Babyshambles’ Sequel To The Prequel comes with its punk, ska and blues country feel and it’s definitely our runner up album of the month; despite our recent disappointment in Manchester, this album makes up for it and we cannot stop playing it!
Babyshambles - Sequel To The Prequel
Six years since the last Babyshambles album and they're back with 'Sequel To The Prequel'. This is their second album produced by Stephen Street and his presence is there in just about every track. The album is a journey through punk, reggae, ska, country, blues, indie and little bit of rock all folded up nicely into 12 excellently produced tracks. The writing is also shared throughout the group with at least two of them involved in the writing for each track, in contrast to 'Shotter's Nation' which appeared to be Doherty, plus collaborators.
The album starts with "Fireman", a typical punk affair, being only one minute thirty eight seconds in length and only using a couple of chords. Doherty’s voice is as recognisable as ever, with his typical up and down punk style, drooling the end of each fourth line in what has become his style, a voice trait which again resonates throughout the album.
There are more straight forward indie tracks, "Nothing Comes To Nothing", "Maybelline", "Seven Shades" and finisher "Minefield" which Stephen Street has the capability of producing before he even gets out of bed on a morning. The title track 'Sequel To The Prequel' has another thing that is significantly Doherty. It starts with what sounds like a home recorded demo and builds into a studio recorded bluesy feel with a boogy woogy piano and lyrics to match and demonstrates the genius Doherty possesses in the delivery of his lyrics.
"New Pair" shows just how sensitive Babyshambles can be with an acoustic intro followed by a psychedelic rolling guitar track, topped with Doherty's distinct vocals. The track breaks again into acoustica for the bridge, which is an odd choice but works very well.
"Farmer's Daughter", released as a single returns to a more Smiths sounding slowie, very reminiscent of The 'Stones "You can't always get what you want", speeding up for the chorus, and, not that it needs it, it does break the album up well.
"Fall From Grace" is a country, bluesy combo resembling Dylan's "I Want You" and features Doherty's trademark lyrical droll with a rather catchy simple chorus. The title would appear to be an autobiographical song, full of regret and darkness for Doherty, however, the song couldn't be further away from that. Along the same lines is "Picture Me In Hospital" which also sounds like a Doherty event, however, it is actually founded on bassist Drew McConnell's bike accident. A subtle song washed in violins.
"Doctor No" is for me, the stand out track. A great ska track that gets better with every listen, haunting harmonica to the standard Ennio Morricone would be reasonably happy with. Again, the vocal delivery is infectious and the music production is so clear. "Sharks in the water and the water's deep, I pray my soul the lord to keep". What's not to like.
'Penguins' turns from a slow building indie ballad to a rock anthem reminiscent of Oasis at their best and picks up at a pace "I really don't like your boyfriend's face and I'm going to try and take his place".
It's hard with an album that has just been released not to overstate it, if it is good, but it really is hard to stop listening and by that I mean start to finish. To describe an album as polished would be to take the soul out of it and ignore the quality of the songwriting. That said, this is polished, and it has plenty of soul. It has Pete Doherty (without all the headlines), Mick Whitnall and Drew McConnell's writing abilities, as well as their musicianship and Stephen Street at the helm, bringing all that talent together. When it comes to a review of the year, I have a feeling that I may be talking about "The Sequel To The Prequel" again. Let's see.
Oh, by the way Pete, I agree with you, "Penguins ARE great". Review by Philip Howe
Black Onassis: Desensitized
Black Onassis is the brainchild of Chris Karloff, former guitar, keyboard and songwriter of Kasabian and Nick Forde, featuring an array of guest vocalists, as and when required. This unconventional method adds to the album by only using a vocalist when they feel it's necessary , a concept that works well.
The album starts with the slow industrial title track which becomes a running theme throughout the album. Don't go looking for the ballad or album filler here and you won't be playing this to help you get to sleep at night either. A combination of strong industrial production with high octane drum tracks ensure that you can dance along happily to most of the thirteen tracks (ok, twelve, Minus Theme is a bit of a cheat).
TripB is the pick of the songs for me, with a more conventional Kasabian sound, with the occasional extra synth line thrown in. The vocals are what makes it for me though, and this may be the only conventional song on the album.
Influences of Chemical Brothers and Depeche Mode aren't a bad thing, with heavily reverbed drums, wailing synths and guitars to match.
This is an album of self indulgence, however, this album does deliver and will appeal to more than just old Kasabian fans. You will already have subconsciously heard a couple of the tracks and expect Citroen to come knocking on the door for a soundtrack to their next advertising campaign. Review by Philip Howe
Box Set: The Orb - History Of The Future - The Island Years
Wow, 25 years since the first release by The Orb. Culminating in the end of Acid House and the move to a more ambient, dare I say chilled out, dreamier soundscape of electronic music, The Orb were the pioneers of their field, making the breakthrough into clubs, and ultimately the charts of the day.
In the nineties, programs such as Top Of The Pops were ran like machines, where miming to songs was all the rage. Always pushing the boundaries of music, The Orb appeared on Top Of the Pops playing chess, while the single edit of "Blue Room" played in the background. The single was actual a 4 minute edit of the original which ran at 39 minutes 57 seconds, as chart compilers of the day, Gallup, had ruled that anything 40 minutes and over was considered an album. With this, I believe "Blue Room" to still be the longest single ever to reach the UK charts, thus, pushing the boundaries of music and television in the same release.
The single shared the charts with the likes of 'Hazard' by Richard Marx, 'It Only Takes a Minute' by Take That and 'Heartbeat' by Nick Berry, making that season's 'Now' compilation tape an eclectic mix of talent, where it sits happily at the end of side 1.
Their other big hits 'Little Fluffy Clouds', complete with narration by Rickie Lee Jones on what the sky’s were like when she was young, growing up in Arizona, and, my personal favourite, the reggae influenced 'Perpetual Dawn' are all here too. As is their first venture 'A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre of The Ultraworld: Loving You', which rolls off the tongue now, just as much as it did at the time. The inclusion of the open few versus from Minnie Ripperton's 'Loving You' into the track always puzzled me, but if you just accept that it's on there, it's a lot easier in the long run.
The Box set is presented in four separate discs, 1 - The Singles Collection, 2 - Remixes and Rarities, 3 - Live in Copenhagen and Woodstock and Disc 4 is the DVD containing various videos, including the 1992 'performance' of Blue Room and all official single promos.
The singles collection are just as they were at the time and whether they sound dated or not is entirely up to the listener. The remixes are, in cases, adding something to the originals and I think I prefer this to the originals as a different perspective of the songs is a definite bonus. I would have liked to hear a couple of remixes set in the present day to see what the modern take on this back catalogue would sound like, however, this is about a celebration of the last 25 years and less about a path forward.
The live CD is as you would image from a live performance and the DVD is a visual version of the singles CD with two TOTP performances, one live and a TV advert.
Altogether, this is a box set that is very much a 'what is great about The Orb' as opposed to a greatest hits. Remixes have always been highly regarded in this genre of music and the Remix Cd is probably my favourite of them all. Even if you have all of the Orb's albums already, there is still something here for you and will be top on your Christmas list if you haven't already ordered it on its October 7th release. Review by Philip Howe
Marc Bolan at the BBC - LP
The career of a man as talented as the late, great Bolan is hard to contain within any form of disc- be it CD or DVD performance footage. However, this collection comes some way into taking the audience on a journey into the life and times of a glam rock god. From a young teen whose interests in literature, poetry and a certain Mr Bob Dylan led him straight to the doors of a strong folk scene, Marc evolved as a songwriter and became one of the biggest faces of the early 70’s. T-rexstasy they called it when the final product- a swaggering, glittering monster was finally unveiled.
However, this image and songwriting talent took its time to form into something we can establish as the T Rex we now know and love. Marc’s dabbles in the folk scene (from the earliest recordings on disc one of this collection) show his vocal abilities developing into the sexy snarl that fronted such tracks as “Jeepster” and “Hot Love” later in his career.
The great thing about this set of BBC recordings is their ability to combine interview with music and each occurrence a Marc Bolan/T Rex session was played, including intro from the resident DJ at that time. It really is a time travel experience in rock n roll due to its chronological time-capsule style layout. Tyrannosaurus Rex was initially a folk duo, with Bolan at the helm as the main songwriter/musician. A mod from a young age, Bolan had been heavily influenced by the rock music emanating from the mid-60’s and by 69’ the band had achieved strong approval and plays from John Peel and his peers. The transformation into a band matching a hype of The Beatles was only a few choices away. Recruiting a drummer and a bassist completed the T. Rex line-up. Electric Warrior was released soon after and became one of the first classic albums of the 70’s. For around three years the band dominated the UK music scene causing bands such as Slade and The Sweet to rise with them- a glam rock revolution. The diminishing quality of the band’s music, however, is hard to cover up, even in this strong set. By the time of Bolan’s death the songs had lost their charm and sex-drive which made them so easily digestible.
This collection sticks to the light side of this however, glorifying a legend of song writing. Marc Bolan. Review by Callum Barnes
Lisa Knapp: Hidden Seam
2008’s ‘Wild And Undaunted’ (an appropriate title if ever there was one) landed Lisa Knapp not only a couple of nominations from Radio 2’s annual Folk Awards but also snatched the prestigious MOJO award for Folk Album Of The Year. It was a debut which had fans clamouring for more and whilst Lisa has been busy with all sorts of projects; guesting at tribute concerts, performing in Electric Proms and the fascinating ‘Canal Music’ project as well as making her television debut in BBC 4’s Alternative Christmas Session, the follow up has slowly taken shape and finally appeared.
Again working alongside partner Gerry Diver, who acts as producer as well as playing a vast assortment of instruments, it was his ‘Speech Project’ album which proved the inspiration for the opening ‘Shipping Song’ – using the almost poetic vocabulary and nuances of the Long Wave shipping forecast of all things, as the lyrical plot to open the album. Musically it also sets the scene for the album with an accompanying haunting and atmospheric soundtrack teasing delicately behind the vocal. At the fore throughout, as it should be, is Lisa’s voice. At times fragile, delicate and almost ethereal as it floats alongside some sparse and sensitive strings (and sure I can pick out a saw being played throughout the album!) which give an oriental feel to the middle section of ‘Ruler Of The Rest’. Other times, her vocals are rich and strong – in ‘Black Horse’ she sings against a strong rhythm before the track fades into a musical box like accompaniment to close the track.
‘Seagiver’ stands out as the one track where the instrumentation is much more lush as strings slowly give vent to a surge of sound as the song builds to an orchestral climax against Lisa’s increasingly frantic vocal before some mid-song calm gives some respite until the storm returns. It’s perhaps the track which is illustrated by the album cover art with its threateningly dark storm clouds and the distant sanctuary of the lighthouse on the horizon.
Some notable names play guest parts on the album: Martin Carthy adds some of his trademark guitar to ‘Two Ravens’ and the two part ‘Hunt The Hare’ track, previously available on a recently released EP, features some tremendous interplay between Lisa’s and guest Alasdair Roberts’ vocals in the second part of the track. Kathryn Williams adds a contribution to an appropriately graceful and elegant album closer ‘Hushabye’ which is almost lullaby like in its tempo and gentle piano and guitar notes.
When the likes of Lisa Knapp and her peers, such as Lucy Ward, are releasing such strong material in only their second albums and so early in their careers, the future can only be bright with such a vibrant set of younger artists boosting the folk genre. Add ‘Hidden Seam’ to the growing lists of ‘yet another fine album for 2013’ – the Folk Awards selection panels are going to have quite a job on their hands come the end of the year. Review by Mike AinscoeJoseph Arthur: The Ballad of Boogie Christ
“This is the ballad of Boogie Christ, Toss my salad and feed me rice”
Quite an interesting character is our Joseph Arthur. Coming at this album as a novice to his work, a bit of legwork on the old interweb revealed a few interesting insights as follows: a singer songwriter and artist from Ohio and known for his work with Fistful Of Mercy and RNDM, he was one of the first artists to make available his live shows from soundboard recordings immediately after his gigs; themselves typified by enhancing his solo status with the use of distortion and the use of loops. Perhaps none the wiser? – bear with me.
Discovered by Peter Gabriel in the mid 90’s, as well as being lauded by REM’s Michael Stipe, he was the first North American to sign to Gabriel’s Real World label, and after releasing a couple of albums, took the step of setting up his own label. After a flurry of activity over the past few years with ‘The Graduation Ceremony’ and the double album ‘Redemption City’ appearing in 2011 and 2012, a return to Real World Records has seen the release of Arthur’s tenth studio album.
‘The Ballad Of Boogie Christ’, while sounding ever so Python-esque, is described by Arthur as being based on “a fictionalised character loosely based on my own journey.” Although the album is presented in 2 ‘Acts’ across a double CD release, Arthur openly admits that there isn’t really a clear beginning, middle and end to the story – thoughtfully allowing the listener to ‘fill in’ some of the blanks in a rather abstract and open to interpretation manner. Not something you see (or hear) every day.
With opening ‘Currency Of Love’ providing a glimpse of what’s about to come with its orchestration and slightly retro vibe, giving a hint that the listener is going to be taken on a musical journey of variety and stylings which range from, in his words, “just pop music and sugary” allowing moments of respite to what he confesses can be a “diatribe of heaviness.” That’s not to say that the album is hard work – even as easy listening background sound, there are strong melodies throughout, particularly with the likes of ‘Famous Friend’ and Act 1 closer ‘All The Old Heroes’.
Act 2 continues where Act 1 leaves off and continues the wealth of styles – the country twang of ‘Holding The Void’ and ever so lightly psychedelic swirl and dare I say, Mad-chester influence (and yes he wouldn’t look out of place in an Oasis line up) of ‘I Am The Witness’ stand out amongst a further 12 tracks. Whatever the overall story and concept being told is might become clearer over time with repeated listening, suffice to say that there’s enough in the songwriting to enjoy without getting involved in a study of the deeper meanings. “I could see this becoming something deeper and bigger than just an album,” he says when considering Bowies’ comments about his Ziggy Stardust concept.
The Band’s Garth Hudson lends his distinctive keyboard sound to several tracks which have been in gestation, including the memorable title track and Act 2’s ‘Maybe Yes’ (with its constant flow of questions about God) which have more than a touch of Dylan about the tongue in cheek lyrics and the languid delivery.
‘The Ballad Of Boogie Christ’ been considered in some quarters as a real return to form for the man who at one time, was expected to become a household name. With a weighty back catalogue to explore for new fans, ‘Boogie Christ’ is just the tip of the iceberg waiting to be discovered. Review by Mike Ainscoe
The Prog Collective
The Prog Collective – three words which could certainly send some grown men running for cover while others quiver with anticipation. An all star assemblage of musicians pulled together and directed by Yes/Circa member Billy Sherwood, their debut album appeared in 2012 (although I have to admit that it by passed me) to the point that an almost immediate follow up was inevitable, this time round featuring an even more impressive line up of musicians and artists lending their talents to the project!
The current collective includes members and former members of the likes of Yes, Deep Purple, Dream Theater, King Crimson, Nektar, Hawkwind, Gentle Giant and Gong. Whilst some names are almost household ones which even grumpy non music fans may recognise via the mainstream media (hands up Rick Wakeman), some may be a little more obscure and have readers and listeners scratching their heads and googling frantically in a typically prog quest for knowledge and fulfilment. So, extra prog points to fans who admit to recognising every one of the musicians on the collection - Steve Stevens, Chris Squire, the late Peter Banks, Steve Morse, Larry Fast, Alan Parsons, Sonja Kristina, Jordan Rudess, Steve Hillage, John Wesley, Nik Turner, Geoff Downes, Roye Albrighton, Gary Green, Tony Kaye, Colin Moulding, Mel Collins, John Wetton, Derek Sherinian, Billy Sherwood, Fee Waybill, Patrick Moraz, Jim Cuomo, as well as a rare guest appearance by Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner (no points of course for him)
Of course there have been supergroups before – in fact many prog bands have been give the tag at some point or other from the late sixties right up to present day with Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy’s Transatlantic project/group picking up both critical and some commercial acclaim for their organic take on what they unashamedly admit to being retro prog.
All the way through opening track ‘Are We To Believe?’ with its recurring title harmonies, I found myself constantly thinking “that bit reminds me of………” (bit of a recurring theme throughout the album really). There are parts when I was transported back in the mid eighties and listening to the jazzy clarinet on Sting’s ‘Dream Of The Blue Turtles’, then there would be a flurry of moog notes when presumably (as it’s so distinctive) Wakeman kicked in. Prog poppers It Bites came constantly into consciousness too with some of the instrumental parts.
And so it goes on. For ‘In Our Time’ I’m in the land of Emerson, Lake and Palmer with a couple of very Keith Emerson style organ sections akin to their late seventies work, and when Mel Collin’s sax takes off alongside some off kilter drumming, the King Crimson light bulb glows brightly. And of course with Billy Sherwood at the helm, there’s the inevitable comparison from start to finish with some of his input into the more polished version of the late nineties Yes
For sure, the album contains all the elements of a prog album – all boxes are ticked when it comes to the expected (almost obligatory) guitar and keyboard soloing (the likes of Wakeman, Sherinan, Kaye Downes and Rudess being an embarrassingly impressive line up of players), instrumental virtuosity, layered vocals and strong harmonies. There are some pleasant melodies and hooklines and of course plenty of opportunity for extended instrumental passages, twists and turns in tempos and dynamics, all while seven of the nine tracks clocking in at a healthy prog approved seven and a half minute mark – none of the four minute song nonsense on display here. ‘Just Another Day’ pushes to almost the ten minute mark and is perhaps the most ambitious piece on offer (prog has ‘pieces’ rather then ‘tracks’) as its Bond-like opening gives way to an Oldfield styled section sandwiched between some pastoral twelve string which also plays the track out.
The single ‘Shining Diamonds’ proves itself a good pick and likely to pull in listeners as a preview of what to expect from ‘Epilogue’; it’s fluid guitar flurry of notes running through the track complimented by some characteristically lithe Wakeman keyboard soloing while an acoustic guitar break gives some respite.
Leaving the last word to Billy Sherwood: “It's an honour to have so many great artists involved with this record, each bringing their creativity and musicianship to the table and lifting the project to a higher place. As a long time fan of progressive rock music, making a record like this is indeed a dream come true! I'm always looking to expand the musical horizon, with so many gifted artists doing what they do best, I do believe we've pushed the envelope of creativity.” And being a prog album, it’s no doubt a large A3 brown paper expandable one with a bubble wrap coated inner – no expense spared. Review by Mike Ainscoe
Will Varley: As The Crow Flies
Released on the marvellously named Smugglers Records, the second album from multi talented London folk singer Will Varley appears as another output from a co-operative of South East musicians. Their admirably organic efforts in supporting artists and running their own festival stands as a breath of fresh air and a V sign to the likes of corporate rock and the lure of ‘instant fame’ media.
Having supported his first album with a commitment to some serious gigging, including a ‘walking tour’ of the South East, and also taking time to self publish his first novel, Will recorded the new material album in the old smuggling tunnels which run through basements of cottages beneath the seaside town of Deal in Kent. With the help of producer David Hatton Jnr alongside some helpful musicians drafted in and fuelled by red wine and Glen Moray, he’s come up with another thought provoking set of songs written on the road and in various drinking establishments of Deal. And it’s thought provoking on different levels; from the real life tale of South African folk singer Khulekani Khumalo who supposedly rose from the dead last year, to tirades on the ordeal of self service checkouts which dominate our supermarkets, the full spectrum is given the Varley treatment.
Nowhere is the range more evident than on the hilarious, briskly delivered and sharply observed tale of the trials and tribulations of ‘The Self-Checkout Shuffle’ which contrasts acutely with the closing ‘Down The Well’ and ‘Soldiers On The Wall’ where the lyrics take a deeper and darker turn. Of course, it wouldn’t be the same if there were no topical and political references although these relying on some rather unconventional and faintly comical images without getting too controversial or contentious (Nick Clegg struggling over level five on Tetris?)
On the delicately played title track, ‘As The Crow Flies’ his reflections make you smile and make you ponder as the lyric switches from childhood memories of rescuing birds (we’ve all done it haven’t we?) all the while gently tugging at the emotions, illustrating how often we contemplate on “how the future turned so quickly into the past”.
Although the insightful lyrics are a highlight of the album, the subtle accompaniment of Will’s underrated guitar playing provides a perfect soundtrack as he offers up his words. It’s a bit old hat to say so, but at times there are moments of Dylanesque troubadour stylings, particularly in the narrative pieces and delivery against some finely picked guitar, and of all places the beginning of ‘The Self Checkout Shuffle’ – give it a listen.
With a live show billed as ‘anarchic’ – there’s audience involvement, comedy moments and playing two songs at once – it’s well worth getting out to see him play in a small local venue running through October. He’s just as likely to offer up an intensely passionate song as an irreverent shaggy dog story or something melancholy and evocative. Heck, he might even have you shedding a tear of two in your drink as he sings of long gone cherished pets buried in the garden with a poignant “Farewell travellers, may your souls always be free.”
At a time when the folk/acoustic/roots genre is packed with so many talented young musicians making breakthrough albums and gaining critical acclaim, Will Varley is yet another one whose name needs adding to an ever growing ‘one to watch’ list as he climbs out of a well ploughed furrow as someone not afraid to stick his head above the parapet. Review by Mike Ainscoe
The Bedroom Hour: Themes
With regards certain bands in the underground scene, we’ve recently seen proof that with greater wisdom and experience comes a more polished approach to song writing, which more than rivals anything seen in today’s public eye. The debut EP, ‘Themes’, from ‘The Bedroom Hour’, is another shining example of this theory where the music has the ability to take you on journeys that drift in and out of the subconscious realms. Described as an alternative indie/rock band from West London, ‘The Bedroom Hour’ is made up of five dynamic individuals whose diverse musical influences make up an album that is fervent in its approach, emotive in its delivery, yet leaves you longing for more at its finale, such is the hypnotic stamp it leaves on your soul.
‘Shadow Boxer’ is the opening song which is delivered with such simplicity, yet the effectiveness really drags you into the heart of the tune straight from the off. The drum beat makes your foot tap uncontrollably, and the haunting guitar work is reminiscent of a pacey ‘Joy Division’ or darker ‘New Order’ factory sound, or as the band say themselves, “The toxic feel of The Editors with a twist of Death Cab for Cutie & Elbow and you are a little closer to imagining their sound”. It’s certainly a fantastic track to start with, immediately giving you a sense of intrigue into what’s coming next. The second track, ‘Tyrannosaur’ continues this trend with a very Hooky inspired bass line that provides an uplifting tempo to the track. ‘Themes’ is a one minute instrumental interlude that signifies a slight change in the EP’s dynamic; from the quicker, elevated opening, to a more emotive direction where a sadness can be felt in the undercurrent of the final three tracks. The first of which is ‘Midnight Game’, a ballad that still remains true to a distinctive sound that surrounds the band. ‘X Marks The Spot’ and ‘Slow Motion Cinema’ carry the continuing passionate weight with the use of powerful lyrics, a slower tempo and an evocatively chilled, echo like guitar that aids the poignant tone.
The album drives a unique balance of gifted musicianship with touching lyrics where there is an effortless ability to play a cool, uplifting beat, but then drop to a slower, psychedelic emotional tone, capturing all the little heart wrenching moments of life and love. With a rising following on twitter, ‘The Bedroom Hour’ continue to build a global support network that could elevate them to the next level. ‘Themes’ is available on iTunes, amazon, ebay, or direct from the bands web site. Review by Nigel Cartner
The Caezars: Welcome To The Mainstream
The Caezars are a young band who are bringing a welcome fresh and modern approach to the sound of Rockabilly. Given they have already received the backing of Darrel Higham and supported his great band Kat Men on tour, it is fair to say that they come with some expectation. Thankfully, "Welcome To The Mainstream" is so good it actually exceeds those high expectations.
The album opens with the title track, a song which immediately demonstrates that the band has a real attitude and style about them. It has a sense of a controlled mania, with a jerky yet melodic feel, and all with a fifties twist. Many of the songs on the album, such as "Big Big Thumb" and "When I'm Not A Foolish Kid" have a simple and effective, traditional sound but with an extra bit of swagger thrown in.
The band are even brave enough to include a cover of "She Said" by Plan B. It's a bold move but it certainly works as it's a great raw, stripped down soul song with some great smooth backing vocals. However, this shouldn't distract from the quality of their own material. "I'm Just So Bad" sees them really allowing their fifties and rockabilly influences to come to the fore. Credit has also got to be given to the production, where it is clean and simple, with a retro sound but still a modern finish. The lyrics are also a good reminder that the original rock n roll was all about being bad and rebellious. This bad boy theme continues on "Broken Hearted And Mean" which, as implied by the title, has a darker feel. It has a mean and menacing guitar line with the vocals delivered with a restrained anger.
They return to the more traditional rockabilly sound with "Heartache Overload", this track has a real Darrel Higham influence shining through it. It's all cool guitars, thumping bass and hand claps. Then on "Old Lost Throne" the boys add a country twang and create a sound that could be a cowboy film accompaniment. The intro in particular is like the soundtrack to a show down at high noon.
The bands own strut is soon back with "She's My Miss" which has the feel of a burlesque dancer's backing track with its sultry and enchanting rhythm. Then they deliver an upbeat and catchy song with "You Can Love Me" which is delivered, like all the songs, with an undoubted passion for their craft.
The album concludes with "Nightmares" and, as implied by the title, this adds a sinister sound and darkness. This is despite the use of some sweet female backing vocals. These contrast effectively with the main vocals and the overall feeling created is one of restriction and uneasiness which matches the title perfectly.
The current popularity of bands like The Strypes suggest that there is an increasing appetite for a modern take on traditional rock n roll. The Caezars are actually able to deliver this but also offer a lot more. Yes it’s based on traditional rockabilly but it still sounds fresh and has a modern twist. All the songs on this album sound like they are a classic but don't just sound like covers of old songs. They have managed to let their own personalities and passions show on each of the tracks. It is for this reason that The Caezars should actually be leading this current trend. However, for the time being, let’s hope they can at least get a lift on its coat tails so that they can push for the recognition and success they clearly deserve. They have the song writing skills and live ability to re energise rockabilly music for a whole new generation. Review by Paul Hastings
Hey! Hello!: Hey! Hello!
This album is actually already a great success story given the huge sales it has achieved, despite just being a fan funded release achieved through Pledge Music. The band itself is new but one of the members will be well known to UK rock music fans, as it is Ginger from the Wildhearts. Hey! Hello! are actually a duo, where he is joined by a New York singer called Victoria Liedtke.
As soon as you hear the opening track "Black Valentine" you realise that yes, the exclamation marks are relevant as this is in your face, bright, shiny, pop rock. The Wildhearts' influences are obviously there but this is actually closer to the Silver Ginger Five. Also, importantly, it is clear that Ginger has lost none of the wit that has always been evident in his lyrics. The Silver Ginger Five type sound features throughout the album, on songs such as "The Thrill Of It". This song also clearly demonstrates the benefits of working with Victoria Liedtke, where you can really appreciate her vocals on this track. It makes you realise that the key to the excellent sound of many songs on the album is the touch of lightness and sweetness her vocals provide. Together, they are clearly a winning combination.
On "Feral Day" we get to hear a little more feedback in the intro and actually the band Redd Kross springs to mind. This and "Why Can't I Be Me Without You" have a "Phase Shifter" Redd Kross feel, especially with the way they move in to proper 'pop' choruses. Speaking of Pop, the single "Swim Wear" is an unashamed classic pop rock song. It's fantastic and really sounds like Cheap Trick when they were at their peak. This pure pop sound is taken to an even higher level with "I'm Gonna Kiss You Every Day" which is even poppier. It actually sounds a bit like an Abba song gone full on rock, and yes, that is a compliment, it is a brilliant song.
There will, however, always be a bit of an edge in any record involving Ginger. On "Burn The Rule Book (Fuck It)" there is still the sugar coated rock sound in the chorus but it is probably closer to the Wildhearts, as it has a more aggressive sound. "How I Survived The Punk Wars" continues this feel, but it isn't really a song but instead a lesson to all bands on how to produce great music and keep your integrity. They should really forget about all those Brit Music Schools and instead all bands should just be forced to learn the lyrics of this song and have it as a mantra before they even consider putting on their obligatory leather jackets!
The album is all over way, way too soon with final track "Were Outta Here". This does provide a perfect end to the album as it mixes all the great aspects of the previous tracks. It has crunching guitars, before moving in to an epic sing a long chorus and then ending with what sounds like a national anthem.
This really is an absolutely brilliant album. Ginger has always delivered great songs with pop melodies, but has previously hidden them under a wall of guitars and noise. This is the album where he has finally let that pop genius shine. It still delivers some cutting lines and important messages but, as they say, " a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down"! A lot of credit also has to be given to Victoria, where it is clear that working as a partnership has made this album so special. It has resulted in an album which sounds remarkably fresh and new. Review by Paul Hastings
The Crunch: Busy Making Noise
The Crunch are actually something of a super group given they consist of Sulo Karlsson (Diamond Dogs),Terry Chimes (Clash), Dave Tregunna (Sham 69) and Mick Geggus (Cockney Rejects).That's certainly a line up which has a terrific pedigree of former bands. It is quite clear, however, that this is not a group of guys getting together to milk their back catalogue and go through the motions. This album certainly doesn't serve up a load of rehashed second rate punk numbers. In fact, it is the opposite as it contains a set of songs which are fresh and exciting.
The title track opens the CD and it comes as a bit of surprise given the backgrounds of the artists involved. It has a really melodic and quite a 'pop' sound. It really is a very modern sounding punk pop sound with great care free lyrics. The second track does add a touch more grit but again it is still very upbeat and melodic. It actually sounds similar to Michael Monroe's new stuff in that it has that Hanoi sound but with a melodic/modern influence. This style is also seen on "Right About Now" which again has a punkier influence coming through.
On "Down By The Border" you can hear echoes of The Clash in the guitar line and the beat and it is a reminder that they also did some great pop flavoured songs and this could certainly be them at their most commercial. It is certainly no surprise it is one of the singles from the album, as it has a real power pop feel to it. "Looking For A Blaze" is another upbeat modern rock song and is surely another single candidate given it is melodic, catchy and addictive.
They importantly also change the tempo with "Yesterday's Boys And Girls" which has a ballad type sound with the opening vocals and piano. The song quality is maintained and this song has an added sense of depth and warmth. In fact, if it wasn't for the fact it sounds like it comes from the heart, it could have easily been an epic modern rock hit! Similarly, "Remember Me Like That" is another slower one, but it avoids being schmaltzy and soon builds in to a full blown chorus.
"Gangster Radio" really does have single written all over it, which is ironic given the lyrical swipe it takes at the BBC and the commercial music world. "Matter Of Time" sees a reggae type beat influence in the song before again turning in to a driven chorus which would serve as a great beer in the sun song. The overall power pop feel again shines on "Little Bit Of Grace" which has a brilliant opening and also benefits from an excellent co -vocal performance. The band then slow things down again with "Floodlight" which is their lighters in the air, sing a long song. This more restrained approach continues on the opening of "Ruin Of A Heart" but this soon rejoins many of the other songs in being a power pop strum along.
The whole album then, quite rightly, ends with the upbeat rocker "Runaway Son". It brings everything to a close with an excellent high of good time, pop, rock n roll.
Given the names involved, it is no surprise that the song writing and musicianship on this album are excellent. You would always expect a quality record, but it is perhaps surprising just how modern, fresh and bright it feels. The consistency achieved is also unbelievable as it is classic song after classic song and potential single after potential single. It will importantly not only please the fans of the members’ previous bands but also engage a whole new and different audience. Review by Paul Hastings
The Knockouts: 5000 Miles From Louisville
The Knockouts are actually an explosive trio who, whilst being Swedish, have a style and sound which mixes both laid-back rockabilly but also a more country punk sound. Their album "5000 Miles From Louisville" combines these elements, to generate a sound that you would expect had come from the US but, then again, for some reason Sweden has always been able to deliver these quality punk rock bands.
Opening song "The Young Will Overcome" immediately shows the country influence with it's reference to Nashville and the sound you hear behind the punk rockabilly rhythm. Likewise, "Sweet Bluebird Valley" again has a country/hillbilly based sound. However, don't let this put you off, as it's not country and western but instead far more cow punk. On "A Farewell Gone To Hell" it moves in to more of an Americana sound, but with hints of other punk influenced bands such as Lucero and Two Cow Garage. The opening of "End of Roddy Rhodes" is also very punk americana but with a cleaner vocal delivery than those other two mentioned bands.
The Knockouts also clearly have an ear for a bit of commerciality as well. "Days Long Gone" still sees the punk influence but it moves in to a more commercial sounding chorus which gives it a very modern and relevant feel. Then, on one of the best songs on the album, "Salvation Song" they come up with a track that could so easily be a big commercial hit on US radio (or at least it would be, if they played decent rock records!). "Hometown Grounds" also shares the same classic US college rock feel. The modern punk rock sound continues through "Pennies And Quarters" which bares a resemblance to a more commercial and cleaner sounding Menzingers.
They still have time to deliver a couple of more classic sounding numbers, where "The Way 'Til The End" has that traditional rockabilly twang in the guitar before it then moves in to a punk/rockabilly mix. The final track on the album, "Stars Of Us' rounds it all off nicely by being a straight up good time rock n roll song. There are no pretensions about it but just a well written and sharply delivered tune.
The references to 'country' in their music may be a bit misleading as it is certainly more americana than country and western. They take an American heritage style, which you could call either country/folk/americana/rockabilly but then inject it with some pace and energy. This has the effect of adding a modern feel which ensures that they are bringing something different to their audience. The result is that it could appeal to a wider range of people and is a really strong album full of quality. Review by Paul Hastings
The Strypes: Snapshot
This band probably don't need much introduction, given the level of attention that has been given to them by the mainstream media. In fact, this attention must have come as a bit of a shock given their recognised retro sound and previously 'uncool' influences such as Dr Feelgood and other 'pub' rock bands. Clearly their young age has something to do with it, but perhaps more importantly, at live shows such as Glastonbury they have shown that, despite their youth, they can really deliver in front of a crowd.
The opening feedback on first song "Mystery Man" is a good introduction as the band soon move in to a great fast paced rock n roll number. It actually has more of a Beatles rock n roll sound. It is quite easy to imagine this song being smashed out by them in a small club in Hamburg. The high octane momentum is continued with "Blue Collar Jane" which is very traditional R'n'B and is a simple, infectious, good time song.
There is a sixties/early seventies feel on "What The People Don't See", where the adding of a great harmonica sees a little added swing to the song. The simple, care free attitude is also loud and clear on "I Can Tell You", where it is good to hear a young band just singing a song about girl troubles. Similarly, on "Hometown" it is good to see the lack of pretension and just singing about adolescent love problems.
The tempo is slowed right down on "Angel Eyes" (no, it’s not a Wet, Wet, Wet cover -unfortunately!!). Given their age it is a surprisingly mature song with a real blues sound like "Little Red Rooster" by The Stones or "Crawling King Snake" by The Doors. The blues influence is also clear on some of the covers chosen on the album. This includes "You Can’t Judge A Book" and "Rollin And Tumblin" by Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters respectively. It is great to see them showing their influences, but is also a brave move as it leaves them open to comparisons to those greats.
It is not all retro sounding, however, and "What A Shame" has more of a modern influence, especially in the guitar sound. In fact, it actually sounds like another great new young band called The Caezars.
Overall, however, the album definitely does have a retro sound, but it is delivered with a remarkable level of skill and influence. There is no reason to try and discourage a young band who have an appreciation of early rock n roll. This must surely be better than many of their X factor loving peers. It is a strong and vibrant debut album which may be too obviously influenced for some. It is, however, a really good opening shot and one from which the band will grow and develop. Then, as they progress, they will be able to add yet more depth and diversity to their sound. For now, it is a set of songs which in a live environment make them a must see band. Review by Paul Hastings
Fanny Mae & The Dynamite Believers: Live Love, Give Love
Fanny Mae & The Dynamite Believers are a Swedish band who have a sound that brings in rockabilly, rhythm and blues, soul and a bit of pop. They are influenced by some of the greats such as Wanda Jackson, Edith Piaf, Elvis (of course) and some more modern acts like Amy Winehouse and JD McPherson.
It's an old school, mid paced rockabilly song by the name of "Sunny Day" which opens up the album. It's an effective introduction to the band as it starts with male vocals before being joined by Fanny Mae herself. Her vocal expertise is highlighted in "Time Don't Heal Every Wound" where it has a clutter free background, full of restraint, which allows the smooth vocal style to shine.
On "A place In My Heart" her voice resembles Devil Doll and has a slightly darker sound compared to the more well known Imelda May. That Devil Doll type sound is repeated on "This N That", where again it is a darker and more sinister sound.
The album really hits its stride with the track "Hipshakin", it is again old school rockabilly with an upbeat and instantly danceable sound. There are a fair number of these good time songs, including "Right Here Again" which has a faster pace and "The Sign" which is a fun song with a great co-vocal performance, along with some excellent backing vocals.
They avoid the trap of being too one dimensional by throwing in a few different styles along the way. On "Condition Unknown" they slow things down, adding a swing type sound before it moves in to a really strong chorus. "Rocket Scientist" is also a slower number, but surprisingly this is actually a more traditional country esque ballad. They are also not afraid to show their influences where "Can't Stand Your Love" sees echoes of a Buddy Holly sound in both the melody and in particular the vocal style which is adopted. There is also a cover of the classic song "Dream Lover" where they perform it with a bit of a faster pace to give it a different feel and it's a really good version.
The final song on the album is "Stand Up" which is more of a seductive song. It is perhaps surprising that, given the warmth and tone of her voice, there are not more songs like this. She certainly has a voice that is more than able to entice and seduce the listener.
"Live Love, Give Love" is very much an old school rockabilly style record where you could picture many of the songs jumping out of a juke box in a fifties milk shake bar. Whilst it may not attract a wider audience from the mainstream crowd, it will be lapped up by those involved in the popular fifties vintage and rockabilly scenes. Review by Paul Hastings
The Shakers: Rescue Team
The Shakers are a four piece band led by Jodie Schell and one thing which is very clear from the outset is that this is a proper rock n roll band. It comes as no surprise that this album was tracked entirely to tape and was self produced by the band. They come across as a band who are raw and powerful and driven by a desire to get their songs out there. The songs themselves are then delivered with a huge amount of passion and intensity.
As an opening song, you won't get many more impressive and as in your face as "Set My Sights". It has a huge classic rock sound with its crunching guitars and bombastic drums. Whilst it is classic and very Led Zep sounding, it is somewhat ironic that it is also very 'now' given the emergence of the likes of Jack White, The Black Keys and Deep Vally. They follow it up with "Watcha Want" which starts to add bit more of a funk, with a huge groove and a monster chorus. Again, it is a sound which has increased in popularity recently with this track actually bearing a resemblance to The Alabama Shakes. They then get even funkier with "Train Song" which has a really sultry vocal performance. The title is certainly apt as it picks up speed like a train and turns in to a powerful rock song with a strong and dirty riff.
The next couple of tracks take down the speed, if not the intensity of the songs. "The Hold" is a restrained and soulful song with a sultry slower pace. Whilst "I Spy" has a really bluesy opening before moving in to a huge slow and enticing song.
Mid way through, the album then takes a bit of a different tone. "I'll Find You" adds almost a metal sound to the mix. Then on "Villain" there is even a dollop of melodic sleaze. Overall, this song has a feeling of dirt and sleaze but with the necessary sweetness of a really strong chorus. Possibly the best song on the album is "Over And Under' which ha a stylish riff and a chugging rhythm which combines with a passionate vocal performance. This could easily have lent itself to a sunset strip rock band. Although it would definitely be one at the most talented end of that spectrum.
A west coast sunshine feel is also felt on "The Weight" which has a smoother and more laid back approach. This gives it the feel of the perfect song to listen to with a cool drink in the sunshine. In contrast, album closer "Thundercloud" is an epic raw blues song. It is slow and brooding just like the title itself would suggest. It then ends in a torrent of guitars, drums and that powerful voice.
It remains somewhat ironic that a few years ago this album might have been regarded as just a retro classic rock song but in today’s music world it is actually, very now. Jack White and The Black Keys have led the way but we are now seeing more female led bands such as Alabama Shakes, Sallie Ford and The Sound Outside and Deep Vally taking over. The Shakers are definitely a band to add to that roster. This is a powerful and intense album, full of hard rocking blues numbers. They also have the ability to add a bit of zap and sleaze to some of the songs. These are actually the ones that really shine and importantly give the album, and the band, their own identity. Review by Paul Hastings
Sinheresy: Paint The World
A dramatic string introduction begins the debut album Paint the World from Italian symphonic metal band Sinheresy, who began life in Trieste in northeastern Italy. A fabulously heavy riff and some thunderous drum patterns swiftly follow that dramatic introduction, on opening track Last Fall.
Lead vocalists Cecilia Petrini and Stefano Sain have wonderfully expressive and powerful voices that mesh perfectly with the waves of power and symphonic metal unleashed by this great new band. Last Fall continues with a short middle brass section, followed by a terrific old school metal solo from guitarist Lorenzo Pasutto. This opening track sets out convincingly the musical stall of an excellent debut album.
I should add that the album was mixed and mastered in Sweden by Johan Örnborg and Jens Bogren. If you are a fan of Opeth’s wonderful Watershed album, and I am!... you will recognise Jens Bogren as the person who shared production duties on that album with Mikael Åkerfeldt. If you need to be convinced to listen to this album just sample the track The Gambler and let your heart melt. With Cecilia’s intense and heartfelt vocals the song has a real emotional depth and resonance. It also has a fantastic short interlude; where the strings play the main thematic riff following a gentle acoustic run, and then the guitars return full on to blast out the theme. Symphonic perfection, with the very apt sound of shattering glass at the track’s close to jolt you back to reality!
Made for Sin, the midpoint track, starts off with the sound of heavy rain and thunder, and a really chunky heavy riff. Reminiscent of Lacuna Coil at their best, the vocal interplay between the two vocalists is very dynamic, with lots of chemistry between the two voices. Another great guitar break, and that’s one of the things that sets this band apart from many other symphonic metal bands, the exciting guitar work, with its technically dynamic edginess.
Break Point has a relentless drive and heavy edge to it, which early on counterpoints a fabulous keyboards and guitar riff with soaring vocal verses by Cecilia, her voice supported by cascading drums, right in the forefront of the mix. It really builds the song in a very smart way, and is one of a number of really great and deft musical touches on this album.
Our Angel, which is an acoustic and strings/wind instruments based track towards the latter part of the album, has a very traditional folk feel. It’s a very beautiful and ethereal song, and with some of the best vocals on the album from Cecilia and Stefano, full of emotion and empathy. It then hits you with a strident electric coda that takes the mood of the song into anger and despair.
There are many such stand out moments to enjoy on this album.
At times the album does shows its influences…. Nightwish…Lacuna Coil, though these are pretty good influences to draw on. This also feels very natural with a debut album where a band is finding its own voice. There is also plenty of originality on show to demonstrate this band has something very unique to offer. If I had one suggestion to make, it would be for the production to allow more of the heaviness to come to the forefront, of a potentially very diverse and exciting musical palette.
A word about what is a very striking album cover. It really stands out, with its image of a woman swirling in a long beautifully patterned dress and black bodice in bright grass and flowers, which turns into darkening trees and bracken as the foreboding greyness of the city skyscrapers emerges. It is very evocative of the light and dark landscapes this album paints both musically and lyrically. Stunning artwork seems to be a characteristic of the Bakerteam records label that has signed up a brace of new signings and talent from the metal world, including Terrorway, also reviewed in Mudkiss.
I do hope Sinheresy manage over to the UK some time soon, as I suspect from the snippets on YouTube they will be able to translate a sonically excellent studio sound into a dynamic live one. Review by Gareth Allen (with thanks to my son and fellow metal head Keiran, who gave me some helpful feedback in writing this - my first review for Mudkiss)
Terrorway from Sardinia Italy unleash their debut album Blackwaters, and I am on a mission to encourage you to listen without prejudice to some amazing grooves from the world of extreme metal.
Blackwaters is an album that takes hold of you with the intense sound of groove/ technical death metal, with bags of drive, imagination and some killer vocals and rhythms. Characteristically there are polyrhythms in abundance, that give it that intoxicating jagged and propulsive sound that is so immersive that you lose yourself completely in the music. If you have seen Meshuggah live, you will know exactly what I mean. Rebecca Solnit wasn’t talking about the live experience of groove/technical metal when she wrote this, but she captures so well the experience: “To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away”.
On the opening track Wretched the atmosphere is set with the chattering sounds of what I imagine to be a forest, with a voice almost so quiet as not to be heard, followed by the sound of footsteps that quicken into a run as in the background there is some sort of electronic buzzing.... the forest from hell and pretty scary! As an opening track, it creates a very brooding and impatient atmosphere, with the precise guitar generated rhythms holding the sound tightly sprung.
The title track Blackwaters sets the bar high as it drives forward some spine tingling death screams, and then comes to a sudden halt, and is succeeded by a beautiful melodic guitar refrain and solo from guitarist Ivan Fois. Just magnificent in its musical execution.
In a Swamp has some seriously good bass work, as Giovanni Serra plays his bass like a lead instrument, laying down some infectious grooves. How he and the astonishingly good drummer hold down the constantly shifting time signatures and still sound so tight and propulsive is a bit of a miracle.
Chained is quite mesmerising and complex in the way only technical metal can be and not too distant a cousin from the sort of storm Meshuggah whip up on their records, which is high praise indeed. Terrorway though throw in their own original take on the genre, with a prog style unwinding melody as the song’s coda.
The final track Ruins is for me the albums crowning glory, an aggressive and in your face riff begins it, followed by a sweeter guitar sound and clean vocals, before heading back into pure death metal territory with subtle but testing time signature changes. It demands your full attention as the musical journey unwinds. It cleverly concludes with some gentle and lyrical acoustic guitar playing over a very hypnotic electric guitar refrain. Such radical changes within a single song can easily just sound messy, but this works so well.
Have I convinced you to give some seriously good extreme metal a listen? I hope so and then you can take the next step and experience this sound live. So look out for Terrorway touring in support of this album. Hopefully including the UK guys? Oh and please more space for those wonderful bass grooves in the mix, it can only enhance what is a great sound.
The quote from Rebecca Solnit can be found in A field guide to getting lost Cannongate Books. Review by Gareth Allen
Ministry : Enjoy The Quiet - Live at Wacken 2012 DVD/2CD
Ministry's latest live offering from the huge Wacken festival (75,000 metalheads, no less) in 2012 is a bit of a mixed bag. Consisting mostly of tracks from Houses of the Mole, Rio Grande Blood and Relapse, the gig never seems to really take off despite the band sounding immaculate. Unsurprisingly, Al Jourgensen lacks energy due to various illnesses he suffered from on this tour, but the rest of the band; John Bechdel, Sin Quirin and the late Mike Scaccia, give it their all. It was Scaccia's death less than five months after the festival that prompted Jourgensen to put this professionally filmed live recording out as a homage to his comrade who was such a big part of Ministry's history. The fastest and trashiest of all Ministry eras, the show looks impressive with a nice video backdrop, lots of flashing lights and the sound is excellent, but the atmosphere leaves something to be desired. The massive crowd seems rather apathetic until the older tracks are played towards the end of the set, namely N.W.O., Just One Fix and Thieves.
The limited edition also includes a performance from Wacken 2006. This gem is raw footage and the sound is not that sharp, but the performance is much more energetic and the crowd seem more responsive. Again, most of the tracks are from Houses of the Mole and Rio Grande Blood, but this set includes the excellent Khyber Pass and Psalm 69. The line-up is pretty special as well with the former Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven (who passed away in 2007), Joey Jordison of Slipknot and Tommy Victor of Prong. CD versions of both gigs are included and there is no faulting the sound.
If this was meant to be a homage to the late Mike Scaccia, I would have liked to have seen interviews, backstage antics and the like included in this set. In the insert Jourgensen states '...If you were there, well, you saw a piece of history and the DVD will make a great souvenir - or a great drink coaster. ‘ Wacken 2006 is the nicer souvenir here, and as for a drink coaster, perhaps Wacken 2012 will be added to my collection. Cheers, Al. Review by Anne Johanna
Born of Osiris: Tomorrow We Die Alive
American deathcore djent-mongers Born of Osiris’ latest release, Tomorrow We Die Alive, is about as texturally rich as metal gets. Both complex and hard-hitting, the album should please fans of the genre as well as new listeners with its dazzling display of virtuosity and symphonic creativity. However, clichéd lyrics and annoying metalcore vocals detract from the music’s effectiveness and make the whole experience seem significantly less intellectual.
The absolutely magnificent sci-fi cover art, depicting a beautifully rendered macrocosmic humanoid showing off some Dr. Manhattan-like abilities, is a perfect representation of the atmospheric tone of the album, conjuring to mind all sorts of grand metaphysical ideas. The album kick-starts with the cinematic Machine, gracefully combining genius symphonic layers with mechanically precise djent riffs. Born of Osiris demonstrate a strongly cerebral sonic approach; the glittering, neo-classical, sweep-picked lead guitar even evokes Vivaldi’s winter compositions from the Four Seasons in places. Unfortunately, the lyrics are embarrassingly trite (“Separate Yourself from the machine/Embrace your Own Identity” reeks of overuse).
For such mind-bendingly complex music, it is disappointing that the band are unable to come up with more interesting themes than adolescent rebellion. Most listeners would assume that the omnipotent, mystical being on the cover has greater things on his mind than learning to appreciate himself and not care what his omnipotent, mystical parents think. Actually, these themes can make for excellent lyrical inspiration through artistic hyperbole and metaphor, but lines like “the machine will break you/it was made to make you a slave” make it seem more like the band just scribbled their lyrics out one late night while watching a Matrix marathon. Yeah, we get it, society corrupts our youth. What do you think Rage Against the Machine were on about?
The vocals, though powerful, are saturated with whiny teenage angst, especially in Exhilarate, where the band’s melodic punk influence awkwardly breaks out like a rash of pimples. In many parts, the album could have been vastly improved if the vocals had been left out altogether, leaving the listener to enjoy the majestic music without the vocal and lyrical annoyances, telling you to “take another look at yourself”.
But these flaws don’t ruin the album completely. The band lives up to their name with exotic, mid-eastern textures that immerse the listener in a world simultaneously mythic and futuristic. The djent rhythms are, at their best, bone-crushing, although they lack interesting variation. The band incorporates a diverse variety of experimental sounds, most notably the ear-pleasing electronics in Exhilerate and the surprising dub-step flirtation towards the end of Divergency. Often these are quite successful, working smoothly within the album’s context.
If you can ignore the lyrics and vocals (or if you like them – it’s okay, no judgment), Tomorrow We Die Alive is forty-three minutes of ear-candy for progressive metal enthusiasts. The album was released via Sumerian Records on August 20th, 2013, and is the third full length offering from the band. This is a fairly solid release in the expanding djent world’s current vanguard, despite the weak thematic premises. Review by Stuart Kristensen
Testament: The Dark Roots of Trash
Testament have been an integral part of thrash metal’s development right from the early days. Their latest release, Dark Roots of Earth, was critically acclaimed and well-received by fans, and the upcoming live album, The Dark Roots of Thrash, should further cement Testament’s regained position as one of thrash metal’s most tenacious and consistently high-quality bands.
Live albums are always to be taken with a grain of salt of course, because of the array of high-tech sound editing equipment available to producers nowadays. Excellent, but raw and un-edited concert recordings are a rarity. The perfect live album walks a fine line between sounding too clean, causing the live concert vibe to fade, and sounding like a total mess. The Dark Roots of Thrash leans to the former; the spot-on quality of the performance and mix is almost suspicious at times, and halfway through I had to remind myself that I was not listening to a studio album.
But this doesn’t go so far as to make the music feel plastic and artificial; it’s rough around the edges, the crowd screams, and the band is overflowing with heart-pounding vitality, so we’ll give Testament the benefit of the doubt.
The concert opens with a satirical cover of The Star-Spangled Banner, and then Chuck Billy’s distinctive growl, fierce and intimidating as ever, roars out above everything else, starting the show off with the menacing Rise Up off of Dark Roots of Earth.
The set-list is a relentless barrage of classic crowd-pleasers with excellent newer tracks like More than Meets the Eye and True American Hate. A particular highlight is Native Blood, a song no doubt of personal significance to Billy, who dedicates the song to his “native brothers and sisters”. It’s a standout on the album, and sounds even more exhilarating live.
The band also adeptly manages longer song lengths in the live setting; Three Days in Darkness goes past the seven-minute mark, as does Disciples Of the Watch. All members display stunning proficiency, blending seamlessly with each other in the manner of all great live bands.
This is an excellent thrash metal performance and a thrilling listen. The band and the music, dating as far back as the early 80’s, are still brimming with astonishing fury and creativity. Dark Roots of Thrash is the sound of a metal band in their prime. Review by Stuart Kristensen
Nine Inch Nails: Hesitation Marks
The last time we heard from the influential industrial outfit, Nine Inch Nails, they were in danger of outstaying their welcome by putting out four albums over a four year period. It was the end of a grueling run for their long-standing frontman, Trent Reznor, who decided that the band should “disappear for while” before embarking on their Wave Goodbye tour of 2009.
There hasn’t been any word from them since until earlier this year when Reznor announced via social network that he was bringing NIN back to the masses for another tour and had already finished a brand new album, Hesitation Marks. This immediately sparked a wave of hype, and had salivating fans clinging on to every status that he posted.
A single (and video directed by David Lynch) entitled ‘Came Back Haunted’ was soon released to mixed reviews and had some pondering whether this comeback was legitimate or just an extension of Reznor’s side project, How to Destroy Angels (see my write-up of their fantastic debut album in our March reviews).
The band finally made their live return in late-July at Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival, and settled any doubts with a blistering show. The set lists at the start of the tour were oddly light of new material, but what they did showcase bore the traditional NIN hallmark, while introducing the crowd to a cleaner and more electronic sound. So here we are in September and Hesitation Marks was released through Columbia last month to some pretty decent reviews. Fan reviews have been much more critical, though, underscoring the fact that guitars are minimal and the tone is more upbeat than expected. Follow-up single ‘Copy of A’ counters this, being as solid as anything NIN have produced in their career, with its’ trebly warble and catchy beat. The live videos doing the rounds on YouTube will have anyone remotely into rock bopping away at their laptops.
‘Find My Way’ sounds like the corpse of Massive Attack decaying in a shit-stained corridor, and is, surprisingly, only one of a few dark tracks on offer. ‘All Time Low’ takes us down the funky railroad, ala nineties Chili Peppers, and ‘Everything’ is every bit the Joy Division/New Order clone, right down to the Peter Hook-esque bass gallops. It seems Mr. Reznor has drawn from a deep well of influences this time around and the result is intriguing but minimalistic sound-wise.
Gone are the thundering guitar riffs and deranged screaming from outings such as Broken and The Downward Spiral in favour of a mature collection of songs that sound like they probably didn’t require much tweaking from their original demos. Other notable entries include ‘Various Methods of Escape’ and ‘While I’m Still Here’, which is better presented on the limited edition bonus disc in the form of a remix by Throbbing Gristle’s Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.
For the hardcore Nailers, Hesitation Marks re-treads the familiar ground between Year Zero and HDTA, while cranking up the mechanical dial a few notches. It also harks back to The Fragile, with its airy ambiences and sonic textures. For the casuals, it’s an above average excursion into the pro-tools that might just blow someone’s mind on the right day. Review by Brett Dunford
Burzum: Sôl Austan, Mâni Vestan
Where on earth do you begin with Varg Vikernes? Originally Count Grishnackh from the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, Vikernes was convicted in 1994 for the arson of various churches in Norway, and the murder of his band-mate Øystein Aarseth by stabbing him to death. He talks of the night in-depth on his website, where he claims: “When I jerked the knife from his skull, he fell forward, and rolled down a flight of stairs like a sack of potatoes.”
Pleading a case of self-defence, Vikernes was sentenced to twenty-one years in prison but was paroled after serving fifteen. Not that prison restricted his creativity, as he released two ambient albums while incarcerated (due to not being allowed access to instruments), under the hood of his main musical project, Burzum. Both differed from the metallic records he was primarily known for, and were mainly synthesised folkloric affairs.
Since his release in 2009, Vikernes has gone on to put out good-quality Burzum records on a yearly basis, with a re-energised focus that only someone denied from their true capabilities as a musician can generate. Last year’s Umskiptar was nothing short of brilliance, especially the highlight ‘Alfadanz’, which is probably Vikernes at his most commercial.
Earlier this year, he released the final metal song under the Burzum name ‘Back to the Shadows’ and announced his first ambient album since the two that he recorded in prison. Entitled Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, meaning East of the Sun, West of the Moon, what you have is an incredibly mellow and tender piece, apparently delving into the Pagan spiritual concepts that has influenced Vikernes’ change of musical style once again.
‘Solarras’ (‘Sun-journey’) is absolutely beautiful and one that lingers on in the mind long after. While repetitive, it never left me wanting less, as its’ lonely keyboard plink drips away into the ether. ‘Haugaeldr’ (‘Burial Mound Fire’) is another that touches soul deep, and one cannot help but fall into the concept imagery that it may conjure up. All tracks follow a more linear path also, making it easier to digest than Burzum’s heavier excursions.
Of course, this is not going to appeal much to the core metal crowd that Burzum was founded on, but it’s hard to see why anyone with a shred of musicality in their blood would not find this album pleasant, yet haunting, to the ear. Despite what one may feel about Vikernes and his beliefs, Sôl austan...is a great record. There’s an amazing film soundtrack in there somewhere. Review by Brett Dunford