Sunday, 27 January 2013

Snakecharmer's 'Snakecharmer' - Album Review

Snakecharmer are a new classic rock supergroup whose debut album is currently creating a lot of buzz in the rock world. Made up of six very experienced and well-respected individuals, there was always going to be a lot of potential for a great album here. Often, supergroups fail to live up to the hype and the band members fails to gel together successfully - but that is not the case here. Making up the band are: vocalist Chris Ousey (Heartland); guitarists Micky Moody (Whitesnake) and Laurie Wisefield (Wishbone Ash); bassist Neil Murray (Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Michael Schenker Group); keyboardist Adam Wakeman (Ozzy Osbourne, Headspace) and drummer Harry James (Thunder, Magnum). With thier collective musical experience, Snakecharmer have created an album that pays hommage to everything that was great about late-70s blues rock. Having two ex-members of Whitesnake in tow, there are obviously many nods to them in Snakecharmer's sound - but there are also similarities with bands like Bad Company and Foreigner with a heavy influence of the blues.

The album starts off with My Angel and an acoustic riff that brings to mind mid-period Led Zeppelin. It then morphs into a great mid-paced rocker with a driving bassline and great vocals from Ousey. Before this album he was the one from the band that I knew the least about, but he has a great voice that reminds me of Paul Rodgers. The guitar work on the track is excellent, mixing great slide guitar over an acoustic backing. Next up is the first single Accident Prone. Wakeman's hammond organ really shines on this track and Ousey once again impressed with an excellent vocal delivery. The song has an excellent chorus that is likely to go down a treat live and sticks in your head after only a few listens. There is also a great dual guitar solo that shows off the talents of Moody and Wisefield. The next highlight is the beautiful ballad Falling Leaves. Shimmering keyboards create a great backdrop for the delicate intro before the big guitars kick in and a chior adds to the overall sound. The guitars are their bluesy best throughout this song with many great little fills dotted between the vocals. It is not long before the guitars cut through the song once more and a great, emotional solo fills the speakers.

Turn of the Screw is a great track, and possibly my favourite on the album. It is a real up-beat blues rocker that brings back the sound of the early Whitesnake albums at their very best. As with all the songs on the album, they are driven by a great bassline highlighting what a great player Murray is. Another great chorus helps to raise this song to the next level and the tinklings of piano in the background add that bright sound to the very rocking song. Next up is Smoking Gun which is a slower song that still packs a punch. The chorus features yet more excellent guitar work and once again the hammond organ makes its presence known with some great flourishes. Choral singers back Ousey in the chorus which gives the track a slight gospel feel in places. Guilty as Charged is the next highlight. Hammond organ backs up the main riff, complimenting the sound of the guitars. James plays a hard-hitting drum beat throughout that helps to move the song along at pace. The choruses and the solo are at a much slower pace than the rest of the song, creating interesting dynamics and keeps the album from feeling too samey. The album finishes off with Cover Me in You. Twin-lead guitars get the song off to a great start, and the optimistic sound is a great way to end the album. The Thin Lizzy-style solo works very well and adds another to the tally of great solos. Overall, this is a very solid debut album. Great songs, great guitar work and a lot of heart make this very enjoyable. My only gripe is that I feel Wakeman was extremely underused here. While you hear a fair bit of his playing, he never really gets to show off and is always playing second fiddle to the guitars. A couple of big hammond riffs and solos would have gone down very well. I hope the band will tour, as these are the sort of song that need to be played live. An excellent listen!

The album was released on 21st January 2013 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Accident Prone.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Black Veil Brides' 'Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones' - Album Review

Since releasing their debut album in 2010, Black Veil Brides have come a long way. From cult status to poster boys of a whole new generation of metal fans, they have continued to impress with solid albums and relentless touring. Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones is the band's third album and easily their most ambitious yet. It is a concept album telling the story of a group of rebels rising up against a powerful organisation called F.E.A.R. - and there is a film version of the story called Legion of the Black which expands on the story told in the album and adds more details. While the story itself is extremely unoriginal, it helps to create a dark atmosphere throughout the album and focuses the lyrics. On this album, the band has retained their key sound: a mixture of metalcore, hair metal and classic rock and it is instantly recognisable as them. The harsh vocals of the previous two albums are gone and frontman Andrew Biersack's melancholic voice has much more gravitas as a result. Throughout the album, many short instrumental and spoken interludes help the story along and Aiden's Wil Francis provides the voice of the leader of F.E.A.R.

The album gets off to a great start with the fast-paced I Am Bulletproof. From the outset, this is an album that focuses on great guitar work. Duelling lead guitars open the song before Biersack's gravelly voice takes over and lifts the song to anthemic heights. The chorus is instantly catchy and memorable - one made for the live arena. The second half of the song features some great machine gun drumming from Christian Coma before a shredding guitar solo cuts through the sound. Next up is New Years Day which is a much more mid-paced affair. Lead by a driving bassline from Ashley Purdy, the song marches along aided by gang vocals and another great chorus. Rhythm guitarist Jinxx as a little violin solo to the track, which adds some welcome variety and there is another memorable guitar solo from Jake Pitts. After a spoken work piece, the title track comes raging out of the speakers with some harmonsed lead guitars and some great drumming from Coma that sees him use his whole kit. The guitar work barely lets up throughout the track and the arpeggios under the vocals in the chorus are just what was needed. Next up is We Don't Belong which is another anthemic piece that would make a great single. After a mellow intro, the song builds with a slow drum beat, then some quiet guitars and violin before the whole band comes in for the huge chorus that will no doubt have crowds screaming it at their concerts. The guitar solo in this song makes great use of melody and speed to create something quite unique, showing what a great and inventive guitarist Pitts is.

The next highlight is Resurrect the Sun which sounds like nothing the band have done before. A piano-led intro interspersed with electronics suddenly explodes into a real rocker with some great vocal melodies. This song represents the light and shade of the band, as delicate passages are mixed with some of the heaviest moments on their album with more gang vocals and another great guitar solo that brings to mind Yngwie Malmsteen. Days are Numbered is possibly my favourite song on the album. Opening with a great riff and infectious chorus, the song is a real classic. The chorus is easily the best on the album and the whole song just has a great swaggering attitude. The Used's Bert McCracken also lends his vocal talents to this track. With the album coming to a close, Lost It All is another stand-out track. Is is a real slow-burner with plenty of piano, strings and gospel-style vocals. In a way it reminds me of Nine Inch Nail's Hurt - it does not really sound like it but the melodies are quite similar in places. In an age where so many metal bands are avoiding ballads, this is a real breath of fresh air and shows that bands still have what it takes to tug at the heartstrings. The album comes to a close with first single In The End which is very similar to the sort of songs found on their previous album Set the World on Fire. The duelling lead guitars are back with a vengeance and Biersack sings his heart out through one more excellent chorus. Overall, this a great album that will surely help Black Veil Brides climb even higher in the current metal world. While it is not as immediately memorable as their previous albums, repeated listens reward you with many hidden gems that I have not had time to talk about here. Well worth checking out!

The album was released on 8th January 2013 via Lava/Universal Republic Records. Below is the band's promotional video for In The End.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Mutiny Within's 'Mutiny Within II: Synchronicity' - Album Review

Due to that fact that so often this blog is just acting as a portal to my concert reviews, I have decided to give it some more exclusive content by writing album reviews as well. I used to do some on Amazon but I have not written on there for a few years because they started not posting them for an unknown reason. I shall only be reviewing new albums - not just any old albums which are new to me. Whether or not I shall do one for every new album I get or not will be down to time. Ideally I would like to but as I am in my final year of University, assignments and dissertation must take priority. It might take a few of these to really get into the style of writing album reviews, which are a totally different beast from live reviews, but I hope that people will find them interesting to read as I have always found reviews of albums on other people's blogs a great way of finding out about new albums and new bands.

My first album review is a strange one. Mutiny Within II: Synchronicity was released on 12th January 2013 and it was one that many fans never thought they would see released. The band's self-titled debut album was released via Roadrunner Records in 2010 and they were hotly tipped as one of the best up and coming metal acts of the year. Boasting support slots with bands like Sonata Arctica and Soilwork they had built up a dedicated global fanbase who were foaming at the mouth to hear more songs from the young band, but in mid 2011 the band annouced that they would be taking an indefinate hiatus for financial and label-related reasons. Many people thought that this was to be the end of Mutiny Within but in mid 2012 the band annouced that they were going to finish the album they were working on when they annouced the hiatus. Synchronicity is that album and it was released totally independently with no label backing whatsoever. As a result, the album is only avaliable digitally.

After that little bit of context, let us now get down to the music. Their sound is a mix between modern metalcore and progressive metal, but with a huge emphasis on melody and song writing. I would loosely describe their sound as a mix between Killswitch Engage and the more commercial side of Queensrÿche. The album kicks off with the impressive Embers with a delicious vocal melody in the verse that really emphasises the talents of frontman Chris Clancy. The song, and indeed the album, is heavy yet that never takes anything away from the delicate melodies intertwined in each and every song. Embers is a tour-de-force in restrained virtuosity and the short, yet effective guitar solo hits much harder than one of meandering complexity. The following song In My Veins sits more in the metalcore camp than Embers with more harsh vocals being utilised in the verses and a heart-tugging chorus that soars above the discordant guitar work. The drumming throughout is tight and fast without overpowering the rest of the band. Bill Fore must be credited for his great drum sound and feel which is perfect for the overall picture that the album paints.

The next highlight is Machines. It is one of the faster-paced modern metal songs and has some gut-wrenching screams from Clancy before breaking into what will probably be one of the biggest choruses of the year. This song is Clancy's moment to shine and also features some great blast beats from Fore. Keyboards take a noticeable back seat on this album, probably because keyboardist Drew Stavola left the band before this album was recorded. However they are still underpinning the entire sound and Lights has a moody piano intro that sets the mood for the whole song. It is a slower number which feels like a ballad while still maintaining a metal edge. The guitarwork in the chorus by Brandon Jacobs and Daniel Bage is melodic yet haunting and a great compliment to the vocals. The leadwork under the vocals almost sounds like something Marillion's Steve Rothery would be playing if he was in a metal band and makes it one of the best songs on the album. Up next is Balance which gets back to proper metal with some ferocious drumming, a great verse riff over which Clancy lays down some vicious screams and a really discordant breakdown which really throws the listener with a change of pace. There is also a great twin-guitar solo in the middle followed by a rousing section of spoken work over more great lead-work.

Coming towards the end of the album the pace does not let up one bit, this really is an album full of vengeance. Life to Dust is another great vocal track and you can tell that Clancy really is putting all of his heart and soul into every word of every song. It is a song full of angst that manifests in his voice, another delicious guitar riff and a solo full of fretboard pyrotechnics. The final song The Unsaid is a fitting end to a great album with more fast-paced riffing, and fantastic verse melody and yet another soaring chorus. Mutiny Within have created a fantastic album here which for me is much better than their enjoyable debut. I am glad that bass guitarist and principle songwriter Andrew Jacobs decided to finish off the album, as these songs are far too good to be sitting unfinished on his harddrive. If this is to be the end of the band, then they have gone out on a high. The only real negative is the overall sense of 'what could have been' that you get while listening to the album. The likelihood is that these songs will never be performed live which is a real shame as I can imagine what a great show this album would make. Nevertheless, this is nothing short of a masterpiece in the modern melodic metal context which I bought with nothing more than a passing interest after enjoying but never fully digesting their debut album. I never expected it to be this good and I thoroughly recommend it to all metal fans.

The album is avaliable from iTunes, Amazon and in various digital formats from their own Bandcamp page. There is also talk of releasing a few limited edition physical copies too, so become a fan on Facebook or follow them on Twitter for more news on that. Below is the band's promotional video for Embers.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Rant: Concert VIP Packages

You queue for the concert; you have a great time watching the concert; you go to the stage door and wait for the band to come out; you spend a few minutes getting autographs; you go home. For many people, this has been the way to enjoy a concert for decades - but it seems that more and more artists are unwilling to sign autographs for free. Before going into this, I want to stress that I do not expect anyone to sign an autograph for me if they do not want to - I am not that selfish or arrogant. Anyway, I feel that it is a pretty sad state of affairs if something so quick as an autograph is so often now becoming another way to get money out of the fans and the bottom line is that I refuse to pay! Recently, I saw a pre-show meet and greet being advertised for Michael Schenker's upcoming show at Nottingham Rock City on the 'Temple of Rock' tour. Seeing no price, I decided to email to show my interest. A week or so later I found an email in my spam folder from Schenker's people saying that if I was still interested in doing the meet and greet I needed to send £200 to a paypal account. Needless to say, I emailed back saying that I was no longer interested and was a bit put out because there was no mention of the £200 charge on the advert on Facebook.

Charges for these VIP packages are almost always on top of the ticket for the show, just further adding to the cost of going to a concert - especially with all the excessive service charges and forced posting options added on these days (some venues even charge for you to pick tickets up at the venue!). Most of these VIP packages also mean that the holders get early access to the venue, which totally ruins the fun of queuing up early to get the front to see your favourite bands up close. More and more bands are now using this as a way of avoiding signing autographs for dedicated fans who are willing to wait in the cold after the show for the band to come out to the bus - which I see as disrespecting the effort made by real fans who would rather you were honest and just said you did not want to sign any. If I see that there is a VIP Package at a concert, I rarely bother to take any CD inlays or a sharpie along to that gig anymore because I know the band are highly unlikely to come out and sign any autographs after the show.

I am sure to some that this seems like a totally selfish rant, but to me it creates a whole snobbery around the live experience. Now, people with more money who perceive themselves as themselves as 'bigger fans' can buy VIP Packages and to me this just ruins the notion of an audience where everyone is just having a good time. I have read about a few bands who have spoken out against such things, most notably W.A.S.P. who cancelled a show in New York because of a promoter selling these packages to the fans against the band's will. In a statement they said: "We are saddened that it had to result in the cancellation of our performance for this evening, but we believe this unfortunate situation amounts to nothing more than our fans being ripped off. We have never changed a fan for an autograph and WILL NEVER charge any fans for an autograph." Now I met Blackie Lawless in 2010 and he happily signed me an autograph and shook my hand - and I have met plenty of other 'big' names who were more than obliging and really down-to-earth people. I will also stress that I have never been refused an autograph. My long-winded point to this is that I believe a VIP experience at a concert is totally against everything that music is supposed to be about. I find it particularly hypocritical of bands like Mötley Crüe who sing about fighing against the system and then charge fans extra to meet them or to be at the front. So many hardworking bands out there always take time for their fans and sign autographs and here and now I say thankyou for making those concerts even more special. However those who think it is alright to rip fans off for an autograph, you really need to get over yourselves. If you do not want to sign autographs after a show, then just say so and be honest! We all appreciate how busy you are, just don't rip us off instead..

See W.A.S.P.'s full statement here:

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Music of 2012

Note: Usually I have written this on Facebook, but that was before this blog existed. If you want to see my lists from 2009, 2010 and 2011 then go look there :)

2012 has been another great year for new releases. Do not let the press tell you otherwise, as I bought well over 40 albums that were released this year, and enjoyed most of them hugely. As always, it has been very hard to narrow down 2012's albums into a top 10, let alone in any sort of order. I have left this as long as possible because there were a few late albums I wanted to listen to first before writing this. Such has been the diversity of the albums to choose from, that if I wrote this next week the odds are that it would be totally different. However, I think this is a fair representation of my musical tastes of 2012, and what has been circulating around my iPod the most. As always, only studio albums of new material count; so live albums, EPs and acoustic re-records don't count. So here are my top 10 albums of 2012:

10) Lynyrd Skynyrd - Last of a Dyin' Breed
The veteran southern rockers seem to be having a bit of a resurgence of late. Their last album God & Guns was excellent and they have followed it up with another collection of hard rocking songs. Featuring more of a bluesy overtone than some of their previous work, this album contains some real belters - none more so than the title track which features their signature triple guitar attack and plenty of delta-style slide. There is a good balance between the rockers and heartfelt ballads to create an album which does not really add anything new to the Skynyrd legacy but is hugely enjoyable none the less.
Listen to: Last of a Dyin' Breed, Homegrown & Life's Twisted

9) Panic Room - Skin
This is the hard working Welsh band's third album and it continues to build upon the musical palette created by their first couple of albums. This is their most dynamic release yet and sees the band pushing beyond genre boundaries and creating something special. There is something for everyone here with real rockers mixed with jazzy-prog epics and more delicate acoustic numbers. Frontwoman Anne-Marie Helder sounds better than ever here and her voice and performance is the icing on the musical cake, proving that she is a real rising star in the business. However, I do feel that there is prehaps too much variety as the album fails to sit with me as a coherant whole. Never the less, this an excellent collection of songs and the band are destined for much more!
Listen to: Song for Tomorrow, Screens & Hiding the World

8) Delain - We are the Others
Symphonic metal maybe slowly fading in the public's conscious, but that does not stop one of the genre's up and coming stars from releasing their best album yet. After fighting with their label for months to get it release, Delain's third album impressed from the off. This album focuses on songwriting and tight melodies rather than any flashy showboating and benefits hugely from it. The pop-influenced choruses mixed with crushing guitars and soaring keyboards is a mix from heaven and the songs benefit from a gorgeous, warm production which really enhances the melodies. Current metal pin-up Charlotte Wessels really excels herself here, and I hope that this is Delain's moment to shine.
Listen to: We are the Others, Generation Me & Babylon

7) Coheed and Cambria - The Afterman: Ascension
Coheed and Cambria have always divided opinion in the rock/metal community but with their sixth album being so strong, I would not be surprised for this to change. This is easily their most focused collection of songs yet, with each one dripping with melody and retrained virtuosity. Being the first part of a double album, it is rather short compared to their other albums but it means I have been able to really digest the songs. Claudio Sanchez has matured as a songwriter and his voice is still as unique and powerful as ever. Musically, it is much simpler and less bloated than their previous albums - a real step forward for them. I look forward to their second part, Decension, next year!
Listen to: Domino the Destitue, Goodnight, Fair Lady & Holly Wood the Cracked

6) Sabaton - Carolus Rex
While 2012 has largely been disappointing for power metal, Sabaton's concept album about King Charles XII of Sweden is a real gem of an album. Again, it does not really bring anything new to their sound but it seems to flow better than their previous albums and really needs to be viewed as a whole rather than just listening to individual songs. It is proudly overblown and pompus but that is, in my opinion, it's greatest achievement. Sabaton have always been about having fun and this is nothing more than a great fun album despite it's historical concept. I defy anyone to listen to this album and not have most of it stuck in their head by the end of it, fit for a King indeed! It is also avaliable with Swedish lyrics for those who fancy something a bit different
Listen to: Gott Mit Uns, Carolus Rex & Long Live the King

5) Mostly Autumn - The Ghost Moon Orchestra
The second album featuring Olivia Sparnenn on lead vocals, this album is a step up from their last album Go Well Diamond Heart. It is a refinement of their already well-honed style rather than anything drastically different but this diverse collection of songs is a winner. Having said that, this really is their 'rock' album with plenty of big choruses, guitar solos and hammond organ. Sparnenn's vocals are outstanding here and Bryan Josh has written some of his best songs yet. The final three songs, starting with the epic Tennyson Mansion and ending with the melancholy Top of the World is as an emotional climax as you will ever find on any album and it is a real achievement.
Listen to: Unquiet Tears, Drops of the Sun & Top of the World

4) Europe - Bag of Bones
Once one of the forerunners of the hair metal genre, Europe have gracefully matured over the last decade and have taken on a new lease of life. Bag of Bones is the end result of all this and the raw production, big organ sounds and bluesy guitar solos create images of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Europe have not forgotten how to write catchy tunes though, and this album is packed full of melody and fun. It is probably their heaviest album yet and also their most consistent and fluid. Those who believe that Europe are only about The Final Countdown should give this a go, it sounds nothing like that at all! There is even some guest guitar by Joe Bonamassa on the title track.
Listen to: Not Supposed to Sing the Blues, Demon Head & Doghouse

3) Marillion - Sounds That Can't be Made
It was four years since Marillion last released an album but it was worth the wait as Sounds That Can't be Made is a delight to listen to from start to finish. Opening with a 17minute song is always brave (pun not intended) but Gaza stands up so well and really makes a bold statement from the off. It is a microcosm for the album with dense instrumental sections, soaring trademark vocals from Steve Hogarth and amazing guitar work from Steve Rothery mixing beautifully to create what I consider to be their best album since Afraid of Sunlight. It breaks new ground for the band, yet also looks to the past - Mark Kelly's keyboards have not sounded this good since the early 90s! It is a long album, but one that deserves repeated listens to really uncover all the secrets buried in the meandering and adventurous song.
Listen to: Gaza, Power & Montréal

2) Kamelot - Silverthorn
When frontman Roy Khan left the band last year, many feared the worst for the American metal band. However, when Seventh Wonder's Tommy Karevik was annouced as his replacement I knew that they would be safe. While Silverthorn heralds no great change in style, it is packed full of so many excellent songs that it does not matter. Karevik has a similar voice to Khan but he is no clone, and has brought his own style to the vocal melodies and overall sound of the band (ballad Song for Jolee could have been a Seventh Wonder song). While all the talk has been about Karevik, for me this is keyboardist Oliver Palotai's defining glory. His keyboard solos and orchestrations are sublime and his full involvement in the songwriting shows. A real joy to listen to!
Listen to: Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife), Song for Jolee & My Confession

1) Threshold - March of Progress
This is a really special album, and I have known for a good few months now that this would be my album of the year. It sees the return of original vocalist Damian Wilson and the addition of second guitarist Pete Morten who has brought two of the albums best songs with him! There are few progressive bands who can merge technical virtuosity and great songwriting with accessibility and infectious melodies. It is a triumph, there is no doubt of this. It seems foolish to try and pick out highlights because all of the songs are stellar but opener Ashes has possibly the best chorus written over the last few years. This album takes the best of their previous few releases and puts it all together in an unbeatable album full of vision and class.
Listen to: Ashes, Return of the Thought Police & Coda

Despite the fact these are what I think are the best albums this year, it really is only a snapshot of my musical year! There plenty of great albums that could have easily made the cut, but these ones were the ones I felt connected to the most. Other albums I could have chosen were Broken Bones by veteran rockers Dokken, the excellent Adventures in Neverland by a new-look The Reasoning and Slash's Apocalyptic Love might have been included if I had more time with it. There were also a couple of great debut albums from Sankara and theFALLEN, both of whom will hopefully have great futures ahead of them.

Top 3 gigs of 2012:

3) Europe, Rock City, 27/11/2012
Swedish rockers Europe played to a packed Rock City crowd and nearly took the roof off the place! With a setlist that looked forward rather than rest on past glories, 6 songs from new album Bag of Bones were present, they really impressed. They rocked hard, and an encore performance of The Final Countdown had everyone singing along.

2) Lynyrd Skynyrd, HMV Hammersmith Apollo, 03/06/2012
The sold out Hammersmith Apollo welcomed Lynyrd Skynyrd like old friends and the party atmosphere never let up during a set crammed full of hits. Southern rock music is always great live and these guys are the masters of the genre, mixing stone cold classics like Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird with newer songs like Skynyrd Nation. An excellent night with one of the best rock bands out there.

1) Guns N' Roses, Capital FM Arena, 19/05/2012
It really does not get any better than this. Easily the best show I have ever been to and I hope it is not long before they come back to the UK. They played for nearly 3 hours and mixed songs from the excellent Chinese Democracy album with plenty of fantastic oldies. It is easy to see why they are often regarded as one of the best rock bands of all time!