Category Archives: Genre

Obscene Entity – Lamentia (Review)

Obscene Entity - Lamentia (2015)
Obscene Entity – Lamentia (2015)

As Obscene Entity power into the climatic riff of the track Insanity Binds, someone shouts the word “fuck”. Now, normally that kind of posturing would have me rolling my eyes, thinking of Lars Ulrich. But the particular moment at which it is exclaimed, after the band have just powered through a veritable maelstrom of death metal riffs before returning successfully to the song’s main riff, it comes across as totally genuine. Even triumphant. You find yourself totally behind them. Fuck!

I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the joy of Obscene Entity’s debut album Lamentia.

Loosely based around the theme of mental fragility, this intense and heartfelt album pulls you down a rabbit hole of tortured death metal. The album starts off with the Gojira-fronted-by-Jeff Walker assault of Planetary Devastation. It’s a good, solid opener but the album kicks into another gear as Hymns of the Faithless veers from a dizzy, swirling riff midway through the track into a groovy, stop-start breakdown. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you gurn like Phil Anselmo. Listen to this on the bus at your peril.

Obscene Entity - now a four piece!
Obscene Entity – upgraded to a four-piece since Lamentia was completed

And from there on the album just seems to intensify, the band continually adding new elements and styles. The title track has a whirling dervish riff and ringing chords that bring to mind Emperor and Euphoric Vanity employs some guitar progginess in a wonderful Chuck Schuldiner vein. The twin vocals of guitarist Matt Adnett (also of Shrines) and bassist Calum Gibb keep things varied throughout: ranging from brute Behemoth growls to hoarse blackened snarls. But the top honours go to drummer Luke Braddick. For an album this vehement, it’s remarkably hooky and those hooks are powered and enhanced by Luke’s dynamic and tasteful playing. Throughout, the band plays a modern style but has a classic sensibility and chemistry: constantly reining themselves in, allowing space for all the parts to have maximum effect. This quality, aided by the powerfully clear production from Dan Abela, only adds to the album’s power and intensity.

There are a lot of approaches and influences on Lamentia and my only concern is that the band haven’t quite found their unique voice yet. But it’s never derivative and the prospect of the band developing and finding that voice on future releases is tantalising. But until then, there’s plenty to enjoy and gurn at in Lamentia. It’s unreconstructed death metal performed with remarkable skill, piss and vinegar. Expect to see this in my end-of-year Top Ten, it’s a fantastic debut. Fuck!

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Def Leppard – Def Leppard (Review)

Def Leppard - Def Leppard (2015)
Def Leppard – Def Leppard (2015)

New Def Leppard albums will always be stacked up against Hysteria, the last and most successful album of their classic era. Every subsequent release reliably trotted out as “their best since Hysteria“. But it’s been 28 years since that album and Def Leppard’s career has been hit-and-miss ever since. Without the hard-edged chemistry they enjoyed with the late Steve Clark as their guitarist they’ve been unable to satisfactorily turn the clock back to their classic era and any attempt to progress and achieve a crossover success by introducing contemporary influences has had mixed results and a mixed reception. Their new self-titled album finds them employing various approaches taken from throughout their long career and, like that career, it’s diverse and patchy.

Let’s Go and Dangerous kick the album off in an enjoyably classic Lep vein but they’re basically reheats of Pour Some Sugar on Me and Photograph respectively. Neither possessing the fresh spark or originality of the source material. Then the band pay homage to best-forgotten eras of their career too. Man Enough reworks Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust in such an un-sexy way that it brings to mind the horror of Euphoria‘s All Night. And even their career-nadir X is represented by the insipid ballad We Belong and the boy-band pish of Energized. The latter is quite possibly the worst song of their entire career.

The fan pack. Something to read while you pretend side one never happened.
The fan pack. Something to read while you pretend side one never happened.

But anyone loyal enough to stick out the diminishing returns of the album’s first half is rewarded as the album improves in its second half. All Time High and Broke N’ Brokenhearted prove that the band’s dumb-but-fun rock is still not out of the question. But it’s the more serious, moody tracks that are the real winners here. Wings of an Angel is an excellent slice of layered drama. Easily the best song on Def Leppard. And there’s a welcome return to the adventurous feel of the Slang era too with the excellent, moreish Forever Young and the “Lep do Zep” of Battle of my Own.

Sadly, the album’s indian summer isn’t enough to undo the, often embarrassingly bad, first half. With tracks three to seven removed you’d have the makings of a decent Def Leppard album here. But even then, it would still just be solid. There’s nothing here that the band, or other bands, haven’t done before and better. There’s no shame in a classic act relying on past glories but to do so with so little fire and edge is unforgivable. Disappointing.

Australasia – Notturno (Review)

Australasia - Notturno (2015)
Australasia – Notturno (2015)

As the great philosopher-poet Paul Stanley once said: I think the daytime is a fine time… but the night-time is the right time! Australasia seem to agree. As you can maybe gather from the title Notturno, this album has something of the night about it. An almost entirely instrumental project led by multi-instrumentalist Gian Spalluto, it’s an evocative musical journey through the wee small hours.

A nocturnal quality isn’t exactly new in my listening but the music on Notturno is unusual in that it tries to evoke and express the nocturnal world of nature and the beauty of the night. It succeeds. There’s plenty of ghostly ambience and shimmering, starry synths but the album predominantly uses a tapestry of layered, distorted guitars which are often gothic sounding or employ black-metal tremolo techniques to add to the haunting, moonlit vibe. The layers are often discordant too, which helps evoke the scurrying, chirping denizens of the dark: most notably, and appropriately, in Creature. There’s a lot of tension and release too as these discordant passages often resolve into sweeter, harmonic areas to uplifting effect. It’s a technique that’s tempting to overuse but Spalluto wisely keeps all these tracks flowing and shifting into different styles and moods rather than relying on the constant epic build. Invisible is the only track here that does keep building, the climatic vocals (the only singing on the album) tipping it over into cloying territory.

Gian Spalluto
Gian Spalluto

But songs like Eden and Amnesia keep the balance just right, adding enough grit and driving momentum to avoid becoming too saccharine and Kern brings to mind Judgement-era Anathema, another band that skirt skilfully on the edge of mawkishness. The album is cohesive and well-paced, rarely outstaying its welcome and holds your interest remarkably well for a predominantly instrumental record. As the beautiful, nostalgic piano of the title track plays you out it’s hard to believe 40 minutes have passed. Notturno has added a welcome variety of colour and mood to my listening and is one of my favourite discoveries of the year. The night-time really is the right time.

Saxon – BBC in Concert (23rd August 1986 – Review)


Only a year had passed since Saxon’s 1985 Hammersmith show was broadcast on BBC Radio but Saxon invaded the UK’s airwaves yet again as their headlining slot at 1986’s Reading Festival was recorded for broadcast on the BBC Friday Rock Show. The band were touring to promote the imminent release of the Rock the Nations album  and, while that patchy album found them losing their Midas touch in the studio, on BBC in Concert (23rd August 1986) it sounds like they were losing none of their knack as a live act.

Sadly, the BBC didn’t air the whole set and cherry-picked just 9 songs for broadcast. Much of the broadcast has since been available on Saxon’s BBC Sessions album but this album download (available on Amazon/iTunes etc…) now presents the complete 9 song, 51 min broadcast as it was originally aired. It’s fairly heavy on the classic material and if you didn’t know what year it was from you could be forgiven for thinking this was the band in their NWOBHM pomp. Only two new songs give the game away: an excellent version of Rock the Nations that fits right in with the older material and a performance of Waiting for the Night which… doesn’t. It’s actually a pretty good version of the track but its pop rock breaks the spell cast by glorious versions of metal powerhouses like 747 (Strangers in the Night) and Wheels of Steel. On the bonus side it’s the song here that gets played least often so it’s good to hear and own a live version of it.

A bit of a mixed bag then!
A bit of a mixed bag then!

That one hiccup aside, the rest of the performance is impressive. The band is on winning form and the crowd sound like they’re lapping it all right up. While new bassist Paul Johnson didn’t command the stage like Steve Dawson he acquits himself well musically. Never Surrender and 20,000ft give the classic The Eagle Has Landed live album versions a run for their money and an excellent Strong Arm of the Law climaxes with a wailing Graham Oliver solo (with some Sabs and Hendrix thrown in for good measure). The real highlight, though, is a captivating The Eagle Has Landed which puts its studio counterpart firmly in the shade.

The vintage quality of this performance must have been heartening stuff for fans troubled by the recent studio albums but any hopes for a return to form would soon be dashed. The Rock the Nations album proved disappointing and, frustrated by the way the band was being managed, Nigel Glockler would leave the band at the end of the tour to join GTR. And Saxon’s next, and last, studio album for EMI would be a desparate gamble that would test the patience and loyalty of their fans more than any other yet.

[Saxon – Waiting for the Night Live at Reading]

Shrines – Shrines (Review)

Shrines - Shrines (2015)
Shrines – Shrines (2015)

It’s the band’s first album but Shrines already has a lot to live up to. Vocalist and guitarist Sam Loynes is also a member of Voices who last year released London – not only the HMO Top Album of 2014 but also the best album to have happened so far this decade.

Shrines’ music is a different beast from Voices and even if their debut doesn’t quite pull itself out of London‘s shadow it shows considerable promise. Blackened tremolo guitars and deathly Morbid Angel riffing weaves seamlessly with spacey prog and Gojira-esque technicality to dreamy effect. The musicians handle the shifting flow of styles with aplomb: Daniel Blackmore’s precise drumming holds everything together while the guitars are crisp and tight. But the album is at its dreamiest with the clean, harmonised vocals of Loynes. They have a beautiful, tremulous and choral quality. While there are long instrumental passages and also gruffer vocals, it’s the clean vocal delivery on tracks like Ariadne’s Thread, The Drowned and the Saved and Broken Man that are the emotional heart of the album and the parts that resonate after listening and draw you back.

Sadly, the current economic climate meant the band could only afford one jacket
Sadly, the current economic climate meant the band could only afford one jacket

I’d have liked to have heard more of the clean vocals, but they do mix well with the growlier parts. It’s no obvious “nice bit/heavy bit” alternation; the whole album threads and winds through its various approaches subtly and magically. But the variation and my preference for the clean vocals does mean some songs are more affecting than others.

Rather like The Antichrist Imperium debut earlier in the year (also featuring Loynes), Shrines is one of the best things I’ve heard in 2015 but it’s not as startling or as fully-realised as London. But neither was Voices’ debut album. This is a strong and captivating debut and I’ll be very keen to hear what Shrines come up with next.

Saxon – Rock the Nations (Review)

Saxon - Rock the Nations (1986)
Saxon – Rock the Nations (1986)

Saxon had aimed for the big time with the slick, streamlined Innocence Is No Excuse but fell short. The band put on a positive face, pointing to their improved US chart placings and successful tour but the album was basically an expensive flop. So for their follow-up, 1986’s Rock the Nations, Saxon went back to basics and recorded quickly and cheaply with producer Gary Lyons. Minus departed bassist Steve Dawson, vocalist Biff Byford took on the bass-playing duties for the recording of the album.* It would be the first and only Saxon album recorded by a four-piece.

Well, except the songs that have got Elton John playing on them.

I’ll give you a little moment here to let that sink in.

Rock the Nations sees the band return to a harder, grittier sound but there’s still a bit of radio-friendly finesse. It has a strong, muscular production much in the same vein as their classic Power & The Glory album. The opening title-track gets things off to a great start with its bold, blocky riffing and gruff vocals and the next track Battle Cry is even better, a strident true metal belter. Byford’s vocals are astonishingly passionate and gutsy, the arena-ready main riff is absolutely inspired simplicity and the rhythm section is flawless and propulsive. It’s a bloody triumph. But any hopes for a return to the band’s “classic trilogy” heyday are dashed as the band fail to maintain this fighting form for much longer.

2015-08-28 12.10.53

Waiting For The Night is a catchy, personable AOR track. It’s one of those coulda-shoulda-been hits but it’s poorly positioned and fares badly coming hot on the heels of the bulging, anthemic Battle Cry. Elsewhere, tracks like Running Hot and You Ain’t No Angel are well-performed but forgettable Sunset Strip rockers (and the spoken word part on the latter is a low point). We Came Here to Rock overcomes its clichéd chorus with lively verses and Empty Promises is a pleasingly sultry slow-burner that gets lost on the album due to being sandwiched between “those” two songs. You know… the ones with him on them.

Yep, in the oddest pairing since Billy Joel guested on Exodus’ Bonded By Blood album**, Elton John was recording nearby and ended up tinkling the ivories on two of Saxon’s new tracks. You can probably guess from the titles that neither of these songs are particularly sophisticated. Party Til You Puke is a loose, fun Rock n’ Roll jam but the jokey lyrics and vocals are painfully unfunny and sink the song. And Northern Lady is uninspired, lazy balladry. If you’re going to write a passionate ode to your great love, you’d like to think you could think of a better way to describe her than just “Northern” surely? Just me?

Ultimately, Rock the Nations is Saxon putting on a brave face at a difficult time but their spirit is weak. The album starts off sublime and loses focus, direction and steam as it progresses. It’s not a bad record, it has some brilliant songs and a loose, fun quality about it, but it is a frustrating one. And, following Crusader and Innocence Is No Excuse, Saxon needed to do better than release another patchy underdog effort. Their next album would need to be much better or their days as a major-label act would be seriously numbered.

*During the recording Saxon would audition and hire Paul Johnson as their new bass player. He would be credited on the album sleeve as the bassist on Rock the Nations but he doesn’t play a note here.

**OK, I made that one up.

Mah copy
Mah copy

PaRtY-CaNnOn – Bong Hit Hospitalisation (Review)

...and representing Scotland...
One of these bands is doing its own thing

I have to declare my pro PaRtY-CaNnOn bias straight away. Ever since seeing the above poster online, I’ve felt an immense level of pride in these fellow Scots. But with the release of their debut full-length album Bong Hit Hospitalisation, the time has come for me to finally put my love of this band to the ultimate test: actually listening to their music.

It turns out that PaRtY-CaNnOn play ‘Party Slam Death Metal’. They are the greatest (and I’m guessing the only) practitioners of this musical genre. You couldn’t be blamed for thinking this is all some kind of piss-take but the Dunfermline…(ers? Dunfermlonians?) are smart enough to let their sense of fun infuse their music with a sense of personality and liveliness rather than letting it become a comedy record.

Bong Hit Hospitalisation (2015)
Bong Hit Hospitalisation (2015)

The production is fantastic, a great combination of technical and filthy with considerable heft and great separation between the instruments: the noodly bass and biscuit-tin drums are a joy. The band deliver at blasting speed alternated with seismic, lurching riffing and keep the album well-paced, continually catching you unaware with excellent and diverse moments like the cosmic Cynic-style bass solo in There’s a Reason You’re Single and the deft guitar solo that sees out Screech Even Sold His Body to Science. Stony Reddie’s alternately guttural and squealy vocals are powerful, varied and rhythmic enough to carry the songs without requiring any melody. And his delivery is often amusing too, like the pig-snorting climax of Interested Is Not the Word.

The main moments of mirth are kept to the inter-song samples but don’t interfere with or detract from the band’s main business of seriously brutal Death Metal. Quite the opposite: they only add to the sense of chaotic hedonism and even serve a useful function in helping to pace out the record and offer brief breathers from the carnage. And I had no idea you could do that with a grapefruit.

Bong Hit Hospitalisation is one of the most refreshing Extreme Metal albums I’ve heard in a good while. It’s surprisingly catchy and tons of fun, delivered by a band canny and talented enough to ensure there’s some serious substance underneath all the rib-tickling. I love hearing such genuinely extreme music performed with this kind of wit and personality and PaRtY-CaNnOn are one of my most pleasant discoveries of 2015. Them and the grapefruit thing.



**Many thanks for FullBlast!PR for the promo copy**

Saxon – BBC In Concert (18th September 1985 – Review)


“Did you listen to the radio every Friday night?” asked Saxon in their classic track Denim and Leather. If you did back in the 80s you might have heard this excellent live recording of Saxon’s show at the Hammersmith Odeon. Broadcast on Radio 1’s Friday Rock Show, BBC In Concert (18th September 1985) captures a difficult and interesting time in Saxon’s career as they toured to promote their controversial new album Innocence Is No Excuse.

Only a selection of the concert’s songs were broadcast so only four Innocence tracks appear here. Of those, Broken Heroes and Devil Rides Out fare best in the live setting, sitting comfortably alongside the band’s established repertoire. However, the moody Rockin’ Again is badly placed and struggles as the first encore tune. And while the catchy and upbeat Back on the Streets kicks off the broadcast well, its worth is put into question by the absolutely spine-tingling performance of Dallas 1PM that follows it.

On one hand the Innocence era tracks weaken the set but their lesser-heard nature adds to the interest for long-time Saxon fans. The rest of the broadcast is taken up by their radio-friendly classics which, with the possible exception of a tired-sounding Strong Arm of the Law, sound fresh and lively. Some of the performances here are exciting enough to make you feel like you’re hearing these songs for the first time. The versions of Dallas 1PM and Power and the Glory might be the best I’ve heard yet and older material like Wheels of Steel and Princess of the Night serve as strong reminders that this is the same band that recorded The Eagle Has Landed three years previously.

Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson
Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson

But they wouldn’t be for much longer. This would be the band’s last tour with bassist Steve Dawson. Disagreements with the band and management saw him fired before sessions began for their next studio album. It was a risky decision: Steve’s playing, performance and writing had played a crucial role in the band’s career and success.

But the problems behind the scenes are not evident in this live recording. It’s not an essential purchase but Saxon devotees are sure to get a good kick out of this. It’s an exciting and atmospheric time capsule of classic 80s Saxon out to prove their worth at a challenging time in their career. They certainly seem to have won over Hammersmith on 18th September 1985 but, with a key member gone and a couple of spotty studio albums behind them, the challenging times would continue.

This recording is available as part of the EMI Years [1985-1988] box set and also available separately as a download through iTunes, Amazon etc…

[Saxon – Back on the Streets live at Hammermith]

Saxon's Emi Years 1985 - 1988 Box
Saxon’s Emi Years 1985 – 1988 Box

Armored Saint – Win Hands Down (Review)

Armored Saint - Win Hands Down (2015)
Armored Saint – Win Hands Down (2015)

It’s very exciting to have new music from Armored Saint. There’s a great deal of chemistry and talent in the ranks and John Bush’s superior voice is always a draw. I’d like to see them do well and get the credit they deserve and, with their seventh album Win Hands Down, they seem to be getting some long overdue sales and recognition.

2015-07-05 12.34.23

Initial spins were very exciting. There’s a real feeling of Rock history running through the whole thing. There are hints of Thrash, Alternative, burly Classic Rock groove and inventive Prog Rock twists and turns. The variation adding exciting colour to the band’s time-honoured muscular, melodic Metal. It’s the sound of a vintage band aging well. Win Hands Down opens the album with one of their best songs to date, a superb driving Rocker. And Mess is steely, massive and skilfully arranged. Armored Saint sound like they’re giving it their all. John Bush, in particular, is on peak form. No mean feat considering his track record.

But the Saints don’t totally conquer. The album hits a lull in its second half. With A Full Head of Steam and In An Instant are both curiously forgettable and the sultry Dive, although good, isn’t the kind of song to set things back on track. Some of the better songs are hobbled by weak lyrics too. They’re aiming for the raconteur character of lyricists like Lynott or Mogg but they don’t have the same skill or personality and end up hitting out with clumsy, cringe-inducing lines like “I even gave you your own unique rriinngg” and “He never killed anyone but he hurt somebody’s feelings once”. Even Bush’s can-sing-the-phone-book voice can’t save songs from clunkers like that.

Ultimately Win Hands Down is solid and well-performed but forgettable. If you don’t mind the wise-cracking lyrical personality of the album you might find plenty to enjoy here but it fails to connect emotionally with me. With repeat listens I’ve found myself losing interest in the album which is a shame as a few songs find the band at their very best. Plenty of people seem to be enjoying it more than me so I’m pleased for the band and their success. I just wish I had been more won over by it. Hopefully they can deliver something more up my street next time.

Saxon – Innocence Is No Excuse (Review)

Saxon - Innocence Is No Excuse (1985)
Saxon – Innocence Is No Excuse (1985)

Innocence Is No Excuse was Saxon’s major-label debut, their first album under EMI/Parlophone. The band had left their indie label Carrere acrimoniously, suing over unpaid royalties. The case took months but meant vocalist Biff Byford and bassist Steve Dawson had plenty of time to prepare new Saxon material. Their last album Crusader had been a patchy, tired effort and, with contemporaries like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard leaving them in the dust, they would have to do better.

Produced by Simon Hanhart, 1985’s Innocence was a more cohesive and consistent album than its predecessor but it was also a controversial reinvention of the band’s style. It has a very commercial sound: smooth chorused guitars, gated drums and extra keyboards. And the band put a pop-metal spin on their material too. The opening track, the moody and windswept Rockin’ Again sets the stall out clearly: this is not going to be your typical Saxon album. With Byford and Dawson hogging the writing chores, the focus is firmly on melodies and anthems with very little guitar-riffing Heavy Metal Thunder. The more radio-friendly side of the band, demonstrated on previous songs like the power ballad Nightmare and simplistic singalong rockers like Just Let Me Rock, dominates here. The lyrics are simpler too. There are no songs about transportation: this band just wants to rock, shout, rock and shout again.

The coulda-shoulda-been hits
The coulda-shoulda-been hits

The focus on hooks and melodic anthems results in impressive coulda-shoulda-been-hits like Back on the Streets and Rock N Roll Gypsy but means there’s a lack of variety in style and dynamics in the album overall. Call of the Wild and Devil Rides Out stand out with some rare money riffs from guitarists Quinn and Oliver. Gonna Shout and Everybody Up are pleasingly dumb energetic crowd-participation numbers. While Saxon’s take on poppier material tended to sound limp on previous albums, here they sound bold and confident in their direction.

None of the songs are bolder or more confident than the Side 2 opener Broken Heroes. An elegiac ode to history’s war fallen, it’s the only true Saxon classic here, combining tragic sadness with fist-clenching pomp to sublime effect. It’s a triumph and, like Crusader on the album before, the best song on here by a mile. That both Crusader and Innocence… are most successful in their lone epic boy’s-own moments indicates that Saxon were losing sight of the blokey grit, depth and heart that were important parts of their charm.

With their major label behind the album, Saxon enjoyed their highest US chart placing yet and bagged some MTV exposure but found themselves falling out of favour in the UK. A narrative took hold that they were trying too hard to crack America. Ultimately, on both sides of the Atlantic, the glossy sheen and perceived lack of integrity would make Innocence Is No Excuse a forbidden fruit in the Saxon catalogue. But if you fancy some cheese with your apple, it’s worth taking a bite out of this one. It’s an underdog pleasure. Saxon were too talented to put out a total dud and their talent is still very much in evidence here, if misdirected. By the time the next record arrived, there would be one less talent in the band.

Mah copy - never quite sure if she was eating the apple or just dribbling on it
Mah copy – never quite sure if she was eating the apple or just dribbling on it