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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Reviews: Sólstafir, Aeon Zen, Empress AD

Sólstafir: Ótta (Seasons Of Mist)

Sólstafir are one of Iceland's premier bands, Ótta is their fifth album. Much like Swedes Katatonia or our own Anathema, Sólstafir used to deal in black/death metal but their sound has evolved into the post rock world of using noise and soundscapes to create atmosphere. What an atmosphere they create as on these 8 tracks, you are taken on an audio journey through the desolation of Iceland, the album is somewhat of a concept piece as it is taking you through a single day with Lágnætti (midnight) starting things off and Náttmál (Nighttime) ending the album. All of the tracks are performed with intense feeling and passion as well as in their native tongue, this however doesn't detract from the music rather it enhances it. The band are not just your simple guitars, drums and bass set-up they add folk instruments on the dark and brooding title track (Night) to enhance the song. Rismál (Dayrise) is a sparse, almost indie sounding track full of jangly guitar that sounds like the sun creeping into the sky. It is one of the shorter songs on the album at just over four minutes but it is excellent and leads into the driving rock of Dagmál (Morning) which has a shimmering guitar line that really brings the song to life along with Aðalbjörn Tryggvason's remorseful vocals. This album is a true post rock record drawing more from the shoegaze, ambient and post punk than it does from hard rock or metal, the dreamy Miðdegi is testament to this. I'll be honest I've never heard any Sólstafir and I am impressed, this is music that you must take in it's entirety, it's an album not a collection of songs but when the songs are as good as the Porcupine Tree style Nón (Noon) it's hard not to pick and choose. However you can't deny how good this album is when you listen to it in it's entirety. It is a marvellous album that just lets you, sit back, relax and be immersed by the sheer quality of this record. A record to play when you need a change of pace, some may be put off by the mellow sounds contained herein, even by the Icelandic vocals, but don't be put off, this album is excellent and well worth seeking out. 9/10   

Aeon Zen: Ephemera (Richard Hinks Music)

Aeon Zen are now on their fourth full length record and since their stunning debut they have gone from strength to strength, nothing is off limits to this band, they encompass many genres from rock and metal to jazz, folk and electronica. The band is the brainchild of Richard Hinks with all the songs written, arranged and produced by him, he also provides bass and vocals, on record he also contributes rhythm, additional lead guitars and keyboards on the records (while other musician's provide these roles live), he is aided in his kaleidoscope of noise by drummer Steve Burton and guitarist Alistair Bell. The band have also had a pick of vocalists on every album with the longest serving being Andi Kravljaca whose classic metal vocals suit the music well allowing Hinks to contribute to huge backing choirs and even the odd scream and grunt. I mention the massive influences this band has but they are at their heart a metal band which is shown by the frankly head crushingly heavy The Entity which has a Messugah style start stop riff, lots of electronics, but also some massive hooks coupled with a searing guitar and keyboard solo. It's a hell of a start to this album that shows off everything that makes this band great, the vocal interplay, the amazing musicianship and most importantly the supreme writing. Soul Machine starts out like a Symphony X/ Dream Theater song with a huge choral vocal, some mellifluous guitar and keys as well as a lot of orchestrations, the track slows in the middle with a post rock drone before the final part explodes into Behemoth style symphonic black metal replete with furious blast beats from Burton and synth solo finale. Life kicks off with a jazzy swing opening, which continues throughout making this one of the proggier tracks on the album and really showing off Hinks' bass work. Unite is a definite single being one of the shortest tracks on the album but distils everything the band is about in one song. This is the sound of a band that are at the top of their game, it is a wonderful time for British prog with Haken, Tesseract and of course Aeon Zen all showing that we do this kind of incredibly creative, emotive and frankly fantastic music better than anyone and Ephemera is a showcase of that! 10/10

P.S: I urge you to check out Aeon Zen start with Ephemera and then work your way through their back catalogue. You will not be disappointed!

Empress AD: Still Life Moving Fast (Roadrunner)

Empress AD are one of the new breed of aggressive, intelligent and frankly mesmerising progressive metal. Channelling bands like Mastodon, Baroness and Tesseract but also adding a lot of old school prog into the mix. Empress AD have a real groove vibe that sits somewhere between Mastodon and Opeth on Invisible Conductor which opens the album and kicks things of in aggressive style. There's fuzz driven bass, melodic guitar lines, screams and also clean vocals from Ollie Loring, there's even a drum solo from Edd Unwin in the middle of the track. The change into Delve Into The Retrospect is jarring as the song starts off with and almost King Crimson like vibe, but when the guitars come in the band dive straight into Akerfeldt territory with the fractured guitar lines and wistful quiet phases. Into the modern prog of Deeper In Disguise which starts off on fire and then goes into middle eight that sounds like a heavy metal Muse. These four men are amazing musicians they play with immense technicality or fluidity that are at their most evident on the more ambient, melodic tracks such as From Where I Cannot Reach. The song writing is in the upper echelon and the band unlike many carrying the tag are truly progressive, Urwin's drums are intensely percussive and clearly jazz influenced, Alex Loring's bass is the anchor leading the time changes, and Tom Meadon and Ollie Loring's guitars work wonders flowing between melodic noddling and heavy distorted metal battering. Back to worship at the altar of Mikael for On My Return with it's driving, grinding almost oriental riff and light and shade work building into a cacophony of noise. This album is one that is rare, it is equally full of immediacy but also many of the songs need repeated listens to develop. Usually I know what a Roadrunner album will sound like; I was presently surprised when I heard this, it was a very refreshing experince to hear a band of this talent unafraid to compromise. The album ends with Did We See which slows the pace and Consumed which does just that with its exercise in loud/quiet dynamics and euphoric finale. Still Life Moving Fast is a must for those reared on Mastodon, Neurosis and indeed Opeth, but it will also appeal to those from the background of King Crimson and Pink Floyd. An utter triumph!! 10/10 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Reviews: Striker, Crimson Shadows, Lonely Kamel, Steak

Napalm records have gone mad this month and released a lot of albums at the same time so here's four I fancied:

Striker: City Of Gold (Napalm Records)

Canada have a bustling traditional metal scene at the moment with so many good bands keeping the makers of high tops and bullet belts in work. City Of Gold is Striker's third album and I will admit I had heard of them but never listened to them, I thought I'd give them a go as I like bands such as Enforcer, Cauldron, Axxion etc. This album could just have a one word review of WOW! This album is amazing, it encompasses everything you need in traditional metal guitars of Chris Segger and Timothy Brown that scream (for vengeance of course), Adam Brown's drums that plough through all opposition, Wild Bill's galloping bass work see the intro to Mind Control and the frankly awe inspiring vocals of Dan Cleary he is part Dickinson part Eric Adams and can has a stratospheric range, there are 15 tracks to this album and none of them them feel forced or out of place from the Municipal Waste style thrash of Second Attack, the speed metal assault of Underground, the 80's sleaze of Bad Decision and the epic Maidenesque quality of All I Want and the title track; all have some amazing guitar work with solos and riffs galore running throughout as well as the phenomenal vocals. Every song attacks straight out of the blocks, with a mix of old school metal with a modern sheen, hell they even do a good cover of Two Minutes To Midnight (although that does as always drop them a point) still this album is frankly awesome, now excuse me while I buy everything they have released! 9/10 

Crimson Shadows: Kings Among Men (Napalm Records)

Crimson Shadows are also from Canada and they play a brand of death metal that is reminiscent of Amon Amarth but also very similar to Dragonforce in delivery so cue speedy power metal guitars, blast beat drums, growled/screamed/clean vocal harmonies. As soon as Rise To Power kicks off you can hear that epic melodic element kick you right in the face with the percussive, rhythm assault kicking things off at a violent pace, before the dual guitar attack rips you a new one, probably the best song on the album is the second track Heroes Among Us mainly because it features a lot of powerful clean vocals that merge well with the death vocals in the background. This is possibly one of the bands downfalls, if they just had the clean vocals then I think I would enjoy the band more but the death vocals ruin it a bit for me, the detract a little and take away a lot of the impact from the extreme power metal delivery of the rest of the music. Still if you like your power metal with a bit of grunting and screaming then you could do much worse than Crimson Shadows; they will appeal to fans of Sonata Arctica, Dragonforce as well as Amon Amarth and Children Of Bodom, As I said the music is good as are the clean vocals its just for me the addition of death vocals that puts me off a bit, still a great album if the vocals appeal. 7/10  

Lonely Kamel: Shit City (Napalm Records)

So yes it is a pretty awful name for an album but that aside Lonely Kamel have got quite a neat album of blues based rock with stoner influences. Sounding as if they come from swamps of America, Lonely Kamel are actually Norwegian but you wouldn't notice unless you knew. The band merge big meaty, sludge riffs, with a fuzzy bass, crashing drums and a whiskey soaked blues howl all of these coming together to drive these nine tracks, the band do have stoner influences but they are more a of a blues rock band than anything else. The title track kicks things off with a snotty punk vibe, while White Lines has a trippy stoner vibe to it that invites you to enjoy the ride and Is It Over? is a bass heavy, bluesfest with lots smoke and haze. Lonely Kamel channel Blue Cheer, Leaf Hound, Vanilla Fudge as well as a dash of Hendrix and smidgen of Sabbath (on the closing Nightjar) The bands sound is rooted deep in their psychedelic blues based delivery. Shit City is their fourth album and it doesn't reinvent the wheel but it does do is continue on the path Lonely Kamel have ploughed their career, they deliver this stuff so well but if you are looking for deviation you will be sorely disappointed because when you hear the slow, heavy dirge of Seal The Perimeter replete with Ozzy style vocoder, you know that this is a band that stay true to their vision and keep the music of their heroes alive. If like your rock with a nod to the blues, drenched in reverb and fuelled by plant based narcotics then Lonely Kamel may be for you, go check out the bloozy Falling Down to see if you can get a handle on the Kamel!! 7/10

Steak: Slab City (Napalm Records)

Before you listen to Steak you have to ask yourself a question...do you like Kyuss? If the answer is no then walk away, however if the answer is "Hell Yes!" then desert rockers Steak will be right up your street, the wurlitzer of Coma starts things off as the bass throb builds in the background leading up to the scratchy guitar intro, then the drums kick in and it all comes together in true desert rock style with a sludge riff rolling along while Kippa shouts on top. So far so stoner, with the mighty Kyuss being the main basis of their sound but genre legends Fu Manchu, Nebula, Karma To Burn and even Sleep all get nods from the distorted, fuzz driven guitars of Reece, the Olivieri style hypnotic basswork of Cam and the free-form drumming of Sammy. The fuzz continues on Liquid Gold which is cut from the Orange Goblin sound of Sabbath worshipping, Pisser is guaranteed to get your head nodding with it's big, fat, brooding riff, which moves into the white noise interlude brings the almost Monster Magnet sounding Roadhead into life. These Londoners have appeared at fests all over the world the most notable being Desertfest in 2013 where they were on the same bill as Pentegram, Dozer etc. As a debut Slab City is a strong one full of the fuzzy, stoner rock of those bands from the American desert. If you don't like stoner rock, then you will not like this, however if you want a blissed out, riff worshipping rock album you will be unlikely to find one as good as this 8/10

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Reviews: Royal Blood, Death Penalty, The Scintilla Project

Royal Blood: S/T (Warner Bros)

The Royal Blood seem to be a kind of phenomenon at the moment arriving from almost nowhere and ascending the charts to land a number one album. As you work through the album you can see why this has happened as the band combine big rock riffs with a commercial sheen. They come from the old school sounding garage rock in the style of The White Stripes and the Black Keys, in fact when I first heard Figure It Out I thought it was Jack White himself. However where they differ from both these bands as they feature just a drummer and bassist, Ben Thatcher the skin smasher and Mike Kerr the string plucker as well as providing the blues howls. Despite just being two men and just being what can be considered as backing instruments they sound like a full band with Kerr's bass truly a lead instrument even having some solos and lead breaks on some tracks, the aforementioned Figure It Out being one that stands out. Yes this is simple yet effective, meat and two veg rock with a stripped back live-in-the-studio feel to every song, the band have purposefully eschewed overdubbing to make the album sound as live as possible and it works with the album having an authentic hard rock sound throughout. As I've said the band have a garage/blues rock style and with tracks like Blood hands having the bluesy delivery, before Little Monster rocks everything up again, the style varies a little on Ten Tonne Skeleton but for the most part this album is chart bothering rock at it's finest. An album that lives up to the hype and is another punch to those that declare rock dead (yes you Mr Simmons). 8/10

Death Penalty: S/T (Rise Above Records)

After the demise of Britain's premier doom metal band Cathedral many wondered what the band members would do next, well guitarist Gaz Jennings has plunged back into music with this heavy/doom rock band named after Witchfinder General's first album. The riffs of his old band are still there with Jennings slick, thick, sludgy guitar tone present on all of the songs however unlike his previous band everything is a lot more pacey with most of the songs coming thick and fast with all the hall marks Jennings gave to Cathedral but as I've said at a more rapid pace than means Death Penalty straddle the border of Doom metal and traditional heavy metal, due to the faster songs, long guitar solo passages and most notably Belgian Michelle Nocon's fantastic vocals, she has a real rock and roll voice that lends the band a sound similar to a female fronted Grand Magus. Which is far away from Lee Dorrian's evil vocals in Cathedral. She wails like a banshee and croons like Bruce on Eyes Of The Heretic, which has a Maiden-like gallop throughout driven by Raf Meukens' bass and Fredrik Cosemans' drums which lead the key change into the solo section, the doom legacy is still there though with the head banging heaviness of Golden Tides which has big distorted guitar riff. The band are unafraid to mix up the sound though as Into The Ivory Forest is very progressive in style before things get dark and gloomy again on Children Of The Night and the occult trappings of She's A Witch. This album rocks hard its the perfect match of old school doom and traditional heavy metal which means that it will have broad appeal for all fans of heavy metal. As they say as one door closes another opens so even though Cathedral are no more Death Penalty are nowhere near the last rites for Jennings creativity. 9/10     

The Scintilla Project: The Hybrid (UDR Records)

Scintilla is a British (straight to DVD) Sci-Fi/horror film based around a secret communist genetics programme deep underground called The Scintilla Project, now as a tie in to the film a band also called The Scintilla Project has been formed. It is the brain child of drummer Lionel Hicks (Balance Of Power) who was introduced to Saxon's Biff Byford by Toby Jepson the producer of Saxon's Call To Arms album. Now this is where it gets complicated, Saxon wrote a song for the film but this one song stretched into an entirly new group, most of the music was written by bassist Anthony Ritchie (also Balance Of Power), with Hicks contributing, the men found a couple of session guitarists to create the songs with but the real breakthrough came when Byford agreed to sing on the album, he brought with him HELL guitarist/producer extraordinaire Andy Sneap who contributes guitar and co produced the album with Byford. So with all that out of the way what does it sound like? Well think a more symphonic metal version of Saxon and you won't be far off, the songs have great dual guitars, a huge drums sound, a rumbling bass and some massive keys and synths. As the jangling synths of John K start off the opening track Scintilla (One Black Heart) it speeds through with some power metal riffs, a huge hooky chorus, showing that Byford, much like on the most recent Saxon albums, is in the best vocal form in his life! The ominous Beware The Children has a Queensryche feel to it which extends through Permanence which also has the theatricality of Kamelot et al, the piano driven Some Nightmare is a ballad with an almost AOR guitar solo in the middle. Yes this album is very, very good indeed, a hell of a soundtrack that is definitely the sum of it's parts, the addition of Byford and indeed Sneap is inspired as they put their stamp all over this record raising it from relative obscurity to having many sit up and take notice. I don't know how good the film is, but this album is very good indeed! 9/10       

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

World Of Metal 16: Gauntlet, Gory Blister, Seneron, Akb'al

Some more worldwide metal here with Japan, Ireland, Italy and even dear old Wales represented. Lets get too it shall we?

Gauntlet: Birthplace Of The Emperor (Spiritual Beast)

Japan is home to some of the fastest, wildest power metal around, with hyper blast guitar and keyboard runs throughout the bands have always tried to sound like Dragonforce (or indeed visa versa) with endless blastbeats and technical guitarfests. Gauntlet are not ones to deviate from type as their debut album is full of speed/power metal form the beginning to the end, the dual guitars duel throughout, the drums and bass gallop like a horse on speed driving every song along from Beyond The Wall which is speed all the way through before the synth driven In My Life adds a little bit of change but not much. The rest of the album continues in the super fast blitz metal vein with every song merging into one, yes the musicianship is very good but there doesn't seem to be any light and shade or change in style at all. Like Sonata Arctica, Helloween and of course Dragonforce the band go all out to play fast, fluid metal, despite the sameness of their songs their biggest downfall and one that is common with all Japanese bands is that the vocals can get wearing after a few songs, the bands frontman has a powerful voice and can hold the notes but its just the voice does start to grate after a few songs, in fact unless you really love this kind of music as they do in Japan the album will start to grate as all the songs I'm afraid to say sound the same. Still a good albums for fans of Asian power metal, just don't expect any audio experimentation or indeed deviation. 6/10

Gory Blister: The Fifth Fury (Sliptrick Records)

Gory Blister hail from Italy and they play technical death metal, the band have been around since the early 90's but released their first album in 1999, quite obviously The Fifth Fury is their fifth album and it full of some great technical death metal with furious but melodic guitar lines, battering ram drums and lots of guttural roars evoking the spirit of Cannibal Corpse, Dying Fetus, Decapitated and  Nile (whose Karl Sanders guested on their previous album). Much like our own Bloodshot Dawn the band merge harsh heavy death metal, blast beat drums from Joe La Viola and bowels of hell vocals with some truly excellent guitar playing with a flurry of off kilter technical riffs and solos coming thick and fast. See Prometheus Scars which moves back and forth through different speeds and time signatures throughout, this continues on (Meet Me) In The Mass Grave. Unusually for technical death metal bands the band are a four piece and only feature on guitar with vocalist Paolo "St John" John being just a vocalist much like Decapitated who have a similar set up, still this doesn't mean that the band have any less power with some truly brutal riffs many of which come from bassist Emi Dattolo who brings the head crushing riffage while Raff Sangiorgio shreds and solos like a madman. The final track is a bit of change in scenery as it almost purely orchestral and as such it so sounds like fellow countrymen Fleshgod Apocalypse and ends the album on a somewhat calmer but still as ominous note than the madness that has proceeded it. If you like your metal fast heavy and full of technical ferocity and demonic vocals then Gory Blister are right up your street. 7/10

Seneron: Parasites And Poets (Self Released)

Seneron are a three piece heavy rocking band from Derry, Ireland. I had the pleasure of reviewing their debut EP and I thought it was a great little taster for this eventual full length I hate to say it but I was right. This debut album builds on the EP and also improves on it, the big, ballsy biker rock element of the EP is still their with the band having  Black Spiders-like leather clad groove with some big riffs on tracks like Talk The Walk but what becomes apparent on this album is that the band have a bigger alternative metal delivery with an overarching nod to Mr Grohl and band, this is at it's most apparent on Breathe which sounds a lot like Everlong, as well as the Foos there are nods to Nirvana and even Seether with their alternative/grunge rock delivery. Yes Seneron are a new wave of alternative/grunge bands that are starting to emerge from the depths of music, a much overlooked genre I always thought it does have it's merits when it's done right, Seneron are doing it right with some catchy songwriting, lots of quiet/loud dynamics, some sledgehammer drumming from John Hamilton, driving bass work from Ivor Ferris and some fierce guitar stabs and a abrasive croon from John Shields. With big hooks on the punky What A Way To Go, an almost nu metal tinge to It All Ends Here, some head banging hard rock on Freak Show and Outbound which ends the album in fine muscular style. Seneron have truly improved on their debut in terms of production, song writing and delivery, this is a sound of a band that know the direction they are heading in and it is most definitely upwards! 8/10   

Akb'al: ...Of Darkness And Light... (Self Released)

"I do not do drugs, I am drugs" this quote from Salvador Dali couldn't be more apt for Welsh psych/prog/everything rockers from Wales. This their debut album is the sound of a mind unravelling, a conciousness altering a dream slowly turning into a nightmare. This album is not one that can be split into separate tracks it has to be heard as one piece of music from the immediacy of Of Darkness which starts with a haze and some schizophrenic vocals before moving into the hypnotic Tool-like bass led rhythm of The Ride which is the first song to show off Thoby Davis' clean vocals over the tabla infused backing and we get a glimpse of Michael Young-Temple's screams on the chorus(?). Akb'al have a very unique sound and delivery with all of the members being top class musicians MIC's drums being equally at home on the metallic  intro riffage of Totally Recalled which changes pace into a almost grunge verse before picking back up again. The guitars of Rob Miles drive everything along nicely swapping from rhythm to lead with ease. Its Young-Temple and Davis that provide the largest of the soundscapes though with YT providing the bass guitar, the aforementioned tabla, djembe, kaos pad and even a didgeridoo; while Davis has some Gilmour-like guitar phrasing, violin, handsonic, singing bowl and udu all of which means the album has musical palate of psychotropic colours. The majestic and mind expanding Equlibrium is a 9 minute show stopper that starts off with a big sound before reducing things down and building them up again with some majestic guitar playing and a heaving load of drums and bass to provide the psychedelic backing. Things don't stop there as I have said this album needs to be heard in it's entirety and as the final three tracks all clock in past 7 minutes with the almost Indian vibe Restless And Waiting is the perfect way to follow the melodic Equilibrium with it's quiet/loud dynamic into the dreamy Pacha Mama and then the 12 minute finale of Light which closes out the album with it's ambient lushness. Akb'al and this album shows that classic progressive rock, modern heavy metal, a 60's infused psychedelia, world wide influence and masterful musicanship can all come together combining technical prowess with a desire to be different from most modern music. As Dali says "Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings" Akb'al are taking off in style 10/10       
  

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A view From The Back Of The Room: The Queen Extravaganza

The Queen Extravaganza, St David's Hall

The Queen Extravaganza are a Queen tribute band formed by Queen drummer Roger Taylor, with each member hand picked by him to be a part of a touring project to keep the music of one of Britain's beloved rock band. I have always been a big fan of Queen purely because I like bands with a bit of theatrical flair and a certain fearlessness to their music. The band are primarily made up of American's and Canadians, they have toured all over the world with every show a sell out, so I was keen to see what their debut night in Cardiff was going to be like.

Doors opened at 7:30 and as I ascended the stairs to my seat, I could feel the excitement increasing inside the auditorium. I also noticed that I was perhaps the youngest person there still as the place filled the music started building and building and building until nothing. No we had to wait for another hour until the show started prompting a lot of tutting and passive aggressive clapping to try and bring the band on.

Still at just before 8:30 the show started, the curtain dropped and the opening riff to Tie Your Mother Down started things off in rocking style, I had done some research on the band and on the American tours they had a large membership, tonight they were a five piece; Drummer Tyler Warren, Bassist Francois Olivier-Doyon, Brit guitarist Nick Radcliffe (from Brighton), keyboardist/muscial director Brandon Ethridge and singer Marc Martel, which to me was perfect as Queen were never more than this themselves. As Tie Your Mother Down ended a medley of Queen hits were played including Don't Stop Me Now, Hammer To Fall, Save MeSeven Seas Of Rye, Dragon Attack before climaxing in Love Of My Life. What strikes you is just how tight this band are they don not miss a note! The second thing is vocalist Marc Martel is vocally a dead ringer for Freddie Mercury I mean he sounds exactly the same, he even has the mannerisms down to a tee, he makes this band. After the medley things were handed over to drummer Tyler Warren who gave a hell of a performance on Dragon Attack sounding exactly like Roger Taylor while smashing the drums, Martel came back guitar in hand and hips started swinging to Crazy Little Thing Called Love. After breaking to catch the collective breath they came back with three from A Night At The Opera with LAzing On A Sunday Afternoon in all of its Wagnerian glory before Warren took over again for I'm In Love With My Car climaxing in the song everyone knows the immortal  Bohemian Rhapsody, the harmonising was amazing with all the band providing live harmonies, before a backing screen played the Scarmoosh middle section and the band rushed on for the Wayne's World head banging.

A huge ovation followed and Oliver-Doyon played that unmistakeable bass riff from Under Pressure which featured more singing along from the now fully enthralled, the Bowie parts were handled by Ethridge who gave a spot on impersonation of the thin white duke, A Kind Of Magic came next continuing the funk and I Want I All blasted all that a way with a dose of metal. You're My Best Friend brought another sing along and after an hour in the pace and the joy was unrelenting, another break before a drum solo into Stone Cold Crazy. The claps of Radio Ga Ga came next still haviong the same synth power it did all those years ago, then the ode to the larger woman with Fat Bottom Girls and the set ender Somebody To Love (cue another mass singalong) which was a majestic end to a phenomenal set! As the standing ovation rippled through the audience all signs pointed to an encore, two songs were a given, one wasn't, questions were answered quickly with The Show Must Go On being a fitting tribute to the majesty of Freddie, Brian, Roger and John. The finale was of course the one-two punch of the percussive chant of We Will Rock You led the crowd again and the things were totally finished with the self aggrandising We Are The Champions. It's hard to disagree with the lyrics of the song, this band are truly fantastic, they are a better version of Queen than the current version of Queen with May and Taylor. I encourage everyone to see this act in the flesh, they are simply awe inspiring with how good they are and with a rich back catalogue of songs to choose from and bigger venues/performance opportunities they can only get better and better with every tour. Never have I seen a band so perfect in both ability and delivery expect them to erupt into arenas soon. there are not enough adjectives to describe them. Love Live The Queen (Extravaganza)!!! 11/10 (I'm allowed)

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The View From The Back Of The Room: Peter Pan Speedrock

Peter Pan Speedrock, Suns Of Thunder, Lacertilla, Whiskeydick

So into the bowels of Cardiff as the NATO summit ended it was time for some angry rock music in the shape of 4 (originally 5) riff heavy rock bands, with the show headlined by Dutch Rock N Roll Punks Peter Pan Speedrock.

As we entered the gig we had been told that J.D Pinkus from the Butthole Surfers was not going to be on the tour, or indeed at the show so now we had 4 bands rather than the original 5. Still as myself and my compatriot Rhodri, entered the venue we were greeted by a stage with just two stools.

Whiskeydick

We weren't left in suspense for long as the two mountainous members of Whiskeydick entered the room and took up their positions on the stools, acoustics in hand. What followed was a revelation the two man band played an amazing, joyous set of Hillbilly rock music full of toe tapping, guitar picking Southern spirit. The band had hearty songs about drinking, fucking and the Devil. Sung with relish by the big vocals of Fritz who booms every song with a voice that are clearly inspired and shaped by the drink in their namesake. As he crooned and bellowed he also plays some great countrified chicken pickin' rhythm playing and as he does the second man of this Texan tandem; Rev Johnson plays some searing lead guitar using an array of pedals to create some excellent solos, he plays the acoustic guitar like an electric lead player with EVH and even Dimebag coming to mind. As the crowd swelled the band exploded in a rebel yell of noise getting the crowd moving and shouting the occasional hell yeah in reverence to the bands talent. This is blue collar music perfect for drinking, fighting and romancing in a venue such as this. I urge everyone to see Whiskeydick as often as possible they are a hell of band and I will proudly wear their t-shirt as much as possible despite the looks their name may incur. A great way to start this show and a pretty strong gauntlet laid down to the rest of the bands. 9/10

Lacertilla

The lizards are back!!!  Having seen Lacertilla's first gig as a whole unit the Welsh band made up of of members of Throun, Culver and the awesome Akb'al seemed to be a much more cohesive unit than when I first saw them. The performance was tighter but the riffs were still heavy as hell, with a set packed with heavyweight guitars, thundering drums and bone rattling bass all topped with Fry's strong vocals. These guys have a doom/stoner/sludge vibe that brings thick guitars and crushing percussion to the table as well as some great stage presence and song construction. The partisan crowd were well into their psychedelic heaviness with heads banging and fists pumping, with calls for everyone to move forward the crowd duly obliged  meaning that the gig got a lot more intense very quickly, the shaman at the front bewitched the crowd before joining them in their enjoyment rocking out while performing as the band laid down a heavy backing groove. Lacertilla are definitely a band to watch and like I said the fact that they are drawn from so many other local bands shows that the South Wales rock scene is very alive and well! (and makes them a kind of supergroup I guess) They are band best experienced live (perhaps because they have no recorded content) as they are all about the feel of the music and what it can do to you. So let me tell you it feels so good when in a small venue like this. Go check them out! 8/10

Suns Of Thunder

As the crowd were now thoroughly warmed up it was time for Suns Of Thunder to continue the fuck tonne of rock that this night was turning into! The band burst on to the stage with their groove based rock exploding out of the speakers, more riffs as this Swansea four piece added a liberal slice of funk and blues to the heavy rock riffs that had come before. The band were more in the classic rock vein but still the stoner ethos was rife with the dual guitar/vocal assault from Greg Bombroffe and Matt Williams which gave the band a sound that is a mixture of Black Label Society, Alabama Thunderpussy, Fu Manchu, Kyuss and even old schooler like Zep or AC/DC. The band sound like they come from California with a mix of blues and hard rock meaning that the songs fizzed with heavy riffs and a huge bass sound from Chris James. I've never seen Suns Of Thunder before even though they have been doing the rounds for a while, I'm glad I did see them though as they are a great band, their brand of blues based stoner riff rock is right up my street and when you have a beer in hand you can just bang your head and enjoy. A band that I will be looking into more and I encourage others to do the same! 8/10

Peter Pan Speedrock

After three great bands it was time for the headliners and as the arrived on stage and started to play their scuzzy punk n roll riffs I enjoyed the first  few songs but their appeal quickly wore thin with many of the songs sounding the same and by the middle of their set I left. I'm sorry but punk has never really done it for me and despite their album being good their live show is a lot of bluster and noise with not much in terms of substance, maybe I was tired from the barrage of riffs that had proceeded it but live the Dutch band did very little for me. 5/10

Despite leaving early the night had been very good, two of the bands showed well an truly that the Welsh rock scene is alive and well, one band showed that their may be an even littler ol' band from Texas and with a drink in hand the night was a full on rifffest right up until the end still cest la vie three quarters isn't bad at all.
     

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Another Point Of View: Casualties Of Cool (Review By Paul)

Casualties of Cool- Union Chapel, Islington, London

So where do you start with Devin Townsend? Metal legend? Musical genius? Complete nut job? Well the truth is probably somewhere in the middle of all of these. Readers of this illustrious tome will be fully aware that the majority of our team are pretty big fans of the man. After turns with Steve Vai and then driving forward Strapping Young Lad, his prolific solo career has seen his stock rise to a level where he can now headline at the Royal Albert Hall (although he was criminally low on the line up at Sonisphere this year).

Townsend’s latest release under the Casualties of Cool banner has already been reviewed by Matt earlier this year and it is one of the most stunning albums of 2014. An intimate evening at London’s Union Chapel coincided with a couple of days work in London and was an opportunity not to be missed.

The Union Chapel is a working church and is a hauntingly beautiful building, saved from dereliction in the 1980s. It also serves as an entertainment venue, homeless person’s project and a grade 1 listed building.

As I approached the entrance the queue of expectant fans stretched along Compton Terrace. Plenty of DTP t-shirts were on display along with a number of Ziltoid shirts (I still don’t get this part of Devin’s world). As I joined the queue I found myself talking to the parents of James Leach, bassist with support band Messenger who has also been part of SiKth, The Hell and Krocodil. They were thoroughly lovely company and we mused about the demise of some of the music venues around the UK. As an aside here folks, do join any campaign which supports live music venues, such as the recent petition to save The Fleece in Bristol. Support live music!

Entering the church, which was flooded with the dying rays of the evening sun through the many magnificent stained glass windows, I purchased a signed CD and took my seat, taking the opportunity to position myself on the end of a pew at the back. The Union Chapel provides a brilliant view from every seat as the floor slopes towards the stage. However, the extra leg room and clear sight line was a good choice.

Messenger

Messenger arrived on stage to a warm ovation. They are a London based band who had played at Sonisphere earlier this year. A five piece, Messenger play a fusion of progressive rock, folk and psychedelic music. It is certainly not three bar rock n’ roll. They have a layered complex sound which has shades of Floyd, Porcupine Tree through to Radiohead. Playing a short set of five songs from their debut album Illusory Blues, Messenger who comprise Khaled Lowe (guitars, vocals), Barnaby Maddick (guitars, vocals), Jaime Gomez Arellano (drums, percussion), Dan Knight (guitars, keyboards) and James Leach (bass) captivated the audience from start to finish. They were an excellent choice for the openers and I shall be hunting their album down for further listening. 8/10

Casualties Of Cool

Arriving on stage to the expected ovation, there was the usual technical hitch which appears to dog Devin Townsend every time he plays the UK. He immediately cracked a couple of jokes and was then told in no uncertain terms by COC partner Ché Aimee Dorval that the talking had to stop. He was also somewhat comically told that he had a maximum of three “thank you’s” for the entire show. Dropping the houselights, the band then delivered 90 minutes of the most sublime country rock. Extended opener Daddy set the tone with delicate structure and Dorval’s beautiful voice to the fore. For the entire evening, Townsend was content to play the music, supplying the vocals where needed but for the main allowing Dorval to lead. Fans of DTP will know that she has worked with Townsend before on 2009’s Ki, but in this setting she was really allowed to demonstrate her vocal range along with her mean rhythm guitar playing. The Code, possibly my favourite track from the album followed, and by this time I was already pleasantly mellow and relaxed. In fact, the hardness of the pew probably stopped me drifting off a couple of times during the evening as it was so comforting. (*Cough*-Matt) Imagine a warm duvet slowly enveloping you into a world of complete bliss and you aren't far away. That’s not to say it was boring; oh no, this was captivating stuff and Mountaintop, Flight and then Ether continued to both sooth and amaze in equal measure. The quality of Townsend’s guitar work was just spectacular. You’ll be aware of his musical abilities from his solo work, such as Ziltoid where he played all the instruments but for me his guitar work is as underrated as many other great rock musicians. He is, as you would expect, surrounded by excellent musicians and tonight was no exception. Forgive me for not capturing the names but alongside Townsend and co-collaborator Dorval was the other musician from the album, Morgan of the bassist, guitarist, percussionist and keyboard player; However, Matts Ågren, the other collaborator on the album was present on drums. As the rest of the evening unfolded, there was the occasional eerie silence prompted by the atmospheric setting and the sheer quality of the musical delivery. However, this was not at all uncomfortable and indeed enhanced the enjoyment with everyone desperate to absorb each note. The music continued with Moon / Pier, Bones and the delicious Forgive Me before finally a quick opportunity for Devin to kick out the jams with an enthralling guitar/drum duel with Ågren during Deathscope. Closing with The Bridge bang on the 10:30pm curfew; a lengthy and deserved standing ovation followed. I, like the entire audience had really been enchanted throughout the evening by a performance far to the left of much of Townsend’s other work. This really was ‘late night music’ as Townsend had previously referred, but of a quality which actually surpasses much of his heavier work. Outstanding stuff and another contender for gig of the year. 10/10