We review and rate the 25th anniversary reissue of Megadeth‘s career defining Peace Sells… and deliver our verdict on the latest records from Incubus, Airrace, John Wetton, Fornost Arnor, Goodluck Jonathan and The Catharsis.
When guitar hero Mike Einziger revealed that the first Incubus album in five years wasn’t going to rock out he was, at least, being honest. Fans of the band’s heavier back catalogue should avoid If Not Now, When? at all costs – if you do take a chance then be prepared to wait until track number six for the first hint of a heavy riff.
Even then it’s a brief blast of full-on power chords before the return of radio-friendly pop rock more suited to middle class arenas than feverish festival crowds. Like Linkin Park before them, Incubus have made a bold bid to snatch U2’s enormodome crown with a polished and inoffensive bunch of tunes leaning more towards Coldplay and Snow Patrol than their more familiar alt-rock peers. Brave, or simply foolhardy?
Only time will tell but if this album is judged in isolation, rather than against the backdrop of Incubus’s previous output, it more than stands up as a modern rock record par excellence. Brandon Boyd has never sounded better – his voice meeting the challenge of stripped down songs often backed by little more than an acoustic guitar or some light electronica.
Friends And Lovers or Isadore are so far removed from what the casual observer may expect to hear on an Incubus album that it’s almost like starting all over again and listening to your new favourite band. How on earth these new tunes will sit alongside meaty fist-pumpers like Megalomaniac in the band’s live set is anyone’s guess. But it’s going to be very interesting indeed.
In The Company Of Wolves is an almost cringeworthy tribute to Chris Martin and co. and it’s here that Incubus stray just a little too far from their beefier alt-rock roots. Clocking in at more than seven minutes and boasting a rather boring acoustic guitar riff it’s impossible to avoid the feeling that this is the work of a band utterly dismissing their past and embracing lame self-indulgence.
Once upon a time Incubus was a vital, fast-moving, innovative band booked by ambitious festival bosses and adored by rock fans the world over. They may well have grown up but that’s no excuse to grow dull. Which is exactly what If Not Now, When? is. SR
rushonrock rated: 5/10 Incubust
Forming in 2005, this Peterborough four-piece have an obvious debt to pay to Opeth because, if they didn’t exist, then this record wouldn’t sound as good as this. Fornost Arnor might look to the Swedish progressive maestros for inspiration, but there’s no blatant copycat, fanboy syndrome here.
Second album The Death Of A Rose is an inspirational flow of beauty and aggression. Progressively natured, the record meanders through solitary, peaceful acoustic moments, unrelenting death-growled assaults, lush clean harmonies and even slight neo-classically charged ambitions on the rare occasion.
The four-piece are clearly a talented bunch, and they do well to exploit their ideas well. Rogue sparks things off after a nearly three-minute duet with delicate acoustic guitar picking retreats to a thunderous guttural roar backed by a master-class of deep-rooted, dark riffs.
Path Marked Unknown showcases some blackened riffing that inevitably gives way to other structures in its seven-minute splendour, finalising the song to a viscous, doomy pace. Lady Heresy tugs on the heartstrings but not in a typical ballad way – it’s a romantic journey full of lush lyrical imagery and spine-shivering harmonising that further develops into a rampant fury of soloing.
Aspire For The Darkest Hour reveals another wise yet conservative influence beginning out with some Vertebrae-era, Enslaved-esque riffing and turning into a ten-minute epic. The Death Of A Rose Part I and II crown the manifold of ideas on offer and the successful deliverance of them, before Farewell closes the album in thoughtful resonance.
Fonost Arnor must congratulate themselves for creating a diverse yet captivating piece of work. This is more than something to fall back on if Opeth’s highly anticipated Heritage album takes an unexpected dive and flops upon its release in September! CR
rushonrock rated: 7.5/10
Brighton’s Goodluck Jonathan claim their band name was selected with no intention of being affiliated with the Nigerian president of the same name. But if you stick with it after you’re aware of its connotations, you’ve got to expect at least a little confusion – which is exactly what they’ve been getting – sometimes on the receiving end of passionate, politically charged Nigerians on their twitter account. The fact is, their title has probably gained them fans if anything and created a little hype for the four-piece’s debut.
For a first effort Goodluck Jonathan haven’t done too badly by any measure. This Is Our Way Out shows the band pervading through 10 shady tracks of indie rock. Vocally there’s a gentle edge of Maccabees vocalist Orlando Weeks, with a homage to Placebo at times. Fall Of America strongly reiterates their influence of the aforementioned, especially in their verses of dreamy guitar tweaks contrasted alongside thick melodic riffs. In terms of indie standard – and I must emphasize the word indie – Goodluck Jonathan are perhaps a little harder to be immersed in, when compared to the light revelry of the genre.
Backs To The Wall reveals a much heavier set nature to the band, with even double-kick drumming briefly and effectively executed before transferring to an ambient use of trumpet, but with unfortunately poor lyricism.
Neatly added spoken-word sections, cleverly layered peaceful guitars with a potential to burst into something slightly heavier and darker, Goodluck Jonathan have some interesting moments to suggest more is around the corner and their potential is more likely to be unlocked further in their next crack of the whip. Who knows, they might even have a cult following in Nigeria by then. CR
rushonrock rated: 6/10
More like back to the 80s, this glorious nod to an era when permed hair and strutting solos prevailed is an absolute gem. Mixing the melodic talent of fellow UK AOR trailblazers FM, throwing in some classic Uriah Heepisms (Better Believe It) for good measure and often sounding like vintage Bad English this is a real treat for all fans of classy, bluesy soft rock.
Keith Murrell was recently named as one of the top 20 AOR vocalists of all time for a reason and here, almost 30 years after he replaced Girl frontman Philip Lewis as the voice of Airrace, he hits all the right notes at just the right time to announce the band’s triumphant return in style.
There’s singalong anthem after singalong anthem as Murrell peels off founder member Laurie Mansworth’s trademark licks to conjure a collection of the best AOR tunes you’ll hear all year. Enough Of Your Loving evokes memories of John Waite in his Bad English pomp and there are more spine tingling vocal highlights on Call Me Anytime and Just One Kiss.
Initially Airrace came and went with such indecent haste that it was never truly possible to judge the band’s position in the mid 80s AOR boom. But their Beau Hill produced debut was every bit as good as anything bands on the other side of the Pond were producing and Back To The Start is, incredibly, even better.
This is a belter of an album and it’s a crying shame Airrace have been away from the melodic rock scene for so long. How long they hang around remains to be seen but let’s hope they last just a little longer second time around. SR
rushonrock rated: 10/10 Airrace Is On!
Looking for a full-on blast of great British metal to cheer you up in the light of Frank Carter’s decision to quit Gallows? Look no further. The self-style ‘Sabbath Town Hardcore’ served up by Birmingham audio bullies The Catharsis offers a breath of fresh air and an exciting whiff of the future – all within four three-minute bursts of axe-fuelled fury.
Opener Deletist allows the band to lay their cards on the table and they’re cards that – once dealt – create the sense of a winning hand to come. That optimism isn’t misplaced as -+ follows hot on the heels with more of the same breakneck speed, unbridled aggression and a good deal of lyrical thought. The funkcore opening – check out the rhythm – cedes to more cerebral metal worthy of the West Midlands and emerges as the highlight on this cracking EP.
In vocalist Morgan, The Catharsis hold an ace up their sleeve as this boy can really shout. That he does so with perfect intonation and a great deal of passion means the band’s own brand of hardcore is capable of transcending metal’s genres. It seems inconceivable that we won’t be hearing a lot more from these lads very soon. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Catharsistory In The Making
The first original Yes record in a decade looks like a fantastic bet on paper. Uber producer Trevor Horne at the helm with a songwriting input to boot, driving force and long-serving guitar hero Steve Howe ensuring a musical consistency and that familiar Roger Dean artwork. Everything, it seems, is in place for progressive rock perfection.
The reality is slightly different. Anyone who has witnessed Benoit David belting out the Yes classics on stage will accept he’s probably the best man for the job right now. But that doesn’t necessarily make him the best. And right across Fly From Here he patently fails to stamp his mark on the record that represents a huge opportunity for the Canadian best known for his work with a Yes tribute band.
Perhaps the canny Horne has recognised a weakness because David’s vocals are often overshadowed in the mix. Making his voice heard above the typically intricate arrangements and bombastic movements can’t be easy but it almost appears as if the singer’s been forced into a corner and told to accept his limitations.
Of course the music is nothing less than incredible and a decade away from the studio doesn’t seem to have dampened Ye’s enthusiasm for a grand artistic statement. Or, more to the point, the enthusiasm of Horn and keyboard player Geoff Downes – the team responsible for the bulk of this album’s finer moments.
The six-part Fly From Here gets things off to a typically overblown start but the standout song is the short but sweet Howe-penned Solitaire. David squeezes in a co-writing credit on Into The Storm – the album’s final track – but it’s impossible to know whether this is little more than a token gesture to the man who seems to have been sidelined as a creative force and simply asked to step in and deliver. It’s one way of doing things but it’s doubtful it’s the way David imagined.
Yes deserve credit for penning new material after years posing as the ultimate heritage act but Horn’s dominant input means this studio project is more about the brand than the band. And a golden opportunity to give David a timely confidence boost has been missed. SR
rushonrock rated: 7/10 Yes? Maybe.
Spread across four CDs, this lavish revisiting of Megadeth’s career-defining record is the final word on a powerful album. But before you steel yourself for a plethora of rare songs and previously unreleased hidden gems be warned – the only difference between the first three CDs is the mix.
The remastered original (CD1) is followed by the Dave Mustaine Mixes/Masters (CD2) and the Randy Burns Mixes (CD3). Now the songs on Peace Sells… were always good but are they really good enough to warrant such an exhaustive reappraisal? There’s enough in each of the three versions to note the nuances of the various teams in charge at the desk at any one time but essentially you’re getting Mustaine’s finest moments three times over.
In truth most fans of classic thrash could hear the hat-trick of Wake Up Dead, The Conjuring and Peace Sells over and over and over again. As a bone crunching triumvirate these songs represent one of the most incendiary openings to any album you’ll ever hear and all three will feature on any fan’s Megadeth mix tape.
On the other hand I Ain’t Superstitious never felt like the right fit for this memorable record and a quarter of a century down the line no number of alternative mixes are going to change that view. It is, however, the one false move Mustaine makes as he screeches his way through the classics.
And screech is a nice way of describing the Megadeth frontman’s vocal style. He’s not a singer. Never was and never will be. But his nasal tone and sneering delivery somehow complements those trademark licks and rough-edged riffs.
Of course completists will love the previously unreleased 1987 live concert which makes up disc four and it is a quality addition to an otherwise bizarre deluxe edition. Versions of The Conjuring and My Last Words stand out as Mustaine revels in the strength of his post-Metallica material. Megadeth might be back to somewhere near their best as they play a key role in the Big Four phenomenon but this concert – and any one of the Peace Sells… mixes – prove they were once a very special proposition indeed. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Peace Still Sells
Expectation must weigh heavily on the shoulders of the voice of Asia and on this evidence the pressure is finally getting to one of the finest voices in British rock.
If the aim was always to present an overview of a prolific career then Wetton has, at least, achieved that. But the result is a mixed bag of styles with very little substance: Raised In Captivity is an album which doesn’t instantly stand out as an AOR classic. It may never achieve that status.
The problems are twofold. Wetton seems so focused on presenting a genre-defying range of material that this angular record never settles into any rhythm or groove. Secondly, the man himself fails to play to his obvious strengths – notably his exceptional ability to deliver the very best in soaring AOR anthems.
If you’re looking for an uplifting antidote to another damp British summer then go for label mates Airrace this week because Wetton has missed a trick. Tunes like Goodbye Elsinore and We Stay Together reek of fine intentions but both ultimately fail to sparkle. And when Wetton sings about The Last Night Of My Life you wonder whether he’s pre-empting the evening the finished mix of Raised In Captivity lands on his stereo.
Judged in isolation this would be an album worthy of some praise. But the fact is it’s a Wetton record. And over the years one of the finest voices in the business has set certain standards and crafted a certain style that fans old and new simply expect to be replicated. This is not your typical John Wetton album. As a result it’s not that good. SR
rushonrock rated: 6/10 Wet Blanket