Pick Your Rock and Metal

Sunday, August 05, 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: U.D.O. captures the beating metal heart on Steelfactory

ON U.D.O.'s new album, 'Steelfactory' you would expect it to carr you along the expected metal journey, but the veteran singer also invites us into something else - not just the passion, but the introspection of being a rock 'n' roll veteran on the closing tack 'The Way'.

Mr Dirkschneider has such a venerable career that another album would have been received with accolades, no matte what. And, while 'Steelfactory' contains no surprises you wouldn't want UDO to deliver a fucking nu-metal album.

What you get is a straightforward, no nonsense, heavy metal album, tempered by the revelatory 'ballad' of 'The Way'.

In many ways this AFM Records/Soulfood Music release captures the essence of what makes a great 'classic' metal album. All bar two of the 15 tracks clock in at around four minutes: the majority have a mid-tempo menace; and, for all the power there is an inherent melody.

The self-styled 'German Metal Tank' has the ability to deliver effortlessly on songs such as 'Rose In The Desert' and the frenetic 'Eraser'.

Of course, these days U.D.O. have a settled line-up: from his son Sven on drums - ably aided by Fitty Wienhold on bass - through to the excellence of Andry Smirnov' guitar work.

On the second song, 'Make The Move', in particular Smirnov's work jousts with UDO's words, playing each note in an almost lyrical fashion.

And, Smirnov's contribution is a key facet that producer Jacob Hansen has developed. Yes, UDO has the sort of voice that was designed for heavy metal, but the entire record's aesthetic stands with.

True, 'Steelfactory' isn't going to re-define the genre, nor will it change the future of metal - but you know what? We don't give a single flying fuck. Just listen to 'In The Heat Of The Night' and revel in its delivery and excellence - even the FX are restrained.

But the subsequent track 'Raise The Game' should have a trademark on it!

However, the core of this album is 'Hungry And Angry'. Sure, non-metal people may scoff, but yes "we are still hungry and angry'. That said, 'One Heart, One Soul' is almost the epitome of what UDO does.

All the tracks are as close to the alchemist's stone that can be achieved in metal.

Maybe it is an age-thing, but 'Steelfactory' seems to us to have that bit of class that dictates it shall be on repeat for a long, long time to come. And, the doubters can fuck away off because UDO is one of that rare breed that just does it and does it fucking well. This really is 'The Way'...

Review by Jonathan Traynor

Steelfactory is released on AFM Records and Soulfood Music on August 31st.


Friday, August 03, 2018

LIVE REVIEW: Simply the Best - Iron Maiden leave Belfast slack-jawed in amazement


THERE are stage shows, there are great stage shows, and then there are amazing mélange of songs and stage shows. And then there is Iron Maiden. Surpassing all, not just hyperbole - but an acknowledgement that they are simply the best.

The Maiden machine's descent upon Belfast's SSE on August 2nd was a masterclass on how to do an arena show. Other acts will be scratching their heads on how to even come close, never mind match this show.

The choice of Killswitch Engage as support may have had some people wondering, given their status as metalcore pioneers. However, the age range of Maiden fans is such that they appealed to many.

And, Jesse Leach was well aware that they had to engage the building audience from the off. Sure, the tomfoolery of Adam Dutkiewcz was an interesting aside, but the band used every second of their support slot to pack in songs sure to have horns raised.

Both Leach and Howard Jones songs were deployed, but Jesse's voice has a commanding presence, with opener 'Strength of Mind', 'Hate By Design' and 'My Last Serenade'.

Much more effective when headliners in their own right Leach committed the supporting act faux pas, reminding everyone that they were there to see Iron Maiden - yeah we all knew that!

Concluding with a crowd-pleasing, and affectionate, cover of Dio's Holy Diver a return to Belfast will be most welcomed by most.

For those who have watched the documentary 'Belly of the Beast' the level of detail, consideration and rehearsals that Iron Maiden and their team put into every tour comes as no surprise.

Regimented, disciplined, well-oiled etc etc. For many bands this could result in a stilted performance. Not Maiden. They take professionalism to another level. If they were to stand in front of long-time manager Rod Smallwood for their annual job evaluation they would exceed all expectations.

And, on this 'Legacy Of The Beast' show previous Maiden shows were well exceeded...

Presented as a metal opera in four acts - war, religion, hell and damnation - this was not only well constructed but thought through in its conception and execution.

From the military-garbed crew unveiling the camo netting as the strains of 'Doctor, Doctor' echoed around the SSE through to the final wail of 'Run To The Hills' not a foot or moment was wasted.

In the carefully coordinated moments of Churchill's Speech anticipation within the sold-out venue was perhaps higher than ever before. And, there was a fucking Spitfire. A 90% lifesize replica of a Spitfire from 302 Squadron - a Polish squadron - flew above the stage as 'Aces High' had 90% of the audience bellowing along. A vocal nod to the 100th anniversary of the RAF and noting that young men a third of his age went off to fight Nazism was just and apt.

'Where Eagles Dare' - with Bruce in mountaineering garb - and an outstanding 'Two Minutes to Midnight' had the audience slack-jawed in amazement.

Turning to the Bayley-era 'The Clansman' Dickinson took the time to speak about 'Freedom'  and in response the SSE joined in during the track.

'The Trooper' concluded the 'War' section with Bruce duelling with a 12 foot Eddie; the track only diminished by Bruce waving a Legacy of the Beast flag instead of the Union Flag the rest of the tour will see. It's a song about the Crimean War, based on a poem, not a political statement. Fuck sake Northern Ireland is disappearing up its own arsehole when this happens.

A sign that Maiden know how to play their audience was the tracks 'Revelations' and 'For The Greater Good of God'. As the backdrop changed to a cathedral like illumination (with saints replaced by the various incarnations of Eddie in the stained glass) these were tracks for aficionados not those for the hits. Thankfully most there were aficionados.

'The Wicker Man' and 'Sign Of The Cross' - with Bruce in demented monk mode - kept it all moving along.

Steve Harris grinning like it was his first show machine-gunning the audience with his bass, the entire band were not only 'on form' but were revelling in what they were doing.

Murray and Smith trading licks and riffs, while Gers was rivalling Bruce in the Energizer Bunny stakes and hamming up at every opportunity.

As if a theatrical performance all hit their 'marks' while anchoring all was an exuberant performance from the grinning Nicko. Every time the stage cameras captured him his smile was radiant. One bass drum, no drum triggers, a plethora of toms, his work rate might seem as you watch relaxed but the man exudes class.

Now many bands have pyros. Flames and all that. Bruce had his own fucking flamethrower. Threatening band mates a vast Icarus' wings fell to ashes.

To give an insight to the level of professionalism a photographer revealed that prior to the show beginning a Maiden PR person briefed all the togs where Bruce would leap on the opening number...in order that all in the photo pit could get the best possible shot. Equal that!

Adorned with a plague mask 'Fear of the Dark' saw the Belfast choir chanting and signing on command, while 'Number of the Beast was, well 'Number of the Beast'.

With the main set closing with a hyper-speed 'Iron Maiden' the trio of tracks for the encore had the audience both rapt and using every last ounce of energy. 'The Evil That Men Do' merged seamlessly into 'Hallowed by thy Name'  complete with cell and swaying noose.

As 'Run To The Hills' had yet more fists, horns and strained vocal chords there was no doubt the audience left as 'Always Look On The Bright Side of Life' played they were not only sated, but delighted.

As per each show on this tour Iron Maiden came on at precisely the same time, and departed at the same time. Contrived? No professional. But being professional, and executing the same set night after night does mot mean that the band does not deliver anything other than pure heavy metal excellence. The enthusiasm was evident, not just a set of men doing their jobs.

The only niggle across the entire evening was the massed ranks of phones. Watch the gig - you're tiny screen will never capture the majesty of Maiden.

What next for the Irons? Another album, tour to support that and a farewell greatest hits tour? That'll do nicely.

Review by Jonathan Taynor

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: The Spirit conjure deathly mysticism on Sounds From The Vortex

HAILING from Germany's Saarland, The Spirit, have landed what must seem like a dream - their self-released and very limited edition début 'Sounds From The Vortex' has been snapped up by Nuclear Blast, and will be released on August 10th.

What enticed Nuclear Blast - well simply a damn fine album of melodic death metal. On the first listen it has enough elements to capture the imagination - and on subsequent spins it reveals much, much more.

The pairing of 'The Clouds of Damnation' and 'Cross The Bridge To Eternity' would stand proud on many an iconic black/death metal acts releases.

And, 'The Great Mortality' has an icy insistence that recalls some of their epic Scandinavian predecessors.

Therein lies the key - The Spirit have studied hard their influences. They have not slavishly copied them; rather they have plucked the elements they love and given them a twist.

The one niggle is who the fuck are they? The accompanying blurb has them identified the members only by initials, yet enigmatically says they are young but "by means inexperienced band". Well 'MT's vocals and guitar majesty with 'AK' is well executed, and 'AT' (bass) and 'MS' (Drums) clearly know what they are about, no matter who they are.

While throughout there is tremendous musicianship what stands out is there understanding of what they are about. Instrumental passages aren't mere things to showcase in a "look at us" manner their accomplished playing, but are integral to each songs structure.

Equally when solos are used they match the mood and power of the songs - deployed when necessary but not over-used.

The whole mysticism and icy tales from the lyrics may be a bit samey, but they're hardly going to call for revolution...

Previously The Spirit created a buzz in some fanzines and online 'underground' sites - with the re-release of 'Sounds From The Vortex' they will gain a wider audience and a platform for their next release - maybe by then they'll be able to tell us who the fuck they are!

Review by Jonathan Traynor

Sounds From The Vortex is released on Nuclear Blast on August 10th


NEWS: Madball ink in Belfast and Dublin shows in December

NYC hardcore heroes Madball will include Belfast and Dublin show's in their December 'For The Cause' tour.

We reviewed the album in June and we have to say it is up there with some of their finest - dripping invective and railing against a fucked up world (read the review here).

Madball play Dublin's Voodoo Lounge on Monday, December 3rd, and the following night at The Foundry, Belfast.

Support in Belfast comes from By Any Means, Lawfucker and Barrick Buster.

Tickets for the Belfast show are priced £22.50 and are available from wegottickets.com.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Epica discover their inner geek on manga/anime inspired Attack On Titan

OKAY - all you geeks and fans of manga and anime pay attention, because the Japanese release by Epica of 'Attack On Titan' is now available in the UK.

Yep, previously only available in the home of the series, the Dutch symphonic metal crew tribute to the multi-million selling series is out now on Nuclear Blast.

And, it has to be said we approached this with much trepidation. It's not as if we don't like the magna stuff - but c'mon, if anyone had suggested this there would have been much guffaws. That is until you listen to 'Attack On Titan'.

Trying to capture the essence of a series with a worldwide cadre of devoted fans is something that most bands would have baulked at, but Epica have managed the remarkable. This will appeal to fans of the series and fans of symphonic metal.

The headlong rush of 'Crimson, Bow and Arrow' and 'Wings of Freedom' melds into delicacies of Simone on 'If Inside These Walls Was A House'.

While at first 'Dedicate Your Heart' seems a little forced lyrically, it is a justifiable conceit to make sure the sense of what is attempted.

Keyboardist Coen Janssen explained where it all came from: “The 'Attack on Titan' EP is a project very close to my heart.

"More than ever I was involved in arranging and producing and I am very proud of the result! Very cool to see how these Japanese anime-songs turned into Epica songs more and more every step of the way! I’m very excited that our 'Attack on Titan'  will be available outside of Japan"

Now Nuclear Blast and the band have described this as an EP. With eight tracks lasting well over 40 minutes it is at least a mini-album, and longer than many bands attempt.

Attack On Titan' was recorded during the summer of 2017 at Sandlane Recording Facilities by Joost van den Broek. The original songs, which were influenced by the music of Epica, were composed by Revo of Japanese band Linked Horizon.

For the 'EP', the tracks were adapted by Epica and produced by Joost van den Broek.

The choir arrangements and scoring were completed by Janssen who also handled the orchestral arrangements with Joost van den Broek.

While it may smack of a vanity project the four instrumentals (albeit with significant choral elements and spoken pieces) are well worth the price of this release.

But while there will be fans if magna who will devour every second - and salute Eren Yaeger's conflicted journey as they do so.

However, more than that this sits comfortably within Epica's catalogue as a worthy collection. Geeks assemble!

Review by Jonathan Traynor

Attack on Titan is available now on Nuclear Blast


ALBUM REVIEW: Mad Max manage to keep it vital on 35

HOLY shitballs - but when Mad Max formed we were a mere 16-years-old - which sort of came home when they named their latest release '35'.

But no-one seems to have told the German rockers that after that length of time they should be kicking back and looking towards more relaxing times...

Instead '35' is a testimony as to why no band - or for that matter individual - should measure their output by some arbitrary measurement of time.

Despite their (band) vintage this release has all the vitality of what hard rock was about in the 1980s and still sounds fresh in 2018  - just take the energy oozing from 'Goodbye To You' with its frenetic opening pace and well-spaced soundscape that will have listeners chanting "She's A Radical" along with the band.

This Steamhammer/SPV release is bursting with tunes that will have heads nodding and the likes of 'Thirty 5' will surely be live favourites with its brooding mid-pace menace and acknowledgement of their road so far.

And, unlike many other bands they have the guts to say upfront about their influences - they might have had some reservations about the overtly Extreme influence on 'Snowdance' but they were right to include it.

Equally - the bonus track 'Paris Is Burning' is a cover of the Dokken song - with the blessing of Don Dokken himself - that is both faithful to the original and has the Mad Max stamp too.

Michael Voss' vocals sound fresh and passionate - especially on 'Rocky Road', their tale of the highs and lows of being a long-enduring band.

But, it is the cohesiveness of the sound created by Voss, Jürgen Breforth (guitar), Axel Kruse (drums) and Thomas “Hutch” Bauer (bass) that makes this such an enjoyable listen.

In the accompanying blurb to this release Breforth explained why they stay so fresh with an album packed with great songs.

“We’ve never produced a new album just because a record company asked us to or because it was supposedly high time to come up with a new recording,” he said.

“For us the all-decisive question before every production is merely: Do we still have enough ideas for an album that we as well as our fans will get excited about? Only if everybody involved agrees on that point will we begin to work.”

Among the stand-outs that must have everybody picking up their instruments is 'D.A.M.N. (Devil's After Me) which has an energy few can equal, with lyrics by Jason Smith and Breforth.

But the most significant track is 'Beat Of The Heart'. Reflecting the band's previous hit 'Night Of Passion' it has all the elements that make a great song - this really is classic rock in the best sense of the phrase.

It would be easy to discount bands like Mad Max in 2018 - but you know what, so long as they keep releasing albums like this they'll remain as important as the heroes they had that made them first pick up their instruments.

Review by Jonathan Traynor

35 is released on Steamhammer/SPV on August 10th


NEWS: Slash releases first single from new album - featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators

IT had to happen - Slash, featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators are set to release their new album, 'Living The Dream'  on 21st September 2018 via Slash's own label Snakepit Records, in partnership with Roadrunner Records.

The group unleashed 'Driving Rain'- the first single from Living the Dream—today. Listen to “Driving Rain” HERE and watch the trailer HERE and purchase the new song digitally HERE.

SLASH describes the creation of 'Driving Rain' “This is a riff I specifically remember playing with the guys for the first time at a venue in New Hampshire on the World on Firetour,” explains SLASH.

“It’s a cool guitar part we ran through, and from that point forward the rest of the song started to come together in my mind while on the road. We put it all together this year and Myles came up with a great melody for it.”

Myles Kennedy added, “The riff is very reminiscent of vintage Aerosmith.

"It’s got a certain funk to it that’s compelling. Lyrically, it’s a story about somebody who works on the road--it could be a musician, and it could be a traveling salesman. What makes it interesting is this guy has an addict girlfriend or spouse who continues to relapse, and she ends up getting him to come home. She’s miserable and falls back into bad old habits, and that compels him to head back to her to save the day.”

'Living The Dream' is Slash’s fourth solo album, and third with Slash and his bandmates Myles Kennedy (Vocals), Brent Fitz, (Drums), Todd Kerns (Bass & Vocals) and Frank Sidoris (Guitar & Vocals)

The band has launched a physical pre-order for Living The Dream including CD, Heavyweight vinyl and a limited edition Deluxe Premium Set consisting of  2LP Yellow Vinyl within a Premium 'Living The Dream' Vinyl-size 20 page Hardback Book, an exclusive one-sided 7” single of 'Driving Rain' featuring an etching on the B-side with a special set of SLASH plectrums, Standard Physical CD album and  poster.

All formats are available to order along with a limited-edition T-shirt and Hoodie. To view a variety of the LIVING THE DREAM CD/merchandise bundles available now: http://www.slashonline.com.
The band has also unveiled the album cover art and tracklisting for LIVING THE DREAM. The artwork was created by renowned visual artist Ron English. View the cover art and tracklisting below.

Cover art created by artist Ron English.

The tracklisting for Living The Dream is:

1. The Call of the Wild
2. Serve You Right
3. My Antidote
4. Mind Your Manners
5. Lost Inside the Girl
6. Read Between the Lines
7. Slow Grind
8. The One You Loved Is Gone
9. Driving Rain
10. Sugar Cane
11. The Great Pretender
12. Boulevard of Broken Hearts

NEWS: Deep fried Southern Rock Band Hogjaw premieres their new video and much more!

RAMBUNCTIOUS Southern Rockers Hogjaw are proud to lift the lid on new video & single, ‘Way Down Yonder’ – the title track of their latest album, out now via Snakefarm Records.

What’s more, the band will also be re-releasing their 2015 album, ‘Rise To The Mountains’, on Sept 28th 2018, just before they kick-start a headline UK tour.

Hogjaw hail from Arizona and describe themselves as “Four fingers folded into a fist!”: JB Jones (vocals and guitar), Jimmy Rose (lead guitar), Elvis DD (bass) and Kwall (drums). “Hard-hitting southern fried electric rock” is how they define their sound, although their influences are drawn from a deeper well: imagine Free, early Rainbow and Whitesnake, marinaded in Blackfoot and The Allman Brothers, then steeped in moonshine. Solid Southern blues-rock. Oh, and beards!

Hogjaw’s video to support ‘Way Down Yonder’s supernaturally-themed title track and single is filled with the kind of energy and oomph! that only big men with attitude plus an aversion to razors can truly provide. Bluesdoodles captured the heart and soul of the track thus: “‘Way Down Yonder’ has a riff which… is a southern fried gumbo of Rainbow’s ‘Sixteenth Century Greensleeves’. This should mean it is wrong but, even with the spoken word section sounding like Johnny Cash, and then an a capella hand-clap bit, somehow (damn it!) this is still a great song”.

Check out the track and accompanying video below.

“When we wrote the song ‘Way Down Yonder’, it started with this cool, mystical story-line, and JB – who has produced many of our videos – came up with the whole concept based on what he had written. It might have been nice to shoot everything in the swamps of Louisiana, but instead we kept to our home state of Arizona. We were able to go to three outdoor locations that showcased different areas. We like to call it the ‘desert swamps’! Hope everyone out there enjoys these few minutes as much as we enjoyed making them!” - Hogjaw

Produced by the band & Byron Filson, ‘Way Down Yonder’ (the album) features 11 new tracks ranging from the clean, mellow pickin’ of ‘Back Home Today’ through to the heavy swamp groove of ‘Never Surrender’.

Meanwhile, ‘Rise To The Mountains’, their 2015 10-tracker, includes the Southern classic, ‘I Will Remain’…

“This was the last album written at the Hog-Pound House where a lot of musical magic was achieved. Plenty of whiskey was drunk on hot summer nights, with loud music grilling in our ears; the outcome was 10 songs that we felt proud of, and we did not hesitate to support the album by touring and releasing three videos: ‘Where Have You Gone’, ‘The Smoker’ and the epic ‘I Will Remain’. As we break into the middle of 2018, we Hogjaw guys are excited to see this album soar to new heights, with the Snakefarm re-issue blowing some fresh air into it… go get a copy and throw it on!!! Cheers!” - Hogjaw

To support this re-issue plus its ‘Way Down Yonder’ follow-up, Hogjaw will be headlining a UK tour in October, that sadly misses out Belfast.

Monday, July 30, 2018

ALBUM REVIEW:Dee Snider displays power and passion on For The Love Of Metal

WHEN Dee Snider bellows out "I gave you yesterday" on 'Tomorrow's No Concern' it is a declaration that whatever is in the past, whether he is regarded by lame brains as a legacy act, or whatever the sneering voices may say he is as relevant and as prescient as when 'Under The Blade' was released.

The most recent live shows with Dee we witnessed were at the triumphant final UK Twisted Sister show at Bloodstock and an amazing solo show at Hammerfest - and each time, despite the circumstances, the fire in the belly of the man was evident.

And, on 'For The Love Of Metal' that fire has been stoked to inferno-like levels.

It might have been sparked by Jamey Jasta (who produced and wrote much of this) but this is Dee Snider in his purest essence: sheer metal honesty.

From the opening hyper-speed 'Lies Are A Business' through to the title track closer this is an essential purchase and will live on playlists well beyond 2018.

Jasta has coaxed a passion and power from Snider that we all knew existed. Indeed this collaboration takes the bombast and adds more finesse and added doses of heft.

At 63 Dee has never sounded so well. The 'heaviness' of the tracks doesn't diminish the quality of the vocals, the melody, and...fuck it, the sheer singalong of every single fucking chorus.

That so many musicians queued up be involved (Mark Morton of Lamb of God, Howard Jones of KSE, Joel Grind and Nick Bellmore of Toxic Holocaust and Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy) should tell  Snider of the regard that he is held in by so many people. Fuck the haters, because this is Dee Fucking Snider.

And, in true metal 80s tradition there had to be a power ballad...he and Alissa duet on Dead Hearts (Love Thy Enemy). While such duets were much beloved by record executives this anti-bullying song feels timeless with some fantastic playing and Alissa's clean vocals and Snider's snarl.

But Snider's voice could have been seen as a template for many of the growlers that have come in his wake - there is an edge here that fits everything that went before and amps it up to another level, without once sacrificing tunefulness.

And, without ever once compromising - 'Running Mazes' and 'Roll Over You' have a metallic viciousness that is fucking spot-on.

But the real magic within 'For The Love Of Metal' is a timeless quality. Sure, you can hear Jasta's influence, you can dig within tracks to see the source influences, and even thrash sounds, but these facts do not take away from the fact that this is a triumphant, defiant 'fuck you'.

There is a self-awareness too - 'Mask' and 'I'm Ready' just nail that and much more. However, the more revelatory statement comes on 'Become The Storm' when Dee declares "No more time to reminisce". This isn't some nostalgia trip, and the sentiment is we can go through shit, we can be at our lowest and then salvation emerges in the shape of being amongst our brothers and sisters in loving heavy fucking metal.

In a similar vein 'The Hardest Way' - with Howard Jones - kicks more ass than a pissed off thoroughbred but we emerge -tested, and with the courage required in "stepping into the blinding light".

Closing off the album with the title track it is Dee's homage to metal - pick off the references and despite it all - this is not cheesy. This is a hymn to why we all love metal, and an ode to the enduring power of this community, the music that binds young and old in sweet abandon.

Mr Snider (and Mr Jasta too) we doff our caps to you, and are ready to headbang with you - as you say "we are all fucking metal".

Whether you buy or stream - just listen to this NOW. 

Review by Jonathan Traynor

For The Love Of Metal is out now on Napalm Records


ALBUM REIEW: Shotgun Rodeo triumphant on By Hook Or By Crook

ANY band that has a track dedicated to the Riffmeister General, Tony Iommi, are always guaranteed to get a listen here  and we're glad we did as Shotgun Rodeo have produced a flawed but still eminently listenable album, 'By Hook Or By Crook'.

The Trondheim-based four-piece not only have that tribute to Sabs legendary axeman, but are consciously aware of their influences throughout.

The title track nods to NWOBHM and the noughties US equivalent, while 'Blaming the Kremlin', with its overt political message, has the riffs to extend beyond those influences.

It is that political messaging that works well, and awareness of issues - such as the double-barrel blast at keyboard warriors and media manipulation by politicians on 'Bastardize The World' as singer Nino's rage oozes invective.

However, there are moments when the bravado edges too close to the FFDP territory. On 'Shooting Slugs' the excellence of the work by Don Shrediablo (What!) veers too close to what the mags label 'contemporary metal'.

That being said, when Don lets rip on other tracks he proves his worth, such as on the outstanding 'I Am The Silver Bullet', which has all the bravura of metal in its finest 80s like iteration.

Grimmo D.B. (bass) and 'Doomfang (drums) - where do these pseudonyms come from? - are clearly talented in maintaining the momentum for Nino and Don to work upon.

Closing track 'Twist of the Knife' perhaps encapsulates the album best. With the usual thrash dystopian lyrics overlaid with a riff-heavy track, use of pinch harmonics, excellent solos with space and separation to allow the song to work-out all the tropes.

Sure, there are others doing similar, but Shotgun Rodeo do it really well, leaving others in their wake.

Now that 'Tony Iommi' track...it could have been easy to fluff this tribute, but this is really, really enjoyable. Guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser their knowledge of Iommi's background and oeuvre, and a wee joke about 'Technical Ecstasy' make it worth a smile. Sure we all know about Tony - but this makes it the sort of in joke metalheads can enjoy.

With 'By Hook Or By Crook' Shotgun Rodeo faced that difficult 'second album syndrome and passed it with flying colours. Sure, there are a few times when there is too much current US metal influences, but overall you could do worse than give this a listen on a Saturday afternoon before heading out to a gig.

Ohh - and we love the cheesy cover art!

Review by Jonathan Traynor

'By Hook Or By Crook' is released by Mighty Music on August 24th.



Sunday, July 29, 2018

LIVE REVIEW: Bloodstock warm-up...BOOM s Limelight levelled by Indominus, Oracle and Sinocence

WHEN it comes to playing Bloodstock - no matter what stage - it is an honour; and one not to be taken lightly. Hence when Northern Ireland's representatives set about preparing there was no better place than The Distortion Project's show in Belfast's Limelight2.

And by fuck did M2TM winners Oracle and invitees Sinocence go boom in the best possible way -showing exactly why they rock the fuck out of the 'Stock.

Melodic death metal tunes were there too to help dry off those soaked by the sudden turn in the weather that brought torrential rainfall to the city in the shape of Indominus.

With new frontman Ricky this s a considerable step up for the band. There is a more coherent sound and more heft present.

The rapport with the crowd worked well, and there were quite a few select passages that were engrossing - Indominus left the stage having won new friends.

For a relatively new band Oracle have leapt into the fray with boldness and intent - and by all the metal gods they have come at their task as if they want to flay all in their path.

The 'Tales of Pythia' EP established their sound but live they elevate it into a visceral experience: drawing the audience into their dark visions and eviscerating any delusions about a sunny future.

Jason prowls the stage like a caged animal about to break out and begin hunting the weak, while Conor and Jake six-string excellence.

With new song 'Serpentine' Chief and Rhys showcase a rhythm section that weaponize groove into a deadly force.

When Sinocence announced that Duane would be their frontman it was broadly welcomed. Now that this line-up has settled in - and no doubt worked hard in the rehearsal room - this their first full show as a five-piece was outstanding.

The band have always carved their own fiercely independent path - often in defiance of what is expected. That independence must have been at times a more difficult way, but at this show they shoved a middle-finger in the air and tore the place apart.

Moro and Anto took some of their well-worn tracks and gave them a boot in the hole, while Ben and Jim attacked songs as if they wanted to tear open the innards of those in the Limelight.

'Metal Box' was played at hyper speed; 'In Kymatica' oozed class - in fact there was not a bad moment in their set.

This was something special. A night when three bands upped their game and levelled all. There was no pretence, no airs and graces, no faffing about - just heavy fucking metal.

Bloodstock  - be ready because Oracle and Sinocence are coming for ya!

Review by Jonathan Traynor
Pictures by Lizzie Torbitt






















Thursday, July 26, 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Massive Wagons grab you good and proper on Full Nelson

WELL holy fuckity fuck but Massive Wagons have gone and done it again - produced an album chock a block with wall-to-wall great songs.

'Full Nelson - their first release on Earache - is further tribute to what the band is capable of: tunes, riffs, melody and muscle.

True, the regurgitation of older tracks such as 'Back To The Stack'. 'Ratio and 'Tokyo' help pad it out, and new nine songs have real kick and a massive set of balls that enables them to pull off a wondrous set of songs that in true Massive Wagons style have hard rock sensibilities mixed with occasional metal sensibilities.

But more than that - the ever-present awareness of what they are doing, combined with acute observational lyrics.

Many will have already tracks from this as they gear up for unleashing 'Full Nelson' but when taken as a collection they all work so well together.

For example 'Last On The List' follows the edge of 'Hate Me' into the delightful poignancy of 'The Ballad of Verdun Hayes'.

Whether a new label has really given them more a expressive outlet is a moot point as the band's previous two releases are strong enough to stand proud in any discography. But there is a sense of a band more comfortable here - and that doesn't mean they are in any way laid back.

From the opener 'Under No Illusion' this is an act wanting to show all-comers that they are on the verge of even greater things.

Bax manages to go from eviscerating social commentary through to deep emotional resonance ('Northern Boy') while Adam and Steve weave guitar magic.

The first three tracks set out the intent from Massive Wagon, as the title song, the wondrous critique of social media norms on 'China Plates' plus the singalong glory of 'Billy Balloon Head' are more than enough to satisfy any rock fan.

But this is a band not content with just a few great songs. The entire album is packed with revelatory poise. 'Summertime Smile' is The Cult and Aerosmith hybrid that exceeds their influences as Bowz (bass) and Alex (drums propel the track forward.

However, it is 'Northern Boy' that is at the heart of 'Full Nelson'. The well-thought out musical passages, the sense in the lyrics of what life is like in 2018 outside the Geater London bubble makes this a track to go back to time and time again.

It would be possible to analyse each and every track on this album and still not come close to the experience of listening to it, wallowing in it...and loving every minute.

Put it this way - Earache and their PR partners may have sent us the preview review, but when it is released we'll be buying our own copy to sit proudly in our collection.

Review by Jonathan Traynor

Full Nelson is released on Earache on August 10th


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: The Nght Flight Orchestra's Sometimes The World Ain't Enough is a fine release - but is it an album in the wrong era

WE have struggled with The Night Flight Orchestra's latest release, 'Sometimes The World Ain't Enough' on Nuclear Blast - tried and tried to find something worth saying about such a good release.

This is the sort of well-executed AOR/hard rock that had it been released in the mid-1980s record executives would be cumming in their pants, desperate to sign them and throwing bundles of cash at them to make over-the-top videos with scantily clad models draped over sports cars.

'Moments of Thunder' would be on constant rotation on radio stations across the US and MTV would have the video playing every 15 minutes.

But, one cannot blame the band that they were not there to see their bank balances swell and groupies swarm. Instead this is album to revel in.

True the Night Flight Orchestra showed much promise on their first two releases, and the excellent 'Amber Galctica', but one feels this release is closer to what the band wanted to showcase. Smooth and elegant -but with enough self-awareness that they have perfected their sound.

Björn Strid's vocals on the title track and 'Speedwagon' (no REO needed but more than a nod) and each song's structure across the album has an integrity and well-thought-out purpose.

Sure, they may spout in the blurb that come with the release about how they came upon the ivison for
The Night Flight Orchestra on a Soilwork tour in the US, and this is the perfect escapist music, but it does sound dated - dated in a good way.

Dated in the sense that it pulls all those who remember the heady days of the 80s before reality TV and manufactured acts - and those younger who can appreciate a great collection of tunes.

The work of Richard Larsson on keyboards adds a flourish and sense of atmosphere, as David Andersson and Sebastian Forslund weave spellbinding guitar lines on the likes of 'Can't Be That Bad'

There is an insistent quality throughout 'Sometimes The World Ain't Enough' that keeps you coming back for your AOR fix - no more so that on the wonderful 'Barcelona', that sees Sharlee D'Angelo (bass) and Jonas Källsbäck  (drums) propel the track on effortlessly.

Perhaps the title track and ;Winged and Serpentine' sum this album up best. - classy is the word we have been struggling to find as we pushed through repeated listens.

Yes, that's it! A classy release from a classy band.

Review by Jonathan Treaynor

Sometimes The World Ain't Enough is out now on Nuclear Blast


Saturday, July 21, 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Immortal sear through the icy wilderness on Northern Chaos Gods

FROM the icy wastes, from the depths of a Norwegian winter...ach fuck the clichés can be forgotten because Immortal have slayed a black metal path on their new album 'Northern Chaos Gods'.

And, by the darkest of gods of the night Demonaz and his collaborators have produced an album of purest, evil black metal.

But, the real key to the greatness of this album can be found on 'Gates of Blashyrkh'.Within this song is a subtlety that reveals that breath within songs are the true source of greatness when it comes to the cluttered world of black metal.

It's not as if Immortal have anything to prove. They are among the elite and on 'Northern Chaos Gods' they elevate themselves to another level.

It would not be unfair to say that this matches, if not exceeds the albums released with Abbath, such as 'Sons of Northern Darkness' or 'All Shall Fall'.

Indeed tracks such as 'Where Mountains Rise' have a relentless momentum that has fire bellowing from its dark underbelly.

“This is how Immortal is meant to sound”, said Demonaz, “and this is an album that pays tribute to our musical past as well.”

That is the magic of this release. Demonaz, together with Horgh and session bassist Peter Tägtgren, have captured their heritage and extended it yet further

To be sure - if one was to come to upon 'Northern Chaos Gods' with no knowledge of the band's past you would believe this was an almost perfect black metal template.

Review by Jonathan Traynor

Northern Chaos Gods is out now on Nuclear Blast




Wednesday, July 18, 2018

LIVE REVIEW: Ramblin Man 2018 – contradictions and eclectic line-up still leads to triumph

BESIDE the definition of the word eclectic in the dictionary you will find the Ramblin Man Fair logo.

The concept and line-up is as varied in 2018 as ever. Classic rock, Prog, Outlaw Country, Blues and Rising.

Veteran rockers, conceptually challenging acts, alt-metal, sleaze and even a black metal singer’s country side project – you couldn’t make it up, except Ramblin Man did it once again.

True there was a lot of mumblin’ and grumblin’ beforehand about the headliners on both nights. Whatever circumstances there were that led to Mott The Hopple and The Cult being the showcase acts is to ignore the strength and depth of what was laid on at Mote Park, Kent.

The depth of what was on show was evident throughout and what is more it was clear that the majority of those present enjoyed the hell out of themselves.

The weather was, at times insufferably hot, but the organisers can’t be blamed for that.

Kicking off proceedings on the Saturday on the main stage were No Hot Ashes – and the Northern Ireland band may have waited decades to release their début album, but they are making up for lost time in this, their second RMF appearance.

They sounded spectacular and with the sunshine they basked in the reflected affection making the start of proceedings all the more better. In an impressive set they really made the crowd given the early stage of the day. Their smooth rock and roll, Eamon’s vocal dexterity and soaring solos made it a great performance by a fantastic band.

Just before No Hot Ashes took to the main stage the ‘Rising Stage’ was underway with the always impressive Those Damn Crows building on their growing reputation.  Worth noting for future listening on that stage were The Dust Coda, The Rising Souls, Rocket Dolls and Gorilla Riot – not a bad tune from any of them.

When it comes to classic rock it is maybe unfair to tag Gun as such as they are much more than that – even if compared to the Rising Stage acts they come with the veteran label.

The Glaswegians seem to have somehow been given a new shot of life and they blasted the stage as if still having to prove something all over again. New single ‘Take Me Down’ was greeted as if a familiar track alongside ‘Better Days’ and ‘Word Up’. More please!

As if to emphasise the diversity a short walk to the Outlaw Country had, what for many, was an unknown quantity in the shape of Me and that Man. Led by the singer of Polish black metal band Behemoth, Nergal, and flanked by John Porter, within a song the crowd was burgeoning by what were obviously not Behemoth fans – but loving every second.

To say it was one of the stand-out sets of the weekend would be an understatement as Nergal brought country and Americana, and the promise to bring a little darkness to the bright Maidstone day.

Opening with ‘My Church Is Black’ and playing all of their album ‘Songs of Love and Death’ plus Creedance Clearwater Revival’s 1969 ‘Bad Moon Rising’ they entranced and intrigued. Again a more please moment.

Admitting beforehand that they were one of the heaviest bands on the line-up did not step Therapy? having the crowd in the palm of their hands. Their off-kilter take on rock and metal may have earned them the title ‘alt’ but that didn’t diminish their appeal to the throngs.

Andy Cairns was giving it his full glaring eyes when not engaging in banter – declaring Michael McKeegan an on-the-run evil priest and gleefully admitting a technical fuck-up.

New track ‘Callow’ from forthcoming album ‘Cleave’ sounded monstrous despite its dark lyrical theme, while familiar songs such ‘Die Laughing’, ‘Nowehere’ and the inevitable ‘Screamager’ saw Mote Par in full singalong mode.

They declare they have been “Helping the Afflicted Since 1990” but on stage at Ramblin Man Fair they brought a lust for life that few can equal.

The fact that Skinny Molly have past members of Molly Hatchet, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blackfoot amidst their ranks ensured a welcoming crowd – and yes they did play ‘Freebird’.

Myles Kennedy’s appearance on the Outlaw Country stage for an acoustic run through of tracks was, to say the least a surprise for many when announced, but he clearly has the draw no matter what he is doing.

Enjoyed by most the baffling decision to include Maiden’s ‘Trooper’ just didn’t sit right for us…

For all their talent one couldn’t help feeling sorry that Mott The Hopple were following Steel Panther on to the stage.

We went to a comedy show and a gig broke out.

Despite reservations expressed in fan groups about Panther they flew in from Russia and flew out again to the United States leaving laughter and broad grins in their wake.

They don’t do innuendo. ‘Goin’ in the Backdoor’, ‘Asian Hooker’, Community Property’, ‘Gloryhole’ and ‘Party All Day (Fuck All Night)’ take political correctness and sodomise it.

The between songs banter reached a highlight when Michael Starr emerged as Ozzy to ‘sing ‘Crazy Train’. Concluding with ‘Death to all but Metal’ may be their anthem, however that may have led to the slaughter of all bar two or three of the 38 acts – but the crowd was laughing too much to be bothered with anything but grabbing some refreshments.

Mott The Hopple’s esteemed career notwithstanding many headed away. That being said it cannot be denied that Ian Hunter can still carry it despite his – ahem – advanced years. And, the profusion of guitar talent (and guitars) this was literally ‘The Golden Age Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

Rested and refreshed Sunday saw yet more heat and three stages packed, once again, with talent from Blues, Prog and Rock.

From The Last Internatioale’s NYC rock through to closer’s The Cult it was all a fan could do to try and catch a much as possible.

Guitar-prodigy Connor Selby brought his band on to the blues stage, and for a mere 20-year-old there was magic dripping off his fingers echoing Bonamassa’s fluidity and Kossoff’s sense of emotion.

Over in the Prog tent Second Revelation may have had tasty guitar lines but veered too much into funk for our tastes. Nevertheless, they drew an appreciative audience.

Aussie proggers Voyager had a heavier take on proceedings, with a dynamism and directness that vied with Therapy? for the heaviest set of the weekend. One can see why amongst their next appearances will be Bloodstock.

However, they also have melodic sensibilities amidst the technical excellence that work well in terms of musical alchemy.

Main stage supergroup Sons of Apollo have all the elements that could have them pigeonholed as another collection of supremely talented musos thrust together for the collection of shillings, but they are much, much more than that.

Their supreme talent never submerges that basic concept of playing fucking great songs.

One hopes that they continue Sons for many years to come.

Von Hertzen Brothers are established now as one of the premier prog acts around and have developed a conceptually excellent soundscape, textured and thrilling in equal parts that make them a draw each and every time they play.

But, one of the major issues at any festival is the clashes. The mighty Halestorm was in almost direct competition with the equally mighty Fish.

Reviewers dispatched to different parts of the field, let’s start with Halestorm

They burst onto the stage with their awesome new single Black Vultures which immediately gave the place a massive rush and a stunning showcase of Lzzy Hale’s voice.

The crowd was riled up in the best sense and ready to rock. For the penultimate band on the main stage on Sunday they really made themselves seem like the headliner and most certainly deserved it.

The immense stage presence of Lzzy and her white destroyer made the whole place shake with sounds of ‘I miss the Misery’, ‘Mayhem’ and ‘Love bites (So do I.)’

The massive vocal range brilliant solos and great crowd engagement made this one of the Highlights of the festival and with Halestorm coming to Belfast in September, waiting will be a tad hard. One band most certainly not to miss.

Over on the prog stage Fish was not a happy camper. Other band’s failure to meet the ‘get-off-the-fucking-stage’ requirements of festivals and The Cult’s contractual agreement to have no other acts on while they played meant that what was planned as a 90-minute set was truncated to less than 70-minutes.

The Scottish, normally gentle, giant seemed about to fly into a rage, and there were obvious issues with the on-stage sound.

But, if anything this produced a visceral, edgy set. Fish and his band may not look back fondly on this RMF set, but the fans packing every inch of the Prog set will.

‘Clutching At Straws’ in almost its entirety…but before that ‘The Voyeur’, ‘Emperor’s Song’ and ‘State of Mind’ (dedicated to Theresa May) had every muscle of fans straining in delight, singing, whispering and feeling every word.

When the strains of ‘Hotel Hobbies’ began there was a raw sense of stretched nerves for every person who remembers how ‘Straws’ reached out from Fish’s words to touch their own emotional development.

‘Warm Wet Circles’ and ‘Sugar Mice’ saw those emotions on the collective face of the audience – and there were more than a few with tears in their eyes.

The emotional fury and release of ‘White Russian’ gave some respite before the encore of ‘Slainte Mhath’ once again plunged us through the depths and anger. But when closer ‘Incommunicado’ came along even Fish cheered up, bouncing along with the crowd and thrusting deserved ‘V’ signs in the direction of the main stage. Adversity faced – triumph secured.

With the unenviable task of closing Ramblin Man The Cult arrived with their customary cod-arrogance and clear stadia-experience.

Astbury remains one of the most compelling frontmen as they ranged across their career – a welcome version of ‘Spiritwalker’ from their début through to the obligatory ‘L’il Devil’ and welcome diversions such as ‘Rain’ and ‘Nirvana’.

True it wasn’t a consistent set – there was a lull from band and audience halfway through that was almost inevitable, but even the overlong ‘jam’ at the end of ‘Sweet Soul Sister’ couldn’t dampen the rest of the Duffy-led riff rampage.

‘Fire Woman’ sounded as if made for even larger stages in its heft and the expected ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ closed off a set that was a little like the curate’s egg – good in parts.

If there hadn’t been such impassioned sets preceeding them The Cult would have been the real highlight of Sunday.

Ramblin Man Fair, despite whatever difficulties there may have been produced in 2018 a festival that is different from any other over the summer months. And, it was worth every moment.

Congratulations to Spirit of Rock for pulling it off and here’s to the already announced 2019 RMF. Look up the dates yourself – we’re not your fucking diary secretary!

Review by Jonathan Traynor
Halestorm and No Hot Ashes review by Zakk Traynor
Pictures by Lizzie Torbitt and Darren McVeigh as indicated