Plus we review and rate the latest releases from Machine Head, Cheerleader, Soley Mourning, Morton, Iced Earth, Fallen Fate, Hammers Of Misfortune and The Amity Afflcition.
Less a band than a brand, the revolving doors combo that is Iced Earth has been plagued by inconsistency and unfamiliarity for far too long.
In fact it’s amazing the US metal mob are still a fully functioning noise crew after experiencing more comings and goings than an LA brothel.
But the arrival of Vancouver native Stu Block behind the mic suggests Iced Earth could finally be on the brink of something special as he roars his way through what is a rather magnificent metal offering.
Title track Dystopia and ‘does what it says on the tin’ follow-up Anthem bristle with powerful intent and set the scene for a fabulous romp through metal’s many and varied guises.
In the past Iced Earth has always been a name synonymous with slick songwriting and high profile support slots. Now it seems the newly focused Floridians are ready to tackle the big boys. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Earth Songs
Talk modern-day supergroups and the conversation couldn’t possibly go too far without mention of the star-studded blues rock band that is Chickenfoot. Sammy Hagar’s vocals married with Joe Satriani’s expert guitar work make for a heady brand of 70s infused rock with a raucous modern twist. And this is a lot more immediate than their first, often aloof debut effort.
Satriani’s subtlety is a joy to behold and he nobly resists filling various gaps with technical mastery, rather preferring to eke out every last passionate note from meaningful passages delivered to a sublime standard.
Come Closer shows Chickenfoot in an endearing, refreshing light and the spoken word–dominated Three And A Half Letters is poignant in the extreme as Hagar recounts real-life communications from members of the public struggling in the current economic climate.
Dubai Blues is a funky showcase for this creative foursome and oozes the kind of confidence impossible to gain without years treading the boards of the world’s biggest music venues.
Everything about III smacks of harmony, evolution and pure class. Even after their sparkling debut few could have expected Chickenfoot’s sensational follow-up to sound this good. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 III And Easy
On the surface this slab of Scandinavian hard rock should be more than a match for almost everything else coming out of a region responsible for a prolific outpouring of quality music.
The sleazy look, American-influenced album title and the patronage of Warrior Soul frontman Kory Clarke hints at a band certain to appeal to a broad spectrum of fans for whom quality guitar hooks are the start of something very special.
But appearances can be deceptive and this particular gang of Swedes seem determined to prove that, even in their musically fertile homeland, quality is ultimately skewed by quantity. In truth this is a dog’s dinner of an album barely deserving of a thorough review.
Once promising opener My Love To Someone Else segues into the dreadful What’s So Hard (writing songs, in Cheerleader’s case) it’s a rapid downward spiral.
Mixing elements of 90s indie rock with splashes of The Cult and a sprinkling of The Wildhearts, The Almighty and Terrorvision might have seemed like a good idea at the time but it appears to be an awful move now.
And what on earth is The Pirate Song? You’ll hear better if you position yourself on the corner of a busy row of bars around closing time as those a little worse for wear sing their way to the nearest bus stop.
It’s baffling how this record was ever made in the first place. But it has been and someone is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of a true crime against rock. Vegas Or Bust? That’ll be bust then. SR
rushonrock rated: 3/10 Cheerio
Aussie metalcore kings The Amity Afflcition finally get the UK release their 2010 album Youngbloods deserves and with a wider market should come widespread acclaim for this urgent gathering of Brisbane noiseniks.
From the off there’s a heady mix of sweeping melody and brutal screams guaranteed to appeal to the massed ranks of a movement very much in vogue across the globe.
Opener I Hate Hartley is a canny choice to kick things off – perfectly introducing AA newbies to the band’s trademark sound and allowing Joel Birch and Ahren Stringer to set out on a vocal joust that will have listeners hooked for a little less than 40 furious minutes.
If metalcore – or post-hardcore if you prefer – is yet to infiltrate your consciousness then this isn’t a bad place to start the process of giving yourself over to a mind-bending form of heavy music.
H.M.A.S. Lookback and the jokey No Sleep ‘Til Brisbane lock you in like a landlord looking to shift his pub’s entire supply of Antipodean lager and there’s simply no escaping an eclectic brew of modern metal made for the masses. The buzz band of 2012? Maybe. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Truebloods
We all know power metal can be outrageously melodramatic. Rather than regulate, Ukraine’s Morton are willing to embrace this fact with a debut record that would quite frankly rival Dragonforce when it comes to the allocated ‘cheese’ budget. Unfortunately as we also know – cheese is sometimes tasteful, sometimes bitter and on other occasions it grates.
That’s really where Morton stand on this attempt – their dramatics are blown-up and slightly on the ridiculous side. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing usually – after all, we all like a bit of Rhapsody Of Fire fantasy or Hammerfall’s bravado antics. The problem with Come Read The Words Forbidden is that it lacks any hooks or charisma that register with the ear to make this a memorable debut.
Calling For The Storm begins the record quite promisingly with big synths and Angra-esque harmonies on a musical backing of guitar duelling. However second track Eaglemark makes for boring listening with a predictable chorus. Black Witch begins on a note that suggests a bit of hard rock has crept in here, but essentially the verses are terribly bland largely down to the repetitious chord progressions shifting up and down the scale.
A less technical Dragonforce – the four-piece are way over the top and polished with crystal production. But it’s the thick consistency that defines other successful acts that they fail to achieve. By its finish, Come Read The Words Forbidden just blends into the increasingly saturated power metal background. CR
rushonrock rated: 4/10 ‘Ton Of Cheese
The Virus Has Spread is the debut record of the North East’s very own Fallen Fate. Spinning this album a number of times brings the same reassuring conclusions about the four-piece. One – that this is an extraordinary initial attempt and two – it’s a record that could quite possibly restore the faith of anyone disillusioned with the rarity of belting thrash acts in the region.
Insurrection boldly surrounds us with an atmospheric feel that takes you to the bunker of a WWI trench before duelling guitars gather pace – all working intricately to a crescendo of rumbling riffs that crash into a bruising thrash tempo in second track Downfall.
The recurring weather sound effects only solidify the album’s dark, brooding atmosphere while the extra symphonic keys make a huge difference. Rather than pound away in an amateur fury of hell-obsessed aggression, Fallen Fate project so much more – a powerful, grandiose soundscape that engulfs the listener with a flurry of technical climaxes.
Speaking of axes, lead guitarist Piers Donno Fuller is clearly a seasoned player that has the musical intelligence to shred with a sharp awareness of exactly where he’s putting his fingers. Descendancy is the epitome of his work and up there for one of the tracks of the year with its almost blackened nature. Pendulum hears guest vocals from Onslaught’s Sy Keeler, giving the band extra vocal dynamics.
Production on this record is sublime too. It’s a job handled by the band themselves, but nevertheless a one that they’ve absolutely nailed. Slowing to their head-slinging, palm-mute mosh riffs and juicy crushing breakdowns, the newcomers still keep their vivacity by subtly cross pollinating styles in a mix that consistently and naturally refreshes itself.
This could the very album that assists you on many a dark, chilly night on the way back from the pub. The virus might not have spread just yet, but when it does, there will be no antidote for a galleon of thrashers gyrating in unison to the sounds of Fallen Fate. CR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Infectious
It’s both exciting and refreshing to realise that the British music scene is still spawning bands with the self-assurance and talent to create melodic rock albums in the vein of Zaire.
Soley Mourning might be new to the masses but this is their third long player and the time spent honing their craft has been time well spent. Perhaps lacking a truly standout anthem, this album does, nevertheless, boast a remarkable level of consistency and there’s not a bad song here.
Vocalist Mat Partridge is often reminiscent of Living Colour’s Corey Glover and, as a result, there’s always a funky undertone to Soley Mourning’s finest moments. But a reliance on blues-tinged classic rock tradition lies at the heart of this band’s endearing sound and it’s clear why fellow West Midlanders Magnum handpicked the quintet to kick off a series of 2009 shows.
If Partridge’s pipes don’t naturally fit a power ballad then the slower and emotive Simone is a highlight on a record oozing class. Soulful in the extreme, it almost creeps into Lenny Kravitz territory and had it been recorded by buzz band Vintage Trouble then the tastemakers would be all over it like a rash.
Upbeat Gimme Somethin boasts a Rolling Stones vibe which perfectly captures the understated cool comfortably achieved by Soley Mourning from start to finish on Zaire. Paying their dues on the live scene at home and abroad for the past four years there’s no reason why 2012 can’t be the breakout year for these unsung heroes. Anything less would be disappointing in the extreme. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Mourning Glory
Hammers Of Misfortune formed back in 2000 comprised of members from Slough Feg, Ludicra and L7. Ten years down the line and the Frisco act are here to bring us album number five and it’s definitely a one for old proggers.
Having said this, there’s no doubt that Hammers Of Misfortune have a sound that is very accessible to a lot of tastes. Their lyrical themes are easily understood and melody means just as much as technicality for the sextet.
Satch-styled picking introduces us into 17th Street with 317, but it isn’t till we hear the opening chugs of The Grain that we realise this band’s full potential. From the head-nodding verses to the beautifully sung chorus, the seven-minute track is their best work on the album and tantalising evidence that creative things are happening in the HOF camp. Romance Valley has the intense kind of chorus’ you could expect from a Focus record, but it’s sheathed with heavier dynamics. They’re definitely paying homage to the NWOBHM movement in their work too – think Sabbath meets their prog nemesis and it’s somewhere near.
There are a couple of points that aren’t so positive on this record as well. Summer Tears would be a nice enough ballad but it’s not lyrically strong enough to host the nice instrumentation and it is a tad too lengthy. Luckily, they’re a band that have the tendency to pull an epic out the bag just when you’re off-guard – Going Somewhere best reflecting this at the record’s finish.
There’s certainly scope for more records from this band but we’re not sure if they’ll ever be a behemoth of prog metal. CR
rushonrock rated: 6/10 Hammers Blow
It’s difficult to imagine just where Machine Head thought they would or could go after the heavy metal beast that was The Blackening.
With the burden of expectation weighing so heavily on their shoulders in the wake of such a critical and commercial success it’s easy to understand why the band almost imploded. If Unto The Locust had never seen the light of day it wouldn’t have been the biggest surprise of the decade – a couple of years ago Machine Head were at a crossroads with two distinct destinations on the horizon: the pit of total self-destruction or the promised land of creative genius.
Thankfully they regrouped and trod the latter path. Unto The Locust is the equal of The Blackening and, in the cold light of day, may well prove to be the album that ultimately surpasses that modern day classic. Lacking the immediacy of some of the latter’s more headbanging metal anthems, this sonically supercharged effort does, however, hit the mark in terms of pure fury, spine-tingling passion and ear-bleeding shredding.
Lead track Locust is actually thew weakest song here. The mix is muddy and the lyrics just a little too contrived for those of us who like to think long and hard about our heaviest addictions. And yet it’s no bad song with a Metallica-esque instrumental break just about saving it from being shoved into Machine Head oblivion.
Of course this band couldn’t write a bad song if they tried. Even in their bludgeoning infancy there was always a sense of purpose where Machine Head were concerned and Unto The Locust is yet another focused assault on the senses. The irony of standout tune This Is The End won’t be lost on those fully expecting this lot to fly the flag for their favourite music for decades to come.
Machine Fucking Head have done it again and delivered a new benchmark for all things metal. If you liked The Blackening you’ll love this. And even if you didn’t it’s impossible not to appreciate a band at the peak of their creative powers. SR
rushonrock rated: 10/10 Head Boys
This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson.