REVIEWS – NEW MUSIC

This week there’s the usual diverse mix of new releases you really ought to hear including the latest offering from UK hard rock heroes Heaven’s Basement.

Plus we review and rate records by Lock Up, Grinspoon, Kevin Ridley, Awolnation, Earth Crisis, Unearth and The Black Dahlia Murder

Grinspoon – Six To Midnight (DR2)

In terms of distribution and popularity, this is a step up for Aussie rockers Grinspoon.  Issued exclusively to the US in 2009, Six To Midnight was released in Japan last year, but has finally been given it’s debut date in the UK.

Tormented by their own set of internal problems which culminated in Grinspoon frontman Phil Jamieson checking into rehab after a torrid time fighting drug addiction, the four-piece have done well to get this far.  But that doesn’t mean their experience has matured them musically

Making use of simple chord progressions is an art unto itself and nailing a particular atmosphere or energy is a tentative process.  There’s a careful garnering that’s not only required musically but also lyrically, and for Grinspoon, their shot at a stripped-down bombardment of basic powerchords and punchy lyricism is an attempt in vain.  Working with less can be just as challenging as excessive mastery, and the ability to flourish with a less is more approach still an arduous task.

With a limiter on activity, it is a great shame that Grinspoon fail to do exactly what they should – demand a polar ‘love or hate’ from the listener.  Unfortunately Six To Midnight is monotonous musical work with tired songwriting – a one-dimensional entity that doesn’t have any standout points.  One thing it does assert is that the Australians need to have a re-think.

There’s the chart single Comeback that did get radio air-time in their homeland, but essentially fails to inspire with its dithering verses and weak chorus.  Songwriting is a major downfall too.  There’s a knack to pulling off bare-bone, fast-food lyrics and Grinspoon don’t have it right.  The only thing remotely close to a highlight is the slightly varied, melodically charged guitar work on Innocence.

Whilst it is the first time for this record to hit the shelves in the UK after being released in the US two-years ago, excitement is drained and any anticipation of grandeur immediately transferred to await their next effort – which might not be too far off. CR

rushonrock rated: 3.5/10 Grin And Bear It

 

Kevin Ridley – Flying In The Face Of Logic (DR2)

There’s no place like home.  That’s exactly what Kevin Ridley is proposing to us with his debut solo album Flying In the Face Of Logic.  The long-time Skyclad producer and vocalist for last two albums takes us back to his first record with the folk metal pioneers, A Semblance Of Normality, by gracefully returning to explore his North-East roots.

For a debut solo attempt Ridley hasn’t done too badly by any means, but there are a couple of annoying, repetitive songs that put a brief negative slant on the album.

One thing Ridley doesn’t do wrongly is tell us exactly what a filthy big pile of rubbish The Angel Of The North is.  But he does shed a tear of reflection when he attaches a certain sentimentality to the structure – proving that the simplest of things, regardless of their nature, can provide a catalyst of inspiration when connoted with images of home.  Simply named Angel At Harlow Green, it’s a fine folk tune that gives us a good idea of just what we should expect by track three.

Good Intentions is, by far, an absolute standout hit.  It’s comparatively bigger and increasingly epic chorus, simple galloping bass line and ambitious but lushly executed harmonies reveal Ridley’s finest four-minutes.  It is just a shame the track is followed up later by the annoying fast quipped lyrics and poor repetitive chorus of (We All Get) Where We Want To Go.  Whereas the bass line of Good Intentions proved just how simple, minimal notes can be effective, the droning lack of variety does it no favours here.

Which Is Why wouldn’t be a low point in the album if it wasn’t for the similar reasons of repetition but this time exclusively in the acoustic work of the chorus.  Luckily for the listener, there’s the deliciously heavier They Dance Till Tomorrow, with a fantastic unison of folk instrumentation welded and weaved intricately into the mainframe of huge riffs and an impressive section of soloing to match.  Lost For Words settles the sombre, contemplative mood before the Flying Outro fades.  A good debut effort from the veteran Skyclad singer, and a one that not only indicates he’s made the transition to solo artist well enough but also showcases a promising potential. CR

rushonrock rated: 6/10 All Kevved Up And Raring To Go

 

Awolnation – Megalithic (Red Bull Records)

Awolnation are an anomaly amongst the majority of ambitious bands in their early development for the fact that their profile has excelled at an unnaturally rapid rate.

Forming just last year, they’ve already began gaining a fan-base over the Pond and many dub them to be on the edge of something big.  They have of course a slight head-start in the fact that this is essentially a project of Aaron Bruno from Under The Influence Of Giants and Hometown Hero fame.  Still, their rise is respectable and to crown a milestone their debut record Megalithic is released.

From the run up, you’re expecting ‘big’ and there is some disappointment as the simple “one, two, three, four” continued on to “five, six, seven, eight” lyrical anti-climax sets in, doing nothing to appease a hungry mind wanting food for thought.  But Awolnation have a basic desire, and that is to jump on the MGMT hipster bandwagon and attempt to craft a quirky set of indie-pop electro anthems and get their songs some radio time.

Jump On My Shoulders is a vocal Killers attempt that has a chorus something like Blue would have put out on a B-side about 10-years ago.  Saying that, it is understandable just why Sail is a popular US hit already – it has it’s incredibly catchy electronic moments, but is unfortunately followed by the inoffensive flat Wake Up.  It’s hardly surprising that Zane Lowe has backed them on his Radio 1 show – it just speaks volumes already about where they’re going.

Success beckons, but their brand of light pop music isn’t entirely doing it for the right reasons.  Club play in a few months?  Yep.  Even bigger support slots than their previous with MGMT and Weezer?Probably.  Next stop supporting Dizzie Rascal?  Maybe.  All I can say is ‘well done’ I suppose. CR

rushonrock rated: 4/10 State Of The Nation

 

Heaven’s Basement – Unbreakable EP (Heaven’s Basement Records)

Seemingly benefiting from finally settling on a suitably sleazy name and perfectly balanced line-up there’s no reason to doubt that 2011 will be the year Heaven’s Basement realise their obvious potential.

The problems this bunch of hard-working Brits have faced could fill the pages of many a sympathetic agony aunt for weeks but after overcoming forced name changes, unexpected departures and many more setbacks beyond their control a new dawn has broken.

Crucially it appears the band’s long awaited debut album will finally get a release this year – in the meantime the Basement boys have served up a meaty seven-track EP to tide them over during a typically hectic touring schedule including appearances at Download and High Voltage.

The uptempo opener and title track allows frontman Aaron Buchanan an opportunity to open his lungs and let rip but, in truth, the studio is never going to do justice to one of the most effervescent singers on the rock scene right now. What this EP does prove is that HB have continued to craft gloriously catchy hard rock throughout their often turbulent but always creative songwriting career.

The Leppard-esque layered vocals work well on tunes like The Long Goodbye and live favourite Leeches translates well to an EP which sounds slick but never over-produced. Like fellow Brits and occasional touring buddies Dear Superstar it’s clear that HB have drawn on their time supporting the likes of Papa Roach to craft a US-friendly sound which, nevertheless, is rooted in British blues rock.

It would be a travesty if new boy Buchanan and his supremely talented buddies don’t take their game to the next level during the next six months because this lot have class and quality in abundance. Brilliant live, the reaction to their long-awaited debut long player will be the ultimate barometer of longevity and future success. SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Heaven’s Above Average

 

Lock Up – Necropolis Transparent (Nuclear Blast)

Deathgrind is never going to become a popular mainstream genre but this super group/side project have all the tools to bring their favourite brand of aural brutality to the masses – if they choose to do so.

Featuring the undoubted talents of Napalm Death’s Shane Embury and ex-Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir tub thumper Nicholas Barker, the rhythm section alone could cripple most small nations with its full-on metal attack. It probably has.

At The Gates’ Tomas Lindberg is the man behind the mic on the latest Lock Up release and his ability to intonate and growl at the same time sets him apart from so many extreme singers. The title track, clocking in at 118 seconds, is a bone-crushing case in point as the powerful lyrics sit just high enough in the mix to make sense and make an impact.

Parasite Drama and Anvil Of Flesh might sound vaguely ridiculous on paper but both pack the proverbial punch when led by Lindberg and given the full treatment by riffmeister general Anton Reisenegger. As a quartet this gang of uncompromising metal heads are the ultimate combination – unlocking your worst nightmares and guilty secrets in one non-stop brain blast.

Unlikely to find airtime on Radio Two anytime soon but with the potential to cause some serious live damage it’s worth looking out for Lock Up. Even if it’s only to protect yourself from some of the ugliest sounds you’ll hear all year. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Lock Up Your Daughters

 

Earth Crisis – Neutralize The Threat (Century Media)

At the vanguard of social and political awareness there’s much more to Syracuse crew Earth Crisis than their unique brand of metalcore and hardcore punk would suggest.

The band name is no lame attempt at making a noise and making a statement – this lot use their music to deliver some pretty serious messages underpinned by their support of animal rights and a strict vegan lifestyle.

But such straight-laced, holier than thou shit can often make Jack a very dull boy indeed. Not the case here. Volume-wise Earth Crisis could easily be accused of ramming their message down the throats of the masses but there’s actually a subtle angle to the very best of their undeniably addictive music.

Total War‘s furious chorus tells it like it is but the verses are constructed to make you think – and they do. It’s the same story with brief but effective opener Raise and the tense, foreboding title track. This might not be the soundtrack to your sunny summer but it could well form the backdrop to a new age of discontent.

If Earth Crisis really are the ‘soldiers of the people’ that they claim to be then the planet’s defences are in very safe hands. And even if they’re nothing more than a metalcore crew with a conscience then they’re pretty damn good at delivering the goods. There’s a pace and a punishing positivity about this album that keeps you coming back for more and one day the message is going to get through – that day could come sooner than you think. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Crisis’ Point

 

The Black Dahlia Murder – Ritual (Metal Blade)

Founder members Trevor Strnad and Brian Eschbach continue to drive forward the Black Dahlia Murder with an unhealthy zeal. And the fact that this beast of an album charted at a heady 31 in the Billboard charts proves the curve is ever upward where Michigan’s finest are concerned.

What sets Ritual apart from its predecessors is the emergence of lead guitarist Ryan Knight as a serious player on the metal scene. Three years on from his decision to join the Dahlia there’s an intensity and precision about the guitar hero’s work that bears comparison to the very best purveyors of fret melting fury.

Some of his solo work on tracks like A Shrine To Madness and Moonlight Equilibrium beggars belief – it takes a lot to put Strnad’s trademark growls in the shade but Knight manages to do just that. Often biding his time in a mix which frequently lifts Eschbach’s rhythm work to the fore, the newbie needs no second invitation to burst into life and deliver when it matters.

Right now it’s difficult to imagine who or what can stop The Black Dahlia Murder as they plough on towards the very summit of American metal. It’s no wild claim to suggest that Ritual is the band’s Master Of Puppets – a creative and commercial game breaker which has the capacity to whip the rest of the melodic death metal community into a frenzy and spit out those who can’t keep up.

Remarkable stuff from a remarkable band. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Ritual Riffage

 

Unearth – Darkness In The Light (Metal Blade)

Massachusetts metalcore mob Unearth have been making steady if unspectacular progress for the past decade and, 10 years after debut album The Stings Of Conscience came and went without so much as a ripple, it seems there’s still no sense of urgency within the ranks.

To suggest Unearth are treading water would be a tad unfair but even the most sympathetic of critics would surely agree it’s time this lot made a splash. Unfortunately the bulk of the material making up Darkness In The Light is typically one-dimensional, derivative stuff best played for die-hards and blinkered label bosses alike.

Immersing themselves in a genre which often lends itself to ambition and experimentation, Unearth show no sense for either. A cliched vocal style, ill-advised solos and a rhythm section that never rises above the ordinary make for another solid yet unremarkable record from the kings of mediocrity.

The welcome urgency of Shadows In The Light briefly raises the bar but it’s a short, sharp shock of a track that lacks an equal across the remainder of Darkness In the Light. Here it’s clear that Unearth have potential but five albums into their recording career it’s surely time to stop talking about what could be and start focusing on what is actually there.

What’s here is something you’ve heard far too many times before, not least from Trevor Phipps and company. Less than the sum of their considerable parts, Unearth need to up their game and get real on album number six. The alternative is too painful to imagine. SR

rushonrock rated: 5/10 Not Of This Earth

This Week’s Reviewers: Calum Robson, Simon Rushworth.

 

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

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