Plus we cast a critical eye over Max Raptor, Velvet Star, Believer, Between The Buried And Me, Pentagram and Symfonia.
Midlands act Max Raptor hit a high point in their careers when they supported Canada’s Billy Talent. Now the British four-piece release their debut record of indie pop punk ahead of a May tour. Most people will appreciate just what Max Raptor are trying to achieve, and whilst instrumentally there’s nothing to particularly berate for being blatantly dire, Portraits is just bland.
Lyrically, there are plenty of attempts to engage listeners by sinking their knashers into deep political content and, despite the fact their adolescent waning doesn’t exactly cause teething problems, they have extremely dubious moments. Obey The Whips has the catchy punk riffs and isn’t a bad commentary on the state of party politics, making it the strongest track on the album, but preceding it is Beasts, which tries to battle social alienation but does little stimulating and more grating with Wil Ray’s voice.
Carolina continues this with annoying vocalisations reinstating the Carolina-na-na-na which only adds to the wannabe quirky atmosphere that’s been done countlessly before. Concluding the debut, The Alarm reveals that Max Raptor can strike some rich energetic chords, but unfortunately Portraits is a whiney record with over-exaggerated vocals the main culprit of irritation.
Still, despite this, there’s a good chance that the quintet will become popular within pop punk circles for the sheer melodic side of their instrumentation. CR
rushonrock rated: 4/10 Maxed Out
At times it’s clear that Believer have never really turned their back on the progressive thrash which made them one of the breakout acts of the early 90s and won the band a big deal with Roadrunner.
Listen to Clean Room and you could be back in 1990 – around the time of the landmark Sanity Obscure album – as one of the most powerful acts on the planet engage in some old school thrash and hit every note with aplomb.
Yet 21 years is a long time in metal and Believer’s second ‘comeback’ album transcends genres like never before. Always keen to experiment and look beyond the natural constraints of the thrash scene, Kurt Bachman and co. have evolved into a modern metal band capable of appealing to the masses.
The old school metal underpinning opener Lie Awake swiftly cedes to a nu-metal-tinged vocal strangely reminiscent of early Papa Roach. At a time when the Roach, Linkin Park and their ilk have all but waved goodbye to their late 90s sound in favour of sleaze rock (in the case of the former) and stadium rock (in Linkin Park’s case) it seems strange that Believer have gone back to the future. But it works.
This is a record which isn’t pitched at anyone and won’t appeal to everyone but just because it’s different doesn’t mean it should be dismissed out of hand. On the contrary, Transhuman is well worth a punt at a time when it’s far too easy for bands to stay safe. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 I’m A Believer
As EPs go this is no brief blast of what’s to come when the band finally get round to recording another album. This is no artistic flash in the pan or a reason to roll out a few B-sides to keep the commercial pot boiling. There may only be three tracks on The Parallax… but you get plenty of metal for your money.
Name another three-track EP which gives you more than 40 minutes of music and we’ll give you a well-deserved pat on the back. In fact, by the time you’ve sat through more than 10 minutes of opener Specular Reflection it’s clear this is no ordinary maxi-single and, instead, an incredibly accomplished journey through death metal, metalcore, hard rock, prog and even some solo turns which wouldn’t sound out of place on a late 80s AOR classic.
Two thirds of the way through Augment Of Rebirth, BTBAM even come across all System Of A Down but by now yet another shade of musicality is really no surprise. Any budding School Of Rock teacher should whack this onto his Mac, sit back and let the class debate. It’s incredible how one band can fuse so many styles and still sound like a relevant modern metal act but BTBAM do it with effortless panache.
The acoustic-led, proggy opening to Lunar Wilderness is wonderful. The fact that it blends into a blast of full-on screaming passion without warning sums up the North Carolina crew’s versatility, ambition and super-confident attitude. It’s just as well this is an EP – the LP version would blow your mind beyond repair. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Dialogues For The Disturbed
There’s a time and a place for spectacularly cool doom metal and that time and place is now with Pentagram providing the luscious soundtrack.
Last Rites could very well be the first and last word on a genre which has always demanded the very best from its prime movers. Pentagram might have been plotting world domination from the safety of a criminally-ignored underground scene since the late 70s but this stunning return to form should, once and for all, confirm the Virginia band’s status as bona fide doom lords bar none.
Look no further than the incredibly intense Into The Ground for an example of made-for-covens doom metal at its depressingly familiar best. The chugging riff, blistering solo and sleazy vocal morph into one subhuman soundscape which proves incredibly addictive but masterful musicianship is hardly at a premium here.
Whether warming to the band via the emotive 8 or finding yourself whipped into an uncontrollable frenzy by the psychedelic, sludgy Horseman this is an incredible journey on the path towards pain and self-doubt.
Pentagram have pulled every ounce of creativity from the depths of depression to deliver a record which stands alone as the best of their less than prolific and often patchy career. Outstanding in its field. SR
rushonrock rated: 10/10 Rites On
When it was confirmed that an up-and-coming, so-called supergroup had been formed by some of power metal’s finest musicians, fans across the planet fidgeted in anticipation of a debut. Finally it arrives.
With Andre Matos (ex-Angra) on vocals, Jari Kainulainen (ex-Stratovarius) on bass, Mikko Harkin (ex-Sonata Arctica) on keyboards, Uli Kusch (ex-Helloween) on drums and Timo Tolkki (ex-Stratovarius) on guitar and at the helm of production, Symfonia undoubtedly has a realm of talented individuals, but do they have the all-important team-play aspect?
There are plenty sceptical at the fact that Tolkki is not only in a project with other big personalities but he’s taken on the role as producer. Carefully steering the direction of the album, Tolkki’s influence is clear, but that doesn’t make In Paradisum a bad album. At times there has to be a captain to focus the energies of a talented bunch of sailors and Tolkki undoubtedly does that.
Come By The Hills will be your first blatant clue to the Finn’s influence with a structure that strongly resembles Stratovarius favourite Hunting High And Low. Santiago showcases Tolkki’s first piece of spectacular, neo-classical guitar work as a Symfonia man, at the end of the song.
Tolkii may have free reign in Symfonia, but essentially his passionate path-finding has led to a route that has not only showcased some of his best work since his Stratovarius days, but also brought the best out of Andre Matos. The Brazillian, who played in Angra before forming Shamaan and Viper, isn’t afraid of high notes, with his incredible falsetto voice reaching an amazing range to varnish the epic sounds of symphonic keyboard and concise riffing.
Pilgrim Road epitomises the latter, with a set of weighty riffs that are so melodic they almost shine, whilst follow-up and title track In Paradisum demonstrates that Tolkki can still come at you with the full force of a classic slow, thumping epic. The track features a symphonic choir that could give soundtrack to a film based on prophecies of chaos that eventually culminate, just as it’s revealed that a previously unknown hero has to save Rome before it burns to the ground and submits to dark forces, before the credits roll.
Sounds epic right? Don’t Let Me Go finishes what is a wholly entertaining album with some more beautiful work from Matos, this time his voice contrasted with a lush darkness of chelo and serene keys from Mikko Harkin. Tolkki may have the last say when it comes to crafting Symfonia’s sound, but his direction is an essential component.
Polished, profound and over the top, this might be too much for some. But if you accept that this is a supergroup that are prepared to dominate the field of power metal in squeaky clean fashion, play to their conclusive strengths and prefer the genre’s sensibilities to anything radically ambitious, then you’re ready to enjoy a great debut album. CR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Symfonia A Friend
Forget about the first time. No, really. Robin Beck is now a more than respectable modern rock icon quite capable of delivering albums every bit as polished as the sparkling hit record she can thank for securing fame and fortune the world over almost 25 years ago.
The Great Escape is the natural and complementary follow-up to 2007?s dynamic Livin’ On A Dream and where that album threw James Christian’s missus back into the mainstream this is an even braver and more brash release.
Sensibly calling on all of her AOR experience and calling in favours from her hubby and fellow musicians alike, Beck blows away the melodic rock competition with a classy, sassy collection more than fit for 21st century digestion.
There are some fuzzy moments with the patchy production and too many songs talk of break-ups, heartache and pain. But if Beck is singing from the heart then perhaps it’s too much to expect her to be all sweetness and joy – she’s experienced the same ups and downs as the rest of us (polarised by the aforementioned fame and fortune) and tells it like it is. Like it always has been.
Cleverly referencing that fizzy drink smash of yesteryear on Everything Is Alright, with the line ‘I still remember the first time’, Beck uses the same song to remind us that ‘everything changes‘. Approaching 60 and still looking half her age that’s particularly hard to believe coming from this still radiant songbird but it’s another pertinent truth on a record full of them.
If you are searching for The Great Escape then this isn’t the place to lose yourself in a comforting unreality. Far from it. But if Beck refuses to put a brave face on every song then simply hearing her in such fantastic form is a break from the repetitive norm.
Complemented by some seriously hot axe work often reminiscent of [Def Leppard duo] Collen and Clarke circa 1987 the focus of a fine album is given licence to hit all of the very best notes and more.
These days it seem Robin Beck doesn’t make bad records. Perhaps she never did. But with the passing of time her work has been reviewed without the legacy of the past overshadowing the promise of the present. As a result this is one rock chick who deserves the utmost respect. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Rockin Robin
Can you ever have enough versions of the Dio-era Rainbow’s Stargazer? That’s just one of the many questions thrown up by this comprehensive reissue of a stone cold classic. The answer, of course, is no.
Whether you take the New York mix, the Los Angeles mix, the rough mix (our personal favourite) or the Pirate Sound Tour Rehearsal version, the glorious juxtaposition of Richie Blackmore and Ronnie James on this era-defining song is something to behold. And it’s not the only time the deadly duo impresses.
Tarot Woman (only the three mixes of this) is another example of two supreme musical talents combining to create something very special indeed and Blackmore, in particular, never sounded better than when he blasted his way through another of Rainbow’s bona fide classics.
Right now anything boasting the Dio name is worthy of reappraisal. And of all the projects and albums he leant his name to over the years this work always features near the top of any career-high list. The two mixes of the complete album differ ever so slightly but for completionists they offer a unique insight into the workings of a top notch 70s rock band.
And then there’s the four-minute made-for-radio Starstruck – a commercial bomb dropped in between tracks more familiar to fans of Blackmore and his dungeons-and-dragons style ideology. It’s a glimpse of things to come – albeit without Dio – and does the business big style. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Rising Force
Sleaze metal? Punk rock? Rock n roll? Velvet Star stand on the very cusp of something special but what that something is remains to be seen.
Like so many upcoming bands an identity crisis is afflicting their progress and while we’re all for diversity there’s a need, in the case of this sprawling quintet, to refocus and refashion the raw edges and grating riffs.
Rockstar/Superstar captures the sound they really should be looking to develop across the board. Its catchy pop rock feel is a perfect fit for the Velvet Star boys – bottle it, tweak it and they have the perfect blueprint for world domination. Where label mates Falling Red have found the secret ingredient and added a few splashes of subtle sleaze flavour here and there, this is a band which comes so close to nailing it but all too often falls frustratingly short.
Back-to-back plodders Easy and Ego pass in a flash of appalling mediocrity and don’t do Velvet Star any favours whatsoever. Yet the aforementioned Rockstar/Superstar and the impressive Something About You truly cut the mustard as 21st century rock standards. There’s something about Velvet Star. There really is. If only we could find it. SR
rushonrock rated: 5/10 Lacks Star Quality
This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson.