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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Review: Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson: Hand. Cannot, Erase (Kscope)

The king of progressive music returns, notice I said progressive music, this is because since starting his solo career, Wilson has not been content with any one type of musical genre. So once again it is with great anticipation that I placed Hand.Cannot.Erase in my stereo and I was greeted by the atmospheric opening of First Regret before things turn into Yes on 3 Years Older which is one of the longer songs on the album and the only true prog rock song continuing in the vein of his last album The Raven That Refused To Sing which was heavily influenced by King Crimson, this track however has more in common with the more pastoral progressive rock of Yes, Caravan, Camel et al. As with most of his works this is another concept album with the over arching theme focussing the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, which was where a woman living in a large city died in her apartment and no one missed her for three years, despite her having family and friends, so this album is a discourse on the life of a woman who grows up isolated in the city, but of one who is not old but young and vibrant yet she is not noticed. With an intriguing story like that the album has strong concept to base itself on and prog fans will definitely love 3 Years Older which shows off Wilson's undoubted musical prowess as he handles most of the instrumentation while being backed by his fantastic band in the shape of organist, keyboardist and pianist Adam Holzman, guitarist Guthrie Govan (replaced now by Dave Kilminster) and drummer Marco Minnemann (again replaced by Craig Blundell). From the prog to the thrusting pop feel of the ttile track which is the first to feature female vocals from Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb as well as 12-string from Dave Gregory and sterling bass work from nick Beggs adding to that 60's dreamy pop sound, so far so upbeat but things take a more dramtic turn on Perfect Life which features a spoken word performance from Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins who adds a pathos to the first part of the track before Wilson then continues the dream-like state with his plaintive, emotive vocals.

As per usual Wilson oversees everything in terms of production but he does allow Dave Stewart (yes him off the Eurythmics) to help him arrange the choirs and strings that flesh out tracks like Routine which is a haunting piano piece, that fuses electronic buzz with choral arrangements and Ninet's beautiful vocals working with Wilson's perfectly as the track builds it adds layers and layers to make it the perfect mid-album track as it moves into the instrumental second part that lets Govan show off his creative guitar playing and yet, so is the genius of Wilson, a track so intensely musical manages to convey it's theme of mundane brilliantly. Many have compared this album to The Wall by Pink Floyd and with the theatrical nature of Routine that couldn't be clearer, the same themes are present also, loss, loneliness and separation from the outside world all feature heavily and much like Floyd's opus things take a turn for the worse in the second part. Home Invasion is the first 'heavy' track dripping with synths and organs it is also the albums most jazz influenced with Beggs doing his fleet fingered best and Govan adding some guitar magic to the track that is most like Wilson's previous life in Porcupine Tree before seamlessly seguing into the heavy krautrock of Regret #9 which features two glorious solos from Adam Holzman on the Moog and Govan on the guitar as Wilson adds bass, guitar, keys, mellotron and banjo (just a fraction of his talent I assure you). Despite all of the technical playing, it has always been Wilson's songwriting that has set him apart and Hand. Cannot.Erase is no different in fact it may just be his most accessible yet, Transience is the only true Wilson solo piece and is evocative of everything he represents harrowing musical landscapes with a keen ear for the radio-friendly as witnessed by this tracks jangling, multi-layered acoustics.

In true prog style, just as you get comfortable, the goalposts get moved again and as the trip-hop drum machine and piano duo drives the opening of Ancestral one can't help but feel a little anxious as a single violin plays in the background and the music swells before levelling off and then exploding around 3 minutes into the 13+ minute track which once again features a majestic guitar solo before Tayeb's vocals takes us in a new direction as the track gets more ominous in it's latter, instrumental part. This album takes your breath away in it's scope and delivery, it is a masterclass in musicianship, songwriting and production that all wraps up in Happy Returns which is Wilson at his most comfortable, condensed and indeed stirring; combining intelligent lyricism with uplifting and transcendent musical backing that closes the album out perfectly as it slips away (words used deliberately) into Ascendant Here On... A truly magical album and one that once again cements Steven Wilson's place as one of the greatest songwriters the UK has ever produced. 10/10                

Reviews: Europe, Whiskey Myers, The Agonist

Europe: War Of Kings (UDR)

Frontman Joey Tempest calls War Of Kings "the album we always wanted to make, ever since we were kids listening to bands like Zeppelin, Purple and Sabbath" and yes the spirit of all of these bands is rife throughout with the first two tracks, the creeping title track and the rocking Hole In My Pocket both are Deep in the shadow of Purple with Lord-like organs coming from Mic Michaeli driving the songs along and matching John Norum's guitar work note for note. Like I said War Of Kings starts things off with stomping power with Tempest echoing the holler Ian Gillan, before he moves into Glenn Hughes territory on Hole In My Pocket which has Norum going full Balckmore in the solo. Things move out of Purple on Second Day which has the mysticism of Page and Plant and brings to mind images of traipsing through the desert sun. As usual the musicianship is top level with these Swedish legends maturing like a fine wine, they have been moving into the classic 70's rock arena for their last few albums, but on this album they have really nailed the sound of the golden age. The production too sounds of the era; this may be because of Dave Cobb's production, a man who produced the last Rival Sons album meaning that this album fizzes and crackles like vinyl even on CD, he also co-writes many of the songs which adds to the authenticity. We go back to the smoky haze of period Purple on Praise You which has Tempest howling like a wounded dog. War Of Kings is has 11 tracks of retro-inflected hard rock with huge amounts of organ and mellotron, grooving basslines from founder member John Levén, thunderous drums from Ian Haugland and some rolling licks and fleet fingered solo's from Norum, we get nods to Coverdale and the 'Snake on the slippery California 405, more Purps on Day's Of Rock N Roll, back again to Zep with Children Of The Mind, a slight curve ball with the Middle Eastern flavoured Rainbow Bridge (which does sound a bit like Rainbow), the laid back blues of Angels (With Broken Hearts) before everything concludes nicely with the hip-shaking groove of Light It Up which ends the album excellently (there is an instrumental bonus track on the CD edition that is Norum going full Bonamassa). Who would have thought that in 2015 Europe would still be making (very good) music, that they would sound so different than the band that debuted 1983 and that finally and most importantly that the first truly great hard rock album of the year would belong to them. A masterclass in hard rock! 9/10    

Whiskey Myers: Early Morning Shakes (Wiggy Thump)

Whiskey Myers are a country/rock band that have suddenly arrived out of nowhere (in the UK at least!), just in time for the country revival that is currently happening here with bands like The Cadillac Three and the near god-like Blackberry Smoke (a MoM favourite) taking the country and indeed the charts, by storm and performing sold out gigs and festival shows. This album has already been out for a few months in the USA but we here in the UK get it here and a bloody good job too as the Stetson wearing, moonshine drinking members of our sceptred isle have been waiting for an album like this for good while now. Whiskey Myers call themselves 'honest music' and with the opening title track you can see that they mean every word they say; this is down home, soulful, heartfelt Southern music driven by some clean but oh so dirty guitar work of Cody Tate and John Jeffers who do half inch the riff from Zep's Heartbreaker on Hard Road To Hoe but for the most part provide the slinky, rump shaking, country riffing with a huge dollop of soul and some major riffing. The band have a locked in rhythm section and Cody Cannon has a perfect Petty-like southern drawl that is shown perfectly on Dogwood which is definitely Heartbreaker territory and features Cannon also providing that Railroad acoustic that country music is known for. The band certainly live up to their "honest music" tag with an album that moves between many facets of traditional southern, from the emotive slide driven Shelter From The Rain, the Skynyrd style rocking of Home and Headstone which has you stomping your Cowboy boots and bouncing as the band lay down their groove. The band are thankfully aided by Dave Cobb's (yes him again) superb production and for that extra authenticity Kristen Rodgers providing some Honkette style backing vocals. The first real ballad is the regret and redemption filled Reckoning but as the storm clears we come back to rocking territory with Wild Baby Shake Me which has a good old fashioned guitar freakout and Need A Little Time Off For Bad Behaviour is the Allman's, Skynyrd and the mighty Smoke all rolled into one. Whoever's idea it was to release this album in the UK is a genius; we just need a tour now please? 9/10     

The Agonist: Eye Of Providence (Century Media)

There are many bands that have changed their singers, some for the better (AC/DC), some for the worse (Judas Priest), however when The Agonist's original singer Alissa White-Gluz left the band for the greener pastures of Arch Enemy it was up to the remaining members to find a new singer and carry on or disband. Happily they chose the former finding American (the band are Canadian) vocalist Vicky Psarakis as a replacement, so as blue gives way to blonde is the band still the same as it has always been. The answer is most definitely yes and then some; Vicky can still scream like demon supplying every song its raw aggression, growling and roaring as the band supply the aural battering with blast beat drumming and shredding guitars hitting you like a hammer, however unlike her predecessor Psarakis has a much better clean vocal than her White-Gluz, this means that the band take now evoke elements of In This Moment with some excellent clean singing, she sounds not to dissimilar to Within Temptation's Sharon Den Adel, working in conjunction with metalcore vocals. The songs for the most part are metalcore/death metal with lashings of aggression and thankfully a lot of melody too, much of which comes from the vocals, see I Endeavour and the finale As Above, So Below which is the song that sounds most like Ms Brink and co. If you are a fan then there is nothing to fear and happily if you are new to the band this is where you should start with The Agonist. 7/10 

Monday, 2 March 2015

Reviews: Level 10, Dracula, Pig Iron

Level 10: Chapter 1 (Frontiers)

Level 10 is probably not the best name for a band but as far as members goes this 'supergroup' has 10 out of 10 for membership in this writes eyes. Drawing half their membership from Primal Fear, drummer Randy Black, guitarist Alex Beyrodt and the hardest working man in metal Mat Sinner (this is his eighth simultaneous project) on bass. Add to this one ex-Helloween axe slinger in the shape of Roland Grapow, one great keyboardist in Alessandro Del Vecchio and the unmistakable vocals of Symphony X (and every other band)'s Russell Allen. So with a line up with that you'd expect rampaging melodic metal with nods to power and classic trad metal throughout and you would be right the band's musicianship is never in question all these men have proved their chops a thousand times before but with the three way duel of Del Vecchio and guitarists Beyrodt and Grapow makes the songs very exciting as all three men push each other in a game of musical one-upsmanship, while Sinner and Black lock in like they have done on so many Primal Fear records, their groove is fully established on Soul Of A Warrior which has a walking beat as the guitars swing loosely and Allen bellows at the top of his lungs. The tracks from riotous speed metal like When The Night-Time Comes to the more hard rock offering of One Way Street which echoes Sinner and Beyrodt's other band Voodoo Circle as Allen does his best Coverdale impression, this moves into the darker more symphonic Blasphemy and the blatant Priest feel of In For The Kill before the album moves through seven more brilliant tracks all of which show off these men's combined talent for all things metal. As with everything Matt sinner does this album sparkles with flashes of brilliance throughout and it combines all of the talents of those involved as well as giving them a wide pool of influence to draw from. A must for fans of any of those involved or indeed top quality power/melodic metal!! 8/10  

Jorn Lande & Trond Holter: Dracula:The Swing Of Death (Frontiers)

Jorn Lande has one of the most recognisable voices in rock music equally content with hard rock swagger and power metal bluster, but on this album he has teamed up with Wig Wam guitarist Trond Holter to write concept album based around the inner demons of Bram Stoker's version of Vlad Dracul with Lande taking up the mantle of the Prince of Wallachia and going full Meatloaf on this album that features so much bombast it would wake the dead. Hands Of God is a subdued atmospheric start setting the scene of a tortured soul, that then leads into the Walking On Water which features a huge hook from Holter that could have come off a Gary Moore album and gives us Lande in full flight full of bravado and bluster singing at the top of his lungs, before Swing Of Death which is actually a swing style song that echoes Diablo Swing Orchestra with the thrusting rock delivery of Holter, Wig Wam bassist Bernt Jansen and drummer Per Morten Bergseth. The dance begins and this leads into the dynamic Masquerade Ball which starts out with a piano and acoustic guitar work and sees Dracula chasing his beloved Mina as it erupts into a symphonic middle with some very good classical guitar playing from Holter as it plunges into the albums most metallic song Save Me which features Lena Fløitmoen as Mina Harker and later she appears as Lucy; Dracula's young victim in his search for Mina. This album has many stylistic shifts throughout due to it's conceptual nature but stays true to Lande and Holter's hard rock backgrounds; Queen Of The Dead is Alice Cooper without the Coop and ends with a tremendous guitar solo. With the right amount of jockeying and indeed financial backing this could be quite a live event with Jorn Lande definitely having the right stage presence and theatricality to be the Vampire Prince stalking his bride while the band play this muscular hard rock, add to that props and dramatics and you would get a show worth of this albums vision (Think the I Would Do Anything For Love video but on a much larger scale.) I've always admired Jorn as a vocalist and personally I prefer him when he is in full Coverdale/Dio mode, however I think this could be up there as one of his best works, if you like the pomp Queen, the theatricality of Alice Cooper, the baroque nature of Meatloaf and you wouldn't be far off. In a world of sound alike bands it's great to have something a little different from some very talented musicians. 9/10

Pig Iron: Sermons From The Church Of Blues Restitution (Off Yer Rocka)

Pig Iron are now on their fifth album and since their debut they have adapted their sound since then focussing more on the delta blues than on the more hard rock/stoner base they had earlier in their career. Sermons... continues in that vein with the choppy Mississippi country picking of Wildcat Birdhead kicking things off as Dan Edwards guitar and Johnny Ogle's mouth harp duel for supremacy with Edwards just pipping him due to the great rhythm he lays down. The cleverly titled One Million Mega Hurts has a bit more slide guitar and sees bassist Hugh Gilmour and drummer Joe Smith providing the voodoo groove as Ogle howls like a thousand wounded Lions. Pig Iron have always been a favourite of mine, I love the fact they are still very much an underground concern releasing albums when they see fit and playing their own brand of authentic blues based rock steeped in blues tradition while still harking back to the heroes, see the The Spell which could have come off Zeppelin III with it's pastoral acoustic guitar rhythm this is one of the most subdued tracks the band have ever released but it is very good indeed showing that this band are not all about heavyweight bluster. We are then taken to Zep IV on The Devil Is In The Woodpile which starts slowly and then builds up in the final part. In fact a lot of this album is more subdued than previous efforts going back to the roots of the blues on tracks such as High As A Pine which is driven by raging acoustics, banjos and mouth harps. In fact the entire middle section of the album has this stripped back sound, this isn't a bad thing at all as it shows that the band can do the blues as well as our American cousins, it's just it might be more of a departure than many fans will be used to. Still if you love bluesy rock music that stays true to the core philosophies laid down by Johnson, Hooker, Waters, King and Wolf. 7/10  

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Reviews: Lonely Robot, Band Of Spice, Desert

Lonely Robot: Please Come Home (InsideOut)

Lonely Robot is the solo project of John Mitchell vocalist and guitarist of the second (and I think better) incarnation of It Bites, as well as being the guitarist of Brit-prog legends Arena, Kino, underground prog heroes Frost* and a talented and in demand producer for the likes of Enter Shikari, Funeral For A Friend, You Me At Six and countless others. As a solo artist he has managed to recruit some high profile guests with drums coming from Frost* drummer Craig Blundell and extra bass from Kajagoogoo and Steven Wilson bass player Nick Beggs. Mitchell handles all the vocals, guitars, with bass and keyboards coming under his remit, however on look at the credits shows that it is not just these three men with opener Airlock featuring the keyboard fuelled madness of Frost*'s Jem Godfrey starting this concept album off with a bag building up into the first 'proper' track God Vs Man which is pure Neo-prog harking back to Arena, Pendragon, Marillion and indeed Mr Steven Wilson himself, the guitars move between heavy and melodic with some beautiful phrasing throughout adding to the lush soundscapes that feature on every track, Mitchell is not only a consummate and brilliant instrumentalist he also has a perfectly harrowing and passionate voice for his music equally adept at slow, ballads and the heavier more fervent passages. As I've said this album is a concept and features narration from Lee Ingleby known for his role in Inspector George Gently as well as many other stage and screen roles including the new Bob The Builder(!). From the heaviness into the more pop friendly The Boy In The Radio which features guest vocals from Go West's Peter Cox (yes he is really mixing up the guests here) and is a more bouncy prog that the track that proceeds it and indeed more upbeat than the piano based ballad that follows it, this track; Why Do We Stay features the enchanting vocals of Heather Findlay and piano/backing vocals from Marillion's Steve Hogarth and is a truly beautiful song that breaks the pace excellently with it's orchestral swells and Mitchell and Findlay's impassioned vocals. Lonely Robot follows and it is a commanding song featuring Jem Godfrey on many instruments including Chapman Stick and Slide Guitar as well as guest vocals and guitars from Rebecca Need-Menear and Jamie Finch both from the band Anavae and this makes for a very progressive narrative song that is this album's set piece. This album is neo-prog perfection with old meeting new on Oubliette (French for dungeon or forgotten place) as Mitchell duets with Touchstone singer Kim Seviour, the song has the Touchstone sound as their voices meld perfectly. The album's finale is the epic Humans Being which again features H's piano and lead guitar from Nik Kershaw (yes that Nik Kershaw) and moves swiftly into the haunting closer of The Red Balloon. This album is magnificent, it sums up everything modern progressive rock is, with focus on songwriting taking precedence over technical exhibitionism, although the technical prowess is also present in spades. The first truly excellent progressive rock album of 2015!! 10/10

Desert: Never Regret (Raven Music)

Desert are a classic/power metal band drawing members from Israel and former Soviet Union, Never Regret is their sophomore release. As the intro of Chasing The Prey starts things off building up the atmosphere then its time for rapid drumming and some symphonic based metal on the first track Assassin's Fate what you do witness is that vocalist Alexei Raymar has unique phrasing in his vocals less a top end shriek but a low end snarl not to dissimilar to Iced Earth's Matt Barlow merging with Blind Guardian's Hansi Kursh, his vocals are strong and add menace to the opening track and indeed are the focal point of this album in my opinion. The music isn't to shabby either with some trad metal guitar riffs that do a lot to copy the relentless rhythmic guitar patterns of Jon Schaffer but they do have the addition of some fanciful keyboards too to expand the sound a little meaning that they can move into the symphonic category easily on tracks like the title track and the Kamelot-like ballad The Road To You featuring Dutch vocalist Infy Snow which starts with just a piano before getting doomier in the last section and has good interplay between Raymar's deep vocals and Snows soprano. The guests continue on 1812 with Primal Fear's Ralph Scheepers lending his shriek to proceedings adding to the sense that Desert are a band on the road to bigger and better things. With some high profile support slots already under their belt and an album drawing from a wide range of styles see Final Journey and Imperial Eagle Desert but rooted firmly in the power metal tradition. A great album that is let down a little by the production, still with 11 well written and well performed songs this album will set Desert on the path to climb to bigger heights. 7/10     

Band Of Spice: Economic Dancers (Cargo Records)

Vocalist Spice has been around for a while now and many will recognise him as the first singer for Swedish retro rockers Spiritual Beggars before the more well known pipes of Grand Magus' JB and Firewind's Apollo took on the role. Since then Spice has been focussing on his thrash band Kayser who released a cracking album last year but Band Of Spice sees him returning to his stoner rock roots. The band, formerly known as Spice And The RJ Band (Changed after rhythm guitarist Anders Linusson joined) play the kind of guitar heavy stoner rock that Sweden do very well, Spice's voice is scratchy but his bark is perfect for this kind of groove laden rock with a metallic edge. He is also a pretty good guitarist supplying the leads on this record as Anders deputises brilliantly on the chugging rhythm, in the back room Johann and Bob Ruben (who is also in Kayser) provide a sturdy boiler room for the band. The band are stoner rock for the most part but they spread their wings a little on On The Run which sounds a little Springsteen, before Intro-The Joe has the same electric piano sound as Easy by The Commodores and The Joe itself  is a Steve Miller like track built on a propulsive guitar and a Hammond bubbling below the surface, You Will Call still takes you further from the stoner rock template with a clean guitar fuelled surf rock You Will Call takes us almost into Foo Fighters territory. Luckily for metal fans You Can't Stop comes back to heavier style but still having the melodic touches of the proceeding tracks. This album, I'll admit, is a little weird it seems to spend more time focussing on other genres than it does in the stoner rock style I thought (and the press release) says it was; for example Fly Away has the soft loud dynamic of grunge, In My Blood is breezy, Stonesy blues and 70's funk on Down By The Liquor Store. I'm not knocking it Spice and his band do seem to have an affinity with classic, retro sounds but the sheer schizophrenic mix on this album can leave you feeling a bit lost about the bands direction. Still the performance of this album is excellent it just loses direction a little two songs in. 7/10     

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Reviews: Temperance, Battle Beast, LEAH (Reviews By Stief)

Temperance: Limitless (Scarlet Records)

The second album from the Italian Quintet opens with an eerie choir of children singing, Oblivion then breaks into the distinct techno-infused metal we've come to enjoy from the band. Yet again the guitars are solid, Giulio Capone's drumming heavy and Chiara Tricarico's vocals soar between operatic and clean effortlessly supported by Marco Pastorino's distinct growls. As mentioned before, the keyboards add a more techno feel to the melodic heavy metal sound, similar to Swedes Amaranthe, which isn't a bad thing at all. Save Me has both an uplifting chorus, and a brilliant breakdown in which Marco shows off his growling, as well as some great riffing supported by Sandro Capone's rhythm guitars. Stay brings the pace down a little, whilst remaining heavy. Another highlight is Mr. White, a song dedicated to everyone's favourite meth dealer, Heisenberg, which even opens with a Breaking Bad-esque bass line from Luik Abbott. Again, Marco shows his vocal skills, supporting Chiara in the chorus with clean vocals before breaking into growls and heavier vocals for the verses. Never Say Goodbye is another song with more of a ballad-esque feel and in this song, as well as throughout the album, the use of strings adds to the melodic sound. The album constantly shifts in pace from song to song, be it the slower sound of Never Say Goodbye, or the faster pace of the title track Limitless, but no song seems to detract from the others. Overall the album is just as melodic and heavy as the last. Another great album by a great band. 9/10

Battle Beast: Unholy Saviour (Nuclear Blast)

Finland's Battle Beast start off with Lionheart, a slice of 80's Heavy Metal complete with Noora Louhimo's vocals, which are bloody powerful, never sounding strained no matter how far she pushes them. There's a very Doro Pesch-like vibe from Noora, and it's perfectly suited to the sound of the band. The third full album from the band, Unholy Saviour is a great mix of heavy, speedy power metal and slower more ballad-like songs such as; Sea Of Dreams and Angel Cry, in which Noora shows the softer side to her vocals whilst still blasting us away with how strong her voice can be. The album also cements the band as fans of Scarface, including not only a sample from the film in I Want The World...And Everything In It, but also an excellent cover of Paul Engemann's Push It To The Limit from the film's soundtrack. Madness is another great song, showing off the talents of the band, be it Eero Sipilä's heavy bass, Pyry Vikki's brilliant drumming, the melodic keyboards of Janne Björkroth or the riffing from Juuso Soinio as well as Noora's aforementioned vocals. Another song which showcases the band's skills is Hero's Quest, a completely instrumental sing replete with chants of 'hey hey' which sounds like it would be perfectly in place as the theme tune to an 80's adventure TV show. Having seen the band live before, it's obvious they're very talented, and this album is a shining example of that. 9/10

LEAH : Kings And Queens (Ex Cathedra Records)

Having been supported by members of Testament before, Canadian artist LEAH is supported by members of Delain and Blind Guardian in places on her third album, Kings And Queens (released last year). It's obvious LEAH has talent,with a varied symphonic style and quite distinct voice. Be it soft in the form of Arcadia and Heart Of Poison to almost Enya-level serenity in places such as Alpha Et Omega, and Hourglass. The album has a very Celtic feel throughout with various instruments being used in conjunction with the metal guitar riffs and drumming to create a unique, soft metal sound which is reminiscent of acts such as Emilie Autumn in places. The album closes with a cover of Siúil A Rún, an Irish love song, mixing English and Irish language, and a bonus rock version of the same song. Overall a mixed bag, but a good album 8/10

Friday, 27 February 2015

Reviews: The Neal Morse Band, Wolfheart, Mojave Lords, Eradicator (Reviews By Paul)

The Neal Morse Band: The Grand Experiment (InsideOut)

Neal Morse has been kicking around the progressive scene for many years; Spock’s Beard, prog super group Transatlantic and a lengthy solo career to name but three. This latest release features Mr Rent-a-kit Mike Portnoy alongside bassist Randy George (Ajalon), guitarist Eric Gillette and keyboardist and vocalist Bill Huabauer. The group are credited with writing all of the music on this album, and musically it is a top quality release. Portnoy’s playing is excellent, once again demonstrating his technical skills whilst Huabauer’s synth work is progressive rock at its most flowing. Some very neat guitar work, time changes and various patterns of play draw you in. However, unfortunately for me, it turns out that most of this motley crew are mainly born again Christians and The Grand Experiment is actually a Christian progressive rock album. Yes, okay, song titles like The Call and the 26 minute closer Alive Again give you the clues. Opening track The Call actually develops during the course of its 10 minutes into an almost evangelical opus, with lots of multiple harmonies in the backing vocals. The title track has some delicious keyboards, coating the track in the vein of the late great John Lord and an infectious hook; but you can’t shake off the happy clappy lyrics which unsurprisingly sit quite uncomfortably with me. And that is where I leave this; before I vomit all over the keyboard as Jesus and his sunshine band continue their love in on Waterfall. Musically, this is fine progressive rock. Lyrically, it makes me want to heave and so happy that the devil has all the best tunes. 6/10

Wolfheart: Winterborn (Spinefarm)

So another release from a Finnish outfit arrives at MoM towers and this time it’s a release which appears to have slipped through our net. Wolfheart is a solo release from Tuomas Saukkonen, following the disbandment of numerous other bands, including Before The Dawn and Black Sun Aeon (ah yes, of course!) Wolfheart is melodic death metal in the vein of Winterstorm, Wintersun and any other band with winter in their name. If you like death vocals, oodles of technical guitar work and battering ram style drumming, give this a whirl. If you don’t it might be one to miss. On the plus side, the quality of musicianship, as typified in most of these bands is excellent with some really intricate playing whilst retaining the heaviness that sits in the death metal camp. On the negative side, much of it just sounds the same and after about 20 minutes you can be excused for wondering if the same song is on loop. There are some changes of pace; Routa Pt 2 starts with a string intro, kicks off into a head first charge, recedes to a classical vibe before heading back into the maelstrom once again. Whiteout is a stomping piece which has a slower, less frenetic pace but retains the death growls. It’s one to bang the head to. More of the same as the album continues, blast beats aplenty and you do wonder how Saukkonen’s throat is feeling by here. It must be raw! Chasm has an element of Opeth about it, death metal interspersed with acoustic parts and some rather tasty time changes to boot. This one has dark mood written all over it. Breathe is a brooding piece, firmly sat in the Triptykon corner with down tuned guitars and clouds gathering above. You just know it would rain if this was played at a festival. Overall then, a varied mix with some very interesting sounds. The biggest problem is getting past the first half of the album which is kinda ‘samey’ in order to access some of the more atmospheric and crafted tracks and it is for that reason that I'm giving it a relatively low rating. 6/10

Mojave Lords: Unfuckwithable (Self Released)

Combine members of the Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, Masters of Reality and the Eagles Of Death Metal amongst others and what do you get? A slab of steaming hot heavy stoner desert rock more groove laden than a field at harvest time. David Catching and Bongo Ritchey have produced a surprisingly heavy album, as demonstrated on opener Sweet Little Down And Out. The QOTSA sound oozes throughout. Hot Throwaway a case in point with a huge drum sound interspersed with some neat single note guitar work. Unfuckwithable doesn't let up at any point, galloping along in an almost throwaway fashion until you actually analysis that this is really good shit. Anytime Rock is a must for a driving compilation, but then so is most desert rock. It really is pretty damn fine stuff. Simple but deadly and so efficient. The fact that four different drummers feature on this album is quite impressive, as each of them maintain the slamming vibe needed to move the whole thing along. The guitar sound is raw and dirty, and the vocals remain level and in key throughout, apart from one or two interesting falsetteos. If you like your desert rock, this is for you. A very tidy debut from a group that are veterans of the scene. 8/10

Eradicator: Slavery (Yonah Records)

According to their Wikipedia page, Eradicator play classic Thrash Metal in the vein of bands from the San Francisco Bay Area, comparable to the works of Exodus, Death Angel and Testament. Well, it just proves that you can’t believe everything you read on Wiki. Yes, the German outfit play thrash, but so apparently do Madicide. Musically Eradicator are perfectly competent, if routine in their playing with the odd decent hook and some tasty riffs at times. However, the vocals of Sebastian Stober are just dire and destroy any hope of a decent song on the album. How in the name of Satan this lot have managed to release three albums is beyond me. Overall this could be the worst release of 2015. Avoid at all costs. 2/10

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Reviews: Black Star Riders, Serious Black, Demolition Train

Black Star Riders: Killer Instinct (Nuclear Blast)

After their debut I was wondering where Black Star Riders could go in terms of their long term plans seeing as they started life as the reinvigorated Thin Lizzy before changing their name to create a new history rather than play on Lizzy's. With the shadow of Lizzy looming large on the debut Black Star Riders have to achieve a fine balance between carrying on that legacy musically and forging their own career as a band. On this second album the band have managed not to fall off the ledge as from the burly swaggering riff of the title track opens the album just like Phil and co used to, Ricky Warwick using his Irish croon to great effect over Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson's twin axe attack something Gorham's previous band perfected, so far so Lizzy then but the band have managed to walk out of the shadow a little with tracks that are not reaching for any particular sound except one of guitar slinging, whiskey drinking hard rock; tracks like Bullet Blues have their own sound with Robbie Crane and Jimmy DeGrasso adding to their engine room stamp all over this driving track, Finest Hour is a poppier affair that almost sounds a lot like The Almighty with it's "nana nana" refrain before we are thrown back into Celtic territory with Soldiertown that is prime Gary Moore as is Turn In Your Arms. As I've said the shadow of Lizzy does still loom over proceedings but there is enough on this record to advance BSR, take for example Blindsided which is a great song that is truly their own creation not sounding like anyone else and Sex, Guns & Gasoline which is more Southern USA than Emerald Isle. As I've said BSR have managed to forge ahead with this band harking back to their roots but also creating their own sound, this is a great second shot at glory for BSR. 8/10

Serious Black: As Daylight Breaks (AFM)

With a relative glut of power metal albums coming thick and fast at the beginning of the year, we get yet another collaborative project drawing members from other power metal bands, with the most well known of which being Ex-Helloween/Masterplan axeman Roland Grapow who oversees the production and plays the guitars along with Edenbridge's Dominik Sebastian (Grapow has since been replaced by Firewind/Outloud's Bob Katsinosis). He has assembled a worldwide line up with the rhythm section coming from Emergency Gate's Mario Lochert on bass and ex-Blind Guardian tub thumper Thomen Stauch firing like a machine gun. With Grapow and indeed Lochert's production expertise the rhythm section sparkles battering down the doors from the opening few minutes of I Seek No Other Life, before things get more melodic on High And Low which has more input from Jan Vacik's keys but retains the Teutonic metal assault of the bottom end and the simply stunning guitar work of Grapow and Sebastian both of whom show their skill and why they are revered in power metal guitar circles. This album comes from the heavier end of the power metal spectrum with crunching metallic riffs cascading throughout even on the 'slower' tracks like Sealing My Fate, the orchestral Egyptian themed Akhenaton, the more melodic Setting Fire To The Earth, with the one exception on the massive ballad As Daylight Breaks. The band are all excellent musicians in particular Urban breed (sic) whose vocals are excellent, the ex Tad Morose and Bloodbound man has a a hell of a voice expressive and brawny perfectly fitting on top of the mighty musical backing. As I've said there have been a lot of power metal releases at the moment with a lot of filler and few gems, Serious Black happily are in the latter category a real power metal gem that is up there with Helloween, Blind Guardian and indeed Firewind in terms of rampaging, melodic power metal that merges great songwriting with musical virtuosity. 9/10          

Demolition Train: Unleash The Hordes (No Remorse)

Trad/Thrash metal from Athens Greece now with Demolition Train who pack a punch with their thrashy style of metal released on Athens' No Remorse Records and this album is atypical of the their roster, nice speedy metallic riffage with scratchy guitars, shouting Tom Araya style vocals and thumping, machine gun rhythm section. Opener Wrecking Crew is prime Anthrax, Unleash The Hordes echoes Slayer and Kreator, so far so thrash but Kill Your Boss starts out in Judas Priest territory before going all Municipal Waste in the final part with the repeated chants of the the title. I'll say it now, Demolition Train don't do anything new but they do play solid thrash infused metal with a a nice natural sound, no production tricks here, we are in down and dirty territory with tracks like Metal Mayhem sounding like an offcut from Kill .Em All and Chase Your Blues Away pinching a Motorhead riff I'm sure. Like I said no new ground covered but a good enough retracing of steps with all the thrash bases covered from speed to melody, subtlety to power. If you want to just tune in, turn up and rock out you can do a lot worse than Unleash The Hordes; brainless thrash at it's best. Elli̱nikí̱ métallo kómma!! 7/10