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31.10.11

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.....

28.10.11

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.....

25.10.11

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....

24.10.11

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....

23.10.11

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....

21.10.11

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.

Recommended.

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

This demo can be downloaded for free from here. http://www.mediafire.com/?559pmc0ckwuamcb

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...

20.10.11

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.

The Magnificent - 'The Magnificent' (frontiers) 4/5

The Magnificent are a new project out of Scandinavia, formed around the core duo of  Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus) and Torsti Spoof (Leverage) and this is their debut release.


Now anybody picking this one up expecting Leverage style power metal sensibilities or Circus Maximus style prog metalisms is in for a bit of a shock. This album is full on no holds barred stadium rocking melodic AOR in the style of Asia, Europe, Loverboy, House of Lords et al. and to be honest as far as melodic stadium rock stuff goes it is better than most.


Where this album scores over many of the other melodic stadium rockers is the simple fact The Magnificent has left the rock dial set at a higher level than the cheese dial. OK a lot of the tracks on offer are standard light middleweight radio friendly rockers, but they are still rockers. Even softer tracks like Loves On The Line which in the hands of many could have become fairly forgettable filler tracks of AOR blandness, we still have a cracking driven riff and a nice intense widdled guitar solo to maintain interest.


Then we have the quality of the songsmithing. Tracks like Bullets and Tired Of Dreaming come over with the same vibe as those first three classic Asia albums, even to the extent of invoking the spirit of the legendary John Wetton in both the lyrics on offer and the vocal delivery. (The later of the aforementioned pair even has a Steve Howe style solo). Hey, even the pair of power ballads on offer Angel and Smoke and Fire manages to avoid falling too far into the cheese trap thanks to some inspired arrangements, tasty riffage and solos to die for.


Other highlights include the anthemic Harvest Moon (not the Neil Young track), Satin & Lace with its Vow Wow inspired riffs and neat keys lead solo and the Loverboy-esque Lost.


Over all this album is quite impressive and one that should keep fans of Melodic rock very happy indeed.

For fans of... Asia, Loverboy, Europe, Drive She Said, House Of Lords.

19.10.11

Megadeth - 'Th1rt3en' (roadrunner) 4.5/5

What is there to say when introducing Megadeth that's not been said a thousand times already? From Dave Mustanes sacking from an embryonic Metallica, via various run ins with other acts such as Suicidal Tendencies and Pantera, a massive foot in mouth incident that lead to terrorist death threats, MTV bans, near career ending nerve damage, internal disputes and court cases, battles with drug and alcohol abuse right through to Mr Mustanes getting religion and being 'reborn' as one of the golden greats of metal; it is indeed the stuff of legends. So now we have reached studio album number thirteen from Dave and the boys, and the next chapter in the high history of Megadeth is being penned.

So is the story still worth reading? Well I will be honest and declare from the off that out of the 'big-four' Megadeth have always been the act that has held my attention. I never really got Anthrax, Slayer were ok, but never really rang my bell that much and personally I thought Metallica died along with Cliff Burton. But Megadeth were always an act that delivered the goods more or less, OK there have been a couple albums, such as Youthanasia, where I felt they weren't quite on form, but over all I've liked most of their output. And I am glad to say that in my opinion Th1rt3en keeps the side up and doesn't disappoint.

There are no real surprises on offer here, the band haven't suddenly decided to go SKA-core or Happy House, this album is thirteen prime cuts of pure old school 'deth that keeps the spirit of all those classic from the past well and truly alive and kicking. Slip the disc into the player and you get 20 seconds gratuitous trem abuse and another 30 seconds of some gloriously over the top solo guitar masturbation before the main track Sudden Death kicks in, all dagga-dagga riffs  with some typical Dave Mustane snarled vocal that is a joy on the ears. And that sets the stage for the rest of the album, which is pretty much more of the same.

If your familiar with Megadeth you know exactly what I mean, Megadeth are a band who have a tried and trusted formula and can still work well within that framework. Mr Mustane is still grinding axes against the system, still writing killer riffs and still shredding like a jilted mistress in the wardrobe of her ex-lover. All really good stuff.

If on the other hand you are unfamiliar with their trade mark sound and approach ..GO HANG YOUR HEAD IN SHAME YOUR A DISGRACE TO THE WORLD OF METAL FANDOM.

Of the tracks on offer there really isn't a weak moment on offer. My personal fave cuts are the dark and moody Millennium of The Blind, the groove fueled headbang of Deadly Nightshade, the gloriously angry sneer of Drugs, Guns And Money, the viciously satirical We The People.... in fact as I said before every tracks a winner here, not a single weak moment on show at all.

In short Megadeth are already a band of legend, and this latest album is another worthy chapter to the saga, and long may the tale continue. A must have if ever there was.

For fans of... Rock gods, metal mythology and the all time greats

Uneven Structure - 'Februus' (basick records) 3.5/5

It's strange, only a few weeks ago I was saying how I rarely get much French music through my inbox, since then I've had new albums from Glorior Belli, The Crooked Axis and now this one from Uneven Structures. Apparently they are from Metz  and have previously put out an ep prior to this their full length debut

Now I'll be honest and say this one has me stumped. I'm not sure if this one of the greatest things I've ever heard or the biggest musical car crash of all time. Style wise it is an eclectic blend, Meshuggah style death metal, Tangerine Dream or Goblin style ambient trip, King Crimson progressive complexity, Pink Floyd-u-like urgency, even hints of Sky's post classical stylings... its all in here, more often than not at the same time and the end result is certainly interesting if not compelling.

The upside is that Uneven Structures do have something verging on unique going on here, there are some very impressive musical soundscapes. Tracks like Exmersion, Buds and to be honest the whole damn album are well penned and produced and expertly performed. The tracks flow seamlessly together giving the whole work a full blown concept album feel that makes for a good entertaining listen.

The downside is that the whole work comes over a tad confused and a little messy on the ears and a bit lacking in dynamics. The death metal sections come over very tame indeed. After all death metal is supposed to bludgeon and kill, but on this one the deathisms are as menacing as a fluffy kitten with a water pistol. And the chilled out ambient moments strike you as being very restless, like trying to chill out in a bed that has been filled with toast crumbs. The end result is an album that promises much and should be a real roller coaster ride of sounds and emotions ends up less of a roller coaster and more of a local commuter train. Compare this album to Fornost Arnors recent 'Death Of A Rose' opus, and you soon see not only what this album could have been, but also how far short of the mark it falls.

Having said all that after a couple of play throughs it is growing on me slowly, and I'm sure after living with it for a few months I'll be really liking this one. Basically my jury is still out, but don't let that put you off giving it a go.

For fans of... Spires, Fornost Arnor, Fortune Favours The Brave,

18.10.11

Trillium - 'Alloy' (frontiers) 3/5

American vocalist Amanda Somerville is fairly well known in European metal circles, having contributed to albums by the likes of Epica, Kamelot and After Forever in recent years. Now she assembled her very own outfit under the name Trillium and issued this their debut album.


Now as a band Trillium promises lots. Amanda Somerville is a fantastic vocalist, she has an incredible range, and sounds natural with it. She can scream and wail like the best of them and yet shows such sweet control on the quieter sections. On top of that she has assemble a pretty good band around her, guitarist Sander Gommans must be singled out for special praise for his lead work in particular. Add in a great guest performance from Jorn 'Hardest Working Man In Metal' Lande and you have a band and an album that should rank up their along side the likes of Nightwish and Within Temptation as true leaders of the whole female fronted gothic rock / metal genre.


However there is a fundamental flaw with 'Alloy' that not only lets the whole thing down, but at times can be so frustrating that you tend to find the whole thing almost unlistenable. The problem is with the way the vocals are produced. As I said before Amanda Somerville has a wonderful voice, and in the quieter sections of the album such as tracks like Path of Least Resistance and Love Is An Illusion it sits in the mix perfectly. But when things start to get a bit heavier, (and there is a fair amount of metal on offer on this one), she steps up a gear or three, and all to often drowns out the rest of the band. This is most noticeable on tracks like Machine Gun, Purge and especially on Scream It, where the difference between the way Amandas vocals and the aforementioned Mr Landes vocals sit in the mix is very pronounced.


All this is a shame because this is a promising debut from a band that could achieve greatness, but is an issue that must be address if Trillium's potential is to be realised.


A flawed gem

For fans of... Nightwish, Within Temptation, Issa, Mystica etc....

The Amity Affliction - 'Youngbloods' (roadrunner) 3.5/5

Now this one isn't exactly a new release, this second album from Queensland post hardcore outfit The Amity Affliction has been out for over year in their native Australia, but has only just got a UK issue through Roadrunner.

Now to be honest I'm not finding this one overly mind blowing. Rather its a tad generic, most of the songs are pretty samey, they all follow pretty much the same tried and tested commercial post hardcore formula. Lots of nice sweet commercial stacked harmony lead vocals inter-played with the same old hardcore-u-like dirty snarls and growls. Add in the trademark mix of blast beats and slower mainstream metal sensibilities and you get a sound that has been done by a hundred bands before.

Don't get me wrong, TAA are good at what they do, and there are some cracking tunes on offer. H.M.A.S. Lookback for example is a fine slice of angry teen angst rock that stand up along side the very best this genre can offer, Olde English 800 has some first rate riffage on show and closer Fuck the Yankees is as good slice of angry youth rock as your likely to find anywhere. I'm not gonna moan about the musicianship on show either. That is first rate, ok I would like to have heard a little more lead guitar to break up the songs, which tend to be a bit vocal heavy,  but the riffage, the rhythms and the vocals are spot on.

But its all a little too predictable. There are so many outfits doing this sort of stuff that unless you have a trick or two up your sleeves your gonna get lost in the crowd, and that is what TAA are in danger of doing here. They may be huge in Australia (and more power to them for that), but if they are seeking to make a mark on the international scene they need to up their game a bit if they are to stand along side the The Devil Wears Pradas and the Funeral For A Friends of this world.

However, I don't think its game over for TAA, they obviously have the talent to go places and a little revision of their approach and a touch more creativeness could be the push they need to move on to bigger and better things. For after all they are still a young band and must be still viewed as a work in progress.

In short - this is ok but nothing special

for fans of.., The Devil Wears Prada, Funeral For A Friend, AFI, Alexisonfire, Midasuno....

16.10.11

Betty Swallaux - 'Demo 2011' (self released) 4.5/5

Llanelli outfit Betty Swallaux were formed earlier this year and are currently a studio project whilst they are seeking 'the right drummer'. This is their first release and is in effect a collection of various demo recording the band have assembled over the past few months.

Now this one is very interesting indeed. It's not often that I get to hear such a diverse blend of influences and inspirations. There are bits that sound like Venom type primordial death metal, other bits remind me a little of Ramstein style teutonic industrial rage rock. Then there are bits of Sore Throat style grindcore, snifters of RATM style groove metal, touches of Rolo Tomassi style prog-core; even hints of Gay For Johnny Depp style post hardcore... and its all rolled into one overall sound that is the closest to 'unique' I've come across for a long time.

OK the production is a tad rough as is to be expected, but nowhere does that detract from the pure quality of the music on offer. Gaz Wooloffs vocals are remarkable, he manages to sound like Ramsteins Till Lindenmann, Sore Throats Rich Walker and FFAF's Matthew Davies-Kreye all at once, switching styles often bar to bar. The guitars of the aforementioned Mr Wooloff and Peter Smith and the bass of Dai Price are so bleedin' heavy they create their own gravity field. And a special mention must be made about the drums on this demo. Lacking a stickman, the band created them beat by beat, track by track from the bass drum upwards, a long and laborious process, but one that works so well here. The result is something that falls halfway between the warmth of a real drummer and the clinical precision of a drum machine, and sounds perfect for Betty Swallaux's black-groove-industrial-progressive-hard-metal-grindcore stylings.

I really do love this stuff. Tracks like the dark and sinister Change, the industrial groove of Extremist and the progressive grindcore of Give In, just roll out of the speakers like a glorious sonic assassination that can kill from several hundred yards and put a smile on your face while they are doing it. I'm hard pushed here to select a favourate track, it changes with each play, but at the moment it's In My Veins, a cut that starts off all trippy and mellow, then goes all Venomesque blast and bludgeon before ending with a section that sounds like Tangerine Dream goes happy house (I kid you not!!)

This is cutting edge stuff, I've not heard its like before, I doubt if many people have, and I'm sure if the band started to hawk this demo around some of the more left-field and open minded progressive record labels, internet radio stations and magazines, things could start to happen for them. After all this could well be the future of music.

For fan of... Ramstein, Rolo Tomassi, Saints Of Eden, Sore Throat.... 

Hate Gauge - 'Hope, Envy, Love & Lies' (self released) 4.5/5

Hate Gauge hail from Pembrokeshire in West Wales, and when they list Stella Artois and kebabs amongst their influences I had a feeling they would be right up my street. They have put out a few eps in recent times and now they have issued this six track mini album.

The moment I started to play this album and heard the opener Metal Messiah and found to my delight it sounds like Tokyo Blade, Persian Risk and Tygers Of Pan Tang style NWOBHM with lyrics to match; "Hand in the air like a metal messiah; on a long cold road out of hell...", I knew I was onto a bit of winner; and its gets better as you go along. One More Lie has cool groove metal feel that hints at Pantera; In To Deep is a bit of an anthem with bit of a Maiden meets Anthrax thing going on. This Drug is a bit of an epic in the same vein as Metallica used to be before they sold out to the majors, Jealousy continues the classic Metallica vibe but this time incorporates a Mastodon style groove and closer Let Me Know is the real surprise, a mellow acoustic track that has a certain Black Stone Cherry feel to it.

To say I'm a little impressed with this one is an understatement. The production is spot on, it still maintains a little roughness around edges, and that is good. Ever since Metallica dropped a bollock with 'And Justice For All' there has been a trend amongst some metal acts to polish all the life and fire out their sound, but fortunately this is one trend Hate Gauge haven't picked up on. The sound here is crystal clear, but still raw and in your face like metal should be. And all praise to the performances, every member of this quartet delivers the goods in fine style, the playing is first rate, the vocals clear, melodic and powerful without ever needing to resort to pig grunts or power wails, and the song writing is top notch.

In short Hate Gauge have in Hope Envy Love and Lies delivered a cracking little gem of a mini album that should start to open doors for them. But don't take my word for it, its available through Amazon and the other usual outlets, go get a copy and see for yourself.

For fans of... Metallica, Pantera, Mastodon, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Elimination....

15.10.11

The Skuzzies - 'The Skuzzies' (easy action) 4.5/5

London punks The Skuzzies, have been around for a few years now. Formed in a Deptford squat and making their live debut in 2004 supporting the Babyshambles at their notorious 'Battle Of Astoria' gig they have over the past seven years been building a solid reputation for themselves with some seriously dedicated road work and their critically acclaimed 2008 release of the 'Dissatisfied ep'. Now we have at last a full length album.

Now this lot are often pigeon-holed along with the current wave of pop-punk outfits that are the latest big trend at the moment (The Subways, Kiria etc); and I think this is a little unfair, for as good as The Subways and their ilk are, The Skuzzies are no mere band of pop-punk wannabes.

This is obvious from the moment you stick the CD into the player and the opener Hungry As A Hound  stalks snarling from the speakers. Make no bones about it, the sound that hits you is pure punk in the style of The Ruts, The Pigs and The Starjets. It may have a commercial edge to it, but it is still an angry glue bag full of attitude that has a distinctively 1977 sneer and stagger about it. And whilst in other places the Skuzzies do explore other areas of sonic entertainment, there are tracks like More Than This, Dissatisfied, Shotgun Romance and Rich Girls studded through out the album to keep reminding you exactly what the bands core mission statement is.

Even when The Skuzzies are wandering a little away from the more noticeable old school punk influences they still maintain the attitude and and keep true to the punk ethos. Brompton Cocktail sounds a little bit Velvet Underground, The Unknown Principle with its dark semi spoken vocal and lyrics like 'If blood is bondage then what is love, turn around throw a bomb and smash it down' hints at work of CRASS, Are You Sleeping has the spectre of The Boomtown Rats and The Clash about it; whilst album closer On the Corner (with a guest appearance from ex-Babyshambles main man Pete Doherty) is a great SKA influenced rock out that still maintains the spirit of 77 in its Special Brew fueled anarchic backbeat.

All this makes for a great album, one of the best punk albums of the last few years In my opinion and one that will do The Skuzzies or their steadily growing solid rep as being one of the most talented bands in the UK at the moment no harm at all. Very Highly Recommended.

For Fans Of... The Clash, The Subways, Kiria, CRASS, The Adverts, Bambi killers The Pigs etc...

Censored - 'Sunrise On The Checkered Horizon' (self released) 4/5

Now this is another interesting result of a bit of random net surfing. Censored, were a ska-core outfit out of Texas who formed around the turn of the millennium, and were only about for five or six years before splitting up. In that time they gigged a fair bit around their local area recorded a few demo eps and started demoing tracks for a full length album that never reached the recording phase. However now a couple of the bands former members have collected together the lost recordings and put out this collection in salute to the band and the album that never was.

Now although the recording and the production on this is a little ragged around the edges, these are demo recordings after all, I've gotta say the music on offer here is pretty damn good. It draws on influences from the classic two tone sounds of the likes of early Madness, the Specials and Selector, adds in a lot of King Prawn, Mighty Mighty Bosstones style modern punk SKA fusion and then sprinkles the whole lot with a good dose of crusty hardcore attitude.

All the tracks on offer are short and snappy, the longest being a shade over two and a half minutes, yet each one is a little gem, packed with high energy skanky guitars, viciously angry 'fuck the system' lyrics and some top rate danceable rhythms. The result is a snapshot of the great band Censored could well have been. Tracks like the glorious anti-military frenzy of Go Army, the slightly twisted Baby Killing Fiesta and the dub fueled Ghetto Boombox are all little gems that had they been properly recorded and released could well have become SKA-core classics. There is not a weak moment on offer and I defy all lovers of SKA, punk and hardcore not to find this album highly listenable.

However unless Censored decide to do the old reformation bit, tracks like these are set only to become lost gems, so I recommend all lovers of this kind of stuff to download this album (it is free after all) and keep this music alive before it is lost for ever.

A lost gem if ever there was.

For fans of... King Prawn, Madness, Dutty Luck, Operation Ivy, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones....

Download this album for free from - http://censored.bandcamp.com/album/sunrise-on-the-checkered-horizon

 Note - since penning the above I have received this message...
" Thanks for the kind words Jon! While the band is long gone, my love for ska and reggae remains. I'm glad that some fans of the genre can still find enjoyment in these recordings. The recording process is a storied one, for sure. We tried to track it three or four separate times. It seems each was interrupted by some new catastrophe; members in jail, stolen gear and more culminating in one of the recording studios getting burglarized along with our nearly-completed masters. This version of the album was created by making a rough master of some 30 minute mixes given to us leaving one of the earlier studio sessions to check out in the car. I left in all the talking before and after tracks, because why not?

If you get the chance and want to hear what I'm up to now, check out my current band Automorrow. Our new album is certainly more rock-oriented but you'll still find many traces of my love for ska and reggae within.

http://automorrow.bandcamp.com/album/no-rest


Cheers!

Michael DuFault"

14.10.11

Impaled Existence - These Lifeless Plains (self released) 4/5

There has been a lot of great rock and metal out of Wales in recent years, but most of it has come from the south and west. But now here to remind us that there is still metal north of Merthyr Tydfil come Impaled Existence who hail from the seaside resort of Rhyl on the north coast. (a town better known in musical circles as the home of The Alarm). This lot have been around since 2004 and have issued a string of eps of which this five tracker is the latest.

Now I've been listening to this one for a few days now, and I gotta say I've found myself growing rather fond of their distinctive brand of progressive death thrash. First up we have at obligatory introductory instrumental, (and I gotta say as far as intro tracks go, its far better than most), then the ep itself kicks in with Fictions Within The Mind a dark and doomy number that kicks off sounding not unlike Cathedral before moving on into Whitechapel territory. Next up is my fave cut on this one If Error Were True which kicks off with a wonderfully quirky 'call and response' section between some blindingly heavy guitars and the lightest of cymbal fills which then resolves into a track that reminds me a little of Imperial Vengeance stripped of the steam punk trappings. Then we have Through Stinging Eyes which starts out with a dabbling in some moments of sublimely dark doom before ripping into some great old school death thrash riffage. Finally we wind up with Worthy Of Remains a traditional death metal work out that reminds me of Behemoth at their best.

All tracks are superbly produced and played with a huge amount of skill and huge amount of raw fire and righteous passion. The music is intelligent, well penned and I just know the band are gonna win a lot of friends with this one.

I had heard of Impaled Existence by reputation a fair while before I had heard the music for myself, and I can now see what the hot gossip was all about. This ep will do their already impressive reputation no harm at all, and whilst they are at the moment unsigned I can't see them remaining that way for long. Well worth a listen.

For fans of... Whitechapel, Suicide Silence, Cindersfall, Spires, Fornost Arnor....

Noctem - 'Oblivion' (metalblade) 4.5/5

Black death thrashers Noctem hail from Valencia in Spain. Now in their 10th year they have in the past issued a couple of EPs, a self released live album and a previous studio opus on Austrian label Noisehead, before switching to Metalblade earlier this year and bringing us this rather tasty little nugget.

Now I gotta say that this album is one of the most interesting black / death / thrash / whatever (I'm not good at sub genres) albums I've had through in recent months. I had albums that are more extreme, I've had albums that have been heavier and more intense, but when it comes to the all around package this is the dogs bollocks.

There are 11 tracks on offer, each one as heavy as a chieftain tank, as metal as the Forth Bridge and as intense as playing chicken with a speeding freight train in a narrow tunnel. But what marks this album out above the crowd is the quality of the song writing and the way the tracks are structured.  Yes there is shed loads of pound, thrash and bludgeon of offer; but within the raw brutality there are shades of light and dark; tempo, riff and key changes that although often subtle, still serves to keep you interested and actively listening.

Style wise we are talking touches of early Slayer, hints of acts such as The English Dogs, Behemoth, Bathory and Rose Funeral; but there also bits, often short snatches that hat tip acts such as Megadeth, Armored Saint, even Iron Maiden style NWOBHM!!. Then we come to the playing, musically this album is flawless. The whole band is a tight as David Coverdales bell bottoms and certainly know how to lay down a wall of sonic battery. Special praise though must be given to the two guitarists, Exo and Helion, who show a great ablity to not only shred like a Frankenstein office paper disposal unit on the rampage, but also mange to lay down some superb melodic lead lines, sweet harmony sections and infectious lead licks, but also swap riffs like the good uns they are.

Special highlights of this impressive album include the strangely titled A Borning Winged Serpent with its wonderful guitar interplay and harmony lead sections, the brain meltingly brutal Seeking The Ruin Of Souls and the gloriously menacing Unredemption - track whose final riffing section is to die for. But in truth this album is one glorious highlight of the pure talent that is Noctem.

Bottom line is this is a great album and one I will not hesitate to recommend to metal fans everywhere.

For fans of... Glorior Belli, Behemoth, Novel of Sin, Slayer, Mercyful Fate.

I Divide - 'Whats Worth More?' (self released) 4/5

I Divide are from Exeter in the UK and apart from that I know very little about them. But I do know one thing since this album dropped through my inbox the other day, they have found in me an another admirer.

What's Worth More? is a great little album, there are seven songs on offer, plus a short intro and a short interlude at half time, and all six cuts are pretty good slices of contemporary commercial hard rock that seam to be batting from the same wicket as the likes of Kids In Glass Houses, Lost Prophets, Tiger Please, Funeral For A Friend etc, and as I have over the past few years developed a bit of liking for all the aforementioned acts I am finding myself beginning to get into this one.

This album is tight and well played, its as commercial as hell, but nowhere does it sound generic. Vocalist Tom Kavanagh has raw sounding, but far from unpleasing voice and a highly energetic delivery, the rest of the band also seam to be very competent musicians as well. There are lots of dynamics on show here, lots of light and shade, which shows that I Divide have learned the most important lesson in music, that the spaces between the notes are just as important as the notes themselves.  There is nothing to find fault with in the song writing either, all the tracks have some intelligently put together lyrics and some nice structuring. The album closer Whats Worth More? is especially worthy of praise with its thoughtful acoustic guitar and piano breakdown in the middle and slow but relentless build up to a glorious anti-climactic conclusion.

Other highlights include This Ship's Going Down, with it's big riffs and powerful tempo changes, Burning Out with its guitar motif that sounds a little like a classic Mike Oldfield moment and Deja Vu with its massive hooky chorus and mob chorus backing vocals.

OK I do have one small issue here. I'm not a fan of the over all guitar sound. Don't get me wrong, its well played, but on the whole the guitars are just one huge wall of fuzz that makes it hard to really pick out the often killer riffs and at times swamp the rest of the band. But this is not the fault of I Divide as such. I have the same issue with the production on a lot of todays more commercial bands. Ho hum, its a style that seams to go down well with the youth though; I suppose its only a minor gripe and one I can live with.

Over all I Divide have got a good thing going on here and I'm sure that given a few breaks they could well develop into major players on the UK rock scene. Well worth checking out.

For fans of... You and Me At Six, Kids In Glass Houses, Tiger Please, Funeral For A Friend

13.10.11

Motortrain - 'Straight Six' (slambang) 4/5

Now I've always had a lot of time for the good old southern boogie stuff, I taught myself to play guitar by jamming along to the likes of Skynyrd, Grinderswitch and Molly Hatchet and I still rate Blackfoot as one of the best live bands I've ever seen on stage. Frustratingly we don't get much of it over this side of the pond and on the whole it remains a nearly completely a genre confined to the USA. Still sometimes a little of it will wind its way across the pond and wind up at BCFM central. and now ladies and gentlemen I bring you the debut mini album by Oklahoma quartet Motortrain.

I gotta say that on first impressions this is an infectious little album. It's sound is rooted firmly in southern and country rock, but its more in the rawer rock and roll vein of the likes of The Four Horsemen, Jason and the Scorchers, Georgia Satellites than the more traditional Skynyrd / Hatchet style of swamp boogie, and there is nothing wrong with that at all. There are six tracks on offer, each one a fine slice of prime good 'ole pick up driving blues fueled sleazy good time bop music, that makes you wanna crack a six pack and get down for a good boogie with yer mates at the local bar.

The opener Motortrain has a certain Blackfoot vibe to its bar room strut sound - including a Ricky Medlock style lead motif. Then we have Backyard Brawler that has a bit of a Georgia Sats air to it; Bombs Away and  Bad Girls are a bit heavier and move into AC/DC territory; Shes Hot is a great heavy sleazy along number that gives over a Black Oak Arkansas feel; whilst closer Goin, Goin, Gone is a high octane stomp that wouldn't sound out of place on a Rose tattoo record.


All in all this is a very enjoyable record. it's not very original or innovative, but what the hell, there are times when you don't wanna do anything but find some great no frills rock and boogie and just let your hair down, and this album is perfect for doing just that to. It is a good rock and roll album, it does exactly what it says on the tin, no more, no less; and in a time when so much of today rock music is full of pretentious aspirations, this one comes in like a breath of fresh air.

This one may take a bit of tracking down, but I advise you to find it and give it a go, you'll not regret it.

For Fans of... Black Stone Cherry, Georgia Satellites, Jason & The Scorchers, AC/DC, Rose Tattoo....

Todd Dillingham - 'Songcycle2011' (discofair) 5/5

Now for those of you who have not encountered the genius that is Todd Dillingham before, here's a brief history lesson for you. Todd was born into and became part of of the classic 'Canterbury Sound' movement of British psychedelia in the late 60's and early 70's. and hanging out with the likes of Camel, Caravan, Soft Machine, Gong etc it was bound to rub off. It was in a little known cult outfit called Bevis Frond that he started to cut his music teeth, then when Bevis Frond lost bassist Adrian Shaw to Hawkwind and went their seperate ways, he carried on with a number of short lived projects; but it was with the birth of the home recording boom in the late 1980's when Todd came into his own. First up there was an eponymous cassette album which won him many plaudits and rave reviews and then the flood gates opened. To date there have been over 30 Todd Dillingham albums, many featuring such luminaries of the British psyche scene as Richard Sinclair (Caravan), Adrian Shaw (Hawkwind), Andy Ward (Camel), Jimmy Hastings (Soft Machine) and Mike Wedgeward (Curved Air). Now based in Florida in the US of A Todd is continuing to bring out new material, and now we have his latest opus 'Songcycle 2011'.

Now this one starts fairly typically for a Todd album, with On the Way Home, a fine cut of chilled out acoustically lead acid psychedelia that has all the classic Todd hallmark influences in it, The Beatles, The Monkees, Caravan etc... but then things get really interesting. For second track up we hit the main body of the album the thirty two minutes long suite that is Songcycle 2011.

Basically Songcycle 2011 is a wander though Todds back catalogue, but this is no greatest hits retrospective, or best of revisited. Far from it, working with highly rated Dutch producer and musician Wim Oudijk Mr Dillingham has re-recorded and some times remixed some of his most memorable numbers including, The Chosen Few, Burning Deck and Indiana Home, blended in contributions from the likes of New York singer songwriter Debstar, cult banjo picker Pete McCabe, uke wizard Peter McPartland (The Big I Am), ex Hawkind bassist Adrian Shaw and others; and created a vast psychedelic oratorio that is breath taking in scope, and simply stunning in its realisation. Wim Oudijks orchestration is subtly done adds the perfect background and linking sections for Todds songs and the whole piece hangs together as if it was penned as a single piece of music.

As I said before all the Todd hallmarks are present and correct, we get sad plaintiff moments, some glorious acid fueled freakout moments, dashes of English folk and Americana,  some classical progressive bits, even touches of rock and roll and lots and lots of good old Canterbury influenced psychedelic trip moments. Hell, works like this are at the very cutting edge of music in general, and I'm sure that this would go down a storm if performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of next years proms season.

Add in the orchestral hidden bonus track from Wim Oudijk, which draws on Todds melodic themes and ideas and you have an album that is not only a real treat for the ears, but one of the most unique and innovative records that I have heard in long time.

Whether your familiar with Todd Dillinghams music already, or just 'Todd Curious', I can recommend this record as one that you will, buy love and treasure forever.

(But hurry, this album is limited to just 300 CD copies and a limited download period, and its selling fast, so get your copy now before its too late)

For Fans of... Caravan, The Beatles, The Pillbugs, Dog Age, This Crooked Axis etc...

To purchase this album follow this link... http://www.discofair.nl/discofair/New_Releases.html

11.10.11

Peanut Butter Lovesicle - 'Heavy Daze Wildcat Craze' (self released) 4/5

Now this is a strange one. I will admit that I had never heard of New York / New Jersey power trio Peanut Butter Lovesicle until this five tracker arrived unsolicited at the BCFM studios last week.I picked it up and thought I would give it a listen and I'm glad that I did.

Basically on first listen this is a good solid stoner / blues ep in the same vein as the likes of Mos Generator and Stone Axe. All five cuts are slow and ponderous, riff heavy slices of fairly sparse retro rock with some spaced out psychedelic overtones. Lots of delicious wah wah guitar work, Groundhogsy rhythms and Stone Ground style song structures. But once you've given it a good play or two you begin to find there is more to this ep than first meets the ear.

You begin to notice other influences and constructs floating around the mix; little hints of modern alternative rock, pinches of indie shoegaze, a dash of grunge or two: nothing you can really put your finger on and pin down, but its there all the same. The opener Colorblind has a distant voice over section that wouldn't sound out of place on a Gorillas track Sicamore Trees has a Tom Waits style vocal and Commodore has a touch of the Lou Reeds to it. In fact the more you listen then more hidden depths you find.

All of which makes for a very interesting listen and shows that PBL are an outfit with an awful lot to offer and an interesting future ahead of them. Worth looking out for.

For Fans Of... Mos Generator, Lou Reed, The Groundhogs, Stone Axe....

Elimination - 'The Blood Of The Titans' (transend) 5/5

Unless you've had your head in a bucket for the past year or two, you can't help but notice there is a bit of a metal revival going on in the UK at the moment. Already this year we have had classic albums from Revoker and Anterior and now just to show that there is strength and depth to UK metal we have this absolute gem from Ipswich post thrashers Elimination.

This lot have been around for a few years now and have already been working their metallic danglies off with a couple of self released eps, a debut album for the tiny Rising label and a hell of a lot of road work opening for the likes of Evile, Gamma Bomb and loads more. Now they have stepped up a league or two, signed to Transend Music and issued their second full length opus 'The Blood of The Titans'.

Now on first impressions I got say this album is an absolute belter. Eight (nine if you include the obligatory mellow orchestrated intro tune)  tracks of pure driving old school headbangable metal that sums up all that is good about the UK metal scene at the moment.

As soon as the aforementioned intro fades out you are assaulted by a glorious wall of raw sonic steel by the name of Echoes Of an Unclear Past, a cut that has all the power and class of the late lamented Toranaga. Vocalist Neil Stevens grows and snarls like a good un, guitars thrash and pound and the rhythm section bangs away like a redneck gun nut who has a got a new assault rifle for Christmas, then suddenly out of nowhere we hit a sublime mellow acoustic section which provides a moment of calm tranquility before the brutality returns via a superb build up that wouldn't be out of place on an Iron Maiden album. And remember all this is just on the first track.

From that point on it just gets even better. Function Of The Human Condition has a touch of Onslaughts classic album 'The Force' about it and features some fantastic controlled shred lead work. My Own Enemy is a cracking riff heavy workout, Eyes of Madness with its dark and grinding riffage is as heavy as a big heavy thing in a high gravity field, Death Takes Us All has a snifter of Grim Reaper style NWOBHM in the sound and album closer Claustrophobia comes over like Painkiller era Judas Priest on a Slayer trip.

To say I am enjoying this album a lot is a vast understatement, Elimination have in essence taken all the very best bits of heavy metal I have grown to love over the past 30 years and blended it into one glorious sound that manages to be both timeless and bang up to date at the same time; managing to avoid all the pitfalls of cliche on the way. No mean feat indeed.

In conclusion I've gotta say this album represents all that is good about the UK metal scene of the past 30 years or so and not only will it satisfy metal heads of past generations it will enlighten the young of today into all that the UK metal scene has to offer. Buy Or Die!!

For fans of... Onslaught, Revoker, Anterior, Slayer, Judas Priest, Marshall Law, etc....

10.10.11

Rita Lynch - 'Crack On' (Fruit and Flowers) 5/5

Terms like Legend and Icon are all to often employed these days, and rarely are the acts these terms are ascribed to are worthy of them. However when your faced with a musician and a talent as mercurial as Rita Lynch you find that these are the only words that really fit and do the artist justice. Rita has been at the very heart of the Bristol music scene for over 20 years now, and over the years has built an international reputation as being a truly noteworthy artist who is cited as a huge influence by many of todays better know acts. A couple of years ago she was recruited by the equally legendary Bristol art rockers The Blue Aeroplanes as a rhythm guitarist, but she still finds time to follow her solo career, and now we have 'Crack On' her ninth solo album.

Now this album is typical Rita, aided by fellow Blue Aeroplane John Langley on drums and other assorted instruments, 'Crack On' takes on where her previous release, 2010's 'What am I?' leaves off. There are 18 cuts on offer here, all fine slices of angst fueled angry venom spitting post punk attitude. The structures are simple, mainly a simple riff that just builds slowly with equally minimalist instrumentation that allows Rita's plaintiff yet purposeful vocals and deep deep lyrics carry the song straight to the soul of the listener. We have angry politically fired tracks like On The Dole and What I Don't Want which is delivered with a fire not even Billy Bragg himself can muster and some deeply insightful social comment cuts like the venomous Counter Cultured, the almost Bowie-esque 9 Years (Hardcore) and the glorious pogo work out of Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah, which shows Rita as social observer who has depth few other artist can match.

However it when she is observing the state of the human condition that Rita really comes into her own. Tracks like Get It On, Talk To Me, Who Loves You The Most? and Some Kind Of Love are superb looks at love, hate, romance, loss and more that are all delivered with real heart felt emotion, sometimes with anger, sometimes with sorrow and regret, but always with the kind of real conviction that so few other artists can match.

Couple Rita's songsmithery and delivery with Mr Langley's almost tribal drumming and you have got a sound that is almost unique in modern music, and completely unknown in the singer songwriter field. Which brings me back to the legend thing. Rita herself is a modest person who dislikes the word being applied to her. 'Legends are dead' she said in a recent interview, but there are such things as living legends and as long as she is releasing albums of this exceptional quality she is continuing to build a legacy that will do herself and the city she represents proud.

An amazing album.

For fans of... P.J.Harvey, Billy Bragg, The Banshees, Patti Smith, The Blue Aeroplanes

9.10.11

Fergie Frederiksen - 'Happiness Is The Road' (frontiers records) 5/5

2010 was a tough year for former Angel / Toto vocalist Dennis 'Fergie' Frederiksen. in the June he was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer, only given a slim chance of survival and facing a period of painful and exhausting treatment. So in order to give himself something positive to work on he set out to record 'Happiness is The Road' an album that could well have been his final work. Now just over a year on Mr Frederiksen is experiencing better times. The cancer is in long term remission and the product of those dark days is at last released.

Now its a bit of cliche to say that often a persons darkest hour is their finest, but it is one that so often holds true. 'Happiness Is the Road' is a truly remarkable album, musically its typical US stadium rock, but I'm convinced that it is one that will be hailed along side the likes of Toto 4, Journey's 'Escape' and Styx's 'Paradise Theater' as one of the true great albums of that genre.

It's not just that this album is superbly played and produced, but that Mr Frederiksen is giving one of the most powerful and emotional performances I have ever heard. From beginning to end this record is a real spine tingler, it takes the listener on the real roller-coaster ride of feelings this guy must have been going through as he wrote and recorded it. Tracks like The Future Ain't What It Used To Be and Elaine with their lyrics of an uncertain future and lost opportunities, are delivered with a heart felt passion that brings a lump to the throat of even this most skeptical of power ballad hating rockers. Then others such as the title track, The Saviour, Angel (Mirror To Your Soul) and First To Cry are real life affirming no regrets uplifting numbers that still dampen the eyes, but this time with tears of joy. Whats more at no point does this album ever get morbid or depressing, but retains a positive vibe through out. It is indeed refreshing that in a world where emotion in rock is all to often over played and false, we have at last an album that speaks from the heart to the heart without ever having to fake it.

Add in the fact that musically this album is dripping AOR sensibilities that hat tips the likes of Toto, Journey, Foreigner, etc without ever becoming derivative or cliche and you have a work that is something very very special indeed and an album that is all set to become an all time classic.

for fans of.... Toto, Angel, Styx, Loverboy, Journey, House of Lords, etc...

Porco Dio - 'Pig Your King' (self released) 3/5

Porco Dio are from Finland, they are a five piece crusty hardcore punk outfit and besides that I know naff all about them.

Now this ep (which in the two weeks since I downloaded it has been renamed 'eka demo') is as rough as fuck, the production, and I use the term very loosely, is lousy. This record sounds like it was done on a cassette recorder in the corner of a practice room, every song starts with a four count on a hi-hat (sometimes with a bit of guitar feedback for added noise), which then launches into a wall of chaotic noise in which individual instruments and voices are swallowed into the maw of sonic bludgeon.

Now, in any other genre I wouldn't even give this stuff house room, let alone write a review. But this is punk, and I always say that in punk, true punk, not yer Green182 style punk, attitude and attack is everything, all else, including production and musicianship is secondary. After all the true ethos of the genre is if you wanna make music and have something to say, then you go head and say it.

And that is exactly what Porco Dio are doing. So what if the result is messy, in the mess theses guys attitude and power comes shining through. There are five tracks on offer, all, with one exception, well under the 90 second mark and all packed with raw crusty hardcore aggression that really is most infectious. As I've said before, I do have a soft spot for this kind of DIY punk and whilst I doubt that Porco Dio will ever reach anything beyond being cult draws on the local Finnish punk scene, anyone who likes it as raw as possible and with less than zero frills, will do well to give this a quick listen, after all its a free ep after all.

Very entertaining.

For fans of... The Swine, The Oppressed, Red XIII etc....

This ep can be downloaded from here... http://porcodiohc.bandcamp.com/album/eka-demo