Sunday, 29 November 2015

Trivium's 'Silence in the Snow' - Album Review

Having long left their association with the American metalcore scene behind, Florida's Trivium have taken a lot of influence from classic hard rock and heavy metal when writing and recording their seventh album Silence in the Snow. Every Trivium album so far has had a unique identity, as the band has been careful not to repeat themselves too much. The band's last album, 2013's Vengeance Falls (which I reviewed here), was probably the least unique of their output. It lacked the pure thrash of 2006's The Crusade, the progressive feel of 2008's Shogun, and the heavy groove of 2011's In Waves. Vengeance Falls is not a bad album by any stretch. The songwriting is fairly strong throughout, and the production is excellent, but it just seemed to fall a little flat after the stronger albums that came before it. As a result, Silence in the Snow sounds like an attempt from Trivium to refresh their sound, and create another path for themselves musically. The result is strong, and probably my favourite album from Trivium since Shogun. As I said earlier, there is a big dose of classic hard rock and heavy metal throughout this album. Vocalist Matt Heafy has done a lot of work recently with vocal coaches on his voice, and the results of this are shown here. This is the first Trivium album to not feature any harsh vocals at all, a fact which has of course upset a lot of the flat-earthist metal fans, but it works well in the context of the album. Heafy has always had a strong singing voice, and that has only improved with time. Harsh vocals have always caused him problems with his vocal cords, so it is probably in his interest to focus on the cleans. Guitarist Corey Beaulieu handles the lion's share of harsh vocals live these days anyway, which gives Heafy more freedom with his clean vocals. This album also has quite a stripped-back vibe to it. The riffs are simple, but extremely catchy, and new drummer Mat Madiro sets a basic groove for each song without showing off to much. You could compare this album to Avenged Sevenfold's Hail to the King in that respect, but I feel the songwriting is stronger here. Produced by Michael 'Elvis' Baskette, who has worked with hard rockers like Alter Bridge and Slash in the past probably also influenced the overall sound and style of the album. Despite the album's accessibility and melodic quality, one of the biggest names in extreme metal, Ihsahn (Emperor), wrote and played the album's orchestral intro. It really fits in with the traditional style of the album though, and is the icing on the cake.

The aformentioned orchestral intro Snøfall sets a moody tone for the album, before the melodic title track takes over and really showcases Trivium's new streamlined sound. Paolo Gregoletto's bass guitar rumbles satisfactorily throughout the verses, after a tasty intro riff gets things going. The song's chorus is the first moment on the album where Heafy gets to demonstrate his improved vocal ability. He pushes his voice through a succession of ever-higher notes, and his new range is impressive. A dual guitar solo shows that Heafy and Beaulieu have lost none of their musical muses, before a final reprise of the epic chorus brings the song to a close. Blind Leading the Blind opens with one of the album's most memorable riffs, which has a little of their thrashier past in it, before a pacy verse dominates with more excellent vocals. When onstage at Bloodstock Festival earlier this year, Heafy said that the vocals and music of the late Ronnie James Dio had been a big influence on this album, and that can be seen here. Heafy is definitely channelling a little of the great man's spirit here, and that helps emphasise that old-school vibe. The song's chorus is very powerful, and probably one of the catchiest moments on the album. Dead and Gone has a very modern sounding feel to it, with a big down-tuned guitar riff with some good staccato rhythms. Gregoletto and Madiro lock in well together during the verses, creating an almost funky drum-and-bass combination that adds some serious groove to the song and follows nicely on from the main riff. The chorus soars with plenty of big backing vocals, and there is a short, but explosive, guitar solo that adds some speed to a song that is more of a mid-paced affair. The Ghost That's Haunting You opens with that riff that would not sound out of place on a modern Iron Maiden album, before the song's verse comes in and actually sounds a little like something that could have been featured on Shogun. Heafy's vocals have that rougher edge that he used a lot more in that era, and gives the song real crunch. Songs like this really highlight Baskette's production, and how good he has made this album sound. The bass always cuts nicely through the mix, and the kick drums have serious punch to them. The layers of backing vocals have a big classic rock feel about them, and helps to emphasise the song's chorus. Pull me from the Void opens with a Black Sabbath-esque riff, but it soon picks up the pace with some dual-lead guitar sections as Madiro drives things with his double kick drum pattern. The song's chorus is a little repetitive, but Heafy turns in another solid performance with some impressive use of his higher register, and the song's guitar solo has an old-school Trivium vibe.

Until the World Goes Cold is based around a tight, chugging riff which is a nice contrast to the spacey guitar arpeggio that makes up the main verse melody. These two guitar parts mix well together though as the song progresses, and the mix of styles is surprisingly enjoyable. This is a little like a metal version of Def Leppard, as the arpeggio reminds me of something that they might come up with, and that layers of backing vocals is also similar. It is a very melodic piece with a melodramtic vocal performace, and a neo-classical guitar solo that captures your attention. Rise Above the Tides is one of the album's most instantly accessible songs, with plenty of powerful melodies and riffs that stand out. The fast intro riff is full of infectious energy, and the rest of the song maintains this with some more poweful bass lines, double kick drum sections, and a big chorus that sees Heafy's vocals and the lead guitar competing for space and trying to outdo each other. I hope the band decide to play this song live, as I think it would go down really well if they did. The Thing That's Killing Me is a slightly thrashy song, with a frantic riff and a rough bassline that gives the song a harsh edge. It is still very melodic though, and retains that classic metal sound despite the heavier nature of it. The song's chorus still soars as you would expect by know, and the guitar solo section is probably the longest and most expressive of the whole album - with plenty of fluid runs and shredding. With the majority of this album being quite upbeat, Beneath the Sun takes a slight diversion from this and adds a little bit of doom to the formula in places with big, ringing chords and a slow, precise drum beat. Heafy's vocals have a double-tracked feel to them, which brings about thoughts of Alice in Chains during the verses. The chorus picks up the pace somewhat, and is more similar to the sound found elsewhere on the album, leaving behind the doomier sound temporarily. The change of feeling on this song works well, and helps give the album a more three-dimensional feel and stops it from becoming too samey. Breathe in the Flames is the album's final number, and imediately picks up the pace from the previous offering with some of Madiro's fastest footwork on the album. Out of all the songs on display here, this is probably the most progressive offering with a selection of contrasting riffs and tempos that create a slight schizophrenic atmosphere, but it somehow all comes together well to create an enjoyable song, and one that works well to bring the album to a close, as a sombre acoustic guitar line leads us to the finish line. Overall, Silence in the Snow is a strident album that clearly shows the direction Trivium want to take going forward. The classic influences work within their already-established style, and I hope for more material like this in the future.

The album was released on 2nd October 2015 via Roadrunner Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Silence in the Snow.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

W.A.S.P.'s 'Golgotha' - Album Review

While W.A.S.P. were a big part of the hair metal movement in America in the 1980s, they were always a much heavier band than that. They were almost anti-hair metal, with a darker take on the image, and metal anthems that were as catchy but much heavier and grittier. They were also one of the most controversial, with lyrics and a stage show created to shock. This notoriety seemed to wear a little thin however, and by 1989 W.A.S.P. were taking a much more mature approach to songwriting and presentation. Fourth album The Headless Children is arguably the start of the W.A.S.P. that we know today, and this was cemented on 1992's The Crimson Idol, who's emotional concept and melodic metal presentation would easily make it into my Top 10 Albums of All-Time list if I was to make one. The majority (although not all) of W.A.S.P.'s studio output since has contained the hallmarks of those two seminal albums. While their first three albums are arguably their most famous and commercially successful, it is throughout the rest of their career where W.A.S.P. have been their most creative and interesting. Two decades on and W.A.S.P. are still going strong, and their fifteenth album Golgotha was released last month. This is the third album on the trot to contain the band's most recent line-up, consisting of: the band's founder and leader Blackie Lawless, guitarist Doug Blair, bassist Mike Duda, and drummer Mike Dupke. Dupke actually left the band before the album was released, but he plays on the album and puts in a good shift. No official replacement for him has yet been announced. Sound wise, Golgotha shares similarities with 2007's Dominator and 2009's Babylon, the band's most recent two albums. The production is almost identical, and Lawless has done well to create continuity between the releases. With six years passing between Babylon's release and Golgotha's, expectations were certainly high. The lengthy '30 Years of Thunder' tour undertaken by the band in 2012, and Lawless' broken leg and long recovery time certainly put the album's production and release back, but it is with us now, and it is certainly another strong offering from the band. Recent W.A.S.P. will certainly never match up to the legendary first five albums, but Lawless and his band have written and produced another collection of classy metal songs, that range from anthemic rockers to atmospheric ballads. A production style that was a little rougher around the edges would have probably made the songs sound even better, but the quality of the songwriting cannot be denied. Some of the band's most ambitious songs in a while are on this album, along with some of the best guitar work ever seen on a W.A.S.P. album courtesy of Blair.

Lead single Scream is very typical of the band's modern sound, and is remarkably similar to the opening numbers from both Dominator and Babylon. The ringing guitar melody is classic W.A.S.P., and the song contains a rousing chorus where Lawless demonstrates that his unique voice is still completely intact. Keyboards have become a big part of the band's studio sound over the years, and a dense but melodic organ sound surrounds the song and makes it sound huge. Blair opens his account here with the first of many excellent guitar solos. This one is fast and melodic, with plenty of sweeping runs. The moody but catchy W.A.S.P. sound is present here, and Scream sets the tone for the rest of the album. Last Runaway actually has a little of Born to Run era Bruce Springsteen about it, while still be unquestionably W.A.S.P.. Duda's bass guitar shines through with a nice growl, and propels the song along at a decent pace, while Lawless' rough vocals sit well above the bed of keyboards and big power chords. As well as the Springsteen feel, there is a strong dose of AOR here. This is one of the most instantly accessible songs in the W.A.S.P. catalogue, and it would be a great entry point for new fans. Shotgun starts out sounding very similar to oldie 9.5.-N.A.S.T.Y. (I will put it on record here that that song title really annoys me!), and is probably the most old-school song on the album. It is a dirty song, with a big riff and some really snarly vocals from Lawless that shows he has lost none of his bite. He has always had a knack for pulling of those great howls, where he holds a powerful note for a long time. This song is full of those, and it really brings back memories of those early albums. There's another excellent solo here, with what sounds like a lot of whammy bar use to get some crazy effects on the notes. After three rockers, Miss You comes in as the album's first ballad. Apparently this song was originally written during The Crimson Idol sessions, but was never used at the time. Lawless has resurrected it here and it is one of the most epic ballads the band have ever produced. Lawless, as well as being able to howl and snarl with the best of them, has a great voice for ballads. The slightly cracked quality only makes his ability to convey emotion much greater, and that is displayed here. The song slowly builds up during the verse, as layers of dark, clean guitar pile up and Dupke's drums slowly become more powerful. By the time the song reaches the chorus, the song has taken off and it really takes hold. There are countless guitar solos throughout this song, and some go on for quite a while. Blair plays his heart out here, and lays down some of his best ever lead work. In contrast, Fallen Under seems a little weak. It maintains that ballad feeling, but with a little more speed, but it pales in comparison to the masterful Miss You that came before. It is repetitive, and probably the album's weakest song.

Another epic, Slaves of the New World Order, follows. It starts off slow with some wordless vocals from Lawless, but it is not long before a crunching riff comes in that also takes you back to W.A.S.P.'s glory days. I have always liked the way Lawless uses his drummers to compliment riffs. Drummers in W.A.S.P. are far more musical than in a lot of other bands, and they use the beat to actually improve the feel of the riff rather than just back it up. This song is a good example of that, and Dupke plays well on his final outing with the band. Half way through Blair launches into another guitar assault, with plenty of mean string bends and fluid lead runs. This song feels like a distant relative of Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue), and the mid-section that sees most of the music drop out to be left with a strong keyboard note is very reminiscent of that song. The way it then slowly build up afterwards is also similar, but without being self-plagiarising. After the lengthy previous song, Eyes of my Maker is a simpler affair. It is a bit of a plodder, but it works well with a big bassline and a catchy chorus that works well despite the slower pace. It is definitely not one of the album's best songs, but it is still enjoyable with an performance from Lawless especially in the vocal department. Hero of the World is similar, but with more bite. Again it starts of slow, but the song builds up nicely, which is typical of the band. It has a very strong chorus too, which has the huge harmony vocals the band are known for. Lawless must spend a lot of time on backing vocals, as they are always excellent and really improve the feel of the song. The album's final song, the epic title track, is another high point. It is another long song, that has the feel of the ballad, but in truth it rocks harder than that. Blair's guitar is constantly bleeding melody, even when Lawless is singing. His bluesy phrasing and runs here are stellar, and he steals Lawless' thunder at times, despite another excellent chorus. This is one of the best songs the band has written in a long time, and it makes the perfect album closer. They ended their set with this song too when I saw them in Nottingham in September, and it also worked well in that context. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the song ends with another Blair workout that equals his efforts elsewhere. As I said previously, he is really on fire throughout this album, and has possibly cemented his claim as W.A.S.P.'s greatest lead guitarist. Overall, Golgotha is another great album from W.A.S.P. that sits well along with the rest of their recent discography. I envision that this is an album I will be playing a lot!

The album was released on 2nd October 2015 via Napalm Records. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Scream.


Monday, 23 November 2015

Slayer - Plymouth Review

Seeing three of the Big 4 within the space of a little over a week was not something that I planned, but that is how it turned out. Megadeth's excellent show in London last weekend was a great display of melodic thrash, and this weekend it was the turn of the pure thrash mayhem of Slayer in my hometown of Plymouth. Joining Slayer on their European Repentless tour are fellow Big 4 members Anthrax, which promised to be a heavy evening. Unlike the last couple of shows I have been to where they felt more like co-headline affairs, this show was certainly Slayer's, with Anthrax acting as special guests. I would have thought that Anthrax deserved equal billing with Slayer, but obviously the promoters do not agree. Plymouth Pavilions is not exactly a hotbed of metal shows, and never has been. This is the third time I have been there in the space of a year however, so things may be slowly picking up. Historically, the sound there was always awful - especially for metal bands. It appears however that during the time I was living away from Plymouth at University that things have improved. Machine Head sounded good when I saw them there last December, and last month's Alice Cooper show sounded fine. I am glad things have improved at the Pavilions, as I always felt the notoriously poor sound would put bands coming down to Plymouth, especially as the Pavilions is really the only large concert venue west of Bristol.

Support came from Norwegian metel band Kvelertak who played for about 30 minutes and warmed up the gathering crowd. While the band were not my thing at all, they certainly had a unique sound and put on a good show for the relatively short time they were on stage. They seemed to mix psychedelic blues rock with extreme metal, and that combination worked better than it should. The guitars had a retro fuzz to them, rather than the usual razor-sharpness of metal, which worked well with frontman Erlend Hjelvik black metal-esque growls. Some of their songs were quite droning, without any real riffs which helped to increase that psychedelic feeling. Some songs though had real classic rock swagger, with riffs straight out of the 1970s. Kvelertak were not my thing at all really, but they went down well with the crowd and it is always good to see something new that is outside your comfort zone.

Anthrax were probably the band of the night for me, and they totally owned the stage for the hour or so that they were up there. With a good mix of classics and newer songs, the veteran thrashers really entertained the crowd, and you could tell that many were there as much for Anthrax as they were for Slayer. I saw the band supporting Motörhead in 2012, and ever since I have been wanting to see them again. Pit anthem Caught in a Mosh was the perfect opening number, and Scott Ian's (guitar/vocals) huge riff set the tone for the rest of the set. Frontman Joey Belladonna only seems to improve with age. His energy is relentless, and he constantly runs across the stage and never misses a beat. He hit some pretty impressive high notes throughout the performance too! Fight 'em 'til You Can't from the band's last album Worship Music went down a treat, and the brand new number Evil Twin from an album to be released next year also received a large reception. The set ended with two of the band's best known songs. Indians had plenty of chances for Ian and Jonathan Donais (guitar) to show off their skills with some excellent dual lead guitar work. I will be interested to see what Donais contributes to his first album with Anthrax when it is released next year, as he impressed me last night. The set ended with Among the Living with the big gang vocal chorus that had everyone singing along. The setlist was:

Caught in a Mosh
Got the Time [Joe Jackson cover]
Fight 'em 'til You Can't
Antisocial [Trust cover]
Evil Twin
Hymn 1
In the End
Indians
Among the Living

After a fairly short changeover, where I moved further back in an attempt to avoid the pits and get a better sound, Slayer hit the stage with a bang with the title track from their new album. Throughout their 90 minute set, the sound was pretty good, with a decent amount of clarity. Gary Holt (guitar) was a little buried in the mix however, but that might have just been where I was standing, as I was more or less in front of Kerry King (guitar). The band's set was career-spanning with quite a few classics, album tracks, and a few from the new album Repentless. Early highlights were the anthemic Disciple, which has a big shouty chorus, and the classic War Ensemble which is pure thrash. Paul Bostaph (drums) is an absolute machine, and he played his heart out all night without ever missing a beat. That was an exercise in endurance, and he passed with flying colours. Tom Araya's (vocals/bass guitar) voice has held up well over the years, and he could mostly be heard clearly above the wall of guitars and drums coming from around him. The band's new material fit seamlessly into the set, with When the Stillness Comes standing out the most with it's moody bassline and evil spoken word-type vocals. As the set went on, all the of the band's most classic songs were wheeled out, including Seasons in the Abyss and  Dead Skin Mask, both of which went down a storm with plenty of singing and movement. The band's two most famous songs finished the night off however, with the evil riff of Raining Blood bringing probably the biggest cheer of the evening, before Angel of Death brought a heavy evening of an anthemic and thrashy end. The setlist was:

Delusions of Saviour
Repentless
Postmortem
Hate Worldwide
Disciple
God Send Death
War Ensemble
When the Stillness Comes
Vices
Madatory Suicide
Chemical Warfare
Die by the Sword
Black Magic
Seasons in the Abyss
Hell Awaits
Take Control
Dead Skin Mask
World Painted Blood
South of Heaven
Raining Blood
Angel of Death

While Slayer will never be one of my favourite bands, I am glad that I finally got to see the legendary band in action live. They are definitely worth seeing, and any metal fan should try and see them at least once. Anthrax stole the show for me however, and I cannot wait until Bloodstock next year when I will be seeing them again!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Queensrÿche's 'Condition Hüman' - Album Review

Queensrÿche are one of my all-time favourite bands, and the first that I got into that really showed me how great progressive metal could be. After owning one of their compilations for some time, I borrowed the masterpiece concept album Operation: Mindcrime from a friend, and my permanent love affair with the band truly began. If I was forced to pick my favourite album of all time, then Operation: Mindcrime would probably be it. The first album of theirs that I bought new was 2009's American Solider, and album that I still love, but it was around this time that I found out how unpopular the band's then-recent material was with many fans. It appears I am more tolerant than many Queensrÿche fans, as there it a lot of their later discography that I like, as many had given up on Queensrÿche as a creative force. 2012 however saw a big line-up change as original singer Geoff Tate was fired after the rest of the band finally got tired of his overarching control of the band's new material, setlists, and management. Former Crimson Glory frontman Todd La Torre and touring guitarist Parker Lundgren joined the band, and the self-titled album Queensrÿche (which I reviewed here) was released the following year. Queensrÿche was a real return to the band's glory days in both songwriting style and overall sound. While I enjoyed some of the material produced in the 'Tateryche' years (the informal name now given to the majority of the 2000s up until Tate's firing), the band's new line-up was producing music that sounded like the Queensrÿche I really loved! Queensrÿche is probably my most played album since it's 2013 release, as I marvelled at how one of my favourite bands could sound so fresh again. While it is by no means a perfect record - the production leaves a lot to be desired - it remains a favourite of mine. Fast forward two years and we now have the current Queensrÿche's second album: Condition Hüman, their fifteenth overall. Condition Hüman is everything Queensrÿche was and more. The production, courtesy of famed producer Chris 'Zeuss' Harris who has worked with Rob Zombie and Sanctuary among others, is huge and miles better than the over-compressed job done on Queensrÿche; and the songwriting is more adventurous and progressive. The short length of the previous album never bothered me, but this album shows what the band can really do, and have probably been itching to do for years. Founding members guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson, and drummer Scott Rockenfield have been given new leases of life by La Torre and Lundgren, and have produced their best album since 1990's Empire.

Foregoing the usual obligatory orchestral/atmospheric intro, the album's opening number Arrow of Time goes straight for the jugular with the twin-lead guitar riff, that is more Iron Maiden than classic Queensrÿche. Since the formation of the band's current line-up, Queensrÿche have been placing a greater emphasis on the metal side of their sound. One thing that is instantly clear is that La Torre's commanding performance on Queensrÿche was no fluke. If anything, his delivery throughout this album is much more diverse and convincing than before, and shows that the band has done well finding him. Arrow of Time is a simple song that races past in a flurry of guitar leads. The decent chorus is the album's first real hook, and a rousing gang vocal section near the end raises the energy somewhat. While Arrow of Time starts things off nicely, it is the next song Guardian that really gets things going. It has a much more classic Queensrÿche feel to it, with a tricky guitar riff backed up by some sombre leads. La Torre's vocals soar here, and little sections of discordant riffing add that progressive edge the band is known for. The chorus here is fantastic, with the rest of the band helping out La Torre in a 'call and response' type arrangement, which is very singable and pays tribute to the band's glory days in the lyrics. Both Lundgren and Wilton have a chance to solo, which shows that both have plenty of tricks up their sleeves; before a slower section shows the lower end of La Torre's register. A false ending leads to a heavy, almost industrial, outro with pounding drums and atmospherics. Hellfire also channels the band's classic sound, with a strange acoustic intro that gradually builds up with a melodic guitar lead. This is a mid-paced song with a driving riff, that is really enhanced by Rockenfield's playful drum beat that does a few things you might not expect. La Torre bellows the lyrics with a slight robotic, staccato quality that really fits in with the groove of the song's main riff. He hits some really great high notes here too, which shows his impressive range. The choruses are more low key, with a subtle backing of keyboards and delicate harmony vocals to back La Torre up. Toxic Remedy is one of my favourite songs on the album, and is probably the most instantly memorable on first listen. It has that AOR sheen that made Empire so successful, and uses simple melodies and riffs to carry the tune. Despite the really powerful chorus, the song has quite a sombre feel to it. Queensrÿche have usually had this feeling in their music, and still managed to make their songs catchy, which is no mean feat. The wall of vocals in the chorus is one of the things I have always loved about the band, and I am glad it is back. Selfish Lives is a very vocally driven song, as big chords serve as a backing for La Torre's varying vocal melodies, without ever really employing a main riff as such. The guitars come into their own however with some slow leads after the choruses that are set to a slow drum beat that creates a slightly uneasy feeling. This is a song that has grown on me over repeated listens, as I was not so keen on it at first. The eerie, ethereal mid-section is fantastic though as La Torre's wails lead into a melodic, old-school slow guitar solo. Eye9 is another favourite of mine, and opens with a bass lead from Jackson, and sets the groove throughout the song. Harmony guitars swirl around the song, and the punchiest, most infectious chorus of the album is to be found here. While not exactly following the classic Queensrÿche blueprint, this sort of song is the perfect modern sound for the band. I love the abrupt ending too, great stuff!

After the heavy Eye9, Bulletproof opens with some dark clean guitars that really bring back memories of the band's early album. While not quite a ballad, this song has a real emotion punch with a dramatic chorus with Rockenfield's excellent orchestrations. This song has a real 1980s feel to it, with a guitar solo that uses a little wah effects here and there to give it that emotional, slightly cracked edge. The symphonic edge to this song is great to get you in the mood for the second half of the album. While the first half was more straight-ahead heavy metal anthems, this second half shines the light a little more on their progressive side. Next song Hourglass is a good example of this, as a heavy riff soon gives way to a paired-back verse that has a lot going on musically. Rockenfield's drum beat has a slightly off-kilter feel to it, as a clean guitar arpeggio and tortured leads scream gently over the top of it. All of this is topped by a diverse performance from La Torre, but he really owns the chorus which is heavy, epic, and full of that wall of vocals that I love so much. The song changes up near the end, as a building chord progressive takes over as La Torre repeats a lyric over the top of it, in something that sounds different from what the band usually do. It works well though, and has a very modern feel without it sounding forced. Just Us is a jangly, acoustic-dominated piece that has shades of 1994's Promised Land or even 1997's Hear in the Now Frontier. It comes slightly out of the left field, and is certainly the most laid back song on the album. La Torre gets to show us a few different sides of his voice here: from the strange falsetto used at the beginning of the song; to the almost baritone croon that is used elsewhere. He really is a diverse and extremely talented singer, and it is clear just how he has helped to rejuvenate the band since joining in 2012. Despite this song not being a favourite of mine, I am glad the band have decided to include it on the album. It is fair to say that the post Promised Land albums are not the most popular ones in the band's discography, and Just Us owes a lot to the sound the band were attempting to court during that period. This would have sat happily on 2003's Tribe; and each listen to it only improves my opinion of it, and of the band for doing this and not falling intro the trap of just writing metal songs. All There Was is a proper metal tune however, and is easily the most straight forward of the album's second half songs. A pacey riff and shredded solo herald it's arrival, and the energy never lets up throughout. Sometimes you just want to rock out, and this song shows that Queensrÿche can do that as well as anyone. There are lead breaks aplenty here, and the guitar work throughout is stellar. This is one of Lundgren's writing contributions to the album, and shows what he brings to the table musically. It is great that he has become a greater part of the creative process on Condition Hüman, and his youthful energy is indispensable to Queensrÿche's regeneration. After a moody interlude piece called The Aftermath, the album's closing number Condition Hüman gets underway. The title track is the most ambitious song the band has penned in a while, with distinct sections that meld together seamlessly. The opening section reminds me of classic Pink Floyd actually, with a odd clean guitar riff and soaring slow guitar leads. It slowly builds around a epic chorus, that has all the hallmarks of classic Queensrÿche. It gets heavier after each one, until the song drops out Suite Sister Mary-style midway through as La Torre's low vocals are showcased. The song then builds up again to a melodic, soaring solo; before a furious ending with big guitars and thrashy drums sees the song to a heroic climax. Overall Condition Hüman is a truly fantastic album that I am sure I will be listening to for a long time to come. The resurgence of Queensrÿche since 2012 is nothing short of astonishing really, and I am sure with this album we are still near the beginning of a new and exciting journey.

The album was released on 2nd October 2015 via Century Media Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Guardian.


Thursday, 19 November 2015

Children of Bodom's 'I Worship Chaos' - Album Review

After a couple of fairly average albums, Finnish melodic death metal masters Children of Bodom returned in 2013 with their eighth album Halo of Blood (see my review of that album here). While 2008's Blooddrunk and 2011's Relentless Reckless Forever had their moments, they failed to match up the band's classic early output. The band built their solid reputation on a combination of black metal style vocals, heavy melodic death metal riffs, and the neo-classical virtuosity displayed in the interplay between lead guitar and keyboards. Halo of Blood showed that Children of Bodom could sound inspired and exciting again, and mixed the best of their flashy early albums and the more straight ahead sound found on 2005's Are You Dead Yet?. I was really hoping that the band's follow-up album would continue to build on the good work created on Halo of Blood and, I am glad to say that, I Worship Chaos has done just that. In many ways it is the perfect sequel to Halo of Blood, and builds upon what that album started and runs with it. The mix of the band's old and newer styles has been refined somewhat here, and the production remains strong and clear. Peter Tägtgren produced Halo of Blood, but for I Worship Chaos the band decided to produce the album themselves along with Mikko Karmila, who has worked with bands like Amorphis and Warmen in the past. This album also sees the first line-up change in Children of Bodom since 2003. Long-time rhythm guitarist Roope Latvala left the band earlier this year, and has not yet been officially replaced. Antti Wirman (Warmen), brother of keyboardist Janne Wirman, has been playing live with throughout the year, but a long-term replacement has yet to be found. As a result, I Worship Chaos is the first album in the band's history to be recorded as a four-piece, with Alexi Laiho handling all of the album's guitars as well as, of course, the vocals. This has not made a huge difference to the overall sound of the album, as Laiho's riffs and solos always dominated the band's sound anyway, with Latvala there to back him up. Laiho's guitar riffs are as razor sharp as ever, and he really shines throughout the album. The rhythm section of bassist Henkka T. Blacksmith and drummer Jaska Raatikainen are as solid and relentless as ever, and add the excellent foundation for Laiho and Wirman to add their melodic touches too. An interesting fact about this album is that it was recorded in an old warehouse, instead of in a professional recording studio, to help add to the album's ambiance.

The album gets underway with I Hurt and some spooky atmospherics that soon gives way to a big guitar riff that is reminiscent of the band's early work. Wirman's keyboards swirl around the riff, giving it a fine sense of melody, before a crushing riff heralds the start of the song's verse. This song is a thrasher, with Laiho spitting out the verse vocals over a frantic riff backed up by some excellent drumming. The song's chorus is slower, with gang vocals over a muscular riff that is quite infectious. Guitars and keyboards mix well throughout, matching each other and creating the big sound that the band is known for. My Bodom (I am the Only One) starts with staccato rhythms that are a good basis for Laiho's rough vocals, but the song soon picks up and transforms into a more fluid beast with big ringing chords and powerful bass guitar. The song's chorus is quite anthemic, with big stabs of keyboard and catchy vocals from Laiho. There is a short keyboard solo thrown in for good measure, but the song's last section is the best. Laiho lays down a massive riff while Wirman's keyboards dance above it adding plenty of melody. This section culminates in a great guitar solo, that forgoes the usual speed for precision. Morrigan, the album's single, is a great mid-paced rocker with an amazing opening riff that sees the unity between Laiho and Wirman once again which also acts as the song's main verse pattern. While most of Children of Bodom's best songs are the fast songs, they also do the mid-paced songs well. This is one of their best examples of this in my opinion, and the discordant chorus helps to ram this home. After the second chorus, the song drops out and leaves Wirman's keyboards to dominate, creating a haunting but melodic atmosphere. Horns is another fast song, and opens with a blast beat that morphs into an excellent thrashy verse with some extremely catchy guitar work. This is a straight ahead metal song, nothing else, but it works well the keep the energy of the album flowing and on a high. There are no real pauses for the band to catch their breath, the song is relentless. There is an excellent keyboard and guitar duel at the end of the song too, that manages to match the speed set by the rest of the song. Prayer for the Afflicted definitely feels like a break after the furious Horns. It is one of the band slower songs, which can often be quite hit and miss. This one falls somewhere in the middle, but is certainly more hit than miss. The keyboards create a wall of sound that works well as the slow guitar riffs churn over above them, and there are a few little instrumental breaks that add some much needed melody. Laiho's voice has never sounded that great in slower songs, but his howls during the choruses actually sound great. This is not a bad song at all, but lacks the spark of the other four previous songs.

The album's title track is another furious metal song, with a snaking guitar riff and Raatikainen's driving drum beat. There is a definite old-school vibe here however, as they keyboards really dominate the whole song, with plenty of stabs of dramatic strings and take emphasis away from the rest of the band. I like this, as keyboards became a little underused in the band's sound in recent times, so it is great to see Wirman back in a big way. Keyboards are what makes the band stand out from the rest of the melodic death metal crowd, so they are very important. Hold Your Tongue is another solid mid-paced rocker, with some great downtuned guitar patterns in the verses, that speed up as the song reaches the chorus. This is quite an anthemic song, with a good punk attitude and a classic rock-style chorus that would see plenty of fist pumping live as the crowd sung along with Laiho's lyrics. It also contains an excellent guitar solo that shows the best of Laiho's skills. As Children of Bodom move forward, his solos have improved. They contain much more melody than in the past, and are not just exercises in speed. After a fairly low-key intro, Suicide Bomber really kicks off with a fast, grinding riff that nods to the band's extreme metal influences. There are slower, keyboard-led sections that act as a good contrast to all of the heaviness of the rest of the song. This is a surprisingly melodic song, that has an almost bluesy solo from Laiho, and a keyboard solo that would sound at home on most power metal albums. It is probably fitting then that Laiho's vocals are as snarly as they are, and helps to create a heavy atmosphere even when the song slows down. All for Nothing is another slower song, with a gentle keyboard and guitar intro that sees Laiho whispering the lyrics in a rather uncharacteristic way. This does not last for long, but the song never really picks up any real speed, and chugs along at a slow pace for the majority of it's length, apart from a short burst of speed in the middle. This is probably as close to a ballad as Children of Bodom get to making, and it does work rather well. I would say this song is better than Prayer for the Afflicted, and has some excellent keyboard soloing throughout. The album's final song Widdershins is a fitting album closer. It is a dirty, heavy song that includes all the hallmarks of the band's sound. Big keyboards cut through the mix, and Laiho's gruff vocals are at their very best. There is even a guitar/keyboard duel that sounds like it could have come from one of their earlier albums. The song fades out on a huge, doomy guitar riff; and the spooky sounds from the album's intro return as the album ends - bringing things full circle. Overall, I Worship Chaos is another good album from the band that continues the good work started on Halo of Blood

The album was released on 2nd October 2015 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Morrigan.



Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Epica/Eluveitie - London Review

Epica are probably the most forward-thinking and exciting symphonic metal band out there at the moment. While they might not quite have the same class and sheen as Nightwish, they are certainly more technical and are producing excellent album after excellent album. Their sixth album, The Quantum Enigma, released last year was milestone from the band in terms of production and songwriting. They played a sole UK show in London last year to promote it, but this year a string of UK shows were announced to properly promote the album as they come towards the end of it's touring cycle. Joining Epica on this European trek were Swiss folk metal band Eluveitie and Swedish melodic metal band Scar Symmetry, which made for an excellent bill. While Epica were certainly the main attraction for many, the promotional material for the show gave the impression this was a co-headline tour with Eluveitie. Whether this was intentional or not, it certainly felt like that, with Eluveitie playing a length set to many in the crowd who were already their fans. For this review, I have counted this gig as a co-headline show, hence the title of this blog entry. The Forum in London's Kentish Town (now owned by O2) has never been my favourite venue. I had a bad experience there at the Blind Guardian show earlier in the year, so I decided to stand on the raised platform near the sound desk, which proved to be a good move. The views from here were excellent, and the sound throughout was really good. I shall always try and stand here in future when visiting this venue.

Scar Symmetry's half an hour set was excellent way to start the evening off. Their progressive, but extremely melodic brand of metal fit perfectly on this bill and they did a great job warming up the crowd. I am fairly new to the band, getting The Singularity (Phase I - Neohumanity) when it came out last year, and I have bought a couple more of their albums since. I am no expert though, but this set persuaded me to invest more time into their albums. All of their songs had huge choruses, and the vocal interplay between frontmen Roberth Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist made for a dynamic and varied vocal display. Per Nilsson (guitar/vocals) is the true star of the show though, with plenty of shredding solos performed throughout the set. Despite the fact it was only a short set, Scar Symmetry really made a good impact on the gathering crowd and probably made a few new fans. I will definitely be getting the rest of their discography soon, and investing much more time and effort into them.

While Eluveitie are not a favourite band of mine by any stretch, I really admire them. I saw the band in 2012 supporting Sabaton in Wolverhampton, and since then have become somewhat a fan of theirs and own a couple of their albums. I am not sure I will ever totally get what they do, but after this triumphant set of theirs I will also be spending more time with their music. They played for well over an hour, and their set was packed full of folky goodness, with violins, whistles, and hurdy gurdies thrown into the mix. What I really like about Eluveitie is that their music is not at all cheesy. It is not ridiculous like Korpiklaani, made purely for drunk idiots acting half their age to dance to, this is proper folk-influenced metal that pays homage to their Swiss culture and sounds classy and heavy at the same time. Their music is extremely melodic though, and the mix between frontman Chrigel Glanzmann's harsh vocals and Anna Murphy's (vocals/hurdy gurdy) cleans works well and provides a good contrast. The band clearly have a lot of fun on stage, and their heavy melodic death metal guitar riffs fit seamlessly together with the folk instrumentation. An excellent set from a band that are pretty unique, and one that has made me respect them more than previously.

For me anyway, although I suspect there were plenty there solely for Eluveitie, Epica were the main event. I last saw the band in Nottingham in 2012 supporting Requiem for the Indifferent which was a good evening. The Rescue Rooms there is a small venue, so I was looking forward to seeing the band on a bigger stage, and my did they deliver! Their music is made for bigger venues, and their performance merited their recent step-up. Plenty of the band's current album was featured in the set, which was good as the material there is extremely strong. It was the album's opening two songs that also opened their set, with both The Second Stone and The Essense of Silence going down really well as Simone Simons (vocals) and Mark Jansen (vocals/guitar) led the rest of the band through their paces with commanding vocal performances. Epica's onstage chemistry these days is fantastic, and they clearly just love being up on stage. Coen Janssen (keyboards) in particular seems to have the most fun, and his enthusiasm is infectious. A moment of silence was held for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris a couple of days before the gig, which was a nice touch, before the rest of the set got underway with the energy the band have become known for. Another new number Chemical Insomnia went down really well, and another highlight was the Eastern-tinged Martyr of the Free Word which has an amazing chorus. The anthemic Cry for the Moon had the added bonus of Shir-Ran Yinon (violin) from Eluveitie adding live violin to the song, which made it seem even more powerful and special than usual. After a big crowd sing-a-long, Ariën van Weesenbeek (drums) brought the song to an end with an extended drum intro backed up by Janssen's wall of strings, although it was not quite the 'proper' drum solo he has played on previous tours. The Obsessive Devotion was a great guitar workout, with Jansen and Isaac Delahaye (guitar/vocals) mixing well to play the song's complex and numerous riffs. The main set came to an end with The Phantom Agony, with the song's orchestral outro playing long after the band left the stage, which only heightened the expectation for more. A three-song encore was performed, the highlight of which was the huge closing number Consign to Oblivion which rounded the evening out in fine fashion. The setlist was:

Originem
The Second Stone
The Essence of Silence
The Fifth Guardian
Chemical Insomnia
Sensorium
Unleashed
Martyr of the Free Word
Cry for the Moon (The Embrace that Smothers - Part IV) [w/ Shir-Ran Yinon]
The Obsessive Devotion
Victims of Contingency
The Phantom Agony
-
Sancta Terra
Unchain Utopia
Consign to Oblivion (A New Age Dawns - Part III)

Overall, this was another great evening of live music. With the excellent Megadeth show at Wembley the previous day, this was almost like a mini metal festival in London that saw seven great sets! Epica really stole the show here though, and I look forward to seeing them again, and their new album next year. I also got the autographs of the two singers from Scar Symmetry throughout the evening, which was an added bonus!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Megadeth/Lamb of God - London Review

This monster of a metal show at London's prestigious Wembley Arena was one of the best bills I have ever seen put together! All too often it seems you are standing around waiting through a couple of tedious support bands with awful live sound before the main event; but this show was clearly designed with the audience in mind. Four excellent metal bands on the same bill, all performing stunning sets with some of the clearest live sound I have heard at a metal show for a while. I thought that Wembley Arena might be a little ambitious for the bands, as Megadeth played the smaller Brixton Academy when they last toured the UK in 2013, but I was proved wrong as the place was near to capacity as the evening moved on. While this undoubtedly Megadeth's show, it had more the feeling of a co-headline tour about it as Lamb of God played for well over a hour and entertained the crowd just as much as Megadeth. Other supports Children of Bodom and Sylosis also went down really well, and the energy from the crowd never let up throughout. Although this was a metal show, I am glad that I decided to go for seats rather than standing. It was a long evening (doors opened at 5pm) so by the end I would have been very tired. Plus, the view from where I was sat was excellent and probably much better than if I was on the floor!

Sylosis were the first band on and, although the arena was still slowly filling up during their set, went down really well with the crowd. I had seen the Reading metal band three times previously, and had been wanting to ever since the last time - which was when they supported Killswitch Engage in 2013. A drummer change and fourth album Dormant Heart has happened since then, and the band are on top form. Their six song, half an hour set was the perfect warm-up for what was to come, and the three songs culled from Dormant Heart were the highlights for me. The stunning title track opened things up, and the doomy Mercy shook the venue with it's slow, heavy outro. Josh Middleton (vocals/guitar) was on excellent form both vocally and with the guitar. His harsh vocals are improving constantly, but his guitar playing is what really makes Sylosis stand out. He is not afraid to solo, and they are all done with precision and melody. The closing number Empyreal - Part 1 was the best example of this, and ensured their set ended on a high. The setlist was:

Dormant Heart
Teras
Mercy
Servitude
Stained Humanity
Empyreal - Part 1

Despite being a much bigger band with a large fanbase of their own, Finnish melodic death metal band Children of Bodom also only had half an hour to play with. Like Sylosis, they played six songs, and like Sylosis they went down well with the crowd. They were one of the first 'heavy' bands that I got into when I was experimenting more with metal, so it was great to finally see them live; despite the fact I do not listen to them nearly as much as I did back then. They played some of their best-known songs, and sounded huge as the sound mix was on point. Alexi Laiho (vocals/guitar) shredded his way through the set, and his duels with Janne Wirman (keyboards/vocals) were some of the best musical moments of the evening. Their heavy, neo-classical sound really benefits from Wirman's fast fingers, and adds something different to their sound that makes them unique. Highlights were the melodic opening older number Silent Night, Bodom Night and the slower Morrigan from the band's latest album I Worship Chaos. Their status should have probably granted them a longer set, but they did well with the time they had, and I hope to see a full-length show from them in the future. The setlist was:

Silent Night, Bodom Night
Hate Me!
In Your Face
Morrigan
Hate Crew Deathroll
Downfall

By the time Lamb of God hit the stage, the venue was pretty full, and the crowd were ready for one of the biggest modern metal bands on the planet right now. At just over an hour in length, their set was not much shorter than the headline set I saw in Bristol last January. That show was plagued with bad sound, but this time they sounded great. Even frontman Randy Blythe's vocals were pretty audible, and he was in good form throughout the set. The setlist was also quite similar, with the addition of a couple of new songs from their latest album VII: Sturm und Drang Their set was pretty much relentless, with the groovy Walk With Me in Hell starting things off well, and the band included a good mix of faster, thrashy songs; with the more mid-paced riff-based songs. Guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler locked in really well together, each song reeking of that trademark southern groove in their riffs and snaking leads. New number Still Echoes was one of the highlights of the set, and made me wish they included more newer songs in the set (the only other one was 512). Other standout moments were Hourglass, always a personal favourite of mine, and Set to Fail which has an amazing riff. All the band's classics came out at the end. Laid to Rest and Redneck saw some huge circle pits, which I had great views of from the seats; before Black Label brought the set to a raw and thrashy close. The setlist was:

Walk With Me in Hell
Now You've Got Something to Die For
Still Echoes
512
Ghost Walking
Ruin
Hourglass
Omerta
Set to Fail
Vigil
Laid to Rest
Redneck
Black Label

Megadeth are another band I have seen previously that suffered from poor sound. However, from talking to other people, this unfortunately seems to be par for the course with Megadeth these days; allegedly due to Dave Mustaine's (vocals/guitar) weakening voice. This gig proved however that: a) Mustaine's voice is still pretty strong and often sounds like he does on record; and b) that Megadeth do not always have poor live sound! What followed their heroic first song Hanger 18 was about 75 minutes of thrash metal excellence from a member of the Big 4. Megadeth have always been the most melodic of the four, and this showed tonight as guitar lead after solo followed one another, as Mustaine and new recruit, Angra guitarist Kiko Loureiro, traded guitar parts throughout the set. The majority of the set came from the band's classic 1980s/1990s albums, but one new number, Fatal Illusion from upcoming album Dystopia, was played also. Special mention must be given to new drummer Chris Adler, who did double duty performing with his main band Lamb of God and then a full Megadeth set straight afterwards. If ever anyone needed proof that he is one of the best drummers in the world at the moment, then this was it! His drum kit during Megadeth's set seemed oddly mic'd up though, as some drums and cymbals were totally inaudible, which was jarring at times. Lots of the songs from Rust in Peace were played live, with the best of the bunch being the fast Tornado of Souls, in which Loureiro nailed the complex solo. Other highlights were the guitar workout of Wake Up Dead, and the slow, methodical Trust which has an infectious chorus and some amazing smooth guitar work. Symphony of Destruction and Peace Sells saw the biggest crowd reactions though, with plenty of moshing, jumping, and singing going on throughout both of them. Instead of leaving the stage for their usual encore break, Loureiro performed the French protest song La Marseillaise on his guitar in tribute to those killed in the terrorist attacks in Paris the day before. This was a nice tribute, and the crowd reacted accordingly. Holy Wars...The Punishment Due rounded out the evening in fine style, as the crowd roared a roar that was fitting after seeing four great metal sets in one night! The setlist was:

Prince of Darkness
Hangar 18
She-Wolf
Wake Up Dead
In my Darkest Hour
Sweating Bullets
Dawn Patrol
Poison was the Cure
Tornado of Souls
Trust
Fatal Illusion
Skin o' My Teeth 
Symphony of Destruction
Peace Sells
La Marseillaise [French National Anthem]
Holy Wars...The Punishment Due
Silent Scorn 

Overall, this was one of the best shows that I have seen all year, simply because all fours bands played blinding sets and the sound was so good. Promoters should think about putting together more great bills like this in future, as it certainly gets people through the doors and a great time was had by all!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Stratovarius' 'Eternal' - Album Review

The last few years have been extremely fruitful and consistent for Finnish power metal veterans Stratovarius. The departure of their main songwriter and guitarist Timo Tolkki, a  move which would have totally crippled many bands, gave Stratovarius the wake up call they needed, and three quality studio albums have been released since 2009. Stratovarius are in a strange position in the fact that their current line-up actually contains none of the band's founding members. However, singer Timo Kotipelto and keyboardist Jens Johansson (who has just been announced as the keyboardist for Ritchie Blackmore's reformed version of Rainbow for his rock shows next year!) have been in the band since 1994 and 1995 respectively, and were a key part of the band's growth and success throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Eternal, the band's fifteenth studio album, is similar in sound to the albums have released since Tolkki's departure and the addition of guitarist Matias Kupiainen, who also acts as the band's producer. Nemesis, the band's previous album which I reviewed here, started to add some more modern elements to the band's sound. The electronics and synthy sounds heard on that album sounded like a reaction to the success of bands like Amaranthe, and they worked for Stratovarius. It seems the band have elected to not continue down this path however, so this album has more in common with 2009's Polaris and 2011's Elysium, than it does with Nemesis - despite all four albums being recognisably Stratovarius. In a slightly strange move, Kotipelto has brought in his friend Jani Liimatainen (Sonata Arctica; Cain's Offering) to assist the band with songwriting. He contributed two songs to the band's last album, but this time his influence is much greater and he co-writes eight of the album's ten tracks. Kotipelto obviously enjoys working with Liimatainen, as their two Cain's Offering albums clearly show, but I hope his inclusion here was done because it was deemed best for Stratovarius and not because of the lack of credible material coming from anyone else. Kupiainen co-writes four, bassist Lauri Porra co-writes one, and Johansson is solely responsible for two. Kotipelto also co-writes eight songs, so his and Liimatainen's influences are the driving forces behind Eternal. In comparison to the band's recent work, Eternal does not quite stand up to the previous three albums in my opinion. It is an album that starts and ends well, but sags a little in the middle. That being said, this is still a hugely enjoyable album and full of the classy power metal songs the band have built their reputation on.

My Eternal Dream kicks things off with all the pomp that you expect from a Stratovarius album. Rolf Pilve's fast drum beat works well as a backing for Johansson's majestic keyboard lead. Stratovarius' keyboards have always had that 1980s snyth quality, instead of going for the overblown strings of other bands. Prominent, cheesy keyboards are always a key element of the band's sound, and this song is no different. Kotipelto is in fine voice throughout this album, and there is a big chorus here for him to sink his teeth into. His voice matches the keyboard line note for note, and the combination is powerful. Kupiainen's solo is right out of the Yngwie Malmsteen songbook, with neo-classical runs and a duel section with Johansson. Shine in the Dark is one of the few songs on this album with the Amaranthe-esque synths, which work well to provide some melody in the song's intro. This is a song of two halves. I find the verses here rather weak, with a lacklustre vocal performance; but as soon as the pre-chorus kicks in the song is taken up a couple of notches. The soaring, powerful vocal delivery here is a far cry from the poor verse vocals, and the lines themselves are extremely catchy. In the end it is an enjoyable song, but not one of the band's best. Rise Above It is a fast power metal song with a big guitar lead backed up by a fast drum pattern. This channels the classic Stratovarius sound, with prominent and variable guitar riffs sitting below the vocals, and a big chorus that goes for the wall-of-sound approach with layers of keyboards and harmony vocals. There is an over-the-top instrumental section, that is so crazy that it is difficult to hear what is going on! Lost Without a Trace, written by Porra, is slower than the rest of the material heard so far. An epic intro soon gives way to a gentle acoustic guitar melody that forms the basis of the song's verses. It gradually builds up, adding pulsing bass guitar lines and subtle keyboard textures. Even when the chorus kicks in the song is still fairly low-key, despite Kotipelto's irresistible vocal lines that are extremely memorable. A slightly heavier, discordant riffing sections leads into a guitar that relies on long sustained notes to build tension rather than the speed runs the band are usually known for. Feeding the Fire opens out with a keyboard riff that is similar to that of My Eternal Dream, but it becomes a guitar-driven song with some excellent riffs and dramatic choral sections that add gothic overtones to parts of the song. This is soon dispelled once the chorus comes in however, as the powerful melodies take over in true Stratovarius style.

In My Line of Work is a fairly standard song from the band, but is made special by having one of the best choruses on the album. The rest of the song is fairly nondescript, but the chorus is just full of so many powerful melodies that you cannot help but love the song. If it was not for the chorus, this song would be rather throw-away because there are not really any memorable riffs here, but the chorus just dominates and makes the song stand out. Man in the Mirror is properly memorable however, and is probably my favourite song on the album. This is one of Johansson's writing contributions, and I feel he has always been the band's secret weapon. His songs are always slightly different to the 'usual' Stratovarius sound, with complex keyboard arrangements, but still full of all the power metal goodness that makes the band what they are. The synths throughout the song have lots of great textures to them, and some more of those Amaranthe-style electronics are used to good effect. Unsurprisingly, the song also features a great keyboard solo, and Johansson manages to steal Kupiainen's thunder as the songs leads into a final reprise of the dramatic chorus - wonderful stuff! The bass-heavy Few are Those fails to live up the high expectations set by the previous song. This is one of those songs you sometimes get on albums that are just totally forgettable. They are not bad enough to make them stand out, but they are totally lacking in any memorable musical sections that they just pass you by without making an impact. It's placing might not help, but either way Few are Those is the album's weakest and least interesting song. Fire in Your Eyes, also by Johansson, is the album's ballad. Opening with just piano and Kotipelto's voice, it gives your ears a short break from the fast-paced metal that makes up the rest of the album. The song does get heavier however, but it never becomes anything more than a ballad. It works well though, and features some excellent guitar work from Kupiainen during his extended solo mid-way through. It is slightly overshadowed though by The Lost Saga, the album's longest and final song. At just under 12 minutes long, this is a progressive epic that is great throughout. There are obviously many different sections that song moves through, but the opening bombastic section is the best, as Kotipelto makes himself heard against a backdrop of a big guitar riff and a potent choir. There is even a section in there that has a thrash feel to it, with a heavy riff set to one of Pilve's heaviest drum patterns. Acoustic sections, and atmospheric guitar solos are also thrown into the mix, and the result is a song that is perfect to and the album on. Great stuff! Overall, Eternal is another good album from Stratovarius in a string of solid releases. They will never top their best work, but they continue to remain interesting and creative in later life, and that can only be a good thing.

The album was released on 11th September 2015 via earMusic. Below is the band's promotional video for My Eternal Dream.


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Slayer's 'Repentless' - Album Review

No band defines the thrash metal genre quite like Slayer. As a member of the famed 'Big 4 of Thrash', Slayer kept things heavy during the 1980s when hair metal and new wave were filling the airwaves. Their 1986 release Reign in Blood is arguably the greatest and most important thrash album of all time; and it is certainly a yard stick when evaluating other thrash releases. Out of all the members of the Big 4, Slayer are the band that have stuck closest to their formula and sound over the years. Slayer albums are instantly recognisable from the outset, and the band have never tried to chase trends like some of their contemporaries. Repentless, the band's twelfth studio album, has been some time coming. The band's last album, World Painted Blood, came in 2009 and the band have been touring relentlessly ever since. Repentless is also key in the respect that it is the first album without founding guitarist and songwriter Jeff Hanneman who sadly died in 2013 after a long illness. Hanneman was key to the band's early success, writing many of their most well known songs and helping to form the band's dual guitar attack with Kerry King. Over the years however, King has come to dominate the band's songwriting and has become the focal point of the band. On Repentless, King has written the vast majority of the material single-handedly. One song, Piano Wire, was written by Hanneman before his death; but the rest is all down to King. I suspect the tragic events leading up to this album has actually working in King's favour, as he now has total control of Slayer's sound and songwriting - something you felt he always wanted. Filling the void left by Hanneman is Gary Holt (Exodus), a thrash legend in his own right. Exodus' 1985 album Bonded by Blood is another album often cited as the most important thrash album ever, so there are few better people that could step into Hanneman's big shoes. His contributions to Repentless are unfortunately limited to a few solos scattered throughout the album, as King handles all of the album's rhythm guitars and the vast majority of the leads and solos. It would have been interesting to see what Holt could have brought to the table, but it was clear from quite early in this process that King was not going to let that happen. Drummer Paul Bostaph (Forbidden; Testament; Exodus) has returned to the band following the third departure of founding member Dave Lombardo. His last Slayer album was 2001's God Hates Us All. This is also the first album since 1985's Hell Awaits to not involve Rick Rubin in some way. The band have also moved from his record label to modern metal giants Nuclear Blast. Repentless is instead produced by Terry Date, who in the past has produced Pantera and Korn among others.

After the doomy instrumental opening Delusions of Saviour, which helps to build tension and expectations for the album; we get underway properly with the furious title track. Repentless is classic Slayer, and from the opening riff you know exactly what you are going to get. The song is then built around a slow-changing chord sequence that sits on top of a schizophrenic drum beat from Bostaph. One thing that is clear is how good Tom Araya's vocals have held up, at least on record. As he bellows the song's angsty lyrics, you realise how key his vocals are to the thrash legend's signature sound. A guitar duel between King and Holt sets the song alight midway through, before the song's main riff returns to see things to an abrupt end. Take Control has a really interesting guitar riff, and one that is possibly one of the most catchy in the band's history. After the furious speed of the previous song, this one aims to change things up a bit by mixing fast and mid-paced sections together for a good contrast. In some respects, the slower sections are actually heavier as the big ringing distorted guitar chords just fill the speakers. King's crazy solo injects some speed back into proceedings, before the song's catchy riff returns once more. Vices has a grinding riff that comes right out of the extreme metal handbook, that sits above a slightly awkward drum pattern than only helps to accentuate the song's creepy feeling. The song's chorus is fairly anthemic, and catchy for a Slayer song which is a nice change from the usual barrage of vocal lines. The song evens out in the middle with a classic heavy metal-type riff before King and Holt again show their guitar skills off. Holt's contribution is a tortured effort that has all the hallmarks of the classic Slayer sound. Cast the First Stone has a very low-fi sound that works in the song's favour. There is quite a hollow, echoey sound during the song's intro which sees Bostaph's drums booming over the droning guitars. This is quite a mid-paced song that with downtuned, palm muted guitar patterns and drumming that is heavy on the cymbals which helps to give that abrasive sound. Songs like this prove that Slayer are not just on trick ponies, and do not always need to rely on speed to make memorable songs. When the Stillness Comes opens with some creepy clean guitar melodies that soon morphs into a really dirty, slow riff that has something about early Black Sabbath about it, along with the sound of doom bands like Paradise Lost. Araya's bass guitar is very prominent throughout the song's verses and helps the dark sound of the song by adding some great low notes. His vocal howls during the choruses are great too, and help the song to stand out from the rest. Slower songs can sometimes be the heaviest, and this is one that really stands out on the album.

Chasing Death picks up the pace a little somewhat from the last track. It is not a fast thrasher however, but features a great driving riff that is perfect for Araya to sing over. This is a perfect headbangers' song though, and the rhythms here are made for the live arena. King's solo here uses quite a lot of wah effects, which helps to cut through the dark rhythms and grinding bass. The mid-paced crunch continues in Implode which has some really dark-sounding riffing initially, but the speed soon returns with some tremolo picking and an upbeat drum pattern. The song's chorus does feel very similar to the album's title track however, which is very noticeable considering not much time has past between the two songs. That is only thing about this song that I wish was different. King's solos are great however, and show is strange shredding ability with a fast flurry of notes. Piano Wire, Hanneman's final Slayer contribution, is very similar to the rest of the material found on this album. Some great ringing guitar parts help it to stand out however, and another reasonably catchy chorus helps to make the song memorable. King has a slightly extended solo here which is probably the best part of the song. Atrocity Vendor is actually a re-recording of a bonus track that featured on certain versions of World Painted Blood. I am not quite sure why the band decided to include a new version of this on Repentless, but I suppose as it was only a bonus track there will be quite a few people who have not heard it before. It is a good song though, and has that classic Slayer speed to it. After a few more mid-paced numbers, it is good to have a song that is just out and out speed. You Against You returns to the mid-paced style that dominates the album for the song's first verse, but a Holt solo soon ensures the pace is raised. This is his best solo on the album, and shows exactly what he will bring to Slayer going forward. Araya's vocal performance also stands out on this song for me. He has always had this knack for being able to sing fast and still make the lyrics audible and clear - many would just descend into an intelligible mess! For me, this is one of the album's standout tracks. The mix of fast sections with the mid-paced intro; Araya's vocals; and the excellent lead guitar of both King and Holt showcase the best of the modern Slayer line-up. The album's final song Pride in Prejudice is another slower, grinding track that again uses a slightly low-fi sound to stand out. Bostaph's hi-hat work rings out, cutting through the guitars, and really makes the song sound heavy. It is not the album's best track, but it does work well as a closing number because of the slightly lumbering quality of the riffs that drags the album to a close. Overall, Repentless is a really good album from the thrash metal legends. While nothing has really changed when it comes to the band's sound, it is good to see a veteran band releasing an album that contains so much energy and conviction - it sounds like Slayer really mean it on this album, and that is always a good thing!

The album was released on 11th September 2015 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Repentless.


Friday, 6 November 2015

Leaves' Eyes - Bristol Review

Bristol seems to be a hotbed of symphonic rock shows at the moment. Two weeks ago I was in town to catch Delain at The Marble Factory, this week Leaves' Eyes rocked the same venue, and next week modern giants Epica will hit the O2 Academy (although I'm going to their London show instead this time as it made more sense with work). It is great that more and more bands are now including gigs in the South West of the UK on their tour schedules, as there clearly is a good fanbase down this way for rock and metal. The opening of The Marble Factory seems to have helped. The O2 Academy is too big for some bands, and the venues other small venues are rather pokey and pub-like. The Marble Factory is a 'proper' smaller rock venue, and I have now seen three gigs there this year, all of a metal persuasion. It had been a while since I had seen Leaves' Eyes live. I missed their UK tour last year due to work, so it had been since 2012's tour with Firewind that I had seen them. They played a blinding set that night in Sheffield, and I had been looking forward to seeing them again since. Two great albums have followed since, and a few line-up changes, but the core of the band remains. The crowd packed into The Marble Factory was not as big as it was for Delain a couple of weeks ago, but there were still enough people present for a good atmosphere. Everyone in attendance was loud and passionate about the band, which pleased the band and made for an enjoyable evening.

Local Bristol-based band Control the Storm opened the show, and they made a strong impression during their 30 minutes on stage. Their mix of power and symphonic metal was melodic and full of strong hooks, and the band were tight and presented themselves well onstage. Frontwoman Kate Norris has a strong voice who carried the band's material, ably assisted by Rich Shillitoe (guitar/vocals) and Raedon Mac (keyboards/vocals) who added plenty of great solos and melodies throughout. Mac also contributed some harsh vocals here and there which worked well to add a bit of grit to the music. A big shout out also goes to the band's stand-in drummer (who's name I did not catch) who had learnt the band's set in a few days upon learning that the band's usual drummer would not be available for the show. He did really well, and fit in seamlessly with the rest of the band. Control the Storm impressed me, and I shall definitely be checking out their debut album Beast Inside out at some point soon.

Main tour support Diabulus in Musica also played for 30 minutes, and they also impressed me with their classy brand of symphonic metal with huge gothic influences. Hailing from Spain, the four piece (they seemed to be a bass player down, I assume he could not make the show!) owned the stage with their beautiful melodies and haunting atmosphere. Frontwoman Zuberoa Aznárez is not the most dynamic or powerful singer in the genre, but her voice has a unique tone to it that just really washes over you perfectly, that adds to the gothic nature of their material. Gorka Elso (keyboards/vocals) also added harsh vocals to the mix, and his keyboard melodies and orchestrations were definitely the focal point of the band's sound, with Alexey Kolygin (guitar) taking more a back seat and beefing up the sound with tight rhythms and crunching riffs. While their music was not as instantly memorable as Control the Storm's, they had a unique atmosphere to their sound that impressed me. Imagine Sirenia and add a little more class, and that pretty much sums up Diabulus in Musica's sound. Another band for me to check out soon!

After two good support bands, Leaves' Eyes hit the stage to a crowd who was well and truly up for a good time. With their new album King of Kings not even two months old yet, the band proceeded to play the vast majority of it live throughout their set, with older tracks sprinkled in for good measure. I am always pleased when bands decide to stand behind their new material and really showcase it live. That is the mark of a confident band, and these shows often go down the best with the hardcore fans. Halvdan the Black and Sacred Vow from the new album got things going, and frontwoman Liv Kristine was in amazing voice all night. Out of the three Leaves' Eyes sets I have now seen, I think that this one contained her best performance - she really owned the stage! Her delicate side was shown on new single The Waking Eye, before her full operatic range was tested on the older number Symphony of the Night. Non-album track Melusine is a real metal anthem, and brings the best out her vocal partner and husband Alexander Krull (vocals) who's harsh vocals really add to the song. Thorsten Bauer (guitar/vocals) and Pete Streit (guitar/vocals) played their hearts out all night too. Leaves' Eyes' music has never been about showboating, and there are few traditional leads and solos, but their atmospheric clean sections and crushing heavy riffs are the backbone of the band's sound, and the orchestrations build around their patterns. Later in the set, the folky Galswintha got everyone dancing, before the old classic My Destiny saw plenty of singing and cheering from the dedicated crowd. The main set came to an end with King of Kings, but the crowd called for more and they were treated with two encores. The big ballad Elegy went down well, but the true highlight was Blazing Waters, the epic song from the band's new album which ended the evening. Krull really demonstrated his vocal power here, and the evening ended with a bang. The setlist was:

Sweven
Halvdan the Black
Sacred Vow
Farewell Proud Men
The Waking Eye
Symphony of the Night
Melusine
Edge of Steel
Into Your Light
Galswintha
My Destiny
Swords in Rock
Hell to the Heavens
King of Kings
-
Elegy
-
Blazing Waters
Mot Fjerne Land

Overall, Leaves' Eyes really owned the stage in Bristol and the good-sized crowd went away happy. While in my head this show will probably always be shadowed by the excellent Mötley Crüe show in Manchester the night before, this was still an excellent evening of symphonic metal from one of the genre's most distinctive bands. 

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Mötley Crüe - Manchester Review

As the tagline says: 'All Bad Things Must Come to an End'. After 34 years in the business, glam rockers and all round bad boys Mötley Crüe are calling it a day. Spearheading the hair metal movement of the 1980s, Mötley Crüe became one of the biggest bands of the genre and have really cemented their place in rock history. As Bowling for Soup said: 'When did Mötley Crüe become classic rock?'. Mötley Crüe are responsible for a lot of memorable anthems, but their controversial days are well and truly in the past. The band's history for drugs, women, and general debauchery is well documented; but they have now decided to retire gracefully. 'Retire gracefully' for Mötley Crüe however means a massive world tour, filling arenas around the world with raucous rock music and pyrotechnics. Throw in shock rock pioneer Alice Cooper into the mix too, and you get a seriously good night out. Due to prior commitments, the easiest UK show for me to make was in Manchester. I had not really been to Manchester properly before, so this was also an opportunity to visit somewhere new. The Manchester Arena has always been held in high regard, and I can see why. Despite being seated in the top tier of seating near the back of the venue, I still had a great view of the whole stage; and the sound throughout was excellent. While the two supports were on stage, the place filled up nicely, and by the time Mötley Crüe hit the stage the arena was full. This tour will most likely be the last opportunity for anyone to see the band perform live, so many were making the effort. I had seen the band once before, in Nottingham in 2011, and was quite disappointed with their performance. With that in mind, I had high hopes that this show would finally be the one to prove to me that Mötley Crüe are a great live act.

Before that however, I had to endure a short set from London rockers The One Hundred. I am not quite sure who was responsible for this pairing, but they were not really the best choice to support two legends of rock. Their synth driven alternative metal sound was very abrasive and did not seem to translate well to the big stage. This is music made for sweaty clubs full of drunk moshers. Their set was thankfully quite short, as it did not seem go down too well with the people around where I was sitting. I think people at the front took to them a bit more, but I was glad when they left the stage. They were really not my thing at all, but I will say that they are very good at what they do. An up and coming hard rock band would have been a better choice in my opinion.

Despite only seeing him last Thursday, I was excited to see Alice Cooper again. His show in Plymouth was excellent, and I was hoping for more of the same. His set was much shorter this time, obviously, but he still delivered the goods and put on a great performance. The first part of his set focused on his early hits, and the great tunes kept coming and coming. The opening riff to No More Mr. Nice Guy had the whole arena cheering, and the chanting during I'm Eighteen filled the arena. At times, it was easy to forget that Cooper was 'only' a support act. The crowd were into him as much as they were for Mötley Crüe later, and he had everyone eating from the palm of his hand. Mega hit Poison came mid way through the set, before Dirty Diamonds saw a great drum solo from Glen Sobel and guitar solos from Nita Strauss and Ryan Roxie. I thought that being a support act he might curb the theatrics a bit, but they were featured in full force. Feed my Frankenstein saw the huge Frankenstein's Monster puppet lumbering around the stage to cheers, and the medley built around oldie Ballad of Dwight Fry saw the guillotine wheeled out for an execution! Being in high seats, I could see all this much clear this time around, and it went down well with the crowd. His set came to an end with School's Out which saw the whole arena jumping as confetti-filled balloons were thrown into the crowd. Excellent stuff! The setlist was:

The Black Widow
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Under my Wheels
I'm Eighteen
Billion Dollar Babies
Poison
Dirty Diamonds
Go to Hell
Feed my Frankenstein
Ballad of Dwight Fry/Killer/I Love the Dead
School's Out/Another Brick in the Wall - Part 2 [Pink Floyd cover]


Mötley Crüe took the stage about 30 minutes after Alice Cooper left it, and proceeded to tear Manchester a new one for the duration of their set. Given the rather poor showing I saw in 2011, and the talk about frontman Vince Neil's voice seriously deteriorating, I was not sure quite what to expect despite having high hopes of finally seeing a great show from the band. Luckily, my expectations were beaten and Mötley Crüe put on an amazing show and proved that they intend to go out on a high. Of course, it was a greatest hits set, and each song that they played went down a storm with the crowd, including the couple of newer numbers thrown in. Girls, Girls, Girls was a great choice for the opening track, as it got the party mood going as soon as Mick Mars' (guitar/vocals) riff filled the speakers. Despite a few iffy moments throughout, Neil actually held out extremely well in my opinion. During some songs he even sounded close to his best! He did have two female backing singers to help him out during some songs, but I thought he acquitted himself very well. Early highlights were the foot-stomping Same Ol' Situation (S.O.S.) and Looks That Kill which Neil really nailed. The sound was almost spot on throughout, giving plenty of space in the mix for Nikki Sixx's (bass guitar/vocals) driving basslines. A rousing cover of the Sex Pistols' Anarchy in the U.K. went down really well, before the bona fide classic Shout at the Devil had everyone singing along. Tommy Lee (drums/keyboards/vocals), thankfully now back behind the kit after a spell sidelined with tendonitis, had his moment in the spotlight as he rode his 'Cruecifly' half way into the crowd and back which was impressive to see. The tracks ran all the way out to the mixing desk, so Lee was suspended in mid-air while drumming all the way there and back. It helped to give the show some added spectacle, and it went down well with the crowd. Mars' guitar solo that followed was probably the only weak moment of the set, as it dragged on for far too long. He has never been one of the best guitarists in the world, and this solo spot only highlighted that. I was glad when the band got back to the business of rocking with Saints of Los Angeles before heading all the way back to the first album with Live Wire. Two real glam anthems: Dr. Feelgood and Kickstart my Heart finished off the main set to huge cheers from the capacity crowd as Neil and Sixx went out over the crowd on hydraulic platforms. There was time for one more though, and a smaller stage was set up near the mixing desk for the band to perform the power ballad Home Sweet Home from. This proved to be a real sing along moment, and it made for a perfect end to a great evening of rock. The setlist was:

Girls, Girls, Girls
Wild Side
Primal Scream
Same Ol' Situation (S.O.S.)
Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
Smokin' in the Boys' Room [Brownsville Station cover]
Looks That Kill
Mutherfucker of the Year
Anarchy in the U.K. [Sex Pistols cover]
In the Beginning
Shout at the Devil
Louder than Hell
Drum solo
Guitar solo
Saints of Los Angeles
Live Wire
T.N.T. (Terror 'N Tinseltown)
Dr. Feelgood
Kickstart my Heart
-
Home Sweet Home

With Mötley Crüe's lifespan coming to an end, they are really making sure they go out with a bang, literally! The pyrotechnics and fireworks that were set off after Kickstart my Heart were some of the best I have seen at a live concert, and just in time for Bonfire Night! I am so glad that I got to see a Mötley Crüe show that lived up to expectations before they call it a day, and this show will be running around my head for weeks to come I expect.