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Friday, 23 March 2018

Reviews: Mad Hatter, Reprisal, Eldritch, Midnight Force (Reviews By Paul)

Mad Hatter: S/T (Art Gates Records)

Power metal from Sweden? Well, there’s a surprise! A debut album from the Swedes opens with Mad Hatter Shine, which initially hits all the right spots for a power metal track. Sounds like Helloween? Yes. End of story. Not quite, for this is nearly nine minutes for an opening track, which after a racehorse like start slows laboriously in the middle. Underpinned by thick keyboards, the traditional blast beat drumming and soaring harmonies, this unfortunately isn’t the most impressive of start's. I was yawning half way through. The Gunslinger improves matters, a pacey rip-roaring track and its where the band open the throttle that things are best on this album.

Fly Away is case in point musically, although Petter Hjerpe’s vocals struggle with the high parts. With the obvious influences that you identify in most power metal evident, it’s fair to say that if you love Helloween and Primal Fear then you should enjoy this. I particularly enjoyed the Chas And Dave piano interlude in the middle of Phantom Riders, which also nods to Ghost Riders In The Sky. The Maiden Style Face The Sky pins further unsurprising influences to the mast. I must admit that as the album progressed, it grew on me. Worth a listen if you like your power metal. 7/10

Reprisal: None Survive The Sun (Hostile Media)

Due out at the end of March, the debut full length from Surrey techno death metal outfit Reprisal follows their Ichneumanity EP which was released in 2013. Ten tracks of a completely face melting combination of the thrash and technically charged death metal. Having seen the band support Bloodshot Dawn in January I can vouch for the ferocity of their live show and on record they hit just as hard.

With themes which examine the futility of human endeavour, the brutality of nature and the inevitability of death, this isn’t one for the faint hearted. Tommy Johnstone’s brutal death roars are underpinned by the powerhouse drumming of Sion Mason, Theo Brookes driving bass lines and the slicing assault of Oliver Du Toit’s fierce guitar work. It’s aggressive, turbo charged and laceratingly good. 8/10

Eldritch: Cracksleep (Scarlet Records)

It’s not every day that a metal band writes a concept album about the causes of insomnia. The 11th release from Italian progressive metal outfit Eldritch does exactly that. Having reviewed their 2015 release Underlying Issues which I found rather repetitive, it was with some reluctance that I approached this review. Eldritch remain a band whose fanbase is likely to centre on the likes of Dream Theater, Everygrey and classic Queensryche, with multiple time changes and signatures, heavy riffs and pounding drumming countered by rich keyboards and clean harmonies.

Reset, the main opening track is case in point; a rampant thundering track which segues neatly into the symphonic pomp of Deep Frost. Aberration Of Nature demonstrates that the band can thrash with the best of them whilst Silent Corner is a measured melodic rocker. As The Night Crawls In accurately captures the feelings of anyone who has suffered with insomnia, the wait through the dark hours as sleep evades you. The final few songs tended to drift by, with little to really grab the attention. This is however, an improved release in comparison to their previous effort. 7/10

Midnight Force: Dunsinane (Self Released)

There are occasions when your ears hurt when reviewing albums. The shrieking awful vocals of lead singer John on this debut release from Glasgow’s Midnight Force is one of those time. Opening track Killer didn’t start well, and by the time track 3, Down With The King had arrived, it was becoming inevitable that I’d hit the off switch relatively soon. For those that are interested, the band takes all its influences from the NWOBHM style of Tank, Angel Witch, Demon and Grim Reaper.

Unfortunately, they sound like they should still be in 1979, with a production quality that matches some of the real crap from that era. If you want your metal full of sword and chains imagery and recorded underwater, you may fancy a bit of this. If you value your hearing, I’d give it the swerve. 2/10

Reviews: Stormzone, Flickertail, Black Rainbows, Death Alley (Reviews By Paul)

Stormzone: Lucifer’s Factory (Metal Nation Records)

The title of the latest release from Northern Ireland’s power metal heroes conjured up images of the poor sods who work for Mike Ashley. However, I don’t think that is what the band had in mind. It’s been a few years since the band wowed us at BOA but this excellent follow up to 2015’s Seven Kings album once again hits all the right buttons. Opener Dark Hedges pays tribute to the iconic landmark and legend made famous by Game Of Thrones with vocalist John ‘Harv’ Harbinson On top form. The title track leads to Cushy Glen, a full-on metal track but with a magical Thin Lizzy vibe.

With superb harmonies ably supporting the melody which always surges through the band’s work, this is an album of sheer delight. Last Night In Hell catches the ear with its solid foundations, big riffs and simple yet impressive construction; Steve Moore and Jr Afrifa displaying exemplary guitar work. The rhythm section takes the plaudits on Albhartach, Gordy Gray’s thunderous drumming linked tightly to the pummeling bass lines of Graham McNulty.

After such a blistering start, the album plateaus somewhat with We Are Strong and Broken Window a little bit filler rather than killer, but things quickly pick up with The Heaven You Despise throwing down some thrashing riffs as the tempo is rapidly accelerated. Your Hell Falls Down is a track that James Toseland wishes he could write; a classic hard rock track with all the right pieces in all the right places. Harbinson’s vocals are quite something, this is by far his strongest performance for the band and even his rock cliched “woo-ahs” on In For The Kill work. Although Lucifer’s Factory is possibly two songs too long, it is a fine heavy metal album and Stormzone deserve every success with this release. Get yourself a copy. It’s a fine album. 8/10

Flickertail: Hurry Up and Wait EP (Golden Robot Records)

This is the debut EP from rock outfit Flickertail, a four-piece from Sydney, Australia. Honest, Americana style rock which will appeal to fans of Tom Petty right through to Oasis. The EP is short, under 15 minutes in length for five songs but they’ve deviated in style throughout, with tracks such as Fade Away containing more than a nod to the Arctic Monkeys whilst also having some delicious melodies which veer far more towards the indie scene than that of the hard rock punter. That’s not to say there isn’t still enough here to get the interest pumped, with The Darkness influenced rock of Green Eyed Girl particularly standing out. Definitively one for those who like their rock with a lighter, indie honed edge. 7/10

Black Rainbows: Pandemonium (Heavy Psych Sounds

Heavy stoner fuzzed psychedelic rock features regularly here on the Musipedia and in Black Rainbows we have more of the same from the Roma based Italian outfit, whose album Pandemonium is their sixth. A distorted sound with echoing space rock greets you like an old friend on opener Sunrise, soaring synths and searing guitar riffs are the order of the day with founders Gabriele Fiori and Giuseppe Guglielmino now joined by drummer Fillippo Ragazzoni.

High To Hell maintains the pace with chunky riffs and muffled bass tones hitting the spot. It’s fast, driving stoner rock which really belies the fact this is a three-piece outfit creating such noise. Some of the tracks really race here, such as the magical Riding Fast ‘Til The End Of Time whilst the space rock feel of I Just wanna Fire transports you to a distant place. This is a cracking release and well worth a listen. 8/10

Death Alley: Superbia (Century Media Records)

Sophomore release from Dutch psychedelic outfit Death Alley, catchier than crabs in Cardiff Bay, with the protopunk sound fusing neatly with their stoner style. Superbia washes over you as you listen, a melting chilled out experience at times whilst the chunkier riffage of Feeding The Lions and Headlights In The Dark is countered by the 12 minute freak out of The Sewage which closes out the album in dramatic and fantastic style. Take a ride. It’s a real whizz. 7/10

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Reviews: Crippled Black Phoenix, Auri, Collibus, Greybeards

Crippled Black Phoenix: Horrific Honorific (Season Of Mist)

Covers albums are never really welcomed, they are either cheesy rehashes of famous bands songs, slavish copies or completely terrible. So then it was with a little trepidation that I approached the newest EP of covers from multinational miserableists Crippled Black Phoenix, having been compared to Pink Floyd in the past it may seem strange that the seminal prog band aren't featured here, however long term CBP fans will note that they have covered Floyd numerous times on previous EP's. The songs chosen for this record are taken from CBP founder Justin Greaves' personal influences.

First we have their interpretation of alternative rock band Arbouretum's False Spring which they turn into a spiraling psych piece, then they riskily tackle SwaNS by adding an ominous feel to their The Golden Boy Swallowed By The Sea, but yet making it more accessible than the original. The songs on this record keep the compositional integrity of the originals but they are all given that sprinkling of CBP inspiration.

 (Magnolia Electric Co) is turned into sparse country plucked track with some haunting vocals from Belinda Kordic and only CBP can turn a punk tune like Victory (No Means No) into an sprawling, atmospheric doom number.

As with many CBP releases Greaves handles guitar, backing vocals, saw, samples, drums, with Mark Furnevall briniging synthesizer, keyboard, bass guitar and Daniel Änghede is still firmly in place as the singer, CBP have always been a collaboration over a band so Jonas Stålhammar (guitar), Helen Stanley (piano) are additional players with Belinda Kordic and Daisy Chapman adding vocals and backing vocals respectively to Will-O-The-Wisp and the gothic In Bad Dreams (The God Machine).

In what could be seen as a curveball for the band they choose to end the record with an organ drenched version of The Faith Healer by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band which is now a very dark, creepy and disconcerting song. As a band that have never really followed any rules CBP probably won't give a crap about what I think but that's why I love them, fortunately I also like this record so give yourself a chance to hear songs you might know through a new musical filter. 8/10

Auri: S/T (Nuclear Blast)

Outside of his main project Nightwish, Tuomas Holopainen has never really followed the path of a traditional rockstar, his first solo record was written for an orchestra and told the tale of Scrooge MacDuck and this new project sees him teaming up multi-instrumentalist (and recent Nightwish member) Troy Donockley and vocalist Johanna Kurkela (who happens to be Tuomas’ wife). Nearly all of the music on Auri is played by just these three members with Donockley contributing the most variety as he plays acoustic and electric guitars, bouzouki, uilleann pipes, low whistles, aerophone, bodhran, keys and even vocals as duets with Kurkela on Desert Flower.

She takes most of the leads on this record and her haunting, folky voice, makes the stripped back but in no way simplistic recordings on this album float beautifully over the listener with a waft of Clannad, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention and Mostly Autumn (of which Donockley is also a part).

It’s pastoral folk music with a classical soul meaning that the use of strings, especially the viola of Johanna, Holopainen’s keys and the trademark low whistles, uilleann pipes of Troy make this record a very appealing one for anyone that wonders what Nightwish could be if they dropped the symphonic metal sound, to focus on something a little more ethereal and spiritual.

The record was put together by engineer Tim Oliver in the surroundings of Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios in rural Wiltshire, it’s clear that the British countryside has had a major effect of the sound on this record as it calls to the idealistic days of British folk but also the artistic experimentation of Kate Bush (Night 13) and Gabriel himself.

The sheer amount of instrumentation on this album is what makes it so magical from the bouzouki and twisting synths on See, through the stirring symphony of The Name Of The Wind up to the sheer magnificence that is Aphrodite Rising and the Gothic deliverance of Underthing Solstice the songs display so many elements and instrumentation that it’s hard to comprehend that the main cast is just three people.

As a lover of the British prog/folk/pop bands such as MA, Panic Room, Magenta etc I loved this record it’s mystical and gorgeously performed, it has a power that doesn’t need distorted guitars, with spring on the way (hopefully) this is the record you need to lull you out of hibernation. 9/10

Collibus: Trusting The Illusion (No Dust Records)

Progressive metal band Collibus are probably a name known to anyone that follows the British metal scene, they have appeared at Download Festival, Bloodstock Open Air, Graspop and Sonisphere Festival, they were also won the Mike Weatherley MP discretionary award of the Parliamentary competition Rock the House, becoming the first band to play a live set in the House Of Commons.

Trusting The Illusion is their third full length and they continue to be a progressive metal sensation, thick muscular riffs come from Daniel Mucs (rhythm guitar) and a session bassist, with Stephen Platt alternating between riffing and Jeff Loomis styled lead guitar playing.

Behind this there is battering percussion and some symphonic overtures which set the foundations for the simply excellent vocals of Gemma Fox, her voice is throaty and melodic and the ideal style for Collibus who successfully merge hard hitting prog metal toughness with melodic emotive choruses, a song like Fear Of The Fall backs up my point as it's a groovy track with a riffy crunch and glorious hook, it sounds like Nevermore at their best a band I would compare Collibus favourable too.

Gemma's vocals are so adaptive that at times she sounds like a different singer she can snarl with the best of them on Hold Fire but also soar majestically on the more dramatic tracks like End Of The Line or the graceful ballad Give Into MeTrusting The Illusion is yet another excellent record full of contrite brawny progressive metal from this Manchester mob. 8/10

Greybeards: For The Wilder Minds (Attitude Recordings)

Swedish rock music is a very broad church, pretty much anything goes and every band can come from a different musical background. So with that in mind Swedish act Greybeards have a sound that takes it's influence from a couple of places, their top three influences on their social media seem to be Foo Fighters, The Beatles and Rise Against and you can hear all three bands in their first track Falling Asleep which has a power rock base, an alternative grit but some big pop melodies.

It's the chorus hooks that bring you in to this record they have a touch of AOR but the riotous social conscience of Rise Against or The Gaslight Anthem, with the shout along sounds of Free and You Struck Me pull you into this second record and make you take notice of Greybeards as band. Musically they play really well with jangly guitars and stirring vocals, they'll certainly be ripping up the stages in Europe with their white hot performances such as the furious closing track The Nerve. More great rock music from the Sweden, catch them on tour with Bonafide and get wild. 7/10

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sepultura (Live Review By Rich)

Sepultura, Obscura, Goatwhore & Fit For An Autopsy, The Fleece Bristol

It was to The Fleece for the first of a trilogy of visits to Bristol for live music this month to see the legendary Sepultura. The gig was originally meant to be held at SWX but for reasons unknown it was moved to The Fleece. No complaints here as I’m very fond of The Fleece as a venue.

It was an early start with doors at 18:30 and first band Fit For An Autopsy (5) hitting the stage at 18:45 to a fair but quite sparse audience. Deathcore really isn’t my thing at all. It’s a subgenre of metal that I find utterly generic and Fit For An Autopsy did not change my mind. I cannot fault the bands performance or enthusiasm as they played like a well oiled machine but the music they played simply isn’t for me.

Next up were New Orleans blackened thrashers Goatwhore (7). Goatwhore are just one of those bands that scream metal from their look to their sound and their performance. They are an utterly fantastic band to watch live with tons of energy and bags of attitude. It’s just a shame that the sound was working against them with the bass virtually inaudible, the guitars muddy and the drums drowning out everything else. The band forged on regardless with a set comprising of material from last years Vengeful Ascension album such as Forsaken and Chaos Arcane sitting alongside staples such as Apocalyptic Havoc, Baring Teeth For Revolt and Fucked By Satan.

The main support slot went to German technical death metallers Obscura (9) who simply floored the crowd with an absolutely jawdropping performance. It was a perfect fusion of aggression and technicality with staggering levels of musicianship especially from bassist Linus Klausenitzer and lead guitarist Rafael Trujillo. The interplay between the band the audience was warm and humble and the band came across as a genuinely friendly bunch of guys with no ego or arrogance about their blinding musical skills. A good chunk of the set was made up of material from 2016’s Akróasis album but there were a couple of older tunes such as Ocean Gateways and The Anticosmic Overload which went down a storm.

And then it was onto headliners Sepultura (8). Sepultura need no introduction as a band that have had a massive influence on metal both in the underground and in the mainstream. Tonight’s set was promoting newest album Machine Messiah but also celebrating Derrick Green’s 20 year tenure as frontman of the band. As soon as the band hit the stage with brutal opener I Am The Enemy all hell broke loose with a massive surge and bodies flying everywhere.

This intensity barely let up for the first five or six songs reaching fever pitch when classics such as Territory and Desperate Cry were played. As this tour was promoting the Machine Messiah album a good chunk of the set was given to new songs off this album. Maybe a bit too much was played from the album and some songs started to wear a bit thin with the audience such as the brooding title track and the instrumental Iceberg Dances. As 2018 is the twenty year anniversary of Derrick Green joining the band a nice chunk of songs were played from the Against album with the title track and Choke sounding particularly ferocious and getting a suitably ferocious response from the audience.

The rest of the set was made up of classics which are Sepultura live staples such as Refuse/Resist, Inner Self, Arise, Slave New World, Ratamahatta and the legendary Roots Bloody Roots. The sound was great throughout and the band played with absolute joy and enthusiasm. I managed to get a great spot very close to the front right in front of guitarist Andreas Kisser. Special mention has to go to drummer Eloy Casagrande who has to be one of the finest drummers out there and watching him play is an absolute joy. It was great to see Sepultura in a small intimate environment and by the time they left the stage an audience of deaf, beaten and battered metallers all with massive grins on their faces seemingly agreed with me.

Reviews: Shiraz Lane, El Camino, Signal Red (Reviews By Rich)

Shiraz Lane: Carnival Days (Frontiers Records)

I have seen Shiraz Lane live before supporting Brother Firetribe and they were utterly fantastic but their new album Carnival Days is my first experience of their recorded material.  Finland is a hot spot for producing great hard rock bands with Shiraz Lane being no exception and Carnival Days is a fine album showcasing the talents of this young band. The band clearly take influence and inspiration from the hard rock and hair metal bands of the 1980’s though Carnival Days is far from a nostalgia trip adding in other influences which make this a fantastic contemporary sounding hard rock album.

From the jazziness of the opening title track to the saxophone throughout Gotta Be Real and the reggae break in Reincarnation the band have definitely decided not to play it safe and release a bog standard 1980’s tribute album. It also helps that the songs throughout the album are damn catchy with tunes such as Tidal Wave and War Of Mine proving to be irresistible earworms. The only letdown are the ballads which seem very by the numbers for a rock ballad.  Shiraz Lane have released a fine album in Carnival Days which should be on the playlist of any self respecting hard rock fan. 8/10

El Camino: Cursed Congregation (Night Tripper Records)

Another leftover from 2017, Cursed Congregation is the third album from Swedish band El Camino.  This was my first exposure to the band and on Cursed Congregation the band perform a very blackened style of doom metal. You have hints of Black Sabbath and other classic doom metal bands mixed with the darkness of black metal creating a sound that is evil and foreboding. Unfortunately though it is a sound that is far from interesting with the vast majority of the album sounding identical throughout with virtually no variation between the songs.

Everything is the same pace throughout leading to a rather tedious listening experience. There were one or two songs which stood out above the rest such as the title track which has a certain degree of catchiness absent from the rest of the album. Although very well performed throughout Cursed Congregation just simply failed to hold my interest which is very disappointing as I am a big fan of both black metal and doom metal. It’s not an awful album just a very unengaging and uninspired one.5/10

Signal Red: Under The Radar (Escape Music)

Under The Radar is the debut album from Signal Red which is the musical pairing of Lee Small (of Shy and Lionheart) and Steve Grocott (of Ten). With their skills combined they have produced a fantastic album of melodic hard rock. The sound is very much rooted in 80’s hard rock and AOR but also takes a few cues from 80’s heavy metal especially in some of Steve Grocott’s riffs. Lee Small is an absolute monster of a vocalist with his voice truly escalating many of the songs on the album turning them into pure earworms.

Songs such as Defiant, Stronger, Monster Truck and Pyramids Of Mars are an absolute masterclass in melodic hard rock and are guaranteed to have your foot tapping and a smile on your face. Even a song such as Emotions In Motion which would normally be seen as the token ballad is given a whole leash of life thanks to Lee’s vocals. This album doesn’t stray from tried and tested and doesn’t break the mould when it comes to melodic hard rock but it’s such a good album that this can’t be seen as a bad thing.  If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Even with a running length of 55 minutes the album doesn’t run out of steam and is thoroughly engaging and enjoyable throughout. Let’s hope for further collaborations between Lee Small and Steve Grocott in the future. 8/10

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Turbowolf

Turbowolf, Puppy, Big Spring, Trinity Bristol

Into the converted church again this time for something a bit more crazy first out was the bristling alt rocking of Big Spring (7) with a myriad of sounds coming through. There's some Alice In Chains, some Smashing Pumpkins a touch of Royal Blood along with a lot of intricate melodies wrapped in big grooves. Vocalist had a great grunge drawl, guitarist made some odd sounds by mangling his six string and the rhythm section was big and heavy. An appealing set of confidently performed alt rock music getting everyone warmed up nicely.

Next up it three pretty unassuming guys took to the stage making a big noise. Puppy (6) have massive proggy riffs with an edge of Deftones and smattering of Muse, grooves galore as they set about to destroy the Trinity centre with sound not too dissimilar to American band 3, mainly due to the vocals which I accept can be a little Marmite, instrumentally though they are as heavy as a box of lead spanners. The drummer bashing his kit like it owed him money, the bassist locking in to some hefty bottom end rhythms and the guitarist, despite his singing, can let fly with some neat six string action. An odd mix of sounds if they were totally instrumental they'd be really good but the vocals are a little too whiny for my taste.

What came next was sheer madness from the first second, delivering one of the most incendiary live performances I've ever seen to a crowd that were well up to it, hometown heroes arrived on stage to a rapturous reception and proceeded to lay waste to the Trinity Centre prompting massive amounts of bouncing, clapping, shouting, pitting and waves after wave of crowd surfing (who were all safely handled by the road crew so cheers to them). Kicking off the night with the swirling psych of Capital X opening the show with a newbie is a risk but the partisan crowd knew every word, with Blake Davies locking in behind his kit the riffs came fast and loose from Andy Ghosh while Lianna Lee Davies buzzed and rumbled her basslines.

All eyes though were on Chris Georgiadis who while decked out in a very swish 70's inspired suit and shirt combo writhed, thrusted, headbanged and while doing all that also managed to manipulate his keyboard and never missed a single note with his great voice. The punk rock rumble of American Mirrors caused chaos before the funk rocking of Cheap Magic and Solid Gold hit the crowd with a head spinning array of colossal riffs, danceability and a mesmerising light show. The pace only dropped when the songs stopped, if they stopped, as live the band do like to extend their short stabs of madness with some jamming but this made the crowd want even more.

Halfway through the set and only half an hour had gone by, this was going to be a flier but with a band that have as much primal energy that any more than an hour and people may start to die from exhaustion. More snotty punk with Blackhole before the centerpiece of Ancient Snake/The Big Cut saw Chris enter the fray and command them like a cursed shaman to unleash hell on his signal. It was up to the groovy Domino to bring a sense of normality but after that it was straight back to it for the closing duo of the aggressive Good Hand and the riotous space thrash of Very Bad. After this we got a brief intermission played by the keyboard, it was the longest segment of stillness at the whole gig and it allowed a breather and water to be taken on board by everyone.

As it finished the rampage continued with A Rose For Crowns, Rabbits Foot and after a few thank you's from this well spoken, very appreciative band playing in front of their hometown crowd the finale of The Free Life gave everyone one last shot of adrenaline to really get things moving with 8 crowd surfers counted including Chris at the end of the song. I'd heard that Turbowolf's (10) domain is the stage and in a converted church in Bristol on a damp Thursday night there was probably nowhere else I'd rather be, even the sceptical Mr Hewitt agreed that Turbowolf were awe inspiring.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Reviews: Ministry, Memoriam, Winterfylleth, Barren Earth (Reviews By Paul)

Ministry: AmeriKKKant (Nuclear Blast)

AmeriKKKant is the 14th Ministry album and the first not only on Nuclear Blast but without long time guitarist Mike Scaccia who died in 2012 but featured posthumously on 2013’s From Beer To Eternity. Now I will admit that I’ve never had more than a passing interest in the work of Al Jourgensen and the industrial metal that he and Ministry churn out. It’s never really grabbed my attention that much although Ministry certainly deserve respect and legendary status. This album is Jourgensen’s rail against the USA post Trump, reacting against the right wing fake news, racism and internet trolling that has gripped the country since November 2016. The album features additional vocals from Fear Factory’s Burton C Bell and NWA’s Arabian Prince, and has the thumping bass lines of Tony Campos to keep the ship steady.

Tracks such as The Twilight Zone and Victims Of A Clown leave little to the imagination. We’re Tired Of It changes the pace, a punchy sub-three minute rage which thrashes and would ignite any pit, with Bell’s guttural roar adding gravity. The programming is on point as usual, with intricate splicing and effects enhancing the industrial stomp, especially on tracks such as the grim Wargasm. This was never going to be a jolly album, and the apocalyptic cover with Liberty covering her eyes as America burns aptly captures the feelings of many. The rage in Antifa and the eight-minute plus title track say it all. AmeriKKKant demands additional plays to allow time to absorb it. I found it strangely compelling. 7/10

Memoriam: The Silent Vigil (Nuclear Blast)

A mere year after one of the most impressive debut albums landed, the mighty death metal machine that is Memoriam return with another slab of crushing tunes. For The Fallen rightly deserved all the plaudits it received, full of memorable songs which allowed the ghost of Bolt Thrower to be laid to rest whilst carrying the memory proud and high. The Silent Vigil picks up where For The Fallen closed, and it’s another absolute monster. From the opening salvo of Soulless Parasite through to the closing bars of Weaponised Fear, Willetts, Whale, Healey and Fairfax are in blistering form. Soulless Parasite rips the starting block in half, a huge drum sound complimented by massive riffs and the distinctive growl of Karl Willetts immediately raising the smile.

The rampant From The Flames explodes and burns, whilst the sheer pace and intensity of As Bridges Burn, with Healey’s bass bursting out of the speakers, is incredible. In memory of those no longer with us, a nod to ‘Kiddie’, is neatly wrapped up in the two-minute title track whilst Bleed The Same tackles equality and the challenges in today’s society. The New Dark Ages surges with groove and power, Whale’s brutal drumming in fine form and the two behemoth closing tracks, No Known Grave and Weaponised Fear both take no prisoners. It’s a stunning release, especially so quickly after For The Fallen and once again places Memoriam high in the running for one of the albums of the year. Roll on BOA and their mainstage set. 9/10

Winterfylleth: The Hallowing Of Heirdom (Spinefarm Records)

Possibly the most beautiful album of 2018; the 12-track album by Manchester Black metal outfit Winterfylleth is their sixth studio release, and really does push the boundaries of their sound into new territories. No strangers to incorporating elements of traditional English folk music into their sound, and with guitarist Dan Capp having released the stunning Wolcensmen album last year which was in a similar vein, The Hallowing Of Heirdom witnesses the band dive deep with an entirely acoustic album that for the uninitiated will be at total odds to their usual ferociously heavy sound.
The album retains the signature spirit of the band. The Hallowing Of Heirdom sees Winterfylleth draw lyrically and conceptually from influences of ancient folklore, pastoral poetry, riddles, rhymes and odes, as well as early British customs and practices to present a unique and reverent homage to Ancient Britain.

Soaked in atmosphere, and with the emotions and sensitivity that crackled through their previous albums present in spades, the acoustic combination of guitars, percussion, synths and strings presents a stunningly different and highly interesting musical formula which captivates from the opening beats of The Shepherd. Alongside Chris Naughton, Simon Lucas, Dan Capp, Nick Wallwork and Mark Deeks were guest musicians Victoria Bernath (viola & violin), Jo Quail (cello), Matthew Dabbs (glockenspiel), Jake Rogers (flute), Angela Deeks (spoken word on The Nymph) and Sarah Wallwork (backing vocals on The Shepherd). The stunning cover artwork titled Sycamore Gap At Dusk by David Taylor is stunning.

The shorter instrumental tracks with the combination of cello and acoustic guitar, such as penultimate track Resting Tarn, A Gleeman’s Volt and Embers nestle comfortably alongside the longer story telling of the likes of Edler Mother, The Shepherd and the magnificent title track which closes the album. Unique, original and utterly spellbinding, this is a truly magical piece of work. 10/10

Barren Earth: A Complex Of Cages (Century Media)

I’d always wanted to know what the collective for multiple Nicolas Cages’ was and now we have the answer. A Complex Of Cages is very apt! But seriously, enough of the man responsible for Drive Angry and Vampire’s Kiss. Barren Earth were an unknown quantity for me. The six-piece from Helsinki have been around since 2007, and A Complex Of Cages is their fourth full length release. And what a release it is. From the opening bars of The Living Fortress and the impressive first release Ruby, you instantly realise that this is a journey which requires commitment. Over an hour in length, with many of the tracks well over six minutes in length, A Complex Of Cages swirls and changes like a flock of starlings, sweeping and wrapping around the listener’s head in a whirlwind of time changes, variations in style and sounds.

It is captivating from the opening bars, and by the time you get to the Opeth sounding Further Down you’ll either be desperate to explore more or want to turn it off. A fusion of progressive, doom, melodic death and heavy metal, there is nothing simple here. The mixture of death growls and pure clean vocals inevitably draws comparisons with the mighty Swedes but there’s loads of other influences in this miasma of resonance. Vocalist Jon Aldara may have only been with the band since 2014, this his sophomore release with the band, but he fits perfectly. The intricate guitar interplay between long-term members Janne Pertilla and Sami Yli-Sirnio flawlessly complimented by new keyboardist Antti Myllynen whose keyboard work on tracks such as the haunting Zeal and the epic Solitude Pith is spectacular.

Underpinning the whole release, the battering drumming of Marko Tarvonen and founder member Olli-Pekka Laine whose thunderous bass lines cement it all together. It is an album that demands repeated listens to really appreciate the complexity and creativity, but it is so worth the investment. Having now discovered the back catalogue as well, the only thing that would make this release better would be some UK dates. One of the most impressive releases of 2018. 9/10

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Reviews: Myles Kennedy, Tax The Heat, Valis Ablaze, Sleep In Heads

Myles Kennedy: Year Of The Tiger (Napalm Records)

Listen to the entire Alter Bridge discography, when you do pick out tracks such as Watch Over You these are the 'Myles' songs mainly solem, blues influenced, acoustic ballads that show off his unique amazing vocals. So now imagine an entire record of these kind of songs, none of the metallic bluster of Alter Bridge in full flight, the louche sleazy hard rock of his work with Slash, or the soul/rock of his first band The Mayfield Four. Year Of The Tiger is Myles' first solo album and is built upon an intensely personal concept of his father's passing in 1974 (the Year Of The Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac).

Kennedy of course liberally applies his excellent vocals but he also brings guitar, banjo, lap steel, bass guitar, mandolin to the record as Zia Uddin takes drums, Tim Tournier bass and long time Alter Bridge/Tremonti producer Michael "Elvis" Baskette handles keyboards with both the producing and mixing of the record. Year Of The Tiger opens with the mandolin led title track which has a sonic similarity to Joe Bonamassa's Black Rock record, however we're back on familiar ground for The Great Beyond as it sounds like one of those moments on Alter Bridge records I mentioned earlier.

With this record you do get a sense of what a good musician Kennedy is, both Mark Tremonti and Slash have said what a good guitarist he is and here it's evident as he manages to impress without the presence of a virtuoso on the record. At its core Year Of The Tiger is an acoustic blues record, smoky and slick it was never going to be terrible, Year Of The Tiger is nothing like Kennedy's day jobs and that's good as a solo record should show another side to a performer and here he is a blues troubadour for the modern day. 8/10

Tax The Heat: Change Your Position (Nuclear Blast)

Suited and booted Bristol four piece Tax The Heat return with their sophomore album and it addresses the turbulent state of the world right now and impact it is having on people, it builds upon their debut Fed To The Lions by adding some razor sharp modern rock influences to make sure the swaggering riffs cut with all the precision of a Katana. The move towards the modern day was a natural progression from their rock n roll roots as Tax The Heat seem to be making it their mission to keep the guitar band relevant.

Money In The Bank has the fuzz and echoed vocals of Wolfmother. All That Medicine is a grooving funky tune with some great percussion and a stuttering rhythm not heard since the early Franz Ferdinand tracks. There's a celebration of all things guitar based on Change Your Position, pitched between classic blues based British hard rock and the axe slinging indie guitar bands favoured by the now deceased (in print form) NME. It's cutting edge rock and roll that's as sharp as the bands suits, shake, shuffle and rock out with some modern sounds. If this the new then count me in. 8/10

Valis Ablaze: Boundless (Long Branch Records)

Valis Ablaze's debut EP Insularity in 2017 was one of the major surprises of the year, the modern sound of djent but with atmospheric synths and most importantly soaring clean vocals. On their full length album they have tweaked their sound again thankfully maintaining the scintillating clean vocals of Phil Owen, the pulsing synths (Lumen) and the expressive guitar melodic guitar lines of Tom Moore and Ash Cook but this time they have supercharged the riffs with Moore, Cook, George Demner (bass) and Rich New (drums) adding a snarl to the rhythm section which has a heaviness that offsets and compliments the cleaner top end.

Just take a double whammy like Signals and Faster Than Light which highlight the mix of heavy and light well although the heaviest track on the record is the punishing Paradox which has bassline and down tuned riff like a bulldozer. Accessible technicality is one of the excellent tricks Valis Ablaze pull, their songs have hooks that will pull you in but the musical backing is a progressive as they come. With bands such as Tesseract, Skyharbour, The Contortionist all having successfully developed into the cleaner sound of djent, Valis Ablaze choosing to take this path is a positive step towards their longevity as a band. That's not to say they don't know when to add some harsher vocals on a track such as Evade where it is an integral part of the songs chemistry, or The Static Between Us where you get a short blast to build emotional weight.

However with a track such as the nu-metal groove of Hex the lofty vocals are met with chunky palm muted riffs and scratched electronics. Boundless has an monstrous sound, the production is ace letting every instrument breathe, letting you really feel the power in these complex compositions. A record with rousing choruses set to a backing of lush soundscapes and progressive riffs that will have you gurning like Les Dawson. With themes, riffs and melodies recurring throughout to give the record a feel of circularity, Boundless is a fitting title for the bands debut full length as on the strength of this record you they could go anywhere they want, their music could get heavier, more progressive or even take on new forms entirely, as the record wraps up with Reflections it becomes cyclic in nature harking back to the beginning of Afterlight and baiting you to start the listening process again. This is an ambitious record that achieves everything it sets out to be, listen and observe but don't get too close Valis Ablaze are currently en fuego. 9/10

Sleep In Heads: In The Air (Noizr Productions)

Ukraine band Sleep In Heads debut album is one that took a few listens to really latch on to, their sound is one of atmospheric heaviness and dream-like vocals, the contradiction between the two means that at first it’s jarring but on repeated plays the record opens up into something a little special. If I was to make a comparison I’d say that they sound as if Katatonia were fronted by Dolores O’Riordan (R.I.P) of The Cranberries, the spectral voice of Sonya soaring high above the progressive metal. However opening track Pacifying only hints at the prog metal trappings as Serj (guitars), Fann (bass) and Erland Sivolapov (drums) (replaced by Roman) only really kick in towards the climax, the majority of the track is build on the folky violin of Natali and Sonya’s beautiful vocals that here have the ghostly quality of Enya.

Since the arrival of this album they have added a keyboard player Katerina (Session keyboards on In The Air were by Nikolay Kirsanov) to make sure their sound is properly built up live as on record Sleep In Heads have more layers that a large onion. The sound is majestic underpinning the distorted riffs are the plucked violin strings, but they dissipate into solemn bow playing behind a wall of noise when the volume is turned up and the keys bring an electronic twist at odds with the organic sound of the violin, especially on Vagrant. Elsewhere Times Like The Sand brings a Tool-like bass thump and Secret Shelter has a touch of British proggers Panic Room about it, there is a lot of boundary blurring going on and that’s a very intriguing thing it means that In The Air is and ideal album for anyone that loves the sombre, emotive metal of Katatonia and Anathema. 8/10

Saturday, 17 March 2018

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

Satyricon, O2 Institute 2, Birmingham

Another town, another place. Yep, two days after the late finish at Bristol for Venom Inc and Suffocation I found myself in the Second City on a Sunday night for some Norwegian Black Metal. With the venue changed from the O2 Academy, finding the Institute was slightly more of a challenge as many of the roads were closed off due to the St Patrick’s Day Parade (yeah, I thought it was 17th March as well!). With people everywhere and a large police presence, we parked up and headed for the venue slightly confused.

This became greater when we saw a huge queue of clearly non-metal fans in the main snaking down the street from the entrance. A check with the bouncer confirmed we had to join the end of the queue, so thankful that it wasn’t raining, we took in the glorious sight of heavily corpse painted metal heads standing next to young guys and girls who were off to see the Misch. Who he? Well, having confirmed with the young lads next to us in the queue that they weren’t off to see Satyricon, we found out that Tom Misch is a 21-year-old singer, songwriter and DJ. Useless factoid of the day but he could certainly fill out the main venue. Another reason to be grateful for not going with the mainstream.

Having got into the venue with plenty of time, opening act Suicidal Angels (6) kicked off the proceedings in the smaller venue with a healthy crowd already filling the room. After a promising start, the Greek thrashers repetitive metal by number routine began to wear a little thin. Lots of air punching and cajoling the crowd was all well and good, but at times you just want the band to shut the fuck up and destroy me with the quality of their music.

Despite having listened to them a good bit before the gig, their generic Kreator-lite thrash did little, not helped by a bass which was way too high in the mix, resulting in a distorted sound with little guitar cutting through the muddy sound. By the time that lead singer Nick Melissourgos had completed the obligatory demands for the most “violent circle pit Birmingham has ever seen”, a wall of death and to bang ‘til death, it had worn just a little thin. Concentrate on the music guys, you might earn a few more fans that way.

21:05 and the atmosphere turned black. The room was now rammed as Satyricon (9) hit the stage. With Satyr’s legendary microphone stand centre stage and Frost’s enormous kit sinister and imposing in the corner, the band kicked off hard with Midnight Serpent, Our World, It Rumbles Tonight and an absolute blistering Black Crow On A Tombstone. With the temperature immediately elevated by about five degrees, and long-time live members Steinar ‘Azark’ Gundersen (guitar), the imposing Anders ‘Neddo’ Odden on bass and Anders Hunstad adding the operatic undertones, Satyricon hit the accelerator and didn’t stop until the final strains of K.I.N.G. over 90 minutes later. Satyricon live take no prisoners, and with a responsive and engaged crowd urging them on, it was a set of sheer intensity.

Little movement on the stage, save for the wind milling of the guitarists, but Satyr still manages to command the attention, his tight leather jacket adding to the rock star cool which he exudes without arrogance. His striking presence as he commanded the centre stage was impressive whilst Frost, hidden behind his kit hammered away in his usual incredible style. An impressive set list contained four tracks from last year’s Deep Calleth Upon Deep album, whilst The Wolfpack, a roaring Now, Diabolical preceded Walk The Path Of Sorrow from Dark Medieval Times and two from Nemesis Divina, including set closer Mother North. The inevitable battering encore concluded with K.I.N.G. and the end of a stunning evening. Satyricon may not play the UK that often, but god, when they do, they are immense.

Reviews: Passcode, The Choppy Bumpy Peaches, Eagle Twin (Reviews By Stief)

Passcode: Locus (Universal Music LLC [Japan])

I'll get it out of the way; this is Kpop dressing up as metal. There are some obvious parallels to be made between Passcode and certain other Japanese Idol metal bands *cough*Babymetal*cough* there are also some rather jarring differences. I'll get the good out of the way; one member, Yuna Imada, provides some excellent and brutal screaming throughout each song, and it's a welcome breather from the overproduced and often (sometimes too often) autotuned vocals, and on first listen, you would be forgiven if you forget this is a four piece.

Musically, this is more than a rollercoaster ride. It's as if the rollercoaster was left unattended and you're launched full force through the entire fairground, taking a detour through the synth circus, a small loop through breakdown alley before crashing squarely into the arcade. I feel if they focused on one style, it'd work so much better. If you like Babymetal, it might be worth a shot, but this is messy, even for me. 6/10

The Choppy Bumpy Peaches: Sgt. Konfuzius & the Flowers of Venus (Self Released)

This is squarely a personal lesson in not judging a book by its cover. As soon as I saw the band name paired with that title, I thought "it's gonna be one of -those- bands" but what followed was a wonderfully surprising and very well put together slice of Neo-psychadelic space rock. Straight from the outset, Julia Lam's airy vocals and space-age synth work paired with the guitars of Julien Strasser, Julien Hübsch and Nick Dalscheid, wonderful bass work by Nina Bodry and varied drumming from Luca Bartringer all culminate in a beautifully, and often chilled first full release from this Luxembourg Sextet.

Two highlights of the album are Spacetravel, an aurally-kaleidoscopic song reminiscent of The Eagles' Journey Of The Sorcerer in places. Into Light is a slow, short, quiet song, perfectly placed to chill you out for Juaska which slowly builds on itself as the song progresses. While I don't often enjoy 'softer' rock, this is a wonderful album that sends you on a journey out of the stratosphere and sailing through the cosmos. Even if hard rock or psychedelic stuff isn't your jam, I'd certainly suggest you give this a listen. 9/10

Eagle Twin: The Thundering Heard (Southern Lord Recordings)

Straight from the outset, the only way to describe this band is sludgy as fuck; a voicebox made of sand after gargling gravel; as if molasses became sentient. Chunky percussion and even chunkier riffs, the blues inspiration is mixed thoroughly with the doom metal vocals of Gentry Densley, ending with a delicious stew of some of the heaviest southern rock I've heard in a while. Whereas opening track Quanah Un Rama has the definite blues feel, the second track Elk Wolfv Hymn showcases the doom side of Eagle Twin, the droning bass and gloomy riffs bringing to mind bands such as Saint Vitus and Pentagram. At 4 songs, the EP feels like it's over too soon, but with no song falling under 7 minutes long, it's a great journey through some South American folklore. If you like your doom with a good dose of blues, or you like your blues a bit more chunky, then Eagle Twin is definitely a band to have in your collection. 8/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Jamie Lawson (Review By Nick)

Jamie Lawson - Trinity Centre, Bristol

Following a very quick 24 hour hop up and down the country to see Norwegian black metal genius's Satyricon in Glasgow, I hastily returned and skipped across to Bristol with Matt to make an equally large trip through the musical spectrum; this time for the acoustic and lyrical calmness of Jamie Lawson.

Having admired Jamie Lawson since his rise to fame following “that song” that we all know and love, I've delved into his back catalogue and his past and loved every bit that I've discovered. I had the opportunity to see him two years ago, alas, a friends wedding stood in the way... I wasn't expecting that! (Sorry... had to!) So this time I was determined to catch him, the fact that it was to be in the surroundings of the Bristol Trinity centre; a converted church, made it all the more enticing.

Arriving a little late due to the dreaded M4 traffic we had missed the first support act, but were in time to see the second support in the shape of Tommy Ashby, who also turned out to be Jamie's lead guitarist on the day too! Ashby slowly walked onto stage and picked up his guitar, clearly very nervous he broke into his first song, his voice soft and tuneful with gentle strumming of his guitar initially impressed me and seemed to keep the crowed hooked too. However, despite the quality of Ashbys voice and the deep lyrical meaning too his songs, I found my attention wandering somewhat a few songs in. All of the songs in his set seemed very similar, this combined with the minimal crowd interaction in between due to his obvious nerves made it hard to really invest in this set. Tommy Ashby has a tender and unique voice that you don't come across everyday but currently this wasn't enough to hold my attention. I hope too see a bit from Ashby in the future, as his voice a true gem. Perhaps though after he has gained a bit more on stage experience and a stronger back catalogue 6/10.

A short break between acts and fifteen minutes later quickly onto stage with no messing around came the reason everyone was there, Jamie Lawson. Playing to what appeared to be a now near sold out venue Jamie and his band wasted no time and kicked of the set with current single from his new album Happy Accidents, Miracle Of Love. With a slow acoustic start and a more uplifting chorus and finale to this track, it immediately displayed all that Lawson has to offer, if he were to continue in this fashion we were in for a great night full of emotion and possibly some bopping too! Moving straight on we were treated to the more bouncy track Don't Say You Do If  You Don't and fan favourite Cold In Ohio which was delivered perfectly by the Lawson and backed up strongly by the on looking crowd.

Lawson's voice has always been a little different to most, where at time it appears to come so easily you could be forgiven if you thought he was simply talking. Smooth, graceful and rammed full of emotion, Lawson's voice is one of the most relaxing you will find in modern music. After a quick introduction it was good to see that Lawson had not let his rise to fame go to his head, still humble and shy to a degree he joked his way through retuning his guitar to the warm laughter of the crowd, this was to be an ongoing theme throughout the night. Next were songs old, not quite so old and new. New track Falling In Love was swiftly followed by A Touch Of Your Hand from Lawson's first album Pull Of The Moon from way back in 2003, then another anthem The Only Conclusion.

This pattern continued throughout the set, dipping in and out of all of his albums, some not all the fans recognised and some were met and sung in perfect harmony. A particular stand out for me was He's Reading Helena; very much an album track from the new album, but for me epitomises everything that is great about Jamie Lawson. Slow acoustic track, with deep reflective lyrics, presented with the graceful voice of Lawson, this one really impressed me. As the set drew to a close we were treated to a trio of the upbeat tracks from the album including Time On My Hands, to which Lawson joked was about masturbation... it's not folks, the guy is funny too! Before leaving the stage it was time for the song that made all of tonight possible I guess, a quick word by Lawson recognising what this song has done to for his life and then he proceeded to flawlessly deliver I Wasn't Expecting That.

The love for this song not just from the crowd but the man himself was evident as the whole room serenaded each other throughout. After a short gap the inevitable encore was delivered consisting of Love Finds A Way, the soon to be single Ahead Of Myself  and A Little Mercy. This is probably my only grumble about the entire night, A Little Mercy was a very odd choice of song to finish on in my opinion. Although a classic Lawson type song it is very new, slow and short; not a track the crowd could really get into to finish the night, it was almost a little anti-climactic... a shame really.

Nonetheless this was nowhere near enough to spoil the night as the sheer joy displayed of Lawson's face throughout was enough to make you realize how happy he is to be up on stage. As the man himself said before leaving “It still blows his mind”. The constant beaming smile throughout the set really makes you feel part of something, add this together with a truly brilliant voice and songs written with emotion and substance, performed in the tranquil venue of the Trinity … it made for a brilliant night of music 9/10.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Reviews: Judas Priest, Solstice, Imperial Age, Straight Terror (Review By Paul)

Judas Priest: Firepower (Columbia Records)

Album no 18 from the metal gods and it continues with the same level of quality which the Priest delivered in spades on 2014’s Redeemer Of Souls. Whilst Glen Tipton’s recent retirement from touring has inevitably cast a shadow over the longevity of the band, Firepower certainly provides a shot across the bow of the doubters who may feel that it is time to call an end to one of the most important metal bands of all time. Clocking in at 58 minutes in length, it’s not a quick listen, and as you’d expect, there are a few tracks which don’t immediately grab you by the balls. However, Firepower has enough in the locker to get even the most elitist metal fan interested. With all songs written by Rob Halford, Richie Faulkner and Tipton, the quality is solid throughout and with the return of Tom Allom in the producer’s chair for the first time since 1988’s Ram It Down, and co-producer Andy Sneap also on board, the sound is slick and huge. 

The opening trio, Firepower, Lightning Strike and Evil Never Dies set the tempo and the bar high. Tracks such as Necromancer and Flame Thrower follow the traditional Judas Priest style heavy metal template, with Halford in immense form, his vocals as fresh today as they were when British Steel blew our minds way back in 1980. Tipton and Faulkner provide slicing lacerating guitar work whilst I defy anyone to find a more rock-hard rhythm section than Ian Hill and Scott Travis. With a few changes in tempo, such as the melodic Rising From The Ruins, which conjures images of a heavier Magnum, there is sufficient variation to maintain the interest throughout. Firepower impresses in a way that only Judas Priest can do. It’s British Heavy Metal at its finest. Sit back, crack open a glass of something cold and enjoy the Metal Gods doing what they do best. Pure heavy metal. 8/10

Solstice: White Horse Hill (Self Released)

I like this. I like it a lot. It’s been some time since I last heard anything from the Yorkshire doom outfit but bloody hell, this is strong. Under the continued leadership of Richard Walker, whose guitar work alongside Andrew Whittaker on White Horse Hill is sublime, Solstice has delivered an absolute cracker. It’s been 20 years since the band’s last full-length release, New Dark Age in 1998. The title track, at 8:51 not even the longest song on the release, is a galloping journey, with the soaring vocals of Paul Kearns and the ferocious drumming of Rich Budby supplementing dual guitar work at a speed rarely associated with doom bands, at times it’s almost Thin Lizzy or Iron Maiden in the delivery. It’s impossible to listen to this without becoming extremely interested very quickly. Earlier tracks such as Beheld, A Man Of Straw prompt comparisons with German Funeral masters Ahab. The astonishingly intricate and evocative Under Waves Lie Our Dead at just shy of 13 minutes is an absolute masterpiece. Nothing about this album disappointed. Hear it soon. 9/10 

Imperial Age: The Legacy Of Atlantis (Adulruna)

If you caught Swedish symphonic legends Therion on their recent visit to the UK, you may well have also seen Imperial Age, who were the main support. The band are sufficiently well regarded to be signed to Adulruna records, owned by Therion main man Christofer Johnsson. The Legacy Of Atlantis is the band’s third full length release, and the Russian outfit, formed in 2010 in Moscow certainly follow the blueprint for the genre with a huge sounding album. Now here’s the problem. I think much of symphonic metal is utter guff, a horrible cut n’ shut mixture of genres. Blast beat drumming, huge swathes of keys, batteries of riffs and shrieking operatic vocals which focus more on hitting the right notes than putting together fluid songs.

The Legacy Of Atlantis is an impressively constructed album, featuring the vocal talent of Jane Odintsova, Anna Kiara and Aleksandr Osipor. Lots of high pitched soprano and a beefy baritone merge time and time again as he album progresses. It soars and swoops, massively operatic and dramatic but god is it boring by the time you’ve listened to it twice. Life Eternal sounds like a school play climax whilst Love Eternal is just astonishingly overblown. I’ve listened to the album several times and whilst I can see why fans of symphonic metal would love this, it does little for me. 5/10

Straight Terror- Between The Lies (Self Released)

Straight Terror is a thrash metal band from Stantiago, Chile and was formed in 2012. The band members were previously in several South American metal bands, like Agresia, Extrema, Blast, Remains and Sadism. Straight Terror have supported Kreator and more in the past. And it shows. This is routine thrash with completely disjointed compositions and a singer who wants to be Mille Petrozza but is way off beam. I love thrash, but this is awful stuff I’m afraid; if I wanted to listen to Kreator then I’d listen to the real thing. A pale imitation. 2/10

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Reviews: Turbowolf, Rivers Of Nihl, Palace Of The King, Old Man Wizard

Turbowolf: The Free Life (So Recordings)

The Free Life the third full length from Bristol musical alchemists Turbowolf has the heady mix of genres sometimes one or two in the same song, the steel drum smashing No No No takes flight with synths about halfway through then again at the end letting the expressive vocals Chris Georgiadis do the work before they add a bit of snotty punk with Capital X which has Lianna Lee Davies fuzzy bass and Andy Ghosh's distorted guitars melting your mind as the percussive precision of Blake Davis is key to the noise on this track and also the reverbed to all hell disco-rock of Cheap Magic.

Turbowolf don't really don't do long songs but their 3-4 four minute blasts of intergalactic space punk rock is enough to get you going nuts in the isles, when they do elongate a song such as the title track they really bring a progressive touch to it, throwing the kitchen sink at it. The Free Life features some great guest vocalists as well, the funky synth driven Very Bad has Vodun's Chantal Brown adding her soul voice all over it, the previously mentioned Capital X features Idles Joe Talbot while Cheap Magic has Sebastian Grainger of Death From Above and stomping stoner rocker Domino has Michael Kerr of The Royal Blood in fine form.

As with all Turbowolf records it's the variation of styles that makes them stand out above the rest of the British rock pack, they aren't afraid to take risks with their music from the alt acoustics of Half Secret to the fuzz rock and phase shifting of The Last Three Clues and all that's in between. Always unique and always brilliant The Free Life is another top notch record from Turbowolf. 8/10

Rivers Of Nihil: Where Owls Know Our Name (Metal Blade Records)

Not sure why the owls know their name and in one particular place but Rivers Of Nihil return with their third album, this one thematically deals with the Fall (Autumn for us Brits) with the previous albums being Summer and Spring respectively. As is only right with the changing of a season they have again reinvented themselves adding to their brutal death metal assault with electronica, jazz, alternative and folk making this record their most accomplished yet. Now rounded out with by guitarist Jon Topore and drummer Jared Klein the record starts as it means to go on as The Silent Life not only has the bludgeoning visceral death metal of before but is bolstered by an electronic undercurrent, clean guitar middle eight and lots and lots of schizophrenic sax playing.

It's the beginning of yet another journey following the protagonist of their last two albums continuing the story but also adding an awful lot more emotional material that sees the collective band members dealing with, as Adam Biggs (bass/vocals) puts it, "loss, getting older, and reaching a point where death becomes a much more present part of your life." The sax comes up again on the Subtle Change (Forest Of Transition) which has an epic jazz break in it's middle as the sax parps are anchored by the battering double kicks while Terrestria: III is a electronic driven industrial break that leads into the the second part of the album which continues in the vein of the of the first half filled with complex progressive music right but as the finale of Capricorn/Agoratopia rears its head the record has opened itself as one of the most interesting death metal records of the year so far. 8/10

Palace Of The King: Get Right With Your Maker (Golden Robot Records)

I've reviewed both of Aussie rockers Palace Of The King's previous albums and their third album maintains the theme of records full of swaggering, psychedelic, revivalist hard rock that moves between Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and of course AC/DC with massive bluesy riffs, soulful vocals and big organs that bubble away on opener and first single I Am The Storm which brings in a bit of The Doors with the blues rocking. There's touches of The Black Crowes as they shake their money makers on the percussive A Dog With A Bone, they go a bit solo wild on Said The Spider To The Bird and take a Floydian flight of fancy on Back On My Feet Again (which has a very Zep III secret song at the end).

It's this collaboration of styles and the straight ahead rockers like The Serpent that are all evidence that this record has been honed over the course of more than 100 live shows a year. Recorded in stages it's almost as if the songs on this record have been written specifically for playing live, they've got guts and balls bringing the best parts of classic rock music and the post Millennial revival for a wholly authentic hard rock experience. As I've said I've reviewed all of Palace Of The King's albums and they are consistently solid hard rock records and because of that I hope they start getting the recognition they deserve. 8/10

Old Man Wizard: Blame It All On Sorcery (Self Released)

While Ghost go through their current stage of reinvention as yet another Papa takes over as the front person, fans must be waiting with baited breath for their new album. Luckily for them then there is Old Man Wizard to satisfy their list for occult 70's rock, this Californian trio have the same influence base as the Swedes fed on a diet of Blue Oyster Cult, Queen (Last Ride Of The Ancients), Rainbow, Jethro Tull and even The Moody Blues (Somehow). They are uncannily similar to both Ghost (The Blind Prince, Cosmo) and Opeth on both folk driven Never Leaves and ultra heavy Innocent Hands.

The three piece have got the occult retroism down Francis Roberts vocals are much like Tobias Forge's and occult lyrical content and the riff driven rocking gets you headbanging in your chair as Roberts supplies the dancing guitars while Andre Beller and Kris Calabio lock in as the rhythm section. It's nothing that different from the Swedes and if you don't like Ghost then you'll not think much of Old Man Wizard but if you feel that your life is missing more folky, spectral, retro rocking then you'll have to listen to Old Man Wizard until the church is back in session, Blame It All On Sorcery as this is bewitching rock music at its best. 8/10

Monday, 12 March 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Blood Stained Earth Tour (Live Review By Paul)

Blood Stained Earth Tour 2018, Fiddlers Bristol

This event was originally planned for the Bristol Bierkeller but was hastily rescheduled to Fiddlers on the other side of the river due to the horrendous decision to redevelop the Bierkeller site and remove with it one of the most well regarded and used music venues in Bristol. Fiddlers isn’t a patch on the Bierkeller. Water dripping through the ceiling, several beers not available and a sound system that took forever to settle but well done to all involved for actually managing to secure a venue to ensure this event actually took place.

Earlier in the day the event Facebook page had received some criticism when the set times were published, due to the late start and the short sets. However, arriving way after the advertised kick off due to the horrendous Bristol traffic, it was something of a surprise to see fans queuing to enter the venue and an even greater surprise to hear nothing blasting out of the amps. In fact, the main room where the bands played wasn’t even open. Around 8:30 pm the doors finally opened, and a reasonable crowd spilled into the room to watch one of the most farcical sights seen for a long time. Opening act Survive (0) are a death thrash outfit from Japan.

As the band tuned up and checked the sound on stage, it was clear that drummer Shintarou was missing. In his place, another drummer, who definitely wasn’t Japanese, appeared to be struggling with the time keeping and the other three members of the band were in deep conversation with him. As time ticked by, the crowd began to get a little restless and eventually the lead singer Nemo screamed “Are you ready Bristol?” A false start was followed by another and within three minutes that was it, as the band picked up their equipment and walked off stage. A less than auspicious start and a bemused audience were left scratching their heads.

Canadian symphonic thrashers Aeternam (6) did at least get to play some music. More time to tune up suggested that there was more than one issue with the backlines. By now the event was way behind time but Aeternam played a solid, if curtailed set. Having been around since 2007, the band are an established and confident outfit, although it’s unclear if their ethnic symphonic metal was everyone’s cup of tea. Vocalist and guitarist Acraf Loudiy was urgently cajoling the audience from the start, but the crowd was in no mood to be bullied and it was only towards the end of the set that the reaction became more favourable. This was a shame as the band’s latest album, Ruins of Empires is excellent.

Whatever the problems with the sound, all the gremlins were soon eradicated when Brazilian thrash trio Nervosa (8) hit the stage. The all-female outfit went for it from the start, their visceral attack inciting the first of many pits during the evening. The diminutive Fernanda Lira snarled and roared her way through the mighty set, her vocal delivery a more intense Angela Gossow in style. Beside her the powerhouse drumming of Luana Dametto was astonishing whilst guitarist Prika Amaral shredded with freedom. The room was heating up nicely now and the pent-up frustrations of earlier in the evening faded with Nervosa’s high energy assault. This was powerful stuff and tracks from their latest album Agony, such as Intolerance Means War merged perfectly with older tracks such as the killer Into The Mosh Pit. A deserved ovation.

It wasn’t that long ago that New York Death Metal Legends Suffocation (9) almost caused the Bierkeller to collapse with a stellar show. Now with Ricky Myers leading from the front on vocals, the band knew they were on borrowed time so kept it straight to the point. A sharp, punchy and effortlessly brutal set sent the pit into raptures, with the floor so slippery that at times there were more fallers than at Beecher’s Brook. The dual guitars of Terrence Hobbs and Charles Errigo lacerated as tracks including Effigy Of The Forgotten, Clarity Through Deprivation and a storming Catatonia ripped through the venue. Once more, it was the battery of Eric Morotti’s drumming that caught the eye and the ear as he absolutely pounded the hell out of his kit. Myers interactions with the crowd consisted of a repeated urge to “kill each other” along with a genuine appreciation of the efforts of the now shirtless mass in front of him. Brutal stuff but totally addictive.

It was past the witching hour when Venom Inc (9) finally hit the stage to a disappointedly sparse crowd. However, those that had been able or chosen to remain were treated to a blistering hour of old school Venom classics interspersed with some rip-roaring tunes from the fine Ave release. Tony 'Demolition Man' Dolan was in fine form, roaring his vocals with gusto whilst pummelling his bass like it had done him wrong. Alongside Dolan, Mantas sliced and shredded with a malevolence of sinister chaos. With Abaddon on paternity leave, stand in drummer Jeramie Kling was tasked with bringing the noise and he did it with ease, his pounding style fitting effortlessly.

Metal We Bleed and set opener Ave Satanas were greeted like old friends but amidst the scorching set it was the old school rarities such as Live Like An Angel Die Like A Devil, Die Hard and the ferociously welcomed Lady Lust that raised the loudest roars. This is a band who are not content to rely on past glories but are respectful of the Venom heritage. Dolan is an imposing frontman, maniacal eyes scanning the crowd whilst all the while demonstrating the respect that the Venom Legions demand whilst Mantas plays with a confidence that was understandably absent in those halcyon days. The only disappointment came when the set ended, but to be fair, 1:15 am is probably sufficient for most. Venom Inc play at BOA this summer. Whether the intensity of this opening night can be captured in the field at Catton Hall is questionable but I’m willing to give it a try. Immense stuff.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Reviews: Turbonegro, Neverdawn, Wicked Wizzard, Shakma, On Thorns I Lay (Reviews By Paul)

Turbonegro: Rock N Roll Machine (Mercury Records)

Album number 10 from the Norwegian punk rockers and it’s a fine release. A melding of numerous influences, from Monster Magnet to The Who, this gets the foot tapping from the start. The aggro of Skinhead Rock n’ Roll, the anthemic Hot For Nietzsche and the comedic John Carpenter Power Ballad all fit superbly. The tinkling keyboards of Haakon-Marius Pettersen, who makes his Turbo debut on this release fit neatly whilst the quickfire speed of the tracks disguises the quality of the rest of the band. I’m by no-way a keen fan of this band but I really enjoyed this release, the first since 2012’s Sexual Harassment. Well worth a listen. 8/10

Neverdawn: Just Business (Self Released)

Basing their sound very much on the classic Megadeth/Metallica/Maiden style, Just Business is a decent enough slab of tunes albeit with little to get extra enthused about. For a debut album it certainly has promise, with the old school sound hitting a couple of decent pitches throughout the 47 minutes. The Country rock of Drifter contrasts with the Megadeth feel of opener Blinded. My main problem is the limitations of Tristan Woodruff’s vocals which work around 50% of the time but at other parts become more of a challenge to listen to. Compact, neat and confident, this is a promising debut which transports the listener to an older, more leather sweating time.  6/10

Wicked Wizzard: Self Titled (Self Released)

Coming at you from Mungia in the Basque Country, Wicked Wizzard are a stoner rock trio who punch hard and play loud. The challenge with all genres but especially with the stoner sound is to make it sound a bit different whilst still retaining that fuzzy, hard rock edge which defines who the band is. Wicked Wizzard’s debut release manages that to a certain extent and is a 40+ minute journey through swampy territory, interspersed with some storming guitar work from Unal Minguez. Sin City drives hard, Swamp takes a more measured, drifting approach whilst The Wizzard is a seven-minute meander that encapsulates all the best of the band. An enjoyable release which is worth pinning the lug holes back for. 7/10

Shakma: House Of Possession (Self Released)

No prizes for guessing that Shakma’s main influence is Slayer circa 1985. This really is old school thrash with a production quality that echoes those halcyon days when Kerry King had hair and Tom Araya didn’t need Just For Men. Hailing from Haugesund, Norway, Shakma nail their colours to the mast with 40 minutes of heads down dandruff shaking. It really is homage stuff, with nothing original but to be fair, Shakma do old school thrash as competently as any of the challengers around these days. Clipped passages, rampaging drumming and sinister evil vocal delivery are all here in the thrash by numbers release. If you want to transport yourself back to 1985 and Hell Awaits, then grab a copy of House Of Possession and take the trip. 6/10

On Thorns I Lay: Aegean Sorrow (Alone Records)

One of the joys of writing for the Musipedia is the exposure to bands you may otherwise never have heard of. This isn’t always a positive experience; for example, having to review anything by The Dead Daises invariably involves lots of alcohol and some element of self-harm to the eardrums as well as a feeling of violation for several days afterwards. However, discovering the Greek/Romanian death/doom/gothic outfit who have been in existence for over 20 years is a much better feeling as their 8th full length release is simply stunning.

The crushingly slow title track, at just under 9 minutes in length is an impressive statement, huge in style and sound with the menacing death growl of Stefanos Kintzoglou contrasting with the delicate piano ending on Aegean Sorrow and the string sections which gently permeate Erevos. With an intense, sombre atmosphere flooding their sound, this is an intense release which deserves a wider audience. From the skull crushing riffs on Olethros Part I to the gentle piano piece Skotos with its Opeth-like haunting subtleties which concludes the album, On Thorns I Lay may be the discovery of the year, albeit 20 years too late! 9/10

Reviews: Outshine, Twitching Tongues, Deathwhite, A Cunning Man (Reviews By Stief)

Outshine: 1313 (Gain)

Outshine founder and guitarist Jimmy Norberg hasn't had the best luck in the last few years; Theft from their tour bus while supporting Paradise Lost, legal threats from Swedish Tax authorities and ex-family problems would all make anyone quite angry, and that anger is prevalent throughout the new album from this Swedish quartet. A wonderful mix of hard rock, gothic music and melodic, the album is a melting pot of styles. She Will Love Me When I'm Dead begins with low tones reminiscent of Type-O Negative, showcasing the vocal talents of Tony Jelencovich; be it singing dirge-like songs like the aforementioned She Will Love Me or screaming at the top of his lungs in songs like Liar and They Know Who You Are, Mr Jelencovich has quite the range. The musical talents of the other members are very noticeable too; Band founder Jimmy Norberg's guitarwork is excellent, and the combined talents of Niklas Ingvarsson and Alexander Lungdren provide a great rhythm throughout. Pretty decent stuff! 7/10

Twitching Tongues: Gaining Purpose Through Passionate Hatred (Metal Blade Records)

A mixed bag from LA, which isn't bad in any way. A charged album throughout, the mixture of clean and harsh vocals works well, with the album building from a heavy but relatively slower atmosphere in AWOL (State Of The Union) to pure anger in songs like The Sound Of Pain. There doesn't seem to be a note out of place, Colin Young, supported by brother Taylor, both provide excellent vocal work, with both clean and growling vocals at play all the way through the album. There's plenty of opportunity to bang your head, with some awesome breakdowns in places, particularly in the aforementioned The Sound Of Pain. The band show a softer side in ballad Long Gone, where Colin Young's vocals really come into play. Newcomers F.Sean Martin, Alec Faber and Cayle Sain feel like they were always part of the band, Martin's guitars interweaving with Faber's bass and Cayle's drumming. A great bit of hardcore music, definitely worth a listen 7/10

Deathwhite: For a Black Tomorrow (Season Of Mist)

The first full-length album from this rather mysterious band from the States. With only two listed members; AM on drums, and LM providing both vocals and guitar. This album took a couple of listens, as the mix of clean, melodic vocals paired with the heavy drumming and riffing doesn't seem to sound right on the first listen. On the second, however, it seems to make a bit more sense, the melancholic vocals of LM weaving through the heavier music quite well. There are a couple of guest spots on the album, with Joe Bonaddio and Shane Mayer providing solos for Death And The Master and For A Black Tomorrow respectively. It's decent metal, with some great breakdowns, and a good chunk of emotion thrown into every song. 7/10

A Cunning Man: To Heal A Broken Body EP (Self Released)

I reviewed Ged Cartwright's first album Practical Application Of Theurgy just over a year ago, and this is a great return from the man from Scotland. It still retains that Coheed & Cambria feeling, which works perfectly with Cartwright's vocals, which have improved over the last year. This may be due to the addition of guitarist Theo Le Derf, whose fretwork both adds to the music and allows Cartwright to focus on the rest of the instrumentation. Gemma McCabe returns to add some spoken word into the song, as well as providing backing vocals. Meghan Bradford adds some jazziness with her alto and soprano Saxophone. Soundwise, the EP is extremely versatile, which is impressive when you consider there are only 3 songs in total. From melodic metal style riffage to beautiful almost ambient synthwork, none of it feels forced, and is a great testament to Ged and Theo's compositional skills. It's an odd mix if you're not into experimental stuff, but a good listen nonetheless. Looking forward to a full album one day from these guys! 8/10

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Reviews: Blaze Bayley, Conjurer, HYVMINE, Mildlife

Blaze Bayley: The Redemption Of William Black (Blaze Bayley Records)

The third record in the Infinite Entanglement trilogy and the continuing tale of William Black, The Redemption Of William Black is the latest record from wild eyed wailer Blaze Bayley and his backing band who are essentially Absolva. Like the first two records in this series, it's full of fantastical science fiction that sees narration come from Chris Jericho and numerous voice overs adding to the story giving the album a theatrical element including Cardiff's own Rob Toogood (Fuel Rock Club) who once again reprises his role from the last two albums (the villain of the piece) and he's part of the spoken word contingent that drive the concept along.

The opening part of this record has whiff of the old school as the band plow through NWOBHM styled tracks that follow (Prayers Of Light), the tonal shifts are notable where as the previous record had a darker mood this one moves between sombre and triumphant with the sprawling progressive tunes such as Eagle Spirit really giving Chris Appleton (guitar), Martin McNee (drums) and Karl Schramm (bass) enough time to spread their wings a little, that's not to say that they don't show their talents elsewhere on Redeemer they McNee thrusts the track forward with his kickdrums while Appleton layers his guitars for the twin lead sound favoured by Bayley's most high profile previous employer. There's a good myriad of sounds on this record wrapped up in a classic metal package, although Life Goes On bears an uncanny resemblance to The Show Must Go On by Queen.

Bayley himself is still a favourite vocalist of mine, when he's singing his own stuff there are few that can touch him for power and depth in his vocal prowess. The mix of fanciful sci-fi and contemporary lyrics make the album (and the storyline itself) a lot cleverer than a standard heavy metal album can be. Musically the inclusion of acoustics (Human Eyes), layered prog portions and Bayley's theatrical delivery once again  make the William Black saga some of the strongest material Bayley has been associated with, a fitting end to the story, it will be interesting to see where Blaze goes after The Redemption Of William Black closes this narrative. In the meantime keep an eye out for tour dates where you'll be able to see these and other songs from the trilogy live (along with classics). 8/10

Conjurer: Mire (Holy Roar Records)

Let’s jump back a bit shall we? I first saw Conjurer playing Fuel Rock Club in the middle of the day at the inaugural Red Sun festival in 2015, since then Rich has both interviewed the band and witnessed them at Ritual festival last year and the other music media has caught up on what we saw ages ago, they have been championed by Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, BBC R1, The Independent and the Midlands band have rapidly become the most talked-about young metal band from the UK. So to say their debut album was anticipated would be something of an understatement but as I pressed play on Mire the opening salvo of skull fracturing, nihilistic heaviness, dual extreme vocals and a scope to their song writing that bands 10 times more experienced wouldn’t be able to pull off, showed that all the attention is warranted and then some.

Their sound and by an extent Mire is an amalgam of the ferocity of early Mastodon, the fret mangling groove of Gojira (bowels of hell bass playing by Conor Marshall), the progressive depth of Opeth and the Britishness of Winterfylleth, a track such as Thankless for instance has 7 minute runtime in which all hell can break loose as Jan Krause can unleash the dogs of war, attacking with all their might one minute but the next you may get a quieter passage replete with noodling clean guitars and then an amalgamation of the both in a sludgy, doomy, noisey post metal menagerie. Mire is the future of extreme music built upon its past but with the fearlessness of youth, Brady Deeprose and Dan Nightingale mangle their guitars, scream, shout, roar and occasionally sing across 7 shape shifting tracks, Retch being the shortest but heaviest and Of Flesh Weaker Than Ash building and building into a proggy groove so deep you could bungee jump into it.

They have honed the bleak, dark soundscapes on this record through numerous years of touring and the music is more precise and deadly than tea with the Russians, if you have a heart it’ll rip it straight out of your chest and won’t give you a receipt, however you’ll be grateful and ask to go again. Multiple listens enhance this record and it has to be heard in its entirety to really leave a lasting impression, the future of sonic extremity is in good hands with Conjurer. Much like Gandalf do not take them for just being capable of a few cheap tricks, this is real magic worthy of a legendary (Electric) wizard. 10/10

Hyvmine: Earthquake (Seek & Strike)

Hyvmine is the full band project of virtuoso guitarist Al Joseph, he wanted to explore progressive metal in a band setting rather than as solo artist and while there is prog here, the overriding style though is that of American post-grunge metal with Alter Bridge/Creed fusing with the djenty prog style of Tesseract and the more modern Symphony X in use of keyboards and thrash-like riffs. Opening with Shift you get the initial Alter Bridge style that moves into a very synth heavy finale, however Mirror Master really sounds like post Paradise Lost Symphony X courting the American radio with the emotive vocal style but backed by the expert precision playing.

Earthquake really ramps up the palm muted riffs on the chugging along nicely but never takes things to the overly complex levels of Meshuggah etc, it's enough to get your head nodding or indeed start a big stompy pit but the music is still approachable. I must say for all the musical ability on this record Joseph's voice is excellent, soulful but with a requisite amount of grit, on ballads such as the emotive title track he really shows off his vocal and guitar prowess. Yes you read that right there are of course ballads, they need to give Myles/Scott and Mark a run for their money in the seniment stakes. Earthquake is a very satisfying modern metal record that has enough Californian FM radio emphasis and prog metal grunt for anyone. 8/10

Mildlife: Phase (Research Records)

James Donald, Adam Halliwell, Kevin McDowell and Tom Shanahan makeup Melbourne group Mildlife, their musical style is mish-mash of jazz, psych and disco that has been honed by their wild improvisational live shows, nothing particularly Australian at all. The bands entire ethos is too push musical boundaries and much like the British cerebral prog bands such as King Crimson, The Alan Parsons Project and even Steely Dan before them, their expert use of analogue synths which shimmer on The Magnificent Moon as the funk bass line kicks in to give a groove that's irrepressible.

is the band's debut and it's got 6 psychedelic, space rock jams. The funk gets jacked up for Zwango Zop which has a touch of Barrett Pink Floyd  behind the Funkadelic riffs. Unashamedly retro Mildlife take you back to those heady days of musical flights of fancy where anything was permitted, their use of primitive musical instrumentation including flutes, Moogs, percussion and of course bass, drums and guitar while they use vocals sparingly, this is more of a stylistic thing than a necessity as the vocals are pretty good. If you were one of those doing calculus during the Summer Of Love then Mildlife will be a the answer to all your proggy prayers. 9/10

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Reviews: The Crown, Templeton Pek, Svartanatt, Greystone Canyon (Reviews By Paul)

The Crown: Cobra Speed Venom (Metal Blade)

Well, this was just brutal from start to finish. Tracks like Necrohammer, Rise In Blood, the thunderous Iron Crown and the blisteringly aggressive title track combined the hardest, foulest stuff that Devildriver can muster with some absolutely cruel death metal to deliver an hour of rib breaking extreme metal. With an interesting and some might say, challenging history behind them, the band’s current line-up stands at Johan Lindstrand on vocals, Magnus Olsfelt on bass, Marko Tervonen and Robin Sörqvist on guitar and drummer Henrik Axelsson. 

Having been around for 27 years in various guises, it’s fair to say that the band don’t need to prove themselves but even so, there is something of a challenge to their peers within this release. The technical display on the instrumental Where My Grave Shall Stand contrasts with the head crushingly heavy raging on many of the other tracks. The Swedes return to Metal Blade Records is supported by a high intensity and motivation. Extreme speed and aggression mixed with classic heavy metal and rock n' roll; what’s not to like? 8/10

Templeton Pek: Watching The World Come Undone (Drakkar Records)

Founded in Birmingham in 2005, Templeton Pek have toured with a range of the big guns in their punk/hardcore pool. These include Bad Religion, Sum 41 and Zebrahead. Against this impressive resume the band has released several albums and EPs. No Association in 2009, established their haunting sound, which suggests hardcore luminaries like Ignite and Rise Against, with their music always featuring a political note. The band released the EP Slow Down For Nothing (2012), albums Scratches And Scars, Signs (2013) and New Horizons (2015). The smouldering rage which rails against the injustices in the world is admirable and with the current world wide political climate ever more complicated, I can’t argue with the whole theme of the album which focuses on the craziness of the Brexit situation. 

Indeed, Neil Mitchell, vocalist and guitarist with the band is clear “Brexit was permanently on our minds when we were writing this album. From the perspective of a touring musician it’s difficult enough as it is just to exist. The potential financial and logistical restrictions that we are about to face are worrying, never mind the other consequences for the whole country.” So, an album crammed full of protest and political statement and about as close to a concept album as you could get. Melodic hardcore is one of my least favourite genres, and I struggle massively to find anything enjoyable in it. 
However, Templeton Pek’s themes for the album did at least pique my interest in the subject matter. Like most of the genre, it appears to be repetitive but Watching The World Come Undone is a mature release which allows full expression. If you like this type of music, I reckon this might be in your albums of the year. 7/10

Svartanatt: Starry Eagle Eye (The Sign Records)

Swedes Svartanatt deliver classic rock in the vein of countrymen Graveyard an numerous other retro outfits who seem to be flooding the scene these days. But it’s not all 1970s classic rock sound with a complete mixture of sounds and influences although it really is full on retro in opener The Children Of Revival. The smoky vocals of Janu Lehtinen immediately catch the attention. There’s a rock ‘n’ roll stomp on Wrong Side Of Town, and a blend of psychedelia and progressive rock with the dense organ sound of Martin Borgh on Duffer. A couple of ballads change the pace with the powerful Wolf Blues particularly impressive. Starry Eagle Eye is an honest, stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable release. 7/10
Greystone Canyon: While The Wheels Still Turn (Rockshots Records)

Australian outfit Greystone Canyon’s name was inspired by the freedom of wide open landscapes, something Australia and America very much have in common. So says vocalist /guitarist Darren Cherry. Recorded in Goatsound Studios in Melbourne, Australia, and then mixed in Canada by Grammy nominated producer Glen Robinson, who had engineered, mixed and produced legendary acts like Annihilator, Queensryche and Voivod. According to the band’s press release they are influenced by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Megadeth and King Diamond. 

I find that strange as there is little of any of those artists in Greystone Canyon’s sound. It’s not a bad album, with some decent hard rock tracks but having given it a couple of spins there is little that lingers long in the memory. River Of Fire being the only one due to its smouldering guitar work. Solid harmonies dominate throughout the release and the musicianship is solid. It just doesn’t captivate in a way that would allow it to sit at the feet of the luminaries mentioned above. 6/10

Reviews: Testament Reissues (Review By Paul)

Testament Reissues

Back in November Nuclear Blast announced they were going to reissue five classic Albums by the California thrash behemoths. The three studio albums, Demonic, The Gathering and First Strike Still Deadly, along with Live At The Fillmore and Live In Eindhoven. Live albums are always touched up, so I thought, with the arrival of Chuck Billy and Co in the UK next month, that it might be worth getting stuck back into these releases.

First up is Demonic and what a beast of an album this is. Huge riffs, malevolent growling from Chuck Billy and the drumming of the monster Gene Hoglan all add up to produce an album that started the move to an even heavier almost death metal sound for the band. Opening with the skull crushing Demonic Refusal, it is relentless until the final bars of Nostrovia. Demonic was the seventh album for the band and came amid a period of lineup changes and a struggle with their sound as grunge took the middle ground. Previous album Low had meet with a mixed response but Demonic grabbed the bull by the bollocks and boy does it hit hard. Jun-Jun, the bludgeoning John Doe, the thrash fusion of New Eyes Of Old and Ten Thousand Thrones all punch in the throat. An underrated release that always pleases. 8/10

Two years later and with more changes to the lineup, the band moved to a faster thrashier sound which really upped the game another level. Is there a better, more frenetic opening to an album that the blistering D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)? I doubt it. 1999’s The Gathering has long been one of my favourite Testament albums and holy mother of Mary does it deliver. Steve DiGiorgio and Dave Lombardo provided a formidable rhythm section, anchoring a blistering album which contained visceral riffage from Eric Peterson and James Murphy and an expansion of Chuck Billy’s vocal delivery with a wider range and diversity than on previous albums. The Gathering set the blueprint for future Testament albums and contains some massive tracks. I’ve always loved the prophetic imagery associated with 3 Days Of Darkness, a brooding stomping beast, whilst the frenzied Legions Of The Dead and the sheer power of Riding The Snake provide a demonstration of just how vital Testament were and still are to the metal scene. 9/10

Completing this trio is the compilation of reworked tracks from The Legacy and The New Order, First Strike Still Deadly is a strange affair with original vocalist Steve Souza adding the vocals on Alone In The Dark and the B-side Of Trial By Fire, Reign Of Terror. What was of most importance here was the return of Alex Skolnick as well as the last recordings with DiGiorgio until Brotherhood Of The Snake in 2016. With several compilations already on the market it was hard to understand the need to refine classic tracks. However, stick Trial By Fire, Over The Wall or Burnt Offerings on the headphones and crank the volume up and it’s impossible not to bang that head. 7/10

The Testament back story is a tale of ever changing personalities, infighting and health scares but this is a band who since 2008’s Formation Of Damnation have been a must see band if in town. Roll on 29th March and the arrival of Testament to Bristol.