31 May 2015

Thobbe Englund - From The Wilderness

Random cover time again (but another that somehow has been requested at the same time) - this time it is for the album from guitarist, producer, composer and sound engineer Thobbe Englund. Hailing from Lulea in Sweden, Mr Englund has been in many bands over the years - Winterlong, Star Queen, Mistheria and most recently Sabton.  To say that the man is busy is an understatement, but here we are with his second solo album and his first since "Influences".  Now I would be lying if I said I was a fan of the man's work beforehand; until I saw the cover (and got an email request a few days later), I had no idea who Mr Englund was - that cover is a beautiful piece of art.  Let us see if the music matches the glory of the cover.....

Starting off the album is "Wildborn" and from the beginning you are introduced to a technical exercise in guitar soloing, it goes at a frantic place and with a bucket load of keyboard and guitar solos running at the same time; I have a feeling this song should be included in the latest version of the returning 'Guitar Hero' computer game as it is an air guitar classic in the waiting.  I would also like to point out, upon hearing this song you will have a rough idea what the rest of the album is going to be about and you will also have made up your mind straight away - but you should at least give the rest of the tracks a go as well.  Like the second song "Stormy Nights" is another great example of the man's talent and not every solo is a billion notes being all played at once; sure it does have those shredding moments (and you cannot say the man does not have a gift with the guitar), but the main riffs of the song are just as impressive as well.  The piano introduction to "A Lonely Hunter" takes things back a bit, this is a more soul searching and inward looking song; it also has one of the best solos on the album as well and the music reminds me of the instrumental parts of the film Highlander in places, it is a great piece that has a slight 1980's feel to the work at the same time as feeling very modern and contemporary as well.

The fourth track is called "Life from Death" and you can feel the influence of Tangerine Dream on this number (even if it was not felt by Mr Englund), the instrumental styling, the way the keyboards have their own time to sign, the powerful and effective drumming - the whole song has a feel of a metal version of "We Were Set Up" but obviously without copying that song - I want to make that very plain, these are two completely different songs, they just give me the same vibe and feeling; this is another great number for this album.  Coming after this is "Justice of Nature" which is a song that brought another smile to my face, as well as a million notes to my ears in places.  From the beginning, everything is brought up to 10 in terms of volume and energy and it gives Dream Theatre a run for its money in the prog metal department (in terms of style, it is over very quickly in terms of prog music being only two minutes and forty three seconds long); it is number that is simple in nature and complicated in execution, it is also a very marmite song (you will either love it or hate it) - for me it gets the thumbs up.  "Hunting under a Blood Red Moon" however takes a more metal route and this is a song for any fan of power metal.  The way it loops around the listener and the riffs are really well played and it sounds well-polished; it is not a style of music that works for me, but it is still a decent number.

Seventh track is "Surviving" is back to the 1980's-esque guitar solo that would make fans of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai jump up in rapture and sing the praises of Mr Englund.  The solo is very aggressive and has the necessary drama about it to keep the audience interested up to the fade out towards the end.  The penultimate track of the album is called "Eternal Struggle" and the album is slowed down to a very dramatic and emotions number which suits the title well; it is a number that does sort of drift over me a bit, but I can once again see the craftsmanship of the song that will very popular to fans of Mr Englund.  Ending the album is “Vargens Öde and whilst it is not as energetic as a lot of the numbers on this album, it does what "Eternal Struggle" failed to do for me and that is bring a sense of drama to the proceedings and gauge my interest once more.  There is more keyboards and strings in this number and the epic nature of the work does feel as if it could have been from a film score, it is a great ending track for the album and certainly gets under the skin with a tremendous performance.  However, there is also a bonus track called "Fingerspitzengefühl" which is the only track with vocals on this album, it is a song that sounds like a mixture of Judas Priest and Nightwish, but without the lady singer and with someone in full Halford mode; the guitars are on form, the backing band are on fire and it is a really good way to end the album.

Thobbe Englund is a very good, maybe even great guitarist - there can be no doubt about that as the precision on this record is beyond debate.  The man can make the guitar sing to demons and angels and have them both looking on in wonder.  The thing we have here though, is like all other metal guitar solo albums, there is only so much of this type of music that some people can take in one sitting.  It is like the Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Marty Friedman and other axe hero albums of old - once your past the first few numbers, you really do know how you will view the rest of the album (rightly or wrongly).  For me, I really like this record and it is well produced and played; but it is one that is for fans of the genre and of the man himself.  It has made me interest enough to check out his other work and to see what Sabton sound like as well, but this album is one that will be hailed and vilified in equal measure due to the nature of the record itself.  Either way, for me it is still a good record that matches the cover perfectly.

7 out of ten - This is good and well worth a check

Top track - Life from Death

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

There is no Thobbe Englund website or page on Facebook - but there is one to his hair....here is a link

You can follow the activities of his main band Sabton on Facebook here

You can stream the album on Spotify here

You can stream the album on Deezer here

You can stream the album on Tidal here

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

THEY ARE BACK (again)!!!! Godspeed You! Black Emperor were the second band I reviewed when I was first starting this blog (my amateurish attempt to review 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!' via this clever link) and that was a stunning piece of work  It would go on to win the Canadian version of the Mercury Music prize and be hailed as another classic release from the band.  They might not like some of the attention (they had a few choice words after they won the 2013 Polaris Music Prize, to be honest a lot of it made sense and the fact they donated their winnings to a Quebec music education based program to prisoners was a great move), but they have always been an off the beat path type of act; their music is dramatic and not for easy consumption and that is something that has always made them an enigma.  This album represents the first brand new material as their last record was works they had been compiling for years, this is also their shortest record at just over forty minutes.  With these records, it usually takes a while to sink in, but lets see how it pans out....

The opening track is called "Peasantry or 'Light! Inside of Light!" which is an ten minute plus start to this record.  With the drums leading the way, the band crash straight into the song which lurches into view with a loose pace and style that is easy to get lost in.  As with every piece of work by GY!BE you cannot get your head around it within the first few listens and it does need a while to settle, just so you can absorb the complex nature of the work; it is akin to a long journey towards to goal, it is not something to make a short, sharp judgement on and it will be foolish to think other wise.  But it does have the natural peaks and troughs that is natural to this band and sound, but from the opening beat it is a wonderful noise to behold.  Second track "Lamb's Breath" starts with a reverb that would not be out of place on a Sunn 0))) album and it sounds dirty, with a more atmospheric track than "Peasantry or 'Light! Inside of Light!" you have the drone side of the band on show, it is all building from top to bottom and the noise - oh the beautiful noise - is a thing of wonder to this listener.  Any band can make noise, only certain bands can make it captivating.  The penultimate track is called "Asunder, Sweet" and this starts with the same piece of noise that ended "Lamb's Breath"; it is also the shortest number of the album at just under seven minutes.  It has more going on with it than "Lamb's Breath", but in a given sense of the word 'more' when you are talking about beautiful atmospheric instrumental music.  You don't realise how much is actually going on until you dissect the track, the subtle little additions with the strings, the reverb, the noise - it is just wonderful which once again bleeds into the next track.  That track is called "Piss Crowns Are Treble" and this has menace about it from the beginning.  Sounding like the end of a demonic parade, you are thrown into a macabre horror show with all the drama and atmosphere you would expect.  The unrelenting nature of the song is its winning feature and when it finally does have those breaks which a thirteen minute plus song needs along the way, it feels like a euphoric release.  It is with no doubt a long song, but it is such a pleasure to get lost in that you do not care how long it is - it is the crowning jewel to this album.

Once again, Godspeed You! Black Emperor have shown why they are on the top of their game once more; it continues on from "Allelujah....." and shows that the beast is not ready to give in or rest on it's glories.  They are still a raw unit in terms of emotions, but in they use their collective years of experience to make a beautiful piece of art that is going to be in the upper reaches of top releases for 2015 for a lot of people.  I have came away wanting more if I am honest, but that is due to how go this release has been.  This is another great release from the Canadian group and long may they continue - all hail the Black Emperor!

9.5 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost....

Top track - Piss Crowns Are Treble

You can purchase the album on Amazon here

You can visit the Godspeed You! Black Emperor website here

You can visit the Constellation Records website here and purchase the record directly from the label

Here is the link to the community page for GY!BE on Facebook here

You can stream the album on Spotify here

You can stream the album on Deezer here

You can stream the album on Tidal here

30 May 2015

Van Halen - For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge

I really don't know why anyone why anybody would want to name their record as Fuck. It might have threatened to push the boundaries of taste 24 years ago, these days it's just so heavily cliched and stamped upon indiscriminately. The title was Sammy Hagar's idea but something that Eddie van Halen was completely against. Then somebody reminded Hagar of what it meant, although in the Queen's English, it actually means Fornication Under the Command of the King. So, for all you VH fans and foul mouthed mothers, there you have it.

So, album nine on the VH chronology and number three with the rather eccentric Mr Hagar, which is one of the few acts I have seen and evidence that EVH still had an inventive mind and willing to take the creative boundaries to the next parallel. Sadly I really don't keep track of what Van Halen get up to in recent times, only that it's my hope Eddie has at least overcome a few of his alcohol problems what seem to have plagued him. And best not to go into the kitten scratching contest that Sammy and returnee David Lee Roth seem to embroil themselves in these days.

As I've just mentioned, EVH was trying for something a little different, and I suspect their opening track Poundcake is trying to do more than make a statement. If the opening section sounds like an electric drill, then yes. (the photo proves it) He does use an drill on the steel strings which in my opinion is a bit of a health risk if the chuck is fraying them, but H & S is not my biggest fear. My fear is that Poundcake is simply going to dominate the whole of F.U.C.K. too much, nor was it his idea, as Billy Sheehan (one of the finest bassists by the way) was dabbling in this experiment a few years earlier.

Memorable introduction in Poundcake, and that it shows plenty of promise. I do like it but in some parts the suggestive double entendres in the song are just a little too blatant and unimaginative. There's plenty of Sunday roast in it but actually it's missing a few trimmings, which with a few other mighty singles, it's normally the other way round. Great shame. It's also a little too pedestrian so, next we have Judgement Day which thank God redresses the balance, weighty and pacey if a little too Bon Jovi and struggling to crawl out of the eighties. Following on is the premium phone line themed Spank, and continuing the sexploitation concept, nice story but even at barely five minutes really feels heavily laboured and two thirds in, I'm seriously losing my attention.

Not their best effort so far, so onto Runaround, their other single release, and while not their crowning glory is one of their simplest but more impacting street tunes, ingraining riffwork, so things hopefully will pick up from here. VH billed this as their return to basic rock roots and a ditching of the synthworks that they used in the Eighties, and I can see that Pleasure Dome is taking a more progressive approach, but could do with a couple more hooks and twists to the plot to propel it to a higher mark. In 'n' Out is a more basic rock n' roll number that keeps true to those roots, sadly it's another one that's a little too long and lacking a bit of depth. And for me, the next few fillers in Man On A Mission, nice introduction, but what in fresh hell are those En Vogue styled harmonies doing in a hard rock VH number?! Too flat for my liking and likewise The Dream Is Over. Forgettable.

When I first heard it about 20 years ago, I wasn't enamoured with Right Now, maybe because of its softer overtones, but actually now I'm listening to it in 2015, it's not so gravely watered down, maybe the piano leads are the crucial part of the song. Obviously a soft rock approach but I really do enjoy it, one of their more inventive tracks. Penultimate track, brief semi acoustic instrumental is 316 is named after Eddie's son Wolfgang (now VH's bassist incidentally) and his birthdate March 16. A snippet perhaps, but enjoyable. We're now at the final track, Top Of The World, killer chorus and thankfully a quantum leap towards the end, feel good and endorphine laden but at least the vocals do it justice given the lack of keyboards that really Van Halen has been sorely missing so far.

In 1992, I would've given this a dizzy high mark, but time in my view hasn't been too kind on For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Sammy Hagar is a reasonable singer and his more competent higher notes than David Lee Roth were certainly a welcome boost for VH in the mid 1980s, but even at this point in the high E notes he does sound like he's struggling. They went back to school but spent too much time there. The concept of ditching the electronic buzzes and keeping the rock theme 'unplugged.' It's a nice idea, but For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, while not being a big pile of you-know-what, I really wish that Eddie and Co, took a little bit more time in the songwriting input. I really want to hear more hammer ons, more tappings, you know, all these things that make Van Halen so distinctive and ground breaking. Teacher does NOT need to seem them after school.

5 out of ten. It could have been a bit better.
Best track : Top Of The World.

Buy For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge here on Amazon
Listen to album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners can click on this link
Official Van Halen website
Official Van Halen Facebook page

While She Sleeps - Brainwashed

It has been just over a year since I was introduced to While She Sleeps.  The Sheffield mob have not let the grass grow under their feet in that time, they have release this album which is the follow up to 'This Is the Six' (cleverly linked here to the last review) which has been getting some great press.  They have recently toured the UK with Cancer Bats which was alleged to be a fantastic tour to witness, so at the moment there is nothing stopping this group and their ambitions.  This album was released in the UK on 23 March 2015, it has not exactly set the main charts on fire but it is rare for metal to do that these days (very sadly); yet it has been received with open arms by the faithful and that is a good sign.  Now, for this blog I am reviewing the standard version as this is the album that the band have made the basis of this release - I will have a rant about deluxe albums later on.  So, let us see how it sounds....

The opening track called “The Divide” is just a small interlude which starts of as a faint hum before building into the sound of a wild mob who sound as if they are screaming for blood.  Once the crowd has stopped shouting, the band launch into “New World Torture” which is a slow paced call to arms.  With the mixture of hardcore and nu-metal (minus the hip-hop), it also has some classic metal undertones (especially the solo leading out the song).  It is a positive call to arms and stating that people do not understand or know what the band (and one would assume that by extension – their fans) are all about.  It is a really good opening track, not exploding with sound that runs away from the audience, but with a slow menacing call to arms that sounds incredibly tight.  After such an opening, you would expect the title track “Brainwashed” to be a little more explosive; true to form that is exactly what happens.  From the beginning it is a frantic number that jumps straight into the number, slowing down slightly for the chorus so that the crowd can shout in unison before the circle pit starts again.   It is a really positive number that sounds truly mighty and it is a highlight of the album, the guitars sound like bombs going off and I have not heard that in modern metal for an awfully long time.  The next track is called “Our Legacy” which slowly things down slightly (but only slightly; it is one of those song which always sounds like it is a slow part of a song extended beyond its original origins but it is missing the heavier parts that makes those moments shine like diamonds.  There is nothing wrong with the performance, it is done very well and once again the solos are on the nail (in fact they improve the song for me); but it is still a bit weak after the towering “Brainwashed”.

The fifth track is “Four Walls” that takes things back up a notch once again, this is a great improvement for me once again, starting with the band singing in unison and then a riff building up to another aggressive and pounding anthem for the disenchanted which actually owes quite a lot to the hardcore scene of New York (Biohazard, Sick of it All, Strife, etc) with the dynamics of the song going between metal and hardcore with ease.  Next up is “Torment” which keeps up the hardcore feeling that has been quiet strong for the best part of this album.  Like a lot of this album, it is designed to get the mosh pit and crowd going and on that level it is a success; when you have the clean vocal section in the middle, it feels a little forced to be honest but overall the song is really good.  After this is the short interlude called "Kangaezu Ni" which is a piano only number which slows down the album just for the listener to catch their breath, it does that job really well.  The eighth track is called "Life in Tension" which is not going at a million miles an hour, but for that reason it actually works better. Because it is not all at the juggernaut speed and it does keep it relatively simple in places for the band then it stands up a bit more and makes for another highlight of the album for me (also they avoid the clean vocals more on this number and it makes for a more complete song). 

The next song which starts in a swirl of noise and feedback is called "Trophies of Violence" which slowly erupts into a groove metal style opening, it builds slowly still towards the obvious chorus that comes along in a hardcore style asking for the crowd to sing with the band and then the speed is unleashed in the number till we head back to the slower bridge part and it keeps changing at every turn.  It is a clever number as the changes are not made in split second Zappa style moments, but with ease as if shifting through gears of a car to get around a track as fast as possible - it is another interesting number which keeps up the good work of the album.  Next is "No Sides, No Enemies" which starts with a guitar tone that is both Iron Maiden and 80's glam/cock rock at the same time - that clear tone got me a little confused for a few moments.  But the song soon goes into the moshing swirl that is the WSS trademark and it is another number that keeps the interest going for the song.  Every now and then we comes back to that lonely guitar work and it seems to show that the band are wanting to do more than just mosh anthems; it could be a way they head in the future, but let’s keep an eye on what they are doing now.  The penultimate song is called "Method in Madness" is back for the jugular and starts with a massive dose of power and energy that sounds like another explosion going off within spitting distance of the listener.  This song does the most to cover all musical leanings of the band it makes for a brilliant listening.  I kept finding more in this song as I repeated it for the review (the cowbell was an interesting moment that made me laugh), but it is one of the best songs of the album.  Ending the album though is the gang chorus opening number called "Modern Minds" and slows the mood down with a hymn about the lack of originality and the desire for conformity of the modern age (something that really does not change) and then it goes into a final fit pumping anthem for the crowd with a slight break every now and then for the piano to calm the emotions.  It is an obvious album ending track, so we will leave it at that point.

So, here we come to the rub with this album - how has it worked out?  Well, the standard version does sound very compact and it is very enjoyable.  But it does miss those tracks which have been kept for the deluxe editions which is something that harms the original release, when did it become good to release a deluxe version of an album at the same time as they released the standard version?  It is akin to purchasing a computer game for £40/$40 and then having to fork out further funds for extra content that you need to complete the game. It used to be about the time of the end of a tour that you released the deluxe album or a super EP, but this is the rants of an old man who might be out of touch with modern marketing techniques and is not aimed at the band.  As we are looking at the standard version, we will focus on that - it is a strong follow up to 'This Is The Six', it takes the formula and does not fuck with it (something that can happen to bands far too much these days).  It is an interesting record that will keep the faithful happy, it will also bring in a few new fans as well.  It is a compact record that keeps the fires going for the band and whilst it does not melt my mind I am impressed with this record.  Another good record from a good English metal outfit.

7.5 out of ten - This is good and well worth a check

Top track - Method in Madness

You can purchase the album from Amazon here 

You can visit the While She Sleeps website here 

You can also follow the activities on Facebook here 

You can stream the album (Deluxe version) on Spotify here 

You can stream the album (Deluxe version) on Deezer here

You can stream the album (Deluxe version) on Tidal here

Past sermons

Greatest hits