Friday, 26 April 2013

Voodoo Vegas- The Rise of Jimmy Silver

The Rise of Jimmy Silver is the new release from young blues rockers Voodoo Vegas. Their brand of high-octane guitar rock is both melodic and heavy at the same time.

This album is, from start to finish, a storming album. The 11 tracks, including a brief intro and an interlude track, the Voodoo Vegas definitely have one foot firmly in their roots, with their blues-oriented tracks talking about girls, cars and folk-heroes. The album even includes a once-compulsory acoustic track (what happened to the days when every rock band tried to have one acoustic track on their albums?) The haunting ‘What I Pay’ simply oozes with a spooky, swampy air which sounds like something a 70s Southern Rock band may have come out with. ‘Ferry Song’ furthers the classic vibe of the album and the band’s overall sound with a wailing harmonica solo, imitating train-like sounds and pushing the track along as well as any old-school bluesman. ‘Lost in Confusion’, a pain-drenched ode to pointlessly lost loves goes to show that Voodoo Vegas have a softer side, and can write a heart-rending ballad as well as any 80s arena superstars.

This album is a joyous rock and roll romp, which goes to show that guitar-based music can still kick, yet remain soulful and be played with plenty of feeling.  Definitely a band to watch out for in the future!


Sunday, 21 April 2013

Phil Demmel Jackson Guitar Clinic at GAK Brighton 20/04/13

A taste of the San Francisco Bay Area came to Brighton last night, as Phil Demmel, lead guitarist from modern thrash metal band Machine Head, gave a Jackson guitars clinic at the GAK music shop.

Along with a brief history of Jackson Guitars from the company representative who has been touring Europe alongside Phil Demmel, the modern thrash legend gave a brief talk about his guitar playing history, his influences (announcing his love of KISS), and the players who have inspired him to play- Angus Young and Randy Rhoads being the most stand out figures. The talk also traced his relationships with various guitars and members of his bands.

Of course, whilst there, a few Machine Head songs were played from the extensive back catalogue of tracks that he has worked on, along with a jam with Chris Cannella from the Jackson guitars workshop. Between these two players and plenty of choruses of “F**k yeah!” from the audience (complete with the horns \m/), the spirit of metal was certainly in residence, as huge riffs and crazy shred guitar solos were in abundance.  In that small room of barely 50 people, there was much more of an intimate atmosphere which helped bring Phil Demmel over as a really down to earth person who just happens to be in one of the planet’s biggest metal bands, touring the world. Although weeks on the road seemed to be taking their toll as my own question to him about musical influences outside the world of metal (i.e. Would one ever catch him listening to Beethoven or Miles Davis etc.) spawned a statement of solidarity with Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe in his manslaughter trial (a worthy cause in itself, but not quite what I was after as an answer).

After the talk Phil took the time for signings and photos with all the fans in the building and seemed genuinely willing to take the time to chat, despite his road-weariness.  

Friday, 19 April 2013

Subservience- Ripped in Half

Brutal, extreme and violent, Ripped in Half is a decleration of war from Brighton-based metallers Subservience. This 4 track EP shows that British death metal is healthy and remains a force to be reckoned with on the metal scene.

Subservience’s songs are all fast-paced, riff-led and full of double-kick drum barrages which never let up. The music is loud and in your face. The songs are all stripped back and no frills, 3 of them clocking in at little over 3 minutes, and the bonus track ‘Round 1, Fight!’ is only 10 seconds long.

There are few compromises or areas where they give in to technical wizardry alone- solos are minimal, and the majority of the album focuses on the angry, tight sound of the band as a whole.

Overall this EP is as good as any other extreme metal that I have heard recently; completely brutal, understated and unrelenting.  


Diemonds- The Bad Pack

            This female fronted Canadian hard rock outfit is yet another example of a modern resurgence in music steeped in the legacy of 80s American hard rock and heavy metal. Full of driving riffs and loud choruses, The Bad Pack definitely has the feel of a good-time metal album.

Infused with a punky attitude, but retaining the more metal side of the music, from the “widdly-widdly” (technical term there…) solos, through to the spandex and hairspray, Diemonds are definitely takes a modern look at hair metal, whilst creating a different attitude with the use of a female singer. The songs don’t try to do anything mind-bending and drastic to their genre, however, they provide a definite shot of ‘Loud N’ Nasty’ energy to it, and don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, acknowledging that it’s  fun, noisy party metal which is great for a good time.

The songs on The Bad Pack stick with the traditional themes which are followed in classic metal- night time parties, escapism and generally having a good time. The music is also very much what you would expect- fast paced riffs, melodic lead guitar lines, over the top solos and chugging rhythmic patterns.

Overall, whilst the invention is kept minimal, Diemonds have produced a bombastic album that’s full of pure, good old fashioned rock music.


Pink Narcissus- Blood on the Page

Described as “David Bowie meets Rage Against the Machine”, Pink Narcissus’ album Blood on the Page does provide a heavy dose of noisy, artsy rock music, which matches the poetic vocals and deep voice of David Bowie and a heavy, electric side with a funkier edge, which is more associated with Rage Against the Machine.

Full of fuzzy guitars and experimental sounds using feedback, the album provides a heavy rock riffs and rapid beats, whilst covering it with semi-choral lines and a frantic style of singing which brings across an eloquent form of anger and angst which is more effecting than other forms of “angry” music.

The six tracks presented on Blood on the Page are an interesting mixture of heavy, effects laden rock, complete with nods to more synth based styles from the 1980s, which makes the album engaging and eclectic. Pink Narcissus’ songwriting allows for massive changes in feel, tempo, and style, even within songs, with ‘The Great Divide’ alternating between heavier sections and occasional melodic areas. ‘Kingdom of the Blind’ also, starts with a series of seeming noises before a stricter rhythm begins, whilst a powerful bass which gives more than a passing nod to more electronic forms of music slowly builds up. This creates a powerful and atmospheric piece of music which really shows off the experimental nature of the band.

Overall, this is an interesting album, with off kilter-rhythms and occasionally disturbing sonic passages.


Friday, 12 April 2013

Spock's Beard- Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep

Complex, atmospheric, yet undeniably heavy, this new release from a leading light in the Prog world doesn’t let down fans of odd time signatures and ever-changing song structures. None of the songs on the album clock in at any less than 5 minutes long, which means that within each song, there is plenty of room for every member of the band to stretch their musical legs.

It is hard for a band to replace any member, however the greatest challenge or both band and listeners must be a change in singer. However new boy Ted Leonard does a great job as replacement for Nick D’Virgilo, continuing with the soaring, melodic vocal lines which are a staple of Spock’s Beard’s style and retaining the spirit of classic Progressive bands which Spock’s Beard hold as their obvious influences.

Each track’s length means that there is able to be a definite sense of development; many of them starting with a more relaxed feel, gradually building to a climactic section of riffs and solos. The track ‘Afterthoughts’ even includes an a cappella refrain, just to add something even more different to the mix.

Overall, the album is great for a more interesting, challenging take on rock music. The mixture of atmospheric sound effects and technical passages allows for a great blend of modern sounding and more traditional styles of progressive music.


Sacred Mother Tongue- Out Of The Darkness

High speed heavy metal, thrashing riffs and insane guitar solos, it’s no wonder that people are saying that Sacred Mother Tongue are a band to watch. This second release continues in the same vein to which fans of SMT are used to.

Every song is a high-speed exercise in precision riffing, and the quality of the guitar solos (of which there are a great many) shows that it is no wonder that guitarist Andy James has been nominated as “Dimebag Darrell Shredder of the Year” in 2013’s Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards.

The band shows off an ever more complex writing style, with riffs which require a great deal of rhythmical interplay, along with heavier, slower sections in which the whole band falls into a solid groove.

A standout track which shows off all of this is ‘Seven’. Opening with an extended instrumental introduction section in which the tight rhythmic playing of the band, followed by a burst of technical guitar virtuosity. 

Between verses, the band falls into a tight-knit groove, guaranteed to get heads nodding along, fists pumping, and generally infusing the listener with as much energy as is evident on the album.

Really though, there seems to be little variety in the way Sacred Mother Tongue writes songs. Many of the tracks are of a very similar high speed, and follow the same formula which, by the end of the album can seem to have become a little tired.  The good thing about this though, is that the tracks are all great numbers, and any of them stand alone as great examples of modern heavy metal.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

March The Desert- March The Desert

March The Desert’s latest release contains all the trademarks of the psychedelic metal which they claim to be attempting to emulate. Thick, distorted guitars playing groovy, slow riffs give the music a bounce, whilst the harsh vocal sound suits the science-fictional element of the lyrics.

The production side of the March The Desert EP leaves a lot to be desired. The vocals are at times overpowered by the rest of the band, which has a muffled sound, and at points the words are incomprehensible- even when they’re not meant to be. The whole album sounds very compressed, and could do with being made a lot clearer sounding. The drums at times blend completely in with the rest of the sound, which means that the album seems to lack the punchy rhythm that would hold the album together. The cymbals however seem to be left in prominence, creating a splashing, rhythmic sound which highlights the minimal drumming. In the points where the drums can be heard, they sound very loose and spongy, lacking any kick or punch.

The tracks have a slow, bluesy groove feel that has been drenched in distortion and various effects, giving the songs a trippy, stoner rock feel. These 6 long tracks all have a very similar feel: Slow and laid-back with a heavy, doom attitude. From time to time, the band let’s go and begins to show a technical side,

 Overall, the album has some fairly large production issues which seriously detract from the actual content. Musically, the band seems tight, but if felt like many of the tracks were using recycled ideas as the tracks lacked lots of individuality.


Live Review- The Von Hertzen Brothers @ Assembly Hall Islington 05/04/13

Whilst a room attached to a town hall doesn't immediately look like it lends itself to being a venue for a rock gig, Islington’s Assembly Hall gave the event a sophisticated atmosphere.

Opening up the proceedings were Barbe-Q-Barbies, a Finnish all-girl rock band. This seemed like an odd choice in comparison to the other two acts- playing more straight-up rock and roll with a mixture of punk and glam thrown in for good measure. Their set was fast paced and full of energy, with no frills attached. 

When Haken took to the stage with their complex and highly involved music, the atmosphere became more serious. With their faces set in concentration, it was still plain to see that they were revelling in their constantly evolving and changing music. The music, which took ideas of progressive rock and metal music, with the added element of instrumental Jazzy, circus-metal breakdowns, during which the singer- following on the tradition of Jazz musicians- left the stage to allow the instrumentalists to have the full glare of the spotlight. The band’s high level of musicianship was shown by their use of more unusual guitars- 7 strings and 8 strings, along with a 6 string bass, which added to the texture and range of the music. Debuting a new track which went down well with the audience, the constantly changing time signatures still ensuring that people trying to keep up with the music were kept on their toes.

The Van Hortzen Brothers’ set took in many tracks from their latest album, Nine Lives as well as tracks from their earlier releases. Live, the Von Hertzen Brother’s showed that intelligent music does not have to be flashy or ostentatious, which allowed them greater freedom of movement on-stage, whilst still playing intricate parts and taking full use of the vocal harmonies which are part of their trademark sound. Highlights of the set included an electric performance of the lead single from Nine Lives, ‘Flowers and Rust’, which proved to the audience that underneath the intricate and exciting effects played on an old fashioned Moog synthesiser, The Von Hertzen Brothers are still most certainly a rock and roll band.

(All photos Nick Webb, 2013)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Live Review- Jeff Scott Soto @ Camden Underworld 06/04/13

A far cry from the heady days of performing to sold out stadium audiences, Jeff Scott Soto nevertheless played an energetic and high-octane gig in Camden’s Underworld nightclub in support of his 2012 solo release, Damage Control.

The self-proclaimed “Soto-palooza” package of bands with which Jeff Scott Soto has a direct connection began with Greek glam-metallers Danger Angel who’s loud and proud brand of metal began the night with a high energy set. Soto had contributed backing vocals to Death Angel’s most recent album, Revolutia, and it was definitely possible to hear the similarities in the musical styles of the groups, a similarity which continued right through the whole event. Death Angel’s music melded melodious vocal lines with cranked up guitar riffs, blistering guitar solos and a keytarist who’s synth harmonies added an extra layer to the band’s sound, as well as allowing for an extra body to be running around the stage at all times.

Second on for the night was a trio fronted by Soto’s own guitarist Jorge Salán. The guitar work for which the band was really the vehicle was stunning, with Salán firing of solo after insane solo with flair and showmanship, whilst allowing the remaining sections of the songs to complst birthday only a few days before.  
ement the very showy solo playing which featured so heavily. Impressively, Salán was able to keep up a strong vocal performance whilst still playing complex guitar lines. The band was full of old-fashioned rock and roll spirit, and ended with a rousing rendition of the Gary Moore Celtic
 rock classic ‘Over The Hills and Far Away’, as it would have been the late, great guitarist’s 61

The main attraction of the night was, of course Jeff Scott Soto himself. Fronting his multinational band, JSS delivered a stunning performance in what he described as a “homecoming gig” in a “second home.” The set consisted mostly of tracks off his latest solo release, Damage Control, from 2012, (my review of which can be read here) but also featured tracks from earlier in his career. Moving about the stage almost constantly, JSS was able to engage with his audience a lot better than would be possible in a bigger venue, giving this sold out gig a more intimate feel. The only moment that the gig really slowed down was for the brief period that Soto played keyboards on a mellower track. In a moment of spontaneity, the ‘compulsory’ vocal back and forth was interrupted by a fantastic bass solo from the last minute stand in replacement bassist David Z, who’s single-handed rendition of Billie Jean brought a funkier element to the whole event, followed by a stunning cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s classic ‘Shot in the Dark’.  After an epic set which went on for the best part of 2 hours, and coming against the noise curfew in Underworld, Soto introduced his friend, Nathan James (made famous on the ITV show ‘Superstar’), fresh of a tour with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which Soto also sings for, in order to duet on ‘Stand Up and Shout’ from the soundtrack to the 2001 film ‘Rock Star’, for which Jeff Scott Soto had recorded all of the vocals for the fictitious metal band Steel Dragon. Finally, the riotous set closed with an a cappella verse of Steel Panther’s sleaze-metal track ‘Community Property.’ The whole night was electric, boding well for Soto’s set at Hard Rock Hell AOR later in the week. 

(all photos by Nick Webb)

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Jeff Scott Soto- Damage Control

Vocalist extraordinaire Jeff Scott Soto, whose previous credits include Journey, Yngwie Malmsteen, Talisman and W.E.T., released his latest solo album in 2012. His music remains faithful to the era that he started in: Loud, brash, 80s rock and metal.

JSS’s voice here is as powerful as it ever is, showing that despite over 30 years of singing melodic hard rock, he can still hit the high notes.

The album is well balanced with anthemic, thundering guitar tracks, complete with shredding guitar solos, and more melodic tracks which are intended to get lighters rising up in audiences.  Track by track, there are few duff numbers,

Although some may label the whole album as radio-friendly cheese-rock, complete with power ballads and ostentatiousness which wishes that 80s success would once again return- I am partial to 80s bombast, so I am not going to hold that against the album. However the album does feel nostalgic at times, almost refusing to acknowledge any musical developments since Arena Rock stopped getting significant airplay.
Lyrically, the album focuses on standard radio rock themes of love and cars, with little attempt at lyrical depth, the purpose of the songs being to get a crowd rocking, not thinking.

Overall, this is an album for the 80s written in the 2010’s. The album keeps up a rock attitude the whole way through, but does feel at times very much like a nostalgia album of a star still trying to cling onto a bygone era. The album isn't bad at all- it just feels a bit cheesy and nostalgic, and doesn't quite have the same modernised rejuvenation that some similar artists have managed in recent years.


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Von Hertzen Brothers- Nine Lives

Progressive and melodic, yet at times heavy and more doomy, Nine Lives shows that The Von Hertzen Brothers have a very broad view of what Rock Music can be. Their compositions range from atmospheric, Pink Floyd-esque sci-fi trips, to heavy rocking ball breakers. During all of this mix, however, this Finnish group remain very melodic and soulful.

The band uses their great musical talents to make interesting and complex music which doesn't come across as ostentatious or too flashy. They make use of more interesting scale choices and unusual harmonic progressions and folky aspects of music from their native Finland. Lyrically, they are influenced by as diverse subjects as the works of William Blake and Indian philosophy. Musically, the band relies upon atmospheric songwriting and vocal harmonies for their progressive edge, staying away from million note solos and ridiculously fast passages.

Nine Lives is VHB’s 5th album, and their biggest to date, coming after 2011’s Stars Aligned, which began to break them in the UK, and gained them recognition with nominations in the Classic Rock awards.

The album opens with the groovy rocker “Insomniac”, which shows that the band can remain melodic whilst playing heavy music. This is followed by the album’s lead single, “Flowers and Rust”, which flows and spins from light melodies to harder choruses. These differences in styles continue throughout the rest of the album, each track showing a different side of the band, yet remaining a coherent whole.

Overall this is a fantastic modern prog album which manages to avoid falling into many of the traps which contemporary progressive music tends to fall into (Putting far more emphasis on harsh vocal sounds or being much more over the top with speedy passages and complex instrumental and solo sections than is necessary.)


New Jersey Nights- Theatre Royal, Brighton 30/03/13

Set in a bar in the early 1960s, “New Jersey Nights” brought the sounds of Frakie Valli and the Four Seasons to Brighton over the Easter Weekend.

The production showcases the hits of the band, and Frankie Valli’s solo tracks from the early 1960s right up to their most recent recordings. From early close harmony pop to more funky and rock and roll numbers from the 1970s and 80s, the four singers and their band had much of the audience up and dancing.

The show was, however, stuck somewhere between a tribute act and a full-blown show, without really being either. The band was mostly hidden at the back of the stage as if it wasn’t there, apart from the odd number which featured their saxophone or guitar player, whilst it was still acknowledged that it was there and still in full view, suited up in order to retain a coherent image. There was a small troop of background dancers who joined in on many numbers, but on the songs when they weren’t dancing they seemed to be milling around onstage, or half playing background characters.
Along with the music of the Four Seasons (As it’s Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, doesn’t that mean there should have been 5 of them in total?) The show also showcased the music of some of the acts which were closely associated with them in the 60s- other bands which profited from Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”, such as the Crystals and the Ronettes. Their songs were performed well, although one of the three members was absent from the performance which I attended which gave their performances and dance routines a very lopsided feel.
Overall, the performance was all about the music, and was played more as a tribute show than as a full musical-style show with a plot, and as such, the songs were well performed (despite a bit of corpsing over issues with the key in which they sang “Blue Moon”).


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Vega- What The Hell!

Whilst being kept firmly out of the mainstream, British melodic hard rock is in a state of great health. The number of new albums being released is increasing and younger bands are breaking through onto the scene. Vega are at the forefront of this new rise.

Opening with an eerie, circus-esque intro, not entirely in keeping with the rest of the album, Vega really kick in with the second track “White Knuckle.” This track is a lot more melodic than lots of their earlier work, moving slightly away from the harder-edged sound, with soaring vocals and thick keyboard harmonies. The chorus however is a belter, and definitely sets the tone for the rest of the album. Full of belting tracks, and heavy, melodic riffs, Vega are coming into their own, creating a loud, brash sound which retains all the big, crunchy riffs, but extends the melodic approach of the band. Instrumentally, the band is tight, as musical complexity is not at the forefront of this band’s mind, which means that the parts are kept stripped down and basic, any solos are kept short and tasteful. Rather the main focus is on the quality of the songs, all of which are big and aimed at keeping an audience on their feet.

Overall this album contains a few gems of songs (“White Knuckle” being a particular favourite), however there is little variety in the sound, which gives the album a fairly one-dimensional feel. But it’s pure rock and roll nonetheless.