REVIEWS – NEW MUSIC
We check out the new career-spanning Best Of from German industrial crew Eisbrecher (pictured).
And we deliver our verdict on the latest records by Fight Like Apes, Pathfinder, Big Life, After Hours, Alpha Tiger, Lake Of Tears, Revoker and Rush.
The Body Of Christ And The Legs Of Tina Turner is the second full-length album from Dublin’s highly revered Fight Like Apes. Released in Ireland last year and now available in England and over the Atlantic, Fight Like Apes should be celebrating their latest step up.
With a lot of heat from mainstream music press tipping them for big things and with two consecutive nominations for Irish album of the year for their 2009 debut Fight Like Apes and the Mystery Of The Golden Medallion and later this record too, the pressure is on for the female-fronted four-piece.
Fight Like Apes mold their own alternative rock sound with pop electronica and powder the final product with zesty punk moments.
Thank God You Weren’t Thirsty (Lightbulb) shows exactly what frontwoman MayKay should be doing with her voice when she wreaks her usually beautiful unassuming vocals into a carnal, anarchic wail. Poached Eggs follows up with an equally scrambled sonic mess, but this time channelling her disorder on keyboards. Afterwards focusing on calming the verses with a sound more akin to The Kissaway Trail or Manchester Orchestra, Fight Like Apes give us a beautiful flash of what they’re able of, with what is possibly the best track on the record.
Bass guitar on Captain A-Bomb wanders too closely to a slower Girls Just Wanna Have Fun line and is relatively uninspiring. Other synth player Pockets assumes centre-stage on vocals and emanating a pop-punk edge the mentally titled Waking Up With Robocop follows a simple, singular bass drum structure for the best part of the tune, assisted by some sampled film speeches and soundscapes of ringing telephone, which honestly do their best to disrupt the album and annoy the listener.
Inconsistent is the generic word that best sums up Fight Like Apes. Still tainted by grey areas with dodgy lyrics and dull electronica, this Irish act still have a lot of ground to cover if they’re to find that classic, defining album. CR
rushonrock rated: 6/10 Fight On Their Hands
Risen from the ashes of Satin Black after 2008’s Harlequin debut, Dirk Frei, Axel Patzold, Peter Langforth, Alexander Backasch and Stephan Dietrich decided that a change in musical style – from thrash to a more 80s driven speed metal with NWOBHM influences – would constitute a name change.
Although the title adjustment makes complete sense, it would have perhaps been nice if the German quintet had picked a more inventive name for both album and band. Nevertheless, innovation is not Alpha Tiger’s priority as Men Or Maschine proves. That doesn’t necessarily draw them back from trying a rare experiment with an odd acoustic breakdown, a middle-eastern influenced outro like the one in second track Crimson Desert or even a folky intro to final track Black Star Pariah.
Borrowing lightly from traditional metal masters and harking back heavily to early Helloween, the quintet essentially serve up a slice of raging, retro metal for fanatic sticklers to certainly enjoy. Vocally, the work of Stephan Dietrich really doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary except for his involvement on the dreamy When Autumn Leaves Fall. But he does provide the necessary high-pitched wailing needed to balance the Maiden-esque duelling and modest yet potent riffing of Backasch and Langforth.
Set apart from the domineering speed and galloping traditional structures, Karma briefly flashes their thrashy side – no doubt revealing that Satin Black’s roots still flow through the veins of the Tiger somewhat. There might also be pre-cursor foundations of power metal found in this record too, especially when you appreciate the epic choir finish on Black Star Pariah.
It’s not a trailblazer, but what Men Or Maschine attempts – it succeeds in. A 100%-er for any nostalgic speed freaks or traditional metallers. CR
rushonrock rated: 6/10 Caged Tiger
If you’re a longstanding Rush fan then it goes without saying that you appreciate the value of good music. When it comes to great, truly groundbreaking, music then it’s imperative that you can enjoy it as it was meant to be heard. In the case of the remastered and remixed Moving Pictures that opportunity is now.
Those of us who invested time and money in DVD-Audio some years back may not have reaped the envisaged rewards beyond the flurry of initial catalogue releases but all good things to those who wait. And if a format made for true audiophiles never became a commercial cash cow then once in a while a band with Rush’s sense of history and loyalty will reward the true believers with the perfect 5.1 mix.
And that is exactly what you get with this version of Moving Pictures – timed perfectly to coincide with the band’s UK tour and a run of shows which will feature the 1981 classic in its entirety. Even the remastered CD and DVD played on standard equipment boasts a sonic power far beyond anything discernible on the original release but play your DVD through a dedicated DVD-Audio player and the results are simply astounding.
If you can bear to play these classic tracks out of sync then start with the instrumental YYZ. Always a wonderful bridge between the rousing Red Barchetta and the sparkling Limelight it has taken on a new voracity and relevance as technology finally catches up with Rush’s trademark progressive shifts.
Opener Tom Sawyer is as familiar and fun as ever and expect this standout track to claim the biggest ovation of all when Geddy, Alex and Neil take to the arena stages of Britain this month. But of equal joy to all Rush fans will be the previously unreleased video clip of that famous tune plus clips of Limelight and Vital Signs.
An essential purchase for the curious fly-by-night fan or the dedicated die-hard, this 3oth anniversary edition of a landmark record is a true delight and the perfect aperitif for what promises to be one of the shows of 2011. SR
rushonrock rated: 10/10 Truly Moving Stuff
This is the Best Of that the band had, apparently, never heard of. And we’ve all heard that one before.
But even if, like a torpedo from the depths, Rammstein’s maritime-obsessed cousins didn’t see this one coming it’s a welcome and timely career-spanning collection of some of the best industrial metal in the business.
Opener Eiszeit, the title track from last year’s 8/10 rushonrock rated record, gets things off to a cracking start and the pace rarely lessens.
If Eisbrecher use trademark beats and sweeping keys across their material then there’s still a welcome degree of diversity underpinning the best of their work: Leider, with its almost childlike Scooby Doo-esque spooky loop, works a treat but this lot frequently play to their strengths.
There’s something about the guttural German language that suits industrial metal to a tee and picking up the dialect from bands like Eisbrecher is a far more engaging way to learn a foreign language than whacking in a linguaphone CD.
Then again such are the trance-like soundscapes this band roll out with ease that it’s easy to drift into a dream state where the vocals segue into the rhythms and vice versa.
With almost 30 tracks spanning the value-added Eiskalt, the band’s record company can’t be accused of cashing in – even if they can be blamed for a lack of communication. The bonus mixes – including a Noel Pix Klingenklang mix of Leider – add depth and even greater diversity and it’s hard to fault a fantastic fan friendly package. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10
It’s 23 years since one of the best ever British AOR records was released and for a while it seemed Take Off would enable After Hours to do just that. Fronted by the vocally supercharged John Francis and tuned to perfection by guitar hero Tim Payne the melodic quintet took Germany by storm and US success looked set to follow.
But the destructive force of grunge swiftly added After Hours to its list of unlucky casualties and the onset of Nirvana et al, coupled with label pressures to up sticks and relocate to Munich, appeared to rob the world of a band bursting with potential yet destined to perish.
Or so it seemed. After Hours are back with Francis and Payne in tandem and a terrific body of work to boot. Listen to the first three tracks of Against The Grain (perhaps a nod to the fickle trends which tore the band apart in the first place?) and you can hear elements of Leppard, Lizzy, Genesis and Thunder. It’s a heady mix guaranteed to thrill any fan of quality soft rock.
Turn On Your Radio is the type of tune which would have dominated American FM radio had After Hours emerged in a different place at a different time – i.e. Los Angeles in 1985. And the hits-that-never-were (and, sadly, may never be) keep on coming in the shape of the Wanted Dead Or Alive-inspired title track and the upbeat Journey-fied Angel.
If the After Hours comeback is, after all, a brief flash in the pan then it’s a spellbinding flash at that. If Francis and Payne can be persuaded to reform the band for the long haul then the world of AOR will be a better place. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Hours Of Pleasure
Big Life – Big Life (AOR Heaven)
It would be easy to judge Big Life’s debut album as a Steve Newman solo record in a slightly different guise and yet, while it boasts all the trademark melody you’d expect from such a release, there’s an added twist.
The return of Mark Thompson-Smith as a serious player in the rock community is long overdue and here the former Praying Mantis man delivers a timely reminder to all his fans that while form is temporary, class is permanent.
The only criticism of Big Life – and let’s get our one bugbear out of the way early doors – is that the congested mix doesn’t quite do justice to Thompson-Smith’s true talents. It’s clearly the case on opener Dying Day but don’t let a ropey start deter you from the meat of a mighty record and there’s a distinct improvement as soon as follow-up Close To You kicks into life.
The awkward keyboard intro to Better Man might sound like a Chas N Dave demo but even here the Big Life team overcome a potential hurdle to deliver a power ballad which wouldn’t sound out of place on a late 80s Giant, Winger or Dokken record.
As overblown hooks and singalong choruses become fashionable again Big Life have a big future. If British melodic rock stalwarts FM can command key slots at major festivals like Download then why not the new Newman/Thompson-Smith project? With quality like this they deserve a wider audience. SR
rushonrock rated: 7/10 Big Hope
Lake Of Tears – Ill Will (AFM)
What do you get when you mix Headless Children-era WASP with Ozzy-fronted Sabbath and several respectful nods to NWOBHM songwriting? The answer is the perfect opening act for Brit upstarts the Black Spiders.
Lake Of Tears share the Spiders’ balls-to-the-wall, fuck rock fashion attitude and place their faith in big hooks, big choruses and a vocal approach rooted in some medieval torture chamber.
It’s trad metal at its furious best and, checking in at around the 40-minute mark, harks back to an age when the genre spewed out records of this quality and urgency every few months.
Out Of Control wouldn’t sound out of place on any early Sabbath effort with its Iommi-influenced axe work and grating vocal. But Lake Of Tears surpass all expectations on the magnificent Taste Of Hell with its memorable ‘Darkness My Old Friend’ refrain.
This album doesn’t try to be too clever but it is very big. Or at least it should be. At a time when metal is back in vogue these boys are flying the flag with sheer, unadulterated gusto. Go get a piece of the action. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Tears Of Joy
It’s exceptionally tough to grasp the fact that this is a debut record from Poland’s Pathfinder. With their push-the-limits attitude, outside-the-box ambition and transcendent extension of fantasy-based music, the epic six-piece have truly dropped an a-bomb of a record to contend among 2011’s best.
Anyone with a clean-slate mind devoid of pre-judgement would argue that this is a polished attempt from a band that have been together for years – and you have to listen for 71-minutes to understand just why the misconception could so easily be made.
Beyond The Space, Beyond The Time has the weight of power metal’s finest with the magical dreaminess of Rhapsody Of Fire. Whether it be the stop-start, effective palm -perched next to the huge choirs and heroic keyboard on Sons Of Immortal Fire or the neo-classical Moonlight Sonata adaptation on Pathway To The Moon – it’s all killer no filler.
With guest appearances from Matias Kupiainen (Stratovarius), Roberto Tiranti (Labyrinth), Bob Katsionis (Firewind) and Michal Jelonek (Hunter), Pathfinder add yet another level of prestige and essentially, extra additions that would make any power metal buff drool a fountain – and it would be an epic one at that. But a few already established musicians aren’t even the main selling point to make you want to pick up this record.
Matias Kupiainen’s solo on Pathway To The Moon might be a piece of neo-classical genius and Bob Katsionis’ may have an equal impact in ending the 10-minute title track Beyond The Space, Beyond The Time – but importantly it is the complex compositions and unsuspected maturity of this newly surfaced band that make the biggest impression.
Hindsight is so very precious. When you put an album in the CD player – regardless of genre – and see anything over an hour, there’s a reserved scepticism that you’re about to hear a record butchered because of an inability to keep listeners reeled in for so long.
Monotony is not a problem for Pathfinder. There’s few who can pull off an over-the-top epic in the way that Rhapsody Of Fire did in last year’s The Frozen Tears Of Angels and Blind Guardian did in their classic 1998 album Nightfall In Middle Earth, but the Poles have the musical capacity and variety to crucially keep it interesting.
Gathering their symphonic sounds with a real orchestral whack, they don’t simply layer a complacent layer to the sound. Their versatility becomes increasingly evident, particularly when Undiscovered Dreams reveals a duel ballad featuring opera singer Agata Lejba-Migadaiska providing haunting, pristine, crystal vocals alongside regular vocalist Simon Kostro.
Beyond The Space, Beyond The Time is the fluent antithesis to the ‘less is more’ mentality. Filled with clever, melodic, neo-classical work, a beautiful operatic backdrop and flexible vocals, Pathfinder have produced a must-have for fans of the genre.
If they continue in this direction, Pathfinder should not only find themselves trading blows with the heavyweights of power metal in due time, but with this freakishly fantastic debut, they have guaranteed a future success in power, neo-classical and symphonic circles while clustering a frenetic whirlwind of anticipation for next time round. CR
rushonrock rated: 9/10
These really are exciting times for some of the newest kids on the Roadrunner block. South Wales four-piece Revoker were sprung into the blistering limelight without suncream when their dream record deal with the label titans became a reality. Touring alongside Rob Zombie was their next immediate port of call before headlining their very own UK tour. Now they step up to the platform to deliver Revenge For The Ruthless.
As far as debuts go, Revoker have certainly done enough musically to seal their future as a successful hard metal entity.
Revenge For The Ruthless isn’t out to re-invent metal or push any boundaries as such. Nevertheless, Revoker’s enthusiasm to construct a pantheon of muscular, hearty metal is evident, and with Benji Webbe of Skindred fame at the production helm – there’s a multifold of pros to outweigh the cons.
The pinnacle of RFTR’s success is largely down to the newcomers’ ability to crunch together some mighty riffs alongside some straight-forward but powerful percussive thomping. Bowing stylistically to Metallica, Jamie Mathias’ vocals have a gruff quality that, when channelled through the tweaking of Webbe’s careful, polished production really nail the raspy inflections in thrashier moments (Born To Be An Outlaw).
Especially holding his throaty strength in single Stay Down and in standout track Thief, Mathias has an underlying clean, melodic potential that gives him a dynamic edge.
Those cons do however manifest themselves in ironically typical ‘metal’ fashion – with patchy songwriting being the biggest let-down of the record. Still, if you’re game for a barrage of heady, thick, thrashy, no-nonsense metal, then this is the menu for your appetite.
The metal world might not have exactly needed RFTR, but it’s pretty much assured that no one will complain about the presence of what is a decent first attempt. CR
rushonrock rated: 6.5/10 Ruthless Ambition
This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson.
I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.