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Saturday, 21 April 2018

Reviews: Anthrax, Psychework, Alghazanth, Stonefield (Reviews By Paul)

Anthrax: Kings Among Scotland (Nuclear Blast)

Few bands are held with as much affection in the UK as Anthrax. They cross the generations with ease, their gigs filled with old school metalheads who were there when Fistful Of Metal and Spreading The Disease first hit the shelves alongside younger fans who know the legend, the music but may be discovering the band’s powerhouse live performances for the first time. Kings Among Scotland captures the band at full throttle during the For All Kings European tour in 2017. Recorded at a sold-out Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow on 15th February 2017, the band bulldoze their way through a set which contained mainly classics that Anthrax have been churning out for three decades, along with three from For All Kings and the sole track from Worship Music, namely Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t

Given the number of live albums the band has released, it’s unlikely that there will be much in the versions of Among The Living, Antisocial and Indians that will differ from other releases but Evil Twin, a superb Blood Eagle Wings and Breathing Lightning all stand up solidly. Joey Belladona is on fine form, his vocals continuing to hit the high notes with relative ease, his interaction with the crowd focused. Scott Ian’s gruff backing vocals remain comical with his predictable halting of the war dance during Indians now as staple as some of the set list. The Glaswegian crowd is fired up, their participation during Be All, End All impressive. Newish guitarist Jonathan Donais’ lead work is slick and feisty, whilst the dependable engine room of Ian, Frank Bello and Charlie Benante underpin everything, Benante’s drumming particularly ferocious.

Whilst the new music is more interesting to those of us who’ve been around the block a few times with the New Yorkers, the classics are what really pulls the crowds. The return of A.I.R. as an opener is pleasing whilst the stomp of Among The Living, Caught In A Mosh, A Skeleton In The Closet and Efilgnikufecin (N.F.L) are rightly heralded as early thrash monsters. Having missed this tour, I’m sure it’s a decent representation of the current Anthrax live show, and the full two-hours to boot. I’m always disappointed that the band completely ignore the John Bush era material as there are some real gems there but with Belladona now firmly back in the fold it is perhaps understandable. 8/10

Psychework: Karelian Hills (Ranka Kustannus)

We reviewed the debut release from these Finns back in October 2016, giving it a solid 7/10. Psychework return with album number 2, another 50 minutes of symphonic metal with Antony Parvianen once again delivering the operatic vocals. There is little variation from The Dragon’s Year in terms of approach or sound, with the band maintaining the Kamelot/Rhapsody/Avantasia style story telling epics. The power metal elements remain pleasingly front and centre, with the machine gun style drumming of new member Konsta Vehkala keeping everything on track. 

The melody is maintained, whilst Sky Keeps Raining has a hauntingly eerie piano riff which lingers long in the memory. Fury And The Beast’s Alestorm style accordion irritates The seven-minute title track eases the irritation with it’s combination of fast and slower paced passages, although Parvianen’s Dickinson style vocals struggle a little. Fire Still Burns is a challenge, with the choral parts decidedly cheesy but the closing duo of Ghost Patrol and the ten-minute epic There Beyond restore faith in an album that you’ll either really enjoy or hate. 7/10

Alghazanth: Eight Coffin Nails (Woodcut Records)

Sometimes a bit of mystery is good. I’ve never heard of Finnish symphonic black metal outfit Alghazanth prior to getting hold of Eight Coffin Nails, which is their eighth full release in a journey which started back in 1995. Eight Coffin Nails is the band’s first release since 2013’s Three Faced Pilgrim and ticks all the boxes for symphonic black metal with snarling, throaty vocals screaming over blast beating drumming and huge soaring sweeps of full speed riffing. The comparisons with many black metal bands are inevitable but given their years in the business, Alghazanth can be considered masters of their trade. 

Their panoramic sound enveloping the listener through the opening tracks Self-Exiled and Facing The North, strings increasing the intensity as the gnarly vocals of Thasmorg curdle blood over the top of the vast guitar work of Vexd and Mordant. By the time you reach the finale, the nine-minute To Flames The Flesh, you should be drawn deeply into an album that is magnificently structured, its reach profound and visceral. 8/10

Stonefield: Far From Earth (Flightless)

Darraweit Guim. Yeah, exactly. Stonefield, four sisters whose third album Far From Earth hail from this small town in rural Victoria, Australia. Having played together since 2006, Far From Earth is an impressive release, mixing rock with alternative styles in an assured and confident manner. The Findlay sisters, vocalist and drummer Amy, guitarist Hannah, keyboard player Sarah and bassist Holly have pulled together some delicious songs, from the opening rocker Sleepyhead, the trippy Delusion and the imperious title track. 

It’s an album that is both disposable and yet strangely enticing, the subtle keyboards often concealed but at times front and centre in an almost electro delivery. There’s even a bit of Eastern promise on Broken Stone, with its oriental intro and ethereal vocals which echo and swirl. An impressive release which I heartily recommend. 8/10

Friday, 20 April 2018

Reviews: Boss Keloid, Reigning Days, Temples On Mars, Sixcircles

Boss Keloid: Melted On The Inch (Holy Roar Records)

Holy Roar have really established themselves as purveyors of high quality interesting new music, recently we’ve had Conjurer and Mol but now they’ve really out done themselves by getting the release for the third record from Wigan progressive, space stoners Boss Keloid. Having started out a sludge act this third record takes leaps into the great blue yonder with one of the best records I’ve heard this year, firstly it’s a grower only opening up into something truly spectacular after repeated plays, it doesn’t hang around either at six elongated tracks the album gets into its groove quickly and takes you on a weed powered journey into the unknown.

There is of course a strong doom/stoner sound to the album but it’s what they do with it that makes this record truly masterful, each track is expressive with a dynamic range of sounds delighting the ears as the stop-start Chronosiam bleeds into the jazzy but with smashing riffs Tarku Shavel each pairing Mastodonesque shouted vocals with Hawkwind space psych. The five piece benefits from the two guitars that can bring syncopated leads over the top of crushing stoner doom riffs while the keys twist and escalate the whole songs onto another plain. Melted On The Inch sounds so fresh that at times you’d think they were inventing a new genre. Peykruve starts with some tribal sounds and jazz-inflected percussion, the psych styled Jromalih is a trippy middle section that ramps up into a failing final part, Lokannok has a killer electronic keyboard coda and a real darkness to it as it builds into yet more heavy but oh so melodic mastery.

I mentioned Mastodon earlier and they are always seen as being at the forefront of the progressive/stoner/doom/sludge movement turning Neurosis influences into golden age progressive rock workouts but Boss Keloid do it with a rare elegance and the careless abandon of Clutch. In a world where so many bands try to play safe they’ve thrown out the book changing the rules as they contort the ‘rules’ of structuring and genre’s by just doing what feels right for the song. With the crushing grooves on final track Griffonbrass you have been privy to band who have matured into a diverse musical force. Melted On The Inch is in my Top 10 already and it’s only April folks! 9/10

Reigning Days: Eclipse (Marshall Records)

Paul saw Reigning Days in Fuel late last year with King Creature and while he wasn't won over there is quite a bit here to enjoy. It's not what we normally review here as Devonshire trio Reigning Days have the arena rock of Biffy Clyro (Gravity), the electo-prog of Muse (Chemical) and even the staccato The Arctic Monkeys (Friendly Fires) meaning it's music more at home in the pages of Kerrang or on the airways of Radio 1, there's nothing wrong with that but for many who prefer the more indie style of rocking then Dan Steer, Joe Sansome and Jonny Finnis will have you in their pocket for all 14 tracks of this album. For me much like my colleague the music here is a little too lightweight and too long with not a huge amount of differentiation over 14 songs. I'm not saying that it isn't good it's just not my thing really. 6/10

Temples On Mars: Temples On Mars (Primordial Records)

As the bristling guitars of this album weave in during intro Bon Voyage you can hear the discord start to build as Gods & Kings starts the album proper, the djent riffs cut swathes through the melodic layers on this debut album from London based progressive rockers Temples On Mars. It's music that's made for this modern age of progressive music fusing the alternative edge with intelligent complex musical soundscapes. The album has several songs that hook you in before the groove heavy riffs get your head nodding with appreciation, So In Love With Your Own Drug is an ideal example of this as it's got a solid foundation of thumping bass driven riffs with a hooky chorus, while How Far Will You Go builds into the the euphoric final third and Black Mirror is a triumph of melody and technicality. Temples On Mars is a complicated but easy to digest album with some thick Tool passages, the alt rhythms of A Perfect Circle and the mass appeal of 30 Seconds To Mars. With an influx of excellent progressive rock coming from these shores Temples On Mars will be another name to look out for on the basis of this strong debut. 8/10      

Sixcircles: New Belief (Phonosphera Records)

From Palermo Sixcircles play dark, sexy psychedelic rock, they are a two piece with both members sharing vocals but only one handling the instrumentation. Making up the band are Sara B and Giorgio T and their voices sync throughout with a hypnotic underbelly swirling underneath, it's got desert rock moroseness of Mark Lanegan with the sauntering surf rock of Time Of Erosion, the jangly acerbic venom of Velvet Underground (Come, Reap), heavy disorientating fuzz with The Prison and a psychedelic soul of the Brian Jonestown Massacre (albeit without the fractious working relationship hopefully). At nine songs it's an ideal album for anyone with a sinful psyche and a passion for the more disturbing side of music, hold onto your belief as this new one seems a bit immoral. 7/10  

Thursday, 19 April 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Trivium

Trivium, Code Orange, Power Trip & Venom Prison, O2 Academy Bristol

Floridian metal band Trivium are one of the first ‘new’ bands I got into when I was first getting into heavy music. Having been brought up with classic rock and prog, Trivium were a perfect mix of Maiden melodies, Metallica thrash while also serving as my gateway into the more extreme genres such as death and black metal. Since then I have followed the bands progress with great interest and while on record they do tend to be a little inconsistent on record, although this maybe due to the amount of attention garnered by second album Ascendancy, live they have always delivered the goods, except for that one Bloodstock headline shot.

So with the nostalgia of Andrew W.K still at the forefront of my mind it was time to head to Bristol’s premier venue for their most high profile tour yet. Promoted by Metal Hammer and subject to a lot of press, this tour could have been seen as a passing of the torch as it featured three support bands that are all being touted as the next big things in metal much like the headliners were at the beginning of the 2000’s.

The O2 Academys ridiculous policy of opening the doors at 6pm meant there was little time to dilly dally and it was straight into the venue and upstairs (thankfully open) for the first band. I was hugely excited to see Welsh death metal crew Venom Prison (8) take the still filling room by the scruffs and set about destroying everything in their path. A maelstrom of blistering riffs from Ash Gray and Ben Thomas, a vicious rhythm section consisting of Mike Jefferies and Jay Pipprell came together from Hell’s undercarriage. Venom Prison were determined to make a name for themselves on this larger stage and my god did they, taking tracks from their debut album Animus the entire band were a flurry of unadulterated rage with Larissa conducting the mayhem and spitting bile with every line she barked down the mic.

What stood out though was the clarity of the mix meaning you could hear every note that was being played opening your eyes to the complexity of these songs rather than thinking it was just pure fury. 30 minutes flew past and the pits were already kicking off in the middle of the room incited by the hostility that was coming to the stage. With the room only half full as they started playing I thought that Venom Prison got a bit of a raw deal as it was only towards the end of their set that they started cooking on gas and the crowd responded in kind. Acts like VP thrive on this symbiosis between band and audience so in a slightly smaller venue they are unstoppable but here they gave a great account of themselves despite a mostly unmoved crowd.

With probably the rawest and heaviest band of the night opening proceedings Power Trip (9) had to do things a little differently and they burst onto the stage with scything crossover thrash riffs and loads of stomping grooves. The Texas band was on fire their most notable song Executioner’s Tax (Swing Of The Axe) coming early in the set, it was a bold confident move that paid off as the slightly unruly pits started to kick off again buoyed by encouragement from Power Trip, their music needs to be head banged to and the now packed O2 acquiesced this request with vigour. With the majority of the group statically plugging away frantically at their instruments your eyes were drawn to the wild hardcore slam dancing of the frontman who when he wasn’t slugging Bourbon, bouncing around like a nuclear powered Energizer bunny and fly kicking thin air he was barking down the mic usually while on the floor. Elements of Anthrax, Suicidal Tendencies and Slayer were all firmly fixed in place for 30 minutes of an unrivalled thrash metal assault. If Venom Prison were here to make an impact through the medium of head trauma, then Power Trip were trying to take the rest of the body out too. Now if we could see this in a field in Derby sometime in August that would be great?

With the room now full to the gunnels it was time for the exclusive UK support act Code Orange (6) a band I’m really nonplussed by. Hardcore is not a genre I find appealing and when they supported Gojira they were bloody dreadful in my opinion, with the frequent stops killing their momentum. This time they faired a little better, seeming to be a slicker unit using their reckless, untempered performance style to great effect as bassist Joe Goldman prowls the stage and the dual vocals added to the overall effect of a danger the band rely on in their music. The problem I have is that their songs all seem to drift into one and they did kill any momentum with quite slow track to finish, the audience went nuts however so maybe it was me or perhaps fatigue was starting to set in by now as it did start to feel as if I’d been locked in a cage with Brock Lesnar.

Still a nice 30 minute change over allowed time to prepare for a for what was about to come, with Maiden’s Run To The Hills exploding out of the PA Trivium (9) confidently took to the stage with new drummer Alex Bent behind the colossal kit and hit the ground galloping with the title track of their last album The Sin And The Sentence a tour de-force of a song and the closest thing to their breakthrough as they’ve gotten without sacrificing their more technical approach, next came Throes Of Perdition from Shogun which increased the complexity again prowling the stage frontman Matt Heafy was in fine vocal form leaving Corey Beaulieu to handle the harsh vocals as both of them linked to create an awesome guitar pairing as Paulo Gregoletto bass work could be picked out as some of the finest around.

Much of the set was drawn from The Sin And The Sentence but they played at least one song from every album, with Vengeance Falls the only exception, this was due to the addition of Light To Flies and Drowned And Torn Asunder were two extra tracks from their UK breakthrough record Ascendancy near the end of the set, they replaced Strife meaning nothing from VF was showcased. Before then this though Ascendancy (the song) gave the first sing along of the night as Sever The Hand and Inception Of The End got yet more pits sort of moving. (I could rant about pit etiquette but I won’t).

Like I said I’ve seen Trivium many times but here they seemed like real arena headliners, the performance was slick, the light show was mesmerising and the set list had enough peaks and troughs to keep your head banging away and your fist pumping, with the between song speeches kept to a minimum rather than becoming overbearing, there were a few thanks and a little side note about the UK being ‘home’ for the band, then it was back to guitar shredding and proper metal. Becoming The Dragon sat nicely as mid set melodic track with Beaulieu and Heafy duelling in the solo section. Trivium were on imperious form here and when the encore of Shattering The Skies Above, Pull Harder...and In Waves has concluded the entire crowd was hanging on every last note. A pretty good way to spend a Monday evening, ushering in the reign of the latest wave of world beating heavy metal bands.

A View From The Back Of The Room: Andrew W.K

Andrew W.K, Y Plas, Cardiff

Supposed to be taking place in the Great Hall in November 2017 the return of Andrew W.K (8) to Cardiff actually took place in April 2018 to smaller but more intense audience. The tour was moved to coincide with the Prince Of Positive Partyings most recent album You’re Not Alone a record that sees him returning to the high energy rock of his early discography. Having arrived late to the show I missed the opening band’s set but as the room was nicely filled with not a lot of space for those in their to move, as the band took to the stage the volume increased and the audience surged to the front.

What followed was one of the most exciting live sets and audience reactions to a gig I’ve seen a long time, The Power Of Partying intro neatly slipped into the anthemic Music Is Worth Living For which got fists in the air and voices trying to hit those high falsetto’s, it was a masterful start building drama with a huge arena filling track that led into another newbie Ever Again which is a defiantly kooky number. Andrew was in full flight mastering both the classical pianist and frontman roles brilliantly, tucking his mic into his waistband when he was attacking the keys like a rabid Liberace (although the trademark white T-Shirt and Jeans combo would be frowned upon surely), then when he was singing the arms were failing like man Kung Fu fighting with invisible Ninja.

Ready To Die, She Is Beautiful and Tear It Up is where things got tasty and the whole floor descended into chaos with pits, crowd surfers and madness coming from the first 7 rows, if you didn’t want to move you had no choice it was stick to the back wall or get your body grooving. The band were ship shape crunching through Party Till You Puke, Never Let Down and the turbo-charged We Want Fun, the triple guitar attack coming from Amanda Lepre, Erik Payne and Dave Pino (shredding leads), keys from Erica Pino and a power party of a rhythm section of Gregg Roberts’ bass with Clark Danger’s drums (who played W.K covers on YouTube and is now in the band), Andrew’s wife Cherie wasn’t part of this line up so handling her vocals were Amanda and Erica with the Erik giving us the big thrash howls only an man in an Obituary shirt could muster.

As the set progressed the throng got more mental by the second and soon there were bodies everywhere as the main show was rounded out by I Get Wet and You’re Not Alone. 14 songs in and not a hint of slowing down, the pace was breathless with everyone involved needing the encore gap to recover. What had been noticeable that was despite the volume there was a real clarity to the mix, to write of Andrew and co as ‘just a party band’ is to give discredit them, they are all musicians that excel in their field, Andrew also took time to extol the virtues of his party philosophy Violent Life the instrumental that began the encore was enough to prove this point as the band themselves have enough charisma to carry a show without their frontman namesake.

It’s Time To Party came next building up the crowd into near frenzy, however it was followed by the slower Pushing Drugs which I will admit killed a bit of the momentum, that said the final track was ‘THE’ Andrew W.K song so it was enough to whip up the masses again, had it been anything else there might have been a damp squib of an ending but when a song has been played on every music channel and metal club night since it’s release, the final euphoric statement of Party Hard kicked the entire evening into overdrive prompting numerous crowded surfers most of whom aided by our man Stief. I’ve been waiting since I was 13 to see Andrew W.K live and it was everything I wanted it to be and more. Come back soon Andrew the party is still raging in Cardiff.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Reviews: Louise Lemon, Glorior Belli, Inkvisitor, Betrayal Incorporated (Reviews By Rich)

Louise Lemón: Purge EP (Icons Creating Evil Art Records)

Now for something a bit out of my comfort zone as this is not a rock or metal album. This is the debut album by Sweden's Louise Lemón and I've just spent the duration of the album with the hairs on my arms standing on end. Louise Lemón has a very dark atmospheric sound which combines elements of folk, soul, pop, gothic and ambient almost sounding like an apocalyptic gospel. These songs are hugely immersive and the music takes you on a journey along with it.

Dripping with darkness, melancholy and beauty I found it impossible not to fall head first into songs such as Appalacherna and Let Me In. The vocals by Louise herself are captivating and soulful reaching a peak on the stunning Shipwreck. Louise Lemón has fully impressed me with her debut album and opened my eyes to a style of music I normally wouldn't check out. If you are a fan of Chelsea Wolfe or Myrkur then this is a must hear album. 8/10

Glorior Belli: The Apostates (Season Of Mist)

Glorior Belli are a name I've seen mentioned but haven't up until now checked out any of their material. Hailing from France, Glorior Belli are on album number seven with their latest release The Apostates. Glorior Belli play an interesting combination of black metal mixed with southern sludge metal. It's a very refreshing change from the tried and tested black metal formula and definitely got my attention. You still have the characteristics of black metal such as tremolo riffs, harsh vocals and blast beats but they are underlayed by a groove and some bluesy riffage.

It may sound polarising but it's a combination that works. As the album progresses the sludge elements are more brought to the foreground but unfortunately that does mean that the album does get less interesting as it goes on. The strongest songs are definitely in the first half of the album such as the killer title track and Deserters Of Eden. The last half does have its moments such as Runaway Charley which is a ridiculously catchy number. This is a cool album which shows that black metal still has a few tricks up its sleeve but the lack of consistency throughout the album prevents this from getting a higher score. 7/10

Inkvisitor: Dark Arts Of Sanguine Rituals (Ain’t No Hääv Records)

Inkvisitor are a thrash metal band from Finland and this is their second album Dark Arts Of Sanguine Rituals which is the first new material with the bands new line up. Dark Arts Of Sanguine Rituals is a concept album which is a rarity in thrash metal though the songs can be listened individually. Unfortunately I found Dark Arts Of Sanguine Rituals a bit of a flat album. I'm a huge thrash metal fan and know what makes a good thrash album which is plenty of speed and aggression but also with that sense of fun.

 This album rarely picks up the pace and most songs fall into a mid paced lull with uninteresting riffs and forgettable songwriting. There are one or two songs where the album did perk up which is Paradigm Shift and The Revenant (Redeemer) but on the whole I was bored throughout this album. These guys obviously know their thrash as the good moments were very good but it seems to me that they concentrated too much on the album concept rather than the individual songwriting and as a result we got a rather dull album. 5/10

Betrayal Incorporated: Everything Is Backwards (Self Released)

Everything Is Backwards is album number three from British metal band Betrayal Incorporated. Betrayal Incorporated are not a band I am familiar with and based from this album unfortunately not a band I shall be revisiting as Everything Is Backwards generally is a mess. The band seemed like they could not decide on a style to play so they try and incorporate as many different styles into one album and sometimes one song which leads to a wildly inconsistent listening experience. You have elements of traditional heavy metal and hard rock, blues rock, groove metal, stoner metal and thrash metal all combined together which is just a bit too much and it doesn't help that the songs generally are forgettable.

There is more than one instrumental song on the album which is a bit self indulgent but at least it gives you a break from the truly dreadful vocals of frontman Carlo Caci who butchers nearly every song he sings on sounding horrifically off key at many points. The one song where his vocals don't grate as much and probably the best song on the album is Metal Up Your Ass where the band adopt a thrashier style and Carlo gives a more aggressive and improved vocal performance. The guys in Betrayal Incorporated can certainly play their instruments but they need to refine their songwriting and try not to throw so much into an album. They should definitely consider getting a frontman who can sing as well. 4/10

Reviews: Temperance, Whyzdom, Messa, Shadygrove (Reviews By Stief)

Temperance: Of Jupiter And Moons (Scarlet Records)

Having followed Temperance from their self titled debut, it's great to see them release yet another album, and what an album! This album introduces two new singers in Michele Guaitoli and Alessia Scolletti, who takes the place of Chiara Tricarico. While it's sad to see Chiara go, it's evident from the outset that Alessia and Michele are great choices, both of them working off each other perfectly, allowing Marco Pastorino to focus on guitarwork, which seems tighter, while also providing backing vocals. Speaking of tight, everything seems tightened from previous albums from the band, with production being top notch as well as the band's overall sound.

As mentioned previously, Scolleti's vocals soar with Guaitoli's, both of whom seem to fit into Temperance's Symphonic/Synth-pop (Synthonic?) fusion. Every song is laced with orchestral blasts, and not a single one seems out of place. The album's closing track Daruma's Eyes (Part 1) is the essence of Temperance's music; strings over fast paced drumming, synths paired with awesome guitar work with soaring almost-operatic vocals weaving throughout the music, all of which leave you wanting more. Here's to part 2! Back in 2014, I said this is a band to look out for, and I meant it. 3 releases later, their sound is still great and if you haven't listened to them, now is the time! 9/10

Whyzdom: As Time Turns To Dust [Scarlet Records]

Symphonic metal from across the channel, Whyzdom's latest album is a bombastic collection of choirs, strings, heavy drumming and lofty vocals with an almost eastern feel in places, bringing to mind bands such as Orphaned Land. While it's a great sound, there are points where the main guitars and bass are drowned out by the oft-over saturation of brass and strings. While it gives a certain epic feel to each song, it's sometimes a bit overwhelming. Despite that, Marie Mac Leod's vocals work excellently within the music, but again, feel like they're pushing out of their confines; This isn't to say her operatic vocals are bad at all, but they sometimes feel slightly jarring, especially when moving from one style to the other. It's a great album for fans of Symphonic metal, with echoes of old-school Nightwish and Rhapsody, but as mentioned before, sometimes overwhelming in places. 7/10

Messa: Feast For The Water [Aural Music]

Beautifully ambient music from Italy here with dashings of doom throughout. Right from the start, the aquatic theme of the album is evident, with the sounds of bubbles over an eerie backing track, building up to pure static before dropping you in the calming waves of Snakeskin Drape, with lead singer Sara's ethereal voice floating on the soft guitar of Alberto and Mark Sade, before Mistyr's drums smash the calm, the song breaking into some great doom metal, where Sara's voice becomes even more ghostlike. The pattern persists throughout the album, with the music flowing (Pun intended) between calm and rough, mirroring the overall theme of the album; waves of music you can easily float on before you're hit with a crashing of bass and percussion. Overall, a great listen if you like your doom with something a little different. 8/10

Shadygrove: In The Heart Of Scarlet Wood [Rockshots Records]

Featuring Fabien 'Lethien' Polo of Elvenking fame, you know exactly what to expect from this band from Italy. It's great folk metal with all the trimmings; piano, violin, flute, this album has it all. Lisy' Stefanoni's Vocals, as well as her flute skills work perfectly within the genre, with Lethien's violin adding another layer, especially when paired with Simone Morettin's percussion, using a mix of drums and other ethnic percussion instruments.

Shadygrove sit well within the folk part of folk-metal, with the pace of some songs being a bit slower, easy to listen to, while others such as The port of Lisbon pick up the pace, and would not feel out of place in a fantasy game. However, while it's a good album, there isn't too much in the way of diversity between songs, each one tending to blend with the others. Despite that, In The Heart Of Scarlet Wood is definitely worth a look if you're a fan of folk music. 7/10

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Reviews: Spiders, Kalmah, Hamerex Jari Tiura (Reviews By Paul)

Spiders: Killer Machine (Spinefarm Records)

Down and dirty rock n’ roll from Gothenburg is the name of the game with Spiders’ third album, the fabulous Killer Machine. Full of fuzzy stomping riffs, fast paced tempo, neat guitar and the stunning vocals of Anne Sofie Hoyles. It’s inevitable that comparisons with fellow rockers Blues Pills will be made, with Hoyles voice reminiscent of Elin Larsson. Spiders are much more straight forward and less psychedelic although it’s fair to make a comparison with similar influences. Spiders sound sits slap bang in the 1970s. One glance at the album cover and band photo and you’ll see that the association is reasonable. Although it’s pure rock n’ roll, there is a myriad of styles such as Like A Wild Child with its pure pop chorus and almost disco swagger, the darker title track, the biker rock of Swan Song and to prove me wrong, a psychedelia breakdown on So Easy. The Blues melting Don’t Need You shows a mellower side to the band including John Hoyles delicious guitar work. This is a real grower of an album which improves on every play. A wonderful release. 8/10

Kalmah: Palo (Spinefarm Records)

Finnish Melodic death metal outfit Kalmah’s eighth album is three quarters of an hour of Amon Amarth and Children of Bodom wrapped up neatly into a visceral package that illustrates why the band sit alongside Bodom and Wintersun in terms of status within the metal scene in their homeland. The guitar work is intense throughout; World Of Rage echoes Wintersun in terms of speed, style and delivery. Opener Blood Ran Cold is full on Amon with Pekka Kokko’s Hegg-like vocals. There is plenty of melody throughout although the style changes from Viking to thrash to melodic death as it progresses.

Antti Kokko’s lacerating shredding is complimented by a sweet undertone of keyboards whilst the rampaging drumming of Janne Kusmin maintains the pace. This is superbly evidenced on Take Me Away, the interplay of guitar and keys integral to the song. Whilst the pounding and roaring is all well and good, there is a slight bit of repetition towards the tail of the album, and in the same way that I sometimes find Wintersun overpowering, there are times when the sheer intricacy overwhelms you. Having said that, Through Shallow Waters is a stunning track, combining about five different styles in just over four minutes. I can’t argue with the technical quality and at times the desire to bang that head is irresistible. 7/10

Hamerex: The Abyss EP (IX Music)

The first in an EP trilogy, The Abyss features two brand new songs by traditional heavy metal band Hamerex alongside new recordings of two older tracks. Hamerex have been around for over 10 years and have experienced several line-up changes but have also released several albums and EPs during this time. Recorded at Laurel House Studios in Wakefield, the songs sit comfortably side by side and having not been familiar with their catalogue, it’s fair to say that its impossible to differentiate which tracks are new.

The music is solid, heavy and singer Steve Blower can certainly hold a tune. The one down side is Crucifixion which features the inferior vocals of bassist Marc Hood, which lets a fine song down slightly. With some tasty riffs, Hamerex avoid the dull plod that so many of the current wave of NWOBHM influenced outfits churn out, with reworked The Dark Tower, a frantic thrashing beast which one would imagine is a beast in the live arena. With elements of Maiden, Priest but also the heavier side of things through Metallica and even Slayer, The Abyss should appeal to all metal fans. 7/10
Jari Tiura: King Of Lions (AOR Heaven)

In case you didn’t know, and I admit I was amongst them, Jari Tiura was the singer for the Michael Schenker Group between 2004 – 2007 when the band released Tales Of Rock N Roll and toured Europe, the States and of course, Japan. Prior to that the Finn had been vocalist for power metal outfit Snakegod and currently sings for both Stargazery and Century LostKing Of Lions is his debut solo release, and has an AOR stamp throughout. To be honest, the songs are a little bland and unimaginative at times, with tracks such as London and Human steady rather than exciting.

Musically there is little to criticise; it has huge swathes of synths, sufficient riffs and hooks which ensure that you can remember the tracks, and it is all perfectly played thanks to Yrjö Ella on lead guitars, Jaan Wessman on bass and drums and the keyboards of Jussi Kulomaa, Jani Kemppinen and Mikko Kangasjärvi. Unfortunately, there is little to really fire the imagination. Tiura’s voice doesn’t work on all the tracks, and falls short in some, such as the ponderous ballad Lion of Judah which is one of the weakest songs I’ve heard in a long time. This was a struggle to get through, and I’m afraid it does little to hold the interest. 5/10

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Reviews: Kamelot, Mustasch, Dewolff, QFT

Kamelot: The Shadow Theory (Napalm Records)

Symphonic metal mainstays Kamelot return with their latest opus which is their third album with Tommy Karevik and it continues in the same style of previous Kamelot records by expertly fusing classical orchestrations with crunchy power metal where the main factors at play the virtuosity of Thomas Youngblood (guitar) and Oliver Palotai (keys) as Sean Tibbetts (bass) and Johan Nunez (drums) provide blistering rhythms that can rampage with blastbeats or subtly add a groove to anthem. Add to this the extensive use of symphonic elements and choirs and you get a sound that Kamelot have pioneered for well over 20 years and one that still sees them producing excellent thought provoking music.

As with so many of their albums there is a conceptual nature to The Shadow Theory here they have forged ahead with the ever darker sounds they have been using since Karevik’s arrival and this record particularly is “A dystopian glimpse at the complexity of the human mind and its place in an oppressive society” so there are parallels to the modern day as Kamelot explore the darker side of human psychology splitting the record into three pillars of psychological theory “The Shadow Empire (The global mind), The Shadow Key (The Resistance) and The Shadow Wall (The veil that blinds us from the truth)”.

If you don’t like a conceptual album then don’t worry as these songs are independent on their own merit, in the middle of the album there are four tracks specifically that really have your ears pricking up, The Twilight Hours is a stirring ballad which has Karevik soulfully pairing his velvet vocals with Jennifer Haben of Beyond The Black, it’s followed by the heavier Kevlar Skin that closes out with a guitar/keyboard solo duel, Static is a mid-pace emotive track with pop flourishes and theatricality, rounding out the foursome is Mind Fall Remedy which has the harsh vocals of Once Human’s Lauren Hart opposing Karevik’s dulcet tones. The Shadow Theory is yet another set of wickedly deep and dark power metal from these mainstays of the genre. 8/10

Mustasch: Silent Killer (Headbangr)

I didn't have a lot of positive comments for Swedish band Mustasch's previous album, I thought it was a little too light, there were too many middle of the rock songs rather than the aggressive macho metal that came on proceeding albums. Well clearly I wasn't the only one that wanted the band to return to their earlier sounds as their ninth album Silent Killer will be a relief to anyone who like me loves Mustasch's earlier releases. Its head kicking from the first second as Winners, Liberta and (fucking) Barrage all hit your ears like artillery fire as Ralf Gyllenhammar riffs away like a true guitar toting madman and his raw vocals are almost required by law when a band play this heavily. With elements of Metallica (1991-1998), the driving hard rock of Audrey Horne. There's a special guest turn from Hank Von Helvete (ex-Turbonegro) on the funky Fire, a big groove on Grave Digger and bang it's all over in 30-odd minutes.

However like Millenium Falcon at warp speed, there's not rest throughout these 10 tracks, they are all driven by riffs to bang your head too recalling albums such as Latest Version Of The Truth with just pure metal riffs built on hard rock grooves. The production plays a pivotal role in this records appeal, it's clinical but inviting approach making the bass sound like a Bofors Cannon, the drums like an earthquake and the the guitars chug away like a The Flying Scotsman. It really brought a smile to my face to hear that the Mustasch of old had returned with all the bluster they could muster. Silent Killer is definitely not silent but it is all killer, a glorious slice of heavy metal fury. Welcome back Mustasch! 9/10

DeWolff: Thrust (Mascot Records)

Dutch act DeWolff have released 5 studio albums, have played Paradiso in Amsterdam, PinkPop Festival in front of 30,000 at Lowlands Festival, 15,000 at Sziget, as well as Reeperbahn, Rockpalast, Rock Oz Arena and they have supported The Black Keys, Blues Pills, Ten Years After and Deep Purple. They took their slightly odd name from the character Winston Wolfe in Pulp Fiction and they are formed by Pablo (singer/guitarist), his brother Luka van de Poel (drums) and Robin Piso behind the Hammond organ. They are only in their mid-twenties but their music is decidedly classic sounding it’s the swirling neo-psychedelic soundscapes of Woodstock using analogue instruments to create effortless rock tracks that have a Southern edge and a Hippie heart.

There's an overriding feel of The Black Keys jamming with Jon Lord as both Sometimes and Deceit & Woo has that garage street blues undercut with organ, elsewhere though there are titanic Zep riffs (Big Talk & Tombstone Child), Doorsesque freak outs (California's Burning), Southern shuffles (Outta Step And Ill At Ease), blues laments (Once In A Blue Moon) and even a helping of flared Stax funk (Swain). It's a brilliantly realised album full of the styles that made some of the best rock music in history, a veritable greatest hits of classic rock.

The organic and analogue nature of this record allows the band to fully explore numerous sound palettes making each one their own. Thrust has retro rock riffs for a modern audience, in a world where Wolfmother and Rival Sons have taken this sort of music to new heights hopefully DeWolff will be seen as one of the acts able to challenge for their title, now I just need to do more investigating of their back catalogue. 9/10

Quantum Field Theory: Live In Space (Despotz Records)

Quantum field theory (QFT) is the theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of subatomic particles in particle physics and quasiparticles in condensed matter physics. This project however features Therion vocalist Linnéa Vikström backed by members of Dynazty and Loch Vostock. The idea behind this record was due to Vikström's fascination with quantum physics, space, blackholes, the Big Bang etc the songs are all concerned with these high concept theoretical physics questions along with the occasional diversion into extra-terrestrials on Aliens.

Sitting between hard rock, cinematic style of Therion or any of Arjen Lucassen's projects and with a bit of Black Sabbath sprinkled over the top with some evil riffs. It's build on the sheer majesty of Linnéa's awesome vocal range, however there are a few too many mid-paced and lower songs on the record but most of that is due to the emotional pipes of Vikström. Live In Space is a pretty good album, I think it's probably the sort of rock album Professor Brian Cox would approve of. 7/10

Reviews: Gozu, Axel Rudi Pell, The Ugly Kings, Odcult (Reviews By Paul)

Gozu: Equilibrium (Metal Blade Records / Blacklight Media Records)

Now in their 10th year, Gozu, from Boston, MA, have delivered a meaty slab of hard stoner metal which screams “repeated plays”. The band has roots firmly in 60s psychedelia and classic rock, the fuzzy stoner riffs of the 70s, the grit of 90s grunge as well as genuinely dirty rock n' roll. 2016's Revival took their sound in a more aggressive direction and Equilibrium has raised the stakes. "We wanted these songs to hit a nerve, make people shake their ass and enjoy simply being alive," says vocalist/guitarist Marc ‘Gaff’ Gaffney, who founded the band with lead guitarist Doug Sherman. It certainly does that, with huge riffs, big choruses and solos and ear worm melodies. The songs are catchy, full of life and spit, from the opening riff that signals the start of Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat until the final feedback of spiritually haunting closer Ballad Of ODB. Although many of the songs boast a profoundly uplifting feel, the lyrics are largely informed by grief experienced by Gaff, who lost his father in June 2017.

King Cobra, with its Alice In Chains Stayley/Cantrell feel and the smouldering tank of a track that is Manimal are particularly memorable. This is the second release to feature drummer Mike Hubbard and bassist Joseph Grotto and Gozu are clearly at a point where the tightness is evident. "I would have to say that the band is sounding the best it ever has right now," Gaffney states plainly. "It takes a bit of time to feel everything out. When you are serious about it, you have to work as a team, and we are four guys that dig the same kind of music and love to play, but we all bring in different elements that give us our sound.

It is not just one-person channeling, it's the four of us bringing in the ingredients and together making it a delicious meal”. They Probably Know Karate or Prison Elbows contain some ferociously heavy riffs whilst the existence of a song that could be described simultaneously as "Alan Holdsworth meets Fuze" and "Neurosis meets Jeff Buckley" is evident with the eleven-minute sprawl of Ballad Of ODB. Mesmerising at times, played with gusto and a quality sometimes lacking, Equilibrium is an impressive piece of work. 8/10

Axel Rudi Pell: Knights Call (SPV/Steamhammer)

Axel Rudi Pell is one of those musicians who everyone knows but who are unlikely to be able to name much of his music. Having been integral to the band Steeler in the 1980s, Pell has been delivering his hard rock for 30 years. “I’d rather have long-term success than the hit album everybody is always referring to” he states. Well, he’s certainly done that and with his 17th studio album, he’ll continue to fly under the radar as there isn’t much here that will blast him to the stratosphere. It’s more of the same, and as his press release stated, you know what to expect from him. With a trusted team including singer Johnny Gioeli and drummer Bobby Rondinelli Pell has delivered what I would class as a solid, traditional European heavy metal album which features some superb playing from Pell and the other musicians in the band.

The Deep Purple sounding instrumental Truth & Lies adds something a little different, whilst the ballad Beyond The Light is on a par with most rock ballads; the choir adding to the level of awfulness. Lyrically, a mix between medieval mysticism and fantasy folklore remains consistent with other albums. The final track, Tower Of Babylon, with its mix of Kashmir and Stargazer is possibly the best track on the album. Having found a formula that works, Axel Rudi Pell deserves plaudits for sticking with his vision. It’s rather tepid in places, but there is enough here to make it an enjoyable album. 6/10

The Ugly Kings: Darkness Is My Home (Kozmik Artifactz)

The Ugly Kings comprise Russel Clark (vocals), Christos Athanasias (guitar), Nicolas Dumont (bass) and Andy Alkemade (drums) and draw from an eclectic musical background. They have supported Airbourne on their successful sold out east coast Australia tour in January 2017 with Joel O’Keefe saying of the band; "Great show! The Ugly Kings have really got their own thing going on and it rocks! I love all the dynamics, pushing and pulling and then always smashing it out. Great intensity and power”.

The band also supported Rival Sons in 2016 in Melbourne and you can hear the influence of the Sons in opening track Promised Land. Darkness Is My Home offers a range of songs that drip with emotion; the driving riffs of Sabbath sit comfortably with the darkness of Nick Cave, whilst the driving elements of Royal Blood and The White Stripes can also be easily identified. Clark’s deep reaching and soulful emotive vocals suit the powerful blues which underpins this very listenable album, with several songs also containing more than a nod to The Doors. 7/10

Odcult: Into The Earth (Mighty Music)

More rampaging riff heavy energised tracks from Odcult, whose sound merges numerous styles to create some tasty hard rock. With an edge of the punk of Green Day (not their radio friendly stuff mind) and a throwback to the 1970s but with a fresh modern sound, Into The Earth is a very listenable and enjoyable release. Another power trio whose sound belies their number, Coffe Fransson (vocals, guitar) Dennis Åhman (drums) and bassist André Svensson have delivered a solid album that is well worth a listen. 7/10

Saturday, 14 April 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Kris Barras & Blackwater Conspiracy

Kris Barras & Blackwater Conspiracy, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

On the evening of Wrestlemania we were getting ready for a knockout night of another kind, in the darkness of Fuel Rock Club, cage fighter turned next big thing in blues rock Kris Barras was just about to take to the stage to packed house. However before this it’s worth backpedalling a little to the start of night, we’d arrived early as the gig was promoted by our good friends at Fate Entertainment so we managed to grab some pre show conversation (and Guinness) with both bands, where we discovered that Irish band Blackwater Conspiracy had eaten at Toby Carvery on every date of the tour so far (it’s all glamour ladies and gentleman). With the soundcheck out of the way and Blackwater Conspiracy posing for a photo shoot with us (available soon) it was time for the show to begin and the room filled up pretty quickly as the lights went down and there was anticipation in the air.

For me especially it served as an opportunity to see one act that is going to be stratospheric by next year and to see another who I have been following since their inception as a Classic Rock supported band called Million Dollar Reload. At this time they were signed to the now defunct Powerage records but with new members joining they changed into the band that were in front of us now, with the name change came the new Delta Blues influenced sounds of The Stones and The Black Crowes as they morphed into the fully developed band they are now. I highly rated Blackwater Conspiracy’s (8) debut album to see tracks from that record with bluesy numbers like Waitin’ On Hollywood and Penny For Your Dirty Mind mingling with the glistening grooves of ’85 Rockstar. With Phil Conalane’s rough vocal style and his Keef-like rhythm playing, he leads the band in the jangling blues rocking with the effortless of a rock n roll scoundrel. The band was giving it everything and from the audible reaction and the amount of merch shifted after their set I’d say they more than won over those who weren’t as familiar with them as me.

So back to the beginning of the review and with little time to get a refill due to the expanse of bodies in the small room, the heat was rising and the audience waited with baited breath as Kris, Elliott, Will and Josiah walked on the stage, Kris especially had the swagger of a man who’s been doing this his entire life, his tattooed figure cut a swathe at the front of the stage his Telecaster slung around his neck like a weapon and as the anticipation reached fever pitch the headliner began with some thick, tasty blues rock riffs filling Fuel with material that has seen Kris Barras (9) compared to Joe Bonamassa. As he made his way through an hour material, most of which came from his new album The Divine And The Dirty, he played the guitar with a fire rarely seen by artists that are so early in their career, screaming, soulful solos were met with filthy riffs and a voice that was huskier and rawer than normal (due to a cold) but it added to the blistering performance, Barras was imperious on the stage the obvious focal point of the entire evening as the T-Shirt wearing partisan audience hung on every single riff and solo.

Keeping the tempo at a maximum the temperature inside the room increased with every single song and the voices grew louder as the songs were recognised, Hail Mary got the biggest response, due to the radio play it receives on Planet Rock. The noise only dropped, quite rightly, for the heart wrenching Watching Over Me which is seriously affecting ballad on which Kris is at his most fragile vocally. The set was wrapped up with a storming run through of All Along The Watchtower which was neither a copy of the Hendrix version or the Dylan original but took from both for a unique take on a classic. After this the crowd were in rapturous applause as the band took their leave of the stage, an encore beckoned but the music was ramped up and the houselights turned on.

No encore to be seen, cue confusion and frustration from the band and management. Despite this little bit of disarray the rest of the evening ran smoothly. Both acts left a lasting impression, Blackwater Conspiracy are a band probably best enjoyed with an (Irish) whiskey and a roaring log fire while Kris Barras and his superb band is a smooth, disciplined unit led by a man bound for superstardom. Catch him as support to Beth Hart later this month and as the new frontman of supergroup Supersonic Blues Machine later this year. If you missed this then you missed one of those moments where you will be able to say “I was there” in the years to come.