31 January 2015

Triosphere - The Heart Of The Matter

Norway, like its Nordic neighbours isn't short of metal acts although the majority I fear won't roll off the tongue of the general public. I think it was about September 2014 when I first came across this act, a new album out, and of course, there's always room in my heart for prog metal. However, album number three for this quartet was unfortunately beset by a few delays until just before Christmas which I'll delve into a little later. Back then, I felt sick that maybe Triosphere had missed out on an opportunity for me to review it and put it in contention for last year's shortlist, assuming it was good enough. Still, I have a week to listen to this and evaluate.

Ten years together isn't a long time for a metal band, fronted by bassist Ida Haukland (pronounced as Ee-da), but with a clutch of albums to their name now and seemingly a real talented act a little different from what we're used to hearing. I also understand when I Google'd Miss Haukland, she was alternating her love of metal with real estate. If this is really the case she should give up her day job, because on first listen to The Heart Of The Matter, this is showing so much promise, this may not be only of the best albums I've listened to this year, it's probably one of the best I've heard of all time. Just one personal change from their original lineup, and that's drummer Ørjan Aare Jørgensen who decided to leave when his recording parts were completed. Consequently Triosphere had to hire a couple of sessionists to tie the loose ends hence the late launch.

The writing credits go to just two musicians, Ida Haukland is the lyricist and the instrumentation is inked by rhythm/lead guitarist Marius Bergmann (well I say, but actually he shares both duties with Tor Ole Byberg) and plenty of influences from their peers to behold. Vox wise, Ida certainly leaves me with the impression that she's honing it on Janis Joplin, Bruce Dickinson and Ann Wilson and if you're looking for perhaps old skool metal that doesn't feel dated, you could do much worse. First track offered to us is My Fortress, certainly Metallica influenced but this feels fourfold more refined, and well written. The string work calm before the thrash storm  is an ideal curtain raiser as well as during the brief respite before Steal Away The Light continues. I'm enjoying the Iron Maiden-esque dual layering guitar work, it feels like a working progress taken to another step.

The Sentinel starts off on the same footing with the same beat and rhythm, same shredwork. Is it a little too similar to the previous song? Thankfully no more than a brief moment as Sentinel starts getting more individualist with chunky chorus and still pacey timing, so I'm happy, as long as you're happy too. Fourth track is Breathless which is getting a little more business like, it follows the same order as its predecessors, or so I thought, as midway the instrumental breaks gets a lighter air and more focused. Progressive is the word in the next tune Departure, it is very Rush melody laden, and of course, Rush is one of the finest rock acts you'll ever find. However, there are a few electronic snippets thrown into the mix which is a good omen that this won't age too badly at all.

So far, it's been a little bit of NWOBHM, a little US thrash and a lot of prog metal, so now, symphonic Metro Voice type choruses have a hand in The Heart's Dominion, but I am really sold on the shredding midway through, Heart Of The Matter is growing in stature minute by minute. Now onto As I Call, a little different and a little less boombastic, the verses are deliberately spartan, but with no less substance, and finally some harmonies as they have been just about the only thing missing. Now halfway through The Heart Of The Matter, and initially Relentless seems ironic until about twenty seconds in and a big Oh My God and a few superlatives thrown in for good measure! For me it's Speed metal pornography and what might appear to be a twenty one gun salute suddenly Triosphere bring along a Challenger Tank for more impact. Best track so far? It's a firm runner, but hopefully the remaining four songs can hold their own.

The Sphere is no less pacey if a little more basic in the layering, still I'm finding it very entertaining. As I'd want from old skool metal, guitar leads governed, but I'm not going to bother allocating the credits as both guitarists I mentioned earlier share rhythm and leads. A different beat now is on Remedy, it's alternating between Heart (one of Ida's possible influences) and the familiar pace I'm warming to. However, it all tails off towards the end with a brief solo from guest pianist Espen Godø. Eleventh track is Storyteller, a straightforward narrative and more of a formality for me. Actually, I should delete that last sentence as the instrumentals completely change and keep the threat of monotony in check. Don't expect the same firecrackers on the final track Virgin Ground, an acoustical three minute piece, low key perhaps but no less evocative

So, was Heart Of The Matter worth the two month delay? I feel more a little relieved when I say yes, and although being a tad retro, the important thing I find in an album is getting full audio enjoyment from it. There's only so much the bands you already know and love can do to please the ear that on occasion you want to break a little new ground and search a little further afield and Triosphere's certainly achieved that from my own perspective. Heart Of The Matter has been such a genuine revelation, for me it has been metal Valhalla. Serious contender for Album Of The Year in my opinion so hopefully I can take a chance to listen to the rest of their discography shortly. For now, it's time for me to write other blogs, review other albums, and maybe stick this on my Christmas wishlist along the way.

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

Best Track : Relentless

Buy Heart Of The Matter here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners can alternatively click on this link
Official Triosphere Facebook page here
Official Triosphere Website here

Gaz Coombes - Matador

(Brief note - This album has been nominated for the Mercury Prize 2015 since the review was posted in January 2015)

Supergrass (the band, not the criminal super snitch) is a band I have a love/hate relationship with. They have made some fantastic songs over the years, their later career was really interesting; however for every great step forward, there was a moment that made me want to act out one of the more famous scenes of The Shinning – you know, the one with the door way.  So it may come as a bit of a surprise to some people that I am looking at this album, when I can be a bit scathing of their previous work.  Well, to be honest it is not that big of a leap to the side – I always test my opinion of bands and solo artists to see if they hold water, also there has been a few Brit-pop front men who have released solo albums (Damon Alburn with ‘Everyday Robots’ and Thom Yorke with ‘Tomorrow Modern Boxes’ (both reviews cleverly linked here)).  Now out of all the Brit-pop era acts, I would not be expecting a solo album from Mr Coombes, nor would I be expecting much from it.  I am stating this from the beginning just so my previous opinion is very clear, so let’s see if this record is a game changer.

Starting the album is “Buffalo” and from the outset you can tell this is a very different beast to Supergrass.  Let me rephrase that, this is a million miles away from Supergrass.  Sounding very much like the idea which was forming for Thom Yorke, this electronica/rock hybrid combines to make a stunning statement for the opening of this album. Mr Coombes lyrics and vocals are much matured on this song, it has a more serious record and it might confuse some people who are coming here expecting “It’s Alright” part two.  This is not what I was expecting and it makes me smile from ear to ear, I like being surprised.  Next is “20/20” which keeps up this musical odyssey floating along, this minimal electronica piece with a haunting guitar humming in the back ground and basic drumming is helped with a gospel choir that complements Mr Coombes’ incredibly well.  Nothing is wasted, there are some OTT moments, but it is context and always from a clinical and precise build.  This is then followed by “The English Ruse” which follows the electronica pulse and has a robot in league with the humans, it has a bit of energy about it and it also has a sixties feeling of rock sensibility that is added to the mix incredibly well; it feels like it could have been made with Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy and a mass of keyboards, the song is incredibly well crafted and the minimal bridge/choir/strings bit is haunting.

Fourth track “The Girl Who Feel to Earth” is a bit more straight forward than the opening bombardment, a classic ballad with a sombre overtone; some poetic lyrics and not one jokey grin or silly turn of phrase in sight.  The gentle tone of the song is beautiful, it is very easy on the ear and I cannot help but fall for its charms.  It is not a cutting edge number to be honest, but does good music need to always be on that ragged line?  Sometimes it just needs to be good, something that this song proves.  "Detroit" keeps the more stripped back tone of the record going for the most part, until the chorus comes and then the strings, backing singers and volume seems to be amplified.  It is not as immediate as the first four songs of the album, it seems the chorus overpowers the rest of the song here; I love it more when the quiet moments are allowed to develop and stretch out, there is a great section in the middle where it just seems to be all about the build and that is really interesting.  A really interesting, if not nearly complete number (for me at least). "Needle's Eye" starts with a funky bass line, some harsh guitar strumming and electronic noises that swirl around the listener.  The groove is coming back here, it still taking its time to get from places to place and that suits me just fine.  The mixture of 60's/70's vibes and song writing, against the electronica and modern production is done very well on "Needle's Eye" and Mr Coombes voice is sounding much more assured on this type of song.  "Seven Walls" is the seventh track on the album, which sounds like a broken heart song in every point - the unrequited love, the pleas for the fun times that could be had, the slow and sombre music; which is only ever broken when the singer starts to crack - all done to a perfect point.  It is a track which keeps on giving the more that it is played, it makes the heavy heart feel like they are not alone and that whilst everything is not perfect, there is hope and unity in shared misery.

"Oscillate" starts with a loop of guitar noises and has that broken indie feel that was started with Radiohead around the time of 'OK Computer' and whilst not stretching out the idea beyond its purpose, it is kept nice and simple; it is very tight and there is not a wasted moment on the song.  It is not something that floats my boat as much as earlier numbers on the album, but it is still well put together.  Once again, it is also a grower that just keeps on improving with each listen.  Next is "To the Wire" which has a drum beat that reminds me of Thomas Truax and his home constructed drum machine made from bicycle wheels and strange appendages.  The song sounds like it could have been used in a cop drama, as a lot of this album has if truth be told.  The clash of retro and modern sounds and instrumentation is best shown in this song, it is a massive piece for the album and he pulls it off.  Next is a strange interlude for the album called "Is It On", a small sample of banjo, amplifier buzzing and loops; it could have really opened the album, but who am I to question at this point.  The finale of the album is called "Matador" and to be honest I cannot decide if it is one of the bravest moves or poorest album ending tracks I have heard.  The song itself is actually a good track; it is a simple stripped back piece about wanting to be more and to be brave. However to have this short and simple number end the track is something I cannot quite understand.  The last three tracks of the album seem to be in the wrong order, but who am I to argue; it is still a pleasant album to draw the curtain on this record.

I was truly not expecting much from this album at all, I think my opening statement made that clear.  But over the half hour or so that the album was playing, my opinion was challenged and changed; it is a game changer if ever I heard one, it is a million miles from his roots and it is also a beautifully fragile album that has me in raptor.  Is it perfect, not really - there is some choices of track ordering which do not let the album flow for me, but these are small personal details and do not take anything away from the music.  If you are expecting more Supergrass in a different light, you will have to look elsewhere.  Even if you were not a Supergrass fan before hand, I would recommend this album; you will be surprised.  The king is dead; all hail the new king in town.

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

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Gaz Coombes website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

If Deezer is your streaming service of choice, here is a link for you

30 January 2015

The Decemberists - What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

It has been far too long for me with The Decembrists - when I say that, I mean in terms of writing a blog about one of their albums.  I have only heard a couple of their previous releases (mostly I have listened to the stunning ‘Hazards of Love’) and they have always struck me as an incredibly focused act.  But somehow by stealth and at a very slow pace, they have become one of the biggest acts in America at the moment (it is not quite the same in the UK, but that will be changing).  On the few albums I have heard, they just keep adding to their craft and their ability to stir the emotions of their faithful following is second to none.  Now I heard this album was being released last year and recently I reviewed ‘Fortune’ by Black Prairie (cleverly linked here) which is a side project for (NAME ARTISTS) from this band.  That album was very good indeed and has made me wonder how the Decembrists are fairing these days – time to find out.
Starting is the acoustic opening “The Singer Addresses His Audience”, discussing the change in the band from the beginning and the change to the audience as well.  It is a lovely reminder that the band is human as well (something that we all forget at times – I have been guilty of this in the past).  It just builds very gradually and by the time it comes to the crashing ending which has a spectacular solo as well.  It is not as serious and dark as some of their earlier work, it just feels as if the band is opening up and it feels like the start of something special.  “Cavalry Captain” comes in like a blazing star, full of bright horns and joyful guitars, mixed with a strong sense of purpose and identity.  It is strangely familiar already and feels like it has a timeless quality about it already.  It is a strong opening duo to start this album, “Philomena” does the classic step for an album; after two stunning opening tracks it pulls it back slightly, you do not want to put all your massive tracks on straight away (see Prong’s ‘Cleansing’ for details on how to do that).  This doo-woop inspired love song down memory lane is another lovely number, taking its time and slowly sinking its subtle hooks into your soul.  If you are not smiling after this opening, you might be dead.  Track four is called “Make You Better” and it seems as if they have slowly turning into Deacon Blue, not that this is a bad thing; they just seem to have perfected their song writing even more than it was beforehand; they were always a fantastic band before hand, this just takes a giant leap to another level.  It feels like summer is here and the love songs are flowing from the band and “Make You Better” is one of the best I have heard for an awfully long time.  This is followed by “Lake Song”, a tale of a relationship in strain and flux is a subtle number that once again showcases the depth on offer from this band.  The first five numbers on this album are probably everything that The Waterboys were aiming for on their latest effort (and failed to achieve).

“Till The Water Is All Gone” is a eerie number, it feels as if there is a menace awaiting to erupt from beneath the beautiful acoustic guitar playing, organs and gospel choir which are the main features of the song.  Describing a conflict of people/ethics (depending on how you read the number), this song is another slice of the Americana experience which is done with the utmost ease.  “The Wrong Year” is the first song which does not meet the standards of the earlier numbers on this album; I love the tune itself, as a fan of this type of music it is very easy on the ears.  But it is not quite as good as the first six songs.  With that said to get to track seven without filler on a fourteen track album is still really good in my books.  “Carolina Low” is one of the darkest tracks on the album, another acoustic number that sounds sinister and like a sister track to “Till The Water Is All Gone”, they seem to do this a lot in their records as they return to themes which were touched upon earlier on in the album – see ‘The Hazards Of Love’ for their pinnacle in this type of music.  It is great to hear this sort of focus in an album, and this song with its tale of love and youth is a strong number.  “Better Not Wake the Baby” is a quick two minute long jig that sounds like it could be sung to keep spirits up whilst sailing ships, hoisting sails and preparing for war.  It is over far too soon for me, but I still find it brilliant.  Tenth track “Anti-summersong” is quite the opposite of what the title would suggest, it sounds like it should be a summer song, granted it is a disturbing message about a town failing and the singer trying to get out of the place; but the music just screams that it is for summer – obviously the intent and it is actually a funny song as well, you have to love the dark and twisted side of the band on display here.

“Easy Come, Easy Go” sounds like a calypso done with a folk/surfer twist – the number drifts along as if it is being played on a summer eve and has a carefree filling.  But the tale of deception and death is in dark contrast to the music that is playing.  It is a beautiful fractured mirror to the darker sides of the human experience.  “Mistral” is the twelfth song on offer here, a more folk experience on offer, but still with a clear ear for the rock element of the band.  It reminds me of early Waterboys and keeps that brilliant work which has been the main feature of this album, the honky tonk piano solo with harmonica is really impressive on this number; it was very close to being the song of the album, it is just beautiful.  The penultimate track is “12-17-12” which takes its title from a speech made by President Barack Obama and the effects that it had on the singer, mixed in with other words about his life that was happening at that time.  This is the most straight forward folk song, it has a slight Dylan feel over the number and whilst I am not a Bob Dylan fan I can certainly see why this number will be popular.  The final track is called “A Beginning Song”; I have a feeling this was by design to be cheeky, but you can forgive the band at this point.  It is even more forgivable when they sound as good as they sound as confident and assured as they do on this record.  It is a stirring call to arms, building slowly and surely towards a euphoric ending.

The main feeling I get from this album is a sense of freedom; it feels as if the band did not consider anyone outside of the room whilst they were recording this record; they took their songs which they have confidence in and unveiled them to the world.  It is strange to think of them being as big as they are, not because they do not deserve the acclaim or applause which is heading their way; it is because they are still so intimate and yet they could fill anywhere with a acute mixture of sorrow and joy for their fans to revel in.  For a folk band, that is something really hard to achieve, also the fact that apart from one track there is no dead weight.  It is easy to see why they are now a really big deal and I hope this brings them nore glory, as it is a strong album.  This album is already an early contender for my own personal album of the year, the gauntlet has been dropped – let’s see who has the fortitude to pick it up.

9 out of ten - This is almost perfect, almost......

Top track – Make You Better

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Decemberists website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

If Deezer is your streaming platform of choice, here is a link for you

28 January 2015

Venom - From The Very Depths

Yay, Venom are back! The band who've spent the last twenty years or so treading water have released their latest album. First impressions are NOT good. Partly to do with the artwork. Not only does it look half-finished, but it's cheesy as well. The only way this could have been any more stock and cliche is if it had a big-breasted valkyrie woman with a cleavage you could ski down on the cover, holding a broadsword because...phallus imagery. The artwork on the first three releases was minimalist but it grabbed your attention. This just looks awful. Hopefully, the music won't be as bad.

I've done a Venom blog before (Calm Before The Storm - it'll be in the 'Venom' section of this blog) so this will be their second entry. The only problem I had with that blog was that it didn't mention much about the band themselves. I usually like to give a bit backstory so here goes,,,

Venom are possibly one of the most important bands in the history of metal, due to their influnece on thrash metal, death metal and most notably black metal (That was the name of their second album and it would also be the name for another subgenre of heavy metal music which was then adopted and perfected by a select group of mental Norwegians who had no sense of irony and turned it into some kid of occult terrorism or National Socialist mantra, depending on the band). Whilst the first three albums were all conquering (as was the fourth one but I think only I share that opinion), they weren't without their flaws. Critics were quick to pick up on the crude musicianship and shit production which permeated these albums (The first three albums were recorded at Impulse Studios in Wallsend, the town where I live. It's not longer there as it was knocked down and made into a block of flats). Whilst it's true what they said, the fact that these albums went onto have such an influence is proof that you don't need to have musical dexterity or classical training to make great music. They are definately dated now, but come on, 'Welcome To Hell' came out over thirty five years ago, of course it'll be dated! The music itself, although great, comes across like Motorhead if they were into Satanism instead of chicks and bikers. The band have admitted that they weren't really into the occult but used the imagery for shock value. I suppose it's better than branding an inverted cross into your forehead.

Throughout the years, their infuence waned due to the band they'd influenced overtaking them both comercially and artistically before they called it a day in the early 90's. They reformed and then released some more albums which tried to hit the heady heights of their 80's heyday but didn't quite make it. Line-up issues didn't really help. In fact, the only original member on this album is Cronos himself, bass player and vocalist. Guitarist is a lad called La Rage and drummer is Dante. So although we've got the 'power trio' format like the first four albums, is it any good? Well, lets give it a listen...

Eruptus - Synthy intro with creepy noises in the background. Tbh, it's nothing that hasn't been done in the last thirty years or so, but it is done quite well, to give it it's due.

From The Very Depths - Galloping first song proper, which explodes into being! Cronos and his trademark roar are ever present, and the rest of the band sound good as well. In fact, the production is actually quite good for a Venom album. This is definitely a throwback to the NWOBHM scene that Venom were a part of back in the day. Live, this will have a multitude of fist-bangers all pounding the air (Fist banging: what metallers did before the mosh pit became a part of the live show). As you can expect, this song is about summoning Satan "from the very depths...OF HELL!" So they're calling Satan up from Middlesbrough, are they?

The Death Of Rock And Roll - Fast song which name checks Kid Creole. They also talk about "devestating thrash" which is irony in itself seeing as it was thrash which consigned Venom to the 'where are they now?' file or a bit. This is a decent enough song.

Smoke - Wah-pedal infused intro which leads into a chugger about cursed ghosts or some shit like that. Funny how their contemporaries now sing about social stuff yet these guys are still stuck in some kind of heebie-geebie candyland. Whatever floats your boat.

Temptation - We're now four songs in and so far, I've been severely underwhelmed. Nice solo and the drilling riff which holds the song together is good but the rest of it isn't all that.

Long Haired Punks - Yeah, this is a good song! Tries something different too. Going from a slow, Black Sabbath-like dirge to a speedy refrain, it's quite schitzophrenic but it works! For the first time on this album, my interest has risen. A ferocious song about Long Haired Punks.

Stigmata Satanas - Mid-paced power! It seems like the band are starting to find their feet. Nice groove to the intro, the rest of the song is worthy-decent too. I guess it's good to just get some decent, no-frills metal for a change.

Crucified - Another slice of mid-paced power which does what it says on the tin. No real frills but it's certainly entertaining enough and fills a hole. I can imagine this would be a great song live. Headbanging steadily to this one.

Evil Law - Noise intro that sounds like burping, soon develops into a nice opening riff which reminds me of the kind of thrash the band inspired. Doomy riffs follow and the realisation dawns that they've got slower since Stigmata Satanas. Up to them, but I usually find three slow songs in a row tends to kill the overall flow of the album (See 'Chinese Democracy' by GnR and 'Transgression' by Fear Factory as proof of this. Mind, it didn't do Sabbath any harm...). Again, it's a good song which manages to take on a new life with a fast mid-section before going back to Doomtown.

Grinding Teeth - No, not me registering distasin to this album as it's actually okish once you scrape away the filler but a fucking ripper of a song! We're back up to fast tempo, lads, and we're better for it. Mind, starting a song with "Liar! Liar!" is asking for trouble as it conjures up images of that childhood song. Mind, the second verse starts with "Anger! Anger!" so I guess it's part of the song structure. It's a good song though, the kind of fast 'scorcher' that Venom are known for, just all modern. Mind, there seems to be a 'woooooaaaaaahhhhhhh' at the start of each verse. Yes, this is a good song.

Overture - Oh my, acoustic/clean intro! Which leads into next song...

Mephistophleles - Not much to say about this one other than it's fast, has drilling riffs and should have been in the first four tracks of the album. Nice headbanger though.

Wings Of Valkyrie - Nice heavy song. Again, should have been at the start of the album. The classic metal influences show through in this song.

Rise - Intro is crowd noise before leading into a fast song where "All you sinners rise, raise your hand and fists"...is this 1980 and we're all pissed at the Reds invading Afghanistan? It might as well be as this song sounds like a throwback from that era. It sounds like a crowd inspiring song which was already covered on "Stand Up And Be Counted" from At War With Satan but that song was better.

At first, I was ready to tear this album a brand new one but luckily, it got better. Albeit not by much. The problem with it is it's just not as good as previous releases. They don't sound like a band that have ran out of ideas but rather a band who only had one idea to start with. And if that idea is played with perfection then no harm shall be done. However, it's played rather average here, with any spark or urgency totally unable to be spread throughout the whole album. So basically - too much filler. Take out the first four songs (leave Eruptus in there though) as well as Overture and Mephistopheles - possibly Wings Of Valkyrie and Rise - and we'd have a decent enough album which will not win any awards for originality or strides made over the years but will hopefully satisfy anyone who likes metal when it was metal, before the subgenres took over.

5/10 - It could have been a bit better.

Chris J.

Top Track: Grinding Teeth.

This album is available on iTunes.


(Lyric video as Venom weren't really a 'video' band)

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