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Album Review: TBA

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gig Review: Sonisphere Festival 2011, Knebworth, UK

You know the set-up by now. All scores are out of 5 and I’m gonna try and get through three days in one page so, blink and you’ll miss it. I’m at the home of rock, Knebworth, for their annual Sonisphere Festival and the gods above are furrowing their cloud-esque brows at me. The promise of The Big Four looms. First up though, (3.5) who give us a brutal rendition of “Beech Like A Tree” and a storming sing-a-long-a-”Deadliest Catch” but the rest of their set falls a little short. They are followed by (2.5) who chunter along pleasantly until they chuck out “Am I Evil”, simultaneously delighting and whetting several thousand appetites for what follows.

Kicking off the first Big Four get-together in the UK, (3.5) rock the place with Joey Belladonna belting out hits like “Got The Time” and “I Am The Law”, before (5.0) step up to the plate and hit it out the park with a storming set. “Symphony Of Destruction” and “Hangar 18″ are nothing short of staggering and the crowd goes nuts. Throw in “Sweating Bullets” and “Peace Sells” and you’ve got goddamn perfection, baby. (4.0) are on fine form with plenty of novel audience interaction coming from the stage in between the classics like “Hell Awaits” and, yep, “Raining Blood”. (3.5) always try to steal the show and usually end up succeeding but they lose something mid-set with a slackening of the pace. The real moment of truth arrives as all the Big Four members are invited back on stage to play ’s classic “Helpless” with Brian Tatler leading them a merry dance as Mustaine and Hetfield hug it out.

(3.5) kick off day two with a dose of heavy, before (4.0) breaks out his crooner suit and serenades us with his lounge version of songs like “Baby Got Back” and “Enter Sandman” – a swaying honey at the front of the crowd and keyboardist Bobby Ricotta’s face-splitting grin are the real stars. (4.0) release the beast and assault us with “Warlord”, before (2.0) and (1.5) send us all back to sleep – yes we’re only here for your hits, Whibley.

Into the Bohemia Tent as the rain descends for (4.5) who break out “Jetpacks Was Yes!” early to great effect. Spencer Sotelo simply stuns us with his vocal range while Misha Mansoor gets his own chant for his blurring fretwork. (3.5) make a welcome appearance in a Ginger-only listed slot and members pop by to seal the deal at the end. Then, the surprising pinnacle of the festival arrives as (5.0) turn the tent into a futuristic battlefield by firing up “Ocean Planet” and then “Backbone”. At this point the circle pits open up and the resultant crush-and-release sends our heads spinning on to some other astral plane. Un-fucking-believable! Hitting fresh air once more, reinvigorated, (3.0) give us their usual enjoyable schtick and we all stick our middle fingers up at them (at their request), rock out for a while and then start seeking out the fairground rides.

Day three brings bright sunshine and an awesome set of metal prospects. Over on the tiny Jagermeister Stage, (2.5) are a bit disappointing as their feisty tech fails to shift anyone from stasis, including themselves. That’s not the case for (5.0), who as midday strikes, transform the Red Bull Tent into one vast circle pit. Both stanchions are consumed by it and every band member ends up in with the fans at some point – even the drummer, who actually downs tools and walks through his kit, sending toms and cymbals flying, to reach the outstretched hands of his adoring people.

The heavy shit begins with (3.5) who throw sonic nirvana at the Bohemia crowd and get a thousand nodding heads grinning back, whilst (4.0) do the same and get an arena-full – “Oblivion” kicks them off and “March Of The Fire Ants” reduces those watching to a sea of pumping fists. (3.5) is all about Joel O’Keefe’s mad aerial acrobatics these days, and he doesn’t disappoint, standing proudly atop the Saturn Stage with axe raised. They do need to start stepping it up from here – -style blow-up stage props, perhaps? As we ruminate, (4.0) start rocking our world with “Iron Fist” and send us into raptures with “Overkill”.

Over to Fred as (4.0) let the crowd “choose” their set and end up playing just “Douchebag” off Gold Cobra. You can’t complain when they’ve got so many greatest hits to back it up. The crowd is divided for comedian/musician (2.5) between those booze-soaked souls (who’d give the horns to right now) and those just plain soaked from the rain. “Insect Nation”, Bill’s dance remixes and his take on the cockney knees-up go down well, but his sub-par “Leg Of Time” was never gonna get these cats moving. Still, he improves as the set goes on and, perversely, as the rain subsides. (3.0) stick with the day’s Paul Gray worshipping (we had a two-minute silence earlier), by displaying his number on the big screen virtually throughout (with his inevitable replacement, playing off stage, being beamed to a smaller screen). Come the climax, they haul out his suit and mask to centre-stage and take turns to hug it, with kiddies in tow. I’ve never been a massive ‘Knot fan but I’m confused and caught between crying and wincing. Many aren’t confused and openly burst into tears. The music? Oh, they tear up “Psychosocial” and “People = Shit”, so… it’s okay. Thankfully, (3.5) send us home with a smile on all our faces, so that is a bonus.

Also online (with more photos) @ The New Review =

Gig review of Sonisphere Festival 2010 =

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Album Review: Premonition 13 - 13

Pepper Keenan (, ) once labelled lead vocalist/guitarist Wino as the “quintessential lifer.” It’s an odd analogy that makes him sound like his time in the music business has somehow imprisoned him. Surely it’s much the opposite – that making his music sets him free. He’s not exactly breaking rocks here, although many of his fans might make their own analogy from that sentence alone. You can see where the term comes from though. His biography certainly speaks like a who’s who of stoner rock with bands like , and to his name. But, look a little closer and you can see he stands at a crossroads of a number of genres – psych, doom, stoner and good old fashioned rock n’ roll. His more recent projects have seen him breaking out on his own as well as rubbing shoulders with the good and the great – artists like Dave Grohl, Scott Kelly, Al Cisneros, Dale Crover, Geezer Butler, Rob Halford, the list goes on. Now, he arrives at the point where he’s juggling and commitments, starting up his own solo career, and now he’s also decided to join forces with guitarist Jim “Sparky” Karow to stir up some of his more deep-seated passions with .

The juicily cryptic band and album titles, the artwork (an animal skull wrapped in a Native American head-dress), knowing that they recorded this under the hot sun of a desert studio and the fact that is a project that was borne from the main protagonists bonding over a love of ancient cultures and “Mesoamerican stuff”, all suggest that the lyrics would be loaded with words regaling tales of sacred practices and/or the occult. That aspect is there in a couple of tracks but mostly the songs tend to cover subjects that instead relate to the troubled times of society today. “B.E.A.U.T.Y.” points out that the “the doors of Humankind are shutting on your fingers” and “Modern Man” simply warns “Mankind beware, you’ll reap what you seed.” There are also more personal messages like Wino’s cracked voice intoning the words we always expected him to say – “When it’s my time to go away / I wanna die sweatin’ on stage.” Attach onto the back of these lyrics, the fact that we’ve also got “Hard To Say” lurking on here, a cover of a Lethal Intent track, and you can see all may not be quite as it first appears.

It’s great that drummer Matthew Clark and bassist Brian Daniloski have helped beat two decades of jam sessions into shape. Lord knows how lengthy some of these tracks might have been without their input. Make sure you focus on how Karow and Wino’s guitar parts intertwine around each other, like they belong together, for the lingering opening to “Clay Pigeons”, or Clark’s tribal drums on “Peyote Road”, or the burbling bass grunt that lodges itself deep into sections of “B.E.A.U.T.Y.” – with so much space left around each instrument, there are moments of delightful tranquility and moments of true hammering power. There’s a large wedge of drone ripping the heart of the music along and much of ’s blues-streaked majesty (both Wino’s suggestions) dragging the soul into play too. Then there are tracks like “Modern Man” and “Deranged Rock N’ Roller” that just plain rock; tracks that sound more like they come from the brain of fellow “lifer” Lemmy Kilmister; tracks that lie at the pivot-point between his work with and .

Wino gets to use lots of his warm, wobbling E-bow throughout the album. The intro to “La Hechicera de la Jeringa” (that roughly translates as “The Sorceress Of The Syringe”) gets a large dose of it. This, and “Peyote Road” do fall into line with those original expectations, but it’s “Senses” that wins the day. Criminally short, but head-swimmingly psychedelic, it blossoms into life with an open chord that is left to echo while yawning bass notes are met by a floating, paper-thin lead solo. Over the top of it all, Wino’s gritty vocal is injected with enough reverb to cause it to split and scatter across several aural planes. It may only be three minutes long but every second of “Senses” puts you into yet a deeper state of relaxation.

In the main, there is a quite a healthy overlap with Wino’s other bands here (it’s kind of -lite to the point where you’re almost expecting ’ Scott Kelly’s mighty roar to burst forth) so, if you were down with any of his former bands, 13 comes highly recommended. If you’re new to Wino’s back catalogue, I’d stick to making sure you check out ’s self-titled debut first – it’s debatably the finest work of his career. Whatever, you decide, know that this is the work of a legend. The man turns 50 this year. He’s been churning out music for 35 of them. He’s most definitely the quintessential lifer.

Also online (with samples) @ The New Review =

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Album Review: Baaba Kulka - Baaba Kulka

I know, I know. You're about to start listening to me waffle on about fiddle-de-dee folk and bippety-bop pop music and you want to know why the hell as a rabid metal fan you should carry on reading. For now, all I want you to do is take a moment, a deep breath, as I try to explain who the hell Baaba Kulka are and what the devil they have got to do with Iron Maiden.

Comfortable? Then I'll begin. The driving force behind the Baaba Kulka project is the award-winning Polish singer/songwriter/pianist Gabriela 'Gaba' Kulka. Now, the idea of a jazz/folk artist citing Maiden as an influence, may seem a little out of left field but, to be fair, she is a bit prone to bouts of eccentricity (one listen to her off-the-wall lyrics should do it). Still with me? Okay. Well, such is her love for the Irons that she decided to gather other like-minded Polish artists (some of whom she'd worked with previously on her solo albums) to play a supposedly one-off show of Maiden covers at the Hard Rock Café in Warsaw. She could have had no idea as to how well it would be received so, needless to say, they ended up touring it all over Poland and following it up with this very album of classic Maiden songs. Naturally, us being a dedicated heavy music site, we needed to give you the lowdown on just how "metal" it is.

Well, let's just get this out of the way, it's not going to open any moshpits. However, hearing Baaba Kulka's unique take on each individual track is still a pretty rewarding experience. The familiar kick-ass lyrics, backed by a rich variety of tones and textures, takes you on a potted saunter through Maiden's early history. You can hear that each track treats each lyric as if it's something to be adored and cosseted; granted its own particular space and mood. Believe me, when I say you can feel the love.

The simple synth and deliberately-ponderous opening delivery of 'The Number Of The Beast' allows for each word to ram itself into your conscious, so hacking clear a path for Kulka's elongated quavering vocal peak to pitch you into string, brass and woodwind pieces that lope along to a stripped-back beat. The jazzy construction and salsa rhythms of 'Wrathchild' are joined by the soul and electronica of 'Aces High' for what could quite possibly be the spawn of Chrome Hoof and Burt Bacharach. 'Children Of The Damned', similarly, hits the groove pedal and fishes out an emotional, piano-led, funk-fuelled piece of pop that, for some reason, has me thinking of those oddball alt-rockers Foxy Shazam. Oh yes, the horns are high and the Devil is dancing tonight.

All too often, though, things get just a little too odd. Baaba Kulka manage to turn 'Prodigal Son' into a meandering Queen-esque dance track (with Marina & The Diamonds jamming to Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson on jazz flute) and the most metal track (you could call it a kind of black pagan metal), 'To Tame A Land', a 7-minute troll through a series of macabre theatrics, simply fails to ignite any level of curiosity. The different speeds and layers never quite seem to gel and you'll find yourself hitting the skip button pretty rapidly. Ditto the minute of Gregorian chant that forms 'The Ides Of March'.

But, worst of all, they've committed the ultimate sin and rather screwed up the legendary 'Hallowed Be Thy Name'. These heathens appear to have gone so lo-fi as to construct the entire backing for the track on a tinny keyboard no less. It reminds me of that dusty old Roland we have in the corner, set to that god-awful "swing rock" drum setting with accompanying, pre-programmed chords sounding off in turn. Burn them, burn them all.

Okay I'm exaggerating but, it's fair to say the second-half of the album fails to live up to the promise of the first. On the bright side, to keep the metal flag flying, several of the tracks have a habit of suddenly breaking out the heavy and this is definitely a good thing. Take 'The Clairvoyant' which starts out flying along, disjointedly cuts to insert a half-time flamenco rhythm (yes, they actually do break out the castanets), before that acquiesces to allow the guitars to charge back in. Odd.

Weird Al Yankovic, Flametal, Richard Cheese, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Hellsongs, early-Apocalyptica - we've been here before. Yes, we've all got at least one collection by a band who play odd covers of rock/metal songs. Off the top of my head, I've got a copy of The Darkness' 'Permission To Land' as performed by The Angry String Orchestra. If you don't have one of these and/or love the Maiden, then let Baaba Kulka be your slice of dairy. If you approach this with an open mind, the novelty value may wear a little thin after the first couple of spins, but you could do a lot worse.

Also online @ Metal Team UK =

Monday, July 18, 2011

Album Review: Japanese Voyeurs - Yolk

Now, I like my grunge, so I was always going to dig Japanese Voyeurs. Since they popped up on my radar a few years back, I’ve been following with interest but have yet to be blown away. Other bands who cite strong grunge influences (Nine Black Alps, Dead Confederate, Seether, Trapt, etc.) have stood up and delivered strong, gutsy music, but this London quintet have yet to do so. This, of course, is despite holding one massive not-so-secret weapon, vocalist/guitarist Romily Alice. If you’ve never heard her sing before, think “attitude of a teenager, voice of a toddler”. Her squeaky delivery and stick-thin appearance is a proper Marmite factor. It’s one of the reasons why I actually prefer their recorded material over their live shows, and there aren’t many bands who reduce me to saying that. The reason? I find the piercing quality of her vocal is softened somewhat on the albums but, being brutally honest, it’s also that watching her contort herself into shapes just makes me wince – I want to have one hand on a phone, so I can call the emergency services the moment she snaps.

They certainly seem to be moving in the right direction with Yolk. It’s heavier than their EPs and, consequently, the contrast between the music and the singer is instantly noticeable. Alice’s vocal stands out powerfully and this shows it off in it’s best light. Tracks like ‘Get Hole’, ‘Blush’ and ‘Milk Teeth’ buck and churn their way into life with her voice cracking wonderfully within the musical maelstrom. It’s clear that the Voyeurs’ Nirvana worship knows no bounds as, on top of the pervading air of “couldn’t care less” lethargy that they exude and their fixation (see their website and the album cover’s ultrasound snap) with the unborn (remember In Utero?), they have clearly taken the notes and rhythms of ‘Very Ape’ and ‘Aneurysm’ and rearranged them to form ‘Dumb’ – yes, even the track-title is half-inched from the Seattle grunge monsters.

‘You’re So Cool’ has a big, dirty groove that sits pretty out front and has plenty of mid-range chopped guitar action that washes over and under you in layers. The vocal is set back in the mix and bursts forth in short waves of attack. Oddly, their lead single ‘Cry Baby’ has none of these addictive features, relying on a solitary, flaccid pop hook and an ineffectual spot of string-bending. It’s frustrating as they can quite easily do pop and do it well (‘That Love Sound’, full of blossoming emotion, and the bleak soliloquy ‘Heart Is A Fist’ being fine examples) but they need to stop resorting to type.

Take ‘Smother Me’. It’s a perfectly-positioned reduction; pure, plodding evil. There’s a doomish quality to the track that lifts it up a whole other level. It grabs you and ducks your head under the surface so that Alice becomes distant and ethereal. It’s the key to this whole album. If Japanese Voyeurs can grab onto this thought, leaving behind their other affectations, like the discombobulated messes ‘X-Rayted’ and ‘Dumb’, they can really start to make their own mark on this industry.

Also online @ TLOBF =

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Album Review: All Shall Perish - This Is Where It Ends

Since their last album, have parted ways with both guitarist Chris Storey and drummer Matt Kuykendall. A large couple of obstacles dumped on their road to stardom then, and just when they seemed to be building up an unstoppable head of steam. So often during these times of trouble the inevitable infusion of so much fresh blood can lead to a weakening of bonds and a blunting of edges. That certainly seemed to be the case early on when they claimed to be experiencing slow progress and subsequently lost one replacement. However, listening to this end result, now and Adam Pierce have come in and truly established themselves, they’ve clearly inspired the Californians to even greater heights.

From the first to the last, they absolutely grip it and rip it. This Is Where It Ends is intensely heavy, yet still coyly melodic in parts. The technicality is firing on all cylinders but a little of that exciting, experimental edge and rich layering that featured on Awaken The Dreamers has been left by the wayside. You see, you simply can’t define this band as deathcore and leave it at that. They pick and mix flavours from track-to-track like kids in a candy store. Sure, death and hardcore run through most of their work but there is also a distinct metal edge that hits tech, prog, groove, and thrash all at different times.

One thing is for certain, vocalist Hernan Hermida’s human-suit has split a seam; at times here he’s clearly flashing his green, reptilian skin beneath. C’mon, the man is quite clearly an alien being. No man or woman can make sounds as diverse, rough and bollock-janglingly heavy as these and get away with it. He’s right up there with all the other pink-painted, multi-organed, genii vocalists – Randy Blythe, Mitch Lucker, Guy Kozowyk, [insert your own particular favorites here]. Consider that and then know he repeatedly scowls “We are the dominant species!” during “The Death Plague”. His low, gargled, animal grunts are particularly powerful on tracks like “A Pure Evil” and “Royalty Into Exile” and his scouring pad squeals on “My Retaliation” are enough to turn your brain to mush – “I hope to see you fucking dieeee” – especially when he follows that up by showing off his full range.

The guitars so often split into these two distinct factions, both burble away along threaded arpeggios but one is firing out crisp high- and mid-range melody and the other is laying down dirty, low-end groove – there is a sublime example of this at 3:30 of “A Pure Evil”. They are also there blasting out speeding thrash for “Spineless”, “Embrace The Curse” and the magnificence of “The Past Will Haunt You” – which also features, by the way, an equally addictive barbed riff and pained roar of “How could we be so wroooong?” – oh, their audiences will love yelling that one, fists clenched, at the full moon. The drums are crushing – listen to “Rebirth” for a perfect cross-section of the various speeds and power that Pierce wields. On the downside, the album pacing does feel a tad lop-sided and there is perhaps a little too much of that spleen-slicing groove for my own personal taste, but I’m the sort to go misty-eyed during bits like the softly, softly acoustic outro to “Procession Of Ashes” or the orchestral intro to “In This Life Of Pain”.

Zach Ohren’s steady hand once again has been tasked with the production, and that continuity allows for nothing to dull the impact that the new boys have had. are back with an album that can easily go toe-to-toe with The Price Of Existence – time will tell if this lasts as long in the memory as that little doozy. The road ahead seems to be straight and smooth once more, and if Hermida’s driving they’ll be once more heading for those glistening lights of the ASP mothership – we’re all doomed, I tells you, doooooomed!

Also online (with samples) @ The New Review =

Friday, July 15, 2011

Album Review: Visions - Home

As an aspiring guitarist, there’s nothing more impressive than seeing a previously unknown fellow string-batterer walk onto stage with his instrument up around his armpits. Certainly, for me, the excitement that wells inside, before they’ve even played a note, never ceases to amaze. Of course, they might be just a talentless poseur, but experience has taught me that more often than not this is one dude who’s going to scramble your brain with his insane finger-skills. Tech metal is, generally, a visual feast of finger-drumming, pick-scraping, thumb-whacking, strap-yanking ability, plus a sensory explosion of exploratory sound that attacks in cascades of volume and multiple, seemingly chaotic, layers. And that’s just the axework – throw in a spasming vocalist, a hailstorm of skins and a lunatic bassist and you’ve got something truly glorious. I tend to find, more than with any other music format, removal of that live sensation significantly diminishes the genre’s impact. And so it is the case with ’ debut album Home.

Daniel Bareford’s monotone vocals are reminiscent of Mike Hranica’s () but also, oddly, Daniel P. Carter’s () – scarred exhortations that hack at your ears. The backing, softer-edged vocals contain a tonne of melody but, unfortunately, they come in brief spurts and are a little lacking in heart. It’s like having your face sprayed with bloodied bile, then dabbed with a tissue. You get the sense that this may come later, but here they are concentrating hard on breaking you, not serenading you.

“Attentive: Continuum” cracks the soft-shell that forms the introductory acoustics to reveal a bucking, back-breaking beast of tech metal and screamo. Bareford’s colossal onslaught bursts into colour for the odd melodic layer, but it seems to come almost as a less-than-comfortable afterthought. Cue “Machines” and rapid volleys of kick-drum that sound a shade on the clicky side. Jake Monson and Daniel Maywood’s accompanying walls of bottom-end chugging and schisming shreds more than make up for what feels a tad mechanistic at times. The moment where the track ducks down into a darkened, segmented space for a few seconds to dig out a steep rut is key.

“Desinent” picks up its feet and walks straight into a tip of the hat to ’ progressive thrash battery before dipping down for another chunk of mid-paced floor-scraping whilst “Autophobia” releases these great, emotive torrents of descending finger-taps. Star of the show, “Oceans”, finds a neatly-melodic lick and, at two minutes, a softer, cyclical wash that allows for another layer of depth to be cunningly inserted. There’s a structural integrity to everything that pull out of the hat and an agreeable degree of variation, though certainly this latter factor isn’t helped by their clearly deliberate decision to melt one track into another.

With the engineering and mixing side of things being handled by members of and there was never any doubt this was going to punch its weight and punch hard, but it’s not the archetypal breakthrough we were looking for. Toss this into the same pond as and and it’ll struggle to stay afloat. As a debut effort, there’s more than enough proof on display to prove there is plenty more to come, so chuck them the proverbial life preserver by heading out to one of their shows – in that kind of setting, I have absolutely no doubt that they’d destroy.

Also online (with samples) @ The NewReview =