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Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Reviews: Blackberry Smoke, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Testament (Reviews By Paul)

Blackberry Smoke: Like An Arrow (Earache)

With a swagger born of the confidence of a band at the peak of their game, the Atlanta outfit hit the target once again. If 2015’s Holding All The Roses hit the country road, then the latest release sees the ‘Smoke well and truly into the journey and hitting all the right notes. Twelve songs, balanced and well-paced, vary in style from the Wild West bar sound of What Comes Naturally, the Country soaked Ain’t Gonna Wait through to the rockier tracks Waiting For The Thunder and the title track, this is a band who continue to do the simple things with such class and skill that they make everything look effortless.

The velvet harmonies are superb, enhancing the clever song writing whilst the Georgian drawl of Charlie Starr just draws you in. Despite the apparent simplicity, the musicianship of the band is once again first class. The Skynyrd flavoured Workin For A Workin Man has hooks galore, the reassuring Hammond keys of Brandon Still and the double edged guitar work of Starr and Paul Jackson. Hell, there’s even a funked up tune in Believe You Me that Stevie Wonder would be proud of. With their fifth release, Blackberry Smoke have once again staked their credentials as one of the premier Southern County rock outfits of modern times. The UK tour in April can’t come quick enough. Yeeeehaww!! 9/10

Joanne Shaw Taylor: Wild (Axehouse Music)

Wild is the fifth studio album from blues singer and guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor and it’s a fine release. Soaked with her now trademark smokey vocals and dripping with some of the best guitar work you will hear this year, Wild opens with the by now familiar Dyin' To Know, continues with the stomping Ready To Roll which has some lovely backing vocals from Mahalia Barnes (Jimmy Barnes' Daughter - Blues Ed), Juanita Tippins and Jade MacRae and doesn’t stop from there on in. Such is the quality and warmth of JST’s playing, you feel like these are old friends you are welcoming back into your house rather than new visitors. There are a couple of fine covers on this release too. First up is Wild Is The Wind, written by Dimitri Timokin and Ned Washington for the 1957 film of the same name and performed over the years by a multitude of artists as diverse as Nina Simone, Johnny Mathis, George Michael and probably most recognisably by David Bowie. JST treats this fantastic tune with a great amount of respect and adds another quality version to the catalogue.

The other cover is slightly more well known. Summertime, originally written by George Gershwin and DuBose Heywood for the opera Porgy and Bess in 1934 has, according to Wikipedia, been recorded over 25,000 times so take your pick of your favourite version. All I can say is that this version sits comfortably amongst all the other tracks on this album and JST’s guitar playing adds personality and individuality to one of the most recognisable songs of all time. Perfect to relax to with some beautiful piano playing enhancing the guitar work. With superb production from the renowned Kevin Shirley and supported by a plethora of excellent musicians, this is one of the releases of the year. It’s worth shelling out the extra Welsh pound or two for the deluxe version which has two additional tracks, both real quality with the final track, the rocking Your Own Little Hell bringing a superb album to a close. 10/10

Testament: Brotherhood Of The Snake (Nuclear Blast)

It’s been four years since the Bay Area thrash monsters Testament hit us with possibly the best album of their long career, Dark Roots Of The Earth, which was a mighty slab of anthemic and memorable thrash metal at its best. Four years. Since then, the band have toured relentlessly, albeit sporadically in the UK with a full tour substituted by smatterings of shows far away from our stomping grounds.

Brotherhood Of The Snake is the band’s 11th studio release, and the first to feature returning bassist Steve DiGiorgio since 2001’s First Strike Is Deadly. Musically it is tighter than my mother-in-law on holiday. The drumming of the legendary Gene Hoglan is astonishing, whilst the twin guitars of Alex Scolnick and Eric Peterson is razor sharp. Up front, Chuck Billy is as robust as ever, full of snarling aggression and power with as much energy as those early days in the 1980s when anthems such as Into The Pit and Over The Wall were pretty much glued to the turntable. And I suppose therein lies my only problem with what is a competently excellent album. The songs lack that little bit of pizazz which grabs you by the bollocks and slams you into the wall and leaves you demanding more.

The title track is a stomping opening to the album and The Pale King is memorable but after that it pales into a bit too much of the same. Breakneck speed drumming, riffs and solos galore but just a little repetitive. Seven Seals adds a little variety on an album lyrically inspired by ancient astronaut hypothesis and Ancient Alien TV programmes and Neptune’s Spear is classic Testament. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad album by any stretch of the imagination and Andy Sneap’s mixing combined with Juan Urteaga’s production make it a high-quality listen. You just get to the end and think, what did I just listen to. Maybe the bar was just set incredibly high with Dark Roots. Still a thoroughly enjoyable release. Just not the smack in the face you might have expected. 7/10

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: GUN

GUN - Thekla Bristol

As Paul and the younger Hutchings males were in London with the emotive tones of Katatonia, Mrs H, Dan, Nicola and myself headed to our second home Bristol, to catch the Scottish rockers on the boat. I last saw the band at Camden Rocks and they blew my socks off with how tight and actually how heavy they were live. So I was excited to see whether they could replicate that performance in a smaller more local venue and also it was a great way for them to show those undecided that they were a great addition to the Black Star Riders tour next year.

As we entered the venue, after the first pint of the night of course, we were in time to catch SKAM (7) who I have seen before at Hard Rock Hell, however here they did make more than a fleeting mark, with a muscular brand of power trio hard rock that saw them flying through songs from both of their albums. They have a knack of mixing big riffs with sing-along choruses (much like the headliners) and by the time they were near the end of their set they had drawn quite a reasonable crowd all of whom were clapping along and heartily sang the opening parts of War Pigs when the band dived into a snippet from it in their final song. The almost relentless touring of this band is to their advantage as they are a formidable live force and seemed to be loving their time on stage, even if guitarist Steve's guitar did go out of tune, but as group of consummate professionals bassist Matt Gilmore and drummer Neal Hill treated us to a jazz odyssey as Steve tuned. A firebrand start to the night and one that set everyone up for the main event.  

As the room filled out, however there were not as many I would have liked to see on a Friday night, the banner on the back of the stage was exposed and as the PA closed out the band took to the stage in their new 5-man version, this tour has seen them reunite with original guitarist Alex Dickson who was in the band during the Gallus era. This addition made GUN (9) a much louder prospect than before, as Dickson and founding member Jools Gizzi traded licks and riffs right from the opener of Let It Shine, behind them the rhythm section of Paul McManus (drums) and Andy Carr (bass) drove the hard rock groove, most effectively on Word Up! which came second in the set to many people's surprise. Still we all sang along and shook our hips as frontman (and original bassist) Dante Gizzi crooned with his tough vocals.

There wasn't a break as the tempo was kept high during Don't Say It's OverBetter Days, which still has a cracking guitar sound to it, even after all these years and Hold Your Head Up. Most of the set was drawn from their debut record Taking On The World with the title track sitting mid set as huge crowd participation piece and the nearest thing they get to a ballad. Live GUN have a toughness that has never really translated on their records (except maybe their latest Frantic, off which three songs were featured). Dante was a genial host keeping the stage banter to a minimum, which was a benefit as many couldn't hear his broad Scottish accent, he just belted out the songs as the rest of the band rocked hard Jools and Alex sharing out the solos.

Alex taking most of the songs from the Gallus era, including the impressive Welcome To The Real World (sing along alert), my favourite track Steal Your Fire and Freedom which kicked off the encore, that was rounded out by Shame On You and Fight For Your Right To Party. A groovy, raucous show packed with should-have-been-classics GUN provide a quality hard rock show, personally I hope Alex sticks around until at least the BSR tour as GUN's sound deserves the dual guitar sound witnessed hear. If you're going to the shows next year go early as GUN will be throwing down a serious gauntlet to pick up. 

Monday, 24 October 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Katatonia (Live Review By Paul)

Katatonia: Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

In the melancholy hall of fame, few would argue that Swedes Katatonia occupy a slot in the top five. Along with bands like Paradise Lost and Anathema, the band have navigated the choppy waters of doom death metal and moved their sound toward a progressive more cultured approach which has rightly earns them many plaudits. Their last two studio albums, Dead End Kings and this year's The Fall Of Hearts cemented that reputation, but it was the chance to hear 2006’s splendid The Great Cold Distance in full at the lovely Empire in Shepherds Bush which persuaded me and the three lads to head to the Smoke.

Unfortunately we missed all but the final song of opening band Vola, an Icelandic progressive outfit who received a warm reception from the well populated venue. Fellow countrymen Agent Fresco’s (5) brand of pop fused progressive “math rock” merely confused the hell out of me. Although they too got a solid response from the audience, their schizophrenic tunes bounced off me like rain off a duck and I struggled to understand what they were all about.

No such problems with the main event. The first hour of Katatonia’s (9) two and a half hour performance consisted of The Great Cold Distance in full. An album full of contrasts, crushingly heavy, delicately light and full of top tunes. Played in order, the band arrived on stage in unassuming style, crashing into Leaders and closing with Through The Landscape. Minimum chatter from frontman Jonas Renkse who was on fine form, his voice delivering the melancholic darkness so long associated with the band. Flanking the stage on either side, guitarists Anders Nystrom and new boy Roger Ojersson wasted no time in reminding us that, despite their lighter sound on record, live Katatonia are brutally metal. Riff after riff cascading down from the stage. Drummer Daniel Moilanen looked as if he'd been behind the kit since 2006 and not 2015, blistering bass drumming combining perfectly with bassist Nicklas Sandin. Particular highlights of this first set included the magnificent My Twin, Rusted and July, a real treat tucked away at the end of the album.

After a break we were treated to a second half that contained just about everything you could want. Tracks from the entire back catalogue, Serin from the latest release, the breathtaking Dead Letters from Dead End Kings sat alongside older tracks such as Evidence, Forsaker and the set closing treat of Gateway To Bereavement, a flash back to the debut album Dance Of December Souls. Breathtakingly heavy although Renkse is no longer as comfortable with the death growls as he was way back in 1993. The band were on fire during the whole evening and whilst they are not always the most captivating to watch, their sound draws in the enthralled audience, clearly demonstrating why the band, after 25 years in the industry continue to get better at every show. The obligatory group photo signalled the end of the show and the crowd began to drift reluctantly to the exit. However, the hardcore on the floor had other ideas and a persistent chant of “one more song” was rewarded as the band returned to whip through a magical Ghost Of The Sun. A fitting end to a quite fantastic evening.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Reviews: Anaal Nathrakh, Mono, Crusado Orchestra (Reviews By Rich)

Anaal Nathrakh: The Whole Of The Law (Metal Blade)

Take a deep breath before hitting the play button on this album as you are about to have the wind knocked out of you. Birmingham's purveyors of absolutely terrifying noise have returned with new album The Whole Of The Law and oh boy they are sounding rather angry. At the heart of The Whole Of The Law is Anaal Nathrakh's core sound which is a hybrid of black metal, grindcore and industrial but this album adds a few twists and turns to their sound. This album is a very angry beast spewing hate and vitriol in every direction through a frenzy of razor sharp guitars, insane blastbeats and jarring industrial sounds and electronic noise ably accompanied by the deranged screams of frontman Dave Hunt. T

he cleanly sung choruses have been a staple part of Anaal Nathrakh's sound for many years now but they are taken to a new level here with Dave Hunt showcasing an impressively dynamic range especially on Extravaganza! where he pulls off King Diamond like falsettos. After 2014's slightly disappointing Desideratum it's great to hear Anaal Nathrakh firing on all cylinders once again. Songs such as Hold Your Children Close And Pray For Oblivion, ...So We Can Die Happy and On Being A Slave are absolute fury incarnate and the album as a whole does not have a weak moment. It barely lets up from start to finish. This is the most intense and driven Anaal Nathrakh have sounded for years and this is definitely one of the best albums they have put out. 9/10

Mono: Requiem For Hell (Temporary Resistance Limited)

Post-rock is one of those genres which has been taken as far as it can go which unfortunately means that it's very difficult for a band these days to produce an album which shines new light on the genre or provides many surprises. Whilst lacking in originality Japanese four piece Mono have produced in Requiem For Hell an album which showcases the best features of a genre that has reached saturation point. This is the band's ninth album and contains five songs which cover a duration of 47 minutes which means that the album doesn't overstay its welcome.

 Highlights include the somber Ely's Heartbeat, the epic 18 minute title track which contains the album's heaviest moments and opener Death In Rebirth which builds up layers and layers of atmospheric guitars culminating in a heavy, noisy and dramatic crescendo at the song's conclusion. The flow of the album is a little uneven and there are some moments which are rather forgettable such as closing song The Last Scene but Mono have released another enjoyable and atmospheric album of post-rock which will please fans of the band and the genre. 7/10

Crusado Orchestra: Sjunde (Self Released)

Sjunde is a debut release by Crusado Orchestra who hail from China. China isn't a country well known for its metal scene (not from my perspective anyway) so I headed into this album with a high level of interest. Crusado Orchestra play symphonic black metal being slightly reminiscent of bands such as Dimmu Borgir and the recent releases by Cradle Of Filth though with a far greater emphasis on the symphonic part of the sound. The album comprises of eight songs split into three acts. The first act is more of an introduction than anything with neither of the three songs really going anywhere.

Things improve with the second act especially with the song Diabolus Melancholia with the very epic and grandiose orchestral parts mixing with brutal black and death metal parts and also some more atmospheric parts towards the end. The momentum increases further for the third act which contains the album's highlight - the almost 12 minute epic Pallida Morte Futura. This is a good attempt for a debut album but unfortunately a lot of the album is uninteresting and simply goes nowhere. Where it is good though it is very good indeed. 6/10

Friday, 21 October 2016

Reviews: Nightstalker, The Silent Rage, Ink

So in what's becoming a bit of theme yet another three bands from Greece, including Greek legends Nightstalker.

Nightstalker: As Above, So Below (Oak Island)

Nightstalker are a band that have a massive following their native country but are something of a non entity outside of Hellenic. They have always been refereed to as a stoner rock band, a tag rejected by the band as they consider themselves to be a 70's style hard rock band. While this is true they can be seen as pioneering the stoner rock scene in Greece, with their walls of riffs, groove-laden rhythms and psych elements, there are literally hundreds of bands in Greece that owe their sound to Nightstalker's early records.

The band have been around since the early 1990's and have been releasing albums periodically between the touring. As Above, So Below is the band's fifth full length album and it continues with the sound they have favoured since after their third release Superfreak this saw them expand their resume from distorted Sabbath-like riffs into the more ethereal spacey trippyness of acts such as Monster Magnet et al while also being able to knuckle down to the proto-metal attack of Motorhead. The directness of Naked Fire brings you into the experience as frontman Argy hollers over sounding like Ozzy and Wyndorf at full pelt, Space Matter takes in the sights and sounds of Hawkwind with an echoing crunch and a phasing middle section and the grinding My Electric Head is guaranteed to give you a bad trip.

Zombie Hour would sound perfect nestled into an Orange Goblin record as Tolis adds the clean leads over the groggy rhythms of Andreas' bass and the drums which depending on what info you have are either Dinos of Argy himself. As Above, So Below is the ideal continuation of Dead Rock Commandos which saw Nightstalker gain fans outside Greece, the mind bending harmonics loom large on The Dog That No-One Wanted and the creeping We Belong To The Dead, while for a band that don't want to be called stoner rock having a song called Forever Stoned is not doing yourself any favours especially when it is the soundtrack to a freak out.

Nightstalker have done it again, their cult status has made them one of the most revered Greek bands, full of Sabbath-groove, Kyuss-sparseness and the mind-bending weirdness Nightstalker demand your attention if you think you know anything about stoner rock (συγνώμη παιδιά). 9/10

The Silent Rage: The Deadliest Scourge (Alone Records)

The Silent Rage (previously Silent Rage) are a power metal band from Korydallos and after a demo and two EP's The Deadliest Scourge is their debut effort and it's taken 10 years to make. Well that wait has been very much worth it. Signal Of War is a great traditional power metal intro song with Greek instruments augmenting the solitary keys tension and excitement is build and as it fades My Race Won't Last explodes like a cannon and pairs thrash-like riffage with, rumbling drums and galloping bass. This is chest beating power metal that sits on the heavier end relying on the dual guitar riffs over heavy use of keys, there are even harsh backing vocals that battle with the cleans for extra aggressive effect.

The songs but they are at their most effective on the title track. The rhythm section of Steve T and Stamatis are the backbone of the speedy Stormwarrior with Stamatis' drumming particularly fearsome, Nikos riffs like a bastard (and screams like one too) while Kostas shreds at every opportunity. Rounding out the band is vocalist Steve V who has a booming mid range not to dissimilar to an amalgamation of Matt Barlow and Joakim Broden, it's a powerful delivery and on tracks such as Between Harmony & Sorrow it's at it's best, he also is more than capable of sparring with Spiritual Beggars Apollo on Sin Of A Pilgrim.

Apollo is one of two guests on this record with ex-Orphaned Land man Yossi Sassi being the other, supplying Oud on the acoustically laced Shadow Spirit. The record is excellently recorded, mixed and mastered by Fotis Bernardo singer of one of my favourite Greek acts SixForNine and he makes this record sound huge. The Silent Rage are a very heavy metal band sitting comfortably in the same bracket of Iced Earth, Sabaton and fellow Greeks Mystic Prophecy, if you like your power metal with a bit of guts then this rage is far from silent. 8/10

Ink: Loom (Self Released)

Alternative metal Ink identify with bands such as Alice In Chains, Tool and Canadian act The Tea Party and with these influences you'd expect the band to mix cutting, sharp alt metal with heavy dose of psych and that's exactly what you get. At times it's aggressive, at others oppressive and every song is filled with paeans to humanity and emotion and takes itself pretty seriously. Opening with Desert Son which brings the mystical elements of The Cult while Sell Me is a chunkier sounding track that has echoes of Tool. Vocally Chris Tsantalis sounds an awful lot like The Tea Party's Jeff Martin with a rich baritone giving the songs added depth, take a track like Little Story which strips things back and lets Chris' vocals take the lead. Backing Chris are Kostas Apostolopoulos on guitar whose riffs are ever present.

It's nothing fussy but they move from melodic on the frankly excellent Persephone to the insistent on Legend all while providing some crushing distorted sounds on the tracks with the dynamic range favoured by the Seattle sound. Persephone has more than a nod to Depeche Mode especially due to the almost industrial rhythms of Dra (bass) and Chris' brother Stavros, their boiler room is burning on all cylinders throughout the record even on the slower more deliberate songs like Days Of Storm. Loom and even on Sirens which takes the Alice In Chains route of pairing heavy riffs with acoustic guitars in glorious layers.

Ink are a revelation taking on what is quite a North American sound and pulling it off very well. If you love any of the bands mentioned previously you will love Loom it's a throwback to the early/mid 90's style and as it climaxes with the stunning Ophelia it's a trip into the dark-side of the human psyche that you won't want to come back from in a hurry. 8/10           

Thursday, 20 October 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Joanne Shaw Taylor (Live Review By Paul)

Joanne Shaw Taylor, The Globe, Cardiff

She’s a bit of a blues phenomenon, has released six albums, gigged with BB King and Joe Bonamassa and is just about 30 years of age. Yes, Joanne Shaw Taylor is a bit special. Her latest tour, for a girl who gigs as hard as she rocks, took in The Globe, probably for the last time as she is surely destined for much larger venues in the future.

Promoting her new release, the excellent Wild, JST hit the stage shortly before 9pm to a rapturous reception. Such is her burgeoning reputation, this gig sold out several weeks in advance of the actual date. The audience was as you’d expect but totally absorbed in the talent of JST and her fabulous backing band who included Oliver Perry on drums and the amazing Luigi Casanova on bass and giant hair stack. Of course, focus was always on JST, her blond locks flowing as she threw her head back and laid down a 14 song set which proved superb entertainment. From the opening Dyin' To Know, to the closing Going Home, this was a brilliantly paced set which kept attention at all times. Five tracks from the new release were strategically placed at the start and finish of the set, with the cover of Wild Is The Wind, known for the Bowie cover but originally recorded by Johnny Mathis particularly impressive.

You’d expect that solos would be in plentiful supply at a gig of this nature, and there were occasions when JST’s dexterity up and down the fretboard was just amazing to observe. However, what is so captivating about JST is the humble simplicity of her songs which are soaked with soul and emotion, whilst retaining a raw edge that provides the necessary grit.  Her interaction with the fully appreciative audience was simple and genuine, the crowd responding with huge cheers and applause. Looking around the venue as the crowd streamed out, wide smiles and contented looks were everywhere. No greater endorsement of one of the best young talents in the rock world today. Stunning songs, great musicianship and a level of modesty which makes her appeal even more. This was my first JST experience in the live arena. It won’t be my last. 9/10

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Reviews: Kansas, Charred Walls Of The Damned, Plagueship (Reviews By Stief)

Kansas: The Prelude Implicit (Inside Out Music)

The first album in 16 years, it's a pleasant surprise to see Kansas recording again with new lead vocalist Ronnie Platt taking centre stage whilst doubling up on keyboards. Platt has a great set of pipes, and settles right in with the band's sound, which remains as strong as ever. Kansas seem to have veered more towards a more mellow sound with songs such as Refugee and Southern blues tinged The Unsung Heroes making up most of the album's sound. It's not a bad thing to be honest, and the band still have a few songs with that classic rock feel, in Summer and Rhythm In The Spirit. David Ragsdale's Violin soars through many of the songs, sometimes taking front stage such as in the opening of the aforementioned Summer, a song with that classic Kansas sound many know and love, breaking into a delicious solo halfway through. This is all backed up by Kansas Veterans Phil Ehart and Rich WIlliams on drums and guitar respectively, Billy Greer on bass, newcomer Zak Rizvi's rhythm guitar and David Manion backing up Platt on keyboards, with the majority of the band backing up the vocals. Chances are, if you're a fan of Kansas, you're already a fan of the album, and even if you aren't, if you like your classic rock, this is an excellent shout. 9/10

Charred Walls Of The Damned: Creatures Watching Over The Damned (Metal Blade)

The brainchild of Ex-Iced Earth Drummer Richard Christy, and featuring the vocal talents of Tim "Ripper" Owens, the basswork of Testament's Steve DiGiorgio, and Jason Suecof of Capharnum on guitars, Charred Walls Of The Damned is a brilliant slice of heavy metal supergroup goodness. Ripper Owen's career has seen him fronting Priest and Iced Earth, and his vocal style is well known throughout the metal world. With Charred Walls... it works excellently alongside the brilliant drumming of Christy and Suecof's riffage, DiGiorgio's bass giving every song a meaty foundation on which the band layer their respective sounds. Musically, Charred Walls... seems to takes the best parts of each member's past work with their respective bands and squeezes it into an excellent sound with definite Power metal influences being heard in songs like Lies and Living In The Shadow Of Yesterday. My one criticism of the album is that many of the songs seem a bit too short, and just as you're getting into them, they fade out, or in some circumstances, just end abruptly. This can especially be seen in Lies, where towards the end of the song, Suecof pours out an excellent solo only to finish as it reaches its crescendo. That minor problem aside, the album is an excellent listen. 8/10

Plagueship : Shrykull (Unsigned)

The debut album from the Leeds based Plagueship, it mixes excellent vocal work with tight, progressive guitar work, groove laden bass with death metal guitars. Madness, Escaping is a brilliant example of the technical work the band can do, with great chugging bass from Adam Parkin and soaring riffs from guitarists Alexis Giovoglanian and John Richardson working with the blastbeats of Stephen Wilkinson. Other songs on the album showcase the vocal talents of Jonny Byrne, whose growls are vicious and sinister and sit comfortably on the fence between the guttural sounds of Amon Amarth and the screeches of Cradle Of Filth. An excellent album, and definitely a band to keep an eye on. 9/10

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Reviews: Eden's Curse, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Crystal Breed

Eden's Curse: Cardinal (AFM)

Cardinal is the second record that UK/European melodic metal band Eden's Curse has released since the departure of co-founding frontman Michael Eden. The ship is still steered co-founding members bassist Paul Logue and guitarist Thorsten Kohne, they are still the main creative force behind this band meaning that Eden's Curse still maintain their high gloss metal sound, as well as the penchant for religious and historical imagery in their lyrics and the obligatory beautiful women on the album covers. Eden's replacement Nikola Mijić displayed his skills first on previous record Symphony Of Sin and proved he could handle and even surpass Eden's vocals on the older tracks on their live release Live With The Curse. Once again here he wipes away any naysayers by demonstrating his strong, powerful, Tobias Sammet-esque vocal throughout.

Logue and drummer John Clelland lock in for galloping power metal on Messiah Complex and the pounding, swaggering hard rock The Great Pretender they switch between the two with ease even packing a punch on the slower more emotive songs such as Find My Way and Unconditional (which also features former Leaves Eyes singer Liv Kristine), the band even tackle some funkier influenced rock on Kingdom Of Solitude. Kohne's guitar playing is exhibited across every song riffing like hell and soloing with precision, technique and passion he also duels with the killer keys of Christian "Chrism" Pulkkinen who takes over from Power Quest's Steve Williams who intern took over from Alessandro Del Vecchio (probably because he's in every other band ever). His classy keys are all over the record bolstering the rockers like Prophets Of Doom and giving the AOR touches to Sell Your Soul. Cardinal retains the high level of musical ability and classy songwriting they have always done so well. It's melodic metal at it's finest! 9/10

Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell: Keep It Greasy (Rise Above)

In what is now the post Lemmy era it's always very exciting to hear another band that plays sleazy, gritty hard rock unmoved by popularity and fashion. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell are neck deep in the tradition of the spit and sawdust blues based rocking popularised by early Lizzy, The Groundhogs, Stray and Budgie, it's buzz saw proto-metal at it's rawest. Everything about the band gives a defiantly refreshing, couldn't give a shit attitude, the facial hair, the clothes and lyrical content are all decidedly retro. This is music made in dingy pubs and grotty cafes over a plate of bacon, eggs and spam (topped with extra spam) and my does it sound like it, the analogue production adds an air of authenticity to the fuzzy rocking.

The bands third record doesn't stray too far from those first two with the trio of Bill Darlington on drums, Louis Comfort Wiggett on bass and Johnny Gorilla on guitar and shouting they all attack their instruments with gusto. It's plug in turn up and rock out conjuring the images of long haired oiks in skinny bell bottoms banging their heads while swigging a bottle of Newcastle Brown. Like the famous wood stain this record does exactly what it says on the tin and keeps it greasy from the opening chords dropping in punk, psych, doom and early metal sound. ASCS keep cranking out sweaty riffs played at full volume, long may it continue!! 8/10

Crystal Breed: Barriers (Keymedia)

German heavy prog rockers Crystal Breed's debut record The Place Unknown was somewhat of a revelation, fusing the classic prog sounds with a heavier sound they took cues from acts such as Porcupine Tree, Enchant and Spock's Beard. Their debut was released in 2012 so it's taken four years for this second record to see the light of day, so has that wait been worth it? Well yes it has they pick up where they left off with intelligent, intensely progressive music that skews genres and relies heavily on impressive musicianship. Brain Train starts the album off an a particularly mad note with changing time signatures a bass heavy groove from Nico and vocal harmonies Neal Morse has always done well.

The band have two vocalists shared between guitarist Niklas and keyboardist Corvin and they are also the two members that power most of the songs trading off with their skill at every moment, while Thorsten keeps the tubs thumping and driving songs such as the complicated Barrier Of Ignorance which is the album's longest song and draws from rock, classical, Latin and various other genres in the keyboard heavy middle section that Yes would be proud to call their own. Barriers is another complex album from this German progressive rock band, the songs are long and intricate meaning that it's one for prog fans only. 7/10  

Monday, 17 October 2016

Reviews: Cry Of Dawn, Blind Ego, Exist Immortal

Cry Of Dawn Feat Goran Edman: Cry Of Dawn (Frontiers)

Goran Edman has a pretty good case for being THE voice of AOR, especially in the Scandinavian realm. Cry Of Dawn is his current project and features Michael Palace (who's own debut record was reviewed recently) handling guitars and bass, Sören Kronqvist on keys and Daniel Flores (Mind's Eye, Murder Of My Sweet) tackling the skins and twiddling the knobs allowing everything to get the shine it needed.

Goran Edman's vocals are as usual spot on clear, soulful and he has a supreme range scaling the highs and crooning with attitude on songs like Tell It To My Heart. Palace's talents lay with his guitar playing clearly as he is the ideal foil for Edman's vocal prowess cutting into the layers of keys with virtuostic solos that Steven Lynch (Autograph) would have plied his trade with. Cry Of Dawn is yet another feather in the cap of one of AORs premier performers and reinforces why Scandinavia is the best breeding ground for it. 7/10

Blind Ego: Liquid (Gentle Art Of Music)

Solo album from the RPWL guitarist Kalle Wallner, bringing the same kind of progressive bluster that he brings in his day job. As you'd expect it's very guitar heavy and perfect for six string nerds but it is also full of great songwriting even the instrumental Quiet Anger is an interesting song that keeps the attention. This record has a fluid nature drawing from various influences similar to Roger Waters/Steven Wilson guitarist Dave Kilminster's solo output. Just listen to the first two tracks A Place In The Sun and Blackened and you will get an ideas of the duality of this record A Place... is a driving prog rocker with intense double tapped guitar solo, whereas Blackened is an acoustically laced more emotive track.

It seems almost perfunctory to talk about the guitars on this record but they are amazing, displaying that when Wallner is away from the German Pink Floyd mothership of RPWL he confirms how versatile a player he is. Wallner has assembled a great group of musicians too taking his pick from three different bassists and vocalists while the only constant are the drums of Micheal Schwager formerly of Dreamscape. The album marries the sounds of his two previous records melding glistening melodic melancholy with thumping hard rock. Kalle Wallner's third solo record is yet another impressive slice of experimental yet engaging rock music. 8/10

Exist Immortal: Breathe (Primordial Records)

Heaviness at it's fullest is the order of the day from the London five piece Exist Immortal, stomping palm muted riffs teamed with clean, melodic guitar lines. Think bands such as Fallujah and you'd be in the right playing field. The drums and bass power the heavy grooves, with the drumming especially impressive on Invisible Lines which also highlights Exist Immortal's use of clean and harsh vocals that are a major part of the current metal scene.

This can be considered to be djent but it has a wider remit too, still the crunchy, mechanical groove laden riffs work well with the much cleaner guitar playing that soars along with the excellent clean vocals and they spread their wings a little on Follow Alone which stands out as one of the best on the record. It's not rocket science but it works well, there's enough guts to bang your head too, lashings of technicality but also actual songwriting which is where a lot of the more djenty acts fall down. Breathe should be the opening into the wider consciousness Exist Immortal need to drag them out of the underground, ready to beat down anyone that listens. 7/10

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Reviews: Hardline, As Lions, Hieroglyph

Hardline: Human Nature (Frontiers)

Hardline have always had a hard time (rhyming is cool - Poetry Ed) trying to follow in the footsteps of their monumental debut record Double Eclipse. All of their records since them have struggled to live up to it and has seen them shed their hard rock edge faster than they shed members. Frontman Johnny Gioeli is the only original member remaining from that period but along with producer/writer/keyboardist/guitarist extraordinaire Alessandro Del Vecchio he has put together another set of musicians and once again returned with another iteration of what is really Gioeli's band. Unlike previous elements however Human Nature is the closest thing they have made to the debut, the opening two tracks (Where Will We Go From Here and Nobody's Fool) have hard rock stomp to them as Gioeli's vocals soar over the excellent guitars of Josh Ramos.

He can shred like a maniac but also is perfect on the slower ballads such as Human Nature where he just adds an explosive solo to the orchestral piece, Del Vecchio at his saccharine best. On Double Nature Johnny's brother and Neal Schon (of Journey) handled the guitars and Ramos does a fine job here playing a style that is familiar but not repetitive. The rest of the band too are excellent bassist Anna Portalupi and drummer Francesco Jovino both provide a sturdy rocking backbone to the propulsive Running On Empty to the groovy numbers such as bluesy Trapped In Muddy Waters. This is the band's classic sound updated for the modern day, it focusses on rockers rather than ballads with Gioeli giving a tremendous performance, it's a grittier harder edged sound reinforced by Del Vecchio's always perfect production. For those that still long for that Rhythm From A Red Car Hardline's new record Human Nature will be a blast from the past brought into modern day. 8/10

As Lions: Aftermath (Better Noise)

As Lions are the new band from Austin Dickinson and one that shows a different style to his previous band Rise To Remain. It's a far more melodic effort displaying a much more mature sound than before. The guitars and drums are joined by electronic touches which lends an emotive note to the title track. It's actually heartening to here Dickinson use his clean delivery and move away from the metal core screaming he started with, that train pulled out of the station a long time ago, so much like bands such as Bring Me The Horizon, As Lions have added alt-metal elements, with impassioned vocals and driving rock that has thumping electronics infecting it making it highly radio repeatable. Songs like Deathless walk the heavy/accessible tightrope very well and all four songs on this record are well written, played and skillfully produced, step forward David Bendeth (BMTH, Paramore) and Kane Churko (FFDP, Disturbed). On the evidence of this EP As Lions could be a much more superior outfit for Dickinson and co, this band follow their own path on their own terms. I'm personally waiting for the full length with baited breath. 7/10

Hieroglyph: Ouroboros (Self Released)

Leeds/London bruisers Hieroglyph have an excellent sound that yes is in the djent style with down tuned/palm muted riffs, odd rhythms and time signature changes but they add atmospheric synths and electronics to the songs to broaden the sound, they also define themselves as something a bit new and different with the female/male vocal interplay Valentina Soricaro soars while Mark Howes roars so we have a duality to all of the songs with the melodic Soricaro being matched by the lead guitar on opening number Solar (The Fool) it's a great way to open the album with all of the bands elements togetehr in one song, The chunky, techincal Samsara (The Wheel Of Fortune) follows and yet again is driven by Valentina's clean vocals, she can sing very well having a voice not to dissimilar to Christina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil.

Mark's screams too though need to be mentioned as they too are a  key element. Underneath the two vocalists the band are seriously talented the rhythm section of Helen Tytherleigh (bass) and Bradi Nixon (drums) pack a meaty punch with heavyweight riffs the order of the day while guitarists Sam Butterfield and Richard Barnes play intricate guitar riffs that cleanly glide over the thumping rhythms as a juxtaposition Rise And Fall (Strength) and also as a contributing factor. The release is a concept album, based around the story of a rise to consciousness and higher thinking that is encoded into the first 11 Tarot cards, the Major Arcana. Each song corresponds with a different card and takes you on a journey through the story. This is a very good album of modern heavy music that maintains the hallmarks of Djent but adds their own spin to it. 7/10