REVIEWS – NEW MUSIC

There’s movement at last in the world of new music and 2011 kicks off in some style with Pearl Jam (pictured), Magnum, Times Of Grace and Oceano setting the pace for what promises to be a big year for big albums.

We review and rate them all and don’t forget to check us out every Sunday for the very best in new rock and metal!

Pearl Jam – Live On Ten Legs (Island)

If you’re a Pearl Jam fan and you don’t yet own one of the myriad live recordings by the grunge pioneers then please reassess your devotion to Eddie V and the boys. Opportunities have come thick and fast during the past two decades to hear this band in its element and it’s perfectly reasonable to ask why there’s any need for yet another record of the biggest hits blasted out to a capacity crowd.

On the one hand this latest live record includes tracks from the band’s most recent release – the highly acclaimed Backspacer and for completionists that makes this a must-have item. On the other it offers compelling evidence that while many of rock and metal’s finest frontmen are on the wane, the incomparable Vedder still has what it takes to deliver a faultless live set.

The Pearl Jam singer’s silky tones are made for live records. It’s not as if Vedder mimics his band’s studio output – there’s enough variation in that fantastic voice to justify numerous concert recordings – and yet he rarely misses a note. There’s a mesmerising quality to his understated performance which means that even if you have a sackful of Pearl Jam live discs cluttering up your record collection there’s an argument for adding this to the pile.

All the hits are here again – opener Arms Aloft offers an early sign of things to come and the Live On Ten Legs version of Jeremy is both haunting and beautiful. Yellow Leadbetter brings the 18-song set to a fitting close and surely the sign of a stellar live record is the speed with which it seems to fly by. This one seemed to pass in the blink of an eye and demands further inspection in the future. SR

rushonrock rated:  8/10 Still A-live

Magnum – The Visitation (SPV)

After the glory that was last year’s career-spanning The Gathering, expectations were (perhaps impossibly) high ahead of the release of Magnum’s latest studio album.

And while The Visitation is a slick, melodic, prog-tinged journey through the complicated and fabulously rich mind of songwriter Tony Clarkin there’s something missing from the mix. This is no bad album – Magnum and Clarkin don’t really deal in duds – and yet it’s not the 2011 tour de force die-hard fans and lapsed followers were surely hoping for.

Clarkin has made no secret of the fact that he’s immensely proud of the production underpinning the band’s 16th studio album and there’s a glossy sheen to every one of the record’s 10 tracks. But if you’re looking for the standout tune, the obvious single, the lighter-waving anthem or the future classic prepare for a long old gaze: The Visitation is an exercise in replication.

If opener Black Skies is good then follow-up Doors To Nowhere is neither any better nor any worse. It’s a symptom of the record which Clarkin and cohort Bob Catley just can’t shake – every song morphs into the next and individuality is a stranger. It’s impossible to imagine Magnum resting on their laurels but it seems the band believes it has found a winning formula and has stuck to it so rigidly that any hope for experimentation has been lost.

Clarkin has never played it safe and yet, aside from some stirring lyrics, this is a record which does just that. Magnum middle of the road? You heard it here first. SR

rushonrock rated: 6/10 Mag-numb

Times Of Grace – The Hymn Of A Broken Man (Roadrunner)

When Killswitch Engage buddies Jesse Leach and Adam Dutkiewicz got back together under the Times Of Grace banner the deep intakes of breath could be heard across the metal world. This project always had the potential to blow a big hole in the musical landscape of 2011 and what the duo have delivered must rank as one of the most accomplished debuts in history.

The track record might have been there – after all Leach and Dutkiewicz put the Kill into Killswitch – but there were never any guarantees that the spark would still exist or the talent remain untarnished. As it happens the spark is more of a flame and the talent honed to such an extent that every tune on Hymn Of A Broken Man is a moment of pure brilliance.

Leach, of course, is a troubled soul and so don’t expect his return to the forefront of the metal scene to be all smiles and cuddly choruses. Thankfully, the opposite is true. This record is the soundtrack to a landscape of depression and the battle to emerge from a very dark place. As a result it grabs the attention and never releases that grip.

Only one track clocks in at more than five minutes and The End Of Eternity is the most mournful example of a chillingly bleak bunch. Frank admissions and heartfelt honesty don’t often make for happiness and Leach’s ability to channel his inner troubles into powerful modern metal is mesmerising – the title track, Fight For Life and Live In Love are incredibly moving and massively important. As is this sparkling debut. SR

rushonrock rated: 10/10 Times Of Our Lives

Oceano – Contagion (Earache)

If brutality is your craving look no further than Contagion. Chicago Deathcore heavyweights Oceano built a local notoriety for their raw energy, crushing breakdowns and terrifying guttural bawling.  Their follow up from debut album Depths undoubtedly lives up to that infamy, but is that all they’ve got going for them? There’s a short answer to the question, but first, it’s only fair to take a closer look.

Yes, the death metal purists are going to hate it, but there’s no ignoring that there’s a fan base for such pessimistically brutal music.  Precursor To Enslavement begins the onslaught with inaudible wailing and a string of rough chord sequences alongside a mix of intense speed drumming and fast double-kicks on break sections.  The effort, like much of this second album, feels too forced. Even in Viral Re-animation featuring Alexandre Erian and Steve Marois formerly of Despised Icon, there’s no variation to create a standout.

If there had to be a standout track, Exist In Confinement is your sole chance to catch your breath with a rare mellow guitar introduction and unexpected spoken word providing the only vocals on top of a doomier structure.  It’s probably the strongest track, but is of course the one and only song of solitude before you’re pulled back under, into the great depths of Oceano’s relentless aggression with Persuasive Oppression.

While it may seem like a refreshing idea in bringing Nick Arthur of fellow US deathcore outfit Molotov Solution to perform vocals on it, it doesn’t do anything to separate the album from the samey mediocrity that dominates it.

Truth is, ‘heavyness’ is too often viewed as a commodity to be exploited in a narrow ploy to gain attention from the extreme metal masses.  Unfortunately with no real thought gone into it, Contagion is exactly this. CR

rushonrock rated: 3/10 Ocea-no, no, no

This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth and Calum Robson

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

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