Tag Archives: Bruce Dickinson

Wyrd Ways Rock Show Presents: Powerzone! 19th September 2016

Over a couple of hours, tonight you see,
A Powerzone show is a real treat for thee!
New tunes from Sonata Arctica, Testament & Tengger Cavalry,
We’ve also got new stuff from Running Wild, Hammerfall & Lost Society.
From 9pm we’ll be here with all this and more,
Other radio shows right now will be such a bloody bore.
To try and resist such great metal would be completely futile,
So turn to 105 FM and make your Monday BRUTAL.
Ah, close enough, m/

Evil Scarecrow – Hurricanado
Sonata Arctica – Life
Hammerfall – The Sacred Vow
Running Wild – Warmongers
Judas Priest – Eat Me Alive
Krampus – Beast Within
Eluveitie – Omnos
Tankard – Fooled By Your Guts
Lost Society – Hangover Activator
Metallica – One (Epic Track)
Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake
Stratovarius – Dragons (Volt Track)
Edguy – Down To The Devil
In Flames – Pinball Map
Soilwork – Rejection Role
Sinergy – Gallowmere
Children Of Bodom – Silent Night, Bodom Night
Iron Maiden – Dance Of Death (Epic Track)
Tengger Cavalry – Mountain Side
Nine Tresures – Sonsii
Rammstein – Das Modell [Kraftwerk Cover] (Coverzone) {Overload}
Bear Bear – Мать троллей/Trollhammaren [Finntroll cover] (Coverzone) {Overload}
Tragedy – Jive Talkin’ (Bee Gees Cover) [Coverzone] {Overload}
O.Children – Ruins

Be’lakor – Vessels

Napalm Records

Review by Tom Mead

amazon_badgeThe relentless globalisation of metal in recent years has thrown up plenty of surprises.  Fertile scenes have sprung up in the remotest corners of the world, far removed from where you’d traditionally expect.  So it is that Be’lakor, one of the most talked-about melodic death metal bands of recent years (largely thanks to their significant Facebook following), comes not from a typical location like Finland or Sweden, but from Australia.  The Melbourne 5-piece, named after a Warhammer character, have built up a reputation over the past decade as a band who sound like Metalcore never happened; they’re a breath of fresh air for fans who fondly reminisce about the Gothenburg scene’s glory days.

Vessels is Be’lakor’s fourth full-length album and first to be released on the acclaimed Austrian label, Napalm Records; such a move is bound to increase the band’s profile in Europe and beyond.  The 8 tracks span 55 minutes, and are all fairly epic and progressive in terms of both sound and delivery.  2-minute opener Luma is a short, sharp introduction; chugging, discordant riffs build to a lush In Flames-esque melody to set the tone for the whole album.  There’s a brief, crisp and engaging guitar solo before the song fades, somewhat abruptly.  It could be a minute or 2 longer but it fulfils its essential purpose; it whets the listener’s appetite for what’s to come next.

An Ember’s Arc, the first full song, starts with a gentle acoustic section that is as melancholic as it is uplifting before chugging staccato riffs and clean, crisp lead guitar parts takeover.  Frontman George Kosmas has a mighty set of pipes, with his death howl rising effectively above the band’s sonic onslaught.  Moreover, there are several parts where traditional Death Metal elements intertwine with atmospheric keyboards and acoustic guitars to create an impressive progressive landscape not a million miles away from the work of Opeth.  The album’s off to a solid start.

Vessels, overall, is an intense battle between light and dark, heavy and soft, and the next 2 tracks accomplish this most effectively.  Just shy of 11 minutes, Withering Strands is the longest track and, in many ways, the album’s centrepiece.  It’s a thoroughly energetic song with a brooding, repeating riff played as a duel between guitar and piano, with a thick, layered lead guitar melody that rivals Iron Maiden at their most epic.  It cuts to an isolated piano melody 7 minutes in before chugging guitars build back up, leading to a frantic twin-guitar section that’s right out of the At The Gates playbook.  The ending though is truly sublime; the bands gallops along in true Rime of the Ancient Mariner fashion, with dive-bomb runs along the fretboards of both guitar and bass, before the introductory riff repeats again and fades; it’s the sort of song that leaves you breathless.

Roots to Sever has a similar mood, though is comparatively brief at 7 minutes.  A gentle chamber piano riff starts things off before the rest of the band crash in, powering along at breakneck speed à la Amon Amarth at their most ferocious.  Keyboardist Steven Merry puts in a superb performance here, and throughout the album, as he expertly juxtaposes his piano with the savagery of his bandmates.

The next trio of tracks, whilst not bad, are unfortunately not quite in the same league as their predecessors.  Whelm contains great Doom elements, with the juxtaposition of piano and death howls illustrating an intense feeling of anguish but it is a key example of what happens when you try and fit too much into a song; there’s so much alternating between mid and fast paces, quiet and loud parts, that the whole thing’s quite unfocussed and haphazard.  A Thread Dissolves is a 3-minute, largely instrumental, interlude that is well executed but unnecessary.  Grasping Light is a decent mid-paced number, with some good folk metal-inspired guitar melodies, but is otherwise fairly forgettable.

Thankfully, the closing track, The Smoke of Many Fires, ends the album on a high.  At nine and a half minutes long, it’s a triumphant, fast epic. It’s probably the heaviest song on the album too, with several riffs and atmospheric elements recalling the title-track from Opeth’s Blackwater Park.  A beautiful mellow section then starts about 7 minutes in, which leads the song, and the album as a whole, to a truly satisfying finish.

Overall, Vessels is an album of two halves: there are four great tracks, one good one, and another three that are just ok. The album’s highlights, Withering Strands, Roots to Sever and The Smoke of Many Fires, are amongst the best songs I’ve heard all year and many Melodic Death Metal fans will truly treasure them.  However, it is undeniably the case that Be’lakor’s sound is HIGHLY derivative (essentially a mix of Amon Amarth, early In Flames, and Opeth), which might go some way towards explaining Vessels’ inconsistency.  There’s not much here that’s not been done countless times before and, particularly if you’re a seasoned fan of this kind of music, you will inevitably find parts of it quite boring and uninspired.  However, as is evidenced by the three tracks mentioned above, the members of Be’lakor clearly have the musical and compositional skills to be successful.  Hopefully in future, with the new backing of a larger label, they will consolidate their creativity, forge a unique identity, and deliver works of greatness.

Verdict: 8/10

Wyrd Ways Rock Show CCCXXXIII

Remember last time I said I was trying to get the show back onto a weekly schedule…?  Yeah… not worked out so well, unfortunately. Sorry about that.

Anyway… this week’s show features new stuff from Death Angel, Sixx AM, Lacuna Coil and DevilDriver, as well as an interview Carl did with the lads from up-and-coming PROPER Heavy Metal band, The Mighty Wraith at Bloodstock last summer.

What are you waiting for? Download it and crank it up!

Hellyeah – Human
Flotsam And Jetsam – Iron Maiden
Lacuna Coil – The House Of Shame
Covered: White Zombie – Children Of The Grave
Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika
Korpiklaani – A Man With A Plan
Spotlight: White Zombie – Super-Charger Heaven
SixxAM – You Have Come To The Right Place
Diamond Head – Wizard Sleeve
Surgical Meth Machine – I Don’t Wanna
Shock Of The New: The Mighty Wraith – Dragonheart
Shock Of The New: The Mighty Wraith Bloodstock Interview
Shock Of The New: The Mighty Wraith Thunder Of The Gods
Spotlight: Rob Zombie – Dragula
Butcher Babies – The Cleansing
Angelina Savanna – On Your Knees
Record Of The Week: Beholder – Frozen Steps Of Utoya
Record Of The Week: Beholder – Heal The Wounds
Record Of The Week: Beholder – Army Of One
Spotlight: Rob Zombie – Dead City Radio And The New Gods Of Supertown
DevilDriver – Retribution
Akercocke – Inner Sanctum

 

Six Feet Under Announce New Graveyard Classics Set and Tour

Six Feet Under Graveyard

On May 27th, Six Feet Under release the fourth installment of their Graveyard Classics series, this time paying tribute to two of Metal’s greatest legends: Iron Maiden and Judas Priest!  Entitled Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest and mixed by Jesse Kirkbride at his own studio in Florida, the album comprises five Judas Priest covers (side A), and six Iron Maiden covers (side B), handpicked by Metal Blade Records CEO Brian Slagel.

Chris Barnes comments:

“Achtung Motherfuckers!!! Today we release Murders in the Rue Morgue, a Killer track (pun intended) from our upcoming album, Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest, for your listening pleasure!!  Hope you enjoy it!!  Hope the haters choke on it, choke on it, choke on it…

Also in other Six Feet Under news – Graveyard Classics The Tour will be invading your European community this summer, be sure to check these dates off on your calendar…

This will be the first and only time we will be playing an entire set list of cover songs – something we haven’t done before – so come experience something groovy and brutal motherfuckers! See you soon, Europe!

Love, Dad.”

As a preview, you can listen to the first track, a cover of Priest’s Invader:

The second single, Never Satisfied, can be heard here:

In regards to this new serving of Death Metal tributes, Chris Barnes asserts:

“Get ready to have your ears violated and your mind blown! Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest just crawled out of the Heavy Metal Cemetery! Having a good time playing music is what it’s always been about since day one, and that’s what the Graveyard Classics albums are to me… a good fucking time! On this trip down memory lane, we cover songs from Judas Priest and Iron Maiden; the two greatest Metal bands of all time. Ray Alder from Fates Warning did a guest background vocal appearance on Invader, our first single. Ray is a great friend, and an awesome vocalist, and I felt our differences in styles blended well together for the middle section and added some harmony to the rawness. I hope you all enjoy the band’s twist on these legendary songs!”

Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest track-listing:
Side A: Judas Priest
1. Night Crawler
2. Starbreaker
3. Genocide
4. Invader
5. Never Satisfied
Side B: Iron Maiden
6. Murders in the Rue Morgue
7. Prowler
8. Flash of the Blade
9. The Evil That Men Do
10. Stranger in a Strange Land
11. Total Eclipse

Six Feet Under tour dates:
June 30 – Rotterdam, Netherlands – Baroeg
July 1 – Roitzschjora, Germany – With Full Force Festival
July 2 – Flensburg, Germany – Roxy
July 3 – Rostock, Germany – Alte Zuckerfabrik
July 4 – Hamburg, Germany – Bambi Galore
July 5 – München, Germany – Backstage
July 6 – Innsbruck, Austria – PMK
July 7 – Ludwigsburg, Germany – Rockfabrik
July 8 – Pratteln , Switzerland – Z7
July 9 – Essen, Germany – Turock

Wyrd Ways Rock Show CCCXXIX – The Albums of 2015 Final Verdict

Here we are, then. This is it. This is the big one (to coin a phrase). In this edition of The Wyrd Ways Rock Show, you will finally find out which band produced our favourite album of 2015.

Here’s the playlist…

Metal Church – Killing Your Time
Devil You Know – Stay Of Execution
Butcher Babies – Never Go Back
Ensiferum – Warrior Without A War
Ghost – Mummy Dust
Nightwish – Shudder Before The Beautiful
Powerwolf – Armata Strigoi
Motörhead – Victory Or Die
Clutch – Behold The Colossus
Iron Maiden – Shadows Of The Valley
Slayer – Repentless
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Northern Oak – Ellan Vannin
Ensiferum – One Man Army
Symphony X – Underworld
Faith No More – Superhero
Motörhead – Thunder & Lightning
Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful
Clutch – X-Ray Visions
Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls

If you want to know who won what, the only real way you can do that is to listen to the show!

Wyrd Ways Rock Show CCCXXII

It’s been something like a month since the last show. Sorry about that! In the last few weeks, more bands have been announced for Bloodstock 2016, including the Sunday night headliner. If you don’t know who they are, give the show a listen and you soon will.

Not only that, but there are also contributions from Clutch, Nightwish, Arch Enemy and many others. Talking of contributions, Dr Jim makes his long-awaited comeback and there’s also an interview with the lads from Mordred, recorded at Bloodstock 2015.

Witchcraft – The Outcast
Arch Enemy – War Eternal
Nightwish – Alpenglow
Covered: Satyricon – Orgasmatron
Spotlight 1: Slayer – War Ensemble
Symphony X – Kiss Of Fire
Fear Factory – Remanufacture
Hammer Of Retribution 1: Ravenage – The Road To Retribution: Northbound Pt 2
Hammer Of Retribution 2: Caladan Brood – Wild Autumn Wind
Hammer Of Retribution 3: Iron MaidenThe Clansman
Record Of The Week 1: Clutch – X-Ray Visions
Record Of The Week 2: Clutch – Behold The Colossus
Record Of The Week 3: Clutch – Firebirds
Spotlight 2: Slayer – Implode
Bloodstock Interview – Mordred
Mordred – The Baroness
Spotlight 3: Slayer – Angel Of Death
Last Track: Last In Line – Devil In Me

Interview with James O’Toole

Interview with James O’Toole

By Dave Smiles

James O’Toole is a Melbourne musician who knows what he’ll be doing for the rest of his life – making music. Like many independent musicians, James has made sacrifices for his passion but, as it does for many people, the call of music becomes so strong that there really isn’t anything else he’d rather be doing.

What first got you interested in music and what does it mean to you?

I remember first getting into Kiss and lots of other rock music when I was in primary school. I liked the energy of it and the way songs could make you feel so many different emotions. My dad plays acoustic guitar and always had one around the house. From about the age of ten I became really into listening to music and I’d make mix tapes of lots of different stuff and I would listen for hours on end, usually while I also worked on art, drawing sci-fi and fantasy stuff. When I discovered Iron Maiden and Judas Priest as a teenager that was it, I was completely hooked. I remember borrowing a copy of The Number of the Beast and just being totally blown away, I couldn’t stop listening to it. I played it every day for a few weeks! So began my obsession with the heavier side of music and I’ve been into it ever since. I particularly like heavy music that also has some melody or interesting sounds woven in rather than just flat out aggression, though that can also be good at the right times – Pantera, Hatebreed and working out seem to go well together!

I can’t imagine life without music, it’s been such a massive part of my life and when I think of some of the best times of my life music always seems to feature. I also love the way songs can become linked to periods in your life and instantly bring back memories when you hear them, no matter how much time has passed. Music is very powerful in so many ways. I still listen to as much new stuff as I can, there’s so many good bands out there just waiting to be heard.

A lot of musicians tend to be drawn to one instrument in particular, but you can play guitar, bass, drums, keys. (Have I missed any?) What inspired you to learn each one?

I started playing relatively late, when I was 21, and bass was the first instrument I learned. A friend’s band was looking for a bassist and he said I should start playing and try out, and being a massive fan of Steve Harris, I thought why not? I’d been thinking about learning an instrument for a while and I really liked the sound of bass, the low frequencies and depth, and how you could use it for driving rhythms and also contribute interesting parts to shape the sound melodically by playing against what the guitars were doing.

I didn’t end up joining that first band, but I did start jamming with another mate who played guitar, learning metal and alternative covers just for fun before we decided to put an original band together. I started writing lyrics over some of the music very early on and once that band was jamming we were lucky enough to find a permanent room we could set up all our gear in and leave it there, so I would go down when no one else was there and start messing around on guitar and trying to record complete songs with drum loops, bass, guitar, and rough vocals. I’ve always been interested in song writing, so playing different instruments just evolved through wanting to write complete songs and present them to the band. Bass was first, then guitar, keyboard and learning to sing was last, which I started doing mainly because in all the bands I’ve been in it has always been difficult finding singers. I don’t actually play drums, I usually use professionally recorded midi patterns to start and then tailor them to suit in Superior Drummer or BFD. I can play a little bit of everything well enough to write and record my ideas, but it’s a slow process! When it comes to playing live I’m really only comfortable playing bass and singing. I really like writing on guitar and cranking it up and jamming, but I still love the low-end rumble through the floor when playing bass, so I don’t see myself ever switching to guitar live.

What would you like to achieve as a musician?

I’d like to keep on developing and become a better songwriter and musician, and continue to promote The Spiral Sequence as a permanent and ongoing project. I’m still always trying out new ideas and sounds and trying to progress further with production and mixing as well. I’m also interested in writing music for soundtracks, more orchestral and ambient stuff. I feel like there is still a massive amount to learn when it comes to music and it’s a never-ending journey. I love that it keeps evolving and what I write ten years from now will probably be very different to what I write now. After I write some more new material I’d like to get out and play live again and I’d love to tour internationally.

What was the inspiration behind your solo project, The Spiral Sequence, and how long did it take from the initial idea to completion?

I really just wanted to see what I could do creatively, to push myself as a musician and songwriter. I was really bored in my day job and wanted more of an artistic challenge and I had a lot of ideas I wanted to express. Another factor was being involved in a couple of bands that split up and feeling like all the time and effort had gone to waste, so I decided it was time to try something on my own. I figured no matter how long it took to do it all myself it would be worth the effort and looked at it as a long-term investment.

From the time I decided to start seriously working on the first album to its completion was four years. At the start I also decided I wanted to learn about recording and production so I could shape the sound and really set myself up to be more musically self-sufficient, as I plan on doing this for the rest of my life. I worked part time and spent every day off learning as much as I could about recording and mixing, and set up a home studio while I worked on writing the songs. It was a massive undertaking and a steep learning curve but well worth it, I can’t imagine doing it any other way now. I love every aspect of the process, from the pure art and creativity of writing to the technical aspects of recording and mixing.

The lyrics throughout The Spiral Sequence album Through Shadow Into Light are incredibly thought provoking and focus on some very humane issues. What inspires you when writing lyrics?

Anything can be inspirational really, but I tend to either write about world affairs or personal experiences. I like the idea of writing about things that might make people think differently, or at least question what’s going on around them. I think we live in a society where many things are not what they seem and we’re fed a lot of negativity and fear by the media and told what to think. A lot of the lyrics on the album were inspired by topics I heard on Coast to Coast AM, saw on alternative news sites or read about in books. Blood and Ashes is about the Cathars, who were slaughtered in the thousands by the Catholic Church for heresy. The song If is pretty straightforward – as we get older I think it’s natural to wonder what would have happened had we taken a different fork in the road at various points and how life might be different. Dehumanisation and Sacrifice touch on the New World Order and wars fought over resources, while Transcendency deals with the idea of reincarnation and the afterlife. Surface was inspired by depression and loss, and how it feels to recover and start to return to normal. So many things can inspire lyrics, there’s no shortage of things to write about. The mood of a riff or piece of music usually gives me ideas for lyrics straight away. Lyrics have always been very important to me as a listener as well and are often the reason I listen to a particular band. If something in the lyrics resonates and the music also grabs you it’s a really powerful combination.

As well as all the performances and recording on Through Shadow Into Light you also created all the artwork, with an image for each track. Album cover art has, sadly, become a bit of a lost art. How do you feel cover art and imagery adds to overall listening experience of an album?

I think it can really help get the message across and form part of an interesting overall package. I love buying albums and studying the artwork and lyrics while I listen to the music, which is one reason I still buy CDs. I like really becoming immersed in what the artist is trying to express. Years ago I remember seeing a Skyclad album called The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth and though I’d never heard the band the artwork and album title seemed to suggest Celtic and pagan themes combined with metal, so eventually I took the plunge and bought the album based on the artwork alone! Luckily it was a great album and they became one of my favourite bands. When you think of some of the iconic album covers over the years there’s no doubt it can be a very important part of the overall band package. When you look at a band like Tool, the artwork for Lateralus and 10,000 Days is amazing and really enhances the albums, extending into their music videos. When it came time to create the album artwork for The Spiral Sequence I knew I wanted to do something that helped express the vibe of each song, and it was a fun artistic project in itself. I’ll definitely do it again for the next album.

Your band, Sun Like Blood, is in the process of recording some new songs? Can you tell us a bit about what we can expect from this music and what sets it apart from your work on The Spiral Sequence.

Sun Like Blood is probably more alternative rock based and more melodic, it definitely has a different sound. Most of the music came together very organically through jamming in rehearsal rooms as an instrumental three piece, with me on bass, Damian Zylstra on guitar and Louis Tsokas on drums. Both Damian and Louis are great musicians and we have great musical chemistry, so ideas flow very easily. We would just start jamming and improvising, I’d record everything on a hand held digital recorder then we’d arrange the best ideas and work on them to shape them into finished songs. It’s a great way to work if you can get the right combination of people together. We are currently working on seven songs, we’re just finishing up vocals and final mixes. It’s been a slow process lately, but we have a ton of ideas recorded in addition to the ones we’re working on right now and just have to get together to finish them. We’ll also be looking for a vocalist to hopefully take some of our lyric and melody ideas to the next level and perform them live. We’re aiming to have the songs finished and released next year.

The song writing for The Spiral Sequence was done by yourself and Sun Like Blood is a collaborative effort. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each style?

The best thing about collaboration is that ideas can change and improve with the influence of other band members, so you can produce something together that becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Some really cool musical chemistry can happen and suddenly spark fresh inspiration, leading off in new and exciting directions. Jamming is always fun as you can often stumble into a great idea without really trying, just as a result of the musical interaction between the different musicians. That’s definitely the best part about working with other people, and it’s always a rush when you just happen to lock into a cool idea from nowhere. I really enjoy that aspect a lot. Collaboration also exposes you to different playing styles and it all helps your development as a musician. Every musician I’ve worked with has influenced me in some way, and it all helps you expand what you can do personally, if you let it. Another positive aspect is that the song writing load is spread between a few people, so if someone’s going through a creative dry spell other members can help out.

Writing alone is good, but as there’s no other input sometimes I can get stuck on finishing an idea until something sparks a fresh direction. That can mean songs are shelved for a while, or sometimes not finished at all. On the plus side there are no arguments over direction or parts, but it also can take a lot longer to get everything written. There’s also a real sense of artistic satisfaction creating something entirely by yourself. It’s always a challenge, so it’s never boring!

On top of music, recording and graphic design, you’re also a writer. Can you tell us about The Deathlance Trilogy?

The Deathlance Trilogy is something I’ve been working on for years on and off, but with work, music and everything else I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to put into it lately. It’s a massive dark fantasy story split into three parts. I’ve read a ton of fantasy and sci-fi stories over the years and always been into creative writing and music journalism as well as writing lyrics. I’m up to my fourth draft of the first book, Di’Anno’s Wolves, which I’m hoping to get back to next year finally, after finishing off the Sun Like Blood songs currently in production. The story is about an outlaw bandit company leader who finds part of an ancient demonic weapon, and things go downhill fast for him from there as he finds himself embroiled in some major events beyond his control. It’s a pretty dark story, the inspiration for writing it was I thought a lot of fantasy books lacked a gritty, dark edge. Many were very clear cut good versus evil stories, so this is my attempt to write something a little darker and more ambiguous. I really liked The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock, The Black Company series by Glen Cook and the Thieves World series because they all featured characters who weren’t your typical heroes or good guys. The story also takes some well-established fantasy clichés and turns them on their head, so there are a few twists and turns to keep things interesting!

It’s an ongoing debate for every music fan and musician that seems to increase with every passing year – Downloading music, both legally and illegally, streaming, the decrease in album sales and the ‘death of the music industry.’ What are your views on the constant changes in the music world?

I think for listeners there have been some amazing changes with the availability of music, it’s so easy to jump on Spotify or other streaming services and check out a band instantly, or go their website or YouTube and see what they’re up to any time, from anywhere. That’s pretty amazing, and it’s now possible to do a lot more yourself in terms of recording, and putting your own music out without having to go through a label. When I first started The Spiral Sequence I was thinking about all these changes and have structured everything accordingly. There have been a lot of positive developments in some areas, like recording technology. I have access to sounds from every instrument imaginable through samples and virtual instruments, which is awesome and a lot more affordable than it was ten years ago, and computers have become much more powerful and make it much easier and faster to record at home.

Unfortunately the easy availability of torrents and file sharing has also devalued music. People don’t want to pay for music any more. It’s something of a double edged sword for musicians – it’s never been easier to produce and distribute music to a potentially world wide audience, but getting noticed among the millions of bands is still hard work, and making decent money from recording is now a thing of the past for most bands. Older acts with massive established fan bases like Metallica, AC/DC, Iron Maiden and so on are still doing fine, because they made their money before things changed, but even they aren’t selling as many albums as they used to. The concerning aspect of this is that in ten years who is going to headline the big Metal festivals when the bands who are doing it now are gone? I don’t see too many bands achieving the same massive level of success as those older acts and I think once those older acts start retiring there is going to be a big hole left behind because newer bands just don’t have the same pulling power due to the changes in the music industry. It seems like more and more of the up and coming bands or middle tier bands are calling it quits after five to ten years because financially they just can’t keep doing it. Recording, touring and all the expenses that go with it add up very quickly and without strong album sales to support it it’s a tough road. Labels don’t have the money to put in to developing new acts like they used to either.

It’s an interesting time. I think the internet in general and apps like Facebook and Twitter have shortened peoples’ attention spans hugely, so that also plays a part. There are so many options vying for our attention now and it’s very easy to jump online and flick between ten different things, without really focusing on any one subject, let alone devoting time to actively seek out new music and give it the attention it deserves. Bands just have to work harder and smarter and make use of the new avenues that are available now and take more responsibility for their own promotion and development.

Melbourne, and Australia in general, is developing a very strong hard rock, metal scene and live music has made a big come back – even with an ever increasing number of venues being threatened with closure. What do you think is bringing people out to see live music?

There’s an energy you get from a live show you can’t experience listening to a recording. The volume, the crowd and bigger sound all combine to make it a very different experience. I used to review a lot of metal shows and often the really good bands sounded better live. Acts like Slipknot, Meshuggah and Killing Joke come to mind, particularly the depth and power from the bottom end, which is always hard to capture fully on a recording. Maybe people are getting tired of all the shows like X-Factor and American/Australian Idol and want to see legitimate musicians who write their own music and play it with some real feeling – we can only hope that’s the case!

What does it take to be an independent working musician? How do you fund producing albums, promoting, etc and what sacrifices does it take on a personal level?

I work as a freelance graphic artist, which is how I pay for my musical endeavours. I fund everything myself, so I’ve invested a lot of money over the years in lessons, gear, rehearsals and studio equipment. I work as much as I have to make sure the bills are covered, then keep as much time as I can free to work on music. It’s a constant juggling act, but every independent musician knows what it’s like. It makes things tough financially sometimes, but I do it because I want to, no other reason. I may not have some of the material possessions other people do, but I don’t have to go to a soul destroying job full time either, so I feel like I’m doing exactly what I should be doing and that’s the most important thing to me. When I look back on this time twenty years from now I’ll at least know I did exactly what I wanted to do and I’ll have no regrets. Material possessions are fleeting, experiences and satisfaction with how you lived your life are what really counts. Seeing streaming reports showing my music has been heard over in the US, Canada, UK and Europe makes it all worthwhile. It’s a long slow road, but I’m in it for the long haul. Fortunately I also have a very understanding partner, she is a belly dancer who tours interstate and internationally, so she knows what it’s like to make sacrifices for your art and it’s never an issue between us.

What musicians would you love to jam with?

Steve Harris from Iron Maiden, Danny Carey and Adam Jones from Tool, Geordie from Killing Joke, Greg Mackintosh from Paradise Lost, Brendan Perry from Dead Can Dance and Steven Wilson from Porcupine Tree are the first to come to mind – all fantastic musicians I admire greatly.

You’re trapped on an island with One Direction. What do you do?

Start swimming! Either that or show them the error of their ways and try to turn them into a real band by forcing them to listen to Classic Rock and Metal albums on constant rotation until they see the light – or should that be darkness?

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview and all the best with your future music endeavours.

Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman

Queensryche - Condition Human

Century Media

Review by Rick Ossian

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Ever since the Queensrÿche bust-up in April 2012 (following a backstage altercation before a show in Sao Paulo), there has been a LOT of internet hate for former Queensrÿche singer Geoff Tate (he of Operation: Mindcrime).  He was replaced with former Crimson Glory vocalist Todd LaTorre.  A temporary court injunction allowed both parties to use the name of the band, but in 2014 a settlement was reached with members Wilton, Rockenfield and Jackson winning the rights to use the name.  In the interim, of course, the Tate camp released their universally panned Frequency Unknown (2013), and the others released an eponymous debut, if you will, two months later.  Both outfits toured, and both survived.  Having recently listened to and reviewed the Tate camp’s latest (Operation: Mindcrime’s debut, The Key), I have to say I’m inclined to agree with the judge.  These bands are two separate entities, granted – but only one has the right to say that they are actually Queensrÿche.  In this case, the majority ruled.  In my humble opinion, the release that we are currently dealing with is the better of the two.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, Chris DeGarmo left in 1997. His most current replacement is one Parker Lundgren, who is, along with Michael Wilton, a guitarist in the band.  Bass man Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield, of course, remain in the engine room, and the aforementioned Mr. LaTorre is the man with the pipes.  One devastatingly accurate pair of pipes, it should be noted, particularly if he was making an attempt to sound like Geoff Tate.  He is a dead ringer vocally for their former singer, and more power to him if he is able to pull that off, because of course there will be many punters who have no idea that the singer is another bloke.

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Arrow of Time, the lead-off track, is a hard-charging rocker in the vein of just about any other Queensrÿche album that you may care to mention.  Critics will probably immediately note the similarity between the voices.  Anyone who can’t hear it may as well hang it up. If we were doing a comparison/contrast study (which DOES sometimes happen), I think we would find that they compare favourably.  As with most of the tracks herein, there are at least a pair or so of lead guitar bits on this salvo.  Save for the ballad Just Us and the title track, all or most of the tunes are also radio-friendly in length.  The way FM programming is going nowadays, if you’re not pop or country or classic rock, there are few formats willing to take a risk on new material, but with such vocal/guitar heavy treats, who knows?  A bit of airplay may indeed be in order…

Guardian finds Mr. La Torre once again emulating the man he ousted from the fold, but that may not be entirely to his disadvantage.  As I mentioned before, when one does a festival, it DOES somewhat behoove you to sound like the band that you’re in!  Guardian is another feet-first rocker with plenty of guitar work and engine room pyrotechnics.  Punters may also note that there are the occasional vocal FX inserted, reminding us once again of our heroes of old.  The phrase ‘revolution calling‘ is repeated at key points of this track – what’s THAT about?

Hellfire reminds us that Messrs. Wilton and Lundgren are NOT just background fodder.  Their work comes to the fore with astonishing regularity throughout this recording.  Plus, if you listen closely, you can hear LaTorre doing his skybound vocal impressions consistently.  The guitar figure at the end of this track is also interesteing, as is the guitar work as a whole on this entire recording.

Toxic Remedy also features some very pretty guitar work, and some chugging riffs to boot.  The vocals are positively haunting, and the rhythms are absolutely infectious.  There is more energy here as well, and the potential to be actual heavy metal and/or hard rock, depending on which term(s) you prefer.  I submit to you that the two CAN be interchangeable, but with HM you are more likely to hear screaming, pounding, hammering and more extreme musical moments overall.

Selfish Lives contains a ghostly guitar intro, vocal FX and some fairly standard riffing.  Again, the main vocal is a dead ringer for the voice of the original pipe-master, but as mentioned before, you kind of NEED to do that to a certain extent to retain any kind of credibility.  After all, without a killer set of pipes, how would you perform Queen of the Reich?  Let alone a veritable slew of others.  I submit to you that is can be a good thing to emulate your forebears.  There are times on this recording where one would be hard pressed to tell the difference.

Eye9 features a beautiful bass intro, compliments of Mr. Jackson.  Nice job, Eddie!  There are more vocal FX on board here, as well as some nice riffing on the main refrain.  Lyrically, “lost in the labyrinth of life/stuck in the middle of the two” struck me as somewhat prophetic, and it stood out.  Good writing and phrasing seem to be the order of the day with most of the tracks.

Bulletproof contains a faint keyboard intro, and more cool lyrics; “the cleanse of surrender has freed me/no longer a victim of change”.  I also really dug the instrumental cacophony at the close, and the lead guitar work was remarkable.

Hourglass is bluesy but still very good, and sounds great, sonically speaking, overall.  There is some beautiful acoustic strumming at the ending.  There is also some serious riffing and some nice lead guitar work.

The six-minute ballad-style piece, Just Us, actually sort of shimmers a bit, which we can stand if it doesn’t occur too often, right?  The vocals are top-notch, and there is some excellent acoustic strumming.  There are also several brilliant guitar bits electrically.  At the 3-minute mark, one can hear both players integrating lead (solos).  Instrumental breakdowns abound, which is par for the course.

All There Was is another interesting piece with some sweet riffing and some excellent guitar work at the intro.  The engine room is on board with this bit, as well.  I particularly enjoy a good tune when the bass guitar and the drums come to the fore.  This is another high-energy tune with an excellent fading out of sorts at the end.

The Aftermath is apparently an interlude of sorts that sets up the title track, which is also, appropriately, our closer.  Condition Human is an absolute behemoth, and at 7:45, is the longest track by far on this set.  The intro is a bit shimmery and strumming acoustics again, but if you can get past that, you can hear the majesty of this track for yourself.  Another haunting tune, and just in time for All Hallow’s Eve, too!  This is a very powerful piece, and actually enters Riff City mode (2:25).  There is a chugging, energetic tempo here, and we are headed somewhere, even lyrically; “Shake the species overtime/moralities collapse”, hollers LaTorre, and once again we also hear some vocal FX, which we should probably come to expect now, at least with this particular band.  Whenever we hear echo or whispering in conjunction with vocals, many of us think Queensrÿche almost immediately!  An excellent track, and a very good recording overall.

****/5

Wyrd Ways Rock Show CCCXVI

We’re taking a break from Bloodstock this week in order to shine the light on a much smaller festival, held every year in Radcliffe in Manchester.  Organised and curated by the Appleton family, this one is like a cross between the Sophie Lancaster Stage, the New Blood Stage AND the Jagermeister Stage all rolled into one place.  With much cheaper food and drink.

As well as being stuffed to the gunwhales with new stuff, you’ll also be hearing interviews with members of Absolva, Lock Up Laura and Blaze Bayley.  Come on in.  The music’s fine!

If you decide to support the making of the show by becoming a Member, you get the full show at a higher bitrate and therefore better quality as well as access to the Members Only pages of the Wyrd Ways Rock Show website.  For details about how to become a Member as well as the latest in Rock and Metal news and reviews, have a look at the menu bar on the left.

If you are in a band and want your music on The Wyrd Ways Rock Show Presents: Shock Of The New compilation (which will be free to download), email either myself or Suzi with the relevant details.

Here’s the playlist, then…

Avatarium – Girl With The Raven Mask  (iTunes)
Operation: Mindcrime – Burn  (Amazon)
Queensrÿche – Guardian
Covered: Motörhead – Sympathy For The Devil  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Lock-Up Laura Interview
Lock-Up Laura – The Jury’s Out
Spotlight 1: Iron Maiden – Aces High  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Chris Appleton Interview
Absolva – No One Escapes
Record Of The Week 1: Butcher Babies – The Butcher  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Record Of The Week 2: Butcher Babies – Never Go Back  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Record Of The Week 3: Butcher Babies – Blonde Girls All Look The Same  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Shining – The Last Stand  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Harlott – Lord Of War  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Spotlight 2: Iron Maiden – Wildest Dreams  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Whiskey Myers – Guitar Picker  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Lynch Mob – Automatic Fix  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Blaze Bayley Interview (SOS 2015)
Blaze Bayley – Silicon Messiah  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Spotlight 3: Iron Maiden – Speed Of Light  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Kodiac Jack – Scars  (Amazon)
Joel Hoekstra’s 13 – Scream  (Amazon) (iTunes)
Last Track: ChuggaBoom – A BBQ In Antarctica   (Amazon)

Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls

Released 04 September 2015

Parlophone UK

Review by Suzi Horsley and Rick Ossian

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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)

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