Sunday, 7 February 2016

COP UK's 'No Place for Heaven' - Album Review

Sheffield's Crimes of Passion (or COP UK as they seem to be going by these days) impressed me from the first time I ever saw them, which was at the Cambridge Rock Festival in 2009, and I bought their self-titled debut album from them after their set. Their old-school brand of hard rock and heavy metal, with plenty of big hooks and melodies, spoke to me and it is always good to discover new bands playing this sort of back-to-basics rock. The band seem to have done pretty well for themselves since, attracting the attention of some big names in the rock and metal worlds. Saxon's Biff Byford is known to be a big fan of the band, and he appeared on their second album To Die For which was released in 2012. Helloween's Andi Deris also appeared on that album, and it was produced by Charlie Bauerfeind who has worked with both Saxon and Helloween; as well as Blind Guardian among others. To Die For was a big step forward for the band, emphasising the metal end of their sound, with big riffs and shredding solos taking centre stage along with frontman Dale Radcliffe's soaring vocal performances. More support slots, including a lengthy one with W.A.S.P. where I caught the band, followed but it would be nearly four years before another album would materialise. Recorded throughout 2015 No Place for Heaven, the band's third album, was finally released last month. Swapping one big-name producer, this album was produced by Sascha Paeth who has worked with a whole host of big metal bands including Kamelot, Epica, and Avantasia (where he also plays lead guitar). His right-hand man Michael 'Miro' Rodenberg was brought in to master the album, and also contributes some additional keyboard parts to the album, as Paeth does also. COP UK have never been a stranger to line-up changes, and this album is no different. Joining Radcliffe, guitarist Charles Staton, and drummer Kev Tonge, are long-time bassist Scott Jordan, as well as guitarist Andrew Mewse, and keyboardist Henning Wanner (White Lion; Circle II Circle) who brings a new element and years of road experience to the band. I recently saw the band live for the first time since 2012 (which I reviewed here), and heard the majority of this album live for the first time. I bought the album at the show, and have been listening to it a lot since. Like To Die For was a step up from Crimes of Passion, No Place for Heaven is a step up from To Die For. There is no question that this is the band's best work to date, and I hope their current tour with Helloween will expose them to even more new fans.

Opening with a great bouncy riff The Core, one of the album's strongest tracks, shows that COP UK mean business. While overall less heavy than their previous work, the strong melodies and tight musicianship shines through. That said, Tonge still unleashes some speedy double bass drumming during the pre-choruses which adds a sprinkling of metal to proceedings. The verses are instantly memorable, with some excellent vocal melodies that sit atop the muscular guitar chords. The powerful chorus recycles the intro melody, and makes an instant impact. The whole album is build around great choruses, and this is one of the best. Staton also impresses with a fluid, melodic solo that shows his credentials as a guitarist. My Blood follows in similar fashion to the opening track, making a great double salvo to open this great album. This is a little heavier though, with a driving verse riff and a chorus that could come from a modern Helloween album with a lots of big harmony vocals. There is also a heavier breakdown, with some chugging power chords and distorted vocals, but this does not last long and soon explodes into another precise but melodic solo. After two driving rockers, Kiss of an Angel comes along and injects a little AOR-feeling into the album. A lovely clean intro soon builds into an anthemic rock out with soaring wordless vocals from Radcliffe. The verses are gentle, almost ballad-like, and brings to mind the best of the 1980s hard rock scene - think Native Tongue-era Poison or something similar. The chorus is a little more upbeat however, with more excellent harmony vocals, and melodies that are hugely infectious. This song is melodic hard rock at it's very best, and this seems to be the style that COP UK are trying to perfect these days. It works well for them, and they seem to be more natural doing this than some of the more heavier songs. Speaking of heavier tunes, Take it to the Grave is up next and it boasts the album's best riff. It is a really groovy piece of songwriting, and the rhythm it creates is just perfect. A quite dark-sounding verse follows with some gritty vocals from Radcliffe as the guitars ring around behind him. The chorus continues the darker vibe, but the band's trademark big melodies still shine through. It ends up sounding a little like modern Magnum, which is no bad thing! If you like big 1980s ballads, then the album's title track is for you. Radcliffe's vocal performance here is commanding, and he is joined by an unknown female vocalist for a chorus duet that works really well. Like all good ballads, the song really ramps up during the chorus for maximum power, as Wanner's keyboards envelop the whole song with their sparkle. Stirring stuff - if a little clich├ęd!

Burn Hell has another amazing riff, but the rest of the song fails to fit in with it. It is not a bad song by any means, but it is a little downbeat and is quite different than what you may expect after hearing the riff. I quite like the haunting vibe the song has, with subtle keyboards and ghostly backing vocals, but the riff just feels a little out of place. There is a great guitar solo in this song too, which really has elements of Slash's style, and it fits the downbeat vibe nicely. Halo is the album's heaviest song, with some excellent fast drumming and a ringing twin-lead guitar riff. This song reminds me quite a lot of the material found on To Die For, as it has that old-school COP UK sound. The harsh-sounding guitars match the production on that album, and metal side of the band's sound is pushed to the max. It does stick out a little because of this, but luckily the song is strong enough to stand up to that. The album's lead single Catch Me if You Can follows, and it is clear why the band decided to shoot a video for this one. The chorus is a rousing success, with Wanner's big harmony vocals making it sound huge. It is an energetic song, with a riff-heavy pre-chorus and a driving verse that makes it instantly memorable. The song screams 'single', and I can imagine this song getting a lot of plays on MTV if it was released in the mid-1980s. Hopefully this song will be shared a lot online, as I think it would turn a lot of people onto COP UK if they heard it. No Man's Land is another ballad, but there is another really excellent riff after the initial mellow introduction. COP UK's riffs are packed full of melody, and are not just there for the sake of it. Another really strong chorus is included here, and it has quite a melodramatic feel that suits the mood perfectly. Radcliffe has a pretty dynamic voice, and can hit some pretty high notes - which he does here. It has a great solo too, which is really the icing on the cake here. It starts of slow, but then Staton starts to shred a little while helps to build up excitement for the final run-through of the chorus. The penultimate song, One in a Million, is a little strange. There is a great power metal keyboard flurry, but then the rest of the song sounds a little laboured with a bass-heavy chug that sounds like it is trying a little too hard. The chorus is pretty strong however, but it then turns into a quasi-industrial grind with some shouted vocals that just comes across as a bit forced. This is the only song on the album that does not really work for me, but it is easily forgotten when surrounded by so many other excellent numbers. Closing song Stranger than Fiction is a bit more laid back, with an excellent keyboard riff and a theatrical chorus - the whole thing sounds like a bit like Edguy! It is a really strong song that ends the album perfectly, as it has that anthemic 'arms waving in the air'-type feel to it that makes it great for a closing number. Overall, No Place for Heaven is a real breath of fresh air for both the hard rock and metal genres. It is well written, played, and produced and brings the ideas of the 1980s into the modern day without sounding forced. I really hope they gain some new fans with this release, as it is extremely strong!

The album was released on 22nd January 2016 via Blown Away Music/UDR GmbH. Below is the band's promotional video for Catch Me if You Can.


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