Symphony X – Underworld

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Nuclear Blast Records

Review by Rick Ossian

Any of you who have already heard these cats KNOWS what they are capable of, so it should come as no surprise when I tell you that I was duly impressed by their latest release.  If you are a fan of the grandiose, the spectacle, the bombastic stuff – then ye need seek no further.  Symphony X are the epitome of the prog metal genre in my humble opinion.  They eat Dream Theater Crunchies for their morning tea, folks.  These blokes are NOT messing around, they seriously mean business!  Upon my hearing the first ‘single’ for release, Nevermore, I knew that the wait had been worth it.  It was in these very pages where you must surely have read my musings on their previous release, Iconoclast.  They have stepped up their game even more, which probably should have come as a surprise, but alas – it did not!  Paradise Lost was also a gem, but we are not focused on that particular rock at the moment.  Today we focus on the Underworld

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The second ‘single’ release, Without You, is more of a ballad-style piece, but it also has its anger appeal factor, as we are blasted about midway through the track by a lead guitar solo par excellence from fretmeister Michael Romeo.  By the way, since we are doing a bit of name-checking, let us stop briefly and introduce the other key members involved here, shall we?  Those of you who are familiar with the Adrenaline Mob know of Russell Allen, who is the man behind the pipes.  Seldom have I heard a vocalist with such exuberance and skill(s) to match.  He is ably backed by Michael Lepond on bass and Jason Rullo on the drums.  The man tinkling the ivories is one Michael Pinella, and while not necessarily a Wakeman or Emerson, he is clearly in possession of some of the most innovative keyboard techniques I’ve ever heard.  The fellows who call themselves Symphony X are from Middletown, New Jersey.

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Also on our listening list for this endeavour are the epic title track, not to mention seven other worthy titles; Kiss of Fire, Charon, To Hell and Back, In My Darkest Hour, Run With the Devil, Swan Song and Legend.  We also have the Overture at the beginning, which is mainly drums and monks chanting (of course), but there are also horns and violins and that sense of creepy cool on the synths that always makes people want more, you know.  At about the one-and-a-half minute mark the gents really rock out.

The title track is quite possibly the best example of trip-hammer drumming and double-time Maiden gallop I’ve heard in some time.  The main riff is a wicked one, and the vocals really don’t make their presence known until about a minute in.  At 4:20 all hell breaks loose musically, and then at 5 minutes in they go back to the main riff.

Kiss of Fire features more of the monks and drums, but a minute in and the gents are off to the races again with the main riff.  There is also a big riff at the intro, and more enormous riffage throughout.  At five-and-a-half minutes in there is a wickedly cool lead guitar solo.  It also seems that the bass, guitar and drums are busy as fuck!  The only thing that makes me wonder is what the hell are five schmucks from Jersey talking about the Winds of Charon for?  Oh, crap there I go profiling again!  After all, there ARE some smart folks in Jersey, right?  Just busting your balls, guys!

To Hell and Back is a very large and beautiful ballad with a nice tight intro and another awesome main riff.  Three minutes in there is a lead guitar solo, and at 4:30 there is also an instrumental breakdown.  The lyrical couplet at 5:30 calling for ‘no quarter to be given‘ is very Westeros, but it is also very genuine.  These guys have grand ambitions, and it seems that their chops are, at last, on equal with their musical goals!  At 7 minutes in, there is another guitar solo – in fact, Michael Romeo‘s fretprints are all over this number.

In My Darkest Hour, at least compared to most of these numbers, is short but sweet.  There is a slamming double-bass drum-fuelled intro and a neat guitar solo at 2:45.  Run With the Devil is also a heavy slammer with the opening seeming to be the moment when everyone’s interest is captured.  After all, intros ARE important.  If they can’t grab you within the first 10 seconds of the tune, most punters will bail.  Trust me, if a song starts out stupid, nobody wants to stay on board for the whole thing…To be fair, there is a total jam at the four-minute mark!

Swan Song, another of the longer beasties, is mellower than most of the music recorded here.  It features some beautiful piano work, some nice lyrics (But now you’ve gone/ And the swang song echoes on), and some wicked shredding at about the four-and-a-half minute mark.

Legend is a closer, and again the shredding and the drums and the slamming take hold like a nice-fitting glove.  Any of you out there who are into Symphony X need to immediately discover this piece.  It will not disappoint you!

*****/5

 

 

 

Palace of the King – White Bird/Burn the Sky

 

 

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Listenable Records(EU/UK)/Devil’s Music Records

Review by Rick Ossian

Upon first listening to this recording, I marvelled at the fact that it is, indeed, a debut.  I was sceptical at first, as I am upon hearing most debuts.  How dare they?, I find myself asking – how dare they be THIS good on their first time out?  How is it possible?  Trust me, dear readers – it is not only possible – it is nigh on likely that you won’t hear a better debut this year.  If you like music that rocks, then this is the debut for you.  If you like music that is dance-floor, back-alley club funky, then this may just be the funkiest cuppa you’ve heard/drank all year!  I know I sound enthusiastic, and anybody who is used to reading my drivel can tell you that I get pretty excited when I hear something I like it.  Hell, I’d be the first one to admit it.  I am not only enthused by this group, I am going to champion them every chance I get!

Every track within is not only funky, it is HEAVY.  So, if you are into the heavy funk, then this is a must-hear for you.  Take the opener, Take Your Medicine, for example.  Maybe you like the bass guitar, you say?  Then you NEED to hear this tune.  It is old-school 70’s style heavy metal boogie.  Imagine some early Foghat or Savoy Brown tail-gating The Answer to a fireworks stand and arriving simultaneously with a blast of Faces or Beggars Banquet-era Rolling Stones!  If you can somehow summon a picture like that, then you’re getting close!

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Most of the tracks herein can be described with equal enthusiasm.  If you dig the funk from up above, then the track Another Thing Coming (NOT a Judas Priest cover, by the by) should titillate and fascinate in equal measures.  This tune features a driving, pumping , THUMPING solid beat – a total funk metal groove.  Though it is not the Priest cover that I was fully expecting, it is every bit as good.  Throw in the obligatory guitar solo (2:30) and you’ve got the rock song in a nice neat little package.  Albeit of Ramones-style length (2:47 overall), it is short AND sweet. If you can imagine a funky wicked synth groove with a kick, then this is what you’re about to hear!

I should probably put something in about your lovely lads before I go any further.  These Melbourne chaps are Tim Henwood (vocals, percussion), Leigh Maden and Matthew Harrison on guitar(s), Andrew Gilpin (VERY funky bass guitar), Anthony Troiano (drums) and Sean Johnston on keyboards.  As I mentioned earlier, this is, believe it or not, their debut LP.  Their bio says they are “steeped in bluesy swagger and riff-heavy psychedelia, this is rock and roll that leaves a trail of denim-clad soldiers and converted non-believers in its wake“.  Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Burn My Bridges brought the inherent excitement back to the fore again.  This is thumpity funking heavy again, this time almost grumpy, grungy, even doom and gloomy.  Kind of like a Sabbath/P-Funk slam at the intersection.  Nice riffs and a sweet, superfunky 60’s/70’s groove.  “I ain’t takin’ no more shit from you!“, bellows Tim.  We get the distinct impression that he means business.  This is some definitely Stoner-y stuff, too, featuring a psych breaking with a lead guitar solo AT THE SAME TIME!!  There is also a psych fade-out with feedback.  I would be willing to bet that you haven’t heard THAT for a while!

White Bird (Bring Your Armies Against Me) is another tune with a way cool riff intro and a solid rhythm pocket that keeps on kicking.  This track features a super-human stonking funky groove (AGAIN!), not to mention vocal and instrumental breakdowns and lead guitar solos – one even includes a marching drum roll (wow) at the same time.  About five minutes in they actually bring in a new riff after the breakdown, with another lead thrown in for good measure right towards the end.  What a great track!

Ain’t Got Nobody to Blame But Myself is yet another nut-busting, funkified power blast of a heavy metal groove.  I know, broken record Rick (right?), but I can’t think of a better way to describe it.  There is also some serious bad-assery going on in the bass guitar department, and oh yeah can’t forget the intro! If you like the old feel of a Hammond B3 organ ala Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep) or Jon Lord (Deep Purple), then you will absolutely dig this number!

Leave Me Behind is more of the same, only I would probably describe this as a mosh of several styles.  Namely, blues, rock, pop and heavy metal.  All at once, you might ask? Indeed, I would respond.  Tim keeps going on about how “I’ll be here in your rear view mirror“, but other than that lyrically not much to digest.  At 1:55 we get a brief saxophone solo, but we all need a little brass in our lives, right?

Devil’s Daughter is another super funky romp through some old heavy metal stylings.  This one also features nice and tight vocal harmonies (I was reminded of a track title in particular here, just for the overall feel of the tune – Good Rockin’ Tonight!).  This is bluesy rock with funky riffs, and also includes an instrumental breakdown about two minutes in.  Live, this track would be an absolute showcase for the bass guitar and the keyboards.  There is a lovely guitar solo at 2:30.  I was reminded of several acts here – the Answer in particular (again), Cry of Love and Tangier.

Get Back Up (Burn the Sky) is another healthy, funked-up riffy number.  There is a bluesy metal harmonica on board this one, and I noted to myself how this one would be another great showcase for the keyboards were it to be played live in concert.  Another funkified rock number very much in the blues/funk of the 60’s and 70’s.

If It Ain’t Broke featured a sort of back-alley beat/sweet intro à la Humble Pie or an updated Faces swagger (again I was reminded of The Answer as well).  “Don’t change a thing/why would you mess that up?” Tim asks us. Indeed, why?  One lead guitar solo (2:40) and an instrumental breakdown – mainly guitar – later, and we are almost finished.  This is a blues, barroom boogie style number, with the keys and the bass to the fore again.  We get to hear everybody jam on the fade out, which is a cool trick if you can pull it off.

No Chance In Hell struck me as an interesting tune – not only is it another funk-heavy beat boogie, it is about something we ALL go through during our primary years…I know I did when I was in junior high and high school.  This is about the one that got away, the one that we thought was out of our league…get the picture?  The models, the wannabe actresses, the ones they always feature in the underwear ads!  It is a heavy slammer, and I was reminded of Status Quo for some reason.  Probably the boogie aspect!  We get an instrumental breakdown again (of course), and the obligatory guitar solo (2:50), but that is beside the point!  What we get with this set of tracks is far beyond anything that I could tell you about – even as excited as I am- in a simple review.  This is one of those missives that BEGS to be heard – to be listened to!  Please do so, and you will NOT be disappointed! Enjoy!

*****/5

Desolate Pathway – Valley of the King

 

 

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Independent

Review by Rick Ossian

Here we find London’s Desolate Pathway following up their Withered Heights recording with all the bluster and bravado that battle-hardened metal blokes should bring.  Herein lies doom.  There is also spoken word battle bits.  There are lots of lead guitar pieces.  There are clean vocals!  Not that unclean vocals are bad, mind you – clean vocals are just easier for this scribe to understand.  Desolate Pathway are Simon Stanton on vocals, Vince Hempstead on lead guitar, Nuno JB Silva on rhythm guitar, Jim Rumsey on bass guitar and Mags on drums.

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First up is the title track.  This is classic proto-metal, doomy with a spoken word battle intro followed closely by a sweet guitar lead.  There are plenty of biting, clean vocals and crisp drumming.  There is also a lot of nice guitar work throughout, with leads at 4:40 and 5:50.  At 5:10 there is also an upshift in tempo.  Not bad at all for starters.

Desolate Pathway (the song) is up next, and features a doomy, Sabbath-style intro.  This is mid-to-slow tempo ‘caveman’ rock, if you will.  Definitely heavy metal, but also a sad lament.  The vocals reminded me of Paul Stanley (KISS), and not for the last time.  The 3:20 mark boasts an upshift and a lead guitar solo.

Forest of Mirrors is another classic doomy number, with a riff very reminiscent of Sabbath (again) at about :40.  This is elementary stuff, my dear Mr. Watson, but not in a bad way.  The crows cawing at three minutes in again reminded me of the evil Sabbath men, and there is an evil spoken word bit (very brief) just in case we were in any doubt.  There is also another lead guitar solo at 3:30.

Last Of My Kind has one of those freaky weird intros with sound bites and FX, followed by lead guitar – slow and doomy (surprise!), with some excellent bass work.  There are nice leads at 2:15 and 4:00.  The vocals again reminded me of Paul Stanley.  This is a bit derivative but good.  There is a storm at the close, again, I suspect, in case we were in doubt as to Desolate Pathway’s intentions.

Season of the Witch is NOT a Donovan cover, as I suspected it might be.  It is a short but sweet mid-tempo metal number with a cackling intro and a cool main riff.  Guess who the vocals reminded me of?  There is a breakdown/shift at two minutes in, and a neat lead at 2:20.  At 2:40 it’s back to the main riff and out before you know what hit you!

King of Vultures features another classic doomy riff, and shifts even further down and heavier at about one minute in.  Again, elementary work here, but not in a bad way.  Sabbath came to mind again; perhaps Desolate Pathway worship at the Iommi altar?

Shadow of the Tormentor is almost depressing in its delivery, and features a very cool double riff at the outset (with yet another doomy intro).  A scream in the background vocal mix reminds us of where we are, and we get another lead guitar solo at the two-and-a-half minute mark.

Upon the Throne of Lights is a bit different.  The goblins and wizards make another appearance, but the opening actually features brighter riffs, as if to say that doom and gloom might NOT be their only trademark swagger.  There is also a good lead guitar piece at three minutes in.

So, in short, if you like the doom and gloom, and you also worship at the Iommi altar, then perhaps Desolate Pathway is for you.  If you do not, it is not.  That is all.

***/5

Seven7 – The Follower

 

 

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MGP Records

Review by Rick Ossian

Hailing from London, Seven7 are on their third record this time around, following 2009’s Try Something Different and 2011’s Under Eye.  They are Dave Brown on vocals and percussion, Swiss guitarist Nicolas Meier (lead AND rhythm), Arran McSporran on fretless bass, Luke Nelson on drums and percussion and their latest edition, Sally Jo on electric violin.  She evidently joined after the most recent recording.

The tunes on this particular outing are fairly lengthy and all sport decent musicianship.  For example, on opener Palms we are treated to a very heavy, slamming intro with bursts of lead and vocals.  The singing is slightly growly but is intelligible.  I was reminded on several occasions of Metallica (particularly James Hetfields singing).  There are also some hellish drum rolls and the occasional double-bass slam included.

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Free boasts a cool guitar slam at the outset, and brief pieces of lead guitar work (:25 and 1:50).  There is a shift on a mission (1:45), if you will, to a more uptempo piece, and more leads throughout.  Lyrically there was an interesting couplet or two as well: “How to give/how to take/how to not make the same mistakes again”.  Some really decent guitar work on here.

Fall is a medium-tempo rocker with a powerful drum intro.  This soon gives way to riff-heavy rock, and even heavy metal.  This is VERY heavy stuff, with some overtime bass work going on also.  I found myself digging the bass groove very much.  At 3:20 we are graced with a subdued, bluesy lead.

The title track is another uptempo rocker, bordering on heavy metal, with some busy bass work again.  The chiming guitar effect in the background mix gets a bit annoying at times, but that was about the only real complaint I would have.  The infamous atmospheric guitar intro makes an appearance here as well as several lead guitar bits, a spoken word/rap section, and slamming guitar, bass and drums all around.  There is also a wickedly cool guitar bit at the close.

Magic Box is another heavy slammer with a good groove and is mainly uptempo heavy metal.  There are some very cool guitar parts (:30, 3:45, 4:25), and some incredibly good bass playing.  I was again reminded (vocally) of Metallica, which happened several times during the listening of this recording.  “The magic box is evil!“, bellows Dave at one point, which I think we all already knew, but perhaps we had to be reminded.  The ending features a nice build-up to a final slam, which is done with a few of the tracks on here.

Business is a bit longer (just shy of 7 minutes), but is well executed, with a spacey intro and a sort of heavy-slamming skate punk/rap mixed with psych.  I was reminded of Metallica (again) and Suicidal Tendencies.  The lyrics mainly focused on the “I don’t give a fuck about ____” refrain.  At the four-minute mark there is an instrumental breakdown of sorts and some tribal drumming.  There is also an excellent lead guitar part (4:40), and another big build-up at the end.  Very nicely done.

Euthanasia includes more tribal drumming and monks chanting, both at the intro and during the meat of the song.  The big bad rhythms kick in at :25 and again at 1:35, then towards the end we hear the chanting in the mix again.  The chanting may have been a bit overdone.

Why, the closing track, is a longer number, just shy of nine minutes, and begins life with an Indian-style raga guitar intro.  It is very atmospheric.  Things kick in at :50, and the bass and drums are VERY busy.  A tempo shift (1:55) leads us to the vocals arriving (2:00), and there are are guitar solos at the four-and-a-half minute mark and more at 5:45.  At six minutes in, there is a bass solo, and a bloody good one, at that!  At 7:25 there is a final instrumental wig-out, and a neat guitar piece at the close.

Though they can be somewhat derivative, Seven7 have, for the most part, carved out their own sound.  These eight tracks are pretty well done and deserve another listen

****/5

 

 

Powerwolf – Blessed & Possessed

Powerwolf

Napalm Records

Review by Carl “DJ ThunderGod” Pickles

Buy the CD HERE and the MP3 HERE

Let’s get something straight before we start, shall we? Power Metal, as a subgenre is totally and utterly ridiculous. That has to be a given. Soaring guitars, soaring vocals, bludgeoning drums played at a speed you’d expect from bands classed as being much heavier.  Some bands, like DragonForce, take that to extremes. Other bands, like HammerFall and Sabaton play it straight down the line and create some truly anthemic stuff.

Then there is a German outfit by the name of Powerwolf. They use twisted, blasphemous religious imagery, cross-pollinated with werewolf mythology, corpse paint and monks robes as costumes. The formula should be a recipe for disaster, but it works when it really, really should be an absolute train wreck.  It doesn’t exactly hurt the German band’s cause that Attila Dorn’s voice is a truly stunning instrument. There is absolutely no way to mistake this man’s pipes for anyone else’s. Incredibly charismatic and powerful in a subgenre where many vocalists go for range rather than power, he works in a similar register to Sabaton’s Joakim Broden. Then there’s the keyboards. The best keyboard players use their instruments to add colour to the proceedings. That’s another thing that helps this insane formula work so well. Falk Maria Schlegel’s sepulchral cathedral organ matches perfectly.

Right from the off, these guys are not messing about. The opening track (which also happens to be the title track), Blessed & Possessed has “anthem” stamped through it like a stick of Blackpool rock. The momentum gained from that one takes you barrelling straight into a pummelling Dead Until Dark, before slamming down another anthem in Army Of The Night. This one has “live favourite” stamped all over it.

That takes us into the first single, Armata Strigoi, (which you’ve probably just watched above) with its staccato riff and yet another masterclass from Dorn, beautifully supported by Schlegel… and so it goes on. If your foot isn’t at least tapping, or your head nodding by this point, you really are deficient in some major way. Other honourable mentions have to go to Sanctus Dominus, Higher Than Heaven, We Are The Wild, Sacramental Sister… sod it… I’ve just realized I’m typing out the titles of the entire remaining running order. ALL the tracks on this one really hit the spot in a pretty major way. There is truly not one single track you could even think of as being “filler”.

On Blessed & Possessed, Powerwolf absolutely nail the formula. They’ve got close on previous albums, most notably on the mighty Bible Of The Beast, but for this one there is not one single misstep throughout the entire album. This is absolute perfection. It’s an incredible piece of work. The pace only really drops on the final track, Let There Be Night, but that just allows Attila to really flex his vocal cords. The man sings out of his skin on that one, and when matched with an exquisite solo from Matthew Greywolf… well, it’s not often I can be said to be lost for words, but hearing this song for the first time was one of those occasions.

Make no mistake. Powerwolf have thrown down the gauntlet and staked their claim for Album Of The Year for 2015.  This one is absolutely awesome.  What’s more, if you get the limited edition version, you get a CD of cover versions, including this one:

No hesitation at all with a rating of..

*****/5

Forward Unto Dawn – Alpha EP

 

 

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Independent

Review by Rick Ossian

Buy the MP3 version HERE

Halifax, Nova Scotias Forward Unto Dawn have given us their second release (We Won’t Die being their first) in the shape of their latest EP, Alpha, and it IS a corker!  They are a 5-piece ‘Progressive Metal’ outfit, and their personnel is as follows: Din Stonehouse (vocals), Dylan Wallace and Taran Murray (guitars), Devan Smith (bass) and Nick MacDonald (drums).  Normally this sort of fare is NOT my cuppa, but as it was an EP with a pretty cover I decided to give it a chance.  Doubtless you’ve heard me say this before, but these tunes are NOT for the faint of heart.  Nearly every track will pummel you into submission, both vocally and instrumentally.  I caught myself having to close my jaw more than once just trying to imagine the flogging these fellows’ axes were receiving…

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Opener Transcendency is a a track with one of those intros that I LOVE to gush over.  Lush strings/keyboards, a distant lonely guitar plucks out some innocent-enough sounding chords as the keys rise ominously in the background.  A wicked mix, with some solitary bass notes booming here and there.  At 1:30 things pick up speed with a massive kicking in of doors, walls, etc., as the instruments and the vocals floor you simultaneously.  One may as well refer to Din’s vocal capabilities as an instrument as well; it is more likely used in a weapons capacity, if you will.  They do the kicking in thing again at the 2:30 mark, and before we realize what has struck us so profoundly on the noggin, it’s over.  So sad.

The Collapse comes at us out of the gate with extreme intent, vocal chords shredding all the way as they drag us kicking and screaming into this new piece.  As I mentioned before, this sort of extremely thrashing ‘progressive metal‘ is not what I normally prefer; however, I found myself slightly enjoying this stuff.  At the 3:20 mark there is a shift into even HEAVIER territory, with Din (oh, those poor vocal chords) reaching from way down under (3:40) to deliver his guts to you on the proverbial metal platter.  Some VERY cool instrumentation going on in the mix, but the vocals are WAY out front on this number.  At 4:45 there is a brief guitar solo, with some phase-shifting FX and cool lead snippets at the close.  These 5-minute (or so) tracks I think are the best representation of FUD‘s skills, but of course that’s just my opinion.

Concord and Dissolution features ‘math-y’-style Progressive Metal riffs à la Meshuggah or Between the Buried and Me, and is another slammer both vocally and instrumentally.  There are also stop-start time chords in here – remember when our folks told us that stuff would damage us?  I stand damaged, but loving it all the same!  There are also some very ANGRY vocals (surprise!), but about half way in (3:00), the vocals actually lighten temporarily. I wondered if Din had momentarily lost direction, but I didn’t have to wonder long.  At 3:50 we have the inevitable instrumental slam, and at the five-minute mark things shifted into slightly Proggier territory.  At 5:30 you can hear Din clearing his throat — it’s pretty graphic, you may want to remove your young ones temporarily– it is becoming increasingly obvious where this guy picked up his moniker.  At six minutes in we get one more slam from everybody, and a (WOW!) holy crap intensity at the close.  I may have to check that one out again after I finish typing!

The Nature of Existence includes another of the cool little intros that I am always on about.  Well, every song has to start somewhere, doesn’t it?  Plaintive, simple chords/notes waft briefly in our brains, then thirty seconds in of course we are knocked sideways for a mentally metal loop as we see what’s left of our noggins waste away on the floor!  “Look how much you’ve grown!” bellows Din, and YES I can actually understand some of the lyrics.  We all worry about finding ourselves, and a “place to prosper and grow“, as Din tells us, but is the rap section necessary?  I admit these spoken word bits can be effective, but even a rap done metal style can get annoying if overdone.  Thankfully, here at least, it is not.  At 4:15 we get a lead guitar solo (brief) with some atmospheric leanings, then another one of those super-intense endings.

Synthrospect is basically a master class in how much cool stuff you can fit into a song in a minute and a half.  It begins life with a cool spacey guitar intro, sort of an interlude with Proggy tendencies.  Then (:35) the instruments kick in, providing us with a very nice bass and drum pocket.  Fifty seconds in we hear a brief guitar solo, then at 1:05 we are slammed yet AGAIN by the sheer force of the instrumentation.  Very nicely done, gentlemen.

State of Duality hammers mercilessly on our frontal lobes, coming out at us double time with shredding vocals and some serious drumming.  At 1:55, however, there are some Proggy Jazz Fusion moments.  This is only brief, of course, as we get slammed again at the two-minute mark.  Again there is some wicked guitar work at play here, with a brief lead guitar moment (3:00) and some more of that Math Metal style riffing (3:30-4:00) and some neat pieces of stabbing lead.  There is a seismic shift at the 4-minute mark, then a bit of spoken word (5:00) with some cool jamming going on behind the oratory.  Some pretty intense stuff here again.

At six minutes even, our closer for the day, A Premonition, is hopefully just that – something to indicate that a full-length mega-slammer is due to follow suit soon (PLEASE??).  The intro features sweet bursts of lead and hammering instrumental work plus shredding of the vocals and pounding riffs.  Some understandably impressive vocals, as always, and if it is beginning to sound like a pattern, so be it.  Some outfits abuse the sameness – some can be eclectic as hell.  In my opinion, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it!  At 2:20 there is some shredding lead guitar work going on, and then at three minutes in all hell breaks loose!  At 3:30 there is a slight upshift in tempo (how do they DO that?), and at four minutes in there is a groove!!  We get another taste of some lead snippets – little bursts/stabs of energy that our dynamic duo seem to be very adept at, then there is a slightly mellow ending…it’s over.  Very sad.  Need more.  Long-player SOON, please?

****/5

The Vintage Caravan – Arrival

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Nuclear Blast

Review by Rick Ossian

Buy the CD HERE and the MP3 HERE

A veritable cornucopia of psych, prog, blues and classic rock elements assaults the ears of the listener whilst hearing the latest recording from Alftanes’ (Iceland) The Vintage Caravan.  As often as it happens nowadays, one would think that taking a page from the 60’s/70’s stalwarts’ books would be old hat.  Not so in this particular case, I would posit.  Among these elements, you might ask?  Why, there is feedback, wah/crybaby (amongst other FX pedals, no doubt), pounding, slamming, HAMMERING drums, slinky, sneaky, snaky and FUNKY bass lines, not to mention Uriah Heep-ish moments, Deep Purple-esque moments and definite Black Sabbath-y sequences!  There are moments of pure bliss.  There are moments of fingerpicking.  There are some exquisite guitar solos, and some all-around sublime jamming.  There are lots of musical moments that take one back to those halcyon days of yore when concert tickets were only a few bucks, and t-shirts and concert programmes weren’t much more…or less.  There are fantastic pieces of timing and doom-laden, scary intros, creepy guitar lines, and earth-shattering drum roll finishes – in short, pure metal/rock paradise!

My only complaint(s), if any, are as per usual, the fact that the tracks are far too short, or, conversely, interminably long.  For example, the fade-out at the end of closer Winter Queen seems to go on forever.  At the other end of the spectrum, I found myself wishing that Monolith and Crazy Horses would have been stretched out a bit.  Let us dispense with the particulars and get on with the tunes, then, shall we?  The Vintage Caravan similarly assaulted our ears just a year or so ago with their Voyage LP, one that had already been released on an Icelandic label as their 2nd recording, only to be picked up not long after by Nuclear Blast Records.  Their members are Oskar Logi (guitars, vocals), Alexander Orn (bass, backing vocals) and Stefan Ari Stefansson (drums), and they began life around 2006.  According to their bio, they got serious during 2009.  Their current locale is Sonderborg, Denmark, and they are evidently from the greater Reykjavik area.  Their influences are Barbara Streisand (??), amongst obvious others.

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Opener Last Day of Light features wicked bass runs (and drums and strums) on the intro, and is a medium-tempo classic rock number with sweet little lead guitar fills here and there for our sonic pleasure.  The main riff is a very cool one, and the vocals haunt us from blues-rock’s vaulted past.  There is a big burst of lead guitar solo (complete with wah/crybaby FX) at the 4:20 mark, appropriately enough!  This particular feast of fretwork lasts for almost an entire minute, and then we are treated to an instrumental breakdown of sorts (5:45) and a big wham/end slam at around the 6-minute mark.  This is one of the longer tracks, but quite frankly it could have been much longer, in my humble opinion.

Next up is the comparatively short-but-sweet Monolith, with its enormously big, fat bottom end-absolutely slamming bass and drums and occasional spacey blues moments.  It is good, even great, but as I mentioned above, I wish it had gone on for a bit longer.  I realized early on here that this is one of those tracks where we can’t have everything, and I’ve moved on.  Sort of.

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Babylon, for which there is a video featured on YouTube, is five-and-a-half minute blast of MORE slamming bass and drums (gargantuan bottom end).  It is also a heavy toe-tapper with the neatest little lead guitar bursts imaginable.  Lots of wah/crybaby (not to mention a lead guitar solo from 3:30 to 4:15) and just basic blues rock with that Vintage Caravan twist from the 21st century.  Somehow these blokes have managed to hijack a TARDIS and travel regularly between zones.

Take a look:

Eclipsed is another long track (just short of 7 minutes), and includes a sweet psych intro with some nice guitar echo FX on board.  There is a BIG main riff (think Sabbath or Zeppelin), and some interesting lyrical moments: “The calm before the storm/familiar tone flows/Thought I’d been here before/the eclipse still grows“.  So, a bit of musical deja-vu, perhaps?  Indeed so.  Also featured is an amazing upshift in tempo (3:35) and a righteous lead guitar solo (5:55) towards the inevitable end.

Shaken Beliefs is another shorter number, but it is full of exciting stuff, such as the sneaky/snaky lead guitar intro, even MORE slamming bass and drums (leviathan bottom end), decidedly uptempo 70’s riffing – HUGE stuff from Riff City, even, and handclaps (??).  We also have the obligatory guitar solo at about 4 minutes in.  Smiles all around from this scribe, I can tell you that.  Wish it were longer…

Crazy Horses, as mentioned above, is far too short, and is more of a punk blast then anything else.  Certainly, there are elements of blues and ‘regular’ rock as well, with a big bassline and heavy and fast beats, but the overwhelming sentiment for me was late-70’s punk (Ramones, Pistols, etc.).

Sandwalker features a cool shuffle with snippets of lead at the outset.  This is STRAIGHT out of the 70’s psych-rock playbook, so of course head-banging/bobbing ensued almost immediately, even upon my first listen.  The wah comes in at 2:25, and there is a blues breakdown with heavy bass and drums at about the 3-minute mark.  Starting to sound familiar?  Perhaps so, but if there is indeed a formula here, it does not wear out its welcome – at least it didn’t for me.

Innerverse is another of the blessed longer tracks, again clocking in at just under 7 minutes, and is a very neat, melodic slightly mellower piece of work with curling leads, instrumental breakdowns and a bluesy ending.  It is both mystical and atmospheric simultaneously (of course), and is the only track I noticed that featured keyboards, so naturally I sort of lumped it in with Deep Purple and Uriah Heep.  It actually leans a bit towards both, but in a good way.  At three minutes in there is a slight shift to fingerpicking, but only briefly.  Only moments later we are slammed back in our chairs by heavy riffs and guitar soloing (sort of – it goes with the main riff) (4:00).  The keys make a slight return at the 5-minute mark, and there is another instrumental breakdown (5:15) for our aural pleasure.  The bluesy close at the end is marvelous, and bears repeating – that must be why I repeated myself!

Carousel is another of the shorter tracks – anybody notice how they interspersed shorter numbers with longer ones?  Positive genius, and a mark of good writing/sequencing, as my professorial mate Martin would say.  There is a big main riff, positively pounding bass and drums and coming at you heavy, hard and fast!  This is another in the vein of the psych-style heavy metal rock numbers tradition, with the bluesy refrains and all.  Some soaring bursts of lead guitar (3:00-3:45) and a false finish with an amazingly overdone drum roll towards the end, and before we know it things have drawn to a close – almost.

Closing tune Winter Queen has its good and bad, as closing numbers often do.  It is an enormously sprawling (8:45) psych exercise in taking us on that almost cliche ‘journey’, if you will.  It is good, even great at times, but there are some things that just could have been left off.  The almost over-bearingly long fade-out at the close could have been cut short or even left behind on the cutting room floor, for example.  Winter Queen features everything, and runs the gamut of the rock field; there is blues, there is rock, there is psych/prog, and HAMMERING metal – all in one track.  There are big drums, and even bigger bass.  There is eerie fingerpicking (:50), shortly after which the vocals make their entrance, followed by the obligatory building-up of drums, then at the minute-and-a-half mark things REALLY begin to kick in.  There is another instrumental breakdown (4:45), and a bluesy guitar solo that starts (5:20) and ends (6:15) almost interminably, then starts up again at the six-and-a-half minute mark!  The only really disappointing moment is the inevitable end, mainly because it just takes far too long, as mentioned above.  In spite of that, I’m going to give the entire affair a wickedly awesome thumbs up!  The fact that they are a mere three-piece group makes them that much more incredibly wicked. Top marks all around! Five Mjolnirs, as it were!

*****/5