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Sunday, 11 October 2015

Reviews: Trivium, Metal Allegiance, Parkway Drive

Trivium: Silence In The Snow (Roadrunner) [Review By Paul]

As the classical and very atmospheric intro Snofall starts, an air of anticipation grips you. The opening riffs of the title track kick in and your head starts to bang in time to the chugging beat that pours out. Clean vocals, harmonies and melody powered by new boy Matt Madiro's double bass drumming. It’s good stuff, catchy well-paced heavy metal. Yep, it’s one of the bands that cause a real division in opinion, Florida outfit Trivium. The band that had the audacity to blast into the metal scene over ten years ago with Ascendency and a memorable Download debut which had the metal media wetting their knickers. The band that have been caught between a rock and a hard place in styles, moving from thrash almost death elements to classic rock to technical to just good heavy metal. I've got to be honest, I've seen Trivium many times and they've been excellent for the most part, ignoring one gig at Cardiff University where I walked out as they savaged Sepultura and put in a lousy performance. Even at BOA, in front of hardly their most comfortable crowd they delivered. So musing about the history of the band aside, how is their sixth album? Well, after the title track, Blind Leading The Blind is a decent tune with plenty of meat to it. Unfortunately Dead And Gone is a horrible track; I'm not sure where Matt and co. were going with this but it doesn't work.

The Ghost That’s Haunting You is reasonable but doesn't contain much to retain your attention although it’s got a decent chorus and hook, and what it does allow is Matt Heafy to demonstrate that he has got a very good voice for this type of music. Musically, Trivium have long been solid and very competent. The heads down approach of Pull Me From The Void is welcomed, but the track becomes a little similar to several others on the album, with little to distinguish between them. This changes with Until The World Goes Cold, which is almost old school Trivium, if there is such a thing. Refreshingly different from most of the other tracks, slower in pace and utilising dual guitar layers alongside a gutsy riff, this is a very good song. And I suppose that is what is difficult about this album. Much of it is just the same. Rise Above the Tides sounds just like Pull Me From The Void. There is nothing wrong with this album. It is well composed, reasonably produced and the guitar work of Corey Beaulieu and Heafy constantly high quality. But I've listened to it about seven times and it is just bouncing off me. Nothing about it is grabbing my attention after that opening track which I absolutely love. I've heard many worse albums over the years but the word that keeps popping into my head here is bland. Caught at a crossroads, it would appear that Trivium have struggled to choose a road and as a result have stalled. 6/10

Metal Allegiance: Metal Allegiance (Nuclear Blast) [Review By Paul]

I'm not a huge fan of collaborations. It usually equals pretty turgid results and frequently makes massive egos appear just a bit more pleased with themselves. The recent collaborative tribute to RJD, whilst perfectly well meaning was for me, case in point. However, Metal Allegiance, whilst containing some of the most vital members of the current metal world, more importantly actually contains some really storming music. Who are the constants? Well, Alex Skolnick of Testament, David Ellefson (Megadeth), Mark Menghi and of course, Mr Drummer for Hire Mike Portnoy feature throughout and these guys have been the drivers behind the whole project. So, with your musicians pretty much top class, the focus is on the quality of the vocalists who add their pipes as well as their own influence on the tunes. Opener Gift Of Pain features LOG frontman Randy Blythe and Exodus/Slayer guitar god Gary Holt; it’s brutal; it’s tub thumping and snarling LOG style track. Blythe also contributes screams to Let Darkness Fall, which has Mastodon’s Troy Sanders provide his distinctive lyrical style. Dying Song allows Phil Anselmo to deliver in his inimitable style, this could be Down with slightly less sludge and more metal. It’s pretty damn good. Chuck Billy provides the oral assault on Can’t Kill The Devil; vicious slicing guitars (the addition of Sep's Andreas Kisser helping out) and a thunderous all out thrasher. What else would you get with Chuck at the front? Yeah, it’s pretty much Testament and that is alright with me.

The most intriguing track on the album for me is Scars, which features the classic aggression of Death Angel’s Mark Osegueda duet with the dulcet tones of Lacuna Coil’s Christina Scabbia. Both hold their own, with Scabbia's ballsy delivery complimenting the Bay Area Thrasher's more direct style. Some superb guitar work from Skolnick (possible the most underrated guitar hero around today) on this track. Matt Heafy pops up on vocals and guitar on Destination Nowhere (possibly should have been the name of his new album?) [Now Now -Ed] which has classic Ellefson bass lines running all over the place whilst the riffage increases exponentially. Some decent harmonies on this track; in fact it’s better than several tracks on Snowfall. And so it progresses, with further guest appearances from Hatebreed’s Jamie Jasta, Rex Brown, Bumblefoot and the unusual sound of a four pronged guitar attack from Skolnick, Holt, Kisser and Anthrax skinsman Charlie Benante (who did all the guitar work on Stomp 442) on the anthemic Pledge Of Allegiance. This track is another Exodus/Death Angel thrash assault and perfect for Osegueda to return with his rapid fire vocal delivery. There are hooks and riffs dripping from everywhere on this bad boy. However, for every silver lining there is a cloud and it comes on the final track, an all-out cover of Dio’s We Rock which is just a bit too smug and has a back slappy “aren't we great kind” of feel. Plus it has Chris Jericho on it. Yeah, that sucks. Even some killer shredding from Phil Demmel doesn't save it. It’s a pretty good album which contains some pretty heavy thrash metal. Well worth a listen. 8/10

Parkway Drive: Ire (Epitaph)

Since their breakthrough record Deep Blue in 2010 Australian metalcore merchants have been near the top of the pile of their genre since, they have always prided themselves on writing thought provoking lyrics and teaming that up with intense riffs and brutal breakdowns, this has always set them apart from their peers in the metalcore scene. Since Deep Blue the band have improved on every album adding more dynamics to their songs and expanding their sound, all of which has culminated in Ire their fifth release which steps things up again moving them away from their metalcore roots and into the bracket of bands like Lamb Of God and Devildriver by building on the metalcore base and adding more melodic flourishes. This album kicks off with sweeping guitar harmonics of Destroyer which beautifully fuses the more traditional heavy metal guitars with thundering rhythm section that Parkway Drive have always had as their stock-in-trade. This traditional heavy metal style is retained on Vice Grip which echoes Trivium and even Metallica with it's massive hook-laden chant along cry of "Rise" and some cracking guitar work from Luke Kilpatrick and lead guitarist Jeffrey Ling who peppers this album with sublime solos.

 As this album progresses you can feel the metalcore shackles coming off with every song, they have widened their scope massively, Crushed is one track that differs from their early days with some sauntering riffs and even some rap-like verses from frontman Winston McCall who is on fine form throughout snarling, roaring and growling with passion and power delivering every line with venom, his political rallying at it's most effective on Fractures which has nods to their metalcore roots as it creates thoughts of Killswitch Engage with the huge backing vocals and mid-paced delivery that is to the tracks benefit. Fractures gives way to the bang-clap intro of Writings On The Wall which is an orchestral and percussion propelled number that builds from its beginning to the head nodding final part that imitates both FFDP and Shinedown in one song (an impressive feat indeed), Writings... neatly splits the album providing an end to side one, showing that every aspect of this record has been thought about in detail. From the writing and performing to the production and sequencing, the album has the required ups and downs to keep the attention bolstered by the perfect production from George Hadji-Christou.

Equal parts catchy and brutal Parkway Drive have indeed shrugged off most earlier style and moved into the more accessible category allowing their songs to breathe and their song writing to improve tenfold, Vicious merges LOG with some Maidenesque melodies as the chiming guitars drive the song along, we get a brief beatdown on Dedicated but this is washed away immediately by the expansive closing piece A Deathless Song which is a striding, brilliant track punctuated by some classical guitars and a massive riff and ends the album beautifully as it signals that this new traditional influenced sound is here to stay, hinting towards more of it in place on the next album. On Deep Blue Parkway Drive started to get noticed by the wider spectrum of metal fans but on Ire they have stepped up their game and transformed into something all the more exquisite. If you want to hear a band at the peak of their powers look no further that Ire. 9/10

Reviews: Molllust, Acrania, Pokerface

Molllust: In Deep Waters (Self Released)

Molllust (yes the three l's are deliberate) style themselves as Opera Metal and they are most definitely that, with eight different members all contributing the band combine the compelling musical emotion of classical/operatic music with the forceful intensity of heavy metal. I would compare this record similarly to those of Trans Siberian Orchestra, Therion, Diablo Swing Orchestra and Mike Batt's forgotten but excellent project The Planets (which similarly had classical instrumentation with fused with electric instruments). In Deep Waters starts off with it's opening overture, as all great operas do, which highlights the classical instruments more so than the electric ones, Janika Groß's pianos are used to great effect with the violins of Sandrine B. and Luisa B, weaving well with Lisa H's cello and everything being underpinned by Frank Schumacher's buzzing electric guitars. This overture moves straight into the first track Unschuld which has a heavy metal base layer of Schumacher's guitar Clemens Frank's drums, Simon Johanning's bass and Carsten Hundt's drumming. For a song ion German you still can understand whats going on due to the atmosphere it creates before it moves on into Evenfall which is a track that could be featured on a Nightwish or Epica album due to Groß's soaring soprano vocals as Schumacher counteracts with his tenor. The band are all sterling musically you can tell they are all intensely dedicated to the instruments and they use them to craft this impressive album that is a fusion of the classical tradition and metal flourishes, from the doom of Paradise Perdu and Voices Of The Dead, through the emotive Paradise On Earth, the rocking Spring and the operatic Number In A Cage. This album features some great songs (15 of them in fact) and it is well played and produced but it is a bit of a slog if you don't 'get' it but for those that love classical metal fusion then Molllust will take you on a journey you will greatly enjoy. 7/10 

Acrania: Fearless (Self Released)

So there are very few times as a reviewer that you come across something totally unique, well Fearless and indeed the band that made it, Mexico's Acrania are unique. The band seamlessly fuse death metal with both progressive and Latin jazz influences. This means that as well as the guttural vocals Luis F. Oropeza R. you also get the death metal-styled super fast riffage and blistering solos from him and César Cortés. However you also get the jazz tone infected bass and drums of Alberto Morales and J.C. Chávez and the furious Latin percussion of Ignacio Gómez Ceja who bongos' like Tito Puente throughout keeping up with Chávez on tracks like Poverty Is In The Soul which has a drum fuelled middle section and a bit of Maiden at the end, as well as Man's Search For Meaning which starts off with throbbing drums and explodes into some parping brass. This all seems reasonably normal yes? Just a bit of Latin music thrown into the mix, making the band have the same percussive drive as Soulfly? Well yes other bands have attempted this and it can be seen as common place, although the real craziness comes when Cortés adds saxophone and Oropeza R. starts blowing on a trumpet and the band take their songs through faster and slower parts getting proggier on every track. From around I Was Never Dead things get more technical and wide ranging culminating in the En El Puerto which has Spanish guitars and leads into the truly insane Hypocritical Conflict. This album is madness but brilliant part Mars Volta, part Soulfly, part Cynic, with heaviness, melodies and fusion galore, if you like things a bit different then checkout Acrania. 8/10

Pokerface: Divide And Rule (Molot Records)

Russia has burgeoning metal scene producing some quality bands of all kinds of genres from black, through death and into rock and straight up metal. Pokerface have taken up the thrash metal gauntlet and it has led them into supporting Sodom, Sister Sin and Sepultura on their Russia and Belarus tours. With some high profile support under their belt you'd expect some good things from the band and you would be right, as All Is Lie kicks in after it's harmonic intro we are straight into the blastbeat heaven of Doctor (the band perform under pseudonyms) with furious riffs coming thick and fast from Nick and Maniac under pinned by Free Ride's bass that is actually quite high in the D.I.Y mix which benefits the band on the groovier tracks like Kingdom Of Hate. Yes this is an album that is pure thrash with songs that blitzkrieg along at a rapid pace, see Existence but they are not just about the speed and no style, in fact quite the opposite they no when to slow down and flesh out the songs, with some drama before speeding back up and unleashing hell, commanded by frontwoman Delirium's deathy vocals, the girl can scream with the best of them roaring and growling with a bratty clean delivery that is sparsely used but overshadowed by the aggressive roars. This is a great debut from the Russian five-piece who show that they know their thrash and play it with tenacity. 7/10     

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Reviews: Denner/Shermann, Between Waves, Black Forge, Freeway Mad

Denner/Shermann: Satan's Tomb (Metal Blade)

Any self-respecting metal fan should know the name of Michael Denner and Hank Shermann, they are the original guitarists of Mercyful Fate and as such you can kind of guess what this EP is going to sound like, this is furious dual axe wielding occult metal with songs of Satan, the occult and evil in all it's forms. Yes this album sounds an awful lot like Mercyful Fate but that's the point, luckily they have brought some great guests players to help out with their insane levels of guitars skill; Snowy Shaw (who's played for everyone) handles the drums and Marc Grabowski rumbles the four strings, the star however (other than the titular axe men) is Death Dealer's Sean Peck who's wide range can emulate the King himself with satanic growls and shrieking howls. From the title track right through to the parting shot of Seven Skulls these four tracks do everything you would expect from Denner and Shermann and it takes you older rockers back to the days of Don't Break The Oath and that can only be a good thing. 7/10 

Between Waves: Paper Chain (Self Released)

Bridgend's Between Waves' first EP is a real diamond of a release, they can be categorised as power/prog rock with alternative influences, in fact as the title track starts things off the band reminded me a lot of Deftones, Perfect Circle as well as The Gathering, Panic Room and Touchstone, mainly due to the vocals of Helen Page who has a distinctive powerful, expressive voice. Musically the band are intelligent and accomplished the rhythm section of Grant (Drums), Andrew (Bass), Richard (Guitar) drives things along with a thumping power that allows Lee's lead guitars to play the intricate melodies over the top. The 5 songs on this record are impassioned, down-tuned, deftly played and delivered, Revelation has a thundering bassline and drum part and is the albums heaviest and proggiest track by far, climaxing in the furious solo as Helen gives a performance that The Gathering's Anneke would be proud of. Deceiver is a grungy track that has AIC in places and Place To Fall is the definite first single as it is a weaving, striking track that has a real story to the lyrics but a radio friendly sheen to it that gets your head nodding. The final track Fathom is a swirling ballad with bratty lyrics and a loud-quiet dynamic that lends itself to the EP ender. This Bridgend five piece have crafted something very rare here an EP that leaves you in no doubt that their debut will be excellent. 9/10     

Black Forge: I Am The Dark (Self Released)

I Am The Dark has four tracks that betray this bands relative newness (they formed in 2012), the title track explodes out of the speakers with some sledgehammer riffage, huge drums and vocals that are totally Anselmo if he was from Frome, where this three piece hail from. I Am The Dark (the song) is the albums definite draw with shouted aggressive verses and a melodic chorus that mentions Dime's old favourite "Black Tooth Grin" and slows to an atmospheric middle led by Gavin Rodriguez's drums before the relentless riff of frontman Matt Walpole kicks in again turning into a riff off with bassist Chris Pilmore picking up the bottom end. With the great title track finished we get the more Mastodon flavoured Into The Blackness (the band have something about the night obviously) which once again is all about the riff and Walpole's scarred vocals. This is burly biker metal with adorned by beards and decked in tattoo's and these four songs show that not only do the band deliver in the live space but also on record because of this well produced, expertly played EP. Whereas I Am The Dark is a song with such a driving riff that it doesn't need a solo, Into The Blackness sees a few fireworks at the middle eight before My Ghosts brings yet more stoner metal to the table to finish the electric part of this track before they reprise the title track in an acoustic format that loses none of it's authority. The band that bill themselves as "Pure West Country Metal" have delivered a metric fucktonne of it on this EP. 8/10   

Freeway Mad: Dangerous EP (Self Released)

When your debut EP has a cover that features a sexy girl on a Jaguar at the end of a orange-hued street and it is called Dangerous the you will know what is in store. This is late 70's and early 80's hard rock that focusses on sex, sin and fast cars with nods to Montrose, Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake and more recently Jettblack. Throw It Away has a real swagger to it and gives George Twydell a chance to show off his serious soloing skill, which he obviously revels in on the  The title track has the tried and tested cowbell from Craig Carlaw while the bass funkiness from George Ives is the bedrock of Still Alive. Every song has huge riffs and solos and sees vocalist Tom Rampton delivering his parts with his best hard rock vocal I've heard for a while he can really sing with gusto. This is classic rock at it's finest from band who I hope will get bigger and brighter as the years pass. 7/10 

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Reviews: Clutch, Hollywood Vampires, W.A.S.P (Reviews By Paul)

Clutch: Psychic Warfare (Weathermaker)

It’s two and a half years since Clutch released the incredible Earth Rocker, without doubt their most well received release and one that finally made many people realise what some of us had known for many years, Clutch are brilliant. Psychic Warfare builds on Earth Rocker in many ways, with Neil Fallon’s lyrical genius showing no sign of slowing down, Tim Sult’s blues soaked riffs wandering all over the place and the groove laden rhythm section of Jean Paul Gaster's frantic drumming combining with Dan Maines crack laced bass lines. Back in 2013 Matt commented in his Earth Rocker summary that if you know the band then the review becomes irrelevant as the band have a unique sound. Psychic Warfare is no different but is an album of sheer quality. We are all acquainted with X-Ray Visions by now, a superb opener which races out of the traps like a greyhound, all stomp and groove. As usual the melody and hook are mightily infectious and you find yourself tapping along very quickly. This one will incite the pits when they inevitably open with it in November.

As usual with Clutch, they don’t fuck around with lengthy tracks; the overwhelming majority of songs come in around the three and a half minute mark. Firebirds! maintains the momentum, seguing neatly from X-Ray Visions. It contains all the hall marks of a classic Clutch track, Fallon’s vocals on top form. Although Clutch do driving hard rock magnificently, they never stray far from the blues influences which have always flooded their sound and this is illustrated in fine form on A Quick Death In Texas and Our Lady Of Electric Light complete with some quite beautiful guitar work from Tim Sult. Psychic Warfare retains some of the punk tinged hard-core edge of early Clutch, infused with the hard rock and stone metal sounds. Check out Sucker For The Witch and Your Love Is Incarceration and the full-out assault of Noble Savage. Album closer Son Of Virginia is the odd one out on the album, a six minute slow burner that smoulders and entices you to listen harder. With an edge reminiscent of The Regulator from 2004’s Blast Tyrant, Son Of Virginia is very cleverly composed and demands repeated listens. Another outstanding release from a band finally getting the recognition they deserve. 10/10

Hollywood Vampires: Hollywood Vampires (Republic)

In the 1970s the Hollywood Vampires was a legendary drinking club which comprised some of the biggest names in music at the time. President of the club was Alice Cooper whilst other members included such shrinking violets as Keith Moon, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Micky Dolenz, Berine Taupin and Harry Nilsson. Cooper has collaborated with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and actor Johnny Depp to create a super group who perform live with guest appearances from many of the rock world’s Gliterrati. Cooper has also put together the self-titled Hollywood Vampires in tribute to those who have long since departed.

The album features guest appearances from a host of rock legends including Paul McCartney, Robby Krieger (Doors guitarist), Dave Grohl, Slash, Brian Johnson, Perry Farrell and Zak Starkey. It consists mainly of 70s covers with a couple of new songs written by Copper and Depp. Opening with the last ever recorded work of the late Sir Christopher Lee who contributes a voice over on The Last Vampire, a passage from Dracula, the album starts with a new track, Raise The Dead which is a rabble rousing anthemic two and a bit minute typical Cooper rocker. This segues immediately into a montage of covers, starting with a pretty average My Generation. And I suppose this is my problem with this album. Yes, it’s a tribute and it is all very well played but it just smacks a little bit too much of just being all rather pleased with itself. I'm not a fan of cover versions at the best of times and some of the covers are of tracks I don’t particularly like; Itcychoo Park, for example I despise, whilst the inevitable School’s Out towards the end just leave me cold. Whole Lotta Love will no doubt get the average classic rock fan very excited but I'm afraid it just leaves me cold. Cooper has no doubt earnt the right to do whatever he wants and given the rubbish he churned out in his last solo release Welcome 2 My Nightmare 2, it might be small mercy that he’s focused on this instead. The other new composition, My Dead Drunk Friends is another typical Cooper composition with pretty limited lyrics saluting those who drank themselves to death. I'm afraid that this album does very little for me and whilst the musicianship is excellent throughout, I find Cooper’s constant retrospective a little tiresome at times. C'mon Alice, let it rest. The World has moved on. 5/10

W.A.S.P: Golgotha (Napalm Records)

Babylon, the last release from W.A.S.P in 2009 demonstrated that, as much of an arse as he undoubtedly is, Blackie Lawless could still write a metal tune. Six years on and the power is still there. Lawless’s voice remains powerful, with that gravel edged rasp still as strong as it was back in 1982 when his band first crashed onto the metal scene. Yes, the guy has erased part of his back catalogue, with some of the old tunes which made the band a shock to the system all those years ago now filed away for ever. Yes, he’s become a born again Christian (surprising how many metallers are bible bashers these days) but Golgotha contains some excellent hard rock tracks, accessible and catchy, with pounding drumming from the recently departed Mike Dupre, and some fine lead work via Doug Blair who has been with the band for nine years. Underpinning the whole thing is the rhythm work of Lawless and long serving bassist Mike Duda (20 years and counting). With a mere nine tracks, Golgotha surprisingly delivers value for money, six minutes shy of an hour’s worth of tunes.

Opener Scream is classic W.A.S.P, quickly getting the pulse racing as it charges along and the rest of the album is pretty similar in terms of what you expect. I'm unashamed when I say that I really enjoy a bit of W.A.S.P from time to time. It is hard rock/heavy metal reminiscent of the 1980s. Sure the lyrics aren't going to win any prizes for intricacy and some of the tracks on here are pretty tepid; the ballad Miss You for example is just dreadful, Eyes Of My Maker moves a little too close to the God squad for my liking and the tile track is just too “Dear Jesus” (Yes, I know what the title refers to) but there is sufficient on Golgotha to keep the fan base happy and let’s face it; at 60 years of age Blackie isn't looking for the big break now is he? Slaves Of The New World Order is another example of a typical W.A.S.P song, galloping along with a sound very similar to Iron Maiden and that is no bad thing. W.A.S.P are never going to appeal to a large section of the metal world; deemed irrelevant and in all honesty a bit of a joke despite the fact that they have soldiered on following their own ideas and really not giving a fuck. Golgotha is a decent heavy metal album and really worth a listen. 7/10

Monday, 5 October 2015

Reviews: Once Human, Death Dealer, Sailing To Nowhere

Once Human: The Life I Remember (earOne)

Oof, this is the first word that comes to mind as you spin Once Human's debut album, the production is crystalline, the playing sublime and the band have a professionalism not always evident on a bands first album, it's only when you look at the bands biography that you see that this isn't one member's first rodeo so to speak. Once Human is the brainchild of one Logan Mader the man who made his name as the axe slinger for Machine Head in the early days of the bands inception but he has since shunned the limelight in favour of knob twiddling for FFDP, Gojira and many more, in a union forged by former Roadrunner head Monte Conner, Mader started to have creative ideas with up and coming multi instrumentalist Lauren Hart who moved to vocals rather than guitar as planned. The collaboration between these two has resulted in The Life I Remember which starts off with a stirring orchestral theme before the riff heavy Ground Zero hooks you with it's sheer outright brutality, this is Mader at his explosive best his flying V unleashing riff after snarling riff as his melodic and flaming hot leads are bolstered by Hart's rhythm playing, but also her brilliantly aggressive vocals that have a lot in common with LOG's Randy Blythe or Arch Enemy's Angela Gossrow, she screams, growls and barks inciting a riot with the savage lyrical content of this album that also has links to the MFH early days and indeed LOG at their most political.

Backing all of this is rhythmic noise of Ralph Alexander's blastbeats and snare drum explosions (Demoneyes) who along with Damien Rainaund's pummelling bass riffs give this album it's stomach flipping bottom end that lets Mader add guitar flourishes to lighten the songs barbarity. The album kicks off with 5 thunderous tracks that sees them going hell for leather and Hart shredding her throat, but on Devil Can Have You she shows that she can also sing just as well cleanly on the songs slower passages, this is blown away by the more industrial elements on Time Of The Disease which is an atmospheric piece with a start-stop riff, an orchestral/choral break before we get a black metal influenced second part that really shows off Alexander's drumming, in fact the second half of this album is where things get interesting, we know Mader can do modern thrash metal but he stretches himself on the latter bit of the album, I Am War is an introduction that builds on the industrial part and then we get the almost djent influenced title track that is bookended by the outro Siren before the album ends with the climactic Growing Colder. As I've said this is a debut in name only Logan Mader has been around long enough to create an album of this high quality, he can still shred like a demon and his chest beating song craft remains undiminished, if you've followed Mader's career thus far you need this album. 8/10         

Death Dealer: Hallowed Ground (SMG)

They're back folks, three years after their storming debut War Master the American (by way of Australia) power metal masters come back to once again reclaim heavy metal as their own. This is American Power Metal at it's sword wielding mightiest the shrieking vocals, the super speed riffs, the machine gun drumming and songs of war and power, the band have their influences in Judas Priest and Manowar and these shine through from the opening bars of Gunslinger. Once again Sean Peck's vocals are stratospheric he can really destroy those highs shattering glass with his voice that would make Eric Adams quake (see U-666) as the twin axe attack of Stu Marshall and Ross The Boss continue to just bring riff after beautiful riff with both men showing the kind of playing that has seen Marshall be very in demand in the metal world and Ross The Boss being THE Manowar guitarist no matter what Karl Logan may think. They link well on the true metal licks and trade solos like the veterans they are, however no band can function without a solid engine room and Death Dealer have one of those too with Steve Bolognese's drumming and Mike Davis' bass adding the guts to songs like Break The Silence and the speed to Plan Of Attack (which is a song about Iron Man).

There hasn't been any major deviation in the bands sound since War Master this is traditional heavy metal played by five men that have immersed themselves in for years (hell one even helped create it). This lack of evolution is negated by songs such as Way Of The Gun which is the perfect example of this pure metal sound, with it's strutting riff, triumphant guitar solo and even a drum solo, it encapsulates traditional metal excellently. In fact this whole album is a testament to the shirtless wild metal of America's 1980's heyday that drew from the NWOBHM, added a dash of thrash and then proceeded to take a war axe to the whole thing. With tracks like the rumbling Total Devestation, the thrashy K.I.L.L, ode to metal The Anthem and Running Wild-like Skull And Crossbones are all part of this albums classic appeal. At thirteen tracks the record will mean you have to catch your breath at the end but if you love throwing your fist in the air and banging your head liberally then Hallowed Ground will do for you what War Master did three years ago and what Sign Of The Hammer did 30 years earlier. Glorious true metal! 8/10   

Sailing To Nowhere: To The Unknown (Bakerteam)

Italian band Sailing To Nowhere are a bit of unique offering as they mix heavy metal and hard rock much like Tobias Sammet does in both Edguy and Avantasia. Comprised of a drummer, bassist, keyboardist, guitarist and two singers (one male one female) the band play progressively tinged metal that is filled with melodic keyboard passages and chunky rock riffs opening gambit No Dreams In My Night has everything you would want from band like this. The dual vocals work well on the melodic tracks like Big Fire (which has a pop element) and the two soul stirring ballads Lovers On Planet Earth and Strange Dimension, which sees both vocalists having an impassioned delivery similar to that of countrymen Lacuna Coil, albeit with a more power metal backing so think Hansi Kursh singing with Elize Ryd and you would be on the right lines. Every track has booming drums, shredding guitars and the keys adding the classical symphonic layer that Blind Guardian pride themselves on, this is at it's most obvious on You Won't Dare, which is blast beat friendly and features some orchestral flourishes throughout. This is an album that will appeal to lovers of strong metal with a metal edge, they also do a hard rocking cover of Anastasia's Left Outside Alone which ends the album in the same manner that it started. Great debut from the Italians!! 7/10   

A View From The Back Of The Room: Paradise Lost (Review By Paul)

Paradise Lost: Wulfrun Hall

Another trip to the Midlands for a night of dark morbidity and three bands who proved excellent value for money. Having dined in a pub that resembled the Cantina in Episode IV, we headed for the Wulfrun Hall and realised why the area was flooded with some rather aggressive looking chaps; it was fight night at the Civic Hall. Skipping past the queue who were looking forward to a night of professional boxing, we joined the much smaller line waiting patiently for the doors to open.

Bang on 7:30pm opening act Lucifer (8) hit the stage. A heady mix of Sabbath, Cathedral, Zeppelin and Sleep, Lucifer know where their roots are and stick closely to them. Doom fused with heavy riffs and sludgy bass lines, this is a band who, similar to Orchid are sat firmly in the 70s but with a sound that really appeals. Given the fact that vocalist Johanna Sadonis (formerly of The Oath) and Cathedral guitarist Gaz Jennings comprise half of the band, it probably isn't a surprise. The band put in an excellent half hour with tracks from their debut release Lucifer I. Sadnois’ impressive voice and Nicks/Joplin moves captures the attention whilst alongside Jennings riffage, Dino Gollnick (complete with Blackmore style Pilgrim hat) and drummer Andrew Prestige laid down the heaviest of rhythms. As the crowd slowly built, Lucifer’s driving sound produced a solid and enthusiastic response.

A quick turnaround allowed Swedish Death Metallers Tribulation (9) a good 40 minutes to make a mark. And make a mark they did. Black metal is a strange genre and if done well can be really captivating. Tribulation hit the ground running and delivered an impressive set featuring several tracks from this year’s excellent The Children Of The Night as well as a couple of older numbers. Vocalist and bassist Johannes Andersson commands the centre stage, prowling back and fore and possessing a pretty impressive death growl to boot. Meanwhile guitarist Jonathan Hulten gurns and shreds simultaneously, never stopping in his movement around the stage. Fellow axeman Adam Zaars is more reserved but provides some of the most brutal chords. At the back Jakob Ljungberg made time keeping look easy. For all the interest in the shapes the band threw, if their music was shite it wouldn't mean anything. Fortunately Tribulation are musically excellent, with much more variety than the balls out thrash to death approach of many of their cohort. Melody, layered hooks combine with pounding heaviness to provide a pretty impressive outfit. Stunning choice of warm up band.

A smooth change over and the house lights dimmed as Paradise Lost (10) took the stage. Two years ago they played a 25th anniversary set at the same venue which contained a whole host (sorry!) of classic tracks culled from almost every album. They were excellent that evening and confirmed why they are one of the best metal bands that the UK has ever produced. Led by the dour (but brilliant) Nick Holmes, the band delivered a set that was set to awesome from the first note. A combination of new tracks from the unbelievably good The Plague Within release, which were paced throughout the set (take note Jeff Waters) and merged with old classics. Opening with No Hope In Sight, the band struggled with a very muddy sound for the first couple of songs with Adrian Erlandsson’s drums and Steve Edmondson's bass overpowering the guitars of Gregor Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy whilst Nick Holmes struggled to get his vocals heard. However, by the time they crashed into Gothic, balance had been restored and the doom laden guitar work allowed one of my all-time favourites to be delivered with aplomb.

Of course, this was the first time the new stuff has been played live in the UK and it was interesting how simply tracks such as Terminal, the brutally heavy Victims Of The Past and Return To The Sun slotted into the set list. In between songs the Yorkshire delivery from Holmes was superb with deadpan sarcasm prevalent. A rare outing for Praise Lamented Shade from 2007’s In Requiem reminded you of the heritage of the band. Gregor Mackintosh, headband and dreads flowing dealt with the lead work whilst Aedy plays an understated supporting rhythm. The brutally heavy duo of Flesh From Bone and the death crushingly heavy Beneath Broken Earth led to a massive response for As I Die, complete with audience participation before Requiem closed the main proceedings.

An encore of four songs followed, which was excellent and set closer Say Just Words once again proved what a vital band Paradise Lost are. As good, if not better than two years ago, Paradise Lost are firmly established as a brilliant band; it’s just a shame that the venue was only half full.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Reviews: Riverside, Amorphis, Ahab (Reviews By Paul)

Riverside: Love, Fear And The Time Machine (InsideOut)

In the numerous albums that we review here at Musipedia Towers during the course of the year, we regularly award a 9 or 10 out of 10 for outstanding releases. Believe it or not, we can struggle to find superlatives to describe the brilliance of the music we have experienced. In 2014 that was the challenge we faced with the breathtakingly brilliant release by Anathema, Distant Satellites; due to its quality, complexity and sheer beauty. In 2015 compiling a top ten for the year is already proving to be a challenge with a quarter of the year still to go; however, Love, Fear And The Time Machine by Polish progressive rockers Riverside is for me, 2015’s Anathema moment.

Combining a huge mix of influences, Love Fear And The Time Machine meshes together into some of the most perfect music I've ever heard. Opener Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened) mixes layers of hard rock with synth driven indie, Progressiveness ala Pink Floyd along with a generous serving of several seminal outfits (think Anathema, Opeth, Wishbone Ash for starters). Under The Pillow contains the edge which Steve Wilson manages to deliver so effortlessly with undertones of the late 80s synthesiser work of OMD, Depeche Mode et al. Complex, creative and delicate, Riverside, Mariusz Duda (vocals, bass and acoustic guitars), Piotr Grudzinski (Guitars), Piotr Kozieradzki (Drums and percussion) and Michael Kapaj (Keyboards and backing vocals) have made an absolute masterpiece which elevates the band even higher than their excellent 2013 release Shrine Of New Generation Slaves.

As well as the progressive elements which wash throughout this album, the indie and late 80s influence of bands such as OMD, The Cure and Depeche Mode really add to the eclectic feel. #Addicted contains the most addictive (sorry!) riff of the year with a beautiful construction and special hooks and melody. One of the most striking things about the band is the quality of Duda's voice, haunting and delicious. Last year’s excellent Lunatic Soul release, Walking On A Flashlight Beam really showcased the variation and subtlety in his vocal delivery and this is continued in spades on this album. Caterpillar And The Barbed Wire, maintains the complex and elegantly structured compositions, with a real Depeche Mode feel as well as some captivating guitar from Grudzinski.

A total change of mood, tempo and pace comes next during Saturate Me, with sweeping keyboards dominating the mix in a perfectly balanced Marillion-esque track. Afloat, like several tracks on this release, is short for a progressive rock release and demonstrates more variety and change. Duda’s vocals have an uncanny Vincent Cavanagh like quality and provide a calm, simple yet incredibly sensitive song. Having commented on the shortness of Afloat, we then hit the heavyweight in the tail of the release with some lengthier compositions. Starting with the six and a half minute Discard Your Fear, similarities with Swedish doom rockers Katatonia are unmistakeable. Towards The Blue Horizon clocks in at over eight minutes but you are so absorbed by the beauty of it. Gossamer light in parts, delicate and fragile throughout and breath taking in construction and delivery, this track makes the hairs stand on the back of your neck!

Penultimate track Time Travellers is an acoustic number, showcasing the many varied influences that have enabled Riverside to create their own unique sound. A beautifully crafted track, this is one that will bring a lump to the throat when played live; so sentimental and emotional. Album closer Found (The Unexpected Flaw Of Searching) provides a fitting finale to an incredible album. With so many influences throughout it is sometimes easy to forget that this band have been working their way through the music world for a number of years. Perfect is not a word I use very often, but Love, Fear And The Time Machine really is that. It is sophisticated and totally balanced; not beer and burger but a glass of wine and time to relax. It is nestling high in the already heaving top ten of 2015. 10/10

Amorphis: Under The Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)

In the metal world it is almost impossible to keep up to date with the constant stream of new releases, vibrant and exciting bands and live performances. In recent years this has been even more of a problem due to the plethora of high quality music being produced. At festivals it is often the same where you have clashes aplenty. Do you watch band A or band B? Decisions, decisions. One of the bands who have really slipped under my radar over the last two decades is Amorphis from Finland. Initially a death metal band that emerged amongst the flood of other acts through the 1990s, their sound has evolved into a more progressive folk tinged heavy metal. I missed their performance at BOA in 2013 as they clashed with Evil Scarecrow, but by all accounts they were excellent and in their 12th offering, Under The Red Cloud, they have provided all the reasons needed to now finally become fully immersed in their back catalogue.

Under The Red Cloud is powerful, anthemic, thrashy and symphonic; a real quality release and one that demonstrates the quality of the band. It is consistently strong throughout with the vocal delivery of Tomi Joutsen outstanding. He has a combination of styles, Maurizio Iacono (Kataklysm), Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth) Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) and even Nergal (Behemoth) all come to mind as he delivers both death growl and clean vocals with equal aplomb. The fusion of folk, power metal, death and even elements of the frantic drive of Blind Guardian all mix to provide a real mix of innovative and interesting music. The guitar work of Esa Holopainen is excellent whilst the supporting rhythm work of Tomi Koivusaari, bassist Niclas Etelavouri and drummer Jan Rechberger provide a solid foundation. Subtle keyboards underpin many of the tracks, with Santeri Kallio demonstrating his skills. Tracks such as Bad Blood, Dark Path and the Egyptian themed Death Of A King are real quality. 

Add in the excellent production of Jens Borgen, who has a CV longer than your arm (bands include Katatonia, Bloodbath, Opeth, Soilwork, Amon Amarth, Symphony X and Paradise Lost) and a number of guest musicians who add strings, percussion (ex-Opeth man Martin Lopez) and backing vocals, as well the orchestrations of the Osterang Symphonic Orchestra and this all adds up to one of the real quality releases of 2015. In another year of real excellent quality, Under the Red Cloud stands comfortably in the upper echelons. 9/10

Ahab: The Boats Of The Glen Carrig (Napalm)

At last year’s excellent Damnation Festival in Leeds, I was fortunate to catch around half of the set of German Doom merchants Ahab (named after the character in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick) before getting myself into position for the ball-breaking set by Bolt Thrower. I subsequently forgot much about what I had seen, mainly due to the Bolt Thrower set eclipsing all before them. However, with the release of album number four, The Boats of the Glen Carrig, a concept album based on William Hope Hodgson's eponymous novel, Ahab now has my full attention.

It is fair to say that Funeral Doom Metal is not everyone’s favourite brew; indeed I know as many who hate it as love it and basing an album on a novel by an author who died in 1918 may not convert many more to the fan club. The Boats Of The Glen Carrig is over an hour long and has a mere six songs; therefore you know some of those are going to be rather lengthy. However, those six tracks contain an incredible contrast. Just as the combination of cheese, beetroot and marmite shouldn't work to make the ultimate sandwich, so this combination of light and shade works when it clearly shouldn't. This album contains riffs so heavy that they crush you to the floor one minute; a mix of death metal growls followed by crystal clear vocals and then some of the most beautiful, intricate passages ever written. It is absolutely brilliant.

The combination of Daniel Droste and Christian Hector’s delightfully delicate and gentle guitar work merged with the powerful mind blowing riffage make this release sound effortless and unique. Stephen Wandernoth’s bass and Cornelius Atlhammer’s drumming complete the mix. Highlights include the album opener, The Isle, which effortlessly mixes huge crashing riffs with idyllic and peaceful passages and the terrifying The Weedmen, a 15 minute epic towards the end of the album. No uplifting songs about love and flowers here, just macabre and misery with riffs that decapitate if you stick your head out. Combine The Boats Of The Glen Carrig with a clear night, a huge spliff and you’ll be away. Just don’t study the fantastic cover at the same time …. 9/10