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Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Reviews: Rob Zombie, Tremonti, Universal Mind Project

Rob Zombie: The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser (Universal)

The Electric Warlock... is the master of schlock-horror-rock's six album with his solo band, this may seem odd considering how long Zombie has been doing this but when you think he had a career with White Zombie, as well as numerous films, collaborations and world tour's as well as everything else under sun it's a wonder he has time to release anything at all.

This six release comes off the back of 2013's Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor which saw Zombie meld the horror roots rediscovered on Hellbilly Deluxe 2 while maintaining the hard rock edge brought in on Educated Horses. The Electric Warlock...sees Zombie go way back with his beginnings with an album of short sharp songs full of stomping industrial riffage, drenched with horror imagery and B-Movie inserts, Zombie calls it his heaviest album to date and there's no denying that his band made up of the sledgehammer rhythm section of Piggy D and Ginger Fish are key to this contributing the marching power to the Satanic Cyanide! The Killer Rocks On! 

John 5 riffs with the backroom but also adds his trademark obscure flourishes to the songs while Zombie still has his reverbed howls telling tales of vampires, killers, zombies and UFO's who on this record are a little more amorous than they have been before according to the twisted bluegrass of Well, Everybody's Fucking In A U.F.O. I said that Zombie has gone back to his early day on this record and thats never more evident than on The Life And Times Of A Teenage Rock God which sounds remarkably like More Human Than Human.

This album goes by in a bit of a blur really clocking in at just over 30 minutes Zombie obviously wants to get his point across as quickly as possible, A Hearse That Overturns With The Coffin Bursting Open is a little intermission before we are thrown back into the organ drenched The Hideous Exhibitions Of A Dedicated Gore Whore which is destined to become another anthem for every tattooed Goth chick. We get more classic Zombie swagger on In the Age Of The Consecrated Vampire We All Get High which has a nu-metal-like breakdown to it and John 5 showing off his skills. The Electric Warlock... is Zombie bringing back that sound he pretty much invented and he is all the better for it. 8/10

Tremonti: Dust (Fret12)

Last year Mark Tremonti released his second solo album Cauterize to widespread critical acclaim, Tremonti is a recognisable as the guitarist and primary songwriter of both Creed and Alter Bridge but his solo records blend more of his own influences to the records which has always meant that this is more than Alter Bridge part 2. His third record Dust was written and recorded around the same time as Cauterize but since then there has been on a tour and started writing another Alter Bridge record (probably due to Slash having his hands full with Axl meaning Myles is finally free).

It opens in what can be seen now as traditional Tremonti style with a faster more thrash sound than his day job, I've mentioned in previous reviews that Tremonti's voice is good (so much so that it makes you wonder why he has ever bothered with singers) but it's worth mentioning as the next time you praise Myles Kennedy there is a guy next to him that is equally good, however it's on the six strings that Tremonti shows his true calling, his guitar playing is superb, I'm sure guitar nerds can explain why but for the casual listener it's because not only can he write a catchy riff he can also solo like the virtuosos of old effortlessly, with the fret wanking not taking precedence over the songwriting, see The Cage as an example the song builds into the frantic guitar section that just adds that little extra to an already excellent track.

He's aided and abetted by the same team as on the previous records with Gary Whitlock blasting away at the back showing his worth on Once Dead, while Wolfgang Van Halen adds the groovy bottom end that works in unison with Eric Friedman's rhythm playing giving this album it's heavier touch and also lets Mark himself peel off solos at will, everything is once again produced by Michael "Elvis" Baskette meaning that it retains the familiar sound of all of Tremonti's projects.

Dust is not all speed and fury though the title track slows everything down with massive muscular arena ballad and Never Wrong is pure Alter Bridge distilled, still it's on these tracks that Tremonti's vocals are at their best. Dust is the ideal follow on from it's predecessor with the right mix of melodic modern heavy metal tracks (Catching Fire) with the odd slower song (Unable To See) interspersed throughout, on this third record nothing has changed but it's all the better Tremonti continues to produce quality music. 8/10 

Universal Mind Project: The Jaguar Priest (Inner Wound)

OK Universal Mind Project is yet another metal opera concept release, but the question is always the same on any album that is like this; can it hold it's own against Ayreon and Avantasia which are possibly the most successful metal opera's around. Well from a personal standpoint anything that features the amazing vocals of Darkwater's Henrik Båth is enough to gain my attention, but add to this the siren song of Greek goddess Elina Laivera and a host of guest vocalists in the shape of Pagan's Mind man Nils K Rue, Epica/Mayan grunter Mark Jensen, original Dream Theater singer Charlie Dominici and Diego Valdez of Argentinian metal band Helker mean vocally at least the band have some serious clout. Happily musically they are also superb with incredible guitarist Michael Alexander (co-founder of the band with Laivera) creating some seriously impressive symphonic/progressive metal that combines the sound of Epica, with the a bit of Rhapsody, some Dream Theater and the electro-metal of Amaranthe all part of the mix.

Alexander has recruited a number of high quality musician's to form the band, in the engine room providing the galloping rhythms and kick drum galore are Symphony X's Mike LePond on bass (on two tracks at least) and Luca Trulli's Rhapsody's Alex Landenburg behind the kit (although Vision Divine's Alessandro Bissa, plays on 5 of the tracks) the keys are supplied by Astra's Emanuele Casali and Johan Reinholz from prog metal band Andromeda is there to help out Alexander on the six string front. With these band members their is a lot more scope of the whole album becoming live concern and on the record it means that there is more of band feel than this just being an Alexander solo project. The record opens with the uplifting Anthem For Freedom which is a strong start to the record with twisting, turning track that sprints to the finish opening the album by showing all the band in full flight, Anthem For Freedom and first single Truth display the multiple vocal approach with the trademark grunts of Mark Jansen used as a counterpoint to Båth and Laivera giving the track light and shade before Alexander cuts in with some mouthwateringly intense guitar playing exhibiting his virtuosity on this track and throughout the record.

Nils K Rue can be heard soaring above the other two vocalists on The Bargain Of Lost Souls and Dominici still has the commanding yet melodic vocals he had all those years ago on When Dream And Day Unite the dark horse though is Valdez who stirs my interest in listening to Helker as his Dio-like vocals are powerful and blend so well with the two main vocalists. With an album of top notch progressive/power metal I hope there is scope to bring this album alive on the stage as with an interesting Science Fiction story and serious cast of characters all adding their stamp to the songs making each one interesting and different, the two middle tracks veer into AOR, Seven has a massive melodic chorus in it bolstered by twinkling keys and A World That Burns is a showcase for Laivera's vocals complimented by just a piano.

These two tracks build up into the final three songs on the album two of which are over 8 minutes long and fulfil the albums progressive quota perfectly, with the title track especially changing pace and time signatures at will. UMP is a terrific concept with some top class musicians, yes it doesn't have the star power of Avantasia or Ayreaon but that's not really the point it's about the quality of the songs as part of an album and The Jaguar Priest is quality from beginning to end. 9/10   

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Reviews: Anti-Clone, The Hypothesis, Fear Of Domination

Anti-Clone: The Root Of Man (PHD)

"Holy shit this is heavy" these were the initial thoughts I had when The Root Of Man exploded out of my speakers, this band are angry, confrontational and extremely brutal, drawing from the Nu-Metal sound of the early 2000's but with some Meshuggah-style palm muted riffage and guttural vocals that means they can also appeal to fans of the NIN, Marilyn Manson, Korn and most importantly Slipknot a band that Anti-Clone the closest to musically, they have the same mix of extreme styles working for them, the duality (no pun intended) in the vocals moving from a hollered clean to a soul trembling roar in an instant.

The Iowa natives are key Anti-Clone's visual element too as all five members are decked out masks and matching uniforms that hide their identity and allow them to embrace their horrific freakiness. Switchblade is one of the track's that will bring the 18 legged killing machine to mind the most coupled with Matt Hyde's (who produced All Hope Is Gone and The Blackening) severe production which bolsters the metal assault, meaning every single drum hit, bass thump, slicing riff and roared vocal makes your ears ring in the loudest most unrelenting way possible.

Anti-Clone hail from Boston, Lincolnshire (murder capital of Britain apparently) and this rallying against the norm influences their sound in every aspect, A Sight For Sewn Eyes has Korn-esque bassline and programming, before breaks into the Deftones style droning chorus in the middle, the tech-infused groove of Twisted Neck is the nearest thing to a slow song on this record but it still manages to take a sledgehammer to your head, then you get thrown a curveball by Mechanical Heart which has some widdling guitars on top of the devastating chug of the bass and drums with some EDM in the background to mix it up, after Mechanical Heart we get the more traditional fair of Feed The Machine which has rapid rap metal style vocals and a progressive nature, then the band go into the more melodic Comaspace which is a showcase for the incredible vocals.

Anti-Clone are made up of Mr Clone (vocals), Con and Lam (guitars), Mike (bass) and Drew (drums), The Root Of Man is their debut album but it is such an accomplished piece of work that you would never know, the band sound like they have been developing in Satan's womb and have now burst out Hell fully formed and ready to obliterate everything with 11 rip snorting slices of modern metal mastery and stage show that is apparently like a fight in an asylum, Anti Clone have set themselves up as ones to watch. 8/10         

The Hypothesis: Origin (Inverse Records)

Yet more heaviness now, but this time with some searing dual guitar work to boot. Finnish melodic death metal upstarts The Hypothesis released their first EP in 2010 but have only just released their debut record Origin. The band feature members or former members of Paradise Lost, Vallenfyre, Red Moon Architect, Dimebag Beyond Forever, Dead Shape Figure and Naildown. With a gestation period of six years the band have something to prove and despite their name there is no hypothesizing at a mere 37 minutes the band are straight in from the first song, which shows their melodic style from the opening moments as the synths start everything and then they are off and shredding the grinding guitars and whirlwind drumming are immediate with a flurry of technical precision.

The synths layer everything perfectly giving the band a sound similar to fellow Finns Children Of Bodom as the lazer guided riffs coupled with the synths perfectly to give the band elements of an industrial sound, but mostly they stay into the Gothenberg style of melodic death metal from Soilwork with nods to more cinematic style of Xerath and Fleshgod Apocalypse. Both guitarists play off each other on every song while the barrage of drumming destroys all in it's path, the vocals too are a snarled scarred roar but audible too which makes them more appealing, it's both the songs pace and the synths that make this album an enjoyable listen, there is no let up in the audio assault from start to finish it's a masterclass in melodic-death metal, with moments that make you sit up and listen, like the clean vocals on Atonement or the genuinely impressive guitar playing that comes throughout. Origin is definitely worth the wait it's 37 minutes of non-stop impressive metal. 7/10   

Fear Of Domination: Atlas (Inverse Records)

Once again we head to Finland but this time for a more Gothic industrial sound with Fear Of Domination, the band have been doing the rounds since 2007 and Atlas is their fourth album. The band deal in industrial tinged death metal with a heavy groove base from the almost robotic rhythm section beating with military precision, the bottom end rumbling strongly, as for the guitars they are very much rinse and repeat, there's no flashy solos just riff after pulverizing riff, giving the songs the forward march of a boot stomping the ground (or a face).

With the riffage taken care of we get the nitty gritty of the sound with some barked singing that is clean but delivered with harshly, as with most of the bands that fall under the industrial banner it's the synths, sampling and sequencer lines that give the band their driving force and it means that songs like El Toro have the same blitzkrieg sound as Rammstein and Fear Factory albeit with a touch of the modern goth of HIM, it also means that they can bring a bit of dark, dirty sexually charged lyrics of Genitorturers or Raunchy with Carnival Apocalypse but also some symphonic metal touches too on Messiah with the lilting female chorus vocals. Atlas is a dark, electronically backed metal album that fuses epic industrial synths with grinding metal fury, if you plan on getting the new Zombie album I also suggest you pick up Atlas by Fear Of Domination as you won't regret it. 7/10

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Reviews: Knifeworld, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Red Handed Denial

Knifeworld: Bottled Out Of Eden (InsideOut)

Kavus Torabi is somewhat of a prog polymath having had stints in Gong, Guapo, The Mediaeval Baebes and The Cardiacs, he is also the driving force and founding member of psychedelic prog-rockers Knifeworld. Bottled Out Of Eden is the band's third album and it once again comes from left-field with a fusion of styles and melting pot of instruments coming together in another mind expanding, colourful, trip though Torabi's psychedelic journey. Bottled Out Of Eden starts off with High/Aflame which has murmuring synths from Emmett Elvin laying down the bass for Torabi's reverbed, enunciated English vocal.

When the rest of the band kicks in it's the mixture of instruments that immediately grabs you yes there is bass and drums from Charlie Cawood and Ben Woollacott, as well as guitar from Torabi but the band are known for their use of wind instruments with Chole Herrington's bassoon a lead instrument on the opening track and throughout while she also contributes alto sax with Josh Pearl as Oliver Sellwood gives the baritone sax. With the use of wind instruments it gives Knifeworld a very unique sound indeed pitching it somewhere between Syd Barett's Pink Floyd, Anathema and modern proggers like Von Hertzen Bros, the songs are shorter than many prog bands meaning that there is no suffering with the elongated instrumental sections but the album still packs in lots of virtuoso performances.

The pacey piano and sax driven The Germ Inside is the song that sound most like the Von Hertzen Bros with it's hard rock drive and hand claps which leads into leads into I Am Lost which moves between Latin jazz, more classical influences and haunting ambiance, it also shows off the dual vocal harmonising of Torabi and Melanie Woods which is employed to great effect throughout, this jazzier number is followed by the percussive chant of The Deathless before Foul Temple slows everything as an acoustically led number that works as break from the dense musical palette created on the rest of the record. Everyone involved in this record comes from various backgrounds and styles and it shows especially on the beautiful Lowered Into Necromancy which just bubbles away like a brook before A Dream About A Dream is a track that brings everything neatly together switching time signatures and styles throughout.

Knifeworld are ethereal, pastoral and technicolor in their approach to music with almost boundless creativity, Secret Worlds adds an element of Simon & Garfunkel to the album before Feel The Sorcery ends the album with an upbeat style that mirrors the album's opening and ends the record in very impressive style injecting just that last shot of innovation at the end. Bottled Out Of Eden is yet another superb album from Knifeworld and one that reinforces their stake as one of prog's most intriguing bands. 9/10 

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: Nonagon Infinity (ATO Records)

Are King Gizzard the most prolific band of recent years? Well it seems like it as since 2012 the band have released two albums every year with Nonagon Infinity being their eighth release in total, the seven piece band have a huge amount of influences on show and these are distilled into every single psychedelic drop of this record. Frontman Stu MacKenzie describes it as "never-ending album" suggesting that the nine songs on the record are "connected by musical motifs which flow 'seamlessly' into each other" MacKenzie says that final track Road Train links "straight back into the top of the opener like a sonic mobius strip".

It's hard to argue with him as that is exactly what happens with this record that can be seen as one long track with every single part linking into the next one like on long journey into the madness of the Lizard Wizard. What I've always liked about the band is their frantic almost impatient way of playing meaning that their records are very true to their explosive live show. Robot Stop starts the record with their trademark rapid delivery driven by bass, drums and grungy fuzzy guitars, the pace quickens again on the melodic surf style Big Fat Wasp. With four guitars working with flute, synth, harmonica and theremin to give the band it's spacey, Hawkwind style sound.

First single Gamma Knife maintains the immediacy of the record as does People-Vultures which has some Indian flavours to it while Mr Beat finally slows down with some 60's psychedelia, which actually goes through this entire album including on the production. Nonagon Infinity is yet another quality addition to this band's repertoire that works completely as an album but when the songs are hand picked for the live shows they will be able to stand on their own. 7/10    

Red Handed Denial: Wanderer (Self Released)

Toronto band Red Handed Denial are something a little different as well as a little interesting, Manipulator starts the record with a djent style palm-muted riff and some heavy groove but it's Lauren Babic's soaring, angsty vocals that bring to mind Hayley Williams of Paramore fame that on this record work as the perfect counterpoint to the heavyweight rhythm section behind it. With odd time signatures on Widowmaker the band flex their prog credentials working along the same lines as Tesseract or indeed old-school math rockers InMe with the frantic flowing lead guitars weaving in and out of the bruising backline, especially on Collector which merges emo-punk with technical proficiency and shows that Babic's vocals can rip your throat out as she displays a fantastic metalcore roar.

On Widowmaker the song changes pace and timing on several occasions before a piano plays out the track, the title track ends the record in a progressive jazz-odyssey with clean guitars and acoustics doing their bit to help the record drift away on the final moments of this EP, changing the pace entirely from the jarring heaviness at work on the first track. Wanderer is a great EP from the Canadian five piece who meld numerous styles together to get a distinctly modern and unique sound, check this band out if you like things a little different and if you want to while away a boring day in work their youtube videos are great especially their cover of Dirty Diana. 8/10     

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Reviews: Diamond Head, Texas Hippie Coalition, Savage Master (Reviews By Paul)

Diamond Head: Diamond Head (Dissonance)

It’s well-worn history about the influence that Stourbridge’s Diamond Head had on the early thrash movement. We all know the much celebrated Metallica covers of Am I Evil, The Prince and Helpless and if you’ve been to any festival over the past ten years there is a strong chance that you’ll have caught Brian Tatler’s outfit playing those songs. And therein lies the problem for Diamond Head. Forever fated to be one of the bands that influenced arguably the biggest metal band of all time. But with a catalogue of largely mediocre hard rock tunes.

Move forward 40 years from their original formation and Tatler remains the only constant from those late 1970s days. However, the core of 2016’s Diamond Head are all long serving members. Bassist Eddie Moohan and drummer Ken Wilcox had served in the band prior to their split in the mid-1990s and were both back in the fold by 2002; rhythm guitarist Andy Abberley is now in his tenth year. The one relatively new addition is vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen, who joined the ranks in 2014.
Diamond Head is a solid slab of hard rock. It isn’t going to tear up any trees and it won’t go platinum. It does however make you feel good, with a simplistic formula for the majority of the tracks which will appeal to the band’s fan base and to the average classic rock fan. Opener Bones is a quality rocking tune, whilst See You Rise contains a catchy riff which would encourage you to break the speed limit if you were pumping it through the stereo. Tatler demonstrates what we always knew; he is an excellent guitarist, peeling off solos for pleasure. The band are solid and the production is decent and in Andersen they have a vocalist with a typically radio rock friendly voice. It’s clean, it’s strong and unfortunately it sits in the same bucket as about a million others.

All The Reasons You Live smoulders with some delicious synth work adding depth to the track; a crunching riff underpins the song and Andersen gives the performance of the album whilst Tatler’s subtle guitar work is fantastic. It’s a great hard rock song, laced with AOR flavour. Wizard Sleeve transports you back to the 1980 debut Lightning For The Nations, such is its old school feel and style. You can really hear the origins of Diamond Head in this track, with a massive nod to the power of bands of the time; think Budgie. However, as the album reaches the final furlong, the songs tire somewhat. Our Time Is Now, Speed and Diamond are pretty run of the mill staples. Album closer Silence is a different matter altogether though. Full of Egyptian promise, soaring and sweeping, it builds magnificently to a roaring crescendo.

I am in genuine awe that Diamond Head still have the energy to craft and deliver a new album, 36 years after their debut release. They won’t set the world on fire with this release. However, they are an important band in the history of our much loved style of music and deserve respect. A solid if unspectacular return. 6/10

Texas Hippie Coalition: Dark Side Of Black (Carved Records)

Back in late 2014 I reviewed Ride On, the fourth release from rednecks Texas Hippie Coalition or THC. At the time I commented “This is decent, honest, American heavy metal delivered with quality and a vocal style from Big Dad Ritch which merges the grit of Anselmo with the balls of Ryan McCombs.” Well, roll on 18 months and THC are back with a quite superb follow up. Dark Side Of Black is 40 minutes of aggressive, gritty and passionate Southern rock which once again has a massive range of influences. The Southern Skynyrd style sound remains, especially in the slightly slower Knee Deep. However, the band have merged even more styles with a huge chunk of Clutch, a splash of Monster Magnet and even the hardened edge of Hatebreed evident; take a listen to Gods Are Angry for aural confirmation. Once again the vocal delivery of Big Dad Ritch dominates. This man has a huge sound, a voice that convinces you that he walks it as he talks it. Opener Come And Get It once again has the Coombs flavour, albeit with a hint of Neil Fallon.

As on their previous release, the sound is massive, with the same line-up delivering the goods from every angle. Angel Fall erupts into a track that would cause huge pit action in the live arena before a measured chorus and hook level it out whilst Shakin’ Baby has the Godsmack edge. THC may not challenge too much with the lyrical content, sexual innuendo and straight forward sexual intent all  present, but the drive and sheer addictive style allows you to immerse yourself in the driving riffs, powerhouse drumming and rampaging bass lines whilst BCH stomps a mud hole with his quite fantastic voice. It’s addictive stuff and impossible not to nod the head to. I defy you to listen to the hook on Into The Wall and sit still. Penultimate track Hit It Again screams Wyndorf, a seven-minute beat that would sit comfortably on a monster magnet release. I gave Ride On a 7/10. Well, the boys have upped their game with their latest offering. Top quality stuff. 8/10

Savage Master: With Whips and Chains (High Roller Records)

Whether it was William Booth or Charles Wesley who said “why should the Devil have all the best tunes” is open to much debate. Whoever it was, they were both fortunate not to have been around to listen to the complete antithesis of that statement in Savage Master, a female fronted occult metal outfit from Louisville, Kentucky. Amazingly this is their sophomore release, following on from their 2014 debut Mask Of The Devil and 2015’s EP Black Hooves. Now, if you want a band to demonstrate why heavy metal is still mocked in certain quarters, just take a look at their promo shots. Whilst I fully support a person’s right to dress and express themselves in whatever way they wish, singer Stacey Peak does her gender no favours at all, clad in minimal leather, all eyes front and centre on her cleavage. Much like the awful Butcher Babies, it is hard enough for female singers to be taken seriously in this male dominated genre; conforming to every stereotype does them no favours at all. I don’t see Doro or Christina dressing like this. The rest of the band wear hoods! Yes, fucking hoods. Although this was clearly intended to provide a sinister effect it actually just makes them look like total dicks

Anyway this would be a slightly academic debate if Savage Master were any good but alas, they are dreadful. I can’t work out if the band are tongue in cheek with their lyrical content but I have my doubts. Satan’s Crown, Black Hooves, Ready To Sin and the dire Path Of The Necromancer all have the typically occult themed lyrical content: mention of covens, witches, Satan and the like. The title track is a plodding dull affair, routine heavy metal at its most average. Whilst the core of the band can play their instruments perfectly well, everything is destroyed by Peak’s appalling voice. It came as no surprise to read that Savage Master had supported Grave Digger in the States. Another band with a singer who could be sued under the Trade Descriptions Act. Peak’s vocals are just awful, out of tune and screaming like a wounded cat all over a collection of pretty ponderous tracks; Burned At The Stake and Vengeance Is Steel are particularly bad.  For fans of Cirith Ungol, Bitch and early Mercyful Fate says their web page. Well, they’ve certainly captured the production feel of 1984 on this release. All the acoustic quality of a Wetherspoon’s toilet. Luckily their forthcoming European tour doesn’t stop in the UK. Long may that continue. 3/10

Friday, 29 April 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Eradication Festival

Eradication Festival Day 1 Friday, Fuel Rock Club 

Eradication Festival has become a bit of a staple event in the Cardiff metal calendar, it tends to attract high caliber bands that are from the more extreme side of the metalsphere, this year their line up was the biggest ever with the Friday thrash dominated line up having the most well known bands. Headlined by Shrapnel and featuring Reign Of Fury, Divine Chaos and Incinery, it was perfect introduction to some of the most exciting bands on the thrash/death scene, all in one place. 

The festival itself started around 1pm on the Friday but due to work constraints myself and my heavy loving buddy Lee managed to turn up just after Oakhaart (7) had kicked off, the bands progressive/techincal style metal was a breath of fresh air for those expecting thrash all day as the songs were proggy and had a clinical precision about them, their vocalist too had the best vocal of the entire night effortlessly moving from pained scream to an aggressive growl through to a powerful Warrell Dane-croon (he also sports a fine skullett) the Gloucester band's set was over before they could really get going (something that would repeat itself numerous times) but they were a strong opening. 

Next up after a long set up were Birmingham thrashers Eradikator (6) who play thrash with a more modern edge blending Metallica with bands such as Machine Head and even Evile, as good as this sounds, they were let down massively by the sound of their set, every time frontman/bassist Pat Cox stepped up to the mic there was almighty feedback which at times actually hurt, this dampened my enjoyment of their set and meant that a few of the punters pulled back and retreated to the bar, this is a shame for Eradikator who I was looking froward to and when there was no feedback they sounded good, despite the guitars dropping out a few time making everything a bit bass heavy but I guess I'll just have to wait to see them again to really see how well they do. 

Another changeover that was almost as long as the sets themselves and it was time for Nottingham's Incinery (7) now they managed to shake up the room a little bit, many of those who had gathered early were decked out in Incinery patches showing that they had a lot of support in the room, this was obvious to see when the band kicked off, they provided a relentless battery of thrash with all of the band destroying their instruments and their frontman echoing Phil Anselmo in his early days snarling and commanding the stage spitting some violent growls which proved them to be a heavier angrier prospect than the previous band. Still the sound problems had not gone away and once again there was feedback that was distracting but the band were received well by the partisan crowd and finished strong. Myself and Lee then took a bit from the battery and popped to get some food, thankful that the venue was no more than five minutes from the still bustling St Mary's street which has many fine eateries, although a Greggs was more attractive than anything else, eating on the run we came back into the venue just before the next band kicked off. 

The next band in question was Wretched Soul (8) from Canterbury who's t-shirt bore the title "A Curse Upon Your Christ" which really is all you need to know, the band play incredibly technical death metal, with songs about the hypocrisy of religion delivered in a devastatingly heavy style, for a four piece the band rattle your brain with a cannon-like bottom end from drummer Andy Clifford and bassist Luke Mayall, while guitarist Steve Clifford shreds like a beast allowing the towering Viking-like frontman Chris Simmons to unleash his unbelievably wide vocal range going from the depths of hell to the thunder gods up high with his booming pipes. Wretched Soul got the ovation they truly deserved although a few down the front came out looking a bit dazed, possibly from the concussion that took place on stage. 

There seemed to be a longer gap between the switch over of bands but finally everything was sorted and it was time for the first of the last three bands to hit the stage, with most of the crowd just recovering from the brutal assault of Wretched Soul it was time for more explosive death-infected thrash with Divine Chaos (7) the band took tot he stage with a lot of power and a distinctly modern edge and a hostility that befitted their politician baiting lyrics and thrash metal fury, the band were technical and melodic with more harsh vocals that were surprisingly audible considering the sound problems earlier in the night, Divine Chaos do pissed off very well and rumbled through their set at a terrifying pace before finishing to a appreciative crowd. 

As the room filled with more punters you could feel the excitement grow and rightly so as the next band surely are headliners in their own right, due to the amount of t-shirts and patches visible at the front it was not just me that was looking forward to Reign Of Fury (8) the five piece from Cheltenham dove straight into their Anthrax-meets-Maiden style of classic thrash metal that brings in some traditional metal and progressive metal motifs to it. The band seemed to be having a blast shuffling and posturing around the small stage that saw bassist Paul Bielby and guitarist Jon Preistly trying to out do the other with their posturing and gurning, all while Magic Dave obliterated his kit (twice), the recent addition of guitarist Ross Lenny McLennan stood a stoic figure as he soloed for his life all while Bison Steed sang with the most melodic delivery of the night but it was the bands more traditional sound that made them stand out form the rest of the bands on the night, they were clearly having a blast on stage and even invited a lot of assembled rabble onto the stage to sing as a gang shout 'choir' for Born To Die (Dying To Live) before kicking them all back off and ending the set with the 8 minute epic World Detonation from their debut album of the same name. With the reception Reign Of Fury got they had definitively laid down a gauntlet for the headliners to take up. 

As the room cleared for the final time, there was possibly the longest set up of the entire evening before the headliners took to the stage but finally they did and we were off with the last band of the night Norwich's Shrapnel (7) now I last saw the band at Hammerfest a few years ago now and while they are entertaining I hoped that they would have expanded their sound a little since then but no apparently the band are quite content with sounding exactly like Slayer, I mean it's uncanny they stick to the Slayer sound for most of their songs except for when they sound like Kreator and Exodus, now I know thrash is not the most progressive genre, very rarely does a band come along doing something different, but Shrapnel unfortunately fall into those bands that border on pastiche, I think maybe if the roles had been reversed and Reign of Fury had come after Shrapnel then I could have been more forgiving of them, but as it stands myself and Lee left before Shrapnel concluded their set (myself having been up for nearly 20 hours by this point). 

Eradication is one hell of a festival and so I've heard day 2 and 3 were equally as good (I couldn't attend due to outside factors, namely work) showcasing the best local and underground death and black metal, however personally I think the Friday line up had more recognisable bands and therefore should have taken place a day later as many of the afternoon bands attracted smaller crowds due to work constraints. Still with an Open Air festival planned for the summer this local D.I.Y festival is going from strength to strength and as a supporter of the local scene this can only be a good thing.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Reviews: Tiles

Tiles: Pretending 2 Run (The Laser's Edge)

If you've never heard of Detroit natives Tiles before then get your head around these figures, Pretending 2 Run is their first studio album in 8 years, their sixth overall, it clocks in at massive 92 minutes over two discs, it was produced by long-time Rush producer Terry Brown and has the artwork designed by Hugh Syme who has also worked with the legendary Canadian band. Now if all of this doesn't scream prog then I'm afraid you are reading the wrong blog, Tiles are most definitely a prog band and one that I first was aware of on their last album Fly Paper (which had Alex Lifeson playing on it) since then I have worked retrospectively through their discography and I have gained a higher appreciation for their talent as a band. So it was with a lot of excitement that found out that they were finally releasing their follow up to Fly Paper. Tiles have always struck me as a mixture of Rush and Dream Theater, so they are following the age old tradition of prog double albums, due to the records length and varying styles there is always room for guests and Pretending 2 Run is no different with Jethro Tull mainman Ian Anderson, ex-Dream Theater/Winery Dog/Flying Colours man Mike Portnoy and his son Max, jazz guitarist Mike Stern, vocals from long term contributor Matthew Parmenter, bass from former Tiles and Artension man Kevin Chown, extra synths and programming from Steven Wilson alumni Colin Edwin and Adam Holzman as well as a string section and a choir to really add to the bombastic nature of this record.

Still with all the additional help on this record to give it the huge sound it needs to really create a soundscape, it's the four members of the band that work the hardest with Jeff Whittle and Chris Herin the major factors to the sound Whittle providing the intricate, jazz infected bass work, Herin the soaring guitar melodies, deft acoustics and towering solos with both of them sharing the keys (Herin also gives us a blast of trumpet too). Accompanying the two guitars is the impressive percussive talent of Mike Evans who is every song's anchor playing in such a way that when Portnoy takes over on Stonewall and Fait Accompli unless you know that it is him playing you wouldn't be aware, Evans is great drummer in his own right channeling Jazz and rock into his playing as well as the obvious nods to Peart. Finally once again Tiles' vocalist Paul Rarick gets to impress with his vocal power and his wide range that has elements of James La Brie but with a broader scope to it.

The first disc doesn't ease you in, immediately you are confronted by complex instrumental pieces, rapid stylistic changes, dense levels of instrumentation, with the slow burning title track building up into the more Eastern influenced Shelter In Place and the classic rock of Stonewall. There are French inserts throughout linking things together meaning you really have to listen to the album to appreciate it, Drops Of Rain has a Beatles/Cheap Trick sound with a lot of cymbals, walking bassline and poppy guitars, this is juxtaposed with the previous instrumental the rougher Voir Dire and leads into the impressive 10 minute plus Taken By Surprise which is followed Refugium which can only be described as Chamber Music, then the first disc ends with Small Fire Burning and the listener has already run a gamut of sounds before even getting to the more free flowing second album.

With the first being more like a classic Tiles record, the second has more tracks at shorter lengths, meaning there is more of collective sound as one song segues into the next, with intermezzos and transitions the order of the day. It starts with the Afro-beat Midwinter which builds traditional wind instruments on top of dark electro, much like the pre and post So Peter Gabriel sound, second song Weightless is the longest song on the second disc and brings the King Crimson-like prog vibe with the liberal use of sax abound and a huge chorus, while Battle Weary is a more laid back folky affair, Meditatio is another chamber song that moves into a bubbling synth track that explodes into the ELP-style The Disappearing Floor. Pretending 2 Run is a progressive masterpiece, it may be overwhelming for some but after a few listens the 90 plus minute album drip feeds you it's secrets meaning that every time you listen you hear something new and interesting, with so many great prog albums this year already, Pretending 2 Run could possibly be the best. 10/10       

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Reviews: Hawkwind, Lita Ford, Dave Brock (Reviews By Paul)

Hawkwind: The Machine Stops (Cherry Red)

This is a concept album as concept albums should be. Based on the futuristic novel by EM Forster, The Machine Stops follows the descent from utopian dream into dystopian nightmare in a world where man is dependent on the omnipotent machine that he created.

Delivered in typical Hawkwind style, the album dives and swirls, driving space rock juxtaposed with poetry and calm melancholy alongside the usual bizarre shorts (Yum-Yum).
A few things really stand out. Firstly, this release demonstrates that Hawkwind are still capable of delivering some brilliant stuff. Synchronised Blues for example is them at the top of their game. Driving bass lines, crashing riffs and rolling drumming mixing perfectly with soaring synths and harmonious vocals of Mr Dibs and Dave Brock. Hexagone, written and performed entirely by Dead Fred is haunting and stunning in equal measure.

Secondly, Hawkwind have faithfully  followed Forster’s storytelling to create a soundtrack that is instantly recognisable to those fortunate enough to have devoted a few hours to reading the book. Thirdly, if you don't like Hawkwind then this album will not change your mind one iota. The Machine Stops contains all the craziness that the Hawks have been so famous for over the years. This includes the electronica and synth based dance fusion which they dabbled with in the 1990s, for example on King Of The World and The Harmonic Wall. And yet it is the driving space rock which still gets the blood pulsing the most; check out The Machine, A Solitary Man or Thursday.

Finally, The Machine Stops slots right into the Hawkwind live set as witnessed on their very recent date in Cardiff. New tracks from the album stood comfortably alongside old classics and yet the older stuff fitted superbly with the overall concept show. Who else could slot in Orgone Accumulator and Assault And Battery into a show based on their new album with such ease. The band may be getting on in years but The Machine Stops demonstrates that there is plenty of life left in Hawkwind yet. All hail the machine! All hail Hawkwind. 9/10

Lita Ford: Time Capsule (SPV)

The last time I heard Lita Ford was around 1988 when the awful Kiss Me Deadly was raging on MTV. Having returned from a lengthy hiatus in 2008 and released two albums in 2009 and 2012, Time Capsule sees Ford return with a release that borders on mediocre for the majority of the album whilst plunging to the absolute pits on occasion. Killing Kind is absolute dirge, radio friendly rock which Motley Crüe peddled so successfully. Christ, there's  a flipping banjo or ukele lurking on this one deep in the mix.

Ford’s mezzo soprano remains  pretty powerful, with her LA drawl still evident. However, her song writing, which to be fair was never brilliant, now verges between Bon Jovi-lite and Poison. War Of The Angels is ghastly, whilst Rotten To The Core is average pop rock at best. Suddenly there appears an instrumental cover of Little Wing, the Hendrix classic, which throws a real curve ball as it's actually not that bad. The rest of the release is just pedestrian, with tracks like On The Fast Track, another instrumental plodding along with some laboured guitar work, King Of The Wild Wind (yawn) and Mr Corruption following the same formulaic delivery. I was never the biggest fan of Lita, even though her sexually charged image appealed to a teenage lad in the 1980s. Much like Lee Aaron (who's also released a new album recently), the music was so often a letdown after the titillation. This is another tease which leads nowhere. 4/10

Dave Brock: Brockworld (Hawkward Records)

As well as releasing close to 30 studio albums with Hawkwind, David Anthony Brock has also released several solo releases, with Brockworld his latest and 11th. Released late in 2015,  as one would expect, it holds true to the main sound of Hawkwind, with thumping bass lines, swirling oscillators and the Westone guitar riff uniquely Brock’s. As the album unwinds, psychedelic space rock intersperses with more unusual instrumentals with a variety of colourfully choreographed tracks. Life Without Passion is pretty straightforward for Brock, who then kicks out the jams in an orgy of Hammond, driving bass, crashing drums, wailing guitar and oscillating synths during Manipulation. Building on 2012’s Looking For Love In The Land Of Lost Dreams, Brockworld really is an eclectic collection of individual compositions which range from space rock to abstract craziness. Domain Of Those Who Fly is just batshit crazy. Not content with the space rock, Brock turns his attention to dance fusion, Getting Old and a Single Man, piano concerto ramblings in The Last Tango and thumping electronica in Horizon. For a man who is nearly three quarters of a century old, Dave Brock is an enigma whose enthusiasm for music outside of the mainstream shows no sign of slowing. This is an album you'll either love or hate. I think it's brilliant. 8/10