Monday, July 29, 2013

Buffalo Crows - Black Tooth Grin

Buffalo Crows
Black Tooth Grin
Buffalo Rising Music

When this album came across my desk, I can’t say I was sure what to expect. The band’s name doesn’t reveal all that much about what’s contained within, and the cover didn’t have much to say either. But as they say, a book should never be judged by its cover, and I guess the same can be said about music. In all honesty, it took me a few listens to appreciate and understand what this Kurri Kurri (N.S.W., Australia) based outfit were going for on ‘Black Tooth Grin’. And even so, it’s hard to truly put down into words what Buffalo Crows actually sound like; and I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Because while Buffalo Crows have a sound that reminds you of a whole slew of different acts, the six piece outfit did manage to produce a sound that’s uniquely theirs for the most part.
Buffalo Crows (Who comprise of vocalist/rhythm/lead guitarist Richard L. Crowfoot, lead guitarists Eric Loi and Joe Barton, bassist/percussionist/backing vocalist Rob Wilson, harmonica player The Reverend Russ Redford and drummer Phantom Limb) open up the album with ‘Dark Lord Rising’, which is a slower paced blues gem that brings to mind a grinding version of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds mixed with The Cruel Sea. The production on the guitars is suitably rough and raw, but polished enough to allow the grit to stand out as a positive rather than a negative. The drums have a notable thump to them, which when combined with the bass gives the song a solid base. But while the song is impressive on the musical front, its Crowfoot’s melodically ravaged blues seeped vocals that really stand out. The combination of the gritty blues music and vocals works exceedingly well, and provide the album with a true diamond in the rough.
‘Turn To Stone’ is next and this time around the band takes an acoustic path for the most part, with the electric guitars taking a backseat. Again, the harmonica playing from Redford adds a distinctly blues like influence to proceedings to what sounds like a song that could have been penned by Mark Lanegan. With Crowfoot’s strong melodies and the effortless groove the song settles in, ‘Turn To Stone’ is another strong track, and a credit to Buffalo Crows as song writers.
But as strong as the first two cuts are on the album, the album slips a little with ‘Ghost Lament’. Although boasting some interesting ideas, the solo that introduces the song has a little too much echo effect to really stand out like it should, while Crowfoot’s vocals are delivered a little on the slow side of things, which gives the song a bit of a dragging feel. But the real problem I have with this track is around the three minute mark. There’s a weird sounding breakdown that just doesn’t work in the sound sense. Had it sounded like it was recorded at the same time as the rest of the track, the band may have been able to pass it off. But as it appears here, it sounds like a foreign recording spliced into the song to give the song a bit of contrast. Although an interesting idea, ‘Turned To Stone’ doesn’t quite work as a whole.
Next up is a cover of Badfinger’s ‘Day After Day’, which originally appeared on the 1971 album ‘Straight Up’. Buffalo Crows have stripped the song back to its bare basics, with only a few acoustic guitars accompanying Crowfoot’s vocals. They say that a good song will always work with an acoustic guitar – so it goes without saying that this song works well in acoustic form. The band has recorded a solid rendition of the classic.
‘Black Dog Song’ sees a return to the gritty/blues rock sound of the opener, which is a welcome return to the sound that fits best with what the group do best, while the acoustic based and moody ‘Man King Of Blood’ is more in line with ‘Turn To Stone’, albeit with a darker undertone, and a memorable solo in the middle to really give the song something special to stand out amongst the rest.
‘Pete Ham’ (A song that is based on the late Badfinger vocalist song-writer) is O.K., but a little too lightweight and hampered by same wavering lines from Crowfoot on the vocal front, while the closer ‘Alex’ finishes the album on a high note, with Crowfoot’s delivery out front sounding more at ease and in line with the music, and the brief hits of lead guitar sounding reminiscent of Stone Gossard.
Overall, Buffalo Crows have put together a thoroughly enjoyable release with ‘Black Tooth Grin’. No, not everything on the album works, and the band still haven’t quite nailed a consistent sound. But if the band continues to work on their strengths (And there’s plenty on show here), they could well be an act to keep an eye out for.

For more information on Buffalo Crows, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Hey! Hello! - Hey! Hello!

Hey! Hello!
Hey! Hello!
Round Records

Hot on the heels of his Mutation project (Which resulted in two albums – ‘The Frankenstein Effect’ and its companion release ‘Error 500’), Ginger Wildheart returns once again with something new for fans in the form of his new project Hey! Hello! Although the project initially played a minor role alongside the daunting Mutation efforts, the small side project has taken on a life of its own, and turned out to be one of the most anticipated efforts to emerge from Ginger since the release of his mammoth ‘555%’ triple album effort from 2012.
And after one listen, it’s really isn’t all that surprising. Unlike Mutation, Hey! Hello! sees Ginger mould his song writing to the more pop/rock side of his creative talents, and I’ll be damned if he hasn’t created one of the most infectious and downright fun album’s I’ve heard in years!
Unlike some of Ginger’s more recent releases, Hey! Hello! is a fairly stripped back affair, with the group comprising solely of Ginger (Who played all the instruments - including the drums - and providing vocals) and Victoria Liedke (The New York based vocalist who has been singing alongside Ginger in his various outfits for the last few years). And while it all sounds too simplistic when you take into account the endless list of names associated with ‘555%’ and Mutation, it has to be said that unlike those releases, Hey! Hello!’s debut self-titled is a cohesive platter of perfect ‘noisy pop’ that only Ginger (And Liedke for that matter) could ever dream of  delivering outside of The Wildhearts.
The opening track ‘Black Valentine’ gives listeners a clear idea of what’s in store for the bulk of the album - and that’s guitar pop/rock that’s infectious, and delivered with perfectly written choruses and beautifully counterbalanced vocals that stay in the mind, well and truly after the song has finished. Ginger has always been known for his lyrical genius, and ‘Black Valentine’ is no exception either, with the song coming across as a couple arguing and trading excuses, all the while maintaining an upbeat vibe and mood on the music front throughout. In short, this song is nothing short of pop genius!
The follow-up track ‘Feral Days’ echoes the uplifting and positive feel and vibe of the former with its anthem like chorus of ‘Hey! It’s okay! Not all days can be beautiful days!’ over its Wildhearts like guitar driven musical backdrop, while ‘Why Can’t I Be Me Without You’ is the perfect example of just how diverse both Ginger and Liedke’s vocals can sound, and still sound perfect together.
‘Swimwear’ has been getting a lot of exposure in recent times as a single, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Originally submitted whilst a member of Michael Monroe’s band, ‘Swimwear’ is one of the album’s catchiest and shortest tracks, and an absolute stroke of song writing genius.
Not to be outdone, Ginger’s own manifesto put to music in ‘Burn The Rule Book (Fuck It)’ and the rocking ‘Lock For Rock (And Other Sporting Clichés)’ are ready built stadium anthems, while the slower paced ‘The Thrill Of It All’ (A song that was originally penned for Courtney Love) takes on a more serious sounding tone, but with a chorus that caters for radio perfectly.
Ginger takes the lead on ‘How I Survived The Punk Wars’, which is one of the two songs on the album that’s a little left of the centre to the rest of the album. Despite being a little more aggressive with punk edge, the song still works perfectly on the album, and Ginger’s masterclass on how to survive in the music business on the lyrical front is hilarious.
‘I’m Gonna Kiss You Like I’m Going Away’ sees a return to the pop style of the bulk of the album with up-tempo choruses and awash with strong melodic harmonies – both of which disguise the serious story of missing family and loved ones while out on tour.
Finishing up the album is ‘We’re Outta Here’, which alongside ‘How I Survived The Punk Wars’, is the other track that stands out as something really quite different from the rest of the album. Although starting out in familiar rock fashion, the song soon takes on a completely different feel with the inclusion of church choirs, horns and an assortment of unusual vocal effects. In a way, the song sounds like a distant cousin to The Wildheart’s epic ‘Sky Babies’ (From 1996’s ‘Fishing For Luckies’), albeit compacted for a short five and a half minutes. But then what do you expect when the song is based around bees abandoning an uninhabitable planet? If you’re familiar with ‘The End' on ‘555%’, you’ll know what to expect.
Ginger has always been prolific, but the last twelve months have been quite possibly his most productive. And while he’s made a few albums in that time, Hey! Hello!’s debut has to be hands down the most fun to listen to. In short - Ginger and Liedke have created the perfect ‘noisy pop’ album.

For more information on Hey! Hello!, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Iced Earth - Live In Ancient Kourion

Iced Earth
Live In Ancient Kourion
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

For a while there, Tampa (Florida, U.S.) based power/thrash metal act Iced Earth seemed to have lost their way. And it all came down to their inability to find a front man who would actually stick with the band for any real length of time. But just when fans were about to completely give up on the band (Who were left confused when Matt Barlow left the group, to be replaced by Tim Ripper Owens, and a surprising return of Barlow who eventually made a less than triumphant return on 2008’s ‘The Crucible Of Man: Something Wicked Part 2’), band founder/song writer/guitarist/backing vocalist Jon Schaffer announced the addition of ex-Into Eternity vocalist Stu Block to the ranks. The news came as a shock to a lot of fans, but when the band delivered ‘Dystopia’ in 2011, it all made sense. Block was a perfect fit for the band, with his range and power more than capable of delivering everything Barlow and Owens offered up in their time within the group.
It’s been two years since the release of ‘Dystopia’, and in that time, the five piece outfit (Comprising of Block, Schaffer, lead guitarist Troy Seele, bassist/backing vocalist Luke Appleton and drummer Brent Smedley) have toured the globe in support of the album. Not surprisingly, given the band’s solidified line-up and the overwhelming critical acclaim ‘Dystopia’ has received since its release, Iced Earth have decided the time was right to release a new live album.
In terms of modern live albums, Iced Earth set the standard high with their ‘Alive In Athens’ release way back in 1999. The triple disc captured the band in the live setting perfectly, and proved that the band were in fact better live than they ever were in the studio.
Now, some fourteen years later, Iced Earth is back with ‘Live In Ancient Kourion’, which not only eclipses ‘Alive In Athens’, but sees the band reset the bar in terms of what a live album should sound like.
Recorded at the band’s headlining tour of Cyprus at the ancient Kourion Theater in Limassol, this twenty-nine track live show (Running for a touch under two and a half hours) showcases a strengthened Iced Earth playing at their best, but with a production that sounds superior to all of Iced Earth’s former live recordings.
As expected, this live effort features no less than six tracks from the band’s last studio release ‘Dystopia’. While some might say that the inclusion of so many tracks is overkill, it has to be said that the live versions are actually superior to their studio counterparts. For proof, one only has to listen to the title track ‘Dystopia’ and the powerful ‘V’, and stand them alongside fan favourites such as ‘Angel’s Holocaust’, ‘I Died For You’, ‘Dante’s Inferno’ (Which clocks in at a whopping eighteen minutes!), ‘Damien’, ‘Wolf’ and ‘Melancholy’.
But while the band sound positively inspired here, it’s Block that proves to be the true star of the show. His performance throughout the show is nothing short of powerful, versatile and awesome. He has the ability to channel both Barlow and Owens, and yet still manage to put his own stamp on the songs. Again, one only needs to listen to tracks such as ‘Ten Thousand Strong’, ‘Declaration Day’, ‘Dracula’ and ‘Slave To The Dark’ to know that he’s more than capable to filling in the big shoes left behind.
‘Live In Ancient Kourion’ is an absolute triumph. Not only does it sound great (A huge step up from ‘Alive In Athens’), but the set list is sure to please fans.
While most live albums these days seem to be only aimed at true diehards, Iced Earth have managed to put together a worthy live release that will please diehard fans, but appealing enough for those who want a taste of what Iced Earth have to offer.  All up, this is a first class release from Iced Earth, and the kind of release that perfectly complements their return to form effort ‘Dystopia’ from a couple of years ago.

For more information on Iced Earth, check out –

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Batpiss - Nuclear Winter

Nuclear Winter
Every Night Is A Saturday Night

Anyone who’s remotely familiar with the underground live music scene in Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) will no doubt be familiar with local outfit Batpiss. Formed in 2011, the three piece outfit (Comprising of guitarist/vocalist Paul Pirie, bassist/vocalist Thomy Sloane and drummer/vocalist Martin Baker) have been out and about playing support to the likes of OFF!, The Bronx, Guitar Wolf, The Meanies, Regurgitator, Zoobombs, Blood Duster, Bits of Shit and Grong! Grong! Needless to say, the band has been earning themselves quite a reputation as a live band, and slowly but surely attracting a cult following for themselves in the process.
Two years on, and Batpiss has finally decided to commit their music to tape, and release their debut full length effort ‘Nuclear Winter’ (Through Melbourne based independent label Every Night Is A Saturday Night) to the masses.
As a live act, anyone who has witnessed Batpiss live on the stage will tell you that the band are a confronting punk/sludge rock outfit that are nothing short of an assault to the senses. But on plastic, the band doesn’t have quite the same impact.
Recorded live over a ten hour session at Collingwood’s (Melbourne) renowned live venue The Tote, ‘Nuclear Winter’ is as raw as you would expect from a Batpiss live gig. But on a sonic level, the recording (Which was captured and mixed by The Nation Blue/Harmony vocalist/guitarist Tom Lyngcoln, and mastered by Mickey Young - Who has previously worked with Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Total Control) comes across as a muddy, impenetrable wall of noise that loses some of its bludgeoning capabilities and tends to drag a little over its long duration.
The opening track ‘Seed’ is a perfect example of what Batpiss are all about, with the song boasting some mean riffs, and a level of aggression and groove that will get almost anyone moving. But for all of the strengths evident in the band’s song writing, it’s hard to overlook what could have been if the production was just a little cleaner, and the finer intricacies of the band’s performance could be heard through the thickened production noise.
In terms of highlights, the fast paced blitzkrieg of ‘Come Here And Fuck Off’ and ‘Hollywood’ are definite favourites, while the angular riffing found within ‘Burn Below’ and ‘Couldn’t Get Out’ add some much needed variation and variety to the album.
There’s a touch of Black Sabbath to ‘Loose Screws’, and when coupled with the droning ‘Human’, it broadens the band’s sound beyond the punk/rock realm to include slow moving doom epics that incorporate touches of sludge, while ‘Portal’ (Which features guest backing vocals from Lyngcoln) has more in common with the likes of the Californian stoner rock sound, albeit with a lot more aggression on the vocal front.
Finishing up the album is ‘Drone’, which not unlike ‘Portal’, is more stoner rock inclined, but with a greater emphasis on sticking with its groove and fleshing it out with a greater use of dynamics than anything else heard on the album. Surprisingly enough, despite its lengthy six minute running time (Excluding the last minute, which is an untitled hidden track that features Bodies’ Joel Morrison, Bones and Chris Ceccini on vocals), the track passes by without sounding like its dragging on unnecessarily, and the addition of vocalist Pete Dickinson (The Spinning Rooms) in the mix, the song ends up being the true highlight on the album.
There’s no denying that Batpiss are an interesting outfit. But in terms of their studio output, the band still have some way to go before they match the reputation of their live shows.

For more information on Batpiss, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Device - Device

Warner Bros. Records

When Disturbed officially announced their indefinite hiatus in late 2011, it didn’t take front man David Draiman long to unveil his new side project in the form of Device. For many fans, the news was a mixed blessing. On the positive side, Draiman was making some new music. But on the negative side, it also meant that Disturbed weren’t planning on a return anytime soon. But while some mourned the absence of Disturbed, Draiman’s new project did at least have many curious in what he and Device collaborator Geno Lenardo (Ex-Filter guitarist/programmer/bassist/song writer) would eventually deliver on their self-titled debut.
In the lead up to the release of Device’s debut, Draiman said that the band’s direction would be more industrial metal sounding than anything Disturbed ever was, and that the album would feature some interesting and completely unexpected guest appearances. With the album now released, it has to be said that Draiman wasn’t misleading fans. ‘Device’ is more industrial sounding, and the album has a lot of guest appearances. But what Draiman didn’t tell fans is that while the band is named Device, it really could have easily been dubbed Disturbed 2.0.
The opening track ‘You Think You Know’ (Which served as the second single lifted from the album) is a clear example of what Device has to offer, and how similar Disturbed and Device are on almost every level. Structure wise, Draiman sticks to what he’s good at and doesn’t stray too far from the template on the vocal front. Musically, Lenardo offers up some fairly solid guitars, but with the addition of dense keyboards and up-front drums, it all amounts to a fairly traditional industrial rock fare (A cross between Disturbed, Filter and Nine Inch Nails at their blandest). Song wise, ‘You Think You Know’ is one of the better tracks from ‘Device’, but hardly the most memorable either.
With a drop in the industrialised effects, ‘Penance’ emerges as one of the tracks on the album to sound like it could have been lifted from a long lost Disturbed release, while ‘Vilify’ (The first single from the album) is a definite stand out cut with the duo making a determined effort to distance themselves from Disturbed with a lean more towards the industrial aspect of their sound. But having said that, the song’s lyrics are a bit cliché and repetitive, which means that as long as your expectations aren’t too high, the song really does stand out amongst the pack.
The first guest appearance on the album is Lzzy Hale (Halestorm vocalist), who duets with Draiman on the Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne ballad ‘Close My Eyes Forever’. In the past, Draiman always struggled when it came to covering other people’s songs (For example, the cover Genesis and U2 covers Disturbed butchered). But on this track, Draiman manages to do pretty well. Unfortunately, the industrialised musical reworking of the hard rock classic seems to lack the warmth of the original, which makes it sound too mechanical to say it does the song any real justice.
On paper, the joined forces of System Of A Down vocalist Serj Tankian and Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler on ‘Out Of Line’ sounded interesting, but Tankian sounds a little off on the song, even if the music is quite strong. Elsewhere, Rage Again The Machine/The Night Watchman’s guitarist Tom Morello guests on ‘Opinion’, which is something different altogether as Morello tones down his typical guitar tone for something more akin to what Device actually needed. The song is also one of the catchiest on the album, and one of the rare examples that Draiman actually has something worthwhile to say on the lyrical front.
‘Hunted’ and ‘War Of Lies’ are both solid enough tracks, but in the grand scheme of the album as a whole, come across the most ‘filler’ like material with their fairly featureless delivery, while ‘Haze’ fares much better in the latter part of the album, with Avenged Sevenfold vocalist M. Shadows adding the most of all the guest artists, to really give the song a personality that proves Device can deviate from the formula from time to time.
The closing track ‘Through It All’ was probably the song I was most interested in listening to, as it features a guest appearance from the legendary Glenn Hughes (Ex-Deep Purple/Black Sabbath/Black Country Communion). Unfortunately, the said joint venture has a mixed reaction from me. The first half of the song is quite plodding with its dark, industrialised ballad like feel. Hughes sounds too out of place here, and inevitably comes across as ill fitting at best. But it’s around the middle where the song takes on a faster and heavier sound that both Draiman and Hughes really come to life. Hughes might take on a more backing vocalist role, but his efforts perfectly compliment Draiman’s own strong melodies. If you disregard the first half of this track, ‘Through It All’ is a truly strong effort, and one of my personal favourites. But as a whole, it sounds too drawn out and messy to work.
Overall, ‘Device’ is an enjoyable release – provided you’re a fan of Disturbed. Draiman and Lenardo may be the only real members here, but Device really does sound a lot like Disturbed, only with a greater industrial influence than anything Disturbed ever delivered.
As for the guest appearances, well some worked, and some didn’t.
If Device releases a second album, I’d like to see the duo push the envelope a little more and really step outside their comfort zone. If they don’t, they’ll always be viewed as Draiman’s industrialised version of his former outfit, and nothing more.

For more information on Device, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Firewind - Apotheosis - Live 2012

Apotheosis - Live 2012
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Although heavy/power metal outfit Firewind hit the road in support of their seventh full-length album ‘Few Against Many’ last year, 2012 also represented the band’s tenth anniversary, which meant that the shows in support of the album were more a celebration of the band’s standing as one of Greece’s biggest metal exports, and the mark they’ve made on the metal scene as a whole on a worldwide scale.
But as much as the shows were a celebration, they were also marked a fitting farewell for vocalist Apollo Papathanasio, who announced his departure from the group after a successful six year run with the band to focus his attention with Spiritual Beggars.
So it comes as no surprise to find that while out on tour throughout 2012, the band (Who aside from Papathanasio, comprised of lead guitarist/backing vocalist/founder Gus G., keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Bob Katsionis, bassist Petros Christo and drummer Johan Nunez) decided the time was right to record some shows, and release a live album that celebrates the band’s legacy, but one that also salutes Papathanasio’s contribution to the group in the live setting.
‘Apotheosis’, which in Greek means the glorification of a subject to a divine level, is a pretty fitting title for Firewind’s second live album. The band sound positively inspired throughout the seventeen tracks on offer, and the crowd appreciation evident throughout the album must have made them feel like the gods themselves.
As mentioned, ‘Apotheosis’ is the band’s second live effort, with the C.D./D.V.D. ‘Live Premonition’ release being released back in 2008. While five years between live releases may sound like too short a gap between live albums, it has to be said that in the audio sense, this live album sounds a little rawer and less polished than ‘Live Premonition’, which in some ways when compared to their live effort from five years ago, validates this release of another live album.
As expected, the track listing on ‘Apotheosis’ focussed predominately on the band’s last two studio releases for the most part, with four tracks lifted from 2010’s ‘Days Of Defiance’ (‘World On Fire’, ‘The Departure’, ‘Heading For The Dawn’ and ‘SKG’) and a further five taken from 2012’s ‘Few Against Many’ (‘Wall Of Sound’, ‘Losing My Mind’, ‘Few Against Many’, ‘Glorious’ and ‘Edge Of A Dream’). While some listeners may be a little disappointed that the band didn’t delve a little more into their back catalogue for what was billed as a celebration of the tenth anniversary, I can understand the band decision not to cover too much of the same ground they covered on ‘Live Premonition’, and deliver something new from fans.
But despite the inclusion of a lot of new material, the band does go back in time a little, with the powerful opener ‘Head Up High’, ‘Mercenary Man’ and the band’s cover of Michael Sembello’s hit ‘Maniac’ representing 2008’s ‘The Premonition’, and ‘Allegiance’ and ‘Falling To Pieces’ lifted from 2006’s ‘Allegiance’. In fact, the only track to pre-date 2006 is ‘Between Heaven And Hell’, which is the title track from their 2002 debut. And while it’s a great track, it’s a shame that a different track wasn’t considered for this release considering that this song was also included on their previous live album.
Outside of the actual songs themselves, Gus G. gets a brief solo spot on the album, as to does Katsionis (Although his keyboard solo is nothing more than an introduction to ‘Edge Of A Dream’).
Overall, ‘Apotheosis – Live 2012’ is a solid live release, and a worthy representation of just how far the band has come in five years as a live act. Personally, a live D.V.D. would have been a far more appealing option, but as Gus G. has stated in recent times, it’s about quality over quantity. And there’s no arguing with the guitarist about that, because while ‘Apotheosis - Live 2012’ may lack in depth and length, it certainly more than makes up for it in quality.

For more information on Firewind, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Helm - Vol 3 – Panthalassa

Vol 3 – Panthalassa
Helm Music/Summerland Records

Having already been an avid follower of vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Lucas Stone when he was involved in Tension, I was keen to see which direction he was going with his music when he announced his intentions to form a new outfit under the name of Helm, following the demise of Tension. And when the Gold Coast (Queensland, Australia) based act launched themselves onto the scene in 2008 with their debut full-length effort ‘Vol 1... Keelhaul’, Helm proved to be every bit as impressive as promised.
Clearly not wanting to waste any time, Helm released their sophomore effort ‘Vol 2… The Winter March’ a year later, which not only saw the band further push their unique take on progressive rock to new levels, but also earn the attention and critical acclaim they so richly deserved. Despite releasing a few singles over the last four years (2010’s cover of Icehouse’s ‘Great Southern Land’, 2011’s ‘Home’ and ‘Bullets’), and hitting the road in support of the said releases, Helm clearly were in no rush to get their long awaited third full-length album out to fans until they were clearly ready to. But after what seemed an endless wait, the five piece act (Who comprise of Stone, guitarist/vocalist Dario Lagana, guitarist Ryan Lucas, bassist Rory Swane and drummer Fabio Lagana) has finally re-emerged from their self imposed studio hiatus with their long awaited third effort ‘Vol 3 – Panthalassa’.
The album is opened up with the title track ‘Panthalassa’, which is essentially a short acoustic based/backing vocalised introduction to proceedings, which eventually bleeds into the album’s first real track ‘Iron Wall’. Clocking in at just a touch over the eight minute mark, ‘Iron Wall’ is everything you’ve come to expect from Helm – only in epic form. Despite its heavy start, the song showcases Lucas’ penchant for melodic quieter passages where the voice is the guiding instrument, which are counteracted perfectly against some of the heaviest guitar driven walls of noise the band have ever delivered. Despite its length, the band more than manages to keep things interesting throughout, and provide the album with a truly stunning beginning.
‘Bermuda’ is an interesting track as Stone pushes his vocals to the higher end of his range to give the song a very different direction to anything the band have ever attempted before, while the occasional screamed backing vocal helps inject a bit of aggression where necessary to give the song that much more bite.
The angular riffing in ‘Albatross’ is again another example of the band attempting to take their sound into completely new directions, and something the band manages to pull off exceedingly well. Of course, Stone’s melodic phrasing and hook laden choruses help in no part in giving the song its real character, but the off kilter guitar riffs and the gang backing vocals (Provided by Nik Carpenter and Steve Gibb) open up a whole new dimension to Helm’s sound.
Clocking in at more than eleven minutes, ‘Endless Storm’ is another lengthy epic around the middle of the album. Initially, I thought the song was fairly traditional Helm fare with its laid back tempo and gentle harmonies, but around the five minute mark, the song takes on a completely different direction, and starts to really take on a heavier tone, which alters the course of the song here on out. There’s a brief piano/guitar interlude which breaks things up a little, and the song ends out on a heavy note. But while there’s plenty of changes going on throughout the song, I couldn’t help but feel that the song was a little too long and bloated for its own good. ‘Endless Storm’ has its share of good ideas, but not enough to justify its rather long running time.
As good as ‘Drag The Anchor’ is, the song is probably the most traditional sounding of Helm tracks with the song sounding like it could have come from either of the band’s two former releases. To some extent, the same could be said for ‘The Taxidermist’ as well, except for the guitar solo and the heavier second half of the track, which again is delivered in a way Helm haven’t attempted before in the past.
‘Cull’ is a favourite with its lush melodies and greater progressive metal musical backdrop, as to does ‘To The Wolves’ and ‘The Great Escape’, both of which are further daring ventures into uncharted territory on the musical front from the progressive metal side of the musical equation. But despite their somewhat experimental music framework, Stone maintains a sense of balance within the songs with his trademark infectious choruses and beautifully emotive vocals.
Finishing up the album is the short instrumental piece ‘After the War’, which ties in perfectly with the opener, albeit with acoustic guitars instead of electrics, and the absence of vocals.
While Helm aren’t a band to change too much from one release to the next (As evident on their first two releases), ‘Vol 3 – Panthalassa’ does show a lot of progression from the band, without straying too far from the sound they created for themselves in the first place. And while the album does have a couple of tracks that overstay their welcome, for the most part, this third full-length effort from the Gold Coast crew lives up to my expectations.

For more information on Helm, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, July 22, 2013

Clutch - Earth Rocker

Earth Rocker
Weathermaker Music

Although I’ve been a fan of the long running Germantown (Maryland, U.S.) hard rock outfit Clutch for some years, and I’ve always considered them to be a solid, reliable and consistent act over their twelve years together, I’ve been less than amazed with the band’s last few studio efforts.
That’s not to say that their output in recent years has been subpar, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. I found plenty to enjoy on ‘Robot Hive/Exodus’ (2005), ‘From Beale Street To Oblivion’ (2007) and ‘Strange Cousins From The West’ (2009). But in terms of being amazed by a Clutch album where every song was nothing short of a classic, I’d have to go back to 2004 when the band released ‘Blast Tyrant’.
So when the band announced plans to reunite with producer Machine (Who was responsible for co-producing ‘Blast Tyrant’ with the band, and helped out on this album as producer, engineer and mixer) once again for their upcoming tenth studio album, I was certainly interested to see if it were possible for the band to recapture the vibe that made their last outing together so exciting.
And after giving the album plenty of time to sink in, all I can say is that if there were any proof needed to back up the theory that lightning can strike twice, then one only needs to listen to ‘Blast Tyrant’ and ‘Earth Rocker’ back to back.
It would appear that working with Machine, taking the time to write material before entering the studio and the band’s own experiences touring alongside Motörhead and Thin Lizzy (Or Black Star Riders as they’re known now) has had a positive effect on Clutch. In short – ‘Earth Rocker’ is one of the most rocking Clutch albums in years.
The album begins with the title track ‘Earth Rocker’, which gives listeners a clear idea of where the band is heading for the vast majority of the album sound wise. What is offered up this time around is a faster, leaner and meaner Clutch than what we’ve been served up in recent years. And that’s a good thing. Tim Sult’s guitar riffs are beefed up and driving, while the rhythm section of bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster keep things tight, heavy and rocking. Needless to say, vocalist Neil Fallon sounds positively inspired and on form here, with the lyrics coming across as a mission statement voiced by a psychotic/rambling preacher.
‘Crucial Velocity’ maintains a similar speed and vibe to that of the opener, albeit with a touch of the blues in places and a with an added injection of catchiness to the choruses, while ‘Mr. Freedom’ is a short blast of Clutch’s trademark driving groove fused together with Fallon’s cryptic socio-political beat poetry.
There’s no mistaking the funky/southern rock influences within ‘D.C. Sound Attack!’ with its injection of harmonica (Provided by Fallon) and moments of percussion/cow-bell, while ‘Unto The Breach’ returns to the speeding pace of the opener to deliver a perfectly timed quick punch to the senses of the listener.
It isn’t until the middle of the album where the band change course a bit, with the slow, acoustic based ‘Gone Cold’ allowing the band to delve into sounds that are not only quieter, but dark, soulful and reflective. Stripped back to the bare essentials, Fallon’s spoken word performance and the band’s bare bones approach works exceedingly well here, even if the track is a one of a kind on what is essentially a full-on rock and roll album.
‘The Face’ sees a return to the familiar Clutch rock sound with the mid-paced rocker coming across as a pro-rock anthem on the lyrical front (Which may or may not be the case given anyone’s interpretation of Fallon’s offerings), while the galloping groove of ‘Book, Saddle, & Go’ and the intense blues tinged rocker ‘Cyborg Bette’ sees the band building speed and power as the album races for the finishing line.
‘Oh, Isabella’ leans a little more on the stoner/psychedelic side of the band’s rock repertoire, and is unfortunately one of the few tracks on the album with the potential to get lost. It’s not that it’s a bad track; it’s just that it’s placing so far back in the album could well have some listeners forgetting its existence. But while ‘Oh, Isabella’ has the potential to be overlooked, the same can’t be said for ‘The Wolf Man Kindly Requests…’ which is a track that demands your attention with its urgency and classic hard rock vibe. In other words, it’s the perfect closer.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always been a fan of Clutch, and I’ve enjoyed all their albums. But if I were to be honest, while I wouldn’t consider any of Clutch’s past releases falling below the high standard they’ve set for themselves, ‘Earth Rocker’ is by far the most rocking and downright enjoyable album I’ve heard from start to finish since ‘Blast Tyrant’.
In short – While many outsiders will consider Clutch’s new album business as usual, fans will hail ‘Earth Rocker’ as one of the band’s most focussed, strongest and hard rocking efforts in years.

For more information on Clutch, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Dark Tranquillity - Construct

Dark Tranquillity
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Like many of the true pioneers of the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene, Dark Tranquillity has made a conscious effort to push beyond the sound they founded to reinvent themselves, without completely discarding the sound they invented in the first place. For the most part, this continued evolution of sound and direction has worked in the band’s favour; with nearly most agreeing that the band’s output over the last twenty years has been of an exceptionally high standard.
Having said that, that was the case until 2010, when the Swedes released ‘We Are The Void’. Although the album is a solid enough release, if you were to compare it to some of the band’s more recent efforts (In particular 2005’s ‘Character’ and 2007’s ‘Fiction’), it’s clear that ‘We Are The Void’ wasn’t so much about pushing the envelope of experimentation, but rather a revision in what the band had done already – only without the strength in song writing. Not surprisingly, the band themselves later said that making ‘We Are The Void’ was a frustrating experience.
So here we are some three years later, and Dark Tranquillity (Who comprise of vocalist/lyricist Mikael Stanne, guitarist/bassist Martin Henriksson, guitarist Niklas Sundin, keyboardist Martin Brändström and drummer Anders Jivarp) are back with their tenth full-length album ‘Construct’. And once again, the band is pushing their sound into new and uncharted territory, which is a move that will no doubt divide opinions.
‘For Broken Words’, as the first single lifted from the album, is not surprisingly fairly typical of the direction Dark Tranquillity have be driving home over the last ten years. But even so, the slower pacing of the track, the lack of a discernible riff and the use of atmospheric lulls in the song show the band’s willingness to go against the grain and shake up the formula to arrive with something familiar sounding, but different at the same time.
Sounding very much like a lost track from Dark Tranquillity’s recent past, ‘The Science Of Noise’ (The second single lifted from the album) is a faster paced melodic death metal gem with Stanne providing some memorable melodies alongside the contorted guitar riffs, while the double kick drum works towards the tail end of the song proves that the band haven’t completely forsaken the heavier and aggressive side.
‘Uniformity’ is the first track on the album that sees Stanne using clean vocals alongside his trademark growls, and it works quite well. The song has a slight ‘Projector’ (1999) feel with its atmospheric backdrop and dominant use of rhythm guitar and keyboards, but still bears it’s very modern day Dark Tranquillity traits via its melodic chorus structures.
Both ‘The Silence In Between’ and ‘Weight Of The End’ again sees a return to Dark Tranquillity’s more recent sound with the intensity of the guitars contrasted perfectly against the industrialised atmospherics within the songs. But for older fans, both ‘Apathetic’ and ‘Endtime Hearts’ will please immensely, with the aggressive aspect of the guitars and the riff structures sounding very much like the Dark Tranquillity of old (Particularly the former, which is hands down the most thrashing and shedding track on the album).
Given the increased amount of clean vocals used by Stanne on recent albums, I was surprised to find that his cleaner efforts are minimal throughout ‘Construct’. ‘What Only You Know’ and ‘State Of Trust’ are the only songs outside ‘Uniformity’ to feature Stanne on clean vocals, and as expected, are two of the more experimental efforts on the album in terms of the direction the band were heading on ‘We Are The Void’ – albeit with any real riff structures, and a greater emphasis on rhythm guitars, a greater keyboard presence and strong melodies. Given the somewhat experimental direction of the songs, I have no doubt that it’s these tracks that will polarise many fans about the merits of ‘Construct’ as a whole.
Finishing up the album is ‘None Becoming’, which not unlike most closers on Dark Tranquillity albums, is a slow, brooding and atmospheric experimental piece that seems to sum up the album perfectly with its move from one passage to the next on the musical front. It may be far from an instant track, but one that certainly grows more with each listen.
Overall, ‘Construct’ is everything that ‘We Of The Void’ wasn’t. Again, ‘We Of The Void’ was far from a disaster, but what it lacked in song writing, ‘Construct’ has in abundance, along with a greater diversity of sounds and styles over the course of its ten tracks.
If you’re a fan of latter day Dark Tranquillity, then ‘Construct’ comes highly recommended. Sure, the album doesn’t break quite as much ground as some of their earlier classics, but it does show some life beyond what we’ve come to expect from the band in more recent times.

For more information on Dark Tranquillity, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Killswitch Engage - Disarm The Descent (Special Edition)

Killswitch Engage
Disarm The Descent (Special Edition)
Roadrunner Records

Over the last ten years, Massachusetts based outfit Killswitch Engage has managed to climb their way to the top of the heap to become one of the metalcore scene’s true success stories. But in early 2012, the band announced the departure of vocalist Howard Jones. The news immediately had fans guessing who was going to fill the enormous shoes left behind by Jones, and some going as far to as to question whether the band could possibly retain their reputation as one of the metalcore scenes finest.
But fans needn’t have worried. Within a month of announcing Jones’ departure, Killswitch Engage (Who otherwise comprise of guitarist/backing vocalist Adam Dutkiewicz, guitarist Joel Stroetzel, bassist Mike D’Antonio and drummer Justin Foley) broke the news that Jesse Leach would take on the front man role. Not surprisingly, given that Leach was the band’s original vocalist, and helped the band make their mark with the critically acclaimed sophomore effort ‘Alive Or Just Breathing’ way back in 2002, the news had many fans excited about the band’s next full-length effort.
Leach’s return to the fold isn’t all that unexpected given that Dutkiewicz and Leach teamed up in Times Of Grace some years ago, and who released their impressive debut effort ‘The Hymn Of A Broken Man’ in 2011. To some, Leach’s move back to Killswitch Engage wasn’t so much a question of if, but more of when.
What is questionable however is if Leach’s return to the band he started out with, would result in an album that would satisfy older fans who hold  ‘Alive Or Just Breathing’ in high esteem, and the rest who were fans of Jones’ work with the band over the last decade?
In answer, ‘Disarm The Descent’ is pretty much everything you would expect from a Killswitch Engage album – regardless of whom happens to be fronting the band. And while that may come across as disappointing for some, for most – it’s all you could really ask for given the tumultuous last couple of years the band have gone through.
Clearly making a statement to listeners, the opening track ‘The Hell In Me’ is a full-on aggressive blast of guitar riffs, drums and screams from Leach that make clear that the band are well and truly back. Leach’s performance is without question great, with his clean vocals and growls slotting seamlessly into the band’s trademark sound. But aside from writing a good song and the solid performance within, it’s the passion and energy that filters through that really stands out. And to be honest, it’s something the band’s more recent releases have lacked to some extent.
‘Beyond The Flames’ is the kind of song that the band has been perfecting over the years. That is to say that it combines some aggressive riffing and rhythm work with some equally aggressive vocal screams from Leach (And Dutkiewicz on some truly brutal backing vocals), and mixes in clean sung choruses that hook the listener in. It’s far from a new formula, but one that obviously works for a band like Killswitch Engage, with tracks such as ‘New Awakening’ and the first single ‘In Due Time’ following the same tried and true path.
The band slow things down a touch for ‘A Tribute To The Fallen’, which is a solid and catchy song, but perhaps more noteworthy for its intricate guitar work more than anything else, while ‘The Turning Point’ is somewhat missing something in its instrumental framework, despite its stand out brief blast of lead guitar work.
The hammering ‘All That We Have’ and ‘The Call’ swings the album back in the right direction with their intense blasts of unrestrained aggression, while Leach shines vocally on the melodic ‘You Don’t Bleed For Me’, ‘Time Will Not Remain’ and my personal favourite, ‘Always’.
As mentioned at the top of this review, the version of ‘Disarm The Descent’ under the microscope is the special edition, with comes with additional tracks and a D.V.D.
The D.V.D., which runs for around thirty minutes, is a documentary entitled ‘New Awakening: The Making Of Disarm The Descent’, and it shows the band going into detail about the recording of the drums, guitars, production and lyrics. As documentaries go, it’s O.K., but not the sort of thing that you’d revisit after watching it a couple of times.
In terms of the bonus tracks, it’s a completely different story. ‘Blood Stains’ is a killer song that really packs a punch with its intensely aggressive versus and melodic choruses, while ‘Slave To The Machine’ follows a very similar path. Finishing up the set is a live version of ‘Numbered Days’ (Which originally appeared on ‘Alive Or Just Breathing’) and ‘My Curse’ (From 2006’s ‘As Daylight Dies’), both of which were recorded in 2012 in support of the tenth anniversary of ‘Alive Or Just Breathing’. While the former doesn’t hold any great surprises, the latter at least proves that Leach has no trouble handling Jones’ material. All up, all four tracks are a worthy addition to the album.
‘Disarm The Descent’ doesn’t mark a huge departure from where Killswitch Engage were heading with Jones at the helm. But what it lacks in diversity, it makes up for in terms of passion, intensity and aggression. I would have liked to hear a bit more of the experimentation that Dutkiewicz and Leach added to the Times Of Grace’s debut, but it’s only a minor criticism. ‘Disarm The Descent’ is a solid album from start to finish, and if anything, proof that Killswitch Engage is well and truly intact, and more alive than ever.

For more information on Killswitch Engage, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, July 19, 2013

Starkill - Fires Of Life

Fires Of Life
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Over the last few years, the bulk of Century Media Records’ expanding roster of acts has been the acquisition of well established acts. In other words, there are some fairly well known acts that were once signed to other labels that now reside at Century Media Records. But that doesn’t mean that the label has entirely turned their back on those up and coming acts on the scene, with their most recent signing being Chicago (Illinois, U.S.) outfit Starkill.
Founded a mere four years ago, Starkill initially started out under the name of Ballistika, before changing their name to Massakren for a couple of years, until settling on Starkill in late 2012. Within that four year time frame, the band managed to release a demo (‘Immersed In Chaos’ in 2009 under the name of Ballistika), a full length effort (2010’s re-recorded ‘Immersed In Chaos’) and an E.P. (2011’s ‘Massakren’). Needless to say, Starkill may have been through plenty of changes in their short time together - both in the musical and line-up sense – but their persistence has well and truly paid off with the relatively unknown band eventually signing up to the mighty Century Media Records. And so here we are in 2013, and Starkill (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist/orchestral programmer Parker Jameson, guitarist Charlie Federici, bassist Mike Buetsch and drummer Spencer Weidner) have just released their debut full-length effort ‘Fires Of Life’.
Initially, I was expecting some sort of power metal release based purely on the album’s artwork. But after giving the album a listen, I was surprised to find that Starkill are actually a symphonic/melodic death metal act. And a damn fine one at that too I might add.
The opening track ‘Whispers Of Heresy’ immediately reminds me of Dimmu Borgir with its piano introduction, and the notion is reinforced with the symphonic black metal sound that follows through beyond the song’s initial introduction. Jameson’s blackened vocals adds an air of aggression to proceedings that matches the relentless double kick work from Weidner, while the tight knit riffing from Jameson and Federici is expertly executed. But Starkill are anything but a mere Dimmu Borgir clone. It isn’t until mid way through the six minute epic that the band showcases their other influences, which include shades of Nightwish with the frequent moments of lush orchestration, and Dragonforce-like speed and shred in and around the vocalised passages. There’s a mix of everything within ‘Whispers Of Heresy’, but somehow the band manage to make all their influences flow into one powerful opening statement.
The follow up title track ‘Fires Of Life’ has an unmistakable Amon Amarth sound, but with an added blackened edge on the lead vocals and an extra element of shred within the lead guitar work, while ‘Sword, Spear, Blood, Fire’ and ‘Below The Darkest Depths’ sees the band amalgamating all their collective styles and influences within the songs to create what are undoubtedly two of the album’s real highlights.
From here, the band retains the same level of consistency throughout the remaining six tracks. Despite their lack of pace, ‘Immortal Hunt’ and ‘New Infernal Birth’ are another couple of tracks worthy of singling out with their catchy choruses and lead work, while the closing pair of ‘Withdrawn From All Humanity’ and the symphonic blackened epic ‘Wash Away The Blood With Rain’ are further worthy selections in the latter half of the album.
Starkill aren’t the most original of bands, and their European influences are fairly obvious throughout ‘Fires Of Life’. But while there’s a familiarity surrounding Starkill’s material (Not just in its sound, but because all but three of the tracks have been previously released on the band’s past efforts), they do it so well that it’s easy to overlook.
After hearing ‘Fires Of Life’, I have no doubt that Starkill are destined for greater things in time to come. This is one album where one shouldn’t judge the album purely based on its cover!

For more information on Starkill, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Volbeat - Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies (Limited Edition)

Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies (Limited Edition)
Vertigo Records

Danish hard rock/heavy metal outfit Volbeat has always been somewhat of an oddity to my ears. While on the one hand I applaud the band’s willingness to throw just about every kind of influence they can into their music, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by their consistency over the course of a full-length album. In other words, while diversity has worked in their favour at times, the very same thing was also their worst enemy.
Three years after the release of their last studio effort ‘Beyond Hell / Above Heaven’ (And two years after their companion live album/D.V.D. release ‘Live From Beyond Hell / Above Heaven’), the four piece Copenhagen based act (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist Michael Schøn Poulsen, ex-Anthrax/The Damned Things guitarist/vocalist Robert Caggiano, bassist Anders Kjølholm and drummer Jon Larsen) are back with their highly anticipated fifth full-length effort ‘Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies’. And while the band’s willingness try their hand at anything hasn’t diminished one bit, they have managed to put together an album that actually flows from start to finish without the jarring cuts that hindered their earlier efforts.
The album starts with the short instrumental piece ‘Let’s Shake Some Dust’, which brings to mind images of a spaghetti western scene with its acoustic guitars, harmonica (Provided by the renown blues artist Paul Lamb) and tribal drumming (Performed by Caggiano). The track ties in perfectly with the cover artwork adorning the album, and sets the album up nicely for what follows.
‘Pearl Hart’ is everything you have come to expect from Volbeat in terms of their hard rock direction, and a fairly solid beginning for the album. Poulsen has always been a good vocalist, and a good example of his ability to craft a strong hook can be found on this track. What ‘Pearl Hart’ lacks in heaviness, they certainly make up for in catchiness.
‘The Nameless One’ takes the hard rock song of the former and adds a little grittiness and country influences to the mix without losing any of its infectious catchiness, while ‘Lola Montez’ and the album’s first single ‘Cape Of Our Hero’ are absolute gems from Volbeat, and not surprisingly two of the standout cuts on the album in terms of the band’s hard rock efforts.
It isn’t until the fourth track, the Metallica influenced ‘Dead But Rising’ that the band starts to shake things up a little bit and deliver a far heavier sound. Although far from technically challenging, the song does have a strong galloping drum beat and catchy riff structure that works well for the band.
‘Room 24’ will no doubt become a favourite amongst metal fans with the song featuring a guest vocal contribution from the legendary King Diamond. Although Diamond’s work on other people’s albums has always been a bit hit and miss, this is one of those rare occasions where Diamond is actually a perfect fit. Needless to say, the song is one of Volbeat’s heaviest efforts, which makes it another standout track on the album.
Despite its blues like introduction (Courtesy of guest slide guitarist Anders Pederson), the album’s second single ‘The Hangman’s Body Count’ keeps the metal coming with the band once again delivering a strong groove in the vein of latter day Metallica, while the fast paced ‘Black Bart’ (Which can be best described as Johnny Cash meets a thrash mid-era Metallica) and the banjo (Played once again by Rod Sinclair) introduced ‘Doc Holiday’ keep the tail end of the album tipped in favour of a heavier sound.
Elsewhere, the slow and heavy ‘Our Loved Ones’ deserves a noteworthy mention for its soaring chorus, as too does ‘The Lonesome Rider’ – which sees Canada’s Walk Off The Earth’s Sarah Blackwood co-lead alongside Poulsen on what is a catchy rockabilly tinged rocker.
Unfortunately, the one big problem with ‘Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies’ is its length. And for that reason, I can’t help but feel that a couple of songs could have been dropped in order to give the album a bit more consistency. Although far from terrible, the inclusion of the band’s cover of Young The Giant’s ‘My Body’ and the mid-paced ‘The Sinner Is You’ only bloat the album out unnecessarily.
As mentioned above, this is a review of the limited edition version of the album, which includes a second disc of tracks in addition to the album itself.
‘Ecotone’ opens up the disc, and is a surprisingly strong track with its classic Metallica thrash guitar riffs (I’m thinking around ‘…And Justice For All’ era). But while the song does have an element of crunch to it, the band still manages to keep things catchy. It makes you wonder why this cut never made the album.
Lamb adds a bit more of his distinctive blues touch to the follow up track ‘Lola Montez (Harp Version)’, which is good, but not a version that differs much from the original.
Recorded at Wacken in 2012, the live version of ‘7 Shots’ (Which features a guest vocal performance from Kreator’s Mille Petrozza and Mercyful Fate/King Diamond lead guitarist Michael Denner) and ‘Evelyn’ (Which features a guest vocal performance from Napalm Death’s Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway) are cool extras, and certainly make the bonus worth searching for. But while the live tracks are great, the same can’t be said for ‘Evelyn (2010 Demo)’, which will most likely only be listened to the once by most.
Sure, ‘Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies’ is a little bloated. But in terms of consistency, the Danes have mastered the art of giving the album a real flow from start to finish, or giving the impression that the album is closer to a collection of recordings from different eras and line-ups.
Overall, this is a strong album from Volbeat, and one that I’m sure will initially confuse, but inevitably please most fans.

For more information on Volbeat, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Leprous - Coal

Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

In 2011, Norwegian outfit Leprous took the progressive metal scene by storm with the release of their third full-length effort ‘Bilateral’. While their first two releases (2006’s ‘Aeolia’ and 2009’s ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’) did attract some attention, it was ‘Bilateral’ that really had many sitting up to attention and taking notice of the band’s unique take on the progressive metal sound.
Two years on, and Leprous (Who comprise of vocalist/keyboardist Einar Solberg, guitarist Tor Oddmund Suhrke, guitarist Øystein Landsverk, bassist Rein T. Blomquist and drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen) are back with their long awaited fourth full-length effort ‘Coal’. And once again, the band have pushed their sound forward, and delivered another absolute stunner.
A good example of the band’s move forward into new territory can be heard on the opening cut ‘Foe’. While much of ‘Bilateral’ was unpredictable and left of centre, ‘Foe’ showcases a more straight forward approach to song structures, with the bulk of the guitars and drum patterns relying on few chord changes. While it all sounds a bit simple and repetitive, the band manage to avoid the mistake of making the song sound too monotonous with the instruments playing off against one another to forge what is an unmistakably catchy and rhythmic groove, while Solberg’s captivating use of powerful layered backing vocals and keyboards alongside his incredible lead vocals add a layer of mystique to what is already a very unique sounding song. In short, while the song appears to be fairly straight forward in design, there’s a lot going on in the background for those who wish dig a little deeper.
The second track ‘Chronic’ is an energetic and heavier sounding track that is introduced by a mix of piano and fast paced drums, and complimented with the interjection of heavy riffing and Solberg’s mix of clean and growled vocals. Chorus wise, the song is very catchy with its basic lines reinforced throughout the song, but not to the point where the song overstays its welcome. The subtle strings (Arranged by ex-Emperor front man Ihsahn) are well done and add a theatrical flair to proceedings, while the progressive slowing down of tempo towards the end of the track does bring to mind the somewhat avant-garde direction the band took on the former album.
While hints of ‘Bilateral’ could be detected in ‘Chronic’, the title track ‘Coal’ could have easily slotted on the album without any trouble whatsoever. The song retains a heavy metallic sound for the most part, and tends to twist and turn in several different directions throughout its seven minutes. Needless to say, it’s a firm favourite on the album.
‘The Cloak’ is something quite different for ‘Coal’ with its ballad like direction, and quite possibly the one track that will throw most. But if anything, the track allows Solberg to showcase his amazing voice, and allows the band to showcase their ability to write a song that relies heavily on vocals and atmospherics rather than odd time changes and angular riffs. ‘The Cloak’ is a great song, and a welcome breather around the album’s halfway mark.
Clocking in at nine minutes, ‘The Valley’ is a moody and breathtaking mix of soaring choruses and grooving passages of stilted guitar work that seamlessly drifts in and out of shades of light and dark with perfection, while the follow on track ‘Salt’ is very much an extension of ‘The Valley’, but coming from a very subdued and quieter angle. But despite this, the song works surprisingly well on its own, with the pianos and Solberg’s use of falsetto vocals the track’s real shining ingredients.
At close to ten minutes, the slow paced and rather darker sounding ‘Echo’ is perhaps one of the only tracks on the album that could have been cut down a little in order to get to the heart of the song. As a song, there are plenty of strengths on show, but in terms of length, the song quite simply drags a little beyond its welcome.
Finishing up the album is ‘Contaminate Me’, which is without a doubt the album’s heaviest and most brutal sounding track. Not surprisingly, Ihsahn’s guest vocal adds an edge of venom to proceedings alongside the relentless Meshuggah like guitar chords and rhythms, but the band’s firm grasp on melodic choruses isn’t diminished a bit – even if the tail end of the track does regress into avant-garde territory for the most part.
Overall, while Leprous have taken a slightly different path of song writing to that heard on ‘Bilateral’, they’ve managed to pull together another first class slab of progressive metal in ‘Coal’.
For those who understood and appreciated what Leprous were trying to achieve with ‘Bilateral’, you can expect ‘Coal’ to have the same effect. This will no doubt become one of my favourite progressive metal albums for 2013.

For more information on Leprous, check out –

© Justin Donnelly

Megadeth - Super Collider

Super Collider
Universal Music Enterprises/Universal Music Australia

Years ago, I would have welcomed any new Megadeth album with real enthusiasm. But these days, I find it near impossible to do that. And the reason for that simply comes down to the fact that Megadeth albums in recent years have been largely hit and miss affairs at best. Don’t get me wrong – Megadeth has always had their fair share of hits and misses. It’s only been since the band returned to the scene in 2001 that something has radically changed (Something far beyond the mere dismantling of the so-called ‘classic’ line-up) that has meant that every new album has seen the balance of the good and the mediocre leaning more in favour of the latter.
So given my bitter disappointment of ‘TH1RT3EN’ (Which I personally thought was one of the band’s weakest efforts in their near thirty year career), I can’t say that I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on a copy of their latest full-length effort ‘Super Collider’.
But as difficult as it was, I decided to give Megadeth’s latest album a spin with an open mind. And if I were to be honest, and judge the album based on its own merits, I can honestly conclude that while ‘Super Collider’ is a marked improvement on ‘TH1RT3EN’, the album still ranks as one of the band’s weakest efforts.
The opening track ‘Kingmaker’ provides a solid start for the album with its initial bass line intro and fast paced thrash-like guitar groove riffs, but it isn’t long before the problems that have plagued Megadeth in recent years start to become obvious. Structurally, ‘Kingmaker’ doesn’t seem to venture much beyond its initial framework. Sure, the chorus does allow the song to alter its course a little, but nowhere near enough to give the song an identity that makes you sit up and take notice. The other real problem is Megadeth front man/guitarist Dave Mustaine. I don’t expect him to sound like he did some twenty years ago (Hell, after 2010’s ‘Rust In Peace Live’, I know that’s an impossibility!), but I did expect that he would inject a bit of himself into his vocals. On this track, his voice rarely varies, which only adds to the song’s overall blandness. Of course, Chris Broderick injects a bit of energy into the track with some well executed solo work, and Shawn Drover’s drumming is cool, but both can’t salvage what is essentially a fairly ordinary track.
But the opener is something of an exception when it’s compared to the single/title track ‘Super Collider’. Mustaine’s ventures into the more hard rock sounding side of things have always had its fair share of disasters, and this is one of them. Rather than living up to the imagery portrays in its lyrics, ‘Super Collider’ sounds tired, bland and forgettable.
‘Burn!’ (The album’s first single) does manage to address some of the issues I had with the opening track, but is let down with Mustaine’s dreadful lyrical efforts, while the band’s attempts to thrash things up on ‘Built For War’ (Which features of all things bagpipes) and the mid-paced ‘Off The Edge’ just seem tame when compared to the band’s past efforts, both in the musical and lyrical sense.
The album does have a couple of bright moments however. ‘Dance In The Rain’, despite its poor lyrics, does feature some of Mustaine’s trademark snarls on the vocal front, and its heavier and decidedly thrashier tail end is bolstered with a great vocal performance from former Disturbed/Device front man David Draiman. This is by far the strongest cut on the album.
Elsewhere, the mid-paced ‘Beginning Of Sorrow’ is an O.K., as too is ‘The Blackest Crow’ (Which features some interesting banjo work, and is probably the most experimental track Megadeth have recorded since ‘Insomnia’ from 1999’s ‘Risk’) and the blues/hard rock vibe of ‘Don’t Turn Your Back...’. But as good as these small moments are, there’s the rock based ‘Forget To Remember’ and the fairly by-the-numbers cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Cold Sweat’ to remind you of what Megadeth sound like when they’re on autopilot.
If the last decade has said anything about Megadeth, it’s that their glory days are far behind them. That’s not their fault, because it happens to all bands. It’s just that the bands who are aware of the change that will focus on recording fewer albums’ in order to deliver a better quality in the long run. Those who aren’t aware will continue to make albums like they always have. Megadeth just happen to be one of those bands.
‘Super Collider’ isn’t one of Megadeth’s worst albums, but is sure as hell isn’t one of their best either. But until Mustaine spends more time on his song writing (Not just the music, but the lyrics as well), rediscovers his passion for making music and holds off recording until he has enough material to fill an entire album with killer material, Megadeth will continue to be a former shadow of their classic selves on albums from this point on.

For more information on Megadeth, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Templeton Pek - Signs

Templeton Pek
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Birmingham (U.K.) based trio Templeton Pek have earned quite a reputation throughout Europe in recent years as one of the hardest touring outfits, with the band sharing the stage with a countless number of acts in order to get their name out there. But outside of touring, the band (Who comprise of vocalist/bassist Neal Mitchell, guitarist/vocalist Kev Green and drummer Simon Barford) have also been quite busy on the studio side of things, with two full-length efforts (2008’s ‘No Association’ and 2010’s ‘Scratches & Scars’) to their name.
It really comes as no surprise to see the band climbing the ranks at a speeding pace as the years tick by, and even less surprising to find that a major label has finally picked up the band. But what’s a little puzzling is why Century Media Records happened to be the label that eventually picked up such an act. I’m not saying that Century Media Records isn’t a worthy label, but the fact that the label picked up a punk-influenced rock act seems a little out of character for the label.
Despite this, as soon as the ink was dry on the contract, the band soon entered the studio with producer Greg Haver (Who has previously worked with Manic Street Preachers and Bullet For My Valentine), and duly released their Century Media Records debut in the form of their ‘Slow Down For Nothing’ E.P. in 2012. Needless to say, the E.P. was critically acclaimed and was followed by some extensive touring from the band.
Some twelve months on, and Templeton Pek are back with their highly anticipated third full-length album ‘Signs’. And as expected, it’s another huge leap for the band in sound.
On the song writing side of things, not a real lot has changed. The band have always had a knack for writing catchy tunes, and Mitchell’s vocals have always been a big drawcard for emphasising the cleverly crafted melodies that have always been a big part of the band’s overall sound. What has been improved upon is the instrumental aspect of the band’s performance. Producer Shep Goodman (Who has worked with Four Year Strong, Bayside and From Autumn To Ashes amongst others) has managed to give the band a bit more aggression and power to their sound, which undoubtedly gives ‘Signs’ a kick that neither of the band’s former releases could ever hope to have had.
The opening track ‘Who We Are’ is a good measure of what the band is all about in terms of direction, with the band seamlessly blending elements of punk and rock, but without falling into the cliché territory of bashing out the tried and true pop/punk rock songs commonly associated with such descriptions of their sound.
The follow up track ‘Trial And Error’ boasts some impressive shifts in gears in the tempo sense to give the song a bit more dynamics, while ‘Difference’, ‘Wake Me Up’ and the guitar driven ‘Alive (Promise Is Safety)’ have a sound that’s geared more towards modern hard rock, but with a touch of punk rock to spice things up just that bit more.
If there’s a bit of a drawback to ‘Signs’, it’s that a few of the tracks on the album have already been released before. Both ‘Barriers’ and ‘Slow Burn’ have been resurrected from ‘Scratches & Scars’ in different form, while ‘What Are You Waiting For’ and the title track ‘Signs’ originally appeared on E.P. release from last year. Granted, all of the tracks are some of the best the band have penned (Especially ‘Slow Burn’, which is something quite different with its orchestral accompaniment, and ‘Signs’, which just rocks big time!), but it’s still a little disappointing that they didn’t take the opportunity to focus on some newer tunes for their new album.
Despite the recycled feel of some of the tracks on offer, ‘Signs’ is a rock solid album from start to finish, and another fine example of what Templeton Pek are capable of. I guess in the end it’s not that hard to figure out why Century Media Records signed the band on after all! ‘Signs’ comes highly recommended to those who like to rock a little more on the punk side of things.

For more information on Templeton Pek, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sevendust - Black Out The Sun

Black Out The Sun
7Bros Records/Asylum Records

When long running Atlanta (Georgia, U.S.) based alternative/nu-metal metal outfit Sevendust announced the return of guitarist/vocalist Clint Lowery into the fold after a three year absence, fans were clearly hoping that change in personnel would see the band return to form after a couple of albums that left many thinking they had lost their way. But while the reunion did see the band produce a solid release in ‘Cold Day Memory’ (2010), I couldn’t help but feel that Sevendust had completely disregarded their newfound sense of experimentation (Which was evident on 2007’s excellent ‘Alpha’ and 2008’s ‘Chapter VII: Hope & Sorrow’) in favour of giving fans exactly what they thought they wanted.
In the three years since the release of ‘Cold Day Memory’, Lowery and drummer/vocalist Morgan Rose formed their own side project Call Me No One (Who released the fantastic ‘Last Parade’ in 2012), while guitarist/vocalist John Connolly and bassist Vinnie Hornsby put together Projected (Who released their debut effort ‘Human’ in 2012). While both bands weren’t anywhere near as high profile as Sevendust, they were both quite well received, and proved that nobody within the group was in a rush to release another Sevendust album until the time was right.
Well, it took three years, but it would seem that the band (Who also include vocalist Lajon Witherspoon) once again found the inspiration to reactivate Sevendust, and duly started to put together their ninth full-length album ‘Black Out The Sun’.
In the recent past, I’ve been critical of Sevendust and their unwillingness to deviate from their tried and true sound and the uninspired song writing that seems to overshadow the times when they have come up with some good material. But with ‘Black Out The Sun’, it would seem that the time spent apart on other projects and the extended gap between releases has done wonders for the group.
After a minute and a half long acoustic/keyboard instrumental piece (‘Memory’), the band immediately gets into the groove with ‘Faithless’. Although fairly typical of what you would expect from Sevendust, the rhythmic and grooving riffs, Witherspoon’s mix of screams and clean vocals and the catchy choruses will suck you in and have you nodding your head in approval.
The aggression and power delivered in ‘Till Death’ is a welcome change of pace in the early stages of the album, and show that Sevendust still have plenty of bite, while a touch of experimentation can be heard in the southern influenced rock groove of ‘Mountain’. There’s plenty of attitude filtered throughout the track, and the inclusion of a brief solo doesn’t hurt either.
As you can gather, ‘Black Out The Sun’ is quite a diverse album, where the melodic tracks and the aggressive efforts are given plenty of space apart from each other. Evidence of this can be heard on tracks such as ‘Cold As War’, the title track ‘Black Out The Sun’, ‘Dark AM’ and the slower paced ‘Picture Perfect’, all of which have the band focussing on strong melodies and catchy grooving riffs, which is in complete contrast with songs such as ‘Nobody Wants It’, the Call Me No One sounding ‘Dead Roses’ and the album’s lead single ‘Decay’, all of which project an air of menace and hostility that is akin to earlier efforts from the band. Overall, it’s this sense of duality in sound, and a stronger sense of clear song writing that really works in the band’s favour this time around.
But while the album has many highlights, it’s Clint Lowery and Witherspoon’s dual vocal efforts on the acoustic based ‘Got A Feeling’ that really shines. While many will label the song as a ballad, it actually veers more on the side of dark acoustic country music, but with a touch of southern rock in places. It may be a little hard to pin down stylistically, but there’s no denying the brilliance of ‘Got A Feeling’ as a whole.
Another highlight worthy of singling out is the closer ‘Murder Bar’, which like its predecessor ‘Got A Feeling’, is a hard track to pin down with its mix of keyboards (Provided by sound designer/One Hundred Thousand drummer Kurt Wubbenhorst), guitar effects and clean/aggressive vocals. In a lot of ways, the track reminds me of the kind of experimental material the band was exploring on ‘Alpha’. And to these ears, that’s not a bad thing.
While fans were excited with the return of Lowery on ‘Cold Day Memory’, I really couldn’t help that Sevendust were under pressure to deliver what was expected of them. But with ‘Black Out the Sun’, Sevendust have once again managed to distance themselves from preconceived expectations of fans and put together an album that sounds truly inspired.
To me, Sevendust have always been a bit hit and miss in the studio. But with ‘Black Out The Sun’, the band has well and truly delivered one of their best.

For more information on Sevendust, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Deep Purple - Now What?!

Deep Purple
Now What?!
earMusic/Shock Records Distribution

When Deep Purple released ‘Rapture Of The Deep’ back in 2005, I was totally taken aback by how great the album was. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the couple of albums the band released before ‘Rapture Of The Deep’ were terrible (1998’s ‘Abandon’ and 2003’s ‘Bananas’), but there was a certain magic, consistency and strength within the album that hadn’t been heard on an album since the band released ‘Purpendicular’ way back in 1996. In fact, I enjoyed the album so much it made my top ten album list of the year.
But despite the success of ‘Rapture Of The Deep’, it’s taken Deep Purple some eight years to finally emerge from their self imposed studio hiatus to emerge with ‘Now What?!’, with the legendary Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Kiss, Alice Cooper) taking on the role of producer this time around. Needless to say, with reports of the band taking on a more progressive rock sound on their nineteenth studio release, I was eager to get my hands on the band’s latest release.
And now that I’ve given the album a thorough listen, I can say that while ‘Now What?!’ doesn’t quite topple ‘Rapture Of The Deep’ as one of the strongest releases the legendary classic rock band have released in the last twenty years, it does stand as one of their more memorable releases.
The album is opened with ‘A Simple Song’, which initially starts out with an extended instrumental passage courtesy of guitarist Steve Morse and keyboardist Don Airey. The pair demonstrates their ability to put together a simple and effective piece of music, and when vocalist Ian Gillan adds his vocals to the mix, the piece is turned into quite an emotional intro. But around the two minute mark, the song quickly moves into heavy progressive rock territory with the introduction of bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice. The song features plenty of Airey’s classic sounding Hammond keyboards, and when mixed with Morse’s guitar riffs, the band produces a hard rocking sound that steers more toward the progressive side of things than anything the band has done in years. ‘A Simple Song’ is a welcoming return to the band’s classic ‘70’s sound, but delivered with a distinctly modern approach. And that’s certainly not a bad thing.
The follow-up ‘Weirdistan’ continues the progressive rock sound of the opener perfectly with the song’s thumping bass groove underpinning Airey’s rich mix of keyboard solos and Gillan’s captivating vocals and melodies. In simple terms, this song is a definite stand out.
Not far behind is ‘Out Of Hand’, which is a heavy rocker that allows Morse to stand in the spotlight with his darker toned guitar riffing, while ‘Blood From A Stone’ is no less brooding and heavy, but given a bit more space for atmosphere with its subtle jazz influences.
In terms of the traditional hard rock sound that’s become the standard Deep Purple are measured by these days more often than not, ‘Hell To Pay’ and the Emerson, Lake and Palmer influenced ‘Uncommon Man’ more than satisfy, while the slower paced ‘Above And Beyond’ (Which is dedicated to the late Jon Lord) is another favourite, and features one of Gillan’s more memorable performances.
Unfortunately, ‘Now What?!’ does have a couple of tracks that don’t quite hit the mark. The funky ‘Bodyline’, which is actually really cool on the musical side of the equation, is let down by some fairly ordinary lyrics, and probably would have fitted better on Gillan’s last solo effort ‘One Eye To Morocco’ (2009). Although ‘Après Vous’ doesn’t fare quite as bad as ‘Bodyline’ in the lyric department, it is another track that would feel more at home on a Gillan solo effort rather than here on a Deep Purple release. And last but not least, there’s ‘All The Time In The World’. Again, there’s nothing wrong at all with the track (It’s another favourite actually. Morse’s solo is a killer on this!), it’s just a little too laid back when compared to the rest of the album, and feels out of place here.
But despite a couple of out of place tracks, the album is finished on a high note with the organ driven/thick guitar toned classic heavy rocker ‘Vincent Price’. Again, Gillan shines here alongside the rest of the band, and prove beyond any doubt that the band still has plenty to offer fans.
Overall, while ‘Now What?!’ does have a couple of tracks that sound a little out of place, the album is still up there with the best the band have offered up fans in the last twenty years.
It may have taken the band eight years to emerge with ‘Now What?!’, but trust me, it’s been worth the wait.

For more information on Deep Purple, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Finntroll - Blodsvept

Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

While the folk metal scene has exploded over the last decade, there’s few within the scene that match Finnish (Helsinki based) outfit Finntroll in terms of consistency and innovation. Over the last fourteen years, Finntroll have continued to lead the way for the folk metal scene, and have produced a body of work that has rarely seen the band fall below the high standard they set with each and every new album released.
Hot on the heels of their ‘Blodsvept’ E.P. released earlier this year (Through Devil Inc. Presseverlag), the six piece ‘Humppa Folk Metal’ outfit (Comprising of vocalist Mathias ‘Vreth’ Lillmåns, guitarists Samuli ‘Skrymer’ Ponsimaa and Mikael ‘Routa’ Karlbom, guitarist/keyboardist Henri ‘Trollhorn’ Sorvali, bassist Sami ‘Tundra’ Uusitalo and drummer Samu ‘Beast Dominator’ Ruotsalainen) are back with their sixth full-length album ‘Blodsvept’. And as expected, Finntroll have once again produced another first class folk metal album that stands proud alongside their highly regarded former efforts.
The opening title track ‘Blodsvept’ (Which translates to ‘Shrouded In Blood’, and appeared on their last E.P.) gets straight down to business, with only a demonic animal growl marking an introduction to the album (Which is something different given that most of their previous efforts had intros). As a song, ‘Blodsvept’ is a heavy opening track, and one that is typically Finntroll sounding. Despite the aggressive and straight forward approach adopted on the track, the band do incorporate a folk based interlude around the three quarter mark, and the use of strong keyboards and catchy choruses more than manage to give the song a real character that the band excel at creating.
The follow up track ‘Ett Folk Förbannat’ (‘A Cursed People’) is an energetic speeding number that showcases a greater keyboard presence to rival the guitars, while ‘När Jättar Marschera’ (‘When Giants March’, and which also appeared on the band’s last E.P.) follows a similar heavy path put forth on the opener, but with a lush keyboard presence that really allows the strong melodies within the choruses to stand out.
The eclectic and horn section infused ‘Mordminnen’ (‘Memories Of Murder’), the chanting festivities within ‘Rösets Kung’ (‘King Of The Cairn’) and the banjo led blitz of ‘Skogsdotter’ (‘Daughter Of The Forest’) are by far the most traditional sounding ‘Humppa Folk Metal’ songs to be found on ‘Blodsvept’, with all of the mentioned tracks boasting plenty of polka-styled tempos, big choruses, epic keyboard sounds and huge sing-a-long choruses. Not surprisingly, the tracks rank amongst the favourites to be found on the album.
But that’s not to say that the rest of the album is a letdown. ‘Skövlarens Död’ (‘Death Of The Waster’) and ‘Midvinterdraken’ (‘The Midwinter Dragon’) are noteworthy for their darker and more epic overtones (Not to mention a brief guitar solo in the former – which is something quite different), which help give the album a lot more variation, while the carnival-like horns on ‘Häxbrygd’ (‘Witch’s Potion’, and the first promotional video clip filmed for the album) adds a real sense of fun to what is otherwise a hard hitting track.
Speaking of fun, it’s hard not to get swept up in the power and madness of ‘Två Ormar’ (‘Two Serpents’) and ‘Fanskapsfylld’ (‘Devilish’), both of which keep the Finnish polka vibe alive and well.
Finntroll don’t break any real new ground on ‘Blodsvept’, but they do manage to retain their place as one of the leaders of the modern folk metal scene - and to these ears, that more than enough to recommend fans check out ‘Blodsvept’.

For more information on Finntroll, check out -

© Justin Donnelly