Thursday, 31 December 2015

Music of 2015 - Part 1

As 2015 draws to a close, and I take a look at the list new releases I have bought this year, it makes me realise just how great it has been. As with most recent years, the standard of new albums in the rock and metal worlds has been very high, and there have been plenty of excellent new albums for me to sink my teeth into. From July through to October there were so many new albums released that I could barely keep up with them, let alone review them! I somehow managed it, fitting in reviews of every gig I have been to this year and most albums that I wanted to review in full! It was no mean feat, but I am pleased with the results. As I only run this blog as a hobby in my spare time, there are inevitably going to be some albums that I do not chance to review. Time just gets away from me sometimes, so it is not possible to review everything! I also do not review albums that I get quite a few months after their release; and some albums I just do not really have enough to say about them to merit writing a full article about them. The last couple of years, I have done five mini-reviews at the end of the year to shine some light on a few albums I have missed throughout the year. I shall do that again now, to keep with tradition and to showcase some other great releases. I shall go through them in alphabetical order:

Symphonic metal band Damnation Angels released their second album The Valiant Fire back in March, and showed that small-time bands can produce albums that sound as good as their major-label counterparts. Masterminded by guitarist and songwriter Will Graney, the album is a sprawling opus of orchestral metal with lush orchestral arrangements and stellar vocals from PelleK. The album was a long time coming, and seemed to fall under the radar slightly after it's release, but the band are slowly gaining a following via word of mouth in the community. There is a lot to take in when listening to The Valiant Fire, and it takes quite a few sittings to fully appreciate all the effort that has gone into making it. PelleK's departure after the album's release scuppered any plans to promote the album live, but the band now have a new line-up in place and are going out on tour with Threshold in the new year. I look forward to seeing them on stage soon!

From a small fledgling band to a legendary genre-pioneering artist! Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour returned this year with this fourth solo album Rattle That Lock - his first since 2006's On an Island. The emotional progressive epics from Gilmour's past are replaced here with a more laid back vibe, focusing on strong songwriting rather than technical performance. Washings of keyboards and plenty of bursts of that trademark Gilmour guitar sound fill the album, making it unmistakable who you are listening to. It is a slow-burning album, so anyone who is expecting an up-tempo rock album will be disappointed, but this is clearly where Gilmour is most comfortable these days. This is not going to rival his 1970s output, but the songwriting here is very strong, and Gilmour's voice has held out very well.

Moving on to another legend now, and we reach the Eagles' Don Henley, who's fifth solo album Cass County was released back in September. Moving away from the polished West Coast sound the Eagles helped the pioneer in the 1970s, this album sees Henley returning to his country music roots with a delicate album that will not shake the world, but is very enjoyable to listen to. The album is mostly acoustic based, although Eagles sideman Steuart Smith managed to throw in a few bursts of tasteful lead guitar here and there as appropriate. Henley's knack for strong lyrics is as apparent here as it ever has been, writing another batch of observational portrayals on human life and society - something he does so well. He is joined on various songs by guests including Mick Jagger and Dolly Parton, which helps to add some extra class to the proceedings.

Back to metal now and we have German power metal rising stars Orden Ogan with their fifth album Ravenhead. Orden Ogan are often compared to fellow Germans Blind Guardian, but I feel that Orden Ogan are a much more accessible band, with less epic compositions and more overt melodies. This is a strong release that displays that Sebastian Levermann knows how to write and sing a great metal anthem. Anthems are what many of the songs here are, with big pompous choruses with walls of backing vocals and a great keyboard halo to add extra melody. While there have been better power metal albums released this year, Ravenhead is a solid addition to the genre, and shows that power metal does not always have to be ridiculously upbeat.

My final mini-review is breaking the rules slightly. I usually do not review albums that do not contain wholly (or at least mostly, some great albums contain covers!) original material. This is why I did not review Whitesnake's The Purple Album back in May, but I feel I cannot ignore this release from one of my favourite bands. David Coverdale's decision to record new versions of some of the old Mk. III and Mk. IV era Deep Purple songs he co-wrote was controversial but, while I do not think he has won everyone over, I really enjoyed the album and new takes on those classic songs. The current Whitesnake line-up is so good, that they have brought these songs into the modern age with class and taste. New guitarist Joel Hoekstra makes his presence felt with some fluid solos, and veteran drummer Tommy Aldridge uses his double bass drums to give the songs a more metal edge than previously. This album will not be for everyone, but I love it!

I also like to pick out a live release that has impressed me a lot over the course of the year, and this time I think I will go for Uriah Heep's latest DVD Live at Koko. This DVD catches the current line-up of the veteran rock band at the height of their powers, storming through a setlist that contains plenty of classic material and a good helping of newer songs also. The band are heavier now than they have ever been, as Russell Gilbrook's powerful drums drive the band to rockier places than they have ever reached before. Uriah Heep deserve to get mentioned in the same breath as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin; but unfortunately always seem to be a little underrated. This DVD would be a good starting point for new fans, as the performance is excellent and the sound is very clear while still sounding live and spontaneous.

That completes my run down of 2015 bonus reviews, and tomorrow I shall post my Top 10 Albums of the Year, plus my Top 3 Gigs. I shall just round this off by saying a few albums that I am already looking forward to that are coming out during the early part of 2016. I already have Megadeth's Dystopia and Dream Theater's upcoming double concept album The Astonishing pre-ordered, plus am excited to hear the new epic from Italian symphonic metal masters Rhapsody of Fire. 2016 is already shaping up to be another great year for rock and metal, and I hope you will join me for the ride! Thanks for reading and sharing throughout 2015!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Voodoo Circle's 'Whisky Fingers' - Album Review

This will be my final review of the year. I was not sure if I would be able to fit everything in, given how many great albums came out between July and October (2 or 3 most weeks!), but I have just about managed it thanks to a quiet couple of months on the album release front! In this review I shall be looking at German hard rockers Voodoo Circle, or Alex Beyrodt's Voodoo Circle to give them their proper name. Founded by guitarist Alex Beyrodt (Sinner; Silent Force; Primal Fear) in 2008, the band released their fourth album Whisky Fingers earlier this month. Most of Beyrodt's other bands fall into the heavy/power metal category, so he formed this band to create and pay tribute to bluesy hard rock music which has been a big influence on him throughout his career. Joining Beyrodt on Whisky Fingers are original members: frontman David Readman (Adagio; Pink Cream 69) and bassist Mat Sinner (Sinner; Primal Fear; Silent Force); and new recruits: keyboardist Alessandro del Vecchio (Edge of Forever; Eden's Curse; Hardline; Silent Force), who also duets with Readman on some songs, and drummer Francesco Jovino (Edge of Forever; U.D.O.; Hardline; Primal Fear). Style-wise, Voodoo Circle sound a lot like Whitesnake - mostly the pre-1987 bluesy hard rock era, rather than the more hair metal-influenced period, but there is a little of that thrown in too. In fact there are some times throughout this album, and their previous album 2013's More Than One Way Home, that sound almost too close to Whitesnake. This is certainly Whitesnake worship of the highest order, but the songs are strong and this will certainly tie me over until Whitesnake release another album, something which David Coverdale mentioned recently in an interview! Beyrodt's meaty, bluesy guitars and Readman's soulful vocals dominate the sound on Whisky Fingers, but del Vecchio's washes of hammond organ add plenty of colour and bring to mind the sound of early Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. I am glad that del Vecchio's involvement in Voodoo Circle has not been too overpowering. While being a great AOR songwriter and producer, there was a time were an album of his songs was being released on Frontiers Records almost weekly under various names. I really like him, but it was overkill for a bit and, as he did with Hardline, he has been known to take over! The fact that Voodoo Circle are with AFM rather than Frontiers probably saved them from this fate, and del Vecchio is here as a musician/contributing writer rather than a project leader. While Whisky Fingers is certainly nothing original, it is a very solid feel-good rock album - something that is always welcome!

Opening with single Trapped in Paradise, the album gets off to a hard rocking start. A John Sykes-esque riff drives the song, with a counter-melody coming from del Vecchio's organ. This is Slide it In-era Whitesnake, which works well as Readman and del Vecchio trade vocals to create a full sound. Their voices compliment each other well, and the combination is used sparingly throughout, not overdoing it. The song contains a powerful chorus with a big hook, and then the song slows down as it drops into an atmospheric guitar solo, that soon transitions into a big keyboard moment. It is a strong album opener, and one that sets the tone for what is to come. Heartbreaking Woman is dirty 1970s blues rock at it's best, with strong washes of hammond organ and a meaty guitar tone that rips through your speakers. The song alternates between foot-stomping rock sections and more soulful moments which recalls Mk. III Deep Purple. The chorus is the best moment, with Beyrodt's guitar matching Readman's vocals note for note, before relaxing into a bluesy groove for Readman to croon over. A soulful guitar solo is also included for good measure. Watch and Wait (I Got My Eye on You) opens with a jangly acoustic guitar pattern, which gives plenty of space for Readman's strong vocals to take centre stage. There is a little of Led Zeppelin about the song's early sound, with that slightly folky vibe, but it is not long before the song builds up to rock mode. Rhythmic kick drum beats and a swelling of keyboards heralds the main meat of the song. It is not the heaviest song on the album, but it contains an infectious groove and switches between the acoustic moments and the blues rock effortlessly. After that slight detour, Medicine Man (not a Whitesnake cover..) gets back to 'business as usual'. A blistering riff is the centrepiece of the song, but Readman steals the show with his bluesy vocal delivery that suits the song perfectly. A high-energy chorus based around the song's main riff is a powerful moment as del Vecchio's keyboard stabs help to distract from the wall of guitars. For how up-tempo the rest of the song is, the atmospheric solo seems a little out of place but it manages to work pretty well. This is one of the album's standout songs. The Day the Walls Came Down is a ballad, and a very good one. Acoustic guitar and piano form the basis of the verses which are quite gentle and allow Readman's voice space to breathe nicely. The chorus is rockier of course, but it still maintains the slower pace. It has quite an anthemic vibe and, although cliché, works very well within the context of the album. A slow-burning solo is included too, ticking another essential part of a good power ballad off the list! Heart of Stone is more rocky, but does not excite like the rest of the songs presented so far. The chorus just is not that memorable, and the rest of the song is quite workmanlike without ever really getting going. I do like the guitar lead the follows the chorus however, that is a memorable lick that stands out.

Straight Shooter is better, and the simple vibe works well here. del Vecchio shows off his vocal talents again here, taking lead on the pre-chorus. His higher voice works well here, and is quite different from Readman's blues croon. The song's bouncy verse riff and big organ chords sound great, and again brings to mind Mk. III Deep Purple, with Readman and del Vecchio filling the David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes roles perfectly. I love the song's chorus too, despite how simple it is. The big vocal shouts work well, giving the song a slightly rowdy vibe which works well. The Rhythm of my Heart is a real bit of classic blues. It is a slower song, with beautiful guitar playing from Beyrodt that shows just what a great player he is. The less-is-more approach to the verses is great, with perfect note choice that compliments the vocals perfectly. Soul oozes from this song, and Readman showcases his talents perfectly. The slightly gospel feel to the backing vocals helps to add to add something special to the song, and when the guitar solo starts you know that this is a great tune. It is very precise, which each note picked out perfectly with no fat left to trim. An excellent song, and one of the album's best. Devil Takes me Down cranks the volume back up after that blues workout, and hits you between the eyes once again. Now if the rest of the album was not Whitesnake worship, then this song certain is. If I was told that David Coverdale actually wrote this song and gave it to Voodoo Circle I would not be surprised. The duet-style vocals are employed once again to good effect, and there is even a big keyboard solo! This song is a bit of good old fast rock 'n' roll and is extremely enjoyable. Following on from that we have 5 O'Clock which is another powerful rocker. The verses are very groovy, with a laid back feel to them that only emphasises the power of the chorus when it kicks in. The choruses are driving pieces of songwriting with a prominent bassline that holds everything together. It is a good bit of boogie rock that can only put a smile on your face! The album's closing number Been Said and Done is also quite bluesy. del Vecchio's keyboards dominate the sound throughout, making use of plenty of great retro sounds to give the song that vintage 1970s rock sound. Beyrodt is no slouch either, with plenty of bursts of striking lead guitar. Readman and del Vecchio combine their great voices together for some powerful high notes packed full of soul. The song also contains a hidden track called Coming Home to You (I think this is really a 'bonus track', but it has not been separated out from Been Said and Done so I will call it a 'hidden track') which is pretty good with another solid rocking chorus. Overall, Whisky Fingers is a enjoyable modern classic rock album that contains plenty of great songs that remind you of the heyday of blues rock. This will not win any awards for originality, but it has rounded out 2015 nicely and puts a smile on my face.

The album was released on 4th December 2015 via AFM Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Trapped in Paradise.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Def Leppard's 'Def Leppard' - Album Review

Def Leppard were one of the biggest selling bands of the 1980s, and on of the UK's best musical exports. Embraced more readily in America than in their home country, the band focused on that market and solid albums and singles by the millions. They did not do badly over here either, with two Number 1 albums and three Top 10 singles, but America was always far more receptive to Sheffield's finest's brand of melodic pop rock. I doubt there are many out there that would argue that 1983's Pyromania and 1987's Hysteria to be the band's creative, and certainly commercial, peak. Def Leppard, and then producer Robert John 'Mutt' Lange who deserves a lot of credit for shaping the direction of the band, took the world by storm with those albums and received the success they deserved. There is still nothing out there that sounds quite like Hysteria. While the band have released plenty of good albums since then, they all live in the shadow of Hysteria. A couple of months ago, the band released their eleventh studio album, simply titled Def Leppard. It has been a while since Def Leppard last released a studio album - seven years in fact as the rather excellent Songs from the Sparkle Lounge was released in 2008. Since then we have had two live albums (for a band that had not released a single one up until that point!), 2011's Mirror Ball: Live & More and 2013's Viva! Hysteria. The former of those live albums contained three new studio recordings, but it would be a further four years before we would get a full new album from the band. For a while it looked like Def Leppard were not going to record another album. There was talk of doing a series of EPs or just putting a few new songs online every-so-often, as the band believed the album format was dead. Of course, this is a load of rubbish, and it seems the band finally also came to this conclusion. I am very glad, as Def Leppard is a very strong piece of work packed with plenty of varied songs and memorable moments. It seems that I am not the only one to think so either, as it reached Number 11 on the Official UK Album Chart - proving that it is still worth veteran bands to put out albums! Produced by the band and long-time collaborator Ronan McHugh, Def Leppard sounds fantastic as it weaves through it's fourteen tracks. It is probably the most dynamic album the band have put out, as there are lots of different styles attempted here - and more work than do not. While not the band's best work, Def Leppard is an album that shows the band are willing to try new things, and creativity in a veteran band is always something to be admired and encouraged.

Opener Let's Go is a typical Def Leppard rocker with a snaking main guitar riff and huge vocal harmonies throughout. Despite the diversity to come later in the album, opening with something familiar was probably a good move. Being unquestionably Def Leppard, the song immediately informs you who you are listening to, and  shows that the band can still write infectious tunes. The chorus is very strong, where frontman Joe Elliott shows that he still has a smooth voice while the rest of the band harmonise well with him. It is quite an anthemic tune, with strident power chords during the verses and an acoustic-led breakdown that leads into an explosive guitar solo. Dangerous follows on in the same theme, but raises the bar higher. Guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell combine well on a raw riff that recalls the band's very early days, but there is enough polish to evoke that classic Def Leppad sound. This is one of my favourite numbers on the album, simply because it is one of the catchiest songs the band have written in some years. Meaty guitar tones are the name of the game here, and the chugging chords drive the verses as Elliott croons over the top of them. The chorus is sublime, and recalls the best moments of Hysteria. Man Enough is the first song to break the mold. Rick Savage's funky bass riff is the centrepiece of the song, and the whole song has a really danceable vibe that works really well. Despite this, the chorus still sounds like typical Def Leppard, as the guitars take over and the harmony vocals kick in. The whole song works well though, and showcases Savage in a new light as there are not many bass-lead songs in the band's catalogue. We Belong is a bit of a ballad that has all five band members singing lead vocals at some point throughout. This has not been done by the band before, and it works well as they are all competent vocalists. The song is a little sugary, but Def Leppard have always had that about them when it comes to ballads. The chorus is pretty strong though, which makes it memorable. Invincible, with it's driving bassline and ringing guitar notes, sounds a little like a modern Bon Jovi song. Elliott's voice sounds quite different to usual during the song's chorus; much lower which is what makes me think of the Bon Jovi comparisons, but it works well. It is quite a cinematic song in many ways, with expansive synthesisers throughout that compliment the simple guitar riffs well. It was also co-written by drummer Rick Allen, which is quite a rarity to see. Sea of Love is a little twee, and fails to pack much of a punch after the previous numbers. The verses are pretty good, with some up-tempo guitar patterns and a strong vocal performance, but the chorus comes off as weak in comparison. It does have a great guitar solo though. Energized is one of those experiments that, in my opinion, just does not work. Tacky electronic beats fill the verses in a poor attempt to sound 'modern', and the chorus is limp with more electronics and overpowering keyboards. The song is really quite poor in my opinion, and is easily the weakest moment of the album.

Luckily All Time High is better. A slightly punky riff heralds the song's arrival, and it soon becomes a big rocker with screaming guitars and a solid vocal performance from Elliott. This is the sort of song the album needed after the previous two numbers, and sounds like something that could have appeared on 1981's High 'n' Dry, only with modern production. There is nothing complicated about this song, and that is why it works so well. A soaring chorus and shredding guitar solo are the song's high moments, but the whole thing is enjoyable and full of that true Def Leppard charm. Battle of my Own is different again, but this time it works. The acoustic-led number has something of Led Zeppelin about it, and Elliott sings it well as the earthy acoustics layer on top of each other over simple percussion. It is a short song, but it works well to break up the pace mid-album and throw something into the mix that sounds really organic and natural. It sounds a little like the band jamming in the studio, and it works. Drums and strings to join the mix towards the end, which only helps to emphasise that Led Zeppelin feel. Broke 'n' Brokenhearted has something of Bad Company about it, with a slightly bluesy feel that has been given a commercial sheen. It is built around a smooth chorus, and contains a fairly lengthy guitar solo that is unusual for the band. It is not one of the most memorable songs on the album, but it works well as a simple rocker and contains some solid melodies. Forever Young is another very short song, but this one is a proper rocker with some big drums from Allen, and a great guitar riff that fits well with Elliott's voice. The chorus is one of the album's best I think, and this would be a great one to release to radio stations due to it's length. It is over almost as soon as it gets going. I would have liked to see this one fleshed out a bit more, as I feel it could have been a real classic if it did not feel so rushed. I still enjoy it though, and it definitely packs a punch being so upbeat. Last Dance is another ballad, and it is probably the album's best song from that category. It is acoustic-led once again, but contains all the hallmarks of what makes a good ballad. Elliott sings it well, and the wordless backing vocals inject some emotion into the performance. It is a lovely song, and one that I am sure many will enjoy. Wings of an Angel is a big rocker that has a rather un-Def Leppard sound to it, that uses dark-sounding guitar patterns for Elliott to sing over. The closer the song gets to the chorus though, the more like Def Leppard it sounds. The harmony vocals kick in, and the guitars have more of that trademark melody to them. The contrast between the two sections is great, and the chorus is very strong with a big classic rock vibe. The album's closing song Blind Faith is a bit of an odd one, and does not really sound like Def Leppard at all. It is quite a nice song, but I am not sure it works well as an album closer. It has grown on me the more I have heard it, but I cannot help but think that Wings of an Angel would have been a better album closer. Overall though, Def Leppard is a really good album. It is good to see the band are still trying to challenge themselves and write music that is different from their usual style, even if some of them do not work as well as they could have.

The album was released on 30th October 2015 via earMusic. Below is the band's promotional video for Let's Go.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Stryper's 'Fallen' - Album Review

In a time where bands promoted debauchery, drug-fuelled lifestyles, and promiscuity; California's Stryper took a different path. Influenced by their Christian faith, the band took the dominant hair metal sound of the 1980s, with the big hair and flamboyant stage shows to match, but sung about faith and love instead of the usual sex and partying. Stryper were a bit of an alternative to a scene fronted by the likes of Mötley Crüe and Poison, but at the same time they were just as vital to the 1980s hair metal scene as those bands. Stryper were the first overtly Christian metal band to gain mainstream recognition, as their second full length album, 1986's To Hell with the Devil, went platinum and was nominated for a Grammy Award. It remains one of the best-selling Christian metal albums to this day. The band could never really match the success of that album, and sales declined as the music became much more sugary and the general musical landscape changed. The band eventually split up in 1993, only to reunite ten years later for more tours and recording. Since 2010 however, Stryper once again contains all of the band's original members. Frontman, songwriter, and guitarist Michael Sweet is joined by his brother Robert on drums, Oz Fox on lead guitar, and Tim Gaines on bass guitar; which is the band that wrote and performed on those hugely successful early albums. 2013's No More Hell to Pay, the band's eighth full length studio album (which I reviewed here), was the first album to feature all four original Stryper members since 1990's heavier Against the Law. It was a more stripped back release, focusing on Michael Sweet's melodic rock riffs and soaring vocals. The layers of keyboards and backing vocals that were staples of the 1980s sound were much more in the background, going for simple rock power than an overproduced 1980s throwback. One thing was clear from hearing No More Hell to Pay was just how great Michael Sweet's voice still is. He has lost none of his power or range, and can still pull off the odd high-pitched scream when required. While I am no expert on the Stryper discography, I felt that it was one of their better albums and I listened to it a lot when it was released. Earlier this year saw the release of Fallen, the band's ninth album. In many respects this is a sequel to No More Hell to Pay, building on the style that made that album so good. It is a heavier record however, and lacks the variation that characterised the previous outing. While I do not believe this album is as good as Stryper's previous offering, I still think this is a strong release, and metal fans will enjoy the abundance of good riffs to be found.

Opening with the choral stylings of the epic Yahweh, co-written by Clint Lowery (Sevendust), Fallen gets off to a solid start. The song is classic modern Stryper, with a chugging guitar riff and some powerful vocals from Michael Sweet. Robert Sweet's booming, natural drum sound helps to propel the song forward, while plenty of dual-guitar lead breaks bring the classic heavy metal sound to a fore. Midway through, the song speeds up with an Iron Maiden-esque section that contains an epic shredding guitar solo that features the talents of both the band's guitarists. It is one of the album's most impressive songs, and the choral choruses stand out. The album's title track is a much more back-to-basics affair with a simple riff and striking vocal melodies. The choruses are a little more involved, with layers of big backing vocals as Michael Sweet harmonises with himself to create a very typical 1980s-sounding section that will delight fans of that era. It is quite a short song with not a lot of meat on the bones, but this works in it's favour. Pride is similar, with serious groove in the song's main riff and a simple chorus with Michael Sweet's higher vocals taking centre stage. In some respects, the two songs are actually almost the same, with very similar riffs and vocal effects in the chorus. This does not annoy me as much as it should, as both songs are enjoyable and they sound natural following one another. Big Screen Lies breaks away from the mold of the previous two numbers it's anthemic nature and the fact it slowly builds up over the course of the song. The chorus is a real foot-stomper, while elsewhere Robert Sweet uses his heavy-handed drumming style to build up to the song's chorus by going around the kit in various ways - before opting for a more traditional beat for the rest of the song. This is one of the songs that sticks out on first listen, and will probably become a live favourite because of how memorable it is. A Def Leppard-type guitar lead heralds the intro of rocker Heaven (not sure how Stryper managed to go eight albums without using this title..) that showcases Gaines' flowing bass playing during the sparse verses, which works in contrast to the hollow-sounding drums. Another strong chorus is present here, with that aforementioned backing up Michael Sweet's drawn-out vocal notes. The guitar solo here is very precise, foregoing the usual shredding for something slightly spacey and different. Love You Like I Do is a very riff-based song, and being co-written by Fox I am not surprised, but it fits in nicely with the sound established throughout the album. It is slightly throwaway however, with no real standout moments, and suffers from having to follow two of the album's strongest cuts. The chorus falls a little flat too, which never helps.

All Over Again is the album's first and only ballad, with a soaring guitar intro and delicate acoustic verses. Michael Sweet has always been great at singing ballads, and the softer side of his voice is as strong has his powerful screams. Stryper albums are usually backed full of ballads, so it seems strange to be just over halfway through the album and only hitting our first ballad. It is well placed through, and helps to pick things up again after the fairly average Love You Like I Do. It is an enjoyable song and, although not being the band's best ballad, works well to break up the pace somewhat. Next comes a storming cover of Black Sabbath's After Forever which I might actually prefer to the original. It has never been my favourite of the band's songs, but this version has been sped up somewhat, giving more bite to the song's main riff that the two guitarists nail, and just seems heavier overall. Stryper have done some good covers in their time, and this is another good addition to their canon. The religious nature of the song's lyrics also fit well within the band's modus operandi, which is probably one of the reasons it was chosen. Till I Get What I Need is short, sweet, and powerful. While the title makes it sound like another ballad, this is far from it and is a fast rock number with a great riff and some soaring chorus vocals. The is something about classic Judas Priest about the song's main riff and rhythms, and the guitar solos also have a real metal vibe about them. This is a song to blow the cobwebs away, and it packs a real punch. Let There be Light goes back to the chugging groove of the album's early numbers, but does not sound as fresh and interesting as those numbers. The song's chorus is also a little to similar to that from Yahweh too I think, with the choral effect again used and the way the pace slows to make it sound more epic and powerful. It is not a bad song, it just sounds too familiar. The Calling, another Fox co-write, is a vast improvement over Love You Like I Do. It is a real heads-down rocker, with some serious power and a riff to die for. In my opinion, this is the style that suits Stryper's the best these days, focusing on the harder metal edge to their sound and foregoing the sugary arrangements and production. The chorus here is really catchy and is likely to remain in your head for days after hearing it, and the song's guitar solo is easily the best on the album. Michael Sweet hits a seriously high note as the solo concludes too, which just adds to how good this tune is. The album's final song, King of Kings, is a bit of a mix of The Calling and Let There be Light with fast, rocking verses and a more epic, cinematic chorus. While not as good as the previous song, it works well as an album closer, as the epic nature of the song makes it stand out and feels like closure for the album. Overall, while not being as good as No More Hell to Pay in my mind, Fallen is another great effort from Stryper. While there is a bit of filler, there are enough enjoyable songs here to satisfy any melodic metal fan.

The album was released on 16th October 2015 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Pride.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Nightwish - London Review

Nightwish were the band that introduced me to power and symphonic metal way back when, and seeing them live for the first time in 2009 was one of those defining moments in my life. At the time they were touring Dark Passion Play, which is still probably my favourite Nightwish album, and the setlist was almost perfect, full of many of my favourite songs. 2011's Imaginaerum came out at a strange time for me. While I enjoyed it at the time (it was my Album of the Year for 2011 after all!), I do not think that I really appreciated that album until much more recently. I also saw the band live in 2012, not long after former frontwoman Anette Olzon's hasty departure and the drafting in of Floor Jansen. The Birmingham show that I saw on that tour was not a good one for me. I felt ill for most of the show, and some inconsiderate fans near me helped to ruin my enjoyment of the show more. It was nothing the band did, as their performance was strong despite the recent upheaval, but it did leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Nightwish left my musical mind for a while, but the release of Endless Forms Most Beautiful earlier this year changed that. While, like Imaginaerum, it took me a while to fully appreciate the album, I knew that it was a masterpiece. That album is sure to feature in a high position on my Album of the Year list for this year too. With a one-off UK show announced at London's famous Wembley Arena instead of a string of UK dates, I knew I just had to be there - I was ready to become a Nightwish fanboy once again! Wembley Arena is a great place to see live music, and the fact that a band like Nightwish can sell out a venue like that is a good sign that rock and metal is in a good place at the moment. The addition of two great supports in the shape of Arch Enemy and Amorphis only improved things. I have seen both bands before, and am huge fans of both. It was also announced during the show that Nightwish's set was being filmed, so I hope that will get released on a DVD sometime soon!

Despite being around for 25 years, Amorphis really are on top of their game at the moment. They followed up 2013's excellent Circle with Under the Red Cloud earlier this year, and have been touring in support of the album since. Their eight song set was the perfect start to the evening, and new material featured heavily. Frontman Tomi Joutsen was in fine voice, effortlessly switching between deep harsh vocals and soaring cleans as and when required. Death of a King and Sacrifice, two of the best songs from the new album, got the evening off to a good start as Esa Holopainen (guitar) used each song to show what a great guitarist he is with plenty of fluid leads and solos. The arena was filling up while Amorphis played, but there were clearly quite a few fans present, as their reception from the crowd was very warm throughout. The melodic The Smoke was another highlight, but the best moment was the closing number House of Sleep. This song probably has the biggest chorus in the band's whole discography, and there were plenty in the crowd that seemed to be getting into it. A great set, despite the short time the band had on stage. The setlist was:

Death of a King
Hopeless Days
Bad Blood
The Smoke
Silver Bride
The Four Wise Ones
House of Sleep

Being the heaviest band on the bill, Arch Enemy did stick out a little. That being said I, and quite a few others present it seems, am a big fan of the Swedish melodic death metal band and they pulled out all the stops to deliver a memorable performance. The addition of Jeff Loomis (guitar/vocals) has really made the band stronger musically, and his soloing throughout was of the highest order. Five songs from the band's latest album War Eternal were present in the set, including the blistering title track and personal favourite Stolen Life, which has a bit of a punky vibe. Alissa White-Gluz (vocals) is the perfect person to front the band. Her excellent harsh vocals and prowling stage presence make her the focal point of the band live and, despite her relatively short time with Arch Enemy, she has made the position her own. Classics like Ravenous sat well alongside newer material like Under Black Flags We March. Loomis and Michael Amott (guitar/vocals) traded riffs and solos all night, and the two are a formidable guitar team - easily the best pairing the band have ever had. The live sound mix for the band was also great, and it is clear that, like Amorphis, Arch Enemy are soaring at the moment with the new line-up. White-Gluz managed to get the majority of the near capacity crowd jumping up and down during the anarchistic No Gods, No Masters, before the anthemic and super-heavy Nemesis brought the set to a stunning close. A triumphant set. The setlist was:

Khaos Overture
Yesterday is Dead and Gone
War Eternal
Stolen Life
You Will Know My Name
As the Pages Burn
Under Black Flags We March
No Gods, No Masters
Enter the Machine

Speaking about bands on top of their game, Nightwish are easily the best they have ever been at the moment. Jansen and Troy Donockley (vocals/guitar/bouzouki/whistles/uilleann pipes) have really boosted the band's musical capability and current touring drummer Kai Hahto has given the band a real kick (no disrespect meant to Jukka Nevalainen, but Hahto is by far the better player). Wanting to showcase this line-up at it's best, plenty of songs from Endless Forms Most Beautiful were featured in the set, along with some golden oldies and general favourites. Shudder Before the Beautiful and Yours is an Empty Hope got the show off to a fine start. Both songs are heavy rockers, and the former's flashy duel between Emppu Vuorinen (guitar) and Tuomas Holopainen (keyboards) worked really well live. Marco Heitala (vocals/guitar/bass guitar) showcased his trademark howl in the latter, but Jansen stole the show with some seriously low growls during the song's chorus. Old favourite Ever Dream went down well as predicted, before Storytime's circus-style theme wowed the audience. Despite being a full-time band member now, Donockley does not feature on every song, and he made his first appearance on the new ballad My Walden with his delicate vocal intro. His skills have been expanded upon though, and he adds something new to a few of the old songs: bouzouki chords in 7 Days to the Wolves and a delightful ebow solo in Nemo to name a couple. He also added ebow to the non-album song While Your Lips are Still Red, and his whistle melodies in Élan make the song what it is. One of my favourite new numbers, Weak Fantasy, was as powerful as expected live and was one of my personal highlights of the night. Heitala's vocals are powerful as anything here, and the chorus with Jansen is intense. I was so pleased to hear The Poet and the Pendulum live again. That was my favourite song of all time for quite a while, and it still holds a special place in my heart. It was the centrepiece of that show back in 2009, and it almost did the same job here too. Fans of the band's old power metal sound, including myself, loved the inclusion of Stargazers and showed off Jansen's operatic side to her voice, as well as some tasty lead guitar from Vuorinen who does not get many opportunities to show off. Ghost Love Score was the only number in the set that I thought felt a little tired, It has been played to death now and, while still being an impressive spectacle live, it could do with a well-earned rest. It blew my mind at that 2009 show, as no-one was expecting it as no-one thought Nightwish would do the song with Olzon, but this time it was overshadowed by The Poet and the Pendulum and The Greatest Show on Earth which was the set's closing number. It was epic, with everything from gorgeous piano, wordless vocals, and crushingly heavy sections that showcased the whole band's talents. Scientist Richard Dawkins even took to the stage at the very end to do his spoken word ending to the album live, which was the icing on the cake. The setlist was:

Shudder Before the Beautiful
Yours is an Empty Hope
Ever Dream
My Walden
While Your Lips are Still Red
Weak Fantasy
7 Days to the Wolves
The Poet and the Pendulum
I Want My Tears Back 
Ghost Love Score
Last Ride of the Day
The Greatest Show on Earth [w/ Richard Dawkins]

Overall, this was easily the best of the three shows I have now seen Nightwish perform, and the selection of material played was excellent. I hope the performance does get released as a DVD one day, especially as the atmosphere throughout from the sold out crowd was electric!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Mostly Autumn - Leamington Spa Review

It was the second gig in two days. After the arena rock of Def Leppard and Whitesnake the night before, this time it was the relatively intimate confines of The Assembly in Leamington Spa for an evening with Mostly Autumn. They are the band I have seen live more than any other, and one of their concerts is always to be looked forward to. When this special end of year show was released months ago, I knew that it had to be done. The adverts were enough to get mouths watering: a full performance of recent album Dressed in Voices (as the band have been doing live ever since it's release last year), a reprise of the 'Pink Floyd Revisited' set that the band performed back in 2004 (this time dubbed 'Mostly Floyd' - probably unofficially), and some rarely played live gems. News came later that the band were to be joined by guests Anna Phoebe (violin) and Chris Backhouse (saxophone) to help make this evening extra special, and to make certain songs possible. Another late addition was Hannah Hird (vocals/keyboards/percussion), who toured with the band for much of 2013 in place of then-member Anne-Marie Helder, who mostly added extra backing vocals during the 'Mostly Floyd' set - but she added extra magic elsewhere also. With a start time of 4:00pm, this was going to be a long one. I inferred from this that it would be a special night, possibly on a par with the last time I saw the band at this venue: former frontwoman Heather Findlay's farewell show in 2010; but I was not prepared for just how special this show would be. So, after a day looking around the Christmas Market in Leamington Spa, I got down to the venue for around 4:00pm ready to go.

Mostly Autumn played a short acoustic set to get the evening started, acting as their own support band in a way. It was a strange, but highly enjoyable collection of Mostly Autumn classics, rarities, and solo performances from the band members. Nowhere to Hide (Close my Eyes) and Never the Rainbow opened the show, and saw Chris Johnson (vocals/guitar) actually take the lead on his acoustic guitar while main man Bryan Josh (vocals/guitar) concentrated on singing and strummed the chords away happily. Olivia Sparnenn (vocals/percussion) harmonised beautifully on the former, and owned the latter as it took on a smokey bar vibe. The stripped down version of Breathing Space oldie The Rain Song that has been played fairly regularly since Sparnenn took over the role of frontwoman in the band also got an airing, but after this the set took a strange but pleasing turn. Angela Gordon (vocals/flute/keyboard/whistle), who has been back in the fold for nearly all of this year's shows, took the lead on a cover of Christy Moore's Celtic rocker Ride On which went down a storm, and showed that Gordon's voice is extremely powerful and versatile. Alex Cromarty (vocals/guitar/drums/percussion) then picked up a guitar for one of his self-penned songs, which was good and also showed that he possesses a great voice too. I did not catch the song's title, but it fit in with the vibe of the rest of the set. We then had Johnson's Gaze, originally sung by Findlay on the Heart Full of Sky bonus disc, but I have always preferred his sparse  acoustic version, where Josh added colour with ebow and gentle electric guitar leads in places. Hird then got behind the piano for one of her own songs, which was beautiful. Again, I did not get the name of it, but it really could be a Mostly Autumn song if it was rocked up a bit (not that it ever will be, but it has a similar vibe). I always liked her contributions during her short time with the band in 2013, and it was good to see her again helping them out. Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts, from the Dressed in Voices bonus disc, has been played at most of the band's shows this year, but it was great to hear this sad and poignant song again. Closing the set was an oldie called Through the Window which I had never heard the band play live before. Josh sung it beautifully, and it was a perfect way to end this mini acoustic set. The setlist was:

Nowhere to Hide (Close my Eyes)
Never the Rainbow
The Rain Song [Breathing Space cover]
Ride On [Christy Moore cover]
{Unknown} [Alex Cromarty solo material]
Final Bow [Hannah Hird solo material]
Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts
Through the Window

After that little collection of surprises, we were treated to the evening's 'proper' support act: Phoebe doing a set of some of her own material, along with composer Aisling Brouwer (keyboards) to accompany her. Really, this should have been billed as Phoebe & Brouwer, as some of the pieces were Brouwer's compositions and was just as important to the set's sound as Phoebe. I saw Phoebe with an acoustic guitarist supporting Anathema in Exeter Cathedral back in March, but this set was much better and much more dramatic. Brouwer's dark piano motifs formed a formidable backdrop for Phoebe's violin to dance over, and the two seemed to have excellent chemistry on stage together, despite only meeting recently as Phoebe said from the stage. This sort of music is not my usual sort of thing, but I really enjoyed the time they were on stage. They did not outstay their welcome, and the music they created together was a thing of power and beauty. It will be interesting to see what this pair come up with in the future.

After a short changeover, the main event started. I have seen many Mostly Autumn shows over the years, but I was not quite prepared for how good this show was going to be. I do not think I have seen the band play a show as long as this (especially if you add in the set too!), and how they managed to keep the energy up throughout I do not know! They truly are one of the best live bands around. The band's first set, as it has been for the majority of the year, was a complete performance of latest album Dressed in Voices. The concept album needs to be played in full, and it was great to see it for a third time (although in Tavistock earlier this year the album was split into two, with the rest of the set sandwiched in the middle, and was missing the bluesy rock of Down by the River for some reason). This was easily the most powerful rendition of the album I have heard live, and the entire band were up for the challenge. Running really took the roof off, as Sparnenn's powerful vocals took the lead in the uptempo, anthemic chorus. My review of the original album, and reviews of the two most recent Tavistock shows will cover my feelings of this album in more detail, so I will not repeat myself too much here. The album's middle section was enhanced though with Phoebe's violin during Skin on Skin and The House on the Hill. On the former, she took the lead after Cromarty's now-customary drum solo and duelled with Josh for prominence. This song always takes on new life live, and turns from a fairly low-key folk rocker to a out-and-out anthem that has something of Jethro Tull about it in places. On The House on the Hill she added some delicate violin lines that really complimented Sparnenn's vocals and Iain Jennings' (keyboards) piano. The album's title track also brought the house down, and by the time they reached the acoustic coda Box of Tears, the band were really firing on all cylinders. It was easily the best version of Dressed in Voices that I have ever heard, and one of the most powerful suites of music I have seen at any concert.

After a short mid-set break, the band came back on stage and surprised the crowd with a rendition of the old epic The Night Sky - a song I am sure I have never heard the band perform live before. Josh sung the spacey prog song with real emotion, as Sparnenn (now positioned at the back of the stage for the ensuing Floyd set) harmonised beautifully. Phoebe was on stage with the band again, and performed the violin part from the original recording, and Josh played a blinding solo towards the end. The rest of this set was the 'Mostly Floyd' set, made up entirely of Pink Floyd covers. I was looking forward to this, being a big Floyd fan myself, as I was sure the band would do their material justice. I was right, and the band steamed through ten Floyd numbers, made up of stone-cold classics with a few surprise choices. Shine on You Crazy Diamond was one of the highlights, with Josh and Jennings really nailing the complex, lengthy intro. The solos were pretty much note-perfect, but played with trademark Mostly Autumn feeling. The chorus was one of the evening's most powerful moments, as Sparnenn, Johnson, Gordon, and Hird all harmonised with Josh to fill the room of voices. Backhouse joined the band onstage for the saxophone outro. There were plenty of excellent moments throughout this set. Sparnenn nailing the wordless vocals during The Great Gig in the Sky was one of them, as was Johnson's vicious rendition of the cynical rocker Sheep. On the Turning Away was one of the surprise numbers, but Josh sung it really well, and the climatic solo was one of the best of the evening. Wish You Were Here of course had everyone singing along, before the moody Comfortably Numb really impressed everyone, with that classic solo present and correct. The set came to an end with the heavy rocker Run Like Hell where Josh and Johnson traded lead vocals as David Gilmour and Roger Waters did on the original recording. That was not all though, as the band came back for a seven (!) song encore, including some more epics and Christmas music. The Gap is too Wide (a song I definitely have never seen the band play before) was first, and I will be honest and say the song has never done that much for me previously. However, witnessing this performance makes me want to go back and revisit it, as it came across very well live. Set regulars Questioning Eyes and Heroes Never Die were as powerful and essential as ever, but the four Christmas songs were so joyus and fun it was them that stole the show late on. Johnson's beautiful version of A Spaceman Came Travelling had the whole crowd singing along, as did I Believe in Father Christmas. Fairytale of New York is my favourite Christmas song though, so I glad they have kept it in the set. Phoebe's violin added to the folk factor though, and they really nailed the vibe of the original. A prog (yes..) version of old standard White Christmas came, where everyone on stage was invited by Josh to solo, which showcased how talented the members of Mostly Autumn really are. It was a strange but great way to end an evening which had been chock full of fantastic performances. The setlist was:

Saturday Night
Not Yours to Take
(See You)
First Day at School
Down by the River
Skin on Skin [w/ Anna Phoebe]
The House on the Hill [w/ Anna Phoebe]
The Last Day
Dressed in Voices
The Library
Box of Tears
The Night Sky [w/ Anna Phoebe]
Shine on You Crazy Diamond - Parts I-V [Pink Floyd cover w/ Chris Backhouse]
Time [Pink Floyd cover]
The Great Gig in the Sky [Pink Floyd cover]
Sheep [Pink Floyd cover]
On the Turning Away [Pink Floyd cover]
Us and Them [Pink Floyd cover w/ Chris Backhouse]
Wish You Were Here [Pink Floyd cover]
Comfortably Numb [Pink Floyd cover]
See Emily Play [Pink Floyd cover]
Run Like Hell [Pink Floyd cover]
The Gap is too Wide [w/ Anna Phoebe]
Questioning Eyes [Breathing Space cover]
Heroes Never Die
A Spaceman Came Travelling [Chris de Burgh cover]
I Believe in Father Christmas [Greg Lake cover]
Fairytale of New York [The Pogues cover w/ Anna Phoebe]
White Christmas [Bing Crosby cover w/ Anna Phoebe & Chris Backhouse]

Overall, this was certainly one of the gigs of the year, and one of the best Mostly Autumn performances I have ever seen. This band continue to amaze me, and it was just a shame the show was not filmed or recorded for future release. It was a special night for the large crowd that had travelled to Leamington Spa, and I am sure the band will be buoyed by the reactions they received, and come back fighting next year. Also, I believe this was the first Mostly Autumn show I have been to that did not include the ever-present Evergreen in the set!

Monday, 14 December 2015

Def Leppard/Whitesnake - Birmingham Review

Def Leppard and Whitesnake are two of the biggest British musical exports of the 1980s, both of whom conquered America when bands from that country were ruling their airwaves and helped but Britain back on the map. Back in 2008, the pair joined forces for an arena tour throughout the UK that went down so well they have decided to do it again! Dubbed Let's Get Rocked in the Still of the Night - Part 2, this tour is pretty extensive, and covers the majority of the UK including Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Both bands are out promoting new albums too, which makes this tour even more vital. Def Leppard's new self-titled album was released back in October to good reviews (keep an eye on this blog, as there will be one written in the near future), and Whitesnake released The Purple Album back in May (I did not review this, as being a collection of re-recorded Deep Purple songs I felt there would not be much to say - but it is worth getting and I enjoy listening to it). Brought along for the ride were Black Star Riders, a band I also love, who are currently out promoting their second album The Killer Instinct. These three-band co-headliner-type billings seem to be quite common these days. The logic seems to be that it gets people through the door and gives people value for money, while keeping bands in big venues. I had seen both Def Leppard and Whitesnake previously, and both times they had been a part of a three band bill. I saw Def Leppard with Mötley Crüe back in 2011, and Whitesnake with Journey in 2013. Both nights were in full arenas, which shows that this current touring model seems to work. Birmingham's Genting Arena (as it is now called) is a great place to see live music. I have been there a few times previously, both standing and seated, and the view and sound is always good. I took my place by the sound desk which was a good vantage point, from which I did not move at all throughout the evening.

Black Star Riders hit the stage just after 6:30pm (it was an early start) and played a great set which lasted for around 40 minutes. I have seen the band twice previously, so knew what to expect, but their hard hitting performance still impressed, with songs from both their albums and some Thin Lizzy classics thrown in for good measure, showcasing Scott Gorham's (guitar/vocals) heritage. This was a high-energy set with no room for ballads, or much crowd interaction, as Ricky Warwick (vocals/guitar) and co. tried to cram in as much music as they could in the limited time they were on stage. All Hell Breaks Loose and the old Lizzy classic Are You Ready formed a great one-two punch to open the evening with a bang, before The Killer Instinct carried on the hard rocking vibe, and the Celtic rock of Kingdom of the Lost - which saw Gorham and Damon Johnson (guitar/vocals) trade plenty of mean licks - gave us something to sing along to later in the set. The set came to an end with Thin Lizzy's version of the traditional song Whiskey in the Jar which saw the first big crowd sing-a-long of the evening and plenty of excellent folky guitarwork from Johnson. They left the stage to large cheers, and I am sure there are many present that wished they could play for longer! The setlist was:

All Hell Breaks Loose
Are You Ready [Thin Lizzy cover]
The Killer Instinct
Jailbreak [Thin Lizzy cover]
Bound for Glory
Kingdom of the Lost
Finest Hour
Whiskey in the Jar [Traditional Irish folk song]

Like many others I was a little sceptical when legendary Whitesnake frontman and sole original member David Coverdale released an album of re-recorded songs from his Deep Purple days earlier this year, but on hearing the album I realised his reason for doing so. Those songs have now been brought into the 21st Century, and have been given a Whitesnake makeover by the current line-up of the band. On this tour, Coverdale and his band of excellent musicians have included a selection of those Purple songs in the setlist, alongside some of the very best Whitesnake classics. The Purple anthem Burn got things going, which nearly took the roof off the place. Reb Beach (guitar/vocals) and new boy Joel Hoekstra (guitar/vocals) locked in well to nail the song, which sounded more powerful with two guitars instead of one. They both got to solo too, as did Michele Luppi (keyboards/vocals) who had a huge smile on his face all night as he helped Coverdale with those high notes. The sleazy Bad Boys was an early highlight, as was The Gypsy which is one of my favourite Purple tracks, and I think the new version actually beats the original! It was great that Coverdale chose to throw some lesser-known Purple ones, rather than just all the ones you would expect. They went right back to the formation of the band with their cover of Ain't no Love in the Heart of the City which had everyone singing along, before the heavy blues of Mistreated showed that Coverdale's aged voice actually give songs like this new grit and power. Beach nailed the bluesy solo too, and showed that he is not all about the shred! The funky You Fool No One lead into a monster solo from Tommy Aldridge (drums). He has always been my favourite hard rock drummer, and seeing him in action again only reinforced this opinion. There was one more Purple song to come, the stripped down Solider of Fortune which saw Coverdale taking centre stage with Hoekstra on acoustic guitar. It was a fantastic version, and anyone who says Coverdale can no longer sing needs to hear him perform this live, he still has bags of soul! The last part of the set was packed with Whitesnake classics, including the breakthrough smash single Fool for Your Loving which contained plenty of classic Coverdale swagger, the anthemic Here I Go Again, and the epic Still of the Night which was the band's closing number. Whitesnake were one of the bands that got me into hard rock back in the day, so to see them for a second time was amazing. While Coverdale's voice is not what it was, and many of the musicians that helped write these timeless tracks are no-longer part of the band, I will always see Whitesnake when I get the chance. The fact that this set was quite different from the last time I saw them was a good thing too! The setlist was:

Burn [Deep Purple cover]
Bad Boys
Love Ain't no Stranger
The Gypsy [Deep Purple cover]
Give Me All Your Love
Ain't no Love in the Heart of the City [Bobby 'Blue' Bland cover]
Mistreated [Deep Purple cover]
You Fool No One [Deep Purple cover]
Drum solo
Solider of Fortune [Deep Purple cover]
Is This Love
Fool for Your Loving
Here I Go Again
Still of the Night
We Wish You Well

Def Leppard stole the show with a limp Mötley Crüe back in 2011, but this time they had to follow a really strong performance from Whitesnake that they did not come across quite as well. Of course this is all relative, and I loved every minute Def Leppard were on stage, but Whitesnake will always win for me between any battle between them and Def Leppard. That being said, they put on such a good show that it was a close run thing! Let's Go from the band's new album worked well as an opening number. Phil Collen (guitar/vocals) and Vivian Campbell (guitar/vocals) played the dual guitar lead riff with ease, and frontman Joe Elliot shows that his voice is still pretty strong and powerful, despite occasionally struggling with the high notes. The set was mostly a greatest hits package, with plenty of songs from the smash hit album Hysteria, but there were a few different tunes thrown in. Dangerous was the only other new number played, and that went down very well. I do wish they had played at least one more from Def Leppard, but I suspect that opinion is a minority one as most people just was to hear the hits. The power ballad Love Bites came quite early, and the hard rocker Armageddon It went down really well as some haunting stats flashed up on the big screens behind the band. The cover of David Essex's Rock On showcased Rick Savage's (bass guitar/vocals) melodic playing, before Two Steps Behind was played acoustically by Elliot and the crowd helped him out with the chorus vocals. The second half was packed full of classics, including the huge ballad When Love and Hate Collide, the perfect pop of Hysteria, and the closing number Pour Some Sugar on Me brought the set to a rousing close. The roar of the crowd was huge as Def Leppard left the stage, and they were of course called back for more, which included a pair of songs from the Pyromania album including Rock of Ages and the timeless single Photograph. They went off stage triumphant, and had the whole crowd cheering for them. The setlist was:

Let's Go
Love Bites
Armageddon It
Rock On [David Essex cover]
Two Steps Behind
When Love and Hate Collide
Switch 625
Let's Get Rocked
Pour Some Sugar on Me
Rock of Ages

As the lights went up, I reflected on the excellent evening of rock music I had just witnessed. While Whitesnake stole the show for me, all three bands were great and played their hearts out. I hope I get plenty more opportunities to see all of them live again, as I will jump at the chance to do so!

Friday, 11 December 2015

Saxon's 'Battering Ram' - Album Review

Over the last few years, NWOBMH pioneers Saxon have been on fire. Since 2004's Lionheart, the band have released five more excellent albums of no-nonsense, solid heavy metal; the latest of which, Battering Ram, was released recently. The band's last album, 2013's Sacrifice (which I reviewed here), and 2011's Call to Arms were easily Saxon's best efforts since their early 1980s heyday, and have really helped to put the band back on the map. They have been on the road almost constantly ever since, and continue to maintain a large global fanbase. While Saxon will always be most well-known for the pair of albums they released in 1980, Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law, but the band's latest efforts have brought them into the modern era successfully, as they experiment with new production techniques and take influence from some newer bands. Like the band's other recent work, Battering Ram sounds enormous. The production, courtesy of Andy Sneap, is just fantastic. Sneap's style is loud and in-your-face, and this works really well for a balls-to-the-wall heavy metal band like Saxon. The guitars have a thick, meaty tone to them which works well throughout; and the drums are clear and clean, with plenty of punch on the kick drums. Although Saxon's current line-up is not their original, I feel that this current incarnation is easily the best in the band's history. Original members frontman Biff Byford and guitarist Paul Quinn lead the charge; while guitarist Doug Scarratt, bassist Nibbs Carter, and drummer Nigel Glockler round out the band; creating a unit which is one of the tightest and heaviest out there still playing traditional heavy metal. Battering Ram is probably a little more experimental than the majority of the band's more recent work. The pace is more varied here with some slower numbers, one of which could be described as a ballad, to sit alongside the fast metal anthems. There are also a couple of sections of spoken word throughout, performed by actor and musician David Bower (Hell), and some songs contain dense keyboard arrangements. At it's heart though, Battering Ram is another good classic-style Saxon album in a line of pretty stellar releases. While I do not think it is as strong as the previous two, there is still plenty to enjoy here. Fans of the band will probably already have bought it, but anyone who loves good traditional metal should also head out and buy a copy. Anyone who never liked Saxon in the past probably will not be swayed by this release.

The album gets going in great style with the blistering title track that has all the hallmarks of the band's recent output. After a slightly Iron Maiden-esque intro, a powerful riff takes over the verse steams on with Byford's instantly recognisable vocal talents. I think he is one of the few metal singers who actually sounds better with age. The lower voice he has now has far more power than in the band's early days, and I think this is one of the reasons Saxon have remained as good as they have throughout the years. A crunching chorus and an instrumental section that sees both guitarists take a turn to solo make this a very well rounded song, and as good as anything the band have put out of late. The Devil's Footprint opens with a rather melodramatic spoken word intro that sounds like something from a 1950s Hammer Horror film, but it works well to set the tone for the song, which is another pacy metal anthem. The opening riff is one of the album's best I think, and the groove that it creates with Glockler's slower drum beat give it real power. The song's pre-chorus is enhanced with haunting keyboards which gives the song an epic feel and backs up that horror film theme from the spoken intro. The thrashy bridge gives way to a blistering guitar solo from Scarratt that is backed up by some very fast Glockler drumming. This is one of the album's moments from probably my favourite song here. Queen of Hearts is a slower tune, but has some real grit with a ballsy riff and some doomy synths. The trademark Sneap meaty guitar tones really enhance the mood of the song, and the stop-start riffing leads to some great headbanging moments. It is not all heavy though, as an acoustic-led bridge gives the listener a break from the big riffs, but Carter's big bassline is still there to keep us in the mood. After that moody diversion, Destroyer comes back to kick the album back into action. It is quite an old-school style Saxon song with a very catchy riff, and big ringing power chords to compliment Byford's howling vocals. There is plenty of great guitar work throughout the song, with some dual riffing in places, a few great solos including a dual on near the end. This is a no-nonsense song, and it is very enjoyable. Hard and Fast, as the title suggests, is another fast metal tune similar to Destroyer. It is definitely the slightly poor relation however, as it is nowhere near as memorable of the former song. I am not saying the song is bad - it is still enjoyable in a simple headbanging way - it just lacks the real punch and killer melodies of the previous numbers here. There is another good guitar solo section though, where Quinn steals the limelight with some precision playing.

After some rather generic weather sound effects, the second half of the album gets going with Eye of the Storm which is a decent mid-paced rocker with some simple riffing that impresses throughout. The song's chorus is slightly clunky though, and lacks the power that you would expect from a Saxon chorus. This does bring the song down a few pegs, but the riffing still makes it enjoyable. The quality improves again significantly with the fast Stand Your Ground. This song sounds like it could have easily sat on Sacrifice, and fans of that album will love this song. Some great double bass drumming from Glockler gives the song real urgency as the two guitars lock in together to create a huge sound. A synthy mid-section comes in unexpectedly, and the song slows down with some droning keyboards and big power chords. I am not quite sure what the point of it is, but it works well and helps to keep the song sounding fresh - which is always good for a band that have been active for over four decades. The Iron Maiden-esque sound from earlier on returns somewhat during Top of the World. Some subtle dual guitar leads form the basis of the song, and a sharp verse riff brings to mind early Helloween. The Iron Maiden-style guitars also contain echoes of Thin Lizzy, and the song's chorus reminds me of this band somewhat. Those dual leads that sit comfortably in the background behind Byford's vocals could have come from one of their songs. Scarratt's guitar solo midway through is also impressive and full of melody. To the End is another more mid-paced number, with a riff that could have been on a late Sabbath album, which soon gives way to a 1980s style melodic verse with big guitar arpeggios that could have come from 1988's AOR-influenced Destiny. It is certainly a throw-back to the 1980s anyway, and is a far cry from the full-on metal that fills the majority of the rest of the album. It works well though, and helps to add a little diversity. Quinn adds a flowing, melodic solo towards the end that is also a departure from the speed-fests that are usually in Saxon songs. The album's final song, Kingdom of the Cross, is very different from the rest of the album. It is a true ballad, with spoken word verses from Bower and sung choruses from Byford. The combination works well, and the subject matter (World War I) is very poignant. Byford's slightly cracked, vulnerable vocals work well for the choruses. This is something very different for Saxon, and is comparable to Motörhead's 1916 in a way. It closes out the album well, despite some versions containing the uptempo and enjoyable bonus track Three Sheets to the Wind (The Drinking Song) as a bonus track. Overall, Battering Ram is another very solid album from Saxon that will please long-term fans, and anyone who likes good traditional metal. If you go in to this expecting Saxon, then I am sure you will enjoy!

The album was released on 16th October 2015 via UDR GmbH. Below is the band's promotional video for Battering Ram.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Coheed and Cambria's 'The Color Before the Sun' - Album Review

New York's premier progressive rock export Coheed and Cambria are back with their eighth album: The Color Before the Sun. Since I first got into the band in about 2008, they have become one of my favourite modern prog bands, as their mix of alternative rock with chunks of metal and pop make for a great blend and a sound that is definitely their own. During the back end of 2012 and the early part of 2013, the band released the two The Afterman albums (the second of which, Descension, I reviewed here); and this pair has since become my favourite work from Coheed and Cambria's impressive discography. It is probably their most accessible material yet, but lost none of the progressive element that made them stand out to start with. There was a certain restrained virtuosity to those albums, and that made them special. When looking at it after the two wonderful The Afterman albums, The Color Before the Sun seems a little odd in comparison. Firstly, this is the first album from the band not to be based around 'The Amory Wars' storyline, something which frontman, guitarist, and main songwriter Claudio Sanchez has been writing for many years. In all honesty, the previous albums' concepts never really bothered me. I found them extremely difficult to follow (I think you need to read his comics to fully understand what is going on), and what bits I have been able to decipher make it sound like a bit of a rip-off of Star Wars. That being said, the fact that I never made any effort to follow the albums' storylines never once dampened my enjoyment of the band's music. The concepts were always secondary to the quality of the songwriting, and it seems to act as a bit of a bonus for superfans to enjoy and discuss. The Color Before the Sun seems to be based more about Sanchez's own personal life, and comes across quite autobiographical in places. Secondly, The Color Before the Sun really ramps up the pop element of the band's sound. While the progressive feeling is still there, and repeated listens reveal more of it, this was clearly written to be extremely accessible. While this is no bad thing, I do feel that this album is missing something that previous Coheed and Cambria albums had. The lack of an epic Sci-Fi storyline probably negated the need for such epic-sounding songs, and given the more humble subject matter the music does work well; I suppose I just miss the epics of old! That being said, I do enjoy The Color Before the Sun quite a bit, and it does reveal it's beauty over multiple sittings - and there are plenty of nods to previous albums' styles to satisfy the fans who sit with it.

Opening with the sound of a train, Island gets the album underway in true Coheed and Cambria style. A bouncy clean guitar pattern forms the basis of the song, while a tough chord progression backs up it, giving the song some real bite. Zach Cooper's bass guitar dances and pounds around throughout the verses, and gives the song some real rhythm, as Sanchez's high vocals are as infectious as ever. A great chorus is the focal point of the song though, and sees the use of plenty of highly melodic vocal lines. I really like the more atmospheric section that comes part-way through the song, where subtle keyboards dominate as Sanchez's distant vocals howl around the speakers. This is a great, upbeat piece of rock music that is sure to make a great concert opener on the band's current tour. Eraser starts out with a dry-sounding riff that sounds like something from 2010's Year of the Black Rainbow, and this heavier vibe continues throughout the song, despite some really cheesy wordless vocal sections - which are a staple of the band's classic sound. This is a simple song, built around big punky power chords, but there are some strange guitar sounds used throughout, and the odd tortured lead cuts through to also evoke the spirit of that 2010 release. There is also a guitar solo, presumably from lead guitarist Travis Stever, that is slightly strange and atypical for the band. After two rockers, Colors opens out in much sparser fashion with some delicately picked guitar lines and some very distant, almost whispered vocals. Josh Eppard's ringing ride cymbal adds a percussive rhythm to the gentle music, and his big drum fill leads into the sweeping chorus that sees effects-drenched lead guitar mix in well with Sanchez's voice as he belts the lyrics out in a rather downbeat but effective fashion. Coheed and Cambria have always been quite good at these ballad-type songs, and this one is no different. It has a good atmospheric quality to it, which evokes The Afterman albums somewhat, and the closing piano motif is beautiful. In contrast, Here to Mars opens with a very spiky riff and bass guitar combination that evokes the band's 2002 debut album The Second Stage Turbine Blade. This is a very typical Coheed and Cambria rocker, that has that slight emo feel of their earlier work, and some excellent playful vocals from Sanchez that sits over that excellent guitar and bass combination. A soaring, melodramatic chorus is the highlight though, and the wall-of-sound approach from the production only makes it more powerful. A few bursts of almost harsh vocals also evokes the band's early days. The short Ghost actually sounds like a long-lost Simon & Garfunkel song, as acoustic guitar and staccato vocals with gentle harmonies fill the speakers. It is a nice mid-album rest, and is something a little different from the band.

This leads nicely into the big rocker Atlas which sounds a little like something from 2003's In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, with a slightly claustrophobic sound and multiple styles clashing together to make something that is more than the sum of it's parts. The guitars are quite abrasive here, backed up by some excellent pulsing bass from Cooper. Sanchez also has more grit in his vocal delivery here, as the big dual guitar riffs link up well between his lines. This is the song on the album that most resembles the band's classic sound, as heavier sections mix well with quieter ones to give that progressive feel. This is one of the songs that reveals it's power over many listens, as you need to get into the ever-changing mindset of the song to fully appreciate it. Young Love is sandwiched between two great songs, so never really gets the chance to establish it's own identity. The hollow drum sound and rumbling bass guitar dominates here, as a slightly off-key guitar pattern floats above the fuzzy rhythm section. The song just never really takes off, instead it just feels a little like a drawn-out interlude. Hearing single You Got Spirit, Kid soon banishes all thought of Young Love though, as the big ringing guitar intro soon leads into a extremely melodic verse with some really tight drumming and big guitar chords. The song's chorus is one of the album's best too, with a great guitar arpeggio that forms the basis of it, while Sanchez's powerful vocals almost spit the vocals out with some venom. This is probably one of the catchiest songs the band have ever written, so I am not surprised they decided to shoot a video for it and release it as a single. I imagine this will be part of the band's live sets for years to come. The album's final two songs are lengthier pieces, and The Audience is the first of them. It is quite a slow, rhythmic piece, with rolling drum work and some deliberate guitar riffs that have quite an old-school feel to them. I some respects this is quite a doomy song, as it never really picks up the pace, and works well to create a slightly creepy atmosphere with Sanchez's strange vocals and the crawling guitar riffs. In comparison, closing number Peace to the Mountain is a much mellower affair. Clean guitars and vocals dominate the song, while a shuffle-type drum beat rears it's head every so often to create something of a chorus. The song works well as an outro, and feels much more optimistic and upbeat after the doomier previous number. At it's heart, this a very simple song really, and that sums up the mood of the majority of the rest of this album, which is certainly more stripped-back than previous albums from the band. Overall, The Color Before the Sun is another good album from the band, even if it does lack some of the spark of previous works. It is album the band had to make after spending so long with one sprawling concept, and could be a sign of the band's future direction.

The album was released on 16th October 2015 via Everything Evil Records/300 Entertainment. Below is the band's promotional video for You Got Spirit, Kid.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Fish - Bristol Review

With retirement looming sometime in the next few years, Scottish singer Fish has decided to take the album Misplaced Childhood, the third album he wrote and recorded with his former band Marillion, out on tour to celebrate the album's 30th Anniversary. Fish has been in fine form recently. He released the excellent A Feast of Consequences back in 2013, and has been on tour for the majority of the time since playing a large amount of that album live. This current tour, dubbed 'Farewell to Childhood', seems to be the right move for Fish after the lengthy and successful 'Moveable Feast' tour. To his credit, Fish rarely indulges in nostalgia, instead letting his current material dictate tour setlists, which has led to much variation over the years. Marillion's Misplaced Childhood is one of my favourite albums, so when this tour was announced I jumped at the chance to hear the album performed in full live. Although Fish's voice is much lower than it was in 1985, his recent interpretations of classic Marillion material have been great, and the songs are now played in a key to suit his current vocal range. This tour sees Fish visiting bigger venues than he usually would in the UK. Bristol's O2 Academy boasts a 1600 capacity on a plague outside, and the show was advertised as sold out, so you have to assume there was somewhere near that number crammed into the venue. It was great to see such an amazing turnout, but it does make you realise just how many fair weather Fish/Marillion fans there are out there who probably only bought a ticket to hear Misplaced Childhood played live. The atmosphere was excellent however due to the large crowd, and it made for a special night. No Fish tour seems to go without a hiccup, and this one is no exception. A few days ago, keyboardist John Beck fell over outside the band's hotel and broke him arm, which has left him unable to play keyboards for the foreseeable future. Luckily for Fish, former keyboardist Tony Turrell was free and able to learn the whole set in a few days. On his first gig with Fish for quite some time, Turrell did amazingly, and the band were as tight as they have been recently.

Support came from a great set by French progressive rock band Lazuli, who really wowed the gathering crowd throughout their 40 minute set. With an interesting and original mix of sounds, the five-piece band were one of the most impressive unknown support bands that I have seen for a while. The only other band I can really think to compare them to soundwise is the Israeli metal band Orphaned Land, but that comparison does not do Lazuli justice. The fact that all of their lyrics are in French only made them more interesting, and it is rare for me that I connect with a band that does not sing in English. With a sound that mixed guitars, keyboards, French horn, marimba, and the self-made instrument the léode, the band's atmospheric progressive rock was huge and still pretty melodic. While they rocked out in places with some heavier riffs, for the most part the music was quite floaty, letting the atmospherics do the talking, while Dominique Leonetti's (vocals/guitar) unique voice dominated the sound. I get the impression that the entire crowd warmed to them throughout their set, and the merch desk seemed busy after their set finished - which I would visit myself later on! Incidentally, the set finished with all five members huddled around the marimba to play in sync, which was really impressive to see.

While Fish's set was really all about the Misplaced Childhood performance, he still managed to throw in a diverse selection of solo tracks to start the evening off. The rocking Pipeline from 1994's Suits got things going, and this was the only song of the evening that I was not familiar with. It impressed me though, with some good riffing from Robin Boult (guitar) and a great keyboard solo from Turrell which shows how well he has fit back into Fish's band. Three out of the four opening solo songs were hard rocking numbers, with newbie A Feast of Consequences and the lengthy and politically poignant The Perception of Johnny Punter whipping up a storm, with the creepy ballad Family Business thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, this early part of the show was ruined slightly by incessant talking from so-called 'fans' around me. The crowded nature of then venue made it hard to move, so I had to put up with it. I am not sure what it is about Fish (along with bands like Marillion and Opeth) that seem to attract more obnoxious fans than anyone else? It really ruins the concert for other people, and I feel this ties into my 'fair weather' fans comment from earlier. Luckily, a few other people near me were also getting annoyed with them, and they did eventually shut up after a few choice looks and words. The performance of Misplaced Childhood was the evening's highlight though, as it was always going to be. I have never had the opportunity to hear it live before, and the performance did not disappoint. The crowd helped Fish out with the lyrics throughout the performance, which made for a fantastic and unprecedented atmosphere. Obviously hit single Kayleigh was a highlight, but for me the best moment of the album was Bitter Suite which has always contained some of my favourite Fish lyrics. The artwork that was projected onto the wall behind the band changed with each song, and really complimented the lyrics perfectly. The lengthy Blind Curve was also another highlight, which again features some excellent lyrics, and Boult did a really good job to play those iconic guitar leads. An extended sing-a-long version of White Feather saw the main set come to a close, and the roar from the crowd was almost deafening, and ensured we would get more. Marillion's first single Market Square Heroes was the first encore, which provided a suitable challenge for Turrell with those bouncy keyboard leads. Steve Vantsis (bass guitar/vocals) and Gavin Griffiths (drums) locked in well for that classic Marillion-style rhythm, and the whole band were on fire throughout. The show came to a final close with Fish oldie The Company which saw possibly the loudest singing of the night, as Fish took a triumphant bow, the smile plastered across his face. The setlist was:

A Feast of Consequences
Family Business
The Perception of Johnny Punter
Pseudo Silk Kimono [Marillion material]
Kayleigh [Marillion material]
Lavender [Marillion material]
Bitter Suite [Marillion material]
Heart of Lothian [Marillion material]
Waterhole (Expresso Bongo) [Marillion material]
Lords of the Backstage [Marillion material]
Blind Curve [Marillion material]
Childhoods End? [Marillion material]
White Feather [Marillion material]
Market Square Heroes [Marillion material]
The Company

Overall, this was probably the best performance that I have ever seen from Fish, and the large crowd and atmosphere certainly helped that. He seemed very happy to be performing Misplaced Childhood again, and that came through in the performance of the whole band. I hope the rest of the tour is a success for him, and goes without anymore hiccups! I bought a copy of Lazuli's Tant Que L'herbe est Grasse, the band's latest album, at the merch desk after the show and got it signed by all five band members, which was a great end to the evening!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Michael Monroe's 'Blackout States' - Album Review

As a member of seminal Finnish glam punk act Hanoi Rocks, Michael Monroe helped to spearhead what would become hair metal with a brand of rock that had the energy of punk and the image and melodies of glam rock. Bleached-blonde hair and spandex were the order of the day, and bands like Mötley Crüe and Guns N' Roses have called Monroe and Hanoi Rocks influences. After the final break-up of Hanoi Rocks in 2009, Monroe has put all of effort into his solo career. While he has always done solo albums, it is only since 2010 that Monroe has toured with his current band, which remains largely unchanged since day one, and recorded albums of new material. Both 2011's Sensory Overdrive and 2013's Horns and Halos are excellent slabs of punk rock, with plenty of big riffs, energy, and gang vocal choruses. They are not at all original, but they are masterfully constructed and produced. Throw in the 2010 live album Another Night in the Sun, which contained older solo material and covers, plus material from his previous bands Hanoi Rocks and Demolition 23., and you get three releases which could easily be described as the best in his career. Forming the core of the band are guitarist Steve Conte (New York Dolls), bassist and long-time friend Sami Yaffa (Hanoi Rocks; Demolition 23.; New York Dolls), and drummer Karl Rockfist. The second guitarist spot is the only one that rotates, and is currently occupied by Englishman Rich Jones (The Black Halos). Monroe's new album, Blackout States, is his third studio album with his current band; and eighth solo album overall. Those expecting a big change in direction from the previous two are going to be disappointed, and the formula has not changed at all, but this is the type of music Monroe does the best. This is Jones' first album with Monroe, and he has fit in well with the rest of the band. Him and Conte have formed a solid writing partnership, and share the majority of the writing credits, along with Monroe. As with Monroe's previous albums, this is an extremely in-your-face release. The songs are mostly short, and built around simple guitar riffs that let Monroe's rough vocals take centre stage and he sounds as strong here as he ever has. Throw in the odd blast of saxophone and harmonica and he is want to do, and you get a typical Monroe album. Chips Kiesbye's production is nice and polished, but still maintains the raw edge necessary to make this sort of material convincing and powerful.

This Ain't no Love Song gets things underway in the fashion that all of Monroe's albums do, with a big punky riff and a huge vocal hook. The verses are fast, with a chugging chord sequence and some snarling vocals, but the chorus has that gang-vocal style that many punk songs employ, and sounds a little like a football chant in a way, which works. There is a fairly lengthy (for this sort of music), bluesy guitar solo before another go-round of the rousing chorus brings the song to and end. Old King's Road is much more classic rock inspired, with big ringing chords and a combination between harder guitar rhythms and chiming patterns over the top. The same goes for the chorus, which uses more traditional harmony backing vocals as opposed to the punky gang vocals, which gives it a slightly anthemic feel. This was the album's first single, and is clear to see why it was chosen. It is a great modern rock song, and has the right balance between attitude and melody. Goin' Down With the Ship is much more melodic, and has little of the punk influence. This is probably as pop as Monroe gets, with the chorus and simple guitar lead during the intro could easily get some hands swaying live. The tom-heavy drumming during the verses sets the chorus up nicely, where a standard beat carries that poppy feel. Keep Your Eye On You is also a little paired back, with a nice descending guitar pattern that the song is built around and forms the bulk of the chorus. It is definitely one of the least interesting songs on the album however, as it lacks the punch the rest of the songs here have. It does have an excellent guitar solo however, which shows the musicianship of the band. The Bastard's Bash opens out with a great riff, that almost sounds like something from Marilyn Manson's Mechanical Animals album, and that sets the tone for the rest of the song, which is a big improvement over the previous number. Monroe's vocals have a real snarl here, and that hypnotic guitar riff just never lets up throughout. The chorus is a little more uplifting though, with more big gang vocal sections as Monroe shouts his way through it - you can almost see him jumping up and down in the studio as he sings it. A strange harmonica solo is the icing on the cake, and emphasises the odd nature of this song. Good Old Bad Days is a bit more punky, with some fast power chords and a simple, yet powerful chorus. The saxophone is broken out here too, and it works surprisingly well in the context of the song. I love Monroe's simple sax playing, and it always elevates a song and adds a little something.

R.L.F. is the fastest, punkiest song on the album, and it really rocks! There is plenty of shouting throughout, and some excellent riffing. This actually reminds me of his old band Demolition 23. quite a bit, as it has that same relentless energy. The song is over almost as quickly as it starts, but it is certainly memorable and one of the standout songs here. The title track seems tame in comparison, but it is still enjoyable. There is quite a lot of good lead guitar here, which actually outshines Monroe's vocals in places. I quite like the laid back feel of this song, with simple chords and a less intrusive bassline that usual. Again, this has a lighters-in-the-air feel to it, and would probably get the crowd singing along live and give them a break from the relentless other numbers. Under the Northern Lights, written by Dee Dee Ramone, starts out acoustically, with some lovely playing and delicate singing from Monroe. It is not long before the pace picks up though, but at it's core it remains fairly laid back, and almost slightly southern rock in places - especially during the guitar solo. This is the first non-original song Monroe has recorded with his current band, and it works well within the context of the album. He used to record a lot of covers, so I am glad they are by far the minority now. Permanent Youth actually follows on quite nicely from the previous song, and contains many of the same vibes as that song. The big ringing acoustic guitar in the chorus helps, as does the southern-sounding slide guitar section, which is followed by some bluesy harmonica. This is the sort of song that Monroe does not make often, but they are always welcome when he does. I like the fact that he can branch out a bit, and is not a one-trick pony. Dead Hearts on Denmark Street is one of my favourite songs on the album, with the punk feeling being brought back after three mellower songs. The choppy guitar parts are excellent, which have that old school Hanoi Rocks feel, but the chorus is a real winner, with lots of big backing vocals and irresistible vocal melodies. Six Feet in the Ground is another highlight, with a slightly country-rock feel, with hollow drums and acoustic guitar to back up the rock. The chorus melodies also have that feel, with an upbeat, slightly cheeky feel to it, that just really works with Monroe's attitude. Again, this comes slightly out of left-field for the veteran rocker, but it works really well and becomes a wonderful little song. Walk Away is the album's closing song, and it is a rousing rock song that ensures the album ends with a punch rather than one of the mellower numbers. It has a good shout-a-long chorus which works well for an ending song, and a good dual guitar send-off that is as close to pyrotechnics that you get on this album. Overall, Blackout States is another good album from Monroe in a run that has been very good for him. While slightly mellower than the previous two, it still contains attitude and rock to satisfy long-time fans.

The album was released on 8th October 2015 via Spinefarm Records. Below is his promotional video for Old King's Road.