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Thursday, 11 February 2016

Reviews: Shakra, Amoral, Brimstone Coven (Reviews By Paul)

Shakra: High Noon (AFM)

Okay, hands up who can name more than a handful of Swiss metal outfits? (Apart from the encyclopedic Ed obviously). Yeah, Krokus, the much missed Celtic Frost and possibly TOAD and Gotthard at a push. Well, it may be a surprise to know that in certain parts of Europe, mainly Germany and their homeland, melodic hard rockers Shakra are pretty popular. High Noon is their tenth full studio release, with their first release as long ago as 1998. Shakra deliver melodic rock in the style of Def Leppard but with a bit more steel. Opener Hello (neither and Adele or Lionel Ritchie cover disappointingly - Ed) crashes along, almost out of control before the Leppard style harmonies and melody come home big time on the title track. 

Vocalist Mark Fox, who returned to the band after a six-year absence has a voice made for this type of music whilst guitarists Thom Blunier and Thomas Muster show their chops. Classic sing-a-long choruses demand attention ala Thunder. The band has an undeniable stomp with a classic rock feel, riffs underpinned by a steady rhythm of unfortunately named bassist Dominik Pfister and drummer Roger Tanner. Into Your Heart and Is It Real motor along with gusto whilst Raise Your Hands could almost be the Bon Jovi classic combined with the cheesiness of mid 1990s Scorpions. A chunky riff, sing-a-long chorus and a melody that gets you joining in. Shakra do what they do well. This is melodic rock delivered with high quality and if you like verse, chorus, verse, chorus compositions, accompanied by clean vocals and a steady beat but with a little bit of fire in the guitar department, then this is for you. 7/10

Amoral: In Sequence (Imperial Cassette)

I have to admit that I was only vaguely aware of Finnish outfit Amoral before I picked up this release. However, Amoral is yet another band that I will now need to explore in more depth on the basis of In Sequence. It’s the band’s seventh full length and sees the return of Niko Kalliojärvi on guitar and death growls for the first time since 2008. Formed in 1997 by guitarist Ben Varon and drummer Juhana Karlsson, Amoral’s current line-up is completed by vocalist Ari Koivunen and guitarist/keyboardist Masi Hukari. In Sequence sits squarely in the technical progressive metal camp, with multiple time signatures and changes of tempo throughout their songs. Intricate in composition, they benefit massively from Koivunen’s beautifully clean vocal delivery, a marked change from some of their earlier releases which had the death metal style growl so loved by many of their countrymen. In Sequence is a weighty beast, 55 minutes for a mere eight tracks. The variation in styles is captivating, the Eastern flavours of The Betrayal which I assume feature percussionist Teho Majamäki melding into an almost death metal track with the combination of Koivunen’s classic clean pipes contrasting with the growling. 

Backed by switches between full out blast beats, powerful snares and more intricate percussion work, the three pronged guitar attack allows some screaming hot fretwork to cut back and fore. In contrast, first single Rude Awakening has a classic feel, melodic whilst riff driven and plenty of underlying groove. The melodic feel of the song writing shines throughout, and this style allows the powerful clean voice of Koivunen to really make its mark. Sounds Of Home is a beautiful, melancholy filled track which contains harmonies that would sit at home on a Steven Wilson song. A lone guitar being accompanied by Koivunen and some guest vocals completed by some haunting saxophone work. The Next One To Go is a progressive piece, changing direction and pace whilst maintaining the interest and demonstrating the quality of the band as a whole whilst Helping Hands contains groove and plenty of melody. Album closer From the Beginning (The Note pt.2) ties everything together nicely, albeit in a meandering 10+ minutes, with the journey moving through a synth drenched opening, backed by riff after riff into a classical guitar section before a more mainstream power chord delivery, once again allowing Koivunen’s clean voice, supported by delightful guest vocals (Indica’s Jonsu and Amine Bentmane from Acyl) to guide the listener. This track is simply stunning, with exceptional guitar work as it moves towards the conclusion. Amoral are a band that challenge the expected stereotype for a progressive technical metal band. A stunning release. 9/10

Brimstone Coven: Black Magic (Metal Blade)

With the name Brimstone Coven and an album titled Black Magic, there was only one sound that this four piece from West Virginia was ever going to make. Yep, Black Magic is an album full of the sounds of doom and stoner occult themed hard rock, most of it filed firmly under vintage. Splashed with a bit of psychedelic era Floyd (Behold The Astral, As We Fall), most of Black Magic sits firmly in the Sabbath/Pentagram sound, although the vocals resonate much more with Texan Stoners The Sword. However, once you get into the album, it is evident that there are many more layers to this than at first hits the ear. The guitar work of Corey Roth is superb, almost casual in style yet rich in quality and warmth. The vocals of “Big John” Williams are rich and deep whilst the old school drive from Andrew D’Cagna’s bass and Justin Wood’s drumming provides a solid foundation from which the band carve out retro tinged tracks like Upon The Mountain and Forsaken. The mix of psychedelic and doom is nothing new, and Black Magic isn’t going to set the world on fire. It is however, a robust and pleasurable release which transports you back to the time of flares, dangerous colours and driving dirty riffage. Good stuff. 7/10

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Reviews: Mantra Vega, Kiama, Beth Blade & The Beautiful Disasters

Mantra Vega: Illusion Reckoning (Black Sand Records)

The debut full length from prog rock project Mantra Vega has been a long time in the making, mainly due to the members other projects, but finally it has arrived. The core of the band consists of former Mostly Autumn vocalist Heather Findlay and Sound Of Contact's Dave Kerzner who both supply the vocals, with Heather giving percussion whistles and acoustics while Kerzner creates the soundscapes with his keyboards. Unlike Findlay's previous band and indeed Kerzner's other band Mantra Vega is a more artistically conceptual project, the album is a cinematic performance piece with poetic, philosophical lyrics and musicianship that makes a feel rather than relies on individual songs. Findlay and Kerzner's vocals intertwine perfectly from the jazzy, Peter Gabriel-like Island and beyond they compliment each other excellently bringing to mind the Mostly Autumn in the hushed, emotive tones of the vocals. However they are not alone on this record the fluid guitar lines come from longtime Findlay collaborator Chris Johnson (Halo Blind/Mostly Autumn) and Dave Kilminster of Steven Wilson/Roger Waters' band, with these two men on the guitar parts you need a strong rhythm section and Stu Fletcher and Alex Cromarty (MA) provide the model anchor for the impeccable and creative music on offer.

With the lush arrangements on offer you get kind of lost in the music and happily that is the point as the vocals stir your senses and the instrumentation offers an enchanting miscellany of sounds. The album dips and escalates throughout leading you on a sonic journey, drawing from the acoustic folk of Fairport Convention (In A Dream) and the progressive rock explosion in it's 70's heyday Veil of Ghosts. As I've said everyone involved in this album has their own work outside of the band but so too do the guests; Troy Donockley supplies the whistles and flutes for Nightwish and is no stranger to Mostly Autumn folks, here he adds guitars and vocals along with him we have more MA alumni with Angela Gordon on vocals and recorders, Findlay's Ayreon co-conspirator Irene Jansen adding vocals and Ayreon's creator Arjen Lucassen adding some lead guitars. With a plethora of top flight musicians in tow Mantra Vega's debut is everything the preceding EP promised, it's clever, interesting and in parts beautiful, let's hope all concerned have a chance to create more music on record and indeed on stage. 8/10     

Kiama: Sign Of IV (Tigermoth Productions)

Kiama are yet another progressive rock supergroup, the brainchild of Magenta's multi-instrumentalist Rob Reed he has recruited Luke Machin from the young proggers Maschine on guitar, Andy Edwards (IQ and Frost*) on drums and Dylan Thompson of Shadow Of The Sun (formerly of The Reasoning) behind the mic and on guitar. With such talent in the band you'd expect this album to sparkle and it does, this is emotive progressive rock that all the members are known for, Cold Black Heart opens things in rock style with an immediate impact showing the collective power of this foursome with Machin's sublime guitar work feeling more controlled than it does in his own band but it still has the power to cast a spell on songs such as I Will Make It Up To You which is Floydian with it's spacial keys and soaring guitar lines. Reed's keys, bass and guitars create a wide soundscape on the slower passages like Slime, while To The Edge has the funky rhythms of Gilmour's solo work replete with some soulful backing vocals and a percussive drive from Edwards.

One thing that immediately drew me to this album other than the impressive musicianship on offer was that Thompson was once again taking up the mic, he has great throaty voice that sets Kiama apart from many progressive bands who favour sweeter vocal lines and in a lot a cases (see above) female vocals, that's not to say Thompsons voice is rough in fact on the contrary on the dreamy, hopeful Beautiful World he croons with a heartfelt vocal line. Kiama's debut is firmly set in the neo-progressive genre that was started by bands such as Arena and IQ, this is not a criticism they do what they do it with a panache many progressive have spent a career striving for. Sign Of IV is a purely collaborative effort with each member adding their own skill to the songs meaning that the album as a whole bursts with style and technical mastery. 8/10

Beth Blade & The Beautiful Disasters: Sick Like This (Self Released)

Beth Blade and her band The Beautiful Disasters are possibly Cardiff's answer to Halestorm, think gutsy hard rock with the rock chick Beth leading her band of rockers in radio friendly hard rock that owes much to KISS, AC/DC, Alter Bridge, Black Stone Cherry and of course Halestorm. Sick Like This is the bands first EP and showcases the songs that many will know from their live show, the songs benefit from production as it means all aspects of them sparkle, from the heavyweight riffs, to Beth's husky vocals. At six songs long it gives you an incite into what to expect with Forbidden Hearts kicking things off on a song you can imagine Lzzy singing in an arena, the filthy title track is dirtier than a fondle on Chippy Lane with a sledgehammer riff and Beth taking charge of an unnamed lover. This is unsophisticated rock and roll that shoots from the hip melding late 80's with late naughties rock, albeit refreshingly from a female perspective on the cowbell fuelled If It Ain't Rough (It Ain't Right) and the BLS stomp of Kill You With Kisses. This is a great album that actually reminds me a lot of American cult act Hydrogyn, Beth and her Beautiful Disasters are far from a disaster, with a set of catchy, hook laden hard rock songs. 7/10   

Monday, 8 February 2016

Reviews: Rotting Christ, Prong, Drowning Pool (Reviews By Paul)

Rotting Christ: Rituals (Seasons Of Mist Records)

Few bands in the metal world have been plying their trade with such consistency as Greek extremists Rotting Christ. Having formed in 1987 and released their first album in 1991, the band have demonstrated impressive staying power and total commitment to their craft. Last year’s excellent Lucifer Over Athens double live release (which is probably the definitive compilation of Rotting Christ) followed 2013’s Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού. 

Rituals focuses very much on creating black metal atmospherics with almost mind numbing repetition. The frantic drumming of Themis Tolis doesn’t let up on any of the tracks, whilst brother Sakis’ vocals continue in the vein that one has come to expect, growling and gruesome. The inclusion of a number of vocalists helps with the impact; for example, the female cries on Elthe Kyrie enhance the demonic subject matter. Huge swathes of keyboards add to the mood. The more polished production is a double edged sword though, dampening the darkness of previous releases. Subject matter is pretty straightforward with occult and satanic themes. Les Litanies De Satan sits in the traditional Rotting Christ camp whilst Apage Satana attempts to build a much more atmospheric and broody track but just fails in its ambitions. Tou Thanatou has more of the Rotting Christ assault with chanting and keyboards adding the layers, some excellent guitar work from George Emmanuel in the middle section but it’s all a bit black mass all over again.

The inclusion of Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes on the voice-over adds interest on For A Voice Like Thunder and the track is one of the best on the album, driving visceral riffs, roaring vocals and a slower but heavier pace. Konx Om Pax contains Candlemass style power chords, more chanting vocals and powerful build up, tolling bells and malevolence, before descending into a crushing six-minute beast with Themis’ drumming most impressive. My only complaint about this release is that it is very repetitive. Every song appears to be designed to be a huge atmospheric piece, with similar construction and composition. How many tracks need a tolling bell for example? The keyboards add to the layered sound but little return to the raw death of their earlier releases would satisfy those who don’t want every track to be a brooding monster. Don’t get me wrong, this is a decent release but a little more variation would have improved things massively. 7/10

Prong: X - (No Absolutes) (Nuclear Blast)

For a band now moving into the veteran status, Prong’s recent output is impressive. Their 11th studio album X (No Absolutes) comes hard on the heels of last year’s covers album, Songs From The Black Hole, X (No Absolutes) continues where 2014’s Ruining Lives finished. Prong keep things straightforward. Over 40 minutes of aural assault; aggressive thrash and punk infused metal, heavy as hell and the majority of it played at break neck speed. Songs such as Ultimate Authority and Sense Of Ease stomp all over the place, screaming guitars and battering drumming leaving the listener in no doubt. Victor unleashes his trademark snarling yet melodic vocal combined with some vicious cutting riffs, supported by Jason Christopher’s thunderous bass lines and backing vocals and the powerful drumming assault of Art Cruz which provide a rock solid foundation.

It’s pretty simple but effective stuff and although it’s unsophisticated if you need something to drive to at high speed (but obviously within all recognised limits kids) or some pumping work out music, you would struggle to find something better to do the job. It’s not all out thrashers and there are a couple of tracks on this release which could attract more mainstream interest; Soul Sickness with its almost nu-metal feel and Do Nothing is drenched in melody. Ice Runs Through My Veins has an industrial tinge and Christopher taking centre stage. The slower pace of With Dignity, the album closer, which at times moves to almost ballad country, provides a glimpse of the calmer side of a band who really don’t give a fuck what the mainstream thinks. 7/10

Drowning Pool: Hellelujah (eOne Music)

20 years since they first formed, and 15 since the anthem Bodies first hit our ears, Drowning Pool blast back into your consciousness with their sixth release, Hellelujah. With the core of the group constant over the years, it’s the revolving door of vocalists that has slowed their potential march to the upper echelons of the metal movement. I say potential because as we all know; the nu-metal sound doesn’t always appeal these days. I have to admit that Drowning Pool are not part of my regular listening rotation and Hellelujah is highly unlikely to change that. The aggressive drive, crashing riffs and thumping bass lines of Stevie Benton remain firmly in place, with CJ Pierce’s guitar work as solid as it has ever been. The first three tracks are real tub thumpers, Push, By The Blood and Drop all power along with Jasen Moreno’s vocals raw and angry. Hell To Pay changes the pace of the release, with a slower, grittier approach, Moreno’s vocals fitting in perfectly whilst the gutsy attack of We Are The Devil contains a couple of really decent riffs.

My only problem with all the bands that deliver this type of music is that it becomes just a little too generic. Angry but clean vocals, chunky riffs and choruses that you can join in with. So to Drowning Pool, add similar releases from Soil, FFDP, Saliva, Sevendust etc. You get the picture. At 48 minutes long, Hellelujah is a value for money release and if you like this type of stomping, aggressive yet melodic and harmony soaked metal then you are going to be stoked. Unfortunately, as the album progresses attention starts to wander and half way in, the likes of Snake Charmer begin to become less interesting to the listener. Moreno can hit a note and scream like a madman; My Own Way allows him to really explode with the combined bass and guitar work giving the track a real groove. By the time you get to Meet The Bullet a little fatigue has set in and despite the solidity of the tunes you will be pleased to have got through this. A solid but unspectacular release which won’t shake the metal world one bit. 6/10

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Reviews: Serenity, Ecliptica, Nordic Union

Serenity: Codex Atlanticus (Napalm Records)

When I hear one of my favourite bands is releasing a new album I do get very excited and Serenity is one such band I've followed the band for a long time and seen them a few times on tour and I'm always impressed by both their recorded output and their stagecraft. Codex Atlanticus is their fifth album and sees the band revert back to their earlier days as a four piece shedding female vocalist Clémentine Delauney who joined the band on their last album War Of Ages, this is because frontman Georg Neuhauser approaches every album with the overall concept in mind and having a full time female vocalist did not fit in with their future plans. Personally I think this is to their benefit as the dual vocals saw them being lumped in with the huge amount of symphonic female fronted metal bands around and this is something Serenity have never been their style of music is the same kind of masculine, romantic symphonic metal that Kamelot have been producing since the mid 90's. Codex Atlanticus also sees a change of six stringer with longtime axe-man Thomas Buchberger departing with Delauney, meaning that he has been replaced by Cris Tian who is a killer guitarist in his own right and makes this album more guitar driven than before.

The album itself is still of the high quality Serenity are known for, they have once again based it on a concept, this time it's the twelve volume Codex Atlanticus work by Leonardo Da Vinci with the album focusing on that work and Da Vinci's life, musically the band still have the dramatic baroque progressive, symphonic power metal sound that has seen them right for most of their career albeit on the last few albums the dramatic elements have been ramped up and on Codex Atlanticus they go one better with many of the songs sounding like they could have come from the pen of Jim Steinman, this influence is most prevailing on Perfect Woman which surely is an off cut from Dead Ringer or Bat Out Of Hell and sees Georg duetting with Amanda Sommerville on the albums most radio friendly track, another , Caugtht In A Myth has a chorus that begs to be sung out loud. There are a couple of additional singers on the record with the singular named Tasha giving some female vocals in backing and the most surprising performance coming from bassist Fabio D'Amore who supplies co-lead vocals on the excellent Spirit In The Flesh and sounds exactly like Edguy's Tobias Sammet! Serenity have crafted another album of impressive symphonic metal and one that sees them return to their original set up of just having Georg's superb passionate vocals leading the band forward. 8/10    

Ecliptica: Ecliptified (Mars Music Promotion)

More music from Austria but this time a band that started their career as a power metal band with the almost obligatory dual male/female vocals. I have their breakthrough album Impetus from that time and it's since been played a lot however in the interim the band have evolved with two of the contributing members to the debut leaving and being replaced again by yet another female singer and guitarist (seems to be a theme with Austrian bands) this has meant that Ecliptica stepped away from the power metal on their last album Journey Saturnine (which is a bold move considering they are named after on of the finest power metal albums ever made) and have now adopted the idea of being a self proclaimed Metal N Roll band. What this actually means is that they have a sound if you mixed GNR with Maiden or Aerosmith with Priest, so crunchy speed driven guitar riffs and furious drum patterns mixing with the whiskey soaked, scarf waving vocals of Thomas Tieber and the sultry, smoky croon of Sandra Urbanek, so yes still dual vocals but far away from the traditional male-female bands around, in fact the nearest thing I would say they sound like are Tony Clarkin and Bob Catley Magnum side project Hard Rain.

The songs have enough of a metallic fire and hard rock groove to please both camps with the twin axes of founder member Marcus Winkler and his guitar foil Van Alen both playing like Slash if he was in Saxon, the rhythm section of Roman Daucher's drums and Petra Schumayer lay down a steady but furious bottom end meaning that the songs have that punch to the guts all good rock n roll has. From brash blues of Welcome To The Show, through the electro-filled Round N Round (not a Ratt cover), to One For Rock N Roll which is prime 80's rock and bursts into Need Your Love which is a ballad of Winger proportions. Ecliptified is a triumphant slab of heavy rock and with 14 songs the band don't seem to have any lack of ambition or of course songs, Ecliptica have melded metal and rock very well evolving from the band I once new for the better. 8/10

Nordic Union: Nordic Union (Frontiers) [Review By Paul]

If you are a fan of melodic rock, then the name Ronny Atkins should be familiar to you. The front man of Danish outfit Pretty Maids, Atkins combines with Eclipse’s Eric Martensson to debut a new project, Nordic Union which is pretty fine stuff. Completing the line-up is Magnus Ulfstedt who provides the fine drumming whilst Martensson delivers all of the other instruments. Although the tracks sit firmly in the AOR department, complete with harmonies and ridiculous melodies which are the lifeblood of every song, there is also a subtle metal steel which underpins the majority. Opener The War Has Begun contains sufficient guitar work to prick up those ears.

Hypocrisy and Wide Awake sit firmly in the FM/Thunder camp; huge keyboards combine with a melodic guitar sound to create some fine arena pomp. Of course, no AOR release is complete without the ballad and Every Heartbeat ticks all the boxes. Pleading lyrics, wailing guitar and solid rhythm. When Death Is Calling is just an excellent melodic rock track with brilliant harmonies supporting Atkins rich vocals. Nordic Union would go down a storm at Hard Rock AOR; 21 Guns follows the well-worn blueprint, huge hooks, synths galore and clean honey drenched singing compliment the mean guitar work of Martensson. The remaining tracks continue in similar vein, with saccharine drenched emotion, oozing melody and quality. If you like a bit of the lighter side of the hard rock scene, laced with a rocker underbelly, then give Nordic Union a try. It’s a fine album. 8/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Cadillac Three

The Cadillac Three & Whisky Myers, The Tramshed Cardiff

Cardiff was the last stop on American Country Rockers The Cadillac Three's UK wide tour, before they hitched up their britches and skedaddled back to Tennessee. Cardiff got something special though, a unique experience that saw local record store Retro-Vibe Music host an in-store acoustic session and signing with the band which mean that in the afternoon of the gig, TC3 fans packed out the record store and jammed four of their songs, starting with the steam train shuffle of Days Of Gold the three men played a sedate set that evoked memories of a juke joint in the Cajun country somewhere as Jaren sang his lungs out aided beautifully by the Cardiff choir that had gathered in the shop (who would come into their own later) as JJ country picked at his acoustic, Kelby played Dobro (Steel Resonator Guitar) which is still the most authentic country instrument ever and Neil banged out a beat on a Cajon (drumbox). The band seemed genuinely pleased that so many had turned out and were willing to brave the rain and wind to see the band, for many this would be the only time they would see TC3 in that day as their show at the Tramshed later was sold out very quickly. From Days of Gold they went into the grooving Peace, Love & Dixie the sing-along White Lightning and the closing shot of The South. As I've said the band seemed genuinely humbled that they were allowed to play in an 'old-school' record shop to their feverishly excited fans in such a intimate welcoming environment. After the set the band headed downstairs and happily signed album covers, tickets and anything else presented (within reason of course), I for one was overjoyed to see an independent record store holding such a unique fan experience rather than the larger chain record stores. Well done to Claire, Mark and the Retro Team for their organisational skill with this coup, hopefully we will see more things like this in the future, keep an eye out.

So after some lubrication in Cardiff's watering holes it was over to Cardiff's newest venue for my virgin journey to The Tramshed. What a revelation this place is, a larger venue than most of the venues in Cardiff, this is Cardiff's answer to the O2 Academy's, with an onsite pub and a bar inside the venue boasting a wide selection of beers and ciders (not much ale though) the venue is a lot to take in with it's high ceiling, balcony and raised stage meaning that the band are visible even right at the back, as a music venue it's pretty much perfect which meant that as Whiskey Myers came to the stage looking like a younger version of Lynyrd Skynyrd all cowboy hats and Southern swagger you could hear every note the band played due to the almost perfect sound. On their first UK tour Whiskey Myers impressed with their Southern Rock stylings that saw three guitars, a bass, drums and keys all work together to honk the tonk and rock the roll, as these Texans rolled through a seven song set that saw them get the crowd going perfectly and also drew from the early days of country rock with Cody Tate and John Jeffers trading instrumental jams on their guitars which brought to mind Molly Hatchet or Gov't Mule. With great vocals, playing and stage presence Whiskey Myers started the fire burning early and with the amount of people seen wearing Whiskey Myers t-shirts post gig I think they made an impression, TC3 were going to have to step up to the plate. 8/10

Thankfully the Tennessee natives came to tear the venue to the ground and as they roared on stage it was a more animated show than the seated acoustic show earlier in the day, as is only right really, here were three men in full performance mode in front of a sold out crowd baying for some Southern loving. The boastful and filthy Back It Up started the show with some gritty, country guitars and JJ's howl backed by the walking percussion and more slide guitar than Johnny Winter. The band started strong with the Tennessee Mojo creeping along as the bands heaviest song blending seamlessly with Peace, Love & Dixie, this was the beginning of a barn burner and the crowd knew it, writhing, grooving and singing along to every line, Peace, Love & Dixie was followed by the Whiskey soaked Get Your Buzz On which encouraged everyone to find their favourite buzz and ride it (for most in the crowd this was Southern rock and lashings of alcohol), then once everyone was fully buzzed on I'm Southern became an anthem as everyone shouted about their Daddy's linking with hot sauce. The set took a slower turn a Johnstone dedicated a few songs to his partner of 14 years on this the night of their anniversary, with White Lightning and Life both getting the now larger Welsh choir singing at the top of their lungs as the band indulged in their most country output showing why Johnston has written songs for some of America's biggest Country acts.

New single Graffiti debuted live with it's percussion-driven flair it went down a storm before more influence from Hank and Waylon came on Running Red Lights and the excellent Whiskey Soaked Redemption. As the set ramped up the band once again ramped up with Down To River getting a dedication to Swansea natives Buffalo Summer who have a song with the same title, then into the free-for-all that is Party Like You and the superb Days Of Gold to close the main set meaning everyone erupted as the last chord was hit. A short time off stage and then a return for the two song encore of Girls On Fire and The South and boom they were done, inviting their tourmates on stage for a group photo decked out in the flags of Tennessee and Texas, the applause lingered in the air for a long time with whoops and hollers filling the room. Despite the sold out crowd the room didn't seem oppressive in any way as some venues do which was great as it gave us a lot of room to really enjoy this masterclass in Southern music, along with Blackberry Smoke, The Cadillac Three are at the top of the pile when it comes to good old fashioned Countrified Southern rock and on this last night (and indeed afternoon) in Cardiff they showed why. 9/10     

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Reviews: Dissona, Reaper's Riddle, Redwest

Dissona: Paleopneumatic (Self Released)

USA progressive metal of the most intricate and technically proficient kind. They follow the tradition of Fate's Warning, Symphony X, Shadow Gallery along with youngsters such as Haken and Tesseract. The band are truly progressive with Totality giving the best example of this as it moves from aggressive growl filled modern death/groove metal into a chamber music middle section before coming to an end in a thumping breakdown, this 9 minute track exemplifies exactly what Dissona are about, progressive metal with classical elements, jazz leanings, oriental flourishes on Odium as well as the gamut of metal genres with death, black, thrash all catered for. Having supported Opeth, Cynic, High On Fire, Dark Tranquillity, Leprous you can see how Dissona would fit with any of these bands. The performances on this record are outstanding much of the kudos goes to vocalist David Dubenic who has an unbelievable voice with an expansive vocal range that knocks you off you feet, he can go from guttural growls to soaring highs in an instant, he sings his heart out on The Last Resistance in the melodic first part before the track speeds up into it's power metal final part. Dubenic has sublime backing as Drew Goddard and Craig Hamburger work their asses off in the back room blasting away in the metallic sections of this record and also providing a deft touch on the final track Sunderance which is laced with bongos, percussion, sparse piano and violin to make it a muted outro in direct response to the rapid, furious first song Another Sky which is driven by Matt Motto's excellent guitar work as it twist and turns moving between faster and slower sections, with a middle eight that incorporates some electronics mixing numerous riffs and genres into just one 9 minute song. Paleopneumatic is as its title suggests can be primitive and impactful but also it is a sometimes mind bendingly complicated listen but give it a few spins and it will open up into a rewarding intensely musical listen from a band who are musical maestros but can also write some impressive songs . 8/10

Reapers Riddle: The End Is Nigh (Self Released)

Perth Australia traditional Heavy Metal with gruff vocals and a nod to thrash think Iced Earth and you'll be there, particularly because they have a concept set around the apocalypse on this record and as many of you may know John Schaffer has been adding to his Set Abominae storyline over the last few albums. The scene is set in the intro with news reports telling that the Devil has arrived over Sydney, Disentergrate is the first song proper with a chunky guitar riff leading the proceedings, the first thing I notice is the superb voice of frontman Clayton Mitchell who has a gritty, muscular vocal delivery that gives the songs their chest beating traditional metal sound, added to the excellent vocals of Mitchell are some expressive soloing from Kristen Sanfead who also supplies songs like the title track with the head banging riffs with bassist Jason Edwards, with the stringers supplying the rhythms its up to drummer Andrew Burt to lead the doom-laden Rise Of The Macchina. Welcome To The Wasteland has an 80's metal edge, while Write Of Passage has it's head in thrash. The End Is Nigh is a strong debut record from these Aussies, yes the production is a bit hazy but not so much it detracts from the record itself. If you like tough, masculine metal with a sci-fi edge and great concept then Reapers Riddle will get repeated spins. 7/10

Redwest: Crimson Renegade (Bakerteam Records)

Redwest are a Spaghetti Western themed metal band hailing from the home of cowboys...Italy...(yeah I know right?) If that sounds like it might be travesty then think of it like this imagine if a band like Alestorm or Turisas sang songs about The Old West and Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name rather than about Blackbeard or Vikings. The band have evolved since their first couple of EP's as stylistically the are now more in the Steampunk/Cowpunk region visually, the music too is more grown up although it is still the same mix of distorted metal riffs, down-home harmonicas and songs about heroes, outlaws and as the title suggest renegades. The band have a standard metal set up with two guitarists, bassist and drummer providing the metal licks, while the band have two singers with the frontman singing most of the tracks with his gritty baritone and their backing singer adding some yeehaw cowgirl additions. The songs are metallic with big riffs and grooves but they also have the typical pastiches of Spaghetti Westerns with fierce acoustic guitars and rattlesnake percussion on the title track, they do vary it a little with the Rammstein-like electronics of The Dreamcatcher. As you'll notice I'm not naming the band as they go by pseudonyms with all of them have colourful names like The Lurid, The Harasser, The Foreigner (who presumably wants to know what love is), The Stray, The Shy and The Shady One (Losco). This is a very good debut with just enough rocking songs to put it above a joke, the Western elements are a little strong at times with Ballad Of Ed W and Bullet Rain both sounding like the soundtrack to a barn dance, especially Ballad... sounds a lot like Ghost Riders In The Sky, but hey that's kind of the point. Balancing the metal and the Western theme is done with flair meaning that Redwest could be the next in line to join bands such as Alestorm or Sabaton for silly, grin inducing metal! 7/10  

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Reviews: Conan, Duel, Exekuter (Review By Paul)

Conan: Revengeance (Napalm Records)

In 2014 we reviewed Blood Eagle, the previous release from the Liverpool three piece and noted that it was “about as heavy as you can get, huge slabs of slow riffs and chanting vocals which oozes Sabbath and Electric Wizard throughout”. We warned you that “You may not want to listen to this in a confined space as there is a strong chance that your cranium might fracture”. Since then, there has been a pretty big change in the line-up with only Jon Davis on guitar and vocals remaining from that incarnation. In comes Chris Fielding on bass and Rich Lewis on drums. Although the line-up has changed, the absolute power and immense heaviness of the band hasn’t; in fact, it’s got heavier.

Throne Of Fire opens the proceedings, an absolute skull crusher with Davis’ fuzzed up distortion pulverising. The angst ridden distant vocals remain an acquired taste but be in no doubt that Conan really don’t give a fuck about what you think. Their one aim is to steam roller the listener with the most enormous riffs known to man. It’s not the easiest of albums to listen to. 47 minutes for six tracks. Yes, three of the songs rock in at over eight minutes long with the epic Earthernguard, the final track just under 12 minutes long. My suggestion? Put the damn thing on, crank the sucker up and allow Conan to blast the doom through your entire being. But be warned; with tracks like Thunderhoof and the title track (apparently a real word although this is circa 1913 – not quite the Repentless made up word scenario) kicking a hole in your skull, it’s not an easy listener. Another solid crushing release from the masters of UK doom. 7/10

Duel: Fears Of The Dead (Heavy Psych Sounds)

Austin, Texas appears to be the place to be for new releases. Hot on the heels of our review of fellow Austin outfit Widower, we now have Fears Of The Dead by four-piece outfit Duel. The band only formed last year and contain some former Scorpion Child members. Fears Of The Dead is a really infectious, groove laden slab of rock which straddles the doom, stoner and psychedelic genres. Opening track Fears Of The Dead contains some really dirty guitar riffs and has a disgustingly addictive hook with the vocals of Tom Frank fitting the sound perfectly. The track rocks along, with a dash of the mighty Clutch mixing to the potent combination of Sabbath, Pentagram, bits of Grand Funk and the duelling style of Thin Lizzy. Add a splash of Scorpion Child, The Sword and the vitality of Monster Truck and you’ve got the main ingredients of the Duel sound.

For a band who wear the badge of doom, they move at a significantly swifter pace; This Old Crow steals the opening riff from Wolfmother’s Woman before getting the toes tapping. Solid bass lines courtesy of Shaun Avants (who also provides some vocals) form the foundation with drummer JD Shadowz (real name, obvs) whilst Frank and Derek Halfmann’s guitar work swirls and weaves. The band stick with what they do best throughout, although The Kraken provides more of psychedelic stomp, whilst tracks such as On The Edge and Electricity all surge (sorry) with hooks and groove. Penultimate tune When The Pigs Are Fed merges some classic Sabbath riffs with the more recent work of The Sword and really get you wanting to see these guys live. Whilst there is no point reinventing the wheel, Duel have forced me to add another band to the ‘must see’ list. A sweet piece of work indeed. 8/10

Exekuter: The Obscene Ones (EBM Records)

Formed in 2008 out of the ashes of Cryptic Realm, Greek thrashers Exekuter (not to be confused with Brazilian thrash outfit Executer) kick out their second full length release in the shape of The Obscene Ones; 33 minutes of unashamed old school thrash with all the trappings expected – songs about death, blasphemy, anti-religion and the devil. Combining elements of virtually every thrash outfit who have ever lived, but with heavy leanings toward the faster Kreator style thrash, this is a release that every discerning thrash fan should consider picking up. Brutal powerhouse drumming, cascading riffs and screaming solos and a vocal delivery from Tolis Mekras that combines an unusual number of styles to fit superbly. Tracks such as No Morals attack from the start with manic speed and a Pleasure To Kill type riff, whilst there are also some more balanced tracks which contain classic thrash edged stomping; see Secrets Of A Divine and Obsessed for starters. Obsessed is a blistering track, opening with a massive chug before developing into top gear to deliver thrash following the genre blueprint complete with slowed down middle section and driving blast beats which push the band towards death metal at times. If you love your 1980s thrash, then you really need to listen to this release. It’s old skool all the way. Really retro but great stuff! 8/10