews, Kaine

(Hed) P.E. - Evolution (Pavement Entertainment)

Ever since their debut EP Church Of Realities way back in 1995 Huntington Beach's own rock veterans (Hed) Planet Earth (or Planetary Evolution if you prefer) have been steadily pumping out their somewhat standard blend of rap, punk rock and metal with the odd peppering of funk and reggae influences occasionally thrown in for good measure. If you're a fan then you probably know what to expect from each release. But given the title of this their ninth studio long player you could be forgiven for expecting a change to their usual formula. So is that what we get here? Not exactly. While the first half of the album (especially the opening double of No Turning Back and Lost In Babylon is full of your typical (Hed) fare things take a sharp turn for the more mellow on the second half, especially from the interlude/segue track nine The Higher Crown and into the final three tracks Nowhere2Go, Let It Burn and Hold On where I guess the Evolution begins. Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with a more mellow sound and indeed the band are certainly no strangers to this (see The Meadow (Special Like You) from probably their best known album Broke) but their previous forays into this area had, for me anyway, better songs. Frankly I find those last three songs to be a big let-down and almost do the rest of the album an injustice if those are what sticks in your head after listening to the whole thing. The final track Hold On in particular sounds to me like a studio out-take for some reason. That said there is definitely some good on this album - apart from the aforementioned opening two songs the lead single One More Body is a good choice to promote the album featuring Jared's semi-ragga style vocals (not quite Benji Webbe standard but I digress!) coupled with a strong chorus and the fourth track No Tomorrow is more or less standard (Hed) formula to the point where I wouldn't be surprised if this was chosen as the second single somewhere down the line. Lyrically also Jared appears to have dropped the many references to the Truth Movement that were so prevalent on the previous two albums, which I personally feel is to the benefit of his social commentary. Overall I found this to be kind of a patchy record that starts fairly strong but for me drops off badly towards it's end. Given that the early press releases trumpeted this albums alleged heaviness (some of which is on display admittedly, albeit the overall pace of the album as a whole is far, far slower than the sometimes frantic pace of it's predecessors which for a band who identify themselves as a punk rock band feels almost like the anti-thesis of that particular ideal when compared to their previous output but I digress again) I would personally consider this album to be more of a disappointing sideways step than a true Evolution. 5/10

The Trews: S/T (Self-Released/Fan Funded)

Canadians The Trews are one of my favourite bands and quite frankly the band I am at my most hipster with. Not many people in the UK know about them and I'm fine with that. I think they are great equally rock but with big chart aims, they write songs that sit in the same league as The Foo Fighters the draw from a classic rock legacy but add a modern twist with intelligent lyricism, humour and also realism to their songs. This last part was at its most evident on their sparse, melancholic previous release Hope And Ruin which was an album full of regret but also as the title suggests hope, the band seemed to shake themselves off a little on their EP ....Thank You And I'm Sorry which waxed lyrical about The Power Of Positive Drinking and made sure the band found their smile again (one for wrestling fans there). Anyway what about their fan funded self titled fifth album? Well firstly a self titled album is usually sign of a reinvention or a rejuvenation of a band and this is true of The Trews they sound a lot like they did on their first two albums, cranking out radio rock with fire in their belly and passion in their hearts! Ride In The Wake has a cracking riff to kick things off it also has a huge sing along rock chord chorus that is made to fill stadiums. Its a great song to start the album as it sets the tone especially with John Angus MacDonald's killer lead guitar which accompanies his Colin's huge voice perfectly. Age Of Miracles is a pop song that features one of The Trews' hallmarks which is lots of acoustics and some Celtic flavour before the love lorn ballad of Permanent Love slows things down so Sean Dalton can show off his drumming acumen. Yes this is the sound of a band revitalised and as the R.E.M sounding The Sentimentalist, the country influenced style 65 Roses on which Colin MacDonald shows off his soul, the reverberated electronic pulse of What's Fair Is Fair a theme that continues on Where There's Love which has a lot of Foo Fighters to it with the electric and acoustic guitars merging and Jack Syperek's driving bass as well as The Beatles-like Living The Dream which ends with a string quartet in true Fab Four style before ending with the clarion call of Under The Sun. The Trews is the culmination of the band's career so far; the stadium-size hard rock of their early years through the more modern influences of their latter period all rolled together with their love of acoustic instrumentation, see In The Morning (the bands first ever duet, featuring singer songwriter Serena Ryder). All these musical elements are added to the intelligent and at times emotional lyricism, the melodic and excellent song writing as well as a shed load of integrity, honesty and passion to create an album that pushes itself up to the top of the bands discography. If you are curious about The Trews start with this album, then work your way through their back catalogue, I guarantee you will find something! 9/10

Kaine: The Waystone (Self Released)

The NWOBHM is possibly the biggest movement in metal music as it had the ethos of punk but with better musicianship, bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and yes even Def Leppard have gone on to bigger and better things but the movement carries on however there are few British bands flying the flag for leather trousers and white sneakers metal. Most of the bands hail from the Scandinavian countries as well as Canada but Kaine are British based noise merchants that look to bring the twin guitar attack back to our shores. As the first riff of Iron Lady kicks off it immediately transports you back to 80's and the reign of the real Iron Lady with it's dual guitars from Anthony Murch (Lead), Rage Sadler (Rhythm) who also provides the vocals pitched somewhere between Dickinson's mid range and the shouted delivery of Dave Mustaine; especially on The New Wave. They have smashing drum fills and rhythms from Chris MacKinnon and big bold bass licks (and even a bass solo!) from bass man extraordinaire Dan Mailer who comes from the 'Arry Harris school of bass playing hard, fast and like a lead player. Sadler and Murch's guitars are great rich with riffs and solos to get your fist pumping and heads banging. Kaine have been around since 2009 and The Waystone is their second album and as such it is a very professional affair with lots of great performances, very good songs; especially Solidarity which is a slow burning track with lots of light and shade, the progressive epic This Soul Exchange which takes it's cues from Metallica as well as Entropy (Unrelenting Chaos) an instrumental is always a key feature of any great album (see Powerslave/ Ride The Lightning for reference). Yes Kaine are on a crusade to bring back the sound of the NWOBHM which they do on The Waystone but they are not a one trick pony, the manage to merge thrash and traditional British metal and on the 9 tracks of this album they convince you that it's not just the Scandinavians that can do retro trad metal we Brits do a fine job of it too!! 8/10