Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Eden's Curse - London Review

November 2016 I shall remember for a long time! I have not had a single weekend at home at all, as I pursued my hobby of catching as many excellent bands live as I could. I have been rather tired all month as a result, and my bank account has inevitably taken a hit, but it has all been worth it. Closing out this November marathon was Eden's Curse, a multinational melodic rock/metal band based in the UK who I have really taken to over the past couple of years. I saw the band in 2014, at the Underworld in Camden, and since then have listened to them regularly. Their fifth album Cardinal was released last month, and a short UK tour was announced to promote it which wound up in London, again at the Underworld. I got tickets for this as soon as it was announced, as they are not a band that plays live that regularly so opportunities are there to be taken! The added bonus of Sheffield-based hard rockers COP UK as one of the support bands made the decision to travel up to London for this gig an easy one. Camden's Underworld is one of my least favourite venues, and always venture there under duress. That being said, the whole venue seemed much cleaner this time around, and the toilets seem to have been totally renovated. They were truly disgusting before, and that change has really helped this place seem much better. When I return to the venue in February to catch Firewind I will not be filled with quite as much dread! Size-wise however, it is perfect for a band like Eden's Curse. The turnout for the show was not great, with probably no more than 100 people in the venue at any one time. This was a shame, but Sirenia playing in Islington probably had an affect on the crowd size, but the atmosphere was still great throughout as everyone in attendance were die-hard Eden's Curse fans.

Before Eden's Curse and COP UK's sets, the crowd was treated to a good set from progressive metal act Evolve. When the Swiss rockers hit the stage, there was barely anyone in the venue, but they gave it their all and made the most of their 30 minute stage time. Sound-wise, I found them to be similar to Jørn Lande's solo work, but with more keyboards and more progressive arrangements. The heavy mid-paced riffing and the low-register powerful vocals were present though, and the band impressed somewhat with their solid material. While lots of individual parts of their songs stood out, I did feel that the overall melodies and impact were not as strong as the band's suggests. Their is certainly a lot of potential in this band, with their vocalist and keyboard player especially standing out a great musicians, but some tighter arrangements and a greater focus on melody will certainly help them to reach the next level.

COP UK are a band I have paid for to see them as a headline act. Their excellent show in Sheffield in January got my gigging year off to a great start, and the album they launched that night, No Place for Heaven, will probably end up in my Albums of the Year list come next month. This was my fifth time seeing the band in total, and despite the short set they managed to whip up a real storm with their melodic hard rock sound that just gets better and better. Opening with The Core from the new album really sets the tone for their set, as it contains one of their best choruses yet and frontman Dale Radcliffe really gets into live. He managed to whip up quite a lot of excitement with the now-larger crowd and I am sure the band made a few new fans with this performance. Now seemingly back to a five-piece, without rhythm guitarist Andrew Mewse, this allowed Henning Wanner's (keyboards/vocals) to become more prominent in the mix. I think I actually prefer this configuration of the band, and the material benefits from a smoother overall feel as a result. Charles Staton (guitar/vocals) is more than capable of handling all of the guitar duties too, with plenty of excellent riffs and solos coming from his fingers throughout their set. My Blood, also from the new album, was the highlight of the set; before the ballad-like Love is to Die For from the band's previous album provided some light in a set dominated with hard rocking shade. When the Edguy-like Stranger than Fiction was played I assumed that was to be the end of the set, but they had time for one more. Journey's Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) might not have been the most obvious choice of songs for a band like COP UK to cover, but they owned it and turned it into a heavier rocker than the original, although Wanner's keyboards still dominated with that iconic intro riff! This was a triumphant set from a band that have had probably their best year to date, and I look forward to what they come up with next. The setlist was:

The Core
Body and Soul
My Blood
Love is to Die For
Catch Me if You Can
Stranger than Fiction
Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) [Journey cover]

A few bands would have had trouble following COP UK, but Eden's Curse are no slouches and came roaring out of the blocks and played for well over 90 minutes delivering a classy and powerful performance. Cardinal is a hard-hitting album, and Prophets of Doom proved to be an excellent opening number with Thorsten Koehne's (guitar) slightly thrashy riff and John Clelland's propelling drum pattern. Frontman Nikola Mijić has really grown into his role since the show over two years ago, and he now commands the stage. His English is much improved too, and his interactions with the crowd are on another level to the previous time. With five albums now under their belt, this show felt like a best of set, with the five songs played from the new album being given as much of a warm welcome as the old favourites. Masquerade Ball, which has one of the band's best choruses, was the highlight of the early part of the set with the heavy new number The Great Pretender coming a close second. Christian 'Chrism' Pulkkinen (keyboards/vocals) drives the song with a playful keyboard riff, and the whole song just has a great Dio vibe throughout. Being the last night of the tour, the whole evening had a great party atmosphere, with the members of the support bands often joining the crowd to sing along and enjoy the show. COP UK's Radcliffe seemed to be particularly into the set, but I am not sure where the 'I want to do a poo at Paul's house' joke came from? I assume this must be a tour in-joke, and Radcliffe seemed intent on shouting this loudly and often at the amusement of the band and crowd. 'Paul' of course is Eden's Curse founder Paul Logue (bass guitar/vocals) who led his band through a great set on what has seemed to be a very successful UK tour. There was not a bad song played all evening, with Unconditional from the new album seeing Mijić duetting with a lady called Helen Hurd who had a powerful voice to match the material given to her. Jericho, which is one of my favourites from the new album, came across really well live, with the powerful chorus really hitting home live. The main set came to an end with Unbreakable and Evil & Divine, both from the last album, and the crowd were baying for more as the band left the stage. It was not long before the band were back however, with the progressive metal of Symphony of Sin getting things back underway, before the party really stepped up a gear. A cover of AC/DC's Highway to Hell was played, with members of COP UK and Evolve joining the band on stage for a great ensemble performance. COP UK's Kev Tonge took over from Clelland on the drums towards the end, which allowed Clelland to come to the front of the stage and throw his drumsticks into the crowd. I caught one, something which I have not done for ages! With the madness of this stage invasion over, there was time for the band's classic track Angels & Demons to get an airing which ensured the show ended on a really strong note. Hurd again duetted with Mijić, and the whole band rocked to the very end. The setlist was:

Prophets of Doom
Masquerade Ball
Black Widow
The Great Pretender
Fly Away
Find my Way
Break the Silence
Unconditional [w/ Helen Hurd]
No Holy Man
Judgement Day
Jericho
Sell Your Soul
Unbreakable
Evil & Divine
-
Symphony of Sin
Highway to Hell [AC/DC cover w/ members of COP UK and Evolve]
Angels & Demons [w/ Helen Hurd]

Overall, this was a stunning gig from a band that more people really need to hear. Nothing beats a great show in a small venue where you can get right to the front with ease and where the atmosphere is as good as it was at this show. The band came out to the merchandise desk as soon as they left the stage too, so I got my copy of Cardinal signed which was a great bonus to the evening. This was one of the best small gigs I have been to in a good while, and it is shows like this that remind me why I often travel many miles to see bands play live.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Alter Bridge - Nottingham Review

As far as modern hard rock goes, there is no bigger band out there at the moment it seems than Alter Bridge. They are a band that has well and truly put the effort in, with lots of touring throughout their career, and have released a solid discography to back this up. The band's fifth album, The Last Hero, which was released last month seems to be a culmination of everything the band have done up until this point. The more upbeat rock anthems of their early days and the darker modern material have been fused together well, to create a complete and interesting hard rock album. I first saw the band back in 2010 at the Hammersmith Apollo when they were out supporting AB III. Since then, the band have become an arena-filling act, and this current UK run is their third arena tour of the UK. I saw the band in 2013, also in Nottingham, supporting the Fortress album. The Motorpoint Arena, or Capital FM Arena as it was then, was pretty full then with a good few thousand people in attendance. I would say that the crowd was even bigger this time, with very few of the sections of seating curtained off, and the crowd on the floor was plentiful. It is great that a band like Alter Bridge can become an arena-filling these days, and goes against the commonly-held view in the mainstream that rock is dead. As with the vast majority of arena tours these days, Alter Bridge topped a rather extensive bill. The variety of acts on display was good, and it is the diversity of bills like this that help get people through the door.

Opening up the show was New Zealand's Like a Storm, a band who's music mostly fitted into the tried and tested post-grunge formula. They were only on stage for about half an hour, but they managed to impress me with an energetic show, despite their music being fairly generic. The songwriting was tight however, with plenty of strong vocal melodies throughout for frontman Chris Brooks to belt out for the growing crowd to enjoy. While most of the set was guitar-based, some sections of the songs used a didgeridoo which helped to showcase the band's cultural heritage and add a different sound to the well-established sound. The tribal instrument added a certain dark, rumbling atmosphere to some of the songs and helped the band to stand out from the crowd. A weak and unnecessary cover of AC/DC's TNT was the low-point of the set, with their own original material sounding much more inspired and energetic. Overall, Like a Storm went down well and I imagine we will be hearing more from them in the future.

French progressive death metal ban Gojira have been on my radar for nearly ten years now, having first seen the band supporting Trivium back in 2007. They are a band I have never really got though, as I struggle with the whole 'tech metal' scene and have always failed to find much melody in their music. I own a couple of their albums, and caught a few songs of their set at Bloodstock earlier in the year, but for various reasons the band just never stuck. This might be about to change however, as this short support set in Nottingham was fantastic! It helped that the sound for their set was pretty much perfect, with the instruments all standing out perfectly, and Joe Duplantier's (vocals/guitar) voice was well-mixed too. This time the band's immense riffs really stood out, as did Mario Duplantier's drumming. Bands like this need to have a great live sound, and I think that really helped me to enjoy their set. There seemed to be lots of Gojira fans in the crowd too, with lots of t-shirts around and plenty of people around seemed to know their songs. This is clearly another band that is o the rise, and are here to stay in a big way. They really stuck out like a sore thumb on this bill however, and I wonder how Alter Bridge's more conservative fans found them? I shall have to dig out the album's of theirs that I own and listen to them again, as I might be finally starting to 'get' Gojira.

Volbeat on the other hand were fairly dull. They seem to be quite a big band these days, but I have to say that I really do not get the hype. Bills like this are a good opportunity to see bands that you would not go and see otherwise, and I went into Volbeat's set with an open mind and hoped to be impressed. While I think some of the band's riffing is excellent, I find Michael Poulsen's (vocals/guitar) voice to be quite weak and his vocal melodies very unmemorable. Their songs never seem to really amount to anything, with choruses that just do not pack a punch and very little true energy despite quite a few faster songs. They were on stage for about an hour too, so by the end of their set it was starting to rag quite a lot. I must be in a minority however, as there were plenty of people around me enjoying their set and singing along with passion. Volbeat are just not for me it would appear.

When the lights went down for Alter Bridge's set, the venue erupted. Arena shows are always great for big crowd reactions, and there was plenty of that throughout Alter Bridge's 90 minute plus show. Opening with The Writing on the Wall from the new album worked well, as it has a great sing-a-long chorus that was the first of many throughout the evening. Despite this being the The Last Hero tour, all of the band's five albums were well-represented throughout, although I am surprised that not more from the new album were played. It is hard to to argue with the choice of songs played however, as chorus after chorus and riff after riff filled the large Nottingham venue. The only song that I felt failed to excite was the clunky Farther Than the Sun that has never been a favourite of mine. Addicted to Pain and Ghosts of Days Gone By soon erased all memories of that song away however, before the heavy Island of Fools from the new album saw quite a lot of headbanging. Alter Bridge are a very professional band, with little time in their set for crowd interaction. Myles Kennedy (vocals/guitar) took few opportunities to talk, instead letting the quality of the songs fuel their performance. Guitarist Mark Tremonti stepped up to the microphone to sing the excellent Waters Rising, which also features a great guitar solo from him. I felt a bit sorry for Tremonti throughout the set however, as many of the songs chosen were ones that Kennedy takes the solo in. It did feel strange seeing one of the best modern rock guitarists relegated to a glorified rhythm player for large chunks of the set, but when he did solo he really let rip! Crows on a Wire, one of the best songs from the new album, went down really well; before Kennedy's acoustic rendition of the ballad Watch Over You saw the biggest crowd sing-a-long of the night. This generation's Freebird, Blackbird, really impressed with the two guitarists both with ample chance to solo. This is probably the band's defining song, and it is always a joy to hear it live. A couple of old-school songs from the band's debut album finished things off, with Open Your Eyes proving to be a strong closing statement. There was time for more of course, and the anthemic Show me a Leader from the new album went down a storm. Predictably, Rise Today was the closing number and gave everyone a last opportunity to sing and jump along with Alter Bridge. The set ended on a high, and the large crowd sounded their appreciation as the band left the stage. The setlist was:

The Writing on the Wall
Come to Life
Farther Than the Sun
Addicted to Pain
Ghosts of Days Gone By
Cry of Achilles
Island of Fools
Ties That Bind
Waters Rising
Crows on a Wire
Watch Over You
Isolation
Blackbird
Metalingus
Open Your Eyes
-
Show me a Leader
Rise Today

Overall, this was a masterful display of stadium rock from one of the modern masters of the genre. Alter Bridge continue to go from strength to strength and have the potential to become real legends of the genre. They are the classic rock band of the future, and performances like this will only help to cement this status.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Eden's Curse's 'Cardinal' - Album Review

I was pretty late to the party when it comes to Eden's Curse. It was not until around 2014 that I got into the UK-based multinational band, despite being familiar with their name for a while. The band's fourth album Symphony of Sin had been released the previous year and had heralded a new dawn for the band. The band's namesake and frontman Michael Eden left the band in 2011 after the release of the excellent Trinity album and, despite a brief flirtation with Italian singer Marco Sandron which produced the Time to Breathe single, was eventually replaced in 2013 by Serbian Nikola Mijić. Mijić made his debut with Eden's Curse on Symphony of Sin, which was less heavy than the band's previous three albums and showed more of an 1980s melodic rock/AOR influence than before. Founding members guitarist Thorsten Koehne, bassist Paul Logue, and drummer Pete Newdeck - along with newcomers Mijić and keyboardist Steve Williams - found Symphony of Sin to be a hit with the band's fanbase, and the excellent UK tour in 2014 featured a lot of it in the setlists. Eden's Curse have always been a hard band to classify. They almost perfectly straddle the line between hard rock and heavy metal without clearly being either. They are a big melting pot of influences, with elements of classic rock, AOR, power metal, and even sometimes progressive metal all thrown together to create a classy and melodic songs. Melodies are always key with Eden's Curse, with the vocals always taking prominence, and instrumental showboating kept to a minimum. That being said, Koehne always has plenty of opportunities to solo but his playing is always for the song and never outstays it's welcome. Three years on from Symphony of Sin the band have released their fifth album. Cardinal. The AOR elements that dominated Symphony of Sin remain, but combined more with some of the heavier elements the band was originally known for. As seem to be customary for the band now, this album sees some line-up changes. Newdeck left the band not long after the release of Symphony of Sin and was replaced by John Clelland (Code of Silence). He makes his debut on an Eden's Curse studio album (although his playing can be heard on the live album Live with the Curse which was recorded in 2014) along with new keyboardist Christian 'Chrism' Pulkkinen (Epicrenel; Adamantra; Simulacrum) who replaced Williams earlier this year when the latter left the band to resurrect his power metal band Power Quest (who released an EP called Face the Raven earlier this year). Both of the band's new recruits add to the band's overall sound, with Chrism standing out the most with plenty of fluid keyboard solos throughout. The keyboards generally seem much more prominent, with more noticeable leads and solos than on any other Eden's Curse album. Despite leaving the band, Newdeck, who has a great songwriting chemistry with Logue, has co-written the vast majority of the songs here as well as providing some backing vocals. This ensures that the band's core songwriting team has remained on board which means the high quality of the material here is ensured.

While Symphony of Sin opened with a lengthy piece showing the band's slightly progressive side, Cardinal opens with the power metal of Prophets of Doom, which is more reminiscent of how the band's older albums began. Koehne's tight guitar riff drives the song, while new drummer Clelland immediately makes his mark with some double bass drumming to match. Fans of the band's older sound will love this, with Mijić adding a little more bite to his vocals which make him sound a little more similar to his predecessor. Mijić sounds fantastic throughout this album, and has grown more into his role since last time. His showcases more range here, and this song is a perfect example of that with a lower register employed during the crunchy verses, before letting rip in the chorus in a call-and-response style with the choral backing vocals. Those who enjoyed the overall lighter tone of Symphony of Sin will enjoy Sell Your Soul, which has a video that can be seen below. The upbeat AOR vibe of the song is ridiculously infectious, with a bouncy guitar/keyboard riff that continues to resurface throughout, and prominent keyboards throughout providing pomp flourishes. The song's chorus is the first real sing-a-long moment of the album. A tougher mid-section provides some weight, before an instrumental workout ensues that sees Koehne and Chrism trading solo sections perfectly. The two already have a great chemisty, and the latter proves to be a great foil for the founding guitarist. With a sledgehammer of a main riff that would not have been out of place on a late-era Dio album, The Great Pretender packs a real punch as it moves along at a solid pace. Logue's bass is nice and high in the mix here, and really helps to anchor the main riff, as Chrism's main keyboard riff dances over the top (think Rainbow in the Dark but less cheesy - the Dio comparisons continue!). Another great chorus dominates the song, with Mijić's expressive vocals really shining here. This is a song that perfectly mixes the band's heavier early sound with the more overtly melodic path forged on Symphony of Sin, and shows that this mix of styles really benefits the band's sound overall. Those who want something a little heavier need look no further than Messiah Complex, which has a fast, modern Helloween sound with a slightly thrashier riff and plenty of double bass drumming. The tight verses are excellent, with Mijić's vocals (on a song he has co-written) having some real venom to them. As is with most Eden's Curse songs however, the chorus still manages to soar, with a tinkling keyboard riff that works as a great contrast to the darker guitars. The mid-song solo section is one of the album's best too, with Koehne and Chrism playing off each other perfectly with speedy and flashy lead runs. Find my Way is much more keyboard-dominated, with lots of electronics in the song's intro, before piano takes over for the verses. The song is a bit of a power ballad, but some sections of heavier riffing stop it from becoming too twee. The chorus is very theatrical, with a hint of Tobias Sammet's writing style for Avantasia, with lots of backing vocals and a good helping of melodrama. It provides a good contrast to the heavier material that has come before it, and shows a different side of the band's writing. Kingdom of Solitude is a song that definitely shows the band's love of all things Dream Theater. The riffing here is very technical, and the mix of sections that are pasted together works really well. Chrism's keyboards have plenty of chances to shine here too, with lots of stand-out riffs. This is easily the most progressive song on the album, and it packs a lot into a short space of time. While Chrism owns the main parts of the song with his glue-like keyboard playing, Koehne solos alone this time which gives him more chance to breath and stretch his wings with lots of excellent licks.

Co-written by ex-keyboardist Williams, it is unsurprising that Utopian Dreams is extremely keyboard heavy. Chrism takes this in his stride, and nails the opening riff with ease and provides a synthy halo for the rest of the song. Comparisons can be drawn to Power Quest's melodic style, Williams' songwriting style is quite recognisable, but the song has more of a grounding in hard rock than that band. The chorus is fantastic as always, with Mijić's vocals really standing out and proving what a find he was for Eden's Curse. Those who want a bit of a throwback to Symphony of Sin will love This is Our Moment. It is much lighter in tone than much of the material here, with a bouncy main riff and a subtle symphonic keyboard backing which adds real depth. It is certainly one of the album's least interesting songs however, with a chorus that never really gets going and fewer standout melodies. That being said, Chrism's lengthy keyboard solo is excellent and shows what an asset keyboards can be to rock and metal bands. Even many bands who use keyboards quite liberally rarely allow their keyboardist to solo, and this is something I would like to see more of in the genre. Rome's on Fire restores the album's quality with a great heavier song with a crunchy riff and some excellent drumming. Koehne really owns this song however, with lots of short bursts of shredding lead guitar throughout, and a fantastic little verse lick that really makes this part of the song stand out. Not to be outdone, Chrism performs something similar during the choruses which creates a link between the two parts of the song perfectly. Koehne shreds during the short solo too, with a great neo-classical theme throughout. Unconditional, which features the angelic voice of Liv Kristine (Theatre of Tragedy; Leaves' Eyes) duetting with Mijić, is the album's true ballad. Kristine's voice is so distinctive, and she joins the impressive list of vocalists to guest on an Eden's Curse album. The two voices compliment each other perfectly, and the call-and-response style brings out the best in each of them without one person dominating. Kristine tends to take centre stage in the song's chorus though, and lets her shimmering vocals just wash over the listener. Koehne's spacey guitar solo has something of John Sykes' on Whitesnake's Still of the Night about it, which fits perfectly for this more atmospheric song. Two heavier songs bring the album to a close, with Saints & Sinners up first. The lightning-fast keyboard intro again has a strong power metal vibe, but the song overall is much tougher than that with a crunching guitar line that dominates the verses, and this mood carries on throughout. Clelland's drumming is pretty heavy here too, and little bursts of double bass drumming really propel the song along. The chorus is strong too, with a great use of backing vocals to create a big sound. The album's closing number Jericho is great, and sounds a bit different to everything else on the album with a bigger symphonic feeling with orchestral keyboards throughout that overshadow everything else. Mijić's voice is smooth here, which shows another side to his singing, and the dramatic chorus is boosted by the soaring vocal ending. Overall, Cardinal is an album that showcases everything that has made Eden's Curse great in the past packaged into one album. It is probably the band's most consistent work so far, and contains some truly excellent songs. This is a band that deserves to be heard by more people, so anyone who is into good quality melodic hard rock and metal need to give this quintet a go.

The album was released on 14th October 2016 via AFM Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Sell Your Soul.


Sunday, 20 November 2016

Opeth - London Review

Sometimes something that is initially a disappointment can turn out to be for the best. The doomed Glenn Hughes/Living Colour co-headline tour is one of those things. I had booked to catch that tour in Cambridge, and then when it was cancelled under a cloud of accusations and bad blood I was scrabbling around to try not to waste my planned weekend away. I remembered that Opeth were playing a one-off UK show at London's prestigious Wembley Arena on the same day, and I was delighted to find some cheap tickets still available. I could use the train tickets to Cambridge that I had already booked, as they went via London anyway, so all I needed to do was book some accommodation. This was not too difficult, and I found myself in my semi-regular haunt of Cricklewood in North London which is quite close to Wembley. While I had seen Opeth live a couple of times in the past, both of these shows had been at Festivals. Their sets at High Voltage in 2010 and Bloodstock in 2015 were great, but only ever really tasters of what a real Opeth show would be like. The band are currently out promoting their twelfth studio album Sorceress, but this London show promised to be more special than your average Opeth show. Four gigs on this tour, with London being one of them, are dubbed An Evening of Sorcery, Damnation and Deliverance which sees the band perform a career-spanning setlist that clocks in at the best part of two and a half hours. An added bonus at this London show was the addition of special guests Anathema to open the show. It was exactly two weeks to the day that I saw the band play a small Cardiff venue and play one of the gigs of the year so far. Anathema were just as much of a draw for me as Opeth, and the combination of the two bands made it more than worth the ticket price. A band of Opeth's stature can not sell out the full-sized Wembley Arena, so a temporary stage was constructed about two-thirds of the way back, which gave the impression of a Roman amphitheatre, with seating tightly packed around three of the sides and a smaller floor space for standing. Despite this strange arrangement, there were still a good few thousand people in attendance, and the crowd was vocal throughout creating a good atmosphere.

Hot off the back of a successful tour previewing some new material, Anathema mostly stuck to crowd favourites for their 50 minute special guest slot. A doomy, apocalyptic intro tape heralded their arrival and they immediately launched into Thin Air as Danny Cavanagh's (guitar/keyboards/vocals) chiming guitar intro brought a decent-sized cheer from the crowd. There were clearly quite a few Anathema fans in attendance, and they were well-received throughout. The spine-tingling Untouchable - Part 1 followed, with Vincent Cavanagh (vocals/guitar/percussion) and Lee Douglas (vocals) teaming up well to sing one of the band's best songs. Unfortunately Untouchable - Part 2 was not played which felt a bit strange, as if you were only hearing half a song! There was little time for chatting, and the band rattled through seven songs with little pausing for breath. One that really stood out this time around was Distant Satellites which has a great electronica vibe and some fantastically moody vocals from Vincent and Lee. The ending section is fantastic live, with Vincent, John Douglas (drums/percussion) and Daniel Cardoso (keyboards/drums) all pounding away on floor toms while Danny's dark piano line swirls around. This is one of the few moments that benefits from having original drummer John as a stand-alone percussionist on a lot of the songs now. I must say, I am not 100% sure why the band want to sacrifice having a full-time keyboardist (as Cardoso was) to have John mostly focus on percussion. Danny and Cardoso (and Vincent, but not at this show) still play keyboards on certain songs, with John taking up his old drumming job again sometimes, but there are moments in the set that rely on obvious pre-recorded keyboards (the end of A Simple Mistake for example). I am not sure the percussion adds that much to the band's live sound, and I would rather have a full-time keyboardist instead. That little oddity aside, which I have mused over for a while, Anathema are a fantastic live band. The ending section was easily the best, as Lee's showcase number A Natural Disaster saw the whole venue lit up with mobile phone lights which was beautiful to see. The oldie Fragile Dreams actually saw some headbanging from the metalheads in the crowd, before the stunning new number Springfield finished the evening off. This song was easily the best of the four new songs I saw them play in Cardiff, with the vocal interplay between Vincent and Lee having a perfect haunting quality, and I predict this will be a future classic for the band. The setlist was:

Thin Air
Untouchable - Part 1
A Simple Mistake
Distant Satellites
A Natural Disaster
Fragile Dreams
Springfield

While Opeth will never be a particular favourite band of mine, they are a band I continue to be impressed by and admire. They are a band I have to be in the mood for, but as I have been enjoying Sorceress quite a bit recently, this show came at the right time. I have always wanted to catch them at their own show, and this mammoth outing was certainly an impressive experience. While the sound for Anathema was not perfect, it was crystal clear for Opeth and that allowed the band's trademark dynamics to shine. The jazz/rock/prog fusion Sorceress got everything off to a great start, with Joakim Svalberg's (keyboards/percussion/vocals) keyboard intro blowing everyone away. The first half of the show (the Sorcery aspect) was a bit of an Opeth 'best of'. Favourites from throughout their career were played, with the heavy Ghost of Perdition getting a huge reaction from the large crowd. The set was probably a Opeth die-hard's wet dream, with a good mix of the heavier and lighter material throughout. I was surprised that only two songs from Sorceress, the title track and the excellent The Wilde Flowers, were played however as it is easily the most well-received album for some time. That being said, the material played was so strong that is seems like a pointless complaint. Mikael Åkerfeldt (vocals/guitar) was in fine form throughout, his dry sense of humour shining through, and his vocals powered over the heavy instrumentation. His harsh vocals are still as good as anyone else's despite them featuring less and less these days, and his gorgeous clean vocals make the song's lighter, more progressive songs shine. The dark Face of Melinda was one of those, which is heavy in spirit but light musically. The gloomy guitar interplay between Åkerfeldt and Fredrik Åkesson (guitar/vocals) really brought the song to life, and it was one of the highlights of the first part of the set for me. Another highlight was Heir Apparent from 2008's Watershed, which is probably my favourite Opeth album. The song is crushingly heavy, but also features lots of the band's best progressive arrangements, with Martin Axenrot (drums) holding everything together with his fantastic drumming display. The best of set finished with The Grand Conjuration, another crowd favourite, which ensured this portion of the set finished on a high. By this point, the band had been on stage for 90 minutes, which is about the average length of a normal headline show for most bands! After a minute or so off stage while some doomy music played over the speakers, Opeth came back and played for another hour. All the songs in this second part of the set were taken from the Damnation and Deliverance albums, and allowed for some rarely played songs to get an airing. 'Side 1' of Damnation was up first. Only Windowpane of these songs is a set regular, but it was the fantastic In my Time of Need that was the highlight here. This is one Opeth song that is a true earworm, and a great display of melodic songwriting in a set filled with lengthy prog epics. Three heavy numbers from Deliverance brought the show to a close. By the Pain I See in Others was played live for only the third time, and then the album's crushingly heavy title track brought an excellent show to a close. The setlist was:

Sorceress
Ghost of Perdition
Demon of the Fall
The Wilde Flowers
Face of Melinda
Cusp of Eternity
The Drapery Falls
Heir Apparent
The Grand Conjuration
Windowpane
Death Whispered a Lullaby
In my Time of Need
Closure
Master's Apprentices
By the Pain I See in Others
Deliverance

Overall, this was a masterful display of live music from one of the best modern prog bands out there. While I do not claim to be a huge fan of everything Opeth have released, or even a particularly regular listener to their albums, I enjoyed this show a lot. There is no band out there that is quite like Opeth, and they are deserving to be held in the high regard that they are.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Tyketto's 'Reach' - Album Review

As far as American AOR goes, Tyketto are a bit of a cult band. They were formed in 1987, and their debut album Don't Come Easy was released in 1990, so they missed the boat somewhat. The 1980s was a time where melodic music dominated the rock and metal worlds. Hair metal and AOR ruled the waves, and there were plenty of bands coming out towards the end of the decade, or in the early part of the 1990s, who would have been bigger and more successful if they had been around a few years earlier. Tyketto are one of those bands, and the big backlash against 1980s music with the grunge movement certainly scuppered any change they had for success. Their record label at the time, Geffen, would not release their second album (no loyalty in the music industry, just an attempt to stay 'on trend') and it was eventually released in 1994 as Strength in Numbers via another label. Frontman Danny Vaughn left the band the following year, and Tyketto eventually came to an end in 1996. Various reunions happened throughout the early 2000s, but it was not until 2008 that Tyketto was back together properly as a touring unit. By 2012, when all four of the band's original members were back in tow, it was time for new music. The band's fourth album, Dig in Deep, was released in that year, and it felt like no time had passed since Strength in Numbers (the band's third album, 1995's Shine that featured future Journey frontman Steve Augeri, had a bluesier, rawer sound). Vaughn's voice had not changed at all, and the band's melodic hard rock sound sounded as fresh as ever. The band has been on tour fairly regularly ever since and are probably as popular as they ever have been. Four years on from Dig in Deep, the world is ready for another Tyketto album. Reach has been in the work for a while, and sees Tyketto sounding as good as ever. The band has been in transition somewhat over the past few years, with guitarist Chris Green (Furyon; Pride) replacing original member Brooke St. James in 2014. Bassist Chris Childs (Thunder; The Union) filled in for Jimi Kennedy for a few shows when the latter had some family problems to deal with, and has since become a permanent member of the band. He plays with Vaughn in an Eagles tribute band too, so there is existing chemistry between the two. Keyboardist Ged Rylands (Ten) who, despite having played live with the band for a few years, makes his debut on a Tyketto recording too, and therefore marks the band's recorded debut as a five-piece. Green, Childs, and Rylands join Vaughn and founding drummer Michael Clayton in what could be the most explosive Tyketto line-up yet. Green in particular has been a revelation since joining the band two years ago, and has already formed a productive songwriting team with Vaughn and Clayton. Tyketto have not taken any big risks with this album, but the strong production and catchy songwriting makes this another excellent entry in their discography.

The album opens in a flurry of keyboards as the anthemic title track gets underway. Green makes his mark instantly with a soaring guitar lead, that has more than a hint of John Petrucci's phrasing about it, and plenty of bluesy bursts throughout. This song is all about Vaughn however, and is driven by his strong vocal melodies. His voice does not sound aged at all, and his very slight country twang, that brings to mind the late Glenn Frey at times, is infectious. His acoustic guitar playing helps to bulk out many of the songs on this album too, and Reach emphasises this during the verses, while Green plays more a supporting role with subtle leads. The chorus is simple, but the strong vocal harmonies help to make it stand out while Vaughn's heartfelt lyrics and performance dominates. The song is classic Tyketto, and shows the new line-up has already bedded in well together. Big Money is more in-your-face, with a great bouncy guitar riff that sits above a great groove laid down by the rhythm section. The verses are bass-heavy, with Childs' bassline ringing out strongly, before the strident chorus comes in with more than a hint of hair metal. It sounds like something Mötley Crüe might have come up with for one of their more melodic albums. This is exemplified with a slightly sleazy guitar riff and some well-placed gang vocals which really help the song to hit home. Kick Like a Mule is another rawer piece of rock 'n' roll, that opens with a rolling drum beat and a strong riff to match. Again the verses have very dominant basslines, but it is Clayton's drums that really drive the song. They are high in the mix, and the variation in beats and styles help to keep the song interesting. The song's solo is also very explosive, and shows what Green brings to the band. He is more of a shredder than St. James ever was, and brings some fresh energy to these more rocky numbers. After a couple of harder rock numbers, Circle the Wagons comes along and calms everything down. The song is a classy power ballad, with layers of retro keyboard sounds, plenty of Vaughn's acoustic guitar, and some great understated lead guitar playing. The chorus is easily the best of the album's so far, with Vaughn's melodies really standing out as Rylands creates an almost orchestral backing with is keyboards. There is a strong instrumental section part-way through too, which starts off as a slow guitar solo, before Rylands takes over with some retro organ fills, before Green completes things with another solo that speeds up to a fast crescendo. Those who want something akin to the band's debut album need to look no further than I Need it Now, which has a fantastic soaring guitar opening before a hard rocking verse kicks in with a great riff and a confident vocal performance. Childs plays excellent throughout, with lots of cheeky bass leads that cut through occasionally and provide a great contrast to Green's guitar playing. The chorus is also very catchy, with Vaughn sounding grittier than usual, with plenty of harmony vocals to back him up. Even the piano-led bridge section with the gospel-like backing vocals has some bite to it, and helps the song to become one of the album's most memorable. Tearing Down the Sky has a bit of a Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen vibe throughout, with some excellent guitar riffing and plenty of explosive leads. The verses are a bit calmer, with chiming rhythm guitars, but the choruses are strong with expressive vocals and excellent riffs. The song's guitar solo is fantastic too, with virtuoso guitar playing.  

Letting Go is another strong ballad, dominated by Vaughn's beautiful singing and acoustic guitar playing. AOR and melodic rock bands are usually known for writing a lot of ballads, and Tyketto have always written good ones. Vaughn's time with his Eagles tribute band has probably helped him hone his ballad-singing skills, and they show here with an excellent vocal performance throughout. There is little other instrumentation here, although Green does add a few distorted guitar chords occasionally to add a bit of atmosphere, and he also plays an emotional solo backed only by the acoustic guitar chords. The final chorus sees the whole band join in however, which helps the song to end strongly and provides a great contrast to the more mellow first part. With a slightly sleazy, bluesy hard rock riff, that sounds a bit like Buckcherry, The Fastest Man Alive is packed full of energy. It is not a particularly fast song, but the groove created by the song's riff is infectious and the chorus is one that is made to be heard. The verses are great too, with some heavy country-esque guitar patterns underpinned by a great bassline. This is one of my favourite songs on the album because of the strong 1980s hard rock vibe throughout, and the great neo-classic shredded solo. You cannot help but sing along with the chorus too, and this is sure to be an earworm for many who hear this album. Despite opening with a slightly dark-sounding clean guitar melody, Remember My Name is another strong upbeat piece of hard rock. The song has a bit more of a modern vibe this time however, with more bullish guitar riffing and less of a 'sheen' on the chorus. The way the opening darker guitar section keeps getting repeated helps to reinforce that more modern vibe throughout, and definitely makes the song stand out from the rest. The darker sounds actually suits Tyketto quite well, and shows a bit of a different side to the band's songwriting. Sparks Will Fly actually sounds like it would have fitted perfectly on Strength in Numbers back in 1994. That album had a tougher overall sound than Don't Come Easy, and this song is extremely guitar-focused with some excellent riffing from Green and less of Rylands' keyboard layers. That being said, the chorus is still a melodic feast with plenty of vocal harmonies and Vaughn's acoustic guitar chords cutting through the mix for extra warmth. Some of Green's best riffing on this album are found in this song, and he has already cemented himself as a vital member of the band. Scream is the album's final ballad, and is a showcase for Rylands' playing. Keyboards have never been a big part of Tyketto's music, usually providing a background supporting role, but here they dominate. His big piano melodies form the song's backbone, and are the perfect backing for Vaughn's vocals. The rest of the band do help out on the choruses, which help to bulk them out, but Rylands' playing is still the focus. Only an excellent guitar solo can change the listener's focus! The final song The Run that mixes acoustic sections with harder rock to create a great closing number. The song is constantly upbeat, from Vaughn's aggressive acoustic guitar playing early on, to Green's chunky power chord riffing later on. Like the album's opening song, The Run is classic Tyketto and contains everything that makes the band so great and ends the album on a high. Overall, Reach is a great album from one of the most underrated bands in the melodic rock world. There are no real weak links on here, with each song having something memorable about it.

The album was released on 14th October 2016 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Reach.


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Alter Bridge's 'The Last Hero' - Album Review

I do not think it is exaggerating to say that, at least over here in Europe, that Alter Bridge are one of the biggest rock bands around at the moment. While in their native America the band are still slogging it out on the modest sized club/theatre circuit, over here they can fill arenas. That fact that a band like Alter Bridge can get so big proves that rock is alive and well in the modern world, and it could be argued that they are my generation's Led Zeppelin. What makes their super-stardom a surprise is that they are in no way a watered down hard rock act for the masses. Their music is dark, often heavy, and often progressive; and some of their material can be subtly quite challenging. There is always a lot going on, and they have come a long way since their post-grunge roots since forming in 2004. Since wrapping up the touring cycle for their fourth album, the dark and mammoth Fortress (which I reviewed here), in 2014 Alter Bridge had been fairly quiet. Both of the band's heavy hitters, vocalist and guitarist Myles Kennedy and guitarist Mark Tremonti, took the opportunity to record with side-projects and tour fairly extensively outside of the Alter Bridge machine. Kennedy's work with Slash has made him a household name in the classic rock world, and Tremonti's solo project has explored the heavier side of his songwriting and gained him a lot more kudos in the world of metal. Another Alter Bridge album was always on the cards however, and at the beginning of this year the band went into the studio to record their fifth album The Last Hero. In a surprise move, the band decided to release this new album via the independent Austrian label Napalm Records, instead of the bigger Roadrunner Records which the band has been associated with for a number of years. Roadrunner have lost both Alter Bridge and Opeth recently, two of the biggest rock/metal acts around currently, which makes you wonder why these bands have looked elsewhere. This album will be a big payday for Napalm however, who are more used to dealing with smaller European metal acts, as The Last Hero has, as predicted, been a big seller. It reached Number 3 on the UK album charts, which is a fantastic achievement for a band of Alter Bridge's persuasion. Sound-wise, The Last Hero could be described as a bit of a cross between Fortress and 2007's fan-favourite Blackbird, but in truth this new album definitely feels like a culmination of everything the band have done up to this point. The majority of the songs here are pretty anthemic, with stadium-sized choruses which definitely draws comparisons to Blackbird. The darker, more progressive elements introduced on Fortress, and to a less extent 2010's AB III, are still present however, but are more subtly mixed in with the strong melodies and the concise songwriting style. Production-wise, the album sounds good, although it is a little harsh at times. Long-time producer Michael 'Elvis' Baskette once again sat in the producer's chair and created a loud, modern, and in-your-face hard rock album - although maybe a little too loud at times as some of the nuances are often buried in the fat walls of guitar.

Despite the chiming clean guitar intro, the album opener Show me a Leader starts things off in a heavy fashion. A crunching riff and some tremolo-picked guitar leads herald the arrival of the song proper, before the band launch into a soaring guitar solo and a fast-paced verse. The verse is fairly typical fare for the band, and fans will be familiar with the style. Kennedy's vocals sound as great as ever, and his direct approach to the melodies adds to the overall urgency of the piece. The chorus is simple, and not up to the band's usual anthemic standards. This fits the vibe well however, and sees Kennedy unleash some pretty high notes and some catchy wordless vocals. There is a blistering guitar solo partway through that really gets the blood pumping. Unfortunately the album's booklet does not tell you who performs each solo, but the song's video confirms that this particular one is Tremonti's handiwork. While not the soaring Alter Bridge anthem that many fans might have expected as an album opener, this song provides a different purpose and is gives the album a real kick into action. The Writing on the Wall maintains the same heavy feel as the previous number but packaged into a more openly accessible format. The riffing is toned down somewhat, and the focus is on Kennedy's vocals. The chorus is more what you would expect from an Alter Bridge song. Kennedy delivers once again, and the vocal melodies are extremely memorable. Songs of this nature were all over AB III which was definitely the band's transition album into the heavier territory they now occupy. After two faster songs, The Other Side comes in with some doomy clean guitar notes and sledgehammer riffing that grinds along at a much slower pace. Arguably the heaviest song on the album yet, it shows that Alter Bridge are happy to be a metal band as well as a hard rock one. That being said, the song is still pretty memorable with a strong chorus and riffs that stick in your head. There are lots of spacey guitar effects used in the choruses too, which adds a slightly chaotic feel. My Champion is the album's most obvious 'single' choice, and definitely harks back to the Blackbird era in terms of accessibility. While the band are darker and heavier now, they can still throw together a catchy anthem, and this is sure to become a live favourite for years to come. The playful opening guitar riff is excellent, and the laid back verses see Kennedy taking it easy with the vocals, not pushing himself as he has done so far on the album. The chorus is easily the album's most instant, with some of the catchiest melodies yet and a heartfelt delivery from Kennedy. The feel-good, self-help lyrics that characterised the band's early work return too, and this really feels like a throwback to simpler times for Alter Bridge. Poison in Your Veins brings things crashing back down to earth however, with a dark main riff and a bass-heavy verse which showcases Brian Marshall's playing. He is often buried in the mix, but the verses here are one of the rare occasions where he stands out a little more. The choruses are very in your face here, with a drum beat that really storms out of your speakers and sees Kennedy's snarl employed to fine effect. Cradle to the Grave, while not a proper ballad, is definitely less heavy than anything else on the album to this point. Clean guitars dominate the verses, with some acoustic guitars even cutting through the mix at times, and it takes on a sombre feel. Things do ramp up during the choruses however, and there is an excellent bridge section with some crazy guitar leads twiddling away under Kennedy's mournful croon. This then explodes into a guitar solo, which is easily the song's best moment.

Losing Patience continues on this mournful vibe, at least initially. A murky verse dominates the early part of the song, but the song slowly, and subtly, grows in stature until it hits the strident chorus. This part of the song has real classic rock swagger to it, with guitar leads to back up Kennedy's vocals and a fantastic overall attitude. A slightly proggy breakdown also stands out, with a chugging riff and a flashy guitar lead playing off each other in a call-and-response style. It is one of the few parts on the album where the drums are well-defined too. Scott Phillips is often the victim of the album's loud production, and his playing is less clear than on the band's previous works. Here though his double bass drumming is clear, and just makes me wish he was clear throughout! This Side of Fate has the feeling of a mini-epic about it, with acoustic-led verses and slightly symphonic choruses mixing well together create a dynamic song that makes a strong impression. There is lots of bluesy guitar playing throughout too, presumably from Tremonti, which adds a little touch of class. I like the use of subtle string elements to the song too, something which again is often buried on this album. It stands out here however, and improves the song. You Will be Remembered is the album's only real true ballad, and is as heartfelt as the band's previous efforts. While more 'rock' than previous ballads, song is still a great lighters-in-the-air moment. Kennedy has always been great at delivery ballads. While his lyrics, and his delivery, can sometimes be a little on the earnest side, you can tell that he always means it. He sings from the heart, and that is what makes this type of songs work well. After two song that have had lighter elements, Crows on a Wire is another great in-your-face rocker. This is one of my favourite songs on the album, and contains all of the band's best traits in a condensed package. The song is based around a strong chorus, which has some strange cold keyboard effects that actually work really well, and a strong vocal from Kennedy. The rest of the song is built of a riff that sounds like something Zakk Wylde would have written for Ozzy Osbourne, and is sure to get heads banging when the band play live. This is the band at their most metal, and is a far cry from their post-grunge origins. The shredded guitar solo and the anthemic middle 8 are also excellent, and are just some of the reasons this song is so good. Twilight is another old-school sounding song, and sounds like a beefier version of some of the songs found on Blackbird. The rolling drums with the cleaner sounding riffs earlier on definitely harks back to that era, and the soaring chorus is extremely simple. The guitar solo here is very expressive too, and a world away from the shred-fests that dominate the rest of the album. If you want a real heads down rocker, than Island of Fools is the song for you. The song's main riff is a real bulldozer, and the energy rarely lets up throughout. The song's chorus is slower, but this actually makes it have more of an effect as the rest of the song is relentless. Faster songs have been written, but the riff just roars out of the speakers to great effect. This is one song that actually benefits from the loud production, and helps it have more of an impact. The album comes to an end with the title track, which is another mini-epic. While it does not have the impact that This Side of Fate had earlier in the album, it has a triumphant feel to it that works well as an album-closer. The natural swing feel in the chorus is great and some of the riffing is up there with the band's best. This a song that definitely feels like a culmination off all of the themes and sounds explored on the album, which makes it a perfect closing number. Overall, The Last Hero is an album that shows that Alter Bridge are here to stay. They are my generation's stadium rock band, and they continue to go from strength to strength.

The album was released on 7th October 2016 via Napalm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Show me a Leader.


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Delain - London Review

Delain are one of the most popular bands in the symphonic metal world, and their star is still rising! Unlike the majority of their peers who often perform just a token one-off show in London whenever they tour, Delain have always made the effort in the UK. This has paid dividends, and the band have a large legion of fans here, and that legion continues to grow. This European tour, supporting their fifth album Moonbathers, sees them playing some of their biggest UK headline shows to date. Their venue of choice in London has historically been the O2 Academy in Islington, a favourite of melodic metal acts, but this time they came to the beautiful old Koko venue just south of Camden. This is a venue I had only been to once before, to see Kamelot in 2010, and have been wanting to return ever since. The old theatre decor inside gives the venue a classy vibe, the sound is always very good there. It was probably a bit of a risk for them to play the Koko on this tour, but the risk paid off and the place was pretty full. I was on the floor, which was pretty much full right to the back, and there seemed to be a good amount of people on the balconies above too. Delain are seeing the fruits of their labour, with their 1970s-esque touring work ethic reaping the rewards. This was my fourth time seeing the band live, having caught them in Birmingham in 2012, and twice last year at Bloodstock Festival and in Bristol. All three of these shows were excellent, and this one in London was no different - in fact it could be the best of the lot!

Before Delain's set however, the crowd were treated to two strong support acts. Kobra and the Lotus opened the show, and played for just over half an hour. They are a band I had heard the name of before, but had never bothered to check out. This shall be rectified immediately however, as their set of melodic heavy metal impressed. Frontwoman Kobra Paige has a dynamic and captivating stage presence, and her voice reminded me a bit of Doro. She has serious power in her voice, but always sings with a melodic edge. The band were much heavier than I expected, with lots of excellent riffs and guitar solos throughout. Many of these solos were provided by session guitarist 'Shred' Sean Maier, formerly of the fantastic American 1980s-style metal band Blessed by a Broken Heart (who need to reunite!). I saw him live with BBABH back in 2010, so to see him peel off a few excellent guitar solos again was a real treat. The band's material was generally pretty strong too, with lots of big choruses throughout. They impressed me during their set, and I shall look to pick up one of their albums soon.

Up next was gloomy Swedish progressive metal legends Evergrey, a band I have been wanting to see live for a while. While I would not class myself as anything other than a casual fan of their music, their unique sound has always interested me and I had a feeling they would put on a great show. Despite this only being a support slot, they pulled out all the stops and delivered a headline-worthy performance of songs from throughout their catalogue. Unsurprisingly, five of the eight songs played were taken from the band's excellent two most recent works, with Passing Through and The Fire kicking things off. Tom S. Englund (vocals/guitar) sounds as great live as he does on record, and his passionate vocal performance was the best part about the band's set. The whole band work together so well as a unit, with the performance being more than the sum of the parts, but special mention must go to lead guitarist Henrik Danhage for some excellent soloing throughout. His solo in the closing number Kings of Errors was a display of restrained shredding, and his atmospheric solo spot before A Touch of Blessing showcased his slower, more emotional playing. This set was a taster of a full Evergrey show, and I hope they return to the UK soon so I can catch them at one of their own concerts. The setlist was:

Passing Through
The Fire
Leave it Behind Us
Black Undertow
In Orbit
Broken Wings
Guitar solo
A Touch of Blessing
King of Errors

Delain are a band that really know how to put on a good show, and the 90 minutes they were on stage whizzed by as they churned out anthem after anthem for the large crowd. Being the Moonbathers tour, new material dominated the set with seven (eight if you count the intro) songs from that album being featured throughout the evening, with songs from the all of the rest of their albums making up the rest of the show. The show started with the orchestral The Monarch, the new album's closing track, but it worked well as an intro as the band members slowly took to the stage to play along with it. Ruben Israel (drums) was the first on stage, followed by the rest and the band then exploded into the heavy Hands of Gold. Frontwoman Charlotte Wessels sounded fantastic throughout the set, and has matured into a commanding focal point for the band too. She knows how to work a crowd and her confidence and energy is infectious. This current six-piece version of the band has gelled together really well know, and are a tight live unit. The Glory and the Scum was an early highlight, with Otto Schimmelpennick van der Oije (bass guitar/vocals) adding some harsh vocals to the chorus. Old favourites, such as Get the Devil Out of Me and Army of Dolls, were thrown in to mix things up, but the new material was so well received by the crowd that everything felt like an old favourite. The band's new album is one that took a bit of time to grow on me, and hearing many of these songs live now has only improved my opinions of them. Pendulum is definitely one that sounds better live than on the album, with more energy and a thicker sound thanks to the two guitars. The delicate rock of April Rain was a great mid-set rest from the heaviness, and shows just how much heavier the band have become since their second album. Merel Bechtold (guitar) also handled the guitar solo here, something which is usually dealt with by Timo Somers (guitar/vocals) on most of the other songs. The is one thing I would like to see Delain incorporate more of now they have both Somer and Bechtold, two fantastic guitarists, in tow. More dual lead guitar riffs and solos would be a fantastic addition to the band's sound! It was two more of the new songs, Fire with Fire and Danse Macabre, that proved to own the second part of the show, and from them on it was all older classics. The Gathering is always a great live song. The chorus is one of the catchiest in the band's catalogue, and it always gets the crowd going. The main set came to and end with the oldie Pristine, with more crushing harsh vocals, and the band left to huge cheers. Despite 11pm fast approaching by this time, they managed to squeeze in a further three songs as an encore. Mother Machine and the dancey Don't Let Go were popular choices, but it was the anthemic closing number We are the Others that elicited the biggest response of the evening with plenty of singing. The setlist was:

The Monarch
Hands of Gold
Suckerpunch
The Glory and the Scum
Get the Devil Out of Me
Pendulum
Army of Dolls
The Hurricane
April Rain
Here Come the Vultures
Fire with Fire
Danse Macabre
Sleepwalkers Dream
Stay Forever
The Gathering
Pristine
-
Mother Machine
Don't Let Go
We are the Others

Overall, this was another fantastic evening of live music. Delain continue to get better and better live, and I predict that they will be playing bigger venues than the Koko before long. It was great to finally catch Evergrey live too, and the discovery of Kobra and the Lotus was a pleasant one. I am sure it will not be long before Delain return to the UK, and I shall endeavour to go again if it is possible.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Europe - London Review

1986 must have been a great year for music. I recently saw FM celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut album Indiscreet in Nottingham and, exactly two weeks later, I was in London to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Europe's seminal hard rock album The Final Countdown. The Final Countdown is easily Europe's most important, and most defining, album. It contains the band's best known singles, including the legendary title track which literally everyone knows, and was the first album by the band to feature all 5 of the current members of the band. It also established the Swedes as a big-hitter in the American-dominated AOR market, and increased the role that keyboards played in the band's sound after two heavier albums. It is a fan-favourite album for good reason, and it is extremely consistent throughout. It would be a crime if the band did not choose to do something to celebrate this landmark anniversary of their most famous album, so when this tour was announced earlier in the year I snapped up tickets as soon as they went on sale. Europe never disappoint live, and all three of the shows I had seen previously were excellent. This anniversary tour was a shorter one that usual, with only one UK show included, but that made it all the more special and it sold out. The venue of choice was the Roundhouse, a new venue for me that is just north of Camden. I was impressed with the venue for the most part, and it was great to see a band like Europe selling out a good-sized venue like this!

Before Europe hit the stage however, the crowd was treated to a couple of support bands. Up first were fellow Swedes The Electric Boys. Despite being around in some form or another since the late 1980s, this was my first encounter with the band. I knew the name, but had never heard a note of their music before this show in London. Unfortunately, the band did little to impress. Their groovy, bluesy hard rock was very formulaic and they never really seemed to set the audience alight despite there obviously being a few fans in attendance. The majority of the songs they played just were not that memorable at all, and lacked strong melodies or standout riffs. They were only on stage for about half an hour however, so they did not outstay their welcome.

Dare, on the other hand, were very good. I have been a fan of them for a few years now and had never had the chance to see them before, so when they were announced as the main support for this show I was excited. They only had just over half an hour to play with too, so they wasted no time and started with Wings of Fire and We Don't Need a Reason, both from 1991's Blood from Stone. While the sound was never brilliant during their set, the keyboards and backing vocals were far too low in the mix, the band still impressed and made their six song set count. Home was the only new song played, and frontman Darren Wharton sounded at his best vocally here. The band's smooth, atmospheric songs suit his voice better these days, and Vinny Burns (guitar/vocals) played some fabulous guitar leads during this song. The final three songs were all from the band's debut album Out of the Silence. Singles Abandon and Into the Fire all sounded great, although more backing vocals in the mix would have really improved the stadium-sized choruses! The mellower Return the Heart brought a short, but sweet, set to and end. I am glad that I finally got to see Dare live, even if it was really only a taster. Dare toured with Europe in 1989, so this show was almost a little recreation of history! The setlist was:

Wings of Fire
We Don't Need a Reason
Home
Abandon
Into the Fire
Return the Heart

It was Europe that everyone was here to see however and their two hour set was fantastic - probably the best show of theirs I have seen so far. Europe sets are often dominated by new material, so the real nostalgia fest that this show originally promised to be would have been a strange and novel prospect. Before the complete run through of The Final Countdown however, the band treated us to a complete run through of last year's excellent War of Kings album - two albums for the price of one! Only Europe could make a tour celebrating a classic album's 30th anniversary to not be a total evening of nostalgia, and the format worked well showcasing the band's classic sound and their modern sound. War of Kings was not played in order however, and the show opened with the upbeat and hard rocking Hole in my Pocket. This is raw hard rock song, and frontman Joey Tempest was on fine form from the off posing for the cameras (this show was being filmed for a future DVD release) and spinning his microphone stand around. The early part of this half of the set was dominated by more atmospheric bluesy pieces however that really showcases John Norum's (guitar/vocals) playing. All of the songs have fantastic guitar solos, with the heartfelt Praise You standing out the most. The album is quite varied however, and sees the band tackle a lot of styles. Days of Rock 'n' Roll is almost a throwback to the band's 1980s sound, and features a prominent keyboard riff from Mic Michaeli (keyboards/vocals). His keyboards were high in the mix throughout the evening, which was great. The War of Kings album is dominated by his grinding hammond organ playing, and this helped to give the songs an extra boost live. The non-album bonus track instrumental Vasastan was played too, which became a showcase for Norum with another fantastic bluesy solo. The two songs that ended this half of the show were arguably the best however. The Zeppelin-esque Light it Up has a great riff and some fantastic vocals, before the album's title track crashed in with the Deep Purple-like organ riff and triumphant chorus. This is one of the band's best modern songs, and was a fitting way to end the modern part of the show.

Despite there being a lot of love for the band's more recent work, this show was all about The Final Countdown album however. Despite being the band's most famous album, only the title track, Rock the Night, and Carrie (and to a lesser extent Cherokee) are regulars in the band's live sets. This meant that a lot of songs were played for the first time in a while, with closing track Love Chaser having not been played live since 1987! It was strange hearing The Final Countdown halfway through a Europe concert, but it gave everyone the boost of energy that was needed after the more downbeat War of Kings material. From this point on, the show was a real party, and when the band launched into Rock the Night, full party mode had been activated. The crowd was so loud during this song, and they sung the words back at the band with real gusto as lots of classic pictures of the band from around the time of the album's release were shown on the big screens. While those songs are classics and are always enjoyable live, some of the lesser-known songs stood out more as the evening moved on. Danger on the Track was one of these, and the keyboard-heavy rocker was well-received by the crowd. Cherokee was another highlight, and is one of the album's best songs. The pulsing keyboard riff and the anthemic chorus perfectly sum up Europe's 1980s sound, and by this point the band were cruising. Even the album's weakest song, Time Has Come, sounded better live with a slightly heavier arrangement. I would say however that my overall highlight of the night has to the the penultimate song On the Loose. This song has always been the diamond in the rough on The Final Countdown, and to hear it live was a treat. It is a faster song, and features one of the band's catchiest choruses. The evening came to an end with the aforementioned Love Chaser, another extremely underrated song, and a little coda of The Final Countdown at the very end just to get the crowd to give a huge roar one more time. There was no encore, but there was no way the band could have followed the set they had just played, and this was the perfect way to end the show. The setlist was:

Hole in my Pocket
The Second Day
Praise You
Nothin' to Ya
California 405
Angels (With Broken Hearts)
Days of Rock 'n' Roll
Children of the Mind
Rainbow Bridge
Vasastan
Light it Up
War of Kings
The Final Countdown
Rock the Night
Carrie
Danger on the Track
Ninja
Cherokee
Time Has Come
Heart of Stone
On the Loose
Love Chaser/The Final Countdown

Overall, this was a fantastic evening of old and new music from one of the best melodic hard rock bands of the 1980s. The setlist was perfect in retrospect, and I am looking forward to reliving this show when the DVD is released sometime next year. The band are also planning to release a new album next year too, so I look forward to that and the touring that will inevitably go with it.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Sonata Arctica's 'The Ninth Hour' - Album Review

While traditional power metal seems to be on the decline somewhat, Finland's Sonata Arctica are a band that always manages to stay relevant. Since forming in 1995, the band have created a diverse catalogue complete with finely-crafted melodic metal songs and experimentation. Granted not all of their experiments have paid off, but they are a band that deliver the goods more often than not. Sonata Arctica were never content to stick to the rigid power metal formula, and it could be argued that their last 'true' power metal album was 2004's Reckoning Night. While all of the band's subsequent albums have contained songs that hark back to their original sound, they have also explored other avenues. They are a band that are now hard to pigeon hole, but if I had to label them I would call them simply 'melodic metal'. While they have a slight progressive bent, which gives the band their distinctive quirky sound, their songs are always focused on strong melodies. Singer, and main songwriter, Tony Kakko has definitely become one of metal's most distinct composers. His playful melodies and strange lyrical style define the band's sound, and is the thing that makes Sonata Arctica who they are despite a few different musicians passing through their ranks during their history. While the band's recent discography has been fairly solid, Sonata Arctica have not released a truly classic album since 2009's The Days of Grays. The band's last album, 2014's Pariah's Child (which I reviewed here), was an album that started off really strongly, but tailed off toward the end. Overall however, it turned out to be a solidly enjoyable album that could probably do with a bit of a reappraisal. The band's new album The Ninth Hour, which is unsurprisingly the band's ninth album, is very similar in sound and structure to Pariah's Child. Once again, the first half of the album contains many of the best songs and it does tail off towards the end. That being said, there are still plenty of interesting moments here, and Kakko has written some of his most progressive songs yet for this album. There is a song here that could easily be a contender for my favourite Sonata Arctica song for a good number of years too! As with the last album, bass guitarist Pasi Kauppinen also acts as the band's producer. His results on this album are stunning, and this is easily the best-sounding Sonata Arctica album yet with extreme sonic clarity and instrument separation. This album is also fairly heavy on the atmospheric side of the band's sound. Fewer songs than normal feature in-your-face guitar riffs or shredded solos, which gives the album a unique feel.

The Ninth Hour starts off in relatively restrained style with the quirky opening number Closer to an Animal. It is a mid-paced rocker, with buckets of groove courtesy of Kauppinen and drummer Tommy Portimo, and some of Kakko's strangest lyrics yet. This is a song that is quintessentially Sonata Arctica, and is the sort of song that only they could pull off. The drumming here dominates, wit h Portimo's vast variety of mid-paced beats giving the song real character. The melodies here are subtle, often backed up by ringing keyboard notes, and the vocals are fairly subdued. I did not like this song much on first listen, but it has improved immensely on repeated viewings, and shows the band's originality and songwriting prowess. Life is more typical of the band's earlier sound, but mixed with some of the floaty-ness of Closer to an Animal. Elias Viljanen's guitar leads in the intro are extremely uplifting, before the keyboard-heavy verse takes over and Kakko's croon is utilised. His vocals throughout this album are somewhat less bombastic and expressive than usual, which suits the album's mood, but he does let rip in the song's chorus which is the first moment on this album to really crank up the power. There is a traditional power metal instrumental mid-section here, with Viljanen and keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg both having chances to shine. The melodies throughout this song are sublime however, and this is the song I was talking about that could well be my favourite of their's for a number of years. Fairytale is heavier, opening with gothic keyboards and a crunching guitar riff that would not sound out of place on a Nightwish album. After the previous two songs, this songs comes along like a freight train and really hits the spot. Klingenberg's keyboards are all over this too, with a lengthy lead section before the vocals kick in, and huge orchestral arrangements throughout. This song has a real Reckoning Night vibe to it, with a gritty chorus and a chugging energy. Portimo's drums never let up the pace throughout, with some precise double bass drumming that is the song's rock. There is another excellent duel solo section too, and this is a song that ought to appeal to fans of the band's older sound. We Are What We Are is the album's first true ballad, and it is a great one! The low whistle skills of Troy Donockley (Iona; Nightwish) are featured here, particularly in the folky intro section. Donockley seems to be the go-to man now for folky additions to metal albums - he is extremely in demand (I hope however he still finds time to make his customary appearance on the upcoming Mostly Autumn album Sight of Day!). This is a real lighters-in-the-air moment, and easily the album's best ballad. While the chorus is pretty repetitive, it still works well and really get itself stuck in your head. Till Death's Done Us Apart is another somewhat strange song with some really 'out there' lyrics and a big mix of styles. Heavy, almost thrashy, metal sections are mixed with piano-driven vocal sections that have almost a Broadway feel to them. The song is playful and somewhat progressive, and actually ends up working very well. It is probably Kakko's best vocal performance on the album too, mixing his trademark soaring melodic style with a more laid-back lounge style to great effect.

Among the Shooting Stars is another ballad, but this one is less interesting than We Are What We Are. By this point in the album, most of the best songs have come and gone which gives this second half a bit of a half-baked feel at times. The slow crunch of the guitar drives the song, but this only serves to sound a bit monotonous. Parts of the song do shine, such as when Kakko opens his voice up a bit and sings to a strong orchestral backing during the chorus, but the rest of the song is a bit of a let down. Rise a Night has a very old-school feel. This is a fast power metal song, with some great old-school keyboard sounds and a great display in power metal drumming from Portimo. This is a song that has clearly come from their recent tour where they played their 1999 debut album Ecliptica in full, as it certainly harks back to those days but with a modern sound. It is not as good as their earlier efforts at this sound, but it is still a strong song with a lengthy guitar solo and a blood-rising pace that is rarely seen on a Sonata Arctica album these days. Those who say that they can no longer play power metal should listen to this song and be transported back to the early 2000s again! Fly, Navigate, Communicate is another strange song, but one that has grown on me a lot since first hearing it. There are some great fast sections here, but also some more progressive sections are present that showcase Kakko's modern writing style. It also a showcase for his diverse vocal style. It is a hard song to describe, so just listen to it and make up your own mind - I like it! Candle Lawns is another ballad, and this is the middle of the three. It is not as good as We Are What We Are, but it is better than Among the Shooting Stars with lots of excellent piano melodies from Klingenberg and a lengthy guitar solo. This is a very stereotypical power metal ballad, with quite a lot of drama in the vocal delivery and a large orchestral backing. Despite this familiarity, it is a strong song and one that is sure to give people a warm, fuzzy feeling when they hear it. White Pearl, Black Oceans - Part II: By the Grace of the Ocean, a sequel to the song on Reckoning Night, is over ten minutes in length but it is a song that never really seems to go anywhere. Sonata Arctica have never really made a success of the longer progressive 'epic' and this song does little to stop the rot. It feels like lots of bits of other songs pieced together with little natural flow, and I am not sure exactly what this has to do with the original song. There is a great shredded guitar solo about of a third of the way in however, and this leads into a fluid and extremely melodic keyboard solo, which is easily the highlight of the song. Sonata Arctica are much better when they stick to a more concise songwriting style, as is demonstrated elsewhere on this album. On the Faultline (Closure to an Animal) is a bit of an atmospheric re-working of the album's opening song, and works well to close the album and bookend the material here. It is different enough to make it stand as it's own song, but also has enough familiarity to act as the album's perfect coda. Overall, The Ninth Hour is a strong album from Sonata Arctica that sums up their modern sound perfectly and showcases their quirky songwriting style. The first half is certainly better than the second, but there is enough here to keep me listening on a fairly regular basis and I imagine this is an album that will only continue to sound better with each listen.

The album was released on 7th October 2016 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Life.


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Y&T - Bristol Review

Despite the fact that American hard rockers Y&T come to the UK for a fairly lengthy tour each Autumn/Winter, I had never actually seen them live before this past weekend! I think the fact that you know you will have plenty more opportunities to see a band can sometimes make you complacent when it comes to booking tickets. I had always wanted to see the band live, but with only a finite amount of funds available for gig expenses, Y&T shows always got passed over for bands that I was either: a) a bigger fan of; or b) do not come over to the UK that often. That is why this year, when the tour was announced quite a few months ago, I booked by ticket straight away! I did not want to go another year passing up an opportunity to see Y&T, as their reputation as a fantastic live band is an opinion that is pretty much universally held by rock fans. The fact they were playing in Bristol too made the decision easy, as Bristol is usually quite cheap for me to get too, and it is a nice city to visit anyway. The O2 Academy there, while not the best venue of it's kind, is certainly not a bad place to watch live music (unless the show is sold out, or close to being so). That was not the case here though and, while there was a decent amount of people in attendance, there was still plenty of space to stop things getting too cramped. I do not usually try to get to the front for gigs these days, but the sparser crowd made this easier than usual, so I made my way down to the barrier where I stayed for the entire evening. As with the Anathema show the day before, there was very little hanging around. The support band went on 15 minutes after the doors opened, and there was a very short turnaround before Y&T came on. I much prefer shows like this, as the endless hanging around can get very tedious, and it stops the evenings from being ridiculously late all the time.

The aforementioned support band was Praying Mantis, a band who originally found fame as part of the NWOBHM movement in the early 1980s, but have since become a bit of a cult band with their excellent brand of melodic hard rock. I had not seen the band since the 2013 edition of the Cambridge Rock Festival, so this was a set I had been looking forward to almost as much as Y&T's. They only had just over half an hour to play with, but they made it count with 6 hard-hitting yet melodic rock songs that seemed to impress the growing crowd. A couple of songs from last year's Legacy were included, with the opening number Fight for Your Honour being one of the set's highlights. The band have improved considerably since frontman John Cuijpers joined the band in 2013. His voice and stage presence are both great, and has the range to do the band's catalogue justice. The band's sound is characterised by lots of twin-lead guitar riffs from founding member Tino Troy (guitar/vocals) and long-time member Andy Burgess (guitar/vocals), with all of the band's songs featuring extremely melodic harmony guitar lines. The real highlight of the set however was ballad Dream On, which features a fantastic chorus, and a stunning guitar solo from Burgess. Two old songs ended the set, including the muscular Captured City, a song which featured on the hallowed 1980 NWOBHM showcase compliation album Metal for Muthas. This was a set that was far better than your average support slot, and I hope to see a full-length set from the band sometime in the future. The setlist was:

Fight for Your Honour
Panic in the Streets
Believable
Dream On
Captured City
Children of the Earth

After the short changeover , Y&T hit the stage with little fanfare, and ploughed through a two-hour set with great energy and professionalism. Their set was mostly focused on their mid-1980s albums, but there were a few songs from their latest album Facemelter thrown in for good measure. One of these songs, On with the Show, opened the show with Aaron Leigh's (bass guitar/vocals) bass riff before it morphs into a real hard rock anthem with a big chorus. Y&T are a very uncomplicated band, with simple, riff-based, songs, but they are songs that are made to be heard live. Sole-founding member Dave Meniketti (vocals/guitar) is the star of the show throughout. His voice still sounds as good as it did in the 1980s, and he takes the vast majority of the evening's guitar solos and shows off what a fantastically underrated player he is. Lots of well known songs came early on with Lipstick and Leather, Dirty Girl (which was drawn out with solos from both Meniketti and John Nymann (guitar/vocals)), and Mean Streak all impressing. Songs from the band's late-1980s AOR-influenced period were also included. Don't be Afraid of the Dark was one of those featured, but without the keyboard backing that the album version had it felt a little flat. This was unfortunately the case for all of songs from that part of the band's discography, with the band's tough live sound overpowering the songs' melodies. The lack of volume in the backing vocal department did not help either. The band's earlier songs, and more recent numbers, all sounded fantastic however. Winds of Change and Black Tiger were both highlights of the middle part of the show, before a slightly re-arranged version of a personal favourite Midnight in Tokyo was played. I liked the new arrangement, with the slower introduction, and there was plenty of singing from the crowd at this point. Another song that was drawn out for guitar pyrotechnics was the ballad I Believe in You which saw Meniketti launch into a soaring and emotionally-charged solo that went on for quite a while. At my position on the barrier, I could take in every note of this solo, and that made it even more special. Unfortunately fan favourites Contagious and Summertime Girls suffered the same fate as Don't be Afraid of the Dark, and did not hit the spot as they really should do. I understand that the band have reverted back to their heavier early 1980s sound these days, but maybe some basic programmed keyboards would help these few songs live? The set came to an with Rescue Me and I'm Coming Home, which were both fantastic and helped to end the set on a real high. Despite being on stage for nearly two hours by this point, there was still time for a couple more. Open Fire was a surprise with it's heavy riff and powerful chorus, before another fan favourite Forever was played to a huge cheer before the band took their final bows and left the stage, bringing another European tour to an end. The setlist was:

On with the Show
Lipstick and Leather
Don't Stop Runnin'
Dirty Girl
Mean Streak
Don't Bring me Down
Don't be Afraid of the Dark
Winds of Change
Blind Patriot
I'll Keep on Believin' (Do You Know)
Black Tiger
Midnight in Tokyo
Down and Dirty
Hang 'em High
I Believe in You
Contagious
Drum solo
Summertime Girls
Rescue Me
I'm Coming Home
-
Open Fire
Forever

My first live Y&T experience was a positive one, and this was one of the best honest rock 'n' roll shows I have seen in a while. I shall definitely look to see the band again next time the come to the UK, as their reputation seems to be more than justified. I met three members of Praying Mantis at the merch desk after the show too, and got them to sign my copy of Legacy and one of their setlists which was given to me by one of the crew after their set!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Anathema - Cardiff Review

There are not really any bands that I can think of that sound like Anathema. Since forming in 1990, the rockers from Liverpool have morphed many times, taking on new sounds and influences, and have become one of the country's best loved alternative bands. These days, Anathema are firmly in the 'progressive rock' camp, with complex songwriting and huge atmospherics at the forefront of their sound. Influences are also taken from modern alternative rock, electronica, and metal, and these sounds are all woven seamlessly together to create Anathema's unique brand of soaring and emotional music. With a new album on the cards for next year, the band decided to arrange a UK tour to road test some of this new material. The venues chosen for this tour were smaller than those the band would usually play, and the intimate setting really brought the best out of the band. This sort of music is supposed to be in your face and emotionally hard-hitting, and the confines of the smaller venues certainly helped this fact. These shows were also billed as 'Evenings With...', which meant there were no support bands at any of the shows, with the band opting to play a two hour headlined set instead. I chose to go to The Globe in Cardiff, which was the second night of the tour. This was a new venue for me, and it one I hope to return to. Despite being slightly outside of the main city, the 350 capacity venue was great, with a decent-sized stage that was not crammed into a corner, and even a small balcony. I was near the front for the entire show, but it strikes me that you would probably have a great view of the band wherever you chose to stand. Despite some early sound issues that affected the first couple of songs, the sound throughout the evening was excellent. It was so clear, which is exactly what is needed for Anathema's complex and multi-layered music. With the venue opening at 8pm, and Anathema hitting the stage at 8:30pm, this made for an efficient evening. So many venues leave you hanging around for ages before the music starts (and then again between bands) that it was refreshing to have very little waiting time here.

To go with this theme of efficiency, there was little fanfare throughout the show either. The band came on stage and immediately went into their first number, which was one of the four new ones played, Gotyou To (which I assume is a working title, as that is a horrible name for a song!). In true Anathema style it was a bit of a surprise, with little of the atmospherics that has characterised their more recent work. Jamie Cavanagh (bass guitar) drove the song with a powerful bassline, and Vincent Cavanagh (vocals/guitar/keyboards/percussion) delivered one of his trademark passionate vocal displays. It was quite a short song, and some sound issues definitely affected it, so I do not feel able to form an opinion on it. Sound issues affected about half of Untouchable - Part 1 too, with everything just sounded extremely quiet. Suddenly however, the PA seemed to really come to life and full volume was restored. From this point onward, the show was stunning. I had only see Anathema once before, which was an acoustic show at Exeter Cathedral last year which was fantastic, but to finally see the band at full power and strength was something to behold. Untouchable - Part 2 followed with Lee Douglas (vocals) duetting perfectly with Vincent as main songwriter Danny Cavanagh (guitar/keyboards/vocals) played the piano. Many of the band are multi-instrumentalists, with the Cavanagh brothers (besides Jamie) swapping between guitar and keyboards throughout, and John Douglas (drums/percussion) and Daniel Cardoso (keyboards/drums) constantly moving around the stage to perform different roles. An early highlight was the Lee-lead Ariel from the band's most recent album, before another new number Springfield really wowed the crowd. This was more familiar territory for the band, with both Vincent and Lee performing vocals, all underpinned by Danny's spacey guitar melodies. The Storm Before the Calm is a song that really comes alive when played live, with Vincent and Cardoso both providing keyboard duties, while Jamie's bassline adds the slightly funky edge to the electronic cacophony created by the keyboards.

Another song which highlights the band's electronic side is Closer. This seems Vincent again behind the keyboards, and singing with some really strange effect on his voice. It is such a unique song, that decends into near-metal riffing at one point, and one that definitely needs to be heard live to reach it's full potential. The band briefly left the stage at this point, although it was not for an encore as Firelight played over the PA and they soon returned to play the juggernaut Distant Satellites. This is a fantastic song, and one of the best numbers from their most recent album, and it is a real vocal showcase for Vincent who uses the really delicate side of his voice for a lot of it. It was one of only two songs from that album played however (not counting Firelight) with the majority of the setlists being culled from Weather Systems and We're Here Because We're Here, along with some others including the new numbers. The final two new songs followed, and again they were two quite different beasts. The first, Bricks, was a guitar-driven and slightly punky upbeat rocky number which had a different kind of energy to that which the band usually have. This was more of a primal rock song, foregoing much of their complex layers of sound, but it still worked well and shows a bit of a different side to the band. The second, The Optimist, was dense and emotional ballad which would have fit right at home on any of the band's more recent albums. It seems Anathema are going to give us both familiar and different material on their next album, and hearing these four work-in-progress tasters makes me look forward to hearing the album when it comes out next year. The final two songs played were both real fan-favourites. The bluesy A Natural Disaster is Lee's real vocal showcase, and it has become an ever-present addition to the band's live set. It always goes down well live, and she sings it perfectly. Closing the evening was a raucous version of Fragile Dreams, the only 'old' song the band seem to play on a regular basis. It is built around an excellent guitar lead, and the chorus is a real sing-a-long moment which had the sold-out crowd singing it back at the band with real passion. I brought a fantastic evening of live music to a triumphant end and the crowd called for more well after the house lights had come back on! The setlist was:

Gotyou To
Untouchable - Part 1
Untouchable - Part 2
Thin Air
A Simple Mistake
Ariel
Springfield
The Storm Before the Calm
The Beginning and the End
Universal
Closer
Firelight
Distant Satellites
Bricks
The Optimist
A Natural Disaster
Fragile Dreams

Finally getting to see a full-blown electric Anathema show was something I had been wanting to see for quite some time, so to finally get to see one in a small venue was fantastic. I am sure this will be one of the highlights of my gigging year come next month, and I really look forward to hearing the new album next year. Luckily I do not have long to wait before seeing the band again, as they are supporting Opeth at Wembley Arena in a couple of weekends time!