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Saturday, 25 April 2015

An Eye To The Local Scene: Maddie Jones, The Luke Doherty Band, Celtic Pride

Maddie Jones: Vita Brevis (Self Released)

So little away from are normal remit here but Cardiff based singer songwriter Maddie Jones has crafted an album that is so musically dextrose and beautiful that it would be a shame to ignore it. Her distinct smouldering vocals are backed by a lush soundscape of music behind her. Drawing influences from everywhere her track Not Made For This is the soundtrack to a movie set in smoky jazz club (possibly featuring Humphrey Bogart), Don't Sit Still is a stripped back affair with just Maddie's acoustic guitar, a cello and a viola setting the scene as Jones uses her stunning vocals to cast a spell on the listener, she has a fragility to her vocal that can move into a deafening roar at a drop of a hat. As I said the album is a myriad of styles and influences with the band backing her ably to create the musical vision, She Was Young features some funk with repetitive guitar driving the song along as the synths simmer under the surface. Jones plays multiple instruments on this album, including the ukulele and the clarinet but Charlie Francis holds his own with bass, keys, guitars, percussion and produces the album expertly to really emphasise the multiple layers of sound, he is aided by Daniel Fitzgerald's guitar playing, Laurence Wickham's drums, which are most effective on the ominous Dirty Little Secret and Richard Jackson's piano and keys topping off the bands multiple instrumentalists. The performances by all involved are amazing and they really flesh out the songs brilliantly taking them above and beyond the normal singer-songwriter faire, with elements of Sara Bareillies, Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, Carole King and Anna Calvi, Maddie Jones has created a very professional, exciting and eclectic album full of well written, composed and performed songs that just sizzle with expertise of an artist far wiser and well travelled than Ms Jones, this album is a fantastic piece of work from an artist that deserves to be noticed. 9/10     

The Luke Doherty Band: Six Strings And Stetson (Self Release)

Right I'll get this out of the way now, I you don't like Stevie Ray Vaughan (Why wouldn't you?) then The Luke Doherty Band will not be for you; however if you, like me love the smooth Texan guitar tone of SRV and old school honky-tonk blues playing at it's finest then TLDB will be for you. The man himself handles the six strings with some serious chops, 12 bar blues is the name of the game with the same kind of reverbed strutting guitar work as SRV as well as Billy Gibbons and Rory Gallagher and if these comparisons aren't indicators of his talent then I don't know what is. Happily is band are no slouches, from the opening slavo of Solar Flares On The Sun we get cowbell pounding percussion from Simon Parratt and the parping blues harp of frontman Paul Morgan who also has voice that sounds like a soul singer after too much honey whiskey and while he doesn't stand out too much on the first track bassist Ant Biggs is the shuffle behind Hope Some Rain Will Come. The album gives you the full spectrum of blues playing as Caught In This Light has the choo-choo shuffle of Howlin Wolf  or John Lee Hooker while Fantasy Girl and 0834 has the cheeky, sleazy lyrics of ZZ Top although Standing On A Rock is pure Top, while 100 Bricks has a little of Hendrix in it's gospel-like offering and we go back to Rory and SRV on Hey Man and Fish Bone. This is a true blues album from the Newport guitarist, old school blues played with soul and a live-in-the-studio feel, turn it up and let your booty shake! 8/10     

Celtic Pride: Light Up The Sky (Self Released)

Celtic Pride made their name in the late 90's relying on a very classic hard rock/metal sound forged in the mid 80's. Celtic Pride were formed by ex-Man and multiple session man Bob Richards on drums and Don and Rob Williams providing the dual axe attack, these men remain to this day and Light Up The Sky is their second album after numerous line up changes between this album and their last they have settled on their 'classic' or in their words legendary line up with Dom Hill on bass and Justin Matthews on vocals. The album is full of muscular hard rock and melodic metal with touches of AOR on the slower tracks like Shine On the World which features some great fret melting from Don Williams and impassioned vocals from Matthews. With nods to the classics Celtic Pride have elements of Lizzy especially on the celtic flourishes of the title track, some AC/DC like chest beating on Bar Room Brawl a healthy dose of Y&T and of course some Maiden especially on The Patriot which features special guest (and Bob Richards' former bandmate) Adrian Smith on guitar. Celtic Pride have produced a great effort with some hard rocking tracks that emulate the golden years of British (or in this case Welsh) hard rock. 7/10 

Reviews: Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock, 4ARM, Danny Cavanagh (By Paul)

Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock: Spirit On A Mission (Inakustik)

The latest release from German guitar legend Michael Schenker and his Temple of Rock outfit is a decent if unspectacular slab of hard rock. Schenker is in top form, frantic fretwork laced with his traditional bluesy feel. Opener Live and Let Live races along at top speed and whets the appetite with a pounding rhythm section from ex-Scorpions duo Herman Rarebell and Francis Buchholz. Communication is a slower track with Doogie White given ample opportunity to show his vocal skills. However, from here on, the tracks become a little bit repetitive and I’m afraid some of the lyrics are just typical mid-tempo heavy metal rubbish. Sure, the traditional format of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus are all present and the tunes are decent enough with Schenker’s playing his usual high quality; it just seems a little stale and dare I say it, dated. Vigilante Man plods along tediously, and although Rock City is faster, the lyrics are just drivel. Maybe I'm being a little hard on the band, as it’s not dreadful by any level, it just does so little for me. Saviour Machine at least has the traits of MSG from the 1980s when the star was really in the ascendency, a stomping beat and wailing guitar work, combined with Wayne Finlay's solid keys and rhythm guitar work. I wonder as I listened if it was just White’s vocal style that irritated me about this album but I've seen the guy live with this band several times and he’s always been excellent. The guitar work at the beginning of Something Of The Night mimic Flight Of The Bumblebee, whilst the song itself is classic 1970s rock, suitable for Deep Purple or Rainbow, which of course is where these guys influences are based. Let The Devil Scream has a quality riff which provides the basis for a Dio-style tune, complete with religious history in the lyrics, before the album draws to a close with three routine songs, including the ridiculous Good Times. So overall, a bit of a disappointing jumble of songs, with a definite old school hard rock feel to them. It may be the quality of the song writing that persuades Schenker to fill his live sets with tracks from his past, the classics from UFO, MSG and the Scorpions always receiving astonishing responses. As I said, the guitar work on Spirit On A Mission is as top drawer as always, it maybe just that the sum of the parts can’t consistently meet that quality. 6/10

4ARM: Survivalist (Self Released)

When Aussie thrashers 4Arm’s third album, Submission To Liberty landed on my mat in 2012 I was blown away by the sheer quality of it. Yes, it was a hybrid of Machine Head, Slayer and Metallica but it was fresh and kicked hard. Three years later, and their latest release Survivalist has finally arrived. Refreshed by two line-up changes, namely vocalist and lead guitarist Marcus Johansson and guitarist Evan K, remaining members Andy Hinterrieter (bass) and drummer Michael Vafiotis have delivered a raging beast of an album. Produced by Matt Hyde (Trivium, Machine Head, Kreator, Slipknot), Survivalist is a classic all-out thrash assault, opening with Eyes Of The Slain and finishing with the album’s title track, an epic eight minute slow burner which culminates in some astonishing fretwork. 4Arm follow the trash blueprint throughout, shredding guitars, more hooks than a Saturday meat market (Lets hope PETA don't read this - Ed), riffs dripping from its open pores and a powerful and at times quite stunningly aggressive rhythm section. Sure, Hyde’s production influence is clear here; at times the Trivium and Machine Head influences are very apparent but then so is the Metallica and what thrash band post 1984 doesn't have that? Overall, the latest release from the Melbourne outfit is excellent and if you like high quality thrash metal then this will be right up your street. Hopefully we will get to see them back on our shores again before too long. 9/10

Daniel Cavanagh: Memory and Meaning (Pledge Music)

The main writer for Liverpool’s Anathema, Daniel Cavanagh embarked on a pledge music campaign in order to fund and produce an album of his take on some of his influences and favourite artists. The result is well worth the pledge, with ten tracks of the highest quality and some interesting choices too. An all-acoustic set, Cavanagh’s sublime guitar work combined with his uplifting vocal performance adds fresh dimensions to some older classics. Highlights for me include the timeless Song To The Siren (Tim Buckley), a beautiful version of Dire Straits’ Romeo And Juliet and a very refreshing Wasted Years (Iron Maiden). What makes this album so special is the heartfelt effort which you can feel Cavanagh has put into it; each track having something a little different to make it stand out from the original. Album closer High Hopes (Pink Floyd) is an ideal example of this. If you fancy something a little different, then give this a go. 10/10

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Reviews: Ascendia, Night, Abrahma

Ascendia: The Lion And The Jester (Self Released)

I hadn't heard much about Canadians Ascendia but Jesus Christ on a stick I wish I lived in Canada so I could see this band live. They play modern progressive power metal of the highest quality, with an album that blends modern thrash, with keyboard driven prog metal, a sprinkling of djent on At The End Of It All all topped by the phenomenal vocals of Nick Sakal who is part Russell Allen, part Howard Jones part Matt Barlow all wrapped up in one man, with his dulcet booming vocals fitting the stirring musical backing that is heavy and dramatic in equal effect. Remember Me is modern metal at it's finest harking to Killswitch Engage with it's metalcore rhythm underscored by the keys and orchestrations of Maestro who is key to the bands sound adding the cinematic and classical elements that imbue the bands sound with a proffessional feel, see No More Tales To Tell as the perfect example to this merging a film score, with a fist pumping power metal track.

That's not the say the rest of the band are slouches the guitars of Jon Lov drive the riffage like Adam D but he also solos like Michael Romeo burning up the fret board with his fleet fingered guitar playing on Moonchild (not a Maiden cover) as well as every other song on the album. All this lead melody is backed by John Abanador's technical bass playing and the furious and dynamic equally adept to the faster tracks such as My Last Song but also the dramatic ballads Last Forever and The Song That You Deserved. The songs on this album are fantastic, fans of the power/prog genre will lap up, the title track has pathos, power and indeed is the most progressive track, Faded Away has the same emotional gravitas as an Evergrey track and the album ends with the acoustic bonus track Starlit Eyes. This is a fantastic debut by the Canadians who have knack for this kind of music, find the album an let it blow you away! 10/10  

Night: Soldiers Of Time (Gaphals)

Another week another retro/trad metal group from Sweden, they do seem to have more of them than I've had hot dinners. Well with a handful of bass gallop, a waist lined with a bullet belt and a dual guitar assault Night are knee deep in 80's metal riding the wave of Enforcer, In Solitude etc. Night do it very well with gritty guitars coming from Midnight Proppen and Burning Fire who also shrieks and screeches over the classic sounding tracks like We're Not Born To Walk Away, the gutsy Above The Ground while Highway Flip masters the bass working with session drummer Martin Hjerstedt. Despite their genre tag they aren't afraid to mix it up a little as Towards The Sky is an acoustic break in proceedings and Secret War does sound a little like a Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins with a bit of country thrown in. They can still rock like a bastard though with the Kings & Queens having the same style as Mercyful Fate a band they sound a lot like as well as the normal influences. Night have released a great second album here and fans of the genre will love it especially Ride On which is a track that can be blasted at full volume out of a muscle car on the sunset strip. A good album that is yet another inclusion into the retro metal scene. 7/10      

Abrahma: Reflections In The Bowels Of A Bird (Small Stone Records)

Parsisian mob Abrahma play psychedelic heavy rock that incorporates a heaving slab of doom on tracks like Omens Pt 1 and Weary Statues. With the four men in perfect sync, the tracks all complement each other to take you on a kaleidoscopic journey through mind-expanding music with every single guitar riff and melody from Seb Bismuth and Nicholas Heller floating in the dreamy passages like Omens Pt 2 and smashing you in the guts like a sledgehammer on A Shepherd's Grief  while Gillaume and Benjamin Collin provide the booming bottom end see An Offspring To Werewolves. Bismuth also hollers over the wall of noise and provides the electronics and general audio madness. This is a good addition to the genre but is very much of the genre; a trip of an album with some low, slow, psych rock but one that doesn't cove any new ground. Psych/doom fanboys will lap this up and it's best enjoyed with a large doob. 6/10

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Reviews: Von Hertzen Brothers, JettBlack, Turbowolf

Von Hertzen Bros: New Day Rising (Spinefarm)

Fourth album and Finland's trio of brothers plus their hearty band mates once again bring their intelligent but catchy brand of rock music to the masses, after their breakthrough of Stars Aligned and the defining Nine Lives the band have all but abandoned the progressive leanings from their music in as far as the songs are more concise and immediate but still contain the same kind of virtuostic musicality the band have always plied their trade with, so less progressive rock and more progressive music that owes as much to 30 Seconds To Mars as it does to Pink Floyd or Rush. The album gets things going with the punchy, punky title track before Juha Kuoppala's keyboards are all over You Know My Name, which moves through several different styles in it's five minutes. So far so 'prog' in it's truest sense then relying on their musical integrity and creativity than the showing off that prog bands employ, as Aerosmith says; they do indeed let the music do the talking.

Once again the brothers provide the the basis of all of the songs with the three guitars working in unison as Mikko Kaakkuriniemi's drumming keeps incredible pace and moves them through the various time signatures on the album. They are still not adversed to a ballad with the emotive and atmospheric Black Rain showing off Mikko VH's superb vocals as does Love Burns which is a slower paced but involving track that builds into a crescendo. Again another mix of genres here, see the folksy Dreams, with the same great song writing they have always had but this album will alienate the prog rock hardcore who love long songs and technical wankery, however for the most part it is yet another splendid album from the brothers filled with excellent 'progressive' songwriting and songs that enchant and delight but never outstay their welcome while the album itself grows in stature with every listen. 8/10    

JettBlack: Disguises (Cherry Red)

I like JettBlack, I have since their inception, I loved their debut, I still play it to this day and their live show is top notch filled with excitement and a passion that burns red hot. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for this; their third album, in total there are four good songs on it the best being Kick In The Teeth which harks back to their sleazy debut, the rest is pop-rock filler with a bit too much chart bothering, preening and smaltz especially on the absolutely dire Black & White. Much like the new Halestorm album this is the sound of Jettblack trying to break out with a more broad sound, however to my ears they have become bland with an album of mid-paced, lacklustre tracks that have no spark or indeed the kind of fist pumping sing along quality the band are known for coupled with too many love ballads that are just the pits really. Will Stapleton is a good singer but he seems too tame on this record, staying in his lower register throughout with no real passion, the band still play well but the songs really let this record down. I've stood by JettBlack when people called them masochistic (one major music magazine in particular) because of their tongue-in-cheek 80's inspired lyrics but it almost seems that by trying to appeal to a bigger audience they have lost that edge that drew me too them initially. Let's hope their set at Bloodstock focusses on their first two albums and the few OK songs on this record. Very disappointing. 4/10    

Turbowolf: Two Hands (Spinefarm)

Bristolities Turbowolf are the maddest band I have heard for a while fusing garage punk with 60's Zappa-like psychedelia and classic hard rock but as well as being nutcases they are also one of the most interesting young bands around. Two Hands is their second album and this one distils their sound into just over 30 minutes of anarchic, mind bending rock and roll. Invisble Hand starts things off slowly with its guitar strummed intro which turns into a thumping opener that builds up slamming straight into the funky Rabbits Foot which does indeed bring the voodoo mentioned in the chorus, this is killer track which is anchored by Andy Ghosh's fuzzy guitar and Lianna Lee Davies' bass, Solid Gold is a crazy disco song drenched in back masking, samples and various weirdness which shows off the synths of Chris Georgiadis as does Toy Memaha. His vocals too are brilliantly erratic fitting the music perfectly with their unique soulful but fierce delivery that works as well on the rocking Nine Lives as they do on the trippy, reverb drenched MK Ultra. Nine Lives also features some relentless drumming AND cowbell from Blake Davies, who also shines on Rich Gift.  The dreamy psychedelia is washed away with the metallic Twelve Houses. This album is gloriously unhinged and delivers a mighty punch that leaves you breathless as Pale Horse ends this fantastic album in fine style, a little piece of madness that just takes you away to another astral plain. I need to catch these guys live!!! 9/10  

Reviews: The Prodigy, Katatonia, Nightwish (Reviews By Paul & Stief)

The Prodigy: The Day Is My Enemy (Take Me To The Hospital)

It’s been six years since their last offering but the sixth release by the metal world’s favourite electro dance outfit is well worth the wait. I'm going to nail my colours to the mast here. I've always had admiration for the Essex outfit who have delivered some absolute monster tunes since their first album Experience landed in 1992. Their music dominates my work out mixes and when it comes to the top track in my spin classes, well, they destroy all who attempt to get close.
The Day Is My Enemy is possibly The Prodigy’s most brutal and heavy release of all time. The title track kicks off proceedings big time, with loops and pounding bass hammering away. Nasty, the first single follows with Keith Flint’s snarling Essex tones combining with Maxim to accompany the huge synths and vicious drum beats. The whole album is laced with aggression, massive bass and drum and enough of an edge to transport you back to a time when this music was fresh and raw.

Highlights on an album packed with killer tracks? Well Destroy is going to do just that with an absolutely destructive back line as it builds slowly and then explodes to smash your head on the floor. Wild Frontier, the second release from the album will provoke carnage amongst the mosh pits and also contains some of the most addictive hooks The Prodigy have ever come up with; Beyond The Deathray has a real old school feel to it whilst Get Your Fight On, well, yeah! That! I just can’t fault the album; it’s relentless; ideal for barrelling along the motorway to, it pumps you in the gym and generally picks you up when you fall. It’s no calming influence, and the urge to punch a defenceless farmyard animal was strong, especially after Rok-Weiler had given me a clip ‘round the ear but then, what do actually expect from this lot? Overall, this is a much more consistent release than Invaders Must Die, and a glorious return for a band who still lead from the front with Liam Howlett and co. providing an album bursting with meaty hooks and riffs. An album with 14 tracks is always going to have a couple of weaker moments, but there are few stragglers on here and even those at the back of the herd will prove a mighty challenge for any predators wishing to pick them off. Roll on 8 May at the MIA. It’s going to be messy. 9/10

Katatonia: Sanctitude (Kscope)

Like Anathema, Katatonia have transformed from the chrysalis of their death metal origins into a quite sensational, beautiful outfit, totally comfortable with their evolving sound and direction. Sanctitude is a recording of their sold out acoustic show at the Union Chapel in London in May 2014 as part of the Dethroned and Uncrowned European Tour. I was fortunate enough to see Casualties of Cool at this venue last year and it is perfect for the type of acoustic performance that Katatonia delivered. The acoustics are captured spectacularly and really help to enhance the quality of the songs. The production is sensitive and top quality. The audience are respectful but hugely appreciative and the set list is nothing short of amazing. Old favourites such as Teargas and Sleeper mingle with tracks from Dead End Kings (The Racing Heart, Lethean) and rarities such as the never before played live Gone (Discouraged Ones), Day from Brave Murder Day and Unfurl from the July EP. The atmosphere of the evening is captured on the album, something that is rare in a live recording. The acoustic re-workings provide completely fresh versions of many of the tracks; One Year From Now being a super example. 

The band lost two members not long before the start of the tour, and Jonas Renkse makes sure that there is ample acknowledgement for Bruce Soord who delivers some beautiful guitar, keyboards and backing vocals and fantastic percussion from JP Aslund. They are ably supported by Renkse on vocals and guitar as well as Anders Nystrom and Niklas Sandin on acoustic bass. The album maintains your interest due to the quality of the performance and the variation in the set list as well as the genuine quality in the delivery. The percussion and guitar work are magnificent and Renkse’s vocals are ideally suited to the echoing venue. Although there are some rarities contained within the setlist, Katatonia ensured they finished with three of their more well-known tracks; the stunning Omerta, Evidence and conclude with The One You Are Looking For with guest vocals from Silje Wergeland. Sanctitude is a quite beautiful piece of work; captivating in its delivery and a clear demonstration of the power of quality composition. Katatonia have long been one of my favourite bands and this release further strengthens that bond. A work of sheer excellence from one of the best bands around today. 10/10

Nightwish: Endless Forms Most Beautiful (Nuclear Blast)

The first album in 3 years from Nightwish, and the first full length with new frontwoman Floor Jansen, Endless Forms... is a return to form, albeit a slight one, from the (mostly) Finnish band. Following on from album-cum-film score, Imaginaerum, album opener Shudder Before The Beautiful rings out with echoes of older songs, such Dark Chest Of Wonders, symphonic guitars, keyboards and strings adding the bombastic sound that we've come to know and love from the band. Jansen's voice fits perfectly with the rest of the band; whereas original frontwoman Tarja Turunen could hit the high notes, and Annete Ozlon had her clean vocals, Floor's vast vocal range allows her to take up the roles of both of her predecessors and it is this realisation that makes it slightly disappointing that we do not get a sample of Floor's operatic talents until very late in the album. Having heard her work with her own band, Revamp, as well as seeing her live, it feels as if Floor's voice is not being as utilised as it could be, the breakdown of Yours Is An Empty Hope being the only time we hear her using harsh vocals and growling.

This does however give the album more of an open feel than previous ones, the band allowing themselves to spread out a bit more creatively. Our Decades In The Sun had a very power ballad-esque sound, with Troy Donockley's pipes adding a folky touch without feeling too forced. Elan feels like a callback to The Last Of The Wilds and it's obvious that the band are constantly adding strings to their bow, Imaginaerum's film-score sound an obvious inspiration behind The Eyes Of Sharbat Gula, a slow build up with chanting from both band and the children, giving it a film credit feel. It wouldn't be a Nightwish album without an epic song, and The Greatest Show On Earth is just that, coming in at shy of 24 minutes, it gives us a taste of every facet of Nightwish's repertoire, from Tuomas Holopainen's keyboards, Jansen's aforementioned operatic voice (along with plenty of mid-range stuff too), the heavy drumming of Jukka Nevalainen paired with the thumping bass of Marco Hietala, who also supports Floor with his baritone vocals and some great solos from Emppu Vuorinen as well as Troy's pipes. There's even some narration from Richard Dawkins, along with a full chorus and orchestra. The song seems to drag in places, animal sounds being used as filler, obviously supporting the story being told, but feeling as if they go on a bit too long at times. Overall, Endless Forms... is a great album, but as mentioned before, doesn't seem to fully utilise the talent of the band, particularly their new frontwoman. Here's hoping the band realise this come the next album. 7/10

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Another Point Of View: Blind Guardian (Live Review By Paul)

Blind Guardian:  HMV Forum, London

A sold out Forum witnessed a quite stunning night of magical story telling from one of the metal world’s most engaging bands. Although the audience appeared in the main to be a reconstruction of the international World of Warcraft play-offs, the passion and energy which was demonstrated by the crowd and mirrored on stage was world class. Rarely has such enthusiasm greeted the arrival of Germans in the UK capital.

Warming up the rapidly filling venue, Israel’s premier metal outfit Orphaned Land (9) are now much more familiar to many of our readers and indeed metal fans in general on these shores. Fired by a triumphant show at BOA, a 10th anniversary show to celebrate the fine Mabool album in London and a shared award (with Palestinian group Khalas) at the Metal Hammer awards last year, the Orphaned Land star continues to rise and shine brightly. Led by charismatic and impressive frontman Kobi Farhi, Orphaned Land arrived on stage bang on 7pm with the intro tapes to opener All Is One filling the Forum with Eastern promise. The Simple Man followed quickly with bassist and continuous headbanger Uri Zelha and impressive drummer Matan Shmuely dominating the sound with their rhythm section. Unfortunately the muddy sound tended to mask the twin guitars of Chen Balbus and Idan Amsallem. Happily the band delivered some of their heavier material which allowed the bass lines to enhance rather than dominate the sound; Barakah from The Never Ending Way Of Orwarrior and The Kiss Of Babylon from Mabool receiving a warm reception from the audience who by now were fully engaged. A change of tempo allowed Kobi to make reference to the conflict in the middle-East and his by now customary but no less heart-warming reference to music and metal bringing together both Israeli and Palestinian before the beautiful Brother was introduced. If only guys like this were politicians, we might again have faith in the system. Birth Of The Three ratcheted the volume back up the scale before a mass sing and clap-a-long ensued during Sapari. The band closed with Norra El Norra from Mabool, and with the crowd demanding more, Orphaned Land, who I had seen performing less than two years earlier at The Garage in front of little more than 150 people, ended a triumphant and quite excellent performance in style.

Having had the warm up, anticipation quickly increased as the clock crept towards the advertised start time for the main event. It has been over four years since Blind Guardian (10) played in the UK and the crowd were clearly determined to enjoy every second. As the clock hit 8:10pm, the intro tape to the opening track from this year’s most excellent Beyond The Red Mirror, The Ninth Wave crashed in and the crowd went bat shit crazy. Modest lighting picked out little but the band as they stormed into their opening number, the impressive backdrop hidden from view for the time being. Pounding drumming from Frederick Ehmke, driving guitars from Marcus Siepen and Andre Olbrich and of course the magnificent vocals of Hansi Kursch, looking incredibly fit and healthy ensured that the masses were lapping every last note up within minutes. Banished From Sanctuary followed, the audience joining in with every chorus and at times every word. Kursch is a natural frontman, encouraging and challenging the crowd throughout and entertaining with his banter in between songs. Announcing that the audience could now only listen to Blind Guardian, forsaking all other bands and that if they didn't he’d come round and smash up your computer was delivered with charisma and humour, whilst the welcome to the “first night of the UK tour”, and “the last night of the UK tour” was a stroke of genius. Nightfall produced the first real sing-a-long of the night before Fly from my favourite A Twist In The Myth increased the temperature and the excitement. Reference to Elric, one of Michael Moorcock’s heroes segued nicely to Tanelorn before the band hit song number two from the latest release with Prophecies. The tempo was reduced nicely for Miracle Machine and A Past And Future Secret with the band providing an acoustic set.

After Bright Eyes, Blind Guardian ramped the tempo back up to boiling point with Lost In The Twilight Hall, with touring bassist Barend Courbis and keyboardist Michael Schuren fitting in perfectly with the rest of the band, both musically and with their backing harmonies. The band closed their main set with the splendid Imaginations From The Other Side before leaving to rapturous applause. Blind Guardian are a heavy package live, let me tell you, and the respite allowed me to regain my focus following a quite brutal metal assault. As the band returned and launched into first encore Into The Storm, I found myself with a huge smile on my face. Twilight Of The Gods, as classy a piece of power metal as you can get followed, with the fretwork continuing to draw gasps of admiration and excitement. Inevitably the set ended with Valhalla; cue mass sing-a-long before the band, beaming from ear to ear left the stage again.

It wasn't over though, and a second encore was demanded and delivered. A blistering Wheel Of Time pummelled the crowd into a stupor; luckily The Bard's Song allowed The Forum to demonstrate some quite magical singing. Prompting Hansi to comment that it was one of the best vocal deliveries of this song he had ever heard. Final set closer could only be Mirror Mirror from Nightall In Middle Earth, and once again the crowd sang along to every word, whilst the small mosh pit that had been wheeling for most of the evening had one last dance. Blind Guardian delivered over two hours of quite astonishing quality power metal; their set was well paced and balanced to perfection. For a Blind Guardian first timer, I have to admit it was quite an experience. A great band who have promised not to take four years to return. This time it was worth the wait. Absolutely magnificent.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Reviews: Halestorm, The Gentle Storm, Royal Thunder

Halestorm: Into The Wild Life (Atlantic)

Three albums (and two cover EP's) into their career and Halestorm stand on the precipice of superstardom, adapting their style slightly on their last album to make it more radio friendly, focussing on massive sounding hook laden songs mixed with Lzzy Hale's passionate vocals and obvious sex appeal. As such this third record is aimed squarely at US FM radio with the opening track Scream drenched in electronics sounding like a song that could have come off the last In This Moment album. Once again Lzzy Hale's vocals are amazing full of venom and soul in equal measure, she is definitely the focal point of the band, with her brother Arejay's drums coming a close second as Joe Hottinger's guitar and Josh Smith's bass hold their own through these arena baiting tracks. But it's here we get to the problem, with the band looking upward and towards the future as headliner they have lost a little of the spark present on The Strange Case Of... that album had some solid gold tunes on it but in just the first three songs I was losing interest a little, I Am The Fire is repetitive and ultimately bad songwriting, where as Sick Individual is just a little plain, it's only on the chunky swaggering riff of Amen that things pick up before they mix things up with Dear Daughter which is a little Lady Gagaish as Lzzy pounds away at the keys like a dusky lounge singer in a dark bar somewhere before things get a little Floydian at the end and we go straight into the countrified (with electronic enhancements) New Modern Love which is in fact a little Stevie Nicks. As you can see when they diversify they can still write a good tune at the expense of their hard rock basis, with the exception of the anarchic punkmetal of MayhemGotta Get Mine which has The Black Keys written all over it and I Like It Heavy. I think this album suffers a little with the number of tracks it has, a few could be culled from the 13 on the regular edition (15 on the special edition) to make it a more concise and indeed give the album more impact. There is no doubting what Halestorm are doing, they are trying to play music and make money (something hard to do in the current climate) they are doing this by focussing on their live performance however this means that their album does take huge genre shifts, with only a few choice cuts being sculpted for the stage, which means that there is a lot of filler on this record and in what seems to be trend too many ballads. Still the playing and production is modern and sharp as a pin, fans will love it however if you've never heard Halestorm before start with their previous album. 6/10  

The Gentle Storm: The Diary (InsideOut)

The Gentle Storm is a collaboration between multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer Arjen Anthony Lucassen he of Ayreon, Star One, Guilt Machine, Ambeon and Stream Of Passion fame and Anneke Van Giersbergen frequent Lucassen and Devin collaborator and ex The Gathering. So both of these Dutch musicians come from quality musical backgrounds, because of that I was excited for this project which is based on the diary entries of a couple during the 1600's which was the Golden Age of Dutch naval trade. The story follows the couples lives and details their love story the man's while away at sea travelling to India and the woman's life of pregnancy, illness and eventual death. So tough stuff then with this love story sprawling many years and multiple parts but as with all of Lucassen's creations the payoff is in the musical dexterity and sheer brilliance of the orchestrations something that Arjen has always excelled in. Although it does seem that Mr Lucassen has tried to outdo even himself on this occasion making The Diary a double album with a difference; both discs feature the same 11 songs however the twist is that one is the Gentle version featuring acoustic, folk based interpretations of the tracks fuelled by classical and various world instruments and the second disc is the Storm version which is the pure form symphonic metal that Arjen has always been known for. Both albums are to be taken as separate pieces despite containing the same songs, some stand out on as the Gentle versions with Shores Of IndiaBrightest Light and New Horizon's being the pick of the bunch as their folksy instrumentation (from a 13 strong band) gives the songs their identity, however other songs work better in the metallic setting with Heart Of Amsterdam and The Storm being two examples. Happily all of the songs are strong enough to stand up in both versions in what is a fantastic double concept album, I'd lean to say the Storm version just pips it's sister album, due to this blogs focus but that by no means says that Gentle is the weaker album. Taken together this is an excellent project that is a collaboration of two great talents to make some beautiful music. 8/10     

Royal Thunder: Crooked Doors (Relapse)

Atlantan four piece Royal Thunder have finally gotten around to releasing their second album, their debut CVI came out of nowhere and knocked us here at the MoM off our feet, the band fuse a myriad of styles with big Zep-like riffs, mixing with psychedelic freak-outs and a smidgen of driving alt-rock. So what of Crooked Doors then? Well more of the same thankfully the album kicks off with the sprawling Time Machine which starts off with the quiet/loud dynamic before its trippy, emotive middle section and searing guitar work of Josh Weaver and Will Fiore turn it into a slow burning monster, not an immediate start but certainly a powerful one, as the reverb kicks in on Forget You we get more of the bands power with a doom-laden riff driven by Evan Diprima's dynamic drum work and Milny Parsonz' rhythmic low-end. Together the band have a real sonic power, the songs are perfectly formed and played with exceptional musicianship but unlike many bands Royal Thunder's song writing prowess and knack of fusing genres means that you are taken on a musical journey from the passionate power rock of The Line through the swaying, dusky, soul/psych of Forgive Me, Karma, the dark Glow and the progressive Ear On The Fool shows that the band have a real Jekyll & Hyde nature all tied together with classic influences and Parsonz riotous vocals, this girl can certainly sing! Her voice is not to dissimilar to Mz Hale being able to handle the rockier tracks just as deftly as she handles the slower (and very Zep-like) tracks such as One Day and the double part, emotive, haunting finale The Bear I and The Bear II which ends the album in a serene and portentous manner. Royal Thunder could be on the upward trajectory with this amazing sophomore album! 9/10