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Saturday, 17 February 2018

Reviews: King Witch, Eleine, The Rocket Dolls, Crescent

King Witch: Under The Mountain (Listenable Records)

Heavy doom from Scotland, King Witch come from Edinburgh and in the greatest tradition of the sons of Birmingham they riff like complete bastards. Featuring two former members of Firebrand Super Rock (a band who were ace in my opinion) the music of King Witch is similar but obviously has the more occult themes running through it. Happily Laura Donnelly returns as vocalist and her powerful wails are front and center as Jamie Gilchrist (guitar), Lyle Brown (drums) and Joe Turner (bass) make an unruly racket underneath, their classic heavy doom has an epic sound, Carnal Sacrifice beats you around the head with it's thumping riff and it leads into the spiralling psych doom of Solidarity which is one of the set piece songs on the record that's framed by the faster driving rockers such as the title track.

It's worth repeating that Donnelly has a bloody incredible voice but the rest of the band are no slouches either, the rhythm section of Brown and Turner thunder with the faster tracks and but it's in the monolithic Approaching The End, the jazz inflected Ancients and on Possession where the drums sound like an artillery barrage that the rhythm section is at it's absolute best, with this sort of backing it's obvious why Gilchirst abuses his guitar throughout. In a break with tradition this record ends with the two speediest tracks on the record with final track Black Dog Blues blows a gasket with a frenzied assault. Under The Mountain is brilliant. Buy it! 9/10

Eleine: Until The End (Algoth/Black Lodge)

I'll start this review by saying this is a great record, it's characterised as heavy symphonic metal and I'd say that's a pretty accurate description. Think Epica and you'd be on the money, the only difference is frontwoman Madeleine Liljestam doesn't quite have the operation range of Simone Simmons, she does however have an excellent voice, it's powerful, melodic, seductive and has a pop sensibility that really glides over the heavy rhythms and orchestral manoeuvres. Madeleine is the focal point of the band as both the singer and namesake it's image carved out as an alternative model (she has graced the cover of a well known Scandinavian tattoo magazine) and suits the duality of the band as co-founding member Rikard Ekberg not only brings the riffs but also the growls to pair with Madeleine's clean vocals, the real beauty and the beast style that's associated with this type of music.

The record itself is strong, it's flows well with Echoes starting out heavy and Sanity that follows it relying purely on the clean vocals and a catchier sound, this heavy metal sound is taken right the way through until Please which sees Madeleine's vocals cracking with emotion, it's a beautiful song which has just vocals and piano. With all the orchestrations and top drawer singing going on you may miss the technically impressive riffs and drum patterns but I urge you to listen out for them as they are a major feature of this band. Having already shared the stage with Moonspell, Darkane, W.A.S.P, Europe, Raubtier, Eleine are a well worn machine and you can hear the maturity and experience oozing out of this record through the clear production. For symphonic rock fans Eleine are a band to latch on to, the combination of great music and arresting imagery, they will be on the rise this year I'm sure. 8/10

The Rocket Dolls: DeadHead (Self Released)

Having been called ones to watch by Planet Rock, as you press play on DeadHead the second album from Brighton rockers The Rocket Dolls, I immediately thought this might be a bit too heavy for the typical Planet Rock audience but then the hook comes in the chorus and all becomes clear, this band have deconstructed the sounds of some of the biggest bands around and pieced them back together to create new music. The three piece's main sound comes from the grunge influenced rocking of acts such as Seether and Alice In Chains. Starting Something Now is a fine example as it's got the angsty snarl (although not as much as the title track) the quiet loud dynamics perfected by Nirvana but as I mentioned earlier a populist sound with hooks galore.

The songs all have choruses you can see jumper wearing teens with greasy hair singing edgily while they lamenting their angst. I jest of course, there are some really deep messages on this record and The Rocket Dolls have really latched onto grunge and post grunge sound that was so huge in the early 1990's. She Said has bit of Foo Fighters while The Last Thing On My Mind and Drowning have an orchestral backing that was clearly meant to be featured on Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. The Rocket Dolls are Nikki Smash (vocals/guitar), Benji Knopfler (drums), Joe Constable (bass) and they lock in to this record perfectly, a real unit they seem to be able to adapt to any sound be it straight rock, punk or their favoured grunge. Ones to watch? I'd say you won't be able to look away such is the quality of DeadHead. 8/10

Crescent: The Order Of Amenti (Listenable Records)

There are a few bands that use Egyptian imagery in their music, the most notable being the USA's Nile. Wouldn't it be novel to have a band that sings about Egyptian imagery, who were actually from Egypt? Well say hello to Crescent a blackened death metal band from Cairo (I know Scarab are also from Egypt) sweeping riffs and croaky death vocals from Ismaeel Attallah are what drive Crescent he's got Youssef Saleh, Moanis Salem, Amr Mokhtar as his furious backbone, the blast beats, lightspeed tremolo picking and symphonics combine in a storm of extreme metal fury that is relentless from the first track.

Value for money isn't something Crescent scrimp on they have a cinematic overtone to every song which are long pieces that move from rage to redemption usually within 8 minutes Obscuring The Light is testament to this blasting away before slowing towards the end. For lovers of cinematic extreme metal The Order Of Amenti will be up their with the latest records by Septicflesh and Immolation, if music is a gift from the gods then the deities of Ancient Egypt were very, very angry. The Order Of Amenti beats you at every possible opportunity, strap yourself in and get the neck brace ready it's a beast. 8/10  

Friday, 16 February 2018

Reviews: Pestilent Reign, Against The Grain, Kill Ritual, Chainer (Reviews By Paul)

Pestilent Reign: Pyres (Rising Nemesis Records)

If you fancy some skin peeling death metal, laced with sweet grooves and black metal harmonies, you may fancy this 38 minute kick in the nuts from Stuttgart outfit Pestilent Reign. Combining the underlying groove of early Lamb Of God with the sheer technicality of Dyscarnate, Revocation and the double hammer assault of Aborted and Dying Fetus, you get the picture within seconds. Fuelled by topics such as human stupidity, religious bigotry and a raging anger at the state of the world, the quartet’s debut long player is about as meaty as a lock in at Miller and Carter.

Lars Hägele’s ferocious guitar work, the growling roar of Christoph Sauner’s vocals and the pulverising rhythm section of Matthias ‘Mick’ Figura and drummer Sebastian Unić combine in a face melting approach. Tracks such as You Will Kneel In Piss And Blood, Saviour and the seven-minute face punching of Zealot don’t allow breath to be drawn. It’s intense, it’s brutal and fuck me, it hurts. 7/10

Against The Grain: Cheated Death (Ripple Music)

Album number 5 from Michigan’s Against The Grain just pours out of your speakers like a swarm of locusts. The release then proceeds to destroy all in front of it. Catchier than crabs in a sleazy sweat dripping whorehouse, and rammed full of obese riffs, an old school punk edge and a beautiful sludgy mixture of heavy blues, stoner and thrash, Cheated Death combines the power of Motörhead, the sleaze of The Admiral Sir Cloudseley Shovell and the downright dirt of Orange Goblin. There must be a biker cut or two in an album designed to be played as loud as possible.

Aside from the title track which pounds at 100mph, there is the thrash tinged Sacrifice, a full-out ride to chaos and a demonstration in versatility with blues breakdowns helping to change flight path. There isn’t a poor track here although it’s the pacier tracks that really get the heart pumping. Check out Rolling Stone for a superb demonstration of what I mean. Spicy, meaty and definitely not served in a wholemeal wrap. Magnificent. 9/10

Kill Ritual: All Men Shall Fall (Dissonance Productions)

Now reaching their eighth year, All Men Shall Fall is album number 4 for the band from San Jose, California. I’m unable to claim to be familiar with their material but this is a tasty morsel which contains more fire than a Mahal Vindaloo. Opening track This Addiction is frantic, with vocalist David reed Watson very much at home after his debut on 2015’s Karma Machine. An undercurrent of old school NWOBHM beats in the veins of the band, whose approach allows for a varied and expansive sound.

A heavy as hell backline ensures that the guitars of Steven D Rice are allowed air to flourish. The anthemic title track is full of classic heavy metal style, and the band hold that close for the entire release. Dead Man On The Water, an acoustic flavoured track allows time to catch the breath and for the band to display the sensitive and calmer side, whilst Sins has a pure power metal feel. This has much to commend with some thumping classic metal. 7/10

Chainer: Balls’ Kicker (Self Released)

“They try to stop me playing Rock n Roll but my guitar is my gun and my music is the bullet that will kill them”. Deep words from Kevin Van Raiser, vocalist and guitarist with Swiss trio Chainer. Unfortunately, whilst he may have the weapons, Chainer is way off target with the accuracy. Balls’ Kicker (yes, with the unfortunate apostrophe) is amongst the most mundane releases I’ve heard for a long time. Routine metal patterns, awful lyrics and Van Raiser’s vocals on a par with Fergal Sharkey in the warbling stakes. Tracks to avoid? Well, 1-10 would be my advice but definitely steer clear of dire ballad Lone Rider, Gorgeous and Dangerous (yes, really) and the cringeworthy cover of Stars, the Hear n’Aid release for famine relief. In a year which is already shaping up to be a good one, avoid this like the plague. It’s not very good. 3/10

Reviews: Long Distance Calling, Armortura, Lyra's Legacy (Reviews By Rich)

Long Distance Calling: Boundless (InsideOut Records)

Instrumental post-rock. Those words can either mean you are in for an epic musical journey or a tedious listening experience. Luckily with the sixth album by Germany’s Long Distance Calling it is far more enjoyable than tedious. With the introduction of a full time vocalist on their fourth album The Flood Inside Long Distance Calling did lose a bit of their identity but they have gone to a back to basics approach with Boundless which is a purely instrumental album. The band know their craft and have released an album which blurs the line between post-rock and progressive rock deftly mixing atmosphere, emotion and sonic devastation in a single track such as in album opener Out There.

Other tracks of particular note include Like A River with it’s almost Spaghetti Western twang about it, Weightless which starts off sounding like classic Pink Floyd before a crushing sludge metal riff devastates all in its path and personal favourite Ascending which has a hauntingly melancholic melody throughout its duration. Boundless isn’t a perfect album with a handful of songs failing to make an impression but Long Distance Calling have proven that their back to basics approach is effective and they can function easily without a vocalist in their ranks. 7/10

Armortura: Armortura (Mighty Music)

Being released through Danish label Mighty Music is the debut self titled album by UK thrashers Armortura. Taking influence from classic 80’s thrash metal but adding in influences from modern metal Armortura have released a fantastic album which should definitely gain them attention and praise throughout 2018. It’s an album with plenty of savage riffings, twin lead harmonies, plenty of melody and a few twists and turns to keep the listener engaged. Highlights throughout the album include Insidious, Flight 19, 11th Hour and closing epic Requiem Of The Damned. If you have the edition with the bonus track you get treated to a remixed version of 11th Hour with none other than the legendary Jeff Waters of Annihilator providing some fretboard fireworks. 

The guitar playing throughout the album is second to none and high praise must go to Paul Trotter and Adam Ironside for their sterling performances on the album. The rhythm section of bassist Steve Smart and drummer Nick Vickers also put in commanding performances and the vocals by frontman Phillip Brown are snarling and aggressive reminding me a lot of Sean Killian from Vio-Lence. Armortura have impressed with their debut album which thrashes hard but also has plenty of melody to appeal to your more mainstream leaning metaller. A fantastic debut! 8/10

Lyra’s Legacy: Prisoner (Roll The Bones Records)

Another debut album and this time it’s by German melodic metallers Lyra’s Legacy with the release of Prisoner. It’s taken a while for the band to get this debut album out having been in existence for 10 years but happily the album was worth the wait. Lyra’s Legacy have a sound which combines elements of melodic heavy metal, power metal and progressive metal. After an epic symphonic intro things really kick into gear with the powerful Reign Of Greed which has the band firing on all cylinders. Other highlights throughout the album include Hero Of The Night, Misguided, Utopia and the brilliant title track. 

The songs range from the mid paced to the speedy to almost ballad-esque moments. The fantastic keyboard playing by Sven Reinicke really add a progressive edge to the album whilst special mention must go to vocalist Christian Casaccia for his impressive powerhouse vocals. This is a very enjoyable album with some fantastic songs but especially in the last half of the album some of the songs aren’t as strong and fall by the wayside. This is one for fans of melodic metal with a progressive edge. If bands such as Vanden Plas, Pagan’s Mind and Tad Morose are your thing then definitely give this album a spin. 7/10

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Reviews: Lance Lopez, Hypnos, Godstone, Victorius

Lance Lopez: Tell The Truth (Mascot Records)

Lance Lopez may be a name that some of you are not familiar with but you will know his voice and guitar prowess from Supersonic Blues Machine records, his is a voice that has been lived in, he's walked the walk, talked the talk and lived to tell the tale. This seventh solo album is his first for Mascot records and it's hi most autobiographical to date, he discusses his sordid history and his recent sobriety. The record is a warts and all telling of his life, he sets out his stall on Never Came Easy which is a country styled rocker about his hardships, that leads into a adrenaline fuelled take on John Lee Hooker's Mr Lucky (something Lopez has been by all accounts), these two songs pretty much give you the basis of this album, it's a record that brings the blues to rock n roll with both creeping in from time to time, Lopez is a bluesman he's played with Bobby “Blue” Bland, Buddy Miles, Johnny Taylor, and Lucky Peterson.

He started playing professionally at the age of 14 in bars and his friend and mentor at that time was fellow Texan Rev Billy Gibbons along with Buddy Miles. With all the touring and playing came the darker side which is what makes up much of the lyrics on this record see Down To One Bar and High Life. However the musical education of Lopez means that when he's playing the good old blues his guitar and smoky vocals are etched with pain and regret but when he's rocking out there's a confidence to him that tells you he's not only bought the t-shirt and written the book he's probably the damn copyright. Tell The Truth is an unapologetic rocking blues record that will guarantee Lopez the plaudits he deserves, if you only know him from Supersonic Blues Machine maybe it's time to pick up this record and get to know the real truth about Lance Lopez. 8/10

Hypnos: The GBG Sessions (The Sign Records)

What is it with the Swedes and retro rock? With Graveyard and Blues Pills among others, the American sounds of 1965 to 1979 seem to be a recurring theme in Swedish rock music. Hypnos are apparently one of the strongest live acts in the current batch and they have a chance to show this to a larger audience with this live session from Gothenburg. It's the first to feature new singer Linus Johansson and sees them bringing together older songs from their previous two albums along with new songs Ain't No Fool and Looking Out from their soon to be released album, they also throw in a cover of ABBA's Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie at the end, it is a party after all.

The rawness of this record is it's charm, you feel as if you're at the session itself as the band freak out in front of you with hook laden, riff driven catchiness that has the blues base of Graveyard (check out Nightmares) and the dual guitar harmonies of Thin Lizzy (The Mountain). At 8 tracks long this record is blast of Hypnos' retro influenced sound, they can prog out on 1800, turn up the volume for Looking Out and the ABBA cover is pretty good sounding little like Yngwie Malmsteen's version from the 90's. I didn't know much about Hypnos before this but The GBG Sessions gives you a pretty solid idea of what the band would be like on a live stage. If retro rocking is your bag then get vibing to Hypnos. 7/10

Godstone: Monument Of One (Self Released)

I’d never heard of Godstone before this five track EP but when you press play they sound like the quintessential American heavy rock act, there’s Alter Bridge, Shinedown but mostly Stone Sour coming through with Matthew Pascoe’s grooving bass driving Over The Line. It came as a surprise then I read that Godstone were from the Southwest of England, they sound so American that you could hear their music as a WWE Theme without questioning their nationality. Monument Of One is their debut EP and it features five tracks as I’ve said, these are used to display what’s best about the band big booming bass lines, thumping drums from Matt Davey and dirty riffs from John Kenward and Alex Goodrich.

James MacDonald has a voice that some will either love or hate, sounding a little like Corey Taylor, like his American counterpart his lower more aggressive approach is great it’s only when it’s a little lighter he seems to struggle, but like I said that’s just what I feel, many will love this vocal style. Monument Of One is a pretty impressive first strike by Godstone, it gives you enough to want to invest in the band and leaves them a lot of room to refine their sound, well produced and performed they are another worthy addition to the British metal scene. 7/10

Victorius: Dinosaur Warfare - Legend Of The Power Saurus (Massacre Records)

Yes you read that title correctly this is an EP about both those things mentioned, I'm talking about Dinosaur's with freaking laser beams. German power metal band Victorius have clearly lost their collective marbles and just thought "Screw it let's write sci-fi songs about Dinosaurs". Oddly it works when a song has the lyric "Mighty Dinosaur, fight a holy war" you are on to a winner right away, it's epically silly but brilliantly realised, the power metal is what you'd expect it to be all galloping, blast beated Germanic metal with powerful vocals, it's the talent of the band that means this record is not as stupid as it first seems, they've also made sure that this is just an EP so the concept doesn't get too tiresome, with songs like Razorblade Raptor and Laser Tooth Tiger this EP is great power metal record with bonkers theme that somehow holds it all together. 7/10

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Reviews: Necrophobic, Loudness, Ritual King, Lark, (Reviews By Paul)

Necrophobic: Mark Of The Necrogram (Century Media Records)

If there was any doubt that the return of Swedish blackened death metallers Necrophobic was going to be celebrated, then the opening title track on this, their eight album, will leave you in no doubt. Blowing away any cobwebs that may have gathered, this is simply a monstrous release.  Vocalist Anders Strokirk, whose evil incantations were last heard on The Nocturnal Silence in 1993 returned to the band in 2014. Former guitarists Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck also re-joined the ranks to complete the line-up with founding member/drummer Joakim Sterner and bassist Alex Friberg. The line-up on Mark Of The Necrogram is the fittest and most combat-ready the Swedes have had since Darkside split the heavens in 1997 and the band agree: “It feels like the band is the band again.” “Full dedication in everything we do. 100% metal people”.

Written over many black moons in 2017, Mark Of The Necrogram departs slightly from 2013’s Womb of Lilithu for a darker, more incisive sound. In fact, it may well be Necrophobic's most dynamic and varied offering to date. Songs like Odium Caecum, From The Great Above To The Great Below, Requiem For A Dying Sun and the massive Tsar Bomba retain all the ingredients that made the Swedes such an influential and legendary force but with added quality.

The band song writing, mainly completed by Ramstedt and filtered by Sterner to ensure the Necrophobic fit, explored deep into the destruction of life, with re-imagined invocations from Sumerian stone tablets, and explored Nordic mythology. “The lyrical theme on Mark Of The Necrogram continues where the album Death To All ended.” “The lyrics for the song Mark Of The Necrogram can be set on a timeline between Revelation 666 and Triumph Of The Horned. We created dark poems that match the ferocity of the songs”.

Co-Produced by former guitarist Fredrik Folkare (Firespawn, Unleashed), the result is an album that is blisteringly good. Refined riffage is the order of the day, ranging from the aggression of Sacrosanct to sorrowful on Tsar Bomba. The rhythm section of Sterner and Friberg shine on tracks like Pesta and Lamashtu whilst Strokirk’s deathly roars, haunting bawls, and wicked rasps complete the evil jigsaw. There is unlikely to be a better blackened death metal release all year. 10/10

Loudness: Rise To Glory (Sheer Sound)

The first Japanese metal band to sign for an American label, I’d forgotten that Loudness even existed. To discover that they have released an astonishing 25 albums before Rise To Glory and have continued to deliver their own brand of Eastern metal was quite a surprise. Formed way back in 1981, they briefly hit the radar with 1985’s Thunder In the East which contained some classic heavy metal. Rise To Glory sees the band continuing to deliver metal in much the same style, albeit with a little more polish on the production.

With three of the original members still very much involved, and drummer Masayuki Suzuki in place for close to a decade, the real surprise is that this is their first album for four years, since 2014’s The Sun Will Rise Again. Minoru Niharu’s vocals remain as crisp and clean as they did all those years ago whilst Akiri Takasaki’s guitar work is slick, fast and impressive. Loudness have always written in the classic heavy metal style, and opener Soul On Fire is a typical demonstration, fast paced and energetic. There are some lighter moments, such as the jazz-infused instrumental Karma Sutra, complete with a brief homage to Rush’s YYZ as well as some rather poor tracks, such as the ghastly power ballad Rain. A bit of a mixed bag but certainly worth checking it out. 6/10

Ritual King: Earthrise (When Planets Collide Records)

A fine second EP from Manchester three Ritual King. An eruption of heavy blues, stoner and psychedelic rock, this is impressive for the whole 15 minutes. Opener Ideology immediately demand the attention, sludgy riffs courtesy of guitarist Jordan Leppitt, whose vocals add gravitas and quality to the release. Tides is next, a filthy combination of Orange Goblin and Blues Pills, with added grime. Dan Godwin’s monstrous bass lines come into their own on the final track, But Anyway, which is another solid track which melts the fuse and quickly accelerates to full speed.  Ritual King has provided a very neat release indeed. 8/10

Lark: Lark (Self-Release)

Lark is the debut release from French brothers, Raph, former guitarist and lead singer of Sail In Between and former bassist of Angher Incorporated and Zach, former drummer of Bright Curse. It’s a solid five-track beast, combining elements of Mastodon, Baroness, Russian Circles and Gojira in an almighty fireball. The cantering charge of Red Eye Final contrasts with the slower, bone crushingly heavy Decay and the haunting Too Far Gone, which at times is eerily like the Duplantier brothers sound, all the while dipping in and out of the progressive style that Mastodon has superbly crafted in recent years. It’s a deeply interesting release, with much going on and demanding several plays to appreciate fully. Well worth a listen. 7/10

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Reviews: The Sheepdogs, Letters From The Colony, High Reeper, Michael Landau

The Sheepdogs: Changing Colours (Dine Alone Records)

With Greg recently passing only Dickey Betts remains from the original Allman Brothers band and he stopped playing with them in 2000, with Greg gone the band is finished meaning that those in search of breezy Southern harmonies have to look elsewhere. I’d suggest looking North towards Saskatoon as The Sheepdog’s reaffirm their right to be classed as the natural successors to The Allman’s, their sixth album is a brilliantly realised slice of Southern boogie with new guitarist Jimmy Bowskill they have the classic double guitar sound of The Allman’s running through Nobody, I’ve Got A Hole Where My Heart Should Be, Cherries Jubilee and the slide driven instrumental HMS Buffalo.

They broaden the scope to The Eagles on the slide driven Let It Roll a song that has gorgeous vocal harmonies and leads into The Big Nowhere a track that’s got a classic Steely Dan shuffle built around percussion and a Fender Rhodes, the Fagan and Becker jazz influenced sounds coming back on Cool Down. It’s a real mix of rock, soul, country and blues and everything is done with a sense of deference and tact, The Sheepdogs really care about this music and aren’t afraid to play a jukebox of 70’s sounding tracks. I Ain’t Cool has New Orleans jazz trumpet, You Got To Be A Man brings a bit of glam rocking, Run Baby Run has the vocal approach of CSN. Changing Colours is 17 tracks long but they pass by in a glorious kaleidoscope of 70’s Americana, go grab your Stetson, get down and boogie. 9/10

Letters From The Colony: Vignette (Nuclear Blast)

The Swedes are a country that seem to be at the forefront of many musical genres but one that seems to be pretty divisive is the djent/tech/extreme metal scene, bands such as Meshuggah are seen as the originators of this style of progressive extremity and the latest band to come out of this melting pot of monstrous riffs, non-linear time signatures and general head fuckery are the oddly named Letters From The Colony. They have been a band for seven years and yet this is their debut album, this maybe because of several line up changes but finally it seems the band have settled on a steady line up of Alexander Backlund (vocals), Sebastian Svalland (guitar), Johan Jönsegård (guitar, Emil Östberg (bass) and Jonas Sköld (drums).

This line up has created a record that is experimental, chaotic, frenzied, harmonious and bloody heavy. Palm muted, chunky riffs are backed by expressive drum patterns that have grooves heavy enough to flatten a truck while there’s not a clean vocal in site. At 55 minutes it can be hard work for casual listeners but for every breakdown fuelled track such as the ominous The Final Warning you get more schizophrenic songs such as Cataclysm and Glass Palaces but things get weirder and more experimental as things go on with tracks that feature saxophones and sampled deer calls (yes really). A complex mix of Meshuggah and Gojira, it’s not for the fainted hearted or the fair-weather, those that stay though will be rewarded with some of the most aggressive, complicated music produced this year. 7/10

High Reeper: S/T (Heavy Psych Sounds)

I think High Reeper may have listened to a bit too much Black Sabbath, Die Slow the track that opens this record has definite groove of Children Of The Grave about it, from the gargantuan riff, to the Ozzy-like shouted vocals High Reeper are clearly a band that worship the sweet leaf and the originators of heavy metal. Zach Thomas, Napz Mosley, Andrew Price, Pat Daly and Shane Trimble all come from Philadelphia and they formed this band to break into the Philly stoner scene, I’d say it’s a mission complete as this self titled debut is about as stoner as you can get taking from the classic Sabbath records (Soul Taker has a familiarity about it) but also some more modern stoner sounds of Monster Magnet or Orchid.

The dual guitars bring a bit of boogie to the tracks but the rhythm section is pure Geezer and Bill, just listen to the rhythmic voodoo of the title track for some real head tripping and a drum solo as well. As long as there is metal there will be bands that will pray to Iommi and High Reeper do it more obviously than most, their second record will need a little more diversity to help them stick out from a very dense genre. 7/10

Michael Landau: Rock Bottom (Provogue)

Well this is a bit of trip, LA guitarist Michael Landau has been indulging in mostly instrumental music for around 10 years now, but with this album he decided he needed vocals so he called up his Burning Water band mate David Frazee to step behind the mic. What has come of this collaboration is a hazy kind of space blues that owes as much to Jimi as it does The Doors, swirling organs and smoky guitar playing give this record an atmosphere reserved for the best clubs in the 1970’s where a liberal peace pipe was smoked.

In places it's lounge blues with Chris Rea or Mark Knopfler the main influences, this is due to the spoken word style of the vocals. Ten tracks go by and it’s a musical journey, the brief flashes of Landau’s soulful blues guitar have feeling when they dual with the Hammond organ things really start to fly but the record itself does occasionally become background music due to its overall slow pace. This is an album for proper blues heads; if you like your blues with a bit more rock n roll in it then look elsewhere. 6/10

Monday, 12 February 2018

Reviews: Secret Illusion, Karma Violens, Nightbreed, Rapture

Secret Illusion: Awake Before The Dawn (Lion Music)

Greek cinematic power metal that features heavy keyboards that are the driving force of the songs, the keyboard riffs and piano passages really add a classical element to the album but not to be outdone the guitar playing comes out of Malmsteen tab book, arpeggios from hell indeed. The vocals are the normal power metal fodder with Vasilis Axiotis taking the higher register throughout. The songs deal with history (Kings And Pawns), adventure and science fiction and most try to speed through as fast as possible twisting and turning with as many progressive touches, synth runs and explosive guitar solos as possible.

It's only falling that really lets the pace drop as an epic baroque ballad, which despite all the keys of Evmenios Poulias and guitars from Filippos Papakyriakou listen to the bass work and you'll see how good this band are with a ballad, a trick also repeated at the beginning of Eerie. When the drummer is allowed to let rip we get the real sound of Secret Illusion. The record only has 10 tracks but with the longer running times you get enough of the band to enjoy, let's hope they don't stay secret for too long as this illusion is pure magic. 8/10

Karma Violens: Serpent God (Growl Records)

Karma Violens bring Hellenic extremity on their third record; they have adapted their sound from a metalcore origins bringing the gloomy relentless darkness of Behemoth, Emperor and fellow countrymen Rotting Christ as well as Blackening to Locust era Machine Head. It’s blackened thrash metal at its most terrifying; possibly led by vocalist Marios’ dabble with the occult in Lucifer’s Child. From the down tuned single chord doom laden passages through to the kick drum led black metal noise Karma Violens let you know they mean serious business.

This record is a conceptual piece dealing with “the transparency of today’s social standards and ideas. Freedom or (the) lack thereof today; man’s tendency to create social ‘musts’ via religion, God and modern society” this concept has clearly led Karma Violens down a pretty aggressive pathway as the music on this record is relentless, tracks such as A Letter To The Worthless Chamber and Blood Aurora just beat you rapidly combining black metal sensibilities with some classic guitar work, it’s on the slower ominous songs such as Radix Malorum and Dark Morel where they can really create an atmosphere of dissonance, regret and melancholy.

Serpent God is the album Catharsis should have been, shorter and more aggressive with no need for self indulgence, it’s a brutal record that has the same rallying cry that Rob Flynn and co attempted on their most recent release but unlike there here it succeeds with a sheer will of force. 8/10

Nightbreed: Beyond Inferno (Witches Brew Records) [Review By Paul]

Following up on their self-titled debut in 2015, Athenian thrash outfit Nightbreed’s sophomore release is a splendid affair, full of old school thrash in the vein of early Slayer, Kreator and the like. It’s ferocious stuff from start to finish, lacerating guitar work, slicing riffs and 100mph drumming all wrapped up in 36 minutes of snarling Satanic themed incineration. Vocalist Nir Beer is astonishing, his delivery perfect for the all-out assault.

Ripped Chains, complete with the delightful line “left to rot … for the rats!” is the standout track, with a couple of neat time changes and explosive acceleration and some Tom G Warrior style grunts. I can’t fault this release in anyway. It may be old school but it’s still contemporary and, in a world where so much of what we hear is recycled, massively comforting. Thrash when done well is a beautiful thing, and Beyond Inferno is just fabulous. 8/10

Rapture: Paroxysm Of Hatred (Memento Mori)

Paroxysm Of Hatred is the second full length from Athens death metal band Rapture, it’s socio-political, horror themed music that draws heavily from the Floridian death metal scene so expect the furious thrash riffage of Death, Atheist, Obituary and Morbid Angel paired with frequent changes of pace and vocal snarls. You’ll get no ballads here just balls to the wall warp speed death metal that has some progressive influences meaning that most of the songs have numerous instrumental breaks from a good circle pit to form.

Only formed in 2012 Rapture have released one full length album, three EP’s and one Split before this record so they clearly have a lot of material and they sound honed through live playing, the drums are furious, the bass almost non-existent making its first appearance on track 3 and the guitars rip you to shreds. It’s not reinventing the wheel but for a quick blast of violence this will get you smashing full force into your friends in no time. 7/10

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Reviews: Saxon, Pestilence, Hooded Menace, Letze Instanz (Reviews By Paul)

Saxon: Thunderbolt (Militia Guard Music)

The opening strains of Olympus Rising blast through the speakers and you immediately know where you are. It’s time for Saxon, the legends of British Heavy Metal and boy does this release deliver. Inspired by the Gods of Greek mythology, album 22 in their vast catalogue is as impressive a body of work as they have ever delivered and continues where the excellent Battering Ram and Sacrifice left off. Huge riffs, lacerating guitar work, the most blisteringly huge drum sound and Biff as vocally imperious as he has ever been. Superbly produced once more by Andy Sneap, there is little to criticise.

The title track is a high tempo all-out metal classic, showing the band’s steel of recent years, the growling vocals of Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg on Predator adds bite and variation and that’s before we get to the emotion fuelled anthem And They Played Rock ‘N’ Roll. Wow! Just wow! Saxon’ tribute to Lemmy and Motorhead couldn’t have been timelier, with the recent passing of Fast Eddie. It’s fast, it’s furious, lyrically sweet and when Lemmy’s voice appears, it was difficult to hold back a tear. There was no band more necessary as a foil to Motorhead than Saxon who have taken up the torch carrying with aplomb. This pisses all over Murder One.

Sons Of Odin slows the tempo in the traditional Saxon way, but with so much power. This album is heavy. Saxon do anthemic classic heavy metal in a style which few can match, and this track is a fine example. Closing with their own tribute to their hard-working road crew, Roadie’s Song nestles comfortably alongside We Are The Road Crew. "16 beds inside the bus, step inside, be one of us, A roadie’s life is what we choose, and the wheels keep rolling on’. It’s magical stuff, with some superb guitar work from Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt. The CD edition provides a raw version of Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz) which is fitting closing track for a superb album. Roll on their return to the Welsh Capital later this month. It’s going to be immense. 10/10

Pestilence: Hadeon (Hammerheart Records)

Back with a belter, Hadeon is the first release since 2013 and the first from the latest Pestilence line-up, which features main man Patrick Mameli on guitar and guttural vocal duty. The band who have reformed a couple of times, most recently in 2016, have produced 40 minutes of belting death metal which does the business with no fuss. It’s superbly technical yet remains earthy and in your face. Tilen Hudrap’s bass lines are astonishing and his solo Subvision allows a breather from the onslaught.

Drummer Septimiu Haisan puts in a blistering effort and the intricate guitar work of Mameli and Santiago Dobles (no longer in the line-up) demands your attention. Best listened to through high quality headphones, from the rampage of Non-Physical Existent to closer Electro Magnetic, this will slice you in pieces. Listen to this but remember to strap in first. 9/10

Hooded Menace: Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed (Seasons Of Mist)

I admit that Finnish Doom Outfit Hooded Menace has passed me by in recent years. Formed in 2007 this is their fifth release and very pleasing it is too if you like your doom served dark with growling vocals and a large helping of hammering riffage. With their influences pinned clearly on their sleeves, the strains of early Candlemass and Cathedral as well as Paradise Lost, Autopsy, Asphyx and Winter can be heard. This combined with lyrics often inspired by the classic 1970's Spanish horror movie series 'The Blind Dead' and you get the picture.

Opener Sempiternal Grotesqueries is a gargantuan track, clocking in at over ten minutes. There is little let up with the brooding In Eerie Deliverance which features Coltblood’s Jemma McNulty on guest vocals, horror-soaked Cathedral Of Labyrinthine Darkness all the way through to the closing two-minute Black Moss. Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed is impressive from start to finish. 7/10

Letzte Instanz: Morgenland (AFM Records)

Another band that are new to me, the Germanic metal of Letzte Instanz is instantly striking. This is partly due to the clever use of cello and violin which is the heartbeat through each track, but also because the band sing in their native tongue, adding to the experience in the same way Rammstein and Die Apokalyptischen Reiter deliver. Morgenland is their 12th album, and although only violinist M. Stolz remains from the band that started in 1996, it’s a well-crafted and infectious release.

Thumping bass and drums, enough of a cutting guitar edge and fast-paced songs catch and hold the attention with ease. The title track which kicks things off motors along, Mein Land blends melody with big riffage and frantic strings, whilst Asche Zu Gold’s industrial approach is comfortably familiar. Vocalist Holly Loose, now with the band for 13 years commands attention throughout, guitarist Oli adds the steel and Berni Cellini’s cello works stylishly with Stolz’s violin. Well worth a listen. 7/10

Friday, 9 February 2018

Reviews: Marmozets, Visigoth, Metaprism, Sam Russell

Marmozets: Knowing What We Know Now (Roadrunner)

A lot has happened since Marmozets debut record in 2014, since then they have evolved into an incendiary live act, played all over the world from small clubs to festival stages in very short period of time, much of this is due to their crossover appeal their music is drawn from the math rock genre but has a pop sensibility that sees them having been featured on BBC Radio 1, Kerrang and more 'metal' press such as Metal Hammer. On their second record they have expanded their sound even further, tighter musically, they start this second with the propulsive Play a song recently featured on WWE NXT: Takeover supershow, it's a blood pumping opener with a foot tapping riff and chorus that has more hooks than a butchers ceiling, it's a song that needs to be sung aloud and neatly moves into Habits which does the magical Marmozets trick of pairing technical riffs with a mainstream appeal.

The band are made up of two sets of siblings and this familial bond between the band has them all in perfect sync, the rhythm section of Josh MacIntyre and Will Bottomley have a telepathic link to the groove with Lost In Translation and the bouncing Like A Battery while Jack Bottomley and Sam Macintyre's guitars are angular on Major System Error, they are set to stun on Start Again and but they always have a fluid technicality shunning the normal chord structures for their math rock influenced heavy riffs, check out New Religion which brings a punk rock attitude but with a progressive base layer. What I've always loved about Marmozets both live and on record is the expressive, quirky vocals of Becca MacIntyre, she has a one of a kind voice which never seems to struggle, on the psychedelic Insomnia she's bewitching and unsettling, Meant To Be she screams like she's possessed but Me & You gives her a fragility.

Knowing What We Know Now reaffirms that this Bingley band are no one hit wonders, their debut was a breath of fresh air and while the musical landscape keeps evolving around them Marmozets seem to inhabit their own unique space where they continue to create interesting, engaging modern rock music. 9/10

Visigoth: Conquer's Oath (Metal Blade)

I'll admit I was already on the bandwagon when this album dropped on my desk at MoM towers, I'm a card carrying member of the Visigoth fan club, the patch that was included with their debut album is sewn proudly on my battle jacket and the album itself is played quite regularly. What do they sound like? I hear you ask well they are a broadsword wielding classic heavy metal band the Salt City Utah based act are representing everything that's fun about heavy metal, they don't attempt to reinvent the wheel they just pay homage to the legends of chest beating metal Cirith Ungol, Virgin Steele and Manowar, songs of war battles and brothers in arms set to galloping fingerstyle baselines, NWOBHM riffs and leather clad machismo.

Visigoth are a must have for Grand Magus fans sharing many similarities to the Swedish act even down to the tenor vocals of Jake Rodgers and the obsession with both hammers and steel. If you need more songs about Highlander (Outlive Them All), Boudicca (Warrior Queen) and Salt City itself (Salt City) then you need this album, with Virgin Steele and Cirith Ungol very sporadically making appearances and Manowar on their farewell tour the mantle of Warriors Of The World is still being carried by Grand Magus and Visigoth, buy Conquer's Oath, play it loud and worship the steel and silver! 9/10

Metaprism: Catalyst To Awakening (Graviton Music Services)

Since their debut album Bournemouth band Metaprism have changed one of their two vocalists with Joey Draper stepping into the role alongside founding member Theresa Smith. Their vocal interplay is a crucial part of the Metaprism magic, Theresa vocals are the beating heart of this band she soars above the ruthlessly aggressive musical backing of Ollie, Callum, James and Matt who peel off riff after riff of melodic modern metal that has touches of thrash, death, groove bringing heaviness at every turn. Joey's contribution can't be understated though much like his predecessor he compliments Theresa with his booming cleans and adds polarity with his growls.

The record brings everything they established on their EP and debut full length and brings it to a powerful continuation, from the opening synths of intro The Awakening, the tough grooves, virtuosic playing power Unleash The Fire which is definite single, due to it's colossal chorus, it gets heavier with the two part track Anomalous which features the excellent lyric "There's a conurbation forming", whether the song is about Birmingham is yet to be confirmed but it's a great mini-concept in the middle of this already intense record, what I love about Metaprism is their commitment to play as heavily as possible but pack their songs full of hooks which brings them broader appeal, even with a song such as Aftermath they keep up the volume though the lyrics become more romantic. Wake up and smell the metal Metaprism are the flag bearers for modern metal in the UK. 8/10

Sam Russell: Impetuous Desire (Danneskjöld Records)

Sam Russell is a neoclassical guitarist from London, for his debut record he could have taken the well trodden road of a record full of double tapping and arpeggio'd instrumental tracks. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that and for guitar fans these albums act as inspiration for their musical education as well as an enjoyment of their preferred instrument. Sam has gone another way by recruiting a real drummer, Jason Bowld (BFMV) rather that relying on computers, he also brought in Jacqueline Philips to contribute cello to the beautiful cleanly played instrumental Longing adding another dimension to the song.

With the instrumentals sorted he brought in New Device singer Dan Leigh who adds his melodic voice to the all but four of the tracks, I've always maintained he's a great singer and here he has a chance to shine on a project a bit heavier than his normal band, taking over the mic on the romantic ballad Leigh Woods is Metal Queen Doro Pesch, it's the slowest song on the record and takes it into AOR territory it's a dalliance that's quickly forgotten, with the classic metal sounds of The Darkest Night and then Fire, Desire which is thundering slice of black metal featuring little known Canadian singer Ryan Muller rasping away.

With three quality vocalists, Sam has focussed on songwriting over displaying his obvious technical prowess but he does occasionally let loose the dogs of war with his shredding soloing action. Impetuous Desire is a pretty solid metal album from a solo guitar player with aspirations of being a band. 7/10    

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Reviews: Mike LePond's Silent Assassins, Armored Dawn, Corrupt Moral Altar, Ocean Of Grief (Reviews By Rich)

Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins: Pawn And Prophecy (Frontiers Records)

Pawn And Prophecy is the second album by Mike Lepond’s Silent Assassins which is the side project of the Symphony X bassist. He is ably assisted by vocalist Alan Tecchio of Hades and Watchtower with Symphony X bandmate Michael Romeo providing keyboards and drum programming. Guitars are handled by Lance Barnewold and Rod Rivera. Anyone expecting this to be a progressive metalfest in the line of Mike’s primary band Symphony X be prepared to have your head kicked in by a barrage of absolute balls out heavy fucking metal. From the moment you hit play you are hit by a barrage of heavy metal thunder with crunching riffs, flashy basslines and the force of nature that are the vocals of Alan Tecchio. This guy has one hell of a set of pipes on him with a voice that is equally melodic and aggressive.

The majority of the songs on the album are in a traditional heavy metal vein with influences from power metal but everything cranked up to 11. Songs such as Masters Of The Hall, Black Legend and my personal favourite Avengers Of Eden are such a perfect celebration about everything that is fantastic about heavy metal. I listened to the album on the bus home from work and it was very difficult to sit still and resist the urge to headbang wildly. The last couple of songs on the album are the curveballs. 

The Mulberry Tree is a folky acoustic tune whilst the twenty one minute long closing title track is a sheer epic centred around the story of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It features a plethora of guest vocalists and more stylistic changes throughout than you can count from the expected heavy metal and power metal influences to blues, folk, funk and jazz. It’s the only song on the album I felt was a letdown as it was way too self indulgent. Overall this is a fantastic album which 100% appeal to traditional heavy metal and power metal fans. 8/10

Armored Dawn: Barbarians In Black 9AFM Records)

The run of incredible power metal albums released in 2018 continues with the stunning second album by Brazilian power metallers Armored Dawn. The album is titled Barbarians In Black and is due to be released through AFM Records where I’m sure it will be making a huge splash on release. Armored Dawn have already gained a huge following in South America and now is the time for the rest of the world to follow. With Barbarians In Black, Armored Dawn haven’t released just a straight forward power metal album. There are also influences from traditional heavy metal and modern melodic death metal in the music which gives the album a very contemporary yet classic sound. 

Contemporary power metal bands such as Sabaton and Bloodbound definitely have an influence especially with the epic use of keyboards throughout the album and the restrained yet melodic vocals of frontman Eduardo Parras. The performances by the rest of the band also impress with some fantastic riffs, gorgeous guitar solos and a effectively pounding rhythm section. The songs on the album are all earworms with ridiculously catchy choruses with particular stand outs being Chance To Live Again, Men Of Odin and the already released single Sail Away. Only one month in and 2018 is really proving itself to be the year of power metal and with such a brilliant album as Barbarians In Black, Armored Dawn are definitely going to be getting themselves noticed and on stages around the globe later on in the year. An absolutely cracking release. 9/10

Corrupt Moral Altar: Eunoia (Self Released)

Eunoia is the second album by Liverpool grinders Corrupt Moral Altar and is Greek for beautiful thinking. A strange title as this is one album full of ugly music. Eunoia follows on from the sludgy grindcore of debut album Mechanical Tides but takes everything into more extreme territory. This is a sharper, faster and nastier album with more riff changes than can possibly be counted. Unlike a lot of grind albums which are full of blast ridden songs under a minute the songs on Eunoia are given an average duration of 3 minutes which gives the songs more time to breathe and gain their own identity from the punk inspired Burning Bridges And Burning Homes, the death metal influenced Night Chant and the more sludgy tunes such as Rat King and Five Years

As well as the barrage of riffs unleashed upon the listener special mention must go to vocalist Chris Reese whose throat shredding screams sound like a man possessed. This is a very good release mixing grindcore, hardcore punk and sludge metal into one big ball of nastiness which will appeal to those who like their music violent. It’s definitely not recommended for the faint hearted. 7/10

Ocean Of Grief: Nightfall’s Lament ( Sepulchral Silence

On these dark and cold winter evenings I find it’s nice to listen to something bleak and melancholic and Ocean Of Grief are the perfect band for such a night. Nightfall’s Lament is the debut album by the Greek band and it’s an extremely strong debut album for a young band who have only been in existence for four years but with the professional and mature sound on this record sound like they have been playing together for decades. The band musically perform the more melodic end of death doom metal taking cues from influential acts such as Swallow The Sun, Enshine, October Tide and early Katatonia. You have crushing doom-laden riffs and strong forlorn melodies full of melancholy complimented by the tortured guttural vocals of frontman Charalabos Oikonomopoulos. 

None of the songs on the album outstay their welcome with the average duration being between 6-7 minutes and the album’s entire duration sits at a comfortable 46 minutes. Particular song highlights include In Bleakness, Painting My Sorrow and Mourning Over Memories. There are plenty of bands performing this style of metal but Ocean Of Grief have shown astounding maturity and creativity for a debut album. If you enjoy your metal with plenty of misery and melancholy then you can do no wrong with this album. 8/10