It’s quite a week for fans of classic rock as two of the UK’s standard bearers for the next generation go head-to-head with brand new records.
We deliver our verdict on the latest albums by The Union (pictured) and The Answer. Plus we assess and rate new releases courtesy of Exit State, Sencelled, Gotthard, Puddle Of Mudd, Blue October, Rose Funeral, Glorior Belli, Brainstorm and Steve Hackett.
The Union – Siren’s Song (Townsend)
The (almost inevitable) return of Thunder to the live circuit this summer, and the subsequent decision to book back-to-back Christmas shows, may have been greeted with whoops of delight by fans starved of the Londoners’ particular brand of blues rock class. But those of us quietly enjoying the emergence of Luke Morley’s new band, The Union, suddenly feared for its future.
Siren’s Song should allay any such concerns. This accomplished, passionate and powerful – more so than last year’s patchy debut – album is the sound of a serious band with serious ambition. On this evidence The Union are no mere side project created to fill the Thunder downtime.
Mixing heavier rhythms with emotive acoustic turns, Siren’s Song showcases the full range of Pete Shoulder’s award-winning pipes and the production is a millions miles away from The Union’s 2010 debut. It seems Morley and Shoulder have learnt from that bizarre mix to get the balance just right and, as a creative force and complementary team, they hit every note with delightful perfection.
Orion is one of the songs of the year – the stripped back approach making full use of Shoulder’s talents to create a haunting, almost tear-jerking Americana-meets Zeppelin aural tour de force. By contrast Black Gold is uptempo, up-front and in your face with a monster Morley riff and layered chorus with a definite nod to the Black Crowes.
Siren’s Song is the album The Union were always capable of making. It might have dropped 12 months later than expected but it’s been well worth the wait. SR
rushonrock rated: 9/10 Union Strike
The Answer – Revival (Spinefarm)
Busily building a solid canon of enduring classic rock standards, The Answer have respond to that mammoth road trip with AC/DC by delivering further evidence of a band edging towards global glory.
And edging is about as fast as The Answer are going right now. Who knows why the Ulstermen aren’t already a way bigger proposition than their album sales and tour venues suggest? Revival isn’t anything of the sort simply because The Answer don’t need to be revived – they need to be revered.
If there’s one criticism here it’s that the inescapably infectious singalong anthems aren’t immediately obvious. Yet give Revival the time it deserves and tracks like I Want You and opener Waste Your Tears have festival glory written all over them.
Can’t Remember, Can’t Forget is The Answer’s answer to a power ballad and affords frontman Cormac Neeson the opportunity to truly stretch himself vocally. But it’s the Aerosmith-esque Trouble which is the best song on offer and just one of the reasons why Revival is the near-perfect next step for these rock gods in waiting. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Revivalist
Gotthard – Live In Lugano (Nuclear Blast)
One of the final Gotthard gigs fronted by the gone but not forgotten Steve Lee, this glowing tribute to an incredibly talented frontman drops just days before the first anniversary of his tragic death.
Far from coming across as a poorly-timed cash-in, however, Live In Lugano is exactly what’s required for the Swiss masters and their fans to move on with fond memories and move forward with dreams of an even better future.
Lee’s outstanding voice, rooted in British blues rock tradition and polished with an 80s AOR sheen, more than stands up to the demands of a high profile live performance and his comfortable command of several languages draws warm appreciation from a cosmopolitan crowd.
A confident cover version of Deep Purple’s Hush – a tune Gotthard made their own right from the start of their glittering career – allows Lee to nail his colours to the mast. But he sounds even better on the brilliant Top Of The World and the classic Heaven.
Penultimate track Anytime Anywhere captures the mood and provides conclusive proof that Gotthard are melodic rock royalty. Lee’s legacy will outlast his tragically short life for generations to come. SR
rushonrock rated: 8/10 Gott The Memories
Sencelled – Sencelled (Rocket Songs)
Out on the road across the UK with fellow Swedes Electric Boys this week, the rather strange looking Sencelled are a band born to polarise opinion and spark debate.
Positioning themselves somewhere between melodic rock, pop punk and straight-ahead sleaze, the colourful quartet could well be accused of trying to be all things to all men.
That ubiquitous approach would work well if Sencelled could guarantee a living from non-stop festival slots in front of mixed audiences 12 months a year. But how they’ll fare playing their Green Day-inspired I Love The Way You Are in front of a room full of AOR devotees – or rolling out Oh, Sarah to a horde of spiky-haired punks – remains to be seen.
This self-titled debut is forged on contrasts and, while that makes for a thoroughly refreshing listen full of unexpected twists, it could come back to haunt the Sencelled boys.
Ricky B Delin’s (Houston) production job certainly enhances their prospects but if this latest gang of Scandinavian wannabes are going to reach the next level then it’s already time to pick their set lists with care. Adulation or alienation awaits. SR
rushonrock rated: 7/10 Makes Sence
Puddle Of Mudd – Re:(Disc)overed (Goomba Music)
As Puddle Of Mudd prepare to tour the UK in support of Come Clean’s 10th anniversary, the Kansas City quintet have opted to eschew an album of brand new material in favour of this unexpected covers compilation. It could have been a disaster and yet it is, in fact, something of a triumph.
Far from reinforcing lazy preconceptions of the ‘Mudd as lite-metal no-marks – famed for the brilliant Blurry and known for very little else – this articulate reworking of a slew of rock classics suggests there’s another layer to Wes Scantlin and his crew. And it’s a layer we like.
Old Man, the Neil Young original, is outstanding and even a ridiculously brave version of Rocket Man works. Where POM fail to do justice to their heroes is on a frankly forgetable stab at Free’s All Right Now – Paul Rodgers look away now.
It seems Scantlin and co. intend to dip frequently into Re:(Discovered) on this month’s UK tour – mixing their favourite covers with chart-busting POM originals – and on this evidence why not? Their sleazy cover of AC/DC’s TNT should get any room, anywhere rocking. File under: surprisingly good. SR
rushonrock rated: 7/10 Mudd Pile
Exit State – Black Veins (Rocksector)
Exit State made vibrations last year with a surge of popularity following the release of their debut Death Of A Rockstar affirming the need for a band that aren’t afraid in blurring lines with a catchy brand of emotive hard rock and soft pop rock with tuneful indie influences. Black Veins is the follow up record from the British four-piece.
Unfortunately there are filler moments and the record overspills considerably at an excessive 45-minutes. Exit State have a melodically charged sound that doesn’t air enough sweets of variation to grant this patience. A returning problem affects this album and its first noticed in Check Out The Crazy with the line “we did some crazy shit and we don’t know why” and “come on get your kicks… let’s get wasted.” It makes for a poor effort and undermines the song’s bobbing, groovy riffage.
Brother of footy pundit Mark Bright, Roy Bright’s voice sounds like it could break at any moment in a pang of melancholic breakdown in All For You – giving an infectious power to the piano driven ballad. A Slash-influenced solo confirms that all we need now is a rain machine and lead guitarist Adam Stephenson to stand in front of a powerful fan while he flicks his fingers across the fretboard – yes, it’s their November Rain-moment and one of their finest efforts on this second album. Packed full of pacey, melodious guitar lines – This Life would have ended the record in a kind of life-affirming, upbeat mentality if it weren’t for the poor songwriting involved (“our lives are complicating, this life so complicated”) and unjustified lower mix of percussion.
They’ve already gathered a strong following with this highly accessible sound, expect them to gain more top-draw support slots and like a good wine, leave this one to mature for a few years. CR
rushonrock rated: 5/10 Exit Strategy
Blue October – Any Man In America (earMUSIC)
Justin Furstenfeld has plenty to say and most of it is very personal to the founder of this Platinum US band. Blue October have made a wealthy career in strange fusions of hip-hop and prog rock since 1996.
Opener Everything (Am Limbo) is among Blue October’s best work on Any Man In America, beginning the record promisingly with a distinctive, fragile Gabriel-esque quality that shines through in rays of proggy beauty alongside the ethereal feeling of guitar, For The Love almost bursting into stream of spoken-style lyrics that take route one when describing Furstenfeld’s love of music.
The Chills‘ backing vocals disappoint with a ‘wah ah ah ohh’ pop punky and out of place line. They sound adolescent and above all annoying. The Flight induces quite a cringing eye-roll because the poor intro of boring, over-the-top hip-hop, even worse lyrics and terrible backing vocals near its finish.
Although you can clearly feel the man’s pain in the issues of his personal life, it’s delivered quite badly. His honesty can be admired but it’s like when his pen hit the paper he just couldn’t articulate anything else other than a running commentary with ridiculous songwriting like on The Getting Over It Part – (“lead up bitch, till you had enough bitch, take my kids you can kiss both my nuts bitch”).
The Worry List is a tune streaming the insecurities of the troubled singer – but this time doing it in a modest, beautifully reflective fashion. Certainly a stand-out on the record.
Unfortunately the ridiculousness of his hip-hop doesn’t bring home Furstenfeld’s seriousness and his proggy ideas are much more desirable. With four-million albums sold in the US so far, Furstenfeld isn’t doing so badly for himself – evidently showing a demand for his straight-up deliverance of personal music. CR
rushonrock rated: 4/10 October Blues
Rose Funeral – Gates Of Punishment (Metal Blade)
Cincinnati three-piece Rose Funeral boast an unashamed penchant for playing trouncing deathcore with countless breakdowns that will either have you nodding consistently or banging your head against a brick wall by the end of it.
It seems the latter is the more apt consequence of spinning Gates Of Punishment. They’ve stuck to the same boring chug work that defined them previously with bare threads of their guitar work struggling to really create anything as bolshy as they would perceive. Guest appearances by Steve Tucker formerly of Morbid Angel and Kate Alexander make nice additions to the record, but in truth don’t do much to sheath the reality that this is a below average attempt.
Mediocre breakdowns are far past the stage of metalcore cliché now – it’s happening everywhere. But in all seriousness, why is there an obsession with it? The replicative notion has arisen to recycle emotionless garbage time and time again, and the same goes with deathcore – if you so wish to call Rose Funeral this.
Picking out positives is a tough task but the ones found are the melodeath guitar lines from Kevin Snook on Beyond The Entombed and Arise Infernal Existence. It’s just unfortunate that the trend-hunting surfaces and they cream-pie themselves with another boring breakdown. Rose Funeral obviously have no awareness that they’re pissing all over their sound by doing this. More frustratingly is seventh track A Recreant Tenticle – a less than two-minute affair that does in fact prove they have the components to back their chug-a-chug with greater depth of guitar interwoven into the framework, and working to a bigger, almost post-rock dreaminess.
Entercism is a more DM-focused song that hints at the band’s potential in the unstoppable verses of lacing, dark melody. All in all, this is an album that is plagued by problems, with some rare and excruciating glimpses of budding work. CR
rushonrock rated: 4/10 Rose Tinted Metal
Glorior Belli – The Great Southern Darkness (Metal Blade)
Parisians Glorior Belli have something we don’t often cross paths with. Three albums into their existence, the four-piece have a blackened metal aura that sounds fresh from the Nevada Desert. Not usually an association to make, it’s important to say that there’s a little more than meets the eye.
We’ve heard death n’ roll emerge as an unlikely sub-genre when the likes of Entombed and Debauchery began mingling the two, but is this black n’ roll? Well we wouldn’t go so far to say that, but there’s no doubt that Glorior Bellli serve great lashes of blues with their riffery, infesting the blackened roots of the band and giving an unsuspecting sound that has recently caught the eye of Metal Blade Records, who signed them in April.
Title track The Great Southern Darkness is more suited for a scene in the dusty desert-wastes with an old rusted caravan and toothless farmers surrounding you with even rustier pitchforks – that is until vocalist Julien parts the blues with a famished wrath of beastly growls.
The Science of Shifting boldly carries the rage of a good ol’ blast beat and the heart-rending aggressiveness of piercing shrieks that are more commonly imagined to be yelped in the epicentre of a foggy, dew-ridden forest. But it’s brought into another world with the hard rocking twists of Bjorn and Julien providing bending guitar notes and solid yet momentous bass work from Davide.
The whole Satan-themed black metal has been done before, but now Satan isn’t only pulverising Christians with his grit-dirty bloodstained horns. It’s Satan’s turn to have a vacation, and he’s taking a few beers into a trailor park, kicking up a fuss in the local bars and upsetting the folk who don’t take kindly to outsider folk. CR
rushonrock rated: 6.5/10 Death Or Glorior
Brainstorm – On The Spur Of The Moment (AFM)
In the potent gathering of Teutonic power metal, Brainstorm have modestly existed in the shadows behind the heavyweights of the genre as unsung heroes. After more than 20 years active the German five-piece are onto album number nine with this release, and whilst their atypically darker punch of power metal has rare bursts of outstanding collective work that suggest they should be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Helloween and Gamma Ray – they’re unfortunately patchy on the whole.
Below The Line starts promisingly and falls into melancholic chorus to push the album forward in reserved motion. As its title would suggest, In The Blink Of An Eye gives us something rolling at a faster pace, but it’s the choppy, untimely guitar chugs that undermine the impact of the song. If you’re open minded enough when it comes to the countless attempts of hard rock surfacing in this style of music nowadays, then Temple Of Shadows will impress you in its vibrato of bumpy, distorted riffs.
There’s a few efforts on record that make for frustrating digestion given the fact they’re a much finer expansion of the band’s true potential. First one is single hit In These Walls – mustering a collision of tinkling keyboard piano, blankets of melodious harmonising and simple but effective, heavy-as-lead chug-riffola. The dark, Helloween-esque chorus of Life On Hold is particularly impressive, but it’s final track My Own Hell that is crafted with the ambition of being an epic, drawing the curtain with results.
Brainstorm have the experience and the songs that confirm them as a force in European power metal. Whether On The Spur Of The Moment will take them much further is debatable. If it’s taken 20-years to get this far, you just wonder where they’ll go from here. CR
rushonrock rated: 6/10 Storm Warning
Steve Hackett – Beyond The Shrouded Horizon (Century Media)
As a member of Genesis for six full-length records and with 24 solo albums to his name, Steve Hackett is a seemingly immortal force at the forefront of progressive rock music. The 61-year-old’s passion stems from his days with the aforementioned prog maestros over 40-years ago but continues today with Beyond The Shrouded Horizon.
Obviously prog by nature, the only thing that’s predictable on this album is the unpredictable transitions. ‘Why use the same paddling pool when you can swim in the ocean’ is the exact mentality from Hackett here – and he almost goes too far to prove his effervescence.
Loch Lomond bathes us with subtle strings, transgressing to change its form a number of times before revealing a merging of soothing harmonies. It floods beautifully into the epic that is The Phoenix Flown – bursting free with a mumbling deep bass line and stabilising keyboards holding the fabric of the heavily layered sound and giving passport for Hackett’s dreamy picking to rightfully take precedence, finalising the success of this short instrumental track.
Prairie Angel holds the harmonica grooves of a jerky blues jive that flows into the conserved acoustic tune of A Place Called Freedom, which only picks up in the finality of the song, raising the stakes with a huge choir for the last minute or so.
If you think that the 70’s was a supreme time for music, you’re still going to love Hackett, regardless of the way he has extended his music in his mammoth career. Waking To Life and Two Faces Of Cairo are good examples with tweaks of sitar piling onto an already middle-eastern soundscape.
Turn This Island Earth finishes the record and is almost The Enid-like in its classical eccentricity, leading the listener into a phantasm of eerie progressions – some strangely ethereal, some electronically charged with an ambient energy and some whipped up into a gusty orchestra backing. Hackett gracefully ages with the majority of his audience – keeping in tune with their interests while maintaining an enthusiasm for new bursts of musical life. CR
rushonrock rated: 7.5/10 Full Metal Hackett
This week’s reviewers: Simon Rushworth, Calum Robson.