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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