Monday, 28 March 2016

Anthrax's 'For all Kings' - Album Review

Despite a period of change and uncertainty in the Anthrax camp during the late 2000s; which saw classic frontman Joey Belladonna return to the band, leave again two years later, and finally return for good a further three years later; Anthrax managed to keep going. Being the most varied musically of the heralded Big 4 of Thrash, Anthrax spent most of the 1990s toying with an sound that fused their thrash roots with alternative rock with varying degrees of success. Then-frontman John Bush's charisma certainly helped the band keep going through the 1990s, but reuniting with Belladonna was probably always on the cards. This reunion eventually happened for good in 2010, and a year later Worship Music, the band's tenth album, was released. It was the first to feature Belladonna since 1990's Persistence of Time, and the reviews were almost all universally excellent. Worship Music was definitely a return to Anthrax's classic sound and, with Belladonna's melodic but powerful voice still as strong as it was in the 1980s, Anthrax regained a lot of their thrash credentials. Work on a follow-up album to Worship Music has been on-going ever since, with little snippets of news being released every so often, but Anthrax mostly kept a lid on any news of their progress. The departure of then-lead guitarist (and producer) Rob Caggiano must have hindered their progress. Caggiano had been an integral part of the band since 2001, and had produced the band's last two studio albums. A replacement was found in the form of Jon Donais (Aftershock; Shadows Fall), an already-respected guitarist who was noted for his excellent guitar playing skills - particularly as a founding member and songwriter of the melodic death metal outfit Shadows Fall. With Donais on board, work started on a new album in earnest, but it would take three more years before the eventual result, For all Kings, was released. If Worship Music was a return to the band's classic sound, then For all Kings is an improvement on the band's classic sound. Worship Music definitely had a lot of old school thrash trappings throughout, while For all Kings seems to have a greater focus on melody. This album is just as heavy and as fast as it's predecessor, but Belladonna's penchant for AOR shines through in his infectious vocal melodies. Anthrax have never had such catchy choruses, and that makes this album extremely easy to listen to. Founding members guitarist Scott Ian and drummer Charlie Benante, the band's main songwriters, have created an album that sounds like the Anthrax of old, but with a huge melodic injection. Jay Ruston's excellent production job helps too, with each instrument sounding huge and clear, but the result still feels really heavy and has that classic thrash vibe.

After the brooding instrumental intro Impaled, the album kicks into gear with the classic Anthrax thrash of You Gotta Believe. Scott Ian's rhythm guitar playing is unique to him, and you can recognise one of his riffs anywhere. Belladonna introduced himself with an excellent verse performance that sits over some stop-start double bass drumming from Benante. The verses are simple rockers, but the choruses are fast and thrashy, making good use of the song's intro riff. There is plenty of great melodies however, with an infectious Belladonna showing and some excellent drumming. I assume that Donais plays the majority of the guitar solos, and bursts of shredding are heard throughout the song. Frank Bello's bass guitar takes the lead for an atmospheric mid section however, with some effects-heavy prog guitar playing. Moments like this show that Anthrax are more than just thrashers, and can write interesting songs too. The song is a great intro to the album, and one of the best tunes on display here. With a more methodical pace, Monster at the End has a real 1980s NWOBHM vibe to it, with huge, purveying melodies and serious crunch to the guitars. The song is not really thrash at all, but it is still great. The chorus is massive, with a real sing-a-long feel to it, and some excellent riffing throughout. There is a great guitar solo here too, that speeds up as it progresses. The album's title track picks up the pace and injects a little more thrash energy into the album. Bello's bass guitar growls throughout the song, giving the whole thing a deep, and powerful sound. There is another really strong chorus in this song, which sees Belladonna hitting some pretty high notes, showing he has an impressive range. All to often, the singers in thrash bands just shout and snarl away but Belladonna really is a proper singer, and he is what makes Anthrax special. The first real moment of shredding is found here too, with an explosive guitar solo. Breathing Lightning is one of the songs that was released online prior to the album's release. It is another melodic number, with a really catchy main riff that is probably one of the band's best in a while. The intro and verses of this song have a very old school vibe, and sound like something that could have been on one of the band's early albums. The chorus is massive though, and definitely sounds the band's more modern approach. I can see this song going down well live, because of the potential for singing along during the chorus, and the main riff is sure to get heads banging. In contrast, the heads-down thrash of Suzerain is heavy and relentless, which works well to add some attitude to proceedings. There is still plenty melodies to be found, but the overall dark feeling that this song purveys works well in the context of the album. Benante is a very underrated drummer I feel, and his performance here is excellent. There is lots of fast footwork to be found, but also some strange little jazzy drum fills to further expand the musical pallete of the song. There is a great extended guitar solo in the song too, which further shows the skills of Donais, and what he brings to Anthrax.

Evil Twin, another song that was released online prior to the album's release, is another excellent slab of old-school thrash. Ian's huge riff that drives the song is one of this best, and the energy built throughout the song is probably the most intense on the album. Belladonna uses lots of vocal styles throughout, including a slightly growled section in the song's pre-chorus which is very different from his usual style. His air raid siren vocals are present and correct elsewhere however, especially during the anthemic, fast chorus. There is a very fast guitar solo too, that uses some evil-sounding note combinations to make it standout. The epic Blood Eagle Wings is one of the album's standout tracks, and there is something about the mighty Ronnie James Dio encompassing the whole song. There is not much thrash here, but plenty of good old-fashioned heavy metal with fantastic singing from Belladonna. The song's slow, heavy riff sets the tone for the rest of the song, and the snaking, grooving guitar work in the verses is fantastic. The Dio influence comes, for me, in the chorus and it sounds like something the great man would have written. It is just shy of eight minutes long, so the song moves through a few different sections. It does speed up at one point, and that section concludes with another shredding guitar solo. This is one of my favourite songs on the album, probably because of the sheer epic-ness of it. This shows a side of Anthrax that is not often on display, and shows that they are more than just a thrash band. After the majesty of the previous song, it is good to have some more basic fist-pumping in the form of Defend/Avenge. The thrashy riffs are back in the picture somewhat, the chorus, with plenty of gang vocals, is very memorable. Bello's basslines here are very prominent and help to drive the song. Sometimes in metal, the bass gets buried in the mix so it is good that Anthrax often push it to the front to help propel the song with that low-end assault. This song has a very modern sound, with the gang vocals and the strange-sounding guitar solo, but it fits nicely in the Anthrax canon. The next couple of songs pale in comparison to what else is on offer here, and definitely feel like filler. All of Them Thieves just feels a little too chest-beating to really appeal to me. All the melodic goodness of the rest of the album is largely eschewed here for an almost nu-metal feel that is jarring, especially when compared to the song's chorus which is a little more like the rest of the album - although certainly weaker. This Battle Chose Us! is easily the album's least memorable song, despite song strong bass playing in the song's intro. It is rather plodding, and without any of the standout melodies that fill the rest of the album. There is not much else to say about the song, as it really fails to make any sort of impression. Luckily, the album's final song, Zero Tolerance is a strong number and helps to round the album out in style. Shorter in comparison to much of the material here, the thrashy energy of the song helps to remove the memories of the previous two songs from your mind. It is a no-nonsense fast number, and that is just what the album needs to close it out. Overall, For all Kings is another strong album from Anthrax. The vast majority of the material here is very good, and a couple of the songs are probably destined to become future classics. I hope this album will be a big success for them, as they deserve it.

The album was released on 26th February 2016 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Blood Eagle Wings.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Purson - Plymouth Review

Despite a few friends of mine banging on about Purson since their 2013 debut album, The Circle and the Blue Door, was released, it took me quite a while to actually give them a listen. There is so much good music around these days, that it is impossible to keep up with everything. It is hard enough to keep up with the new albums from bands I am already a fan of! I am not sure exactly what made me finally take the plunge with Purson, but seeing that they had included a Plymouth date as part of their latest UK tour must have been a factor. While Plymouth is always gradually improving as a city to see live music, it is nowhere near as good as other places. Despite only having lived in Plymouth itself for a matter of months, I have been going to gigs in Plymouth from Cornwall for quite a few years. Before Purson's gig there however, I had never been to see live music at The Junction on Mutley Plain. I live within 10 minutes walk from the venue now however, so the convenience made this gig even more appealing. I did not realise just how small the venue is however. It is basically just a pub, but the stage area and sound was surprisingly good for a venue of this size. Being fairly new to the band, I am not sure how big Purson are, but there was a decent-sized crowd in attendance by the time the band hit the stage. There was a good atmosphere created throughout the evening too.

Before Purson played, there were two support bands - although neither played for very long. First up were Cybernetic Witch Cult, from Cornwall, who played a handful of songs that fused classic 1970s rock with doom to create an atmospheric sound that sounded much bigger than the simple guitar/bass/drums combination that was onstage. The band used the bass guitar to good effect, often as a lead instrument, as the guitar laid down some heavy riffs. There was obviously a lot of early Black Sabbath about their sound, and the sludgy riffs and howling vocals really added to that vibe. There also projected clips from various films on the wall behind the stage, and used the dialogue from these clips to enhance or introduce their songs. That worked really well, and added another dimension to their live show. Their set was only short, but I enjoyed what I heard.

White Room followed and their rather dreary psychedelic rock failed to grab me after the previous band's heavy riffs left a decent impression. The five-piece rock band had an interesting sound, which initially sounded promising, but each song rolled into the next without a great deal of variation. The swirling guitars lacked any real melodies, and the vocals never really stood out. Again, they had quite a retro sound, and the keyboards they used during some songs helped to liven things up but, for me, their set never really came to life.

Purson were the band everyone was here to see however, and from the first song Rosalie Cunningham (vocals/guitar/kazoo) and band had the whole crowd eating out of the palms of their hands. The area in front of the stage was packed with fans, and the raised bit by the bar also had quite a few people stood watching. This is the tour in support of the band's second album Desire's Magic Theatre and, although the album is not out until next month, a fair chunk of it was played in Plymouth. Opening with the dramatic title track and the sparkling The Window Cleaner, the band got of to a great start. Cunningham said throughout that the band were having trouble with their on-stage sound, but what the audience could hear sounded great! A few older numbers were played next, with the dark Rocking Horse and the extremely catchy Spiderwood Farm being early highlights. Cunningham plays the majority of the band's guitar solos as well as singing, but George Hudson (guitar/vocals) also contributed atmospheric leads; with the two often playing in tandem. Samuel Robinson's keyboards were just the right level in the mix, and really added to the band's late 1960s, early 1970s sound. While being a retro band in sound and appearance, nothing about Purson feels like a throwback. The band sound fresh and exciting, and shows that bands can be retro without being pastiche. Of the new material, the hard rocking Electric Landlady (an obviously Jimi Hendrix tribute, both in name and sound) stood out with a powerful chorus and a great riff, as did the playful Mr. Howard. The set came to and end with the semi-acoustic rock of Tragic Catastrophe that is packed full of beautiful melodies. The layout of the venue makes it hard for bands to leave the stage, and easily return for an encore, so the band played a lengthy version of Wanted Man straight after instead of leaving and coming back. The jam elements of the song are expanded live, with lots of atmospheric soloing. The setlist was:

Desire's Magic Theatre
The Window Cleaner
Danse Macabre
Rocking Horse
Spiderwood Farm
Leaning on a Bear
Electric Landlady
Dead Dodo Down
Well Spoiled Machine
Mr. Howard
The Sky Parade
Tragic Catastrophe
Wanted Man

Overall, Purson really delivered and their powerful set makes me look forward to their set at the Cambridge Rock Festival in August even more. I bought a copy of the EP In the Meantime at the show too, and it was signed (along with my copy of The Circle and the Blue Door) by the majority of the band after the show, which was nice!

Friday, 25 March 2016

Magnum's 'Sacred Blood "Divine" Lies' - Album Review

England's Magnum are one of the most reliable and consistent of the veteran rock bands that are still out there recording new music and touring. Founding member and guitarist Tony Clarkin must spend his entire life devoted to the band, as there always seems to be a new Magnum album and tour on the horizon. Two years have passed since Escape from the Shadow Garden (which I reviewed here) and, like clockwork, the Magnum machine have hit us with their latest release Sacred Blood "Divine" Lies (I am not sure what purpose the double quotation marks serve..), which is their eighth album since reforming in 2001. The fact that Sacred Blood "Divine" Lies is the band's nineteenth studio album overall shows that the band have an expansive and plentiful discography to their name. While nothing released since their 2001 reformation has been as good or as successful as anything released during their 1980s heyday, Magnum still release enjoyable pieces of work. Since the reunion, the quality of their work has been, largely, very strong. 2007's Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow and 2012's On the 13th Day are the two albums that instantly stand out as being the pick of the bunch however, and these watermarks are what I compare other new Magnum releases to. While Scared Blood "Divine" Lies does not quite reach these heights, it is definitely a step-up from Escape from the Shadow Garden - an album I enjoyed at the time of release but have reached for very little since. For starters, this new album is much more instantly melodic than the previous work, using more overt melodies that, at times, bring back memories of 1986's Vigilante which is one of the band's best works. The mix of British-style pomp rock with sprinklings of American-style AOR that the band use to their advantage was at it's strongest on Vigilante and Sacred Bood "Divine" Lies does emulate that style to some extent. Mark Stanway's keyboards play a greater role this time around, after sitting more in the background on Escape from the Shadow Garden. In my opinion, Magnum are at their best when Stanway has a greater role, as his striking keyboard leads and thoughtful piano lines are part of what makes the band so special. After all, Clarkin has never been an explosive guitarist (he is an amazing songwriter though!) and it is Stanway's playing that usually brings the band to life. The rest of the band do their bit too. Legendary frontman Bob Catley still sounds fantastic, and delivers another effortless vocal display throughout. I recently saw him hold his own with a handful of metal frontmen on the Avantasia tour, which reaffirmed my belief that he is one of the best rock singers out there. Bassist Al Barrow and drummer Harry James are as solid as ever on this album, but definitely remain the background compared to the other three musicians.

The album opens with the anthemic title track. A simple, classic Clarkin riff forms the basis of the song, as Catley's aging, but still powerful, voice croons over the top. This song is easily one of the best songs on the album, and by the time the huge chorus arrives, the album is in full swing. The previous album lacked many real stand-out choruses, so to be hit with a strong one right away is a great thing. The melodies used throughout this song definitely have that classic Magnum feel, and the piano-led bridge section later in the song has the majesty of the band's early work. Clarkin's guitar solos are never as interesting as many of his peers, but his effort in this song is very memorable, and fits with the rest of the melodies perfectly. The next song, Crazy Old Mothers, has an accompanying video. Stanway's keyboards drive the song initially, with pomp-inspired keyboard run, and his piano during the gentle verses is trademark Magnum. The chorus has some real crunch to it, as both Clarkin's guitar and Barrow's bass lock in nicely for a rhythmic chug. The keyboards are forever present however, and really bring out the best in Catley's vocals. This song is very typical of the band's modern sound, but the amount of keyboards used does hark back to the band's classic period. There is even a bit of a keyboard solo! Gypsy Queen opens very subtly, with delicate keyboards and Catley's vocals leading the verse on their own. Passages like this highlight what a great singer Catley still is, and how much emotion he can put into his delivery. The rest of the band join in for the crunchy chorus, led by some loose drumming from James. The contrast between the low-key verses and the heavier chorus works well, and there is another enjoyable guitar solo from Clarkin. The slight symphonic edge to the chorus really adds something to the album too. Princess in Rags (The Cult) is more upbeat, and really brings back memories of the band's glory days with a bouncy, keyboard-led intro. Stanway really shows what he brings to the band here, with plenty of different playing styles. His washes of atmosphere in the verses give the song real depth, and elsewhere his melodic leads help to liven up the crunch of Clarkin's guitar chugs. That being said, Clarkin's effects-heavy playing in the pre-chorus is excellent, and something different from the norm for Magnum. This is one of the album's best songs, and I hope the band play it live on their upcoming tour. With a ballad feel, Your Dreams Won't Die is another song that really sums up the band's modern sound. Stanway's subtle organ playing, and the steady beat laid by James for the basis of the song. The verses are very stripped back, but things pick up during the chorus. The subtle orchestral arrangement provides a grand backing, and the layers of backing vocals make the song seem much bigger than it is.

Those who are a fan of Magnum's more pomp-rock sound will love Afraid of the Night. Stanway's stark keyboard runs add stabs of overt melody, and Barrow's rumbling bass guitar throughout provides a really strong rhythm. Speaking of rhythm, the overall feel of the song changes throughout. The intro and choruses are quite dramatic, with lots of crashing drum rolls and Stanway's keyboards. The rest of the song is quite laid back, with plenty of atmosphere and excellent vocals. Another real highlight comes in the form of A Forgotten Conversation which builds up slowly over time with Stanway's keyboards always taking the lead. It really comes into it's own with the chorus however, with has some really powerful James drumming and some excellent wordless vocal sections that will surely go down well live. This is another song with the power and feel of the band's glory days, and is definitely one of the best songs the band have recorded since their reunion. Clarkin even outdoes himself as a guitarist, with lots of really strong and melodic lead breaks between vocal lines, something which is pretty flashy by his standards. After the majestic previous number, Magnum move back to more standard territory with Quiet Rhapsody. Modern Magnum can be described as having a crunchy sound, and this song highlights that perfectly. Clarkin's guitar work is quite prominent here, although some strange (almost African percussion) keyboard sounds during some sections spark interest. The song is still quiet strong however, with a keyboard-heavy section later in the song really standing out, before Clarkin embarks on another guitar solo. Twelve Men Wise and Just is another really memorable song. The interesting song title helps, but Catley's smooth vocal performance throughout really makes this song. Songs like this always highlight just how effortlessly grand Magnum can sound. Catley's voice is a big part of this feeling, and Stanway's piano playing throughout this song is excellent. The song does not really have any standout melodies, but it just oozes class throughout. The album comes to and end with the ballad Don't Cry Baby which is another keyboard-led number, although the song's chorus does rock out somewhat. It is certainly not the album's best moment, but the overall feeling of the piece makes it suitable for a closing number. Overall, Sacred Blood "Divine" Lies is another enjoyable album from Magnum that breaks no new ground for the band. Having said that however, no-one is expecting Magnum to break any new ground at this stage in their career, and their identity is strong enough to keep making albums in the same vein. Fans of the band will no doubt enjoy this.

The album was released on 26th February 2016 via Steamhammer/SPV GmbH. Below is the band's promotional video for Crazy Old Mothers.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Inglorious' 'Inglorious' - Album Review

New bands released via Frontiers Records are often so contrived that they are just not worth checking out. Their want to release songs from a few of their key in-house songwriters under various different band names makes me wary of any band on their label that I am not already familiar with. Frontiers is great at releasing albums from older bands that other, bigger labels may not be that interested in any more, but their numerous projects and 'supergroups' are getting fairly tedious now. This is why, when I first heard and read about Inglorious, that my interest was piqued. I was initially disappointed however, and after watching the video for lead single Until I Die on Youtube I dismissed the band as another classic rock throwback that were lacking in the songwriting department. A few weeks later however, something made me watch the EPK for their self-titled debut album on Youtube, and the musical snippets sounded very strong. I also enjoyed hearing the band members talking about their songs, and 'their' songs is correct. This album is written by the band, and Frontiers Records' usual songwriters are not anywhere to be found. There are a few co-writes by other, more famous, musicians; but by and large the bulk of the songwriting has been done by the band. Led by frontman Nathan James, who has previously worked with Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Uli Jon Roth, Inglorious have written songs based around the tried-and-tested 1970s bluesy hard rock format. James' voice is the band's secret weapon however, and he soars throughout the album. Guitarists Andreas Eriksson (Crazy Lixx) and Wil Taylor had clearly been listening to their favourite classic albums while writing and recording Inglorious. While so many modern rock bands go for the single guitar approach, Inglorious realise the power and diversity that the twin guitar attack can bring. Both riff and solo throughout, and the sound is fantastic. Bassist Colin Parkinson and drummer Phil Beaver make up the rhythm section, and they pack a punch like no other. So often, modern drums can sound a little processed (which often sounds good, this is no general criticism) but Beaver's booming assault brings back rock's heyday again. Keyboards are played by Liam Holmes on a session basis, but a permanent keyboardist may help expand the band's sound further. Holmes' playing does add plenty of colour throughout however, and shows what they could do if they expanded their use of the instrument. While Inglorious is never going to be a classic, and does not the touch the bands and albums it was clearly modeled on, it is really enjoyable piece of work from a young band just starting out on their hopefully long and successful journey.

After a roaring hammond organ intro, that actually sounds a little like Deep Purple's Highway Star in places, the muscular riff of single Until I Die comes out of the speakers to announce this album in strong fashion. After my initial dismissal of the song (and band) I have come to realise that this is a strong tune, despite the slightly generic feel of the piece. The 1970s blues rock feel is captured perfectly however, with the main riff leading the song throughout. James dominates the song though, with a good vocal performance. He has quite an impressive range, and always steals the show when he sings. Despite Until I Die being more well-known, the following few numbers are actually much better. Breakaway is a great upbeat number, with a fast riff and bursts of hammond organ. There is something about Mk. III Deep Purple here, with James sounding like a mixture of David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes. The lead guitar skills of Eriksson and Taylor are first given a real showcase on this song, with plenty of little bursts of lead riffing, and an explosive solo towards the middle of the piece that will no doubt see plenty of air guitaring a the band's live shows. The classy blues of High Flying Gypsy is up next. This mid-paced rocker, with crunching guitar rhythms and a rumbling bassline, is packed with serious attitude. Co-written with Al Pitrelli (Asia; Savatage; Trans-Siberian Orchestra; Megadeth), the song is probably the first on the album that really blows you away. It has a bit of everything that makes rock music great, and James once again nails the vocals. It has a certain epic feel about it that the rest of the album is lacking, and shows the band at their most creative. Those who love the blues will love the slow-burning Holy Water which is another stand-out song. There is a little of The Black Crowes and Free on display here, with subtle verses led by a bluesy guitar line and a soaring, gospel-inspired chorus. Rather unsurprisingly, there is a big guitar solo section in this song. It starts off slow, before the band picks up the pace and the solo speeds up accordingly. It is an explosive moment, equalled only by James' sustained high note that he belts out not long after the solo's conclusion. Opening with a percussive rhythm and some big slide guitar notes, Warning initially deceives with this blues opening before exploding into a fast rocker with some excellent high vocals from James. After two more mid-paced songs, a good in-your-face rocker is a welcome sight. It is a short song, but it certainly packs a punch and showcases the band's heavier side. Bleed for You has a bit of a ballad vibe, but it still rocks out. A 'hands in the air' chorus is the song's centre piece, but the bleeding guitar solo, that sounds a little like Slash, also stands out. The slight wah effect on the solo makes it really enjoyable to listen to, and the piano chords that cut through the mix towards the end add something a little different to the piece.

Girl Got a Gun, another Pitrelli co-write, is another song with a strong blues flavour. While the lyrics are pretty clunky, James still manages to lay down a commanding vocal performance. The song's chorus is rather anthemic too, with a big keyboard backing and some silky smooth vocal melodies. There is another fantastic guitar solo on this song too, something which is a bit of recurring theme throughout the album! You're Mine, co-written by Joel Hoekstra (Night Ranger; Trans-Siberian Orchestra; Whitesnake), is a riffy rocker with probably the heaviest riff on the album. The staccato rhythms are infectious, and the atmospheric mid-section provides a nice change of pace. Again, the song possesses a strong chorus. James hits possibly the highest notes of the album in the final run through of it, and it actually sounds a little strange. I am not sure those notes were really necessary, but he is one hell of a singer! Inglorious, the band's self-titled song, is something a little different. A slow, heavy riff makes up the song's backbone, but James' effects-heavy vocals and some strange keyboards provide the main melodies in the song's intro. When he starts to sing properly, the song get going, although it always maintains a rather strange vibe. I am not sure if I like the song or not, and either way it stands out like a sore thumb. There is a nice neo-classical guitar instrumental section mid-way through that then leads into an atmospheric, bass-led section. This slight prog feel is not in keeping with the rest of the album, but it does seem to work somewhat. Wake is the album's only true ballad, and it is a good one. Delicate acoustic guitar melodies form the basis of the song, and the ringing chords mixed with James' powerful voice is a good combination. James does not really tone it down at all here, although his verse deliver uses his lower register a lot more. He really lets rip in the chorus however, and actually manages to overpower everything else. I like the song however, and a great bluesy guitar solo is the icing on the cake. It has a slight country tinge to it too, and something of Guns N' Roses ballad solos, but it works really well. There is a beautiful, but lengthy, piano outro on the song too, which sets things up perfectly for the next number. The dark rock of Unaware is the album's final song. John Mitchell (Arena; Kino; Frost*; It Bites), who also mixed the album, co-wrote this riff-heavy rocker, and it is perfect as a closing number. The main riff is one of the album's best, and the big verse drumming really ramps up the power considerably. There is time for one more strong chorus on this album, and this song delivers with a slight howl of an offering, but it works within the darker context of the song. There is some shredding guitar soloing here too, something not used that much elsewhere in the album. Overall, Inglorious is a strong debut album from the new rock band. There is definite room for improvement, but the results so far are impressive. I really want to see the band live to see what they are like on stage, as I think that they would be excellent!

The album was released on 19th February 2016 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Until I Die.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

HRH on the Road - Bristol Review

HRH on the Road is a new tour being put on by the organisers of the various Hard Rock Hell UK festivals. Headlining this tour is the legendary English rock 'n' roll vagabonds The Quireboys, a band famous for their excellent live shows. Over the past few years, The Quireboys have become one of my favourite live bands. Frontman Spike and Co. always deliver live, and are extremely hard working. They are on tour somewhere more often than they are not, so have perfected their live shows over the years. It was over a year since I had last seen The Quireboys live. A spur-of-the-moment trip to Rushden from Luton last March, while the band were on an acoustic tour, was my last live Quireboys experience, so I was due another hit. Bristol seemed the obvious choice from Plymouth, and making the trip to see the band is always worth it. Joining The Quireboys at Bristol's O2 Academy were Swedish sleaze rockers Hardcore Superstar, fellow Swedish rockers Bonafide, and the Welsh blues band The Texas Flood. There were different opening bands on different nights of the tour, but Hardcore Superstar and Bonafide are ever-present as far as I can tell. Hardcore Superstar's slot was originally filled by Faster Pussycat, but the Americans dropped off the bill without much explanation a month or so ago to be replaced by Hardcore Superstar. This was a good swap. I saw Hardcore Superstar supporting The 69 Eyes back in 2011, and they put on a good show. Faster Pussycat seem to be a very strange band these days, so I cannot say I am too disappointed not to see them.

An early doors of 6pm meant that there was a very small crowd assembled while The Texas Flood were playing, which was a shame as the band were quite decent. The power-trio format is tried and tested, and The Texas Flood made good use of it with plenty of raw power and energy. The band's riffs and solos were very strong, as were the vocals. There were probably not enough really catchy melodies to make a true impression, but the band's energy was certainly infectious, even with a small crowd. The band's bass player was particularly skilled, and used an array of playing styles to keep things interesting.

Bonafide were scheduled to play, but a puncture on their van meant that most of the band could not make the gig. Pontus Snibb (vocals/guitar/percussion) had made the show however, and proceeded to play a one-man show that was a little strange but worked under the circumstances. Armed with only a guitar and a bass drum, Snibb played a set of blues that consisted mainly of old standards, and a couple of his solos numbers. One old Bonafide number was thrown in, but their back-to-basics rock does not really suit this sparce format. Kudos has to be given to Snibb for his never-say-die attitude, and the crowd really got behind him as he was playing through his make-shift set.

Being a late edition to the bill, Hardcore Superstar did not really have the best time, initially. I am not sure how well advertised their appearances on this tour were, and there only seemed to be a handful of Hardcore Superstar t-shirts around. By this point, there was a reasonable-sized crowd in, but lots were still loitering around the bar area and not really getting into the music. This slowly changed during the course of Hardcore Superstar's set, as more and more people became interested in what the band were doing. They only had about 45 minutes on stage, but they made it count with a stellar, anthemic set of some of Sweden's finest sleaze tunes. Sadistic Girls and My Good Reputation were a good one-two punch to get things underway. Frontman Jocke Berg is a real livewire, and was constantly pacing the length of the stage and standing on the monitors. Nearly all of the band's choruses are huge, filled with gang vocals, and made to be heard live. One of the highlights of the set was the foot-stomping Last Call for Alcohol, which has one of the band's best choruses. Another highlight was their best-known song We Don't Celebrate Sundays, introduced by Vic Zino (guitar/vocals) with a powerful riff. By this point, most of the people in the venue had taken an interest in Hardcore Superstar and the floor was filling up. The crowd sing-a-long was loud for a crowd who not long before had seemed fairly uninterested in the band, and the raw Above the Law made for a perfect ending. Due to the tight schedule, roadies were dismantling Magnus Andreasson's (drums/vocals) drum kit while he was playing it, which was pretty funny. Berg also came out into the crowd, close to where I was standing, and partied with the crowd. This was a great set from the band, and I expect they made themselves a few new fans. The setlist was:

Sadistic Girls
My Good Reputation
Touch the Sky
Last Call for Alcohol
Wild Boys
We Don't Celebrate Sundays
Above the Law

By the time The Quireboys came onstage, the venue was holding a decent-sized crowd, although one that was still slightly disappointing for a Friday night. That being said, the atmosphere throughout was excellent, and the band played a blinding set as always, despite some initial sound issues. Every one of the band's studio albums was represented in the set, which is always good to see, and the mix of old and new was well-balanced. Two newer numbers, the raucous Troublemaker (Black Eyed Son) and the modern classic Too Much of a Good Thing were the perfect opening numbers and were well received by the crowd. Spike was his usual magnetic self, and the perfect guitar duo of Guy Griffin (guitar/vocals) and Paul Guerin (guitar/vocals) was on fire. Their loose chemistry is part of what makes The Quireboys special, and they always play off each other perfectly. Nick Mailing (bass guitar) has grown into his role a lot since the last time I saw the band, with is funky basslines adding an edge to the band's live shows. The Finer Stuff and Gracie B, two songs I had not heard the band play live before, were early highlights; as was the oldie There She Goes Again which saw the first really big sing-along of the night. Elsewhere, the ballad Mona Lisa Smiled was as well received as it always is, and the newer rootsy rock of St Cecilia, another number I had never heard the band do live, was another stand-out. The song translated well from it's original semi-acoustic arrangement into a big live rock one, and had heads bobbing everywhere. Lots of classic songs where wheeled out towards the end, including the boogie rock of Tramps and Thieves, a personal favourite of mine, and the 'big' single Hey You which was performed on Top of the Pops back in the day! The main set ended with the band's most famous song, 7 O'Clock, which was the climax of the evening's party atmosphere. There was just time for one more before the strict 10pm curfew was reached, and the epic ballad I Don't Love You Anymore, with some perfect piano from Keith Weir (keyboards/vocals), led the evening to a fantastic close with some more loud singing from the crowd and extended solos from both of the band's guitarists. The setlist was:

Troublemaker (Black Eyed Son)
Too Much of a Good Thing
The Finer Stuff
There She Goes Again
Gracie B
This is Rock 'n' Roll
Mona Lisa Smiled
St Cecilia
Tramps and Thieves
Hey You
Sweet Mary Ann
7 O'Clock
I Don't Love You Anymore

Despite the fact that the larger bill meant that The Quireboys had to play a shorter set than they normally would do, and the absence of three quarters of Bonafide, the evening of rock in Bristol was excellent. The Quireboys rocked as they always do, and Hardcore Superstar delivered a winning set to a room of apathetic concert goers who were won around eventually.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Last in Line's 'Heavy Crown' - Album Review

Dio, led by the legendary metal singer Ronnie James Dio, were one of the seminal metal acts of the 1980s. After successful stints in both Rainbow and Black Sabbath, Dio struck out on his own and fronted a band of ever-changing musicians until his sad death from cancer in 2010. While Dio's musical influence and fantasy-inspired lyrics always drove the sound of his self-titled band, he relied on those musicians around him to help with the songwriting and performance of the band. Part-solo project and part-bona fide band, Dio is always one of those bands that is considered very important in the ever-changing development of heavy metal music. Dio's first two albums are true classics of the genre. 1983's Holy Diver and 1984's The Last in Line are seminal albums, and still played regularly by metal fans around the world today. While Dio's huge voice and inspiring lyrics dominate, it is the performance of three other musicians that, when fused with Dio's personality and vocals, really make those albums tick. Guitarist Vivian Campbell (Sweet Savage; Dio; Whitesnake; Shadow King; Def Leppard; Thin Lizzy), bassist Jimmy Bain (Rainbow; Wild Horses; Dio), and drummer Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath; Dio; Heaven & Hell; Kill Devil Hill) made up the core of those two albums alongside Dio, and had a huge hand in the songwriting process. While Bain and Appice would play with Dio on and off throughout the years, Campbell and Dio developed a fraught relationship that was never patched up. This is why it was surprising when Campbell decided to work with Bain and Appice again to play some of those old Dio songs live. Unfortunately, I have never seen the band live, but footage I have seen online makes the shows the band have performed sound excellent! Frontman Andrew Freeman (Hurricane; Lynch Mob) was brought in, and did a great job live with the band. I am not sure if the decision to record a studio album was there from the off, but last month the long-awaited Heavy Crown was released. It marks the first time that Campbell, Bain, and Appice have played on album together since Dio's Sacred Heart album (released in 1985), so this reunion has been long-overdue. Classic-era Dio keyboardist Claude Schnell was also involved in the new band, but was seemingly unceremoniously removed from the band last year without much of an explanation, which is a real shame. Use of keyboards on the album are minimal however, with producer Jeff Pilson (Dokken; McAuley Schenker Group; Dio; Foreigner), himself a Dio alumnus, handling those duties. Unfortunately, the release of this album has been marred by the tragic death of Bain in January of this year, which has put the future of Last in Line in question. He can be proud of his final studio recording however, as Heavy Crown is an enjoyable piece of work that grows with each listen.

A simple, yet striking, riff opens the album and lead single Devil in Me in fine headbanging style. Heavy Crown, like much of Dio's work, is a largely mid-paced affair, based around big riffing and prominent vocal melodies. From the off, it is clear that Freeman does not really sound much like Dio, which actually works in Last in Line's favour. Hiring a Dio clone would have been a mistake, and Freeman does a great job throughout. He belts out the songs with his strong voice, and the chorus here showcases his smooth tone and subtle power. Campbell, who is fairly restrained when playing with Def Leppard, solos well throughout the album, and the building melodic phrasing on this song is different from his day job. Martyr is one of the few faster songs on Heavy Crown, and races out of the blocks with a buzzing, bass-heavy riff and some loose Appice drumming. He is one of those drummers who has an instantly recognisable style, and his heavy-handed approach was key to the Dio sound. This is a short song, but Campbell finds time for a fairly lengthy shredded solo, and Freeman's chorus, with plenty of subtle harmony vocals, is memorable. Starmaker, which is my favourite song on the album, is the song that probably comes closest to the spirit of the original Dio band. The mysticism that surrounds this part-ballad part-rock anthem is tangible, helped by subtle keyboards and Bain's lumbering basslines.  The verses are quite sparse, with the rhythm section leading the way, while Campbell adds some bluesy licks here and there. The chorus picks up however, with a commanding vocal delivery, slide guitar swells, and Appice's hard-hitting drumming. Campbell solos again, and this one has a very 1970s feel to it, with lots of repeated patterns. Burn This House Down is another solid mid-paced rocker, but the groovy riff is a real winner. Appice drives the verses with his unique drumming style, while Campbell and Bain accent his beats perfectly. The song generally has a fairly staccato vibe throughout. Appice's stop-start drumming makes this the case, and even the guitar solo has a slightly stutter to it, that works well within the context. Like Martyr, I am Revolution is a fast song that grabs you from the off. Bain dominates this song, with his melodic bass growl providing the majority of the verses' musical backing. It is another shortish number, but it has one of the most instantly memorable choruses on the album. The gang vocals work well with Freeman's melodic lead, and I can see this song being great live if the band ever have the chance to tour properly. The lengthy Blame it on Me seems to take influence from Dio and Appice's time in Black Sabbath, and sees Campbell channelling Tony Iommi with some great doomy riffs. Pilson's keyboard work stands out in the strange mid-section as Freeman, with some effects on his vocals, sings the tortured vocal lines. The riffing throughout this song is excellent, with lots of memorable and inventive moments.

After the slower previous number, Already Dead (which has possibly the most in-your-face riff on the album) hits you between the eyes and demands attention. This is the sort of riff that Campbell originally made his name writing, and for that the song also has that classic Dio feeling to it. It slows down part way through however, with Freeman's wails backed by subtle guitar, before the songs builds back up again around a crazy guitar solo from Campbell with plenty of effects on his playing. Curse the Day has the feeling of a ballad. Campbell's gentle clean guitar patterns and Freeman's restrained vocals give this initial illusion, but the song builds up around Appice's pounding drums into a soaring chorus which Freeman dominates with simple lyrics. This works perfectly however, and would prove to be an excellent sing along number live. It is a really powerful number, and one of the highlight of the album's second half. Orange Glow has another excellent riff, one of the album's best, but the song fails to live up to it slightly. Instead of roaring on with a great up-tempo rocker, it instead descends into a bass-heavy crawl that fails to capitalise on the riff's energy. The chorus and guitar solo section are both quite strong and memorable, but the verses sap all of that energy away, leaving behind a rather average song - which is a shame. Heavy Crown's title track actually has a pretty modern vibe to it, and sounds a little like Alter Bridge to me. Freeman showcases his vocal versatility throughout, hitting some quite high notes, and also showing his emotional mid-range. The verses are strong, with bass flourishes and Campbell's guitar arpeggios. The song begins to rock during the pre-chorus, and this continues through the chorus with some huge vocal lines. Campbell also really impresses on the song's fast guitar solo, this is one of the best on the album. It is great to hear him shredding like it is 1983 again, as it is not something he gets to do often with Def Leppard! The album comes to a close with The Sickness which is another strong number, and a perfect one to close the album with. The riff is another winner, and the pacey verses hold that classic Dio feeling once again. The choruses here are slower, with Freeman's emotionally-charged vocals driving things perfectly. Campbell really rips it up here during the song's solo section, and this is easily the most impressionable solo on the album. There are fast sections, slow sections, and effects-drenched sections; showing that he is a versatile player with a lot of talent. Overall, Heavy Crown is a really enjoyable piece of work from some real veterans of the rock and metal world. Is it as good as those classic Dio albums? Absolutely not, but it was never meant to be. While a meatier production would have definitely improved the overall listening experience, Heavy Crown contains plenty of memorable songs.

The album was released on 19th February 2016 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Starmaker.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Myrath's 'Legacy' - Album Review

Metal bands from Tunisia are quite a rarity, which is something that makes the progressive/power metal Myrath stand out instantly. Africa generally is not known for producing many quality metal acts, so to see one doing well for themselves is always great! While Myrath are not superstars in the metal world, they have been steadily increasing their reputation since their 2007 debut album Hope was released. The fusion of Western power metal sounds with Eastern music made Myrath stand out from the crowd of other power metal acts. Two more albums: 2010's Desert Call, which is the band's most progressive release; and 2011's Tales of the Sands, which pushed melodies and concise songwriting to the fore; followed, and the band managed to establish themselves quite nicely within the scene. Their unique sound certainly helped. The closest comparison can be drawn with the Israeli metal band Orphaned Land, but in reality the band's sounds are quite far apart. The Eastern focus on their respective music is where the similarities can be found however, and fans of the Israeli giants should enjoy Myrath also. Five years have passed since Tales of the Sands and, while the band have toured sporadically, on the whole things had been pretty quiet. This probably only served to slow the band's momentum, but last month the band's fourth album Legacy was released. The word 'Myrath' is an Anglicization of the Arabic word 'ميراث' which can be translated into 'heritage' or, more importantly 'legacy'. So, in some respects, Legacy is actually a self-titled album from Myrath! The band's core line-up returns from Tales of the Sands, as does producer Kevin Codfert (Adagio). The only new face is French drummer Morgan Berthet, although he has been playing with the band live since 2011 so is well-established within the band's ranks by this point. Sound wise, I would say that Legacy is a perfect mix of the two styles established on Desert Call and Tales of the Sands which shows how far the band have developed as songwriters in the meantime. Some of the songs on Legacy are the catchiest the band have ever done, but there are also some numbers that are more progressive and technical, and the two styles merge together well. Keyboardist Elyes Bouchoucha takes on the lion's share of the songwriting this time around, making this less of a band effort than previously. Codfert has also made significant songwriting contributions to the album, which may have helped the band to further develop their sound and style. Despite the fact that Bouchoucha and Codfert dominate the songwriting, the band all put in stellar performances. Frontman Zaher Zorgati stands out in particular, as he delivers a commanding vocal performance throughout.

A percussive intro Jasmin leads into Believer, the album's first single and one of the catchiest songs Myrath have ever penned. Bouchoucha's synth riff, along with the orchestral backing, instantly catch the attention with soaring, joyful melodies. The song's verses are much more straight forward, with a simple riff from guitarist Malek Ben Arbia which gives Zorgati plenty of space to unleash his gritty vocals. The orchestral arrangements throughout emphasize the band's Eastern heritage, while the chorus soars like an old Kamelot number. Ben Arbia's guitar solo is tasteful, and the delicate piano outro just rounds it off nicely. Get Your Freedom Back is a heavier, guitar-led song with an excellent metal riff that sounds like something from a modern Symphony X album. Berthet actually drives the verses, with some excellent off-kilter drumming that creates an interesting atmosphere. He is looser than your average metal drummer, which fits well within the Eastern melodies. Zorgati's direct approach on the chorus gives the song real power, and bassist Anis Jouini leads a progressive instrumental section following the first chorus. The song is quite short, but a lot of music is packed in. It has quite an anthemic quality due to the simple chorus, and will no doubt become a live staple. Nobody's Lives is more of a mid-paced, crunchy rocker that is again led by a fluid synth motif. The melodies are more understated here, and Zorgati's accent and distinct vocal style really helps to anchor that Eastern vibe. The verses are quite heavy, with crushing staccato guitar chords, but the chorus is more flowing, with subtle choral and orchestral sounds to enhance the mood. An atmospheric mid-section, sung in Arabic, which then leads into an explosive guitar solo makes the song stand out as one of the album's more mature and creative offerings. The Symphony X vibe (the band are big fans, as they covered their songs in their early days when they were called Xtazy) continues with The Needle's driving guitar riff and explosive drumming. The Eastern elements are toned down quite a bit in this song, letting the Western prog/power metal sounds shine through the greatest, with plenty of emphasis on Ben Arbia's guitar riffs and Bouchoucha's counter-melodies on the piano. This is another strong song, and the mid-song instrumental section proves this. A melodic guitar solo moves into a keyboard-led section that oozes class. Zorgati even hits some impressive high notes during some screams in the final chorus! Through Your Eyes is a slightly strange-sounding song, but it seems to work! The verses are very down-beat. For some reason, the piano and vocal combination reminds me of Extreme's When I First Kissed You (do not ask me why..), but the explosive intro and chorus sections are classic Myrath! The Extreme comparison is absent from future verses, as they are more rocky after the first chorus, but I still cannot get it out of my head! It is still a good song though, and ensures the quality of this album remains high.

The Unburnt, about George R. R. Martin's character Daenerys Targaryen, pushes the Eastern vibes back to the fore again. The dancing string melodies that sit over the song's main riff are extremely melodic, and the use of different percussion sounds throughout, no matter how subtly, help to make the song stand out. It is a pretty relentless song, and the pace rarely lets up throughout. Zorgati's owns the chorus, with a commanding vocal display that makes use of some excellent high notes and wordless vocal sections. I Want to Die is probably the album's weakest song, and it fails to live up the high standard set by the other material on the album. It is the closest song to a ballad on the album. The piano-led verses are quite nice, but when the rest of the band comes in it feels a little laboured, despite some interesting drumming. For whatever reason, this song just does not do anything for me, but it is the only song on Legacy that I would rate as anything less than 'good', so that is pretty good going really! Duat gets the album back on track, and showcases the more progressive end of the band's songwriting. It starts slowly, and builds up around a keyboard riff that sounds like it comes from the Dream Theater canon, before exploding into an orchestral feast, with varying drum rhythms and a complex guitar pattern. The chorus is real winner too, with a lavish production job and layers upon layers of soaring orchestrations. It is one of those songs that displays it's qualities over numerous listens, as all the intricacies reveal themselves. It ends up being one of the album's best songs however, and showcases the band as master songwriters and arrangers. Endure the Silence opens with a rather jaunty piano line, before another Eastern synth/orchestral combination takes over. The verses are very bass-heavy, with a lot of bottom end as Ben Arbia's guitar grinds over the basslines. This is quite a moody song generally too, with a dense chorus and big, booming drums throughout. The melodies are very addictive though, and this was one of the songs that impressed me from the off. Lots of the songs here are growers, which showcases the band's growing maturity, but this one struck me right away. Closing the album we have Storm of Lies which has a snaking, groove-based guitar riff that fits really well alongside the synths. Zorgati's verse vocals are quite quiet, but he explodes during the soaring chorus. It is a very simple song, but the catchy and memorable nature of it makes it perfect for an album closer. Ben Arbia impressed throughout. Firstly with this groovy riffing, but secondly with a strange guitar solo that seems tame at first, but soon turns into a serious shred-fest. Some versions of Legacy also include the bonus track Other Side. Overall though, Legacy is easily Myrath's best work yet. The band have really come into their own here, and this is the consummation of everything the band have experimented with on their past three albums. I hope this album will reach many new fans, as they deserve much greater recognition.

The album was released on 12th February 2016 via Nightmare Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Believer.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Exodus - Plymouth Review

Thrash is a genre of music that, while I do not often sit at home listening to it, is often great live. A tight and powerful thrash band always make for an entertaining evening out, and Bay Area legends Exodus were no exception. While they never reached the heights of fame that many of their contemporaries did, they have always been well loved and respected within the community. The fact that band leader, main songwriter, and guitarist Gary Holt is absent from the majority of Exodus’ shows these days because he is touring with Slayer after the loss of Jeff Hanneman is testament to the respect Exodus have. Kragen Lum (guitar/vocals) is currently filling Holt’s place on the road, and he acquitted himself really well. This gig was the third of three consecutive gigs. I had seen Avantasia in London on Tuesday, before coming back home to catch Sylosis and Decapitated’s co-headlining show at The Hub. Thursday was the turn of Exodus, again at The Hub, and completed the gig marathon. While the Exodus show was not sold out, there was a good-sized turn out, and the atmosphere was excellent throughout.

Support came from Finnish thrashers Lost Society who I had not really enjoyed on record, but thought they might deliver live. They were on stage for about 40 minutes and the energy throughout their set was electric, and the crowd really seemed to get into their music. Most of their songs were extremely fast, with high-pitched, rasping vocals from Samy Elbanna (vocals/guitar) that made a chance from the constant growling that fills much of modern thrash. He and Arttu Lesonen (guitar/vocals) traded solos throughout too, with some excellent displays of twin-lead guitar sections, like Iron Maiden on speed! While their music has a certain chaotic feel at times, the band were always tight which made for an enjoyable set. While I cannot see myself giving their albums much airtime at home, their set was very enjoyable, and the band probably have a good future ahead of them within the genre.

Exodus’ show in Plymouth was towards the end of a 17 date tour of the UK. It is always great to see American bands coming to the UK and doing a proper full tour, rather than just going to the obligatory stops in London and Manchester. Not enough bands seem to want to do it, and I hope it paid off for Exodus! You could describe the band’s set as career-spanning, with a good mix of old and new throughout. Black 13 and Blood in Blood Out, both from the band’s latest album, started the show and frontman Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza – back for his third stint in the band – proved to be a commanding metal frontman. With a voice like a thrash version of AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, Zetro powered through the set with ease. The first half of the set mostly consisted of newer material, with four numbers from Blood in Blood Out, and the slightly older, but still relatively new, Children of a Worthless God dominating. That number in particular stood out. It showcased the more technical side of the band’s songwriting, with Lum and Lee Altus (guitar) trading plenty of riffs and solos. The more mid-paced metal of Body Harvest also stood out, with it’s catchy gang-vocal chorus. Lots of fan favourites filled the second half of the set. The lengthy A Lesson in Violence was a standout here, with lots of intricate drum fills from founding member Tom Hunting (drums/vocals), before the pounding Blacklist saw lots of movement from the crowd. The main set came to an end with a ripping version of Impaler. An encore of three absolute classic thrash numbers followed. The anthemic Bonded by Blood, one of thrash’s true anthems, was the first up, before the epic The Toxic Waltz saw a large circle pit open up and everyone was singing along to the catchy chorus. The evening came to an end with Strike of the Beast and the crowd roared their approval. The setlist was:

Black 13
Blood in Blood Out
And then there Were None
Children of a Worthless God
Salt the Wound
Body Harvest
Metal Command
A Lesson in Violence
War is my Shepherd
Bonded by Blood
The Toxic Waltz
Strike of the Beast

Exodus really put on a great show in Plymouth, and it is good to see a few more bands willing to make the trip down to Devon to play live. Plymouth crowds are always pretty lively, and it would be great to see more bands down this way!

Friday, 11 March 2016

Sylosis/Decapitated - Plymouth Review

By Wednesday, I was in the midst of a three gig marathon. I had been in London the night before for the epic power metal project Avantasia, and the next morning I came home to Plymouth for two more metal shows - both at The Hub. The first of which, a co-headline tour between Reading's premier modern metal outfit Sylosis, and Poland's death metal legends Decapitated; promised to be a heavy evening. Since the closure of The White Rabbit a couple of years ago, The Hub has become Plymouth's best small rock venue. Despite seeing far less action than venues in other cities, rock and metal shows in Plymouth, and at The Hub particularly, usually attract a good-sized crowd. This show was no exception and, despite it not being as full as I have seen it previously, attracted a decent crowd for a mid-week evening. It was Sylosis I was mainly going to see. I had seen them four times previously, although three of those were support slots. I had only seen the band headline once before, and that was in 2011 in Nottingham when the band were promoting second album Edge of the Earth. Last year's Dormant Heart release cemented my love of the band more, and seeing them support Megadeth in November was a real treat. I jumped at the chance to see them locally, and got my tickets as soon as I could. I am not really a fan of Decapitated, or death metal in general, but they are very good at what they do. I saw them supporting Lamb of God a couple of years ago, so knew what to expect going in. While the evening was good, the show seemed to suffer from quite a few delays (the doors did not open until about half an hour after they were supposed to) which meant that Sylosis had to cut a few songs from their set - which was a big disappointment for me!

Tour supports The Black Tongue were conspicuous by their absence, so local metal band Moorhaven stepped in to fill the void. I knew nothing about the band, apart from the name, so was interested to see what they were like. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I came away from their set a fan. While the band are obviously very good at what they do, and were extremely tight, what they do just is not for me. They play a sort of metal/hardcore cross over, with lots of breakdowns and downtuned riffing. There was little consideration for melody, which always makes me struggle with a band, so none of the songs really stood out to me. This sort of music seems to be quite popular these days among metal fans, but not with me unfortunately. They seemed to go down well with large sections of the crowd however, and seemed to be selling a good amount of merchandise after their set, which is always great to see!

Decapitated played their full set, which stung after hearing Sylosis' truncated set later (surly both bands should have cut a small portion than have the headliners take all the cuts?), and my general aversion to death metal made it quite a lengthy part of the evening for me. I am not out to bash Decapitated at all, because their legendary status precedes them and they are a leading artist in their field, but I do not think they are ever a band I will be properly able to enjoy listening to. That being said, frontman Rafał Piotrowski gave one of the best live harsh vocal performances I have ever seen. Often harsh vocalists lack the power live that they have in the studio, or get buried in the mix, but Piotrowski was loud and powerful. The guy is a serious presence, and one hell of a vocalist. I find death metal very samey however, and all the songs really blend into one after a while. There is almost no light and shade in Decapitated's music, which will always put me off. They seemed to be the band that most people had come mainly to see however, and they were extremely well received by the crowd.

Sylosis were, obviously, the stars of the show for me. The band, who have supported and learnt from a diverse mix of metal bands of the years (from DragonForce to Megadeth), have really become masters of their craft now, and are a shining light for the future of heavy music. Despite the short set, the band played a mixture of the best material from three of their four albums, and included the Behemoth-esque new single Different Masks on the Same Face for good measure. Josh Middleton (vocals/guitar) is the star of the show. He has improved hugely as a vocalist since taking over from Jamie Graham in 2010, and his guitar playing is out of this world. The opening number Indoctrinated, with it's jagged riff, was a great opener; and the old, thrashy Teras got the crowd moving. Leech was the highlight of the set for me. It is their most melodic song yet, and Alex Bailey's (guitar) leads show that he is more than just a rhythm player. I would like to see him tackle a solo or two on the band's next album! The song's anthemic chorus was excellent live, and the band oozed class and power at this point. The doomy Mercy was another high point, with some more restrained drumming from Ali Richardson, who seems really at home in the band now, that showed that the band can hold back when it is appropriate. The set came to an end with the excellent Empyreal - Part 1, which contains some of Middleton's best ever guitar playing in my opinion, and has been a set staple since 2011. An encore was not planned due to the time constraints, but chants from the band brought them out for a quick run through of the epic Altered States of Consciousness to end the evening on a high. The setlist was:

Different Masks on the Same Face
Stained Humanity
Empyreal - Part 1
Altered States of Consciousness

Despite Sylosis' shortened set, and my indifference to the other two bands, I still had a good night. Sylosis shows are always worth seeing, as they are head and shoulders above many of their peers. They are technical and progressive, but without forgetting to actually write some memorable songs; and the guitar playing is almost second-to-none. I hope to see them again soon, and I hope that they will also start recorded again in the near future!

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Avantasia - London Review

While Tobias Sammet tours often with his hard rock/power metal act Edguy, his epic side project Avantasia has had limited opportunities to play live over the years. The mammoth undertaking of getting everyone's schedules to co-inside, plus the assumed huge cost of putting together a show of this magnitude, means that Avantasia have mostly only played big festival shows, with a few headline appearances organised around these festival shows. With the release of the band's seventh studio album Ghostlights, Sammet decided to take Avantasia on the road for a proper tour. This is no mean feat, but the lengthy trek around Europe (and some US dates) mean that lots of fans will finally get the chance to hear Avantasia songs performed live. In the time running up to the tour, Sammet promised the most epic Avantasia live experience yet, with the band performing around three hours of material each night, with the biggest cast of guest singers yet. It took thirteen singers and musicians to recreate the epic Avantasia sound on stage, but it worked really well. The band was made up of returning faces. Sascha Paeth (guitar) and Oliver Hartmann (vocals/guitar) made for an explosive guitar duo, and the pair traded flashy solos all night. André Neygenfind (bass guitar) and Felix Bohnke (drums) formed the perfect rhythm section. Bohnke in particular shined, his relentless energy and skill forming the backbone of Avantasia's bombastic metal sound. Michael 'Miro' Rodenberg (keyboards/vocals) was the icing on the cake, his keyboard and piano lines knitting everything together and giving Avantasia their sparkle. Sammet did the lion's share of the singing of course, but he was helped by Michael Kiske, Ronnie Atkins, Jørn Lande, Bob Catley, Eric Martin, Herbie Langhans, and Amanda Somerville throughout; and they all brought their unique talents to the overall performance. The O2 Forum in Kenish Town, London seems to the go-to venue for the bigger European metal acts these days. While it is not my favourite venue, the stage and sound system are good. I am glad I elected to sit in the balcony however, given the length of the show. The view was excellent too, and I have sometimes found the view from the floor can be quite poor, and the pit can get rather crushed.

There was no support act, so at 8pm exactly, Avantasia hit the stage with the piano-led rocker Mystery of a Blood Red Rose and the energy and bombast never let up until 11pm when everything came to a close. The guest vocal spots were fairly evenly distributed, with no one person hogging the spotlight for too long, which made for a diverse and dynamic show. Kiske demonstrated his unique, controlled high-pitched voice on Ghostlights, and the grit of Atkins made the Saxon-esque Invoke the Machine tick. Catley, in his home country, received a huge cheer from the crowd whenever he took to the stage. He really stole Sammet's thunder on the epic The Great Mystery, and rightfully so as the man is a rock legend. The setlist contained material from all seven Avantasia albums, but seemed to focus more on the most recent two albums, which is understandable. Lande is easily the most powerful singer of the lot, and his duet with Sammet on the celtic-rocker The Scarecrow is something too behold. This also acted as a showcase for Paeth and Hartmann, with the two trading solos during the song's atmospheric mid-section. Even Hartmann took the occasional break from shredding to sing, including on the power metal anthem The Watchmakers' Dream - originally sung by Joe Lynn Turner. Being a three hour show, Sammet sat out of some songs for a break. One of these was The Wicked Symphony, but Martin sung his parts with ease. Six singers traded lines on this one, and it was one of the highlights of the show. It was probably the first Avantasia song that I really loved, so to finally hear it live was a treat! In the second half of the set, more of the band's well-known anthems were given outings. The power ballad Farewell went down well, and it was a chance for Somerville to show off her powerful voice, as was Catley's The Story Ain't Over. Stargazers was a surprise however, and the epic song was owned by Kiske, who's voice soared. My favourite song of the night however was Let the Storm Descend Upon You from the latest album. Lande really showcases his power on that song, and the combination of him, Sammet, and Atkins works wonders. It is one of my favourite Sammet songs, so to hear it live was amazing. The energy was growing as Sammet and Kiske duetted on the fast Reach Out for the Light and the keyboard-heavy Avantasia. The sold-out crowd were singing every word by this point, and everyone on stage seemed delighted by the response. Two more melodic numbers in the shape of Twisted Mind and Dying for an Angel saw the main set come to an end, with the whole crowd on their feet cheering. There was time for a couple more however, with the old single Lost in Space getting everyone back in the mood for things, before a medley of Sign of the Cross and The Seven Angels brought the evening to an anthemic and triumphant end, as everyone was on stage and singing their hearts out. The setlist was:

Mystery of a Blood Red Rose
Invoke the Machine
Unchain the Light
A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies
The Great Mystery
The Scarecrow
The Watchmakers' Dream
What's Left of Me
The Wicked Symphony
Draconian Love
Shelter from the Rain
The Story Ain't Over
Let the Storm Descend Upon You
Promised Land
Reach Out for the Light
Twisted Mind
Dying for an Angel
Lost in Space
Sign of the Cross/The Seven Angels

Overall, this was a truly fantastic evening of live music from some of the best in the melodic metal business. I think it is unlikely that Sammet will attempt another massive Avantasia tour of this magnitude for quite some time, so I knew I had to take this chance to see them. I am very glad I did, as the performance and setlist was stunning. 

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Reckless Love - Wolverhampton Review

I do not know what it is about Scandinavia, but nearly all of the best modern hair metal seems to come from that part of the world. Two of the best have teamed up, and are currently touring the UK together. Reckless Love headline the tour, who's fourth album InVader was released last week, and they always go down a storm over here. I last saw the band at Nottingham's excellent Rock City in 2012, and they blew me away. I had been a fan of the band for a while, but that concert cemented my love of them further. I missed the tour for third album Spirit as I could not make the logistics work, so I made extra effort to get to a show on this tour. Wolverhampton was the easiest option. I did not have to take any time off work, and Wolverhampton is relatively easy to get to and cheap to stay there. Although I did have to contend with some Rail Replacement Buses, I got to Wolverhampton in good time and, after checking out an excellent second-hand vinyl shop, made my way to the Slade Rooms. I had never been to that venue before, as all the other shows I have seen in Wolverhampton over the years have been in the bigger Wulfrun Hall. The Slade Rooms is quite small, but can hold a surprising amount of people when they are all packed in. The stage is a little low, but still offers a good view, even from near the back were I was stood. It is a testament to Reckless Love's popularity that the venue was pretty much full. The atmosphere was excellent all night, and both bands om the bill clearly fed of this energy and seemed to be having a great time.

Before Reckless Love hit the stage, the crowd were treated to a set of fellow Finns Santa Cruz who played a good-length set packed full of energy and anthemic songs. I had previously seen the band supporting Amaranthe in Bristol last year, but then they only had a very short set. This time, they had longer and were playing to a crowd that were much more receptive to their style of music. While I have always been a little dubious of the band on record, especially the odd nu-metal trappings of their second album, live they are a totally different story. Stripped down to the bare bones of vocals, guitar, bass, and drums; Santa Cruz are a sleazy, hard rocking beast that really deliver. Without the odd electronics, the songs from the band's second album (9 of the 10 songs from this album were played) really shine. There is something about early Guns N' Roses in the band's live sound, and they have the showmanship and charisma to match. Frontman Archie alternates been belting out anthemic choruses and laying down melodic guitar solos, while lead guitarist Johnny takes the lion's share of the solos with ease. Highlights of the band's set included the melodic opener Bonafide Heroes and the real sing-a-long number We are the Ones to Fall. The power ballad Can You Feel the Rain proved to be a good mid-set break, and the sleazy, 1980s throwback Aiming High (the only song played from the band's debut album Screaming for Adrenaline) was a perfect way to end the set. Lots of people in the crowd already seemed to be Santa Cruz fans, but those who were not already probably are after this commanding performance. The setlist was:

Bonafide Heroes
Velvet Rope
My Remedy
Bye Bye Babylon
6 (66) Feet Under
Let them Burn
Can You Feel the Rain
We are the Ones to Fall
Wasted 'n' Wounded
Aiming High

Despite being a Santa Cruz fan, it was Reckless Love that I was really there to see and, with InVader less than a week old, the band were on fire. Five new songs were played throughout the set, with choice cuts from their other three albums also played to make a well-rounded setlist. A couple of older numbers got things started. The Hysteria-era Def Leppard-style Animal Attraction got the evening off to a good start, before the faster sleaze rock of So Happy I Could Die had heads banging and nearly everyone in the crowd was singing along. Frontman Olli Herman is a modern day David Lee Roth. His stage moves are perfect, and his voice is made for this sort of material. He takes the vast majority of the attention throughout the set and really knows how to work the crowd. Hands and the super-infectious Monster, both from the new album, also went down well. The latter in particular was popular, with a chorus made for crowd participation. Pepe's (guitar/vocals) solo in this song is excellent too, and is a standout musical moment in a song dominated by synths. Other early highlights were the cheesy Beautiful Bomb and the ballad Edge of our Dreams which has a really beautiful chorus. Another new number, the hard rocking Bullettime shows that the band do not always have to rely on loads of production to write great songs. It is probably my early favourite from the new album. Pepe's heavy riff is awesome, and the anthemic chorus is a winner. Another good new number was Rock It and it was played for the first time ever at this show. The disco-rock of Back to Paradise is always a winner live. No other song played this evening saw as much movement as this one, as the energetic beat is made to be played live to a packed club audience. The main set came to an end with Night on Fire, and Hessu Maxx (drums) played a nice little tribal pattern on the drums before the song got underway. There was plenty of singing throughout this number too, and the band left the stage to huge cheers from the large crowd. There was an encore of course, and another new number called We are the Weekend helped to restart the party, before Jalle Verne's (bass guitar/vocals) bassline heralded the arrival of Hot the synth-heavy closing number. This also saw a lot of singing, and the band seemed overjoyed at the reception they received in Wolverhampton. The setlist was:

Animal Attraction
So Happy I Could Die
Beautiful Bomb
Edge of our Dreams
Born to Break Your Heart
Rock It
Back to Paradise
On the Radio
Night on Fire
We are the Weekend

This was an excellent show from both bands on what I am sure will be another extremely successful UK tour. Both bands seem to be on top of their game at the moment, so go and see a show if you can. I took one of the posters advertising the show from the venue's wall afterwards, and Santa Cruz signed it. That was a nice little bonus to add to an already excellent evening.