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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Reviews: Dorje, Ape Machine, Fate's Right Band, Maddie Jones

A Collection Of EP's

Dorje: Catalyst (Self Released)

Dorje are progressive rock/metal four piece band hailing from the UK, they were formed in 2012 by frontman/guitarist/youtube star and guitar maker Rob Chapman, he recruited Rabea Massaad on lead guitar, along with Ben Minal on drums and Dave Hollingworth on bass. The band set about creating subtly complex technical music that had both melody and groove as well as heaps of technical prowess. Catalyst is their first EP that has been readily available (iTunes, etc) and it shows the bands incredible ability of playing and songwriting. Aeromancy is the EP opener and the flowing Floydian guitar work moves into some chunky palm-muted riffage with a huge chorus that sees Chapman showing not only his guitar skill but his excellent vocals. The band are a thoroughly modern sounding prospect with big sounding songs and passionate performances, all the players have incredible talent and it gives this EP a great style that will see them progress very rapidly when their debut album finally comes about. 8/10

Ape Machine: Coalition Of The Unwilling (Ripple Music)

Portland Oregon's Ape Machine will resonate with anyone that loves the southern rock psychedelia of bands like Clutch, Orange Goblin, Fu Manchu and COC. Think big hammering riffage bouncy songs and old school reel-to-reel sound and you wouldn't be far wrong, a 70's sound reverbrates through this 6 track EP especially on Ape'n-stein which is their cover of Edgar Winter's Frankenstien. They brings blues, rock and psych to the table brilliantly with the four piece having a locked in sound that sees the rhythm section thundering, the guitars crunching and Caleb Heinze's soulful voice that shows its power on the more reserved kaleidoscopic Never My Way that ends this album in spacey Sabbath style. Ape Machine have created 6 great tracks that will definitely win them new fans that love a good old fashioned rock out. 7/10

Fate's Right Band: Smile (Self Released)

Fate's Right Band is a collaborative project started by bassist and guitarist brothers Marko and Jari Aalto, they set about writing 70's/80's hard rock songs with no fixed intention of releasing a full album but rather EP's that will show the bands songwriting. The brothers then recruited drummer Jonas Andersson and lead guitarist Jens Mann to complete the instrumental line up and began writing songs for their debut EP Knuckleduster Hits the line up rounded out by Nocturnal Rites from man Jonny Lindkvist, now they are on their second EP and Smile once again ramps up the rock with some heavyweight rocking and a link to bands like Whitesnake on Black Heart Of Stone. Lindkvist is on hell of a vocalist and it's nice to hear him outside the confides of his power metal day job, he really gets to be a grittier with his vocals while the band behind him rock out like so many before them. Fate's Right Band don;t do anything new but they do it well enough to keep your attention for this EP's duration. 7/10

Maddie Jones: Colour Me In (Self Released)

I first reviewed Maddie Jones debut album Vita Brevis in July of this year and I though it was a very exciting album that blended folk,pop, rock and acoustic troubadour tendencies with dreamy melodies combined with Jones' brilliantly hushed bluesy vocals. Now I did think while listening to the album that Maddie Jones could do with letting loose and rocking out a bit, there was nods to rockier tendencies on the debut but on Colour Me In Maddie has got rockier with some fuzzy guitars and an almost doo-wop vocals that could have come off Zep's In Through The Out Door the track was co-written by Jones and Matthew Evans from psych-band KEYS. Jones' voice once again shines through especially on the smoky Deadliest Little Fever which has jazz club feel to it as Jones channels her inner Ella Fitzgerald. She has recruited a great band behind her who all play with skill Dan Fitzgerald plays a mean guitar, Tom Jones (not that one) has a locked in bass, the drums of Laurence Wickham show flair on the bluesy rocker Push Back which once again has a Zep style to it. Colour Me In is less a reinvention more a natural adaptation of their sound for Maddie and her band, hopefully these three tracks are a sign of things to come, roll on album two. 8/10 

Friday, 27 November 2015

Reviews: Phantasma, Ambush, Aktaion

Phantasma: The Deviant Hearts (Napalm Records)

Many of you may be familiar with Georg Neuhauser as the vocalist of Progressive/Symphonic Power Metal kings Serenity, his voice is one of the bands calling card so away from the Serenity bubble he has teamed up with multi instrumentalist, producer/vocalist Oliver Philipps to create a story driven concept album with major symphonic rock leanings. Oliver has worked with numerous bands in the past meaning he has made many connections this has brought in the outside element in this equation, which is the fantastic voice of Delain's Charlotte Wessels who was asked to by Phillipps to contribute vocals to the album, she did more than that writing a novella, called The Deviant Hearts, that the band has used as the storyline to the album. So the album itself is excellent high quality operatic symphonic metal, that builds like a musical or an opera with both voices working in tandem to create magic, emotion and most of all draw you in to the story, both vocalists have an expressive range and suit each other perfectly Charlotte can be tender or dominant, Runaway Grey is the distillation of all of this starting out slow and measured before exploding into a euphoric final part that comes straight out of a Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Georg on the other hand can soothe and croon passionately as well as rock out on stompers like Novaturient and Crimson Course.

They are aided in telling story by Phillipps' guitar, keys, vocals and production skill with Jason Gianni's expressive drumming, Randy George's intricate bass playing and Tom Buchberger's emotive guitar playing all playing their part with the orchestrations to give this album the bombast of a release by Queen or Meat Loaf the latter being especially noticeable. They also have some guest singers to flesh out the story and characters, Try features the heartbreaking vocals of Cloe Lowry who made her name doing this sort of thing in TSO (Trans Siberian Orchestra) as she duets with Van Canto's Dennis Schunke on the albums most operatic track. The impressive title track and the symphonic heaviness of Enter Dreamscape both feature the awesome pipes of Evergrey's Tom S. Englund. This album has some seriously music on it, Miserable Me has the Tim Burtonesque creepiness mixed with some Savatage, while The Lotus And The Willow is a great middle section to the album, while Carry Me Now is pure Meat Loaf arena rock and all the better for it, while Georg gets his Webber moment on The Sound Of Fear, before the album rocks up at the end with Novaturient and ends with the brilliantly overblown Let It Die which features the vocals of Georg, Charlotte and Oliver. This entire album is fantastic from start to finish it is a real journey through the story with the kitchen sink thrown at it musically the vocalists and musician's involved are all top class and really add their stamp to the album. If you love epic arrangements and grandiose songs then the The Deviant Hearts will shoot right to the top of your end of year list! 10/10   

Ambush: Desecrator (High Roller Records)

What do you get if you mix Manowar and Judas Priest and put them in post millennial Sweden? Well you get Ambush, they are unabashedly retro with enough modern touches to keep them relevant. They are the right kind of classic to be on High Roller's band list but like I said their feet are firmly planted in the modern era. Much of this comes from the production which is especially good letting the songs have a thick sound meaning that they blast out of the speakers from the outset of the Priest/Mercyful Fate-like Possessed By Evil, the album is very good, the guitars are chunky on the mid-paced rockers and rampaging on the thrashier songs such as the title track, Rose Of The Dawn which could have easily come off Sign Of The Hammer, while Faster is Freewheel Burning's . The rhythm section too is locked and loaded (sorry) to the rock steady beat of Priest's glory days, this is most evident on the gangland tale of Southstreet Brotherhood and the swaggering Master Of The Seas. The band are strong musically but it's the vocals that always make of break a band of this ilk luckily the pipes of Ambush's frontman are expertly suited to the band part Eric Adams, part Rob Halford with all the explosive power of both. This is yet another great album of retro tinged traditional metal from the boys at High Roller and indeed another top drawer band from Sweden. 8/10    

Aktaion: Throne (Self Released)

Aktaion hail from the metal heartland that is Sweden and they have been crafting this album since 2012 and now in 2015 they have released their debut but as Francis Larsson and Jonatan Ney start to riff like bastards you can see that everything is worth it, the opening track is pacey and changes speed throughout with Axel Croné bass led verse that has Jonas Snäckmark spitting rapid fire venom before it explodes into a euphoric chorus where the clean vocals come into full effect. This is groove based metal that batters you into submission with the intricate, technical guitar work and huge bass lines and thundering drums, they are a modern metal band in the truest sense, from the progressive riff of Prison Walls, through the LOG-like For All The Things We Are which has some atmospheric keys from Ney running through it. This band have lots of influences shining through Lamb Of God and Pantera are the most immediate but you also get the viciousness of Slipknot, the melodic ear of FFDP and the progressive touches of latter day Machine Head on the excellent The Cure and Thousands which breaks into a bass and piano led middle section, this is the most accessible song on the album having an almost folk metal sound with metal mixing with the keys perfectly as well as a squeeze box that permeates the final part. Aktaion have really gone to town on this album it's aggressive, powerful and musically dexterous, it was worth the wait indeed a great debut! 8/10        

Thursday, 26 November 2015

A View From The Back Of The Room: Triaxis, One Machine, Krysthla, Bull Riff Stampede

 Triaxis, One Machine, Krysthla, Bull Riff Stampede, The Tunnels Bristol

Now here's a novel idea, get four of the best bands in the UK scene, give them 45 minutes to play each and charge the punter £10. This was the idea of this event in The Tunnels in Bristol, essentially you get four headlining sets from the bands, running order was decided on the night, meaning that there was less a headliner more closer. I intrepidly made my way solo to the venue, that is under Bristol Temple Meads station, for what would turn out to be the best entertainment of the night (the WWE Survivor Series PPV that I rushed post gig to watch left much to be desired). A D.I.Y mini-fest that showed how talented and indeed diverse the current underground metal scene is. 

So into the venue just as Bull Riff Stampede (8) were kicking off with maelstrom of riffs, their blackend death/thrash assault was enough to get your head banging vigorously, letting you forget about the cold outside. The kick drums of James furiously blitzkreiged behind the insanely speedy riffs of Rod (bass), Jay (Guitar) and Dave (Guitar) and as the sped up and down the fretboards soloing and riffing wildly Dave also screamed his head off giving the band a sound akin to Kreator, Carcass, and Sepultura. This is dark violent thrash that is made to cause circle pits and it was a hell of way to kick off the night as Bull Riff Stampede didn't let up once constantly bombarding the crowd with riff after thrash metal riff. As their set drew to an end those that were in attendance were breathless as BRS set about destroying the stage one more time before they said their final goodbye. 

As BRS finished we come to the one point that was the major bone of contention for me, this was the crowd size. I was disappointed with it to be honest, yes I know it was a school night and by the time the night was coming to a close the number had increased but for most of the night the venue was half empty and although it was heartening to see that there were a few hardcore punters (most of whom were young) that were around from the very beginning, in my opinion there could have been more with quality of the bands on offer, still no need to dwell on this as the whole night was bit D.I.Y which gave it it's charm and for any band to draw a crowd through self-promotion of the gig is good in these days of wallet watching. 

With the changeover complete it was time for band number 2, this time it was Northamptonshire based brutality, I reviewed this bands debut earlier this year and it blew me away with it's sheer force, so I was excited to see how these songs translated live. Well Krysthla (8) managed to live up to my expectations, in fact I'm pretty sure I could have the band on an assault and battery charge as from the first note the band beat the hell out of the gathered meat bags in the room. The band contains former members of Gutworm and they retain the previous bands spleen rumbling heaviness based around the low and heavy rhythm section of Wayne and Carl (drums and bass), Krysthla are a band reliant on their ear-splitting rhythm section in their extreme groove laden death thrash, On top of the dulcet backline Noel Davis riffs like a mutha...while remaining perfectly still throughout, transfixed on trying to make ear drums bleed as Neil Hudson adds the extra riffs and squealing lead breaks. With all the music being so uncompromising the band need a vocalist that is no wallflower luckily Adi is no such thing he's wild mountain of front man with voice from the bowels of the deepest hell, his roar will give you a stomach-ache it's so low and visceral. Krysthla managed to step things up after BRS warmed everyone up by, beating everyone down with their Gojira meets LOG style of metal.

Another changeover and the part organizers One Machine (8) took to the stage, now One Machine features Steve Smyth who formally played the riffs in Forbidden and Testament so you can probably guess what they sound like this is thrash metal played with a modern technical edge think latter Forbidden or even Nevermore, especially due to Chris Hawkins expansive vocals that move from a growl to a shriek effortlessly. The bands syncopated riffage is fantastic with Jamie Hunt working in tandem with Smyth perfectly, while the boiler room of Stefano Selvatico's basslines and the drummers (who's name escapes me I'm afraid) lay down a heavy thrash groove with loads of technicality. Smyth looked like he was having a ball on stage as he rocked out on the left side of stage while Hunt mirrored him on the right and Hawkins stomped around in the middle, there was a few gaps for tuning etc but that just meant Chris could talk bollocks (something he is good at) before they ploughed into another great song. If you like your metal thrashy with a modern edge One Machine will be right up your alley, check them out supporting Overkill in Bristol next year, you won't be disappointed.

So finally the last changeover and while the set up was taking place (things were running late not like anyone cared) One Machine's Chris was acting as compare talking yet more bollocks before a slice of Welsh metal started with the melodic build of Liberty and once again I was deep in the realms of Triaxis (8) this new track is the perfect opener with all the power of Maiden and the heads down riffage of Megadeth, the set list was a tried an tested one with Sand & Silver coming next speeding up things even more as CJ and Glyn traded riffs Becky galloped (and howled on Stand Your Ground, the wolf impression gets better every time) meanwhile Giles once again obliterated his kit, Stand Your Ground came next and it's rockier feel showed off Krissie's amazing vocals. I've reviewed Triaxis a lot now but they maintain a quality at every gig they (and all the bands at this gig) exude a confidence that seems to seep out of every pore. Victorious/Death Machine came again towards the end of the set and even after being played at every gig for nearly a year they still sound fresh and powerful with Krissie going full Imperator on the historical themed tracks. Triaxis ended the set with the debut single Black Trinity which got all the heads nodding fiercely. So that was that and they wrapped up, however they had one more surprise in store, the final song was cover but not Maiden as anyone who has followed the band knows they are fond of, no this was a shot at the Man On The Silver Mountain himself with an excellent version of Rainbow's Stargazer which engaged the mass sing along.

A perfect end to a fantastic night supporting the underground and local metal scene in the UK, it also went forward to proving a theory I've had for a while, the bands are out there, it's the audience that just need to reciprocate. Don't moan that no one plays your town, go to the bands where they play, you'll be helping them out, you might discover a new favourite and you'll have a damn good time. well done on everyone involved for this event, let's do it again yeah?                    

A View From Another Country: Scorpions (Review From France By Paul)

Scorpions & Europe: Zenith Arena, Lille, France 21 November 2015

Due in part to the frustrating lack of shows in the UK, the rare opportunity to attend a European gig combined with the venue being a mere 1.5 hours from Brett’s super flat in Hesdin meant that several months ago we purchased tickets to see the Scorpions in Lille, France. Little did we know at that time how poignant any rock gig in France was going to turn out to be as a result of the tragic events in Paris only a week earlier.

It was freezing and very wet in Lille when we arrived, traffic was typically French, i.e. utter carnage and so we dumped the car on the side of the road opposite the venue and spent a couple of hours ducking the showers in the better than expected city centre before heading for the Arena about 40 minutes before show time. A sell-out crowd was already patiently filling the 4500 capacity venue, and we warmed ourselves whilst waiting for Europe to arrive. Although the crowd provided the Swedes with an ecstatic welcome, I found myself wondering if this was more to do with the limited opportunity to see bands in Lille or just the demographic of the audience. Opening with a ponderous War Of Kings, Europe (5) plodded through a 40 minute eight song set which was just plain dull. Front man Joey Tempest may be well preserved, with a set of teeth to rival Jon Bon Jovi but if there was ever a rock equivalent to Cliff Richard, then boy is he it. Hole In My Pocket, Superstitious and a slight increased pace with Scream Of Anger came and went, the French crowd loving it whilst the band appeared to be going through the motions. Tempest wandered around the stage, waving to the crowd when not singing. A cringe worthy Carrie was followed by Rock The Night which at least got the tempo moving. The rockier Days Of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which has received a large amount of air time on Planet Rock pricked the interest before the inevitable karaoke moment and 'that' bloody song. Leaving to a rapturous reception, I was less than enthused and left pondering what all the fuss was about. How this lot headlined BOA in 2009 is beyond me.

However the evening got a damn sight better shortly after 9:30pm as the huge curtain with the Return To Forever album cover on it dropped to the floor and the Germanic assault of the Scorpions (9) commenced. Hitting the stage running and not stopping for most of the evening, the band belied their age with a 17 song set that lasted over an hour and a half. Going Out With a Bang segued into one of my favourite tracks, the riff laden Make It Real. Rudy Schenker was already running all over the place whilst Klaus Meine's vocals were on top form. A broody The Zoo maintained the momentum, with lead guitarist Mathias Jabs using the talkbox to great effect. Coast To Coast allowed the band to demonstrate its musical muscle, with Jabs showcasing some excellent lead work. Perched high above the stage, the mental James Kottack hammered the shit out of his kit whilst Paweł Mąciwoda laid the bass lines. Although only three of the band are German, it was typical Teutonic efficiency which underpinned the show. Polished, crafted and self –indulgent, the Scorpions really enjoy their work with massive grins throughout the evening.

I've seen this band a couple of times before, notably at 1986’s Monsters Of Rock and they never fail to put on a tremendous show. An impressive light show, changing back screens which also provided some close up focus on each member of the band, but mostly some classic tunes. A montage of tracks from the 1970s made me very happy, with a run through of Top Of The Bill/Steamrock Fever/Speedy’s Coming/Catch Your Train before the recent single We Built This House steered the band towards the emotional part of the evening.

Obviously events in Paris were on the lips of everyone present, and the Scorpions played it sublimely with a sensitive tricolour backdrop earlier in the set and then, during the acoustic set, a silhouette of the Eiffel Tower again with the blue, white and red on the screen as they played Always Somewhere, Eye Of The Storm and a beautiful Send Me An Angel which brought a lump to the throat. Although I hate Wind Of Change, the audience participation was moving and not a person in the house failed to join in (yes, even I hummed along folks). After that it was heads down rock all the way, with Rock ‘n’ Roll Band and a ball breaking Dynamite leading the charge. Kottack’s drum solo was reasonably entertaining, being conducted from high above the stage with his platform suspended by cables. Much more entertaining was a blistering Blackout before Big City Nights closed the main set and saw the band take their time to leave the stage, milking the applause. A deep breath was required for the encore; first up the delicious Still Loving You before the inevitable Rock You Like a Hurricane concluded a fantastic evening. The crowd were respectful, engaged and interestingly for an old fart like me, more interested in watching and listening than heading to the bar every ten minutes. A pleasant change, an incredible performance from the Scorpions and if this is their final tour, a fitting conclusion to a brilliant band.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Reviews: Devil You Know, Waken Eyes, Stormbringer

Devil You Know: They Bleed Red (Nuclear Blast)

Howard Jones was always the part of Killswitch Engage that I could tolerate both on record and live, he always seemed a little out of place, almost like he was filling in for Jesse Leach, until his eventual return. He always seemed at odds with Adam D's more irreverent style and the bands metalcore by numbers shtick. Jones' excellent vocals were meant for so much more than this and when the first Devil You Know album came out the it wasn't the break away it should have been, however on this second record the gloves are well an truly off, the band have branched out a bit expanding their sound from the metalcore styling of the debut, with thrash, djent and even hard rock, but its the brutal blast beats that kick this album off with Consume The Dead having the super fast introduction to the album before the shout along breakdown stomp of The Way We Die and Your Last Breath takes things back to the debut.

Stay Of Execution is a modern technical track with some searing guitar work from Francesco Artusato and the impressive vocal range of Jones crooning and screaming in equal measure, with some great metal on show throughout the band expertly blend heaviness, aggression and melody, the thrash-like Shattered Silence will incite mighty pits with its furious explosive delivery, a track that is at odds to the following song Let The Pain Take Hold which is a ballad of epic proportions that has Jones singing his heart out. In fact you get a lot of bang for your buck on this record as it clocks in at a hefty 14 tracks, including a cover of Survivor's Eye Of The Tiger which as you might imagine is as madcap as his previous band's famous cover of Holy Diver. This is an album that will hopefully win people over, but there will still be some that don't like the American metal style but for fans of Jones and especially fans of Killswitch this album will tick all the boxes, in fact it's better than the last few Killswitch albums. 8/10

Waken Eyes: Exodus (Ulterium Music)

Many of you may be unaware of Tom Frelek and yes he is a relative unknown but he is the brains behind Waken Eyes writing the bulk of it and also contributing guitars and keys to this the bands debut record. Now let's get this out of the way now Frelek is a superb musician and one that can perfectly supply top quality progressive metal his guitar playing is classically influenced and virtuoso at times with Michael Romeo, John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert all springing to mind as Frelek melts the fretboard with sensational precision riffage and explosive soloing. Now obviously Frelek needed a band for this album so he recruited a rhythm section that are as musically gifted as he is; on bass he has Michael Romeo's foil in Symphony X Mike LePond and on drums he has Paul Gilbert and Steven Wilson sticksman Marco Minnemann, so with the instrumental section so strong the pressure was on to find a vocalist that could stand up with the best in the progressive metal, well Frelek has done brilliantly with Henrik Båth who sings in his own prog/power metal band Darkwater, now I love Darkwater and a lot of this love comes due to Båth's incredible booming croon.

He sings with real passion and power and suits this albums progressive and conceptual nature, Frelek says the album is about "being fearless and every song has something to do about fearlessness. The theme came from the struggles of everyday life that everyone deals with. How people, emotions, media, governments can enforce fear upon you to make you think a certain way to more or less control you." which leads to intelligent, emotive lyricism as well as impressive, stirring musical pieces, that pack as much intelligent playing into them as possible as only the album ending title track clocks in at over 10 minutes. Cognition starts things off with just a simple piano and Minnemann's drums before Abberation weaves it's magic as Båth gives breathy delivery and the instrumentation builds as it speeds up in the middle section, the doomy Deafening Thoughts comes next and Back To Life has classical acoustics that are prime Dream Theater. This album was sold to me as prog metal but it's not really, yes the guitars crunch when need to but for the most part this is prog rock, the metal does come thick and fast with jazz-like bass rhythms on Palisades which bursts into a Maiden style gallop, however for the most part it's prime prog rock with metallic touches throughout. With brilliant album stuffed full of songs that will take you on a journey into sublime musicianship Waken Eyes are a great progressive band that should be at the top of the list for all fans of intricate progressive music. 9/10    

Stormbringer: Blood & Rust (Transcend Music)

Northamptonshire rockers Stormbringer were formed in 2011 by ex Viking Skull and DeadEye guitarist Dom Wallace and Ash Smith guitarist of Nekkrosis they set about recruiting Jon Paul Quantrill on drums and Darren McCullagh on bass and releasing their debut MMXIII (in 2012 surprisingly) which went on to get them numerous tours plus performances at Download and Bloodstock. Since the debut though they lost their original singer but have found  replacement for this sophomore album in the shape of Jimi Brown. Now Stormbringer play metallic hard rock, so all the hooks and fist pumping of a hard rock band like Buckcherry and Slash but with the metallic edge of Metallica. This means that the band sound a lot like Bullet For My Valentine and even one of my favourites New Device mainly due to Brown's vocal delivery. The instrumental title track starts things off before No Redemption mixes Maiden with KISS and Rise is deep in the realms of Matt Tuck and co with a thundering riff and the dark/light balance that BFMV have always struck well.

This album is very, very good the band all play their instruments with passion and fire, the rollicking Bad Blood is for this as it evokes the sleaze style of Josh Todd and co, while Unto Me is chugging dirty rocker with some bile stored up before Ashamed shows Quantrill and McCullagh's destructive rhythm section, while joining it with rumbling groove. As I said the band are metallic hard rock with the guts of rock band and the aggression of a metal band, with radio bothering tunes like the powerful No Return which could have come off any of the four Alter Bridge albums with it's huge riff, concise soaring solo and Brown's Kennedy-like vocals. This is modern hard rock at it's best and Stormbringer could become the British heirs to the American's radio-rock throne and to be honest any band that ends an album with a supercharged cover of Talking Heads' Psychokiller is all right in my book. Lets hope this album will break them as it draws from a wide range of influences and shows exactly what the band can do on record and hints to their live arena power! Almost guaranteed to be on many year end lists! 10/10  

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

Snakecharmer The Globe

Decisions made on impulse can often turn into a disaster. A bad food choice, the wrong turn on a road trip, you get the picture. However, occasionally they turn out to be absolute genius. The cancellation of a business trip allowed me to head for one of our favourite venues, The Globe in Cardiff for a night of bluesy rock ‘n’ roll. A quick pint and catch up with Matt and we headed into the venue at 7:45 pm, and not a minute too late as support act Bad Touch from Dereham, Norfolk, were already into their stride. I’d seen these guys at Download last year and their classic hard rock fused with a blues undertone really was enjoyable then. Well, the band have improved beyond recognition and despite the cramped stage (mainly Harry James’ drum kit) they put in a most excellent shift. Bad Touch have released their debut album (Half Way Home) this year (damn good it is too) and they treated us to a selection of tracks over the 45 minute set. Chunky riffs, catchy hooks and visually stimulating, their combination of Black Crowes, Zeppelin, The Answer and a pinch of Aerosmith proved a hit with the growing crowd. The bizarre dancing of one member of the audience provided much amusement but also some trepidation and as a result there was a wide space around said whirling fan, leaving the majority of the audience somewhat penned towards the middle and back of the floor. Bad Touch paced their set well, with the rockier Wise Water mixing with the bluesy soulful numbers such as Half Way Home and No Excuse. The tongue in cheek Good On Me (The Jeans Song) showed the band’s humorous side but these guys are no joke with some superb guitar work from Rob Glendinning on display throughout the evening. Drummer George Drewery not only laid down the backbeat with bassist Bailey but also had the voice to provide supporting backing vocals. Stage right Seeks provided the rhythm whilst front and centre the captivating voice of front man Stevie, also displaying quality skills on the harmonica and tambourine, demonstrated that Bad Touch are a band with strength in every department. 8/10

For those of us around in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was no band who could touch the combined power of David Coverdale and Whitesnake. Their blues based, soulful hard rock provided some of rock’s most enduring anthems and their 1981 headline set at Donington was legendary. Over 30 years on, and whilst Coverdale is a shadow of his former self, surrounded by overrated American musicians, two of the original members of THAT incredible Whitesnake line up are linked once more in the superb Snakecharmer. The self-titled debut album released three years ago skilfully meshed the qualities of all involved; the stunning voice of Chris Ousey, the powerhouse drumming of Harry James, the fabulous keyboards of Adam Wakeman, understated but vital bass lines of Neil Murray and the double guitar of Laurie Wisefield and Micky Moody. Having seen the band at the Steehouse Festival in 2013, I was keen to see them again and they did not disappoint.

Opening with a couple of tracks from the album, Guilty As Charged and Nothing To Lose, the band were clearly on good form as they neared the end of their UK tour. The interplay between all members was a joy to watch, true professionals going about their craft with real love and enjoyment. Murray has always maintained a low stage presence, but his occasional invitation to the crowd to clap or sing along was always received positively. Of course, the man is a master of the bass guitar and he made it look pretty simple as he kept time with the quite awesome Thunder sticksman Harry James. The set was liberally sprinkled with some of Whitesnake’s classic tracks, the highlight for me a beautiful Ain’t Gonna Cry No More. A rousing Ready An’ Willing got the crowd singing along before a couple more tracks from the album including the tender Falling Leaves slowed the pace. This really is a super group of a band and although the spot light often falls on Moody’s incredible slide guitar work (magnificent solo included) he is matched note for note by the former Wishbone Ash man Wisefield. The spotlight doesn't stay in one place for long with Snakecharmer, and Ousey’s powerful and soulful vocals really does add to all the material. A sing-a-long of Here I Go Again in particular allowed him to demonstrate his quality as a frontman whilst there were several opportunities for Adam Wakeman, son of Rick but more formidably Ozzy Ozbourne’s keyboard player for the past seven years to really show what a gifted musician he is. The band closed with My Angel, the first track on the album and Here I Go Again before a deserved encore of Fool For Your Lovin’ brought an excellent evening to a close at the civilised time of 10:30pm, which judging by the demographic was about right. If you like your rock with a large dose of proper blues, then catch Snakecharmer. They won’t disappoint you. 9/10

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

A View From The Back Of The Room: Blackberry Smoke (Review By Paul)

Blackberry Smoke: 02 Forum, Kentish Town, London

Our recent gigs have thrown up some pretty impressive supporting acts that have enhanced the experience and generally made the overall experience even more entertaining. The challenge for any support act is to win over an often partisan crowd. During AC/DC’s epic show at Wembley stadium in July, Vintage Trouble, a band who has scored notable conversions throughout the world had to work incredibly hard to garner a reaction from the diehards who were there for just one band. The Record Company (9) from California had no such trouble in their opening role for Blackberry Smoke. Hitting the stage to an already packed Forum, the three piece packed incredible energy into their 40 minutes with some of the most enthusiastic blues based rock ‘n’ roll seen for a long time. The crowd reaction said it all with increasingly vociferous responses as their short set progressed. Led by the hyperactive Chris Vos on vocals, guitar, slide guitar and incredible lap steel, the band powered through some of their raw almost punk infused numbers from their early EPs and a couple of tunes from their forthcoming debut album, out in February 2016. Alongside Vos, Alex Stiff with his dirty distorted bass and drummer Marc Cazorla maintained a steady rhythm which allowed Vos to shine. Some of his playing was quite stunning and the man is no slouch on the harmonica either. When he wasn’t sat on his stool he was running around the stage, cajoling and spinning like a man possessed. At times the band looked slightly overwhelmed by the massive response, with Vos continually expressing genuine gratitude to the sold out crowd. As the crowd rushed to snap up the final copies of their releases at the merchandise tables, it is clear that The Record Company are a band that will definitely require further watching in 2016.

Few bands seem to be on tour as often as Blackberry Smoke (10). (In fact, only Vintage Trouble appears on the road with more regularity). Our first sighting of the Southern Country Rock outfit came almost exactly a year ago in the cramped confines of the Institute in Birmingham where the band provided an exhibition in top drawer rock ‘n’ roll. A year later, with February’s excellent Holding All The Roses no longer considered a new album, the band looked confident, relaxed and polished in the much bigger surroundings of The Forum as they smoothly manoeuvred through a 22 song set. They have clearly reaped the benefits of their road time, particularly their recent US tour with the mighty ZZ Top. With five albums behind them, the band chose to focus more on their recent music with 15 of the tracks featured coming from Holding All The Roses and 2012’s The Whippoorwill. Opening with the foot stomping Leave A Scar, the incidental chatter was kept to a minimum as the ‘Smoke let their music do the talking. In fact, I think it wasn't until the beautifully crafted Pretty Little Lie had concluded that front man and main focus Charlie Starr even said “hello”. To be honest, this didn't bother the ecstatic crowd in the slightest, as Blackberry Smoke in full flow is an absolute delight to watch. The interaction between the band is noticeable with huge smiles from guitarist Paul Jackson and keyboardist Brandon Still particularly warming. Elsewhere the ‘Smoke sound is underpinned by the bass and drumming of Richard and Brit Turner which allows Starr to humbly demonstrate that not only is he a superb singer but also a smoking hot axe man.

The band has an affinity with Led Zeppelin and Sleeping Dogs contained a smart segue into Your Time Is Gonna Come. It’s not all heads down rock ‘n’ roll though and as the pace slowed the beautifully crafted title track from 2012’s The Whippoorwill and the sentimental One Horse Town demonstrated that this band is not a one trick pony (What you did there...I see it - Ed). Finishing their main set with Holding All The Roses and the infectious Shake Your Magnolia, the crowd was baying for more. The band duly obliged, with Too High followed by a fine version of The Rover (their cover for the Mojo CD earlier this year) before Ain't Much Left Of Me brought an excellent evening to an end. I looked at my review from last year before writing this. My concluding remarks then were “Blackberry Smoke has the confidence and ability to be headlining much bigger venues that this in years to come”. I rest my case.