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Monday, 20 February 2017

Reviews: Place Vendome, Knight Area, Sinheresy

Place Vendome: Close To The Sun (Frontiers)

I'm not sure why this band have named themselves after the starting point of the
Rue de la Paix (the fashionable shopping district in the French Capital of Paris - Geography Ed) but you can't argue with the talent involved with this band formed by Pink Cream 69/Countless others bassist/producer Dennis Ward and ex-Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske the band have released three albums previously with this fourth one coming three years since their last.

As a parallel to this band Ward and Kiske have made two Unisonic albums together with Kai Hansen that has strengthened their partnership, while Unisonic sees them writing/playing and producing, the Place Vendome collaboration has numerous guest writers contributing songs, this time around the tracks have been penned by Magnus Karlsson, Alessandro Del Vecchio, Jani Liimatainen (Cain's Offering, ex-Sonata Arctica), Olaf Thorsen (Vision Divine, Labyrinth), Fabio Lione (Vision Divine, Angra, ex-Labyrinth, ex-Rhapsody of Fire), Simone Mularoni (DGM), Mike Palace and Aldo Lonobile (Secret Sphere) with guitar solos provided by Gus G (Firewind), Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray, Unisonic), Mandy Meyer (Krokus, Unisonic), Alfred Koffler, Michael Klein, Magnus Karlsson and Simone Mularoni.

This like many of the records delivered by Frontiers are collaborative projects that bring together some of the most well known performers in the melodic and power metal genres to indulge in the lighter side of the genre with big AOR hooks. Allowing the incredible voice of Kiske to sing in a style you may not associate with him. Close To The Sun shows that this projects still has legs and it's ready to kick when needed. 7/10

Knight Area: Heaven And Beyond (Butler Records)

Heaven And Beyond is a keening neo-prog record piecing the best bits of classic bands like Yes and Pink Floyd, The Reaper is the best example of Floydian themes and the more modern prog sounds of Pendragon and Arena. The tinkling keys are the bands major weapon with synths from the frontman Mark Smit and keyboardist Gerben Klazinga but they still have jazzy rhythms from Peter Vink and Pieter van Hoorn along with flowing guitar work especially on opening track Unbroken. Frontman Smit's vocals are very good, light and melodic crooning with an emotional delivery.

The classical strings that cut through the poppy Box Of Toys give the track a breezy feel and ends with a stirring guitar solo. Starlight could easily have come off an Asia record especially because of Smit's John Wetton-like vocals, he could be a perfect replacement for the sadly recently deceased frontman. The title track is a beautiful ballad that avoids being sappy and builds into one of three best solos on the record from Mark Bogert.

There seems to be a few spiritual overtones on this record but it's difficult to say whether it's a Christian record, still that wouldn't detract from the music on this record. I've knew very little about this Dutch act before but I'm looking forward going back and discovering more. 8/10

Sinheresy: Domino (Scarlet Records)

Italian symphonic metal band Sinheresy began as a Nightwish cover band before starting composing their own songs in 2011. They rely on the dual male/female vocals with the deep male vocals of Stefano Sain in opposition to the soaring operatic female pipes of Cecilia Petrini. This is their second full length album and it sees them sticking to their sound with orchestral touches adding to the progressive metal backing they even have put some EDM on Star Dome that takes them into Amaranthe territory as the pumping synths run parallel with the galloping power metal.

The record brims with confidence and is a step up in songwriting form their debut but it does stick rather rigidly to the formulaic symphonic metal sound. Still if you want good dual vocals, sweeping synths and a metallic crunch you could do worse than the progressive, symphonic sound of Sinheresy. 7/10  

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Spotlight: Interview With Obzidian (Interview By Paul)

Interview with Obzidian  @ HRH Metal Birmingham

It was bastard freezing outside the venue but Matty Jenks, Paul Hayward, Matt Jeffs and Baz Foster braved the icy Midlands cold to spare a few minutes of their time with the Musipedia after their stunning set at HRH Metal earlier in the day.

When we told the guys we were from South Wales Paul told us that they had been booked into Fuel a couple of years ago, but that they had been cancelled due to a refurbishment. The South Wales scene is an area Obzidian would like to get into and they were also aware of Sin City in Swansea. Hopefully we will see the band in our neck of the woods soon.

We then took the band back to the beginning, back in 2001 and Paul gave us the back story to Obzidian.

Paul: “Me, Jeffsy and Baz, we’ve been in bands since we were about 14, all went to the same school, became friends and started off little bands. Obzidian itself didn’t start until 2001 and originally, we had a singer/guitarist, a kinda James Hetfield sound until 2005 when we decided we wanted to go a lot heavier, a lot more Lamb of god style, as our influences had changed. We just wanted to do something different. So, he left, Matty came in and Baz took on all of the guitar duties because he can and we’ve been like it ever since.”

The line-up is now coming up to 11-12 years which means that Matty joined the band when he was young.

Matty confirmed: “Yeah, I joined Christmas 2005 and we played our first gig February 2006. Yeah, 11 years for me now, 11 years this month.”

We moved onto the influences on the band and with LOG the clear sound what other bands did Obzidian get their influences from?

For Baz and Paul, it was pretty clear: “Pantera, Testament, bit of Metallica” whilst Matt added that this was clearly what their sound was based around. Listen to Obliteration Process and these influences are clear.

However, along with the old-school thrash there is a mix of prog.

Matt continued “The Damned Eternal album is quite a progressive album, it’s a concept album and we were listening to a lot of Dream Theater at the time”.

The band agreed, with Paul adding “As heavy as we are, and the reviews for Obliteration Process have been great across the board, a lot of reviews pop up with a Sabbath touch which happens to us quite a lot and this always interests me you know, as we’ve never considered that but when you listen to the tracks we can kinda see where they are coming from”.

Matt added “We have got that slower groovy riff type”. Paul continued “we’ve never cited them as a main influence but I’m glad it’s there because that is the kind of sound we want, groovy, still heavy yet progressive.”

We moved on to a couple of the bands that the band have opened for including Sepultura and Arch Enemy.

The band elaborated “It’s been one off gigs here and there, you know, the tours that we’ve done have mainly been with larger underground bands”.

Paul then provided some clarity and honesty: “to be honest for the first ten years of the band’s life we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We didn’t have any management, we didn’t have any representation, we were just trying to make the best of it ourselves, and once we got those things three or four years ago with Rocksound, now Fatangel, that’s when we started to organise things a bit better”

Back to the Sepultura slot? “Those gigs, it was just a random mention, y’know, do you want to support Sepultura? Well, yeah, of course!”

Matty expands “We had a few around that time, we got Il Nino and Onslaught (cue comments about how good Onslaught are at supporting smaller bands) and it was a strange period where you had these large bands touring and you had a lot of local bands doing opening slots which seems to have fizzled out again now.”

We discussed the current style of having loads of bands on a tour which I don’t think always works and Paul talked about Reading, and the scene there, complimenting bands such as Sylosis who have emerged from that scene. It’s an area the band would love to get into.

We rolled back to the new management of Fatangel and I asked the band what this means for them. “We were with Dan Carter at Bearded Monkey and they merged so it’s very early days, but it’s trying to get us on more of the festival slots”.

Matt continued “our entire gig calendar is thanks to Dan and he’s got us on some great festivals like this one [HRH Metal], we’re at Pentrefest in Deeside in June (which has a stellar line up) and Lostock Festival [Northwich in July] so he’s got us some great festivals and of course some little gigs in between. Dan did great things for us and merging with a bigger outfit makes sense, they are all nice guys and we get on together; this is going to be the year we get pushed a lot more and we are pushing a lot more in the band”. We can only hope this it true because you won’t find a better underground band in the UK.

Matty added “it already feels good and stress free. We all must work full time so this helps an awful lot. They just seem to have a lot more understanding.”

The band explained that it’s the small stuff that helps, avoiding the ludicrous requests to get to a venue several hours away by 6pm on a work night for a band that all have families. The understanding appears to be there and this can only be a good thing. It also avoids the slightly bigger label backlash when unrealistic demands are placed on the band.

Paul summarised “they are good people and good friends and that one to one connection is good. We don’t want to make a band a business. We are not at that level”. Ironically, when we discussed money Matty told us that his dad earnt £200 for a show back in the 1970s, the same as the band may be offered now.

We had a fantastic discussion about the music scene and how it has ebbed and flowed. These guys love their music and 200 people in a sweaty room is right up their street. We moved on to our penultimate question which was prompted by Eradikator’s cover of Panama by Van Halen. What would Obzidian choose? The band were straight on this, acknowledging that they’d done and still do lots of covers, especially in their earlier days with lots of Sabbath and Metallica.

Paul said that covering LOG “for obvious reasons” was great fun, noting that “it fits our sound and Chris Adler is one of my main influences”.

Matt added “obviously Pantera” with all the guys agreeing that they’ve covered most Vulgar Display of Power.

Paul continued “ I do like playing Five Minutes Alone, It’s a simple track for me personally and the effect that the overall track has”.

We asked about anything a bit more classic rock and the band hit on AC/DC, and a bit of the metal gods Judas Priest (given we were in the Midlands I was getting worried this far into the interview that we hadn’t got the leather rebels into the conversation by this point).

Matty laughingly added that he of course has to “Put a heavier twist to them … as I can barely sing a note!” cue much hilarity. Thin Lizzy was the other band mentioned – damn these guys have great taste!

It was time for the final question and with two pages of choices, some deliberation took place before the favourite sheep were chosen.  Obzidian took this in great spirit and we identified the Black Wensleydale, Jacob, Manx and North Ronaldsey as the four favourites. The inevitable Welsh jokes about sheep were bandied about as we brought a thoroughly enjoyable interview to a close.
A massive thanks to the band for their time and their honesty. A huge thanks to Dan Carter at FatAngel for sorting it all as well. This is a band going places. Check out Obzidian. They groove, they thrash, they fucking rock.

Friday, 17 February 2017

A View From The Second City: HRH Metal (Day 2)

Hard Rock Hell Metal Birmingham, Day 2, 12th Febuary

Day two saw us rise with limited damage and after check out we arrived at the O2 in time for one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend. Late last year Staffordshire’s Obzidian (9) released their fourth album, the stunning Obliteration Process. Full of thrash metal groove, this was one I was waiting for and the band hit the stage bang on 2pm to a very healthy crowd in arena 3. From the start the band took no prisoners, with the enthusiasm of snarling vocalist Matty Jenks totally infectious. Taking the time to repeatedly thank everyone for attending, the band blasted through a set which included Concrete Psychosis from the 2014 release of the same name along with a couple from Obliteration Process, the storming Sins Here Are Purified and the magnificent stomp of Perish The Thought. The sound these guys make is akin to Lamb Of God with the groove of Pantera, with Baz’s shredding guitar work giving the impression that there was another guitarist hidden away somewhere. Paul Hayward’s drumming evoked the Vinnie Paul and Chris Adler sound whilst Matt Jeff’s infectious bass lines underpinned the whole lot.  A great start to day 2.

Opening proceedings in arena 1 was London based symphonic metallers Pythia (4). Unfortunately, the band are not my cup of tea and when Sophie Dorman’s off key vocals kicked in, many in the venue headed elsewhere. With an image that isn’t quite right and songs that are just plain confusing and disjointed, Pythia struggled to impress and even when returning to the arena at the latter part of their set things hadn’t improved. What it did allow was the chance for a quick return to Arena 3 for local thrash merchants Eradikator (8) who had pulled another decent gathering. The band pull no punches, their slayer fused thrash inciting much head banging with vocalist and bassist Pat Cox demanding everyone’s attention. Although the thrash was a little repetitive, Cox wins extra points for his flying V bass whilst the band’s cover of Van Halen’s Panama was one of the highlights of the weekend.

Whilst on record they sound okay, on stage I’m afraid that the classic metal style of Berkshire’s Primitai (6) struggled to maintain attention. Not even the toned flexing of front man Guy Miller was sufficient to maintain focus and after a while the competent band became, well, just a little boring.

Boring is not something you can accuse Worcestershire metallers Fury (9) of being. With the arena 2 very nicely populated the band pulled off one of the sets of the weekend with tracks from their last album Lost in Space mixed nicely with some of their earlier works. Julian Jenkins possesses one of the most brilliant voices in metal today. It is truly astonishing and around the room those who were new to the band were noted to be looking on in awe. Jenkins is no slouch on the guitar either although most of the lead work was let to Jake Beesley; the duel guitar sound reminiscent of early Maiden and Lizzy so pleasing on the ear. What is most impressive about Fury is their genuine enjoyment which they currently display, the whole band having fun and grinning from ear to ear, bassist Martin Trail winning the weekend’s best gurner award by a country mile. The warmth was reciprocated by the audience who were engaged and receptive to the set. Possibly the best set of the weekend.

The main arena witnessed the heaviest set of the weekend with UK black metallers Winterfylleth (9) demonstrate why they have few equals with an hour of astonishing black metal. The band are now more confident than I’ve ever seen them, with bassist Nick Wallwork now taking on a larger share of the vocals. Meanwhile Chris Naughton remains the focal point with a voice that is almost impossible to reconcile to his appearance. The band’s anthemic black metal with its English heritage inspired themes filled the arena, Dan Capp’s vicious riffing splitting heads. Highlights included the title track from last year’s superb The Dark Hereafter, a blistering Warrior Herd from The Divination Of Antiquity and A Valley Thick With Oaks from 2010’s The Mercian Sphere. Overcoming the inevitable technical difficulties that always seem to affect their gigs, certainly when I see them, the band continue to impress with every viewing. Essential viewing in the live arena.

Editor: Unfortunately we missed out on seeing Reign Of Fury as due to Stoneghost pulling out, so they started their elongated set midway through Winterfylleth's as we wanted to get a very good place for Hell, from what I've heard they were excellent bringing in Conscript man Joey Jaycock on lead guitar, shame to miss them but we did manage to catch a bit of Hanging Doll (7) who had their Gothic metal stunted by the terrible sound mix.

And so to our last band of the weekend due to work commitments on Monday but what a way to finish. I’ve seen Hell (9) numerous times over the past few years, in several different locations but it’s when they have a decent size of stage that they really excel.  Their set list is pretty settled these days with a mix of songs from Human Remains and 2013’s Curse And Chapter. Opener The Age Of Nefarious saw Dave Bower in full flow, whilst Let Battle Commence allowed Andy Sneap and Kev Bower let rip. The epic Let Battle Commence allowed the theatrics to start in earnest with Bower’s self-flagellation raising a few eyebrows amongst the non-believers in the audience. Despite blowing his wireless microphone and having to resort to a hand held one towards the end of the set, Bower remained the master thespian. The arrival of the plague doctor for Plague & Fyre followed on from one of the highlights of the show, Bower towering above the stage on his stilted goat’s legs and devil horns for Darkhangel. Although the theatrics always catch the eye the music must work and Hell are blisteringly heavy, Tony Speakman’s pounding bass combining with Tim Bowler’s battery from the drum riser. Closing with End Ov Days and the anthemic On Earth As It Is In Hell, the Derbyshire outfit proved once again that they are a must see band at any festival.

 With the ears ringing from two blistering days of metal, we departed the O2 for our journey home. A brilliant weekend, friendly punters and a fabulous vibe. We will be back next year!

Editor: Apologies to The Heretic Order, Lawnmower Death and Sodom for missing their sets but travel back we all had early starts on the Monday so a late night return Sunday was not possible, we will see you again. Promise.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A View From The Second City: HRH Metal (Day 1)

Hard Rock Hell Metal Birmingham, Day 1, 11th Febuary

A departure from the usual holiday camp madness as the HRH crew took over the O2 Academy in Birmingham for the weekend with a delicious line up of quality UK metal outfits. With the tickets organised, our first job was to locate accommodation and we hit the jackpot with the superb StayCity Aparthotels in Newhall, a mile from the venue. A stunningly well-appointed apartment suited our party down to the ground. Highly recommended.

Day 1 dawned with a bitterly cold wind and a smattering of snow on the ground. After a later breakfast, we headed to the O2 Academy where things were fully underway. Showsec security at the entrance were their usual miserable big city standard, with limited customer care skills on display. Take a trip to the Tramshed in Cardiff if you want to see how security should be done. However, the HRH team were as friendly and enthusiastic as always and we were soon into the inner parts of the venue. A small number of rock stalls flanked the main stage. The layout of the main arena is always a bone of contention with me, the usual bottle necks behind the sound desk, the bars and the merchandise all flowing into one exit which means that at certain times movement is restricted.

Having missed Bear Fist it was time for Red Rum (8) who never disappoint. The East Midlands outfit’s pirate themed metal is an acquired taste, but it’s a taste that most enjoy a soupcon of from time to time. These guys are a staple part of the HRH stable and the assembled throng were soon tapping and clapping along. The inevitable outbreak of dancing duly occurred with the appearance of the mandolin and their crazy cover of They're Taking The Hobbits To Isengard before the first pit of the day opened; a pit with a difference though as moshing was replaced by jigging. Yes folks, the jig pit was back. Red Rum, the heavy metal equivalent of The Pogues. Have a good time, all the time.

A quick sprint upstairs to the cooler arena 2 for local band Winter Storm, not to be confused with those German types of similar name (Winterstorm-Power Metal Ed). Led by Hannah, Winter Storm (7) battled valiantly with a muddy sound and some crippling nerves before they eventually relaxed to deliver a decent set which deserved a bigger audience. Their gothic style synths combined with a bucket load of riffs and Hannah’s powerful voice to create songs that are worthy of more attention. Just a shame about the mix.

Dropping into the bowels of the Academy to the small third arena it was time for some mayhem with up and coming stars AntiClone (6). Much has been made of these nu-metal upstarts who hail from the murder capital of the UK, yep, Boston, Lincs. With a rage born out of confidence and several massive endorsements from members of the metal community, the band were out of the traps in record time, kicking into tracks from their debut release The Root Of Man and quickly inciting the first wall of death of the weekend. If you like the chaos of Manson, Mudvayne, Korn and of course Des Moines’ finest then you’ll love this lot. I found them a little repetitive and whilst gimmicks are fine, the music needs to support it. Still, the committed didn’t need any invitation to join the action.

Back on the main stage the 1990s soon returned with the rage and political angst of Senser (8) whose riffs, rap and energy provided the first massive sound of the day and the first real OMG moment. A band that split and then reformed in 2009, Senser gained huge numbers of new fans with one of the performances of the weekend. Addictive, enticing and driven, the interplay between vocalists Heitham Al sayed and Kerstin Haigh was as strong as ever, whilst the thunder was brought with ease by James Barrett (Bass), Nick Michaelson (Guitar) and drummer Johnny Morgan. On the decks, Peter Crouch lookalike Andy Clinton never changed his focus as the industrial anthems cascaded around a rapidly filling arena. The band focused on their debut release, 1994’s Stacked Up which received massive approval from the masses. The mix of sounds and styles is always appreciated by the metal community and Senser were a quality dish on an already bursting menu.

A quick look at Exist Immortal (5) confirmed that the experimental Djent scene remains one of the least inviting for me. With another poor sound creating some difficulty to the listener, the band kicked off confidently but having a billion strings on your instruments doesn’t make up for a lack of inspiration in song writing. I’m sure many do appreciate the London based outfit but I found it an opportune time to head out to China Town for supper before the evening’s main event.

It’s been a few years since I’ve seen one of the most promising UK bands, Huddersfield’s Evile (9) but it was bloody worth the wait as Matt Drake and co blasted a huge hole in the arena’s circle pits with a show of confidence, maturity and most importantly promise. It’s been no secret that the band have struggled to maintain their momentum over recent times and the departure of lead guitarist Oli Drake left a huge void. No longer, as new man Piers Donno Fuller gave a faultless display in the art of shredding. With four albums worth of material to choose from there was no shortage of high quality tunes and Skull, In Memoriam, Enter The Grave and closer Thrasher really kept a high octane show a full blast. The band were tight, looked healthy and fit and a crammed arena roared their approval. In terms of shocks, Evile might have been the one of the weekend. In a totally good way.

Day one reached its climax with Newport’s finest, the always fantastic live Skindred (9) kicking Saturday into Sunday with 70 minutes of sheer class. A set littered with anthems, Trouble to Rat Race, Doom Riff to Sound The Siren kept the masses pumped and engaged. Fittingly for such turbulent times, main man Benji encouraged tolerance and peace with some eloquent words in his own ‘Port style. Alongside him, brutal riffs from Mikey Deemus and bassist Dan Pugsley mixed with the dubstep and ragga punk whilst Ayra Goggin as usual maintained the beat throughout. A poignant and emotional reflection on the loss of a friend with cancer allowed a pause in the mania with the acoustic Saying It Now before the inevitable Newport Helicopter during Warning brought a great day to an end.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Reviews: Thunder, Mutiny Within, Hark

Thunder: Rip It Up (earMusic)

Thunder's glorious recorded return came with 2015's Wonder Days it saw the band release their first new material in nearly 8 years and set the British hard rock institution back on course that would see them headline Steelhouse festival as well as appearing at numerous other festivals and tours, the albums retrospective lyrics and use of the band's bluesy hard rock, along with the anticipation that had been building since the band had almost called it quits after 2008 meant that this record was seen my most as glorious return to form. However now Thunder are back to being a going concern how do they follow up? Well in the truly British way they grab opportunity by the balls and make it say 'ahh'

Rip It Up is the bands eleventh studio album and it once again is everything you could want from a Thunder album the retrospective, upbeat lyrics come through on No One Gets Out Alive, although this time they have rough-up the edges a little giving them a youthful exuberance not seen since their 90's heyday. Tracks like the gritty She Likes Cocaine are outright rockers with lyrics that deal with fame culture and features the excellent Lynne Jackaman on co-lead vocals and a jangling tambourine.

The workmanlike drumming of Gary 'Harry' James and Chris Childs bass grooves are on point begging your hips to shake on the title track. Luke Morley just pours his soul into every riff and solo especially Shakedown the records heaviest outing. The songs are all prime quality rockers infected by the blues as well as liberal uses of acoustics on Right From The Start and the atmospheric Heartbreak Hurricane which highlights the contribution of Ben Matthews aiding Morley with the guitars and the keys, he's as vital here as he is on the live stage.

Rip It Up is the sound of a band who feel like they have something to prove, this record has been made to dispel any notions that Wonder Days was a success due to rose-tinted nostalgia, every note Danny Bowes belts out is riddled with confidence and defiance, his leather lungs bolstered by the crooning backing vocals of the aforementioned Lynne Jackaman along with Heather Findlay and Susie Webb. Thunder are one of the best British rock bands around and they are still at the apex of their powers with Rip It Up. 8/10 

Mutiny Within: Origins (Self Released)

Every new Mutiny Within album to me is always a sign that even with the music industry in relative freefall, bands can still get their product out without any major label backing. That wasn't always the story however formed by bassist Andrew Jacobs the band was notable for bringing over UK singer Chris Clancy to front the band, much was made of the move as the debut album was released on Roadrunner records and the band seemed destined for greatness.

However they were struck by the scourge of illegal downloading, the debut didn't do as well as expected and the band were left with serious financial issues so it led to a hiatus in 2009, after lots of work behind the scenes finally in 2012 the main members reconvened to finish the tracks for their second record and with the the music industry changing they decided to self release with the album being released in 2013. With a positive response to the record showing that the band could exist without a major label Mutiny Within were officially back and set about writing material for a third album.

In the interim Chris Clancy formed Wearing Scars with Sacred Mother Tongue's Andy James promoting a more melodic style than the technical, melodic death metal sound of Mutiny Within, it stands to reason that Clancy's involvement in that project and the slots as support to some of the big hitting bands means that interest in the third MW album would have increased but can they capitalize on this with the music which of course is the important part, well it looks like that's the easy bit. From pillar to post this record is brimming with incredibly technical, virtuoso performances from all involved without forsaking the accessibility of the songs.

The record does take fewer risks than it's predecessor but that's probably because it was written with an intent to do so as a cohesive unit and going concern, rather than one that was trying to save a project, so this album is the band settling back into a groove they enjoy. MW have always expertly crafted their songs with nods to power and death metal driven by the furious drumming of Bill Fore and the intricate bass playing of Andrew Jacobs (who also contribute some rhythm guitar).

Daniel Badge's guitars are excellent switching between riffs and solos with ease as he also brings the synths and keys to the album giving the band the huge sound they have always had that is assisted by the slick production skills of Clancy who once again does wonders with his voice, the duality he has from his pipes still sends chills down your spine with his guttural roars and soaring cleans.

Archetype Of Destrucion is a chest beating opening that sets the tone, while Silent Weapons and Reasons feature the guitar prowess of Scar Symmetry's Per Nilsson and Wearing Scars' Andy James really ramping up the fretboard fireworks, Origins is the third album by Mutiny Within but it establishes them as back where they belong, get to their website, buy the album and support them as Mutiny Within are a band that need to triumph over adversity. 8/10            

Hark: Machinations (Seasons Of Mist)

Let me take you back to those heady days of 2002, Nu-Metal was still firmly in control of metal music, the rising NWOAHM scene was kicking off with metalcore bands leading the way and then out of the underground came the complex heaviness of Mastodon who successfully married the aural discord of Neurosis and the Southern riffs of the Allman Brothers, the progressive sludge of their debut Remission was a revelation to the more mainstream metal listener as it showed that noise could be accessible. Since then of course Mastodon have gone on to become a big name in the metal arena and their records have become more ambitious bringing in more prog and blues influences moving away from the rage of their debut.

Luckily then we have Swansea's Hark to redress the balance, Machinations is their second album and it instantly takes you back to the almost primal sounds of the Atlanta band's debut record from the outset. Fortune Favours The Insane the crushing sludgy rhythm section of Simon Bonwick on drums and sees Tom Shortt coming in on bass as Joe Harvatt takes up a second guitar position meaning that the guitars on this record give all the songs shining harmonies and killer solos that take from blues and hard rock.

Machinations doesn't drop in quality every song is gut-bustingly heavy but more importantly tuneful getting the light and shade right as Jimbob Issac's vocals echo the bark of Troy Sanders. The finale of the melodic clean instrumental Comnixant 3.0 leading into the excellent 8 minute last track of The Purge really hammer home how talented this band are with so many bands coming in the wake of Mastodon and the rise of the sludge/stoner scene HARK are flying the flag for the Welsh with a superior second album. 8/10   

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Reviews: Nailed To Obscurity, Ddent, Conscript (Reviews By Rich)

Nailed To Obscurity: King Delusion (Apostasy Records)

Nailed To Obscurity are a German death doom metal band and King Delusion is their third album. Nailed To Obscurity can't be a well known band as I am a big fan of this subgenre of metal and they have never fallen under my radar. That being said they are a band I shall be following from now on as King Delusion is a very good album indeed.

As said previously Nailed To Obscurity play death doom metal but also add influences from melodic death metal and post-metal into the mix. The music on King Delusion has the same traits as most bands from the genre - crushing slow riffs, melancholic melodies and a general atmosphere of misery and despair. The vocals of frontman Raimund Ennenga range from a guttural death metal growl to forlorn clean singing which isn't overused so it's a nice surprise when the clean vocals do appear.

One nice difference with Nailed To Obscurity is the non-reliance of keyboards which can be overused by other bands in the genre for atmospheric effect. Nailed To Obscurity manage to attain the same levels of atmosphere in their riffs and melodies alone.

King Delusion is a wonderful death doom album and whilst it doesn't break the mold or stray from what other similar bands are doing the songwriting is so good that it is impossible to forget this album in a hurry. 8/10

Ddent - آكتئاب (Self Released)

Ddent are an instrumental post-rock band from France with 'آكتئاب' being their debut full length album having previously released the Chien Noir EP back in 2015.

'آكتئاب' translates as melancholy or depression and is a very appropriate title for this album and the feelings the music within conveys. 'آكتئاب' has an incredibly huge sound (thanks in part to the brilliant production job courtesy at Skyhammer Studio) with crushing doom laden riffs mixing with vast ambient soundscapes. Influences can also be heard from shoegaze, industrial and post-metal.

I have listened to a fair few instrumental post-rock albums and they very rarely manage to maintain my interest throughout. It's a different story with 'آكتئاب' which through a combination of clever writing and impressive performances managed to hold my attention for the near hour duration of the album. Highlights include Ghazel and my personal favourite Azahar.

'آكتئاب' doesn't break the mold for post-rock albums but is definitely one of the better ones I have heard in recent years. Plus this is definitely one of those albums to listen to through a good set of headphones. 7/10

Conscript: Celestial Mechanics (Self Released)

Celestial Mechanics is the debut EP by one man melodic death metal band Conscript. Conscript is the project of Northampton based vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Joey Jaycock. All the music on the EP is written and performed by him.

The music on Celestial Mechanics is a hard hitting, heavy riff based style of melodic death metal with a nice symphonic twist. Each of the three songs on the EP show a different style from the brusing opening title track to the blast beat ridden yet atmospheric I'll See You Burn to the heavily symphonic and epic Atlantean.

Celestial Mechanics shows great promise and is a very enjoyable EP. Only bad thing is due to its three song duration it is over way too quickly. Thankfully there is a full length album in the works which I shall be keeping my eye out for. 7/10

Monday, 13 February 2017

Reviews: Moon Duo, Departed, Final Drive, Animator

Moon Duo: Occult Architecture Vol 1 (Sacred Bones) [Review By Paul]

Described as a two part psychedelic opus, Occult Architecture Vol 1 is the first of two releases this year from the Portland, Oregon outfit. I have to be honest, much of the psychedelic scene is alien to me, but when I taste it I usually enjoy what I've nibbled on. This is no exception and whilst the trip is certainly steeped in the more traditional psychedelic sounds, if such a thing exists, there is plenty more going on to engage the listener.

If you can move past some of the blurb, what you experience is a diverse and incredibly clever album which uses repetition in a hugely positive way. With elements of trance, space rock, electronica and the occasional dip into the Gothic, the fourth album from the band, now using regular touring drummer John Jeffery as part of the recording team evolves, changing shapes and sound around you, the repetitive beats are utilised to propel the music forward.

Guitarist and vocalist Ripley Johnson is part of the drone sound and although this is evident on occasion those influences and direction are cleverly hidden and disguised. The synth pop reverb of Will of Evil, which despite its metal sounding name leans much more towards the Gothic sounds of Sister of Mercy and early Cult.

A simple repeated riff and drum beat with synths that wrap themselves around you brings a heavier track in Cult Of Moloch. Traces of Hawkwind, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode along with many others intertwine on this artist’s palette, bringing a canvas of intriguing and evolving sounds. This may well turn into on of my albums of the year. Essential listening. 9/10

Departed: Departed (Self Released)

Here's one we missed from last year that it's been a pleasure to come back and visit. Departed are a hard rocking band formed by ex-Treatment guitarist Ben Brookland and Empire Of Fools vocalist/bassist Mark Pascall after Brookland left The Treatment, for the initial start of the band Mark took the bass duties with Howie Spring behind the drum stool (after the recording of this EP Howie now plays bass and his brother Connor takes drums).

The record features Ben, Mark and Chris Rivers (formerly Heavens Basement) on drums, but much of the creative input comes from Ben and Mark, and it's that fire fuelled passion that infects this record and also translates to their live show which has been bolstered high profile supports of Status Quo, Graham Bonnet and appearances at Frankfest and Hard Rock Hell.

The EP was originally released in June of last year and on the back their star has risen massively, so the EP serves as a testament to that rise with seven tracks of ballsy, hard rock served up with swagger, with some guitar playing that moves between louche clean lines and crunching riffs from Brookland and soulful classic hard rock vocals from Pascall the songs on this record expertly blend the modern and retro sounds with the upbeat Pretty Little Thing being an excellent example of the bands ear for radio hooks. As a prelude to a live show Departed does the job, full length please fella's. 8/10

Final Drive: Dig Deeper (Self Released)

Fancy some southern groove thrashy metal? Well look no further than the fifth opus from St Louis’ outfit Final Drive. Dig Deeper combines the groove of Lamb of god, the grind of Pantera and the harmony choruses of bands such as Killswitch Engage and the UK’s While She Sleeps. Ten tracks, mostly similar in pattern but with some killer riffs, brutal solos and the odd breathing space in between the pounding assault.

Tracks such as The Last Time have KSE written all over it. It isn't thrash as I would define thrash, but it has the edge. In fact, most of the tracks verge more towards the metal core approach, shouty vocals mixing with cleaner sounds, angry choruses prevalent throughout.I'm confused by the band’s self proclaimed Clutch comparisons although the punk infused Six Feet Down distantly echoes the Bakersfield outfit’s mid 1990s approach. The tracks are short, snappy and get the feet tapping. 7/10

Animator: The Venom Within (Self Released)

Waterford thrashers Animator, not to be confused with the recently reactivated Re-Animator, play a similar to kind of thrash to countrymen Gamma Bomb, its furious thrash metal with bite like a rabid wolverine. This EP comes a few years after their debut but it retains the same style heard on Blacklisted with the four piece playing no frills metal, the four tracks whizz by at breakneck speed, moving between shredding and stomping. It's 20 minutes of adrenaline pumping that has been honed by a long touring schedule between the full length and this EP. 6/10

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Reviews: Battle Beast, Black Anvil, Valis Ablaze

Battle Beast: Bringer Of Pain (Nuclear Blast)

Bringer Of Pain is the fourth album from Finns Battle Beast and their third with Noora Louhimo behind the mic. It also serves as something of a departure for the band as they have seemed to have moved away from the heavy metal roots towards a much more accessible sound with the keyboard heavy power metal echoing the bouncing synth fuelled assault of Amaranthe. Opening with the massively upbeat Straight To The Heart the keys are probably the most important thing in this song giving it the fist-punching power of Sabaton, the keys even sound a little like their famous Ghost Division.

It’s a powerful opener that dives headlong into the rampaging title track which has impressive blastbeats and 80’s-like staccato guitars last heard in a Shrapnel records album, the solos intertwine and play off one another with dive-bombs and double tapping throughout, in fact Juuso Sonio (guitar), Joona Bjorkroth (guitar) and his brother Janne (keys) all mix beautifully letting songs like the chunky King For A Day feel tough but with the orchestral elements and synths gives it the feel of a Eurovision song.

Yes that’s right I said Eurovision but that’s what much of this album sounds like the most obvious being Dancing With The Beast which Euro-pop at its cheesiest, with tracks like this Battle Beast could win the International singing competition much like fellow Finns Lordi. The propulsive Beyond The Burning Skies which could be a Within Temptation track due to the thumping rhythm section of Eero Siplia (bass) and Pyry Vikki (drums) and the classical passages that run through it.

Noora’s vocals are as usual simply beautiful her range is staggering, one minute she soars on the overwrought finale Far From Heaven, the next she snarls on the hard rocking Familiar Hell and the classic metal of Bastard Son Of Odin, she works well with Eero on the processed beat driven Lost In Wars. Bringer Of Pain is hard hitting record that could see Battle Beast take that next step towards super stardom, like a female fronted Sabaton, it’s record chock full of heavy, hook-filled metal. 8/10

Black Anvil: As Was (Relapse)

Dirty New York thrash metal is always welcome here at MoM towers and not many do it better than Black Anvil. This trio all made their livings in NYHC bands throwing down in scuzzy venues with violent rallying cries and they have brought this attitude to Black Anvil with the record having 50 minutes of unashamedly angry music, featuring scything riffs, fuzzy bass lines and more double kicks than martial arts competition.

Black Anvil plays the black metal of Venom, nasty, proto-thrash with a punk ethos. The record opens with the 8 minute long On Forgotten Ways which marries desolate, hopeless lyrics with a nightmarish, ever changing soundscape, the vocals move between abrasive and choral like the best of the Nordic black metal acts and the speed and power is kept at a high level throughout.

Black Anvil won’t be happy until the shaken the flesh off your bones and with this fourth record the achieve that, it’s not a major departure from their previous efforts but they continue to produce music that is dark and dangerous. 7/10

Valis Ablaze: Insularity EP (Solna Sounds)

Djent is one of those genres much like Nu-Metal that seemed to explode out of nowhere with a raft of bands all emulating the leaders of the pack. Much like Nu-Metal though after a while the genre petered out and there were far fewer bands forming with that sound, luckily the ones that were seemed to have a better more subtle understanding of the music.

This has happened in the Djent scene with many of the most recent bands having much more a handle on the genre than those bands that arrived just as the scene was blowing up. Bristol/Manchester Valis Ablaze are one such band, jumping headlong into the more mathematical, technical yet melodic sound of bands such as Tesseract (a band they will be supporting on an upcoming Plymouth date) melding the palm-muted, down-tuned riffs with soaring samples and vocals.

As is always evident with the more Djent styled bands the playing on this record is incredible as a special mention has to go to bassist Kieran Hogarty who takes what is often much maligned instrument and puts it at the forefront of the musical backing, it's his heaviness that underpins tracks such as Persuasion as you can hear his fleet fingers over the everything.

This EP has been in production for a while now and it has definitely been worth it the songs all stand out as being superbly crafted pieces with powerful vocals, I see big things ahead for Valis Ablaze. 8/10

Saturday, 11 February 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Lacertilia, Revival

Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Lacertilia, Revival, Clwb Ifor Bach

This was a show I had been looking forward to, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard's debut album was one of the heaviest gems of last year so being able to see them live in a small venue was going to be an experience to say the least. Heading into the venue we discovered the show had a curfew of 10pm meaning that the three bands playing were not going to have much time to make a mark.

Still in the venue and openers Revival (8) were already set up and ready to go, striaght out of Blackwood this hideously young band brought some major riffs in the first few minutes of their set, with a sound akin to Down packed with huge grooves and some BLS/Pantera style soloing, Revival were keenly aware of the history of metal borrowing from late 80's early 90's American metal even throwing in a classic metal gallop on Season Of The Witch which came after the filthy opener Madness. The band got those that turned up early thoroughly warmed up with fans and the two next bands all throwing the horns for these young rockers. Insanity got everything heavier with a bass driven riff and yet more classic flavours and as their set reached it's apex. For a band so young they are extremely talented musicians and give a very engaging and heavy live show. Expect big things, very impressive.

Next up then were a band we are no strangers to here at MoM towers, the hard to define heavy rockers Lacertilia (8) took to the stage with multiple drug fuelled maladies. It's been a while since I've seen them but they are still as electric live than ever, cranking out psychedelic riffs with a grinding distortion, the bass was little all consuming for the set, taking over the PA a little but with the vibrations rattling through your skull the songs were as disorientating as you'd expect from this stoner influenced Welsh mob. The between song areas are still as chaotic but it's a focused chaos that brings you along for the ride and makes you become part of the gang as their interplay lets you warm to them. I've always said that for fans of early-Orange Goblin and those raised on a diet of Sabbath and Hawkwind, Lacertilia are doing it how it used to be done, so Amen to that!

After the longest set up of the night (keyboards are intricate instruments) the opening chord was played and then, Ow... while Gojira claim to have the heaviest matter in the universe I think North Wales experimental doom band Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard (9) have a claim to that throne. Opening the set with possibly one of the most bowel-shakingly heavy, hypnotic riffs I've heard in long time they immediately instil a sense of ominous dread from the first 30 seconds. A veritable wall of noise the only melodies are the sweet harmonic vocals of Jessica Ball who's keyboard too adds to the discordant abject heaviness filled with SFX and retro electronic sounds of Moogs.

Now I've seen Electric Wizard and I didn't think many bands could be that loud but MWWB manage it with their sound being constantly perfected throughout the gig not a single monstrous riff, swirling synth, jaw rattling bass line or sparse drum hit was missed allowing the band to conjure a sound that I can only describe as cacophonous misery as dense as concrete block and twice as effective to split the skull with. At only 45 minutes and the band having prog level length to their songs there was little time for chit chat but this proved an ideal scenario as each track bled into another creating a symphony of doom that saw most of the crowd engage in synchronised head banging.

All three Welsh bands were an aural treat that was more powerful than any herb available, they all expanded the mind, banged the head and gave everyone there good vibes. The entire night was a cosmic unifying force of substance over style and all the better for it. If you can make any of the OHHMS & MMWB shows on the tour then go as your ears will bleed for weeks, but ladies and gents that' a good thing.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Reviews: Black Star Riders, Soen, Power Trip

Black Star Riders: Heavy Fire (Nuclear Blast) [Review By Paul]

Let’s get one thing straight here and now. This is not a Thin Lizzy tribute band. Black Star Riders have more claim to Lizzy than any other band on the planet and yes, they were formed out of the remnants of the band that were performing under the Lizzy banner. What they have done is mixed the sheer gloss of Lizzy’s best qualities, namely good honest rock songs and have put their own stamp on them. Heavy Fire is their third release and it’s been on repeat since it dropped on the mat. It’s by far their best release, much more consistent with a far higher level of quality.

A harder edge is also present, whilst the melody and ear catching hooks are as plentiful as in their previous releases. What Heavy Fire has that The Killer Instinct lacked a little is the driving power. Check out the aggression of Who Rides The Tiger and the driving Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed. Powerful, fast and heavy with Ricky Warwick’s soulful vocals at full pelt, Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson swapping vicious solos, all underpinned by the powerhouse rhythm section of drummer Jimmy DeGrasso and bassist Robert Crane.

This is one hell of a supergroup, gelling magically into a splendid and relevant outfit. The opener and title track is a superb tune whilst When The Night Comes In is an ear worm which is already familiar thanks to repeated air time on Planet Rock. Warwick’s performance is stunning, with the inevitable comparison with the late great Phil Lynott now very much a compliment.

His voice is warm, velvety and inviting. The slower paced Cold War Love allows him to really excel. This is the type of music which the band are absolute masters of, with the duet of the double lead guitar subtle and sublime. The introduction of some female backing vocals enhancing several tracks, notably on Testify Or Say Goodbye, a classic rocker with none other than Mrs Scott Ian, Pearl Aday adding quality.

Produced by the legendary Nick Raskulinecz, who also adds mellotron on Letting Go Of Me, Heavy Fire is a polished album that increases in quality the more you play it. And it really deserves repeated plays. If you like a bit of straightforward hard rock with a real melodic undercurrent, then you won’t find a better release all year. Roll on March 2nd and their much-anticipated visit to the Tramshed in Cardiff. 9/10

Soen: Lykaia (UDR)

Soen started as a collaboration between ex-Opeth drummer Martin Lopez, ex-Death, ex-Testament, ex-Iced Earth bassist Steve DiGiorgio, vocalist Joel Ekelöf and guitarist Kim Platbarzdis their debut Cognitive was a resounding success and it's follow up Tellurian once again reaffirming Soen's place in the prog-metal sphere albeit without DiGiorgio who was replaced by Stefan Stenberg. This third record takes on darker themes than it's predecessors and sees Platbarzdis being replaced by Marcus Jidell (of Avatarium) and adding Lars Åhlund on keys and guitar.

This third record doesn't really move away from the sounds of last two albums but that's totally fine in my book as Soen has rhythm section driven percussive sound that gives the band a doomy, psychedelic appeal much like Tool, the bottom end is low and reverberates through the record as Lopez plays the kind of expressive percussion he has throughout his career.

Opening with Sectarian you'd be forgiven for thinking this is an Opeth track (without the growls) as the bass and drums driven verses and guitar heavy choruses are a dead ringer for the Swedish masters of prog metal but Soen have also managed to make this sound their own especially with the baritone vocals of Ekelöf being so similar to Mikael Akerfeldt that it would hard for even the biggest fan to distinguish between the two.

Orison keeps the Opeth sound going with heavier more technical musical backing that features brilliant guitars and bass from the respective players as the organs bubble under the surface, the record slows with the dreamy, depressive Lucidity which has a hazy beginning, a jazzy middle featuring an understated guitar solo before reprising at the end.

Opal is a track that draws heavily on the Tool sound, having a euphoric chorus with a complex rhythm behind it in direct contradiction to Jinn which is lower, slower song with traces of world rhythms cutting through. These Middle Eastern beats continue as they ramp up the heavy on Sister and you suddenly you are more than halfway through this record but with all the songs blending into one perfectly letting this record breathe like one whole made up of nine individually crafted pieces designed to fit together and compliment each other.

Lykaia takes what Soen has done before and takes it to the next level with the Opeth and Tool comparisons throughout, there are also nods to Pink Floyd (Paragon) creating some of the best music I've heard this year. There is no maybe, buy this record, if you don't you'll regret it. 10/10

Power Trip: Nightmare Logic (Southern Lord)

Texans Power Trip have been cutting a swathe of destruction since 2008, two EPs, one studio album, one live album and a split EP later they have dropped their second full length and it continues the path of devastation the band have been on since their outset. Power Trip are thrash metal/crossover band that dip into the skateboard friendly, hardcore influenced thrash metal of Suicidal Tendencies on the excellent stomping Executioner's Tax (Swing Of The Axe), but also bring the darker frantic thrash of early Slayer on the blitzkrieg Firing Squad.

At 8 songs and just over 30 minutes the songs hit you like a stunner from fellow Texan Stone Cold Steve Austin, ferocious riffs, screeching solos and rapid blastbeats it's enough to leave you dazed as the final notes of Crucifixation fade away. The title track is actually probably the weakest on the record but it's followed by the fist punching Waiting Around To Die that puts itself as one of the top tracks on this record, the chunky shifting riff patterns alone are worth turning the volume up for. Nightmare Logic is a demonstration in the appeal of thrash, it's a record that could easily soundtrack a party (admittedly and apocalyptic one) with 30 odd minutes of charging metallic fury, very impressive. 8/10