Category Archives: Reviews

Formicarius – Black Mass Ritual

The last time I encountered the UK’s Formicarius was back in December when they contributed a track Lake of the Dead to the excellent compilation Speed Kills VII. Back then I called them “very promising” and I’m glad to report that, with Black Mass Ritual, they have delivered on that promise and then some.

Formicarius go medievil on your ass with their debut album, dishing out Cradle of Filth-style symphonic metal with power metal exuberance. The whirling atmosphere, rib-cracking riffs and exotic solos sound like Mustaine and Friedman jamming with Emperor, the potent speed metal velocity, galloping bass and catchy choruses bring to mind early Helloween and there’s a folky bent to the riffs and instrumentation that reminds me of the classic Skyclad albums.

All the performances are outstanding, from Lord Saunders’ articulate Abbath-esque croak to Morath’s grand and eloquent keyboard embellishments and solos (check out the excellent outro piano on Overlord, a standout moment). The songwriting is also uniformly excellent. An overly jaunty riff in Abhorrent Feast of Minds is the only thing close to a mis-step and it’s soon forgiven as Master of Past and Present closes the album on a dark, dramatic high.

It’s a fantastic debut: rampaging, grand black metal with a healthy dose of epic tradition and fearless creativity. In a year where I’ve been mainly knocked out by death metal albums, Formicarius have struck a decisive blow for black metal. And they’ve done it with an album that is all kinds of metal fun for all kinds of metal fans. The Black Mass Ritual begins on July 21st, don’t miss out.

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

Samhain – Initium

Samhain – Initium (1984)

Stylistically caught between the fun-filled horror punk of The Misfits and the seductive darkness of Danzig, Glenn Danzig’s second band Samhain are easy to overlook. While I regularly find myself in the mood for the more-renowned acts on either side, I often have to remind myself to forego their obvious joys and spend some time with his “other” band. So this week I’ve been listening to Samhain’s debut Initium.

It’s an album that I’ve liked in the past but not loved. I appreciated the Misfits-style catchiness in tracks like All Murder, All Guts, All Fun and He-Who-Can-Not-Be-Named but didn’t regard the tracks as top-tier classics. And I found the rest of the album to be leaden, lo-fi and lacking in cohesion. But recently, I’ve warmed to the occult darkness of tracks like Initium/Samhain and Macabre and I’m finding hitherto overlooked gems here. The “cause I want it, and I need it” chorus of Black Dream is a classic Danzig hook, Archangel closes the album with some catchy 50s swoon and the raging and bloodthirsty The Howl has become a new Danzig favourite.

There’s no doubt that this is a transitional album but its underground horror, dank atmosphere and murderous intent has a charm and (for me) a growing fascination of its own. In the future, I won’t need to remind myself to listen to Initium. Cause now I want it, and I need it.

[Samhain – The Howl]

 

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Land Of Hope And Glory/I Surrender

Ritchie Blackmore’s return to rock action was one of the most welcome surprises of recent years. I’ve got tickets to see him in June. I’m massively excited about it and nothing’s going to change that. Which is probably just as well because Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow have now released their first new studio recordings in 20 years and the results are far from thrilling.

Land Of Hope And Glory is a band version of the classical piece that they’ve been using as the intro tape to their shows. It’s got a nice pastoral, laid-back Hank Marvin vibe going on and some tasteful playing from Ritchie. It’s… nice?

Next up is a new version of I Surrender with Ronnie Romero at the mic. The Joe Lynn Turner-era classic was notable by its absence in the Memories Of Rock: Live In Germany set so it’s interesting to finally hear what Romero does with it. The whole band delivers the song capably enough to imagine it going down well live but it’s not particularly exciting as a listening experience. And Romero is not at his best with the sexier end of Blackmore’s output. His performance here has little of JLT’s seductive bombast.

It’s tentative and disposable stuff from The World’s Greatest Guitarist®. I’m still looking forward to finally seeing The Man In Black live but if Ritchie and Rainbow are planning to put out more new music, it’ll need to be more exciting than this.

Saxon – Dogs Of War

Saxon – Dogs Of War (1995)

Saxon tried to learn their lesson from the rushed and patchy Forever Free album. They took a bit more time over the follow-up and headed back to Germany’s Karo Studio and the production team that proved so successful with Solid Ball Of Rock back in 1991. That album was a return to hard rocking form for the band but still found them moving forward, albeit in a fan-friendly fashion. While Solid Ball Of Rock was mostly full of good time AC/DC-style stompers, 1995’s Dogs Of War was an edgier affair and much more redolent of the band’s older style. But, for one member of the band, this album would be the last.

Fans of Saxon’s warrior epics like Power And The Glory and Battle Cry will delight in the opening title-track. It’s a total belter with a chunky, ballsy sound and an explosively thrilling chorus. It’s the albums best track and the only enduring classic here but the rest of the album is far from disappointing. If you know anything about Saxon you’ll know that when they start singing about vehicles it’s game on! And Burning Wheels and Big Twin Rolling (Coming Home) are loud and dirty transport rockers that take you right back to classic albums like Wheels Of Steel. And as well as recalling the classic days, Saxon also keep things fresh with some tastefully incorporated contemporary elements too: The Great White Buffalo is a moody, swampy epic and Don’t Worry has a rootsy, almost-grungy feel but climaxes with mesmerising guitar work that is pure, classic Saxon.

It’s impressive stuff but the album isn’t without its wobbles. Walking Through Tokyo is a blundering low point and a couple of enjoyable but essentially forgettable closing tracks find the album running out of steam. But it’s a minor quibble when there are so many great tracks here. Even Hold On, a potential mis-step with it’s Jovi-esque feel and Tommy & Gina lyrics, ends up being feelgood fun with a killer arena-ready chorus.

In a challenging era when British metal bands were generally falling by the wayside or falling apart, Saxon had rediscovered their fighting form, releasing their strongest, grittiest, most traditionally metal album since their glory days. But, as well as taking on the world, they were also squabbling among themselves. The relationship between frontman Biff Byford and guitarist Graham Oliver was faltering and some of the guitarist’s work on Dogs Of War had reportedly been re-recorded by a session guitarist. And when an unauthorised release of the band’s first Donington set was traced back to the guitarist, he was dismissed from the band. The loss of this talented musician and charismatic performer in such acrimonious circumstances was a blow to fans but they could take heart in the fact that – with this excellent, overlooked metal banger – Saxon were finally sounding like their old selves again.

[Saxon – Dogs Of War]

Craven Idol – The Shackles Of Mammon

With its stunning artwork and a concept covering themes of power, avarice and corruption, Craven Idol’s The Shackles Of Mammon promises to be a scathing, angry and cohesive statement. And for the first four tracks Craven Idol certainly sound spitting mad. Pyromancer and A Ripping Strike are absolutely raging black thrash of the old Kreator/Destruction variety, Black Flame Divination is awesome Venom-style hooliganism and The Trudge is epic Bathory-worship. But cohesion proves to be a problem as the rumbling Dashed To Death and Mammon Est prove largely forgettable and, although they are decent enough tracks, Hunger and the doomy album-closer Tottering Cities Of Men struggle to regain the listeners attention. Fans of crusty venomous metal will find lots to like here but the album frustratingly fails to capitalise on the in-your-face intensity of its first half. Overall, The Shackles Of Mammon scrapes above average but there’s a shitload of promise here if the band can deliver with more consistency.

Holocaust – The Nightcomers

Holocaust – The Nightcomers + 9 Reissue (Metal Nation)

It’s immediately evident from the Chuck Berry double-stops that kick off Holocaust’s 1981 debut album that this isn’t going to be as totally dark and metallic as the spooky cover and jagged band logo suggests. Only four songs on The Nightcomers fully live up to the nefarious promise of the front sleeve. Second track Death Or Glory has a chunky, stomping riff of evil, gurning magnificence. The title-track and Mavrock are excellent sludgy, doomy affairs with creepy, reverb-laden vocals and guitar lines. And the fourth is the album’s standout track, the metal-worshipping anthem Heavy Metal Mania. If you like metal at all then this song is simply impossible to resist.

Excluding those songs and the lively Nuge/UFO-style heavy boogie of opener Smokin’ Valves, what you’re left with isn’t quite as good… but it doesn’t matter. The riffs and solos are excellent throughout and the Edinburgh band has a knack with a catchy chorus so potentially uneventful tracks like Cryin’ Shame and Push It Around just manage to avoid being total filler (even if they are strangely feel-good next to the album’s heavier tracks). Even the often wobbly vocals of Gary Lettice have a naive charm and intriguingly pre-Hetfield tone and phrasing.

If you’re new to these guys you’re in luck as Metal Nation have just reissued the album on CD with the songs from three 12″ singles as bonus tracks. It’s a great package and superb example of the promising talent, youthful energy and total lack of contrivance that keeps people going back to the NWOBHM bands. Even if it’s not quite a top-tier entry from the genre, it’s not far off. An enjoyable and memorable hard rocker with a batch of tracks that are nothing less than stone-cold metal classics.

[Holocaust – Heavy Metal Mania]