Sunday, 31 July 2016

Ghost Community's 'Cycle of Life' - Album Review

In the British prog community, Ghost Community can be seen as a bit of a supergroup. Most of the members are known from other bands in the scene, and this coming together of talent always had the talent to produce something strong. This band, and their debut album Cycle of Life, has been in the works for a while and saw the light of day in June after nearly 18 months (the band was announced in December 2014). Those who are fans of any of the bands in the UK's underground but strong progressive rock scene will be familiar with many of the musicians and songwriters that make up Ghost Community. Guitarist Simon Rogers (Also Eden) and keyboardist Moray Macdonald (Crimson Sky; Godsticks) are joined by a rhythm section consisting of bassist Matt Cohen (Magenta; The Reasoning) and drummer Jake Bradford-Sharp (The Reasoning) who are probably the best known members of the line-up after finding success with The Reasoning who sadly split up a couple of years ago. The only name in the band I had not previously heard of is frontman John Paul Vaughan who was in a band called Unbroken Spirit with Cohen nearly twenty years ago! While I am very familiar with Cohen and Bradford-Sharp's previous work, I cannot say the same about the others. I have seen Also Eden live at the festival in the past, but never really connected with them, and Godsticks is a name I have heard but I do not really know anything about their music. Taking my knowledge of The Reasoning's music, and my limited exposure to Also Eden's sound, I can say that Ghost Community's music seems to be a departure from what these musicians have done before, which I think is great. While it quite comfortably sits in the realms of progressive rock, there is certainly an emphasis on the 'rock' end of that genre. This is not really an album that sits back on atmospheric soundscapes, but quite often gets in your face with razor sharp guitar riffs and catchy vocal melodies. Frontman Vaughan is a great discovery for me. His voice has a very 1980s rock sound, with a smooth high delivery that cuts through the music with ease as he sings the direct vocal melodies. The rest of the band perform to a high standard too, and the six songs on this album are full of character and feeling. I feel that Ghost Community have yet to really find their niche yet, as there are a lot of different ideas crammed into these six songs, but it is a great statement of intent from a new band that consists of many experienced musicians. The album was produced by Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) who is another big name in the prog world currently. The production is very smooth and uncluttered, which certainly helps the songs' melodies shine through.

Opening with shimmering keyboards, the album gets off to a tight start with Rise Up. This song was released online prior to the album's release to help generate some interest, and the direct and memorable nature of this number makes it a perfect album opener. It really rocks from the outset, and features excellent performances from everyone involved. Macdonald's 1980s style neo-prog keyboard lines are a great contrast to Rogers' powerful guitar chords. Cohen's bass is busy, and makes use of the fluid and melodic style he used with The Reasoning. The song is catchy too, with the best chorus of the album that makes great use of Vaughan's soaring, smooth vocal style. There are lots of ideas here, and this is apparent in the instrumental mid-section. It starts off as a rather standard blues-based guitar solo, which soon descends into a spooky keyboard led-section which definitely recalls early Marillion. The collision of 'prog' and 'hard rock' is part of what makes this album interesting, and that is shown here. While Rise Up comes storming out of the gates with hard rock energy, Mirror Lakes opens in a much more subtle with with delicate acoustic guitar chords and spacey lead vocals. The keyboards also take on more of a sci-fi sound here and even when the band really cranks up again with a bass-heavy groove-based riff, the spacey sounds remain. If Rise Up was the band's rock side, then Mirror Lakes is the band's prog side. Rogers' riffing throughout this song is still very strong, and shows him to be a great player that has a fantastic sense of groove. It is Macdonald that really owns this song however, with a selection of retro keyboard sounds to enhance the song throughout. Anything and Everything continues the spacey prog feel of Mirror Lakes with an intro that really recalls Pink Floyd with big ringing acoustic guitar chords and a tight drum rhythm that drives the early part of the song. When the band start playing together proper, it is the bassline that stands out the most. Cohen is an extremely melodic bass player, and it is songs like this that show how bass can be used in a more exciting and pivotal role that is often the case. Sprinkles of chiming keyboard melodies give the song's verses a little extra sparkle, and Macdonald's playing also dominates the pre-chorus with a catchy retro synth run. The song's chorus is more aggressive than the rest of the song, with Vaughan's voice having more of an edge to it than on the vast majority of the rest of the album which makes it stand out from the dense guitar chords. Rogers, who's playing is very understated in this song, makes his presence known with a short but cutting guitar solo before the keyboards once again take over and dominate.

Blue December Morning opens with a more traditional piano and vocal combo, and the keyboards dominate the early part of the song which has a gorgeous ballad feel to it. Vaughan's voice shines here, and the 1980s feel to the song really brings out the best in his shining voice. Little bursts of synthy electronics boost the song's atmosphere, and occasional acoustic guitar chords add to thing, but Macdonald's piano is king until the mid-point of the song when the whole band comes in and Rogers unleashes one of the best guitar moments on the album with an emotionally-charged and lengthy guitar solo. From then on, the song rocks harder with some vitriolic lyrics that Vaughan delivers with a surprising amount of venom of Rogers' guitar dances beneath him with some tight leads. The song then fades out on an extended instrumental section that once again recalls the heavier end of 1980s Marillion. Ghost Community, the band's self-titled song, opens with some dense organ sounds, but soon becomes a rather jaunty rocker with playful basslines and a good mix of guitar styles. Marc Atkinson (Riversea), who was originally going to be the band's singer, adds some harmony vocals throughout the song his voice mixes well with Vaughan's to create a lovely sound. About two thirds of the way through the song takes a slightly sinister turn with a darker sound and more haunting vocals which sound much lower than Vaughan's usual style which makes me wonder whether this part is sung by Atkinson. The two parts of the song fit well together though, and the contrast works to create something very interesting. The final song here is the near 16 minute title track which opens with some spoken word set to an atmospheric backing before Vaughan's voice, just accompanied by some acoustic guitar, comes in. Given the song's length, this is easily the most progressive piece on the album and it moves through many sections and the band really shine throughout. Macdonald once again shows his skills on the keyboards, with lots of extremely melodic runs; and Rogers has a lengthy solo spot early on which is very impressive. The song is quite hard to describe, due to it's length, but there are certain sections that stand out. Rogers' early guitar solo is one, as is the 'chorus' section that resurfaces occasionally throughout which brings plenty of melody to the song. The whole of the last acoustic-led movement is great too, with lots of memorable vocal lines which helps to bring the album to a great close. Overall, Cycle of Life is a great debut album from a new band that is sure to make a name for themselves in the British prog scene. While, as I stated before, I believe Ghost Community are yet to find their signature sound and niche, this albums shows them as a great songwriting collective and I will be interested to hear where they go from this.

The album was released on 24th June 2016 via ROK Music. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Rise Up.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Death Angel's 'The Evil Divide' - Album Review

With the possible exception of Exodus, there is no thrash band out there at the moment that is releasing albums as consistently as San Francisco's Death Angel. Despite being veterans of the original 'Bay Area' scene in the 1980s, it has been their work since their 2001 reunion that has cemented them as legends of the genre. The being said, the band still found success during the 1980s. Famously however, the band members were very young at the time (there are stories of teachers having to tour with the band so that their school work would not suffer) and this probably affected their popularity. Their 1987 debut album The Ultra-Violence is now seen as a thrash classic though, and 1990's Act III shows what the band could do on a big label with a famous producer. They split up in 1991 however, and it was not until 10 years later that they would play together again. Since 2001 though, Death Angel has been busy and constantly attracting new fans. The band's current line-up has been together since 2009, and they are a well-oiled machine. I saw the band live last year, and they are one of the tightest thrash bands I have seen in concert - something which really sets them apart for me. The band's current line-up contains two of the band's original members: frontman Mark Osegueda and lead guitarist Rob Cavestany. These two write the band's songs, and are the link between the band's original 1980s incarnation, and the newer heavier beast that Death Angel have become. Osegueda's raspy, strong vocals are one of the band's greatest asset. He is more melodic than most thrash singers, and always manages to create a catchy vocal hook. Cavestany is a fabulous guitar player too, and probably one of the fastest shredders in the business. His solos are always flashy, but they add to the bands fast sound. The rest of the band are no slouches either. Rhythm guitarist Ted Aguilar, who has been with the band since the 2001 reunion, churns out riff after riff with ease; and the rhythm section of bassist Damien Sisson and drummer Will Carroll (who both joined in 2009) are extremely tight and make the band's sound much heavier than it would be otherwise. All of the band members turn in a great performance on The Evil Divide, the band's eighth studio album. 2013's The Dream Calls for Blood is probably the best album the band have ever done and, while this album does not top it, The Evil Divide certainly carries on the melodic thrash sound forged on that album. Jason Suecof produces again, and ensures the album has a tight, polished sound. Fans of Death Angel's modern sound will love this. It does nothing new, but it carries on the band's legacy and further cements themselves as legends of the genre.

Album opener The Moth starts off with a grooving, ominous guitar riff before exploding in a real feast of modern thrash with plenty of pacey drumming and riffing that sees Cavestany and Aguilar lock in perfectly. This riff also forms the basis of the song's angry chorus, but the verses take on a slower, more methodical, vibe with heavy grooves and very prominent bass playing. The bass is often lost on thrash albums, so it is good to see it emphasised often throughout this album. The chorus here is very memorable, with Osegueda using both his usual thrash rasp and a cleaner delivery to create a call-and-response vocal style which works well. The Moth definitely picks up from where the last album left off, and sets the tone for what is to come. Cause for Alarm opens with a buzzing, waspish guitar riff before morphing into an anthemic piece of metal with real classic rock swagger. Osegueda's voice has some real grit and attitude in it here, and the choice use of gang vocal sections here enhance the power and add a slight punkish vibe throughout. Producer Suecof plays a great guest guitar solo midway through too, which focuses more on fast, but bluesy, phrases rather than the shredded style so often associated with the genre. Lost is a more methodical song that emphasises the band's more melodic end to their songwriting. It is a nice change of pace from the rest of the album, and shows Cavestany displaying some more intricate guitar passages that are different from his usual hard riffs. This style of music also seems to suit Osegueda's voice nicely, and he actually ends up sounding a bit like Anthrax's Joey Belladonna here. It is always good when a thrash band shows some variety in their songwriting. So many constantly rely on playing at 100mph and this becomes very limited after a while. Death Angel have always been better and more interesting than that, as Lost clearly shows. Father of Lies is a heavier song, but again does not really rely on speed for results. The muscular riffing here drives the song, and it is happy to steam along at a solid mid-pace and let the power of the riffs shine through. Songs like this really bring out the best in Osegueda's voice too, as he can unleash a much more powerful vocal delivery when he is not having to keep up with the speed of the music. The atmospheric, clean breakdown of this song is great and reminds me of those sections Metallica would add into their songs to create natural dynamics. This soon leads into flashy guitar solo however, and Cavestany's real talents are shown. Those who are missing some fast-paced thrash after the previous two songs will like Hell to Pay as it returns to the traditional thrash blueprint of pure speed. Other than the song's pace, it is rather remarkable and probably suffers from following the two previous dynamic numbers. That being said, the song's chorus is extremely aggressive with a masterful display in thrash vocals from Osegueda.

It Can't Be This, with it's bass-heavy intro, returns to the mid-paced groove feel that the band plays so well. Death Angel have always thrown in plenty of non-fast songs onto their albums, which is rare for a thrash band, and it works in their favour. While not as good as Father of Lies, It Can't Be This is a song in the same vein that is actually heavier due to the slower pace. The guitar solo here is another winner, and the really melodic guitar leads that are introduced during the song's second half really add some serious depth to things. Hatred United/United Hate was the first song released from the album, and is probably the best song found on The Evil Divide. Opening with a cleaner sound, the song soon picks up the pace with some fast riffing. The verses are very memorable with some catchy vocal melodies, but it is the chorus that is the real winner here. The guitars create a very inventive musical backing, while the vocals bark over the top of this with some subtle gang vocals to help amp up the power. Andreas Kisser (Sepultura) unleashes a wicked guitar solo later on during the song which features plenty of dive bombs and whammy bar tricks to spice things up a bit. Breakaway is a real piece of heads down thrash metal which kicks off at extreme pace and never lets up throughout. The song is a showcase for Carroll who uses plenty of excellent drum tricks throughout. He is a very powerful drummer, and mixes it up more than many other drummers in the genre. There is not much else to say about this song, but it will certainly blow the cobwebs away when played live. The Electric Cell is another memorable song due to it's use of slightly dissonant guitar sounds and tones throughout that give it a rather evil edge. These guitar leads really cut through the vocals and help to give the song an edge that it would not have otherwise. I particularly like the slower section part way through that starts to build up with a sinister guitar riff, before dropping out and leaving the bass to create the atmosphere, before ramping back up again into a shredding guitar solo. These little quirks of Death Angel's songwriting help to keep their albums interesting and make them stand out from the rest of the thrash crowd. The album comes to a close with the hard hitting Let the Pieces Fall which combines all the best elements of the band's sound together for a triumphant victory lap at the end of the album. The song has real bite, especially during the chorus, and the chugging sound that is employed throughout is extremely satisfying. Overall, The Evil Divide is another great album from Death Angel that shows they are currently on the best run of form of their career so far. They are most certainly a band that has improved with age, and The Evil Divide is an album that shows that thrash metal is thriving and alive in the 21st century.

The album was released on 27th May 2016 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Hatred United/United Hate.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Mostly Autumn - Tavistock Review

It is nearly ten years since I went to my very first concert. Way back in 2006 I was just starting to get into rock music in a big way, and a friend of my Dad's said that we should all head off to the Devon town of Tavistock (about 30 minutes drive from where we lived in Saltash) to see this progressive rock band called Mostly Autumn that he had seen a little while previously supporting Blackmore's Night. The rest, as they say, is history as that night in Tavistock kick started the lifestyle that I now lead and introduced me to the world of live music. I have gone to see the band many more times since, and while my memories of that first gig in 2006 are extremely limited (I was not keeping setlists at this point and I was not at all familiar with Mostly Autumn's music), but seeing them live at the wonderful Wharf venue always feels like coming home. Lucky for me, the band come down to Devon most years for a gig at the Wharf (although sometimes the Acorn in Penzance or the Phoenix in Exeter has been used as a West Country alternative) so there is usually at least one local gig per year I can attend. I have travelled around to various places to see the band too, and I have seen Mostly Autumn over 30 times now (by my count this show is number 33). The last two Mostly Autumn shows I had attended before this one were both very special. Their mammoth 4-set show in Leamington last December has to be one of the best concerts I have ever been to, and  their support slot with Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow at the Genting Arena in Birmingham were both fantastic for different reasons, and helped to further cement my love for the band. This show at the Wharf was a more routine show for the band (although there is no such thing as a 'normal' Mostly Autumn show, as they are always special) but I did not realise going in that this would be one of the best 'routine' shows from Mostly Autumn that I have seen yet. There was support at this show from local band Secrets for September, but I had seen them live before and not thought much of them so I decided to enjoy the sun and catch up with members of Mostly Autumn - many of whom I had not spoken to properly for quite some time.

While the band's latest album Dressed in Voices has been dominating the band's shows over the past couple of years, Mostly Autumn have opted to return to a more varied set this year as the main Dressed in Voices touring cycle is now over. With the band in the process of working on a new album, they took the opportunity to pull some songs out of the vaults while they do not have a new product to promote. The show started in fine fashion, with Angela Gordon (flute/keyboards/vocals) and Chris Johnson (vocals/guitar) taking to the stage to start the Celtic-tinged instrumental Out of the Inn, which is from the band's 1998 debut album, which is a song that gradually builds up introducing other members of the band as it moves along. Gordon's flute dominates the early part of the song, before it morphs into a hard rocking beast led by a trademark Bryan Josh (vocals/guitar) guitar solo. Josh was on fire all night, and in my position on the floor right in front of him, I could take in all of his lead playing with ease. From the past to the present, the set then moved on to In for the Bite from Josh's latest solo album. This introduced Olivia Sparnenn-Josh (vocals/glockenspiel/percussion) for the first time during the evening and she delivered one of her soaring performances. Her voice was buried in the mix somewhat during the first couple of numbers, but the sound was soon balanced out and ended up being one of the best sounding Mostly Autumn gigs at the Wharf for a while. Skin on Skin, one of the two Dressed in Voices songs to be retained in the set, was an early highlight. Now freed from the rigid concept structure of previous performances, the song is now extended further with Alex Cromarty's (drums) now-customary solo lasting longer, and the jammed outro instrumental section taking on a real hard rock edge. Cromarty, during recent performances, has established himself as the band's best ever drummer, and he brings a real flair and personality to the drum stool that his predecessors have lacked (taking nothing away from some of the great players who have played with the band in the past).

The symphonic rock of Wild Eyed Skies saw a welcome to return to the set after a couple of years on the shelf, and the band's two keyboard players helped to bulk up the sound with some gorgeous soundscapes that make Sparnenn-Josh's voice shine. She also shined on the sparse ballad Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts backed only by Iain Jennings' (keyboards) piano melodies. Those two have always had a special chemistry since the Breathing Space days, and it is fantastic to see them still working so well together after all these years. Another real highlight followed in the form of Silver Glass which returned to the set last year. Johnson joining the band again in 2014 has given them a real boost. His aggressive rhythm guitar playing has helped to toughen up the sound somewhat, and it means that some of the songs he wrote for the band during his first tenure have been dusted off. This was always his masterpiece though, and hearing his fragile voice sing it live is always a magical experience. By this point the large crowd were totally into the show and the band could do no wrong. The Spirit of Autumn Past - Part 2, another song to have been left out for a few years, saw a recall and was a real sing-a-long moment, before the band's best epic Mother Nature, which has not seen the light of day since 2010, just blew everyone away. This was the real highlight of the evening with beautiful vocals from Josh and Sparnenn-Josh, before the extended Pink Floyd-inspired outro (with fantastic keyboard and guitar solos) saw the atmospheric side of the band's sound pushed to the max. It even ended with a short bass solo from Andy Smith! The set ended with a powerful version of Sparnenn-Josh's signature song Questioning Eyes before Mostly Autumn left the stage to rapturous applause. There was time for a few more though, including a surprise inclusion of Jennings' composition Hollow and a dust off of Passengers that had been left out for a few years too. The show ended with the traditional set-closer Heroes Never Die which never looses it's impact no matter how many times I hear it. The setlist was:

Out of the Inn
In for the Bite [Bryan Josh solo material]
Answer the Question
Drops of the Sun
Skin on Skin
Deep in Borrowdale
Wild Eyed Skies
Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts
Silver Glass
The Spirit of Autumn Past - Part 2
Mother Nature
Dressed in Voices
Nowhere to Hide (Close my Eyes)
Questioning Eyes [Breathing Space cover]
Heroes Never Die

As I said before, there is no such thing as a 'routine' Mostly Autumn concert. Each one is special for different reasons and I have seen many great occasion-type shows from the band over the years. This show really was up there though, and the varied setlist that fused old and new so well was a real treat. Luckily I only have to wait just over two weeks to see the band again, as they will be making their usual appearance at the Cambridge Rock Festival in two weekends time to once again impress the festival goers!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Lacuna Coil's 'Delirium' - Album Review

When I was first getting into rock and metal, I started with the classic bands. I soon was also seeking out 'newer' bands, and Lacuna Coil were one of the first that I started listening to. They were a bit of a gateway band for me, and I soon moved on to other bands, but for that reason I will always have a lot of love for the Italian goth rockers. Since 2006's Karmacode, the bands fourth album, the band seem to have been getting slowly more and more unpopular. Chasing the nu/alternative metal sound after that fad had already started to fade did not help, but they still wrote good songs. Since Karmacode, the band have released three more albums that all sound very similar: polished alternative hard rock for the American market with producers who work in the post-grunge world. These albums have all had their moments, but lack the quality songwriting of Karmacode or the gothic magic of the band's previous work, particularly 2002's Comalies, which seems to be regarded as their peak by many fans. The last couple of years have seen big changes in the Lacuna Coil camp however, and their new eighth studio album Delirium sees a drastically different band line-up than performed on 2014's Broken Crown Halo. Longtime guitarist Cristiano Migliore and drummer Cristiano Mozzati left the band in 2014 shortly after recording the band's last album, and the band's other guitarist Marco Biazzi left the band last year. This left the band's core members singers Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro, and bassist Marco Coli Zelati to carry on the Lacuna Coil name with some new blood. English drummer Ryan Blake Folden (who toured with the band in 2012 when Mozzati was unable to) has joined the band on the permanent basis, and Delirium was recoreded as a four-piece, with Coti Zelati handling much of the album's guitar and keyboard work along with his usual bass guitar duties. Scabbia, Ferro, and Coti Zelati have always been the core songwriting team behind Lacuna Coil, so anyone expecting a big departure from anything the band has done before will be disappointed. That being said, Delirium definitely seems to be a 'return to their roots' album for Lacuna Coil, with many of the gothic trappings that characterised their first three albums pushed to the fore once again. Atmospheric keyboards are an ever-present part of the album, and Ferro cracks out some harsh vocals once again occasionally, something which he has not done for a while. Gone are the American-centric producers too, with Coti Zelati handling production along with his myriad of other duties! The result is the strongest Lacuna Coil album since 2006, and one that has the potential to hook in some wayward fans who were not a fan of the band's post-grunge direction since Comalies.

After some rather ethereal wordless vocals, the album gets off with a bang with The House of Sleep which is possibly the loudest opening to a Lacuna Coil album yet. Folden immediately makes his mark on the band, with some precise and heavy double bass drum work that is more prominent and impressive than most of the band's drumming to this point. Ferro handles the verses with his barking voice, and they have a grungy, nu-metal feel that bring early Slipknot to mind with some downtuned riffing and the steamroller drumming. Scabbia's voice is perfect for the soaring pre-chorus, which sees her hit some pretty high notes, and the doomy chorus which slows the pace and sees the keyboards dominate the sound. This is easily the most impressive song from the band in some time, and it is a perfect way to get this album underway. Broken Things again starts with a punch, as Ferro howls over a pacey metal cacophony. Ferro, often a much maligned vocalist, actually sounds pretty good throughout this album as he is allowed to let rip more often with the heavier material. Scabbia is still the star however and the subtle verses of this song, which are similar to the best moments of Karmacode, really brings out the best in her voice. This is a catchier song than the opening number, and has shades of the band's attempts to chase the American alternative rock sound, but with plenty of power to back it up. The album's title track, despite a rather repetitive chorus, is another strong song. Ferro sings much of the song, and his usual tuneless drone of a clean delivery seems much stronger and enjoyable here. He seems to have come into his own as a vocalist on this album, which is great to see. This is a song that I imagine will go down well live, where the repetitive chorus will be sung endlessly by a crowd. Blood, Tears, Dust opens with an industrial-inspired electronic section, but opens out into a djent-like downtuned rocker that sees Ferro's harsh vocals once again deployed. The mix of Ferro's heavier sections, and Scabbia's soundscapes are a great contrast, and bring to mind bands like Leaves' Eyes who thrive on that sound. There is a crazy guitar solo from American musician Mark Vollelunga, which is quite different from the band's usual solo-less style, and it helps to elevate the track to new heights. After four faster, heavier songs, Downfall comes in with a slow, gothic riff and an ethereal verse with Scabbia's beautiful vocal performance to match. She dominates this song, with Ferro adding harmonies here and there, and shows why she is one of the best loved frontwomen in modern metal. Myles Kennedy (The Mayfield Four; Alter Bridge; Slash), more known for his powerful rock voice, adds a bluesy and emotional guitar solo to the song which really fits in with the dense, power ballad vibe of the piece.

Take me Home opens with a creepy children's choir, but it soon morphs into another rocker with a dark, bass-driven verse which suits Ferro's howls perfectly. While Coti Zelati is more known as a bassist, his guitar riffing throughout is pretty solid. Nothing here is going to win any riff awards, but it gets the job done. His subtle leads throughout this song's verses are great though, and shows that he is a great all-round musician. The song's chorus is another one that is a bit too repetitive, but it benefits from some strong electronics and creates a surprisingly feel-good vibe. You Love Me 'Cause I Hate You sees a bit of a drop in quality from what has come before, and sounds too close to the forgettable songs from the band's more recent albums for comfort. It is a bit of a dirge, without ever really picking up any real pace or creating the right mood needed for slower, heavier songs. Ghost in the Mist picks things up again, with some powerful machine gun guitar riffing in the opening. The song's verse has real grit to it, with Scabbia's voice having more of an edge to it than usual. This is one of the more memorable songs on the album, with a smooth chorus that just lodges itself in the brain without much effort, an the aforementioned driving verse that is capped off with a repeat of the song's intro with some of Ferro's newly found vocal power. My Demons opens with some gentle vocals from Scabbia, but soon a bottom-heavy riff comes along to kick her out of the way. While I like this new look Lacuna Coil, some of the overly-djenty sections are hard going. The main riff of this song is one of them, and has me thinking of the scores of deathcore bands that were popular a few years ago. Ferro's vocals on this song are weird too, as he almost seems to be attempting (and failing) some black metal-style screaming during the verses. Scabbia's chorus is enjoyable however, as is the guitar solo from Diego Cavallotti, who is the band's current touring guitarist (no word yet on whether he is officially in the band), is rather good. Claustrophobia is a good mid-paced rocker, and sees Scabbia take some more of the spotlight back from Ferro. At one stage, she dominated the band's sound, but it seems Ferro has taken a much greater role this time. The heavy Ferro-driven verse followed by a soaring Scabbia chorus structure that dominates the album does wear thin somewhat as the songs move along, so it is good to see them utilise more of a call-and-response vocal style that gives both a chance to shine. The album's closing number Ultima Ratio is an upbeat, bouncy number that works well as an album closer. The chorus is a melodic feast with some extremely strong vocals from Scabbia, and the rest of the song is full of energy and crazy electronics that add to the upbeat nature. Overall, Delirium is a big step forward for Lacuna Coil and the band are back to sounding their best. The line-up chance the loss of the American-centric producers has helped the band's sound hugely, and I hope this is the start of a new lease of life.

The album was released on 27th May 2016 via Century Media Records. Below is the band's official lyric video for The House of Shame.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Vega's 'Who We Are' - Album Review

While AOR is very much a thing from the 1980s, there are plenty of new bands around that are writing plenty of high quality soft/melodic rock songs in the 21st Century. Much of it can be found on the Frontiers Records label, who seem to specialise in the genre. Many of the best current AOR bands found a home on the Italian rock label, alongside many of the studio projects and supergroups the label has become (in)famous for. Tom and James Martin are part of the Frontiers furniture these days, and many of their songs have wound up on various albums by the label's studio projects. In fact, the pair even co-wrote a whole album for Danger Danger's frontman Ted Poley, Beyond the Fade, which came out on the same day as the album I am reviewing here! Vega is the pair's main creative outlet however, and they hold back their best work for this band. Tom Martin, who plays guitar and bass, and James Martin, who plays keyboards, are the backbone of Vega, and they write the songs alongside frontman Nick Workman. Rounding out the band is guitarist Marcus Thurston, who plays the majority of the band's lead guitar work, and drummer Daniel Chantrey. Since forming in 2009, Vega have released four studio albums the most recent of which, Who We Are, is the subject of this review. While the band are fairly prolific in the studio, live appearances have always been relatively scarce. The band have more active live this year however, with a large UK tour supporting Magnum that no doubt won them some new fans. I have been aware of Vega for a couple of years or so, but finally decided to properly listen to them last year when I got their third album Stereo Messiah. That album never really grabbed me at the time, but since I saw the band with Magnum I have re-listened to it and it has made  greater impression second time around. Sometimes you need to see a band to really get them, and the energy they have live has never really been captured on their polished studio albums. I got Who We Are in the run up to that show, and listened to it a fair bit beforehand. Vega are not as instantly catchy or memorable as the best AOR bands from the 1980s. James Martin's keyboards play more of a supporting and atmospheric role than the over-the-top leads and stabs of bands like Survivor, and Workman's vocal melodies are not as stand-out as others, but the band have a certain class about them that makes them enjoyable to listen to. The production from Harem Scarem's Harry Hess is also top notch. This is AOR for the 21st Century, and the songs open up over multiple listens rather than hit you right away. There is lots to enjoy on Who We Are, and fans of any for of melodic rock ought to check it out.

The album opens with the powerful hard rock of Explode, which is more riff-based than much of the rest of the band's material. The song is based around a riff that comes straight from the 1980s hair metal book of songwriting, and this forms the basis of the chorus, while the verses are a mix of atmospheric keyboard sections and driving rock. Workman really owns the choruses, and his vocals are at his strongest. He unleashes a pretty impressive high note just before the song transitions into Thurston's first shredded solo. His style is much more flashy than many other AOR guitarists, but it still suits the songs. We Got it All is an extremely memorable song, that would have been a huge hit if it was released in the mid 1980s. The verses start off with a sparse keyboard arrangement, but they grow all the time with the addition of some chugging guitar lines. The chorus is very catchy, with fast-paced poppy vocal melodies, with plenty of big harmonies, which suits the polished overall feel of the album. The strong melodies continue in Every Little Monster which is another soaring 1980s throwback with probably the best chorus on the album, and plenty of strong guitar work throughout. Thurston's solo really stands out on this song, as he starts off slow, with lots of note-bending, before slowly speeding up towards a shredded climax. This song was one of the highlights of the band's set when I saw them supporting Magnum, and it is not hard to see why as it instantly sticks in your head with those strong melodies. After three rockers, Nothing is Forever slows things down somewhat with a piano-led ballad which shows a different side of the band. The piano creates a moody atmosphere, while Chantrey's big, booming drums drive things with rock-solid groove. The chorus is very theatrical, almost Queen-like, with Workman unleashing some seriously flamboyant vocal gymnastics with a string and subtle choral backing. The Queen feeling is mirrored in the song's short guitar solo, which has a very thin tone and a majestic melody which is very reminiscent of Brian May's style. White Flag, which the band filmed a video for, is more of a rocker but still plays the atmospheric side of the band's style too. While James Martin's keyboards are never in your face, his subtle textures and soundscapes are a huge part of the band's sound. The verses here are very heavy on the atmospherics, as the keyboards weave themselves around Workman's voice. The chorus is more upbeat though, which is a good contrast to the verses, and helps to make the song stand out.

For Our Sins could be my favourite song here, and it has quite a different sound to anything else on this album. It is quite a moody song, with a cutting guitar lead that heralds it's arrival and a dense synth arrangement throughout. The song's chorus is very catchy, the does not require huge melodies to do so. It sticks with the moody blueprint of the rest of the song, but somehow manages to be extremely memorable. This song shows the real classy songwriting the band are capable of, and I would like to see more songs like this in the future! Opening with a chugging guitar line with a huge keyboard backing, Generation Now promises to be an anthem. While there are better songs here, you cannot deny that the song has an extremely powerful chorus which the whole song is based around. Everything here is made to be building up to that chorus, and when Workman sings it you know why. It is a powerful piece of rock, which is enjoyable even if the rest of the song is pretty forgettable. Ignite has a very modern pop sound, with lots of repeating backing vocals throughout which feel like many of the big chart toppers of the moment. The slightly dancy synths and the overall groove of the piece only enhance this feeling. I am not sure it quite works for the band however, and it ends up sounding quite different from the rest of the album. There is a very strong guitar solo here though, which does stand out quite a bit, but overall I feel that this song is one of the weaker moments on the album. Savin' Grace gets things back on track and is very similar to the trio of songs that opened the album. The song is an upbeat rock number with some excellent vocals throughout and a strident rhythm that makes the song very easy to get into. This is another song that I remember standing out when I saw them, and it is easy to see why. There is another excellent chorus here too, and that helps to make this song instantly memorable. If Not You is another very strong and classy song that has a very mature sound, but that still really rocks. James Martin's keyboards dominate again, with some tasteful piano melodies in the verses, but it is the song's chorus that really makes it special, with melodies that are pretty unique. Songs like this one and For Our Sins really show what the band are capable of, and that they have the potential to take melodic rock into new territories. The album's closing number, Hurts so Bad, is somewhat unremarkable after the excellent previous song, but it has a good upbeat feel to it that makes it a good song to close out the album with. Overall, Who We Are is a good album from Vega that contains lots of enjoyable songs. The band are capable of writing songs for lots of different moods, and it is their darker songs on here that I actually prefer. I would like to see more of those sort of songs in future!

The album was released on 13th May 2016 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for White Flag.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Heart - Birmingham Review

American rock legends Heart do not seem to make it over to the UK very often. Prior to this short UK tour, it had been over 10 years since the Wilson sisters made it over to these shores, so the announcement of this run of UK shows was met with excitement when it was announced towards the back end of last year. I have been a casual fan of the band for a few years now, but my appreciation for their music is always growing. Knowing the band's recent track record for UK shows, I jumped at the chance to see the band. The show in Birmingham's Symphony Hall was the most convenient for my schedule. Despite seeing many shows in Birmingham over the years, this was my first visit to the Symphony Hall. Looking at the posters up around the venue, this does not look like the sort of place that many rock bands play. That being said, the venue was excellent. I was sat on the first tier of raised seats, and the view of the stage I had was great. The sound was also strong throughout, with a good balance of instruments for both Heart and the support band FM. The venue is situated in a nice part of the city, next door to the posh new library, and the area is set to see plenty more regeneration over the coming years. Bigger rock bands should consider this venue more often, as the excellent sound and views throughout make for a hugely enjoyable gig.

Opening the show was FM, a band who I had seen a handful of times previously and have become quite a fan of over the past couple of years after seeing them supporting Foreigner in Nottingham. When I heard they had been added to Heart's tour, I was very pleased as I will always take any opportunity I can to see the British AOR band. They were limited to only 35 minutes on stage, but they made it count with seven melodic rock songs that showcased the band at their best. Opening with the riff-based rock of Digging up the Dirt, from last year's Heroes and Villains, was a good move. Jim Kirkpatrick (guitar/vocals) owned the song with heavy riffing, while Steve Overland (vocals/guitar) belted out the chorus and harmonised well with the band. The 1980s anthem I Belong to the Night was the highlight of the set for me, with Jem Davis' (keyboards/harmonica/vocals) snyth leads filling the growing venue. Another newer number, Life is a Highway, seemed to really get the crowd going, but it was the 1980s hit single That Girl that saw the biggest cheer during FM's set. There seemed to be a few FM fans in attendance, and I am sure that a few that were not already familiar with the band will have come away fans. The large, sustained cheering after the bluesy set closer Burning My Heart Down showed that FM had done a good job of warming up the crowd for Heart. I will be seeing the band in Nottingham in October to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut album Indiscreet, and I am looking forward to it already! The setlist was:

Digging up the Dirt
I Belong to the Night
Life is a Highway
Let Love be the Leader
That Girl
Bad Luck
Burning My Heart Down

Since releasing their first album in 1976, Heart have been popular. From their folky/hard rock output in the 1970s, to their AOR, cover-heavy 1980s work, to their grittier modern sound, Heart have always had plenty of fans worldwide. This set in Birmingham covered all eras of the band's sound, and included all of their well-known hits plus some deeper cuts. They opened with their version of Romeo's Daughter's Wild Child (ironically, Romeo's Daughter often tour with FM!) which is driven by a jagged guitar riff from both Nancy Wilson (vocals/guitar/mandolin) and Craig Bartock (guitar/keyboards/vocals), as Ann Wilson (vocals/guitar) belts out the lyrics with her superb, ageless voice. Early on, the hits came thick and fast. Magic Man really rocked, with an extended instrumental section that was Bartock and Craig Joyner (keyboards) trading leads with ease. The first real singalong came with the timeless power ballad What About Love. The title track of the band's upcoming album Beautiful Broken was the heaviest moment of the night, and saw Ann Wilson harmonising well with Dan Rothchild (bass guitar/keyboards/vocals) during the song's strong verses. The acoustic Sand, from the Wilson sister's old side-project The Lovemongers, was another early highlight before Nancy sung a couple including the gorgeous These Dreams. The smash-hit ballad Alone, done acoustically as it seems is the norm for Heart now, had plenty of the crowd singing along, before the band returned to rock once again with Straight On, one of my favourite Heart songs. A couple more new numbers were also featured in the latter part of the set. Two is song written by R&B singer Ne-Yo which Heart have 'claimed' (as Nancy Wilson said on stage), and the hard rocking original I Jump both stood out, and raise excitement for the band's new album which is due out at the end of the week. Two of the band's biggest songs from the 1970s brought the set to an end. Nancy Wilson set up Crazy on You with an extended guitar intro, before the band came in and blew the roof off the Symphony Hall. Barracuda was the follow-up, and the snarling guitar riff and screechy vocals was the perfect way to end the show. That was not the end however, and Heart came back on stage for three Led Zeppelin covers. Heart have been covering Led Zeppelin since the beginning, and Ann Wilson's voice is perfectly suited to the material. The hard rocking Immigrant Song was over before you knew it, but the real highlight was the sprawling No Quarter with beautiful vocals from Ann Wilson and a stunning guitar solo from Bartock. The evening came to an end with Misty Mountain Hop, with Joyner's organ riff and Ben Smith's (drums/percussion) perfect groove locking in together. The setlist was:

Wild Child [Romeo's Daughter cover]
Magic Man
What About Love [Toronto cover]
Beautiful Broken
Bebe le Strange
Sand [The Lovemongers cover]
These Dreams
Two [Ne-Yo cover]
Alone [I-Ten cover]
Straight On
Sweet Darlin'
Kick it Out
I Jump
Crazy on You
Immigrant Song [Led Zeppelin cover]
No Quarter [Led Zeppelin cover]
Misty Mountain Hop [Led Zeppelin cover]

Overall, this was a great show from a legendary American rock band on a rare trip over to the UK. While I have liked Heart for some time now, I am more of a fan now than I was before I went to this show. I shall have to complete my Heart CD collection and familiarise myself with more of the band's deeper cuts.