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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Reviews: In This Moment, Bloodbound, Celestial Decay

In This Moment: Black Widow (Atlantic Records)

In This Moment are totally unrecognisable from the band they were 7 years ago, gone are the American metalcore, band fronted by a shy female singer with a great voice but who seemed naive in the face of the music industry. As they evolved their sound, getting more melodic elements along with their trademark heaviness, culminating in 2012's Blood which was a industrial flavoured, stomping metal album that melded big metal anthems with melodic sensibilities and frontwoman Maria Brink's newfound confidence and liberation. She became every inch a rock Goddess on that album using her supreme vocals and an almost animalistic sexuality to eat up and spit out any other band that wants to fuck with them. Black Widow has the same producer as Blood (Kevin Churko) and stays in the same vein as the previous effort. There is atmosphere in the intro taking in ITM's (and Brink's especially) penchant for the dramatic before the pulsing electronics kick in as Sex Metal Barbie starts things off in real modern style with the industrial song starting the album with Brink almost speaking her vocals and crooning on the chorus. The music as usual is all the work of Chris Howorth who provides the guitars and is the silent partner to Brink's OTT image. Big Bad Wolf is a little more straight forward maintaining the industrial theme, before Dirty Pretty has to be a lost Marilyn Manson song before things slow down on Sexual Hallucination which features Brent Smith from Shinedown and is a sexually charged duet. Brink's voice is truly unique and she effortlessly switches from singing to screaming like a demon and she is complimented by the bouncy riffs of Howorth and co. All the songs on this album ooze sex, violence and empowerment in equal measure. Since their last album and indeed their last tour (which tried to out prop both Messrs Cooper and Zombie) In This Moment have reinvented themselves as a modern metal tour-de-force providing the missing link between Lady Gaga and Rammstein (in fact that would be a hell of a tour package). 8/10         

Bloodbound: Stormborn (AFM)

I first witnessed Swedes Bloodbound at Bloodstock and their brand of cheesy power metal left me banging my head and smiling like a loon. Their music is very feel good with songs about fantasy and metal (and that's about it) throughout, meaning that they are as cheesy as fondue however when the songs are played by a band with some serious chops you know they are not a joke. Stormborn is the bands sixth album and it kicks off with Satanic Panic (which I will admit brought a snigger) on which the band starts as they mean to go on with rampaging speed/power metal with speedy dual guitars riffs from Tomas and Henrik Olsson, blasting drums from Pelle Åkerlind, the big keys of Fredrik Bergh and vocals from Patrik "Pata" Johansson that are part Halford part Hammerfall, part Sabaton. From here the pace rarely lets up with Iron Throne having chanted gang vocals, Nightmares From The Grave has a swaggering delivery and really emphasises the bands power metal roots until things slow up with the sledgehammer march of the title track which is pure Sabaton with it's huge keyboard stabs throughout, in fact the spirit and sound of their Swedish brethren looms large on this record as fans of there brand of epic power metal will really get a kick out of this album with it's big synths, gang shouts and powerful metallic anthems. Things pick back up on the classic metal styling's of We Raise The Dead before everything goes all Grand Magus on Made Of Steel which has the chorus "Made of metal, made of steel" and gave me a smile a mile wide! Then everything goes super speed again from then on with Blood Of My Blood before Anders Broman's bass drives the brooding When The Kingdom Will Fall. Stormborn is yet another great entry into Bloodbound's power metal legacy. 8/10  


Celestial Decay: Quantum X (The Music Alliance)

More Swedish power metal but this time with an emphasis on the symphonic, Celestial Decay is made up of guitarists' Hobbe Houshmand and Freddy Olofsson and they bring together a group of musicians to create this album of symphonic, progressive, power metal that is part Blind Guardian, part Rhapsody Of Fire, and on Enlightened they have the sugary elctro-pop sound of Amaranthe (who's Andreas Solveström provides the screams). This is a cinematic musical journey playing to all the session players strengths with two drummers sharing the tracks they both have the pacey and powerful style favoured by the genre, the bassists both show their metal anchoring the rhythm so Olofsson and Houshmand can show off with some neo-classical guitar wankery. As I previously mentioned there are screamed vocals but the major vocals come from unmistakeable Aeon Zen front man Andi Kravljaca which means that the band share similarities with the British mob as they blend prog and power effortlessly see tracks like Ashes Of Decay for the faster, heavier side but equally on Power Of Will they show how well they can deal with slower more romantic songs (and also throw in the odd heart stopping epic solo). This album is a real journey and earlier I mentioned that it has a cinematic feel and the metal combined with the orchestral elements topped with Kravljaca's emotive and adaptive vocals, the album also flows like a film building in it's latter half into more complicate compositions including a metallic cover of Total Eclipse Of The Heart which leads into the stunning Final Symphony. Sometimes bands like this can get a little lost in their own virtuosity Celestial Decay don't they write strong songs with passion, melody and incredible skill. 8/10


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Reviews: Foo Fighters, Nickelback, Sister Sin

Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways (RCA)

The Foo Fighters have gone through an interesting career, starting as almost a Nirvana offshoot, they have now overtaken Nirvana in terms of popularity and recognition eight albums into their career and The Foo's seem to be in a position where they can do whatever they want; their previous album Wasting Light saw them turn into a five piece and expanded their musicianship a lot as it was a very organic record drawing from their influences. Sonic Highways then carries on this audio experimentation as the album is an accompanying piece to a documentary which sees Grohl travelling around America taking in the music of those cites. Grohl wrote all the music for the songs after the visit to each city and then recorded the vocals later taking lines from the interviews he conducted. So a difficult recording process then but how does that translate to the album itself, each track is representative of a city so it is eight cities, eight tracks starting with Something For Nothing (Chicago IL) which has a echoing opening and turns into a stomping blues piece with a little bit of funk in the middle with guitar by Rick Nielsen, next up is Feast And The Famine (Arlington, VA) which is snotty punk rock featuring members of Scream (Grohl's first real band). Congregation (Nashville, TN) which definitely evokes the spirit of Country with it's uplifting message and jangly guitar lines, while also staying true to the Foo Fighters sound. Things get a little more soulful on What Did I Do?/God As My Witness (Austin, TX) with a really rocking track with some big guitar riffs from Texan Gary Clarke Jr. and a real change of pace in the final part. The album is a little disjointed but for the most part the songs are strong enough to stand on their own, one of the best is Outside (Los Angeles, CA) which features Mr California himself Joe Walsh on guitars. As the album draws to a close the songs we get the excellent Subterranean which is a laid back paen to his adopted home before we get the finale of I Am A River  (New York, NY) which is a swelling ballad on which Grohl sings his heart out. Overall this is another solid album of arena baiting rock music aimed at a wide audience, but Sonic Highways shows that Grohl and his band can now do whatever they want to and Sonic Highways is a testament to a band unafraid to whatever they want. 8/10     

Nickelback: No Fixed Address (Republic)

Are Nickelback the most hated band in the world? Well some would say yes, but I've always had a soft spot for Mr Kroeger and co but it seems even his long term supporters are casting him adrift as this is the first album not on their long term label Roadrunner, they are now on Republic home to  Amy Winehouse, Akon, Lil Wayne, Nelly, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Lorde, Drake, Lil Wayne, Weezer and Enrique Iglesias to name a few, so not a step down really but a shrewd marketing step; cast off the hardcore rockers and pitch yourself to the manstream. But I digress No Fixed Address is Nickelback's eighth album and as such it is the sound of a band with nothing to prove, they don't care what people think. From the bass led punch of A Million Miles An Hour which is a thumping rocker to start proceedings straight into the government baiting Edge Of A Revolution which has a chanting clarion cry chorus, cue mass gang shouts. So here is where things start to get a bit weird, What Are You Waitng For? is a typical Nickleback ballad but features some chart style synths in the background (it is also the first song co written by rapper Jacob Kasher), She Keeps Me Up is almost Stevie Wonder mixed with Maroon 5 style funk with Kroeger trying his hand at rapid fire rhymes and duetting with a female almost Rhianna-like singer. The most jarring track on the album is Got Me Runnin' Round which features rapper Flo-Rida doing his trademark stuff on a song laced with horns. So a bit of a weird one this there are some classic Nickelback-style songs, a lot of ballads mainly with very few rockers but most of all there are just too many songs that are a bit too poppy, meaning that this album is very disappointing especially when compared to their last album and their mid 2000's heyday. Many may have thought Nickelback sold out years ago, I never did, I always thought they were a rock band that have appealed to the mainstream however unfortunately this album reeks of a sell out. 2/10
 
Sister Sin: Black Lotus (Victory)

Sister Sin are one of theses bands that have been on my periphery, having seen a bit of them at Bloodstock I was impressed enough to give this latest album a spin. Sister Sin hail from Sweden and as such they play old school, leather clad heavy metal straight out of the 1980's with the banshee like vocals from Liv Jagrell echoing Warlock, the Teutonic axe attack of Accept,  the bouncy hard rock of former tour mates Lordi. Jagrell's vocals are scarred and raw but they fit the music perfectly with bass gallop, stun gun riffs and pounding drums. Au Revoir has the same metallic swing as Grand Magus, Desert Queen is a doomier feeling song with some big organs augmenting it. This is Sister Sin's fifth album and it continues in the same old school style they have played on their last four albums but this doesn't mean that this album is repetitive in fact far from it Count Me Out is a orchestral backed hard rocker and The Jinx is straight out of the Halestorm song book (Jagrell sounds a lot like Lzzy vocally actually). Sister Sin are a great little band from Sweden that play some top quality metallic hard rock. Well worth checking out if you like your metal with a female bite to it. 7/10 

Reviews: Ancient VVisdom, Pain Of Salvation, Cavalera Conspiracy (Reviews By Paul)

Ancient VVisdom: Rise Of An Ancient Evil (Prosthetic)

Texan outfit Ancient VVisdom have been plying their dark material for several years, with their 2011 debut A Godlike Inferno virtually all acoustic but having some of the most sinister undertones around. What struck me at the time was how demonic the band could sound, much of this due to the clarity of the vocal delivery of Nathan Opposition. The construction of their songs was complex and yet straightforward, acoustic riffs combining with the percussion and bass. Their latest release, Rise Of An Ancient Evil builds on the debut and their last release, Deathlike. With a heavier guitar sound chugging away throughout the album, the Sabbath influence oozes throughout. However, as well as the guitar work of Michael Jochum and Justin Mason, there are several other musical comparisons, most notably the melodic yet eerie delivery of Ghost. The title track opens the album before the distinctive acoustic guitar of Mason leads into Chaos Will Reign, Jochum’s electric riff kicking in. Blood Offering is possibly the outstanding track on the album, a colossal doom laden dirge, with Opposition’s melancholic tones underlying the heavy satanic themes that are the staple lyrical themes of the Ancient VVisdom stable.
 As the album progresses, the darkness increases; The Devil's Work needs no explanation, grinding guitar work and homage to the dark one continuing, underlined with a healthy dollop of groove and melody. Ancient VVisdom’s lyrical focus is on one subject and they do it well.  Blind Leading The Blind maintains the momentum, leading to the downright rifftastic doom-laden Worm Ridden Skull (great title), which really takes a massive scoop of Sabbath guitar and crunches on the back of your neck. And so it continues throughout, huge riffs, pounding bass lines and Old Nick as the subject matter. Opposition’s vocals fit ideally with the monster sound that the band generate, melancholic and angst ridden. By the time you arrive at the penultimate track, City Of Stone, you've kind of heard it all and are beginning to think that their approach is slightly formulaic but suddenly they change the tempo slightly, sludgy guitars with a couple of brief solos cutting through the mist. Album closer Higher Into The Black Flames opens acoustically before crashing riffs bring a decent album to a fitting close. Definitely worth a listen, VVisdom have built on their two opening albums to deliver another work worthy of an audience with the Devil himself. 8/10

Pain Of Salvation: Falling Home (InsideOut)

Well, if the Devil has all the best tunes, he may well wonder what the fuck to make of this album. I first saw Pain Of Salvation a few years ago supporting Opeth in Birmingham. Their progressive tinged indie and gothic fusion of rock was enjoyable to watch and listen to and I picked up a couple of their albums to follow up.  However, I've not followed them with much intent although I realise that this is a band who stretch boundaries with each release. Falling Home is their first album since 2011’s Road Salt Part 2 and it’s a reworking of several of their songs in an acoustic setting, something that they have wanted to do for some time. Full of jazz, funk and reggae elements, Daniel Gildenlöw’s outfit ramble their way through some of their previous works. It certainly takes a few listens to get your head around. Opening track Stress has shades of Zappa, whilst the reworked Linoleum echoes the purple one, Prince with a deliciously weighted duet. The progressive side of the band reveals itself on To The Shoreline, with some deeply crafted harmonies, oscillating time changes and almost a country rock feel to parts of it (at one point I thought it was going to merge into The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!).
 And then comes the track that has divided opinion on social media; the lounge room cover of Dio’s Holy Diver, which I have to admit is so smooth I thought it was Richard Cheese on first hearing before it morphs into the reggae breakdown halfway through. This is a brave move, given the reverence that RJD has been held in since his death. I've listened to it several times and I can't quite make my mind up about whether I like it or not. It’s not offensive and it certainly is more original than the highly rated KSE version. Maybe this is one which really is reliant on each listener to make their own mind up! 1979 highlights the keyboard quality of Daniel Karlsson and is a slow burner that increases into a rather pleasant meander with some quality guitar playing from Gildenlöw and Ragnar Zolberg. Long serving bassist Gustaf Hielm and drummer Léo Margarit comprise the rest of POS and they kick into action on Chain Sling, one of the favourites amongst the die hards. One new track, Falling Down completes an eclectic package which has ignited some strong opinions. As someone who is not massively familiar with the back catalogue of Daniel Gildenlöw, it is a rather relaxing album with some very accomplished acoustic works. If you are a diehard POS fan, I'm sure you have a different take on it all together. I like it. 7/10

Cavalera Conspiracy: Pandemonium (Napalm)

Well, if you want to be hit by the biggest truck in the world, step out in front of this bad boy. Kicking off at 150mph with Bablyon Pandemonium, the Cavalera brothers appear intent on destroying all in their path. Max stated in his recent autobiography that he wanted to get back to the heaviest ways he knew and this is one hell of a statement of intent. Hammering drums from Iggor, wailing guitars and vocals that sound like oompa loompas on speed. Three and a half minutes after the opening salvo, it’s time to catch one last breath before it starts again with the hysterical Bonzai Kamikazee; I think this got past 150mph to be honest but my head was pinned against the wall at the time so I can’t be sure. A demonic bass line from Johny Chow leads into the mind stomping Scum. A swift change of intro to Apex Predator explodes into an all-out race to get to the end of the track. Not Losing The Edge provides a welcome return to the old-school Sepultura/Soulfly that Max has patented and destroyed with over the years. This one has a massive hook and the slightly slower pace for their first few minutes is a welcome change amidst the all-out charging. And basically, that’s how it is for the entire album. Massive sound, swirling guitars from Max and the ever faithful Marc Rizzo who adds some vicious fretwork, head crushing drumming from Iggor, frantic direction and time changes combined with the usual guttural snarling and straightforward chant your nuts off choruses from Max. It’s no-nonsense in your face thrashing metal. If you like it hard, fast and totally aggressive, have a punt on this. You won’t be disappointed. If they tour, people will lose limbs in this pits. If you have a hangover or a nervous disposition, stay the fuck away. This will damage you. Permanently. 8/10

Friday, 21 November 2014

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Temperance Movement (Review By Paul)

The Temperance Movement, Bristol

Following a hard weekend of some excellent quality classic rock and metal at Hard Rock Hell, a quiet night would have been welcome for some of your intrepid reviewers. However, because we are plain stupid, a mere four hours after getting back home, Matt and I (accompanied by Mrs H) were off to Bristol for another viewing of one of the most exciting live bands that the UK has produced for a long time.

Support band Raglans (7), disappointingly from Ireland and not the dirty ‘Port, were the second support act up (apologies to the openers but we were in the Hatchet). Delivering pretty standard indie style rock, they received a good reception from the already heaving Academy crowd. Energetic and enthusiastic, Raglans sounded rather generic to me but I'm probably not the most well placed to rate such a band. Mrs H appeared to enjoy them, and she knows a bit about indie.

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to see TTM twice in three days. Their sets back in April and early May oozed class and energy, as they worked through a set that comprised mainly tracks from their self-titled debut which had been finely polished in the live arena as a result of the endless touring that new bands have to do these days. Both of those gigs were special, with large crowds and massively enthusiastic responses. Having been holed up in Rockfield for several weeks, this gig was a bit more of a challenge for them. It was the start of another short tour and that difficult period in the career prior to the new album release where unfamiliar material has to stand shoulder to shoulder with the established songs in the live arena and hold up.

Well, I'm happy to report that TTM managed to dovetail their set splendidly, with a generous helping of new material (including a beautiful closing track) sandwiched in between some of their superb debut songs.  TTM picked a balanced set, ensuring that frontman Phil Campbell could deliver in his usual energetic style delivery, whirling around the stage like a dervish in the manner he has made his own. Decked out in leather coat, shades and Cossack hat, he sensibly had the lyrics for the new songs on a stand at the front of the stage although I'm not convinced he looked at them more than to change to the next song. The new stuff, as you’d expect, didn't quite have the smoothness of their earlier material, but demonstrated a more thoughtful, layered and textured level of composition; the creative juices are obviously flowing well within the band and they've been allowed to move away from the immediacy that any debut album has to have. Of course, they still have to deliver the goods on the older stuff and they did that all right. Midnight Black, Only Friend, Be Lucky and Take It Back got the crowd bouncing whilst the delicate strains of Smouldering and Chinese Lanterns slowed the pace at appropriate junctures.

TTM is not just Phil Campbell of course, and the rest of the band really does provide the musical support that allows him to lead from the front.  Technically, TTM is as good as anything that is around these days, with their combination of The Faces, Stones and Black Crowes style attracting a wide cross section in the audience.  Earlier in the year I felt that the band was on the verge of getting almost mainstream appreciation. Now I am convinced of it. Their next album is likely to climb high in the charts and I would not be surprised if the next time we get the opportunity to see them it will be in venues substantially bigger than the O2 Academy. Their end of year tour will be followed by their first venture to the USA, supporting another big favourite of the Musipedia crew, Blackberry Smoke on a tour I would kill to witness. At this stage, the world is there for the taking. Once again, something special and a pleasure to be present. 9/10

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Reviews: I.N.C, Sleeping Pulse, Morning Dwell

I.N.C: Black Hearse Serenade (Rising Records)

I.N.C stands for Indestructible Noise Command and that really is all you need to know, the band from Bridgeport Connecticut are old school thrash with some leanings towards the extreme side of things, the band originally broke up in 1988, but they built up enough funds to finance themselves without record company help and reformed in 2010. Black Hearse Serenade is their second album since their reformation and serves up a big heaving slab of intelligent thrash metal that bursts at the seams stretching the genre to its furthest point. The album is a concept album  "Set in Southern California, about a broken man, his congregation of runaways, junkies and lost souls and a murderous path to finality. A childhood filled with embarrassment and shame, born of religious zealotry and an overbearing mother, that broken child has now become a man." A real near the knuckle experience then with the story being backed by some razor wire riffs, machine gun drums and vocals that would make Anselmo quake in his boots, in fact think a thrashier Pantera and you wouldn't be far off this albums sound; especially on the groove filled Sainted Sinners which turns into Cyanide & Whiskey which funnily enough sounds like Down with it's big beatdown verses. The music in this album is a veritable mix of thrash, Southern rock and a heap of attitude all topped with sterling musicianship ; see The Lies We Devour guitar fans and some nice snarling vocals which turn to a solemn croon on the final track the atmospheric Love Like Napalm. I haven't heard much of I.N.C but this album is testament to their ability and most of all one that will get heads banging throughout. 8/10  


Sleeping Pulse: Under The Same Sky (Prophecy)

Sleeping Pulse are a two person project from Michael Moss from Liverpudlian dark, progressive band Antimatter and Portugeuse multi-instrumentalist Luís Fazendeiro. Moss has the same, unmistakable sonorous crooning vocal that has been heard in Antimatter for all these years and he uses it to full effect on this record of anthemic, multi-layered, genre splicing piece of dark progressive music that sits alongside Anathema (who's former bassist formed Antimatter with Moss) and even Katatonia in terms of pulsating intelligent rock music that has melodic guitars and a dark electronic back beat that Antimatter fans will recognise. Lyrically the album has semi concept based on "The abysses of the human soul and grounds his lyrics on an elaborate concept about sociopathic manipulation" so high concept indeed, the complicated and indeed sinister nature of the lyrics are reflected in the music. The tribal Gagging Order is in direct contrast to the raw, acoustic beauty of Backfire which is bolstered by some beautiful string work and shows off Fazendeiro's guitar work in it's solo. Many may think that this album is a bit to 'light' and for those that like metal and rock with a bit of grunt yes this hasn't got 90mph riffs and breakdowns but it has a heaviness in both a musical and emotional sense with down tuned guitars (Noose), dark atmospherics (The Puppeteer), haunting ambience (War) and Moss's vocal work all combine to provide this album a real sense of bleakness but with a hint of light on the horizon with the final title track. Yes the album is dark, brooding and in parts miserable but it seems to reflect some parts of life. If you want instant madness then go elsewhere if you want something with understated beauty try this. 9/10

Morning Dwell: S/T (Doolittle Group)

Sweden's Morning Dwell do more than draw on their influences they downright copy them; the Intro is from Holst Mars:Bringer Of War which is, as you will all know the opening strains of Am I Evil? This moves straight into Unlock All The Doors which has the same rapid fire delivery of bands like Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius and most importantly Helloween. In fact they are almost exactly alike with fast paced guitars, blast beat drumming and lightning keyboard riffs throughout. This is Ecliptica, Visions and even Keeper Of The Seven Keys territory especially on Orange Moped. The music is fine, very generic but fine the solos are great the songs are strong but they are let down a little by Petter Hjerpe's vocals, he can hit the highs excellently and the lows too see the heaviest track on the album Predator, but his mid range is a bit sketchy meaning that he can sometimes be a little off key, the production too lets them down, it is very tinny and is most noticeable on the drums which are very trebley. The band do have some good songs on this album but pick of the bunch are The Pirate Song is a bit mad, the rampaging and cheesy as hell The Gatekeeper and the slightly epic The Story Never Ends which takes us back to The Keeper Of The Seven Keys territory. A good album let down by the lack of creativity and the issues previously mentioned, if you are a power metal obsessive then pick it up, if not then you may be a bit disappointed. 5/10  

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A View From North Wales: Hard Rock Hell

Hard Rock Hell, Hafan-Y-Mor Park, Pwllheli

The five-ish hour drive to Hafan-Y-Mor is always a good run with friends and stopping at The Sportsman's in Porth Madog for the finest pub sandwich I've ever had along with some locally made ale (which we duly stocked up on at the brewery) was a great idea by Mr H who was driving and using is knowledge of the area to make sure everything went swimmingly. After buying all the bacon and cider we could then we finally set off on the final leg of the journey to the hallowed ground of Haven. Check in was at 4pm and we arrived duly at 3:59, before joining the queue to get our pack and then on to finding our Caravan (yes folks no tents here) and unloading. After this it was time for some drinks before heading into the arena for do what we came to do; watch some fine rock music.

Thursday

Midnight Messiah

First up were Midnight Messiah comprised of former members of NWOBHM also-rans Elixir, these two men were the leather clad, silver fox Paul Taylor, who has the best hair this side of Biff Byford and sunglasses wearing axe slinger Phil Denton. They were the writing team in Elixir and to be honest MM sound like Elixir they are bouncy, competent classic metal with dual guitars, coming from Denton and wunderkid Dave Strange, the bass gallop of Alex Machell and metronomic drumming of Darren Lee. With some good songs getting heads nodding and fists pumping MM were the perfect opening to this festival for the drinking masses gathered there. Nothing special but a band I'd see again due to the entertainment value alone. 8/10

The Earls Of Mars

An now for something completely different with The Earls Of Mars, the mental, madcap jazz/doom metal of The Earls Of Mars, having seen them before I wondered whether they would win my compatriots around and as Poor Whores Petition started things off with frontman Harry Armstong smashing his piano and shouting the lyrics as the band backed him with vaudevillian, jazz fuelled rock full of stomping guitars upright bass and technical percussion, the band are still promoting their debut album with The Swinger (which surprisingly is a swing style song) and the mighty The Astronomer Pigs making up the set, however the band were not all old stuff as they have a new song called Fisticuffs which bodes well for album 2. A great change of pace and one that encourages quaffing beverages. 8/10

Massive Wagons

Massive Wagons are hailed as the greatest new thing but they really...aren't at all. They are very samey, generic modern rock with almost unlistenable vocals, still somehow the crowd were going nuts to the band. Maybe it's just me... 4/10

Lizzy Borden

 Things unfortunately were about to get worse as the man who I've always thought of as a budget Alice Cooper and my thoughts were proven right. The visuals were there with frequent costume changes from frontman Lizzy. However the music was dire American sleaze metal which was made worse by a fucking BASS SOLO!! That was enough for us and we retreated back to the frozen wastes of the caravan for some more warming beer and some rest ready for our full day on Friday. 3/10

Friday

Friday and as the dust of the previous day settled and indeed the minor hangovers subsided (due in part to the lashings of bacon) it was time to put down a couple of drinks and once again heading into the arena.

Piston

First up were Piston who played a solid chunky style of blues rock with a southern swagger and indeed Northern accents. Their songs were good and one even had a element of CCR to it, what really struck me was the voice of singer Steve Nunn he can really belt it out however I was a bit sad to learn that this was going to be his last gig with the band due to other commitments and throat problems, that is a shame but he powered through their set which culminated with a turbocharged version of CCR's Proud Mary. I'll be interested to see where the band go from here but on this showing they have some big shoes to fill. 7/10

SKAM

Next up was Leicester power trio SKAM who bring some riff heavy, radio friendly songs and buckets of attitude to the table. Having seen them at the Steelhouse Festival, I knew what to expect form this trio but the band are now armed with a great second album which has some big tunes on it so I wanted to see how these translated into the live arena, luckily the answer is bloody well indeed with big riffs from Steve Hill's guitar and Matt Gilmore's bass and a rigid backline from Neal Hill. SKAM are a great band who have become a real live draw from their tours with Airborne. Worth seeing if you like your rock big, ballsy and ideal for drinking beer. 7/10

Fire Red Empress

Having recently watched FRE in Bristol it was great to see them again utilising their big stoner riffs to beat the second stage around the head, once again it was the job of enigmatic frontman Nik to bring everyone together with his affable style and his great voice. Fire Red Empress bring some hefty slabs of rock to the table and got the crowd joining heartily, beer in hand, pumping their fists and bobbing their heads. A perfect band for  heavy drinking session. 7/10

Persian Risk

So then to business, nothing (depite my protestations) was going to stop us seeing Persian Risk. The band were from the NWOBHM era and hail from our home town of Cardiff, formed by Phil Campbell, now of Motorhead and John Deverill who went on to join Tygers Of Pan Tang. The band are now lead by vocalist Carl Sentance and bassist Nick Hughes and maintain the classic British NWOBHM style that they started with. Because of the emotional attachment we turned up and immediately the party started mixing their last album Once A King and their new album Who Am I. The riffs came thick and fast with Carl's excellent voice bringing everything together. The abnd has as much charisma as they did back in Bogiez and they also have some great metal tunes ripe for shouting along to. Pure leather clad Brit metal supreme!! 9/10

Electric Mary

Over then to the main stage for Aussie hard rockers Electric Mary who play classic Stones-like retro rock, with jangly guitars, a bluesy beat and smoky vocals. I've been waiting for this for a while and the band didn't disappoint, we only caught the final part of their set but they were the perfect come down after the excitement of Persian Risk. Bluesy, rocky and with real charm Electric Mary were worth the wait. 7/10

Buffalo Summer

The summer rock vibe continued with yet more Welshies this time Buffalo Summer who kicked things off with She's All Natural and A Horse Called Freedom the band blend classic Zep style rock with a modern rock twist and they managed to weave their spell over the crowd with their mature hard rock. As the percussive stomp of Down To The River which led into the Into Your Headand ended the set in style, a band that is going places fast. 7/10

A break for food and I must say that the Fish and chips (and of course mushy peas) are very good at HRH better than any of the other fast food places on the site. (7/10) Still on to the next with two of us really looking forward to this one:

The Brew

We have seemed to have a problem with the The Brew, every time we've gone to see them they seemed to have cancelled the performance. So now they were cornered and we had to see them this time. What we got was solid blues rock form a talented  three piece drawing most of their set from their latest album with Repeat, Mute, Pause, Skip, and Shuffle. Their hard rocking music perfectly compliments fish and chips and the band themselves draw elements of Zeppelin, The Who and those classic hard rocking bands. Jason Barwick is a hell of a guitarist channelling Jimmy Page and has a great blues howl as well, bassist Kurtis Smith is completely mental and his son smashes hell out of the drums. Finally Booing is full of screaming guitars with Barwick going full Page using a bow on his guitar, however the band made a small faux pa by ending with a bloody DRUM SOLO!!!! Still it was great to finally see them in the flesh and I can't wait to see them again. 7/10

Y&T (Again)

I'm not going to linger on this one but I will say they were still as good as they had been in Cardiff. A greatest hits set with I Believe In You ending the shorter set to a packed crowd. Overall they were great one punter in the loo put it played all the hits except the famous one (that being fan pleaser Forever) 7/10

Krokus

Having never seen Krokus I was kind of looking forward to Long Stick Goes Boom and as they kicked off I was appeased. The band are competent but this Swiss band sound so much like AC/DC it hurts something that shocked Mr Hewitt to his core much to our hilarity. The set was full of rockers with LSGB, Hellraiser, Bedside Radio all getting an airing however they killed momentum a bit with ballad Screaming In The Night, but for the most part good solid hard rock that pleased our old school leader Paul. 7/10

Queensrÿche
Last minute headliner replacements Queensrÿche were next and I was hoping they were going to be better than when I saw them with original singer Geoff Tate. New singer Todd LaTorre sounds so much Tate on record I was interested to see how he would fair live and also how they would win over an audience expecting W.A.S.P. They coped brilliantly with a simply flawless delivery of a hit filled set that covered all bases. As opener Nightrider kicked things off LaTorre proved all the doubters wrong with his voice, it is truly spectacular if you close your eyes you couldn't tell the difference between him and Tate. The band worked through the anthemic Walk In My Shadows before going through The Whisper and En Route and into Warning. For a band that had one hell of a trip in, this was their only show in UK and after playing they went straight back to the USA after the show. The band made up for a dual guitar solo set with The Lady Wore Black, Eyes Of A Stranger and the finale of Empire. The band were on fire with original member Michael Wilton shredding up a storm, unfortunately there was a much smaller crowd for Queensrÿche than for Y&T, but their progressive style metal is more of acquired taste. Still we were loving it Mr Hewitt especially was in another place for most of the set and as the triple encore of Queen Of The Reich, Jet City Woman and Take Hold The Flame ended we were all losing our voices shouting along. An amazing set from an amazing band who have risen above the legal shenanigans to readdress what's important. Now who's for a UK headline tour!? 9/10

Saturday

Saturday and again we shook off the night before to head into the arena for Black State Highway

Black State Highway

Black State Highway play earthy rootsy blues rock by a young band with great chops. Formed at the Brighton School of Modern Music they are all accomplished musicians with a worldwide membership, the guitarists Ollie and Yonnis are English and Swedish respectively, bassist Gordon Duncan is Scottish, their drummer is ginger (so his biography says and I can confirm) and singer Liva is from Latvia. The band play 70's style grungy blues rock with big meaty songs bolstered by the bombshell up front as she has both a hell of an attitude and a great set of pipes, she wins ballsiest singer of the weekend hands down. A great set that was let down a little by the muddy sound, still a band full of passion and a real fire for performance, ones to watch for sure. 7/10

Blues Pills

More female vocals but a total change of pace as the bluesy, psychedelic retro rock of The Blues Pills was coming up and they impressed with some superb musicianship the thunderous drums of André Kvarnström were the perfect anchor for the driving finger picked bass of Zack Anderson and it was all topped by the sublime flowing guitar passages from Dorian Sorriaux who plays the guitar deftly providing the songs with their otherworldly quality. Finally the bands ace in the hole are the Joplin-like vocal preach from frontwoman Elin Larsson who is a woman loses herself in the music as she rocks out while the bands play their extensive instrumental sections, drawing much of their set from their debut the songs translate from the record well and the band jam a little on them too allowing them to show off their chops and create a real vibe from the opening double song transfer to finale of Devil Man. The Blues Pills are a genuinely excellent rock band that draw from their influences and bring them bang up to date. 9/10

Vardis

Having morphed from a NWOBHM artists into a blues band, Vardis still don't so much for me so onto the second stage. 5/10

Grifter

This is better!! Solid stoner riff rock with, big songs, big beards and a cover of Fairies Wear Boots? Count me in! Never heard much of Grifter but they won me round with their huge stoner riffs and gruff vocals, I think I may be checking out more of Grifter soon as they sounded very good at HRH. 7/10

Big Elf

Back to the mainstage for prog mentalists Big Elf. Musically the band were excellent but they were (perhaps deliberately) disjointed in terms of delivery. The key to the bands appeal is frontman Damon Fox who is part Lennon, Wood, Bolan mixed with John Lord, singing with vaudeville delivery and handling dual organs, keys and synths. No Mike Portnoy on this show but no matter John Wesley handled the guitars and Duffy Snowhill (like a hippy Sabertooth) handled bass and provided the rock riffs as a counterpoint to Fox's weirdness. However unfortunately for the band they were just too much of an acquired taste for the meat and two veg crowd so with much of the crowd disinterested they looked a little ponderous and a bit to much like hard work. Shame. 6/10

Thunder Mother

Over to the second stage with something a little more immediate with SheCee/DC of Thunder Mother. An all female group with hopping Angus aping guitarist and a set full of Acca Dacca riffs with country decked singer. Rocking and brainless music ruined for the most part by the terrible scratchy vocals. 4/10

Blackwolf

Thankfully things got a lot better with a Musipedia favourite the always very good, Bristol based Blackwolf. Straight out of the blocks their smooth blues based hard rock got the packed audience boogying away merrily with much shaking of hips and nodding of heads. The band always have such great playing and the irrepressible Scott who has great voice. Their brand of funky, hard rock with real swagger is always welcome and it was nice for more people to see how they've grown into a real red hot live act! 8/10

Diamond Head

The NWOBHM legends and Metallica's main influence were debuting a new vocalist who was good at the high stuff but lacked a little in the lower register. Still the band raced through a classic set with Lightning To The Nations and Helpless all getting an airing but still despite all the aggrandising the band are still middle of the road NWOBHM with the crowd really only coming alive for the perennial Am I Evil? 7

Michael Schenker

WOW!! That is really all the review you need but I'm afraid Schenker stole the show. He and his all star band really blew the roof off the place, kicking off with Doctor Doctor the set started as it meant to go on, with classic Scorpions Herman Rarebell and Francis Buchholz as the rhythm section, Wayne Findlay in the Paul Raymond role of guitars and keys and Doogie White on vocals he has assembled a band that could tackle anything. Luckily that is good as he does indeed tackle everything with UFO, MSG, Scorpions and of course their own songs, with Natural Thing, Armed And Ready, Victim Of Illusion, Lovedrive all making an appearance, Schenker showed off his guitar prowess with the instrumental Coast To Coast where he soloed like the legend he is. Lord Of The Lost and Lonely is a real romp and sets up Shoot Shoot very well which in turn exploded into Rock You Like  A Hurricane this got the crowd rocking like hurricanes indeed and allowed Findlay to show his solo chops. The show was spectacular with Schencker saying very little but White is a confident master of ceremonies getting progressively more Scottish as it went on turning into somewhere between David Coverdale and Billy Connelly. Finally it was time for Rock Bottom which once again ruined our voices and blew the guitar freaks mind as Schenker ripped up his fretborad like a demon casting light and shade in the mid section. Schenker rendered me and my colleagues speechless with  all the hits you need packed into one set. 10/10

Blue Oyster Cult

A real American legend of a band Blue Oyster Cult rarely play the UK so I couldn't pass up a chance to see them in the flesh. Playing a greatest hits set what struck me was just how slick the band were every member is a total pro playing their part beautifully and effortlessly, you get the feeling they could play any song from their repertoire at anytime and make it seem like they meant to. Buck Dharma is every inch guitar god with his headless guitar and Eric Bloom is the stoic frontman driving the rhythm with his guitar merging perfectly with Richie Castellano who contributes guitars and keys as well as vocals. In the back room they have Jules Radino on the tubs and Danny Miranda on bass who has served time with both BOC and Meat Loaf and seemed to enjoy playing tricks on Castellano throughout. Despite their aura of complete professionalism they have the aura of a pub band inviting Bikers, Beer Drinkers and Beatlemaniacs all to worship at the altar of the Cult. Starting with The red And The Black kicks things off before Golden Age Of Leather and Burnin' For You. Dharma got ample time to show off in Buck's Boogie and also during the frankly stunning middle eight of Then Came The Last Days Of May which built up and up into a groin moistening crescendo and the reptile stomp of Godzilla brought back the hits before Hot Rails To Hell began to end the set and but took a mis-step with both a Bass and Drum solo consecutively, still if you are going to do something like that then follow it up with your biggest hit and as the cowbell struck Don't Fear The Reaper kicked in to full flight. With the crowd singing along the night was unfortunately over but with their big vocal harmonies and some killer songs the Cult climaxed in a triumphant end to their set. It has been a long wait but well worth it Blue Oyster Cult are a simply amazing live band and I was honoured to see them in their natural habitat. 9/10

So all in all a great weekend of rock, 20 something bands over three days, great friends, good times and a whole lot of awesome music. I love these events as they attract some fantastic bands and they have a much more relaxing atmosphere than most of the camping based festivals. Roll on March and lets do it all again!!




Monday, 17 November 2014

Reviews: Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd: The Endless River (Parlophone Records)

Never a band to rush things legendary prog veterans Pink Floyd finally release a new album, 20 years after their last album Division Bell. Now I say this is a new album when what I should say is that The Endless River is the most recent album as much of it is not entirely new, much of the music was recorded during the Division Bell sessions and latterly David Gilmour has built up the majority of this album from keyboard passages that the late Richard Wright created for their 1994 album. Wright has writer credits for most of the album with Gilmour and Mason taking up the other parts.

Things start off in the age old fashion of an atmospheric introductory piece to set the mood Things Left Unsaid is possibly one of the most emotive pieces on the record with Gilmour's guitar building and simmering before Wright's organs kick in on It's What We Do which shows this similar in style to Shine On... and the opening salvo from Division BellCluster One. It's here we finally get the guitar flourishes Gilmour is known for as Wright's keys become the backing they have always been, he truly was the master of atmosphere, the concrete that the rest of the band can build on, Mason's drums too are jazzy and lucid keeping the beat as again we are transported into Ebb And Flow on which Gilmour matches Wright's piano with an E-Bow. This brings to an end the first part of this four part record, each 'side' is linked but distinctly different.

Side 2 starts with Sum which builds on a repetitive synth riff with Mason bringing a more tribal style of drumming, all toms, and once again the guitars touch the sky, Skins continues the theme with more toms and even a gong with Youth adding effects to the track, Unsung is a bridge between things transitioning into Anisia is a piano Gilmour-only track based track mainly which has some soulful sax added for good measure and indeed posterity (what is Floyd without the addition of Sax). The album is mostly instrumental with the occasional choral chant adding to the songs but for the most part their are no words, it is Floyd at it's purest taking you on a journey through the bands varying style and also indeed their emotions for their lost friend.

Side 3 is the shortest made up of a few just over a minute track and one longer one. It starts with the plaintive The Lost Art Of Conversation starting things off with a solitary piano, before the jazz of On Noodle Street does exactly that, noodle, before Night Light shines (sorry) on Cluster One with it's atmospheric E-Bow, the oldies will be pleased with Allons-Y (1) and Allons-Y (2) as they have the staccato guitar of Run Like Hell, they bookend the the dreamy Autumn '68 which features Wright on the Royal Albert Hall's organ, the final part to this side features the first 'vocal' with Professor Stephen Hawking once again contributing on Talkin' Hawkin' which is a sequel too and outtakes from Keep Talking on Division Bell.

Side 4 is the finale of all that has come before the haunting sadness of Calling does it's best to break your heart as it manoeuvres into the acoustically led Eyes To Pearls, which has throbbing bass behind it as well as effects to layer it, again we get the stunning guitar work of Gilmour on Surfacing as the emotion ramps up for this final part, the 'oohs' in the background are the fore runner for the final track Louder Than Words which repeats the outright emotion of the first track while adding a string section and finally vocals from Gilmour who hasn't changed vocally at all, the song is a romantic paean to days gone by and also to Wright who is indeed the soul of Floyd and is the final notes you hear as the track fades.

So is the record a masterpiece or is it just a hodge-podge of Floydisms that much of the media and indeed the recording notes suggest? Well in truth no it isn't either of these things Pink Floyd don't need another masterpiece and there are many will just see this as a over indulgent piece of work that draws to heavily from the bands history without really trying to improve anything, but these people miss the point, what this record actually is, is a glowing tribute to a fallen friend and the last compositions in an incredible career of of one of the most influential bands in music history. The story for Floyd is over (if you believe the members) and I for one think that there really isn't another way to end their career than with a record like The Endless River as the band have tied up all the loose ends and finally put the beast to sleep, not with a bang but by lulling it into a blissful retirement. 8/10