I went to go see Corrosion Of Conformity live last night at The Globe in Cardiff on 04/05/2023. It was my fourth time seeing the band, who started as a hardcore punk band in the ‘80s before evolving into a sludge/stoner rock/metal band over time. They’ve had a number of different line-up changes over the years, most famously their “classic line-up” of the Deliverance/Wiseblood/America’s Volume Dealer era in the ‘90s/early ‘00s of Pepper Keenan (also of Down fame) on lead vocals/guitar, Woody Weatherman on lead guitar, Mike Dean on bass/backing vocals and Reed Mullin on drums. Although I like all eras of the band, that “classic line-up” is my favourite version. And luckily I got to see them three times after they reunited, including in Manchester Academy in 2015, as well as at Download Festival in mid 2018 and finally with Orange Goblinat Cardiff’s student’s union venue in late 2018.
Unfortunately, Reed Mullin is no-longer with us. This was my first time seeing the band since his death, beloved as he was for his unique off-kilter distinctive and unpredictable drumming style (a true great of the genre). Apparently their new and as-yet-unreleased album will feature drummer Stanton Moore (who is known for Galactic, and played on C.O.C’s doomy In The Arms Of God album in 2005 ) but behind the kit tonight was John Green, who was Reed’s drum tech, and has filled in previously when Reed was absent due to health issues.
I had read rumours online that C.O.C were taking to the stage at 7.30pm and that fans who had showed up late to previous nights on this tour were missing most of C.O.C’s set, so I decided to show up as soon as doors open, however these rumours proved to be untrue, and there was a support band who started at 7.30pm instead, by the name of Plain Ride. They were German, and played an aggressive and very technical form of stoner rock. They had some spacey moments and their song structures were very adventurous, but the core sound was satisfying, head-nodding stoner rock/metal. They reminded me a bit of Dozer at times, but much more complex. There was the occasional funky Clutch-esque moment, but most of it was heavier, more angular and meatier. If you could imagine High On Fire with the technicality of Death and the vocals of Dozer, plus occasional Clutch riffs now and again for variety… that’s the sort of ballpark we are talking here. There were even a few moments on the first and last song that reminded me of Blind-era C.O.C. But obviously, more they were more unique than I’m making it sound. They were definitely that type of stoner/desert subgenre, but had a distinct identity, not clones. The best thing about them was that their guitarist looked like he was having so much fun. I love it when a band look like they’re having a whale of a time.
After that pleasant surprise, it was time for the main event. C.O.C are one of my favourite ever bands. According to LastFM there are only 7 bands I have listened to more in the entire last 12.5 years. I was very excited for this. It was going to be a sing along the entire night, feel it in your bones kind of show. Luckily, because I’d showed up early I was able to be right at the front, second person from the barrier, and basically close enough to lick them if I’d been so inclined (I’m not by the way, but just to give you a visual).
The band tore through a set of mostly songs from the Deliverance/Wiseblood/America’s Volume Dealer era, plus two from 2005’s In The Arms Of God and one from Blind (no prises for guessing which one, if you are a fan). 13 songs total, (or 14 if you count that as an intro they played part of the closing track off of Wiseblood). Not a single song I would lose, not one dull moment, and it was particuarly nice to see “Born Again For The Last Time” which I hadn’t see them play before. The only question I had about the set list, was could they not have squeezed in at least one song from the newest album, 2018’s No Cross, No Crown (which grows on me more and more over time), however every song they did play tonight was brilliant, an absolutely killer set, so I understand you can’t have everything.
I had never been to The Globe before, but it was a properly sweaty, boiling hot venue, to the point where the band kept stopping and making “stay hydrated” jokes. The sound was fairly good although it took them a few songs to get the mix right. The band’s performance was great, John did a great job on the material – not exactly the same at times, but close enough, Woody and Mike have such great stage presence and memorable stances and movements (Woody in particular has such charisma, it is more like watching wrestler Mick Foley in an arena than a band’s guitarist in a club – its crazy he never ended up a bigger star). As with every time I’ve seen them, dozen’s of people seemed to be shouting out personal messages of love and devotion to singer Pepper Keenan in particular – and he did a superb job tonight singing, riffing, soloing and engaging with the crowd with some amusing stage banter. Just one of my all time favourite musicians at this point (although I think it is weird that so many crowd members single him out and shout specifically at him, rather than to the band as a whole. It must be weird being Mike or Woody up stage, giving it 110% and everyone is yelling “we love you Pepper.”)
I know in my live reviews I often comment on the spectacle and production of a band, the pyro and costumes and videos etc. However, sometimes the best concert experience you can have is just being in a room with four dudes playing your favourite songs well. When they played the hits like “Albatross” the crowd was almost absurdly enthusiastic and it felt so powerful I want to throw around words like “transcendent” and “out of body experience” and although that’s not quite putting it correctly, it was certainly spellbinding, some of the best entertainment of any format I’ve had years, period. Damn I love this band!
I had a superb evening, I highly recommend you a) listen to this band if you don’t already , b) Get back into the band if you haven’t been listening to them recently and c) catch them live as many times as you can – they sure know how to deliver a killer time.
On the way home, I got talking to some other attendees of the show, and everyone agreed it was one of the best concerts any of us had seen since the pandemic. Everyone left totally satisfied.
I am almost reticent to review Metallica albums. No other band is as singularly important to the genre’s fans, but nor is any so polarising. It is hard to find many honest, thought out and truthful reviews of the band, amidst the tide of “they can do no wrong, they are gods,” “this is the best album since 1990,” “they used to be good but they’ve sucked since they cut their hair” and “they are the worst band ever, so overrated, this is the worst garbage ever.”
Even the most respected and intelligent reviewers, both in print and online, seem to get bogged down in the same Metallica review tropes over and over again – and I don’t know about you, but I am getting very put off by the endless discussion of eyeliner in the ’90s, trashcan snare-drum sound and no-solos on St. Anger, dodgy mixing/mastering on Death Magnetic, calling Lou Reed “Grandpa Simpson” on Lulu, jokes about money/wah-wah pedals/Napster, calling Lars and Kirk bad at their instruments and basically all the same repetitive insults being brought up every time Metallica does anything at all. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion and I think it is absolutely 100% fair to say that they’ve struggled to have a good production sound over the years, that their albums are usually too long for the relative amount of ideas, and they have made some questionable creative decisions that not all of the core fanbase approve of. But the sheer volume and extensive hyperbole blowing things so far out of proportion is getting so tiring that reading about Metallica has become a rather unpleasant experience over the years.
So that all being said and out of the way… 72 Seasons is the new Metallica album from 2023, their eleventh canonical studio album, third with Rob Trujillo on bass, third with Greg Fidelman involved in the production, and second on Blackened Recordings. It is neither their best album, their worst album, or anything else particular useful for a good soundbite. It has its strengths and its weaknesses. The hardest part about listening to, or trying to appreciate, or be objective about any Metallica album since 1990 is the uncanny valley in your own mind between the album you think they should have made, versus the album they actually chose to make, and all the seemingly wasted potential that this thought process highlights.
There are many positives to this album – lots of great little bits that will make you smile, a few songs many fans would probably like to see in the live set, and some strong guitar solos. Even the lyrics seem a little bit improved. However, it is not without some faults. As stated above, it will be no surprise to learn that the album also features a lot of the same flaws as every Metallica album since St. Anger, in as much as the band seem to be poor at self-editing, and don’t always know how/when to end a song and how much is enough repetition of a particular part. The album is 77 minutes long, just as the previous was, and just like its predecessor – it is quite arguable that not all 77 of those minutes are utterly necessary and the overall experience and quality would have been higher had someone taken a more discerning approach to serving the songs. This is just my personal taste – but I feel like if Metallica were given a 55-minute limit, this would make all of their albums better.
However, it is welcome that after so many years of unpalatable creative decisions and production jobs, this album, like its predecessor is well performed, sounds “normal” and follows the stylistic and creative directions Metallica are best at, rather than diverging too far into territories they aren’t as strong at. In short, with the exception of the length – Metallica appear to have written the exact album that all the magazines and websites have been saying they (and by implication we) wanted. I for one am quite pleased about that (even if very frustratingly, all the contrarians online are now having the gall to complain about that very fact and decry a lack of diversity and progression – you just can’t win with some people!).
Stylistically, as with its predecessors Death Magnetic and Hardwired… To Self Destruct, the musical direction incorporates large sections of ‘80s style Thrash Metal, with bits of the more melodic and groovy material they made in the ‘90s, and some of the bounce and unpolished feel they developed on the critically panned St. Anger album (although that particular bit has lessened with each album since then). For the most part we get similar material to the best parts of the last two Metallica records, opener “72 seasons” is a lengthy Thrasher, just as the opener to Death Magnetic was (and the closer to Hardwired was). There is a short, quick nostalgia Thrash tune (just like the title track to Hardwired was, and album closer to Death Magnetic was). There are some mid paced songs, often with rolling floor toms, that evoke bits of The Black Album (in a similar way to “Now That We’re All Dead” and “Here Comes Revenge” were from the previous record, or “Broken, Beaten, Scarred” from Death Magnetic was). A few songs towards the back half of the record have some slightly Load/Reload era vocals, just like “The Day That Never Comes” did, or several songs on the second disc of Hardwired.
I don’t think it would be too unfair to call this album a continuation and natural evolution of what Hardwired was. Hardwired was flawed in that some songs on it really didn’t fit and probably should have been kept off for B-sides, and there was one track which I genuinely dislike and wish was never included at all (“Murder One”) – however the highs were very high, in that tracks like “Spit Out The Bone,” in particular, but also “Moth Into Flame,” “Atlas Rise” and a few others are genuinely some of my favourite Metallica songs, period, no qualification. 72 Seasons differs slightly in that no individual song is quite as magic, memorable or instantaneously “classic quality” as the very best moments of Hardwired, but neither is any song out of place, boring, or poor quality. A much more even listening experience overall. I am not sure what is better; 77 good minutes? or a mixture of 30 great minutes, some good minutes, some ok and some poor minutes?
Highlights for me so far are “Chasing Light” which sounds like a mixture of all the different styles mentioned above, as well as the catchy “Too Far Gone?” (great chorus!) and “Room Of Mirrors” (great guitars!). I also really like the title track in principal for its style, although it could use a bit of a trim in the editing room if I am being honest.
It does seem like a bit of a grower, and gets better with each listen, but it doesn’t have any moment I would call absolutely essential. It is another Metallica album. A good one, throughout, but not a truly great one. To summarise the whole review: Its exactly the right style, sound and production – it picks up where the last ones left off and gives more of the same, (only more cohesive and consistent throughout, however with less of the magic of the absolute best tracks from them). I doubt in 20 years time it will be many people’s favourite Metallica album, but it won’t go down in history as a mistake either.
I went to go see Sabaton (with Babymetal and Lordi) last night at the Cardiff International Arena, 16/04/2023. It was my first time seeing Sabaton, although I’ve been a fan for close to a decade. When I first got into them, I was having a big Power Metal phase, sort of around the same time I first got into bands like Blind Guardian, Edguy, Freedom Call, Hammerfall, Iron Saviour, Angra, etc, which was a few years after I got into Helloween and Gamma Ray, but still in that warm glow of the discovery phase of a new subgenre, (you know… that bit where you get enamoured by a certain style before you bleed all the best artists dry and get down to the C and D list bands). Sabaton always stood apart from the rest of the Power Metal crowd as something related, but slightly different. They are a very unique band. They did play near me before, a few years ago, but I couldn’t get the day off work at the time. So tonight was my first exposure to them as a live act. I’d heard good things over the years about what a big show they put on, so was quite excited when I saw they were playing near me, and it was a nice bonus to find out it was on a day when I would be off work the day of and day after. Always a bonus, I hate being exhausted for work the day after a concert.
Lordi, the opening act, I have seen in magazines and on news websites for years and years, but had never really heard a full song by them more than once or twice. I have no strong opinions on them either way.
Babymetal, by contrast, I have more of an opinion about. When they first arrived on the scene, about a decade ago, I was very sceptical of them, but over the years (and especially since seeing them live at Download Festival 2018), I got over that initial prejudice and recognised them for the superb entertainers that they are. Thinking back to my much more cynical teenage self, I definitely wouldn’t have ever expected to like a band with such a strong gimmick and with songs about Karate and Chocolate that got popular with viral videos, it all just seemed a bit too Tenacious D to me at first glance, but as an adult I was able to give them the time of day and realise that they are very genuine and very talented. Its quite impressive once you give it a chance. No need for all that gatekeeping.
Anyway, those were my thoughts going in, but how was the show?
I arrived at the arena a little bit late and by the time I’d got through security and been to the toilet, Lordi were already on stage about three songs deep. They had a big backdrop that looked a bit like a haunted castle, the band were dressed like some kind of updated version of Gwar in big monster costumes and they played quite catchy hard rock / metal with a bit of a synthy sound at times and a slightly European flavour to the song-writing. The frontman had good stage presence and they were definitely one of the more interesting opening acts I’ve seen in a few years. I don’t know if I’d buy an album or anything, but I did feel broadly positive towards them. They’re clearly good at what they do, even if I’m not personally very familiar with them.
After a pleasantly short gap, while songs like “Wasted Years,” “N.I.B” and also surprisngly Metal Church’s “Date With Poverty” played over the speakers, Babymetal were next. I’m not much of a barger, too polite. However; I managed, just through virtue of lots of Lordi fans going to the bar or toilet, to get much closer to the stage without actually needing to move past anyone. Since the pandemic I haven’t really wanted to get into the thick of it, preferring to hang back or get a seat, but when it was just that easy to get up nearer the front, it was too tempting not to. Wish me luck that I don’t get sick!
Babymetal came on stage, the musicians dressed in Ghost-esque helmets (think nameless ghouls) and the frontwoman Suzuka Nakamoto aka Su-Metal and dancers (Moametal & Momometal) in matching sparkly costumes. It might seem silly if you aren’t used to it – but so might Alice Cooper, or The Catman / Space Ace / Starchild / Daemon. They ripped through a career-spanning setlist, with material from all the different records. The sound was a mixture of At The Gates influenced for heavier songs like “Babymetal Death,” System Of A Down (well, at least the drums) in one of songs: “Pa Pa Ya,” pop music for one of the ones nearer the end of the set (“Monochrome”), and Dragonfroce-esque OTT Power Metal for the set closer “Road Of Resistance.” (Which after the concert I found out was co-written by Dragonforce members, so that explains the sonic similarity!).
The drummer was absolutely savage, hitting so very hard. Very intense. It is interesting when you see the musicians so into it and enthusiastic, as one might initially have been expecting a more tame manufactured experience, but this backing band are clearly absolutely loving it.
The stage show, lighting, visuals and sound were excellent, and it was a very top notch show. The crowd seemed very into it, and overall I came away very impressed. If I said Lordi are good at what they do, its nothing compared to how well Babymetal came off. If I hadn’t already have been converted by the previous live show, this one certainly would’ve done the trick too. Their whole set just radiated joy, enthusiasm and pure raw entertainment factor. If you’ve ever bristled at the idea of them, as I certainly used to, I’d say ignore that instinct – they are a really good band. I really enjoyed their set.
About half an hour later, it was time for the main event. Starting with an eruption of fireworks, and roadies running on stage to get all the covers off the set, Sabaton took to the stage. The drummer was set up on top of a big battle-tank prop, complete with cannon which gave off smoke and boomed with small explosions. The stage was set up like a trench. There was a big video screens showing shots of the band and crowd, as well as showing lyrics and imagery related to the theme of various lyrics. There were various extras/roadies dressed as soldiers or sailors or the assassin who killed archduke Franz Ferdinand, or even the inventor of mustard gas for the song “Father.” There were also all sorts of props like flame throwers and gas deployers and shotguns for the band or extras to interact with, an absolute boatload of pyro and a strong light show.
They also took that trick bands sometimes do where it “snows” further than anyone else I’ve seen – by having it not only snow on the stage, but also all throughout the audience. I actually got wet and cold during a song about a soldier dying in the snow on the Alps (“Soldier Of Heaven.”) Very atmospheric. Overall, what Amon Amarth do with Norse Mythology meets Iron Maiden camp, Sabaton do with military history. It is big, and cheesy and over the top… and I love it. The highlight for me was during the tune “The Red Baron” a keyboardist came on stage with a little aeroplane-shaped keyboard holder prop. Absolute nonsense but it made me smile so much.
The setlist was great, with some of the best tracks from the new album (“Stormtroopers” being my personal favourite from that particular record), two songs from the debut, a few of my favourite songs from the golden era (they opened with “Ghost Division” which is a real winner as far as I am concerned), and a few songs from the modern era. They also did a cover of Motorhead’s reality-of-war themed “1916” which was very fitting.
The sound was great, the crowd were enthusiastic and the atmosphere was very fun. There were some absolutely huge audience singalongs, especially for “Swedish Pagans” and “Christmas Truce.” During the nautical themed “Dreadnaught” many of the audience members got down on the floor and did a sort of row-boat action, which is quite visually impressive.
Overall, it was a great show. Three quite theatrical bands each putting on a pretty large spectacle, with great sound and a crowd that were well up for it. What’s not to like? I certainly had a great night. I know I say this basically every time now, but I would highly recommend you check this tour (or future tours from these bands) out if you get the chance. Good times will be had by all.
January 2023 saw the magnificent Polish Progressive Rock band Riverside release their eight full-length studio album on InsideOut records, ID Entity. It is their second album since the passing of late guitarist Piotr Grudziński and first with Maciej Meller as an official band member.
Sonically, the album is a delight. The production is superb. Crystal clear, brilliantly balanced, perfectly recorded.
Lyrically, the album seems to either be a concept album or at least heavily themed about modern society in the age of questionable truth in the media, social media enraging the public, and a divided society. The lyrics are very blunt, direct and barbed compared to most previous Riverside albums (not to dissimilar to Pain Of Salvation’s Scarsick album). They could come across as a bit too on the nose if you just read the lyrics, but when you hear it with the vocal delivery and over the excellent music it seems almost profound (eg. “unsubscribe the ones who make us hostile” doesn’t seem particularly epic when written down here, but the part of that song when this lyric gets repeated is absolutely massive!).
Stylistically, the album is varied. There are moments that remind me of the more note dense 70’s prog influenced parts of the previous album Wasteland, mixed with the more ‘80s influenced parts of Love Fear And The Time Machine but it is also in many ways unlike any of the band’s previous material most of the time.
Therein lies the charm. Riverside are the most consistent band in music, and yet never make the same album twice. Constant evolution and change, but unshakable quality-control. A few days ago I tried to make a “Riverside Albums Ranked” list, and I really couldn’t do it, all albums were equal, all joined first… and I don’t mean that hyperbolically. I mean that stone cold literally. In terms of full-length studio albums at least, the band have a perfect discography to date, including this new record).
I usually make a list of standout songs in my reviews, but this album is such a brilliant journey from start to finish, and such a great album experience, that I almost don’t want to mention individual tracks. There is also absolutely no filler. Even the songs themselves have no weak parts. There is nothing skippable on the whole album.
In summary; as if you can’t tell already from all this gushing praise, I wholeheartedly recommend this album (and band if you aren’t into the band yet).
I went to go see Gojira live at Cardiff International Arena on Friday 17th February 2023. I have owned Gojira material since about 2012, but never really considered myself a big fan until April 2021, when the French Prog / Extreme Metal band released their absolutely phenomenal Fortitude album and everything just clicked for me, and I ended up buying all the rest of their discography.
I’d been hearing for years in podcast, website and magazine form about what a special live band they were, and so once I had finally gelled with the band and been converted I was incredibly excited to see them live ever since. About a year ago, I saw that they were playing close to me, but the tour date was so close to the birth of my son I couldn’t / wouldn’t go. Luckily for me however, the original dates got rescheduled by a year due to post-pandemic reasons, and I was able to go to the rescheduled date this year (and with a year more Gojira fandom under my belt, I’d be even more able to appreciate it).
Due to work and childcare commitments, I didn’t actually even leave the house until after doors had opened at the arena, and by the time I drove to the city, parked, hoofed it towarsds the arena and had been to the toilet at the arena, I had completely missed both support bands by the time I found my balcony seat (so cannot comment on the quality of the support acts at all). I arrived to witness a screen with a countdown, which was at about 80 seconds. I had just about got my coat off when the show started. Brilliant timing; didn’t miss any Gojira!
The setlist was brilliant for me, focusing mainly on Fortitude (6 songs of the 17-song set) and then some of their more noteworthy tracks from other albums (3 from Magma, 2 from L’Enfant Sauvage, 2 from The Way Of All Flesh, 3 from their From Mars To Sirius album and the one-off new single “Our Time Is Now”). I had a whale of a time, and am glad they took this approach, although I could imagine some longer-standing fans might be disappointed with the lack of early material. That being said, I think they chose the right material for the arena setting, and did well to balance their more heavy and dense material with their most accesible stuff so the show flowed very well without going too far in any one direction.
Visually, it is one of the most tasteful arena shows I’ve seen in years. Comparable to 10,000 Days-era Tool rather than say something big and theatrical like Rammstein or Alice Cooper. The production was great with all sorts of psychedelic videos, Floydian lasers, and even some sparing steam cannons and confetti whilst still seeming arty and tasteful most of the time. Even the lighting was really clever and well programmed. A treat for the eyes. (The photos don’t really do it any sort of justice at all, because it was all about slow evolving movements of trippy growing/changing imagery and lighting with arty intent, which was all tied and timed cleverly to the music. You know the bit in The Wall movie where the flowers grow during “Empty Spaces”? Like that, but for 2023).
Conversely, despite how understated and refined the stage-show was, the band’s actual performance was surprisingly fun. I was expecting a dour, serious, and moody afair… but they were fist pumping, headbanging, body swinging performers… the bassist was doing jumping splits and spins like a mixture of Blink 182 meets Van Halen… and despite being one of the most complex and technical drummers I’ve ever seen with my own eyes, Mario is a master showman who swings his arms about, flails and does stick tricks like a mix between Tommy Lee and the “this drummer is at the wrong gig” guy – there was even a fun drum solo with audience participation and which wasn’t boring (how few drum solos can you say that about?). Singer Joe made some jokes on stage and seemed genuinely concerned when a fan temporarily hurt themself, and there was the sort of song teasing and “hey, hey” bits you’d expect from a huge good time rock act like AC/DC rather than a crushing band who have songs like “Backbone” (stream it if you don’t know what I mean). Overall, they played like it was a party, even if they planned a show like an arthouse movie.
The sound was perfect, clear and brilliantly balanced. You could hear everything to almost album-perfect degrees, but with enough live edge to prevent it going too sterile.
They ended the evening with what has become my favourite song of theirs (“Amazonia”) and the whole thing felt like a massive celebration. Its crazy that a band this proggy, extreme and dense (see “Flying Whales”) get to headline an arena when much more melodic palatable bands like Anthrax and Megadeth can only sub-headline this same venue, and bands that have been all over “normal” radio like The Libertines or The Fratellis are playing smaller shows than this. What a triumph for this band!
A few days ago, I was kind of dreading the show a bit, because as much as I love Fortitude and Magma, I felt a bit of imposter syndrome about not being a big enough fan… due to being a latecomer, but it was a magnificent show and I’m really glad I went. I know I write this almost every time but I really recommend seeing them live.
Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.
Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.
1. Kings Of Metal (1988) – Manowar are certainly not to everyone’s taste. This album is Manowar at their most Manowar. If that sounds unappealing, I don’t blame you. In fact, I put off trying it for years and then the first time I heard it, I didn’t really get it. (Even to this day I could deal without an entire four minute spoken word story track, and there’s another track with one of the most overtly misogynistic sets of lyrics ever made, to the point where if you didn’t realise it was parodying the worst traits of other ‘80s bands, you’d be outright ashamed to own it… and even when you do know that, its still pretty cringey).
Not everyone likes this style of hyper-energetic, unrestrained and arguably cliched Power Metal and not everyone likes the symphonic grandiose high-fantasy lighters in the air moments. Even if you do like it, if you were being hyper-critical, you could also argue that there are too many ballad / quiet moments which could affect the pacing / flow of the record. However, once you “get” what the band are going for here, and once you let the best tracks worm their way into your good books, this reveals itself to be a serious contender for one of the best Metal albums ever. The band weren’t exactly lacking for killer tunes before, by any means, but they really hit their stride here.
There’s just something about Kings Of Metal that shines. It just has that really “classic” vibe to it. A highlight not only for their discography, but the whole subgenre and the genre as a whole. If you are into this type of music, this is utterly essential stuff. If for some reason you have never heard it, you really ought to fix that. Even if you aren’t into this sort of music, I’d still recommend you giving it multiple listens – as it could convert you. I may be saying this a lot in this list, but it all comes down to the strength of the songs. I could make all sorts of comments on how the vocals are the perfect blend of Stanely/Simmons, or about how the lift in the chorus of “Wheels Of Fire” is as big as the biggest moments on Painkiller, or how the album provides a nice escapist counterpoint to the more serious music you may listen to… but in the end, those facts may be valid, but they’re not what makes the record so good… it’s the songs. Such killer songs!
Highlights include: “Kings Of Metal,” “Hail And Kill,” & “Blood Of The Kings.”
2. Triumph Of Steel (1992) – It can’t have been easy following up Kings Of Metal, a record that I would genuinely consider one of the finest records ever made in the whole subgenre, one which I keep a vinyl copy of on my wall as decoration, but the band came really close with their next record. It is bizarre to think this album came out when Grunge was dominating the media, because this album by contrast is one of the worst offenders of all the bloat and excess and fantasy and non-down-to-earthness of all the things people liked to call Grunge the antithesis of. Now, I really like a lot of Grunge so don’t think that is some kind of complaint about the Grunge movement, just an observation… its comical that when most ‘80s bands where changing their sound, getting less excessive, stripping down, trying to match Seattle’s credibility… Manowar doubled down hard on all of their silliest, most theatrical, most bombastic qualities and made this utterly absurd record. It opens with a twenty minute song with both a bass solo and a drum solo and absolutely no logical structure. There’s even a song that features the line “If you’re not into Metal, you are not my friend” for goodness sake… and I love it with all my heart.
Now, all that cheese, all that bombast and all that showmanship so large it would make Alice Cooper say “Geez… maybe dial it down a bit guys?” would just be a bit of empty throw-away dumb fun without the tunes. The reason this album is so high on my list isn’t actually all the stuff I’ve written so far… arguably in might even be in spite of that stuff. I am not into novelty bands or comedy music, and a lot of people are turned off by Manowar and don’t even try them because the sort of stuff I am mentioning above, which could make them seem like a novelty or comedy band to the untrained eye… no, the reason this album is so high on my list is because the material is so immensely, furiously, massively fun, memorable and enjoyable. Almost every song here makes me want to sing along to every vocal line, every guitar or bass line, every drum fill, every second. These are just some of the best Heavy Metal songs in the world, period. Like I said for the previous album… its all about the strength of the songs. It also doesn’t hurt that its one of their most filler-free records to date.
Highlights include: “Metal Warriors,” “The Power Of Thy Sword,” & “Ride The Dragon.”
3. Louder Than Hell (1996) – If you really like the band’s first four albums, sometimes this album gets seen as something lesser in the band’s discography, sometimes it gets called the beginning of the end or some such insult. For me, personally, this is one of the best things the band ever made. In fact, if there is a red-y/orange cover art with an absurdly muscled dude on the front, it is typically a sign that it will contain some of the best songs I’ve ever heard. This album once again follows a similar formula to the last two and once again delivers absolutely brilliant songs in that style.
There is of course some variety here, from a weird proggy tune with David Gilmore-esque guitar parts, to piano intros, to ballads, but the core of this album / the main direction of this album is the thing I love most about Manowar… and not only is the album made up primarily of songs in that style, but they are supremely good songs in and of themselves. On later albums they would also have songs in this same direction, but not necessarily to the same supremely high standard.
If I was recommending this band to a newcomer, especially one who liked bands like Blind Guardian or Helloween or Gamma Ray, this would be one of the first albums I advised. I consider this album and the two that preceded it as the holy trinity high watermark of the band’s discography, and an inseparable threesome that are all essential and near as good as each-other. If you are going to get one, just do yourself a favour and get all three!
Highlights include: “The Power,” “King,” & “The Gods Made Heavy Metal.”
4. Fighting The World (1987) – This album is a transitional and unique moment in the band’s catalogue. It definitely doesn’t fit in with the first four albums, which feel like one era, and only about a third of it feels like it fits in with the next four albums which again feel like the next era of the band. This one is a bit of an island. With its Love Gun/Destroyer inspired artwork, ridiculous lyrics, bizarrely uneven tone (is it dark and serious and epic, or is it barrel of laughs? – it can’t seem to decide… even more so than on previous records), you could be forgiven for thinking that Manowar jumped the shark here if you had been following the band since the start (and I’m sure many people did feel that way at the time). “Blow Your Speakers” in particular feels almost like a commercial sell out move, although with its lyrics decrying such bands as would do that, it kind of escapes that accusation. I think when you realise what big Kiss fans the band are and always have been, this album makes a lot more sense. They’re not cashing in on the Glam trends of the day, they’re just making their own versions of “I Love It Loud” et al.
What really makes this album shine for me though, are the tracks that really set up what I consider to be the archetypal and classic Manowar format, which are the three songs mentioned below. With these three songs, they elevate this album a good four or five places higher up the list than it might otherwise be when listening to the title track or the semi-ballad-come-power-pop-bopper “Carry On.” That’s not to say the rest of the album isn’t “good,” but those three elevate it from good to “great.”
Highlights include: “Violence And Bloodshed,” “Black Wind, Fire & Steel,” & “Holy War.”
5. Hail To England (1984) – I remember an old Metal Hammer article where Angela Gossow from Arch Enemy said it was the best Manowar album. Of the early-day albums, this one is the most consistent, even, reliable and solid. “Bridge Of Death” in one single song does everything the previous album was trying to do, but miles and miles better. The faster more aggressive tunes here are some of the best ones of the early days, the production is a bit better than the last two, and there seems to have been a big step up in musicianship. Its everything the previous two albums were trying, perfected.
Whilst I can’t honestly say its not silly at all, it certainly strikes a much better balance between serious and silly than some of their records do, and is almost tasteful in places, (without being po-faced and boring like they sometimes can be at their most indulgent).
A lot of people might have this as their favourite album, and I can see why. For me and my tastes, I just personally prefer the type of stuff they would go on to do later, but for this type of material and this direction, this is arguably the band at the peak of that style. If you like the early sound more than the later sound, then knock this one straight to number one on your priorities list.
Highlights include: “Kill With Power,” “Blood Of My Enemies,” & “Bridge Of Death.”
6. Sign Of The Hammer (1984) – Some people complain about this one, saying parts of it are out of time and out of tune, but as someone who loves Motorhead I don’t really see that as a deal-breaker. This album is a more ambitious and fleshed out realisation of what the band had been attempting with their debut, with some songs that showcase the direction they would start leaning more into on future releases. I feel like the vocals here are much better than the previous three records and the simple and tasteful artwork is a big improvement over the previous records as well.
Apart from the band-title track on the debut record, I feel like this album is also the start of when the band really developed their signature self-referential character, and this feels like a transitional moment between slightly OTT but still normal band, and completely ludicrous as would start on the subsequent album. “All Men Play On Ten” in particular seems to be one of the moments when the band really found themselves.
Highlights include: “All Men Play On Ten,” “Thor (The Powerhead),” & “Guyana (Cult Of The Damned).”
7. Battle Hymns (1982) – The band’s debut sounds a little bit different to what the band would eventually become. This record is a real treat for fans of classic heavy metal, ala Breaker-era Accept, ‘70s Priest or early Riot. Before they really leaned hard into the Power side of Power Metal, this is just pure hard rocking early Metal. The production still has one foot in the ’70s even though it was 1982.
In part, the lyrics are quite different in places to what the band would become. I mean, if most of the general music buying public thinks of Manowar, they think of oily musclebound dudes in loin cloths singing about Conan The Barbarian and such, not tracks about PTSD amongst Vietnam veterans. The song-writing here is relatively strong (much better than their sophomore album) and there are numerous catchy and memorable tunes here that remain concert favourites to this day.
You almost can’t pick up any Manowar live album or best of without hearing something from this record, and that’s a good thing in m opinion. Just watch out for the dodgy late-career re-recording of this. Re-recordings as a rule are basically always worse than the original. Don’t even get tempted, head straight for the charming debut and skip the clinical and sterile re-creation entirely!
8. The Lord Of Steel (2012) – To date, the band’s final album (although there have been some later EPs) and not necessarily an absolutely amazing career-defining comeback album ala Formation Of Damnation or anything, but still a very strong and solid effort and a big, biiiiiig step-up from the album that preceded it. The production / performance lacks a bit of fire and edge, (its not exactly their most vicious album ever), but the songs are by and large very memorable, very catchy, very enjoyable and the best thing of all… the album is relatively consistent and solid the whole way through, very little messing about, very little that is skippable, very little to make you roll your eyes. Pretty much no filler, which is rare on a Manowar album, and no silly intros or indulgent bass solo.
It does lack the real star power of some of the best Manowar albums, and I doubt it would ever make any Manowar Albums Ranked’s number one spot, but I couldn’t ever see it placing last either. Not one for the casual fans neccesarily, but not a “super-fans and collectors only” affair either. If you’re happy with the post-’87 Manowar sound and just want some more of it, pick this one up once you’ve exhausted the real heavy hitters first.
Highlights include: “Born In A Grave,” “Hail, Kill And Die,” & “Touch The Sky.”
9. Warriors Of The World (2002) – Over half of this album is pure gold, and good enough for me to want to count it as part of a “golden era” with the previous albums, but there is a bit (lot?) of filler, a few questionable decisions and a little bit of absolute guff that sort of dilutes the overall impact of the record. The highlights are very high, but the low-points definitely weaken the impression of the record and relegate it to “lesser” status in the discography for me.
If someone was to say “I only want to get the best records, where is the cut off point?” I think I would say this is the first one that is skippable. That being said, if you chopped off all the weaker moments from this one, and it was just a super tight and concise Reign In Blood-length rager of just the best of this…. I think it could be a full three or even four places higher up this list. To skip this album would be to skip a lot of absolutely stellar material. Quite a shame really, a lot of people will never get to hear the best moments it has to offer, but then again, they’re lucky they don’t hear the dross. Such an album of contrasts!
Highlights include: “Hand Of Doom,” “House Of Death,” & “Warriors Of The World United.”
10. Gods Of War (2007) – Too many intros, too much narration, too many slow bits, too self-serious and worst of all… the songs just aren’t that good, even the ones that sound like my favourite type of Manowar song are just lesser versions of that. Props to the band for trying to make a concept album, a Norse mythology story always appeals to me (Amon Amarth do it really well and many other bands have had a great song here and there) so its just a shame that for the most part, its one of the least exciting set of songs the band has ever put out.
It also doesn’t help that it doesn’t flow very well, and a lot of the things that could have made this a strong rock opera are a bit overdone and mishandled, so it just ends up being a bit too camp and embarrassing, even by Manowar standards. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t worthless, but its definitely for serious fans only, and only after you’ve collected basically everything else. If this was the first Manowar album you ever bought, you probably wouldn’t buy any more, which would be a crying shame considering how good the band usually are.
Highlights include: “Die For Metal,” “Sons Of Odin,” & “King Of Kings.”
11. Into Glory Ride (1983) – I know there will be some fans who say this is blasphemy, but for my own personal tastes, this is the worst Manowar album. It is mostly slow, a bit samey, lacks a certain energy and is just a little bit boring overall. If I listen to a Manowar album from start to finish, I usually have fun, but with this one I only have fun on “The Warlord” and then settle down and then eventually just loose interest, the rest of the record is just tedious, or at least it is when its all in a row. It doesn’t help that the production is a bit thin and the hi-hats sound weird (although that doesn’t hurt Hotter Than Hell by Kiss when the songs are much better than these, so we can’t entirely blame the production here).
I’ve seen some people call this progressive, and I can pick up a slight hint of Audio Visions era Kansas in a few sparing moments, but it doesn’t feel progressive to me. It just has slightly too-long, dull songs that don’t particularly create anything new, and which fail to excite. That’s not progressive, its just bad self-editing.
I don’t want to make it seem like I just like fast songs, don’t mistake me. The band had touched on slower, more serious and moody material on the previous album with “Dark Avenger” and had perfected on the next album with “Bridge Of Death” but this is just that same type of thing but not executed anywhere near as well… then repeated over and over again, without enough life, energy or vitality to really peak my interest.
Now, I don’t utterly hate it, there are some good moments, particular guitar solos etc. There are also some good ideas at times. But remember what I said before about other albums being at the top of the list due to the strength of the songs? Well, this is just the weakest set of songs Manowar have ever written. Even when songs from this turn up on live albums/DVDs its usually a skip-button magnet for me. Sure there might be a moment here and there that is good, but they’ve done so much better elsewhere. I know some other people really like this one, but its not for me.
Highlights include: “Warlord,” & “March For Revenge.”
2022’s Omens is the Richmond Virginia Metal stars, Lamb Of God’s ninth full-length studio album (not counting releases under the Burn The Priest moniker). Much like their previous record, it was released on Nuclear Blast, Produced by Josh Wilbur and features Art Cruz on the drums.
Going into the album, a lot of fans online, on podcasts and in print seemed a bit disinterested in the band, and there was a bit of talk about how the band were past their best, which I didn’t personally get, because I felt their previous album was quite good, they’ve still been good live and they are mostly beloved personalities in the metal media. Anyway, many people are going to talk about going into this with low expectations and being pleasantly surprised… I just say its good, period, just like I expected.
The musical direction and the production style is quite similar to the previous album, sort of leaning into the more groovey and accessible parts of their sound, rather than being technical or angular or abrasive like the early days. If your favourite Lamb Of God song is “ODHGABFE” or “Blood Junkie” this album might be a bit tame for your tastes, but for everyone who fell in love with the band for the likes of “Redneck” and “Set To Fail” this will be right up your street.
Highlights include the catchy “To The Grave,” the speedy “Denial Mechanism” the memorable closer “September Song” and the grower of a title track, which I initially didn’t gel with the very first time I heard it, but you can’t deny that chorus and now its become one of my favourites upon repeat listening.
Is this the single greatest achievement Lamb Of God have ever made? Of course not, but is it some kind of lesser album or boring late career filler with only a few good songs? Not at all! This is a worthy edition to the LOG cannon, solid all the way through, nothing I’d skip, nothing I’d remove from a playlist and nothing I wouldn’t want to see live. Better even than the previous record, much better than the one before that, overall another enjoyable and entertaining southern groover made for big stages. Recommended.
Digital Noise Alliance is the 16th full-length studio album by the Seattle Prog-Metal pioneers, Queensryche. It is their fourth album with Todd La Torre on vocals, and second without founding drummer Scott Rockenfeild in the band, last time (on 2019’s The Verdict) singer Todd La Torre also played drums, but this time Kamelot’s Casey Grillo is behind the drum kit. There has been much media drama about the band in the last decade, with various spats between current and ex-members, which can distract people from the music at times, but for my money the current four-album Todd-era run is the best continuous run of four albums the band has had since 1994. If you ignore all the distractions and concentrate on the music, you’ll discover some seriously good records.
Queensryche made their name by experimenting, changing constantly and never making the same album twice in the early days, and while this has resulted in a discography where not every album is to everyone’s tastes, the one thing you could also say is that each album sounded different to the last. However, since original singer Geoff Tate left the band, the run of three albums that followed do all sit in a fairly similar direction, and as good as that style is, sitting in one comfort zone isn’t something the band had ever done before.
With Digital Noise Alliance, Queensryche appear to be trying to test the edges of this comfort zone, broaden their horizons a little bit, expand the formula more and generally try a few new things. There’s a Promised Land style semi-acoustic ballad, (the kind they hadn’t been writing for the last few records), there’s a Billy Idol cover song, there’s some occasional new vocal styles Todd hasn’t used on record yet, there’s a different feel to the drumming, there’s a few riffs or chords or melodies you wouldn’t have heard on the last few albums and the guitar solos often take a different direcition to what listeners have been hearing for the last decade. Just enough variety to keep it fresh and not feel like they’ve fallen into a rut. However, the core of the album is the same core formula of the Todd era Queensryche albums, so it isn’t so different that it would scare away anyone who loved the previous ones, or a big enough departure that it would reach a totally new or different fanbase and win over anyone new. It’s the same sound; but broader, more diverse, ever so slightly more progressive, and most importantly fresh. A nice little grower of a record too, there’s an extra layer of depth and complexity here compared to the last few.
Highlights include: “Behind The Walls” “Tormentum” and “Hold On.”
If you like melodic guitar leads, gorgeous clean singing, clear bouncy bass lines and a slight prog edge without being ponderous or pretentious, then you’ll have a good time here. There’s always going to be a segment of the audience who just want the ‘80s sound or line-up, and I’m not even going to bother trying to convince you to try this if that is you, but for anyone who is still into the band nowadays but was just worrying if they might be over-relying on a formula or running out of ideas, I can reassure you this album is just as good as the last few, but not afraid to try new things and cover a bit more creative ground.
I went to go see Anthrax (With Municipal Waste & Sworn Enemy) live last night in Bristol at the O2 Academy on Thursday 06/10/2022. I am always a bit dodgy about going to concerts in Bristol. I utterly hate driving there, the roads are very illogical, poorly laid out, change suddenly with little warning and generally difficult to drive on, but the drivers are incredibly competitive and aggressive, a toxic combination. It is nowhere near as pleasant to drive as Cardiff by comparison. The 02 Academy as a venue is also not as nice as the Student’s Union Great Hall / Y Plas in Cardiff, it’s a kind of weird shape and layout, the sound isn’t as good, it gets too hot and generally isn’t as good.
However, Anthrax have been one of (and sometimes even the number one) my absolute life-long favourite bands since I was old enough to shave, and yet I had never managed to catch them on a headline show yet for various financial or scheduling or logistical conflicts over the years (although did finally get to see them supporting Slayer a few years ago).
Now, I am quite reticent about going to concerts nowadays, and have skipped a great many due to the pandemic, even ones I had tickets for. However, after going to see Rammstein and not getting sick or making my family or anyone else sick, I have softened my stance a little bit. I still don’t feel comfortable going to as many as before (eg. I love Saxon live, but have recently skipped two really close and easy to get to Saxon concerts just in case, I’m not going to see Napalm Death, I’ve given BFMV a pass etc) but if it is something I feel will be special (eg. Parkway Drive) my new attitude is I will sometimes risk it. For me, a headline Anthrax show, celebrating the band’s 40th Anniversary, that has been getting rave reviews and the setlist for which is nothing but the absolute best songs, more than qualifies as something special.
After navigating through the stressful streets of Bristol, panic-stricken and on the verge of pissing myself, I finally made it to the venue. Hmm… strange. I arrived late after doors were open and it sounded like the first band were already on, and there was still a 20 minute queue to get in. At Parkway I arrived earlier, at a bigger venue, I still waltzed right in in one fluid motion without queuing. This time it was busy. Well, it turns out the show completely sold out. I thought shows don’t sell out anymore, ever since the pandemic, but apparently things are getting more back to normal now.
I found a relatively nice spot to stand where I could see well enough and wasn’t in too many people’s way and settled in for the night. I caught a few songs from Sworn Enemy. They were quite enjoyable, it was quite aggressive beatdown-heavy metalcore. They were like a heavier, more blunt Hatebreed. The final song was a bit too repetitive for my tastes, but they made up for that by splicing in parts of Pantera’s Domination (or at least I think they spliced in parts, maybe they just wrote a similar part and ripped them off?). A nice little warm up.
The next band up were Richmond Virgina’s Crossover Thrash revivalists, Municipal Waste. I am a fan of Muni-Waste. I own about three quarters of their albums and do enjoy them quite a bit, but I am not a diehard fan where I know every word to every song. Before tonight, I’d probably say “I wouldn’t go to see them on their own, but I like them” but it was an absolutely great set and I might revise that idea now. They played a lot from their The Art Of Partying album which is probably their most famous and definitely the one I know the best, so I could sing along with quite a few choruses etc and join in with the chanting sections without feeling disingenuous. They were really energetic and attention grabbing, they commanded a lot of crowd-surfing and circle pits (although old man at heart that I am, I was glad to be standing out of range of any of it – nice to see, but please don’t touch me!). The singer was quite humorous on stage, but without being gimmicky. The real star of the show however was their drummer. I never realised on record just how incredibly tight and precise he is, nor how complex some of the songs are. I mean, Municipal Waste largely have a set style, and stick to it relatively closely most of the time, and I am not trying to make it sound like they are Dream Theater or something, but for a band who make their name on party-Thrash anthems or Crossover blasts of 1-2 minute rage, there is a surprising amount of depth and nuance to the drumming and song structures, and the speed he can play at whilst maintaining control of every stick-hit is very impressive when you see it with your own eyes from just a few meters’ distance.
The highlight of their set was the closer, arguably their most popular song, and the track I would recommend to any newcomer: “Born To Party” – it’s the one that has that super-catchy “Municipal Waste are gonna fuck you up! Municipal Waste are gonna fuck you up! Municipal Waste are gonna fuck you up!” hook in it. (Alright, that might sound dumb out of context, but on the album its so much fun). When that hook came in live, it seemed to me as though everyone in the building was smiling like it was their birthday. Joyous. For such a stupid sentence, it is such a killer hook. On the record it comes in alongside the sound of a beer can opening and if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about how it is meant to make you feel, nothing will.
After a very enjoyable set from the modern Thrash band, it was time for one of the true forefathers of the genre. When Anthrax took the stage, in this ludicrously packed sweatbox, a wave of euphoria came over me. There was a short video before they actually came on, where various celebrities praised them on making it to 40 years or explained why they were important / influential / good etc, then they appeared in silhouette backlit against the video screen and it was so fucking cool. Sometimes you don’t need a 20 foot sea-serpent or a metric tonne of pyro – sometimes you just have to look fucking cool, and Anthrax looked like legends.
The setlist was nothing short of giving the people exactly what they wanted. No real surprises so to speak. All the best songs (more or less) off the 80s albums. The only deviation from that was the sing-along generator “Only” from the Bush era and the fallen-rockstar (eg. Dio) tribute song “In The End” from Joey Belladonna’s reunion album Worship Music. A huge part of it was just the most memorable songs from Among The Living and Spreading The Disease… and since they are two of my favourite albums of all time, you’ll hear no complaints from me. They also did the first half of “Bring The Noise” before transitioning into a storming rendition of “Indians” with a massive crowd-participatory “woah, woah, woah-ah-oh” singalong.
Well, I say a massive crowd singalong, but to be honest, apart from maybe “In The End” not much of the evening wasn’t a massive crowd singalong. I have rarely seen a concert where such a high percentage of the crowd sang for such a high percentage of the evening. Not just choruses, but verses, bridges, obscure 2nd/3rd verses, singing along to the guitar parts etc. Nothing you don’t see a bit at every concert, but like… more, more often, and more intensely. It was like being part of a thousand-member Anthrax-themed choir.
The main members Scott, Charlie, Frankie and Joey were so full of charisma it felt like a privilege to be allowed to be there. Dan Spitz or Rob Caggiano aren’t in the band anymore, so filling that spot was ex-Shadow’s Fall guitarist Jon Donais. I always liked Shadow’s Fall, and he can play the songs, but he is not an icon like the other members, and he just stayed in place for most of the evening, quietly getting the job done without taking up much limelight, possibly out of respect for the whole 40-year celebration thing. As an audience member, I spent about 90% of the evening just fixedly staring at drummer Charlie Benante. Anyone who knows me in person has been subjected to me mooning over Charlie Benante with hearts in my eyes, and I am sure anyone reading this blog more than once has probably read it at least 5 times too, but just to reiterate – that man is one of the best drummers in the game. I utterly love the way he plays.
Last time I saw them, I was lower down and further away, so this time I could really see every hit of every single drum or cymbal, and to me that is worth the price of the ticket, worth the stressful commute, worth being absolutely shattered at work all day today, and moreso than “worth it” – it is a memory I’ll take to my grave.
There’s been a lot of shit-talking on the internet and social media in the last 15-years with people poo-pooing Joey Belladonna and his legacy, but to me he is one of Metal’s most memorable vocalists, and I’ve never agreed with the anti-Joey sentiment out there online. However, I had heard on a few podcasts I trust who like him on records, that he wasn’t always good live, especially in the modern era – but I can happily confirm he was utterly excellent live in my opinion. Not all singers can still pull it off live when they reach a certain vintage, but I thought Joey was the absolute business last night!
Scott Ian as always is just spellbinding. I’ve talked at length before about “Scott Ian’s Wrist” and it was out in full force last night.
The sound was pretty good (painfully loud, but I guess that’s a redundant complaint at a Thrash show) and the stage was presented well with various banners etc. The light show was well designed, and various spots or strobes highlighted specific memorable moments (like a key drumfill, for example that weird super quick bit in “Caught In A Mosh” before the “Why don’t you listen when I try to talk to you” verse comes in). Visually, it looks pretty similar to their XL 40 Years livestream.
Luckily, due to the specifics of the one-way-system and the lateness of the hour resulting in much fewer cars on the road, the drive back home was about 40-minutes quicker and immeasurably less complicated, so that was nice too when I was tired, sweaty, hoarse-throated and ready for bed.
I had an absolute whale of a time, the band where on tip-top form (as a comparison point, they were better here in 2022 than they were on either the “Alive 2” DVD or on the “Big Four” DVD) and if you in anyway like the band, I really urge you to check them out on this tour.
I went to go see Parkway Drive (with While She Sleeps and Lorna Shore supporting) in Cardiff last night, at the Motorpoint Arena, on Monday 3rd October 2022. To say I was hyped up for this would be an understatement. Parkway Drive are routinely called on podcasts and magazines and websites etc “the best live band of their generation” and the last time I saw them is pretty much the single best concert I’ve ever been to. One of their albums (Ire) was my album of the decade (the entire decade) and we are fresh in the hype cycle for their new record so I had Parkway on the brain this month anyway so excellent timing.
After work, travel, parking and finding a bathroom, I got to the gig in time for the opening band, Lorna Shore’s first song. I had heard good things about them online, but after this concert I can safely say they are not my cup of tea. Their singer has an excellent voice (very Randy Blythe live) but they have no memorable songs. It was technical, impressive, but utterly unmoving.
A band to appreciate rather than enjoy. It didn’t help that their music is a bit too extreme for a big echoey arena, they would have sounded much better on a club stage. They also didn’t have the stage presence or show for a big stage and the sound mix was utterly terrible (curse of the opening act). I did see quite a few people in their merch, so they must have their own fans, but I wasn’t converted tonight.
Next came the British Melodic Metalcore band While She Sleeps. I had heard of this band for years and years, ever since The North Stands For Nothing was raved about on the old Metal Hammer Podcast many years ago, and have heard hype for all their album releases and major UK festival appearances and steps up in size over the years, but never actually heard a second of their music myself until tonight. It was very entertaining. If you like Architects, Enter Shikari or BMTH you’d probably enjoy them. They don’t sound exactly like any of those bands, but I think their audience would cross over quite a bit. They were very bouncy, energetic, poppy in places, there was a lot of electronics, and their light show was very colourful.
It was a bright, loud, youthful, party, with electronics and lots of clapping and singing along. The singer got in the crowd and sang a song whilst crowd-surfing. Even though I didn’t really know their music, and am not sure if I would buy any, I had a good time and can recognise that objectively they are a very good live band. If you do like them and yet haven’t seen them live yet, you’re definitely missing out.
Finally, the main even took the stage. They didn’t just repeat the same stage set up and spectacle as last time. The stage was covered in spikes (Maybe military “dragon’s teeth” ?), there was a big screen at the back that projected cool imagery like rotting trees, creepy bell towers and a mountain pass “opening,” on top of some of the cool stuff they did last time like the robed figures carrying torches, the boatloads of pyro, the sparks and explosions etc. (Shame about no flaming spinning drumkit though, that is entertainment gold).
As a spectacle, Parkway Drive do live concerts as well as any major “must see” live band. I’ve seen Rammstein now and didn’t think they did “show” as well as Parkway. Slipknot, Tool, Ghost, Alice Cooper, none of them were as well-designed, aesthetically pleasing and sheer smile-inducing as Parkway. (To get an idea, go on youtube and look up “Parkway Drive – Crushed Live at Bloodstock 2019” – and that’s only the flames not even the rest of it). They just look incredible on stage.
But, even on an empty, unlit, no-spectacle stage, Parkway Drive would still have been one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen due to the sheer power, presence and character of the performance. Winston McCall is the absolute best frontman in music right now in my personal opinion. No one is more commanding, endearing and captivating on a stage. He has such a gravitas, class and spirit that is utterly spell binding. Other people can hammer their arms or punch the floor, or stand in silhouette, but when Winston does it, you feel like something important and life changing is happening. He is just utterly magnetic and incandescent.
The band also all get spotlights for key guitar solos (that massive November Rain style mountain top guitar solo I mentioned on the title track for the new album for example) or drum fills or bass grooves. On a few songs a string section came out and really rocked out, thrashing around, headbanging and getting really into it. The energy was electric, the magic was palpable. Jeff is an absolute guitar hero nowadays and Ben’s drums are utterly thunderous (especially when he rides the floor tom, like the verses to “Prey”), you feel like you are watching absolute masters of the craft.
The setlist was great, four songs each from the three newest albums (meaning four songs from the peerless Ire album) plus a song each from the three albums before that. The songs chosen were the ones that demand the most crowd singalong or clapping or jumping. It was very cleverly chosen to make the most audience participation possible. Looking at the setlist, there may be songs you like more on record, but they clearly know what they need to get a crowd in a frenzy, singing along to every guitar line like south American Iron Maiden fans. There were so many little memorable moments I wouldn’t even want to write them all down, but one of my favourites the guitarists running around Winston in a circle when he was asking the crowd for circle pits.
The sound/mix was great, the heavy parts sounding massive and the guitar leads were clear, the drums were prominent and you could hear every word of the vocals. It felt bigger than a typical concert, it was mixed to feel cinematic, which I guess aligns with the dark arty video screens and hooded monks on stage etc.
Great sound, great songs, great performance, great spectacle, absolutely great all around. “I recommend you go see them” is the understatement of the year. If I could only see one band live ever again, I’d pick Parkway Drive. Big words, but not hyperbole. I’m dead level-headed serious!