Monday, 31 August 2015

Wearing Scars' 'A Thousand Words' - Album Review

It was not that long ago that both Mutiny Within and Sacred Mother Tongue were being touted as the next big things in hard rock and metal. Both bands had recognisable sounds and managed to build up respectable fanbases. Surviving in the music business is never easy though, and both bands wound up splitting up before ever reaching their full potential. Four of Wearing Scars' five members come from these bands. Guitarist Andy James (Sacred Mother Tongue; Budgie; Fields of the Nephilim), bassist Craig Daws (Sacred Mother Tongue), and drummer Lee Newell (Fields of the Nephilim; Sacred Mother Tongue) have regrouped following Sacred Mother Tongue's break-up, and have joined forces with singer Chris Clancy (Mutiny Within) to create a new album of melodic metal. Guitarist Daniel Woodyer completes the five-piece. Soundwise, Wearing Scars are more musically similar to Mutiny Within than Sacred Mother Tongue. The band's debut album A Thousand Words is focused around Clancy's soaring vocals, and places less emphasis on the technicality of the music that made both previous bands so interesting. This works both for and against Wearing Scars' sound in my opinion. On the one hand, the music's melodies are really pushed to the front of the sound. There is no denying that many of the songs on A Thousand Words are extremely catchy with very memorable vocal melodies. Clancy really shines on this album, and his clean vocals (as he does not use any harsh vocals as he sometimes did with Mutiny Within) are the highlight of the band's sound. On the other hand however, the band never really pushes itself beyond a simple, established formula. This surprises me, as both Mutiny Within and Sacred Mother Tongue had a progressive side to their sound that helped them to stand out from the crowd. There was always a restrained technicality to their music that helped to make them interesting. Wearing Scars lacks this quality and, as a result, their sound is less interesting. The songs on A Thousand Words do start to blend into each other eventually, which does hamper my enjoyment of the album somewhat towards the end, despite its obvious qualities. I also feel that James' skills are underused here. He is always portrayed as one of the best modern guitarists, but listening to this album you would not necessarily think so, besides a few excellent moments. I am not saying that every song needs to have a ridiculously complicated guitar solo, but some more interesting and technical playing would have certainly helped his album.

The album gets off to a good start with Become Numb, which has an excellent riff and a slightly techy stop-start rhythm throughout which helps the song to stand out. Clancy's vocal melodies always have a slight whiff of melodrama about them, and the chorus to this song exemplifies this. Subtle backing vocals help to enhance the mood, and Clancy's fist-clenching delivery cannot fail to grab you. This song does possess a good guitar solo, and James races out of the blocks with a hectic effort that is quite different from the mood of the rest of the song. Stand Alone is another solid song, and is more upbeat than the previous number. Newell's driving double bass drumming is the leading instrument for me in this song, and challenges the rest of the band to keep up - which of course they do. Some of the riffs here have a hint of metalcore about them, and comparisons to the more melodic end of Killswitch Engage's material could easily be drawn. I really like the guitar playing throughout the song's chorus. Subtle guitar patterns really help to increase the melodic nature of the track, and Clancy once again sings well. Butterfly is the album's lead single, and as a result it is one of the more accessible songs here. Subtle orchestrations augment the opening guitar riff, and the melodies are really pushed to the front throughout. The chorus really soars, and Clancy's vocals once again stand out. I also really like the bridge section after the second chorus that leads into James' solo. The vocals there are powerful, and the transition to the instrumental section works really well. Heart in Your Hands is a dynamic affair, that mixes mellow, piano-driven verses (no credit for who plays the piano parts), and heavier choruses. It is something of a power ballad, but one that is a little heavier than average. It works well though, and makes use of Clancy's delicate vocals throughout. Waiting for the End is another song that impresses. This is a fast song, with some more metalcore-esque guitar riffing with a fast tempo and an infectious overall feel to it. The chorus is a rapid one that races past, which makes the slower bridge even more powerful in comparison. The extended solo here is one moment where James really gets to let rip, and he shows a little of what he can do. The next highlight is Gone Forever, which is another ballad-like song, has a murky atmosphere that works really well. When the anthemic chorus kicks in, this is banished however, and you can really hear the emotion in Clancy's delivery. He has a voice made for this type of song, and it shows him at his melodic best.

A Last Goodbye is another pacey song that gets the blood pumping. The guitar work here is pretty solid, with a really fluid solo from James that lets rip from the moment it starts. The rest of the song is fairly standard fare for Wearing Scars, but it stands out due to the excellent solo. This is one of the songs where James really shines, and I just wish this was the case more often. By this point in the album however, the band's sound is starting to stagnate a little. A Thousand Words is one of those albums that packs all the best songs at the beginning, so it loses momentum as it goes. Would You Lie is an example of this, and it just sounds a little tired compared to what has come before despite not sounding vastly different. It is not all bad however, as Better picks things up somewhat. The song's verse is a little different and features Clancy almost mumbling the vocals, in style similar to Marillion's Steve Hogarth, while a crunching riff and droning lead swirl around him. While not vastly different from the band's established sound, it does enough to grab your attention again after a couple of more average tunes. The band's self-titled song Wearing Scars is another ballad, that mixes some nice clean guitar patterns with gentle keyboard textures. It is probably the best of the album's ballads, and injects a little class into the ending half of the album. By the time the second chorus rolls around, the rest of the band join in and it picks up somewhat, but loses none of the beauty of the first part. Unfortunately, it is the last really decent song on the album. Letters is a fairly standard fast song, that has little that really stands out. Again, the tried and tested formula is fatigued by this point, and even a half-decent chorus cannot really save it. The fast verses/slower, epic chorus model worked for the first half of the album, but by this point it fails to capture the imagination. There is nothing wrong with the song, but it suffers from being too similar to what has come before. Wounds is a little better, but the same problems are still present. This song also seems to be trying a little too hard to be an 'epic' ending song, and does not quite pull it off. While the chorus is quite powerful, I feel it sticks out somewhat as the rest of the song is quite restrained. It is certainly more interesting than Letters, which means that the album finishes on a reasonably strong note, but it still does not stand up to the material found on the first half of the album. Overall, A Thousand Words is a decent album from a new band that is still finding their feet. I think it is unfortunate that the album runs out of steam towards the end, as the first few songs here are really very strong indeed. I think Wearing Scars are definitely a band to watch however, and with a little more diversity in their music they could really make a name for themselves going forward.

The album was released on 24th July 2014 via Candyman Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Butterfly.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Steve Harris - Plymouth Review

For the time being, I shall be posting my gig reviews on here instead of on has decided to roll out a broken new website that is missing the majority of the features the previous one had - including journals. I cannot even scrobble at the moment, which is's main function, which just shows how much of a mess the team have made of the site. My old gig reviews should still be accessible as the old pages are archived, but a 502 error might sometimes prevent you from accessing the old reviews. I may, depending on what happens with going forward, re-upload all my concert reviews on here to replace the links to

Steve Harris is, of course, extremely well known for being the bassist and main songwriter for legendary British heavy metal band Iron Maiden. His career has been almost nothing but dedicated to Iron Maiden since the band's formation in 1975, and he always comes across as the band's unofficial leader. This changed in 2012 when he released his first solo album British Lion. According to history, British Lion were a band Harris was mentoring and looking to produce in the early 1990s, but the band fell apart. When some downtime appeared in his busy Iron Maiden schedule, Harris decided to resurrect the material he had been working on with the band and brought back many of the original songwriters and musicians to participate in the recording. The resulting British Lion album was one that owed much to Harris' 1970s classic rock and prog influences. The album's production was very weak, but after repeated listens the material shone through and it gained quite a few fans. While the album was released under Harris' name, the 'band' now seems to be called British Lion also, which suits the situation really as the musicians that are part of the band all helped to write the material too. The band played a handful of shows previously, but this year saw Harris and the rest of the guys undertake a fairly extensive UK tour, hitting many different cities. It is just a shame that this logic is not also applied to Iron Maiden, as no doubt when The Book of Souls comes out, the UK will only be treated to a single London date (if we are lucky!). The Hub in Plymouth is a great venue that over the last couple of years has attracted some great international acts and finally getting some decent music down to the West Country. Hopefully this trend will continue, as the crowds are always great and the bands always seems surprised by the reaction.

Support came from British metal band The Raven Age, which features Harris' son George on guitars. They played for about half an hour, and in all honesty failed to make an impression on me. Elements of their sound were great, but the songs lacked any really memorable hooks to make them stand out. Frontman Michael Burrough does not possess a great voice - in my opinion - and his melodies just are not strong enough. All too often the songs failed to pack a punch when the chorus came around and this really hampered my enjoyment of their songs. Some of the guitar interplay was great however! George Harris and the band's other guitarist (a stand-in who's name I did not catch) had a good chemistry, and some of the twin-lead guitar moments were the highlight of The Raven Age's set. Despite my feelings towards them, the large crowd seemed to really enjoy the band's set, which is always great to see. The Raven Age just are not really my thing, but good luck to them.

Steve Harris and British Lion hit the stage not long after The Raven Age's set, and hit the ground running with the opening two numbers from the album. This is My God is not their best, but Lost Worlds is a real rocker that got the crowd going and set the tone for the rest of the set. While I feel that frontman Richard Taylor's voice on the album is quite weak, he came across much better live. He still sounded a little thin, but he is a captivating frontman and a good asset to the band. The set also featured other songs written by the band that were not included on the album. A couple of them were real killer tracks, and these were Spitfire, which could have been an Iron Maiden song, and the ballad Last Chance that provided plenty of opportunity for the crowd to sing along. Speaking of the crowd, they were amazing all night. Their reaction to the band was always excellent, and they were singing along loudly to every song and constantly making their appreciation known. The band seemed to continually gain momentum as the set progressed, and their performances constantly improved. David Hawkins (guitar) played the lion's share of the solos, and each one was spot on and really complimented the song it was a part of. The final three songs of the main set were probably the best, with Us Against the World and A World Without Heaven standing out the most. There was still time for a couple more after the main set finished and the crowd was treated to a cracking rendition of UFO's Let it Roll (who are one of Harris' favourite bands). The evening then came to and end with the anthemic Eyes of the Young which saw the biggest crowd sing along of the evening. The crowd was still singing the main refrain after the band left the stage, which was pretty impressive and the sign of a good evening. The setlist was:

This is My God
Lost Worlds
Father Lucifer
The Burning
The Chosen Ones
These are the Hands
Bible Black
Guineas and Crowns
Last Chance
Us Against the World
A World Without Heaven
Let it Roll [UFO cover]
Eyes of the Young

Overall, this was a good night out in Plymouth featuring some good music from a bona fide metal legend. With the new Iron Maiden album out next month, and a huge world tour planned for 2016, I suspect British Lion will take a back seat for a while now. I do hope we get to hear recordings of the non-album songs at some point though, as a couple of them are very good indeed. The band's tour is nearly over, and it seems like it has been a successful one.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Lamb of God's 'VII: Sturm und Drang' - Album Review

Lamb of God are, quite rightly, one of the biggest modern metal bands. They have an instantly recognisable sound, an attitude that is easy to relate too, and a production quality (on their more recent albums at least) that makes their songs heavy yet still easy to listen to. VII: Sturm und Drang (which translates to 'storm and stress') is, despite the numeric part of the title, the band's eighth studio album - if you count Burn the Priest that is - and it continues the sound the band have been pioneering from the very beginning of their career. The band's mix of thrash, groove, and hardcore punk has made them extremely successful; and their heavy songs that are packed full of an inimitable attitude and catchy melodies are some of modern metal's classics. The band's last album, 2012's Resolution, is probably Lamb of God's most complete and accomplished work to date. While I still consider 2004's Ashes of the Wake to be my favourite of their discography, Resolution is probably their 'best' work. The production on that album is top-notch, and the songs are groovier and more memorable than ever. VII: Sturm und Drang is a great follow-up to Resolution, and contains songs that are formed in a similar mould. Once again, Josh Wilbur's production is amazing, and treads the thin line between making songs heavy as can be, and making songs so heavy that the distortion makes the music hard on the ear. There has always been a 'cleaness' to Lamb of God's sound, and this is probably what makes them so popular; and this is certainly a quality about them that I have always liked. Since Resolution, frontman Randy Blythe has had to endure arrest and imprisonment in Pankrác Prison in the Czech Republic for allegedly causing the death of a fan at one of the band's concerts in 2010. While VII: Sturm und Drang is not, as said by Blythe in an interview, a 'prison album'; there is no doubt that the experience has left its mark on the album. While a couple of songs do directly reference the incident and Blythe's feelings towards the whole affair, the rest of the material is certainly rawer and more caustic than usual. With songs about the scaremongering mass media, and the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, there is no shortage of heavy subject matter to digest here. This fact makes VII: Sturm und Drang a hugely entertaining listen, and one that reveals itself over many listens. Some of the songs here are among the band's strongest ever, and it is also great to see the band experimenting with dynamics even more here, which leads to some songs that break away from the band's established sound somewhat.

The album begins with Still Echoes, about the bloody history of  Pankrác Prison, which is fast becoming one of my favourite Lamb of God songs. It is a true anthem with an irresistible chorus, which Blythe delivers with his trademark snarl, and some fantastic drumming from Chris Adler that shows exactly why he has been recruited by Megadeth. The band's classic southern metal sound is well depicted here, with some seriously heavy riffs that steam along at a mid-pace to maintain the groove. There is something of the band's Ashes of the Wake style here, and fans of that era of the band are sure to love this song. It ensures the album gets off to a great start. Erase This opens with a faster riff, utilising all of Chris Adler's skills again, and showing the guitar pairing of Mark Morten and Willie Adler is as tight and intricate as ever. The song is built upon riff after riff, and the pair continue to impress with tricky guitar patterns that match Chris Adler's drumming perfectly. Lamb of God have never been a 'tech metal' act, but their riffs are complex while still being memorable and catchy. There is another solid chorus here, with some strong gang vocal sections to ramp up the power and Blythe's angry delivery. There is a section part-way through that sounds like a talkbox is being utilised, which is a new addition to the band's sound. It fits in with the southern tinge to Lamb of God's sound, and makes the song interesting. 512, Blythe's cell number in Pankrác Prison, is used for the album's first music video. It opens with a sinister spoken word section, before one of the album's best riffs kicks in to help embed that sinister mood. There are quite a lot of discordant guitar parts during the song's verses that also reinforce this feeling. Blythe's vocal performance throughout on this song is awe-inspiring. He sounds eviler than ever, and the rawness of his chorus shrieks are enough to curdle the blood. There is also a great guitar solo here that adds some strange melody to the song. Embers is one of the more 'experimental' songs in the band's catalogue, and is a thing of two halves. It opens out as a rather standard Lamb of God tune, but soon descends into an epic, soaring piece of music with vocals from Chino Moreno (Deftones). I am not really familiar with Moreno's work, as I am not a fan of the Deftones, but his strange clean vocals really add to the song's second half. The contrast between his voice and Blythe's is a good one, and helps to bring out the best in both singers. Footprints is another heavy song, that has more than a hint of 2009's Wrath about it. The grooves are back in force here, and there is almost a swing-feel to the riffs that give the song a very hypnotic feel. The lyrics here are very angry, and almost feel like Blythe is screaming them right in your face, such is his delivery. While it adds nothing new to the band's sound, it is another good song that reinforces their strengths.

Overlord is another song that plays with dynamics, and it really pays off. The song has a bluesy feel to the opening, with short bursts of lead guitar and a mournful bassline from John Campbell. Blythe sings the majority of the song clean, and proves that he has a rather strong and tuneful voice. The slight weaknesses in his clean voice actually help the song, and the cracks give the song real feeling. It also serves well to highlight the power of the band on full throttle when the heavy section kicks in later on. This is a song that will probably confuse those who are not open-minded, but those who are always glad when bands take risks and try new things will really enjoy this. There is more than a hint of Alice in Chains here, and that is always welcome! Anthropoid gets back to the band's more conventional sound with furious riffing and killer drumming. Chris Adler goes through many different patterns throughout this song. One minute he is laying into his double bass pedals with inhuman speed, and the next he is pairing back and letting the natural groove take over. He never over-plays, and whatever he chooses to do always benefits the song as a whole - which is the mark of a great drummer. This is Lamb of God doing what they know best, and the product is another memorable song. Engage the Fear Machine follows on the previous song nicely and continues the aural onslaught with another flurry of evil riffs and dark vocals. The song's chorus is particularly memorable with some really anthemic vocal lines that I am sure would be great live. The song's groovy mid-section is also likely to get the pits moving live too, so I hope this is one they decide to add into their live setlist (which could do with a shakeup!). The penultimate song, Delusion Pandemic, is probably the album's least interesting number. While it is still an enjoyable song, it does not quite live up to the energy of the preceding ones. It does not offer anything new (like Overlord), and the rest of the more 'standard' Lamb of God-sounding songs pack much more of a punch. That being said though, the latter part of the song is strong. A rousing spoken word section is great, and the breakdown-type part that follows is sure to get anyone pumped up. The album comes to an end with Torches, which is another interesting song that features the diverse vocal talents of Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan; Killer be Killed) along with Blythe. Puciato contributes both clean and harsh vocals to the track, and works well with Blythe to add something different to the established Lamb of God sound. The song constantly changes pace and takes many twists and turns throughout it's run time. It's a song that makes sure the album ends well, even if it is one that may take a few listens to full appreciate. Overall, VII: Sturm und Drang is another really great addition to Lamb of God's discography. It's an album that offers something a little different in places from the band's tried and tested formula and ensures that boundaries are pushed without losing the band's soul. Highly recommended!

The album was released on 24th July 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for 512.