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Saturday, 4 July 2015

Reviews: Borealis, Whiskey Hell, Jackaman

Borealis: Purgatory (AFM)

Purgatory is a good name Canadian melo-power metallers Borealis as it seems the band have been languishing there since their second album Fall From Grace in 2011. Now Fall From Grace has to be near the top of my 'most played' list with numerous enjoyable playthroughs since 2011, this left me with both anticipation and hesitation for this release, so as I pressed play it was time to see whether or not their new release will get the same high number of plays as it's predecessor; Past The Veil starts things off and it's business as usual with Michael Briguglio and Matt Marinelli's killer guitars sparring with each other and Sean Werlick's keys and yet again what sets Borealis apart are Matt's impressive vocals, he has an amazing set of pipes that echo Russell Allen at his most aggressive yet he can croon in the bands trademark huge choruses; see The Chosen One, that bring to mind both Symphony X and masters of melodic power metal Evergrey a band Borealis owe a huge debt to. Marinelli's voice duets beautifully with Sarah Dee on From The Ashes and croons mightily on Destiny which has chunky rhythms driven by Sean Dowell's amazing drumming and Jamie Smith's technically precise bass that gives this track it's djent like rhythms.

Considering these few songs begin the album they make an immediate impact showing all that makes Borealis great, it's then we get Darkest Sin which slows everything down with the acoustic guitars, orchestral/choral backing and Marinelli's superb vocals (I'll stop talking about his vocals soon I promise). This even isn't the biggest ballad on the album with Rest My Child getting that honour due to it's plaintive first half that explodes into a solo of epic proportions and the passionate finale. Borealis bring a modern metal edge to the power metal genre here giving it a mature legitimacy with emotive lyrics and heavy post-millennial guitar work as well as adding the power metal mainstays of guitar solos galore, huge over blown keys and rampaging songs with lots of light and shade on tracks like Place Of Darkness and classical Kamelot-style influences abound on Welcome To Eternity which has elements of modern day Stratovarius. Looking back on it I shouldn't have worried, Purgatory is equally as brilliant as Fall From Grace if not better, Borealis have always been very high on my must-see list and with this album they get higher again; this is an album of top drawer, sophisticated, grown up melodic power metal for fans of Evergrey, Symphony X and Kamelot, with some amazing playing and yes THAT voice!! One of my albums of the year!! 10/10

Whiskey Hell: Bullets N Burritos (Self Released)

Germany have a strange love of Southern Rock, they love a good song about drinking, pick up trucks, and partying while wearing a Stetson and spurs. Olly Wallenberg's Whiskey Hell hail from Hamburg and they play good ol' Suverrn rock n roll with a fist full of whiskey and a hell of a lot of attitude. However Whiskey Hell are not your traditional style Southern rockers they have the same kind of 80's style melodic southern rock that .38 Special, Molly Hatchet, Black Oak Arkansas did so well, tracks like Weed N Whiskey and the Bullet's N Burritos kick that kind of party rock off with aplomb having a rocky boogie style driven by Wallenberg's searing guitar work and on Weed N Whiskey enough cowbell to suit any taste. However he also dabbles in the more metallic styles of Priest on Blood, Sweat And Wrenches (which is probably the most patriotic song not written by an American) simplistic four chord hard rock of Rose Tattoo and AC/DC as witnessed by their cover of The Aussie band's classic Kicked In The Teeth. As they dabble in the blues on Time Flies and even some KISS-like stomping on Mr Rock N Roll you see that the band can play very well as a the this three piece pack a punch with Lars Linder's drums and Carsten Meyer's bass giving the songs a rhythmic thump allowing Wallenberg to indulge in hearty riffs and searing solos while he sings with a voice that is part Gene Simmons, part Johnny Van Zant. All the songs on this album are good especially 2013 which details Wallenberg's struggle and eventual abstinence of alcohol and drugs in a heartfelt and confessional way, however it doesn't really break any ground for the most part and with two covers (the other being Mountain's Misssippi Queen) it may not do it for anyone but if you like polished American sounding Southern rock then Whiskey Hell will get you grooving in your seat. 7/10

Jackaman: No Halo (Self Released)

Lynne Jackaman is the founding front woman of Brit blues rockers Saint Jude, after releasing one album to critical praise and being pushed as the next big thing the band seemed to take a back seat and went on hiatus. The band's ace was always Jackaman's expressive rock n soul voice so it was great to see that she has been working on her own songs that she says "Didn't fit with the band". Right she is too as the songs on this four track EP are far more at home in the soul, funk and blues sphere than they are in a rock band, what immediately hits you about this EP is the production equally modern and old school giving the funky synths and bass real pop (Stevie Wonder would be proud) while showing off Lynne's amazing vocals, she has the lungs of a true soul diva with Roberta Flack, Etta James and even a bit of Amy Winehouse all audible in Ms Jackaman's vocals. She belts out every song on this record with gusto and having the kind of vocal that just quivers at the top end of her vibrato as she passionately sings of what she wants from a lover on the title track. She has assembled some cracking musicians who send things along with funk guitars Nile Rogers would be proud of, some hip shaking drums and lashings of synths, the first two tracks are upbeat numbers letting Jackaman go a bit wild however on Honesty (Can Be So Cruel) things slow down with a modern soul feel before the final track brings the mood up again. Now when the new Saint Jude album will come I don't know, but it's front woman could be at the start of a whole new career with this slick and stylish EP; moving away from the rock genre to indulge in her passion for soul and R&B she has the talent to break into the mainstream. 8/10

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Reviews: Status Quo, Unleash The Archers, Next To None

Status Quo: Aquostic (Stripped Bare) (earMusic)

Cased in one of the most terrifying covers in history, mainmen Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt in the all-together their crown jewels covered only by their acoustic guitars, Aquostic is the legendary boogie bands 31st (!) studio album and as the title suggests it features some of the bands biggest hits reinterpreted in the acoustic style some stripped back and some like Pictures Of Matchstick men are given string treatment making the track sound like it should appear on Sgt Pepper's (seriously this has to be THE definitive version of this song now) in fact nearly all of the songs (and there are 24 of them) work very well in the acoustic format giving the band a chance to go back to their blues roots on Down The Dustpipe which has the addition of harmonica from Andy Bown, who usually supplies keyboards but on here it's mouth harp, mandolin, guitar and guitar. The track listing is a complete retrospecitve of the bands career and follows in a chronological order with Pictures... starting the album through two off Piledriver; All The Reasons turns into a Faces style ballad, five from Hello! the honky tonk of Reason For Living through the percussive shuffle of And It's Better Now which shows of new drummer Leon Cave's skill, then we get to their including their magum opus Caroline which comes straight from the saloons on this version dripping in both honk and tonk.

We then carry on before moving on through Quo and On The Level a double header of a countrified Break The Rules and a chicken pickin' Down Down? Yes please!! All of the bands 'hits' are here but the lesser known songs are perfectly chosen to get the best out of their reinvention, where as Rockin' All Over The World is closer to Fogarty's original than ever before. In fact as I've said nearly all of the songs on this album are familiar (of course) but they get a new lease of life in this format, you can clearly hear that Rossi revels in the more stripped back sound still singing brilliantly but with a bit more guts and grit than usually, in fact Parfitt too sounds like a new man on Whatever You Want his scratchier vocals working well on the more orchestral version. For a band who have been around for so long it's great that they feel that they can take the risk of changing the style of some of their most well known songs, however what is even more clear, is that even though they are known as the band that play four chords, in the stripped back setting it's the song writing that shines through, yes even on Margarita Time (which sounds like a Dolly Parton song now, in a good way). If you want a Quo 'Best Of' then there are several million available, however if you want a clever experimental career retrospective that shows why Status Quo are one of our most treasured bands then look no further than Aquostic. 9/10 (Point lost for the poor pun and the cover)   

Unleash The Archers: Time Stand Still (Napalm)

You'll have to bare with me for a moment here, Unleash The Archers are a Canadian band and this is their third album, with that out of the way I can get on to what they sound like. Now imagine Halestorm's Lzzy Hale fronting Amon Amarth, while jamming Dragonforce songs with Manowar; I'm serious...Unleash The Archers have all of those influences on this record merging extreme power metal with melodic death metal to great effect. As soon as Frozen Steel starts the album off proper you are thrown straight in at the deep end of a maelstrom of supersonic riffage from Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley who shred like bastards throughout providing the light speed rhythms and face melting solos. Kyle Sheppard rumbles at high speed in the bottom end (and even gets a solo himself). The band's real drawing point though is one; the frankly awe inspiring drumming of Scott Buchanan who doesn't stop raining down thunder for the whole record making sure that the listener cannot catch their breath.

The second drawing point is his wife Brittney Slayes' frankly astonishing voice the woman has an amazing range able to sing with a gritty lower register before unleashing a shriek that can make your ears bleed especially on Tonight We Ride which is pure Amon Amarth without the Vikings. The band however are not stuck in a rut though adding lots of elements to their sound, they manage to add very modern influences to their base level of power metal with melodeath touches, Hail Of The Tide is Arch Enemy sounding, while Test Your Metal echoes Priest in full flight, Crypt harks back to Kind Diamond, while No More Heroes has the beatdowns of bands like Killswitch Engage. The album is relentless it beats you around the head with 5-6 minute tracks that just kick your face in with the amazing performances on display here, the only real slowdown is the epic 9 minute plus Dreamcatcher and the choral finale of the title track (thankfully not a Rush cover). This album is a brilliant menagerie of metal with numerous styles lapping on top of the power metal assault. A staggering, breathless display of metal fury!! 9/10       

Next To None: A Light In The Dark (InsideOut)

We hear at the Musipedia always go on about new young bands that are on the scene, however I think ridiculously young is the only way to describe Next To None. The band play progressive metal with some modern and varied influences throughout, but what is startling about this band is that they have an average age of 16 years old, however they play with the maturity of a band in their late 20's. The band are made up of Thomas Cuce on keys and vocals, on guitar is Ryland Holland, on bass is Kris Rank and behind the kit is Max Portnoy, yes he is the son of Winery Dogs, Flying Colours and ex-Dream Theater man, who lends a hand in the producer chair. So with that musical pedigree is success in the genes? Well there is certainly a lot of promise from these immensely talented youngsters (just check their biography to see just how much talent these polymath's have). The album starts with the sound of rain and tolling bells and this writer was expecting the opening chords of Hallowed Be Thy Name to kick in but no we get orchestral swells and then with a flurry of Portnoy drumming The Edge Of Sanity starts in classic DT style.

Driven by chunky riffs and and elongated opening section that sees the bass and guitar of Holland and Rank work in tandem and as the organ's kick in we get our first taste of Cuce's voice who is trying to emulate James LaBrie albeit with added growls that bring to mind LaBrie's solo work. So far so DT with the nine minute played in odd time signatures and a crazy mid section that Theater's Jordan Rudress is so keen about. You can hear the boys influences on this album too as You Are Not Me is straight ahead metalcore bringing in A7X, Slipknot and even Pantera and the album continues in this vein with great musicianship throughout especially on the longer tracks however there is an overriding sense of immaturity on the record, not in the playing no, but Cuce's voice can get a bit whiny at times see ballad A Lonely Walk and they do tend to air on the side of more emotional almost childish lyrics, now this is clearly to do with their age and lack of life experience, but as I've said a band of very young virtuosos that have the chops but now just need the songs that will come with age and time. So for now it's watch this space. 7/10

Monday, 29 June 2015

Another Point Of View: ZZ Top

ZZ Top: Wembley Arena, London

Exactly two years to the day I saw the mighty Texans play a set at Hammersmith Odeon that was so cool and oozing with quality that it ranks in my top five gigs of all time. Older readers of the blog may recall it. 80 minutes, some basic amplifiers, two beards and a Beard and absolute quality from a band that have been cutting it cool for over four decades. A one-off UK gig at Wembley was too much of an attraction to refuse, so, having driven to Ealing and parked at the hotel, Mrs H and I headed into central London to meet a good friend who was eager for his first experience of the blues rock that the ‘Top make look so easy.

Added to the excitement was a chance to catch support band Thunder, the UK blues rock/AOR outfit who returned to action a couple of years ago and who have an arsenal of quality sing-a-long tunes. We arrived in time to hear the opening bars of set opener Dirty Love kicking in and, having made our way comfortably to a suitable vantage point, we settled in for 45 minutes of classics. Par for the course at London arena gigs, many of the crowd assembled on the floor were not particularly enamoured by the elongated versions but undeterred (and fuelled by dirty Heineken – no real ale at Wembley) we got stuck in with some appalling shapes and singing. Danny Bowes has always been endearing, if a little annoying but he was on top form tonight, dressed in a sharp dark shirt, tight jeans and jacket and generally in very good shape. River Of Pain was followed by two from the excellent Wonder Days album, Black Water followed by the title track which is as good as anything Thunder have ever delivered. Whilst Gary James and Mark Inkhurst laid down the steady beat, Luke Morley once again demonstrated how underrated a guitarist he is, with some quality fretwork. Ably supported by Ben Matthews on rhythm guitar and keyboards, the band then launched into the epic Backstreet Symphony, which got the Arena moving. As well as spilling beer and generally having a great time, we were also massively entertained by a number of the more mature rock chicks in the audience who were going bat shit crazy whilst their partners studied the floor, the crowd and wondered if they could nip to the bar for a quick pint. And then it all went a bit AOR mental as Thunder threw the sucker punch; yep, Loved Walked In, the quintessential rock ballad. Cue more absolutely devastating vocals from Mrs H and me, whilst Ben just grinned with the comment “I haven’t got a clue who these guys are…but I fucking love it”. High praise indeed from a dude more at home in the mash up club environment. Bowes was by now really enjoying himself and indulged in some banter with the crowd, who had at least woken up. Concluding their set with The Thing I Want and I Love You More Than Rock n’ Roll, Thunder were excellent and really did set the bar high. Always worth a watch, this band are a British institution. Catch them if you get the chance. 8/10

A generous 45 minute turn around allowed time to get to the toilet (remember the demographic chaps, no queuing at the ladies at this type of gig) and refill the plastic pints. Precisely 9:00 pm, house lights dimmed, the roar goes up, big screens play some classic movie moments and then Got Me Under Pressure is kicking you in the nuts. Yep, the Top are back in town and as awesome as 2013. Messrs Gibbons and Hill just own the vast stage, prowling around whilst pouring out the quality. Seriously good with an image to die for, the boys from Texas played it pretty safe with a very similar set to two years ago but then, when you've got such fine tunes and it ain't broke … Waitin' For The Bus and Jesus Just Left Chicago before the first of the big guns from EliminatorGimme All Your Loving shifted the band and the Arena up a gear. Gibbons prowls around with his sublime blues complimented beautifully by Hill and the backbone of the band, Frank Beard behind the kit. I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide followed, complete with some excellent crowd participation before a slightly rarer track, Pincushion from Antenna was dropped into the mix. The lead track from 2012’s La Futura, the funky I Gotsa Get Paid was up next, with the scratchy guitar sound providing the perfect opening.

The first of three covers followed, Hendrix’s Foxy Lady, complete with a montage of images of the great guitarist and old friend of the band. I often question why a band with the back catalogue of ZZ Top perform covers but I realise that for these guys it’s about heritage, tradition and roots. Another cover, Catfish Blues (originally Robert Petway, a blues singer born in 1909 who recorded very little in the 1940s) ensured that the soul and feel of the gig remained firmly rooted to the blues. Cheap Sunglasses was up next, and of course the front two never take theirs off. The sole track from Recycler, My Head's In Mississippi maintained the momentum, with Hill dipping in and out of the vocals whilst gently moving around the stage, his presence as imposing as his guitar partner. Chartreuse, the second from La Futura led nicely into the main set closers, the iconic Sharp Dressed Man and then the arrival of the fur covered guitars for the mighty Legs.

After a brief interlude, we were treated to one of the best encores I've ever witnessed as rock god and guitar hero Jeff Beck, celebrating his 71st birthday joined the band on stage for a quadruple serving of delight. First up, Rough Boy from Afterburner, another rare outing and one that allowed Beck to demonstrate his fine guitar work as he took the solos and hammed it up with Gibbons and Hill whilst the audience looked on in awe. Sixteen Tons, first recorded by Merle Travis in 1946 allowed both guitarists a bit of indulgence before La Grange and finally Tush brought the house down. Sometimes being at gigs is a bit of an effort. When ZZ Top are in town, the pleasure of watching a band who are just blindingly good is indescribable. I just hope they’ll be back in another two years. If they are, so will I. 10/10

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Reviews: Royal Southern Brotherhood, Artizan, District 97,

Royal Southern Brotherhood: Don't Look Back: The Muscle Shoals Sessions (Ruf)

Never has there been such an apt title for an album, RSB started back in 2011 as a collaborative project between Cyrille Neville, of the famed The Meters and Neville Brothers, Devon Allman (son of Gregg) and solo guitar demon Mike Zito the abnd released two albums before both Zito and Allman left, this left just Neville along with bassist Charlie Wooton and drummer Yonrico Scott so they set about finding two new six stringers to take the left and right of stage. Now in a blues/funk/soul 'supergroup' you need to get talent and Neville has yet again come up trumps with Bart Walker who looks like a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Leslie West of Mountain fame taking over from Zito and Tyrone Vaughan (nephew of SRV) cutting in crunchy with a signature tone. The new look RSB arrived on the scene at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals and proceeded to create another album. Unlike previous efforts which had the rockier elements of Allman and Zito's past, Don't Look Back moves forward and evolves their sound adding more of the funk from Neville's history as well as the blues that took pride of place on their first two efforts.

The album kicks off with I Wanna Be Free which has more than a hint of Bonamassa to it showing off Bart Walker's huge voice that compliments Neville's more gospel vocal. The title track is a slower song built on Neville's percussion, Scott's drums and Wooton's bass while adding a touch of banjo to proceedings giving it the swampy bayou feel. With all the songs coming from the belly of the blues, it's with the rhythms and guitar lines that we get more funk driven numbers like Hit Me Once and The Big Greasy both of which feature Ivan Neville on Hammond B3 and clavinet giving that authentic 70's funk feel, Penzi is Latin through and through with the flamenco guitars and bongo/tabla drumming, while Poor Boy is a Vaughan penned track and has that air of familiarity that fans of his uncle Stevie will recognise in an instant. With a blend of styles present fans of blues based music with funk, rock, soul all thrown into the mix, will find something to get them grooving on this third record, with two new members the band sound reinvigorated and ready to take on all comers. 8/10      

Artizan: The Furthest Reaches (Pure Steel)

Artizan are a melodic metal band from Jacksonville Florida, now I haven'e heard much by them but The Furthest Reaches is their third album and is a concept album dealing with an alien race being summoned to earth, but the concept doesn't get in the way of this albums songs which are all pure melodic metal with Bill Staley and Shamus McConnery's guitars riffing and soloing with aplomb on the speedy tracks like Hopeful Eyes, while the progressive 9 minute plus title track is driven by Ty Tammeus' percussion and echoes Queensryche in full bombastic flight. In fact the Seattle natives are the band Artizan have most in common with full of driving, powerful music that is as emotive as it is rocking, merging the classic style of metal with progressive touches and heaps of melody with all of it driven by Tom Braden's voice who sounds uncannily like Hammerfall's Joacim Cans with his broad expressive range taking centre stage on this sprawling Sci-Fi concept piece that has more than a hint of Iced Earth's Set Abominae to it. In fact the voice of The Keepers (the alien race) on The Cleansing is supplied by Matt Barlow formally of said band, the IE influence continues on Wardens Of The New World which has guest vocalist Sabrina Valentine duetting with Braden on the albums second long track. Artizan have created a great album that manages to tell the albums concept without losing any immediacy or indeed lacking in metal power, if you like your metal with huge heap of melody and a little prog thrown in then The Furthest Reaches will draw you in and keep you listening for a while. 8/10    

District 97: In Vaults (Laser's Edge)

Now there are many progressive rock bands with a female singer around, most fall into the folk, pop or even hard rock style with progressive elements, however District 97 are a pure prog rock band for fans of Yes, ELP, King Crimson, Rush and one of my favourite bands Panic Room. They play technical difficult, virtuoso music with odd time signatures, jazzy refrains and huge keyboard melodies. The band formed in 2006 and started out as an instrumental group, however after a year like this they looked for a vocalist, happily finding on in Leslie Hunt who was a top ten finalist on American Idol. Now this doesn't seem to be the perfect place to find a singer for a prog band but Hunt has an ethereal but gritty vocal delivery that fits the mind bending music perfectly, with a hint of alternative icon Shirley Manson as well as a keen radio edge in her broad range. Her voice sits atop the expansive, Peart-like drumming from founder Jonathan Schang, the bottom heavy dark basslines of Patrick Mulchay, mechanical riffs of Jim Tashjian and the soaring keys of Rob Clearfield, meaning that it is the most accessible part of this complicated collection of songs.

The band manage to channel the metallic darkness of latter period Dream Theater and Shadow Gallery as well as bands like the underrated Tiles with whom District 97 share many similarities especially on Death By A Thousand Cuts which features some drum fills that many drummers would die for along with the off time riffs, huge hammonds and frequent changes of pace. As I said District 97 are pure progressive music with influence drawn from everywhere but mostly sat in the jazz time signatures and Hunt's jazz diva croon that easily switches to a prowling emotional performance on A Lottery which also features a cracking soulful guitar solo too. Despite their clear progressive tag only one track clocks in at over 10 minutes long (the impressive finale Blinding Vision) but still they manage to pack as many time changes and odd signatures as possible into each song, yet they still manage to keep everything very concise and immediate especially on Takeover which is the one song on the album that could be considered 'mainstream' despite it's bass pops, off time drumming and monstrous synths.  District 97 play rock music that is devilishly complicated and played by a band full of impossibly talented musicians meaning that only hardcore proggers need apply. 8/10     

Reviews: Paradise Lost, Tremonti (Reviews By Paul)

Paradise Lost: The Plague Within (Century Media)

If you’d asked Paradise Lost in 1988 whether they’d still be pursuing the path of darkness a quarter of a century later I think the answer would probably have been towards the negative. To have just delivered without doubt the best album of their twenty five year career is absolutely mind blowing. Having produced many very solid albums, most latterly the very decent Tragic Idol, I'm not sure if there was huge pressure on Paradise Lost when producing what is album no. 14. Whatever the pressure, The Plague Within is an absolute monster. Opener No Hope In Sight lays the cards clearly on the table. A massive statement of intent, it opens with a malevolent riff and the demonic snarl of Nick Holmes. A melancholic chug of doom soon kicks in and one of metal’s best vocalists easily alternates from dark to light, mixing the snarls with his more recognisable clean vocals. However, this is no dark march, with the combined lead work of Greg Mackintosh seguing with the reliable and powerful rhythm work of Aaron Aedy and the engine room of bassist Steve Edmondson and drummer Adrian Erlandsson. Terminal comes next, a driving, blistering face melter, probably as close to thrash as Paradise Lost get. There is no doubting that the morbid, atmospheric foreboding that drives Paradise Lost’s lyrical content is as organically active as ever, with Holmes delivery dovetailing effortlessly with the crushing power of metal’s Gothic forefathers.

Gothic put them on the map in 1992; a blueprint of well, Gothic tinged metal that has remained the hallmark of their sound and direction for much of their career. Draconian Times pushed Paradise Lost into a league of their own in 1995, and The Plague Within, 20 years later combines both of those classics with elements of other albums, most notably Shades Of God. The Plague Within is crushingly heavy at times, whilst retaining the despair and angst, for example during An Eternity Of Lies, which mixes Holmes styles magnificently. The riffs are huge, powerful and destructive. However, the songs are beautifully crafted and capture the misery and desperation of life perfectly. The doom laden death march of Beneath Broken Earth changes the pace still further; slow without becoming ponderous, Holmes delivering a quite astonishing death laden performance; “Hail to godliness, you wish to die” couldn't be scarier. The return to their past has provided the band with much enthusiasm and the musicianship is first class. As the album progresses, you wait for the filler … and it never arrives. There is not a weak track on the album. The deathly feel of Sacrifice The Flame, complete with some evil string work which moves on to Flesh From Bone (possibly the most disturbing track on the album), complete with sinister build up before an absolute death metal attack delivery which makes the earlier reference in Terminal obsolete (before I've even finished the review!). Mackintosh’s guitar work is blistering as the track lurches from doom to death without drawing breath. What remains is the atmosphere of decay and death that has become the trademark of Halifax’s finest sons. Album closer Return To The Sun builds with choral and classic elements which allow the listener to return to the satanic film scores of yesteryear. A fiery conclusion to one of the best albums of the year. No-one who reads this blog should get to the end of 2015 without spending a couple of hours immersing themselves in an absolute classic. 10/10

Tremonti: Cauterise (FRET 12)

Opening at 100mph with the blistering Radical Change, the second solo album from the ex- Creed and vital Alter Bridge cog Mark Tremonti promises great things. And it maintains it pace throughout. Tremonti’s guitar work is terrific, as he demonstrates time and again why he is so highly thought of in the world of rock, shredding for fun with some powerhouse riffs and hooks so deep that you can’t get them out of your head for hours. This is a man demonstrating his metal heart on his sleeve. Title track Cauterise has a massive groove, driving rhythm provided by Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang and drummer Garrett Whitlock, whose double bass pile driving kicks the shit out of you. However, Tremonti’s superb voice, which is always going to draw comparisons with AB frontman and bandmate Myles Kennedy, eases and caresses the listener despite the carnage taking place all around.

Cauterise builds impressively on the underrated All I Was, Tremonti’s 2012 release. Heavier throughout, it retains the arena rock sound that Alter Bridge, Shinedown et al have driven into the 21st century. Arm Yourself will incite pits and yet also encourage the sing-a-longs, such is the variation in compositions. It’s not all heads down charging though, with the obligatory slower numbers [Dark Trip, Fall Again] interspersing the heavier assaults. An excellent production promotes a huge sound throughout the album, with the intricate guitar of Tremoni ably supported by rhythm guitarist Eric Friedman as well as Van Halen and Whitlock. Listen to Tie The Noose with your headphones on; it’s a throwaway rock track but the sound destroys. Providence, the album’s final track is probably closet to an Alter Bridge track and if it had turned up on Fortress it would have nestled in nicely. Cauterise is one step removed from the Kennedy/Tremonti writing style and whilst there are massive similarities which are surely completely unsurprising, there is also a freshness about it which is perhaps unexpected. A very pleasing release, and one that demonstrates that Mark Tremonti can deliver quite comfortably on his own. 8/10

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Reviews: Art Of Anarchy, Blackwelder, Galley Beggar

Art Of Anarchy: S/T (Century Media)

Art Of Anarchy is one part Guns N Roses, one part Disturbed, and one part Stone Temple Pilots as it features, Bumblefoot on guitar, John Moyer on the bass and Mr controversy himself Scott Weiland on vocals, making up the rest of the band are twin brothers Jon and Vince Votta who are session musicians and friends of Bumblefoot, on guitar and drums respectively. Now with all that out of the way we need to address the elephant in the room Art Of Anarchy are currently in hiatus and have been since before the release of their debut, now this is down to the human firework Scott Weiland who left the band after the album was recorded as he claimed he "was never in the band. It was something I did when I wasn't doing anything. I was asked to write some lyrics and sing some melodies on this project, but it's not a band I'm in" where as the band said otherwise, now for band releasing their debut to not have a complete band is a pretty big deal but while the future of the band is in turmoil currently we have to focus on the music. So what is the music like? Well it is a sum of the bands parts really drawing an influence from all of the members previous bands together to create some metallic hard rock from the opening classical guitar of intro Black Rain which moves straight into the Southern swagger of Small Batch Whiskey which has a sound similar to early Black Stone Cherry, meanwhile Grand Applause is pure Velvet Revolver with Bumblefoot channelling his predecessor in G'N'R with the bluesy rock solos and Weiland showing off his unique voice. Moyer uses his down a dirty bass licks on Superstar which is big, crunchy metal track that bounds along nicely; the albums centrepiece though is Til The Dust Is Gone which is an expressive ballad, the kind that Weiland does so well, driven by Vottas excellent drumming and beautiful classical guitar solo in the middle of it, the album does whiper out towards the end but with this song and a few others on this album Art Of Anarchy have made a strong debut and if they can get their act together then they could produce magic. 7/10

Blackwelder: Survival Of The Fittest (Golden Core Records)

A collaborative 'supergroup' featuring a member of Primal Fear, it seems like I say this a lot on this blog, however for once I'm not talking about the hardest working man in metal Mat Sinner, no Blackwelder features the voice of Primal Fear's Ralf Scheepers along with Hellion/ex Yngwie Malmsteen bassist Bjorn Englen, ex Angra drummer Aquiles Priester and guitarist Andrew Szucs. The band are not your usual power metal fodder either and while the blast beats and lightning guitars are there, the album draws more from the progressive rock sphere Spaceman is the first track to show this off with it's Sci-Fi theme and Scheepers relying on his mid-range and some vocoder to bring the song to life while they bring in more classical influences on the instrumental Adeturi which gives Szucs a chance to show off his neo-classical chops before we err on Priest territory on Freeway Of Life albeit when they were in their Turbo era. Blackwelder manage to fuse prog with metal well but none of the tracks really stand out except for the Blind Guardian-like Remember The Time and the Priest feast of Play Some More. Yes the performances are good, Ralf especially is in fine vocal form as always but for me the songs on this album seem to meld into one, a neo classical riff here, a scream there, rampaging drums and solos galore however there are only a few songs that really grab your attention on this record. It does feel like a stopgap album while the new Primal Fear album is being completed, my anticipation is high for that record unfortunately Survival Of The Fittest doesn't do anything to quell that anticipation I'm afraid. 7/10

Galley Beggar: Silence & Tears (Rise Above)

Now as you may know Rise Above deal in stoner, doom and the occult style of rock and metal however they also provide a home for the wider range of styles. Galley Beggar are the newest members of the roster and they deal in acoustically tinged folk with a focus on the occult psych tinge. As the album kicks off David Ellis and Matt Fowler's acoustic guitars driving the first track Adam & Eve which tells the tale of Adam's downfall to a haunting folk melody, Pay My Body Home has vocalist Maria O Donnell channelling Sandy Denny with her vocals, the Fairport Convention influence continues the traditional jig of Jack Orion which has liberal use of Celine Marshall's violin and harmony vocals to die for. This album is laid back with some clean guitar lines bolstering the acoustics on Geordie (again a traditional song arranged by the band) while Paul Dadswell's drums and Bill Lynn's bass add the rhythmic element to the 'heavier' songs. With bands like Ancient VVisdom playing this kind of stuff for a while there is an appetite for the more sedate style of occult rock. Galley Beggar are doing it with a certain sense of authenticity having the keening female vocals the medieval style music augmented with the acoustic guitars and the violin, with tracks like the chanting anti religion Empty Sky, the choral final track Deliver Him which has a baroque almost religious feel (something that is evident throughout the album) part sparse chamber music, part acoustic psychedelia. The title track is the most telling on the album as it puts the band's unique folk delivery to the words of Lord Byron, the both intertwining perfectly showing that music and poetry will always intertwine. Galley Beggar manage to create some wondrous achingly beautiful music with a lot of soul to it. Well worth checking out if you like anything on the Rise Above roster but also if you want something that is a little different harking back to the 60's folk rock explosion. 9/10

Monday, 22 June 2015

Reviews: Hammer King, Burning Point, Straight Line Stitch

Hammer King: Kingdom Of The Hammer King (Cruz Del Sur)

Hammer King, guess what they play? Yes they are a power metal band from Germany and as such they blast out of your speakers with Teutonic Power Metal in bucket loads (complete with flying hammer album cover). The band was formed by the members of German metal band Ivory Night, with vocalist Titan Fox V also supplying his pipes to Ross The Boss' solo band, this all means that Hammer King are all well versed in OTT power metal and Kingdom Of The Hammer King is no exception, full of chest beating, hammer swinging, battle metal that Ross The Boss' old band did and still do in spades. The album is split up by it's three linking concept tracks in the shape of Kingdom Of The Hammer King, I Am The Hammer King and Glory To The Hammer King all of which tell the story of, surprisingly, The Hammer King. With the rest of the album all linked to the concept but also tell their own stories, songs like I Am The King, Chancellor Of Glory, Blood Angels and We Are The Hammer all having the same dual axe attack from Titan Fox V and Gino Wilde, punishing drums from Dolph A Macallan and bass from K.K Basement along with Fox's soaring vocals that come straight from the off. Now I have mentioned Manowar a few times in this review so far however, and while the band do have elements of Di Maio and co; Hammer King share musical similarities with Sweden's premier power metallers and fellow hammer fanatics Hammerfall with Titan Fox V especially being a dead ringer for Joacim Cans vocally. The album kicks off with the title track that half inches the riff from Iron Fire's Ironhead but starts things off in manly epic way before the speed picks up on I Am The King which could come straight off Glory To The Brave with it's dual guitar attack and backing chants which reappear again on Chancellor Of Glory. The album is filled with big, ballsy, metal songs that punch you in the guts with even 'ballad' Visions Of A Healed World has more in common with Where The Dragon Lies Bleeding than any AOR band and as they conclude with Glory To The Hammer King your fist will be pumping the air and air guitaring along as Fox and Wilde. A hell of an album for all True Metal Believers! 9/10  

Burning Point: Burning Point (AFM)

A self released album is usually a sign of rebirth for an established band and the self titled sixth album is no exception, founding guitarist Pete Ahonen no longer is the voice of the band as he has been since 1999, yes he still provides backing vocals but the lead vocals are now taken over by former Battle Beast frontwoman Nitte Valo who immediately makes and impact on the rampaging In The Shadows. Other than the appointment of Valo, these Finns seem to have kept everything else present and correct on this new album, it is classic sound of guitar and keyboard driven power metal with solos galore and fist pumping riffage from the tow guitarists, keys that fly through every song with, drums that never stop, Nitte's gritty and ear piercing Halfordesque vocals and an arsenal of songs that show this bands talent. The album is a mix of new material in the shape of speedy Find Your Soul, the emotive My Darkest Times, the AOR baiting Queen Of Fire and also older songs re-recorded with Nitte's vocals the pick of the bunch being Blackened The Sun, the neoclassical Dawn Of The Ancient War, the thrashy Signs Of Danger and the bouncy Heart Of Gold. With the right amount of AOR and melodic power metal influences Burning Point have created an album that stays true to their roots while adding the new dimension with the great vocals of Nitte Valo. Burning Point is an album for fans of melodic metal with a some cracking female vocals and it's the start of a strong new chapter in the bands history. 7/10

Straight Line Stitch: Transparency (Pavement)

Straight Line Stitch have been around since 2003 and they have been promoting their brand of aggressive melodic metal since that same year, their last album was released in 2011 and since then the band have concentrated on EP's their last coming in 2014. Now Straight Line Stitch have always blended heavy thrash metal with more modern flourishes and have been critically acclaimed for their song writing and front woman Alexis Brown's vocals, all of this evident on the 6 track EP that starts off with an intro before exploding into the opening riff of Dark Matter that blends rumbling basslines, melodic riff heavy guitars and Brown's amazing vocals that effortlessly switch between keening clean vocals and guttural roars which gives the band a sound akin to In This Moment especially on the brutal, electronically infused Face Of God and the modern metal attack of Wilderness. Straight Line Stitch have constructed a great little treat to warm people up for their new album coming soon, 5 tracks (one intro) of modern, melodic metal bolstered by some hard hitting songs and great vocals. 7/10