Pick Your Rock and Metal

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Bucked out by Superstars sees Swedes rise to challenge on triple bill excellence

BUCKCHERRY are an enigma - they rose to wide scale prominence on the back of one misogynistic song - Crazy Bitch - and since then have occupied a relatively high pedestal within the hard rock pantheon.

Yet last night (Wednesday Novembe 27th) in Belfast's Limelight1 Josh Todd and his band were taught a lesson in attitude by Swedish rockers Hardcore Superstar, whose determination and energy showed all present what it means to be hungry for yet more success.

Openers on this triple bill were California act Venrez. Looking slightly askance at the crows, with almost hippy like gestures, singer Ven is not your 'typical' frontman.

Confined to a minute space at the front of the stage Ven could barely move out from the confines of two monitor speakers, resulting, perhaps, in some of the more bizarre gestures and an overall opening feeling of languidness.

Halfway into their 30-minute set something of a sea-change seemed to happen - they kicked into a higher gear with Unforseen and current single Sanctify energizing the band and an initially doubting audience. Given a longer set - and a bigger stage to work in - they would have gained more of a backing and more time to showcase their takents. Fair to say that Venrez can deliver.

Hardcore Superstar have been knocking around for a while, yet they trouped on to the Belfast stage as if they were still hungry young bucks determined to shake up the establishment of hard rock.

Jocke Berg has the right balance of cocky arrogance and talent to carry off the demands of being the focal part of the band on vocals. Vic Zino (guitar) and Martin Sandvik (bass) flank him on stage with a jokey sneer, followed by a smile, their permanent facial gestures. Backing it all up Adde Andreasson was pounding his drums as if he felt real animosity towards them.

They are a tight cohesive unit musically, coming across like Motley Crue, the Sex Pistols and a prettier Motorhead in one Scandanavian power unit.

With nine albums behind them and a 'best of...  compilation released a couple of years back Hardcore Superstar are in tour mode now ahead of their next release. While 'sleaze' metal and punked out glam metal may have peaked in the 80s Jocke and his cohorts play as if they were living next door to the Rainbow Bar 'n' Grill in LA.

Highlights included Dreamin' In A Casket, Above The Law and Last Call for Alcohol. To be sure, we can write off the melodramatic poses and stunts of bands like this, but pull it all of with the right dose of basic, stripped down sleaze then the implicit knowing smile between band and audience creates a live bond that simply just works.

It worked for Hardcore Superstar.

Had Buckcherry not been following Hardcore Superstar then their set would have been a good listen, but their slick US groove seemed a bit flat in comparison to the Swedes.

There was nothing wrong, per se, about their performance, and Josh Todd is still a capable frontman, even if at times the backing vocals carried the choruses.

Lit Up, Crazy Bitch, Sorry, and Wrath are all fantastic songs, delivered with panache and adulation from the people down the front of the Limelight. However, what was noticeable was the crowd were beginning to thin out. Wandering around, one of the doormen told Belfastmetalheadsreunited that there had been several taxis ordered and collected passengers not long into the Buckcherry set.

To be clear, they were enjoyable, they were competent and they are fine entertainers. However, it seemed a little bit too finely delivered and as a result came across as slightly 'flat'.

Many, like ourselves, found our focus drifting halfway through the set, even wandering up to the Limelight's Rock Garden smoking area for a break.

In order to properly assess Buckcherry as they look to 2014 it would only be fair to see them with different support acts, perhaps on the festival stage; otherwise the comparison last night may have done them a disservice.

One final point, before awarding the 'scores on the doors' - bands who ply the hard rock path can and should avoid misogyny; in the wise words of Dave Coverdale 'You don't have to be a sexist to be sexy..."

Venrez - 3 out of 5: needed to kick into high gear earlier in their set, and stay off the sauce before going on stage
Hardcore Superstar - 5 out of 5: slick sleaze seems an oxymoron, but they treaded the fine line between ridiculousness and ecstasy like the accomplished act they are
Buckcherry - 3 out of 5: Lots to like about their set, but equally too many dips that marred the performance - tour fatigue or general ennui about their jobs.

Last night was A Distortion Project promotion, one of many James Loveday has laid on in 2013, more reviews and previews of Distortion Project gigs to come as the year draws to a close and we will have a bright shiny 2014 to destroy!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Jepson raising acoustic hell hits the mark

TOBY Jepson - the man behind Little Angels, voice of Gun for a time, and producer par excellence of The Answer's latest album New Horizon - has produced something of an acoustic masterpiece ahead of his winter solo tour, which sees him play The Diamond Rock Club on January 11th.

This six-track release is an absolute in-your-face demonstration of how the man can fill the space which too often is left with aural gaps on acoustic productions.

It is also a demonstration of a lyricist who has evolved, a lyricist who can tackle live issues, awkward discussions with a sensitive touch and a challenge to the mainstream.

Opener, and title track, Raising My Own Hell, sets the tone, with a dynamic mix and a clear statement of intent.

The most rounded and deeply impressive tracks are Patience of a Saint and Shoes. In the former a well-structured arrangement allows the vocals freedom to roam through a skeptics challenge to 'faith' and theism. While it is unusual to see a rock vocalist take on a topic such as this, it is handled with aplomb.

Shoes is a delicate yet up front take on the situation that anyone can find themselves in during these times of austerity. Painting in words a beggar who is a former soldier left scarred by the "brutal touch" of war is a notable point in a poignant ode.

Album closer 'Shadow Boxing' is a slightly off-beat take on Jepson's soundscape, with sax and a tangential at times arrangement throwing the listener briefly off step before they can appreciate the real groove and swing in the song. Available from Jepson's site as a free download, give yourself an aural treat before you buy this album.

The contrasts in this album are also highlighted in this song - while at times confrontational, it is also tender in just the right quantities.

Out now on Townsend Records it's six-tracks should be in every rock fans collection.

Jepson plays The Diamond Rock Club on January 11th. Jepson is also offering to answer fan questions they send in advance.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Has Doyle's horror schtick past it's (Misfits) sell-by date?

WHETHER it was the first incarnation or the second incarnation of The Misfits, they hold a special place in many a metalheads' heart, even for those who only wear the t-shirst because Metallica covered a song...

Which makes the release of Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein's new album 'Abominator' all the more open to question; is this past glories trying to be revived from a long decayed corpse?

And, to compound things has The Misfits cod-horror rock has now been claimed by the likes of Wednesday 13.

But the fact is that Doyle has emerged from the smoldering remains of the Misfits and the abortive Kryst the Conqueror and Gorgeous Frankenstein with the devilock still relevant, and with a knowing smile to the audience from within the tales of gire; all at a time when we are all too in need of a laugh and a peek into the darkside.

Released on CD barely a month ago the eponymously titled album sees Alex Story of Cancerslug growl and snarl through Doyle's twisted mind and lyrics.

Ironically the title track, Abominator, while a good song, is not even close to attaining the horrors within this album.

From the slowed down Dreaming Dead Girls to the mid-paced Land of the Dead, to the swing-tastic groove of Cemetrysexxx, this is a composite of the best of horror punk/metal.

But the real stand out track is the distinctly heavy metal closer Hope Hell is Warm, with elements of thrash, contemporary metal and a Sabbath-style breakdown, this shows that Mr Von Frankenstein is more than an assemblage of random (body) parts of his past, but has more potential within that pumped up body.

This is the time when Doyle can maybe (at last) shake off his Misfits past and begin to build his own legacy, a legacy that may stand on its own, stand shoulder to shoulder with contemporaries in this genre. After all if Alice Cooper can still draw in audiences there is no reason why Doyle can't too!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Americans are nuts - right? If not then where did '30 Seconds to Mars Day' come from...

THERE are times when every nation exhibits a propensity to bonkers behaviour; however in the good old US of A there are times when sanity is not in evidence.

In the case of Houston we have to question the sanity of the Mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, who in 2013 named March 18th this year as '30 Seconds to Mars Day' when the release of the single Up In The Air from album Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams was released on radio, and bizarrely played on the International Space Station...

But then again Jared Leto has always had a propensity to the dramatic.

The band he formed with his brother Shannon has veered from progressive rock through to emo and even 'concept' albums, but always with a wish to deliver epic tracks and visuals.

Of course, Leto is an actor and director as well as frontman for the band.

Which means that when 30 Seconds to Mars play in Belfast's Odyssey Arena this Tuesday, 26th November we should expect a dramatic performance for their Northern Ireland début.

Let's put it this way, at this MCD promoted event there could be performers other than the band...

Also tracks like Conquistador, Do or Die, City of Angels and the aforementioned Up in the Air are all sure to feature, which means that whether you like earlier 30 Seconds to Mars material, newer releases or are just fascinated to see what this Hollywood star can bring to a Belfast stage it's worth the trip.

Support comes from You Me At Six and tickets are still available.

Just be early on Wednesday for Venrez opening for Hardcore Superstar and Buckcherry

UPDATE: THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CHANGED TO LIMELIGHT1 AND THE NEW DOOR TIME IS 7PM. Still, no reason why you shouldn't get down early for a pint or two.

WHEN it comes to Wednesday night there is good cause to make sure you get down to the Limelight2 early on. That way you can make sure to get a pint in hand before Venrez opens up for Hardcore Superstars and Buckcherry.

The headliners should be enough to drag you down there in the first place, but relative unknowns in Ireland Venrez are well worth cutting off work early to see: a combination of heavy rockin' and a social conscience holding a broken mirror up to a broken world.

Last month we reviewed their outstanding album American Illusion, with its dark vibe and intensity it should be enough to have you making tracks to Ormeau Avenue. Earlier our colleague on our syndicated outlet rockradioni Nigel caught up with singer Ven and Buckcherry vocalist Josh Todd, and this weekend we managed to catch a few quick words with Ven about the tour to date.

And - by all accounts it is going to plan.

"Awesome tour," he told us. "We are playing to packed houses and being well received. [And] all the bands get along great."

As to what to expect from a Venrez's set the singer is short and to the point as to what to expect in Belfast: "Something new and raw".

While other bands have taken technological routes to boost their sound Venrez seem to have decided early on to go for a more 'primitive' and authentic rock and roll sound.

"Jason [Womack] writes the music and has heavy influences from The Jesus and Mary Chain as well as from all the bands influenced by them," said Ven. "So we go in a darker direction with our music and the lyrics I write, combined with a bit of 70s meets 90s beat."

And those lyrics may be the game changer for Venrez in the future. Unlike a lot of hard rock bands who follow the clichéd 'boy meets girl' lyric tack American Illusion is much more socially aware if than many of it contemporaries. The vocalist again is clear and straight to the point as to why.

"I feel as responsibility to inform and teach with my lyrics, so [that is what] I do."

Ven's vocal style has that raw in your face vocal style, which reflects his avowed influences in Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison, and it is a style that is guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows on Wednesday evening in pleased delight before the next stage in the Venrez's plan, one we can't help but acknowledge. ("Continue touring well into next year," he told us).

Doors are at 6pm on Wednesday night and Venrez are on shortly after that - don't be caught in the queue!

Trivia fact: It's not Jason Womack nor Ed Davis (drummer) first visit to Belfast...they both played with Juliette Lewis and the Licks...

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Live, loud and raw - Million Dollar Reload unleash live stormer

LIVE albums are always hit and miss, you get some that capture the essence of a concert while others sound like a band trying to hard. With 'As Real As It Gets' Northern Ireland hard rockers have sipped at the elixir of magic in delivering a live album that is raw, loud and balanced by power.

There has always been controversy about overdubs being added to live albums - the controversy over Lizzy's Live and Dangerous rumbles on to this day - but Million Dollar Reload have in the words of guitarist Bam laid this album out "warts and all".

Recorded at then Diamond Rock Club, and scheduled for release on December 17th, we suggest that you assure Santa that you have been very, very good in order to get this slab of rock in your stocking...

There is such a thing as being honest in your craft, whether a musician, a writer, of painter, and that honesty shines through on 'As Real As It Gets'. The sheen of carefully produced studio albums is replaced with an honest performance amidst a crowd intent on quaffing a pint or seven and rocking out. Listen to The Last Icon or Goodnight New York and you'll get what we're driving at.

However, it may seem a little ambitious for a band to release a live album after just two studio albums. In some respects this may be seen as a placeholder while Million Dollar Reload prepare for the next stage of conquest in the glorious madness that is rock 'n' feckin' roll.

And it all started with booze...as singer Phil Conalane explains:

"It all started at a late night drinking session after a show we'd done in Paris. Shooting the breeze and telling lies to each other in the hotel bar led to reminiscing about great live rock albums and recordings - Alice Cooper's live albums, Kiss, Maiden, the G'N'R bootleg at The Marquee amongst others. Alcohol fuelled bravado dictated that we should do one too."

Whether it was an idea that span out of control, or as mentioned above a placeholder for the band this is undoubtedly a slab of fine live music.

The sterility of some acts in the live arena is taken, stamped on and a firm boot delivered to any chance of shiny, happy people in plastic promises with plastic smiles neutering this recording.

Turn this up and you get the shivers that only a great performance can deliver; the shivers that you get when a favourite is given new life and dimensions.

We submit to the court of rock 'n' roll for judgement Broken. From the studio it delivers a superb power ballad, suffused with pathos and bathos before hope emerges like a warm zephyr on a summer evening. Live it grows in stature, the raw nature of the recording tearing every part of the musical and lyrical narrative apart and building it up; a harmonica show casing the blue roots before the chorus and guitar lines surge towards the eventual tale of a life reborn.

Let loose the likes of Tattoos & Dirty Girls, Smoke and Mirrors, and Bullet in the Sky strut across the stereo like Mick Jagger on steroids.

Part of that ambience comes from where and when the band recorded the album; the intimate surroundings of the Diamond Rock Club and as they prepare for their next studio release.

That is not to say that this album is not without flaws. The reference to Sebastian Bach resonates in Northern Ireland, but will not travel well. Also, the closer, a cover of the Cowboy Song (not available on the vinyl release) is stretched and strained even if an honest attempt to give an M$R spin this classic; best to say that this works when sampled with pints on board.]

Overall these points barely dent the excellence of this release; this is Northern Ireland rock delivered from the edge, on the edge, from a band leaping off the precipice and a crowd glorying in hard rockin' delight.

As Real As It Gets is released on December 17th exclusively from the band's website - www.milliondollarreload.com and their Facebook page either on double vinyl with gatefold sleeve, or in CD format. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Venrez bring Coppola to bear on new video ahead of Belfast show

OPENING act for next Wednesday's Buckcherry and Hardcore Superstar gig, Venrez have hooked up with a heavyweight Holywood connection to record the music video for their new single 'Sanctity'

Director Christopher Coppola is brother to Nicholas Cage and Francis Ford Coppola, legendary director of the likes of the Godfather Trilogy, is his uncle.

Released in time for the tour dates which will see them open up proceedings at the Limelight2 on Wednesday 27th November.

Coppola is pretty clear about what vision he brought to the video:
“Ven contacted me and asked if I would direct a music video based upon his poetry, a lot of which I really responded to.

"Sanctity's not your typical rock video, it's an art movie that ties in with Venrez's message on American Illusion.”

Venrez frontman Ven explained further: "I wrote the song 'Sanctity' about government control, selling lies to people, removing our freedom, our children's future and treating us like sheep.

"We wanted to work with Christopher Coppola on this new video. He's an amazing artist when it comes to producing and directing film. He knows exactly what he wants to capture in telling the story through his eyes."
You can read our review of American Illusion here.

The Sanctity video is below:

When Josh rocked the house - QOTSA tear through the Odyssey

QUEENS of the Stone Age are a band that bridge the hard rock and heavy metal genres and occasional pop fan scenesters brought up in watching videos in the noughties in student flats.

That aside, when John Homme and his merry mad men played the Odyssey Arena, Belfast on 18th November QOTSA played as if they were rocking a festival of devoted rockers, backed by an impressive and varied stage set that cunningly married the sense of the songs with visual paradies.

However, as some refer to Queens as an alt-rock or indie band it was appropriate that two alt-rock/indie acts opened the bill.

Sweethead are fronted by Serrina Simms on vocals, who appeared wearing an all-in-one bodysuit, prompting misogynistic shouts from numpties who really shouldn't be allowed out unescorted. The sound for Sweethead - formed by QOTSA guitarist Troy Van Neeuwen and ex-members of the Mark Lanegan Band, Plexi and Handscome - was typical overblown indie rock, lot of noise but a lot less substance.

Compounding the problems for Sweethead were a quarter full hall and a sound mix with the drums over-bearing and the guitars almost drowning out Simms vocals. Although slightly reminiscent of Jeanette Lewis, there is potential here if the band were to drop trying to be 'indie' and just get rocking.

For Nathan Connolly, the problem seemed to be the Snow Patrol guitarist's memory. After an impressive hard opening from Little Matador he told the crowd that it was great to play Belfast and that it was Little Matador's first time. He later had to be reminded that Little Matador had played Belsonic festival in the heart of the city opening up for Nine Inch Nails.

Having said that the band were much tighter this time round, tours and club dates have honed them to razor-edge sharpness. Shatter was particularly impressive amid a cacophony of noise.

Noticeably more relaxed than Belsonic, the triple guitar act were a fitting opener for QOTSA, but one wonders if Connoly and the band (who also include Troy Stewart from Gary Lightbody's side project Tired Pony) can escape from the shadow of Snow Patrol. [You can read our pre-gig interview with Nathan Connolly here.] Also, given the (very) slight resemblance in some tracks to the headliners it is a matter for speculation if the band's name is in anyway connected to QOTSA's label - Matador Records.

Stage cleared from the clutter of supporting acts the scale of the stage set became apparent - a stripped down set of amps and instruments dwarfed by a ceiling height screen and an assortment of neat lighting effects.

Queens of the Stone Age are now old hands at playing stadia. With recent release...Like Clockwork indicating a return to some of the earlier desert rock grooves the set had a balance and a pace clearly designed to both please the crowd and to introduce newer tracks.

With the Odyssey curtain covering an empty back quarter of the hall clearly the number of recent and walk-up sales for this MCD promoted event ensured the rest of the standing area was packed in as they tore into the set with precision and power, a long way divorced from easy classification as desert or stoner rock.

Of the newer tracks Fairweather Friends stood out, along with encore opener The Vampyre of Time and Memory. One feels that these will become set regulars in future appearances along with the title track ...Like Clockwork.

However, for many in the hall excitement was reserved for the single hits of the Queens' past. Having No One Knows as the second track of the evening showed a stylish touch in keeping the crowd engaged.

The illuminations and visuals on the backdrop were a mirror to each track, worryingly disconcerting in the best possible way for the band's mythos of part bandidos, part cynical observers.

Of course Go With The Flow was impressive and closer Song for the Dead was drawn out appropriately for the by now adoring crowd.

However, there was a distinct lack of connection between songs with the audience. Saying the word "Belfast"" after the second track, asking "If we can play a new track" were about the sum of things until he apologized with the somewhat lame excuse of "I don't know always what to say, but we know what to play" this seems to be par for the course for Homme.

The 'Ginger Elvis' is the only remaining member from the original QOTSA line-up; and while the diverse and challenging arrangements on some tracks may reflect the past of the Queens, Homme's metal roots (Kyuss etc) are there for all to hear in the sheer weight of the sound and the riffing of the guitars.

While this was a memorable night for many fans, once you strip away the backdrop this was a good, entertaining set, rather than a great performance.

It is also probable that many present would willingly see them again, though sales suggest they may have to travel to see them on the festival circuit.

Overall the Queens of the Stone Age are now far removed from the desert generator parties. It may not be possible to ever recreate those, and with Homme's near-death on the operating theatre in 2010 this is probably a more reflective time for the band to consolidate their position and earn a few extra dollars (which no-one can blame them for, it is their 'job' after all!).

Therefore any hopes for spontaneity would be forlorn, but a little more verbal interaction could have elevated Homme's already high standing.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

BIg Truck rumbles through the Pavillion with compadres in rock

AS we move merrily towards the last month of the 2013, Trucker Diablo rounded up a tremendous year of development and success with a storming show at Belfast's Pavillion on the Ormeau Road with three hard rockin' compadres as a top supporting cast.

This SO:NI event saw a four-way phenomenon of rock that teetered gloriously towards the metallic edge, such was the ferocity of the performances; performances that displayed some of the diverse nature of hard rock in this wee country.

Opening proceedings with a low-down and dirty riff assault were Baleful Creed who delivered a deliciously tight rendering of Sabbath inspired songs, with more than taste of Down and other deep south groove merchants.

Thorazine teased and terrorised in equal quantities and the dark Autumn Leaves wove its spell around the evening, like a dark mist ensnaring the unsuspecting and a chorus that makes it presence felt when least expecting it.

From thence came St Hellfire, providing an up-tempo rock party showing, infused with a punk-ish rhythm attack. At times this contrast jarred, but when it melded it caught the mood of the 80s that many post Gunners acts on the other side of the Atlantic strove to achieve but failed.

It was a particularly impressive set from Mark Fanjo and his colleagues given that stand-in guitarist Dean had only played two shows yet still managed to lay down solos as if his life depended on it.

Where St Hellfire declared their attitude to be about the usual suspects (sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll), NASA Assassin where pretty clear about the source of all their tunes...Carrickfergus!

Part performance art, part rockin' rap, part metallic assault and part sheer lunacy NASA Assassin penetrated cynicism and alcohol-infused delirium to shake off the cobwebs and challenge musical conceptions.

Despite the on-stage antics and carefully constructed chaos NASA Assassin are conundrum wrapped up in a mystery. The music they deliver is not easy listening, yet live, that self-same music just works....weird but good.

Then came the Big Truck. What a year it has been for Trucker Diablo, with a superb album released, tours in England and France and rave reviews from the USA to the Far East and Australasia all notched up.

This was Trucker's last show of 2013 before they re-group for yet more Diabolic rock. Superlatives abound in a crowd watching Trucker, and they are justified. Managing to capture that elixir of rock that is a mix between loose and tight Tom and Simon lead a merry dance, while Glenn and Terry lay it down as if they were still fresh-faced youths in their teens determined to tear down the walls.

Songs of Iron outstanding out-pouring of singalong anthems were all delivered with a pounding precision and generated an electric charge to the audience.

From Rebel to Drive, from Voodoo to Year of the Truck, from When's It Gonna Rain to Juggernaut the songs are familiar now to fans who know each word and inflection.

But that is not to say that there is over-familiarity from the band themselves: take the headlong rush of the party anthem Drink Beer, Destroy. What was a straightforward ode to drinking has on stage become a overdriven beast, as if the Dead Kennedys and AC/DC got together with a load of crystal meth and a case of Special Brew. And that is not a criticism, that is a complement.

Rounding things off with an encore of Black and Blue this was a fitting Coda for Trucker's 2013, and a sure sign that they stand ready for a global assault that really could lift them to the proverbial next level of international recognition.

Following on from Friday's six-band metal display for The Distortion Project this weekend proved ghat hard rock and heavy metal in Northern Ireland are growing in success and stature - as Tom Harte said about their album "We should have called it Songs of Norn Iron" rather than Songs of Iron. We heartily agree because for such a small 'market' from such a small population 'Norn Iron' punches well above its weight, and we love it!

Snow Patrol man speaks to Belfastmetalheads and RockRadioni...No really, he did!

WE have made a wee bit of a point in the past about our views on Snow Patrol - and in rather disparaging terms too. Thus when Nathan Connolly of the band launched his side project Little Matador we weren't that hopeful.

But snagging the support slot with Nine Inch Nails gave us an opportunity to see whether this would be another snooze patrol or was there genuine hard rock lurking in the guitarist.

It was a pleasant surprise then when the three guitar alt-rock hit the stage with a noise that was definitely in the heavier side; groove rhythms, riffs and concentrated rock that verged on the metallic at times.

All of which begged the question: for Connolly, which came first the rock or the middle of the road safety...Before tomorrow night's support slot with the mighty Queen's of the Stone Age at Belfast's Odyssey Arena we asked the chicken or egg question about which came first the rock or the melody.

"To play loud for sure," he said, "but melody has always been equally important to me. I don't see why you can't do or have both or want to express yourself in different ways, make different kinds of music.

"I listen to different kinds of music and they all inspire, but I wanted and needed to make this album for a while."

With last year seeing Snow Patrol taking a hiatus Connolly began to take Little Matador from a side project into a touring and recording reality, but is this a permanent thing?

"It's very much a permanent project," he told us. "We've just started, we've made a great album so we are serious about getting out there. I have commitments but I'll still be working and writing for Little Matador

"I feel even at this stage I want to make another record."

But is Connolly is 'happy' playing to a heavier soundscape with his band.

"I was never worried about feeling comfortable with that," he said. "I started off playing this way."

So, the thousands who turn out to see Snow Patrol at the likes of Tennents Vital should know that there is a hard rocker on stage...and now with an impressive cast of musos who are on the same page with Little Matador.

"It's brilliant! The band chemistry came together very quickly" Connolly explained. "We built on that and started writing.

"We've known each other for a long time but that doesn't guarantee that things will click, so it's great!"

All of which bodes well for those coming along tomorrow night and seeing the Little Matador machine rolling on.

With a number of impressive support slots already under their belt, being on the bill with Queends of the Stone Age at the Odyssey (amongst other dates) has honed the sound, one which may surprise audiences that have no idea of Connolly's dark (not so secret) alter ego in Snow Patrol - well think it's a dark 'secret' that we'll not whisper any more about, but what reaction have rock fans had when they have shared stages with the likes of Nine Inch Nails.

"It's been great to get those slots," he said. "As to reaction I have no idea, really. Some people may be surprised, some will know and have been, others will have no idea.

"I want to be judged on what they hear and see with Little Matador regardless of what other band or projects I'm in or involved with."

And that's the attitude that should see hard rock fans take the band seriously - any musician worth their salt should be judged on what they do.

Little Matador open for Queens of the Stone Age tomorrow night at the Odyssey Arena, some tickets are still available. Get there early and judge Little Matador on what they do, not what they have done before.

Six of the best, despite absent friends

THIS was heavy metal, and this was the six of the best Northern Ireland heavy metal on display, this was Belfast Music Week, this was The Distortion Project 13th Birthday and this was the Ulster Hall rocked to its very core.

Despite a thin crowd six bands came on to the vast stage of the Bedford Street venue with verve, vigour and no need for Viagra as they stood erect in the name of metal.

To the obvious delight of those that got off their backsides to attend this was six bands fulfilling dreams of playing in one of the metal meccas; and playing it as if the hall was filled to the rafters.

Opening proceedings at an obscenely early hour Rabid Bitch of the North delivered it old school metal style, three musicians leaning into a meaty slab of monster riffs and punchy rhythms; it was if the 80s hadn't gone away.

Skypilot's considered, yet heavy riffage merged into a melange of Clutch and Tool; all pretence that prog metal might bring dispelled by the entrancing weaves of musical metal collages.

Representing the dark side of the metal family Zombified brought the extreme death metal on stage in a flurry of right and left combinations of neck breaking, thorough and precise death as it should be played...as if blood-splattered corpses littered the floor of this venerable venue.

With barely a pause the riff then held sway as groove monsters and maestros of all-round Legenderry cool Triggerman brought summoned the river gods and bought thon strange brew to Belfast - total excellent personified.

Sinocence brought a dash of thrash and old school to the hall with their usual pananche; from Long Way Down to having Raymie Haller of Sweet Savage joining them for a blast of Killing Time, this was a band flexing their collective biceps built up with touring and playing wherever and whenever was appropriate.

Stormzone have become a force of nature; a conjuration of the weather gods brought this five piece together to rain thunder upon us; from Davey Bates and Graham McNulty's rumbling of elemental terror, to Davey Shields and Steve Moore's riffs and manic soloing and held together by charismatic Harv Stormzone know that the big stage is where they belong.

To say it was a fitting closer to six acts of all round 'immenseness' would be an understatement.

However, two things were to put a dampener on the night, otherwise lit up by six bands giving their all, illuminated by a tremendous lighting rig and set-up.

Firstly the sound was appalling - at times too muddy, and other times bright and sparky; and usually getting it the wrong way round.

A bigger crowd may have helped dampen down the reverb that was killing a lot of bands' dynamics. Where was this crowd? Lost on the back streets of Belfast? Too lazy? Too self-absorbed? Washing their hair?

Wherever they were: the thousands who have enjoyed the smallest to the largest gigs The Distortion Project has laid on over the last 13 years; the hundreds of bands that The Distortion Project have given an opportunity to ply their trade; and the thousands who had the chance to show that metal is alive - they were the ones who missed out. They are the ones who this weekend should hang their heads in collective shame.

To James Loveday and each and every band and fan who were in the Ulster Hall we raise the horns and a pint - for those who brought the metal, we salute you!

Friday, November 15, 2013

A challenge for the Little Matador

WHEN we all stumble from tonight's (Friday 15th November) show in Belfast's Ulster Hall with ears ringing with metallic tinnitus, and get over Saturday's rock - whether you are at The Pavillion with Trucker, at the Diamind Rock Bar with Tigertailz - there's always Queens of the Stone Age to look forward to on Monday....

You will all already be familiar with Josh Homme and the output of QOTSA, the majority of which you should be familiar with and if you haven't got your ticket tucked in your wallet or purse are planning a purchase on our before Monday night.

But, when you queue up at the Odyssey Arena on Monday are you prepared for Snow Patrol? Okay, panic not loyal readers, for you will not be exposed to Gary Lightbody's soporific drone.

Instead there will be the alt-noise attack of Little Matador, the side project of Snore Patrol's Natahan Connolly.

With the likes of Dave Mage of La Faro and Gavin Fox of Idlewild joining Connolly for this triple guitar act it most definitely is not the middle class safe Snore Patrol sound.

When Little Matador opened for Nine Inch Nails at Belsonic they garnered a few inquisitive nods of appreciation. Yes, they are not typical hard rock/metal, but they do lay on a guitar-orientated heavy sound.

Connolly, speaking in the summer to one of the rags that passes for a newspaper described the Little Matador sound: “It’s louder, dirtier, a little bit sleazier.  A healthy respect for noise.  It’s always weird describing music because everyone hears something different.”

We, like more than a few others will be making sure we're settled in early to make an assessment on Little Matador before passing further judgment. And then there's QOTSA with a setlist that includes the likes of Burn The Witch, Better Living Through Chemistry, The Vampyre of Time and Live and of course A Song for the Dead.

Review to come after the QOTSA show, but don't forget to look out for the reviews of tonight's Distortion Project/Belfast Music Week six-band attempt to tear down the Ulster Hall

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why Friday 15th November is a date you MUST not miss

TOMORROW (Friday 15th November) is a date you MUST not miss if you are a fan of hard rock and heavy metal. That is when the venerable James Loveday and his Distortion Project join forces with Belfast Music Week to bring six local heavy bands to the Ulster Hall.

Hand your kids over to social services, rent your house out, make public transport arrangements, have an early dinner, get the neck muscles limbered up and reserve your spot in the venerable old hall - you must not miss this.

Yes, we can always say that about any gig, but this one is special.

Firstly, hard rock and heavy metal have always been the awkward kid of Belfast Music Week, lurking around the edges while extravagant fringes, talentless samplers of other people's music and assorted shoe gazers take the plaudits.

But being given the opportunity to bring metal to the Ulster Hall with six Northern Ireland acts is a unique opportunity to show the sneering cynics that there is a vibrant local hard rock and metal scene. We've known that all along, but they need to be reminded...

And what a line up that has been assembled...In order of appearance:
  • Rabid Bitch of the North;
  • Skypilot;
  • Zombified;
  • Triggerman;
  • Sinocence; and
  • Stormzone.
With doors opening at 5pm and running until 11pm - all for a measly £10 - why would any self-respecting fan of local heavy music not go along. Of course there may be one or two of the acts you might not have a taste for, but there is plenty on offer for you to toast and celebrate this evening.

The second main reason is to help celebrate The Distortion Project. For 13 years James has been the bulwark of the local scene, bringing international acts and offering opportunities for almost every genre of heavy music to take to the stage.

This isn't us here on this blog brown-nosing, we're are simply stating fact. While we always acknowledge and celebrate all promoters and backers of rock and metal, The Distortion Project has been the constant factor for 13 years. Even if you are not a fan of any of the six bands hitting the Ulster Hall you must attend tomorrow night to raise a toast to the 13 years.

Finally, the Ulster Hall is a city centre venue with an impressive and auspicious place in Northern Ireland history, with protests, gospel meetings and all manner of events taking place there that are part of the footnotes of the past.

It has also a special place in rock history. From the first ever live airing of Stairway to Heaven when Zeppelin played there, through to Rory Gallagher's regular annual appearances, and the boom days of the late 80s Ulster Hall shows when Metallica, MSG, WASP, Slayer and many other graced the stage it has unique claim on metal hearts.

Come tomorrow night, as the six bands play in front of the epic organ that is a backdrop to the stage, the ghosts of power chords of yesteryear will be in the air - mingling with the cheers of the many who will assemble there. Will you join us?

We can always promise to go to an event on Facebook and then through other commitments, family pressures, lack of beer tokens, or sheer forgetfulness manage not to attend, but on Friday you must make the effort.

Tickets will be available on the door £10...

As if that was not enough if you people remember a wee song called Killing Time, Raymie Haller will be joining the Sinocence lads to a wee run through of this classic...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

No poseurs required as Chtonic and Satyricon prove that black is not a one dimensional colour

The Distortion Project delivers a double headed black metal treat to Belfast with Chtonic and Satryicon

MAKING their first appearances on a Belfast stage two bands, who are literally from the opposite sides of the world brought new dimensions to the often hackneyed field of black metal; silencing the doubters and opening up new, interesting pathways on the metal journey.

While most of the crowd in the Limelight2 on Monday (11th November) were there for Satyricon's Belfast début, all concerned received a pleasant shock as Taiwanese metallers Chtonic hit the stage to deliver a tight, focused and engaging performance.

Singer Freddy Lim, bearing the mark of the Eight Generals of Hell on his forehead, offered new textures to the black/death metal vocal style and occasionally added flourishes with the traditional Taiwanese erhu.

With the masked CJ Kao bearing what appeared to be a mask for summoning vampires, and the semi-masked drummer Dani Wang, their preferred references to aboriginal Taiwanese were present, allowing Jesse Liu to give a masterclass in guitar histrionics - whatever they are feeding their guitar players in Taiwan is working!

Many there will not be aware that Chtonic are a highly politicized band; they are prominent figures in campaigning for full Taiwanese independence; Lim is a member of Amnesty International and is a previous President of the Taiwanese Chapter. However, many eyes were focused on the attractive female bassist and band spokesperson Doris Yeh.

Her beauty prompted the usual round of misogynist comments from the less evolved, but they would do well to remember that Yeh uses her looks as a tool to raise awareness of women's rights and is an active rights campaigner on many issues. And, she is a hell of a good bassist!

Such is the activism of Chtonic that they are banned in several parts of China for their political views - but on Monday, what Chtonic proved that they are a healthy and vibrant set musicians who have adapted and adopted western black and death metal to deliver a set that can literally leave an audience gasping for more.

With the stage set for Satyricon, Frost's monumental drum kit towered over all present- a testimony to black metal tradition, and the template he used to anchor everything down, plus add the percussive shades and splashes that are essential to the band's sound.

Of course, the band really is the bastard black metal baby of Satyr and Frost. It is their vision of an evolving, changing black metal sensibility that has seen the band tweak at their traditional sound, adding rock elements.

There are stuck up poseurs who want everything to stay the same. They can f**k away off! Satyricon's recorded output of recent years on stage lives, breathes and spits like a snarling feral beast.

Satyr commands the stage, rocking on his trident mike stand, staring all around as he delivers invective and bile. Where Chtonic work towards a free Taiwan, Satyricon paint upon the bleak landscapes of Norse winters and Nordic traditions with dystopian paints to create a canvas of hellish visions and slim hopes of defiance and victory - all with a healthy dash of references to Satan of course!

Mother North, The Pentagram Burns, Fuel for Hatred were outstanding delivered live - the touring band coalescing, and tight as the bonds on a human sacrifice at the feet of ancient, vengeful Norse gods.

However, while songs like Now, Diabolical and K.I.N.G. have become stage favourites the newer tracks Our World It Rumbles Tonight and The Infinity of Time and Space show a way forward more complicated and layered than the doubters can ever see; Satyr telling Belfast that the latter song encapsulates everything about the band.

If this is the future of Satyricon it is bright light on the shadowed world they deliver their art upon.

And, while we are normally averse to referring to any band rock or metal band as producing 'art' it is clear that to Chtonic and Satyricon that they are artists in a dark world of shadows where mere mortals fear to tread.

Satyricon six or seven years ago where on the cusp of emerging from the black metal clichés. They have shrugged off the shackles of 'scene' conformity and developed into an immense live machine.

As Satyr hinted that he'd like to return to the city we can only hope that Satyricon and Chtonic do not just notch up Belfast as one more city to play, but do ensure Belfast is penciled in next time they tour Europe. Both are guaranteed the warmest of black welcomes!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Not another compilation album as Saxon unplug and get strung up....

SOMETIMES compilation albums are a nightmare for fans and bands alike - the constant arguing about what merits inclusion, and there's generally two 'newly' released songs that means you end up buying the bloody thing!

Classic metallers, heavy metal legends and NWOBHM legends Saxon could have trodden that route (again!) when they gathered round a studio console with producer Andy Sneap.

But then again Saxon are one of those awkward bands - in a good sense! Where in the past they could have reprised the glory of the early and mid-80s (when the played at the now derelict Maysfield Leisure Centre in Belfast).

Forced to re-evaluate things as grunge and laughingly 'reality' shows began to dominate charts, and with line-up shuffles Saxon shrugged off the strains and pains, knuckled down and got on with things: touring, recording, touring, recording - because that's what traditional 'eavy fuckin' metal bands do!

But as they looked back over their extensive back catalogue, what appeared to be dark thoughts of orchestras, acoustic guitars, new arrangements came into their minds...

It is usually at this point that a sensible metal fan wrestles the band to the ground and beats them with a Flying V until they see sense. Yhis is an action we would usually do not condone, but would applaud the intent.

However, what Saxon have done on this new release 'Unplugged and Strung Up' is to re-imagine a set of tracks that spans from the 1979 début right up to more recent releases. When Holywood re-imagines old movies they ruin; when Saxon re-imagine their songs they produce new, and intriguing versions.

To be honest we are so beloved of the classic Saxon sound that we initially approached Unplugged ad Strung Up, gently prodding it lest it let us down with an inane smile and limpid 'new versions'.

We need not have feared. Our death meal correspondent -Z - sighed with contentment after listening to Militia Guard's new mix, our more laid back correspondents and our ancient owner and editor had lighters in the air at the acoustic version of Frozen Rainbow.

It's worth focusing on that track for a moment. Back in 1979 it was a largely derivative track on what was otherwise excellent début. With Biff and his co-conspirators working with Sneap they have turned into something where, despite the slightly daft lyrics really, really works. The acoustic solos delicate enough to balance it all out; making it in all but name a 'new' track.

Overall this release is a mish-mash of acoustic tracks, orchestral additions and re-recordings. As a unit of songs they work. From the "Orchestrated" - no we're not sure what that means either - arrangement of Crusader through to the real delicacy of the acoustic version of Requiem it holds together.

Even the acoustic slide guitar opening of Coming Home doesn't sound weird for a Sheffield rocker to be singing along to!

Stand-out tracks are the Orchestrated versions Call To Arms and Red Star Falling; tracks that have been given real gravitas in their new clothes.

Overall while we normally wouldn't recommend buying any compilation album what Saxon and Sneap have done with these 14 tracks is effectively a new album. Unplugged and Strung Up is something that may be a placeholder in the band's career for a few months, especially given the cancelled dates with Motorhead, but it is one helluva placeholder.

It is a set of tracks that any classic metal band would be proud of.

Released on November 18th in the UK, the digipack comes with a bonus disc of the 2002 re-recordings from the Heavy Metal Thunder release including all the fan favourites such as Motorcycle Man and Dallas 1PM.

The album is available in a variety of formats including on vinyl gatefold 180gm double album and digital releases.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

There is still hope - as the Screaming Eagles prove once again

ROCK 'n' feckin' roll - it's in all our veins; metal is in our hearts but one prominent festival just jumped the shark in announcing emo-supremos Fall Out Boy as part of a line-up that has crossover act Linkin Park and Avenged Sevenfold.

That festival - Download - has a venerable tradition in the hard rock and metal world, with luminaries such as Rainbow, Maiden, Metallica etc having headlined it and drawn a diverse crowd to see such acts.

With a further headliner to be announced, plus another 100 or so other acts there is hope that more 'metallic' elements from the periodic table of rock may be announced, with a liberal sprinkling of hard rockin'.

For many this may mean choosing to go to more continental festivals, or more 'boutique' festivals such as Bloodstock or Hard Rock Hell...

Now speaking of Hard Rock Hell, you may, or may not be aware that local act, the Screaming Eagles, have won a spot to play there. And they have recently launched their first video for the track 'Rock 'n' Soul'. It is massively cheesy and delightful fun to accompany this stonking song. Watch it here - right now!


And speaking of videos the Screaming Eagles are the latest Northern Ireland band to prove that just because we live in the far north western part of Europe, on an island that only has Iceland between us and the Atlantic stretch to the US of A, we can still compete with the so-called big boys of rock and metal. And that's because, unlike Download 2014, we rock!

Check out videos in these links from Sinocence, Trucker Diablo, Million$Reload to name but three and see what we mean!

Monday, November 04, 2013

Congratulations to our QOTSA winners

THIS weekend we pored over the many, many entries to the Belfastmetalheadsreunited, rockradioni.co.uk competition to win tickets to see Queens of the Stone Age and Little Matador at Belfast's Odyssey Arena on November 18th.

Thanks to everyone who entered this competition, backed by promoters MCD.

A pair of tickets each is on their way to Una and Peter

Sorry we couldn't make you all winners, but we hope that we'll see y'all down there for what is set to be a stonker show.

Some tickets are still available via Ticketmaster and the Odyssey Arena box office.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Zombified surreal Sunflower booster at HMV with Little Miss Stakes

HALLOWE'EN is one of the most ancient of Pagan festivals, hijacked by the early Christian church and calling November 1st All Saint's Day - Hallowed Day, thus (and there is more to this if you want to get anal about it...) All Hallow's Eve was born.

Hijacked by the retailers and commercial interests the lemmings annually traipse off to outfitters, don make-up and queue up to buy over-priced tickets to clubs with over-priced drink.

How refreshing it was then to see a Hallowe'en show with good purpose and good intent - and a healthy level of nastiness...

Gathered together in the unholy matrimony of metal Little Miss Stakes and Zombified occupied the city centre's HMV store...much to the consternation of some late night shoppers.

Little Miss Stakes schlock horror take on the Misfits and Wednesday 13 was, of course a perfect fit with their over-the-top codology lyrics. But the best way to play it, is with a straight face - even one hidden behind make-up.

Doctor Frankenstein and a nice take on Dracula lyrically all were both amusing and delivered with aplomb. Despite the constraints of the set-up even the keytair worked out well for atmosphere. This was not so much an homage to predecessors but a Belfast take on horror rock.

Zombified have had a busy year, and with the DP13 gig and shows with Amputated they are prepared with a tight sound, no matter any issues that playing in a record store may present.

Taking their set as a whole they perform with purpose; a massive melange of black, death and thrash, played with a straightforward purpose; entertainment with deadly energy. All of which made it more surreal to see elderly shoppers looking in from the adjoining mini-mall in bemusement at windmill headbanging, technical guitar attacks, a pounding rhythm section (despite the set-up limitations) and much growling with menace..

Human Cull, Murder Serpent and Outbreak were just a selection of the terror attack. 

For those with a penchant for the deep end growl and technical end of death/black metal (and we count ourselves among them) Zombified are the perfect antidote to the vanilla flavouring of many of the mainstream bands pouring out of the US and England like a plague of banality.

They are now in fine fettle to round up the year.

And a fair shout for the Sunflower Festival (2014 tickets now available) for backing this Hallowe'en treat and to HMV for hosting it!