Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Music of 2014 - Part 1

Despite what some music commentators might tell you, 2014 has been another fantastic year for music. I have bought many great new albums and seen a whole host of amazing live shows that trying to pick favourites is very difficult. As I did with 2013's albums, I shall post my top albums list tomorrow, but today I will shine the spotlight on some albums that, for whatever reason, I never wrote a full review about. As I only run this blog as a hobby in my spare time, I just do not have the time to review every new album I buy. Some months were very busy with new music, and I had to pick albums to review that I had a decent amount to say about - otherwise the reviews would not be worth reading. While the views on my blog are still fairly modest, the numbers are growing all the time. I want to thank all the bands and artists that have shared my reviews on Facebook and Twitter as this really helps to get my work read. I have chosen five albums that were released throughout 2014 that I did not write a review of to mention here. Some of these have grown on me a lot since their initial release, and some of them got lost in the midst of other releases. These are all good albums that deserve some attention, so check them out! I shall go through them in alphabetical order of band name.

Anathema are a band that are growing on me all the time, and their tenth studio album Distant Satellites has only really hit me recently. Despite it being released in June, I initially did not think much to this album, but over the past couple of months I have been listening to a lot - especially with headphones on my travels. These listens have made me realise what an excellent piece of work this is, and it follows on nicely from 2012's beautiful Weather Systems. The first half of the album is very similar to it's predecessor with simple yet emotionally powerful songs that build around repeating musical patterns; but the second half starts to experiment more with some electronic sounds that work well within the band's established sound. All three parts of The Lost Song are stunning, but the shimmering title track takes the main plaudits here as the Cavanagh brothers work their magic.

Moving away from prog towards AOR and we find Finland's Brother Firetribe with their third album Diamond in the Firepit. Guitarist Emppu Vuorinen is better known for his work with symphonic metal giants Nightwish, but during their downtime he harks back to the 1980s melodic rock heyday with Leverage singer Pekka Heino. Diamond in the Firepit is not as immediate as the band's other albums, but repeated listens reveal what a well-crafted piece of work it is. Sound wise though, it is very similar. Keyboard-led pomp rock numbers are mixed well with soaring ballads, and all the appropriate clichés are ticked off the list as the album progresses. Highlights include the hard rocking single For Better or for Worse and the semi-ballad Tired of Dreaming that has a monster chorus!

Eluveitie are one of the biggest bands out there in the world of folk metal and their sixth album Origins was well received in the community. This is an album I enjoy a lot, but rarely listen to as it is the sort of thing I have to really be in the mood for. When it comes to pure folk metal, no-one really does it better than Eluveitie, and their mixture of metal instruments with bona fide folk - how many other metal albums have bagpipes, hurdy gurdys, whistles, and fiddles? Not many! Frontman Chrigel Glanzmann's roar is as strong as ever, and his band of fellow Swiss musicians all come together to create something epic. However, the fact that the album's sound is so close to 2012's Helvetios; even down to actor Alexander Morton's voice overs; means the Origins fails to really create it's own identity. That said however, this is still a great slab of folk metal that sounds amazing and fully realised.

One of the biggest musical events of the year was the release of the new Pink Floyd album, their first since 1994's The Division Bell and something that very few people would have realistically expected to happen. The Endless River is a mostly instrumental work that features music written by the band for the sessions of The Division Bell and since, and showcases lots of work by the late keyboardist Richard Wright. This is not an album that I can see myself returning to very often, as instrumental albums are not my favourite things to listen to, but all the hallmarks of the classic Pink Floyd sound are here in spades. Fans of David Gilmour's trademark guitar playing will find lots to enjoy here, and the final song Louder than Words (the only song with lyrics - written by Polly Samson) is worth the price of admission alone. If Pink Floyd's career was a film, this would be the music playing over the credits.

Finally, we have American melodic death metal band Starkill with their second album Virus of the Mind. This is a big improved on their debut album Fires of Life, as it is much more focused and melodic. Their tour with Amorphis has rubbed off on them too, as the clean vocal sections added to some of the songs here really have an Amorphis vibe to them. Parker Jameson is the star of the show here and his versatile vocal performance is only eclipsed by his fantastic lead guitar playing. This is an album that is full of huge promise from a band that could be massive. They have been busy too, with plenty of support slots - including the big US tour from Kreator and Arch Enemy, which shows the band has the ability to step up into the big leagues!

And now, as I did last year, I shall talk about my favourite live release of the year. There have been so many good ones, but I think this award has to go to Toto's Live in Poland Blu Ray/DVD/CD that was released to celebrate their 35th Anniversary. The setlist takes in the best moments from throughout their long and successful career, and showcases why they brought frontman Joseph Williams back into the band as his performance here is awe-inspiring. It is great seeing Steve Porcaro back behind the keyboards too, and this is a great way to say farewell to long-time drummer Simon Phillips who sadly left the band earlier this year. This DVD shows why they are one of the greatest AOR/melodic rock bands around, and I really hope to get the see them when they come over the UK next May!

There is also talk of Toto releasing their first studio album since 2006 next year, and if that is the case then it is sure to be excellent! There are lots of albums that I am looking forward to hearing next year, with many of my favourites putting out discs. Nightwish are back with the strangely titled Endless Forms Most Beautiful in March, and Karnataka release their long-awaited fifth album Secrets of Angels in February - which something I have been waiting patiently for since the band embarked on those two fantastic tours in 2012. Other albums I already have pre-ordered include Sylosis' fourth album Dormant Heart and Blind Guardian's new opus Beyond the Red Mirror, all of which promise to be excellent! If 2015 is half as good for new music as 2014, then we are sure to still be spoilt for choice! I hope you have enjoyed reading this, and please come back tomorrow to find what which albums made my Top 10!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Bailey's 'Long Way Down' - Album Review

For my final album review of the year, I have chosen to look at Long Way Down, the debut release by British singer-songwriter Nigel Bailey, who is currently making a bit of a name for himself in the melodic rock/AOR world. He is not a total unknown, as some AOR fans will be familiar with his work in Three Lions with guitarist Vinny Burns (Dare; Ultravox; Ten; Bob Catley) and drummer Greg Morgan (Dare; Ten). Their self-titled debut album was released earlier this year, and I shall now have to go back and check that one out, as if it is anything like Long Way Down then I will enjoy it. When I first pre-ordered this album however I was a little sceptical. I really enjoyed the lead single, In the Name of the King, but I was worried that this was going to be what I call a 'Frontiers Album' - i.e. a place for some their stable of songwriters to 'get rid' of some unused songs they have had kicking around for a while. This was increased when I saw that Alessandro del Vecchio was producing the album. Now, I have nothing against him, in fact I like his production style and he writes some really great songs; but I just find the fact that Frontiers Records keeps packaging up his (and a few others') songs under different names and projects a little tiresome. So, you can imagine how pleased I was when the CD arrived and I saw that all of the eleven songs here were 100% written by Nigel Bailey! Although del Vecchio gets credit for helping to arrange the material, and playing keyboards, Bailey has written all the songs himself - which is very refreshing! The musicians here, apart from del Vecchio, are unknown too: with Mario Percudani handling the guitars, and Alessandro Mori playing the drums. Bailey himself obviously sings, but also plays guitars and bass too. In some respects, this is as close to a true solo album as you can get, and that has really increased my enjoyment of it. While there is nothing at all original or innovative going on here, this is an album that has plenty of finely-crafted melodic rock songs that are memorable and enjoyable. Despite all the songs are firmly seated in that 'melodic rock' camp, there is still a fair bit of variety here. Some of the songs based around tough riffs that approach classic metal territory, while others are much more polished and are pure AOR gems.

Feed the Flames is the album's first song, and gets us started with a driving rock beat and some excellent, melodic guitar leads. From the outset, it is clear how strong Bailey's voice is. He is not the most powerful of singers, but he has a really clear delivery that helps the smooth overall sound of the songs. The song's chorus is strong, with lots of big harmony vocals straight of your average 1980s AOR hit, and that melodic guitar lead from the song's intro keeps reappearing for another go around. In the Name of the King is the song that persuaded me to give this album a go, and it remains the best thing here by a mile. There are hints of Dio in the song's riff-based formula, plus the subject matter recalls the late legend too. This is one of the moments on the album that approaches metal, and Bailey carries it off well, despite his smoother voice. This is a powerful song that is chock full of solid hard rock riffs from these unknown guitarists and features a killer chorus with huge hooks and a strong vocal performance from Bailey. This is an extremely well-crafted song that is likely to appeal to anyone who likes classic heavy metal. It even includes a really great, bluesy solo that recalls the classic era of metal guitar! Dirty Little Secret attempts to be a sleaze rock tune, and mostly pulls it off. It does not hit the height of the big 1980s hair bands, but it is a catchy tune - even if the lyrics are a little derivative. Despite this, the song is still another solid slab of good quality AOR, with plenty of voluminous harmony vocals and overt melodies. Bad Reputation carries on in the same vein. It is more of a mid-paced hard rocker though with less polish, which actually works well for it. There is something about this song that makes me think of the second tier 1980s rock bands (Firehouse; Slaughter etc.) which is no bad thing at all. There are some subtle horns utilised in the chorus though, which does add a bit of pomp to the proceedings. Stay gets back to the more polished AOR of the opening song. It might sound strange, but Bailey's vocal delivery and phrasing during the verses reminds me of Phil Lynott in some ways - but by the time the soaring chorus kicks in these comparisons go out the window as the big melodies take over. Anyone who is a sucker for some melodic rock should give this song a whirl! Somewhere in Oslo takes the AOR thing much further. While it is very basic melodic rock, there is something satisfying about it; especially the soft rock chorus built around a tight guitar arpeggio that really enhances the overall melodies going on. This is the sort of thing that was all over the radio in the 1980s, so this is a nice throwback to that era.

The album's title track is up next and this is another song that walks closely to the metal line, with more big crunchy riffs. It is not as catchy or as heavy as In the Name of the King, but this is a song in that vein. The highlight in this song however is the guitar solo. Percudani does a great job here during his extended solo section that mixes fast bits with slower bits to good effect. Spend the Night is a quieter song that opens up with some simple acoustic guitar lines and Bailey's vocals. Bass and drums do come in too, but this never becomes a heavy song. It has all the hallmarks of a good ballad, with plenty of short, mournful guitar leads to add atmosphere and emotion when needed. Building from the regular short guitar breaks, this song contains another good solo - but this time in the slower, more emotive vein. Love Falls Down gets back to the more generic melodic rock sound of the earlier numbers. This song contains some excellent bass guitar work that is audible and interesting about the guitars, and shows that Bailey is a good musician as well as a good singer. The chorus in this song is full of big hooks, and the resonating power chorus bring out the power of the simple musical backing. Ticket to Yesterday is another ballad and probably the best example of that on this album. This is a really smooth song that just flows over you perfectly. Everything from the delicate guitar tone, the simple drum beat and Bailey's melodic vocals just oozes class - especially in the understated chorus. This is melodic rock at it's finest, and I am sure many people will enjoy this song. The album's final song is Dirty Angel that again gets back to that sleazy rock sound found on some of the earlier songs. There is something about mid-period Whitesnake here, and the guitar tone is something like that John Sykes might use, which aids that Whitesnake comparison. This one nails the hair metal vibe perfectly though, and really works to bring the album to a hard rocking close. The guitar work in this song is really strong, with some really tight and inventive riffing that makes the song stand out. Overall, this is a really strong album from a relative unknown in the melodic rock world. He is already booked to play at Frontiers Records' own festival in Italy next year, and I hope he does some live UK dates to support this album. I shall also have to go back and listen to the Three Lions album that he was a part of too! An enjoyable album for all who like melodic rock/AOR.

The album was released on 8th December 2014 via Frontiers Records. Below is his promotional video for In the Name of the King.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

NeonFly's 'Strangers in Paradise' - Album Review

Power metal is always seen as something that belongs in mainland Europe, with very few bands coming from outside of this geographical area. The UK has never really managed to successfully grow many top quality power metal acts, but with NeonFly we might finally have a band that can hold their own against the European masters. I first encountered the band touring with the now defunct 'ultra heavy hair metal band' The Morning After in Nottingham in 2012, and have loved them ever since. Their debut album Outshine the Sun that was released in 2011 is a really solid slab of melodic metal that is extremely catchy and full of uplifting melodies. I always thought the band were better live than on record though, as I have since caught them live twice more: once with Sonata Arctica last year, and once with DragonForce earlier this year. While Outshine the Sun is a good record, it failed to really catch the energy that the band have on stage, and this is something that Strangers in Paradise does in spades. This is a loud and fast album that really shows the best that NeonFly have to offer. I think some of this has to go down to Dennis Ward, who produced this album. His behind-the-scenes work with many of the big names in metal (Angra; Unisonic; Vanden Plas to name a few) makes him one of the most sought after men in power metal. I think he has really brought out the best out of NeonFly, and pushed them harder to make a really memorable record. While the think the songs on the first album had bigger choruses and were slightly catchier overall, the songs on Strangers in Paradise hit you right between the eyes and leave a bigger impact. This is a heavier album, but it still maintains the class and sheen of their debut. Bandleader and guitarist Frederick Thunder has managed to keep the same line-up intact between albums, which is always key. His writing partnership with vocalist Willy Norton has improved too, and sees Norton contributing to many of the songs on this album. The rest of the band is made up with guitarist Patrick Harrington, bassist Paul Miller, and drummer Boris Le Gal. Günter Werno (Vanden Plas; Place Vendome) is also featured playing keyboards throughout the album, and his contributions help on some of the album's more ambitious pieces, and the whole album sounds fuller as a result.

Whispered Dreams really sets the tone for the album. It has a real urgency to it, with some really Iron Maiden-esque pacy riffing while Norton's crystal clear vocals ride over the top of the music with ease. The chorus is a fast affair, with plenty of quick-fire vocal lines; and a section that is sure to whip up crowds live with some rousing chanting. The Iron Maiden similarities continue with a harmony guitar section backed up by some clear and precise bass lines.  Thunder takes the main solo on this song and shows off his skills perfectly with some fluid runs. Highways to Nowhere starts off in a much more gloomy way with some slightly doomy clean guitar lines before the song proper starts. It is more of a mid-paced crunchy song that sits on top of a solid groove laid down by Le Gal's hard drumming. Occasional keyboard flourishes help to maintain the power metal element of the band's sound though, and a bass-led section mid way through the song hints at a more progressive vibe. There is a lot of music packed into this relatively simple sounding song, and repeated listens really reveal all the layers. Better Angels starts out with a heavy riff with added guitar harmonics, but it soon opens out into a really melodic verse set onto a lush keyboard backing that allows Norton's vocals to really stand out. This song is a melodic feast, with a really soaring chorus that brings back memories of their debut album. The song builds up as it progresses however, with the guitar interplay increasing and Harrington's guitar solo taking the roof off with his classic metal phrasing. Things calm down with the first of the album's ballads Rose in Bloom. There is a real 1980s hair metal vibe running throughout this song, and it recalls the great songs of that era. Norton's voice is just as suited for the quieter numbers as it is for the heavier songs, and the softer side of his voice is used to great effect here. The song ramps it up when necessary though, like for the over-the-top chorus that is designed to be sung loudly by a crowd. Heart of the Sun is the centrepiece of the album, and the most ambitious song the band has written to date. This is a true mix of symphonic, progressive, and power metal; and fuses those genres together to excellent effect. The orchestral elements really make this song, and sit well with the heavy riffs to add excellent counter-melodies that demand to be admired. This song shows NeonFly growing up and really realising their full potential, and what a way to do it! The instrumental mid-section has all the class of any Nightwish album, and the icing on the cake is Harrington's mature solo that mixes faster and slower sections together well to create something memorable.

The orchestral theme is carried on in the instrumental Aztec Gold that is build around a hypnotising drum pattern from Le Gal before Miller takes the lead with a matching bass line. Thunder and Harrington trade guitar leads throughout, but they almost sound more atmospheric than virtuosic, which matches the mood perfectly. The symphonic hook from Heart of the Sun is reprised too, which makes this song feel more like a coda to that than a stand-alone piece of work. Fierce Battalions is more of a straight forward metal tune. This sort of song is bread and butter for NeonFly, and sounds like many of the songs that appear on Outshine the Sun. Norton uses a slightly harsher side of his voice though, which gives the song added grit which is helped by the distorted drive of Thunder and Harrington. Thunder's guitar solo is probably the highlight of the song as, despite it's short length, it is very musical and gives the song a lift. Sons of Liberty sees the orchestral elements back in full force, but this time used in a much more subtle and supporting way. The song's intro is bombastic, but the song as a whole is much more humble and relies on Norton's catchy and charismatic vocal delivery to really carry it. His chorus performance is very strong and proves that he can hold his own against any of the European heavyweights. Chasing the Night is another longer, more complex piece that opens with some simple acoustic guitar but soon morphs into a much more progressive opus that is built around some almost-speed metal riffs that recall early Blind Guardian. This song is not all one thing though, and throws many surprises at you during it's six minute plus duration. There are plenty of excellent bursts of controlled lead guitar and a building instrumental section in the middle makes more use of the orchestrations and shows off Le Gal's drum skills. This is an impressive song, but does not quite live up to the epic nature of Heart of the Sun, which does this sort of thing slightly better! After all that bombast, the quieter Falling Star follows to bring an excellent album to a close. This is the album's second ballad, and it is a real winner. For pure infectious sing-a-long inducing melodies, this is probably the best song on the album and recalls David Coverdale at his mid-1980s peak. While there are better songs on this album, there is something about this simple little tune that really resonates with me, and it is a perfect album closer! Overall, this album is a real statement of intent from a band that could really go the whole distance. A full headline tour is needed now to bring this album to as many people as possible, and a couple more big-name support slots to further help this cause. This could be a late entry into my 'Albums of the Year' list!

The album was released on 1st December 2014 via Inner Wound Recordings. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Heart of the Sun.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Ten's 'Albion' - Album Review

Ten (which has to be one of the most uninspired band names of all time) have been a relatively large force on the British melodic rock/AOR scene now since forming in 1995. Despite the fact that they have never been a big band - limited touring will not have helped that situation - they have always been fairly consistent and are well-loved within melodic rock circles. I would not consider myself an expert on their back catalogue, but I do own a few of their albums - and I do enjoy them. Stylistically, Ten are probably closest in sound to fellow British melodic rockers Magnum, relying on more subtle melodies and strong overall songwriting, than the massive hooks of their American AOR counterparts. Frontman and songwriter Gary Hughes is clearly a big Magnum fan, and his work on their frontman Bob Catley's early solo albums was very well received by fans. As with most Ten albums Albion, the band's eleventh studio album, sees some new personnel brought in. Lead guitarist Dan Mitchell left the band due to a hand injury and has been replaced by Dann Rosingana and Steve Grocott, which makes the band's line-up a seven-piece for the first time in their history. Keyboardist Darrel Treece-Birch and drummer Max Yates remain from 2012's Heresy and Creed, while long-term members rhythm guitarist John Halliwell and bassist Steve McKenna make up the rest of the numbers. Albion makes no great departures from the classic Ten sound that Hughes has been churning out for nearly twenty years now. This is melodic rock with subtle hooks, that evolves the more you listen to it. While the songs are certainly catchy and memorable, they are not as in-your-face as some other melodic rock. One thing I have noticed though is how much deeper Hughes' voice seems to be on this album. This is something that I have never really picked up on before, but I assume as he gets older his voice will gradually get deeper. It works well here and the richer tone really suits the classy material he has written for this album. One a few numbers, he even starts to sound a bit like the great Roy Khan (Conception; Kamelot) - which is high praise indeed. This probably was not deliberate, but it has really enhanced my enjoyment of this album, and made me realise what a great singer Hughes actually is. This is also the band's first album for a while not to be released via Frontiers Records, instead opting to work with a brand new label: Rocktopia Records; that is run by the people who organised Firefest - a melodic rock festival that took place in Nottingham that sadly finished this year. This is actually thte label's first release, so I wish them well in their new venture!

The album starts well with Alone in the Dark Tonight which opens with a nice riff that soon has a melodic lead line over the top of it that shows off the skills of the new lead guitarists. The verses are piano-driven while Hughes' deep vocals resonate well over the top of it. This is a really catchy song that has a simple, yet effective chorus that makes good use of the intro riff and humble vocal harmonies. There is a really nice guitar solo in the song too that mixes a less-is-more approach with occasional bursts of speed, showing the band's versatility. Battlefield is slightly heavier, with a very slight metal edge. Swirling keyboards provide atmosphere while Yates' occasional bursts of double bass drumming gives the song a slight urgency. The chorus builds up around a heavy, palm muted piece of guitar work that soon explodes into a melodic feast with Hughes reaching up to the higher end of his modest register. This is a guitar-led song though, with another excellent guitar solo that sees the two new lead players playing together to create layers of melody and skill. It's Alive is another melodic piece that opens with a strident riff that is backed up by some rather crazy synth patterns. The verses have a great classic rock swagger to them as Hughes commands the microphone and leads the charge. This is probably my favourite song on the album, as the chorus is a real AOR treat with some really memorable vocal lines, and the overall attitude of the piece has all the hallmarks of great rock music. Even the strange synth sounds seem to work, and add to the overall mood of the piece. Ablion Born goes off in a slightly different direction and introduces some folky elements into the band's sound. An a cappella introduction helps to set that mood, but it is not long before the rest of the band join in too. The guitar leads add the folk into the sound as they, in a Thin Lizzy-esque way, 'rock up' traditional melodies for the song. This style works well for the band, and this is an enjoyable, jaunty little tune. Sometimes Love Takes the Long Way Home is the first ballad of the album, and it is a good one. The Roy Khan similarities really shine through here as Hughes' rich delivery stirs up plenty of emotion as Treece-Birch's keyboards help to make this track what it is. Whether it is huge soundscapes or riffs, he does a great job to create the right backing got Hughes, and the guitar solo is excellent and drenched in emotion.

A Smuggler's Tale is another rocker. Pomptastic keyboards add some grandeur in places over the tough guitar riffing as Hughes' strong vocals deliver his narrative lyrics while the rest of the band play out his vision. There is long guitar solo in this song, that comprises of many sections, yet again showing the skills of the two new guitarists. From my relatively limited exposure to Ten so far, I would say that from a lead guitar standpoint, this is their best album yet. Having three guitarist really seems to work for the band, and the layers of guitar leads adds to the overall enjoyment of the album. Die for Me opens with a rather bluesy guitar riff that stands out from the rest of the album, but it is business as usual afterwards. This is quite a long song, and at over seven minutes in length it does overstay it's welcome somewhat.While it is not an awful song by any means, it never really seems to go anywhere and is not as memorable as other songs here. There are still some great guitar moments though, but the choruses are not as strong as they could be, which lets the song down somewhat. It Ends This Day is another song that does not really live up to the rest of the album. While the catchy chorus does help to make it memorable, it lacks the class of the earlier numbers. I am not really sure why it does not impress as much as some of the other songs, it is something that I cannot really put my finger on. Luckily Gioco D'Amore is up next and it is one of the best songs on the album. It is a brilliant piano-led ballad which has a real Kamelot vibe, and not just in the vocals (think Wander or Anthem and you will have an idea about what this song sounds like). Hughes puts in one of the vocal performances of his life on this song, and you cannot help but hang onto his every word - even when he is singing in Italian! The guitar solo performed in this song is perfect too, that really helps enhance the mood provided by the beautiful piano, soaring strings and deep vocals from Hughes. It really is the icing on the cake, and there are plenty of killer guitar moments in this song that really raise the hairs! A truely excellent piece of work that everyone involved can be proud of! The album comes to an end with Wild Horses which is slightly anti-climactic after the masterpiece just witnessed, but it brings the rock back somewhat and works well as an album closer. The chorus is understated, but the rhythms and vocal melodies have a real attitude to them that comes oozing out of the speakers. It is an enjoyable song, and rounds the album out nicely with some strong riffs and even a keyboard solo! Overall, this a really solid album from the veteran melodic rockers that will add further to their impressive legacy. Aside from a couple of weaker tracks, this is a triumph and will be enjoyed by fans old and new alike!

The album was released on 24th November 2014 via Rocktopia Records.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Glamour of the Kill's 'After Hours' - EP Review

Despite only releasing their second album Savages (see my review of that here) last year, Glamour of the Kill are back already with a new EP. Savages was a slightly strange album, and one that has not aged well for me. There are some excellent songs on there, but the second half of the album is actually quite poor - and more recent listens have made me realise how weak some of the material is. This is a shame as Glamour of the Kill's self-titled EP and debut album The Summoning where both excellent records with barely a bad track between them. I wonder if the band sensed this, and rushed back into the studio to release a follow-up? Either way, I am glad they did as After Hours is a great listen that has the energy of their earlier work but keeps up the polished sound that was found on Savages. This release also sees the band break free from their record label and go totally independent. A successful Kickstarter campaign funded this venture, and shows that crowdfunding really is the future, especially for small bands. It allows bands to directly work with their fans, which cuts out the middle man and saves money along the way. I am not sure if the greater creative freedom that comes from having no record company pressure, or whether it was the slightly muted reaction to Savages, but After Hours really rocks and gets the band back on track again. If these five songs had been the second half of Savages, then that album would be up there with The Summoning for quality. It definitely gets back to basics, and abandons the experimentation that the band toyed with on the previous album. None of the songs are particularly original, but they are catchy and heavy, which makes for a winning combination. A couple of guest vocalists, which I shall talk about later, step in to help out too, which is sure to help bring more interest to this EP as fans from their respective bands are sure to hear about their contributions here. With the band planning a large UK tour in a few months, it is clear that they feel they have the wind back in their sails with this release!

The catchy single Lights Down is the opening track and is Glamour of the Kill through and through. From the metalcore-inspired riff to the slightly pop-punk edge to the chorus vocals, this is everything they are known for. The verse has a driving rhythm with stop-start guitar riffing, before an explosive chorus kicks in that shows vocalist and bassist Davey Richmond's knack for a catchy melody. It has a sleazy feel to it, which is expanded upon in the equally sleazy accompanying video. We are all Cursed is arguably better though! It has a sense of real urgency with frantic riffing and some nice drum patterns from Ben Thomson. The verses constantly mix up the tempo, with fast and groovier sections sitting side-by-side; before a really melodic chorus takes things to the next level. Richmond's vocals always have a slightly cheesy edge to them, but they work really well and always manage to draw the listener in. Out of Control is another rocking little song and features Jacoby Shaddix (Papa Roach) on vocals during the song's second verse. It focuses on groove, and utilises some more electronic elements, like Break from Savages. The pulsing synths really add to the overall melodic nature of the song, and sit well over the tight riffing of guitarists Mike Kingswood and Chris Gomerson. It might be too close to Break for some people's tastes, but I like this song and think the synth elements work well for the band, and I would not be surprised to see them expanding this on future works. Earthquake is another classic Glamour of the Kill-type song and features Craig Mabbitt (Blessthefall; Escape the Fate) on vocals during certain parts of the song, usually duelling with Richmond in an effective way. There is a metalcore-esque breakdown too with staccato riffing and some harsh vocals - something which the band utilise sparingly but always effectively. The EP ends with Blood Drunk which is another excellent song. This would have really sat well on The Summoning as it has more of that vibe with a catchy riff and plenty of double bass drumming. Richmond has more grit in his vocal delivery on this song too, which I like, but the chorus is more epic with soaring harmonies and subtle gang vocals from the rest of the band adding volume. It also features a nice guitar solo from Kingswood, which shows that he can play more than just chunky riffs. Overall, this is a really enjoyable piece of work from a band that needed the shot of adrenaline after a lacklustre last album. I hope this EP gets the recognition it deserves, and leads to great things for the band.

The self-released EP was released on 17th November 2014. Below is the band's promotional video for Lights Down.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Nightingale's 'Retribution' - Album Review

Nightingale are a band that I have been aware of for ages but never really bothered to check out. For one, their albums always seem to be very expensive to buy (I assume they are out of print) and you hear so little about them that they are easy to forget about. Frontman Dan Swanö is a well respected, but unassuming member of the metal community - and has popped up in various projects throughout the years. His contributions to death metal band Bloodbath and progressive metal project Star One's albums, as well as guest spots on albums by bands like Threshold, show how diverse of a musician he is. Nightingale has always been his 'main' band however and has been sporadically putting out albums with them since 1995. Retribution is the band's seventh studio album and the first since 2007's White Darkness. To release this album, the band have signed with the long-standing progressive music label InsideOut Music which will probably ensure that this album reaches the biggest possible audience. As I said earlier, their albums are not always easy to get hold of so hopefully this one will be available much easier for much longer. I cannot compare this album to any of their previous work, as I know very little about Nightingale beyond what I have already said, so this is my first real foray into their work. On the surface, this is a really enjoyable piece of work. It is a hard album to pigeonhole because there are many different sounds at work here. Progressive metal is a big part of this album's sound, but so is AOR/melodic rock. In fact, this album is almost a perfect mesh of those two genres, and creates something which is pretty accessible while still being musically interesting. This is not a classic album by any means however, but there are a few stand out tracks that will really make any metal fan sit up and take notice - it is just a shame that this quality could not be sustained throughout the whole disc. Swanö's vocals on this album are really good. Despite his versatility, he only uses clean vocals here and ends up sounding like a mix between Kelly Hansen (Hurricane; Foreigner) and Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth; Bloodbath; Storm Corrosion) - which works surprisingly well. His voice is so smooth and melodic that it just flows over the music so well. He is a really underrated vocalist, but it is no wonder why people like Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon; Star One; Stream of Passion) hold him in such high regard!

The album opens with Stolen Wings which is easily the best track on the album. It is such a smooth, polished piece of metal that you cannot help but love it. Swanö's vocals have a little more grit to them in the verses, but the choruses flow well with a more pure delivery. The riffing between him and his brother Dag Swanö is tight, as keyboards add the icing on the cake without ever dominating the sound. There is definitely a slight poppy overtone to this song (and the rest of the album), but there is a short breakdown moment with acoustic guitars and prominent bass guitar work that brings the prog element back into the sound. Lucifer's Lament follows and is a much moodier piece. It opens with some sultry clean guitars and Swanö's perfect Kelly Hansen impression - it is amazing how much he sounds like him sometimes! Despite the moodier overtones, the song is still very catchy with it's very 1980s inspired chorus with chiming guitar lines. It is a very enjoyable song that really opens up with repeated listens. Chasing the Storm Away takes the AOR vibe much further and ends up sounding like mid-period Foreigner (think 1987's Inside Information) with it's semi-ballad feeling, big keyboards and melodic chorus. This is not a heavy song at all, but it still manages to rock to a certain extend with a really strong guitar solo and some excellent vocals from Swanö. Warriors of the Dawn is more of a metal song with a crunching riff and a tight groove that the whole song is built around. The chorus is a bit darker too, but the lush keyboards remain to help retain that polished sound. I feel that they were attempting the prog metal thing here, and it has worked to a certain extent. The guitar solo is pretty technical, but there is still enough here to hook those in who are more into the melodic rock end of things. Forevermore carries on that sound and lays emphasis on the heavy guitar riff that drives the song. In a way though, this is the song that mixes the AOR and the prog metal sounds together the best. The chorus is an AOR treat, but the instrumental sections that match guitars up against keyboards has more of the technicality seen in prog. It is another highlight of the album, and is definitely one that metal fans should listen to!

It is on the second half of the album that the quality seems to dip slightly though. Divided I Fall is an acoustic-led ballad that sees Swanö channel his inner Mikael Åkerfeldt to create something that is pretty organic but unremarkable. It does have something about the mellower end of Opeth's output though, with big piano chords and subtle vocal harmonies. It is a nice little melodic piece, but it does not really stand up to the previous songs here. The Voyage of Endurance is another rockier song. The verses sit on a plodding riff that chugs along at a nice mid-pace, but the song never really gets going. Some of the chorus melodies are memorable, but the song never really changes much throughout, making it hard to tell which section of the song you are listening to. It is not really a bad song at all, but it is nowhere near as interesting as the material found in the album's first half. 27 (Curse or Coincidence?) is somewhat similar. Again, there are some really memorable melodies, but the song never seems to get going. While the chorus is quite enjoyable, the melodies seem a little clunky and forced into the patterns they are in. They keyboard work is really strong here though, with lots of really melodic lines and riffs that help to make sections of the song stand out. A piano-led section mid-way through the song is easily the best moment and saves the song from being truly mediocre. The Maze is probably the album's weakest song. It has a nice guitar riff, but it lacks any real memorable sections. I can see what the band was trying to achieve with it, but I feel that they did not quite hit upon the right notes or melodies to fully execute it. Fortunately, the album ends with another really strong song in Echoes of a Dream. This brings the prog and AOR sounds together really well with plenty of strong, memorable vocal lines. The chorus here really soars with lots of shimmering keyboards and Swanö's full-bodied vocals. This song is more like the songs found earlier in the album, which is good. There is even a flashy keyboard solo which morphs into a shredding guitar moment - which is easily one of the best instrumental sections on the album. This song ensures the album ends on a high after a few less interesting numbers. Overall, this is a pretty good piece of work from a band that seem to come and go on a regular basis. A few poorer songs towards the end let it down somewhat, but there is enough here to make it worth a listen.

The album was released on 11th November 2014 via InsideOut Music.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Machine Head's 'Bloodstone & Diamonds' - Album Review

Although Machine Head have been one of the biggest metal bands of the past decade or so, it was only recently that I started to listen to them properly. The band were on music channels quite a bit while I was growing up, but it was always songs from their nu-metal mid-period, and this really put me off Machine Head as I despise that type of music. It was only when I saw that they were going to be playing a show close to home that I thought it was time to give them a proper listen. I have since listened to both 2007's The Blackening and 2011's Unto the Locust and enjoyed both albums quite a bit. These albums seem to mix thrash and groove metal together successfully and are quite different from those nu-metal songs I remember from back in the day. Although I enjoyed those albums, Bloodstone & Diamonds is the band's first album that I have really sat down to and listened to a lot. It is a long, heavy and dark album that goes through many different styles throughout the 70 plus minute run time. Although long albums usually annoy me, I do not find that this one drags that much. It is a well-paced album that feels heavy, but also quite emotional with frontman Robb Flynn injecting lots of passion into his vocal delivery. It is also an album that sees a couple of big changes for the band. Firstly, founding bassist Adam Duce was fired from the band last year and has been replaced by Jared MacEachern (Sanctity). This makes Bloodstone & Diamonds the first Machine Head album without Duce which is sure to have an overall impact on the sound of the album. Secondly, this is the band's first album not to be released via Roadrunner Records, instead opting this time to work with Nuclear Blast. While they are more known for their Euro-metal releases, they have been branching out more recently and are becoming one of the biggest metal record labels in the world. Nuclear Blast seems to be the best place to be these days if you are a big metal band, and it seems like Machine Head made the right decision to switch labels. While Flynn produced the album, both Colin Richardson and Andy Sneap were also involved in the recording and mixing process, which ensures the album sounds huge and heavy. I am not really sure how this album compares to the band's previous work, as I am no expert in their discography, but to me this is an enjoyable album that really takes no prisoners.

Now We Die is the first song on the album and, after opening up with some strings, the metal comes in with some shouts from Flynn and some tight riffing from him and Phil Demmel. The strings are quite prominent throughout the song actually, especially during the chorus where they really compliment Flynn's howl. The verses are much simpler, with some big riffing and fast drumming from Dave McClain. It is not a particularly fast song, instead sticking mostly in the mid-pace range with some big grooves and tight instrumental breaks - including a great guitar solo. Killers & Kings is a much simpler song that is catchy and anthemic. The riffing is tight and fast, and McClain's ride-heavy drumming gives it a slight Lamb of God feel in places. This is a heavy piece but it has a killer chorus that is sure to be excellent live with the gang vocals. Ghosts Will Haunt my Bones mixes the more progressive elements of their sound with heavy, grinding riffs. Tight guitar leads flow into doomy, thrash riffs throughout the song, and the overall vibe is constantly changing. Flynn's verse vocals are almost melodic but the choruses are much rougher, although MacEachern's high backing vocals help to maintain the melody. Night of Long Knives is another heavier piece. There are some really dirty thrash elements here with blast beat drumming and machine gun riffing. The chorus still manages to be fairly melodic though, as Flynn's vocal lines are very singable and a contrast from the harsher verses. Certain sections of the song also have a rather punky feel to them, with some fast-paced vocal shouts and furious riffs. Next up is Sail Into the Black which is really cool song as far as I am concerned. It is long and atmospheric, and is a big change from what has come so far on this album. Haunting piano cuts through the mournful clean guitars and Flynn's voice have a Trent Reznor-esque whisper to them that adds to the overall uneasiness. About half way through, the song does pick up and become heavier, but never really looses the atmospheric nature of the first part. There are lots of tremolo guitar lines that add a pinch of black metal to the mix, and Flynn spits out the vocals with real venom. After that, anything sounds melodic and accessible, but I have a feeling that Eyes of the Dead would be anyway. This is a much simpler song that gets back to powerful riffs and flashy guitar leads. Demmel excels himself here with some really speedy runs between the vocals and helps to make the song feel fast. The chorus is seriously infectious and there are some seriously heavy breakdowns that see Flynn sounding truely evil.

Beneath the Silt is another really grinding piece that has a real sludge metal vibe. The song's main riff is as dirty as they come and has something of Mastodon about it, which is made greater with Flynn's high-pitched vocal style here. I have not heard Machine Head sound like this before, but it really works for them. It is a pretty short song compared to many of the others on this album but it really packs a punch and is likely to divide the band's fanbase. I love it! In Comes the Flood opens with a delicate choir but it soon explodes into another metal anthem. The laborious chorus is not as interesting as some of the others here, but it still works well to be memorable. The rest of the song is angry with Flynn's dark vocals and plenty of jarring changes in music. It somehow all fits together and still manages to sound good. Damage Inside almost feels like a coda to Sail Into the Black as the atmospherics and gentle vocals are back. It has a very similar vibe to the first part of that song, and acts as a ballad and a nice change to pace before Game Over - which is a really heavy, angry song. Sometimes Flynn's vocals are barely backed up by anything, which lets his emotion really take the stage, but as soon as MacEachern's pounding bassline comes in the song really takes off and becomes a fast, thrashy piece. Some of the guitar work in this piece is really breathtaking, but it is Flynn that really steals the show with his varied vocal performance. The penultimate track is an odd instrumental with some snippets of spoken word. It comes at a strange time during the album, it would have been better closer to the middle to help break up the heaviness. I do not think that this is a bad piece of music, as the guitar work is nice and the spoken word extracts are interesting, I just feel it comes too late during the album so therefore lacks any real impact. The album's final song is classic modern Machine Head. Take Me Through the Fire is a heavy and visceral piece with a strident chorus and some excellent pinch-harmonic guitar riffs that give the song a contemporary feel. It is simpler than some of the songs on the album but it works well as a pummelling closer. Overall, this is really enjoyable album. It is heavy as hell in places, but still manages to be creative and even melodic elsewhere. While it is slightly too long, I struggle to think what songs I would cut from the album, as they are all songs I enjoy on some level. This is an album that proves why Machine Head are one of the best loves mainstream metal bands out there.

The album was released on 10th November 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Now We Die.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

At the Gates' 'At War With Reality' - Album Review

At the Gates are one of the main bands that originally pioneered the 'Gothenburg sound' during the early 1990s. The band were legendary for their mixture of brutality and melody, and released four albums before breaking up in 1996. While all of their albums are well loved in the metal community, it was their last album - 1995's Slaughter of the Soul - that really put them on the map. On that album, the band simplified their songwriting somewhat, and put greater emphasis on melody. This album has been a huge inspiration to nearly every melodic death metal and metalcore band out there, and showed that you could still write a good tune while also being really heavy. The band originally reunited for a few shows in 2007, but went quiet again until 2010 when more shows were played and the frequency of them increased. Despite the fact that members of the band had repeatedly said in interviews that they would not be recording another album, this year saw the release of At War With Reality, the band's fifth studio album and first for 19 years. Style wise, it is very similar to Slaughter of the Soul, with plenty of short, punchy metal songs that have lots of hooks and catchy riffs. However, this is not a simple re-tread and also contains elements from the band's older work. Some of the songs have the gothic doom of the band's earlier albums, and the mix of distorted and clean guitars really works well. Line-up-wise, this is the same group of people that recorded Slaughter of the Soul and have been touring ever since. Frontman Tomas Lindberg still has a raw, strong voice; and the Björler brothers who handled the album's songwriting have served up a platter of excellent material. Guitarist Martin Larsson and drummer Adrian Erlandsson round out the line-up. The album has been produced by Fredrik Nordström so it of course sounds excellent. Even when producing really heavy bands, he still manages to get a certain warmth into the sound which makes it easy on the ear. There is nothing worse for me than a really harsh production that grates and makes the album hard to listen to. Luckily, this is not the case here, as the album sounds full and polished, but still retains a certain rawness necessary for this kind of music.

After a really weird spoken-word introduction, the album gets underway with the pummelling Death and the Labyrinth. It does sound quite generic, but these are the guys that made this sound in the first place, so this is exactly what you expect. The tremolo guitar leads, the double bass drumming, and the more 'laid-back' choruses are all here and Lindberg sounds good despite his age. While the intro is quite pacy, the rest of the song is more mid-paced with chunky riffs and plenty of big snare drum. The album's title track follows with a classic melodic death metal riff that continues throughout most of the song. Erlandsson uses his years of experience to match the pace of the riff with a simple beat and the short instrumental breaks give Anders Björler a chance to shine on the guitar with some tasteful playing. The Circular Ruins is another crunchy mid-paced number that features some really snaking riffs that almost resemble something that Lamb of God might have written in places. That groove metal vibe remains throughout the song with a strong vocal performance from Lindberg and a really melodic chorus with repeating lead guitar lines. There is a proper guitar solo too, which has a very traditional metal feel to it, and Erlandsson does some good hi-hat work behind it. Heroes and Tombs has the gothic vibe I was describing earlier. It opens with some haunting clean guitars which continue to play through the song, even when the heavy guitars kick in. Lindberg delivers some of the vocals in his normal speaking voice which adds to the unsettling atmosphere, but he still mostly uses his trademark growls. It is probably the song that stands out the most on the album up to this point, and is really enjoyable. The Conspiracy of the Blind gets back to the more traditional melodic death metal sound of the earlier songs. The main riff is full of everything that can make this genre great, and it is played at a fast, headbanging speed. The song moves through quite a few different sections in it's fairly short run time though, with clean sections mixing in well with the heavier moments. Order from Chaos opens with some Spanish sounding guitars before they morph into some more standard clean leads. The clean guitars dominate this song, despite the fact that this is by no means quiet. It has the gothic vibe too, and really builds upon what the band did with Heroes and Tombs earlier. It continually seems to grow, and it is a standout song on the album.

The Book of Sand (The Abomination) is another heavier piece with more tremolo guitar leads. It has a dark tone to it with some slower, sludgy riffs in places that help to break up the pace as the rest of the song is quite fast. It has another guitar solo too, which still has that traditional metal vibe. Anders Björler fills it with some neat tricks that sound good without being too flashy. The Head of the Hydra is a more mid-paced affair with some intricate riffing and a driving rhythm. Lindberg's vocal performance on this song is very strong. He seems to use a greater range here, and that helps the overall sound of the song. The complaint that I have of his voice is that it is rather one-dimensional, but on this song he seems to have a bit more character. After a slow, haunting instrumental City of Mirrors the album is on the home straight. Eater of Gods is a true melodic death metal ripper with some big riffing that ascends the scale while Lindberg screams over the top of it. The genre is built on tight riffs like this, and the shredded guitar solo is the icing on the cake. It even manages to throw in another clean section too, that makes use of the less-is-more policy by using as little music as possible to create something that ends up sounding really strong. Upon Pillars of Dust follows on from the previous song perfectly with some more solid riffing and strong melodic hooks. The chorus during this song in particular is very memorable with delicate guitar leads mixing well with the heavy riffing and Lindberg's raw vocals. It is a really short song that hits you over the head and then runs away, but it is perfect penultimate song for this album. The following, and final, number here is The Night Eternal which is also the album's longest track. It again goes for that gothic sound that has been heard previously, and this is perfect for the final track. It seems to constantly grow and it mixes the heavy moments with more delicate ones well, which creates constant contrast. The guitar-work towards the end of the song hints at the epic too, which is something that the band do not usually go in for. Leads begin to soar, and twin guitar riffing and soloing sees the album draw to a melodic close. Overall, this is a really solid album from a band that had nothing to prove. No-one expected them to be groundbreaking again, and instead just wanted an enjoyable album of heavy metal - which is what At the Gates have done here on At War With Reality.

The album was released on 27th October 2014 via Century Media Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Death and the Labyrinth.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Black Veil Brides' 'Black Veil Brides' - Album Review

Like the last band I featured on this blog, Amaranthe, Black Veil Brides' last album only came out last year. Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones (see my review of that album here) was the band's third album, and one that attempted to break the mould a little. The band's previous two albums had been rather straight ahead affairs, with plenty of catchy melodies and crunchy guitar riffs. On their last album, the band tried to branch out a little. The album was a concept album that followed a story, with lots of interludes and a varying songwriting style throughout. For a mainstream metal band, it was an ambitious album that got more right than wrong. For me however, it is an album that has not stood up as well over time, and I feel that while some of the songs there are excellent, there are lots of moments that seem to drag on slightly which do tarnish the album as a whole. This, the band's fourth album, sees them trying to return to the sound that brought them much success on 2011's Set the World on Fire with mixed results. One the one hand, there are a few really excellent songs on this album that reach the heights the band have become known for. These songs are well produced, full of soaring melodies, and have a certain sparkle that was lacking on many of the numbers on the band's previous album. On the other hand however, the rest of the album lacks any real hooks and falls flat as a result. For a band that has written and released four albums in four years however, this is hardly surprising. While Black Veil Brides are a prolific and hard working band, I feel we are seeing the law of diminishing returns in full swing here. While I am sure that die-hard fans of the band will lap this up greedily, those more casual fans (like myself) might struggle with some of the blander material here. The band's decision to team up with legendary producer Bob Rock was a winner though. Known for producing bands of the calibre of Mötley Crüe and Metallica, he knows how to make a metal record sound great. The production and overall sound of the album cannot be faulted, and it is easily the band's best produced album so far. It is just a shame that the songwriting here seems slightly rushed and uninspired in places. Still, there are enough good songs present to make the album worth a try.

The album's first two songs are very good. Single Heart of Fire opens with a strident 1980s rock riff before frontman Andy Biersack's smooth vocals come in. He has always reminded me of HIM's Ville Valo in places, and it is his understated vocals that help to create the band's sound. Jake Pitts fills the gaps between vocals with plenty of neat little guitar leads, and the song's chorus is very strong with lots of big harmony backing vocals and catchy vocal melodies from Biersack. He even unleashes a few screams, which reminds me of the band's 2010 debut album We Stitch These Wounds. Faithless is another great song with a slightly thrashy riff that maintains as the song builds up around it. Christian Coma's simple, yet fast drumming, helps the mood of the song and the sleazy verses make the most of the grittier end of Biersack's voice. Like the previous song, this has a really strong chorus that is brilliant live, and gives the fans plenty of chances to sing along. A heavy breakdown mid way through the song soon explodes into a fluid guitar solo that gives Pitts a chance to show off his skills. The guitar interplay between him and Jinxx is always really tight, and this breakdown shows it. Devil in the Mirror is not bad, but lacks the power of the two preceding songs. Coma's drumming throughout the verses is impressive though, with a good mish-mash of rhythms. The guitar work is good too, with lots of nice little melodic interludes from the two players. The song's chorus lacks the soaring quality of the previous two though, and this is what lets it down. For me, Goodbye Agony, sees a rather large drop in quality. The song is a rather twee power ballad that lacks the emotion and huge hooks that these songs need. The verses are made up of mournful piano lines with Biersack's vocals, but it fails to capture the spirit of the 1980s classics. Things pick up slightly during the chorus, which has more power, but it drops short of what it tries to achieve. World of Sacrifice is an improvement. It is a driving rocker that steams along at a nice pace. The twin lead guitar riffs are enjoyable and Biersack sounds really great during the verses as Coma's percussive drumming helps speed the song along. The chorus is slightly over-dramatic however, which does not really fit with the more stripped-back verses. Last Rites ramps the quality up again. The song has a nice, chunky riff that is sure to get heads banging, and it fits well with Biersack's gritty delivery. The pre-chorus is really melodic and interesting, with Biersack and the guitars following a nice pattern, and Pitts' solo towards the end is fast and full of excellent shredding. This is bread and butter for the band, but it is catchy!

Stolen Omen is similar. The main riff has something of modern Trivium about it, with some nice double bass pedal patterns from Coma to back up the tight riffing. Biersack makes more use of the harsh vocals here too, which have some really good effects on them to make them sound really gruff and underground. The chorus is a big contrast to this, as Biersack soars and uses the most melodic side of his voice to really project the powerful vocals. The guitar solo has a real 1980s vibe, with lots of dive-bombs and vibrato. It is cliché as anything, but it is clear to see where the band's main influences lie. Walk Away sees another drop in quality. The song is actually quite similar to Goodbye Agony with lots of piano and an overwrought atmosphere. The song makes use of lots of orchestral elements, so bits of it end up sounding like the interludes on the band's previous album. There is a good guitar solo though, and the key change afterwards is so ridiculous that you cannot help but smile. You would think that this would be the end, but no there is another good couple of minutes of piano build-up and more soloing. While none of this is intrinsically bad, it just seems slightly forced. The song is quite long, and it does outstay it's welcome by the end. Drag me to the Grave is great however and really gets the album back on track. While the 'woahwoah' vocal parts are a little silly, the rest of the song is real quality. The riffing is dirty, with plenty of pinch harmonics thrown in to give it that modern metal feel. Biersack really owns the chorus too, with some really delicious vocal melodies; and Pitts' solo is once again really strong. It is probably my favourite song on the album, and is hopefully one the band will play live for years to come. The Shattered God is another enjoyable number. The chorus is deceivingly catchy, and the riffing is really solid throughout. It is another song that has a strong 1980s vibe with some really tight twin guitar leads and lots of double kick drumming that still keeps the song at a mid-pace. The end of the song is a real guitar workout however, with a short burst of speed shredding that brings the song to a close. Crown of Thorns is the album's last song and it makes a good effort to see that the album goes out on a high. The verses are really strong, and the chorus attempts the epic and just about manages it. It lacks the power of some of the other songs here, but it has a good 'final song' vibe to it, and it rounds the album out nicely. Overall, Black Veil Brides is an enjoyable record that is let down in places by a few poorer numbers. If the band did not continually rush to release new music, they could probably be able create a really classic album. This is no classic, but it is fun.

The album was released on 27th October 2014 via Lava/Universal Republic Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Heart of Fire.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Amaranthe's 'Massive Addictive' - Album Review

The Nexus, Amaranthe's second studio album, was only released about 18 months ago (read my review of that album here) - so Olof Mörck and his band of pop-metallers have wasted little time in capitalising on their success. Massive Addictive is the band's third studio album and, while it makes no great leaps in songwriting or overall style, it delivers another album of highly catchy metal songs that are infused with irresistible pop melodies. The album does however, see the band's first ever line-up change as harsh vocalist Andreas Solveström left the band last year, and has been replaced by Henrik Englund (Scarpoint). Englund has a very similar vocal delivery to Solveström, so this change has not really affected the band's sound in any way. However, it does seem to me that his harsh vocals are slightly more prominent and more liberally used throughout the material here, which does give the album a bit more of a heavier vibe overall. The material here is once again written by guitarist Mörck, along with vocalists Jake E and Elize Ryd. Their voices have always worked well together, and it is good to see that all three of the band's vocalists getting plenty of time to show off their particular skills. Having three vocalists must be a bit of a blessing and a curse for the band. One the plus side, the band have the talents of three vastly different singers at their disposal, which can lead to plenty of diversity. However, it must be hard to keep all three of them happy and getting the balance right so as not to leave anyone out for too long. I have always wondered how the band cope live, as for some portions of the set, certain singers will not have anything to do. Hopefully I will catch the band on their UK tour next year, so I will be interested to see what the singers do while waiting for their next part. The band is rounded out by the dependable rhythm section of bassist Johan Andreassen and drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen, who's work really help to enhance the up-beat vibe that permeates through the band's sound. While none of the songs on this album really stand out as much as some of the band's previous singles (Hunger and The Nexus spring to mind), as a whole the album works very well and has a certain completeness about it. Massive Addictive feels more like a cohesive album, and less like a collection of songs, which does work in it's favour.

The album gets off to a bang (pun intended) with Dynamite, which really sets the tone for the album. The crazy, electronic synths that swirl around the chunky guitar riffs give the song a really modern feel - as the stop-start riffing with double bass drumming adds a metalcore vibe. As expected, the song's chorus is huge, with Ryd really pushing her voice further than she has on any other Amaranthe song before. Her duels with Englund in the verses work well, and Jake E mainly just adds backing here. The metalcore feel returns with a rather bassy breakdown and a short guitar solo. Drop Dead Cynical has a real groove and, even though it really sounds a lot like Marilyn Manson's The Beautiful People in places, actually works well for the band. Anyone who claims that Amaranthe are not a real metal band need to listen to the heavy verses here which sees Englund really shine with his harsh vocals. They have a much more stripped-back feel than most of Amaranthe's music, largely eschewing the synths for more traditional metal instrumentation. The song's chorus, and an industrial instrumental section later on brings them back in a big way, but it creates a great contrast, and makes this one of the more interesting songs on display. Trinity is a more typical fare for Amaranthe, and could easily have sat on their debut album. All three vocalists take turn to sing sections of the verse with Jake E's smooth delivery really standing out. The chorus is probably the album's best too, with really strong pop melodies that are well delivered by Ryd. Mörck also stands out with a short guitar solo, that reminds us of his work with both Dragonland and Nightrage. The album's title track is another more mid-paced affair, but it lacks the solid grooves that Drop Dead Cynical has. As a result, it is less interesting the album's previous songs and seems slightly more bland in comparison. However, the song's chorus melodies are deceivingly catchy, and are likely to get stuck in your head! Digital World takes this formula and hugely improves on it. The synths rumble away in the background as Mörck's heavy riffing leads the song and Englund gets plenty of opportunity to lay his harsh vocals down all over the song's verses. Again, the song contains a breakdown with some fast drumming from Sørensen that is only improved by some rather obnoxious synths. True is more of a ballad which sees Ryd and Jake E use the softer sides of their voices to create something which actually packs quite a punch with delicate piano and big guitar chords creating an appropriate backdrop.

Unreal is another more typical Amaranthe up-beat rocker with melodic synth patterns flowing over the top of a simple guitar riff. The drumming during the song's verses is actually quite interesting, with lots of unconventional patterns that stand out. The chorus is very bouncy with some good staccato riffs helped by some over-the-top synths. There is another guitar solo here too, and it shows that Mörck can really play. Over and Done is another ballad and features Elias Holmlid (Dragonland) on keyboards. Jake E dominates this song, and his voice mixes well with the piano lines that make up the basic melodies. It is a really nice song, that does not really rely on too many electronics. The piano here is well played, and there is a rather emotive guitar solo towards to the end, that has a very 1980s feel to it. Danger Zone is another heavy song that makes excellent contrasts been harshness and melody. Englund's verses are rough and would not sound out of place on your average melodic death metal album, while the choruses are real Amaranthe bread and butter with plenty of flashy synths, and the blending of both Ryd and Jake E's vocals to make something really catchy. It is a simple song, but it is one you can really get into as it is memorable and refuses to leave your head. The next couple of songs are a little less interesting. Skyline has a really catchy chorus, but the rest of the song is a little bland compared to the rest of Amaranthe's stuff. England delivers plenty of excellent vocal lines throughout the song however though, which saves it from becoming really forgettable. An Ordinary Abnormality is similar, although the song's thrashy verses are quite good. Amaranthe rarely get up to that kind of speed, so that is nice to see, but the song's chorus is a let down after the enjoyable verses. To be fair though, nearly all of their choruses are excellent, so it is a bit much to expect them all to be up to the same standard. it is a shame though, as the verses are great with some real metal venom. Luckily though, the album still finishes strongly with Exhale. It opens quite atmospherically with plenty of subtle electronics, and the song maintains this vibe throughout. Although it is melodic, it is not as in-your-face as the rest of the album which actually makes it stand out. The chorus melodies are really interesting, and seem to do something different which the band has not done before. It is hard to explain, but there is something unique about it. Overall, this is another solid and really enjoyable album from one of metal's most melodic bands. While it will not do enough to change anyone's established opinions about them, Amaranthe fans are sure to enjoy this!

The album was released on 20th October 2014 via Spinefarm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Drop Dead Cynical.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Slash's 'World on Fire' - Album Review

Although this album was available with the Classic Rock Magazine's Fan-pack mid-September, it did not see a general release until last month. World on Fire by Slash (or Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators to give the band their full, convoluted name) was an album I was not originally going to get. For someone who enjoyed both his self-titled debut solo album from 2010, and 2012's Apocalyptic Love - the first of his albums to feature the same musicians on all of the tracks - this might seem an odd revelation. The thing that originally put me off though was the length of the album. At over 77 minutes long, nearly the full capacity of a CD, that is just too long. Unless you are Dream Theater, or any other progressive rock band, there is no need to make albums that length. At first I thought that the 77 minutes was the length of the Fan-pack version, as they usually come with lots of bonus tracks, but no, this was the length of the general retail release. Something about this really annoyed me and I decided not to pre-order it. However, when browsing in HMV one day shortly after the album's release, I decided to relent and give it a go and try and put the length of it out of my head. I am glad I did as, despite the overlong run time of this album, it really does rock and it is packed full of great songs! Slash and vocalist Myles Kennedy have once again written a collection of great, no-nonsense hard rock songs that ooze with equal amounts of class and sleaze. Those who are familiar with Slash's guitar sound and style will know what to expect here, and he does not divert far from his established zone. Although Kennedy is more known for his work with Alter Bridge, his work with Slash is actually starting to catch up now. With his band-mate Mark Tremonti working on his new solo album at the moment, I assume it will be a while before we hear any more from Alter Bridge! The rest of the band is made up of bassist Todd Kerns (Static in Stereo; Sin City Sinners), and drummer Brent Fitz (Union; Vince Neil) who have both toured and recorded with Slash for a while now. This band is as tight as anyone else out there touring at the moment and that translates well onto the album. On Apocalyptic Love, Myles Kennedy also played most of the album's rhythm guitar parts, but due to his commitments with Alter Bridge he has only contributed vocals here, leaving Slash to perform all of the album's guitars. This album also sees the band work with a different producer, Michael 'Elvis' Baskette, who Kennedy knows well as he has produced all but one of Alter Bridge's albums up to date.

The album's title track gets things underway in style. The opening machine gun riff is pure Slash and Kerns' pounding bass is prominent and actually drives the song while the guitar riff adds colour around it. Kennedy is in fine voice throughout this album, using a much more 1980s-inspired delivery than he does with Alter Bridge. In the song's chorus, he uses the upper end of his register to create a really driving vocal melody, aptly backed up by Kerns' punky backing vocals. Shadow Life opens out with a rather haunting clean guitar part, before the song explodes into another big riff which stops and starts throughout the verses, as Slash and Kennedy duel for the spotlight. This song sounds like something Slash might have come up with during the early Guns N' Roses days as it certainly has that vibe. It has a really excellent bluesy solo mid-way through too, that is quite fast but always full of melody. Slash has always written memorable solos that help the song's melody, and this is no exception. Automatic Overdrive has another stunning riff which is perfectly complimented with Fitz's ride-heavy drum pattern. It has that punky attitude that filled most of Slash's early work, and the song steams by quickly in a ball of energy. The song's main riff works well as the backing for the chorus too, with the descending guitar pattern making a good backdrop for Kennedy's soaring vocals. The next highlight is the strident 30 Years to Life. It opens with a simple drum beat that recalls Paradise City and some sleazy slide guitar, but the song soon kicks off and it is a real treat for all rock fans. Kennedy's lower vocals during the song's verses give the song real power, and as he gradually cranks through the gears the song builds around him. By the time we reach the chorus he is in full swing, and Slash's neat guitar leads in the background only help to enhance the atmosphere. I know this is a Slash album, but Kennedy really steals the show on this songs, and he shows why his is one of the best hard rock vocalists around at the moment. This is my favourite song on the album, and I hope this will become a live favourite for years to come. Bent to Fly is next and it opens with some really beautiful clean guitar and gentle, wordless vocals from Kennedy. This song actually has a very strong Alter Bridge vibe, especially with the way Kennedy sings in the verses. While they are fairly relaxed, the choruses are strong and powerful, turning the song into a real anthem. The song is pure class, and one all involved with it can be proud of! After a couple of more average tracks, we get to the heavy Beneath the Savage Sun. The song has a really dirty, almost metal riff and a verse that hangs on some seriously heart-stopping bass notes from Kerns. It still feels like a Slash song, but certain sections of the song are much heavier than we have come to expect from him, so it is nice to see him branching out a little and trying something different. The song's solo, however, reminds you instantly who it is!

Withered Delilah follows and this gets back to more familiar territory. It is not one of Slash's best, but it contains a really infectious chorus that is really hard to get out of your head. The riffs are still interesting, but it just lacks something that the earlier songs on this album had. Still, when Kennedy really lets rip during the chorus, you feel the power and it is hard not to sing along. Battleground is a pretty long song that goes through many different styles as it plays. It starts out as a ballad, with some really nice clean guitar patterns and Kennedy's gentle croon. The choruses are a little heavier, with some drawn out distorted chords. There is a really excellent guitar solo mid-way through that recalls some of his past moments of glory. It is epic in proportion, and goes on for quite a while as it builds up and gathers speed as it moves. Kennedy leads a wordless chant towards the end of the song that is sure to work well live with the arms of the crowd swaying in time to the music as Slash burst into another solo. Dirty Girl is exactly what it sounds like it would be, a sleazy strip club anthem. Fitz's punchy drums get things going, before a very 1980s hair metal riff comes in with a very danceable rhythm. Kerns' bass emphasises this rhythm in the verses which is sure to get hips shaking, and the chorus has great opportunities for crowd participation live. This is nothing clever or new, but it is a fun little song that does not care. Iris of the Storm is another song that definitely has that Alter Bridge influence in it. The guitar work is 100% Slash, but Kennedy uses the more emotional end of his vocals that has brought him so much success with his main band. The chorus has a great guitar arpeggio riff from Slash, and the guitar solo is almost shredded, which is a departure from his usual bluesy style. Again, this is something a little different that sets this song out from some of the others. It is great to see him try some new things, and it works very well here. Avalon is another punky hard rock number that sees plenty of soaring vocal lines and heavy, simple guitar riffs. At just under three minutes long, it is the album's shortest song, which is nice given the past two songs have been something more complex and original, so it's placing in the album really works well for it. The Dissident opens with a small, joke country rock section before one of the catchiest riffs on the album comes in and takes the song off in a really great direction. This is one of the album's best songs, as the chorus is huge and the riffing is full of that typical Slash melody. The playful melodies here are so infectious, and Slash's guitar solo is a real treat. A truly excellent song! After a short instrumental called Safari Inn, the album's last song The Unholy starts. It is actually not one of the album's best songs, and seems slightly anti-climactic after what has gone before. It never really gets going, and it is a shame that the album had to end on this song. Overall however, this is a very strong album. I still wish it was shorter, so my original doubts remain, but that does not take anything away from many of the songs here which are excellent.

The album was released on 13th October 2014 via Roadrunner Records. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for World on Fire.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Sanctuary's 'The Year the Sun Died' - Album Review

Most people in the metal world will be familiar with Nevermore, but not everyone is probably familiar with Sanctuary who are, in many ways, Nevermore's prequel. They were formed in 1985 by future Nevermore members Warrel Dane and Jim Sheppard, along with guitarists Lenny Rutledge and Sean Blosl, and drummer Dave Budbill. They released two albums on Epic Records: Refuge Denied in 1987 and Into the Mirror Black in 1989; and saw a relative amount of success until they split up in 1992. By this point, Blosl had left the band, and a young Jeff Loomis was touring with the band in his stead. Of course, after the break-up of Sanctuary, Dane, Loomis, and Sheppard formed the band Nevermore and had huge and genre-pushing success with their unique brand of progressive/alternative metal. In 2010 however, Dane announced that Sanctuary were reforming to play some shows and, eventually, record a new album. The final line-up of Dane, Rutledge, Loomis, Sheppard, and Budbill was originally intended to be 'Sanctuary' moving forward, as Blosl decided to continue on with his career in film music. However, when Nevermore spectacularly collapsed in 2011, Loomis also left Sanctuary and a replacement had to be found. Brad Hull (Forced Entry) was chosen to be Loomis' replacement, and this line-up of the band has been touring ever since. Last month, the band's long-awaited third album The Year the Sun Died was released and it seems to have been welcomed by the metal community. Sound-wise, the album certainly has more in common with Nevermore's recent sound than that of Sanctuary's early records. Much of this can be put down to the lack of high-pitched vocals from Dane. Early Sanctuary records were full of them, as was common in the US power metal scene at the time. In Nevermore he developed a much lower vocal register, and that is what he uses here, apart from during a few vocal harmony sections. That being said, this does not just sound like watered-down Nevermore. The songs are much more immediate and catchy, and the guitar riffs are heavily inspired by 1980s thrash and US power metal, as the original Sanctuary records were. Comparisons can also be drawn to Dane's 2008 solo album Praises to the War Machine which also features a much simpler, albeit more modern, sound.

The album gets off to the good start with the strident Arise and Purify which has been available on Youtube for sometime before the album's release. It was a good track to kick off the album with, as it contains everything that is great about what is to come. The opening guitar work is excellent with Rutledge and Hull teaming up together well with a great lead/rhythm combination, and Dane's distinctive vocals are present in the verses. He is one of those vocalists that has a natural 'howl' vocal style, and that is used to great effect in the song's chorus. He backs himself up with layers of high-pitched vocals which creates a huge, melodramatic sound. Let the Serpent Follow Me is a similar song and keeps up the pace set by Arise and Purify. Budbill's driving, percussive drumming really drives the heavy verses which sees Dane sounding his most deranged - something which he has always done like no-one else. The choruses however are a much different affair, with a slower, darker vibe which mixes heavy power chords with mournful clean guitars to create something interesting. There is a great guitar solo mid-way through the song too that makes great use of melody. Exitium (Anthem of the Living) is a different beast altogether. Opening with some really odd spoken word, the song is a slow, doomy masterpiece that takes a few listens to really get to grips with. While there are some fast riffs, the song never really picks up the pace, and is a vehicle for Dane's sorrowful crooning. When I first hear this song on Youtube - as it was another one posted before the album's release - I found it difficult to get into, but now I really love it and consider it to be one of the best songs on the album. No-one else besides Dane can really pull off a song like this and make it the stand-out that it is. After the catchy, but less remarkable, Question Existence Fading, the next highlight is the semi-ballad I am Low. It opens with a clean guitar riff that sounds like it came straight out of the songwriting sessions for the next Iced Earth album, and this riff forms the basis of the song's verse. Despite the fact this song reminds me a lot of another band, it is still really enjoyable and that sort of guitar playing works well behind Dane's vocals. It does get heavier during certain parts with some excellent, dissonant guitar playing, as well as some great duel lead playing towards the song's end.

Frozen is another fast, thrashy number and was the song that the band chose to make a video for. Budbill's punchy drumming opens the song before a great 1980s guitar riff takes over. This song is a real guitarists treat, with Rutledge and Hull trading leads and solos throughout the song, and there are plenty of great riffs to get your head around. Dane's vocal performance is much more straightforward here too, but no less powerful for it. There is nothing fancy about this song, it is just pure heavy metal - pure and simple! Those enjoy a good headbang are sure to get a lot out of this. One Final Day (Sworn to Believe) is another strange song. It opens with some rather jarring acoustic guitar chords, and then opens out into a rather staccato acoustic-led verse with some odd vocal melodies from Dane and gentle drumming from Budbill. The choruses are heavier, with Dane letting rip with his trademark howl, but it is the acoustic guitars that stand out here. The little classical flourishes that appear occasionally are a real treat. It is quite a short song, but it stands out by doing something a little different to what has gone before, and it shows the band's willingness to experiment. The World is Wired (not 'weird' as I first thought it said when I saw it..) gets back to the more traditional heavy metal of previous songs. It is a real riff-fest, with plenty of different catchy passages of excellent guitar work from Rutledge and Hull. There is even a section where Sheppard's bass guitar stands out, which is nice to hear. The bass is quite buried on this album, and holds the foundation rather than showing off - which only adds to the heaviness of some of the riffs here. The Dying Age is probably the only song on the album that I do not really get. I cannot put my finger on why that it is, but to me it just does not seem as inspired as some of the rest of the material here. It is quite slow, and never really builds up to anything, which is probably one of the reasons it leaves me slightly cold. It does have an excellent guitar solo though, which redeems it from being a true dud. The penultimate track here is a short acoustic instrumental, Ad Vitam Aeternam, that acts as an intro for the album's final song which also happens to be the title track. The title track is another really strong piece that works well to bring the album to a close. It mixes clean guitars in the verses with heavier, melodic choruses and sees Dane really put in an excellent performance. The way his voice mirrors the lead guitar lines during the choruses is great, and only enhances the melodic nature of the piece. Overall, this album is a winner. While some people might be disappointed that it is not more like Sanctuary's original two albums, those who like powerful, emotional metal will really enjoy this. Well over twenty years have passed since Into the Mirror Black was released, and this is a Sanctuary record for the 21st Century and, hopefully, it will not be their last!

The album was released on 6th October 2014 via Century Media Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Frozen.