There’s a real rock and roll flavour to this week’s releases as New York Dolls and Michael Monroe go head-to-head.

There’s the welcome return of Funeral For A Friend plus we review and rate the latest albums from J Mascis, Woods Of Ypres and Sylosis


New York Dolls – Dancing Backward In High Heels (Blast Records)

Newcastle has become home to a number of cutting edge rock records in recent years with acts as diverse as Therapy? and Dear Superstar cutting their tracks on Tyneside.

Blast Studios, based just up the hill from The Cluny, is fast gaining a reputation as a serious alternative to the UK’s traditional recording bases, but bringing the New York Dolls to the North East was the centre’s biggest coup yet.

Like Therapy? and Dear Superstar, the Dolls are signed to Jarrow’s Global Music and Blast Studios is an integral part of the Global family. So David, Sylvain and the guys didn’t need asking twice when their label bosses suggested a three-week residency in the Toon. And the Dolls being the Dolls they kicked it all off with a three-night residency at The Cluny.

The highlights of those shows, plus a selection of behind-the-scenes footage, are on a special DVD included in the UK edition of Dancing Backward In High Heels. The band look great but do they sound as good?

The third of their post-reformation records oozes bar room cool with David Johansen’s vocal style so laid back you expect the notes to drop off altogether. If the Dolls’ early 70s pre-punk angst is a thing of the past then their ability to tell a glam rock n roll story is still gloriously evident.

The funky opener Fool For You Baby sets the tone and if tracks like Kids Like You belong to a different era then Johansen and Sylvain are just about talented enough to pull it off in 2011.

I Sold My Heart To The Junkman is an instant classic and an obvious fit for this month’s UK tour.

That homecoming of sorts will see the Dolls back in the UK for the first time since this fine body of work was recorded off a tiny back lane tucked away from anything remotely rock and roll. No doubt they’ll celebrate another slew of dates with their adoring public in style and fingers crossed this reassuringly accomplished record will feature prominently on the night.

The addition of Earl Slick as a touring guitarist should take Dancing Backward In High Heels to another level altogether. If that’s possible. Prepare to be impressed. SR

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Dancing Backward, Moving Forward

Woods Of Ypres – Woods 4: The Green Album (Earache)

Woods Of Ypres have endured in the predominantly uncharted territory of underground black and doom metal since 2002. A deal with Earache Records at the end of last year meant the Ontario quartet no longer have to worry about their previous distribution problems. It starts here – with a re-issue of Woods 4: The Green Album, which was only available via digital download before this edition.

Shards Of Love is the beautiful, impacting opener that progresses from a guitar-picked ballad to a slow-paced yet thunderous entity of dispirited waning.  Along similar lines to this, is the short acoustic track You Are Here With Me (In This Sequence Of Dreams).  Although weighing under two-minutes in length, it shows a very capable folk side to Woods Of Ypres.

If you’re in the mood for something heavier, Natural Technologies is the most blackened song on the album, and there’s the brash riffing of Suicide Cargoload (Drag That Weight) to extinguish anyone’s burning desire for a song with a brazened sludgy-edge.

Gold has fused what can probably be described as ‘depressive’ rock into the record too, with dark lyrical content spewing from this love-fatigued soul like he drank ipecac in a confession box.  But as appealing as this may seem, Gold fails to utilise his gloomy content.  Overly-simplistic songwriting gives many of the songs less impact when it comes down to inducing that burdening air of suffocating melancholy that Woods Of Ypres are renowned for.

By The Time You Read This (I Will Already Be Dead) is a main culprit, but Wet Leather is by far the most dubious, with a cringe-worthy chorus clumsily tarnishing any note of musical accolade on the track (‘Life is just pain and piss, there’s nothing that I will miss’).

Musically, Gold is moving away from most of his black metal roots with Woods Of Ypres and probably allowing them to be channelled into his two-songs-a-year project – the Northern Ontario Black Metal Preservation Society. And there isn’t anything wrong with that, especially seems as WoY play doom almost as well as any black metal section they’ve done in the past. Even holding them in high regard, ticking the box for ballsy ambition and ignoring some of the lyrical hiccups, I’ve heard better from them. No doubt they’ll come back twice as strong with Woods 5. CR

rushonrock rated: 6.5/10 Woods’ Stock Reissued

Sylosis – Edge Of The Earth (Nuclear Blast)

Formed while still at school in 2000 by Josh Middleton, Sylosis plugged away on the UK metal scene for seven-years before their lives were changed when they signed a record deal with metal bastions Nuclear Blast. The then-quintet proved they could put their hard work onto record in 2008, with ambitiously bombastic debut Conclusion Of An Age.

Since its success, there has been some changes, with the biggest being frontman Jamie Graham’s departure.  But instead of finding a replacement as such, Middleton has stepped into the crease to bat out a host of coarse hollers and tuneful howling.

Coalescing a number of styles that are not only highly compatible but very appealing, the Reading act have created an aggressive sound with an umbrella effect in genre crossover that will surely give shelter to fans of thrash, melodeath, metalcore and prog metal.

The latter surfaces in Empyreal with a rapid flush of technical guitar-playing that avoids the trap-door of over-indulgence and sweeps the listener into a complex realm of melody. Whilst executing this balance brilliantly, the quartet reveal the transcendent nature of the song, bursting to the brim with variety. Take the raw energy of a thrash structure, refine it with melodeath sensibilities without taming it and follow it up with Empyreal (Part 2) to finish the epic with a toned down but perfect solo outro.

Altered States Of Consciousness is a menacing tune, wick with mean riffs and pounding drums that will divide you between two mindsets – one of appreciation, and another with the narrow intention of primitive, dizzying, head-slinging.

For a record that lasts 70 minutes there isn’t much filler. There is some small difficulty in keeping zoned in for the whole ride, but from the impressive, fierce opener Procession, to the epic finisher From The Edge Of Time, there’s not much to complain about with Edge Of The Earth.

This is the type of thing we want to hear done with thrash. I say ‘we’ but probably mean ‘I’. UK thrash needs to have a mentality like Sylosis.

Get the aggression, the intricacy and the intelligence – it’s triple your money. CR

rushonrock rated: 8/10

Michael Monroe – Sensory Overdrive (Spinefarm)

The title of this album may be a little deceiving but the intentions are honourable enough. Former Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe does his very best to create the ultimate assault on the senses with a star-studded solo offering and if you’re still searching for the feelgood record of 2011 call off the dogs.

The decision to welcome Ginger Wildheart into the fold always appeared inspired and the prolific Geordie boasts writing credits on all but one of the 11 tracks featured on Sensory Overdrive. That he is solely credited for Later Wont Wait and the superb Superpowered Superfly is confirmation of a growing mutual respect between Monroe and his most ambitious recruit. And it proves this is as much about the band as it is about the man.

Of course Ginger isn’t the only genuine guitar hero to feature on this upbeat and in-your-face modern-day classic. Erstwhile New York Doll Steve Conte brings the sleaze to the party in a way only he can while ex-Hanoi man Sami Yaffa cuts a tight rhythm with the classically named Karl Rockfist.

For Monroe this is a golden opportunity to bring the full repertoire of his talents to the fore and the sax-licious interlude on Later Won’t Wait is a wonderful example of his diverse and appealing skill set. Not an instrument you hear too often in the realms of rock, it nevertheless feels part of the all-consuming Monroe experience – a.k.a. the Sensory Overload.

Elsewhere the party rockers Trick Of The Wrist and 78 will get fans new and old in the mood for what turns out to be a triumphant statement that while form is temporary, class is permanent. A typically juicy Jack Douglas production job complements the quality of a five-star quintet and those Ginger riffs and Conte licks couldn’t belong to a better record.

Monroe has hit the jackpot on this utterly engaging album and it’s clear there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet. One of this year’s must-see live acts – it’s official! SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Turn Up The Mike

Funeral For A Friend – Welcome Home Armageddon (Distiller Records)

The return of a keener, meaner but no less leaner (this is one meaty rock record) Funeral For A Friend is reason for genuine celebration if you like your guitar bands cerebral, ambitious and all-encompassing.

Seemingly playing with a renewed passion for their trade, the Welsh warriors have gone back to their roots and, at the same time, created a blueprint for the future. This is classic FFAF with a modern twist and for the most part it really works.

The straight ahead thrashy thrust of Front Row Seats To The End Of The World fits the band like a glove and if ever there was a festival favourite in the making then this is it. Then there’s the thumping bounce along metal groove of Aftertaste – this is the point when WHA truly hits its stride and from this point onwards it’s clear this is a very special album indeed.

The NWOBHM-style chords underpinning Spinning Over The Island see FFAF up their game again but you could press shuffle at any time during WHA and you’d be guaranteed a winner. A decade into their far from smooth career and it seems the boys from Bridgend have finally hit paydirt – drawing a line under the material pulled together on the Your History Is Mine compilation and moving forward with renewed confidence.

With Owls (Are You Watching) it’s clear the band has lost none of their talent for penning a radio-friendly anthem but it seems there’s no longer the overriding desire to court commercialism at all costs. This is a record which still has the hits but it never misses the point: that music should come from the heart. This is a FFAF record that does just that. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Welcome Return

J Mascis – Several Shades Of Why (Sub Pop)

As the son of an orthodontist it’s perhaps no surprise that when J Mascis tackles a new project he really gets his teeth into it.

But what old school Dinosaur Jr fans will think of this acoustic exploration is anyone’s guess. It’s an album seemingly crafted to polarise opinion but what SSOW will do is open up Mascis to a whole new audience who have hitherto shied away from his heavy and often foreboding back catalogue.

It’s no wild claim to say Mascis does a more than decent impression of Tom Petty on the emotive title track and even by the second song on offer it’s abundantly clear that any preconceptions were simply misconceptions. You really can’t prepare yourself for what turns out to be a quite remarkable album, rich in diversity and fusing elements of country, folk and rock to serve up a delicious feast of acoustic delicacies.

The faux simplicity of Very Nervous And Love captures the mood of a modern day Mascis classic – think Jack Johnson with added sincerity and a whole lot of rich life experience. But there are plenty more where that came from: Make It Right and Too Deep are mind-blowingly marvellous and make a conclusive case for this surprise hit of the year muscling in on the very best the rock world has to offer in 2011.

Surprisingly good doesn’t really cut the mustard. Several Shades Of Why is simply sensational. SR

rushonrock rated: 9/10

This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson.