REVIEWS – NEW MUSIC

It’s another bumper week for hot new rock and metal and you don’t get much hotter than Issa (pictured). We review and rate her Frontiers debut and albums including Zodiac Mindwarp, Mayday Parade, Jaldaboath, James Labrie, Abigail Williams and more!

Kiske Somerville – Kiske Somerville (Frontiers)

Mix together two of the best vices in melodic rock, add some fantastic riffs, pour in a healthy amount of hair metal cheese and you’ve got the perfect recipe for one of the most endearing and inoffensive albums of the year.

Frontiers know their market inside out and for the label’s canny bosses this album was always a no-brainer. Ex-Helloween frontman Michael Kiske and Avantasia/Epica star Amanda Somerville complement each other to a tee as they deliver one soaring anthem after another, their distinctive voices weaving in and out of soft metal hooks made to measure for this delicious duo.

To some this record will be too slick to stomach. To others its mix of full-on rockers and heartfelt ballads will recall an age when Heart and Richard Marx tackled Def Leppard and Europe in the battle for chart supremacy. And while it would have been easy to pack K/S with one weepy smoochathon after another this album’s secret is the juxtaposition of driving hard rock and carefully crafted soft metal.

Placing the epic, orchestral End Of The Road in between the metallic, rifftastic Arise and the upbeat pop rock of Don’t Walk Away is inspired and inspiring. A clever concept suddenly seems even more sensible. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Somer Time

Abigail Williams – In The Absence Of Light (Candlelight)

If you have no prior knowledge of this band, you’ll think that this is a female solo artist with her troupe of merry session musicians, right?  Nope.  After plugging in your headphones, your next assumption is that this is a band from the Nordic Black Metal scene, right?  Nope.

Hailing from Phoenix, Arizona, Abigail Williams experimented with metalcore structures when they were first spawned.  Fortunately for purists, a lot has changed since then.

In The Absence Of Light is an album that clutches loyally to black metal roots, but varies its tempos and melodies to harbour a sound that at least allows it to be separated from generic mediocrity.

Hope The Great Betrayal begins the album with symphonic sounds that are eventually penetrated with the kind of scream that pins ears back, stands hairs on end and demands to be listened to.

Although this record doesn’t resemble metalcore in the slightest, it seems their early days have taught them the importance of variety.  In Death Comes Great Silence may encompass the menacing rapidity of a traditional black metal structure, but it also blends it with a fantastic breakdown chorus of driving guitars, backed with symphonic keyboards and the wailing of a bended guitar note.

Their symphonic features aren’t as prevalent as they are in Dimmu Borgir’s sound, but the influence is definitely there, as it is with Dani Filth in the vocals. This is a relative success and certainly a one for the black metal buffs. CR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Gail Force

Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction – We Are Volsung (SPV/Steamhammer)

The return of the original sleaze rock king should be a cause for wild celebration and a nod to late 80s excess. As a prime mover of the UK rock n roll scene when hair metal was threatening to sugar coat guitar music across the board, Zodiac Mindwarp preached decadence, dirt and delicious damnation. That was then.

It’s sad to say that, 20 years on from the brilliant Back Seat Education, the man responsible for inspiring debauchery on a massive scale is little more than a lame caricature of his former self. Any expectation that this rare foray into the studio announces a new and exciting era for ZM&TLR evaporates after the opening track. Talk about utter, abject disappointment.

At the band’s magnificent peak, when Alice Cooper demanded a songwriting partnership and sell-out shows were the norm, the majority of the tracks peppering We Are Volsung would have been thrown out of the tour bus back door. And for good reason.

This record sullies a name which has long since gone down in sleaze rock folklore as a monicker synonymous with good times and timeless abandon. Remember the Tattooed Beat Messiah as he was then and try to avoid what he is now. SR

rushonrock rated: 4/10 Zodiac Mindwarp & The Adverse Reaction

Revolution Renaissance – Trinity (Napalm)

After Timo Tolkki parted ways with power metal giants Stratovarius in 2008, things may have turned ugly.  But with chin up he thought, ‘just carry on.’  Revolution Renaissance was the new project at hand, but this third release marks the end of their existence after a general lack of interest from fans.

Sadly, this can be justified with a brand of bland power metal without a real edge. Typical ‘big’ choruses are prominent but rather than garnering an epic atmosphere, they just feel over-used.  The beginning half of the album is more at fault for this. World Doesn’t Get Me makes a four minute song feel like 14 minutes, and it requires patience in waiting for the album to move on.

The second half respectably picks up a little.  Dreamchild is the consolation gem of Trinity, and will take the old Stratovarius faithful back to the band’s album of 2005, although there is some more technical guitar work five years on. On the verses, the undercurrent deep bass line builds, while electric guitar softly strums (like the beginning of Just Carry On) before bursting into the best example of a hard hitting, emotional chorus on the whole album.

Trinity is a pure power metal album that doesn’t exactly reign as a classic.  For the nostalgic Stratovarius fans, this will probably offer some satisfaction. But ultimately Tolkki and his project miss the big bang and bow out in a modest puff of smoke. CR

rushonrock rated: 5/10 Failed Revolution

Mayday Parade – Anywhere But Here (Atlantic)

Readying ourselves for another lame example of saccharine pop punk, this remarkable record leapt off the decks like a dog on heat.

Bristling with chart-busting intent, an album which divided the MP faithful on its US release last year marries the best of middle class American disaffection with simple reflections on everyday life. It’s a tried and tested formula and yet, beefed up by a brilliant production, this stands miles apart from the myriad Green Day wannabes jostling for position in an overcrowded market.

The intoxicating vibe underpinning tunes like Kids In Love, Still Breathing and the brilliant Bruised But Scarred is impossible to escape. Trust us: if you’re not humming these classy tracks all week long then you’ve inexplicably lost your ear for a classic pop rock tune.

Hardcore punks will hate it. Pop punksters will probably cringe at the cheesier twists and childish turns. And plain, simple pop fans will find some of the tracks a little too loud for comfort. But there’s a huge swathe of music fans across the world who will be drawn to the fact that Mayday Parade have made an impossibly catchy rock record tailor made for 2010. Jason who? SR

rushonrock rated: 10/10 Hoorayday Parade

Jaldaboath – Rise Of The Heraldic Beasts (Napalm)

Who’s up for some English Heraldic Templar Metal?  If you’ve never heard of the term, it’s a self-titled genre that these comedic geniuses have used to describe their unique brand of music.

Take the hilarity of Monty Python, throw a portion of catchy metal riffs together with some melodramatic keyboard trumpets and you get Jaldaboath.

Album opener Hark The Herald gives us a glimpse of their jovial side.  In amongst the overdramatic instrumentals, the lyrics sensationalise violence in the kind of matter-of-fact japery that parodies battle metal, similar to the way that Steel Panther poke fun at hair metal.

Bash The Bishop tells the story of a group of men looking to cave the Bishop’s head in after he closed the toll bridge, while my wild case of giggles in Axe Wielding Nuns is probably self-explanatory.

To get things straight, Jaldaboath can play music.  Their themes may be based around an over-the-top English humour, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play their instruments, it’s simply because of general lyrical content that their talent is overlooked.

Nevertheless, Jacque De Molay shows Jaldaboath have the ability to create slightly more serious content that sounds great too.  The vocals resonate a lower growl, and the lively guitar work on the song is lovely.  But there’s something slightly different from the usual synths, which are still dramatic, but feel somewhat darker.

Along similar lines of tomfoolery as Alestorm and the occasional Korpiklaani song, Jaldaboath have started their own unique strain of comic metal, which rocks the richter-scale when it comes to enjoyment. CR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 ‘Boath Load Of Laughs

Issa – Sign Of Angels (Frontiers)

A case of style over substance? Quite possibly. There’s no doubting Issa has the rock chick looks to follow in the footsteps of Lita Ford, Lisa Dominique, Lorraine Lewis and a couple of Vixens. But with so many female singers flooding the soft metal market these days a powerful vocal is very much part of the overall package.

Given the full backing of a typically slick Frontiers production job it appears Issa really can cut it as a singer. On the surface at least. But after 10 years singing live there’s no reason to doubt that the best thing to come out of Norway since pickled herring is the perfect hard rock product.

The disappointing aspect of Sign Of Angels is not so much the quality of Issa’s performance but more the lack of a ‘hit you in the face’ anthem. There’s a frustrating sense of ‘sameyness’ across the board and after a while one formulaic track morphs into another. Nothing’s bad but then nothing’s brilliant. It’s consistent but consistently underwhelming.

Given a great singer with great looks there’s really no excuse for not crafting a world beating brand. Issa might be that iconic artist in the future – and let’s not forget this is her major label debut – but for now she lacks the identity necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff. Unbelievable is a brilliant ballad and Closer is the closest Issa comes. But it’s not quite close enough.

There’s no Kiss Me Deadly, no Waiting For The Big One and no Edge Of A Broken Heart and a signature tune is surely the first step towards stardom. Issa claims she’s already excited about the material she’s penning for album number two – on this evidence it’s hard to share her enthusiasm. SR

rushonrock rated: 6/10 Sign Of The Times

Angra – Aqua (SPV/Steamhammer)

In spite of their huge following at home, Angra aren’t simply exclusive to Brazil.  They’ve been a popular import for prog and power metal fans across the planet and this record shows us exactly why.

Their mastery of atmospheric changes asserts them as a metal force to be reckoned with at your own stormy peril.  I say ‘stormy’ because Rafael Bittencourt was inspired by Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, so much to the point that Aqua is essentially a concept album based on it.

Of course the album had to have an Angra-special epic opening, which is eventually flooded by the intense solo work of Bittencourt on Arising Thunder – giving the result of a spectacular beginning.

A break into the sounds of piano and waning violins may be of some surprise when listening to Awake From Darkness, but importantly it precedes some guitar work that smoothly follows it.  Lease Of Life resumes the mix of beauty and power, which seems to continue in well balanced cohesion for most of the album.

Spirit Of The Air, a song about the fairy-like spirit Ariel, starts with some lovely acoustic picking, blending potently into the electric thuds of guitar and percussion.

Aqua is technical, beautiful and certainly ambitious.  A risk taken in confident strides has put it as one of the best metal releases of the year. CR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Aquacking Stuff

Two Fires – Burning Bright (Frontiers)

Hot tip for Journey fans everywhere: if you’re twiddling your thumbs waiting for Arnel and the boys to wrap up their next record then listening to this rather slick record is the perfect way to spend your downtime.

Singer Kevin Chalfant might not deliver vocals quite as crisp as the Filipino answer to Steve Perry, and some of Burning Bright‘s heavier moments might scare the Glee crowd, but this is FM-friendly pop rock in the tradition of Journey, Toto et al.

Essentially The Storm Mk II (remember I’ve Got A Lot To Learn About Love), Chalfant hooks up with long-time buddy Josh Ramos to reprise a band perfect for 2010. This is so smooth it could give a baby’s butt a run for its money and when Neal Schon pops up on the superb Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid (check out the classic riff) it’s like the late 70s/early 80s all over again.

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and, if that’s the case, then Schon and his Journey band mates owe Two Fires one almighty debt of gratitude. This will keep the AOR flame burning brightly – and for that it’s worthy of a whole heap of praise. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Journey Into The Past

Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini (Nuclear Blast America)

If you think pristine prog and black metal sound like unlikely counterparts then you have to listen to this album.  Enslaved continue to be one of the influential forces in black metal, but made the journey to more progressive tides almost 15 years ago.

The move may have divided many fans, but after listening to Axioma Ethica Odini, there’s no doubt Enslaved are producing some phenomenal stuff with their solidly integrated setup.

Vocally there’s a fine fusion of the deep guttural, the blood curdling and the melodic. Ethica Odini begins the album obscurely with some sound effects that would be more at home on a Pink Floyd record, but soon bursts into a pulsating black metal riff in coherence with those curdling screams I mentioned earlier.  All of it done with spectacular precision, giving spine tingling results.

What makes Enslaved a real listening pleasure on this album particularly is the structures and fitting riffs that they seem to dig out of nowhere when you’re least expecting it.  Giants continues on from the beautiful Hawkwind-esque interlude of Axioma, subsequently smashing into a slow thumping beat with eerie harmonies.

The Beacon has to be listened to on full volume.  Once you do so it’ll quite frankly kick the shit out of you, but like most of this album it’ll be the most intriguing beating of your life, if that makes sense. CR

rushonrock rated: 10/10 Ax(ioma) Heroes

Dirty Little Rabbits – Dirty Little Rabbits (The End)

“The band I’ve wanted to have my entire career”: the endorsement from the brainchild of Slipknot Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan.

Dirty Little Rabbits are as far from Slipknot as you’ll ever get and their first full length album shows that.  Combining the warbling vocals of Stella K, yes the same one from Stella Soleil way back when, with psychedelic guitar riffs, Dirty Little Rabbits set up this album to be an experience for the listener.

We did get a brief taste of what the group could achieve in 2008’s EP Simon but the self-titled LP displays the array of talent the band have to offer. Whilst opening track Simon tends to drag with odd Hammond organ sections thrown into the off-beat drumming it is pulled back fairly sharply.

Put It In The Rock and Hello both are tremendously uplifting with Stella K almost crooning her way through the latter.  Lead single Professional Hit has Stella ranting and raving with an almost Joan Jett-esque feel, a real good rock and roll tune. Her voice can portray every range of emotion as from Professional Hit it rifles into the ever-so tender If.

If this is what Crahan had been craving all those days he was sat in a Slipknot recording studio he’ll be very proud to see his “dream” come true.  Dirty Little Rabbits have managed to bare all for this album and by the end of it you feel you know Stella K intimately.  It’s one of those that will grab you instantly. TW

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Dirty Great Success

Cataract – Killing The Eternal (Metal Blade)

Considering Cataract hail from Switzerland there’s nothing neutral about this maelstrom of mean spirited metal.

From the old school thrash blast that ushers in opener Never to the frequent and fierce nods to the band’s metalcore roots there’s no room for comfort as Killing The Eternal proves itself to be a full-on, frills and spills aural atom bomb of an album.

Frontman Fedi growls and snarls his way through every track as if his potentially chaotic life depended on it and the brooding, doom-laden instrumental title track – all two minutes 19 seconds of it – offers a welcome break from the seriously agitated voice of Cataract.

If you think Swiss metal begins and ends with Gotthard then this feisty little affair will have you diving for cover and dialling 999 (or 666). It’s played out at an Emergency Room pace and the ear bleeding accent is relentless. Marvellous. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Cataracket

James Labrie – Static Impulse (Inside Out)

He might be one of the most versatile and recognisable voices in progressive metal but James Labrie sounds positively tame as the opening chimes of One More Time bow down to drummer Peter Wildoer’s carnal screams. There’s a ferocity about this record’s first track which sets the tone for an album rich in versatility and stretching the boundaries of modern metal in so many of its wide and varied guises.

Labrie’s work with Dream Theater is undisputed as some of the best in the business but freed from the (albeit loose) constraints of his day job the fantastically talented frontman emerges as an even more endearing character.

Thought provoking vocals? Check. Soaring melodies? Check. Inventive axe work? Check – Marco Sfogli is in fret-stripping form. Listening to Static Impulse over and over and you begin to wish this was the future for modern heavy metal and perhaps for Labrie, in the wake of Mike Portnoy’s shock departure from Dream Theater, it could be.

There’s nothing overtly epic about a solo album par excellence but what you get are 12 slabs of precision cut hard rock with progressive tendencies and surprising trad metal twists. What more could you want? SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Dream On

The Crown – Doomsday King (Century Media)

Sabbath-esque cathedral chimes give way to Jonas Stalhammer’s best impression of a caged beast tackling a nasty dose of rabies as the title track to this ugly album chugs into life.

And chugs is the best word. It’s laboured, lifeless and, in all honesty, a particularly bad advert for thrash/death metal fusions. Searching for speed, The Crown simply lose all focus and what should be an edgy, threatening affair swiftly descends into a genre-pleasing slab of unoriginal dirge.

Angel Of Death 1839 offers up flashes of punishing percussion but when you’re forced to pick up on some neat drumming in the quest for positives then it’s clear there’s something seriously flawed with an underwhelming album.

Death metal is a genre bursting with diversity and determination right now. The Crown stick out like a sore and sadly limp thumb. SR

rushonrock rated: 3/10 Crown And Out

This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson, Tom Walsh.

I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.

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