Tuesday, 19 December 2017

I honestly thought I would struggle to find a top ten releases for this year but then you look back and the problem turns out to be what to leave out.....

And so here in the usual alphabetical order is my top ten for 2017

Cult of Luna - Marching to the Heartbeats/Dim (EP)
Fen - Winter
Rose McDowall - Our Twisted Love (EP)
Mork - Erimittens Dal
Myrkur -Mareidt
Matthew North - Still Thinking? Still Dreaming
Brian Pern - Heaven Calling (EP)
Public Service Broadcasting - Every Valley
Tusks - Dissolve
Ulver - The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Special mentions for singles of year go to Bryde for Desire and A Perfect Circle for The Doomed

Monday, 11 December 2017

The problem with bands that have lengthy careers are that members change, the music evolves and grows. This means if you want to know what a genre sounded like you need to revisit classic albums or check out new bands....

In this case Mork have perfected the sound and spirit of classic Norwegian black metal on their new album Erimittens Dal.

It lulls you in with the opener which chugs along but from the second song, Holdere Av Fortet, it is absolutely brutal. In the best traditions this is the brainchild of one man apart from some guest vocals from Dimmu Borgir.

The energy drops a bit on the last couple of tracks but it's still a blast of pure black metal

This is a spot on homage even down to the artwork inspired from the early Burzum albums.

Definitely an early wintery present

Monday, 4 December 2017

Christmas is here and suddenly everyone wants to give you an early presents.....

First up is Attrition with their take on Silent Night. It's starts out with a cut crystal female rendition of the chorus before descending into a disturbing noisescape which sound unsettlingly like someone banging on a steel cell door. Utterly bizarre but not very cheerful

Next up Blueneck release a remix album of their last offering, The Outpost. It only really confirms that remix albums are unnecessary if the original was already brilliant and listening to the first track, From Beyond, it's clear someone in the band has a huge Bladerunner fetish

Moving on and Peter Yates (guitarist with Fields of Nephilim) and Evi Vine (vocalist for The Eden House) give us Just Like Christmas - The Stockholm mix. It's a gauzy, icy track with no real tune but at least has some festive feel in a glacial fashion

Finally, and best, is a bonus EP from Ulver of left over tracks from the Assassination of Julius Caesar album. The opening track Echo Chamber (Track of Tears) appears to be about the July 2005 tube bombings which isn't jolly but its a great track. The drums and synths are straight out of the late 80's and the biggest compliment is that this would not have sounded out of place on Songs From the Big Chair.
The other big surprise is a cover of The Power of Love by Frankie goes to Hollywood. A more stately and less vocally camp version but very true musically to the original. And when they say they will keep the vampires from your door its definitely more believable......

Monday, 20 November 2017

Highly recommended is the debut album from Tusks. Admittedly three of the tracks are lifted straight off the False EP so there's really only 7 new songs to me but Dissolve is still an amazing album...

It's all shimmering, hazy pop but with enough beats and glitches to keep thing on the edge of electronica. The vocals are buried deep in the music and it does make deciphering lyrics difficult but doesn't spoil the sound

The standout tracks are Toronto with a nagging guitar refrain at the start and drums that just appear and disappear and the title track Dissolve which sounds a very personal recounting of a relationship breakdown

Really would like to see this played live but at the moment that doesn't look a possibility...

Go discover.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

I have a wide ranging musical palette from folk to black metal, from Americana to goth but there are 3 forms of music I can't abide.... The first is the banal R&B dross that clogs up the charts and commercial radio. The second is jazz and more specifically the late night wine bar variety

Unfortunately for some of her latest album Nerina Pallot strays deeply into unpleasant area.
There are parts of Stay Lucky I can hardly listen to as it sinks to Katie Melua type depths

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Come into my Room are the worst examples and only suitable to play if you're trying to seduce a young lady (with no musical inclination) with a night cap after a good date

On the plus side the start of the album is fantastic. Juno and Bring Him Fire are some of the best tracks Nerina has recorded. Man Didn't Walk on the Moon begins like an amazing lost track from Rumours before the chorus kicks in (which wasn't a good thing)

Stay Lucky was recorded over 2 weekends by a tight knit group of musicians and it shows with a cohesive feel but it's not a patch on Sound and the Fury where she honed an albums worth of material from 12 months worth of EP's. That was widely varied in both texture and sounds whereas this is almost too homogenised

I missed that imaginative and wildly eclectic Ms Pallot.

(and the third type of music? - The Smiths. I never 'got' it and I'd rather have silence than listen to that)

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Found an envelope full of old ticket stubs for concerts that bought back some memories and also a bit sad because what with online booking and the fact most tickets are now kept by the venues its a collection that isn't going to grow soon....

Anyway below are 10 that recall some amazing nights (it's not a list of my favourite gigs ever just the ones that these tickets remind me of)

Thunder - Sheffield City Hall (06/10/1992) - A band at the absolute height of their power touring Laughing on Judgement Day

Def Leppard - Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield (06/06/1993) - One of only two outdoor gigs I've ever been to and what a line up: Terrovision, Ugly Kid Joe and Thunder supporting

Marillion - St David Hall, Cardiff (25/09/1995) - Remember waiting for the milk train at Cardiff Station while the batteries slowly died in my Walkman

My Ruin - Exeter Phoenix (14/09/1999) - One of the most intimidating front woman I have ever see, take a bow Tarrie B

All About Eve - Tavistock Wharf (03/02/2001) - Driving through the fog to see Eve play acoustic with only a few hours notice

Sisters of Mercy - Bristol Academy (22/04/2003) - Unused ticket as my darling youngest daughter decided to be born 5 days late....

The Damned - Torquay Town Hall (04/12/2003) - Hungover from a gig the night before and the bounciest floor I've ever experienced at a venue (and All Living Fear supported!)

New Model Army - Lemon Grove, Exeter (13/10/20005) - Convincing some girl I met at the gig that it was safe to wander into the mosh pit, only for the next song to be Here Comes the War and it all kicked off!!

Fields of the Nephilim - Astoria, London (24/05/2007) - Just simply the best

Acoustica Festival - Exeter Phoenix (15/09/2012) - I've enjoyed all the Acoustica gigs but watching the Smoke Fairies play ABBA at their sound check was magical

Monday, 9 October 2017

Black metal is a strange genre…. Whilst to most people is just a noise and one band/song is indistinguishable from the next there are some variations of note

Bands form the UK seem to lack that cold nihilism that the Scandinavians do so well and the music seem to be more sort of widescreen, ‘epic’ even

This is especially true of the new (released earlier this year) album from Fen. Over just 6 tracks Winter is a huge feeling album. The length of the tracks ranger from 9 to 17 minutes is part of the reason but the changes in pace, mixed with some brutal musicianship and possibly some sort of concept make it a really fascinating listen

It’s not really worth picking out individual tracks but IV (Internment) has some amazing instrumental passages and even a false ending, the switch in gear on track III (Fear) where the atmospheric intro suddenly takes off with the drums just being pummelled into submission is exhilarating

This is a very English take on black metal, more in line with Winterfylleth but there is also a bit of goth (Nephilim style) and elements of post rock (the density and atmosphere of it all)

It could do with a bit more light and shade in the vocal department to make it a truly classic album – the clean vocals are used very sparingly and you wonder if just adding an occasional female voice in there would take it to the next level  

I bought this on vinyl and the packaging is brilliant…. Double LP in translucent green to match the artwork, fully printed sleeves with all the lyrics and even bonus tracks exclusive to the vinyl. Some more established bands should take note, you can produce an amazing physical product for under £25.

Friday, 22 September 2017

It's Autumn so here come all the new releases.... Admittedly Mareidt is more a freezing winter album but timing isn't everything

On her second full length album Myrkur has really mixed things up and its very impressive. The ferocious black metal is largely gone and replaced in part by a slower grinding metal more in line with Sabbath - this is shown to great effect on the Serpent

It's produced by Randall Dunn who's previous work includes Sunn O))) and Wolves in the Throne Room and some of that influence is evident here

Elsewhere the opening track is all Danish herding calls (!) and ominous storms before Maneblot arrives in a maelstrom of vicious riffing and screams, easily the blackest metal of the album. Even then there are clean vocals and a bit of a Scandinavian jig halfway through

The duet with Chelsea Wolfe is more in line with the guests musical output but is still fantastic.

Within the bonus tracks there are a couple of real oddities.... Bornehjem is all sweet choral work whilst a seriously creepy child's voice explains why it want to hurt people. Very, very strange
At the other end of the spectrum Death of Days could easily be played on daytime radio. Its an exquisitely sung, slightly downbeat tune

Overall it's going to take a while to get my head round all the styles on show but this is an artist spreading her wings and not afraid to mix the beauty with the brutal

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Another year, another masterpiece from Public Service Broadcasting.....

Again we have a concept album in the shape of Every Valley about the mining industry in South Wales. What I love about this band is while the sound is recognisable each album has it's own feel - The War Room was all about defiance, The Race for Space dealt in the euphoria of discovering the new and Every Valley is all resigned melancholy

As ever, the samples are perfectly thought out and fit the tracks seamlessly. Its no gimmick just another way to add words to a song. The difference this time around is the use of real vocalist which adds another layer to sound.

In Turn no More, we have James Dean Bradfield giving his usual passion to lyrics from a welsh poem and Haiku Salut repeat the trick of the Smoke Fairies from the last album

There are a couple of surprises.... The anger of All Out is a bit off a shock, as is hearing the first vocals of J Willgoose himself on You + Me - an odd track which is a duet with Lisa Jen Brown who sing in Welsh and no samples. It's rather twee but the faltering vocal of the PSB main man give it an endearing quality.

The album fittingly ends with a Welsh male voice choir on Take Me Home.

The Race for Space is still the better album because it has the highs of discovery alongside the lows of the disasters rather than Every Valley which is more consistent in mood but this is still going to be one of the albums of the year.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Ah, Roger Waters – apparently a Prog God. Which is ironic because since The Wall he hasn’t progressed musically one iota.

Still railing against authority, decrying the futility of war and generally shouting at the world.

What is slightly sadder is that everything he was ranting against 40 years ago is still relevant now.

As to the new album, Is this the life we really want?, most people will know what to expect before the even hear it...
The second track is called Déjà vu. It starts off with the chords straight off Fearless from the Echoes album, has samples of breaking glass and planes (a la The Wall) and yet the irony of the title has probably completely passed Roger by

The use of samples on the Last Refugee are probably now best left to Public Service Broadcasting who now do that sort of thing much better.

There’s a nice modern production (courtesy of Radiohead's producer) and there are tracks good enough to have been on the Final Cut or Amused to Death

The cynicism is relentless and we all know the whole thing would benefit from a healthy dose of Gilmour but if you like Roger Waters then this is a really good album but if you didn’t already this is never going to convert you  

Seemingly out of nowhere brand new recordings from Rose McDowall have appeared…

OK. It’s only a 3 track EP but it’s a start.

The title track, Twisted Love starts slowly (over 3 and a half mins) of just harmonium chords and occasional guitar flourishes over a story of betrayed love.

Things then pick up with some strident cello reminiscent of ELO and some additional tambourine but while it seems to be building to a climax it never happens and it’s soon back to the minimal instrumentation. The vocals are almost painful to listen to as even the ‘doo, doo’s’ sung over the coda suggest this is a woman who has had her heart shattered.

This Calling is closer to the sound of Strawberry Switchblade, all tambourines and strings with some of the lyrics spoken and others sung. (I honestly did expect her to start singing “it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” though….)   

The final track is a slightly sinister cover of Make It Easy on Yourself – A basic vocal and piano song is given some disturbing occasional background electronic noises.

It’s great to her Rose’s voice again but this is a very depressing set and not recommended to anyone suffering from a recent breakup

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

For the first time in many years I sat through the whole Eurovision song contest and it just doesn’t get any better…. Whilst in some respects it’s refreshing to hear something other sanitised soulless American rap and r’n’b, it’s also depressing that this was the best 26 countries could come up with.

There were some interesting songs – Armenia came up with something that wouldn’t be out of place on a Dead Can Dance album and it was rather good.

Belgium tried their luck with something resembling Lorde. Unfortunately whilst she had an attention grabbing voice she was also only 17 and looked absolutely petrified all the way through the track.

Azerbaijan bought a chilly goth feel to their performance including long duster coats, heavy silver makeup and a man wearing a horse head standing on a ladder. It was the one song I wanted to hear again not just because of the staging but because it was a rather intriguing song.

 There was also some out and out lunacy especially from some of the Eastern Europeans. Croatia went with a singer who went from high camp to opera and back again repeatedly throughout the song. Ukraine clearly didn’t want to win again so went for a sub Rammstein metal option. Romania stole the show in terms of out of the box thinking but going for a rap / yodelling crossover which was utterly bizarre.

At least these countries show some imagination even if the results aren’t always great. The best the UK could put forward was a dull ballad sung by a woman who couldn’t even win the X-Factor. We all know we are never going to win so why can’t we take a risk and try something slightly left field?

The winning song was a curious affair. While most countries went with big light shows, pyrotechnics and gimmicks (treadmills anyone?), Portugal just had their entry sing the song without any effects. He did a lot of hand wringing and along with his beard this made him look rather like Fagin from the Oliver Twist film but it appeared this lack of showbiz appealed to both judges and the public and he won by a big margin.  

I sure this won’t be the last time I’ll promise never to watch Eurovision again and sadly I’m also sure it won’t be the last time I do watch it……

Friday, 28 April 2017

It’s always really difficult to review an Ulver album as the group refuse to stick to one genre or style…. From the blackest metal, to psychedelic 60’s covers to orchestral chamber music to improvised post rock, it’s impossible to predict what an album will sound like.

So to latest the Ulver offering, The Assassination of Julius Caesar, and immediately we’ve taken another left turn as this must be their dance album!

Now this isn’t dance in the form of the lumpen dross pumped out of Heart FM but more prime time Depeche Mode. There’s a lot of electronic beats and throbbing bass lines but topped off with some quite cheerless lyrics ranging from Romans using Christians as human torches to the death of Princess Diana

The second track Rolling Stone is a fascinating example of where this album sits. For the first 6 minutes this is a pulsing dark dance floor filler reminiscent of the Human League with the females backing singers on the chorus and then for the final 3 minutes is veers wildly into anarchy - It now sounds like a group of chimps being let loose in Jean Michel Jarre’s storage room and they are all playing random synthesisers. Then to add to the chaos, Nik Turner of Hawkind is added to the mix with his own 'unique' saxophone playing. Utterly disturbing.

The album struggle to maintain interest on the second half before ending with a storming track, Coming Home. All spoken word and pure Violator era sound.

Seriously though it will take many listens before you can make any judgement as to where this album stands in what is now a very impressive back catalogue     

Friday, 14 April 2017

Brian Pern was a rock god. Admittedly he didn’t actually exist and was just a creation of comedy genius that is Simon Day but we all mourn his imaginary demise…..
His last recording have just been released on an EP and it is a true delight. The songs are such a lovingly reverential (and funny) caricature that this is up there with the best of Spinal Tap

Heaven Calling is a wickedly accurate parody of Bowie and his final songs, though the grand dame never sang that “sugar is the enemy….”

Strangely there is nothing funny about the second track which is an instrumental that could easily have been an outtake of Floyd’s the Endless River apart from the pun laden title of the Honeycomb is Over.
Keep Trying which was a originally a mickey take of the Gabriel/Bush duet is now taken a step further and reimagined as a Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse cover
However the best is left to last where you get a 30 minute audio of the last ever Brian Pern interview, complete with guests.  In this you learn what Thotch were eating when they heard of Brian’s death and how he planned a co headlining tour of Africa with Adele (she’s not well known over there) in which it was hoped she would duet on the classic Worm Equinox.

So farewell to Brian Pern – He changed the face of music. Forever.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

So here is the first new review of the year and weirdly it's not new music....

From 1982 comes the only known recordings by a 4 piece Strawberry Switchblade. These are obvious demo's but do show an insight into the band. There are only 3 tracks and nothing over 3 and a half minutes so it's not a long review

The first track, Spanish Song (Don't Go), is totally unreleased and its the most unusual. The verse is a breathlessly word heavy and in complete contrast to the vocals you expect. The chorus though has the first hints of that famous vocal harmony and there is a very odd flamenco section tacked on the end

Go Away was later rerecorded for the debut album but here it's built on bass and drums and not much else. Trees & Flowers was also rerecorded as a duo and this version whilst different does show that woozy slow vocal style you come to expect.

Clearly this band were in awe of the Orange Juice or Aztec Camera sound of the time and were no virtuoso's but it's worth the release

I got the songs on a clear 7" vinyl with download and 16 page booklet of history and grainy black and white photo's showing the whole polka dot idea was already fully formed - Value for money all round

Monday, 13 February 2017

Well this sucks.... 6 weeks into 2017 and there hasn't been a single new release I'm interested I'm. The end of year list may have to be reduced to a top 5.

I think 2016 spoilt us with too many amazing albums

Anyway, not a new release but the cover of Nights in White Satin by the Texan band Oceans of Slumber from last year is bloody fantastic.....

Monday, 16 January 2017

It’s a funny old start to the year… I suppose the big headline is: - “Prog is dead, long live Prog”

It was shocking news to hear of the magazine’s demise just before Christmas. As my main source of discovering new music it would have been a massive loss. The radio means nothing to me and the internet is too vast to properly explore so here was a magazine full of writers whose judgement I trust.  

Hearing that it had been saved a few weeks later was a relief and hopefully new owners won’t mean changes to the standards we’ve become accustomed to.

As such, this year it’s Jerry Ewing who for the first time matched the most albums with me in the Prog writers end of years lists with his list including Swallow the SunEnslaved and Marillion at number 1.

So what do we expect in 2017? There should be the final ever Fish album towards the end of the year and the Eden House are preparing a new release for March but apart from that it’s probably all speculation from the usual suspects – Andrew Eldritch promised new music if Trump was elected, Julianne Regan is ‘still’ working on that solo album and after releasing a single last year there is still time this century for Carl McCoy to finally come up with something more substantial.
(All of which are less likely Heart FM adding Nine Inch Nails to their daytime playlist)

Finally a tip for the New Year, just because a band releases a fantastic album it doesn’t follow that they will write a fantastic soundtrack. I made this mistake with buying Riverhead by Ulver. It really is just background noise that does nothing for the listener if you haven’t got any visuals..........