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Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A View From The Field: Friday At Amplified 2017

Amplified Festival

What could be better? The beautiful location of the Gloucestershire countryside, three days of established headliners and the cream of the UK metal and alt/rock scene all in one place. Sounds great until you remember the fucking British weather. After several glorious weeks of wall to wall sunshine the weather turned in the days before the event leaving anxious checks of the forecast which appeared to change every five minutes.

However, the omens looked promising as I left storm battered South Wales early on Friday morning. The sun reappeared and having negotiated my way through the parking and the steep hill which led to the campsite, it was time to have a look around the layout. Fair play, an ambitious four stages set across a couple of acres of farmland, with the Tavern stage nicely sheltered, the Shoot Your Hoops stage more exposed and the main arena housing the Very Metal Art stage at one side and the Red Stripe Main at the other end of the vast expanse. I’m not sure how many the organisers were expecting but you could have fitted 5000 in this area comfortably. A variety of bars and food outlets circled the main arena along with a couple of traders. Having purchased a pint of potent cider mainly to secure my Amplified/SOPHIE polycarbonate cup, it was time for some music.

Opening the Very Metal Art Stage was female quintet Dorja (7). The band had played Fuel in Cardiff the night before but showed no signs of ill-effects as they punched out their hard rock with gusto. Although there was a strong wind blowing Ayim Almas’ mighty fine vocals cut through with ease, the sound crisp and clear. Alongside her, the twin guitar attack of Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill and familiar face for those in the South West scene, one Becky Baldwin with her thundering Rickenbacker bass. Tracks from the band’s debut EP Target Practice were well received by the small but enthusiastic crowd. A small drum solo was unnecessary but Dorja finished with a storming cover of Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules, the instantly recognisable riff getting heads nodding whilst Almas carried the RJD vocal with aplomb.

Across the arena to see Liverpool duo Rival Bones (8) blast out 30 minutes of impressive hard rock. For a duo, guitarist/vocalist James Whitehouse and drummer Chris Thompson make hell of a noise and whilst the Royal Blood comparisons are inevitable Rival Bones struck me as having a bit more to offer. Mixing tracks from their debut EP alongside a newie written for the festival the band demonstrated great energy and enthusiasm which quickly won over the sparse gathering in front of the main stage. Whitehouse has a gritty but appealing voice and his between song banter was spot on. Closing with the rocking You Know Who You Are, the band are one to watch and well worth checking out if you get the chance.

So far so good and with the weather windy but dry it was back to the VMA stage to catch the Metallica infused thrash of Glaswegians Damaj (7). Their brand of groove ridden thrash was thoroughly enjoyable, with The Wrath Of The Tide particularly agreeable. Front man Daniel Stewart has a Hetfield style delivery, and this worked well with the type of thrash which is very much focused on early Metallica. Alongside Stewart, lead guitarist James Haggart shredded for his life, with some brutal solos. Bassist David Douglas hammered the shit out of his five-string bass whilst new drummer Ciaran Whyte, resplendent in A Farewell To Kings Rush shirt looked incredibly comfortable for only his second gig with the band. Damaj played like they were headlining and are another UK band well worth a look.

After an aborted attempt to catch Departed for an interview (delayed and ultimately didn’t play) the metalcore tones of Brighton’s Bleed Again (7) blasted across the field. I don’t like metalcore one bit but these guys gave it everything, encouraging and coercing another very small gathering to get involved. With new release Momentum receiving enthusiastic reviews, the set consisted of that material. Vocalist James Dawson delivering with gusto, bursting the veins in the neck whilst the brutal riffage of Simon Williams and Chris Pratt delivered real damage. If you like your metalcore with an extra dose of brutality then the South Coast outfit will be very much to your tastes.

The Fallen State (8) are about as far away from metalcore as you can get but their generic hard rock worked well in the blustery conditions. With melody and enthusiasm, the band looked sharp from their recent support to Trapt and in fine shape for some forthcoming action with Puddle Of Mudd. Impressive frontman Ben Stenning has a superb voice and the charisma necessary to win over the small but enthusiastic throng stage front. The band blasted through their 30 minutes, with songs from The View From Ruin EP which ranged from calmer rockers to all out headbangers allowing guitarists Jon Price and Dan Oke to up the riffage. Certainly, a band with promise.

Another band with promise but a totally different sound is Codex Alimentarius (8). The Exeter outfit’s crushing groove based metal takes no prisoners. It’s probably unsurprising given that these guys have serious support time logged with legends like Vader and Krisiun that they were sharp and focused. The three-pronged guitar assault was impressive and vocalist Ray Arall possesses a death growl which could wake the dead. Tracks from The Hand Of Apophis EP were welcomed by the hardy souls at the VMA stage whose skulls had visibly caved by the time that Baptised finished the impressive set. Think of Lamb Of God meets Obituary with a technical slant and you won’t be far away. If these boys play near you it’s worth getting an earful. Just be warned. This band should come with a warning.

A quick listen to Tess Of The Circle as I wandered back to the tent didn’t impress enough to stay and judging by the handful of punters assembled in front I wasn’t the only one. However, one band who do impress is The Amorettes (7), the Scottish three-piece of Gill Montgomery, Hannah McKay and Heather McKay who I’d last encountered with a solid opening set for Black Star Riders. The girls kicked out all the jams as the rain started to enter the equation. Another solid set comprising tracks from their three albums and finishing with a decent bit of audience participation on Hot And Heavy. The band’s enthusiasm always wins me over and today was no different.

As the rain took hold of the site, coming down in biblical proportions ala Download 2016, it was from the bar area that I viewed Exist Immortal (7). The West London outfit were visibly encouraged by the few hardcore members of the crowd (also known as nutters!) who formed an impromptu mosh pit to the band’s melodic technical metal. Even from across the arena their enthusiasm was evident and whilst they don’t float my boat their energy could only be admired.

At this point all hell broke loose weather wise, with torrential rain swamping the entire site. I made the decision to pack up and head for home. With a leaking tent and half of my gear already soaked, I didn’t fancy getting even more wet and miserable overnight. Sure, I may be soft, but I hate camping at the best of times so I don’t really give a shit what anyone else thinks to be honest. It’s not an award-winning endurance event. I understand that several bands were cancelled before the bar area hosted Acid Reign and an intimate set from Puddle of Mudd.

I’m glad that the organisers managed to sort it out and for those that stayed, well done. With a night in a warm bed and a day of torrential rain following, my first Amplified Festival was shorter than anticipated. I hope the crowds turn up as Friday’s attendance was slim.

Oh, and one suggestion. Outdoor festivals in the UK live and die by the weather, so whilst the cost is obviously an issue, why not place some marquees strategically in front of the stages? It would allow punters to watch whilst not drowning and on those rare occasions provide some respite from the sun. Just a thought.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Reviews: In This Moment, Minus Inferno, The Kindred

In This Moment: Ritual (Atlantic Records)

Ritual is LA ban In This Moment's sixth album and it sees them yet again advance their sound, they have successfully tackled metalcore before moving towards the more industrial soundscapes of their most recent records. This album sees the band adapt their sound again with guitarist Chris Howorth saying "stylistically, I think we went a little bit more raw" while vocalist Maria Brink went as far as to say there is a definitive less sexual side "I wanted to show people and definitely women a different side of strength in me that was a really powerful force in me that didn't need the sexual part" the change is obvious from the outset the electronics have been toned down in favour of mystical blues vibes.

The album was inspired by Brink's trip to Salem Massachusetts and you can really hear the occult, spiritual side come through, struggles with God and the Devil are evident on the clap and stomp of Oh Lord as Brink prays for mercy, you can hear Howorth really playing up a storm aided by Randy Weitzel, Black Wedding has the throbbing heaviness of previous albums riffs on Billy Idol's White Wedding and features the Metal God himself Rob Halford on guest vocals, this heaviness moves through to Joan Of Arc and the crushing River Of Fire.

Ritual is an impressive, dark record that shows a more mature side of the band, they even manage to pull off a evil sounding cover of Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight. Those who thought the band were a little style over substance will be pleasantly surprised with this record, it's the band playing at their best and taking their sound in another direction, In This Moment have reinvented themselves again and this time their serious. 8/10

Minus Inferno: Blizzard Of Souls (Morning Star Heathens)

Classic heavy metal or traditional heavy metal is best from the UK, sorry everyone else, we invented it. The NWOBHM was instrumental in creating thrash, power and black metal, it made global superstars of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and yes even Def Leppard. In more recent times the genre has been adopted and some may say perfected by both the Swedes and the Canadians but the plucky Brits can still strap on a bullet belt, skin tight trousers and rock it like it's 1982. This is where Minus Inferno come in, they play the classic dual guitar slinging metal that was born in the NWOBHM they pay tribute to it on the song Minus Inferno which tells you to rock out and that the metal will be both forever and for life. Musically they don't stray too far from the trad metal blueprint with James Ennis and Charlie Peterson trading riffs and solos as Casey Hastings and Craig Meadows lock down the rhythm section and James Mitchell has an ideal vocals for the band. The production is a bit wispy but it means there is an authenticity to the record, it's neither big nor clever but it's proper British metal from the Gloucester band. 7/10

The Kindred: The Weight EP (Sumerian Records)

Well...this is a bit good. Ottawa natives The Kindred are right at the cusp of the modern progressive rock curve, they have intense technicality, but they also have a knack for songwriting shared by UK act Haken. It's not djent as it's not strictly metal, though they have a heaviness and a groove of acts like Tesseract, they also have a alternative element due to Johnny's melodic vocals and the huge keyboards of Matt Young. Stray Away takes a big vocals hook and pairs it with Gojira fret slides, building to a anthemic end. Wake has a driving rumble from Eric and Kenny as Ben and Steve play the off kilter guitar riffs. The Weight EP is a very strong EP that is right at the forefront of modern progressive music, emotive, heavy and technically gifted without slacking on the songwriting. 7/10

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Reviews: Wintersun, Necromandus, Rock Goddess (Reviews By Paul)

Wintersun: The Forest Seasons (Nuclear Blast)

It’s been a long time since the metal world went a little weak at the knees when the Finns delivered Time I, one of the most epic albums of all time. There was pretty much universal praise, such was the quality of this release and the band proved they could deliver it live. Five years have since passed, and it’s been a bumpy road for the band. If you follow the band and/or main driving force Jari Maenpaa on any social media platform then you’ll know all about it. In order to deliver Time II the band wanted to created their own studio and to do this they needed to raise funds. Their crowd funding campaign was dramatic and relentless, with close to €500,000 pledged.

However, instead of Time II, Wintersun has delivered The Forest Seasons, an intense four track piece which captures the four seasons of the year. Each track is lengthy, with The Forest That Weeps (Summer) the shortest at just over 12 minutes in length. All the Wintersun trademarks are present. Blast beats, epic tempos and time changes, clean vocals interchanging with intense harshness, huge guitar solos and operatic sweeps. The heaviest season is probably Eternal Darkness (Autumn) which rages relentlessly for over 14 minutes. It’s either magnificent or some of the most overblown bollocks ever recorded. I am somewhere in the middle on this. Whilst clearly appreciating the intricacy of each composition, you can’t help but wonder if there is sometimes just a little bit too much sophistication. Loneliness (Winter) is case in point.

The song contains some beautiful flowing sections with Maenpaa’s synths sustaining the majestic feel, soaring vocals capturing the epic flavour but bloody hell it goes on. And on. And maybe that’s me missing the point. After all the sheer majesty of Time I was the complexity of the pieces. That’s where I struggle with this album. It’s not Time II. It’s not Time I. But it feels like the band have tried to create Time I ½. Whether repeated plays will allow me the time to warm to it I don’t know. I just don’t know if I have the time to commit (no pun intended). 7/10

Necromandus: Self Titled (Mandus Music)

I must admit I knew nothing about Necromandus. They split up in 1973 when I was three years old. Their first album Orexis Of Death, produced by none other than the Iron Man Tony Iommi didn’t see the light of day until 1999. By the time the band re-emerged last year, only drummer Frank Hall from the original line-up was still alive. So, with only one original member, does Necromandus capture that 1970s sound? Well the answer is a resounding yes.

Full of the atmospheric stoner doom that Sabbath made their own but which is now captured so well by bands such as The Sword, the album is 45 minutes of trippy riffage, melancholic keyboards and some decent hard rock. John Branch has a vocal style perfect for the band. The groove of Alauna and Limpert Man contrasts with the psychedelic space rock style of Hymn To Her. Guitarist Dan Newton does a great job throughout, with some very crunchy riffs whilst John Marcangelo’s keyboards add depth and texture. It’s unlikely the band is ever going to remain anything other than a “what might have been” but this is a good stab at bringing more focus to the name. 7/10

Rock Goddess: It’s More Than Rock ‘N’ Roll EP (Bite You To Death Records)

Back in 1977 sisters Jody and Julie Turner formed Rock Goddess. A power trio from Wandsworth who rode the crest of the NWOBHM and alongside Girlschool raised the flag for UK female metal bands. The original line-up was completed by Tracey Lamb and it’s that line-up that has returned on this new EP. Rock Goddess’ history is littered with bad luck and it’s good to see the band back up and running. Whether this EP will help their profile at all is debatable. The three tracks are all formulaic and routine with the closing track We’re All Metal on a par with the worst of Anvil do little to elevate the pulse. Perhaps it might be better to stick with the old stuff? 5/10

Friday, 21 July 2017

Reviews: Carach Angren, Limbonic Art, Execration (Review By Rich)

Carach Angren: Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten (Seasons Of Mist)

Dutch symphonic black metallers Carach Angren are back with their fifth album Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten. Carach Angren seem to be a very polarising band in metal at the moment being either adored or despised and that opinion is unlikely to change with this new album as Carach Angren stick to their tried and trusted sound.

If you haven't heard Carach Angren before their sound is very much in the style of melodic Scandanavian black metal mixed with a classical, symphonic sound. They take the most melodramatic parts of Cradle Of Filth and the most epic parts of Dimmu Borgir and mix them together. This is a sound that has worked for them on four previous albums and they don't stray from it here. Also like previous albums there is a concept behind the album. This time the story involves a young girls obsession with a ouija board.

Whilst still a very enjoyable album most felt that previous album This Is No Fairytale was a weak point for the band with the material being very formulaic and less inspired than previous albums. Although Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten is an improvement over the previous album it still falls into a lot of the trappings where many of the songs are easily forgettable and the band feels like it is going through the motions. Where this album does work though is through the stunning symphonic arrangements which are equally epic, bombastic, dark and haunting.

Carach Angren have released another enjoyable album which although is an improvement over the disappointing This Is No Fairytale does not match the bands stunning early albums such as Lammendam or Death Came Through A Phantom Ship. 7/10

Limbonic Art: Spectre Abysm (Candlelight/Spinefarm)

Norwegian black metal fiends Limbonic Art return with their first album in seven years Spectre Abysm. Finding out information about this new release has been difficult with very little information being released as to who is currently in the band. (Since their previous release Limbonic art have been essentially a solo project of main founding member Daemon - Ed). All I do know is that this is a belter of a black metal album and a much welcomed return for Limbonic Art.

The music on Spectre Abysm is the perfect fusion of the more atmospheric and aggressive sides of black metal. Layers of keyboards add a feel of real dark malevolence whilst savage tremolo riffs and blastbeats tear your face off. There are seven tracks here of black metal majesty with highlights being Triumph Of Sacrilege, Omega Doom and Ethereal Traveller.

My only criticism of Spectre Abysm is that two of the tracks are pretty much wasted only really serving as an interlude or introduction to the track that follows but overall Limbonic Art have made a triumphant return with an album that mixes old school black metal ferocity with mood and atmosphere. 8/10

Execration: Return To The Void (Metal Blade Records)

Although well known for its black metal Norway has a very good death metal scene with one of those bands being Execration. Return To The Void is the fourth album by the band and is a very interesting take on the death metal sound.

There are an array of influences evident as well as death metal with a sound that incorporates elements of black metal, doom metal and progressive metal. It's an album that mixes moments of sheer aggression with moments which can only be described as psychedelic.

It's a very unique take on death metal and proves the genre still has a few tricks up its sleeve but unfortunately it's not an album that really sticks with you. Being such an intense listen and with so much going on this is an album that will likely take several listens to truly get it. Regardless it's good to hear an alternative and progressive take on a genre that many people say has run out of ideas. 7/10

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Reviews: Kabbalah, River Black, Impure Wilhemina (Reviews By Paul)

Kabbalah: Spectral Ascent (Twin Earth Records)

Spanish trio Kabbalah play retro occult rock. It’s an unmistakable sound, one which will either get you excited or pass you by. Sabbath style doom laden riffs, harmonies a plenty and an underlying current of evil, it’s all here. The band make a sound much larger than their number. Check out the show stopping The Reverend with its unmistakable fuzzy guitar sound, or the White Stripes stomp of The Darkness Of Time, both rather splendid in their 70s sound, and both supernaturally different. It’s the haunting Dark Revelation which steals the plaudits for me, slightly longer with several changes of tempo, it undulates and manoeuvres through a sinister path, reeking of malevolence. Reminiscent of many occult bands doing the rounds, Kabbalah are closer to Lucifer, Orchid and Witch Mountain than the more commercially accessible Ghost. Atmospheric, ominous and full of character, Spectral Ascent is a worthy release. 8/10

River Black: Self-Titled (Seasons Of Mist)

Coming at you hard and heavy from the East Coast of the USA, River Black is a punishingly aggressive metal/hardcore outfit comprising stalwarts of the scene Mike Oldener, Dave Witte, Brett Bamberger and John Adubato. It’s terrifying in parts, Oldener’s visceral delivery intense and brutal. Huge sledgehammer riffs courtesy of Adubato and machine gun intensity drumming from Witte combine to deliver the aural assault that you probably didn’t need but are sure as fuck going to get. Most of the tracks are short, to the point and bristling with anger. South X South, the stomping Move and the mighty album closer Everywhere are all bruisers with additional forearm smash. The pits for this mob would be substantial, frightening and far too extreme for an old man like me. Still, if it floats your boat, it’s rather tasty. 8/10

Impure Wilhelmina: Radiation (Seasons Of Mist)

Another day, another band who have been around for years ploughing their artistic pathway. In the case of Geneva based Impure Wilhelmina, that’s over 20 years. Radiation is their latest release, the sixth album in their catalogue. The band is led by Michael Schindl, vocalist, guitarist and main composer and lyricist. The band specialises in a more eclectic emotional brand of hard rock, tipping across the line to a more metal approach on occasion. This release is no different with a myriad of sounds from The Smiths to Anathema all buried in the mix. Every track is a complex animal, with multiple layers and complex arrangements. Shcindl’s melancholic vocals wring with emotion. It’s a soul-searching album, intelligent and clever. If you like alt-rock with a harder edge, it is certainly worth investing the time. 7/10

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Reviews: Desolate Plains, Soulskinner, The Shadeless Emperor

Desolate Plains: Practicing The Inner Arts (Molon Lave Records)

Athens act Desolate Plains are a two piece that seems to be the project of Lampros Potamianos who plays guitars and bass as well as also writing all of the music and lyrics, he is joined by Aliki Katriou who takes the mic as well as contributing lyrics and music, the band's music deals with "the human spirit and its continuing evolution through the centuries" they do this by playing very impressive modern metal tracks move between crunching groove metal to classic orchestral thrash, Shadow Of Eternity especially could have come off any of the latest Metallica albums, it serves as just a small part to what this band can do they successfully merge black, death and thrash metal with the symphonic swathes of black metal coming through on top of the double kicks of session drummer Hugo Ribeiro.

What makes the band an entertaining prospect is that Potamianos is a very talented guitar player and composer creating complicated musical pieces for Aliki to sing over, they get much more elaborate as the album progresses adding layers of acoustics and the aforementioned orchestral touches to Taming An Inner Storm. It's in the vocals where Desolate Plains are really interesting Aliki's vocals are so low you'd be forgiven if you didn't realise shes a woman, she snarls and screams on tracks such as Being Of Despair and Beneath My Skin but she also has a low clean vocals that is really alluring for the listener. Desolate Plains is a perfect name for this band their songs are full of a ringing desolation starting out with faster more aggressive songs before they slow things down into swaying bleak doom-laden grooves Crippled Black Phoenix would adore. As I've said Desolate Plains are intriguing their music is difficult and takes a few spins to really grab you but when it does it rewards you with progressive, genre spanning heaviness. 8/10

Soulskinner: Descent To Abbadon (Xtreem Music)

Unlike Desolate Plains their is no subtlety in Soulskinner's fourth album, they play gut ripping brutal death metal with touches of grind to really crush your bones to dust. The Athens based band have been bludgeoning the Greek scene since 1997 (when they were known as Terra Tenebrae) but they have only been in this incarnation since 2000, in that time they have released four studio albums and plenty of splits meaning they are well versed in battery and they aren't going to change tact yet the record opens with Fratricide which moves into Soul Of Death seamlessly the drumming not dropping a beat and the shredding attacking your vital organs.

Clearly the band are influenced by bands such as Bolt Thrower, Carcass, Benediction and Autopsy as they are comfortable riffing at lightning speed as they are slowing things down for thundering doom on Nemesis. Heavy as a really heavy thing and twice as angry Soulskinner are like an artillery barrage, loud, raucous and earth flattening if you like your death metal as pure is it can be descend into abaddon with this Greek death machine. 7/10

The Shadeless Emperor: Ashbled Shores (WormHoleDeath Records)

Ashbled Shores is the debut record of Larissa based metal band The Shadeless Empire they play style of melodic death metal that incorporates some epic folk elements from the outset, the record opens with the title track which has a middle section which has some hot flute action from frontman Ethan which comes back on Shades Over The Empire. Their music is like Amon Amarth very heavy but with melodic touches throughout, they have classic metal, death metal and as I've said folk tendencies in their music the dual guitars of Tasos and Chris are excellent, riff happy and progressively dexterous they lead the charge of this record and also add the acoustic guitars that sprinkled in and out of the record.

In the rhythm section Thanos is blastbeat happy but can also give heartbeat to the acoustic parts while Filippos has a big bottom end, the record is grandiose with a piano interlude in the middle of the record before Helios The Dark brings back the heavy as Ethan roars over every track with a vengeance and plays a mean flute too as I've mentioned. The Shadeless Emperor have a lot going on on their debut record, it's interesting, heavy and will appeal to anyone who like Amon, Enisferum and Insomnium. 8/10

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Reviews: Sivert Høyem, Shadowside, Bearpit

Sivert Høyem: Live At Acropolis – Herod Atticus Odeon, Athens (314 Records)

Norwegian singer/songwriter Sivert Høyem made his name in the Alt-Rock band Madrugada, he was the singer of the band until the untimely demise of guitarist Robert Burås put paid to group, however since the Høyem has gone on to forge a successful solo career with his latest solo effort Lioness being released in 2016. (Metal fact he also sang vocals on Satyricon's 2013 self titled album) Now you will be forgiven for not knowing any of this as Høyem has never really broken out of the Norwegian music sphere with the exception of a few shows in Holland and Germany his major spheres of influence are the Nordic countries and oddly Greece, having played the country on virtually every tour he (and his band before him) have amassed a devoted following in the country so much so that recently he was special guests to Placebo at the Rockwave festival in Malakasa Greece (a festival that's on our must do list).

Live At Acropolis – Herod Atticus Odeon, Athens 
is a 2 disc live album from the historical monument that is in the shadow of the Acropolis, the album records Høyem's headline set from his 2016 Lioness tour, he is accompanied by his solo band as well as a string section meaning the music on this record is suitably as epic as the surroundings. My advice is to listen to the album first then watch the DVD, this way you can really concentrate on the music being played without the, admittedly gorgeous, visuals to distract you. From the start of the record you can hear from the crowd noise that this was special event there seems to be an electricity in the air, Høyem takes to the stage and the band dive into Lioness itself with his acoustic guitar the the base layer for the rest of the instrumentation to build on, all of the arrangements on this album are lush and lavish, some of the songs have been tweaked to fit the more classical setting but it improves the songs no end.

Now anyone who has listened to The Tea Party, The Tragically Hip, Anathema will naturally gravitate towards this album each song is so different from the previous one but they all retain a collective individuality, from the countrified Black And Gold, through the powerful duet of My Thieving Heart which features Norwegian jazz/pop artist Marie Munroe, the sadness of Honey Bee and the psych-rocking Give It A Whirl he and his band craft beautiful music which takes blues, soul and jazz as it's groundwork and adds quirky pop, Pink Floyd guitar lines and a rock n roll spirit, there is an emotion to these songs mainly due to the devastating, low, deep and resonant vocals of Høyem himself who sings every line like his heart is breaking. Live At Acropolis... is a great record, not a great live record a great record full stop, you fell as if it's happening right in front of you, not a note is dropped and no quarter given, nearly an hour and a half of incredible music and then you get to watch the DVD too. 10/10

Shadowside: Shades Of Humanity (Spiritual Beast)

Shadowside are unlike the numerous female fronted bands around, they play a thrashier style of power metal favoured by bands such as Crystal Viper and Benedictum, they play a faster more sabre-rattling kind of power metal with furious drumming, distorted thrash riffs and gruff vocals from frontwoman Dani displaying the bands knack of mixing the melody with savagery, check out a track such as The Crossing which has a frenzied riff in the verses but moves into a hooky sing along chorus. There music has a very cerebral nature to it, this record deals with depression, abortion, the Mariana dam disaster in Brazil (Stream Of Shame) and mankind`s moral values, weighty subjects that reflects the band's heavier style, if this was bouncy power metal it wouldn't work as well, they experiment a bit with the feel of what is their fourth record, there is a nu-metal feel of Disturbed to What If, a steady groove to Parade The Sacrifice, electronics galore on Drifter and Alive is massive track that closes out the album where Dani and guitarist Raphael really show their chops from the ghostly opening to the typical symphonic metal sound of the song itself. Rounding out the band are Fabio on the drums and former Hammerfall bass player Magnus Rosen and together they make Shades Of Humanity another good release from this Brazilian band. 7/10

Bearpit: Blacklist EP (Self Released)

Bristol mob Bearpit play a ferocious kind of metalcore that really slams you into the guts then breaks down to get you banging your head.The band is composed of Rory Field and Rob Tygree on guitars, Dan Brotherton on bass, Kurt Thompson on the skins and the excellently named Maximus Day on vocals, they are a young band and as such their debut EP is brimming with youthful exuberance, all six songs fizz with electricity opening with Eclipse they have dual leads driving their sound as Rory and Rob play fleet fingered leads over the heavy rhythm section. With musical nods to early Lamb Of God and Machine Head. Bearpit really know how to make an impression, .

The action picks up and Maximus screams his lungs out, but there is no angst here just fury, his vocals are strong with the music behind him having the right level of epicness to it, they dabble with progressive touches throughout having a bit of bass break on Eclipse before all hell breaks loose again on the raging thrasher Hands That Feed and Human which is the most 'hardcore' feeling track on the album. Now I'm usually one for metalcore or 'core' bands in general but I know what I like and with a mix of modern heavy metal, technical prowess, metalcore groove, nearly all harsh vocals (some cleans appear on Human) and most importantly the fact that the production, songwriting and performance sound like band that have been doing this for years. The Blacklist EP is a real statement from Bearpit, it proves that the British D.I.Y scene is probably the strongest around. 8/10  

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Reviews: Stone Sour, Five Horse Johnson, Ulvedharr (Reviews By Paul)

Stone Sour: Hydrograd (Roadrunner Records)

It’s been four years since the double concept release The House Of Gold And Bones Part 1 & Part 2 was released. Since then Jim Root has been the most notable departure of the engine which fuels much of Corey Taylor’s creativity. The resurgence of Slipknot with several world tours in between along with his spoken word efforts and his creative writing made him appear almost as busy as Dave Grohl. Album number seven has now arrived, a 15-song beasty crammed full of delicious hooks and melody whilst retaining the aggression and cutting edge that the band has always possessed. It’s one that really requires repeated listens to appreciate the quality. 

From the reggae fused Rose Red Violent Blue (This Song Is Dumb And So Am I), the killer opening tune Taipei Person/Allah Tea to the hook laden single Song #3, there is much to appreciate and enjoy here. Taylor’s voice, surely one of the best in the business, is on top form, snarling one minute, crystal clear smooth the next. Guitarist Christian Martucci has slotted in perfectly, his riffs brooding and dangerous. 

The obligatory ballad St Marie sees backing vocals from Pearl Aday (that’s Mrs Scott Ian folks) but one thing that Taylor can do well is a heartfelt ballad. Full of slide guitar, it’s a real country sound which fits surprisingly well. As with most albums containing 15 sons, there is a little filler and it tails away slightly towards the end. Overall, this is a solid and reliable addition to the catalogue. They band play the Motorpoint Arena on 5 December. Live, they are tremendous and I shall certainly look forward to how the new stuff translates. 8/10

Five Horse Johnson: Jake Leg Boogie (Small Stone Recordings)

I should admit I knew nothing about this band. Jake Leg Boogie has changed that. This is album number eight for a band who are now 20+ years in the making. Blues soaked hard rock ‘n’ roll if you must pigeon-hole them. Cross early the grit and guts of early Aerosmith, throw in a large spoon of Clutch, a pinch of George Thorogood and the Destroyers and the ball smacking sound of Orange Goblin and you’ll have a fair idea. 

There’s the smoulder of Little Lonely, the stomp of the title track, the driving rock of Hard Times and the harmonica drenched Overload. Eric Oberlander’s voice reeks of unfiltered cigarettes, whilst Brad Coffin and Phil Durr lay down the riffs with as much soul as the Grim Reaper after a good night’s work. It jumps, it glows and it kicks ass. A beauty of an album. 8/10

Ulvedharr: Total War (Scarlet Records)
Old school death metal is having something of a resurgence with a slew of cracking releases this year. If you like the battery of Entombed, Unleashed and Obituary and the Scandinavian scene then Italian outfit Ulvedharr’s third full release Total War should sit comfortably in your collection. With skull crushing riffs from start to finish, frantic fretwork and an assault and battery from the thrashing of Mike Baid’s drumming, Total War is as brutal as you would expect.

Ark Nattlig Ulv’s guttural vocal delivery fits perfectly for the merciless onslaught. It’s occasionally mellow, providing welcome space and atmosphere, such as the pause in Flagellum Dei, which divides the six-minute track superbly. There is some quality guitar work amid the chaos, with Ulv and newish guitarist Guiseppe Ciurlia shining. Powerful, imposing and full of strength, Ulvedharr’s latest release is a fine addition. 8/10

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Another Point Of View: Sunn O))) (Live Review By Charl)

Sunn O))), SWX Bristol

Having been a fan of Sunn O))) since the beginning, it may come as a shock to most that this is the first time I've seen them live. Two and a half hour performance. My fucking God. It's honestly difficult to review their live performance. Perhaps if you were in a sweat lodge with a shaman chanting over you with two speakers attached to your face, you'd understand. I was disappointed on learning that the gig had been moved from Trinity centre to SWX, but I can now see why. Not only the demand for tickets, but Trinity's roof would more than likely have crumbled to bits.

Sunn O))) are a sonically challenging experience live, and the only way to describe that it *is* an experience. Ever breathe a frequency? Fuck, I have now. My eyeballs shook and I can honestly say I cried like a little bitch. I'm not entirely sure what emotions I was having. Excitement mixed with fear? Joy? Arousal? Possibly all of these. At one point the sound is so thick I can feel it pushing against my skin, forcing my head down. Sexy drone suckjob. Glancing about the immediate area, all I see is heads bowed and hands clasped in front of people, like at a sermon, and it honestly does feel like some sort of ritual.

Atilla gutturally invoking and gesturing, Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley shrouded in smoke in the background, raising their arms and crashing them down brutally upon their bass. I occasionally catch a glimpse of Anderson's face and by God if the man isn't grinning with pleasure at the crushing noise he's causing. Bless. There are several 'costume' changes by Attila, starting out relatively normal .. cloaked up, cloaked up with a melting face (unless I was tripping balls from the vibrations, entirely possible) and signalling the end of the set, what appears to be a gimp statue of liberty, covered in glass, spikes and lazers. It honestly comes as no surprise. And then it's over. Smiling, they bow, wave and leave. Two and a half hours has felt like mere minutes. 

Perhaps I went into some sort of different realm at some point. I felt like I had my soul well and truly fucked by vibrations and noise. My nose was leaking a tiny amount of blood and my legs feel like jelly. I needed a moment to get my bearings. Everyone around me looked in a state of confusion or near catatonia. What's just happened? Was something fucking special, that's for sure. 10/10

Note - keep the earplugs in. Out of curiosity I removed mine for less than a second and thought my head was violently collapsing inwards. Which I'm pretty sure it was.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Reviews: Riverdogs, Scardust, Next To None

Riverdogs: California (Frontiers)

The Riverdogs were originally formed in in Los Angeles at the end of the 80's the band are notable in that they managed to tap the then Dio, ex-Sweet Savage, ex-Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell to produce their EP, going one better he joined the group only leaving when he became a part of Def Leppard in 1992 replacing Steve Clark. The band split up in 1993 but reformed in 2011 with three of the founder members; Campbell, bassist Nick Brophy and vocalist/guitarist Rob Lamonthe joined by the bands second drummer Marc Danzeisen, this is the line up that has continued through to this their fifth album coming six years after their previous effort. Obviously the gap is due to other commitments of Campbell but it has made the band rediscover their roots tapping into the sunny blue-driven hard rock heard on their debut.

The songs on this record shimmer with a blues rock base that moves into melodic rocking, in fact with the intricate leads Campbell lets loose on American Dream and The Revolution Starts Tonight paired with Lamonthe's soulful vocals means they will appeal to fans of their label mates Mr Big as it's the sort of virtuoso-yet-radio friendly music they have always delivered.  The blues is plainly the major influence to tracks such as Something Inside and Welcome To The New Disaster while Golden Glow is the de-rigueur ballad.

The Heart Is A Mindless Bird starts out slowly and ramps up in the end into a guitar solo masterclass that continues into the hard rocking Searching For A Signal. California is brilliant album from a band who many may have thought had put their glory days behind them, I hope the busy schedule of their lead guitarist doesn't get in the way of another album or some live shows as Riverdogs are a band right up my street. 9/10

Scardust: Sands Of Time (Self Released)

Israeli progressive metal act Scardust used to be known as Somina but after their formation they discovered a band had trademarked that name they changed it to Scardust (which I think is better) but anyway enough about the history lets get down to the record itself. Scardust are female fronted with Noa Gruman having classically trained vocals that are very strong and have a wide range moving between soprano highs and guttural roars, her vocals are a revelation, better than many of her higher profile contemporaries. She is complimented by a choir and orchestrations and the band themselves play highly technical progressive metal with odd time signatures, frequent changes, a thundering rhythm section (with a drum solo), complex guitar and bass riffs (and solos) and melodic keys.

Their music is busy and incredibly well performed, the album opens with a five part title track concept which like all of the songs on this record were written by Noa along with the bands 'ghost writer/composer' Orr Didi and they have really captured the cinematic nature of Epica and Devin Townsend. The concept starts things as they mean to go on, from the Overture that sets the scene right up to the final epic part Sands Of Time it's an exercise in the bands obvious talent, outside of the concept Out Of The Strong Came Sweetness is a tough but operatic duet, Arrowhead more straight ahead prog metal (with a bass solo) and Queen Of Insanity takes things back to the symphonic heaviness of Epica. You can hear that Sands Of Time is a good album from the first few bars however only after numerous listens can really hear how good it is you pick up every nuance, every time signature change and you are continually astounded by Noa's insane vocals. Israel has great pedigree with prog metal and Scardust are the latest act to enter the fray bringing a superb debut full length with them. 9/10

Next To None: Phases (InsideOut)

"Watch this space" that's how I ended my review of Next To None's debut album in 2015, the young band had oodles of talent and also name recognition due to drummer Max Portnoy but their album only showed glimpses, they were a little rough around the edges but everything was in place for them to both improve and explode as a new name in modern day progressive metal. So album number 2 is finally here and have the band done this? Well the first tick in the box is that they have maintained the same line up with Portnoy Jr behind the kit again with Derrick Schneider on guitar, Kris Rank on bass and Thomas Cuce on keyboards and lead vocals, this time they have drawn on their touring experience and time as band to craft an album that has given them a definitive sound rather than just a result of their influences, which was one of the things that let them down on their debut.

Here they take their own path, 13 opens the record with a haunting solitary piano piece before the downtuned heavy riffs kick in, it builds and builds getting faster as the piano runs increase, then it explodes into a percussive palm muted riff Slipknot would proud of. So ok their influences are still there in droves but I hoped they were being used to add familiarity rather than complacency. The Apple starts with a drum break from Portnoy before bringing in more palm-muted guitars and even some scratching which I thought went out of fashion in 2001 and once again it's Slipknot, by Beg their seems to be a theme developing and the nine man wrecking machine may have to launch an investigation into copyright infringement. Alone takes us away from Iowa and into the realm of Tool with a moody nine minute piece punctuated by screaming parts that ruin it for me.

The virtuosity is still here, the four of them a incredible musicians there is nothing that can diminish that but this album just sounds like Slipknot there is very little variation, Thomas' vocals have changed but not for the better now he screams well but his cleans are of the angsty pop-punk style which really annoys me. Phases for me doesn't see Next To None improve for me, the musical performances are of a high quality but the songwriting grew stale in 2008. Next To None? In Taylors shadow more like! 6/10