Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Amaranthe's 'The Nexus' - Album Review

Amaranthe are one of the biggest rising stars in the metal world at the moment. Their self-titled debut album was released in 2011 and was instantly popular as its simple songwriting built around massive hooks and catchy riffs appealed to so many people. Metal fans often are extremely (over)protective of their favourite subgenres and, in my opinion, create so much animosity between themselves that they are all missing out on a lot of good music. Amaranthe are one of the few bands in recent years to really bridge the gap between the different subgenres and appeal to a lot of people. Founding member, guitarist and principal songwriter Olof Mörck has found fame in both the power metal world as a member of Dragonland and the melodic death metal world as a member of Nightrage. Amaranthe seems to aim to fuse those two sounds - with great success - as well as adding in huge doses of good old fashioned pop music. Obviously, there are some metal purists that turn their nose up at this sort of music, but it seems that the majority has been hooked. This year sees the release of their second album The Nexus and the formula has not really changed at all. The songs are still built around simple, yet memorable riffs with plenty of keyboards and the band's trademark tri-vocal attack with Elize Ryd and Jake E providing the clean vocals and Andreas Solveström providing the harsh vocals. The Nexus is the natural successor to Amaranthe and fans of the first album will be pleased with the results here providing their happy with the band not really moving forward in their sound (which I am, at this stage).

 Afterlife gets things started and all the hallmarks that were so successful on the band's first album are present here in swathes. Mörck is a proficient keyboardist as well as a guitarist and the song is built around a big keyboard riff that is carried by some fast footwork by drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen. As expected, the chorus is massive - as with pretty much every Amaranthe song - and Ryd and Jake E intertwine their voices together to create melodic heaven. Solveström's harsh vocals are usually only reserved for the verses and breakdowns where his growls give them extra punch. There is also a short but flashy solo from Mörck that allows him to show off his chops. Invincible follows and the formula is very much the same. The keyboards take more off a back seat on this song however and the guitars and bass are more upfront creating a heavier song. Even though the keyboards are not as prominant, electronics still bleep away in the background creating an irresistible dancefloor atmosphere. The title track, which is also the first single from the album, is up next and this is one of the best tracks on the album. A really interesting and different vocal melody in the verse set it apart from the rest of the songs before a seriously delicious chorus blows you away. I think this song really brings out the best in all three of the voices on display. There is also another really melodic and memorable guitar solo from Mörck who shows that it is possible to be technical and still be fun. The next highlight is Stardust. After a simple guitar and bass riff, the instruments drop out and leave Jake E's voice backed only by gentle keyboards and pulsing electronics before eveything kicks back in and Solveström's screams create a great contrast. The chorus is yet another contrast, a seeming change of pace with an interesting melody that becomes an earworm almost instantly. It shows that while the formulas of the songs do not change drastically, subtle changes can create something vastly different keeps things varied and from being boring.

The ballad Burn With Me is next and starts out sounding a bit like Avantasia's Carry Me Over before Jake E's vocals sing a melody that would not sound out of place in your average Top 40 smash hit. In fact this whole song has hit written over it. It will never be marketed in a way that would take it to the top of the charts but if Radio 1 would play it I suspect it would - metal or not. It just goes to show that a good song is a good song, even if it sounds like a chart hit - no snobbery here! Mechanical Illusion is up next and this is back to the metal. With the sheer amount of harsh vocals on display here, it is probably the heaviest track on the album but the chorus is still massive and stops the song from being an onslaught of brutality. The mix between light and shade has always been a key part of the band's sound and it is great to hear it so well displayed here. Electroheart is easily the cheesiest song on the album and borrows heavily from disco music and modern clubland. There is not much to say about this song, but if the band can get a whole load of bearded metal heads to get into songs like this, then they have done well. I'm not proud, I saw turn it up loud and just go nuts! Transhuman is next and this is back to more traditional Amaranthe territory. It seems heavy after the disco beats of Electroheart but that is only relative. The chorus is catchy as always. Ryd and Jake E's voices go so well together and sometimes it is hard to tell who is actually singing because they meld together a lot of the time. Both of them are powerful voices and it is freshreshing to hear a female singer singing in a more pop oriented style and still being successful without having to go down the more classical route that many women in metal go down. The album comes to an end with Infinity and rounds out the album nicely with more big riffs and vocals. I like how Amaranthe make very simple song writing and arrangements sound so big and epic - this is testament to the band's vision and also producer Jacob Hansen who has done an excellent job here with quite a complex mix. I just hope the band have some UK dates in pipeline to promote this album over here!

The album was released on 25th March 2013 via Spinefarm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for The Nexus.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Killswitch Engage's 'Disarm the Descent' - Album Review

For fans of the metalcore genre, Killswitch Engage are essential listening. They helped to pioneer the genre throughout the previous decade along with bands like Trivium and Bullet for my Valentine. They successfully fused the sounds of classic heavy metal, the Gothenburg style of melodic death metal and hardcore punk to create a heavy yet catchy brand of metal that was more accessible than things that had come before. Disarm the Descent is the band's sixth album and the first since their reunion with original frontman Jesse Leach. Leach was the band's frontman from their formation in 1999 until 2002 when he was replaced by the enigmatic Howard Jones who helped take the band to even higher hights. When Jones left the band last year, Leach was brought back into the fold and the result is this album. Disarm the Descent feels like a culmination of everything the band has done up until this point featuring the best of all aspects of the band's sound over the years. It is a cross between the rawer, heavier sound of the band's first two albums (the one featuring Leach); and the more polished, melodic sound of the Jones era. While this new album does nothing to drastically change the band's sound, it tightens up the loose ends and creates an album that is in-your-face, yet melodic and heartfelt at the same time. To be honest, this is probably the album that Killswitch fans have been waiting for ever since 2004's The End of Heartache - often seen as the watershed of the band's career so far.

The album gets underway with probably the heaviest track on the album The Hell in Me. This is a short, punchy track that owes much to the sound of Swedish death metal pioneers like At the Gates. One thing that is evident from the outset is just how much Leach has improved as a vocalist during his ten years away from the band. His harsh vocals were always good but his clean singing has improved tenfold. I always thought that clean vocals were Jones' strong point and it is good to see Leach has upped his game to be able to handle those songs live. The guitars are heavy, yet great melodic leads weave their way around the riffs creating a tuneful masterpiece. Beyond the Flames follows and this is more classic Killswitch Engage territory. The mixture of harsh and clean vocals has always been the band's trademark and is used to great effect here. The soaring chorus here shows off Leach's refined clean vocals and helps to add a tonne of emotion to the track. A breakdown slows the pace of the song, adding variety and giving the vocals a chance to shine. The New Awakening is the catchiest song of the album up until this point. The verses are mid-paced with some gut-wrenching vocals from Leach and some machine gun drumming from Justin Foley before an anthemic chorus and a breakdown add to the overall heaviness of the song. There is also a guitar solo from Adam Dutkiewicz, something rarely heard in Killswitch songs - and this album is full of them! Single In Due Time follows and this is one of the best songs on the album. The song is built around a great riff that highlights the great interplay between Dutkiewicz and fellow axeman Joel Stroetzel with some great counter melodies and harmonics. The chorus is probably the strongest on the album and will no doubt be great live.

The next highlight is Turning Point. The harsh vocals in the verses really contrast with the fluid lead work in the intro and create a sinister atmosphere. The chorus is another fist-pumper and the guitar work throughout this song is stellar. While Dutkiewicz is always seen as the lead guitarist, and for good reason, I think it would not be right to not also commend Stroetzel on his snaking rhythm work and harmonies. You Don't Bleed for Me is the next highligt. After a discordant intro, a rather simple yet effect drum patten helps to propel the verses along. The bass guitar dominates the sound in the verses and there is some great work from Mike D'Antonio here (he must also be congratulated on his excellent artwork for the album cover and booklet). The chorus is another earworm that is bound to get lodged into your head and stay there for days. While the second half of the album does not contain as many great tracks as the first half, it does contain one of the album's best in Always. This is a refreshing change of pace towards the end of the album that brings out the band's most heartfelt side. It is part slow-paced rock and part ballad that features one of the best choruses on the album. Leach really pours his heart and soul into this song and it really bleeds through the speakers into you. Killswitch have always excelled at songs like this and it is great to have another! The album comes to a close with Time Will Not Remain. It is fast, furious and melodic and a great way to end a reasonably varied album. Overall, this is a great album from a band who have been defining a genre for years. Some fans thought that 2009's Killswitch Engage album was a weak one (not me though, I love it!), and I suspect those fans will be very happy with this album.

The album was released on 2nd April 2013 via Roadrunner Records. Below is the band's promotional video for In Due Time.

Crashdïet/Jettblack - Nottingham Review



Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Ebony Tower's 'The Magic Box - Part 1' - EP Review

Ebony Tower were a band I discovered at the Cambridge Rock Festival two years. Despite the fact at the time they were very much still a 'work-in-progress' I was impressed with their eclectic mix of styles with ranged from gothic prog to pop rock. I bought their debut EP Dead Planets New Stars which was released in 2009 at the festival and even though ir featured a different line-up to the one on the stage, it featured much of the same feeling as the then-current incarnation. The Magic Box - Part 1 is the follow up to that EP, but it has quite a different sound. Gone are the gothic overtones to be replaced with something I would call a 'poppy snarl'. It is a hard sound to categorize and the EP presents an odd yet rewarding listen. Again, the line-up has changed but the core of founding member and guitarist Wilson McQueen, vocalist Zanda King and violinist Skye Sheridan remain.

The EP starts off with what I think is actually the weakest track, but still The Passing is enjoyable. It starts off with a slow drum beat provided on this track by Reef's Dominic Greensmith before a strange, almost scratchy guitar riff comes in that leads the songs.  King's powerful and distinctive vocals act as a counter-melody to the guitar with the violin work from Sheridan adding another layer to the mix. The very raw production at first seems to hinder the track, but on repeated listens to manage to pick out all the layers, including a pounding bassline and a tortured guitar solo from McQueen part way through. Up next is The Labyrinth. A chiming guitar pattern and an almost swing drum beat heralds the start of this tune, however it is the violin that seems to take centre stage here. It plays the real lead parts and backs up King's vocals nicely. Midway through the song builds with some massive guitar chords and morphs into a real rocker - a good song! LSD follows and this is easily the best song on the EP for me. After a short piano intro the song comes crashing to life. It is upbeat, it is catchy and it rocks. For me, this is the song on the EP that is closest to the sound they had on Dead Planets New Stars and, for me anyway, should be the direction they continue to take in the future. It is a good summer rock song and will go down a storm live with its big chorus and bouncy bassline. Finally we have The Mirror to close off the EP. This is a nice chilled out number drenched in organ provided by Spencer Cozens. Overall, the song has a very clean sound which I think works well. It demonstrates another side to King's vocals and just has a great 70s feel to it. The Magic Box - Part 1 almost feels like a soundboard for different styles from a band that is still establishing its identity. While I enjoy all of the songs on here, I feel that the final two are the strongest and best demonstrate the skills of the band. With a full debut album due out later in the year, it will be interesting to see which path the band decide to take.

The EP will be released on 6th May 2013 via RRed Chord Records, but is currently avaliable for streaming at the link below:


Stratovarius' 'Nemesis' - Album Review

It feels like it has been a long time since I have written an album review. I have a list of ones I want to do and now that my dissertation has finally been handed in and I am up-to-date with my live reviews, I can crack on with some albums. Up first is the new album from legendary Finnish power metal pioneers Stratovarius who have been on a run of form of late. Since a major overhaul of the band's line-up in 2008, the band have written and produced two great albuums: Polaris in 2009 and Elysium in 2011. 2013's Nemesis is a natural continuation from those albums. It is arguably slightly darker than the two previous albums and features a good use of electronics rarely heard in Stratovarius songs in the past. It also marks the debut of new drummer Rolf Pilve who replaced long-time sticksman Jörg Michael last year. The overall sound is power metal, pure and simple; something which the band have been doing successfully for years.

The albums starts off with Abandon. Some of the afformentioned electronics herald the arrival of a monster riff that says that the band are back in style. What is evident right from the outset is that frontman Timo Kotipelto still has a great voice and has not lost any of his range over the years. His power can be felt in the massive chorus that carries this song before a great keyboard and guitar duel puts the fun back into virtuosity. Unbreakable follows. The intro is a lead by a driving piano melody that is eventually backed up by crunching guitar and some excellent electronics. Lauri Porra's bass work is strong in the verses and help to add a little diversity to the overall sound. The song features another great chorus - as many Stratovarius songs do - and is sure to be a hit live. The next highlight is single Halcyon Days. It is full of the electronic elements that play such an important role on this album. The verses have an almost haunting quality to them before another soaring chorus takes over. Layers and layers of keyboard work create a big sound for a relatively simple-sounding song. Fantasy is up next, written by Porra, and is a really catchy despite some questionable lyrics. Not surprisingly, it is quite bass-heavy but some nice keyboard fills help to flesh the verses out well. The chorus is what makes this song catchy. It is a fun song with a nice guitar solo, but just blank out the rather mundane lyrics!

The next highlight is the epic Castles in the Air. It starts off like a ballad with some neo-classical style piano from Jens Johansson and Kotipelto's delicate voice crooning over the top before the rest of the band comes in and cranks it up to 11. Keyboards still play a big role throughout, and the chorus - with Kotipelto backed by a huge sounding choir - is spine tingling. Matias Kupiainen plays a guitar solo that mixed traditional power metal shredding with some almost jazzy phrases before the neo-classical elements return in a keyboard solo from Johansson. Up next is Dragons. This is more back to basics power metal with a big keyboard riff to lead the proceedings and fairly upbeat drum beat. The song is very old-school Stratovarius and would have not seemed out of place on either Visions or Infinity. The final highlight is the title track. Again, we have some great melodic power metal with quick footwork from Pilve and an epic sound from the rest of the band with big guitar chords and layers of atmospheric keyboards. It is a great way to end the album as is features bits of what made the other songs great and throws it all together in a big blender. It is full of melody and  solos and just feels epic. Overall, this is another great album from a band with the big history and that will leave an even bigger legacy. I am sure the band has a lot more to say yet though, and with this new line-up seemingly working well together, I predict great things for the future!

The album was released on 22nd February 2013 via earMusic. Below is the band's promostional video for Halcyon Days.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Michael Schenker - Nottingham Review



Saturday, 20 April 2013

Saxon - Nottingham Review



Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Helloween - London Review



Monday, 15 April 2013

Sonata Arctica - Nottingham Review



Saturday, 6 April 2013

Skid Row - Plymouth Review



Friday, 5 April 2013

Voodoo Six - Exeter Review



Monday, 1 April 2013

Bon Jovi's 'What About Now' - Album Review

It goes without saying that Bon Jovi are one of the biggest rock bands of all time. They have been selling out stadiums world wide for over three decades now and are household names for even the most casual of music fans. I have always seen their career in three distinct periods. Firstly, the glam, arena rock period from 1984s self-titled debut album to 1988s New Jersey. Secondly, the more darker, stripped down rock period from 1992s Keep the Faith to 2002s Bounce; and finally, their current period which contains the best of both previous periods mixed with other sounds such as country and pop. Their twelfth, and newest, album What About Now is a natural follow-up to 2009s The Circle full of heartfelt lyrics and pop sensibilities. The band no longer has anything to prove, and they are now making records that they want to make. The big hooks are still there, the great guitar work from Richie Sambora is still there but neither are as in-your-face as on previous albums. This is a definate slow-burner, one that takes many listens to fully digest and appreciate because the melodies are much more subtle than before. Those who persevere will be rewarded, and a very good album will emerge from one that many have already dismessed as boring or lacking any real tunes. As always with Bon Jovi, the songs are from the heart and Jon Bon Jovi's stellar vocals really help to carry the material.

Things get underway with the album's single and most immediate track Because We Can. It is poppy, anthemic and classic. This is the sort of thing Bon Jovi fans have come to expect from the band and this is the sort of thing the band excel at. The chorus is instantly memorable and is another in a string of excellent singles from the band over the past decade or so. It would not be a Bon Jovi album without a song like this, and I can see their huge crowds screaming the words at the top of their lungs at their shows. The next highlight is the album's title track. After an upbeat intro, the verses transform into a bass-led affair before a classic Bon Jovi chorus takes the song away. As with many of their recent albums, Jon Bon Jovi is once again channelling his inner Bruce Springsteen here and the lyrics are quite hard-hitting as a result. Pictures of You is next, and this is a really strong track. It would not be a Bon Jovi album with it's share of love songs and this is maybe one of their best so far. The lyrics are particularly good on this song, and are a new take on the tired and clichéd love song formula. It is deceivingly upbeat and features the first memorable (albeit short) guitar solo on the album. The next highlight is the rocky That's What the Water Made Me. A guitar-led piece with a typical Bon Jovi melody make this one of the best songs on the album. The chorus is very catchy and is instantly accessible. There is another very short, and simple guitar solo - and for me at least, that is what the album lacks. The guitar work is quite limited, and looking at the writing credits it seems Sambora has not been as involved in this album as he usually is (he only co-wrote five of the twelve tracks on this album) and it is a shame as 'Bon Jovi/Sambora' has been one of the most successful writing partnerships in recent years.

What's Left of Me follows and this an acoustic-lead song with another great chorus that dares you not to sing a long. There is some delicate slide guitar work under the vocals in the chorus and this helps to emphasise the melodies. Surprisingly, there is decent length solo here too - possibly the song that highlights Sambora's playing the best on this album. Another anthem, the Boss would be proud! Army of One is next and is quite an atmospheric track with David Bryan's keyboards dominating the sound (wow, you cannot say that very often..). It was co-written by Desmond Child who has had a very successful relationship with the band of the years, and while this does not reach the hights of collaborations past - it is still a nice little tune with overt pop overtones. The next highlight is Room at the End of the World. It is quite a melancholic song that has an understated epic quality that is hard to describe. The sort of song that plays over a sad, yet pivotal moment in a film and just adds to the emotion of the characters on screen. That is the only way I can describe the feeling this song gives. Very powerful stuff. The album closes with the acoustic song The Fighter, which again brings Springsteen to mind - but many of the lyrics seem to reference Simon & Garfunkel songs and some of the vocal harmonies are also very similar to the iconic folk duo. A great way to end an album, the song is beautiful. Overall, this is a pretty strong album that takes a good few listens to really appreciate it. It is not that the material is complex, but it seems that the melodies are much more elusive this time around and need to be looked for. Well worth a purchase!

The album was released was released on 8th March 2013 via Island Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Because We Can.