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Saturday, 28 May 2016

Reviews: Frost*, Lacuna Coil, No Sinner

Frost*: Falling Satellites (InsideOut)

Excuse while I get  abit nerdy at the beginning of this review. Frost* is the brainchild of Jem Godfrey who in a previous life wrote songs for Blue, Atomic Kitten, Holly Valance and Shayne Ward (that bloke from X Factor) however thankfully he stepped away from the forces of evil and embrace the good by following his heart and forming Frost* in 2004. Their debut record Milliontown in my opinion is one of the best examples of post-millennial progressive rock there has ever been and pips their second record Experiments In Mass Appeal to the accolade just because it was the debut. However things never ran smoothly in the frost* camp and the band broke up just after Experiments...only to reform several times for live tours but no actual studio albums.

Around 2012 however Godfrey confirmed that their would be a new Frost* album and in true to the bands way of doing things this has finally been released in 2016. So what if anything has changed? Well I'd say this could be the best Frost* album yet, it's just as ambitious and intensely musical as it's predecessors but these songs sound like they have had time spent on them, they've been able to mature over the album's long gestation period. What has stayed the same is the talent of those involved, Jem Godfrey is still the band and be default the albums Commander-In-Chief with his melodic Gilmour-like vocal style, the beautiful production work and the swathes of keys, piano and synths that drive this album forward and make up the bulk of the bands sound, happily the keys work in perfect synchronicity with the impressive guitar work (and vocals) of Godfrey's long term collaborator John Mitchell (It Bites, Arena, Lonely Robot) the two match each other throughout riff for riff, solo for solo which means that they are the focus of the record. For the first time Mitchell has collaborated on the songwriting with Godfrey meaning that both men can add their own mark to the record.

Now with the excellent lead instrumentation leading what can be quite technical pieces you need an engine room that can cope and luckily Godfrey has one in the shape of Craig Blundell (Steven Wilson) who is no stranger to the prog sphere and adds a powerful but deft touch to the record behind the kit, aided by the son of possibly one of the best bassists in the world Level 42's Mark King, Nathan King has all the talent of his father as he fleshes out the songs with his virtuoso plucking. So with four of the best musicians in Britain together on a record (and a guest spot by one Mr Satriani) the album has to be good, luckily Falling Satellites is better than good, it's phenomenal, split into two parts from track six, the synth heavy Heartstrings until track 11 the reflective Last Day you get a 6 song suite that moves between instrumentals and vocal tracks with ease defining it as one long piece that sees Mitchell and Godfrey duelling with keys and guitars and on the pulsing electro pop of Closer To The Sun sees Joe Satriani rip one of his trademark solos which is matched by Jem.

Away from the suite which also features the rocky The Raging Against The Dying Of The Light Blues In 7/8 (showcasing that excellent basswork), the euphoric Hyperventilate and as I've already said climaxes with the haunting Last Day, we come on to the stand alone tracks, First Day serves as an intro, albeit one that harks to David Gilmour's solo work, to Numbers which has distinct Marillion flavour, this is before they go darker and more angular with the sample heavy, twitchy, industrially sparse Towerblock that builds up to dubstep drop with the synths rattling the speakers, some might call this a misstep but personally I like the experimental factor of the song it is totally different to the rest of the album and is better because of it as it shows the band are in a place where they aren't afraid to take risks. With the darkness abated Signs has a Muse-like quality full of twisting electronics, but not as much as on the synth pop of Lights Out which sees Godfrey duet with Tori Beaumont adding a new dynamic to the song and bearing witness to Godfrey's pop career as this track could be on any modern chart.

Falling Satellites is the culmination of Frost*'s immense talent a triumph of progressive but accessible music, even the CD only bonus tracks are well above many bands best shots, Lantern is a folky romantic simple but effective song while British Wintertime encompasses all the melancholia of what that title brings and finishes Falling Satellites perfectly. I'm so glad I've got a ticket to see this band live at the end of July as one I get to see them perform tracks from the genre beating first two albums but also their equally as fantastic new record, my advice is to play this album often as each time it reveals more of itself meaning you fall in love a little more. 10/10                      

Lacuna Coil: Delirium (Centrury Media)

Lacuna Coil have always played with their Gothic Metal tag adding industrial and even some pop touches to records but never straying far from their normal style, they have always been a safe bet for New Rock sporting, eyeliner wearing Gothic rockers the world over. Well no more after long term drummer Cristiano "Criz" Mozzati along with guitarist Cristiano "Pizza" Migliore left the band on February last year, followed by guitarist Marco "Maus" Biazzi, the band have found their inner brutality.

As the House Of Shame starts off the thrash/groove metal battery is laid down by new drummer Ryan Blake Folden which means that founding frontman Andrea Ferro now screams and growls with haunting vocals of Cristina Scabbia acting as the perfect counterpoint. Ferro's vocals have always been hit and miss for me but I think he has found his niche with the screams as he is a very good harsh vocalist leaving the cleaner stuff to Christina's sublime soaring pipes. This change of style also means that the album features many guitar solos from various guitarists the most high profile being Myles Kennedy on the majestic sounding Downfall with the rest of the musical backing supplied by bassist Marco Colti Zelati who plays bass, guitar, keys and also produces and is the album's renewed creative spark.

This sounds like the album Lacuna Coil have wanted to make for a while, there last couple of records have been darker but this one is their darkest and heaviest, only the title track and Take Me Home both with their bouncing electronic influenced bass driven style harks back to their early years meaning that the sound change is more pronounced on tracks like Blood, Tears, Dust and Broken Things ramping up the more modern metal style with a tip of the hat to Lamb of God or Machine Head with touches of the In This Moment driving industrial metalcore on You Love Me Cause I Hate You. Lacuna Coil have taken a big step in their evolution this album seems more deliberately targeted at turning the band into a more powerful aggressive beast and it's all the better for it. Delirium is the band's best album in a while, let's hope they stick with the newer style as it has reinvigorated Lacuna Coil. 8/10

No Sinner: Old Habits Die Hard (Mascot)

Coleen Rennison the vocalist of Canadian blues rockers No Sinner has a few habits that she can't break, luckily she has an album full of blues rock to tell the world about it. No Sinner burst on to the scene a few years ago with a debut album that centred around driving blues rock riffs and Coleen's impressive vocal performance somewhere between Janis Joplin and Robert Plant with the attitude and passion of those two and many besides. As she explains on the opener All Woman she is indeed that but this album slinks it's way in and out of several stories with sultry and sometime explosive style every song recounted by the powerful, husky pipes of their frontwoman. This second record builds upon the first by adding some more blues influences see the parping mouth harp infecting the stomp of Leadfoot, working through the Southern harmony of Tryin (very Susan Tedeschi) the bayou march of Mandy Lyn and the strutting Fading Away.

The whole album sounds a bit more worked at with the band adding more flavours to their work, this is no 'difficult second album' no it's as good as if not better than their debut and has a greater amount of influences throughout all driven by some top-class musicianship and and Rennison's stunning vocals. When The Bell Rings adds a Zep-style rock out, whereas the homesick Lines On The Highway and barroom ballad Hollow slow things down and allow the powerhouse voice to croon a bit, the percussive filthy One More Time has the hip-shaking groove of The Stones while we go right back with duck walking Chuck Berry Rock N Roll on Saturday Night and the new protocol of soul Vintage Trouble loom large on bonus track Wait.

No Sinner have once again produced a sterling effort putting Rennison up there with some of the best blues rock vocalists in the business her sass and supreme talent are this bands main focal point but with a great backing band bolstering her performance and giving the tracks one hell of a licking as they mesh together with power and passion. If you love your blues rock filthy, flirty and full of excellent talent then pick up Old Habits, Die Hard and get your boogie on. 8/10           

Thursday, 26 May 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Haken

Haken, Special Providence & Arkentype, The Fleece Bristol

The last few gigs I've been too have been a bit of a mix style wise, from Magnum's melodic pomp, too a stripped back Virginmarys set, through hard rock of Buffalo Summer and Blind Guardian's power metal majesty, what's been missing is prog. Thankfully Haken have got that covered with their triumphant return to Bristol's The Fleece for the first show of their Affinity tour in support of their fourth full length album.

Heading to the gig post work, I dived in The Seven Stars next door for swift pint of Coffee and Vanilla Porter (which was unique but very nice indeed), however due to the allure of beer I unfortunately missed openers Arkentype but from what I heard through the walls, they seemed to be djent based band with palm muted heavy guitars and soaring vocals. I came into the venue just as they had finished their set to an applause. Due to this it would be unfair to score them so I won't, I'd say just listen to them and make up your own mind.

Special Providence

Next up we had Special Providence from Budapest, they are a totally instrumental progressive jazz band, that played four or five jazz fusion numbers that while technically impressive, were just a little dull for my taste. This maybe due to the lack of vocals but there is only so many times you can hear a fleet fingered 5-string bass and drum combo matched with jazzy keys and complex 7-string guitar playing before it all gets a bit dull. That's not to say it was bad or indeed repetitive the songs were all different but they did sort of blend into one another meaning it was a bit like one long instrumental and because Haken have so many facets to their music the band preceding them just didn't get the place as excited as they should have as the music was little too laid back for many and a bit too virtuoso for the others, still they were received by those that liked their instrumental jazz fusion style however for me there just something lacking. 6/10

Haken

Thankfully Haken's debut show of their AffiniTour v1.0 (yes folks more retro computer referencing) tour in support of their most recent album Affinity was anything but dull as affinity.exe played over the PA as an intro tape, the six piece band took to the stage and kicked off the set with rocky album opener Initiate which had the band and the crowd rocking from the word go, although the band couldn't do much rocking due to the cramped conditions on stage relegating bassist Connor Green to the back of the stage and almost invisible due to the stage lighting. Much of the stage was taken up by Diego Tejeida's massive keyboard set up, but it's him that is the key to much of Haken's sound, as shown by the synth heavy 1985 which is the most Yes song not written by Yes as it features electronic drums and even an amazing keytar solo by Diego.

Breaking these two debuting songs was a classic Haken number Eternal Rain which will be in the set eternally as it is a song that sums up much of the band's past and present very well. In the back corner of the stage was Raymond Hearne who controlled the pace with his immense percussion skills knowing when to ease off and when to apply gas to the heavier tracks, bolstered by the intricate bass playing of Green who despite not being seen could be heard anchoring the more complicated harsh and melodic tones of Richard Henshall and Charles Griffiths guitars that fire off riffs aplenty, along with the occasional lighter more deft touch and a heaving tonne of intense soloing.

The band were clearly reveling in playing the new stuff live but happily for old school Haken fans like myself they didn't forget about their early albums with debut Aquarius represented by Eternal Rain and Visions by Deathless. The rest of the set saw them drawing mainly from Affinity and The Mountain, the first song from which was the eleven minute plus, emotional epic of Falling Back To Earth which served as the first showcase for Ross Jennings incredible vocals that are all at once powerful yet fragile, he always reminds me of Yes' Jon Anderson as he has a similar style and pitch, although Jennings has a wider range.

The band's performance was enhanced greatly by the amazing light show distracted you from the semi-static performance, I say semi static as Jennings has enough energy for two full bands, considering the nature of the music he was adamant about people dancing. How you can dance to The Mountain's Cockroach King is beyond me but there was some Dad style shuffling of feet to the glorious Earthrise. Cockroach King is a real tribute to the bands talent as any band can play a long multi layered song but this song is so complicated vocally and also musically that it could go horribly wrong but manages to be one of the band's most accessible songs.

Now the previous sentence is not to say Haken haven't got longer songs, oh no sir the debuting The Architect clocks in at 15 minutes plus but takes you along for the ride, meaning you are fully invested in the song from start to finish. In a similar vein after the set closer of The Endless Knot it was time for the normal encore, with the rapturous cheers subsiding, the opening chords said it all, another cheer as the 19 minute epic Crystallized was the solitary encore piece but what an encore it was once again moving between sounds and styles balancing light and shade and generally just bewitching those that had stayed late (the show was running later that it should have been). Haken proved on their last tour that they are capable of headlining their own shows, on this one they showed that they are not only capable they are made for being top of the bill! 9/10         

Reviews: Avatar, Buffalo Summer, Mother Feather

Avatar: Feathers & Flesh (Entertainment One)

Avatar have steadily upped their game on every release, with 2012's Black Waltz announcing them to the world at large only to be improved upon greatly by 2014's Hail The Apocalypse, this is where the band varied their scope bringing together a mix of groove, death, black and even some progressive and power metal influences fusing them together to produce a unique sound, their sixth album sees them once again improving their game and expanding their sound. Feathers & Flesh is a concept record that frontman Johannes Eckerström explains: "It's about this owl who goes to war against the world to prevent the sun from rising. It's a fable inspired by the work of the famous French fable writer Jean de La Fontaine so the creatures in the fable represent a side of the human psyche or different behaviors" so a high concept piece but one that is delivered with some of Avatar's most ambitious but accessible music they've produced.

The album kicks off with the sorrowful Regret that introduces the protagonist Owl and what will become the overarching theme of the record, then we are taken back when the Owl is at the top of his game on the pure metal House Of Eternal Hunt which is rampaging power metal-like track laced with classical acoustics and insane two-hand tapping solos showing the skill of Jonas "Kungen" Jarlsby and Tim Öhrström who really impress throughout the record with their guitar skill giving the record it's modern but classic sound, House... moves into the commanding stomp of The Eagle Has Landed which has the vaudeville call of "Ladies & Gentlemen" on which Johannes Eckerström shows off his dual personality vocal and his ringleader caricature welcoming us to the rest of the album backed by a rhythmic groove-laden stomp.

Eckerström's vocals are at their very best on this record dividing their time between a sonorous, insistent clean vocal before unleashing his harsher side. New Land is one of the better tracks to show this off as it is almost choral in places with the occasional foray into screams, New Land also is driven by the progressive drumming of John Alfredsson who along with bassist Henrik Sandelin is key to the stripped back verses in heavy creeping surf rock influenced Tooth, Beak And Claw which has nearly all snarled vocals a counterpoint to the more upbeat musical backing, the rhythm section are also used to their fullest on Pray The Sun Away (do I detect cowbell?)

Feathers & Flesh is certainly the bands most progressive output so far, I'd say it has mix of Von Hertzen Brothers, Lamb Of God and Rob Zombie all meshed together but it makes for an interesting listen, because of the wide variety of styles on offer most people will be able to find something that will tickle their fancy, but at 14 songs it could be a little too complicated for those of the thrash disposition (joke) however stick with the record as you'll be rewarded by some interesting, intricate, impressive and downright heavy metal with artistic flourishes.

Tracks such as the ballad Fiddler's Farewell, the county-fied heaviness of Black Waters (very Sons Of Anarchy) along with the anthemic folky Night Never Ending all add balance to the record meaning that nothing ever grows stale over it's length right up to the gurgling, orchestral final track Sky Burial. This record is absolutely excellent and if nothing else it ensures my presence at their mainstage opening performance on the Saturday at Download, luckily it does more than that and is an album that I and hopefully you will revisit numerous time this year. 9/10    

Buffalo Summer: Second Sun (UDR)

I went to the launch night of Buffalo Summer's sophomore record the day before it's official release, I heard most of the record live meaning that I sort of knew what to expect when I heard it however from the first listen the band sound a lot more accomplished their songwriting has improved significantly, although they were no slouches on their debut, their is also more a professional edge to this recording, it sounds like a major label record, possibly due to the influence of producer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees) who also adds the percussion, hammond organ and vibraphone. As you can probably tell from that list of instruments the Neath quartet have also added more varied flavours to this second effort adding to the hard rocking their debut was packed with, although that is still there on stomping opening twosome of Money and the groovy Heartbreakin' Floorshakin' and the direct Into Your Head.

The funk comes on strong with Little Charles, there is a definite blues base to Priscilla, while High As The Pines has a stoner focus, Levitate and Water To Wine bring a country twang and they even try their hand at a ballad with Light Of The Sun which is done well avoiding smaltz and adding a touch of muscle. Still the racket is made by Gareth's powerful drumming, Darren's rhythmic grooving bass, Jonny's soaring, flowing guitars and Andrew's hollering vocals all of which lock together perfectly on the songs meaning that this record has an organic feel to it. Second Sun is a classy hard rock record that shows the band have learnt a lot from the high profile tours; it's a slickly produced, expertly played and full of accomplished songcraft. This second album that will see the band on a steep upward trajectory, do yourself a favour and pick up Second Sun as it proves Gene Simmons wrong, rock n roll is very much alive and kicking. 8/10  

Mother Feather: Mother Feather (Metal Blade)

New York band Mother Feather were formed by frontwoman Ann Courtney after growing disillusioned with the scene at large, at the same time she found her kindred spirit in Elizabeth Carena or Lizzie and with one small Freudian slip while trying to swear Mother Feather's name was born. The band style themselves as pro-feminist pop cock rock and their album is glitter bomb of garage rock wrapped in a glam rock bacofoil cape and covered in face paint and ostentatious make-up.

Think The Stooges, New York Dolls or The MC5 with pop sensibilities, a distinct alt-rock edge and girl power lyrical content with a dominant, defiant purr by Courtney and her partner in crime Carena. It's the duality of the vocals that gives this record it's decided edge, the pop sensibilities of the record are heightened by the dual vocals working in tandem meaning that there are 50's doo-wop/rock n roll call and response elements as well as some more 60's style harmonizing, all of the tracks are driven by the rhythm section of Gunnar Olsen and Matt Basile who push the thumping stomps of the glam rock on the title track allowing Chris Foley to add some staccato, fuzzy guitar riffs and shimmering lead breaks while Carena handles the keys and organs that make a lot of the songs on this record have an innate danceability to them, especially the funky, filthy Trampoline with its' superb innuendo laced smile raising chorus.

Mother Feather's debut has all the hallmarks of a genre straddling classic that will appeal to wide audience as there is enough pop for those that love to shake their booty but enough grunting rock for the long hairs' listening, Mother Feather have balanced both sounds very well on their debut showing a lot of the male dominant bands what it really means to have balls! 8/10  

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Reviews: Crimson Fire, Silverbones, Nightmen

Crimson Fire: Fireborn (Pitch Black Records)

Well this is something I didn't expect at all. When I first saw the press release for Greek band Crimson Fire's sophomore album I expected it to be another quality power metal release that had similarities to Firewind, Innerwish etc I'm talking heavier than normal power metal with passionate vocals and virtuoso guitar playing. However from the opening few minutes of Fireborn I found that the band based in Kallithea were more than that, yes they can be categorised as power metal but they have a distinct macho hard rock vein that separates them from a lot of their countrymen and plonks them in the NWOBHM camp but with the melodic ear of The Scorpions. The band have had high profile guest spots with Canadian legends Anvil, NWOBHM survivors Tokyo Blade, Elixr, as well as American speed metal masters Helstar.

As well as The Scorpions influence that is writ large over this release the Harley riding Priest middle period slides in throughout, battling with Fighting The World style Manowar and also some Queensryche comes with both the backing vocals and on the slower numbers. Crimson Fire are a four piece with the engine room powered by Nemo's bass and Kostas' drums, the riffs and squealing solos supplied by Johnny with Stelios singing over the top, part Rob Halford, part Klaus Meine. You can just imagine the band clad in denim, leather, tasseled jackets and high tops riding motorbikes through a city at midnight on their way to a fight with a rival gang, with the songs on this record as their soundtrack.

In fact the video for (dreadfully named) Bad Girl is exactly what I've just described but it's gleefully tongue in cheek too, there is not a shred of po-faced Manowarisms, Crimson Fire know that it's all a bit of fun and it shows through with their music. On my first listen to the record I wanted to play the whole thing again from Take To The Skies, to the 80's loving Young Free, the rampaging Knightrider (sadly not about the Hasselhoff show), missing the one misstep of Her Eyes but revelling in the rest of the mad metal might. Fireborn is a great record which will see Crimson Fire jump out of the Greek scene and onto the world at large. 8/10        

Silverbones: Wild Waves (Stormspell Records)

There is no other way to describe this record than sounding like Running Wild, Italian's Silverbones do such a good job of emulating the Germanic kings of Pirate Metal that really they could be a tribute act much like Swedes Blazon Stone, reviewed previously. Wild Waves has tracks such as Queen Anne's Revenge, Riders Of The New World, the title track and the epic finale of Black Bart; along with the cover art which features a solitary pirate facing down an enemy ship, Silverbones are definitely Under Jolly Roger for all of their debut album. With speed metal shredding and galloping rhythm section and raspy vocals that are part Rock N Rolf, part Chris Boltendahl sitting the band in the studs and gauntlet's of mid-80's heavy metal. Despite the blatant copyist sound Wild Waves is not a bad album, the band all play well and the songs carry the right amount of bombast for band's of their ilk, the songs will get you head nodding and your fist pumping but with pirate metal being a bit of a now-overlooked genre in the power metal pantheon Silverbones may be walking the plank commercially if they stick to the sound too rigidly. 5/10

Nightmen: Fifteen Minutes Of Pain (Lövely Records)

I have a bone to pick with Swedish garage rockers Nightmen and their debut record, if you are calling it Fifteen Minutes Of Pain then don't make the album 28 minutes long, it's false advertising. I joke of course as the Malmo rock n rollers spit out fuzzy, punky leather jacket clad riffs at a furious pace harking back to the 70's New York scene when CBGB's was the best night of your life. With 12 tracks the album fuses spiky punk, D.I.Y garage rock, surf tendencies and infectious power-pop, think Juliette & The Licks, Blondie, The Ramones, Cheap Trick, The Cars and Iggy Pop in a blender and you'll get an idea of what's to come. The four piece have a trio of vocalists with guitarist's Tony, Christine and bassist Erik all sharing the mic, separately or on a few tracks all at once, leading to many instances of playful call and response in the album's more romantic/lustful moments.

With speedy guitar stabs and sprinting basslines and drummer Nopan hammering his snare the songs on this record rarely make it past the 3 minute mark with only the final song Down And Out proving the exception clocking in at 4:02. The shortness of the songs is not a problem though, as music like this has to feel urgent, insistent, ready to explode into a shower of beer and hysteria at any point, which happily is what Fifteen Minutes Of Pain feels like, there's a sense of playfulness and filth about the record that pervades every song giving the album replay value as the soundtrack to your next beer bash with your leather-clad mates. A record that begs to be played loudly, don't disappoint folks! 8/10 

Monday, 23 May 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Blind Guardian

Blind Guardian & Gloryhammer, Rock City, Nottingham

Blind Guardian do seem to be somewhat of an elusive act for UK shores, their last few tours have been one off shows in London and nothing more really. All of us not lucky enough to frequent London enough have been regaled heartily by Paul about the time he was lucky enough to be in the Big Smoke for one such gig. So when the opportunity to see them in the beautiful city of Nottingham on a Saturday no less arose, myself and my long term compatriot Mr Hewitt set about on our quest to finally witness The Bards at home on stage.

Leaving reasonably early, so we could make the most of the plethora of real ale pubs Nottingham has to offer, after our journey took us up to the hallowed ground of Strensham services, I had a homesick epiphany that I'll explain at a later date, after the mandatory stop, bottle of Tizer and bag of Maoam, we set back off passing through Leicester (who I assume still have a hangover), the even more hallowed ground of Donington Race Track before arriving in the home of Robin Hood and his merry men, parked up, shipped out and booked into our hotel around the corner. After briefly schooling my colleague in my hardcore Catchphrase skills (life in the fast lane folks!) we set out in search of food and more importantly ale.

If you ever do go or have been to Nottingham, you will find it is a very easy city to navigate, everything is quite centralised but the hills make it seem larger than it is, we made our way down to the canal to The Canal Alehouse (what else would you call it) which boasts over 200 ales available, where as this tends to be just hyperbole, The Canal did indeed have this many, or near as dammit, as well as some very scoffable food, the burgers were especially yummy. With several fine beverages down us, along with myself introducing Nick to the Untappd app, we made our way to the legendary Rock City as the door time was 6pm, which meant an early start but also an early finish for the gig (Mr H would be well pleased). Into the Tap N Tumbler which is a spit an sawdust rock pub that have their own brew, we drank and tried to convince a few people in there to pop over the road to see Blind Guardian, but alas the lure of beer was too much so we headed off just in time to catch the final few songs of the one support band.

The support came from Gloryhammer the heroic power metal project of Alestorm's Christopher Bowes were not new to me as I saw them blow away the crowd at Hammerfest a few years ago with their silly, hyperactive brand of power metal that will get even the most po-faced metal head grinning from ear to ear. As we entered the venue the bassist Hootsman, Barbarian Warrior Of Unst (or James Cartwright) was regaling us with how he turned from shirtless warrior to beer swilling Bay Area legend before the band dove into The Hollywood Huntsman which had Nick cracking a smile due to the bands overtly silly nature, virtuoso playing and Angus McFife (Thomas Winkler's ear piercing vocal), after the chants of "Hoots" we were treated to the band's ballad Magic Dragon then the jaunty Angus McFife which did it's bit to be the silliest song of the night only over shadowed by the final of The Unicorn Invasion Of Dundee which fully converted Nick to Gloryhammer's cause. They are a great band with real technical musicianship under the silliness and served as the perfect aperitif to Blind Guardian getting those in the audience raising their (inflatable) swords in the air as we awaited the headline act. 8/10

With a little change over we awaited the arrival of the German masters of cinematic/power/speed metal and at 7:45 the opening riff to The Ninth Wave opened the night with band taking the stage one by one before starting the song proper, this would be one of only two songs from the latest album Beyond The Red Mirror which struck me as odd considering all of the merch pointed towards the fact that this tour was in support of that record, still the set was laced with classics as 9 minute The Ninth Wave went straight into two from their concept near-masterpiece Nightfall In Middle Earth with Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill) and Nightfall coming in rapid succession, the latter having the first crowd choir of the night as we sang our hearts out to the songs refrain.

What myself and Nick noticed was that where we were at the back under the balcony, which was not open, we couldn't hear Hansi's amazing vocals at all so we moved forward to the second row no less and then we were able to hear his vocals soar over the frantic riffs of Marcus Siepen and Andre Olbrich, the duo on the six strings are so great to watch with Siepen working in slick conjunction with Olbrich, as well as drummer Fredrick Ehmke and bassist Barend Courbois creating a heavy back line while also underpinning the jaw dropping solos of Olbrich.

After the euphoria and passion of Nightfall things got darker with the solitary cut from A Twist In The Myth the dark and ominous Fly, which is one of the bands heaviest tracks yet still had every member of the audience singing gleefully with fists, claws and horns held aloft. The Blind Guardian fans are part of the band's appeal as they are obsessive about the bands and know every lyric of every song meaning that the whole night becomes a massive sing along from minute one. The Nottingham chorus continued on Tanelorn (Into The Void) from At The Edge Of Time and Prophecies which rounded off the duo from Beyond The Red Mirror.

Hansi encouraged everyone to sing louder with every song, so much so that it was difficult to hear Michael "Mi" Schüren's keys at times as he had to compete with the choruses and the dual guitars, still it meant that to my ears the band sounded stripped back. It was pretty much classics from here on out with the dramatic The Last Candle followed by the always excellent Lord Of The Rings (both from Tales From The Twilight World) Hansi once again encouraged the crowd to sing as loudly as possible and they got their opportunity on Bright Eyes and The Script For My Requiem with both leading to just mass choirs, that lasted a little too long but with no one taking the initiative to stop we sang and sang right through to the main set closer of Imaginations From The Other Side which once again shredded the gathered masses vocal chords with its fists in the air refrain.

Imaginations...was the eleventh song in a 17 song set so after a breather to warm our voices came the encore, now the encore has been mixed up on a few different times on this tour so I was intrigued which order we would get, my questioned was answered by War Of Wrath playing as a tape which meant we went back to Nightfall... as the band dove into Into The Storm getting things started properly again, this was followed by Journey Through The Dark (cue more singing) before they took everyone right back to their speed metal roots blasting out Valhalla like it was 1989. There a few bands that can pull off a double encore and Blind Guardian are one of them, with the crowd still baying for more they once again returned to the stage with a dynamic (if truncated) Sacred Worlds showing the band's progressive side to it's full.

Then it was down to serious business, with the end of the set approaching and only really two songs left there were only really two songs there could be, as Siepen and Olbrich took to stools with acoustic guitars, Hansi introduced the next song as "the one many of you will have been waiting for" yes it was time for The Bard's Song - In The Forest which was the final sing along of the night, yes it's a silly song when you think about it but the folky number is a real crowd pleaser with Rock City in full voice along with Hansi, as quickly as it started the finale came and Mirror Mirror was the coup-de-grace for the evening ending what was a superior night of metal music. It's a shame the band don't tour more places as they are a spectacle to behold, personally I hope Bloodstock get them back sometime soon as they have the ability to headline to what I'm sure will be a a partisan crowd. As far as the Rock City show goes Blind Guardian were on top form doing what they do better than anyone 10/10           

     

Friday, 20 May 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Buffalo Summer

Buffalo Summer, Florence Black & Staticland; Sin City, Swansea

A day before it was unleashed on the general public Neath's own classic rockers Buffalo Summer staged a little shindig at Swansea's legendary venue Sin City, to launch their long awaited second album. The record called Second Sun is officially released 20/05/16, so the show was geared to giving fans a flavour of the album, along with some favourites and hand picked supports making for big rock an roll party. The gig was an early doors affair with the first band coming on stage only 30 minutes after the doors opened, the opening act were a very late announcement and sealed the deal for me on the night meaning that a set off on the reasonably short but infuriating journey to Swansea for the show.

Staticland

Into the venue and as I said bang on 7:30 the three piece of Walking Papers/Missionary Position men Jeff Angell (guitar/vocals), Benjamin Anderson (Keys) and Post Stardom Depression (Angell's other project) drummer Joshua Faunt took to the stage for what was their first show ever in this form. Happily the relative roughness of the set was to it's advantage as the blend of alternative rock and modern fuzz filled blues would not be as effective if it was cleaner sounding, the band's debut album comes out the same day as Buffalo Summer's so I couldn't tell you any of the songs that were played but what I know is that they played with a lot of swagger and take no prisoners attitude, Anderson is probably the key element to the sound underpinning the fuzzy swirling guitar playing of Angell perfectly with organs, keys and plenty of bass pedals giving Staticland more scope than the guitar/drum combo's of The Black Keys and White Stripes. There is an element of that sound to Staticland with Angell cutting the shape of Jack White on his guitar, vocal and styling (the whole band were suited and booted) playing off-kilter guitar riffs and searing blues based solos while propelled by Anderson and Faunt who managed to continue drumming even as the kick-drum was being repaired. Despite this being the band's first show the talent an experience of all three men shone through leaving those that had turned up early greatly appreciative of the Seattle native's debut show. 8/10

Florence Black 

Due to the early nature of the show and the impending doom of a club night coming after the show within sight it was a brief switch over and Merthyr Rockers Florence Black took to the stage and really ramped things up with high octane hard rock that was part Grand Funk, part AC/DC full of massive, ragged, unhinged riffage and powerful, frantic, gritty vocals from Tristan, thumping heavyweight, distorted bass from Fozzie and sledgehammer tub thumping from Perry. The band rocked through songs from their EP and then disaster the amp blew up leaving Tristan's guitar soundless, the young band took it in their stride with Fozzie and Perry doing a bit of drum and bass set with an impromptu drum solo thrown in until there was life, the song was restarted and we were off and headbanging again. Florence Black had very healthy and vocal following in the room and this was thrown into madness with the bands furious cover of Budgie's Breadfan which came in at the climax set as the penultimate number. This is the first time I've seen Florence Black but they will be repeat viewing for me as the are a great live rock act. 8/10

Buffalo Summer

Then it was time for what we were all hear for, to see the Neath rockers launch their second album in fine style. The record is their first major label offering, produced by Screaming Tree's Barrett Martin and their set drew mainly from the second record playing nearly every track from it, mixed in with some classics. The new stuff sounds a bit more accomplished and has a more varied sound with some funk, country, blues and other elements thrown in to the bands already Zep-like stew. The setlist kicked off with three from the new one with Into Your Head stomping in first announcing the intent for the rest of the night with a classic rampant rocker before early boogieing with with Heartbreakin' Floorshakin' getting the asses shaking early, Buffalo Summer have always had the groove many other bands struggle with, the trio of new songs was rounded out with Make You Mine which has a big singalong chorus and sat alongside the head banging March Of Buffalo and Truth From Fable both of which come from the debut record, the latter driven by the walking bassline of Darren King and the pace setting drumming of Gareth Hunt, the older songs were more recognised but this was about the new stuff and As High As The Pines started a run of tracks from Second Sun, As High As The Pines has a rocky stomp which blended well with the swampier bluesy Levitate both of which show the guitar skills of Johnny Williams who channels Page with every riff and solo.

The funky twosome of Little Charles and Priscilla is where Andrew Hunt was able to showcase another side to his voice before the blues tinge kicked back in on their first single Neverend and Bird On A Wire. The band were really playing their asses off on that stage, your eyes are drawn immediately to King who jumps around the stage wildly, nearly always within inches of destroying his bass, himself or another band member. Garteh is locked in behind the kit beating the power of the band, Williams cuts a steady form but manages to cast magic with his six string, so too does Andrew who's hair covers his face while he belts out every word. Back to the debut for the final part of the evening with Horse Called Freedom, Rolls On Through and the foot-stomping modern classic Down To The River coming in rapid succession before the night was wrapped up with Money from Second Sun that was a song that would have converted you to the new record if nothing else did. This album launch was a tipping point for the band, on the eve of their second album they seem on the precipice of greatness, with a live wire live show and now a glut of top quality songs Buffalo Summer could become the latest band to really break through. 9/10 

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Reviews: Destruction, Devildriver, Electric Citizen

Destruction: Under Attack (Nuclear Blast)

14 albums? Destruction have made 14 albums? This is what sprang to mind when Under Attack came into my review pile, but after a check online it is indeed the bands 14th studio album. Now much of this surprise may come from the fact that I've never invested that much time into Destruction or indeed their compatriots in the "Big Four Of Teutonic Thrash" with the exception of Kreator and the first couple of Sodom albums (hail Wodos!) however after Destruction frontman Schmier was part of the German Panzer project I went back and visited Destruction's work. I'm happy to say that Under Attack is exactly what you would expect of them, it's pure Teutonic thrash and not the weird now ignored unofficial groove metal period they went through in the 1990's, from the outset the maelstrom of snarling riffs, thunderous bass lines and rapid fire drumming are all present and correct with the three piece just blitzing the listener with pure thrash fury from minute one.

Well that's not strictly true the title track starts off with slow clean guitar build before the track kicks in and the pace switches throughout the 6 minute opener, with Schmier deploying his snarl/shriek to full effect as founding member and the band's only constant, Mike darts in and out with six string fireworks as the song builds to its explosive abrupt climax. They say there is no rest for the wicked, Destruction have obviously been evil as next track Generation Nevermore is a rapid fire thrasher, although once again things slow down on Getting Used To Evil which has a death metal chug to it with the loud quiet dynamic on the verses and chorus with more modern influences coming in on Conductor Of The Void.

Under Attack is another album of Teutonic thrash but with enough variation to keep it interesting, there are even nods to Destruction's black metal roots in both the sparse production of the record and tracks like Elegant PigsStigmatized and their cover of Venom's Black Metal that comes as a bonus track for the record. It's Destruction still bringing the thrash at the max but with enough nuances to keep your interests, still if you do not like thrash then I'd avoid this record, for thrashers however there is enough here to get you heads banging. 7/10     

Devildriver: Trust No One (Napalm)

It's almost all change in the Devildriver camp on their seventh album with the departures of founder members John Boecklin (drums) and Jeff Kendrick (guitar) meaning that only front man Dez Fafara remains from the original line up he's aided on this record by long time guitarist Mike Spreitzer who calls this "the record I've been wanting to write for 12 years". Why he thinks that I don't know as really I can't see any difference with record to any of Devildriver's previous works, yes the band have a sound but they do seem to plow an already well worn field if you put their debut record next to this one and really there won't be much difference, yes their later albums do have a bit more melody in than tracks but other than that Trust No One is another groove metal album that doesn't really vary in style from the bands previous releases.

Saying that it isn't actually as good as some of their previous releases, in my opinion the band's magnum opus is Pray For Villains which was almost a perfect unison of extremity and melody, Trust No One is not that record, it sounds like the band are in third gear just cruising along in the middle lane, it never really shifts up, nothing really jumps out at you, that's not to say there are bad songs, far from it, it's just all a bit boring really. Fafara's vocals are the usual guttural style he prefers backed by the stable punishing groove, Bad Deeds is a heavy thundering track with some melodies that save it, This Deception too will cause the pits Devildriver always try to incite. Mostly this is just another Devildriver record, they are never going to radically change their sound, this is probably why Coal Chamber reformed, but that means that they will never really get out of the routine they have been in most of their career, not that it'll matter to the shirtless pit warriors they'll love it, for others though it's just all a bit safe and pedestrian. 5/10

Electric Citizen: Higher Time (Riding Easy Records)

For what is a relatively young band Electric Citizen have a reasonable workrate for modern music, their debut Sateen came in 2014 and now after almost two years and hell of a lot of touring later their second record Higher Time is now ready to once again bring the Sabbath worshiping heavy rock to the (black) masses. I saw the band supporting Wolfmother and they impressed despite the poor sound, although personally I thought their debut album had flashes of excellence but suffered a little from the band holding back a little, but this has been addressed on their second record, yes the Iommi-like riffs of Ross Dolan still pump out of a Gibson SG as his wife Laura wails and bewitches casting occult spells on Social Phobia while the booming rhythm section of Randy Proctor and Nate Wagner keep the voodoo coming on Misery Keeper.

Laura's vocals are unique in that they are deep and resonant fitting the band's occult style of retro riffage perfectly, the songs are underpinned and fleshed out by Andrew Higley who adds the brooding organs and keys to tracks like Evil and most effectively on Devils In The Passing Night which sounds like Fleetwood Mac with more sorcery and has an impressive solo section from Ross. Witchcraft and Wizardry was once a staple of British and American bands such as Black Sabbath Pentagram but in recent years European's have had a grip on it since with bands like Ghost taking off in a big way, now with retro mystic rock becoming big business it's time for us Brits and Yanks like Electric Citizen to take it back, the psychedelic, trippy riff fuelled occult rocking featured on Higher Time along with high profile support slots with Wolfmother as I've said and coming up with legends Orange Goblin will launch them in the consciousness of the world at large. 8/10