Glam/funk/punk rock sensations Foxy Shazam lead the new music charge this week – we review and rate the US sensations’ major label debut plus the latest releases from Alter Bridge, Steve Lukather, City Of Fire, Down, Serj Tankian, Ginger and more!

October Tide – A Thin Shell (Candlelight)

Combine the slow trudge of doom, spill some death-vocals on it and splice it with an intricate array of finger picking.  October Tide is the result, brought to us back from the dead by ex-Katatonia guitarist Fred Norrman.

Their last album was in 1999, after Norrman founded the band with his Katatonia band-mate Jonas Renkse.  Despite the extended break of over ten years, Norrman has injected October Tide with a new lease of life somewhat.

A Thin Shell is less accessible than any Katatonia album, but that doesn’t mean it’s not melodic.  Whilst death growls take centre stage, performed by Tobias Netzell of In Mourning, there remains a contrast of dread and beauty, with Norrman’s guitar providing the latter.

In the middle of Deplorable Request everything unexpectedly comes to a grinding halt, and so begins a hazy atmosphere of over-dubbed guitars.  Tweaks like this give the record that extra edge, but one can’t help but look back to the old October Tide.  1997’s Rain Without End still has the upper hand when it comes to giving that dark ambient feel.

You won’t get a particularly fast track on this album, but that’s not a disadvantage.

Whilst The Night Time Project perhaps goes on longer than it should, the majority of the record flows, with The Dividing Line revealing Norrman’s delicate ear for melodic exploitation.

We’re not going to compare it too much to the cult efforts of over a decade ago.  If A Thin Shell were a debut, it would be a respectable attempt. CR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Tide Turning

Serj Tankian – Imperfect Harmonies (Reprise)

System Of A Down front man Serj Tankian is back. Maybe not as you’d expect but, as the saying goes, change isn’t always bad.

Four years and a solo album have passed since Serj and the boys went on self imposed ‘hiatus’ and on this showing some radical changes have taken place too. Gone are the break neck speed guitars and drums, replaced by an orchestral, techno rock sound.

Every track releases a sinister sound that matches the doomsday and dismal worded lyrics perfectly, creating an interesting listening experience.  No tracks particularly stand out as potential game changers or anthems like Chop Suey! did once upon a time but the new approach plays to Tankian’s strengths.

The album doesn’t need stand alone tracks and works better as an EP that deserves your full attention. If not because of the material on show then on merit instead. To try something so different to what the millions of SOAD want or demand is brave and the fact that Tankian is halfway to accomplishing a great album his own way is nothing short of astonishing.

The same political views are evident throughout Tankian’s powerful lyrics as are his Armenian routes – Yes, It’s Genocide is sung in its entirety in his native tongue. Left Of Center is the strongest track and the first release but never feels out of place on an altogether haunting album.

Taken as a separate entity from any previous work, Imperfect Harmonies is a tender ‘electro-orchestral-jazz-rock’ sensation. Metal fans look elsewhere as not a single guitar solo is within earshot. But to anyone with an open mind: you may just have (re)discovered a friend. AS

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Popularity Serj

Ginger – 10 (Round)

If there was a spot in the Hard Rock Hall Of Fame for the most prolific musician in the business then it would surely belong to this genial Geordie with the work ethic of a pit pony.

Ginger churns out tunes like Alan Shearer banged in goals but this carefully crafted compilation proves quantity has never diluted quality where the Wildhearts frontman is concerned. There are radio-friendly rock anthems aplenty and while there’s no huge diversion from what he knows best, it’s hardly a criticism that one of music’s most respected performers sticks to a winning formula.

There’s the fist-punching retro flavour of Yeah, Yeah, Yeah and the magnificent Mother City. There’s the snappy How Hard Can You Make It and the sprawling Jake as Ginger does his best to give the impression he can mix it up. Of course he can but just when that mix could paint a completely new picture he recognises there’s a lot to be said for a subtle variation on the same old canvas.

This is a colourful romp through the slightly laid back and often ignored solo years but as a career retrospective it comes at just the right time for true British rock royalty. With Wildhearts reissues out next month and solo gigs on the horizon the final third of 2010 could belong to Ginger. SR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Ginger Snaps

Alter Bridge – III (Roadrunner)

Welcome to the curious case of Myles Kennedy. Freed from the burden of Alter Bridge’s modern rock by numbers, as sister act Creed made a largely forgettable comeback, the multi-faceted singer reinvented himself as one of the most soulful, emotive and endearing frontmen around.

Cast in the role of Slash’s vocal muse, Kennedy carved out an exciting new niche and won a fresh army of rock fans who’d never have entertained the idea of an evening with Alter Bridge. Yet here he is, back in the old routine. And it’s still a depressingly formulaic safety-first approach designed to keep the AB faithful happy and shift a few more million units to the middle American masses.

Yet without Kennedy this multi-million selling band would be in serious bother. Take the vocals out of the equation and, save for the odd moment of fret-burning magic from Mark Tremonti, this is as dull as the proverbial dishwater. You’d think a financially secure supergroup would have the balls to stretch the boundaries and enjoy a degree of artistic freedom. Think again. Too many tracks on the originally labelled III (this is AB’s third album) scream exactly the opposite.

All Hope Is Gone sums it up. If this desperate track is anything to go by then it really is. The background to this album is a story of tough times and serious change and ‘heartfelt’ would be the kindest adjective to describe a record surely aimed at those determined to spend the cold autumn nights alone and happily introspective.

Life Must Go On insists Kennedy, three tracks from the end, but the rest of III peddles a different message. An undercurrent of sheer, abject misery runs through AB’s latest offering and Kennedy’s quest to be crowned vocal king of 2010 has suddenly hit the buffers. Gone is the beaming face of Download 2010 and back is the post-grunge growler too afraid to rock the boat. Or rock anything, for that matter. SR

rushonrock rated: 5/10 Bridge Of Sighs

Foxy Shazam – Foxy Shazam (Sire)

Believe the hype and you’ll fully expect the major label debut by the USA’s Foxy Shazam to knock spots off the opposition and install itself as favourite to lift 2010’s rock gongs. Approach their self-titled record with an open mind and you might be surprised at just how ordinary some of this music really is.

Of course there are the rock n soul highlights Count Me Out, Second Floor and the lead single Oh Lord which are, as the buzz would have you believe, bona fide instant classics. Count Me Out, featuring a fabulous Justin Hawkins guitar solo for good measure is, by a country mile, the best thing Foxy have ever done. And Oh Lord does its job in showcasing everything good about this band – the singalong chorus, hummable melody and tongue-in-cheek lyrics a joy to hear.

But then there are the bad bits. The bruised fruits in a basket of occasionally delicious ripe-for-radio classics. Take Bye Bye Symphony with its Josh Freese drum set unable to lift a frankly mediocre track above the norm. And then there’s the bizarre Intro/Bombs Away which would have turned off an army of fans in the pre-download age. Thankfully for Foxy the fact that a new generation of digital music fans now mix their playlists for fun means they might just get away with this ill-conceived ordering.

Imagine Queen mixed with The Darkness and given a soulful kick and you come close to this band’s finer moments. Vocalist Eric Nally is, undoubtedly, a hot new talent and the use of up-front keys and Alex Nauth’s inspired horns makes for an eclectic and often engaging album. Sadly there’s something missing, not least the holy grail that is consistency. SR

rushonrock rated: 6/10 Foxy Music

City Of Fire – City Of Fire (Candlelight)

Come aboard the tour bus for the City Of Fire, all the main attractions for a low fee.  Let Fear Factory members Burton C Bell and Byron Stroud take you on an extraordinary ride away from their primary project.

City Of Fire formed just two years ago when both Bell and Stroud had time away from their other active bands.  This debut record is brutally aggressive yet surprisingly melodic and fused with funky riffs.

Carve Your Name is a juicy quantity of muscle-thick structure with the trademark carnal vocals of Bell christening the debut.

Avid Fear Factory fans may have their misgivings regarding any comparisons but there’s no doubt that the vocal style of the longest serving FF member will still knock them off their feet.

Emerald lays out its lovely acoustic nature to let the album settle nicely in preparation for Hollow Land.  The track is a fantastic success, bombarding us with frenetic activity on guitar packed alongside a chaotic rhythm.  Theoretically it shouldn’t work but, despite the eclecticism, Hollow Land is a sublime driving force of harmony and power.

Immediately after the album takes us to our next destination with Dark Tides.  The track has the eerie atmospherics of Ulver’s Perdition City, with disturbing sax and violins weaving in and out.  Sit back and close your eyes: you may end up walking in an isolated metropolitan district, down a rainy sidewalk all neon lit, at 2am.

It may divide fans but the efforts of City Of Fire have impressed us with their jink away from traditional Fear Factory sound. CR

rushonrock rated: 8/10 Fire Factory

Hail Of Bullets – On Divine Winds (Metal Blade)

Dutch death metal may seem like Norwegian Edam – a diluted version of the real thing. But the brilliant Hail Of Bullets put all such thoughts to bed just as soon as they plunge head first into Operation Z – a thundering opus which immediately demands respect.

Purists might argue HOB are a little too commercial for the underground death metal market and it’s true that Martin van Drunen’s lyrics are cleaner than the average growler/screamer. Throw in the fact that much of the riffage is old school NWOBHM meets Bay Area thrash and it’s fair to say this fast-rising five piece have a wide-reaching appeal. That might not win them the respect they deserve but it will take death metal to the masses.

And surely that’s what a hugely popular yet still feared genre needs. There’s nothing nice about HOB’s Full Scale War or Unsung Heroes but both tracks are slick, powerful and passionate. Both are examples of why everyone from Iron Maiden and Saxon die-hards to early-era Dimmu devotees will find something to admire in the excellent On Divine Winds.

Live this lot should be an awesome proposition and the sooner they’re playing a whole host of sweaty clubs across the UK the better. For now a second full length album full of angst-ridden potential should fill the void. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Winds Of Change

Down – Diary Of A Mad Band (Roadrunner)

If ever a band was made for the live album format then supercharged metal merchants Down are that act. Packaged with a DVD, this record of the US heavyweights on the road is raw enough to feel mightily real and yet never strays too far from the cult heroes’ recognised studio standard.

As soon as Phil Anselmo launches into Losing All there’s a sense that absolutely anything could happen at a Down live show. And it usually does. The crowd’s crushing rendition of follow-up Lifer maintains the early momentum and from that moment onwards it’s a case of keeping the power chord pot boiling. Anselmo and Pepper Keenan do just that with a volley of focused guitar fury the like of which you’ll rarely experience.

An epic eight minute-plus version of Learn From This Mistake has the feel of a career-defining statement with more twists and turns than a Spaghetti Junction contraflow. And Anselmo’s frighteningly frequent use of the F-word somehow seems perfectly acceptable in the context of a show shouting aggressive metal on steroids.

Closing with Stone The Crow and Bury Me In Smoke is just about the only sensible thing about Diary Of A Mad Band – as a knuckle-crunching one-two they’re the perfect combination to wrap a sensational set. This is modern metal at its pulverising best and Anselmo has never sounded better. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Down Time

Steve Lukather – All’s Well That Ends Well (Mascot)

It’s a big month for genuine guitar heroes with Joe Satriani, Joe Bonamassa and Steve Lukather all out on the road and out to prove that six (strings) sells.

But before all you Toto fans out there start dreaming of a soaring set of overly optimistic AOR heaven think again. All’s Well That Ends Well comes from a very dark period in the life of Mr Lukather and lyrically this is a pretty joyless affair. That’s not to say it doesn’t succeed in making an emotional connection over and over again – just not the kind of connection you’re looking for as autumn prepares to give way to winter and the dark nights draw in.

At least Lukather lays his cards on the table from the off. Darkness In My World couldn’t pretend to be a happy, smiley pop rock anthem if it tried and this mournful tune sets the tone for a record which revels in a level of deep introspection. It’s one of those albums all the great musicians of our time have in them but only a few have the guts to pull it off with such aplomb.

In truth Lukather lays himself bare and for close friends and family – even the man himself – this will make for a fairly uncomfortable listen in the weeks and years to come. Lyrically, anyway. Try to digest this record in the context of a guitar masterclass and it’s possible to escape the overriding feeling of abject misery. At least for a moment or two.

A track like Can’t Look Back tries to paint a picture of a brighter future but the fear is this might be the future for Lukather. With another Toto reunion extremely unlikely – according to the man himself – confessional and complicated solo albums could become the norm. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Luk Runs Out

Negligence – Coordinates Of Confusion (Metal Blade)

So just how do you view the Slovenian thrash metal scene right now? If Negligence are the rule, rather than the exception, then we must be talking about a movement in ridiculously rude health.

COC kicks off like a meaty mid-80s Metallica tribute record but swiftly morphs into a European version of the Bay Area’s best kept secret, Death Angel. This is melodic, pacy, intricate and involving thrash metal at its very best. Vocalist Alex Skoflijanec has the X Factor and on the scorching Screaming Fear the frontman delivers a deafening showcase for his considerable talents.

Alack of originality could be the only criticism aimed at Negligence but if the music’s this good then who really cares? Retro guitar solos tear through soaring riffs and Skolijanec never misses the opportunity to rip apart every last verse. Negligence are a band you can believe in at a time when imitation is still the sincerest form of flattery.

Slovenia: be proud. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Confusion Reigns

This weeks’ reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Andy Spoors, Calum Robson.