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Monday, 19 September 2016

Reviews: The Quireboys, Svvamp, Die No More

The Quireboys: Twisted Love (Off Yer Rocka) [Review By Paul]

Longevity appears to be a particular trait of rock bands. The Quireboys are no exception. Formed in 1984 and a permanent fixture since their reformation in 2001, the band have been particularly productive in the last few years with relentless gigging and an almost production line approach to album releases. Twisted Love is their tenth studio release, and it's a pretty decent affair. Bolstered by the blues tinged backing vocal of Lynne Jackaman and a stabilised line up, this is the kind of stuff you want playing in the bar or on a hot summer night. Spike’s vocals remain as raspy as a forty a day Rothmans smoker but with as much soul and feeling as he had back in 1990 on A Bit Of What You Fancy.

Sure, it's still the combination of The Faces, The Stones and The Black Crowes but The Quireboys follow the blueprint with a panache that is often absent in rock these days. The Union’s Dave McCluskey lays a solid foundation to work with bassist Nick Malling although the undoubted star of this album is Keith Weir’s stunning keyboard work which stands out on tracks like Ghost Train, Gracie B (Part II) and Midnight Collective. Underpinning it all is Spike’s vocal and the dependable guitar work of Paul Guerin, whose interplay with Weir on Shotgun Way, Life’s A Bitch and the foot stomping Torn And Frayed is excellent. Throw in Jackaman’s backing vocals and this is a real good time album. Grab a whiskey, throw on those shades and enjoy. 8/10

Svvamp: Self Titled (Riding Easy Records) [Review By Paul]

Retro sounding blues rock is all the rage these days and the debut album from Swedes Svvamp gets a huge “come on in”. With the emphasis firmly focused on the sounds of Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, early Lizzy and more than a smattering of Zeppelin, this is a thoughtful, beautifully composed album which opens with the meandering Big Rest, Adam Johansson’s soul filled vocals immediately demanding your attention. It's an interesting way to start an album, without the usual power and pace of a traditional opener but still captivating. The Roy Harper-like Set My Foot and Leave follows, Johansson’s calm tones mixing sweetly with the acoustic work of Henrick Bjorklund and Erik Stahlgren.

The 70s feel continues with Free At Last, before we finally get a muddy riff or two on Oh Girl. Things really hot up with the southern stomp of Blue In The Face, surely the bastard offspring of a long forgotten one night stand between Graveyard and The Sword. Bjorklund’s guitar howls like a beaten child whilst Johansson’s crashing drumming and change of style match perfectly. Down By The River conjures up the blues tinged rock of Neil Young and Crazy Horse whilst my favourite Serpent In The Sky contains a hypnotic riff, gutsy guitar work and a variation on the vocal again, with some Jay Buchannan style work. Indeed, Rival Sons are one of the bands that come to mind when listening to this album and that is not a bad thing at all. A band to watch out for. 7/10

Die No More: Destruction Complete (Self Released)

Carlisle is probably not where you'd think classic sounding, thrash edged metal would come from but Die No More are out to change that. Destruction Complete is their second EP and comes 2 years after their full length debut Elected Evil. In this time DNM have clearly honed their skills in the live arena as this EP is a lot smoother the riffs slicing like scissors through silk, the drumming relentless but not all consuming, there are far more NWOBHM sounds to this EP than there are outright thrash madness, opener Save Yourself and the excellent The Enemy Within has all the thrash you need with distorted riffage and stone cold grooves to get the head banging, the disharmony of the instrumental sections are offset by Marc's clean Hetfield-like vocals, which also add to the classic metal sounds forgoing the normal barking thrash vocal.

The growing maturity of the band is at it's best on Mirage which has a progressively tinged opening due Kev's lead guitar, but as soon as you've settled in to it the rhythm section of Marc, Martyn (bass) and Steve (drums) kick you in the spleen and all hell breaks loose with solos galore. The four songs on this EP are all very strong but the best is saved for last, the title track clocks in at just under 8 minutes and is a Herculean example of the bands musical talent, progressive, technical and in parts downright mesmerising, it ticks all the classic metal final song boxes. Forgoing a bit of the thrash metal sound has paid off for Die No More they have made themselves sound more seasoned. One criticism is that it's whet my appetite now so I hope it won't be too long before the second album comes out, as it has the potential to be very, very impressive 7/10         

Reviews: Kai Hansen, Ghost, Lordi

Kai Hansen: XXX - Three Decades Of Metal (earMusic)

XXX - Three Decades In Metal is a celebration of Helloween, Gamma Ray, Iron Saviour and Unisonic founders thirty years in heavy metal and hard rock music. This is Hansen letting loose and displaying why he is so revered in metal circles and of course why his career has spanned 30 years. He has brought together many of his friends and former band mates to add their talents to this record. As a guitarist he is extremely talented and vocally he has developed his own style over the years, but he has worked with some of the best so the majority of the guests on this record are vocalists, starting out with two of the finest in Piet Sielck (Iron Saviour) and Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear/Gamma Ray) on Enemies Of Fun, we get Twisted Sister's Dee Snider on Contract Song

Making Headlines has Edguy/Avantasia's Tobias Sammet, who also belts out the lyrics on Stranger In Time which sounds like a Avantasia song as it features former Helloween/current Unisonic man Michael Kiske and current Gamma Ray vocalist Frank Beck. Getting away from chest beating masculinity, Visions Of Atlantis/former Serenity vocalist Clementine Delauney adds her classical styling on Fire And Ice contrasting Hansen's nasal gruffer vocal and Richard Sjunnesson's (ex Sonic Syndicate) harsh screams. 

With so many guest vocalists on the record including Heaven Shall Burn's Marcus Bischoff and Blind Guardian's Hansi Kursch, it would seem to be guest overload, however they all contribute with out detracting. He also has some six string assistance from Helloween's co-founder Michael Wekiath on the heavy Fire And Ice and also from Masterplan/Ex-Helloween man Roland Grapow on the Maiden-like Stranger In Time.

With so much talent does the record stack up? Well yes it does, Hansen plays with the type of music he was influenced by and the clearly defined styles he helped popularise and innovate. Born Free is an autobiographical thrasher with a fist pumping chorus that sums up most of Hansen's life and career Enemies Of Fun is a bouncy headbanger from the Helloween glory days, Making Headlines is a classic power metal anthem that is pure Gamma Ray. Left Behind is a slower more symphonic sound that leads into All Or Nothing which is rock ballad that would sit well in his Unisonic work
This album is a celebration of one mans life's work and demonstrates how important Hansen is to metal's legacy much like the NWOBHM and the US thrash scene. Kai Hansen was at the forefront of Teutonic speed metal and this record is him cementing that legacy. 9/10

Ghost: Popestar (Loma Vista)

Before the next full sermon the Swedish occult rockers return with their second covers EP, this time they yet again cover non rock artists but unlike If You Have Ghosts they add a song of their own to this EP. It opens with Square Hammer, which is the only original song on the record and it stands up to the rest of the Ghost repertoire fueled by pounding drums and bass from the Nameless Ghouls, some twisting organs, drawing from the more recent style they prefer mixing 70's prog rock with the more radio friendly sound. Still Square Hammer is a rocker with dual guitars duelling with the organs and getting heavier in the solo section, it's a good way to open the album and gives the rabid Ghost fans some new material to chew over.

The rest of the EP are covers as I've said they take an odd turn as they are all covers of electronic/new wave/synth pop and post punk acts, firstly they tackle Echo & The Bunnymen's Nocturnal Me moving away from the folky sounding original and making the song their own with a more dramatic, doom style driven by a big drumbeat. I Believe is a cover of Simian Mobile Disco and once again Ghost change it replacing the tribal electronic beats with a sparse arrangement, synth pips and even something that sounds like a harpsichord meaning Ghost's version of I Believe is more akin to Chamber Music than electronica.

On the final two tracks the band take the sound further once again picking tracks that fit the band's innuendo filled ethos and inverted religious imagery. Missionary Man was originally by The Eurythmics and while it still has the simmering sexual aggression of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart but with a Ennio Morricone flavour featuring harmonica from Brian Reed and hollering female vocals of Fia Kempe. Finally the EP is rounded out by a cover of another Swedish act Imperiet, they were a post punk outfit but this song is a piano led, almost whispered ballad dripping with emotion and Ghost keep it similar to the original and sees Papa give his best vocal of the record especially when it turns into its euphoric chorus, mark my words this song will take centre stage in their live show.

Another set of interesting covers from Ghost allowing them to display their varied sound and also give fans a brand new song to bolster the collection. An excellent stopgap release that will allow them to get to the live arena again with some more tunes. 8/10    

Lordi: Monstereophonic (Theaterror vs. Demonarchy) [AFM Records]

Just when you thought Finnish monster metal couldn't get any sillier they return with their maddest album yet. The record and indeed the new costumes that accompany it are half & half, the first 6 songs are normal hard hitting Lordi glam/hard rock filled with schlock rock lyrics and horror imagery, songs like Hug You Hardcore (which has a very NSFW video), Down With The Devil, Sick Flick and Let’s Go Slaughter He-Man (I Wanna Be the Beast-Man in the Masters of the Universe) all have the stomping hard rock sound of classic Lordi as Mana and Ox thump in the rhythm section and Mr Lordi uses his rough vocals to tell the morbid tales.

As I've said this is a record of two parts and for those that may have felt Lordi are a little lightweight and perhaps too stuck in the Twisted Sister/Kiss style of music then Monstereophonic may change that idea as the second part of the record is a more progressive, heavier, metallized concept piece that features changing time signatures faster almost sometimes thrashier songwriting that all showcase the impressive guitar playing of Amen who due to the longer running times can show off his soloing prowess as Mr Lordi sings with as much variation as he can muster.

Most of the songs on the second half are over 5 minutes long and really show a different side to the rock monsters especially the final act The Night The Monsters Died which takes just Hella's plaintive keys and matches them with an emotional vocal from Mr Lordi, it's strangely remorseful end to the album but one that suits the concept that has been acted out in the second half. Eight albums in and Lordi show everyone that they are more than Eurovision and that they can adapt their sound to a much more mature sound than many of their fans are used to. 8/10

Friday, 16 September 2016

Reviews: Iron Fire, Noveria, Tardive Dyskinesia

Iron Fire: Among The Dead (Crime Records)

The kings of Danish power metal once again bring a speed metal assault to the masses, Among The Dead is their 8th record and their first as a three-piece with vocalist Martin Steene taking up bass, he's joined by Gunnar Olsen on drums and Kirk Backarach on guitar. As soon as the intro fades we a thrown into the title track which is more downtuned than before. On this opening rager the band show they have become a much leaner, angrier band they were before, Steene still has a low rougher vocal than many of his speed metal peers, he even does some growling on the title track, but it's only on this record that his vocals has really fit the music.

Among The Dead sees the band channel the thrashier elements of their sound moving away from the power metal sound they had early in their career. It benefits tracks such as Tornado Of Sickness, Higher Ground, this newest album still focuses on the theme of war and battle putting the band lyrically in the same boat as Sabaton but as I've said a heavier sound. Iron Eagle is a fist raising shout along, The Last Survivor has backing shouts on the modern thrash sounding song. Iron Fire have been doing this stuff for a long time now and there is little chance of any change, yes their sound is probably a little more aggressive than before (except on When The Lights Go Out) and the cover of Whom The Bell Tolls adds nothing really, but really the record is just another Iron Fire album. 6/10    

Noveria: Forsaken (Scarlet Records)

Noveria are an Italian progressive metal band that take their cues from the progressive power metal scene with the keys and guitars the major elements in the music much like Symphony X and Pagan's Mind. Forsaken is their second record and the band say the record "is a concept based on the theory of the five stages of death by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross" It was "written in memory of a brilliant young woman who was taken away from her family by an aggressive cancer with each track describing the different states of mind of a person facing a fatal illness".

It's a heavy concept then and delivered in the style you would would only expect from a band that plays this type of music. With thumping rhythms given by DGM's Andrea Arcangeli on bass and Omar Campitelli on drums, the heavy riffage of Francesco Mattei, electronic/symphonic passages with Julien Spreutels and sky scraping wide ranging vocals from the incredible Francesco Corigliano all the members of the group are all excellent musicians and play with a fluidity and style of many of their peers and influences. The record also features some guest vocals from Kelly Sundown Carpenter (formerly of Firewind), Claudio Pietronik (Ancient Bards) both of whom give their own contributions to this record. Noveria will have very big career ahead of them if they carry on like this, their second album is a so strong it will be near the top of a lot of people's progressive power metal albums list. 8/10    

Tardive Dyskinesia: Harmonic Confusion (Playfalse Records)

Tardive Dyskinesia are a progressive/experimental band from Athens, Greece and they sit uncomfortably in many genres with the album drawing a lot more on it's experimental rather than progressive nature, there are lot of time signature pass-the-parcel throughout the records as songs get faster and slower sometimes in the same section. In fact the album's title is very apt in describing the musical endeavour, there seems to be a confusion in what style they want to be but they do what they do very well indeed. If Mastodon took more risks they would sound like Tardive Dyskinesia, (the name comes from a neurological disorder characterised by involuntary movements of the jaw and face) with the cacophony of noise topped with Manthos Stergiou's vocals that sound like Troy Sanders at his noisiest and Brent Hinds in his more melodic moments.

From the off this album throws riffs upon riff on you each song featuring extremity and experiments in equal measure, there's death and tech metal styling but also prog rock, hard rock and even jazz type rhythms present. Opening an album with an instrumental is always a risk but when it's the palm muted riffs of Insertion it sets you up for the fiendishly heavy Fire Red Glass Heart which is the first song to have the quiet loud dynamics with the Mastodon style heaviness going into the more stoner passage in the middle while The Electric Sun is one of the fastest tracks on the record with intricate guitar playing and a barrage of heaviness. Tardive Dyskinesia are a band with a sound that draws from the more extreme sounds with technical ferocity and experimental spirit, great stuff! 8/10

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Reviews: Dark Forest, Asguard, Hannes Grossmann (Reviews By Paul)

Dark Forest: Beyond The Veil (Cruz Del Sur)

The last thing good that came out of Dudley was a holiday romance I had in about 1988. Ah, I hear you cry, what about Dark Forest? Of course, one of the UK’s premier power metal outfits, singing about history and mythology since 2002. Beyond The Veil is album number four and it stands alongside the best that Germanic outfits like Helloween and Freedom Call can currently offer. And In these uncertain times of European exit, surely Britain needs to support its own power metal kings.
Opening with all the speed and passion of our European cousins the band crash through Autumn’s Crown before hitting the title track early, riffs and harmonies at the ready. Skip through the album at your leisure, it's pretty good stuff if you like rampaging power metal. Blackthorn, not an ode to that most horrid of ciders gallops at 100mph with soaring guitars and the excellent vocals of Josh Winnard right on the button. Of course, power metal has its roots in the Priest and Maidens of our world, so it's no surprise that Earthbound contains all the stomp of a Maiden classic, with the duel guitar attack of founder member Christian Horton and Patrick Jenkins reminiscent of Walls Of Jericho era Helloween.

With their history themes prevalent, the medieval interlude of Ellylldan sits nicely although the acoustic Lunantishee doesn't feel quite as comfortable with a horrible Celine Dion moment. If Winterfylleth didn't beat your arse quite so heavily, then Men An Tol might well nestle within their ranks. It's a real foot tapping instrumental soaked in the forests and countryside. Surging bass lines courtesy of Paul Thompson combine with the hammering drums of Adam Sidaway whist the interplay between Horton and Jenkins is definitely a throwback to the duels of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray at their height. I love the medieval feel to the track, conjuring images of iron horses, archers and trebuchets, moats, fires and portcullises. In fact the whole album creaks of the giant oaks on England’s green and pleasant land. 

On The Edge Of Twilight has more than a passing nod to the epic Blind Guardian and as any fool knows, that can only be brilliant. It is one of the best tracks on a thoroughly enjoyable album, which provokes magical imagery throughout. The Lore Of The Land switches back from electric to the acoustic, Winnard taking on the role of the Bard with his story telling. It's cheesy stuff … but cheese is good, right? (Agreed - Dairy Ed) 7/10

Asguard: Hidden God (Self Released)

I have to admit I know little about Asguard who bring Melodic Death Metal from Belarus. In fact, I don't know anything about them! According to my research the band were active from 1998 to 2009 when they split so it's a mystery how some seven years later Hidden God has found its way to Musipedia Towers. The band apparently had quite a reputation in their homeland with numerous supports to heavyweights such as Sanatorium, Behemoth, Vader and Mayhem. Hidden God is their fourth album and it's, well, it's chaotic. Opener Conscript is a fusion of about seven different styles, whilst Daemon Cavaclade has elements of Rammstein, Depeche Mode and Soil in the mix with a hook suitable for a Eurovision entry. In fact, it fits neatly into the industrial zone with growling guitars underpinning a quite infectious keyboard riff. Meanwhile the vocals of Alexander Afonchenko, whilst an acquired taste fit the sound perfectly,

More electronics for the title track with a cyber based opening before the band crash into a BFMV vocal. The keyboards on this track really underpin it, with guitars of Oleg Maslakov and Andrey Tselobenok relatively understated. However, things really hot up with The Outpost, a crazy mash up of Rammstein, In Flames and Scar Symmetry. It's both great and terrible at the same time with huge power chords crashing down, a simple keyboard hook and angst ridden screaming vocals that switch between calm and angry at every turn. Album closer Where Everything Was Different is almost pop in parts, a funk bass line setting up the beginning of the end, more powerful riffs and weird vocals. Overall, Hidden God is one well weird album, a smorgasbord of styles and influences. Worth a listen even if just for the bat shit craziness that flows through it from start to finish. 6/10

Hannes Grossmann: The Crypts Of Sleep (Self Released)

German drummer and multi instrumentalist Hannes Grossmann has been influential in the technical progressive metal scene through his work with Alkoid and extreme metallers Obscura who he left in 2014. The Crypts Of Sleep is his second solo release, self written, arranged, produced and recorded at his own Mordor Studios. Containing a number of his old band mates from Obscura, Alkaloid, along with lead vocals from Moreau of Dark Fortress and additional guitar work from Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry and ex-Morbid Angel’s Erik Rutan, this release is as technical and complex as you'd expect. Numerous intricate tine changes, masses of guitar solos, blast beats and crushing riffs as well as some of the filthiest bass runs known to man dominate with Hail Satan possibly the pick.

Unfortunately, much of the album appears to follow a similar pathway and after a while it becomes a little repetitive. Technically brilliant,there are some highlights. Ocean Born Master at least bucks the trend for a minute with an acoustic intro before the polyrhythmic patterns return, Moreau’s guttural roar impressive and a slightly more melodic change of pace which is soon shattered. Album closer Anima Inferna opens with a lone solo, builds with heavy riffs and then erupts into a blast beat fest. Ultimately The Crypts Of Sleep suffers from a lack of variety and the absence of any real soul. It really does have the feel of a solo project and whilst you have to admire the work that has gone into this release, it's hard to really warm to it. 6/10

Reviews: Serious Black, Pain, Mantar (Reviews By Rich)

Serious Black: Mirror World (AFM Records)

Power metal supergroup Serious Black return with their second album Mirrorworld. Since the release of debut album As Daylight Breaks there has been a bit of a line up shuffle. Roland Grapow and Thomen Stauch have both jumped ship to concentrate of their full time projects to be replaced with guitarist Bob Katsionis of Firewind and drummer Alex Holzwarth of Rhapsody Of Fire.

Serious Black play a more melodic brand of power metal with the usual traits of the genre - twin guitar harmonies, a plentiful amount of nifty guitar solos, speedy drumming with tons of double kick, the powerful soaring vocals of singer Urban Breed and of course a fantastic production job. The album is awash with plenty of fist pumping metal anthems with a couple of songs such as Heartbroken Soul and the title track straying into melodic hard rock territory at times.

The danger with supergroups is with the calibre of musicians on show expectations can sometimes be too high and some people may find themselves disappointed with the very straightforward nature of this album. There's nothing new or groundbreaking to hear on Mirrorworlds just plenty of powerful and fun metal anthems which bands like Serious Black do so well. 7/10

Pain: Coming Home (Nuclear Blast)

Peter Tägtgren brings back his industrial metal side project Pain for album number eight after a five year absence since You Only Live Twice in 2011. He's kept his reputation as one of the busiest and most prolific forces in metal during that time with his production work, the collaboration with Rammstein's Till Lindemann on last year's Lindemann album Skills In Pills plus his output and touring with his most well known music endeavour the mighty Hypocrisy.

Peter manages to bridge a vast number of musical styles and ideas on Coming Home with a big emphasis on a huge symphonic sound (with assistance from Ardek of French symphonic black metallers Carach Angren). This combined with the usual chugging guitars, thunderous drumming (courtesy of Peter's son Sebastian Tägtgren) and dense electronics gives tunes such as A Wannabee and Starseed a very grandiose feel. The sound generally varies throughout the album from the country rock influenced swagger of Designed To Piss You Off, groove heavy chug of Final Crusade, the reflective almost ballad-esque title track and a heavy inclusion of acoustic guitars.

Despite some experimentation in sound this still sounds very much like a Pain album with plenty of insanely catchy and anthemic tunes which will worm their way into your subconscious whether you like it or not. Overall this is a fantastic album and can definitely be seen as one of the highlights in the Pain discography. 8/10

Mantar: Ode To The Flame (Nuclear Blast)

Mantar are a two-piece sludge outfit from Hamburg, Germany. Ode To The Flame is their second full-length album and their debut for Nuclear Blast records. Considering they are only a two-piece (made up of vocalist/guitarist Hanno Klänhardt and vocalist/drummer Erinc Sakarya) Mantar make an impressive amount of noise playing a straightforward no-frills brand of sludge with crushing monolithic riffs, throat shredding vocals and solid but precise drumming.

Song-wise the album ranges from the doom-laden opener Carnal Rising, to more up-tempo rockers such as the single Cross The Cross, to venom-spitting slabs of nastiness such as Schwanenstein. This gives the album a nice amount of variation with no song really outstaying its welcome.
The only thing really holding this album back is the lack of truly memorable songs though I imagine in a live environment some of these songs will absolutely slay. Ode To The Flame overall is a competent slab of crushing sludge metal h although mostly unmemorable will appeal to fans of the genre. 7/10

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Reviews: Crystal Ball, RSJ, We Are Catalyst (Reviews By Stief)

Crystal Ball : Deja Voodoo (Nuclear Blast)

This is the ninth album from this swiss quintet and it's a brilliant slice of melodic hard rock, with doses of power metal thrown in. With great head banging riffs right from the outset, it's obvious the band know exactly what they're doing. Steven Mageney has a great voice, one with a slightly sinister roughness to it, but it only adds to the band's overall sound.

The album has it all, ballads (Home Again & To Be With You Once More), full on power metal (Full Disclosure & Dr Hell No) and the aforementioned hard rock (Reaching Out & Without A Net). The background organs in certain songs, the sound of Mageney's voice and the lyrics mix to create a dark, haunted-house sort of atmosphere, an excellent album, definitely one to consider putting on during a Halloween party. Keep up the great work guys! 9/10

RSJ - Giant Glenn (Copro Records)

The title track of this fourth outing from the York group holds nothing back; a slow, chugging freight train of noise, caving your eardrums in ready for the onslaught of Fuck Off Joe. What follows is a great chunk of metalcore goodness, the band effortlessly changing from heavy-as-f*ck riffing to more subtle atmospheric sounding stuff, often within the same song. There are a few points for breathing room before the band tear into another storm of noise. 

One example is Dear John, which samples Joan Jett's Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction speech, in which she talks about music and its effect on politics and the world. Dan Cook's vicious growls, backed up by Matthew Gamblin and 'Guff' Thomas, they are the core of the band's brutal sound with Gamblin's sludgy bass work supported by Greg parsons on drums to create a brutal base for the excellent guitar work of Thomas and Dan Kentley. Overall, it's a brilliant album, and an excellent example of what great metal is. 9/10

We Are The Catalyst - Elevation (Ferocity Records)

This is the second album from this Swedish quartet, and it's a good one. During opening song Delusion, you can tell that lead singer Cat Fey has a great voice, although it seems at points she's pushing it too much, and takes some getting used to. However, throughout the rest of the album, she seems to settle back into a more comfortable vocal range. Fey is supported by Kenny Boufadene who, when clean singing, is a great backup to Fey's dramatic voice.

However, Boufadene's growls leave a lot to be desired, often jarring enough to take you away from the songs. His guitar playing is brilliant however, and he's supported by Håkan Strind on drums, and Joni Kaartinen on bass. The band's overall sound ranges from heavy and hard hitting like in A Million Claws to melodic and soft in songs such as Life Equals Pain. Great album, slightly let down by dodgy vocals in places. 7/10

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Reviews: Damian Wilson, Sinnergod, Helstar

Damian Wilson: Built For Fighting (Self Released)

Built For Fighting is the Threshold/Headspace singers newest solo record, his first in over 10 years, many that know him from his day jobs will be pleasantly surprised by this solo outing it has a serious singer/songwriter sound with modern twist. It nods to acts such as Del Amitri with Wilson's amazing vocals being the centre point. Most of the songs take an acoustic turn, the lyrics are personal, introspective, defiant, political and in many places emotive with the songs very strong throughout see the beautiful closer Battlelines which like most of the album deals with the idea that "Life is a fight. A never ending brawl and struggle to find a little peace"

The record starts with it's first single the poppy Thrill Me which is not a love song but a lust song built around a huge chorus hook, it's an opener this record needs, following it is When I Was Young which is a retrospective, folky tune with bubbling synths and jangling guitars. The records first part is a more laid back affair. Impossible and Fire are two ballads where Wilson gives an emotive vocal backed by beautiful strings and piano a theme continued on Fire with yet another piano led piece that builds into a stirring orchestral section.

The songs on this record are unlike his work with Headspace and Threshold as I've said they are more straightforward, radio friendly and I hate to say it poppier but it works so well to hear Damian sing these songs, sometimes you'd think it could be a new James Blunt song (I Won't Blame Life) but this is no bad thing there is something familiar and endearing about this record. Headspace cohorts Lee Pomeroy (bass) and Adam Wakeman (keys) contribute along with Bill Shanley (guitar) and Brian Willoughby (drums) all of whom add their incredible skill to the record. 

There is one cover on the album which is a stripped back version of Depeche Mode's Somebody and leads into the second part of the record which gets a rockier feel, the dirty Sex & Vanilla utilises Wilson's vocal range accompanied by big organ stabs and a harder edge as Can't Heal War has some classic rock posturing from it's driving rhythm while a bluesier What Have You Done has a more soulful sound and an air of Vintage Trouble about it with hand claps, parping brass and backing choirs

This album is simply incredible I genuinely enjoyed every single song, especially Written In Anger which has the records most Del Amitri sounding song, as the storytelling bittersweet lyrics straight out of the Justin Currie songbook. This record has excellent, intelligent sometimes thought provoking lyrics, outstanding musicianship, vocals and arrangements bolstered by Jens Borgen's perfect production. Buy this album it might just be my wild card album of the year. 10/10

Sinnergod: Sinnergod (Self Relased)

Gothic rockers Sinnergod hail from the scary realms of Wigan, this is their second full length album and continues their trademark mix of atmospheric layered guitars and synths working in tandem. Think NIN, Gothic-Era Paradise Lost, and even Depeche Mode and you'd be close. Burn has an industrial stomp to it with the five piece producing dark edged music throughout, this Stands out as one of their heaviest moments. The pounding rhythm of James Dunn (bass), Chris Hampson (drums) and Mark Hampson (rhythm guitar) is one of the bands key elements it gives them the force of Rammstein on the heavier tracks but also adds a thump to the more ethereal compositions.

On songs like The Endless however the lead guitars of Sam Saint add a rapid melodic line and lead break to the powerful beat, while later on on tracks such as 1000 Sins he does his best guitar hero. The drama of these songs is conveyed by Mark's excellent vocals part Manson/part Gahan which suits the dark electronic Goth rock of Sinnergod's sound. 

The thumping electronic parts are created by the synths, samples and keys of Paul Swindells who on tracks such as I Never Had A Gun is the main ingredient although it does feature a cracking guitar solo too. The band spread their wings a little and add more melodic and alt rock touches than before they even put an 80s style ballad in the mix that sounds like Sixx:AM but it just works breaking from the heavier edges, that return on the classic metal styling of We Don't Have Anything.

The album is dark melancholic piece but with enough hooks to crawl under your skin and beckon you into the world of Sinnergod. There's a distinct 90's sound to the record Gahan and Gore's influence looming large on Supernatural. Having seen this band live I was suitably impressed to be excited about this album and my excitement has paid off, Sinnergod is a great modern Goth rock record that pays dividends to it's influences and wears it's black heart on its sleeve. 8/10

Helstar: Vampiro (Ellefson Music Productions) [Reviews By Paul]

Way back in the halcyon days of the 1980s thrash and power metal bands were emerging in the States like a disturbed nest of ants. There were literally thousands of them. The history of the Bay area scene is well documented but what isn’t always as well known is the story of those who nearly made it. One such outfit is Helstar, who at one point were label mates of Megadeth and Exodus. The band released a couple of albums including fan favourite Nosferatu before combusting. A reunion in 2001 led to the return of founding guitarist Larry Barragan in 2006 and since then the band has produced a number of releases. Sadly, long serving bassist Jerry Abarca had to leave the band due to ill health in 2014

Vampiro is unsurprising. A combination of hard thrash and power metal set firmly in the 1980s. Think Exodus, Metal Church and the speed of Primal Fear. But although it’s unsurprising it’s bloody good stuff. James Rivera’s vocals have echoes of the late David Wayne, with his chilling screams particularly impressive. The double pronged guitar attack allows for killer riffs and some blistering solos, Barragan and Rob Trevin shredding like maniacs. Meanwhile the powerful drumming of Mikey Lewis and the rampaging bass lines of Garrick Smith allow the band to crash along like a runaway race horse.

Thematically Helstar stick close to the traditional metal areas; Blood Lust, Off With His Head and Repent In Fire are pretty blunt. From The Pulpit To The Pit raised hopes of a random Ghost cover but alas it is another heads down thrasher and one of the weaker tunes on the release. However, Vampiro is probably as good a work as the band has ever delivered and the playing is impressive. To Their Death Beds They Fell is a monster whilst instrumental Malediction cannot fail to get your head banging along, if you can keep up with the pace of this bad boy that is. 

In fact, the goodies keep on coming with Repent In Fire maintaining the assault before the two heavyweight pieces on the album arrive. Abolish The Sun is a broody crushing six-minute beast with huge riffs whilst Black Cathedral is the longest track on the album which rages for over seven-minutes. A thrashy beast, Vampiro once again demonstrates that life in the old dogs exists and in many cases still teaches new tricks. 7/10

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Reviews: Voodoo Vegas, The Apocalypse Blues Revue, Impavidus

Voodoo Vegas: Freak Show Candy Floss (PHD)

Freak Show Candy Floss is second full length album from Bournemouth rockers Voodoo Vegas, their debut The Rise Of Jimmy Silver was released to a lot of critical acclaim in 2013, it was followed by the EP Hypnotise last year which showed the band were still firing on all cylinders. Freak Show Candy Floss is the first album to feature new drummer Jonno Smyth and new guitarist Jonathan Dawson who add their own touches to the established triumvirate of guitarist Meryl Hamilton, bassist Ash Moulton and vocalist Lawrence Case. Voodoo Vegas expertly blend the classic sounds of the Sunset Strip taking the sounds of Aerosmith, Guns N Roses with the modern rock revival and this second album is the continuing story of their protagonist Jimmy Silver now in charge of freak show circus so the songs all fit within the theme.

Opening track Backstabber is a big power chord driven rocker that welcomes you with a massive chorus and solo, while Long Time Gone has blues shuffle driving it. Things slow for Resolution which sounds a lot like The Answer as it has heavy bass line and an acoustic opening that blows into the spiralling riff. The dual guitars are the ideal compliment to the ballsy rhythm section as Case sneers with his Axl-esque vocals. The band are more accomplished on this record than they have been before they also have wider range of sounds with some blues harp parping on Poison and new heaviness on Killing Joke which has slabs of riffs lined up with lyrics that reference the Clown Prince Of Crime. Freak Show Candy Floss is an impressive second shot from these classic styled rockers, with a relentless gigging schedule Voodoo Vegas have honed their sound to produce another strong record of classy hard rock. 8/10         

The Apocalypse Blues Revue: The Apocalypse Blues Revue (Mascot Records)

Drummer Shannon Larkin and Guitarist Tony Rombola have made their names in American alt metal troupe Godsmack. During some of the studio time for Godsmack Larkin started to lay down grooves on his kit in improvising session with the guitarist and he saw the other side of Rombola as he ripped blues solos that evoked the spirit of Hendrix, Page and SRV. From here they set about creating a new project which has turned into TABR, along the way they have acquired Brian Carpenter on bass and on vocals they have found Ray 'Rafer John' Cerbone who is the dead ringer for Jim Morrison. In fact the whole album oozes the blues based cool of The Doors with a punky attitude, this record is a much darker prospect than many of the current blues crop there is a bit of soul and funk in the album.

It's an atmospheric, simmering, fuzzed up release that sees Larkin and Carpenter locked in with dirty rhythm as Rombola slices through with wailing, soulful virtuosic guitar playing. I've mentioned that the band sound a lot like The Doors, they even go as far as cover When The Music's Over as the final song on the album, as far as the rest of the album goes we get heavy wah-wah infected rock on The Devil Plays A Strat (with a nod to Charlie Daniels), the Southern stomp of Evil Is As Evil Does, pure Johnson-style blues on the tragic Junkie Hell. The aim of this band is just to plug in and play and it works, stripped back electric blues that takes blues music back to it's early days played by a group of musicians who though not associated with the genre seem to have an affinity to it, a damn good start for TABR. 8/10         

Impavidus: Impavidus (Self Released)

Manchester's Impavidus have risen from the ashes of My Wooden Pillow, a band who impressed me with their death/groove metal sound. Well MWP's frontwoman Michelle, bassist Patrick and drummer Chris met up with guitarist Gav with the sole intention of creating more very heavy metal. This four track EP immediately reminded me of the unrelenting death metal of Arch Enemy and Carcass with metallic scything riffs from Gav riffing away wildly as Patrick and Chris hammering away in the back room with ferocious blast beats and powerful groove laden bass work.

With the discordant battery going on from the music standpoint they merge it with the varied vocals of Michelle who can soar melodically but more impressively roar better than many of her counterparts, as she bellows over the heaviness. The four tracks on this record are all strong from the hard and heavy Heaven's Gate and the thrashier Excapulate, through the bass heavy Black Mirror and the final technically impressive Scourge, they encapsulate many of the sounds of death/groove metal and deliver them with a percussive force. Keep an eye out for Impavidus as on the basis of their EP they are ready to make a statement in a venue near you soon. 7/10  

Another Point Of View: Barenaked Ladies (Review By Paul)

Barenaked Ladies Tramshed, Cardiff

Sometimes it’s good to have a change from the metal. Back in 1999 I was blown away by the sheer humour and talent of Canadian outfit Barenaked Ladies when they supported The Beautiful South at the Cardiff International Arena. In fact, they were the highlight of the evening by a country mile. Their acclaimed album Stunt exposed the band on an international basis and they became a staple in the car stereo, one of those albums that offended no-one despite the clever and meaningful lyrics. However, due to a number of reasons, and the fact that the band never came to Cardiff again my enjoyment in the live arena was left at that fleeting encounter in a former life.

18 years on and the band finally make a welcome return to Cardiff’s newest music venue, The Tramshed. Now I’ve been full of praise for this place and in particular for the security who are most excellent but heat wise, it was disgusting. Sure, it was one of the most humid days on record but if you can keep the toilets at a very cool temperature you really need to do something about the main hall. It was dripping and there wasn’t a lot of crowd movement. Moist was most definitely the word.

Opening up for the BNL was regular touring partner and stand up comedian Boothby Graffoe (8) whose surreal sense of humour fits with the BNL like a zany jigsaw. No wonder he has been a staple of the band’s touring itinerary for so many years. Joined by Jim Creegan and Kevin Hearn for a couple of numbers, Graffoe did a magnificent job of loosening the crowd up for the main event with much chortling around the venue.

A relatively quick turnover allowed time to grab a quick Butcombe Gold (always a pleasure to find a venue that sells more than Carling!) and just after 9:00pm the Barenaked Ladies (10) entered the stage in their usual unassuming style. What followed was just superb. At just under two hours the value for money was top notch. Musically, BNL range from alt rock to rap to reggae through to lounge room all served up with a huge side of ironic observations and humour. The band, led by the charismatic Ed Robertson on vocals and guitar, are exceptional musicians. Hearne for example, has no difficulty switching from guitar to keyboards whilst delivering a Gene Wilder tribute. Bassist Jim Creeggan’s enigmatic style is contagious as he switched from double bass to bass guitar whilst adding some fine harmonies. And all of this anchored by the powerhouse on the drums, the fantastic Tyler Stewart who contributes immensely, from timekeeping to backing vocals to wisecrack  quips throughout the evening.

As sets go, this one had it all. Tracks from many of their eclectic releases mixed with their unique “Cardiff Rap” which name checked the Welsh Capital and delighted the audience, by now close to drowning in their own sweat and perspiration and the very special Prince tribute complete with anecdote that linked-in Sir Tom Jones and Glastonbury. To top it all, the band made several mistakes which were laughed off as “Cardiff starts” and which enhanced and magnified the sheer humility of such a great band. Highlights had to include the three old school songs from Gordon, Brian Wilson, Hello City and the ever brilliant If I Had A $1,000,000, The Old Apartment and of course the duo from Stunt, Light Up My Room and One Week which had everyone singing along. My particular favourites also included the lovely duo from Maroon, Falling For The First Time and Pinch Me.

What also makes BNL so much fun is their observations on life and Ed Robertson’s hilarious narratives about the number of coffee shops in Cardiff and the biggest dog turd he had ever seen on the top of Taff Embankment couldn’t fail to make you laugh. The band have the confident swagger of true musicians at the top of their game, without any of the arrogance you might expect. As the heat increased still further, Ed Robertson dryly remarked that the Welsh for Tramshed was “hot black box” which was pretty accurate. As the clock clawed its way to 11:00pm, the band finished with their traditional medley led by Tyler Stewart on the vocals, allowing Ed Robertson to finish the evening behind the kit. A medley which included Bieber, Celine Dion, The Ramones and finally Led Zeppelin brought the house down. For four such unassuming guys BNL are just totally absorbing whilst on stage. A fantastic evening all round. I’m still drying out mind.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Reviews: Meat Loaf

Meat Loaf: Braver Than We Are (429 Records)

Those of you that have been following this blog for a while probably read my dismay and sadness about the last Meat Loaf album Hell In A Handbasket, as a lifelong Meat fan it seemed to me to be a bit depressing and lackluster. I bemoaned that it might be the final record and suggested that the only true way to finish the career on a high would be to reunite with Jim Steinman. Well obviously he listened to me as shortly after the album's release he announced just that a new album with every song written by Steinman. There were a few setbacks along the way as both men succumbed to the perils of age but have come out fighting after it and nearly 40 years after Bat Out Of Hell stormed into the public consciousness the two men were back once again.

Yes there has been disagreements and fights and legal issues but never have two artists been made for each other Steinman writes huge songs that need a certain type of singer and Meat Loaf is that kind of singer. The album kicks off with Who Needs The Young a Vaudeville styled first song where the character that this album revolves rallies against the faults of youth. It's the movie Cabaret with more New Orleans jazz and a tongue in cheek delivery as Meat grumbles in his lower tone backed by the swaying horns. It's a slightly odd opening track I will admit but works as a welcome back to the rock n roll theatre of Jim Steinman's writing.

The first full force Steinman track is Going All The Way Is Just The Start (A Song In 6 Movements) which is an over top uber-piece that features the trademark piano runs heard on I Would Do Anything For Love, starting slow it's evident that Meat doesn't possess the range or power he once had but much of his appeal to me is the way he delivers the lyrics and that remains it's overwrought and emotional so happily when bolstered by the female vocalists it sounds like the Bat years.

The Neverland Express led by guitarist Paul Crook power through an 11 minute plus epic as the second song. The vocal partners here will be familiar to Meat Loaf lovers and I will admit I did get a little too excited when I heard the song featured Meat's old school vocal partners Karla DeVito and Ellen Foley. Ellen sang Paradise By The Dashboard Light the spiritual predecessor to this song, on the record and Karla part of the original touring band doing the part live. It's familiar and impressive Meat and Jim at their finest.

Two songs into the album and already I've forgotten all about Hell In A Handbasket, both the men who are so suited to each other's sound back together in harmony, Speaking Tongues is slower soulful ballad featuring Stacy Michelle and just needs an acoustic guitar, a piano and a choir to make it's mark. Loving You's A Dirty Job continues the tradition of duets as a couple (Meat and Stacy Michelle) reminisce on their relationship and come to the conclusion given by the tracks title, oddly with modern backing (synths and programming) Meat's fractured age-hued vocals are in juxtaposition well.

The Neverland Express are all on top form the working Steinman's songs into the arrangements you hear here, musically spreading their wings a little with the sax-filled blues of Souvenirs which has nods to the past with the line "You've been cold to me so long, I'm crying icicles instead of tears" and actually has a lot in common musically with The Boss. Shaking things up again with buzzing loops and synths on the heavy More which takes it's cues from Bat III, Godz is one of the few weak parts but it segues into Skull Of Your Country which is chest beating rock ballad complete with the "Turn around bright eyes" refrain and packed with guitar solos.

Paul Crook's production is a lacks a little of the bombast but still it's the sheer musical force of the record that's at it's core as the album ends with the 80's tastic Train Of Love (slide guitar solo by Rickey Medlocke). It's a stupendous return to form for Meat, his best most concise record for a long time with only really one lull the rest of it displays the synchronicity between writer and performer. If this is the last dance then it's a filthy, flirty, fist throwing, defiant blast of opulence that Jim and Meat built their legacies with. 8/10

(If you can seek out the Tesco/Target deluxe edition which features a cover of Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth with Stephen Stills, the excellent Prize Fight Lover and an orchestral version of IWDAFL with Imelda May)