Archive for the ‘Music Reviews’ Category

Seattle’s Metal Church are an interesting band, hard to place. They can sound like a mixture between (fellow Seattle band) Queensryche and early Savatage at times, basically writing Thrash Metal at other times and writing big ‘80s Power Ballads at other times.

The previous album was a bit more serious and proggy. The one before that was their thrashiest of the early records and the one after this goes a bit stripped down. They cover a lot of ground, but I like all of their solid and diverse first five albums more or less equally.

Well, with one exception. Their fourth album, 1991’s The Human Factor is by far and away my favourite. This album is an absolute stand out. I don’t know what happened here, if it is the production, the song writing, or the performance, but this album just utterly smokes.

The album is consistent from beginning to end in a way that makes it hard to choose highlights. There is the ridiculously catchy hard rock single ‘Date With Poverty’ with memorable guitar hooks, there is the furious blood pumping Thrash attack of ‘The Final Word,’ ‘The Fight Song’ and ‘Flee From Reality.’ The opener ‘Human Factor’ has the same confidence of Symbol Of Salvation era Armored Saint.

Lyrically the album is really interesting too. ‘In Mourning’ is similar to Sacred Reich’s ‘Who’s To Blame?’ in the Metal-doesn’t-cause-suicide theme. ‘The Final Word’ seems to be a patriotic song about the good sides of America, ‘Date With Poverty’ is a socially aware track.

Musically, the album is utterly bombastic. The Marshall/Wells guitar team fill the album with a barrage of riffs and solos. The Erickson/Arrington rhythm section is on point. But the real star here are Mike Howe’s incredible vocals. The man has ‘some serious lungs on him’ as they say, an utter superstar vocal performance that elevates the record far above the competition. I mean as much as I have been big-ing up the album’s heavier moments, on ‘Agent Green’ (which seems to be an attempt to improve upon the popular ‘Watch The Children Play’ from the previous album) he sounds almost like Geddy Lee at times.

Overall; this album is great album in every way. It sounds great. The songs are great and the performances are particularly great. I would absolutely recommend this to any fan of Hard Rock, Metal.

If their astoundingly good breakthrough album New Wave was called a sell out, then than was nothing compared to its follow-up, 2011’s White Crosses album. Singer Laura Jane Grace describes the backlash brilliantly in the autobiography Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout.

It was the band’s last album before their seminal, momentous, once-in-a-generation masterpiece Transgender Dysphoria Blues. In the band’s catalogue it has a really distinctive style. I mean, no two Against Me! albums sound much alike anyway, but even taking that into account, this is even more different yet again. Its unarguably their most commercial release to date. Its unarguably their cleanest album to date. It is their most radio friendly effort to date. Its kind of a grower in places. But don’t ever let anyone tell you that it isn’t fantastic.

One of the best songs I think I’ve ever heard by any artist comes from this record (‘Because Of The Shame’ …a really touching and emotional songs in the band’s already weighty cannon, describing coming back to town for the funeral of someone you slept with, and all the difficult emotions seeing them and their family). As well as being interesting lyrically however; it is outrageously catchy and memorable musically. It has that same mega-anthemic feel as someone like The Foo Fighter’s biggest songs but with so much more oomph and edge.

Not that the album is a one trick pony either. Single ‘I Was A Teenage Anarchist’ is a real ballsy ode to the bands oh-so-punk past, and how they aren’t that band anymore much to the chagrin of the punker-than-thou original fans. Lines like ‘’I was a teenage Anarchist but the politics were too convenient’’ and ‘’the revolution was a lie’’ are so refreshing to hear in music’s don’t-you-dare-sell-out culture.  Once again, I’m talking a bit too much about the lyrics, but it is one real bad ass rock song that you can hum all day long and gets stuck in your head for days. The fun surf-rock tone of the guitar solo and the breathy opening non-lyrical ‘ah ha ha ah ah, ha haha’ noises are real highlights.

Its not all anthemic rockers either, there’s the harmonica and acoustic guitar woozy vibes of ‘Bob Dylan Dream’ (a song about exactly what you think its about) that to me is as infinitely sing-able as something like Country Roads or Dirty Old Town are to the drunken masses. ‘Ache With Me’ is similarly quiet but more contemplative and sad sounding.

The rhythmic ‘Bamboo Bones’ is so bouncy and fun, with excellent drumming and a bigger chorus than any of the genre’s biggest bands. When the singer lets out the wounded bellow of ‘’What God doesn’t give to you, you’ve got to go and get for yourself’’ you can hear so many different shades of emotion I want to give it some kind of award. How the hell this song isn’t a global mega hit like Queen’s ‘Somebody To Love’ I’ll never know.

Its pointless sitting here pointing out highlights, because every song is great. Rapid Decompression and One By One and Bitter Divisions are all melodic but up tempos rockers that would all be the best song on a lesser band’s album. Suffocation, Spanish Moss and Lehigh Acres are all catchy as hell with interesting lyrics. The only song I didn’t love right away was the title track, but that’s grown on me a lot over time too.

Overall; a superb album, as chocked full of memorable moments as an average band’s greatest hits collection. Its their least punk and their most commercial release. But as long as the songs are this catchy, then who the hell cares? (Well, the punker than thou crowd cared, as we discussed above, but for everyone else, just lay back and let the good tunes wash over you).

I remember when Baroness first broke out, they were quite sludgy and while not inaccessible, certainly not quite radio-friendly either. Early albums like Red Album and Blue Record mixed Thin Lizzy clean guitar with thick stoner-sludge and swampy vocals. I remember also, when they dropped their double album ‘Yellow And Green’ and they went from a band I liked a bit due to a slight Mastodon similarity, to a band I really cared about and actively followed.

To date, I still think of Yellow & Green as an utter masterpiece and that it was one of the best albums by anyone I care about to be released that year. Its when the band really stepped out of any other band’s shadows or any one subgenre’s constraints and just went everywhere they wanted all at once…. The follow up Purple was near as good, trying (and succeeding) to condense the sprawling mix of styles, tempos and timbres of the very diverse double album into one single straight-up rock record with flavours from everything the band had done before but a focus on being succinct and accessible (without sounding too far from their more metallic roots of course).

With their new album, Gold & Grey, the band are leaning a bit back more into Yellow & Green’s experimental territories. There is a focus on diversity here. Succinct is not a word I’d use to describe this. This album seems to be reveling in the freedom to do everything and anything. ‘Seasons’ for example has spidery guitar lines that wouldn’t feel out of place on a King Crimson album, mixed with a strange lo-fi noisy production job that makes it sound like some Sonic Youth style art rock piece, but then there are also blast-beats in their briefly to bring back the metal. Sometimes it goes full prog, with ‘Sevens’ sounding like mid period Camel. ‘Broken Halo’ has some lovely bridges that I can see crowds loving when this material is toured live, but goes a bit Yes during the solo.  

There are also quite a few brief quiet, sombre, slow numbers across the album’s 17-track duration. ‘Blankets of Ash’ for example is a nice sounding acoustic guitar interlude over some creepy foreboding soundscape. ‘Crooked Mile’ is a jangly acoustic number that sounds more like an intro than a full blown tune of its own. ‘Assault On East Falls’ sounds like the music from a dream sequence in a Japanse videogame.

You can hear a bit more Radiohead and a bit less Red Fang in the DNA at times I guess (the intro to ‘Tourniquet’ or for example), but that being said there are still enough big fat choruses and catchy hooks to keep the sing-along feel of Purple. The album opener ‘Front Toward Enemy’ for example is just a foot down melodic rocker to get the blood pumping. The chorus to the single ‘Throw Me An Anchor’ is almost as catchy as something like ‘Take My Bones Away’ or ‘Shock Me’ from previous albums. ‘I’ll Do Anything’ sounds like it could be used to advertise the Olympics. Its like if Bon Iver took happy pills and wanted to inspire people to action.

Singer John Dyer Baizley’s rich voice really sets this band apart from the crowd, and when he really leans into the big melodies, it is proper 360 degree helicopter shots on a cliffside stuff. He has such a powerful and evocative voice that can make any line sound immensely meaningful and majestic.  

Considering the line-up change between albums, it still sounds totally like Baroness. You may not have had female backing vocals back on Blue Record but the way John and Gina’s vocals blend and mesh together just sound right.

The album isn’t without its flaws however. The production seems to be quite controversial based on all people I’ve seen complaining on social media. It is also a bit tough to swallow in one go, sitting somewhere between standard and double album length. (Its only an hour, but with 17 tracks there is a lot of different moods, directions and sounds to digest and so it takes up more brainpower than your typical 10-14 track album. If you just wanted an album of ‘Shock Me’ clones, something like ‘Can Oscura’ might be a bit off-putting for example). You couldn’t just slap this on in the background once and love it forever, it’s a grower that you’ve got to give a lot of attention to. That being said, these are minor flaws at the most. I didn’t really consider the production notable until it was pointed out to me by others, and usually an album being a grower at the start leads to an album you’re still loving years later rather than an album that would lose its flavour as fast as chewing gum if it popped right away.

Maybe if you were only into the band for the heaviness of the early days, this album won’t suit you. If you liked the last two albums though, this album is very much going to be right up your street. Its softer, proggier and more considered than it is bludgeoning and meaty. It’s a bit more ponderous than direct and rocking. But it is definitely worth checking out, sticking on repeat and loosing yourself in. It’s an odyssey of new worlds to glimpse, it’s a journey to get lost on. You might not want to head-bang, but you’ll never be bored.

I went to go see Clutch live at Cardiff Great Hall Sunday 16th June 2019. It was my first concert since the birth of my son, I didn’t want to be away from him too long, so skipped the opening act and got their late.

The support band I did manage to see was Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons; a band with Phil Campbell from Motorhead and three of his sons (and then a singer). They were quite decent, playing mixed tempo rock songs. A few speedy numbers, a few mid-paced rockers and one fun slow song with a stoner rock vibe. They also covered ‘Born To Raise Hell’ and ‘Ace Of Spades.’ This marks the second time I’ve seen a Motorhead member play Ace Of Spades with a different band (I saw Fast Eddie Clarke supporting Saxon previously). I kind of feel bad but like when Diamond Head played ‘Am I Evil?’ versus new songs, the audience reaction was so much more enthusiastic for the Motorhead tunes versus the origional tunes, as was my own. Not being disrespectful, but Motohead tunes are Motorhead tunes. Still, I liked their own material fair enough too, it was a fun warm up and I don’t have anything to say about the band. I feel they would really suit touring with Orange Goblin.

Usually at a gig in the long wait between bands I have no-one to talk to, but this time my brother wanted to see Clutch too, so I had someone to speculate on setlists with a discuss the new album and favourite songs with during the wait.

Because its Clutch, not someone violent and heavy, I decided to stay at the back and just nod along having a good time rather than get into the thick of it. This venue is good in that you can see the band just as well from the back wall behind the sound desk as you can in the middle of the room. I did the same thing for Mastodon the first time I was at this venue, just sit back and watch the band without getting too sweaty.

Clutch are one of those bands that literally do not play the same set two nights in the row, and any night you can hear different songs. Sometimes they even don’t play their most well known songs. Some days they play mostly new stuff, some times they play mostly old stuff, some times anything can happen. The setlist yesterday was an eclectic grab bag of all eras. They opened with a deep cut off their self titled ‘90s classic sophomore album. ‘Escape From The Prison Planet.’ They played a few tracks off their furious and outrageously fun modern album, Psychic Warfare, They played a respectable amount of material from their new album, they dropped in ‘Red Horse Rainbows’ from Pure Rock Fury for the first time since 2011, and even played some rare material like ‘Willie Nelson’ from their B Sides album and the really early track ‘Passive Restraints.’

Luckily, even amongst the eclecticism they got to play what I feel is their most well known song (I may be wrong, they’re not exactly a one hit wonder) ‘The Mob Goes Wild’ which is one of my favourite songs by anyone, ever, of all time. Seeing it live is not a guarantee. Its not like Metallica and Enter Sandman where you know its going to be there, so it was very fun to get to see it once again. Also; they played my favourite song from the new album, the outrageously fun ‘How To Shake Hands.’ My throat is still sore from how loud I sang along to ‘’First thing that I’m gonna do is go for a ride on a UFO.’’ I am sure I’m not the only one either, the room utterly loved it, the energy in the crowd was immense.

Other highlights include a bouncy rendition of ‘Ghoul Wrangler’ with its amusing pest-control-against-lawyers lyrics,  (any band can make a lawyers-are-ghouls comparison, but only Clutch are creative enough to have a snowy barn infested with them as the owner gets his pest control business certified and bonded), an interesting take on blues classic ‘Evil’ (also covered by Monster Magnet) and the title track from Psychic Warfare, which I never previously realised was a massive hit, but which the crowd utterly salivated over. The volume of the singalongs was extra loud on that one!

The performance from the band was great. The solos and fills were superb. The vocals so character-filled and colourful. The gesturing and acting out of the lyrics live by singer Neil Fallon so enthusiastic and powerful. The guitar tone was often better than the albums.  The mix was pretty perfect with nothing inaudible and nothing over-loud.

It was also just so fun to turn around every few seconds and share with other fans some golden gem of a lyric, drum fill or guitar part. You’d lock eyes with someone else air-guitaring the intro to ‘Electric Worry’ or air drumming the floor tom parts to ‘Gimmie The Keys’ or singing with a grin on their face countless memorable lyrics.

‘Just a glass of water and a ham sandwich,’ or ‘Everybody move to Canada,’ or ‘Weaponized Funk,’ or ‘He said I have seen them, I said ok its yours!’ and so on and so on. Clutch songs and albums are absolutely littered with enough memorable moments to fill a greatest hits album of most bands. Having a whole concert full of them is just joyous.

I had an uproariously good time, the band were fantastic, (and I didn’t have to travel half way around the country away from the baby). I could have happily wathced them play two more hours and still not heard all I wanted to hear from them. Brilliant band, brillaint night.

I cannot recommend seeing Clutch live highly enough. The band write superb music, they play it brilliantly live and the setlist is a roulette where anything can happen, but its always good.  

I have been an Arctic Monkeys fan for a fairly long time. Basically, since the same month the debut album dropped. I have bought all their early singles and like all the B-Sides and deep cuts as much as the fan favourite stuff. I still liked the more controversial moments like their Humbug album and the trippy B-sides from the Suck It And See era singles.

Basically; I am not some casual fan who just cares about the big hits. Coming into this record, the band have basically done no wrong.

…And then we come to this album. To the moon. The Tranquillity Base to be specific. Now, I am not a fan of negative reviews. You may have noticed reading this blog, there are ‘its good’ and ‘its average’ reviews in abundance, but not many, if any ‘what a pile of shit’ reviews. I am very much of the ‘’If you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all’’ approach to reviews. That being said, this album is very possibly the single worst album I have heard by a good band in a long time.

Don’t take this for me just not liking the band’s change of direction. This album is a bit progressive, a bit psychedelic, a bit dreamy, and very low key. As I said though, I like the band doing all sorts of things. Its not like ‘’Your So Dark’’ from the last album’s B-Sides or ‘’Fire Side’’ from the last album didn’t work with the band being low key. Its not as if ‘’Pretty Visitors’’ and ‘’The Jeweller’s Hands’’ from Humbug didn’t work with the band being a bit Psychedelic. Its not as if I don’t like me a bit of prog now and again or the general sound of this album (sometimes I can pick up little flavours of Caravan here and there).

Its not even as if the theme of a hotel and casino on the moon, and songs from the perspective of different staff and visitors is too confusing or off-putting.  Just look at how many Mastodon, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd, Queensryche or Coheed & Cambria albums I own to know I am a big fan of concept albums.

No; the problem with this album isn’t the direction or the concept. Its not that it is a departure from previous styles. Its not that it is for serious fans only. The fan is that the songs are uniformly boring. The material uninspiring. The whole album is one-paced, uninteresting and forgettable. It is a samey sludge of un-music that is so dreadfully dull it may as well not exist. If you don’t have laser-beam focus on it you can’t tell when one song ends and the other begins (my wife has been heard to remark ‘’Is this still the same song?!’’ three songs later).

Okay, in fairness; When you do focus as hard as you can, its not all bad… You can hear some flashes of attempted hooks. For example, in ‘Star Treatment’ there is a line that goes ‘’who you gonna call, the Martini-police?’’ that is musically catchy (even if the lyric itself is a bit smug and pretentious). The bit on the title track where he says the title of the album is also good. The single ‘Four Out Of Five’ is kind of decent all the way through and is somewhat reminiscent of their better single from Humbug, ‘Cornerstone.’

But really; you shouldn’t have to dig so deep to apologetically try and find some small sliver of likeability. Compare that to their debut album, where it is literally as difficult to find something NOT to like as it is to name great moments from here, and you can see by just how far this once great band has missed the mark.

How do we explain this terrible dirge of an album? Maybe this album was a response to the huge success of the previous album AM. Maybe the band were sick of playing bangers like ‘Arabella’ for years on end and wanted to do something deeper. Maybe the band have always wanted to make this album and are only now in a position to risk it with near universal acclaim for a decade to buoy their confidence. Maybe they just took a bunch of drugs after hanging around Josh Homme too long and decided to get trippy. Who knows?

All I know is I have listened to this album so many more times than it deserved, constantly trying to get it to ‘click.’ Constantly trying to discovery its hidden depths. Constantly trying to find the good in it. I have tried across several months, in different contexts, with different kinds of music before and after, just wanting something good to happen.

The only thing that happened is that I finally felt allowed to give up on it. This is not a deep a profound work. This is not a slow burn. This is not a grower. This is not even one for hardcore fans only. This is, unfortunately, as much as it goes against my instincts to say so… a pile of shit.

2007’s New Wave is the fourth full-length studio album by Florida Punk band Against Me! It was produced by Butch Vig (Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, AFI), and saw the band get both a huge boost in audience and a huge backlash from their early fans. The story of it is really interesting, and I’d recommend reading their singer Laura Jane Grace’s autobiography, ‘’Tranny.’’

I haven’t been with the band since the beginning, in fact, I read the aforementioned autobiography first based upon reputation alone and worked backwards, so I am completely immune to all this backlash, and to my ears, this album is not only a stone cold, unarguable classic but also, in the short time I have had with it, one of my absolute favourite albums I have heard by any band, no caveats. That is huge praise from me, becuase I usually have a thousand caveats to every recomendation and like to catagorise things to death.

The lyrics are absolutely phenomenal. So clever, biting, insightful, and interesting …not to mention catchy) and are such a good mixture of personal, political and punk. There are pre-coming out lyrics about the conflicted feelings about identity, there are Bush era political lyrics about America’s place in the world and there are punk perspective lyrics about the music industry. Regardless of what they’re about, the way they’re written, the way they flow and are delivered is just fantastic.

Then there’s the songs; from the ramshackle punk road trip feel of ‘’Americans Abroad’’ to the almost Franz Ferdinand vibes of the insanely catchy ‘’Up The Cuts’’ to the trippy and loose ‘’The Ocean’’ there is a real diverse range of style explored. The quality of the songs is outstanding, each setting out to do something different and each absolutely nailing it.

I don’t know if it is the passion, the production or the way they were penned, but almost every song on this is an absolute 10/10.  The album feels more like a greatest hits compilation than a single album. ‘’White People For Peace’’ is so explosive, ‘’Piss And Vinegar’’ is so fun and danceable, and the famous ‘’Thrash Unreal’’ is so emotional (especially in hindsight after its unintentional sister song ‘’Because Of The Shame’’ was released).

I am no writer, so I have a very limited way of recommending this album that really doesn’t do it justice. Masterpiece, Classic, Genius, these words all seem too generic and inaccurate to describe how good this record is and how highly I’d recommend it to you, (”but I just can’t help but think that there’s comparison.”) I wouldn’t even do a ”for fans of…’ becuase I just purely recomend it to everyone. No caveats.

2018’s Unheavenly Creatures, (or to give it its full title ‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’) is modern prog masters Coheed And Cambria’s  9th full-length studio album. It follows up from their 2015 record The Color Before The Sun, which departed from their Amory Wars concept album series, and Unheavenly Creatures sees the band return once more to their sci-fi comic book concept.

Don’t worry if you haven’t been following the story, which is already out of order with various prequels and side stories, as the songs are that catchy anyway you don’t have to follow the story as closely as some other concept albums. It’s a nice touch if you are paying attention, but the band have always been more than just a story, they aren’t a gimmick band and the music, vocals and sound have always been just as noteworthy as the concept.

Musically; The Color Before The Sun was also a bit of an evolution which saw some new territories covered, with big stadium rock riffs and bubblegum melodies. Unheavenly Creatures incorporates parts of that, while also leaning more on the style the band were going for on the two Good Apollo albums from 2005 and 2007.

The vocals, the production and lead guitars are all superb and continue the long tradition of interesting and memorable songs that are easy on the ear, but come across as progressive when you look at them more closely. The band have all the hooks of the catchiest pop punk bands, all the solos of the catchiest NWOBHM guitar masters and an ear for production that always makes them sound humongous. This album is no exception. Just listen to the powerful opener ‘The Dark Sentencer,’ when Claudio sings ‘‘Kiss your lover with that filthy mouth you fucking monster’’ you just want to scream along with it like you’re on top of a cliff in the November Rain video.

That being said, its not an instant album, in fact it is 79 minutes long, so there is quite a lot to get through and it can take a lot of spins to really sink your teeth in to, but there is a lot to love if you are willing to give it the time.

For a band who, in my opinion, haven’t released a bad album yet, it can be quite hard to make a recommendation to an outsider. That being said, the general public would seem to suggest Year Of The Black Rainbow and The Afterman Descension from 2010 and 2013 respectively are the band’s least impactful works, whereas the public would advise In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth 3 and the lengthily titled Good Apollo, Tonight I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness (commonly just called ‘4’ or ‘Good Apollo’ for ease)  are the ones to check out first… at this point I can’t really imagine not loving a Coheed album, but just in case, I would say don’t pick this as your first one. Pick up 3, 4 and Afterman Ascension at a minimum before getting this one.    

Once you are an established fan though; this is not an album you want to miss. Some of these choruses will bounce around your head for days. Some of the guitar lines are as memorable as the average band’s choruses. The first four songs alone have more memorable moments than most albums.  In fact, take any four songs in a row, the first four, the last four, any four in between. Even the slower moments like ‘Queen Of The Dark’ pop on this. If you want to dip your toes in, some of the highlights include ‘True Ugly,’ ‘All On Fire,’ ‘Toys,’ and ‘Unheavenly Creatures.’