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Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Reviews: Rush, Michael Schenker Fest, Whitesnake (Reviews By Paul)

Rush: Lost In Great Woods And Summer Skies (Bootleg)

On June 23rd, 1997 Rush played the Great Woods Music Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts. This concert is a timely reminder, in the fortnight where Alex Lifeson confirmed that the band is in all but name over, of what a spectacular force the Canadian trio were in the live arena. Of course, this recording was mere months before drummer Neil Peart was hit by the first of a double whammy of personal tragedies as his daughter Selena died in a car accident, followed within 12 months by the cancer and death of wife Jacqueline. Having gone through that emotional hell, it’s astonishing that the band ever regrouped but they did and provided another 13 years of magical music.

The tour which is captured in this release was in support of 1996’s Test For Echo album, the second release which heralded the return to a more guitar focused sound and edge to the band. The set list is littered with a thumping seven songs from that album, which in my mind is rather underrated. The power of Driven, the craziness of Limbo and the delicacy of Resist all provide illustrations of the versatility and the musicianship of a band who for me are unmatched.

As well as Test For Echo, four tracks appear from the previous release, 1993’s Counterparts, including the emotional of Nobody’s Hero and the raging Animate. Neil Peart’s clever and thought provoking lyrics surge through their songs, a stream of consciousness which we would often do well to observe. Of course, no Rush concert would be complete without some of the classics and there is a fair sprinkling of them in this three-hour event. Blistering versions of Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta and encore YYZ from Moving Pictures nestle comfortably with the older Freewill, The Trees and an epic 2112 which has Lifeson providing some real virtuoso moments.

The obligatory and excellent Peart drum solo The Rhythm Method is familiar to Rush fans, but this is a fine example of the craft which Peart was the master of. And then we get to Geddy Lee, in mischievous form, cracking Austin Powers impressions throughout and reminding you what an astonishing bassist he really is. A cracking show is ended by the YYZ plus a snippet of Cyngus X-I. A superb recording of the best rock band of all time. 10/10

Michael Schenker Fest: Resurrection (Nuclear Blast)

We’ve reviewed a lot of Metal Mickey over the years here at Musipedia. For me, there is no more sublime guitarist around. Technically superb, creative and naturally flowing with the ease that only the absolute top-class legends demonstrate. However, much of his recent Temple Of Rock work has been just that little bit bland. His recent decision to return to yesteryear with the vocalists from MSG allowed him opportunity to grab the spotlight once more, with the Gary Barden years of the early 1980s now viewed very much through rose tinted glasses. Growing up with Attack Of The Mad Axeman, Into The Arena, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie and the mighty Armed And Ready, there is certainly a soft spot in my armour for the German and his hard rock style.

With the combined vocal talent of Gary Barden, Graham Bonnett and Robin McAuley harnessed for a full album, what do we get? Well, opener Heart & Soul is a racy starter for ten, McAuley’s vocals soar alongside Schenker’s rampaging guitar and a guest solo from Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. Warrior not only sees all three vocalists get together for a vocal group hug but has added Dougie White from Temple Of Rock. It’s all a bit chummy for me and not particularly great as a song. Then we get the first of several apparently God squad inspired tracks, with White opening the pipes superbly but Take Me To The Church? Holy shit. When did Schenker join Stryper and co? Lyrically it’s desperate stuff, but for a man who was on his last Flying V not that long ago then maybe it’s not so surprising; 12 steps and all that.

Night Moves follows, allowing Bonnett to open the pipes. At 70 years of age, the man can still sing even if the track, spookily reminiscent of his solo Night Games, is duller than a warehouse full of magnolia paint. Doogie White reappears for The Girl With The Stars In Her Eyes, and he demonstrates once again that next to Bonnett, vocally he’s superior to Barden and McAuley. This is a bit of hard rock gold, all pomp and polish with the old school rhythm section of Chris Glenn and Ted Mckenna giving it large and lying down the platform for Schenker to flex those fingers once more to magical effect.

The rocking gets even better on Everest, which needs no explanation about lyrical theme. McKenna’s pounding drums are impressive, the double bass kicking hard and driving the song forward, Bonnett excelling in the vocal department whilst Schenker lays down the most fluid and natural guitar work of the entire album. Unfortunately, it’s followed by a real dud in Messin’ Around, with Barden’s weak vocals struggling from start to finish. Time Knows When It's Time allows McAuley another go, and he gives it a fair shot, even if the song is a throwaway. White’s stellar singing gets to shine once more on Anchors Away, a neat sing-a-long track with Steve Mann’s sumptuous keyboards adding to the galloping momentum; another superb Schenker solo lights up the song. This is closely followed by the always welcome instrumental tune. This time it’s Salvation, which maintains the Jebus theme but also has a right jazzy feel with more soulful guitar work from the main man. 

And that’s where this release should have ended. Unfortunately, we get two more Barden led songs; firstly, the rather limp Living A Life Worth Living, Barden straining to hit any notes cleanly. Bringing this inconsistent release to an end, The Last Supper, definitely the worst track on the album. All four vocalists have a go here, and it’s fucking dreadful. Absolute dogshit with only Schenker’s bluesy solo rescuing it in any shape or form. And this from the man whose solos for UFO, Scorpions and MSG remain legendary. It’s probably unsurprising, given the fact that no-one remembers anything MSG did after Assault Attack that some of this album is utter tosh. When it shines, it’s great. But when it drops, it hits the deck hard. Still, looking forward to seeing them all crooning away at HRH 11 in November. Just stick to the old stuff. 7/10

Whitesnake: The Purple Tour (Rhino Entertainment)

Two years ago, you may recall me getting a little agitated about the release of Whitesnake’s The Purple Album, a soulless rehash of David Coverdale’s time in Deep Purple, sans Glenn Hughes and the rest of the band. Well, following their tour of that album, here’s the live version, with a mix of classic Whitesnake tracks alongside those Purple masterpieces. Accompanied by guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra, bassist Michael Devlin, Drummer Tommy Aldridge and keyboardist Michele Luppi, Coverdale squeaks and howls his way through 74 minutes of overproduced, flashy as hell all American bombast which the Birmingham crowd lap up. The tracks come fast and furious, with the pace relentless, and the guitar work undeniably impressive. However, the soul and heart of the blues soaked Whitesnake from 1978 is completely absent.

Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City is dreadful, devoid of the passion which made it such an emotion jerker back in the day. Soldier Of Fortune is rescued by some neat acoustic guitar work on the intro but Coverdale’s over the hill croak (no doubt dubbed to hell on the production) merely brings tears to the eyes. Fool For Your Loving at least moves the feet but throughout this album there is nothing to get the blood pumping. The tinny backing vocals, Coverdale’s vocal limitations combined with some very tired phrases and a huge overproduction leave it rather flat. If you want to see some of these songs performed with heart and soul, then get your arse along to the Muni in Pontypridd or the Fleece in Bristol on 28th and 29th April to see the excellent Bernie Marsden and Hand Of Dimes, or spunk up the cash to catch Glenn Hughes do it properly on the top of the Mountain at Steelhouse in July. Save your cash. 4/10

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Reviews: Angra, Galvanizer, Necrodeath, Storm Upon The Masses (Reviews By Rich)

Angra: ØMNI (earMusic)

Going back many many years when I was discovering heavy metal music and exploring its various subgenres I came across a band called Angra and a song called Angels Cry which just so happened to be my first exposure to power metal. Back to present day and Angra are absolutely one of my favourite bands from the genre and so it is with great excitement and enthusiasm that I get to review their latest and ninth album ØMNI. Angra are one of those bands who have been going a long time but seem to have always fallen just below the radar for many people which is such a shame as they are an extraordinary band. Hailing from Brazil they have been releasing albums since the early 90’s and have always had a sound which comprised power metal, progressive metal and symphonic metal with a Latin twist.

 They stick to this formula throughout ØMNI with a mix of thunderous speedy power metal anthems such as Light Of Transcendence and War Horns and the more progressively leaning Magic Mirror and the epic closing duo of Silence Inside and Infinite Nothing which is a pure symphonic piece. The oddball off the album is Black Widow’s Web which has a more modern groove metal sound to it plus guest vocals from Brazilian pop singer Sandy and guest growls from Arch Enemy's Alissa White-Gluz. It’s an interesting mix but a bit of a failed experiment. Since the release of previous album Secret Garden in 2015 guitarist Kiko Loureiro has jumped ship to join legendary thrashers Megadeth and has been replaced by Marcelo Barbosa but the rest of the band remains the same. Kiko still shows up as a guest to provide some guitars though.

Special mention has to go to vocalist Fabio Lione who is a legend in power metal and gives one his career best performances on this album. ØMNI is a fine album and although it doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of past Angra albums such as Holy Land or Temple Of Shadows, I find it’s an improvement over previous album Secret Garden which I found slightly underwhelming. This is an album that both power metal and progressive metal fans will agree over. 8/10

Galvanizer: Sanguine Vigil (Everlasting Spew Records)

Sanguine Vigil is the debut album by Finnish death/grind filth merchants. Galvanizer have a sound rooted in old school death metal and grindcore from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and it is beautifully disgusting. There’s an abundance of influences throughout from Autopsy to Terrorizer all resulting in just over 30 minutes of putrid death/grind complete with the obligatory horror movie samples at the start of one or two songs. The songs generally average about 2-3 minutes in length which allows for multiple riffs and time changes from barrages of blastbeats to slower doomy moments.

The only song which deviates and is the shortest is the utterly filthy and chaotic Grind Till...You’re Dead! The only letdown on the album is the production which is overly muddy and murky affecting the guitar sound especially. With a better production these songs could sound even nastier. Still it doesn’t detract too much and at certain times the murky sound compliments the songs. If you are a fan of dirty old school death metal and grindcore then this album is one for you. 8/10

Necrodeath: The Age Of Dead Christ (Scarlet Records)

The Age Of Dead Christ is the eleventh album by Italian black metal legends Necrodeath. These guys are one of the pioneers of 1980’s black metal with their 1985 demo The Shining Pentagram and the two albums that followed Into The Macabre and Fragments Of Insanity these days seen as cult classics. With their new album The Age Of Dead Christ Necrodeath have promised a return to their classic sound or to quote drummer Peso "back to our black origins with thrashing brutality!"  It’s always a slight concern when a band tries to resurrect their glory years but Necrodeath absolutely pull it off with an album that pays homage to their classic 80’s output but is an absolute ripping blackened thrash monster in its own right.

Chaos is unleashed from the moment the play button is hit with a barrage of blastbeats which heralds the start of opening song The Whore Of Salem. The songs on the album range from raging thrashers such as The Master Of Mayhem and The Crypt Of Nyarlathotep to more atmospheric songs such as The Triumph Of Pain and the title track which just drip with evil and malevolence. The band have also reworked a song from their debut album The Undead which is reborn as The Return Of The Undead and features guest vocals from A.C. Wild of Italian thrashers Bulldozer.

 With a sound that is suitably raw but also with enough clarity throughout The Age Of Dead Christ is a fantastic throwback to the classic sound of Necrodeath but stands well on its own. The tracks are strong enough that it doesn’t sound like the band are regurgitating their old sound. This is a brilliant release that old school thrashers and black metal fans are going to lose their minds over. 9/10

Storm Upon The Masses: The Ones Who Came Back (Dolorem Records)

The Ones Who Came Back is the debut album by Belgian brutal death metal band Storm Upon The Masses and it is an incredibly strong debut album. This is an album for those who like their music HEAVY with a sound that mixes modern brutal death metal with elements of grindcore sounding like a cross between Aborted, Benighted and Hour Of Penance. You have riffs that rip and tear and drumming which could collapse buildings.

Throughout the 11 songs and the albums 37 minute duration there is virtually no let up at all. Songs such as Last Rites, Skullfucked and the title track are true lessons in violence and brutality. Some of the songs get a bit repetitive through the albums duration but no song outstays its welcome so it’s not a huge issue. The Ones Who Came Back is an impressive debut though it is slightly lacking in its own identity but I’m sure this is something that will come to the band as they write more material. 7/10

Monday, 19 February 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Black Moth (Live Review By Paul)

Black Moth: Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

Ah, St Valentine’s Day. Another commercial masterpiece designed to ensnare the quite stupid British public into handing over more cash on overpriced sentimental guff. However, this year, a ticket to see Leeds’ fabulous Black Moth meant that for the first time in our marriage, Mrs H received a present from yours truly. It was money well spent as, along with many others who also decided to spend their evening in the Capital’s premier rock bar, we were treated to an evening of great value and high quality.

The Used’s sold out UK tour had recently been postponed at short notice due to a bereavement and this had left their support LowLives (7) at a loss. No gigs. To their credit the band have been dipping in and out of slots wherever they could get them, supporting where possible, throwing the odd freebie and generally making themselves busy. Arriving as the band were already bursting through their set, it was evident that there was still some disappointment and frustration within the band, with a couple of comments made about the audience response. Still, Lee, Luke, Steve and Jax’s aggressive Nirvana-esque driving pop-rock was appealing and the band put full effort into their show. Heavy drums, pop hooks and lots of driving guitar are the core of the band’s sound and although the Fuel crowd, notoriously slow to get going took some time to warm up, a decent response was eventually forthcoming. Of course, with ex-members of The Defiled and The Ataris in the ranks, the LA based band probably expect greater things.

Heavy misanthropic heft. Three words that capture the essence of main support Grave Lines (8). 45 minutes of intense bludgeoning about the head from the doom outfit left many staring in confusion at the completion of their set. I think it was five songs but it might have just been one long aural assault. Who knows? The South Coast outfit ensured that their presence on this tour would long be remembered with some quite painfully heavy sludge which slowly enveloped the crowd with its misery and hate. Bassist Staggerin’ Matt is aptly named, his lunging headbanging was initially alarming in its exaggerated style. The incomprehensibly tall Oli on guitar, stripped to the waist, gurning for his life and plastered with some fine ink, peeled out some of the most intensely heavy riffs Fuel has ever seen.

Behind him the waif like Julia Owen, resplendent in a Sleep shirt, belied her stature with a battering that had you wondering if Black Moth would need a new drum kit. That left snarling vocalist Jake Harding, in tatty vest and shorts to deliver the knockout blow, his roaring vocals incomprehensible to those unfamiliar with the band’s work. Describing Grave Lines show is easy. Imagine being run over by a steamroller and just as you get to your feet a herd of elephants tramples you back into the dirt. Yeah. Like that. With a new track from their forthcoming album mixed with songs from 2016’s Welcome To Nothing, I was unable to tell whether the crowd had been warmed up or beaten down by the end of the set. It was nothing short of legalised assault and battery.

Leeds’ Black Moth (9) release Anatomical Venus in March. Having already heard it and reviewed it for the Musipedia, I was at an advantage as the bulk of band’s set comprised new songs amongst older favourites from Condemned To Hope and debut The Killing Jar. The new tracks have brought a heaviness to the stoner sound of the band and the Sabbath style riffage of Federica Gialanze and Jim Swainston guaranteed that any opportunity to clear the head from the pounding of Grave Lines was quickly lost. All eyes focus on vocalist Harriet Hyde, whose superb voice was lost at times in the traditional muddy mix at Fuel but when she did break through it was with a razor-sharp quality. Anchoring the band, drummer Dom McCready whose intense pummelling of the kit left you surprised it was still standing by the end of the set.

Whilst Hyde may be the focal point, bassist Dave Vachon rarely stopped moving, nipping from front to back time and again as the band picked up steam and got into cruise control. If you are unfamiliar with Black Moth, imagine the darkness of Sabbath, the ethereal qualities of Siouxsie And The Banshees and the chaos of The Stooges. New tracks included the fabulous Istra, the thrashy Moonbow and the anarchic set closer Pig Man, whilst there was the inevitable Tumbleweed from Condemned and Honey Lung from The Killing Jar for the older fans. Black Moth are intense, heavy and above all fun to see live. A band who enjoy what they do, destined for bigger things.  

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Reviews: King Witch, Eleine, The Rocket Dolls, Crescent

King Witch: Under The Mountain (Listenable Records)

Heavy doom from Scotland, King Witch come from Edinburgh and in the greatest tradition of the sons of Birmingham they riff like complete bastards. Featuring two former members of Firebrand Super Rock (a band who were ace in my opinion) the music of King Witch is similar but obviously has the more occult themes running through it. Happily Laura Donnelly returns as vocalist and her powerful wails are front and center as Jamie Gilchrist (guitar), Lyle Brown (drums) and Joe Turner (bass) make an unruly racket underneath, their classic heavy doom has an epic sound, Carnal Sacrifice beats you around the head with it's thumping riff and it leads into the spiralling psych doom of Solidarity which is one of the set piece songs on the record that's framed by the faster driving rockers such as the title track.

It's worth repeating that Donnelly has a bloody incredible voice but the rest of the band are no slouches either, the rhythm section of Brown and Turner thunder with the faster tracks and but it's in the monolithic Approaching The End, the jazz inflected Ancients and on Possession where the drums sound like an artillery barrage that the rhythm section is at it's absolute best, with this sort of backing it's obvious why Gilchirst abuses his guitar throughout. In a break with tradition this record ends with the two speediest tracks on the record with final track Black Dog Blues blows a gasket with a frenzied assault. Under The Mountain is brilliant. Buy it! 9/10

Eleine: Until The End (Algoth/Black Lodge)

I'll start this review by saying this is a great record, it's characterised as heavy symphonic metal and I'd say that's a pretty accurate description. Think Epica and you'd be on the money, the only difference is frontwoman Madeleine Liljestam doesn't quite have the operation range of Simone Simmons, she does however have an excellent voice, it's powerful, melodic, seductive and has a pop sensibility that really glides over the heavy rhythms and orchestral manoeuvres. Madeleine is the focal point of the band as both the singer and namesake it's image carved out as an alternative model (she has graced the cover of a well known Scandinavian tattoo magazine) and suits the duality of the band as co-founding member Rikard Ekberg not only brings the riffs but also the growls to pair with Madeleine's clean vocals, the real beauty and the beast style that's associated with this type of music.

The record itself is strong, it's flows well with Echoes starting out heavy and Sanity that follows it relying purely on the clean vocals and a catchier sound, this heavy metal sound is taken right the way through until Please which sees Madeleine's vocals cracking with emotion, it's a beautiful song which has just vocals and piano. With all the orchestrations and top drawer singing going on you may miss the technically impressive riffs and drum patterns but I urge you to listen out for them as they are a major feature of this band. Having already shared the stage with Moonspell, Darkane, W.A.S.P, Europe, Raubtier, Eleine are a well worn machine and you can hear the maturity and experience oozing out of this record through the clear production. For symphonic rock fans Eleine are a band to latch on to, the combination of great music and arresting imagery, they will be on the rise this year I'm sure. 8/10

The Rocket Dolls: DeadHead (Self Released)

Having been called ones to watch by Planet Rock, as you press play on DeadHead the second album from Brighton rockers The Rocket Dolls, I immediately thought this might be a bit too heavy for the typical Planet Rock audience but then the hook comes in the chorus and all becomes clear, this band have deconstructed the sounds of some of the biggest bands around and pieced them back together to create new music. The three piece's main sound comes from the grunge influenced rocking of acts such as Seether and Alice In Chains. Starting Something Now is a fine example as it's got the angsty snarl (although not as much as the title track) the quiet loud dynamics perfected by Nirvana but as I mentioned earlier a populist sound with hooks galore.

The songs all have choruses you can see jumper wearing teens with greasy hair singing edgily while they lamenting their angst. I jest of course, there are some really deep messages on this record and The Rocket Dolls have really latched onto grunge and post grunge sound that was so huge in the early 1990's. She Said has bit of Foo Fighters while The Last Thing On My Mind and Drowning have an orchestral backing that was clearly meant to be featured on Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. The Rocket Dolls are Nikki Smash (vocals/guitar), Benji Knopfler (drums), Joe Constable (bass) and they lock in to this record perfectly, a real unit they seem to be able to adapt to any sound be it straight rock, punk or their favoured grunge. Ones to watch? I'd say you won't be able to look away such is the quality of DeadHead. 8/10

Crescent: The Order Of Amenti (Listenable Records)

There are a few bands that use Egyptian imagery in their music, the most notable being the USA's Nile. Wouldn't it be novel to have a band that sings about Egyptian imagery, who were actually from Egypt? Well say hello to Crescent a blackened death metal band from Cairo (I know Scarab are also from Egypt) sweeping riffs and croaky death vocals from Ismaeel Attallah are what drive Crescent he's got Youssef Saleh, Moanis Salem, Amr Mokhtar as his furious backbone, the blast beats, lightspeed tremolo picking and symphonics combine in a storm of extreme metal fury that is relentless from the first track.

Value for money isn't something Crescent scrimp on they have a cinematic overtone to every song which are long pieces that move from rage to redemption usually within 8 minutes Obscuring The Light is testament to this blasting away before slowing towards the end. For lovers of cinematic extreme metal The Order Of Amenti will be up their with the latest records by Septicflesh and Immolation, if music is a gift from the gods then the deities of Ancient Egypt were very, very angry. The Order Of Amenti beats you at every possible opportunity, strap yourself in and get the neck brace ready it's a beast. 8/10  

Friday, 16 February 2018

Reviews: Pestilent Reign, Against The Grain, Kill Ritual, Chainer (Reviews By Paul)

Pestilent Reign: Pyres (Rising Nemesis Records)

If you fancy some skin peeling death metal, laced with sweet grooves and black metal harmonies, you may fancy this 38 minute kick in the nuts from Stuttgart outfit Pestilent Reign. Combining the underlying groove of early Lamb Of God with the sheer technicality of Dyscarnate, Revocation and the double hammer assault of Aborted and Dying Fetus, you get the picture within seconds. Fuelled by topics such as human stupidity, religious bigotry and a raging anger at the state of the world, the quartet’s debut long player is about as meaty as a lock in at Miller and Carter.

Lars Hägele’s ferocious guitar work, the growling roar of Christoph Sauner’s vocals and the pulverising rhythm section of Matthias ‘Mick’ Figura and drummer Sebastian Unić combine in a face melting approach. Tracks such as You Will Kneel In Piss And Blood, Saviour and the seven-minute face punching of Zealot don’t allow breath to be drawn. It’s intense, it’s brutal and fuck me, it hurts. 7/10

Against The Grain: Cheated Death (Ripple Music)

Album number 5 from Michigan’s Against The Grain just pours out of your speakers like a swarm of locusts. The release then proceeds to destroy all in front of it. Catchier than crabs in a sleazy sweat dripping whorehouse, and rammed full of obese riffs, an old school punk edge and a beautiful sludgy mixture of heavy blues, stoner and thrash, Cheated Death combines the power of Motörhead, the sleaze of The Admiral Sir Cloudseley Shovell and the downright dirt of Orange Goblin. There must be a biker cut or two in an album designed to be played as loud as possible.

Aside from the title track which pounds at 100mph, there is the thrash tinged Sacrifice, a full-out ride to chaos and a demonstration in versatility with blues breakdowns helping to change flight path. There isn’t a poor track here although it’s the pacier tracks that really get the heart pumping. Check out Rolling Stone for a superb demonstration of what I mean. Spicy, meaty and definitely not served in a wholemeal wrap. Magnificent. 9/10

Kill Ritual: All Men Shall Fall (Dissonance Productions)

Now reaching their eighth year, All Men Shall Fall is album number 4 for the band from San Jose, California. I’m unable to claim to be familiar with their material but this is a tasty morsel which contains more fire than a Mahal Vindaloo. Opening track This Addiction is frantic, with vocalist David reed Watson very much at home after his debut on 2015’s Karma Machine. An undercurrent of old school NWOBHM beats in the veins of the band, whose approach allows for a varied and expansive sound.

A heavy as hell backline ensures that the guitars of Steven D Rice are allowed air to flourish. The anthemic title track is full of classic heavy metal style, and the band hold that close for the entire release. Dead Man On The Water, an acoustic flavoured track allows time to catch the breath and for the band to display the sensitive and calmer side, whilst Sins has a pure power metal feel. This has much to commend with some thumping classic metal. 7/10

Chainer: Balls’ Kicker (Self Released)

“They try to stop me playing Rock n Roll but my guitar is my gun and my music is the bullet that will kill them”. Deep words from Kevin Van Raiser, vocalist and guitarist with Swiss trio Chainer. Unfortunately, whilst he may have the weapons, Chainer is way off target with the accuracy. Balls’ Kicker (yes, with the unfortunate apostrophe) is amongst the most mundane releases I’ve heard for a long time. Routine metal patterns, awful lyrics and Van Raiser’s vocals on a par with Fergal Sharkey in the warbling stakes. Tracks to avoid? Well, 1-10 would be my advice but definitely steer clear of dire ballad Lone Rider, Gorgeous and Dangerous (yes, really) and the cringeworthy cover of Stars, the Hear n’Aid release for famine relief. In a year which is already shaping up to be a good one, avoid this like the plague. It’s not very good. 3/10

Reviews: Long Distance Calling, Armortura, Lyra's Legacy (Reviews By Rich)

Long Distance Calling: Boundless (InsideOut Records)

Instrumental post-rock. Those words can either mean you are in for an epic musical journey or a tedious listening experience. Luckily with the sixth album by Germany’s Long Distance Calling it is far more enjoyable than tedious. With the introduction of a full time vocalist on their fourth album The Flood Inside Long Distance Calling did lose a bit of their identity but they have gone to a back to basics approach with Boundless which is a purely instrumental album. The band know their craft and have released an album which blurs the line between post-rock and progressive rock deftly mixing atmosphere, emotion and sonic devastation in a single track such as in album opener Out There.

Other tracks of particular note include Like A River with it’s almost Spaghetti Western twang about it, Weightless which starts off sounding like classic Pink Floyd before a crushing sludge metal riff devastates all in its path and personal favourite Ascending which has a hauntingly melancholic melody throughout its duration. Boundless isn’t a perfect album with a handful of songs failing to make an impression but Long Distance Calling have proven that their back to basics approach is effective and they can function easily without a vocalist in their ranks. 7/10

Armortura: Armortura (Mighty Music)

Being released through Danish label Mighty Music is the debut self titled album by UK thrashers Armortura. Taking influence from classic 80’s thrash metal but adding in influences from modern metal Armortura have released a fantastic album which should definitely gain them attention and praise throughout 2018. It’s an album with plenty of savage riffings, twin lead harmonies, plenty of melody and a few twists and turns to keep the listener engaged. Highlights throughout the album include Insidious, Flight 19, 11th Hour and closing epic Requiem Of The Damned. If you have the edition with the bonus track you get treated to a remixed version of 11th Hour with none other than the legendary Jeff Waters of Annihilator providing some fretboard fireworks. 

The guitar playing throughout the album is second to none and high praise must go to Paul Trotter and Adam Ironside for their sterling performances on the album. The rhythm section of bassist Steve Smart and drummer Nick Vickers also put in commanding performances and the vocals by frontman Phillip Brown are snarling and aggressive reminding me a lot of Sean Killian from Vio-Lence. Armortura have impressed with their debut album which thrashes hard but also has plenty of melody to appeal to your more mainstream leaning metaller. A fantastic debut! 8/10

Lyra’s Legacy: Prisoner (Roll The Bones Records)

Another debut album and this time it’s by German melodic metallers Lyra’s Legacy with the release of Prisoner. It’s taken a while for the band to get this debut album out having been in existence for 10 years but happily the album was worth the wait. Lyra’s Legacy have a sound which combines elements of melodic heavy metal, power metal and progressive metal. After an epic symphonic intro things really kick into gear with the powerful Reign Of Greed which has the band firing on all cylinders. Other highlights throughout the album include Hero Of The Night, Misguided, Utopia and the brilliant title track. 

The songs range from the mid paced to the speedy to almost ballad-esque moments. The fantastic keyboard playing by Sven Reinicke really add a progressive edge to the album whilst special mention must go to vocalist Christian Casaccia for his impressive powerhouse vocals. This is a very enjoyable album with some fantastic songs but especially in the last half of the album some of the songs aren’t as strong and fall by the wayside. This is one for fans of melodic metal with a progressive edge. If bands such as Vanden Plas, Pagan’s Mind and Tad Morose are your thing then definitely give this album a spin. 7/10

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Reviews: Lance Lopez, Hypnos, Godstone, Victorius

Lance Lopez: Tell The Truth (Mascot Records)

Lance Lopez may be a name that some of you are not familiar with but you will know his voice and guitar prowess from Supersonic Blues Machine records, his is a voice that has been lived in, he's walked the walk, talked the talk and lived to tell the tale. This seventh solo album is his first for Mascot records and it's hi most autobiographical to date, he discusses his sordid history and his recent sobriety. The record is a warts and all telling of his life, he sets out his stall on Never Came Easy which is a country styled rocker about his hardships, that leads into a adrenaline fuelled take on John Lee Hooker's Mr Lucky (something Lopez has been by all accounts), these two songs pretty much give you the basis of this album, it's a record that brings the blues to rock n roll with both creeping in from time to time, Lopez is a bluesman he's played with Bobby “Blue” Bland, Buddy Miles, Johnny Taylor, and Lucky Peterson.

He started playing professionally at the age of 14 in bars and his friend and mentor at that time was fellow Texan Rev Billy Gibbons along with Buddy Miles. With all the touring and playing came the darker side which is what makes up much of the lyrics on this record see Down To One Bar and High Life. However the musical education of Lopez means that when he's playing the good old blues his guitar and smoky vocals are etched with pain and regret but when he's rocking out there's a confidence to him that tells you he's not only bought the t-shirt and written the book he's probably the damn copyright. Tell The Truth is an unapologetic rocking blues record that will guarantee Lopez the plaudits he deserves, if you only know him from Supersonic Blues Machine maybe it's time to pick up this record and get to know the real truth about Lance Lopez. 8/10

Hypnos: The GBG Sessions (The Sign Records)

What is it with the Swedes and retro rock? With Graveyard and Blues Pills among others, the American sounds of 1965 to 1979 seem to be a recurring theme in Swedish rock music. Hypnos are apparently one of the strongest live acts in the current batch and they have a chance to show this to a larger audience with this live session from Gothenburg. It's the first to feature new singer Linus Johansson and sees them bringing together older songs from their previous two albums along with new songs Ain't No Fool and Looking Out from their soon to be released album, they also throw in a cover of ABBA's Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie at the end, it is a party after all.

The rawness of this record is it's charm, you feel as if you're at the session itself as the band freak out in front of you with hook laden, riff driven catchiness that has the blues base of Graveyard (check out Nightmares) and the dual guitar harmonies of Thin Lizzy (The Mountain). At 8 tracks long this record is blast of Hypnos' retro influenced sound, they can prog out on 1800, turn up the volume for Looking Out and the ABBA cover is pretty good sounding little like Yngwie Malmsteen's version from the 90's. I didn't know much about Hypnos before this but The GBG Sessions gives you a pretty solid idea of what the band would be like on a live stage. If retro rocking is your bag then get vibing to Hypnos. 7/10

Godstone: Monument Of One (Self Released)

I’d never heard of Godstone before this five track EP but when you press play they sound like the quintessential American heavy rock act, there’s Alter Bridge, Shinedown but mostly Stone Sour coming through with Matthew Pascoe’s grooving bass driving Over The Line. It came as a surprise then I read that Godstone were from the Southwest of England, they sound so American that you could hear their music as a WWE Theme without questioning their nationality. Monument Of One is their debut EP and it features five tracks as I’ve said, these are used to display what’s best about the band big booming bass lines, thumping drums from Matt Davey and dirty riffs from John Kenward and Alex Goodrich.

James MacDonald has a voice that some will either love or hate, sounding a little like Corey Taylor, like his American counterpart his lower more aggressive approach is great it’s only when it’s a little lighter he seems to struggle, but like I said that’s just what I feel, many will love this vocal style. Monument Of One is a pretty impressive first strike by Godstone, it gives you enough to want to invest in the band and leaves them a lot of room to refine their sound, well produced and performed they are another worthy addition to the British metal scene. 7/10

Victorius: Dinosaur Warfare - Legend Of The Power Saurus (Massacre Records)

Yes you read that title correctly this is an EP about both those things mentioned, I'm talking about Dinosaur's with freaking laser beams. German power metal band Victorius have clearly lost their collective marbles and just thought "Screw it let's write sci-fi songs about Dinosaurs". Oddly it works when a song has the lyric "Mighty Dinosaur, fight a holy war" you are on to a winner right away, it's epically silly but brilliantly realised, the power metal is what you'd expect it to be all galloping, blast beated Germanic metal with powerful vocals, it's the talent of the band that means this record is not as stupid as it first seems, they've also made sure that this is just an EP so the concept doesn't get too tiresome, with songs like Razorblade Raptor and Laser Tooth Tiger this EP is great power metal record with bonkers theme that somehow holds it all together. 7/10

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Reviews: Necrophobic, Loudness, Ritual King, Lark, (Reviews By Paul)

Necrophobic: Mark Of The Necrogram (Century Media Records)

If there was any doubt that the return of Swedish blackened death metallers Necrophobic was going to be celebrated, then the opening title track on this, their eight album, will leave you in no doubt. Blowing away any cobwebs that may have gathered, this is simply a monstrous release.  Vocalist Anders Strokirk, whose evil incantations were last heard on The Nocturnal Silence in 1993 returned to the band in 2014. Former guitarists Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck also re-joined the ranks to complete the line-up with founding member/drummer Joakim Sterner and bassist Alex Friberg. The line-up on Mark Of The Necrogram is the fittest and most combat-ready the Swedes have had since Darkside split the heavens in 1997 and the band agree: “It feels like the band is the band again.” “Full dedication in everything we do. 100% metal people”.

Written over many black moons in 2017, Mark Of The Necrogram departs slightly from 2013’s Womb of Lilithu for a darker, more incisive sound. In fact, it may well be Necrophobic's most dynamic and varied offering to date. Songs like Odium Caecum, From The Great Above To The Great Below, Requiem For A Dying Sun and the massive Tsar Bomba retain all the ingredients that made the Swedes such an influential and legendary force but with added quality.

The band song writing, mainly completed by Ramstedt and filtered by Sterner to ensure the Necrophobic fit, explored deep into the destruction of life, with re-imagined invocations from Sumerian stone tablets, and explored Nordic mythology. “The lyrical theme on Mark Of The Necrogram continues where the album Death To All ended.” “The lyrics for the song Mark Of The Necrogram can be set on a timeline between Revelation 666 and Triumph Of The Horned. We created dark poems that match the ferocity of the songs”.

Co-Produced by former guitarist Fredrik Folkare (Firespawn, Unleashed), the result is an album that is blisteringly good. Refined riffage is the order of the day, ranging from the aggression of Sacrosanct to sorrowful on Tsar Bomba. The rhythm section of Sterner and Friberg shine on tracks like Pesta and Lamashtu whilst Strokirk’s deathly roars, haunting bawls, and wicked rasps complete the evil jigsaw. There is unlikely to be a better blackened death metal release all year. 10/10

Loudness: Rise To Glory (Sheer Sound)

The first Japanese metal band to sign for an American label, I’d forgotten that Loudness even existed. To discover that they have released an astonishing 25 albums before Rise To Glory and have continued to deliver their own brand of Eastern metal was quite a surprise. Formed way back in 1981, they briefly hit the radar with 1985’s Thunder In the East which contained some classic heavy metal. Rise To Glory sees the band continuing to deliver metal in much the same style, albeit with a little more polish on the production.

With three of the original members still very much involved, and drummer Masayuki Suzuki in place for close to a decade, the real surprise is that this is their first album for four years, since 2014’s The Sun Will Rise Again. Minoru Niharu’s vocals remain as crisp and clean as they did all those years ago whilst Akiri Takasaki’s guitar work is slick, fast and impressive. Loudness have always written in the classic heavy metal style, and opener Soul On Fire is a typical demonstration, fast paced and energetic. There are some lighter moments, such as the jazz-infused instrumental Karma Sutra, complete with a brief homage to Rush’s YYZ as well as some rather poor tracks, such as the ghastly power ballad Rain. A bit of a mixed bag but certainly worth checking it out. 6/10

Ritual King: Earthrise (When Planets Collide Records)

A fine second EP from Manchester three Ritual King. An eruption of heavy blues, stoner and psychedelic rock, this is impressive for the whole 15 minutes. Opener Ideology immediately demand the attention, sludgy riffs courtesy of guitarist Jordan Leppitt, whose vocals add gravitas and quality to the release. Tides is next, a filthy combination of Orange Goblin and Blues Pills, with added grime. Dan Godwin’s monstrous bass lines come into their own on the final track, But Anyway, which is another solid track which melts the fuse and quickly accelerates to full speed.  Ritual King has provided a very neat release indeed. 8/10

Lark: Lark (Self-Release)

Lark is the debut release from French brothers, Raph, former guitarist and lead singer of Sail In Between and former bassist of Angher Incorporated and Zach, former drummer of Bright Curse. It’s a solid five-track beast, combining elements of Mastodon, Baroness, Russian Circles and Gojira in an almighty fireball. The cantering charge of Red Eye Final contrasts with the slower, bone crushingly heavy Decay and the haunting Too Far Gone, which at times is eerily like the Duplantier brothers sound, all the while dipping in and out of the progressive style that Mastodon has superbly crafted in recent years. It’s a deeply interesting release, with much going on and demanding several plays to appreciate fully. Well worth a listen. 7/10

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Reviews: The Sheepdogs, Letters From The Colony, High Reeper, Michael Landau

The Sheepdogs: Changing Colours (Dine Alone Records)

With Greg recently passing only Dickey Betts remains from the original Allman Brothers band and he stopped playing with them in 2000, with Greg gone the band is finished meaning that those in search of breezy Southern harmonies have to look elsewhere. I’d suggest looking North towards Saskatoon as The Sheepdog’s reaffirm their right to be classed as the natural successors to The Allman’s, their sixth album is a brilliantly realised slice of Southern boogie with new guitarist Jimmy Bowskill they have the classic double guitar sound of The Allman’s running through Nobody, I’ve Got A Hole Where My Heart Should Be, Cherries Jubilee and the slide driven instrumental HMS Buffalo.

They broaden the scope to The Eagles on the slide driven Let It Roll a song that has gorgeous vocal harmonies and leads into The Big Nowhere a track that’s got a classic Steely Dan shuffle built around percussion and a Fender Rhodes, the Fagan and Becker jazz influenced sounds coming back on Cool Down. It’s a real mix of rock, soul, country and blues and everything is done with a sense of deference and tact, The Sheepdogs really care about this music and aren’t afraid to play a jukebox of 70’s sounding tracks. I Ain’t Cool has New Orleans jazz trumpet, You Got To Be A Man brings a bit of glam rocking, Run Baby Run has the vocal approach of CSN. Changing Colours is 17 tracks long but they pass by in a glorious kaleidoscope of 70’s Americana, go grab your Stetson, get down and boogie. 9/10

Letters From The Colony: Vignette (Nuclear Blast)

The Swedes are a country that seem to be at the forefront of many musical genres but one that seems to be pretty divisive is the djent/tech/extreme metal scene, bands such as Meshuggah are seen as the originators of this style of progressive extremity and the latest band to come out of this melting pot of monstrous riffs, non-linear time signatures and general head fuckery are the oddly named Letters From The Colony. They have been a band for seven years and yet this is their debut album, this maybe because of several line up changes but finally it seems the band have settled on a steady line up of Alexander Backlund (vocals), Sebastian Svalland (guitar), Johan Jönsegård (guitar, Emil Östberg (bass) and Jonas Sköld (drums).

This line up has created a record that is experimental, chaotic, frenzied, harmonious and bloody heavy. Palm muted, chunky riffs are backed by expressive drum patterns that have grooves heavy enough to flatten a truck while there’s not a clean vocal in site. At 55 minutes it can be hard work for casual listeners but for every breakdown fuelled track such as the ominous The Final Warning you get more schizophrenic songs such as Cataclysm and Glass Palaces but things get weirder and more experimental as things go on with tracks that feature saxophones and sampled deer calls (yes really). A complex mix of Meshuggah and Gojira, it’s not for the fainted hearted or the fair-weather, those that stay though will be rewarded with some of the most aggressive, complicated music produced this year. 7/10

High Reeper: S/T (Heavy Psych Sounds)

I think High Reeper may have listened to a bit too much Black Sabbath, Die Slow the track that opens this record has definite groove of Children Of The Grave about it, from the gargantuan riff, to the Ozzy-like shouted vocals High Reeper are clearly a band that worship the sweet leaf and the originators of heavy metal. Zach Thomas, Napz Mosley, Andrew Price, Pat Daly and Shane Trimble all come from Philadelphia and they formed this band to break into the Philly stoner scene, I’d say it’s a mission complete as this self titled debut is about as stoner as you can get taking from the classic Sabbath records (Soul Taker has a familiarity about it) but also some more modern stoner sounds of Monster Magnet or Orchid.

The dual guitars bring a bit of boogie to the tracks but the rhythm section is pure Geezer and Bill, just listen to the rhythmic voodoo of the title track for some real head tripping and a drum solo as well. As long as there is metal there will be bands that will pray to Iommi and High Reeper do it more obviously than most, their second record will need a little more diversity to help them stick out from a very dense genre. 7/10

Michael Landau: Rock Bottom (Provogue)

Well this is a bit of trip, LA guitarist Michael Landau has been indulging in mostly instrumental music for around 10 years now, but with this album he decided he needed vocals so he called up his Burning Water band mate David Frazee to step behind the mic. What has come of this collaboration is a hazy kind of space blues that owes as much to Jimi as it does The Doors, swirling organs and smoky guitar playing give this record an atmosphere reserved for the best clubs in the 1970’s where a liberal peace pipe was smoked.

In places it's lounge blues with Chris Rea or Mark Knopfler the main influences, this is due to the spoken word style of the vocals. Ten tracks go by and it’s a musical journey, the brief flashes of Landau’s soulful blues guitar have feeling when they dual with the Hammond organ things really start to fly but the record itself does occasionally become background music due to its overall slow pace. This is an album for proper blues heads; if you like your blues with a bit more rock n roll in it then look elsewhere. 6/10

Monday, 12 February 2018

Reviews: Secret Illusion, Karma Violens, Nightbreed, Rapture

Secret Illusion: Awake Before The Dawn (Lion Music)

Greek cinematic power metal that features heavy keyboards that are the driving force of the songs, the keyboard riffs and piano passages really add a classical element to the album but not to be outdone the guitar playing comes out of Malmsteen tab book, arpeggios from hell indeed. The vocals are the normal power metal fodder with Vasilis Axiotis taking the higher register throughout. The songs deal with history (Kings And Pawns), adventure and science fiction and most try to speed through as fast as possible twisting and turning with as many progressive touches, synth runs and explosive guitar solos as possible.

It's only falling that really lets the pace drop as an epic baroque ballad, which despite all the keys of Evmenios Poulias and guitars from Filippos Papakyriakou listen to the bass work and you'll see how good this band are with a ballad, a trick also repeated at the beginning of Eerie. When the drummer is allowed to let rip we get the real sound of Secret Illusion. The record only has 10 tracks but with the longer running times you get enough of the band to enjoy, let's hope they don't stay secret for too long as this illusion is pure magic. 8/10

Karma Violens: Serpent God (Growl Records)

Karma Violens bring Hellenic extremity on their third record; they have adapted their sound from a metalcore origins bringing the gloomy relentless darkness of Behemoth, Emperor and fellow countrymen Rotting Christ as well as Blackening to Locust era Machine Head. It’s blackened thrash metal at its most terrifying; possibly led by vocalist Marios’ dabble with the occult in Lucifer’s Child. From the down tuned single chord doom laden passages through to the kick drum led black metal noise Karma Violens let you know they mean serious business.

This record is a conceptual piece dealing with “the transparency of today’s social standards and ideas. Freedom or (the) lack thereof today; man’s tendency to create social ‘musts’ via religion, God and modern society” this concept has clearly led Karma Violens down a pretty aggressive pathway as the music on this record is relentless, tracks such as A Letter To The Worthless Chamber and Blood Aurora just beat you rapidly combining black metal sensibilities with some classic guitar work, it’s on the slower ominous songs such as Radix Malorum and Dark Morel where they can really create an atmosphere of dissonance, regret and melancholy.

Serpent God is the album Catharsis should have been, shorter and more aggressive with no need for self indulgence, it’s a brutal record that has the same rallying cry that Rob Flynn and co attempted on their most recent release but unlike there here it succeeds with a sheer will of force. 8/10

Nightbreed: Beyond Inferno (Witches Brew Records) [Review By Paul]

Following up on their self-titled debut in 2015, Athenian thrash outfit Nightbreed’s sophomore release is a splendid affair, full of old school thrash in the vein of early Slayer, Kreator and the like. It’s ferocious stuff from start to finish, lacerating guitar work, slicing riffs and 100mph drumming all wrapped up in 36 minutes of snarling Satanic themed incineration. Vocalist Nir Beer is astonishing, his delivery perfect for the all-out assault.

Ripped Chains, complete with the delightful line “left to rot … for the rats!” is the standout track, with a couple of neat time changes and explosive acceleration and some Tom G Warrior style grunts. I can’t fault this release in anyway. It may be old school but it’s still contemporary and, in a world where so much of what we hear is recycled, massively comforting. Thrash when done well is a beautiful thing, and Beyond Inferno is just fabulous. 8/10

Rapture: Paroxysm Of Hatred (Memento Mori)

Paroxysm Of Hatred is the second full length from Athens death metal band Rapture, it’s socio-political, horror themed music that draws heavily from the Floridian death metal scene so expect the furious thrash riffage of Death, Atheist, Obituary and Morbid Angel paired with frequent changes of pace and vocal snarls. You’ll get no ballads here just balls to the wall warp speed death metal that has some progressive influences meaning that most of the songs have numerous instrumental breaks from a good circle pit to form.

Only formed in 2012 Rapture have released one full length album, three EP’s and one Split before this record so they clearly have a lot of material and they sound honed through live playing, the drums are furious, the bass almost non-existent making its first appearance on track 3 and the guitars rip you to shreds. It’s not reinventing the wheel but for a quick blast of violence this will get you smashing full force into your friends in no time. 7/10