Saturday, 25 March 2017

The Fallen State's 'The View from Ruin' - EP Review

It is quite rare that a local band starts to make some traction in the rock world, but that is what Devon's The Fallen State have been doing over the past couple of years. With some impressive support slots under their belt, the band released their fifth EP, The View from Ruin, last month which follows on from their impressive previous studio outings. For a band who are yet to record a full-length album, they are doing extremely well for themselves. Certain corners of the music industry are convinced that the traditional album format is now dead in an age of streaming and digital downloads, and it seems that The Fallen State have embraced this seemingly new 'little and often' approach to releasing new music. Recording a handful of new songs at a time when they are fresh and getting them out to their ever-growing fanbase quickly helps to keep fans interested in this era of poor attention spans, and this approach seems to be paying off for The Fallen State. The first three of the band's five EPs, the 'numbered trilogy' if you like, were all released in quick succession in 2014. The three-track releases certainly laid the foundations with The Fallen State's sound, but it was on 2016's Crown Your Shadows where the band's modern hard rock sound was really honed. The earlier releases definitely borrowed a lot from the past, but Crown Your Shadows certainly introduced the slightly darker and heavier sound the band now use. This has continued on The View from Ruin, and while the songs no longer seem as anthemic as on those early releases, there is a distinct vibe and energy around the band now that makes them stand out. Once again the EP was produced, mixed, and mastered by David Jones (aka Jonny Rocker - Heaven's Basement) who's previous band was probably a big influence on The Fallen State's early sound. Jones seems to be the go-to man these days when it comes to new rock bands recording EPs, and his fat sound which focuses on big guitar tones is perfect for this type of music.

Opening with a somewhat industrial-sounding section, the EP gets off to a great start with The Quickening. A heavy riff soon kicks in which leads into a strident verse with a shard guitar pattern which is perfect for frontman Ben Stenning's vocals to sit atop. He almost partakes in a call-and-response vocal approach with the guitars initially, but this changes up as the song progresses and the guitars take on a bigger role. The chorus is a pretty strong one too, with subtle harmony vocals to boost Stenning's presence and some strong melodies to latch on to. The Fallen State are still very much influenced by classic rock when it comes to guitar solos, and lead guitarist Jon Price impresses here with a bluesy solo that fits the heavier song well. Despite a heavier intro, Four Letter Word is definitely more laid back, with a mellow verse with lots of chiming guitar notes which work well with Stenning's more poppy delivery here. The sound suits the band well too, and bassist Greg Butler impresses here with a really melodic and groovy bassline during the verses. The song ramps up for the choruses, with a soundscape of heavier guitar chords in background and Stenning's rawer vocal delivery. Rhythm guitarist Dan Oke breaks into a crunching riff part-way through, and this is a cue for Price to solo once again. It is a lengthy one this time and has all the class and finesse of many of the genre's guitar greats. Nova is more of a ballad and the song that has been used to promote the release with a video filmed for it. Ballads have never been the band's strongest point in my opinion, but this is easily their best slower song yet with a really warm guitar sound throughout and a passionate and convincing vocal performance. The chorus is extremely catchy, and hits home in that earnest Shinedown-esque way with plenty of emotional grit. Price's guitar leads in the chorus help boost the musical weight of the piece, and his bluesy solo hits the spot as solos in ballads should. Sleepless returns to the heavier vibe of The Quickening with a real headbanging metal riff, which is backed up by some tight double bass drumming by Rich Walker. It is these types of songs that I feel the band really excel at, and they seem more at home in heavier territory. That being said, the chorus is probably the EP's best, with a really strong vocal performance and driving guitars. A heavy instrumental section part-way through the song emphasises the heavy riffing of Price and Oke, before Stenning starts to shout over the top in a style that recalls modern Papa Roach with a strong punk vibe. Lifetime is the fifth and final song on the EP and is probably the song with the sound that is closest to their early EPs with more of a classic rock sound. It is an instantly memorable one, with a basic chorus and some tight simple riffing throughout which roars out of the speakers. This is definitely more lighthearted after some of the emotionally-heavy songs here, and works well to close out this impressive EP. Overall, The View from Ruin sees The Fallen State further hone their sound and have a produced something they can be very proud of. The band has recently completed their first headlining UK tour, so things are really looking up for the band from Devon.

The self-released EP was released on 24th February 2017. Below is the band's promotional video for Nova.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Fragile Things' 'Broken Sun' - EP Review

Since leaving Heaven's Basement in 2010, when the now-defunct band were in a real ascendancy, Richie Hevanz has led a relatively low-key musical life. His former band rose in stature in his absence, and became a well-known name in the rock world, before eventually officially calling it a day in January. While I always followed and enjoyed Heaven's Basement post-Hevanz, it was his sleazy vocal performances that really made the band special in my eyes. I always felt it was a shame that his vocals and songwriting skills were no longer being showcased, but last year he announced his new band Fragile Things and has been busy recording and touring with the four-piece ever since. Guitarist Mark Hanlon, bassist Steve Lathwell, and drummer Hugo Bowman join Hevanz in Fragile Things, and their debut EP Broken Sun really showcases this new band's talents and songwriting prowess. Despite only being four songs in length Broken Sun is an impressive debut release and has been long-time coming, eventually seeing a full release last month. Physical copies had been available at gigs for some time, but February saw the EP's official release. With a sound that is, at times, not unlike those early Heaven's Basement songs, Broken Sun is a great mix of 1980s-style hard rock with modern sensibilities. It is heavy in places, but packed full of melody that makes the most of Hevanz' unique and distinct voice. While Hevanz, Hanlon, and Lathwell were previously in a band together called Endless Mile, this band almost totally passed me by so Fragile Things is my first proper exposure to Hevanz' work since the self-titled Heaven's Basement EP back in 2008!

The EP opens in fine fashion with Enemy is I which has a strong 1980s-style guitar riff, and a great upbeat vibe that just grabs you by the throat and ever lets go throughout it's 3 minute duration. The verses are great, with distorted guitar trills and a wild drum pattern from Bowman that perfectly suits Hevanz' urgent vocals. The chorus is somewhat slower, and packed full of groove with a tight riff and some great vocal harmonies from the entire band. The anthemic qualities of the song shine through here, and Heaven's Basement fans aught to really enjoy it. Open Cage is not as furious, but it is still packed full of great classic rock swagger with a muscular bluesy riff and a great growling bassline that dominates throughout. The instrumentation often drops out during the verses to shine the spotlight on the verses, which works really well and has a subtle call-and-response quality that turns out to be pretty infectious. Like previously, the chorus is slower. While not on the same level as that of the previous song's chorus, it still packs a punch. A heavy riff-driven instrumental section partway through soon morphs into a shredding solo which gives Hanlon a platform to show off. His leads and soloing are extremely tasteful throughout, although he can really let rip when the song demands it. Opening with a great bass melody, the EP's title track soon kicks in with a sleazy riff that is one of the EP's most exciting moments. This is easily the best song on this EP, and mixed melody with rock power perfectly. The verses are somewhat more low key, with a less in-your-face arrangement, but the song builds towards the stadium-worthy chorus which will stick in your head after a single listen. The Def Leppard-esque backing vocals really help to enhance the melodies, and Hevanz belts out the lyrics with the same venom and power he was doing almost ten years ago for Heaven's Basement. A wah-drenched guitar solo is the icing on the cake, and caps off a song which shows this band could potentially have a great future. So Cold is the final number on the EP, and sticks to the same hard rock formula as the other three songs. The staccato riff is powerful, and is one that is sure to see a lot of movement when the band play it live to a big crowd. As with all the other songs here, the chorus is the main focus and showcases some impressive extended notes from Hevanz as a modern-sounding riff grinds away underneath him. While only four songs in length, Broken Sun shows a band that certainly has a lot of potential. There is not a weak moment here, and the production is big and meaty. I will be interested to see where the band go from here, as some of the newer songs that I heard when I saw them live a couple of months ago have a bit of a different vibe to those heard on this EP. Diversity is always good however, and I await their next release eagerly.

The self-released EP was released on 17th February 2017. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Broken Sun.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Black Star Riders - Birmingham Review

With three albums now under their belts, Black Star Riders are stepping out of Thin Lizzy's shadow. Formed in 2012 when Ricky Warwick (vocals/guitar), Scott Gorham (guitar/vocals), and Damon Johnson (guitar/vocals) from the latest touring incarnation of the legendary Irish hard rockers Thin Lizzy want to write and record some new material together. The decision to form a new band for this new material was the right move, and Black Star Riders have fast become one of the most successful new hard rock bands in recent years. Each album has received better commercial success than the previous one, and the band have gone from strength to strength on stage. These are songs that are meant to be heard live and the band has grown in confidence over the course of their five years in te business. 2016 saw no live activity from the band at all, but the year was spend wisely writing and recording their third album Heavy Fire (which I reviewed here) which was released last month. The album has been an instant hit for Black Star Riders, reaching number 6 in the Official UK Album Charts, and has received excellent reviews from all corners of the rock community. To support the album's release, the band announced their first UK headline tour for two years which boasted an generous run of dates that covered almost all of the UK. Despite the band playing closer to home than Birmingham, the weekend date meant that Birmingham was easier to organise around work commitments. The O2 Institute in Digbeth is not a regular haunt of mine, but it is not a bad venue and probably better than the O2 Academy which is around 20 minutes walk away. The sound is definitely much clearer at the Institute, although the large balcony can cause the same restricted views for those near the back as the Academy.

Scottish rockers Gun opened the evening with a 30 minute set of polished rock music that, while certainly melodic, lacked bite. Brothers Dante (vocals) and Jools Gizzi (guitar/vocals) are the backbone of Gun, and they led the five-piece band through an enjoyable set that was well-received by the large crowd. New guitarist Tommy Gentry also impressed throughout with lots of melodic soloing, and his driving riffs that mixed well with Jools Gizzi's playing certainly upped the energy on the new number She Knows. Their cover of Cameo's Word Up! was, unsurprisingly, greeted with big cheers from the crowd. There were clearly many Gun fans in the audience, as all of the songs were greeted like old friends and Dante Gizzi often held out the microphone for the crowd to sing for him. They ended their set with Shame on You, from their 1989 debut album, which saw a good injection of energy late on. While Gun are a little tame for my liking, their set was certainly enjoyable and displayed all the experience of a band celebrating their 30th anniversary this year!

I was looking forward to Sweden's Backyard Babies. I saw guitarist Dregen with Michael Monroe back in 2011, so I was expecting music in that up-tempo, punky vein. Sadly I have to say I was disappointed and Backyard Babies never really seemed to get going throughout their 40 minutes on stage. Crowd reaction was fairly muted, and a muddy sound mix really did not help. There were good moments however, and the song Painkiller that was played early on in their set stood out with it's strong hooks and anthemic chorus. Towards the end of their set they played a couple of faster numbers which were more akin to the sort of music that I pictured in my head when imagining what the band might sound like. This managed to whip up sections of the crowd towards the end but it was too late by this point sadly.

After half an hour or so the house lights went down, and the sound of an air raid siren filled the venue as Black Star Riders hit the stage with the title track from their latest album Heavy Fire. From then on, the pace never let up for the following 90 minutes as the band played straight through, without an encore break, with set that had a generous helping of all three of their albums plus a Thin Lizzy classic thrown in for good measure. I am glad that the Thin Lizzy element of the band's set is almost seen as an optional extra now, and this shows the band have confidence in their own material - and they should! The heavy Bloodshot and The Killer Instinct really got the crowd going early on, with Gorham and Johnson trading muscular riffs and solos with ease. Dancing with the Wrong Girl, which has a seriously laid-back Thin Lizzy vibe, was probably the song that impressed me the most early on with a great dual-guitar solo and some excellent soulful vocals from Warwick. There was little time for banter and on-stage messing about throughout, as the band let the music do the talking. Hey Judas, now a golden-oldie according to Warwick, was greeted like an old friend by the crowd, before the simple hard rock of newbie When the Night Comes In whipped up a storm with it's AC/DC-esque riffage. All Hell Breaks Loose seguing into the all-time classic The Boys are Back in Town worked wonders in the middle of the set, but it is perhaps telling that the Thin Lizzy classic was not greeted with any more of a cheer than most of the other material played. Black Star Riders have definitely become their own entity now, and that is great to see! The gorgeous ballad Blindsided from the band's last album, which I had not heard live before, was another personal highlight. Warwick sung it with real passion and Johnson's emotional solo was perfect. The two have formed such a great chemistry over the past few years and they have written some of their best ever songs together for Black Star Riders. The last four songs of the set felt like an extended victory lap. Testify or Say Goodbye, which was recently Single of the Week on BBC Radio 2, is a future classic in the making, and the three that followed are already bona fide modern hard rock classics. Kingdom of the Lost really comes alive on stage and packs more of a punch than the more laid-back album version; before both Bound for Glory and Finest Hour had the crowd singing at the top of their voices as Warwick thrashed his acoustic guitar as he sung the words with a real fire. The roar of the crowd when the band were done speaks wonders, and it is clear that Black Star Riders, despite their relatively short time together, have already become household names in the rock world and are sure to only rise from here. The setlist was:

Heavy Fire
The Killer Instinct
Dancing with the Wrong Girl
Hey Judas
When the Night Comes In
Cold War Love
All Hell Breaks Loose
The Boys are Back in Town [Thin Lizzy cover]
Hoodoo Voodoo
Who Rides the Tiger
Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed
Testify or Say Goodbye
Kingdom of the Lost
Bound for Glory
Finest Hour

Overall this was fine display of modern hard rock from one of the best live bands on the circuit at the moment. With a busy festival schedule all over Europe in the summer, this will hopefully expose the band to even more people, and I look forward to their next UK shows eagerly.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Battle Beast's 'Bringer of Pain' - Album Review

Finland has long been a real hotbed of melodic metal, with legends of the power metal genre Stratovarius originally flying the flag when forming in 1984. Since then many great bands have come out of the country, with bands like Nightwish, HIM, Children of Bodom, and Sonata Arctica (among many others) receiving mainstream attention and becoming great exports for the country's music and culture. Battle Beast are one of many melodic metal bands from Finland that are currently out there treading the boards, but they are one that is receiving quite a bit of attention. They have been around since 2008, but only really became known outside of Finland with the release of their second album, simply titled Battle Beast, in 2013. The band's debut album Steel, released in 2011, was initially only available in Finland until the giant metal label Nuclear Blast signed the band up and Steel was reissued worldwide. Battle Beast as we know them however have been around since 2012, which was when current frontwoman Noora Louhimo joined the band. Her larger-than-life image and personality has been the band's focus ever since, and her extremely diverse and powerful voice is a big part of what makes Battle Beast so appealing. From her Doro-esque rasps to her more poppy melodies, Louhimo is one of the most interesting and unique vocalists in metal currently; and it is her performances that make Battle Beast, and the 2015 follow up Unholy Savior, such powerful listens. Despite all this Bringer of Pain, the band's new fourth album, was definitely a make or break release for Battle Beast. The band's founding member and guitarist Anton Kabanen, who was solely credited for writing every single song on the band's first three albums, left the band in 2015. Many were quick to write the band off after this, and you can understand why. There are not many bands who can survive the departure of their principle songwriter (Uriah Heep springs to mind after Ken Hensley's departure but there are not many bands that can claim that), but somehow Battle Beast have managed it by really pulling together. You get the impression that this album has been a real team effort by the band, with writing credits shared out between five of the six band members and everyone really bringing something to the table. Joining Louhimo are original members guitarist Juuso Soinio, bassist Eero Sipilä, keyboardist Janne Björkroth (who also produced the album), and drummer Pyry Vikki. Joona Björkroth, brother of Janne, officially joined the band in place of Kabanen last year and ensures Battle Beast remain a six-piece. Fans of the band will note that Bringer of Pain is not a massive departure from the band's established sound; with songs either falling into the up-tempo Judas Priest-esque metal category, or the more mid-paced 1980s AOR-influenced hard rock category. The band does both styles well, and the mix of the two vibes ensures the album remains interesting throughout with a few twists and turns despite a strong overall identity.

Battle Beast waste no time getting things underway, and the crunchy hard rock of Straight to the Heart is the perfect opening for this melodic and fun album. A simple, dry guitar riff drives the song but it is the keyboard backing, akin to 1980s Journey, that adds the sparkle. It is a strong mid-paced melodic rocker which channels Steinman-esque grandeur with great classic rock swagger. Louhimo i the star of the song and her gritty voice really drives the simple verses, before really coming alive in the anthemic choruses with their driving piano backing. The album's title track follows, and this is much heavier with a riff straight out of the NWOBHM songbook and a great wordless vocal opening which Louhimo a chance to show off her diverse vocal range with ease. The simple, gang vocal driven chorus brings to mind classic Accept. This is probably the album's heaviest song, and features a great display of power metal drumming from Vikki with precise double bass patterns and a strong sense of groove throughout. In classic 1980s tradition, the final chorus sees a dramatic key change which suits Louhimo's diversity perfectly. King for a Day, the album's first single, is more of a hard rock song but it really packs a punch. Sipilä's bassline drives the verses, which follows on for a simple guitar riff, but again it is Louhimo who dominates with a theatrical display. Not to be outdone, the band's two guitarists add plenty of subtle lead licks throughout which help to add melody and technical skill throughout what is at it's a core a very simple song. A synth solo replaces the traditional guitar solo part-way through, which really helps to emphasise that AOR vibe that hangs over the entire album. Beyond the Burning Skies is another heavy one, but it opens with a delicate piano intro that brings fellow Finns Sonata Arctica to mind. It soon explodes into another crunching guitar riff that is sure to see more than a few heads bobbing when it is played live. The keyboards provide that perfect melodic halo once again, which does take some of the metal 'edge' from the song but it helps to transport the listener back to the 1980s, which is what I feel Battle Beast seem to want to do! The chorus is one of the album's best too, with a fantastic soaring melody that just begs to be sung. Familiar Hell, another of the album's singles, is a sickeningly catchy song which has more than a little influence from 1980s disco music, but it just fits in so well with the band's simple riffing and the gritty vocals of Louhimo. This is the sort of music I can imagine Grace Jones making if she suddenly turned into a metalhead, as this song is one that you can really dance to. The chorus is a very catchy one too, with sugary vocal melodies a layers of keyboards which just ooze out of the speakers with ease. This is one of those songs that I am sure will have many metalheads scratching their heads and questioning their 'defence of the faith' - it is that catchy!

Lost in Wars sees the band doing something a bit different from the norm, and sees Battle Beast employing some almost-industrial influences throughout with a variety of synth tones and a lumbering Rob Zombie-esque stomp in the riffs. Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis) provides his distinctive mournful, but powerful vocals, to the song and he duets well with Louhimo. Silly spoken word parts, soaring melodic cleans, and even the odd burst of his crushing harsh vocals give the song a unique identity and makes it stand out from anything else in the band's catalogue. It is not as instantly catchy as many of their songs, but the haunting melodies and enveloping synths will get under your skin after a few listens. Bastard Son of Odin is another up-tempo metal tune, but with some of the cheesiest keyboard sounds heard for some time! The mix of these, along with a strong galloping guitar riff, are a great contrast and this is one song where the two sides of the band really seem to mesh together perfectly. Another strong chorus proves to be the song's centre point, but it is let down by some rather awful lyrics. In fairness, nothing that Battle Beast writes could be considered poetry, but this one is particularly bad! A shredding guitar solo, which is lengthy for the band's concise standards, is another highlight too and shows that the band members are probably better musicians than many would give them credit for. We Will Fight is easily the album's least-interesting song and is one that just seems to pass by without leaving much of an impression. It is not a bad song per se, it just shows there are much stronger songs elsewhere on this disc. It is a bit of a plodding number and never really gets going. Dancing with the Beast is fantastic however and might just be my favourite song on the album. It has a similar disco vibe to Familiar Hell, but ramped up even more with even more of a pop influence. Not the modern pop influence that Amaranthe promote, but Bad Animals-era Heart with a massive 1980s influence with a rhythmic feel and synthetic-sounding drums. Layers of synths dominate, but again a few guitar leads are thrown in to remind you that are indeed listening to a heavy metal record! The chorus is fantastic too, and I see this song becoming a staple and a favourite of their live sets. Far From Heaven, the album's closing number, is a proper lighters-in-the-air power ballad which I expect Bonnie Tyler would do a fantastic cover of! It is piano driven, but it one of those songs that builds up as it goes along and ends in a heavier climax with Louhimo's gritty, but soaring, vocals really gripping hold and refusing to let go. For such an upbeat album, it may seem odd to end on a ballad, but I think it works really well. The ballad also suits the vibe of the album too, as many of the best 1980s rock/metal albums would have included at least one power ballad! Overall, Bringer of Pain is another solid entry in the band's strong discography and shows that Battle Beast is more than just a vehicle for one man's songwriting. The 1980s vibe has been pushed even further here, and I suspect we shall see more of this in the future!

The album was released on 17th February 2017 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for King for a Day.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Thunder's 'Rip it Up' - Album Review

For a band that allegedly broke up in 2009, Thunder have certainly been busy! A one-off reunion for the High Voltage Festival in 2011 seemed to give the band a new lease of live and sporadic live activity has followed ever since. In fairness the 2009 break-up was the band's second disillusionment, so it just seems that Thunder cannot keep away for long! Despite missing the heyday of hard rock music in the 1980s, Thunder have since become one of England's best-loved bands, and have an extremely loyal and dedicated fanbase around the world. I always liken them to Marillion in this regard, and are one of those bands who have remained big and popular outside the mainstream with very little attention from the mass media. The band, who is still made up of four of the band's five original members, were very successful in the early 1990s. The band's 1990 debut album Backstreet Symphony is a true British hard rock classic and is an album that, in my opinion, they have never bettered. The next two albums, 1992's Laughing on Judgement Day and 1995's Behind Closed Doors, both made the top 5 of the Official UK Album Charts but ever since then the band have become a bit of a cult act. Still, the band's popularity endured and they have become well-known in rock scenes all over the world for their no-nonsense hard rock shows and their bluesy rock anthemic songwriting. Guitarist Luke Morley, who has almost single-handedly written the band's entire back catalogue, is an extremely consistent songwriter. While he probably does not really stray from his comfort zone enough to really give Thunder the ability to turn new heads again, there is no denying that he is extremely good at what he does. His songs, coupled with frontman Danny Bowes' melodic, bluesy voice, is the Thunder blueprint and their partnership is a big part of what has made the band such a big draw over the years. 2015 saw the band release their first album in seven years. Wonder Days (which I reviewed here) was easily the band's best album for quite some time and it even troubled the charts again, cracking the top 10 for the first time since 1995. For a band of Thunder's stature, it made quite a splash and was featured on may Albums of the Year list that year. Two years later and Thunder return with Rip it Up, their eleventh studio album overall. I have to admit that this one has taken me a bit of time to get into. Wonder Days was a great in-your-face, groovy blues rock album, but this one is much more a slow-burner with less of the big hooks that made Wonder Days such an instant hit. That aside, it has been a big commercial hit for the band, and reached number 3 of the Official UK Album Chart, the band's highest entry since Laughing on Judgement Day (which reached number 2 in 1992). While it has not made as big an impression on me as Wonder Days did, there is still plenty to enjoy here. Lynne Jackaman (Saint Jude), Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn; Odin Dragonfly; Mantra Vega), and Susie Webb add female backing vocals throughout which adds a slightly different edge to this album and is something the band have not explored that often previously.

Rather than going for the jugular right away, the album starts off with the more subtle rock of No One Gets Out Alive. That is not to say that Rip it Up opens with a ballad or anything, but compared to previous Thunder album openers this song is definitely a little more laid back. The big open guitar chords ring throughout in a great rhythmic pattern, and Bowes immediately shows his bluesy quality with a strong, but slightly paired-back, vocal performance. The solo emphasises this bluesy feel with a slow flurry of well-chosen notes backed up by Ben Matthew's simple keyboards. Despite not being as much of a rocker as some might expect, the catchy guitar chords act as the album's first real hook, and the lovely organic guitar tones really shine through. The title track is next and this definitely rocks a little harder, with a soaring guitar lead during the song's intro which soon morphs into a crunchy verse with staccato power chords and sultry vocal performance. The chorus is the first real sing-a-long moment of the album, and it packs a real bluesy punch with a strong strutting feel and the subtle female vocal harmonies to add colour. A simple, but effective slide guitar solo works well later on in the song, before another chorus rounds things out nicely. She Likes the Cocaine is a down-and-dirty rocker with some wah-drenched guitar melodies and a low-key verse which is driven by Chris Childs' pulsing bass line. It never really rocks out, but the bluesy vibe that has been present throughout so far is ramped up even more here, with the cutting guitar leads and retro organ sounds. The song features Jackaman's vocals prominently and the song does pick up towards the end, with the addition of some bar room piano mixed in, and Bowes and Jackaman's voices mix in together well. Right from the Start is a ballad, something which Thunder have always excelled at. A piano-based intro soon gives way to acoustic guitars which is the perfect backing for Bowes' vocals. It does build up as it goes along, with the addition of keyboards, bass, and drums; but it never strays far from it's acoustic base. The bluesy solo is fantastic too, and sounds like something right of out a classic 1980s acoustic rock song - almost Cinderella-ish! It is a lovely song for it, and the subtle female wordless vocals used towards the end really help to elevate it and move towards a poignant ending. Shakedown is more of a rocker, but more in the laid back She Likes the Cocaine way with sparse verses and a strong percussive sense from Harry James' drumming. The choruses are heavier however, with a big riff which is sure to go down well live when it kicks in. This song is quite typical of the album's overall sound, and acts as a microcosm for where Thunder are musically at the moment with the mix of laid back swagger and hard rock riffing. Heartbreak Hurricane has a strong Led Zeppeling vibe, especially during the intro riff which features a jangly rock riff mixed with a strong acoustic presence. This permeates the whole song too, with strong use of retro organ sounds throughout and acoustic guitars to carry the main melodies throughout. Bowes' bluesy vocals are well-suited for this overall, and he shines here. When he really starts to let rip during the chorus, it is clear that his voice has not aged much at all and still sounds as strong as he did in the early 1990s.

In Another Life has a strong retro feel too, with a bassline from Childs, augmented by Matthews' keyboards, dominating this smokey bar room piece. The sound conjures up images of the band sat around on bar stools playing this song to drinkers and pool players on a Saturday night. Matthews' keyboards take the front seat here, with a solo at one point and a sound which just drenches everything else throughout. Keyboards have never been the biggest part of Thunder's sound, with Matthews often playing the guitar alongside Morley, but every so often they add another dimension to the sound and make their presence felt. The Chosen One is somewhat more upbeat, but Childs' bass guitar still manages to dominate the song early on, although some sharp riffs to join the fray after a little while. Lots of little layers are added to the song as it moves along, with bright piano notes and plenty of lead guitar added in to keep things interesting. The short instrumental section towards the end is a big of a highlight, with Morley's lead guitar duelling with Matthews' piano notes to good effect. The Enemy Inside is a bit of a throwaway bluesy rock song but it still manages to work well. It is the sort of song a band like The Quireboys could probably make into a big of classic, but Thunder have always been a little more varies and dynamic than that and songs like this do not always suit them. The bluesy guitars are great, but are not delivered with the real strut that a song like this required. The guitar solo is great though! Tumbling Down is probably the toughest rocker on the album, and features a mean riff that really comes roaring out of the speakers. It is telling of the album's vibe however that a song like this is the album's 'heaviest' piece and shows that Thunder have clearly made a conscious decision to tone down somewhat here. I think the sound suits them to an extent, but riffs like the one in this song make you wish for some harder rockers at times. That being said, this is a really strong song with another good chorus that Bowes really owns vocally. As with most of them here, the guitar solo is great. Morley and Matthews are both great players and, although it never credits individual guitar solos to the players, you can be assured that both are on fire throughout with great tone and note choices during their solos. There's Always a Loser, the album's closing number, is another ballad and this is probably the best of that kind on the album. Matthews' deep, ringing piano chords dominate the song early on which sit above a rather lumbering drum beat but it seems to work well. The song does ramp up occasionally, with some hard rocking guitar chords, but it is the piano and vocals that are the song's main driving factors. Sometimes ballads to close albums end up falling a little limp, but that is not the case here as the song is strong and packs a decent emotional punch - especially for an album as laid back as this. Overall, Rip it Up is another really enjoyable album from Thunder despite the more slow-burning feel throughout. Personally I feel that a couple of real up-tempo hard-rocking song would have really added to the album, but I can see what they were trying to achieve here and they have pulled it off. I am sure this will not be the last we see of the band, and I look forward to seeing where they go next!

The album was released on 10th February 2017 via earMusic. Below is the band's promotional video for No One Gets Out Alive, which is taken from a live studio session.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Tesseract - Plymouth Review

The 'djent' scene pretty much leaves me cold. The dry guitar sounds, the repetitive mechanical grooves, and the often lack of any big melodies makes it one of the metal subgenres I have explored the least. Tesseract are probably the only band from that world that I have ever really been able to enjoy. There is just something about their music that draws me in, and I find their very atmospheric sound enjoyable and certainly different from the norm. While they use that odd, grating guitar sound that is typical of the genre, their use of atmospherics synths throughout combined with frontman Daniel Tompkins' gorgeous vocals make their sound very interesting; and comparisons can sometimes be drawn with bands like Anathema. With the band about to embark on a UK tour supporting the Devin Townsend Project, and having not played live for a few months, Tesseract decided to arrange a headline show in Plymouth to act as a warm-up for their tour. It was the band's first time in Plymouth and the criminally-underused Hub on Bath Street was the venue of choice. Sadly bands rarely make it down to the South West, but there is clearly an audience here for rock and metal music as every show I have been to at The Hub, and the majority of shows at the White Rabbit before it, has been well-attended. This was no different and, being a Saturday night, there was a really good-sized crowd in attendance all night. The crowd was somewhat different from your average metal crowd, with less hair and Slayer t-shirts than usual and more 'hipster' types which shows the diverse appeal that bands like Tesseract can have.

Before Tesseract however the crowd were treated to two support acts, the first of which were Valis Ablaze from Bristol. With a sound not-unlike Tesseract's own, the band naturally went down pretty well and gained momentum as the set moved along. There was definitely a lot more 'classic' heavy metal elements in their sound however, with more distinct lead guitar passages than many of the bands of their ilk and less of an emphasis on complex time signatures with a more straight-ahead sound at times. It took me a couple of numbers to warm to them, but some of the songs really stood out as being very strong. The closing number in particular, which was possibly called Legacy but I might have heard that wrong, was the best of the bunch and built up to a fantastically rocking climax from a lengthy atmospheric beginning.

Bad Sign from London were different and certainly had the most energy of any of the bands on the night. The three-piece certainly had more traditional 'rock' elements than anyone else on show, but they failed to make any real impact on me. Despite the songs their songs certainly were up-tempo and packed full of energy, there just were not any real hooks to draw you in. They never really roared as a band of this type should, and I am struggling to remember of their 30 minutes on stage. Valis Ablaze were certainly the more interesting of the two supports.

Of course it was Tesseract that everyone was here to see, and by the time they hit the stage The Hub was pretty full. Tesseract really excelled in creating an atmosphere right from the get-go, and played straight through for 80 or so minutes with little crowd interaction or an encore. This mindset helped the band to create the entrancing atmosphere that they did, which was helped by a killer lightshow for such a small venue. I must admit to not being hugely familiar with the band's catalogue. Polaris is the only album of theirs I have heard in full, so much of the set was unknown to me but it was all performed with the same level of musicianship with the band locked into a tight groove at all times. While Tompkins' vocals were the highlight of the set, it was Amos Williams (bass guitar/vocals) that stood out the most musically with so many excellent and prominent basslines throughout. He was nice and high in the mix which was great, and his playing really drives the song and often adds subtle melodies on top of the mechanical and dry riffing from the band's two guitarists. Songs from the Concealing Fate song cycle were early highlights, and heavier than anything the band has done since, but for me the real standout moment of the evening was the duo of Dystopia and Hexes, both of which are from Polaris. The latter is probably my favourite Tesseract song currently and the haunting vocal melodies seemed to hold the whole audience in a trance. Later in the set, the song Of Mind - Nocturne received a big cheer from the crowd and it is the only song from their second album Altered State that I was already familiar with. The big riff worked very well live, and the pulsing verses were sung by many in attendance. The set came to an end with the lengthy and heavy Acceptance, the first part of the Concealing Fate series which prominently featured harsh vocals from Tompkins and Williams to good effect.

Sometimes it is good to go and take in a show that is out of your comfort zone and experience something different. While Tesseract will never be a favourite band of mine, I was impressed with their tight and atmospheric live show. I will certainly be checking out more of their back catalogue over the coming months.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Mutiny Within's 'Origins' - Album Review

Mutiny Within were once a hotly-tipped act. Their mix of soaring melodic metalcore mixed with tight progressive metal tendencies was a sound that many could get behind, and their self-titled debut album, released through the prestigious label Roadrunner Records, received countless rave reviews from all corners of the metal world. They supported bands like Sonata Arctica and Soilwork, which shows the diverse fanbase their music can attract, during this time but sadly split up the following year as part of what appeared to be an acrimonious and rather public disagreement with Roadrunner. Despite not performing live since this split, Mutiny Within have still remained active sporadically. The following year, 2012, the band announced that they would finish and release the album they had been working on when they split. The result, Mutiny Within II: Synchronicity (which I reviewed here), was released in 2013 and again received positive reviews. Being a totally independent release, the album was released digitally, but at the time it seemed to provide some closure on the whole mess surrounding the band's demise. In retrospect, the album still sounds somewhat unfinished with many of the songs seeming to never really reach their full potential. That being said Synchronicity is still an enjoyable listen and contains plenty of songs that are extremely memorable and catchy. Four years later, the world has another Mutiny Within album! Originally announced to be an EP of new material, the band worked over a long period of time to create the music which has been released as Origins, the band's third full-length album. Unlike Synchronicity, this feels like a proper, fully-developed album and seems to be the true follow up to the band's 2010 debut release. Due to the unavailability of some of the band, only four of the band actually worked on and contributed to this album, but the result is a real team effort with all four members of Mutiny Within really working hard to make Origins a strong and forward-thinking metal album. Frontman Chris Clancy, who now fronts English melodic rockers Wearing Scars (who released their debut album A Thousand Words in 2015, which I reviewed here), took on all the behind-the-scenes production and studio-related duties here and the result sounds huge. Daniel Bage is now the band's sole lead guitarist, and also takes on all the album's keyboard and programming this time. He proves to be a formidable keyboardist too, sometimes even opting to throw a keyboard solo into a song instead of a guitar solo! Bassist Andrew Jacobs also contributes some rhythm guitars to the album, which just shows how the band really mucked in to get this done! Drummer Bill Fore also created all of the album's artwork, which looks great - especially on the limited edition pre-order CD release of the album which is now sadly unavailable. The album is, of course, still available digitally however.

The album opens with the short instrumental title track, which helps to set the tone for what is to come with brooding synths and sparse piano melodies. This segues into Archetype of Destruction which is immediately heavy with Fore's furious death metal-style drumming and a harsh bark from Clancy. He does not use his harsh vocals at all with Wearing Scars, so it is great to hear him let rip again here with some furious growls. This song feels like they were trying to write the perfect Mutiny Within song, and they have succeeded with a perfect mix of heavy sections and soaring melodic sections with Clancy's clean vocals and subtle lead guitar melodies. Fore even throws in a few blast beats here and there, which really ramps up the heaviness. Bage's guitar solo is fluid and memorable too, and is less of a speed-fest than you might have thought given the song's overall tempo. Justify is more calculated and measured, with a great anthemic opening with ascending guitar notes that bring old-school melodic metalcore to mind. The song is still pretty heavy however, but chugs along at a solid mid-pace throughout with lots of great groove in the riffs and drumming. The song's chorus is the first moment on the album that really begs to be sung and really helps to elevate the song to the next level. Bage shows off his keyboard skills too with a flashy run early on that does what no equivalent guitar line could do. This is the sort of uplifting song that their debut album was packed full of, and would surely be extremely popular if the band were to reach a bigger audience. Silent Weapons features the first of three special guests on the album, as Per Nilsson (Scar Symmetry) performs the song's guitar solo. Rather unsurprisingly, the song is more on the progressive end of the band's songwriting style, and features lots of harsh vocals from Clancy. That being said, it is still very melodic with a slightly mournful chorus which really oozes out of the speakers. Nilsson's solo is a wacky and technical as any Scar Symmetry fan will know, and it really adds to the overall proggy feel of the song. Reasons, like Justify, is somewhat simpler but it features another guest in the form of Andy James (Sacred Mother Tongue; Budgie; Fields of the Nephilim; Wearing Scars), Clancy's Wearing Scars bandmate, who contributes a guitar solo. Ironically, the song actually has more in common with the more melodic rock sound of that band than with the majority of the Mutiny Within canon, but it still fits in well here with a stunning vocal display from Clancy. As far as his cleans go, this song really shows him at his best. The song's chorus is a real winner too, and packs a real emotional punch with lots of subtle vocal harmonies to bring out the mood. Internal Dissension is heavier and, like the opening song, packs a lot into a short space of time. Bage's keyboard playing really shines on the song with lots of atmospheric backing pieces and lots of leads, especially under Clancy's vocals during the chorus. That being said, he does let rip with the guitar at the end of the song with some fantastic arpeggiated leads that bring the song to an almost djent-like end.

On first listen, Circles was the song that really stood out to me and after many listens it is still my favourite on the album. The Killswitch Engage influence is very prominent here with heavy choruses and a big, emotional chorus. The verses are great, and the grinding guitar riffs fit well with the good old-fashined double bass drumming from Fore. It is the chorus where the song really takes off however, with some of the strongest melodies of the entire album. It is one of those choruses that just sticks in your head instantly and begs to be sung. The keyboards used throughout have a great, almost choral value which adds a lot to the song too. Bage's guitar solos are great too, and shows he can outsmart the guests brought in! Serenity features the album's last guest, this time in the form of vocalist Justin Hill (SikTh) who also contributed some vocals to the band's first album. His higher pitched harsh vocals are a good contrast to Clancy's lower growls and the two share vocal lines throughout to good effect. The keyboard line early one really jumps out too, as it is packed full of power metal-quality playing. It does sound a little out of place, but it is also great because it is so ridiculous! As with many of the songs here, it is extremely memorable and is full of the band's trademark melodies. Stay Forever is another favourite, and the song's main riff instantly hooks you in with a big melody that transitions into a fairly aggressive and heavy verse which is surprisingly angsty. It is the chorus that is the song's main selling point however, and Clancy's long, drawn out notes really grab you and fail to let go. Despite the soaring choruses, the song remains pretty heavy throughout, with plenty of driving drumming and a fast, shredded guitar solo. Not wishing to go out on a whisper, Secrets opens with a flurry of metal drumming and a heavy riff to herald the album's final song. While not the heaviest here by any means, it is a strong one with plenty of big melodies. There are a couple of different ideas too. Firstly the slightly gothic choral arrangements that are used throughout give the song a real epic, cinematic quality that is not the norm for the band; and secondly there are some great retro synth sounds used throughout - especially on the lengthy keyboard solo part-way through. While other songs here are stronger, Secrets ensures the album ends on a high. Overall, Origins is a really strong album from Mutiny Within which may in time eclipse their debut album from seven years ago. While the band has approached the songwriting in a similar way to before and no massively new ideas are used, the album feels fresh and full of highlights. It is a shame that Mutiny Within will probably never again be a touring entity, but if they continue to release new music periodically I am sure their many fans will remain happy!

The self-released album was released on 10th February 2017. Below is the band's promotional soundclip for Archetype of Destruction.

Monday, 6 March 2017

The Fallen State - Plymouth Review

It is rare that a local band start to 'make waves', but that is exactly what Devon's The Fallen State are beginning to do. After learning their craft around the venues of the South West, the band five-piece rockers have gone on to support some big names in the genre over the past couple of years. Halestorm and 3 Doors Down are just a couple of bands The Fallen State have shared stages with, and it is fair to say they are starting to gain a bit of a reputation. 2017 promises to be a watershed year for the band. The band's fifth EP The View from Ruin was released last month, and this month sees the band embark on their first headline tour which takes in some of the major cities of England. The tour started in their hometown of Barnstaple, and came to Plymouth the following day. The Fallen State have played in Plymouth quite a few times in the past, but this show at Mutley Plain's Underground venue was the first one I had been able to make for various reasons. While the place was never full at any point during the evening, there was a respectable crowd gathered for a Sunday night and the atmosphere throughout was always very good. It was clear that The Fallen State already already have quite a few dedicated fans in Plymouth, and I am sure this will only increase over time. Another draw for me was the fact that fellow South West-based rockers Departed were opening the show, and they were another band I had been wanting to see live for a while.

The aforementioned Departed got the evening off to a fine start with 30 minute or so of polished and melodic classic rock played with real heart and class. Mark Pascall (vocals) and Ben Brookland (guitar/vocals) both have good rock pedigree and are veterans of many bands. I have seen Pascall as part of both Morph and Empire of Fools over the years, and Brookland was a founding member of Cambridge-based hard rockers The Treatment who had the best years of their life while Brookland was up there on stage with them. In fact I last saw Brookland at the Capital FM Arena (as was) in Nottingham back in 2013 when The Treatment supported Slash. It is clear that these experiences have shaped Departed, and there was not a weak song among their set. Brookland's fiery riffing drove the set, and Pascall really relished the frontman role. In all the previous times I have seen him he has been playing an instrument as well as singing, and he seemed a new man without these shackles. It is safe to say I was impressed by the Departed, and purchased a copy of their self-titled debut EP right after their set finished. I look forward to digesting it and hopefully seeing the band live again soon.

It is fair to say that Liberty Lies did not make the same impact on me as Departed did. I had seen the band once before playing an extremely truncated set in Birmingham supporting Heaven's Basement a couple of years ago. They failed to make an impression then and they failed to make an impression this time too. Their mix of nu-metal and classic rock influences is just strange and you feel that the band is caught between while sound they wish to pursue and instead have created some kind of hybrid which fails to really work - for me at least. Short bursts of harsh vocals just do not sit well with the less-heavy music that is going on behind, and the choruses just lacked the necessary hooks to really take hold. A misplaced cover of Rage Against the Machine's Testify just exacerbated the band's image crisis and I cannot say I was too disappointed when their set was over.

While The Fallen State's music is sometimes too grounded in modern rock for my classic rock loving mind, there is no doubt that they are a hell of a live band! From when they hit the stage with the big chorus of Hope in Revival, they held the audiences' attention for the next hour plus and delievered a fast-paced set packed with punchy riffs, hooky choruses, and the odd fluid guitar solo from Jon Price (guitar/vocals). Frontman Ben Stenning, while not possessing the greatest voice the genre has ever heard, more than makes up for this in attitude and he really knows how to work a crowd. There were many moments throughout the night where he ordered the crowd to sing, and they did, and this just shows the effect that grassroots touring can really have. Naturally, the new material was featured prominently in the set, with every song from The View from Ruin featured throughout the evening, along with cuts from their other releases. The slower-paced Sons of Avarice was an early highlight, and the heavier newer material really took hold during the set's second half, with the heavy The Quickening standing out. Another highlight was the ballad Nova, which the band have recently released a video for, which was extremely well-received by the crowd and saw lots of passionate singing from the fans. The main set came to an end with the pummelling and anthemic Sinner, which also saw a lot of crowd interaction, and the band left the stage to strong applause. There was time for a couple more however and, after singing happy birthday to Dan Oke (guitar), saw Send up the World and another new number Lifetime bring the evening to a raucous end.

It is always great to see local bands starting to get national attention, and that is just what The Fallen State are doing. I am glad that I finally got to catch them live as I have been wanting to see them for some time. They did not disappoint and I will certainly go and see them again next time they play locally.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Mostly Autumn's 'Sight of Day' - Album Review

Regular readers of this blog will by now be more than aware of my love for York's Mostly Autumn. They were the first band I saw live back in 2006, and it was that evening over 10 years ago that set me on the musical path that I still find myself walking down. I have seen the band well over 30 times live now and seeing them live is often one of the highlights of the gigging year for me. Perhaps unsurprisingly too, a new Mostly Autumn album is always a highly anticipated arrival. Since becoming an independent band in 2005, Mostly Autumn have funded their albums through pre-order campaigns and were doing this long before the current Pledge, Kickstarter etc. trend really took hold. Mostly Autumn's pre-order campaigns are much more low-key and less elaborate than what many have come to expect, but the fans always get value for money. From 2006's Heart Full of Sky onward, fans who pre-ordered the album received a limited edition of the album with a bonus disc (usually with exclusive extra songs) before the album's official release date. This trend continues on Sight of Day, the band's twelfth studio album. 2014's Dressed in Voices (which I reviewed here), the band's last studio effort, has since been hailed as many (including myself) as the band's greatest achievement to date. The dark, emotionally-charged concept album contained some of the band's most thoughtful and impacting music to date and really worked well as a singular piece of music. The fact that the band spend two years properly touring the album, and representing it in it's entirety live, only helped to create and cement the album's great reputation. While I believe that stronger individual songs exist elsewhere in the band's vast catalogue, Dressed in Voices is their most coherent an focused album. It was always going to be hard to top it, and the band broke their regular two year album cycle while working on Sight of Day. In fairness, band leader, vocalist, and lead guitarist Bryan Josh did release a solo album last year (which I reviewed here), which allowed him to experiment with some new songwriting ideas, but Mostly Autumn's main focus of late has been touring. Sight of Day was written and recorded last year however, and will see a general release in April. While I have the special pre-order edition, this review will only be focusing on the songs that make up the main album that will be available from retailers in a couple of months time. Despite the slightly longer wait than is usual, it is safe to say that Sight of Day is well worth the wait. Moving away from the dark depths of the Dressed in Voices concept, Sight of Day feels very refreshing and has a more upbeat vibe (despite some darker moments throughout). The sound here is less focused and more experimental, but with plenty of musical and lyrical nods to the band's past. Two of the band's alumni have returned to the fold for this album too. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Chris Johnson makes his second appearance on a Mostly Autumn album, and long-serving flautist Angela Gordon makes her long-awaited return to the studio with the band. Both last appeared on a Mostly Autumn album on Heart Full of Sky, and their contributions to Sight of Day definitely help to make it the special album that it is.

Interestingly enough, Sight of Day opens in a very similar way to Dressed in Voices, with doomy and melancholic piano melodies. The 14-plus minute title track, which has become the band's longest studio recording, is the perfect way to get this album going. Frontwoman Olivia Sparnenn-Josh takes the lead here, and her voice dominates the early part of the song as she duels effortlessly with the rolling piano melodies and subtle string backing. The song is in three distinct parts. The first is almost a stand-alone song which builds up in classic Mostly Autumn fashion to a dramatic chorus-climax which sees Sparnenn-Josh and Josh harmonising beautifully to form a powerful vocal attack. The melodies are extremely memorable here, and the mix of instruments is great. Iain Jennings' pulsing hammond organ washes drive this first part as it moves towards the epic chorus, and Andy Smith's bassline is surprisingly prominent and melodic. The second part is an instrumental section, dominated by Josh's effects-drenched guitar leads which are clearly influenced by his life-long love of Pink Floyd. The piano chimes away behind him and Alex Cromarty's swing-filled drumming really helps to bring this section to life. The third is an upbeat rocker, with driving acoustic guitar chords to fill out the sound and a stratospheric vocal display from Sparnenn-Josh. She really shows her range and power on this song, from the lower notes earlier on to the high notes during the song's closing moments. It is not exaggerating to suggest that this song could be Josh's greatest ever composition yet, and it is the perfect way to kick off this ambitious album. There are few songs that could successfully follow Sight of Day, so Once Round the Sun with it's more back-to-basics laid-back hard rock approach does well in this respect by being almost the antitheses of the epic title track. Those who are fans of Josh's 2008 solo album Through These Eyes will enjoy the simple approach of the song, wish Josh's strong vocal performance standing out. Jennings' organ playing is all over this song, and the washings of the instrument really help to take the listener back to the 1970s. The Deep Purple-esque riff-drive section towards the end sees the song take on a more heavier tone, and sees Gordon's first prominent contribution to the album with a cutting and jaunty flute line which works well alongside the guitars and keyboards. The Man Without a Name has another different vibe altogether. Entirely composed by Sparnenn-Josh, the song is a piano ballad that makes the use of the delicate side of her voice. It is a very simple song, with piano being the dominant instrument throughout. There are subtle guitar flourishes are are nearly tucked into the background, but this song is all about Sparnenn-Josh and her beautiful vocal display. Hammerdown has some of the band's classic murky and emotional tug and certainly brings back memories of 2010's Go Well Diamond Heart. Josh's bluesy guitar patterns really add to this feel, and the heavier choruses with plenty of keyboard layers and the vocal paring of Josh and Sparnenn-Josh packs quite a punch. While Josh mainly takes the lead on the vocal front, much of the song is sung in unison which has always been one of the band's big selling points. He also launches into one of his hugely emotional guitar solos in the song too, and you can almost hear the guitar bleed as he squeezes those notes out of it! Changing Lives is my favourite song on the album, with the exception of the title track. Composed and sung by Johnson, it is not your traditional Mostly Autumn song and instead sounds more like modern alternative bands like Anathema. While it is not as cutting as his work with Halo Blind, Changing Lives is certainly packed full of Johnson's spiky, yet melodic songwriting style and easily rivals his songwriting contributions for Heart Full of Sky. His fragile voice is perfect for this song, and his driving guitar rhythms and piano melodies perfectly suit his raw, high-pitched vocals. Sparnenn-Josh adds her harmonies throughout which really adds depth to the song, and makes the song's chorus, which has some fantastically rhythmic drumming, really float. The end of the song is mostly instrumental, with plenty of trademark Josh soloing, but there is a beautiful wordless vocal section which is extremely uplifting. These vocals were recorded at a couple of shows live last year, and the make-shift choir of fans really adds something to the end of this stunning song.

Again, Changing Lives is an extremely hard song to follow so the all-out hard rock of Only the Brave certainly helps to change the mood and give the album a bit of a energetic kick. Regular collaborator Troy Donockley (Iona; Nightwish) adds his customary uilleann pipes and whistles to the song, and new collaborator Anna Phoebe makes her debut guest appearance on a Mostly Autumn album with some excellent violin playing. The song is a driving rocker, with Josh's raw vocals standing out and Jennings' organ playing once again dominating. The song's highlight is the instrumental mid-section however, which sees the whole band (including Donockley and Phoebe) really rocking out with their instruments in a real folk rock workout. While it can sound a little chaotic at first, there is so much enthusiasm here that you cannot help but get drawn in. Native Spirit is the only song on the album that I feel has not yet really clicked with me. It is another lengthy song, and at over 10 minutes in length it does seem to drag a little. Josh's lyrics are very strange here, and just gives the song a bit of a weird overall tint. That being said, there is some great guitar playing throughout this song, with lots of solos scattered throughout in which Josh really gets to cut loose. When the song really ramps up towards the end however it does really start hit home. The dramatic symphonic arrangement suits the song, and has a bit of drama and soaring melody that the rest of the song is missing. While Native Spirit is certainly not a weak song, there is certainly a lot to like here, it is the one on the album which has made the least impact on me. Tomorrow Dies really helps to get the album back on track and contains one of Sparnenn-Josh's best ever vocal displays. It is the only song on the album co-written by Jennings and his synthy, modern influences are all over it. The drums have an effect on them which almost makes them sound like an 1980s drum machine which I am sure was done deliberately. It is a bit of a strange song at first, especially with the surprisingly down-beat verse kicks in after the driving synthy intro section, but by the time it hits the chorus the song really takes off. This is where Sparnenn-Josh really shines, and her voice leaps out of the speakers with such force it almost knocks you over. Given Jennings' heavy involvement in the song, it is not a surprise that keyboards are the dominant sound. Lots of different keyboard types and sounds are used throughout and it is one of the few Mostly Autumn songs were synths dominate as a opposed to the more traditional and organic keyboard sounds. It works really well however, and adds a slightly disco-rock edge to this part of the album. Like it's namesake Hammerdown, Raindown is another murky and emotional piece. The opening is dominated by Phoebe's violin, but it is unsurprisingly Sparnenn-Josh that steals the show again with a hugely emotional and dramatic vocal display. Donockly and Gordon both add their magic to the song, the latter with some lovely flute lines. While the song is quite long, it never feels it as the emotion and fantastic playing from the whole just washes over you. Sparnenn and Gordon harmonise beautifully on the vocals towards the song's end, and the guitar solo that follows fits the mood perfectly. The album's closing number, Forever and Beyond, is a surprisingly low-key song that really harks back to the band's early days with Gordon's whistle lines and plenty of acoustic guitars. Again, the song is mostly sung in unison between Josh and Sparnenn-Josh and their voices mix together perfectly to suit the upbeat but floaty feel of the song. For an album that is so diverse and packed full of contrasting emotions, it is fitting that the album ends with a stripped-back simple song that highlights the band can do the basic things just as well as they can do the complex. Overall, Sight of Day can only be described as a triumph. While I am clearly biased, and my love for Mostly Autumn knows no bounds, they really have pulled it out of the bang on this one.  Whether it ends up topping Dressed in Voices remains to be seen, but we already have an early contender for Album of the Year and I cannot see it being topped!

While the album will be officially released to retailers on 7th April 2017 via Mostly Autumn Records, those who pre-ordered the special edition of the album direct from the band started to receive their copies in the week beginning 6th February 2017.