Friday, 22 March 2013

Saxon's 'Sacrifice' - Album Review

British heavy metal legends Saxon seem to have had a new lease of life over the past few years. With a fine string of albums released recently, culminating in 2011's fantastic Call to Arms, the band have been touring and playing to sold out audiences world wide. Sacrifice is their twentieth studio album, and it is another winner. While it is not quite as strong as Call to Arms in my opinion, it is still a real belter - full of great old school metal anthems with great riffs and pounding drums. As usual with Saxon, melody is at the forefront of the compositions but it remains hard-hitting and heavy. There are no ballads here, just nine furious metal songs straight out of the early 1980s. As always with this band, it is a group effort - bringing out the individual strengths of the members. Whether this is the distinctive voice of frontman Biff Byford; the loud, pounding bass of Nibbs Carter; or the simple yet effective drum beats of Nigel Glockler - the band is always firing on all cylinders and always having a damn good time!

After the orchestral introduction Procession, the album kicks off in style with the rousing title track. Sacrifice also acts as the album's first single and contains all the hallmarks of a classic metal song. The guitars have a certain rawness about them, yet are still well defined and the bass rumbles away beneath constantly audible and powerful. It would make a great concept opener with it's furious energy and fist-pumping chorus where Biff could lead crowd through their paces. Made in Belfast follows, and it is one of the best tracks on the album. Opening with an Irish melody, the song soon becomes another riff-heavy beast. Again, the song boasts another anthemic chorus that will great live. The aformentioned Irish melody is used again throughout the song and creates a nice contrast between the heavy guitar riffage. This a real monster of a song, and deserves to be heard live! The next highlight is Guardians of the Tomb. This is more of a mid-paced rocker that has a great lead guitar intro before and solid verse and chorus emerge. Standard stuff, but it is extremely catchy and well executed. Like Made in Belfast incorporated some Irish melodies, this one does the same with Chinese ones. Little things like this just help the songs stand apart from the rest and give them a unique identity. There is also a really melodic guitar solo!

Stand Up and Fight is next and the quality remains high. This song has a really old-school sound about it and would not have seemed out of place on the Demin and Leather album from 1981. It roars a little less, yet has bags of melody - it just feels like it belongs it in the 1980s. Again, there is plenty of great guitar work from Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt. The pair have been working together for almost twenty years now, and it shows. They play off each other well, each taking turns to solo and show off what they bring to Saxon. There is an excellent melodic passage in this song that shows off their playing. The next highlight is Night of the Wolf. The intro is great with a really rocking guitar riff and some powerful drumming from Glockler. Biff said in an interview that this was loosely based on the Jack Nicholson film Wolf from 1994, and this song is a good companion piece for the film. A great song for a great film! Wheels of Terror is another mid-paced stormer. The bass seems to really drive the verses here and some great Iron Maiden-style twin lead guitar work adds some melody into the relentless pounding off the bass and drums. The album ends with the rather throwaway Standing in a Queue but it does not take anything away from the album. Overall, this 40 minutes of pure heavy metal mastery. There is nothing fancy going on here, just pure unadulterated metal. Worth a look for anyone who likes it heavy!

The album was released on 1st March 2013 via UDR GmbH. Below is the band's promotional video for Sacrifice.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Newsted's 'Metal' - EP Review

Jason Newsted rose to fame as the bassist of thrash metal titans Metallica between 1986 and 2001, and played on some of the band's most successful and controversial albums. Proir to joining Metallica, he was involved in another thrash band, Flotsam and Jetsam; and joined Voivod after leaving Metallica. 2013 saw the release of his first solo album, the four track EP Metal - released under the name Newsted. It represents the music that Jason has been involved with for the past three decades, so it makes sense that it is predominantly a thrash metal album. The three-piece band consists of Newsted, who handles the lead vocals and bass guitar, guitarist Jessie Farnsworth and drummer Jesus Mendez Jr. Between them, the three have created a tight sound and written some punchy, catchy metal tracks. While this is nothing highly original, it has a certain freshness to it and would seem that Newsted is relishing in his new-found freedom away from the confines of the band environment.

The EP opens with the delicious grooves of Soliderhead. This is true headbanging heaven, with a simple yet infectious riff that drives the song and Newsted's surprisingly strong voice snarling over the top of everything. The song alternates between fast passages and mid-paced plods dominated by a roaring bassline and creates a song staying faithful to the thrash tradition yet also will appeal to those who prefer their metal a little more melodic. There really is something for everyone here. Godsnake follows, and 'snake' it does. There is certainly a big influence from groove metal here and the slow-paced guitar riff brings out the best in Newsted's voice. One of the biggest surprises that you get when listened to this album is just how good his voice is! It is strong and fits the material well. Rather unsurprisingly, the bass is always very audiable and complements the guitar work well, creating a big sound for a three piece. King of the Underdogs is next and, in my opinion, is the best track on the album. Opening with some clean guitar and pulsing bass work, the song soon escalates into a heavy, snarling beast with a massive guitar riff and crashing drums. The lyrical content seems to deal with how he now wants to step out of the shadows of his former bands and make a name for himself on his own terms. It boasts an extremely catchy chorus and you feel his desire to be a success on his own - and with more songs like this, I am sure that he will be! There is also a great, fluid guitar solo from Farnsworth that has an eerie, almost Gilmour-esque quality. Finally, we have Skyscraper, which features probably the best riff of the album. The song is heavy, yet very melodic, and is a tour-de-force for the band who really show off their songwriting and technical prowess here. There really is not a bad track on this EP and is a great way to show intent on a new lease of life. With Metal, Newsted is making a bold statement: 'I can do this on my own, and on my own term!' All I can say, is that I hope this is followed up by a full album sometime - I cannot wait to hear more of his writing.

The EP was released on 8th January 2013 via Chophouse Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Soliderhead.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Bullet for my Valentine - Birmingham Review


Monday, 11 March 2013

Bullet for my Valentine's 'Temper Temper' - Album Review

Bullet for my Valentine have been taking the commercial metal world by storm ever since releasing their self-titled EP in 2004. Their mix of heaviness, melody and attitude was a hit with the younger generations and quickly elevated the band to household names and arena headliners. However, it would seem that the sheen has worn off, and time has left Bullet for my Valentine as an uncool throw back to one's angst-filled youth. The band are still successful and still selling out big venues, but it seems that few but the loyal can say their name without a little sneer. This year sees the release of the band's fourth album Temper Temper and you could almost hear the collective 'meh' from the majority of people when they heard it. It is the band's weakest album so far, I have no doubts about that - but with each repeated listen, I still find plenty to keep me entertained. Their formula has not changed, so people who never liked the band in the first place will not find anything redeeming here, so I am surprised the album has been so poorly received by the band's fanbase.

The album kicks things off with Breaking Point, a song with all the hallmarks of classic Bullet for my Valentine. Fluid guitar work, punchy drums and Matt Tuck's trademark snarling vocal delivery are all present and correct; but it just seems a little tired. It is hard to put a finger on why, but it just seems that maybe the band have stomped the mudhole dry. Still, a flashy guitar solo from Michael Paget impresses and drags the song into the 'acceptable' category. Truth Hurts is a similar affair, but this one is much closer to the mark. The guitar work in the verses is interesing combining staccato rhythms, neat little lead runs and some dissident chords to create a good sound. The chorus is also rather good, catchy enough to make it interesting and one that will go down well live. The first single and title track follows and this is where things start to get pretty good. Some palm-muted guitar runs get things started before a really meaty riff steals the show. This is Bullet at their finest, it is nothing fancy but it's catchy and heavy enough to satisfy the fanbase. It is also home to the first truely excellent chorus on the album. It is singable, melodic and memorable - just what the doctor ordered! The next highlight is the mid-paced Dirty Little Secret. After a riff-heavy intro, clean guitars herald the arrival of the verses and Tuck sings as a delicately as is possible for him over the top of them. The choruses are heavier, creating a nice contrast between light and shade.

Dead to the World is the album's pseudo-ballad, and a good one at that. There is a certain atmosphere that this track creates to it's advantage and slowly builds with the help of apeggiated guitar lines and small drum fills. It all comes together to create a moody song that sits well in the middle of the album. Second single and album highlight Riot follows, and I feel that this is the direction that band should pursue in the future. It is an angry little song that packs so much into 2 minutes and 49 seconds of music. Everything about this song is great, apart from the lyrics, but they are still so damn catchy despite being juvenile. It is a real winner! Tears Don't Fall (Part 2) is an odd one, one the one hand it works well as a song in it's own right - but on the other it is almost TOO similar to the original song that it comes across as a mere copy rather than a natural sequel. It comes across as very cliché and just feels like a cheap attempt at recreating the success that the original one had. The album comes to end with the rather good Livin' Life (On the Edge of a Knife) which, while not the best song here, rounds off the album well and features many of the band's key strengths. Overall, I have found plenty to enjoy on this album. I find it a shame that so many people seem to be writing the band off - but at the same time I can see why some are disappointed with this album. It certainly is not world-beating, but there are plenty of good tunes here to get your head around!

The album was released on 8th February 2013 via RCA Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Riot.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Helloween's 'Straight Out of Hell' - Album Review

Germany's Helloween have been on a bit of a resurgence of late. Their last few studio albums have been released to critical acclaim, with their last album 7 Sinners that was released in 2010 being the pick of the bunch. Straight Out of Hell carried on the trend set by those albums. While the overall sound of the album is nothing original, there is still plenty to be enjoyed here and fans of Helloween's heavy brand of power metal will be sure to lap it up. I shall start by saying that I do not think Straight Out of Hell is as good as 7 Sinners, but that album was so good that I defy any band to follow up an album of that quality with like material. It is also maybe a couple of songs too long, which is a common complaint that I have with a lot of albums released in recent years. However, there are still plenty of heavy, melodic and slightly progressive power metal songs to merit a purchase and fans of the band - and the genre as a whole - will certainly not be disappointed.

First up is the single Nabataea which is about the ancient civilisation that had Petra as it's capital city. This really gets the album going with a bang and the eastern themes that are weaved throughout the song create a great atmosphere. It is a pefect slab of good, old-fashioned speed metal with furious double drumming from Dani Löble and the distinct wail of frontman Andi Deris creating a racket above the noise from the band. The chorus is trademark Helloween with layers of vocals and plenty of hooks to sink your teeth into. Up next is World of War. This is straight-up power metal and all the better for it. The opening guitar lines reek of Iron Maiden before the verse runs away from the song like a freight train out of control. It is almost classic Hellowen, and I could imagine this song fitting on one the seminal Keeper of the Seven Keys albums from the 1980s. It possesses another great chorus before a breakdown kicks in, revealing some great bass work from Markus Grosskopf before a dueling guitar solo steals the show. Live Now! follows and this sees the band putting a foot in a more commercial camp. It is still heavy, but something about the song just feels poppy. This is no bad thing though, and the song still feels like Helloween and would work well as a single. Far from the Stars is next and gets the album back onto the proper power metal path. Some great staccato guitars move the verses along before a sing a long chorus brings the best out the song and some excellent twin lead guitar work adds the icing. This is a song from Grosskopf, and I feel that over the past few albums, he has written some of the very best songs on them so I always look forward to his contributions.

The next highlight is the anthemic Waiting for the Thunder. The song starts off with a piano intro before the guitars come in over the top of it and then drop away leaving just the drums and bass to accompany the verse, letting it slowly build up with layers of sound before a fist-pumping chorus kicks in. Deris gets to show off many sides of his excellent voice on this track, from a menacing almost spoken deliever in the verses to soaring control in the choruses. Hold me in Your Arms is a delicate ballad with gentle piano and some acoustic guitar to back Deris' melancholic voice. It is well placed in the album and gives us a break from all the furious metal. This song is proof that metal bands can also have a heartfelt, softer side - and that they are not afraid to show it. The title track is the next highlight. This gets straight back on the power metal bandwagon and benefits well from a little lull in proceedings. The verses here are probably the best on the entire album and grab you by the throat and never let go. This is the sort of song that will work really well live with the crowd rocking out during the verses, sing the simple yet excellent chorus and then lapping up the fantastic lead guitar work. After this, the album takes a little dip in quality with a few medicore tracks but it ends in style with the epic Church Breaks Down. Tolling bells and some operatic vocals get the track started before some haunting church organ lays down an eerie sound - then the band come in with a crash of drums and the roar of guitars. It makes sure that the album ends on a high. Overall, this is an excellent album and carries on a great run of form for the veteran band. It is a snarling beast of an album that will delight fans of power metal and good old fashioned speed metal. Well worth checking out!

The album was released on 18th January 2013 via Sony Music Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Nabataea.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Threshold - London Review


Slash - Nottingham Review