November Listening:

Posted: November 29, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Uncategorized

Here’s what I’ve been listening to this November:

1. Mötley Crüe – 233 plays
2. Ratt – 190 plays
3. Queensrÿche – 137 play
4. Poison – 113 plays
5. Warrant – 106 plays
6. The Fratellis – 99 plays
7. Coheed and Cambria – 63 plays
8. W.A.S.P – 59 plays
9. Helloween – 55 plays
10. Architects – 55 plays
11. Fear Factory – 51 plays
12. Coal Chamber – 47 plays
13. Parkway Drive -45 plays
14. King Diamond – 41 plays
15. Five Finger Death Punch – 40 plays
16. Skid Row – 39 plays
17. Quiet Riot – 38 plays
18. Twisted Sister – 38 plays
19. Guns N’ Roses – 32 plays
20. Manowar – 31 plays
21. The Libertines – 29 plays
22. Dokken – 27 plays
23. Bring Me the Horizon – 26 plays
24. Van Halen – 23 plays
25. Sodom – 23 plays
26. Clutch – 22 plays
27. Lamb of God – 22 plays
28. Mountain – 21 plays
29. Faith No More – 20 plays
30. Def Leppard – 19 plays

Iced Earth - The Dark Saga1996’s conceptual The Dark Saga is the fourth studio album by American Power Metal/Heavy Metal band Iced Earth; it was their second album with Matt Barlow singing. It was produced by Jim Morris of Morrisound fame and released on Century Media.

The lyrics are based on the story from the Image comic “Spawn,’” (a lot of character exploration and melancholy – just like the early issue of the book) and so is the artwork. To be honest though, blink and you’d miss it… lyrically it still sounds like most Iced Earth albums anyway and the artwork could easily match their other releases anyway. Its not as if it’s a concept album about The Smurfs or something.

The music on the album is a sort of average of the band’s influences, one part NWOBHM, one part Thrash, one part Power Metal, without being any one overly more than the other… its not their fastest, nor their most bombastic, nor their most “Heavy Metal.” It moved away from the sound of their earlier records and set the tone more or less for their next three or four albums.

If you’ve never heard the band before, image Queensryche’s The Warning mixed with Testament’s Practice What You Preach and Saxon’s Denim & Leather played mostly in a mid-tempo. There’s evocative wide ranging vocals that communicate a lot, there’s a certain rock-meets metal balance and there’s a substantial chug and some double kicks and a bit of a Thrashy edge… only without ever breaking out into a blistering speed.

The standout moments include ‘I Died For You,’ ‘The Last Laugh’ and the seven-minute closer ‘A Question Of Heaven.’ To be honest its all pretty equal though, not much in the way of filler, all of the similar high standard.

If I was going to level any criticism at this record, I could maybe use the ‘formulaic’ card, as its not the most diverse or eclectic release in the world, but that is balanced by how solid and reliable it is. I could play the ‘wearing their influences on their sleeve’ card but their mixture of influences is at least resultant in something that is unmistakably Iced Earth. I don’t feel either is particularly warranted however, this for me is a really decent album from a really decent band… for a brand new listener I’d recommend trying Something Wicked first, but otherwise this is a fine addition to your Iced Earth collection and yet another strong record from the consistent and dependable act.

British Metalcore/Tech band Architects have never released a similar album twice in a row. After the brilliant Daybreaker album however, it seems like Architects have definitely decided on their path… holding Hollow Crown in reverence and balancing innovation around that, to masterful effect.

2014 saw the release of the Lost Forever Lost Together album, which feels like a heavier and slightly more sophisticated take on that Daybreaker sound. Its meatier and more complex without necessarily being as obtuse and angular as some of their oldest material or as brash as even the popular Hollow Crown. They also take a few post-rock twists and delve into some spacey textured moments to balance it out, there’s in-your-face power and there’s brooding, and the mix works rather well. This is all topped off with thought provoking socially and environmentally conscious lyrics and an absolutely superb production job that enhances the listening experience further. The band are one of the best bands to do the tech thing without being complex, the brash thing without being caustic and the melodic thing without being saccharine. They are a great example of how passionate and honest this music can be and a standard bearer for quality. They’re not just another band, they’ve got that extra ‘special something’ and this isn’t just another album, it too has some indescribable elevating factor.

As always, the talented musicians do a remarkable job with the construction/performance of the material and the singing is arguably better than ever. Highlights include the pummeling ‘C.A.N.C.E.R’ and ‘Broken Cross’ as well as the quitter ‘Colony Collapse.’ Really though, there’s no filler, no weak tracks and quite literally never a dull moment. If this sort of music is your thing, you ought to check out this record, because it is a particularly good example of it.

I think the easiest way to describe Lost Forever Lost Together is ‘exactly the Architects album you hoped for in 2014’ and I mean that as a very big compliment as well as an honest description of what to expect stylistically and in terms of quality. I caught the band live just as the album was coming out and it got me really excited, the music they played from this album fit so well alongside their back catalogue and was absolutely massive in its own right. If you’ve never heard the band before, and don’t know what to expect, just stick on ‘The Devil Is Near’ and ‘The Distant Blue’ and that will give you a good idea of what these guys have to offer.

What this album is, at its heart, is Architects absolutely perfecting their formula and delivering as perfect an example of it as they can possibly muster, throwing everything they have into performance, lyrical craft and all the bells and whistles on top. I highly recommend it to any fan of the genre, the band, or heavy music in general… this isn’t a throw-away record that you won’t be listening to next year… this one is built to last.

I went to go see the  Scottish Indie rock band The Fratellis last night at Manchester Academy 2, on Monday 16th November 2015. It’s the second time I’ve caught the band live, a band I’ve been a fan of for almost a decade now. Some people sometimes seem to think of them as a one hit wonder since ‘Chelsea Dagger’ is so disproportionately more famous than any of their other singles (man, ‘Misteress Mable’ isn’t in adverts for beer or cars every year, is it?) but these hard working, consistent and very talented guys are far from one hit wonders, and each and every one of their albums has had a good chance of being my album of the year for that year.

I went to see them with my girlfriend, they’re one of the bands that we both enjoy, and had a lot better time than the last time I saw them because I didn’t have some weird 11 year old girl making fun of me for not looking happy enough this time, this time I looked very happy. We did have hooligans bouncing around drunkenly, almost squishing my girlfriend (it was one of the more violent shows I’ve been to with a non-Metal band) and causing me to buckle down and get the elbows out entering human shield mode (hey, good job I’m tall and into lifting) every time they played something off of their debut album Costello Music that caused the crowd to get overly active. It was quite a workout stopping and reversing the human tide over and over again, but very satisfying in a certain caveman-mind me-tarzan way.

The support band was The Crookes who were a similar sort of band, and very passionate and talented and seemed very good. There were two or three songs that got me thinking maybe I’ll check out their albums. I’d recommend them if you like this sort of music.

When The Fratellis hit the stage it was joyous, very fun indeed. They did a pretty representative set with a good mixture from all albums, not overlooking anything and giving particular focus to their debut which is reaching nostalgia age and their new album which they’re clearly proud of and into and it really shows. It was nice to see songs like ‘A Heady Tale’ and ‘Until She Saves My Soul’ from the middle two albums (my favourite two, personally) balanced against the obvious choices like ‘Henrietta’ and current single ‘Imposters (Little By Little).’

What I love about this band, and why I can listen to them when most indie bands don’t do much for me, is because they are such true musicians and so clearly love what they do and are grateful for any success. Its cool how much they’re doing it for themselves to… improvised guitar solos recalling Hendrix and Gilmour that have nothing to do with the albums just because it felt fun to play right now, changing up massive much loved songs like ‘Everybody Knows You Cried Last Night’ and more recent material like ‘We Need Medicine’ into a country music vein just because it would be fun… and when they play ‘Doginabag’ they played it with a swerve big stoner rock vibe you’d expect from Down or C.O.C, because clearly they’re just so into it. Surprise stand-out moment for me was a track from the new album, called ‘Me And The Devil’ which they just stormed out with this massive power you wouldn’t expect, huuuuuuge drums that sincerely recalled Bonham, with the lighting and the dynamics in volume and the energy in the room it was genuinely one of the best moments I’ve ever witnessed from a live band, and it wasn’t even one of my favourite songs from the new album before this. It was so stupidly good live… I can’t even explain how massive it was. The drummer, Mince Fratellis, hits so hard, so confidently and with such enthusiasm (well, what do you expect from a guy with massive Slayer and Metallica tattoos on each arm) that he really transcends the sort of radio indie thing… the guys a real artist. It’s a shame that the albums don’t convey the sheer umph (if they did though, the ‘normal people’ wouldn’t buy them though) because I’d love to drop some links to demonstrate what I mean… but you know that feeling when you see someone playing at the very edge of their limits and then just throwing in extra fills or cymbals and actually going past their own limits and it just creates a drive and power that is magical and better than precision… the power of hardcore punk without the sloppiness. Oh, its hard to describe… but I was transfixed. The effortlessly cool Jon and Barry are two of the most captivating guys in this genre, and I still barely looked at them all night… a touch of the Garry Powel or Matt Helders effect going on there… all eyes on the dynamo behind the kit! I don’t care what NME magazine might say.

Yes, a very good night, its brilliant when you can come home from seeing hit after hit after hit and still go, “hold on, they didn’t’ even play ‘Creepin Up The Back Stairs’ or ‘Mistress Mable’ or whatever other famous single” and leave completely and utterly satisfied. Deep cuts, new stuff, re-arranged classics,  tons of hits, and after ‘Chelsea Dagger’ had finished they didn’t even leave, but stayed to drop a surprise extra Dion cover… because I guess they’re musicians who like music and it just felt fun to them to do so…

What a band. I wish their audience was less of the hooligans and normals, but then I get squashed at Machine Head and Lamb Of God shows too, so I can’t blame it all on them being indie. Anyway, if you don’t know this band check em out (my favourite songs are ‘This Old Ghost Town’ and ‘My Friend John’ so I’d recommend those as your first entry point) and if you do like them, catch them live because they absolutely smash it!

Manowar – The Lord Of Steel Review

Posted: November 2, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews

Manowar - The Lord Of Steel2012’s The Lord Of Steel was the American Heavy Metal band Manowar’s 11th full-length original studio album proper. It doesn’t experiment too much with the formula, it is the sort of default Manowar sound for anything since Kings Of Metal, but with less orchestration and fewer ballads than a lot of Manowar records. Perhaps it was a reaction against the direction of 2007’s Gods Of War album or something, but the majority of this album is just meaty, substantial, catchy Heavy Metal songs, in a mixture of tempos and even things which start off threatening to be ballads have big distorted riffs and doomy hanging chords by the end. It revels in the meat-and-potatoes stuff. And it does it well.

Now, I know that Manowar might be a joke to some in the music community because of the sweaty loin cloth imagery and death-to-false-metal warcries associated with the band… but musically, if you like bands like Judas Priest, Saxon or Iron Maiden at all, it is worth giving them a try. It doesn’t ever really matter about anything non-musical as much as the music itself and this band knows how to make Heavy Metal sound good – plain and simple. If you like steady, pounding drums with double-kicks, melodic guitar solos, vocals with charm and character, fantasy lyrics and NWOBHM meets Power Metal flavoured riffing, then this is an album that will suit you. Opener and title track ‘The Lord Of Steel’ pretty much sums it all up, if you wonder whether the record is for you, give that a quick listen first and it will tell you everything you need to know.

Where does this fit in with the rest of their catalogue? Well, I wouldn’t argue that it is the single greatest effort in their entire career. It is unarguably in the top 50% of their discography though. I can think of other records I like better, but I wouldn’t write this one off as a forgotten late career release “for-diehards-only” until you’ve listened to great songs like ‘Born In A Grave,’ ‘Expendable’ and ‘Hail Kill And Die’ first! …If you want to get yourself in a good mood, stick on ‘Touch The Sky’ let go on inhibitions, and just give in to it. You’ll feel like a glorious hero for a brief moment when that absolutely delicious guitar solo kicks in.

Overall; DiMaio, Adams, Logan and the now-returned early drummer Donnie Hamzik have released a steady, solid, smooth and almost-perfect gem. If there could be any criticism made, it might be that it is so slick that the performance perhaps lacks a bit of urgency or fire, but otherwise, this is such a finely crafted and easily enjoyable album. If you like the band, don’t miss out on it!

FIRST IMPRESSIONS, Volume 79: King Diamond – Abigail

Hello. Welcome. I’ll skip the preamble, you know it by now. Nerd. Not a real review. Classic album I’ve not heard before. Listening in real time. Sound familiar? Good. Lets roll… This entry finds me listening to Danish Metal icon King Diamond’s 1987 concept album Abigail for the first time.

[Side Note: Before we start, I noticed today that I had a huge spike in web traffic from Finland… any idea why? The only reason I could imagine is if a Stratovarius or Children Of Bodom article of mine got shared or something? …any ideas?]

Anyway; I don’t know that much about King Diamond. I’ve not heard a full song, only the segment in the movie Clerks 2.

– not exactly a good advertisement for the band, ey?

I also know he likes concept albums, the occult, has Kiss-esque make up, had Motorhead’s Mickey Dee as a drummer, and that he was in Mercyful Fate… who I have one album from (check out my First Impression of that here… the appropriately spooky 13th article in the series which was absolutely intentional…cough cough… shifty eyes…) and hey, isn’t it almost Halloween…sure, that’s why I did this article now…and not just because I saw a shiny boxset for a low price.

Anyway, I like ‘80s Metal, but King Diamond’s voice on that album was ludicrous and offputting on first impression (I got used to it more over time, and like the album about a medium amount now… but that’s mostly the music not the vocals) so this will be interesting… I have no idea if I can stick him in his solo career. I don’t find much interest in the occult, and you can’t hear make up, but I do like Mickey Dee and concept albums. This could go either way.

Lets find out…


‘Funeral’ starts out with some spooky music somewhere between Cradle Of Filth and Doctor Who…with a silly voice modulated funeral prayer that sounds quite sci-fi and very artificial keyboard noises doing a film score in the background. Its an intro rather than a full song.

‘Arrival’ bounds on next though, with a sort of Rhime Of The Ancient Mariner swagger and a nice spacey clear production job. There’s some more very artificial keyboards but a very sturdy Heavy Metal backing. The vocals sound like Venom’s Chronos at first then turn into the very silly King Diamond I know from Mercyful Fate, and at times there’s a slight Mille Petrozza sound. He does a lot of different vocal styles and is very operatic. He reminds me of Hell and Cradle Of Filth in that way.

The music itself is a lot tighter, crunchy and satisfying than I’d expected. Its Heavier than Accept, but not as Heavy as Slayer… a very satisfying level for the ‘80s. It is also quite adventourous and proggy in terms of structure and musical show-offery. Its like Images And Words era Dream Theater covering Black Metal era Venom. Thrashy at times but not enough to be Thrash, but still meatier than most NWOBHM. Lots of guitar solos. I’m warming to this.

‘A Mansion In Darkness’ comes in sounding like German Power Metal, with that sort of Helloween drum confidence and some nice melodic lead guitar. Its showier and more eccentric than most Helloween saving the Keeper’ title-track though. Cradle Of Filth keep coming to mind, I guess this must’ve been a big influence on them maybe? I like how it keeps altering between fast and slow and the guitars do neoclassical for a bit but also dirty noisy too, and are melodic without being twee. Yup, satisfying. I’m getting a lot more out’ve this than I did from Mercyful Fate. I wonder would I like Rob Zombie more than White Zombie?

There’s a bit in the middle that reminds me of Mountain King era Savatage, a very good thing to remind me of. The solo at the end reminds me a bit of Yngwie but then it ends abruptly as the song closes.

‘The Family Ghost’ (excellent title!) comes next. Its got a great intro, then goes into the same sort of sturdy bounce as the slower bits from the past two songs. You know who it reminds me most of though? Hammerfall! Swap out the vocals and you can imagine Joacim singing about dragons and glory quite easily. To be honest this is what I expected when I bought Helstar. This is great, then halfway through it just goes ‘screw you, its Judas Priest time!’ and just erupts into some classic speed metal. Its pretty damn great. After the solo it also randomly throws in a funky groove metal riff before going off in an awkward prog direction clearly only there to fit all the lyrics in, then back to the bounce. I like this tune. King’s high vocals are the hardest thing to take seriously but they do suit it after a fashion.

Next comes ‘The 7th Day of July 1777’ which is one thousand years short of having all the sevens, but whatever, which opens with acoustic guitar that really would fit perfectly on the first two Hammerfall albums, then goes into some nice Thrash but in an awkward time sig. Its interesting. The drum fills are so slick, clean and confident, it really reminds me of Mickey Dee …if that makes any sense. I can’t articulate what I mean. I guess, I can see how he ended up in Motorhead doing what he does so well now. Then hey, Yngwie style solo again! This is a pretty damn delicious album, no wonder it has the reputation. I bet if they had a normal singer, they’d be gigantic. Imagine this, but with Bruce Dickinson? Wouldn’t that be successful. I guess the novelty factor of King draws in fans but I imagine it’s as much a barrier as it is a hook.

The drum breakdown is really satisfying. I’m saying satisfying a lot. I guess you can tell what I’m starting to feel about the album then.

‘Omens’ kicks in with an excellent riff that could be either Pantera or Skid Row. It’s the jauntiest moment on the record so far. Makes me want to dance, almost. The song goes off in an unexpect direction afterward though. The keyboards in the background sound a little sci-fi. If this song was about aliens and not hauntings, you could really picture it. It too has a bit of a Savatage feel at times, sort’ve. The guitar solos are nice. Then hey, it goes into a key break that feels very out’ve place, but is excellent. You know what, the complex structures and jarring transitions are a bit much on first listen, but every section of music is excellent, and I’m betting when you’ve heard it a few more times and know the material better the changes seem more natural. Images And Words was an interesting point to bring up because that’s what I’m picking up for everything after the keyboard break.

‘The Possession’ is next and it sounds like the three recent Accept albums. Hey didn’t I mention them earlier too….what is the supernatural aspect here changing history to alter the recording based on my whims or something? Wow… great drums… I love when drummers…excuse the phrase…tickle the bell. You know, when they throw in a quick series on strikes to the bell of the ride cymbal when otherwise the drum hand movements ought to be slow?

This song is badass! One of the best so far. Then in the middle it just turns into ‘Lie’ by Dream Theater. This album is really different than what I was expecting. But it is really enjoyable and impressive. I’m glad it is what it is and not what I thought it would be.

[Also, side note, the snare drum sound reminds me both of Powerslave and Countdown to Extinction… don’t have the knowledge to guess why? Wooden drums or something?]

‘Abigail’ is a bit different than everything before. Less chuggy, more clean, more high pitched. Still NWOBHMy but with a shimmer. It sounds a bit eastern at times…a bit Stargazer. The ending which goes extra synthy is pretty interesting. You get overwhelmed by keys like maybe it represents something in the story?

‘Black Horseman’ opens like a Rush ballad. I wonder what will happen next? Oh, no, it went a bit sinister like a Cradle Of Filth intro. Oh, no. Now it’s a bit like Crystal Ann by Annhilator with Spanish guitar. Its vocals are like a horror version of Fish era Marillion for a while. This is very very different than everything else so far. Even when it goes electric it sounds like a different band. It reminds me a little of Mother Russia by Iron Maiden. Its also so much brighter than the rest of the songs. It kind of feels like Annihilator’s Never Neverland too, especially the little shimmery arpeggio. This song is pretty grand, epic if you will. It sounds like an album closer. The solos are great, more Ozzy Osbourne than Yngwie Malmsteen. It even has more bell tickling! This is a very good song indeed.

Well well, that was a bloody good album, now wasn’t it. Good stuff. On my way home from the shop yesterday I felt a bit foolish and hoped I hadn’t wasted my money, but if the rest of the 5 album set is up to a similar standard it is money well spent for sure. King Diamond… he’s ok in my book. (Or blog, as the case may be).

Coheed & Cambria - The Color Before The Sun

Coheed & Cambria – The Color Before The Sun

The Color Before The Sun is the innovative American Prog/Punk/Rock/Metal hybrid band Coheed & Cambria’s eight full-length studio album, it was produced by the band and Jay Joyce (who also contributes some piano) and released in 2015.

That hybrid sound isn’t quite so pronounced this time around though. There’s nothing on here that’s as heavy as the band’s heaviest output, there’s nothing as progressive as the band’s most progressive moments, there’s nothing as fast as the band’s fastest moments. Nothing is so sugary or so lush as the band’s most grandiose ballads of yore. There’s no summery happy single. There’s no ‘Welcome Home’ or ‘No World For Tomorrow’ or ‘Domino The Destitute’ or ‘Sentry The Defiant’ type big smashing centrepiece either. Even Sanchez’s usually immensely emotional, evocative and expressive vocals are a bit more restrained. He’s usually singing about the most dramatic point in a character’s entire life, and Claudio can really make you feel that. Here he still has the talent and the signature style but the performance is a bit more held back, a foot off the gas pedal and less hair raising.

As an album; its very much Coheed on the ‘medium’ setting. As such, it took the album a bit longer to really click with me than usual… but click it did. I’ll admit, the very first time I heard this record in full I didn’t like it much and I could imagine it getting bad reviews from professional critics without the time to really let it sink in because of the fact its such a grower and it does take a bit of listening to reveal all its secrets and hidden depths. Its not even as if it’s a return to roots or going back to their early sound either because although its poppy and cheerful it doesn’t really sound much like Second Stage Turbine Blade either. It’s a bit more raw, honest, stripped back and realistic. The emotions are more human. If you’re willing to give it a chance, the quality’s absolutely there though.

The other big talking point about this record is that the lyrics are no longer conceptual or telling the Amory Wars story, but you’d be hard pressed to notice sometimes with all the mentioning of moons and planets and returning words and ideas the band always use like ‘home’ and ‘love’ etc. The band write about relationships, fatherhood, artistry and similar topics here, same as always in one way, just without the sci-fi angle. There’s some great memorable lines here, with ‘Ghosts,’ ‘Atlas’ and ‘The Audience’ being especially interesting.

The album also goes to town on lots of sing-along moments, there’s a real surplus of ‘woah ah ooooh’s and ‘da dada da’s. It seems like the band are compensating for the lack of power with pleasant smiley moments, and it works well. There’s also a few really sweet, enjoyable guitar lines that’ll stick in your head. Now, on top of that there are some seriously fun moments and memorable choruses; the opener ‘Island’ as well as the singles ‘Here To Mars’ and ‘You’ve Got Spirit, Kid’ in particular are all worth checking out. Another major highlight is the subtle and understated ballad ‘Ghost’ which has some different sounding vocals from Claudio.

Overall; this is a more mature, mid-paced, cohesive and restrained album from Coheed & Cambria. It isn’t as instant or dramatic or adventurous as some of the band’s back catalogue but it is enjoyable and it is worth your time. There’s just something very good about it, it is a real grower, its earthy and honest and it is just very well crafted and succinct with no filler and an absolute boatload of hooks. I recommend it to anyone who’s ever had an interest in the group.