As much as it is good to talk about how music moves on, evolves, finds new pastures to wander, there are times when you just want something familiar. After all, exploring exciting new fusion cuisine can be a lot of fun but sometimes you just can’t beat mom’s pot roast with all the trimmings. Honest, dependable and associated with fond memories. And the same is true of heavy metal.
Making music is often a case of taking the references and influences from the past and moulding them into a new music sonic experience for a whole new generation. The familiarity of the old and the freshness of the present blended together to head towards a new and exciting future. And that is exactly what Stepping Sideways do. They carry a torch that was first lit by the likes of Led Zeppelin, rock being dragged kicking and screaming from its blues club origins to be shaped into something theatrical, larger than life, dramatic, escapist, the soundtrack to other realms and future visions. It has since been honed and shaped by seventies prog-rockers, eighties new-wave of metal, nineties alternative rockers and so on to the present day where this band take that flame into the future.
Destined To Fall is big, sweeping, full of drive and drama and powered by soaring guitar licks and raw, razor-wire riffs, thundering drums and pounding bass lines. But it also has subtleties and intricacies too, gentle breaks to match the angst and energy. It may be sonically muscle bound but it is musically toned too.
Rock may not have changed too much over the decades but more than any other genre it found what it was good at and stuck to the plan. All modern bands have to do is take the template and add their own personality to it, to bend rather than break the formula, to revise rather than revamp and create something that fits with the modern rock tastes but forms part of that glorious body of existing work. Stepping Sideways is all too aware of this and knowing what is require of them, fill the role to perfection.
Previous Song of Love music I have written about has, and the band admit this to be the case, suffered from poor production to the point that whilst you could see what they were trying to do, it was difficult to really appreciate the music fully. Well, what a difference a month or so makes as the latest piece of rock and roll goodness from gang is leaps and bounds above those previous recordings.
Stagger The Devil is a blend of New Wave of British Heavy Metal style classic rock and more progressive and technical metal styles. It is now possible to appreciate the intricacies of their playing and at times they remind you of the likes of Rush or Triumph in the way that they are able to mix heavyweight guitar riffs with more deft and delicate playing. The bass pops and pulse and the drums keep things firing on all cylinders. Maybe there is still some work to be done on the vocals but considering how far they have come in such a short space of time they will have that issue addressed in no time at all. Good work guys!
Having teased us with a couple of releases from this ep, Ravenscroft now unleash the full package, and as expected it just bristles with their trademark classic rock infused sound. Over six songs it is the perfect mission statement for a band that knows its place in music history, know where they are coming from but are more concerned with where they are going. It is a sound which matched classic rock moves with more modern alt-rock swagger and it also shows sides to them that we haven’t seen before.
Denomination kicks off the ep and this opening salvo of brutal beats and razor edged riffs pretty much tells you what sort of world you are entering here. Theirs is a world of big ideas made into big music, hard and heavy music, music that balances melody and menace, brims with attitude and grim determination. But, they also prove that they are not a one trick pony as the inclusion of My Dearest One shows, a dexterous power ballad that builds from gentle acoustic precision into a full blown stadium rock work out of the sort that people don’t seem to write any more and this more than addresses that issue.
But for the most part, Ravenscroft are about the grit and the growl, no nonsense, straight down the line rock. Classic rock, hard rock, metal, rock…music…call it what you will but we can all agree that we are in familiar territory here. Not that it is a problem, not everything is about kicking down the barriers and exploring new pastures, some of it is about diving for pearls in familiar waters. And that is just what Ravenscroft is all about.
Stand Up is an aggressive call to arms, The Chase is a white hot slice of melodic metal, one that doesn’t compromise on wonderful sonic detail and infectious groove but still falls on you like a ton of bricks and the title track is the perfect fist in the air anthem that will unite old fans and new followers alike. This sort of music is done often, too often really, but it is often not done well. That then is the bands selling point for whilst they are clearly playing with familiarity and comfort zones here and wearing their references very openly on their sleeve tattooed arms (presumably, I haven’t checked) they do it much better than most.
Sometimes it is enough just to re-invent the wheel especially if the wheel in question allows you to open up the throttle and take a white-knuckle joyride through the side streets and alleyways of the history of rock before unashamedly heading down the highway to follow in the tyre marks of previous iconic musical suicide machines. Or something…I’m not great with analogy.
Ravenscroft continue with their mission to keep rock music, especially that infused by its classic halcyon past, relevant to modern audiences. Not always an easy thing to do with the fickle finger of fashion constantly causing scenes to evolve and move on at an alarming rate, when the short attention span of the modern age and the sheer ridiculousness of the amount of music being made these days conspires against you. But Ravenscroft has one thing on its side. Heritage! Although they are certainly creating highly original music, it wears its influences openly like badges on a fading and ripped denim jacket for all to see. Badges that sign post everything from raw 70’s classicism, 80’s stadium sky-scraping, 90’s grunge and the alt-rock of modern times.
But those are just generic labels, more designed for us journalists than of any real concern to the musicians making the music it aims to describe. Call it what you will but we can all agree that we are in familiar territory here. Not that it is a problem, not everything is about kicking down the barriers and exploring new pastures, some of it is about diving for pearls in familiar waters. And that is just what Ravenscroft is all about.
This sort of music is done often, too often you might argue, but it is often not done well. That then is the band’s selling point for whilst they are clearly playing with familiarity and comfort zones, albeit it edgy, spiky and fairly uncomfortable comfort zones…as comfort zones go…they do it much better than most.
A bluesy Zeppelin edge shows through in the shifting dynamics they employ but for the most part they are a full throttle, hard-edged rock onslaught that joins dots between the likes of The Almighty’s uncompromising sound and Soundgarden’s low slung swagger, The Cult’s knowingly wonderful foot on the monitor clichés and a whole host of other sounds from nu-metal to New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
Sometimes it is enough just to re-invent the wheel especially if the wheel in question allows you to then open up the throttle and take a white-knuckle joyride through the side streets and alleyways of the history of rock before unashamedly heading down the highway to follow in the tyre marks of previous iconic suicide machines. Or something…I’m not great with analogy.
Ravenscroft might not change your life, but it might just remind you why you fell in love with rock music in the first place!
Trying to be cutting edge musically is a fine thing to aim for but neither is there anything wrong with sticking to comfort zones, both are necessary elements to the music scene as a whole. The reality though is that whilst the former are off conducting brave genre splicing experiments to varying degrees of success, the latter playing it safe but not really bringing anything new to the table, the most interesting music is being forged in the middle ground. Between the safety net of established rock classicism and the forward thrust of the alt-, the nu-, the post-, genres, the perfect blends of old and new sound are being shaped into great music. It is here that you find Ravenscroft.
Ahead of their soon to be released EP The Rebel, two songs which define their sonic boundaries have been unleashed upon the unsuspecting masses, a calling card for what is to follow. The Chase is a wonderful slice of hard grooving classic rock re-imagined through a nu-metal lens and then pushed even further into the here and now to create a sound which it would be hard to imagine not finding favour with any rock fan. It is big, brutal and thunderous, back beats pound, bass lines throb and salvos of white hot, jagged guitar riffs form the perfect sound clash whilst battle cry vocals lead it all into the music fray. Denim clad old schoolers, dystopian nu-metallers, anti-fashion grungers and alt-rock warriors alike are going to be right behind it.
The flip of the coin comes from My Dearest One, a stadium ballad, a slow burning vibe, a growing dynamic and a crescendoed pay off, yes, it’s been done before, but rarely this classily, swerving the schmaltz and obvious heartstring tugging and instead finally delivering a power ballad that it is okay to like. Now that is something new.
Rock is going through some tough times. Either it is being diluted for commercial gain or brutalised into testosterone driven noise-fests beloved of impressionable teens but with little traction in the mature market. For this reason more and more people are looking to past glories to feed their rock needs, Ravenscroft give as a reason to be excited about the future again, and for that I thank them.
Whilst the opening spoken word introduction which leads us into Scandic Tribe’s debut album keeps you guessing where this is all leading, it is a question which is quickly resolved as Dusty Sunrise kicks in with its classic rock hallmarks. But if you think that it is a genre which has had its day, Light At The End is a perfect reminder that certain music is called classic for a reason and their blend of traditional rock sounds, inherent melody, hook laden songwriting and modern day sass make it a worthy torch bearer for its modern incarnation.
If hard rock, in many ways, feels intrinsically linked to a European heartland, seems to carry a Teutonic weight on its shoulders and Nordic blood through its veins, it is, arguably, in America where the genre reached its greatest heights. Scandic Tribe are the embodiment of this ideal, Thomas Okland and Morten GP, a Norwegian vocalist and Danish guitarist respectively, took their Old World sounds to the New World and the band was born.
Light At The End is a worthy addition to the rock canon, leaning more to the melodic side of things than the harder-edge but built around all the sonic trappings and embedded traditions of the genre and still displaying a wide range of styles within the chosen rock field. Angel is bluesy mid paced instrumental and Life is Good is the sort of power ballad that Extreme would have bitten your arm off for back in the day. At the other extreme they prove that they can rock out with the best of them via groovy strutters like Only Will Tell whilst Heroes sails very close to the iconic Def Leppard sound.
Sad Times has some wonderful sax sounds bubbling away just below the surface and it is inclusions such as this and the flamenco guitars which add detail to My Sweet Baby Valentine, sounds not normally part of the hard rock landscape, that might just be the key to them getting noticed above those staying too close to the template.
It’s a solid collection and a great effort, I feel that they are yet to fully define their own sound instead relying too much on the existing sound palette, but it feels like that is only a short step away. Before very long they will have written that one future classic which will truly put them on the map and even though this is the sound of a band finding their musical feet, as debuts go it is a great first step, one which more than suggests a promising future ahead.
Rock music has a tough time in the modern age. Gone are the days when it was enough to kick out a heavy blues, three chord jam, the modern audience wants more musical bang for its buck. So whilst some bands head off in search of new alt-rock horizons and others lighten the load and aim for rock-light commerciality, Lou Patty show us that there is still a way for modern bands to combine old school grit with modern age accessibility, traditional styles with forward thinking music.
Hostile is a wonderfully blend of classic rock guitars and electronica and if history has shown us that electro-rock experiments tend to be more electro than rock, more aimed at the dance set than the rock fraternity, then Lou Patty is just the band to put the record straight. The riffs are big and brutal, the bass and back beats drive perfectly but the breakdowns prove that the band understand dynamics and space, that they know that if they take the foot off the gas for a while the rush when things kick back in is even more delicious. This is rock not only for the modern age but rock that can lead the way into interesting new possibilities and potential for the genre.
And as a calling card for their latest e.p. it perfectly displays all of their musical interests and alongside this opening salvo you will find a broad range of musical styles being subsumed, adapted, warped and bent to their will. Kings and Servants indulges their straighter rock interests, Minute of Peace wraps glitchy guitars around staccato beats blending industrial intensity with dark dystopian vibes and Molly Ray comes on like a funky Prince number give a razor wire make over.
This is rock for a new generation, rock wearing a coat of many generic colours, rock realising that the tribalism and demarkations that have long kept the genre on a very straight and predictable path need to be abandoned, more than anything this is rock embracing the future, beginning a new chapter and having fun along the way. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?
I guess it is only fair that after a couple of reviews of songs and videos who have been, let’s say, less than supportive of the controversial US Commander-in-Chief, I should include one from an artist who is totally in his corner. And why not, this is a music review site, all political conclusions, debates and arguments can be had elsewhere and on your own time. Balance, thats what that is.
Even before we get into the intricacies of the song, One Man Rock Band is a neat concept and does pretty much what it says on the tin. Scott Gerling, the “One Man” in question plays all the instruments himself and it is easy to see where his inspiration comes from.
He sounds like any number of bands that you saw live over the last few decades, which you enjoyed but can’t quite remember, ones who should have made it big but didn’t get the chance to step through the door to the big leagues. Nothing to do with the music, it is as tightly and energetically delivered as any of those bands who went on to live the dream. I’m just saying that there were loads for who the dice roll didn’t result in the big win. The ones who opened up for AC/DC, toured with Aerosmith, got into a back stage fist-fight with Motley Crue or who blew Foo Fighters off stage back in the early days. It is brash, confrontational, testosterone fuelled and old-school, a bit like, some might say, the man he is celebrating on this song.
He sees the man as “the rainmaker, ass kicker, and iron fist America needs, the champion of the American people, and defender of American ideals…that to characterise him in any other way is to misunderstand the spirit of his mission.” And whilst I’m sure that there will be as many people agreeing as disagreeing with his position, isn’t that the point of music? Music should raise issues, support causes, spark debate, cause arguments and generally pick fights and Scott is well aware of this. But this is a music review site so let’s leave the soapbox aside for the moment, let the politics play out elsewhere and get back to the music.
It is everything that you want an old-school inspired, classic rock referencing rock beast of a song to be. It gets down to the point with driving back beats, pumping bass lines, vocals from the Bon Scott book of evensong , white hot guitar work and razor wire riffs. Straight down the line, no gimmick, clean limbed, angry, rock music just as the god of Chuck Berry and Jack Daniels intended.
As opening salvo Satisfy starts chugging from the speakers, a vocal onslaught leaves you in no doubt as to exactly what Buried in Smoke’s mission is, they pretty much lay it out before you even place one foot in their musical world. The removal of what they see as inferior music from the airwaves and media channels to be replaced with various forms of rock, punk and metal! A bit extreme perhaps but catch me on certain nights and throw in a bit of old-school post-punk and I would say that they might just have a point. And with the task at hand clearly identified they waste no time at all in laying out a stall of classic rock and metal riffs, and dark and intense alt-rock grooves.
Although I grew up on what was then termed as “metal” bands, the classics, bands that could be referenced by only using half of their name, Maiden, Purple, Priest, then the genre moved on to more extreme potential and left me behind. Buried In Smoke, however, seem to reference those heady and more melodic days in their music and because of that I find a lot here I like.
And even within the confines of the heavy genres they have chosen to work in, there is a fair bit of variation. War Dogs bristles with vicious energy and visceral drives, Southern Pain is a Dixie-metal boogie and Home is a dark acoustic touch song which ends up in big theatrical crescendos. Closing song, Want You Mine, is a half-rapped, blues bombardment that The Wildhearts would be proud of. It is a taste of the past, repackaged and represented for the more robust and broader tastes of the modern rock fan and even though it works with familiar building blocks, razor wire riffs and white noise guitars, thunderous back beats, bruising bass pulses and raw and reckless vocal workouts, it is still more concerned with moving the sound forward than revelling in past glories.
Rather than the extreme technical style over substance that prevails in the genre today, this is a band that understands the middle ground, riffs are big but accessible, the beat moves with the song rather than dominates in a showcase of double kick mayhem, the songs groove and swing whilst coming at you like a thing possessed and the lyrics are aggressive and growled, yet clearly identifiable rather than the guttural screamo noisefest that has become fashionable.
In short it moves the modern metal format on by referencing what was so good about the past, a past where bands like Pantera led the game, and the end result is an album that will appeal to old school hard rockers and modern day metallers alike.
Fans of rock and metal in all its forms will find a lot to like, the gothic set will appreciate its dark soundscapes and the more industrial minded will find its raw beauty and dystopian vibes to their tastes. But if like me you have been away from the upper echelons of hard rock and metal trenches for a while and are looking for a way back in, this is the perfect place to start. Okay chaps, over the top we go….
If the band, album name and artwork seem to suggest something aimed at the black clad, wannabe pagans who still have visions of relocating to Sunnydale and hanging around with Buffy and the gang, I am most happy to report that Occultation rises far above such first impressions. Give the music a spin and you find yourself in a dark and emotive alt-rock soundscape. Even the term gothic, as a genre at least, is slightly amiss here, for it neither fits in with the old-school post-punk movement or the metal sub-genre it has since become. If it is gothic at all it is more in the literary sense, painting dark mystique, broken romanticism and haunted emotions across its musical canvas.
So if I have established what the record isn’t, lets look at what it is. Dark Moon Lilith at times reminds me of Concrete Blond and their ability to weave introspective lyricism through powerful and theatrical music and similarly to sound like your favourite cult band but drip with commercial possibilities. Songs such as Hiding Place with its jagged guitar riffs, pounding classic rock drive and sultry warmth seeming to sum this up more eloquently than I can put into words.
And as much as I am trying and failing to avoid the term gothic, maybe it is a gothic alternative, music for those who found the likes of The Cure too mannered, Bauhaus to fractious and The Mission too pretentious first time around or who misses the mystic and mythology which used to be an inherent part of rock music before classic rock double-denimed down and alt-rock became all about skinny jeans and complicated hair.
And then they throw World Away at you, a minimalist ballad dripping with pain, heart wrenching emotion, majestic spatial awareness and anticipation and you realise that there is much more to the band than fits into easy generic boundaries, which obviously is how it should be. Considering my own musical journey through the bands mentioned above and particularly along that tipping point where the glamour of the gothic world met the pose and power of rock, Dark Moon Lilith are a wonderful find and one whose dark dramas I shall undoubtedly be spending more and more time with as the nights draw in, the perfect soundtrack for my half-lit domain and fire side hibernations.
Making music is often a case of taking the references and influences from the past and moulding them into a new music sonic experience for a whole new generation. The familiarity of the old and the freshness of the present blended together to head towards a new and exciting future. And that certainly sums up Prym. They take grungy, alt-rock riffs, a classic rock stance and even some progressive infused structures to create that perfect blend of “I remember” and “what if!”
They are a band that deals in intensity, Corrin Cambell’s compelling vocals come from a very authentic and impassioned place, monolithic slabs of primordial guitars drive through the middle ground and the solid bass and back-beat create the perfect platform to hold it all together. And whilst their e.p. At First Light takes in a number of wonderfully anthemic, stadium ready alt-rockers with more than a possibility of a commercial crossover future, Flames and Games is the sound of the band laying down a wonderful challenge. It is the band at their toughest, darkest, grittiest, a statement as much about where they come from as where they might be heading.
Fennr Lane has always been about getting the point musically speaking, simple classic rock lines built around a slow and relentless drive rather than any quick pay off or gimmickry. Here they distil that rock and roll essence down ever further but balance it with a deeper push into the dramatic Wagnerian territory that comes naturally to them.
They have always worked well with light and shade, understood how to play the slow build dynamics card and if this is an example of what they can do on the limited budget I know they have available, imagine the big screen sonic writings they could produce if time and money were less of an issue.
Gothic soundtrack, end of set anthem and symphonic rock stripped down to the bone all rolled into one and proving yet again that the most straightforward of ideas are all you need if you delivery them with passion and panache.
When the What’s Her Name? single landed before my reviewing pen a few months ago it seemed to have arrived at the perfect time. It gave me the perfect opportunity to rally against the conformity and unadventurous nature of the rock scene at the moment and hold up Smoking Martha as being exactly what was needed to shake things up a bit. The right band, the right sound, the right time. Right? But even with such a great musical calling card and a hint as to what might follow, it still didn’t fully prepare me for just what a joy to behold this full album would be.
In the same way that I waxed lyrical about that song’s ability to strip things back and capture the singular essence of rock, to be simultaneously raw and melodic, incendiary and infectious, cultish and commercial, with In Deep you realise that song was anything but a one off. Smoking Martha have only gone and filled up a whole album of brilliant musical balancing acts and fine-line generic tight rope walks.
With most bands you can probably pinpoint one or two musical references that seem to drive the music, with Smoking Martha things are not quite so straightforward. Although things drive along pretty much on a classic rock vibe or via a more visceral garage rock subversion, this is no mere rehashing of the past and whilst you can probably pick out many of the individual musical building blocks, what they have fashioned them into is a totally new piece of exquisite sonic architecture.
Find a Way broods and glowers with gothic undertones, Ebb of the Tide bristles with high drama and shifting dynamics, and opening salvo So Lonely blends punky skanking guitars with foot on the monitor seminal rock sounds. And the more you peel back the more you find; blues grooves pushed to the extreme, theatrical excesses, grunge intensity, biker bar swagger and effortless attitude. But despite this scattergun of references, or perhaps because of it, nothing here ever sounds derivative, familiar perhaps but just the right blend of comfort zone and new ground being explored.
Smoking Martha is a band looking for a bigger stage. You can hear it in their music, music crafted for big platforms, anthemic launch pads and stadium broadcasts – big songs looking for a big space to call home. I’m sure watching them play in a small music venue is still a brilliant, white-knuckle experience but what they have managed to capture on this album is the best argument ever for them being given the chance to step up and join the big leagues. When that door opens for them, not if but when, rock music will be in an altogether more interesting place.
The future of rock music isn’t just looking bright, it is positively smoking!
Illacrimo are the perfect band for the post-genre world, wandering effortlessly as they do between musical styles. Whilst they have one foot firmly planted in a slick alternative rock vibe it is what they gather around that which sets them apart from their peers. Pop awareness, classical deftness, and electronic exploration all make this a lot more than just another rock band.
They trade in a rich, dense sound and although they embrace all that the modern age has to offer in terms of technology, studio production and equipment, at the end of the day they stay true to the spirit of rock and roll. It’s a sound built on big riffs, accessible, soaring, melody driven songs, deep-rooted grooves and thunderous backbeats. In short it’s a big show just waiting for its turn to be unleashed on the big stage.
Dynamics rise and fall, built from subtle break downs, soaring vocals or euphoric guitar lines, past-referencing interludes or mood shifting drum patterns. A glorious celebration of what modern rock music can be. The less is more years are behind us, if done correctly, and this certainly is, more is more can definitely be the way forward.
They are a band who have worked out that the wheel doesn’t need re-inventing, it just needs a clean up, re-treading and some fancy rims then taken out for a spin to leave some indelible and unsightly marks all over the road, possibly invoking an angry letter to the local newspaper. Hang on, it is going to be one hell of a ride.
Good music paints pictures with sound. Great music conjures scenes from imaginary stories. Then there is music such as is found in this collection of songs that seems to spring to life like a soundtrack to a movie yet to be made. For although the songs themselves may not have been necessarily written to sit together as a finished album, there is none the less a over-riding feeling, a inherent aura to the music which supplies the required cohesion.
It is an aura woven from plaintive emotions, hints of melancholy, a dark and dramatic tone, an epic feeling but one that deals in bristling restraint rather and subtle underplay rather than howling dynamics and taking the more obvious route of swagger and bluster. And whilst the core of the music is firmly based in a rock sound, one that can certainly play the anthemic card when required, it is the other elements that are strung through the music which add the important detail and diversity.
At one extreme I’ll Fly Away plays with pop melody to temper the savage beast, whilst Stirring Gently sits at the crossroads of brooding rock and deft neo-classicalism, mournfully strings and chiming acoustica set the tone of Mother and there is even room for some more experimental musical manoeuvres on Puzzles, a strange encounter by anyone’s standards.
But for the most part it is the dark and subtle choices that define this collection, which feels slightly enthused with gothic romanticism though thankfully with out the usual theatrics and driven by familiar rock sounds but again without resorting to clichés and overly complex showboating. Every note counts, every chord seems considered, every beat necessary.
So what of the film that is conjured in your mind as this plays? Well, I’m sure it will be different to each listener but the film I see is one of dramatic vistas, colliding oceans and the very destruction of worlds. Why pay to see a film when you can just buy such a soundtrack and let your imagination fill in the gaps?
Classic rock, hard rock, rock…call it what you will but we can all agree that we are in familiar territory here. Not that it is a problem, not everything is about kicking down the barriers and exploring new pastures, some of it is about diving for pearls in familiar waters. And that is just what Anonymous are all about.
This sort of music is done often, too often really, but it is often not done well. That then is the bands selling point for whilst they are clearly playing with familiarity and comfort zones here and wearing their references very openly on their sleeve tattooed arms (presumably, I haven’t checked) they do it much better than most.
The bluesy Zeppelin edge shows through in the shifting dynamics of Will You Ever Learn but for the most part they are a full throttle, hard-edged rock onslaught that joins dots between the likes of The Almighty’s uncompromising sound and Black Stone Cherry’s southern swagger, The Cult ‘s knowingly wonderful foot on the monitor clichés and fellow emerging rockers Mother.
Sometimes it is enough just to re-invent the wheel especially if the wheel in question allows you to open up the throttle and take a white-knuckle joyride through the side streets and alleyways of the history of rock before unashamedly heading down the highway to follow in the tyre marks of previous iconic suicide machines. Or something…I’m not great with analogy.
In some ways Fennr Lane has restored my faith in rock music. Having been bombarded with metal so extreme that it sounds like the sounds like the heavy industry sector of the seventh circle of hell and would-be rock more concerned with having the right skinny jeans and complicated hair, I guess I was ripe for something that ticked the right boxes for me. And Fennr Lane certainly does that.
Like the previous single, Time To Ruin, Fennr Lane eschews the frippery and gimmicks that is often used as a distraction and just gets down to the business of reviving a brand of rock that sits somewhere between the foot on the monitor traditions of classic rock, the steely-eyed swagger of garage rock and a grunge intensity. This isn’t the sort of music that will change your life, but it will make your night. It is nothing more than a satisfying hit of solid, dynamic and driving rock urges, a record of simple ambitions but one that achieves its goals with room to spare.
Like I say, it won’t change your life, most music doesn’t, but it might just remind you of why you fell in love with rock music in the first place.
THE SOURCE is an exciting new chapter in the Ayreon saga, with contributions from renowned vocalists like James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Simone Simons (Epica), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), and Russell Allen (Symphony X). The Source will be released on April 28 through Ayreon’s new label Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings.
While Ayreon’s ‘Forever/Planet Y’ saga seemed to have reached its conclusion with the album 01011001, it’s clear that Arjen Lucassen’s creative muses had other plans. The new Ayreon album The Source revisits the Forever saga, adding a whole new chapter to Lucassen’s impressive body of work. With its top-flight cast of singers and musicians, compelling songs, overwhelming sound, and intriguing story, The Source offers everything that has gained Lucassen dedicated fans worldwide since he laid the foundations of Ayreon back in the mid-90’s.
The story of The Source is set six billion years in the past relative to Earth. It begins on Planet Alpha, a world in the Andromeda system where computer intelligence has far surpassed that of humanity. Alpha is facing a massive global crisis, with ecological and political catastrophes threatening all human life. The Alphans (our human ancestors) try to save their planet by entrusting the global computer mainframe—The ‘Frame—to find a solution. Given total control of the planet, the ‘Frame reaches the logical conclusion that its creators are the cause of all the trouble. The only way to solve Alpha’s problems is to exterminate humanity. This leaves the Alphans no other option than to try and escape their horrific fate. But their escape comes at a terrible price. It’s the beginning of a story that contains everything that has made the Ayreon epics so endlessly fascinating all these years.
The international status of Ayreon enables Arjen Lucassen to write his characters with some of the most respected singers in rock in mind: James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried And Me), Simone Simons (Epica), Mike Mills (Toehider), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), and Russell Allen (Symphony X). Special contributions were offered by guitarists Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Steven Wilson), Marcel Coenen and keyboard player Mark Kelly (Marillion).
Just as on his previous albums, The Source has Arjen Lucassen playing a wide variety of instruments, while the inimitable Ed Warby (o.a. Elegy, Gorefest, Hail Of Bullets) once again masterfully handles the drums.
2017 will be a particularly exciting year for Ayreon fans thanks to a unique chance to actually see Ayreon live. Limited to three exclusive performances, “The Ayreon Universe” will take place in September in the prestigious 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland. This unprecedented live event features the best of twenty years of Ayreon music, brought to life by a top cast of musicians such as Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Damian Wilson (Threshold), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Anneke van Giersbergen, and various others. The reclusive Arjen Lucassen himself is also expected to make a rare appearance on stage. The tickets for all concerts – 9000 in total – sold out within a day, proving once again that the Ayreon magic is still very much alive and kicking.
One of the downsides of being a music writer for a living is that all sorts of sounds find their way to my desk, music that, let’s say, isn’t exactly in my comfort zone. So after a morning spent trying to eek out some positivity from production line pop or struggling to be critically upbeat about yet more landfill indie, it is always a sigh of relief when a band like Fennr Lane crop up on the “to do” list.
I’ll admit it; I’m an old school rocker and songs like Time to Ruin feels like coming home. But that might sound as if I am dismissing the song as just the same old same old. Far from it. For whilst there is always going to be an element of the familiar about what is going on here, there is something musically dark and elegant at work too. The musical building blocks may be instantly recognisable but what is being built with those materials is still something inspiring, fresh and appealing.
The backbeat drives relentlessly, the bass line pounds out a tribal dance, guitars fire off white-hot salvos and almost industrial edged riffs, and the vocals have exactly the right blend of attitude and world-weariness to complete the picture. For far too long have we been subjected to screaming metal bands who feel the need to throw two albums worth of notes into every song or melodic posers watering down the essence of rock and roll for a unit shifting, chart orientated career. But there is another way.
What Fennr Lane realise is that rock music thrives best at a point where solidity meets melody, where intensity meets accessibility and simple grooves and solid beats serve much better than trying to show off or pander to popularity. In a couple of generations time people will look back at music such as this and define it as classic rock for their age and I guess as accolades go it doesn’t get better than that.
Every band plunders from the past, of course they do, but it is how subtly you apply those influences which is the difference between being an innovative torch bearer or a pastiche ridden revivalist.
And whilst The Black Jackals freely acknowledge the heady days when 60’s garage rock and electric blues pioneers started morphing into what is now viewed as classic rock, it is to more recent bands such as The Datsuns, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Piano Wire that we need to look for parallels.
Set to an archetypal, dark and sleazy rock groove The Black Jackals make for worthy custodians of the rock and roll flame, a flame that was first lit around 60 years ago and which, thanks to bands such as this, shows no sign of diminishing. Anything but.
Often reviewing music can be tricky, particularly when it is hard to find an interesting starting point, when nothing new or interesting is being offered up. Growing Wild presents a challenge for exactly the opposite reason. With so many intriguing musical ideas and genre-hopping approaches going on before your ears it is difficult to know just where to start.
Well, let’s start with three words… Instrumental, guitar and rock. That’s pretty safe ground but the charm of the album comes from the generic paths along which that template is allowed to wander and evolve. This isn’t just the same old Vai-esque hard rock indulgence, this is hard rock given wings and a license to fly. And if you think that the lack of vocals is likely to diminish the appeal of the music, one listen to songs like Buffalo Jump and particularly Backroad Ride where the guitar melody is used like a voice and effected washes take the place of harmony vocals, is enough to set those preconceptions straight.
What this instrumental approach does promote is a less song orientated feel that vocals would demand and a more cinematic journey, one that wanders the dynamic scale from simple emotive blues to soaring progressive rock hypnotics, from the power-pop melodicism of lead single Technicolor to the funky grooves of The North End.
Growing Wild is the Canadian guitarists 6th album, so it is obvious that Slang knows what it’s all about and the ability to take such an established style as hard rock on a journey of exploration through new metal, jazz, blues, funk and pop pastures is obviously why he has maintained such a successful career.
So how do you stay true to the tenets of the music you love without becoming a pastiche of what has gone before? I guess if I knew that I would be a rich man but whether by luck or judgement Pilgrim seem to have found the answer. Whilst rooted in a classic, heavy rock sound, one that mixes dexterity and power, aggression and craftsmanship, this is much more than four guys merely paying tribute to their own record collection. Others may be happy to copy what has so far defined the genre but the art is to take those influences, re-shape them, re-package them for the current music buyer and move the genre forward into pastures new. And that is exactly what they do.
They may wear their influences honestly and openly on their collective sleeves and why not, those influences are built of iconic sounds and timeless qualities, ones that have served the genre well for over 50 years, but they are also fully aware that the art is to bend those influences to their own will. The end result is some impressive guitar lines which show off just enough but which are normally happy to delivery heavy but accessible riffs and bass lines which wander between their default job of linking the back beats to the melody and something far more rhythmic. The drums have the necessary relentless drive and build solid songs structures and soaring and powerful vocals are the icing on the cake.
If you think that genres even so previously defined and carefully guarded as heavy rock have nowhere new to go, then Pilgrim will make you think again. Any band that can balance familiarity and originality so well is obviously the flag bearers that every genre needs to lead the charge of modernity.
Although I grew up on what was then termed as “metal” bands, the classics, bands that could be referenced by only using half of their name, Maiden, Purple, Priest, then the genre moved on to more extreme potential and left me behind. Shotgun Rodeo, however, seem to reference those heady and more melodic days in their music and because of that I find a lot here I like.
Rather than the extreme technical style over substance that prevails in the genre today, this is a band that understands the middle ground, riffs are big but accessible, the beat moves with the song rather than dominates in a showcase of double kick mayhem, the songs groove and swing whilst coming at you like a thing possessed and the lyrics are aggressive and growled, yet clearly identifiable rather than the guttural noise that has become the fashion.
In short it moves the modern metal format on by referencing what was so good about the past, a past where bands like Pantera led the game, and the end result is an album that will appeal to old school hard rockers and modern day metallers alike.
Anyone who thinks that classic rock ran aground a long time ago should forget this countries nostalgic love in-with its cliched past and check out bands such as The Manic Shine. As a band, they sartorial reference every era of rock music via an impressive array of beard sculpture, check shirts, baseball caps and DMs but it is when you hear the music they play that you realise that rock music still has a future and a very bright one at that. Built on big riffs, heavy grooves, infectious singalong choruses and blistering guitar breaks, this is the sound of the sharp end of classic rock evolution. It references past glories without dwelling to long on them, it embraces modernity and it gives rock music the kick up the arse that it has clearly been waiting for. (note: that’s arse not ass…important difference!) Forget all those old AC/DC and Zeppelin records, the future of rock music is before you and it looks a lot like The Manic Shine.