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Album reviews and live reviews

Kreator – Gods of Violence

Nuclear Blast

Review by Rick Ossian

The thrash-metal pride of Essen have returned with their 14th studio album, and it is a real corker!  Though I must confess my lack of familiarity with the band’s previous material, this is indeed another of those cases where I am compelled to dig deep into the past.  Kreator are Mille Petrozza on vocals and guitar, Sami Yli-Simio on guitars, Christian Giesler on bass and Ventor on drums.

The tunes on Gods of Violence run the gamut from smaller radio-sized chestnuts such as World War Now (the lead-off track if you discount the intro Apocalypticon), Satan is Real, Totalitarian Terror, Hail to the Hordes,  Fallen Brother and Side to Side to longer tracks like the title track, Army of Storms, the epic Lion With Eagles Wings and the gargantuan closer, Death Becomes My Light.  Each has multitudes of excellent guitar work, including dual leads on many of the tunes, and riffs fast enough to blind you as they zoom by.  Also a standout on all these tracks are Mille‘s vocals, which can go from introspective to menacing, oftentimes within the same tune.

World War Now is some seriously heavy thrash, with the pedal to the veritable metal right out of the box.  The vocals are angry, even menacing, as mentioned before, but all together pretty clean.  Mille does border on the growl at times, but he’s more of a screamer and shouter.  For Kreator‘s purposes, that works just fine.  Our mid-section on this opening number is a bit widdly, even Proggy at times.  There is enough guitar power here to fire up the most stubborn of rock engines, as well.  We are hearing at least a couple of good shredding leads here, as well as some incredible riffing.

Satan is Real is downright convincing, and there is some decided doom and gloom going on here, as evidenced by the bells and downtrodden riffs/leads in the opening sequence.  There is an excellent main riff here as well.  The vocals are, again, somewhere between clean and growly, with a slight lean towards the Cookie Monster area.  Again, lots of guitar work going on here, particularly the lead at 2:40 and the feedback at the close.  Very choice licks, indeed.

Totalitarian Terror features more big guitars and vocals, and a very fast main riff.  The instrumental breakdown/lead guitar solo at 2:30 is noteworthy as well as the shredding at 3:10.  The vocals are more like threats than singing, and the close-out arrives super fast.  Almost too fast, I’m thinking, then Mille bellows “When freedom has died!“, and you know the tune is over all too soon.
The title track is a big monster of a track, damn near six minutes in length alone.  The brooding, mellow acoustic fingerpicking intro and the sitar sounds are the beginning of our journey.  The vocals and the guitars seem to be in a race towards the finish, but thankfully hang around long enough to make a real mega-tune out of these proceedings.  We get a well-deserved instrumental breakdown at the three-minute mark, and at the close Mille hollers “Gods of Violence come alive!”  For some reason, six minutes seems to go by much more quickly than I would have it. Ah, well – moving right along, then!

Army of Storms is another one of those tracks where they begin life with a KILLER main riff, another guitar soloing on top of that, and Mille commanding us to “RISE!”.  At three minutes in there is another excellent lead guitar break.  I love the marching riffing and the cowbell towards the close.  The drum bit at the very end is cool also.

Hail to the Hordes starts off life with a really cool guitar intro, rhythm riffing with lead soloing on top.  The guitar work here is fine indeed, as the vocals are impressive.  One can’t help but wonder if Mille is shredding his vocal chords when he’s ripping away like he does!  The guitar bit at 2:25 is some fine shredding indeed, and the drum work is wonderful.  There is a nice crescendo at the finish as well.

Lion With Eagle Wings may well be the cherry on top for this collection.  Lilting acoustics give way to slamming us into kick gear about one minute in.  This is all very fast and super tight, with big riffing from almost beginning to end.  Whispering vocals lends us to another of Mille‘s abilities – this man can weave a tale.  Storyteller mode aside, there are some guitar histrionics going on also.  At 2:45 there is some brief shredding, followed by an instrumental breakdown at the 3:15 mark.  Some super riffing ensues, and the four-minute mark finds Mille and Sami duking it out to the pleasure of our collective ears.  At 4:40 the vocals return to the fray, and sadly, before we know what hit us, another track is in the books.  Not just any track, mind you – a sheer behemoth!  The drums and bass work very well together, as they should.  I would imagine it is even more difficult with thrash, because they’re just cruising so damned fast!

Fallen Brother sports a drum and guitar intro, and a real menacing main riff.  I caught my head banging and my toes tapping on this one, folks!  That should probably give you some idea of the types of tempo we’re dealing with here.  Some very cool guitar work, lead as well as rhythm, also enhances the proceedings.  There is an excellent bit of lead work at 2:30, and some German vocal FX at 2:50.  A nice fadeout graces the close on this number.

Side by Side is the last of what we shall deem ‘regular size’ tunes.  The vocal screams along with the guitar to let us know that we have begun.  This track sports another incredibly good main riff, by the by.  There is also some serious shredding on board as well, particularly at 2:15.  Mille slips into storyteller mode again at about 3:15, and then returns to the main slam at 3:30.  One big finish later, and we have arrived at our closing item on today’s menu.

Today’s closing track is a big whopper, coming in at almost seven-and-a-half minutes.  It is called Death Becomes My Light.  Something that I should mention here, and that is this:  if you are a prog band, then seven-and-a-half minutes may not seem like much.  However, when you are tearing it up thrash style, à la Kreator, then you’re talking about a lot more work, instrumentally and vocally, over all.  Mr. Creepy Cool guitar fingerpicking intro starts of the show, then Mille goes into storyteller mode again (about 40 seconds in).  At 1:15, things pick up speed a bit as the main section kicks into gear.  This is a heavy double-riffer, the main riff being something from the world beyond.  Very fast leads and rhythms are abundant here.  At 3:15 there is some more serious riffing and lead soloing.  They are both deployed again at 4:15 ( with a healthy dose of wah-wah pedal), and I believe both guitarists are ‘super shredding’ at this point.  One more bluesy solo (5:10) later and this is a very pretty solo, by the way.  I’ve seen guitar players cry for less.  The drums and guitars close things out, with a nice feedback fade-out at the very end.

To sum up, thrash fans need not be worried about goings-on in the Kreator camp.  All is indeed very, very well.

Verdict: 9/10

Product
Kreator - Gods of Violence
Version
CD + DVD
Reviewed by

on 19th March 2017
Rating
Price
£11.99
Summary
Thrash fans need not be worried about goings-on in the Kreator camp. With their 14th album, all is indeed very, very well.

Sepultura – Machine Messiah

 

Nuclear Blast

Review by Rick Ossian

 

Belo Horizonte’s Sepultura are back with their 14th studio album, Machine Messiah, and it is every bit as good as I was expecting to be, if not more.  I need to stop worrying about some of these Thrash vocalists, however.  It seems no matter how much I wonder whether or not they are trashing their vocal chords, they always seem to be able to lay open their lungs with the best of them, even when it sounds like they are singing blood.  Derrick Green (vocalist extraordinaire) is a case in point.  You can almost feel him peeling back the layers when he is in full on meltdown mode.  Lord knows you can definitely hear him.  If something’s not splitting in two then we are talking about a modern musical miracle of sorts!

Vocal histrionics aside, Sepultura do themselves proud with this, their latest efforts in the worldwide monster that is Thrash Metal.  To catch up anyone who isn’t up to speed on their current personnel, joining Derrick on their respective axes are Andreas Kisser on guitars, Eloy Casagrande on drums and general percussive madness and Paulo Jr. on bass.  Together they form a very tightly knit unit, evidenced by the incredible stop-on-a-dime arrangements included herein.  Those of you who are still missing brothers Max and Igor Cavalera will just have to bite the bullet.

The title track starts things off with aplomb.  There is a beautiful guitar intro to begin with, followed shortly by doom and gloom, creepy vocals.  About three minutes in we get full-blown growling and screaming by Derrick, accompanied by some heavy riffing.  Four minutes in finds us with wailing guitar leads and vocal FX.  Derrick informs us at the close that we are to “bow down to the Machine Messiah!” Mechanics of the metal mavens, to be sure.

I Am the Enemy is a short, sharp, shocking slam to the system.  Ramones-style in length (2:27), it nonetheless contains no less then two blistering step-on-the-wah solos.  This is some seriously floor-board metal thrash we are hearing here, folks!  No wanna be’s allowed.  Only the REAL deal.  And shit just got VERY real.

Phantom Self rolls out some nice percussive slam on the intro, which I’m told is indicative of a real Sepulturian ass-kicker!  There are some stop-start dynamics here that may remind the casual listener of some prog they might have heard down the road back a ways.  It also might stop your heart if you’re not careful, and maybe even tear your head off!  These sorts of complex arrangements, the kind when they stop on a dime and turn almost completely around – are not unheard of in the Thrash world.  They are more common in, say, perhaps a Metallica or an Anthrax tune, but then we are in good company, aren’t we? About three-and-a-half minutes in we get a good, long melodic shred, which gives way to what sounds like violin strings.  No matter – the two duel it out soon enough, and we all love a good duel now don’t we?  Doom and gloom drums and guitars save the day in the end.  We had fun getting there, right?  I know I did!

Alethea begins life as a quasi-instrumental, and only at 1:15 do we hear a vocal.  It is wrapped in very fast, tight guitar work, and accompanied by a near perfect melodic shred at the 3:35 mark.  This is not necessarily a dud, just a bit shy of where we were before.  No matter – keep listening if you want to hear the really good stuff!

Iceberg Dances IS a complete instrumental.  Not only that, it is a complete jam!  Twenty seconds in, and we’re already hearing some incendiary soloing from the boys.  There are loads and loads of guitars on board here, riffing as well as flights of fancy shredding.  There are also some keyboard noises here, even a short keys solo, if you will – but don’t let it slow you down or fool you.  This is uptempo for most of its entirety.  It is also very percussive, again a very Sepulturian thing for them to do!  There is also some lovely acoustic guitar work in the mix.  One big finish later and we rack up one of the best metal instrumentals I’ve heard in quite some time.

Sworn Oath is absolutely scary.  The main riff is excellent, and aside from the fact that there is a fucking chilling vibe to the whole tune, they still manage to lay down a pretty convincing jam!  There is some really melodic, ripping shredding going on here as well.  Notable points are at 2:44 and 4:30.  There are some super-creepy vocal FX about five minutes in, which gives way to some lovely musical madness shortly afterward.  There is a big finish, almost grandiose.  Still, a lovely jam!

Resistant Parasites may also scare the crap out of you (“infecting to survive, disastrous…suffering”– just a sample of the lyrical content).  There are all sorts of big noise on this track – BIG bass, big vocals, big violin/keyboard sounds on top loads and loads of guitars.  There is another nice instrumental breakdown, right next to a brief vocal interlude, and tons of riffing.  At three minutes in we get another blistering shred-filled solo.  Even what I like to refer to as super sonic shred there for a bit…Great stuff!

Silent Violence is another very intense jam.  It jams from beginning to end, and it sounds as if we’re on our way to Riff City via Heavy as Fuck Avenue!  We get a whammy-bar heavy solo at about a minute in (WOW), then some real weirdness (1:50) that I really can’t explain, butted up next to another instrumental breakdown of sorts…nice but weird, like I said – kind of different.  There are lots of vocal acrobatics here, so naturally I’m wondering if Derrick shredded his vocal chords (again) while the boys were shredding away on their axes.

Vandals Nest is another short, sharp slam, in keeping with the possible Ramones attitude mentioned earlier.  Hit them hard, hit them fast, leave only the strong standing.  You had better hold on to something if you’re going to listen to this number.  That’s right, folks, it’s a breakneck speed alert!  And with good reason, too.  Very fast and very tight.  A heavy melodic slam with a bit of shred (erm, well sort of) at 1:25.  Otherwise, super sonic thrash again!

Cyber God is a very fitting piece for the end.  It is almost a master work, if you want to know the truth.  Is there such a thing in thrash metal?  This one is slower, bigger, louder, then faster and meaner with plenty of stomping, marching vocal FX and guitar smashing melodies with speed.  There are two noteworthy ‘atmospheric’ shreddings in here to hear; one comes at only thirty seconds in, and the second is at about 2:30.  Both may bear repeated listening.  You, dear reader, shall be the judge there.  Oh, and just as a side note – there are some clean vocals on board here – but they sound kind of robotic!  Hence the title, I surmise.  Check these blokes out now before you can’t touch them!

Verdict: 9/10

Product
Sepultura - Machine Messiah
Reviewed by

on 27th February 2017
Rating
Price
£11.99
Summary
Sepultura are back with their 14th studio album, Machine Messiah, and it is every bit as good as I was expecting to be, if not more.

Battle Beast – Bringer of Pain

Nuclear Blast

Review by Rick Ossian

Here at WWRS we are all about equality of the genders.  Hell, you probably tire of hearing me go on and on about female singers from the Norse countries in my reviews.  It is true, I probably do it ad nauseum…in all fairness, there are quite a few bands out there who are sporting a sultry seductress on the vocals.  Well, folks, here’s another one from Helsinki.  Her name is Is Noura Louhimo, and she fronts a Metal Monster known as Battle Beast (fourth album, no less.  Been looking forward to this one! – Ed).  Oh, no, not again, Rick! I can hear you from across the pond.  She is different, I’m telling you.  She really attacks the vocals.  She literally lances the lyrics, if you will.  Her partners in crime are Pyry Vikki on drums, Joona Bjorkroth on guitars and vocals, Juuso Soinio on guitar, Eero Sipila on bass and vocals and Janne Bjorkroth on keys and vocals.

Bringer of Pain is the fourth outing from this group, following 2012’s Steel,  a self-titled disc in 2013, and 2015’s Unholy Savior.  These folks formed in 2008, and they have been a winner of Wacken’s Metal Battle!  So, as you read, not just another nuisance from the North.  Once you hear the tunes involved, you may be on the wagon with me.  In fact, I believe I will cue it up again right now as I type!

Straight to the Heart is the perfect lead off track.  It is bright, heavy and very punchy.  How apt is that title?  It cuts to the bone, readers, and you will soon hear how full of purpose these musicians are.  This is great stuff, and the vocals lend an added urgency to the proceedings.  In fact, Noura’s opening scream should put you at the edge of your seat, just as it did me to mine!  Wait, did I just say that out loud?  Love the chugging beat to this uptempo number, and I’m sure you will too.  Nice shredding lead at 2:15, and another at the three-minute mark.

The title track is up next, and it features that double-bass kick drum you always hear me blathering on about.  It is used to great effect here, as you will no doubt surmise upon your listening.

King For a Day is an excellent tune with a wickedly cool chugging riff.  Oh, and is that a xylophone I hear?  Haven’t heard one of those for a bit.  Fair enough.  There are some guitar pyrotechnics here, especially those squeals you hear Zakk Wylde do so often.  Only hear it’s pretty cool and not overdone.  The vocals are, for lack of a better word, vengeful.  Angry but not boring.  For those of you who still aren’t blown away, there are plenty of FX and keys/strings to keep you tuned in.

Beyond the Burning Skies is powerful stuff.  Pretty straight forward, for the most part.  I am digging the drums and the vocals.  “Close your eyes and reach beyond the heavens“, Noura beckons us.  There is a solo at the three minute mark, but I’m kind of wondering if the keys and the guitars are so in sync that they are both soloing in and out of each other’s paths, so to speak.  Very enticing stuff indeed.

Familiar Hell has one of those eerie vocal FX intros, but is swiftly followed by big heavy riffy power chords.  This is the way to Riff City right here folks, and while it might not quite be on Heavy as Fuck Avenue, I think we’re in the right neighborhood!  This tune features that all-too-familiar chugging uptempo beat, which though it can be a pattern, it is a welcome one to these ears.  The rant/rap at about three minutes in is a refreshing update to the vocals, and is an element that I would not hesitate to leave in during the editing process.  That evil wicked laughter at the end is also very nice.

Lost in Wars features more super-heavy riffs and vocal FX, but it is used in a stately, almost enigmatic fashion.  It is a powerful number , with big chords on a midtempo template.  There is also a vocal duet, if you listen closely you may be able to detect another voice amid the din.  The keyboard also imitates the violin very well here.

Bastard Son of Odin is next in the queue, and I believe everyone will join me in lauding 5 cool points awarded to the group for sheer awesomeness of the title alone.  It does not disappoint in the tune department, either.  This one features big keys, big drums and even bigger guitars, plus a beautifully heavy main riff and those vengeful vocals again.  Man, I just can’t get enough of that voice! I’m also digging the way the guitars gallop along à la Maiden.  About two-and-a-half minutes in we get some more shredding, this time a dual lead as well.  At 2:55 we get some nice vocal FX too.  Oh, and the main riff is a face-melter!

We Will Fight features another killer main riff, and the steady, powerful pumping that is Noura’s vocal ability.  This is powerful stuff, peeps.  Dig it, and check out the next track!

Dancing With the Beast is everything you might expect from a band like this and then some.  It shows the eclectic nature of the beast, particularly the bizarre techno opening.  This is kind of a haunting tune, and I know I’m fond of saying that, but this had that creepy feeling that you get when your hair stands on end, you know?  It’s also a bit different tempo-wise.  It may even be kind of radio friendly.  There’s a good beat, and you can dance to it.  I give it a 69, Dick!  Again, I’m digging the vocals, and at 2:50 you can hear the guitars and the keys battling for space again.

The closer for the day, Far From Heaven, is not just another stab at radio-friendly Battle Metal.  This begins with a beautiful piano, and just when you think it’s going to be a ballad, it is, but it’s more.  This is mellower, but it also has that bluesy, soulful bluster to it.  It’s a tear-jerker, and it’s stately, and elegant, but it’s still very very good.  We get a nice Blues-laced guitar and keyboard break at 2:50 again, and of course the vocals do NOT disappoint!

Over all, if you’re looking for a reason to make a purchase, then take this with you.  Though there may be many bands out there who fall into Battle Beast‘s category/genre/pigeonhole/whatever, these folks really nail it, and they do it with conviction.

Verdict: 9/10

Product
Battle Beast - Bringer of Pain
Type
CD Album
Reviewed by

on 22nd February 2017
Rating
Price
£10.99
Summary
if you're looking for a reason to make a purchase, then take this with you. Though there may be many bands out there who fall into Battle Beast's category/genre/pigeonhole/whatever, these folks really nail it, and they do it with conviction.

Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody – Prometheus, The Dolby Atmos Experience + Cinematic & Live

Product
Reviewed by

on 16th February 2017
Rating
Summary

Nuclear Blast Records

Review by Rick Ossian

A new type of Dolby, you say? Well, isn’t technology something?  We are getting our first dose/taste/earful of this new tech when we hear the latest from Italy‘s Luca Turilli and his band of merry men.  Rhapsody have been around for quite some time now (circa 1996).  They have been doing a 20th Anniversary Farewell Reunion Tour this year, and other than  them touting themselves as The Creators of Cinematic Metal, I really knew very little about the band.  I do know this; there are a few other members, namely Dominiuqe Leurquin on guitars, Patrice Guers on bass, Alex Landenberg on drums and the incomparably mighty Alessandro Conti on vocals.

Upon first listen to this live opus, I naturally encountered some questions: 1) It sounds like there is a choir and orchestra. Is there? or 2)Are all those extra sounds coming from keyboards? You know the type of queries I would have.  But, read as I might, I was coming up with no answers.  So, I decided to watch a video!

NEW TRACK “IL CIGNO NERO [RELOADED]” FROM THE “CINEMATIC AND LIVE” ALBUM!

Still, no real clues revealed themselves to me.  Whilst listening to the material, I did hear Alessandro mention a female singer named Miss Emily something, and he also mentions a choir, but nothing about an orchestra.  The strings, particularly the violins, didn’t sound as if they were really keyboard sounds or guitar sounds, so I decided to dig a little deeper!  The subsequent videos I watched provided only brief glimpses of anything that might be helpful.  They mainly consisted of promotional/commercial montages of images designed to entice potential buyers, I fear.  We will assume, therefore, that for now we are dealing with guitar and/or keyboard/synthesizer sounds. Argh!

There is a lot of material here.  Twenty-seven tracks in all, and, as one might imagine, some rather lengthy ones.  Still, all in all, it is very nice package.  Everything is very victorious and triumphant, of course.  One must imagine the flights of fancy likely to be engaged in if you combined, say, Yngwie or Uli Jon Roth with Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  Perhaps an orchestrated version of Manowar.  This is battle metal at its best, in all its symphonic, cinematic glory.   There are many moments of bombast, pomp and circumstance, and of course musical jams.  Excalibur, Warrior of Ice and Dark Fate of Atlantis are the longest ones, at seven-and-a-half, six-plus and nine minutes plus respectively.  They are much like the shorter numbers, but there are many moments of Alessandro‘s banter with the crowd, introducing members of the band and the like.

Also included in the mix are shorter numbers and the inevitable tracks for member solos (the drum solo and the bass solo).  These particular solos are notable for two things, basically; 1) They aren’t technically solos; each are supported by other instruments and mumbling from the choir, etc. and 2)both are showcases of the musician’s virtuosity.  These boys have some serious skills!  The shorter numbers are oftentimes set-ups or intros to the next big number ( Nova Genesis, Aenigma, The Astral Convergence, Quantum X, and of course The Finale).  These tracks actually act as if they are tunes of their own, of course.  All of the big production, all of the huge vocal presence, all of the guitar widdling, make just as much of a spectacle of themselves as they normally would in the medium-length numbers.

Which brings us to the meat and potatoes of this opus.  The crowd-pleasers.  Of course, there is Prometheus.  It wouldn’t be a Prometheus package without the title track.  Cigno Nero (Reloaded) is also a big fave.  Rosenkreuz ( The Rose and the Cross), Land of Immortals, War of the Universe, Of Michael the Archangel and Lucifer’s Fall (Parts 1 & 2 are both included), The Ancient Forest of Elves, Son of Pain, Knightrider of Doom, Warrior’s Pride, Tormento E Passione, The Pride of the Tyrant, Demonheart, Dawn of Victory, Ascending to Infinity (wow another lengthy one at 6:42), and the ever-popular encore, Emerald Sword, are all presented and get to take their turn(s) wowing the audience.

It’s not that these tracks are all the same.  Well, they all SOUND the same, but that’s not Rhapsody‘s fault.  It’s not even Luca Turilli‘s fault.  They are pigeonholed in a particular genre, and they don’t for a second take that for granted.  They do not, for a moment, intend to fail.  In the end, of course, they deliver for us.  Note for note, crescendo after crescendo, we are treated to an audio-visual spectacle.  Big vocals, big musical moments, HUGE arrangements, and a choir to boot – oh, and I suspect they are hiding an orchestra in the wings!

Verdict: 8/10

Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour

Product
Reviewed by

on 10th February 2017
Rating
Summary

Nuclear Blast Records

Review by Rick Ossian

I never thought I would see the day when I would tire of Progressive Metal.  Perhaps I am simply reaching that age when it no longer inspires me the way that it once did.  However, generalizations do not become us, so let us dispense with the rhetoric and get on to what is going on with Kemi, Finland’s Sonata Arctica.  They can boast of 20 years together and 11 LP’s, not counting re-issues and re-packagings.  Their personnel is as follows: Tony Kakko on vocals, Elias Viljanen on guitars, Tommy Portimo on drums, Henrik Klingenberg on keyboards and Pasi Kaippinen on bass.  Together they form what must be said is a rather seasoned outfit.  So, how do they fall short with this, their latest release?  Read on, minions, and you shall discover the answer.

I am trying to be merciful.  In fact, there were several tracks that definitely mustered up some serious bobbing of the head and toes.  A number of the tunes on board possessed the charm, the chug and the instrumental power of a good Progressive Metal song.  Others were bogged down in the mire of big production, overpowering washes of keyboards, and a serious lack of guitar.

sonataarcticagroupshottwo

Closer to An Animal is, unfortunately, one of the latter.  FX and atmosphere seem to be the order of the day, at least for the beginning of most of these tracks, and Closer is no exception.  Their are some powerful, winning moments and elements.  The vocals, for example, are operatic in the best of traditions.  This is a medium-heavy number, both in delivery and tempo.  A lovely, chugging rhythm featuring the piano and the guitar are the main drivers, particularly the piano.  Though it is pretty and prominent, their are times when I would have preferred a blast of guitar in my face as opposed to a wash of keyboards.  Towards the close a narrative vocal drowned in echo FX takes over the proceedings, which I found a bit strange but added a bit of a mystique to an otherwise lackluster tune.

Life begins its course with a nice wedge of lead guitar and angelic vocals.  Again, the vocals are majestic and powerful, definitely a highlight to the proceedings.  This track starts out heavy-ish, but with some severely mellow interchanges.  There are lots of big instrumental and vocal passages, but this is again more of a big production than anything else.  I was reminded, as is customary for these chaps, of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  It is a shame that more of the grit and grime of that lot (à la Savatage) was not in order.  The guitars and the keyboards are driving again, and there is a nice guitar solo at the two-and-a-half minute mark.  It is a lengthy one, but we like lengthy guitar bits, so kudos for that!  This track is obviously a celebration of life of sorts, especially when one considers the overriding lyrical refrain (“Life is Better Alive”).

Fairytale is a bit longer (just over six-and-a-half mintues), and a bit better than the previous pair of tracks.  There are strings and bells and whistles and the like, and things get a bit heavier, which we DEFINITELY like.  There is that chugging rhythm present again as well, which we shall see develop into a regular pattern.  The vocals are powerful, even regal at times.  Tony has a presence about him that few Prog vocalists could compare favourably to.  Keyboards abound, as per usual, and there is a triumphant bit of shredding at four minutes in.  This is one of those tracks where I found my head and feet moving about a bit!

We Are Who We Are is a wee bit long on the intro, and is a mellower track than what we may be used to given the outfit we are working with.  This one is in the classic storyteller mode, even a bit ballad-esque.  The majesty of the vocals, even the lyrics, is obvious: “I didn’t like how the lake reflected me” struck me as particularly profound.  There are bells, keys, and whistles (or flutes, rather) on board again, and we get a nice instrumental break/guitar bit at three minutes in.  The overtly obvious message here, lyrically at least, was that “we should take care of our loved ones”.  Grand sentiment, agreed, but isn’t it a bit tame for progressive metal?

Til Death’s Done Us Apart has a bit more spit and growl to it.  It starts us off with a short intro, screaming, riffs and a driving piano.  This is another of the storyteller mode, which can be a good vibe if the storyteller is a good one.  This one is of a love/union gone wrong.  Their is the presence of the inevitable heavy double-bass drum, and the piano work is indeed lovely.  At 2:45 we get a mid-section instrumental breakdown, which is brief but powerful.  The vocals are also in your face, and the big production aspect is present again.  This is more of an uptempo number, with a nice piano bit at the close.

Among the Shooting Stars begins with chirping crickets, of all things.  It is another ballad, in the boy-girl storyteller fashion.  It can get semi-heavy at times, but is medium tempo and mellow for the most part.  The chug is there, which is good, and the piano is driving AGAIN.  I would have to say that this particular number is a bit mediocre for these folks.

Rise in the Night, by contrast, is a shorter, heavier number, featuring the old stand-by heavy double-bass drum attack AGAIN.  It is uptempo, and the vocals are very good.  They appear to have locked into a pretty tight groove on this one, and I was nodding the old noggin a bit here again.  That is a good sign.  Unfortunately, there is something slightly stale about the sound.  Can’t quite put my finger on why – perhaps you will note the reason when you hear it.  What begins as a simple guitar bit turns into some serious shredding (2:10), and the track itself moves right along, but there seems to be something holding them back…

Fly, Navigate, Communicate is another with a promising beginning, but many of the same elements featured earlier (massive double-bass drums, vocals, piano) are ever-present everywhere.  A nice moment or two of shredding (three minutes in) livens things up a bit, but ultimately not enough to save this one.

Candle Lawns is another in the vein of the stately, majestic variety of tune.  Pretty piano and measured drums grace what is a mid-tempo ballad arrangement.  There are some dramatic moments, particularly the bluesy lead guitar bit at 2:40.  I guess at this point I was just growing weary of the slow dance numbers.

White Pearl Black Oceans Part II: By the Grace of God wins points for title alone, and it is the single longest track on board.  Now, normally, as you know, I would revel in a 10-minute epic magnum opus such as this, but as our fellow Tom Mead would say, it meanders on a bit.  The storyteller mode is deeply set in place herein, and the piano is driving again.  Strings, particularly violin, are also abounding.  There is some beautiful piano work here, but keep in mind that the guitar should be here as well, and sadly, it is not.  There ARE guitars, but no bash-your-head-open riffing to speak of.  At about four minutes in, things DO take a turn for the better.  The tempo picks us, and at about six minutes in we get some serious shredding, which is almost always a nice thing!

Our closer for the day is actually a bit of closure, as the title indicates.  On the Faultline (Closure to an Animal), is another very lovely ballad, with the piano driving again.  Though this is indeed a pretty arrangement, it is super mellow, and there is hardly any other instrumentation save for the piano.  Tony asks us “Am I the only human here?”  Sadly, at the end of this, he most likely is.

To sum up, I can think of only a couple of things to say – this particular outing for this outfit was slightly disappointing, but then I guess I am just used to them rocking out a bit more.  If big productions and lush piano/vocal ballads are your thing, then perhaps this is for you.  I, however, was a bit put off.

Verdict : 6/10

In Flames, Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold

Product
Reviewed by

on 18th January 2017
Rating
Summary

Sheffield Arena, 15th January 2017

Mabh’s wearing a Wyrd Ways Rock Show t-shirt!

I don’t get out much, so when I do, it’s nice to go all out! Tickets for this gig came courtesy of my rather marvellous fella, who wanted to treat his eldest boy to his first ever gig. The lad is a MASSIVE Avenged Sevenfold fan, so when I heard tickets for this line up advertised, I was like ‘Buy buy buy!’ And he did. So we trundle off to Sheffield on a Sunday night, already realising we won’t be home until 2am and me dreading work at 7am on Monday. Needless to say, for the grownups at least, this gig already has its work cut out to be worth it for us.

We get there at twenty-past-six and are dismayed to hear the opening strains of In Flames’ set from outside the arena. It’s not supposed to start until half past! Argh. We shuffle as speedily as possible through ticket check, and after a mandatory warning about pickpockets manage to easily find some standing space close to the sound desk. I am surprised how much space there is; I had imagined a packed room for these guys. They certainly deserve it.

 ‘For most of you people who can fucking read, we’re ‘In Flames‘. It’s [written] right there and there’, shouts singer Anders. ‘We’re from Sweden, where it rains as much as England, so we are like neighbours.Anders continues some playful banter with the crowd, then goes on to chat about pudding. Every other word is fuck. He seems delighted to be here, and the crowd that came are delighted too.

The first song I hear in its entirety is The End. Anders is on knees, as if pleading with audience. His vocals are flawless and the entire band has so much energy. Also, give the sound guy a medal as the room is filled with beautiful noise; what a ‘fat’, full sound this band has.

The guitar sound is tremendous, it alternately sings and cries. Some complaints about going to see bands, particularly very good bands, are that you could just sit at home with a CD, avoiding bad overpriced beer and crowd BO. Not so with In Flames. Although they are note-perfect, they are so much more vital live. The audience interaction is great too. A random fan shouts that he likes the guitarist Björn’s beard. ‘I like his beard too‘. Anders admits cheekily.

The song ends abruptly, and after a heartbeat of silence the room erupts. The crowd is won over, and so am I. There’s a slight pause followed by an electronic synth sound which leads into the leaden opening beats of Cloud Connected. This song draws the crowd in a bit more and gaps start to fill on the floor, as people who perhaps only came for the headline act start to realise they are in the presence of greatness.

Anders is off again: ‘We are truly honoured that we can travel the world and play our way of heavy metal.’ He says something that really resonates with me. There is so much debate today about what is proper Metal, and what is not. (Anyone starts that sort of shite here will be told to fuck right off! – Ed)  He goes on to say that In Flames will only be playing the kind of Metal that they like to play. And if you don’t like it, fuck off! Hear hear, I say.

Some great back-up vocals come into play with the next song, The Truth. He reads some of this song like a poem rather than singing it, making it very personal. The place is really filling up now. Blue lights flicker around the room, and a long, drawn out synth drone is heard.

All right people, I know when you’re home alone, and no one is watching, you’re dancing your asses off. Let’s see some crazy dancers!‘ And the crowd start to move. They have been mesmerised both by the music and the charisma of the singer. The interaction continues on stage too. The band members seem to bounce off each other really well.

The next tune is Paralyzed, what a monster of a song. ‘Fucking scream for me Sheffield. You guys are too quiet between songs, we’re used to people screaming all kinds of shit.’ There’s a scream to my right which seems to spread through the crowd. Anders throws his arms up and we all follow suit. This is a delightfully dark and gritty track which shows off the talent of the whole band. Then we’re straight into Deliver Us. This is an epic tune with an orgasmic guitar solo. The guitarist has his foot right up on monitor, playing practically into the crowd. Very old school.

The band surprise me with some clever key changes, and some flawless vocal harmonies, all tiny spokes in a wheel of very heavy, crunchy Metal. Anders says ‘To each and everyone in this house thank you for paying attention to what we do’. You can’t help but feel that the band are genuinely grateful for their fans, and the opportunity to do what they love. And they are really good at revving the crowd up. They also have a great sense of humour. It’s implied, with tongue firmly in cheek, that listening to In Flames will improve your life, and it’s observed that one man doth not a mosh pit make. ‘One person is not a circle pit, it’s a drunk dance, that’s what that is. Now fucking dance for me.’

I was really impressed with In Flames (Never! – Ed). This is the first time I have ever seen them live and they did not disappoint. Great performance, great songs and great production. As Anders said, ‘This is a heavy metal show, right? We can all agree on that?’ Yes sir, yes we can.

We eat ‘The best hot dog in the world’ (it wasn’t) and drink some terrible beer while Disturbed start their show, with a guitar solo. There’s immediately something cheesy and posey about them, but the band are really into what they are doing. The stage production for Disturbed is hot. I mean literally. Every other beat is emphasised with a jet of fire. David Draiman is as imposing as ever, strutting the stage in his long coat. There’s something odd and off key about his vocals at first, then as soon as it sounds in tune, it sounds a bit too loud; a bit overbearing in the mix. The dynamics are odd too, as his levels seem to hover up and down. I wonder if maybe he has too much coming through his monitor.

The band open with Immortalised, from the 2015 album of the same name. I have to admit, I only know three Disturbed songs, and two of them are covers. However, this is an epic opener, although there is something off key-wise in the chorus. It’s worth noting I’m listening from the bar which may account for the odd sound.

Draiman is not the most energetic of frontmen; he walks up and down the stage, while the cameras capture some close ups of grasping hands and pumping fists. He starts to energise the crowd with the ‘Hey! Hey!’ section in the song. Soon people are jumping and thrusting their fists at the ceiling.

The next tune is The Game. Here we have the first emergence of what we fondly refer to as ‘the monkey sound’. You know what I mean. ‘Ooh ah ah ah ah!’. Not quite in that rhythm, but very reminiscent. Some of the lyrics stick with me:

‘You always wanted people to remember you, to leave your little mark in society’.

Draiman has a little smile as he sings this, like it’s a private joke. I wonder if he is thinking about the one song we are all waiting for, or if that’s just me being cynical.

The band are fully alive, energy zaps across the stage and guitarist Dan Donegan thrashes enthusiastically at the crowd. ‘Let me see your motherfucking fists in the air!‘ bellows Draiman, as another gout of fire punctuates the night. These guys love their fire! One of my companions comments that this stage production would have been oddly more apt for In Flames

The Vengeful One is another soaring, cynical sneer at modern society, accompanied by further jets of flame that threaten to take the drummer’s eyebrows off. Green light soaks the stage and crowd, giving the whole room an eerie feel. The backing vocals are a touch too quiet in the mix, which is a shame as they are spot on for timing and pitch. It would have been nice to hear more of bassist John Moyer who seems involved in a few of the songs.

My brothers and sisters; my blood. Speak to me!Draiman calls, nay, commands. The crowd is shrieking now, as they are ordered to ‘put those devil horns in the sky’. We have left the bar and re-joined the masses, and the sound is much better here. Also, as the show progresses the band seem to gain in confidence and energy.

Prayer is one of those classic Metal combos of upbeat riffs and depressing lyrics, yet it has a vocal jump that oddly reminds me of Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’. The sound has definitely improved now and the vocals are way more balanced. There’s a huge cheer for this tune, then a slight pause before jumping straight into one I don’t recognise, but which has some deep Metal mumbling. Cue another burst of fire and a key change, into another catchy chorus. These guys are good at these. They are also good at some lovely chromatic guitar work.

Speaking of which, a two-note riff suddenly takes me back to being a youngster at the late, lamented Bradford Rio’s. It’s Voices! A track I had completely forgotten about, which used to be a favourite to jump around the dance floor to. I could be cruel and say I had repressed it, but if so it’s because of some no doubt humiliating drunken memory that accompanies the song, because the song itself is great; sharp melodies, perfect staccato vocals, a super heavy beat and just discordant and crunchy enough to be a nu metal classic. It’s been worth coming just for this.

Next up, it’s back to sickly green and yellow lighting, and an almost rapped vocal line. I think this one is called Stupify. Again it is very staccato, but lacks a certain depth after the massiveness of the previous track. However, it’s clearly a crowd favourite, who shout along with Draiman in a call and response fashion. I find it a bit odd that the lead singer is least energetic person on stage; Moyer and Donegan are leaping about like crazy, whilst drummer Mike Wengren is going hell for leather. Draiman definitely has charisma though, which is carried not just via his voice but through a combination of pointing, grasping, and intense facial expressions.

We are left in darkness for a few moments, with a haunting, droning sound. Suddenly a crystal clear piano line cuts through the background noise. I know it is The Sound of Silence but for one horrible moment I’m afraid they are going to cover Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. Seriously, go play the first five seconds of Tyler and the first 13 seconds of Disturbed and you will know exactly what I mean. I’m suddenly surrounded by little specks of light, as everyone has their mobile phones out and is waving them in the way of lighters of old. Something I never thought I would write… I think it is guitarist Donegan who is playing piano, and it’s pretty much perfect. There is also some aggressive timpani action which is quite gorgeous. I know it’s a cover, but I can’t help but think that this song will be associated with this band for a very long time. It’s a very good rendition.

There’s another long pause, as if to let us absorb what just happened, then the room turns red and we are treated to more fiery excitement. Which makes sense, as we move into the song Inside the Fire. The sound by now is excellent, very tight and crunchy. The band seem re-energised by the response they received for Silence. The energy increases even more and the performance for the rest of the show seems note perfect and much more enjoyable. Albeit slightly over the top, the stage production is excellent, and the lights are perfect and dramatic. It’s a really well produced show.

Draiman pauses to have a word before the next track: ‘Tonight we have a special moment where the members of Disturbed need audience participation.Draiman wants us all to get out our ‘cell phones’ and lighters (no one has a lighter any more, oh sorry, there is one woman with a Zippo, I take it back!) to join in every time he sings the words ‘The Light’. The crowd howl; I don’t know this track (also called The Light) but they clearly do. And it’s a lovely song, so different to any of the previous offerings. It’s an optimistic ballad of hope, without being sappy. The crowd and band are as one now. Since Silence it’s been a different show from the start; twice as good with twice as much energy.

Stricken is soaring yet mournful, then the stage goes dark except for searchlights, and the sound of sirens permeates the arena. This leads into Indestructible, while flames fan across the stage. The crowd are drinking in every minute and Draiman knows it: ‘Alright Sheffield, your arms aren’t tired yet are they?’ There’s a thunderous roll of toms, and I swear I can feel the heat from those flames even over here by the sound desk.

After a rousing performance of 10000 Fists, we are commanded to Get on our fucking feet! and the obvious closing song is sung…. Ooh ah ah ah ah! There we go. So satisfying. The crowd surges forward, and the show ends in chanting and mutual worship between the band and the fans. Over the top, overly dramatic but so much fun. And worth it just for Voices, which I had forgotten about and The Light which is a truly beautiful song.

We move much closer for Avenged Sevenfold, having timed our ablutions and beer foraging perfectly. It’s pointed out to me that the original artwork for the single The Stage is on the screen, two halves of a skull, one on each screen with a perfect CGI eyeball looking around the arena. The left eyeball has the new album cover instead of iris. The sense of anticipation is palpable. Obviously there’s a longer gap before the headlining band, and the piped in music includes Space Oddity by David Bowie. There’s a touching moment where the crowd hushes, then starts singing along, and phones are in the air all around me. A brief but touching moment of tribute. So much love.

As the last notes and lights twinkle out, darkness falls and the crowd roars. The stage is set up as a series of screen and a huge cube suspended in mid-air, each side of which is a projector screen. Images of space and the Earth fly across our eyes, finally ending on the band’s logo as they appear on stage to a wave of crowd noise the like I have not heard for years.

As expected, the band open with The Stage. This is a great song, and I am impressed by some perfect guitar tapping. The audience absolutely love vocalist Shadows. I am surrounded by screaming women. Literally screaming. Unintelligibly. Whilst the band play, imagery plays pretty much constantly across the screens and the giant cube, meaning there is always something to look at. At the start, we have cave men puppets, Cromwellian witch burners and various other types of execution. Cheery.

‘Sing it!’ demands Shadows with a grin on his face. The two guitarists are in the spotlight, harmonising to the crowd, then bantering with each other and with Shadows. It’s clear that these band members have real love for each other, which is a beautiful thing to see.

I probably won’t write as much about A7x, simply because I was absolutely mesmerised. I can’t tell you exactly what songs they did and in what order, I just know this was one of the quickest two hours of my life, and that if their guitar sound was a real person, I would marry it. If I wasn’t bouncing up and down and screeching along, I was gazing wide eyed at smiling missiles, virtual flames licking across the stage and strange, Gallifreyan-looking swirls.

As the show progresses, we have synths and strings, and the screens go mad with imagery. There’s a clever thing they do, where they project the space imagery at the same time as projecting the live shots of the band, so on the screens it appears as if the band are playing in space. Later on, this technique is applied again to imprison the band behind chicken wire, and to set them on fire. The production is absolutely astonishing.

‘I don’t belong here,
Gotta move on dear’

A7x are a master of sing-along-specials, and Afterlife is the first of these (well, that I know!) and the crowd does not disappoint. Even Shadows repeatedly comments on how loud Sheffield is.

‘I can’t hear a goddamn thing I’m singing cos you motherfuckers are so goddamn loud!’

Shadows is an incredible vocalist. At times, he is almost rapping but the intonation is perfect on every note, whether low or high. The band really remind me of Faith No More, and the vocal lines are a big part of that, I think. There’s even some delightful three part harmonies. Oh, and it’s been said that A7x changed their style because Shadows couldn’t roar or scream like he used to. I’m here to tell you he can. Oh yes.

He also loves the crowd, and they love him. He asks where everyone is from. There’s a few locals, and many from surrounding towns. He laughs at the enmity we English have between rival towns and counties, and the room erupts with a chant of

YORKSHIRE! YORKSHIRE!’,

Something I have never heard at a gig before!

Highlights of the next hour and a half or so include Hail to the King. This song starts with such a sweet riff and when the drums kick in, every fist is trying to hit the ceiling. Buried Alive starts with a gentle, understated guitar line, which is soon underpinned by cellos and accompanied by a cheery backdrop of skulls, bones and decay. I love how the band themselves are so cheery and upbeat, whilst their themes range from death and destruction to entropy and the downfall of society. A wonderful juxtaposition.

The artwork on the screens is utterly amazing. As well as the aforementioned skulls, we have planets brimming with lava, space scenes, and swirls and lines that look like they are from the TARDIS. I am staring at the Gallifreyan when I realise the projection cube is travelling towards the crowd, leaving a gap at the back of the stage. It tilts up and down, the moves back, and I wonder if this is merely a distraction technique while the stage is changed somehow.

As the bizarre move finishes, a familiar synth line starts and the crowd howls again as the band launches into Nightmare. Another sing-along choice, this track is amazing live. This is one of my favourites, and again, almost worth coming just for this.

After Nightmare, there’s some more crowd interaction, as someone inexplicably tries to give Shadows their phone! Shadows introduces their most recent drummer, Brooks Wackerman. Cue a drum solo, which somehow melds into a gorgeous little snippet of War Pigs. I tell you, I can’t hear this band without thinking of Faith No More and stuff like that is not helping! The kit is great, such a fat sound but never overbearing. Shadows comments on what a rowdy group we are for a Sunday night and he’s right. I’ve totally forgotten about my dreaded 7am start.

Another high point is Sunny Disposition. This is where we see the nukes with smiley faces. I wasn’t sure at first if the band had a synth/keyboard player hidden away at first, but now I’m pretty sure that the ‘non-guitar’ sounds were pre-recorded tracks. You can’t tell though; the performance is perfectly flawless. The band toys with us by leaving a long pause, eventually filled by the inevitable cries of we want more, get on with it. The cube is tilting again, creating a spot lit area for one, then both guitarists. The musicians move down the stage and the lights follow them as they play; it’s quite lovely.

A loud rumbling occurs and the lights stutter. The screens go blank. Square waves batter the audience. With a burst of light the screens come alive, with capillary like red streaks. Our eyes are drawn to the back of the stage, where there is suspended a giant spaceman! It’s the astronaut from the album artwork, skull and all, in three-dimensional glory. There is something akin to an Iron Maiden show in all this; a real sense of theatre.

The band roar through Planets and after a gorgeous rendition of Acid Rain, leave the stage. There’s the inevitable ‘Will they, won’t they?’ before they return, leaving a long enough gap that some people actually leave. I can only presume they are trying to beat the car park queues; not a good enough reason in my mind.

As Shadows returns, he asks how many more songs we want. Someone shouts ‘Ten!’, and he quips,

‘If we play ten we won’t get to Manchester.’ After some predictable ‘booing’ Shadows laughs,

‘I swear, all we have to do is name any city! What do you guys think of London?’

And the loudest booing of the evening occurs! We are awfully parochial aren’t we.

The audience now has its knowledge of song lyrics tested, as a condition for playing Bat Country. The harmonised guitar solo in this is amazing on CD, but even better in the flesh. Or wood. How about a love song, one equally about murder and necrophilia? After the roar, Shadows pleads ‘Never bury me in Sheffield!’ and adds ‘This one goes out to the Rev.’; a touching tribute to an amazing drummer and songwriter. Little Peace of Heaven is exactly that. I’ve never known a track make me so uncomfortable and yet have me singing along every time. It’s a real conflict of emotions.

The band finish with Unholy Confessions, not a favourite of mine, but my companions, along with most of the crowd, are elated. Shadows encourages the biggest pit he can, which becomes a swirling maelstrom in front of us. This is a frontman who knows how to wind the crowd up into a frenzy, and all the while has a smile on his face.

All in all, a really great night. Yes, I’m biased by my lack of interaction with the real world lately, but this was genuinely a fantastic line up. In Flames were solid, entertaining and really heavy hitting. Disturbed were not quite as tight at first, and a little over the top at times, but in the end very good, lots of fun and threw out some real classic tunes. The headliners though. My word. Avenged Sevenfold have made it into my top ten live bands, that’s for certain. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the next time they visit the UK.

In Flames: 8/10

Disturbed: 7/10

A7x: 10/10

Metallica: Hardwired… to Self-Destruct

Product
Reviewed by

on 8th January 2017
Rating
Summary

Blackened Records

Review by Mabh Savage

Was there ever an album title that felt so apt currently? For a year when so much seems to have gone so wrong, even their logo has been adapted to a ‘glitch’ version, which seems to be breaking up, like there’s a poor reception signal on an old TV set.

Musically, the album is much less 2016 than 1983. There’s a real sense of the band returning to their roots. Death Magnetic (2008) started in a dark, haunting style, before kicking it with some crunching riffs. There’s no such ‘easing in’ on Hardwired. The very first notes grab you by your roots and start forcing your head up and down rapidly. There is physically no way to not head-bang to this music.

The title track is also the first track on the album, and while the staccato beat forces you to twitch uncontrollably, the lyrics tell you just how shit everything really is.

We’re so fucked
Shit out of luck”

No really, don’t beat about the bush, tell us how it really is guys! This kind of Punk Metal approach to lyric writing is most refreshing at the moment. It sums up the desperation felt across a nation, even across the globe, and instead of trying to be poetic about it, goes straight to the heart of things; we’re fucked guys.

Does the album cheer up from this point?  Nope!  The shortest track apart from the just-over-three-minute opener is 5.45, and these are long tracks of crushing misery, angst and pain.  And I love it! Atlas Rise! is a monster of a tune, a real anthem with a chorus and post chorus guitar riff reminiscent of early Maiden, circa Killers. Now that We’re Dead has such an unusual ‘tappy tappy’ drum sound accompanying classic, crunchy guitars and a sound so wide it needs a stadium all to itself.

Moth Into Flame is a classic Metallica shout-a-long track.  Chromatic guitar riffs, 2/4 drums that have been produced to sound as if they are coming from everywhere all at once, and a brief melody in the refrain that gives way to more anger and bile.

Dream No More sounds just for a moment like Rage Against The Machine, then morphs into something slower than the previous offerings; a reprieve, if you will. Halo on Fire continues this slower pace, but with some more mainstream sounding drums and melodies that are actually quite fantastic. The last couple of minutes of this song are like the end of a great movie, gripping and epic.  Great song.

The album is split into two CDs, if actually owning music is your thing.  Doesn’t everyone use Spotify these days? I always feel weird streaming music from a band that once spent a couple of years trying to get Napster shut down…

CD two takes us straight back to chug-town, with a guitar riff that speaks of Black Sabbath to start with, then simply early-day Metallica by the time we hit the second minute of the song. ManUNkind is one of the worst song titles I have ever heard, but what a tune!  The gentle start lulls you into a false sense of security before your ear drums are assaulted by some extremely densely produced drums and guitar.  Classic Hetfield single word pronouncements pepper this fun and bouncy track.

James Hetfield sounds really angry on this album. Vocally there is a tone of bitterness and self-loathing, that melds with the incredibly produced tapestry of Metal and Thrash to create one of the most upbeat yet downhearted albums I have heard this year.  Fuck your false optimism and positivity.  This is how it is.

Here Comes Revenge is a song title that kind of sums up the feel of the whole album for me. This album says ‘We’re pissed, and we’re not going to take it lying down.’

Hardwired has shot straight into the US charts at number One, which is not unusual as the last five studio albums before also did the same. What’s interesting is that although 282000 actual albums were sold in the first week after release, the songs were streamed 9.3 million times. That’s an awful lot of people listening to one album in one week. The album has also hit the top spot in another 22 countries.

Back to the tunes, Am I Savage seems a bit thinner than some of the other offerings.  The sound isn’t as fat, and Hetfield isn’t as, well, angry.  Murder One will be emotional for some, as it’s an ode to Lemmy Kilmister. Hetfield said that “Motörhead had a lot to do with Metallica sitting here right now”, so this song is a fitting tribute to a hugely influential man.

The final track, Spit out the Bone is an unrelenting war-horse of a track, crushing from the start, then moving into some crazy stop/starts. All the vim and venom is back, and we end the album with over seven minutes of vicious Metal aggression.  

This album is unusual in that guitarist Kirk Hammett is not listed as a credited songwriter. There’s nothing nefarious about this; apparently the poor guy lost his iPhone, on which he had recorded hundreds of riffs, which may have eventually made it onto this album. Gutted. Isn’t it strange to think that, without that odd little incident, this album may have been an entirely different beast.

This is a great album, one of their best in recent years. Its main flaw is that it sets the bar so high from the start, leaving some of the later tracks struggling to reach those heights. What I think is really special about this album though, is that it should appeal to all Metallica fans, even those that haven’t looked sideways at their albums since they heard Enter Sandman. Go on, give it go. I dare you.

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

Product
Heart Avail - Heart Avail EP
Type
MP3 EP
Reviewed by

on 2016-12-11
Rating
Price
£4.95
Summary
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!

Opeth – Sorceress

Nuclear Blast

Review by Tom Mead

amazon_badgeAfter spending years as a cult secret amongst prog and death metal fans, Opeth find themselves in 2016 as one of Sweden’s most successful musical exports of recent times. However, not all long-term fans have been happy with the notable change in direction on Opeth’s most recent albums; 2011’s Heritage and 2014’s Pale Communion are completely lacking in Death Metal elements as well as, according to some, the dynamic variety that made Opeth such an attractive proposition in the first place. Nevertheless, while new album Sorceress, their 12th full-length effort, takes several listens to reveal all its secrets, it contains plenty to please Opeth fans of all shapes and sizes.

Firstly, the acoustic guitars and pianos are present in spades on Sorceress; 5 of its 11 tracks are either wholly or primarily acoustic, making it arguably Opeth’s quietest album since 2003’s Damnation. Persephone is a thoroughly pleasant introduction, with expertly played Spanish guitar that evokes images of Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack to The Princess Bride. Will O the Wisp is probably the band’s best light song since Harvest from 2001’s Blackwater Park; a serene pastoral melody combines with smooth jazz guitar leads and a sublime vocal performance. The largely instrumental The Seventh Sojourn is an attempt at something new, with its oriental percussion and strings (an updated version of The Beatles Within You, Without You perhaps?) complete with characteristically haunting piano and vocals towards the end. Boxes are nicely ticked as far as showing Opeth’s talent for the lighter side of prog rock goes.

But what about the heavier stuff? Well this is Opeth’s third consecutive album to contain no Death Metal vocals, and I would not be surprised if they never return to that style of music. The heavy parts of Sorceress owe less to the influence of the ’80s and ’90s Metal scenes that Mikael Åkerfeldt grew up with and more to the fuzzy rock of the ’70s of which he is famously a connoisseur. The title-track/lead single is full of dirty organ riffs and jazzy drums; straight out of the ’70s Prog Rock playbook. Staccato, chugging, sludgy guitar riffs evoke an effective doom atmosphere, à la the best work of Blood Ceremony or Candlemass; combined with a steady marching pace and accessible vocal melody, it all comes together nicely.

Chrysalis is easily the heaviest song on Sorceress, the only one that properly hearkens back to earlier albums like Still Life or Ghost Reveries. The fast-paced interplay between guitar and organ is superb, with plenty of technical parts to rival the intricacy of Dream Theater. Strange Brew is a bit all over the place, with several seemingly unconnected sections, but is ultimately quite engaging. Stark, isolated piano and clean guitars fade to a frenetic, jazzy breakdown, before an impassioned vocal cry gives way to a BIG Sabbath-esque riff and solo; a very cool ’70s vibe. The album ends on a high point too with Era; beginning with a piano solo, it quickly shifts gear to what is essentially a fast-paced homage to Rush (I can hear YYZ in the main riff and Something for Nothing in the solo). Sorceress was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales, the same place where the likes of Rush and Led Zeppelin recorded some of their most celebrated albums, so maybe it’s only natural that all these ’70s influences have rubbed off on Opeth so blatantly.

Judging all the tracks on Sorceress objectively by their respective merits, there isn’t really much to criticise in terms of either composition or delivery. My main gripe is that the album flows poorly and lacks cohesion; the frequent change of pace and style results in a disjointed feel, making Sorceress a hard album to get into (it took me a good 5 or 6 listens to properly “get” it). This album is a quintessential “grower”, which I suppose is something to be applauded in this disposable digital age. Opeth have always had an “old school” mentality; this is an album you’re supposed to sit down and properly listen to (preferably on vinyl, on a big old-fashioned stereo).

It can also be argued that Sorceress is a bit too derivative, with more emphasis on paying homage to old influences, rather than on creating something new. While Opeth firmly, and unashamedly, wear their influences on their sleeves, I feel they perform with enough idiosyncrasy for this not to be a problem. This album couldn’t be the work of anyone else; sure, Opeth have used plenty of ideas that are 40 years old but their trademark melancholic, experimental stamp is all over them. When all is said and done, Sorceress should satisfy most Opeth fans (particularly if they’re big ’70s rock fans too); approach it with an open mind and a great deal of patience and you’ll be happy.

Verdict: 8/10

Product
Opeth - Sorceress
Version
Audio CD
Reviewed by

on 29th October 2016
Rating
Price
£12.99
Summary
When all is said and done, Sorceress should satisfy most Opeth fans (particularly if they’re big '70s rock fans too); approach it with an open mind and a great deal of patience and you’ll be happy.

Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence

Inside Out

amazon_badgeIn stark contrast to the many artists who like to take their sweet time when it comes to making new music (I’m looking at you, Tool), Canadian polymath Devin Townsend churns out new albums as if his life depends on it. Transcendence is the 7th album to be released under the “Devin Townsend Project” name and Devin’s 24th overall (from the Extreme Metal of Strapping Young Lad to the Country Rock of Casualties of Cool). Everyone has their own favourite style and era of Mr Townsend’s work and Transcendence comes across as an attempt to satisfy them all. Whether it succeeds in doing that is another matter entirely though…

Devin Townsend is undeniably a very forward-thinking musician; at his best, his idiosyncratic blending of loud and soft styles has put him light years ahead of his peers. Transcendence, however, starts by looking backwards with a remake of Truth, a song that originally appeared on the early solo album Infinity.  For those unfamiliar with it, it’s a quintessential example of Devin’s “wall of sound” technique; heavily layered vocals and instrumentation, and thoroughly bombastic. A powerful overture, though it’s unclear why it was deemed necessary to revisit it.

The two subsequent tracks are amongst the album’s highlights, and neatly illustrate how Transcendence is an attempt to marry the intricate and chilled-out sides of Devin’s repertoire. Stormbending and Failure both pay tribute to classic Prog Rock, with the former’s dreamy yet powerful soundscapes recalling Pink Floyd and Dream Theater, and the latter’s odd time signatures and jarring guitar sound evoking King Crimson and Tool. Particular praise must be given to the guitar-playing on both tracks; the interplay between Devin and fellow guitarist Dave Young is superb.

The two other big highlights are the title track and Offer Your Light. Transcendence has a hypnotic mid-paced rhythm and tempo, and a catchy, chugging guitar riff very similar to much of Tool’s work, with a prominent vocal contribution by Dutch siren Anneke Van Giersbergen; recruiting her as a regular DTP guest was one of the smartest moves Devin Townsend ever made.  Offer Your Light meanwhile is the only out-and-out fast-paced Rocker on the album, with Devin’s snarling screams and guitar intertwining sublimely with techno synths and Anneke’s vocals.

While these high points stand proudly alongside much of Devin Townsend’s other work, the rest of Transcendence is, well, a bit dull really. Higher features some top-quality Metal riffs but they’re hidden somewhere in the middle of its 9.5 minute meandering duration. From the Heart and Transdermal Celebration (a cover of a song by Ween) show Devin at his most emotional but they outstay their welcome, both exceeding 8 minutes. And Stars, with its calm campfire-singalong atmosphere, sounds, for a lack of a better term, just a bit too nice; is this really the same guy who sung (i.e. screamed) Oh My Fucking God and Satan’s Ice Cream Truck? Ok, Devin’s come a long way since Strapping Young Lad, but the majority of his DTP work, despite being catchy and fairly commercial-sounding, has still been characterised by his trademark heaviness; that’s distinctly lacking on this album.

Fans who primarily like Devin Townsend for his crushing heaviness and kooky Canadian wackiness won’t find much to write home about on Transcendence. It is clearly one of his more thoughtful, introspective albums, and it does flow nicely from one track to another in a manner reminiscent of many classic Prog Rock albums, but it treads a fine line between being engaging and boring. He gets it right on several tracks, such as Failure and the title-track but, for the sake of balance, a few heavier, faster tracks wouldn’t have gone amiss. There’s no point fretting though; Devin will have another new album out in a few months’ time no doubt, hopefully that’ll offer something different.

Verdict: 7/10

P.S. Be sure to pick up the deluxe version with the bonus disc of demos; lots of heavy, kooky stuff on that (such as the excellent Canucklehead)

P.P.S. But avoid reading Devin’s pretentious track-by-track commentary in the lyrics booklet, unless you’ve recently been poisoned and urgently need to vomit.

Product
Devin Townsend Project - Transcendence
Type
CD Album
Reviewed by

on 2016-10-09
Rating
Price
£11.99
Summary
Fans who primarily like Devin Townsend for his crushing heaviness and kooky Canadian wackiness won’t find much to write home about on Transcendence. It is clearly one of his more thoughtful, introspective albums, and it does flow nicely from one track to another in a manner reminiscent of many classic Prog Rock albums, but it treads a fine line between being engaging and boring. He gets it right on several tracks, such as Failure and the title-track but, for the sake of balance, a few heavier, faster tracks wouldn’t have gone amiss. There’s no point fretting though; Devin will have another new album out in a few months’ time no doubt, hopefully that’ll offer something different.