GUNS 'N' ROSES' globe-spanning “Not In This Lifetime” tour will have finally come to an end in 2018, after more than two years of activity, having performed to over 4 MILLION people worldwide. For all of that time it’s been one of the most exciting things happening in rock music in recent memory, despite the fact that it’s been about 30 years since the height of the bands popularity. Excitement aside though, was the tour a fully-fledged success? Was it executed as well as possible for a mega rock revival? Having put together a review of sorts; taking into account the comeback’s roll-out, other reviews of specific shows, and the trajectory the whole journey established, we’ll take it point by point and find out whether or not these guns were firing blanks, or if these roses were once again in full bloom...Maryland's John Jameson elaborates.
The band’s revival officially kicked off at COACHELLA in 2016, as the group sought successfully to shock fans by showing off the reunited duo of AXL ROSE and SLASH. That alone was enough to create a frenzy, who would have ever thought it possible?But it did draw plenty of attention to the show. As for the actual quality of the show, reviews were mixed. Some suggested that nostalgia carried the day, and that while the performance lacked some sort of, trademark injury, it was all-in-all a good listening experience. Others (Such as The San Diego Union Tribune) were more critical, suggesting that the band had aged and grown tame to a degree that made them less than themselves. Oddly, the LACK of dysfunctional nonsense that once defined the band was cited as a negative. All in all we’d say that given the reasonable level of expectation, it all went well - even if it wasn’t as wonderful as it could have been. Essentially, while lacking to some degree, it was still very welcome. [Rating: Just Okay]
Back-tracking from the actual debut show at Coachella, it’s worth recalling any build-up to the Guns N’ Roses reunion too - even though there was in this case practically none. The closest thing there was to a hint or clue, came in the form of an ambiguous, seemingly random highlight reel played as a cinema trailer of sorts in December of 2015. Those paying VERY close attention to all things G'N'R may also have noticed a band-based casino slot game becoming popular around this time as well, though it’s unclear if this was a direct publicity effort from the band. Online slot sites these days tap into all sorts of themes, such that the most fun and lucrative thing about them is the variety. In this vein, G'N'R 'headlined' a game, as did MOTORHEAD and JIMI HENDRIX, and intentionally or not, this may too have played into revving up excitement about the band. However, there was very little direct or overt build-up. As successful as the tour has been, it may have been even more exciting with some kind of anticipatory energy. [Rating: Poor]
This is the broadest category, and the one that matters most, though also the simplest to comment on. As with any band in any tour, Guns N’ Roses by all accounts had varying levels of energy from one night to the next throughout this tour. You can easily dig up reviews of specific shows lamenting the group’s lack of enthusiasm, as well as some praising G'N'R for being as good as ever. The truth of the matter is that it’s largely a matter of perspective. There are even divergent reports about the economics of the show. You may read that the shows aren’t selling out, for instance, but some of this is explained away by the fact that limited seats were available in lots of the larger venues, and the argument is offset by the fact that the show was by most any numerical degree an enormous success. Ultimately, what happened is that an aging, past-its-prime rock group took to the road for two-plus years and rocked concert venues around the world. OF COURSE they weren’t AS good as they were once upon a time. But they were still good. [Rating: As Good As Can Be Expected]
It’s reasonable to argue that the most successful aspect of the “Not In This Lifetime” tour will in the end have been the anticipation it built up for future endeavors. While build-up for the tour itself may have been lacking, Guns N’ Roses has now set the stage for any subsequent album releases or additional tours it may be planning. The band has been fairly tight-lipped about future plans to this point, but it doesn’t take a psychic to guess that a new album will almost certainly be released in due time. And because of these last two years, there will be untold millions of fans ready to send it to the top of the charts the moment it comes out. So as for establishing potential, there’s really nothing negative to say. [Rating: Perfect]
When it comes to the UK music scene, there’s always hot-spots…an obvious one is Camden which has more quality venues than you can shake a drum stick at…Nottingham has Rock City which is a favourite among many gig-goers…Wales too has a great history of grass roots music support, but today we’ll be looking at Southampton. With its own iconic venues such as the Guildhall and The Joiners, over the past couple of years it’s produced some top quality artists such as BURY TOMORROW and of course, CREEPER, who’ve had an almost stratospheric rise to the top of the alternative rock scene…so naturally with So’ton back on the map, we’re going to be hearing about more bands looking to make a breakthrough, which brings us to today.
Let me introduce you to CANAVAR…consisting of vocalist / guitarist Deklan Webb, guitarist Jack Bowden, bassist Rowan Rashley and drummer Toby Rashley, they bring together a chaotic blend of heavy metal and hardcore punk to create an equally commanding and confident sound; so confident in fact that they totally skipped recording an EP…no testing the water for these fuckers they dove straight into a full length album! With a name roughly translating as Monster…let’s see just how monstrous they sound on “Canavar”.
We open up with the lead single “Sacrilege” and initially we’ve got this really bouncy, up-tempo punk-rock piece; the vocals are clean though very rough around the edges giving it that traditional skater-punk vibe…but this soon descends into a more traditional metal style breakdown and a crazy solo! The classic metal approach charging through, but this only leads us into the tracks climax, foreshadowing the rest of the album…Deklan switches up his vocals and sounds almost possessed such is the change in tone, the inclusion of growls being so sudden, it’s an interesting start. “Brick By Brick” follows up and while it has certain thrash-inspired elements running through its riffs there is still a pretty prominent punk backbone here; you can hear the influence the likes of RISE AGAINST or even say, ANTI-FLAG have had musically on the 4-piece, and naturally as a result it’s quite another pacey offering.
Those same thrash elements can again be heard in “Fire Inside” which for all intents and purposes sounds like the bastard offspring of some weird METALLICA / SLAYER crossover experiment from a 6-string perspective, while vocally again it bridges the gap between hardcore punk and heavy metal, absolutely full of piss and vinegar. The main highlight however comes courtesy of “Devil’s In The Details” which initially embraces a subtle MISFITS vibe while also harbouring more modern alternative rock aspects, mirroring artists like MATCHBOOK ROMANCE and the aforementioned Creeper. The rest of the album generally fleets back and forth, hand picking certain qualities from all genres listed above…there are slower cuts like “Deadly Sins” and “Moral Compass”…then there’s the less than two-minute flurry of closing track “Ready And Willing”, and while musically they’re not reinventing the wheel or anything as such here, this is for the most part a really fun album and that’s really down to THEIR enjoyment, the band are having a fucking whale of a time making noise and it resonates. Personally I’d like to hear them focus on being a solid punk unit as it’s that area they sound strongest and more fluid musically, but overall, it’s a fine album. 
The place you grow up, the place you call home very often has an impact on your outlook on life, easily shaping who you can become, and this can ring true with certain styles of music too. Just take BLACK SABBATH for instance, out of the poverty of working class Birmingham in the late 60’s and early 70’s, they arguably crafted heavy metal as we know it today; using their surroundings and social standing to fuel their bleak brand of heavier blues rock…well this can also be said of today’s band; THE BALANCE FACTOR. Formed in Gary, Indiana, just 25 miles outside of Chicago, The Balance Factor (Consisting of vocalist John Yaney, guitarists Heath Reid and Jason Zeilstra, bassist Aaron Brown and drummer Jonas Doran) have for years been surrounded by a booming steel industry, that over time faded away through job loss, political corruption and racial segregation, as America looked to import cheaper steel, killing industrial cities such as Gary.
Very much like Ozzy and co before them however, they’ve put all this to good use and started writing music which leads us to the here and now; following on from 2016’s debut album “Here I Am”, they return with a brand new EP by the name of “Ouroboros”…perfectly summing up their situation and up-bringing with a symbolic gesture of creation born from destruction…artistically poignant, or are they just chasing their own tails? Let’s find out…The EP opens up with the imaginatively titled “Introduction” and to be honest; while I’m not a fan of intro’s generally I do appreciate the no-nonsense approach here. The minute and a half of TV static, broken channel reception and police sirens portraying a state of unrest and uncertainty; a level of chaos, as it transitions into lead single “Killafornia”…and god how I wish Arnold Schwarzenneger was a part of this. It’s a word tailor made for a Terminator parody that hopefully AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE will pick up someday. The track itself is a brilliantly rugged blend of hard rock and early 2000’s nu-metal; it's coarse production quality with a more melodic chorus combining elements that would appeal to the likes of ORGY and at points MUSHROOMHEAD; a promising start.
Follow up track “Hypochondriac” jumps straight out of that same era quite frankly with its underlying techno elements and angst-ridden style of riff-heavy rock…a little repetitive for the most part and the vocals do seem off during the chorus, but the guitar solo delivers well it has to be said, an unexpected surprise in an otherwise grating track. “Arrows In My Heart”, the longest on offer here is itself too let down by some off-putting vocals…again harking back to Orgy, they’ve opted for an almost, mechanical / filtered vocal recording but John’s no Jay Gordon I’ll say that much, he’s too off-key too often. The sudden switch then to album highlight “Die For Another Day” is very welcome, as it opens up with an almost trad-goth / post-punk guitar tone, with layers of piano giving it extra character, coupled with the chorus’ rhythmic hooks and a more pop-based vibe, it’s incredibly catchy while still retaining the raw rock elements, before closing track “Taken By Surprise” sounds like it could have easily been taken out of the “Queen Of The Damned” soundtrack, musically having similarities to “Redeemer” in places, rounding things up on a somewhat nostalgic note.
The band themselves cite influences such as NINE INCH NAILS, MARILYN MANSON and TOOL but listening to this EP we find them to be nowhere near as profound or creatively edgy, and instead we find them more closely resembling the lesser end of the Nu-metal gene pool…I mentioned Orgy but you’ve also got the likes of ADEMA and POWERMAN 5000 layered within these songs, bands that saturated a trend as opposed to setting one. Yes it’s nice to listen back fondly to that era, but to ironically paraphrase Trent Reznor, it’s just a copy of a copy of an already ridiculed genre. Silver linings, The Balance Factor are still better than the fucking X factor…
Formed in Seattle, Washington back in 1987, ALICE IN CHAINS would go on to become one of the ‘Big Four’ of the game-changer we refer to as grunge. Alongside SOUNDGARDEN, PEARL JAM and of course, NIRVANA, they pushed alternative music ever further into the mainstream and affected pop-culture in ways polar opposite to the glam rock era they oh so miserably replaced. Far more stripped back, raw and emotive; the audience could identify with them as opposed to the sheer shock value and flamboyance of glam, and what they lacked in sass, they made up for in song writing. While the movement was for the most part short lived as music and tastes evolved (And not to mention Kurt Cobain French kissing a shotgun) the more successful of these bands would continue on and 2018 see’s AIC release the brand new album “Rainier Fog”…actually only their SIXTH studio album in 30 years! Grab your umbrella’s folks…this is gonna’ be a wet one…but let’s check it out…
The album opens up with “The One You Know”…which is a blatant lie because this is the first time I’ve listened to the album and I’m not psychic! I jest…it opens up with a series of short, sharp guitar chords, repeated like some really lackluster Norman Bates parody. Seriously it just half-asses it’s way along with about as much momentum as a bout of constipation…the chorus has a decent groove and the guitar solo salvages something at least, but this a poor opener, it’s one I NOW know but also one I want to forget…moving on. The title track does at least have decent rhythm and it’s riffs do have a certain hook to them, which coupled with the tracks key changes make for a more fluid listen I’ll give it that, but what IS rainier fog? You don’t see the weather man warn you about that special rainy fog…of course it’s fucking wet otherwise it’d be smoke! It is in fact a nod to Mount Rainier, a volcano overlooking Seattle, and the aforementioned cities music scene which appropriately erupted like a volcano in the early 90’s…fitting, both then and now, as like a volcano the genre is thankfully dormant.
Further notable points on the album are sadly sparse as AIC are hardly the most energetic bunch…”Fly” opts for a far lighter approach with its melodious guitar tone and almost indie-esque post-rock feel; it’s simplicity and harmony allowing for one of the records more enjoyable listens. “Maybe” and similarly “Never Fade” do utilise far catchier choruses for the most part, the latter having a little more grit and attitude to it throughout but it hardly gets your blood pumping, and this is arguably the best track on offer here! The rest of the album sadly makes you feel not only as miserable as you do when it IS raining, but there’s a leak in your roof to boot, plus your toilet has flooded. “Drone” does exactly what it says on the tin and drones on like it’s even bored of itself…it actually musically sums up grunge in one damning swoop, utterly boring stuff this, while closing track “All I Am”, the longest track on offer, just feels completely drawn out and needlessly time consuming. I’ll tell you this much, All I am, personally, is fed up, and I’m glad this is the last track.
Now, I’ll be fair and as impartial as I can be…vocally Jerry Cantrell, as far as clean vocalists in rock and metal go, does have a distinct and iconic sound; he’s crafted the style to his own and he knows how to carry a song…likewise with the musicianship; yes there are some solid riffs utilised here and you can’t fault the band for their prowess as song writers…but there’s only so far that can go when the song’s themselves are so utterly depressing. Alice has been in chains for 30 years now and for some reason she’s still being kept alive; reasons which frankly elude me…and truth be told she’s brought nothing new or interesting to the table with this one sadly. 
Word of mouth can be a powerful tool (Crying ‘rape’ being a prime example) and it used to be the backbone of the alternative music community if you will…long before the days of the internet, you’ve heard of how rock and metal fans would have to swap mix tapes and records etc. to keep up to date with what was happening in music, relying on your good friend or source to learn who was up and coming, who was the next big thing, who just dropped a sick EP…well those days may seem like a distant memory, but word of mouth can still introduce you to some wonderful people. Take today’s band for instance; SECOND SELF.
The Cheltenham based 4-piece (Consisting of vocalist Simon Bond, guitarist Janek Davies, bassist Barny Barnfield and drummer Pablo Rodriguez) got in touch with me personally after mutual friend and 50 BELOW PROMOTIONS booker Robert Tite (He puts on some sweet gigs and I wholeheartedly encourage you to go check them out) suggested me, as they were looking for reviews. They’re preparing to release their debut self-titled EP and have kindly asked me to give it a listen…full of second self-worth or should they have second-guessed my handling of it all? Let’s find out…
The EP opens up with “Never Coming Home” and it combines a certain nostalgic, classic hard-rock approach with underlying funk-inspired qualities…it’s all about the simple groove here as the bass carries this track forward, coupled with Bond’s emotive vocal display…this sounds like they’ve taken parts of INCUBUS and merged them with the likes of IN SEARCH OF SUN for a truly bluesy opener; it’s a decent start. “Stepping Stones” goes for a similar approach in ways but it does utilise more consistent guitar melody, so while keeping in theme with the track previous we also get throwbacks to artists such as IDLEWILD from that early 2000’s post-indie scene; clean vocals and hooks but not afraid to throw a riff down where needed.
The opening to “Falling Backwards” has a more subdued feel with the relaxed drum-fill and the bubbly guitar tone, before it delves into this, angst-ridden blend of early emo and post-hardcore…a bold vocal display coupled with some passionate instrumentation allows for an enjoyable, emotional jaunt, before closing track “Eat Your Horse” goes all Tesco ready meal on your ass. Arguably the weakest track on offer, it’s here you notice most that it’s the band’s debut recording and production isn’t 100%, there are a few rough patches which will naturally improve with time but here you can feel the scruffy, demo-quality if you will…ultimately however for a first offering you can clearly hear that there’s promise here from the quartet. With just a bit of polishing you potentially have a solid blues-based hard rock unit in Second Self as instrumentally they’re on the right path, and the vocals will only improve with confidence and experience, once they’ve found their groove by the next record fingers crossed. Second Self? Maybe a case of first the worst, second the best as they say… 
German Goth-metal gods LORD OF THE LOST returned recently with their brand new studio album “Thornstar”, which came out August 3rd via Napalm Records. I had the opportunity to have a quick chat with long-time bassist Klaas Helmecke (AKA Class Grenayde) about the album, touring plans and German metal…here’s what he had to say;
Klaas, thank you so much for taking the time to have a quick chat, how are you?
“Hey Gav! Thank you for asking, me and the guys are having a great time; our new record recently hit the Official Album Charts at number 6!”
Congratulations that's awesome! Now, as one of the core members of LOTL alongside Chris, you’ve been here since back in 2007 where the band formed in Hamberg, Germany…for those newly discovering you, how did the band come to light?
“I was the first member with Chris starting the idea of the band in 2007; Chris came up with the idea to make his own music with a band formed out of friends. We always wanted to have a band together, so i was the first person to ask. We released our first record with Chris’ music in 2009… from that day on we’ve played as many shows as we can, touring our asses off and released quite a lot of records, videos and other stuff. And we never get rid of it. We love what we do!”
It’s easy to jump straight to RAMMSTEIN when people think of German metal, but Germany has always had a rich heritage in heavy music, who inspired you in those formative years and what’s the scene like in Hamburg?
“Rammstein was an inspiration for us, that’s for sure! But the inspiration didn’t only come from German music. And also not even only from Metal or Goth music. If we speak of Chris as the mastermind and main writer in the band, he got also a lot of inspiration from bands like ROXETTE, AEROSMITH and stuff like that. Talking about the German music scene, especially the Hamburg scene, we are not having so many upcoming artists these days. Rap is actually booming like all over the world and if i think of Hamburg bands i always come back to bands like HELLOWEEN, GAMA RAY and bands like that. We hope that someday people naturally name us in the same way, speaking of Hamburg bands.”
In the ten+ years you’ve been together you’ve been quite prolific it has to be said; aside from a number of EP’s, compilations and live DVD’s you’ve also just released your 6th studio album “Thornstar”, which we’ll touch on shortly…what keeps you motivated to produce and what fuels those creative juices so efficiently?
“Some people need to write to be alive. Chris is somebody like that; he’s got some sort of creative overflow, from which he can take as much creativity from as needed; that’s a blessing for all of us. And everybody else is giving their parts and knows how to complete the final product.”
Coming back to “Thornstar”, aside from being a great listen it seems to be a solid concept album with plenty of religious overtones, with tracks such as “On This Rock…”, “Black Halo” and “Naxxar”…what was the inspiration for the record?
“There is an old mythology about the Pangaeians, a culture that got almost forgotten in time. This record is based on the stories and legends around this culture. It was tough to find material about it. You really have to dig deep in libraries and this new thing called the internet.”
Given LOTL’s blend of dark Gothic rock and classical, often orchestral tones, concepts around religion and folklore can offer so much room for creativity with resource in abundance; do you find it’s a natural fit? With the deluxe edition having an additional 7 tracks it seems you had plenty of material heading into the studio!
“We always added orchestral elements to our music, with Chris and Gared for example; having classical backgrounds in their musical education. And since especially Chris having such and endless output we got too many good songs in our hands! The additional 7 songs are as good as the rest. They just made it ‘ONLY’ on CD 2 because they are less related to the mythology; which the main album is all about.”
To mark the album’s release you’re heading out on an extensive European tour leading through winter, including 5 dates here in the UK in November which I’m personally looking forward to; what can your fans expect from the upcoming shows? Are you looking forward to blending the new tracks in alongside classics like “Sex On Legs”?
“Of course we will play new songs, but since we didn’t play so often in the UK yet, the people also deserve to enjoy our ‘classics’. We’ll play the best compilation of our songs we can to kick everybody’s asses!”
With the tour already booked deep into March of next year, your current long term focus is clearly on promotion, can fans outside of Europe look forward to catching you somewhere in 2019 too or are those plans still in development?
“We always plan to reach out in the world as far as we can. We’ve got good plans in our pockets to come around a lot, and we always appreciate promoters all over the world that say ‘Hi’ and invite us to come over and play. If we can travel and reach out to our fans worldwide, we are happy!”
Class, thank you for your time, and all the best with the up-coming tour.
Going back decades, arguably since its inception truth be told, ‘rock’ music was always viewed upon as bad thing; a rebellious genre that started in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll a la ELVIS' controversial hip-swinging, leading young ladies astray…punk rock was always a primary instigator of rebellion when that came about, the musical equivalent of streaking through a convent with your middle fingers proudly pointing skyward…and then there’s metal. We’re not going to be delving into all of the deep, dark sub-genres, but metal itself has always been associated with the devil and darkness, and of course bands like BLACK SABBATH and IRON MAIDEN only fueled that…but sometimes a band just feels the need to speak up; make a statement and be as brutally honest or opinionated as they can be. Here; special guest writer PETE HARRIS (firstname.lastname@example.org) showcases his personal picks on “5 Metal Bands That Made Their Name Attacking The Establishment”
"There are many ways to speak to the powers above. But sometimes, the best and only way to unleash truth is to do it as loudly and as aggressively as possible. Here are five of our favourite artists who knew just that — and have used the inherent aggression of metal to express rage, dissent, and criticism against the unyielding sociopolitical establishment."
 BOLT THROWER
"There’s a reason why LOUDWIRE and many other musical critics consider BOLT THROWER to be a quintessential British metal band; just have a listen through albums “War Master” and “The IVth Crusade”. Bolt Thrower’s atmospheric use of death metal effortlessly conjures up images of medieval melees, the perfect accompaniment to the bellowing of vocalist Karl Willets, whose prophetic tales warn against the horrors of war. After the group disbanded in 2016, many fans argue that Bolt Thrower’s sound continues to live on in MEMORIAM, Willets’ latest metal project."
"The progressive melodic death outfit that is SYLOSIS was formed by guitarist Josh Middleton back when he was just 15. Since then, the band has developed into an experimental group that dabbles in thrash, metalcore, melodic death and groove – wrapped around the introspective musings of Middleton’s songs. Although the band is not overtly political, Middleton’s interview with PURE GRAIN AUDIO reveals the front-man’s own political viewpoints on veganism, the social dynamics of power, and other criticisms on the socio-political establishment. He says ‘I like to dress the lyrics up a bit and use imagery so it’s not obvious what I’m talking about all the time’."
 RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
"Of course, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE deserves a spot on this list, even if it’s only to introduce them to the youngest metal heads stumbling across this blog. RATM didn’t just tackle institutional racism and the follies of late-stage capitalism…in the process of highlighting these social ills, the band also accomplished what musicians previously thought to be impossible; combining rap, metal AND funk. Some of their hits include “Sleep Now In The Fire”, “Guerilla Radio” and “Killing In The Name Of” which METAL INJECTION delightfully describes as ‘In your face metal infused with a snotty punk rock ethos’. Decades later, RATM’s sound remains to be one of the most recognisable sonic signatures in any of the genres they experimented with – inevitably tied to the militant spirit that underscores the bands historical and political relevance."
 MACHINE HEAD
Godfathers of 90’s and 00’s thrash metal; MACHINE HEAD first made a name in Europe before getting famous back home in the US. One of the pioneers in the ‘New Wave Of American Heavy Metal’ which began in the mid 1990’s and peaked later in the millennium. Machine Head dabbles with thrash and groove metal, which they’ve perfected in songs like “Aesthetics Of Hate” and “Clenching The Fists Of Dissent”. From criticising the critics who act like the gatekeepers of rock, to taking an anti-war stance in the midst of the American government’s oil-hoarding in the Middle East, Machine Head’s fans know that they mean business.
"Among the four founding bands of thrash metal, only SLAYER was able to truly utilise the satanic imagery closely associated with metal in open protest against our institutionalised religious beliefs. With songs like “God Hates Us All” and “Angel Of Death”, the band succeeded in creating thrash anthems that highlight the hypocrisies of organised religion and government. Slayer unleashes thrash the way it was meant to be played – as offensive and as indignant as humanly possible."
"Being able to loudly and aggressively speak truth to power is just one of the many uses of anti-establishmentarian music. As many metal-heads can attest to, listening to some quality rock and metal can prompt emotional, mental and even physical benefits as well; revelling in the violent themes of metal in in many ways, an act of anti-violence and therapeutic self-love. In fact, academically-backed research published in an article on LOTTOLAND reveals that people who regularly go to live rock music gigs are more satisfied with their lives than those who don’t. The same source also reveals that powerful music can give a 26% boost to your overall blood-flow. Keep these things in mind the next time you’re debating whether or not it’s worth it to go out and see what the newest bands have to offer…"
What are your thoughts on metal bands speaking truth to power? Were there any bands or artists you feel deserve to be in this list? Let us know what you think in the comments!
As disappointing as it is, it’s not just day-to-day society that’s still behind in terms of equality between men and women in the work place…the world of rock and metal is still very much a male dominated genre of music and despite the best efforts of several high profile bands, it’s still dragging it’s knuckles to a degree…for example; Download festival (Arguably the most mainstream and high profile of the alternative rock and metal festivals) is yet to have a ‘female-fronted’ headline act on its main stage. Women in rock and metal just don’t seem to be getting a legitimate fair shot…but one young lady is hoping to change all of that; let me introduce you to DIAMANTE.
The Los Angeles-based singer found herself listening to the likes of AVRIL LAVIGNE and KELLY CLARKSON at a young age but through that soon discovered and developed a passion for classic rock, and artists such as JOAN JETT and PAT BETANAR. After dropping her debut single “Bite Your Kiss” back in 2014 she’s generated millions of streams on YouTube etc. and has recently dropped her debut full length album; “Coming In Hot”. Produced by Howard Benson (MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE, MOTORHEAD) he’s proclaimed himself that the 21-year-old is the rightful heir to the throne of Joan Jett; while Diamante herself intends to make a statement…incredibly bold, let’s see if she can back it up.
The album opens up with the title track and lead single “Coming In Hot” and within seconds you can hear the influence that Joan Jett has had on the young artist…from the gritty, attitude-riddled vocal delivery and the simple, old-school style of the guitars, this will easily appeal to fans of all that is classic rock. Do you remember when BRITNEY SPEARS covered (And I use that term loosely) “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll”? Well this is better, considerably better…follow up track “Sound Of Us” for the most part is more of the same though the pre-chorus has some additional melody, while the chorus itself has gone big, bordering on anthemic. The guitar solo here too is a pretty decent effort and ultimately we’ve got a straightforward yet enjoyable track here. Recent single “Had Enough” directly addresses the issue of women’s rights by supporting the #MeToo movement…with a video inspired by “Thelma & Louise” and a production staff consisting entirely of women, it’s more of a statement than a hit single as musically again it’s relatively straight forward, but the message is more important than the track itself here really.
Elsewhere the record does have further highlights including “Kind Of Love” which combines bold melodies and soaring gang vocals over some catchy pop-rock hooks for a solid, enjoyable track…”War Cry” takes things up a notch with a deeper, darker core sound, almost rooted in industrial given the lyricism and instrumentation; the riffs are heavier and the overall tone of the track is a little more sinister, while “Fight Like A Girl” is predominantly more groove-heavy with another strong chorus. The album isn’t without it’s lesser points however; “Definitely Not In Love” is a completely cringe-worthy track driven by spoken-word verses, I’m definitely not in love with THIS one, while “Black Heart” harks back to those early Kelly Clarkson influences, negating the whole classic rock vibe of the album, before closing track “Lo Siento” is just a Spanish version of earlier track “I’m Sorry” and serves little to no point, adding nothing to the album in terms of quality…it would have served better as a B-Side. Ultimately the album as a whole is a decent selection of rock ‘n’ roll track’s and despite her young age she’s done well, channeling the genre’s heritage through to a new generation of listeners, bridging the gap between pop and rock well, but there’s nothing truly iconic or memorable about the record. Diamante here coming in lukewarm if anything, but there’s no reason to suggest she can’t turn up the temperature next time around. 
Back in 1999, in the city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a young man by the name of Benjamin Burnley would lay the foundations for what would become one of America’s most popular alternative rock bands; BREAKING BENJAMIN. As the sole remaining original/founding member, Ben has overseen virtually all of the song-writing and composition amidst a series of line-up changes (And lawsuits) but has seen the band attain multi-platinum status in the States with a string of successful albums…however…due to a serious case of aviophobia, as well as hypochondria, it wasn’t until 2016 that Ben and the rest of the current band finally left the comfort of their home country to play their first shows overseas. 2018 sees them return with album number six; “Ember”…have they found new inspirations on their international travels? Let’s find out…
The album opens up with a brief intro piece called “Lyra” and it’s a delicate sounding, sombre piano-led instrumental; based in Greek mythology it represents the Lyre Of Orpheus and is said to produce music so charming that it could affect inanimate objects, and conceptually here that works for this 30 second piece of music, but as we lead into first track proper “Feed The Wolf”, all of that charm goes out the window. We’re met with a thick wall of chugging riffs as Ben delivers his duel vocal onslaught; fleeting between deathly growls and harmonic melodies as he sings of fighting temptation, and giving into the urge of man’s animalistic nature and it’s emotive despite its lag. The albums lead single “Red Cold River” follows up next and really speaking we have more of the same…the combination of his smooth, clean vocals with his intimidating metal growls showcase Ben’s admittedly impressive range, but structurally the track is quite generic and honestly quite bland, despite the ferocity of that pre-chorus…
The album isn’t without it’s highlights however…”Blood” utilises solid groove and rhythm over some well delivered hooks that make up the chorus, using Ben’s growls sparingly and it’s a lot more effective here; it’s balanced incredibly well and allows the chorus to have that much more impact and intensity, and the track stands out all the more for it, while “The Dark Of You” takes a different approach altogether, opting for a chilling power-ballad of sorts, the change of tone no less emotive but it does provide an extra level of depth and variety…though that there is the albums primary flaw; variety…or, lack thereof. Yes, as I’ve previously stated Benjamin’s vocals ARE impressive as he’s able to sing and snarl with the best of them, but here the writing behind it is far too monotonous or two-dimensional. While there are peaks and troughs of specific talking points scattered throughout the 12 tracks on offer, the idea of repeat listens is more than a touch laborious, with the album as a whole coming off as disappointingly boring and repetitive in places. Ember is quite fitting as a title really, for on this evidence, the fire’s gone out and we’re left with just a smouldering lump of used up carbon. 
The beautiful island of Trinidad; the southernmost island of the Caribbean just a few miles off the coast of Venezuela…a colourful and vibrant place with a rich, diverse culture of exotic carnivals, and also the inspiration behind classic stories such as “Treasure Island”, to many it really is a tropical paradise, however, the steel-drums aren’t the only source of ‘metal’ you’ll hear whilst you sip your cocktails in Las Cuevas Bay, for even the Trinidadian’s know how to rock out; let me introduce you to HAIL THE HATTER. Having formed in 2015, the metal outfit started off when vocalist Jonathan Boos and guitarist Dax Carter decided that the world of rock music was lacking a sense of fun, and thus HTH (Now completed by drummer Nickolai Assam and bassist Aaron Lowchewtung) was born. Having recently released their debut mini-album “Discovering Light”, let’s see just how mad these hatters really are…
We open up with a little intro entitled “The Coming Of The Hatter” and frankly I hope he brought tissues…I kid…incredibly foreboding; it’s a spoken word piece foretelling the hatters arrival as an omen among the thunder and rain, bringing with him the imminent doom for the people of the island, before we get chants of “Hail The Hatter!”, likening him to the devil himself. It sets up an interesting concept and we’re a far cry from Wonderland here let me tell you. First track proper then is “Bone Grin” and aside from the incredibly random Arnold Schwarzenegger opening, we have a brief build towards some slick, blues-inspired hard rock. Initially up-tempo it channels influences such as GUNS ‘N’ ROSES which you can pick up in the tone of Boos’ vocals and definitely the solo towards the end; it’s a decent start…aside from more Schwarzenegger rounding it off…you’re NOT AUSTRIAN DEATH MACHINE…stop it.
Next up we have “God Bless The Beast” and we’re pretty quickly head-banging to some classic riffs and solid percussion; it’s quite nostalgic in sound for the most part, acting like a throwback to vintage NWOBHM acts such as SAXON and JUDAS PRIEST given it’s tone and even lyrically, you can hear them praise the likes of BLACK SABBATH, they’re definitely tipping their hat to their influences here. “White Walls” initially slows things down dramatically, reduced down to no more than a sluggish drawl with tired riffs mixed with brief guitar licks and gang vocals; so incredibly lethargic, that is until a brief up-tempo fill click-baits you into thinking the song is waking up, but alas it’s short lived. “Akasha”, given its name has a sense and feeling of both vacuity and freedom, with Carter’s guitars flowing through your conscious like they would through space and time itself, before we end proceedings then on the title track, and the longest track on offer here. After a long winding string-section leading into the track, we’re met with more vintage metal at nearly three minutes in, backed with some emotive, soaring vocals from Boos. It’s a dramatic number, especially with the delicate tones of the piano wrapping things up, ending the record on a high.
It’s an interesting listen all in all really and musically they’ve delivered, there’s ample to be enjoyed here for fans of hard rock, classic metal and maybe even a little prog too if you will. The band wanted to incorporate a little ‘fun and menace’ into their sound and style but sadly they’ve not really delivered on the fun bit to be honest; given their name and such a statement, I was expecting something more off-kilter and essentially bonkers but sadly didn’t so much as smirk once, and coming from the West Indies, well…it’s just not cricket. 
At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m quite partial to a review…yes I spend a fair amount of my time writing up these blog entries and contributing to the team over at All About The Rock, but a lot of my free time is spent watching YouTube reviewers too; guys like Anthony Fantano, AVGN, Brandon Tenold and more recently I’ve stumbled upon a guy named Decker Shado; the internet personality with the best hair. He, like most internet movie reviewers has gone through the “Alien” franchise and having watched these particular videos over the last day or so, it’s only ironic that this next review has ties to the movie itself…thematically at least, let me explain…
Allow me to introduce to you a band by the name of SICK N’ BEAUTIFUL and to utilise some professional wrestling terminology here, they’re ALL about the kayfabe. Hailing from Acheron LV-426, a moon orbiting Calpamos, 39 Light Years from Earth, from which the USCSS Nostromo picked up a distress signal, before its crew got face-hugged the fuck out of in the aforementioned movie “Alien”. Or, if you prefer…Rome, they’re from Rome, Italy. The intergalactic 5-piece (Consisting of vocalist Herma, bassist Big Daddy Ray, drummer Evey plus guitarists Lobo and Rev C2) apparently “crash landed” in the Italian capital after their spaceship; the BFS9000 suffered engine failure on their travels and they’re a bit stuck, but as luck would have it they’re a space-age musical circus freak-show and request your generosity in funding the repair costs by checking out their brand new album “Element Of Sex”. Clearly not endorsed in any way by the Weyland-Yuntani group, let’s see if they deserve our hard earned dollar…
We open up with “Fire True” and immediately we’re met with a dramatic, string-inspired synth sequence, verging on symphonic really, before we’re thrust right into the crunch of some thick, throwback nu-metal riffs. The heavy intensity and subtle electronic elements musically places this somewhere in deep space between KORN and CANE HILL, add to that then a slick guitar solo and overall we’ve got a decent opener here. Recent single “Megalomaniacal” is up next and it brings the tempo with it too, mixing raw, punk qualities via Herma’s cacophonous vocals, with a classic hard rocking rhythm…also the “Mortal Kombat” inspired arcade game video that accompanies it is a bit bonkers to boot; all in all a fun track. “All Wanna Go To Heaven” then reaches an entirely different echelon as the albums clear stand-out track…the gradual build of seductive keys and simple percussion leading into cleaner vocals, capitalising on influences such as GARBAGE and NO DOUBT resulting in a perfectly catchy piece of pop music; the hooks and overall groove here will have you hitting repeat with no doubt ironically, this is superb.
The trouble with that is, the rest of the album can only go downhill, but it doesn’t go too far down it has to be said; “Hellawake” is another brilliant example of synth-pop combined with hard riffs and hushed ambiance for a solid, almost anthemic listen; layered incredibly well…”HeXxX (The Element Of Sex)” has a certain retro feel to it, partly channelling the likes of THE B52’S in tone giving it a fun, up-beat feel, while “Cryptid” utilises a pacey guitar driven approach, rich with gang vocals, melodies and subtle breakdowns for a well delivered ear-bashing, before closing track “C*mmunion” ends on a high note with more hooks and accessible pop-rock enjoyment. It’s not quite a perfect album over its ten tracks though sadly; “Slam!” despite being heavier and grittier musically plods along a touch too methodically, while “New Witch 666” undergoes a remix following its initial release in 2015…not the best of tracks to begin with, the revised cut gives it new life but it’s still weaker compared to what else is on offer. All in all however we have an undeniably strong album here and from start to finish these xenomorphs entertain on a number of levels. If we could just get Ash to sabotage the fuck out of their repair operation given his previous, maybe they’ll stick around a bit longer…because whilst sick they are indeed beautiful. 
Ah West Bromwich…while it may not have exactly been a year to remember for your beloved Albion, (It’s a football thing…they came bottom of the Premier League because they SUCK!) one thing you can always be proud of, is that you spawned one of the biggest and most influential metal bands of all time; JUDAS PRIEST. Having formed way back in 1969, the band went on to pioneer not only how bands approached playing heavy metal, but also the way metal as an entire image was perceived, introducing the now-iconic look of spiked / studded leather accessories, one that we now mostly view as a cliché. Despite their advancing years, and the likes of their fellow Brummie’s BLACK SABBATH calling it a day, Priest are still going hard and 2018 sees them release album 18; “Firepower”…but are they all guns blazing? Let’s find out…
We kick off with the title track and to be fair there isn’t a lot that can be said without going through the motions really, and that sums up the song itself. We’ve ticked all the boxes here regarding the traditional duel-guitar onslaught with pummelling drums, coupled with Rob Halford’s distinctive vocals, with a slick solo or two thrown in for good measure…it’s a decent track, a proper metal track and pretty much Priest by numbers really…or, well, ANY classic metal band by numbers for that matter. Follow up track “Lightning Strike” is predominantly more of the same really…there is a decent rhythm flowing through the track despite the gruff, often blunt delivery of Halford’s vocals in places but it’s still pretty run of the mill.
It’s not all a barrage of beige however…”Never The Heroes” utilises a strong, groove-heavy intro that builds up wonderfully into a solid, blue’s-based track that is brilliant in its simplicity, and the chorus is spot on; nothing extravagant but undeniably catchy…this is a clear album highlight. “No Surrender” is a short, sharp dose of classic metal but has ample, melodic guitar harmonies and effective hooks during its brief run-time, resulting in another enjoyable listen, while closing track “Sea Of Red” initially swaps the aggression for subtle acoustics, as we end on a blissful power ballad. It gradually picks up the pace; even incorporating symphonic elements, but the change in overall style is a welcome swap indeed and a strong finale.
Elsewhere, well, I’m afraid over the 14 tracks on offer, the majority of it is just a little bit boring. “Evil Never Dies” is amusingly fitting as you feel that way about the song itself; it just methodically plods along for what seems like forever, it has like, one hook pre-chorus and that’s about it. “Flame Thrower” despite its name really doesn’t ignite much interest…and the chorus sounds off vocally, it just doesn’t sound right. “Guardians” beautifully played piano intro sounds absolutely noble and heroic, but it’s just an interlude and ultimately disappoints, leading into “Rising From Ruins” which is consistent but generic at best and it’s a shame. For a band approaching their 50th anniversary it’s pretty impressive don’t get me wrong, they still play with passion and Rob Halford can still hold his own vocally, credit where it’s due, they’re far more entertaining that fellow dinosaurs THE ROLLING STONES…but just like fellow Brit metal veterans SAXON they’re running the risk of merely going through the motions now. As far as traditional metal goes, it’s fine, but like most branded clothing, you’re only paying for the name on the cover of this record. 
A little while ago I was sent an email by a fellow named Andrew Dex and, he contacted me on behalf of Stencil, a UK PR team with their own publication in print. He said he was a fan of the blog and in turn forwarded me an eclectic mix of artists, submitting them for potential coverage on this here little blog. Flattered I of course gave them all a listen, but in the name of democracy I put the bands to a reader’s poll to see which of them you’d like given the GTGC treatment, and here we have the first lucky victim; let me introduce you to a band by the name of RUSTY SHIPP. Formed back in 2014 in Nashville Tennessee, consisting of bassist Michael Craft, drummer AJ Newton, lead guitarist Elijah Apperson and…I shit you not, vocalist Russ. T Shipp…that’s literally his name I’m not making that up and I really, really wish I was. As if that play on words wasn’t enough for you, you’ll also be interested to know that despite being totally landlocked, they are a nautical inspired band! Oh I do love a gimmick! Back last year they released their debut album; “Mortal Ghost”…and you voted, so let’s check it out.
Opening track “Sea Sentinels” gets things underway and as is tradition it’s a brief intro, initially utilising subtle, haunting tones but transitioning quickly into a grunge-inspired riff-heavy affair, musically finding itself somewhere between ROYAL BLOOD and QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE. As I said it’s brief but it’s at least an indicator of the style to come. First track proper “Treading Water” follows and what’s immediately noticeable is the complete change of tempo; still with a rich grunge influence, and vocally in places you can hear Kurt Cobain being channelled through Russ, it takes on a ballsy, up-beat garage rock tone and its rawness allows for an honestly enjoyable listen. The solo is decent too, couple that with some smooth key changes, we have an early album highlight; a good start. “Devil Jonah” is an interesting take on the old Bible tale of Jonah And The Whale; a classic story of repent, rebuttal and defiance leading to punishment and consequence…here we go more into Jonah’s psyche as opposed to anywhere near any colossal marine mammals, though the deep rumblings of the bass-heavy approach are fitting regardless.
In keeping with their nautical theme we have “SS Naronic” which is a chilling precursor to the legendary Titanic…the true story of the ill-fated Naronic, which on February 11th, 1893 had left Liverpool to cross the Atlantic to New York, only to mysteriously sink, taking with it the lives of all 74 people on board. Inspired by letters in bottles from the crew, it’s a despairing song of hopelessness and the distorted guitar qualities add to the sense of mess and struggle that the crew and those on board faced as they ultimately awaited death. Elsewhere we have “Song Of The Storms”, a brief interlude of gentle acoustic harmonies; a musical interpretation of sailing upon smooth seas, the idea of calm before the storm and it’s slotted in nicely here. There are naturally some clichés too such as “The Lighthouse” and closing track “Davy Jones” which are staples in maritime song content, but the rogue wave so to speak comes courtesy of “Caligynephobia”. The recognised irrational fear of beautiful women, here Russ sings and shouts of former young Disney starlets over an intense punk-rock backdrop and it’s utterly bizarre…I mean I’ve learnt a new word but, other than that…why? Essentially what we have here is a gritty, grunge-fuelled concept album and if you like that sort of thing, you’ll likely find something of value here but personally, I had my heart set on being jolly rogered by some ALESTORM-esque pirate rock and more naval innuendos than a Captain Pugwash marathon. Why is all the rum gone? Because I bloody drank it all…disappointed, by a severe lack of swashbuckling. 
Back last year you may remember I covered not one but two SAXON compilations courtesy of two special collectors sets; ”Decade Of The Eagle”, a sort of best-of comprising of the band’s first ten years together…and “The Solid Book Of Rock”, a collection specifically covering the bands work from 1991 all the way through to 2009…by the end of it, having listened to nearly 40 years of work, I felt like I’d gone through more Saxon history than an entire season of fucking Time Team…I was literally THIS close to going on a crusade…nevertheless I got through it and I could finally put down my sword and shield, or so I thought. 2018 see’s the heavy metal veteran’s return yet again with their 22nd studio album “Thunderbolt”…let’s check it out.
We open up with “Olympus Rising” and like its name suggests we’re met with an ominous, foreboding intro…the home of the gods, the slow build of the guitar and subtle percussion layered over some almost ritualistic chanting sets a serious tone…something big is coming and it’s all very dramatic as we lead into the album’s title track. The guitars kick in with some hefty riffs before it settles into their trademark, classic metal inspired sound. Biff still has a decent voice on him despite his aging years, singing of Hades and Greek mythological history and they have substantial weight behind them, sounding just like they did decades ago, just with better production quality, although there is a brief guitar solo that sounds really off, tarnishing an otherwise decent metal track.
Highlights here include “They Played Rock And Roll”, which with its fast paced delivery and appropriately thrash-based intensity is dedicated to MOTORHEAD following the deaths of Lemmy, Fast Eddie and Philthy Animal Taylor, and it’s a touching inclusion, showing solidarity in metal. “The Secret Of Flight” is rich in groove-led guitar melody, while “Nosferatu (The Vampire’s Waltz)” captures the essence of the 1922 silent horror wonderfully, on par with BLUE OYSTER CULT in fact, re-telling the story over some symphonic inspired metal. There are some sub-par moments here sadly however, which makes for an album of two halves, with it starting really strong and ending on a somewhat flat note…”Speed Merchants” and “Roadie’s Song” in particular bring the album down with their poor, almost clichéd lyrical content, especially the latter…and there’s a raw cut of “Nosferatu…” which serves no purpose being there, too much time in the sun that one. There is an interesting collaboration with AMON AMARTH front-man Johan Hegg for the track “Predator” but his death metal growls are a little too much for Saxon’s style of play if you ask me and it sounds a little disjointed. Other than that it’s a decent metal album and you have to applaud any band that has such longevity. 
If I were to mention anvils then some of you will conjure up different memories…for instance there’s Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart…a popular wrestler in the 80’s and early 90’s who with his bulky physique, ginger beard and bright pink attire looked like he was caught somewhere between Groundskeeper Willie and Mr. Blobby…some of you will remember “Looney Tunes”; with Wyle. E. Coyote using an anvil and numerous other weapons to try to kill the Roadrunner…I personally think “Saw” took direct influence from this cartoon (Seriously think about it, talk about fucking overkill!) and then there’s ANVIL themselves. The legendary cult metal outfit from Ontario, Canada formed way-back in 1981 and can arguably be cited as being a major influence for the likes of THE Big 4…in 2008 they had a bit of a resurgence in popularity following a “Spinal Tap” style documentary and now, ten years later, we find them releasing their 17th studio album; “Pounding The Pavement”…let’s hit the street…
The album kicks off with the ominously titled “Bitch In The Box” and immediately we’re met with classic sounding guitar licks straight out of the heydays of traditional metal with some slow, chugging riffs; it’s a solid piece of metal, with Steve Kudlow’s course delivery having harmonic, gang vocal accompaniment it’s a fairly balanced track…but who is this bitch? Why is she boxed? Is there a woman trapped? Buried alive? Nope…he’s singing about Satnav…Fucking. Satnav…is this a theme for old bands now? ACCEPT did it with “Analog Man” and now this…what’s next? Ozzy singing about Pokemon GO? I digress…we follow this up with “Ego” and this is more like it. It’s a short sharp dose of up-tempo, thrash based hard rock and it’s this style, as too made popular by the likes of MOTORHEAD back in the day that laid the foundations for a lot of the fast paced metal we know and love today and the band have clearly still got it in them, with a decent solo to boot; this is much better.
This can also be said for album highlight “Black Smoke” which is very much more of the same with it’s raw, gravelly delivery and, in ways we can include the title track too…peculiar this however as it’s rare to find a title track that’s an instrumental midway through a record. It does break up the album nicely with some well-executed guitar melodies and to be honest it’s just different, it works well. Sadly however, the following tracks don’t…”Rock That Shit” for example…while on one hand can be discarded as merely a song to enjoy and head-bang to with a beer in hand…it’s also fucking cringe-worthy lyrically…from a band virtually celebrating a 40 year anniversary it’s hard to ignore. I’m all for humour in content, I’m all for not taking yourself seriously, but this is elementary school stuff. “Smash Your Face” is another one…and this doesn’t even have up-beat music going for it, I’m going to actually smash my face instead of listening to this one again. Eventually we close on “Don’t Tell Me” and while musically I guess it’s anti-climactic, somewhat middle of the road, it at least touches on relevant social-political topics regarding fake news and the ridiculous state of government right now. Overall, this one’s going to appeal to certain demographics…naturally they have their fans, they are well established in metal circles, but outside of those, and the demented denim-clad rockers you’ll find constantly drunk on Red Stripe moshing to anything they can get their ears on (Think Hell Boy and his cronies from the movie “Haggard”) this doesn’t really have a large target audience. Pounding the pavement or a pounding headache…you be the judge. 
There are certain situations in life where you just can’t win…for example, say…an argument with your wife…or there’s that saying about playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how good you are at chess, the pigeon is just going to peck at the pieces, shit on the board and strut around like it’s won anyway. My point is sometimes it’s a case of why should we even bother and to try and elaborate I’m going to use BLACK VEIL BRIDES as an example. They formed in 2006 following the massive emo explosion but were always aiming for a heavier crowd, very much inspired by their love of KISS and MOTLEY CRUE (You’d never tell looking at them would you?) and in 2011 they made their big breakthrough with the album “Set The World On Fire”…with massive singles like “Fallen Angels” they put themselves on the map and were touted as the next big thing…but the trouble is that with endorsements like this, there is always backlash.
While the younger fans lapped them up, making front-man Andy Biersack a poster-boy in the process, many traditional metal fans labelled them as rip-off artists and posers (I remember a distinctly hostile reception at Download 2012) and thus, they became one of those Marmite bands. Fast forward a couple of years and after a couple more albums, they’ve toned down on the appearance ever so slightly and focussed on delivering a less glam-metal inspired sound leading into their brand new record “Vale”…and here lies the problem…let’s check it out.
We open up with “Incipiens Ad Finem” or roughly “Starting At The End”…that was sudden, quickest review ever! I jest…but no it’s literally a 21 second intro that serves literally no purpose being its own “track”…Biersack rambles on about having found their stage, preaching to the legion of the black and it’s all very melodramatic, before the first proper track “The Last One” gets the album going. It’s a very underwhelming transition to be honest not sounding very natural at all but when it reaches its peak it’s BVB by numbers; gang vocals and a soaring chorus, even the solo sounds forced but really its nothing special at all. “Wake Up” is a decent little track in an annoyingly literal sense…it’s a decent up beat piece of melodic rock but at less than 3mins it may as well be an alarm clock ring tone, it’s over just as you’re getting into it which is frustrating.
I won’t be a complete villain…”My Vow” offers some much needed weight and we actually get some enjoyable riffs here, there’s much more attitude here and it’s more akin to the earlier work that made them and that’s welcome, though it’s annoyingly short yet again, while “The King Of Pain” has an infectious simplicity to it, soothingly plucked guitars and honey coated vocals with ample hooks provide a clear album highlight here. “Dead Man Walking” tries it’s best to utilise pop elements but it’s far too long, and the chorus is disappointingly weak and repetitive, and its here we hit the albums Achilles heel…the vast majority of “Vale” sadly sounds phoned in and it’s ironically summed up in “Ballad Of The Lonely Hearts”. There’s a lyric that goes “Here's to the lonely hearts and the ones that never change. Here's to the failed starts and the song remains the same” and you’d be forgiven for thinking Biersack was singing about this very album…there’s nothing here that truly leaps out at you as a statement, there’s nothing here that warrants BVB being as big as they are…and this is where I draw my analogy; the band can’t win. Glam metal and make up? Posers and scorned…a touch stripped back and more serious? They have absolutely no charisma whatsoever…the album is annoyingly flat and it really is a case of damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Ironically it was them that sang “Love Isn’t Always Fair” 
When they initially formed in the early 80’s, North Carolina’s Raleigh rockers CORROSION OF CONFORMITY were very much influenced by the big hitters in the hardcore punk scene, with the likes of BLACK FLAG and MINOR THREAT being among the bands that inspired them, but over the years, they’ve somewhat mellowed into a more stoner based syndicate as they’ve gotten older, and despite their seemingly revolving door policy for members, the original core line up of Woody Weatherman, Mike Dean, Reed Mullin and a returning Pepper Keenan have come together once again in early 2018 to deliver “No Cross No Crown”, their tenth studio album…having accepted these terms and conditions, let’s check it out.
The album gets underway with “Novus Deus” which roughly translates as “Revived God” which ties in nicely with the album title conceptually…the track itself is merely an intro at just under a minute and a half but it’s sludgy, doom-inspired tones echo early BLACK SABBATH efforts…there’s a coarseness to it and it builds up nice and slowly to first track proper “The Luddite”. The transition is a smooth one as it blends in almost immediately, picking up the pace considerably; the southern metal style prominent throughout, rich in groove but it’s got a heaviness to it within its riffs that sets it apart from most southern inspired bands. Lead single “Cast The First Stone” is much more energetic slab of music it has to be said…with its thrashing, up-tempo approach it’s a lot more comparable to their earlier work, with its ballsy, no fucks given attitude, in ways fans of GWAR could easily appreciate this one, an album highlight.
Speaking of highlights, we can’t ignore the similarly up-beat rip-ride of a track “Forgive Me”…with the stoner influences shining through a fine dose of hard rock, coupled with some truly infectious hooks and guitar licks, it’s a wonderfully enjoyable track and provides the albums peak. Highlights don’t necessarily mean bouncy and energetic mind you, as the band prove on the title track…a chilling slab of doom-inspired despair with a social/political pot-shot at the west, while “Nothing Left To Say” incorporates an emotive, soul-based tone, fully embracing southern blues heritage. The main faults with this album, if any really, are interludes…there are three of them, taking the whole track listing up to fifteen in total and, really there’s absolutely no need. “No Cross” comes across as filler from a low-budget horror movie score, “Matre’s Diem” or, “Mother’s Day” is a random little acoustic instrumental and “Sacred Isolation” is again, no more than filler. Overall though the rest of the tracks make up a decent stoner-rock record, and COC are showing no signs of corrosion after all this time. 
Last time we left HIM…they left us on the cliff hanger with a foreboding sense of impending happiness…what did they mean? What did Valo have up his sleeve? What creative direction would they take next? The answer would surprise many…the previous release; “Screamworks: Love In Theory And Practice, Chapters 1-13” wasn’t received very well by a large portion of fans, with Valo himself even suggesting the album was a failure…so were the band done with the commercial radio-friendly approach? Would Valo brush his 80’s new wave pop influences under the carpet and pick up the guitar again? The short answer is, not quite…the band instead opted to do a LINKIN PARK and release a remix album entitled “SWRMXS” and if fans were confused before, this had them scratching their heads…
We do we even begin? One thing that can be said about HIM is, they’ve always tried to stay fresh…each and every album they’ve released has, while retaining the core HIM sound and principles, always mixed it up a little…be it in tone, or genre influence, ranging from doom metal to hard rock, to Gothic piano ballads…but if anything the last album proved that heading down a commercially friendly mainstream route upset fans to some extent…so was this in essence a middle finger? A fuck you? Many viewed this as a die-hard fans only release, one for the collectors and a record that had no real place in the bands discography…but how good or even bad WAS it? The eleven track mix tape opens up just like its predecessor with “In Venere Veritas” but it’s been reworked by Finnish electronic composer HUORATRON (Real name Aku Raski) and what we find is a dirty slab of EDM, dotted with broken vocal samples and distorted dub qualities…its…different. “The Foreboding Sense Of Impending Happiness” can in ways be blamed for the project as a whole given the musical approach and here its mix by American house DJ MORGAN PAGE is very much the lo-fi, chilled listen it was always meant to be, rich in ambience. Some of this material DOES work…”Love, The Hardest Way” has the pleasure of having TIËSTO at the helm and is probably the sole source of credibility here for any casual listener…his approach is simple and trance-inspired with some genuinely catchy qualities, while “Dying Song” is given similar treatment…again, lo-fi but up-beat and at least enjoyable…when they get it wrong however, my god do they get it wrong. “Heartkiller” gets absolutely butchered courtesy of a MERCYFVCKS remix…I honestly wish it had mercy and fucked off…while the oOoOO remix of “Shatter Me With Hope” could put a glass eye to sleep…brave? Very. Stupid? Debatable…one thing’s for sure; it left a sour taste in many a fans mouth and is arguably the worst thing the band ever put their name to. 
"XX: Two Decades Of Love Metal"
There would be another quiet spell following on from the Screamworks touring cycle and in ways, a period of recovery and reassessment too, on both sides to a degree…but fans got excited again in 2012 when HIM returned out of the blue with a new single; “Strange World”…another cover, this time by KÉ and another cover the band could ultimately call their own, credit to HIM, they know how to pick a cover…but excitement soon dwindled as the new song would be just that; one new song, merely to accompany another greatest hits collection…”XX: Two Decades Of Love Metal”. No more than an upgraded version of “And Love Said No”, it simply included the singles from the albums post 2004 and many fans felt disappointed. Sure the track was good, it was even more satisfying seeing the band pick up the guitars again and belting out some hard rock…but why just the one song? It turns out there was an issue with previous record labels who still owned rights to the bands back catalogue and wanted to put out a compilation…HIM literally recorded the song to shut the label up and the album was swiftly forgotten about; a brilliant cover and a solid collection of classic songs but…ultimately pointless. 
"Tears On Tape"
It wouldn’t be long however for HIM to release another full length album, spurred on by the recording process the year prior, the band had signed a new deal with RAZOR & TIE releasing “Tears On Tape” in 2013. The album wasn’t without its difficulties mind you…in fact the album very nearly didn’t happen, with the band worryingly close to calling it a day before it was even completed…an omen for things to come sadly. During the writing process, drummer Gas was suffering from nerve damage in his hands from repetitive stress and was ordered to take time out…would the album be completed? More importantly would Gas drum again and, with that, could HIM continue? Lucky after several months he returned and the album was finished…once again produced by long-time collaborator Hiili Hiilesmaa, it saw the band again return to their roots, delivering a raw, garage rock vibe full of grit and maturity. The back-to-basics approach led to Valo's vocals having a vulnerability to them, his morose poetic lyricism was showing an honest pain…tracks like “I Will Be The End Of You” and “Hearts At War”, blistering in their delivery, highlighted a suffering for love in their guitar driven frustration, while cuts like the title track and “Drawn & Quartered” tugged at the heartstrings with a strong sense of empathy…never afraid to experiment however, the album includes the band’s first and only instrumental pieces, breaking up the album allowing for a fresh listening style, before the album closes on the emotionally powerful “W.L.S.T.D.”…one of the bands heaviest, gloomiest and despairing pieces of music, coupled with one of Valo’s most impassioned vocal displays, it’s truly heart wrenching…and sadly…it was to be a fitting and poignant swan-song. 
After the record was released and the touring cycle was completed, Gas decided his time was up and left the band, leaving question marks hanging over fans worldwide. This…was to be the Finn’s final album…HIM were done. Stand-in percussionist Jukka took up the drum-kit to play for the band on live dates in the few brief years that followed, but in the March of 2017, HIM announced to the world that, they would be breaking up. The writing of new material simply wasn’t working, the spark had gone, the Heartagram was no longer beating, and the hearts of legions of fans were broken…tears were no longer on tape, they were on the cheeks of hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide as his infernal majesty relinquished his crown, kissing goodbye to us all. The band embarked on one last hurrah, a farewell tour dubbed “Bang And Whimper” (Still with a sense of humour on their way out) which led to the bands final ever performance at Helldone in Tavastia, Finland, on the 31st December 2017. After a 20+ year career…8 albums and having garnered one of the most cult-like followings in music…HIM were no more, and the world lost something truly magical. From here on out, I’d like to wish Ville, Mige, Linde, Burton and Jukka all the best in everything they set their hearts on, as we’ll always be there for them. You gave countless people hope, something to live for, something to cherish, and you'll be missed greatly, not just as a band, but by an extended family. Thank you, and farewell. Tears on tape…we will follow. <3
Picking up from where we left things last time, HIM were taking over the world; BAM MARGERA had helped them break out of mainland Europe into the UK and America, by introducing them to the MTV generation…their sales and fan base were on the rise, they were playing bigger stages at festivals, they were all over the charts internationally, Valo even won Metal Hammer’s prestigious Golden God award, and pandemonium couldn’t be sweeter…his infernal majesty had finally taken his rightful place upon the throne…but there’s an old saying; what goes up must come down and sadly, this began to happen sooner rather than later for HIM and it all came around the time of their next album…
In the September of 2007, two years after they hit their commercial peak, the band did a dramatic U-turn, ditched the radio-friendly pop-rock of “Dark Light” and opened up the gates of hell with their follow up “Venus Doom”…praised by critics for its experimentation and total change of direction, the band had embraced a new found sense of heaviness, channelling the likes of PARADISE LOST, with Ville reacquainting us all with his love of all things doom metal (As if the title wasn’t a clue already)…musically it was far heavier than anything they had ever done before, even their earliest work…the riffs, bass and percussion were all full of aggression and suffering…the deep tones of the album allowed Valo to truly hypnotise the listener with his impressive baritone vocal range, on times sounding truly demonic and chilling like on the title track, the lead single “Kiss Of Dawn”, also on the hauntingly beautiful prog-metal journey of “Sleepwalking Past Hope”…but no matter how harsh the band gets musically there’s always a delicately balanced track listing and this album was no different. From the brief, acoustic campfire ballad “Song Or Suicide” to the tortured lamenting of “Cyanide Sun”…this was Adams Family level Gothic romance and it was stunning…their rise in popularity even found the song “Passions Killing Floor” used for the original “Transformers” soundtrack! Despite the change in direction, they were still big, still in the charts, even getting Grammy Award nominations…but the fame came at a price…Valo had developed worsening alcohol problems which over time became more and more of an issue…plagued by exhaustion from the pressures of success, plus problems in his personal life, the writing and recording process took its toll on Valo and he damn near drank himself to death…until he was admitted to rehab. With the blurry oil painting depicting Venus, the goddess of love, now forever a reminder that in nearly dooming himself to drown in a bottle, Valo unwittingly perfectly encapsulated HIM's marriage of love and death, even if he was looking at her through beer goggles...I’m sure he appreciates the irony looking back 
"Digital Versatile Doom"
Their success in America and mainstream popularity up to that point led the band to release their first and only (The bonus 6-track DVD footage with “And Love Said No” doesn’t count) live album; “Digital Versatile Doom”…released not long after “Venus Doom”, it was recorded as part of their rescheduled American tour at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. The tour and resulting live album was heavy on Venus Doom content but also featured several of the bands biggest singles to date, acting as an updated (Albeit live) version of their greatest hits…for those who were never fortunate enough to see the band live in person for whatever reason, this is essential, especially as it came with a DVD of the performance recorded as part of a 2-disk package…here you can get a real feel for the band; how tight they are as performers and how emotional the songs truly are on the raw environment of the live stage…not to mention Valo’s cheeky sense of humour mocking Linde for the amount of solo’s he has to play…
"Screamworks: Love In Theory And Practice, Chapters 1-13"
The trouble HIM faced for their follow up album was quite simply a matter of, where the hell do they go from here? They’ve just dropped the heaviest album of their career and Valo nearly did a George Best and put his liver through unthinkable punishment which nearly killed him…the answer? Another U-turn…yes this is where the band lost a lot of fans, as they began to yo-yo in style and lost a sense of credibility among the rock and metal community. In 2010 they released “Screamworks: Love In Theory In Practice, Chapters 1-13” (It just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it) and Valo, again in his self-depreciating mentality dubbed it their DEPECHE MODE album…gone was the bleak bombardment of gloomy, doom metal…gone were the tortured wails of Linde’s guitar…in their place were gentle melodies and enough pop hooks to give Simon Cowell the horn…written and arranged with far, far more emphasis on Burton’s keyboard playing and a much softer song writing approach, HIM found themselves facing a lot of uncertainty…critics were again, generally in favour, praising experimentation once more and championing Valo’s song writing, but a lot of fans weren’t impressed. Many were confused at the direction and while though it retained plenty of HIM’s trademark melancholy, it lacked the bands usual depth and came across as all too synthetic. Even Valo had convinced himself that it was a failure upon release, but in honesty, it’s merely by their own already high standards…lead single “Heartkiller” was undeniably infectious and the majority of the tracks on the album followed suit; “Scared To Death” is quite possibly the sweetest thing the band have written since “Join Me”…while “Acoustic Funeral (For Love In Limbo)” does have a slight emo influence, which people were already moving away from. There were naturally tracks with a bit of attitude however, with the likes of “Shatter Me With Hope” and “Like St. Valentine” having the most bite, but they were a far cry from what had preceded them…before the album closed on the synth-heavy “The Foreboding Sense Of Impending Happiness”…possibly the lease HIM song HIM have ever written, but far from terrible. Ultimately this was a solid collection of commercially heavy pop-inspired alt. rock that sadly got lost in the shuffle…wrong place, wrong time with the wrong sound…from here on out things would slowly go downhill. 
Finland’s finest alt-rock romantics HIM have left behind a luscious and long-lasting legacy now that they have sadly called it a day, and last time round we revisited the band’s earliest albums as we reminisced over their formative years, and the tracks that laid the foundations for the band we grew to love. Continuing on from where we left things in 2001 and the band had established themselves throughout mainland Europe with multiple successful chart positions, but their journey didn’t stop here…oh no…there were other markets to tap into and thanks to a certain celebrity skateboarder and a shit load of plugging, Valo and co were about to break into the UK and beyond…and it all kicked off in 2003.
First and foremost, we need to talk about BAM MARGERA…say what you will (Some people disregard him completely but I personally believe that’s not fair) but without Bam, HIM certainly would not have taken the path they found themselves on, and you could argue that he directly contributed to a lot of their success outside of Europe. Bam discovered HIM while in Finland for a skateboard competition when “Razorblade Romance” was released and he was seeing HIM everywhere so, ultimately fell in love with the band. He was using songs for skate footage in the CKY DVD’s…he used tracks in soundtrack for his movie “Haggard”, he used the Heartagram on his official Element skate decks…HIM were getting exposed to the “Jackass” crowd and a lot more ears fell upon HIM’s music…the result? More success! Bam and Valo became good friends and when the opportunity arose, they naturally collaborated…he did them two music videos; "Buried Alive By Love" and "The Sacrament"...and they would both come on the next album…
HIM returned to the studio in 2002 with their original producer Hiili Hiilesmaa and the resulting album was a blistering return to form; “Love Metal”. Once a tongue-in-cheek term for their style of darkly romantic rock music, it had now become its own cult-like sub-genre so naturally, Valo (In all his sarcastic brilliance) does a VENOM and makes an album out of it! The Heartagram, in all of its glory emblazoned across the album cover in solid gold on a glossy, intricately designed Gothic black background was more than artwork, it was a thing of beauty, it was symbolic and the music within was just as powerful…opening up with “Buried Alive By Love”…with Gas crashing those cymbals, Mige and Linde bursting in with those powerful riffs…this was a band full of hunger and intent. As openers go you’d be pushed to find one with such impact…this was raw, this was rocking like a motherfucker and HIM were back! When the band get going it’s hard to stop them…tracks like “Beyond Redemption” feature some of Valo’s most powerful vocals and “Soul On Fire” is simply scorching…but they still manage to balance the beauty with the brutality. “The Funeral Of Hearts” with its rich melodies was their first foray into the UK charts hitting a very respectable 15, while “The Sacrament”, with Burton’s dreamlike piano intro was simply beautiful. Rounded off with “Love’s Requiem” and the seductive, spine-tingling “Circle Of Fear”…HIM were on the up. Very much like an erection Valo may say with a wry smile…
"And Love Said No: The Greatest Hits 1997 - 2004"
With their music now reaching across the sea…and having already been around for nearly a decade, now was the perfect time to capitalise on all of the new fans they had accumulated and in 2004 the band released their first compilation album; “And Love Said No: The Greatest Hits 1997-2004”…not only spanning their four full-length releases up to that point, they also acquired Bam Margera to direct them another two music videos for two brand new tracks to accompany the collection. The first was the title track, which with its quaint melodies and gentle vocal harmonies provided blissful listening, but tugging on your heart strings just enough to remind you that it was HIM here, it was still a bit dark…while the main single was another cover the band would arguably go on to claim as their own; “Solitary Man” by NEIL DIAMOND. This powerful rendition added plenty of the Finn’s character and took the song to another level, eventually reaching number 9 in the UK charts…HIM were on top of the world, or so they thought…there was just one more place to conquer; America…and the only thing in their way, was the Atlantic ocean, but they’d crossed oceans of wine to find you before…
Ville Valo has always made little jokes about himself and the music, being really quite humble…and in 2005 HIM would go on to take over the world with what he calls their BON JOVI album. Yes in the September of 2005 they released “Dark Light” after signing a deal with Sire Records…produced by Tim Palmer, it would be some of the sleekest and most polished work of the bands career and it did them wonders. Tracks like “Wings Of A Butterfly” and “Killing Loneliness” saw the Finn’s stamp their name on the charts yet again with their infectious pop qualities and the direction, despite being primarily more mainstream earned them many positive reviews with critics. As a whole the album was produced with accessibility and radio play very much in mind, with the band losing much of the aggression from its predecessor, but it retained Valo’s darkly poetic writing style which the band still carried off superbly…tracks like “Under The Rose” and “Behind The Crimson Door” being up-beat and a little feisty, another superb cover in the form of THE RAMONES classic "Poison Heart", while “Play Dead” and the title track heaped on the melancholy…too smooth for some fans, but it saw them become the first Finnish band to go Gold in America…HIM had made it…but pressures were mounting. 
“When love starts to die it begins with a kiss; violently soothing and warm”…beautifully morose, melancholy has always played a major part in the lyrical style of Ville Valo and it’s that tortured feeling of love-lost that catapulted HIM into the hearts of legions of fans around the world. With a whole tongue-in-cheek genre of their own in Love Metal and with a logo reaching semi-religious status (The Heartagram is arguably the McDonald’s M of rock music) they steadily took over the world, branching out of their native Finland into mainland Europe, the UK and then beyond to the US, selling millions of albums worldwide and becoming Finland’s most successful musical export. On New Year’s Eve…Valo and co put those words into practice at their final performance at Tavastia, Finland for the last ever Helldone…calling time on their 20+ year career and kissing goodbye to a sold out teary-eyed crowd. With a rich back catalogue of albums and compilations, right now I’d like to pay respects to the band by taking a retrospective look at each of their albums and remind the world that, we’ve just lost something truly special in HIM, and the pleasure was all ours.
"666 Ways To Love: Prologue" EP
The bands journey started way back in 1991 when Valo and Mige originally came together playing covers but it wasn’t until the release of 1996’s now infamous “666 Ways To Love: Prologue” EP that the ball truly started rolling…with only 1,000 copies originally made, it’s considered by many to be the holy grail of HIM memorabilia, just short of kidnapping Valo himself…and it’s this little 4-track EP that started it all. From the opening screams of “Stigmata Diaboli” we soon get a taste of the hard rock inspired gothic tones the Finn’s would quickly master…Valo’s baritone vocal accompanied by the raw riff-heavy approach of Linde gave them a distinction that would before long have us eating out of the palm of their hands. The song that put them on the map however, was THAT cover of sombre CHRIS ISAAK ballad “Wicked Game” and here we have the bands earliest recorded version…again, raw, but it was impossible to ignore the potential in these Finn’s and as far as covers go, it was original. “Dark Sekret Love”, a far drearier affair highlighted Valo’s love of doom metal with its bleak, methodical style and an early, rough rendition of “The Heartless” rounds things off nicely. Early days but plenty to be inspired by…his infernal majesty wasn’t quite ready for his throne. 
"Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666"
Just a year later they were back and the world finally got HIM’s debut full length album…”Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666”…and here we got a much better sense of direction from the band. Despite being a touch more polished with slightly better production quality courtesy of Hiili Hiilesmaa, you can still sense the raw, garage rock feeling the band used to deliver their intertwined messages of love and death. Housing some of their darkest and grittiest pieces of music; tracks like “The Beginning Of The End” and “Our Diabolikal Rapture” really embraced the gloom and channeled the influence of the likes of TYPE-O-NEGATIVE and CATHEDRAL…the beautifully bleak “When Love And Death Embrace” became a trusted fan favourite, a song the band would later rely on as a solid encore, and another cover in the form of “Don’t Fear The Reaper”…the BLUE OYSTER CULT classic getting it’s wrists slit to be bled out on a bed of roses…dark and romantic…HIM were here to violate us in the most sensual ways…
The next album wouldn’t follow for another three years but to say it was definitely worth the wait is by far an understatement…in 2000, after coming to Wales to record in Rockfield Studios, they dropped not only the album of their career…but arguably the greatest Gothic rock album for generations; “Razorblade Romance”. With its bright pink cover art acting as a middle finger to stereotypes and super slick production it saw the band rise to heights they’d never have expected in their own humble self-depreciating humour. With tracks like “Join Me In Death” hitting the top of the charts in both Finland and Germany, HIM could do no wrong and no wrong they did…with an album literally full of top tunes, they exploded onto the scene with tracks like “Right Here In My Arms” and “Razorblade Kiss”...and not forgetting that cover of “Wicked Game”…re-recorded here again but SO much smoother, it’s here the band claimed the song as their own, creating a modern Gothic rock anthem in the process. The newly found sense of melody also saw the band embracing their softer side too, adding a depth to their song writing and playing on their romantic rock style…songs like “Heaven Tonight” and “Gone With The Sin” helped balance the chugging with the charming and quintessentially, the record was a masterpiece. No…the record IS a masterpiece to this day…and HIM will forever be pretty in pink. Goth rock was sexy again. 
"Deep Shadows And Brilliant Highlights"
HIM’s next album wasn’t far behind as the band didn’t take long writing new material, but the huge success found with the preceding record had made the record companies aware that there was money to be made with these Finn’s…and a lot of pressure was put upon the band to release a record equal in commercial acclaim; the result was “Deep Shadows And Brilliant Highlights”. Aided by producer Kevin Shirley, the band found themselves embracing (albeit reluctantly) a far sleeker sound leaning more towards pop music, stripped away was the grit and vigour of their established style and in its place, was even more emphasis on melody and mass-marketing. While it raised questions from long term fans, it still had the strength of Valo’s song-writing backing it up and despite the criticism, songs such “Heartache Every Moment” and “Pretending” were still huge…Linde is allowed to perform some tight guitar solos and the lighter musical approach allowed Burton to shine on the keyboard. “In Love And Lonely”, “You Are The One” and “Please Don’t Let It Go” all highlight the beauty of not only Valo’s song-writing ability but the capability of the band too, to diversify and pull it off with ease. Deep Shadows behind the scenes, but brilliant highlights on record…and frankly an under-appreciated album. 
There’s a history of professional wrestlers who have dabbled in careers beyond in-ring action; some of them haven’t been entirely successful truth be told. We looked at Jeff Hardy’s band PEROXWHY?GEN earlier this year which left room for improvement...and even Hulk Hogan’s movies failed to reach any blockbuster status despite his star power in the 80’s and early 90’s…but there have been those who have managed to make a name for themselves beyond the Lycra, breaking kayfabe and breaking into the mainstream. The Rock for instance is now officially a bona fide mega star in Hollywood, Jesse Ventura had successful runs as a Mayor and then Governor of Minnesota…and then there’s Chris Jericho. Yes the ayatollah of rock and rolla is, as well as a highly successful professional wrestler, a New York Times best-selling author, a podcast host and oh yeah…front-man for the band FOZZY. Having formed back in the late 90’s and initially focussing on classic covers, they steadily rose in prominence and popularity with their tight live performances and in the years since, they’ve honed their craft with a series of promising and encouraging albums, now, in 2017 we see them return with new album “Judas” on Century Media records…let’s check it out…
We begin with the title track…THAT track…quite possibly the biggest success of Fozzy’s career to date. Their highest charting single ever, reaching number 5 on the US mainstream rock charts and racking up over 11 million views on YouTube, “Judas” perfectly works the soft melodious tones of Jericho’s clean vocals around some text-book hard rock riffs, building up to this huge, infectious chorus. This is incredibly polished and kicks the album off brilliantly, a great start. We follow up with “Drinkin With Jesus” and again we have some solid riffs; no frills, no nonsense, this is straight up ballsy rock ‘n’ roll…another powerful chorus and it’s clear Fozzy are on top form here. This is further proved with additional highlights such as “Weight Of My World” and especially the massive hooks of “Burn Me Out”…the latter is incredibly addictive with its subtle electronic elements and pop-rock appeal, this is some catchy shit!
There are a couple of lesser tracks here breaking up a lot of the momentum however, “Painless” for example comes across as a little sluggish and disinterested, while “Wordsworth Way” despite having a slightly dramatic intro fails to excite overall…but generally the album is consistently impressive. “Three Days In Jail” shakes things up with some nu-metal inspired rapping, adding fresh character to the Fozzy sound, just as “Elevator” again dabbles with subtle layers of electronica with yet another infectious chorus. Essentially what we have here is a band that have finally found themselves…everything that’s led up to this point has been exploratory, and while there have been glimmers of hope throughout their back catalog, such as “Watch Me Shine” and “Lights Go Out”…here we find them nailing it. This is Fozzy and it’s easily the strongest material they’ve ever put to record. Do you know what happens? Do you know what happens when Fozzy make one of the rock albums of the year? Do you? Do you know what happens? You stupid idiots….Fozzy just made the list! My top albums of 2017 list that is... 
Coincidence; not something I’d class as a phenomenon as such but, it’s weird how some things just happen to fall together. In this instance, I’ll be talking about Minneapolis Minnesota…why you ask? Well when I’m not writing reviews I spend (Some might say waste) a lot of time on YouTube watching what many would describe as “random shit”…and lately I’ve been watching a lot of political interviews with former Minnesota governor JESSE VENTURA…you might remember him from his time in the then World Wrestling Federation…but his no nonsense, brutal honesty towards the American government is refreshing and I urge you to go have a listen to what he has to say…anyway I digress, as it turns out, the next band on my list for this blog, also happens to be from Minneapolis! So that’s a nice Segway to allow me to introduce to you COLD KINGDOM. Formed in 2014, the five-piece (Consisting of vocalist Dani Engum, bassist Jason Michael, drummer Chris Morley and guitarists Evan Ogaard and Zac Boyd) have done pretty well for themselves in their formative years, having supported the likes of BUCKCHERRY and SALIVA…and earlier this year they released a new self-titled EP…appropriately being a snow day, let’s check out “Cold Kingdom”
The EP opens up with “The Break” and right away we’re met with an incredibly rich piece of bold alternative rock…it’s up-beat and catchy with its pop-inspired hooks and melodies, the resulting chorus is genuinely infectious, while the guitar work here retains a hard-rock vibe. Gang vocals give the song ample depth and the solo is OK…as openers go it’s on-point, it’s a solid track and slots itself somewhere between HALESTORM and IN THIS MOMENT to some extent…a decent start. Following on from this we take it down several gears for “In Stereo”…a power ballad of sorts, it’s dramatic without sounding pompous and it’s well delivered…Dani gets to showcase her impressive vocals and ironically this is the kind of thing fans of THE DIRTY YOUTH could get into…anyone for a Dani-duet?
It’s not long before we’re back to the meat and potatoes however courtesy of “Not Tonight” and we’re greeted with the gritty riff-work of Zac and Evan; its impassioned and even Dani gets a little agro too, this is decent alt. metal, which can also be said of “Perfect Chambers”…the riffs here are crunching, there’s a lot more weight behind them, this musically is probably the heaviest track on offer here, this is something you can head-bang too but it loses none of the bands melodic qualities in the process, despite the breakdown-outro…before we finish up then on second ballad "Child". Far, far softer, it’s slower, with sweeping string sections and acoustic subtlety…it’s incredibly tender and emotional, rounding the EP off nicely. Despite its five-track length here you can still appreciate a diversity in the way Cold Kingdom write and create and they’ve done themselves proud with a genuinely solid outing here. The production is good and each track here is enjoyable in its own right…Cold Kingdom should at least make you feel all warm inside. 
The great thing about reviewing is, from time to time, you’ll witness growth…now, while all artists change and evolve from one album to the next (Well, I SAY all…AD/DC made a fortune on stagnation) nothing quite beats seeing a band in their formative years growing in sound, growing in style and more importantly, growing in confidence…back in 2014 in the early days of this blog’s existence, I reviewed a band by the name of DRIVEN in Fuel, Cardiff (I’ll never forget that conga line) and in the years since, I’ve witnessed them achieve so much in such a relatively short period of time. Having undergone a name change, and finding themselves signed to Spinefarm Records, IN SEARCH OF SUN (As they are now known) dropped a highly promising debut album by the name of “The World Is Yours” and grabbed a lot of people’s attention…now…in 2017 they deliver us the much anticipated follow up; “Virgin Funk Mother”…was the world truly theirs for the taking or were they ultimately searching for the sun at night? Let’s find out…
There’s no messing about with this record whatsoever as we open up with “Say It Like You See It” and we’re thrust into an infectious, groove-laden surge of riffs and funk-driven passion…the song writing, the musicianship, the delivery…it’s hard to imagine these were once just a couple of lads from London giving copies of their EP away for free just wanting to be heard, this is superb; this is anthemic…the sound here is positively huge and in ways it’s a blend of INCUBUS and YOUNG GUNS, a brilliant start this. “Bad Girl” follows immediately afterwards and while notably restrained compared to our opener it utilises a heavier, prog-fuelled guitar sound giving the track a more menacing tone as it maniacally reaches its more metal inspired crescendo…with the addition of MONUMENTS guitarist John Browne bringing a certain djent style, this is a lot darker.
Next up we have Ronseal…or at least it may as well be, as “Motherfunk” does exactly what it says on the motherfucking tin! Its super upbeat, super smooth and front-man Adam’s clean vocals are wonderful, he’s developed into such an equally charismatic and capable vocalist he really helps carry these songs effortlessly, while the guitar work here again from David, Rory and not forgetting bassist Faz, is top drawer; they’ve nailed it here again…funk has seldom felt so relevant in alternative rock music. “Never” ticks all of the same boxes with another bold chorus emphasising another impassioned vocal display, slower and emotionally deeper in tone with subtle power ballad qualities, this further highlights their song-writing capabilities…while “Mega Piranha”…well, it’s more metal in style but don’t worry about that, look up the film…it’s amazing…it’s no Sharktopus but it’s still amazing. Actually scrap this review lets go watch them both! I jest...there are a couple of weaker moments though, yet nothing that completely ruins the record…”Little Wolf” as an interlude is barely existent and while acting as a segue, it may as well have just been a lengthy track intro instead of being its own entity, it’s a little bit pointless, while closing track “Mon Amour” overstays it’s welcome. While a decent track for the most part, we hit the halfway mark and we slide into repetition, couple that with the rising level of distortion and feedback at the songs climax and it just becomes annoying rather than awe inspiring and it really, sadly closes proceedings on a dud note. That’s not to say however that this record is a failure by any means, not at all…the past couple of years has seen the guys really put the time and effort in and it’s clearly paid off, this is a totally different band to the wide-eyed aspiring metal heads I saw in Cardiff back in the day and they certainly aren’t looking back…in search of sun? This album is positively beaming…
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Gavin J Griffiths, a.k.a GavTheGothicChav, lover of new music and supporter of bands. Inspired by a mixture of horror and comedy, and fueled by a blend of alcohol and sarcasm...if you're singer / in a band and would like a review written up, please do get in touch via the email address at the top of the page and I'll get back to you ASAP. Much love x