Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Coheed and Cambria's 'The Afterman: Descension' - Album Review

It was only last October that Sci-fi progressive rockers Coheed and Cambria released their sixth album The Afterman: Ascension so fans of the niche band were overjoyed when the companion piece The Afterman: Descension was released earlier this month. I have been a fan of the band for a good few years now and have enjoyed all of their albums up to this point for different reasons. Melody is always a factor in their songs, and despite complex song structures and plenty of technical guitar work - they never let this get in the way of a good tune. Ascension held a few of the band's best songs to date, with Goodnight, Fair Lady deserving a quick mention as one of the best songs that Thin Lizzy never wrote. I included the album in my Top 10 albums of 2012 list that I wrote for this blog. Descension really needs to be seen as the sequel to that album. While they could be enjoyed on their own, The Afterman albums really form one piece of work and could have easily been released as a double album. I am glad that Coheed and Cambria decided to release them separately though as this gave us chance to really get to grips with the first part before the second part came out. Often with double albums I find that there is a lot of filler, but maybe this is because the task of sitting through the double album is so daunting that I never really get the chance to focus on each track and uncover some hidden gems. That problem is alleviated here and as a result most of the material shines through.

The album starts with Pretelethal which is half an intro track and half a proper song. It follows on from where Ascension left off and sets the tone for the album with some delicate acoustic guitar and effect-drenched vocals from frontman Claudio Sanchez before breaking into a fully-fledged rocker that seems to bleed apprehension and despair through your speakers. Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant is up next. Again, the song starts off with an acoustic guitar before a typical Coheed-style riff comes in that leads the song throughout. The verses are very bassy, featuring some great work from Zach Cooper before a soaring chorus with great lead guitar takes the song to the next level. Like the previous album, the band have largely removed soloing from their sound - instead focussing on the melodies to carry the instrumental sections of the song. This only serves to further implement their strong guitar lines into your brain - and they do not leave quickly! The Hard Sell follows and it has all the hallmarks of a classic Coheed and Cambria song. I am always amazed how much melody the band seem to get out of relatively simple guitar riffs and lines. Credit must go to Sanchez and guitarist Travis Stever for continually coming up with so many memorable riffs. There is another very memorable chorus here, followed by one of the few solos that appears on the The Afterman albums. It is short and bluesy but fits the song really well and just adds to the overall melody. Up next is Number City and this features an almost 80s new wave sound that is a totally new avenue for the band. It does not sound like it should work, but it is a really great song and in my opinion, one of the best on the album. It is led by a driving bassline from Cooper before some Andy Summers' style guitar comes in. In fact this sounds like Duran Duran covering a song by The Police, as it has halmarks from both bands - yet it still sounds like Coheed and Cambria. A horn section helps to create the overall sound of the track and the chorus is so cheesy yet brilliant!

The next highlight is the arena rock stylings of Away We Go. With a sound akin to a demented version of U2, this is dark pop rock at its finest. The song soars yet remains accessible and would work well as a single. At times, the guitar work in the verses reminds me a little of Marillion's Sugar Mice - I wonder if the band are Marillion fans? The first single from the album is the introspective Dark Side of Me. It starts off as a slow-burning reflecting number before it really opens up into a anthemic rocker with a chorus that really sinks into your brain over repeated listens. You can really feel Sanchez's emotions oozing out of the speakers and while the song might sound slightly cliché, you cannot help but connect with the band and get involved in the emotions of the song. It is accompanied by an equally dark video that helps to bring the feelings of the song to the fore. The album closes with 2's My Favorite 1. It seems to sum up everything featured over the two The Afterman albums and contains some more melodic guitar work and some great vocals from Sanchez. It has a slightly more optimistic feel to it after the darker previous numbers. Coheed and Cambria's songs usually feature a darker content despite the overtly melodic nature so it is nice to hear a song that is genuinely uplifting from them. There is also a beautiful musical outro that brings the whole The Afterman saga to an end featuring some slow burning keyboard work. Overall, I would say that this album is every bit as good as Ascension and between them make a formidable piece of music that stands up with everything the band have ever done. Coheed and Cambria are always just bubbling below my favourite bands but with such a strong catalgue I may have to start re-evaluating them. These are some albums that I shall be enjoying for years to come!

The album was released on 5th February 2013 via Hundred Handed/Everything Evil Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Dark Side of Me.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Uriah Heep - Tavistock Review



Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Union - Nottingham Review



Saturday, 16 February 2013

Tremonti - Wolverhampton Review



Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Heaven's Basement's 'Filthy Empire' - Album Review

Despite the fact the band has been around since 2008, Heaven's Basement's debut album has finally been released this year. They first gained recognition with their self-titled EP that was released in 2008 and have supported many big-name rock bands since, plus have built up a pretty large following. However, line-up changes halted the band's progress and it was not until 2011 that their next EP Unbreakable was released and this was also the first recording to feature the current line-up. Almost two years of solid touring later, we finally have the band's debut album Filthy Empire. I have been waiting for this album since 2008 so it was with great excitement when my copy of the album came through my door signed by the band. I was hoping that after all the waiting that the album would not disappoint and I am very glad to say that it did not. While the first EP has a very distinct 80s sound, the material from the current line-up has brought that sound firmly into the 21st Century. It is a snarling, snapping beast of an album that is sure to appeal to anyone who is a fan of good old-fashioned hard rock music. 2013 looks to be a great year for Heaven's Basement, as not only have they finally released their debut album but their touring callander is extremely full. Hopefully this will finally mean that the band will get the widespread recognition that they deserve.

The album opens with the extremely hard-hitting Welcome Home. Right from the outset, you realise just what a great voice frontman Aaron Buchanan has. It is melodic yet gritty and really helps to get the vocals across above the wall of sound created by the rest of the band. Lone guitarist Sid Glover is on fire throughout this track. Whether is is furious riffing or a tight, melodic guitar solo - he makes the guitar really sing. This song really sets the tone for the rest of the album. Up next is first single Fire, Fire. This song is a throwback to their earliest sound, with very 80s sound and an extremely catchy chorus. The little trade offs between Glover's guitar and Rob Ellershaw's bass bring to mind the technical wizardry of Mr. Big and help to add a little class to the hard rocking number. A clean breakdown injects a nice change of pace into the song before a great guitar solo turns it back up to 11. A great choice for the first single as this song has a bit of everything that the band is so good at. Following that is secong single Nothing Left to Lose. This is sung as a duet between Buchanan and Glover (who also has a great voice) and this just adds some great attitude and swagger to the verses before one of the best choruses on the album comes in and makes you think you're seeing the band headlining Wembley Stadium. Again, there is a clean breakdown and this time it really emphasises the really melodic end of Buchanan's voice - he really is very versatile! The song is a true anthem. Lights Out in London (not a UFO cover..) comes next. It opens with an almost bluesy guitar riff that carries on throughout the verses before another monster chorus invades the melancholic song and kicks it into another dimension. It is probably one of the most singable choruses on the album and is sure to go down a storm live. Third single I am Electric follows. This is an angry little song, that races out of the speakers and grabs the listener by the balls and never lets up. It is definately the simplest and heaviest song on the album yet I am sure this will become another live staple because of the energy it is sure to create. Buchanan almost screams some of the lines, showing us more of what he can do with his voice.

The Long Goodbye comes next. This is the third recording of this song to surface. The original version was released online and featured original singer Richie Hevanz, the second version was on the Unbreakable EP and this is the third and best version. It has a snarl that none of the other versions have and the verses seem to swirl around your head in a slightly creepy way. It is great to finally have a definitive version of this great song. It would have been a shame to leave it on an EP (or even just as a relic from the original recording sessions for the band's debit in 2010)! Heartbreaking Son of a Bitch is up next and this is another short, heavy rocker full of vitriol and angst. The guitar solo in the middle of the song is excellent and the drumming from Chris Rivers is fast yet precise. He is a monster of a drummer and really shines throughout the album with a great drum sound. The next highlight is Can't Let Go which is another re-recorded track, but this time from the band's first EP. This has always been one of my favourite tracks by the band and it is great to have a version with great production. It is a very bassey track, with the bass carrying the verses before gang vocals great guitar work help the chrous to big heights. Again, I am glad they re-recorded this song - even if Buchanan does not quite reach the high notes that Hevanz did, it is great to have this heavier and ballsier version and it is a great addition to the album. The album comes to a close with the final re-recorded song Executioner's Day which has always been one of the most famous Heaven's Basement songs. Again, this version is much ballsier than the original version and brings the album to a heavy yet melodic end. Traditionally, this song us used by the band to end their concerts so it seems fitting that it finishes off their debut album. The bass is really audible throughout the track and really roars. Everyone is one top of their game and it shows! Overall, this album is fantastic and an early candidate for album of the year. I am just so happy that the band has finally managed to get a full length album recorded and released; and having been a fan since pretty much the beginning it was a special moment for me when I got to hear it for the first time. I just hope the album gets recognition and the band continue to work hard to build their fanbase. Although looking at their touring schedule for this year - I don't think that is in question!

The album was released on 4th February 2013 via Red Bull Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Nothing Left to Lose.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Steve Lukather's 'Transition' - Album Review

While I have been a big fan of Toto for a few years now, it was only recently that I started to looked beyond the confines of the legendary AOR band and look at what music the various members have made on their own. Founding guitarist Steve Lukather has a wealth of solo material out there, but at this point I have only heard his 1989 debut album Lukather. 2013's Transition is his new album, and it from most of the same team that brought us 2010's All's Well That Ends Well (which I have not heard). Working with keyboardist and producer CJ Vanston, Lukather has created an introspective album that seems more reserved than his work with Toto and what of his solo work I have heard. Obviously the key elements of his distinctive song writing are present. The nine songs are packed full of melody, emotion and passion; mixing an almost swampy blues sound with his more traditional rock approach and progressive-jazz experimentalism. Many of the business' finest session players grace this album, and the musicianship is top-notch throughout.

Things get started with slow-burning Judgement Day. From the outset you realise how great Lukather's voice sounds on this album. I have always thought he had a decent enough voice, but that it was nothing special - but here he has really upped his game vocally. The verses are pretty melancholic before a really catchy chorus takes over. This has potential to be a lingering ear-worm and will be a great set opener for his live shows. There is a really delicious instrumental section in the middle which features some great keyboard work from Vanston and a trademark guitar solo from Lukather. The bass playing on this track is also great, played here by Leland Sklar. Def Leppard's Phil Collen also contributes some backing vocals to the song. Up next is Creep Motel which is one of the album's highlights. This is where the bluesy influences shine through the greatest, with Lukather adding great lead licks over a shuffling drum beat from Gregg Bissonette. The chorus is another stonker, full of great hooks to sink your teeth into. The first solo moves away from the blues though and is more in Lukather's traditional rock style, which keeps the song interesting and shows just what a great guitarist he is. However, the end solo is dripping with the blues feeling showing us his versatility as a player. The next highlight is Right the Wrong. It opens with a gorgeous keyboard riff that reminds me of HIM's Killing Loneliness before another delicate suffling beat, this time provided by Red Hot Chili Peppers' Chad Smith, kicks in and Lukather's voice spills over the keyboard backing. It is a great ballad that is built on layers of swirling keyboards and excellent harmony vocals to lift the choruses above the song. I feel this song best shows off Vanston's ability as a keyboardist and songwriter as the diverse selection of sounds here; from synth leads, textured backing parts and beautiful piano melodies we can see what a great musician this guy is. Of course, there is another killer guitar solo!

The title track has some of greatest instrumental sections on the album, and in fact this song is almost purely instrumental - save from a small section of vocals towards the end. There is a distinct funk feel to the track, helped along by a snaking bassline from Tal Wilkenfeld, and the pulsing dueling keyboards of Vanston and Steve Weingart. For long sections of the piece, Lukather takes a more supporting role - playing a rocking riff and some gentle acoustic stumming - behind the mad sound of the keyboard and bass work. He takes the spotlight later on the track for another masterclass in rock guitar soloing which is the calm after the funk-filled storm that has just passed. The next highlight is Rest of the World. Another really bluesy number, this ballad which helps to bring the album to a close seems to sum up all the themes of the album together in one final dance. The guitar work here is exemplary and he really uses the guitar to bring the best out of his vocals. It has a very laid back feel to it, with piano sometimes cutting through the mix and some great backing vocals bringing a new dimension to the sound. The album then closes with the short instrumental piece Smile which is a version of a Charlie Chaplin. This gives us one more chance to hear the great guitar work of Lukather and helps to round the album off nicely. Overall, this is a solid album and an enjoyable listen. It is very different from his work with Toto but you can still see much of his signature song writing style coming through in places. This is a great album to relax to, full of different moods and delicate textures.

The album was released on 21st January 2013 via Mascot Records. Below is the official EPK that was used to promote the album.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Crashdïet's 'The Savage Playground' - Album Review

Crashdïet are one of many bands hailing from the Scandanavian countries who are doing all they can to bring back 80s glam/sleaze metal. While this scene (like pretty much all the others) is becoming full of so many mediocre bands, Crashdïet are one of the forerunners of the genre and have seen quite a lot of success world-wide. The Savage Playground is their fourth studio album, and second with vocalist Simon Cruz at the helm. Cruz joined the band in 2009 and featured on their last album Generation Wild which was easily the group's most focussed and strongest record to date. While I do not feel that The Savage Playground is as good as it's predecessor, there is still plenty to enjoy here and fans of 80s hair metal and classic rock will find a wealth of heavy-hitting tunes to sink their teeth into.

In my opinion, the album actually starts off with one of the weakest tracks. Save the World is a little bland and fails to get the album off to a great start. Peter London's bass roars and Cruz sings well, but for me this track just does not seem to pack the punch needed for an opener. You also notice how the production is a little muted compared to Generation Wild which is probably the main reason why this album fails to live up to that standard. It seems to lack the raw, gutsy sound that they used on that album. Up next is the first single Cocaine Cowboys and this is how the album should have started! A simple, yet effective riff, gets things off to a good start and the verses are almost spat out of the speakers at you there is so much venom in Cruz's voice. The chorus is memorable and works well as a single. To me, this song sounds a bit like Cinderella doing a cover of Marilyn Manson's The Beautiful People - which sounds like an odd combination but it works extremely well. Martin Sweet also adds a deliciously melodic solo to the proceedings. Next comes Anarchy. This is a song firmly in the hair metal camp, and really represents what was great about late 80s music. It is extremely catchy and is likely to be a concert staple for years to come. Sweet's guitar playing here is top class and makes even simple licks sound excellent. The next highlight is Lickin' Dog. This song is a real down and dirty sleaze tune dripping with attitude. The vocal melodies are excellent and Cruz displays all his skills here. It is songs like this though that really could have done with the ballsier production found on Generation Wild, as it would have really taken it to the next level!

Sin City is the next song worth talking about. This is another really sleazy number that boasts a great guitar riff that brings to mind bands like Ratt and Danger Danger. Cruz actually sounds a bit like Stephen Pearcy on this track and sings one of the best choruses on the album. Got a Reason is up next and has a slightly more AOR sound to it. There is lots of great lead guitar work throughout the song and overall it just has such a great sound to it. Most of the songs on this album are extremely accessible but I say that this one of the most poppy songs here. An excellent song to show to potential fans. The next highlight is the heavier Snakes in Paradise. Eric Young's anthemic drums combined with a really dirty guitar riff get this song off to a great start and Cruz's vocals, which sound very similar to the late Layne Staley here, carry the verses very well. There is another great guitar solo on this song. The album closes with the 'epic' (by Crashdïet standards..) Garden of Babylon. There is a bit of everything going on here, and it brings to mind W.A.S.P. at their most creative. It also has quite an 'Eastern' influence in parts, especially the guitar solo. It is unlike anything Crashdïet have ever done before and is a great way to end the album. Overall, this is an extremely enjoyable album. I just wish that the album utilised the same raw production values as Generation Wild as I feel that many of the songs would have benefited from this. Also, as many albums these days are, I feel that prehaps it is a couple of songs too long. This is a common criticism that I have of many albums released in the last decade or so, but leaving out songs is always hard as probably the ones I would miss out are other people's favourites! However, this is a great record, and I recommend it to anyone with a taste for fun, hard-rocking music. They are touring in the UK in April too so make sure you get on down to a show!

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