REVIEWS – NEW MUSIC
We rate the latest records by Warbringer (pictured), White Widdow, Allelle, Mastodon, Sebastian Bach, House Of Lords, Uriah Heep, Newman, Foreigner, Textures, Dead By April, Evile, Single Bullet Theory, Coilgins, Kunz and Van Canto.
Welcome to a world where old school thrash rules. This is the point in Warbringer’s history where the fast-rising US crew truly launch their bid for global domination. And if their music is inspired by mid-80s Metallica then surely that’s better than a lame Lou Reed collaboration.
Previous offering Walking Into Nightmares made a nasty noise on both sides of the Atlantic and this is a reassuringly accomplished follow-up. Blasting off with the bludgeoning Living Weapon there’s no let-up – and that’s just the way we want it.
John Kevill’s vocal style would have won huge plaudits and big record deals had he roared his way out of the Bay Area scene 25 years ago and his clear delivery against a background of thunderous thrash makes a mockery of all those lazy growlers.
The loss of drummer Nic Ritter could have proved catastrophic but the word is Carlos Cruz will prove a more than able replacement. Worlds Torn Asunder is a fine album – it could be the record that spawns a major global player. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Bring The Noise
Now that we’ve got used to Sebastian Bach as the manic metal singer far removed from his late 80s soft rock alter ego it’s time to judge the former Skid Row in a new light.
It’s not an image that necessarily suits the towering American but he seems pretty well determined to follow a brave new direction both in life and in music.
And even brief diversions down memory lane, most evident on the excellent ballad I’m Alive, don’t compensate for the traffic jam of clichéd power chords and high pitched vocals.
Title track Kicking & Screaming does kick ass – make no mistake. And perhaps rock fans new to the party, who don’t remember Bach’s glory days, love this stuff and, especially, the contribution of 21-year-old shredder Nick Sterling.
But tunes likes Tunnelvision (ironic in the circumstances) neither offer anything new nor tap in to Bach’s undoubted talent as a melodic rock singer. Too often his fantastic voice is drowned in a mix of chugging lead guitar and pumped-up percussion.
Why on earth, as leader of the gang, he’s allowed his fellow musicians to dominate is anyone’s guess. We’re all for a democracy where music is concerned but it seems Bach’s gone all out for the popularity vote within his own band – at the expense of impressing on an individual level.
Once you’ve heard yet another stunning Sterling solo you truly begin to wonder who’s in charge here. This album is a worthy showcase for the emerging guitar hero but, much like predecessor Angel Down, does little to enhance the reputation of his mixed-up mentor.
Caught In A Dream is, nevertheless, classic Bach and betters anything on the Axl Rose-supported Angel Down. Here he finds a tone and rhythm from his band mates to perfectly complement that familiar, raspy, sleazy vocal style. Follow-up As Long As I Got The Music also does a nice line in retro cool.
Maybe it’s wrong to constantly reference the Bach catalogue when assessing Seb’s latest work. But the fact is he was behind the mic on one of the all-time classics of the hair metal era in the shape of 1991’s Slave To The Grind. Why he so steadfastly refuses to draw on the positives from that era is a mystery but accepting Bach as a metal god is far from easy. SR
rushonrock rated: 6/10
It’s less than a year since we delivered our verdict on White Widdow’s rushonrock rated 8/10 self-titled debut but a swift return has done nothing to dilute the quality of the Aussie band’s glorious AOR output.
Sensing that the momentum is theirs, within a genre enjoying a long-awaited rebirth, the Melbourne band has delivered a Def Leppard-meets-Danger Danger masterclass in melodic 80s flavoured pop rock.
Opener Cry Wolf may be the weakest of the songs showcased here but it’s the exception to the rule. Do You Remember is a delicious throwback to late 80s MTV heaven and the title track floats effortlessly into the same stratosphere.
Skip to Patiently and it’s patently clear that White Widdow are positioning themselves at the very vanguard of the hair metal revival. Houston, Reckless Love, Serpentine et al should watch out – Jules Millis and his merry men have just raised the bar again. SR
rushonrock rated: 10/10 All White On The Night
The boom is melodic rock may be good news for those of us raised on 80s AOR but like any genre of the moment there’s plenty of filler for all the killer.
That Steve Newman’s latest offering falls into the former category will come as something of a surprise and a disappointment to followers of the multi-talented musician responsible for records of the quality of One Step Closer and Dance In the Fire.
Under Southern Skies is simply dull. And Newman is the main culprit – his vocals lacking that trademark passion and precision and too often drifting aimlessly towards lazy cliché.
Strength To Carry On and She’s Gone manfully attempt to raise the bar but at a time when seriously impressive AOR albums abound two decent tracks can’t disguise the frailties of Under Southern Skies.
In conclusion this comes across as something of a rush job – even an album for album’s sake. And Steve Newman is better than that. SR
rushonrock rated: 5/10 Newman: Old Hat
It’s unlikely House Of Lords ever made really, really Big Money and the title of this unsurprisingly classy affair may have been penned with tongues planted firmly in cheeks.
Certainly the band responsible for the brilliant Sahara – way back in 1990 – could, and possibly should, have been way, way bigger. But back in the early 90s the melodic rock competition was fierce, with talented bands ten a penny and fickle fans swapping allegiances for fun.
In 2011 the AOR scene is bubbling under again but as a band that’s been there, done that and sold the off T-shirt, HOL are in pole position to make their experience count. And Big Money is a record which knows exactly which way the rock wind’s blowing right now.
One Man Down’s emotive theme might ape recent efforts by Tesla and Queensryche but James Christian’s powerful vocal ensures this politicised tune hits the mark.
On the sparkling ballad The Next Time I Hold You there’s a hint of Aerosmith’s Don’t Want To Miss A Thing but that is, of course, no bad thing. And HOL remind us that they can do heavy with album closer Blood – boasting a Metallica-esque riff (really).
This is an album for now and a record which surely will stand the test of time. Hats off to House Of Lords. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Money Talks
As album titles go it’s safe to say this is pretty unique and, in all honesty, unlikely to be repeated. Most bands will never have heard of Armenia, let alone make it over there, let alone record an album there.
But then the Heep are the kings of unconventional rock and a band who made brave forays into Eastern Europe long before boundaries changed and opinions softened are always on the look out for a fresh challenge.
Of course any true Heep fan will already own one of the various live albums served up over the decades and in that respect it’s difficult to imagine where the market is (apart from Armenia) for yet another take on the band’s Greatest Hits with the odd cheer, chant and one-liner thrown in for good measure.
It’s every bit as entertaining as you’d expect with rousing renditions of Easy Livin’ and Gypsy providing the obvious highlights. But then the same can be said for Live ’73, Live In Moscow, Live In The USA etc..
A solid live album but a record for serious collectors only. SR
rushonrock rated: 6/10 Live For The Moment
Featuring three members of The Ocean, Switzerland’s Coilguns have melodic punk riffery with mathy, rhythmic structures that draw a different line in the sand when it comes to dividing styles.
Mastoid whelps free with a seemingly untended rapidity that feels like a mentally unstable suicidal train ride into oblivion – everything is about to fling from the rails at any moment and your sanity goes with it. But it doesn’t – Coilguns are in full control of this sharp, arithmetic formation. Phersu isn’t a stronger track, but it’s not weak by any measure. Significantly more sludgy and requiring more patience, the track spirals into a dirge of twisting rhythm and fiddling.
Kachinas is a further surprise but a pleasant one at that, rammed with splices of groove metal, infested with their inherent math mentality and with passionate whelping vocals that get under the skin like a contagious rash. The cynical doctor might say don’t touch the rash, but it feels so damn good to itch the living hell out of it – and that’s exactly how to sum up Coilgun – not as a guilty pleasure, but something that might not beneficial, but is inescapably addictive.
Kunz are a completely different kettle of extraordinary piranhas. Featuring two members of The Ocean this time round, they have a noise-driven bite that stings like nettles, but there’s the intoxicating haze of first track Flow to slowly penetrate before the descend into a brain-scrambled journey of lunacy. In fact the opening track is almost like grunge just took a painful trip into a vast experimentalism of drone.
Apnea puts pace back into the EP with a bass-heavy gallop that compliments the Lightning Bolt-influenced messy electronica. It lasts under two-minutes but certainly makes a mark. Flush continues the megalithic chugging of bass but this time exploits an inebriated mass of feedback that folds into the more conventionally structured (by their standards) What Makes Me Sleep to end a very strange 23-minute listening experience. CR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Split’s Fantastic
After achieving the unthinkable and upstaging cult heroes Journey on this year’s fantastic AOR tour, Foreigner have struck another blow.
Proving you can still tangle with the best live on stage is one thing, but to release what is in effect a greatest hits album with a twist off the back of it is genius. And the twist adds another layer to a band that has picked itself up over the past couple of years and made it cool to listen to them again.
Acoustique isn’t a new concept, far from it. But Foreigner aren’t exactly a new concept either. They haven’t changed their style or branding and Kelly Hansen’s vocals lay down perfectly to the soft beats and acoustic guitar strains.
Fool For You Anyway showcases Hansen’s vocal range on an even more bluesy arrangement of the classic. If you have copies of the original tracks, it’s quite amazing just how mature the band sounds and seems destined to leave it’s 80s cheesy tag behind.
Opening tracks Long Long Way From Home and Cold As Ice are fantastic pace setters for what is to come. A special mention for Tom Gimbel who lays down the sax to great effect on numerous tracks and the flute on Starrider.
Starrider is a welcome change up as Mick Jones takes lead vocals on a Zepplin-esque track complete with the aforementioned sax skills of Gimbel.
Smash hit Waiting For A Girl Like You was never the fastest track from a rock band but is what ballads should be. And the acoustic version doesn’t falter, adding even more emotion to one of the all-time smooth songs by placing a backing harmony of vocals to give Hansen’s words even more punch.
Feels Like The First Time and Juke Box Hero add the big hitters, although the latter just doesn’t feel the same without the crash of the electric guitar that the lyrics are pleading for.
It’s not all just re-recordings though and the new efforts dovetail perfectly into the classics. The copious amounts of new found fans Foreigner have acquired probably won’t realise The Flame Still Burns is brand new such is the quality.
Save Me however delivers something a bit different as the ‘bonus tracks’ switch to electric and 2011 versions of songs. It is almost contemporary Bryan Adams which is neither good nor terrible but an interesting direction to head in.
Always a personal favourite, I Want To Know What Love Is never really reaches the heady heights of emotion the original version met and seems to have become a re-occurring theme after its airing on tour. It’s a sound enough attempt but Hansen doesn’t match Lou Gramm’s sterling vocals on this particular track plain and simple. One slight sour point is the no show of Urgent which could have been bread and butter for an acoustic album.
Another blunt point is the album is a must have. Whether you are a fan or not Foreigner are back and it does feel like the first time (pun intended) and if the couple of new tracks are anything to go by they could be aiming for the big time. What price a headline tour in 2012? AS
rushonrock rated: 9/10
Allele’s 2006 track Stitches was featured on the WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2007 video game, boosting their publicity tenfold and gaining them a widespread fanbase. But at the time no one would have guessed that there would be a six-year wait for the follow up to the Floridian five-piece’s successful Point Of Origin debut.
Next to Parallel isn’t a bad record on a one dimensional level – appealing to an already established, eager audience who are pleased enough to hear more of the same – but it won’t reel many new fans.
It could be said for most songs on Next To Parallel, but particularly on Hurt, Closure and Dead And Cold – Allele don’t lyrically gamble with anything overly complicated. They stick to their own version of the personal – delving into issues with a route-one attitude, carrying a straight-forward, alluring and unpretentious message that can be universally understood.
This does at times make for a repetitive record and a one that overruns in length. There are hits like opening track Let It Go and the lovely guitar work of Something Cured that promise much, but its marred by too much filler. You just wonder whether their 2007-10 hiatus bottled their enthusiasm for a little too long.
Stay Down has some poor hardcore-styled shouts to deface an already poor song – it’s probably the worst on the album. The major constellation is follow-up title-track Next to Parallel, which at least gives us some fat riffs to wrangle with alongside the furnished production job that glistens Wally Wood’s sleek vocals.
If Saliva are too Bizkit-bolstered rap and Seether too grungy then Allele may be worth a try. Let’s just hope it’s not another six-years before they attempt to better this attempt. CR
rushonrock rated: 6/10
Living through the tragedy of losing bassist Mike Alexander while on tour in 2009, Evile have battled through an extremely adverse situation to create their very own thrash opus. Five Serpent’s Teeth is decidedly darker than anything the Huddersfield four-piece have done before, still focusing on their usual strongly war-imaged themes but adding that extra-sensitive personal side to the songwriting.
The context of Evile’s situation couldn’t be more important at this moment in time. On one level, the grief of their loss is agonizingly poured from the sap of their soul and through the speakers to the listener – especially with the beautiful yet saddening In Memoriam. At a contrast, the more volcanic emotions of anger and frustration plough through the record with bombast to create some classic thrash tracks – something that Alexander would certainly have approved.
The uncompromising attitude of Dreams Of Terror frees those tortured inner demons – several megatons of unstoppable breakneck thrash assisting their aviation. To say Evile are maturing as a fine bit of British talent is probably an understatement – whether they intended it or not, they’re the main culprits identified in heading the so-called revival of British thrash. Ol Drake’s wealth of experience on lead has peaked to an exciting height of technical intensity and of course, the avid Metallica fan gives another respectful nod with Ride The Lightning-era-influenced riffing on the pounding Eternal Empire and the crowning, chugging bastion of Centurion.
Replacing Alexander, Joel Graham knew the former-bassist and is a familiar face to all members of Evile, meaning he naturally slips into the line-up to provide a sturdy foundation on his studio debut. On form to finish the album, Long Live The New Flesh crashes across a swift traditional thrashing tempo, keeping many moshers more than merry with this third attempt from the promising Brits.
Five Serpent’s Teeth shows just why thrash fans have such assured confidence and undying faith in them. Teething time is over. In the grand scheme of things, this is the pivotal record that will propel Evile to experience further success on a much wider scale. CR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Wisdom teeth
A cappella metal. German band Van Canto have something quite different here. Scepticism that you might have about an a cappella group trying metal music should be suppressed until hearing this one. Breaking The Silence marks Van Canto’s fourth full-length album – so surely, are they not doing something right?
‘Hero metal a cappella’ is the self-coined term that the band so choose to describe their music. If we’re going searching for loopholes, Van Canto aren’t an a capella band for the band’s membership of drummer Bastian Emig.
Nevertheless, if you don’t include this, or indeed the two guest musicians – Blind Guardian’s Marcus Siepen and Sabaton’s Joakim Broden – that’s all the help they get from any alien instrumentation that doesn’t include the ‘rakka takka’, ‘dug-uh-dun’ vocal lines of the cooky sextet.
Yes, as expected it sounds a little daft at times, but how many times have you heard a cheese-ridden power metal band that take things too far? It’s a breath of fresh air, well quite literally a number of breaths of fresh air and a boatload of fun that takes a number of twists to avoid the previously anticipated potential mediocrity of this band on record.
There’s three covers on Breaking The Silence too – Alice Cooper’s Bed Of Nails is a nice number to cover and Sabaton’s Primo Victoria is a fitting choice – the power metallers’ melodrama makes it a tough song to re-shape, but Van Canto’s bizarre effort is a rewarding experience. However, it doesn’t quite top a rendition of Manowar’s epic Master Of The Wind. Regarding their own songs, Spelled In Waters and Neuer Wind are highlights while The Higher Flight is a shade darker and more charismatic than most of their other original material.
Van Canto can be considered in the same vein as Gregorian, although they concentrate more specifically on re-spawning other artists songs with a gregorian-style choir. Tossing countless vocal chugs into the mixer, Van Canto march on for now with an established future as a metal novelty awaiting them. How long it will last is anyone’s guess. CR
rushonrock rated: 7/10 Van Tastic
Lo! are a newly-spawned four-piece from Australia that quite frankly shouldn’t be making a record this good for their full-length debut. Look And Behold is an anomaly in the respect that the well-developed ideas and resulting sounds clearly match that of a band aeons into their career.
There’s little information to be found on the internet or otherwise, but the Aussies were picked up by Pelagic Records after a successful self-released debut EP last year. Musically, Lo! have the rebellious spirit of hardcore inseminated within a barricade of toxic sludge, respecting Mastodon but carefully distancing themselves from copycat syndrome with unique sonic flashes that demonstrate their intelligence.
Opening track Hath lays out intentions with a strange delusion of electronic fuzz, eventually progressing into Deluge – a track wick with scorched yelps and a Neurosis-like atmosphere. A promising start indeed.
As cliché as it will sound, Lo! are a band to be listened to with headphones or at least with some meaty decibel levels to attack the cerebral cortex. Aye, Commodore confirms this, galloping into a frantic mind-fuck of distortion, laid out with clever off-beat twists and unpredictable time-signatures. The latter – something that makes a huge difference to the album throughout.
When they revert to a more conventional thrashy structure – like in Indigo Division – they still absolutely lace through verses with an immense neurological assault of bulky riffery. Their sound will violently clutch your ear and demand attention.
But it’s not just the intensity that is irresistible – it’s the crawling, electro-ambient sections that quickly overturn the record and take you around another, very dissimilar corner. Doth breaks up the cleverly ordered chaos for over three-minutes and folds into the soft, proggy introduction of Moira Kindle.
Lo! Behold this fantastic, frenetic, brain-frazzling chunk of messed up sludge. CR
rushonrock rated: 8.5/10
Textures have floated across realms of technical metal music without an anchor to hoist them firmly to the ground – and they wouldn’t want it any other way. Dualism continues this somewhat, allowing the Dutch sextet to free their ambitions as per, but it’s with a certain ease on the ear that they have stretched their complex stylistic fusion of mathcore, groove metal, metalcore and djent.
There’s no doubt Textures still have that edge of experimentalism about them, but it’s definitely with increased accessibility this time round. The addition of single hit Reaching Home might be the best example of this, but unlike any chart-seeker, it’s with such beautiful conviction and with a sombre yet entertaining video too. The clean vocals throughout the track make it a rarity on the record, but that is by no means a negative. Although new frontman Daniel De Jongh has the potential to create a sombre mood with his crystal-polished voice, he’s also liable to skip adeptly into a profusion of well-executed, lower toned shouts.
At this end of the spectrum – supporting this more aggressive style ruggedly – Sanguine Draws The Oath is a non-stop crush-fest of jagged riffs and brutal bawls, which cements itself as one of the less easy tracks on the ear, for those unaccustomed to such practices. It’s just exciting what energy a song like this could create on a stage.
Subtle electronic verses are courtesy of Uri Dijk on keyboards – another fantastic addition to Textures, smoothing the final touches over with a wondrous proggy coating. Consonant Hemispheres really shows what the new man can do when a set of keys is put in front of him.
And it’s no great surprise that Stef Broks has been awarded best Dutch drummer on a number of occasions – his tight, unpredictable, math-style percussion constantly refreshes the album. Despite its title suggesting otherwise, Dualism feels like every piece of the puzzle is there, resulting in an offering that feels whole – it’s a solid record put together with succinct technicality and great songwriting. CR
rushonrock rated: 8.5/10 Dualisten Up
We’re having quite the year for upsets with a plethora of artists increasingly reluctant to stick with all they’ve been associated with in the past, dropping the gauntlets to wrestle with fresh ideas. It’s surely a positive thing. But when you hear a description boasting that the fringes of hostile black metal are set to be spliced with a tinge of power metal – curiosity takes hold.
You may think India’s Demonic Resurrection have successfully demonstrated this already, but Single Bullet Theory have strange ambitions in the fact there’s a smidgeon of gothic sadness and a underlay of middle-eastern melody here too. The Philadelphia quartet have had a reshuffle since 2007’s On Broken Wings, with the addition of two new guitarists and a drummer.
What strikes us first in this fusion is Matt DiFablo’s aspiration to vary his pipes. We have no beef with hybrid vocals co-existing, but making sure each segregated style adapts to the instrumental character of the band remains something of a challenge for Single Bullet Theory on IV.
Hands Of The Wicked has hints of Machine Head and Iced Earth crusted into a frame of aggression. If it manifested itself in physical actions, it would be a callous assault – a two-by-four with a rusted nail on its tip swiping at you in the isolation and frustration of a desert heat. It’s a wickedly blasphemous tune, and a one with a rare but clear advantage in its clean vocalisations and exploding blackened verses of tremolo madness.
You wouldn’t be blamed for skipping Auctioneer of Souls when you’re past half-way point of the nearly-ten-minute song. The track features over 20 guitar solos from a wealth of talent including members and ex-members of Nevermore, Death and King Diamond to name but a few. In what is meant to be an epic, is simply an unflattering fuzz of excessive solo work that draws on for an unnecessary period of time. Letting Go returns to basics, but with seemingly uninterested conviction – not slowing the pace to greater effect, but rather holding up the album. At quite the contrast we’re treated to Samsara, which could be mistaken for coming from an entirely separate entity when listening to the symphonic keys and low gothic vocals on the darkly ethereal chorus.
When they want to do heavy, they really lay down the law – especially outlined in a raw cover of Death’s Spirit Crusher. They’re plastered with gritty chunks of abrasive guitar and scratchy production – whelping a cry of attention with the most flat-fisted, no-nonsense approach. Theoretically, any musical fusion on paper grants both excitement and suspicion – this just doesn’t come together to create something anywhere near as impressive as pre-judgements would dictate. CR
rushonrock rated: 5/10 Best IVgotten
Calling your second major label album Incomparable is bold indeed. But Dead By April have hit the nail on the head: it’s impossible to compare this with anything out there right now as it mixes death metal, dance, pop and melodic rock to create a unique melting pot of juxtaposed sounds and varied musical journeys.
Unfortunately that melting pot contains a recipe for disaster. When dual vocalists Jimmie Strimell (screams) Zandro Santiago (melodic) engage in one of their familiar jousts it almost always sounds ill-conceived, irritating and unhinged. As separate entities, given room to breathe, both men are talented singers but Dead By April offers neither the platform their trademark styles deserve.
Synths beloved by the Pet Shop Boys and Erasure sit uncomfortably alongside power chords favoured by the Big Four. Throw in the incredibly weak percussion and it’s difficult to understand why Dead By April have done so much, so soon. Far weaker than the sum of their parts, this disparate Scandinavian act lack focus, lack appeal and lack any kind of X Factor.
Being different is not enough. The title track is superb – even uplifting- but it’s a diamond in the rough with cringeworthy offerings like When You Wake Up and Within My Heart sounding more like Savage Garden B-sides than metal anthems in the making.
That Dead By April are still alive and kicking is one of the genuine surprises of 2011 but this woeful record will surely find them out. And not before time. SR
rushonrock rated: 4/10 April Fools
It’s amazing – and slightly terrifying – to learn that so bad were things inside the Mastodon camp post-Crack The Skye that the saviours of modern metal were contemplating a complete break from making music. Thankfully last summer’s much needed hiatus allowed the previously hard-partying, hard-hitting and hard-working quartet time to recharge the batteries and reappraise their lives – The Hunter is the truly magnificent result.
Fully reflecting a band refocused and re-energised, this multi-faceted record might lack the elongated proggy twists of previous offerings but there’s still plenty packed in to each song. The title track is a mouthwatering case in point as a haunting vocal overlays an almost psychedelic riff – at less than six minutes it still bears comparison to any of the mightiest Mastodon compositions.
Managing to squeeze more into less is no easy task and yet this streamlined album benefits from the policy to such an extent that every minute of every song is unmissable. A record which, in terms of average song length, has more in common with Blood Mountain than Crack The Skye, nevertheless replicates all of the latter’s aural splendour. Incredibly Mastodon have developed a new-found maturity.
As usual drummer Brann Dailor delivers a masterclass in percussion. It’s his dextrous beats which are the standout feature of opener Black Tongue and moments of brilliance abound across the board. The ace in Mastodon’s pack, Dailor’s pursuit of rock’s very best stixmen continues at pace and it won’t be long before the very best in the business are forced to go back to the drawing board.
Famed for setting new standards, Georgia’s finest have just gone and done it all over again. Losing a band of this calibre would have been criminal. Forget the near-implosion and enjoy the explosive return. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Mast-erful
This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson, Andy Spoors.
I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.