Category Archives: Reviews

Dokken – Tooth And Nail (Review)

Dokken – Tooth And Nail (1984)

When their debut album Breaking The Chains stiffed in the US, Dokken’s record deal with Elektra was on thin ice. Backs against the wall, the band would have to fight Tooth And Nail (see what they did there?) to keep their rokken roll dream alive. But when they should have been forming a united front, the band members were fighting among themselves. Producer Tom Werman decided early on that he’d had enough and the band had to complete the record the only way they could. Separately. Guitars, drums and bass were finished up with Roy Thomas Baker during the day, while frontman Don Dokken recorded alone with Michael Wagener during the night.

Fortunately the struggling, warring band had some top notch material to draw from. Superb L.A. glam meets Ozzy/Scorpions-style Euro metal. A lush and ominous guitar intro leads into the superb thrashabout title track. Just Got Lucky and Into The Fire have humungous raunchy hooks. Alone Again is classy manfeels and When Heaven Comes Down is a heavy, stately centrepiece.

Back Cover – Rock Candy Reissue

And, amazingly, considering the fractious nature of the album’s creation, it’s the raw, live vibe and delivery that is the real magic on Tooth And Nail. There’s a moment in Heartless Heart where a drum and vocal bridge suddenly explodes into harmonised arena rock heaven. It sounds like a band playing the gig of their lives, having their moment of world-beating peak performance flow. George Lynch firing off godly guitar licks left, right and centre and Don, aloof and weedy on the debut album, now generating massive sparks of excitement with committed and charismatic ease. Tearing it up in the daytime, burning it down at night, straight to the top… Tooth And Nail is the sound of a band fighting for their lives and winning heroically.

HMO RATING: 5 out of 5

[Dokken – Heartless Heart]

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Humble Pie – Smokin’ (Review)

Humble Pie was one of those 70s bands that struggled to capture their magic in the studio before scoring big with a live album. But following the success of the essential Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore they were then faced with the challenge of coming up with a satisfactory studio follow up. An even more daunting prospect given that the supergroup was now rendered considerably less “super” following the departure of founding member Peter Frampton.

Frampton felt that the audience had decided the heavy blues rock direction that The Pie had to go in and that meant the pastoral acoustic diversity that he contributed to previous albums was no longer required. The accepted narrative is that the band’s first post-Frampton outing, 1972’s Smokin’, is a harder rocking affair but that’s only partly true. The whole album is more consistently rooted in soulful, bluesy rock but there’s still plenty of mellow diversity. So for every hard-riffing track like Fixer you get an Exile On Main Street-style rootsy outing like Old Time Feelin’.

But the standout moments of Smokin’ are undoubtedly the louder tracks. The smouldering boogie of Hot N’ Nasty, a fat riffing cover of C’Mon Everybody and the superbly greasy rocker 30 Days In The Hole are all brilliant showcases for the peerless vocal power of Steve Marriott and the guitar chemistry he forged with new recruit Clem Clempson. The mellow tracks aren’t as exciting or memorable but tracks like the Zep-blues of I Wonder impress and add crucial depth and variety.

Smokin’ lives up to its name. It’s a rockin’, feel-good time with a loose and natural production and delivery that successfully captures the band’s live prowess. A gradual, coke-fuelled decline in quality on subsequent albums makes this Humble Pie’s studio peak and ensured that the band would remain overlooked and under-rated, especially in their native UK. But fans of rootsy rockers like The Stones, The Faces and Cream (as well as more modern acolytes like The Black Crowes) should definitely check out The Pie and Smokin’ is the perfect place to start: a great band and legendary frontman at the top of their game, proving that they could rock in the studio just as well as they could in the Fillmore.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

[Humble Pie – 30 Days In The Hole]

The King Is Blind – We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer (Review)

The King Is Blind’s previous album Our Father was a high-point of 2016 and it’s very pleasing to have them back with a follow-up so soon. And their second album We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer doesn’t just follow up their last release, it also follows on the imaginative and thorough God/Satan concept that has ran through all of the band’s music. This time the story brings us up to modern day: the pesky Satan pledging the destruction of mankind and, drawing power from our abuse of sin, sending seven plague princes to generally stir things up and give us all a hard time. Serves us right.

Like its predecessor, WATPWATC blends a bunch of extreme metal approaches – death, black, doom, grind – into a crushing, grooving whole. But this is a more threatening and foreboding outing: the rage and intensity is ramped up and the superb production adds layers of nightmarish, urban ambience. The highlights are many: Patriarch is a furious and discordant opener, Bolt Thrower/Memoriam frontman Karl Willetts lends his wonderful vocal thuggery to the filthily-anthemic Mantra XIII (Plague Avaritia) and Godfrost (Plague Invidia) is just pure carnage. And any album with a hidden Mano-quote is fine by me!

The band is on burly form throughout. Guitars and drums are hit thick and hard and Steve Tovey sells each song with intense and committed vocals. But the album is not without its flaws. I find the Gojira-esque harmonies on Like Gods Departed (Plague Acedia) a bit dull but the track’s awesome Candlemass riffing and its building excitement render that a minor complaint. And, although the increased brutality means that the album doesn’t quite sink its hooks in like Our Father did, the cathartic impact and the almost Floydian atmosphere of tracks like As Vermin Swarm (Plague Ira) and the acoustic-laden The Burden Of Their Scars leave a considerable impression.

With WATPWATC, The King Is Blind continue to impress: honing, intensifying and adding depth to their own brand of monolithic metal. It’s a bold statement of intent and I reckon this promising band still has more to offer. In the meantime, the latest chapter of The King Is Blind’s story will please old fans and attract new ones. And I guarantee a growing legion of devotees will be waiting to see what these British bruisers, and that Satan, get up to next.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

**We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer will be released on Oct 13th and can be purchased here**

Cradle Of Filth – Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness Of Decay (Review)

Cradle Of Filth are a British institution, one of the most recognisable and successful extreme acts to come from these shores. But, while they are loved and loathed by many, they’ve never made a huge impression on me either way. I’ve bought and enjoyed a fair few albums of theirs over the years but I’ve never had that phase where I’ve obsessed over them, where they were my band. Until now.

Although I was late getting to it, I was thoroughly impressed with 2015’s Hammer Of The Witches, and the band’s latest album continues in that vein. Themed around the Victorian obsession with death, Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness Of Decay is a darkly fabulous romp of hard-hitting gothic metal, delivered with expertise and passion. The overall approach is still the band’s patented blackened Hammer Horror style but there’s a whole wealth of approaches employed. Heartbreak And Seance’s romantic melodrama, thrash fury on Wester Vespertine, You Will Know The Lion By Its Claw’s pitch-black savagery and there are wonderful trad metal gallops and harmonies throughout (most thrillingly in The Seductiveness Of Decay). Best of all, vocalist Dani Filth puts each song over and then some: a spirited and veteran performance of considerable taste, breadth and character.

Hammer Of The Witches reached some peaks of excitement that aren’t quite reached here but its a nano-gripe about a near-flawless album. And, on the flip-side, the latest album has none of the excess that detracted from its predecessor. For all its expansive grandeur, Cryptoriana… is tight and direct. The pedal is to the metal at all times and the band’s cinematic flourishes are weaved and layered skilfully throughout the songs with no boring intros or interludes to be found. The style is familiar but the album is fresh and stakes its own unique place in their canon. An utterly wonderful release from a veteran band at the top of their game. My band.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Paradise Lost – Medusa (Review)

Medusa – Out Sep 1st!

The recent reissue of 1997’s One Second harked back to Paradise Lost’s “experimental” electro-goth era but, although the band has since returned to metal, they are no less experimental today.  2015’s The Plague Within featured the surprise reintroduction of doom/death metal and growled vocals to the band’s modern style and on their latest album Medusa the veteran band continues their increasingly extreme trajectory. This is Paradise Lost’s sludgiest, trudgiest album since 1992’s Shades Of God.

The album kicks off with Fearless Sky, Gods Of Ancient and From The Gallows. All crushing slabs of epic misery with crusty riffing, mournful harmonies and Nick Holmes’ increasingly impressive vocal snarl. Anyone expecting the UK band’s traditional melody and immediacy might find this opening trio uninviting but repeat listens prove rewarding and reveal the kind of compelling emotional depth that is the hallmark of great doom. The entire album follows in this imposingly bleak vein but, as it progresses, the band factor in Type O-style clean vocals and anthemic, gloomy hooks in songs like the stunning title track, The Longest Winter and Blood And Chaos. The skillful pacing and variation preventing the album from buckling under its own miserable weight.

Fans of the band’s earliest albums and tracks like Beneath Broken Earth from The Plague Within will find Medusa very satisfying indeed. Fans of One Second are advised to be patient. Whereas that album offered easy and immediate songcraft, it has proven a shade disposable over the years. By comparison, Medusa is a difficult album to get on with but it’s an uncompromising work of substance that will continue to repay dedicated listeners. It’s another wonderful offering in the stellar career of these fearless, ancient gods.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis (Review)

It’s been ten long years since Akercocke’s reign of progressive death metal terror reached a thrilling and diabolical climax with Antichrist. Although the band has lain dormant for much of the intervening decade, a vibrant scene has grown in their wake: superb “ex-Akercocke” bands like Voices, The Antichrist Imperium and Shrines forming a growing family tree that has been the source of much of my favourite music of recent years. But despite my huge love of the related bands, I’ve had a growing longing for an Ak comeback and here they are with their new album Renaissance In Extremis, the most highly-anticipated and exciting release of 2017.

Given that they reached peak Satan-worship on Antichrist, it is unsurprising that the ever-evolving British band has taken up new themes. This is a more personal and emotional Akercocke that combines topics of depression, grief and suicide with rampaging positivity and self-improvement. Complex structures and varied moods evoke the subject matter. The shimmering and colourful guitar textures would make Queensrÿche and Rush proud and it’s all given an energetic kick up the arse with an array of wonderful tech thrash riffing in tracks like Disappear and Insentience. And tracks like Unbound By Sin and First To Leave The Funeral find the band’s black/death malevolence of old is still intact.

Band photos by Tina Korhonen © 2017, all rights reserved.

The whole band performs with distinction, sounding sophisticated and polished but also raw and live. The riffs and guitar solos are sublime throughout: the guitar duo of Jason Mendonça and Paul Scanlan combine old and new metal styles with wonderful flair. It’s also especially good to hear Mendonça’s uniquely charismatic and varied vocals again. A couple of wobbly-pitched moments only add to the crazed, natural feel and Jason leads from the front like few extreme metal frontmen can.

There’s very little to quibble about here and this is a superb comeback album overflowing with originality and creativity. Progressive in the proper sense of the word, Akercocke have created another unique album to add to their discography. And one that has enough variety and maturity that many fans of classic metal fare may find it a gateway into a more extreme musical world. For those of us that already reside in that world, Akercocke’s Renaissance In Extremis is a joyous and welcome return, wholly deserving of the most diabolical and infernal praise.

HMO Rating – 4.5 out of 5

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos (Review)

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