Category Archives: Progressive Rock

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos (2017)

Avatarium were originally devised as a combination of crushing doom and 70s prog. But on their third album Hurricanes and Halos there’s very little doom left at all; the focus is now firmly on retro rock stylings of swirling Hammond organ and sultry psychedelia.

Into The Fire/Into The Storm is a bold opener that makes full use of Jennie-Ann Smith’s forceful, dramatic lung power and The Starless Sleep is a wonderful mix of dark fable and summery 60s pop. But there’s a sense of diminishing returns on album number three. Although it’s one of the doomier tracks, Medusa Child is overlong with cheesy child vocals. And the breezy, bluesy When Breath Turns To Air and the closing instrumental parp of the title track barely register. The album’s uneven second half is saved by the stomping Uriah Heep worship of The Sky At The Bottom Of The Sea and the ominous beauty of A Kiss (From The End Of The World), one of the band’s best tunes to date.

It’s another strong effort from the Swedes but it finds them veering away from my own taste. As the band dial down the doom I find myself less engaged. But the band’s charismatic and summery take on classic 70s rock will win them more fans and appreciation than they lose. And those listeners may well find this the band’s most accessible and enjoyable album so far.

HMO Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Scorpions – In Trance

Original cover image – with boob!

In Trance was the Scorpions’ third album, their first of many with producer Dieter Dierks and their first proper hard rocker. But we’re still back in the Uli Roth years here so there’s a strange mix of styles and moods. There are real driving, hard-hitters like Dark Lady and Top Of The Bill but there are also many songs like Life’s Like A River and Living And Dying that are mystical, almost-psychedelic and loaded with melancholy. Two different kinds of heavy, basically. Scorpions’ circa 1975 show off a complex mix of styles and influences: Uli Roth’s post-Hendrix, pre-Malmsteen guitar mastery; the mellow wistfulness of UFO’s Phenomenon; the epic scope, bludgeon and layered vocal harmonies of Uriah Heep and Queen and a distinctly European/power metal vibe. The combination of Rudolf Schenker’s granite riffs and Uli Roth’s scorching leads create real sparks and edge that never appeared in other incarnations of the band. There’s so just so much to love here and tracks like the bombastic pomp-rocker In Trance and the bonkers cyber-metaller Robot Man just never get old. The Scorpions would score big later with a simpler, streamlined metal style so this strange and formative early effort isn’t in the hallmark Scorps style but it is one of their best and the album, and era, I return to the most. By a long way. And that’s why it’s the first of the Germans’ albums to make it into the HMO Hall Of Fame.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

[Scorpions – Robot Man]

My copy – paired with the also-incredible Virgin Killer

 

Rainbow – Live at Glasgow Hydro 2017

I finally made the sacred pilgrimage to see The World’s Greatest Guitarist®. My expectations had been lowered after seeing the enjoyable but sluggish Memories In Rock footage and then hearing the banal single released a few weeks back but… Ritchie F. Blackmore! It was incredibly exciting to know I was finally going to, not just see him play live, but see him play rock.

The band’s recent recording of Land Of Hope And Glory played over the PA before the “we must be over the rainbow” sample heralded the band’s arrival on stage. Opening with HMO fave Spotlight Kid rather than Highway Star was a good move. Blackmore played tentatively and awkwardly but come the closing outro of the next song I Surrender he was warming up. He was taking some shortcuts in his lead and rhythm playing throughout the night but given his age (and arthritis?) it’s unfair to expect the intensity of his youth. He still played well and had that mercurial, unique quality. It was great to hear his instantly recognisable guitar voice in person.

Sorry, didn’t take any photos but this YouTube still from the O2 show is similar to the view I had.

The band was good too. A definite improvement on the 2016 footage/recordings with a much more convincing performance from the rhythm section in particular. Ronnie Romero was in superb voice and an entertaining, personable frontman. He suits some songs more than others but he was impressive all night. He’s a huge talent and a great find.

My only quibbles were an interminably long keyboard solo and some overly shrill shrieking in Child In Time, a song I can’t be arsed with at the best of times anyway. And, although it’s good to hear Blackmore playing them, I wasn’t too fussed about hearing other Purple stuff like Black Night and Smoke On The Water either. That said, some of the sets best moments came from the Purple albums: a stunning version of Burn and a very moving Soldier Of Fortune. The Rainbow selections were similar to previous shows with the welcome addition of I Surrender, All Night Long and a hugely unexpected and wonderful Temple Of The King. But the mighty Stargazer remains the absolute standout track of the set: epic metal bliss delivered with deadly conviction by Romero. Goosebumps.

Ultimately, I went to see a guitarist whose music and playing I have obsessed over for years. And I was not disappointed. In fact, I was often thrilled and excited. That’s pretty good going. Age and arthritis be damned, Blackmore is still the man.

Luckily, my friend Jo is better at taking photos than I am

New Akercocke Album Renaissance In Extremis Due In August

The return of eccentric extremists Akercocke in 2016 had me praising Satan like nobody’s business. Their new song Inner Sanctum was wonderful and I had a great time finally catching them live in Manchester.

Now they’ve announced the details of their upcoming new album Renaissance In Extremis and revealed the song Disappear that will open the highly-anticipated comebAK album.

It’s great stuff. Not as immediate as Inner Sanctum but it’s a tantalising taster for the album and proves that the band still has the knack for twisty-turny progressive death metal madness. Better yet, the pre-orders are up at Peaceville Records and the album will be available in a 3CD deluxe 60-page hardback with two bonus discs of rare recordings, demos, live tracks, cover versions and more!

Exciting news. The album is out on 25th August and promises to be a musical highlight of 2017. Hail Lucifer!

CD Haul: Danzig, Avatarium, Sólstafir and more!

Friday was a big new release day with a few new albums I’ve been looking forward to… so I had a bit of a buying extravaganza!

First up was the new Danzig album Black Laden Crown. I’ve been reading quite a lot of people talking about how “surprisingly good” this one is. Well, given that Deth Red Sabaoth was excellent, I’m one of the few people that thought Skeletons was good fun and… it’s GLENN F. DANZIG(!) I can’t say I’m all that surprised that this is good. The only thing that was causing me any doubt was the rather shite artwork. And even then, I’ve grown mysteriously fond of the fiery John Travolta on the back. Anyway, this is dark, moody and doomy with some killer grooves and riffs. Surprisingly good!

Next up, the new Avatarium album Hurricanes And Halos. This band has become a modern favourite of mine and, although it’s not fully sunk in yet, this album sounds like an interesting progression of their style. They’ve now dropped pretty much all of the Dehumanizer heft of the debut and gone full Uriah Heep, with tons of driving Hammond, heavy psychedelia and eeeasy livin’. Loads of stellar playing topped off with Jennie-Ann Smith’s wonderful voice.

I headed back from the record store happy and then remembered that the new Sólstafir album Berdreyminn was out too. So, I immediately rushed back out to Fopp to pick that up! It’s a lovely box set with umm… trinkets… and (more importantly) bonus tracks. It sounds like it’s going to be another winner from them, although it’ll take a few listens to fully reveal itself. Seems a bit more rocking than Ótta but still sweeping and lush. Not totally grabbing me yet though, more listens required.

While we’re on the subject of new arrivals I had a couple of cool releases delivered just a couple of days ago too. Hear No Evil have put out this new expanded remaster of the last (for now anyway) Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow album Stranger In Us All. This has always been a big gap in the collection so it’s great to finally have a copy.

And I also got this very exciting new Tygers Of Pan Tang box set The MCA Years which features the band’s NWOBHM-era albums (two of which star Thin Lizzy/Whitesnake axe legend John Sykes) and a bonus disc/booklet too. I’ve got a few albums on vinyl already but it’s nice to get the rest of the bands old albums. And there’s plenty of extra tracks and BBC stuff here to sweeten the deal. Caroline and Cherry Red both seem to have had the same idea to box up old NWOBHM albums lately. I heartily approve. Here are all the ones I’ve bought so far (I think this is all of them so far but let me know if I’ve missed any. They seem to be coming thick and fast!)

NWOBHM Galore! All the box sets I’ve picked up so far.

Well, that’s the lot. This was a great week of buying for me with three albums here that could all realistically appear on my AOTY list. I’m off to do some listening!

New Releases – 7th April 2017

Good news! It’s new release day… and there’s a metric shit-ton of amazing stuff out today.

Deep Purple – InFinite

The legendary rockers return with the follow-up to the well-received Now What?! The Purps are one of my favourite bands, but I can’t say I’ve had much use for any of their albums since Purpendicular. That said, I’ve still bought them all so I might as well just keep going. The bonus documentary does look pretty enlightening though so that’s a temptation. There’s also a big box version with the second volume of the Now What Live Tapes and the usual deluxe bits and bobs too. But I reckon I’ll just hold my horses until I can get a cheap copy.

The Obsessed – Sacred

Here’s another legendary band, the Wino-led doom metallers hitting the comeback trail with this exciting new album. This is such a slam-dunk that I didn’t even want to hear any of the songs in advance, just wait till I have the whole album. But then curiosity got the better of me and I had a wee listen to Punk Crusher. I say “wee” because, after 30 seconds I just thought “fuck yes, that’ll do” and switched it off. Looks like the deluxe 2LP vinyl edition is the one to go for, featuring three bonus tunes.

The Doomsday Kingdom – The Doomsday Kingdom

More doom as Candlemass main-dude Leif Edling releases the debut album from his latest project. I was pretty impressed by the previous demo EP so this is another no-brainer. Again, I’ve avoided listening to any advance tracks. I know I’m going to buy this so why spoil the surprise? I’m hoping that this album is going to tickle the epic doom parts that the last few Candlemass releases failed to reach.

Bernie Tormé – Dublin Cowboy

I posted about the pledge of this a while back. If you pledged you’ll already been treated to the full triple album but the tardy among you can now buy the 3CD set the normal way! And you really should. Stonesy, punky, bluesy goodness with Bernie’s inimitable guitar lashing on the first disc, evocative fireside folkiness on the acoustic disc and a live disc too! Should be available at his Bandcamp page too.

Possession – Exorkizein

Here’s this week’s top tip for lovers of proper infernal extreme metal. This Belgian band has already released a demo and a mini-album and both releases were truly exciting, if frustratingly short. There’s been a bit of a personnel shuffle since those earlier releases but, based on what I’ve heard so far, this sounds like it’s going to be a malevolent mix of black, death and doom from a band to watch.

Demon Head – Thunder On The Fields

This band has been a recent discovery for me. I’ve been enjoying their last album Ride The Wilderness a lot and looking forward to this follow-up. Demon Head play humongously catchy occult rock with awesome Danzig-y vocals and a refreshingly clean, vintage sound. Not sure what the distribution is going to be like though so the best bet might be to check out the band’s Bandcamp page.

Royal Thunder – Wick

A lot of fuss was made over this band’s last release Crooked Doors but I wasn’t really feeling it. I really liked one song but when I tried the whole album it just didn’t grab me. Now I’ve checked out their new song April Showers and liked it a lot, brilliant melodies, sound and vocals, so I’m going to give them another go and I hope they click with me this time. I’ll try before I buy though, just in case.

Elsewhere, Ulver release The Assassination Of Julius Caesar. I know lots of folk love this band but I’ve not been all that enamoured with their latter-day stuff. I’m sure this release will be very welcome news to lots of you though. Instrumental post-whatever band Russian Circles release Live at Dunk! Fest 2016. I heard their last studio album playing in Fopp a few times and it sounded pretty decent. I keep meaning to check them out but I doubt I’d start here though. Trad-metallers Trial release Motherless on Metal Blade. Their last album got lots of praise but I don’t really hear the appeal myself, can’t get on with the vocals at all. UK death-metallers Basement Torture Killings’ second album There’s Something About Beryl should definitely appeal to fans of gore, death, grind and serial killers. That’s most people, right? And last, but certainly not least, Ghost Horizon release their new EP The Erotics Of Disgust. Bit wary of post-black metal but this looks fairly intriguing. And as an added bonus it’s got a cool title and an awesome Gustav Dore cover. Well played.

And that’s all the releases that stand out for me. Very varied selection today, there’s surely something here for everyone! Let me know if there’s anything I’ve not mentioned that you have your evil eye on. Until next week… happy hunting.

(I’m not going to be continuing with the weekly album cover polls anymore but, if you were enjoying that, please don’t be alarmed! Just shoot the shit about your favourites in the comments and at the end of the month I’m going to compile the covers that have got the most attention and do a “Best Album Cover of the Month” instead.)

New Releases – 31st March 2017

Apologies for the slightly late posting but it’s still Friday, and you know what that means… new releases! And quite a bit of them so I’m just going to fire through these.

Mastodon – Emperor Of Sand

Obviously a big release but, cards on the table, I’ve not been a fan of the last couple of Mastodon releases. I was initially intrigued by the return of producer Brendan O’Brien and the return to the Crack The Skye-style concept. But the three tracks I’ve heard haven’t really got me going. I liked Sultan’s Curse but the other two just reminded me of The Hunter. If you’re still a Mastodon fan though, you’ll be excited about this… and rightly so! No particular format variances but I think I saw some vinyl editions that came with a colouring-in set? Genius!

Gruesome – Fragments Of Psyche EP

Gruesome continue their musical homages to the late, great Chuck Schuldiner. On the title track of this EP it looks like the might be moving away from the Leprosy-worship to take a crack at the Human-era. And they’ve even recruited ex-Death/Cynic drummer Sean Reinert to help them out too. Throw in a Death cover and a bunch of old demos and you’ve got the makings of a pretty worthwhile and fun EP. My pick of the week for sure.

Voivod – Build Your Weapons: The Very Best Of The Noise Years

A good chunk of the band’s Noise output assembled across two discs and a decent taster if you just fancy dipping your toes into their early catalogue. I’m more excited about the upcoming reissues but I might just grab this anyway just to get into the spirit. And I want to encourage more of these Noise reissues… there’s a back catalogue to die for there so vote with your cash to get the kind of releases you want and deserve!

Necroblood – The Collapse Of The Human Race

Evil death metal debut album from France. Hearing very good things about this one and, if the cover’s anything to go by, this should be terrifying enough to appeal to black metal fans too. It’s all about Be’elzebub so it doesn’t get much blacker than that, eh? Sounds like it’ll be right up my diabolical street.

Other big(ish) releases today include Arch Enemy’s live at Wacken set As The Stages Burn! which seems to be either a CD/DVD, 2LP/DVD or a CD/DVD/BR/POPUPBOOK. Metal. I had no idea Demon Hunter were so popular, so their latest album Outlive should be good news to someone. Do like the art but the music’s a bit too nu-metal for me. And there’s also some topical rap-metal on offer today, as IceT returns with Body Count’s Bloodlust, an album he claims will be the best of 2017 across all musical genres. Should be a must-buy then… unless he’s just talking out of his arse. Go buy it and then let me know would you?

If you’ve been enjoying the recent rethrash album from Power Trip and Havok and want to keep moshing, you might want to try Warbringer’s Woe To The Vanquished. I wasn’t too fussed about the new track Remain Violent though, apart from the excellent solos. The now-defunct Isis release Live VII. I know a lot of folk love them but I’m not into them enough to know if a seventh live album is all that exciting a prospect, or even necessary? Fans of the colour yellow will want it just for the cover though. In case Necroblood wasn’t fucking evil enough for you, there’s also a new EP from Polish band Medico Peste, the excellently-titled  Herzogian Darkness. And last, but not least, Saturn release Beyond Spectra, their second album of retro 70s, spacey, heavy rawk on Rise Above Records.

And that’s the lot for this week. If there’s anything you fancy that I’ve not covered, let us all know about it in the comments. Before you all rush out the shops there’s only one thing left to…

Vote for your favourite cover of the week! Only takes a moment and low voter turnouts are bad for democracy. Do your duty!