Pick Your Rock and Metal

Monday, June 24, 2013

Crowning achievement from Stormzone on Three Kings

THE late, great author Iain M Banks wrote in his sci-fi novel, The Algebraist, the following lines:

"Beginnings and endings are contingent things...devices. Where does any story really begin? There is always context, always an encompassing greater epic, always something before the described events..."

With any review it is a description of events as they occur at that moment, whether it be a gig or about an album - a snapshot of what the recording process resulted in. A review is describing those events, not what went before, unless absolutely necessary...

For those of you familiar with the history of Stormzone, its members and its growth to date there is no need for context. For those who are not, the only 'context' you need before taking on board the 'encompassing greater epic' is to know how the 'described events' on new album 'Three Kings' have translated on to a fine finished product.

Emerging on the back of the critically acclaimed Zero to Rage, it was always going to be a challenge to rise to the heights of that release. But, on 'Three Kings' the band pledged to take a step up.

That step up has produced a better rounded album, packed with variety, but rooted in the history of classic heavy metal, European power metal and the heritage of Northern Ireland hard rock and metal.

Opening with Churchill's address to Parliament on 13th May, 1940, promising nothing but "blood, toil, tears and sweat", this prelude announces'The Pain Inside' - a statement of intent; a promise that all the members have committed to move the band to the next level, without sacrificing anything at the altar of compromise.

'Three Kings' has all the elements you would expect of a well-rounded classic metal platter.

Soaring vocals from Harv at the right moment, carefully crafted solo passages from Steve Moore and Davy Shields all anchored from Graham McNulty (bass) and Davey Bates (drums) as a cohesive rhythm section.

There are also slices of subtlety (the intro to 'Never Trust' and the ballad 'Beware In Time') amidst the classic riffs. To say they are classic riffs is in no way meant to reduce the impact of their construction. True, at times there is more than a nod to metal's NWOBHM predecessors, and once or twice a nod to Maiden's "chugga-chugga" pacing appears, but it is simply doffing a hat rather than stealing said headwear.

Evidence of how to properly pay homage to the past is on the 'The Pass Loning'. Here the influence of Irish rock is apparent with its Lizzy references and even a hint of Horslips. Rightly, this is about knowing where you come from and absorbing that as you construct your original interpretation around it. As Mr Banks would have put it, it's all about "context".

There are some weaknesses, however. One cannot help cringe a little to the over-the-top lyrics to 'BYH'. The song has tremendous harmonies and solos, but surely we do not need to the call to 'bang our heads'. A bit too clichéd, it may play better in Europe, but surely set to be a live favourite.

Nonetheless this is perhaps the only failing on Three Kings, redeemed by the closing track's lyrics as Harv treads the familiar path of classic metal in a call for common sense on 'Out of Eden'.

Well rounded, well executed, and well presented as an album this does represent a solid step up for Stormzone, taking 'Three Kings' as a singular release or as part of the growing emergence of the band as a force worthy of wider shores.

Deserving a 9.5 out of 10, this is Stormzone growing to take their next step on the all-encompassing epic that is the tales of glory told in metal.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Industrial Jazz Metal? That'll be Norway's Shining then...

JAZZ and metal are not words you ever expect to see in the same sentence, let alone in the same musicscape. But Norway's Shining are, if not pioneers, the only band that have set out this as a vision.

Following on from the album's Blackjazz and Live Blackjazz Shining have released One One One, a bleak post-industrial metal jazz aesthetically intense album.

Air guitar is one thing, air drums and air bass are just about plausible but air saxophone playing may stretch plausibility a wee bit too far...

However, there is something strangely engaging about the album One One One. It is entirely understandable that one should not like it, but it has a weird groove that it is likeable. We don't even care that the fashionistas have declared a liking for it - they'll soon forget the metal that lies within...

The influence of Sean Beaven, whose previous production credits include Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson ks clear and at times it sounds like Manson on meth and Nine Inch Nails in a rare moment when of clarity.

A cynic might see the jazz metal monicker as a gimmick to hook the unwary, but within the bleak, industrial, landscape it all fits together perfectly.

Album opener, I Won't Forget - already a massive hit single in Norway - is a hint at the accessibility within the density.

Equally accessible is My Dying Drive and Off The Hook, for people who already have a penchant for industrial metal. Blackjazz Rebels is where the album really kicks off, ramping the dischordant keyboards, pained vocal approach and buzzsaw guitars to produce a track that would sit well in a German metal rave club...

The Saxophone solo opening of How Your Story Ends can be a little off-putting with its avant garde take on free form jazz.

But that is to take nothing away from Jorgen Monkeby's vision for this album.

“When writing the songs for One One One, I aimed at getting each and every song to sound their
absolute best, and to be strong enough to stand alone. A series of ones, which is also where the
album title comes from”, said Munkeby.

“But as a huge fan of the longer forms ofmusic, where the whole album or symphony is just as important as the bits it is made from, we never strayed away from focusing on the totality of the album. I really feel we’ve managed to successfully combine these two aspects.”

We certainly enjoyed taking a dip into Monkeby's weird world, despite the obviously derivative nature of some of the tracks.

This will appeal to industrial metal fans, and for those who imagine what Dream Theatre would sound like as jazz and Nine Inch Nails fans then this could be for you! Seven out of ten.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Over 14 show: Motionless in White, The Defiled and Glamour of the Kill - Mandella Hall

FRIDAY the 13th - always a good day to lay on a metal show with undertones of goth and schlock horror...and Friday September 13th is when Motionless in White, Defiled and Glamour of the Kill arrive at the Mandella Hall for a triple header over 14s show.

Motionless in White have been a bit of an enigma, emerging from metalcore roots with goth leanings they have evolved into a more complex beast, with last year's album 'Infamous' showcasing a more diverse set of heavy influences.

Heavily marketed and with reports on their ability to translate recorded  intricacies to the live setting Motionless in White have been receiving positive reviews from the likes of Metal Hammer amongst others.

Backing them up are Defiled, who have appeared in Belfast before, albeit on a mis-matched bill that didn't allow for their industrial metal sound to resonate. This line-up seems more suited to their sound and vibe.

Completing the line-up are Glamour of the Kill, who - rather hilariously - on their wikipedia entry are described as "post-hardcore, metalcore, glam punk", which is a shame really because there is a lot more to their sound than these 'narrow' categorizations.

Tickets - priced £14 (excl booking fee) go on sale this Friday (June 21st) from the usual outlets

Amon Amarth - Nine not out blast their best to date

WHEN it comes to determination many a band have faltered when their dreams of pursuing a full-time career seemed but distant promises - almost like a trickster had promised glory only to steal it away./

A few years back Amon Amarth willingly conceded that when it came to their career they had to take the plunge and gamble with going full-time all the way. Several albums later it could be that the prospect of  being in the endless routine of recording, touring, recording and then more touring that the dream was more of a chore.

Which on this, their ninth album, they show that when you really love what you're doing, and believe in it then you can live the dream and still produce something with real energy. Deceiver of the Gods is perhaps their best ever recording, brimming with energy and bursting with fury.

The production of Andy Sneap lends an immediacy to the recording, and they have mixed it up with old school metal, thrash, their trademark melodic death metal and even a bit of doom.

As usual Johan Hegg brings Norse Mythology into every song, but equally this is a man versed in the subtleties of Swedish history (read his Metal Hammer opinion piece last year) as much as the mythology has many more layers than a comic book/movie interpretation. The focus this time is on Loke (the titular Deceiver of the Gods).

Hegg explains it is the Janus like nature of Loke is a reminder of our fallibility.

"I just think he is really engaging in that he possesses a lot of human traits in the sense that we can do good and bad," he said. "We can be fantastic people and great people and huge people and we can be very, very small people.

"We can be small minded and egocentric and devious and all of those negative things, and I like how he reflects that."

Musically, however, there is no ambiguity on Deceiver of the Gods. This is an in-your-face performance from a band confident in their success and ready for the next level.

From opener - and title track - this is a tour de force. The great tracks keep on coming. The previously mentioned thrash elements are there in Under Seige, Father of the Wolf and Blood Eagle, while Hel - aided by Candlemass' vocalist Messiah Marcolin - shows a more considered approach, slowed down from the headlong rush into a track with many divergent element. Marcolin's harmonies coupled with Hegg's growl, insistent riffing and an almost orchestral arrangement it is a song that completes the album's worth.

Album closer Warriors of the North takes Amon Amarth to the next level. It is an eight-minute plus epic that takes the mystery of the Northmen, their courage and their tragedy and encapsulates into a musical tale deserving the utmost respect in terms of songwriting.

Overall Deceiver of The Gods is what Amon Amarth have aspired to throughout their 21 years of existence - an album that truly captures their live performances.

Sneap's production and the decision to track their instruments live in the studio have lent a groove to the insistent riffing and melodic twin guitar assault.

The final word goes to guitarist Olavi Mikkonen:

"It's rougher, and like a punch in the face,which us what we wanted it to be," he said. "Though adding more thrash elements into a few songs helps the whole album sound more hostile, it's ultimately the production that makes them sound more aggressive.

"On the last few albums it didn't matter how aggressive the riffs we wrote were, whenever we went into the studio at the end they just didn't sound as intense."

Olavi - PR blurb aside - we agree that this time they are even more intense.

Deceiver of the Gods is released on Metal Blade Records on 25th June, 2013.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fresh ferocity from newbies Altus

OKAY kiddies, before getting you underway we'll start with a wee history lesson...

Back in the dim, distant past, when vinyl was king and MP3 files, iTunes and even CDs were a dream in a technician's mind, a 7" vinyl single had an 'A' side and a 'B' side. If the artist added a song or two it became an "e.p." Somewhere along the way we lost the punctuation, but it stands for 'Extended Play.

But in this digital age, if a band has a six-track release they still call it an "ep" when if we to stick to the rules of yesteryear that should be rightly called a mini-album.

Pedantry aside, relative newbies on the scene (at least to us) Altus have already impressed with their opening slot at last month's Helfast 13, and now are set to release their début four track ep -  Non Omnis Moriar -at the Voodoo on Thursday (20th June) before a support slot for Baleful Creed on Saturday (22nd June) at the Limelight.

Kicking off with an almost obligatory acoustic 'Intro' it only takes just under 90 seconds before Nail in the Coffin rumbles along with intent; classic heavy metal merged with the down-tuned buzz of real menace.

However, amidst the guitars attack the vocals are lost a little in the mix, somehow failing to complete that sense of menace. That aside it is a statement of intent; a fresh ferocity ready to dawn...

Brand New Skies has echoes of Down and a nod to BLS before finding its own identity and a low-end intensity.

Closing things off  is Beast, a stand-out performance with a promise of much more to come from Altus.

On this evidence Altus are a band who have carefully reviewed their own listening habits, absorbed the best, and moulded themselves into a band with much potential. Even given the effect of the low-end turmoil there is the potential for a fresh attack here.

One cannot but wish that this was a longer outing - a mini-album....

But that lies ahead for Altus, and no doubt they are already planning their first full album release.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Scything through metal - Scimitar declare war

KICK starting your recording career is not the easiest for any band, especially a relatively young set of individuals, but Scimitar have launched their thrash attack with a scything six-track ep under the title of Act of War.

Intelligent, if opaque, lyrics and more riffs than you can shake a stick at, Scimitar may still be raw, but have managed to capture an energy many mainstream acts only achieve after a few albums.

The rawness is evident in a few of the tracks, but is more due to eagerness than any lacking.

Beaten to Death is an example of a good song to bang your heads along to but with just a few refinements could have been a great track - some more gigging will iron it out.

In contrast the track Scimitar is a finely honed thrash class, with more measured application of riffage and snappy solos from John Thompson and is powered along by the combo of Ryan Atkin's drums and Chriz Baird's bass there is the for Jonny Gray to let loose his vocals.

Erased from Existence is, in contrast, a straight down the line thrash track, kicking along with an echo of Gama Bomb and Exodus - frenetic yet measured when it needs to be.

Overall Act of War shows a band who can deliver when it comes to the heavier end of thrash. Some of the flaws, like a little more vocal variety and guitar tones will come: however, we will be keeping an eye on Scimitar's development.

War has been declared and this is thrashing with a scimitar's curved blade swinging through doubters that yet another Northern Ireland act can cut it in the studio.

Friday, June 14, 2013

QOTSA, Buckcherry, Alabama3 and Motionless in White

AS they say in Belfast: "Haul on a wee minute there big lad!" because yet more tour dates in Norn Iron have been added this mad Friday.
As the Limelight complex prepares to open its Rock Garden there's a clatter of new gigs added that someone, somewhere may want to attend...

Heavily trailed already is the Queens of the Stone Age Odyssey date in November (18th). Also announced is Buckcherry in Limelight2 with Harcore Superstar on November 22nd.

Then we also have announced the Motionless In White gig with The Defiled and Glamour of the Kill at the Mandella Hall for a +14 date on 13th September.

We also have Alabama3, Jetplane Landing and a host of others...more details when we try to add up all the beer tokens necessary to attend these (and the Lamb of God date, and the Slayer date, and the Black Sabbath date...)

Parker plans Belfast slot

AS part of his first UK tour in 30 years critically acclaimed songwriter Graham Parker is appearing at Limelight2 on September 22nd.

Younger readers will immediately be baffled by this name, and even less his band from the 70s and 80s, Graham Parker and the Rumour.

Even more so the fact that his witty, class-conscious lyrics have influenced everyone from Bruce Springsteen, through to Bob Geldof and Frank Black.

But, you may remember a band that changed large chunks of musical history on these islands by the name of Thin Lizy.

Phil Lynott was quoted as an admirer of Parker and during the tour that led to the recording of Live and Dangerous Graham Parker and The Rumour were the support act and their saxophonist played for Lizzy every night of the tourr.

Tickets for Graham Parker's solo slot at Limelight2 are available now at all usual outlets, priced £16 (+booking fee).

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bouyant, brutal Slayer mix old and new crowd pleasers

FOR a band that has not had its sorrows to seek recently Slayer still manage to deliver the old school way - hard, fast and brutal.

From tearing into the opener World Painted Blood, through to traditional end of set Angel of Death Slayer were ripe and ready for Belfast, Tom Araya looking more and more like a kindly, beared uncle - until he steps up to the mic.

No faffing about, no need for explanation. this was a straightforward thrash, speed experience.

Yeah, there were a couple of moments that could have been executed better, but so few and so far between only the most picky would have been able to spot the odd errant beat.

After getting the newer material out of the way - including a fine rendition of Hate Worldwide - most of the set was there as crowd pleasers. But, at this stage in their career they are old enough and wise enough to know that the audience wants to hear the old standards.

Don't forget Slayer have no new album cluttering up the shelves - this was about mixing up the set a wee bit,  shaking off the rust, and getting ready for a summer of touring.

What was mightily impressive was the focus and concentration of Kerry King throughout the set. He has played some of these songs for the best part of 30 years, but he still keeps his eyes on the frets lest a stray finger hits a did note.

By the time the headlong rush for Seasons of the Abyss, Dead Skin Mask, and Raining Blood came the band might have needed a break but the fans at the front needed the momentary breather before South of Heaven and Angel of Death.

The most cynical of people might have said that there was something exploitative about Slayer being on the road so soon after laying to rest Hanneman and the public spat witb Lombardo, but that is to miss the point.

Playing their own, uninque brand of metal is what Slayer do. And, Holt has been standing in for so long that he is almost a fixture, as is Bostapath a familiar occupant of the drum stool.

When at some point - many years ago - Slayer took the decision to become a professional gigging band and give up slumming it with the rest of the wannabes it was a commitment to their craft. It is a craft that they have stayed true to.

It isn't always pretty and it isn't always the favoured form of delivery, but Slayer's job is to keep the fans baying for more by staying brutal. Yes they seemed at times restrained, and other times almost buoyant - but they were always going to deliver a set that fans were baying to see.

Roll on August 13th for the second round of Slayer in Belfast:
Don't forget that tickets are on sale at 9am sharp tomorrow (Friday 14th June).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


YES! Let the Slaytonic Whermacht arise! Within 48 hours of Slayer's Limelight1 sell-out show tonight tickets will go on sale for the metal titans return to Belfast on August 13th.

At 9am on Friday, June 14th tickets - priced at £35 (+bking fee) will go on sale. They will be available at the usual Ticketmaster sites and outlets. In addition 100 will be on sale at Katy's Bar, and will be strictly limited to two per person.

With reports already in of Slayer's crushing performances in the opening dates of their World Domination 2013 tour bringing the overlords of thrash and speed to Belfast for a second time in two months is not only a coup for the folks at the Limelight, but something the metal community will welcome with open arms.

And, given the fact that tonight's show sold out in under five minutes it will be the early bird who swoops with raptor claws outstretched to snag tickets for the August 13th date.

It is also set to be two days of metal mayhem at the Limelight1. On August 12th Lamb of God bring their take on pure destructive and lyrically astute metal to Belfast.

Body parts and liver toxicity levels are at your oww risk but these are two days sure to bring a smile to even the dark, hardened hearst of even the most jaded metalhead. Poseurs, or those who 'just want to see' need not bother - let the metal mayhem be unleashed!

Come one and all and let us "Dance with the dead in our dreams" and "listen to to their hallowed screams". For now is the time when we will see:
"Raining blood
From a lacerated sky
Bleeding its horror
Creating my structure
Now I [wel] shall in Reign in Blood"

Yes - Slayer in Belfast twice: time to "spread a little hate worldwide"!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Slayer return in August for more World Domination...

FOR those not fortunate to grab a ticket for tomorrow night's Slayer date at the Limelight1 there is hope of seeing them without the expense of travelling to festivals...

And that's because the metal titans are planning a return to Belfast on 13th August.

No official confirmation, however, the band have the date on their World Domination 2013 tour t-shirts.

That means the summer holiday plans are sorted out...Lamb of God, Slayer, Nine Inch Nails etc etc etc

Can't say better than that...

As soon as there is official confirmation on venue, tickets etc we'll let you know.

Dark(ness) times in November...

THOSE cheeky chappies The Darkness have pencilled in a return to Belfast on 23rd November at Limelight1.

The Hawkins brothers and cohorts Frankie and Ed have confirmed some big plans for 2013, and not just playing in Belfast.

With new demos and potentially new tracks, local fans can perhaps hope that this will make up from pulling out of Belsonic to tour with Lady GaGa.

It is 10 years since Permission to Land topped the charts and twin guitar, big harmony rock confounded critics and delighted hard rock fans.

Tickets arem priced at £22 (ex booking fee) and on sale this coming Friday.

Bach to the past

IN reading up on the forthcoming Ugly Kid Joe and Skid Row gig on 29th October one couldn't but notice that vocalist Johnny Salinger has been with the band for 14 years - almost four years longer than Sebastian Bach.

And with Bach having made few friends if any in Northern Ireland there is a temptation to saying that this will be the 'real' Skid Row.

The joint headlining show in the Limelight1 will see Skid Row play 'classic' tracks we as well as débuting material from new album United World Rebellion - Chapter One.

It'll be a similar deal with Ugly Kid Joe - classic tracks like Cat's the Cradle, Everything About You plus newer material.

Which, all in all seems a good deal for those ready to see a combo of such 80s pedigree still going striong!

Tickets, priced at £21 are on sale now. No Bach included...thankfully

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The 80s...they haven't gone away you know....

IN Northern Ireland when a 'politician' was asked about a paramilitary grouping he answered: "They haven't gone away." But what all politicians and paramilitaries would do well to remember is that in the 1980s rock and metal took the baton from late 70s punk as a cross-community expression of togetherness in rejection of sectarianism and bigotry.

When you were hot, sweaty and headbanging in the Rosetta or the Ulster Hall you literally did not care if the person next to you was a Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew or Jedi - you were there for the music.

Equally you could be cheering in Def Leppard one week and Metallica the next, MSG later and WASP shortly after that. There was an attitude that despite the shit out on the streets: the bombings and the shootings, the killings and the kneecappings, we escaped it all because we had the rock.

In this, the 21st Century, there has been a gradual resurgence of hard rock and metal in Northern Ireland - many deserving credit for this, not least James at The Distortion Project. There now are venues willing to give a new generation of rockers and metalheads able to access the music that stirs the heart, gets heads banging and fists in the air.

And on Saturday at the Limelight2 we had a complete rewind back to those halcyon days of the 80s...when  Aquatramp, the Screaming Eagles and Maverick drew the tribe of old ones, young ones and strange ones to Ormeau Avenue.

While we missed most of Aquatramp what we did see was a band with potential who need to take their solid sound and add a strong dash of stagecraft: it's not just music guys, it's a performance.

And that is a fact that the Screaming Eagles understand and deliver in bucket loads. With verve and panache the Screaming Eagles pound a tight, focussed set as if we were watching Free on steroids, AC/DC on amphetamines and Cream on crack cocaine.

Continually getting tighter, with complementary stage personas, Screaming Eagles deserve to find that it is not a long way to the top if you want to rock 'n' roll after all.

As for Maverick? Long hair? Check! Cut off denim with patches? Check! Striped Destroyer-style guitar? Check! Big riffs and soaring choruses? Check!

The ghosts of the glory days of Twister Sister, WASP and Motley Crue were in the house and there was a party to be had.

In your face with a smile and a headbutt, in your ears with a glorious ridiculousness that shouldn't be allowed, and all reflected as you raise your hands high.

Redundant drum solo - yeah we had that too and it turned out to be good. Three axes posing and raised in unison -yeah we had that too.

Davy Shields from Stormzone even joined Maverick for a triple guitar assault on Bark At the Moon and we applauded and grinned.

This was pure, unadulterated fun, delivered with a straight face.

It seems that Maverick don't really give a shit about the fashion and forms that scenesters and genre-tightened arseholes hold dear. This is about rocking hard and laughing with the crowd and at yourself.

Who cares what anyone else thinks.

As we live in this era of austerity, face public sector cuts and lengthening dole queues, and deal with an increasingly fractured society (much like most of the 80s...) we need the likes of the Screaming Eagles and Maverick to remind us that rock and metal, perhaps, can be salve on the wounds of the world.

The 80s - They haven't gone away you know!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

'Not' what you expect with Scott...

WHEN it comes to thrash metal laugh-a-minute ain't what you expect, but welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Scott Ian (Resenfeld) - the artist formerly known as Scott 'Not' Ian.

Scott is about to complete his 'Speaking Words' tour and on Friday it was Belfast's turn to hear the wit and wisdom of Anthrax founder and rhythm guitarist Scott Ian.

With so many people trying to re-invent them in so many ways it would be easy to dismiss this as another cheap tour opportunity for a rocker to re-hash his band's past - but this ain't no a geriatric artist ready to hang up his plectrums - this is Scott Fucking Ian

Want to hear about the intricacies a about laying down the lead tracks about a certain favourite track? Want to learn that Joe Jackson track was covered on Persistence of Time? You were in for a disappointment.

This was about Scott's personal journey, the friends he has made, the drugs it turned out he can't take, and the lifestyle that he is not that suited for...

The sub-text of all the anecdotes from the studio and the road is that Scott cares about his metal - even when off his face on mushrooms he wanted to go to a club and listen to Maiden.

All his anecdotes about joints, boozing with Lemmy and Slayer  trying to keep straight faces were about friends he has made because of a shared interest in music.

It would be unfair to tell all about the stories - Scott might be on the road again as a stand-up and these japes and joshs may be in his autobiography. But there are two points worth making.

Firstly Scott has pledged to bring Anthrax back to Belfast

Second is ancillary to the main man - but why the hell do you pay into a show and talk when the man is talking? Some people...

And on that note it is suffice to say that Scott is an entertainer, whether with axe or without. Sir - we bow to you and  we know that we worship music with you

The final word must go to Scott in his tweet:  "Belfast! felt more like a band gig than a talking show.  You are some rowdy loud drunken maniacs and that's why we get on so well! Cheers!"

Friday, June 07, 2013

Uncompromising brutality from The Black Dahlia Murder on Everblack

AS The Black Dahlia Murder embarked on recording their ninth album Everblack someone must have slipped the nasty pills in their coffee as it is an album that scores heavily in the brutality stakes, musically and lyrically.

It as an album, that like some of their previous releases could be classed as melodic death metal, but only the lazy would dare attached such a trite label.

Yes, all the elements are ther, none less than track Raped In Hatred by Vines of Thorns, but their previous Scandanvian influences, while there, now have additional flavourings of hardcore and some American bands like Morbid Angel.

That much you can probably glean from the press blurb and Wikipedia, but Everblack is an intense album, primed to be in your face.

At a casual listen it does have all the melodic death metal ingredients - strident vocals, blastbeats, harmonising guitars, challenging passages in tracks and at times stupidly violent lyrical themes.

But dig a little deeper and you'll find that The Black Dahlia Murder have grown up a bit. Whether it is as a result of line-up changes, or just putting in more years on the road and in the studio they have achieved more depth.

Opener In Hell is Where She Waits for Me has the burgeoning sense of atmosphere the band no doubt wanted to achieve, but it is a taster for what is to come.

By the time you get to the breathless Phantom Limb Masturbation there has been a sense that the band have become more familiar to subtle shading and use of full-on sounds when needed and knowing when to back off.

At times there are even nods to classic metal and NWOBHM, whether intentional or not.

Stand-out tracks are the title track Into the Everblack and Their Beloved Absentee. Not necessarily because they are the best on the album, but because they hint at so much more.

The only sour note is the continual use of violence and obscenity in the lyrics. Of course bands want to explore the darker, more depraved of a society happy to keep its darkness behind closed doors, but a different trope may yield better results for The Black Dahlia Murder.

Overall an intense listen, well worthy of a few spins to find what is lurking under the hood. 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Princes in the mystical land of Thrash Metal - Gama Bomb's Joe speaks out

SOME time ago in a mystical land of flying V guitars, where heads banged and locks of unruly hair were tossed back meaningfully there existed a strange beast. That beast was Thrash Metal.

Through the vagaries of time and the vacillations of record labels the mystical land of Thrash Metal was consigned to the musical outback, with the patched up denim cut offs hanging limply from the wasted shoulders of those who once “banged that head that wouldn’t bang”.

Then the men and women of the land decided that they needed no truck with fashion – they declared independence and 10 years ago something special emerged – a cross-border monster, ready to bring Thrash Metal’s land back on to the consciousness of the other occupants of the crazy world metal.

That cross-border outfit are Gama Bomb and they’ve just unleashed new album The Terror Tapes – and what a corker it is! [Read our review here]

We caught up with Gama Bomb bassist Joe McGuigan for his take on the journey so far and why those who have no sense of humour should go and listen to Evile...

But first we asked about that long 10-year journey.

“Yea 10 years, mad!” he said just taking a breath before enthusing about what the band are at.

“We’re in a really positive head space at the moment. We felt that the material on the new LP is the best we’ve written, and the press and fans have proven us right, so yea creatively we’re on top of our game and business wise things have come along leaps and bounds since the release of our last album.

“So I think we’re in a great position to keep on making records for the foreseeable future.”

But right here and right now Gama Bomb have the Terror Tapes out on AFM Records, and album that is close to being the definitive take on the genre...but where did that come from, after plugging away suddenly the band have battled adversity such departing guitarists, vocal surgery for Philly and a guitarist to broke tendons in his finger. Just what can the unconvinced get with The Terror Tapes?

“I think the album’s genesis was kind of born out of such a long tour for the last album ‘Tales From The Grave In Space’," explained Joe. We played 200 shows and a kind of awareness came to us that that album and the previous one ‘Citizen Brain’ were really brother and sister style and writing wise.

“We really wanted to change things up a bit, bring in more of a metal feeling rather than crossover and refine our writing a bit. So yea, expect bigger catcher chorus, more thrashing break downs. Basically a more refined, sleeker Gama Bomb!”

Humour and Gama Bomb are close brothers, taking the innocence of thrash’s tendency to reference popular culture – a little like the early Anthrax obsession with Stephen King novels and Hawaiian shirts. But there are the some snooty ones who don’t like a laugh claims Joe.

“Yea! Humour and metal have never really gone hand in hand,” he said.

“Like Anthrax's humorous appeal was always more, as you say, a fashion thing rather than a musical thing.

“I think people who take themselves too seriously are unlikely to get Gama Bomb. That’s ok with us; those people are better off not annoying themselves by listening to our music.

“Listen to Evile instead.”

Here in the UK and Ireland Gama Bomb are seen as another band plodding through the tour and album cycle, which almost was derailed when they split from Earache. However, prophets are not always taken heed of in their own land.

“Yeah definitely! Ireland and the UK have never been known as a stronghold of thrash, but we’ve always been able to fill The Underworld (in London) and have a tidy wee rep. in the UK,” said Joe

“But, for sure, 90% of our fans and touring activity are concentrated on the rest of the world.”

As fellow thrashers Onslaught have told this blog outside the scenster magazines and fashionable TV stations thrash still holds sway across the rest of the world as Joe explained:

“We’re on tour, headlining in Europe at the moment and every night we see a small army of kids in their battle jackets, patches up to the nine’s. It’s something that’s definitely catching on at home, just not in huge numbers.”

With mainstream metal and rock media in the UK a closed border for many bands, is social media the answer – something that Joe thinks is only part of the answer.

“Social media is a great tool for bands. It really helps to connect with fans; but at the end of the day it’s on the internet, and there’s only so much you can accomplish online.

“The best way to get your name out there is for people to wear your shirts and talk about you, do gigs!”

With that in mind Gama Bomb are currently on the road – doing gigs!

“We’re on tour in Europe now, then we’ve got summer festivals throughout June, writing in July, an Irish tour in August, along with the Bloodstock Festival in the UK. At the end of August, we’re going to America and December, we’re going to Brazil again.

“Hopefully, we can record in January, then do ‘Thrash Domination’ in Japan, in February, fingers crossed.”

Jesus wept – Thrash really is hard work for bands and fans alike.

There is one thing for certain and that is that Gama Bomb have grown and emerged over 10 years into a pure thrash goldmine – digging into the archaeology of the genre to produce nugget after nugget of original takes on thrash. Bring on the Terror – we be waiting!

With all that serious interviewing done – we caught up with the more “off-the-wall” interview questions. Here they are verbatim as they say as Joe discusses Spuds demise, eight minute epics and sci-fi greats...

Now on to the serious questions.... How crushed are you that well-known post-gig Belfast eaterie Spuds has closed?
“It’s a disaster of the highest proportions. I’ve had so many bogging food poison inducing cheesy beans and chips out of there. But it was always the number one place to go after Laverys. End of an era man. I remember vomiting all over the place at Manowar courtesy of Spuds.”

Paul Voerhoven - a sci fi visionary or just a pretentious director who believed his own hype after Robocop?
“Well, he’s not necessarily a sci-fi genius, but he’s made some amazing films. One of my favourites is ‘Black Book’, and generally his films about Holland are amazing; ‘Soldier Of Orange’, etc. Then, ‘Basic Instinct’ and ‘Hollow Man’ are total wank.”

All the thrash stuff is great, but when are Gama Bomb going to knuckle down and give is a concept album with 8 minute epics :)
“Never. We’ll pass that one over to Evile as well.”

If there was one cover version (not metal) that you'd love to do, what would it be?
“We were always talking about doing a Pouges tune. We’ve done lots of disco though, "Do You Wanna Funk", "Billie Jean" and "I Got 5 On It" (by The Luniz), they all get brought out every now and then.”

And in those three answers there is a hint at the hidden genius in the aural hand grenade that is Gama Bomb: knowledgeable, opinionated, funny as hell, but most of all, true princes in the mystical land of Thrash Metal!

Terror Tapes is available right now on AFM Records

Take a step back and get saving...for the rock!

RIGHT rockers, metalheads and lovers of the loudness – right now is when you take step back, speak to your bank manager about an overdraft, sell that spare kidney online and wonder how the hell you are going to afford the summer’s gigging.

Seriously, to parphrase Harold Wilson, you’ve never had it so good...

We recently took a wee journey through the gigs being promoted by MCD, the Limelight/Shine, The Distortion Project, and the Diamond Rock Club, amongst others. And just starting from this week, here’s a wee list that you should keep your eye on...

This Thursday, June 6th La Faro are at Limelight2 for what they leadman Johnny Black says harkens back to “...when rock music was still fun”. Tickets at the door.
Recover from that and you can sit back and hear true tales from the road and the studio as Anthrax founder and all round nice guy Scott Ian brings his spoken word tour to Limelight2. Ready to hear from the great man? Ready to ask questions? See you on Friday night then.

And, if you want to nip up the Comrades Rock Club on the same night in Ballyclare for Screaming Eagles and Baleful Creed plus a couple of others we’re sure taxis and helicopters can be provided.
Should you not make it to Ballyclare then fear not, because on Saturday, in the Limelight2 Screaming Eagles will be among the support acts for Maverick’s ep launch. Hard work...all part of the game for Adrian and co.

Keeping up so far? Good because I hope all those who managed to get Slayer tickets have their lungs, liver, kidney and rib cages insured for this Limelight1 fest to honour the titans and pay homage to the late Jeff Hanneman.
Recover from that and catch Trucker Diablo at the Black Box on the 13th June...Year of the Truck just keeps on rolling...

The next Saturday things get punked up at RockD when The Organ Grinder head a four band line-up – pogoing is mandatory!
Alright, so punk might not be your thing, but Parkway Drive is, and they play the Mandella Hall on 18th June in a 14+ gig. Better still the previous night Triggerman and Astralnaut support Red Fang’s assault on Ireland (17th June).

Thursday the 20th June sees Altus pick up from where they left off at Helfast with a date at the Voodoo, where they will be joined by Red Six and Scimitar.
Saturday 22nd should be a laugh if you are in the Derry/Londonderry region. Triggerman are supporting ageing 12-bar boogie merchants Status Quo. Wonder what the Quo and their fans will make of it when the riff holds sway...

The same night Baleful Creed, Altus, Cutter and Rosco’s Riot are at RockD in Limelight2...
Now hold on a minute says you...can we hold out throughout June to payday? Well I haven’t even mentioned Lixx at the Voodoo and Pat MacManus at the Black Box...

And as for the rest of the summer...Wintersun and Darkest Era are at Limelight2 on July 20th, a certain Mr Campbell will be reuniting Dio’s old band as Last in Line at Limelight1 on August 8th and Lamb of God are back to crush the same venue on 12th August.
And that’s not to mention Faster Pussycat, yer man’s version of New York Dolls, Harv  Look No Bands etc etc

Then you have Belsonic with Nine Inch Nails, Bullet for My Valentine, Bring Me the Horizon and Gojira...
And don’t forget Soundgarden, Avenged Sevenfold, The Answer, Black Star Riders and Black Sabbath...
Dear Mr Bank Manager...owing to this line-up of gigs I require an overdraft facility for beer tokens, merch vouchers and a plethora of tickets...
Thanks to Dino at Limelight, James at MCD, Andy at Metal Blade, NI Rocks gig guide, James Loveday for keeping us up to date with the rock...

Fuzzed up, down-tuned and spaced out Astralnaut gaze to the Gods

NORTHERN Ireland's a breeding ground for all sorts of hard rock and heavy metal, something we should glory in...and with Astralnaut we have a band that stretch the boundaries of the normal rock/metal archetype.

With a line-up change that sees JonJoe - formerly of the Double Wide - take over bass duties from Damos, now is as good a time as any to look back at their release In The Gaze of the Gods.

Make no mistake Astralnaut make many so-called international stoner bands look as if they are poseurs of the worst kind.

With a support slot lined-up with Red Fang ahead of extensive dates in Northern Ireland and beyond those that dare will enter the fuzzed up, down-tuned and spaced out Astralnaut world.

Here we find the Emerald Lord of Pleasure stepped up a pace from opener Arab Spring, but no less the epitome of where melody lurks brooding in the heart of darkness - a plea for escape but with a whisper to stay put in this world of weirdness.

While Thomas Mallon regales listeners, Gaz Treanor somehow tortures sounds out of the guitar that is almost onomatopoeic to the cries of being "stoned to the end".

We're all Hallions - that peculiar Northern Ireland phrase about behaviours - and The Hallion sees the tone down and the rhythm slower as Stephen Todd and Pearse Donnelly anchor the sound down for the casual listener to feel they have been nailed on to an aural horror-scape.

By the time you take The Oath and get into the Urban Brawl there is enough evidence that Sabbath and a variety of later acolytes have a lot to answer for when music like that of Astralnaut hits the decks.

That is not to say that this is easy listening - there is a platter of distorted riffs and solos that require the listener to engage: stay aloof and you'll just not get the Astralnaut groove.

While this five-tracker was recorded with Damos on bass duties there is enough evidence that JonJoe can take his Double Wide experience to add another dimension to the Astralnaut journey through space and time.

Yet again we have a local band that has stretched the boundaries of a genre, and In The Gaze of Gods is a firm foundation. As to those gazing gods? Well they can get down or get out when Astralnaut are laying down their sound - the weak need not apply.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Thrash-tastic Terror Tapes from Gama Bomb

ADVERSITY? Gama Bomb have spat on adversity, poured poteen over flames that once threatened to consume them, and released one of the best thrash metal albums in many a long year with The Terror Tapes.

With vocal polyp surgery needed by Philly, long time guitarist Graham (amicably) parting company with the band, Domo breaking a tendon in his finger and a split with former record label Earache it could be enough to crush lesser mortals.

But in the world of Gama Bomb, despite brief flirtations with packing it in, they dragged their collective asses back to doing it the old school way and produced what is quite simply an awesome rendition of what thrash metal is all about.

The magic forumla of technical excellence, and the dichotomy between pure fun and seriousness is wrapped up in one wonderful package.

From the off the cautionary tale of drug abuse in The Wrong Stuff sets a breakneck pace sure to have necks aching, before the pummelling steps up a notch in Legend of Speed.

As if these two tracks weren't enough to get the most ardent thrasher roaring with delight it gets even better, as Backwards Bible proves catchier than an STI in Amsterdam.

But it is the mid-duo of tracks We Started the Fire and the single Terrorscope that rip through the lug-holes, with soaring solos, mad riffing and choruses that hook you in, willingly or not.

For all the seriousness of some Gama Bomb songs Philly and co have not kept the fun in a darkened locker.

Smoke The Blow with William Defoe and Sh**ing Yourself to Live will still have you chortling before the next tracks smash your face.

Philly was quoted in a recent edition of Terrorizer as saying this "...maybe this is like the thrash metal Thriller?"

We wouldn't go as far as that, but it is damn close to being a definitive take on thrash.

By the time Metal Idiot's guns through like an juggernaut driving at F1 speeds and the album rounds off with Wrecking Ball and you know there is something special about The Terror Tapes.

What makes this a special release is that it takes the second or third listen to really appreciate what is being delivered by Gama Bomb. The recipe of ingredients first laid out in the 80s by the pioneers have been taken and put into a great melting pot of snappy snare drums punctuated by fills; rhythm and bass playing nailed tighter than a messiah on a cross and lead solos and vocals threatening the sheer fabric of metal's tenuous grip on reality.

That is not to say that Gama Bomb can't be topical - as well as the madness of the likes of Beverly Hills Robocop your reward for persistence will find messages about the dangers of rascism and the urgent need for continuing freedom of speech.

If Gama Bomb were a charity their cross-border origins in this tiny island of Ireland would have grant-giving bodies pouring European money into their pockets. If they were besuited business men the likes of Invest NI would be offering subsidies and making grand announcements via government press officers.

From both sides of the border Gama Bomb continue to unleash thrash terror, and on The Terror Tapes they have come close to the perfect thrash metal album ever released anywhere on the British Isles. Nine and a half out of ten - and that half point off perfection deducted because all the editorial staff here wanted more tracks!

The Terror Tapes is available now on AFM Records. One message - buy it!

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Storming Helfast débuts with awesome intensity

BACK when Helfast '13 was announced there was an immediate sense of anticipation - a plethora of hot bands and headliners Stormzone on a high after supporting Saxon.

But could the promise be delivered?

Thanks to the efforts of The Distortion Project, Blink Music Management, and Paradise City the line-up itself was enough to draw a sound crowd into Limelight2 on a bright Saturday evening.

The vagaries of traffic jams and public transport weekend service meant we missed openers Altus, Rabid Bitch of the North and War Crux, but by all accounts they all delivered sound sets with War Crux noted by many as showing a definite step-up in terms of their performance.

But settled down after the journey and refreshed we were ready for Triggerman...

It is a tribute to any band when you gain new fans on the strength of your performance alone, and on Saturday several people had smiles across their chops and were asking how to get hold of more information and more of Triggerman's sound.

As usual Bap's Preacher Metal laid it down - truly the Riff Holds Sway. Valhalla, I Got the Lurgy, Thon Strange Brew and Hail to The River Gods were an awesome tribute to what stripped down metal can achieve: no fancy shit, no ballsing about - just laying it down like it has to be laid down.

Charisma comes from the soul, where metal beats dark and hard; Triggerman are the epitome of that dark but beautiful heart.

And, Stormzone know that when it comes to laying it down it takes a special attitude and a special delivery.

Opening with Where We Belong was a statement of intent: they belong in front of a metal crowd and this is where the crowd belong, heads banging, fists pumping, and five people who know that this is what is needed.

With a back catalogue many bands would envy Stormzone played it straight down the willing throats of all in attendance.

By the time Fear Hotel was playing the 130+ fans were helping Harv tell that the exit was indeed "on the right".

Headbanging ensued throughout the set, and Night of the Storm, segued into Greatest Sacrifice and it was then a headlong charge...pounding rhythm section and searing solos and as usual Harv the manic metal jester holding it all together.

Stormzone have evolved throughout the years getting tighter and punching their way to the premier league. Simply we can't wait to hear new album, Three Kings.

Helfast may have been a slight gamble for all involved, but it paid off. Heavy metal and hard rock has a unique, etheral quality that brings people together; and the ability to leave fans gasping for more.

Raise a glass and throw the horns in tribute to all involved - Helfast was simply a blast!