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30.11.11

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.

Recommended

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.....

16.11.11

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.....

11.11.11

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.....

10.11.11

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.

Recommended

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

6.11.11

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....

Download this ep for free from -http://thehermanpost.bandcamp.com/album/put-it-there-buster

4.11.11

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....

1.11.11

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......