Ihsahn – Eremita (Review)

I resisted buying this for a surprisingly long time. Eremita has been picking up some great reviews since its release and has been compared very favourably with its 2010 predecessor, After, which I enjoyed very much. Despite all this, every time I picked it up in the shops I just couldn’t be arsed. Weird.

Eventually I just had to force myself to buy it and I’m glad I did because this has the edge on its predecessor and is one of the most enjoyable releases of the year so far.

Opener Arrival gets things off to an exciting start with a Dream-Theater style rampaging riff. It’s also immediately noticeable that the vocal performance is more nuanced than on After and there are some pleasingly soulful Kings X style harmonies which are a nice touch (Arrival guest vocalist Einar Solberg certainly brings to mind Kings X vocalist Doug Pinnick). The guitars are also allowed some free reign from Ihsahn’s usual orchestrated approach and the result is some great shredding solos, in particular from Jeff Loomis on The Eagle and the Snake (one of the album’s centrepieces).

Emperor fans will be in more familiar territory with the track Something Out There which hits you in the face like an icy gale. Although the album’s overall feel is quite Avant-Garde (check out The Eagle and the Snake’s Jazz Café opening and orchestral interlude Grief) there is still enough evidence of Ihsahn’s Black Metal roots for this album to appeal to Emperor fans.

For an album that’s title translates as “Hermit” Eremita is surprisingly collaborative and impressively cohesive. It maybe doesn’t have the same peaks as After but it is more consistent and more fully-formed. I hadn’t been in the mood for this but it won me over and that’s an accomplishment in itself.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

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Noise-some Notes – A Week in Listening 9th July 2012

Been on holiday the last week so not as much music listened to as I would manage normally.

Helloween – Mini-LP and Walls of Jericho These two always put a spring in my step. A bit derivative at times but with an insane energy that makes them irresistable! A great way to start any holiday.

Nile – In Their Darkened Shrines Great, exotic Death Metal classic. Getting in the mood for their newbie At the Gate of Sethu, which just popped through the letterbox today but I haven’t had a listen yet. I’m kind of hovering around it.

Gojira – The Way of All Flesh Enjoying this band more and more. What I thought was kind of flat, at first, is now all kinds of thrilling and interesting. Their new album and their previous From Mars to Sirius are on their way.

Anathema – Weather Systems I really love this band. Their previous album We’re Here Because We’re Here was the best thing to come out in 2010 (along with Ghost’s Opus Eponymous) so I was really up for this. It’s great but not grabbing me quite the same as the previous… but that was a grower so we’ll see.

Heart – Little Queen I was always a mild fan of Heart in their 80s incarnation. A great article about this album in the recent issue of Classic Rock magazine prompted me to check this out. Sounds good on first listen but maybe not what I’m quite in the mood for at the moment so it’s been put on the backburner.

Gregg Allman – Laid Back The perfect soundtrack to a night in playing cards with my beautiful girlfriend. This is one of my all-time favourite albums, absolutely gorgeous soulful Rock. Gregg’s voice is peerless. The versions of the Allman Brothers’ Midnight Rider and Please Call Home are stunning and his cover of Jackson Browne’s These Days is masterful.

Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard and Little Richard The 1st two albums from the Rock n’ Roll innovator and originator. All Rock and Metal owes Little Richard a debt and it’s really worthwhile going back to the source every now and again .Songs  like Lucille, Rip it Up, Slippin’ and Slidin’, Tutti Frutti, Keep A Knockin’ etc. are impossible to resist and Richard’s voice is an absolute belter.

R.I.P. Jon Lord

Really sad news about the death of Jon Lord at 71. He was an absolute innovator in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal and as important a figure in the origins of the genre as it is possible to be. Here’s a snippet from the Classic Albums documentary on DP’s classic Machine Head album, where the band and Jon discuss his role and his amazing organ sound… The Beast!

Noise-some Notes – A Week in Listening 1st July 2012

Sorry had to miss out a week of this due to laptop problems. Thankfully, by the good will of Odin, I have a new one so I’m back in action. Last week’s listening was almost entirely the new Manowar and Rush albums anyway!

Manowar – The Lord of Steel Already covered this one here but, suffice to say, it’s good.

Magnum – Vigilante One of the Magnum albums I’m less familiar with, apart from the invincible title track. Dug this out on vinyl and enjoyed it a lot. Way poppier and more keyboardy than customary and you can definitely hear producer and Queen drummer Roger Taylor warbling away in the backing vocals. But, as always with Magnum, rock solid songwriting and Bob Catley’s wonderful voice selling everything.

Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth Not the car-crash that I expected, in fact it’s extremely thrilling. Dave Lee Roth’s vocals are great despite the criticisms, he has a front-porch bluesy feel that I really love and his usual playful lyrics. Re-working 70s leftovers seems to have helped here too, so good for them. Yet another Album of the Year contender in a strong year for new releases.

Ginger – 555% (1st Disc) Right, got all 3 discs of this to listen to but I’ve decided to listen to each a few times before moving on to the next. Don’t want to get overwhelmed! 1st disc is full of the super-catchy, anthemic pop-rock we’ve come to expect from Ginger. Less guitar heavy than The Wildhearts material but there are hooks here that are instant and some interesting soundscapes too, in the mellower moments. This has definitely been the most listened Album of the week.

Gojira – The Way of All Flesh Still grappling with this slow burner! It is really living with me now so their new album L’Enfant Sauvage and the previous From Mars To Sirius are already in the post! I’m sure I’ll have a whale of a time when they drop through the letterbox.

Mantas – Death By Metal Bought this now so I’m going to have to cover it more fully but it’s pretty much what you’d expect from the pre-Death pioneers of Death Metal. Having read Ian Christe’s liner notes, I have to say I’m not sure if this is the sped-up Chicago version or the slowed down Denmark version. Probably neither.

Whitesnake – Ready and Willing “The bitch is in heat. So you better run.” David Coverdale once admitted he wasn’t “Billy Shakespeare”. Thanks for clarifying that, David.

Warrior Soul – Last Decade, Dead Century Fantastic dirty, urban, punky Hard Rock from the post Appetite For Destruction re-think. More people should know about this album. Annoyingly hobbled by boring spoken word piece “Five More Years” which is enjoyable exactly once. If it’s not music, at least make it short!

Skyclad – The Silent Whales of Lunar Sea One of my 90s Top 10 and one of the best bands of the decade.

Rush – Clockwork Angels (Review)

Any new Rush album is a big event and lots of folk have been very excited about this one. As a Rush fan I was inevitably going to buy this as the band is always capable of great things and always has the potential to come up with something new and exciting. But in truth, my expectations weren’t running too high for this one after the disappointing Snakes and Arrows.

I’m happy to report that after a few listens this has defied my expectations quite dramatically. And I’m also quite sure the full joys of the album have not yet revealed themselves so this is already a strong contender for Album of the Year. They channel a lot of the excitement and energy of Vapor Trails here but with a much warmer sound and looser feel. The band performance is more reminiscent of their earlier days and there are some throwbacks to earlier material like the Bastille Day referencing Headlong Flight. At times they seem to be channeling The Who and even have some riffs that would sound at home on latter-day Cheap Trick records!  There are also some dynamic choruses and tasteful orchestration. It’s a great sounding record and a really electrifying band performance.

One of the most pleasant surprises of the record are the lyrics. I found Neil Peart’s writing on Snakes and Arrows to be a bit too mild mannered and lacking in edge. In some tracks like The Larger Bowl the lyrics actually hampered the effect of the tracks. So it’s really pleasing to report that the man is in fine form here. The use of a story-concept for the album’s lyrics has helped add mystique and, conversely, some of the lyrics here seem more personal and biting than before. The opening tracks refrain of “I can’t stop thinking big” could be Neil’s life story and other tracks deal with religion and the cruel passage of time in a really intriguing way.

So, in short, Rush are back and I’m delighted to say they are defying the ravages of time coming up with one of their finest albums yet.

HMO Rating: 4 out of 5

Noise-some Notes – A Week in Listening 17th June 2012

Here’s what’s been assaulting my ears this week.

Black Sabbath – Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die The final two albums of the original Ozzy-led era of Sabbath. Neither of these albums are as bad as people say they are but they aren’t in the same league as the previous 6 albums. Oddly, Technical Ecstasy isn’t as good as I remember and Never Say Die is a bit better. Both were worth revisiting.

Coverdale/Page – S/T Might as well put my cards on the table here. I’ve had a man-crush on David Coverdale since 1987 and the Whitesnake album from that year is in my all-time Top 5. So I wasn’t very outraged at the prospect of him pairing up with Led Zep’s Jimmy Page. I rarely go back to this but when I do I always get really, really into it. And this time was no exception and might have been the most enjoyable listen of the week!

Rush – Clockwork Angels One of these magazine/album/crap freebie fan-packs that many bands are releasing these days. Once the Manowar one arrives that’ll be two this month (3 if you’re into Slash). Had one listen, enjoyed the first half immensely and the second half went over my head. But, as any Rush fan knows, their albums take time and many listens to reveal their charms so… another one I’ll have to cover in more detail as a Too Tempting to Resist post later.

Skyclad – Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol Awesome unsung slab of prime British Folk Metal! This band were well ahead of their time and featured legendary vocalist Martin Walkyier, a great hero of mine. Great ecological lyrics and a medieval, fantasy feel that was perfect for a teenager into RPGs and Lord of the Rings!

Ian Hunter – You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic Been listening to this a lot lately. Already touched on it in last weeks Noise-some Notes but I will point out that it strikes me how individual all the tracks are. Each one has its own thing going which makes for a great listening experience. You can’t put the thing off.

Rush – Snakes and Arrows (Side A) A preparatory listen to Rush’s previous album before the new one dropped. Listened to while walking home from work so only got half way through. Do all albums have to be so long now?

Cheap Trick – In Color Summery slice of power-pop genius. A lesson in album length and space between instruments. Listen to the fantastic bass sound on this!

Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse Classic Black Metal album. Epic and sweeping, I always imagine this album sounds like it’s being carried on the wind. I envision hearing it like a clarion call from afar, before saddling my horse and riding off to see what all the racket was about. Anyway, a close look at the album cover suggests I wasn’t the only person in the 90s playing RPGs!

Heart – Bad Animals and S/T From a gorgeous 2nd-hand vinyl box set I just purchased so I’ll be covering these in a Too Tempting To Resist post at some time soon I’m afraid. Not a huge fan of this stuff but something about them keeps drawing me back since falling dreamily in love with both Ann and Nancy Wilson at the formative age of 10! Really catchy songs and Ann’s phenomenal voice are the other attractions I guess. And, as an added bonus, they counteracted the man-crush doubt cause by David Coverdale!

Manilla Road – Crystal Logic (Review)

Manilla Road are a band that seem to be held in very high regard but I had never heard of them until a couple of years ago. I read about them in a Terrorizer Magazine review of the last decade before noticing recently that a proportionately high percentage of the Metal Vinyl section in Monorail (an excellent record store in Glasgow) was taken up by this band. My curiosity was piqued!

After a bit of Interweb research and a really shit week at work I decided to treat myself to their Crystal Logic album which, by all accounts, seemed like a good place to start. Another deciding factor was that the vinyl was released on the excellent High Roller label. A German label with a great line in NWOBHM reissues. Before deciding to give up buying music *cough* I picked up a Holocaust reissue and two Urchin resissues which are just indescribably excellent. I’m getting excited just thinking about them and you should immediately pop over to the label’s website and check them out.

I’ve been listening to Crystal Logic a lot since picking it up and I’m really enjoying it. They are from Wichita, Kansas and play in a NWOBHM style (Manilla Road describe themselves as Epic Metal) that reminds me of another great obscure band, Legend.

What strikes me immediately is the odd nasal voice of the singer, Mark Shelton, and the strength of the songwriting. Songs like Necropolis, Crystal Logic and Flaming Metal System have hooks to die for and immediately burrow into your brain. The Riddle Master also has the kind of incredible but simple riff that makes you wonder why no-one wrote it before them.

The production here is pretty raw but that’s no great problem. The no frills feel of the band in a rehearsal room adds to the charm. However, Flaming Metal System (recorded separately for a local compilation but later added to the album) has a better production that highlights the rest of the albums sonic weaknesses. The song starts off with a Manowaresque solo which, with it’s strange octaved sound, has you checking the turntable speed. The vocals are also noticeably more confident and more forceful than the other tracks and the band sound charged up.

Closing epic Dreams of Eschata/Epilogue is another highlight with gruff, echoey vocals in the chorus that sound like something latter-day Darkthrone would have been proud to come up with.

I’m going to be listening to this a lot (while gazing in wonder at the spectacularly bad but hypnotic album cover) and the only drawback here is that I’m going to want to hear more of their catalogue. Ulp.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

… and classic rock too!