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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:
https://www.facebook.com/BloodshotDawn/photos/a.10151704531310098.1073741825.188450830097/10155089895365098/?type=3&theater

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