Sunday, 30 June 2013

Queensrÿche's 'Queensrÿche' - Album Review

I am sure by now that anyone who is (and probably anyone who is not) knows the Queensrÿche story inside and out. Hardly a day goes by without one of the rock news sites trying to milk the drama for all it is worth and most of us are now thoroughly sick of reading about it. Queensrÿche (here meaning the band with three of the original members, and not Geoff Tate's new version) have mostly kept quiet and dignified throughout this whole ordeal and decided to let the music do the talking. This was a wise move as their new album, simply titled Queensrÿche, is very strong. To make things clear, I am not one of those people who blindly dismisses the entire post-Promised Land discography by the band as awful. While it is certainly true that the older stuff is still the best, many of the band's later albums still had plenty of good songs on them. 2009's American Soldier was a particular highlight and even 2011's pretty average Dedicated to Chaos had a couple of decent songs to be found on it. So, for me at least, Queensrÿche were not all doom and gloom but the line-up change has definately been for the better. Queensrÿche is the first album to feature new frontman Todd La Torre, and guitarist Parker Lundgren as a full member of the band (although he is credited with 'additional guitar' on Dedicated to Choas). This album marks a return to the band's roots and there is certainly a lot of 1986's Rage for Order on this album - but most importantly it sounds like Queensrÿche, something which could be argued has not happened since 1997's Hear in the Now Frontier but that is, of course, debatable.

After the atmospheric introduction X2, the album gets underway with the epic Where Dreams Go to Die. This was one of the songs released before the album (the second in fact) was to give fans a flavour of what was to come and I think it got people really excited! From the outset, everything that made/makes Queensrÿche great is present. Great lead guitar, a doomy atmosphere, pounding drums and powerful vocals - all those things are present and correct. The song itself sounds like a mix of the Rage for Order and Promised Land sounds and is a great way to get the album started. After a few listens, the song really sticks in your head - it is a real earworm! Spore follows and this is a more of a straight ahead rocker. The riffs and bassline are classic Queensrÿche and the chorus is deceivingly catchy and would be a monster live. Up next is In This Light which is the most commercial-sounding song on the album, very reminiscent of 1990's Empire. It probably has the best chorus on the album, which I remember loving from the moment I first heard the pre-release samples from the band months and months ago. The duel guitar solo from Michael Wilton and Lundgren is, again, classic Queensrÿche - something we have not heard properly for a long time. If the band film a video for one of their songs, this would be the best choice as I think it would get a fair amount of radio play. Redemption follows and this was the first of the three songs to be released before the album. Again, the song is very strong with a big chorus and some great lead guitar work throughout. However, at the beginning of the song there is some very strange distortion on the drums which I very much doubt was supposed to be there. In fact, this seems to be the best time to bring up that while on the surface the album sounds well produced, sometimes there are things which stand out that should really have been spotted in the mixing/mastering process. It does not spoil the album but it is a shame that these really obvious little things, like the drums at the beginning of Redemption, were not fixed.

Vindication is next and this is certainly a throw-back to Rage for Order (as is much of the album). La Torre's vocals here seem to evoke that distant technological sound that vocals on Rage for Order had and it really works well here. Drummer Scott Rockenfield is at his most inventive here, he has not had a chance to really shine for many albums now so it is great to hear him at his best again. There is another great chorus on this song, which proves the band has remembered how to write catchy songs! This is easily the most instant and accessible album since Empire - which for me is a good thing. Another atmospheric piece, Midnight Lullaby, acts as an intro for A World Without which is a dense ballad with a foreboding atmosphere helped by some great orchestral arrangements. Pamela Moore, who sang on both the band's Operation: Mindcrime records, lends her voice to this track which adds and extra dimension to the song. It is a real grower and would work really well live I think mid-set to act as a break from all the loud metal. There is also a really great, melodic guitar solo here. Don't Look Back follows and while I think this is the weakest song on the album, it is still enjoyable. It moves back to the simpler hard rock sound again and features a really prominant bassline from Eddie Jackson that drives the sound and is nice and thick. The bass sound throughout this album is meaty and full and helps to really make the album sound big. The final of the three songs to be released before the album, Fallout, is next and this is short song but full of energy and power. I really love the melodies, which are of a classic 1980s heavy metal sound, and the little flourishes of lead guitar. It really rocks! Another ballad-type song in the form of Open Road rounds out the album and evokes previous album closers such as I Will Remember and Anybody Listening? while still bringing it's own thing to the party. Queensrÿche seem to be the masters of getting a slower song to work as a closing song for a metal album. The guitar solo is one of the best from the album and La Torre's vocals are so passionate and full of feeling. Overall, Queensrÿche is a really great album. Lots of fans (including myself) have been waiting for an album like this from the band for many years and judging from many of the reviews I have already read, people are liking this a lot. I just hope that by the end of the year all the legal wranglings between the band and Geoff Tate can be sorted so Queensrÿche can just get back to doing what they do best, and that is rocking hard and creating more albums like this! I also am looking forward to their gig in October even more now.

The album was released on 24th June 2013 via Century Media Records. Below is the band's promotional soundclip of Fallout.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Panic Room - Derby Review


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Deep Purple's 'Now What?!' - Album Review

There is not much left to say about Deep Purple that has not already been said in the forty-plus year career so far. They are a legendary band that helped to define the rock genre in the early 70s along with the other members of the 'Big 4 of Hard Rock' - Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Uriah Heep - and helped lauch the career of many great musicians. Despite numerous line-up changes and break-ups, Deep Purple have been producing mostly top quality music throughout their career and 2013's Now What?! is no exception. This is their first album since 2005's Rapture of the Deep which was quite poorly received so it seems that the consensus is that this album is a real return to form. What strikes me about this album is just how diverse it is. There is a lot going on and it is great to see that a band who have been around for well over four decades are still willing to push their boundaries and create something fresh. There are definately similarities to their classic early 1970s output but this album definately has it's own sound.

The album starts with the understated A Simple Song which barely sounds like something Deep Purple would write. This is what I mean about diversity and how the band are not afraid to try something new. Guitarist Steve Morse's delicate leads in the intro to the song highlight just how much 'feel' the guy injects into his playing. Frontman Ian Gillan sounds better than he has in years on this album. There has been a fair amount of talk that is voice is well past it's best now but he puts in an admirable performance on this album that gets the best out of his remaining talents. Midway through the song, it becomes something more akin to classic Purple with washings to hammond organ from Don Airey (see the great solo) and pounding bass from Roger Glover. Weirdistan is up next and this is a keyboard-led rocker that would not have really sounded out of place on any of the band's classic albums. I love the keyboard sounds on this album. Airey really shines here and his riffs and solos are some of the highlights of the album. Out of Hand follows and after a string-intro, a monster riff breaks out from Morse doubled by Airey's keyboards. To me, that combination of guitars and keyboards is what typifies the Deep Purple sound. This type of song does highlight the fact that Gillan's voice is not what it was but I still think he does well here. He sounds a little strained in places but he still gives it his all! There is also a great speedy guitar solo from Morse. Next is Hell to Pay which is another great rocking track that is one of the album's highlights. There is nothing fancy going on here but the riffing is great and Ian Paice's drums drive the song along nicely. The keyboard work again here is fantastic - and that seems to be a theme!

The funky Body Line follows and this sounds like something that could have come from Fireball. Glover's bassline here is flowing and inventive and the whole song is built around it. The guitars take a backseat on this track to let the bassline shine through with the keyboards adding colour. After a couple of slightly average tracks, we get to possibly the best track on the album in Uncommon Man. There is a very progressive feel to this whole song and that is what makes it stand apart from the rest. After a slow build up, we have a fanfare backed by a rock rhythm section. There is something very Aaron Copland-esque about this whole song. Again, I really love the keyboard work here from Airey. He has managed to create many memorable parts on this album but the work on this track surpasses it all. The next highlight is All the Time in the World which was the first song from the album to be released to the public. Again, it is quite a different sound for Deep Purple - it is almost a ballad - but it is quite infectious and will stay with you for ages. Morse's guitar is great throughout and he almost doubles up against Gillan's vocals, giving them a guitar-based edged and there is a really melodic guitar solo in the middle of the song. Closing the album is the single Vincent Price. Out of all songs on the album, this seems an odd choice to release as a single and shoot a video for but it is still an interesting tune. It has quite a haunting quality, unsurprising given the nature of the subject matter, with lots of gothic overtones such a church organ in the background of the verses. Overall, this is a great album. I really like the plethora of sounds the band has come up with and the fact it is charting in so many countries is a testament to that. This album holds it's own against the band's extensive and excellent back catalogue and for that alone the band should be commended.

The album was released on 26th April 2013 via earMusic. Below is the band's promotional video for Vincent Price.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Black Star Riders' 'All Hell Breaks Loose' - Album Review

I am sure that by now, everyone who cares knows about the history of Black Star Riders and their connection with legendary rock band Thin Lizzy. Four out of five of the band's lineup were part of the final touring version of Thin Lizzy throughout the latter part of 2011 and 2012 and those four guys plus drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (Y&T; Alice Cooper; Megadeth) equals Black Star Riders. To be honest, I am sure that people are sick of reading about all this and just want to know one thing, and that is: 'What is their debut album like?' Well, the answer is: the album rocks! As someone who has been a long-time fan of Thin Lizzy, and has seen all three versions of their current line-up (once with Vivian Campbell, once with Richard Fortus, and twice with Damon Johnson) plus a show from the John Sykes-fronted version that pre-dated the Ricky Warwick-era in 2007 - it is safe to say that I had high hopes for Black Star Riders' debut. Having high hopes can sometimes be a bad thing, as expectations can easily be shattered, but they have managed to produce the solid, enjoyable rock album that I expected they would. From the raw production quality thanks to producer Kevin Shirley's style to the twin-lead guitar attack that characterised Thin Lizzy's sound, this is an album for rock fans. When flicking through the booklet, I was surprised to see that the majority of the material was written by frontman Warwick and guitarist Johnson. It is fitting though, two great musicians who seem to have remained largely under the radar now have their moment to shine. The sole 'classic' Thin Lizzy member to remain in the band, guitarist Scott Gorham, co-wrote about half of the album with the two younger members and there are also a couple of writing credits a piece for bassist Marco Mendoza, Thin Lizzy keyboardist Darren Wharton who was involved in the early writing process when the original plan was to write a new Thin Lizzy album, and one for journeyman songwriter Marti Frederiksen. I do not usually talk about writing credits in my reviews, but I found the breakdown of them interesting here and worth a mention.

Things get of to a strong start with the album's title track. From the outset, it is clear to see what a great singer Warwick is. He has a soulful voice that obviously evokes the spirit of the late Phil Lynott but is very much his own - anyone who has ever heard his previous band The Almighty can attest to this. The guitars are big, the chorus is catchy and there is a great guitar solo from Gorham hailed by Warwick shouting 'Alright Scotty!' which evokes Def Leppard's Armageddon It slighty. Next up is Bound for Glory which was released a couple of months back as a taster for the album. While it does bring to mind Whitesnake's Guilty of Love at times, it still rocks hard. The lyrics have a great 'yarn'-feel to them and Warwick again shines in his delivery. I can see why they released this track early, because it is easily the most instant of all their songs. The guitar leads are big and the chorus sticks in your head from the off. The folk-rock of Kingdom of the Lost is next with uilleann pipes and Irish percussion creating a great atmosphere before the rock gets going. While the lyrics in the chorus are slightly silly, the song is great fun and the lead guitar melodies are infectious. The next highlight is Kissin' the Ground. From the booming drum intro, to the groove-based verse riff, and finally the melodic chorus - this is a real rock song. Up next is single Hey Judas. After a nice acoustic intro, a monster riff evolves from the melody and becomes one of the highlights of the album. The riff is pure Thin Lizzy, making good use of harmonies and the acoustic guitar adds another layer and contrast throughout. This song will put a big smile on your face!

Hoodoo Voodoo follows, and as the title suggests, there is a blues influence on this tune. Again, the riff that leads this song is killer. The entire song has a great groove built from a great underlying bassline from Mendoza that is added to by the harmonising guitar style that Gorham has become famous for. Valley of the Stones is up next and it seems to have a big John Sykes influence despite the fact he has been nowhere near this album - it just seems like he would write, and Warwick even sounds a little like him here! Either way, it rocks and it probably the heaviest track on the album. Once again, the bass work is powerful and the guitar solo is memorable. A couple of more average tracks follow, but even one of them - Before the War - has one of the album's best riffs hiding away after the second chorus! Things all come to a head with final song Blues Ain't so Bad. This is the closest thing on the album to resemble a ballad and has verses dominanted from a snaking bassline. It is a hard song to describe and is so unlike everything on the rest of the album but it makes a great closing track. Overall, this album is mostly a triumph that seems to mark a transition: Thin Lizzy into Black Star Riders. While there are lots of hallmarks from Thin Lizzy's sound, that was inevitable due to who makes up the band. However, this is certainly not a clone of Thin Lizzy as it is definately it's own thing and has it's own sound. Initial chart positions and sales figures have been great, and I'm glad because this band deserve to have a big future ahead of them that builds on the legacy of Thin Lizzy and also creates a new one for a new generation of rock fans under the name of Black Star Riders.

The album was released on 27th May 2013 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Hey Judas.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

HIM's 'Tears on Tape' - Album Review

HIM are easily one of the most recognisable bands in today's world of modern metal. Whether it is the successful fusion of gothic metal and new wave pop of their sound, their instantly recognisable 'Heartagram' logo or their simple yet striking artwork - HIM have an identity that is totally their own. Many bands have tried and failed to emulate the success of one of Finland's biggest exports but HIM have continued to sell plenty of albums and tour world-wide despite the fact that many of their contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. 2013's Tears on the Tape is the band's eighth album and their first since Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice which was released in 2010. Tears on Tape takes the pop-esque songcraft of the previous album and mixes it with the rawer, heavier production of 2007's Venus Doom, making their current album an amalgamation of the previous two. For the most part this works and, being a relatively short album at 40:56, there is little room for any real filler. While this is certainly not their most creative or enjoyable album, HIM do not really have anything left to prove so can make the music that they want to. Tears on Tape seems to be just that, a well established band just enjoying themselves and making music that they would want to hear.

After the intrumental intro Unleash the Red, the album gets underway with second single All Lips Go Blue. From the outset it is business as usual with big, doomy guitar riffs mixing well with atmospheric keyboards and frontman Ville Valo's unique voice. This sort is song is well within HIM's usual territory and sets the tone for the album. The melodies are well-woven into the music and there is a great guitar solo from Mikko Lindström. Love Without Tears is up next and for me this is one of the best songs on the album. It makes great use of Janne Puurtinen's keyboards, creating a big soundscape that is particularly effective during the choruses. Valo shows great range during the song, reaching some nice high notes in the choruses and adopting his more traditional baritone for the rest of the song - particularly during a lovely acoustic-led breakdown towards the middle of the song. The next highlight is third single and title track Tears on Tape. It takes the form of a melancholic mid-paced rocker. Again, it is classic HIM and will please long-time fans. It is similar to the material found on 2005's Dark Light with it's slightly commercial edge. It is quite a grower, as when I watched the video before I got the album I was not too keen on the song, but after a few listens it has opened up and I find that I enjoy it rather a lot now. Up next is first single Into the Night which has another killer chorus with more high notes from Valo. Like the previous song, it has that commercial sheen from their mid-career material but it is catchy and the delicate keyboards in the chorus offset the chugging guitar riffing.

Hearts at War comes next and this moves back slightly into the doom territory but still with a highly melodic chorus making yet more use of great keyboard soundscapes. It emphasises all that is great about HIM, especially the simple yet deceivingly heavy guitar riffs from Lindström. The next highlight is Drawn & Quartered with it's bass-heavy verses and melancholic choruses. 'Melancholic' seems to be a theme here, and I think it is fair to describe this album overall as melancholic. It is not particularly heavy, especially when compared to Venus Doom or 2003's Love Metal yet it is much less poppy and polished than Screamworks. Melancholic works well for me anyway, this album has a certain vibe that is hard to place - and that is what makes it mysterious and enjoyable. This song basically sums up the whole album for me and, incidentally, is the album's longest song. After the short instrumental Lucifer's Chorale the final 'proper' song of the album W.L.S.T.D. (which stands for When Love Starts to Die) starts and carries on the vibe from the previous song. After a delicate keyboard intro we are treated to the heaviest riff on the album (one that Tony Iommi would have been proud of) and a verse to match with some discordant guitar and almost-spoken words from Valo. The melody comes back for the chorus, with some effects-drenched piano backing up the guitars. This song would have not have sounded out of place on Venus Doom and really brings all the themes of the album to a head. The album is finished off properly with another instrumental piece called Kiss the Void that is piano led backed by some distant drums that reminds me of Nine Inch Nails' Piggy in a way - slightly odd. Overall, this is another solid album from the band but probably not one that would convert anyone who was unsure about the band's sound. This is classic HIM through and through. It might not be as experimental as some fans may have wanted it to be, but the songs are strong and the murky production works a treat.

The album was released on 29th April 2013 via DoubleCross Records/Cooking Vinyl Limited. Below is the band's promotional video for All Lips Go Blue.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Megadeth - London Review


Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Darkness - Coventry Review


Saturday, 1 June 2013

Fish - Tavistock Review