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Sunday, 17 December 2017

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

The Darkness, St David’s Hall, Cardiff

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 16 December 2017

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

Fish - Tramshed, Cardiff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 11 December 2017

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

Moonspell: 1755 (Napalm Records)

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

Operation Mindcrime: The New Reality (Frontiers Records)

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

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

Toothgrinder: Phantom Armour (Spinefarm Records)

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

Democratus: Starting Again EP

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

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

Saturday, 9 December 2017

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

Silent Descent: Turn To Grey (Self Released)

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

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

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

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

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

Kiss The Gun: Nightmares (3Ms Music)

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

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

Reece: Ignited (Self Released)

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

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

Friday, 8 December 2017

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

Diamond Head, O2 Islington Academy 2

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 7 December 2017

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

Stone Sour & The Pretty Reckless, Motorpoint Arena Cardiff

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

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

Cavalera Conspiracy: Psychosis (Napalm Records)

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

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

Witchery: I Am Legion (Century Media Records)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 3 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Babylon Fire: Heresy In Black (Self Released)

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

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

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

Jono: Life (Frontiers Records)

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 2 December 2017

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

Electric Wizard: Wizard Bloody Wizard (Witchfinder Records)

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

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

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

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

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

Shakra: Snakes And Ladders (AFM Records)

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

Friday, 1 December 2017

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

Bloodshot Dawn: Reanimation (Hostile Media)

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

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

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

Dante Fox: Six String Revolver (AOR Boulevard)

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

Phidion: The Throws Of Scourge (Self Released)

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

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

Cold Cell: Those (Avantgarde Music)

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

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

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Reviews: Lesoir, Galactic Cowboys, Stalker, King Bison

Lesoir: Latitude (Gentle Art Of Music)

Netherlands band Lesoir are an interesting act, they bewitched me with their previous record so it's with great anticipation that I delved into the fourth album from Lesoir. They are a band very difficult to pigeonhole classing them as artrock means that they have a very broad palate (no pun intended) to play with, they have the cinematic textures of Anathema, the progressive heaviness of Tool and the fiery attitude of Skunk Anansie or Alanis Morissette. Whereas the previous release Luctor Et Emergo was a rockier record with big heavy riffs, Latitude is a much more artistic, experimental and ambitious, creating beautiful multi layered soundscapes as frontwoman Maartje Meessen along with guitarist/keyboardist Eleen Bartholomeus harmonize beautifully with distinctly empowering lyrical content that deals with climate change, mankind’s role on this planet and the band's friend who survived the Bataclan terror attack.

The music is melancholic but pins it's impact on the existence of hope, for all the bad there will be good you just have to find it. The slow burning Modern Goddess starts with a single piano before the rest of the band come in and with a dynamic drum fill from Bob van Heumen the strings swell and as quickly as it begins it ends. It's the beginning of 13 song journey, the dramatic In The Game follows with chunky riffs from Ingo Jetten's bass, it moves into the dark, uneasy and fidgety Icon which is the first time guitarist Ingo Dassen can let rip. The album progresses with more dense music that really needs to be listened to intently so you can get the full effect, In Their Eyes once again relies on a slow building delivery that explodes at the end with Maartje giving a brilliant, emotive performance.

I mentioned Anathema earlier and the Liverpool band can be heard right the way through the record, they have similar panache and use of musical alchemy to hit you right in the feels, the employment of orchestral elements are measured but let rockers such as Gone And Forgotten have more of an impact for every orchestral epic though they also bring some attitude filled alt rock on Cheap Trade which is followed by the Portishead ambience of Comforting Rain. This fourth album will be hard work for those looking for a quick musical fix but if you think an album needs multiple listens to really appreciate it then Latitude will satisfy your needs, it's fantastic. 9/10  

Galactic Cowboys: Long Way Back To The Moon (Mascot Records)

I’d never heard of Galactic Cowboys before but apparently they were a band originally between 1989 and really 2000 with members shedding like skin before that leaving only bassist Monty Colvin and vocalist Ben Huggins by the end. However after a few reunion shows in 2009, the band reformed in 2016 with all of the original members and Long Way Back To The Moon is their long awaited new album, their first since 2000. Galactic Cowboys are apparently a progressive metal band who cite The Beatles and Anthrax as major influences, as this record opens up it’s very easy to see why, all the band contribute to the harmonic backing vocals but it’s at odds to the chunky stomping thrash riffs.

A song such as Drama highlights this very well, however you can also hear the more traditional prog metal of Dream Theater on Amisarewas which builds on Dane Sonnier’s intricate guitars with Alan Doss steadying the pace with his drumming. Now I’m not going to criticise the music on this record it’s clearly the work of talented individuals but much like King’s X (a band who Galactic Cowboys are often compared to) I just can’t get into this record, having listened to it a few times it doesn’t leave me with an impression, it does get better as it progresses, getting proggier later but for the most part I think this is technically proficient but I don’t find it particularly memorable. 6/10

Stalker: Shadow Of The Sword (Napalm Records)

Shadow Of The Sword is the debut album from squealing speed metalllers Stalker who hail from the foreign shores of New Zealand. Speed metal tends to come from either the Nordic countries or Canada so it’s time to hear a band from the Southern hemisphere doing this leather clad machismo. They really ramp up the retro, the production has an 80’s hollowness, the guitar riffs are distorted and too busy playing at a million miles an hour to really give much differentiation, while the vocals are scratchy and go into the high squeak once too often. It’s pretty standard fair and if you’re into retro metal then you’ll lap this up, otherwise you might actually find it a bit annoying. 6/10

King Bison: Snake Head Burial EP (Self Released)

King Bison are what you’d get if Viking Skull got into a bourbon soaked brawl with Motorhead and Pantera, it’s dirty mudslinging metal riffs, piledriving groove and raw vocals galore with songs named Filthy Son Of A Bitch and Demon Tongues & Leather you already know what you’re getting. The four tracks on this EP give you enough of a flavour to want more (hint the flavour is Southern smoked chipotle), it’s all over in flash of heaviness as the Plymouth band batter you from the outset. Snake Head Burial is a mere taster for the band’s bludgeoning heaviness, a full length will need a bit of variation, maybe a couple of cleaner bluesier tunes, to keep the attention the maximum but these four songs do enough to get the blood pumping and your drinking hand active. 7/10

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Joanne Shaw Taylor (Live Review By Paul)

Joanne Shaw Taylor, Colston Hall Bristol

This was a rescheduled gig, owing to Joanne’s illness at the time of the original date. Coming five days after the eight-date tour ended, JST was due to be home in Detroit but had stayed on to fulfil this date so much appreciation to the Black Country guitarist for not just cancelling the event. The rescheduling to a date so close to Christmas and a Saturday had the inevitable fall out though, as throughout the stalls in the Colston Hall there were pockets of empty seats. The balcony was closed and there was a real end of term feel about the gig (without the board games – which may be puzzling to younger readers but would have been fully appreciated by much of the mature audience).

The original support act for JST’s tour was Dan Patlansky but we were treated to Nashville’s own Sonia Leigh (9) who has been on tour in the UK herself for several weeks. Supported by the precocious talent of 20-year-old Katy Hurt and The Healers, Leigh pulled out the performance of the evening. Playing a range of tracks from her albums, her Nashville drawl fitted in perfectly with the low-key level of the evening and received a huge response from those who got in early. With a number of albums to her name, Leigh chose her tracks wisely, including Walking In The Moonlight and the smouldering Jack Is Back. With confidence oozing through the band she turned the microphone over to Hurt at one stage, and we got an extra treat as she has a voice which is just fabulous. A cross between Stevie Nicks and Dollie Parton, this Country lady has a fantastic career ahead of her. Leigh was gracious, humble and her who show was just superb. You can check her out supporting Broken Witt Rebels on their current tour. They play the Thekla on 7 December.

13 months ago, we’d been wowed by the sheer talent of Joanne Shaw Taylor (7) at a rammed and raucous gig in The Globe in Cardiff. I was sufficiently impressed to have written in my review, ‘Joanne Shaw Taylor is a bit special. Her latest tour, for a girl who gigs as hard as she rocks, took in The Globe, probably for the last time as she is surely destined for much larger venues in the future’.  Well, she remains a stunning talent and she and her band coped well with some prolonged technical difficulties with her wireless guitar connections, but the feel of the event was somewhat lessened by the larger, all seated venue which, whilst welcome to many in the audience served only to stifle any atmosphere. This meant that there was complete silence between songs after the applause had died down, something very unusual. The sound throughout the evening was poor, with the balance causing us to question our own hearing. Now I realise that sound is subjective and a very technical matter but when you are paying decent cash for a show in a venue of the Colston Hall’s calibre, I expect better.

At one point a member of the audience quite rightly shouted his frustration and eventually JST’s sublime guitar work began to cut through the mix. With a catalogue of blues rock to play, JST also threw in two covers to the set, which was similar to that of the previous tour. Bones, by a relatively obscure band called The Hoax and Wild Is The Wind, the Johnny Mathis song made famous by David Bowie and covered on JST’s last release Wild. A single encore of Tied And Bound and the gig was over. Relief on the stage that it was over and probably in a great number of the audience. JST is a fabulous talent, an amazing guitarist and her band are spectacularly good musicians. But get to see her where you can move, dance and sway and close your eyes whilst she envelopes you in her music, not in an uncomfortable fold up chair. That’s what the blues is all about.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Reviews: Daniel Cavanagh, For All We Know, Dirty Thrills, Idlewar (Reviews By Paul)

Daniel Cavanagh: Monochrome (Kscope)

Listening to The Exorcist, the opening track on Anathema main man Daniel Cavanagh’s debut solo release Monochrome, you immediately understand what he meant when he described his album as having “a late night, candlelit feeling, evoking the light of dusk as the summer sun sinks below the horizon, setting the scene for thoughts and meditations that many people will relate to.” A beautiful, evocative piece which wrenches at the heart and soul, full of emotion and feeling. It’s a song that could easily be accompanied by a chilled glass of wine as the evening tapers. Perfect in front of a roaring fire with a loved one. If it had surfaced in the middle of The Optimist or a future Anathema release you wouldn’t have been disappointed. This track was apparently considered so good by Anathema that the rest of the band would have made this the centrepiece of an album. Cavanagh said, “taking it from the band was not an easy decision – but I’m glad I did!”

Monochrome features guest appearances from Anneke van Giersbergen, with whom Cavanagh has worked with on several occasions before and who is perhaps more widely known for her work with Devin Townsend. She adds some deliciously delicate vocals to several tracks including This Music and the stunning, haunting Soho. Cavanagh played virtually everything on the album, highlighting just what a fabulously talented musician he really is. He has enrolled another brilliant musician in Anna Phoebe, whose violin work adds texture to the piano on The Silent Flight Of The Raven Winged Hours. Cavanagh described the album as “a deeply reflective and personal offering, inspired by internal feelings of love and loss” and you truly feel that as the album progresses. Soho is the kind of track that would comfort in those long hours of despair after losing a loved one. Monochrome contains some lengthy tracks, with three songs close to ten minutes each in length but what that allows Cavanagh to do is build his melancholic pieces.

The Silent Flight Of The Raven Winged Hours is a perfect illustration of this, solo piano joined by violin before synths reminiscent of Cavanagh’s Floyd influences intertwine with the piano, allowing a peak that then slows and falls to more dramatic piano. Dawn is short at under three minutes but is one of my favourite tracks, the combination of looped acoustic guitar and Phoebe’s violin just magical. Penultimate track Oceans Of Time is a delightful duet between Cavanagh and Van Giersbergen, subtle piano and simple drum beat all that is needed to guide the track perfectly along its path. And then you arrive at the simply blissful Some Dreams Do Come True, which is mesmerising. It is simple, a lone piano riff looping for part of the track, but with added effects and tempo. The waves crashing on the shore provides a calming effect, whilst Phoebe’s violin is subtle and understated. It’s an instrumental which brings a lump to throat, such is the emotion pulsing through it.

I’ve played this release at least once a day for two weeks and it continues to improve. It will not be to everyone’s tastes but there will be few modern-day Anathema fans who will find this anything but genuinely magical. 9/10

For All We Know: Take Me Home (Self Released)

The solo project of Within Temptation guitarist Ruud Jolie is a mellow affair, with relaxed, almost pop style rock on the first listen. Peel away the outer layers though, and on second run through you are suddenly confronted with some much more complex compositions. The album features a host of guest musicians who add to the melody and quality of the songs. It’s mainly light, delicate and rather fine at times. The vocals of Wudstick (Ayreon) are smashing, clean, gentle and soothing. With members of Pain Of Salvation (Leo Margarit on drums and ex POS bassist Kristoffer Gildenlow), the ivories of Marco Kuypers (Rhodes piano, Wurlitzer) and Thijis Schrijnemakeo (Hammond) and the lovely vocals of Anneke Van Giersbergen adding to several tracks. The overriding progressive elements on tracks such as Let Me Fly, Fade Away, The Big Wheel and the retro sounding We Are The Light, would sit on either Devin Townsend or Steven Wilson releases all grab the attention. Jolie’s guitar playing is understated, and becomes more apparent on repeated plays. It takes time but has become an album of real enjoyment. 8/10

Dirty Thrills: Heavy Living (Frontiers)

London based blues rockers Dirty Thrills make no pretence about their influences with Led Zeppelin and Rival Sons most prominent. Heavy Living is 45 minutes of superb, cock strutting blues rock which is pleasing to the ear. Louis James’ vocals are full of heart and soul, hitting the notes with the same effortless ease that Sons’ frontman Jay Buchanan does. Add in a dollop of The Temperance Movement and the sweetness of Vintage Trouble on tunes like Lonely Soul which sees a beautiful piece of interplay between James and guitarist Jack Fawdry and it’s not hard to see why these guys have picked up some prestigious touring slots over the past two years. Impressing at events such as Ramblin’ Man Fair and Planet Rockstock, I’d say that Dirty Thrills are heading upwards at speed. It’s simple, quality music which appeals to the connoisseur. If you like your Thrills Dirty, then Heavy Living is going to get you even messier. 8/10

Idlewar: Rite (Off Yer Rocka Records)

This beauty has been out for a few weeks now but it’s better late than never. Rite is the second album from the South Californian power trio whose recent set at Hard Rock Hell was well appreciated by the Musipedia crew. The band kick out the jams from the off, their high velocity stoner sound warm and inviting. The difference with Idlewar in comparison to many other bands is that these guys have a real Soundgarden feel. Check out the opening salvo of Sullen MoonBreak and Keep Your Word. James Blake’s vocals haunt and mesmerise in equal measure, whilst Rick Graham's jangling guitar turns into crushingly heavy riffs in an instant. There’s more than a nod to Alice In Chains as well with the likes of Strain and Panic echoing shades of the Seattle grunge masters. James fuzzy bass and Pete Pagonis’s accurate drum work support Blake throughout. Rite is a solid, impressive release from a band who are as good on album as they are in the live arena. 8/10

Reviews: Houston, The Mighty Wraith, Kinjiru, Sounds Of Insane Music (Reviews By Stief)

Houston: III (Cargo Records)

A pure slice of the 80's here in the late noughties, Houston's third album is a fun, lighter-waving experience that epitomises the AOR feel with a slight pop tinge. It ranges from the emotional Lights Out to the wonderfully cheesy with lyrics such as "This is my twelve step programme/for getting over you." (Twelve-Step). Bear in mind, I'm not saying anything negative against the band, as this is the sort of stuff I live for when it comes to AOR. Hank Erix's emotional vocals are backed up by equally emotion playing by Victor Lundberg on the keyboard, as well as the guitars of Calle Hammer, the drumming of Soufjan Ma'Aoui and the bass of Oscar Lundström. If you're a fan of bands such as Work Of Art, or any of the ballad-playing bands from the 80's, Houston is definitely a band for you. 8/10

The Mighty Wraith: Dragonheart (Independent)

Generic but great power metal. As soon as you see the title of the EP, you know exactly what you're getting from this 4-piece from Birmingham. Matt Gore's vocals are perfect for power metal, working extremely well with Azza Potter's melodic guitarwork. Overall there's not much that pulls The Mighty Wraith out of the vast amount of power metal bands that are out there, but this EP is still a great listen. 7/10

Kinjiru: 4D EP (Independent)

A one-piece from Edinburgh, Kinjiru is a delightfully mental piece of music, as if Rob Zombie met Mindless Self Indulgence at a J-pop rave. Consisting of only 4 songs, it still gives a good taste of what Roger B is capable of, each song a brilliant mixture of frenetic synths. blast beats, vicious growling and bouncing drums. The guitar work is brilliant, and each song is a tight composition that gives the listener an insane ride. It probably won't be to everyone's taste, but if you enjoy industrial metal with a bit more oomph, or if you're a fan of the aforementioned bands, this might be worth a look! 8/10

Sounds Of Insane Music: The Mask (Independent)

Another one-piece a bit closer to home, from Neath here in Wales. However, it is slightly disappointing, as while the guitar playing is pretty decent, the quality as a whole is brought down through the use of midi-level background synths and drums. There's a broad mixture of styles, which showcases Elliot Cadmore, the sole member's range and it's apparent there's something there. According to the SOIM facebook page, there is a call out for other band members, which I feel is what this project needs. I mean nothing against Cadmore as a person, but it feels that with a band to support in the background, he could focus more on the guitar-playing and often brutal growling he is obviously capable of. 5/10

Monday, 27 November 2017

Reviews: Communic, Transit Method, Voice, The Dirty Denims (Reviews By Paul)

Communic: Where Echoes Gather (AFM Records)

If you fancy something a little more challenging then Norwegian three-piece Communic will be of interest. The band formed in 2003 and Where Echoes Gather is album number five. For a three-piece their sound is impressive with a progressive style akin to Dream Theater and Queensryche.  Hauntingly heavy at times, the album is split into four sections, with The Pulse Of The Earth Pt.1 and Pt. 2 leading into the title track, again split into two parts before three lengthy tracks make up the middle section of the album with the crushingly heavy Black Flag Of Hate full of huge riffs and massive groove. The Claws Of The Sea Pt.1 and Pt.2 close the release. It’s not an easy listen, demanding several plays to appreciate the time changes, polyrhythmic movements and the intricacy which cascades like a waterfall. Vocalist and guitarist Oddleif Stensland delivers a mighty performance, whilst his support from bassist Erik Mortensen and drummer Tor Atle Andersen is solid from start to finish. If you can invest the time then this is an album that will provide rich rewards. 8/10

Transit Method: We Won’t Get Out of Here Alive (Brutal Panda Records)

Crashing riffs, a psychedelic edge and the raw passion of early Jane’s Addiction all combine in this interesting release by Transit Method, who are a three-piece outfit from Austin, Texas. From the opening smoking tentacles of Snake Wine, past the trippy Cloud Zeppelin to the rampaging Parasight there is a diversity here that demands your attention and repeated plays. At times the band merge into the territory of early Rush circa Fly By Night, with their straightforward rock interspersed with journeys into the land of the progressive, time changes but retaining their cutting edge. Snake Wine sets their stall out with some fine guitar from Matt LoCoco, whose Perry Farrell meets Geddy Lee vocals are quite spectacular whilst there is an underlying funk groove to Beside Moonlight. The more I played this album the deeper immersed I became. The Rush style of Clones was well appreciated and the nine-minute Outlaw By Disguise closing track is just an epic worthy of greatness. This is an essential listen. 9/10

Voice: The Storm (Massacre Records)

Powerful melodic rock from Germany? Well apparently Voice (stupid bloody name) has been around for eons with a couple of albums under their belt since their debut Prediction in 1996. This latest offering is the band’s first release in 14 years. Worth the wait? Probably not. Apart from the uncanny vocal resemblance to Bruce Dickinson that Oliver Glas possesses, the rest of this album is generic hard rock that so many German bands seem able to churn out at will. If you like Grave Digger and the like then you’ll no doubt dig The Storm. It plods a bit in places, dips more and more into the Maiden catalogue as it develops; check out Your Number Is Up or Kingdom Of Heaven as a prime examples. It is rather routine stuff, not offensive in the slightest but nothing to grab you by the cohunes either. Possibly not album of the year. 6/10

The Dirty Denims: Back With a Bang! (Self Released)

Eindhoven four-piece The Dirty Denims play the kind of music you’d expect. It’s rock in the vein of AC/DC, Joan Jett and bands like The Amorettes and Girlschool. Having been around for over ten years they are slick and good at what they deliver. Tracks like Can’t Get Enough Of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Don’t Waste My Time and Make Us Look Good are pub rock with a little bit extra. Simple, straightforward and if you saw them at a festival with a beer you’d probably stay and watch. Buying their album may be a push too far but for what they do, yeah, it’s perfectly fine. 6/10

Reviews: Ne Obliviscaris, Tankard, Eric Bell, Warrior Soul (Reviews By Paul)

Ne Obliviscaris: Urn (Seasons Of Mist)

Australian extreme progressive metallers Ne Obliviscaris have been bubbling under the rock radar for several years. That might be about to change with their third release, Urn. The band’s dynamic and fluid balance of pace and styles is an intoxicating blend that will capture the imagination of a wide range of metal fans. There’s the devastating guitar riffs which can crush one minute, the violins and string sections which change the atmosphere and tempo at a stroke and the intelligent use of clean and growling vocals. Each track is an intensive experience, soaring highs and sweeping passages quickly capture your attention and embrace you closely in their grasp.

Having formed in 2003 but only released their debut Portal I in 2012, the band followed up with their sophomore release Citadel in 2014 and Urn continues their Avant Garde approach, with a range of styles which sees jazz, flamenco alongside the progressive and death metal staples. Six tracks clocking in at 45 minutes tells you that it isn’t the easiest listen in the world, but it is well worth dedicated time to let the album cascade over you whilst you gasp for air and try to take in everything that is happening. This is a musical journey well worth taking. 9/10

Tankard: Hymns For The Drunk (AFM)

It's quite astonishing to think that Tankard have been pursuing beer and thrash since the early 1980s without ever stopping, kind of the runaway train on the never-ending track. Hymns For The Drunk is a best of from 2002-2010 while the band were signed to AFM records and is an excellent summary of a rather underrated outfit, who revived their career with 2002’s B-Day. A constant force in German thrash alongside the big 3 of Destruction, Sodom and Kreator, it could quite easily be argued that they have never been given the credit they deserve.

Maybe it’s the humour which masks some technically excellent thrash metal but as our Rich commented in June when reviewing album 17, One Foot In The Grave, ‘the riffs are so good you’ll be too busy banging your head to care’. So it is on this mighty compilation, which contains 15 ball-busting monsters including Need Money For Beer, New Liver Please and the classic Zombie Attack. If you don’t know Tankard, this is as good a place as any to start. Bang your head and raise your glass. 8/10

Eric Bell: Standing At A Bus Stop (Off The Edge Productions)

Forever known as one of the founding members of Thin Lizzy, Eric Bell has had a varied and interesting career. The originator of that riff in Whiskey In The Jar, who famously quit Lizzy by throwing his guitar and amps off stage mid-gig, Bell has released several solo albums over the years, soaked in the blues rich sound that he has always played. Standing At A Bus Stop is the follow up to 2016’s Exile, which was Bell’s first release for a decade. The bitter sweet lyrics and melodies are present and correct. Covers of Howlin’ Wolf’s Back Door Man and the classic Elvis tune Mystery Train allow Bell to transport you back to a simpler time. The rest of the release is a mix of blues and country with slight rock leanings and whilst it certainly won’t appeal to all it’s a pleasant change from the blast beats and crashing riffs that sometimes occupy our aural capacity. 7/10

Warrior Soul: Back On The Lash (Cargo Records)

Big, brash and in your face, Warrior Soul led by the infamous Kory Clarke return with Back On The Lash, nine tracks and just over half an hour of stomping sleaze ridden rock n’ roll. The band, formed by Clarke way back when has been around for many years, earning a reputation for the unpredictable and the chaotic. Clarke, from the mean streets of Detroit, is a loose cannon, a poet, political activist and artist whose reputation is much bigger than his standing.

Back On The Lash makes the sleaze of Poison and those pretty boyz of the 1980s and 1990s look like a school trip from St Joseph's. If dirty, swung from the hip sleaze is your thing then you’ll be over this like the fat bird in the cake shop. Think the Dogs D’Amour on steroids. If, like me, you hate sleaze, you’ll hate this shit too. 7/10

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Reviews: The Dark Element, Mount Holly, Almanac, Secret Rule

The Dark Element: S/T (Frontiers Records)

The Dark Element is a band formed by two former members of well known acts. I realise that this can be said for most of the Frontiers roster but The Dark Element is not a melodic rock or AOR album, it's a melodic metal album with pop edge. The two members in question are Jani Liimatainen former guitarist of Sonata Arctica and the leader of the romantic power metal act Cain's Offering and on the vocals Anette Olzon the much maligned former singer of Nightwish, in her first band project since leaving Nightwish.

Now I said much maligned as Anette really wasn't given fair treatment while at the helm in Nightwish, her vocals are very good they are just nearer the pop side than the classical influence that band has. Luckily Liimatainen understands this and has crafted The Dark Element album to suit her vocals, the record is full of bouncy but dark Euro-electro metal with Jani's guitars, keys and programming the main elements, it's a similar style to Amaranthe or current Battle Beast a genre that is rapidly becoming over saturated but with the draw of Olzon and Liimatainen The Dark Element is likely to stand out.

There isn't any of the light-speed pace of the early Sonata albums, this isn't a slow album by any means, with the exception of the epic Someone I Used To Know it speeds along at a fair pace in a symphonic metal style. It gets the head nodding and Jani's guitar playing is great as usual. Olzon has a good voice as I've said but she's let down by the mix of the album, there's not as much bombast as I'd like and it runs a little too long getting a bit flabby towards the end. Still it's pretty damn good and serves an ideal showcase for the two recognisable members of the band, maybe with a bit more experimentation next time, it could really stand above the others. 7/10

Almanac: Kingslayer (Nuclear Blast)

Ex-Rage guitarist Victor Smolski returns with the second act of his Almanac project, the first album Tsar back in 2016 was wild ride through Russian history built on the tough cinematic power metal Victor has always been associated with. The main draw of the band for me was that there are three singers, Brainstorm's Andy B Franck for grit, David Readman (every band ever) for soulful power and Jeannette Marchewka for a melodic female edge. Once again this sophomore album deals with historical themes but this time the concept surrounds regicide in all its forms. Funnily enough Regicide is the track that opens this record and it pretty much kicks things off as it means to go on, some great vocal interplay between the three singers, tough heavy riffs and a dramatic interplay. It’s an interesting way to start the record as I feel the more straightforward Children Of A Sacred Path would have been a better opener but that’s my personal opinion.

The record is full of symphonic styled power metal, but there is nothing lightweight, much like Victor’s previous band the riffs are heavy and come thick and fast throughout as the focus on this record seems to be on the Franck’s rougher edged vocal for the thrashier songs with Readman’s vocals used to great effect on the harder rock sound of Hail To The King. Both of them are aided by Jeanette’s beautiful pipes as she provides a richer texture to all of the songs meaning that nearly everything has at least two singers. Kingslayer retains everything that made the first album great and it will hopefully be the second chapter in a long story for Almanac. 8/10

Mount Holly: Stride By Stride (Razor & Tie)

Mount Holly was a band formed by former Silvertide guitarist Nick Perri (brother of pop star Christina), singer Jameson Burt, bassist Brian Weaver (formerly Deanna Passarella) and drummer John Bach. The eagle eyed amongst you will noticed I said was, well shortly after this record was released Jameson Burt said he was leaving the group and the remaining members decided not to continue the band. Stride By Stride then is both the debut and final record from Mount Holly, which makes reviewing it difficult as it's the only thing we have to get a feel for the group, this one record is not the best evidence to really hear what might have been. It's a bit like judging all of Ancient Rome on on Amphorae, still I put the needle to the groove (so to speak) and let Mount Holly's musical epitaph ring out through the 'Decks Of Doom'.

What played out was classy Southern Californian alternative rock, Perri's mastery of the hip shaking reverbed guitar riff gives the record a soulful feel complimented by the hollow sounding analogue production and excellent use of backing vocals, your feet are tapping from the opening salvo of Get Up, you can't help but get a groove on to the smoky vibe of Barefoot (nevermind that it half inches the riff from Zep's Heartbreaker), it's this classic blues vibe that resonates through the album, it's mixed with a psyche touch on the smoldering Playing Dead,  Jamerson Burt's vocals are an ideal mix of modern alt rock and classic bluesman while the songs are all packed with some killer riffs, some stomp and clap work on Burning In Colour and the gospel infused title track. It's this myriad of styles that make Stride By Stride an excellent debut album that has bittersuite air to it, the strength and breadth album indicates that Mount Holly could have really gone anywhere on their now never to be released second album, it's a shame but Stride By Stride stands as a fitting epitaph for what could have been. 8/10   

Secret Rule: The Key To The World (Pride & Joy Music)

I reviewed Secret Rule's previous album a while ago now and while I praised it, I noted that it still had some way to go. Yet again on their third album the band have stuck to their Within Temptation-like symphonic style with keys once again coming from guest Henrik Klingenberg (Sonata Arctica), other guest featured on this record are Henning Basse (Firewind and MaYan) and Ailyn Giménez (ex Sirenia). It's with the guests though that the flaw in this record reveals itself, the vocals are not particularly good, I'm not sure if it's the production or singer Angela but they seem very flat, meaning that when they are mixed with the uninspiring riffs The Key To The World just doesn't do much for me I'm afraid. 5/10

Saturday, 25 November 2017

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

Opeth O2 Academy, Bristol

I’ve written several reviews of the Swedish masters Opeth for this blog. Each one is crammed full of superlatives about the musicianship, the interplay, the complexity and the dry wit of one Mikael Akerfeldt. If you don’t know how I feel about this band by now, then you must be a very new reader (welcome by the way!). With the bonus of Norwegian powerhouses Enslaved on the undercard this was a tasty bill not to be missed.

With limited space at the front of the stage for the Norwegians to move around in, Enslaved’s (8) show was static but that mattered not a jot as the band blasted through five lengthy tracks from their last three albums. Unsurprisingly, given the high quality of their recent brilliant album E, Enslaved opened with Storm Son. The interchange between light and heavy, melody and death metal and clean and gruff vocals really worked on the album and transferred very comfortably to the live arena.

Original member Grutle Kjellson’s complex bass work and growling death metal vocals were accompanied by the rhythm guitar of other remaining founder member Ivar Bjornson, a man mountain whose dexterity in his playing was impressive given his massive frame. Lead guitarist (and Audrey Horne member) Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, clad only in leather trousers and shoes ripped out solo after solo, and although it was slightly lost in a muddy mix this was quality. Behind the drums Cato Bekkevold held the ship steady, his double bass drumming and complex fills looking easy.

Full marks to new man Håkon Vinje, whose smooth keyboards and clean vocals balanced the death growls perfectly. The epic Roots Of The Mountain from 2012’s RIITIIR followed, all ten minutes of it before the very apt One Thousand Years Of Rain from 2015’s In Times continued the progressive theme. Although Enslaved has moved away from their death metal sound in recent years, the band are still damn heavy and the final two songs, The River Mouth and Sacred Horse (both from E) were perfect examples of how impressive this band has become.

The instantly recognisable Through Pain To Heaven heralded the arrival of three fifths of Opeth (9) to the stage as Martin “Axe” Axenrot, Martin Mendez and Joakim Svalberg quickly got into the jazz intro of Sorceress, the title track of last year’s excellent release. Joined by guitarist Frederik Akersson and front man Akerfledt, the track progressed into the heavier freestyle with the audience captivated. What followed was Opeth in their comfort zone, and dare I say it almost cruising such is their sheer capacity for making the complex look easy. Akerfeldt’s between song banter was as superb as always, despite being lost for words when one punter shouted, “it’s a little flat” when Akerfeldt had asked how it sounded.

The band follow a reasonably standard set list throughout their tours and to be fair, it’s complicated enough to play so no complaints here. Highlights of the evening? Well, the hysterical acoustic cover of Napalm Death’s You Suffer, the rare outing for Häxprocess from Heritage was interesting, the intricate Moon Above, Sun Below from Pale Communion magical and the return of Hessian Peel from Watershed welcome. An impressive light show including retina scorching spots and a big screen with projections on it enhanced the show but ultimately it was the music that delivered.

No ego fuelled solos, just a confident two hour set that once again demonstrated why Opeth are one of the most interesting and relevant bands in the hard rock and metal scene today. As they departed for their final show and a period of relaxation, I was left already excited for their next release and the magical experiences that will bring.

Friday, 24 November 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Deep Purple (Review By Paul)

Deep Purple Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

It’s been a long time coming but I finally got to see Deep Purple. One of my favourite bands of all time, but bizarrely I’ve never been in the right place at the right time. Putting things right at last, the band returned to Cardiff for the first time in 12 years and treated a sold-out Motorpoint Arena to a master class in hard blues soaked rock on a drizzly November evening.

First up, the hard-working Cats In Space (7), who I’ve avoided on the basis that their two albums did little for me. Hell, I even went to their headline show in the Globe a few months ago and left before they came on. As the all-seated arena filled up, Cats In Space were already into their first song and their sound was big. Their power pop filled the arena and with a bit more space for the six members to move around they impressed far more than I was expecting. Tracks from recent album Scarecrow and their debut Too Many Gods went down well and the Horsham based outfit received a deserved ovation for their short 25 minutes. The band are back on the road with Quo in December and based on this showing are worth getting in early for.

Main support Europe (6) have recently released their rather fine Walk The Earth album, which I really enjoyed. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the Swedes and once again they bored me rigid. Their sound was thin, the music in desperate need of beefing up, and apart from Joey Tempest, the band was static. Guitarist John Norum and bassist John Levén hardly moved for the entire show. Despite some heroics from Tempest, such as taking a walk into the audience early in the set, and some neat licks from Norum, they plodded through a set which could and should have been much more entertaining. A decent set list incorporated tracks from Walk The Earth, War Of Kings and some oldies including Rock The Night and a horrible Carrie came and went before they launched into that tune that got the audience on its feet. By then I’d returned to the bar.

With the band image from Infinite cast on the big screen, the lights dimmed and with little pomp or ceremony Deep Purple (9) hit the stage and launched into Time For Bedlam, the first of four tracks from Infinite. There’s little showmanship with Deep Purple, as they just let the music do the talking. For a band whose average age is 69, they are astoundingly good. The fastest Fireball I’ve ever heard was quickly followed by Bloodsucker from In Rock before Ian Gillan addressed the audience who were already on their feet and loving every minute. The jazz fused All I Got Is You was amazing before the tribute to the late Jon Lord through Uncommon Man from Now What?

By now it was clear that Don Airey’s magnificent keyboards were main billing, dominating the intros and mid-sections of the songs. Indeed, Airey was the only member of the band to deliver a full solo, and it was quite something with a strong finish including Mae Hen Wladd fy Nhadau and Men Of Harlech winning big with the crowd. Not to be outdone, Steve Morse delivered some fine guitar work, none better than his astonishing solo on the awesome Birds Of Prey. He is an underrated guitarist and his duelling with Airey was reminiscent of the Lord vs Blackmore jousts in the 1970s.

Holding it all together, Ian Paice remains an amazing drummer, locked in tightly with Roger Glover whose thumping bass lines cemented everything. Glover is not afraid to soldier forward either, interacting with the crowd from the edge of the stage, swapping sides with Morse and generally prowling like a cat on a hot tin roof. Paice’s jazz tinged drumming remains a thing of total beauty.

As the band cruised through the middle of their set, hitting the Perfect Strangers double of Knocking On Your Back Door and Perfect Strangers, I was struck with how impressive Ian Gillan’s vocals remain. Unlike his successor in 1973, Gillan can still hit the higher notes, albeit not in the same way he could in 1971. It’s astonishing to think of the longevity of a band who have always been unfashionable.

A wonderful meandering Lazy, a rampant Space Truckin’ and of course, the inevitable but irresistible Smoke On The Water concluded the main set before the double encore of Hush, and then a Glover and Paice duet which segued into the final song of the evening, the iconic Black Night. If this was the Long Goodbye, then I’m glad that I was able to say my farewells to a band that are as important as Sabbath and Zeppelin to the rock world.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Think Floyd (Review By Paul)

Think Floyd, Borough Theatre, Abergavenny

I have two confessions. 1) I’m not the biggest fan of tribute bands and 2) In my youth I was never that excited about Pink Floyd, a band who were lumbering around with their legacy from the 1960s and 70s and who released The Wall which scared me and irritated me in equal parts. I bought A Momentary Lapse Of Reason in 1987 when it was released on a whim and it didn’t really change my view at the time. However, over the years their music has become much more appealing and interesting. Discovering their back catalogue has certainly helped me appreciate their magic. Now I rarely see the point of tribute bands; in fact, I’ve only ever seen Limehouse Lizzy and a couple of others, but I’d heard great things about Think Floyd (9), a band who never set out to be a Floyd tribute outfit but who started in a pub in London over 20 years ago and learnt Comfortably Numb in a week at the request of a punter. The rest as they say is history.

A packed Borough Theatre whose average age was, well, let’s say a good few years North of mine took their seats for an evening of quite spectacular entertainment. Four unassuming blokes ambled on to the stage and began to deliver a stunning version of Astronomy Domine from Floyd’s 1967 release The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. Think Floyd then provided a musical tour through each of Floyd’s 15 albums, picking choice cuts and some rarer tracks along the way. Remember A Day from A Saucerful Of Secrets followed as well as tracks from More, Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother before a blistering One Of These Days from 1971’s Meddle led into a number of tracks from Dark Side Of The Moon. Naturally The Great Gig In The Sky was a breath taking highlight, with singer Rosie excelling in the Clare Torry role from 1973’s masterpiece.

An interval followed, probably to allow for the prostate challenged audience to sort themselves out and stretch the aching limbs from the rather small seats. Back into the albums and it was time for the band to really show their craft with Richard Morse’s superbly dexterous guitar work for the lengthy Shine On You Crazy Diamond a highlight. All three parts of Pigs from 1977’s Animals followed, Lewis Hall’s vocals spot on whilst the interplay between drummer Steven Farmer and keyboard player Kirk McLeod was captivating. The band are consummate professionals and note perfect on some very complex music. Farmer’s backing vocals were another stand out element of the show.

As we reached 1979 and Floyd’s most famous album, The Wall, Think Floyd played it safe with Hey You, which to be fair, is what all the audience wanted to hear anyway. It was a magnificent rendition which raised the hairs on the back of the neck. After a track from the rarely played The Final Cut, a surprise with the impressive Sorrow from 1987’s A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, which allowed Morse to excel in his six string delivery once more. After a contribution from The Division Bell the final track of the journey took us to 2014’s The Endless River, with the track Louder Than Words which concluded a fabulous evening. Or so I thought but no, the band returned for a deserved encore which inevitably treated us to Wish You Were Here followed by the track that started it all for the band, Comfortably Numb, which was delivered with aplomb.

If you closed your eyes, as I did frequently during the evening due to the comfortable warmth, heavy cold and relaxing sounds, you would not have been able to tell the difference. In fact, these guys are probably better due to the numerous times they have played each track. With a stunningly simple but effective light show and crystal-clear sound, this was a quite superb show. If you like Floyd, or just fancy an evening in the company of some quite brilliant musicians, I’d highly recommend an evening with Think Floyd.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Reviews: Savage Messiah, The Atomic Bitchwax, In Search Of Sun, Black Water Rising

Savage Messiah: Hands Of Fate (Century Media)

We've had a few ups and downs with Savage Messiah, the London band came around at the same time as the thrash resurgence of of about 10 years ago, along with Evile, Reign Of Fury, Municipal Waste and others Savage Messiah set about bringing back old school thrash as nu-metal died out. On record the band were pretty good their 2012 record Plague Of Conscience and 2014 release The Fateful Dark saw them pretty much nail their colours to the mast with the right concoction of 80's thrash and classic metal leanings. However in the live arena they did always strike me as a little haphazard. Now on their fifth album the logo has been revamped, their line up has changed with Dave Silver the only remaining original member and the album cover is subtle and understated, it seems like Hands Of Fate is something of a rebirth for Savage Messiah, so with anticipation I pressed play.

The title track opens the record with chunky, choppy riff, it's got a gang chorus and the handprints of Metallica circa 1991, the middle eight even has a phased out part where you can just hear "hush little baby..." Hands Of Fate is a natural single, anthemic enough for rockers but with a lot of heft. It also sets the tone for the record as Savage Messiah have really highlighted their more traditional metal influence, Wing And A Prayer sounds as if BFMV are playing a Maiden track. However they do retain their thrash roots with Blood Red Road which has Dave doing his Megadave snarl, while Lay Down Your Arms bring back the Metallica stomps, the band sound revitalised by the changes as Dave leads the way with his impressive vocals and riff hungry rhythm guitar backed by Mira Slama's bass grooves and Andrea Gorio's drumming skills, check out Solar Corona for the fattest of classic metal riffs on the record, before Sam S Junior brings some flashy lead prowess.

Hands Of Fate
takes Savage Messiah in to their tenth year as a band with a new found confidence and hybrid style that will hopefully see them as much more in-sync metal machine ready to devour the live stages. 8/10

The Atomic Bitchwax: Force Field (Tee Pee Records)

If you can say anything about The Atomic Bitchwax it's that they are 4:20 friendly band of current Monster Magnet bassist Chris Kosnik who with guitarist Finn Ryan and MM drummer Bob Pantella play mind expanding psychedelic stoner rock that has got a bit more oomph to it than their colossal riffing day job. With Finn Ryan's guitar slinging wildly TAB have perfected their self described "thunder boogie" over the course of a long career and this seventh record is just another chapter of their story.

Force Field doesn't do anything different to their previous albums but it it's a headbanging ride through riff driven boogie rock with a distinct smell of weed permeating through every retro groove. It's a wild ride that doesn't stop with Alaskan Thunder Fuck the albums wildest track sitting in between some Grand Funk Goes Punk heavy rocking. Spark one up, grab some buds and let the good times roll! 7/10

In Search Of Sun: Virgin Funk Mother (Spinefarm)

A long time ago there was band called 3 they were progressive rock band from Woodstock New York, formed by multi-instrumentalist Joey Eppard and drummer Josh (who later joined Coheed & Cambria) they played dark, yet uplifting music that owed as much to hard rock as it did pop, they were unafraid of genres adding as many as possible to their music for maximum effect. I've only opened this review with a history lesson as 3 are the band that I'm most reminded off when I put on the second effort by London act In Search Of Sun, now I've heard the name but I've never really investigated the bands music until now.

Much like the New York band mentioned earlier In Search of Sun know their way around a genre for maximum effect, it's prog Jim but not as we know it Bad Girl has bass heavy poly-rhythms but uses them in time signature more used to ska or reggae, Petrichtor does the same but has jazz drumming in it's stop-start sound and lots of dexterity in the guitar playing. In Search Of Sun are forging their own path music with style all of their own, heartfelt emotional vocals, a virtuosity in their playing but some very poppy hooks that slither their way into your psyche, it's refreshing to hear music like this and if you have been a long time fan of Coheed & Cambria, InMe or even 3 then Virgin Funk Mother will get you moving. 8/10

Black Water Rising: Electrified (Pavement Music)

Brooklyn band Black Water Rising deal with heft, they say their music is "No Frills Riff Rock" and they've nailed that description, thick syrupy riffs thunder through your speakers with the viscosity of Fu Manchu, Fireball Ministry or Monster Magnet. The politically charged, emotive lyrics are delivered by Rob Traynor's excellent vocals but he and the rest of the band use a chunky wall of riffs to hammer the point home.

Even on the lighter Don't Wait Up and World Of Frustration they still retain a heaviness, they add a mainstream edge to Higher but on the title track, Obey, Payback and Buried In Black they crank the amps up to 11. This is the band's third album, which is not bad when you consider the project started as a vehicle for Traynor, they bring the heavy stoner rock riffs from the opening track but they also add in some of the more accessible touches of Nickelback et al. Electrified is a good album, it's nothing new or too complicated just good honest, riff friendly rocking. 7/10