31 January 2017

Sepultura - Machine Messiah

The best thing to come out of Brazil since Edson Arantes do Nascimento - Pele to you and I - are back with a new album, the fourteenth in their career. And once again, it seems opinion is divided. Some reviews are praising the album and others are deriding it. And don't even get me started on the chumps who reckon the band should change their name because there are no more Cavalera's involved. Let it go, people! Fact is, Sepultura are still a good band. Sure, the early 90's glory days may be behind them, but the Derrick Green-era Sepultura still has some excellent stuff. Each release manages to bring something new to the table whilst still retaining the thrash and groove that made them famous. And while I'm off on one, "Roots" is an extremely overrated record which shamelessly tried to latch onto the then-emerging Nu Metal scene like an over-excited puppy humping it's master's leg.

Machine Messiah deals with the idea regarding the "robotization of our society", which, and I'll be honest, put me on guard for a bit. The subject of Man vs Machine is as old as Adam with countless films, TV shows and music dedicated to that subject over the years. Fear Factory made a career out of it. Then there was the cover, it looked like it belonged on a 70's prog album, the type of ones where the songs are longer than the Hundred Years War. So all of this wasn't really filling me with confidence and a couple of the song previews I heard did give me some hope. Well, we've got the album right here so I'll get down to it and review this bad boy for you all.

1) Machine Messiah. Well, this is a turn-up, a slow song with a clean opening! Usually, the first track of an album is the most catchiest song, it's purpose is to pull you in and hook you. And our man Derrick even SINGS on this! As mentioned, this is a slow song but once it goes electric, it's a nice atmosphere builder. Things get even louder towards the end with Derrick roaring the vocals and a fine solo from Andreas Kisser, a most underrated guitrist.

2) I Am The Enemy - Aww YEAH!!!  Excellent thrasher number which brings to mind some hardcore elements as well. Nice breakdown midway through the song too before it all kicks off again. This is the type of thing Sepultura excel at, their hardcore influences coming to the fore on this.

3) Phantom Self - Percussion intro, which sounds nice. Then some keyboard effects come into it whilst a snappy riff carries the vocals towards a bouncy chorus! This should go down a treat live. The whole song is really good and definitely worthy of a place on here.

4) Alethea - Another percussion intro which gives way to a song with an unusual time and rhythm. It's another corker. Main riffs are tight and sound like they're strangling someone, although it's the chorus riffs which stick with me more.

5) Iceberg Dances - Instrumental with some fine guitarwork. Fast, technical riffs. Organ solo is a bit out of the blue. Nice flamenco and percussion section too. Sounds natural instead of shoehorned.

6) Sworn Oath - Doomy, atmospheric intro with melodic guitars. However, within a minute it kicks into the kind of keyboard-guitar-drums rhythm that would put most Symphonic Black Metal bands to shame. Slow, brooding verses soon blend into choruses which are comprised of the Symphonic Black Metal rhythm. Keyboards have been a bit of a feature on this album, I guess it's one of the reasons why a couple of the reviews mentioned a Prog influence. They may have a point as aside from the keyboards, there has been a great deal of thought put into the song structures and rhythms too.

7) Resistant Parasites - Unfortunately, this song isn't half as good. It's adequate, don't get me wrong but it has a bit of an "after the lord mayor's show" vibe to it when compared to the last song. It's still thrashes like fuck and has a wicked solo, but there are better on this album.

8) Silent Violence - This one has a slow, lumbering beat to it which sounds good. Nice twin guitar harmonies in the middle as well as some more clean singing. Whilst we're here, I'd like to comment that the production has been top notch on this album.

9) Vandals Nest - A fast thrasher with some almost 80's-esque guitar melodies. Not as hardcore influenced as the other fast songs on here, it seems to hark back the the pure thrash metal days. More clean singing (or is it shouting?) which rounds things off nicely towards a furious finish.

10) Cyber God - Spoken word vocals in the intro which compliment the heavy electrics going on. More singing before going into something which sounds eerily similar to Machine Head once Robb Flynn stopped trend-hopping. For the most part, this is a slow song which ups the pace towards the end. Not fast enough to scorch the speakers but still good.

11) Chosen Skin - Bonus track which is a competent slice of thrash. It's not too bad. In fact, it's very good. Tight, technical rhythms.

12) Ultraseven No Uta - Another bonus track, which is apparently a cover. It's a bit throwaway, to be honest. Sounds like Portuguese lyrics and slightly punk-like sounds...

Make no mistake, this is a top album. As I mentioned earlier, the band have had this knack of bringing something new to the table for each release without losing the core elements of their sound which made them popular in the first place. Whilst it'll keep (the majority of) old fans happy, it should hopefully influence any new fans to check out their earlier stuff. The only bad points are a couple of tracks which don't hit the heights of the other material on here, but they're still quite good. Expect to see this album in a couple of AOTY lists in December 2017...

9/10. Almost perfect, almost.

Chris J.

Top Track: Sworn Oath.

This album is available on iTunes.


30 January 2017

Metallica - Metallica

In 1991, heavy metal was on an all time high; Grunge was just around the corner, Sepultura had released 'Arise', Guns N' Roses dropped the 'Use Your Illusion' albums, artists such as Primus, Queen and Skid Row released classic albums and then on 12th August, a little band called Metallica release their fifth and self-titled album (also known as 'The Black Album') and it was a game changer for the band.  The album that proceeded it '...And Justice For All' suffered from a production job that robbed the album of any bass sound.  On this album, they picked to work with Bob Rock and whilst it corrected the sound, the cost to the band was high.  Three marriages, $1M to remix THREE times, taking the band out of their comfort zones and causing a taste so sour taste in the mouths of the band and Mr Rock that they would not record another album until five years later in the form of 'Load' and 'Re-Load'.  It topped the charts around the world, it is multi-platinum monster that took the work by storm - but it also took the band a little further away from their thrash roots.  I will get back to that at the end of this review, but how does the album stand after all these years?

01 - Enter Sandman

When the song first came out, it was like being hit by a car sideways.  The first piece of music to be wrote for the album, the last song to get lyrics and the first single to be released from the album, this song about nightmares which was used by ECW for the entrance music for the wrestler Sandman is one of the band's biggest hits, still played at their shows and one that is hailed as a classic.  I really cannot argue with the use of that word here, it still sounds fresh today and thank the deity it has some bass behind the sound.

02 - Sad But True

Another song that is still a major player in the Metallica live set, it was sampled by Kid Rock for his single 'American Badass' and it is love around the world.  I do not share that view - I will actually go on record and say that it is still a dull song that never fails to make me yawn and it has not changed in the years that have passed since I first heard it.  I disliked it then, I dislike it now, basically - it sucks and it is the biggest blemish on this album, why it was released as a single is beyond me.

03 - Holier Than Thou

A song which is over looked a lot by fans of Metallica, 'Holier Than Thou' is a strong mixture of heavy rock, thrash elements and it gives some dickhead a good bashing as they are thinking that they are a cut above the rest of the world.  It might not be the most thrilling ride on the album, but it has a dirty little riff that always grabs my attention as it runs off into the distance and heads straight for the pit.  It is a lost gem and one that shines bright for me.

04 - The Unforgiven

A song which reverses the ballad tread of heavier chorus and light verse, 'The Unforgiven' was the second song to be released as a single and it is a towering number.  Dealing with the inner struggles and self-doubts that can hold back a person, the song has everything going for it.  It has a brilliant riff/chord progression, the bass is towering and the drumming great as well.  It is such a good song that the band would go on to write 'Unforgiven II' and 'Unforgiven III', but the less said about them, the better if you ask me.

05 - Wherever I May Roam

The sound of the desert starts this song, it is a tale about endless wondering and never having a place to rest as the wanderlust is so great.  The riff is one that has pace and power behind it, the aggression in the mix is still breath taking and the solos towards the end are still top notch.  Definitely one of the best songs off the album and in my top ten Metallica songs ever, it has aged incredibly well in my eyes and is still one that is guaranteed to get me up and moving.

06 - Don't Tread On Me

A song which was wrote to address the anti-American feeling on '...And Justice For All', 'Don't Tread On Me' starts with a few bars of 'America' from 'West Side Story' and then it goes on about not giving a fuck and for the world to watch out.  A sentiment that is something which can work against America at time, but it does hark back to that Wild West spirit that seems to be engraved into the soul of the Country.  I like the song, it is a powerful number and I think the riff is understated; the lyrics, not so much if I am honest.  However, it is still better than 'Sad But True' though.

07 - Through The Never

A song which is often derailed as a filler track, but it has one of those riffs which can set a room on fire and make a lot of metal heads form a pit in seconds.  It is a simple song in many ways, not as complex as other songs on the album, it has a fast pace it does not let the foot off the peddle throughout the number, it has a loose theme about the endless void of the universe and how the human race cannot comprehend anything and all the human race can do is try to survive.  It is a good, solid number that is once again, better than 'Sad But True'

08 - Nothing Else Matters

One of the best-known songs from the album, a soul raising ballad about find home (something which is sort of ironic considering how three marriages from the band were failing during the recording of this album), the song was actually wrote for the girlfriend of James Hetfield and is also dedicated to the fans of Metallica by the band now.  I have seen it used as a song for a first dance at a wedding, I have seen live versions of the song and it still sounds wonder; basically, it is a song which cannot be ignored and it is rightly thought of as one of the best songs that Metallica have ever released.  But it is not my favourite of the album......

09 - Of Wolf & Man

A song about the legend of the Werewolf and the nature of changing from one form to another, it is another song which seems to have been deemed as a filler song, but I cannot understand why it has such a bad reputation.  It is fast, heavy, silly (the lyrics are very silly indeed) and just a fun song; not every song is going to rule the world, but some are just great for no other reason than being all out fun - also, still better than 'Sad But True'.

10 - The God That Failed

A song aimed at a religion and not necessarily at a single religion or is it to be taken literarily?  Well, according to various sources it is about the events surrounding the passing of James Hetfield's Mother and her refusal of cancer treatment due to religious beliefs.  For some people, it will be hard to see past the literal meaning of the words, but it has always been much deeper than that sort of song.  The riff is towering, the bass & drums are amazing and the solos are fantastic; for me, on an emotional and on a song level - this is the best song of the album and is another that can be overlooked for its famous brethren that have been played to dead in Metal clubs around the world.

11 - My Friend of Misery

A song that was originally conceived as an instrumental and only one of three songs to have a writing credits for Jason Newsted during his whole career, 'My Friend of Misery' is very close to being my favourite song of the album.  It has everything you could want from a Metallica song; it is moodier than a teenager in a huff, the lyrics are about an outside who has nothing but resentment for the world and the music is fantastic.  I would really like to hear an instrumental version of this song, it might change the song and to be honest, it could actually take it to a higher level. 

12 - The Struggle Within

Along with 'Don't Tread on Me' & 'My Friend of Misery', 'The Struggle Within' did not have its live debut until 2012 when Metallica completed a tour of Europe when they played the album in its entirety.  It is a strange song that seems to be tagged onto the end of the album and suffers from positioning.  It is an energy boosting song and it was probably put there after two darker numbers, it is all about the struggle that someone feels when anxiety is all consuming, so on that level I can see why it was placed there.  But it does feel like the weaker track of the lack quarter, also it is still better than 'Sad But True'.

I think that 'Metallica' has stood the test of times, it is an album that is worthy of the title 'classic' and is rightly hailed as one of their landmark records.  It is still second in line to 'Master of Puppets', anyone who says otherwise is a liar and I would not trust with anything.  The production by Bob Rock (which would eventually become a curse on later albums) was spot on for this record, the band used the negative energy that was part of their lives at the time and made something positive, towering and if we are being totally honest, something they have not been closer to beating - the last Metallica album that was pretty much universally liked and does not feel like a band having a fight with itself in a band way.  They are approaching that state again with 'Hardwired...To Self-Destruct', but it has been a long wait for something close.  I doubt very much that anyone who reads this will not have heard this album before, so it does have a certain 'preaching to the choir' feel to the review, but it is still a great album.  Also, as I have said all the way through this - 'Sad But True' sucks, plus it stops it from getting a perfect mark - so glad I got that one off my chest.

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

Top song - The God That Failed

You can purchase Metallica from Amazon here.

You can visit the Metallica website here.

You can follow the activities of Metallica on Facebook here.

You can stream Metallica on Spotify here.

You can stream Metallica on Deezer here.

You can stream Metallica on Tidal here.

29 January 2017

Amber Run - For A Moment, I Was Lost

Amber Run are a band from Nottingham, formed in 2012 and have had a blazing start to their career.  Playing Reading Festival on their fourth show, chased by record labels and finally signed and releasing their first album ‘5am’, all seemed to be heading towards a golden moment for them.  But everything was not as golden as they might have seemed; they were dropped by their former label RCA, their drummer at the time left without warning, the anxiety of the situation was causing health difficulties and their world looked as if it was falling apart.  For some bands, that would have been it and they could have easily have split up; but Amber Run decided to have a look at themselves, dusted themselves off and went for the second album.  They also decided to stop holding back, to discuss their own mental health issues and to lay it all on the line; that can be seen as either a brave move or setting yourself up for a fall.  Either way, it is one that the band are prepared to stand by and it is one that is also ready for reviewing – let us see how the album has turned out…..

01 – Insomniac

With a piano sound straight out of the 80’s and strangely familiar, ‘Insomniac’ does not linger on that introduction too long and it goes onto a tale of seeing an old friend who is cut off from the rest of the world and trying to understand what has went wrong to make this person want to give everything up.  It is a situation that I think a lot of people can relate to, I know I certainly have friends who would fit into that category.  Musically it is a cross between Catherine Wheel, Young Guns and Keane with no metal riffs added to the mix, a bit of pop indie mixed with some dark alternative indie to make a strong sound – but that piano riff it far too similar to other songs for comfort.

02 – No Answers

With a pulsing, reverb bass and a large slice of melancholy and denial, ‘No Answers’ has a lot of build and a strong tune that keeps it patience pace until the bridge when it all of sudden sounds like the patience’s level has been breached and all hell is unleashed.  Before the explosion, it was a calm and collective number; after the ran it still a bit polite and reserved in some ways to be honest.  But it does show that the band have claws and they will let their restraints go when required.  I really like it, it is an interesting number that improves with each listen.

03 – Island

A man who wants to be alone, but who also wants connections at the same time; a classic introvert situation and fully displayed on ‘Island’.    Musically there are some elements of Mogwai to the sound here, but it is an independent song that has its own style and clothes itself in some beautiful guitars, subtle bass, guiding synths in the background, a great drum performance (why are drummers not more celebrated???) and some great vocals.  It is a heart-breaking and conflicted number which would be a great choice to be released as a single from this album.

04 – Stranger

Comparing love to a stranger, someone who you do not recognise and at the same time is very familiar to you, this song keeps up the pace of the album which has not really deviated from that slow and melodic pace that has been the calling card of the first three songs (apart from the tension rip on ‘No Answers’) and whilst each has been performed very well (including this one), the album is starting to require a little piece of variation for my tastes.  A good song, but it there is a danger that the songs are starting to feel a little too similar here.

05 – Fickle Game

Well, they have decided to slow it down even further here, just as well it is beautifully crafted to be honest.  It is a game about wanting to make everything right and to stop the tit for tat lifestyle that has became part of a relationship and whilst it was once fun, now it is detrimental to the relationship.  As I stated at the beginning, this is a well-crafted, slow and good tune that does not remind me of ‘Wicked Game’ by Chris Issak what so ever.  However, slowing it down has not changed the dynamic of the album to be honest and whilst each song is individually good, it is not making for the happiest experience if we are honest – something that is obviously by design here.

06 – Haze

The half way point of this album is marked with a vocal effect drenched a Capella song that actually has an explosive point in the middle and it makes for a welcome break in proceedings.  I like it, it is a little short which actually works in its favour here.  A little change can help sometimes, this is a good example of this.

07 – White Lie

The smallest things can be your own undoing, the message of this song is that disaster is coming all around as the lethargic nature of the man does not want to change a thing.  There is rebellious undertone to the song, giving it an unexpected positive spin and it have that ‘X’ factor that saves a song of this nature from becoming an eye-rolling journey of self-loathing.  It is a song that lulls in places, but always for effect and not due to lack of momentum or talent.  It has a classic indie vibe with a modern production job, it is not trying to keep up with the trend hitters or be too respectful – it is a new direction with a nod to the past sound wise and I love that.

08 – Perfect

Even more contradiction to the inner workings of the man, now it is a hymn to wanting to be perfect and have karma on their side, it is a loud classic rock sound to this song.  It is a bust of energy that has been required in some ways for this album, it takes the album by the scruff of the neck and drags it towards the end with a trail of glory and loud hooks.  It sparkles on this record as it makes such a racket with a riff that sticks in your mind for such a long time afterwards, I love this song as it has so many layers and never fails to entertain – not saying the rest of the record is not entertaining, but this one is a song that I would release as a single.

09 – Dark Bloom

A song about feeling let down by a loved one, someone you have put on a pedestal and they are now leaving through the outdoor exit of your life.  Its moody and heart-breaking subject matter is drenched in black indie rock, harrowing vocal delivery and another shot of energy to this album (but not in the same way as ‘Perfect’ as it returns to the slower roots of the album).  The way it deals with that bitter ending of a relationship is done with craftsman precision and it sounds beautiful.

10 – Machine

The lightest of touches are used on this song; is it about them being spat out by the recording industry, is it about a relationship, is it about something else?  It is full of self-doubt and confusion, a simple guitar and keyboard track that makes for a dark drop of reality that is sometimes hard to take.  Not my favourite on the album, but still well performed none the less.

11 – Are We Home?

The penultimate song of the album is continuing the lost vibe of ‘Machine’, making the plea for companionship and connection.  It has a drone quality to the ending of the song, but for the most part it is gentle, empty space song that lets the words float in the void between the notes and take a centre stage as everything else is in a supportive role.  A gentle song as we head towards the album exit.

12 – Wastelands

The end track of this album ‘Wastelands’ is a slow burning song that takes its time as it heads towards end.  It begins with a slow pace that is in no hurry, why should it be as it is setting out the scene.  Patience is the virtue here as the song continues towards the ending, it is all build and it ends with a sound that sounds as if it is in flight and it is a wonderful piece of music; there is a sense of release and farewell here and it ends the album on such a high note, a depressing note to be honest, but one that is of such a high quality.

Ok, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first.  This band make The Smiths, Elbow, The Cure, The National and a depressed Johnny Cash sound as if they were recorded in glorious sunshine, cool drinks and good time flowing and the world is in a good place.  The mood is so dark and helpless here that it extends the album time on the soul in hours as it feels it went on a lot longer than the forty-six minutes it is in the world.  It is a contradiction in terms in places and it needs a bit of energy every now and then for my tastes.  However, it is also beautifully performed, the songs are memorable (if a little bit too introverted – again, by design) and I cannot find anything wrong with that as they are dealing with the fallout of everything falling apart.  Yes, it is their own way of processing everything that happened to them and to act as a cathartic experience for their issues that came after the events following the release of their last album, but I think that they have opened a Pandora’s box for themselves in a way as they are opening their souls up to criticism.  It is such a good album that even the bits that are too dark are shinning lights to me, which shows the quality that is on offer.  Albums sometimes need to be made for people when everything is coming down and they need a lonely companion in the middle of the night, this record is one of those albums for me.  I really like it, but I feel I need a stiff drink afterwards to break the mood.  Bleak and beautiful, approach with care and with something to comfort you afterwards.

8.5 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track – Perfect

You can pre-order For A Moment, I Was Lost on Amazon here.

You can visit the Amber Run website here.

You can follow the activities of Amber Run on Facebook here.

At the time of writing For A Moment, I Was Lost is not on Spotify; however,here is a link to their Spotify page so you can check out their other works – Iwill update this once it is released and on this service.

At the time of writing For A Moment, I Was Lost is not on Deezer; however, hereis a link to their Spotify page so you can check out their other works – I willupdate this once it is released and on this service.

At the time of writing For A Moment, I Was Lost is not on Tidal; however, hereis a link to their Spotify page so you can check out their other works – I willupdate this once it is released and on this service.

22 January 2017

L.A. Spring - Heart And Soul

Last year was a very good year for L.A. Spring, they formed in London and played their first few shows, released the charming 'Passerby' (Link to our review here) which in turn was used on the e4 TV show 'Made In Chelsea'.  Whatever you think of the show, for a brand new formed band to have their first single played on a National TV show is a very big deal in anyone’s book.  At the moment, they are being championed by BBC London, I have played them on my radio show 'Attention Please' in the North East of England and I know they are getting a lot of good press.  So now we are getting ready for song number two, the delightfully titled 'Heart And Soul'.  It is released on 27th January 2017 and the band were gracious enough to send me a copy to review.

With 'Heart And Soul', L.A. Spring have wisely not made a carbon copy of 'Passerby', a practice of trying to re-create their first single which is a trend that a lot of bands seem to do these days.  However, they have not created a song that is a thousand miles away from that first song.  The music of this melancholy number sounds like it is specifically composed for the dark hours after a night out and you are talking about everything and nothing at the same time.  It is the small conversations of the twilight that come together for me on this sound.  The party has been going on and the party is ending, the club is closing and people are having to move on.  It could have been written about the recent closure of Fabric or any other venue that you can care to think about in the UK and abroad.  It has a passion to the performance which shows commitment and talent.  I think this is a better song than 'Passerby' and I really loved that song and if they keep writing songs of this quality, I can see 2017 being a big year for L.A. Spring.

5 out of Five - I wish I had more ears to love this more
Top song - Only a one song release, so it is Heart And Soul.

You can visit the L.A. Spring website here, there is a game on the page where you can unlock Heart And Soul before its release on 27th January 2017.

You can follow the activities of L.A. Spring on Facebook here.

You can purchase Heart And Soul on Amazon here. 

You can stream Heart And Soul on Deezer here. 

You can stream Heart And Soul on Tidal here. 

You can stream Heart And Soul on Spotify here.

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