Def Leppard (pictured) are back and back in very big way with a second Download headline slot in three years and their very first live album to boot. We review and rate Mirrorball: Live & More ahead of Friday’s hotly anticipated Donington return.
And talking of Donington and bands that are back – Whitesnake follow up Forevermore with a live goodie of their own in the shape of Live At Donington 1990. We deliver the definitive verdict.
Plus we check out new releases by Alestorm, Falconer, Sister, Barn Burner, Behemoth and Job For A Cowboy.
Def Leppard – Mirrorball (Bludgeon Riffola)
You’d imagine Def Leppard had been there, seen it and done it all. Well not quite. Mirrorball is, incredibly, the Sheffield rockers’ first foray into live album territory and it’s everything you’d expect from one of the most professional acts in the world.
Indeed, those who had their appetites whetted by last year’s Pyromania deluxe edition – featuring a live disc of a Leppard US gig – won’t be disappointed by this feast of hair metal fun from the 2011 Download festival headliners.
A plethora of back catalogue classics bundled together from select shows on the 2008/09 Sparkle Lounge tour are evidence of just why Andy Copping pleaded with the Lepps to return to Donington’s main stage for the second time in three years.
If the band’s last run out at the home of British rock wasn’t Joe Elliott’s finest hour then at least the multi-million selling NWOBHM forerunners put on a fabulous show. And the odd vocal slips which dogged Elliott at Donington are nowhere to be heard on the sparkling Mirrorball – a live record which knocks spots of most Leppard-aping studio efforts.
Of course that’s just one of the reasons the Mutt Lange-driven quintet have never delivered a live album in the past. On stage they sound as pin sharp and over-produced as they do in the studio and there is a strong case for arguing Mirrorball is just a repackaged Greatest Hits release. That’s not a criticism – it’s just Leppard don’t do less than 100% and as live albums go this might be just a little too clean for some tastes.
But for fans of magical modern rock this is not to be missed. Throwing in a couple of Sparkle Lounge growers, the bulk of the two-CD live set is one stone cold classic after another with a barnstorming version of Bringin’ On The Heartbreak just one of the many, emotive highlights.
Neatly packaging three new studio tracks with the live material – and including a bonus DVD to boot – Leppard are experienced enough to know that fans demand more than just the norm in 2011. And the Steel City stars have always been far more than the norm.
Mirrorball signals the start of a new era for Def Leppard after the band’s brief hiatus and on this evidence they’re in rude health. A change is as good as a rest and as the guys reconvene following stints with their various side projects there’s every reason to believe the future of one of British rock’s national treasures is brighter than ever. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Leppard Live And Kicking
Whitesnake – Live At Donington 1990 (Frontiers)
In a forthcoming interview with rushonrock David Coverdale lauds the fresh material on new album Forevermore which, he insists, proves Whitesnake are always evolving and never standing still. Keen to emphasise that his band doesn’t live in the past, the former Deep Purple frontman claims he is no lover of lame nostalgia or rose-tinted memories.
Then DC goes and releases a live set stuck in a different era and very much of its time. The Whitesnake that delivered this Donington tour de force are about as far removed from the current line-up as it’s possible to be. Both bands are good but stand the two teams face to face in 2011 and it’s highly likely that the 1990 incarnation would, without a hint of irony, insist they were better.
When Whitesnake strolled onto the Donington stage 21 years ago they had Steve Vai in tow and several million sales of the 1987 album under their belts. They were still the face of MTV, still the superstar Smash Hits magazine pin-ups and still riding a commercial wave.
New album Slip Of The Tongue took the shinier bits of 1987’s chart-friendly anthem fest and added an extra layer of gloss. The band’s bluesier underbelly which had underpinned their early days – and which is back with a bang on Forevermore – had been transformed into a pop metal six-pack with Vai very much at the forefront.
But listen to this and you realise that what Coverdale had created was perfect for the hair metal era. A band which looked good, sounded great and, in its defence, delivered live what it released on CD.
For all the sheen and over-confidence there’s no doubting the class and professionalism. The version of Slow N Easy is sensational and if Coverdale sounds so much better now he no longer tries to hit the ear-splitting high notes, he was in fine form at the spiritual home of British rock.
Most Whitesnake die-hards will have heard it all before and many won’t be too fussed about hearing this particular line-up again. But as evidence of a band at the height of their commercial powers and at the forefront of a gloriously excessive scene this is essential listening and a guilty pleasure. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Cov Don Good
Alestorm – Back Through Time (Napalm)
For a band solely and ridiculously themed on pirates, the first question beckoning is ‘how far can Alestorm really take this?’ Well, the message from this record is that the Scottish metallers will continue to either bring joy or probably annoy for as long as their inspirations can be flogged. Welcome to the world of pirate metal.
I have of course, missed the obvious question for those unaccustomed to these sonic buccaneers – ‘are they serious?’ – to which, of course there can be only one realistic answer. The fact that Alestorm are clearly taking matters in a jovial manner isn’t their downfall in Back Through Time. Other bands like Korpiklaani for instance, have successfully nailed their own alcoholic combinations to create some classic drinking songs. It goes without saying that whilst Alestorm have successfully branded themselves, they’re also pigeon-holed, and a third album of this material really strains to string together the humour of old.
There’s no doubt the four-piece are aware of this, but instead of a nod of acknowledgement, they utilise this irony on superior track Scraping The Barrel, keeping to the confines of their pirate theme, but asserting protest by sending a message to the critics that they’d better get used to some rum-swilling, mead-soaked debauchery for years to come. Lucky us.
There’s a micro-song even slung in Back Through Time, thrown in simply for the sake of it, almost in some attempt to consciously align some grindcore influences in the six-second Rumpelkombo. A Barrett’s Privateers cover follows up, giving that adolescent Dropkick Murphys feel to the Stan Rogers song.
If Alestorm are not to be stopped, then they should at least go for the full-blown concept album if they’re going to make things interesting. I’m just not sure that they have the estute songwriting and musicianship to create a humorous work of fiction and incorporate it into a running musical epic. It’ll simply hit a point when everyone is really beyond caring.
Then Alestorm will have their full freedom to sail their stagnated seas, scrape their barrel and throw the dregs at many an absorbent listener. CR
rushonrock rated: 4/10 Walking The Plank
Barn Burner – Bangers II: Scum Of The Earth (Metal Blade)
Mixing trad metal with some stonier moments and a little bit of sludge for good measure those brilliant folk at Barn Burner have backed up their early potential with a blast of a record.
If the scum of the earth possessed a soundtrack then this would be it – every song appears to be hewn from the depths of some nasty little pit. But it’s loud and instantly likeable stuff.
Canada may be riding the crest of a revivalist wave right now with the nation’s comeback kings, Anvil, finally getting the recognition their effervescent metal-by-numbers deserves. But Barn Burner offer compelling evidence that there’s a positively unhealthy scene bubbling beneath the surface.
It’s well documented that the band put the hours in on the road long before Metal Blade pledged to take their compelling anthems to the masses and it’s clear that this is one tight unit. Gate Creeper is a gutsy retro-rich number which drifts into the distance on the back of a delicious organ-inspired outro. And there are more where that little gem came from.
Closer Ghost Jam uses a chugging riff and spooky vocal to bring things to a suitably chilling conclusion and if you like your NWOBHM brought bang up to date then Barn Burner are your bag. Believe it! SR
rushonrock rated: 7/10
There’s a benefit to being part of the burgeoning glam/punk/sleaze scene which is once again taking Europe by storm – the gigs come thick and fast and there’s a potential fan base running into the tens of thousands.
The downside is that it’s a saturated market place and if you’re not the cream of the crop then there’s no chance you’ll rise to the top. Sister aren’t even close to hitting any height loftier than a bar stool.
This is, quite possibly, one of the most disappointing debuts ever to have dropped on the rushonrock reviews desk. It’s glam-by-numbers, faux punk and lazy sleaze all rolled into one horrible mess of a record.
Motherfuckers (Like You) lacks any kind of credibility and could be conceived by any 14-year-old kid fresh from hearing his first Sex Pistols record. To describe this tune as very average punk rock would be a slur on all of those late 70s bands who made a decent living on the live circuit without ever possessing an ounce of musical talent.
Then there’s Spit On You. It’s another unoriginal slap in the face to any aspiring glam punk band with genuine attitude and ambition. Spit on Sister? We would but that would mean actually watching this band. And that’s something that’s impossible to contemplate right now. SR
rushonrock rated: 3/10 Hated. Hate It.
Behemoth – Abyssus Abyssum Invocat (Metal Blade)
As frontman Nergal continues to fight against cancer, this repackaged rarities collection is a welcome boost to Behemoth fans rightly fearing their favourite band’s long-term future.
And at a time when nothing is sure one thing remains certain: the Polish death metal monsters are at their very best when belting out the band’s back catalogue live.
Christians To The Lions and Antichristian Phenomenon are delivered with typically brutal aplomb but if you’re looking for a highlight then there’s one track here that will have fans new and old hitting the repeat button again and again.
Venom’s Welcome To Hell has always been a genre-defining blast of pure evil but Nergal and the boys are even capable of giving this classic anthem a welcome shot in the arm. The combination of that trademark Behemoth vocal snarl coupled with one of the most famous riffs in metal history makes for a memorable and magnificent slab of aural granite.
It’s often the case that a quality cover version betrays a band’s lack of originality but that’s not the case here. Abyssus Abyssum Invocat is a belting reminder of Behemoth’s standing within an unforgiving and supremely critical genre. Original, disturbing and destructive on stage – they’re standard bearers for the death metal scene. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Moth Bawl
Falconer – Armod (Metal Blade)
Give Falconer their dues – with Armod the band sound more parochial than ever with a back-to-basics approach leaning heavily on their folk metal roots. And even though every song is delivered in the Mjolby crew’s native Swedish tongue there’s a certain charm about this album that will appeal to an audience far beyond Scandinavia.
A decade after their self-titled debut suggested Falconer had a bright future on the power metal scene it’s clear that evolution has always been at the forefront of their minds. And even though Armod could be seen as a backward step by a certain section of the band’s fans its fusion of old and new does, in fact, chart a refreshing evolution across seven studio albums.
Opener Svarta Ankan clocks in at just shy of seven minutes and it’s a bold choice to kick things off. Thankfully Mathias Blad is on great form behind the mic and Jimmy Hedlund’s lead guitar lends a soaring quality to a classy first song.
Armod is rich in quality and quantity – the shorter tracks Grimborg and Grimasch Om Morgonen perfectly complementing the more epic numbers pointing to Falconer’s power metal heritage. But Herr Peder Och Hans Syster is both the lengthiest and most compelling song on offer and given time to breathe this band is capable of producing some truly sensational stuff. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Armodern Classic
Job For A Cowboy – Gloom EP (Metal Blade)
Six years on from the groundbreaking Doom comes the accomplished Gloom. Another EP – this time bridging the gap between 2009’s Ruination and its eagerly-anticipated follow-up – and another welcome snapshot of a death metal band rolling along nicely.
The first studio output to feature Tony Sannicandro on lead guitar and Nick Schendzielos on bass doesn’t deviate wildly from what JFAC do best – slamming riffs and ugly vocals once again marking out the US crew as the perfect purveyors of doom (or gloom).
Of the four tracks showcased here Misery Reformatory is the natural lead tune with its bludgeoning approach and brutal vocal. Johnny Davy maintains a consistent level of delivery across the EP but it’s clear Sannicandro can offer JFAC another option as the man entrusted with the backing vocals duties.
With more former members than original members the Arizona boys have faced a constant struggle for stability. But perhaps the ever-changing face of the band dynamic is what makes JFAC such a frantic force and this snapshot of what’s to come should ease any fears for the future. SR
rushonrock rated: 7/10 Good Job
This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson