Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Cheap Thrill - no better place to get it than at Diamond Rock Club on Thursday night

WAY, way back in the distant past (that would be the mid-eighties for younger readers) there was a 'scene' in transition. The sleaze rock of the LA strip was being supplanted by thrash metal. Yet, fans from all genres would gather together in worship of hard rockin' music.

Such was the diverse nature of this transforming 'scene' no-one seemed unduly concerned to see Metallica, Anthrax, WASP and Bon Jovi on the same bill...

That line-up was at Monsters of Rock, Castle Donington in 1987. While Monsters of Rock has now transmogrified into Download, in 1987 the band opening main stage proceedings was Cinderella - fresh from the release the previous year of their seminal album, Long Cold Winter.

Despite their appearance there was a genuine musical intent behind the band....and now in 2014 you get the chance to get a flavour of that once again when a 'super group' with two founder members of Cinderella play Diamond Rock Club on Thursday night (April 17th).

Eric Brittingham and Jeff LaBar from Cinderella join forces with Brandon Gibbs (The Gibbs Brothers) and Troy Patrick Farrell (White Lion) have joined forces as Cheap Thrill to once again bring that sound of the 80s to a new generation with a fresh vibe for all.

Opening an extensive UK and European tour at the Diamond Rock Club on Thursday night, this is perhaps not just a heritage gig, but a chance to feel the vibe that transcended genres and just rocked.

Tickets still available - more details: https://www.facebook.com/thediamondrockclub or just rack up on the night!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Amon Amarth winner drawn

CONGRATULATIONS to Margaret who has won a pair of tickets to see Amon Amarth in Belfast's Limelight1 on August 12th.

Thanks to the dozens of you who entered this Belfastmetalheadsreunited, www.rockradioni.co.uk competition, with the tickets from the Limelight and Shine.

Now, if you want to see the mighty Swedish melodic death metallers you'll have to shell out the money - and believe us, it is well worth it!

Oh, the answer....feck sake! Are y'all daft, its Deceiver of the Gods! And if you haven't bought it, do so immediately after you buy your tickets to see Amon Amarth. Now watch the AA mini-movie and steel yourself for this might gig!

Pat McManus proves more than a six-string wonder on stage

THERE are people who play guitar; there are guitar players, there are guitar shredders; and then there are true artists when they strap on a guitar, proving that entertainment with a six-string is an art form. Pat McManus is such an artist.

And when backed by the musicianship of Marty McDermott (bass) and Paul Faloon (drums) there is a potency that few can equal, with power, precision and pure musical fun.

On Saturday (April 12th) that fun was brought to bear on the Voodoo, Belfast in a set as varied as it was entertaining.

Opening for the Pat McManus Band were locals, Worldsend; returning after a break with only their second gig in a year.

While many acts try to recreate that classic rock sound that was so prevalent in the 80s many miss out on the fact that there needs to be variety and a sense of danger, whether that be in the performance or the lyrical content.

There was no danger of this quartet falling down on musicianship, as Eddie led the crowd on a musical journey through hard rock nirvana with his dark jester persona, while Jay performed with a cool extravagance on guitar.

Opening with the eponymous Worldsend it was clear from the beginning that this was a band that has used the break to re-focus and return tight and fluid.

Andy (drums) and Paul (bass and backing vocals) were locked in as tight as a nut, providing the foundation for the flourishes and finesse of all on stage.

'Letters to Lost Souls', 'Warning Signs' and 'Enemy' all stood out in an all too brief a set, leaving many asking when their next full album will emerge.

The Pat McManus band emerge with no fanfare just a headlong rush with songs from the most recent release Dark Emerald Highway: 'S Before X' and 'Let's Turn It Up' roared with a real sense of occasion, while Pat grinned as his guitar became part of his body, an extended limb wrenching sounds that caused spontaneous smiles across the room.

From blues to hard rock, from six-string soloing to 12-string mandolin solos; from emotive slow songs to acoustic memories, what stood out amidst such a literal belter of a set was that there is an essence that can be distilled from skill to produce what is the pure liquor of rock.

It is a redundant exercise to pick out a song, a moment or a solo in a subjective basis, nor list the tracks, as each person there will have an abiding memory. 'Lazy Days, Crazy Nights', 'Return of the G Men' stood out for us; but Pat's tribute to the late, great Gary Moore 'Belfast Boy' is a song that produced all-round applause and sense of connection that we believe can only be achieved - such as on '...G-Men' - when there is a geographical link and a link to musical heritage.

Leaving the venue as more and more people queued up to shake Marty, Paul and Pat's hands, buy t-shirts and have albums signed; and emerging into the small hours of Sunday morning what can be in doubt is that Pat McManus and his cohorts deserve to be playing on larger stages to showcase what they can do: until then we will continue to cherish the moments when Pat's skill is displayed a few feet from our smiling, appreciative audiences.

Photos courtesy of Metal Planet

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Close to magisterial melancholia SAVN reach for hope on new platter

THERE is a wealth of female fronted symphonic rock and metal bands kicking around record stores and download charts across the world at the moment; however, occasionally you come across one which sits a little to the left of what you expected - and such is the self-titled release from SAVN.

Sitting in a world dominated by keyboards and symphonic sections the elements of guitar and drum are relegated to supporting roles, with no sign of an empathetic solo from a six-stringer.

And, that is where we initially found it difficult to get our heads around this album - where were the solos....

But after continued listens there is something that makes up for this, in the shape of  Carmen Elise Espenaes - sister of Liv Kristine of Leave's Eyes - and former front woman of Midnattsol.

Her haunting refrains push the melancholy with a lyrical message of hope, which given that SAVN translates as desperation is quite a feat.

“There is a strong red line through all of our songs," said Carmen. "Directly or indirectly they all touch the theme deprivation in some way, that’s the reason why we decided to have the same title as the band`s name."

From the off the track 'Musical Silence' sets the scene, the desperation of being without your craft then rediscovering the gift it can give.

And for all the band members SAVN is something of a re-discovery of that craft. The roots of the band lie in the late 90s Norwegian 'goth metal' (their description not ours) of The Sins of the Beloved. When Stig Johansen (vocals and guitars) and Anders Thue (keyboards) recruited Carmen to add vocals it seems they gradually came together as a musical unit.

And the essence of the musical unit is summed up on 'The Demons in Me' - once again lyrically about internal struggles in the search for personal redemption. It is a rounded track of symphonic rock bolstered by the appearance of Michelle Darkness (End of Green), in which keyboards and strings add to the atmospheric effect.

Guest appearances litter the album, but complement, but do no crowd the release.  Fiddle players Dag Bjorkedal and Lillian Hodne appear as does the Lingua Mortis Orchestra (which appears on the tracks Sorrowful and Lengselens Hand) directed, recorded and by 'composer' and Rage guitarist Victor Smolski.

However, what is the more notable appearance is by Carme's sister Liv from Leave's Eyes on 'I Am Free', the siblings' voices working in concert.

There is within this release a real sense of drama - sometimes slipping into melodrama, but overall coming across as a piece of uncontrived musical rock theatre.

It would be a stretch to describe this as a metal performance, but the musicianship throughout echoes the sense of the lyrics. Carmen states that although the tracks are about individual and band experiences she has also pointed them at being something the listener can relate to.

The penultimate track 'Now Or Never' is the best exemplar of this. Carmen describes it as:

“A wake up call; many people forget that it might be a chance that you only live once. They don't live in the moment and live their lives as there would be many more chances to come. Now it`s the time to change”.

Overall SAVN's self-titled release is a piece of art best sampled alone, with the chance to reflect on the soundscapes and the melodies, while penetrating the lyrics.

The addition of some more guitar leads to echo more emphatically the magisterial melancholia would have been the icing on the SAVN cake. However, don't let this deter you from listening. Should you seek a reference point. Carmen's sister said:

If you like the early Theatre Of Tragedy, you'll enjoy SAVN”, she said. “It's very down to earth. Stig was in The Sins Of Thy Beloved and there are things he really loves about that period of bands like Sirenia and Tristania.
"He’s always been influenced by these bands and what he put together with Savn is like a dream come true”. I love the album. It's an excellent piece of art”.
Overtime we've come to like this album, wavering towards Liv's sentiment of loving it.
Produced by Leave's Eyes Alexander Krull, SAVN is released Digipak CD, Vinyl and picture disc at the end of April on CDR Records Norway via Intergroove and also as a download.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Richie Sambora Belfast bound

ONCE known only as the guitarist standing beside Bon Jovi Richie Sambora has grown in stature over the past few years...and now he's set to play Belfast's Ulster Hall as part of a run of dates across Europe.

Sambora now has three solo albums under his belt, to add to the 130m album sales accumulated as part of Bon Jovi, with the latest release Aftermath of the Lowdown receiving both critical acclaim and fan backing.

The date for Sambora's Ulster Hall date is July 1st - the same day thrash icons Anthrax - lay waste to Limelight1. It has some resonance that these two ends of the rock and metal spectrum are still going strong so long after the 80s.

The venues may be smaller than the tours of that decade which saw Bon Jovi and Anthrax play Belfast, but the audience age range is greater; and arguably more devoted. How many of today's so-called stars will still be touring in 30 years time...

The soft rock hero Sambora will be backed by six-string wunder-kid, Orianthi, who was last spotted wielding her axe with the venerable Alice Cooper.

Tickets for Sambora go on sale this coming Thursday, April 17th (the same day as Cheap Thrill with members of Cinderella and White Lion play the Diamond Rock Club (yet more stars of the 80s still touring!).

The fee to gain access to see Richie Sambora is £36 including booking fee, which you can proffer via www.ticketmaster.ie, at the Waterfront and Ulster Hall ticket desks and at Ticketmaster outlets across the country.

We are currently deciding which members of our review crew will be at each venue on July 1st...we may convene on April 17th...in the meantime "Oh, Oh, We're Living On A Prayer".

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Amon Amarth comp reminder

A WHILE back we announced a competition to win a pair of tickets to see Amon Amarth lay waste to the Limelight on August 12th. This is just a reminder that the clock is ticking towards entries closing.

If you want to enter click here to find out how to enter and read a review of the latest Amon Amarth album.

In the meantime here's a few videos of the mighty Swedish Viking melodic death metallers. Enjoy and enter!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Black Stone Cherry - October 24th with Theory of A Deadman

TICKETS go on sale this Friday, April 11th for Black Stone Cherry and Theory of A Deadman in the Mandela Hall, Queen's University Student Union on October 24th, 2014.

The Shine.net promotion will see BSC play a special over 14s show in the revered venue, as they tour on the back of their coming release Magic Mountain.

The price of admission is £16.50 plus booking fee.

And here's a wee taster of what's to come...One of the lead songs Me and Mary Jane:

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

No joke in the Badlands as Cage The Gods let loose début platter

Review by Baal

All of us have heard the one about an Englishman, an Irishman, a Welshman and a Scotsman.....this is just the nationalities British band Cage The Gods are comprised of and their music will make you smile!.

This band , comprising of Peter Comerford on vocals, Jam on guitars, Mitch Witham on bass and Colin Jones on drums, are definitely not a joke....
What they are is a new and exciting band, who seem to have perfected a blend of both classic and modern rock, which has been moulded into a set of songs with sound familiar yet at the same time fresh.  If there’s one thing that stands out after a listen to this debut album ‘Badlands’, then it’s that sometimes all too rare commodity…..songs, and songs are what Cage The Gods have in abundance.
On first listen, all of the influences are fairly obvious. Name a classic rock band from the 80’s or early 90’s and you’ll find aspects of ‘that’ sound on this album. Opening track ‘Favourite Sin’ kicks things off in a G ‘n R tinged fashion, though as was mentioned earlier, still sounding fresh and vibrant.
The production is polished yet powerful and really showcases the band's obvious talent.
Trouble Reigns’, title track ‘Badlands’ and ‘Scarifice’ do exactly what they should….they rock. The powerful yet soulful hooks are delivered with an attitude and style that is seldom encountered on a debut album. Comerford’s vocal style oozes an attitude and arrogance that works alongside Jam’s straight ahead riffing and soloing, whilst the rhythm section keep things rolling along in great style.
The uniquely titled ‘Bruce Willis’ sees the band flex their blues tinged muscles and is an enjoyable departure from the straight up classic rock sound that comes  before it.
The band also display the ability to employ light and shade in the form of the more restrained and melodic ‘Falling’ and ‘What’s Left Of Me’, to our ears two of the strongest tracks on ‘Badlands’.              
‘Promises’ is also a very strong track which gives the aforementioned duo of tracks a run for their money.  It would be difficult to find fault with this album, all of the songs have something to offer, without a trace of ‘filler’ in sight.
We were lucky enough to catch the band recently, supporting The Answer and happily we can report that they can also cut it live and we look forward to seeing them on these shores again sometime.
If there is any justice and if the set of songs on ‘Badlands’ are anything to go by then  Cage The Gods should have a promising future ahead.
If you’re a fan of classic rock with a modern vibe (and why wouldn’t you be), you really could do a lot worse than invest in a copy of this album, a worthy and worthwhile addition to any self-respecting rockers collection.

Consumate crushing metal chaos as Devildriver level all in front of them

WHEN it comes to metal there is something intangible that unites and binds amidst a maelstrom of music and mayhem that despite the horrific faces and brutal lyrical imagery is life-affirming and leaves an audience emerging from concerts smiling and exhausted.

There arefew finer examples of this as when Devildriver - with support from Bleed From Within and Sylosis - took the stage in Belfast's Limelight1, with a display of devastating heavy metal.

Bleed From Within suffered from the curse of the opening act, playing to a half-full venue, many of whom were there only for the top two acts. However, they were determined not to be daunted. Shaking off the supposed metalcore tag the Scottish band took to the stage with intent, and performed as if they were the headliners, maintaining musicianship and onstage banter to a high degree and earning new fans as a result.

Sylosis are one of the bands that have been bubbling under for a while, with their own devoted audience ready to head straight to the pit. 'Fear the World' and 'Teras' were set highlights.

What they did prove is that they are to be escalated to a higher plain in the future - the standard of playing was at a particularly high level and the Middleton's lead sections were played with the ease of one who knows his musical reference points and is prepared to build upon them.

Despite only having just over half an hour on stage Sylosis have visibly grown up since the release of last year's Monolith, and even having a stand-in drummer didn't deter them.

Devildriver haven't been back to Belfast since 2006, when they headlined Rottfest. And, when they took to the Limelight1 stage it was a meeting of minds as if friends old and new were at a particularly chaotic family reunion...

No fancy fanfares, no melodramatic lengthy intro tapes, no fuss, no frills - by the time the opening chords of 'Head On To Heartache' reverberated throughout the venue there was only one focus, a metal band: nothing more, nothing less.

And, that is what undoubtedly all fans really want. Dez Fafara is the congenial frontman, like a tattooed ringleader, the mad uncle who gets the party started, and with a growl that terrifies the faint hearted.

Flanked by manic guitarists Jeff Kendrick and Mike Spreitzer, roaming Chris Towning on bass and anchored by John Boecklin on drums the five-piece delivered what can only be described as a well-rehearsed, well executed and powerful set; each member comfortable with their roles and each one determined to raise each other's game.

The pair of songs 'Not All Who Wander Are Lost' and 'Before The Hangman's Noose' were ear-splitting, mosh pitting metal at its best.

The vast majority of the audience were familiar with all the songs on show, and a charged cover version of  Awolnation's 'Sail' brought the audience to a peak.

And then the groove kicked in...

'Clouds over California' was heavy, groove, melodic metal, with Kendrick and Spreitzer rolling the riffs around Fefara's insistent singing.

Closing with 'Ruthless' this was also a ruthless execution of metal at its best, the holy unity of band and audience merged together in a way that left all exhausted and all happy.

All three bands are examples that while pure aggression is at its heart, pure joy is the soul of metal; with all the darkness and all the supposed imagery it is a music form that has the potential, for at least a few short hours when performed live, to bring hearts and minds a thrill of freedom from the mediocrity that passes for culture in the 21st Century.

All photos courtesy of Marc Leach (Copyright Marc Leach Photography). Video of Sail courtesy of NI Rocks

Monday, April 07, 2014

Slough Feg - the mystery and the glory of American Celtic Rock

SLOUGH Feg, formerly known as The Lord Weird Slough Feg, are an enigma. After listening to their latest release on Metal Blade we weren't sure whether to send them Primordial, Darkest Era, Mael Mordha and Thin Lizzy albums, or forcibly take them away from Slough Feg.

The sheer concept of a metal band from USA playing Celtic tinged songs with dashes of New Wave of British Heavy Metal is on the surface too weird. But where previous releases have struggled, at times, to nail the balance in that sound, on the album Digital Resistance it comes together in way that plain and simply works.

Taking its cue from the unending and potentially degrading advance of technology this is an album that takes a listen or two to get the 'message' but its worth persisting with.

Lead song and title track 'Digital Resistance' kicks off with a weird groove and works out, and leaving aside the opener 'Analogue Avengers/Bertrand Russell's Sex Den' the rest of the album plays out as an intriguing romp through Celtic rock.

'Habaes Corpus' and 'Magical Hooligan' are a duo that sit perched as perfect pair of exemplars of why this album works so well. When the Celtic theme gives way to the straight forward dual guitar rock and metal.

However, there is a lyrical consistency on the album as singer and guitarist Mike Scalzi explains: "The more we indulge in technology and allow it to do everything for us, especially allowing it to think for us (as in the case of looking everything up on your phone or computer rather than trying to remember and retain information), the more physically and mentally "flabby" we become. So there is somewhat of an urgent message, or complaint about this increasingly human tendency."

Flabbiness is not something the band indulge in throughout this recording; it is tight and worth all efforts to really listen to it. The closing pair of songs, The Luddite and Warrior's Dusk are a massive testimony to the band's ability and their song writing.

Somehow what they do shouldn't work, but it always has done, and even more so on this release. The press release accompanying the album points to Grand Magus and Cirith Ungol as points of reference and we wouldn't disagree.

And to sit in such company as these bands is surely their well-earned dues. And, despite the need for expediency in naming a band, we vote they return to their name The Lord Weird Slough Feg, read some more graphic novels about the character Slaíne (from 200AD...you might get that comic fans) and come over to Ireland north and sough and discover just how they can take the next step towards worldwide warp spasm...

And, if you're not up to speed with that story, suffice to say Slough Feg are worth the effort to listen to.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Fast, furious thrash-tastic evening with Sinocence, Bull Riff Stampede, Psykosis and Bakken

FOR a few short hours the Limelight2 in Belfast was turned into a mini-Bay Area bangers of thrash metal's heyday.

That thrash spirit was delivered by The Distortion Project in bucketloads with four bands delivering sets that could snap a neck.

Sinocence, Bull Riff Stampede, Psykosis and Bakken were on top form in front a diverse crowd ready to applaud, shout and generally get as much fun out of the night as the bands also had on stage.

From the off it was full-speed ahead with openers Bakken delivering a 'Deth inspired set of solos and riffs. Highlights included Mystic Moghul, Sasquatch and one of a duo of new tracks, Evil Walks This Way stood out as oozing potential for a forthcoming ep.

Throughout the set the pace was rampant and the attention solely focussed on a pounding momentum - highly enjoyable.

Enjoyment was the order of the day with Psykosis. Old school long shorts, high tops, mighty thrash and hyperactive bouncing from Tony on rhythm guitar, while Grant romped through neo-classical lead. Nailed down behind the pair were Shane's manic drumming and a rampaging bass from Jay.

Psykosis proved that solid musicianship and laughs need not be exclusive on stage; the ethos that means thrash is so enduring in the face of trends and PR efforts from labels seeking to promote the latest 'approved' scene.

Psykosis are a force for good, grabbing the audience by the balls and shaking them about...however, knob exposure is taking the line and stepping way, way over it.

Bull Riff Stampede - fresh to the audience -  delivered sheer heavy thrash metal, pile-driving and - a word that is usually not bandied about outside the clichéd magazine writers - brutal.

The four-piece were focussed and forceful, drilling through a set based on their Scatter The Ground début and their recent Enraging the Beast -mighty and things that look simple are revealed as a deceptively complex arrangement heavy on the pace, heavy on delivery - we're certain they'll be welcomed back in heartbeat. Dave and Jay particularly accomplished front and centre.

Sinocence always deliver a consistent set, pure metal, pure thrash. Maybe it was the three previous acts, but Sins raised their game, pounding the audience into happy submission.

By the time that opener Coda on Self Slaughter blurred into the stand-out Long Way Down the subtleties of the composed set, balancing aggression on a tightrope of well arranged songs packed with thrash sensibilities and buckets of hooks.

Anto and Moro's guitar work inter-twined and wove patterns of power, while Jim and Davy kept the ball rolling - and rolling at times in wicked rhythms. Throwing in the cover version of Prong's Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck kept variety going before the highlight of Occam's Razor.

Recent appearances at Hammerfest and rigorous gigging and rehearsals have benefitted Sinocence  - roll on the next release.

Four bands, all four-pieces, all four a furious demonstration why whatever form thrash is delivered in, when it is delivered this well there is only one appropriate response - bang the heads, raise the horns, raise a beer and yell "hell yeah!"

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Middle class, middle aged - and that was just the majority of the audience at Foreigner...

THERE was a time when the rock 'n' roll fraternity enjoyed the anarchy and the middle finger to the establishment and disdained the sit down concerts of their parents; when even the most moderate sounding rock bands enjoyed a swirling mass of swaying fans.

But when Foreigner played at Belfast's Waterfront Hall there were even people wearing their best glad rags and ladies of a certain age with Cashmere overcoats and the latest fashions...

All did not bode well...

Opening the night's proceedings were No Hot Ashes, and as home town heroes they surely deserved a better turn out, but the bar's attraction was obviously more of a draw for those who only knew the hits from the headliners.

Nevertheless the band's 80s songs from NHA still sounded fresh, and with Eamonn's easy banter greeting the personal shouts from those present, songs such as Diane and Summer Rain prompting sing-alongs from those who bothered to see this exciting reformation. Only a lack of a punchy sound detracted from the performance - no fault of the band.

FM are one of those bands who bubbled nicely in the 90s and then faded to the hard rock festival circuit. Kicking off with Tough Love and including songs such as Closer to Heaven and That Girl they produced a set that was mostly enjoyable, if at times insipid - perhaps they will see greater audience turn-out and warm the songs up as the tour progresses.

With the bar tannoy announcing three minutes to Foreigner's appearance drinks were quickly quaffed and the hall finally filled with its sell-out crowd.

A deceptively simple stage-set (take note Journey!) and a subtle and appropriate lightshow the band were quickly into gear, with Double Vision. It had all the hallmarks of a heritage show, a pension show for an act that were only there to pay some bills.

However, such fears were quickly dispelled when front man Kelly Hansen bounded off the stage, crawled along seat backs and reprimanded the person who had the temerity to use his phone when the band were playing.

It was at that crucial moment that momentum shifted: this was not a heritage show; it was a band that were onstage enjoying playing hits to an audience familiar with almost every song.

Those more familiar with the band's back catalogue rather than just the Top 10 hits were clearly pleased when Mick Jones - finally emerging on stage led the way to a stunning version of Star Rider. In the late 70s and 80s many a band wanted to produce Freebird Mk2, and while the structure of Star Rider is roughly the same, it was always a song that excelled as an art piece of rock performance. Even if half of the 'ladies' looked a bit bemused by the guitar solos it was a high point of the gig.

As many of the band are 'a little older' the keyboard solo and drum solo were an opportunity for a breather. While obviously competent and excellent players they were relatively pedestrian and left many heading for a smoke or bar break...

However, when the band kicked off the guitar anthem Juke Box Hero the pace was headlong to the conclusion. Juke Box Hero has always been the aspirational song for budding rock guitarists alongside Blue Oyster Cult's Marshall Plan.

With tweaks and extended sections the song rose above the excellent recorded version and Mick Jones was the epitome of the Juke Box Hero - a highpoint, a rousing song that shows off Foreigner at its best.

Closing the evening with the anthemic ballad I Want To Know What Love Is and a stomping version of Hot Blooded Foreigner proved they are no longer a spent force. New material from the band would have capped off a tremendous evening.

The average age of the audience may have been in the middle part of middle age, and many well into middle class. Is this a sign of people reliving their youth, prompted by easy listening Radio Two? Or is it a sign that with the right band there are many who yearn for that little bit of anarchy and sheer enjoyable release? We hope it is the latter and hope that if Foreigner return there will at least be a section for standing audience members who are still capable of bouncing up and down despite their ages.

Foreigner produced a fantastic performance of hard rock excellence. Take note younger acts!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The mystery of the missing audience...yet Fuckhammer and Altus still deliver

THERE comes a time when as a journalist and reviewer you simply scratch your head and wonder what the hell it takes to get some people off their asses. At a sparsely populated Limelight2 on Saturday, March 22nd Fuckhammer and Altus still managed to deliver two intense sets of heavy metal...yet there were too few present.

True the full-on assault of Altus and the downright extreme delivery of Fuckhammer may not to be the taste of, for example, those that helped sell-out the Foreigner show, but there are more than a few who like their metal delivered full-on.

Despite the mystery of the missing audience the Distortion Project gig saw two performances that were enjoyable, in as far as giving your ears a kicking can be enjoyable; which in the right hands is a pleasurable experience.

Altus were concentrating on their recently released ep, (available here) and played what we saw as an intense set of metal. The last time we reviewed them we spoke about a band in transition. It seems that the transition is now complete. Particularly the more doom-laden tracks seem to be where the band are comfortable.

Fuckhammer are perhaps one of the enigmas of extreme metal - members play in other bands and range across the border. But they have their own identity and style.

Abortion Addict, Drone and Dead in the Gutter were stand out tracks in a tight set. And, the storming, full sprint of their cover version of Symptom of the Universe flayed body parts of those present.

Bagsie and Dave McCallum kept the momentum rolling along with a DJ set that was as varied as it was entertaining, something that would be a good addition to nights like these.

With so many gigs coming down the path it is perhaps understandable that some may be trying to ration their metal and rock, but the Distortion Project offers a £5 gig most Saturday's and  bar staff are on hand to ensure you get your drink offers speedily down yer necks.

For those present on March 22nd, whether they were drinking or not it is fair to say that they were 'Hammered to Fuck' by two great acts.

Now, kiddies make sure you save up yer pennies for future gigs from local bands laid on by the likes of James Loveday and Derwin at the Diamond....and give them a hug for keeping the rock and metal scene alive.

Low down and lovely dirty hard rockin' from Bonafide at the Diamond

WHEN it comes to hard rock you have to put all into it to gain the maximum pleasure - and that applies to whether you're a member of a band, or a member of the audience. And, Bonafide brought it in abundance for a night of sheer hard rockin' pleasure on March 29th at the Diamond Rock Club.

The Swedish band were making a return visit to the Diamond in Ahoghill (Rock City) and they produced a relaxed performance that also managed to maintain maximum commitment to rock at its finest.

Opening for Bonafide were local act Tric, making a return to live performances after a year in hiatus.

Now a four-piece Tric laid down a solid set, with the emphasis on blues tinged hard rock. The influences of DC and even Quo on their songs were neither slavish nor where they simply going through a 12-bar homage. Tric were back to plant a flag for rock.

Bonafide are a mystery band. They should be much more widely known given their songwriting, live performances and set of excellent recorded material. However, most present on March 29th knew the songs well.

Opening with the storming Bombo, Pontus Snibb is an engaging front man, obviously comfortable as the focal point of the band, his vocals and guitar playing a masterclass for those who want to follow the rock path.

While Pontus was the focus it would be a mistake to ignore the tight-knit unit of Bonafide. Bassist Martin Ekelund is the joker in the pack, climbing around the side of the stage and egging the audience on during the likes of Peg Legged Pete.

Niklas Masston's drums stay consistent and add flurries that give the edge to Suburb Baby Blues, which is a tune the audience apparently relate to judging by the number of people singing along.

As aide de camp Mikael Fassberg's guitar playing fills out the sound with solid rhythm, and when the opportunity arises playing some tight and entertaining lead solos.

Bonafide wrapped up with a duo of songs that reflect their ethos and the ethos of fans who are prepared to travel to see low down and lovely dirty hard rockin'.

Fill Yer Head With Rock and Hard Livin' Man were perfect closers, with the band rising up to meet the audience's enthusiasm.

Well-rehearsed and confident on stage Bonafide played it hard and played it well at the Diamond Rock Club - a well spent Saturday night for all present.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Van Canto – A cappella Metal, where did that come from!

A NUMBER of week's back we reviewed the latest release from a cappella metal band Van Canto, Dawn of the Brave. Despite our reservations about the very concept of a Cappella metal we have kept on coming back to the album, with its intense soundscape produced from just vocal chords and drums.

But how exactly did anyone come up with metal without guitars, and how did evolve? We caught up with Stefan Schmidt from Van Canto for some explanations.

Firstly we wanted to rewind back to the beginnings and find out where the idea came from.

After the split of my former band I wanted to do something vocal oriented,” explained Stefan. “I asked some friends, we tried some things in the studio and it turned out to become the world’s first metal a cappella band.

“Actually it wasn’t planned to be a capella in the beginning. It also could have been something like a “metal opera” with several lead singers and regular instruments. But the more voices we recorded, the more we noticed that we do not need the instruments.

But with a varied range of pitches in the vocals the band must also face up to the varied range, something which comes almost naturally given the members.
“The range of vocals is an important thing, it wouldn’t make sense for Inga to sing the bass parts!” said Stefan. “Apart from the range, especially Ike, Ross and me, who do the instrument imitations, really became one with the instrument we are singing.

“We all can play guitar, so for example I sing solos in a way I would play them on a guitar, although I Can sing faster than I can play!”

It is also something of a challenge to replicate the different and varied parts of a traditional metal band, with the sounds of rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass and even keyboards, which must influence how the band write.

“Especially Ike’s bass parts are very close to the sound of a regular bass guitar, including slides and patterns that would be played exactly the same on a real bass,” said Stefan. “In the end the complete sound is what matters, but it is a good help to have some orientation on how a “regular” band would arrange a song.

One feature of Van Canto is the range of collaborations and guest appearances.

“There are many collaborations and everyone has a different story,” he said. “We got to know Hansi from Blind Guardian because we recorded drums in their studio. Chris and Grave Digger are at the same record label so it was easy to get in contact.

Stefan continued: “Tarja Turunen contacted us when she got to know we where about to play at the same festival. Sabaton invited us to their festival and asked us to do a cover version of Primo Victoria. And so on, we are excited what will come next!

As if this wasn't enough Van Canto have collaborated with 200 fans in the recording process

"Our fans like vocals, they like singing and so it was a logical thing to have them participate in our recording as well,” said Stefan “We had 200 fans shouting choirs with us, it was a very special experience and really pushed our motivation throughout the recording process.”
 So what next for Van Canto?
“There is no masterplan for future albums or covers or anything. Right now we are touring with Dawn of the Brave and are very happy with the cover versions we can include in our live set.” concluded Stefan.

One things for sure, the unique sound of a cappella metal seems set to continue to intrigue, and gain more and more followers for Van Canto.
[Read our review of Dawn Of The Brave here]

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Served loud, and served with intent, - Stiff Little Fingers' tour de force release No Going Back

IN the darkest days of Northern Ireland's Troubles the many attempts by movements such as the Peace People to bring it to an end to the fighting proved futile, but punk rock became a unifying force amongst young people.

And, one band in particular articulated the frustration and anger at a land dominated by bigoted politicians and murderous paramilitaries of all shades - Stiff Little Fingers, with their overtly political lyrics and inflammable music.

But 33 years later, are Stiff Little Fingers still relevant? Is the lyrical anger and musical fury still present?  Yes, and much, much more.

No Going Back, their first new release in more than six years, is an honest punk rampage, delivered with panache that touches raw nerves, deals with the current world economic crises and is a rallying cry for young and old.

While the first movement of punk was quickly hijacked by the fashionistas, the voice of political punk such as SLF has never really been silenced, despite the best attempts to keep it quiet by the mainstream twaddle on TV sets across the world. When we interviewed Jake and Ali before the band's triumphant returned to Belfast they spoke about how punk was more about attitude than a specific packaging. And attitude is delivered here in spades.

Nor have SLF ever been one chord wonders so prevalent in some of the more inane 'punk' acts. As in previous releases the music is rock music.

And, this album is also something very personal. In SLF's previous appearance in the Ulster Hall Jake Burns spoke openly on stage about suffering from depression. The totemic track on No Going Back - My Dark Places Burns tells the story of that time of pain in his life. It is furious musical tour de force, which deals sensitively with the issue of depression. It is a triumph and it is something that anyone who has, or is, suffering from depression can relate to, and hopefully draw strength from.

That song also relates back to the final concluding track 'When We Were Young'. As young men SLF were often told to literally 'wise up' and not bother with a musical career. They defied that, and despite line-up changes since then the ignorance of musical media towards them means that SLF are still proving themselves to doubters. The reprise of one line of 'At The Edge' is a nice coda for the album and a rigid digit pointed at those who ever wished ill on the band.

However, these personal messages are only one fraction of the strength of this album. Contemporary themes are throughout, with the politicians firmly in the sights, as are bankers on 'Full Steam Backwards' and 'I Just Care About Me'.

No Going Back also reflects the mounting musical maturity of SLF. 'Guilty As Sin' is delivered as a traditional Irish tune, its haunting subtlety making the lyrical theme - institutional child abuse at the hands of the church - a more potent thrust at the hearts of those who scoured the innocence from the young in their care.

Jake Burns personal love of Thin Lizzy is reflected on 'Trail of Tears' a song which harkens to the time of the Troubles but looks towards the future.

Production of the album by the band, with engineering and mix at the hands of Jason Donaghy, keeps the spikiness of SLF's sound but also allows breath for Ali's bass to roam, McCallum's rhythm guitar to maintain momentum and Grantley's drums to anchor but not overbear.

While the music still keeps the Stiff Little Fingers sound alive it serves the lyrics well, such as on 'One Man Island', which deals with newspapers and network TV's penchant to find targets to provoke a nation's ire, often without facts. It is a reflection of the band's often used challenge to young and old: "assume nothing, question everything'.

There is no doubt that this is a fantastic album, but as Jake sings at one point of his worry about being a lone voice in the crowd, are such overt challenges against the tides of corruption, greed and feeding the masses a diet of mediocrity a mere tilting at windmills?

The penultimate track 'Since Yesterday Was Here' answers that by assuring protestors and those that refuse to accept the dogma of the norm that their voices are still to be heard and will always be joined by those that are willing to - in the title of another SLF song - to 'Stand Up And Shout'.

This is an album that, perhaps more than others, placed more pressure on Stiff Little Fingers. Jake has reflected on this when he said that the Pledge campaign meant fans were paying for music the band had still to deliver. That pressure has merged with a sheer force of will to produce a masterclass in what punk should be, and what good rock music must be.

Alternative Ulster may be the unofficial national anthem for Northern Ireland;  No Going Back should be the rallying call for all who refuse to toe the line peddled by bankers, politicians, media and those prepared to accept a beige, vanilla, mediocre life. Put it on the national curriculum and see what resonance the music and words will have on the young, and the old, who refuse to accept the so-called 'music' of today.

In short - buy this album. Stiff Little Fingers. As relevant now as they were 33 years ago.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Power metal pounding from Sonata Arctica on Pariah's Child

THE metal snobs sometimes dismiss European power metal, but they do so without realising the sheer majesty in the unrestrained, unconstrained joy - and right now there are few better examples on the scene than the Nuclear Blast release from Sonata Arctica.

Out now, Pariah's Child, is a product of the Finnish band, and it is a product that will earn a place in people's hearts, if they give it a chance.

It is also a dichotomy. On the same album there is the relentless attack of willing silliness, such as on the track 'Running Lights' and the magisterial track 'What Did You Do In The War, Dad'.

Self-produced by the whole band the album shows Sonata Arctica at their best, and the mix by bassist Pasi Kauppinen allows all the band's talent an appropriate share of the sound.

Tony Kakko's vocals are particularly strong, without being over-bearing, such as on opener 'The Wolves Die Young' and the tremendously catchy 'Half A Marathon Man'.

However, there is one horrible track on this release - 'X-Marks The Spot', replete with Jim Steinman like half singing, half rants. Without these it would have been a half-decent song, but fails badly compared to the rest of Pariah's Child.

But, when Sonata Arctica settle down to what they do best - Euro-power metal they produce some great tracks. The nine-minute plus of album closer 'Larger Than Life' showcases what they are capable of. Elias Viljanen guitars weave around Henrik Klingenberg's keyboards, allowing Pasi's bass and Tommy Portimo's drums to roam freely through a range of rhythm textures.

Taken as a whole Pariah's Child marks a return to the power metal roots of the band; putting behind them what was slightly lost on the last two albums. This return to form is something that the band reflects in the artwork.

Tony Kakko outlined this when talking about the concept behind the cover art.

“As always it's pretty hard coming up with a name for the new baby.," he said. "I tried to approach it from many angles; how this is our 8th album and how easy it would be to abuse that fact. All the symbolism of figure eight, eternity and so on.

"But that just did not feel right as it's been done so many times. Then I started to think how we'd in ways abandoned our "totem animal", the wolf and all what comes with the territory. As the music on the album is bowing more towards the "old" Sonata, meaning more power metal style elements and wolves in many of the songs in one form or another, it was clear we need a wolf on the cover. An abandoned wolf. A pariah. Or Pariah's child, actually. The new generation to bring the old logo back.”

Perhaps this development of a 'concept' is lost in some of the lyrical themes, but when you take the likes of the song 'Cloud Factory' on face value as a sci-fi song played in a totally straight-faced manner.

Pariah's Child is an exemplar of both what power metal can be, and a realisation of Sonata Arctica as a band. It is also an album that you can stick in the car and race through in joyous abandon, or sit back at home soaking up the exuberance. Either way, metal snobs may even one day put aside their pretensions and just enjoy Sonata Arctica's eight release.

Low down and dirty rock 'n' roll from Jackson Firebird

Review by Baal

The small country town of Mildura in Northern Victoria, home to Jackson Firebird. The two piece guitar and drums outfit from said small town, consisting of Brendan Harvey & Dale Hudak unleash their debut album "Cock Rockin' ".

A look at the album artwork, the first listen to the storming title track which opens the album, there's a fairly rapid realisation of what these guys are about.....that is no nonsense, straight ahead, dirty rock 'n' roll.
A common theme running through the album is one of fairly simplistic lyrics, basic rock riffs, all wrapped up in, for the most part short, punchy tunes that more often than not, hit the mark.
The title track itself contains more "motherf**kers" than you can shake a big stick at. It bursts out of the speakers before coming down to earth midway through, the pace slowing to a more pedestrian beat, before winding up for a big finish. A great opener which sets the tone for the entire album.
"'Rock Solid' is a real gem of a track, showing off some Skynyrd style chops and played with a real swagger which is infectious. Unfortunately the same can't be said of 'Quan Dang' which contains rap style shouted vocals which are really to our ears just don't work.
'Red Light', 'Little Missy' and 'Can Roll' show off the obvious early Led Zep influences which of course is never a bad thing and restore "normal service" to the ears after all that rappin'. 
'Going Out West' opens with some moody slide guitar before exploding into life and evolving into a fight between ZZ Top & George Thorogood....all in all a great slice of rock.
The highlight on the album comes in the form of closing track 'Red Haired Honey' which is a heavy, bluesey, stomping beast of a tune, a real joy to the ears.
Indeed a real feature of this album is Brendan Harvey's guitar playing.....it's just downright dirty, absolutely rockin'!  It only leads the listener to wonder just how good this band could sound if they were bolstered by a bass guitar? A question for another time perhaps but a valid one nonetheless. This band are good and this album is made for a live setting. 
Without doubt it could be argued that this album is too simplistic, both in terms of lyrics and the repetitive nature of most of the tracks. But simplicity is the point here. If you like rock music played with a swaggering, uncomplicated, ballsy and in your face attitude then this album does just what the title track says....."This motherf**ker aint stopping tonight!"
Ps.....the video below for the title track has to be seen to be believed!
ADULT ADVISORY NOTICE - This video should only be viewed by adults and pre-pubescent youths who will unnecessarily giggle...

Symphonies of the Night, Shakespeare and female power - Liv of Leaves Eyes tells all

FOR many younger fans of rock and metal, the experience of watching the music rock channels on the TV meant they may have thought that metal with a front woman was a strange and weird place where only the semi-laughable Amy Lee was present.

Yet had they expanded their horizons beyond what the trend magazines told them to listen to they would have discovered a wealth of strong female singers, role models and trailblazers in a gothic melodrama that piled layers of metal with lyrical excellence and a mood and atmosphere that appealed to male and female alike.
Among the first to set the metal world alight with this ‘new’ breed of confident front women was Theatre of Tragedy, with Liv Kristine singing poignant and powerful tunes.
When Liv parted ways with Theatre of Tragedy in 2003 her and husband Alexander Krull and Thorsten Bauer formed the ever-present core of Leaves Eyes, a band which has been gradually gnawing its way towards ever greater success and ever more fans. We caught up with Liv to hear about how the latest album Symphonies of the Night emerged, her Shakespearian influences and how the core of the band continues to grow and evolve in this extensive and wide reaching interview.

But first we wanted to know the genesis that drove Symphonies of the Night.
“It is truly a very powerful album with an incredibly great, heavy sound as well as fine, amazing details to discover for the lovers of gothic and folk-inspired metal,” said Liv. “ Alex, my husband, singer and producer is a true mastermind.
“This has certainly also brought us a big step forward sound-wise. The sound is the best we've ever had, which is due to Alex hard work and many, many sleepless nights in the studio.”

The band was also able to capitalise on recording on ‘home turf’.
“We are really lucky to have our own Mastersound studio, which makes such a progress possible. Going more into details when it comes to our last album, I would like to mention that most of the songs have a very clear structure next to the fact that we have improved and perfected the guitar sound, for example through changing the amplifier settings. It is more direct and punching.”

 Liv also told us about how she thinks the band has a more established sound, on Symphonies. (Jason's review is here.)

“This album also requires more of Alex' growls, moreover, we don't have that many guest vocalists (except from my sister, Carmen, from Midnattsol) this time,” she said. “I love the contrasting elements in music, especially in the vocals' set-up.”

As a singer in a metal band there is sometimes a tendency for female front women to try and fit the lyrical codology of medieval and mythical themes, but as we noted when we reviewed Symphonies of the Night, there is a definite celebration of female strength and equality.
“The lyrical themes on "Symphonies of the Night" turned out to involve female heroes from history books and sagas,” she told Belfastmetalheads. “This wasn't really planned, however, after having written the lyrics for the demo tracks for "Ophelia" and "Saint Cecelia" I realized this is the path to follow.”

For Liv this is an extension of her interests:  “I have always been inspired by women and female characters in history and literature, especially when it comes to witches, female warriors and women who suffered because of male power and religiously based views that lead to historical tragedies, murderer and mistreatment.
And for the Leaves Eyes singer some of her inspiration comes directly from Stratford-Upon-Avon. “One of the "ladies" who has inspired me artistically since I was a teen-ager studying Anglistics is Ophelia. She one of the main characters in "Hamlet". Shakespeare Hamlet. She is Polonius’s daughter, a beautiful young woman with whom Hamlet has been in love.

“Ophelia is a sweet and innocent young girl, who obeys her father and her brother, Laertes. Dependent on men to tell her how to behave, she gives in to Polonius’s schemes to spy on Hamlet. Even in her lapse into madness and death, she remains maidenly, singing songs about flowers and finally drowning in the river amid the flower garlands she had gathered.”
We wonder how many other bands across the US and UK have been as literate…very few, but there is then a challenge to take such a magisterial sound that supports and empathises with these powerful lyrics.

“Personally I would say that in a live situation the most important thing is that the sound is clear, defined, punching and warm in its character,” said Liv. “The orchestral parts and choirs are not in the foreground of our live sound, and it shouldn't be when there is no actual orchestra or choir on stage.
“If we would have an orchestra live on stage, our settings for the live sound would change, logically.”

The core of the band is, as ever a vital and vibrant team that has kept the band growing and developing. We wanted to know just why this has been central to Leaves Eyes continuing success.

“Alex, Tosso and myself are a real dream-composing-team,” she told Belfastmetalheads. “For every Leaves' Eyes production we've just "started somewhere", going with the creative flow.
“Our teamwork is based on honesty and trust. This is of such a vital importance in a band. Moreover, all my musicians are first-class and highly talented artists, eager to develop and maximize our skills.

“To be honest, we've let any influence into our music as we felt like it; no external pressure, no "musts". I've always been quite immune towards external pressure. I listen to my artistic heart and focus on my own skills.”
Finally, having been bowled over by Symphonies of the Night it is clear that female singers and players are more and more a vital part of the metal scene. While in the past the flag-bearers were the likes of Girlschool and Doro, Liv is clear that this is a natural growth and she also name-checks some bands that readers could do well to check out.

“Luckily things started changing already in the late nineties,” said Liv. “I know that Doro has worked extremely hard to get where she is today, and she is still going strong! Personally, Doro is one of the finest and loveliest persons and artists I have ever met - we all owe her great respect and thanks.

“I still think back on all this and feel that it's kind of fantastic what happened back then when I was still a teen-ager and a huge metal fan, as I grew up with Ozzy/Black Sabbath. I have been composing and singing for as long as I can remember, but neither studied music nor music theory.

”I was co-founder of the world's first gothic metal band with female voices "Theatre of Tragedy" in the early 90s and the "beauty and the beast" concept in metal.
“The founders of this genre with female vocals in doom metal/gothic metal were Kari Rueslåtten (3rd and the Mortal), Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering) and myself back in the early 90s.

“We just wanted to be creative and innovative, being dedicated to doom and what was from then on called "gothic metal". Our first real concert war in Germany in December in the mid nineties, in front of 800 people, supporting Atrocity! You bet I have gathered a lot of experience since then!
“Experience and living for details and contrasts in music has made me become the artist I am today, steadily evolving and aiming at new goals.

Liv concluded the interview with an assessment of her path so far:

“In 2003, after Theatre of Tragedy split with me for a new female singer, I founded Leaves' Eyes with my husband and producer, Alexander Krull.
“Creativity and love towards music is the force behind my artistic work, as well as thankfulness towards my audience and fans all over the world.

“The adventure will go on for many years, I can promise you that! All of this is my life! There is only one thing being more important to me than music and my own artistic development: my family.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

No Hot Ashes rise Phoenix like to restore Rosetta's dreams

MANY, many years ago in the shady recesses of south-east Belfast a rock club attracted insane rockers and metallers to catch the groove of a resurgent 'scene'. For those who made the pilgrimage to the Rosetta No Hot Ashes were one of the bands who captured the vibe.

Now, in 2014, with a rock scene that is once again building momentum No Hot Ashes have risen Phoenix-like, ready once again to prove that rock 'n' roll is alive and well.

We caught up with front man Eamon Nancarrow, ahead of the Belfast date with Foreigner  and FM in April 1st at Belfast's Waterfront Hall...and hear about tour plans, festival dates and so much more...listen at the link below

Eamon - No Hot Ashes