Reviews Coming Soon

Album Review: TBA

Friday, November 16, 2012

Album Review: Vera Cruz – SkinAndTeethAndNails

Meaning “true cross” the French band Vera Cruz (yes, we’re not talking about the place, the film, the computer virus, the football club or the canyon here) are a group who wear their music influences as badges of honour. They have melded the classic punk of Black Flag and the timeless hardcore of Sick Of It All to the contemporary conglomerate metalcore of acts like Unearth or Evergreen Terrace so that what pours out of them falls somewhere between moshpit crush and raging chaos.

Their debut album, SkinAndTeethAndNails, besides providing the acronym SATAN whilst flaunting an anarchic graffiti-scrawled album cover message imploring you to “Fuck Cops”, goes off with one hell of a bang. The dynamic 1:32 build and crush of “Hopeless Knights” fires up the gang vocals to belt out the chorus for the enigmatic “The Last Of A Dying Breed”. The clean harmonies that mark out “The Family” pitch themselves as a sweetener for lead vocalist Flavian’s furious scrawling which continues to bite on through the speeding mania of “Black Walls” – a track that comes close to touching the crazy of label-mates The Chariot but with a hint of fellow countrymen The Prestige thrown in for good measure. The purposeful, yet ludicrously over-extended, circulating banjo at the track’s end leads neatly into the chord structure of the awesomely menacing “Open Your Eyes”.

From this point on, Vera Cruz rather lose a bit of steam. A large proportion of this latter material has a tendency to disappear from the foreground as the band begin to wander into familiar structures where neck-breaking speed, breakdowns and gang vocals rule. The exciting bone-crunching smack of those first few hits, the sinister psychological edge that was wielded so readily is filtered-out and the insistent metal guitar chugs begin to dominate (they even try to wedge an Iron Maiden gallop into the complex farce that is “The Last Parade”). Only the opportunity to “Walk Alone”, a track whose chorus is strongly reminiscent of Unearth’s “My Will Be Done”, and the dark atmospherics and dense bark of “Dunwich” allow them to come close to leaving another impression.

French metal bands seem to have a knack for imagination and, with SATAN, Vera Cruz have proved they are no different. What they appear to have a tendency to do is suppress it in an attempt to find a crossover metal edge and subsequent parity with their heroes. If they thought bigger, perhaps had a real crack at playing the wildcard that they are clearly holding, they could really blow some minds.

Also online @ Ave Noctum =

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Album Review: Soundgarden – King Animal

Way back in 1997, when innovative grunge-monsters announced their decision to disband, they left an almighty hole which only singer came close to filling with his hit-and-miss attempts at a solo career and daring adventures with . Consequentially, the hullaballoo surrounding their announcement of a reunited front was inevitable and now it has come to pass that their sixth studio album, King Animal, is upon us. It is, of course, the official stamp that marks their recent sell-out shows as more than just a tease, but does it live up to the outrageous expectations that have been placed upon it?

Of course, acknowledging the 16 years that have passed since the release of Down On The Upside, their last album of original material, means their lyrical statement of a lead single (and opening track), “Been Away Too Long”, was not so much an inevitably as it was a necessity. Its cyclical, driven rock riff and sharp, vocal hook take down that hulking elephant in the room and the doubters with it. From here onwards, King Animal laudably sets about ticking box after box, building up a body of work that marks out a natural progression from the point where the band downed tools.

The album’s natural touchstones are Superunknown and, interestingly, Euphoria Morning (Cornell’s first solo effort) with the band offering up a selection of more mature, honed and direct music. The -like pinged arpeggio and funk pump of “Non-State Actor” and rotational grind of “By Crooked Steps” are fine examples of how to get our attention and hold it. Although there are songs that dip their toes in melancholy (“Bones Of Birds”, a fine example), the band’s tendency to throw out the occasional muscular, subversive side-swipe is all but gone. Bassist Ben Shepard’s dark flights of fancy have also been weeded out from the foreground but you’ll still find similar, if a little softer, experimentation at the album’s alternate ending – the sultry bass riff and beautiful vocal layering of “Eyelid’s Mouth” and the mesmeric, back-and-forth repetition of “Rowing” form the shadows lurking in wait if you happen to stumble in too deep.

Such is the intelligence of the lyrics that every now and then you’ll catch a word that has been used before in their back catalogue – a neat psychological trick that shows off the band’s attention to detail. The glorious ethnic roller “A Thousand Days Before” alone serves fair indication of this and that’s not even taking Cornell’s rich, echoing and carefully graded delivery into consideration. Shining stars like “Taree”, a track which muddies up the guitars and serves up a real two-toned treat, the smooth acoustic wash of “Black Saturday”, and the elegantly-melodic “Halfway There” are hearty enough fare to keep you nodding along.

Okay, so there’s the odd misplaced blob of filler, like the one-dimensional pop of “Attrition” and “Worse Dreams” with its misplaced feedback scrawl and sugary chorus (and the deluxe material is very much “collectors only” quality), but otherwise King Animal is a little slice of wish fulfillment. They may not be as exciting or dynamic as they once were, Cornell’s delivery may be a tad weaker, but the band have compensated by cleanly fusing drive to emotion; breathing fresh air into old lungs; integrating a beguiling flow to their music. It’s this serene, rhythmic pulse that gently tugs us back along their career path, effortlessly building a bridge over that almighty hole. By crooked steps, indeed.

Also online @ The NewReview =

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Album Review: Graveyard – Lights Out

Of the multitude of vocalists out there, some have been coerced through circumstance to put their singing voices into action, some seem just-plain deluded and some have true talent for the art form. Of those talented ones, many have started shaky but have put in the practice, improving over time, and a few were just born great singers. Joakim Nilsson is absolutely at the top of the pile of this latter bunch. His unstressed vocal is full, creamy and as smooth as silk and when he rips into a sequence, his delivery becomes wonderfully croaky and dry; as rough as tree-bark. without Nilsson is unthinkable. Without him they’d merely be an empty glove and on this latest album never has the band needed his skills more.

Once more, they’ve recorded entirely in analogue, a process which allows them to capture both the hedonistic, throbbing, fuzzball rock and the introspective heart, soul and blues of the 1970s. Band drummer Axel Sj√∂berg has spoken of the Lights Out concept as representing “a feeling that we have that these times that we live in are strange times, where no one really sees anything straight or the way they are.” Taking that on board, the deep-brown smudge on black artwork is inevitable considering the theme, but it is still a poor effort when you consider the crushingly dynamic beauty of their debut and sophomore offerings – a dull Rothko to their previous takes on Da Vinci and Michaelangelo. Musically though, it’s an ideal that certainly comes to stunning fruition.

The influence of modern stoner/sludge bands lurk heavy here on Lights Out more than ever with the guitars wound back to create a flabbier, moodier and weightier dynamic. For “The Suits, The Law & The Uniforms”, for instance, the chugging strings get so fat that they end up slurping and burping their way across the surface of the track. The fairly formidable, menacing vibe that is created by them allows the frontman room to really shine and he doesn’t let the side down, indignantly howling out his barbed lyrics.

Lights Out‘s running order creates yet another roller-coaster ride with the rockers fairly whizzing down the steep slopes of “An Industry Of Murder”, “Goliath” and “Seven Seven” and plodding laboriously back up through the drowsy blues of “Slow Motion Countdown”, “20/20 (Tunnel Vision)” and “Hard Times Lovin’” – the latter being a dark, moody gem of a track where Nilsson has never been closer to ’ Jim Morrison and his foreboding croon.

If “Seven Seven”, a hare of a track that sounds oddly like it was written as a slow number only to be played at double-time, were viewed as a career weak spot, then the album itself would still qualify as a career highlight. There are just too many moments of virtuosity for it not to. Killer material like the perfect pacesetter, “An Industry Of Murder”, which jinks in and out of top gear, diligently feeding air raid sirens and a mind-melting set of cosmic washes into the hungry maw of the builds that wind the thing back up to speed. Or “Slow Motion Countdown”, a song with a soft, melancholic sway that shows off Nilsson’s lyrical genius and impeccable range to its fullest climaxing in the hook of “When the flame turns blue not even you will lead us through”. Or “Goliath” that pulses with Rikard Edlund’s big, bassy punch. The thing works through sheer force of intent – “They are trying to sell slavery as a dream to chase” – and every one of those fruity riffs is deliberately positioned to throw the listener into a headspin.

Before you even reach the velvet flow and dual vocal dynamite of closer “20/20 (Tunnel Vision”), you’ll already be aware that have concocted something truly special – an album that can rub shoulders with their startling debut effort. Three albums to be rightly proud of – can this band do no wrong? Not, it seems, as long as they have Joakim Nilsson – the godlike vocalist who, time after time, can turn water into w(h)ine.

Also online (with album samples) @ The NewReview =

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Album Review: Tracer – Spaces In Between

Let’s face it, isn’t the most inspirational moniker you could give your band. Sure, it might put one in mind of modern warfare and its associated pyrotechnics but it also conjures up images of thick pencils and translucent paper. Happily though, this Australian trio have chosen something much more promising for their album title. Spaces In Between could be an indication of their intention to come up with something fresh; a sound that lies somewhere between two different musical styles. Now that would be an ambitious project, but it appears to be one that has inspired a couple of blues brothers, who go by the name of Brown, to give it a bash.

What they have been achieving, since their formation way back in 2004, isn’t anything quite as groundbreaking but it’s certainly solid and initially engaging. With the band setting their sights first on touring their home country, then the UK and Europe, as is often the case with bands born outside the borders of America, the U.S. is the last to get a scoopful of their patching of grunge to rock n’ roll. And when I suggest one being stuck to the other I mean in a haphazard DIY way. Honestly, you could split this album in half and sell it to two different fanbases.

In the top half, “Too Much”, “The Bitch” and “Walk Alone” pull together the pounding desert rock of and weld it to the raw licks of . “Louder Than This” forms a stand-out jigging howl of a track with lead vocalist Michael Brown giving it the full beans, whilst “Voice In The Rain” is the kind of soft-rocker you could pass off as or . Occasionally the band break out a kind of -esque frazzled country fizz which adds an edge to certain tracks, like “Push”, but generally they stick to the tried-and-trusted blues rock structures that they know and love.

More excitingly, everything from the title-track onwards begins to really settle down around a grungier sound. The warm fuzz of the bass begins to take a much more central role and the upbeat patterns turn to downbeat tones. “Dead Inside” is a -esque trudger that leaps right down the throat of Chris Cornell himself. “Save My Breath” and “All In My Head” walk the same line but pick up the pace. Then the power and dark heart of come into play as throw more leads in. “I Won’t Let It Die (Run Mary)” tugs in more blues and consequently picks up a meets vibe.

One track, “Devil Ride” is, in my mind, an homage to that great cinematic Aussie export, Crocodile Dundee – “Boots are made from crocodile hide / Shaved my face with a hunting knife / Left my lover far behind / ‘Cos I walk the long road” – so that should be an easy entry point for all you film buffs.

Honestly though, you shouldn’t need an entry point because if you are a fan of any of the aforementioned bands then you’ll be well aware that aren’t breaking boundaries; achieving the impossible. Of course there’s an almighty lump of radio-friendly rock going on in here too and, unsurprisingly, it springs to mind that Spaces In Between is an album that wouldn’t have looked out of place 20 years ago. So yes, are unlikely to win any awards for originality anytime soon, but then it is instantly accessible, deeply grooved and comes with some pretty catchy tunes… and they did pre-warn you with that band-name of theirs – you can’t go complaining now.

Also online with sound clips @ The NewReview =