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Saturday, 29 August 2015

Reviews: Motorhead, Pentagram, Idlewar (Reviews By Paul)

Motörhead: Bad Magic (UDR)

So after all the health problems which plagued Lemmy after the stunningly good Aftershock, Motörhead return to kick you full in the face with their 22nd album Bad Magic. And you know what, it is another full on, vital slab of no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll, and just as good as album 21. Victory And Die is a hammering start to the album, Mikkey Dee powering the trio forward whilst the Rickenbacker bass of the main man still acts more as the rhythm guitar than the bass. Thunder & Lightning is classic Motörhead. 100mph, full steam ahead, allowing Phil Campbell to shred for Ponty. He truly is one of the rock world’s most underrated guitarists and once again demonstrates this throughout Bad Magic. So how does Lemmy's voice hold up? Well, he’s no Bruce Dickinson but Lemmy, well, he’s fucking Lemmy. You know what you get. That gruff, rough delivery is back in all its glory and he holds it throughout. Firestorm Hotel has a huge bluesy feel, with some smooth backing vocals, and once again shows that whilst Motörhead do indeed play Rock ‘n’ Roll, they can mix up the formula just a bit. Campbell’s guitar work absolutely excellent once more.

Bad Magic really doesn't fuck around with only one track over four minutes in length but whilst it isn't The Book Of Souls, it remains a quality release and one that proves once more that Motörhead is still relevant in today’s metal world. Electricity, one of the first releases off the album is a magnificent driving track, powerhouse bass and drums and some sharp fretwork. The blues edge has become more and more evident in Motorhead's recent work, and nowhere is it more evident than on Evil Eye, a brilliant example of this. Bad Magic just gets better as it goes on; a change of atmosphere and tempo on Til The End allows Lemmy to show his softer side with some cleaner vocals and emotive lyrics. After you've wiped your eyes Motörhead grab you right in the balls and deliver the final punches. Tell Me Who To Kill and Choking On Your Screams, complete with an absolute ringer of a Hawkwind riff lead towards the final tracks, another feel good rock ’n’ roller When The Sky Comes Looking For You before a really interesting cover of the Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil closes one of the releases of 2015. As I write this news has reached me that Lemmy is once again in poor health. If this is the swansong, it would be a fitting one although as I have tickets for the 40th anniversary show at Hammersmith Odeon in January, I desperately hope the main man can maintain his fitness to deliver a couple of these tracks live. Motörhead, on album at least remain a most excellent outfit. Motörhead for Life indeed. Long live Lemmy, Phil and Mikkey. 9/10

Pentagram: Curious Volume (Peaceville)

Veteran doom merchants Pentagram have been around for a long time. They are one of those bands who have flitted in my peripheral vision without really ever coming into focus. Well known as one of the forefathers of metal and doom in particular, the band have been led by singer Bobby Liebling since the 1970s with the rest of the line-up a revolving door of musicians. Curious Volume is the band’s 8th full studio album; not a prolific return but given the turbulence that the band has experienced, maybe not that surprising. The current personnel consists Liebling, Victor Griffin on guitar, Greg Turley on bass and new recruit Pete Campbell on drums. Full of chunky, fuzz ridden riffs, rampaging bass and drums and Liebling's instantly recognisable vocal delivery, Curious Volume is set firmly in the 1970s with a sound akin to their UK counterparts Black Sabbath.

 Griffin’s guitar work is excellent throughout, his soloing on opener Lay Down And Die eerily close to that of Iron Man Tony Iommi whilst The Tempter Push combines Geezer Butler’s power with the stoner edge of Clutch. Unsurprisingly, a Pentagram album rarely has the feel of a bright summer day and Curious Volume is no exception. The dark despair of Liebling's lyrics contribute to the feel of foreboding and ruin that flows through the album, although there are exceptions such as Dead Bury Dead with rocks along at quite a pace and doesn't contain quite such an air of malevolence. Although several critics have commented that Liebling's new found sobriety has dented the edges of his delivery, I can’t say that I noticed and the hooks and huge chugging riffs which drive this doom and stoner tinged music forward remains as addictive as ever. Devil’s Playground is possibly the track on the album, a massive groove and again the Sabbath flavoured guitar work. A metal institution, Curious Volume propels you back to 1974 once more … without having to obtain the cocaine habit. 8/10

Idlewar: Dig In (Self Released)

Formed in Orange County in 2014, Idlewar is a power trio consisting of James Blake, bass and vocals, Rick Graham on guitar and drummer Pete Pagonis. Dig In is a stomping five track EP which showcases the band’s major influences; Clutch, Zeppelin and Kings X to name but three. Dig In is heavy on the groove, hook and toe tapping; Chunk Of Me, for example, as infectious as impetigo in a nursery. It’s raw, it’s simple but damn is it effective and straightforward. Thick, heavy riffs cascade throughout the EP, with the slower paced Feel the Pain adding a bit of calm in the midst of some quality stoner rock. Album closer Stronger allows Blake to really open the pipes whilst Pagonis smashes seven shades out of his kit. In a genre which is incredibly strong, it’ll be a struggle for Idlewar to accelerate at speed but the promise is there. 7/10

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Reviews: Five Finger Death Punch, Act Of Defiance, Kataklysm

Five Finger Death Punch: Got Your Six (Prospect Park) [Matt]

First thought when Got Your Six blasted out of the stereo was "that's more like it!" after their previous double album showed that maybe they had stretched themselves a bit, FFDP have come back with an album full of the aggressive, head kicking groove metal that they first showed off on their debut The Way Of The Fist. The band have recalled their brutality from their early works while retaining the more melodic elements from their latter records and their live popularity; Jekyll And Hyde is a testament to this with it's "o-we-o" chant along refain, while Wash It All Away is the kind of muscular ballad the band have always done brilliantly, with lyrics that exclaim the odium of modern life and Ain't My Last Dance merges the two parts of their sound perfectly with it's emotive radio baiting chorus and it's growled verses. Once again Ivan Moody shows off his great vocals he has a chiming clean vocal phrasing that works very well with his more guttural growls, he is the perfect fit for this band, however he is backed by the consummate musicianship of Jeremy Spencer's drumming and Chris Kael's bass.

These two men together provide the groove laden rhythms on tracks like My Nemesis and lay down a rock solid foundation for Zoltan Bathory's barrage of riffage (No Sudden Movements) and Jason Hooks searing lead breaks and solos that flesh out the songs with a lightness that is direct opposition to Bathory's furious rhythm playing and the battering ram bottom end. As is usual the lyrical content moves between a few topics, relationships Question Everything which even sees the band employ the use of acoustic guitars and orchestrations for what is one of the best songs on the album and shows the bands softer side perfectly while maintaining the guts they've always shown. Along with relationships there is a strong element of government distrust on Hell To Pay and military themes on the opening title track and closing Boots & Blood being the two most prominent examples of their camouflage loving battle scarred symbolism. No this album isn't complex, it's not refined and progressive but it is a good romp through chest beating American mainstream metal, but what is most evident is that FFDP have written this album with the live arena in mind and because of that they have made an album here that harks back to their glory days while fixing them in the present. 8/10

Act of Defiance: Birth And The Burial (Metal Blade) [Paul]

More than a touch of irony in the name of the band and the title; the debut album from the thrash outfit which comprises ex-Megadeth guitarist Chris Broderick and drummer Shawn Drover, who are joined by the brutal vocals of Scar The Martyr frontman Henry Derek and Shadows Fall guitarist Matt Bachand on bass duties. Described as extreme metal, Birth And The Burial is certainly extreme in places and it is most definitely metal. Far heavier than most of the Megadeth catalogue, Broderick and Drover have really gone for it and come up with a very tasty thrasher. Derek’s vocals are well suited to the galloping pace; a cross between Ivan Moody and Randy Blythe in delivery, most of the guttural delivery coming from deep in the back of the throat. The pace and tempo is ferocious from the start, with all the elements that you would expect of a quality piece of thrash metal. The first three numbers, Throwback, Legion Of Lies and Thy Lord Belial leave you breathless, such is the speed at which they hit you. Refrain And Re-Fracture however, contains massive Megadeth influences and if you substituted Derek’s vocals for Mustaine’s, it would be perfectly reasonable to believe that this was a new Megadeth track. A more composed piece, with some classy hooks and intricate guitar work.

Dead Stare also has attributes which link back to the former paymaster, with similar snarling guitar work. It’s hardly surprising but it doesn't make it any less enjoyable. The frenetic pace doesn’t slow at all, with Disastrophe carrying a heavy Slipknot style groove, Drover’s drumming quite immense and his combination with Bachand has created a formidable engine room. In fact this track is a real face melter. And then suddenly the classic piece which forms the blueprint for all thrash albums, a slower cello introduction before a boot stomper in Poison Dream smashes any chance of drifting off. A calm intro to Obey The Fallen leads into the weakest track on this decent release, with a huge dollop of Avenged Sevenfold in the mix. However, things hot back up with Crimson Psalm, a track that Arch Enemy could lay claim to before title track, again has some Avenged Sevenfold influences brings proceedings to an end. Broderick’s guitar playing throughout this release is of the highest quality. However, after the blistering start, a few of the later tracks do tend to sound a bit too similar and the aggression does tail off slightly. Still, it’s a really meaty release and certainly one outfit to keep an ear to the ground for. 7/10

Kataklysm: Of Ghosts And Gods (Nuclear Blast) [Paul]

Where the hell do you start with the Canadian maelstrom that is Kataklysm? Driven forward with the relentless passion and fire of frontman Maurizio Iacono, who was the original bassist from 1991 – 1998, ever present guitarist Jean-Francois Dagenais and long-serving bassist Stephane Barbe, Of Ghosts And Gods follows hard on the heels of 2013’s excellent Waiting For The End To Come. Completing the line-up, drummer Oli Beaudoin who is on his second outing and contributes some outrageously damaging work behind the kit. No more so on opener Breaching The Asylum which is fantastically fast. The Black Sheep is a more paced and powerful track, Iacono’s vocals eerily reminiscent of Angela Gossow, albeit slightly gruffer. This is an absolutely tremendous album if you like quality Death Metal and even if you don’t you should get your head around this. The battering ram approach of the Northern Hyper blast drumming during Marching Through Graveyards, combined with some huge riffs and more melodic passages simply reeks of epic. Obviously with Iacono and co the movie samples remain, enhancing the atmosphere and creating a real feel to the album. The much slower paced start to Thy Serpent’s Tongue contains a chunky Korn-like riff before kicking off at a million miles an hour and then braking into a mid-section riffage stomp. The tempo is non-stop and absolutely brutal.

No let up and no hiding; pounding, aggressive but with enormous hooks which get the head banging very quickly; I was nodding away as I listened. With 11 albums under their belt, Kataklysm have long established their sound, Iacono doesn't mess about; his vocals growling and harsh, but at the same time immensely effective. And then in the middle of the album, possibly the track that Dez Farfara and Devildriver always wanted to write; Soul Destroyer. One of the most infectious, hook laden death metal tracks I've ever heard. It is absolutely scorching. As well as the absolutely roasting engine room, the guitar work of Dagenais is quite stunning; visceral riffs competing with slicing solos and a large serving of melody. This is quite simply one of the metal albums of the year; not a dud track on the entire album and some quite frighteningly savage metal. By the time I approached the last three tracks, I was exhausted. There is no hiding from this band, and Shattered was exactly how I felt. The bloodthirsty onslaught from such precision playing makes these a band I would love to see grace the RJD stage at BOA next year. Album closer The World Is A Dying Insect provides a little respite with a medium paced perspective on the way in which the majority of the planet are destroying our world with the parasitic approach to life. The bonus disc provides the listener with four live tracks, which amply demonstrate that Kataklysm most definitely cut it in the live arena. A simply stunning death metal release. 10/10

Monday, 24 August 2015

Reviews: The Sword, Kingcrow, Skintrade

The Sword: High Country (Razor & Tie)

So Texan riff masters The Sword return with their fifth album, if you know the band then you'll know they have a bit of a potted history as their first to records are huge slabs of riff filled Sabbath worship driven by some nifty guitar work by J.D Cronise and Kyle Shutt, they mixed things up on their third album with some spacey, prog rock riffs tied to a sci-fi concept, before returning to the altar of Sabbath on their fourth record. This album, they have gone totally nuts, this is their most eclectic work yet, all but gone are the Iommi style riffs replaced by some twin guitar magic that Goram and Robinson would be proud of this Lizzy-like sound is immediate from first 'proper' track Empty Temples which weaves and swings like 70's Lynott and co. In fact this 70's vibe permeates the entire record with even songs like Tears Like Diamonds and Mist & Shadow both of which hark back to the bands earlier sound would be more at home on Never Say Die that Vol.4, with the underscores of organ that is used throughout  Tears...and especially on intro Unicorn Farm which is an almost electronic number. Yes the Sabbath worship has been looked over in favour of nods to cleaner side of rock with a bit more booty and boogie in the music; Seriously Mysterious has a lot of Black Keys influence with its rumbling funk driven by Bryan Ritchie's synth bass and Jimmy Vela III's electronic drums, well as some spacey psychedelic textures on the instrumental Agartha and the guitar freakout of Suffer No Fools, which shows Shutt and Cronise fluidly mangling their fretboards to a pumping backing.

There are 15 tracks on this album, that's far more than on any previous release (they usually number around 9-10) however many of the tracks are short, instrumental interludes that are there to lead one song into another giving the album a live fell as they move from track to track seamlessly. The Sword will never lose their identity due to Cronise's unmistakeable vocals, this makes them unique but for people who prefer the earlier style of The Sword they may be put off by the bands more mixed up and 'lighter' sound as well as the horns on Early Snow, however older fans should not fear as there is still some massive riffs on Buzzards and Ghost Eye but such is the topsy turvy nature of this record that these songs are bookended by an acoustic country number like Silver Petals and almost Radiohead style psych fug of Turned To Dust. High Country is a unique, odd album that draws from the bands roots while expanding their sounds and indeed the minds of the listener, how will this stuff translate to the live arena I don't know but it will be interesting to see the massive riffs moving into the funky brass on the stage. 8/10

Kingcrow: Eidos (Sensory)

I'd never heard of Kingcrow before their album Eidos made it's way into my review pile but after the first spin I instantly regretted this. The Italian progressive metallers are now on their sixth album and it's that experience that is paramount in making this album sound the way it does, Eidos (the Greek for essence or form) is the third part in their conceptual trilogy that started two albums ago following a character as a boy before the previous release saw him as and adolescent and now a man. It's all very high concept and the technicality of the music mirrors this; Eidos is full of real 'proper' progressive metal that bands like Shadow Gallery and Dream Theater have been doing for a good while now, it is intelligent and most importantly welcoming not spending too long showing off, the songs are all brilliantly written and draw you in with the hooks and melodies. Much of this is due to the band who are all virtuoso musicians the bass playing of Francesco D'Errico is the glue that holds everything together anchoring the songs perfectly while providing interesting basslines for drummer Manuel Thundra Cafolla to work with as he adds the impressive percussion moving from the huge more metallic pieces such as the title track where he goes hell for leather as well as knowing when to ease off and give things a lighter touch on more introspective parts of the same song.

With such a strong rhythm section the melodic end of the spectrum has to keep up and it does so brilliantly with both guitarists Diego Cafolla and Ivan Nastasi are masters of their craft supplying riff after glorious riff on the harder tracks At The Same Pace as well as ably handling the gorgeous acoustics that seem to go throughout the bands sound on beautiful songs like AdriftOpen Sky and Fading Out Part IV. Their interplay with keyboardist Cristian Della Polla is also fantastic as he melds perfectly with the guitars allowing the songs to breathe brilliantly and creating some excellent soundscapes see the electronic filled Slow Down. I know I said earlier that the band share traits with Dream Theater but it would be more apt to compare them to bands like Shadow Gallery, Haken, Orphaned Land, Riverside and the two bands they share the most with Porcupine Tree and Opeth, the latter is due in part to vocalist Diego Marchesi's unbelievable voice which is used to great effect on opener The Moth, Diego really shines on this album but he doesn't take anything from his compatriots as all of the band meld together perfectly to create this utterly magnificent album and as the final track If Only begins you know that the journey is complete and with this song, that could have come straight off Porcupine Tree's In Absentia, the album ends prompting you to take a deep breath and press play again. I didn't know Kingcrow before but they have a new fan, to the back catalogue!!! 10/10

Skintrade: Scarred For Life (AOR Heaven)

Swede's Skintrade started in 1993 and after their acclaimed debut album saw them tour all around Europe they released the follow up in 1995 Roach Powder which saw them touring more and more, then the band broke up leading frontman Matt Alfonzetti to seek out a solo career as well as become the singer of ex-Skin guitarist and former Jagged Edge bandmate Myke Gray's Red, White And Blues. However back in 2012 the band reformed and released both a compilation, with a new album called Refuelled coming last year. So hot on the heels of that is yet another album that once again sees the band firing on all cylinders, as the title track kicks things off the chunky riffs bring to mind Black Stone Cherry, Alter Bridge with a huge hooky choruses and the heavy guitars from Alfonzetti and Stefan Bergstrom. Despite being on the AOR Heaven label the band are pretty heavy with a rock solid rhythm section from the two Hakan's (Calmroth bass and Persson Drums). This is great modern rock with an 80's rock sheen, the music is muscular with tracks like 15 Minutes Gone, Lovehate and Storm Will Come all have massive riffs, giant choruses and a fist in the air attitude all bolstered by Alfonzetti's excellent vocals; if David Coverdale had less posturing (and could still sing) he's sound like Alfonzetti, who really shines on ballads like Broken, the bluesy Leave A Scar which has a scuttling riff and the filthy lyrical content of old leather lungs himself as well as the swaggering Lay With Me. This album has a great glut of songs on it and moves away at a fair old pace with only two ballads on the album the rest is headbanging rock and roll with one perfect cover Wide Awake was originally by pop strumpet Katy Perry and saw her trying to be 'edgy' however Skintrade's rocked up version is an arena bothering anthem. If you love rock n roll with a metallic edge (or indeed the late 80's and modern Whitesnake albums) then Skintrade will be right up your street!! 8/10   

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Reviews: Vintage Trouble, Praying Mantis, Stormzone (Reviews By Paul)

Vintage Trouble: 1 Hopeful Road (Universal)

It is no secret that Vintage Trouble are one of our favourites at Musipedia HQ. Regular touring since the 2011 release of the soulful debut The Bomb Shelter Sessions has enabled several opportunities to catch the band in their most captivating setting, the live arena. Having seen them several times including twice this year (the last in the cavernous Wembley Stadium supporting AC/DC), the arrival of the long awaited follow-up is timely to say the least.

Full of soul and blues, 1 Hopeful Road contains a number of tracks that have been played live for some time so in some respects it doesn't feel like a brand new album. In fact, it feels more like an old friend than a new acquaintance. Opener Run Like The River has an infectious rhythm and blues drive, highlighting the rockier edge of the band whilst retaining the soulful feel of a band very much in touch with the blues roots of the 1950s and 1960s. Stomping homage to their home town, Angel City, California has the Stones trademark groove whilst Strike Your Light, another live favourite chugs along in the best blues rock tradition (it should be on the Blues Brothers soundtrack) with the classic sing-a-long chorus and driving rhythm and guitar work of Nalle Colt. However, as anyone who has ever seen the band live will testify, Vintage Trouble are a band of light and shade and some of their best work lies in the real tender and calmer songs, the pick of them probably the beautiful Doin’ What You Were Doin’ which really tugs at the heart strings.

1 Hopeful Road is a feel good album; one to put on when you get in from a difficult day at work, allowing you to relax with a cup of tea whilst being soothed by the velvet tones of Ty Taylor; it is an album to have up front or in the background, such is the quality; dance around the room or chill, it works either way; put it on at a house party or in the car. Quite simply, it is a stunning piece of work and one of the albums of the year. If you like a bit of blues rock, then make sure you pick up this album. You won’t be disappointed. 10/10

Praying Mantis: Legacy (Frontiers)

Back in the late 1970s, there was a stampede of new British heavy metal bands, emerging from the bloated corpses of the behemoth progressive rockers who had ruled the music landscape for much of the previous decade. This was of course the dawn of NWOBHM. Right in the middle of the clamour for recognition was a band called Praying Mantis, who for a short time sat alongside the likes of Iron Maiden, Saxon and Raven at the top table. Formed in 1974 by brothers Tino and Chris Troy, they released their best known work Time Tells No Lies in 1981. As with many of the bands who achieved minor recognition, they have continued throughout the years with numerous line-up changes, hiatuses and reformations. In fact, if you look at their line up details on Wikipedia, you will see almost a who’s who of UK  metal vocalists who have spent time with the Mantis; for example, Paul Dianno, Bernie Shaw, Doogie White and Gary Barden whilst Clive Burr (late Maiden drummer) had a couple of stints on the skins.

Unsurprisingly the band are big in Japan and have released several albums over the years. Legacy is album no.10 and the first to feature Jaycee Cuijpers and Hans in’t Zandt (vocals and drums respectively. And it is actually a pretty good if formulaic slab of melodic AOR. Cuijpers vocals fit perfectly with the sound, whether it is the old school metal of Fight For Your Honour or the cheese filled homage to their favourite city, Tokyo, complete with oriental lead breaks. Yes, it is pretty standard melodic rock, the kind that fills the halls at Hafan-y-Mor every year for Hard Rock AOR, but it does a job. Some tracks are a little too close to Bon Jovi/Def Leppard for my liking, Better Man for example makes me feel a bit queasy. However, the musicianship on the album is excellent, the classic layered rock sound with subtle keyboards and large riffs, some excellent guitar work from Troy and And Burgess, choruses a plenty which everyone joins in and opportunity galore to pump the air with your first. Eyes Of A Child is possibly THE best AOR track ever written, containing every ingredient necessary. It is unlikely that Praying Mantis will be playing an arena near you soon, but they have sufficient longevity and quality to deserve an opening slot for one of the many packages which rumble around the country from time to time. If you like your rock with a large slice of cheese, slightly melted, then you’ll enjoy this. 7/10

Stormzone: Seven Sins (Metal Nation)

So just over a year ago, there we stood in the Sophie Lancaster Tent watching these guys blow our minds with some excellent power metal. And then we discovered they were not from mainland Europe as we had expected, but from across the water in Northern Ireland. Quickly purchasing their latest release Three Kings confirmed that this is a band with more than a bit of quality. Their fifth album Seven Sins cements that view, crammed full of top notch power metal. Huge riffs, symphonic vocals and pounding drumming, it’s all here. Opener Bathsheba sets the bar high, before the chugging Another Rainy Night has you reaching for the air guitar. What sets Stormzone apart from the gazillion other power metal bands? Well, for a start they are a British band which is a rarity in itself. They also vary their delivery so that it is not too formulaic.

From the stomping The One That Got Away to the anthemic Your Time Has Come and the more textured and crafted title track Seven Sins, there is a range of songs which keep you interested. They also have one hell of a vocalist in John "Harv" Harbinson who has a great range. Ably supported by bassist Graham McNulty, former Sweet Savage drummer Davy "Basher" Bates, and guitarist Steve Moore. Yes, shades of Maiden run throughout this album, but so what? Maiden are surely the blueprint for power metal and if you can use that blueprint then go ahead. Seven Sins is strong throughout, with Raise The Knife and virtual thrasher and Helloween tinged Abandoned Souls amongst the highlight. Yes, it is traditional in composition and delivery. No, it won’t pull up any trees or win awards but it is a solid, well produced and good quality release which sits comfortably alongside the more familiar names of the genre. Now guys, how about some live dates? 8/10

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Reviews: Bullet For My Valentine, Ghost, Disturbed

Bullet For My Valentine: Venom (RCA)

Lets lay it on the line shall we? Bullet For My Valentine have always been a band that have split opinion, bursting out of South Wales during the early 2000's as metalcore and the NWOAHM were all the rage, their debut The Poison was a masterclass in breakdown filled, solo loving, thrash with the clean and harsh vocal mix, the lyrics were full of angst and the music full of aggression. Since then they haven't really fulfilled the potential that was hinted at by their debut, Scream Aim Fire was in my opinion a very good that was criminally overlooked, Fever brought a more pop sound to their metallic backing and then we have Temper Temper which is best left not talked about as even the band have admitted that even they are not fans of that album. So after this bit of tumultuous back story the band are now back, albeit without founding bassist Jason James, (happily he has been replaced live by former Revoker man Jamie Mathias), still they are indeed back and yes it is with a vengeance. What is immediately noticeable about this new record is that it harks back to their debut (not just with the title) the aggression, fury and speed are all present and correct, with furious guitars from frontman Matt Tuck and guitarist Padge who supplies the searing leads and furious soloing on tracks like the opener No Way Out which explodes out of the stereo with a huge swaggering riff and the glorious sing along chorus that is in stark contrast to the screamed vocals in the verse.

So an old school vibe straight from the opening and as Army Of Noise picks up the pace with a speed thrash delivery, it's the faster songs that show off Moose's superb drumming, he is relentless like a machine gun on the faster tracks but on the slower more epic songs like Worthless and You Want A Battle (Here's A War) he also holds his own supplying the rhythms for Matt and Padge to ease up on allowing the songs to breathe. Tuck's voice is excellent on this record, his screams are venomous (no pun intended) especially on The Harder The Heart (The Harder It Breaks) where he shows off his scream and also his melodic vocals which soar clearly over the furious metal assault of Skin. With 11 tracks on the normal album and 15 on the special edition you get very little filler on this album, each song just fits and many of the huge choruses will go down well in the live arena as well as starting some serious pits, the band have finally found a way to balance the emotive, reflective part of their music with the more ferocious parts of their music such as main album closer Pariah and final bonus track the non album single Raising Hell. Bullet For My Valentine are back folks and whether you love them, hate them or just don't get them the band have released their best album in years, hopefully this will finally be their time; the headline slot at Download awaits and along with their debut Venom will be their call to arms!! 9/10

Ghost: Meloria (Loma Vista)

Papa II is dead long live Papa III!! The Swedish occult ghouls return with their third album which sees them playing in a similar vein to their previous album but with a concious move towards a more modern and indeed progressive sound. As the carnivalesque organs at the intro of Spirit give way to the NWOBHM style riffs we are once drawn back into the strange, iniquitous yet uplifting musical world of Ghost, Spirit is a twisting turning first gasp before the bass led intro of the heavier From The Pinnacle To The Pit brings the more occult Satanic imagery as well as more modern sound that is also present on Mummy Dust which rocks like hell and features a particularly malevolent vocoder topped performance from Papa as well as some very 70's keys and synths (even a synth solo). The heavy aspect follows through into Cirice which is a very doom laden track that Ozzy and co would be proud to write (although am I the only person that hears Down Under by Men At Work?)

It has the right amount of dark and light along with the nameless Ghouls providing some fantastic drumming, keys and guitars that give Papa a strong backing to deliver some almost sorrowful and romantic lyricism, as usual his vocals are amazing clear, powerful and unique commanding the listener to pay attention what is being said. As I said this album has a lot more experimentation on it with the band flexing their muscle a little, this is never more evident than on the spiritual folky sounding He Is which is probably the most beautiful song ever written about Mephistopheles, Majesty sounds like a lost Deep Purple track albeit it does at time err on to the side of the Gillan fronted Sabbath. With every album Ghost add yet more excellent songs to their bursting live repertoire, this is still where Ghost are at their most impressive, but what they have also done on this third record is grow as a band adding more elements to their sound to make sure that their occult shtick doesn't grow stale, with songs like the amazing Absolution and the all encompassing Deus In Absentia which ends the album perfectly as Papa invites you to "Burn With Me" before the choir sings you out as you are absolved of grace and devoured by sin. Meloria sees the band standing on the precipice of greatness, they have become a cult act but now they are well on their way to becoming a band that may just cross over into the mainstream. Don't resist ladies and gentlemen come to the altar of sin and kneel before your Satanic majesties! 9/10

Disturbed: Immortalised (Reprise/Warner Bros)

When Disturbed announced a hiatus after their last studio album Asylum many though that would be the end of the band as frontman David Draiman formed his other band Device and and guitarist Dan Donegan formed Fight Or Flight, both albums were OK but both these men do their best work in the Disturbed mothership. After the two solo albums there was a relative silence and then from out of nowhere came the announcement that the new Disturbed album was in the can and ready to be released, shortly after the first single The Vengeful One was unleashed, this blood splattered clip has the bands mascot destroying injustice with a shotgun, which is very cool but what is best about the clip was that the band were indeed back to their previous musical form, indeed they fell straight into the sound that they had on Asylum which saw them branching out from their nu-metal routes (although not too much). The Vengeful One and the title track set the tone for the rest of the album with Draiman's unique rapid fire vocal delivery, his snarling lower register and soaring highs which drive the massive choruses with the trademark rhyming couplets. Add to this a massive, chunky rhythm section from  John Moyer's bass licks as well as Mike Wengren's blasting drums and you are immediately brought back into world of Disturbed.

As well as Draiman, who is always the focal point of the band, it's Donegan who is the other star of the band, he is a simply amazing guitarist, however he is highly underrated due to many believing Disturbed are a bit of a joke. Still Donegan plays like his life depends on it adding to the swaggering groove with technical lead playing that many are praised for, listen for it and you too will be converted, as well as the guitars he also handles the synths that undercut all of Disturbed's music. The synths are the major contributing factor to The Light which is an uplifting track that yes does have a religious overtone, but this is theme that permeates all of Disturbed's career.   As I said the signatures of Disturbed's sound are present on this album, in fact this album is more retrospective than it's predecessor, although this is probably deliberate to announce that the band are back by giving fans something that they know and love before. The electronic elements continue on You're Mine which could have been off the debut record, Save Our Last Goodbye has the staccato guitar sound, Fire it Up continues this vein and then the curve ball comes with their orchestral, dark reinterpretation of Simon and Garfunkel's Sound Of Silence. Still this is classic Disturbed with the modern edge and even though it's good to have them back they are still a band that will have critics but fans will lap this album up. 8/10 


Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Reviews: Year Of The Goat, Voodoo Vegas, Messerschmitt

Year Of The Goat: The Unspeakable (Napalm)

They say the devil has all the best tunes, well with the recent surge in more occult bands like Ghost, Lucifer, Death Penalty, Avatarium, Blood Ceremony, Orchid, Electric Wizard becoming more widely known it's time for those sinful souls to worship at the altar of Year Of The Goat. The Swedish (of course) band had long gestation before their debut and yet again they have taken their time creating this paean to Lucifer and all things demonic. As the whispered chants start off All He Has Read the track builds with  Marcus Lundberg's, Don Palmroos' guitars picking up pace before Fredrik Hellerström's drums and Tobias Resch's bass let the rhythm infect your soul, it's almost four minutes before the song kick in proper but as it does we have the guitars providing satisfying leads on top of the driving bottom end and Pope adds mellotron and organ flourishes that bring a sound not to dissimilar to fellow countrymen Ghost, the track then slows in it's final part which lets Thomas Sabbathi's vocals show off their summoning style conjuring images of His Infernal Majesty.

With a lot of the occult bands Sabbath is probably the go to influence but in YOTG's case they are more settled in the psychadelic style of occult music with lots of trippy keys and synths adding to the sturdy lates 60's and early 70's rock base, think Blue Oyster Cult on Vermin (which even features cowbell) Mercyful Fate on terrifying Carnival doom of The Emma. They have a Doors-like vibe to The Wind, a country style chug on Black Sunlight (which is one of the best tracks on the record) but mostly they continue to promote the distilled sound of the more modern neo-pagan, occult rock bands like Graveyard, Ghost, The Devils Blood and Purson with songs such as Pillars Of The South, The Sermon both of which rattle along driven by some superb percussion and guitar licks The percussive nature of the music continues on songs like World Of Wonders which is possibly the albums most psychedelic and hypnotic track as the mellotron bubbles under the surface as the pagan chants of Sabbathi's unique voice and Hellerström's metronomic drumming lead the way. Year Of The Goat have yet again made a great record, personally I found their first album second hand in a record shop and after the first spin I was in love with the band, this second release on solidifies what the first album made me feel, Year Of The Goat have danced with the devil and they make it sound like real fun indeed, Devil has the best tunes? You bet he does and happily most of those songs belong to Year Of The Goat! 9/10   

Voodoo Vegas: Hypnotize (Self Released)

Voodoo Vegas are a hard working good time rock and roll band from Bournemouth, they plied their trade across the country touring with everyone they could find, this meant that they honed their craft under the likes of Y&T and Status Quo before embarking on a PledgeMusic campaign to fund the recording of their debut album they went on to raise a jaw-dropping 344% of the figure the band first aimed for. The Rise Of Jimmy Silver was that debut and it led to the band having yet more exposure and yet more tours, relentless touring their ballsy hard rock all around the world. The debut album was very well received and on the back of that acclaim the band have given their fans a taster of their next album on this four track EP. Hypnotize continues the story of their debuts title character Jimmy Silver almost setting a prequel for the debut. The band ply their trade with hip shaking, rock and roll in the style of Aerosmith, Guns & Roses with a bone rattling rhythm section coming from the four strings of Ash Moulton and the sticks of Jonno Smyth. As the opening title track kicks things off with sleazy style before things speed up on Tied Up which shows off the guitar prowess of Merylina Hamilton and Jon Dawson while all of the songs are bolstered by the fantastic vocals of Lawrence Case especially the heavy final track of Killing Joke. This is a strong teaser from Voodoo Vegas, four powerful tracks that give a real overview of Voodoo Vegas' sound, on the basis of this album number two could be a stormer! 8/10

Messerschmitt: No Dread To Kill (Independent)

The Messerschmitt BF 109 "Was one of the first truly modern fighters of the era, including such features as all-metal monocoque construction, a closedcanopy, and retractable landing gear. It was powered by a liquid-cooled, inverted-V12 aero engine." They were one of the most famous planes in German military history and have been forever ingrained in metal history by coming out of the sun in Iron Maiden's Aces High. So for a German metal band to name themselves after these war machines would take a lot of balls, luckily Messerschmitt do their flying metal namesake justice as they play good old fashioned speed metal with high tops and bullet belts galore, these denim and leather clad rockers roar through nine tracks of twin guitar wielding metal driven by Kristian Tamm and Florian Piwek's thrash metal drum and bass playing; however unlike a lot of thrash bands there is nothing simple about Messerchmitt they weave a frenzy of distortion moving between time signatures like a fighter jet as the guitars of Christian Fass and Maik Jegszenties swoop in with rapid trade offs and nimble soloing. Messerschmitt have managed to hark back to the glory days of the early trash era, equally indebted to Kreator and Megadeth as they are to Judas Priest and Venom. So have they done the jet justice? Well with a flash, bang and hell of a lot of noise Messerschmitt make their impact felt beating you into submission with every note. 7/10  

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Reviews: Fear Factory, Soulfly, Gentle Knife

Fear Factory: Genexus (Nuclear Blast) [Review By Paul]

Fear Factory, a band that stand in the halls of heavy metal history as innovators of the fusion of industrial, extreme and thrash genres. A band that was also ripped apart in the 2000s by internal division, legal battles over the name and the legacy. A band that always delivered live and crushed skulls with alarming regularity, such was the driving intensity of their music. 2009’s Mechanize and the impressive Industrialist in 2012 suggested that Fear Factory was still a vital and relevant machine, unwilling to sit on their laurels and play the classics but able to craft and culture their unique form of brutality for their dedicated fan base. With their latest release, Genexus, Fear Factory continue to demonstrate that they have the hunger and the desire to create new music.

Opener Autonomous Combat System reassures the listener that the industrial power and grind present in spades on Industrialist has survived intact. Although the band no longer have the powerhouse that is Gene Hoglan behind the kit, new man Mike Heller does an excellent job on all of the tracks he features on, pounding the skins throughout in the style that you would expect from a Fear Factory release. The combination of Heller and ex-Soulfly bass badass Tony Campo ensures that the engine room is firing on all cylinders and this allows the brutality of Dino Cazarres’ guitar riffs room and freedom. Andonized combines the powerful riffs with Gary Newman style synthesisers adding layers to the sound. Meanwhile Burton C Bell’s vocals range from the typical snarling spewing aggression one minute to the calmer, cleaner harmonies (can he cut it live though?). Whilst Genexus generally follows a tried and trusted formula, the album does contain the odd surprise. Dielectric merges the old school Fear Factory sound with a fresher, modern industrial slant, swirling synths meshing together with the evil ground out fret work of Cazarres. The last time I saw Fear Factory Bell’s vocals really struggled to hit the heights, out of tune and generally disappointing. Now I have no doubt that a bit of technical wizardry has assisted his performance on Genexus but his delivery throughout is excellent here, nowhere better illustrated than on the nu-metal feel of Soul Hacker, which has Bell in classic form, screaming his lungs out at times. The track is also the only one to feature Deen Castronovo on the drums.

What also enhances the album is a great production courtesy of Rhys Fulber and the engineering genius of Andy Sneap. The sound is crisp, allowing the full force of Fear Factory to wash over you like a tsunami. Album closer Expiry Date is reminiscent of Therapy For Pain, the closing track on the classic Demanufacture album. Two bonus tracks on the deluxe edition add value with Mandatory Sacrifice’s electronica remix providing shades of The Prodigy before it hits warp speed. Enhanced Reality is another less traditional Fear Factory battering ram, with Bell’s softer vocals smoothing over another electronic beat, almost Anathema-like in parts. Fear Factory may not be the innovators they once were but in Genexus they have proved a timely reminder that in the industrial metal genre, they stand proudly at the top. 7/10

Soulfly: Archangel (Nuclear Blast) [Review By Paul]

This week the medical profession in the UK published research that music in the operating theatre, as well as pre and post –operatively can aid your recovery. A timely discussion point then, as Archangel arrives, mere weeks after Max and La Familia destroyed the Globe in Cardiff. Just as happened at the gig, Archangel proves that there is no escape from the brutality of the Soulfly main man. Archangel is album number 10 from Soulfly and demonstrates that as Max reaches middle age he is in no mood to age gracefully. Archangel is also the shortest Soulfly release at a mere 36.5 minutes in length but as the saying goes, sometimes quality is better than quantity. Ably assisted by the ever faithful Marc Rizzo on guitar and the absolutely hammering family rhythm section of Igor and Zyon, Archangel is an all-out onslaught of thrash metal with the usual hard-core punk infusion. Opener We Sold Our Souls To Metal sounds better here than it did in the live arena, anvil heavy drumming and thrashing guitar and Max’s trademark guttural vocals. The album is loosely themed around religion and Old Testament themes but cleverly avoids the Christian label that afflicts so many bands. The title track is a surprisingly intricately paced track with a superb Mastodon style break down in the middle.

A number of guest vocalists enhance the album; Todd Jones from Nails adds real anger and hatred to Sodomites, a powerful stomping number with a massive churning guitar sound; credit to producer Matt Hyde (Slayer, Children of Bodom, Monster Magnet) who has really captured the Soulfly live sound. King Parrot frontman Matthew Young provides a completely different vocal performance on Live Life Hard, screeching hard-core edged. However, for all the guest appearances, if you could bottle the essence of Soulfly, you would not have to go further than Titans, a venomous thrasher with enormous hooks and Max screaming at the top of his voice before slowing to a grinding riff which allows Rizzo to shred viciously. Final guest arrives on Mother Of Dragons; Richie Cavalera, Max’s step-son and metal frontman with Incite joins in the two and half minute frenzy. Brutal is too calm a word for this assault. The bonus disc gets you three extra tracks including the ten second Napalm Death cover of You Suffer. So, a shorter, more focused Soulfly album, full of rage, aggression and short sharp thrash that we've grown to love from Max Cavalera. So back to the medical debate. Soulfly whilst having a full frontal lobotomy? Absolutely. 8/10

Gentle Knife: Gentle Knife (Bajkal) [Review By Matt]

Norwegians Gentle Knife have managed to defy time and indeed geography here on their debut album. Although the album was released this year it sounds like it was recorded in England in around 1971. When you think of this band you must think of the pastoral, progressive music of bands like Yes, Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson and early Genesis before throwing in a little of Jeff Waynes' War Of The Worlds and you wouldn't be far off. The album features long sprawling songs, intricate instrumentation and whimsical songwriting which as well as being hallmarks of the bands mentioned previously, are also a very major part of Gentle Knife's resume. This 10 piece band have lovingly crafted this 10 track album that features a jazzy rhythm section who readily change the time signatures allowing the two guitarists to show their deft but intensely technical playing see Tear Away The Chords That Bind for masterclass in understated but intensive guitar playing.

The keys/organs are one of the main draws of the record, keeping everything together with waves of melodies as the synths wash over the songs. In just an extra bit of musical experimentation trumpets, saxophones and flutes all add to more pastoral tracks like Eventide which is where they really shine, along with the Epilogue: Locu Amoenus and the closing Coda:Impetus, as well as on the 'heavier' tracks like Our Quiet Footsteps where the keys and guitars do the work but the wind instruments flesh out the songs giving them a third dimension. As well as the impressive music element vocally the album is perfect with a crooning deep male vocal (and acoustic guitar) working in conjunction perfectly with the more haunting female vocals that sound an awful lot like Kate Bush at her most wistful. As with many of the original progressive rock bands (e.g King Crimson Procol Harum) the band also have a silent member who contributes the words music and some sound samples to the album which is the basis on which the musicians compose their magic. Take a trip back to prog's glory days with Gentle Knife who will take you trip far beyond the realms of normality so you can get Close To The Edge and then into Court Of The Crimson King just like the old days!!! 8/10