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Pilgrim - 'Misery Wizard' (metalblade) 4/5

Until yesterday I knew three things about Rhode Island. 1) It's the smallest state in the union, 2) its the home to a fictional family in a popular US animated sitcom and 3) The place gave its name to a breed of chicken. But now I have a fourth fact, its the place where doom metal titans Pilgrim hail from.

Now Pilgrim are a classic power trio of The Wizard on guitar and vocals, Elric The Soothsayer on bass and a certain Krolg, The Slayer Of Men on drums; and they play doom metal of the darkest and doomiest kind. Imagine the sort of stuff the likes of St Vitus and Candlemass were doing back in the late 80's and you'll get the idea.

Now the first thing you notice about this album is how slow it is. Its SLOW, very slow indeed; so slow in fact it makes a lot of Black Sabbaths early work sound almost speed metal in comparison. In fact its not until half way into the the third track Quest, that the tempo even lifts beyond funeral march speed, when Pilgrim go off on a Witchfinder General style trip for a minute or so before slamming on the breaks again and grinding out the rest of the track in fine funeral metal tradition.

The second thing that hits you it that this album is epic in scope. There are six songs on offer, half of which top the 10 minute mark - in fact only one song, Adventurer (a surprisingly snappy tune that sounds not unlike NWOBHM gods Pagan Alter) comes in at under five (don't go expecting much mainstream radio play guys).

Now I know what your thinking, this has gotta be one boring album. But you'd be wrong in thinking that. Despite the fact this album moves along with all the pace of an arthritic tortoise it still keeps itself very entertaining and listenable. This is partly due to some cleaver production that positions everything in the mix perfectly, with plenty of space around each instrument so every power chord and cymbal splash has room to breath and resonate to maximum effect and turns the whole listening experience into a gloriously dark sound-scape. The other key factor is that the vocals here are clean, not a pig grunt or death groan in sight, this means you can hear exactly what The Wizard is singing about as he spins his dark tales of swords, sorcery, death, damnation and daring do. All of this results in a very entertaining listen that holds the attention for the entire album and makes the whole work stand up to repeated plays.

In short I'm pretty impressed with this album. it's been a while since I last discovered a new doom act of the old school, and a long time since I've found one as good as this. Highly recommended.

For fans of... Black Sabbath, St. Vitus, Candlemass, Pagan Alter, Witchfinder General.....


Trucker Diablo - 'The Devil Rhythm' (Ripple Music) 5/5

Ok, this lots are new to me. Apparently Trucker Diablo are out of Northern Ireland and are a four piece formed by some veterans of the local music scene; and recently they are having a bit of a purple patch. This, their debut album, has gotten its self a worldwide release through that home of all this old school and interesting, Ripple music, are getting airplay on five continents and early next year are out on the road with Black Stone Cherry.

Now listening through to this album its easy to see what all the excitement is all about. Trucker Diablo play good old no nonsense heads down boogie fueled damnation rock and roll. Imagine a truck load of Molly Hatchett and Black Oak Arkansas style southern boogie in a motorway horror smash with a cargo of Spider / Dedringer style NWOBHM and a van load of Black Stone Cherry type modern hard-rock sensibilities piling into the wreckage and you'll get the general idea. The end result has a certain Almighty vibe to it, and it's no surprise to find former Almighty front man Ricky Warwick turning up to add his voice to the track Juggernaut.

Gotta say I'm finding this one right up my musical alley. Tracks like the opener and current single Drink Beer, Destroy with its beer fueled blue collar slam boogie riffage and mob yell chorus; the Sweet Savage style truckers anthem Big Truck, the juke-joint sleaze of Dirty Love and the ZZ Top on Steroids drive and grind of When Angels Die: all thunder straight from the speakers like the devils own 18 wheeler and they give you a simple choice, get on and enjoy the ride - or end up as another lump of roadkill in their musical wake.

The performance and the production here can't be faulted - its smooth enough to be clear, balanced and 100% listenable, but still retains enough rawness and rough edges to keep its greasy rock sensibilities true and maintain the whole 'rock and roll is the devils music' feel.

This is one of the best truckin' rock and truckin' roll albums of recent years, and I'm not alone in that opinion, When they number the likes of Dee Snider (Twisted mutha truckin' Sister) and Joe Elliot (Def Leppard) amongst their admirers, you know you have summit special on your hands, and I've got high hopes that this may just be the album that puts old school hard rock and roll back in the public eye where it belongs.

Its truckin' great, buy it and love it forever.

For fans of... Grifter, The Almighty, Motortrain, Sweet Savage, Black Stone Cherry, Drivin' and Cryin'....

KoRn - 'The Path Of Totality' (roadrunner) 3.5/5

Anyone who has read back through the reviews in this blog will already know of my utter and intense dislike for dance music, so when I read that KoRn were teaming up with a load of drum machine monkeys to do a full album I was filled with a more than a little dread and bile. After all Korn themselves are a band I can take or leave at the best of times, and the thought of having to listen to a full album their stuff remixed for the pilled up dance-floor massive was more than bit off putting. Still Roadrunner were good enough to send me a copy and ask for my honest opinion, so here goes....

Ok on first play I gotta say this isn't as bad as I was prepared for. At least what we have on offer here are real songs, not endless drum loops with three second sampled hooks dropped in at random, and to be honest some of the songs here are fairly good, for KoRn tracks. The opener Chaos Lives In Everything is probably the best cut on offer here, Like most of the album it comes over  little like Rammstein and features some nice metal riffage and even the dub-step drum beats don't annoy too much. And so the album continues. Other high points that suprised me a bit were the Peter Gabrielesque Sanctuary and the dark industrial grind of Way Too Far.

In fact there are only three places on the entire album that had me reaching for the next track button, the two Skrillex produced tracks, Narcissistic Cannibal & Get Up, where fair competent songs are ruined by scratch mix masturbation and pointless random drum beat breakdowns; and the closer Bleeding Out, where what starts out as a nice downbeat chilled out bit of post rock ambiance is ruined by over complex drum beats, naff euro trance synth breakdowns and a mix that buries the vocals into a wall of acid dub whatever drum machine monkeyisms and a strange and pointless bagpipe sample sequence.

I'm still suprised I made it to the end of the record with out wanting to throw up, or smash up the CD player, and for me to say that really is something. Don't get me wrong, this has done nothing to win me over to dance fusion, or make me a KoRn fan, but at least its something in that genre that I can listen to without a psychotic reaction.

Not as bad as you would expect.

For fans of... Pendulum, Rammstien etc...


Beggars And Thieves - 'We Are The Brokenhearted' (frontiers) 4.5/5

New York rockers Beggars and Thieves have been around for a while now, although they haven't always had the best sense of timing, they arrived on the world stage just at the time when the world and his wife were going grunge crazy and attempted a come back at the height of the Nu Metal revolution. The result was their distinctive brand of prog influenced melodic hard rock just was never right for the time and they seamed destined to remain firmly in the also ran camp. However Louie Merlino and his crew are a persistent bunch, and at times persistence can pay off. So when they issued a low profile ep to great acclaim last year it looked like this time the world may take a bit more notice of the band, so as a result we have 'We Are The Brokenhearted' their fourth full length studio offering, and the first full album in 12 years.

Now I've been living with this one for a few weeks now and I've been meaning to review it for a while; but you know how things go, you sit down to start typing, the phone rings or something else crops up that demands immediate attention and you put it off for another few days... but when this has happened I've tended to leave the album playing in the background, and I've grown really fond of it as a result.

The over all sound is a very ear friendly blend of old school melodic hardrock that sounds not unlike Warrant meets Magnum; poppy prog in the It Bites, Asia style and even a slice or two of early U2 / Simple Minds / Energy Orchard type of celtic influenced stadium rock. all in all a nice and diverse blend of influences and styles that sit together nicely and make for a damn good listen.

There are some damn fine personal musical performances on show here, Mr Merlino has a great voice, it's natural sounding, mid ranged and very distinctive. There's none of that cliched power wailing or screamed high notes that singers in this genre are often suckered into - here's a guy who knows his own voice and uses it to maximum effect. The guitars of Ron Mancuso are a real joy to listen to, there no over the top hysteronics, just some very nice playing that ranges from some soulful and beautifully under played acoustic lines to some tasteful melodic lead lines that Floyds Dave Gilmore would be proud of. Add in the rhythm section of former Left for Dead Stickman Bobby Borg and bassist Phil Soussan returning from his various outings with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol and Dio and you have a well tasty line up capable of peddling some first rate, intelligent rock music.

Picking individual highlights from this one is tough, the whole album is damn good, but I have a big soft spot for Midnight Blue, a great hardrock number which resolves into a very tasteful piano lament at the end. Then there's the title track that sounds a bit like Simple Minds jamming with Bruce Springstein, turns into an air punching anthem to die for and ends up going sort of left field jazz at the end; and then there's Oil & Water a prog rock influenced little number that wouldn't sound out of place on a classic Pendragon album - complete with a Nick Barret style solo. Or how about Seven Seconds with its sleaze rock riffage and Paul Toner (Energy Orchard) style guitar bridge section....

...I could go on, but don't wanna give you a full track by track breakdown (it annoys me when reviewers do that - I like to give a few pointers and let the listener explore the record for themselves), but I will say I don't think there's a single weak moment on show here, this is a great record and if there's any justice in the world it will be the record that after all these years will show the world what a great band Beggars and Thieves are.

Well worth checking out.

For fans of... Simple Minds, Warrant, Boston, Pendragon, Queen...etc


Austrian Death Machine - Jingle All The Way' (metalblade) 4/5

This is the latest seasonal offering from Californian Arnold Schwarzenegger worshiping outfit Austrian Death Machine (actually a side project featuring As I Lay Dying vocalist Tim Lambesis) and this time its Arnies Chrimbo comedy flick 'Jingle All The Way' thats set up for equal doses of praise and parody.

There are three songs on offer here, all very over the top and very silly looks at various Arnie one liners from the movie. We get I Am Not A Pervert, It's Turbo Time and Who Told You You Could Eat My Cookies? All of which are packed with some gloriously over the top power metal, self parodying shred solo breaks and off course some fairly passable Arnie impressions delivering some very much tongue in cheek comments through out. "What the hells the mater with you, you totally forgot the guitar solo, you idiots, play it, play it now..." It's not big and it's not cleaver... but it is highly entertaining, and like the movie that inspired it, mercifully short, so the joke is not worn thin at the end.

In fact I'll be honest I like Austrian Death Machine, which is more than I can say about As I Lay Dying (never a band that has done anything for me) and I also find it refreshing that this is a seasonal record that doesn't feature cheesy sleigh bells and Santa references, which is another big plus.

In short this is the best Chrimbo release of the year, Highly recommended.

For fans of.... ARNIE. (Girly boys should give this one a miss)


Hellish Outcast - 'Your God Will Bleed' (Transend Music) 4.5/5

Norwegian metallers Hellish Outcast are a bit of a supergroup, comprising of former members of such acts as Byfrost, Breed, 66 Crusher and Keep Of Kalessin, they first raided our shores earlier this summer when they laid waste to the bloodstock festival and left us with the impressive 'Raping Killing Murder' ep. Now anyone who knows their dark ages history will tell you that once the Vikings have raided, they will be back in greater force, and now we have again dark sails on the horizon as the band once more are set to return with their full length debut in the form of 'Your God Will Bleed'.

Now first impressions of this album are very favourable. What we have here are ten slices of deadly and effective Norse steel that make longships out of your ears, sail straight into your brain, lay waste to all they can find and make such an impact that you know your gonna remember the event for years to come.

The first assault comes in the form of The View, So Disgusting (a comment on a popular US day time talk show?) - a track that is dripping brutal riffs, and features a vocal approach that comes over like some weirdly compelling death metal hip-hop. From there on in its death and sonic slaughter all the way, we gets cuts like the violently short You Will Scream, that is a sub two minute berserk assault of unbelievable fury; the prolonged battery of tracks like Muffled Screams (lots of screaming going on here), which do show a fair degree of subtly in the bludgeon, with some slower paced riffs to counterpoint some blindingly fast blast beat sections; and my fave cuts on show the frenzied Face Forced Down and the masterfully epic closer Hubris.

Maximum praise must be given to the guys performing this act of metallic conquest. The music here isn't groundbreaking, it follows naturally in the footsteps of previous viking raiders such as Bathory, Darkthrone, Amon Armath etc, but it is particularly well penned and performed, instantly likeable and is a worthy edition to Norways metal heritage.

In short this is a damn fine record, and one that will win Hellish Outcast a lot of friends indeed.

For fans of... Tyr, Forefather, Amon Armath, Noctem, Glorior Belli....


We Die Tonight - "Stem The Tide" - (Self released) 3.5/5

'Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the inbox....' The tide of metalcore wannabes had been drying up over the past few months, and I was starting think the whole movement was dead or at least on its last legs; but then with out warning my inbox and ears are suddenly brutally assaulted by this four tracker by London hopefuls We Die Tonight, to show us that the corpse of metalcore hasn't quite finished kicking just yet.

To be honest, this one aint that bad, and does have something interesting to bring to the table. While in some places it does sound a bit like almost every other metalcore outfit I've been sent recently, in other places it show some creativity. There's the superb climax to opener Dancing With Daggers with its impressive selection of riffs, insanely heavy approach and some cool and controlled dirty vocals; and the wonderful Salt In The Sharkbite which kicks off with a very impressive speedcore opening, takes in a mathcore sequence that make Periphery sound like a 4/4 rock and roll band and some glorious post thrash brutal guitar attack.

But there is a fundamental flaw here, and that's the vocals. Like every other metal core outfit since the dawn of time we have the old clean and dirty vocalist interplay here. Now because every metalcore band on the planet, and their dogs are doing that the whole thing since the year dot, it's starting to become a bit of a cliche, and unless its done very very well, just doesn't work. And sadly this is the case here.

Now please, please, please don't get me wrong , both the clean and dirty vocals here are good, both guys (that's if it IS two guys and not Peter Park doing vocal gymnastics - the press notes that came with this aint clear about this point), are powerful, clear understandable and suit the music well. But its just they blend together like oil and water. They just don't sit well together, The dirty vocals are powerful direct and brutal, the cleans softer in attack and are hesitant is a sort of Elvis Costello way, the result is they clash horribly in the mix, jangle the nerves and just don't sound right.

This is a shame cos if the clean vocals were taken out and the lines added to the dirty's you would have a bit of metalcore gem here. And by the same measure if the cleans sang everything We Die Tonight would be a power / thrash metal band to take note of... but together...nah. The problem is compounded by the fact that as instrumentalists WDT are one of the best bands I've heard in a while, and with either vocals they could be great.

In Short, Not bad, but....

For Fans Of... Screaming Eyes, Periphery, Devil Wear Prada, Terakai, etc...


Avenge Thee + Naime - "Open Carpet" (self released) 4.5/5

Experimental sludge 'n' grind outfit Avenge Thee + Naime are a funny lot, they never play on a stage - even at major festivals - preferring to set up in the middle of the crowd instead, they have two drummers and claim to '...eschew the usual heavy metal traits of machismo and raw anger, instead preaching a message of unity and optimism'. But then you notice they hail from Canterbury, home of the likes of Soft Machine, Camel, Caravan, Gong and Todd Dillingham, and the Canterbury music scene has never marched instep with the rest of the musical world.

In fact as you listen through this eight tracker you begin to notice that despite all the doomy sludge grind sensibilities the true anarchic spirit of the classic Canterbury sound still shines through. The music on offer here is gloriously left field, very trippy and strangely uplifting.

Tracks such as Maximum Purity (Buy My Water) with it's soft acoustic intro, slow doomy and discordent build up politically aware lyrics; and the almost death jazz Wound Licker with its complex riff structure and sub-Amebix drive, go to show that this is the new 'hippy' rock for post 9-11 generation. This is the sound of future free festivals, the anthems for those who say NO to the system and want to do something about it.

To say I find this album engaging, accessable and highly enjoyable is a great understatement. My personal highlight has to be The Chode with its relentless post tribal beats, angry rant vocals, primal scream backing vocals and relentless driving beat that does indeed sound something that Gong would have recorded if they had invented sludge grind back in the early 1970s'.

In short this is a great record, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to hear something a little outside the box.

For fans of... Amebix, Gong, Rolo Tomassi, Leather Nun, Somnus.....

The Famous Class - "Have You Ever" (pledge music) 2/5

London self styled 'pop-punksters' The Famous Class have been building a bit of a reputation around them over the past year or so. Headline tours of China, bill topping Belgium festival apperanaces, 02 Academy tours.... They must be doing something right. But What?

I gotta admit I'm at loss to describe it. After all there's nothing remarkable on this four tracker at all. OK its it competent and well played, but its so bloody generic it could be by any one of the hundreds of 'You-and-Green-182-at-Six' clones that are chancing their arms all over the world. You can play through this ep and tick all the right boxes for 'pop-rock cliche 101' on every track; wall of fuzz guitar sound, teen angst/coming of age lyrics, mob yell stabs and backing vocal, chorus key changes, middle eight breakdown... hell this stuff is so formulaic it could have been penned by machine.... That's a thought, are TFC the result of some evil Frankenstein experiment to make the most perfectly cliche commercial pop-rock band in the world? There is a hint in the press blurb that came with this ep. Apparently the band applied to be the band in the adverts for a certain diabetes inducing commercial energy drink... and failed. Could it be that even the band themselves see themselves not as musicians but product?

(Note - the question can be answered by a short visit to the bands website, where your bombarded by a series of adverts for pot noodle type snacks before you can explore it... This is not a band, they are an ad agency)

As you can guess this leaves me cold. In a time when the UK music scene is alive with great music by outfits such as The Skuzzies, Elimination, I Divide, Dakesis, Awake and many many more this ep can only be a retrograde step, as it is nothing more than a clone of what the mainstream music industry has been pumping down our throats for the past few years via the likes of Kerrang!! fm etc, and does nothing to help raise the profile of what is really going on on the UK rock scene.

Still horses for course I suspose. You teenies who have yet to experience real music and fans of disposable teen agnst pseudo punk might like it, and good luck to them, but real rock and punk fans will want to give this one a very wide berth indeed.

Not recommended at all.

for fans of.. Greenday, Blink 182, You and Me at Six, Razorlight....


Dakesis - "Trail By Fire" (CapsAArx) 4/5

Birmingham in the UK has in recent years styled itself as 'The Home Of Metal', and whilst there is a certain amount of tourist trappage in the whole claim and the new museum they have set up there, it cannot be denied that the West Midlands has had a very important role to play in the development of hard rock in the UK and beyond, and the area is still turning out some pretty impressive stuff, in recent months we've had cracking albums from Zombie Xtras and Bide Your Time, and now we have the debut release from power metal outfit Dakesis to add to the mix.

Now this lot have been around for a few years now and have previously issued an eponymous ep, before hitting us with this their first full lenght album. Now I showed this one to a friend the other day, who proclaimed that the album cover was 'a bit iffy' and therefore they had little interest in the music on the disc. Well after I had slapped him around a bit I pointed out that; a) there are far worse album covers out there than this one, and b) the quality of an albums cover is no reflection on the quality of the music there in. (Just look at the cover to the old Battleaxe album 'Burn This Town' for example, then play the record!)

Leaving the album art aside, the music on offer here is pretty damn cool. Dakesis are a five piece with both male and female lead vocals, and they know how to smith a good song. Just take Liar for example; here is a song that reminds me a little of NWOBHM supergroup Tytan with a touch or two of Diamond Head thrown into the mix and a classic Judas Priest style guitar duel section to cap it all off. Great stuff indeed. There are other influences on show here as well; After The Storm has a touch of the big epic operatic style euro-metal about it, think Nightwish, Within Temptation, Nemesea etc and you'll get the idea. Then in other places, such as on the track Valhalla Dakesis are heading off into the power-metal territory of the likes of In Solitude, Royal Hunt, Dignity etc. The up shot of all this is that 'Trial By Fire' is a good and varied album that keeps the interest up from beginning to end.

The musicianship is first rate, both male and female vocals sound clear and natural, the guitars are the stuff of axe heroics, the rhythm section is a driven powerhouse and the keys give the whole thing a nice smooth polish that finishes off the whole sound to perfection. OK I will say the production here is a little flat and lacking in sparkle, but this is a low budget album from a new up and coming band, and that can be forgiven. I'm sure this will be an album that opens a fair few doors for this lot and I'm sure we will be hearing a lot more from Dakesis in years to come.


For fans of... Nemesea, In Solitude, Tytan, Diamond Head, Royal Hunt, Kivimetsan Druidi....

Vantage Point - "Tomb of The Eagles" (Power Point) 4.5/5

Edinburgh outfit Vantage Point are not a band that's a household name, if fact outside their native Scotland they are almost unknown, and that's a shame, cos they really are a gem of an outfit with a lot to offer, and with this their second album, they really laying out a stall full of goodies that could well move them on from being local heroes into an act the whole of the UK and beyond should take notice of.

From the off, lets be perfectly clear, Vantage Point play metal, heavy metal. We are talking no bullshit, devil horns in the air, bang your head til your carpets full of dandruff, air guitar a-go-go, whiplash inducing MMEETAALLL of the old school. the sort of metal that dates from about 1983, late NWOBHM, pre-thrash sort of stuff. If your familier with the early work of say Saxon, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Weapon, Nightwing, Toyko Blade, Persian Risk etc you'll know exactly what I'm on about. Nothing too heavy by todays standards, but nice driven crunchy controlled riffage, howling guitar solos, air punching anthemic choruses, pounding drum beats and the rest. In short the sort of stuff I fell in love with back in 1980, and has been my musical true love ever since. (OK I've had affairs with prog rock, punk, goth, thrash, doom, hardcore and even jazz and ska over the years, but its still old school metal that really floats my boat.)

There are 14 tracks on offer here, and every one is a bit of a belter. I'm not gonna give a track by track guide, I believe in letting you check things out for yourselves, but I will give you a few personal highlights. We have the epic title track Tomb of The Eagles, which sounds a bit like Toyko Blade jamming with Heavy Pettin' and features some wonderful off metre vocals and a solo to die for; then there's High Plains Drifter, with a riff that hat tips Angelwitch and lyrics that praise a certain Mr Eastwood, (the greatest cowboy of all). Obedience School (the current single) is a classic slice of down and dirty sleaze metal that wouldn't sound out of place on Girl's 'Sheer Greed' album; and then there's my favourate cut on offer Global Delay with is post Kashmir verse riff, Nightime Flyer style chorus and mindblowing shred and widdle solo. All very good stuff indeed!!

Now I don't for a minute think this album will make Vantage Point interational metal super stars. It sounds far to retro for that, but with a renewed interest in the roots of metal and the NWOBHM in particular I can see it making them cult legends of the underground and winning them friends and admirers far beyond their native Scotland.

Well worth a look or three

For fans of... Marsellie, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Witchfynde, Witchfinder General, Heavy Pettin'.... etc

Awake - "Forever More" (Lion music) 4.5/5

It's been four years since Cambridge prog/melodic metal outfit Awake last hit us with an album, and there has been a lot happening since. Line up changes, tours with the likes of Magnum and Everygrey, live BBC sessions and a number of praise winning festival appearances, but now at last we have the new studio album in the form of "Forever More".

And what a corker it is. Right from the off it's easy to see that this release is a more complete and rounded offering than it's predecessor, 2007's "Illumination",  The over all sound is more polished, the new guitar paring of brothers Andrew and Steve Coles bring a new heavier and more purposeful diamention to the sound, Keys player Craig Burkitt, who I felt was a bit of a spare wheel on "Illumination", seams to have found a place in the band at last and adds more to the over all sound than just a vague synth wash. Even vocalist Simon Shedwell sounds more at home here than on previous releases, his voice seams less edgy and somewhat smoother over all, and it fits into the Awake sound all the better for it.

There are 12 tracks on offer here, all pretty damn impressive. If you've not encountered the band before, imagine if you can a sort of subtle blend of Royal Hunt, Iron Maiden, Marillion (Fish era), Magnum and perhaps classic Queensryche, all rolled around a core of Judas Priest and seasoned with hints of Rush and Fates Warning. We get cuts like the beautifully realised, almost balladic Closing The Door, the vast and epic power rock of the closing title track, the driving prog metal of Bleed From You and the anthemic Drift Away; all of which go to show what a superbl;y talented and wonderfully diverse outfit Awake really are.

Highlights? well, Mr Shadwells vocals on the intro to One Wish are spine tingling, the guitar work and riffage on Out Of Control is to die for and then there is my favourate cut on the album King, with is sweet piano intro, Wishbone Ash style twin guitar lines and sadly plaintif vocals, a real shiver maker if ever there was.

Over all this is a great record, it shows that Awake are a band who are on the up and rightly deserve a place at the top table of British metal. Highly recommended.

For fans of... Iron Maiden, Royal Hunt, Evergrey, Dignity, Charred Walls of the Damned....

Bi-Polar Sluts - "Out-4-Dinner" (New Model Label) 5/5

There has been a lot of good stuff coming out of Italy of late and now we have the latest offering in the form of Parma based hard rockers Bi-Polar Sluts, with this rather impressive debut offering.

Drawing its starting point from the likes of AC/DC, Guns And Roses, Moltey Crue this album of 14 tracks (well 12 plus a short intro and outro) has to be perhaps the best platter of hard and heavy balls out rock and roll Italy has produced since their label mates Speedjackers gave us the impressive 'Favourite Sons' opus a year or so back.  There are no pretentions here, just great rock and roll, cuts like Aperiti've, Keep Screaming and Never Trust A Woman just steam roller from the speakers and set your motor neurones slam dancing around your cranium.

Vocalist Mike Molinari has a remarkable voice, sounding like Bon Scott, Axle Rose and Brett Michaels rolled into one, he can carry a tune perfectly and yell and growl with the best of em. Then we have the twin guitar attack of Guix Morini and Federico Arcuri; here are two guys who are masters of their craft, swapping riffs like the good 'uns they are and covering all bases from the Sweet Child Of Mine style chiming riffs on Something To Kill The Pain and the pseudo classical acoustic approach to Sammy's Backyard, to the balls to the wall drive and crunch of Treat You Bad, all taken in their pretty musical stride. Add in the ducks buttocks tight rythym section of Joe Forlini and Paulo Casali (the latter formerly with Italian hardcore legends Raw Power) and you have a band who can be described as truly great performing an album to match.

Highlights? well this album is really one long highlight, but if I had to pick a fave moment or two it would be the impressive single Keep Screaming, the low down and sleazy Vodka and Lime and the high octaine rock out of Listen To Me.

In short this is one damn fine album and one that will go a long way to putting both Bi-Polar Sluts and Italian rock in general firmly on the world music map.

For fans of... Speedjackers, Guns and Roses, Poison, AC/DC, Black Veil Brides.....


Nickelback - 'Here and Now' (roadrunner) 2.5/5

Alberta mainstream pop rock outfit Nickelback are undoubtedly one of the most commercially successful bands Canada has produced since the mighty Rush, along with their fellow countrymen and label mates Theory of A Wifebeater, they are to many people the sound of their nation and their music is praised and derided in equal measures. So now we have studio album number seven to divide opinion amongst critics and music fans alike.

Now I gotta admit I'm no Nickelback fan to say the least, but when I first gave this one a spin I had a very pleasant surprise. The opening track This Means War is actually quite good. Not a beer bottle, hooker or cliched stadium rock riff in sight. Instead we get a set of riffs that tip the old titfer towards the likes of Megadeth and some quite intelligent biting anti-war lyrics all wrapped into a song that is possibly the best thing I've heard this band produce. (and yes I have heard most of their output in a professional capacity). But it doesn't stop there a little further on you get Kiss It Goodbye, another fairly good track that sounds a little Wednesday 13 and tackles the price of fame. Bloody Hell two Nickelback tracks that DON'T make me wanna vomit, and they are on the same album. Has hell frozen over?

OK reality check time, there are 11 tracks on this one, and apart from the two mentioned above the rest is typical Nickelback fare of pseudo-macho birds and beer fueled light-weight rockers and cheese laden MTV-u-like power ballads. Admitted well played pseudo-macho birds and beer fueled light-weight rockers and cheese laden MTV-u-like power ballads, but pretty boring and uninspiring fodder none the less. Still its all safe and unoffensive stuff, thankfully devoid of the misogynistic nastiness of Theory Of A Wifebeater and a better class of mainstream wallpaper muzak as well. Nickelback fans will lap it up and I know the likes of Planet Rock and Kerrang fm will be blasting this stuff out all day for the next two years or so.

In conclusion, this album has done nothing to convert me into a fan, but it has shown me that if Nickelback got off their backsides, and broke away from their safe mainstream rock formula, and followed the path laid down on the likes of This Means War they could silence a lot of critics and develop into a band worth listening to.

Try Before You Buy

For Fans of... 30 Seconds To Mars, Theory Of A Wifebeater, My Extraordinary.....


Royal Hunt - 'Show Me How To Live' (frontiers records) 4.5/5

Denmark's Royal Hunt have become a bit of an institution on the Euro metal scene for a good few years now, and now they are serving up their 11th studio album and the first in thirteen years to feature US vocalist D.C. Cooper, who returns to the fold to replace the departing Mark Boals.

I will confess from the off that I have a massive soft spot for this kind of epic pseudo-progressive power metal, and this one is hitting the right spots and ringing all the right bells in my old musical nogging. I mean take a track like Hard Rain's Coming which kicks off with a simple little harpsichord and vocals sequence builds up and up through driving riffs and walls of keyboards and backing vocals, takes in a soul wrenching Andy Latimer style solo from Jonas Larsen and then just when your expecting the huge finish it dies away to the same simple starting motif.. what's not to like?

There are seven tracks on offer, all pretty damn good un's they are too, even Half Past Loneliness, with its euro-vision style chorus is saved from the pits of cheese by a storming bass lick and a classic Larsen trademark solo. However to my ears the albums stand out cut is the epic title track. Ten and a half minutes of a great band doing what they do best, complete with some inspired key changes and some guitar vs Keyboard interplay to die for.

Over all I'm very impressed with this one, it may not be quite as good over all as Dignitiy's classic 'Project Destiny' album from a few years back, but its getting there. After all Royal Hunt are a band who have been doing this stuff in style for over twenty years now and over that time have honed their act well, and this album isn't going to do them or their reputation any harm at all. Well worth a spot purchase.

For fans of... Dignity, Awake, Falconer, Dragon Force, The Magnificent.....


Yes - 'In The Present - Live In Lyon' (frontiers records) 5/5

Classic Prog Rockers Yes have been staging a bit of a revival recently, with a new vocalist on board in the shape of Mystery front man Benoit David, the return of Drama era keys-man Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn back at the production hem, they have already hit us this year with the remarkable and fresh sounding Fly From Here studio opus, and now we have this live set to fan flames of revival.

Ok before you mail in saying as such I will say that the line up here differs a tad from the Fly From Here album in as much as the keys here are played by Oliver Wakeman, (son of Rick) and I will point out that performances on this album date from late 2009, before work on the Fly From Here album started.

Gotta say that from the off I'm liking this lots. First up I'm loving the set on offer; we get stuff from Time And A Word (Astral Traveler), The Yes Album (I've Seen All Good People & Starship Trooper), Fragile (Roundabout & Southside Of the Sky), Close To The Edge (And You And I & Siberian Khatru)... etc, even 90125 is represented by Owner Of A Lonely Heart (natch), but there are some suprises on offer as well in form of Onward from the much maligned Tormato and a brace of cuts (Machine Messiah & Tempus Fugit) from my fave Yes album - Drama.

Benoit Davids vocals are superb, he takes all that Anderson era Aled Jones stuff in his stride, and breathes new life into these old classics. As for the rest of the band - well when your talking about the likes of Steve Howe, one of the three Steve H's (along with Hackett and Hillage), on the guitar, Chris Squire on bass and Alan White on the kit you know your in for a as near as flawless performance as can be expected. Add in Oliver Wakeman who besides being a chip off the old block has previously cut his teeth working along side the likes of Clive Nolan from Arena and played along side the likes of Magnums Bob Catley, and you have a great line up, capable of playing classic tracks with a vibe and energy that makes them sound like brand new material.

This is indeed a band reborn, and coming on the heals of the excellent Fly From Here we can be left in mo doubt Yes are back, they mean business and they are here to stay.

(And finally my take on the whole Anderson vs David debate. Personally I have found the last few albums from the Jon Anderson fronted Yes had been lacking in both life and direction, almost like Yes had become the Jon Anderson band. To be honest I had never really been that much of a Jon Anderson fan anyway, all those 'own backside inspecting' lyrics and that castrati style everything in the top register vocals often did as much to turn me off Yes as Mr's Howe, Wakeman and Squire etc did to attract me. But Mr Davids vocals are to me a real treat, ok he's got the Jon Anderson register, but his voice is more human, it has the hint of Geddy Lee about it and none of the shriek Mr Anderson used to produce when he leant on it, and to all the detractors who are claiming all this 'no Yes without Jon Anderson' crap, all I can say is wash yer ears out, get over yourselves and move on. Jon was good Benoit is better, End of.)

Superb, buy it and love it forever!!

For fans of... King Crimson, Mystery, Opeth, Pallas....

Lehmon - 'Sampler EP' (self released) 4.5/5

Oooo this is a good 'un. Lehmon are a two piece project from Paris over there in France that consists of Walter Monnen and Michele Leonor and they claim to be inspired by everything from modern pop and rock through to various European and Middle Eastern folk traditions. Their debut album 'Golden Mountains and Dark Valley's' is due out early next year but they have just put out this four track sampler ep to give the world an idea of what to expect.

Now I do like acts that know how to mix their sounds and influences up a bit, and thus I am finding this four tracker a very compelling listen. We have alsorts on offer here; A Hundred Centuries is a bit of psychedelic weirdness that comes over like maybe a tuneful Tom Waites or possibly Alien Sex Fiend stripped of the gothic trappings, Crepuscular Dream is a glorious slice of light weight post gothic darkness that sounds like a bit of sound trackage from a Tim Burton animation, I Need to Love You is a Krankshaft like helping of acid pop ballad weirdness and That's All is a plaintiff duet that could be part of the sound track to an ultra left field stage musical - all pit orchestra and soft shoe shuffle slow dance beats. Add in some very engaging tongue firmly in cheek lyrics, some superb vocal and instrumental performances and some attentive production and you have here a cracking ep that leaves the listener hungry from the full album. All very very good stuff indeed.

Until this arrived Lehmon were completely new to me, but I'm now a bit of a fan and I'll be following their progress very closely from now on.


For Fans of - Krankshaft, Tom Waites, Rocky Horror Show, The Enid, Bauhaus......


The Herman Post - 'Put It There Buster' (self released) 4/5

I first came across Lancashire singer songwriter, Laura Catlow-Morris at a small music festival halfway up a Welsh mountain just over a year ago, I was rather taken by her almost punk attitude to what was in essence a folky acoustic set and can remember pondering with some of my AST buddies what she would be like in a full band. Well a year on I've got an answer, as she has just issued this three track ep with her new outfit The Herman Post.

The Herman Post are a two piece or Laura on guitar and vocals and Joshua Gorman on drums and they play some very infectiously catchy pop-punk in the style of The Subways or Kiria. This one opens with a superb little bop along track entitled My E.T. Cup, all catchy hooks driven jangly guitars, some ultra tight diving drumming and gloriously trashy lead break. If you can remember Aussie post punk trio The Spazzy's you'll get an idea of the over all sound.

Next up we get a cracking cover of the old Ronnettes standard Be My Baby which works very well, Laura has a sixties songstress feel to her voice anyway, and the band have resisted the temptation to over punk it up, instead taking the song in a sixties garage pop style - the result is one of the best versions of song I've encountered for a long time. The sixites garage feel is carried on with the closer Brighter Lights as well, a trashy ballad that mixes 60's pop sensibilities with modern post punk attitude in fine style.

The fact that Laura is a fair talent comes as no real suprise, that was pretty obvious when I first heard her solo up that Welsh mountain, but now its good to see her begin to form an outfit around her that can take her beyond the over populated talented female singer songwriter scene and into areas where her talent can grow in new ways and reach new audiences. Well worth a look.

For fans of... The Subways, Rita Lynch, The Skuzzies, Kiria....

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Cirith Ungol - 'Servants of Chaos' (metalblade) 4.5/5

If I had to select one act to represent the true spirit of underground metal it would be Californian rockers Cirith Ungol. They were formed in the early 70's and for a good few years were nothing but local heroes before getting themselves signed in 1980. Over the next eleven years they issued four fairly obscure but musically remarkable albums before frustration over management and record label issues lead to the bands split in 1992. They were never a critically acclaimed outfit, Kerrang! magazine once named their debut LP 'Frost and Fire' as the worst heavy metal album of all time, yet at the same time they built a cult following far larger than their apparent profile, had a huge world wide fan base and are now hailed as a greatly influential outfit on many of the bands that came after them. Since the split the name Cirith Ungol has been kept alive by a string of compilation releases and even a tribute album from acts who hail them as one of the greats.

Now Servants of Chaos isn't a new compilation.This collection of rare unreleased tracks, demo recordings, live renditions, alternative takes and rehearsal room sessions first surfaced 10 years ago, but to commemorate  the 20th anniversary of the bands demise metalblade have decided to revamp and reissue it, along with a DVD of a 1984 live show to help keep the legend of Cirith Ungol alive and available for the next generation of metalheads.

There are 31 tracks on the audio part of this triple disc set (and 8 on the DVD which didn't come with this review copy so you'll have to check that bit out for yourselves), and it covers the bands entire history from demo versions of tracks that ended up on the Frost and Fire album, right through to a couple of numbers recorded just before the split. Listening through to this album I can't help but be struck by what a great band Cirith Ungol were. There are the ghosts of all the greats in here, riffs that hint at classic Rush, driving metal sections that reference Black Sabbath and Montrose, touches of Led Zeppelin... , all wrapped around some great lyrics that draw from classic fantasy literature as penned by the likes of Michael Moorcock and Fritz Libre. And there's more, just take the double header of Ill Met In Lankhmar and Return To Lankhmar, we have here a couple of tracks that can only be described as progressive metal, yet dating from a time when that genre didn't even exist and the only other band experimenting in the field were the equally cult and obscure NWOBHM outfit Demon.

Playing this one through and once more getting to know great tracks like Master Of The Pit, Chaos Rising, Join The Legion and 100 MPH, you begin to realise that maybe Cirith Ungols problem was the fact that they were too far ahead of their time, I'm sure had they come around ten years later when the whole progressive metal thing was beginning to break through thanks to the likes of Dream Theater, they would have realised their true potential and gained the critical and commercial success they undoubtedly deserved.

Still that is now just speculation, and with various ex-members of the band saying a reformation is most certainly not on the cards (but I for one still live in hope), all we can do is treasure this compilation, enjoy the majesty of what Cirith Ungol were; use it to pass on to younger generations of rockers the mythology of one of the metal undergrounds true greats and keep the name Cirith Ungol alive.

Highly Recommended

For fans of.. Rush, Crowned By Fire, Black Sabbath, Demon etc....


Bide Your Time - 'Point Proven' (Kick Back Records) 5/5

Now the English West Midlands has always been a hot bed of metal and all things hard and heavy. From Black Sabbath and Judas Priest via Diamond Head, Magnum and Doom to Zombie Xtras and Beestung Lips and beyond for over 40 years the area has been throwing up rock, punk and metal of exceptional quality and now we have the regions latest gem. Bide Your Time with this, their debut album.

About two hours ago I started to play this album through to get a grip of what the band are about, and I still sitting here trying to write something about it, but I'm finding very difficult. Basically this album has me hooked and its its very hard to pen an objective take on music that has you moshing around the flat, yelling along to the hooks and generally feeling like a fifteen year old kid in his first mosh pit. But I do wanna do my bit and tell the world about this belting album so I had better get on with it.

Now the release blurb that came with this one described BYT as hardcore, and yes there is certainly a big hardcore influence in here; there are some great short but sweet sub two minutes core fueled tunes on offer. Tracks like Hang & Die, Hopeless and See Through come over a bit like classic cuts from hardcores earliest days and have a certain C.O.C, Stormtroopers Of Death, Concrete Sox vibe to them. But there is far more to this album than old school NYHC revivalism. Oh yes, we have huge slices of classic metal in the mix as well. There are shades of Anthrax in here, the ghost of Black Sabbath, slivers of Priest, a touch or two of RATM, even a sprinkling of classic NWOBHM. This means killer controlled riffage, some inspired lead guitar work and superb yell along choruses - just check out One Sided with its huge sing -a -long 'They wont ever get my vote, the most they'll get are these word I wrote' epic stuff.

There are ten tracks on offer here, everyone is a winner, but if I had to pick just two it would be the aforementioned One Sided and the glorious Who I Was which starts with a great down beat intro that hat tips Californian 'core merchants Welt, builds up via some almost Somnus style grindcore riffage, takes in a gloriously restrained lead break and shudders into an inspired anti-climactic ending.

Basically Bide Your Time have served up here an absolute classic debut album, that not only proves Midland metal is still alive and kicking, but BYT are all set to forge the next chapter of the areas musical legacy.

For Fans of... Somnus, Rage Against The Machine, Stormtroopers of Death, Doom, Anthrax......


Carbon - 'Stand Up' (self released) 4/5

OK people it 'Annoyingly talented young Welsh band time again'. Nearly every week I get sent an album or demo from over bridge that I can't help but finding myself developing a big liking for. I'm sure there's something in the water over there. (Actually I think its because there is a strong local scene going on in Wales where bands hang out together, go to each others gigs and drag their friends along and the local communities generally cherish and promote their local talent far more than other parts of the UK). Whatever the reason the latest bunch to trouble my inbox are Ammanford outfit Carbon, with this their debut four track ep.

Now this lot are young, very young, all of them are only in their mid to late teens, but they have already built up enough of a reputation to get themselves management, equipment sponsorship and a following that assures them a healthy gigging schedule all around South Wales. So what are they doing right (besides being part of a very rich and thriving music scene)? Well a quick play this ep will answer a lot of questions.

Now the production here is best described as competent rather than great, the vocals especially could do with a bit of treatment to give them a bit more life; but that doesn't distract at all from the quality of whats on offer. We kick off with the title track which starts off with a nifty like riff that is almost Tom Petty style rock and roll with groovy lead line from guitarist Dan Phillips, then we get some almost Suede style vocals from singer Joe Llewellyn, all moody post Brit-pop attitude and an inverted James style chorus 'Stand up, stand up, stand up so I can tell you that you make me smile'. The result is a very groovy, very catchy earworm of a track that once it gets in your head is very hard to get out.

Then comes the big surprise, as you play the rest of the ep you realise that Stand Up is perhaps the weakest track on offer. Things I Do starts off sounding a little like very early Rush and develops into a song that is dripping classic indie rock sensibilities and is even catchier than the previous one, features a superb break down passage then an inspired key change that sends shivers down the spine. Then we get Don't Turn Away with a sort of stripped down Tiger Please vibe to it with some cool bass playing and some great drumming that steps away from your standard four four patterns and throws in some tasty John Bonham style fills and syncopation. Then we get the closer Here With You a beautiful simple teen love song, that has a distinctive James Taylor feel to it, or maybe something Leonard Cohen would write if he O.D'ed on uppers. All really really good stuff.

Not only do these guys know how to pen a good tune, but they know how arrange one as well. These songs are wonderfully sparse, every instrument on show is given space to breathe, there is none of that modern indie / commercial rock wall of guitar fuzz here at all and the band sound all the better for it. Even at their tender ages these guys have learned one of musics most vital lessons, that the space between the notes are as vital as the notes themselves, and its a lesson that will stand them in very good stead in the future.

Now not only are Carbon a promising studio outfit, but I've seen these guys perform and they can deliver on stage as well and I've got a feeling that given a few breaks they have a bright future ahead of them.

Well worth checking out

For fans of... Tiger Please, Hefner, British Sea Power, Suede.....


Betraeus - 'Towards The Sun' (siege of amida) 4/5

Manchester prog metal outfit Betraeus are fairly new additions to the uk metal scene. Formed in 2009 they have been build themselves a bit of a reputation lately thanks to a show stopping appearance on the New Blood stage at this years Bloodstock festival and support slots for the likes of Blaze and Beholder. Earlier this year they signed to Siege of Amida records and now have issued their debut ep. Towards The Sun.

Now there's a lot of good stuff going on on the old prog-death scene in UK, recently we've had some corking releases from the likes of Spires, Impaled Existence and Fornost Arnor that have really been showing what a depth of talent there is in the uk at the moment, and now we have this little gem to ally any doubts you may have that UK death-prog is here and means business.

There are three cracking tracks at the business end of this one. We start with Towards The Sun itself a true epic as just a few seconds short of the 10 minute mark. Sounding not unlike some of the early work of Opeth, this track alone shows what an interesting and versatile outfit Betraeus are. It starts out like Van der Graaf 
Generator on a Behemoth trip develops through some tasty death metal passages with some licks and motifs that come straight from the Fish era Marillion song book, slides neatly through some good old school trashage and dark gothic acoustic moments before winding up with a section that reminds me of the sort of stuff Dream Theater used to cook up before they started the serious exploration their own backsides. Damn good it is too.

The other two studio tracks on offer are equally noteworthy, Frustrate Recluse is a touch less prog and more old school thrash, pounding Toranaga style rhythms and heavy bridge damped chuggs a-go-go; and Blossom Into The Void is a true classic with a beautiful acoustic vibe that feels very Wishbone Ash.

Add in two storming bonus live cuts, Obsolete and Locust lifted from the band Bloodstock performance, which show whatever this lot can do in studio they can do on stage and a shortened single edit of the title track to round things off and you have a cracking release from a great new band with a lot to offer. I got a feeling this lot could go places.

Highly recommended

For fans of... Opeth, Spires, Impaled Existence, Elimination, Hammers of Misfortune.....

Martyr - 'Circle of 8' (roadrunner) 4/5

Ok I think I had better start with a quick history lesson here. Dutch metal combo Martyr (not to be confused with the Canadian post hardcore outfit of the same name) came together in 1982 and were key supporting players in the euro metal movement that grew up in parallel with the NWOBHM. They issued a couple of albums in the 80's that are now looked on as collectable cult classics then just when it looked like they were about to break through to bigger and better things split up. The rest of the story is now a familiar one, a reformation a few years back to play at a festival or two, a sudden shock that people still remembered them, a couple of tours supporting some legends from the past (in this case Lizzy Borden and Flotsam and Jetsam), an ep to support said tours and now we have the bands first full lenght opus in over 25 years.

I will be honest here and say I'm not 100% up to speed on Martyrs early output, all I've got in my collection is a couple of tracks on compilation albums, so exactly how Circle of 8 compares with their classic stuff I can't really say, however I can safely say that as far as come back albums from classic 80's bands goes this is a bit of a corker.

This album is rooted firmly in the strong metallic traditions of their past. Opening cut D.I. is pure Ride The Lightning era Metallica, All Warriors Blood comes over like a classic Megadeth number, Art Of Desception hat tips both Anthrax and Armored Saint and Scene Of Hell wouldn't sound out of place on a Metal Church album. OK its not very original, but it still highly enjoyable.

The band themselves sound very happy at doing what they are doing  This is specially noticeable in the performance of vocalist Rop van Haren who even in the growled shouty bits of his performance has a sort of chuckle about him, almost as if he is about to burst out to the laughter of pure joy at any moment. And as for the rest of the band... well these guys are having a ball, wielding riffs like broadswords, pounding rhythms like the hammer of Thor on the forge of Vulcan and generally laying down some of the best old school metal of the year.

In short this is a great album and while it may never become a massive world wide hit, it will go a long way in making sure Martyrs cult status as a great band of the old school is maintained.

For fans of... Megadeth, Waxface, Elimination, Metal Church, Armored Saint.....


As I Lay Dying - 'Decas' (metalblade) 1.5/5

Hum, this latest offering from California metalcore merchants As I Lay Dying is a bit of a weird one. Basically it can be split into three sections, Three new tracks, three covers and then five remixes from their back catalogue.

Things start of promisingly enough. The three original new tracks are good enough slices of passably good metalcore that tick all the right boxes for the genre; nice crunchy pit friendly riffs, pig grunt verses, big clean harmony choruses, nothing too earth shattering over all but good enough to pass muster, especially Moving Forward, which is raised above the ordinary with some impressive guitar work

Then we move onto the covers section, and things here are not so hot. Now I'm of the opinion that classic tracks should only be covered if your gonna go and do something interesting with them, and sadly that is not the case here. The rendition of the Slayer classic War Ensemble comes over like an iffy tribute band, Judas Priests Hellion / Electric Eye is a bold attempt that is destined to fail, the Hellion works well enough but Electric Eye falls flat as with core style pig grunts on the verse just doesn't work and the clean vocals on the bridge bring back horrible nightmares of the Ripper Owens days (shudder). The Descendants Coffee Mug  is a nice bit of hardcore thrashage, and I'm not that familiar with the original so will refrain from making any more comments on that front.

Then we have the remix section. This starts off surprisingly enough with a medley of old AILD tracks entitled Beneath The Encasing that is pretty nifty and is probably the best track on offer on the entire album. However then things really go tits up.I have never got on with dance music, I find it messy and the inane repetitive drum pattens bring a psychotic reaction in me. It really does make me want to commit acts of brutal and bloody violence on who is ever producing the racket in order to make them stop.

I did force myself to listen to the last four tracks here to try to get a handle on them, but I only ended up feeling sick and wanting to turn the mindless crap off. If you like this sort of thing then more power to you but as for me.. I like my rock rocking and not butchered by monkeys with drum machines.

Over all this album is a bit of a waste of time if you ask me, and not one I'll be keeping in the collection or giving air time to.

for fans of... As I Lay Dying (everyone else should give this one a miss)

Wheres Billy - 'The Truth Hurts' (controlled volcano) 4/5

London quartet Wheres Billy have been together for a few years now and have been building a fair rep for themselves with a fairly hefty gigging schedule that so far has taken them all over the UK, into Europe and even a few experimental trips stateside, and now they are hitting us with their debut ep.

Now on first listen I can see why they are getting quite popular on the uk scene, cos this ep is a nice little package of five choice cuts of fairly commercial and mainstream but hellishly infectious pop rock that bats from the same wicket as the likes of Kids In Glass Houses, Funeral For A Friend, Mind Machine etc; it's not the most original of sounds, but I will say they are good at it.

They lay out their stool with a niffy little track that goes by the name of Anxiety, that has some nice angsty and angry lyrics 'You are my reason to fail... BUT I WONT', and wraps them up in some nice driven riffage and a sweet short but slick lead solo. With the goods laid out they carry on in a similar vein  for the rest of the release, but each track does have something to offer. The solo on the title track has shades of Dave Gilmore about it, Escape Form The Darkest Mind (my fave cut of the five) has a cool interplay between some sweet jangly almost indie rock moments and some good old school hard rock crunch and chug riffing. Thoughts And Fears has another killer riff, this time sounding like a toned down Megadeth and closer is a real rocker that has shades of The Crave about it.

The vocals are good and powerful if a little derivative of many other singers fronting this kind of outfit, and the band are more than competent at their jobs as well. Over all this is pretty good stuff and an enjoyable if not very original.

Basically Wheres Billy show a fair bit of promise here, but whether they have the legs or the creativity to last the course in a scene already full of very talented bands in the same style remains to be seen.

Pretty good and well worth a listen.

For fans of.... The Crave, Kids In Glass houses, Mind Machine, I Divide, etc....

Nag The Horse - 'Nag The Horse (demo)' (self released) 4/5

Nag The Horse are a young power trio from Llandeilo from deep in the valleys of South Wales, who site their influences as ranging from Jimi Hendrix and Tina turner through to Muse and The Darkness, and this is their latest demo release.

Now this is interesting, there are four tacks on offer here and I will be honest and say from the off the production is a little rough and ragged, but hey I'm not gonna let stand in the way. After all this is grass roots music, home recorded and besides there are times, such as this when a little rough edge to the sound only adds to the effect.

As I said there are four songs on this one, and the over all result is a bit of a merry mix of 'class of '77' old school punk, late 60's stoner rock and 1981 style indie label NWOBHM, all are styles of musical edification that put a smile of my face and so I'm not that surprised I'm liking this.

Of the tracks themselves we have Cinderella Who? which comes over like Sham 69 jamming with Jimi Hendrix, Hey You which starts out all nice and clean and ends up sounding like James Blunt being gang raped by Motorheads road crew. (which is a good thing!!). Rodeo Prom Queen that has a Tom Waits meets Ten Years After feel, and my fave cut on offer Justin which sounds like a punked version of cult NWOBHM legends Split Beaver.

Top marks for the musicianship on show here, the rhythm section of bassist John Sadler and drummer Scott James are as tight a sparrows back passage and serve up some very juicy lumpy chunky rocky goodness indeed. And all hail guitarist / vocalist Dewi Jones, who not only has a delicious sneering quality to his voice but also has one of the dirtiest sleaziest shag your mother guitar sounds I've ever heard, and he can bring the best out of it as well, all good stuff all round.

In short this is a very enjoyable offering from a band that has a lot of promise.

For fans of... Bambi Killers, The Kix, Dumpys Rusty Nuts, Engine....


Autumn - 'Cold Comfort' (metalblade) 4/5

I'll be honest and say I had never heard of Dutch hard / progressive rockers Autumn until this one arrived in my inbox, apparently its their fifth full length offering, and I'm beginning to wonder what I've been missing.

Over recent years I've become a little tired of and endless wave of female fronted so called prog rock that has become the standard prog fair in recent years. In essence most of it has been third rate post All About Eve neo-folk meets second rate Fleetwood Mac clones showing very little in either rock or progression. However this is not the case here and I'll be first to admit I'm enjoying this one very muchly.

For a start this album isn't pure prog, sure it has a strong progressive influence in places, take the nice 7/4 time signature section in Alloy or the driving synth intro on Naeon for example, but there is other stuff going on on this album as well. Opening cut The Scarecrow, has some nice old school metal riffage on show that conjurers up memories of cult NWOBHM outfit Runestaff, End Of Sorrow has an almost gothic vibe to it that sounds not unlike Karmadeva, Black Stars In A Blue Sky is a great hard rocker that brings to mind the likes of Within Temptation and the great Anubis. Sure there are folky moments, but they are less away-with-the-fairies, and more kidnapped by the goblins.

Musically this is a pretty well realised album. Vocalist Marjan Welman has a very pure and charming voice that has touches of the great Cathy Lesurf (former Albion Band vocalist) and it is used to perfect effect to both counterpoint the heavier and more complex sections on offer and to blend in perfectly with the quieter moments. The two van der Vaulks, Jens and Mats, on guitar are also just as versatile, be it playing driving riffs, mellow acoustic interludes or soaring solos they manage all with ease.

The over all effect this album generates is quite a dark one, although in places it can come over quite light weight it never looses the feeling of black menace that purveys through out all nine cuts, and to me, who is some one who likes hit art dark and gritty and hates movies with happy endings is a very good thing.

In short this is a very enjoyable album that manages to sit well between the hard rock, heavy metal and prog rock stools and will be enjoyed by fans of all those genres.

For fans of... Anubis, Nightwish, Delusion Squared, Within Temptation, Trillium....

Rush - 'Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland' (roadrunner) 4/5

To say Rush are true elder statesmen of rock is a gross understatement. Since they first crawled wide eyed and innocent from the suburbs of Toronto in 1968 they have grown to become one of the biggest selling rock outfits of all time. 40 million units shifted, gold and platinum discs by the shed load, 18 studio albums, eight previous live sets and more singles than you can shake a stick at... all goes to show that over the years they must be doing something right And now we have live album number nine to keep the Rush heads happy while they are waiting for next years Clockwork Angels, which will be studio opus number 19.

Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland, was recorded in Cleveland Ohio (natch) as part of a North American tour the band played as a break from the recording of the Aforementioned Clockwork Angles opus. Now I know live albums can be a bit of contentious issue amongst rock fans. Some, me included, love them and revel in the rawness, the power and the atmosphere they create, others tend to find them too rough, under produced and lacking the polish of studio recordings. Horses for courses I suppose, and I know this one is going to be just as divisive.

Basically this is a warts-and-all-as-it-happened raw live set. All the little mistakes and errors have been left in. For example Geddy Lees voice on the first few tracks isn't fully warmed up, and he doesn't quite hit some of the high notes on the opener Spirit Of the Radio, Alex Lifeson does a few nearly dropped notes and swift recovery in places like the intro to Presto, later on in a few places a tiring Neil Peart tends to drag the tempo on a few tracks. Now before you fill the comment box damning me for saying that these rock gods are making errors let me explain that this is a GOOD THING. It shows that what we have on offer here is a genuine live show, there's been little or no post production studio tinkering or over dubbing going on, and its those little imperfections that make the live performance come alive, if you want it note perfect stick to the studio stuff, live albums are about excitement and atmosphere not slavish musical reproduction. Besides this album is a full concert well over two hours long, I defy anyone to go on stage with any instrument and play for that length of time without making the odd fluff or getting a bit weary. Hell, when I'm onstage with Alien Stash Tin I'm struggling after half that time, so I have maximum respect for these guys for doing it for two hours plus night after night and still keep playing to this exceptionally high standard.

And to be honest the standard of playing is as good as you can expect from these three musical legends. Once he's warmed up Geddy Lees voice is still as rangy and as distinctive as it was back in the 1970's, Mr Lifeson is still showing why he is one of the most influential guitarists of all time, and whether your one of the people who thinks Neil Peart is one the greatest drummers the world has ever known, or one of those who thinks he's too flash for his own good, the fact remains he does what he does in fine style (even if it is a 6 minute drum solo).

Gotta admit the set on offer is a pretty good un as well, I'm glad to hear my all time fave Rush cut Time Stands Still given an airing (no Analogue Kid, The Trees, Body Electric or New World Man though, still you can't have it all), all the old faves are on show, Tom Sawyer, Spirit Of The Radio, Red Barchetta, 2112 Overture... along with some more recent cuts like Workin' Them Angels and Far Cry. Plus there is an airing for a couple of numbers, Caravan and BU2B, from next years Clockwork Angels album that shows that the magic of the Rush machine shows no sign of drying up anytime soon.

So as far as live albums go, or Rush live albums go for that matter, this is pretty good, its no Exit Stage Left, but its still pretty damn fine all the same.

Well worth checking out.

For fans of.... Rush and classic rock in general

Mind Museum - 'The Power Of Three' (self released) 4/5

Bristol act Mind Museum haven't been around that long but they have already shared stages with the likes of Royal Republic and are beginning to build a solid home town reputation as an act to take note of. now they have just issued this six track mini album.

In their release blurb they describe themselves as post rock, a term I've never really got, after all when did rock die? and its a term that will normally put me off a band from the start, but as these guys are local and I was spurred on by their growing local reputation I decided to give them a go and I'm glad I did.

There are six tracks on offer here and the over all vibe is one that brings to mind the likes of Kids In Glass Houses, Lost Prophets with touches of Biffy Clyro and Funeral For A Friend. Lots of nice commercial melodic vocals, chiming guitars and slick danceable rhythms. But the more you listen the more you hear going on.

The opener The Watcher starts off with a Led Zep style drum intro and cuts into a riff that wouldn't sound out of place on a Grifter track before firing head first into a as fine a slice of pop-rock sensibilities your likely to hear anywhere. Next track Rat Race has a snifter of AFI in their quieter moments about it and then we get the real surprise, Everything Eventually opens with a riff that is pure Hogarth era Marillion and resolves into another cool and listenable slice of commercial rock that has a Tiger Please vibe about it.

Add in the jagged glass riffage of Gambling Man with its sub hardcore growled chorus punchline, the sneering frustrated angst of The Secret Of Happiness and mini epic closer Seal The Cracks which its semi hardcore sensibilities, Amity Affliction style riffs and KIGH over all vibe; and you have in this album something to make most rockers, both pre and post sit up and take notice.

Basically this is a very worthy offering from a good young band who show a lot of promise, and one you should check out

for fans of.... Kids In Glass Houses, Tiger Please, The Effect, AFI....


Behemoth - 'Demonica' (metalblade) 4.5/5

It's been a difficult year for classic Polish black metal merchants Behemoth, with main man Adam 'Nargal' Darski fighting off a potentially fatal bout of leukemia all things Behemoth have been put on hold for the past year or so. However the band have taken the opportunity to do a spot of archive raiding. Earlier this year we had the 'Abyssus Abyssum Invocat' compliation which resurrected a few lost gems and unreleased live archive material and now we have this double CD package that looks back to some of their earliest recordings.

Now this is not a new release as such, Demonica first surfaced in 2006 on the Swedish Regain label, but back then it was a very limited pressing of just a few thousand CDs and a few hundred vinyl copies and thus has become a bit of a collectors item. But now it has been re-issued through Metalblade so all of who missed it first time around can enjoy it.

OK I'll confess that I've always had a soft spot for Behemoths intelligent approach to all things doomy and dark and always admired them for the high standard of their music; and listening back to this collection of some of their earliest demo tracks, album out takes and other assorted goodies, I'm more than happy to report that even this primordial stuff from the bands earliest days still shows exactly why Gdansks blackest export are one of the world leaders in their field.

All the bands influences are proudly on show.  We get snippets of early Black Sabbath style riffage, hints of Venom, touches of St Vitus and Paradise Lost, a seasoning of Bathory and Celtic Frost... all the classic ingredients of the trade mark Behemoth sound are on show, and even on the earliest numbers, some dating back to early 1992 they are already being forged into something a wee bit special indeed.

The quality of the musicianship on show is remarkable; its brutal, raw, aggressive and as black as a black cat which has been dropped into a bag of soot; yet at the same time its complex in construction, perfectly controlled and as darkly entertaining as a classic Dario Argento movie.

There are 23 tracks on offer here and I'm not gonna give a track by track breakdown, but a few of my personal highlights are: the Bathory fueled From The Hornedlands to Lindisfarne (you gotta love songs about vikings), the deliciously doom laden Rise Of The Blackstorm of Evil, the Venomesque Cursed Angel Of Doom and the dark and riffy Deathcrush.

Things are thankfully looking up in the Behemoth camp now. Nargal is well on the way to a full recovery, and there is a new studio album and a full European tour in the offering for next year. But in the mean time if you need a black metal fix of the highest quality to keep you going, (or you've not encountered the band before and you fancy giving them ago) then this album (and Abyssus Abyssum Invocat for that matter) are more than up to the task.

Highly Recommended

For fans of ... Venom, Glorior Belli, Bathory, Novel of Sin etc....


Decayed Race - 'Demo 2011' (Grandmas Lakehouse?) 4/5

A time for another random surf find, Decayed Race, are from Texas in the USA and have only been around since the start of last year

Now this sort of stuff takes me back. In the late 1980's I was in a rather obscure thrash metal band and due to the fact we knew Bath crustcore kings Amebix we ended up on a number bills with acts from the then exploding UK hardcore / grindcore / crust core scene. This was the age of the infamous micro-song. One act we played with did over 50 tracks in a half hour set. It was a bit of a shock at first, after all my musical schooling came from the days of prog rock and old school metal, but I soon got used to the minimalist approach and broadened my musical taste to allow albums by the likes of Napalm Death and Doom into the collection.

So when I downloaded this little nine tracker and found myself with tasty slice of 80's sounding crust fueled hardcore on my hand I was little bit delighted. Of the nine tracks on offer here, seven can be called true micro songs with play times from 14 seconds to just over half a minute (of the two remaining tracks Chipped Teeth only just passes the one minute mark). Numbers like Swine Brutality, Oppressed and Bleached fly past in glorious short blurs of angry attitude, walls of sonic devastation and brutal bludgeon that hit and run like Greek rioters outside a government office. Think Sore Throat, Electro Hippies, Napalm Death and Ripchord and you'll know exactly where these guys are coming from. Then by contrast we have the closing instrumental Chained Up, by contrast an epic at over three minutes long that is classic doomcore, all grinding menace, dark riffs and wailing feedback.

OK the production here is not hot, but when it comes to this stuff it doesn't need to be, as I keep saying, punk in all its sub genres is about attack and attitude, with everything else being secondary; and boy do these guys have both in abundance. True crusty grindcore is not often heard these days so when you do find some as good as this, then it must be embraced and praised for keeping one rocks most interesting sub genres alive.


For fans of... Napalm Death, Doom, Police Bastard, Black Flag, Sore Throat, Ripchord etc...

This demo can be downloaded for free from here.

Mecca - 'Undeniable' (frontiers) 4.5/5

Back in 2002 the debut album from Mecca caused a bit of a stir in melodic rock and AOR circles, then since the band finished a lengthy road trip in 2005 the band have been strangely quiet, to the extent that some fans were on the verge of sending out search parties. However Mecca had not been abducted by aliens or been victims of an ill advised boat trip into the Bermuda Triangle. They had in fact been ensconced way in darkened rehearsal rooms and recording studios slaving away on new material. And now at last they have finally got around to issuing this their second album.

So was the wait worth it? Now I gotta admit I can be quite cynical when it comes to stadium rock and AOR. After all my taste for this sort of stuff was formed in the heady days when the likes of Toto, Boston, Journey, Foreigner, Saga and the likes were experiencing their finest hours, so the bar in my mind has been set very very high, and I tend to be a bit down on anything that doesn't match those exacting standards.

However against all expectations I am finding Undeniable a very enjoyable listen indeed, even if the over all sound is a little Mr. Mister, a band I never got on with back in the day. Vocalist Joe Vana has a sweet voice that reminds me of Totos Bobby Kimball in his heyday and his son Joey on the guitar is a fair talent that has hints of Boston main man Tom Scholtz  in his playing.

It think its the fact that this material has been six years in the making is the real pay off here. Even the power ballads, of which there are several on show come over as interesting listens. Just take the sublimely subtle picked riff on Deceptive Cadence or the crisp and crunchy backing on Did It For Love as a couple of examples, these are tracks that are well thought through, not by the numbers work outs thrown together.

In other places the intelligent interplay of instruments and the texture of the soundscapes on offer are pretty noteworthy. Numbers like From The Start, with its great twin lead section, the soaring title track and the riff heavy Closing Time with its quirky and restrained synth motif all hold the attention throughout. And all truly great AOR records should have a true rock out number, and this one is no exception, for we have W2W a number that kicks off with a riff that wouldn't sound out of place on a Kiss album and a seriously cool widdle and shred solo (no kidding!!), and blends them into a song that sounds like Boston at their best.

In short there is not a weak moment on offer here, and this is an album that I know will stand the test of time.

Very Highly Recommended

For fans of... Boston, Toto, Mr Mister, Journey, Saga etc...


Imperial Vengeance - 'The Twentyshilling and Fourpence V-disc' (transend) 4/5

For those of you who haven't yet experienced the weird and wonderful world of steam metal royalty Imperial Vengeance, here's a quick way in for you. 'The Twentyshilling and Fourpence V-disc' is basically the new single from their acclaimed current album 'Black Heart Of Empire' (reviewed here) and features the albums title track, its prologue Scenes Of Inked Treachery and a previously unreleased orchestrated instrumental number Upon The Stair (and in the Chamber).

As an insight to the album this new three tracker is pretty good. The main track shows all the quirky goodness that is IV's trademark sound, pacey yet controlled post thrash guitar riffage, husky and deep yet very listenable vocals, vast gothic backing soundcscapes, gin palace pianos and a voice over section from former East End gangster and 'tasty geezer' Dave Courteney. The prologue track features more Dave Courteney narration and the closer is a short but sweet bit of gas lit atmospherics that come over like the sound track to a classic hammer horror movie.

However IV are never a band to do things the ordinary way (after all the album comes with a penny dreadful novella) this ep also comes with a pretty impressive bunch of documents that delves a little into the whole Imperial Vengeance and Black Heart Of Empire mythos.

After considering releasing this ep on wax cylinder and shellac disc the band have decided to stick to the normal 'modern' methods of distribution such as digital downloads and compact disc, and thus have decided to charge the princely sum of Twenty Shillings and four pennies to purchase this most worthy of musical edification's. (that £1.00 to us modern types).

Now for a quid you can't go wrong, and I would recommend this to everyone, if they have the album or not.

For fans of... Cradle of Filth, Whitechapel, The More I See, Fornost Arnor.