Saturday, 31 October 2015

Leaves' Eyes' 'King of Kings' - Album Review

While many symphonic metal acts go out of their way to make their albums as over-the-top as possible, Leaves' Eyes have never really seemed to take this path. Leaves' Eyes' brand of symphonic metal has always been deeply rooted in folk, with lots of traditional instruments filling the speakers that sit nicely alongside the crunchy guitar riffs. King of Kings is the band's sixth album, and comes two years after the excellent Symphonies of the Night (which I reviewed here) which was a career high for the band in my opinion. That album brought the metal elements of the band's sound back to the fore after the folky Meredead, and showed that Leaves' Eyes could kick some serious ass! With King of Kings, the band seems to have moved back to the folk side of their sound somewhat, without losing too much of the heaviness that made Symphonies of the Night so good. Harsh vocalist and producer Alexander Krull has kept the sound on King of Kings much the same as the previous work, which ensures this album sounds great, while placing more emphasis on the folky elements. His vocals are still quite prevalent too, which is something that hindered Meredead in my opinion - there were not enough growls! I know that frontwoman Liv Kristine has always (quite rightly) been the main focus of the band vocally, but the 'beauty and the beast' vocal stylings between Kristine and Krull has always been a cornerstone of the band's sound. King of Kings also sees yet more line-up changes within the Leaves' Eyes camp (no two of their albums have had the same line-up). Guitarist Pete Streit (Elis; Atrocity) has joined the band in place of Sander van der Meer who left the band for health reasons, and drummer Joris Nijenhuis (Atrocity) replaces Felix Born. Founding guitarist Thorsten Bauer is still handling all the studio bass guitars on King of Kings. I am not sure what this band have against hiring a full-time bassist, but they have not had one for years now. Bauer also handles the songwriting, along with Krull and Kristine. The band also make use of a couple of guests on this album. Both Simone Simons (Epica) and Lindy Fay Hella (Wardruna) contribute guest vocals to a track each, and regular contributor Christian Roch adds his folky magic with ullieann pipes, whistles, and flutes throughout the album. At a run time of just under 45 minutes, King of Kings is a compact album; but one that manages to cram a lot of quality music in. The modest album length means the album is very easy to get into, and can be listened to at any time. I think this will work in it's favour in the long run.

Sweven opens the album with folky Norse overtones and helps to build tension before kicking off properly with the strident title track. The song is built around a series of big guitar chords that the orchestrations add to to create the main melody. Kristine sounds excellent on this album as always, and her delivery during the verses here is excellent. She has always had a unique and instantly recognisable voice, and this is present here in spades. The chorus is a slow, methodical affair with a big choir singing the main lyrics while Kristine wails over the top of them.  Krull adds some growls here and there to add some variety; and the dynamic ending section to the song is easily the best part. Halvdan the Black opens sounding like an early Nightwish song with dramatic choral voices and a chunky distorted guitar riff. It is a fast metal track that focuses on powerful guitars and a strong lead vocal from Kristine. Krull adds his magic to the demonic pre-chorus, before Kristine leads the choirs through their paces for the epic chorus. The guitar-led instrumental section mid-way through is excellent too, and sees the pace slow slightly and focus on the simple melodies the guitar creates. The Waking Eye opens with a delicate piano line, which continues throughout the song, even when the big wall of guitars also joins in. This song definitely draws comparisons to classic Leaves' Eyes track Elegy, but has a maturer overall sound. The chorus is very memorable, with some really catchy vocal melodies that fit well with the distant piano tinkles. This is very immediate song, which is probably why the band decided to shoot a video for it. I suspect this will be part of the band's live set for sometime. Another folky short instrumental leads into Vengeance Venom which builds on the folky melodies of the interlude to create a jaunty piece with an upbeat chorus and lots of jig-like moments. The guitars are often duelling with the traditional instruments to create a big sound; and the chorus sees Kristine and Krull join forces to create a real Viking sound. The song is over almost as quickly as it began, but it really fills your head with images of Viking feasts, and it is a very enjoyable song overall. Sacred Vow is more in the vein of the classic Leaves' Eyes sound, with calm verses that gradually build with layers of heavy guitars, before a powerful chorus steals the show. Nijenhuis leads the charge with a drum barrage throughout the entire chorus while Kirstine and choirs lay down their angelic voices to carry the lyrics. The instrumental section is good also, with a subtle guitar solo that just about cuts through the dense orchestrations.

Edge of Steel, that features Simons, is a heavier piece with a dramatic riffing intro and anthemic verses that sees Kristine and Simons duetting well while Krull adds his harsh growls as backing. The chorus is a little over the top, and slightly silly, but it is hard not to like the overt melodies and singable lyrics. The verses are the best here though, and the two ladies steal the show with their measured performances. It gets darker as things move forward though, with a heavy section with some excellent growls from Krull that are offset with a backing of ullieann pipes that helps to push the folky side of the band's sound forward again. Haraldskvæði opens with delicate whispering before Kristine sings beautifully over a bed of strings. The song almost has the feel of another interlude to it, because it gradually builds up to the next song without really having it's own identity. The repeating nature of the lyrics is quite effective though, and the choral work here is excellent. The percussion also adds a good rhythm to the piece, which helps build up tension for Blazing Waters, the next song. This is a longer, more epic piece that seems to act as the main focus of the album. Hella adds her guest vocals here, and the song is easily the best of the album. It is a real metal piece, with lots of excellent riffs and heavy verses that feature Krull taking the lead with his deep growls and hog the spotlight for a little while. The choruses are Kristine's though, and her soaring vocals cut through everything else to dominate. About half way through, the choirs really start to dominate as they sing over a heavy drum pattern before the rest of the band take over and impress with their instrumental prowess. Leaves' Eyes have never really been about jaw-dropping guitar work or progressive instrumentation, but the guitars here are excellent and there is a great solo thrown in. This song has the feel of a closing number, but the album is not done yet. Swords in Rock follows and hits you with big melodies from the outset. This is a short, catchy tune that ends the album on a jaunty note after the more involved Blazing Waters. The melodies here are very folky and will not fail to make you smile. It almost has the feel of a bonus track after the epic previous one, but I think it works well to add a little coda to the album. It is relentless and fills your head with classic Leaves' Eyes melodies. Overall, King of Kings is another good album from Leaves' Eyes. While the album is in no danger of rivalling the band's best work, it has a cohesiveness about it that makes it work well as an album.

The album was released on 11th September 2015 via AFM Records. Below is the band's promotional video for The Waking Eye.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Alice Cooper - Plymouth Review

Alice Cooper is known as much for his over-the-top live performances as he is for his music, and it might have been this that put me off his somewhat for years. I always thought that, with Cooper, the music came second to putting on a good show so I often dismissed a lot of his work despite liking some of the obvious hit singles. However, when I decided to buy a ticket to see one of Mötley Crüe’s farewell shows next month, with Cooper supporting, I decided it was time to finally give his music a proper appraisal. I was surprised by just how good a lot of it was, so I was annoyed at myself for dismissing it for so long. It is good to be proved wrong sometimes, and on plus side I now have a large discography of his to work through in slow time and really get to grips with his catalogue. After some hesitation, I decided to also see one of his two UK headline shows used as warm ups for the Mötley Crüe tour. The tickets were a little on the expensive side I thought, but the fact it was local and that Michael Monroe was supporting persuaded me to go – and I am glad that I did! Plymouth has never been one of the greatest cities for live music, but it does alright. The Pavilions is one of the worst venues of its size I have been to, and I believe it does put some bands off. The sound was historically awful, but recently it seems to have improved somewhat. Machine Head’s gig in December sounded good, and the sound for both Monroe and Cooper was great. The show attracted a large crowd too, and place was full by the time Cooper hit the stage.

Before that however, former Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe (vocals/saxophone/harmonica) and his band delivered an excellent 40 minutes of pure punk rock for the gathering crowd. I saw him at High Voltage Festival in 2011, and have been a big fan of his since, but this is the first time seeing him live since then. As it was then, his set was made of pure energy, and he never stopped rocking until he walked off the stage. His recent solo career has been very strong, with three great studio albums released since 2011, with a largely stable group of musicians backing him up. His most recent album Blackout States was released earlier this month, and his set contained four songs from it; along with other solo material and songs from his bands Hanoi Rocks and Demolition 23.. Steve Conte (guitar/vocals) and Rich Jones (guitar/vocals) made for a formidable guitar pairing, as the two traded riffs and solos throughout, and they are great foils for Monroe’s energy. It was certainly a crowd pleasing set, with plenty of big choruses and memorable moments. Early highlights were the new number This Ain’t no Love Song and older solo track Trick of the Wrist which both seem to go down very well. More and more people seemed to be getting into his set as it went along, and the final three songs were probably the best. Demolition 23.’s Hammersmith Palais, Hanoi Rocks’ Malibu Beach Nightmare, and his own Dead, Jail or Rock ‘n’ Roll made for a rousing closing trio. The setlist was:

This Ain’t no Love Song
Old King’s Road
Trick of the Wrist
Ballad of the Lower East Side
Man With no Eyes
Goin’ Down With the Ship
Hammersmith Palais [Demolition 23. material]
Malibu Beach Nightmare [Hanoi Rocks material]
Dead, Jail or Rock ‘n’ Roll

What Michael Monroe has in energy, Alice Cooper has in showmanship. From the outset, Cooper’s performance was spot on as he and his band delivered a great set made from material from throughout his career. Early on in the set, the songs came thick and fast. Classics like the AOR-friendly House of Fire, the anthemic No More Mr. Nice Guy, and the raw Billion Dollar Babies all went down really well as Cooper strutted his stuff on the stage. His band were excellent too. No less than three guitarists: Nita Strauss, Ryan Roxie, and Tommy Henriksen all took turns to solo and complimented each other well; while Chuck Garric (bass guitar/harmonica/vocals) and Glen Sobel (drums) laid down some solid rhythms. Sobel seems to be invigorated from his few fill-in dates with Mötley Crüe, and he played really well all night, especially during his solo section in the newer song Dirty Diamonds. Other newer material such as I’ll Bite Your Face Off and Wicked Young Man were also played and went down as well as the classics. The first half of the show focused more on music, and the second half was heavy on the theatrics. Go to Hell saw Cooper with his trademark snake before Feed my Frankenstein really got things going with a mad scientists slab and a huge Frankenstein’s Monster puppet. The medley of Ballad of Dwight Fry, Killer, and I Love the Dead saw the most theatrics however, with a creepy nurse character acting with Cooper before he was ‘beheaded’ via guillotine. He has been doing this trick for years, but it was still a lot of fun to see. The covers section that followed was a little odd however. While I enjoyed it, I would have rather he played more of his own stuff – especially as he has plenty of albums to draw from! Two classics I’m Eighteen and Poison rounded out the main set and the band left the stage to huge cheers. There was time for one more however, and School’s Out was the perfect way to end the evening with lots of confetti and bangs. The setlist was:

The Black Widow
House of Fire
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Under my Wheels
I’ll Bite Your Face Off
Billion Dollar Babies
Be my Lover
Lost in America
Hey Stoopid
Dirty Diamonds
Go to Hell
Wicked Young Man
Feed my Frankenstein
Ballad of Dwight Fry/Killer/I Love the Dead
Five to One [The Doors cover]/Break on Through (to the Other Side) [The Doors cover]
Cold Turkey [Plastic Ono Band cover]
Manic Depression [The Jimi Hendrix Experience cover]
My Generation [The Who cover]
I’m Eighteen
School’s Out/Another Brick in the Wall – Part 2 [Pink Floyd cover]

Overall, this was a fantastic evening of music and showmanship in Plymouth that was enjoyed by all. It will not be long before I see Alice Cooper again, as I will be seeing him with Mötley Crüe next Tuesday!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Iron Maiden's 'The Book of Souls' - Album Review

There are few bands out there (from the metal world or otherwise) that have quite the legacy or status that Iron Maiden do. Since forming in 1975, and releasing their debut album in 1980, the band have continued to push boundaries and create metal music that is creative, memorable, and progressive. Their music dominated metal in the 1980s, and the run of five albums between 1982's The Number of the Beast and 1988's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is one of the best of any band. Things went slightly downhill after this, and it was not until the band's classic line-up reunited in 1999 that Iron Maiden retook their throne that they lost somewhat during the 1990s. The band's current six-piece line-up has been around since then and have written and recorded five studio albums, the most recent of which - The Book of Souls - was released last month to excellent reviews and the Number 1 spot on the Official UK Album Chart. The Book of Souls is the band's first double album and, running at over 90 minutes over the two discs, this means there is plenty of material to digest. As with all the band's albums since the 1999 reunion, the album has been produced by bassist and Iron Maiden founder Steve Harris; alongside Kevin Shirley, which gives the album a similar overall feel to Iron Maiden's recent work. The rawer 'live' sound Harris and Shirley seem to prefer for Maiden these days has it's pros and cons. It certainly helps to give the albums a great energy to them, but it also robs them of the epic feel that earlier albums had. The album's length also has it's pros and cons. On the one hand, this album certainly has value for money and there are lots of enjoyable songs here. On the other hand however there is some filler, and some of the songs have a tendency to outstay their welcome. This seems to be a problem that Harris (and the rest of the band to be fair as songwriting is fairly even in Iron Maiden these days) have a lot recently. Not every song has to be a progressive epic, and this seems to be something that they forget. That being said, there is still a lot to like about The Book of Souls, even if I feel that there are issues with it. The hype surrounding it was, of course, ridiculous too - which never works in an album's favour I think. A real standout part of the album though if frontman Bruce Dickinson's performance. He sounds as powerful as ever, despite undergoing chemotherapy earlier in the year for a cancerous tumour found on his tongue. Luckily he has made a full recovery with his trademark expressive vocals still intact!

Despite starting with two great tracks, disc one is overall the weaker half of the album. If Eternity Should Fail is a great opening track however, and the swirling keyboards from Harris and long-time sideman Michael Kenney create some excellent initial atmosphere. Dickinson sings well over this soundscape, but it is not long before the rest of the band join in with a traditional burst of harmony lead guitar and a prominent bassline. This is the sort of song that makes modern Iron Maiden albums so strong, yet still manages to feel a little different. The powerful mid-paced feel of the song gives it a real anthemic quality, and Dickinson puts in a great shift throughout; especially during the catchy chorus. The pace does pick up towards the end however, with a great instrumental section that sees all of the band's three guitarists playing off each other while Harris' bass dances around them. The creepy ending is also good, with an effects-laden spoken word section that sits above some delicate acoustic guitar. Speed of Light is also very strong, and has all the hallmarks of a classic Iron Maiden single. There is an old school vibe surrounding this tune, that focuses just as much on the band's classic harmony guitar sound as it does on Dickinson's vocals. The soaring vocal lines here do reveal the rougher edges of Dickinson's ageing voice, but he still does a sterling job here and sounds very powerful. The guitars are what stand out for me throughout this song however, and there are a couple of great guitar solos part-way through that show off the skills of the players (I wish the album's sleeve notes would credit the solos!), and reinforces the band's classic sound. Despite opening well, The Great Unknown does see a drop in quality from the opening two songs. I really like the slower opening section, with a hypnotic guitar and bass combination that is a great contrast to the all-out rocking of the previous number. When the rest of the band join in however, it never really seems to get going. While the song is still quite enjoyable, it lacks the powerful melodies that make the best Iron Maiden songs so special. It is rather one-paced, and Dickinson's performance is a little strained at times. That being said however, there are still some great guitar moments. The Red and the Black is one of the songs that definitely outstays it's welcome. At over 13 minutes in length, there is a lot of fat that could be trimmed here. There are plenty of enjoyable moments throughout the song, but there is just not enough to justify it's length. The folky main guitar refrain is very memorable, as is the wordless chant section that is sure to go down well live. The more the song goes on however, you realise that it does not have much else to offer and keeps returning to these familiar motifs to re-spark interest. I feel there is a great five or six minute song here trying to escape! When the River Runs Deep sees the quality pick up again somewhat after the last two songs. It is a fast-paced rocker with a great guitar intro and a crunchy chorus that effectively slows the pace and makes use of big palm-muted power chords. This is a song that proves that often the simpler songs can be the best, and it plays to the band's strengths to make a memorable modern Iron Maiden classic. The guitar solo here has a lot of wah effects on it which helps it stand out, and it is a joy to listen to. The final song on disc one is the title track, co-written by guitarist Janick Gers (all songs up to this point have been written by a combination of Dickinson, Harris, and guitarist Adrian Smith). This is a rather epic, progressive number that has a great acoustic intro and a powerful orchestral accompaniment throughout. Eastern-style melodies are woven well throughout the song, and helps give it a specific identity. This song is a real grower, and deserves it's 10 minutes-plus length. It makes sure the album's first half ends well, and shows that the band can write longer songs without them being boring.

Disc two opens with Death or Glory, a great fast paced rocker that could have easily sat on one of the band's classic albums. Dickinson is at his expressive best throughout the song, and his performance is the highlight of the track. The guitar work is a little more restrained here, but the bouncy main riff is still very effective at building excitement as the track progresses. The chorus and pre-chorus sections are very stirring, with excellent vocals and rhythms. I am sure this song will go down well with any Iron Maiden fan, as it manages to capture the band's early feel really well and is very easy to get into. Shadows of the Valley, another Gers composition, opens out sounding like the 1986 single Wasted Years, but it soon turns into another bouncy guitar-led tune as subtle orchestrations swirl around the riffing. While the song is not as instantly catchy as others here, it has that epic feel to it that Iron Maiden are often known for. The orchestrations really elevate this track to new heights, and give it some real class. Another decent tune. Tears of a Clown, about the sad demise of Robin Williams, opens with some big ringing chords before a snaking riff takes over that leads into a simple verse that is dominated by Harris' bassline, with the guitars adding colour. It is the album's shortest song (the only one under five minutes long), and it arguably the simplest too. There is nothing complicated musically here, instead letting the poignant lyrics dominate proceedings. The fluid guitar solo sections is good too, with two distant sections to keep things interesting. The Man of Sorrows, guitarist Dave Murray's sole writing contribution to the album, is next and it is easily the weakest song on the second disc for me. I really like the song's opening section, but it then proceeds to lumber through many different sections rather clumsily with rather messy transitions. It has a very 'pieced together' feel to it, which hampers my enjoyment of the song. This is strange as I usually like songs that Murray writes for Iron Maiden, but this one I feel is poor. The atmospheric outro is quite good however, and has an old-school prog feel that works quite well. All thoughts of that song however are soon banished when the final track Empire of the Clouds starts playing. Dickinson's piano lines introduce what is the band's longest song to date. At just over 18 minutes long, the song never feels too long and is a true masterpiece. The way the piano and the orchestra mix together conjures up many great feelings, and when Dickinson's voice is added to the fray it creates something special. Iron Maiden have never sounded like this before, and shows what they can do when they think outside the box a bit. I did not know that Dickinson was an accomplished pianist, and I am glad he has decided to add his skills to the Iron Maiden cannon. Of course, there are plenty of great musical moments throughout the song as the three guitarists do their best to not be outdone by Dickinson. The song is a true progressive metal epic, and is one of the best things the band has ever done. The lengthy guitar-led instrumental sections are pure Iron Maiden in style, and the last sections after the pace picks up is very powerful with some soaring Dickinson vocals and tricky riffs. It ends as it began with delicate piano and ensures the band's sixteenth album ends on a high. Overall, The Book of Souls is a very good release from Iron Maiden despite some filler songs. Empire of the Clouds is worth the price of admission alone and really is rather fantastic. Now all we can hope for is some proper UK shows, as the headline slot at next year's Download Festival does not count!

The album was released on 4th September 2015 via Parlophone Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Speed of Light.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Delain - Bristol Review

Within the symphonic metal world, Delain are probably the band that writes the most accessible songs while still managing to pack a real punch. Since releasing their debut album Lucidity in 2006, the band have continued to grow and become one of the best loved bands of the genre, especially in the UK. This is the band's second run of dates over here supporting fourth album The Human Contradiction, which shows how popular the band are over here. This show in Bristol was also the first show of the band's current European tour, which sees a slight shake-up of the setlist and the addition of Merel Bechtold (guitar) as a full time member of the band, making Delain a six-piece, although she is a familiar face to Delain concert goers recently. Bristol's Marble Factory seems to be a good up-and-coming new venue for metal in the city. I saw Amaranthe there in March, and I am coming back again next month to see Leaves' Eyes. It seems to be a good place to see live music too, with a decent sound system and a convenient location. There was an excellent turn out too, which is always a good sign. This is more likely to convince promoters to book more gigs in Bristol, which is great for the South West.

Kyshera were the first band on, and they took a little while to get going. It did not help that the sound for the first few numbers was rather off, with the guitar buried in the mix and the drums dominating everything. Despite this, I could tell from the outset that they would not really be my thing, but they did not outstay their welcome. The sound improved as the set progressed, and the songs towards the end of the set improved too. They had a good energy to them, but I did not feel the songs had that much melody. The crowd seemed to warm to them more and more as the set went on, but I am afraid that they are just not for me.

The Gentle Storm, the tour's main support, were next and they were much better. A project formed by Ayreon mastermind Arjen Anthony Lucassen and former The Gathering frontwoman Anneke van Giersbergen for a double album called The Diary released earlier this year, van Giersbergen has formed a live band to take the material on the road. It is safe to say that The Gentle Storm is not Lucassen's best project, but there are enough good song to make it memorable. van Giersbergen has a great voice too, and she is a focus of the album. She is joined by guitarists Bechtold and Ferry Duijsens (the former doing double duty with Delain), Johan van Stratum (bass guitar), Ed Warby (drums), and Marcela Bovio (vocals). These musicians form a tight unit, and their set made for an enjoyable experience. Half of the set came from The Diary, while the other half came from songs from van Giersbergen's other musical adventures. The highlights for me were The Gentle Storm original songs, especially set closer Shores of India, but the set made me realise how great van Giersbergen is. I really need to check out her former band The Gathering, as the couple of songs they played from that band's catalogue sounded great. The setlist was:

Heart of Amsterdam
Brightest Light
The Storm
Eléanor [The Gathering cover]
Witnesses [Agua de Annique cover]
Strange Machines [The Gathering cover]
Fallout [Devin Townsend Project cover]
Shores of India

Despite an impressive set from The Gentle Storm, it was Delain that we were all here to see and they pulled out all the stops. Three songs from the band's latest album got things off to a great start, with the heavy Tell Me, Mechanist being the highlight. Frontwoman Charlotte Wessels and Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije (bass guitar/vocals) traded vocals well throughout the song, the latter's harsh vocals mixing well with Wessels' gorgeous delivery. The set contained a mix of classic favourites and songs that had not been played live for a while. Early single Frozen was one such track, and it went down a storm with the crowd. From the distinctive opening keyboard riff from founding member Martijn Westerholt, the song captured the attention of the crowd and everyone in attendance was having a good time. Set regular April Rain went down well as usual, before another oldie Silhouette of a Dancer was wheeled out. This is one of my favourite Delain songs, so it was great to hear it live. They even debuted a brand new song called Turn Out the Lights, which seemed to go down really well. On first listen, the song sounded great, with a memorable chorus that I am sure will go down well when Delain record and release their fifth studio album. After this, the rest of the set was packed full of classics. The catchy singles Get the Devil Out of Me and The Gathering saw everyone singing along, before the epic The Tragedy of the Commons and Not Enough brought the main set to an end. There was still, of course, time for more; and a three song encore followed. Mother Machine, Stay Forever, and closer We are the Others had the whole place rocking, and ended a triumphant set well. The setlist was:

Tell Me, Mechanist
Army of Dolls
Milk and Honey
Sleepwalkers Dream
April Rain
Silhouette of a Dancer
Turn the Lights Out
Get the Devil Out of Me
The Gathering
The Tragedy of the Commons
Not Enough
Mother Machine
Stay Forever
We are the Others

Overall, Delain's set was amazing and the large crowd made their appreciation known throughout. I am sure this tour of Europe will be successful, and I look forward to hearing Delain's next album whenever it is ready. As an added bonus to the night I got van Giersbergen and van Stratum's autographs on my copy of The Diary after the show.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Amorphis' 'Under the Red Cloud' - Album Review

Finland's Amorphis have been around since 1990, and have gone through quite a lot of changes since their 1992 debut album The Karelian Isthmus. Amorphis started out playing death metal, with hints of doom and folk, which made them popular in extreme metal circles. Their second album, 1994's Tales from the Thousand Lakes, is considered a bit of a classic in it's field - something that the band recently celebrated by playing the album in it's entirety live for it's 20th anniversary. Since former frontman Pasi Koskinen's arrival in 1995, the band gradually moved away from their death metal roots, instead taking a more progressive direction focusing on Koskinen's clean vocals. 2005 saw another big change for the band as Koskinen was out and current frontman Tomi Joutsen was in. The band's line-up has been the same ever since, and Amorphis' modern sound has been honed over the last ten years. Joutsen brought back the harsh vocals in a big way, and his ability to transition effortlessly between clean and harsh deliveries made him the perfect frontman for the band. 2006's Eclipse, the band's seventh album, was really the start of the Amorphis we know today. The mix of Joutsen's versatile vocals, founding member Esa Holopainen's soaring guitar leads, and Santeri Kallio's prominent keyboards are the key factors of the band's modern sound - which could be classed as a heavy brand of folk metal, with plenty of death/doom influences. Amorphis have always been influenced by Finnish folklore and music, with many of their lyrics being based around the Kalevala which is a compilation of poetry based around Finnish and Karelian folklore. The band's last album, 2013's Circle (which I never had chance to review but talked about briefly here), is probably my favourite by Amorphis. The songs on that album are so catchy that you cannot help but be drawn in. It is an album that hit me right away, and it is still one I listen to fairly often. This is possibly why I was initially disappointed with Under the Red Cloud, the band's twelfth album. The improved production from Jens Bogren impressed me right away, but the songs took a little while to sink in. Each listen has improved my opinion of it however, and now I think it will be considered as a future classic for the band. The folk elements are very prominent throughout this album, but the strong melodies the band are known for are still present; despite being a little less overt. It is worth noting that Chrigel Glanzmann (Eluveitie) provides a lot of folky instrumentation throughout this album, and this adds considerably to the overall sound

The album's title track, which gets things underway, opens with a catchy piano line from Kallio which is typical of the band's current sound. The song builds around this refrain as Holopainen's sharp lead guitar takes on the same melody and Tomi Koivusaari's rhythm guitar provides suitable crunch. Joutsen's vocals are excellent, staying mostly within his low clean range; with just a few growls unleashed for effect here and there. While the song has a very familiar feel, it does not feel boring because of it. Amorphis' sound is totally unique, and it is always good to see a band doing what they do best. An epic instrumental section later on sees some soaring guitar leads, before Kallio takes over with a fluid keyboard solo fit for a true progressive band. Him and Holopainen trade licks before a final reprise of the memorable chorus brings the song to a triumphant close. The Four Wise Ones is heavier, with some double bass drumming from Jan Rechberger, and some dense riffing from the band's two guitarists. Niclas Etelävuori's bass guitar soon takes over, and cuts through the mix with heavy precision. Joutsen's deep growls bring the doom metal element back to the fore of the song, but his use of higher screams in the choruses works well and creates some variety. While the song is heavy, it is still very memorable with plenty of big guitar and keyboard melodies. Glanzmann's folky additions also help to raise the profile of the track - especially during an ambient breakdown that features Aleah Stanbridge's (Trees of Eternity) effect-heavy vocals. Bad Blood starts out with a really catchy keyboard melody that sits well atop a crunchy guitar pattern. The verses are heavy, with a seriously infectious groove that sees Holopainen and Koivusaari lock in well together to create something meaty. The chorus is a lighter affair, with washings of atmospheric keyboard and Jousten's soaring cleans. In my opinion, he is a better harsh vocalist than he is a clean one, but I still love the tone his clean voice possesses. It has a cracked edge, but it works well in the context of the band's sound, and he is possibly the best thing to ever happen to Amorphis. The Skull is another heavy one, with washings of retro-sounding organ and Eastern-tinged guitar melodies. It is quite a progressive song, with lots of different moments throughout. The ambient instrumental section is my favourite with a bluesy guitar solo, before Kallio's piano takes over. This is one of the songs that has grown on my a lot over the multiple listens I have had of this album, but now it is a firm favourite. Death of a King was released online to generate some buzz for the album's release, and it is one of the most easily accessible songs on the album. The Eastern vibes remain, and the folky elements are pushed forward again despite the grunt-heavy verses. A typical Amorphis chorus elevates the song, and makes it very memorable and worthy addition to their canon.

Sacrifice was also released online prior to the album's release, with accompanying music video, and it is another extremely memorable and accessible song. A soaring guitar melody heralds the song's arrival, before a hypnotic, spiky verse takes over with some interesting guitar rhythms and sparse drumming. The chorus is easily the album's best though, and it is little wonder the band decided to shoot a video for this song. Holopainen also lets rip with an excellent guitar solo, showing that simpler catchy songs can also be musically interesting. This is one of my favourite songs on the album, simply for the fact that it is so memorable and enjoyable to listen to. Dark Path, with it's piano intro and harsh black metal-influenced verses, returns to the heavier end of the band's sound. This is another serious grower, but when the chorus comes in you will be hooked. Repeated listens reveal the beauty of the orchestral arrangement that surrounds the heavy verses, showing that heavy music is not without delicate moments. A chugging riff soon takes over, and sees Kallio lay down a repeating keyboard pattern as the strings swirl and rise around it. This soon drops out, and a simple piano and guitar movement takes us into a final, triumphant chorus. Enemy at the Gates sees the return of the Eastern sounds, weaved within the progressive instrumentation of this song. Etelävuori dominates with his pulsing bassline, and the verses have a strange sound about them that sounds like nothing the band have done before. The very metal chorus has some excellent harsh vocals from Joutsen, and sounds more like the band we know, but the verses are more interesting because of their unique sound. They sound more like something Orphaned Land would come up with! A keyboard solo is a late highlight of this song, and only does more to reinforce the Eastern feel. With a whistle intro, Tree of Ages returns to the classic Amorphis sound. It is a heavy song, with plenty of riffs that are straight out of the melodic death metal songbook, but interspersed with whistle-led melodic passages. While it does not capture the attention like other songs on the album, it is good to get back to more familiar territory after the strange Enemy at the Gates. It does include one of Holopainen's best solos too, as he mixes slower bluesy passages with extreme shredding to great effect. The album's closing number, White Night, is extremely impressive. It is a flat out gothic/doom metal track, with Jousten duetting with Stanbridge in a style that brings to mind bands like Draconian. The chorus is pure Amorphis however, and sees Joutsen's great clean vocals being put to good use. This song is a dense and heavy end to the album, and the duet style works well for the band. Overall, Under the Red Cloud is another great album in a run of great releases from Amorphis. While they stick to what they know most of the time, there are enough excellent songs here (and a couple of surprises) to keep things interesting. I imagine this album will be a big success for them.

The album was released on 4th September 2015 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Sacrifice.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Soilwork's 'The Ride Majestic' - Album Review

In the world of melodic death metal, Soilwork are a slight enigma. Other Gothenburg bands like In Flames and At the Gates seem to focus much more on the 'death metal' side of melodic death metal; with the melody coming from NWOBHM-inspired guitar leads. Coming slightly later than the genre's founding fathers, Soilwork have always placed a greater emphasis on melody than their peers. The use of clean vocals and big keyboard arrangements makes the band stand out from the crowd, and this works as the band's unique selling point. As a result, Soilwork would sit on a bill with Killswitch Engage as well as they would with Arch Enemy - such is their versatility. The band has hit a bit of a purple patch recently, with 2013's epic double album The Living Infinite proving there was life after founding guitarist Peter Wichers' departure the previous year. David Andersson stepped up to the plate to fill the songwriting void left by Wichers and creates what could be the band's best album. The Living Infinite is one of the most consistent double albums I have ever heard. I often find that they are full of filler songs, but the vast majority of tracks on The Living Infinite are excellent and show the band at the top of their game. Andersson's new songwriting partnership with frontman Björn 'Speed' Strid has developed here on The Ride Majestic, the band's tenth album. Strid's mix of clean and harsh vocals works as well here as it ever has, and Andersson links up with fellow guitarist Sylvain Coudret well to create the band's trademark twin-lead guitar sound. Long-time bassist Ola Flink left the band before work on this album began, so Andersson and Coudret share the bass guitar work throughout. Markus Wibom has since been announced as Flink's replacement. Sound wise, The Ride Majestic is similar in style to The Living Infinite. There are some changes however. Where The Living Infinite focused on big, memorable tunes; The Ride Majestic flirts a little more with the progressive side of the band's songwriting. The songs here are not as immediate as on the previous album, but they are still very good. I feel that the production is a little thinner too, and sometimes feels a little cluttered when there is a lot going on. A little more sonic clarity would have been preferable. That being said, The Ride Majestic is still a really enjoyable album. It is worth sticking with, as each listen opens up more of the album's great moments, and shows the veteran melodic death metal band still have a lot to offer.

The album gets off to a melodic start with the memorable title track. Clean guitars soon give way to a heavier sonic palate and an explosive verse that sees Strid using the harsh end of his delivery to great effect. The song is very typical of Soilwork's modern sound, and makes use of the chemistry of Andersson and Coudret; who make a formidable team. Drummer Dirk Verbeuren also impresses here, with a good mix of styles: ranging from thrashy double-bass drumming in the choruses, to a more laid back arrangement for the pre-chorus. It is a catchy opener, and does well to draw you in. Alight in the Aftermath is less accessible, but is more interesting as a result - and really shows what Coudret brings to the band from a songwriting point of view. It is a very heavy song, with lots of elements from extreme metal thrown in. Verbeuren's blast beat drumming kick you in the teeth and make you take notice, and Strid's vocals are really throat wrenching. It has a progressive feel too, as it changes mood often throughout. The part that moves from a heavy, almost death metal section into a groovy mid-paced riff with some 'pretty' Strid vocals is one such moment that stands out. The heaviness comes back though, and flirts with black metal somewhat with more blasts and really high, screeched vocals. Death in General strips back the extreme aspects and gives you something more like you expect from Soilwork. The verses are very laid back for the band, with a slight alternative rock feel; before the soaring chorus kicks in and takes you right back to the feel of The Living Infinite. There is a really good guitar solo here, that has quite a lot of David Gilmour's less-is-more style to it, that fits well within the confines of the song. It is a simpler song, but it is one that sticks in the brain with it's solid melodies. Enemies in Fidelity is the song chosen by the band to shoot a video for, and I can understand why they chose it. From outset, this was one of the standout songs. The verses are classic Soilwork, with big riffs and some epic harsh vocals from Strid. The chorus has a unique feel though, and Sven Karlsson's keyboards play a big role to create a dreamy soundscape that Strid sings over. His clean voice can be beautiful at times, and this is an example of that. It works really well, and the song stands out as one of the album's best. Petrichor by Sulphur (whatever that means..) is up next and it is a fairly standard song from the band. While it does not stand out like some of the others here, there is still plenty to like here. Some of the dual guitar riffing is excellent, and the multiple sections the song moves through keep it interesting. The Phantom follows and features the guest vocals of Pascal Poulsen (Odium). It is a bit of a strange song, with some haunting clean vocals that sit over some pretty heavy riffs, and bursts of harsh vocals to shake things up. They keyboard-led section about half way through is excellent, and shows Karlsson's skills, before Andersson takes off with a great guitar solo.

Although called The Ride Majestic (Aspire Angelic), this second title track bares little resemblance to the album's opening number. It is a good song in it's own right though, with some really memorable riffs and excellent drumming. It has a big tech metal feel in places, with lots of schizophrenic guitar patterns and choppy rhythms. There is a great instrumental section that features solos from Coudret, Karlsson, and Andersson; showcasing the instrumental prowess of the band. Whirl of Pain slows things down a little after plenty of fast numbers. It has some serious groove with a slow, crunching riff and hypnotic clean sections. Little keyboard melodies do their best to cut through the mix of guitars, and help to add an extra dimension to the song. The chorus is quite dramatic however, with a really emotional vocal delivery from Strid that shows what a great vocalist he can be. A heavier section follows, with fast drumming and a dense keyboard sound to envelop everything else. After a pretty heavy start All Along Echoing Paths becomes another rather standard Soilwork anthem. It contains one of the album's best choruses however, and this manages to raise the song beyond being just 'average'. The big melodies that come from the speakers during it are seriously infectious. The instrumental section and solo from Andersson towards the end are excellent too and have a real progressive feel to them. Shining Lights is another song penned by Coudret and it has the same mix of styles and feels as Alight in the Aftermath. His influence since joining the band in 2008 seems to have been inject a bigger dose of prog into Soilwork's sound - and to write songs like this. It is not as good as his earlier offering, but it contains a great guitar solo from him and plenty of solid riffing. His solo style is explosive and fast, a little like something you might expect from a Slayer album. The album's closing number Father and Son, Watching the World Go Down is an interesting one. Nathan Biggs (Sonic Syndicate) adds his vocal talents here along with Strid, and Karlsson's keyboards are very prominent and create a special feel for the song that evolves over multiple listens. His soaring leads are especially effective during the choruses as Strid really belts out the lyrics. Another great solo follows the heavy breakdown, and a final reprise of the chorus leads us nicely to the end of the album. Overall, The Ride Majestic is a strong album from Soilwork; but it is not one that reveals all it's magic at once. I feel that the band have got into a groove now, and have been perfecting this more mature sound since 2010's The Panic Broadcast. Fans of the band will obviously enjoy, and anyone who likes melodic metal with a slightly different edge ought to check it out.

The album was released on 28th August 2015 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Enemies in Fidelity.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Panic Room - Tavistock Review

For a while, it seemed like a Panic Room concert was always somewhere in my future but, until last night's concert in Tavistock, I had not seen the band live for over two years. That sums up the stark reality of moving back to Cornwall after spending three years in Leicester. The last time I saw the band was in Derby in June 2013, which was the day before I left Leicester for good to come back home. The band I saw that night were a band in transition. Guitarist Paul Davies had left, and Morpheus Rising axeman Pete Harwood was temporarily filling the void. It was still a great evening of live music, but did not quite match up to the date I saw on the Skin tour in Leicester's Y Theatre the previous year. Since then, the band's fourth album Incarnate has been released, and another guitarist in Adam O'Sullivan has come and gone. I missed a whole album touring cycle, something which I am annoyed with myself for - but I suppose now I am a member of the 'real world' I cannot do everything! 2015 seems to have been a great year for the band however. Dave Foster (who plays with Mr. So & So and The Steve Rothery Band) has joined the band as their new full-time guitarist, and an album of acoustic re-workings called Essence has just been released. Earlier in the year, the band embarked on the ambitious Wildfire tour, which saw the band playing both acoustic and electric sets, to great reviews. We are currently part-way through the second leg of this tour, and it brought the band back to Tavistock Wharf for their first show there since 2010! Gigs at The Wharf are always great, and this proved to be no exception. While the turnout was not exactly great (I expected better on a Saturday night!), the crowd there was very vocal, and all in attendance seemed to be really into what the band were doing.

The evening started off with an eight-song acoustic set from the band, which warmed the crowd up nicely for the rocking electric set to come. It also gave the band a chance to show off some of the new arrangements of old sounds found on Essence, and the two new songs written specifically for that album. Anne-Marie Helder (vocals/guitar/flute/percussion) was in excellent form all evening, sounded as good as she ever has. She is a captivating and dynamic frontwoman, and her vocal skills are always impressive. Song for Tomorrow was a good opening number, and worked well in it's stripped back form. Screens also worked well. The synth lead was replaced by Yatim Halimi's (bass guitar/vocals) funky bass riff, and he locked in well with Gavin Griffiths (drums/percussion) who was playing a cajón for the opening few numbers of the set. I liked all the new arrangements, but it was the new number Denial that was the highlight of the first set. It is a bluesy number, that moves between acoustic and rock sections, and is a perfect showcase for Foster's guitar playing. There were plenty explosive lead sections here, that were a taste of what was to come later in the set. I deliberately did not listen to Essence before seeing this show, as I wanted to experience the new arrangements live first. After seeing this, I am very excited to sit down with the album and really digest it.

After a short break, the band came back for the 'main' part of the set, which contained tracks from all of their four studio albums. Opening with the murky Into Temptation from Incarnate worked really well, and Foster's guitar skills were shown once again to be exemplary - he is probably the best guitarist they have ever had! Missing the entire Incarnate tour, it was great to hear some of those songs live. Four were included throughout, and they came across really well in my opinion. It was also great to hear Yasuni live again. That was always an early favourite of mine from the band's repertoire, and it has been absent from live sets for a little while now. Other early highlights for me were Picking Up Knives and the beautiful The Fall which never fails to conjure up plenty of emotions live. Helder sings it with such passion, and the rest of the band back her up with ease and finesse. Waterfall was another new one for me live. Jonathan Edward's keyboards really make this song, and the upbeat nature of it was a great contrast to the darker preceding numbers. The second half of the set saw the inclusion of some of the band's longer, more epic songs. The jazzy Chameleon always works well live, and the new arrangement with an ending flute solo from Helder adds to the song and makes it better than the original album version. The soaring ballad Skin is another emotional moment, and is probably one of my favourite Panic Room numbers these days. The way Helder sings it is amazing, and the whole arrangement is just great. The heavy Hiding the World shook things up a little, again Foster showcasing his almost-metal tendencies at times, before the swirling and dark Dust brought the main set to an end. Edwards' big piano chords drive this song, and it makes for a powerful ending number. There was time for one more song however, and the band came back to play an extended version of Sandstorms which saw each musician take a solo, which gave the song a 1970s jam feel. The setlist was:

Song for Tomorrow
Rain & Tears & Burgundy
I am a Cat
Black Noise
Into Temptation
Freedom to Breathe
Picking Up Knives
Tightrope Walking
The Fall
Hiding the World

Overall, this was a fantastic gig from Panic Room. It is quite possibly the best concert of theirs that I have seen, and all five band members were on fire. I believe this is the band's line-up the band have had, and I really look forward to hearing what they come up with on their fifth studio album whenever that is due. There are still some dates left on this Wildfire tour, so get down to one if you can!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Motörhead's 'Bad Magic' - Album Review

Motörhead need no introduction, as they are one of the most legendary rock acts in history. Making waves in both the rock and metal worlds, Motörhead made a name for themselves playing hard, fast, and uncompromising music that appealed to many due to it's simplicity and no-holds-barred attitude. Since releasing the enjoyable, yet generic Aftershock in 2013 (which I reviewed here) things have not been going well for the band - or, more accurately, for founding member and all-round rock legend Lemmy. It appears that, despite what seemed apparent for years, he is not untouchable. Since Aftershock's release, Lemmy's health has been in decline. A European tour for the end of 2013 was cancelled and then rescheduled for early 2014, only to be cancelled again; and, unfortunately, this situation has been fairly common since. I saw Motörhead at the Eden Project back in June of this year and, despite still putting on an enjoyable (if rather short) show, it was clear just how much Lemmy's heath has deteriorated. Years of hard drinking, drug use, and touring has finally caught up with him, and he is a ghost of his former self. Dates on the band's recent tour of America were also cancelled, leading to much speculation about the band's future. Due to these factors, I had fairly low expectations for Bad Magic, the band's twenty second studio album. I wondered just how much Lemmy had left in the tank to produce songs that match Motörhead's traditional energy and speed. This is why I was surprised that, when the album arrived in the post, it turned out to be as strong as it is! While I am not the world's biggest expert on Motörhead, I feel that I know enough about them to be able to effectively judge their output. I have bought more Motörhead albums this year, and find myself becoming more and more a fan of them as time goes by. Produced again by Cameron Webb, Bad Magic is easily the band's best album for quite some time. It is certainly better than both preceding albums: 2011's The Wörld is Yours and Aftershock; despite both of these albums containing some great songs. The band just seem revitalised once more which, considering Lemmy's health problems, is a big surprise. Guitarist Phil Campbell's riffs are full of energy and fury once again, and drummer Mikkey Dee has picked up the pace again after relying more on groove on the more recent albums. The chemistry of the three musicians is clear here, and this is a fun album to listen to because of it.

The album gets underway with Victory or Die which is classic Motörhead. Campbell's bluesy riffing drives the song, and forms the backbone of the entire album. From the outset, you can really feel the energy that the band has on this album, and Lemmy's voice still sounds strong despite his recent health issues. It is a furious song that recalls Motörhead's past, and is a perfect way to get this album going. Campbell lays down a great solo midway through, before Dee takes over, laying down a solid beat for Lemmy to sing over without anything else. A strong track, and one all rock fans will enjoy. Thunder & Lightning picks the pace up further, and comes rushing out of the gate with another big riff and driving bassline. The chorus is a little more pegged back, but this is to shine a light on Lemmy's vocals, which are strong and melodic. It is a very memorable chorus, as is Campbell's short, explosive guitar solo that follows. He, in my mind, has always been a very underrated player and on this album he shows his skills well. After that hard and fast double salvo, the groove-based Fire Storm Hotel slows things down a little. It is a great mid-paced rocker built around a solid bassline and some barked lyrics from Lemmy. Again there is a memorable chorus, but the highlight here for me is the instrumental section that sees both guitar and bass trading short leads before morphing into a bluesy, wah-drenched solo. Shoot Out all of Your Lights is a bit of a showcase for Dee, whose double-bass drumming is used extensively throughout. He is a very talented drummer, and this song shows how his simple, but uncompromising style has been perfect for Motörhead since he joined the band in 1992. This is another fast song, and one that Motörhead fans will lap up gleefully. The Devil is another groovy tune that features Brian May (Queen) performing the song's guitar solo. Despite this, Lemmy's bass is actually the dominant instrument here. It's signature growl fills your speakers throughout, and drowns out Campbell's riffs. The solo is not instantly recognisable as May, as it does not really use his signature sound, but it is a great burst of energy from the legendary Queen founder. Lots of the songs in the middle of this album are short, and Electricity is the shortest of all. It is fast, yet unremarkable, but still sounds like Motörhead. It is the sort of song that we have come to expect from Lemmy, so it passes without making much of an impact. Evil Eye is much the same, and is only a few seconds longer than Electricity. They are both filler tracks to an extent, but neither are particularly bad - there are just better songs here.

Teach Them how to Bleed starts off with some bluesy lead bass from Lemmy, before exploding into another fast rocker with some excellent guitar work throughout from Campbell. The riffs throughout the verses are great, and really bring out the best in Lemmy's voice. It also contains what could be the best guitar solo on the album, with plenty of fast blues licks, and hard bends. Dee attacks his drum kit with venom too, and this song gets the album back on track after a couple of less interesting tunes. Till the End is one of the slower, almost ballad-like songs, that Motörhead have been doing recently. Big clean guitar chords mix well with Lemmy's tamed bass sound to create an interesting sound that Lemmy sings well over. The sparser sound reveals the limitations of Lemmy's voice, but this actually suits the ballad-type song in my opinion. You can actually hear the emotion in his delivery, which gives the song a different to feel to the rest of the album. Tell me Who to Kill picks the pace up again with some more classic Motörhead riffing. Like Electricity and Evil Eye though, it is slightly generic and does little to excite. The riffs and melodies just do not stand out as much as they do on other songs here, which makes it one of the weaker efforts. Choking on Your Screams is better. The mid-paced, bass-heavy riff has a rather sinister feel to it, and Lemmy uses a deeper vocal delivery than usual which helps to add to this feeling. It is a very crunchy song with plenty of attitude and power. Motörhead do this sort of song well, and this one is full of plenty of big hooks to keep you listening. When the Sky Comes Looking for You starts out sounding a bit like Uriah Heep's Easy Livin', but soon ends up sounding like Motörhead again. There is a very bouncy, 1970s classic rock feel to it though, which makes it one of the few Motörhead songs with a true up-beat feel. I think it works in the song's favour, as it makes it stand out from the pack. Campbell's excellent guitar work also helps with this, and he lays down plenty of memorable licks here. The album ends on a slightly strange note with a cover of The Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil, which actually works surprisingly well. It is pretty faithful to the original, but works well with Lemmy's voice and big bass chords. Campbell lays down some piano here too, which shows he is a multi-talented chap, and it adds something to the traditional Motörhead sound. The percussive sound here is really enjoyable and, as far as covers go, it works well. Overall, Bad Magic is another very enjoyable album from Motörhead. It is probably their best for a few years, and it helps to show there is life in the old dog yet, despite all the worrying reports out Lemmy's health.

The album was released on 28th August 2015 via UDR GmbH. Below is the official promotional video (made by fans for a competition) for Thunder & Lightning.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Paradise Lost - Wolverhampton Review

Paradise Lost is a band I have been slowly getting into over the past few years. My interest in them began when I made the decision to go and see the live in Nottingham in 2012 (in the days when a trip to Nottingham was a common evening out, rather than a rare weekend away) to see them on the Tragic Idol tour. Their sullen, doomy set impressed me, and I have amassed a collection of their albums since and enjoy listening to them when I am in the right mood. Earlier this year, the band released The Plague Within (which I reviewed very favourably here) which was a throwback to their earlier sound. Singer Nick Holmes' harsh vocals were brought back with bells on, and the album was the heaviest the band had sounded in ages. When they announced a run of UK shows to promote the new album, I knew I had to go and see them again. Wolverhampton was the best option of all, as it fell on my weekend off so no time off from work was needed. Wolverhampton was a place I used to go to occasionally when I was at university to see bands. It is not a hotbed of live music like London, Nottingham, or Birmingham - but it does well for itself. The Wulfrun Hall is the only venue I have been to in the city, so it was good to go back (the last time I was in the city was to see Tyketto last March!). Wolverhampton is a strange place, but the Wulfrun Hall is a good venue for live music. I took my place about half way back in the hall (it was about two thirds full by the time Paradise Lost came on, so there was a decent sized crowd) to watch the action unfold.

Lucifer were the first band on, and they seemed to impress the crowd throughout their short set. They had a very 70s feel, with lots of doomy riffs reminiscent of early Black Sabbath and psychedelic guitar leads. Frontwoman Johanna Sadonis was the band's secret weapon though. While their music was fairly derivative, her voice was powerful, with a strong bluesy feel that suited the psychedelic elements of their music. While I enjoyed what they were doing, by the time the set was coming to an end I could not help but feel that all their songs were very similar. Gaz Jennings (guitar) impressed with some good extended solos, despite seeming to miss the memo about dressing like it was 1971! Overall, I felt that Lucifer were quite good, but needed a bit more variety if they are ever to progress beyond their current standing.

Tribulation, from Sweden, were a whole different beast however. While I was initially confused by their hybrid sound, as their set progressed I found myself being drawn further and further into their world. While at heart it appears that they are a black metal band, there is more than a huge chunk of (again..!) 70s-style classic and psychedelic rock. Harsh vocals from Johannes Andersson (vocals/bass guitar) mixed well with swirling atmospherics, heavy tremolo riffs, and extended bluesy solos - and the combination worked surprisingly well. The band have a very progressive attitude when it comes to songwriting, with each song stretching out over many different sections. There were often long instrumental sections that relied on atmosphere and mood for the most part, rather than spectacular instrumental pyrotechnics. That being said however, both Adam Zaars (guitar) and Jonathan Hultén (guitar) could play and both had chances to shine throughout with solos and riffs. I was impressed by the band, and have already ordered a copy of their latest album The Children of the Night, which I look forward to hearing when it arrives!

Despite a great set from Tribulation, it was Paradise Lost we were all here to see, so after a fairly quick change-over, the lights went down and the band came out with No Hope in Sight, the opening song from their new album. It took a few numbers for the sound to sort itself out. The second number was very difficult for me to work out what it was ( helped me out!), but thankfully it all settled down after a while. Holmes' voice was sometimes difficult to hear however, which was a shame. Despite these issues, the band performed well. Greg Mackintosh (guitar) has a real knack for melody, and his playing throughout was sublime. Whether he is laying down a crushing riff or a flowing solo - he always injects plenty of feel into his performance. The vast majority of the set consisted of the band's more recent material, with only a handful of songs coming from the band's older, more classic albums. Seven of The Plague Within's ten songs were played over the course of the evening, which shows how much faith the band have in the album. Gothic was an early highlight however, and went down well with the long-term fans. A highlight for me too was Tragic Idol, which is easily my favourite song from the band's last album. For the most part, the crowd seemed to be really into what the band were doing. Putting a lot of new material into a live set can backfire, but I think it worked well in this case. The Plague Within has been very well received by the fanbase, and the new songs were greeted with similar sized cheers as the classics - especially the heavy Beneath Broken Earth which was a highlight of the second half of the set. A couple of older songs rounded out the main set however. Bona fide classic As I Die went down well with plenty of singing from the audience, and the slightly newer epic Requiem made for a great set closer. That was not it though, and a four-song encore kept the crowd entertained for a bit longer. All four songs were great, but the highlights for me were the final two: An Eternity of Lies, a great track from the latest album, and the synth-heavy classic Say Just Words which saw yet more singing. The setlist was:

No Hope in Sight
Tragic Idol
Praise Lamented Shade
Victim of the Past
Flesh from Bone
Beneath Broken Earth
As I Die
Return to the Sun
Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us
An Eternity of Lies
Say Just Words

Overall, this was a really enjoyable gig from the veteran gothic metal legends. Paradise Lost seem to have been having a bit of a resurgence recently with a very solid string of albums and plenty of touring. Their popularity seems to have endured too, and I am sure it will not be too long before we have another UK tour on our hands. 

Friday, 2 October 2015

Disturbed's 'Immortalized' - Album Review

After the four year hiatus that started after the completion of the Asylum touring cycle in 2011 came to an end earlier this year, modern metal pioneers Disturbed are back with their sixth album Immortalized. For the last few years, the members of Disturbed have been working on other projects with varying levels of success. Frontman David Draiman formed the industrial project Device which saw short-lived success, and the duo of guitarist Dan Donegan and drummer Mike Wengren formed the band Fight or Flight which came and went without making a ripple. Bassist John Moyer was the busiest, spending time in metal supergroup Adrenaline Mob and Geoff Tate's version of Queensrÿche (since rebranded Operation: Mindcrime). For all concerned though, the draw of Disturbed was just too great. I, for one, am glad of this as Immortalized but just be the band's best album yet. I have always been a casual fan of the band, but their early nu metal sound turned me off somewhat. Slowly however, the band has drifted away from this sound and it is now mostly absent from their sound. Disturbed are now a great, polished modern metal band that rely on massive hooks, solid riffs, and a big production job that really gets the best out of their songs. Industrial and electronic elements are still present, but they mostly sit in the background to add colour to the songs, rather than dominate the riffs. Donegan's guitar is always the lead instrument, and is never overshadowed. Draiman's unique voice is in full flow here too. No-one out there quite sounds like him, and he has always been Disturbed's secret weapon. I would say that his performance on Immortalized is possibly his best ever committed to record. The range he displays throughout is very impressive, and he always manages to inject a tonne of emotion into his voice. The album's production is also very good, and Kevin Churko has done a good job. I am not usually a fan of his production style - I find it very murky - but his work here is very good. The guitars sound big and clean throughout, and the album has a very polish feel that suits the band's style well. A murky production would take the edge out of the band's powerful melodies, so I am glad Immortalized does not have that 'traditional' Churko sound. It is also worth noting that Moyer did not actually contribute to this album (he was presumably busy with his other projects). Donegan instead played all the album's bass guitar. Moyer is still a member of Disturbed however, and has played live with them since the hiatus.

After the understated but melodic intro track The Eye of the Storm, the album proper gets underway with the storming title track. From the outset, it is clear to see that Donegan has really upped his game when it has come to riff writing, and the guitar work throughout this album is excellent.  Immortalized is a great mid-paced rocker with classic staccato vocals from Draiman and a great drum groove from Wengren. Draiman's chorus barks are infectious, and really raises the song to the next level. It is a song that proclaims that Disturbed are back, and it does this with aplomb. Lead single The Vengeful One follows, and continues the good work the previous track started. This song is similar to Disturbed singles of the past, and relies on Draiman's strong voice to drive the song. The verses are full of the rhythmic vocals he is most known for, but it is a the pre-chorus that really showcases his skills. It is dramatic yet low-key at the same time, and leads into the fist-pumping chorus really well. The cartoonish video that accompanies also seems to be paying tribute to their past style. Open Your Eyes follows, and it is one of my favourite tracks from the album. The song is packed with classic rock swagger, and carries a great groove throughout the verses that is backed up by some excellent electronics. The trademark of strong choruses continues, with an anthemic offering that makes great use melodic backing vocals and a catchy refrain that makes it hard to get out of your head. I imagine this song will become a live staple for years to come. After three excellent tracks, The Light sees a slight slump in quality. It is a more restrained song that, despite not being as good as what has come before, is still enjoyable. It features a slightly different side of Draiman's voice in the verses, which shows that he is more than a one trick pony. The quality picks up again with What are You Waiting For, which is a fast metal song that is sure to get the blood pumping. The mixture of slower, crunching verses; with a speedy chorus really works - and ensures this song will not be forgotten quickly. Draiman is extremely expressive here, and his verse vocals showcase his unique skills. Donegan's riffs are also excellent, especially the snaking effort during the chorus that sounds a little like something out of Lamb of God's catalogue. He also lays down a great solo that is one of the real guitar highlights of the album. You're Mine is an interesting tune. It has a slight Rob Zombie feel in places, with big dance rhythms and prominent synths. The chorus is pure Disturbed and features some classic melodramatic singing and big guitar sounds. What makes this song great though are the industrial rhythms and synths. It makes it stand out from the raging metal found elsewhere, and shows the band are willing to branch out sometimes and do something a little different.

After a really excellent first half of the album, the second half takes a dip somewhat. Never fear though, there are at least a couple of stonking tracks still to come however! Who is not one of them though. It is a rather nondescript song, that really sounds like Disturbed-by-numbers. The chorus is rather lacklustre, and lacks the power the band are known for. It chugs along without ever taking hold, and is rather one dimensional all round. Save Our Last Goodbye is an improvement. The slightly odd spoken word intro is interesting, and the song contains some rather good riffs. I like the chorus here too. It is less in-your-face than the band usually are, but it still works because of the strong melodies. It gets quite heavy towards the end too, with Draiman almost unleashing some harsh vocals to great effect. This part then segues into a haunting piano-led sections which is direct contrast to what came before. This a very enjoyable section, and makes the song stand out. Fire it Up is another weak one in my opinion. The sound of the bong being lit up at the beginning is rather juvenile, and the song's subject matter (smoking weed) is equally so. I like Draiman's strange verse delivery however, which sounds different to what he usually does; and Donegan unleashes some great pinch harmonic riffing in certain sections. The song just annoys me a bit though, which makes is probably my least favourite on the album overall. Luckily, one of the album's best follows. Simon & Garfunkel's The Sound of Silence seems to be a favourite for metal bands to cover (Nevermore recorded an almost extreme metal version on their 2000 album Dead Heart in a Dead World), and Disturbed have done a superb job with it. Based around piano, acoustic guitar, and strings; the song is hauntingly beautiful with Draiman really shining. This is possibly his best vocal performance ever, and showcases his immense talent. Paul Simon is probably one of the most revered songwriters of all time, and it is great to see his songs living on through modern bands. I hope he would be proud of Disturbed's version, as it is truly fantastic, and very moving. Never Wrong, despite being a decent song, just seems a little flat after the majesty that has just passed by. Again, it is another song that has a Disturbed-by-numbers feel to it somewhat. I do really like the guitar solo however, which is really drenched in crazy effects that give it a unique feel. The album's final song Who Taught You How to Hate is another really strong one, that ensures the album ends on a high. The powerful mid-paced verses have a driving riff behind them, and the soaring chorus has a really strong groove. Donegan seems to be employing an e-bow for some guitar parts throughout this song, and it sounds really good. Overall, Immortalized is a great comeback album from Disturbed after a four year break. It contains some of the band's best songs yet, and one that is contender for 'Cover of the Year'! I hope they tour the UK with some new material soon!

The album was released on 21st August 2015 via Reprise Records. Below is the band's promotional video for The Vengeful One.