Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Best Of 2014

The Best Of 2014

Despite the best of intentions, I didn’t get to write much this year. The growing demands from work, a move in homes, the ongoing failures of my chosen internet provider - and more recently, a newly discovered fault in the telephone line – have all contributed to my absence from the worldwide web.


But while I’ve been absent from the keyboard, I haven’t forsaken music one bit. I still managed to find the time to listen to new music. And like every year, 2014 produced its fair share of magnificent gems, or disappointments. As so without further ado, he’s what I consider my personal favourite of 2014.

Big Wreck – Ghosts (Anthem Records)

The second post reunion album from the Canadian’s proved to be a bit of a sleeper for me. Initially, I though the album was a little too slow and moody compared to their former efforts. But after giving the album time to grow, it turned out to be an absolute winner. The album’s worth owning for ‘Hey Mama’ alone.









Comeback Kid – Die Knowing (Victory Records)

Canada’s Comeback Kid has always impressed me, but there’s something about this fifth studio album from them that totally blew me away. Maybe it’s the infectious melodies, or the catchiness and brutality of the riffs. Either way, this is without a doubt one of my favourite hardcore/punk album’s for 2014.








Winger - Better Days Comin’ (Frontiers Records)

Hard rockers Winger have always been a bit hit and miss with me – especially since their reformation. But if truth be told, the band’s releases seem to be getting stronger, and ‘Better Days Comin’’ is evidence to support this. Although it does have a couple of less than stellar tracks, ‘Midnight Driver Of A Love Machine’, ‘Rat Race’ and ‘Tin Soldier’ are up there with the best the band has ever offered.






KXM – KXM (Rat Pak Records)

I’m always wary of the so-called supergroup. But lo and behold, here’s one that not just lives up to the hype – but exceeds it. Surprisingly enough, while King's X bassist/vocalist Doug Pinnick and Lynch Mob/ex-Dokken guitarist George Lynch are the big names involved, it’s actually Army Of Anyone/Korn drummer Ray Luzier that steak the show. Part hard rock, part groove and experimental in places, KXM’s debut effort turned out to be beyond my expectations.






Flying Colors – Second Nature (Mascot Label Group)

Although strong in places, I couldn’t help but be a little underwhelmed by all-star neo progressive rock outfit Flying Color’s self titled debut effort. But on the second album, the issues that plagued the first album (In particular the album’s inconsistent direction and songwriting) are all issues relegated to the past. The opening trio of ‘Open Up Your Eyes’, the heavier ‘Mask Machine’ and ‘Bombs Away’ showcase the band at their best.





California Breed – California Breed (Frontiers Records)

From the ashes of the critically acclaimed Black Country Communion comes California Breed. Although featuring half of the former group (Bassist/Front Man Glenn Hughes and drummer Jason Bonham), this isn’t a carbon copy of their former act. Heavier, funkier and rooted in 70’s groove, the album is another Glenn Hughes vehicle worthy of his legendary status.







Ginger Wildheart - Albion (Pledge Edition) (Independent Release)

This was a bit of a tricky release for me, because as much as I love Ginger’s output, this isn’t one of his more memorable releases as a whole. But while some of the tracks fall flat on their face, the good tracks are absolutely stellar. And that’s because this is something of a band release rather than a true solo effort, and it’s clearly evident in what the album offers overall. Tracks worthy of genius status include ‘Drive’, ‘The Order Of The Dog’, ‘Burn This City Down’ and the title track ‘Albion’.




Sanctuary – The Year The Sun Died (Century Media Records)

O.K., so this new album from the reactivated Sanctuary isn’t all that far from the sadly defunct Nevermore. And yes, this album will never sit stack against the bands past efforts in the eyes of the diehards. But I don’t care. A good album is a good album, and this one is a real surprise winner for me. Yes, Warrel Dane’s vocals can’t hit the high notes of the likes heard the last time Sanctuary were an active band (Some twenty-five years ago!), but Dane is in terrific form, and so is the band. Check out the slamming opener ‘Arise And Purify’, the moody ‘Exitium (Anthem Of The Living)’ and the shredding ‘Frozen’. This is not an album to disappoint Nevermore fans.

Mark Kelson – Resurgence (Audio Cave)

Having been a huge fan of The Eternal throughout the years, I was keen to hear what front man Mark Kelson would come up with on his debut effort as a solo artist. It’s again another one of those albums that takes a little while to sink in, but when it does, it blew me away. The album takes a bit of Pink Floyd, adds in a dash of The Tea Party, spices thinks up with equal parts progressive rock and hard rock, laid on a base of The Eternal and wrapped in plenty of melancholy. Essentially, it’s Kelson through and though. I’d single out a track, but this is the kind of album that truly needs to be listened to from start to finish to really appreciate.


Triptykon - Melana Chasmata (Century Media Records)

After writing up a review of this album, a friend of mind stated that there wasn’t really a question of whether the album was a move forward for the band, but more a statement. This release really is a defiant statement of who they are. And I totally agree. I rarely accept more of the same without progression, but in Triptykon’s case, I’ll gladly settle for what’s on offer. This is grim, primate, suffocating and morbid. And really, what else would you want from Thomas Gabriel Fischer.






Top Ten Songs For 2014

This is really an excuse for me to make a top twenty list for the year. These album’s didn’t quite make the top list, but they’re worthy of an honourable mention because they all at least boast a few absolutely awesome tracks. So here it goes...

Wolf – Shark Attack (From ‘Devil Seed’)

As much as I love it when band’s push beyond the realms of expectations, there are times when all I want is a bit of traditional heavy metal. And one of the best at it is Sweden’s Wolf. ‘Devil Seed’ (The band’s seventh effort) is up there with the band’s best, and one of the best tracks on offer certainly has to be the belting ‘Shark Attack’.








Decapitated – Moth Defect (From ‘Blood Mantra’)

I was one of the few who genuinely loved 2011’s ‘Carnival Is Forever’. So it’s would come as no surprise to find I was really hanging out to hear ‘Blood Mantra’. And while I think the band sound better than ever, I still feel that there’s something about the previous album that stands out as my favourite. Despite that, ‘Moth Defect’, the limited edition bonus track from ‘Blood Mantra’, is a definite favourite from the band. The track is brutal, progressive and delivered with perfection. And really, what more could you ask for?



Tantric – Cynical (From ‘Blue Room Archives’)

At this point in their career, I pretty much know what I’m going to get from a Tantric release. But with ‘Blue Room Archives’, Tantric front man Hugo Ferreira has put together a compilation of sorts that brings together a variety of songs under the Tantric banner that didn’t fit any of the band’s former releases in the feel sense. It makes sense, but a shame nonetheless because ‘Cynical’ (Which also features ex-Dark New Day vocalist Brett Hestla) is a great track.






Skindred – Kill The Power (From ‘Kill The Power’)

The follow-up to 2011’s ‘Union Black’ was a bit of a middling affair for me. There were too many slow and atmospheric efforts and not enough rock for my taste. But ‘Kill The Power’ did have its moment, and no more so than with the title track.









IQ – Knucklehead (From ‘The Road Of Bones’ (Special Edition))

As much as I love British neo-progressive rock outfit IQ, sometimes their album don’t quite hit me in the same way as some of their others. ‘The Road Of Bones’ is an O.K. album, but it’s the bonus disc that really won me over. A prime example is ‘Knucklehead’, which is uncharacteristically heavy sounding for the band, and a truly unique track from the band. As you would have already guessed, it’s only available on the bonus disc.





Transatlantic – Black As The Sky (From ‘Kaleidoscope’)


Much like IQ, I actually found the bonus disc on the new Transatlantic album more enticing than the album itself (In particular the band’s take on Yes’ ‘And You And I’ and Procol Harum’s ‘Conquistador’). But after allowing the album to really sink in, I found ‘Kaleidoscope’ was a true return to form for the band, and easily a more satisfying album than 2009’s ‘The Whirlwind’. My personal favourite is without a doubt the truly collaborative ‘Black As The Sky’.





Sevendust – Upbeat Sugar (From ‘Time Travellers & Bonfires’)

This album is somewhat of a filler release from the band until they release a new album. Half the album is acoustic renditions of old classic efforts from the band, and half are newer efforts. So while it sounds cool, it’s not entirely satisfying. But if there’s one track that stands out, it’s ‘Upbeat Sugar’. Don’t be surprised if this gets the electric treatment somewhere down the track given how much it rocks already in acoustic form!





Anathema – You’re Not Alone (From ‘Distant Satellites’)

Anathema has hit a formula, and they’re not willing to let it go just yet. What that means is that while I enjoyed ‘Distant Satellites’, I found that after three album’s of the same thing, it doesn’t have the same impact that it did when I first heard 2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re here’. But that’s not to say that the band can throw the odd curveball every now and then. Much like ‘Panic’ from 2001’s ‘A Fine Day To Exit’, ‘You’re Not Alone’ is completely different from anything from anything else on the album, and is a reminder that Anathema can sometimes break free of their self imposed style and song writing cell.

Soundgarden – Kristi (From ‘Echo Of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across The Path’)

O.K., so this is lifted from a compilation, but of the previously unreleased material featured on the expansive three disc set, ‘Kristi’ is classic old-school Soundgarden. Downbeat, heavy and dense and impassioned with Chris Cornell’s unique vocals, this track is a must have for true Soundgarden fans.








Pain Of Salvation – Falling Home (From ‘Falling Home’)


Much like the Sevendust release listed above, ‘Falling Home’ is a release which sees Pain Of Salvation reinterpret some of their recent vintage material in acoustic form. While some don’t quite hit the mark, some work like a wonder. But the real stand out cut is the new title track ‘Falling Home’. Daniel Gildenlöw, despite his flaws, is still a genius song writer when he puts his mind to it.







The Best D.V.D. Of 2014

Peter Gabriel – Back To Front (Peter Gabriel Ltd And Real World Productions Ltd/Eagle Rock Entertainment Ltd)

As a fan of Peter Gabriel, I’ll admit to be a little frustrated with his lack of studio work in recent years. But despite my grumbles about his studio ventures (Or lack thereof), it’s hard to criticise the legend’s efforts on the visual front. ‘Back To Front’, which celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his watershed ‘So’ release from 1986, is another step forward in terms of concert performance. Rather than just deliver the album in its entirety and some greatest hits selection to bolster the set, Gabriel divides the concert in the three thirds, with each set building up in members and momentum to what can only be described as a true fans’ fantasy. The film is filmed with an intensity I’ve never seen before, and the musicianship is absolutely second to none. Sure Gabriel is showing his age in places, but that’s easily overlooked given the stunning results of the performance shown. Does this compensate for a true studio release from Gabriel? No (Even if it does feature one new song – ‘Show Yourself’). But given the likelihood of Gabriel producing a new full-length album, this is a more than worthy filler effort for the meantime.

The Best Book Of 2014

Billy Idol – Dancing With Myself (Simon & Schuster)

Billy Idol may have made my 2014 for the biggest disappointment on the album front, but he won me over on the book front. With his self penned autobiography, Idol lays done his story (Which is his version of events I might add) from his early days in England, Chelsea and Generation X, through to his glory days as a pin-up and MTV icon. Idol is quite candid and detailed about his formative years helping establish the growing punk movement, and sheds light on his fast rise to fame within a couple of years after returning to the U.S. in the early ‘80’s. But what really captivated me was Idol’s tale of growing drug dependency in the late ‘80’s, his personal insight into particular songs, his failures (1993’s ‘Cyberpunk’, and his relationship with guitarist Steve Stevens and partner Perri Lister), his explanation for his absence from the music scene for twelve years and his ultimate triumph that saw him return to splendour in grandiose form. The book does lack a bit of detail (There’s no mention of ‘Don’t Need A Gun’, his reunion with Stevens in 2002 on VH1 Storytellers, his 2006 Christmas album and his contributions to various other artists), and does feel a little rushed from around 1990 onwards, but is solid enough to answer most of the questions I’ve always had about the legendary rocker since I first seriously invested in his brand of rock/soul/punk rock way back in 1986.

Biggest Surprise Of 2014

2014 saw a lot of surprises, but none more so than the retreat of Jason Newsted from all things related to the public eye. Despite some well received releases in 2013 (The E.P. ‘Metal’ and the full-length follow up ‘Heavy Metal Music’), Newsted laid his band to rest and closed down all his social network sites in September without any real reason. What triggered Newsted’s retreat from the spotlight is anyone’s guess, but the speed at which it was carried out does cause some concern. On a personal note, I think it’s a real shame. Newsted’s band released some great releases, and I was seriously looking forward to hear what the band was going to come up with next.
Best Newcomer Of 2014

Icecocoon

O.K., so technically ‘Deepest Crystal Black’ isn’t the band’s first album and the album was officially released at the very tail end of 2013. But let’s overlook the technicalities and focus on what matters here. And that is that Icecocoon’s ‘Deepest Crystal Black’ is without a doubt one of the strongest independent Australian releases I’ve heard in the last year. Multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Owen Gillett has put together an album that’s hard to pigeonhole, but could be best described as a unique take on a hybrid post rock/progressive sound. This is an album that needs to be heard from start to finish to fully appreciate. Tracks worthy of a listen include ‘It’s All On The Line’ and ‘About Loving Someone’. Here’s hoping there’s more to come from the band in 2015.

Biggest Disappointment Of 2014

This award really had me torn this year. For the better part of the year, the dubious honour of disappointment of the year was bestowed upon Def Leppard for their so-called deluxe edition of ‘Slang’. But given that I found the time to write up a review of the band’s re-release, and have already found an avenue to vent my opinion on all the things that the definitive re-release lacked (From a huge fan of the said album and from a diehard’s perspective), the decision kind of made itself. As a lifelong follower of Billy Idol, I have to say that ‘Kings & Queens Of The Underground’ is a real letdown after his huge return to form on 2005’s ‘Devil’s Playground’ (Barring the god awful ‘Yellin’ At The Xmas Tree’). Rather than follow his rock/punk strengths and trademark sound, Idol instead tried to reinvent himself for a new generation. And the results are bland at best. The album starts off with some solid tracks (In particular ‘Bitter Pill’, ‘Can’t break Me Down’ and ‘Save Me Now’), but eventually things go from bland to blander with most of the album sounding too middle of the road, modern (Both in terms of production and in musical delivery) and forgettable. And don’t even start on me about the absence of guitarist Steve Stevens throughout the course of the album. Idol has always been a bit patchy on album, and admittedly, some albums (1986’s ‘Whiplash Smile’ and 1990’s ‘Charmed Life’) are stronger than some of his others (1993’s ‘Cyberpunk’). I was really looking forward to this album, but after giving it some time, I honestly feel that this is one of Idol’s inconsistent and disappointing releases to date.

Most Anticipated Album Of 2015

There’s a lot of album’s I’m looking forward to in 2014, but the one I’m most looking forward to is the possibility of something new from Travis Meeks/Days Of The New in 2015. Meeks has some serious personal issues over the years, but apparently he’s back to playing, and in more recent times, back to recording. 2001 was the last we heard anything new from Meeks, and while the reunion of the original line-up may have sidetracked things for a little bit (The band has since split once again after completing the tour), I’m hoping Meeks (Who was once again in the news with a brush with the law in October, which put the reunion line-up celebration to an abrupt halt) is ready to face his demons, and finally put something new together and break the fan’s long running drought of anything new from the troubled musical genius.

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tombe - Longbarn

Tombe
Longbarn
Labyrinth Productions

My introduction to Tombe comes via Black Trillium – a Sydney (N.S.W., Australia) based doom band, and whose two members (Namely guitarist/percussionist/keyboardist Zach J. Carlsson and guitarist/autoharp player Simon Skipper) make up half of this newly formed outfit. Unlike the decidedly doom-like direction of Black Trillium, Tombe (Who also comprise of ex-Ministerium drummer/keyboardist/principal songwriter Thomas Lockwood and Hucker & Bird/The Campervan Dancers violinist Elise Carpio) is probably best described as heavy post-southern/experimental rock. It’s a genre tag that doesn’t really do the band much justice after listening to their debut effort ‘Longbarn’ from start to finish, but it is a description that gives you some idea of where the band are at in the musical sense.
The album begins with ‘Chapel Of The Earth’, which gives you some idea of what the band are capable of producing sonically. There’s a touch of southern rock, a touch of country (Courtesy of the twang on the guitars and the flourishes of violin in places) and heavy rock (The guitar riffs are upfront and guide the track throughout). The instrumental track isn’t overly complex in its structure, but nonetheless captivating in its delivery with the track continuously ebbing and flowing in quieter moments and louder passages – all the while maintaining its gentle riff structures and spirit of jammed experimentation.
The follow-up track ‘Dawn Over The Meadows’, which also happens to be the first single lifted from the album, is one of only two tracks on the album with vocals, with indie/pop artist Caity Dee contributing this time around. Although the song itself is a good one, it isn’t one of my favourites on the album as I can’t help but feel that the music and vocals tend to clash a little in places.
Tombe get things back on track with the rather lengthy instrumental title track ‘Longbarn’, which goes to extremes with its gentle violin passages and heavy guitar/bass/psychedelic keyboard riffed passages, while the slow paced and haunting ‘Portrait Under The Sun’ is more akin to the doom like sounds of Black Trillium, albeit without the heavy handed guitar work.
The acoustic based ‘Adrift The Waters’ provides a short and welcome breather moment for the listener, before Julian Cartwright (Who is a member of rock outfit Red Gazelle with Skipper) injects a bit of heavy rock into personal favourite ‘The Forgotten Traveller’.
‘Wild Horses Across The Plain’ is an interesting foray into something a little more challenging structure wise on the song writing front, with the song featuring some angular riffing on the guitar front alongside some lengthier solo work, while the closer ‘The Outrider’ is another truly standout track with the added harmonica (Courtesy of Kelvin Carlsson) and the heavier end of the guitars adding a whole new fold to the band’s wide reaching sound spectrum.
Tombe are a hard band to pin down in the genre sense, but if post-rock mixed with a touch of heavy southern rock, country and the slightest hint of doom sounds appealing, then ‘Longbarn’ is an album you should definitely check out.

For more information on Tombe, check out - https://www.facebook.com/drovine

© Justin Donnelly
 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Order Of Chaos - Deadweight Undertow

Order Of Chaos
Deadweight Undertow
Independent Release

Despite marking their return to the scene after a five year absence with their long overdue sophomore effort ‘Eyehate Swansongs’ in late 2008, reactivated Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) based outfit Order Of Chaos certainly haven’t been in any rush to make up for any lost time with anything new from the studio.
But after a lengthy six years, the three piece act (Who comprise of ex-The Eternal/InSomnius Dei/ Damaged/Earth vocalist/bassist Terry Vainoras, ex-Canyonaero guitarist/backing vocalist Evan Coops and ex-Long Voyage Back/Blood Duster/Hellspawn/Abramelin drummer/backing vocalist Matt ‘Rizzo’ Maidhorn) have once again returned with a new full-length effort in the form of ‘Deadweight Undertow’.
Anyone who’s remotely familiar with the band’s work in the past will be aware of how difficult it is to pigeonhole their sound. And true to their past sound, ‘Deadweight Undertow’ is no different, with the band fusing elements of metal, hardcore and punk into one almighty sound that’s as primitive as it is direct.
The fast paced ‘Dead On Arrival’ gets the album off to a bludgeoning start, with strong sense of punk influences coming through the onslaught of metallic guitars. Vainoras’ near indecipherable guttural growls and howls compliments the harsh nature of the music, and gives the song an air of menace that Order Of Chaos has built their reputation on.
The follow up track ‘No Passion To The Grind’ is a surprisingly groove based effort that sees the band inject a liberal dose of melody to the usual mix of chaos (Which at times brings to mind Pantera), which earns the song a place as one of the album’s real stand outs, while ‘Fail Me Not’ is a full on assault with some great sounding riff structures, with only respite offered during the slower chorus passages.
Despite a less than impressive start, the dense sounding stoner grooved ‘Shadow Saviour’ manages to pick up eventually to inevitably transform into a likeable tune, but it’s the frantic blast of the catchy/punk edged ‘Hand Over Fist’, the cacophonous title track ‘Deadweight Undertow’ and the ever menacing and twisted ‘Losing Limbs’ where the band produce the real winners.
Not unlike ‘Shadow Saviour’, ‘Home’ took a while to really unveil its true self to me. But despite its slower and illusive melody, the song did eventually win me over (Although it has to be said that the unexpected Van Halen salute at the tail end of the song grabbed me from the first time I heard it!).
‘Smoke And Mirrors’ is another firm favourite with the band managing to work a strong sense of groove and melody into their brand of punk rock/hardcore/metal (And the rather brief and decidedly different sounding solo that pops us around the three quarter mark doesn’t hurt either), while the band’s take on Blag Flag’s ‘My War’ (Which originally appeared on the band’s 1984 album of the same name) is an absolute storming cover, and a worthy addition to the album.
Finishing things up is ‘Primrose Path’, which is not only the album’s longest track (Clocking in at just past the five minute mark), but also one of the album’s thought out tracks in terms of structured song writing, varying tempo shifts and a seething anger that builds and builds toward a climatic end.
Overall, ‘Deadweight Undertow’ is another step for the band from ‘Eyehate Swansongs’. Production wise, the band’s latest effort sounds a little more refined (The album was mixed and mastered by Blood Duster’s Jason P.C at his Melbourne based Goatsound Studio), as too does the song writing, without any real change of style evident throughout from what the band have delivered in the past. But as a whole, Order Of Chaos’ latest release is a far more enjoyable effort, and that’s enough to rate ‘Deadweight Undertow’ as hands down the stronger Order Of Chaos release to date.

For more information on Order Of Chaos, check out - https://www.facebook.com/OrderofChaosAustralia

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mutagenocide - Devolve

Mutagenocide
Devolve
Rad Nauseam Records/Code 7 Distribution

Although having only been together for four years, Oxford/Witney/Northampton (U.K.) based outfit Mutagenocide have certainly made their presence felt in a major way, with their self titled E.P. release (Which came out in 2012) garnishing plenty of high praise in the metal underground.
In the two years since the release of the E.P., the band has undergone a slight line-up change, with Jay Taylor taking over the vocals following the departure of Freddie Savory soon after the band released their debut. But despite the change of guard, Mutagenocide (Who also comprise of guitarists Patrick Scott and Paul Clayton, bassist Thomas Greenway and drummer Ben Wilsker) have toured as much as possible in support of their E.P. release, all the while refining material for a long awaited sophomore release.
Well, after lengthy and sporadic recording sessions over the last couple of years, Mutagenocide have finally delivered their new E.P. effort ‘Devolve’. And true to the potential evident on their debut effort, ‘Devolve’ is one devastatingly punishing listen from start to finish.
The band opens up the six track effort with ‘Hysteria’, which immediately gives you an idea of what’s in store for most of this new release. The band’s sound is best described as a thrashing groove that perfectly blends hardcore elements with a technical proficiency. In other words, there’s traces of Pantera’s groove based riffs, Lamb Of God’s modern metalcore styled caustic vocals, but delivered with a technical proficiency that keeps things interesting throughout.
The follow up title track ‘Devolve’ (Which is also the first promotional video clip filmed for the E.P.) is a savage and assaulting effort that features plenty of speedier passages intertwined with pockets of catchy groove, while ‘Entombed And Swallowed’ is one of the more experimental efforts on the E.P. with its two minute instrumental introduction showcasing a, dare I say it, bluesier side to the band’s sound. Of course, it isn’t long until the band return to their trademark sound after the intro is finished, but traces of the band’s use of atmospherics and dynamics at the start of the song filter through around the tail end when the guitarists take centre stage to bring things to a close. Without a doubt, this track is certainly the E.P’s. real stand out track.
‘Half-Born’ is another favourite with its strong use of groove and melody without compromising on heaviness (And the spoken word atmospheric breakdown passage around the tail end doesn’t hurt one bit either), while the more straightforward metal based ‘Remeron Nightmares’ and the technically challenging all-out-rage of ‘Wretched’ close out the E.P. in an impressive fashion.
Although I’d be hard pressed to brand Mutagenocide’s sound as truly original or ground-breaking, I have to admit that what the band do in terms of the technical thrash/groove metal genre, they do damn well.
And while I’m not sure what the band offer up here could translate as effectively as it would over the course of a whole full length album, what Mutagenocide offer up with ‘Devolve’ works a treat in its condensed and compact form.
In short, Mutagenocide is certainly a band to keep an eye out for in the future, and ‘Devolve’ comes very highly recommended.

For more information on Mutagenocide, check out - https://www.facebook.com/mutagenocide

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, August 11, 2014

Evil United - Honored By Fire

Evil United
Honored By Fire
MVD Audio

San Antonio/Austin (Texas, U.S.) based outfit Evil United is an outfit that’s been kicking around for some years. Primarily formed out of the ashes of industrialised metal outfit Pitbull Daycare, the group (Comprising of ex-Pitbull Daycare/Uriel lead guitarist T.C. ‘Bird’ Connally, rhythm guitarist John ‘JV4’ Valenzuela, Riot/ex-Pitbull Daycare/The Devil’s Jukebox bassist Don Van Stavern and ex-Pitbull Daycare/Wednesday 13 drummer Jason ‘Shakes’ West) officially became a band as such when they secured the talent of vocalist Jason McMaster (Who is somewhat of an underground legend within the metal scene with his involvement in bands such as Ignitor, Dangerous Toys, Watchtower and Broken Teeth).
With a full line-up in place, the band set to work on their songs, and released their self-titled debut effort in 2011. Although the album passed under the radar of most, those who managed to hear the album considered it a solid enough release.
It’s been three years since then, and the five piece outfit are back once again with their long awaited second album ‘Honored by Fire’. And much like their debut, it’s a solid and likeable album – if a little flawed in places.
Evil United open their album with ‘Dead Can See’, which is a perfect example of what kind of heavy thrash metal the band offer listeners for the most part. Beginning with a classic thrash-like intro, ‘Dead Can See’ soon settles into a fast paced groove that reveals a touch of modern groove metal delivered in amongst the thrash overtones. I can only assume the band was aiming for a raw sound, as McMaster’s vocals are savagely delivered and rough in some places. But while it all sounds a little unrefined, the song does retain a sense of urgency and energy throughout, which is one of the song’s strong points. Unfortunately, as good as the song is (Not to mention some great shredding guitar work from Connally), the song does overstay it’s welcome a bit towards the end. Had it had a minute edited off the end, the song would have been a killer opener. But as it stands, it’s one of the album’s O.K. numbers, and nothing more.
The follow-up track ‘Caesar’ is introduced via a long build-up, but once it kicks in, it really kicks in! Fast paced, some memorable guitar tones on the guitar front and a top performance from McMaster (Both vocally and melody wise), ‘Caesar’ is definitely one of the album’s true highlights.
Maintaining the consistency of the former track is ‘Ripping Flesh’, which lives up to its title in venomous form and earns its place as another of the album’s real memorable efforts, while ‘Tombspawn’ (Which is preceded by the short acoustic/electric guitar piece instrumental ‘Grave’, and features a guest contribution from drumming legend Gene Hoglan on the lyrical front) and ‘Viking Funeral’ (Which was release as a single in 2013) keeps the momentum moving ever forward.
As mentioned earlier, Evil United’s latest release isn’t without its flawed moments.
Although interesting and well executed, the short instrumental pieces ‘Ab Initio’ and ‘The Cottage’ seems to be placed on the album at random (If anything, ‘Ab Initio’ would have been a great album introduction), and only succeed at breaking up the consistency of the album as a whole with their inclusion. And as for the two hidden efforts at the tail end of the album (Both of which are short untitled instrumentals), their inclusion seems a little tacked on and out of place.
Then there are the songs that don’t quite stand out. ‘Mind Over Pain’ is a good song, but lacks a truly identifiable riff, while the bass heavy ‘Ghost Crushed’ (Again, lyrically co-written with Hoglan) and the speedier album closer ‘Bloody Water’ just isn’t all that memorable.
In some ways, Evil United has what some bands don’t; and that’s an energetic vibe and raw quality captured in the studio. But it’s what’s missing that lets the band down, and that’s evident in the song writing.
Overall, ‘Honored By Fire’ has its moments. It’s a solid album, but far from a truly modern thrash classic by a long short.

For more information on Evil United, check out - http://www.evilunited.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Age Of Artemis - The Waking Hour

Age Of Artemis
The Waking Hour
Power Prog Records

When Brazilian outfit Age Of Artemis released their debut full-length effort ‘Overcoming Limits’ back in 2011 (Through Brazil based label MS Metal Records), the album was overwhelmingly well received by most, with many predicting the band would be the next big act to come out of Brazil’s thriving progressive/power metal scene since fellow Brazilian power metal act Angra first hit the scene back in the early ‘90’s. Three years on, and Age Of Artemis (Comprising of vocalist Alírio Netto, guitarists Gabriel ‘T-Bone’ Soto and Nathan Grego, bassist Giovanni Sena and drummer Pedro Sena) have returned with their long awaited sophomore effort ‘The Waking Hour’.
Given how acclaimed the band’s debut was, it wouldn’t have come as any surprise to hear the band produce a similar effort a second time around. But with ‘The Waking Hour’, it’s clear the band isn’t interested in rehashing the past. While ‘The Waking Hour’ features some shades of the past, there’s also a lot of new sounds on the album, which is something that sometimes works quite well, and other times, is something that clearly doesn’t work.
The album is opened up with ‘Penance’; a short acoustic/sound effects driven piece that eventually bleeds into some Latin tribal rhythms that serve as a thundering introduction to the powerful ‘Under The Sun’. Combining traditional Brazilian rhythms, power metal, touches of progressive metal and a strong sense of melody, ‘Under The Sun’ is the perfect example of the talent that lies within Age Of Artemis. Melodic, powerful, but never over the top, ‘Under The Sun’ is the perfect opener, and one of the band’s finest compositions to date.
Although a little slower in tempo, the follow up track ‘Broken Bridges’ is another great track, with Netto putting in a great performance (At times he reminds me of ex-Firewind/Spiritual Beggars front man Apollo Papathanasio and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson) alongside the guitarists (This song boasts some of the more memorable solos on the album), while the title track ‘The Waking Hour’ is one of the album’s heavier offerings on the vocal front, but melodic and memorable nonetheless.
It’s around the fifth track that the band hit their first hurdle. The ballad ‘Hunger And Shame’ isn’t necessarily a terrible song as such, but it’s not exactly one of the album’s shining moments either. Sounding a little Dream Theater stylistically, the song seems to drift by without really hitting its mark with its lack of character. Thankfully, the guitar heavy groove based ‘Melted In Charisma’ and the rather accessible ‘Childhood’ puts the album back on the right course with Netto’s strong melodies and the song’s overall progressive/Brazilian rhythm underpinning instrumentation.
Unfortunately, for all the obvious strengths of the album, there are some serious weaknesses that undermine ‘The Waking Hour’ towards the tail end. The first real misstep is ‘Your Smile’. Clearly the band are making an attempt to broaden their sound, but this acoustic piece of pop rock sounds completely out of place on the album with its melodic rock/AOR direction. Not unlike the former track, ‘Exile’ doesn’t work completely with the addition of symphonic influences turning what could have been a great song into something fairly typical of what you would expect from traditional power metal fare. The follow up track ‘New Revolution’ appears to have been moulded on the same template with the addition of symphonic elements, and while it’s not one the album’s strongest cuts, the lengthier progressive instrumental passages means it works far better than ‘Exile’.
Finishing up the album is the ballad ‘Winding Road’ (Which sounds reminiscent of Pink Floyd, and is something quite different for the band style wise) and a piano version of ‘Take Me Home’ (Which originally appeared on ‘Overcoming Limits’). Again, both songs are quite good, but I can’t help but feel that they give the album a weak and forgettable finish.
Overall, it’s clear that Age Of Artemis have progressed stylistically in their three years since the release of their first album, with ‘The Waking Hour’ boasting plenty of great songs, and some bold new sounds from the band as well.
But for all of the good points ‘The Waking Hour’ has, you can’t disguise the album’s one big flaw. And that’s its consistency. The album starts off with a bang, but ends in a whimper with the inclusion of too many slower/ballad like numbers towards the tail end.
In the end, Age Of Artemis has produced a worthy follow up album in ‘The Waking Hour’. Sure, it has some issues, but if the band keeps moving forward as they have done in the past, there’s every chance that with their next album, the band will definitely produce a real first class gem.

For more information on Age Of Artemis, check out - https://www.facebook.com/ageofartemis

© Justin Donnelly

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Caliban - Ghost Empire

Caliban
Ghost Empire
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

There’s no denying Caliban played a part in founding the modern metalcore scene; their first couple of albums were the template on what was emerging as a bold and new sound that forged metal and hardcore together, and served as model sound that many acts were to mimic in years to come. But for all of their forwarding thinking experimentation in their formative years, the German outfit has had a chequered past at best, with their studio output a mix of the exceptional, and the uninspired.
After a few years in the wilderness, Caliban took many by surprise with their 2012 release ‘I Am Nemesis’. The album was a huge return to form for the band, and proved that while the band wasn’t about to reinvent the wheel in terms of what metalcore sounds like, they could at least reignite their inspiration and release a truly memorable release. Obviously keen to keep the momentum going, the five piece outfit (Comprising of vocalist Andreas Dörner, guitarist/vocalist Denis Schmidt, guitarist/co-producer Marc Görtz, bassist Marco Schaller and drummer Patrick Grün) are back after a short two years away with their ninth full-length effort ‘Ghost Empire’.
And as expected, the new album is another worthy effort from the long running metalcore outfit, with the band maintaining the standard set with their last album, but with enough changed to showcase a move forward.
The album is opened up in heavy fashion with ‘King’, which features some Djent styled thick grooves and some aggressive guttural growls from Dörner. Of course, Schmidt’s clean vocal efforts are out in full force through the choruses, which provides a perfect counterbalance to the band’s heavier sounds. Production wise, the sound is heavy, but still retains plenty of dynamics. And the brief inclusion of studio effects around the breakdown is a welcome addition too. Overall, it’s a hard hitting song, and the perfect way to introduce ‘Ghost Empire’ to listeners.
Although a little slower in tempo, ‘Chaos – Creation’ is another winner with its twisted riffing, hammering drums, thick grooves and memorable choruses, while ‘Wolves And Rats’ follows a similar path to its predecessor, but with some additional gang vocals in the choruses and strings and piano to emphasis the heavier and more intense moments within the song.
Although fairly formula like, the German sung ‘nebeL’ (Which is German for fog, and features a guest vocal appearance from German metalcore outfit Callejon’s front man Bastian ‘BastiBasti’ Sobtzick) is melodic and heavy enough to enjoy for what it is, while ‘I Am Ghost’ is another example of a solid song that is good, but not what you would call one of the album’s strongest or memorable efforts.
After a couple of misses, the band once again hits the mark with ‘Devil’s Night’ and the fan-rallying ‘yOUR Song’, which has the perfect balance of soaring melodic choruses, crushing groove structures and twists in the song’s structures to keep things interesting (Even if the chorus in the latter borders on the cheesy side of cliché).
‘Cries And Whispers’ is a personal favourite, and is probably the closest the band come to replicating the kind of sound and song writing that featured throughout ‘I Am Nemesis’, while the moody and decidedly experimental effort (At least for Caliban) ‘I Am Rebellion’ is another firm favourite.
Unfortunately, the album does have a couple of misfires towards the tail end. ‘Good Man’ (Which features a guest appearance from Callejon guitarist Christoph Koterzina on vocals) bears a striking resemblance to Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’ for its first minute, which overshadows the rest of the song (Which is typically Caliban sounding), while ‘Who We Are’ is a little too In Flames sounding for me, to be considered a true indication of what makes up the true Caliban sound.
But for all of the hiccups, the band finishes the album off in fine form with ‘My Vertigo’, which stands out for its melodic death metal like riff, melodic choruses and its clever use of effects throughout.
In light of how strong ‘I Am Nemesis’ was, ‘Ghost Empire’ is a worthy follow up. Sure, it does have some songs that don’t quite met the high standard set, but there’s plenty which do. And in light of what the band has produced in the years prior to their album from a couple of years ago, ‘Ghost Empire’ is easily one of Caliban’s worthier efforts.

For more information on Caliban, check out - http://www.calibanmetal.com/

© Justin Donnelly
 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Aisles - 4:45 AM

Aisles
4:45 AM
Presagio Records

Within any genre of music you care to name, you’ll always find a few select leaders, and a whole lot of followers. That’s to say that there’s a few that do what they do exceptionally well, and the rest merely mimic the same sound, without really endeavouring to add anything new to the formula.
But every now and then, you come across some acts that could be coined as innovators. They’re the rare few that take a particular sound or style of music and twist it into a new form that doesn’t sound quite like anything else, and yet sounds strangely familiar. As I said, it’s a rare find, but every now and then, a band presents themselves with a new release that really doesn’t fit the preconceived mould. One such act that has managed to do that is Santiago (Chile) based outfit Aisles, who have managed to produce something altogether different within the realm of neo-progressive/fusion rock on their latest release ‘4:45 AM’.
Following on in the tradition of their two former full-length efforts (Namely 2005’s ‘The Yearning’ and 2009’s ‘In Sudden Walks’), ‘4:45 AM’ is another conceptual effort that is centred around the multitude of emotional challenges that can face ordinary people at 4:45 AM (The time perceived as being on the cusp of night and day), and within the hours that follow. And as you would expect, the abstract conceptual themes behind the album translate through to the music, which seems to encompass a bit of everything.
The opening title track ‘4:45 AM’ (Which is also the album’s first single) is certainly one of the album’s truly stand out moments, with the six piece outfit (Comprising of lead vocalist/keyboardist Sebastián Vergara, guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Germán Vergara, guitarist/backing vocalist Rodrigo Sepúlveda, bassist Daniel Baird-Kerr, keyboardist Alejandro Meléndez and drummer/percussionist Felipe Candia) channelling shades of Arena (Particularly on the vocal front at times) with a bit of ‘80’s Yes (Albeit with less keyboards). With great vocals, catchy choruses, distinctive riffs and innovative song writing, ‘4:45 AM’ has everything you could want from a neo-progressive rock act, and then some.
The follow on track ‘Gallarda Yarura’ opens with a short spoken word cinematic piece before drifting into a Genesis-like instrumental (I’m thinking Steve Hackett era given the guitar work), but with a touch of Latin influence thrown in to give the song that something different from most. In complete contrast to the first couple of tracks on the album, ‘Shallow And Daft’ is rooted more in ‘80’s synth-pop than anything progressive rock related, but strangely enough is every bit as infectious and appealing as the opener.
‘Back My Strength’ is one of the tracks that initially didn’t do much for me. There’s no denying the emotion that Germán injects into the song, but he sounds at times like he’s straining to hit the notes required (It’s evident more at the beginning of the song than anywhere else). And around the middle of the song, the guitars tend to sound a little harsher than I thought they should. But after a while, this ballad-like number did grow on me. But it’s the latter half of the track where the band delves into more familiar progressive rock territory that really sold the song to me.
The simple acoustics and orchestration on ‘The Sacrifice’ allows the band to bring forth their strong Latin influences to the surfaces in what can be described as a song of strong emotional turmoil, while the guitar work on the atmospheric instrumental ‘Intermission’ (Which is bridged by the short cinematic piece ‘The Ship’) brings to mind King Crimson.
‘Sorrow’, not unlike ‘The Sacrifice’, is an acoustic driven/Latin influenced song that is strong on melodic passages on the vocal front with Constanza Maulén giving plenty of support to Sebastián on the vocal front, while the follow-up instrumental track ‘Hero’ sees the band go to the other extreme genre-wise with influences from the likes of Steven Wilson, Queen (If only for the briefest of moments), John Petrucci, IQ and Arena evident throughout its eight minutes in length. Again, the band proves they’re both great musicians and song writers.
Finishing up the album is the epic ‘Melancholia’, which is every bit as emotive as it is haunting, ever-changing musically and one of Sebastián strongest performances on the album. Much like the way the title track opens the album, the band finish the album with another clear stand out cut.
Finding something unique amongst the masses is no easy task these days. But every now and then, a group does stand out for all the right reasons. In short, Aisles is one of those rare finds, and one that comes highly recommended.

For more information on Aisles, check out - http://www.aislesproject.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Snake Sixx - Itz All About The Riff

Snake Sixx
Itz All About The Riff
Snake Sixx Productions

Leif Gregory isn’t what you would call a household name amongst metal fans. But if you happen to be an avid fan of the underground Australian metal scene, you’ll no doubt know the Sydney based artist through his guitar work in groups such as Aftermath, Destrier, Dark Order, Total Abuse and Nazxul. Having played his part in the group scenario for most of his professional career, Gregory decided the time was right to step out on his own, and under the pseudonym Snake Sixx, he released the covers E.P. ‘Dethroned Emperor’ in 2012. While the release passed under the radar by most, it was an interesting (If a bit flawed) release that saw guest contributions from none other than ex-Celtic Frost drummer Steve Priestly, Morgoth/Insidious Disease/ex-Comecon vocalist Marc Grewe, Tourettes/ex-Meldrum vocalist Michele Madden and the iconic Henry Rollins.
It’s been a long two years since then, but Sixx has finally returned with his long overdue full-length effort ‘Itz All About The Riff’. And much like his E.P. release, ‘Itz All About The Riff’ is another hit and miss affair.
Recorded over twenty-five months, over three continents and hailed as the biggest independent music project of its kind in Australian music history, ‘Itz All About The Riff’ sounds like an interesting prospect on paper. After all, this covers album boasts a collection of Australian classics, and features no less than thirty-three rock/metal legends from both here and from overseas. But while it all sounds impressive, not all the guests and the songs themselves translate all that well in their reworked form.
The first track covered by Sixx is the AC/DC classic ‘Let There Be Rock’, with Anthony ‘Skenie’ Skene of The Poor/ex-Lump on the vocals. Musically, the song is given a bit more punch with an added edge of aggression of the guitars, and Skene’s vocals have more than enough grit to pull the whole thing off admirably. Next up is Icehouse’s ‘Great Southern Land’ with Johnathan Devoy (Ex-Jerk Johnathan/Melody Black/Ink) on the vocals. Devoy’s performance is solid, but it’s the combination of guitarist/keyboardist Sixx, guitarist Adam Aguis (Ex-Alchemist/The Levitation Hex) and bassist Leeno Dee (Ex-Candy Harlots/Jerk/Melody Black/INK) that really gives the song its own individuality.
Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst with the Skyhooks cover ‘Horror Movie’. Shane Sparks (Enemy Me/My Therapy) on vocals just doesn’t seem to fit with the arrangements provided, and the song itself doesn’t stand up with its heavier reinterpretation.
The cover of INXS’ ‘Don’t Change’ (With Darker Half’s Steven ‘Vo’ Simpson on vocals) remains fairy true to the original, and is therefore unremarkable (Apart from the shredding solo from Empires Of Eden/Dungeon/Pain Division guitarist Stu Marshall), while The Divinyls’ ‘Boys In Town’ (With Lillye/Peter Northcote Band vocalist Virginia Lillye) is further evidence of the vocalist struggling to fit what is clearly a musical arrangement prepared beforehand.
Sixx’s cover of Rose Tattoo’s ‘Nice Boys’ and The Angels’ ‘Take A Long Line’ (Both with Devoy once again out front) are definite highlights, and two of the album’s seriously heavy and energetic numbers, while the punked up reinterpretation of The Radiators’ ‘Coming Home’ (Featuring ex-Frozen Doberman vocalist Adam Marsh) is a fairly rough and ready affair, but also worthy of a mention.
But for all of the solid efforts featured on the album, there are just as many disasters as well. Those tracks that don’t fare so well include Gangajang’s ‘Sounds Of Then (This Is Australia)’ with Saint Lucifer/Paindivision/The Harlots’ Jordon Howe on vocals (The slow and droning pace of the arrangement simply doesn’t work), Split Enz’ ‘I Got You’ with Heaven The Axe’s Phoebe Pinnock on vocals and Midnight Oil’s ‘Beds Are Burning’ with Simpson once again on vocals. Sure, the riffs are there, but the arrangements and how the vocalists are slotted into those said arrangements seriously let these reinterpretations down.
Things do liven up a touch with the cover of The Atlantics’ ‘Bombora’ and AC/DC’s ‘Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be’ (With Marsh once again out front), while the stripped back cover of The Church’s ‘Milky Way’ with Devoy is one of the rare experiments of complete reworking that works exceptionally well.
In terms of the bonus tracks, there’s the Industrial Stomp Mix of ‘Great Southern Land’ by Cubanate/Pig’s mastermind Marc Heal and Sixx’s cover of Celtic Frost’s ‘Dethroned Emperor’. The remix is interesting, and worthy of checking out, while the Celtic Frost cover (Featuring Aguis and ex-Damaged/Terrorust/Walk The Earth front man James Ludbrook on vocals) is a worthy addition, but hardly a cover that’s likely to rival to the original.
Aside from the album, ‘Itz All About The Riff’ also comes with a D.V.D. entitled ‘One Mans Journey’. And as you would expect, it’s as every bit as patchy as the album itself.
The two hour D.V.D. begins with the promotional video clip for ‘Great Southern Land’ (Which in all honesty is fairly primitive in its homemade glory), and is followed with an interview with ex-Apollyon Sun/Hellhammer/Celtic Frost drummer Steve Priestly. While the interview with Priestly is worthy (As too is the archival footage of Celtic Frost live), the sound is terrible, and makes it difficult to enjoy.
From here, there are interviews with Shane Sparks (Enemy Me/My Therapy), bassist Dave Colless (Skuldugory/Grungeon/Tribe Maelstrom/Apostasy) and an alternate (Studio) promotional video clip for ‘Great Southern Land’ (Which I personally feel is the superior of the two).
Given that Devoy plays a large part on the album, it’s not surprising to see him given a fairly extensive interview here. But once again, the sound isn’t all that great (What do you expect when you’re interviewed in a club!). But at least the live footage of Devoy onstage sounds O.K.
The interview with drummers Steve Hughes (Slaughter Lord/Mortal Sin/Nazxul) and Mick O’Shea (Dragon/Rose Tattoo/Judge Mercy) are further disappointment due to sound issues, but at least the segments with guitarist Rick Rozz (Death/Massacre/(‘M’) Inc.), vocalists Adam Marsh (Frozen Doberman) and Jordon Howe (Saint Lucifer/Pain Division/The Harlots), bassist Zoran Mrakic (Killrazor/Devine Electric/Dark Order), vocalist Anthony ‘Skenie’ Skene (The Poor/ex-Lump) and guitarist Craig Martin (Aggressa/Twin City Riot) fare a bit better.
Finishing up the D.V.D. is the promotional video clip for ‘Nice Boys’ and Virginia Lillye singing ‘Highway To Hell’ on the television show ‘The Voice’.
The concept behind ‘Itz All About The Riff’ is a bold one to say the least. But to pull it all off is another thing. And to be honest, Sixx hasn’t quite succeeded in creating the ultimate covers album that lives up to its long list of guest appearances.

For more information on Snake Sixx, check out - http://www.snakesixx.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Winterun - Winterun

Winterun
Winterun
Independent Release

When Melbourne (Victoria, Australia) based outfit Winterun launched themselves onto the scene with their debut full-length effort ‘The Full Effect’ way back in 2004, they did so in impressive style. The band manages to effortlessly blur the lines between their stoner influences and their heavier rock tendencies, all the while managing to carve a unique sound that was one of their own making.
No sooner had their debut been released, the four piece outfit released follow up efforts in ‘Welcome To...’ (2005) and ‘Into The Underground’ (2007), both of which attracted plenty of critical acclaim from fans and press alike.
A change within the ranks saw the band take their time before entering the studio again. But the resulting E.P. ‘Shadow’ (2011) proved to be worth the wait, with the combined new songs and re-recorded favourites showcasing a further step forward in the band’s sound. It also built up anticipation for the band’s soon to follow new studio album.
Well, that was three years ago. For all intents and purposes, it would appear as though Winterun had withdrawn into a self-imposed hiatus. But from out of shadows, Winterun (Who comprise of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Nick Dunstan, lead guitarist Guy Martin, bassist Matt Taylor and drummer Joel Schneidruk) has finally re-emerged with their long awaited fourth full-length effort ‘Winterun’.
The band opens the album in explosive fashion with the riff heavy ‘To The Sky’. Sounding heavier than ever, the band are keen to announce their return, and no song on the album could have made the statement any louder than this track. Short and to the point, ‘To The Sky’ may not boast the catchiest choruses, but I’m guessing that’s not the point. I’m assuming it’s designed to get the audience moving and the blood pumping, and it more than succeeds in getting that job done.
‘Tomahawk’ (Which originally appeared on ‘Shadow’) is another aggressive and harder edged tune that sees the band taper the full-on assault of guitar riffs to explore some areas of dynamics, while ‘Shadow’ (Another tune from ‘Shadow’) steers more towards Kyuss influenced stoner rock with an array of echoed guitar riffs and infectious melodies on the vocal front.
‘Ships Of Gaillimh’ is a driving number that has some noteworthy riff structures and great breakdowns (Which allows Schneidruk to show what he’s capable of), but falls a little short on the melody side of things. On the other hand, the rocking ‘All Fury’, the slower paced ‘Holiest Of Smoke’ and the mellow ‘Stitches’ are great songs that have all the promise of the former track, but with killer choruses that really help make the song stand out. While there’s an undeniable Pearl Jam influence found in the band’s song writing at times (One only needs to listen to ‘Dawn’), and it’s certainly evident in the three tracks mentioned. But as the saying says, ‘A good song is a good song’. And these three alone stand out as some of the most thought out and strongest material the band has penned to date.
‘Bad Laark’ is another favourite with its heavy powerful groove and equally simple approach to vocal lines, while ‘8X10’ (Again, resurrected from ‘Shadow’) is another high point on the album with the band slipping in a bit of the blues into the stoner rock sound with great results.
Finishing up the album is the semi-acoustic instrumental piece ‘Burn This Day’, which initially starts off gently before building towards a heavy climax close.
Despite sounding a little rough around the edges, and featuring a couple of numbers that could have benefitted from a little more work, ‘Winterun’ is hands down the band’s strongest and most consistent sounding release to date.

For more information on Winterun, check out - http://www.winterun.com/

© Justin Donnelly

 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Skindred - Kill The Power

Skindred
Kill The Power
DoubleCross Records/Cooking Vinyl Limited

It’s been a long three years since Newport outfit Skindred last graced us with something new. And given how much I enjoyed 2011’s ‘Union Black’, I was really looking forward to seeing what the Welsh act had to offer on their latest effort ‘Kill The Power’.
Skindred (Who comprise of vocalist/keyboardist Benji Webbe, guitarist/backing vocalist Mikey Demus, bassist Daniel Pugsley and drummer Arya Goggin) have never been afraid to mixing things up from release to release. And true to form, the band’s fifth album is another step into new territory, while maintaining the band’s eclectic mish-mash of alternative metal, reggae rock, electronic rock and drum and bass. But while ‘Kill The Power’ is a solid Skindred album, I can’t help but feel that the band may be drifting into sonic territory that could potentially alienate some of their audience.
The opening title track ‘Kill The Power’ gets the album off a promising start, with the punchy track boasting the right amount of heavy riffs, bouncing reggae beats and a strong sing along chorus. In other words, it’s the kind of song that sums up the trademark Skindred sound in a single track in first class form.
But for all the promise the opener offered, the band stumble a little on the follow up track ‘Ruling Force’. The song isn’t terrible, but the band’s attempts to mix heavier passages alongside Prodigy like electronica sounds a little too forced and ill-fitting, which only comes across as confused. There’s a song in there somewhere, but it’s a little lost in the delivery.
The slower paced dubstep ‘Playing With The Devil’ doesn’t help matters much with its leaden vibe and lack of punch on the guitar front (Which is a shame because the lyrics on offer are some of the best on the album), but the album does eventually take a turn towards familiar terrain with the double punch of ‘Worlds On Fire’ and the heavy duty/Jamaican laced ‘Ninja’ (Which features a booming vocal introduction courtesy of Arthur Brown).
One track that really stood out for me is ‘The Kids Are Right Now’. Webbe tones down his accent quite a bit on this track, and when it’s coupled with a rather stripped back rock soundtrack and some dominant drums in the mix, it all comes across as a hit in the making. Perhaps on ‘Union Black’, this track would have worked quite well. But here, it sounds completely lost. It’s a rare case of the right song being placed on the wrong album.
Although solid enough, ‘We Live’ suffers the same fate as the former with its standard rock structures, power ballad-like tempo and repetitive choruses, and again comes across as another serious misstep. But as evident as it has been earlier in the album, the band strike back with a vengeance – this time with the guitar driven ‘Open Eyed’. Boasting a guest vocal appearance from former Un-Cut front woman Jenna G, ‘Open Eyed’ is classic Skindred, albeit with a greater melodic edge on the chorus front.
The reggae influenced ‘Dollars & Dimes’ and the acoustic based ‘More Fire’ are lightweight fillers apart from a bit of heavy guitars on the former, and are ultimately forgettable once their finished their run through. But once again, it’s the rocking ska-driven anthem ‘Saturday’ and the heavy blast of ‘Proceed With Caution’ that saves the tail end of the album from complete disaster.
‘Kill The Power’ isn’t a bad album, but it’s certainly one of Skindred’s weakest. The band’s willingness to push the boundaries is more than welcome, but when that push is towards mainstream pop/reggae/dubstep that’s lacking in inspiration, you just wish the band would stick to what they know and do best.
Skindred’s latest effort is a bit of a mixed bag, and if truth be told, a bit of a disappointment as a follow up to 2011’s rather impressive ‘Union Black’.

For more information on Skindred, check out - https://www.facebook.com/skindredofficial

© Justin Donnelly

Ginger Wildheart - Albion (Pledge Edition)

Ginger Wildheart
Albion (Pledge Edition)
Round Records

The last three years has without a doubt been the busiest Ginger Wildheart has ever been, with the singer/songwriter releasing no less than six studio albums in that time (2012’s triple album ‘555%’, 2013’s ‘Frankenstein Effect’ and ‘Error 500’ under the guise of Mutation and the self-titled debut effort from his Hey! Hello! Project in 2013). Obviously keen to continue striking while the iron’s still hot, Ginger has returned with his seventh album in three years – this time a solo effort entitled ‘Albion’.
Unlike the studio efforts Ginger has produced in recent times, ‘Albion’ is much more of a collaborative effort, with the album being performed by Ginger’s band from the last couple of years The Ginger Wildheart Band (Who otherwise comprise of vocalist/guitarist Ginger, Eureka Machines vocalist/guitarist/harmonium/percussionist Chris Catalyst, ex-Amen/Black Halos vocalist/guitarist Rich Jones, ex-Tragedy/Hey! Hello! vocalist Victoria Liedtke, ex-Cardiacs/The Wildhearts bassist/guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist ‘Random’ Jon Poole, Evil Arrows keyboardist/vocalist/string arranger Bryan Scary and Losers/Young Legionnaire drummer Dean ‘Denzel’ Pearson). And as you would expect, it’s the band that gives Ginger’s latest album a wholly different sound from what we’ve been offered from Ginger in recent years.
Opening with a riff that sounds like it’s been lifted from The Who’s ‘Baba O’Reilly’, ‘Drive’ quickly transforms into a straight ahead sing along rocker that’s as catchy as anything Ginger has ever written on the solo front (In particular the material on ‘555%’), but with enough twists and turns and differing sounds thrown into the mix to give the song a hugely epic feel. Lyrically, the song is about getting away from it all to find yourself, and really, Ginger couldn’t have picked a more perfect way to start the album both lyrically and musically.
The follow-up track ‘Cambria’ is something completely different altogether to the opener, with the pile-driving heaviness of the verses sounding like it could have slotted on the Mutation albums with considerable ease. But it’s during the choruses that things mellow out (In a Hey! Hello! Kind of way courtesy of Liedtke’s gorgeous vocals), and provide the song schizophrenic duality in full. Initially, the song didn’t grab me. But after a while, it’s certainly become a firm favourite.
‘The Road To Apple Cross’ follows a similar path to the former, albeit with a sound that’s more akin to The Wildhearts in the heavier parts, and a chorus that’s impossible not to sing along too, while Ginger’s ode to depression in ‘Order Of The Dog’ is reminiscent of the sweeping epic soundtrack styled songs found on 2008’s ‘Market Harbour’ with a chorus to match. This track is hands down one of my personal favourites on the album.
‘Chill, Motherfucker Chill’ is a chilled out anthem that is easy on the ears with its pop-like delivery, while Catalyst’s co-lead vocals on the progressive tinged rock anthem ‘Burn This City Down’ managed to deliver something completely new to Ginger’s vast musical repertoire.
One track that I’m not entirely in love with is the first single ‘Body Parts’. Perhaps it’s the deliberately cheesy keyboards, the throwaway lyrics or the somewhat obvious bass lines (There’s a definite nod to The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’), but either way I can’t help but feel that the song is one of the weaker efforts on the album. Another tragic misfire to my ears is the offbeat rocker/Silver Ginger 5-like follow-up track ‘The Beat Goes On (Caledonia)’. It’s not that it’s a bad track as such, but it’s a song that doesn’t grab me in the same way that most of the tracks on ‘Albion’ does.
‘After All You Said About Cowboys’ (Which was initially considered for recording during the sessions for ‘555%’) is the album’s sole ballad, and could have easily slotted on 2007’s ‘Yoni’ with its sparse instrumentation and lush backing vocals, while the disco-tinged full on tongue-in-cheek rocker ‘Grow A Pair’ and the semi-acoustic up-tempo ‘70’s blast of ‘I Need You’ are another couple of personal favourites.
The two minute blast of ‘Capital Anxiety’ is a punked up thrasher that could have easily slotted onto the Mutation albums with considerable ease, which is typically followed up with something completely different with The Beatles influenced/strings enhanced/psychedelic ‘Into This’. If anything, the two tracks side by side show the contrasts and breadth within Ginger’s song writing.
‘Creepers’ is a bit of an oddity in the structural sense, with the six minute track boasting complex arrangements and some great vocal play-offs between Ginger and Liedtke, while the closing title track ‘Albion’ is a lengthy ten minute number that brings to mind The Wildhearts at their most epic, albeit with a greater collection of differing and varying influences (Another borrowed riff from The Who, progressive rock passages, Liedtke’s convincing imitation of ‘30’s girl group vocals, Charlie Chaplin spoken word samples from ‘The Dictator’ and some quirky pop). ‘Creepers’ and ‘Albion’ are by far the album’s strangest and adventurous tracks, but also the best examples of just what Ginger is able to achieve in terms of delivering the unexpected.
As mentioned above, this is a review of the Pledge version of ‘Albion’, which is packaged with a bonus D.V.D.
The D.V.D. is split up into two halves, with the first a compilation of the entire studio updates pledges received about the upcoming ‘The Practical Musician’ album (Which eventually became known as ‘Albion’). Running for a touch over fifty minutes, the updates has its share of insightful moments. But the ones worthy of a special mention is the revisiting of ‘After All You Said About Cowboys’, the piecing together of ‘Body Parts’ and producer Kevin Vanbergen’s reflections as the assistant engineer on The Wildheart’s ‘Endless Nameless’ album from 1997.
The second half of the D.V.D. is ‘Albion – The Road Movie’. Of the two offerings, this is the pick. Over the course of its fifty-three minute running time, Ginger takes the viewer on a journey around the British coastline for three weeks (Albion is the oldest known name for the island of Great Britain), with the aim of finding inspiration for some new material (The aim was to write twenty-four tracks in twenty-four days!). There’s plenty of highlights, but those worthy of singling out include a quick first draft run through ‘Drive’, a rough rendition of Steve Earl’s ‘Valentine’s Day’ and Ginger’s brief rundown through his nightly/morning rituals.
Overall, ‘Albion’ is another triumph for Ginger as a song writer, and a credit to the talent that lies within the members of The Ginger Wildheart Band.

For more information on Ginger Wildheart, check out - https://www.facebook.com/officialginger

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, June 13, 2014

Crosson - Spreading The Rock ‘N’ Roll Disease

Crosson
Spreading The Rock ‘N’ Roll Disease
Galaxy Records

For an outfit that’s been doing the rounds for the better part of the last eight years, and have two previous releases to their name (2008’s ‘We Are The Future’ and 2011’s ‘Dreamer’), I’m surprised that I haven’t heard Sydney (Australia) based outfit Crosson before now. But as they say, it’s better late than never and here I am with Crosson’s latest E.P. effort ‘Spreading The Rock ‘N’ Roll Disease’.
Crosson (Who comprise of band members vocalist/guitarist Jason Crosson, guitarist Joel McDonald, bassist/backing vocalist John Katirtsides, drummer Jordan McDonald and backing vocalist Amanda Easton) have described themselves as theatrical rock, and if you were to judge a book by its cover, then they wouldn’t be far off the mark. But if you delve a little deeper and listen to what the band have to offer, then you’ll find it’s something completely different altogether.
The opening title track ‘Spreading The Rock ‘N’ Roll Disease’ gives a clear indication of what kind of music Crosson has to offer listeners, and it’s hard rock with a distinctly ‘80’s edge. But while it sounds appealing, Crosson don’t quite pull it off completely. Sure, the guitar solo is noteworthy, and the reverse cymbal effects during the breakdown is a cool blast from the past (I’m thinking of a track from Poison, and delivered courtesy of legendary mixer Duane Baron), but overall the song sounds flat and generic (Particularly on the lyrical front). Crosson’s vocals don’t help matters much with his Doc Neeson (The Angels) like snarl, which is at best, something that takes some getting used to.
The follow-up track ‘All About The Music’ (Which is the first promotional video clip filmed from the E.P.) fares a little better than the opener with its Kiss-like influences and female backing vocals, but is dragged down with Crosson’s lower register vocals (Which brings to mind a poor man’s Andrew Eldritch), while ‘Lies’, although still adhering to standard ‘80’s hard rock clichés, is without a doubt the strongest cut on the E.P. with its catchy anthem-like choruses and solid riffs.
Despite the band’s best attempts to keep the consistency of the former track flowing through to ‘Take Another Shot’, the song drifts without anything remarkable being added to make it stand out, while the attempt at adding a punk touch to ‘Taxman’ on the vocals is a complete disaster.
Finishing up the E.P. is ‘I’m Not Afraid’, which is again a good example of the lead guitar work on the E.P. that’s executed with class, but also the lack of song writing finesse to back it up.
While the band don’t take themselves too serious, it has to be said that the song writing is cliché and unremarkable, and Crosson’s vocals are sometimes hard to take.
In the end, I can’t say that ‘Spreading The Rock N Roll Disease’ is entirely terrible. It has its moments, even if they only appear briefly. But at the end of the day, this is hardly the kind of release that I’m likely to play after writing up this review, and that says more about the E.P. than anything else I could possible add here.

For more information on Crosson, check out - http://www.crosson.com.au/

© Justin Donnelly