And March madness is in full swing with a plethora of fist-pumping anthems to usher in spring.
Veterans Michael Schenker and Toto (pictured) return to fly the flag for the old guard.
And new kids on the block Blues Pills release more live material to prove you don’t have to be aged to be classic.
There’s new music from Whiskey Myers and Enforcer.
Plus there’s the latest addition to Joe Bonamassa’s bulging back catalogue.
We review and rate Von Hertzen Brothers, Pombagria and Zu.
Plus we check out Courage My Love, One-Eyed Doll and Theories. And there’s new music from the reformed Sorceror.
Every Sunday we reveal the RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK. And we round up the BEST OF THE REST.
RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK
Genre: Blues Rock
Not another JB release! It’s less than a year since the release of Different Shades Of Blue and, on the DVD front, I’ve just completed his Tour De Force collection from those four nights at four different London venues in 2013.
So while I was intrigued when this latest release dropped through the letter box, I wasn’t exactly craving another Bonamassa product.
But within a few minutes of watching this show, staged in an amphitheatre within Colorado’s majestic Rocky Mountains, I was spellbound.
On recent studio albums, JB has evolved into a songwriter of genuine talent but MWARR is an unashamed covers product, a homage to two of his great blues heroes Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
The 2CD/2DVD release is split into four sections. It kicks off with a Waters set, the highlights of which are a downright dirty You Shook Me and Double Trouble.
Then the wolf starts howling before the man rounds off a concert which thrilled the 9,000 fans present with a short set of his own material.
There’s a fascinating bonus feature on the DVD which includes a documentary of the concert plus historic footage of the two great Chicago bluesmen. Ian Murtagh
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9.5/10 Bon Voyage
BEST OF THE REST
Genre: AOR/Melodic Rock
It’s impossible to assess XIV without reflecting on the tragic death of Toto’s former bass player Mike Porcaro. News that the 59-year-old passed away earlier this month shocked the AOR community and it’s inevitable that the timing of his band’s latest – and possibly last – studio album will prompt sadness and optimism in equal measure.
It’s testimony to Pocaro’s influence on – and importance to – Toto that band leader Steve Lukather was unable to settle on one man to replace his friend and colleague during the recording of XIV. In fact no fewer than five musicians (including Lukather) contributed bass to a record that now has the feel of an all-star tribute to a fallen giant.
Pocaro’s brother and keyboard player Steve delivers The Little Things – a poignant mid-set tune that actually lightens the mood – and at this point it’s clear XIV is an album of contrasts. Neither beholden to Toto’s glorious past, nor ignoring the tried and tested formula that has served the band so well, this is a record that reignites a passion for classic AOR.
Given Pocaro’s passing, set closer Great Expectations doesn’t quite ring true. Nevertheless, as Toto prepare to tour on the back of their finest release for decades it’s possible the future can help ease the pain of the recent past. Simon Rushworth
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Toto Recall
Genre: Hard Rock
Michael Schenker’s in blistering form these days. He’s assembled a fine band including ex-Scorpions rhythm section Herman Rarebell and Francis Bucholz. And in vocalist Doogie White, he’s found a co-writer who complements him well.
But somehow the whole doesn’t quite add up to the sum of the parts.
Spirit On A Mission isn’t a bad album and the trademark Schenker melody runs through it.
And tracks like opener Live And Let Live and Vigilante Man, which the band played on their last UK tour, are right up there with the best material the German has released in his long, rollercoaster career.
It took three or four plays to pinpoint exactly what this album’s downfall is. It’s just too heavy to this listener’s ears.
As far as the man himself is concerned, Spirit On A Mission is an album done to order for it’s come out just the way he wanted with guitarist Wayne Findlay’s seven-string and Rarebell’s double bass drum featuring heavily in the mix.
This could have been a very, very good album but at times it needs to slow down and pause for breath. IM
RUSHONROCK RATED: 6.5/10 Metal Micky
Genre: Blues Rock
The Blues Pills bandwagon rolls on. If the band’s debut album served notice that raw potential has already morphed into proven talent then this accomplished live set builds on the critically acclaimed, if rather rushed, Live At Rockpalast EP.
It’s a natural extension to that brief burst of Blues Pills at their emotive best and will sound reassuringly familiar to fans who witnessed Elin Larsson and co. guest for Rival Sons on the Americans’ most recent UK headline tour.
Opening up with instant crowd pleaser High Class Woman, before segueing into Ain’t No Change, there ain’t no messing. Strangely, Bliss doesn’t come across as the standout highlight it was on the band’s last live run but Devil Man is still a bona fide classic built on a deeply brooding riff and Sabbath-esque fury.
Most emerging bands don’t boast the balls or the class to release a full live album so early in their careers but Blues Pills aren’t most bands. It’s time to accept that they’re something very, very special. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Pills, Thrills and Spills
Genre: Heavy Metal
There’s much to be said for the occasional blast of unashamed balls-to-the-wall trad metal and in small quantities it’s still a dependable cure-all for the stylised, over-produced pomp that dominates the modern rock landscape.
Enforcer deal in glorious simplicity. Their mantra? When one pounding riff will do why over-complicate things. Destroyer kicks things off in delightfully blunt fashion and it’s a race to finish from there on in.
Speedy enough to appeal to Death Angel devotees but just as likely to please the Saxon faithful, From Beyond actually comes from within – from a deeply embedded appreciation of metal’s most primal instincts.
Blistering solos, shrieked choruses and a cacophony of NWOBHM-powered percussion make for a musical brain freeze. And even when Enforcer sound a little too much like W.A.S.P. there’s still a creative sting in the tail in the shape of epic set closer Mask Of Red Death. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Beyond Belief
Genre: Alt Metal
Zu are responsible for some of the most ambitious heavy music of the past decade and their desire to experiment and push the boundaries remains undiminished on the sublime Cortar Todo.
Name a ‘metal’ album you own that features a field recording of an indigenous Shipibo medicine man recorded by Massimo Pupillo (bass) during his travels around the Amazon? Thought so. It’s just one of the unexpected turns taken on this seriously unhinged album.
Distorted saxophone is another sound most metal fans won’t be familiar with but Luca T Mai’s use of the instrument is a major part of the Zu package. And don’t expect a singalong chorus anytime soon – the wacky Italians simply don’t deal in vocals.
To describe Cortar Todo as an acquired taste would be to suggest it’s a taste that’s possible to acquire. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Here Todo, Gone Tomorrow
Since they first came storming out of Seattle in 2011, Theories have been blasting their way through the grindcore scene – and Regression will cement their place as a force to be reckoned with.
Opener Burnt Concrete is standard deathgrind fare, but when the multi-textured Cycle of Decay kicks in, you know you’re in for a more interesting ride, with the quartet quickly revealing their astounding technical abilities. On Hell in Her Eyes, meanwhile, Theories vary up the pace to create a track crackling with violent grooves and dissonant guitarwork: it’s a formidable example of where talented musicians can take grindcore, and a real highlight of Regression. Swimming In Mud, similarly sees the quartet flex their creative muscles, this time over a slower tempo.
Granted, there are some forgettable moments on this opus – Bathing in Pigs Blood and Landfill spring to mind. However, when they show their more innovative side, Theories are an intriguing proposition: grindcore needs more bands like them. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7.5/10 Chaos Theory
This is the most unlikely sounding two-piece band ever. It’s an unholy triumvirate of Motley Crue, Lordi and thrash metal with the crystal clear lyrical delivery and sound like Nightwish. Unholy in the fact that this album is a direct tribute to the women killed in the Salem Witch Hysteria – many of the lyrics are direct quotes from handwritten witch trail court documents. In a few words, this album is the coolest history lesson you’ll ever receive.
This is an album that was written in a forest, on a banjo and a mandolin and that comes through. Some songs sound like the Court Jester putting on a show for his medieval lord, especially Remember and Prayer?, which include soft acoustic sounds that you’d hear being played in a period drama.
Witches could be both a lesson in how to create music that strays so far from the straight and narrow it practically invents a sub-genre all for itself, and an example that history doesn’t always have to be boring. Now how many bands out there can claim that? Russell Hughes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Witches Brew
Genre: Alt Rock
Making it as a new band is different now. Social media and YouTube are the name of the game and Courage My Love are part of the new breed who have mastered it.
More than 3.8m views and 20,000 Twitter followers mean that whatever the band chose to do, irrespective of whether or not they have a record deal or not, is going to be seen and heard.
Cold Blooded is the follow up to debut EP For Now, released when the band were an incredibly young 17 – and it represents the two years that they spent growing up on the road.
If the music hasn’t changed a great deal, the lyrical content has. In the first song, Skin and Bone, Mercedes Arn-Horn signs: “We’re too old to die young,” something their more experienced brothers in rock might be able to contradict but the sentiment remains the same.
Cold Blooded sounds like a mixture of We Are The In Crowd with the harder elements of All Time Low from their more rock ‘n roll days. It’s a well-rounded, well produced and infectious album, and feels like it should be from a group more advanced in years than the trio from Ontario are.
With so much material in the bag before they are even 20, Courage My Love are set for an eventful career. Russell Hughes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Love It
The UK’s doom scene is a rich and varied one at the moment, with bands like Bong, Conan and of course, Electric Wizard, gaining international acclaim. And although Pombagira might be slightly under the radar at the moment, they won’t be for too much longer: that’s because Flesh Throne Press is an utterly absorbing piece of cosmic heaviness. Its psychedelic voyages, though boasting plenty of weight, have an almost dream-like quality to them and you’ll be lulled, rather than crushed, by songs like In The Silence and the stunning Sorcerous Cry.
Pombagira probably owe more to 60s psych as they do to Iommi and co. and while they could lazily be tagged as an ‘occult rock’ outfit, they sound a world away from most of the bands inhabiting that particular realm. The duo of Peter and Carolyn Hamilton-Giles don’t strike you as bandwagon jumpers either and it’s clear that they make music on their own terms.
A lengthy effort, Flesh Throne Press might not hold your attention throughout, and it could have done with some trimming, but its loose, doomed-up meditations nevertheless offer plenty of reward. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7.5/10 Ascending The Throne
Genre: Doom/Trad Metal
The first new album since Sorcerer’s reformation in 2010, In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross is epic doom metal delivered in the finest Swedish traditions. Polished musicianship, grandiose, lengthy compositions, songs about demons and black magic – all of the ingredients are here for a candlelit night in with a fine bottle of red.
Anders Engberg – part of Sorcerer’s original 80s incarnation – is a phenomenal vocalist and his class shines through on tracks like the NWOBHM-inspired Exorcise The Demon and the sinister Lake of Lost Souls, while guitarists Kristian Niemann and Peter Hallgren (of Therion fame) give a masterclass in traditional metal axework throughout.
In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross can be ponderous at times, with Prayers For A King failing to ignite… and it can be a little cheesy too. But when Sorcerer are at their rip roaring best – The Gates of Hell, for instance – they more than justify their decision to reform. Let’s hope they don’t leave it another 20 years before we hear from them again…Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Casting A Spell
Genre: Southern Rock/Classic Rock
It’s no big surprise that the success of Blackberry Smoke has encouraged a slew of similarly-minded Southern-flavoured, countrified classic rock bands to try their luck on this side of the Pond.
Whiskey Myers are one of the first to secure a UK deal and the groove-laden Texans have added a pair of acoustic tracks to a record originally released back home more than 12 months ago.
Three albums into their career and it’s clear confidence isn’t an issue: the title track, Where The Sun Don’t Shine and Lightning are ballsy Southern Rock fare referencing Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers et al.
Originality isn’t a priority but Blackberry Smoke aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel. And as long as Whiskey Myers make music in the mould of the Springsteen-esque Radio Two hit-in-the-making Reckoning they’ll find a warm welcome on these shores for many years to come. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Shakes And Bakes
Genre: Hard Rock/Progressive Rock
Kie (guitars, backing vocals), Mikko (vocals, guitar) and Jonne (bass, backing vocals) are heading for a fifth successive top five album in the Finnish charts this week. The von Hertzen brothers have long since been accepted as the saviours of rock and roll in their home country but mainstream success and widespread recognition remains their ambition.
New Day Rising’s title track is symptomatic of that dream. Part Foo Fighters, part Soundgarden and part Oasis it’s a catch-all anthem likely to appeal to the masses and make playlists the world over. But will it be enough?
No sooner have VHB laid their commercial cards on the table than they launch into heavy, psych-tinged rollercoaster ride You Don’t Know My Name. It’s brilliant but will frighten those very fans already lulled into a false sense of rock radio security.
Trouble’s sweeping soundscape raises the bar and it’s clear New Day Rising is shaping up to be a creative tour de force. VHB aren’t selling out – quite the opposite. They’re investing in the brand and banking on that brand screaming longevity, authenticity and artistic cool. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Rising Force