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Monday, 26 June 2017

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

Metal Church - Thekla, Bristol

The triumphant return of legend Mike Howe to the Metal Church ranks in 2015 saw the release of one of the best albums for many years in XI. Since then the band have toured the album hard and I finally achieved my goal of seeing them last year at The Underworld in London. A year on and the band are still pushing forward, hitting a four week run of club and festival dates across Europe. This included somewhat unbelievably a night at the ship turned venue The Thekla in Bristol. Metal Church almost on your doorstep? Too good to be true and as a result the Musipedia team were there in force.

Opening the evening's proceedings were Swiss outfit Comaniac (7) whose retro brand of thrash was enjoyable with tracks from their two releases played, well, at high speed! The band have been opening for Metal Church throughout the tour and Bristol was their final gig. They played it like they were opening at Wembley Stadium rather than a small venue and provided one of the evening's endearing moments when guitarist Valentin Mossinger broke a string. He rushed off stage leaving front man Jonas Schmid to take full lead duties which he did with great aplomb. The band soldiered on magnificently, not breaking stride in any way before Mossinger returned, accompanied by Mike Howe who stoked up the crowd before running back off. Comaniac received a decent reception and earnt much applause for their heroism under fire.

The lights dimmed once more and Brad Fiedel's spine tingling theme from Terminator 2 blasted out. I can't think of better intro music. Metal Church (10) began to lay waste to the packed audience with an hour and a half of some of the finest thrash and heavy metal ever written. Opening with Fake Healer the Church were in imperious form. Mike Howe owning the centre ground, the mighty Kurdt Vanderhoof distributing riffs at will whilst crammed to the right the excellent lead work of Rick Van Zandt pierced the air courtesy of a superb quality sound. The ever reliable Steve Unger combined his rampaging bass lines with main backing vocals whilst new drummer Stet Howland didn't miss a beat all night.

What I love about Metal Church is the quality of their songs. Whilst the band are heavy as hell the songs are beautifully composed, simple yet intricate with some razor sharp political and social commentary. the likes of Fake Healer, Date With Poverty and Beyond The Black remain relevant, clever and totally on point.

Metal Church's set comprised a set of classics interspersed with four killer tracks from XI. Howe' voice is stunning, hitting the notes perfectly on the new stuff, such as No Tomorrow and Killing Your Time whilst adapting it slightly to accommodate the older tunes, which included a magnificent Gods Of A Second Chance from 1993's Hanging In The Balance, the skull crushing Start The Fire and epic Watch The Children Pray from 1985's The Dark, complete with excellent participation from the mixed ages in the crowd. Metal Church pulled in a lot of old school fans who had been fortunate enough to have seen the band before and a number of younger metal heads who were revelling in the opportunity to see one of the the original members of the thrash movement at such close quarters.

As the evening moved towards its climax the band continued to grin and smile, clearly enjoying themselves despite their gruelling schedule (which extends through the summer across several countries), Howe genuine in his appreciation of the strong reception the band fully deserved. Then it was time, and Beyond The Black arrived. If you asked me to name one definitive Metal Church track it would be this beast. Powerful, sinister and magically constructed. Just brilliant. A double encore of the blistering Badlands and The Human Factor rounded off a superb evening from one of the often criminally overlooked icons of the heavy metal scene. With new music promised for 2018, there may yet be more opportunities to worship. I'm a believer. Bring it on.

Reviews: Cellar Darling, Rabid Bitch Of The North, The Sun Explodes

Cellar Darling: This Is The Sound (Nuclear Blast)

Cellar Darling are a trio of Anna Murphy (vocals, hurdy gurdy). Merlin Sutter (drums) and Ivo Henzi (guitars & bass), all three are formerly of Swiss folk metal act Eluveitie. Cellar Darling don't really stray to far from the musical endeavours of their former band but instead of the harsh/clean mix employed by Eluveitie Anna handles all the vocals for this record. Her voice is similar to that of Sharon Den Adel of Within Temptation and you can hear that clearly on the symphonic Black Moon which is one of the three singles that open this record. First track Avalanche has pagan chanting with the pulsing riffs of Amaranthe while Challenge is the folkiest song of the three with Anna's Hurdy Gurdy driving the song as Ivo gets a killer guitar solo at the end.

The metal part of this record sits more in the symphonic/power style than that of their previous band, the tones are darker and drawn from the pagan and Wicca world, Six Days has an industrial sound in opposition with the keys and flutes that come in middle of the piece, with little fills and epilogues the album draws similarities with Charlotte Wessels Phantasma project in 2015. Murphy has great vocals and is able to show them off much better here than she ever did with her previous band while Ivo and Merlin are the perfect foils for her angelic voice and hurdy-gurdying the three have spent a long time on the road together and it does show with the confidence exuded on this record, at 14 songs for the special edition they clearly have a wealth of material built up in their short existence and the fruits of their collective labour make this album a very choice cut for those with a love of folk-influenced metal. 8/10

Rabid Bitch Of The North: Nothing But A Bitter Taste (Hostile Media)

A big old slab of Northern Iron now from Norn Iron metal traditionalists Rabid Bitch Of The North who play loud, brash, heavy metal that's decked in leather, studs and wields a Rickenbacker bass, which precisely how bassist/vocalist Joe McDonnell makes his noise, he along with drummer Chris Condie and guitarist Gerry Mullholland make the noise contained on this record. They really buy into the NWOBHM mythology staccato riffs, one-two drum patterns and lead bass playing all feature heavily as the band use screeching highs and gritty lower vocals to give songs like Nothing But A Bitter Taste their attitude but will also split the audience in half, as they are a bit love or hate. The record has nothing you haven't heard before but it's fun enough for a bit of retroism in the modern day. 7/10

The Sun Explodes: We Are Of These Walls (Self Released)

With the continuing evolution of the genre many call djent there are many bands now successfully that marry a cacophony of riffs with songwriting that engages. The Sun Explodes are one of the more recent bands to come out of the technical metal origins but they like many of their compatriots have adjusted the formula to something that is a bit more accessible and melodic. The vocals for one are excellent Dave Maclachlan has an expressive vocal and he also adds the keys to the heavyweight emotive songs such as Mirrorgazer which closes the album strongly.

The rest of the record is full of heavy low tuned metal with big meaty riffs the order of the day, filled with progressive touches and groove the band really show their talent on the excellent Spake Of Tongue which brings all their elements together while Orro/Seven Sisters are the more ambient middle section. The Sun Explodes is a strong album that as I've said sits in the djent realms but pushes them yet again. 7/10

Friday, 23 June 2017

Reviews: Anthriel, Greta Van Fleet, Moscow

Anthriel: Transcendence (Lion Music)

If you're a Finnish band that play neo-classical progressive power metal then you will immediately be compared to the genre leaders Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica, Wintersun, so Anthriel will have a mountain to climb from the first track. The Calling starts the record with Bowie/Floyd-like acoustic number as the synths shimmer giving a interstellar opening for the proceedings that lulls you in to the record as the orchestral elements swell and the riff for Under Burning Skies comes in like it's travelling on the wind and then the drums kick in and we have the first indication of Anthriel's true style, which is American sounding progressive metal with Symphony X and Fates Warning coming to mind.

You immediately focus on the technical riffs and virtuoso solos of Timo Niemistö who handles a fret board with the tenderness of a lover but abuses it like a metalhead does their liver. Behind him are the frantic rhythm section of Antti Horttana (bass) and Henrikki Markkula (drums) they control the changes of pace, the rampaging metallic sections but also give the lighter more melodic parts a deft hand, check out the aggressive opening of the 11 minute Oath Of Darkness which has all of this in one song the chunky verses, frequent tempo changes and a hook-laden chorus a towering guitar solo, impassioned vocals phrasing and a keyboard solo.

Those last to parts along with the shredding guitars are key to Anthriel's appeal, Antti Hakulinen's keyboards take the reins as a lead instrument in their own right duelling and soloing with it's six-string cohort in unison, on Siren's Song they take a more classic prog route but Painted Shadows is pure Stratovarius baroque-metal. Simo Silvan's vocals to round out the top class performances on this record, they are powerful, reasonably low and raspy but in this sort of music I prefer it to the soaring ear-piercing delivery of Timo Kotipelto, Silvan has similar elocution to Russel Allen of Symphony X thus the earlier comparison. Transcendence is the band's second album and it's a must buy for anyone that loves progressive/power metal. 9/10  

Greta Van Fleet: Black Smoke Rising (Republic Records)

"In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man" these are the opening lines to one of the most iconic debut albums of all time. Led Zeppelin I was the start of the biggest thing to hit rock n roll since The Beatles, in January 1969 the swaggering mix of classic Southern US blooze and rock n roll was brought to the nth degree with fuzzy guitars, thundering bass, powerhouse drumming and a blue-eyed soul howl like no other. Zep grabbed the population by the crotch and didn't let go until they were megastars. Well no it seems four young men from Frankenmunth, Michigan are trying to do the same, the mysteriously named Greta Van Fleet (who apparently is a Frankenmunth native) have arrived with four track EP that has balls bigger than the NBA, FA and NFL combined. The band is made up of three brothers Joshua, Samuel, Jacob Kiszka and along with Daniel Wagner they have written an EP that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, we've probably said numerous times on this blog so and so sounds like Zeppelin, well other bands may sound like, Greta Van Fleet are the closest you can get.

Jacob's guitars are loose and explosive, Samuel contributes the stomping basslines and the organs that drive the title track, while Daniel Wagner thumps the tubs like he hates them. "So far so what?" I hear you cry well on top of this nice classic rock noise are the astonishing vocals of Joshua, he is a dead ringer vocally for Robert Plant having the same phrasing and range as Percy, which is even more impressive when you watch their video for Black Smoke Rising and see that he is just the slip of a boy. The four tracks on this record all point to great things for the band, I've already mentioned the funky title track, well that's proceeded by the folky Flower Power which sits in the vein of Going To California and Gallows Pole. The heavy rockers come from Highway Tune which leaves you breathless before punching you in the goolies on Safari Song, both of these tunes are primal rock fury and in conjunction with the other two songs on this EP, Greta Van Fleet have the chops to go stratospheric, they know what it means to be a man, lets see if they can grow into something special. 8/10

Moscow: Queen Of Sin (Self Released)

Whether you call her Tsaritsa (queen) like the Russian fans do or you use Moscow – her nom de guerre in the international music scene, she certainly knows how to attract the bearded rocker to her cause, much like classic metal pin-up Lita Ford, the young and beautiful Moscow knows how to use her sexuality to sell her musical ability. Leaving Russia at a young age she trained for singing, acting and dancing in both Cambridge and New York this girl has rock n roll spirit that drew her to the Sunset Strip where her favourite bands lived in a maelstrom of excess and debauchery, this seemed to be the place for Moscow and if you watch the video for this EP's title track you can see she revels in the dangerous, overly sexualised, sleazy rock favoured by Motley Crue, GNR and Aerosmith with distinct modern sound of Asking Alexandria and In This Moment.

I've concentrated on her image a lot in this review so far, perhaps unfairly, it's blatantly part of the package of course but she can actually perform, her vocals are strong with Maria Brink an obvious comparison in both the cleans and the screams, she is called the Queen Of Rock by many of supporters and there is a royal charisma and confidence to her performances with a strong cast of musicians forming her studio band, Queen Of Sin does what a an EP should it makes you want to hear a full length and see the performer live, let's hope that's sooner rather than later. 7/10   

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Reviews: Cheap Trick, Styx, Wizard (Reviews By Paul)

Cheap Trick: We’re All Right (Universal Music)

Having waited seven years for the arrival of Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello, Cheap Trick is straight back at ya with album no.18. There is no real change of style with We’re All Right, just high tempo pop rock from start to finish. Robin Zander is on top form whilst the rock ‘n’ roll guitar of Rick Nielsen is scintillating. The opening salvo is classic Cheap Trick, You Got It Going On and first single Long Time Coming each just over three minutes each and pure bubble gum. There’s more than an edge of Flush The Fashion era Alice Cooper on the fast moving Radio Lover, the radio friendly Lolita is sure to become a live favourite and the continuing Beatles vibe that has always flowed through the band remains intact throughout.

Brand New Name On An Old Tattoo is reminiscent of the hard edge that Lennon, McCartney and co possessed but it’s the cover of Blackberry Way (originally by The Move) which really reminds you why the band remain known as the Japanese Beatles. Whilst We’re All Right may not have quite the initial impact that last year’s Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello did, it is still a demonstration why Cheap Trick remain one of the most loved rock outfits of all time. Their rare visit to Bristol at the end of this month should be quite an evening. 9/10

Styx: The Mission (Universal Music)

I’ve never had much time for Styx. Formed in 1972 in Chicago, their high-pitched harmonies and musical theatre style really didn’t push my buttons in any way. They were always there in the background, the odd-track appearing on Planet Rock but never really grabbing the attention, apart from the ghastly Babe. The Mission is their 16th full release, and arrives 12 years after their last album, Big Bang Theory. The Mission is a concept album about a mission to Mars. With most of the vocals delivered by guitarist Tommy Shaw, who was also the main composer, the album moves from the high paced and rocky Gone Gone Gone to the much more sedate Locomotive.

It’s a polished, beautifully constructed album, as you would expect for a band of such stature. The guitar work of Shaw and fellow guitarist James ‘JY’ Young is unsurprisingly of high quality, although the synthesizers tend to dominate on many of the tracks. The album moves smoothly through the story with tracks such as Time May Bend, the six-minute Red Storm and the operatic Khedive before concluding with Mission To Mars, another graceful, synth-led tune. I guess if you like the harmonies of Yes and ELO then you are likely to be a fan of Styx. I can appreciate the cleverness and musicianship. It just doesn’t float my boat. 7/10

Wizard: Fallen Kings (Massacre Records)

Formed way back in 1989, Wizard is a German power metal outfit who are about as close to Manowar as you could get without rubbing yourself in olive oil whilst dressed in a fur loin cloth and shouting “Death to false metal” whilst running down your local high street. This is album no.11 for the band, and a demonstration as to why the German nation love DeMaio and co so much.

We Are The Masses, track number 2 on this opus could sit comfortably on any Manowar release, so closely does it follow the blue print. Vocalist Sven D’Anna’s high pitched signing and the huge sound. Tracks such as Live Your Life, Brothers In Spirit and Let Us Unite will have you raising your arms in homage. It’s anthemic, rife with epic imagery and rather ludicrous to be honest. Competently performed, it’s all just a little contrived. I’d save your cash for something with a little more to give. 6/10

Reviews: Valor, Scarletborn, Jaw Bones

Valor: Arrogance- The Fall (Pitch Black Records)

Valor were formed in 2002 by ex-Battleroar members Vaggelis Krouskas (vocals) and Chris Remoundos (bass) who along with Spyros Soldatos (guitars) and Thodoris Andritsos (drums) they released their debut EP in 2004, Arrogance-The Fall is their third full length and it's another record that is chock full of epic power metal that marries heavy riffs with more orchestral elements since forming the band have added guitarist Vassilis Kourkoutas and keyboardist Thanasis Lois to their ranks and this means the songs gallop along at pace with harmony guitars and keyboards duelling throughout.

Most of the songs to seem to fly by in a flurry of galloping riffs, explosive solos and symphonic elements to give the record a layered texture. Although it's the songs that take the time to add a bit of crunch or groove such as Arrogant Fall or Another Time do resonate in the memory longer. The production of Vaggelis is bright and lets every instrument stand out while his vocals are powerful and clean sounding almost exactly like Blaze Bayley, Flying Away particularly could sit on X Factor or Virtual XI with ease. If you love the sound of dual guitar wielding tough power metal with restrained but ever-present symphonic touches then Arrogance - The Fall will be up your alley, the Greeks are able to deliver very strong power metal and Valor are another band that do it well. 8/10

Scarletborn: A Royal Hunt (Straight From The Heart)

Scarletborn are a three-piece from Volos in Greece. Their music is categorised as melodic death metal and that is pretty accurate as Ethan Tziokas vocals have duality associated with the genre he growls on tracks such as the heavy Imploring Giants which also features Wardrums Yannis Popadopoulos on vocals but also Ethan hows he can sing in a low clean on We Tore The Sun. Yannis is one of the four guests on this record with Nightrage's Marios Iliopoulos on guitar for the more melodic To Be Obscure, Bob Katsionis on Lethargos also lending their talent.

Musically the band are excellent, Aggelos Triantos is a frantic rhythm machine drumming up a storm on Antlers Crown (which features John McRis on guitar) with this many guest guitarists it's easy to ignore Fotis Tampas' contribution of all the guitars and bass that gives this record the musical foundations of In Flames and early Trivium. A Royal Hunt is a pretty strong debut from this trip, how this will translate live, the band seem to be sans a bassist and a second guitarist, is anyone's guest but on record at least they have all the boxes ticked. 7/10

Jaw Bones: Wrongs On A Right Turn (Sliptrick Records)

Thessaloniki's Jaw Bones are young and angry with a riff packed debut album, there's stoner, grunge and punk on this record as it opens with the attitude filled Communication is delivered like a megaphone in the face with Disciple having the groove of early Soundgarden which continues into Ego Tripper that has funkier tones to it but with the bands rawness still coming through. The Ride To Nowhere is a much more psychedelic affair as is the slow burning Song Of The Nightingale and Should Know Better ramps up the riffage. With Greek metal flooded with bands in the stoner style they need to adapt their style to stand out from the pack and Jaw Bones do this by adding doom on A Thousand Masks along with the punk and grunge sounds mentioned earlier. Wrongs On A Right Turn will be instrumental in taking Jaw Bones in the right direction. 7/10

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Reviews: Gov't Mule, Entrails, Temple Of Lies, Onegodless (Reviews By Paul)

Gov't Mule: Revolution Come Revolution Go (Universal Music)

Formed by Warren Haynes and Allen Woody back in 1994 as a side project from The Allman Brothers, the Mule have churned out releases more regularly than “that there” mule produces dung. Revolution Come Revolution Go is album number 10 and it is as laid back and awesome as all the others. The Allman Brothers were of course, one of the greatest Southern rock bands that ever existed, with a plethora of epic tunes that far exceed the well-known Jessica (Top Gear soundtrack for the uninitiated). With a revolving door of musicians when they play live, the nucleus of the band has been constant for several years, with Haynes and drummer Matt Abts the original members joined by Keyboardist Danny Louis and Jorgen Carlsson on bass. Revolution Come Revolution Go is a social statement on the current political position in the States.

Check out opener Stone Cold Rage for a fiery example. It’s an album that is worth investing time in, and time is what is needed with a running time of 113 minutes and 18 tracks. But what superb music it is, with the relaxed feel of The Allmans coursing through the album. It’s mellow but angry at the same time. Confidence oozes through the tracks, Haynes velvety deep South vocals melting into each song whilst the keyboards dip in and out, underpinning the quality. Meanwhile the guitar work is exemplary, dripping with soulful blues and Southern rock.

Listen to Pressure Under Fire, Louis’ swirling keyboards quite magnificent. The title track is a Black Crowes style funk soaked meander, a quite beautiful piece that builds slowly, pace changing as progress is achieve, the component parts combining to make it just magical with some sublime interplay as the track descends into an almost freeform jazz piece towards the final third. Gov't Mule make a rare appearance in Cardiff toward the end of October this year. I shall be making my way there to see this quite magnificent band in action. I strongly advise you to do the same. 9/10

Entrails: World Inferno (Metal Blade)

Although Swedes Entrails operated for several years in the 1990s, their recording history only began in 2008 when the band picked up the reigns again and reformed. Led by guitarist Jimmy Lundqvist, World Inferno is album number four, and in their own words is “death metal and no fucking else”. Whilst they clearly haven’t sorted out their grammar, Entrails deliver well on this release, which is a real slab of old school death metal in the veins of Entombed, Grave and Carcass.

The band also capture some of the real early thrash thuggery of Slayer and Metallica, such as on the mighty Condemned To The Grave, a real spine crusher of a track. World Inferno is a fine release, massively heavy whilst also laden with hooks, powerful as an armoured tank on the rampage. It is well worth grabbing a copy if you like your death metal hard and heavy. 9/10

Temple Of Lies: The Serial Killer Suite (Attic Records)

Midlands based Temple Of Lies third album doesn’t fuck about. It’s clear from the start that Monster Magnet feature highly in their list of influences. Throw in the stoner groove of Orange Goblin and the old school sound of Leviathan era Mastodon and you’ve got one hell of a mix. The band remind me of Texas Hippie Collective and Hogjaw, two US outfits whose groove laden riffing is comfortably matched here. 48 minutes of relentlessly heavy and impressive metal with a blistering edge, the combination Si Shaw, Jon Scranney, Jags and Alex Gamble effortlessly delivering some warped and twisted tunes. Tracks such as Epic Doom, Modeus Operandi and the pounding bass lines of single Skin are all sinister and yet appealing. Get down to the The Temple of Lies. It’s time for worship. 8/10

Onegodless: Mourner (Self Released)

Founded by Dutch bass player Robin Zielhorst (Cynic, Exivious, Our Oceans) alongside vocalist Pieter Verpaalen (Textures), Yordi Lopez (Red Eyes, 3D Monster) and Yuma van Eekelen (Pestilence, Exivious), ONEGODLESS play what they have termed “heavystonerluesgrooverockslugemetal”. To be fair, all those genres flash in and out of this heavy long player, with Zielhorst’s crazed bass lines battling with the heavy riffage of Lopez’s guitar. It’s solid stuff, with some powerful and brutal tunes. The chug of Unstable contrasts with the robust Burn the Sun, the consistent groove giving each track a pumped-up feel. Verpaalen’s vocals are a little one dimensional for me but fit the style of the band who at times have a similar feel to Midland’s groove masters Obzidian. It’s worth a spin. 7/10

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Metal 2 The Masses Final 2017

Metal 2 The Masses South Wales Final 2017, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

In case you live under a rock and don't know what it is the Metal 2 The Masses is UK wide battle of the bands competition for unsigned acts. In each region a certain number of acts enter and are whittled down by audience votes until four bands reach the final. In the final the votes are cast by Bloodstock's Simon Hall and the winner is given a chance to perform on BOA's New Blood Stage among other things. Because of the nature of the event I think it would be unfair for me to give a score for each of the bands as Simon has probably got more experience doing this than I have, so with that in mind I'll just give my opinion on the bands and give a blow-by-blow of this great evening

The hot sun beat down on what was a glorious day in Cardiff, the majority of the crowd and indeed the bands were installed outside the venue with refreshments in hand, the venue itself was pressure cooker, many of us with a larger disposition roasting like a rack of lamb, but we dutifully filed into the performance area for the first of four unsigned, underground bands for the local scene.

The lots were drawn at random so it was Rhondda 3 piece Incursion that took to the stage first. Their combination of death/thrash metal was ideal to start the evening, having brought a large rambunctious crowd with them to the evening from the get-go frontman/guitarist Johnny called for pits with the crowd duly obliged and even got involved for a pretty good wall of death, the between song banter revealed that the band don't take themselves seriously and their hard hitting metal has the wall-of-noise heaviness of SYL and the groove of Devildriver, as you'd expect the band picked a set that displayed their strongest elements and at the climax the wall were sweating such was the action down the front. The gauntlet was laid down now it was up to the other three bands to equal or better it.    

Next up were Revival the Blackwood band are no strangers to these pages and the youngsters once again put on mature masterclass of classic groove driven metal, opening with the tried and tested trio of Madness, Season Of The Wizard and Captain's Quarters Finley, Luke, Alex and Dafydd play like a band twice their age and with the crowd building throughout they through everything at the show, hooking you in with their grooves, fluid soloing and excellent vocals, their stage presence is also super Dafydd smashes away, Alex prowls his side of the stage like a predator, Luke has a reserved otherworldly coolness about him and Finley just moshes like no one is watching. Revival are a refreshing band to watch playing old style music but with a youthful exuberance, they also received a great response at the end of their set, consider the gauntlet met.

Between the bands, most of the time was spent outside with fluid replenished and faces towelled off discussing the previous bands, it was great to see so many people involved int he event and actively discussing and debating about music and also supporting the local scene.

Back inside and it was time for melodic death metal from Cwmbran...yes Cwmbran, as Democratus took to the stage ready and raring to go with their politically inspired aggressive death metal that fuses dual guitar riffage and clean/harsh vocals. Those vocals come from Steve Jenkins a friend of the blog since his days with Counterhold and while Counterhold were good, Democratus are marginally different beast, their songs are more aggressive and complicated with Is This Fear and Deity pulled out to really incite the crowd to go nuts. Steve's imposing presence and experience as a frontman are the benefit to this band, he knows how to control a crowd and his voice is excellent moving from guttural roars to powerful cleans as the band behind play some top drawer melo-death full of harmonic guitars and grunt. Again the crowd went nuts with action in the pit growing until the end of the set.

Three reasonably aggressive metal bands down and one more band to go, everyone was revving up for the end and it came with the most unique band of the night, Cardiff band Malum Sky are a progressive metal act that draw on distorted riffs, soaring harmonics, odd time signatures, ambient textures and a varied melting pot approach to song writing. Drummer Joe Wilkes and bassist Saki Patsiouras drive the songs along with their dynamic rhythm section, they are in charge of the time and pace changes while Jon Evans and Michael Després bewitch with some incredible guitar prowess that rapidly shifts tone from clean ethereal notes to a metal crunch, as all of this is going on instrumentally frontman Ben Honebone conducts himself in the best way, getting down and dirty with the punters as he unleashes the clearest vocal phrasing of the night, however his vocals are used as and instrument in their own right never outdoing anything else. The music is well crafted and well received but stood out due the sheer difference of what proceeded it.

As the set came to an end there was a swathe of appreciation not only for Malum Sky but all the bands that appeared and then it was a time to compose ourselves and wait for the results. Happily we didn't need to wait in silence as what has now become customary at these events is that the previous year's winners headline the night. Last year's winners were the black metal madness of Agrona, who have gone on to bigger and better things since then and do seem to be adding members every time I watch them play, having witness their black ritual a mere seven days previous to this event I can confirm that they once again filled Fuel with riffs as sharp as a switchblade, more smoke than Stars In Their Eyes and heaving load of Satanic blackened metal to really destroy the venue properly after a night of quality metal. Very little I can say really as they were on the same form as they were the weekend before, they all perform so well it's hard to tear yourself away, things got tasty down the front leaving the venue very very moist.

With all the music due to be played having been played and the raffle drawn it was time for the decision, the tension was palpable but the announcement came and the winners were Malum Sky who will now play the New Blood Stage. Well done to them and to all the bands, it was a hard decision as all four bands played their hearts out and left it all on stage. What made it all the better for me though was the camaraderie between the bands, yes it was a competition but the mutual respect that existed between the bands was admirable and the high turnout to showed that despite predictions to the contrary live music and the underground scene in Wales at least is pretty good at least. Big thanks to Simon and the team at Bloodstock for tirelessly doing these competitions all over the UK to highlight how strong the British independent metal scene is.  

Reviews: Iced Earth, Furyborn, Analog Bandits

Iced Earth: Incorruptible (Century Media)

Iced Earth have never been a band where things have run smoothly they have an almost revolving door policy of vocalists and musicians throughout their 11 albums, however after their previous release Plagues Of Babylon the band seemed to be their most stable in years with singer Stu Block firmly in place, Luke Appleton the new bass player, Troy Steele on lead guitar and Jon Schaffer the anchor for everything, however after the release of the album the band took a break from touring due to Schaffer's cervical fusion surgery, in that time long-time drummer Brent Smedley returned to the fold and Steele left with Jake Dreyer formerly of Kobra And The Lotus, Witherfall and previously White Wizzard taking over on the six strings.

The band started writing and the result of these sessions is the band's twelfth record Incorruptible Block and Appleton remain as of course does Schaffer which means that this record will sound like Iced Earth but where as some previous records have been bogged down by the Set Abominae concept this record has 10 individual tracks that all deal with different lyrical concepts, Great Heathen Army opens the record with the thrashy riffs of Schaffer cranking out at full volume as Block croons the story of Vikings, it's Iced Earth do Viking Metal and they do it well, Black Flag comes next an this is deep in the Running Wild trench telling of Pirates with a galloping riff and Brothers is about the relationship between Schaffer and Block.

Seven Headed Whore 
is vicious and nasty thrash metal while the epic finale Clear The Way is based on Irish Brigade at the Battle Of Fredericksburg returning to the Civil War motifs they played with on The Glorious Burden. As just a side note I've always enjoyed the way Schaffer treats history, it seems to be a genuine passion of his which as a historian myself is commendable. Anyway back to the album and it's the strongest record Iced Earth have done in along time, it dips a little in the middle but climbs back towards the end. It's certainly the best of the trio produced with Stu Block who gives his most definitive vocal performance so far, they have always been one of my favourite acts and to hear them giving their best performance in years made me bang my head in appreciation. 8/10

Furyborn: Dawn Of Leviathan (Self Released)

Five go mad in Dorset as the full length record from Furyborn graced my desk at MoM Towers. The band play in their own words 'weaponized melodeath savagery' and it's hard to argue as the intro Second Sun gives way to one of the heaviest records of the year, opening with the vicious title track Furyborn set out their stall early with razor sharp lighting fast riffs, heavy blast beating, some melodic leads and vocals that switch effortlessly between growls and powerful cleans, the title track grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go, shortening your breath not allowing you struggle free until the orchestral outro, it's only a brief rest bite though as The Reckoning brings the industrial stomp of Fear Factory stamping you in the face like Orwell's famous quote, the solos cut in for short bursts of virtuosity but then it's back to headbanging groove.

With the outright heaviness of this album, it's only after repeated plays you hear the Maiden-esque dual leads and the symphonic touches that weave their way through the record. Furyborn are Jut Tabor on vocals (both Jekyll and Hyde), Nick Richardson lead guitars (solos-a-go-go), Rob Walker rhythm guitars (riffs like a bastard), Timmy Hodgeson bass (ruptures your spleen) and Tim Coulson drums (gives artillery fire) together they play like they are far beyond later in their careers than seven years, there's a maturity and sens of purpose to the music, the band have found an identity that suits them it's this aggressive but accessible sound that will see them ascend rapidly in the UK metal scene. Melodeath Savagery? yes and so much more, bludgeoning breakdowns, soaring guitars solos and album that makes you pay attention. Now to watch the Leviathan rise and conquer! 9/10

Analog Bandits: Invocation (Self Released)

Analog Bandits cite their influences as Thrice, The Dear Hunter, Mastodon, Dance Gavin Dance, Dredg, and The Mars Volta so you can get a feel of what they sound like. Musically their mix of groovy progressive rock is very interesting and intriguing with changing time signatures, off-kilter melodies and very quirky style. For a three piece the music is technically proficient and polished mixing the rock and R&B in a cement mixer of prog weirdness, however the record does fall down with the vocals which are a bit Marmite, some will love them but others will hate the nasal quality to them. Invocation is a high concept record about two characters called Petrus and Stendention but you really have to listen to the record to figure out what the hell is going on. I'd say for fans of The Dear Hunter, The Mars Volta and Coheed And Cambria, Analog Bandits will be ones to watch, it's the sort of prog that could be played on BBC Radio 1 and that's not a criticism it's just more old school proggers will dismiss it which is a shame as the ability on display is of a high level, it just might be trying to please all of the people all of the time. 6/10  

Monday, 19 June 2017

Reviews: Nickelback, Bulletback, Edge Of Free

Nickelback: Feed The Machine (Sony/BMG)

Have Nickelback changed their sound? No, Will they ever? No, Do they need to? Probably not. However what we have on this ninth studio album from the Canadian band is not your atypical modern Nickelback record. Opening with the ominous riff heavy title track the album once again continues the theme of having hard rockers and mega ballads, unlike some of their previous albums though the rockier songs have more serious overtone than tracks like Something In Your Mouth and SEX with most of this album dedicated to lamenting politicians and the system.

There aren't any goofy throwaway numbers either so thankfully we don't have to endure another Rockstar or This Afternoon but what does remain are the ballads that have become the staple of US American radios. With eight albums under their belt on this record it sounds like the band are revisiting their past, there was period of after their previous album where Chad Kroger had to have surgery on his vocal chords, their tour was cancelled and they endured legal battles. This extra time and frustration has lent itself to the record being darker and angrier, like their breakthrough Silver Side Up and even their earlier records of State and The Curb.

The guitars are more down-tuned and heavier, Mike Kroeger's bass taking the lead on The Betrayal (III), Daniel Adair's drumming remains a key element of the band's sound and he really thumps away on this record, there's a renewed aggression to the band that means they can experiment with The Betrayal being a two song suite. Kroeger's vocals too seem in fine fettle as he shouts like the old days while For The River has a killer solo from Ryan Peake.

The things that made Nickelback an arena band are still here and it's these parts of their sound that have made them much maligned in rock circles After The Rain is the perfect example, but personally I'm liking the commitment to make this record harder like their first few albums. There will always be a fan base for Nickelback and they will always be counteracted by the people that hate the band, however you can't deny they are good musicians and they know how to write a song. For an older fan such as myself Feed The Machine is a throwback to the Nickelback I knew and loved. 8/10    

Bulletback: The Quest For New Horizons (Self Released)

Brazil is a hotbed of heavy metal, there aren't many countries that practically bleed metal, international bands get huge responses and as an offshoot the Brazilian metal scene is in rude health, bands such as Sepultura, Angra, Hibria and Krisiun all of whom rose to prominence outside of their native land, Brazilian metal bands are now tenpenny and Bulletback are here to make a statement. What a statement it is the three piece are wearing their influences on their sleeves, touches of Maiden, Megadeth and Accept creep in as the trio play distorted riff fuelled heavy metal, it's got modern heaviness to it with enough classic influences to please everyone.

Where Are The Angels is chunky riff with a big chorus, the title track blistering thrash as is Holy Words, while Faking takes a modern alt metal route. At the apex of the album Here I Stand is thrashy way to end in opposition to the dynamic Down And Out which opens it with hard rock hook. Raphael's vocals are as raw as his guitars with Aléxis and Fabio the powerhouse behind him. Bulletback are a really impressive band, considering this is their first album it's a mature, well crafted debut that screams quality, let's hope they continue this quality through to a second album then they can really make a splash outside of South America. 8/10

Edge Of Free: Edge Of Free (Digitally Sound Records/Kobalt Music)

The EPK that came with this record states that Edge Of Free is modern rock with a combination of acoustic riffs, heavy guitars and heart-felt lyrics. The band is the project of guitarist John Hussey and singer Scott Sneddon, the two men create dark melodies with soaring choruses that form songs that tackle depression, drug addiction and recovery with Sneddon singing of the pain these cause with a passion reserved for vocalists such as Chris Cornell and Layne Stayley. His anguished vocals are augmented by multi layered music of Hussey who along with producer Toby Wright (Alice In Chains, Korn, Tantric, Metallica) form the heavy rhythm section that sits under the lead acoustic guitar.

It's the acoustic guitar that takes pride of place on this record it makes the album stand out form the other alt/grunge bands out there, without it the Edge Of Free would be lost in the pack, however with it they are a unique presence in the scene. Pony, Higher and Pushin' The Needle are probably the best trio on this record but nothing really dips in quality with Sneddon's powerful vocals and Hussey taking the interesting step of letting the acoustic take the lead Edge Of Free is a record built out of damage, frustration and redemption, it's out of left field yes but it's interesting and heavy without having to be fully plugged in. 7/10

Friday, 16 June 2017

Reviews: Orden Ogan, Blackwater Conspiracy, Bloody Hammers

Orden Ogan: Gunmen (AFM)

I've had a soft spot for Orden Organ since their third record To The End the German band successful marry heavy power metal with a cinematic feel but in an unfussy way, they are not as over the top as bands such as Rhapsody but have the same pomp. The band is the brainchild of frontman Seeb Levermann who is the bands' vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist/producer and writer he pretty much is the sound of Orden Ogan and his creates excellent power metal soundscapes, with the thunderous riffage, elegant keyboards, large backing choirs and his own deep powerful vocals tracks such as the dramatic Vampire In A Ghost Town, the Teutonic-metal of the title track and the epic final track Finis Coronat Opus which is just that an opus of operatic proportions.

Aiding Seeb are the band that have been with him since To The End guitarist Tobi, bassist Niels and drummer Dirk and they all are top flight musicians giving a really tight performance throughout as the songs twist and change numerous times during their relatively short run times, the amount of melody to metal is measured almost perfectly and on ballads seem muscular rather than airy Come With Me To The Other Side is the ideal example of this it's a great folk-influenced song that features Seeb duetting with Liv Kristine for maximum drama. Gunmen continues Orden Ogan's purple patch classy, heavy power metal with the occasional lighter moment added for a more rounded experience. 8/10

Blackwater Conspiracy: Shootin' The Breeze (Bulletproof 20/20)

Do you remember Million Dollar Reload? They released two albums and a live record between 2010 and 2013, highly touted as 'the next big thing' by the rock press their sleazy rock n roll was part AC/DC, part Guns N Roses. The comparisons were drawn mainly due to Phil Conalane's whiskey soaked Bon Scott-like vocals, the album's were very good and the band more than lived up to their press tag, however in 2015 the sleaze influences sank away and the music they were creating was much more laid back and blues-influenced.

Phil continued with vocals and strapped on a guitar and along with M$R bassist and co-founder Kie McMurray they added to their ranks the lead guitar wizardry of Brian Fallon, the tub thumping of Fionn O’Hagain and the keys of Kevin Brennan before deciding that a new name was needed and so Voilà Blackwater Conspiracy came about. This is their debut album and the years of service to rock n roll is written all over it, the songs bristle with energy that is captured by fellow countrymen The Answer.

The Gaelic spirit is writ large all over this record, as well as The Answer comparisons can be drawn to The Temperance Movement, The Quireboys and of course The Faces, Phil's raw vocals are particularly Rod-like on the breezy Blackwater Swagger and Roll The Dice, the band go a bit Skynyrd on Waitin' On Hollywood which teams a fuzz riff with church organs and A Penny For Your Dirty Mind continues in the soulful Southern vibe. Hanging Tree is a packed with soul bearing from Phil, '85 Rockstar builds on bubbling organs with an easy shuffle into a tale of self destruction that could have come from their previous incarnation.

Decadent Highway goes the other way by landing squarely in The Black Crowes territory matching boogie piano running with rock n roll guitar heroism. Recorded at Rockfield and Studio 2 in Portadown the album brims with confidence, intelligence and a real love for the music contained herein, Blackwater Conspiracy have spent time crafting an album that goes from slide-driven blues through to driving rock n roll via confessional country, it's a fantastic record that like all the best albums is British rock influenced by American blues, come and shoot the breeze it's comforting, familiar and boy howdy does it feel good. 10/10

Bloody Hammers: The Horrific Case Of Bloody Hammers (Napalm Records)

The Horrific Case Of Bloody Hammers is a vinyl only EP of Transylvania County goth, horror, schlock rockers Bloody Hammers. On their full length records they have slowly adapted their sound from doomy Sabbath-like rock to a more Cure-like goth styling and the six tracks on on this EP draw from both of those different style. The EP opens with the low down dirty riff of Gates Of Hell which is the heaviest track and has frontman/guitarist/bassist Anders Manga conducting the the ceremony with his resonant vocals and low end guitars.

His wife Devallia's organs come in on Blood which has the percussive melancholy of Type O Negative, it's on the synth heavy The Beyond that the band show their sexy gothic stylings. As a short slice of what the band can do The Horrific Case Of Bloody Hammers is a great EP that brings together the best of the band and takes it's place as a taster for their next album. 7/10 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Reviews: Municipal Waste, Secret Sphere, Anasarca (Reviews By Rich)

Municipal Waste: Slime And Punishment (Nuclear Blast)

Municipal Waste have always been one of the best loved bands of the thrash metal revival and their sixth album Slime And Punishment shows just why. It's been a five year wait since previous album The Fatal Feast (Waste In Space) and anticipation for this record is very high amongst thrashers like myself. Thankfully with Slime And Punishment Municipal Waste have not let us down. If you've heard previous Muncipal Waste albums then you know exactly what you're getting and that is a blast of short, sharp punked up thrash anthems.

The main difference on Slime And Punishment is the addition of Nick Poulos as second guitarist which has upped the musical prowess on display with exceptional performances all round. Muncipal Waste have never taken themselves seriously and this attitude is still evident especially on songs such as Breathe Grease, Shrednecks and Bourbon Discipline. Slime And Punishment is probably the strongest album Municipal Waste have released since The Art Of Partying and whilst it doesn't deviate from the formula laid down on previous albums it is 29 minutes of damn good thrashing fun. 8/10

Secret Sphere: The Nature Of Time (Frontiers Records)

Secret Sphere are an Italian progressive power metal band who formed back in 1997 and latest release The Nature Of Time is their eighth album. Secret Sphere are a band I have heard of but despite their longevity and lengthy discography I have yet to hear them until now. The music on The Nature Of Time is melodic power metal with progressive and symphonic influences. The performances on the album are fantastic with some jaw dropping lead guitar work from Aldo Lonobile, impressive keyboard work by Gabriele Ciaccia and truly outstanding vocals by frontman Michele Luppi. If you enjoy clean vocals in metal then this guy has to be heard as his vocals are out of this world and one of the strongest aspects of this album.

The songwriting is fairly good throughout the album with things starting very strong with songs such as lead single The Calling, the power metal leaning Courage and semi-ballad Kindness before the album takes a midway dip in quality with a bunch of forgettable and disposable songs. Things do pick up once again with the lengthy and epic The Awakening and impressive closer The New Beginning. The Nature Of Time is a very enjoyable melodic metal album though the midway slump does affect the flow of the album and the album does tend to have a few too many gentle moments for my liking. Despite these criticisms this is a worth checking out if you are a fan of melodic metal. 7/10

Anasarca: Survival Mode (Sevared Records)

The joy of reviewing is the discovery of new bands and especially the discovery of bands who play the sort of music that you absolutely love. Anasarca are my latest discovery - they are a death metal band from Germany and Survival Mode is their fourth album. The album is a re-recording of the 2015 demo of the same name but with an additional five new songs on there. Survival Mode is an all out old school death metal feast with a sound very reminiscent of the US scene in the early to mid nineties with influence coming from some of the greats of the genre such as Cannibal Corpse, Malevolent Creation and Suffocation.

The band put in a extremely tight performance and very much know the art of good death metal which is violence, aggression and a certain degree of catchiness. If you like your death metal the old way then these riffs will be causing you neck injury. With Survival Mode Anasarca have put together a fine album of old school death metal worship which while lacking in originality is more than made up for in quality. Who needs originality in death metal when it sounds as good as this? If it ain't broke don't fix it. 8/10

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Reviews: Jorn, Gentle Knife, Dream Tröll

Jorn: Life On Death Road (Frontiers Records)

There is an ongoing battle for who can really be considered 'The Voice' of rock but every time I'd throw my hat in the ring for Jorn Lande, the Norwegian Masterplan vocalist has carved out a name for himself as one of the go-to vocalists for many artists, he features in both the Ayreon and Avantasia projects and has had continued success in the power metal band Masterplan, personally I've always been more blown away by his solo career which has always carried a thumping hard rock grunt to it, now the quality of some of these records has varied wildly but on this his ninth studio album he sounds better than ever, his vocals are astounding, strong full of vigour and soulful but for the first time he has a backing band that are up to his carrying his talent.

The band in question are essentially all of Voodoo Circle, the pumping rhythm section are Mat Sinner (bass) and Francesco Iovio (drums) both of Primal Fear, the keys and organs are from Alessio Del Vecchio (Hardline) and the guitar prowess is unmistakable the Blackmore loving Alexander Beyrodt (also of Primal Fear), it's this line-up that recorded the last Voodoo Circle album and as that band does seem to be on a hiatus what better way to continue the Purple/Rainbow/Whitesnake vibes than with the man who could easily be the singer of any of those bands with ease, the aim of this record was to make the best album possible and that is exactly what they have done.

With an experienced musical team contributing all of the songs are the ultimate examples of what you'd want from a Jorn album. From the galloping title track, through to the heavy but melodic Purple-like Love Is The Remedy the album, the gutsy ballad Dreamwalker, the rifftastic The Slippery Slope (The Hangman's Rope), the AOR influences creep in on Devil You Can Drive and The Optimist is the proper ballad with a very heartfelt message. Life On Death Road is possibly the finest album of Jorn's career, a rock n roll masterpiece; Lande, Beyrodt, Vecchio, Sinner and Iovio have crafted 12 anthems and delivered a vital hard rock album. 10/10         

Gentle Knife: Clock Unwound (Caerlysi Records)

I gave the Norwegian progressive rock ensemble Gentle Knife a glowing review back in 2015 and now they are back with their second concept album, this time the eleven piece band have dealt with the relentless passing of time. In their words the record "delves into lives overshadowed by longing and disappointment. Plans go askew, lovers betray and dreams fade. Yet, as a sense of resignation descends upon a dystopic inner landscape, moments of beauty remain"

So perfectly normal for prog then, musically it's once again a very layered, intensely musical affair, picking up where the last album left off as the traditional instruments of bass, drums, keys and a trio of guitars are augmented by woodwind and brass (on the jazzy title track). It's the sort of progressive rock favoured by King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator and Yes, check out the folky Fade Away which washes over you displaying the duality of the male and female vocals and moves into the Smother which has Latin rhythms and huge organ stabs the battle with the parping trumpet. Clock Unwound is another piece of progressive near perfection from Gentle Knife, I really want to see the band in concert as I can see it being an incredible show with all eleven members translating the soundscapes on these records to a live crowd. 8/10

Dream Tröll: The Knight Of Rebellion (Self Released)

Leeds metal band Dream Tröll's debut record has cause a bit of a stir before it was released as it features guest vocals from Labour MP and Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon (who retained his Leeds East seat in the May 2017 Election fact fans). The press accused the band of being Satanic (really it is the 80's all over again) but when your band features songs about sorcery, mythic creatures, warriors and trolls I think Satan is pretty far down on the list. The mainstream press also said the band were inspired by Black Sabbath, well maybe overall but this record is stuffed full of NWOTHM, it's denim leather all over ladies and gents and it's of a high quality.

Tongues planted in their cheeks, the band set out their stall by playing melodic epics that draw from Maiden, Saxon, Dio and bands of that ilk. Galloping basslines, lead harmonies, melodic vocals, progressive tendencies and a slightly goofy D&D style, all make this record. It's this mix of technical precision and joyful heavy metal cliches that can't fail to put a grin on your face. With a new vocalist in tow, Dream Tröll look set to follow up this record, lets hope there are more orcs to slay and more quests to conquer. 8/10

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Reviews: Vallenfyre, Shadowman, Kings Of Broadway, Endeavour (Reviews By Paul)

Vallenfyre: Fear Those Who Fear Him (Century Media)

Paradise Lost guitarist Gregor Mackintosh returns with the third album from side project Vallenfyre, the brutal death metal outfit he created in 2009. Fear Those Who Fear Him is quite simply an exercise in total obliteration. Massive power chords, skin slicing riffs and some of the heaviest death metal vocals around combine to provide a heavyweight album of sheer class. Accompanied by drummer Waltteri Vayrynen and My Dying Bride axe legend Hamish Glencross, this is a non stop assault on the senses. Underpinned by some gut-splitting grindcore passages, tracks such as Amongst The Filth, Soldier Of Christ come at you full bore and the epic Cursed From The Womb allows Mackintosh to explore a more doom drenched sound, although no less heavy. Indeed, if there is one word to describe this release it would be 'heavy'. Well worth a listen if you enjoy some old school, powerfully constructed death metal. 8/10

Shadowman: Secrets And Lies (Escape Music)

So what do you get if you let Steve Overland (Heartland), Chris Childs (Thunder), Harry James (Thunder, Magnum, Snakecharmer), Steve Millington (Heartland) and Steve Morris (Heartland) get together? The answer is album number 4 from one of the most competent melodic rock outfits ever formed. Six years since Watching Over You, this release is full of saccharine coated AOR which you will either love or want to throw up to. The slower ballads like Put It All On Love are polished, effortless and smoother than Greg Wallace's head rubbed with butter.

Opener Gravity is possibly the essence of AOR, vocal harmonies, crystal clean guitar lines, and as always, the solid, reliable drumming of Harry James, whose style fits in superbly. Overland's voice is perfect, the man having been around the scene for a long time. The influence that having a couple of members of Thunder on board is evident on Secrets And Lies, such is the similarity. If you like your AOR smooth, clean and straightforward then Shadowman's fourth release will be right up your street. As AOR releases go, this is almost perfect. 8/10

Kings Of Broadway: Self-Titled (Pride & Joy)

The self-titled debut from Italian hard rock outfit Kings Of Broadway sits very much in the Shinedown, Nickelback and Godsmack camp. It's well written, well performed and very competent. Vocalist Tiziano Spigno has a voice which is totally suited to the music, whilst the rest of the band can play. Guitarist Aldo Lonobile is well known in the Italian scene with his work with bands such as Secret Sphere and Shadowspell and his duel guitar work with Ricky Messeri is effective.

Tracks such as Shallow Ground (which has the Mr Big Undertow riff) and Iron Lady have fire and power, ideal for an afternoon slot at a festival. The difficulty for this type of album is that it tends to become very similar to bands of the same genre and therefore slightly repetitive. The album finished with a cover of One Republic's Counting Stars, a fucking awful song which does not win them any plus points. In fact, they lose one as a result. 7/10

Endeavour: Bring Upon The Rising Day (Self Released)

This four track EP from the Bristol based progressive outfit is impressive. Skull crushingly heavy at times, yet full of melody and the progressive time changes associated with bands like Dream Theater. It may only be four tracks, and one an excellent cover of Alice in Chains Them Bones but it's value for money, with Death In Lies clocking in at just shy of nine minutes and the epic title track 13 minutes duration. What you get with Endeavour is the aggression of Pantera combined with the less bloated elements of Dream Theater. These guys are no tribute act though. The band play the Sophie stage on Friday 11 August at BOA. They are well worth checking out. 8/10

Monday, 12 June 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Help For Heroes Festival IV

Help For Heroes Festival IV, Fuel Rock Club Cardiff

The fourth edition of Cardiff's bi-annual all day festival for the Help For Heroes Charity rolled it's way into Fuel rock club, facing tough competition for audience with Download happening at the same time, hopes were high for a larger turnout than the previous year turnout. Arriving early it was bunting and banners a-go-go before the punters started to fill the venue, along with headliners Mordrake who arrived stupidly early and provided a drum kit for the day as they are jolly nice chaps.

With money starting to flow and the day kicking off it was up to In Requiem (7) to start the show. The 4 piece play modern rock with touches of Muse, 30 Seconds To Mars. The music is full of keening melodies and proggy tendencies that let the music breathe and drew in the crowd. The curse of being first on meant many missed a very good set, but the boys played it like they owned it to be fair there was passion on show and their stage show was pretty slick they set the pace well, In Requiem were the lightest band on the bill but they allowed for the rest of the bands to increase the volume and distortion.

Next up were Holoson (7) who play fuzzy alternative rock, they brought a healthy amount of support with them and you can see why they have a following. Their music swings between hard rock and crunching metal with some pop sensibilities. All three members great musicians with the vocals a particular draw, if you like you rock with an edge Holoson are worth a watch and the crowds were receptive with applause rippling through the small room. Next on the bill were Hereford lot Season's Hollow (7) play a very modern hybrid metal/rock; this brought the heaviness up again and maintained the crowd with fists pumping and feet tapping. Their songs ranged from heavy metal on Last Confession to the hard rocking of Broken, with sizzling solos, a wide vocal range of  Joe Dawson and a soulful groove it all contributes to give Season's Hollow a lot of promise with the name of the band on most people's lips after their set.

The final three bands are where things really picked up, first were the band I was most excited to see live, having reviewed their excellent debut album recently the anticipation of seeing Chepstow stoners Beneath The Divine (8) was high and they delivered in spades. This is proper stoner metal with the band decked out in Orange Goblin, Raven's Creed T-shirts you can guess what they sound like. Kev riffing like a bastard with Tim and Barney powering through the grooves. With every head nodding in the room the bewitching stoner sounds were converting even the most po-faced of black metal fan to the cause. Jason's vocals are an ideal fit for the band delivering his lines with a confident ease. The band sounded almost exactly like they did on record but with a bit more oompf, they were the first band to really step up the show giving a noticeable change to the proceedings. Things got much heavier from here as we all turned to the darkside.

Hell fire and brimstone became the order of the day as the de-facto house band of Fuel Agrona (9) that can only be a good thing as they get better every time I see them. Their set was packed with blastbeating black fucking metal, the hour long time slot gave them enough time to conduct their Satanic rituals properly. The band are all ominous presences on stage with corpse paint and leather the uniform and the music is intensely dark with furious battery from the outset. The vocals are now shared by Taranis and Adara both excreting yelps, barks and roars as Ankou, Kreulon, Arwan and Phoenix bludgeoned with the blackest of all metal, touches of thrash and death crept in. With a non-partisan crowd in the room, there were some who had pained looks on their faces however others dove in wholeheartedly embracing the mayhem. They get better each time and were the heaviest nastiest band so far Agrona are a band well worth an hour of your time as it's black metal done right. They are touring again in July make sure you check them out.

The headliners for the evening, Bristol boys Mordrake (9), were a worthy headliner, having to follow the maelstrom of Agrona is a a tough task for any band but the self-styled 'dark melodious metal' of Mordrake was powerful enough to weather any storm. Continuing the blackened theme well Mordrake have more thrash and groove elements to their music than the straight up black that proceeded it, think more Primordial than Gorgoroth. They feature dual guitar harmonies and killer soloing adding melody to the aggressive metal style, kudos to vocalist Drakkar who was in fine form screaming and singing. They have been touted for big things and you can see why, their stage style is polished, rehearsed to give maximum impact, (much like Behemoth) and their music is a diverse mix of black, death, viking and groove metal. Drawing the biggest crowd of the night they deserved the reception as they were a definite headliner receiving the largest ovation of the day when their set finished.

With all the bands supplying their time for charity this was a pretty stacked line-up, organiser Julian increases the quality of bands every year and as such he also increased the amount raised, this time the total was £570.00 which included money from the raffle which featured many weird and wonderful items (from Denim cuts worn and signed by members of BFMV through to sex toys). A great night was had by all, with smiles on faces and booze flowing plentifully. It's a pleasure to be a part of these gigs, a real joyous atmosphere, lots of shenanigans and most of all some brilliant bands for a worthy cause. Hopefully we'll see you all in January for the next one!!

Reviews: Insatia, Enemy I, Perpetual Rage

Insatia: Phoenix Aflame (Pitch Black Records) [Review By Stief]

A bit of a mixed bag, this album, but don't get me wrong, this bag is full of delicious power metal treats. Starting with an ethereal siren song before breaking into some brilliant sounding metal, replete with strings and excellent vocals care of lead vocalist Zoë. The band's focus shifts from the classical sounding strings of Act Of Mercy to the synth filled Memory Of A Sapphire and this pattern continues throughout the album. Bassist Dave Ablaze shows his vocal chops as well during Not My God, his soulful voice contrasting well with Zoë's. If you enjoy Temperance and similar bands, then Insatia is definitely a band you should be checking out! 8/10 

Enemy I: Dysphoria (Self Released) [Review By Stief]

Something a bit heavier from Berlin here, the first full album from Enemy I is full of vicious industrial sounds from start to finish. From the strange beginning of Don't Trust to the pounding drums of Placebo God, you can hear the sinister feeling the band are trying to purvey leaking throughout. This is pure industrial metal, head banging heaviness spread right through, lead vocalist Rob DeVille's clean vocals and growling working perfectly with Alex Swienty's drumming, Arthur Antagonist's bass and distorted guitars from Jay Agana and Marco Neujahr. DeVille shows a softer side with final song Spell-cast, which, while slower and quieter than others on the album, still has that underlying sinisterness seen through the rest of the album. Check them out if you like your industrial metal dark and brooding! 8/10

Perpetual Rage: Empress Of The Cold Stars (Inverse Records) [Review By Paul]

This is the second album from Finland’s Perpetual Rage. The band are a four piece who have been around since 2009. It’s traditional fast paced heavy metal, Iron Maiden, Priest etc. all come to mind. Musically very competent, the whole album is let down by the voice of Tomi Viiltola, whose high-pitched Kai Hansen style grates from start to finish which is a shame because the band play some decent if formulaic heavy metal. By the time I’d got to the third track Boundless I was ready to stop listening. One to avoid. 5/10

Reviews: Mean Streak, Radiation Romeos, The Wizards

Mean Streak: Blind Faith (ROAR - Rock of Angels Records)

Sweden's Mean Streak play classic 80's heavy metal that occasionally adds hard rock and AOR touches, probably because guitarist David Andersson and drummer Jonas Källsbäck also play in the slightly higher profile unashamedly 80's Night Flight Orchestra. Where as songs such as Fire At Will and Love Is A Killer feature some explosive fretwork and rampaging rhythms others such as Tears Of The Blind are chunky stompers led by Peter Andersson's bass. Elsewhere Animal In Me has sleazy 80's feel of Def Leppard and Come Undone ramps up the attitude.

With great performances throughout sometimes the band are let down by the songwriting Caught In The Crossfire tries to be tough but it's cheesy and opening track Blood Red Sky is decent enough but there are better openers, like Maidenesque Retaliation Call or the bouncy Settle The Score. Mean Streak share similarities with Edguy due to their fusion of hard rock and blistering heavy metal, vocally too Andy Le Guerin is a ringer for Tobias Sammett hitting the huge highs with ease as the rest of the band crank out the classic metal riffs, which bring to mind Judas Priest, Dokken and even Y&T. Blind Faith is the bands fourth album, their first since 2013 and having gone back to their previous records it's a step up in terms of quality and performance, these are songs built for the live stage, having been formed in 2006, their 11 years of experience means they can be seen as veterans of scene and with Blind Faith they have executed a direct hit of Post-Millennial heavy metal. 8/10  

Radiation Romeo's: Radiation Romeo's (Frontiers Records)

I've mentioned how Frontiers' main output are melodic metal supergroups, well the other side of their roster are performers who first saw success in the 80's and 90's returning with new material that they have written with or have had written for them by Frontiers crack in house team of writers/producers/performers. Radiation Romeo's is in this category, the name is about as 80's chees as you can get and the songs contained within would also sit perfectly on a GTA: Vice City soundtrack. I'm not sure what a Radiation Romeo is but if you listen to the song of the same name that opens this record, I think they are guys that are romantically involved with their music, literally in love with rock. I could spend all day looking for higher meaning in these songs but that's not the point these are FM radio ready rockers and the occasional ballad built for highway cruising in red Corvette on the sickly sweet Ocean Drive.

The record is as I say the vehicle for returning performer and this time it's singer Parramore McCarty who is 'best' known for fronting Steve Stevens (Billy Idol's guitarist) solo project and the American metal act Warrior and his vocals haven't lost a note they are powerful and gruff but it's only on the sleazy Bad Bad Company and the orchestral Ratt-meets-Zep of Promised Land can you hear him at full power. With the obligatory slick Frontiers production Radiation Romeo's is a showcase for McCarty's vocals, some may not know who he is (I'll admit I didn't) but in the US metal circles he's kind of a big deal so this is a great accessible introduction. 7/10

The Wizards: Full Moon In Scorpio (Fighter Records)

Draw a pentagram on your floor and crank this second full length up loud, it's pure occult rock riff worship form start to finish, with one foot in the 1970's the album plays out like a contemporary of Blue Oyster Cult and Pentagram with heaviness cut through with melodic harmonic guitars. The first two tracks give you all you need to know, Avidya and Calliope (Cosmic Revelations) are ideal openers with the dirty riffs giving way to harmonic leads and lead guitar explosives worthy of Buck Dharma's hot rails to hell. It's a quality that's maintained throughout the course of the record as the vocals wail the rhythm section grooves and the guitars play sizzling leads.

The band have toured relentlessly supporting the The Dictators, Iggy Pop or Turbonegro, in fact The Dictators current bass player Dean Rispler produced the record and their guitarist Ross The Boss (yes that one) contributes a solo to Leaving The Past Behind which stands out as on of the best songs on the record along with the brooding 7 minute plus finale When We Were Gods. This is proto-metal with a punk attitude that has became a staple for UK and East Coast American bands in the 70's so this kind of authenticity that is well received, especially when you consider this band are from Bilbao it's all the more impressive, check out Full Moon In Scorpio it's one of the best albums of the 70's underground released this year. 8/10     

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Reviews: Nargaroth, Wode, The Infinite Trip, Tainted Lady (Reviews By Paul)

Nargaroth: Era Of Thredony (Inter Arma Productions)

This is the seventh full release from the one man German black metal outfit that is Nargaroth. Fronted by Ash, who also delivers virtually all the instruments as well as the brutal vocals, Era Of Thredony maintains the consistency of previously releases. It’s as heavy as the proverbial sack of anvils, yet throughout it a melody pulses with the influences of other musical styles evident. Opener Dawn Of Epiphany for example, has a Greek bouzouki sound running through it. Don’t worry about the evil intent through, for all the brutality which you’d expect with such a legendary black metal outfit remains.

The Agony Of A Dying Phoenix is blisteringly fast and crushingly heavy, with some astonishingly intricate guitar work before a classical, almost flamenco break down. Love Is A Dog From Hell, which appears to be a throwaway track of under three minutes in comparison with the other lengthier songs on the album, turns out to be based on the 1970s work by US poet Charles Bukowski. Technically superb throughout, Era Of Thredony is epic black metal that demonstrates again that the genre, often dismissed due to the corpse paint and theatrical stage shows often contains some of the most talented musicians in metal. For those who witnessed the band live on their recent short visit to the UK, you will know that the band can deliver the same high quality in the live arena. 9/10

Wode: Servants Of The Countercosmos (Avantgarde Music)

Mancunians Wode’s follow up to last year’s self-titled debut album is stunning. Full of classic UK black metal, it is six tracks and 31 minutes of jaw dropping music. From the opening track Crypt Of Creation to the short haunting acoustic Undoing, there is everything you need here. Ethereal haunting vocals, spine-crushingly heavy riffs and explosive drumming, underpinned by some superbly technical musicianship.

The songs segue neatly into each other, leaving the listener with little time to recover between songs. The switch from Celestial Dagger to Temple Of Internment had me gasping for air, such was the ferocity and power. Wode powerfully convey the evil rage that their name is taken from, although at times there is an almost cosmic feel to their music, with the occasional acoustic break down providing welcome contrast. The nine minute plus Chaos Spell demonstrates this perfectly. Superb stuff. 9/10

The Infinite Trip: Unearthly Pleasures (Self Released)

Unearthly Pleasures is album number 7 from the unashamedly psychedelic duo The Infinite Trip. Full of deep, sonic resonance, you’ll either love this or hate it. I must say, being partial to a bit of space rock, that I think it’s a fantastic release. The steady, recurring beat, the swirling synths, crashing drums and haunting ethereal vocals make for a heady mix which real takes you on a journey through space. 

Yes, it’s trippy as balls in places, but that just makes it even more enjoyable. No rush to get where you are going, just enjoy the ride. The Lorelei Serum shades it as my favourite track, with a bit more pace and a real 70s space rock feel about it but there is not a bad track on this release. My mission, when I get back down to earth is to source the heady mix of the back catalogue. 8/10

Tainted Lady: How The Mighty Have Fallen (Mighty Music)

A bit of classic rock crashing through your speakers in the form of the debut from Denmark’s Tainted Lady. Fronted by British singer Michael Catton, this is a strange release that is interrupted on too many occasions. A raucous opening in Set Us Free stomps in the style of The Strokes before slowing to allow a rather self-important rant, regardless of the sentiment which calls for the rock world to strip it back to the ‘true’ meaning. The Best Days is a decent power ballad. Much of the rest is solid, but often fails to really get going. On The Loose has the opportunity to really let rip but ends up stuttering along. Decent but nothing to grab you by the balls. 6/10

Friday, 9 June 2017

Reviews: SikTh, Antichrist, Tombs (Review By Rich)

SikTh: The Future In Whose Eyes (Millennium Night)

British progressive metallers SikTh return with their eagerly anticipated third album The Future In Whose Eyes? their first in eleven years! I remember when SikTh released their debut album back in 2003 and it was a mind blowing piece of music sounding like absolutely nothing else at the time. SikTh released one more album before splitting up. In their inactive years they massively influenced bands who would go on to form the current djent scene. SikTh finally returned in 2013 and released an EP in 2015. Back to present day and album number three and the big question is does it meet expectations? The answer is a resounding yes.

The elements of previous SikTh releases are all on display - insane technical playing, crazy time signatures and rhythms and huge soaring melodies but their sound is a bit more refined and dare I say it mainstream leaning this time round. The musicianship on display throughout this album is absolutely jawdropping. This is also the debut of new vocalist Joe Rosser who puts in a fine performance. There are a few pointless moments throughout the album such as the three atmospheric spoken word tracks which detract from the rest of the album and end up an annoying distraction especially when there are three of them. Overall though SikTh have released a fine comeback album which will please all their old fans and hopefully gain the band a whole legion of new ones. 8/10

Antichrist: Sinful Birth (Electric Assault Records)

Sometimes you hear a band who are so far up your street that you are kicking yourself that you have never heard them before. Antichrist are such a band. These Swedish blackened thrashers have struck gold with their second album Sinful Birth and fans of old school thrash and early black metal are gonna absolutely love it. Antichrist sound like they have been magically transported from 1985 to present day. This is pure old school worship of the highest order bowing at the altar of bands such as Slayer, Celtic Frost, Possessed, Venom and Bathory. This is blackened thrash metal straight out of the gates of Hell with a sound that combines speed, ferocity and technicality but which is absolutely dripping with evil. 

It is impossible not to throw your horns and bang your head to such vicious tunes such as Savage Mutilations, Burned Beyond Recognition and Fall Of The Temple Of Soloman. In Sinful Birth Antichrist have crafted an album which what it lacks in originality more than makes up for in songwriting, playing and sheer enthusiasm. Minor criticisms would be that there is a lack of variation throughout the album and instrumental Chernobyl 1986 maybe goes on a little bit too long but these criticisms are pale compared to the moments where the album really shines. Essential listening for fans of nasty old school metal. 9/10

Tombs: The Grand Annihilation (Metal Blade)

New York black metallers Tombs strike back with their fourth album of bleak and misanthropic black metal the suitably titled 'The Grand Annihilation'. Tombs have always been a band to push boundaries and experiment within the realm of black metal and The Grand Annihilation is no exception taking cues from doom metal, post-metal and gothic rock.

 There is also far more of a straight black metal sound to this album as well with some of the most straightforward and hooky songwriting and riffs that Tombs have committed to tape so far. The vocals by frontman Mike Hill add layers of dread and malevolence to the proceedings ranging from throaty black metal screams, menacing clean vocals to mighty roars. Overall this is a mighty fine record which evokes darkness, despair and the horrors of humanity. At a time when it truly feels like the world is going to Hell this is the perfect soundtrack. 8/10

Reviews: Lion Shepherd, 7 Miles To Pittsburgh, Theia, Syteria (Reviews By Paul)

Lion Shepherd: Heat (Self Released)

Back in October 2015 we discovered Polish progressive oriental outfit Lion Shepherd when they were main support to Riverside at The Marble Factory in Bristol. Their debut release, Hirath, received a 9/10 when we reviewed it a few days later. The duo, Kamil Hiadar and Mateusz Owczarek are back with sophomore release Heat, and it’s just as bloody good. Containing the same uplifting mix of prog, rock, blues, trance, world music and Middle Eastern sounds as Hirath, it is a real masterpiece. The title track encourages you to jump around, such is the middle hook. Code Of Life begins gentle and subtle, with essence of Floyd mixing with impressive eastern influences in the percussion. Haidar’s vocals, nicely supported by some female backing vocals are even better than the debut.

It’s difficult and perhaps wrong to try and pigeon-hole Lion Shepherd to one genre, such is their range. When The Curtain Falls fuses the sounds of bands like Orphaned Land and Riverside perfectly, the progressive elements of the band’s sound quite magical, and the harmonies at the end of the track bring to mind elements of another prog master, Devin Townsend. Dream On is mystical, with Kate Bush type percussion amidst the kaleidoscope of sounds. Every track is different, maintaining interest. Storm Is Coming is perhaps the rockiest song on the release, superb guitar work chopping across a myriad of aural delights. A beautiful release, one which I would highly recommend you check out. Lion Shepherd are fascinating. 9/10

7 Miles To Pittsburgh - Self Titled (Suburban Records)

Although 7 Miles To Pittsburgh are a new outfit, having formed as recently as 2014, the three members have substantial collective experience between them. Bassist Martin Helmantel was the cornerstone of prog rockers Elegy for 17 years whilst guitarist Martin Elt and drummer Joris Linder have also vast experience. The result of their efforts is the self-titled debut which is as classy a hard rock album as you could wish for. Full of Zeppelin style quality, deep Hammond organs combine in a cacophony of sound with some stunning guitar work from Elt, shored expertly by the perfect rhythm section. The Dutch outfit deliver a range of styles, from the funk fused hard edged rock of Same Size Soul, the Sabbath riff filled Earth Dance and the uplifting Jambalaya. There was no point in this release where my attention wandered for a second such is the stimulus that their sound brings. I strongly recommend getting a bit of this quite magnificent release. It is superb. 9/10

Theia: Back In Line (WDFD Records)

Theia is a power trio from Burton-on-Trent. Back In Line is their second album. It sits in the Black Stone Cherry camp, with clean melodies, catchy hooks and throwaway choruses. The songs are well written, steadily performed with a confidence that belies their young age. Vocalist and guitarist Kyle Lamley has a rather generic vocal delivery but never waivers whilst the rest of the band join him to really kick out the jams on tracks like My Poison and Back In Line, both delivered with a southern swagger, whilst Just Go has shades of Shinedown, Airbourne and early Def Leppard (circa On Through The Night). The band are confident, building on their solid foundations and would be a welcome addition to any hard rock festival. Heads down, no nonsense hard rock is always welcome and Theia is very much on the invitation. Well worth checking out. 8/10

Syteria: Rant O Bot (Pledge/Independent)

Syteria first came to my attention supporting Joanovarc earlier this year. They were routine, with throwaway rock tracks that didn’t really make a lasting impression. The band contain Girlschool guitarist Jackie Graham, whose guitar work is perfectly competent but with little to spark the interest. Rant O Bot is their debut release and like their performance at Fuel, it’s a routine 35 minutes of throwaway pop rock, mainly written in a similar style, relying heavily on harmonies and repetition. Stand out track Loner allows vocalist Julia Cavo to let rip and show that she has a decent voice. The riff is catchy with a solid solo holding the middle together. The band sound better on this release than they did live. And that’s about the best I can offer. 5/10

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Reviews: Birthday Massacre, Ye Banished Privateers, Doll Skin (Reviews By Stief)

The Birthday Massacre: Under Your Spell (Metropolis Records)

The seventh full-length album from Canadian Darkwave sextet The Birthday Massacre, Under Your Spell is yet another great album. Having seen them in The Fleece last year, it was already obvious the band had not only retained their talents, but had gotten better with age. From the music box opening of One to the final chime of Endless, Chibi and company send the listener on a journey across a sea of synths, distorted guitars and haunting vocals. Every member of the band works together perfectly: Chibi's vocals, almost ethereal at times whilst easily breaking into vicious growls without a thought, soar around the oft distorted guitars of Rainbow and Falcore.

Rhim's drums provide a steady or heavy beat, often switching during the course of a song while Nate Manor's bass guitar provides the meaty foundation of their sound. However, it's Owen's Keyboards that help the band stand out from the rest, arguably just as iconic in their sound as Chibi's vocals, the synths and keys Owen weaves through each song paint a different picture each time. If you've ever been a fan of The Birthday Massacre, then you'll know exactly what to expect, and if you're not a fan, then I would definitely implore you to give them a try, as this is a cracking album. 9/10

Ye Banished Privateers: First Night Back in Port (Napalm Records)

Whenever the word 'Pirate' is mentioned within the music circles, it immediately brings to mind bands such as Alestorm, RedRum and LagerStein, with their comedic and often heavy synth-laden metal. When listening to Ye Banished Privateers, a 20-person crew from Sweden, I found myself often wondering if they aren't actually pirates, with their sea shanties, names such as Scurvy Ben, Bloody Liz, Eva The Navigator and the use of classical instruments such as Irish Banjos, a Kalimba, accordions and fiddles to name but a few. 

Although Ye Banished Privateers are nowhere near the heaviness we've come to expect from 'pirate metal' I have to say it's a delight to listen to. Some songs have a great upbeat tempo with jaunty toe-tapping music; First Night Back In Port being one of the best, while others bring to mind artists such as Nick Cave in places, the album closer Mermaid's Kiss, reminiscent of Cave and Kylie Minogue's duet Where The Wild Roses Grow is a nearly 20-minute tale with some beautiful instrumentals woven throughout. I definitely suggest you listen to this if you're looking for something a bit different. 9/10

Doll Skin: Manic Pixie Dream Girl (EMP)

It's easy to compare pop-punk bands to their peers, but some manage to break away from that. Arizonian quartet Doll Skin are one of those bands. Although on first listen, many (including myself) would compare the sound of Doll Skin to bands such as Paramore, who seem to be continually falling and embracing the pop half of pop-punk, these ladies manage to plant themselves firmly in the punk side, with heavy guitars, rhythmic drumming and kick-ass vocals.

It's not all fast paced however, with Doll Skin showing a slower side with songs such as Sweet Pea and Uninvited. Being honest, if Megadeth's David Ellefson decided these ladies are good enough to sign to his label, I'm not going to argue their talents! Looking forward to future projects from them! 8/10

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Review: Anathema (Review By Paul)

Anathema: The Optimist (KScope)

It seems it was only yesterday that Anathema delivered Distant Satellites, a stunning piece of work that still resonates, its melancholic themes and use of electronica and loops moving the band further towards the progressive rock that their sound has slowly metamorphosed towards since the turn of the century. Last year's short and select UK tour provided those of us lucky enough to get tickets with the opportunity to hear four of the songs that feature on The Optimist which was sufficient to whet the appetite. Combined with an increasingly savvy internet presence, this made the new release highly anticipated.

With a concept that follows on from the story in 2001's A Fine Day To Exit, the album opens with the sound of the sea and possibly our hero (?) returning to the car. The coordinates 32. 63N 117.14W take you to Silver Strand Beach, San Diego and the location of the cover of A Fine Day To Exit. What follows for the next hour is the the next chapter of a band who are well over a quarter of a century into their career. Subtle layered alt-rock with more in common with Radiohead than the doom of their early peers. The Optimist is worth the wait.

With the emphasis on additional piano and keyboards, there is even more focus on Daniel Cavanagh's song construction, allowing room to breath and develop into huge, epic pieces, full of dramatic peaks and uplifting elements. Leaving It Behind allows Vincent Kavanagh the immediate opportunity to illustrate his amazing heartfelt vocal, the loops providing the backing before the rest of the band kick in to raise the tempo immediately. Endless Ways, the first of several tracks to feature the beautiful voice of Lee Douglas has some stunning string sections whilst the title track sees Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas duet, the song rising to a crescendo before the piano takes over, combining once more with the strings and some crystal clear guitar lines.

It's not all structured and controlled, and whilst title track The Optimist starts with a repeated piano chord and Vincent's solo vocal, before Lee adds echoing backing vocals. It soon transforms into a full blooded, magnificently climbing track which takes the breath away. Springfield, despite its slow pace is a cracker, Lee Douglas giving a beautiful performance, the smouldering intro climbing to a crescendo before dipping slowly back to the serenity of the start whilst Ghosts is simply stunning, Lee Douglas once more allowed time as the track evolves around her.

The electronica influence of bands like Depeche Mode really comes to the fore on the pacey Can't Let Go, Vincent taking the vocals whilst the rest of the band combine with some thumping bass and percussion. The sheer depth and impact of this album necessitates repeated listens, which concludes with the emotional Back To The Start.

The Optimist provides as much or as little as you want to take from it. Read deeply into the concept, or enjoy each track individually. Anathema has evolved. The band are surely one of the country's most innovative and imaginative rock bands around today. Their music deserves wider audiences. How they will fare on the windswept expanse of the Zippo Stage at Download I'm not sure, but when it comes to the start of their European tour in Belfast I have no doubt it will be fantastic. 10/10

Reviews: The Ferrymen, Dream Evil, Nitrogods

The Ferrymen: The Ferrymen (Frontiers Records)

As we've mentioned before Frontiers Records have their stock in trade with melodic metal supergroups usually featuring in house performers and members of other bands signed to the label and not, collaborating together. The Ferrymen is the most recent record from the label that does this, formed by Magnus Karlsson, who is long term session man for Frontiers having contributing to the such projects as Allen/Lande, Starbreaker and Kiske/Sommerville along with his dayjob of axe-wielding for Primal Fear and his band Freefall. (He also frequently collaborates with Mat Sinner on many of his multiple projects). This project also features drummer Mike Terrana who smashes the skins in Rage and with Karlsson taking up nearly everything else all that is needed is vocalist and my my what a vocalist they have, Frontiers Records signee Lords Of The Black's Ronnie Romero is the man behind the mic.

It's an inspired choice as Karlsson's work on the Allen/Lande project shows he can write very well for strong gruffer voices and here he reinforces that with the songwriting not to dissimilar to those found on the Jorn albums and indeed the latter Dio records. Romero has been compared to Dio so many time that repeating it would be lazy, there is a reason why he is the now the singer of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, in his own band he deals with straight up classic/heavy metal but here there are more melodic touches that liken the sound to the post Sacred Heart albums and it means Romero is allowed more versatility. check out the song The Ferrymen which is a stomping rocking track with a huge chorus, Romero really lets rip on Fool You All which is very Dio.

The structures and songwriting of Karlsson are top notch, his playing is immense with lush orchestrations and ripping solos throughout. Some of these collaborations can be a bit hit and miss but this is brilliant melodic metal album, if you love Dio, Jorn, Eden's Curse etc pick it up. 9/10

Dream Evil: Six (Century Media) [Review By Paul]

Unsurprisingly Six is the sixth full release from Gothenburg's Dream Evil, a band well respected in the power metal movement. The band's current line up comprises founding members Fredrick Nordstrom on rhythm guitar, Nicklas Isfeldt on vocals and bass player Peter Stalfors along with long term drummer Pat Power and returning lead guitarist Markus Friestedt. It is the long anticipated follow up to 2010's In The Night and it does exactly what you want a Swedish power metal outfit to do. Cheesy fantasy lyrics, racing speeds, galloping bass lines and pounding drums all combined with some slashing guitar work.

Classic power metal always follows the early blueprint laid down by bands like Helloween, Primal Fear and Hammerfall, and Dream Evil certainly do that. Antidote thunders along at 100mph, whilst Too Loud is an absolute battery with slicing riffs. Isfeldt's vocals hit the spot perfectly, his higher range blending well. It's predictable, unoriginal, cheesy and thoroughly enjoyable if you like power metal. If you don't, you'll hate this. I can't see this album raising the band's UK profile but it's a perfectly solid release. 7/10

Nitrogods: Roadkill BBQ (SPV/Steamhammer)

Oimel, Henry and Klaus are the Nitrogods and from their album covers to their high voltage speed/punk/metal the band have all the trappings of Lemmy and Co at their dirtiest. The bluesy boogie is merged with snarling riffs for an album of 14(!) songs. The Nitrogods are a three piece (obviously) from Germany formed by guitarist Henry Wolter and drummer Klaus Sperling after both left Primal Fear they were joined by Oimel Larcher who takes the vocal/bass role an it's his rasp and amp bursting basslines that remind you of the Lemmy. Opening with Rancid Rock he drawls over the sleazy riff, they change tact on the boogielicious title track which takes cues from ZZ Top.

Now the quality of this record does vary, My Love's A Wire Brush is terrible like The Nuge at his worst and I Hate is bog standard punk. However when they are in the the Motorhead groove on Boogeyman, the blasting Bad Place Wrong Time, drum heavy Wheelin' and A Los Muertos they are at their best. The varying quality is probably due to the number of tracks on this record it's 14 songs long and many of them a hard to differentiate between due to Oimel's limited vocal croak and the punky blues of Henry. With a bit more quality control Roadkill BBQ  as it could have garnered a bigger score as it stands it's perfectly perfunctory, they are Nitrogods and they play rock n roll and they remind you of better days and they acknowledge this on Where Have The Years Gone? 7/10