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Sunday, 23 July 2017

Reviews: Wintersun, Necromandus, Rock Goddess (Reviews By Paul)

Wintersun: The Forest Seasons (Nuclear Blast)

It’s been a long time since the metal world went a little weak at the knees when the Finns delivered Time I, one of the most epic albums of all time. There was pretty much universal praise, such was the quality of this release and the band proved they could deliver it live. Five years have since passed, and it’s been a bumpy road for the band. If you follow the band and/or main driving force Jari Maenpaa on any social media platform then you’ll know all about it. In order to deliver Time II the band wanted to created their own studio and to do this they needed to raise funds. Their crowd funding campaign was dramatic and relentless, with close to €500,000 pledged.

However, instead of Time II, Wintersun has delivered The Forest Seasons, an intense four track piece which captures the four seasons of the year. Each track is lengthy, with The Forest That Weeps (Summer) the shortest at just over 12 minutes in length. All the Wintersun trademarks are present. Blast beats, epic tempos and time changes, clean vocals interchanging with intense harshness, huge guitar solos and operatic sweeps. The heaviest season is probably Eternal Darkness (Autumn) which rages relentlessly for over 14 minutes. It’s either magnificent or some of the most overblown bollocks ever recorded. I am somewhere in the middle on this. Whilst clearly appreciating the intricacy of each composition, you can’t help but wonder if there is sometimes just a little bit too much sophistication. Loneliness (Winter) is case in point.

The song contains some beautiful flowing sections with Maenpaa’s synths sustaining the majestic feel, soaring vocals capturing the epic flavour but bloody hell it goes on. And on. And maybe that’s me missing the point. After all the sheer majesty of Time I was the complexity of the pieces. That’s where I struggle with this album. It’s not Time II. It’s not Time I. But it feels like the band have tried to create Time I ½. Whether repeated plays will allow me the time to warm to it I don’t know. I just don’t know if I have the time to commit (no pun intended). 7/10

Necromandus: Self Titled (Mandus Music)

I must admit I knew nothing about Necromandus. They split up in 1973 when I was three years old. Their first album Orexis Of Death, produced by none other than the Iron Man Tony Iommi didn’t see the light of day until 1999. By the time the band re-emerged last year, only drummer Frank Hall from the original line-up was still alive. So, with only one original member, does Necromandus capture that 1970s sound? Well the answer is a resounding yes.

Full of the atmospheric stoner doom that Sabbath made their own but which is now captured so well by bands such as The Sword, the album is 45 minutes of trippy riffage, melancholic keyboards and some decent hard rock. John Branch has a vocal style perfect for the band. The groove of Alauna and Limpert Man contrasts with the psychedelic space rock style of Hymn To Her. Guitarist Dan Newton does a great job throughout, with some very crunchy riffs whilst John Marcangelo’s keyboards add depth and texture. It’s unlikely the band is ever going to remain anything other than a “what might have been” but this is a good stab at bringing more focus to the name. 7/10

Rock Goddess: It’s More Than Rock ‘N’ Roll EP (Bite You To Death Records)

Back in 1977 sisters Jody and Julie Turner formed Rock Goddess. A power trio from Wandsworth who rode the crest of the NWOBHM and alongside Girlschool raised the flag for UK female metal bands. The original line-up was completed by Tracey Lamb and it’s that line-up that has returned on this new EP. Rock Goddess’ history is littered with bad luck and it’s good to see the band back up and running. Whether this EP will help their profile at all is debatable. The three tracks are all formulaic and routine with the closing track We’re All Metal on a par with the worst of Anvil do little to elevate the pulse. Perhaps it might be better to stick with the old stuff? 5/10

Friday, 21 July 2017

Reviews: Carach Angren, Limbonic Art, Execration (Review By Rich)

Carach Angren: Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten (Seasons Of Mist)

Dutch symphonic black metallers Carach Angren are back with their fifth album Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten. Carach Angren seem to be a very polarising band in metal at the moment being either adored or despised and that opinion is unlikely to change with this new album as Carach Angren stick to their tried and trusted sound.

If you haven't heard Carach Angren before their sound is very much in the style of melodic Scandanavian black metal mixed with a classical, symphonic sound. They take the most melodramatic parts of Cradle Of Filth and the most epic parts of Dimmu Borgir and mix them together. This is a sound that has worked for them on four previous albums and they don't stray from it here. Also like previous albums there is a concept behind the album. This time the story involves a young girls obsession with a ouija board.

Whilst still a very enjoyable album most felt that previous album This Is No Fairytale was a weak point for the band with the material being very formulaic and less inspired than previous albums. Although Dance And Laugh Amongst The Rotten is an improvement over the previous album it still falls into a lot of the trappings where many of the songs are easily forgettable and the band feels like it is going through the motions. Where this album does work though is through the stunning symphonic arrangements which are equally epic, bombastic, dark and haunting.

Carach Angren have released another enjoyable album which although is an improvement over the disappointing This Is No Fairytale does not match the bands stunning early albums such as Lammendam or Death Came Through A Phantom Ship. 7/10

Limbonic Art: Spectre Abysm (Candlelight/Spinefarm)

Norwegian black metal fiends Limbonic Art return with their first album in seven years Spectre Abysm. Finding out information about this new release has been difficult with very little information being released as to who is currently in the band. (Since their previous release Limbonic art have been essentially a solo project of main founding member Daemon - Ed). All I do know is that this is a belter of a black metal album and a much welcomed return for Limbonic Art.

The music on Spectre Abysm is the perfect fusion of the more atmospheric and aggressive sides of black metal. Layers of keyboards add a feel of real dark malevolence whilst savage tremolo riffs and blastbeats tear your face off. There are seven tracks here of black metal majesty with highlights being Triumph Of Sacrilege, Omega Doom and Ethereal Traveller.

My only criticism of Spectre Abysm is that two of the tracks are pretty much wasted only really serving as an interlude or introduction to the track that follows but overall Limbonic Art have made a triumphant return with an album that mixes old school black metal ferocity with mood and atmosphere. 8/10

Execration: Return To The Void (Metal Blade Records)

Although well known for its black metal Norway has a very good death metal scene with one of those bands being Execration. Return To The Void is the fourth album by the band and is a very interesting take on the death metal sound.

There are an array of influences evident as well as death metal with a sound that incorporates elements of black metal, doom metal and progressive metal. It's an album that mixes moments of sheer aggression with moments which can only be described as psychedelic.

It's a very unique take on death metal and proves the genre still has a few tricks up its sleeve but unfortunately it's not an album that really sticks with you. Being such an intense listen and with so much going on this is an album that will likely take several listens to truly get it. Regardless it's good to hear an alternative and progressive take on a genre that many people say has run out of ideas. 7/10

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Reviews: Kabbalah, River Black, Impure Wilhemina (Reviews By Paul)

Kabbalah: Spectral Ascent (Twin Earth Records)

Spanish trio Kabbalah play retro occult rock. It’s an unmistakable sound, one which will either get you excited or pass you by. Sabbath style doom laden riffs, harmonies a plenty and an underlying current of evil, it’s all here. The band make a sound much larger than their number. Check out the show stopping The Reverend with its unmistakable fuzzy guitar sound, or the White Stripes stomp of The Darkness Of Time, both rather splendid in their 70s sound, and both supernaturally different. It’s the haunting Dark Revelation which steals the plaudits for me, slightly longer with several changes of tempo, it undulates and manoeuvres through a sinister path, reeking of malevolence. Reminiscent of many occult bands doing the rounds, Kabbalah are closer to Lucifer, Orchid and Witch Mountain than the more commercially accessible Ghost. Atmospheric, ominous and full of character, Spectral Ascent is a worthy release. 8/10

River Black: Self-Titled (Seasons Of Mist)

Coming at you hard and heavy from the East Coast of the USA, River Black is a punishingly aggressive metal/hardcore outfit comprising stalwarts of the scene Mike Oldener, Dave Witte, Brett Bamberger and John Adubato. It’s terrifying in parts, Oldener’s visceral delivery intense and brutal. Huge sledgehammer riffs courtesy of Adubato and machine gun intensity drumming from Witte combine to deliver the aural assault that you probably didn’t need but are sure as fuck going to get. Most of the tracks are short, to the point and bristling with anger. South X South, the stomping Move and the mighty album closer Everywhere are all bruisers with additional forearm smash. The pits for this mob would be substantial, frightening and far too extreme for an old man like me. Still, if it floats your boat, it’s rather tasty. 8/10

Impure Wilhelmina: Radiation (Seasons Of Mist)

Another day, another band who have been around for years ploughing their artistic pathway. In the case of Geneva based Impure Wilhelmina, that’s over 20 years. Radiation is their latest release, the sixth album in their catalogue. The band is led by Michael Schindl, vocalist, guitarist and main composer and lyricist. The band specialises in a more eclectic emotional brand of hard rock, tipping across the line to a more metal approach on occasion. This release is no different with a myriad of sounds from The Smiths to Anathema all buried in the mix. Every track is a complex animal, with multiple layers and complex arrangements. Shcindl’s melancholic vocals wring with emotion. It’s a soul-searching album, intelligent and clever. If you like alt-rock with a harder edge, it is certainly worth investing the time. 7/10

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Reviews: Desolate Plains, Soulskinner, The Shadeless Emperor

Desolate Plains: Practicing The Inner Arts (Molon Lave Records)

Athens act Desolate Plains are a two piece that seems to be the project of Lampros Potamianos who plays guitars and bass as well as also writing all of the music and lyrics, he is joined by Aliki Katriou who takes the mic as well as contributing lyrics and music, the band's music deals with "the human spirit and its continuing evolution through the centuries" they do this by playing very impressive modern metal tracks move between crunching groove metal to classic orchestral thrash, Shadow Of Eternity especially could have come off any of the latest Metallica albums, it serves as just a small part to what this band can do they successfully merge black, death and thrash metal with the symphonic swathes of black metal coming through on top of the double kicks of session drummer Hugo Ribeiro.

What makes the band an entertaining prospect is that Potamianos is a very talented guitar player and composer creating complicated musical pieces for Aliki to sing over, they get much more elaborate as the album progresses adding layers of acoustics and the aforementioned orchestral touches to Taming An Inner Storm. It's in the vocals where Desolate Plains are really interesting Aliki's vocals are so low you'd be forgiven if you didn't realise shes a woman, she snarls and screams on tracks such as Being Of Despair and Beneath My Skin but she also has a low clean vocals that is really alluring for the listener. Desolate Plains is a perfect name for this band their songs are full of a ringing desolation starting out with faster more aggressive songs before they slow things down into swaying bleak doom-laden grooves Crippled Black Phoenix would adore. As I've said Desolate Plains are intriguing their music is difficult and takes a few spins to really grab you but when it does it rewards you with progressive, genre spanning heaviness. 8/10

Soulskinner: Descent To Abbadon (Xtreem Music)

Unlike Desolate Plains their is no subtlety in Soulskinner's fourth album, they play gut ripping brutal death metal with touches of grind to really crush your bones to dust. The Athens based band have been bludgeoning the Greek scene since 1997 (when they were known as Terra Tenebrae) but they have only been in this incarnation since 2000, in that time they have released four studio albums and plenty of splits meaning they are well versed in battery and they aren't going to change tact yet the record opens with Fratricide which moves into Soul Of Death seamlessly the drumming not dropping a beat and the shredding attacking your vital organs.

Clearly the band are influenced by bands such as Bolt Thrower, Carcass, Benediction and Autopsy as they are comfortable riffing at lightning speed as they are slowing things down for thundering doom on Nemesis. Heavy as a really heavy thing and twice as angry Soulskinner are like an artillery barrage, loud, raucous and earth flattening if you like your death metal as pure is it can be descend into abaddon with this Greek death machine. 7/10

The Shadeless Emperor: Ashbled Shores (WormHoleDeath Records)

Ashbled Shores is the debut record of Larissa based metal band The Shadeless Empire they play style of melodic death metal that incorporates some epic folk elements from the outset, the record opens with the title track which has a middle section which has some hot flute action from frontman Ethan which comes back on Shades Over The Empire. Their music is like Amon Amarth very heavy but with melodic touches throughout, they have classic metal, death metal and as I've said folk tendencies in their music the dual guitars of Tasos and Chris are excellent, riff happy and progressively dexterous they lead the charge of this record and also add the acoustic guitars that sprinkled in and out of the record.

In the rhythm section Thanos is blastbeat happy but can also give heartbeat to the acoustic parts while Filippos has a big bottom end, the record is grandiose with a piano interlude in the middle of the record before Helios The Dark brings back the heavy as Ethan roars over every track with a vengeance and plays a mean flute too as I've mentioned. The Shadeless Emperor have a lot going on on their debut record, it's interesting, heavy and will appeal to anyone who like Amon, Enisferum and Insomnium. 8/10

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Reviews: Sivert Høyem, Shadowside, Bearpit

Sivert Høyem: Live At Acropolis – Herod Atticus Odeon, Athens (314 Records)

Norwegian singer/songwriter Sivert Høyem made his name in the Alt-Rock band Madrugada, he was the singer of the band until the untimely demise of guitarist Robert Burås put paid to group, however since the Høyem has gone on to forge a successful solo career with his latest solo effort Lioness being released in 2016. (Metal fact he also sang vocals on Satyricon's 2013 self titled album) Now you will be forgiven for not knowing any of this as Høyem has never really broken out of the Norwegian music sphere with the exception of a few shows in Holland and Germany his major spheres of influence are the Nordic countries and oddly Greece, having played the country on virtually every tour he (and his band before him) have amassed a devoted following in the country so much so that recently he was special guests to Placebo at the Rockwave festival in Malakasa Greece (a festival that's on our must do list).

Live At Acropolis – Herod Atticus Odeon, Athens 
is a 2 disc live album from the historical monument that is in the shadow of the Acropolis, the album records Høyem's headline set from his 2016 Lioness tour, he is accompanied by his solo band as well as a string section meaning the music on this record is suitably as epic as the surroundings. My advice is to listen to the album first then watch the DVD, this way you can really concentrate on the music being played without the, admittedly gorgeous, visuals to distract you. From the start of the record you can hear from the crowd noise that this was special event there seems to be an electricity in the air, Høyem takes to the stage and the band dive into Lioness itself with his acoustic guitar the the base layer for the rest of the instrumentation to build on, all of the arrangements on this album are lush and lavish, some of the songs have been tweaked to fit the more classical setting but it improves the songs no end.

Now anyone who has listened to The Tea Party, The Tragically Hip, Anathema will naturally gravitate towards this album each song is so different from the previous one but they all retain a collective individuality, from the countrified Black And Gold, through the powerful duet of My Thieving Heart which features Norwegian jazz/pop artist Marie Munroe, the sadness of Honey Bee and the psych-rocking Give It A Whirl he and his band craft beautiful music which takes blues, soul and jazz as it's groundwork and adds quirky pop, Pink Floyd guitar lines and a rock n roll spirit, there is an emotion to these songs mainly due to the devastating, low, deep and resonant vocals of Høyem himself who sings every line like his heart is breaking. Live At Acropolis... is a great record, not a great live record a great record full stop, you fell as if it's happening right in front of you, not a note is dropped and no quarter given, nearly an hour and a half of incredible music and then you get to watch the DVD too. 10/10

Shadowside: Shades Of Humanity (Spiritual Beast)

Shadowside are unlike the numerous female fronted bands around, they play a thrashier style of power metal favoured by bands such as Crystal Viper and Benedictum, they play a faster more sabre-rattling kind of power metal with furious drumming, distorted thrash riffs and gruff vocals from frontwoman Dani displaying the bands knack of mixing the melody with savagery, check out a track such as The Crossing which has a frenzied riff in the verses but moves into a hooky sing along chorus. There music has a very cerebral nature to it, this record deals with depression, abortion, the Mariana dam disaster in Brazil (Stream Of Shame) and mankind`s moral values, weighty subjects that reflects the band's heavier style, if this was bouncy power metal it wouldn't work as well, they experiment a bit with the feel of what is their fourth record, there is a nu-metal feel of Disturbed to What If, a steady groove to Parade The Sacrifice, electronics galore on Drifter and Alive is massive track that closes out the album where Dani and guitarist Raphael really show their chops from the ghostly opening to the typical symphonic metal sound of the song itself. Rounding out the band are Fabio on the drums and former Hammerfall bass player Magnus Rosen and together they make Shades Of Humanity another good release from this Brazilian band. 7/10

Bearpit: Blacklist EP (Self Released)

Bristol mob Bearpit play a ferocious kind of metalcore that really slams you into the guts then breaks down to get you banging your head.The band is composed of Rory Field and Rob Tygree on guitars, Dan Brotherton on bass, Kurt Thompson on the skins and the excellently named Maximus Day on vocals, they are a young band and as such their debut EP is brimming with youthful exuberance, all six songs fizz with electricity opening with Eclipse they have dual leads driving their sound as Rory and Rob play fleet fingered leads over the heavy rhythm section. With musical nods to early Lamb Of God and Machine Head. Bearpit really know how to make an impression, .

The action picks up and Maximus screams his lungs out, but there is no angst here just fury, his vocals are strong with the music behind him having the right level of epicness to it, they dabble with progressive touches throughout having a bit of bass break on Eclipse before all hell breaks loose again on the raging thrasher Hands That Feed and Human which is the most 'hardcore' feeling track on the album. Now I'm usually one for metalcore or 'core' bands in general but I know what I like and with a mix of modern heavy metal, technical prowess, metalcore groove, nearly all harsh vocals (some cleans appear on Human) and most importantly the fact that the production, songwriting and performance sound like band that have been doing this for years. The Blacklist EP is a real statement from Bearpit, it proves that the British D.I.Y scene is probably the strongest around. 8/10  

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Reviews: Stone Sour, Five Horse Johnson, Ulvedharr (Reviews By Paul)

Stone Sour: Hydrograd (Roadrunner Records)

It’s been four years since the double concept release The House Of Gold And Bones Part 1 & Part 2 was released. Since then Jim Root has been the most notable departure of the engine which fuels much of Corey Taylor’s creativity. The resurgence of Slipknot with several world tours in between along with his spoken word efforts and his creative writing made him appear almost as busy as Dave Grohl. Album number seven has now arrived, a 15-song beasty crammed full of delicious hooks and melody whilst retaining the aggression and cutting edge that the band has always possessed. It’s one that really requires repeated listens to appreciate the quality. 

From the reggae fused Rose Red Violent Blue (This Song Is Dumb And So Am I), the killer opening tune Taipei Person/Allah Tea to the hook laden single Song #3, there is much to appreciate and enjoy here. Taylor’s voice, surely one of the best in the business, is on top form, snarling one minute, crystal clear smooth the next. Guitarist Christian Martucci has slotted in perfectly, his riffs brooding and dangerous. 

The obligatory ballad St Marie sees backing vocals from Pearl Aday (that’s Mrs Scott Ian folks) but one thing that Taylor can do well is a heartfelt ballad. Full of slide guitar, it’s a real country sound which fits surprisingly well. As with most albums containing 15 sons, there is a little filler and it tails away slightly towards the end. Overall, this is a solid and reliable addition to the catalogue. They band play the Motorpoint Arena on 5 December. Live, they are tremendous and I shall certainly look forward to how the new stuff translates. 8/10

Five Horse Johnson: Jake Leg Boogie (Small Stone Recordings)

I should admit I knew nothing about this band. Jake Leg Boogie has changed that. This is album number eight for a band who are now 20+ years in the making. Blues soaked hard rock ‘n’ roll if you must pigeon-hole them. Cross early the grit and guts of early Aerosmith, throw in a large spoon of Clutch, a pinch of George Thorogood and the Destroyers and the ball smacking sound of Orange Goblin and you’ll have a fair idea. 

There’s the smoulder of Little Lonely, the stomp of the title track, the driving rock of Hard Times and the harmonica drenched Overload. Eric Oberlander’s voice reeks of unfiltered cigarettes, whilst Brad Coffin and Phil Durr lay down the riffs with as much soul as the Grim Reaper after a good night’s work. It jumps, it glows and it kicks ass. A beauty of an album. 8/10

Ulvedharr: Total War (Scarlet Records)
Old school death metal is having something of a resurgence with a slew of cracking releases this year. If you like the battery of Entombed, Unleashed and Obituary and the Scandinavian scene then Italian outfit Ulvedharr’s third full release Total War should sit comfortably in your collection. With skull crushing riffs from start to finish, frantic fretwork and an assault and battery from the thrashing of Mike Baid’s drumming, Total War is as brutal as you would expect.

Ark Nattlig Ulv’s guttural vocal delivery fits perfectly for the merciless onslaught. It’s occasionally mellow, providing welcome space and atmosphere, such as the pause in Flagellum Dei, which divides the six-minute track superbly. There is some quality guitar work amid the chaos, with Ulv and newish guitarist Guiseppe Ciurlia shining. Powerful, imposing and full of strength, Ulvedharr’s latest release is a fine addition. 8/10

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Another Point Of View: Sunn O))) (Live Review By Charl)

Sunn O))), SWX Bristol

Having been a fan of Sunn O))) since the beginning, it may come as a shock to most that this is the first time I've seen them live. Two and a half hour performance. My fucking God. It's honestly difficult to review their live performance. Perhaps if you were in a sweat lodge with a shaman chanting over you with two speakers attached to your face, you'd understand. I was disappointed on learning that the gig had been moved from Trinity centre to SWX, but I can now see why. Not only the demand for tickets, but Trinity's roof would more than likely have crumbled to bits.

Sunn O))) are a sonically challenging experience live, and the only way to describe that it *is* an experience. Ever breathe a frequency? Fuck, I have now. My eyeballs shook and I can honestly say I cried like a little bitch. I'm not entirely sure what emotions I was having. Excitement mixed with fear? Joy? Arousal? Possibly all of these. At one point the sound is so thick I can feel it pushing against my skin, forcing my head down. Sexy drone suckjob. Glancing about the immediate area, all I see is heads bowed and hands clasped in front of people, like at a sermon, and it honestly does feel like some sort of ritual.

Atilla gutturally invoking and gesturing, Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley shrouded in smoke in the background, raising their arms and crashing them down brutally upon their bass. I occasionally catch a glimpse of Anderson's face and by God if the man isn't grinning with pleasure at the crushing noise he's causing. Bless. There are several 'costume' changes by Attila, starting out relatively normal .. cloaked up, cloaked up with a melting face (unless I was tripping balls from the vibrations, entirely possible) and signalling the end of the set, what appears to be a gimp statue of liberty, covered in glass, spikes and lazers. It honestly comes as no surprise. And then it's over. Smiling, they bow, wave and leave. Two and a half hours has felt like mere minutes. 

Perhaps I went into some sort of different realm at some point. I felt like I had my soul well and truly fucked by vibrations and noise. My nose was leaking a tiny amount of blood and my legs feel like jelly. I needed a moment to get my bearings. Everyone around me looked in a state of confusion or near catatonia. What's just happened? Was something fucking special, that's for sure. 10/10

Note - keep the earplugs in. Out of curiosity I removed mine for less than a second and thought my head was violently collapsing inwards. Which I'm pretty sure it was.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Reviews: Riverdogs, Scardust, Next To None

Riverdogs: California (Frontiers)

The Riverdogs were originally formed in in Los Angeles at the end of the 80's the band are notable in that they managed to tap the then Dio, ex-Sweet Savage, ex-Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell to produce their EP, going one better he joined the group only leaving when he became a part of Def Leppard in 1992 replacing Steve Clark. The band split up in 1993 but reformed in 2011 with three of the founder members; Campbell, bassist Nick Brophy and vocalist/guitarist Rob Lamonthe joined by the bands second drummer Marc Danzeisen, this is the line up that has continued through to this their fifth album coming six years after their previous effort. Obviously the gap is due to other commitments of Campbell but it has made the band rediscover their roots tapping into the sunny blue-driven hard rock heard on their debut.

The songs on this record shimmer with a blues rock base that moves into melodic rocking, in fact with the intricate leads Campbell lets loose on American Dream and The Revolution Starts Tonight paired with Lamonthe's soulful vocals means they will appeal to fans of their label mates Mr Big as it's the sort of virtuoso-yet-radio friendly music they have always delivered.  The blues is plainly the major influence to tracks such as Something Inside and Welcome To The New Disaster while Golden Glow is the de-rigueur ballad.

The Heart Is A Mindless Bird starts out slowly and ramps up in the end into a guitar solo masterclass that continues into the hard rocking Searching For A Signal. California is brilliant album from a band who many may have thought had put their glory days behind them, I hope the busy schedule of their lead guitarist doesn't get in the way of another album or some live shows as Riverdogs are a band right up my street. 9/10

Scardust: Sands Of Time (Self Released)

Israeli progressive metal act Scardust used to be known as Somina but after their formation they discovered a band had trademarked that name they changed it to Scardust (which I think is better) but anyway enough about the history lets get down to the record itself. Scardust are female fronted with Noa Gruman having classically trained vocals that are very strong and have a wide range moving between soprano highs and guttural roars, her vocals are a revelation, better than many of her higher profile contemporaries. She is complimented by a choir and orchestrations and the band themselves play highly technical progressive metal with odd time signatures, frequent changes, a thundering rhythm section (with a drum solo), complex guitar and bass riffs (and solos) and melodic keys.

Their music is busy and incredibly well performed, the album opens with a five part title track concept which like all of the songs on this record were written by Noa along with the bands 'ghost writer/composer' Orr Didi and they have really captured the cinematic nature of Epica and Devin Townsend. The concept starts things as they mean to go on, from the Overture that sets the scene right up to the final epic part Sands Of Time it's an exercise in the bands obvious talent, outside of the concept Out Of The Strong Came Sweetness is a tough but operatic duet, Arrowhead more straight ahead prog metal (with a bass solo) and Queen Of Insanity takes things back to the symphonic heaviness of Epica. You can hear that Sands Of Time is a good album from the first few bars however only after numerous listens can really hear how good it is you pick up every nuance, every time signature change and you are continually astounded by Noa's insane vocals. Israel has great pedigree with prog metal and Scardust are the latest act to enter the fray bringing a superb debut full length with them. 9/10

Next To None: Phases (InsideOut)

"Watch this space" that's how I ended my review of Next To None's debut album in 2015, the young band had oodles of talent and also name recognition due to drummer Max Portnoy but their album only showed glimpses, they were a little rough around the edges but everything was in place for them to both improve and explode as a new name in modern day progressive metal. So album number 2 is finally here and have the band done this? Well the first tick in the box is that they have maintained the same line up with Portnoy Jr behind the kit again with Derrick Schneider on guitar, Kris Rank on bass and Thomas Cuce on keyboards and lead vocals, this time they have drawn on their touring experience and time as band to craft an album that has given them a definitive sound rather than just a result of their influences, which was one of the things that let them down on their debut.

Here they take their own path, 13 opens the record with a haunting solitary piano piece before the downtuned heavy riffs kick in, it builds and builds getting faster as the piano runs increase, then it explodes into a percussive palm muted riff Slipknot would proud of. So ok their influences are still there in droves but I hoped they were being used to add familiarity rather than complacency. The Apple starts with a drum break from Portnoy before bringing in more palm-muted guitars and even some scratching which I thought went out of fashion in 2001 and once again it's Slipknot, by Beg their seems to be a theme developing and the nine man wrecking machine may have to launch an investigation into copyright infringement. Alone takes us away from Iowa and into the realm of Tool with a moody nine minute piece punctuated by screaming parts that ruin it for me.

The virtuosity is still here, the four of them a incredible musicians there is nothing that can diminish that but this album just sounds like Slipknot there is very little variation, Thomas' vocals have changed but not for the better now he screams well but his cleans are of the angsty pop-punk style which really annoys me. Phases for me doesn't see Next To None improve for me, the musical performances are of a high quality but the songwriting grew stale in 2008. Next To None? In Taylors shadow more like! 6/10

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Reviews: Manilla Road, Pristine, Nekromant, Adrenaline Mob (Reviews By Paul)

Manilla Road: To Kill A King (Golden Core)

Manilla Road have been about in numerous guises since the late 1970s. The sole remaining original member, Mark "The Shark' Shelton continues to drive the band forward. Now, I'm not particularly familiar with their sound, but one listen to their latest release, To Kill A King provides immediate confirmation. The band sit firmly in the Cirith Ungol/Manowar epic fantasy metal camp. The title track opens the album, a soaring riff setting the scene before the song commences its 10 minute journey, a calm setting belying the rage to come.

Time changes a plenty, rolling drums and a clipped vocal style narrating the story before Shelton's superb guitar work takes centre stage. Conquerer is almost BLS in style and delivery whilst The Arena is a thrashy power trip. To Kill A King comprises many elements of the metal scene, thrash, progressive and old school. It's certainly worth catching a copy of a band who have been on the scene for over 40 years. 7/10

Pristine: Ninja (Nuclear Blast)

First impressions count. Norwegian psychedelic outfit Pristine create a good one. Opening album number four is You Are The One, and immediately comparisons are made with their neighbours The Blues Pills. Ironically Pristine have been around much longer, and their blend of alternative rock, blues and psychedelia is delivered incredibly well. This is a band that has been together for some time and has gelled well. Lead singer Heidi Solheim is the driving force, being the main writer and lyricist since the band's inception.

Tracks like The Parade and the Hammond heavy title track would warm the coldest heart with their honesty and passion. Solheim possesses hell of a voice, very much in the Elin Larrson and Lynne Jackaman style. It's not all blues rock though, with some of the more delicate tunes such as the delicious Forget which change tack completely amongst the most memorable. A discovery this year for sure. A real find. 8/10

Nekromant: Snakes & Lies (Transubstans Records)

Having listened to about three minutes of Snakes & Lies was ample time to identify yet another Swedish stoner doom outfit. Very much in the vein of The Sword and many others, the raggar-doom, as it's categorised is the product of a powerful trio, Adam Lundqvist, Mattias Ottosson and Joakim Olsson. Previously known as Serpent, there is a huge Sabbath/Pentagram sound on several tracks including opener Funeral Worship with a filthy riff which the dark lord Tony Iommi himself would enjoy. There is much to enjoy here if you like all things Sabbath, such as the riff from A National Acrobat which has a fleeting appearance on the rampaging Mardrom. Ultimately, it's the final track, Spelmannen, sung in their native tongue which provides the standout song on an album that is well worth a listen to. 8/10

Adrenaline Mob: We The People (Century Media)

This is album number four by the supergroup originally formed by Symphony X frontman Russell Allen, Mike Portnoy and guitarist Mike Orlando back in 2011. The current line up includes Allen, Orlando and new members Jordan Cannata on drums and bassist David Zablidowsky. 13 tracks of hard, heavy and bombastic American metal, with a massive sound which allows Allen to show his chops. It's hard radio friendly metal in its composition with stomping bass lines, shredding guitars and angst ridden vocals. Orlando is on fine form, especially on the title track. Easy listening if you like your metal hard, heavy, dripping with hooks and not too complicated. 7/10

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Reviews: Mr Big, The Midnight Ghost Train, Dead Soul Communion

Mr Big: Defying Gravity (Frontiers Records)

They're back, Gilbert hits the riff the immortal line of "OK We're Rolling" is sampled and like that Mr Big are back with Gilbert and Sheenan trading fleet fingered leads on guitar and bass respectively, Pat Torpey still keeps the funky beat and Eric Martin's voice hasn't diminished at all, however there is a little bit of reserve on Open Your Eyes, it grooves but it doesn't instantly hit you like the title track that follows it, swap these two songs around and the record sums up everything Mr Big can do, yes they are always going to be defined by 'THAT' song (much like Extreme) but I've always loved how Mr Big can easily pair accessible Californian radio rock with technical prowess most bands would never be able to achieve.

As I've said Eric Martin can still belt it out, his voice is unique and soulful, Gilbert knows when, to coin his phrase, shut up and play yer guitar, adding flourishes in the main riffs then letting loose in the solo sections, the same can be said of Billy Sheenan who is not your average bass player not content to sit and pluck he is constantly trying to out virtuoso Gilbert even getting his own solos on Mean To Me. They bring New Orleans soul to Everybody Needs A Little Trouble Gilbert indulges his Beatles fetish on the breezy Damn I'm In Love Again, the songs on the record are your normal Mr Big fodder with rock, soul, funk and even pop all catered for.

The worst of the bunch though is the dreadful Forever And Back followed by Shes All Coming Back To Me Now, it spoils the record a bit for me and while Mr Big will be able to revisit their glory days of their heyday, something they poke fun at on the heavy rocking 1992 where they lament having a hit single, they still produce quality music and their more recent output is better than anything they did after 1997 until their breakup in 2002. Mr Big are still Mr Big, yes we are still rolling but the songs remain the same. 7/10       

The Midnight Ghost Train: Cypress Avenue (Napalm Records)

I've heard a lot about Buffalo, NY natives The Midnight Ghost Train but I've never listened to any of their albums, so it's about time I rectified that starting with their fourth album Cypress Avenue. It's an intelligent record that straddles stoner, sludge, blues, funk and classic rock, this three piece have their influences with Sabbath, Kyuss with Brandon and Mike thundering in the engine room, there's the spirit of old bluesmen like John Lee Hooker and Lead Belly imbuing Steve with a voice that sounds like he has eaten gravel and washed it down with whiskey as he plays the huge riffs on Tonight and the Clutch-like Red Eyed Junkie Queen.

As the album progresses they shake up their sound with the parping horns on The Boogie Down which pairs funk with NY street rap from Sonny Cheeba of Camp Lo. They dabble with psychedelic country on The Watcher's Nest, New Orleans swing on Break My Love, a depressive, sparse, blues shuffle on Black Wave and creeping blues on I Can't Let You Go. The Midnight Ghost Train are referred to as metal band but on the back of this record I'd say that they are so much more, full of metallic bluster they also are rooted deep in the delta blues and it makes for a very expansive, engaging listen. 8/10

Dead Soul Communion: S/T (Self Released)

Dead Soul Communion is the new project of Devilment founder Daniel Finch, that project has continued with vocalist Dani Filth, but Finch has gone on to pastures new, Dead Soul Communion are a different beast to Devilment, this is melodic groove metal with power clean vocals working with harsher roars. Musically Finch and his ex-Devilment bandmate Dan Jackson are the riff machines behind this record but with Kev Jackson (ex-Fifth Season) and Simon Dawson (Steve Harris British Lion) in the rhythm section the album has a thick heavy groove throughout it that reminds me of Machine Head, this comparison is due in part to Edwin Mascorn's vocals sounding remarkably like Robb Flynn, check out The Last Grains Of Sand and it could easily have been on The More Things Change.

What sets the band apart from the large amount of groove metal acts out there are the bans use of synths, these I believe are from multi-instrumentalist Paul Jensen who brings the orchestral layers on Masked Deceiver, Ghosts and Suicide Lullaby it's these parts of the bands sound that counteract and in my opinion compliment the massive riffs. Finch has dabbled again with a lot of the sonic experimentation present on the Devilment record but I prefer Dead Soul Communion mainly due to the vocals, as I've said before that Filth's vocals really grate on me, this is modern metal with a progressive edge and it's a very strong debut from Finch's new project. 8/10     

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Reviews: Gods Of Silence, Wraith, Ward XVI

Gods Of Silence: Neverland (Rock Of Angels Records)

Gods Of Silence are a melodic metal band based in a Basel, Switzerland, their musical influences are clearly audible from the off with Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica and even Edguy all equally comparable, heck I'd even go as far to say Unisonic who's Dennis Ward produced the album with his usually quality. The band are five piece with solitary guitarist meaning the bass playing is more like a rhythm guitar and the keys taking a prominent role still the band have a heaviness that is offset by their excellent melodies clean guitar solos and intricate keyboard patterns. As is only right for a band such as Gods Of Silence the quality rarely drop the orchestral Intro builds up the cinematic tension meaning Army Of Liars can kick things off with a chunky riff and drumbeat powering it but this like a lot of the record twists and turns with progressive elements creeping in here and there.

The orchestral elements continue throughout, Against The... is more AOR styled and lets Gilbi show off his vocals, they get heavier and proggier on the creeping Neverland, in fact they change styles regularly meaning the songs never repeat or grow stale from the classical touches of Full Moon (which is about Werewolfs) to the careening muscular melodies of the Iced Earth-esque Demons. Neverland is a very strong record from this Swiss metal band, for fans of progressive melodic metal it's a real treat. 8/10 

Wraith: Revelation (Ice Rain Records)

Let's party like it's 1989! This was when Wraith's debut EP was released, they were hailed as the newest thing in UK melodic metal/hard rock, they had Lemmy singing back up vocals on that record and they were affiliated with both UFO and Waysted. However with many of hard rock bands facing the onslaught of grunge the band split in 1998, joining other projects or opening bars in Spain, guitarist Gregg Russell joining Tigertailz. There was demand for them to reform so reform they did for an album in 2007, since then the drummer they tapped for that release succumbed to cancer and the band stopped again.

Finally the latest chapter was written when they reformed for a one of concert in Nottingham which has led to this record, still led by Gregg and a very tight cast of musicians the band are back with an album of swaggering sleazy mid nineties hard rock, they have a touch of Motley Crue about them, mainly due to the vocals but also in their songwriting check out Under The Hammer which is the ideal track for sashaying in your leather pants and perm. The music is heavier than say acts like Little Angels, with distorted guitars the order of the day, but the band are unafraid of a ballad, Leaving Me Again is very Def Leppard-like and you'll either sing along or you'll want to stab needles in your ears, however they make up for it on No Respect which riffs like a bastard. There seems to be a lot of hype surrounding Wraith and their legacy but you're only as good as your last record and this is solid album. 7/10 

Ward XVI: The Art Of Manipulation (Rock N Growl Records)

Preston act Ward XVI‘s debut album The Art Of Manipulation is a 12-track concept album telling the intraspective story of a female psychopath locked away in a high security asylum. As such it's an avant-garde theatrical record that mixes hard hitting metal with theatrical elements, think Alice Cooper and Wednesday 13 playing songs with Lordi and In This Moment and you're on the right track, layered instruments, hazy psychedelia are par for the course on Take My Hand which explodes into riff heavy thrash, this moves into the the bludgeoning title track and from here the songs become stranger, heavier and more intriguing, The Flight has a pumping synth that is reminiscent of the Mortal Kombat theme, while Crystal Ball is the music to the kind of carnival you'd read about in an R.L Stine book.

As with all concept pieces the songs tell a story with little interludes driving the narrative along, the band take the personalities of the characters with protagonist Psychoberrie on vocals, Lex Whittingham and Dr. Von Stottenstein playing guitar, Jake has drums, Min adds the keys/accordion and Beardy McStumble is the bassist, with all of them taking the roles in the storyline, it's great to hear how they all enter and are even dispatched within the concept. Ward XVI are taking their metal sound to the furthest reaches of it's capabilities, with bands such as Avatar and the aforementioned In This Moment all dabbling with the theatrical and the baroque it's great to hear a British band having the balls to attempt something different. By all accounts their live show is something else, well their recorded music ain't half bad either! 7/10

Monday, 10 July 2017

Reviews: Amplifier, Starsick System, Bloodclot (Reviews by Paul)

Amplifier: Trippin' With Dr Faustus (Rockosmos)

Mixing Soundgarden, Tool, Sabbath and Floyd with a smattering of Oceansize, Manchester veterans Amplifier's sixth full player is a magical release. Mixing the Mancunian indie edge with some of rocks biggest bruisers in style, I even detect chunks of Anderson era Yes in the mix. Opener Rainbow Machine is a kaleidoscope of sound, time changes a plenty, psychedelia mixing with all kinds of rampant movement, Matt Brobin's complex and intricate drumming combining with Sel Balamir's effect pedal.

Amplifier have been around since 1998 and they ooze confidence. Balamir's live use of the pedal is renowned the worlds over and he doesn't let up. The harmonies and supporting vocals are impressive, and it's no wonder these guys have supported such luminaries as Opeth and Porcupine Tree. Freakzone is a joyous rambler possessing a memorable middle eight. Shades of Placebo also surface from time to time. It's lighter than our usual stuff but there is a genuine feel of quality. most of the songs clock in at six minutes plus, but they really do reward the listener.

Kosmos (Grooves Of Triumph) hauls the listener back to the late 1990s, a combination of acid flower power and the Manchester scene, jangling guitars a plenty. It's laden with groove. From here on it's a crazy mix of styles, with fuzzy stoner (Old Blue Eyes), the indie rock of Big Daddy and the Chili Peppers funk of Horse. This is a super album, far left field of usual listening. Amplifier are a really interesting sound. Check them out. Do something different today. 8/10

Starsick System: Lies, Hopes & Other Stories (Pride & Joy)

When you list your influences as Alter Bridge, Shinedown, Sixx AM (yes, really!) and Nickelback then it's a pretty good bet what the sound is like. The sophomore release from Italians Starsick System follows the radio friendly hard rock of those bands to the letter. Big polished sound, chugging guitars, huge drum sound and a Bon Jovi edged vocal that will no doubt appeal to the Planet Rock crowd in spades.

Marco Sandron's voice sounds like a million others, pearly white and sweet as sugar. The guitar work of David Donati slick and competent whilst the rhythm section of Valeria Battain and drummer Ivan Moni Bodin holds things together neatly. It's just a bit insipid and routine. The cover of Chris Cornell's Bond theme You Know My Name is adequate but lacks the panache and style of the original. Decent enough but I'd save the cash for something with more bite. 6/10

Bloodclot: Up In Arms (Metal Blade)

Featuring Cro-Mags John Joseph, the duo of Nick Oliveri and Joey Castillo (QOTSA) and Todd Youth, it's been a long time since the hardcore groove punk metal combination of New York City's Bloodclot hit the airwaves. 2008 to be precise. But that was just Joseph. Up In Arms is fast, frantic and like my best sex, over in a matter of minutes (*Spits out tea* - Ed).

There's no let up, from title track opener, to the one minute Fire or the three minute Siva/Ruda, it's all cleverly knitted together in a maelstrom of chaos. Battery of the highest order and ideal for those early morning commutes when every bastard in the world gets in your face. 'ave it!'. 7/10

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Reviews: Stallion, All 41, Gehtika

Stallion: From The Dead (High Roller Records)

High Roller Records only deal in one kind of heavy metal, it smells of leather, wears a bandana and high tops and gets played at full volume with riffs faster than a bullet train. High Roller is home of so many traditional metal bands it's difficult to keep up with them as the nature of the genre, as witnessed by the NWOBHM the first time around, does tend to throw out bands that sound very similar. As such Stallion sound like Accept, early Helloween and Running Wild it's German metal at it's most Teutonic, the band hail from Baden-Württemberg in Deutschland and you can hear those influences come through with the razor sharp riffs weaving in and out throughout the drums rarely dropping below 120 bpm and high shrieked vocals shattering glass if played loud. That's really all I can say about this record, listen to Underground Society and the stomping Down And Out and you'll hear all you need to, although I would say Underground Society would have been better at the end of the record. Still if you haven't moved on from 1985 then Stallion will gallop it's way into your heart. 6/10

All 41: The World's Best Hope (Frontiers Records)

Another month another Frontiers Collab, this time it's Giant and Strangeways singer Terry Brock teaming up with Robert Berry (bass & lead vocals) and Gary Pihl (guitar) of Alliance (Pihl also has time served in Boston and with The Red Rocker Sammy Hagar), rounding out the quartet is drummer Mat Starr who has played for Ace Frehley and Mr Big. Just before I get to the record, let me say just how good the band name and album title is All 41 or All-4(four)-1(one) it really got my linguistic sense tingling. Musically the only thing that will be tingling is if you love a total cheese fest from start to finish, I know a certain Mrs H that will love this (sorry Paul) it's saccharine, with dual vocals of Night Ranger, in Berry they have the ideal counterpoint to Brock's soaring vocals. Take the more melodic parts of Mr Big, add a sprinkling of Van Hagar and Foreigner then set it all to laser guided precision musicianship and All 41 are like a good jigsaw puzzle, it may seem a little twee at first but when all the pieces fit the completed project is actually very satisfying. 7/10    

Gehtika: The Great Reclamation (Self Released)

Gehtika are a blackend death metal group from Coventry but they state their music has a twist, which anyone who has seen them live will attest to. Similarly to their Italian counterparts Fleshgod Apocalypse Gehtika play a furious, style of death metal that brings intelligent lyricism, with a concept and orchestral touches such as piano and strings to their music meaning that the blastbeating, groove heavy, carnivorous riffs are interrupted by the haunting piano or cello break, Existence Or Oblivion has both and the way they are brought into the song they add to it rather than detract.

This isn't Andrew Lloyd Webber though (or indeed Julian) the metal is still the order of the day, Beneath The Catacombs has drumming Behemoth's Inferno would be proud of, the shredded vocals are brilliant as well strong and Satanic just as they should be. Having release two albums, shared the stage with Fleshgod, Crowbar and Raging Speedhorn, played Bloodstock twice this EP shows exactly why the band have had so much success, it's five songs are a brutal caption of Gehtika's brilliance as a band, support the underground pick this up. 8/10  

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Reviews: Bare Infinity, Humanity Zero, Barb Wire Dolls

Bare Infinity: The Butterfly Raiser (Blackdown Music)

Athens band Bare Infinity sell themselves as one of (if not the) first female fronted symphonic metal bands in Greece and whether that is true is debatable but there is no doubt that they play some great quality metal that sits in the vein of Nightwish and Within Temptation as Artemis brings in folk elements to the heavy sounds of founding guitarist Thomas Papadopoulos and second guitarist Steve Davis who are aided on this record by bassist Nick Laskos and drummer Simos Lantides, the Within Temptation influence is all over this record with the music straddling Gothic and power metal as the synths and classical elements blend well with the tougher metal sounds on tracks such as In Desertis which is near enough black metal.

Thomas even brings growls on Ashes as Italian singer Ida Elena impresses throughout, her vocal is not a glass shattering soprano but it works perfectly for the music on this record when taking the lead by herself as she does for most of the record or when paired with Max Morton on In Desertis or with Thomas' grunts. The music on this record is varied and engaging with the band unafraid to branch out of their comfort zone with tracks such as Sands Of Time which has metal riffage that is mingled with excellent use of Bouzouki. The Butterfly Raiser is Bare Infinity's second album (their first was in 2009) and it sees the band playing symphonic metal at a high quality, if you're waiting for the next WT or Delain record give Bare Infinity a chance to impress you. 8/10

Humanity Zero: Withered In Isolation (Satanath Records)

Funeral Doom Metal is one of the genres that can be like Marmite, you either love the crushingly slow pace, sandblasted vocals and general sense of dread it gives or you'd rather listen nails on a blackboard. Humanity Zero are now on their eighth album of misanthropic doom/death metal and when Withered In Scars opens the record with blastbeat drums underpinning massive slow motion riffs you know that the Athens band haven't had an attitude adjustment it's still absolutely devastating nihilistic and gut wrenchingly sorrowful, it's also boring, laborious and sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom. Humanity Zero will appeal but for me a band that can make a 9 minute song go by in a flash is doing something write but Humanity Zero make you wish their 4 minute songs were a bit shorter the album doesn't really get out of first gear. 5/10          

Barb Wire Dolls: Rub My Mind (Motörhead Music/Warner Music Group)

Cretan grunge/punk rockers Barb Wire Dolls were personally signed to a record label by Lemmy himself so they have pedigree to live up too. I was expecting the bang crash wallop of 70's punk rock due to the attitude of the album cover. When I pressed play and that's what I got from the opening salvo of Back In The U.S.S.A but then it changes tact as the swinging bass heavy If I Fall is not punk by any stretch of the imagination moving into the pop spectrum a theme that continues on Desert Song and Hole Of Isolation both of which are in the grungy sound of The Pretty Reckless and even Halestorm.

Gold and Call Me (not a Blondie cover) both have the soft/loud dynamics and the punk elements do rear their heads again but not enough, there seems to be absolutely no attitude to this record, nothing at all it's not punk, it's not even rock n roll for the most part. Isis Queen (vocals) Pyn Doll (lead guitar) Krash Doll (drums) Iriel Blaque (bass) Remmington (rhythm guitar) can play and write but what they play and write is uninspiring, uninteresting and a bit crap. 3/10     

Friday, 7 July 2017

A View From The Back Of The Room: Agrona, Levitas, Tides Of Sulfur, Trolls In The Mist & Sepulchre

Agrona, Levitas, Tides Of Sulfur, Trolls In The Mist, Sepulchre, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

It's finally come, this was Agrona's first date on their first headline tour of the UK, their main support for the tour was Levitas but in Cardiff they brought on board three more local bands in what was an extreme metal showcase. Each band were individual in sound and style which meant that there was something for everyone, providing you like being shouted at for four hours! With a flagon of Road Crew in hand it was time to head in for the first band

Sepulchre (7) were up first, they are an old school thrash/death three piece from Swansea with riffs galore. They really went at it considering they are an opening act and even though they played to a small crowd which was disappointing as they deserve more, they built a crunchy groove on Kill Me but most of their sound sat in the Slayer/Kreator camp start stop riffs and blitzkrieg soloing with touches of grindcore thrown in for good measure. They were a little chaotic between then songs but hey you can afford to be as an opening band, they get a nod of appreciation too for bringing a white t-shirt in their merch.

Next up came the absurdly named Trolls In The Mist (7) who were a pagan black metal band who based their sound around blisteringly fast riffs and, grunted vocals and songs about orcs, trolls and mythical creatures in general. Painted faces and songwriting put them firmly in the clutches of Kampfar or Drudkh, hell their song Battle Troll was even growled in Orcish. Noisey and evil sounding Trolls In The Mist counteracted Sepulchre's more classic approach well.

After two lots of fury it was time for a more ambient but yet still ground levelling heaviness the four piece of Levitas (8) took to the stage with both guitarist Rhys and bassist Liam providing the vocals the music was atmospheric, bleak and desolate it's keening post metal built on discordant metallic passages and dual roared vocals. The loud/quiet dynamic worked really well with more ambient passages seguing nicely into the blasts of total chaos. Musically they are similar to Alcest or Ghost Bath relying on technical instrumentals and vocals that blended into the chaotic soundscapes as another instrument rather than as an individual element, Levitas were a key element of the eclectic nature of this line up with probably the most varied sound on the bill, as the main tour support they are ideal to setting the scene for the headliners.

However they were not the main support here, the 'special guest' slot was reserved for the aggressive, disenfranchised, nihilism from Cardiff's purveyors of filthy sludge Tides Of Sulfur (8). It's been a long time since I've seen TOS and a while since they played the capital but with a set fulled by plenty of alcohol and massive riffage, they are still as angry as ever supplying plenty of ear splitting riffs throughout with sandblasted vocals barking at the crowd. Their songs can be drawn out and ominous head bangers or faster riff hungry pit inducers, either way this three piece are still one of the heaviest bands I've seen live, TOS hurt after a few songs but it's kind of the point, they rally against society in general, their music is supposed to be combative and it left everyone deafened enough to want more.

With the band's patented smoke machine from hell pumping dry ice throughout the venue, it was time for the Undertaker...no wait sorry that's wrestling, this was the intro for headliners Agrona (9) who have finally decided on a line up after a lot of experimentation, mainly in front of my eyes at the last few gigs, their 7 headed beast of a line up means they can bring dual riffs, dual vocals and keys into the act adding a density to their traditional black metal sound. Drawing the largest crowd of the night, which would only be expected of a headliner at a local gig the smoke was pumping throughout and the band played for their lives. Rampaging black metal was the order of the day, with their line up now set and their performance honed to within an inch of its life the band conducted themselves in a manner befitting a headliner.

Imaterium called for violence and it was given as they furiously shredded their way through their hour long set. The dual harsh vocals both merged seamlessly into a cacophony of noise as blast beats, bass beatings, lighting shredding and symphonic elements crept in. The crowd reciprocated the effort on stage with gratuitous headbanging and some pitting. Once again they brought on Steve Jenkins of Democratus for one song to add clean vocals but a band such as Agrona are one you have to take in the entire package, they are utterly relentless live with only the climaxes of the songs allowing you to refrain from headbanging but soon enough they bludgeon you again. The numerous shows and honed performance mean that Agrona are worthy of a headline performance, they are currently on tour around the country if you miss them then more fool you.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Reviews: Mutation, Decapitated, Kill For Eden (Reviews By Rich)

Mutation: III-Dark Black (Undergroove)

Mutation is the extreme metal side project of Ginger (of The Wildhearts fame) and Dark Black is the third album from the project. For this album Ginger has teamed up with Scott Lee Andrews (formerly of Exit_International) and they have succeeded in creating an album of absolute chaos and total sonic destruction. Dark Black is a combination of noise rock and extreme metal sounding like the most extreme end of Ministry crossed with grindcore.

It is an album which is completely unrelenting and the intensity levels are through the roof but there is also a certain degree of catchiness especially on Irritant. The album also features several guest musicians such as Phil Campbell and Devin Townsend amongst others. Dark Black is my first exposure to the Mutation project and is not a style of music I had associated with Ginger which is why this album is such a pleasant surprise for me. It's not an album for the faint hearted but is one that will appeal to fans of extreme metal and noise rock alike. A truly beautifully abhorrent album. 8/10

Decapitated: Anticult (Nuclear Blast)

Poland's Decapitated have been pushing the limits and sticking their middle fingers up at the so called rules of death metal for 21 years and continue to do so with their seventh album Anticult. First off if you don't like the direction the band have been taking since their reformation in 2009 then you are not going to like this album as it strays further and further away from pure death metal of the early albums. Decapitated build upon the changes they made to their sound on previous album Blood Mantra and take it even further displaying a far more streamlined sound with further emphasis on groove, simplicity and (to the horror of death metal fans everywhere) melody.

A far cry from their technical death metal beginnings. Despite this new approach the music has lost none of its ferocity with songs such as Kill The Cult, Anger Line and One-Eyed Nation still having the ability of reduce your neck to rubble. Old school Decapitated fans are no doubt going to find this album disappointing but this is a change that has been developing since the Carnival Is Forever album so should really come as no surprise. that with this new sound Decapitated have lost a lot of their own identity now sounding more like an extreme metal Lamb Of God. There's still plenty to enjoy here though. 7/10

Kill For Eden: Petty Crimes (Self Released)

Kill For Eden are a London based hard rock band and Petty Crimes is their self-released second album. Kill For Eden are not a band I had heard of prior to this review and reading up on them they sounded like an interesting band and something definitely out of my comfort zone. There are a myriad of influences apparent on this album from classic rock to contemporary hard rock to modern pop music to pop punk. There are many different sounds and styles to hear on this album which is a positive in that it keeps things varied but a negative in that the album feels rather disjointed.

The songs that work the best for me are the harder more driving songs such as Give In To Me and Toe The Line whilst special mention must go the blues leaning Halley's Comet which features guest vocals from the legendary Doogie White. Songs such as Woke Up Alone and Love You So are far too on the pop side of the spectrum for my tastes and leave me completely cold but thankfully this type of song doesn't dominate the album. The band put in impressive performances especially frontwoman Lyla D'Souza whose powerful voice definitely carries this album.

Petty Crimes is a decent hard rock album which works best with it's more classic rock and hard rock leaning songs. It is let down by some truly horrible songs which stray into pop territory for my liking. 6/10

Reviews: Blind Guardian, Owl Company, Space Witch (Reviews By Paul)

Blind Guardian: Live Beyond The Spheres (Nuclear Blast)

Few gigs are as close to a religious experience as a Blind a Guardian concert. Crammed to the gunnels with themes of epic fantasy, long, intricate sections with numerous opportunities for the fans to demonstrate their devotion and above all some blistering power metal. The band's rare appearances in the U.K. only make their gigs even more rapturous events. Live Beyond The Spheres splices live tracks from various venues on their Beyond The Red Mirror 2015 European tour and it is blistering. 22 tracks, over two and a half hours of music, bookended by The Ninth Wave and Mirror Mirror. If Hansi Kursch didn't name check the venues you'd believe it was one evening recorded in its entirety. Such is the intensity of the band's fans and their sheer professionalism every night.

The band were on astonishingly good form on this tour, as I know from their sole U.K. date at the O2 Forum in London, and it's evident in every track. Italy, Czech Republic, Poland and of course Germany all feature. Each Guardian fan has their favourites. For me, the essence of the band is captured in four songs. The opener, The Ninth Wave, a ten minute rampage which doesn't draw breath until the closing bar, the imposing and grandiose Imaginations From The Other Side, the incredible full audience participation of the acoustic Lord Of The Rings themed The Bards' Song and the Eastern influences and drama of Wheel Of Time, another ten minute monster with huge riffs, a battery of drumming, changes of pace and tempo, orchestral harmonies and a demonstration of just how fucking massive this band can sound.

However, there is not a bad song in this package. Fredrick Ehmke's drumming is immense, turbo charged, ridiculing the complexity of the manoeuvres he performs. The guitars of Andre Olbrich and Marcus Siepen slice, rip and then stitch the wounds back together whilst up front the vocal dexterity of Hansi Kursch never ceases to amaze. Live Beyond The Spheres captures the band at their peak. As an aperitif before their guest set at Bloodstock this year it's probably unfair ... because you'll demand all three courses plus an after dinner cigar. An exceptional release. Miss them at your peril. 10/10

Owl Company: Horizon (ONErpm)

Charging at you from Sao Paulo, Horizon is the debut album by Owl Company and it’s well worth a listen. My immediate thoughts were of the Texas Hippie Collective, crashing riffs and pounding rhythms, a huge sound that is totally driven by the gravel edged vocals of Enrico Minelli. Opening with a paragraph from nineteenth century poet Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman at the end of a chaos filled intro, the band proceed to lay the hammer down for the next 30 minutes. It’s big, brash and quite superb. Like Black Stone Cherry if they had bollocks and attitude, this is a sledgehammer to the face. Felipe Ruiz lays down the riffage, Fabio Yamanoto plots with his murderous bass lines and Thiago Biasoli just batters. There are many influences on display here, with Play With Fire brooding malevolently. The pace rarely lets up and whilst it’s by no means original the sheer intensity of the assault is impressive. 8/10

Space Witch: Arcanum (Hevisike)

Heavy as the proverbial bag of anvils, trippier than Jeremy Corbyn on The One Show and with more sludge than a 20-year-old heating system, Space Witch finally provide a reason for Stoke On Trent (other than Slash). Arcanum beats you up, drags you into the space ship that Hawkwind abandoned in the 1970s and then allows you to tumble on an interstellar journey of over 45 minutes lunacy. Elements of stoner and psychedelia fuse with space rock to deliver an experience that is well worth participating in. Climb aboard. Enjoy the ride. 8/10

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Reviews: Goldray, Shade Empire, Ghost Community

Goldray: Rising (Akashic)

Kenwyn House is probably best known as the riff master for Brit rockers Reef but Goldray take that bands more psychedelic elements and embellishes them for a much more expansive trip. Goldray were formed when House and singer Leah Rasmussen started writing songs one Christmas Day, it was a slow burn but soon things started to boil over and they courted Geoff Laurens for the four string groove, I'm unsure of the bands drummer but they have had numerous, it's the core trio that drive the 60's sound of this band, much like Sweden's Blues Pills or even our own Purson (listen to Diamond Road), they marry lush guitar lines with soulful, blues influenced vocals from Rasmussen who channels the lonely spirit of Joplin on the heartbreaking Rising.

Her vocals are so varied she has the range of Kate Bush most noticeable in her ethereal, echoed highs but with the a gutsy lower she can really adapt to any backing. House challenges her he lets Laurens play free and easy with the basslines while he brings riffs, acoustic flourishes (Gypsy) and ties everything together with lots of wild kaleidoscopic experimentalism on Eyes,  expansive desert rock on Soulchild and bewitching voodoo creeps in on Calling Your Name. Rising is a proper psychedelic rock album, it's off-kilter, twisted, at times nonsensical, but it lets the music wash over you and by the time the train-of-thought Syd Barrett-esque The Oranges Song concludes the record you are fully invested in the bands classic oddness, this is music from a bygone era brought into the modern day. 8/10        

Shade Empire: Poetry Of The Ill-Minded (Candlelight Records)

Shade Empire's last album Omega Arcane in 2013 saw them add orchestral synths to their already established melodic death metal mayhem, it was a really superb album so since then the band have been relentlessly touring and have finally gotten round to releasing a new record. This record is the last to feature original vocalist Juha Harju, he left the band after recording the album and his replacement has big shoes to fill as so much of Shade Empire's appeal comes from his intense vocal performance, his harsh, screamed vocals are aggressive and vicious but equally you can hear every single word he spits from his mouth.

Musically the band are equally as dexterous and they bring a colossal sound to the table with an explosive battery of furious riffage and crushing groove, they intersperse this with great use of samples and synths to bolster the tracks even adding some blaring sax breaks on Thy Scent which put you in mind of the band Shining. The record is only 7 songs long but with so much going on in each anymore would be overkill, especially after the 9 minute centerpiece that is Anti Life Saviour which is simply majestic in it's scope and delivery, it really leaves you breathless in its cinematic glory spanning both SYL and Pink Floyd. Poetry Of The Ill-Minded continues Shade Empire's evolution as band increasing the industrial and orchestral elements to create a dense, lush record, with a new vocalist in tow I will be excited to hear what happens next. 8/10

Ghost Community: The Cycle Of Life (Self Released)

Ghost Community isn't a band it's a Community, formed by members of such bands as The Reasoning, Magenta, Also Eden, Unbroken Spirit, the resultant album definitely draws on all of these acts. It's at it's core a classic rock record with  progressive rock overtones rarely leaving the field of view, this progressiveness comes from founder members Matt Cohen (bass) and Jake Bradford Sharp (drums) history in now split up The Reasoning (of which Matt was also a founding member), guitarist Simon Rogers also has time served in the progsphere so the Floydian shimmers that cut through on Mirror Lakes are perfectly executed with the main core of the band embellished by Moray MacDonald's excellent keyboard work.

The album deals with all manner of subjects but the title track is probably the darkest, you can hear the emotion bleeding through John Paul Vaughn's microphone as he delivers every line with his superior vocals that can move from a quiet whisper to a hair raising top end. Musically the band are all masters of their craft and luckily the forgiving co-production of Bruce Soord (Pineapple Thief) allows everyone to show their talents, just listen to Matt's bass on Anything And Everything or the haunting keys and fluid acoustic on Blue December Morning. The Cycle Of Life is a debut album that is a sum of it's parts, musicians with a heck of a lot of experience contributing everything they have, it rocks hard, it progs harder and it is a foundation stone of promising future for this Cardiff based band. 8/10        

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Reviews: Goatwhore, Bison B.C, Critical Solution (Review By Rich)

Goatwhore: Vengeful Ascension (Metal Blade Records)

NOLA supergroup Goatwhore are back with their seventh album Vengeful Ascension which is another 41 minutes of blackened death thrashing. Goatwhore have been one of the most consistent bands in extreme metal over the past 20 years whilst never releasing anything groundbreaking have always released albums which are great fun and are guaranteed to get you banging your head and 'Vengeful Ascension' is no exception.

Like previous records the bands sound is a combination of black metal, death metal and thrash metal which takes all the best elements from each and merges them to something which is an ode to all their old school influences whilst at the same time sounding very contemporary. One thing guaranteed on a Goatwhore album is aggression and there is bagfuls on this album from the opening attack of Forsaken to the vicious velocity of Chaos Arcane. The band also add in some influence from their NOLA sludge background slowing things down for Where The Sun Is Silent and the title track.

Vengeful Ascension is a fun and enjoyable album but there are many times throughout the album where you feel the band are going through the motions and many of the songs don't have much staying power. It's definitely worth a listen but is also a bit of a drop in quality in comparison to their last few releases. 7/10

Bison: You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient (Pelagic Records)

Bison or Bison B.C. (I've lost track of what they are calling themselves these days) return with new album You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient which is the fourth album by the Canadian sludge metallers.

With it being three years since the bands last release it seems Bison/Bison B.C. are on a mission to cave some skulls in with this album as it contains some of the most ferocious material the band have released in years such as Anti War and Raiigin. As well as plenty of ferocious riffage this album also contains the strongest songwriting from the band to date especially evident on atmospheric album closer Water Becomes Fire.

With You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient Bison/Bison B.C. have crafted a fine enjoyable sludge metal album. It doesn't stray from the sound the band have previously established but combines elements from their previous albums with some strong songwriting. 7/10

Critical Solution: Barbara The Witch (Crime Records)

Norwegian thrashers Critical Solution are back with their third album Barbara The Witch which is a concept album based around a story which involves an evil forest, a dark priest and the main character of the story Barbara The Witch herself.

The music on Barbara The Witch is very much old school thrash metal with some influences from classic heavy metal. With this being a concept album there are plenty of theatrics on display with narration and spoken word parts. These parts aren't overbearing and are generally consigned to the intro and outro of the album. With this being a thrash metal album there are plenty of meaty riffs on display with the songs ranging from fast, frantic thrashers to more mid paced stompers.

 The playing throughout is very good indeed but unfortunately the songwriting does not match with many of these songs being forgettable. The vocals throughout are generally poor with the majority falling into the category of a monotonous shout. Despite there being many fine moments throughout and an interesting story being told, a combination of poor vocals and bland songwriting makes Barbara The Witch a fairly pedestrian and forgettable thrash album. 6/10

Reviews: Dying Fetus, The Thirteenth Sun, Fellwarden (Reviews By Paul)

Dying Fetus: Wrong One To Fuck With (Relapse Records)

Wrong One To Fuck With, the eighth studio release from Maryland Death Metal giants Dying Fetus is a belter. Crushingly heavy from start to finish, dripping with meaty hooks, huge changes in structure and some of the most astonishing blast beats. It rarely drops the intensity, from opener Fixated On Devastation to closing beast Induce Terror. It regularly comes at you at 100mph but there are slower passages, the huge grind for the opening section of Reveling In The Abyss, for example, before ramping up the tempo once more.

John Gallagher’s brutal death vocals remain as visceral as ever, with his chainsaw guitar work savage and aggressive. It’s frighteningly technical as well, the complex riffing and heavy breakdowns surging through the whole release like an out of control electricity feeding monster from a nasty B movie. Trey Williams drumming is just blistering, the speed astounding; try and maintain his pace on Fallacy. With a solid line-up that is now in its 10th year, there is little sign of the band slowing down anytime soon. The Fetus is far from dead. Damnation Festival cannot come soon enough. 9/10

The Thirteenth Sun: Stardust (Aural Music)

A little behind on this one which was released in May but believe me, this is worth the wait. Stardust is the debut release from the Romanian outfit. It is an impressive first offering. Fifty minutes of progressive metal, twisting through pathways of light and dark, intensity levels shifting at will. This is the result of those Mastodon/Opeth US tours we are always reading about. Opener Universus contains everything, huge riff and delicate tempo changes. It’s only on repeated listens that you really get involved in this release, the deliciously layered songs demanding more and more attention. Pathways provides the first obvious Opeth influences, with atmospheric variations and the arrival of Marius Muntean’s velvet keyboards providing calming tranquillity before the trip accelerates rapidly.

The addition of some progressive death metal elements reminiscent of Opeth’s Ghost Reveries era pomp. Planes Of Creation is at times a little too close but overall it really works. Barna Radu doesn’t overcook the death metal growls, pleasing to most as his clean vocals are a joy. Stardust is easy to listen to though, progressive without over complicating things, playing to the band’s obvious strengths. Centre piece is the nine minute The Universe Is Burning, which rages hard, dips calmly into a Floyd-like plateau before spiralling wildly towards its conclusion. At times, this album is breath taking. With elements of Devin Townsend along with Rush also in the mix, it’s one of the releases that should be heard at all costs this year. 9/10

Fellwarden: Oathbrearer (Eisenwald Tonschmiede)

Three months ago the epic Winter by Fen received a 10/10 for its breathtaking mastery. Fellwarden is a side project of The Watcher, billed as an epic black metal project inspired by the rugged landscape of Northern England. It is just that. As you progress through the release, you are transported to lonely moors, towering mountain ranges, hidden lakes and proud forests. Ethereal and visceral in equal parts, cascading infernos are followed by tranquillity. Album opener Guardian Unbound, at eight minutes long provides black metal lovers with sufficient to get their teeth into whilst the slower paced but by no means slower in either passion or tempo Sun Of Ending conjure haunting images of windswept countryside, twisted trees and lonesome crows.

There is beauty in this release, with A Cairn Keeper’s Lament allowing an acoustic guitar to take centre stage as the track meanders beautifully. Alongside Winterfylleth, Fen and now Fellwarden continue to produce stunning black metal that requires attention, concentration and the enjoyment of great constructed music. I said that Winter was essential listening. Well, if you enjoyed that, Oathbreaker will readily massage those same buttons. Quite magical. 10/10

Sunday, 2 July 2017

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

Cheap Trick - O2 Academy, Bristol

Sometimes you realise just how amazing musicians can be. I can't play a note. Failed guitar and piano lessons in my youth. Three Blind Mice on the recorder was the height of my musical talent. So whilst I can be harsh on this blog, my appreciation of anyone who can play their instruments properly is high. So why this rambling intro? Well, having the rare opportunity to see a band who are so incredibly talented made me reflect.

Opening up the show was one of the UK's most hyped bands in current times. Stone Broken (8) play each show as if they are headlining. Yes, they capture the Planet Rock crowd and they are pretty routine in their sound, but if you like the Creed, Nickelback, Black Stone Cherry sound then you will appreciate the Walsall outfit. Most readers will know that the band arrived on the scene in 2013 and have toured relentlessly across the country, supporting endless bands and gaining rave reviews. 

Frontman Rich Moss is every inch the rock star, his easy vocal style adding to the southern rock flavour of their tunes. A 30 minute set flew past, with tracks from debut release All In Time and newer sounds receiving a warm response. This band work hard and deserve their success. Their sound does little for me but it will capture the attention of those who like their rock in the smooth, sugary classic rock sound.
I've seen Cheap Trick once before. Download 2011. They were stunning, even in the outdoors. Inside, Cheap Trick (10) are just unbeatable. I've reviewed their two most recent albums on the blog, with the very recent release We're All Right full of quality hard edged pop rock. Live, the band are infectious. Drummer Daxx Nielsen makes everything look easy, whilst up front time is thrown back many years as Robin Zander, Tom Petersson and Rick Nielsen, average age 66 play effortlessly. Zander's voice remains superb, whether it be Southern Girls, the snarling Dream Police or newie Long Time Coming, whilst he's no slouch on the rhythm guitar. 

Petersson, understated and barely moving at times, deft and dexterous on his 12 string bass but took centre stage during a cover of The Velvet Underground's I'm Waiting For The Man and The Plastic Ono Band's Cold Turkey. Alongside Zander, most eye focus on Nielsen. Aged 68, he strides around the stage at speed, ambling away whilst throwing crazy hand shapes and gurning under his trademark cap. What you cannot fail to notice is how astonishingly great a guitarist he is. Its as if the guitar is an extension of his body, such is the fluidity and ease with which he throws out the licks, almost as often as the numerous picks which find their way into the adoring crowd.

Cheap Trick don't rely on the same set for more than one gig. Their three UK dates has seen the set list change numerous times. This is a band with a catalogue of quite magical songs and they know how to mix it up. As well as the covers we get tracks from early Budokan days as well as a rare outing for Sick Man Of Europe from 2009's The Latest. Nielsen is entertaining in his between song chatter, displaying humour and humility and a super touch when he invites two youngsters up on stage to receive some gifts, in return for their declaration of their favourite band. Cheap Trick, obviously. 

He's a cross between Homer Simpson, Steve Buscemi and Eric Morecambe, but with a steely edge that lurks deep in the master craftsman. For all the tomfoolery not a note is dropped, not a foot wrong. Inevitably it's the classics that close the set, the cover of a The Move's Blackberry Way from the latest album, the inevitable I Want You to Want Me and Surrender before Goodnight closes things off. Hard and heavy, classic in every way. Cheap Trick remain one of the best live acts around.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Reviews: White Skull, Siena Root, Weapönizer

White Skull: Will Of The Strong (Dragonheart Records)

White Skull are an Italian power metal band that deal in fantasy, medieval, viking and battle themes in their music, Will Of The Strong is their tenth album and their second to feature founding vocalist Federica "Sister" De Boni who returned to the band in 2010 after originally leaving in 2001 leaving the band to carry on with a male vocalist who was replaced by another female vocalist before De Boni eventually took her place behind the mic. The band have been around since 1988 releasing their first album in 1995 so they have a lot of years behind them, this experience translates into a very enjoyable listening experience as the band are tight and disciplined ploughing through their power metal mastery with a relaxed confidence.

Sister's vocals are gruff but strong fitting the rampaging metal of Holy Warrior and the title track which features a slower melodic middle eight before the riffs come thundering back. The band excellently merge the speedy power metal with the symphonic keys and this record they have expanded their remit a little lyrically with a lot of focus on strong female characters, Grace O' Malley deals with the Irish Pirate of the same name who famously petitioned Elizabeth I, the bouncy Lady Of Hope is about Eva Peron (beats Don't Cry For Me Argentina) and I Am Your Queen is just Sister's attempt to make you bow at their throne. White Skull are a band that have a pedigree behind them and they live up to their billing nearly 20 years into their existence, quality Italian power metal. 8/10   

Siena Root: A Dream Of Lasting Peace (M.I.G Records)

Can be considered to be part of the Swedish retro revival but have been flying their freak flag since 90's making them one of the originators treading where The Blues Pills and Graveyard follow. this is their sixth studio album and their nth line up, having had a multitude throughout their existence they have recently settled on the five-piece that has made this album. The record is really organ heavy with MK I Deep Purple creeping in on Secrets which sounds a lot like Hush, the rocking built on a solid foundation of blues, funk and jazz which you can hear in the expressive drumming and basslines.

There is an analogue feel to the record with a vinyl warmth coming through on the record, with the experimental instrumental sections paired with soulful vocals that are similar to those of Justin Hayward with the multi-faceted, slide driven, electric organ filled Sundown sounding like classic Moodies. In fact the whole record has that late 60's sound with a psychedelic Summer Of Love vibe on the jazzy Imaginerium which is the albums jazz odyssey showing the technical prowess of the instrument players.

Tales Of Independence 
is the albums rocker and Piper Won't Let You Stay has a breathy sparseness reserved for vintage Santana, Outlander struts with a purpose and Growing With A Purpose brings back the Purpleisms with guitar/organ duels galore and even touches of Yes. A Dream Of Lasting Peace is one hell of a retro rock album conjuring long forgotten images through vintage sounds, they say if you can remember it you weren't there the first time, well I can't remember it but I bet it sounded a bit like this. 9/10

Weapönizer: Lawless Age (20 Buck Spin)

Denver act Weapönizer pride themselves on no clean guitar parts and riotous, raucous evil sounding thrash metal , when you see that the bands influences include Kreator, Bathory, Tank, Sodom, Voivod, Venom, Atomkraft and Destruction, acknowledge that their name has a heavy metal umlaut and you look at the comic book cover art you can already make a pretty educated guess that Weapönizer are a band who will thrash until death. Then when you press play their second record it sounds like it was recorded in you mothers garage, features the stop start riffs of Slayer and Venom, the record is the bastard love child of Reign In Blood and Black Metal the dual riffs come at you like a threshing machine, the rhythm section could be done for assault and battery and the vocals come from Hell's undergarments.

If you of a bullet belt persuasion you'll start a pit in your own living room to songs such as Malefactor, Hellbound, Rattenkrieg and Gangrene, there is very little let up with every song ready to tear your face off with blackened thrash metal. The perfect mid-afternoon rage fest for a festival Weapönizer have encapsulated all that is good about the underground metal scene, this record takes no shit and snarls in the face of authority, lock n load folks! 7/10    

Friday, 30 June 2017

The Spotlight: Interview With Metal Church (By Paul)

Metal Church Interview

Ahead of their much anticipated show at Bristol's Thekla, we were extremely lucky to be interview Mike Howe and Kurdt Vanderhoof from the band. On a balmy evening a couple of hours before the gig we sat on the waterside next to the floating venue.

Mike returned to the band after 20 years in 2015 and the first product was the excellent XI. It seemed a good place to start so I asked Mike and Kurdt what it was like doing their first show together at the D&R Theater in their home base of Aberdeen, Washington. Mike: "that was scary as hell". Kurdt added "not only because of that but because of Rick" (Van Zandt - Metal Church lead guitarist). Mike explained that Rick had been hospitalised the night before the show. Kurdt laughed "yeah, it was like, welcome back a Mike!"

I moved on to ask about XI, which to me captures the essence of old school thrash with a freshness. Kurdt said "that was kind of the intention". How did the album come about? Kurdt explained "when Mike and I started working together again it was kinda like riding a bike. He hadn't written for a long time but when we knew, it was exciting, we were working together again and this time we didn't have anyone else telling us anything about it. We did it and when we said it was done it was done. We liked it so we continued to work on it and there were no outside influences for the first time. So that was great. Each song kept developing and it got more exciting and I think that shows a lot in exactly what you said; there's an enthusiasm, an excitement about it and I think that was good because that's what we were feeling". Mike added "it took us back to the eighties when we were young and we got to relieve what we had in the past".

I wanted to know about the reasons for the band's limited UK appearances and so I asked them how the British audiences worked for Metal Church, noting that the band play more regularly in Germany and other European countries. Mike explained "they are all offers, you know, promoters have to offer us the gig, it's not like we go hey, we're coming, you pay us, that's what it's about, whether we get offers from local promoters to bring us here. These were offers we could do. It's difficult being in a band and on tour, pulling a budget together that you can afford to go to all these places. This time it worked out."

Metal Church's sole U.K. gig last year was at the Underworld in London and I was fortunate enough to be there. I asked the band how the gig was. Mike and Kurdt agreed "it was great." Kurdt added "kinda like the last time, the crowd was great. I loved playing there". I noted that the band were receiving good responses all over the place, and having checked out recent shows in Europe on YouTube but I wanted to go back to that Underworld gig and the bizarre sight of a fan in full work suit who stage dived. 

Do the band get many stage divers these days? "It sounds familiar but I don't remember" said Kurdt. "We don't get many stage divers but it's funny watching, as our crowd and audience has gotten older with us so when they start moshing everyone's moshing just a little bit more carefully; you know, you can fall and break shit! Everyone's just gently moshing these days. It's hysterical but they still go fuck it, we're not stopping!"

I then asked about the venue for the gig. "On a fucking boat" said Mike. "It's really cool". (For those that don't know the Thekla is a former cargo ship that has been converted into a club with the main stage and auditorium deep in the hull of the ship). The band played 70000 Tonnes of Metal (with former vocalist Ronny Munro) and Kurdt noted that this was more 7,000 tonnes of metal. I wanted to know whether the band ever got to see anywhere that they played, especially with their heavy touring schedule (the band were flying to Greece seven hours after the show ended). 

Mike acknowledged that they'd been on the road for over four weeks which was is a big tour. They don't get time to see anything. "It's a big shame. I've never been to Dublin, we'd never been to Dublin, or Ireland and we played recently and we saw like, this much of it (gestures minuscule size). Kurdt adds "we see what's in walking distance of the bus". I asked about their gig at the Limelight in Belfast and Mike admitted it was a difficult day with some sound technicalities which meant hanging around and waiting. "You are kind of trapped there waiting for things to start" he noted. The gig was great though, both Mike and Kurdt noting that the audience was "raging".

I wanted to explore how much fun the band appeared to be having on stage, which was apparent at the Underworld in 2016 (and was totally the same during the night's show later) with loads of smiles. Mike joked, "we huff laughing gas before we go on stage (cue much laughter). "We're all high as fuck!" adds Kurdt. "It's the old guy pills they give you these days" laughed Mike, "its like the beginning we just talked about, we can't believe that we're here doing this at fifty something years old, so we are more grateful; the joy comes easy." 

Kurdt added "we're having fun, because when the whole thing started, the whole metal thing you know, you felt like a complete twat if you were still doing that on stage now, we are just having fun, we're smiling and we are really grateful to be there and more grateful that anyone is in the audience". "It's fun, we are having fun so we're not going to hide it, we're going to have fun". "We're going to enjoy it" added Mike. "It's metal but I'm not that angry anymore you know" said Kurdt. "As a kid it's real easy to be all tough and metal. Now, I'm 55, doing that shit would be stupid".

I moved on to ask the guys about the content of their songs. I'd noticed when listening to the Metal Church back catalogue just how current and topical heir material is. Kurdt immediately noted The Human Factor for one. I wanted to know whether the current state of the world continued to influence their writing. "I don't know if you can help but draw on it" said Kurdt, continuing that he and Mike do write topically but that on XI they wrote lyrics that sang well. 

"Maybe they didn't attach a big bunch of meaning to it, you know, it was more let's be a little bit more creative, let's not try to be so on point with everything, let's have more lyrics rather than narrative and I think what comes from that is more listenable". However, Kurdt was clear that the earlier stuff definitely does apply today too. Mike added that they were trying to be more organic. "We just wanted it to happen naturally, not force it or overthink it. I think that worked really well for us".

We moved onto the metal scene in the 1980s and I referenced the Big 4. Kurdt was quick to correct me. "It was the big 5. They kicked us out!" Mike added "actually we quit the big 5", cue much laughter. However, neither Mike or Kurdt felt that the band was overlooked in the thrash movement. "It was the big 5 in the beginning but because of the way things happened for us, with the line up changes, and management changes we just fell away from it. I get asked about it a lot, you know, are you kinda, not necessarily bitter but do you wonder about what happened and I say no. I know exactly what happened. It was bad management, bad record deals, bad decisions and line up changes, all those kind of things kind of fuck up your momentum".

Kurdt explained that the band are now the underdogs, noting that this is kind of cool. "Now we are the cool guys with the history. We get a lot of respect regardless which to me is amazing". "It means a lot" added Mike, "respect from your peers, it shows what you are doing is viable". I commented that the material continues to hold up well as the fans know it all. "What's really weird", adds Kurdt, "is that the fans are singing along with the new stuff and that never happens with bands, the heritage bands or the old guy bands. They all want to hear the old stuff. Our fans want to hear the old stuff but they are also into the new stuff. That is pretty huge for us". The band are playing a good chunk of new stuff in their current set, four songs in fact (Reset, Needle & Suture, Killing Your Time and No Tomorrow).

The Classics Live release captures essence of Metal Church live, but I wanted to know what the plans are for the next material. Mike revealed that "he's [Kurdt] already got a huge amount of songs structured already, written and ready to go. We have to get back, get off the road to get together", "and Mike and I will finish it off when we get home" adds Kurdt, hinting at an early 2018 release. Exciting times indeed.

We then moved on to the final question, the inevitable favourite sheep question which generated incredulity much mirth. Mike identified three, the Rockfell, "with really cool, like glasses on", the Ryeland who had "such a sad face, he's like a bear" and finally the panda bear resemblance of the Hampshire Down. Kurdt added the Herdwick and the Boreray. So for once, the black metal Jacob sheep didn't get a look in.

Interviewing for us, a huge honour. Getting to meet such legends as Mike Howe an Kurdt Vanderhoof is incredible, humbling and real fun. These guys were great company, really receptive and appreciative. Huge thanks to tour manager Tim Harding for setting it up and massive cheers to Kurdt and Mike for giving up their time. We can't wait for the new album and a return to U.K. shores.