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Thursday, 19 October 2017

Reviews: Luantic Soul, GWAR, Revolution Saints, IronBird (Reviews By Paul)

Lunatic Soul: Fractured (KScope)

There is no doubt that 2016 was an incredibly tough year for Mariusz Duda, bassist, vocalist and songwriter of Polish progressive rock outfit Riverside. The death of founder member and guitarist Piotr Grudzinski was followed three months later by the sudden passing of Duda’s father and at times like that you would have totally understood if Duda had called it a day. The fact that he didn’t is testament to the steel and drive of the man and not only did he and the rest of the band complete their Toward The Blue Horizon tour (see review on the blog earlier this year) but he also completed the fifth album by Lunatic Soul, his progressive side project. Unlike the previous release, 2014’s Walking On A Flashlight Beam, Fractured moves more away from the ambient progressive rock and embraces a variety of styles whilst still retaining an element of previous releases. There are glimpses of Numan inspired industrial pop, electronica of Depeche Mode on tracks such as Anymore, loops and rhythms as well as a journey close to the progressive rock in the 12 minute plus A Thousand Shards Of Heaven. Duda plays all the instruments apart from Marcin Odyniec’s stunning saxophone and the magical input of the Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra on Crumbling Teeth And The Owl Eyes and A Thousand Shards Of Heaven.

Duda has described this album as “coming back after a personal tragedy, inspired by what happened in 2016, by everything that’s happening around us, and what’s making us turn away from one another and divide into groups, for better or worse”. Everything that happens on this album reflect that. Crumbling Teeth And The Owl Eyes has segments that would sit comfortably on the latter Opeth releases, whilst there is the individuality of Steven Wilson’s work sewn throughout. This is an album you cannot categorise, and despite its melancholy and sadness it should be heard by many more than it will be. I’ve played it repeatedly and still allow it to envelope me each time. One of the best releases of the year. You’d be a fool to miss it. 10/10

GWAR: The Blood Of Gods (Metal Blade)

33 years after they first crashed onto the metal scene, and despite being shorn of all original members, Richmond’s shock gore fest known as GWAR return with their first release since 2013’s Battle Maximus and the first to feature Blothar (Michael Bishop) on vocal following the senseless death of Dave Brockie from a heroin overdose in 2014. It’s fair to say that GWAR’s reputation is built on their chaotic live performances rather than any stellar musical output, although I do have a slight fondness for 1990’s Scumdogs Of The Universe. However, the title track which opens the album is a blistering seven-minute epic, full of Sabbath heavy riffs which Tony Iommi would be impressed with. There’s an Orange Goblin feel to the stoner infused Viking Death Machine and whilst it remains raw, there’s a pleasantly surprised feeling as the album progresses. The industrial punk stomp of El Presidente, a critical statement about the state of the US political situation, is catchy as is I’ll Be Your Monster.

I’ve seen GWAR a few times live, and after the first time which was just insane the next shows descended into a wall of noise. The screaming punk-infused Auroch returns to the sound that I’ve come to expect from GWAR, a thrashy almost Anthrax style stomp. Swarm and The Sordid Soliloquy Of Sawborg Destructo do little although Fuck This Place, the band’s tribute to Oderus Urungus genuinely rocks. Closing with a binary cover of AC/DC’s If You Want Blood (an obvious choice!), I reflected that this is an album that many thought would probably never happen in the darker days of 2014. It’s not ground breaking and we wouldn’t expect it to be. It’s much better than some of their drivel of previous years, focusing on some actual music rather than the gimmicks that litter everything they do. It won’t make my top 50 of the year, and I won’t be rushing out to buy it but yeah, it’s okay. 6/10

Revolution Saints: Light In The Dark (Frontiers Records)

If you follow the melodic rock scene then the names of the three members of Revolution Saints will be familiar. Drummer Deen Castranovo did his time with Journey, Ozzy and Bad English, Jack Blades in Night Ranger and Damn Yankees and gun for hire Doug Aldrich will sling the shapes for just about anyone. Following their debut release in 2015, Castranovo had an unfortunate high profile break down which resulted in, well, his world falling apart. Two years later and the man has begun to get his life back on track in an admirable fashion. He’s clean living and places much of his recovery in a newly discovered faith in the man upstairs. It’s clear throughout Light In The Dark that this is the case, as the spiritual themes are evident in many of the tracks.

Light In The Dark is a typically polished affair, full of big drum sounds, saccharine coated harmonies, Aldrich’s peeling guitar work and generally forgettable radio friendly melodic rock. These are quality musicians of course, and musically the album is tight and well knitted. But it also contains several pieces that would have me reaching for the cyanide tablet if you locked me in a room with them. Of particular note is the quite revolting I Wouldn’t Change A Thing, which is an outpouring of emotional gut churn, and the acoustic version of Can’t Run Away From Love, which is just appalling. Alongside that, tracks like Freedom and Ride On are catchy enough, sing-a-long throwaways that do little. I know there’s a market for this, I’m just glad I don’t shop there very often. 5/10

Ironbird: Self Titled (Transubstans Records)

Ironbird is the follow up to 2014’s Black Mountain, the debut from Swedish outfit Ironbird whose sound is stuck firmly in the 1970s. A sound that is unashamedly based on the deep groove and riff of Sabbath, so close that at times you wonder if this is an unreleased piece of music from the Brummies. There is a slight shift on Equation, which starts off in the Zakk Wylde and BLS mould before unleashing a psychedelic and stoner meander for a good seven minutes. Rasmus Janssón’s vocals allow you to reminisce about when Ozzy could almost sing in tune, full of soaring melody and Magnus Jernstróm’s massive riffs leave you unable to think of anyone else but the master Iommi. Whilst the band’s sound is firmly rooted in the 1970s, it’s not merely a copycat exercise and tracks such as River, Chains and the Zeppelin/Groundhogs feel of closing track Sleep deserve plaudits. 8/10

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Dragonforce & Power Quest

Dragonforce & Power Quest, The Globe Cardiff

Dragonforce and Power Quest's histories go back a long time and have intertwined since then. When the opportunity arose to see both bands in one place I jumped at the chance. Both acts most recent albums are very good I knew that we'd get strong sets from each band and with no opening act elongated ones at that. Heading into the venue it was clear that this gig was 'sold out' the 350 person venue was packed to the gunnels meaning our photographer had to fight her way through the masses to get to front.

As the room started to get nice and sweaty the intro music hit and Power Quest (8) took to the stage one by one, obviously the loudest cheers were for founder member Steve Williams and Welsh guitar wizard Glyn Williams (ex-Triaxis) but all of the band were rapturously applauded as they launched into their set. Power Quest have always delivered excellent power metal built on the traditional British metal foundations and bringing in the European sound that features heavy keyboards from Steve giving the huge symphonic edge to Kings And Glory and Magic Never Dies. In the back room Rich Smith is a whirlwind beating the heck out of his kit as fill in bassist Bradley Edison brought the low end.

The crowd were jumping and singing along with the songs, even the ones from the most recent record which was only going to be officially released the day after this gig. Leading the crowd was vocalist Ashley Edison (also of Dendera, with brother Bradley) he's an ideal frontman commanding the stage with his energy and his insane vocals that I'll always liken to Michael Kiske in his Helloween heyday, he's certainly the most entertaining frontman Power Quest have had, air-guitaring along with Glyn and Andy Kopczyk who's synchronised shredding and soloing was a wonder to behold. They threw down a sizable gauntlet for the headliners to pick up, I urge you to head down to Fuel Cardiff at the end of the month to see a full headline show from them as they are probably the most vital they have been in their career.

On to the headliners, now I've seen the London based 'extreme power metal' band a fair few times, starting with the Sonic Firestorm tour. I've witnessed nearly all their line up changes and in many different arenas, however this was probably the worst showing by the band I've seen. Reduced to a five piece for this tour the lack of keyboardist Vadim proved to be a real bummer as the synths were heavily toned down meaning that Herman Li and Sam Totman's guitars were ramped up in the mix, this ultimately led to their downfall for me as it seemed that the volume increased with every song so that the drumming, bass and vocals were all eventually drowned out.

Now I realise this is a metal blog and there is the an old adage of "if it's too loud, then you're too old" but this was too loud, I mean ear splitting volume, people around me who had earplugs were complaining of the same issue. The music got distorted to the point of not being able to hear Marc Hudson's vocals and at certain times he couldn't hear himself falling a little too flat once too often.  it's a shame as they played some really deep cuts and the new songs fit better with their older material than anything else they've done with Hudson, it's just the overall presentation and noise level was too distracting. It seemed as if Li and Totman were just messing around on stage a little too much (it's bee a long standing tradition that these two are the real stars of the show) but with the chicanery and loudness they were trying to push the tolerance of the crowd.

As things progressed the set was broken up by a guitar solo of video game tunes from bassist Fred I left before permanent hearing loss crept in and the guitar nerds really started to salivate. I'm going to sound like a hipster here but I was a Dragonforce (5) fan before Guitar Hero and it seems that now they are trying to appease these newer fans rather than those in it for the music. Not the best show I've seen from them, they seemed out of sync on this showing I hope this was a one time thing as personally I'd love to see them back at their best.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Reviews: Fireball Ministry, Sorcerer, Kardinal Sin, RSO

Fireball Ministry: Remember The Story (Cleopatra Records)

Fireball Ministry records are few and far between, there last was in 2010, but when they do come out, you always know what to expect. There's no frills from this Los Angeles band, the self proclaimed "First Church Of Rock N Roll" talks the talk but the fuzzy stoner riffs of Jame A. Rota and Emily Burton certainly walk the walk. The End Of Our Truth has a strutting riff straight out of the gate, with Rota (accompanied by Burton) giving out his unique vocal delivery before they fire up the cylinders of this bad boy, bringing the Sabbath worship in the final part and on the following track the sauntering Everything You Wanted. The curse of Fireball Ministry bassists rears it's head again with Kyuss's Scott Reeder the latest in along line of four stringers to record with the band locking in with sticksman John Oreshnick for the powerful grooves, check out Back To Earth for some cowbell bashing.

Their 2010 self titled record had a crisper modern sheen to it, the songs were cleaner cut with modern hooks, here it's back to the Fireball Ministry of old, fuzzy guitars, strutting riffs carved out of granite, proper rock n roll as it should be. Only on the final I Don't Believe A Word shifts the musical focus from rest of the record to what I would refer to as almost a ballad, it might be a bit contentious for some (me included) so good that it comes at the end of the record. This is probably the most consistent Fireball Ministry record since Their Rock Is Not Our Rock, in this day an age consistency is nothing to be sniffed at, welcome back to the church! 8/10  

Sorcerer: The Crowning Of The Fire King (Metal Blade Records)

I'd never heard of Sorcerer before this record landed at MoM towers but bloody hell this is the sort of epic doom metal I really like. The obvious comparison would be Candlemass but also the earlier releases from Grand Magus as there is a big classic metal sound throughout. Originally formed in 1988 by bassist Johnny Hagel and vocalist Anders Engberg the band released a few demos but ultimately folded when Johnny left to join Tiamat. In 2010 the band returned for the German Hammer Of Doom festival and Up The Hammers in Athens, they released their critically acclaimed debut album in 2015.

Not wanting to leave a similar gap between their next record this second full length comes only two years later and it's got the epic doom down to a tee. The monolithic riffs of Ship Of Doom take it to over 7 minutes of dramatic, cinematic doom-laden pirate metal, this segues nicely into the Eastern influenced touches of the head nodding Abandoned By The Gods. Hagel and Engberg have a strong cast of musicians backing them, the guitars of Kristian Niemann and Peter Hallgren are the heavy, down tuned riffs and clean passionate soloing bringing a brilliant classically influenced guitar duel to the hailing Satan of The Devil's Incubus as well as swelling out the sound with acoustic guitars which are haunting on instrumental Nattvaka.

In the back room Hagel does the Leif Edling thing of pacing the lumbering heaviness as Lars Sköld takes the drum stool to meld with Hagel. I haven't heard a doom metal album this good in a long while, it does away with the usual malaise preferring to take the clearer more traditional metal influenced route of colossal riffs and clear powerful vocals from Engberg. The Crowning Of The Fire King is monster of an album and a must have for fans of epic doom metal that the Swedish do brilliantly. While you wait for the next Candlemass record console yourself with Sorcerer's latest masterstroke. 9/10

Kardinal Sin:Victorious (Tramp Music)

Please whatever you do don't confuse this Swedish/Finnish heavy metal band with Cardinal Jamie Sin, the 30th Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila. No Kardinal Sin are a proper heavy metal band symphonically charged with keys they play fist-in-the-air heavy metal like Hammerfall playing with Kamelot, the lyrical content on this record is also taken from the Kamelot/Serenity book of songwriting having a historical theme on Bonaparte and Bells Of Notre Dame, they use religious iconography on S.I.N and they even take on fantasy with Attack. Victorious is their second album, their first was only released earlier this year and they have rapidly followed it up with another passionate piece of power metal. I'd not heard anything of Kardinal Sin before this record but I'm sure I'll be hearing a lot more from them in the future such is the strength of this record. 7/10  

RSO: Rise (BMG)

Ritchie Sambora has been a part of one of the biggest rock bands in the world, he's even released a pretty decent solo album in the past, meanwhile his new beau and muse Orianthi has plied her trade in Alice Cooper's band and most famously as the guitarist for Michael Jackson's final This Is It concerts (which he ultimately would not perform due to his untimely death)

Opening title track is a fuzzy rocker with dual vocals as Orianthi and Sambora's vocals compliment each other well but there's none of the virtuosic flair you'd expect from two guitar wizards, it's competent but nothing more. Unfortunately this mediocre pop rocker is the best song on the record, Masterpiece is dog shit, a late 90's/early 2000's pop song Bryan Adams would have rejected, the synthesized drums are a Mutt Lange special and the lyrics are coy and unappealing. The EP goes from bad to worse on the vomit inducing Truth a song so vile I'd rather stick needles in my eyes, saccharine and overproduced, it's budget X Factor fodder in the highest order.

Take Me is shit, ripping off those million selling Santana records albeit without the guest singers, coolness or even the guitar ability and finale Good Times has the pop country of Sugarland and even a rap for goodness sake! With talk of Bon Jovi heading into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame, it seems the door for Sambora is always open at the BJ mothership, I suggest he accept their offer as Rise just makes me want to dig a big hole and throw this album in it. 1/10

Reviews: Rock Candy Funk Party, Santa Cruz, Neuronspoiler, HateMore

Rock Candy Funk Party: The Groove Cubed (Provogue)

The force of nature that is Joe Bonamassa returns again with a new record, the man releases albums faster than I can eat a hot dinner with solo records, collaborations with other artists, the return of Black Country Communion all taking the mans time, however the Rock Candy Funk Party albums have always been the most interesting part of the mans career. Different by definition RCFP are a funk/jazz/rock ensemble formed by session drummer extraordinaire Tal Bergman (Billy Idol, Chaka Khan, Rod Stewart, Joe Bonamassa) and his friend funk guitarist Ron De Jesus, they recruited Bonamassa, bassist Mike Merritt and ivory tinkler Renato Neto to the cause with one goal in mind "there are no rules, just expect the unexpected".

Unexpected is right the record draws heavily from funk and jazz but there's samba on In The Groove, while Don't Even Try It ramps up the funk due to the additional vocals of Vintage Trouble's Ty Taylor who brings his requisite coolness to the song that comes from the 70's/80's disco scene, Nile Rogers be praised. He's not the only vocalist on this record as Jimmy Barnes daughter and Bonamassa collaborator Mahalia Barnes adds the sass to some I Got The Feelin' the rest of the record is strictly instrumental though, each virtuoso cranking out the groove driven funk as the songs weave in and out of different genres, at 14 tracks long many who are not totally taken in by this style of music will be losing interest by Mr Funkadamus Returns And He Is Mad which is essentially a drum solo from Bergman but for those groove seekers Rock Candy Funk party is a joyous experimental fusion record. 7/10

Santa Cruz: Bad Blood Rising (Universal Music Group)

The Finns love a bit of sleazy glam metal and it doesn't get much glammier than Santa Cruz, this young band have the spirit of the Sunset Strip coursing through their collective veins, they've even got a track called Get Me Out Of  California which is pure Sixx:A.M. Part Motley Crue, part G'N'R with the modern sheen of Asking Alexandria and Avenged Sevenfold these Finns bring dirty rock riffs, Archie vocals/guitar, Johnny guitar, Middy bass, Taz drums have epic choruses, that get heartfelt on Drag Me Out Of The Darkness and the acoustic Breathe but mostly it's big hard hitting riffs, with a modernity that sees them classed as glamcore. Labels aside Bad Blood Rising is an attitude driven record that is the sort of record you'd expect for a band full of red blooded youngsters, it's a record that's full of chest beating bravado, it's full of Pure Fucking Adrenaline, if you like Asking Alexandria, BMTH, Escape The Fate and bands of that ilk with a shining slice of 80's sounds then Santa Cruz will make your blood pressure rise, not my thing normally but no doubting the talent. 7/10

Neuronspoiler: Second Sight (Dissonance)

Well this is a blast from the past, I remember reviewing Neuronspoiler's debut album in 2013, it was a strong slice of traditional metal and it's taken the band four years to make and release this follow up as the scything riff of Reclaim Your Path scurries out of your speakers at a fair old pace, in the intervening years between the albums the sound hasn't changed one iota, Neuronspoiler play riff happy British heavy metal with some speed metal trappings even branching out into thrash on Slay The Beast the twin guitar mastery comes from David del Cid and Pierre Afoumado who shred up a storm letting Matthew Monroe and Erick Tekilla build a strong rhythm section. This record has a defiant tone to it, Hidden Agenda and This Is Revolution both scream out about the madness that is our current society, vocalist JR gives his best performance on the slow burning This Brave One that sits in the middle of the record and is filled with classical guitars and is followed by the Priest-like Queen Of The Darkness. Neuronspoiler still have a tight old on their sound, they're a band comfortable in their skin and are still performing the classic metal staples at the same high level as they were on their debut but for a modern audience, let's hope it doesn't take them another four years to follow it up. 7/10

HateMore: The Pain Of Loss (Monster Promotions) 

HateMore's Facebook page say their artists we also like are Exodus, Testament and Slayer and while This Is How We Die does have a bit of thrash to it, I'd say they have more of and Alice In Chains motif running through their records, slow, heavy grooves with reverbed vocals, things get a little faster on The Dream Is Dead. It's standard stuff but the addition of organs to the mix shake things up but this record is boring, it never gets out of cruise and there are much better ways to spend your time. 5/10

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Reviews: Enslaved, With The Dead, Silius, Marvara (Reviews By Paul)

Enslaved: E (Nuclear Blast)

Possibly on of the most astonishingly good albums of the year, the Norwegians latest release combines huge swathes of black metal, which is where their roots lie, with massive progressive elements which echo Floyd, King Crimson and even Steven Wilson. Nowhere is this more apparent than on album closer Hiindsiight, where a rampaging saxophone rages across a heaving power chords and guttural vocals before concluding with echoing Floyd style vocals. Sacred Horse, centrepiece of this quite magnificent album mixes styles to monumental effect, pure black metal segues into an Opeth type jazz fusion before a progressive format. Axis Of The World see the band add layered keys to an addictive hook, gruff vocals balanced with clean harmonies that work superbly. E is a concept album, based on the Nordic rune which means horse. It’s long. Six songs at over 52 minutes requires investment. Do it. It’s worth it for one of the albums of the year. Catch them on tour with Opeth. Forgo that extra pint and treat yourself to a band who are evolving with every release. 9/10

With The Dead: Love From The Dead (Rise Above Records)

The return of Lee Dorrian, the former main man of doom rockers Cathedral is something that will no doubt be celebrated. Joining forces with former band mate Leo Smee on bass and the Electric Wizard duo of drummer Mark Greening and Tim Bugshaw on guitar, Love From the Dead is possibly the heaviest, sludgiest, most doom laden album you’ve heard for a long time. The band have actually been around for three years and this is their sophomore release. Unsurprisingly, given the composition of the band, there is little fast paced action here, with all the emphasis on bone crushingly heavy riffs, behemoth sized tracks crammed with an intensity which could level buildings and Dorrian’s slightly out of tune drawl unnervingly evil in both intent and delivery. From the crashing doom of opening track Isolation, the Eastern flavours of Egyptian Tomb through to the pendulous 18-minute closing track Cv1, there is a suffocating power which is relentless. With the Dead will not be to everyone’s tastes but if you like your skull caved in by pure pressure then this is for you. 8/10

Silius: Hell Awakening (Massacre Records)

No messing about with Austrians Silus, whose debut Hell Awakening starts at full throttle and doesn’t stop. Seven Demons nails both the influences and style of the band, huge chunks of Pantera reach out and grasp you by the throat. Immortalise adds the might of the Bay Area, with Testament and Exodus evident. Whilst this isn’t in any way original it's delivered with huge style and aplomb, guitars shredding viciously at every opportunity and a crunching rhythm section that may down massively heavy foundations. War Planet echoes Cowboys From Hell with Anselmo style vocals to boot and it works. If you need to work out what some of their themes are about then you need help. Message In A Molotov, leaves nothing to the imagination but assaults the aural equipment with thunderous drumming whilst the slower, hauntingly Megadeth hooked delivery of Tools Of Destruction reflects the world today.  Play these guys loud. A very tasty release 8/10

Mavara: Consciousness (Self Released)

Formed in Tehran in 2001, Mavara is a five-piece progressive rock band who play in a style which follows their main influences of Marillion, Pink Floyd, Riverside and Porcupine Tree. Consciousness is the Iranian’s fourth release and it’s a reasonable listen. I’m not over enamoured by Ashkan Hamed’s vocals that stray into the out of tune park a little too often for my liking. The keyboard heavy opening track Invasion (636 Gregorian Calendar) sees Hamed range struggle to manage the numerous time and direction changes. This is repeated throughout the album, for example on the meandering Childhood. However, there is much to commend here. Living The Fast Life has the band rocking out with some meaty riffs, Scott Abene delivering some neat guitar work which is complimented by layered synthesisers although Hamed’s vocals take off some of the shine once again. The title track, a lengthy piece which clocks in at just under ten minutes contains some intricate and delicate interplay. Hamed and Anis Oveisi’s keyboard playing is excellent throughout, such as during Mandatory Hero. Musically, Marana deliver some decent progressive rock. It’s just a shame that the vocals can’t quite put the cherry on the top. 6/10

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Reviews: Supersonic Blues Machine, Radio Moscow, Egonaut, The Face Of Ruin

Supersonic Blues Machine: Californisoul (Mascot Records)

Start up the engines, the machine is ready to roll again, the core trio of Lance Lopez (guitars/vocals), Fabrizio Grossi (bass/producer) and Kenny Aronoff (drums) are back for another journey through the belly of the blues bringing the soul back to this music and grabbing some special guests along the way, this isn't an orchestrated thing though, the guests on this record are friends of the players which means that this record is almost a tantalising look at some of the most talented blues players around jamming some tunes. This time it's Steve Lukather (Toto) on Hard Times, Robben Ford  adds some soulful guitar to Somebody’s Fool, Walter Trout is as ever the blues master on What’s Wrong, while returning from the debut are Eric Gales on the soulful reggae-tinged Elevate and the Reverend Willy G adds a smouldering solo and writes the gospel blues of Broken Heart.

I played the first SBM record to death and it looks like I'm going to do the same with this record as well, Fabrizio Grossi is the bands glue he's the reason everyone is jamming these songs his bass holds everything together and his production/music industry experience gives the record it's slickness and warmth. Lance Lopez's vocals carry so much soul the Devil wants some of them back and his guitar playing slides in with ease against the blues rock legends that feature while Kenny Aronoff displays his session skills behind the kit It's top class blues rock with a soulful streak making The One and Hard Times slow and slink their way out of your speakers with Aronoff's drums and Alessandro Alessandroni Jr.'s keys giving their all, but every song on this record is packed with modern blues rock, Supersonic Blues Machine    

Radio Moscow: New Beginnings (Century Media)

Retro- rock jams are what you get from this Southern Californian power trio, Parker Griggs has the wild shirtless riffs of Grand Funk's Mark Farner and the gruff vocals of Steppenwolf's John Kay with Paul Marrone hurting his drum kit and Anthony Meier ramping up the groove with some finger-style four stringing. Radio Moscow are unabashedly retro, reverbed guitars and bell bottom jeans are the ethos and their psychedelic streak bring to mind the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Blue Cheer or Atomic Rooster, the Hendrix comparisons can be heard in the way Griggs makes his guitar cry on the wah drenched Deceiver or on the Eastern flavoured instrumental Woodrose Morning. Every song brings another familiar sound played by some young guns. No One Knows Where They've Been is built on some funk staccato that builds into a wild guitar freak out. The psychedelic vibes carry through the whole of this record with Griggs on fire on every track his guitar playing is mesmerising but it's always anchored by the solid rhythm section. Swirling riffs and electrifying retro rock are what Radio Moscow bring to the table and it's good enough to eat! 8/10

Egonaut: The Omega (Mighty Music)

The fourth album from Sweden's Egonaut is a satisfying slab of organ drenched dark heavy metal that owes a lot to Paradise Lost and also countrymen Ghost, massive doomy riffs come from Fredrick Jordanius (guitar) and Dennis Zielinski (keys) whose Gothic keys are the main element of this record. It's good stuff, melancholic hard rock with a metal edge, since their last record Jordanius has stepped down as vocalist focusing just on guitar letting new vocalist Emil Kryk give his deep croon a flex on the fist pumping Alienati but getting more melodic but grittier on Totentanz. The Omega is a good album of darkened heavy metal, there's a gloom hanging over the record which means that you can't help nodding your head along as they change between monolithic doom riffs and classic metal rocking on Deathsworn a song built on Rainbow-like keys. If I'm honest the keys make this record what it is, there are so many times that it could become just another doom metal band but the orchestrations and bubbling organs keep it fresh. I'd never heard of Egonaut before but they impressed me with their fourth release, a solid record of heavy music. 7/10

The Face Of Ruin: S/T (Self Released)

Apparently The Face Of Ruin are a sexy melodic death metal from Warwickshire, well they seem sexier than the Swedish long-hairs that usually play the genre but musically they stick to their Gothenburg-sound guns playing the razor sharp, harmonised riffs made famous by At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity and In Flames, this three song EP is a violent tornado of riffs, flurries of blast beat drumming and vocals that move from bowl clenching growls to piercing screams, they bring some frenzied shredding to Beyond Life which features a big beatdown guaranteed to cause some damage in the pit. The three tracks on this record give an overview of The Face Of Ruin technically precise, modern melo-death, this is the new face of the music I expect big things. 7/10

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Reviews: Marylin Manson, Bob Kulick, Lynch Mob,Travelin Jack (Reviews By Paul)

Marilyn Manson: Heaven Upside Down (Loma Vista Recordings)

Close to three years since his return to form with Pale Emperor, the 'God Of Fuck' has delivered a quite astonishingly good 10th album. Regardless of whether you like the man himself, this is pure quality. Rammed full of gritty industrial riffs, I’d wager that this is close to Antichrist Superstar in quality. It’s snarling, unnerving and disturbing; everything that you’d want from Manson at his best. There is violence, smouldering in the powerful opener Revelation 12 and lead single We Know Where You Fucking Live, the uncomfortableness of Say10, and the powerful pomp of Jesus Crisis. Backed by his trusty trio of Tyler Bates, Twiggy Rameirez and Gil Sharone, this is Manson turning the clock back whilst retaining a fresh outlook on a totally fucked up world.

Saturnalia, full of astrological and mythological references also references his father who passed away during the recording. The punk lust is present, sitting comfortably with the industrial grind on tracks such as Kill4Me and the edgy title track. As I write Manson is recovering in hospital after giant stage props (two pistols apparently) collapsed on him during a show in New York. Fingers crossed for a speedy recovery. If you’ve been wise enough to grab a ticket for his forthcoming UK tour then it could be something special. A contender for one of the albums of the year. 10/10

Bob Kulick: Skeletons In The Closet (Vanity Music)

He’s been in the business for 40 years. He’s a well-regarded guitar master who has worked with many rock giants. Skeletons In The Closet is amazingly, Bob Kulick’s first solo album and he’s called in a wealth of talent to help him out. Unsurprisingly the guitar work is first class. This is the man who did work for Kiss, Alice Cooper. Lou Reed and Meat Loaf, who I saw him play with at St David’s Hall in November 1984.  Robin McAuley does sterling work on Not Before You, whilst Dee Snider’s snarl makes the homage to Sweeny Todd on London more sinister and twisted (sorry!). Andrew Freeman (currently fronting Last In Line) appears on the bombastic Player and is reminiscent of Glenn Hughes in parts but it’s the bizarre cover of Shirley Bassey’s Gold Finger with some godawful vocals from Vic Wright (ex-Tokyo Blade?) which got me scratching my head in bemusement.

David Glenn Eisley adds his melodic rock style to the middle Eastern themed India, which features a coral sitar solo from Kulick, as well as the title track and Can’t Stop before Dennis St James brings the remaining tracks home. However, it’s Guitar Commandos that is the real show stopper here, mainly because of the guitar duel Kulick has with brother Bruce, not because of the rather mundane song itself. Other musicians that feature include bassists Rudy Sarzo and Chuck Wright, drummers Vinnie Appice, Quiet Riot’s Franki Banali and Kiss main man Eric Singer. It’s not a bad album, and it is certainly well played. Middle of the road hard rock with a melodic edge and some sweet guitar work. 7/10

Lynch Mob: The Brotherhood (Rat Pak Record)

Studio album number ten for the US hard rockers Lynch Mob, whose parts are probably greater than their sum. As well as legendary guitarist George Lynch cutting shapes and trading riffs, Lynch Mob’s current line-up includes original singer Oni Logan, bassist Sean McNabb (whose CV longer than Mr Tickle’s arm and includes time on Sons Of Anarchy) and drummer Jimmy D’Anda. Once again Lynch flings his guitar around with ease, adding chunky fat riffs to the opening few tracks. However, it’s formulaic stuff, the type which Lynch has churned out his whole career.

Logan appears at times to be doing his best Dave Lee Roth impression at times, such as the bubble gum rock of I’ll Take Miami. Last Call Lady is a horrible track with a ghastly chorus and from here on in the album blends into one. Rather forgettable riffs and ponderous paced tracks like Where We Started and cock-rock slow burn of The Forgotten Maiden’s Pearl all merge into that white noise that is the sound of the Dokken era hair metal. If you like bands like The Dead Daises then you’ll probably love this. Me, it’s just a bit dull and leaden and oh so dated. 5/10

Travelin Jack: Commencing Countdown (SPV)

Whilst Berlin based four-piece Travelin Jack make a decent enough classic rock sound, steeped very much in the 70s hard rock of Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple and certainly an edge of Scorpions and even that era UFO, Commencing Countdown does little to impress over the course of the album. Alia Spaceface (Yes, really) has a decent enough voice, but she pales when compared with the likes of Blues Pills Elin Larsson. The songs on Commencing Countdown quickly become repetitive and Spaceface’s voice (I can’t type that again) has a monotony about it that quickly wears. Songs like Metropolis belong in the 1970s for a reason. 5/10

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Reviews: The Darkness, Dave Kerzner, Niviane, Regulus

The Darkness: Pinewood Smile (Cooking Vinyl)

Steel Panther...the elephant in the room has been addressed, The Darkness are not and will never be Steel Panther, one they are far too English, two they are lyrically cleverer and finally they are all proper musicians. So thank goodness for that as I hate Steel Panther but The Darkness have always held a special place in my heart. Their songs are always over the top but nuanced with the glam rock riffs of Dan Hawkins, Frankie Poullain and new boy Rufus Taylor (son of Queen's Roger) hiding devilish lyrics sung in the instantly recognisable shrieking falsetto of Justin Hawkins. They have had something of rebirth in the last few years with Hot Cakes, Last Of Our Kind bringing back those glory days when they were number one, however now they do it on their own terms not for major label kudos (and the chemical rewards they indulged in back in the day).

They take a swipe at these early days on opening track All The Pretty Girls as Hawkins sings about the titular girls and their "M-m-m-m-m-mums" loving you when you're number one but less so when you're not, it's just another song in The Darkness's tongue in cheek repertoire which continues with Solid Gold. They get political on Southern Trains an embody all of frustration levelled towards the train company, swashbuckle their way through Buccaneers Of Hispaniola, ask Why Don't Beautiful Cry in a way Lionel Ritchie would with Rufus harmonising perfectly. As I said earlier it's the music that sets The Darkness apart, Japanese Prisoner Of Love has mad lyrics but the riffs are huge and Lay Down With Me Barbara to has thrusting 70's edge and uses the word candelabra as a rhyming couplet (seriously). Pinewood Smile is a bit lighter than their previous record, it's not as overtly riff friendly as Last Of Our Kind but then Thin Lizzy weren't all about rocking your socks off, they too brought in the warm Olde England folky touches that permeates Pinewood Smile.

The biggest riffs of the record are saved for the bonus songs which means that it's worth seeking out the limited edition, pick of the bunch is Rack of Glam which is probably the ultimate tribute to both glam rock and boobs. The Darkness don;t need to justify what they do, they are currently experiencing their second life as a band with legendary history but playing the music they want to play not what some suit wants, tip my hat to them, roll on December's tour. 8/10  

Dave Kerzner: Static (Self Released)

Dave Kerzner is name familiar to numerous prog fans, he's a keyboardist and runs the Sonic Reality studio, plays numerous instruments, is instrumental in Sound Of Contact and Mantra Vega and has collaborated with a lot of prog's elite. Static is his second solo album and this one is "a progressive rock concept album and a "rock opera" about the distractions, chaos and clutter in everyday life and about navigating past this "static interference" in our heads toward clarity and happiness" apparently I mean it's a typical prog trope but there are few musicians that have the wealth of experience Kerzner has. He contributes lead vocals, keyboards, guitar, drums, bass to the record using many of his created soundscapes to give the record an expansive sound. His main collaborators for this project are Fernando Perdomo who plays guitar, bass, drums, Derek Cintron who plays drums and Randy McStine who plays guitar and adds to the FX.

These men could be considered to be the 'band' of the record with former Pink Floyd singer Durga McBroom and her sister Lorelei adding backing vocals as Ruti Celli provides cello. The Pink Floyd influence is writ large all over this record, Kerzner's keys bring Syd Barrett trippiness to Hypocrites but his vocals are so similar to David Gilmour it's uncanny, even taking the more restrained approach of Dave on the beautiful title track. Due to Kerzner's session career there are a lot of guests on this record, Dirty Soap Box features Steve Hackett on guitar and Nick D'Virgilio on drums, the title track has Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin making an appearance and Chain Reaction has his Mantra Vega bandmates Alex Cromarty (drums) Stuart Fletcher (bass) and Chris Johnson (guitar). Static is the sort of album you'd expect from Kerzner it's full of expansive prog sounds and has to be listened to numerous time to be fully appreciated. 8/10

Niviane: The Druid King (Pitch Black Records)

US band Niviane hail from Sacramento California and rather than going down the normal route of Cali thrash, they are a power metal band blending classic metal with an European edge, the clashing of swords opens this record and we're off into galloping with dual guitar attacks with gritty vocals. The music is pretty standard fayre and the vocals do get a little annoying coming across like a weaker Tobias Sammet or Matt Barlow without the range, what also lets down is the scratchy production. There's a theme running through the record which is the tale of The Druid King and while the music is acceptable and in places gets your head nodding it's nothing spectacular, although give it a listen if you're a power metal fan. 6/10

Regulus: Quadralith (Off Yer Rocka Recordings)

Sheffield space rockers Regulus play self described riff-drenched heavy blues, Regulus have been in relentless pursuit of the ultimate riff-fuelled groove. Named after a star cluster Regulus certainly have riffs, liking them soupy, heavy and reverbed to hell and back, Dominion the first track on this record delivers the riffs in fine style, with the low end of Martyn giving groove to the big six strings of Luke and Thomas who splice shredding solos with big stomping rhythms, they rub some funk on Seven Tales Told, things take a slower deliberate stoner metal turn on Bones and Heart Of Stone is dowsed in Southern smokiness. Regulus can be favourably compared to The Sword, Clutch and Orange Goblin, Poor Man's Grave being the song most similar to Ben Ward and co. Luke's raw vocal bark over the harmonized leads and dirty bass work, all of which is anchored by Joe's drumming. The band have been carving a hole in the live shows they've been a part of and this record shows that they know exactly what they are doing in the riffing, bluesy groove stakes. 7/10

Monday, 9 October 2017

Reviews: Ensiferum, Pänzer, Wolves In The Throne Room, Game Over (Reviews By Paul)

Ensiferum: Two Paths (Metal Blade)

I must admit that the Finns folk metal has never really grabbed me that intensely in the past although I’ve always enjoyed their appearances at festivals. Two Paths is album number seven for the band, and the follow up to 2015’s One Man Army. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable listen with the powerful King Of Storms, the gloomy God Is Dead and the accordion led Feast Of The Valkyries encouraging you to get up and jig around the office whilst banging the head. It’s full of chunky riffs and the jolly bouncing sing-a-long stuff you expect from the folk metal crews around these days. This would be even more enjoyable with a few beers on board, a field filled with metal fans and the sun beating down. Technically superb, with Markus Toivonen’s guitar work particularly neat, the band interchange vocals to great effect on tracks like Don’t You Say and the crazy opener For Those About To Fight For Metal. 8/10

Pänzer: The Fatal Command (Nuclear Blast)

Take Schmier of Destruction, ex-Accept drummer Stefan Schwarzmann, Hammerfall guitarist Pontus Norgren and Vo Pulver (ex-Messiah) and what do you get? 53 minutes of pumping testosterone Germanic heavy metal that will hit home with fans of Accept, Destruction, Kreator and the like. This is solid, raging metal which batters from start to finish. Pulsing with high speed drumming, lightning fast guitar work and guttural vocals, The Fatal Command looks at the chaos facing the world in modern times. We Can Not Be Silenced is anthemic and urges rebellion, challenging those in power to listen to their people. With the world going to shit at break neck speed this album hammers home the seriousness we face with the dictators and power hungry fools in charge. Stomping beasts such as The Decline (And The Downfall) make up for any lack of originality in pure power. If you like your metal with a Teutonic tint then this will be a must listen. 8/10

Wolves In The Throne Room: Thrice Woven (Artemisia Recors)

Washington’s Wolves In The Throne Room return with their first record for three years and their first unconnected release since Celestial Lineage. Featuring long-time touring guitarist Kody Keyworth as a full-time member of the band for the first time, Thrice Woven is a quite magnificent piece of aggressive black metal which immerses the listener from start to finish. The pummelling sound that was captured in their earlier records, particularly 2009’s Black Cascade, is evident throughout as are the signature riffs which are such a trademark of the band.

Guest appearances by Swedish vocalist Anna Von Hausswolff on Born From The Serpent’s Eye and Mother Owl, Father Ocean, and Neurosis’ Steve Von Till on The Old One Are With Us enhance the release which features themes of pagan nature throughout. Whilst all tracks are impressive, the atmospheric album closer Fires Roar In The Palace Of The Moon with the climatic waves crashing may take pride of place. Thrice Woven is a mountainous piece of work, one that should really be heard. 9/10

Game Over: Claiming Supremacy (Scarlet Records)

It was about 18 months ago that Crimes Against Reality, the third release from these Italian thrash merchants hit the decks here. I called it ‘a comforting package of old school thrash and fresh enthusiasm’. The band haven’t stopped since then with an EP Blessed Are The Heretics arriving earlier in the year, followed by album number 4. Claiming Supremacy continues in the same pattern of their previous releases. It’s fast, furious and totally old school. With a production sound that is reminiscent of the 1980s, the band deliver 40 minutes of fine thrash which sits comfortably in the early Testament era. Lots of aggressive shouty choruses’ ala Anthrax and the like, with the six minute plus Blessed Are The Heretics probably winning most interesting track on the album. Game Over’s game plan is clearly to maintain the status quo whilst producing piledriving thrash which will appeal to many. 7/10

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Reviews: Black Stone Cherry, Matt Cameron, R.I.P, V1

Black Stone Cherry: Black To The Blues (Mascot Records)

On their third EP Black Stone Cherry, have done something a little different while their fan base wait for their new album. Off the back of their most recent world tour the band have put together a compilation of their versions of blues standards, you may think Joe Bonamassa has probably got this market cornered, but BSC speak to probably a younger audience who will now be exposed to the blues standards of old. BSC play it reasonably safe covering songs that have been covered by numerous artists over the years, the two most recognizable being Muddy Waters' Hoochie Coochie Man which is  given a heavier BSC overhaul and Albert King's Born Under A Bad Sign that features some parping brass. The songs are fairly faithful to the originals but with a heaviness that BSC themselves have been lacking somewhat lately, Built For Comfort has a punching riff and a funky synth that Howlin Wolf could only dream of, they unsurprisingly bring some stoner touches to Waters' Champagne & Reefer and give a big Southern riff to Freddie King's Palace Of The King. To hear a band like this jamming old blues tunes in their own style is interesting, the covers are a little too well known but this is a record for the band and it's fans nothing more. 6/10

Matt Cameron: Cavedweller (I'm A Seahorse Music)

There aren't many musicians who can claim to be in four of the most influential bands in a genre, Matt Cameron is one of those people, a founder member of Skin Yard, Temple Of The Dog and Soundgarden in 1998 after Soundgarden split he joined Pearl Jam and has split his time between both of grunges heavy hitters ever since. Now he has tried his hand at being a frontman, guitarist, producer and writer for his first solo record, joining him are drummer Mark Giuliana and bassist Tim Lefebvre both of whom are from David Bowie's most recent backing band that played on Blackstar.

I can say that this experiment has been a hit, vocally he's more than capable having a nicely melodic vocal that means this record is a far away from his day jobs as possible and as a guitarist too he can hold his own layering synths and acoustic strumming with bluesy electrics on Blind. If you've heard Taylor Hawkins solo records then you'll get a hint as to what Cavedweller sounds like, Cameron indulges in psychedelic hard rock for Time Won't Wait,  air guitar friendly riffs on All At Once a song that has cool drum outro to it, he dabbles with buzzing electronics and ambient textures for One Special Lady and goes deeper still on Real And Imagined. It's an interesting record this, some of these songs date back to the 80's but nothing sounds dated, equally it also stands on it's own merit by not  being anywhere similar to either Soundgarden or Pearl Jam. Solo projects can be a shambles but this just adds another string to Matt Cameron's already huge bow. 7/10

R.I.P: Street Reaper (Riding Easy Records)

Portland, Oregon must be a scary place to live, at least that's the impression you get from R.I.P's second record. They play what they like to call sleazy street doom, this is doom metal that doesn't run over the same old tropes of wizards, goblins, no Street Reaper is horror movie occultism with dirty fuzzy riffs from Angel Martinez and Jon Mullett thundering in at every opportunity as Willie D bashes out a meaty rhythm and Fuzz hollers. It's classic doom that sits as a bridge between the occult doom of Electric Wizard and the sleazy proto-metal of Admiral Sir Cloudseley Shovell. Mother Road's snarling riff brings the bite back to doom metal, it makes the music unsettling and heavy but never falls into the so often used troupe of extended lumbering riffs, the pace is fairly brisk, if Mastodon were influenced more by Pentagram and Saint Vitus than Neurosis this is what they would sound like. Doom metal can be fairly repetitive but R.I.P are taking it back to it's grimy roots riff by riff, a good second album from the Oregon band but I think where they really shine is live, let's hope they make it to these shores soon. 7/10 

V1: Armageddon - End Of The Beginning (Frog Juice Production)

The press release for this record says V! was formed by former Iron Maiden men Dennis Willcock (vocals/frontman) and Terry Wapram (guitars) in 1978 both men left the band to form V1. Former vocalist of Iron Maiden is a stretch, he never recorded anything with the group and as far as I'm aware never wrote any of the songs that would feature on their single releases. V1 are the latest in a long line of reinvigorated NWOBHM bands, reformed when the members are re-living their glory days in their latter years. Unfortunately it follows the trend for these projects to be depressingly average with middle of the road songwriting, basic performances and no real spark never mind any fire. There are so many bands both contemporaries and young upstarts that are far superior to this and I suggest you exhaust yourself seeking them out first before you even spin this disc. If this is really is the end then Armageddon out of here. 4/10

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Reviews: Sons Of Texas, Lloth, Colour Haze, Opposing Motion

Sons Of Texas: Forged By Fortitude (Razor &Tie)

Sons Of Texas have A Vulgar Display Of Power if you know what I mean. They are from Texas and they play groove metal that is heavily influenced by Dime, Vinny, Phil and Rex, the riffs bounce and the vocals are haggard from shouting and whiskey. It's not all Pantera a worship although Feed The Need is pretty close, they shoot for the radio audience too with a dose of Stone Sour on Down In The Trenches, some stop/start riffs on the A7X sounding Cast In Stone before really lightening up on Beneath The Riverbed which could be a Black Stone Cherry song. This record has colossal grooves throughout, a thunderous percussive battery, flashy six stringing but most of all great songs with big hooks, ok so the influences are so audible you could get lawyers involved but this is a fun record that's full of big ballsy songs that have a Southern swagger, these boys from the Lone Star state really rock. 8/10

Lloth: Athanati (Sleazy Rider Records)

Hellenic black metal for me is as defining as anything from the Northern reaches of Europe, it seems that the more ingrained a country's religious dogma the better their black metal is. Rotting Christ are probably the most recognisable name but there a numerous acts that are still flying the black metal flag as strongly as Babis' men. One of these is Athenians Lloth who have been around since 1995, formed by bass player Tristessa, who went on to change the name of the band to Astarte they released numerous albums and disbanded in 2014 due to Tristessa sadly succumbing to leukemia. In 2014 Lloth reformed (with the T more prominent in their logo in tribute) by Tristessa's husband, vocalist Nicolas Maiis in 2014.

This means that Athanati (The Undead) is the band's debut record and it's a eye wateringly heavy but melodic tribute to their fallen comrade, the title track starts the record with some precision black metal mastery, the intense riffs of Setesh, Vaelor and Panthimis let Nicolas growl with malice as the band create epic and folk influenced black metal. The creeping Archos and Pan are the slower more deliberate tracks that are exhibit the bands more epic tendencies. There are some high profile guests at work on this record as well Nightfall's Efthimis Karadimas gives his death growls to In The Name Of Love (Sacrifice) and Rotting Christ frontman Sakis pops up on the furious Emptiness which unsurprisingly sounds like Rotting Christ.

They really play from the heart on this 'debut' it's powerful Hellenic Black metal at it's best, if you can't wait for the next Rotting Christ or indeed Amon Amarth album then Athanati will become close to being your record of the year, reanimated, reinvigorated and regal. 8/10

Colour Haze: In Her Garden (Elektrohasch Records)

Colour Haze have been peddling psychedelic trippiness over the course of 11 records they have turned from a Sabbath worshipping stoner band into a more ethereal interdimensional outfit who owe as much to fellow German's Tangerine Dream as they to jam merchants Grand Funk Railroad and The Grateful Dead. The trio of singer and guitarist Stefan Koglek, drummer Manfred Merwald and bassist Philipp Rasthofer don't cast their musical net outside of the 1970's but that's ok their mostly instrumental jams all blend reverbed guitar riffs, jazz drumming and deft bass work to the the record as they play through the 13 songs on this record with no gaps, each song melds into the next meaning that it's best enjoyed on headphones, the Allman Brothers sounding Arbores leads into a New Orleans trumpet break before Lavatera is slow creeping, percussive piece. I'm not sure what the titular she is growing in her garden but it's going to be some strong stuff, Colour Haze let their freak flag fly like it's the Summer Of Love. 7/10

Opposing Motion: Inertia (Lion Music)

This record coming out on the Lion music label is instantly a give away to what Opposing Motion do. This Lyon based band play progressive power metal that sits down in the heavier sounds of Evergrey and also the UK's own Intense due to the vocal similarity. Musically the band are tight as you'd guess with the bass guitar running roughshod over the riffs and the drumming expressive. This is progressive metal as I've said with only the vocals, keys and widdly solos adding melodic touches to the distorted riffs. It's not groundbreaking and they don't have that epic touch of Evergrey but there's no faulting them this is their second full length and they are established in their sound, a great record for fans of prog/power metal. 7/10

Friday, 6 October 2017

Reviews: Von Hertzen Brothers, Grave Pleasures, 10 Years, Set The Charge

Von Hertzen Brothers: War Is Over (Mascot Records)

If you use the analogy of Star Wars films, Von Hertzen Brothers's seventh record could be subtitled The Prog Awakens opening and closing with magnificent 10 minute plus songs it sees them rediscovering the elongated classic prog songs of their earlier albums, but with the new stadium confidence they brought to their more recent efforts, much like Episode VII re-discovered the magic of the original Star Wars while maintaining their post Millennial blockbuster styling. Following New Day Rising the trio wanted to invert themselves, strip everything back and except for drums, play all of the instruments and produce the record themselves. “We wanted to re-invent the inspiration and energy in our doing" Kie says and it looks like a successful experiment, they've reverted back to the band I fell in love with on Approach off-kilter prog with 70's pop explorations, they've even drafted in Approach drummer Sami Kuoppamäki to maintain the sound of that early period.

As I said earlier the record opens with the 10 minute euphoric, magisterial title track, all the VHB trademarks are their, Mikko's light airy vocals, the triple threat backing vocals, melodic keys, rocking oddly timed riff, but what stands out are Kie's bringing back searing guitar solos to nearly every song, something that was missing form their last couple of more straightforward records. They don't shy away from their arena rock styling though, the gutsy To The End Of The World is driven by Jonne's bass, first single The Arsonist is one of the records weaker tracks but it retains the albums theme that peace and love which is nowhere better displayed than on Jerusalem which features guest keys from HIM's Janne ‘Burton’ Puurtinen and much like how ELP covered the hymn of the same name this is as much a homage to Keith Emerson as anything else VHB have done, it's and epic track built around keyboards, keyboards and more keyboards, while Who Are You has the ethereal nature.

Mikko spent a month in India writing the lyrics for this record and those influences are obvious on Blindsight and the glorious finale of Beyond The Storm. This record stands as a milestone for the Finnish brothers, they have tirelessly adapted their sound to get a wider audience, this has seen them play festivals and get wider critical acclaim without becoming too stale then on the back of probably their most 'mainstream' record they are now at a point where their fanbase will happily accept them as 'proper' prog band again. 9/10    

Grave Pleasures: Mother Blood (Century Media)

Apocalyptic post punk, built on a nihilist mentality but riddled with 80's pop hooks, the record is a fast paced, breathless stab at the heart of all things good but conjures a romanticism for misery. The deep, sexy, resonance in the vocals of Mat McNerney will tickle your lovely bits, like Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, as the Juho Vanhanen plays jangly angular Telecaster riffs, while the rest of the band thunder along with aplomb bringing the sing along choruses many of the post punk crowd would have killed for, swaddling the music in a Gothic velveteen at times, getting you to dance to its death-rock rhythms before laying more esoteric aural stimulation and some good old fashioned fang bearing punk. The record whizzes by in haze of joyous melancholy as Doomsday Rainbows, Infatuation Overkill and Joy Through Death all juxtapose light with dark, elsewhere though Be My Hiroshima belies the title for what is a thoroughly romantic song a trick repeated on Falling For An Atom Bomb.

I loved the first Grave Pleasures album and before them I was always welcomed Beastmilk with open arms despite them not being in my normal spectrum of listening. The ten tracks on this record fly by at speed probably due to the punk background of the band but they sink in, none are throwaway and need a few spins to really get their teeth into you. I've always had an ear to the obscure and the unique, Grave Pleasures are that, owing as much to Ghost, Danzig and The Doors as they do to The Cure, Siouxsie And The Banshees and even the throbbing electronic preening of Duran Duran they pick sounds, from a very short but influential part of British music history, they are an will always be more Bauhaus and Bowie than Purple and Zeppelin but when the music is this good no matter what you classify it as it's still dazzling. 9/10

10 Years: [How We Live] As Ghosts (Mascot Records)

After the Knoxville alt-metal bands previous album From Birth To Burial it felt as if they were done, founder members guitarist/drummer Brian Vodinh and guitarist Matt Wantland had left the group before it's release for personal reasons and it seemed as if this record was closure singer Jesse Hasek puts it like this "I thought it was our final record because it just didn't feel like 10 Years without Brian and Matt" however roll forward to 2017 and both Brian and Matt have returned to the band, theri return has had a regenerating effect on this band as (How We Live) As Ghosts is probably the most organic vital sounding record the band have done. Working with acclaimed producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Alice In Chains, Deftones) he coerced them into coming out of their collective shells and trying new ideas, one of these was stripping back the usually layered vocals of Jesse, who delivers an excellent performance.

The music on this record has number of roots but mostly stays true the bands alternative/post grunge ethos relying on emotive, anthemic, heartfelt modern metal songs with reflective lyrics and a lighter more optimistic feel casting away the gloom of their previous record with a sneer of Placebo and the muscular all for one ethos of Shinedown on Novocaine. I hadn't heard much of 10 Years before this but after doing a bit of searching in their history I can categorically say this is my favourite album of theirs and it should be yours too. 8/10  
Set The Charge: Sky Goes On (Self Released)

Have you ever seen the YouTube video series called 10 Second Songs? Basically vocalist Anthony Vincent sings a song and every 10 seconds changes the style, artist or genre of it, some of them are very good indeed, his expressive vocals mimicking the artists he's trying to sing like. He has over 2.4 million subscribers and over 139 million video views, so he's not a flash in the pan internet celebrity. He also has a band called Set The Charge and much like his genre bending videos on YouTube the record has many styles mingle throughout it at their heart they are an alternative rock band with progressive and electronic elements, think Muse, Coheed and 30STM jamming to some Queen and you'll be able to get a clearer picture of their sound, Youngin best shows this with it's vaudeville piano and swaggering drums.

Tell Me has ambient melodies driving it, Right Side Of History is an expansive rocker, with a poppy chorus, Don't Let Them In has a reggae sound to it, while Yes And No is a massive radio ballad that deserves radio play as does Betsy Brown. Anthony has found himself an impressive band for this record all playing their roles he duels six strings with Tom Dicarlucci throughout as bassist Derek Ortiz drummer Frank (Anthony's brother) support with the killer rhythm section. Every song on this record has multiple layers that peel away on each listen, it's a multi tracked, progressive record that features Vincent's expressive vocals and songs that have been crafted for maximum impact, more than just a YouTube sensation Anthony Vincent and Set The Charge are something special and in a time of so many bands doing nothing new, Set The Charge really do try to set themselves apart. 8/10

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Reviews:, Foo Fighters, Diablo Blvd, Blazon Stone (Reviews By Paul)

Foo Fighters: Concrete And Gold (RCA)

There was a time when the Foo Fighters were so impressive. Masters of the radio rock single, they could also really hand your arse to you live. 2014’s Sonic Highways made me yawn and the nicest man in rock, Dave Grohl appeared everywhere I looked. His pearly whites flashing all over the place. The band now attract a mainstream audience and the thought of seeing them live in some soulless arena fills me with dread. This is album number nine, a rock meets pop collaboration with a massive sound, guest artists falling over themselves to get involved and as a result another collection of stadium songs which have little to hold the interest. First single Run is dreary, The Sky Is A Neighbourhood overblown in a Sergeant Pepper/ELO manner whilst La Dee Da is throwaway, with a riff pinched from the Motorhead/Girlschool epic Please Don’t Touch (originally by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates - Birth of Rock N Roll Ed). Grohl’s screams irritate quickly, adding nothing to the tracks. The lounge room feel of Dirty Water at least changes the direction quite dramatically with the band’s reliance on harmonies at the fore.

Concrete And Gold is polished, it’s classy and it’s just the same as before. Despite its despairing view of the future of humanity and the desire for escapism which form much of the subject matter, it’s nothing new musically, not remotely dangerous and little to challenge the listener. It’s music for Radio 2, department stores and those dinner parties for people who think the Foos are a little bit edgy – you know, the event wankers, those that spend all their time in the main arena at Glastonbury and who have a festival on their ‘bucket list’. The arrival of Justin Timberlake on Make It Right doesn’t, whilst the husky drawl of Taylor Hawkins and the dull thud of Paul McCartney’s drums on Sunday Rain just rubber stamps McCartney’s ghastly sound that runs through it. It’s just a bit too safe. Maybe I’m kidding myself to expect anything else. After all, everyone loves Dave Grohl. He’s a nice man. The Foo Fighters are a band in his own image. He could put out an album of his bottom burps and it would sell thousands. The inclusion of Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman on the grindingly tedious title track which closes the album does nothing to improve a disappointing release. 5/10

Diablo Blvd: Zero Hour (Nuclear Blast)

Now as a South Wales based outfit, we all know that there is only one album entitled Zero Hour, the mighty third release from the best line-up of Triaxis. However, the fourth release from Belgian band Diablo Blvd runs it close, in a totally different way. A superb mixture of influences, from Sabbath to Killing Joke, from Type O Negative to Godsmack, Danzig to The Cult weave their way through this release. Vocalist Alex Agnew’s vocal style is akin to the American style of Sully Erna and Aaron Lewis, clean and warm but with an edge that always says metal. The riffage is solid and meaty, courtesy of Dave Hubrechts. Each track is different, and with the industrial edge on tracks like Demonize balanced by the more straight forward hard rock of Like Rats and the classical instrumental 00 00, Zero Hour makes for enjoyable and thought-provoking listening. At times measured, at other times racing like a roller coaster ride, the Belgians have produced a gem of a release which is well worth investing the time to give it a listen. 8/10

Blazon Stone: Down in the Dark (Stormspell Records)

It was a mere nine months ago that I reviewed Blazon Stone’s War Of The Roses, giving it a healthy 8/10 for it was a beautiful slab of heavy power metal. Time flies and Cedrick Forsberg has bashed out another album which continues in a similar vein. Relying on the same line-up as before, Down In The Dark retains the power metal style of previous releases and follows a nautical theme, a concept if you will, with some fine sing-a-long shanties; check out the high speed Watery Graves or the heads down Rock Out! In fact if you like your power metal at full throttle then every track on this impressive release will get your neck moving. Erik Forsberg’s strong vocals carry the songs with ease. It would be fantastic to see these Swedes in the live arena so let’s hope they get a slot at BOA soon. 8/10

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Reviews: Caligula's Horse, Fozzy, Evil Invaders, 10Rogue

Caligula's Horse: In Contact (InsideOut)

Australian progressive band Caligula's Horse are named after Incitatus the equine companion of the Roman Emperor Gaius (nicknamed Caligula which means Little Soldiers Boot fact fans) who he made promised to make consul (basically an MP) but made a Priest instead. Now any band who use this as their name are never really going to play it safe and would play a more highbrow style of music than many of the typical Aussie bands. In Contact is full of complex and intricate progressive music that has jazzy, off time rhythms, scintillating melodic guitar/keyboard lines and passionate vocals. The Hands Are The Hardest is the best way to show their more listener friendly nature with it's colossal chorus, it leads beautifully into the gorgeous Love Conquers All. Songs For No One stands out for me as one of the best tracks on the record it's all elements of their music in one song and it's a perfect piece of modern progressive music that doesn't last longer than it needs too, with a simply astounding guitar solo from Sam Vallen.

On the other hand the gigantic Graves is a prog fan's wet dream, at over 14 minutes long it's got more twists and turns than Le Mans, even having a sax solo in the middle of it. With all the lighter sounds they don't sacrifice their natural heaviness as Will's Song (Let The Colours Run) is full of great chugging but their sound is so layered and immersive that you can't help but think the heaviness is just a little one sided in comparison to what else they do. Vocally Jim Grey gives another incredible performance his honeyed tones are measured and delivered perfectly. Caligula's Horse have constructed a fantastic concept record for their fourth album and it backs up the hype around this band, they yet to put a foot wrong and it doesn't look like they will, it's more than the promise of bread and circuses this delivers and is one the progressive records of the year. 10/10

Fozzy: Judas (Century Media)

I've mentioned before how influential WWE/F was on my early music tastes, many of the bands have stuck with me and led me to go on and listen to other acts broadening my musical taste. Professional wrestling has moved into the the music world as well, I won't bore you with what they are but most have been vastly unsuccessful. The exception to the rule had been Fozzy, fronted by Chris Jericho, the band has always been a separate entity away from his wrestling career, yes they've contributed a few songs to PPVs but for the most part Fozzy is successful in spite of Jericho's other job not because of it. So successful in fact that soon they will be running their own cruise that features numerous bands playing with them on the high seas.

So with all this I suppose they need a new album and happily they have obliged with their fifth record (of original material), Judas is another strong showing from the band full of American Radio metal with Rich Ward churning out riff after riff as Jericho belts out the darker toned lyrics with his unique vocals. The title track opens the record and it's probably the strongest song on the record and a definitive single. As things progress there's the normal mix of hard rock, nu-metal riffs and 21st Century hard rock on Weight Of My World, some industrial parts to Wordsworth Way, a bounce on Elevator and they even add some rap and death vocals to Three Days In Jail. There's an eclectic mix but it rarely strays away from the tried and tested Fozzy formula that means that will be with us for years to come. 7/10

Evil Invaders: Feed Me Violence (Napalm Records)

Evil Invaders motto for life must be thrash until death and then thrash a bit more. The Belgian band's second full length is packed with buzzsaw riffs and shrieked vocals from the off, it's the very early thrash sounds here, Overkill, Kreator and Exodus are the influences as the drums blast away and the riffs come thick and fast.There are a few slow Slayer-like grooves here but they are used sparingly to give you a rest from the whirlwind guitars of their speed metal fury. Evil Invaders have matured their sound since their debut, there they were young guns playing fast and loose, here their music has been tweaked a little as OblivionShades Of Solitude and Among The Depths have more melodic, deliberate cinematic touches that build and build into yet more rapid fire riffs. Feed Me Violence is a tornado of speed metal madness that stands up as one of the top pit inducing thrash albums this year, my advice, buy, play loud, bang head, done. 8/10

10Rogue: Serpentine (BUT! Records)

Well this is dreadful any song that has the lyric referring to a woman as "Everybody's wet dream" is not for me I'm afraid, to have this kind of sleazy sex rock track followed by a soppy ballad, then a big chunky SoiL style rocker it makes me believe that they haven't really got their sound nailed down. I'm not sure what 10Rogue want to be to be there's a overarching Motley Crue vibe (a band I've never liked) but with some grunge too. It means that for me after about 3 tracks it was time to turn off and listen to Caligula's Horse again. 2/10  

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Reviews: Nocturnal Rites, Voltage, Massive Assault, Ardenne Heavy (Reviews By Paul)

Nocturnal Rites: Phoenix (AFM Records)

For a band that started out as a death metal outfit, Nocturnal Rites current sound is about as far removed as you can get. The Swedes ninth release, their first for the best part of ten years is a slick, power metal/AOR flavoured slab which wouldn’t sound out of place at the HRH AOR Festival. Oozing melody and harmonies on the choruses, songs such as Repent My Sins have a deeply melodic feel about them. The band can churn up the waves in a heavy weight style mind, as demonstrated on The Poisonous Seed, What’s Killing Me and the operatic Welcome To The End. Vocalist Jonny Lindqvist leads the line well, his clean vocals containing a harder edge which works superbly on the tracks. There’s even some industrial flavouring which occasionally rears its head, such as the intro to Nothing Can Break Me. A decent amount of chunky guitar adds the heaviness to an album which becomes more impressive on repeated plays. 7/10

Voltage: Around The Bend (Self Released)

So, the South arrives in the Low Countries with Voltage, a four-piece rock ‘n’ roll outfit from Brabant whose sound is modelled exactly on the Southern drawl of Lynyrd Skynyrd and their brethren. One listen to Around The Bend, which is perfectly enjoyable, and there is only one band that you can picture. Georgia’s Blackberry Smoke. Voltage sound so much like them that you’d be forgiven for thinking this was the follow up to 2016’s Like An Arrow. Vocalist Dave Vermeulen is uncannily like Charlie Starr in his delivery whilst the guitar sound of Vermeulen and Gijs Heijnen fits snuggly into the Smoke’s sound. It’s decent stuff, a cross between country, Southern rock and Americana, beautifully performed. You can take your pick from any of the 11 tracks and you won’t be disappointed in the quality. But if I want to listen to Blackberry Smoke, then I’ll listen to Blackberry Smoke. 7/10

Massive Assault: Mortar (F.D.A Records)

Brutal death metal is ten a penny these days it seems and we get huge numbers of releases to review. Massive Assault’s third album Mortar is fast, furious and raging. Themes of death, violence and aggression rarely make for sweet, calming subject matter and it’s the same here. Suffer In Terror, Deranged Humanity and the skull hammering of Empty Shell all explode like a roadside incendiary device, towering riffs, roasting drumming and guttural vocals of Carl Cristian doing the business. The hugely impressive Anger Overdrive maintains an assault which really doesn’t let up, as you’d expect. This is a fine thrashy piece of death metal with riffs that could crush an elephant. Strap in, bang your head and let the explosions hit you. 7/10

Ardenne Heavy: No Nuts No Glory (Self Released)

Not content with pinching the majority of Airbourne’s album title, Belgian thrashers Ardenne Heavy have also managed to obtain one of the worst singers I’ve heard in a long while. Although the band has apparently been together for seven years, vocalist Simon Gaudron sounds like he’s stumbled into the recording studio directly from a heavy session in the pub. His abysmal voice means that any hope of determining what the band’s actual music sounds like is limited. When he has finished his garbled gibberish what you glean is some pretty routine, almost binary thrash which is of extremely limited interest. By the end of track two, the quite stunningly bad Exodus it was time to hit the stop button. Possibly the worst thrash album I’ve ever heard. 2/10

Monday, 2 October 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Gary Numan

Gary Numan & Jayce Lewis, Tramshed Cardiff

The man they call Numan arrived in Cardiff after a considerable absence, the tour was in support of his excellent new album Savage, the Tramshed was the first date of the tour and we took our photographer with us to the sold out venue for what was actually one of the loudest gigs of the year.

Before the headliner though support came from Bridgend's answer to the great man himself, the Darth Vader approved Jayce Lewis (7) who brought a heavy industrial aesthetic to his performance from the stage dressing to the music, it was a post apocalyptic menagerie of light up pillars and a doom laden end of days vibe. Lewis ramps up the thunder with two bass players and a drummer as the omnipresent electronics fizzed and buzz in the background, due to the extensive use of pedals of both bass players.

Playing a lot from his most recent Protafield project, the vocals suffered on the first few songs but gradually they got better in time and were at there best for the thumping Solitaire and the heavy as lead Electric Medicine which closed the set. With a new album on the way and promise of a return Jayce was the ideal opener for a man who practically invented this stuff.

The stage was changed and it was time for the master, the performance was honed to perfection, it was a set of industrial battery from the off, instrumentation delivered with robotic precision and at ear splitting volume, the baselines could loosen your colon and the lights and visuals may induce seizures, but that's exactly what you'd want from a the man that help to popularise the synth and industrial music. Like a hot and sweaty Berlin club the Tramshed was one sold out undulating mass clad in their best PVC, leather, lace.and fish-netting. Gary Numan (8) is wild frontman beating himself up as he delivers his android vocals over the crackling metallic industrial. His band are well skilled and are equally as animated plying riff after riff to an adoring crowd of Numan addicts.

He relies much more on a the classic guitar, bass, drums, keys set up than Lewis and it did seem as if his music had more depth to it. The older material perhaps obviously got the best reception, the dirtier version of Cars made everyone go nuts, (power of advertising folks) but do prefer his more recent moodier, harder edged material that goes into the realms of Rammstein and KoRn at its heaviest. Just witness My Name Is Ruin and you'll see it's a future classic, but we also got Metal, Down In The Park, Mercy, Love Hurt Bleed and the main set ended with always warmly received A Prayer For The Unborn.

To stop the 80's stuff standing out as lighter it gets a sonic overhaul on the loudness front but it is noticeably more melodic and danceable as the countless shapes being thrown proved. Blinded and deafened we were taken through much of Numan's career and for a first show of the tour it was a polished performance all round. Gary Numan and Depeche Mode are the flag bearers for this music and for both of them to be going strong and really hitting hard like a boot to the face is an odd joy to behold. Are friends electric? I still don't know but they certainly can pound out a tune, I urge you check this tour out on one of the remaining dates as you won't regret it.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Reviews: Living Colour, Kadavar, Act Of Defiance, Monolord (Reviews By Paul)

Living Colour: Shade (Megaforce Records)

This is the sixth album from New York’s Living Colour, and their first since 2009’s The Chair In The Doorway. It’s been a long time since I listened to the band who came to the attention of the world in 1988 with their debut Vivid and of course, Cult Of Personality, a track that remains their signature song. The line-up for Shade remains the same as it has been since 2000’s reformation, with Vernon Reid holding the guitar duties and Corey Glover giving it his all on lead vocals. Will Calhoun on drums and Doug Wimbish make up the rest of the band. Shade retains the funk, rock, hip hop fusion of previous releases, with subject matter combining political commentary with a variety of social observations.

The band slip in a riff heavy cover of The Notorious B.I.G’s Who Shot Ya? a track that remains as relevant today as it was when it was first released. The fusion of sounds has always made Living Colour unique in terms of their status in the rock and metal world. They can do it all and tracks like Blak Out, Pattern In Time and Glass Teeth combine the hip hop influences with funk and hard rock. Reid has always been an underrated guitarist and he shows his chops time and again here whilst Glover’s voice is outstanding. I’ve never been bored with a Living Colour album and Shade is no different. 8/10

Kadavar: Rough Times (Nuclear Blast)

2015’s Berlin was an exceptionally good album. The Berlin three piece’s third release contained a plethora of hard stoner rock full of groove and hooks which were stuck in the head for days afterwards. Two years on and Rough Times is here; a more eclectic and varied album, Rough Times still retains the psychedelic vibe that surges through the band’s music and expands into a variety of sounds and styles which are all aurally stimulating.

It kicks off with huge fuzzy distortion on the title track, Christoph Bartelt’s thumping drums and Simon Bonteloup’s snorting bass lines providing foundations for Christoph Lindermann’s floating vocals and soaring guitar. Into The Worm Hole is dripping with 70s Sabbath groove whilst there is variation throughout the album; Tribulation Nation veers towards the Hawkwind space rock genre and You Found The Best In Me is pure Zeppelin. It’s heavy, it fucks with the brain and it’s a trip you should not miss. 8/10

Act Of Defiance: Old Scars New Wounds (Metal Blade)

Huge slabs of groove, thrashing riffs and snarling vocals continue the style started two years ago with Act Of Defiance’s solid debut release, Birth And The Burial. With the same line up in place, Old Scars New Wounds builds neatly with some impressive tracks. Henry Derek’s vocals range from the positively scary, MIA and Molten Core to the more melodic harmonies of Overexposure, which sits in the Killswitch Engage territory. Chris Broderick, as we know, can shred with the best of them and it’s no exception here with some tasty fret work.

Pounding bass and drums from Matt Bachand and Shawn Drover create tidal waves of power on Circle Of Ashes and Reborn. As with the previous release, Old Scars New Wounds maintains a high tempo throughout. Conspiracy Of The Gods could have fallen right off a Testament album, Drover’s high tempo drumming impressive. Two years and two albums. Act Of Defiance have established themselves in the metal world, with my only criticism the rather repetitive way many of the songs sound. It’s a solid metal release. 7/10

Monolord: Rust (Riding Easy)

We head to Gothenburg for the doom-laden sounds of Monolord, a powerful three-piece whose third album Rust conjures images of evil and horror. A filthy distortion greets the listener, the massive wall of sound that the band’s vocalist and guitarist Thomas V Jäger intended easily achieved. This is no easy throwaway listen mind you, with the six tracks hitting a huge 54 minutes. Opener Where Death Meets The Sea may be somewhat deceiving, pacey and relatively snappy in comparison to the crushingly slow Dear Lucifer which focuses more on piling on intense weight.

I like the band’s inspiration for their music though as Jäger, bassist Mika Hakki and drummer Esben Willems have previously stated. “The disgust for what humans do to each other and to the planet is constant. Religion, greed, and power madness run through humanity like incurable diseases, which is, consequentially, a constant stream of inspiration for us”. Quite so. We are truly fucked as a species.

The Hammond organ intro on the title track gives way to a mammoth riff which is so heavy it buries you in its path. Don’t put the headphones on to this as it will stove your head in. Rust may lumber but it is always on the right path, pounding like a herd of rhinos in search of a water-hole. The mountainous riffs continue with Wormland, another bone snapping track which haunts the listener with eerie violin, all the while pounding like the sea on the shore. Imperious crashing chords maintain the intensity of substantial impact.

This is no small moon. It’s a fully operational battle station. When you thought it could not get any more concentrated, the band hit you with two massive tracks, the 13-minute Forgotten Lands which is sufficiently substantial to carve holes in the sky (or blow up a planet - Ed) and album closer At Niceae, all 15 and a half minutes of pulverising mesmeric roaring doom. It’s a cavernous release. Dare you take the challenge? 8/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Winterfylleth, Wiegedood, Necronautical (Live Review By Alyn)

Winterfylleth, Wiegedood, Necronautical, Fuel Rock Club Cardiff

Larger name extreme metal billings don't often find their ways across the Celtic border, particularly on the black metal front. Prior to Nargaroth visiting earlier this year and the Eradication Festival Sunday events, one of the last notable showings was Gorgoroth playing with Vital Remains in the Globe some years ago. So when Old Empire and Eradication Booking Agency succeed in securing Winterfylleth's 10th anniversary tour to the capital, it's a boon for the local scene and it's right that people come in numbers and make the journeys that clearly happened last night to generate a better turnout. Following on from European shows in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, the only band on the tour billing who we were unfortunate not to see were the mighty Fen, but the good news is they're coming next year to Eradication 2018.

Necronautical (8) opened the evening with their own brand of Grim Euphoric Black metal. This is the 3rd time they've graced the city this year following on my first encounter with them on a show I was fortunate to also be playing supporting Scordatura back in February, and their return 2 months later playing the Eradication Festival Sunday. Led by Russell "Naut" Dobson (also of UK black metal titans Ethereal), the four-piece blitz through just shy of 30 minutes worth of synth-backed hook driven malevolence.

Trading overtones of the better parts of Dimmu with an undercurrent of the ferocity of Zyklon, Necronautical clearly had no difficulty winning over a quickly growing audience unfamiliar with their brand, and an invitation to a good ol' fashioned black metal sing-along was met well (spoiler: it's mostly just a shrill shriek accompanied by holding invisible grapefruit). As tight as you could expect of a band that's shared the stage with Dark Funeral and Hecate Enthroned, and no doubt one to keep your ears primed for when they next do the rounds. Be sure to check out their excellent 2016 album The Endurance At Night.

I did Wiegedood (9) a disservice by not investigating them prior to setting off to the gig, although I definitely should've heeded Old Empire's event post hours prior where they made no over-embellishment of their performance in London the night before. Hailing from Belgium, a country that not exactly known for its exploits in the genre outside of Saille, Oathbreaker (of whom they share some members) and Enthroned, I'm pretty sure that the bulk of the venue didn't really know what they were in for. Their name translates to "death in the cradle" - and they were about as loud and angry as a three-piece devoid of bassist could be - I'll iterate that it didn't matter too much given the guitars were also being driven through additional bass cabs to supplement the massive sonic presence they were generating.

They were also certainly not the most talkative band of the evening preferring to rely on noise-presence alone to any form of interaction, which is just as well given Levy Synaeve (vocals & guitars) had the dishevelled appearance of someone who'd recently emerged from a cave.
Wiegedood play an intense brand of atmospheric black metal and switches seamlessly between bleak low-gain melancholic passages and full throttle blast-beat powered malignance, letting the instrumentation do the leg work and with vocals as well-worked in punctuation. They never felt stale and switched up the tempo between songs, using ambience to connect the calm with the chaos. Definitely one of those bands that take you to a different place, 45 minutes passed far too quickly, and the whole affair was more akin to an experience rather than a gig.

 I could entirely see why they were picked as a compliment to Winterfylleth as there's a fair share of similarities between the two, with Wiegedood being perhaps a more visceral counterpart to their more refined tour companions. If anything that served only to ensure that the UK lads would be on top of their game when they follow on as they knocked a crowd that was probably already struggling with heat exhaustion for six. I DEFINITELY had to buy a CD (although charging more than the headliners is a tad cheeky fellas! I hope that didn't put others off.)

This was headliner Winterfylleth's (8) first foray to Cardiff, and my only hope is that it won't be their last after Fuel quite possibly might have evaporated them. For the uninitiated, Winterfylleth play Folk/English history orientated Black metal with clear melodic influences, with memorable songs that can conjure just about every emotion simultaneously, and have enjoyed a good degree of success domestically and internationally as both a recorded and live unit.

 A decades worth of experience and material was trimmed into just about an hours worth of uncompromising setlist that didn't disappoint in the slightest. Clearly the band the majority of the attendees were there for, opening track The Wayfarer Pt 1 is met with hypnotic nods of approval that barely stop throughout the set. The sound is a little muddied to begin with but once their travelling engineer gets to grips with the system they sound as good as the other bands.

Winterfylleth make every effort to cover as much of their busy back catalogue as they can despite their lengthy average song duration, picking out favourites such as A Valley Thick With Oaks from The Mercian Sphere, and songs from The Divination Of Antiquity and Threnody Of Triumph but not really drawing too much from more recent material, I didn't get the impression they could've done much wrong in the eyes of the crowd regardless.

Importantly, despite playing a mainstage slot at Bloodstock this year to a significantly bigger crowd, Cardiff was still treated to just as solid a set, and plenty joined in during iconic dual vocal choruses such as in The Swart Raven. Closing with a huge rendition of Defending The Realm the crowd was entirely agreed that enough wasn't enough and a chant of "one more song" unfortunately fell on deaf ears due to curfew

Overall, a quality evening of high calibre metal, not necessarily one for the pitters and someone looking for the showmanship and high-octane theatrics of their Norwegian counterparts, but a top tier lesson in how to be awed in a heavy way.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Reviews: Steelheart, The Contortionist, Contrive, Midnight Sin

Steelheart: Through Worlds Of Stardust (Frontiers Records)

Miljenko Matijevic the singer and founder of Steelheart is probably not a name many will be aware of but by rights he should have been the biggest thing in the world, his amazing vocal range and the band's forward thinking sound set them apart from the numerous American 'strip' bands at that time. The band went on a hiatus 1992 after Matijevic was struck in the head by a lighting truss, knocking him to the ground face first and injuring his skull, jaw, nose, and spine, since reforming in 1996 they have been performing and releasing music sporadically each time bringing the right amount of retro and modern styles, in this time Matijevic also lent his vocals to the film Rockstar being Mark Walhberg's singing voice.

More recently they made a return to the Rockingham festival in Nottingham which in turn has led to their newest record released, quite rightly for a band such as this on Frontiers records. Through Worlds Of Stardust sees Steelheart once again bring classic rock riffs in a modern way much like Winger they have embraced the current crop of rockers like Alter Bridge and Haelstorm while also retaining their influences. Stream Line Savings the track that kicks off this record is pairs the hip shaking rocking of Zeppelin with the grungy fuzz of Soundgarden's Spoonman, it's a odd one to start with but as it bleeds into My Dirty Girl we get yet more distorted riffs and a chorus that bring to mind Jane's Addiction, you understand that this is the natural evolution of a bands such as Steelheart.

Matijevic's vocals are still impressive, his range is very hard to imitate and it lifts some of the more middling songs on this record to a higher level. It's great to hear Steelheart still knocking out albums 25 years after their debut, Through Worlds Of Stardust may be a bit too modern sounding for anyone that wants a 90's hair band fix but it to me it's a testament to the bands longevity that they are willing to adapt with the times. 7/10

The Contortionist: Clairvoyant (eOne)

Sometimes a band has to go through numerous reinventions and experimentations to really become themselves, this has been the career trajectory of Indianapolis band who started out as teenagers in the burgeoning djent explosion, their music then was of little interest to me, I'm a classic progger at heart and much of the djent scene leaves me cold. However The Contortionist's last album brought more expressive soundscapes which pricked my ears up and made me take notice, on Clairvoyant they have become the band they have always threatened to be, shimmering guitar lines, huge layered instrumentals, first single Reimagined is a floaty poppy track with killer chorus to it totally throwing you off guard.

If you're expecting 28 string palm muted riffs then this record is one to avoid as for every section that has this (there aren't many), another sweeps in bringing jazzy, jangly guitars, flowing melodious keyboard lines and deft grooving rhythms, The Center exhibits this perfectly Joey Baca and Jordan Eberhardt controlling the tempo as Cameron Maynard and Robby Baca craft complex but never overwhelming riffs. Both Relapse and Return To Earth have an ear to the mainstream with a lighter more gossamer aesthetic really settling in, those that love the band's more aggressive early years will probably not warm to the 8 minute expressive journey that Monochrome (Pensive) takes you on. The Contortionist come of age on this record, they have always threatened to take a shot at the big boys and now they are ready to take the throne as their own. 9/10  

Contrive: Slow Dissolve (Self Released)

Melbourne thrash metal band Contrive are made up of bassist Tim Stahlmann and twin brothers Paul (vocals, guitars) and Andrew Haug (drums). Contrive have a knack of playing 80's thrash metal with hardcore beatdowns a style that has seen them compared favourably to Sepultura. They certainly have the stomp of the Brazilian band Connect-dead could come off the Chaos AD record with the shouted vocals and stomping riff. This is the bands 3rd record and it sees them running over the same old ground with 8 abrasive hardcore thrash tracks driven by distorted riffs and Paul's rough hardcore vocal. Yes at times they do flesh it out with a synth or an industrial tinge that takes them into Fear Factory territory (Your Owned) but as soon as the vocals kick in it all starts to sound alike. I'm not to enamoured with this record, for those who love a good pit Slow Dissolve will be a frenzy of inciting riffs but other than that I just find it a bit too simplistic and repetitive for my taste. 6/10

Midnight Sin: One Last Ride (Scarlet Records)

Motley Crue, Poison and Ratt are clearly the reason why Midnight Sin exist, unfortunately they are more pale imitation than successful homage. One Last Ride is their second album and it's just not very good, none of the songs really stick with you they try to be sleazy and dangerous without the shock factor of Steel Panther or the sex factor of Reckless Love. Songs such as Land Of The FreakSend Me A Light (which tries to be Cinderella) and Never Say Never are just a bit safe. If you still use a can of hairspray a day and still dress in leather and fishnet then I'd say indulge in some Midnight Sin, however everyone else should just sleep through it. 5/10