Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Deep Purple's 'Infinite' - Album Review

While some older bands in the rock and metal worlds and content to become nostalgia acts and tour on the oldies circuit playing the same old setlist of 30-plus year old hits year after year, other seasoned bands still have the drive to write and record new material. Deep Purple fall into the latter category and, despite releasing their first studio album in 1968, the hard rock pioneers still clearly have plenty left to say. There are fewer bands that are more important to the development of the hard rock and heavy metal genres that we know and love today, and while drummer Ian Paice is the only member left in the band who played on the debut album Shades of Deep Purple the current line-up is the longest-lasting in the band's history having been around now since 2002. Despite Paice being the only founding member of the band left now both singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, who joined in 1969, were part of the famed 'Mk. II' line-up of Deep Purple that released three legendary studio albums (plus one that time seems to have forgotten) and the game-changing live release Made in Japan between 1970 and 1973. While Deep Purple have famously had many different line-ups over the years, it is the 'Mk. II' line-up that most people think of when they think of Deep Purple. Most of the band's most well-known songs are products of that era, and are some of the most important hard rock and heavy metal songs of all time. We are now on 'Mk. VIII' of Deep Purple and, as previously stated, this particular incarnation has been around since 2002. Gillan, Glover, and Paice are joined by guitarist Steve Morse (who has now been in Deep Purple for well over twenty years) and keyboardist Don Airey who have created a tight rock outfit that can more than do justice to the band's classic tracks, while still staying fresh by writing new material. Earlier this month the band released their twentieth studio album Infinite. A new Deep Purple album is always an event in the rock community, but I feel Infinite was a bigger deal that usual as it was the first album the band had released since 2013's Now What?! (which I reviewed here). Now What?! was the band's first album in eight years, and I do not think that many people expected it to be quite as good as it was! The band's previous couple of albums had not been that well received, and I think many had given up on hearing another great Deep Purple album. Now What?! was, and still is, a fantastic modern Deep Purple album however and is probably their best for quite some time. As a result, Infinite has received quite a bit more initial publicity and exposure than it probably would have done if it was not for the success of Now What?!. While Now What?! was quite an immediate rock album with lots of the classic Deep Purple tropes wheeled out, Infinite definitely has a different vibe. It is certainly a more laid back effort, incorporating more of the progressive influences that were introduced somewhat on Now What?! which means that it is more of a grower than many might have expected. Initial reviews were somewhat mixed, but this is an album that needs to be heard a few times to really appreciate. There are certainly a few songs that have classic the Deep Purple sound, but there are some new ideas here too and that is what makes Infinite and enjoyable and interesting listen.

After an atypical droning keyboard intro with a ominous effects-heavy spoken word section, Time for Bedlam kicks the album off with a strong mid-paced chug led by Glover's bassline and Airey's pulsing Hammond organ chords. Unlike the riff-driven nature of many of the band's songs, this takes on a different feel, with Morse's tortured guitar leads soaring behind Gillan's vocals in the verses and plenty of neo-classical instrumental breaks which sees Morse and Airey playing in unison. The chorus sections are more like what you would expect from Deep Purple, with hefty keyboard stabs and a catchy vocal refrain from Gillan. Gillan puts in a strong performance throughout this album, and this song is no different. While he struggles to hit the notes he did at his peak, he has found a way to sing convincingly and comfortably with his current range and this is probably his best recorded vocal performance for a while. The song's lazy, but infectious, groove is the great way to get this album underway and that mood carries on through many of the track here. Hip Boots has more of the traditional Deep Purple hard rock sound, but Paice's trademark drumming helps to ensure that groove continues on here. Airey plays his heart out on this song, with his Hammond continually dominating the sound as he doubles up with Morse's guitar but manages to out-muscle him almost constantly. There is something about the sound of the Hammond organ that just epitomises 1970s hard rock, and Deep Purple's continual heavy use of the instrument is something that helps link all the various incarnations of the band together. The sultry strut of this song is so pleasing, and I can see this one becoming a favourite of many fans over the next few months. All I Got is You is a much more chilled out affair, driven by a melodic bassline and Paice's instantly recognisable jazz-influenced drumming. Morse's guitar mostly adds colour, but occasionally breaks out into one of those classic Deep Purple riffs with Airey's backing . The opening couple of numbers here are instantly memorable, but this is one of those songs that needs a little more attention to really open up. There is a creaking keyboard solo from Airey part-way through that is pretty lengthy and really allows him to show off his skills. This transitions into probably the first bona fide guitar solo on the album. It seems strange to have waited to long for one, but this is not one of those explosive virtuosic albums, but instead one that is far more than the sum of it's parts. Normality is restored on One Night in Vegas with a shuffling drum beat, electric piano melodies, and a playful vocal melody from Gillan. Morse's guitar riffs throughout definitely have that classic Deep Purple hallmark as they grind away, and he gets further opportunity to show off with a short, but extremely tasteful, guitar solo that has a smooth tone and a great economy of notes. Get Me Outta Here opens with Paice's booming drums before a Hammond-drenched opening riff kicks with typical Deep Purple power. The song is quite funky here however, with prominent and technical bass playing from Glover and a slightly off-kilter drum beat throughout that emphasise the off beat in the way that reggae music does. This works well for the band however, and provides a good backing for a surprisingly tough vocal performance and a lengthy Hammond solo.

The album's second half opens with the strange The Surprising, a song which sounds quite different from anything Deep Purple have done previously. A keyboard drone heralds it's arrival, before a clean guitar pattern and Gillan's mournful vocals come in to dominate the opening section. Harder rock sections fit well with the more downbeat overall feel of the song, and Airey once again proves his worth with some excellent Eastern-influenced keyboard melodies that work in a great call and response fashion with a Paice drum roll. This song definitely emphasises the progressive side of the band's songwriting and moves through quite a few different sections and relies heavily on the instrumental prowess of the members. Morse has a fairly lengthy solo mid-way through the track, before an almost-classical influenced piano section takes over to change the song's mood totally. Johnny's Band returns to the simpler, hard rock feel of the opening few numbers. A short piano intro soon gives way to a bluesy guitar riff and some of Gillan's excellent storytelling lyrics which are sung with conviction and passion. This is probably the song on the album that is closest to the band's classic sound, and that is probably why it is my favourite song here. The chorus is extremely catchy, and the Hammond-driven hard rock sound that the band helped to pioneer in the early 1970s shines here. A jaunty guitar solo from Morse is the icing on the cake, before another run through of that laid back, but extremely catchy chorus really makes the song a keeper. Another great song comes next in the form of On Top of the World which features another great mid-paced riff with bluesy overtones that just struts along at that jazzy pace the album generally sticks to. Morse's plentiful bursts of lead guitar really help the song to come alive with a cheeky, lustful vibe that fits in with Gillan's lyrics perfectly. The song takes a sharp turn towards the end and descends into a strange spoken word section that takes on an-almost mythological feel. It is ridiculous, but it does actually work quite well without ever becoming embarrassing. A lesser band would not have been able to pull this off, but Gillan's voice manages to take on a hypnotic quality, before the band bursts back in with a short, but explosive, outro focused around Morse's soaring guitar leads. The album's penultimate number Birds of Prey is probably the album's least-interesting number. I cannot quite put my finger on why this is, but for whatever reason it just fails to really stick in my brain at all. The rest of the songs here all have something that sticks out, be it a catchy riff, a strong chorus, or just a great overall vibe; but this song never really seems to get going. While Deep Purple performed quite a few covers in their early days, they have not recorded a new one for an album for quite some time. Their version of The Doors' Roadhouse Blues, which closes this album, is pretty good however and fits in well with the rest of the songs here. I must say I am not that familiar with The Doors, but I am familiar with Status Quo's version of the song, and Deep Purple's take on it is fairly similar, but obviously with more keyboard work! It is a classic twelve bar blues tune, and it gives all the members of the band chance to shine once more, particularly Morse who plays an excellent solo part-way through. Overall, Infinite is a great modern Dee Purple album and a good companion piece to Now What?!. I think Now What?! was a better album overall, but repeated listens here are extremely rewarding and it shows that Deep Purple are still capable of writing quality rock songs.

The album was released on 7th April 2017 via earMusic. Below is the band's promotional video for All I Got is You.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Night Ranger's 'Don't Let Up' - Album Review

The 24th March 2017 shall for ever now be known as AOR Day, as no fewer than four great new melodic rock albums were released! AOR fans like me were like a kid at Christmas with new albums from Eclipse, One Desire, and Brother Firetribe to pick up and enjoy. Not wanting to let all the new younger bands have all the fun, genuine legends of the genre Night Ranger also released a new album on that day in the form of Don't Let Up, their twelfth studio album. Originally forming as Ranger in 1982, Night Ranger have enjoyed continued success throughout their career and are still a popular draw on the live circuit. They have always been a band on the rockier end of the AOR spectrum, and it was on the twin-lead guitar pairing of Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson that the band built their sound. Keyboards have always been a feature of Night Ranger's music, but they have never been as prominent and overbearing as those used by many of their peers. This gave Night Ranger a sound closer to traditional classic rock than many of their peers, and this is something they have continued with throughout their career. Their 1982 debut album Dawn Patrol (they had changed their name to Night Ranger by the time it was released) perfectly displays their signature hard rock sound, but it was 1983's Midnight Madness that saw the band break into the big time with a couple of big-selling singles and a slightly more polished overall sound. More success followed and, despite a hiatus in the early 1990s and a few line-up changes of the years, Night Ranger have remained busy and maintain popular around the world. Unlike many of their AOR peers, Night Ranger also still seem to have the drive to write new material and Don't Let Up seems to be the third in a trilogy of new albums the band have put out since 2011. 2011's Somewhere in California and 2014's High Road are similar albums and both emphasise the hard rock roots of the band perfectly. Both are very enjoyable listens, and both have a somewhat tougher sound than the band were known for in the past but still are packed full of plenty of melodic rock songs. Don't Let Up follows on from those two albums perfectly and continues on that hard rock trend. Gillis is joined by a new guitar partner on this album in the form of veteran player Keri Kelli (Pretty Boy Floyd; Slash's Snakepit; L.A. Guns; Adler's Appetite; Alice Cooper) who became a permanent member of Night Ranger when his predecessor Joel Hoekstra left in 2014 to join Whitesnake. The band's signature dual-lead vocal approach from bassist Jack Blades and drummer Kelly Keagy is present here as always, and the songwriting triumvirate of Blades, Keagy, and Gillis has created another album packed full of memorable riffs and choruses. Kelli is no songwriting slouch either, and has jumped right into the band's creative process co-writing a handful of the album's songs with the three founding band members. Keyboardist Eric Levy, who has been part of Night Ranger since 2011, rounds out the line-up.

The album opens without any real fanfare, as Somehow Someway kicks off with a driving hard rock rhythm that instantly shows off the chemistry of the band's two guitarists with subtle leads and interweaving rhythms. For whatever reason I have always struggled to distinguish between Blades' and Keagy's vocals when listening to Night Ranger, but I believe Blades tackles the lead vocals here with grit that the rocking nature of the song needs. Despite this tougher edge, the song still possess a strong chorus with tasteful melodies and enough backing vocal harmonies to create that 1980s AOR sound but not enough to smother the harder edge of the song. A riffy instrumental ending adds to the heavier sound of the song, and the subtle leads from the intro return to see the song to a close. Running Out of Time opens with another strident riff, perfectly backed up by Blades' bassline, and the song continues in that muscular fashion throughout. Despite the strong guitar riffs, it is actually the bass that stands out here with some really melodic playing that provides the main rhythms of the song while the guitars add colour with clean melodies and effects-heavy chords. Another strong chorus sees both Blades and Keagy take centre stage vocally with some lovely harmonies which helps to enhance to simple, but strong, vocal melodies to create a catchy refrain. A fairly lengthy guitar solo section is another highlight, and it sounds as if both Gillis and Kelli get a chance to show off as the section ends in a shredded climax. Truth is a bit more of a downbeat song, but it retains the strong melodies that filled the opening two numbers. Going by the slightly smoother vocal delivery here, I would guess that Keagy takes the lead here vocally, and that would suit the band's established form of him singing the majority of the ballads. While this song does not quite reach 'ballad' level, it is certainly more laid back and not as in-your-face as the previous two numbers. Levy's keyboards are a little more prominent here and his gentle synths provide the song with a constant, warm glow; while the two guitarists shine elsewhere with lots of subtle dual-guitar leads too add extra melody. Day and Night is a song that will be familiar to anyone who has heard the band's most recent live album, as the song was debuted at the show in Chicago that was recorded for that release. It is another hard-hitting rocker with vocals from both Blades and Keagy who trade sections with ease above the heavy guitar riffs. The song does not really have the AOR sheen that the opening three numbers of this album have, and instead goes for a full-frontal hard rock attack with Keagy's hard-hitting drumming and tough riffs. Levy's retro organ sounds help this hard rock feel, and an impressive guitar solo section is the icing on the cake. The title track returns to the slightly more polished AOR of the opening couple of numbers and rocks a little less harder than Day and Night, but delivers in other ways with probably the album's best chorus and lots of excellent twin-lead guitar riffs that ooze out of the speakers in an almost Thin Lizzy-esque way. Again the keyboards provide warmth throughout without ever dominating the sound, but that does help to provide depth. Don't Let Up is one of the most instantly catchy songs on the album, and is certainly one of the best recent efforts.

(Won't Be Your) Fool Again takes the album off into a more bluesy territory with barroom piano, a raw guitar sound, and even the odd burst of slide guitar. Blades' southern twang helps the vocals to fit in perfectly with the music, and the overall rawness of the song makes it stand out on what is otherwise a fairly polished album. Levy really stands out here, and his piano playing really is the backbone of the song. He does not get many chances to really shine on this album, with his role mainly being a supporting one, but his greater role here allows him to show off his skills a little more with an impressive display of honky piano. Keeping up the energy established on the previous number, Say What You Want comes roaring out of the speakers with a tight opening guitar lead and a driving drum beat that keeps the song steaming along throughout. The song is similar in style to Somehow Someway and has that polished, upbeat hard rock vibe that opened this album in such style. The piano from the previous song remains, although in a much lesser role, and the chorus is another strong one with lots of harmony vocals. There are lots of bursts of lead guitar throughout, and some of them almost take on a neo-classical vibe which is something different for Night Ranger. We Can Work it Out is the first real ballad on the album, and sees both Blades and Keagy taking the vocal lines together with some nice harmonies that sit well atop Levy's subtle piano playing. The song mostly stays in the relatively gentle groove that it opens with, but some well-chosen drum lines help to give the song a bit of an edge despite the low-key mood. Acoustic guitar chords and soaring synths help to add depth, especially during the Eagles-esque chorus. A gorgeous acoustic guitar solo is another highlight, and the almost-classical playing style really suits the song and again shows something different from the norm. Despite opening with what seems like it will be a heavy riff, Comfort Me is another polished rocker but one that maintains a driving rhythm throughout with some muted power chord chugs. It is not one of the most stand out songs on the album, but it is still enjoyable. The chorus especially is a good moment, with some high energy almost-gang vocal sections which I am sure will go down well live if the band choose to ever play it. The melodic bridge section before the guitar solo, which I am sure Keagy sings, is another good moment too; and there are some 1980s-style synth runs during the guitar solos which again is not something that is heard often in the band's recent output. Jamie is a tougher song, with some really screaming guitar leads intro which really epitomises the modern Night Ranger sound. Blades and Keagy again sing many of the vocal lines in perfect harmony and this is an approach that works well here. This is one of the high energy songs on this album, and plenty of shredding guitar sections help to emphasise this. Both Gillis and Kelli shine here as they trade off riffs and solos with each other throughout. The chorus is another good one with soaring harmonies and melodies. The album's final song, Nothing Left of Yesterday, has somewhat of an epic feel and mixes acoustic-driven verses with heavier choruses. This approach works well and it acts as a great crescendo for the album. Unlike many of the songs on the album, the song actually has quite a modern rock feel which also helps it to become a strong closing number. There are lots of excellent bursts of lead guitar throughout too, and this is a song that I am sure would work really well live. Overall, Don't Let Up is another solid entry into the Night Ranger canon and is an album that shows the band still have plenty left to say and still feel fresh in the 21st century.

The album was released on 24th March 2017 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Day and Night.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Brother Firetribe's 'Sunbound' - Album Review

It seems March 2017 was a month of AOR! I have already reviewed the new albums by Eclipse and One Desire, and US veterans Night Ranger will be featured here over the next couple of weeks or so. Today however is the turn of Finland's resident AOR heroes Brother Firetribe who are back on the scene with their fourth album Sunbound. Despite forming in 2002 (according to Wikipedia, so that must be true), Brother Firetribe have never been the most active of bands, with their schedule often being dictated by guitarists Emppu Vuorinen's busy life as a member of symphonic metal giants Nightwish. Nightwish are legitimately one of the biggest metal bands in the world now, and are very much in demand all over the world. The conclusion of the lengthy world tour supporting their Endless Forms Most Beautiful album means that Nightwish will now enter one of their patented post-world tour long slumbers, and this is the perfect opportunity for Brother Firetribe to spring into action once again! In fairness, it has only been three years since the band released their third album. 2014's Diamond in the Firepit was an album that, for whatever reason, just never really grabbed me when it was released. I was never motivated enough to review it at the time of it's May released, but by the end of the year it had grown on me and I included a mini-review of it in my round up of the year (which can be seen here). While still following the AOR trend of 2006's False Metal (later reissued as Break Out) and 2008's Heart Full of Fire, Diamond in the Firepit is less immediate and less in-your-face than those gloriously overblown first couple of releases. While the soaring choruses, smooth vocals, and pompous keyboard leads were still present on Diamond in the Firepit it was presented in a much more subtle and, on reflection, classy way. In a strange twist of fate, it is now the Brother Firetribe album that I reach for the most as I feel the songwriting is stronger than on the first two. Sunbound definitely carries on that somewhat maturer sound established on Diamond in the Firepit, but does also include a few songs which are definitely a bit more in-your-face and more akin to their earlier material. In that respects, you could say that Sunbound is the best of both worlds of Brother Firetribe so far, and it certainly feels like their most complete piece of work yet. Vuorinen is joined as always by frontman Pekka Ansio Heino (who is the star of the band with his amazing voice), keyboardist Tomppa Nikulainen (who also produced the album), and bassist Jason Flinck. Drummer Hannes Pirilä makes his debut in the studio with Brother Firetribe on Sunbound, but he is no stranger to the band as he has been playing live with them since 2014 when he replaced original drummer Kalle Torniainen to tour Diamond in the Firepit.

After the brief instrumental title track which helps to set the scene with a building piano melody and the odd soaring guitar lead, the album gets truly underway with Help is on the Way. A slightly crunchy opening soon gives way to a joyous keyboard riff which will not fail to put a smile on your face, before a slightly restrained verse, driven by Flinck's bass, introduces Heino for the first time on the album. His voice is perfect for this type of music, with a tone that just oozes quality but also carries the hooks perfectly. While the chorus is not as big as you might expect from an opening song, after a few listens it really grows on you with it's huge choral backing and subtle keyboard leads. Indelible Heroes is the band's tribute to all of the great musicians that we have lost in recent years, with acts like Motörhead, the Eagles, and Prince referenced in the lyrics. The keyboards dominate the song, and provide a synthy sheen throughout which shimmers with a perfectly poppy feel. The chorus this time is much more obvious, and is made up of all of the aforementioned tributes. Vuorinen's solo is a little strange here, and seems to be more about creating a noise with a raft of effects than to do something more traditional. It seems to work, but it does stand out as being a bit of a strange choice. Despite being released as a single last year, Taste of a Champion finds a permanent home here and it is easily one of the album's real highlights. I have often seen Brother Firetribe compared to American AOR legends Survivor in the past and had not really agreed with the comparison, but Taste of a Champion really does sound like a classic Survivor anthem. I am surprised it was not included in the latest Rocky movie! Nikulainen's driving piano chords really prove to be the song's backbone, and Vuorinen provides plenty of subtle guitar leads throughout too, as well as a more traditional solo this time around which really takes off with some excellent melodic runs. The chorus is the album's best too, and has a real uplifting vibe that is sure to temporarily banish any bad moods! Despite opening with a bit of a sombre keyboard riff, Last Forever soon picks up the pace with a pomp-driven riff and a soaring guitar lead showcase. The verses are quite low key, with the odd thrash of an acoustic guitar which penetrates the wall of keyboards to back Heino's vocals. The sombre keyboard riff returns in the chorus, but with the context of the rest of the band now takes on a more uplifting feel with a strong pomp backing and plenty of smooth vocal harmonies. Give me Tonight is another real favourite of mine, and is another song that could be an old Survivor classic. It is an uptempo rock song with crunchy power chords driving the verses as Heino's sultry vocals hook you in. This is a song that would have seriously troubled the charts if it was released in the mid-1980s and it is a song that you only have to hear once before you can nearly sing all of the words! Unsurprisingly the chorus is an absolute winner, with a really cheesy keyboard melody, and a vocal line that is purely irresistible. Vuorinen's solo is one of his best too. He will never be listed among the world's greatest guitarists but his rudimentary shredded really fits the vibe of the song perfectly.

After a string of more upbeat numbers, Shock slows thing down a little with a smooth groovy feel which is helped by a very deliberate drum pattern from Pirilä and a snaking bassline. I have never felt that this type of song suits Brother Firetribe as well as their more traditional upbeat pomp, but this song manages to create a pretty addictive vibe with the somewhat prominent rhythms and the use of lots of different keyboard sounds to create layers of atmosphere and melody. While not a classic, it helps to break the album up somewhat and add a little variety to proceedings. Strangled is more upbeat, but still a little more on the downside than much of what has come before. The verses are quite bass-heavy once again, with lots of synth loops and programming to help create extra little rhythms and textures. The chorus is another big one however, with some real 1980s keyboard sounds pulsing away and a perfect choir of harmony vocals. The smooth guitar solo is great too, and helps to enhance the catchy but restrained mood that the song seems to portray. Heart of the Matter raises the mood slightly once again as the song moves along at a solid mid-pace with a spiky bassline and floaty keyboards. Vuorinen's playing is surprisingly bluesy throughout, with quite a few little interlude leads that show off his tasteful skills. The chorus is a little more restrained than one might expect, but it still becomes well-entrenched in the memory after a couple of listens. Heino seems to have a way of making anything he sings become memorable and that is true of most of this album! Following on from the tradition established on Heart Full of Fire, Brother Firetribe have covered another obscure 1980s action film song, and this time they have tackled John Parr's Restless Heart which was featured in the film The Running Man. It is not a song I was familiar with before, but it certainly fits well on this album and the version the band have cooked up is very much in tune with their signature sound. Bouncy guitar riffs mix well with playful keyboard melodies, before a killer chorus kicks in which just oozes pure class with another heroic vocal display and keyboard arrangement. Big City Dream sees the return of the upbeat pomp of the album's opening few numbers and is a song that definitely has a lot in common with the band's first couple of albums. Huge driving keyboard melodies are prevalent here (think Journey's Ask the Lonely) and the lyrics deal with the age-old search for the perfect life and having big dreams. This was a topic that was used heavily by the 1980s AOR bands, but this is more than a simple pastiche. The key change in the final chorus is classic too, and this is another of my favourites from this album. The closing song Phantasmagoria is another slower number and definitely has a big of ballad vibe while still maintaining a bit of a rock crunch. The chorus is a little haunting, and is a bit different from what you would usually expect from Brother Firetribe, but it works well and the song presents a real atmospheric face. This somewhat epic feel makes the song work well as a album closer. Overall, Sunbound is an album that sees Brother Firetribe finding a perfect balance between the overblown pomp of their first couple of albums and the more mature sound forged on Diamond in the Firepit. They have written many of their best songs yet for this album and, with a quite a few live shows booked throughout the year, it looks be a big success for the Finnish AOR band.

The album was released on 24th March 2017 via Spinefarm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Indelible Heroes.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

One Desire's 'One Desire' - Album Review

I find it hard to comprehend just how many of the great new bands in the rock and metal worlds come from Scandinavia. From some of the heaviest extreme metal out there on the market at the moment, to some of the cheesiest 1980s-inspired AOR, Scandinavia (Finland and Sweden in particular) seem to have the market of rock and metal cornered. One Desire, from Finland, are just the latest band from this part of the world to be unveiled and their debut self-titled album was released last month via the Italian label Frontiers Records, the masters of promoting modern melodic rock. Despite One Desire only just reaching the public conscious, the seeds for the band were sewn in 2012 when drummer Ossi Sivula started demoing new material with the aim of creating a new AOR band. Guitarist Jimmy Westerlund was initially recruited by Sivula to oversee production but he eventually joined the band permanently and has become the main songwriter for the ground. André Linman (Sturm und Drang) was recruited as the band's frontman, as he had been a friend of Westerlund's for many years, and the final piece of the puzzle was bassist Jonas Kuhlberg (Paul Di'Anno; Cain's Offering). Westerlund has still retained his original role as producer too, and has been assisted by Linman and Frontiers Records stalwart Erik Mårtensson (Eclipse; W.E.T.) on various songs. Given the nature of One Desire's music, it is unsurprising to see that Mårtensson has been involved behind the scenes with them and anyone familiar with his work will recognise many of the same musical hallmarks here. Luckily however, One Desire is a real band effort with the songwriting mostly being handled by either Linman and Westerlund with a few friends helping out with co-writes. Some Frontiers Releases can be vehicles for some the label's in-house writers to use up some unused songs, so it is great to see that this is not the case here. That being said Mårtensson has given the band one song, which unsurprisingly sounds a lot like Eclipse, and has co-written another with Linman, but overall this a wholly original effort by a new band who are also strong songwriters. Soundwise, One Desire are very much an AOR band, but their sound sounds very modern in places. Keyboards are used extensively, but in more of an atmospheric way than many of their 1980s counterparts which gives the album a classy and full sound. Comparisons can be drawn in places to Def Leppard, with the soaring vocal harmonies and the melodic guitar arpeggios, but most of all One Desire is an album that is just full of strong, modern-sounding melodic rock songs. This is not a particularly heavy album, despite a few big riffs throughout, but the material is strong and very memorable.

The album starts off very strongly with Hurt, which really sees the band setting out their stall and establishing their sound early. A rather simple guitar pattern backed up by dramatic and cinematic keyboard stabs captures the attention early on, before a bass-heavy verse introduces Linman's smooth and easily-likeable vocals for the first time. He may not have the greatest range, but his smooth tone suits this type of music perfectly. He shines during the chorus, which makes use of the dramatic intro riffs, with a really catchy and emotionally-charged delivery. The song has quite a bit in common with the John Payne era of Asia to my ears, and that is certainly no bad thing. Apologize is the song that was given to One Desire by Mårtensson so comparisons with his band Eclipse can easily be drawn here. It is a more laid-back song, with a lovely clean guitar opening, and a smooth feel throughout. While it is not really a ballad, it is not an in-your-face rocker either. A simple, but large, chorus is the centrepiece of the song, which is unsurprising as that is one of Mårtensson's signature songwriting moves, and it comes roaring out of the speakers with plenty of harmony vocals and soaring melodies. Linman's short guitar solo is different from the norm, and it echoes the clean guitar intro, but it works very well in the context of the song. Linman's Love Injection is up next, and is full of pop sensibilities. Sivula's drums have a lot of reverb on them which gives them the feel of an old 1980s drum machine, and the layers of keyboards along with Linman's simple vocal delivery enhances that poppy vibe. If it was not for the guitar riffs, this could probably be quite a big chart hit! The chorus is another winner, and it has quite a modern feel with melodies that would not be out of place in any modern pop classic. It works well though, and it shows that pop and rock music really are not so far away after all. Turn Back Time opens with clean guitar melodies, but it slowly builds up to a surprisingly pacey rocker with Sivula's, who co-wrote the song, driving ride-heavy drumming and Westerlund's riffs. Big stabs of distorted guitar help to give the song a bit of grit. The guitar solos help this too, and both Westerlund and Linman get a chance to show off. The former is more shred-heavy, before the latter takes a more measured and melodic approach. The combination works well, and really adds a lot to this catchy tune. Falling Apart is the first proper ballad on the album, and shows Linman's most diverse vocal display so far with him reaching a surprising amount of high notes. Again, the poppy feel is quite prevalent here, but the soaring chorus is so catchy that it makes no odds. I really like Sivula's drumming during the song too, as it has this slightly offbeat feel that gives the song a rhythm that you would not usually associate with ballads. It just makes the song stand out a little and make it somewhat different from the norm.

Straight Through the Heart has quite a similar vibe to Hurt and kicks off the album's second half with a driving hard rock rhythm, a tasty guitar lead, and some prominent keyboard melodies. Kuhlberg's bass really helps to give the verses some weight, and keeps the slightly heavier feel of the song going. Despite the more overtly 'rock' feel of the song, it is still one of the catchiest numbers here. The chorus is another one that knocks it out of the park, and even some rather blatant autotuning on the lead vocals does not ruin the mood. I think that tricks like that can actually be used to enhance a song, and it works well here to give the heavier song a great pop sheen. Both Linman and Westerlund get a chance to solo again, and both impress again with a great mix of styles. Those who really love their cheesy AOR will love Whenever I'm Dreaming with it's infectious chorus and poppy overtones. It is the only song on the album that is written by both Linman and Westerlund, which definitely shows that the two could form a great writing partnership and bodes well for any future One Desire albums. Linman takes the solo here, and shows he is just as good on the guitar as Westerlund. In fact, he just owns this song with a stunning vocal performance along with his short, but sweet, solo. The keyboard playing is excellent too, and really helps to add that authentic 1980s sound over the top of the modern poppy vocals. Sivula's Do You Believe is a strident, anthemic rock tune that opens with a strong guitar riff which helps set the tone for the song. I do feel that the chorus is a little poppy for a song with a riff such as this, but it still manages to be enjoyable and shows that Sivula can write songs along with Linman and Westerlund. One Desire is blessed with talented songwriters and I am interested what the band come up with in the future when the songs are all being written together with the intention to create a cohesive album. I do get the impression that this album was made up of songs the individuals had without much collaboration so I look forward to seeing the results of this collaboration in the future. Buried Alive, which is a collaboration between Linman and Mårtensson, is a great piece of heavy rock that almost steps over the boundary into metal occasionally with some big riffs and some great heavy drumming. The heavier sound suits One Desire really well, and I hope this is something that they explore more in the future. Westerlund's big guitar riff dominates, and Linman's vocals actually have quite a big of grit to them which suits the heavier feel. There is lengthy guitar solo section, again featuring both guitarists and it is notably faster which is in keeping with the heavier riffs. This is Where the Heartbreak Begins is the album's closing number, and it is another big ballad. From the simple acoustic opening, all the way through to the soaring chorus, this is contains everything that a great ballad needs. There are even little flourishes of melodic piano which really add depth and additional melodies to the song. It works really well to close out the album, and is a great contrast to the heavier song that precedes it. Overall, One Desire is a really strong debut from this new band and is full of classy songs that are well-written and well-performed. The album definitely has it's own sound that is different from many of the rest of the new melodic rocks out there and I am excited to see what they come up with next.

The album was released on 24th March 2017 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Hurt.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Eclipse's 'Monumentum' - Album Review

Despite being around in some form or another since 1999, Sweden's Eclipse have always gone under my radar somewhat. As a follower of Italian record label Frontiers Records, it can sometimes be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, with many gems getting lost in the sheer amount of releases that the label is involved with. Erik Mårtensson, Eclipse's singer, rhythm guitarist, and principle songwriter, is a name synonymous with Frontiers Records however and I would notice his name cropping up a lot. He has contributed songs to many of the label's studio-based fantasy projects (which the label really does over-indulge in at times!) and has also worked behind the scenes with many of the label's bands, so it is fair to say he has had a big hand in many of the new melodic rock music that is being released by Frontiers. He is also a big part of the AOR supergroup W.E.T. so Mårtensson is a big name in modern day melodic hard rock. Eclipse has always been his main band however, and the band has been around longer than his association with Frontiers Records. The first album of Eclipse's I heard was 2012's Bleed & Scream, which I probably bought not long after it's release after stumbling on one of their songs on Youtube. It has only been recently that I have really began listening to Eclipse regularly however, despite buying 2015's Armageddonize when it was new and enjoying it at the time. There is always so much new music being released that it is hard to keep up, and great music can often fall through the cracks. It is hard to believe that Eclipse's new album, Monumentum, which was released last month is the band's sixth studio effort. In fairness, the band's early releases are hard to get hold of, and it has really been only since 2008's Are You Ready to Rock that the band started to get more attention with a bigger record distribution deal. Those familiar with Eclipse, or any of Mårtensson's other endeavours, will know exactly what to expect with Monumentum, and that is well-crafted and hugely memorable modern AOR songs with a real hard rock edge. Eclipse have never been a band to pack their albums with sugary ballads, and you will find plenty of razor-sharp guitar riffs here which are the perfect foil for Mårtensson's strong vocals. Joining Mårtensson, who handles the vocals, rhythm guitars, and keyboards, on Monumentum are founding lead guitarist Magnus Henriksson, bassist Magnus Ulfstedt, and, for the first time on an Eclipse album, drummer Philip Crusner. Former keyboardist Johan Berlin, who still contributes to the band's albums in the studio, handles much of the album's keyboard duties along with Mårtensson. For fans of good quality hard rock and AOR, with strong modern production values, then Eclipse are a band should be investigated. While admittedly there is nothing here that has not been heard before, the songwriting is so strong that that does not matter.

The Swedes kick things off in style here with the hard rock of Vertigo and Henriksson's first big riff of the album. The song is a strong mid-paced slab of hard rock, but the AOR edge that permeates the band's sound is ever-present with a subtle use of keyboards and excellent vocal harmonies. Mårtensson's voice has always very strong, but his performance throughout this album seems even more urgent and dynamic than usual. The verses of this song are a perfect example of this with some impressive high notes early on that showcase his range. While the chorus is not as anthemic as it could be, the song still proves to be a memorable one and sets out Eclipse's familiar stall on this new album. Never Look Back takes things to another level however with wordless vocals to back up the simple simple, and Mårtensson's opening 'Come on!' rallying call which sets this stadium-sized song off. Crusner's explosive drumming is a big part of the tough verses, and his playing really seems to have given the band a bit of a kick in the behind to rock even harder! The song's chorus is a real winner with a big keyboard backing and a winning vocal display that really hooks you in with the strong melodies. This song is perfect example of Eclipse's sound, and would be an excellent introduction to the band. Killing Me is a bit more laid back, although the hard rocking intro riff (which sounds a bit like Kamelot's My Confession...) still rocks hard with a big keyboard melody that sits over the groovy guitars. The verses are quieter, which gives prominence to Ulfstedt's precise bass playing, and allows Mårtensson to show off a different side of his voice. The song ramps up again during the choruses however, and it is another strong moment with a surprisingly emotional vocal delivery and plenty of excellent harmonies. The album's first two songs did not overly feature Henriksson's soloing ability, but he gets to let rip here with a good-length section to himself. The Downfall of Eden is a strong mid-paced piece of rock, but the sound used here is quite different from the band's usual one. This works well however, and Mårtensson's verse vocals are sung in a much lower register than he usually does. The bass once again dominates the verses, with subtle acoustic guitar strums sitting behind to add colour. The chorus sections are more what you would expect from the band, but the melodies are less overt to fit with the more driving hard rock sound that takes over. The Thin Lizzy-inspired instrumental break is great too, and is probably the highlight of the song. Hurt is the first real slower song here, and opens with a sombre guitar melody and some vocals from Mårtensson which actually sound like they could have been lifted from a modern pop song (until he unleashes a rather big scream that is...) but it works well. As mentioned before, Eclipse have never been a band to fill their albums with lots of ballads, and it is at the hard rocking material that they excel at, but Hurt is a strong song that helps to add some diversity to the album. AOR albums always need a ballad too, so this works perfectly to tick that box. Henriksson's emotional guitar solo is great too! After the downbeat Hurt, Jaded comes along with more of an upbeat vibe to inject some energy back into proceedings. Keyboards dominate here, with lots of retro-sounding synth sounds to back up the guitar riffs. That being said, it is one of the more less-memorable songs on the album and fails to hit the spot that those that have come previously did.

Born to Lead really helps to raise the bar again, with a big John Sykes-esque riff that shows off the talents of Henriksson and really takes the listener back to the heyday of 1980s metal. It is one of my favourite songs on the album, as it just packs so much of a punch with the excellent riff and Mårtensson's stunning vocal performance. The chorus in particular is a real winner melodies that just fill the speakers and really take hold. Henriksson is the star of the song however with his fantastic guitar playing. His solo is a real shred-fest and is the perfect companion for his main riff. Crusner's double bass drumming toward the end, mixed with the Henriksson's guitar playing, really makes this song sound like an outtake from Whitesnake's 1987 album! For Better or for Worse carries on this heavier vibe and builds on the energy of the previous song. While not quite as good as Born to Lead, this song still impresses and uses dynamics wisely to pack a lot into a short space of time. I love the little pre-chorses where everything drops out apart from the vocals and the keyboards, before the rest of the band explode into the chorus which is one of the album's most melodic. The guitar solo is lengthy too and Henriksson once again impresses with plenty of fluid runs. No Way Back is another song that just slips below the standard set by most of the songs here. Much like with Jaded, there is nothing that is particularly wrong with it, it just does not take off and soar like the rest of the material on this album. I think it is just because the melodies are not quite as good and do not stick in your head as easily as they probably should. Following two such excellent songs definitely hurts this song's chances too, and it just comes off as one of the album's weaker moments. Night Comes Crawling is much better and takes the band off in a slightly heavier direction. The murky intro really helps to set the tone, before Crusner's heavy-handed drumming kicks in which fits perfectly with the muscular riff and rumbling bassline that the rest of the band have come up with. The slightly heavier feel suits Eclipse well, but the big melodies that the band are known for are still present. The chorus is another very good one and has a lighter overall tone than the rest of the song with plenty of synths to add depth. This contrast works really well and the song is real winner with a great mix of attitude and melody. Monumentum comes to a close with Black Rain, a song which seems like it will be a ballad with a gentle intro before the main riff kicks in an it is clear that the album is going to end on a high with a deliberately-paced piece of hard rock. It is not an urgent rocker like much else of what is on display here, but instead one that is packed full of grooves and snaking riffs that have a somewhat ominous tone - especially when paired with the synths that have been employed here. Henriksson gets one more chance to show off with a great neo-classical solo towards the end that goes on for a good length and builds up towards a stunning climax with a flurry of shredded notes. Overall, Monumentum is another excellent album from Eclipse that cements their place as one of the best modern melodic hard rock bands. This album probably rocks harder than any of their previous releases, and it is great to see the band continue to push forward and gain more energy as they move through their career.

The album was released on 24th March 2017 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Never Look Back.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

The Fallen State's 'The View from Ruin' - EP Review

It is quite rare that a local band starts to make some traction in the rock world, but that is what Devon's The Fallen State have been doing over the past couple of years. With some impressive support slots under their belt, the band released their fifth EP, The View from Ruin, last month which follows on from their impressive previous studio outings. For a band who are yet to record a full-length album, they are doing extremely well for themselves. Certain corners of the music industry are convinced that the traditional album format is now dead in an age of streaming and digital downloads, and it seems that The Fallen State have embraced this seemingly new 'little and often' approach to releasing new music. Recording a handful of new songs at a time when they are fresh and getting them out to their ever-growing fanbase quickly helps to keep fans interested in this era of poor attention spans, and this approach seems to be paying off for The Fallen State. The first three of the band's five EPs, the 'numbered trilogy' if you like, were all released in quick succession in 2014. The three-track releases certainly laid the foundations with The Fallen State's sound, but it was on 2016's Crown Your Shadows where the band's modern hard rock sound was really honed. The earlier releases definitely borrowed a lot from the past, but Crown Your Shadows certainly introduced the slightly darker and heavier sound the band now use. This has continued on The View from Ruin, and while the songs no longer seem as anthemic as on those early releases, there is a distinct vibe and energy around the band now that makes them stand out. Once again the EP was produced, mixed, and mastered by David Jones (aka Jonny Rocker - Heaven's Basement) who's previous band was probably a big influence on The Fallen State's early sound. Jones seems to be the go-to man these days when it comes to new rock bands recording EPs, and his fat sound which focuses on big guitar tones is perfect for this type of music.

Opening with a somewhat industrial-sounding section, the EP gets off to a great start with The Quickening. A heavy riff soon kicks in which leads into a strident verse with a shard guitar pattern which is perfect for frontman Ben Stenning's vocals to sit atop. He almost partakes in a call-and-response vocal approach with the guitars initially, but this changes up as the song progresses and the guitars take on a bigger role. The chorus is a pretty strong one too, with subtle harmony vocals to boost Stenning's presence and some strong melodies to latch on to. The Fallen State are still very much influenced by classic rock when it comes to guitar solos, and lead guitarist Jon Price impresses here with a bluesy solo that fits the heavier song well. Despite a heavier intro, Four Letter Word is definitely more laid back, with a mellow verse with lots of chiming guitar notes which work well with Stenning's more poppy delivery here. The sound suits the band well too, and bassist Greg Butler impresses here with a really melodic and groovy bassline during the verses. The song ramps up for the choruses, with a soundscape of heavier guitar chords in background and Stenning's rawer vocal delivery. Rhythm guitarist Dan Oke breaks into a crunching riff part-way through, and this is a cue for Price to solo once again. It is a lengthy one this time and has all the class and finesse of many of the genre's guitar greats. Nova is more of a ballad and the song that has been used to promote the release with a video filmed for it. Ballads have never been the band's strongest point in my opinion, but this is easily their best slower song yet with a really warm guitar sound throughout and a passionate and convincing vocal performance. The chorus is extremely catchy, and hits home in that earnest Shinedown-esque way with plenty of emotional grit. Price's guitar leads in the chorus help boost the musical weight of the piece, and his bluesy solo hits the spot as solos in ballads should. Sleepless returns to the heavier vibe of The Quickening with a real headbanging metal riff, which is backed up by some tight double bass drumming by Rich Walker. It is these types of songs that I feel the band really excel at, and they seem more at home in heavier territory. That being said, the chorus is probably the EP's best, with a really strong vocal performance and driving guitars. A heavy instrumental section part-way through the song emphasises the heavy riffing of Price and Oke, before Stenning starts to shout over the top in a style that recalls modern Papa Roach with a strong punk vibe. Lifetime is the fifth and final song on the EP and is probably the song with the sound that is closest to their early EPs with more of a classic rock sound. It is an instantly memorable one, with a basic chorus and some tight simple riffing throughout which roars out of the speakers. This is definitely more lighthearted after some of the emotionally-heavy songs here, and works well to close out this impressive EP. Overall, The View from Ruin sees The Fallen State further hone their sound and have a produced something they can be very proud of. The band has recently completed their first headlining UK tour, so things are really looking up for the band from Devon.

The self-released EP was released on 24th February 2017. Below is the band's promotional video for Nova.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Fragile Things' 'Broken Sun' - EP Review

Since leaving Heaven's Basement in 2010, when the now-defunct band were in a real ascendancy, Richie Hevanz has led a relatively low-key musical life. His former band rose in stature in his absence, and became a well-known name in the rock world, before eventually officially calling it a day in January. While I always followed and enjoyed Heaven's Basement post-Hevanz, it was his sleazy vocal performances that really made the band special in my eyes. I always felt it was a shame that his vocals and songwriting skills were no longer being showcased, but last year he announced his new band Fragile Things and has been busy recording and touring with the four-piece ever since. Guitarist Mark Hanlon, bassist Steve Lathwell, and drummer Hugo Bowman join Hevanz in Fragile Things, and their debut EP Broken Sun really showcases this new band's talents and songwriting prowess. Despite only being four songs in length Broken Sun is an impressive debut release and has been long-time coming, eventually seeing a full release last month. Physical copies had been available at gigs for some time, but February saw the EP's official release. With a sound that is, at times, not unlike those early Heaven's Basement songs, Broken Sun is a great mix of 1980s-style hard rock with modern sensibilities. It is heavy in places, but packed full of melody that makes the most of Hevanz' unique and distinct voice. While Hevanz, Hanlon, and Lathwell were previously in a band together called Endless Mile, this band almost totally passed me by so Fragile Things is my first proper exposure to Hevanz' work since the self-titled Heaven's Basement EP back in 2008!

The EP opens in fine fashion with Enemy is I which has a strong 1980s-style guitar riff, and a great upbeat vibe that just grabs you by the throat and ever lets go throughout it's 3 minute duration. The verses are great, with distorted guitar trills and a wild drum pattern from Bowman that perfectly suits Hevanz' urgent vocals. The chorus is somewhat slower, and packed full of groove with a tight riff and some great vocal harmonies from the entire band. The anthemic qualities of the song shine through here, and Heaven's Basement fans aught to really enjoy it. Open Cage is not as furious, but it is still packed full of great classic rock swagger with a muscular bluesy riff and a great growling bassline that dominates throughout. The instrumentation often drops out during the verses to shine the spotlight on the verses, which works really well and has a subtle call-and-response quality that turns out to be pretty infectious. Like previously, the chorus is slower. While not on the same level as that of the previous song's chorus, it still packs a punch. A heavy riff-driven instrumental section partway through soon morphs into a shredding solo which gives Hanlon a platform to show off. His leads and soloing are extremely tasteful throughout, although he can really let rip when the song demands it. Opening with a great bass melody, the EP's title track soon kicks in with a sleazy riff that is one of the EP's most exciting moments. This is easily the best song on this EP, and mixed melody with rock power perfectly. The verses are somewhat more low key, with a less in-your-face arrangement, but the song builds towards the stadium-worthy chorus which will stick in your head after a single listen. The Def Leppard-esque backing vocals really help to enhance the melodies, and Hevanz belts out the lyrics with the same venom and power he was doing almost ten years ago for Heaven's Basement. A wah-drenched guitar solo is the icing on the cake, and caps off a song which shows this band could potentially have a great future. So Cold is the final number on the EP, and sticks to the same hard rock formula as the other three songs. The staccato riff is powerful, and is one that is sure to see a lot of movement when the band play it live to a big crowd. As with all the other songs here, the chorus is the main focus and showcases some impressive extended notes from Hevanz as a modern-sounding riff grinds away underneath him. While only four songs in length, Broken Sun shows a band that certainly has a lot of potential. There is not a weak moment here, and the production is big and meaty. I will be interested to see where the band go from here, as some of the newer songs that I heard when I saw them live a couple of months ago have a bit of a different vibe to those heard on this EP. Diversity is always good however, and I await their next release eagerly.

The self-released EP was released on 17th February 2017. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Broken Sun.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Black Star Riders - Birmingham Review

With three albums now under their belts, Black Star Riders are stepping out of Thin Lizzy's shadow. Formed in 2012 when Ricky Warwick (vocals/guitar), Scott Gorham (guitar/vocals), and Damon Johnson (guitar/vocals) from the latest touring incarnation of the legendary Irish hard rockers Thin Lizzy want to write and record some new material together. The decision to form a new band for this new material was the right move, and Black Star Riders have fast become one of the most successful new hard rock bands in recent years. Each album has received better commercial success than the previous one, and the band have gone from strength to strength on stage. These are songs that are meant to be heard live and the band has grown in confidence over the course of their five years in te business. 2016 saw no live activity from the band at all, but the year was spend wisely writing and recording their third album Heavy Fire (which I reviewed here) which was released last month. The album has been an instant hit for Black Star Riders, reaching number 6 in the Official UK Album Charts, and has received excellent reviews from all corners of the rock community. To support the album's release, the band announced their first UK headline tour for two years which boasted an generous run of dates that covered almost all of the UK. Despite the band playing closer to home than Birmingham, the weekend date meant that Birmingham was easier to organise around work commitments. The O2 Institute in Digbeth is not a regular haunt of mine, but it is not a bad venue and probably better than the O2 Academy which is around 20 minutes walk away. The sound is definitely much clearer at the Institute, although the large balcony can cause the same restricted views for those near the back as the Academy.

Scottish rockers Gun opened the evening with a 30 minute set of polished rock music that, while certainly melodic, lacked bite. Brothers Dante (vocals) and Jools Gizzi (guitar/vocals) are the backbone of Gun, and they led the five-piece band through an enjoyable set that was well-received by the large crowd. New guitarist Tommy Gentry also impressed throughout with lots of melodic soloing, and his driving riffs that mixed well with Jools Gizzi's playing certainly upped the energy on the new number She Knows. Their cover of Cameo's Word Up! was, unsurprisingly, greeted with big cheers from the crowd. There were clearly many Gun fans in the audience, as all of the songs were greeted like old friends and Dante Gizzi often held out the microphone for the crowd to sing for him. They ended their set with Shame on You, from their 1989 debut album, which saw a good injection of energy late on. While Gun are a little tame for my liking, their set was certainly enjoyable and displayed all the experience of a band celebrating their 30th anniversary this year!

I was looking forward to Sweden's Backyard Babies. I saw guitarist Dregen with Michael Monroe back in 2011, so I was expecting music in that up-tempo, punky vein. Sadly I have to say I was disappointed and Backyard Babies never really seemed to get going throughout their 40 minutes on stage. Crowd reaction was fairly muted, and a muddy sound mix really did not help. There were good moments however, and the song Painkiller that was played early on in their set stood out with it's strong hooks and anthemic chorus. Towards the end of their set they played a couple of faster numbers which were more akin to the sort of music that I pictured in my head when imagining what the band might sound like. This managed to whip up sections of the crowd towards the end but it was too late by this point sadly.

After half an hour or so the house lights went down, and the sound of an air raid siren filled the venue as Black Star Riders hit the stage with the title track from their latest album Heavy Fire. From then on, the pace never let up for the following 90 minutes as the band played straight through, without an encore break, with set that had a generous helping of all three of their albums plus a Thin Lizzy classic thrown in for good measure. I am glad that the Thin Lizzy element of the band's set is almost seen as an optional extra now, and this shows the band have confidence in their own material - and they should! The heavy Bloodshot and The Killer Instinct really got the crowd going early on, with Gorham and Johnson trading muscular riffs and solos with ease. Dancing with the Wrong Girl, which has a seriously laid-back Thin Lizzy vibe, was probably the song that impressed me the most early on with a great dual-guitar solo and some excellent soulful vocals from Warwick. There was little time for banter and on-stage messing about throughout, as the band let the music do the talking. Hey Judas, now a golden-oldie according to Warwick, was greeted like an old friend by the crowd, before the simple hard rock of newbie When the Night Comes In whipped up a storm with it's AC/DC-esque riffage. All Hell Breaks Loose seguing into the all-time classic The Boys are Back in Town worked wonders in the middle of the set, but it is perhaps telling that the Thin Lizzy classic was not greeted with any more of a cheer than most of the other material played. Black Star Riders have definitely become their own entity now, and that is great to see! The gorgeous ballad Blindsided from the band's last album, which I had not heard live before, was another personal highlight. Warwick sung it with real passion and Johnson's emotional solo was perfect. The two have formed such a great chemistry over the past few years and they have written some of their best ever songs together for Black Star Riders. The last four songs of the set felt like an extended victory lap. Testify or Say Goodbye, which was recently Single of the Week on BBC Radio 2, is a future classic in the making, and the three that followed are already bona fide modern hard rock classics. Kingdom of the Lost really comes alive on stage and packs more of a punch than the more laid-back album version; before both Bound for Glory and Finest Hour had the crowd singing at the top of their voices as Warwick thrashed his acoustic guitar as he sung the words with a real fire. The roar of the crowd when the band were done speaks wonders, and it is clear that Black Star Riders, despite their relatively short time together, have already become household names in the rock world and are sure to only rise from here. The setlist was:

Heavy Fire
The Killer Instinct
Dancing with the Wrong Girl
Hey Judas
When the Night Comes In
Cold War Love
All Hell Breaks Loose
The Boys are Back in Town [Thin Lizzy cover]
Hoodoo Voodoo
Who Rides the Tiger
Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed
Testify or Say Goodbye
Kingdom of the Lost
Bound for Glory
Finest Hour

Overall this was fine display of modern hard rock from one of the best live bands on the circuit at the moment. With a busy festival schedule all over Europe in the summer, this will hopefully expose the band to even more people, and I look forward to their next UK shows eagerly.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Battle Beast's 'Bringer of Pain' - Album Review

Finland has long been a real hotbed of melodic metal, with legends of the power metal genre Stratovarius originally flying the flag when forming in 1984. Since then many great bands have come out of the country, with bands like Nightwish, HIM, Children of Bodom, and Sonata Arctica (among many others) receiving mainstream attention and becoming great exports for the country's music and culture. Battle Beast are one of many melodic metal bands from Finland that are currently out there treading the boards, but they are one that is receiving quite a bit of attention. They have been around since 2008, but only really became known outside of Finland with the release of their second album, simply titled Battle Beast, in 2013. The band's debut album Steel, released in 2011, was initially only available in Finland until the giant metal label Nuclear Blast signed the band up and Steel was reissued worldwide. Battle Beast as we know them however have been around since 2012, which was when current frontwoman Noora Louhimo joined the band. Her larger-than-life image and personality has been the band's focus ever since, and her extremely diverse and powerful voice is a big part of what makes Battle Beast so appealing. From her Doro-esque rasps to her more poppy melodies, Louhimo is one of the most interesting and unique vocalists in metal currently; and it is her performances that make Battle Beast, and the 2015 follow up Unholy Savior, such powerful listens. Despite all this Bringer of Pain, the band's new fourth album, was definitely a make or break release for Battle Beast. The band's founding member and guitarist Anton Kabanen, who was solely credited for writing every single song on the band's first three albums, left the band in 2015. Many were quick to write the band off after this, and you can understand why. There are not many bands who can survive the departure of their principle songwriter (Uriah Heep springs to mind after Ken Hensley's departure but there are not many bands that can claim that), but somehow Battle Beast have managed it by really pulling together. You get the impression that this album has been a real team effort by the band, with writing credits shared out between five of the six band members and everyone really bringing something to the table. Joining Louhimo are original members guitarist Juuso Soinio, bassist Eero Sipilä, keyboardist Janne Björkroth (who also produced the album), and drummer Pyry Vikki. Joona Björkroth, brother of Janne, officially joined the band in place of Kabanen last year and ensures Battle Beast remain a six-piece. Fans of the band will note that Bringer of Pain is not a massive departure from the band's established sound; with songs either falling into the up-tempo Judas Priest-esque metal category, or the more mid-paced 1980s AOR-influenced hard rock category. The band does both styles well, and the mix of the two vibes ensures the album remains interesting throughout with a few twists and turns despite a strong overall identity.

Battle Beast waste no time getting things underway, and the crunchy hard rock of Straight to the Heart is the perfect opening for this melodic and fun album. A simple, dry guitar riff drives the song but it is the keyboard backing, akin to 1980s Journey, that adds the sparkle. It is a strong mid-paced melodic rocker which channels Steinman-esque grandeur with great classic rock swagger. Louhimo i the star of the song and her gritty voice really drives the simple verses, before really coming alive in the anthemic choruses with their driving piano backing. The album's title track follows, and this is much heavier with a riff straight out of the NWOBHM songbook and a great wordless vocal opening which Louhimo a chance to show off her diverse vocal range with ease. The simple, gang vocal driven chorus brings to mind classic Accept. This is probably the album's heaviest song, and features a great display of power metal drumming from Vikki with precise double bass patterns and a strong sense of groove throughout. In classic 1980s tradition, the final chorus sees a dramatic key change which suits Louhimo's diversity perfectly. King for a Day, the album's first single, is more of a hard rock song but it really packs a punch. Sipilä's bassline drives the verses, which follows on for a simple guitar riff, but again it is Louhimo who dominates with a theatrical display. Not to be outdone, the band's two guitarists add plenty of subtle lead licks throughout which help to add melody and technical skill throughout what is at it's a core a very simple song. A synth solo replaces the traditional guitar solo part-way through, which really helps to emphasise that AOR vibe that hangs over the entire album. Beyond the Burning Skies is another heavy one, but it opens with a delicate piano intro that brings fellow Finns Sonata Arctica to mind. It soon explodes into another crunching guitar riff that is sure to see more than a few heads bobbing when it is played live. The keyboards provide that perfect melodic halo once again, which does take some of the metal 'edge' from the song but it helps to transport the listener back to the 1980s, which is what I feel Battle Beast seem to want to do! The chorus is one of the album's best too, with a fantastic soaring melody that just begs to be sung. Familiar Hell, another of the album's singles, is a sickeningly catchy song which has more than a little influence from 1980s disco music, but it just fits in so well with the band's simple riffing and the gritty vocals of Louhimo. This is the sort of music I can imagine Grace Jones making if she suddenly turned into a metalhead, as this song is one that you can really dance to. The chorus is a very catchy one too, with sugary vocal melodies a layers of keyboards which just ooze out of the speakers with ease. This is one of those songs that I am sure will have many metalheads scratching their heads and questioning their 'defence of the faith' - it is that catchy!

Lost in Wars sees the band doing something a bit different from the norm, and sees Battle Beast employing some almost-industrial influences throughout with a variety of synth tones and a lumbering Rob Zombie-esque stomp in the riffs. Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis) provides his distinctive mournful, but powerful vocals, to the song and he duets well with Louhimo. Silly spoken word parts, soaring melodic cleans, and even the odd burst of his crushing harsh vocals give the song a unique identity and makes it stand out from anything else in the band's catalogue. It is not as instantly catchy as many of their songs, but the haunting melodies and enveloping synths will get under your skin after a few listens. Bastard Son of Odin is another up-tempo metal tune, but with some of the cheesiest keyboard sounds heard for some time! The mix of these, along with a strong galloping guitar riff, are a great contrast and this is one song where the two sides of the band really seem to mesh together perfectly. Another strong chorus proves to be the song's centre point, but it is let down by some rather awful lyrics. In fairness, nothing that Battle Beast writes could be considered poetry, but this one is particularly bad! A shredding guitar solo, which is lengthy for the band's concise standards, is another highlight too and shows that the band members are probably better musicians than many would give them credit for. We Will Fight is easily the album's least-interesting song and is one that just seems to pass by without leaving much of an impression. It is not a bad song per se, it just shows there are much stronger songs elsewhere on this disc. It is a bit of a plodding number and never really gets going. Dancing with the Beast is fantastic however and might just be my favourite song on the album. It has a similar disco vibe to Familiar Hell, but ramped up even more with even more of a pop influence. Not the modern pop influence that Amaranthe promote, but Bad Animals-era Heart with a massive 1980s influence with a rhythmic feel and synthetic-sounding drums. Layers of synths dominate, but again a few guitar leads are thrown in to remind you that are indeed listening to a heavy metal record! The chorus is fantastic too, and I see this song becoming a staple and a favourite of their live sets. Far From Heaven, the album's closing number, is a proper lighters-in-the-air power ballad which I expect Bonnie Tyler would do a fantastic cover of! It is piano driven, but it one of those songs that builds up as it goes along and ends in a heavier climax with Louhimo's gritty, but soaring, vocals really gripping hold and refusing to let go. For such an upbeat album, it may seem odd to end on a ballad, but I think it works really well. The ballad also suits the vibe of the album too, as many of the best 1980s rock/metal albums would have included at least one power ballad! Overall, Bringer of Pain is another solid entry in the band's strong discography and shows that Battle Beast is more than just a vehicle for one man's songwriting. The 1980s vibe has been pushed even further here, and I suspect we shall see more of this in the future!

The album was released on 17th February 2017 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for King for a Day.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Thunder's 'Rip it Up' - Album Review

For a band that allegedly broke up in 2009, Thunder have certainly been busy! A one-off reunion for the High Voltage Festival in 2011 seemed to give the band a new lease of live and sporadic live activity has followed ever since. In fairness the 2009 break-up was the band's second disillusionment, so it just seems that Thunder cannot keep away for long! Despite missing the heyday of hard rock music in the 1980s, Thunder have since become one of England's best-loved bands, and have an extremely loyal and dedicated fanbase around the world. I always liken them to Marillion in this regard, and are one of those bands who have remained big and popular outside the mainstream with very little attention from the mass media. The band, who is still made up of four of the band's five original members, were very successful in the early 1990s. The band's 1990 debut album Backstreet Symphony is a true British hard rock classic and is an album that, in my opinion, they have never bettered. The next two albums, 1992's Laughing on Judgement Day and 1995's Behind Closed Doors, both made the top 5 of the Official UK Album Charts but ever since then the band have become a bit of a cult act. Still, the band's popularity endured and they have become well-known in rock scenes all over the world for their no-nonsense hard rock shows and their bluesy rock anthemic songwriting. Guitarist Luke Morley, who has almost single-handedly written the band's entire back catalogue, is an extremely consistent songwriter. While he probably does not really stray from his comfort zone enough to really give Thunder the ability to turn new heads again, there is no denying that he is extremely good at what he does. His songs, coupled with frontman Danny Bowes' melodic, bluesy voice, is the Thunder blueprint and their partnership is a big part of what has made the band such a big draw over the years. 2015 saw the band release their first album in seven years. Wonder Days (which I reviewed here) was easily the band's best album for quite some time and it even troubled the charts again, cracking the top 10 for the first time since 1995. For a band of Thunder's stature, it made quite a splash and was featured on may Albums of the Year list that year. Two years later and Thunder return with Rip it Up, their eleventh studio album overall. I have to admit that this one has taken me a bit of time to get into. Wonder Days was a great in-your-face, groovy blues rock album, but this one is much more a slow-burner with less of the big hooks that made Wonder Days such an instant hit. That aside, it has been a big commercial hit for the band, and reached number 3 of the Official UK Album Chart, the band's highest entry since Laughing on Judgement Day (which reached number 2 in 1992). While it has not made as big an impression on me as Wonder Days did, there is still plenty to enjoy here. Lynne Jackaman (Saint Jude), Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn; Odin Dragonfly; Mantra Vega), and Susie Webb add female backing vocals throughout which adds a slightly different edge to this album and is something the band have not explored that often previously.

Rather than going for the jugular right away, the album starts off with the more subtle rock of No One Gets Out Alive. That is not to say that Rip it Up opens with a ballad or anything, but compared to previous Thunder album openers this song is definitely a little more laid back. The big open guitar chords ring throughout in a great rhythmic pattern, and Bowes immediately shows his bluesy quality with a strong, but slightly paired-back, vocal performance. The solo emphasises this bluesy feel with a slow flurry of well-chosen notes backed up by Ben Matthew's simple keyboards. Despite not being as much of a rocker as some might expect, the catchy guitar chords act as the album's first real hook, and the lovely organic guitar tones really shine through. The title track is next and this definitely rocks a little harder, with a soaring guitar lead during the song's intro which soon morphs into a crunchy verse with staccato power chords and sultry vocal performance. The chorus is the first real sing-a-long moment of the album, and it packs a real bluesy punch with a strong strutting feel and the subtle female vocal harmonies to add colour. A simple, but effective slide guitar solo works well later on in the song, before another chorus rounds things out nicely. She Likes the Cocaine is a down-and-dirty rocker with some wah-drenched guitar melodies and a low-key verse which is driven by Chris Childs' pulsing bass line. It never really rocks out, but the bluesy vibe that has been present throughout so far is ramped up even more here, with the cutting guitar leads and retro organ sounds. The song features Jackaman's vocals prominently and the song does pick up towards the end, with the addition of some bar room piano mixed in, and Bowes and Jackaman's voices mix in together well. Right from the Start is a ballad, something which Thunder have always excelled at. A piano-based intro soon gives way to acoustic guitars which is the perfect backing for Bowes' vocals. It does build up as it goes along, with the addition of keyboards, bass, and drums; but it never strays far from it's acoustic base. The bluesy solo is fantastic too, and sounds like something right of out a classic 1980s acoustic rock song - almost Cinderella-ish! It is a lovely song for it, and the subtle female wordless vocals used towards the end really help to elevate it and move towards a poignant ending. Shakedown is more of a rocker, but more in the laid back She Likes the Cocaine way with sparse verses and a strong percussive sense from Harry James' drumming. The choruses are heavier however, with a big riff which is sure to go down well live when it kicks in. This song is quite typical of the album's overall sound, and acts as a microcosm for where Thunder are musically at the moment with the mix of laid back swagger and hard rock riffing. Heartbreak Hurricane has a strong Led Zeppeling vibe, especially during the intro riff which features a jangly rock riff mixed with a strong acoustic presence. This permeates the whole song too, with strong use of retro organ sounds throughout and acoustic guitars to carry the main melodies throughout. Bowes' bluesy vocals are well-suited for this overall, and he shines here. When he really starts to let rip during the chorus, it is clear that his voice has not aged much at all and still sounds as strong as he did in the early 1990s.

In Another Life has a strong retro feel too, with a bassline from Childs, augmented by Matthews' keyboards, dominating this smokey bar room piece. The sound conjures up images of the band sat around on bar stools playing this song to drinkers and pool players on a Saturday night. Matthews' keyboards take the front seat here, with a solo at one point and a sound which just drenches everything else throughout. Keyboards have never been the biggest part of Thunder's sound, with Matthews often playing the guitar alongside Morley, but every so often they add another dimension to the sound and make their presence felt. The Chosen One is somewhat more upbeat, but Childs' bass guitar still manages to dominate the song early on, although some sharp riffs to join the fray after a little while. Lots of little layers are added to the song as it moves along, with bright piano notes and plenty of lead guitar added in to keep things interesting. The short instrumental section towards the end is a big of a highlight, with Morley's lead guitar duelling with Matthews' piano notes to good effect. The Enemy Inside is a bit of a throwaway bluesy rock song but it still manages to work well. It is the sort of song a band like The Quireboys could probably make into a big of classic, but Thunder have always been a little more varies and dynamic than that and songs like this do not always suit them. The bluesy guitars are great, but are not delivered with the real strut that a song like this required. The guitar solo is great though! Tumbling Down is probably the toughest rocker on the album, and features a mean riff that really comes roaring out of the speakers. It is telling of the album's vibe however that a song like this is the album's 'heaviest' piece and shows that Thunder have clearly made a conscious decision to tone down somewhat here. I think the sound suits them to an extent, but riffs like the one in this song make you wish for some harder rockers at times. That being said, this is a really strong song with another good chorus that Bowes really owns vocally. As with most of them here, the guitar solo is great. Morley and Matthews are both great players and, although it never credits individual guitar solos to the players, you can be assured that both are on fire throughout with great tone and note choices during their solos. There's Always a Loser, the album's closing number, is another ballad and this is probably the best of that kind on the album. Matthews' deep, ringing piano chords dominate the song early on which sit above a rather lumbering drum beat but it seems to work well. The song does ramp up occasionally, with some hard rocking guitar chords, but it is the piano and vocals that are the song's main driving factors. Sometimes ballads to close albums end up falling a little limp, but that is not the case here as the song is strong and packs a decent emotional punch - especially for an album as laid back as this. Overall, Rip it Up is another really enjoyable album from Thunder despite the more slow-burning feel throughout. Personally I feel that a couple of real up-tempo hard-rocking song would have really added to the album, but I can see what they were trying to achieve here and they have pulled it off. I am sure this will not be the last we see of the band, and I look forward to seeing where they go next!

The album was released on 10th February 2017 via earMusic. Below is the band's promotional video for No One Gets Out Alive, which is taken from a live studio session.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Tesseract - Plymouth Review

The 'djent' scene pretty much leaves me cold. The dry guitar sounds, the repetitive mechanical grooves, and the often lack of any big melodies makes it one of the metal subgenres I have explored the least. Tesseract are probably the only band from that world that I have ever really been able to enjoy. There is just something about their music that draws me in, and I find their very atmospheric sound enjoyable and certainly different from the norm. While they use that odd, grating guitar sound that is typical of the genre, their use of atmospherics synths throughout combined with frontman Daniel Tompkins' gorgeous vocals make their sound very interesting; and comparisons can sometimes be drawn with bands like Anathema. With the band about to embark on a UK tour supporting the Devin Townsend Project, and having not played live for a few months, Tesseract decided to arrange a headline show in Plymouth to act as a warm-up for their tour. It was the band's first time in Plymouth and the criminally-underused Hub on Bath Street was the venue of choice. Sadly bands rarely make it down to the South West, but there is clearly an audience here for rock and metal music as every show I have been to at The Hub, and the majority of shows at the White Rabbit before it, has been well-attended. This was no different and, being a Saturday night, there was a really good-sized crowd in attendance all night. The crowd was somewhat different from your average metal crowd, with less hair and Slayer t-shirts than usual and more 'hipster' types which shows the diverse appeal that bands like Tesseract can have.

Before Tesseract however the crowd were treated to two support acts, the first of which were Valis Ablaze from Bristol. With a sound not-unlike Tesseract's own, the band naturally went down pretty well and gained momentum as the set moved along. There was definitely a lot more 'classic' heavy metal elements in their sound however, with more distinct lead guitar passages than many of the bands of their ilk and less of an emphasis on complex time signatures with a more straight-ahead sound at times. It took me a couple of numbers to warm to them, but some of the songs really stood out as being very strong. The closing number in particular, which was possibly called Legacy but I might have heard that wrong, was the best of the bunch and built up to a fantastically rocking climax from a lengthy atmospheric beginning.

Bad Sign from London were different and certainly had the most energy of any of the bands on the night. The three-piece certainly had more traditional 'rock' elements than anyone else on show, but they failed to make any real impact on me. Despite the songs their songs certainly were up-tempo and packed full of energy, there just were not any real hooks to draw you in. They never really roared as a band of this type should, and I am struggling to remember of their 30 minutes on stage. Valis Ablaze were certainly the more interesting of the two supports.

Of course it was Tesseract that everyone was here to see, and by the time they hit the stage The Hub was pretty full. Tesseract really excelled in creating an atmosphere right from the get-go, and played straight through for 80 or so minutes with little crowd interaction or an encore. This mindset helped the band to create the entrancing atmosphere that they did, which was helped by a killer lightshow for such a small venue. I must admit to not being hugely familiar with the band's catalogue. Polaris is the only album of theirs I have heard in full, so much of the set was unknown to me but it was all performed with the same level of musicianship with the band locked into a tight groove at all times. While Tompkins' vocals were the highlight of the set, it was Amos Williams (bass guitar/vocals) that stood out the most musically with so many excellent and prominent basslines throughout. He was nice and high in the mix which was great, and his playing really drives the song and often adds subtle melodies on top of the mechanical and dry riffing from the band's two guitarists. Songs from the Concealing Fate song cycle were early highlights, and heavier than anything the band has done since, but for me the real standout moment of the evening was the duo of Dystopia and Hexes, both of which are from Polaris. The latter is probably my favourite Tesseract song currently and the haunting vocal melodies seemed to hold the whole audience in a trance. Later in the set, the song Of Mind - Nocturne received a big cheer from the crowd and it is the only song from their second album Altered State that I was already familiar with. The big riff worked very well live, and the pulsing verses were sung by many in attendance. The set came to an end with the lengthy and heavy Acceptance, the first part of the Concealing Fate series which prominently featured harsh vocals from Tompkins and Williams to good effect.

Sometimes it is good to go and take in a show that is out of your comfort zone and experience something different. While Tesseract will never be a favourite band of mine, I was impressed with their tight and atmospheric live show. I will certainly be checking out more of their back catalogue over the coming months.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Mutiny Within's 'Origins' - Album Review

Mutiny Within were once a hotly-tipped act. Their mix of soaring melodic metalcore mixed with tight progressive metal tendencies was a sound that many could get behind, and their self-titled debut album, released through the prestigious label Roadrunner Records, received countless rave reviews from all corners of the metal world. They supported bands like Sonata Arctica and Soilwork, which shows the diverse fanbase their music can attract, during this time but sadly split up the following year as part of what appeared to be an acrimonious and rather public disagreement with Roadrunner. Despite not performing live since this split, Mutiny Within have still remained active sporadically. The following year, 2012, the band announced that they would finish and release the album they had been working on when they split. The result, Mutiny Within II: Synchronicity (which I reviewed here), was released in 2013 and again received positive reviews. Being a totally independent release, the album was released digitally, but at the time it seemed to provide some closure on the whole mess surrounding the band's demise. In retrospect, the album still sounds somewhat unfinished with many of the songs seeming to never really reach their full potential. That being said Synchronicity is still an enjoyable listen and contains plenty of songs that are extremely memorable and catchy. Four years later, the world has another Mutiny Within album! Originally announced to be an EP of new material, the band worked over a long period of time to create the music which has been released as Origins, the band's third full-length album. Unlike Synchronicity, this feels like a proper, fully-developed album and seems to be the true follow up to the band's 2010 debut release. Due to the unavailability of some of the band, only four of the band actually worked on and contributed to this album, but the result is a real team effort with all four members of Mutiny Within really working hard to make Origins a strong and forward-thinking metal album. Frontman Chris Clancy, who now fronts English melodic rockers Wearing Scars (who released their debut album A Thousand Words in 2015, which I reviewed here), took on all the behind-the-scenes production and studio-related duties here and the result sounds huge. Daniel Bage is now the band's sole lead guitarist, and also takes on all the album's keyboard and programming this time. He proves to be a formidable keyboardist too, sometimes even opting to throw a keyboard solo into a song instead of a guitar solo! Bassist Andrew Jacobs also contributes some rhythm guitars to the album, which just shows how the band really mucked in to get this done! Drummer Bill Fore also created all of the album's artwork, which looks great - especially on the limited edition pre-order CD release of the album which is now sadly unavailable. The album is, of course, still available digitally however.

The album opens with the short instrumental title track, which helps to set the tone for what is to come with brooding synths and sparse piano melodies. This segues into Archetype of Destruction which is immediately heavy with Fore's furious death metal-style drumming and a harsh bark from Clancy. He does not use his harsh vocals at all with Wearing Scars, so it is great to hear him let rip again here with some furious growls. This song feels like they were trying to write the perfect Mutiny Within song, and they have succeeded with a perfect mix of heavy sections and soaring melodic sections with Clancy's clean vocals and subtle lead guitar melodies. Fore even throws in a few blast beats here and there, which really ramps up the heaviness. Bage's guitar solo is fluid and memorable too, and is less of a speed-fest than you might have thought given the song's overall tempo. Justify is more calculated and measured, with a great anthemic opening with ascending guitar notes that bring old-school melodic metalcore to mind. The song is still pretty heavy however, but chugs along at a solid mid-pace throughout with lots of great groove in the riffs and drumming. The song's chorus is the first moment on the album that really begs to be sung and really helps to elevate the song to the next level. Bage shows off his keyboard skills too with a flashy run early on that does what no equivalent guitar line could do. This is the sort of uplifting song that their debut album was packed full of, and would surely be extremely popular if the band were to reach a bigger audience. Silent Weapons features the first of three special guests on the album, as Per Nilsson (Scar Symmetry) performs the song's guitar solo. Rather unsurprisingly, the song is more on the progressive end of the band's songwriting style, and features lots of harsh vocals from Clancy. That being said, it is still very melodic with a slightly mournful chorus which really oozes out of the speakers. Nilsson's solo is a wacky and technical as any Scar Symmetry fan will know, and it really adds to the overall proggy feel of the song. Reasons, like Justify, is somewhat simpler but it features another guest in the form of Andy James (Sacred Mother Tongue; Budgie; Fields of the Nephilim; Wearing Scars), Clancy's Wearing Scars bandmate, who contributes a guitar solo. Ironically, the song actually has more in common with the more melodic rock sound of that band than with the majority of the Mutiny Within canon, but it still fits in well here with a stunning vocal display from Clancy. As far as his cleans go, this song really shows him at his best. The song's chorus is a real winner too, and packs a real emotional punch with lots of subtle vocal harmonies to bring out the mood. Internal Dissension is heavier and, like the opening song, packs a lot into a short space of time. Bage's keyboard playing really shines on the song with lots of atmospheric backing pieces and lots of leads, especially under Clancy's vocals during the chorus. That being said, he does let rip with the guitar at the end of the song with some fantastic arpeggiated leads that bring the song to an almost djent-like end.

On first listen, Circles was the song that really stood out to me and after many listens it is still my favourite on the album. The Killswitch Engage influence is very prominent here with heavy choruses and a big, emotional chorus. The verses are great, and the grinding guitar riffs fit well with the good old-fashined double bass drumming from Fore. It is the chorus where the song really takes off however, with some of the strongest melodies of the entire album. It is one of those choruses that just sticks in your head instantly and begs to be sung. The keyboards used throughout have a great, almost choral value which adds a lot to the song too. Bage's guitar solos are great too, and shows he can outsmart the guests brought in! Serenity features the album's last guest, this time in the form of vocalist Justin Hill (SikTh) who also contributed some vocals to the band's first album. His higher pitched harsh vocals are a good contrast to Clancy's lower growls and the two share vocal lines throughout to good effect. The keyboard line early one really jumps out too, as it is packed full of power metal-quality playing. It does sound a little out of place, but it is also great because it is so ridiculous! As with many of the songs here, it is extremely memorable and is full of the band's trademark melodies. Stay Forever is another favourite, and the song's main riff instantly hooks you in with a big melody that transitions into a fairly aggressive and heavy verse which is surprisingly angsty. It is the chorus that is the song's main selling point however, and Clancy's long, drawn out notes really grab you and fail to let go. Despite the soaring choruses, the song remains pretty heavy throughout, with plenty of driving drumming and a fast, shredded guitar solo. Not wishing to go out on a whisper, Secrets opens with a flurry of metal drumming and a heavy riff to herald the album's final song. While not the heaviest here by any means, it is a strong one with plenty of big melodies. There are a couple of different ideas too. Firstly the slightly gothic choral arrangements that are used throughout give the song a real epic, cinematic quality that is not the norm for the band; and secondly there are some great retro synth sounds used throughout - especially on the lengthy keyboard solo part-way through. While other songs here are stronger, Secrets ensures the album ends on a high. Overall, Origins is a really strong album from Mutiny Within which may in time eclipse their debut album from seven years ago. While the band has approached the songwriting in a similar way to before and no massively new ideas are used, the album feels fresh and full of highlights. It is a shame that Mutiny Within will probably never again be a touring entity, but if they continue to release new music periodically I am sure their many fans will remain happy!

The self-released album was released on 10th February 2017. Below is the band's promotional soundclip for Archetype of Destruction.