14 August 2013

Bark At The Moon...

I had an interesting new musical experience last night - post metal! :-)

Blueneck, The Fleece, 13th August 2013
I have wanted to see Blueneck again for a while and saw they were playing at The Fleece. Ok it was a support slot for some band called Cult of Luna but it was still an opportunity not to be missed. Unfortunately they only had a thirty minute slot, an earlier thirty minute set wasted by a dreadful Noise/sludge/ambient/drone/doom metal band called Sonance.

Blueneck, The Fleece, 13th August 2013
That said after the unmitigated dross Sonance served up, three songs and thirty minutes of post rock from Blueneck was heavenly, even if the singer's mic did not work for half the first song. They were even better than the last time I saw them and I really want to see them as a headline act with an extended set.

Cult of Luna, The Fleece, 13th August 2013
So what of Cult of Luna? Well shouty/screamy vocals are not normally my thing but musically this was pretty decent heavy metal, with echoes of Slayer and Sabbath in parts, though you can see a progression to a more ambient sound. Not my normal cup of tea but hugely enjoyable, aggressively played and an excellent and imaginative lighting rig set up behind the band and for the most part at floor level.

Cult of Luna, The Fleece, 13th August 2013
I'd certainly recommend the more adventurous souls to check them out, especially if you like your music loud on occasion. I bought the entire back catalogue on the strength of what I saw last night...

Cult of Luna, The Fleece, 13th August 2013

17 June 2013

Show Tits!

Some cheeky scamp at Donington made a cardboard signs with the words "Show Tits" written on it. Unfortunately One Direction were not at Download but a large number of young ladies (and bizarrely a worrying number of men) flashed their boobs at the camera on Saturday. Oh, and there were some bands performing...

It had been ten years since I last went to Donington, this time with seventeen year old son in tow, now tall enough not to want to sit on my shoulders whilst Iron Maiden played. Unlike ten years ago, the list of bands on the main stage was quite good (ie. a list of names I by and large recognised) and I was looking forward to the day.

Things went smoothly until we got to Donington when for some inexplicable reason we had to queue for over 45 minutes to get in, missing half of UFO's set which was a shame as what we heard was pretty good and I had made a point of setting off from Bristol at some God forsaken hour to make sure we saw them. They are definitely on the list to catch next time they tour in the UK.

UFO were followed by Young Guns, the only band I was not even passingly familiar with. Not knowing any of their songs didn't help but the sound was awful (my son commented that their best know song Bones was largely unintelligible despite being a good crowd pleaser). I have for many years bemoaned bands wearing black playing in front of black back drops at festivals, however everyone in Young Guns wore white which unfortunately did make them look like a boy band...

Black Star Riders aka Thin Lizzy were next, a good set mixing old Lizzy with new BSR stuff. Ricky Warwick is a great singer and certainly knows how to work a crowd (even as the rain lashed in during Whiskey In The Jar). Heard enough of the new album to decide to investigate further...

I was looking forward to Mastodon but again the sound was ropey' the rain heavy and I am not that much of a fan to be familiar enough with their material to make up for that. However, in fits and starts I liked what I heard so will go back and give them a proper listen as I have a couple of their albums.

I only know one Alice in Chains song (yep, Rooster) but they were entertaining enough, as were Queens of the Stone Age who played a great set in the lovely evening sunshine (the weather was very fickle). Again not a great fan, I only knew Go With The Flow and No One Knows but they played with enough diversity to warrant further investigation (my son has their albums but I've never really taken the time to listen to them).

In between them came Motörhead who played a blindingly good set. I don't know how a three piece band can sound as good as they do but they were great. I wasn't planning seeing them on tour later this year but I just might have to get a ticket now. The highlight of their set was none musical with an ancient looking Philthy Animal Taylor joining time on stage for a well deserved ovation.

After QOTSA came the headline act - Iron Maiden. Their set was preceded by a Spitfire buzzing the crowd (even at 48 I found that too cool for words!)' before the band came on with a great set of material drawn from albums between 1978 and 1992. It was great to hear Phantom of the Opera and Afraid To Shoot Strangers amongst a list of more popular anthems, the only downside was the intermittent sound issues again.

Overall, despite the changeable weather (I got soaked and sunburnt), poor queue management in and out, muddy sound and horrendously priced food (£18 for two burgers and two bottles of Fanta), it was still an enjoyable day and some great music was heard and appreciated by both son and Dad (and he did comment there were a lot more boobs here than High Voltage...)

8 June 2013

Controlling Crowds...

So what do you get when you put a UK prog star and a Scandinavian metal god together? Well, if last year's Åkerfeldt/Wilson Storm Corrosion project is anything to go by, not a lot. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I decided to order Wisdom of Crowds from The Pineapple Thief's Bruce Soord and Katatonia's Jonas Renkse. My concerns, however, proved unfounded, this is a really good album.

I am not sure what The Pineapple Thief or Katatonia fans will make of it and I have not judged it based on the releases of either band. Renkse's vocals are quite distinctive and his melancholy tones will be immediately recognisable to Katatonia fans but the laregly electronic music underneath is quite different from Soord's Pineapple Thief (even if you catch flashes here and there).

It struck me as somewhat amusing that whilst Steven Wilson embraces the past with his latest seventies prog inspired work, Soord has gone down a more modern electronic route showing touches of the likes of Archive, Muse and Pendulum, whilst still not quite kicking off his comfortable prog slippers. He has pushed boundaries, but not to the extent that he will have alienated his fan base.

Song wise the album has some great songs, Pleasure, Frozen North and the title track, Wisdom of Crowds are all immediate favourites, but there is not one track I feel like hitting the skip button on. Overall, an impressive collaboration and one I hope we see produce more new material again.

31 May 2013

A Delicate Sound of Thunder...

Watching Thunder the other night reminded me that I had not shared my "discovery" of hard blues rock band Albany Down. A friend posted a video of the band on his Facebook page and it immediately appealed so I went off and hunted down the band's back catalogue of two albums, 2010's debut South of the City and this year's Not Over Yet.

Albany Down have that heavy Thunder/Skynyrd/Led Zep blues rock sound to them which is great for some good old fashioned rocking and I have found both albums hugely enjoyable, vocalist Paul Muir is very impressive. Their debut, South of the City, also includes a wonder cover of Duffy's Mercy which is immeasurably better than the original.

All in all, if you like good old school heavy blues rock, Albany Down are well worth checking out. I'm certainly looking forward to trying to catch them live as soon as possible.

30 May 2013

Here I Go Again...

Sunday saw a trip across the border into darkest Wales and a visit to the Motorpoint Arena (that's the Cardiff International Arena to you and me). Journey, Whitesnake and Thunder were in the bill so a great night was promised - and delivered.

The night kicked off at the rather earlier hour of 6.45pm with Thunder blasting onto the stage to AC/DC's Thunderstruck before delivering an impressive set replete with crowd pleasing Thunder classics. They are truly an excellent rock band and it must be the biggest mystery of all time why they didn't become massive. Live, they hit the spot and their 45 minute set was hugely entertaining, if a little too short. I really hope this tour has given Danny Bowes a taste for all things Thunder and the band reform properly and not just for odd gigs.

Thunder, Cardiff International Arena, 26th May 2013
Whitesnake were next and despite having seen odd comments that David Coverdale couldn't sing anymore I was quite impressed. Ok, Coverdale did struggle on a couple of songs when he needed to hit some (very) high notes but with 35 years of material to choose from he stuck mainly to material still within his range. The only negative were the indulgent guitar and drum solos, sooo old school and not in a good way. I don't mind seeing great musical technique but random tub thumping or guitar shredding is a waste of time.

David Coverdale and Whitesnake, Cardiff International Arena, 26th May 2013
Prior to the gig I had read a lot of negative comments about Journey on this tour and that audiences were streaming out after three or four songs. Not so here, indeed the only noticeable difference was that the number of female fans markedly increased! The band launched into a very rocky set, replete with a catalogue of classic tunes that I rather disturbing found I was nearly word perfect on (I don't really count myself as a Journey fan!). The band were pretty tight musically although the drum sound was a little too bassy. I was interested to see how lead signer Arnel Pineda would perform and the reaction he would get. No worries on either score, he is a excellent singer, jumped around like a bouncing bean and his infectious smile ensured he got the loudest cheer of the evening when the band were introduced at the end of the set.

A ticker tape welcome for Journey at Cardiff International Arena, 26th May 2013
Overall a very enjoyable evening with over four hours of classic rock music.

18 April 2013

Rock of Ages...

I must confess to feeling a bit old today. Thirty years ago, aged seventeen, I caught the bus to Bristol to see the Michael Schenker Group at the Colston Hall. I was my first "proper" gig (I don't count The Rolling Stones as I was given the ticket). Thirty years on I saw Michael Schenker again in Bristol, this time with my seventeen year old son in tow!

Michael Schenker Group, Colston Hall, Bristol, 21st October 1983
Metal Mickey needs no introduction for a series of classic songs from stints in the Scorpions, UFO and the Michael Schenker Group. He fell out of favour musically with me following the less than stellar Built To Destroy (though to fair this was the tour I went to and they were amazing live). By the time he got around to the McAuley Schenker Group my musical tastes had gone in a different direction to commercial rock and he dropped off my musical radar.

Michael Schenker, High Voltage, Victoria Park, London, 24th July 2011
However an impressive appearance at High Voltage resparked my interest so I was determined that if I got the opportunity I would go and see him and last night was the night...

Doogie White, Francis Buchholz and Hermann Rarebell, 02 Academy, Bristol, 17th April 2013
The set list is certainly a trip down memory lane with classic track after classic track from the Scorpions, UFO and MSG, all superbly performed and well received by an enthusiastic audience. The band played two "new" tracks, one of the Temple of Rock album and one from the forthcoming Bridge the Gap. They didn't sit well with the rest of the set, but given I was nearly word perfect on every other song this may have been down to a lack of familiarity as opposed to lack of quality.

The Mad Axeman, 02 Academy, Bristol, 17th April 2013
Overall a great night, it certainly put a smile on my face and my only regret as Doctor, Doctor closed a storming evening was having missed UFO in Bath a couple of months back. Old school heavy rock still kicks!

27 March 2013

A Space Oddity?

I picked up Cosmograf's latest album The Man Left in Space, on a bit of a whim. A few people I know said it was pretty darn tootin' and that I should check it out (they also said that about Lifesigns, the less said about that the better). Anyhow, a prog concept album about a stranded astronaut, what could there be not to like?

Well, it is not really a concept album about a stranded astronaut (boo!). It has more high brow concepts about "exploring the themes of aspiration, achievement, and the failures that our quest sometimes brings" through the analogy of a man left behind in space on a mission to save mankind (or something like that). Personally I would have been happy with a stranded astronaut and evocative song titles like The Vacuum That I Fly Through and When The Air Runs Out lend themselves to this but the more esoteric concepts don't hurt the album.

Musically the album is very solid. Reminiscent of Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd in places, there are some wonderful moments here with excellent guitar and keyboard.  At times it rocks out, at others it gets a bit funky, sometimes it is just atmospheric keyboard sweeps. Lovely. Lyrically though it sometimes clunks...

By and large the lyrics are fine but odd bits like Beautiful Treadmill (?) and rhyming "last man in space" with "human race" sounds as subtle as a brick through a windscreen, which is a big shame as by and large the writing is well thought out, thought provoking and flows nicely. Like a good book needs an editor, good albums need a producer and I believe it should not be the songwriter as they are too close to the creative process and cannot take that step back to see if their baby has flaws.

That said I would not let that put you off, the plusses of The Man Left in Space  by far outweigh the odd minuses and I am certainly enjoying listening to the album, especially Aspire, Achieve and This Naked Endeavour, which are my stand out tracks.

14 March 2013

Sit And Chew On Daffodils...

Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Marillion's Script For A Jester's Tear. Writing that makes me feel somewhat old! Script is an important album in my record collection as it introduced me to prog, not that I really appreciated that at the time. My musical taste in the late seventies and early eighties had been centred around the classic heavy rock of albums like Rainbow Rising, the emergence of NWOBHM classics like Number of the Beast and Wheels of Steel. Bands like Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, King Crimson etc didn't feature.* Script changed that...

Listening back to the album it clearly has flaws but its still has a power and emotion about it that enchants. Fans of seventies Genesis claim the music is highly derivative, it may be but I don't hear it. The reason for that is the lyrics. Full of passion, pathos and anger, Fish is a superb wordsmith and every song here has moments that make the hairs stand up on my neck.

The title track weeps sadness of love lost, Garden Party spits sacrasm at the silver spoon brigade, Chelsea Monday resonates with pathos of a life wasted and Forgotten Sons, the piece de resistance in my opinion, fires off salvoes of bottled up anger at the wasted lives in the Northern Ireland Troubles. Show me a Genesis album with any of that...

So tonight I'm sitting chewing daffodils behind the hull of my Saracen armoured car, playing Script For A Jester's Tear and toasting it for introducing me to a genre, and bands and songs I love, that may have passed me by.

* Pink Floyd were the exception but everyone bought The Wall and The Final Cut (also thirty years old) spoke to me as one of Maggie's millions. I didn't realise that was "prog" but in the early eighties rock fans liked everything from Marillion to Metallica and were not obsessed with sub-genre labels.

8 March 2013

To Boldly Go...

Although Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep is Spock's Beard's eleventh studio album it does mark a new stage in their evolution featuring Ted Leonard and Jimmy Keegan on vocals and drums respectively replacing Nick D'Virgilio, drummer with the band since 1992 and lead singer since 2002.

The band have used crowd funding site Indiegogo to fund the album and whilst we now wait for the physical CD to be pressed and shipped the band have released the album as a download for funders.

As is de rigueur these days there is a standard seven track version of the album and a special edition with a five track bonus disc. However, unlike many bonus discs featuring demo songs and outtakes I venture that this is one well worth getting as all bar one of the songs are unique and all are very good.

The basic album is very good. If you are a Spock's fan it hits all the right spots, Leonard sings well and was trusted enough to pen the opening song Hiding Out. Long in the tooth fans will be pleased to note that Neal Morse contributes his song writing skills to two songs and some guitar on one. The songs are all are quality with Something Very Strange the stand out track for me. Great melodies that grow on you and the sound is unmistakably Spock's Beard.

The bonus disc sees the band push the envelope a bit and allowing for the fact that two new band members led them to possibly play it a little safe on the main album, there is some interesting material on the second disc. Wish I Were Here with its wonderful guitar riff put me in mind of Kula Shaker and Down A Burning Road has some lovely Gary Moore style guitar soloing both stand out for me.

7 March 2013

The Emperor's New Clothes?

Over the past couple of years Steven Wilson has become a god. Not literally of course, but prog journalists hang on his every proclamation and laud his latest releases with a plethora of increasingly glowing superlatives. This has led to prog fans follow raving about his latest "classic" release and it seems to suggest otherwise is heresy. I thought the hype around Storm Corrosion would be hard to match but progworld has outdone itself with his new album The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories), such is the level of praise for it you'd think we'd had the Second Coming and it turned out Jesus was a Martian.

Ok, The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) is not a bad album. Given the pot purri quality of both Insurgentes and Grace For Drowning, Raven is a distinct improvement. However it does not warrant the tons of praise being heaped on it.

In part it is derivative of much seventies prog. This may be intended as a homage but is bordering pastiche. Other parts echo earlier Wilson releases with sections sounding like they have been lifted direct from early Porcupine Tree albums or even been out-takes from later ones (Drive Home could be slotted straight into The Incident).

On a personal note I an not enamoured with the over use of sax on certain songs, it has never been my favourite instrument, I don't like jazz and I find it grates here. You may think differently but I like progressive rock, not progressive jazz.

Overall, not bad, a bit of a mixed bag. The title track is very atmospheric but the whole album leaves me slightly underwhelmed given all the hype. In some respects this is like Anathema and everyone raving about We're Here Because We're Here not having heard A Fine Day To Exit or A Natural Disaster. All I can say if that of you think this is good, check out the Porcupine Tree back catalogue and be blown away...

25 January 2013

The Ones That Got Away - Lynyrd Skynyrd

It can't be easy carrying around the name Lynyrd Skynyrd and it would be easy for the band to rest on their laurels and become another "greatest hits" act but credit to them despite being down to one surviving original member they not only keep the flame alive but have been knocking out some good new material of late.

I really enjoyed 2009's God & Guns even if lyrically some of the songs were a bit too redneck for comfort (and at odds with the message from the likes of Saturday Night Special). I missed the fact that the follow up Last of a Dyin’ Breed came out last summer but picked it up recently and have found it to be another great slice of Southern Rock with enough of a modern edge to it to keep it fresh and not dated.

Lyrically we are still somewhere deep in redneck country and many of the songs veer from the depressing (Life's Twisted, Nothing Comes Easy) to the borderline sexist (Honey Hole?!) but that doesn't stop them being a collection of good rock songs. Probably best not to over think them I suspect...

There might not be as many stand out tracks as on God & Guns, bit the likes of One Day At A Time and the potentially cheesy but very emotional Ready To Fly show that Skynyrd should not hang up their cowboy boots quite yet...

21 January 2013

The Ones That Got Away - Kamelot...

I have something of a passing enjoyment of symphonic metal although it is a genre I need to take in smallish doses as it can sound a bit too similar from one band to the next. That said there are some real pearls amongst the genre's bands, Kamelot being one.

I found them fairly generic until they released the stunning The Black Halo in 2005 and have picked up all their material since, which makes it kind of odd that I missed 2012's release Silverthorn!

Silverthorn has the familiar Kamelot sound, but as Nightwish have also done over the last couple of albums, they have pushed the envelope somewhat with a more grandoise operatic somewhat dark carnivale influence extending into the lyrics, sounds and motifs. The album is a somewhat overblown concept album and is the first featuring new singer Tommy Karevik who does a sterling job replacing Roy Khan, no small feat given the latter's tenure of thirteen years at the helm. The additional of guest female vocals on some songs certainly adds to the whole experience.

Whilst Silverthorn would probably not sneaked into my top ten of 2012, it is a very good album and worthy of investigation. If you have not heard Kamelot before the song Sacrimony from the album is a good primer tossing in lots of different aspects of the band and their sound...

10 January 2013

The Ones That Got Away - Riversea...

I was not the only person listing their top ten albums of 2012 and of course there are a number of really good ones I've found myself catching up on (and my wallet complaining about!). So to start 2013 I will be looking at the ones that got away kicking off with Riversea's debut release Out of an Ancient World.

A number of friends recommended this and I suspect I would have been on many people's top ten if it hadn't be released in December. It is a wonderful collection of songs and the fact it is a debut album belies the fact that it sounds so good. They mix the mellow vocals and keyboard sweeps with occasional grittiness and passion fused with some classy guitar solos. Echoes of Marillion and Pink Floyd here and there, the album seeps emotion.

Stand out tracks are the thought provoking Is That What God Wants? and the sublime title track Out of An Ancient World but they are all good.

If I'd picked it up before I started my 2012 Top Ten it would certainly have been in it!

1 January 2013

Shapes of Things...

So this is 2013 is it? Seems like it was only 2012 yesterday! :-)

So what will 2013 bring us musically and what am I looking forward to? Apparently Planet Rock listeners voted a new album by Led Zeppelin as their most wished for thing in 2013. More chance of Martians landing I suspect, so I will keep my list short and sane!

1. New Crimson Sky album:

I'm not sure if this is definitely on the cards, Martin Leamon has told us he is writing new material and after the excellent Dawn EP released last year it is obvious that the current line up is the bee's knees and if there is any justice in the world they will get the chance to record and release a storming album in 2013, bringing them the success they deserve.

I was lucky to catch Crimson Sky live a few times over the last twelve months (after a year of being fated not ever being able to see them) and find them hugely enjoyable. Martin is an excellent guitarist and Jane Setter a fantastic singer.


The follow up to Also Eden's excellent 2011 album Think of the Children is due later this year and my anticipation levels are barely restrained! To whet the appetite the band released the forthcoming song Endless Silence as a festive download. My appetite is well and truly whetted!

Also Eden deserve more recognition and success than they current receive and they are a superb live band as well as having released some wonderful albums.

3. Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep:

The new Spock's Beard album should be interesting, especially with new vocalist Ted Leonard. I am a bit of a heretic in my love of the post-Neal Morse era material. The samples the band have released certainly sound good, roll on March...

4. Seeing Galahad Live:

Having released two of my top ten albums of 2012, I was gutted to miss out on seeing Galahad live in 2012. Hopefully I will be able to make one of their gigs in 2013.

5. Some Old School Rock:

Having been amazed by Michael Schenker at High Voltage in 2011 I am keen to see him on his 2013 tour (it'll be thirty years since I first saw him play). UFO are also in the area early this year so it could be a last chance to check out some of these ageing Old School rockers (hopefully not but they aren't get any younger!).