Category Archives: Band Name F – J

Gnash Rambler – Gnash Rambler

Independent/Asher Media

Review by Rick Ossian

Gnash RamblerTo those of you in the know, the Nash Rambler was a vehicle of some repute.  This outfit, who named themselves after the aforementioned vehicle, formed in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2007.  They play rawk and roll.

They are “a raging four-piece with an arsenal of sweaty, blistering three-minute power post punk anthems.  Apparently the best-kept secret in Vancouver, but word is getting out“.  Gnash Rambler are Brad Mitchell on drums, Regina Australialus on bass and vocals, Nick Venditti on guitar and vocals and Dave Shannon on lead guitar and back up vocals.  They released an EP “Nasty, Cutish and Short” in 2009 and began work on a full-length, Once and For All, in 2011.  This is their self-titled debut.  They have shared the stage with Helmet, The Melvins, Poison Idea and Jello Biafra.  They refer to their sound as “hooky punk rock/metal-tinged power pop”.

No One Gives a Fuck is the opener for these recordings, and is a punchy start to things.  It is, as most of the tracks here are, short and sweet and to the point.

Dues and Don’ts reminds me of a totally fucking heavy Stray Cats, like hillbilly heavy metal, if you will.  Lots of noise and big punk/metal riffs.

Bad Karma, the first single from the record, is a bit longer, but again features a speedy, uptempo delivery and big riffs. According to Nick, it is about “how friendships and alliances can often be worthless than the paper they were printed on. Always read the damn contract.”.

Downtown Rock features big everything; big drums, big bass and big guitars.  There is a nice lead guitar solo at the 1:45 mark and a little instrumental breakdown at 2:45.  These blokes are consistent if nothing else.

Buick Spyder Beyond Our Means is another number with a very quick tempo.  There is high-speed riffing and lots of busy bass and drum work.  The guitars are good, and do a bit of galloping like so many of our other hard rock and heavy metal friends.  At 1:20, things kick into an even faster gear for us, and at 2:45 there is a shift into Riff City territory.  At about three minutes the vocals kick in, and at 4:15 there is some serious guitar shredding going on.  This track is all about the bass. Go Regina!

Buick and Blues For Boogie, the next track, are the longer numbers at five and change apiece.  They squeeze a lot into these lengthier tracks, as yo will hear if you get a chance to listen.  Blues features one of those spooky intros with acoustic guitars and a nice thunderstorm going in the background.  It also ends the same way.  In between we get lots of nice storyteller mode stuff.  I was reminded of Jason and the Scorchers or The Blasters, only a bit more metallic.  Three minutes in finds us enjoying another lead guitar solo.  There are also some notable bass and drum licks here.  There is even a bit of harmonica for all of you blues purists out there.

Jello Mold features some cool vocal ranting.  This is a sort of ‘boogie’ metal, if yo will.  Killer drums and bass, with a wicked growl at 1:25 followed by some powerful guitars around two minutes in.  This is flat-out testosterone rock, with super big Riff City power chords abounding. “Gonna cut your soul from a Jell-O mold/ Nasty vicious funny and cold”.  Kind of scary when you consider the delivery and the vocals…

Doin’ It All Wrong is a big jam with heavy riffing.  It is simple but strong.  There is some shredding at 1:30, first on the guitar and then briefly by the bass.  This and the follow-up, I’m Het, are both a bit comedic, and they are short, heavy punk stuff.  “You’re so hot, I almost forgot!”

PAX Americana features another creepy intro, plenty of big bass, vocals and guitar.  A nice shred at the two-minute mark, plus a bit of a rap/rant at 2:45.  Some of these tunes give one the impression that Gnash‘s tongues are very firmly implanted in cheek…

Man Over is another speedy number with punk riffing plus big bass.  At one minute in there is some serious shredding and rhythm riffing.  I caught myself doing a bit of headbanging during this one.  Another shredding solo pops in at 1:55.

The closer for today, Sex Beat, is another heavy metal/punk slammer.  No point in letting up now, right?  Lots of guitars, big bass and drums – in fact, I caught myself uttering ‘wow’ at the bass more than once!

In short, if you like your tunes hot, hard and heavy, with more than a bit of speed, then Gnash Rambler may be right up your proverbial alley.  They mix punk and power pop and heavy metal to great effect on this, their full-length debut.

Verdict: 8/10

Heart Avail – Heart Avail EP

Milagro Records

Review by Rick Ossian

Aside from what may appear an unfortunate moniker for themselves, Spokane‘s Heart Avail have a lot going for them.  Though there are only five songs here on their eponymous debut, they are all strong tunes and each one has the potential for concert appeal and/or FM Heavy Rock airplay.  Aleisha Simpson (vocalist) can be eerily reminiscent of Evanescences Amy Lee, or any one of a number of Nightwish/Within Temptation wannabes, but she has her own set of sexy, sultry pipes and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that she can hang with the boys.  By the by, the boys are Greg Hanson (guitar), Mick Barnes (bass) and Seamus Gleason (drums).

heartavailgroupshot

Broken Fairytale, the second single (Femme Metal), starts things off in fine form.  There is a creepy cool intro filled with acoustic guitar and angelic choirs that soon blossoms into a riffy, uptempo commercial heavy rock number.  The vocals are somewhat akin to what sirens must have sounded like, and though the structure is almost cliche, something keeps it lively.  A beautiful synth close signals us that it is time to move on the next number.

Up next is Vacillation, and features heavy riffing on top of a pounding, grinding AOR-esque uptempo rock number.  The vocals fit the rhythm of the music, which is always helpful.  This would be perfect pop fodder for FM radio.  I’m totally digging the main riff, which is excellent!

Always begins life with some random synth bleeps and bloops.  Good strong vocals accompany a chugging riff about a minute in to the proceedings, but shortly afterwards (1:27) a decided progginess rears its ugly head.  Again, I’m digging the main riff, even when it is interrupted by a noodly guitar solo and some violin-style FX (probably generated by the guitar or the keys).  The production is in-your-face heavy for the most part, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been more effective in more practiced hands.  This is a 7-minute monster that could possibly have been pared down, but what’s the point?

No Remorse includes one of those spooky intros that you always find me yapping on and on about, but when the guitars and the drums kick in you will find yourself nodding and smiling right along with me!  Aleisha is sexy and all sorts of sultry again on this track, which is a mid-to-uptempo rocker, chock full of shifts (2:45) and riffs.  There is the obligatory guitar solo at about four minutes in, but there are lots of keys and vocals to rave about as well.  The vocal passage at five minutes in was a particular wow for me.

The last number, Pink Lace, is oddly enough the first single.  Normally I would think the first single would be the lead off track, but then, again, more practiced hands may have prevailed.  Dig that opening guitar lick – I really love the energy on this one.  Cool, chugging riffage accompanies a “prissy little princess in ribbons and bows”.  The vocals are a strong, plaintive howl, and can be, again, in your face – but this, dear reader, is a good thing. Trust me on this.  Rock blues must ask its questions, and the main one here seems to be “if you could see what you do to me/ Every time that stupid smile…” well, you get the picture!

If you like your rock along the lines of Evanescence, Within Temptation or Nightwish, and you don’t mind a bit of commercial AOR for your background, then you should do just fine with Heart Avail! Enjoy!

Verdict: 7/10

Ghost – Popestar EP

Spinefarm Records UK

review by Alistair P

It amuses the fuck out of me that an openly Satanic Occult Metal band, with a clearly stated aim of ‘toppling spires’ of the establishment and destroying the Christian god is winning awards all over the place, including a Grammy, and going mainstream.

Despite kvlt stylings being near compulsory in Viking lands, Black Metal has always been anti-establishment, although – I have heard – that there are special rescue dogs tasked with locating corpse-painted musicians lost in snowy forests whilst shooting footage for their videos, and guiding them home to their mums for a warm bath and some hot cocoa.

black-metal

Whilst a few of the dudes have done some very naughty things like killing their bandmates and burning a few churches, all that getting lost in the woods seems to have meant that none of them have got particularly far in terms of actually raising the devil and destroying the establishment and mainstream religions in a Satanic stylee.

Ghost, however, have a plan.

moment-for-satan

On the evidence of their recent output, and most lately this Popestar EP, Ghost’s plan is to produce some perineum-tighteningly beautiful music, and to reinvent the cliché of the Satanic Metal band to offer an accessible fifth-wave alternative to all the goat bothering bollocks that defined the diabolic in Metal until now.

For purposes of context, let’s have a brief interlude about Satanism: First Wave Satanism was the fairly obscure medieval stuff that was probably just the wank fantasies of ergot-addled monks, Second Wave was the dabblings of the pre-revolution French aristocracy that was also probably mostly about adding something a bit exotic to shagging when they’d got bored of deliberately infecting each other with syphilis, and the Hellfire Clubs of the 18th century, which were definitely about the shagging and drinking – and by the way no, I know what you’re thinking will be next and Crowley wasn’t a Satanist, no matter what Alamo-bothering ant-snorter Ozzy has to say – Third Wave was American groups that started with Our Lady of Endor and grew into Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, which were essentially atheistic ego-centric Objectivist political statements of the Ayn Rand ilk, this was, however, when musicians started to get properly involved and you had people like King Diamond, Marc Almond and Marilyn Manson become actual Satanists, whereas before this the accusations of Rock’n’Roll being the devil’s music were a load of arse.

This wave of Satanism did however have some interesting and fairly radical things to say about personal responsibility and leaving other people the hell alone and Marilyn Manson, at least, was pretty articulate about how the things that his beliefs were in opposition to were things that were fucking up the heads of the generation that many of his fans came from.

Then you had a fourth wave of offshoots of the Church of Satan, such as the Temple of Set, as well as the Order of Nine Angles in the UK. Now, these ones were a load of shiteybabble and seemed to take it all a bit far in a craptastic way, believing in real evil deities and human sacrifice, and inspired some bands that took it all a bit literally and seemed to doing despicable things in the hope that being a pissgargling arsedick and chucking sheep’s blood about and carving things into their heads would cause the Devil to appear. This was probably the phase that some of those lost-in-the-woods Black Metal bands took a bit too seriously.

satanic-temple

Anyway – the Fifth Wave, which Ghost would appear to be a part of, is mostly taking the piss and using satanic imagery to make political points. The Satanic Temple, an American group, is doing some lovely, lovely work campaigning against right-wing Christian groups trying to insert themselves into the nation’s children and their education, and fighting against attempts to control women’s reproductive rights and sexual health by taking government money for ‘abstinence only’ programmes. They’re not against religious people per se, as they’re also offered to help protect groups such as Muslims who are facing backlash and persecution in America on a personal level Additionally, The Satanic Temple is offering ‘After School Satan’ clubs to counter the Christian Right’s indoctrination attempts in the education system.

after-school-satan

Ghost’s music offers a gateway into this kind of anti-establishment Satanic thinking, and they are absolutely knocking it out of the pit in terms of producing lyrical content that promotes freedom in place of the thought-prisons of religion, and selling this with some supersexy swinging earworms.

In a world that might just have Donald Trump with nuclear weapons soon (because 2016 be fucked up, yo) y’all motherfuckers really do need some moar Satan in y’all’s lives.

need-satan

The Popestar EP is one original track and four covers. The original track, Square Hammer, is an instant classic anthem that’s got a chorus with brain-hooks in it, which invites the listener to join in an initiation and swear before the devil. The lyric ‘are you on the square, are you on the level…’ shows that although Ghost may well be taking the piss, they do have a bit of a clue about actual occult ritual, as it’s reminiscent of masonic terms. But this isn’t a closed shop for posh boys only.  Ghost are offering this for us all.  I mean… that fucking chorus… I am not joking when I saw this is an instant classic anthem. Massive festival crowds are going to be singing this back to the band before long.

(See what I mean – this is fucking awesome)

The covers are interesting.  A track from Echo and the Bunnymen and one from Eurythmics are excellent choices that Ghost handle in a fun way.  They even nail Eurythmics’ trademark harmonica groove on Missionary Man and the song is good fun cheese with a sinister slant.  Echo and the Bunnymen come with their own slightly occult history, but here the song Nocturnal Me is powerful anti-choral dirge.

Where Ghost do something new for them is on a cover of Simian Mobile Disco’s I Believe.  The original is synth electropop that’s a bit gay club glorious, but Ghost stake their claim on new ground by turning it into an Enya-like trance dry-ice cool chillout piece.  Papa Emeritus’ vocal uber-competence really comes over like never before on this song.

The finale is a song from fellow Viking-land-band Imperiet, Bible, which reminds me of… oh sweet Satan, I’m just going to say it… it reminds me of something  like Greg Lake’s I Believe In Father Christmas  or that one by the Monobrowed Purveyor of Ultimate Filth, Chris De Burgh – the one about the alien going nanananananana, which SPOILER ALERT – is really about the baby Jeebus (and which I am going to insert here because I hate you all):

Some of Ghost’s other material is clearly inversions of medieval choral church pieces, but this is ganking a style from attempts to cash in on Christmas in the seventies.  The song  Bible tells the story of how the Christian god is a bit of a dick, but putting it in that style – soaring synths and mile-wide multiple harmonising choirs – is evil genius.  It’s both hilarious and disgusting and beautiful.

Now, this EP might just be something that Ghost have tossed out there to try out new styles and experiment away from the conservative world of Metal, but the production values on it are superlatively high-level and whilst it is a petri-dish, it’s not been casually tossed off.  There’s some heavy lifting being done here.

If Ghost really are serious about taking on the establishment and showing anyone that’ll listen that there are ways to think for yourself and shake out of the structures of society, then they’re going the right way about making their message even more accessible and listenable.

Now, some of the DEATH TO FALSE METAL turbotossers out there are going to hate this because it’s doesn’t align with their boring conservative formulaic idea of what Heavy music should be, but you know what – they can fuck off back to their Megadeath and Metallicker boring arse shite.

Because Ghost are The Good Shit.

And if they really manage to sell Satan to the masses, and get people to turn their backs on all the horribleness that’s ruining everything right now, they might just save the world too.

Verdict: 666 out of 10

Oh, and if you haven’t seen the video for their Grammy winning song Cirice yet, just bloody watch it.  Look, I’m trying to say sorry for the Chris De Burgh one, okay:

 

Fractal Cypher – The Human Paradox

Asher Media

Review by Rick Ossian

While this quintet from Montreal may not be the next Dream Theater or Symphony X, they are clearly stalwart enough (and widdly enough) to withstand the slings and arrows of what can oftentimes be the cruel world of prog metal criticism.  Fractal Cypher are  Simon Lavoie on vocals, Ludovick Daoust on piano and keys, Steven Cope on drums, Tommy Fradette on bass and Vincent Bruneau on guitars.  They began their road to Prog Metal notoriety in 2014.  It won’t be long before they’re touring the world opening for the likes of whom I mentioned earlier.  So then let’s take a look/listen to the tunes, shall we?

fractalcyphergroupshot

Up first is the debut single, Lost.  This is BIG prog metal here, folks, complete with heavy riffage and squalling lead guitar breaks.  There’s even a bit of Cookie Monster vocal rage thrown in for the guys over at No Clean Vocals.  At about six minutes in we get a nice lead guitar solo, and the piano bit at the close is simply beautiful.  Off to a nice start, they are!

Next on the platter is Endless Circle, featuring a very heavy intro with big drums and riffs.  The bass and the keys definitely play their parts well also, and we even get a bit of a bombastic keyboard solo (3:15) before it’s all said and done.  At 4:25 we have the requisite lead guitar bit, and the vocals at 5 minutes in are nothing short of arena-level readiness.

Shinning A While is our next eight-minute monster, and it starts off its existence with a gorgeous piano intro.  This is a powerful ballad-style piece with nice, clean, white bread vocals.  Watch out for the kick-in at 2:05, however – it will grab you by the short and curlies!  At 4:45 there is a slight downshift in proceedings, then we get a big guitar piece at 5:15.  This is more of a blues shredding, and then of course we get the beauty of the piano and the vocals at the close again.  There may be a bit of a pattern developing here, readers!

Prison Planet is the shortest track on board here, but at five-and-a-half minutes in length it still packs quite a punch.  There is an excellent heavy riffy intro, replete with vocals and guitars and everything a little prog metaller might need.  Some rough vocal passages almost made me haul out the CM reference again, but I put it away quietly and as sneaky as possible cos the clean vocals soon make a swift return.  There is an almost widdly guitar bit at 3:30, and the shift at 4:20 is no slouch.  Heavy riffing pounds us into submission at the close.

Imminent Extinction follows suit, and begins with a heavy prog intro.  There are also some vocal FX, keys, drums, bass and guitar who come along for the ride.  Though we do get a prog metal widdle-fest about one minute in, things soon shift.  These widdlings give way to a guttural scream (1:50), then at two minutes in we get another shift.  These blokes can be angelic for a moment and then devilish the next.  It’s really quite hairy at times!  A mix of clean vocals and CM can be heard on this track, and the lead guitar bit at 3:20 is a good long Proggy shredding.  Some BIG drums again on this number, and some stop-start antics that will have the Dream Theater fans squealing for joy.  Another guitar solo at 5:45 fairly well brings thing to a ringing close.

Final Abode, another eight-and-a-half minute monstrosity, starts out life with a lovely pounding, heavy intro.  The main riff is a nice one, also – made me feel like standing up and doing the air guitar thing!  Widdle, widdle, widdle seems to be the theme of the day, however, as there is more than enough of that going on here.  At 50 seconds in we get our first taste of lead guitar, and some clean vocals accompany.  The next of several guitar bits is the curving, curly affair at about three minutes in.  The instrumental breakdown at about four minutes in is also noteworthy.  The vocalist (yay! our hero) returns to the fray at 4:40 and shows us why he is the frontman.  More lead guitar stuff at 5:40 and 6:35,  nice, long melodic shreds.  A very cool fadeout later and we are done with track six.  On to the follow up!

Awakening is another gorgeous ballad-style number, with that absolutely beautiful piano bit at the start, and a slight hint of Flamenco guitar to accompany.  There is also some violin-sounding keyboard work going on in there.  Drums and bass bash us over the head ever-so-slightly (1:50), more to remind us of their presence than anything.  “As the memory goes on” seems to be the presiding vocal refrain, as it is uttered twice here and then again at the end.  At 3:45 everything comes to a full stop, giving way to a nice vocal/piano interlude, then at 3:55 there is a lovely bluesy shredding guitar bit that goes on for almost a minute of pleasant widdling.  There’s that widdle again, they seem to be almost obsessed with it, don’t they?  But no matter, we like a bit of widdling around here, don’t we?  Some big drums again on this track, and a plaintive, emotional ending with the return of the acoustic guitar and piano at the close.

Idles Word is another big bit of our heroes emulating their heroes.  This piece may be a bit reminiscent of Dream Theater.  In fact, at times it even seems down right derivative of them.  At least we can see that, for one, Fractal Cypher aren’t a bunch of blokes who are afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves.  But to dress out completely like the boys from Jersey..?  I can see where this might tend to lose a few of their traditional fans, but then their fans are also no doubt fans of DT also.  This track is in what I fondly refer to as storyteller mode.  There is no doubt a lesson to be learned here.  I love how the riffs slam at us right away – no fooling around, right down to business.  This is Prog Metal at its semi-finest, baby!  Good use of vocals here as well.  The way they alternate the heavy and the light is deftly, almost expertly handled here.  At five minutes in we get a slight shift to the angelic side of things, and a WTF? moment of smooth jazz during the following instrumental breakdown.  At 5:40 there is an all-out prog attack (featuring the keys), and then another Prog shred on the lead guitar at 6 minutes in.  Some good vocals toward the close, and before we know it another eight-minute masterpiece has passed us by.

Ghost of Myself is our closer for the day, and it is a heavy duty one.  An excellent heavy main riff starts things off after a brief keyboard intro, and we are off again!  At 1:40 there is a brief widdle – you have to be quick to catch this one!  More shredding of keys and guitars follow shortly after, once at 2:20 and again at 3:10.  At 4:20 we get another of many beautiful shifts, this time with a piano and vocal breakdown.  Things kick back in at 4:50, and at 5:15 we get another hot lead guitar bit.  The fade out at the close follows more of the BIG bad drum work we’ve come to expect, plus a hint of sitar among the light guitar work at the very end.

I have no complaints in particular about this recording.  In fact, if I was a certain pair of old-school movie critics, I’d give it two thumbs way up!  Though not a stone cold classic by any means, it certainly warrants another listening – or more – and at the very least consideration by prog metal radio outlets…if there are such things!

Verdict: 9/10

Grand Magus – Sword Songs

Sword Songs

Nuclear Blast

Review by Rick Ossian

amazon_badgeTo fully appreciate Grand Magus‘ latest, one must transport oneself back to the time and place of ancient Norse legend.   By the by, Grand Magus are from Stockholm and this is their 8th full-length recording.  Some brief research by yours truly also discovered an early split with none other than Spiritual Beggars.  Their personnel is JB (vocals, guitar), Fox (bass) and Ludwig (drums).

Freja’s Choice is our opener for the day.  This track, along with most of the others, may be blindly dismissed as NWOBHM-style cheese on first listen, but be vigilant, dear reader – soon you will see/hear why I am going on about another Swedish Trad Metal trio.  Maybe this is just dumb old Viking Metal, but it’s REALLY GOOD Viking Metal.  There is an excellent main riff here, and the album is chock full of similar pounding, chugging goodness.  The vocals are straight and clean and slightly reminiscent of Soundgarden‘s Chris Cornell.  Some quick drum work and what sounds like it could be a double lead – JB must have an echoplex unit on his axe!  At 2:35 he shows his stuff with a nice brief twiddle down Guitar Lane.

Varangian is another would-be battle epic (“we are warriors/defenders of steel”), and it is the subject of a lyric video on YouTube:

It is pretty much what some might refer to as battle metal, but I try to look past that when I can.  There is some nice guitar work going on at 2:10 and 3:05, and I really enjoyed some of the battle-worn lyrics: “Into the fray/we die and we slay/Our home up above/the home of the brave”.  See what I mean about how some may dismiss this as cheesy?  Keep listening…

On Track 3, the boys actually proclaim themselves Viking Metal, so we can’t be too far from the mark.  Cool points are awarded for the title, Forged in Iron-Crowned in Steel.  I haven’t run across a hyphenated title for awhile.  I think it works, though.  There is some pretty mellow fingerpicking at the beginning of this number, but it gives way to a nice blast about 40 seconds in, when we get a really good main riff to slam us about a bit.

Born for Battle (Black Dog of Broceliande) features more of the same, with another very cool main riff and some fighting lyrics: “the king has justified the cruelty and pain“.  This tune has another of those chugging, pounding rhythms on board, and also features the obligatory guitar solo at three minutes in.  Good stuff.

I’m loving the hammer-down style of the next number, Master of the Land, as well.  The vocals and the instrumentation are strong, and there is a tasty guitar bit at three minutes in.  Formulaic, perhaps, but well worth the listen.

Last One to Fall is a four-minute slammer in the same vein as the other tunes, but there is a brief lead at about one minute in, giving way to a shift in RIFFS at 2:00, to a slightly Sabbath-y feel, and another lead at 2:55.  I will say this, they manage to fit in an awful lot of cool stuff for 3-4 minute jams.  I felt myself wishing that the tracks were longer at times, but then I almost always feel that way unless it’s a 20-minute progfest…

Frost and Fire finds the fellows meaning business with a solid beat and a commanding rhythm, not to mention a wicked little guitar bit at 2:10.

Hugr is a pretty little instrumental with an ominous opening featuring a clock ticking (??) and some cool fingerpicking.  It is beautiful but never really goes anywhere, and perhaps that is the point!

The closing number, Every Day There’s a Battle to Fight (boy ain’t THAT the truth?), is a bit more bluesy metal, and considerably more subdued than the rest of the tunes here, but it is still a very good track and features another wickedly cool riff.  Truth be told, as I mentioned above, this recording is full of riffy numbers, and anyone who is awake and into Heavy Metal would do well to check out a copy!

Verdict: 8/10

Joe Bonamassa – Blues of Desperation

 

joebonamassabluesofdesperationcover

J & R Adventures

Review by Rick Ossian

When you first hear the name of Joe Bonamassa, lots of things come and go in the thought process of most blues/heavy rock aficionados: Black Country Communion, Beth Hart, all of the beautiful solo works, the spectacular (and well-recorded) live shows.  Smiles begin to form and knowing nods of the head often ensue.  I’ll never forget the first time my brother asked me about him – “have you heard this guy Joe Bonamassa?” Needless to say, that inevitable shit-eating grin begins to spread.  It wasn’t long before older bro was knee deep in CD’s of the early back catalogue.  “Isn’t this a Jethro Tull song?”, he would blurt out, or “isn’t this a Rory Gallagher tune?”  Yes, of course, I would respond, but just listen to how he makes it his own!  It turns out tributes are a big part of Joe’s schtick, if you will.  The recent Muddy Wolf Live at Red Rocks went a long way in re-establishing the two blues giants (Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, that is).  Anybody who has ever heard Joe will tell you that this man KNOWS the blues.

Joe’s current line-up is as follows: Anton Fig (drums), Michael Rhodes (bass), Reese Wynans (keyboards), Lee Thornburg (trumpet) and Paulie Cerra (sax).  At the helm, as per usual, is Kevin ‘Caveman’ Shirley, former skin-pounder for the mighty Humble Pie and producer extraordinaire.  Keep in mind whilst listening to this latest set of recordings that this IS the Blues – this is not Metal.  It IS also very much in the hard rock vein, and like those dinosaurs of old, Joe mixes the two.  I call it Joe’s Blues.  There really is no other way to completely, or accurately, describe it.  When you hear that voice, you know.  When you hear that beautiful guitar sound, you smile and remember.  I submit to you that Mr Bonamassa IS the blues.  He even started his own Blues Foundation (non-profit) to bring back to life that which may be lacking, sadly, in many folks’ listening(s).

joe bonamassaliveshot

First up is a familiar topic for the blues, This Train.  Trains, of course, as well as rivers, cars, addiction, women (mainly women leaving after love turns bad), literally proliferate in blues AND rock, of course.  Even the heaviest of metal cats get the blues.  The intensity rivals that of even the bluesiest of rockers – Gary Moore, Rory Gallagher and Roy Buchanan come to mind for me.  This is that part of the review where everyone mentally inserts their own favorite blues rocker.  Train is a healthy, heavy blues/rock tune.  Joe’s voice is slightly rougher and more mature than some may recall.  Well, bully for him, I say.  There are some nice piano licks here, and of course the obligatory guitar solo (2:40).  This is NOT new or fresh or exciting unless you can lay your musical prejudices to rest.  In that case, it is all of the above.  It is hot and new and fresh, even refreshing and exciting, to hear such old classical blues stylings.  Of course, that is merely my opinion.  Keep listening and you can always let me know what you think!

Mountain Climbing is a heavier, rockier blues, but still very much the blues.  It is way heavy – did I mention this was heavy?  There is a lady doing some serious background vocals here as well.  There is a heavy lead guitar solo (2:50) and a bluesy breakdown (3:50) for all you purists out there.

Drive is up next, and this one is available for free download on Joe’s page.  It begins life slowly and very mellow, and never really takes off past that.  There is some really nice bass work here, and the overall presentation positively haunts the listener, as you will no doubt hear when your ears taste it.  Can ears taste?  Moving right along, then.  “Put on an old blues song/And let your troubles be gone“, croons Joe, and we are tempted to oblige.  There are two solo guitar bits here, first at 2:30, sort of a false start solo, if you will, and then the main one at 3:05.  The second piece is more of an actual lead.  This is a very sexy jam, but don’t look for the neck-snapping riffs that you may experience elsewhere with this batch of tunes.  Drive is simple, slow and sexy – and that’s about it!  Good stuff.

No Good Place For the Lonely is an absolute monster, at just over eight-and-a-half minutes in length, it is the single longest track on board this set.   It is a heavy blues strut with lead sliding up the neck.  There are two guitar solos, one at four minutes in and one at about 4:55.  It is a blues shred with wah/crybaby FX.  This one is stately and majestic, and goes through to the close.

Next up is the title track.  It is another of the longer numbers, at just shy of six-and-a-half minutes. There are some bass guitar FX with eerie guitar at the outset, and a slide solo (3:00) with FX to boot.  There is particularly nice usage of the FX pedals throughout, at times haunting, sometimes siren-like.  The slide solo is a nice, long foray into the blues that slide work perceives so well.  There is also a breakdown (5:20) that is slow and mellow at first, then absolutely fierce.  In my notes I have the words “fucking wow“, and that about sums up this one!  At some point Joe and Co. must have just decided to scrap whatever lyrics may have been remaining and just jam till the fadeout.  That is done no less than three times in this collection.

The Valley Runs Low is a mellow country blues with some nice acoustic work.  Joe’s voice is clear, ringing true. Most singers would kill to have this kind of voice!  There is a brief breakdown at the two-and-a-half minute mark, and an almost spiritual/quasi-religious vibe permeates this number.  Some diabolical psycho-woman lyrics also; “In her letter/She said she would kill me if I left her“.  Ever meet a woman like that?  I believe we all have.

In You Left Me Nothin’ But the Bill and the Blues, we are treated to a bit of old school serious blues work.  It’s all about the leaving part of a relationship, which is typical fodder for blues tunes, you might say, but to hear Joe’s interpretation of it is truly inspirational.  Some nice sharp riffs on board here, plus some pretty piano playing as well.  Cool keys going on in the background to boot.  At 2:35 we get a real blues solo that goes through to about the three-and-a-half minute mark, then number two (3:40) through to the close.  REAL blues here!

Distant Lonesome Train is the next number on the tracks (there’s that train theme again),m and it is a heavier rocky blues with rolling, heavy-as-hell drums.  Some serious picking at 2:10 (through to 2:50) gives way to the rolling boogie beat from earlier in the tune, and there is a second guitar bit (3:45) with crybaby/wah FX that takes us up to the five-and-a-half minute mark.  We get to close with riffs, which is sort of a change-up.  You know what they say – being more eclectic makes you more marketable!

How Deep This River Runs is another six-and-a-half minute monster, and there’s that river motif again.  The blues can be a fairly simple endeavor, but to give it feeling and meaning, you need to be a master.  That is what Joe is.  He is the teacher and we are the students.  It’s as simple as that.  This is another slow, mellow lonesome bluesy number, and there are some good jams along the way.  The guitar solo/breakdown section at 2:40 gives way to a lovely melodic solo.  This is another of those tunes where they leave the basic song structure and just PLAY to their heart’s content.  It is a good jam with a BIG finish.

Livin’ Easy changes things up again, this time treating us to a laid-back, early blues style.  Think glasses tinkling in an old gin joint with a stand-up bass and you begin to get the picture.  The piano intro says it all, pure blissful beauty is what were being exposed to hear.  The trumpet and the sax finally get to play their roles at the fore, and it is again refreshing to hear the horns.  “My daddy said never spend more than you make/ And it’s that advice I’ll always take”.  Good advice, indeed.  There is a brief acoustic solo at the two minute mark, and some sexy piano work at the closer.  Wickedly good and haunting.

What I’ve Known For a Very Long Time is our closer for the day, and it is a super fucking bad-ass, horn-y blues, if you will.  The sax and the trumpet again come to the fore, and there is a solo at the outset for the guitar as well.  This is some serious blues, with a flat-out, hot picking blues shred at 3:20.  “No more chasing down the street of misery”, Joe intones, and we somehow believe him.  LEAVE her, already, we want to tell him – that way you would have more time to JAM!  I know, I’m being selfish.  Anybody else want to hear Joe jam some more?

Verdict: 9/10

The Golden Grass – Coming Back Again

thegoldengrasscover

Electric Assault

Review by Rick Ossian

amazon_badgeThis is one of those incidents where the name of the group simply says it all.  We have one objective if we’re going to listen to these fellows – we must all jump into a time machine and make a sonic journey back to the 1960’s and immerse ourselves in the waters/music(s) of the time.  Think Blue Cheer with a bit more of a psych lilt and a bit less pounding your brain into submission, and you’ve got the right idea.  Anyone familiar with the term ‘garage band’ or ‘garage rock’ or the Nuggets compilations will know straight off what I’m on about.  The Golden Grass are purveyors of nothing more or less than hippie garage psych, with a touch of classic hard rock and Yes, even Heavy Metal thrown in for good measure.

Hailing from Brooklyn, this is the first full-length outing from the band, who got rolling around 2013 from the sounds of the 7″ info in their bio.  They are comprised of Professor Plum Brandy (Michael Rafalowitch) on electric guitar and lead vocals, The Golden Goose (Adam Kriney) on drums and lead vocals and The Fireball (Morgan McDaniel) on bass guitar.  They combine Blues, Metal, Hard Rock and Psych to weave a tapestry of good tunes and even better times on this collection of recordings.  The title of the album bears a slight resemblance to an old Jefferson Airplane number, but I digress, as I often do.  Let’s get into the tunes, shall we?

goldengrassgroupshot

First up is Get It Together, a number with loads of guitar, both lead and bass.  The bass actually sounds like it could be a solo instrument (à la Lemmy, Geddy Lee or Ox), and is turned way up and added to the front of the mix, as it should be.  There are a couple of guitar solos, a brief one at three minutes in and a longer excursion at the five-minute mark.  What would a psych tune be without a couple of guitar bits?  There is that and plenty more to spare in this six-and-a-half minute tour-de-force.

Reflections is full of reminiscing, riff-happy 60’s/70’s rock.  They throw in a lot of stuff on this one, even bells/chimes at one point.  There is a brief guitar bit before we even hit the one-minute mark, and again some serious bass guitar licks as well.  Some nifty rhythm riffing is going on here also.  We also have two more guitar spots, one at three minutes and one at four-and-a-half.  I was again reminded of 60’s area West Coast acts, mainly San Franciscans such as The Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Shadow Traveller is another big whopping number, clocking in at just over 8 minutes, and is driven by the bass guitar and a rowdy harmonica.  A very nice Psych intro gives way to some cool riffing, and at 1:30 we get our first salvo of some serious guitar work.  The lyrics may be basic but they are to the point; “Get out of the shadows/Don’t let the darkness get to you/Take my hand/Understand”.  There are several guitar bits here (2:30 and 4:00 in particular), the latter sounding a bit like a guitar refrain, if you will.  There are also some leads at 4:45 and seven minutes in.  We have some pretty cool shifting too, at 4:15 there is a shift to pure Blues Boogie, and again at six minutes in we get some changes.  It always helps to keep things flowing if you change things up a bit here and there, I say!  The guitars close things out with the obligatory Psych fade, where things get considerably mellower than before.

Hazy Daybreak is no more or less than a strum-happy interlude.  It features good Psych FX and an early morning acoustic mixed with electric feel.  There is a brief bit of finger-snapping (1:15), and before we know it this neat little instrumental ditty is over.  It is noteworthy even though it is only about two-and-a-half minutes long.  Moving right along, then!

Down the Line is an absolute Psych monster, at almost 10 minutes the longest number on board today.  This tune alone is worth the ride, as you will hear once you’ve listened.  A lovely drum roll gives way to a sweet main riff, sort of a heads-down psych boogie (à la Status Quo), and we’re off.  Again, some serious bass licks come to the fore, and the vocals have that refreshing bit of a garage feel to them.  This rough-hewn feel gives the classic rock edge some attitude, and we also get some brief usage of FX pedals as well.  There are many smaller guitar bits, the one at 3:30 and the riffing at 7:30 are particularly noteworthy.  The downshift to a quirky psych breakdown at 4:20 is long and glorious, but mainly for heads only, if you understand my meaning.  It takes up the major of the midsection in this tune.

See it Through is another heavy Psych number, just over six minutes in length.  It has plenty of guitar and feedback and that beautiful Boogie bass we have come to love.  There are other things that pay homage to the days of old also, such as handclaps and cowbell (3:30).  At 3:15 there is another Psych breakdown, and before we know it this garage psych-fest is over, all too soon.  Looking forward very much to their next outing!

Verdict: 9/10

Fleshgod Apocalypse – King

fleshgodapockingcd

Nuclear Blast

Review by Tom Mead

amazon_badgeI was initially sceptical about the idea of mixing Death Metal with Classical music, but Italy’s Fleshgod Apocalypse have made a damn good job of making it work. Now onto their fourth album, they’ve carved out a niche for themselves by successfully blending the drama of their homeland’s opera and baroque music styles with the crushing and complex brutality of Technical Death Metal. They’re on the cusp of crossing over to the Metal mainstream and, thankfully, King is a strong enough album to make this a reality.

A concept album about an ageing ruler trying to maintain order and integrity despite the negative influences of various figures in his court, King is presented like an opera, with four different vocalists delivering a mix of death grunts, clean male vocals, operatic soprano female vocals and spoken word passages against a diverse sonic background. Anyone already familiar with Fleshgod Apocalypse will know that they are not a band to do things by halves. The mix of Symphonic and Death Metal elements works well because neither aspect diminishes nor compromises the other; this album is just as Heavy as it is Orchestral. This is a band that clearly has a larger affinity for and knowledge of baroque, romantic and classical music styles than many so-called “Symphonic Metal” bands. The music on King doesn’t merely consist of sticking a few synth sounds in to back up the guitars; there’s piano, harpsichord and dramatic string flourishes that make it sound like you’re actually in a king’s court in the 18th century!

Highlights in the album’s first half include The Fool and Cold as Perfection. Classical elements are prominent on The Fool with drums and guitars playing catch-up to lightning-fast violins and harpsichord, and is a prime example of how well Fleshgod Apocalypse blend clean and harsh vocals, with Paolo Rossi and Tommaso Riccardi duetting with devastating effect. Lead single Cold as Perfection is perhaps the album’s high point. A mid-paced doom-laden number, with a star turn by guest soprano singer Veronica Bordacchini, its ferocity is not diminished by its slower tempo, and it defiantly shows that the humble piano has a place in Extreme Metal; providing a brooding atmosphere to a highly technical degree, keyboardist Francesco Ferrini plays in a way that might convince other Death Metal bands to recruit a piano player too!

In the second half, we have And the Vulture Beholds, a relentlessly intense track that is also one of the more technical and emotive pieces on the album; top-drawer musicianship from everyone here. The penultimate track Syphilis is where the operatic aspects are most evident; with another great performance from Bordacchini, this track is dramatically and apocalyptically climactic, with every member again on top form.

Some fans will no doubt have reservations about this album though. While King is overall an engaging listen, it is not quite as technical as some of Fleshgod Apocalypse’s earlier work; on most tracks, technicality takes a backseat, as creating the right atmosphere to fit the concept seems to be the priority. There’s also a distinct lack of symphonic elements on some tracks, such as Mitra, which will displease some. Then again, this is counteracted by the two pieces of pure chamber music: Paramour (an interlude at the album’s midpoint) and King (which serves as a coda at the end of the album). While I think these simple pieces maintain the rest of the album’s drama and intensity (there’s no denying they show off the high calibre of Bordacchini and Ferrini’s respective talents), I can imagine some people feeling irked that a Death Metal album would dare to contain tracks featuring no Metal elements whatsoever.

In a year that’s already provided its share of great metal concept albums (such as Avantasia’s Ghostlights and Dream Theater’s The Astonishing), King sits nicely alongside them, even though it might not quite satisfy all fans of Fleshgod Apocalypse’s earlier work.  If technical, brutal Death Metal is your thing, you’ll probably prefer some of the band’s earlier albums.  But if you’ve ever wondered what kind of music Vivaldi or Mozart would make if they had metal in their day, then look no further.  King is an idiosyncratic blend of Classical music and Extreme Metal that should hopefully attract many new fans.  Fleshgod Apocalypse have shown that they have great ambition; wider acclaim and prominence surely awaits them.

Verdict: 8/10

Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

Released 04 September 2015

Parlophone UK

Review by Suzi Horsley and Rick Ossian

amazon_badge itunes_logo03-300x112

 

 

Right.

Iron Maiden.

I *love* Iron Maiden. Probably more than any other band ever- seeing them at Sonisphere last year was one of the highlights of my life, and the picture of me screaming my head off to Fear of The Dark remains one of my most loved pictures of me everThey were my gateway into Heavy Metal. When I was 17 or thereabouts, (I’ve told this story way too many times on here) I nicked my housemate’s copy of Best of the Beast (It might have been Number of The Beast, I can’t remember these days) and was enthralled. I walked around the house snarling “666! The Number of The Beaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaast” for months. From then on, it was a slow descent to my current eclectic tastes which are slowly widening to include Metal of the Black and Death variety. Anyway, Iron Maiden hold a very, very special place in my heart for a multitude of reasons, and I am rather firmly of the belief that it is actually impossible for them to put out a bad album.

However, that being said I didn’t think was possible for Linkin Park to put out a bad album (remember that horror?  Or this one?) or for Lacuna Coil to put out a bad album or…well you get the idea. In the last few years I’ve been let down by some of my trusty favourites, so before I gave The Book of Souls (announced on my birthday this year don’tcha know – thanks for the present, guys!) it’s inaugural listening in the southern tower of Castle Wyrd Ways I was somewhat apprehensive.  Could a band who have been steadily churning out killer albums for the last 40 years do it again? It’s been five years since we had an Iron Maiden release – what if they’d all forgotten how to play, or something?

Well, I’m very pleased to say that is not the case. I’ll spare you the summation of my feelings and give you a track by track breakdown and as a Wyrd Ways Rocks Show Special and (to save fights) my colleague, the esteemed Rick Ossian, also known as WWRS’s King Of Prog And AOR and Senior Reviewer will be joining me.

Hello Maiden fans and freaks worldwide – Rick here, your favorite Fish-Man, with a few words (or so) to add to my fellow WWRS cohort Suzi’s.  Apparently, track listing(s) vary from one continent to the next, so what we shall have here is a Transcontinental Twisted Review with a shared authorship of sorts.  Now, normally when I do a review I do a pretty technical breakdown and try to map things out for the listener.  I will try to refrain from that to a certain extent here and just get down to brass tacks.  Like Suzi, I have become an ardent admirer of the Irons (Up the Irons!) since they appeared in my musical orbit — only difference being that I may have become more aware of them much earlier than Suzi.  Then again, the only REAL reason for that is because I am much older.  Also, there isn’t going to be a lot of objectivity involved here…let us be clear, this is a completely biased review.

When I first began listening to Maiden, I was a MUCH younger man than I am now.  I also have one concert experience to covet, and I can’t even begin to tell you about it, because the memories just aren’t there.  I DO recall that Guns N’ Roses bowed out as the support band (supposedly because their star was on the rise and Axl didn’t think it ‘proper’ that G N’ R should open for somebody else at the time). Another American outfit, Hurricane, did the honours instead, and I remember not much else except for Dickinson‘s regular requests for us to “SCREAM FOR ME, OMAHA!!”

Since I’m the boss (or T’Gaffer, to use Yorkshire slang), and Maiden were the band that single-handedly got me into this whole Heavy Metal thing, if you two think you’ll get away without at least the odd interjection, you’ve got another thing coming!

So let’s get to it.  Damn straight.

The album is Maiden’s first studio double album (though I have a digital copy from Groove Music) and comes in at a whopping 92 minutes. It has  their longest ever track on it, which comes in at 18.01 minutes long and knocks Rime of The Ancient Mariner down to being Maiden‘s second longest track. It is *not* a concept album, although I rather feel it should be, but it quite thematic on the subjects of death and hell and other cheerful things like that.

If Eternity Should Fail  is our introduction which kicks off with some weird Spaghetti Western-esque “do-do-dooooooo” stuff before Bruce gives the most beautiful, ethereal standalone kick off to a vocal introduction to an album I think I’ve ever heard. What you then get is gloriously classic Maiden – all the things that make Maiden great – with something that’s new.  It’s old Maiden enough that no one is going to be upset, but new Maiden enough that it isn’t boring either.  And the lyrics are mind blowing.  It’s also instantly catchy.  I’m only on my third listening and singing along already.  At the end it has some really creepy spoken word stuff which gives you some flavour (and freaks you out).

As an opening track, this one sets the stall out well.  The intro is a bit… interesting.  Very 80’s synths (remember this band telling us in their sleeve notes that Metal and keyboards should never mix?  How times have changed!) backing a mournful verse, with Bruce showing another, Blues-y, side to his voice.  Then the rest of the band comes in and we’re in familiar territory.  This is Maiden.  A good one to start with.

If Eternity Should Fail follows The Red and The Black (more on that later) as track 5 in the States, and I was agog at the intro, a purely spacey, Egyptian-style intro that recalled some of the tracks from Powerslave, for me at least.  The requisite galloping and guitar-soloing are there, and at the five-minute mark there is a brief bass/drum takeover, of all things.  Bruce‘s vocal power is just that, an extraordinary display of an extraordinary man’s talents.  The voicing(s) at the end may be these blokes’ way of getting all philosophical on us, but who cares?  It SOUNDS cool!

Track 2 here in the UK is the previously released single Speed of Light which is *deep breath* the closest I think Maiden have ever come to releasing a Pop Song. It’s not bad, please do not misunderstand me for a single second, it’s just a bit poppy in a way I can’t put my finger on. It’s my least favourite track from the album, but it’s still good. From any other band I’d think it was perfectly acceptable. Anyway, it’s a bit boppy, and I want Maiden to make me scream and then displace bits of my spinal column head-banging. This track doesn’t do that. I do still find myself bouncing along in my desk chair signing the chorus though so, yeah…

Oh, give over, Elfie!  This one’s a cracker!  The song gallops along on sheer joy and showcases a band that are enjoying themselves.  After the last couple of albums, I’d begun to fear that Maiden had lost the ability to write quick songs.  This one proves me wrong, and does it in fine style.  Nicko even uses his cowbell!

Speed of Light, the track that first became available to us, is the last track to appear, ironically enough, on the US version.  Though it may sound tepid by some standards, it is a truly remarkable piece of work as well.  

The Great Unknown starts with all the guitars doing cunning understated things, and is almost stripped back for a Maiden guitar line. The Bruce comes in with some restrained vocals and then you get some keyboards I think, and the track just slowly builds up for well over a minute until finally around the 1 and a half minute mark Nicko gets unleashed on the drums and then the guitars kick into Maiden style and you get hit full on in the face with the glories of a full Maiden line up doing what they do best, while Bruce shows off all that opera singer training he had. Also, epic guitar solos.  I can see the crowds going nuts, with horns up screaming this one back in the middle of a festival already.

This one is an example of what Iron Maiden have been experts at for the last thirty years.  Slowburning, epic songs that build from quiet and thoughtful to full speed gallops, before returning to quiet, without feeling forced.  One thing that you can’t help but notice is the sheer quality of the guitar work from original member Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers (the former White Spirit and Gillan six-stringer who has now been with Maiden for something like a quarter of a century, but still feels like the new boy!), all underpinned and anchored by Steve Harris’s throbbing, galloping bass.

The Great Unknown comes in as the second track on this side of The Pond, and Steve begins this number in rather regal bass fashion.  The urgency is there, the in-your-face delivery is there – in fact, it’s ALL there, folks.  All we need to do is listen!  It occurred to me during my first listen of this track that NOBODY screams/yells at you/us like Bruce.  About 5 minutes in there is a contemplative shift of sorts, and …Unknown begins to sound like a different song, hell, even a different band, up to the fade-out. “And the world has fallen/And we stand alone” – kind of prophetic lyrics, but then they do that occasionally, don’t they?

Up next is my favourite track from the album – The Red and The Black. Kicks off with Spanish-style guitars and then kicks into a high octane, thumping, thrumming wall of glorious, multi-coloured sound. Seriously, it is an aural orgasm. You know how Maiden have a back catalogue full of songs that you can just jump and down to, singing “woaoh ah ohhh oh!” along with a slamming guitar line and drums that are just right where it’s at (Lars Ulrich can piss off, Nicko is king FOREVER) THIS IS THAT TRACK. It’s just perfection. I can’t even begin to tell you how perfect it is – it jumps to being my number three favourite Maiden track (Fear of the Dark and Number of The Beast are at 1 and 2. Incidentally Can I Play With Madness is fourth). It’s also a glorious 13 minutes long. There’s always a risk with long tracks that they’ll get boring halfway through. Not so, with this one. It’s 13.33 minutes of sheer perfection.

The Red and the Black is up fourth here in the expanse that is Nebraska too, and I don’t know that a bigger track has been heard (at least not to these ears) in quite some time.  Steve begins the proceedings again, I believe, though these ears MAY be a bit untrained.  Any bass players out there that would be willing to express their opinion(s) would be more than welcome!  Emotions and guitar solos are running high on this track as well, and at about the ten-minute mark things shift to a more uptempo rendering.  At ten-and-a-half the repetition, though oh-so-subtle, is the only thing that takes away from the track.  Repetition CAN be cool, methinks.  Perhaps in another world, repetition is all the rage!  At twelve minutes in we do another shift to that world-famous, globe-trotting gallop, and then Steve ends things, kind of like he did at the beginning – you remember, back at the beginning of this track?

There’s some very interesting guitar work on this one, acting as a mirror to Bruce’s melody line, playing along to his singing, matching him note-for-note.  The wash of keyboards in the background adds colour and depth without overwhelming anything else.  Probably the most striking thing is that, four songs in, with nothing clocking in at less than five minutes (most either pushing or exceeding 10 minutes) none of these have overstayed their welcome or sounded forced.  It’s really looking like Iron Maiden have completed their transformation from meat-and-potatoes NWOBHM to a fully-fledged Prog Metal band of the type the likes of Dream Theater can only dream of being.  The Red And The Black is just one of the tracks that reinforces that.  Then there’s the gear shift at around nine minutes in that just makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

When The River Runs Deep should then be an instant disappointment, following such an epic little adventure. However it isn’t. The Red and The Black has a peaceful finish to it and then When The River Runs Deep slams right into your face with a full-on start, and no build up. It’s “only” 5:52 long (there’s only one track shorter than 5 minutes on the whole album and it comes in at 4:58), and I’m sure there’s some cowbell in it. Just the right amount, it doesn’t need more. We’ve got Her Majesty’s Right Royal Air Raid Siren, Bruce Dickinson after all.

When The River Runs Deep is one of those classic Iron Maiden songs.  Unmistakeable.  Riffs, vocals and solos… all perfectly weighted and placed.

I found myself immensely enjoying US track 7, When the River Runs Deep, which in Maiden World is short but sweet at only about six minutes, but still an excellent track, with a super fucking bad-ass main riff and some soloing featuring one of those wah/crybaby pedals (I’m thinking probably Janick there).  The solos abound on this and all of the tracks.

The Book of Souls is the last track of Disc One for those with a physical copy here in the UK and track 6 for those with a digital version. It’s a 10 minute long epic, and it’s best listened to by sitting back and closing your eyes and letting it wash over you.  While you headbang, obviously.

Now then.  The title track.  The Book Of Souls.  Is it epic?  Yes.  Somewhat surprisingly, the keyboards are a lot further forward in the mix than you’d expect.  Again, that raises a wry smile, but it turns the song into something huge.  Then the pedal goes down at the halfway point and the goosebumps are back.  The soloing again is incredible.  Guitar afficianados bang on about Vai, Satriani, Friedman and Malmsteen… but if you want guitar heroics that actually serve the song, you really can’t do any better than Murray, Smith and Gers.  The energy and imagination in this track alone put bands twenty years younger to shame.  THIS is how you do Prog Metal.  Yes, you can do all the Proggy twiddly bits, but you remember the Metal.  

The title track, which you will find in penultimate position Stateside, begins life as it ends, with some positively heavenly acoustic guitar work.  Since when do these guys deploy such subtle weaponry?  I haven’t heard it on any tracks since, oh, say the last album?  All kidding aside, dear readers, The Book of Souls is a piece of work that needs to be heard to be believed.  It is incredible – it is fantastic.  It is, as Bruce intones, the “food of all the gods“.  Their are many sweet solos, and the crybaby pedal is broken out again.

Disc 2 kicks off with Death Or Glory and is an instantly upbeat faster paced (and shorter) track than The Book of Souls. It’s fairly punchy, with memorable lyrics, and is again, bound to be a crowd pleaser, but I got distracted listening to it and forgot to write anything. (Elfie! – T’Gaffer)

Death or Glory, which occupies the eighth slot here, features another big rock intro, complete with more wicked vocals and even a couple of paradiddles (getting a bit technical there, Rick! – T’Gaffer) from Nicko.  We get the full package here, folks, with no less than three guitar solos to boot!

Now this is what an album opener should sound like.  Yet Death Or Glory could be classed as the opener for “Side 2”.  This one’s got the Maiden swagger all over it.  This really is the sound of Iron Maiden in full flight, and it is truly majestic.  The goosebumps are back again as soon as they get to the bridge.  If you don’t get the urge to get out your air guitar about three minutes in, you have no soul.  On any other album, this would be the highlight track… but as my colleagues have already mentioned, this album is something special…

Shadows Of The Valley follows Death Or Glory in the UK, and again it’s fairly fast paced. Disc One may be all slow build up songs that then smack you in the face, Disc Two is full of boiling over tracks who have already reached a full head of steam by the time they start. I can’t put my finger on which previous release this track puts me in mind of, but whichever one it is, they’ve done it before. This seems to be a subtle re-working than an entirely new track. Still, bloody good though.

Unlike the UK version,  Shadows of the Valley is the album opener on the Stateside version.  I can hear Steve REALLY well, and of course that classic Maiden gallop is there.  Nicko’s drumwork is wonderful, I might add, and I can hear that beautiful ting ting ting of his cymbal(s).  Bruce is in wonderful form, considering his recent bout (Bruce wins!) with cancer, and there are plenty of guitar solos to go around.  “Into the valley of death“, Bruce intones, which we should realize takes on a completely different perspective, again considering Dickinson’s brush with the Reaper.

They’re at it again on Shadows Of The Valley!  Another slab of classic Maiden.  Bruce is singing out of his skin… which is truly amazing when you consider that, when this was recorded, he had a tumour “the size of a golfball” on his tongue.  There’s the hint of an Eastern influence on the riffing.  Those solos… as I type this, the song is playing and the hairs on the back of my neck are standing on end.  This one is going to go down a storm at the live shows.

Tears of a Clown is the albums shortest track coming in at a mere 4.58. It’s also (apparently) based on Robin Williams’ death in 2014. The opening guitars don’t quite ring right for me – they’re a little off beat somehow, but then it improves.  The opening lyrics:

All along in a crowded room
He tries to force a smile
The smile it beamed or so it seemed
But never reached the eyes, disguise
Masquerading as the funny man do they despise

…are absolutely heartbreaking and a very poignant reminder of the complexities of mental health. It is, a solid tribute both to Robin Williams (assuming the story is true) and to those battling mental health stigma everywhere. Never let it be said that Maiden are scared to tackle the hard subjects. And unlike a lot of bands they manage to do it in a non-sensationalist way as well.

It’s absolutely spot-on.  Despite the somewhat cliched title, the song itself is pretty much perfect.  Lyrically poignant… and that guitar work.  I know, I keep coming back to it, but this triple attack from Messrs Gers, Murray and Smith is truly awe inspiring, and there’s no hyperbole in that.  Each and every time, the soloing is incredible.

Tears of a Clown is the shortest track on board here, at just under five minutes, but it is no less cooler than the remainder of the tracks.  It features a wickedly cool intro, and is probably a perfect example of the stop-start, proggy time signature freak-outs that our parents warned us would screw up our ears and the rhythm of our hearts!  More of the wah-pedal being stepped on, which I ALWAYS enjoy, as well.

The Man of Sorrows isn’t any more cheerful and is the penultimate track of the album which also is seemingly based on a mental health theme. It’s probably the most haunting track on the album, and has  slower paced verses and vocals that really let Bruce’s range go to work. Like all Maiden tracks there’s a fairly long vocal free intermission in the middle. Always a pleasure to listen to musicians who are skilled at what they do making some melodies work their asses off.

The Man of Sorrows has a sweet guitar opening, weighing in as track 6 in the US, and an extremely cool ending as well, with a slamming pounder of a riff (1:30), more galloping (2:00), and more guitar solos (4:00/4:30).

Finally, the album comes ot a glorious close with The Empire Of The Clouds. Written solely by Bruce (as was If Eternity Should Fail), it boots Rime of The Ancient Mariner from the longest Maiden track slot, being as Rime is a mere 13 minutes long, and Clouds comes in at 18.01. It also features Bruce on the piano and begins with a distinctly unMaidenish piano intro. This is not a headbanger, this a Lie Back And Enjoy It. And it’s beautiful. There’s even a violin. Or something with strings at any rate. Anyway, it’s a gloriously fitting closer to an album that has been a long time in the making.

Empire of the Clouds (US track 3!) pretty much sums up the definition of epic, and even when faced with other standard side-long prog tracks, it does NOT lack whatsoever.  There is plenty of pomp and circumstance, Stürm und Drang, as it were, and you know it’s going to be an absolute monster when there are keys and strings involved!  The introduction features a beautiful piano piece, and about a minute in we get some gorgeous violin work.  Two minutes in, we get some powerful vocals.  You don’t really hear your first taste of guitar until about three-and-a-half minutes in!  At the four-minute mark, things get decidedly heavier.  This one is positively hair-raising – I literally had gooseflesh during my first listening to it!  Again, plenty of lead guitar work to go around, and the big Nicko shift (7 minutes in) is interesting to say the least.  If one were to look in Webster’s (or the Oxford English Dictionary for those of us on this side of The Pond! – T’Gaffer) under ‘vocal prowess’, then there would be a big picture of Bruce there with this track!  There are transitions a-plenty as well, and at fifteen minutes in, you would swear we were listening to a different track again!  Towards the end, at about 17 minutes in, as the track begins to fade out, we get more of that ‘grand’ piano stuff.  This track in particular kind of says it all, and could even be indicative of a Maiden ‘formula’, if there were one!

So after 1600-odd words of my waffling at you, what do I think of The Book of Souls? Well, frankly I think it’s a continuation of a 40 year long career standard. There’s not many bands who can consistently turn out excellent albums. Iron Maiden are one of those bands. Longterm fans won’t be disappointed and new fans will be left wanting more. I’m rating this album 5/5 but only because Carl won’t let me rate it as an 11. (Just this once, I might let you do that, Suzi – T’Gaffer)

It’s been five years since The Final Frontier (which I have to admit was something of a disappointment).  The question that has to be asked is, “Has it been worth the wait?”  The answer has to be, and can only be in the affirmative.  If you’re going to call this a “comeback” album, it’s been the best return since Osiris.  This is a band that, even after nearly 40 years, are capable of working magic.  Not content with nostalgia trips, this is a band that is pushing forward and pushing forward hard.  It’s likely we will never see the like of Iron Maiden again, and the credit for that lies firmly in the hands of Steve “Bomber” Harris.  He put this band together.  He’s the lynchpin that holds this band together.  His drive, determination and sheer ability to pick exactly the right musicians to fit his vision have absolutely come to full fruition with The Book Of Souls.  Every single note played on this incredible record just proves that Iron Maiden are the greatest Heavy Metal band in the world.  Ever.

If you disagree, you’re wrong.  It’s as simple as that.  Full marks.  Album of the fucking DECADE.  UP THE IRONS!

For those of you whose musical orbit does not land in Maiden Land, this may NOT be for you.  However, for those of you who are about to Rock, as we all do from time to time, this is the stuff right here!  I am in complete agreement with my cohort, Suzi – at the very least, highest marks with two thumbs straight the hell up!

(P.S Maiden for Bloodstock 2016 alright? Please don’t let them Download, I don’t want to deal with the tweenagers)

ironmaidenbookofsoulsgroupshot

*****(******)/5

Forward Unto Dawn – Alpha EP

forwarduntildawnepcover

Independent

Review by Rick Ossian

Buy the MP3 version HERE

Halifax, Nova Scotias Forward Unto Dawn have given us their second release (We Won’t Die being their first) in the shape of their latest EP, Alpha, and it IS a corker!  They are a 5-piece ‘Progressive Metal’ outfit, and their personnel is as follows: Din Stonehouse (vocals), Dylan Wallace and Taran Murray (guitars), Devan Smith (bass) and Nick MacDonald (drums).  Normally this sort of fare is NOT my cuppa, but as it was an EP with a pretty cover I decided to give it a chance.  Doubtless you’ve heard me say this before, but these tunes are NOT for the faint of heart.  Nearly every track will pummel you into submission, both vocally and instrumentally.  I caught myself having to close my jaw more than once just trying to imagine the flogging these fellows’ axes were receiving…

forwarduntildawntour

Opener Transcendency is a a track with one of those intros that I LOVE to gush over.  Lush strings/keyboards, a distant lonely guitar plucks out some innocent-enough sounding chords as the keys rise ominously in the background.  A wicked mix, with some solitary bass notes booming here and there.  At 1:30 things pick up speed with a massive kicking in of doors, walls, etc., as the instruments and the vocals floor you simultaneously.  One may as well refer to Din’s vocal capabilities as an instrument as well; it is more likely used in a weapons capacity, if you will.  They do the kicking in thing again at the 2:30 mark, and before we realize what has struck us so profoundly on the noggin, it’s over.  So sad.

The Collapse comes at us out of the gate with extreme intent, vocal chords shredding all the way as they drag us kicking and screaming into this new piece.  As I mentioned before, this sort of extremely thrashing ‘progressive metal‘ is not what I normally prefer; however, I found myself slightly enjoying this stuff.  At the 3:20 mark there is a shift into even HEAVIER territory, with Din (oh, those poor vocal chords) reaching from way down under (3:40) to deliver his guts to you on the proverbial metal platter.  Some VERY cool instrumentation going on in the mix, but the vocals are WAY out front on this number.  At 4:45 there is a brief guitar solo, with some phase-shifting FX and cool lead snippets at the close.  These 5-minute (or so) tracks I think are the best representation of FUD‘s skills, but of course that’s just my opinion.

Concord and Dissolution features ‘math-y’-style Progressive Metal riffs à la Meshuggah or Between the Buried and Me, and is another slammer both vocally and instrumentally.  There are also stop-start time chords in here – remember when our folks told us that stuff would damage us?  I stand damaged, but loving it all the same!  There are also some very ANGRY vocals (surprise!), but about half way in (3:00), the vocals actually lighten temporarily. I wondered if Din had momentarily lost direction, but I didn’t have to wonder long.  At 3:50 we have the inevitable instrumental slam, and at the five-minute mark things shifted into slightly Proggier territory.  At 5:30 you can hear Din clearing his throat — it’s pretty graphic, you may want to remove your young ones temporarily– it is becoming increasingly obvious where this guy picked up his moniker.  At six minutes in we get one more slam from everybody, and a (WOW!) holy crap intensity at the close.  I may have to check that one out again after I finish typing!

The Nature of Existence includes another of the cool little intros that I am always on about.  Well, every song has to start somewhere, doesn’t it?  Plaintive, simple chords/notes waft briefly in our brains, then thirty seconds in of course we are knocked sideways for a mentally metal loop as we see what’s left of our noggins waste away on the floor!  “Look how much you’ve grown!” bellows Din, and YES I can actually understand some of the lyrics.  We all worry about finding ourselves, and a “place to prosper and grow“, as Din tells us, but is the rap section necessary?  I admit these spoken word bits can be effective, but even a rap done metal style can get annoying if overdone.  Thankfully, here at least, it is not.  At 4:15 we get a lead guitar solo (brief) with some atmospheric leanings, then another one of those super-intense endings.

Synthrospect is basically a master class in how much cool stuff you can fit into a song in a minute and a half.  It begins life with a cool spacey guitar intro, sort of an interlude with Proggy tendencies.  Then (:35) the instruments kick in, providing us with a very nice bass and drum pocket.  Fifty seconds in we hear a brief guitar solo, then at 1:05 we are slammed yet AGAIN by the sheer force of the instrumentation.  Very nicely done, gentlemen.

State of Duality hammers mercilessly on our frontal lobes, coming out at us double time with shredding vocals and some serious drumming.  At 1:55, however, there are some Proggy Jazz Fusion moments.  This is only brief, of course, as we get slammed again at the two-minute mark.  Again there is some wicked guitar work at play here, with a brief lead guitar moment (3:00) and some more of that Math Metal style riffing (3:30-4:00) and some neat pieces of stabbing lead.  There is a seismic shift at the 4-minute mark, then a bit of spoken word (5:00) with some cool jamming going on behind the oratory.  Some pretty intense stuff here again.

At six minutes even, our closer for the day, A Premonition, is hopefully just that – something to indicate that a full-length mega-slammer is due to follow suit soon (PLEASE??).  The intro features sweet bursts of lead and hammering instrumental work plus shredding of the vocals and pounding riffs.  Some understandably impressive vocals, as always, and if it is beginning to sound like a pattern, so be it.  Some outfits abuse the sameness – some can be eclectic as hell.  In my opinion, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it!  At 2:20 there is some shredding lead guitar work going on, and then at three minutes in all hell breaks loose!  At 3:30 there is a slight upshift in tempo (how do they DO that?), and at four minutes in there is a groove!!  We get another taste of some lead snippets – little bursts/stabs of energy that our dynamic duo seem to be very adept at, then there is a slightly mellow ending…it’s over.  Very sad.  Need more.  Long-player SOON, please?

****/5