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Monday, 21 May 2018

Reviews: Doomsday Outlaw, Monument, Primitai, Petrichor

Doomsday Outlaw: Hard Times (Frontier)

Rockers Doomsday Outlaw made an impression on us back in 2016, their debut was filled with 15 tracks that walked a fine line blues rocking and AOR ballads, it was a little too long to be really impressive as I do think quality always proceeds quantity so I was relieved when I saw their follow up record was only 12 songs long. Opening with the swaggering title track it's a bluesy hard riffing number to start with Steve Broughton and Gavin Mills bringing the distorted dirty riffs to this, Over And Over and Spirit That Made Me with Indy Chanda (bas and John Willis (drums) locked into deep set grooves.

The three opening tracks that I've mentioned here show you that the Derbyshire band deserve much of the hype that surrounds them, since their debut they have doggedly toured the country honing their performances into the blues rock machine you hear here. Much of their appeal is due to the tough riffs being matched by the excellent vocals of Phil Poole who reminds me a lot of Glenn Hughes when he's in rock god mode but he also dips into some Myles Kennedy when they slow the record down on the number of ballads that do appear (they are a Frontiers band after all) Into The Light is the epitome of a ballad featuring just sentiment, a piano and some strings. The riffs are brought back with Bring It Home and Days Since I Saw The Sun both of which have the melodic streak that this band balance with the heavier rocking.

Just take a song like Will You Wait it's a ramped up Free track with a chorus to die for or Break You which has a funk coda bringing back the Glenn Hughes comparisons. No Hard Times here just proper British rock music from a band that are slightly grittier than your traditional Frontiers fayre but that's no bad thing. 8/10

Monument: Hellhound (Rock Of Angels Records)

Monument are one of the bands that formed as an offshoot from White Wizzard, as the line up of that band changed musicians involved formed their own acts. The two most notable are American speed metal act Holy Grail and British NWOBHM band Monument, the latter now on their third album have returned again to bring leather and studded metal back to the British scene with a vengeance, with so many American and European (mainly Swedish) acts muscling in on those NWOBHM gallops that came from the back streets of England in the early 1980’s Monument grab the genre by the horns and bring it back to the isles of Avalon. Exploding straight out of the stereo William Kidd takes to the high seas with loud bass riffs from Dan Bate, the twin axe attack from Dan Baune and Lewis Stephens its classic Maiden style from the get go.

Next up is The Chalice which sounds more like more recent Maiden and is the obvious single, the video features a number of British wrestlers as frontman Peter Ellis creates pro wrestling title belts for a number of promotions including the WWE. The Chalice is a more melodic track and as I said wouldn’t be amiss on anything from Brave New World to Book Of Souls with the theme continuing on Death Avenue a song that does sound a little like Rainmaker until it moves into the groovy middle eight and Baune and Stephens let rip. In fact quite a bit of this album is similar to the big hitters of that original scene. It’s an unashamed celebration of the classic British metal bands, the grind of Nightrider is pure Priest (even using their song titles as lyrics) and it showcases the vocal prowess of Ellis who switches between Halford and Dickinson fluidly.

Keeping the pace is Gio Durst who locks in with Bate for a thick rhythm section that’s highlighted by Tommy Newton’s natural production meaning this is the best sounding Monument record of their trio. They are still the flag bearers for the new breed of NWOBHM and this Hellhound is unstoppable! 8/10

Primitai: The Calling (Dissonance)

It’s only been 2 years since Primitai’s last album The Night Brings Insanity but the London metal warriors have returned with their fifth full length. They are still led by lead guitarist Srdjan Bilic and singer Guy Miller their slightly modern heavy metal sound has found them fans from a broad spectrum of the metal community as the band have tread the boards with Saxon, Edguy, Warbringer and even Crashdiet, they combine intense riffs, massive melodies and progressive touch that makes them a stand out band in a crowded scene. 

You could lump them in with bands such as Monument etc but Prmitai’s musical style is more akin to Avenged Sevenfold with the thrash/traditional metal influences merging with more modern sounds and Guy’s muscular voice sounds a lot like M Shadows on Demons Inside as the album progresses you get many more scything riffs and double kick drums. The Calling is a record full of modern melodic metal that has some progressive subtly to it on Into The Light/Into The Dark and the title track it’s a another strong showing from this always impressive metal band. 7/10

Petrichor: No Silver Lining - A Return To Rain (Self Released)

Warning do not listen to this record if you’ve had a bad day. There must be something in the water in Yorkshire as so many of the most miserable bands come from there , maybe it’s the desolate vistas and heavy industry but perennial miserablists Paradise Lost hail from Halifax, My Dying Bride from Bradford, Solstice are from Huddersfield and Leeds where Petrichor come from boast Sisters of Mercy, The Mission and countless others who bring a black cloud to any gathering. No Silver Lining is a re-release , re-recorded, reimagining of Petrichor’s 2016 debut Rain its only five songs long but they are all long, slow funeral dirges from a three piece that have had a good go at mixing black metal fury with occult doom metal. 

The duality of low booming clean and nasty harsh vocals suit well especially when there is also some ghostly female vocals on This Too Must Die, add to this furious drums underpinning the creeping, dissonant guitars and you get a recipe for a thick mix of extreme metal. The production is quite raw and the instruments are quite low in the mix but fans of My Dying Bride or Celtic Frost would be wise to track this record down Petrichor have returned to the rain and it’s heavy storm indeed. 7/10

Sunday, 20 May 2018

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

Machine Head, Catharsis Tour, Cardiff University & O2 Academy Bristol 2018

Cast your mind back to 2007. Oakland power house Machine Head released arguably the album of the decade, The Blackening. The band toured incessantly for nearly three years, filling arenas across Europe. Talk of them becoming the next Download headliners was rife. The band kicked things off with a slot supporting Metallica at Wembley, one of the most astonishing gigs I’ve ever had the privilege to attend. Their appearance at Sonisphere in 2009 wasn’t without controversy, but the sight of 21 circle pits across that field was amazing. The Machine Head sun was in the ascendency. The Black Crusade rolled into Cardiff and the Motorpoint was filled with circle pits and headbanging as the band raged. 2011’s Unto The Locust was followed by a smaller venue tour and the subsequent departure of founder Adam Duce, after which MFH dipped from sight. 2014’s Bloodstone And Diamonds, with the arrival of Jared MacEachern, saw the band embark on the Killer And Kings tour, once again hitting smaller places across the country including a frenzied night at The Great Hall in Cardiff University which was full to bursting.

And then Catharsis arrived earlier this year. The social media response was astonishing with its vitriol towards the band. I didn’t enjoy it on first listen, as you will be able to confirm by review in this August journal, but repeated listens have unearthed some decent tracks over time. So, when the band announced their European tour, albeit prior to the release of their latest album, it seemed reasonable to snap up tickets for consecutive dates on the tour as MFH hit Cardiff and Bristol, and to notch up gigs 13 and 14 in the Machine Head inventory.

First up was the Great Hall at Cardiff University on 14th May. Upgraded from Y Plas due to demand, but just as likely because of poor planning in the first place, the Head Cases descended in good numbers for a Monday night. The gig was not sold out which was quite welcome as a Machine Head gigs tends to generate substantial heat from the constant action in front of the stage, so a bit of space on the floor was more comfortable. As Diary Of A Madman concluded, Robb Flynn and co arrived on stage to the opening strains of nothing less than Imperium, a track that is guaranteed to get the crowd moving. And so it proved, with Cardiff demonstrating that the Welsh can pit as well as any other nation throughout the evening. Standing well back from the intense action, there was a constant stream of bodies emerging from the pit in various states, whilst old school pit beasts contended themselves with the occasional foray to the front lines for the likes of Bulldozer, Ten Ton Hammer and From This Day.

By the time Machine Head arrived on our shores they had already completed over a month through Europe and it was evident in their sharpness on stage. Robb Flynn kept the patter to a minimum, although for those of us playing Machine Head Bingo, there was sufficient to claim a full house as the words “stoked”, “circle pit”, “head bang muthafucker” and “show me what you’ve got” all duly arrived. Whilst Flynn maintains the centre ground, focus switched across to stage left and right as trusty lieutenant and lead guitarist Phil Demmell cut some mean lead guitar work whilst MacEachern now looks significantly more comfortable with his place in this cutting machine. Demmell’s lead work was slightly marred by a fuzzy sound which meant that towards the right of the stage it was Flynn’s guitar work that dominated. Behind the front men, powerhouse drummer Dave McClain continued to make everything look incredibly easy.

One of the main reasons to see MFH on this tour was to hear how the new material stood against the hardcore old school material. Placing Volatile straight after Imperium worked well, feeding off the crowd energy. Kaleidoscope remains an enigma to me with its Slipknot feel, whilst Triple Beam, buried in Cardiff between None But My Own and Aesthetics Of Hate remains a real challenge. However, in the title track of the album, the band have unleashed an absolute monster. Both nights saw the crowds losing their minds to this track, which was superbly delivered. The subtle combination of melody and aggression, with the harmonies of MacEachern and Demmell enhancing the tune substantially, and I would wager that this will become a staple for years to come.

Dripping with emotion, it was fabulous to see the huge reaction it received. In addition to these newies, Cardiff’s crowd were treated to a blistering Beyond The Pale which also worked fantastically well. Meanwhile in Bristol, the band slipped in Bastards instead of Beyond The Pale. Cardiff’s gain I would say as Bastards was one of the few tracks that went down like a fart in a space suit, the momentum noticeably slowing. It’s also just not that good as a song. However, that aside, as the night progressed it was clear that the band were intent on giving the middle finger to all the doubters and delivering a show which provided almost too much value for money. Guitar and drum solos provided some valuable recovery time for the crowd, which was probably just as well as the remainder of the set list, apart from Darkness Within, was designed and delivered to crush all before it.

A welcome return to the set, Clenching The Fists Of Dissent was one of four from The Blackening which arrived in Cardiff and was stunning. Sometimes you forget what a great song it is and remains as cutting edge in its political observation today as it did back 11 years ago. Meanwhile, the reception for the two tracks from The Burning Red, The Blood The Sweat The Tears and From This Day completely belied its reputation. The latter got Cardiff bouncing ferociously and that was repeated with even greater intensity the following night. In an evening of numerous highlights, the inclusion of Old probably received the biggest Welsh cheer and the choruses of “Jesus Wept” must have cracked the girders holding the roof on. With the band visibly slicker and tighter than for many years, the Machine Head show remains a steam roller of power and visceral energy. Whatever your views on this band, they work damn hard and give 100% night after night.

In Bristol the following night, with the advantage of the balcony to obtain a better vantage point, and with a superior sound, Machine Head were if anything, even better. Possibly the crammed mass meant there was little opportunity for getting to the bar, unlike Cardiff where a good few punters were going for it like it was a Saturday night, not a Monday. That’s Wales though; heavy drinking as standard. In Bristol, it was gruesome on the floor and the heaving mass of bodies in the sold-out venue meant there was little room for the constantly demanded circle pits. Kudos to the pit warriors who demonstrated admirable pit etiquette, even before Flynn’s reminder about what had happened in Southampton two nights earlier. The pit was, in Flynn’s words, “raging”.

A confident assured speech about the negative response to Catharsis was well delivered and received, although it was hard not to have a wry smile as one recalled the reaction of Flynn to one particularly negative review at the time. Still, the band and many of the fans are past all that now and the bone crunching pit action didn’t let up throughout the evening. Demmell seemed more at ease, smiling broadly at the crowd, and with his sound crystal clear, it was a joy to watch the ease at which he and Flynn shredded through another mighty set list. With the inclusion of old school tracks A Nation On Fire and Blood For Blood replacing the previous night’s None But My Own and Old, it was also pleasing to see that even with such a mammoth set, Machine Head were willing to mix it up a bit. Full marks to a band that have drawn more than their fair share of critics in recent months. Where they go in the next few years is open to debate, but in the live arena, Machine Head remain a magnificent metal force. 10/10

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Reviews: Feral Chaos, Perfect Plan, Coltsblood, Svalbard (Reviews By Rich & Paul S)

Feral Chaos: Mankind In Ruin (Self Released) [Review By Rich]

Mankind In Ruin is the debut album by Finnish grinders Feral Chaos. Although not known for it there is some quality grindcore to be found in Finland with Rotten Sound being the prime example and Feral Chaos are another great band to add to the list. Mankind In Ruin is as to be expected an absolutely furious album with 15 songs spread over 30 minutes all of which are chaotically violent and heavy.

The songs range from  straight up grindcore to those which have a more crust punk leaning to those which veer almost into death metal territory. The HM-2 pedal is utilised on the album giving the guitars an ultra filthy sound. Whoever started using the HM-2 pedal with grindcore is a genius as the filthy guitar distortion totally suits the music. This is a bit of a repetitive album but as with nearly all grindcore albums it doesn't outstay its welcome and whilst nothing special is a very nice album of dirty grinding madness. 7/10

Perfect Plan: All Rise (Frontiers Records) [Review By Rich]

All Rise is the debut album from Swedish melodic rockers Perfect Plan and another in a long line of AOR and melodic rock bands with albums being released by Frontiers Records. Perfect Plan don't deviate from the tried and trusted AOR/melodic rock formula utilised by countless other bands but Perfect Plan demonstrate great songwriting, magnificent performances and bags of energy.  Nearly all the songs on All Rise are on the harder side of the AOR/melodic rock spectrum which means we don't have any irritatingly sappy ballads dragging the album down.

Songs such as Bad City Woman, Stone Cold Lover, Too Late and 1985 are hard rocking earworms which demonstrate the talent of the band and the amazing voice of frontman Kent Hilli. All Rise is for all intents and purposes another AOR/melodic rock album released by Frontiers Records but what Perfect Plan lack in originality they make up for in passion and integrity.  This isn't gonna change your mind if you cannot stand AOR but if you are a fan of the genre you will find much to love in this album.
8/10

Coltsblood: Ascending Into Shimmering Darkness (Black Bow Records) [Review By Paul Scoble]

Coltsblood’s second album Ascending Into Shimmering Darkness, is a massive slab of oppressive, nasty funeral doom / sludge. The Liverpool based band, describe their sound as being ‘unfathomable doom’ which fits very nicely. The 5 tracks on this album all fit into slow, menacing, extreme doom format that is a little reminiscent of Lycos or Void Meditation Cult. In places it also feels like Asphyx’s slowest material, but with a more black metal feel to the production.

The album does have some faster parts to it, which are pure nasty black metal. Intense, claustrophobic tremolo picked riffs and blast-beats, which reminded me of a looser, less dense Abyssal. This album is heavier than a million elephants stepping on your foot all at the same time, it is not for the faint hearted. But, if you like an album to beat the living crap out of you, then you need this in your life. Wonderfully viscous. 8/10

Svalbard: It’s Hard To Have Hope (Holy Roar Records) [Review By Paul Scoble]

Svalbard are a Bristol based post metal band, It’s Hard To Have Hope is their second album. The title of the album is unfortunately very apt. It features 8 tracks of rather poor Deafhaven style post metal. Part of the problem with this album is the production. Most of the rhythm guitar is drowned out by a continual tremolo picked melody guitar track, that never lives up to it’s prominent place in the mix. The riffs, when you can hear them, are a little staid and hackneyed. The drumming is also a problem. The blastbeats, when they use them, are a little weak, but the biggest problem is that they don’t really fit with the music. The time signatures are right, but stylistically the drumming feels more like hardcore drumming. Massive overuse of the snare drum starts to grate after a couple of songs, and when the songs slow down the drumming is lumpen and unimaginative.

But the music is only the start of this albums issues. The vocals are just terrible. Most of the vocals on here are supposed to be harsh, but are in fact subpar screamo style vocals, that set my teeth on edge. It sounds like a petulant teenager screaming in your face about not getting enough pocket money. The song titles suggest the band have a left wing / liberal stance (which I would usually like, being a left wing commie type), but trying to concentrate on the lyrics is so hard when the voice is this bad. The only places where this isn’t a problem are on a few passages where the vocals are clean, and these are the only places where the album works. The track For The Sake Of The Breed is a great example of where clean singing really helps the album. It’s probably the only standout track on offer here, if they can try to develop what they got right on this song, then they might have a future. A small amount of promise, in an otherwise disappointing album. 4 /10

Thursday, 17 May 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics

Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics, Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff

There are a few bands that you will never turn up the chance to see and Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics are becoming one of those bands. The former Heaven's Basement singer has hit his stride with this band, we all saw his capability in his previous band but the too much, too young, too fast curse reared its ugly head and now outside of the arenas the reinvigorated Buchanan along with the band called The Cult Classics are tearing up smaller, sweatier venue across Europe. Having played the same venue on their previous tour there was sense of deja vu but that didn't matter, when the fire in this band burns so bright you could see them 20 times and still tap your feet, nod your head and by the fifth time be singing along.

Arriving late for both support bands the noises V0id made were acceptable enough having a radio friendly radio rock sound they were an act I could definitely see again however I didn't really catch enough of them to give them a score. Still maybe next time.

A short changeover led to a truncated set, due to the post gig club night, but with so much still to prove they Cult Classics took to the stage and kicked things off with their CD perfect versions of their own brand of hard rock. Again mixing Cult Classic material with Heaven's Basement works this time it was the Cult Classic songs that struck more of a chord with audience, possibly due to some high profile support slots for the band, highlights included Left Me For Dead, Dancing Down Below, the single All These Things I've Said And Done, my personal favourite Fire In The Fields Of Mayhem and the always astonishing Man With The Stars On His Knees.

After some revolving membership (something that is encouraged, due to the band's collaborative nature) the honed rhythm section of Mart Trail (bass) and Paul White (drums) were the pace setters for the evening imbuing grooves and percussive power to the storming riffs of Laurie Buchanan and Tom McCarthy, the two switching between lead and rhythm but McCarthy taking the lion's share. The small but highly energetic crowd sang their hearts out and Aaron was on fine form his vocals are staggeringly good, he's built for stadia but in small venues he really tears the house down. As they were on strict time limit there was very little chit chat just time for a few thank yous and it was onto the next one leaving the set striding along well. A brilliant performance all round and yet another solid but criminally overlooked booking from Pity My Brain, when they come round again don't miss it! 9/10

Editors Note: I just want to make it known that I really don't like club nights that follow gigs, it means everything seems a little rushed and there is no time for the band to mingle, or sell merch after the event, before the security march in and start shouting for everyone to leave, either venues shouldn't put gigs on before clubnights or much like Fuel does offset the start time to the club night after a gig.   

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Reviews: Shinedown, Amorphis, Witchsorrow, Big Boy Bloater (Reviews By Paul)

Shinedown: Attention Attention (Atlantic Records)

Huge in the USA, becoming increasingly big in the UK and Europe, there is no doubt that Jacksonville quartet Shinedown have worked incredibly hard since their formation back in 2001. Their sound has been categorised as alt-metal, alt-rock, post-grunge and nu-metal. I think it would be fair to say that the band are a hard rock band, touching on some if not all the above. Attention Attention is the band’s sixth album and has a darker, heavier tone and feel than 2015’s Threat To Survival. The album has a conceptual theme which depicts a human overcoming their negativity through personal struggles to be reborn as a new person.

Crammed full of the arena rock that the band has crafted as their own, there are few decent tracks, including Devil, Pyro and Monsters, all which contain enough despair and gloom to make them feel a bit uncomfortable. Brent Smith’s distinctive vocal is as prominent as ever and Shinedown’s sound is of course, instantly recognisable, so it’s a challenge to listen to this release without dismissing it as “typical Shinedown.” Shinedown don't do a lot for me, and their lighter elements on tracks like Darkside fail to ignite the spark, but overall, the band, who I’ve seen several times over the years, have produced another polished and impressive release which sits comfortably alongside their outstanding Sound Of Madness release, a decade ago. 7/10

Amorphis: Queen Of Time (Nuclear Blast)

Few albums were as impressive in 2015 as Amorphis’ 12th full length release, Under The Red Cloud. An absolute masterpiece, it remained on repeat for many months. Three years on and the Finns may have just pushed the envelope even higher. Queen Of Time is a stunning piece of work. 24 years since their sophomore release, the legendary Tales From A Thousand Lakes, the mix of metal, folklore, oriental fusion and rock continues to surprise. Queen Of Time contains a mix of prophetic storytelling which provides a dramatic, cinematic feel from beginning to end. Guest musicians including Eluveitie's Chrigel Glanzmann, laryngeal singer Albert Kuvezin and saxophonist JØrgen Munkeby add depth and quality to the songs. The already classic opener The Bee starts the album in typical Amorphis manner, melodies flow seamlessly with the contrast of raw harshness, grandeur, elaborate orchestration and melancholy combining perfectly.

The voice of Tomi Joutsen nestles comfortably, his growls and clean vocals adding elements of light and shadow. The inclusion of orchestra and choir merely enhances the compositions. The black metal growling during Daughter Of Hate challenges the oriental melodies whilst Wrong Direction is deliberately gentle and reduced by comparison. Heart Of The Giant is a massive song, bursting with power, choral backing, Eastern styles and a blistering pace whilst penultimate track Amongst The Stars sees Anneke Van Giersbergen make a textbook contribution. Lucky 13? It really should be. Queen Of Time is flawless. 10/10

Witchsorrow: Hexhammer (Candlelight Records)

With a mission to celebrate the traditions of doom as practiced by such legends as Black Sabbath, Cathedral, Saint Vitus, Trouble and Candlemass, Hampshire’s Witchsorrow have delivered three albums of doom metal which has placed them amongst such illustrious company. The Hampshire outfit, formed by frontman Necroskull and bassist Emily Witch over a decade ago (later completed by drummer Wilbrahammer) deliver another doom obsessed offering, with a new collection of hymns. The Hexenhammer, the alternative name of the Malleus Maleficarum, the dreaded book by fifteenth-century Catholic clergyman Henricus Institoris that detailed and endorsed the torture and extermination of witches by violent means.

Recorded at Skyhammer studio with long-time co-conspirator Chris Fielding (Conan, Primordial, Electric Wizard), the songs on Hexhammer crush completely, with tracks such as The Devil’s Throne and the fantastic Eternal exploding the darkest doom with blisteringly strong heavy metal, contrasting with the macabre funeral pace of the title track and Demons Of The Mind. Focusing on the extinction of humanity, the album is bleak, dark and swamped in gloom. As Necroskull commented, “I’ve always been obsessed with the end of the world. On previous albums I’ve been wanting it to happen, because I was caught in a very dark place. On No Light..., I was almost angry that it hadn’t happened. This time, it’s a massively confusing time where we’re basically staring at it and waiting for it. I have no solutions. There are none to be had”. If you haven’t tasted the soundtrack to 2018, Hexenhammer may well be it. 8/10

Big Boy Bloater And The LiMiTs: Pills (Provogue)

As a change from the usual grinding chainsaw action we tend to focus on, the latest album from the blues maestro Big Boy Bloater is as welcome as the brief blast of summer sun we experienced recently. Pills reflects the Surrey born guitarist and singer refocusing. As he stated reflecting on the 2016 Luxury Hobo tour “I guess a lot of stuff happened on the Luxury Hobo tour. Maybe after the depression, my minds a bit more open and turned on to things, so I have observed more.” Pills was recorded in December 2017 with producer Adam Whalley, the band trimmed down to a power trio of Big Boy Bloater (Vocals/Guitar), Matt Cowley (Drums) and Steven Oates (Bass). With the fabulous title track kicking off proceedings, it highlights the constant need for pills today with a sinister edge. From there on it’s a composite of quality tunes which can’t fail to raise a smile and get the foot tapping. The autobiographical Friday Night’s Alright For Drinkin, the poppy Stop Stringing Me Along through to the sinister tales that weave themselves into place on the beautifully juxtaposed Oops Sorry and the Tom Waits style Mouse Organ.

What’s most impressive is how the band effortlessly flit through styles and pace, creating an album full of depth, emotion, humour, anger and sheer fun. “I always used to like the Portmanteau horror films where they have 3 or 4 different stories in the film. So you’ve always got this constant change and you never really got bored of one story and then there this theme tying it all together” said the Big Boy. With a packed recent history of top quality gigs under their belt, included Camden Rocks Festival and Ramblin’ Man Fair in 2017, there is an air of quiet confidence and a quality that is rare, especially in the saturated blues market. Pills is well worth checking out, with an anthology style making this album such an engaging proposition. 9/10

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Reviews: Maiden UniteD, Hercules Morse, Circle Of Silence, Petyr

Maiden UniteD: Empire Of The Clouds (Self Released)

Bassist Joey Bruers was asked by the Dutch Iron Maiden fanclub to do something special for a live show back in 2006. Born out of this was Maiden UniteD an unconventional Maiden tribute that sees popular Maiden songs re-interpreted for acoustic and classical instruments. The latest offering is their take on Maiden’s most recent opus The Empire Of The Clouds probably the longest Maiden song in existence I’ll be dammed if you will ever here the band play it live so this four part acoustically led version will have to suffice. Of course it’s not just any old cover the mix of acoustic instrumentation from bassist Joey Bruers (Up The Irons), guitarist Ruud Jolie (Within Temptation, For All We Know) drummer Mike Coolen (Within Temptation) and pianist Huub van Loon (The Ultraverse) some beautiful cello from Perttu Kivilaakso (Apocalyptica), bubbling Hammond from Thijs Schrijnemakers (Orgel Vreten) and excellent emotive vocals from Wudstik (For All We Know, Ayreon).

This mostly Dutch band have done the Irons proud with additional news reel audio and narration from Edward Reekers (Kayak, Ayreon) bringing you into the story of His Majesty’s Airship R101 in marvellous full bodied passion, the electric instrumentation is not missed as Maiden UniteD have the talent to pull off the same epic feel of the original. It also stands a tribute to the songwriting prowess of Iron Maiden (Bruce especially) as even without the full power of heavy metal behind it this song still has depth. This is two part EP with the studio version of the track on disc 1 while disc 2 contains the live recording from January 27th 2018 when the band performed at the Royal Theatre of Amsterdam: Carre, the live performance has as much brilliance as the studio version but is just a bit more raw it closes out with an almost balladic version of Killers which would make Paul Di’Anno hurl, but I think its adds a new edge to a oft-forgotten Maiden track. Empire Of The Clouds is a wonderful album for any Maiden fan that goes against the normal tribute boundaries. Up the Irons! 8/10

Hercules Morse: Hercules Morse (Self Released)

“Hercules Morse is the narcissistic bodybuilding younger brother of fictional Detective Endeavour Morse, he was lined up for his own book series but there are only so many books one can write about bodybuilding in rural Oxfordshire” Colin Dexter said this once in an interview and clearly this is where the Southampton band got their name from. This of course is a lie however there is a children’s book about an Old English Mastiff of the same name that is ‘as big as a horse' , if this was the inspiration for their name then it’s probably only slightly less weird than my flight of fancy. I’ve had to stretch the review of this record out a little as I could have easily said “sounds like Foo Fighters and QOTSA” which is probably the most honest statement so far, the foursome have taken most of their cues out of the more accessible combined efforts Dave Grohl and Josh Homme, the songs are zippy, musically muscular but rely much too heavily on repetitive choruses that do get a little boring as the album progresses.

Cuckoo is probably the best (worst) example of this with the title work taking up probably 70% of the lyrics. It’s not through laziness I don’t think, Hercules Morse are trying to write sing along anthems such as Monkey Wrench or No One Knows but what makes these songs so good is that they are the exception to the rule for the most part, Hercules Morse’s debut album is an entire record of these radio baiting rockers. I seem overly critical but I’m not, I saw the stoner/desert rock tag and I expected something a little more experimental. This is a little too safe for me. 6/10
Circle Of Silence: The Crimson Throne (Massacre Records)

German band Circle Of Silence return to the metal scene with their first album of heavy power metal since 2013. The Crimson Throne is a solid power metal record it's got the normal intro track to build the drama before Race To The Sky jumps out of your speakers with galloping rhythms and higher register vocals, it's an insight into what Circle Of Silence can do as a band with thick, tasty muscular riffs, a hint of thrash here and there with the solos coming from the speed metal school. It's a record that is competent and full of quality power metal tunes, don't come expecting to have your head blown off however if you're after some decent metal tunes like Into The Fire or Endgame check out The Crimson Throne. 7/10

Petyr: Smolyk (Outer Battery Records)

When you live in California the kind of psych-heavy proto-metal that Petyr play has always been associated with bearded, long hair skater dudes. It's the sort of music that begs for fat joints and half-pipes as the fuzzy rocking vibes pump out of your stereo. Petyr probably have closer links to the skateboarding community than other bands as they fronted by renowned street skater Riley Hawk who is the son of the the legendary Tony Hawk. When he's not shredding up a storm on the streets of Cali he's the frontman of Petyr his voice reverebing over the the stoner rock riffs brought by him and the band.

The echoes of Sabbath and Cali godfathers Earthless are clear to see with the songs full of elongated jams, swirling feedback, shamanic chants and guitar solo freak outs, Smolyk fully encapsulates the Cali skate scene through it's musical expression and a commitment to the stoner rock scene in general. Pair this album with the new offering from The Sword and you'll have the ultimate soundtrack to your next session (be it on the halfpipe or the hash pipe). 7/10 

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Reviews: Son Of Kush, Pungent Stench, Skin Deep, Heartwind, Crystal Ball (Reviews By Paul H)

Son Of Kush: Pathfinder (Sky Hammer Records)

One of several musical outlets that involve Thoth Atlantean (others include Sanctum, Atlantis and Thunderhoof), this release under the Son Of Kush moniker is a bludgeoning serving of death and doom metal. Think Amon Amarth meets Arch Enemy and then throw the massive riffs of Candlemass into the mix and you’ll be on the right track. It’s a meaty seven-track release, which will get heads nodding and necks stretching. Thunderous bass and drums combine to envelope the tracks with a thunderclap worthy of Thor’s hammer, although I’m mixing my mythology here as Thoth Atlantean was an immortal Egyptian magician.

Taking all the mythology out of the picture, Pathfinder is a blisteringly good listen, with some stunning guitar work, masses of death growls and sufficient hooks to grab you by the lapels. Stand out tracks are the two lengthier beasts; the dark and brooding Doomed To Stone and the Nicko McBrain drumming style of Eternal Sacred Pyres. I’m not usually a fan of the multi-instrumentalist who churns it all out, but this is one savage beast of a release. 8/10

Pungent Stench: Smut Kingdom (Dissonance Productions)

Confusion reigned as to whether legendary Austrian death metal outfit Pungent Stench were active. Their last release, Ampeauty, arrived over 14 years ago but suddenly the band’s Facebook page, run by vocalist and guitarist El Cochino, sprung into life and Smut Kingdom has now appeared. From what I understand, and I may be wrong, Smut Kingdom may not be a “new” album but rather unreleased recordings from as far back as 2007.

Whatever the case, for fans of the band, who obviously have been out of focus for many years, this is a pleasing release, full of gnarly death metal that made the band such icons. From the first riffs of Aztec Holiday to the grinding pulsing doom of final song Planet Of The Dead, Smut Kingdom should make most death metal fans very happy. 7/10

Skin Deep: New Life (Self Released)

Hailing from the South West of England, Skin Deep is a four-piece hard rock outfit whose sound is based almost on entirely on Metallica, with elements of more melodic rock outfits like Godsmack and even Shinedown thrown in. New Life is a perfectly competent release, with some decent songs but there is little here to spark the interest for any length of time. The chunky riffs will be welcomed by those who like their rock delivered in a straightforward manner.

Listening to New Life I was reminded of fellow South West outfit King Creature, a band that really do possess an excitement that is sadly absent here.  The seven-minute centrepiece Hollow starts well but becomes rather routine by midway, and other tracks, for example Blood On My Hands and Hard To Get are just too close to Hetfield and Co to stimulate. Unfortunately, rather unremarkable. 5/10


Heartwind: Higher And Higher (AOR Heaven)

More melodic rock from the AOR Heaven label. This time it is Swedish outfit Heartwind, which comprises members of Constansia, Token, Essence Of Sorrow and Narnia amongst others. The album is the brainchild of guitarist Goran Engvall and keyboardist Mikael Rosengren who after 15 years of friendship began developing songs in the vein that they wanted to hear. Sourcing their inspiration from some of the classic AOR of the 1980s, Whitesnake and Def Leppard amongst others, they invited numerous guests to help complete the project. What you get is absolute typical melodic rock which would get you burnt at the stake at Bloodstock but would be an absolute success at HRH AOR and the likes.

Every AOR cliché and style is delivered in bombastic style, huge production from Frederick Folkare and mastered by Erik Martensson (Eclipse, WET and Ammunition) ensuring that every song is completely overblown and polished to within an inch of its life. Ballads, such as the awful One Night Away From You are in plentiful supply. It’s about as limp wristed as you would expect, conjuring up images of poodle perms and posturing which belongs on 1988 MTV. Still, if you like your rock weaker than a kitten, you might just find this particularly endearing. 5/10

Crystal Ball: Crystallizer (Massacre Records)

Switzerland: home of dubious bank accounts, cuckoo clocks, Toblerone and world war neutrality. We can add that the home of some really dodgy hard rock and I can add to that pile with this offering from Crystal Ball. This really is a pile of steaming horse shit, and I think that is unfair on the equine output. I should have known when I read that they were initially known as Cherry Pie that I was in for a Warrant sized eye fucking but nothing could quite prepare for the diarrhoea splatter that confronted me. Gentleman’s Agreement, the astonishingly abysmal ballad Let Her Go With Love and the laughable Beauty In The Beast should all be confined to the bowels of hell.

Routinely written, dull as a magnolia painted wall and about as inspiring as a Conservative party broadcast, it was no surprise to find Tony Castell, ex-Krokus involved. The real stinker though is vocalist Steven Magney, whose singing is horrible, an inability to hold a note and blessed with a croak that sounds like Mark Tornillo’s worst bottom burps. This is utterly insipid and the only question I have left is how the fuck has this band persuaded Stefan Kauffmann (ex-Accept) to produce more than one of their releases. Utter drivel and in pole position for the crock of shit award of the year. 1/10

Saturday, 12 May 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Desertfest 2018 - Friday (Live Review By Paul S)

Desertfest 2018 - Friday, Camden, London

I should start this review with a confession. When I went to Desertfest, I wasn’t aware that I was going to be writing a review of the day. I was asked to review it whilst watching Napalm Death (My bad - Ed). If I’d known I was going to be reviewing Friday at Desertfest, I would have made notes, planned to see as many bands as possible and been aware of who I was watching. So, as doing a proper professional sounding review isn’t really an option, I’m going to try and do a Hunter S Thompson gonzo style review of my day (although without the drug and alcohol fuelled lunacy, bit skint this month) .

My Friday started early with a bus to London. I could only afford a one day ticket to Desertfest (bit skint this month), so I chose the Friday as there were 4 bands I really wanted to see, one of which I considered to be essential. Once I’d got to Camden and turned my ticket into a wrist band, I popped into the Underworld to see Old Man Lizard (7). They played a nice set of relaxed, groovy stoner doom to an appreciative audience. It was a nice start, but I left a little early so I could get over to The Electric Ballroom to see Winterfylleth (one of the 4 bands I was down there to see).

Winterfylleth had had to move their early evening slot to the opening slot, so they could get a ferry to France for another festival. The Electric Ballroom was packed, considering it was 3 O’clock on a Friday afternoon. Winterfylleth (9) played a storming set of their brand of melancholy atmospheric black metal. The setlist was culled from their entire career, but without anything from their new acoustic album The Hallowing Of Heirdom. For obvious reasons they avoided that material as they were doing an electric set, but using one of the tracks as an intro track was a nice move. They played a great set, and seemed genuinely moved that so many people had come out to see them.

Next, I went back to the Underworld to see Black Moth (8). A lot of other people had also had the same idea, and the Underworld was rammed. It was one of those situations where no matter where you stand you are constantly in someones way. The 3 songs I saw were great. Tuneful, melodic doom with great vocals. The audience really enjoyed what I saw of the set, however the heat in the venue, combined with the fact that I hadn’t eaten since I left home combined to make me feel quite lightheaded, so I left to get some air and some food.

After sorting myself out with a Beanburger meal, I had a look at what was going on at The Black Heart. I saw a band playing instrumental stoner doom. I’d love to tell you who they were, but I don’t know. I stayed for about 10 minutes before being driven out by the heat. Whilst cooling down on a flight of steps near the Black Heart, I spent about 30 minutes talking to a Camden resident, who wanted to know what was going on. She described herself as an old punk, so was looking for information, rather than complaining. Had a pleasant break from hot venues, talking about music.

Next I went back to The Electric Ballroom, as the rest of the bands I’d bought the ticket for were playing at that venue. It was lucky that I did that as I managed to catch the second half of Five The Hierophant’s set. Five The Hierophant (8) are a name I’ve been aware of for several years, but have never heard. They played a set of heavy, groovy instrumental doom, where a saxophone took the place of lead vocals (which worked really well). The band were in monks robes, with a video of Fire being played behind them, giving their set a real feeling of a ritual, or religious ceremony. I really enjoyed their set, and am now keen to check out some of their albums. Love discovering new bands at festivals, and Five The Hierophants are a great discovery.

Next up, were Eyehategod (9), another of the 4 bands I was at the festival to see. I was there early, so I got a place right up against the crowd control barriers. By the time Eyehategod exploded onto the stage, The Electric Ballroom was pretty much full, and the audience went nuts. The set was incredibly chaotic and intense. A huge moshpit erupted as soon as the first song started, and I was crushed into the barriers. Unfortunately for me I was next to a check shirt and trucker cap wearing moron, who wanted to occupy my space as well as the space he already had. Once I started to get the urge to elbow him in the throat, I decided to move back and to the side, as I didn’t want to get into a fight with a dickhead (if you allow yourself to be goaded into fight by a dickhead, you have automatically lost). I watched the second half of the set from further back, and really enjoyed it. The band were on form, Mike (who was looking really healthy) had lots of banter with the audience, and they sounded huge. I had such a great time, I bought a T-shirt! (Truly been there and done that then - Ed)

Before Warning (10), this was the band I considered essential, I popped out to the Burger Bar next door for a nice, and considering it was London, quite cheap (bit skint this month) veggie burger. I went straight back in so I could get a spot up the front for Warning and saw their sound check. Warning’s set was their seminal 2006 album Watching From A Distance. The album has been incredibly influential, and is one of my favourite albums. It’s an album that tends to have an effect on people, I’ve never met anyone who thought it was OK, you either love it, or don’t get it. There was a decent number of people in the audience, and the love they had for Warning was palpable. I sang every word of the album back at the band, and I think just most of the other people in the audience did the same.

This is the second to last performance Warning will be doing (one more set at Hellfest, then they are calling it a day), and you could feel that this was something special, in particular Bridges was sublime, not a dry eye in the place. We made so much noise at the end of each song, the band seemed to be taken aback at the reaction they received. No other metal band are loved the way Warning are loved. At the end of their set the crowd stayed in front of the stage, rather than heading off to see other bands (as had happened at the end of all the other bands I saw), we didn’t want it to end, no-one left until the band had all left the stage. Although, Warning's set was beautiful and emotionally charged, although I enjoyed it immensely, I felt like crying as I knew I would never see them live again. The only consolation, is that we still have 40 Watt Sun, and can continue to hear Patrick Walker’s amazing, beautiful songs. I’m so glad I made the effort to see this band, one of the best live sets I have ever seen. 

Next up were the last the band I’d gone down to see; Napalm Death (9). I’ve seen Napalm Death many times before, and I’ve never seen them do a bad set. Friday at Desertfest was no different. They blew the roof off The Electric Ballroom. Savage, blistering grindcore played by a band that are in their element live. Barney was in great form, joking about finding slow songs to fit in with the Desertfest ethos “a little tricky”. Their set was culled from all over their 30 year plus career. Several tracks from their new rarities compilation Coded Smears And More Uncommon Slurs, 3 tracks from their fist album Scum, and even an Anti Cimex cover.

The band had an immense amount of energy, which in turn energised the audience into forming a massive pit. Really loved this set, I think it was the best set I’ve seen Napalm Death play. An absolutely perfect end to the day. After Napalm Death, I caught the tube to Victoria, for my 4 and a half hour bus journey (couldn’t afford the train, bit skint this month) back to Cardiff (the battery on my iPod lasted all the way home as well!). I had a great time at the Friday at Desertfest. Hopefully I’ll get to go for the whole weekend next year.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Reviews: Parkway Drive, Agrona, Mask Of Judas, Trevor's Head

Parkway Drive: Reverence (Epitaph Records)

Having made their mark outside their native Australia with Deep Blue, metalcore mob Parkway Drive have been riding a wave of popularity that saw them reach the crest with their previous record, the victorious Ire. That record cemented them as one of the metal acts of the future skilfully mixing extremity with classic sounding influences and the addition of clean vocals, a first for the band. After this though the band dealt with death, grief and according to vocalist Winston McCall it has made Reverence a more aggressive album than its predecessor. On the immediate thud of tech-metal sounding Wishing Wells you can understand what he means.

Flowing clean lead guitars are hinged on chunky grooves and the breakdown at the end reaffirms their lot as a metalcore band. That is of course until Prey which has a power metal gallop to it sounding a like a fusion of Avatar or Amon Amarth, it’s an arena filler make no mistake and even has Jia O’Connors’ bass high in the mix, which would make Steve Harris proud. From here on out the metalcore is thin on the ground as Parkway Drive have metamorphosed into something wholly more melodic and arena beating.

With religion in the crosshairs throughout Parkway Drive’s sixth record has seen them crawl through the river of shit and come out cleaner on the other side, Absolute Power is a rage fuelled stomp while Cemetery Bloom is the first instance of them breaking away from the anger for more sombre, emotive musical styles although they continue to open fire with I Hope You Rot a track that takes Rob Flynn an co on at their own game. McCall’s vocals on this record are the best he’s done; you can hear the maturity as he can easily take spoken word sermons into throat shredding guttural roars with ease, he’s even got a sick bar or two on Shadow Boxing. I’ve seen there has been quite a bit of negativity towards this record (with one reviewer slating it) personally I love it, it’s the sort of album Parkway Drive have threatened to make since Deep Blue and it cements them as future headliner managing to build on their aggressive metalcore roots but it moves away from them enough to give them wider appeal.

Think of it in the same category of Slipknot’s Vol.3 this will be the record that will take them to the next level, it’s not as instant or euphoric as Ire was but after a few plays Reverence opens up into a record that is the beginning of the next chapter for these Aussie heavy hitters. 9/10

Agrona: Realm Of The Fallen (UKEM Records)

Having finally managed to get my hands on the debut album from Cardiff blackened metal merchants Agrona, released through the UKEM label, guys who know a thing or too about extreme metal. I proceeded to play it multiple times at very high volume and I can truly say that after numerous line up shuffles and honing their (witch)craft on stages across the land the quality of this record is astounding. The finalised line up includes three guitarists, two (sometimes more) vocalists and the now widely expected symphonics making Realm Of The Fallen tour-de-force of epic proportions.

The intro builds the electricity with choirs and chants before the storming The Treacherous Dead starts, it's got furious shredding as you'd expect but the triple guitars of  Aeron, Arawn and Phoenix mean that there's a certain density to the riffs that other bands struggle with, listen to the final part where the track broadens out into a crunchy stomp but with fluid leads behind it. On The Treacherous Dead though, the drumming of Ankou is what hooks you in, the syncopated blast-beats giving way to a deafening bang of a gong to shift the pace.

Speaking of shifting pace Apotheosis proceeds to bludgeon you after the progressive styled opener with just traditional black metal fury, not much orchestration is needed here just a rampaging rhythm section as Ankou and low end beast Kreulon. With a break at the mid-section for the spirits to be beckoned as it ramps up again. The playing is brilliant the rhythms section is as tight as a lifeguards Speedos, the guitar playing alternates between searing flesh stripping shredding, stylish solos and even some acoustic segments. Everything here works in sinful harmony with no part detracting from another, even the vocals of Taranis which are akin to bawling of Abbadon himself are clear enough for you to pick out every cursed syllable.

There's rarely a let up in the abuse Burn is a very progressive number with multiple changes all enveloped by evil, following on from Burn is the groovy rumbling beginning of Storms End which returns to blistering form for the rest of the song bringing a maelstrom of mania as Democratus' Steve Jenkins gives a guest performance. As the album progresses the vocal assault builds with Adara adding spectral shrieks making a re-appearance on the closing vortex of Summoning The Void which is the final clarion cry for these devilish denizens of the darker plains. Released in close proximity to the new Dimmu Borgir record Agrona have drawn from them Behemoth, Mayhem and many of the shining lights in black(end) metal, it's a brilliantly realised debut from a band who have become one of the best on the South Wales scene. Get ready to enter The Realm Of The Fallen, you'll never want to return. 9/10

Mask Of Judas: The Mesmerist (Self Released)

Describe The Mesmerist in one word? Chunky. UK tech-metal act Mask Of Judas are an incredibly heavy technically impressive band where the stars of the show are YouTube guitar star Sam Bell who plays an 8-String guitar meaning that the riffs come with complex shredding that can be likened to Meshuggah and Protest The Hero due to his musical dexterity the songs are chock full of jazz-timings, funk rhythms as well as vicious metal. It's Bell's leads that make this album so damn thrilling to listen to, darting between genres and soundscapes like a Hummingbird in a flower garden, the heaviness comes from the remaining members of the band, Jof Walsh (drums), George Bell (bass) and Reece Fullwood (guitar) who provide the thick, fat grooves for Bell to lay down his stunning leads.

You may think that by talking about the instrumentalism that there aren't any vocals but there are and Jo Challen must have one of the best voices in the business today, she has a strong clean that can even move into operatic highs at points but she has polarity in her voice that means she can howl with the gruffness Angela Gossow could never match in places she could scare the pants of a deathcore singer. The Mesmerist has an almost scientific level of musicianship and vocals that shatter the skull, for those of a tech-metal persuasion it'll have you hardcore dancing in the aisles. 8/10 

Trevor’s Head: Soma Holiday (APF Records)

I don’t know who the titular Trevor is but if Soma Holiday is an indication of what’s going on inside his head then he’ll be having the mother of all migraines. The band the bear his name play fuzz drenched desert punk, the sleazy trio have gone through several changes in their career but since their 2016 release Tricolossus they have been stomping the boards across the UK as a rough and ready three piece that features shouted, rough vocals from all three as they kick out the jams on their respective instruments.

It’s more than your normal guitar/bass/drums though as they add some flute to I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better and tribalist percussion on Departed. Made up of Roger Atkins (guitar), Matt Ainsworth (drums/keys/flute) and Aaron Strachan (bass) this third album by Trevor’s Head is a whirlwind of styles that range from Soundgarden heft on Ghost, to snot nosed punk on Boomeranxiety and Kyuss-like space rock on Welcome (The Unburdened). Critically the vocals will divide any listeners as I did find them to be the weakest part of the record but if stoner garage punk riffs are what you crave then get inside Trevor’s Head. 6/10

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Lionize & Planet Of Zeus (Live Review By Paul H)

Lionize and Planet Of Zeus, The Fleece, Bristol

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of the Washington DC outfit Lionize. Their back catalogue reeks of awesomeness, with their 2017 album Nuclear Soul easily the standout release of last year for me. Their set at Bloodstock was another 2017 highlight, with their powerful blend of hard rock, reggae and numerous other musical ingredients hitting all the right notes with me. To make things even better, the tickets for the gig had been provided by frontman Nate Bergman, who had corresponded personally with me after the order of Nuclear Soul had been delayed. The tickets were an unnecessary but superb compensation for a band who take their fan base very seriously.

This tour was billed as a co-headline with Greek stoner rockers Planet Of Zeus, another band who go down very well in these parts and who have bludgeoned their way through Bristol several times before. The bands are obviously rotating the slots and tonight it was Bristol who got Lionize up first. With both bands sticking to their advertised slots to the minute, the Fleece, one of my favourite venues in the entire UK was slowly filling as Lionize (10) kicked off with Face Of Mars, one of several tracks from Nuclear Soul. With Nate in fine form, his sequined leisure suit sparkling from a distance and maybe suffering a little from the collective aroma of the nightly use (certainly for those of us on the barrier a light hum was detected), it was bassist Henry ‘Hank’ Upton who was causing the frowns, his bass and vocals low in the mix for much of the evening, much to his displeasure.

With stand in drummer Tobias Strandvik from Swedish band Kamchatka not missing a beat, Lionize ripped through their allotted hour in breathless style. Chris Brooks’ soul filled keyboards once again underpinning everything the band did. Brooks is one of the real dynamos in the band, his unassuming style in contrast to his frantic finger work and harmonious backing vocals. Once Hank had got a satisfactory sound he moved into the more usual frenetic bass work we’ve come to expect, his dexterity combining with Tobias to cement the sound. But it was hard to take eyes of Nate, his sublime guitar work, fine vocals and all-round enthusiasm making it impossible not to warm to. Shedding his Les Paul for Election Year and Blindness To Danger, he became even more animated, in true Neil Fallon style before ripping it up one last time on the enormous Fire In Athena. Another magnificent show from a truly underrated band.

Following such an impressive set wasn’t going to be easy but Athenians Planet of Zeus (8) didn’t appear to mind one bit as they roared through a thumping loud set which left the ears ringing. The volume appeared to have been cranked up even higher and contributed to a slightly muffled sound. It didn’t stop Planet Of Zeus, who were roared on by a good number of Greeks in the audience. The band’s no-nonsense stoner rock doesn’t resonate as easily with me as their co-headliners but rip-roaring tracks such as Loyal To The Pack certainly sufficient meat filling. Somewhat static on the admittedly smallish stage, the band certainly were the heavier of the two outfits, with the duel guitar work of vocalist Babis Papanikolaou and Stelios Provis adding heft to the proceedings. With their set whizzing past in a blur, all that was left was for me to reflect on a superb evening and to marvel at two bands who are worth every penny, every time.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Reviews: Candlemass, My Indigo, Sons Of Alpha Centauri, Noisepicker (Reviews By Paul H)

Candlemass: Hand Of Doom EP (Napalm Records)

13 minutes of new Candlemass; a mere teaser for the long awaited long player due later in the year. Of course, Hand Of Doom is the soundtrack to the Leif Edling’s new on-line game which takes the player into a world of extreme style heavy metal despair, dread and impending doom. So, just like the world that Candlemass, the godfathers of doom have been delivering for over 30 years then.

Regardless of the game, this four-track release certainly contains everything I want from the Swedes. Colossal frenzied riffs, minor key song writing, dripping with melancholy and heavier than a suitcase full of anvils. Flowers Of Deception edges it for me, the six-minute rollercoaster than thunders along before easing to a demonic bass line that defers to more gigantic riffs. With Mats Levén firmly in the frontman seat, the band are now working in perfect harmony. Hand Of Doom is a monster. Can’t wait for the new album. 9/10

My Indigo: My Indigo (BMG)

Dutch symphonic  metallers Within Temptation take a back seat for a while as lead singer Sharon Den Adel’s debut release takes centre stage. A beautifully crafted album, it’s about as far removed from her usual associated sound as could be. Full of enchanting melodies, deliciously light and gentle vocals and a low-key delivery which works spectacularly well.

Repeated plays allow this stunning 38 minutes to rest and dissolve in total delectation. Hardly a riff in sight or sound, the alt-pop sound is perfect and moves Den Adel to a new level. Tracks such as Black Velvet Sun, with its haunting piano accompaniment drip with emotion. A gorgeously different release. 9/10

Sons Of Alpha Centauri: Continuum (H42 Records)

It’s been a long time since we heard much from Kent based quartet Sons Of Alpha Centauri. Their debut release arrived in 2007, and although the band planned to deliver their sophomore release around 2009, its taken substantially longer before Continuum has finally arrived. Formed in 2001 by Nick Hannon and Marlon King, the alt-rock instrumentalists have not been idle, and this 40-minute epic introspective journey of abrasive and ambient electronic fuelled music is worth the decade or so of wait. Solar Storm contains superb distortion driven guitar work from King, whilst the overall sound has blended heavier elements into a darker reflection than the joint tones of dark and light that pervaded through their debut.

With the same personnel on board, King and Hannon joined once more by Blake on textures and electronica and Stevie B drums, the work is intricate, throwing together a rich tapestry of sounds which cross genres and styles to create a worthy sequel to 2007’s self-titled release, with comparisons inevitably focusing on the progressive giants such as Rush, Floyd and Yes. Produced, engineered and mixed by Aarron Harris of post-metal icons ISIS, Continuum weaves a magical spell. Interstellar, dark and brooding, contrasts with the more upbeat feel of the bass driven Io. I knew little about this band before I heard this release. If you don’t know them, the ambient and introspective interludes which cascade through the release are certainly worth checking out. 8/10

Noisepicker: Peace Off (Exile On Mainstream)

Harry Armstrong has been around the rock world for many years. Many readers will know him best from The Earls of Mars, Jazz-rock lunacy who were always crazy live. Together with undiscovered drummer Kieran Murphy, Armstrong has now delivered a filthy, gnarly blues-soaked debut to follow on from 2017’s Doom/punk/blues EP. Armstrong’s howling, gruff delivery is ably matched by his fuzzy, trusty Fender Stratocaster whilst Murphy hammers seven shades of shit out of his kit. It’ a gritty, raw release, with tracks such as A Taste Of My Dying, opener No Man Lies Blameless and the QOTSA style Burn The Witch all leaving a memorable imprint. No doubt Noisepicker will be on the festival circuit this year. Worth a look. 7/10

Monday, 7 May 2018

Reviews: Thy Catafalque, Voidthrone, Cokegoat/Barren Heir, Suum (Reviews By Paul S)

Thy Catafalque: Geometriam (Season Of Mist)

This is Thy Catafalque’s 8th album. The band, originally from Hungary are now based in Scotland, play a very avant-garde, experimental form of black metal. Although, any black metal orthodoxy was dropped years ago. Thy Catafalque take the same approach to black metal as Sigh, Solafald or Enslaved. Don’t misunderstand me, they don't sound like those other bands, but they approach songwriting in the same way. They are happy to use a myriad of different influences from all around the musical globe and mould them together seamlessly. Apart from the metal on offer here, the main influence seems to be intelligent electronic music. There are some drum & bass influences on display that are very reminiscent of The Omni Trio or early Ronnie Size.

Jazz is also a big part of the sound of this album, with some very interesting saxophone and violin work. The album also moves into some eastern European folk territory. All the different styles of music are handled with aplomb, songs morph from one style to another without any of the transitions feeling jarring or out of place. When this album does get heavy, the riffs are huge and very memorable. But, they aren't overbearing and always compliment the non-metal parts. Most of the time the heavy parts are used to add power and drive to the songs. I loved this album the first time I listened to it. I’ve since discovered that the album is a grower, and am rapidly becoming obsessed with it. Give it a month, and I’ll be forming a religion called ‘Thy Catafalqueism”. If you are an open minded black metal fan with a love of experimental, interesting music, then this could be your new favourite album. Sublime. 9/10

Voidthrone: Kur (Self Released)

Voidthrone formed in 2016, Kur is their second album (on their bandcamp, they refer to this as a full length album, but at 4 tracks and 25 minutes it feels more like an ep). Voidthrone play a particularly nasty form of suffocating black metal. Very ‘Necro’ production helps this album feel viscous and evil. In places it feels a little like DSKNT’s album Phsphr Entropy, one of my top 10 albums from last year. This is not for the faint-hearted, dense, jarring riffs, thundering drums and really nasty vocals. Lots of black metal bands try to sound evil and malicious, Voidthrone actually manage it. Kur is a 25 minute blast that strips the skin from your face, and kicks you in the bollocks while you are trying to find your eyeballs.If you like real black metal, that is extreme, while also being disquieting and foreboding, then this album is for you. 8/10.

Cokegoat / Barren Heir: Split (Self Released)

Split LP from Cokegoat and Barren Heir. The 2 Chicago based bands team up for this split release. Side A features 4 tracks from doom / stoner band Coakgoat. This is powerful mid-paced doom, with a bit of a black metal feel, some of the tracks reminded me of Nidingr, or early Helheim. The tracks are taut and aggressive, but with pleasing melodies to them, and with a few progressive elements, that keep everything interesting.

Barren Heir’s side has 2 longer tracks of slow discordant doom/sludge, which I found to be quite reminiscent of Birmingham band Opium Lord. Slow and oppressive, but with some interesting blues tinged guitar work. The 2 tracks have some faster tremolo picked passages that work well with the slower parts. Both tracks have depth, and are a very rewarding listening experience.

Both bands compliment each other, so this split does not have that jarring feeling that some splits have. This is an enjoyable listen, I look forward to hearing more from these two bands.  7/10

SuuM: Buried Into the Grave (Endless Winter)

Suum are a traditional occult doom band from Italy. Buried into the grave is their first album, and features 7 tracks of detuned, tritone doom. The main frames of reference here are pentagram, and maybe a little Mercyful Fate, particularly in the vocals, which are very dramatic. Do I need to say they sound a like Black Sabbath? No, you’ve probably already worked that out. Great riffs, enjoyable melodies, and fun vocals. There is absolutely nothing groundbreaking about this album. It brings practical nothing new to the table. But, when it’s done this well, do you really need anything new? Solid, enjoyable Doom. 7/10 

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Reviews: At The Gates, Ihshan, Angelus Apatrida, Tons (Reviews By Rich)

At The Gates: To Drink From The Night Itself (Century Media)

Swedish melodic death metal masters At The Gates are back with their sixth album To Drink From The Night Itself which is also their second album post-reformation. It is also the first album to be recorded since the departure of founding member Anders Björler. Considering the effect and influence that At The Gates have had on extreme metal it is safe to say a new album comes with very high expectations and I think that fans are going to be divided over To Drink From The Night Itself. Those of you expecting Slaughter Of The Soul Part 2 will be disappointed as this is not a straightforward catchy melodic death metal release such as the aforementioned classic album. 

To Drink From The Night Itself definitely has more in common with earlier works such as The Red In The Sky Is Ours and With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness and has the complex and twisted song structures those albums are known for. It sounds like a cross between those early albums and the streamlined sound found on Terminal Spirit Disease, Slaughter Of The Soul and At War With Reality. This does mean that it's an album that demands your attention as the riffs and melodies are not as straightforward and memorable as to be expected. For those who can spare the time and attention To Drink From The Night Itself is a fantastic melodic death metal album that 100% sounds like At The Gates. 

The distinctive bark come shriek of frontman Tomas Lindberg sounds as good as ever and new guitarist Jonas Stålhammar sits very comfortably alongside longtime guitarist Martin Larsson to form a formidable guitar duo. The songs on To Drink From The Night Itself are some of the most complex material the band have penned for years but there are some definite highlights including the fearsome title track, Palace Of Lepers, In Nameless Sleep, The Colours Of The Beast and A Labyrinth Of Tombs.

At The Gates have with To Drink From The Night Itself produced an album which sounds legitimately like At The Gates but is a far more complex and mature affair which may have a polarizing effect on some of their fanbase. As said above if you have the time to invest in repeat listens of this album then you have a rewarding listening experience ahead of you. I'm personally very happy with this album and am very much looking forward to hearing some of the new material performed at Bloodstock Open Air this year. 8/10

Ihsahn: Ámr (Spinefarm Records)

Ever since the release of his first solo album back in 2006, Emperor frontman Ihsahn has been viewed as one of the most consistent and inspiring musicians within the progressive metal genre. Five albums later and Ihsahn is ready to blow our minds again with his sixth album Ámr. It's safe to say that no one of Ihsahn's solo albums has been the same with each having their own sound, identity and feel and Ámr is no exception with a more streamlined songwriting approach (no songs exceeds the 6 minute mark) and also a greater emphasis on use of keyboards. It seems the analogue synth revival has caught on even with Ihsahn with a prevalent use of retro sounding synthesisers throughout the album. 

The songs are a diverse bunch from the synth drenched apocalyptic dirge of opener Lend Me The Eyes Of The Millenia to the softer and somber tones of Sámr and the schizophrenic nature of Marble Soul. All instruments and vocals apart from the drums are performed by Ihsahn himself and special mention must go to his clean vocals which have never sounded better. Drums are performed by Tobias Ørnes Andersen (formerly of Leprous) who does an absolutely sterling job. You also get Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth popping up to provide a guest guitar solo on Arcana Imperii

Ámr is another fine release in the Ihsahn discography which sees him delve into other musical avenues and provide a diverse and eclectic bunch of songs that should definitely please fans of his previous solo albums. Ihsahn continues to be a driving force in progressive and experimental metal. 8/10

Angelus Apatrida: Cabaret De La Guillotine (Century Media)
Spanish thrashers Angelus Apatrida return with their sixth album Cabaret De La Guillotine. Angelus Apatrida have always been one of the most prolific bands in the 2000's thrash resurgence and they prove their worth with another great thrash album.

As with their previous albums Angelus Apatrida have mastered their own brand of thrash which as well as being fast and aggressive is plentiful in melodies and catchiness. This is most evident in Sharpen The Guillotine, Betrayed and Farewell which as well as containing raging thrashing sections also incorporate strong melodic choruses with impressive clean vocals from frontman Guillermo Izquierdo. Farewell especially channels the bands melodic sensibilities with its pseudo-ballad structure and melodic lead guitar playing. You also get some pounding thrashers on the album such as Ministry Of God, Downfall Of The Nation and One Of Us.

Angelus Apatrida have provided another strong thrashing album. I would say it does start to trail off quality wise towards the end with The Die Is Cast and Witching Hour feeling like filler more than anything but these weaker tracks are overshadowed by the albums strengths. If you after an album with strong melodies but also the ability to wreck your neck then you can go no wrong with Cabaret De La Guillotine. 8/10

Tons: Filthy Flowers Of Doom (HPS Records)

Tons are a doom/sludge metal band from Italy and Filthy Flowers Of Doom is the second album from the band. Filthy Flowers Of Doom does exactly what it says on the tin and is a dirty album of sludge crusted doom. Filthy Flowers Of Doom is packed full of riffs from the classic doom inspired to more NOLA inspired sludge riffs with plenty of power and groove. A strong loud production ensures these songs come crashing out of your speakers with maximum impact. 

Gargantuan riffs combined with the throat shredding vocals of frontman Paolo ensure an abrasive listening experience. Tons aren't reinventing the wheel by any means but are paying homage to the music they love and doing a damn good job at it. If you love the heavier end of doom then this is an album that you should be adding to your playlist immediately. 7/10

Reviews: Kobra And The Lotus, LIK, Monsternaut, Digital Criminals (Reviews By Paul)

Kobra and The Lotus: Prevail II (Napalm Records)

Prevail II is the follow up to 2017’s Prevail I, which was a solid release from the Canadian metallers. Prevail II builds superbly on that fourth album. It is an accomplished superbly constructed album that sees Kobra Paige delivering the performance of her career. Tracks such as My Immortal, the thunderously heavy Human Empire and the pop-rock of Heartache all hit the spot. Vocally, Paige steps into the premier league of female metal singers with this album; symphonic, powerfully controlled and always soaring high and bright, there is a real passion which has been unleashed.

With her band a settled unit and really able to let loose, this should be the springboard for the band to move forward. An interesting cover of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain and an acoustic version of Let Me Love You provide a glimpse of the versatility that the band now possess. This is without doubt the best release of their career. 8/10

LIK: Carnage (Metal Blade Records)

Possessing a real old school death metal flavour which recalls Entombed and Dismember along with the crunching vocals of Max Cavalera, LIK’s second release is a storming 36 minutes of flesh peeling, face melting and top-drawer metal. The underlying groove of Celebration Of The Twisted, complete with thunderous drumming contrasts with the more straightforward assault of the delightful Rid You Of Your Flesh. The band features live Bloodbath and Katatonia guitarist Tomas Akvik, drummer Chris Barkensjö and guitarist Niklas Sandin and these three pull out all the stops. Crunchingly heavy, this is a slab of brutality that is as subtle as sandpaper dragged across your bleeding wounds. Essential stuff. 8/10

Monsternaut: Enter The Storm (Heavy Psych Sounds)

I wasn’t familiar with Monsternaut prior to giving Enter The Storm a listen. What we have is a 12-track getaway in the Finnish tundra. Their second album, this beast is full of fuzzy, sludgy and heavy groove. Similar to the likes of Fu Manchu, CoC and the whole NOLA scene, Enter The Storm is simply a gargantuan heavy, stoner ride from beginning to end. Formed in 2012 by Tuomas Heiskanen and Perttu Härkönen, later to be joined by a garbage collecting angry man Jani Kuusela, the band demonstrate in their music their passion for the 90s heavy/stoner rock. Adding in the desert feel of early QOTSA and Kyuss and you get the picture. It’s not at all retro though and feels current despite the clear historical influences. With a pace that changes regularly, this is no ponderous sludge fest and the best is saved to last with the seven-minute space ride of Swallowed By The Earth totally absorbing. 7/10

Digital Criminals: Hell Yeah (Self Released)

A female fronted alt-pop punk band from Pontypool, Hell Yeah is their 3rd EP. Fronted by the feisty Emily Bates, this is a fiery five-track release which contains more hooks than an angler’s box. Their live show is apparently particularly energetic, and it comes through loud and proud here with the title track and the opening Just Jump impressive. Solid but never dull, Digital Criminals have a source of infection which does not require a cure. 7/10

Saturday, 5 May 2018

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

Skindred, Brixton Academy

Whilst some in the metal community view the hybrid ragga metal of Newport’s finest with disdain, the band remain a tour de force in the live arena. A packed Brixton Academy roared their approval through the whole of this three-band show.

I’d heard bits and pieces of Canadian trio Danko Jones (7) but had never caught the band live before. Their typical humour and no-nonsense heads down rock n roll was ideal, their opening 35 minutes greeted warmly by the swelling crowd. Front man Danko Jones is a ball of energy, riffing it up whilst his band mates John 'JC' Calabrese (bass guitar) and Rich Knox (drums) provided able support.

I must admit that CKY (6) has never caught my attention. Sure, I was aware of their presence, but the skateboarding Jackass Margera connection was always unlikely to get me interested. A fuzzy sound didn’t help matters but that didn’t bother most of the Academy who were totally engaged with the Pennsylvanian outfit. Mixing older material with a couple of tracks of their latest release, 2017’s The Phoenix, the three-piece bludgeoned their way through 40 minutes, concluding with a ferocious cover of GG Allin’s Bite It You Scum. Plenty of enthusiasm, but little that I saw will have me rushing to explore their catalogue.

I’ve seen Skindred (9) on numerous occasions, probably around 14-15 times, and witnessed the band evolve from small club venues to dominant main stage festival performances. Nowadays the band have a swagger that deservedly comes from all those years of honing their live performance and they commanded the stage at Brixton with ease. Benji Webbe plays the ringmaster perfectly, cajoling and encouraging whilst always showing a humility which acknowledges the band’s roots. A 75 minute-set was spot on, with a liberal sprinkling of new songs from the decent Big Tings mixed with tracks from their previous releases. The new material was impressive live, with That’s My Jam and Machine particularly striking. The return of Roots Rock Riot, 10 years since it was released was welcomed by the older fans, and the laughter and joy around the venue as the band closed out with the ‘Newport Helicopter’ during Warning never gets tired. How they will ever drop it is beyond me. Skindred's live show remains a thing of beauty. They are consummate performers who have earned their success.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Reviews: Skindred, Godsmack, Riversea, On Parole

Skindred: Big Tings (Napalm)

I wasn't so fussed on De 'Dreds last record Volume, I thought it was a little bit too ambitious aiming the songs at the more mainstream arena than sticking to their roots. Happily it seems that Benji Webb and his motley crew noticed this as Big Tings opens with the fuzzed up title track which has the offbeat guitar riffs of Mikey Dermus (and a lead break) it's a rocker that sets things El Fuego, it's also followed by the groove laden That's My Jam which has great use of Benji's harsher vocal and Machine is a pretty heavy rocker that breaks into a AC/DC-like sing along coda and a duck walking solo. Three bonafide balls out rockers to start a record is a fine welcome to the party (Richter) from the Newport massive, storming riffs, booty rocking grooves from Daniel Pugsley (bass) and Arya Goggin (drums) as Webb is the ideal master of ceremonies.

I will say that there is quite a bit more of the reggae/ska/dub influences on this one. Tell Me has that electronic dub cutting through what is quite a tender ballad and Last Chance features some great bar spitting at its heart. It's the first trough after a series of peaks, but this is Skindred and the party doesn't stop with Loud And Clear relying on the reggae style as Goggin gives the percussion a good knocking. As with every Skindred album it's a cornucopia of styles in one big melting pot of bouncy fun drawing more from their early years rather than there more recent classic rock stylings, this is Skindred sounding dangerous again, unafraid to take risks and shake the system. 8/10

Godsmack: When Legends Rise (Spinefarm)

Godsmack are a band have been around for 20 year, in that time they have been nominated for four Grammys, played all over the world, were name checked in a Bowling For Soup song and have their own day in their native Boston. Frontman Sully Erna has ably led his band through the turbulence of the music industry, When Legends Rise is the bands first foray into a more hard rock influenced sound as Erna was always a little miffed at them constantly being lumped in with 'heavy metal' bands so here they have brought more of a melodic sound that means that due to the gritty vocals of Erna the songs would fit well on anything released by Shinedown and bands of their ilk.

The sing along choruses such as the one that takes up the majority of Let It Out are made for arenas and sound huge on this record, they are actively trying to aim towards a wider audience and who can blame them when they've been doing the rounds for 20 years, they haven't fully left the metal behind though as the title track has distorted rhythms and solo, although Bulletproof is much lighter faire. When Legends Rise is probably a semi-prophetic title as Godsmack look to broaden their appeal outside of what they have been known for before, it's a strong record full of driving heavy rock. 8/10    

Riversea: The Tide (Self Released)

Riversea is the collaboration between Brendan Eyre and Marc Atkinson, The Tide is their second album and is voraciously awaited by the progressive rock community, their debut was released in 2012 and a follow up has been anticipated since then. Press play and you'll understand why, The Tide is a magnificent album taking the best of David Gilmour fronted Floyd and H fronted Marillion (The Design) it's emotive, beautifully realised progressive rock that effortlessly fuses virtuoso playing with intelligent songwriting. Layers of acoustic guitars, plaintive pianos and the touching vocals all combine with ardent striding guitars and pulsing synths, the first two tracks are about as far apart as you can get the title track is an analogue folk influenced number featuring Olivia Sparnenn Josh of Mostly Autumn but Shine has a thumping industrial sound that breaks into the beautiful chorus.

The lyrical content of this record is dark with Blasphemy the first of three tracks that comment on the current socio-political climate, it's a dark number led by just a piano with the guitar darting in and out, it's these rallying cries of the maltreated and innocent that brings to mind the most recent album from Marillion as they too deal with these heavy issues with a compassion as the orchestral sounds flare up the guitar gets frisky as well before the sounds fade ready for the next track to envelope you with an affecting darkness, there's an overall sadness here you can hear it at its most raw on the magnificent Goodbye My Friend a poignant number dedicated to Andy Sneddon and Liam Davidson (Mostly Autumn) both of who were friends of Atkinson whose vocals are at times truly beautiful combining with the keys of Eyre for the 'true' sound of Riversea, they have Alex Cromarty taking drums and Dan Clements on bass this core four piece are augmented by a multitude of guitarists all leaving their mark without the songs breaking down into aimless showboating.

Every song on this album is vital, nothing can be ignored it's one of the most arresting records I've heard this year, 55 minutes of perfection, if you're a fan of emotionally charged progressive music than go with The Tide I promise that much like the ebb and flow of the water you will return again and again. 10/10

On Parole: Caught On Tape (Ofelia)

This is some greasy haired, garage inclined rump shaking rock n roll. Caught On Tape is the second album from these Swedish leather clad rockers have a dirty punk snarl that takes you to those halcyon days of CBGB where you could regularly see The Stooges and the MC5 bashing it out on the stage. On Parole have taken those choppy, jarring guitar riffs and attitude and brought them into 2018 on the back of continuing Swedish retro revival.

The album has a mixture of styles about it in that there's a psychedelic swirl on Why Do You Want Me So Bad, a glam stomp on Read My Lips, some outlaw country for Parasite Blues however On Parole excel when they stick to the flash bang wallop garage rocking of Faster, Faster! Double Tricked or the sleazy Give Me A Kiss. It's only on the closing Lazy Days that they really change their sound into that of a campfire torch song. On Parole have been truly Caught On Tape here and it begs for playback! 7/10

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Reviews: Cancer Bats, Bullet, Blitzkrieg, Piss River (Reviews By Paul)

Cancer Bats: The Spark That Moves (New Damage Records)

I don’t recall listening to anything that Cancer Bats released apart from the rather fine Hail Destroyer way back in 2008. Ten years on and The Spark That Moves, album number six for the Canadian hardcore outfit, bristles with the same energy and riotous momentum that I heard over a decade ago. The snarling vocals of Liam Cormier and Scott Middleton’s vicious riffage remain as aggressive as ever, whilst the rhythm section of Mike Peters and Jaye R Schwarzer is rock solid. This is 34 minutes of in yer face infectious and uncontained stomping hardcore which peels the flesh at times. It’s not my usual bag but tracks such as We Run Free and Bed Of Nails certainly contain sufficient venom to appeal. 7/10

Bullet: Dust And Gold (Steamhammer/SPV)

If you want routine heads down heavy metal which has failed to move forward since 1986 then you would do worse than to check out Swedish Accept soundalikes Bullet. Astonishingly, the band have six full releases to their name and have been churning out this stuff since 2001. Quite why anyone would listen to a band that are so close to Accept that they might as well be called Accept is beyond me. Musically the metal is solid, well-crafted and perfectly listenable but the screeching vocals of Dag Hell Hoter are real marmite, and as much as I love marmite, I find his vocals utterly ridiculous and very hard to listen to for very long. Remember, this is the band who back in 2011 brought you the metal clog, a comfortable slip on shoe covered in spikes with the legend “Rock Around The Clog” emblazoned on them. That’s all you need to know. 5/10

Blitzkrieg: Judge Not! (Mighty Music)

Originally one of numerous bands signed to the Neat Record label, Blitzkrieg are yet another of the seemingly endless stream of NWOBHM survivors who continue to churn out releases. With vocalist Brian Ross the only remaining original member, and enough former members to fill the Millennium Stadium, its difficult to know whether to be in awe at their sheer tenacity or whether it would be better for them to retire with dignity. Judge Not! is the band’s eight full length release, their first since 2013’s Back From Hell. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot here to be excited about, with some pedestrian heavy metal which lumbers from track to track.

Loud & Proud and Without You are particularly awful, the former comprising lyrics from other metal songs whilst the latter verges on stalking power ballad. To be fair, this album isn’t without its moments, and there is some fine hard riffage lurking underneath, notably on the furious Reign Of Fire and the raging opener Who Is Blind. Blitzkrieg certainly retain their 1980s sound, which isn’t all bad and the duel guitars of Ken Johnson and Alan Ross, underpinned by the huge drum sound of Matt Graham don’t cause any offence. Ultimately, Judge Not! is one of the better recent releases from a cohort who should, in the main, just call it a day. 6/10

Piss River: Self-Titled (The Sign Records)

Feisty, energetic, raging and chaotic, the debut album by Piss River is an infectious 38 minutes of rampaging sub-four-minute songs which capture the raw power of bands from Girlschool to L7. A cover of Larry Wallis’ Police Car provides a retro take on the former Motörhead and Pink Fairies guitarist’s 1977 song, whilst Sparks is a tribute to L7’s Donita Sparks. Frontwoman Sofia Nilsson’s husky tones fit the band’s sound snuggly, whilst she can snarl and scream with the best of them. Tracks such as the punk crusted Thor Is Strong, the Motörhead battering of Back Off and the kick you in the balls opener Desolation all get the foot taping and the head nodding. If you fancy a powerful, no-nonsense power trip then these swedes are well worth a listen. 8/10

Monday, 30 April 2018

Reviews: A Perfect Circle, James Christian, Rotten Sound Frantic Amber (Reviews By Rich & Stief)

A Perfect Circle: Eat The Elephant (BMG)

It's been a long time since the last release by A Perfect Circle which was the covers album eMOTIVe back in 2004 so it's safe to say that Eat The Elephant is definitely one of the most anticipated albums of the year by rock and metal fans.

Thankfully the wait has been very much worth it as Eat The Elephant is a stunning album. It's a very different sounding album compared to previous works but it definitely still has the feel of A Perfect Circle album. The hard rock elements have been stripped right back to make way for a minimalist sound which is full of atmosphere with the album very much having an art rock feel to it. This is a very emotionally driven album with songs such as the title track, Disillusioned, And Down By The River and Feathers being flooded in sadness and melancholy. There are a few experimental songs as well such as the electronically driven Get The Lead Out and the overly positive tones of So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish as well as one or two more traditional sounding A Perfect Circle songs such as The Doomed and TalkTalk.

A Perfect Circle have taken a chance with this album by departing from their recognised sound and after such a wait for this album time will tell whether it will sit well with their fans but personally I think this is a fantastic album which will definitely be getting more plays from me. 8/10

James Christian: Craving (Frontiers)

Craving is the new solo album from the frontman of US melodic rockers House Of Lords frontman James Christian. This is his fourth solo album and the first material I have heard by him.

The material on Craving is about 50% hard rocking tunes and 50% softer more ballad-like tracks which is what is the downfall of this album. Way too many ballads which basically suck the life out of the album. When the album is more rocking and upbeat it is very good indeed with some killer tracks such as Wild Boys, Sidewinder and Black Wasn't Black but as these songs are surrounded by ballads the wind is very much taken out of the sails of the album.

Craving has its moments but overall this is a very underwhelming melodic hard rock album which would have benefited from a lot more hard rocking upbeat songs. 6/10

Rotten Sound: Suffer To Abuse (Season Of Mist)

Rotten Sound to me are one of the finest bands in the grindcore genre. They have a total of seven albums under their belts as well as a ridiculous number of EP's with Suffer To Abuse being the latest of these EP's.

Rotten Sound have always had a knack of writing grindcore that is equally nasty and catchy with solidly headbangable riffs. The songs on Suffer To Abuse are no exception being a super high dose of uncontrollably violent grindcore with examples being Privileged and Harvester Of Boredom.

With only seven songs and a running time of just under 12 minutes this EP is over before you know it and is really a release for the hardcore fan only. If you are a grindcore fan and have somehow managed to avoid Rotten Sound then seriously get listening to their albums. 7/10

Frantic Amber: Burning Insight 2017 Reissue (Self Released) [Review By Stief]

Some excellent melodic death metal from Sweden here. A brief dramatic musical intro leads into the blistering Burning Insight, the tight guitarwork never letting down throughout the entire album. The reissue brings in slightly tweak production, and the addition of the blistering Grainne Mhaol.

There are definite parallels with other female-fronted melodic death metal acts, with Arch Enemy and The Agonist immediately coming to mind, but that's not to say Elizabeth Andrews et al can't hold her own. Every track is solidly mixed, with none of the instruments or vocals ever taking precedence over the others, Madeleine G. Husberg's bass lines give each song that perfect amount of rhythm along with Mac Dalmanner's drumming, great melodies and harmonies being provided by Mio Jäger and Mary Säfstrand.

If you didn't manage to catch this album back in 2015 and you're looking for some good melodic death to listen to, then pick it up! 9/10

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Reviews: Dimmu Borgir (Review By Paul)

Dimmu Borgir: Eonian (Nuclear Blast)

It’s been a long seven years for fans of the Norwegian black metallers. Whispers lurked in the shadows, faint glimmers of light flickered and were then extinguished, crushing hopes and dreams. Finally, the news that the Borgirian hordes were desperate for leaked out, and with it the delicious taste of the forbidden fruits. Interdimensional Summit appeared, and the agonising wait suddenly felt worth every minute. A massively addictive song, huge in every dimension, and with enormous production values twitching the sinews, this was the appetiser that confirmed the exile hadn’t been in vain. The follow up Council Of Wolves And Snakes didn’t quite keep the fires burning as brightly, its different style not as instant.

Two minutes into The Unveiling and there is no doubt that the unleashing of the powers that Dimmu have been gathering over the past few years is imminent. The choral voices, the blast beats, the symphonic elements that soar and sweep blending with crushing intensity, technically intricate and achingly brilliant. Interdimensional Summit follows, a song that improves with every play. Two tracks in and the anticipation is bursting into sheer joy and astonishment at a band who are now in their 25th year. The raven black sound combines with their lavish symphonic orchestration is pushed to the limit on ÆTheric, allowing no time to draw breath.

Eonian captures the organic sound that the band were aiming for; the song writing core of the band remains Shagrath, and the twin guitar attack of Silenoz and Galder, whilst the familiar faces of Drummer Daray and keyboarder Gerlioz are still part of the team, and Gaute Storaas helped with the choral arrangements for the majestic voices of the Schola Cantrum Choir.

Council Of Wolves And Snakes pushes the boundaries, possibly infuriating the purists but if that disappoints in any way, then it is worth knowing that the folklorist elements and different style have proven to be one of the band’s favourites. Any negativity is swept away with the blistering The Empyrean Phoenix a delight, the devilish elements creating an atmospheric explosion that cascades and engulfs the listener. However, of this is just an aperitif to the majestic Lightbringer, a behemoth of a tune, which is matched in ferocious power by I Am Sovereign, the longest track on the album and one of the most complex and involved. The synergy which surges between the raw black metal and symphonic elements is magical. Eonian offers the listener the opportunity to interpret the music with their own eyes and ears, with Shagrath offering the following clue “Eonian represents the illusion of time, everything that is and always has been. For us, it also marks the 25th anniversary of Dimmu Borgir and the album itself is a tribute to our own history and the Norwegian black metal history.”

Although some of the songs on the album were written as far back as 2012, Eonian is a complete piece of work, which flows from start to finish. The ethereal and haunting closing track Rite Of Passage is the perfect finale to an album that is astonishing and incredible. With the band admitting that there was ‘no formula, no absolute', this is the conclusion of a journey along a path which even Dimmu Borgir would have been unable to predict. “We're definitely a band that does not follow any set of 'rules', if any; we're out to break them - for sure. Not that it's a goal per se, it's just who we are”. Quite magnificent in every aspect. Album of the year? It’s going to take something spectacular to even get close. 10/10