Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Driving The Music

I have started a new blog which will be updated fairly regularly and features interviews with those in the music business, whether working as an artist or behind the scenes, and looking at what motivates them to make (or help create) the music they do.

It can be found at and the first post is an interview with Marc Jackson, the drummer from M:Pire of Evil. So go check it out now!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Ten Highly Anticipated Albums for 2013

The Mayan calendar may have run out but the Gregorian calendar, along with civilization, continues. This can only mean one thing: new music! While there are sure to be plenty of overly hyped new bands releasing material in 2013 you can head over NME to check them out. This is a list of 10 albums set for release in 2013 that should not disappoint. But if they do expect to find me kicking a ballboy in fury.

10. Mastodon- TBA
Blood Mountain showed the world that Mastodon were not only big in name but big in nature. Crack The Skye showed it was not a one-off. The Hunter made people question if Mastodon could ever create music that wasn't astounding. The only reason they're not number one on this list is, much like why Metallica, Machine Head and others fail to make an appearance too, is that it hasn't been confirmed that a new album will be released in 2013. If it is then prepare to have your minds blown.

9. Dr. Dre- Detox
Before selling overpriced headphones Dr. Dre was a record producer. Before that he was a well renowned rapper (and before that he was actually wearing make-up on an album cover). Much like Axl Rose and friends with Chinese Democracy, Detox has been in production for years and 2012 was set to be the year of its unveiling. That didn't happen. But hopefully in 2013, 21 years after The Chronic, one of the greatest rap records ever created was released, we'll be able to find out what's more relevant; his music or his headphones. And if Dr. Dre has grown up and dropped the homophobic and misogynistic themes that plagued that record.

8. Ghost- Infestissumam
Opus Eponymous was an album very few expected. Upon first sight of the hooded and masked figures of Ghost, along with discovering they were Swedish 'black metal', you could be forgiving for expecting piercing shrieks, searing guitars and the whole debacle a mere gimmick to overshadow their mediocre music. Never judge a book by its cover however, as Opus Eponymous was one of the albums of 2010, harking back to the melodic, cultish rock from the 70s with not a scream or grunt in sight. After the batshit crazy unveiling of a new(?) frontman (or woman, no-one knows who they are) their second album will hopefully be as magnificent as it is intriguing.

7. The Black Dahlia Murder- Everblack
2011's Ritual was a record full of brain smashing brutality and Everblack looks set continue the trend when it's unleashed on the world in 2013. It's got the double black factor, 'black' in the band and album title, for goodness sake, meaning it's definitely going to be doubly as metal than all those other bands with 'black' such as Black Breath, Black Sabbath and, erm, Rebecca Black. With The Black Dahlia Murder being one of the most consistent modern day death metal/deathcore bands around expect to find plenty of blast beats, Trevor Strnad's trademark growl to squeal and some of the catchiest guitar lines in extreme music.

6. Darkthrone- The Underground Resistance
One of the most infamous and influential black metal bands of all time, this will be their 15th full length release. After a bit of a shift in sound over the past few years it will be interesting to see what's in store with The Underground Resistance. Presumably they will continue to branch out into a more speed metal with punk overtones direction, but who knows? One thing that is for sure is the final track, a 14 minute long epic entitled 'Leave No Cross Unturned' will prove interesting at least. Other song titles such as 'Valkyrie' and 'Come Warfare, The Entire Doom' suggest they haven't opted for a smooth jazz direction change.

5. Kvelertak- Meir
Purveyors of Norwegian Punk 'n' Roll, as it's best described, Kvelertak burst onto the scene back in 2010 with their self-titled debut album. Translating as 'stranglehold' or 'chokehold' it gives a clear indication of the bruising punk meets metal they produce. For a band that has all their lyrics in Norwegian they proved surprisingly popular all over the UK, showing metal is a universal language (and to be honest, there are plenty of metal bands with indecipherable vocals still oved by millions. Napalm Death anyone?). Hopefully Meir can follow up Kvelertak ensuring they're not just one hit wonders.

4. Killswitch Engage- Disarm The Descent
After Howard Jones left the band last year and Jesse Leach rejoined on vocal duties it wasn't going to be long until a new album was announced. Having worked with Adam Dutkiewicz in the rather impressive metalcore duo Times Of Grace it was clear Jesse still had the voice and the passion. A blistering performance at Download in 2012 also showed Killswitch were as strong as ever and Jesse not only remembered all the word to the songs he helped write nearly a decade ago but could do just a good a job as Howard on the others. Let's just hope Disarm The Descent is superior to the rather limp Killswitch Engage, Howard's last album with the band from 2009. 

3. Alice In Chains- TBA
It may not officially be their second album, so the 'difficult sophomore album problem' shouldn't apply, but it is their second release since reforming with new singer William DuVall. On Black Gives Way To Blue he proved to have a scarily similar voice to the late Layne Staley as well as Jerry Cantrell showing he can still bust out those Southern rock inspired grungey licks. The first single 'Hollow' is a good sign of them staying true to Alice In Chains but can anything ever rival Dirt?

2. Queens of the Stone Age- TBA
Six years. It's been six years since Era Vulgaris was released. While QOTSA have done plenty of festival performances, and presumably a few tours (though few in the UK), that's a long time between albums. Josh Homme has been busy in side project Eagle Of Death Metal and Them Crooked Vultures, but it was back in 2009 he last released any material. Absence makes the heart grow fonder however, so the new QOTSA album will be worth the wait. There was the added bonus of Dave Grohl being confirmed on drums too.

1. Black Sabbath- 13
The title has been announced, 13, presumably due to its year of release as officially it's Black Sabbath's 19th studio album. It's also 18 years since 'Black Sabbath's' last studio release, Forbidden, which only featured Tony Iommi from the original line-up and is unfortunately memorable for featuring Ice-T on one track, and being critically panned. Their successful slot headlining Download demonstrated they're still the same old Sabbath with the same passion and desires. Despite the whole Bill Ward debacle and Tony Iommi's battle with cancer, 13 is set to be released in mid-2013, when we'll find out if the inventors of heavy metal have still got what it takes on record.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Albums of the year 2012

Once again musicians around the world have released new music this year. Some of it was good, some of it was bad, and some of it was just plain average. Critics are already raving about about how great a year it was for music, and it sure was, but that's to be expected with the vast range of new music released every year. So sit back, relax and read through my top ten albums of the year. Then leave an angry comment about me missing out Frank Ocean/Alt-J/Meshuggah (whatever your musical preference).

10. Periphery- Periphery II: This Time It's Personal 

The follow-up to their self-titled 2010 debut album continues in a similar vein, with abundances of technical and experimental guitar licks that also bring in some more electonic elements. At times it almost borders on metalcore territory before bursting into, dare we say it, djent style riffing. On the slowed down 'Erised' and 'Epoch' the band calm down and really let loose their experimental and electronic urges to great effect.

9. Converge- All We Love We Leave Behind

Who said Punk Rock was dead? With the constant influx of beatdown heavy hardcore bands cropping up it's always refreshing to hear a band that doesn't rely on the same formula as everyone else. And Converge are that band. Maybe it's experience (this is their 8th album), or maybe they felt as long as the music's powerful, who needs to stick to a trend? Either way, there's a good reason Decibel Magazine named this their album of 2012.

8. Pulled Apart By Horses- Tough Love

Released way back in January and like fellow band beginning with a 'P', Periphery, PABH have also avoided the second album syndrome by releasing a successor to their self-titled debut in Tough Love that pretty much matches that outstanding album. Full of short, snappy blasts of their indie/punk blend, it's full of riffs that will hook you in time and again like a forgetful tuna fish. Of course it's in the live environment where these tunes really show their mettle. And their from Leeds (like me) which helps!

7. Architects- Daybreaker

These boys from Brighton don't hang about. Not only have they released two albums less than 18 months apart but both have been featured on my top albums of the year(s). Whether it's the politically charged 'These Colours Don't Run', which would win 'breakdown of the year' if such a thing existed, or the anthemic 'Alpha Omega', Daybreaker is packed full of storming, hardcore fuelled, slabs of goodness. It further enhances their reputation as the cornerstone for the new breed of British hardcore/metalcore acts.
6. 3 Inches Of Blood- Long Live Heavy Metal

From the title alone you know what you're going to get, straight up heavy metal (and no it's not a live album, that's 'live' with a short 'i'). No trends, no breakdowns, no half shaved heads, this is metal in its truest form. It may be like a pack of Cheetos with added Parmesan for some with all the singing about metal, women, beer and battles, but get past that and you'll discover 3IOB's true genius in crafting classic metal. Cam Pipes' monstorous vocals weaved with the skillful guitar playing on the likes of 'Metal Woman' and 'Leather Lord' are fine examples of a band sticking true to the heavy metal formula.
5. Torche- Harmonicraft

There's no doubting Harmonicraft has got to be album cover of the year, but is it a Kim Kardashian, pretty on the outside but empty inside or more Carol Vorderman, the best of both? Unsurprisingly it's a Carol, (why else would it be on this list?) Torche's psychedlic inspired hard rock is jammed full of little quirks, having clearly taken influence from other stoner/sludge acts with a hint of Black Sabbath thrown in. While Steve Brooks' vocals are superb, it's the fuzzy guitars that really complete the package and reflect that distinctive cover art as best they could.
4. Winterfylleth- The Threnody Of Triumph 

The British Black Metal scene continues to rear its head with a new wave of bands recently emerging in the genre's homeland and Winterfylleth's latest release was by far the best of this year's offerings. Creating vast sonic landscapes that truly capture the essence of the English countryside and heritage, as is their aim, the harsh vocals and soaring guitars form a bleak yet majestic outlook. They may not be Norwegian or wearers of corpse paint, but it is atmospheric and  reminiscent of a cold day on the moors. Perfect winter listening.. 
3. Devin Townsend Project- Epicloud

After last year's double release of Deconstruction/Ghost nobody knew what Hevy Devy would do next. Turns out he decided to mix the vomit-inducing concoction of pop, metal and a dash of 80s cheese to create Epicloud. Fortunately it's more than the sum of its parts, doesn't cause nausea and is absolutely brilliant. From the space age rocking of 'True North', the calm 'Divine' to the majestic highlight 'Grace', it once again confirms Devin's musical versatality and genius. Even the repetitive 'Lucky Animals' makes up for it with the brilliant Gangnam bothering video. Check out my review of Epicloud here.

2. Parkway Drive- Atlas

Parkway Drive continue doing what they do best on their fourth album Atlas, which is producing top of the range metalcore. It's brutal, rage filled music done to perfection, full of breakdowns, guitar squeals, double bass drumming and Winston McCall's mighty roar. From the first notes of tension building intro 'Sparks', it's clear this is going to be one adrenaline laced ride. Four albums in and they don't look like slowing down or releasing anything less than outstanding, cementing their place as one of heavy music's most consistent bands. Check out my review of Atlas here.
1. Anathema- Weather Systems

When I first heard Weather Systems I knew it was special. A few listens later and I knew that unless there was another Thriller released it would be album of the year. Having left their extreme metal roots behind for good it seems, Anathema have formed an album more Pink Floyd than Cradle of Filth. And it is wonderful. The lead male and female vocals intertwine beautifully as the guitars rise to crescendos before falling back down. It is an album full of emotion that comes across perfectly. Rather than read these words, the easiest way to get a sense of the album's amazingness is to go listen to it. Do it and you'll never look back.

Honourable Mentions
Black Breath- Sentenced To Life: Second triumph for these death 'n' rollers
7 Horns 7 Eyes- Throes Of Absolution: New breed of technical death metal
Cancer Bats- Dead Set On Living: More of the same from Canadian Hardcore's finest
Big Boi- Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors: The all rapping half of Outkast succeeds again on his second solo outing

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Recent Ramblings

Fear not for I do return. Once again I have failed to keep this blog updated regularly, partly because I forgot my password and partly because I have been too busy doing other bits of writing/reading/watching elsewhere.

All being well I will be starting up a new blog soon and updating it regularly (at least weekly). More details to come soon.

So, here is a list of links to some recent reviews I've written:

Devin Townsend Project live at Northumbria Students Union. Fantasic warm up for his Retinal Circus show down in London.

Parkway Drive - 'Atlas' album review. Parkway Drive continue from where they left off. Sounds exactly like Parkway Drive.

Architects live at Northumbria Students Union. Just listen to the song below and imagine that breakdown live. Need I say more? 

"You had it all, you fucking pigs"

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Album Review: Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud

Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud
‘Epic’ is one of those words that has come to be so overused in recent times that it has lost a lot of its original value. Nowadays you can walk down the street and hear people talk about their ‘epic’ nights out, ‘epic’ holidays, even the ‘epic’ bowl of Frosties they had for breakfast. Having said that, Devin Townsend Project’s aptly named fifth album Epicloud fully justifies its use as it is nothing less than epic.
Not a (epi)cloud in the sky
This may only be the fifth album released under the Devin Townsend Project moniker, after releasing two albums at once in both 2009 and 2011, but it is Devin’s fifteenth solo release (twentieth if you include his work with Strapping Young Lad). Not bad considering that first release was as recent as 1995. With a tremendous back catalogue and fan following built up over the years expectations were once again high. Combining elements of all his previous creations, from the heaviness of early SYL to his softer touch on the likes of Ki and Ghost, Epicloud aims, and should succeed in pleasing every type of Devin Townsend fan.
Opening with what sounds like, and turns out to be an actual gospel choir on 'Effervescent!' this soon emerges into some trance induced female vocals from Anneke van Giersbergen (formerly of The Gathering and appears throughout the album) before Devin’s unmistakeable voice breaks through on 'True North', an early indication of what the album has in store. The relatively calm opening soon emerges into the full blown madness we’ve come to know and love about Devin on 'Luckily Animals', with everything from his trademark bellow, trumpets and the catchy yet bonkers, chanted chorus of ‘Animals, animals am I lucky?’.
For the most part Epicloud is at the heavier end of Devin’s musical scale, more in line with the likes of Addicted than Ki. Having said that, there are softer elements evident on 'Where We Belong', with its acoustic intro, and 'Save Our Now’s relaxed, drawn out vocals, although these both eventually develop into something with a more rocking vein. The love song style of 'Divine' makes it the only track, bar the Spanish influenced interlude of 'Lessons', to contain purely acoustic guitars and a constant relaxed, ambient feel.
Devin Townsend has been around long enough to earn a brilliant reputation for his all round musical talent, beautifully crafted songs and off the wall lyrics and concepts. Epicloud is no less than what anyone could have expected with Hevy Devy expanding his musical direction to include a gospel choir, elements of jazz and a string section. Whilst that might sound a little ambitious, even pretentious, it works a charm as all the different components come together to form an outstanding fifty minutes of music. Much like Pink Floyd’s classic The Dark Side Of The Moon, it is an album that requires listening to all in one go for the full atmospheric experience and to experience its true quality.
The standout track 'Grace' sums it all up perfectly. As the longest song on the album at just over 6 minutes it encompasses everything, from the calm intro that builds into an almighty crescendo to the spaced out feel present throughout Epicloud, and the wonderful interaction and contrast of Devin and Anneke’s vocal ranges. At times the whole thing sounds like an operatic space opera, sometimes atmospheric and calm yet at others full on and in your face. Epic indeed.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Download 2013

Over the past few years Download Festival's headlining announcements have moved earlier and earlier. In November 2010 it was the first time one of the headliners was announced in the calender year before the festival took place, that being for System Of A Down's reformation for the Saturday of 2011. Last year it was even earlier with the legendary Black Sabbath announcing on November the 11th not just their reformation but that they would also be headlining the Sunday night of 2012. This year it's been announced nearly two months earlier.
Up the Irons
That's right, the almighty Iron Maiden will once again be headlining Download and this time bringing their Maiden England set with them. There are various reasons as to why this has been announced so early. It could be to ensure Download sell as many tickets as possible and keep fans in the know of who'll be playing well in advance so they have plenty of time to save up, borrow or steal to get a ticket, thus avoiding the problems encountered by Sonisphere last year. It could also be that Maiden wanted to advertise their European tour now, so Download complied by announcing them earlier. Or it could be they think the world's going to end in 2012 so might as well announce it now while we still all have time.
Those lazy Mayans, not updating their damn calender
Either way it'll be Maiden's 3rd time headlining Download and 5th at Donington. Despite only being broadcast a few hours ago the moaners are already at it. 'They're old', 'They've headlined before', 'They've not burned enough churches' are some common complaints. Whilst they may be closer to hitting a century than a duck, anyone who's seen them recently can assure you that pull back the wrinkles and you wouldn't know. They've headlined before but then again Download's been going for 10 years now and had pretty much every big rock/metal band still around take up a headline spot at least once. Of the few names that often get banded around for new headliners, Rammstein and Van Halen are both once again rumoured to be headlining. Let's hope that Maiden being released first means they're making way for a fresh act to be announced later on.
Finally there's those who will no doubt claim Maiden, or another band yet to be announced, not to be 'metal' enough. There is no set scale for being 'metal'. Is Varg Vikernes not metal because he eats cornflakes? Is Kerry King not metal because he worked with the Beastie Boys? Is Ozzy not metal because his wife was on X Factor? (Ok that one's debatable. Although more fool anyone to claim the Prince of Darkness himself is 'not metal'). The point is, it doesn't matter. As always there will be around 100 bands at Download, from the heaviest of the heavy to the pop-rock crossovers. Don't start complaining because of one band, wait for the other 99 and then decide if you're going to fork out for a ticket or not.

Download will be announcing another act tomorrow morning at 10am
I probably won't be up but if you are my money's on Rammstein for one of the other headliners.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Edinburgh Festival - Day Two (Part Two)

Edinburgh Festival - Saturday 11th August

With a couple of hours to kill it was time to wander the streets, admiring some of the street acts along the way including a man stood upside down with his head in a bucket as well as the golden postbox for Chris Hoy. These distractions (and some poor map-reading) meant we missed the next free comedy show we intended to see, it had something about Jesus in the title, and had to settle for a pint stood outside laughing at intoxicated people in general rather than one man on a stage.
'Bucket-Man'- not the greatest superhero power
After learning from our previous mistake we made it to the next show early, so early we had to actually queue before going in, and had time to get another pint. This was for what was billed as 'Andrew O'Neill and Marc Burrows do Music and Comedy and Hideous Murders'. Thankfully there was an even spread of the first two and none of the latter as this was essentially a performance by half of the comedy/steampunk outfit The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing.
Old School Executions
The show was split into four sections, starting with some acoustic renditions from their aforementioned band. Luckily for those unaware of what steampunk is they breifly gave an explanation, it's for people who like to dress up like it's the Victorian ages and has little to do with the likes of The Clash or Sex Pistols. Having said that, these two proceeded to inject some punk attitude into their music after complaining about the majority of so called steampunk bands been crap. Songs such as 'Bedlam' about the old mental asylum and 'Steph(v)enson', mainly about George were a mixture of musical, educational and most importantly comical, combining their love of all things Victorian with music that made you want to put on a bowler hat and join in.
The second part consisted of Andrew O'Neill doing his more alternative blend of comedy, covering the more obscure topics such as being a transvestite and attempting to serenade a lady with lyrics from Cannibal Corpse. After another musical interlude it was Mr Burrows turn, and whilst he still raised a chuckle his stand-up wasn't quite as unique or amusing as Mr O'Neill's which explains how he manages to charge £10 for his solo show whilst Mr Burrows' is free. Ending with one last musical number this was certainly a hidden gem well uncovered, and considering it was free when so many average comedians manage to charge for an hour of mild amusement. Speaking of which...
Unfortunately no hopscotch was played in the show
Obviously not learning from our mild disorganisational adventures from before we hot-footed it to Pleasance courtyard to see Shappi Khorsandi: Dirty Looks and Hopscotch. We arrived bang on 8.30 only to be told to wait outside as the show had started, which led to us having to go in (luckily followed by about 10 other latecomers) and get a personal greeting from Shappi. Thankfully that was all it was and we managed to sit down straight away avoiding any further embarrassment, unlike the man in the front row who had to leave for the toilet before the end.
The show centered around Shappi's recent relationship with her rockstar ex-boyfriend, and while her storytelling was great and frequently raised a smile there were few moments of genuine hilarity. With almost all the material about this one subject it started to get a bit tiresome and whilst not a bad show it just felt a bit average, especially after seeing Andrew O'Neill for free.
Shit-faced Shakespeare
The final act of the day we were to see was without a doubt the strangest, Shit-faced Shakespeare. Just like the cast we were surprised to find that more than ten people had bought tickets and also didn't really know what was going to unfold. As it turned out the show entailed one of the cast members had started drinking at 5pm (the show started at 10pm), was therefore shit-faced and had to struggle through a performance of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Not quite what Shakespeare intended.
The drunkard played, or at least attempted to play, Lysander in a scaled down version of the classic. So whilst the other three, sober actors rang out their lines perfectly we were left waiting as the drunkard slurred, forgot and replaced his lines with other more amusing bits of dialogue. The other catch was that two audience members had a gong and a whistle which they could ring any time in the show and he had to drink a bottle of beer to presumably keep his, erm spirits up.

I bet his parents are proud
What started out as quite entertaining, and certainly a unique idea, did start to drag a little as the other actors and actresses repeated their lines time and again whilst the drunkard played up to being on stage. There was also the issue as to how drunk he really was. If he was as drunk as they claimed then he did well to reel out some of the lines he did, but likewise if his intoxication was all an act then it was one of the best pieces of acting I've ever seen. Either way he played up to being the centre of attention brilliantly.
The real star of the show was Puck however, coming on in scenes by himself, dancing around and providing moments of genuine comedy without the aid of alcohol. Definitely one of the odder shows on at Edinburgh and if different is what you're looking for it's well worth a look, although the novelty factor does wear off.