Saturday, 24 February 2018

Saxon - Cardiff Review

For one night only in Cardiff the clocks were wound back to the early 1980s, as three bands from the fabled NWOBHM movement took to Cardiff University's Student's Union building for a fantastic evening of good, old fashioned British heavy metal. Headlining the night, as part of a short European tour before heading off to America to tour with Judas Priest, were Barnsley's finest Saxon. With their twenty second album Thunderbolt barely a month old, this was the veteran's band first live outing since the album dropped. This gave the band scope to try out some of the new material live, which they did as part of a varied setlist that encompassed much of their near forty year career. The Great Hall in the Student's Union is a good-sized venue, and it great to see bands like Saxon still able to fill venues of this size. While there were limited tickets available to buy on the door, the vast majority had already been sold by the time the evening rolled around. Saxon are regulars on the UK touring circuit, but that does not seem to deter their legions of fans who come out time and time again to support one of their favourite bands. Before this night in Cardiff, I had seen the band live three times previously. My last Saxon concert was back in 2013, at Nottingham's excellent Rock City venue, on their tour supporting the Sacrifice album. That was a fantastic evening, but for various logistical reasons I have not been able to get to a show on either of their last two UK tours. I was not going to let this happen for a third time, so plumped for this Cardiff show as soon as it was announced towards the end of last year. The fact that Diamond Head were also announced as the specials guests for the shows made this show more appealing. I had not seen Diamond Head live for more than ten years, as I last saw the band in Exeter supporting Thin Lizzy, and I had wanted to catch them live again for quite some time. Clearly I was not the only person who was tempted by this double bill, as the place was pretty much full by the time Diamond Head hit the stage.

Before Diamond Head's set however, the growing crowd were treated to half an hour or so of music from Rock Goddess. I was not familiar with Rock Goddess before seeing that they were a part of this bill, but the three-piece's hard hitting heavy metal sound impressed from the off. While their sound was very typical of the NWOBHM sound, the simple riffs and slightly punky choruses were pretty infectious. Jody Turner (vocals/guitar) has a powerful, raspy voice that really carried the band's material well, and her guitar solos were bluesier than your average NWOBHM band's lead guitarist which certainly added something to the overall sound. While the crowd initially seemed to be fairly ambivalent to the girls' on stage antics, this slowly changed over the course of their set and by the end it seemed that a decent portion of the crowd were really enjoying the songs being played. This included myself, and by the end of their set - when their early single Heavy Metal Rock 'n' Roll was played - I was fully on board. I will definitely be checking out Rock Goddess' back catalogue out when I can, as I have a feeling I will be enjoying what I hear.

After a quick changeover it was time for Diamond Head, and as soon as the band hit the stage for their forty minute set they had the crowd eating from their hands. Despite being a guitarist down, as long-time rhythm guitarist Andy Abberley was unfortunately recovering from surgery, the band put on a crowd-pleasing set with songs mostly taken from their early 1980s heyday. There is a parallel universe where Diamond Head got the success they deserved, but this was delivered as if that was indeed the case. Helpless got things off to a good start, before the sole-newer number Bones allowed the band's relatively new frontman Rasmus Bom Andersen to display his immense talent. He is a very active frontman, constantly prowling the stage while belting out the songs' lyrics. The real star of the show however was founding guitarist Brian Tatler, who's place in heavy metal history is well and truly confirmed, who peeled off excellent riffs and solos all night. Songs like Lightning to the Nations and the epic The Prince showed this the most. With the rawer sound due to the lack of the second guitar, Tatler was left alone to shine. Diamond Head were always only a four-piece in their 1980s heyday, so was probably a taste of what they sounded like back then as opposed to the somewhat more polished sound they have adopted more recently. Unsurprisingly, they closed their portion of the night with their most famous song Am I Evil? which received the biggest reception of the night. The crowd sung the chorus back at the band rather loudly, and I am sure even those in attendance who were not that familiar with Diamond Head's output over the years enjoyed it. I certainly did anyway, and I really hope I am able to catch a full length show from the band in the near future. The setlist was:

In the Heat of the Night
Lightning to the Nations
It's Electric
The Prince
Am I Evil?

Despite the enthusiastic reception that both of the support bands received, this was clearly Saxon's night and as soon as the lights went down the place erupted. Saxon fans are always very vocal, and the energy never let up throughout the band's set, which lasted just short of two hours. As always when they have a new album out, Saxon took the opportunity to showcase a lot of it live. The title track of the new album proved to be an excellent opener and the crowd shouted the chorus back at frontman Biff Byford passionately. Byford is one of the best metal frontmen of all time and he led his troops through an excellent set that showed Cardiff why they are still held in such high regard. Sacrifice and another new one Nosferatu (The Vampire's Waltz) followed, before the band went back in time for a couple of classics, of which Strong Arm of the Law stood out the most with Nibbs Carter's bass driving everything. The sound, overall, was excellent. Sometimes Paul Quinn's guitar was a little low in the mix, which was a shame, but the sheer power of what was coming from the stage helped to create one of the best atmospheres at a concert that I have been to for a long while. In total, six songs from the new album were debuted at this show, and it is a testament to the band they were all really well received. Saxon fans are thankfully not the kind who sit there quietly until the old classics are wheeled out so songs like the hard-hitting Sniper were just as well received as a groove-laden Dallas 1pm. It is hard to pick highlights from a set that was so strong throughout, but it was probably two of the new songs that stole the show. The heavy Predator was excellent, with Carter handling the harsh vocals - very convincingly - that were performed by Amon Amarth's Johan Hegg on the album version, but it was the band's tribute to Motörhead, They Played Rock and Roll, that really seemed to get everyone excited. Everyone seemed to know the song, and hearing it live took to to a whole new level. Nigel Glockler (drums) in particular put in a shift during the song, which even Byford acknowledged after the song came to a crashing end. The last portion of the set was mostly packed full of old classics, and firm favourites like And the Bands Played On and 747 (Strangers in the Night) went down a storm as they have done countless times in the past. The main set came to a close with another timeless tune, Princess of the Night, which received a huge cheer as the band left the stage for the first time. Not one but two encore sections followed, with three more classics being played for the big crowd. The somewhat thrashy Heavy Metal Thunder got everyone moving, before the band's true anthem Wheels of Steel was warmly received. The big riffs from Quinn and fellow guitarist Doug Scarratt whipped up a power the like rarely seen before, while Byford led the crowd through a lengthy sing-a-long section. The band left the stage once more after the song came to a close, but they came back one last time for a hearty rendition of another classic in the form of Denim and Leather. Despite Byford seemingly forgetting the words, which was a very rare slip up in an otherwise note-perfect evening, the crowd helped him out and belted the chorus out with real pride and joy. This sound brought the evening to a close, and the band took their bows to rapturous cheers. The setlist was:

Olympus Rising
Nosferatu (The Vampire's Waltz)
Motorcycle Man
Strong Arm of the Law
Battering Ram
Power and the Glory
The Secret of Flight
Dallas 1pm
Never Surrender
They Played Rock and Roll
And the Bands Played On
747 (Strangers in the Night)
Princess of the Night
Heavy Metal Thunder
Wheels of Steel
Denim and Leather

It is easy to say that a concert is one of the best you have seen but, excluding 'special event' (e.g. Marillion at the Royal Albert Hall) concerts, this was easily up there with the best shows I have seen for a while. The atmosphere was fantastic throughout, and the band were on fire and seem rearing to go for their large American trek with Judas Priest. The show was also filmed by students from the University, so hopefully that means it will be released on DVD at some point in the future. I hope so, as it would be great to relive this night in Wales with one of the best British metal bands out there.

The Temperance Movement - Bristol Review

Despite only seeing The Temperance Movement live as recently as November, I found myself travelling up to Bristol a couple of days ago to catch the band on their current headline tour to support the release of their third album A Deeper Cut. The tour last year, which took in smaller venues in places the band would not usually play (including an excellent show in Plymouth which was the one I attended), was excellent and allowed the band to debut quite a lot of the new material prior to the album's release. This current tour, which sees the band playing in larger venues again, sees even more of the excellent new material included in the set; showing that the band are extremely proud of A Deeper Cut. With news coming in yesterday at the album had reached Number 6 in the Official UK Album Chart, it looks as though the album is going to be a big success for the band. I enjoyed all of the songs that were played in Plymouth back in November, and I have only come to enjoy them more over the past week or so while I have been listening to A Deeper Cut in preparation for this show. The show in Bristol was at the O2 Academy, which seems to be the go-to venue in the city now for bigger acts. While I do not think the show was sold out, there were a lot of people in attendance. As with all of The Temperance Movement's shows, there was a good mix of people in the audience. The band seem to have a big cross-over appeal, with seasoned rockers standing side-by-side with those who would not usually be seen dead at a rock show! The band's upbeat bluesy rock has clearly struck a chord with a lot of people, and it is great to see them playing good-sized venues.

Before The Temperance Movement hit the stage the crowd were treated to 40 minutes or so from American rock collective Thomas Wynn and the Believers. The six-piece band played a varied set which mixed blues rock, Americana, country, and southern rock to create a dense sound that impressed from the off. I had purchased their latest album Wade Waist Deep in preparation for the show, but had only had a chance to listen to it a couple of times beforehand. As a result, I knew a few of the songs played but there were still a few played that I was nor familiar with which were presumably from older albums. Thomas Wynn (vocals/guitar) fronted the band and shared vocals with his sister Olivia (vocals/percussion), with the four other musicians on stage all helping to create the band's sound. Aside from Thomas Wynn's fuzzy guitar sound, which included a few great solos, it was Colin Fei (keyboards/vocals) that really dominated the sound with lots of strong keyboard work. His Hammond organ often shone above everything else, which helped to give the band an organic and retro sound. The sound was mostly good throughout their set, but sadly Chris Antemesaris (guitar/harmonica) was almost inaudible throughout. This was a shame as he seemed to be adding a lot of harmonica throughout and it would have been good to hear this properly. That aside however, I really enjoyed the band's set, and the title track of their most recent album stood out the most. The country twang of this song combined with the soulful chorus is a winning combination, and the reception that they received at the end of the song (and indeed their set) showed that there were plenty of people in Bristol that were into what they were doing.

After a fairly quick changeover, The Temperance Movement came on stage to run through a fantastic 90 minute set that included most of their new album, as well as choice cuts from their previous two releases. The show started in identical fashion to the one in Plymouth last year, with Caught in the Middle and The Way it Was and the Way it is Now getting things off to a strong start. The former in particular is a fantastic uptempo track, with a simple driving riff from Paul Sayer (guitar/vocals) and a big chorus delivered with ease from dancing frontman Phil Campbell. There were another couple of new numbers played, including the gospel-infused Love and Devotion which featured Thomas Wynn and Olivia Wynn adding some additional backing vocals, before a couple of older numbers were played. Be Lucky in particular really stood out. It has a great southern groove throughout, with Sayer and fellow guitarist Matt White really locking in together well before one of the band's best choruses was sung back at the band by the large crowd. Some more excellent guitar playing was showcased during Another Spiral, which on record is a bit of a ballad, but live it is greatly expanded to include a stunning outro guitar solo from Sayer. I really like the fact that the band really let rip live and often extend their songs to include some additional jamming. Sayer is an excellent guitarist, and this extended solo really gives him a chance to show his skills to the fans. Unsurprisingly there was a big cheer at the end of this song, which shows that those there really appreciated the talent on show. Three songs from 2016's White Bear followed, including a powerful version of Battle Lines, but the rest of the set from then onward focused on the new album and the band's self-title debut. Built-In Forgetter was one of the main highlights of the back end of the set. It is one of the album's most upbeat songs, showcasing the band's bluesy sound perfectly, and it saw plenty of movement from the crowd. The closing two numbers were also both highlights, with the laid-back rock strut of Only Friend and the delicate beauty of A Deeper Cut contrasted with each other perfectly which made for a diverse close. The ballads on the new album are probably the best that the band have done yet, and the album's title track is probably the best of the best. While it seemed strange to end of a fairly low-key note, it worked surprisingly well and had the crowd calling for more as the band left the stage. There was time for a couple more however, and two uptempo tracks were chosen for the encore to raise the energy levels one final time before the end. The quirky Backwater Zoo, which saw Campbell sat behind his piano, is a fun upbeat number that translates well live; and this transitioned into Midnight Black, the lead single from the 2013 self-titled album, which took on a whole new energy live and saw the evening to a close in a frenetic and powerful way. The setlist was:

Caught in the Middle
The Way it Was and the Way it is Now
Love and Devotion [w/ Thomas Wynn and Olivia Wynn]
The Wonders We've Seen
Be Lucky
Ain't No Telling
Another Spiral
White Bear
Three Bulleits
Battle Lines
Know for Sure
Built-In Forgetter
Higher Than the Sun
Only Friend
A Deeper Cut
Backwater Zoo
Midnight Black

Overall this was another fantastic night with The Temperance Movement. Seeing the band previously so recently did not affect my enjoyment of this show in any way, as the setlists and vibes of the two evenings were quite different. There are still plenty of dates left on this tour, both in the UK and over in Mainland Europe, and you get the feeling that the band are just warming up with even greater things still to come.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Saxon's 'Thunderbolt' - Album Review

If there is a classic heavy metal band that is putting out new studio albums as regularly and of such a consistent quality as Saxon, then they have slipped beneath my radar. Barnsley's road warriors have been releasing new studio albums since their self-titled debut release in 1979, the vast majority of which are highly enjoyable slabs of no-nonsense heavy metal in the classic British style. New albums from the real legends of the heavy metal world are often, sadly, a rare occurrence. Many bands, despite still being hugely entertaining live, see making new albums as an extremely low priority task, and have either stopped making new albums altogether or only release something new once in a blue moon. Luckily for us Saxon fans, the band are not one that subscribe to either of those philosophies. In recent years Saxon have been putting new albums out every two of three years, all while still touring heavily around the world. The band's last album, 2015's Battering Ram (which I reviewed here), was the latest in a long line of highly enjoyable Saxon albums. While on the whole I feel that Battering Ram was not quite as good as the albums that it followed, particularly 2011's Call to Arms and 2013's Sacrifice (which I also reviewed here), it was still a worthy addition to my CD collection. Saxon are not that a band that regularly take risks with their sound, so fans know exactly what they are going to get when they buy the band's latest album. This brings us to Thunderbolt which, like clockwork, was release earlier this month and is the band's follow up effort to Battering Ram. Thunderbolt is the band's twenty second studio album, and once again sees them delivering a collection of red hot British heavy metal, done in the band's trademark way. Battering Ram saw the band working with famed metal producer, and recently announced touring guitarist for Judas Priest, Andy Sneap which saw one of the band's best sounding albums to date. Wanting to re-create that success, the band have also worked with Sneap on Thunderbolt so, predictably, it sounds huge. Sneap always manages to make every band he produces sound massive, and he seems to be the master at getting really heavy, but also extremely pure, sounding guitar tones. Under his watchful eye Saxon's guitarists - founding member Paul Quinn and long-time gunslinger Doug Scarratt - sound better than they ever have. Despite a similar sound, I feel that Thunderbolt is a step up from Battering Ram; although it does not quite reach the heights reached on Call to Arms or Sacrifice. This is still a worthy album in any heavy metal fan's collection however, and it contains a handful of tracks which I feel could become future classics for the band.

After the fairly standard atmospheric intro piece Olympus Rising, the album gets underway proper with the muscular title track. Anyone who knows anything about Saxon will immediately feel right at home here, as Quinn and Scarratt lay down a powerful guitar riff and long-time drummer Nigel Glockler lays down a powerful double bass pattern. Unlike many of his peers, founding frontman Biff Byford is truly ageless. His voice still sounds as good now as it did in the early 1980s, and his commanding performance here - especially during the anthemic chorus - demonstrates this. This is a song that is destined to open the band's shows for the foreseeable future, and I am sure that this is a role it will fill perfectly. While Thunderbolt is a show of pure power from the band, the follow-up number The Secret of Flight has a more melodic feel. The opening instrumental section is characterised by a flowing lead guitar melody, something which is reprised during the choruses, while the rest of the song is paced with real groove. It does not feel as instantly heavy as the opening song, but still contains all the hallmarks of a classic Saxon song. There is perhaps a little more light and shade than usual however, with a small atmospheric passage part way through that soon leads into a fairly laid back solo section. Both Scarratt and Quinn show off their skills here, and they afforded a little more space to breathe than usual. Their shredded efforts are always excellent, but it is also interesting to hear them slow things down a little here. Nosferatu (The Vampire's Waltz) features more of a gothic sound, something which the band has experimented before on songs like Mists of Avalon from Call to Arms. Session player Corvin Bahn supplies the song's keyboard parts, which add plenty of depth and atmosphere to the piece, but this is a song that really shows the skills of Byford. His vocal power is still something to behold, and as he bellows out the song's pre-chorus with all the venom he can muster you cannot help but be transfixed. The rest of the band, as well as Bahn's keyboards, provide the perfect backing for this tale of vampires with a mid-paced chug that is perfectly heavy. They Played Rock and Roll is the band's tribute to Motörhead. Saxon and Motörhead shared the stage together many times throughout the years, and this song really sums up that relationship - as well as the sounds of both bands. There has always been a little bit of Motörhead's sound in Saxon's style, and this song perfectly both demonstrates this and pays tribute to that band's simple, heavy style. In true Motörhead style, this song is a relentless display of heavy metal with fasy double bass drumming, quick fire guitar riffing, and simple lyrics. Producer Sneap joins in the fun with the first of the song's two guitar solos, which sees him shredding with Quinn in a style not unlike that of the late 'Fast' Eddie Clarke. Predator sees the band try out something new as it is, I believe, the first Saxon song to feature harsh vocals. Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth) adds his deep growls to almost the entire song, and it is great to hear him doubling Byford's rough vocals throughout. Their voices mix well together, and Hegg's growls act almost as an extra layer of music and make the song sound suitably evil. While I imagine the choice to include harsh vocals here will upset some of the more conservative of metal fans, as there are quite a few out there who really struggle with harsh vocals in general, but I think their inclusions works really well here and helps the song to stand out.

Sons of Odin of the other hand does little to stand out, and it is the first song on the album to not really make an impact. Unlike most of the band's other songs, it never really creates a strong energy and becomes a bit of a plodder without any true identity. That being said, I do really like the slightly murky sound created during the chorus, which sees twin lead guitars forming the main melody with a slow riff while Nibbs Carter's bass drives everything long. While not awful by any means, after five excellent songs in a row this one just seems to pale in comparison. Luckily the next song, Sniper, picks the pace up again and hits the mark. While nothing particularly special, it is such a rip-roaring piece of heavy metal that will automatically make any metal fan want to headbang. The simple driving riff is extremely catchy, and the shout-along chorus is sure to go down well if the band ever choose to play this one live. Saxon have been putting out songs like this for years, and this is just the latest in a long line of faster tracks that are packed full of attitude. A Wizard's Tale is more of mid-paced effort, but it is blessed by an excellent main guitar riff - backed up by some great ride-heavy drumming from Glockler - and Byford's strong storyteller lyrics. Stylewise, this song is very similar to that found on The Secret of Flight, with a chorus complete with a dancing guitar lead and effects-heavy vocals. Fantasy and mythology features in Saxon's lyrics from time to time, and this Arthurian ode adds to that cannon. It is one of the stronger efforts of the album's second half, and really adds a little mysticism and magic to the album. Speed Merchants, unsurprisingly, is another faster piece and it deals with the subject of driving very fast. While not exactly intelligent or thought-provoking subject matter, it is a fun song that recalls Saxon classics like Motorcycle Man. This is a song that never lets up the energy throughout it's relatively short run time, with both guitarists adding shredding solos to the proceedings part of the way through, and Glockler really putting in a shift with a continuous drum barrage. This is an extremely fun song, which it packed with tonnes of energy, and who said that heavy metal always had to be profound anyway? The album's closing number, Roadies' Song, feels like the band's tribute to their long-suffering road crew and it paints a picture of the average day in a roadie's life. It is a strong mid-paced song with a powerful main riff and a really catchy chorus that once in your head it is hard to shift. While not quite as classic as Motörhead's (We Are) The Road Crew, this is a song that really pays tribute to the hard working people behind the scenes of every concert. It takes a lot of people to put on a great heavy metal show, and it is nice to see Saxon giving their crew a shout out on this album. Overall, Thunderbolt is another really enjoyable album from Saxon and one that will help maintain their standing in the upper echelons of the metal world. I always look forward to getting my hands on the new Saxon album, and they have not disappointed me one bit with Thunderbolt.

The album was released on 2nd February 2018 via Silver Lining Music. Below is the band's promotional video for Thunderbolt.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Orphaned Land's 'Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs' - Album Review

The Middle East is not known as a hotbed of hard rock and metal, but Israel's Orphaned Land have been flying the flag for heavier music from that region since their formation in 1991. The band's melting pot progressive sound often draws comparisons to Opeth, but I feel that that comparison actually does Orphaned Land little favours. While it is true that both bands write long songs that mix melancholic sections dominated by clean vocals with flat out death metal-inspired sections that feature harsh vocals; this is where the comparisons really end. While Opeth's sound is deep-rooted in 1970s European progressive rock and the early death metal acts, Orphaned Land turn to their homeland for inspiration. As a result, Orphaned Land's brand of progressive metal is tinged with the sounds of the Middle East, with the DNA of that area's folk music constantly interwoven with the band's Western metal influences. While bands like Tunisia's Myrath have successfully incorporated more Arabic sounds into their largely Western-influenced metal, Orphaned Land's music is a true hybrid that takes just as much from their homeland as it does from their metal heroes. My history with Orphaned Land can be traced back to 2015, when I saw the band support Blind Guardian in London. I was familiar with the band's then-new release, 2013's All Is One, at the time but it has only been relatively recently that I have gone back and fully immersed myself in both 2004's Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven and 2010's The Never Ending Way of  ORwarriOR. While I enjoy both of these albums a lot, I still feel there is much me to still discover. Like Opeth incidentally, Orphaned Land are a band you really have to be in the right mood for. They are not a band, for me at least, that I can just listen to at any time. While this means that they do not feature on my iPod as often as they probably should, when they do I can fully embrace what they are doing. My go-to album of theirs until recently was always All Is One, which is an album that reigned in the band's more progressive influences somewhat in order to create a more concise and melodic sound. While this understandably upset longtime fans of the band, it proved an excellent entry point for me. Now, five years later, the band's sixth album Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs has been released to an expectant fanbase and, it is fair to say, it has well and truly 'hit the spot'. The progressive influences are back in force here, as are the more extreme metal elements that also took a backseat on All Is One, but the more overall melodic nature and soaring production of the 2013 release has been retained. As a result, Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs feels like the best of everything Orphaned Land has done in the past summed up in just over an hour's worth of music. Experienced producer Jens Bogren has once again worked with the band to achieve a beautifully lush sound throughout, which allows the band's metal and folk influences to really shine. Interestingly, this is the band's first album without founding guitarist Yossi Sassi, who was replaced by Idan Amsalem in 2014. I always assumed that Sassi was one of the band's main songwriters, so was interested to hear whether or not the band could still write great songs without him. It seems however that Sassi's departure has not affected the band's sound or style at all, and Amsalem has slotted in to fill the void perfectly.

After a subtle opening, with delicate female vocals backed by swelling strings, the album's first number The Cave gets properly underway in style with a strong mid-paced riff driven Matan Shmuely's shuffling drum beat and traditional folk instruments providing the main melodies atop the heavier guitar rhythms. Frontman Kobi Farhi soon takes over with his floaty, accented vocals that fit with the music perfectly. He is often backed by choirs throughout the album, and the chorus of this song heavily features one. This gives the song a somewhat spiritual feel, which is soon shattered when Farhi unleashes his harsh vocals during the second verse to devastating effect. While Orphaned Land do not rely on the heavier side of their sound as much here as they did in the early days of their career, the mix of light and shade is still highly effective. Sections of barrelling riffs from Amsalem and fellow guitarist Chen Balbus break the folky overtones, and help to create a diverse sound that does not rely too heavily on one trope to form an identity. While the Eastern influences dominate here, the Western side to the band is also displayed by a fantastically melodic guitar solo part way through the piece which showcases the instrument perfectly and allows it to stand apart from the traditional sounds that dominate elsewhere. The song, which takes influence from Plato's Allegory of the Cave writings, is the perfect album opener and contains everything which is great about Orphaned Land's sound. Up next is We Do Not Resist, a much shorter song that focuses on the band's heavier side. Farhi delivers much of the song with his throaty harsh vocals, which sits perfectly atop the melodic death metal cacophony created by the rest of the band. While not exclusively a flat out metal piece, as the choral vocals do resurface - especially during the short chorus sections - this is a song that revels in all things heavy. Shmuely in particular turns in a great performance here, with a strong drumming display. Much of the time he is driving the band's exotic mid-paced sound, but here he gets to show off his fast footwork with plenty of double kick drumming to match Amsalem and Balbus' riffs. There is an interesting moment of self-censorship part way through too which sees the band choosing to 'bleep out' a word. This word is also redacted in the printed lyrics in the album's booklet, and this strange style is revisited elsewhere in the album. Despite a fairly chaotic intro, In Propaganda is mostly a slower song, with swirling Middle Eastern strings and some gorgeous wordless vocals from Farhi. While the pace does pick up occasionally, with playful Eastern melodies that make great use of the acoustic stringed instruments from that region to create some highly infectious melodies, this is a song that is happy to largely take a step back and reflect on the simple things. It soon transitions directly into All Knowing Eye which is sonically quite similar and one could be forgiven for thinking the two were one longer song. Keyboards dominate here rather than the orchestral sounds, with enveloping progressive rock-style organs filling the voids while the band create a somewhat mournful sound with their instruments. The highlight of this piece for me is a lengthy guitar solo that really oozes from the speakers. Orphaned Land are not particularly known for their technical showboating, but this is a moment that throws all that to one side and allows one of the band's guitarists (sadly the album's guitar solos are not specifically attributed in the booklet) to really shine with a slow-burning and melodic collection of notes. It is this solo that dominates the song, as it is a largely instrumental piece, and it continues to impress even as the song slowly fades out.

The short Yedidi, which is sung entirely in Hebrew, follows. Written by Judah Halevy, the band's version of the piece is fairly rocky but it is over almost as soon as it begins. Orphaned Land have always included lots of languages other than English in their lyrics, so it is good to hear them using Hebrew once again here. After a handful of short pieces, the progressive epic Chains Fall to Gravity comes in readdress the balance and sees the band really pushing the boundaries of their sound. To match a progressive song of this size, the band have employed the skills of a true legend of progressive rock in Steve Hackett (Genesis; GTR; Squackett) to add some additional guitar to the piece. Despite the band's association with the metal world, this is a song that is distinctly un-metal. There seems to be a big influence here from 1970s British progressive rock, which is then mixed in with the band's usual Middle Eastern folk sounds. There is constant symphonic backing to the piece, as well as the use of subtle keyboard textures, which certainly brings to mind the work of bands like Yes. Farhi sings the song beautifully and uses his fairly simple style to really bring the lyrics to life. He does not possess a particularly big vocal range - his ability to unleash some strong harsh vocals aside - but his emotional vocal style always manages to draw the listener in. With Hackett on board for the piece, there is plenty of excellent guitar work throughout. There a couple of standout guitar solos here, as well as plenty of subtle leads and textures throughout, really create the song's progressive feel and keep things interesting through the entirety of the piece. Lead single Like Orpheus follows and this shows a slight power metal influence, similar to what the band displayed on the title track for All Is One. Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian; Demons & Wizards) adds his distinct vocals to the song's chorus, and it is great to hear him singing with that strong Middle Eastern backing. Despite the powerful melodies here, with prominent guitar leads providing the main hooks during the instrumental sections, the song still possesses the band's signature sound. Orphaned Land have made a career on their longer pieces which take multiple listens to really get the hang of, but this is a song that makes an instant impact and would be the perfect introduction to the band for a potential new fan. A short and largely instrumental piece Poets of Prophetic Messianism follows, which again focuses on the Middle Eastern acoustic stringed instruments to provide the main melodies. Choral vocals, along with some wordless female vocals akin to those which started this album off, surface throughout but it is the instruments that really dominate here. Left Behind is another fairly simple song, and is built around a chugging guitar riff  that is backed by some dramatic strings. Written in collaboration with fellow Israeli musician Moran Magal, this is another song that I feel would act as a great gateway to the band's music. While largely a mid-paced piece, towards the end things start to speed up and one of the guitarists unleashes a shredding solo that comes out of nowhere which goes alongside a powerful metal backing. This is the heaviest the album has been since We Do Not Resist, and coincidentally this song also reprises that strange censoring technique, and it certainly introduces the last third or so of the album perfectly which places more emphasis on the heavier side of things.

My Brother's Keeper is a great mix of progressive metal riffing and soaring strings. Farhi really dominates this song however with some demonic grunts, slightly demented spoken word sections, and gorgeous cleans to create a diverse vocal performance that works well with the strange musical mix that is often dancing away behind him. Heavier sections sit alongside keyboard-heavy sections, including a part which is dominated by a piano. This is not something that Orphaned Land usually make use of, but it works well. Take My Hand opens with a spoken word section, before morphing into a song that mixes smooth Middle Eastern sounds perfectly with groove metal riffing that comes in at opportune moments to add an injection of energy when required. The thing that stands out the most throughout this song however is the chorus. It sounds a bit like something that would be found in a 1980s power ballad, but mixed with the band's trademark Middle Eastern sounds. Farhi's melodies are extremely memorable which helps the chorus become so powerful. If the band chooses to play this song live, I am sure that the crowd will really engage with it and it will become something very special indeed. The album's final 'proper' song, Only the Dead Have Seen the End of War, is probably the heaviest piece here. Another guest in the form of Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates; Lock Up; Nightrage; Sign of Cain; The Lurking Fear) adds his screamed vocals to the song, and his and Farhi's voices mix together perfectly in this extreme metal duet. Despite the overall heaviness of the song, the soaring strings that dominate the album are still present here, often adding a great counter melody to Amsalem and Balbus' snaking metal riffs. Lindberg's screams are much higher than Farhi's low growls, so the two men's vocals combine well to form a powerful team. The choirs also resurface here, adding a more melodic vocal counterpoint to the barrage of harsh vocals that features throughout, and help to diversify what would otherwise be a much simpler song. There is a brief silence after the song comes crashing to an end, before The Manifest - Epilogue creeps in with spooky strings and a gorgeously melodic guitar solo. The piece takes inspiration from the writings and music of Chilean activist Víctor Jara and features Farhi delivering a chilling spoken word piece before a choir comes in to take the piece to a powerful musical conclusion. Another spoken word section follows, which features quotes from George Orwell's seminal dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four which seems to sum up much of the lyrical content found throughout the album. It is a powerful closing statement, which follows on from the largely instrumental epilogue perfectly. Overall, Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs is a fantastic piece of work from the Israeli band that shows a huge amount of scope and ambition. So rarely does the fusing of different cultural sounds work so well as it does here, but the marriage of Middle Eastern folk and West metal really works to create a rich sound and a powerful atmosphere which is often heavy both in tone and musically. This has replaced All Is One as my go-to Orphaned Land album, and has inspired me to really engage with their previous work in a much more meaningful way.

The album was released on 26th January 2018 via Century Media Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Like Orpheus.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Divide - Plymouth Review

Despite the fact I live only around a 10 minute walk from Mutley Plain in Plymouth, which boasts two small but busy live music venues, to my shame I have made very little effort to go to gigs at either The Junction or The Underground on a regular basis. I have been to both a handful of times to catch bands that I was already familiar with, but I have never really made the effort to check through their listings every so often to see if there any bands coming up that seem interesting. This year however, I intend to do this and the first band that caught my interest were Scottish poppy alternative rockers Divide. Currently in the midst of a decent-sized UK tour supporting their debut EP Embers, Divide included a mid-week stop off at The Junction as part of this jaunt. I purchased Embers on iTunes a few weeks ago in preparation for this show, and have been playing it quite regularly since. While not exactly the sort of music I usually listen to, Divide's harder take on pop rock with a slightly emo tinge appeals. I have a bit of a soft spot for anything that is catchy and rocky, and that is exactly what Divide are. Comparisons can be drawn with American superstars Paramore, due to the obvious pop punk influence and both bands having a charismatic female singer, but Divide hit harder with a tougher overall sound. In anticipation of a decent evening, I made the short walk from my flat to The Junction, which has had a bit of a makeover since my last visit and is now sporting a much larger bar. There were three bands on the bill, all of whom played relatively short sets of around 40 minutes each. While it was strange seeing a headliner performing such a short set, this is a band that is just starting out on their journey so do not have the luxury of an expansive back catalogue to draw from. Sadly however, the turnout was very poor with probably no more than 30 people in the venue at any one time, and this included members of the bands performing and venue staff! It is always a shame to go to such a poorly-attended show, but sadly this is what small bands have to face on a regular basis.

On first were the local Plymouth band Lastoneout who I had heard of previously but had never seen. I am not a big fan of post-hardcore music, or pop punk for that matter which featured heavily in the band's sound, but their tight sound and expressive vocals certainly made an impression. Most of their songs were fairly upbeat, with walls of distorted guitar and occasional harsh vocals, but sometimes the music entered a bit of a lull with a more melancholic sound. This allowed frontman Sam Cudmore to showcase his diverse vocal skills, and it was his performance that really made the band tick. On the whole I find this kind of music quite bland, despite usually having plenty of energy, and while Lastoneout's music was fairly one-dimensional, I found Cudmore's vocal style and presence to be very good indeed. This is a band that is clearly very good at what they do, it is just that what they do is mostly not for me. Despite this, they were probably the most enjoyable post-hardcore band that I have seen and I can see why they have made a name for themselves on the local rock scene.

Up next were Junior, who are supporting Divide on most of this current tour. The Welsh pop punk band, who feature WWE superstar Mark Andrews (vocals/bass guitar), played a high energy set which I found a lot more enjoyable than I thought I would. As I stated earlier, pop punk is really not my thing, but Junior's attitude was infectious and I found myself enjoying what they were doing. Much like Divide's sound, Junior's had a little more bite than you would expect from your usual pop punk act with some relatively heavy guitar playing and a hard-hitting drum sound. Despite the small crowd, Junior managed to whip up a bit of an atmosphere in the room and they were probably the best-received band of the evening. Much like with Lastoneout, Junior are a band that are very good at what they do, it is just not really my thing. I still enjoyed their set however, and it shows that seeing bands that are outside of your comfort zone can sometimes be a good thing.

Unsurprisingly however, Divide were the band of the night. It was 10pm by the time they hit the stage, but they ran through a strong set that featured all of their debut EP plus a few other tracks. Despite the small crowd, and the fact that there were a few people sat down at the back which clearly annoyed frontwoman Nicole Mason, the band played well and certainly impressed those who were present. Opening with Before I Go from the EP was a good move, as the upbeat song provided the perfect start to their set. There were a few people in the crowd singing along which was good to see, and even those who seemed disinterested at first seemed to take more interest as things moved along. The highlight of the band's set for me was an excellent performance of Sink This City, which is my favourite song on Embers. Mason's vocal melodies are extremely catchy, and the subtle lead guitar lines from founding guitarist David Lennon really help to bring the song to life - especially during that somewhat atmospheric chorus. The EP's hard-hitting title track was another stand out moment, with the whole band locking in together to create a tight, heavy sound. There were songs performed that I did not know, which could be the band's earlier stand-alone singles, but there was not a song played that I did not enjoy. Despite their short set, I was impressed with Divide and I will definitely be keeping an eye on their progress going forward. If they ever make it back down to Plymouth I will definitely make the effort to see them again and, until then, I will continue to enjoy Embers.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Arch Enemy - London Review

Over the last few years, Sweden's Arch Enemy have become one of the busiest touring acts in the metal world. Since their somewhat relaunch back in 2014 which saw the appointment of frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz and the release of the critically acclaimed War Eternal, there has been very few extended periods which have seen the band off the road. It is fair to say that the band has been pushing themselves again in a big way, with lengthy headline tours being mixed with plentiful festival appearances and support slots. This intense work ethic has continued into 2018, following the release of Will to Power album last year - the second Arch Enemy album to feature White-Gluz's vocals. Following a fairly extensive co-headline US tour with Trivium towards the back end of last year, the early couple of months of 2018 has featured a good-sized European headline trek which ended with a handful of UK dates.  Arch Enemy have always been a fairly popular band over here, and it was good to see them booked into (and sometimes selling out) decent-sized UK venues. Often metal bands are reduced to adding a token London date at the Underworld in Camden to their wider European touring schedule, so to see Arch Enemy coming over and adding a few dates across the country in good-sized venues was extremely welcome. Their choice seems to have paid off too, with good crowds turning up at all of their shows, and their London date - at the Koko - selling out. The Koko is a good, mid-sized venue in the Southern part of Camden which always seems to attract strong crowds and atmospheres. This night was different, with the sold out crowd really getting into the show for the most part and creating a strong vibe from the moment the first band hit the stage.

A strong bill had been assembled for this tour, and it was not too long after the doors opened that the opening band Tribulation took to the stage to run through 40 minutes or so of their trademark black metal. Black metal will never be my thing, but Tribulation are an interesting band. I saw them a couple of years ago supporting Paradise Lost in Wolverhampton and their black metal sound, that included a lot more classic rock strut than usual, intrigued me. While I do not think that their set this time was as interesting, probably as the overall sound mix was not as strong and one of the guitarists seemed to be having intermittent gear trouble throughout, their fairly melodic sound still was interesting. I like the fact that genuine lead guitar plays a greater part in their sound than is usually the case with black metal. Tribulation's two guitarists are both extremely talented (as well as flamboyant - something else not usually associated with black metal!) and peeled off numerous solos and atmospheric leads throughout their set. The large crowd was gradually building up while Tribulation were playing, and it seemed that the reaction to each song grew with the crowd. It is fair to say that they went down well with the crowd, and I enjoyed having another opportunity to see a band that, while not really my thing, are extremely original and doing something different with their music.

The main support came from Finland's Wintersun, a band with a fairly large following and reputation in their own right so it seemed right that they had nearly an hour on stage to showcase their craft. I have been a casual fan of theirs for a while now, but this was the first time I had had the opportunity to see them, and I have to say that I was very impressed. Their six-song set was a display of epic songwriting and consummate performance, with bandleader and frontman Jari Mäenpää leading the five-piece through their paces with his diverse vocal performance. Two songs from each of their three studio albums were featured, with the personal favourite Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring) getting things off to a strong start with the tight guitar rhythms and soaring orchestral backing. Mäenpää aside, the real star of the show for me was Teemu Mäntysaari (guitar/vocals). Since Mäenpää has now stepped back from playing the guitar live to focus on his vocals, Mäntysaari handles the vast majority of the leads. Most of the songs performed had complex solos for him to really sink his teeth into, as well as intricate rhythms which saw him and new recruit Asim Searah (guitar/vocals) locking in together perfectly. The highlight of their set for me was an epic rendition of Sons of Winter and Stars from 2012's Time I, which came across really well live with the whole band helping out with the vocals to help recreate the choirs of the studio recording. The reaction from the crowd throughout their set was also great, and I got the feeling that there were some there who here in attendance mostly to see Wintersun's set. There were lots of people in who were clearly well-versed in the band's catalogue, and that helped to create an excellent atmosphere while they were playing. Another epic, Time, saw Wintersun's set come to an end to rapturous applause and I do not think there were many people who would have been disappointed if the band had carried on for longer. I will definitely have to catch the band next time they come and play in the UK! The setlist was:

Awaken from the Dark Slumber (Spring)
Winter Madness
Sons of Winter and Stars
Loneliness (Winter)
Battle Against Time

Despite Wintersun's huge reception, this was Arch Enemy's night and it was not too long before they hit the stage for a back-catalogue touring 90 minute set packed with some of their most crowd-pleasing anthems. Despite her relatively short time fronting the band, White-Gluz has made the position her own and sings the band's older material with as much conviction as she sings the songs that were written for her voice. The band hit the stage with The World is Yours, one of the singles from the new album, and that anthemic melodic death metal tune really set the mood for the set going forward. This was mostly a high energy set which allowed everyone on stage to really show off. Ravenous and War Eternal were early highlights and showed the band at their best. Both featured extended guitar solo sections for both founding member Michael Amott and relative-newcomer Jeff Loomis to show off their considerable chops. The latter in particular is a phenomenal guitarist, with a big history in the metal world in his own right, so seeing him peel off solo after solo was a real treat. Not every song featured was a speed fest however. The classic rock-influenced You Will Know My Name was a highlight of the mid period of the set, while the pseudo ballad Reason to Believe was thrown in towards the end for a timely change of pace. Elsewhere however, the pace was kept relatively high with the crushing Bloodstained Cross and the thrashy As the Pages Burn proving to be real winners. Arch Enemy are one of the defining bands in the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene, and this was a set that hammered that home. Even the more melancholic instrumentals that were occasionally thrown in really helped the mood of the evening, with Amott in particular shining in these sections with his smooth, almost bluesy playing. Two of the best songs were saved to the closing section of the main set, with the groove-infested Dead Bury Their Dead, which included a short bass solo from long-time bassist Sharlee D'Angelo, and the early single We Will Rise. These songs led to a Arch Enemy receiving a big cheer as they left the stage, and it was not long before they were back for a little more. Another newer number Avalanche was the first featured in the encore section, but it was Nemesis - one of the band's best-known numbers - which really got the crowd going. The song has such an anthemic chorus which the crowd hurled back at the band with a lot of power. This led into their traditional Fields of Desolation outro which brought the show to a melodic and crowd-pleasing close. The setlist was:

Set Flame to the Night
The World is Yours
The Race
War Eternal
My Apocalypse
You Will Know My Name
Bloodstained Cross
Dead Eyes See No Future
The Eagle Flies Alone
Reason to Believe
As the Pages Burn
Intermezzo Liberté
Dead Bury Their Dead
We Will Rise
Snow Bound
Fields of Desolation
Enter the Machine

Overall, this was an excellent display of metal from one of the most experienced bands in the genre. While their latest album might not be as strong as some that have come before, the energy that the band can create live is testament to their experience and ability. Arch Enemy are always worth seeing live, and I am glad that I have finally got the opportunity to see a headline show of theirs, as my previous two experiences of seeing them live have been as a support act.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Magnum's 'Lost on the Road to Eternity' - Album Review

Magnum have been stalwarts of the British rock scene for over 40 years now, and have always proven to be a reliable and prolific band. Since forming in 1972, the Birmingham-based five-piece have now released twenty studio albums; the vast majority of while are memorable and enjoyable for one reason for another. Despite a brief hiatus during the late 1990s and early 2000s, the band have been churning albums out at a fairly regular basis and last month saw the release of their twentieth studio album Lost on the Road to Eternity. Since their reunion in 2001 Magnum's sound has toughened up somewhat, with guitarist and songwriter Tony Clarkin's guitar riffs often driving the songs. He has always been the band's beating heart, having single-handedly written all but a handful of the band's songs, but the past decade or so of the band's existence has definitely seen them place more emphasis on his riffing. That being said, the melodic rock sound that helped Magnum to become very successful during the 1980s has remained intact, but the AOR and pomp rock influences have sometimes taken a backseat to focus on a sound that has altogether more crunch. If Clarkin is the band's heart, then frontman Bob Catley is its soul. Catley, who along with Clarkin are the band's only remaining original members, has breathed life in Clarkin's songs since the band's 1978 debut album Kingdom of Madness. Despite his age however, he still sounds strong and he sings Clarkin's lyrics with his emotionally-driven delivery. While he may not be as reliable live as he has been in the past, on record he still sounds excellent. The duo of Catley and Clarkin help to make Lost on the Road to Eternity feel like a classic Magnum album, which is key as this is the band's first effort following a fairly major line-up change. Long-time fans of the band were shocked in 2016 when long-time keyboardist Mark Stanway abruptly left the band midway through a short Christmas tour. Considering that Stanway had been in the band since 1980, and had contributed his majestic keyboards to the band's most classic albums, this seemed a rather sad way to end things. This, coupled with the fact that drummer Harry James left the band the following year to dedicate more time to his main band Thunder, meant that the Magnum line-up that had performed on five consecutive studio albums was no more. Many fans were worried what the band would sound like with Stanway's signature keyboard sounds, but it seems that any fears were unfounded as Lost in the Road to Eternity sounds every bit as 'Magnum' as their other recent works. Joining Catley, Clarkin, and bassist Al Barrow is keyboardist Rick Benton and drummer Lee Morris (Paradise Lost). Both Benton and Morris are seasoned musicians, and have brought their considerable talents and experience to this latest Magnum opus.

The band waste little time in getting down to business, and opening number Peaches and Cream starts with a mid-paced guitar riff backed up by Morris' hollow-sounding drums. Those familiar with the more muscular sound the band have been forging on recent albums will immediately recognise the style used here, but the fairly simple nature of the song makes for a fairly lacklustre opener. Magnum's album-opening tracks are usually more majestic, but this one feels like a bit of a plodder despite a strong rhythmic feel. There are moments that shine however, and Benton immediately impresses with some varied keyboard work throughout the piece. His pulsing rock organ and melodic piano lines help to bring the song to life. While certainly not a bad song, I feel it would be far better placed elsewhere in the album, as it does not really start the album with the bang that is required. Show Me Your Hands takes things up a notch, and gives Benton even more space to shine with a prominent piano performance throughout. His twinkling leads during the song's introductory instrumental passage are great, and similar melodies continue to crop up throughout the piece. In contrast to the album's opener, this song feels more anthemic overall and features the first of many strong choruses on the album. Catley turns in a battle cry-esque performance during the chorus, which is enhanced by Morris' swing-filled drumming. Morris has been a great addition to Magnum on this album, and his drumming style is more varied and fluid than that of the departed James - whose leaden style was often a detriment the Magnum really sounding their best. Storm Baby is another great track, and it opens slowly with Benton's atmospheric piano melodies creating a perfect backdrop for Catley's husky crooned vocal lines. These days, Catley excels more during the band's slower songs than the more upbeat rockers and songs like this prove he still has plenty to offer as a singer. This is not a simple ballad however, as it is not too long before the band crashes in for the chorus and work together well to create an-almost symphonic sound. Clarkin's guitar sounds huge during this song, and it works as a great contrast to the slower, piano-led sections. Songs like this are what Magnum have continued to cement their reputation with over the past decade or so, and their large fanbase is sure to lap it up!

Welcome to the Cosmic Cabaret is the album's longest cut at just over eight minutes in length. The band occasionally display some more progressive influences, and this is a song does this despite sticking fairly closely to the band's established formula. At it's heart this is another mid-paced rocker, but there are a few little tweaks that help things to sound fresh. Benton's keyboards are given plenty of room to breathe, with his atmospheric soundscapes often dictating the song's direction while the guitar and bass providing the rhythm beneath. There is even an excellent guitar solo from Clarkin that allows him to show off more than usual. He will never be listened among the World's greatest guitarists, but his playing here is smooth and melodic. The solo leads into an equally interesting, progressive instrumental break featuring guitar swirls and heavy-handed keyboard playing that recalls some of Pink Floyd's more abrasive moments. The album's title track follows and easily takes the title of the best song here with majestic melodies and a little more urgency in the overall presentation. A bonus here comes in the form of Tobias Sammet (Edguy; Avantasia) who provides some vocals to the song. Catley and Sammet's voices have always sounded great on the Avantasia albums so having them sing a duet on a Magnum album is a treat. The song is really powerful, and stands up alongside some of their best anthems of the 1980s. The chorus is easily the best here, with soaring choruses that see the two vocalists pushing their voices to the limit. Elsewhere, symphonic keyboards fill the speakers and add to excitement. This is easily one of the best songs the Clarkin has ever written, and probably my favourite thing Magnum have done since their 2001 reunion. The lead single Without Love is always going to struggle to follow the title track, but it is still a strong song in it's own right and reassured me that Magnum was going to be fine following their line-up changes when I first heard it a couple of months ago. It opens interestingly with a weaving bass and drum pattern, which is not something that is often heard from Magnum, and continues to incorporate strong elements of groove throughout. Morris' drums are easily the dominant sound here, with Clarkin's ringing chords and the keyboards providing a simple backing. This works well however, and shows Morris' ability to bring new drum sounds to the Magnum canon. The chorus returns to the band's traditional sound however, with the keyboards dancing in the background and Catley harmonising well with himself to deliver some big speaker-filling melodies.

After a run of strong songs, the album takes a bit of dip in quality over the next few songs. Tell Me What You've Got to Say, while feeling like a classic Magnum track, just never really feels to get going. I feel that part of the problem is the band's modern tendency to push songs further than necessary; turning what would be a great four minute song into an enjoyable but bloated six minute piece. In fairness this criticism could be levelled at some of the preceding songs that I have been more positive about, but it feels more apparent here and on the following couple of numbers. Magnum are certainly not the only band to be guilty of bloating out some of their songs unnecessarily, as it seems to be a fairly common thing these days and I am not sure why. There are some good moments here though, and the chorus in particular shines with some excellent keyboards from Benton. Ya Wanna be Someone is similar, but somewhat more catchy due to a decent chorus and a slightly more upbeat nature. While the chorus is packed full of 'yeah yeah'-type vocal clichés, it is hard to not be taken into the strong melodies. The rest of the song is fairly unremarkable, but the chorus and overall energy of piece stops it falling by the wayside. Forbidden Masquerade starts out as a bit of a ballad, but some beefs up again with some of Clarkin's crunchy guitar chords. I feel that this album lacks a true ballad, and this is the closest thing to one to be found here along with Storm Baby and the next song. This song could have been re-worked as a proper ballad, and I think that would have benefited the album and provided a genuine moment of quiet. I feel that Clarkin's guitar playing is often quite unsubtle, with crunching guitar chords being his default playing style, and I feel that taking more of a backseat here might have been more appropriate. After a handful of slightly weaker songs, the album's next number helps to get things back on track. Glory to Ashes is another majestic piece that opens with a strong instrumental section which sees Clarkin's smooth guitar leads mixing in well with Benton's keyboards, before a slower verse takes over with Barrow's pulsing bass driving everything. Again there is a hint of a ballad here, but the melodies are too powerful to really have the necessary impact in that respect. Instead, the song is another strong mid-paced rocker that is full of the band's hallmarks. The album's final number, King of the World, is another similar song that focuses on slower tempos and a strong keyboard presence. Despite being an overall enjoyable song however, this is another one that could have really done with some trimming. There is no need for this song to be over seven minutes long and by the end it does drag. This is a shame as it ends the album on a somewhat turgid note, despite some good melodies and keyboard playing. Overall, Lost on the Road to Eternity is another solid album from the British rock band, but is one that definitely feels weaker the further it moves along. The first half is packed full of excellent songs, including one of my all-time favourite Magnum tracks, but is let down at the end by some overlong mid-paced plodders.

The album was released on 19th January 2018 via Steamhammer/SPV GmbH. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Without Love.