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Sunday, 31 December 2017

Reviews: Amethyst, Last Autumn's Dream, Fear The Fallen, Red Stone Souls (2017)

Amethyst: From The Fire (Self Released)

Amethyst are a thrash/groove band from Manchester, this year has seen the North west become a real driving force in heavy music with many of the bands we reviewed this year coming from that region. Amethyst have been doing the rounds bludgeoning crowds since 2014 and their debut album From The Fire (which features great artwork from the venerable Very Metal Art) is a blast of groove-laden heavy metal that takes its cues from Lamb Of God and Reading's technical metalcore crew Sylosis. From the opening punch of Act Of Betrayal you get the heaviness directly rammed into your face like an unwanted post Xmas chocolate bar.

Retribution brings a dose of melody with both the harmonious lead playing and the final outro floats away with some quality noodling. With a rhythm section of Dan Quinley (bass) and Aaron Youd (drums) who do their best to kick your ass royally on every song, from the classic thrash of One More Day, the more modern Nevermore, the blisteringly pacy title track and the old school stomp of the technical Vile & Corrupted, the tracks are driven by thunderous blast beats and the dual guitars of Simon Watts and James Schofield, with Schofield not only the lead guitar mastery but also the voice of the demon. As a debut full length From The Fire is an incendiary statement of intent that makes you want to listen to it and headbang again, a word of warning though if your neck already aches, the second listen will totally bugger it! 8/10

Last Autumn's Dream: Fourteen (Avalon)

Can you guess how many albums Last Autumn's Dream are on? The imaginatively titled Fourteen is the latest installment from the hard rock/AOR band formed by Swedish vocalist and keyboardist Mikael Erlandsson and guitarist Andy Malecek from German hard rockers Fair Warning.  Go! and Turn It Up are the songs you'd want to hear from this band, slick, slightly glammy rockers, interspersed with louche lazy anthems like Siren and some Van Hagar-like on I Don't Wanna Wait.

The record is chock full of melodic AOR tracks such as Wouldn't U Like, Shadow Of The Night and the poppy Walkin' Talkin' Miracle. This polished record features some excellent performances from all concerned and with 13 albums preceding it there was no chance there would be a substantial shift in sound but if you like glossy hard rock then you'll want to get in this dream. 7/10

Fear The Fallen: The Order (Sound House Records)

When I saw that Christian Slater was fronting Fear The Fallen, I did wonder why the star of True Romance, Broken Arrow and Hard Rain was slumming it with a heavy metal band from Darwen Lancashire but when I did a bit more research I found out that it wasn't him at all, yes I was disappointed but I don't think Hollywood Christian could have pulled off the kind of vocals this Christian exhibits, somewhere between Chester Bennington and Layne Staley, it's his emotional wide ranging vocals that give this band their fervent power.

The rest of the band are no slouches either though guitarists Sam Crowther and Dan McNally, drummer Matthew Dearden and bassist Rob Upton all play with virtuosity with some metalcore riffage meeting with the punching hard rock of Powder, Plot & Treason. It's a modern metal record with the constant reminders of the totalitarian control themes the record is built upon. It's a little safe at times but for a debut there is a lot of promise shown. 6/10

Red Stone Souls: Mother Sky (Self Released)

Four bearded dudes? Blissed out vibes? Fuzz-drenched Sabbath worship? It looks like we've got a stoner rock record on our hands, Detroit band Red Stone Sky channel the urban decay of their home state with fat 70's riffage. It's a record that needs to be played through a valve amplifier in a black light filled room and the highest grade green money can buy, your head begins banging from the outset swathes of riffs come come at you on the first track alone.

However as the record goes on there are more an more from rocking biker anthems to dreamy psych freakouts, Red Stone Souls bring to mind Monster Magnet due to the vocals and their obvious love of mind expanding narcotics, but also The Sword due to the sheer riffiness (which I've decided now is a word). Void Walker crawls like a pot-head coming up for snacks, Truckers has a bluesy swagger to it that builds into a cracking instrumental freakout at the climax and it leads into the massive doom overture of Before The Devil Knows You're Dead. Spark one up, turn up the speakers and let your hair down for this slab of stoner metal from Red Stone Souls, far out man! 8/10   

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Reviews: Ghost, Apophys, Bestialord, Deathcult (Reviews By Paul and Rich)

Ghost: Ceremony & Devotion - Live In The USA 2017 (Lorma Vista)  [Review By Paul]

Love them or hate them, there is no denying that Ghost have made a massive impact over their time on the rock scene. Headline tours across Europe and the USA, controversy around the identity of the band and the legal challenges against Papa Emeritus, Tobias Forge, by former band members as well as the lukewarm response on social media to the decision to award them the Saturday night headline slot at Bloodstock; it’s been interesting and entertaining all the way. Ceremony & Devotion captures the band live in San Francisco on their 2017 US tour and mighty fine it is too. There is clearly some polishing on the recording, but this is a fine double live release which provides an accurate audio experience of the band in the live arena.

Cutting out some of the in between song pauses which often slow the pace of their live show, Ceremony & Devotion is a lean beast, clocking in at 72 minutes for their complete set. Kicking off with Square Hammer, the band move swiftly through an opening salvo of tracks before slowing the pace a little with Body And Blood, one of the weaker songs in their repertoire. An enthusiastic crowd enhances the show throughout although it’s only when things get a little chunkier with Year Zero that the pace increases. Papa’s humorous chatter is always entertaining, and it is captured with skill on this release. Mummy Dust allows the band to rock out with their heaviest song whilst the double whammy of Ritual and Monstrance Clock conclude a solid live recording in style. If you like Ghost, this will be a must have release. If you don’t, you’ll hate it. 8/10

Apophys: Devoratis (Ultimate Massacre Productions) [Review By Rich]

Devoratis is the second album by Dutch death metallers Apophys who feature members of God Dethroned and Erebus. This is an album which will definitely be getting things off to a good start in 2018. It’s an absolute cracker. Apophys have perfected a sound on Devoratis which is equally brutal, technical, atmospheric and melodic. It retains the brutal and evil roots of the genre but is not afraid to mix in elements from other genres.

The playing is very proficient and technical throughout the album but the songs are all structured extremely well so it is technical for the sake of it. Particular highlights for me were Xiux – The Parasite and Retaliate. Lyrically the album is science fiction themed with a concept running throughout. The album boasts a massive production which positively burst out of my sound system with crippling intensity. Overall Apophys have absolutely nailed it with Devoratis which is a prime example of how good death metal can still be in the 21st century and that the genre is far from stale. 8/10

Bestialord: Lord Of The Burning (Symbol Of Domination And Cimmerian Shade Recordings)[Review By Rich]

Lord Of The Burning is the debut album of Kansas based doom metal band Bestialord. Bestialord were formed by members of Sanctus Infernum and play self styled occult horror metal. Bestialord offer up a very old school sound with 80’s doom metal being the prevalent influence though there is a big influence from old school death metal and black metal. The pace of the songs alters throughout the album giving a bit of variation and helping to retain interest. You get slow burning doom such as What Is The End to faster paced ones such as the title track.

The performances are great throughout the album. The harsh vocals by frontman Mark Anderson really add to the evil and malevolent feel of the album. The performances are complimented by a fine production job which is clear but not too clean sounding. Bestialord have a great debut album to put out in January which is a pure love letter to 1980’s extreme metal. Lord Of The Burning oozes pure nostalgia and by the end of it you will have an overwhelming urge to grab your Celtic Frost and Candlemass records and give them a spin. 8/10

Deathcult: Cult Of The Goat (Soulseller Records) [Review By Rich]

Ten years after their debut album, Deathcult return with a second album of black metal filthiness. With a line up that includes members and ex-members of Taake and Gorgoroth, Deathcult definitely know their black metal and deliver it in spades on this record. At its core Cult Of The Goat is very much a classic sounding Norwegian black metal album but it also has a few twists and turns and a couple of tricks up its sleeve which may take you by surprise but doesn’t detract from its primal black metal core.

 There’s a definite punkiness running through the album but there’s moments such as the rock breakdown in The Oath, the middle eastern instrumentation throughout Devilgoat and the xylophone led atmosphere of closing instrumental Laudate Hircum. Cult Of The Goat is a bold album mixing gnarly Norwegian black metal with some different styles and ideas. Whilst one or two tracks could do with trimming on the whole it works and is a very enjoyable album. 7/10

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Re-Issue Review: A Farewell To Kings 40th Anniversary Edition (Review By Paul)

Rush: A Farewell To Kings 40th Anniversary Edition (UMC)

1976 had seen Rush deliver their opus 2112. Much has been written about how this release saved their career and gave them the freedom with which they were able to create their music for the next 38 years. It is widely acknowledged that after Caress Of Steel, Anthem Records were certainly putting pressure on Rush. Well, after 2112, the pressure certainly abated and in 1977 the band settled into the Monmouthshire countryside at Rockfield Studios to record album number 5. Released on 1 September 1977, A Farewell To Kings is a mere 37 minutes long, short by today’s standards where digital recording allows mediocre artists to churn out 60+ minutes with ease.

37 minutes it may be, but what a glorious 37 minutes you got. The title track opens the album, a retrospective look at history, Alex Lifeson’s gentle acoustic guitar, light timpani and the delicate ebb and flow of Geddy Lee’s keys ease in before a crashing riff kicks the song off. Lee’s vocals, that instantly recognisable high-pitched soar, bring to life the astute lyrics of drummer Neil Peart. His lyrics evolving slowly away from the fantasy and Sci-Fi influences and towards social commentary. A Farewell To Kings contains in my view some of Alex Lifeson’s finest guitar work, with rip roaring solos cascading through the title track.

You then you arrive at one of Rush’s finest works - Xanadu. The opening birdsong of the Welsh countryside, the stunning five-minute instrumental introduction which leads to Peart’s narrative based on Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan. What Xanadu also introduced to Rush was the transformation to full use of synthesisers, a step forward from the synth effects of 2112. This meant that when performed live, Rush’s evolution into technology accelerated with their use of multiple effect pedals amongst many other options. It also saw Lee and Lifeson use the now legendary double neck guitars, a real spectacle. For me, Xanadu remains one of their most impressive and evocative songs.

How to follow that 11-minute opus? Well, try Closer To The Heart, an anthem that would be synonymous with the band for the rest of their career. Co-written by Peter Talbot, a close friend of Peart, it charted at number 36 in the UK charts and remained in their set list for most of their tours despite being dropped on the Vapour Trails tour as the band were “sick of it”. Listen to the rabid Brazilian crowd sing it on Rush In Rio and you’ll understand why the band had to bring it back! Two songs which fit comfortably on the album follow, Cinderella Man and the folky Madrigal. Both are lyrically clever, and the playing is superb. They lead neatly into the sci-fi themes of closing Cygnus X-1 (Book One – The Voyage), the story of the flight of the Rocinante spacecraft as it is drawn to the black hole Cygnus X-1; it’s explorer pilot believing that there is something worth exploring through it.

The track opens with the spoken narrative by producer Terry Brown, before Lee’s heavily syncopated bass riffs allow the band to drown out the opening effects, the synths again prominent as the swirling time signatures change. From there on, it’s a rip-roaring ride as we journey with our ‘hero’ as the Rocinante is sucked into Cygnus X-1, Lee hitting his highest ever pitch on a studio album as “every nerve is torn apart”. Cygnus X-1 of course leads to part two, the eighteen-minute story which opens 1978’s Hemispheres, as we learn about the story of Apollo and Dionysus.

Disc two in the special edition is where things get just a little exciting. A full concert, recorded at Hammersmith Odeon on February 20th, 1978, as Rush toured in support of Kings. At their peak, Rush could kick out the jams with the best of them and this recording demonstrates this. Kicking off with the riff heavy Bastille Day, both the band and crowd sound on top form. For a three-piece, I would argue that Rush in the 1970s were as heavy as any of their peers. You can, however, hear the way in which their sound was developing, the embryonic shoots of their move towards a more synth heavy sound that would be fully in play by 1981’s Moving Pictures already audible.

The joy of listening to Rush live in the 1970s is that you get the opportunity to hear tracks that have long been dropped from the set list. Unsurprising given their vast catalogue, but what a delight to hear Lakeside Park, By-Tor And The Snow Dog and Kings itself. Although many of this setlist remained staples throughout their career, the gusto and rawness which gripped both the band and the audience as they blasted out Something For Nothing and 2112 in all its glory is fantastic.

The Hammersmith recording also allows a small window into the professionalism surging through a band who four years earlier had only released one record. To think that within that four-year period, Rush would move forward to set lists that contained Xanadu, 2112 and Cygnus X-1 is astonishing. The intricacies of these tracks, which are delivered perfectly remain quite breath-taking. The encores stand the test of time as well. Working Man, Fly By Night and In The Mood all rockers which still grab you by the balls in 2017. The seeds of Neil Peart’s long term drum solo production which ultimately resulted in three solos in latter sets can be found in the solo which precedes the final track, a rarely heard Cinderella Man.

The third disc follows a that of the remasters 2112 release with covers of tracks on Kings from other bands with an affinity to Rush. Given their history of touring with Rush, it’s unsurprising that Rush selected John Petrucci and co to give Xanadu a go. Musically, it’s close to the original, as you’d probably expect. However, James LaBrie is no match for Geddy Lee and struggles throughout. It becomes a bit painful by the end of verse one, and by ten minutes you wish it was an instrumental.

Why Big Wreck were selected to cover Closer To The Heart is beyond my comprehension. Ian Thornley's only decent vocal is the final note and whilst the heavier version kicks the track along, it is not that enjoyable. Similarly, Countrymen The Trews attempt at Cinderella Man doesn’t really hit the spot, although it’s a decent enough stab. Alain Johannes version of Madrigal is turgid, the multi-instrumentalist not really suited vocally to the track. So far so poor, but the unreleased outtake of instrumental effects Cygnus X-2 Eh? does at least provide something new to hear.

So overall, one superb album, a must-have live release and some rather uninspiring covers. It’s worth it for the Hammersmith show on its own. 9/10

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Book Review: What Does This Button Do? By Bruce Dickinson (Review By Paul)

Bruce Dickinson: What Does This Button Do? Harper Collins

Sitting in the sun sipping a beer on Faro Marina four days before Christmas, I finished What Does This Button Do? A thoroughly entertaining read, which describes the career and some of the life-defining moments of the Iron Maiden frontman. Is it worth reading? Well, in my view yes. Here’s a few thoughts about why.

Much of Dickinson’s life story is already out there. Just read his Wikipedia page and you get a pretty decent summary. What his autobiography adds is a bit more meat on the bones. 367 pages, all originally hand written on A4 and edited to provide an honest chronology of his life, starting with his Worksop background, his initial upbringing by his grandparents and his nomadic parents who moved around the country with their various employment opportunities. Dickinson writes fluidly, with a gritty clarity which you believe is all his own work; far away from those awful ghost-written books that most stars employ. There is little in here about drink or drugs, few accounts of waking up in someone else’s bedroom with no recollection about how they got there. Instead you are shown an insight into the harrowing time at boarding school, with the endemic bullying and humiliation and Dickinson’s stuttering steps into the world of live music. His departure from school is delightfully captured, and the reader breathes a sigh of relief as he escapes, only to put sufficient effort into his subsequent studies to gain three A Level ‘E’ grades, sufficient to obtain entry for his history degree at Queen Mary College, University of London.

It’s from here on in that we get a window on the early Dickinson drive and determination, his formative years with the band Speed, his move to Samson, complete with Thunderstick and the now legendary approach of Maiden Manager Rod Smallwood at the Reading Festival which resulted in the transformation of Iron Maiden into one of the planet’s biggest bands. I imagine there’s quite a bit left out here, with little mention of Paul Di’anno; in fact, I’m not sure he’s even mentioned. Similarly, there is limited detail about his departure from Maiden in 1992, and nothing about his replacement Blaze Bayley except for a complimentary comment and the acknowledgement that Bayley had an impossible job following Dickinson in the 1990s. The return to Maiden is also sparse in detail, which may disappoint those looking for a bit of dirt. There is, however, some fascinating tales from his solo career which are incredibly entertaining.

Of particular interest to me was the detailed accounts of Dickinson’s conversion to flying, the rigmarole that accompanied his initial qualification as a pilot and the subsequent commercial pilot licences. Whilst it is very interesting, in typical fashion he recounts it as rather routine, despite the fact it was clearly a challenging and complex process. The descriptions of the organisation of Ed Force One for the Maiden tours is similarly perfect, despite the obvious logistics that it entailed. Whilst the humour and challenges are neatly described, at times it all seems a little bit too easy. Maybe that is the Dickinson drive and determination; take things by the horns and come up with solutions, not problems.

His matter-of-fact account of taking the diagnosis of head and neck cancer on head first is both inspiring and slightly glossed over. The unpleasant side effects are recounted with discomfort, but with the understandable decision to leave family and friends out of the book from the start, the human side of the impact is, perhaps reasonably, diluted. I’d have been interested to read more about the support he received from the metal community. His praise of his medical team is emotional although not everyone gets a referral to Harley Street; the perks of the Maiden insurance policy no doubt.

Overall, What Does This Button Do? is a cracking read. Not exactly a history of his time in Maiden; in fact, much of his latter year work with the band is reduced to small segments and his views on current music are noticeable by their absence. It really is a history of the man and his life, with Maiden just happening to play a part and facilitate a financial contribution which enabled him to source other roles in life. I’d recommend it but with the caveat that it may not reveal as much as you might think. 8/10

Friday, 22 December 2017

Reviews: Even Flow, Reverence, Deadwood Lake, Crom

Even Flow: Life Has Just Begun (Mjriam Inc)

Italy has a bit of a history with progressive rock and metal, one of their most popular acts are Labyrinth who’s singer Rob Tiranti took Even Flow as a support for his Wonder World tour. Musically though Even Flow have less in common musically with Labyrinth, they have no galloping power metal tendencies at all, no their music is more like that of fellow countrymen DGM or even Norwegians Circus Maximus, although Come To Life does sound like Pagan's Mind track. Their music is progressive, but with huge chorus hooks and AOR sounding synths, they add to this great vocal harmonies and a willingness to experiment with the formula sometimes getting heavier than you’d expect but also knowing when to ease off the gas and slow things down.

The band are four piece formed by brothers Pietro Paolo (guitar) and Giorgio Lunesu (drums) and have been releasing records since 2008, Life Has Just Begun is their fourth record and it’s probably the one that will break them, there was band on Frontiers called Seven Tears and Even Flow remind me a lot of them, with Dream Theater style instrumental sections on Azure Haze and bombastic riffs on Alternative State Of Mind, they also have the ability to stir those memories of heady days of 80’s radio rock on tracks such as Believe and Oblivion.

There is a lot of emotion in the vocals of Marco Pastorino who is counteracted by Pietro to give the band great double vocal harmony with Gavino Salaris basswork very audible and at times vital to drive the record letting Pietro play some extravagant solos and the keys do their work. I listened to this record a few times for this review and each time it got better and better, Even Flow are great progressive metal/rock band, they deserve all the kudos they get, for your own sake track down Life Has Just Begun as this is the ideal jumping off point for this Italian band. 8/10

Reverence: Foreverence (Razar Ice Records)

The new record from US power metal band Reverence's new EP is a tribute to their guitarist Pete Rossi, who passed away unexpectedly this past March. The EP is the follow-up to 2015’s Gods Of War and also features two bonus tracks from their up and coming live CD, due out next year. The music is conventional US power metal, solid heavy riffs, sturdy drumming and vocalist that can shout to the heavens. The title track instrumental opens the record, after this the first 'proper' track kicks in with flurry of guitars then eases into a mid-paced groovy metal track, the quicken up on Phoenix Rising, go a bit doom on New Order and channel their inner Van Halen on the guitar solo Final Flight before ending the studio tracks with Queensryche-esque ballad. A good 6 song metal album with two live bonus tracks for good measure, a good EP that reminds you that Reverence are still a going concern. 7/10

Deadwood Lake: Forest Of Whispers (Self Released)

Deadwood Lake is an atmospheric black metal project created by Bruce Powell, in memory of his late brother Gary who died in a car accident. All of their music is written about Gary and is in memory to him. Paul reviewed the band’s debut EP Remembrance bestowing it a mighty 9/10 so can their debut full length live up the lofty expectations? As I pressed play on the decks of doom the eerie wind and distant bell tolling started the record in a traditional black metal style, however then some acoustic guitars cut in to start Departure properly, then with scream the main riff kicks in, Tom Warren destroying his kit with furious blastbeats and little jazz inflections keeping the attention as Powell thumps his bass to bring the heavy riffs, taking control as the lead instrument throughout.

Flirting between melodic cleans and distorted rhythms Ryan Wills’ guitar playing is mightily impressive his classical Maiden runs are all over this record with the boiler room of Powell and Warren not only bringing the noise instrumentally but also vocally with a mix of black metal screams and guttural roars. With this being a D.I.Y style band you’d expect patchy production and mixing but you can hear a pin drop with the clarity of this record, it’s breathless, exhilarating black metal with a vision that is far beyond that of many bands with more experience would fail to capitalize on. The Golden Path starts with normal vocals and is one of the more melodic songs on the record with Warren showing how good his drumming is as it blooms into another black metal masterpiece.

In Forest Of Whispers you can hear the influences of British black metal leaders Winterfylleth but also the progression and failure to compromise of Emperor and Opeth (the title track reminds me so much of Akerfeldt). The record sits at 12 songs and they all are vital to the progression of the album, there is no filler, when you think the battery is getting too much they use Final Reflection to slow down with a melodic black metal ballad featuring breathy clean vocals and a huge key change finale. Deadwood Lake are at the precipice of becoming the next big thing in British black metal, they just need that one big show so they can reinforce just how good they are, sooner or later though this forest won’t be whispering anymore. 9/10

Crom: When Northmen Die (Pure Steel Records)

Make sure you have your axe sharpened and shield equipped when you press play on this third full length from Walter "Crom" Grosse. Epic Viking metal is the name of the game here odes to Odin and tributes to Thor make up all 13 of the tracks on this record with Crom taking up all the vocal, guitar and bass duties, delegating only the drums to Seraph. This German one man band does pretty much exactly what you want Viking metal to do, the songs let your sword be held aloft, more in the vein of classic metal than the death and black metal influenced Viking fodder it’s a very notable feat that one (two) man has made everything you hear.

Tracks such as Shields Of Gold has Crom duetting with the nastier vocals of Paymon but it sticks to the Viking sound clobbering you with big riffs at every turn. There is only so much one man can do on a record with one genre so yes there is some crossover to the songs and at 13 tracks it becomes more evident how much of this album is audibly similar but if you are the sort to drink all of your beverages from a drinking horn and wear a horned helmet constantly (as I’d like to think Walter Grosse is) you won’t care as Crom will fill the gap as you wait for the new record from Amon Amarth or Grand Magus. 7/10

Reviews: Morbid Angel, Jess And The Ancient Ones, Lord Of Cyclopes, Palpable Defeat (Reviews By Paul)

Morbid Angel: Kingdoms Disdained (Silver Lining Music)

Six years since the controversial Illud Divinum Insanus was released, Morbid Angel is back with Kingdoms Disdained. I say Morbid Angel, because the line-up bears no resemblance to the 2011 line-up, with only sole original member Trey Azagthoth still in the line-up. Steve Tucker has returned to the fold for his first appearance since 2003’s Heretic whilst new members Scott Fuller (Annihilated) and Dan Vadim Von make their debut. Now I’m not the world’s biggest Morbid Angel fan and I would struggle in any argument about classic line-ups.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Illud Divinum Insanus although I applauded the band for their change in style at the time. So, what does Kingdoms Disdained do? Well, it hits all the right spots in classic death metal, with the expected blast beats, crushing riffs and technical intricacies that make a solid album with Azagthoth returning the band to its roots. From the opening salvo of Piles Of Little Arms, the crushing The Righteous Voice through to album closer The Fall Of Idols Tucker’s visceral growl unnerves, Fuller’s blast beats demolish and the guitar work is brutal. In a year of mighty death metal releases, Kingdoms Disdained is yet another that can hold its head high. 8/10

Jess And The Ancient Ones: The Horse and Other Weird Tales (Svart Records)

Trippy psychedelic rock from Finland? Why not. Jess And The Ancient Ones’ third album, and the first for four years is a superb 35 minutes which takes you on a journey through the kaleidoscope. It’s bat shit crazy but totally addictive. Two tracks clock in at over seven minutes whilst the rest are closer to three tops, so it’s accessible and so groovy. The meander of Shining, with Abraham’s keyboards a delight, the bizarrely titled Your Exploding Heads has your foot tapping from the start whilst the seven minute You and Eyes perfectly paced with a sound akin to The Doors, the keyboard sound reminiscent of Ray Manzarek.

Much of the album is similar in style to Sweden’s Blues Pills but with a more dominant keyboard feel. It’s hard not to make vocal comparisons with Elin Larson but there’s also bits of the smouldering of the late Amy Winehouse here. Jess is no tribute act though with a style and power all her own. This is an enjoyable album which combines the sounds of the 70s with a modern twist. Fast paced and neatly delivered, Jess And The Ancient Ones are well worth checking out. 8/10

Lord Of Cyclopes: Karma Hammer (Crewl Sound/Rambo Music)

Karma Hammer is the debut release from the stoner rock outfit Lord Of Cyclopes who hail from Gothenburg. Combining elements of Muse,QOTSA, Mastodon and Red Fang, the opening musical track Inverted Midas Touch races by, lots of crashing drumming, muted vocals and jangling guitar work. The production isn’t the best, but you live with that as the title track screeches into play, chunky riffs leading the way. Albanian Rollercoaster will get you groove on with its infectious rhythm and drive.

There’s a certain repetition in the band’s style but this doesn’t detract in any way as the album charges ahead. Pelle Stubelius’s vocals fit well whilst the rest of the band, Joe Johannsen, George Winnberg and Jorge B’Atz all hammer the shit out of their instruments to great effect. By the time you reach the six minutes plus album closer Our Faces, with its country tinged edge outro, the chances are you’ll be quietly content inside. A very decent debut. 7/10

Palpable Defeat: Dystopia (Self Released)

An interesting mix of progressive rock, aggressive metal, jazz and numerous other genres, the debut album from Palpable Defeat takes several listens to get your head around. Intricate time changes and numerous lengthy passages really make you work. Take the title track Dystopia. A ten-minute epic, rhythmic movements fusing with clean harmonies and challenging sections all wrapped up with some layering that belies the fact that the band are a four piece. Josh Padgett’s clean vocals give a crisp and pure edge to the tracks, whilst his guitar work alongside that of Ben Daniels is sweet. There is nothing simple going on here, but there is hell of a lot going on here.

If you had to look for influences, then I’d be struggling. There is everything from The Mars Volta to Manic Street Preachers in this package. Dystopia is neatly balanced with shorter tracks complimenting several lengthier selections, such as album closer Untitled Journey, which builds impressively over its 12 minutes. I’m not sure on the death metal vocals that are scattered through the album as I don’t think it adds anything but overall this is well worth a listen if you want more than meat and two veg metal. 7/10

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Reviews: We Could Build An Empire, Moonshine Oversight, Reveal, Status Minor

We Could Build An Empire: In This Place (Mighty Music)

I’d seen others reviewing the second record from Swedish band We Could Build An Empire, the feedback was mostly positive so I decided to pick up a copy and see for myself. The record opens with The Great Escape a song that has a fuzzy riff and some desert psychedelia of Josh Homme and co, it’s a strutting start that gets you in the right frame of mind for the bands mildly progressive alternative rock sound, they build on a foundation of Alice In Chains (We Are All In This Together) add a smidgen of Peter Gabriel (On The Run), some Soundgarden (Worry Of The Heart) and remind me a lot of the more recent VHB material. Produced by Jens Lundgren the sound is glistenly clear. To really make this record a stand out, the band tried to make sure every song was diverse, trying to differentiate itself from the rest of the record.

Luckily Pontus Wallin (guitars), Marcus Pehrsson (bass, vocals) and Michael Olsson (drums) slot together like a well oiled set of cogs with even the more wild cacophonies such as the climax of Red III they are totally in sync. At only 8 songs the trio have a lot to do to make an impact with so few songs but they do it admirably, each song does really capture your attention for a different reason and they are all unlike the track that precedes it. Some are heavy riff rockers, some such as On The Run are more melodic progressive natured tracks with bit of Barrett era Floyd about them, The Rise And The Fall is a bit poppy while the title track has a shimmering guitar line and reverbed vocals on top of the progressive off time drumbeat. A interesting follow up record from this Swedish band one that takes risks that reap rewards. 8/10

Moonshine Oversight: Vanishing Lines (Self Released)

What images are conjured in your mind when you hear a band named Moonshine Oversight? For me I could hear the jangling of Southern style rock with smoky flavours and even some banjos. How wrong I was, this debut album is more in the alternative/progressive style of music favoured by Porcupine Tree and Tool. The band is made up of three Julien's; Pivi on guitar/vocals, Ventura on guitar, Sorel on drums and the four piece is rounded out by Florent Bazzano on bass, they combine to make the record a tough sounding, with technical erratic baselines, keening guitars on Beyond The Stars and massive drum fills.

The songs have melodies with an emotive sound betraying the progressive touches, it's also pretty heavy in places and at only 8 songs long it doesn't linger too long even on the more expansive tracks, the Tool influence is at it's best on Moonrakers and Sparkling Cut, they change the style with the haunting Southern style of Young Man which sees Julien Pivi in full voice, his soulful pipes a real defining feature. Vanishing Lines is a record that goes against the grain it's not what you think it would be, touches of Southern metal, alternative metal and big dollop of progressive mastery, for a debut it has a real maturity about it. 7/10

Reveal: Timeline (FC Metal)

Swiss, Swedish and Spanish heavy power metal Iced Earth with some Kamelot due to the keyboards but the riffs come thick and fast from founder member Tino Hevia who drives the speeding rhythms of Undercontrol, Reveal and Timeline. The wild double kicking of Dani Cabal and galloping bass from Jorge Ruiz mean the riffs on this record are tough and heavy, the melodic touches on Dark Angel and Blood And Sand come from the incendiary lead guitar of David Figue with the gleaming keys of Elena Pinto adding to the soundscapes.

He has recruited Swedish singer Rob Lundgraen he has some powerful pipes and uses them too good use throughout. Musically it’s the slightly thrashy style that mean the record has you banging your head as it continues through the tried and tested troupes of historical and fantasy fiction. Timeline is a pretty strong debut from Reveal they can craft a song with blood pumping riffs and big shout along choruses, I’d expect them to go down well to a partisan live crowd, if heavy power metal gets you excited then don’t conceal yourself from this band any longer. 7/10

Status Minor: Three Faces Of Antoine (Lion Music)

This third record by Finnish act Status Minor, is a very dark concept album, the lyrical content of the record is very mean and violent, low tuned riffs, gloomy passages of emotion but also melodic hints all make this progressive metal album sit in the Symphony X circle of influence. It’s been a six year gap between these albums but as founding member and guitarist Sami Saarinen put it he considers this the best Status Minor album so far. It’s hard to disagree as the songs bring the story of a couple with a secret to life, it even includes the legendary Slenderman, guitars and keys work together in unison much like they do on any Dream Theater or Shadow Gallery record.

The rhythm section is tight and expressive and the vocals have a certain duality to them as part of the story. It’s and aggressive record with long instrumental sections punctuated by spoken word pieces that drive the narrative, many of the songs are longer format but nothing more than you’d expect with this kind of music, the playing is scientific but never lacks creative flair, a couple of the songs could be enjoyed as standalone pieces but everything works so much better as part of the record itself. Three Faces Of Antoine is an album that requires repeated plays and the finale is truly haunting, the storytelling more than music made me want to listen to the end and as I did the story became clearer. Status Minor have successfully put a mystery to music and they have done it very well indeed. 8/10

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Reviews: Autopsy, Drakonis, Panorama, Raintimes, Wardomized (Reviews By Rich)

Autopsy: Puncturing The Grotesque (Peaceville)

When it comes to gnarly and disgusting old school death metal then there is no band who does it better than the legendary Autopsy who are back with a new EP Puncturing The Grotesque. Since their reformation in 2009 Autopsy have been busy boys putting out a new release every year. Despite the quantity of material they have been releasing there is no sacrifice in the quality. Puncturing The Grotesque kicks things off with a bit of a pointless intro track before really kicking into gear with the title track which is a full on tour de force of aggression channelling a bit of thrash and hardcore punk as well as the rotten death metal that Autopsy are known for.

The next four songs incorporate the doom elements which have been prevalent in Autopsy’s sound since their debut Severing Survival in 1989 with The Sick Get Sicker and Gas Mask Lust being particular highlights. Things come to a close with a cover of US thrash band Bloodbath (not to be confused with the Swedish death metal supergroup). This EP is short and sweet with a running time of 22 minutes and by the time you’ve reached the end you end up wanting to play the whole EP again.  Another fine release from the US death metal legends. 8/10

Drakonis: The Great Miasma (Hostile Media)

Northern Ireland’s Drakonis hit us with EP number three The Great Miasma. Featuring members of Waylander, Drakonis play a mix of black and death metal and such is the maturity and professionalism of their sound they strike you as an experienced band rather than relative newcomers. The Great Miasma offers up three songs each fairly different to the other. The opening title track is a slower number which builds a malevolent atmosphere throughout. The second track Let Us Pray is a far more furious affair full of razor sharp riffing and blastbeats abound. The third and final track Queen Of Swarms manages to give both aggression and atmosphere equal footing. This is an impressive and solid EP which is well worth a listen by fans of black and/or death metal. Very much looking forward to seeing what this band has in store in the future. 8/10

Panorama: Around The World (Rock Of Angels Records)

Around The World is the debut album from American/Swiss/Finnish rockers Panorama. The band features members and ex-members of Adagio, Pink Cream 69, Amoral and Unisonic. What is on offer during Around The World is melodic hard rock with a bit of a classic heavy metal influence.  The songs are a mainly high energy rockers such as the title track, The Glory Within and Shout It Out. There is also a ballad in the form of The Highest Mountain. The band performances are impressive with the melodic vocals of frontman Christian Palin and the guitar playing of Sammy Lasagni and Ben Varon being of particular note. The production courtesy of Dennis Ward (who also plays bass on the album) is also very good. Around The World is an enjoyable album but it is a bit on the repetitive side and not many songs stick out. Fans of 80’s hard rock and heavy metal will enjoy but there’s nothing mind-blowing to be heard on the album. 6/10

Raintimes: Raintimes (Frontiers Records)

Raintimes is the debut album by the Italian melodic rock band of the same name. Raintimes are a bit of an Italian supergroup with members from various bands such as Shining Line, Wheels Of Fire and Von Groove and this debut album is born out of a love of American AOR band The Storm. Raintimes contains all the usual components of an AOR record such as strong melodies, big hooks, vibrant guitar work and vocal harmonies. The album consists of 11 radio friendly songs that range from hook filled rockers such as Forever Gone and I Need Tonight to gentle ballads such as Swan and I See The Light. There is also a short instrumental also called Raintimes halfway through the album which is played purely on keyboards. Raintimes is a fantastic album which although containing nothing that hasn’t been done before by an AOR band it contains a bunch of strong hook filled songs guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.  If AOR isn’t your thing then there’s nothing for you here but if like me you are a sucker for the genre then this album comes highly recommended.8/10

Wardomized: Forced To Eat From The Apple Tree (Self Released)

Forced To Eat From The Apple Tree is the second EP from Northern Ireland grind bastards Wardomized. The EP consists of only four tracks but as you expect with grindcore it is short and straight to the point. There are influences from other extreme subgenres evident throughout the EP such as thrash and death metal in the ripping opener Suicide Death Rock. Things get more experimental on second track Blue, White And Black Flowers which incorporates some sludge elements whilst also having female vocals which contrast nicely with the guttural growls of frontman Stephen McKeown. Third track Brainrot brings the grind back to the fore before finishing with my personal favourite of the EP the grind thrash madness of The Ultimate Demise. The EP has a nice raw production which compliments the pure ugliness of the music. Everything sounds wonderfully disgusting. Forced To Eat From The Apple Tree is a nice little EP which will 100% appeal to those who like their metal on the nasty side.  With a running length of only 12 minutes it’s over before you know what’s hit you. Another band I shall be keeping a close eye on. 8/10

Reviews: Riddlemaster, Snowy Dunes, Three Seasons, The Black Marbles (Review By Paul)

Riddlemaster: Bring The Magik Down (Metalapolis)

You may recall the Manilla Road Album To Kill a King that we reviewed back in July. Well, Riddlemaster combines Mark ‘The Shark’ Shelton with drummer Rick Fisher, who played on the early Manilla Road releases from 1979 to 1984. EC Hellwell adds the bass and you have a powerful trio whose classic rock sound isn’t a million miles away from Manilla Road. The epic title track opens the album, all 14 minutes of it and you soon get a flavour of where the band are going. More fantastical lyrics, with the music containing the characteristic style that Shelton has long delivered.

His vocal delivery on Crossing The Line mixes Jim Dandy from Black Oak Arkansas with Zakk Wylde. The song plods a little but has sufficient depth not to cause an issue, whilst Shelton’s solos impress. Every Mothers Son changes the tempo with a rather tasty acoustic edged almost country style track, Shelton’s extended soloing highlighting the man’s undoubted talent.

Another change in direction for the haunting Lair Of The White Witch, which meanders pleasantly with some exceptional playing. In fact, the whole album showcases just how good a guitarist Shelton is. This album has a real 70s feel, shades of lighter Sabbath appear from time to time, such as on Ghosts Of The Plains, which is a superb calming track. I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by just how enjoyable this release is. 8/10

Snowy Dunes: Atlantis (Hevisike Records)

Another day, another review and another band from Sweden. This time it’s Snowy Dunes, a fuzzed-up ball of psychedelic rock from Stockholm. Atlantis is their sophomore release. With five tracks totalling over 42 minutes of music you get the picture from the start that this is going to be a meandering, rambling journey rather than a ride on the Bullet Train. Opener Atlantis Pt II complies with all expectations, tripping through the first seven minutes before Christoffer Kingstedt’s guitar is unleashed to good effect.

The band combine to a cymbal crashing crescendo, Niklas Eisen’s wailing vocal adding to the cacophony. If you like the 70s sound that seems to be prevalent across Scandinavia now, then Snowy Dunes will probably be another band to add to your list. Chunks of stoner and hard rock merge with the psychedelic aspects throughout. Testify has a slight change with a White Stripes stomp combining with the more expected Zeppelin and Sabbath elements which kick in. Well produced and expertly performed, this does everything expected. 7/10

Three Seasons: Things Change (Transubstans Sweden)

Album number 4 from the Swedish Blues and psychedelic three-piece and it’s a fabulous release. Full of groove, swagger and a lot more than your average band in this genre. First thing that strikes you is the retro sound, cemented in the 1960s and 70s but with a freshness which immediately sparks the interest. Secondly are the smoky vocals of Sartez Faraj, which to me is almost akin to Joanne Shaw Taylor, whose husky low tones is always a delight. Things Change is crammed full of lazy yet energetic tracks that combine the unique styles of The Groundhogs and Hendrix amid a haze of other influences.

The musicianship is top quality with Faraj's guitar playing impressive and ably supported by the bass of Olle Risberg and the jazz style drumming of Thomas Broman. This is a stunning journey which has improved on every listen; tracks like Trust Me and opener Been Gone draw you in whilst the hooks of Set Me Free Again become earworms very quickly. I’d endorse a listen of Things Change as soon as possible. 8/10

The Black Marbles: Moving Mountains (Ofelia)

Yet more Blues rock from Gothenberg comes your way in the shape of The Black Marbles. The band has been around since 2009, fronted by Marcia Svensson whose powerful soul filled vocals are impressive. The Sabbath infused opener Little Sun certainly gets the attention and from there its difficult to escape. Not that you’d want to, as The Black Marbles sound, which is certainly like their countrymen the Blues Pills amongst others, is infectious. Svensson’s strong voice draws you in, whilst the combination of Rikard Lindberg’s soulful guitar playing and the groove driven engine room of bassist Krister Selander and drummer Tobbe Bovik is guaranteed to get that head nodding.

It’s all over in 32 minutes but it's a special 32 minutes with tracks such as the emotionally charged Stain My Eyes and the Fleetwood Mac style Fallen showcasing the qualities in the band. Best Believe It demonstrates that the band can kick out the jams with the best of them. Whilst I’m certain that no-one in Gothenburg does anything but play psychedelic and blues rock, The Black Marbles are certainly a band which are worth looking out for. 8/10

Monday, 18 December 2017

Reviews: Sorrows Path, Terra Incognita, Caelestia, Chrysilia

Terra Incognita: Fragments Of A Ruined Mind (Symmetric Records)

The second record from Terra Incognita is the debut release on Bob Katsionis' new record label, the record label is the natural realisation of his Sound Symmetry Studios and the Progressive Vision Group so he can handle all of his signed acts musical and visual needs. The multi-faceted Katsionis also seems to have a keen ear for bands as well, Terra Incognita are a band with straightforward heavy metal sound, it's both progressive and conceptual but has a tough sound that reminds me of Iced Earth, there is a twin axe attack, a ballsy bass sound, galloping drums and Billy Vass' vocals have Matt Barlow's rough but powerful style.

As I've said the record is conceptual with lyrics dealing with the lead character Strahd, it's a story of betrayal, love, loyalty, death and eternal damnation so yet again brings to mind Iced Earth. The songs are heavy and melodic, most are part thrash, part classic metal, they aren't averse to a ballad as Day Without Loss shows but mostly heavy metal wins the day. Bob's production is ideal and the band are very talented, for fans of tough but melodic power metal Fragments Of Ruined Mind is a formidable debut for the Symmetric Records label. 7/10

Sorrows Path: Touching Infinity (Pure Steel Records)

The Touching Infinity from Sorrows Path is the latest chapter in the Athenian band's evolution from traditional doom metal into a more epic style of metal that sits on the edge of power metal. With a hint of Candlemass to their music Sorrows Path open their fourth record with Fantasies Will Never Die which has heavy riffs from the outset, Kostas Salomidis and George Vichos' guitars take from Iommi school of riffage, it's big riffs throughout but suffers with the same problem the previous record had, at 10 tracks it does a get a little samey as thing progress and I'm still not totally won over by Angelos Ioannidis' voice. That's not to say that the band are terrible, in fact it's the opposite, I just find that it can be a little protracted at times meaning it can get a little monotonous. 6/10

Caelestia: Thanatopsis (EMP Label Group/SPV)

The second record from the Athens metal band continues with the style established on their debut it's symphonic extreme metal with a dual vocal assault that sees Nick Palyvos giving the guttural roars as Dimitra Vintsou soars with melodic classically trained virtuosity, check out a track such as Travel To Eternity and Underlife which both are the perfect examples of the polarity of their voices. Musically the band are your typical symphonic death metal with rampaging riffs, swathes of orchestral passages and even some traditional instrumentation on Dancing With The Demons.

Broad in scope and played with a technical ferocity Thanatopsis has moments of brilliance but also a few of the songs do drag a little staying to close to the middle of genre boundaries. The performances are all very good with the guitars, bass and drums bludgeoning you at every turn, this is extreme metal with vein of Epica running through it. Good stuff. 7/10

Chrysilia: Et In Arcadia Ego (Lion Music)

Et In Arcadia Ego translates to A Grand Journey To Arcadia and it's the full length debut album from Athens ban Chrysilia. I was astounded by this records' sound, the production is incredible and it's needed due to the records epic nature, cinematic and grandiose it's a debut album where the band have thrown everything into it. Equal parts Blind Guardian, Epica and Within Temptation the band are led by vocalist Chryso Stamatopoulou who has classically/jazz trained background but fell in love with heavy metal citing Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son as her favourite album, By The Gates Of Ypsus opens the record in thrusting style with a Maiden harmonic guitar solo, which is mightily impressive due to the band only having one guitarist in Teo Ross who is helped out by Bob Katsionis, who also produces, mixes, masters etc (are there any albums he isn't on).

As I've said the band have symphonic sound to them with John Matzakos keys and synths propelled by the riffs of Jim Ramses (bass) and Simon Kay (drums) who are at full pelt on the folky The Menalon Trail which brings to mind Turisas and Korpiklaani with it's galloping riffs like a longship (or in this case Trireme) rowing into battle, they slow down  with Desperate Wings a heroic ballad that is driven by a lyre and the viola of Odysseas once again exhibiting their folk metal styling even more. Three tracks into the album and you're already breathless Arcadia brings some male vocals while the title track is stirring instrumental that is pure Hans Zimmer.

It's a record that deserves to be played through a huge set of speakers to really appreciate every facet of the orchestral mastery. as with Procol Harem much of the composition for this record was done by someone who is not part of the main band, Elias Pero is the executive producer, arranger and songwriter while also adding additional keys and soundscapes it's his creative spark that feeds the majestic music conjured by these virtuoso musicians. Et In Arcadia Ego is a great record for those that love stirring symphonic folk-influenced metal. 9/10 

Sunday, 17 December 2017

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

The Darkness, St David’s Hall, Cardiff

A surreal night at the opera? Well, the setting of Cardiff’s St David’s Hall was certainly more suited to the dinner suit but that didn't faze the boys from Lowestoft who took the cavernous venue in their stride to deliver a night of high quality.

First up was the Blackfoot Gypsies (6) all the way from Nashville. The four piece, who bizarrely contained Ollie Dog on harmonica and nothing else, would have benefited from an additional rhythm guitarist or keyboard playing to chunk out their sound. Their punkish attitude combined with a Southern Blues and Country style was certainly inoffensive and Matthew Paige’s effeminate vocals and between song banter carried charm. Ultimately, they didn’t do a huge amount in their 30 minutes on stage. The large spaces across the auditorium suggested that many felt the same way, opting for a pre-gig pint rather than watch this oddball outfit.

I’d never seen The Darkness (8) live before and I don’t know why as they certainly have sufficient to float my boat. Their last two albums have been hugely enjoyable and there is a rejuvenated feel about the band who at one point were a car crash. In Justin Hawkins the band possess one of the rock world’s most charismatic front men, with his high vocal range and tremendous spontaneous wit very enjoyable. Whether it was jesting with the eager front rows about their dancing, confirming the venue rules on where fans could stand with one of the security staff, accurately calling the East balcony’s attempt at singing “motherfucker” shit or climbing the PA stack to perform a song from the front row of the balcony, there was always something to watch and smile at.

Sat in the back row of the upper tier, the band were a little distant but remember that this venue was the home of metal through the 1980s in South Wales. With a decent sound allowing the histrionics of the band to shine through, Hawkins and brother Dan, backed by flamboyantly dressed bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Ruffus Taylor (yes, son of the Queen drummer Roger), led the audience through a solid set which comprised several newies from the impressive Pinewood Smile, including their hilarious ode to Southern Trains, a dip into Last Of Their Kind, Hot Cakes and the title track from One Way Ticket To Hell ... And Back as well as virtually all their 2003 debut Permission To Land.

Naturally the older stuff gained the best response, but it was all rather splendid. The band are fabulous musicians with Justin Hawkins showing some neat guitar work as well as the gaudiest emerald coloured catsuit. It was inevitable that the second encore would be their ghastly Christmas song, at which point Mrs H and I decided to take our leave. Nevertheless, this was a great evening and now that the cherry has been popped, it may not be too long before we are back to see the band in a more appropriate venue. A fun evening and a great way to end my gigs for 2017.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

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

Fish - Tramshed, Cardiff

Two years ago I vowed never to see Fish again. An underwhelming show in Bristol left me disappointed. In the year that has passed, the disappointment has eased considerably and the opportunity to hear one of the voices of my youth perform all of Clutching At Straws, the final album he recorded with Marillion, was a tempting draw. Through the year the Scot has had his fair share of challenges, with health and bereavement the biggest obstacles. He also got married again which I am sure has helped with stability in a somewhat chaotic life (purely my observations) from his regular social media updates.

A somewhat traumatic gig two nights before in Leamington Spa had left Fish’s Twitter and Facebook feeds full of angry fans unable to attend the gig due to the heavy snow. To his massive credit, Fish has already arranged a new show at the same venue next year. Kudos to the man, he has some super principles.

French outfit Lazuli (9) are now firm favourites following their support slot in 2015 and for those of us lucky enough to have made the effort to get to The Fleece in November 2016 where they entertained magically. Their appearance was a huge factor in my decision to get to this gig and once again they were majestic. Humble beyond belief, their Eastern fused progressive rock once again went down fantastically, even to a crowd who had in the main not seen the band before. A decent 45 minutes allowed Lazuli to showcase their incredible talent once more and it was no surprise that they exited to a roaring ovation.

Spot on time Fish (9) and his merry band ambled onto the stage with no fanfare and launched into The Voyeur (I Like To Watch) from 1990s debut solo release A Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors. It was immediately apparent that the big man was in decent form, cutting shapes and focused on his craft. Fish does take his music and performance seriously and despite some of his social media outbursts I still admire his approach. The canny inclusion of Austrian singer Doris Brendel allowed Fish to hold his vocals to the lower end of the scale, avoiding some of the miraculously high notes he hit in his youth. Of course, several tracks require female backing vocals and Doris was able to add to the quality.

After Emperor’s Song from 1994’s Suits and Circle Line from Thirteenth Star, a pause to allow some narrative. Fish is a wordsmith, a poet and superb lyricist. He’s also as intolerant of ignorant people as yours truly, and his first words was quite rightly to berate a fan whose constant photographic attempts were accompanied by blinding flash. Three polite requests to put the phone away failed to resolve the issue but a threat of a soaking and the pressure from the crowd finally made said punter see sense. This set the tone for an evening of quite intense heckling from a rather unruly crowd, fuelled by large quantities of lager, Christmas spirit and the inevitable boisterous Welsh approach. A later put down of a screeching female audience member was priceless. In between, Fish did manage to impart some wonderful anecdotes about his career and specifically the recording of Clutching At Straws. Before getting stuck into that marvellous album we were treated to State Of Mind, a song written close to 30 years ago but as relevant politically today as it was then.

And then it was time to return to 1987. A hypnotic hour passed, with the full album played. Not in order, but that somehow made it better. Highlights? The inevitable raucous Incommunicado, the stark and chilling White Russian and the haunting That Time Of The Night stood out but there isn’t a bad song so nothing disappointed. It was a fabulous performance, full of emotion and angst, backed by some clever visuals on the big screen behind the band. Fish is backed by some brilliant musicians, all who can match the quality of the original line up on the album. Robin Boult’s superb guitar work demonstrated how fantastic Steve Rothery’s original playing was, whilst Llanelli born Gavin Griffiths on drums, John Beck on keyboards and Steve Vantsis’ bass playing all ensured that the intricacies of the album were not lost.

Halfway through the set Fish began his routine bottle of wine which he swigged from with alarming regularity throughout the rest of the show. Now, I like a drink, but you can’t help wonder if the man might just want to consider some of his lifestyle choices, given his recent health issues. He certainly carries a girth never present 30 years ago. Anyway, an emotional Sugar Mice was vocally supported by the whole audience before the set closed to a deserved ovation. Encore number one included Tux On, a rarely heard b-side and extended album cut and a trip back to 2014’s A Feast Of Consequences with a truncated Perfumed River. Calls for The Company fell short as it was The Great Unravelling that concluded the evening and I left the gig relieved that some of my early memories had been restored. With a promised new album in 2018 to come, alongside a headline slot at Rambling Man Festival, it may not be the last of the dour but strangely captivating Scot on these pages.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Reviews: Moonspell, Operation Mindcrime, Toothgrinder, Democratus (Reviews By Paul)

Moonspell: 1755 (Napalm Records)

The 11th album from Portuguese gothic metal outfit and what a stunner. Sung entirely in Portuguese and focused on the Lisbon Earthquake of, yes,1755, this is a breathtaking piece of work full of atmospheric operatic soaring choral voices alongside the earthier vocals of Fernando Riberio in the opening tracks, Em Nome Do Medo and the explosive, majestic title track. The language challenges fail to dampen the enjoyment one iota, with Ricardo Amorim’s spectacular guitar work once again thrilling from the start. The gothic elements remain very much intact, and the introduction of haunting strings and choir sections only increases the pleasure. Miguel Gaspar’s solid drumming impresses, blisteringly heavy when needed, subtler as required. In Tremor Dei cruises moodily, Aieries Pereira’s distinctive keyboards providing rich layers. Huge chunks of metal remain, such as 1 De Novembro, which captures the date on which the earthquake killed between 10,000 - 100,000 people, and combines heads down metal with operatic backing to create a superb track. Moonspell May have left it late but 1755 is so bloody magnificent that it’ll crash into my top 20 with ease. 9/10

Operation Mindcrime: The New Reality (Frontiers Records)

The final part of the trilogy that Geoff Tate and his post-Queensryche outfit started in 2015 with The Key comes to a fitting end with The New Reality. Complex and progressive at every turn, Tate has followed his own path with this series of releases. The synths are heavier than in previous times, Tate’s vocals retain their soaring range and a fair bit of saxophone is included in several tracks, such as It Was Always You and the title track. Using the same range of musicians as appeared on Resurrection and The Key, the pace is swifter at times, such as the opening duo of A Head Long Jump and Wake Me Up. Now, I am not that clever at following intricate story lines in triple concept albums, each a year apart and The New Reality is no exception.

The album sits tightly together, whilst as on the previous releases they are strong enough to stand alone. My biggest challenge with this album is that despite repeated plays nothing really stuck in the memory. Queensryche (yep, I’m going there again) grabbed you with tunes that held and had you humming along. The numerous time changes and intricate movements are impressive but fail to capture the attention over 63 long minutes. It’s not surprising that the only track that really remains in the mind after three listens is the acoustic live version of Take Hold Of The Flame. Go figure. 7/10

Toothgrinder: Phantom Armour (Spinefarm Records)

I must be honest, I knew next to nothing about the New Jersey metal core outfit before I heard this release. Metalcore is on a par with sleaze as my least favourite genres and Phantom Armour does nothing to help. This is the second album from the band, and I’ve played it several times without any of it sticking. It’s heavy in places, ticks all the right boxes and Justin Matthews vocals fit the sound perfectly. I just struggle with any music of this style and despite my best attempts this bounced off me like hail off the roof. 5/10

Democratus: Starting Again EP

After a relentless year of hard gigging and self-promotion, the arrival of the debut EP from South Wales outfit Democratus is a real 2017 highlight and a fantastic reward for the band. Congratulations to the guys for getting this out. So, what do you get? Well, five tracks, all solidly produced which kick off with the soaring KSE style Starting Again. Scything guitars race through the track with variation in the vocals. Steve Jenkins has a decent voice, hitting the higher notes with a powerful ease whilst the deliberately lower delivery for parts of the track works well. The lyrics are interesting with much story telling throughout. The politically charged Life For A Life is a boot stomper, thumping riffs and a blood curdling scream kick it off, guttural verses before the spiralling chorus, all delivered to the background of a LoG chug and some very neat guitar work from Kerrin Beckwith and Joey Watkins

It’s evident that the band are tight, with the rhythm section holding everything together in a vice like grip, Stu Rake’s bass and Zak Skane’s impressive drumming rock-hard. Furious Horde is a raging beast, whilst Endless Prophecy sees Jenkins extend his vocals to a screaming approach, something which fits with the aggression in the song but is possibly weaker than his clean vocals. Closer Deity provides more spine-crushing LoG type riffs as the band take a lower level but lose none of their intensity. A slowing of pace works neatly in the middle of the track before the pace picks up towards the conclusion. It’s an impressive release, with the lyrical content reflecting the band’s view on the injustice and despair in the world.  I’d like to hear more of Jenkins cleaner vocals, which are stronger than the growling delivery but apart from that, I can’t fault this EP. 8/10

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Reviews: Silent Descent, Scream Serenity, Kiss The Gun, Reece

Silent Descent: Turn To Grey (Self Released)

Described as "Enter Shikari for sweaty Goths" Dartmouth metal band tag themselves as trance metal and the rich layers of buzzing synths on Voices, Vortex, Rob Rodda all subscribe to this description. Without the electronics Silent Descent are an impressive modern groove metal band with excellent clean/harsh vocals, Gravesend is probably the best to show this having limited electronics meaning this melodic death metal track with a massive chorus and some cinematics of bands such as Xerath, although in the breakdown there are some lyrics that are rapped. No such frivolity on the dark Paths Winding which is a slow burning ballad that highlights another side of the band. However with the synths in place Silent Descent become a more intriguing act as the metallic aspects are in total synth with the EDM beats almost like Soilwork releasing an album with Pendulum.

Having been on the scene for over a decade now the band have managed to survive the Rising records debacle and come back stronger with their best album to date firmly out of their formative nu-metal influenced sound the Silent Descent of 2017 still retain their influence but throw in a bit of forward thinking to keep them releasing quality material. I know a few of you might turn your nose up at this record and musical style but I think if it's got the ability to make you nod your head or tap your feet it's worth a few spins, Turn To Grey is worth way more than that. 8/10

Scream Serenity: Eye Of The Storm (3Ms Music)

Before now the only band I’d heard of from Lowestoft are The Darkness, now however I can add Scream Serenity to that list. Those expecting glammy, campy metal will however have to continue with Mr Hawkins and co, Scream Serenity are a thoroughly modern hard rock act taking their sound from the metallic American radio style of Alter Bridge, Shinedown and (former tour mates) Black Stone Cherry. Jordan Fennell and Ian Messenger are the riff masters with Jack Hardy bringing the groove and Jon Lindow the percussive power. Messenger and Fennell’s guitars are dirty and distorted, the perfect foil for Fennell’s sneering vocals, listen to Good Business and you’ll get why Scream Serenity have supported BSC etc. 

Their music is immediate, swaggering hard rock with big hooks and heaviness that will satisfy the heaviest of metal fan, especially due to the incendiary solos on tracks such as Save Yourself which arrive, raise hell and leave. You can hear on this debut that these songs have been mastered in the live arena; there is a confidence to this record that has come from hours of performing and writing. Scream Serenity have been called the UK’s answer to BSC and with this record you can see why, they’ve got a bit more guts than say Stone Broken but for all their bluster and heavy rocking they also have a post-grunge edge to their music and can write angry Chad Kroger ballad on with ease Run Away and the title track. Eye Of The Storm is a great beginning for this band, it lays down a foundation of heavy concrete on which to build the rest of their career. 7/10

Kiss The Gun: Nightmares (3Ms Music)

Sailsbury band Kiss The Gun are a mishmash of session musicians brought together to play melodic hard rock. Fronted by the Nadin Zakharian who was a semi-finalist on The Voice Of Georgia the remaining members of the band have served time with Jessie J and Pixie Lott (guitarist Gerry Hearn), on cruise ships (drummer/trombone player Rob Taylor) and in the NWOBHM/ 90’s dance music scene (bassist Dave South). Nightmares is their debut record and it’s at the lighter end of melodic rock moving into AOR at points, it has got some NWOBHM riffs running through it (Writing On The Wall) but the backing synths, vocals, lyrical content and general feel of the record all puts it in the realms of FM, Heart and the lighter side of Halestorm. 

They actually share a lot of musical similarities with American band Hydrogyn, Nadin’s vocals are deeper than the usual soaring soprano’s but it adds character to the slower pieces such as title track and drips with attitude on Run Run Run. There are a few problems with this record, the production is little muddied and they go one too many times to the ballad well with Drowning creeping in on the Alanis Morrisette style of self loathing. A perfectly adequate piece of work but it’s a little too safe at times and there are more slow parts than I’d like. 6/10

Reece: Ignited (Self Released)

Caerphilly three piece Reece are named after frontman Rob Reece, it’s his vocals and basslines that are the backbone of this band. Ignited is their debut release and comes after the band have been touring the live scene relentlessly, the music is powerful, melodic rock with progressive touches and pop mentality, throw a dash of Kings X into a pot with It Bites, Dan Reed Network and late 80’s Rush and Reece is the concoction you would get. 

Reece’s funky technical basslines take control syncing with Russ Rogers’ expressive drumming for the band’s main rhythms, fleshing out the sound are Jon Davies’ multi-tracked guitars. The band's progressive leanings mean that they can really give their music a work out, they tackle breezy pop rock on Hold On (which has some The Police sounds to it), get a bit ominous with the modern rock of Painless, a bit of Floyd on the title track and Wasteland is an anthem. Ignited stands out as seriously impressive debut record from this trio, great hard rock from the Welsh yet again. 8/10

Friday, 8 December 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Diamond Head (Live Review By Paul)

Diamond Head, O2 Islington Academy 2

Earlier in the year I’d missed Diamond Head’s headline set at Amplifed due to the flooding of my tent. I’d been due to interview Karl Wilcox, drummer with the NWOBHM legends at the event but Karl was fantastic and was happy to conduct the interview by email. The interview is available to read in the blog. When I noted that the band were playing in London when I happened to be working there I contacted Karl who was very generous in providing guest passes to get into the gig.

I arrived too late to catch Dead Man’s Whiskey so apologies to those guys. Cairo Son (7) were in full swing as I made my way into the packed venue. The London based three piece have a somewhat stoner/grunge sound which was well received. Playing tracks from their two albums, 2016’s Storm Clouds and their debut Hearts Against The Feather and throwing in a newie as well, Cairo Son were really enjoyable. Vocalist and Guitarist Magdy, who introduced himself as half Egyptian and half Polish was not only a decent singer but a tidy guitarist too, chucking out fat riffs for fun. Alongside him bassist Rico and drummer Ed laid down a rock hard foundation. With two albums out and a third in progress, Cairo Son is definitely a band worth checking out if you get the chance.

As Mars - The Bringer Of War blasted out of the speakers, a trimmed down Diamond Head (9) took to the stage. Missing rhythm guitarist Andy Abberley, there was more responsibility on bassist Dean Ashton to provide the heavy, but he didn’t shirk for one minute. A hugely energetic performance, alongside guitarist Brian Tatler meant that you didn’t even notice the absence. A perfectly paced set, with a couple of tracks from last year’s self-titled release sat comfortably alongside the numerous classics that the band possess in their locker. It’s only when you catch these guys live that you realise how bloody good they are. Tatler is a stunning guitarist, with the rare skill of making everything look simple. Up front the energy of vocalist Rasmus Andersen was infectious, the audience in full voice and pumping fists in the air. Wilcox is a fantastic drummer, little fills and tricks fitting neatly alongside the solidity and power which give the band such a firm footing,

As I said the set list was crammed full of classics which really do excel in the live setting. Highlights included In The Heat Of The Night, Shoot Out The Lights, Lightning To The Nations as well as the more recognisable The Prince, It’s Electric and a blisteringly fast and heavy Helpless. By the time we got to Am I Evil? The crowd was in a frenzy but it was the signature song that really got the place moving. A magnificent song, a real metal monster and still sounding brilliant. The band extended it slightly, before closing their main set. A deserved encore concluded a fabulous evening and a demonstration that, even 40+ years after they first formed, Diamond Head remain a must see band in today’s scene.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Stone Stour (Live Review By Paul)

Stone Sour & The Pretty Reckless, Motorpoint Arena Cardiff

The first thing I noticed about this gig was how significantly the capacity had been cut. The three sides of the arena pushed forward to funnel the audience closer to the stage. Despite the huge advertising of 2 for 1 tickets Corey Taylor's Stone Sour (which is surely how they should be described) pulled about 4000 fans to the Welsh Capital. Contrary to Taylor’s diatribes on stage throughout the evening, this was Stone Sour’s first ever gig in Cardiff (unless I’ve missed something) [Ed- You are correct they have played Bristol but this was the Cardiff debut] and whilst Slipknot are regulars to the City, this was the first opportunity many had to see the band, something confirmed by the show of first timer hands later in the evening. The second thing to note was that try as it might, the sound at the Motorpoint was up to its usual standard, resulting in the entire gig sounding like it was being played underwater.

So, having got that out of the way, we settled down to the extended support set from Taylor Momsen’s insipid outfit The Pretty Reckless (3). Devoid of any stage presence, the band’s turgid and monotonous songs lasted for an age. A dire light show, minimal interaction with the crowd, which for an actress was surprising, all added to the wish that we’d stayed in the pub. Maybe I’m just getting old, as many of the admittedly younger audience were word perfect and thoroughly enjoyed them, but if they played in my garden I’d draw the curtains.

No change in the sound, which continued to have all the clarity of a 1981 black metal album, as Stone Sour (7) hit the stage. A rip-roaring set list was punctuated with motormouth Taylor unable to refrain from chatting shite between each song. 50 minutes in and the band had managed eight tracks. On record, Stone Sour are electric, clear, solid and heavy. Live, despite the twin guitar of Josh Rand and Christian Martucci, they were thin and flat. Occasionally the band hit their rhythm, such as the blistering 30/30-150 and Made Of Scars. When the band did hit top gear, it was for the older stuff, such as Cold Reader and Get Inside from the debut release.

Hesitate was ghastly, although Through Glass impressed. By the time Taylor had gushed about his love of Wales and the UK, and the band had totally butchered Sabbath’s Children Of The Grave it was time to leave. I had great expectations about this gig and having seen them a few years ago in Brixton I know that they can be a stunning live act. I apologise if you disagree with this review. It’s my opinion. However, the numbers streaming out before the encore suggested that it wasn’t just me.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Reviews: Cavalera Conspiracy, Witchery, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden (Reviews By Paul)

Cavalera Conspiracy: Psychosis (Napalm Records)

To be honest, I was expecting another skull crushing face melting onslaught from the Cavalera brothers, but Psychosis is an absolute mind fuck. It starts as expected, with the rampaging Insane, Terror Tactics and Impalement Execution delivering exactly what I was braced for. Get to the middle section of the album though, and there are synths and complex time patterns that really freak you out. Crom is slower but sinister, Hellfire maintains the eerie feel whilst Judas Pariah has echoes of avant garde metal ala Celtic Frost in their prime.

The title track uses more synths and is just majestic, building slowly, with old school metal riffs interspersed with Igor’s patterns and rhythms, and even the odd horn or two to add to the melodrama which builds and builds. As you continue to scratch your head as to what you’ve just heard, Excruciating finishes the album at break neck speed, Max Cavalera’s guttural vocals, the huge riffs of Marc Rizzo and the undercurrent of groove all merge into a track that Sepultura would love to write.  It soars off into a slow-paced mid-section which heralds the use of a hurdy gurdy (for fuck’s sake!) and another sinister, evil brooding segment which sounds more like the soundtrack to a horror film than a metal assault. I’m still confused but what an album. Astonishing. 9/10

Witchery: I Am Legion (Century Media Records)

This is another impressive release. Album number 7 for the Swedish thrash outfit whose line-up consists of Arch Enemy bassist Sharlee D’Angelo, guitarists Patrik Jensen of The Haunted and Richard Rimfält. Drummer Chris Barkensiö with Angus Norder remaining on vocals after his 2016 debut with the band on In His Majesty’s Infernal Service. The pace is relentless, following a similar vein to previous releases with a demonic, satanic theme throughout. Tracks such as True North, Dry Bones and An Unexpected Guest all drip with the eerie undercurrent that bands such as Satyricon and Dimmu Borgir possessed in their earlier days.

I’m writing this with a heavy cold and my throat is raging, just how Norder’s vocals must surely make him feel, such is the guttural bile that spews forth. Crashing riffs, battering drums and roaring lines make this an album for those who like their thrash with a mix of black metal. There is a groove which underpins much of the album although the 100mph all-out thrash is still here in The Alchemist and the spine ripping Ragnarok. Well worth a listen for those who like their thrash with a nod to the horned one. 7/10

Black Sabbath: The End (Live) (Eagle Rock Records)

When the forefathers of heavy metal announced their final tour, a few tears were shed across the metal world. The powerful unit that has contributed to some of the most anthemic metal monsters of all time had not long completed their tour in support of the rather good 13 when they called time. The End is the recording of their final gig on 4th February 2017 in Birmingham. Having witnessed their shambolic headline set at Download in the pissing rain the year before this is the closest I was going to get to the Sabs swansong.

It’s a decent enough package, and if it does demonstrate one thing it’s that retirement was the right decision. Whilst Messrs Iommi and Butler are still magnificent in their playing, with Butler’s demonic bass lines and Iommi’s riffs still a thing of beauty, sadly Ozzy’s vocals are absolutely shot and he at times he sounds completely out of it. His inter-song ramblings suggest that he’s in the process of having a stroke, such is the slurring incoherence at times. He’s way ahead of the band on the opener Black Sabbath and struggles to keep pace at other times. That’s when he’s not shouting, “we love you” and “go crazy”.

The music is fabulous, as the band crash their way through a range of classics, albeit nothing post-1978. However, the production is at times muddy, the inclusion of Rat Salad and Dirty Women is as bewildering now as it was at Donnington, and the eight-minute drum solo could quite easily have been ditched. Tommy Clufetos is a fine drummer but he isn’t Bill Ward. As Hand Of Doom closes you can easily hear Ozzy mumble “going for a break” whilst he leaves the band to storm through a Supernaut/Sabbath Bloody Sabbath/Megalomania instrumental montage. The final gushing from Ozzy as he asks the audience to chant “one more song” before the inevitable Paranoid rounds off the evening and history is just a little sad. If this is the final epitaph, then it’s a shame that it wasn’t a little more cohesive. RIP.  6/10

Iron Maiden: Book Of Souls: Live Chapter (Parlophone Records)

For those that witnessed the Book Of Souls World Tour through 2016 and 2017, this is the live recording of the exact show that Iron Maiden delivered night after night. Recorded at 14 different locations, it highlights the band running through the best of their last album with a few classics added in. The set list is identical to their show in Cardiff and so if you’ve read our review from that night in May this year then you’ll get the picture. As always, the crowds are fanatical, with the usual mental chanting from the South American crowds. Fear Of The Dark is one of two Brazilian recordings, with set closer Wasted Years the other. Both crowds are crazy.

Two tracks from the sodden Castle Donington headline set and The Number Of The Beast live from Wacken are also included. To be honest, this is Iron Maiden live, but with extra polish to highlight the best of the band. The sound is crisp and clean, totally unlike the muffled tinny effects we got at the Motorpoint, whilst Bruce’s vocals are perhaps a little more controlled than usual. But what else would you expect from the machine that is Iron Maiden? Are there reasons for this album? Well, it captures those tracks from The Book Of Souls which are unlikely to be played again. Apart from that, Maiden tend to release live albums following every world tour so it’s unsurprising. It’s pleasing enough. 7/10

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Reviews: SKAM, Babylon Fire, Jono, Eisley/Goldy

Skam: The Amazing Memoirs Of Geoffrey Goddard (Self Released)

Third album from Leicester rockers Skam sees them taking a risk and doing a concept record, now don’t worry rockers they’ve not gone prog, no this record is still full of hard hitting classic rock riffs (The Iron Cross) but with a narrative arc about the adventures of the titular Squadron Leader who jolts through time on a test flight.

Whether you buy into the story or not it doesn’t encroach itself on the record too much, there are two spoken word pieces but that’s about it. For the most part the songs on this record stand up pretty well outside of the concept doing what Skam do best. Neal Hill sets terrific pace with his raucous drumming, he’s the heavy biscuit layer to this hard rock cake, the dense bass lines of Matt Gilmore are the cheese and appropriately enough Steve Hill’s guitars are the sweet berries riffing and soloing on top of everything as he croons the storyline with his conceptual lyrics.

The record is very old school you can hear the grooves have been formed out of years on the road and recorded with all three members in the same room; you can hear that unity on every track. Take It Or Leave It is certified banger, this one will go down a storm on stage, Peace Of Mind has an American radio rock sound to it, Bring The Rain has thick groove and Fading Before The Sun brings a grunge touch. Skam have always impressed as rock band and TAMOGG is a strong record with an interesting but never convoluted or distracting concept. Pick up the record and rock out, no frauds or swindles here just authentic rock music. 8/10

Babylon Fire: Heresy In Black (Self Released)

Well this has been a long time coming, having seen Babylon Fire numerous times, it was with a heavy heart that I witnessed their final show with original vocalist Mark D at Bloodstock 2014. Since then they have been a sporadic with their appearances but they have emerged a few times since then with the original line up of Rishi Mehta (Lead Guitar), Ryk Swillo (Bass), Mark Cooper (Drums) and original member Will Reece (Lead Guitar) who left before they recorded their debut record. This addition of Reece has meant that they have reverted back to their earlier dual guitar sound while retaining the big groove riffs of Five Finger Death Punch.

This EP sees them return with new vocalist Dan Buxton and a renewed sense of purpose, unlike their more straightforward debut the EP is more progressive in tone, Raven Cursed is a multi-faceted piece that changes time signatures throughout but always keeps that modern metal chug and the harsh/clean vocals, Devil’s Night does a similar trick to Trivium having the metalcore aggression mixed with classic Maiden licks.

It’s a jarring difference to their debut album with the bludgeoning Coup de Grace and the title track having the heavy groove of their single guitar years. Heresy In Black sounds fresh and exciting it brings a band I’ve had a lot of affection for back to full strength, five heavy tracks wrapped in yet another excellent Very Metal Art cover, it’s the rebirth of one of the best bands on the British metal underground, now I just need to see them demolish the live stage again. 8/10

Jono: Life (Frontiers Records)

I've missed out on the previous albums by Jono but on the back of this third record it sounds like I'll need to do some discovering. The band, led by singer Johan Norby play progressive symphonic rock music that had the drama and pathos of Queen and Meatloaf. Apparently their previous record was very Steinman sounding but this one is more Matt Bellamy than Meatloaf.

Life opens with the operatic Sailors which builds on a hip shaking riff, has some 80’s synth work, an explosive guitar solo and kicks off the record with a taster of what’s to come. There was a band called Foxy Shazam that I loved (the singer recently featured on a Macklemore single) and Jono sound a lot like them, I’d imagine Queen making this sort of music if they still wrote new music.

The Muse progressive electronic rock sound is writ-large on Crown and Downside with pulsing synths and massive piano chords. The Magician has the dramatic overtones of Mr Loaf, while Trust meanwhile adds huge Queen flashes. The record is driven by Norby's expressive voice and Johan Carlgren's flamboyant piano playing that at its best in To Be Near You which is a huge ballad that culminates with a massive guitar solo. Life is an excellent bombastic record that has a pomposity that is constantly backed up by the virtuoso playing involved. 8/10

Eisley/Goldy: Blood, Guts & Games (Frontiers Records)

Singer David Glen Eisley and guitarist Craig Goldy made their names in Giuffria back in the 80's, this was before Goldy went on to join Dio's solo band a position he had until RJD's untimely death. This record is them coming back together to rekindle their musical partnership started back then, Blood, Guts & Games is probably lighter than any of the projects Goldy has been involved in since as this record is built on bright and breezy melodic rock built on Goldy's clean virtuosic guitar lines, some glistening synths and Eisley's Bonnet-like vocal, with touches of House Of Lords, Def Leppard and Night Ranger the music here varies from smooth AOR on Lies I Can Live With, synth heavy rocking on Soul Of Madness and powerful riffs on No More Prayers In The Dark. It does a lot of what you would expect, there is a saccharine slickness throughout underpinned by Goldy's guitar prowess, it's well written and performed from two musicians that still meld well after all these years. 7/10

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Reviews: Electric Wizard, Wolf Counsel, Bloodlust, Shakra (Review By Paul)

Electric Wizard: Wizard Bloody Wizard (Witchfinder Records)

Three years since the UK’s definitive doom metallers released Time To Die and the Dorset outfit thunder back onto the radar with a lumbering beast of an album, Wizard Bloody Wizard. Crammed to the gills with the expected sack full of hefty riffs, crashing drums and sheer sinister evil we’ve come to expect, this is 43 minutes of rampaging doom with the usual stoner edge. Over 20 minutes shorter than their previous long player, the album sees new members Clayton Burgess and Simon Poole making their debut/return respectively joining Jus Osborn and Liz Buckingham. The Sabbath edge remains, especially on the Geezer Butler like bass line rampage of Necromania and Reaper, the distorted fuzz running throughout the tracks. Album closer Mourning Of The Magicians is the epic piece on the release, all 11+ minutes of intense heaviness. I’m not a huge fan but if the Wizard walks by then you really must take notice. 8/10

Wolf Counsel: Age Of Madness/Reign Of Chaos (Czar Of Bullets Records)

We seem to be inundated with Swiss bands at the moment and they are coming with a variety of styles. Wolf Counsel formed in 2014 and have released an album a year since 2015. This is their third release following 2016’s Ironclad and it’s a full-on doom fest. Full of atmosphere, crashing riffs and heavier than a blue whale playing a double bass, this release gives you just over 40 minutes of ball-breaking power. Vocalist Ralf Garcia’s voice lingers unpleasantly, providing the eerie feel, whilst his bass playing locks with drummer Retro Crola to lay down a huge undercurrent. Guitarists André Mathieu and Ralph Huber riff away neatly as the mist rolls in. Semper Occultus has a massive groove which cannot fail to get the head nodding whilst the epic title track is like orienteering a vast mountain range, such is the variation in peaks and dips. A huge sound adds to the whole release which benefits from repeated plays. Well worth checking out. 8/10

Bloodlust – At The Devil’s Right Hand (Caverna Abismal Records)

Spewing up from the pits of the earth, well Perth, Australia to be precise, let me introduce you to the car-crash blackened death metal of Bloodlust and their sophomore release which follows 2015’s debut Cultus Diaboli. With the three band members carrying the ludicrous names of The General (Guitars), Spectre (Bass, Vocals) and Disaster (Drums, Vocals). With a sound that sits somewhere in a toilet of 1983, this Satanic babble is perhaps as ridiculous as it gets. Tinny guitars, bollock battering drumming and gargled vocals combine to some of the most comedic music I’ve heard for several years. Lots of “bleuargghs” only add to the comedy value which had Mrs H chuckling all around the kitchen. Tracks such as Wolves of the Warcursed Earth, Deadly Force and the seven-minute plus Hell-lite Shadows of the Black Sun all leave you scratching your head in confusion. Venom did it so much better. This is not very good. 4/10

Shakra: Snakes And Ladders (AFM Records)

Last year’s High Noon received a reasonable rating here at MOM Towers. Album number 11 continues in the same vein with more saccharine coated middle of the road melodic rock from the Swiss outfit. With the focus very much on the melodic, tracks such as Something You Don’t Understand, The Seeds and the title track are rather routine and repetitive. The same line-up that recorded High Noon returns on Snakes And Ladders but to be honest, this time around, it’s the similarity of the songs that makes it a tedious listen. The band are technically competent, and I know from experience that there is a vast market for this music, but it just doesn’t float my boat I’m afraid. 6/10

Friday, 1 December 2017

Reviews: Bloodshot Dawn, Dante Fox, Phidion, Cold Cell (Review By Paul)

Bloodshot Dawn: Reanimation (Hostile Media)

It’s been a while since the melodic death metal of UK outfit Bloodshot Dawn crossed our radars. After the success of their first two albums which culminated in a triumphant opening slot at Bloodstock Festival in 2014, frontman and founding member Josh McMorran took time out to re-evaluate the direction and sound of the band. The entire line-up from Demons departed, except for McMorran and in came Canadian guitarist Morgan Reid, drummer James Stewart (also Vader and Divine Chaos) and bassist Giacomo Gastaladi. For the first time, McMorran reckons that Bloodshot Dawn now “work as a unit instead of separate solo efforts within the band”. Recorded across Europe, including Germany, Czech Republic and Sweden due to the location of the various band members. Featuring a plethora of guests including Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy, Nevermore), Ken Sorceron (Abigail Williams, The Faceless) and Mendel Bij De Leij (Aborted) and with an additional ear and eye from Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry added to the final guitar pieces Reanimation is a huge, natural sounding record.

Aside from the usual blistering pace and growling vocals that we’ve come to expect from Bloodshot Dawn, there is now a maturity which can only come from a period of reflection and change. Multiple time changes, well-paced and with huge servings of melody and hooks that have always been a trademark combine with magnificent technical playing. The superb Survival Enthroned is the stand out track for me, although the imperious Upon The Throne Of Fear comes damn close. But there isn’t even a mediocre track on this release with each song containing something unique and interesting. The breakdown in Soul Affliction for example, makes you stop and check that it really happened and the intro to Shackled is immense, with some dynamic drumming from Stewart and riffs so meaty you could feed a family for a week off them. The Battle For The Omniverse ebbs and flows, with some brutal playing and vocals that make your throat sore just listening to it. As I said, Reanimation is a huge record in every sense. With some killer artwork from Chris Kewli gracing not only the cover but throughout the inlays of the CD, Bloodshot Dawn are back in every sense. Brilliant. 9/10

Bloodshot Dawn hit the road in January 2018 and play Fuel on 21 January. Find their dates here:

Dante Fox: Six String Revolver (AOR Boulevard)

I must be honest UK outfit Dante Fox and singer Sue Willetts have passed me by for the past 28 years. Whilst I was aware of their name I’d have failed to tell you anything about them. However, putting that right was easy with their latest album, Six String Revolver, which is a masterful demonstration of female fronted melodic rock. In Willetts the band possess a vocalist whose range impressively mixes Pat Benatar and Ann Wilson. The songs are strong enough to stick in the memory whilst you can’t fail to be drawn to her clean powerful voice. Sure, it’s AOR, so the songs have a certain element of cheese and repetition but with the backing of three technically solid musicians in Tim Manford, Alan Mills and Eric Ragno, there’s sufficient here to separate it from a lot of the other outfits who sit in a crowded field. Stand out track is probably the acoustic version of All That I Need which has some delicate harmonies and showcases the subtle shades that the band can deliver. 8/10

Phidion: The Throws Of Scourge (Self Released)

Formed in 2003, Phidion’s debut album follows several demos and EPs released over the years. A steady line-up which comprises Christos Chatzikonstandinos on guitar, Oliver Palmquist on vocals. Peter Pettersson on drums and bassist Olaf Landin has helped and the Swedes have delivered a ferocious release which takes no prisoners. Strong drumming, cascading riffs and guttural vocals, the mainstays of any self-respecting death metal outfit are all here in abundance but in addition there is a power and pace which is too often missing.

Anthropophagus changes several times, massive chunks of stomping power segueing comfortably into the more frantic assault. Similarly, the haunting tomb of Mother Pestilence batters relentlessly at times whilst slowing to match the tolling bell whilst the brooding Slaves To Eternal Insomnia (aren’t we all) just crushes. Intricate and technical playing enhances the release with the drumming at full throttle and Chatzikonstandinos adding some mean fretwork. Phidion are a decent addition to the already bursting death metal scene. 7/10

Cold Cell: Those (Avantgarde Music)

Formed in Switzerland in 2012, the immediate thought when opening track Growing Girth kicks in is whether Tom G Warrior is involved, such is the Triptykon/Celtic Frost Avant Garde feel. According to the blurb, Cold Cell is ‘the manifest of the individual human being’s prison. The modern new world’. Given that rather stark statement, it’s not surprising that the band’s third album is 54 minutes of hymns to urban desolation. Now I thought that Growing Girth was an ode to middle-age but as the despair flooded out of the speakers I realised that I might have been quite a way wide of the mark. Each track is epic in both construction and delivery, industrial tinges and echoing effects and the overpowering sense of hopelessness and foreboding.

It’s astonishingly heavy, skull crushing in parts, such as Seize The Whole which pulverises from start to finish. There’s bits of Behemoth, Emperor and even echoes of Gojira in the mix but it’s good stuff. With two tracks, Tainted Thoughts and Heritage clocking in at over 20 minutes between them don’t expect this to be a pacey instant number. You must work with it but the rewards are there if you like your metal black with a sense of impending doom, focusing on the hopelessness of man. Just don’t put this on if you want to cheer your granny up this Christmas. 7/10