REVIEWS – NEW MUSIC
There’s a bumper helping of Magnum live and a career-spanning collection of Nashville Pussy (pictured) classics.
We review and rate new music from Thea Gilmore, Spitfire and Soto.
Plus we run the rule over Brit newbies Heartbreak Remedy and Brazil nuts Angra.
Ninkharsag, Gift Giver and Sigh all release new music this week.
And we check out Cold In Berlin, Glittertind and Throes.
Every Sunday we reveal the RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK. And we round up the very BEST OF THE REST.
RUSHONROCK RECORD OF THE WEEK
Genre: Alt Rock/Folk Rock/Country Rock
The first lady of British singer-songwriting remains a largely unfamiliar name and even those who do gravitate towards Thea Gilmore may feel she doesn’t belong here.
Sure, Ghosts & Graffiti isn’t the hardest rocking record we’ll review this year but it’s powerful, persuasive stuff. Fans of the Cowboy Junkies, Texas and Chrissie Hynde will all love what Gilmore has achieved on album number 14 but this is grittier than the pop rock fare favoured by her more commercially successful peers.
Politicised collaborations with Billy Bragg and John Cooper Clarke resonate with the post-election crowd while the haunting ballad Love Came Looking For Me is rich in evocative similes.
A heady mix of reimagined favourites, classic covers and new material, Ghosts & Graffiti should be Gilmore’s breakout record – 17 years after debut Burning Dorothy caused the odd ripple. Fingers crossed. Simon Rushworth
RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Please Sir, Can I Have Some Gilmore?
BEST OF THE REST
Genre: Hard Rock
Boasting ‘high power and performance – just like the famous fighter’, Norway’s Spitfire talk a good game. The reality, however, is somewhat different.
Ok, there’s plenty of power. But where the original Spitfire combined muscle with quick-fire moves there’s nothing nimble or adroit about this band’s lumbering approach to hard rock. In truth, they’re more like the Lancaster bombers of the genre.
Kicking off with the ‘Scorpions do garage rock’ title track, it’s clear Spitfire are competent enough. But proficiency is about as rock and roll as corduroy and linen.
What Spitfire lack is a spark. And an identity. There are echoes of W.A.S.P., Alice Cooper and even Alice In Chains on the post-grunge meets modern rock mess that is Fuel To Burn. But those echoes rarely evolve into anything worth listening to. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 4/10 Fuel For Your Lovin’
Cumbrians Heartbreak Remedy earned a fully deserved RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 for last November’s bullish Life EP and expectation levels were sky high when Midnight Groove’s long awaited release was confirmed.
A stellar set at Hard Rock Hell earlier this year only served to ramp up the sense of anticipation but does the band’s full length debut do its burgeoning reputation justice?
The jury’s out. The decision to hold back standout tracks Girl At The Bar and Heartbreaker until midway through a chequered set beggars belief – especially as opener Convoy is one of the weakest songs here: there’s a real danger Heartbreak Remedy’s very best work will remain buried.
And then there’s the patchy production. Frontman Matty Penn is a formidable presence live but his vivacious energy and sleaze-soaked style doesn’t always come across on Midnight Groove. When it does – and skip straight to the cocksure Cocked And Loaded for evidence – it’s clear the band’s future is in safe hands. And it’s an incredibly exciting future. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 In The Groove
Genre: Melodic Rock
It should come as no surprise that the magnificent Magnum have wrapped their latest live release around 2014’s Top 40 album Escape From The Shadowgarden – the band’s best studio output for decades deserves the full live treatment.
Three of the 12 tracks here are culled from that remarkable record and from the off it’s clear Live ‘Til You Die, Unwritten Sacrifice and Falling For The Big Plan stand tall alongside the best of the Catley-Clarkin back catalogue.
Of course there’s ample opportunity to give the classics another makeover – both How Far Jerusalem and Les Morts Dansant sparkle as the mid-set standard is ramped up at an increasingly rapid pace.
However, it’s Blood Red Laughter, from 2013’s On The 13th Day, that steals the show – a fulsome Catley vocal and sumptuous Clarkin solo capturing the celebrated duo at their instinctive best. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 Garden Of Eden
Genre: Hard Rock/Southern Metal
Looking for the perfect soundtrack to your early summer rock n roll barbecue? Look no further (just make sure the kids are tucked up in bed long before the first bars of opener Come On Come On blast across the back garden).
Husband-and-wide duo Blaine Cartwright and Ruyter Suys have written a slew of underground classics in their time and Ten Years Of Pussy spews out the majority.
Before The Drugs Wear Off is a firm live favourite and its omission from the band’s first Best Of collection would have caused a riot. I’m So High, Pillbilly and Up The Dosage offers further proof that the Pussy have plenty to say about narcotics but getting high (and coming down) isn’t the limit of Cratwright’s lyrical ambition.
Pussy, Struttin’ Cock and Go Motherfucker Go offer a deeper insight into the way his warped mind works but what about the music? For the most part it’s basic, sleazy, garage rock given the occasional Southern metal sheen and it works an absolute treat. Party on. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Pussy Whipped
Genre: Hard Rock
Sometime Journey man, Yngwie Malmsteen’s old mate, W.E.T. dreamer and the go-to guy for melodic rock mastery, Jeff Scott Soto has racked up the credits – and the credibility – during a memorable 30-year career.
Perhaps the one criticism of the Brooklyn boy is his failure to settle on any one sound, project or vision for any length of time. Chopping and changing between hard rock, metal and AOR has become a familiar coping mechanism for an individual clearly lacking the courage of his conviction.
Inside The Vertigo attempts to fuse all three genres but it’s beefier than 2012’s Jeff Scott Soto release – the deliciously melodic RUSHONROCK RATED: 10/10 Damage Control.
Power ballad When I’m Older will appeal to the AOR fraternity. But the Shinedown-esque opener Final Say, Marilyn Manson-lite The Fall and the album’s punchy title track are pitched firmly at America’s hard rock crowd – and disappointingly bland as a result.
Soto has always tried to be all things to all men. Inside The Vertigo suffers as a result. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 5/10 So So Soto
Genre: Power Metal
Brazil. A nation famed for its football, beaches, babes and…nuts. But less so for its power metal scene.
Angra are in the midst of a 23-year mission to change all that.
And their progressive approach on Secret Garden evokes classic Queensryche and Rising Force-era Yngwie Malmsteen to create a melting pot of retro-fuelled modern rock.
The stunning Storm Of Emotions sees Angra set out their stall – all power chords, layered vocal harmonies, a deep message and a pounding rhythm.
The jazzy, samba-flavoured intro to Upper Levels cedes to a choppy riff that perfectly complements Rafael Bittencourt’s clean and compelling vocals. It’s another thrillingly diverse example of the South Americans’ supreme songwriting craft.
At times Secret Garden suggests Angra have only just reached the cusp of their creative potential. This is a band with much, much more to say. SR
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Secret Pleasure
Genre: Black Metal
Anyone who witnessed Ninkharsag’s recent tour with Coltsblood will have surely been blown away by this tight, darkly atmospheric outfit from Liverpool: a band who eschew the windswept stylings of the current UK black metal scene for a sound more in keeping with the likes of Scandinavian legends Dissection and Gorgoroth.
Blood of Celestial Kings, the quartet’s debut, is a fearsome first effort, enriched by seams of dark melody in the finest Swedish BM tradition: Iron Wolves is an anthem in the making, while Tartarus Unbound soars majestically and is a real highlight of this album, mining some Middle Eastern influences and crackling with chaotic energy.
There is room for improvement, sure, and Ninkharsag will need to sharpen up their songwriting to move into bigger leagues. But this opus is still one hell of a debut… and a joyous celebration of malevolent, blast beat driven old school black metal. Richard Holmes
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7.5/10 Bloodletting
Genre: Tech Metal/Nu-metal
“Do you really want to fuck with this?” asks Gift Giver’s Justin Johnson – over a torrent of downtuned riffs – on Hellhound, one of Shitlife’s 10 rather aggressive little ditties.
The answer? Probably not. This Detroit crew mean business and their second album seethes with rage and spits industrial strength vitriol over anyone who comes close.
Is it any good? Yes, as a mosh-pit ignition switch and a soundtrack to teen angst. And when Gift Giver hit their groovy stride (for instance on Death Wish) they’re pretty formidable. However, there’s a synthetic feel to Shitlife which grates somewhat, Johnson’s nu-hop vocals sound dated and while songs like Loose Cannon might want you want to punch through a wall, they’ll not make that much of dent on your soul. Plus, this opus is not quite convoluted (or ambitious) enough to appeal to the djent-loving fraternity.
All that said, for sheer testosterone-fuelled brutality, you could do worse…RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 5/10 Present Arms
Genre: Black Metal/Avant Garde
Sigh have always been reliably off-the-wall. And they’ve always had the respect of the extreme scene for both their bravery and their ability to write some genuinely great music – songs which transcend black metal yet keep its rebellious spirit burning bright.
Graveward won’t disappoint. Inspired by Italian zombie flicks and Hammer Horror, Sigh’s tenth album sees the quintet get pretty cinematic (and at times grandiose) on us, but it works.
Out of the Grave is raw, proto thrash embellished by zany folk music and orchestral blasts, The Trial By The Dead is a menacing, hellish symphony, The Casketburner a groovy, blackened thrash attack which veers off into jazz territory and then plunges back into the chaos. And of course, Dr Mikannibal’s saxophone gets plenty of airtime.
Plus, you’ll even find Trivium’s Matt Heafy lending his talents to Out of the Grave, with a host of other extreme metal luminaries – Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth, Rotting Christ’s Sakis Tolis and more – getting in on the act too.
Why their interest? Probably because it’s hard to beat this Japanese outfit for sheer musical ambition. And that’s surely something to be celebrated. RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Funeral Hymns
Genre: Goth Rock/Doom
A major leap forward from its predecessor, The Comfort of Loss & Dust is a far more mature effort than 2012’s And Yet – and a heavier one at that.
The London act’s doom influences really come to the fore in gargantuan opener She Walks and it’s no surprise to hear that the album was mastered by Jaime Gomez Arellano, who has worked with Sunn O))) and Electric Wizard. Arguably the best track on the quartet’s third album, She Walks is a fitting introduction to the dark tales that follow.
Cold In Berlin also work their magic very effectively on the Sabbath meets Sisters of Mercy refrain of Pray For Us, and there’s an occult rock vibe to creepy closer The Natural Order. Maya’s twisting, anguished vocal style is certainly an acquired taste… however it works far better over the doom soaked riffs of The Comfort of Loss & Dust than the post-punk of And Yet.
The soundtrack to a wet weekend in Whitby? Sure. But Cold In Berlin have proved there’s more to them than a quick Goth fix. RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 7/10 Cold Comfort
On their second album as a ‘full’ band, Glittertind have thrown their distortion pedals in the cupboard and gone all acoustic on us… and in the process they’ve sculpted an album so beautiful that it deserves to put the Norwegians on much bigger stages.
Inspired by the advent of peace in 1945 – and what this meant for a generation scarred by war – Blåne For Blåne (‘blue distance’ in English) sees the talented sextet embrace folk, Americana and country music to create a masterful acoustic opus. Songs like the glorious Soria Moria would be international hits if they were sung in English, rather than the band’s native tongue and Torbjørn Sandvik’s vocals are particularly impressive throughout.
Indeed, the whole band excel themselves here, from the way Olav Renolen Aasbø’s steel guitar gently caresses the title track, to Geirmund Simonsen’s rousing accordion playing on Draumen.
Make no mistake, unless you have a very cold heart, you’ll be deeply touched by Blåne For Blåne: Mumford & Sons better watch out, the Vikings are coming. RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 9/10 All That Glitters Is Gold
Genre: Black/Death Metal
It’s a long time since Birmingham gave birth to heavy metal, but the city has never let up in spawning highly original – and utterly menacing – acts, from Godflesh to Anaal Nathrakh. Indeed there are shades of those two bands in Throes’ apocalyptic debut, which mixes its blackened ultraviolence with bleak industrialism, though the duo of A.C. and D.G. stay true to their own hellish musical vision.
Opener Sleepwalker sets the mood, with disturbing vocal samples giving way to a nuclear firestorm of explosive fretwork and pulverising snare drums… and Dissociation never really lets up. Even Hellion, which initially boasts a slower, doomy vibe, eventually detonates like a cluster bomb, sending shrapnel in all directions.
Like Towers of Flesh (A.C.’s other band) and London’s Voices, Throes sound like they could have only been born in the UK… their discordant riffs and commitment to absolute annihilation imbued with a distinctly British spirit.
A formidable first effort then, from a band with abundant potential. RH
RUSHONROCK RATED: 8/10 Death Throes
I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.