Archive for October, 2010

h1

Revolution Renaissance – Trinity

October 19, 2010

And the award for most unoriginal record goes too… well you get the idea of what I’m going to say about this album. Or do you? Yes you do, except that whilst I found it mostly unbearable, there was a small part of me (that still has long hair at heart) actually enjoyed this latest ‘melodic power metal’ release. It’s got more cliches than Avatar, and if you’ve heard anything by Iced Earth then you’ll be able to predict exactly what’s going to happen next… but it’s still not that bad.

In fact, it’s perfectly fine. It’s an album which genuinely is ‘middle of the road’ in every way. There’s very little to say about it if I’m honest. Trashing it would be unfair and ultimately pointless. But praising it is something that I won’t do because  don’t really like it that much. I’m sure you can understand the problem here.

At the end of the day, if you like your metal flashy, predicable and often tedious then this is for you.

Mr Bogle

h1

Markus Grosskopf of Helloween

October 18, 2010

Markus has been playing bass with Helloween since 1984, and after twenty six years, their latest album Seven Sinners is just about to come out.

“I’ve been expecting you” says the bass player, almost like a cliched Bond villian. Nevertheless, he’s an amicable sort of chap who like all bass players, loves talking about playing bass. “Well, Edguy’s bass player’s wife was having a baby so they asked me to fill in just for the one show. I was there at Wacken just in case waiting, but I decided to come on and do a few songs anyway!”

Seven Sinners is released at the end of the month, but as we’ve not had a chat in a while, I thought it’d be best to ask about the previous best-of with a non-metal twist, Unarmed.  “The reviews were very mixed. Some thought it was good, a lot of people said it was crap because it wasn’t metal. But it was for us, it was a way to keep the songs fresh and it’s something that we wanted to do. We didn’t really do any of it live, a few acoustic shows here in Germany maybe. But the main focus was getting back onto what Helloween are, and making a metal album”

So, was it a conscious decision to take the sound to almost the other extreme? Seven Sinners is one of, if not the, heaviest album the band has ever produced. “Well, it was a very natural process. We all knew what we wanted to do and how Helloween should sound after all these years”. It’s good to see that there’s a decent spread of credits across the album, with Herr Grosskopf penning two numbers, including album highlight If A Mountain Could Talk. “Well, when I first started playing I couldn’t write a note. I was having fun drinking beer and going to all the parties and bars. I still have fun doing that, but I got interested in the theory of songwriting, so I started sitting down with my four track and just began writing”. As usual, there are nods and hints to older songs, Who Is Mr Madman? in particular; “That was Andi! It’s been 16 years or something since Perfect Gentleman so we thought we’d bring him back a bit. We feel we can do that with Helloween, we have these little bits and pieces like the pumpkin and the Keeper, so we can have fun with it and put it into our newer stuff as a reference”. And what of the flute solos? “That was crazy Weiki’s idea! He always wants to do something that’s a little bit strange, and we eventually found a guy who’d do it because we couldn’t get who we originally wanted. Again, it’s something that we like putting in just to make it a bit different. I’m not sure how we’ll do it live though!”

Well, if Helloween’s long-term bass player doesn’t make it easy for me to make this flow. Helloween hit the road at the end of November with Stratovarius tagging along for the ride. “I’m leaving Friday to start practicing with Dani [Loeble, drummer]. It’s a bit tricky as we all live away from each other. Two are in the south of Germany, I’m in the very north and two are in Spain. What happens is I practice with Dani and to get the bass and the drums right, and then bring in the others once we have our stuff done. It’s just easier that way, and better for me. When the guitarists get here they spend hours going over notes in songs to get right, and I can be there for ages not doing anything. When the basics are down, we bring it all together. We’re off at Christmas until the 10th January, and then we’re doing the second leg of the European tour. After that we’re off to South America, possibly North America, then Indonesia. Places like Malaysia, Singapore, Japan…and then possibly to Australia too. We’ll see!” Helloween are an internationally acclaimed band, but Markus admits he does prefer the European version of going on tour. “I like the bus. When you’re on you can sleep and go back to it after a show. We can go to a bar after a gig with all of the family and the crew and then the next day we can be stood on the stage in a different town. It’s a lot different when you’re on planes. Lots of waiting in airports for flights, for missed flights…it’s a bit more lively when long distance isn’t involved”.

What’s evident about Helloween is that they’ve made a remarkable comeback. From playing arenas in the 80s to being demoted to small clubs in the early 90s, an unfortunate combination of lineup changes, poorly received albums and metal taking a turn for the worse. “Yeah, it was difficult in the 90s because no one was playing anything like this, so we struggled. Everyone was saying metal was crap so we’re quite proud we came out the other side and now people are playing it again. It’s good because we’ve managed to come through it and still be here alongside all these new bands that are playing classic metal again”.

Ever to add the personal touch, we finish up with a quick bit about Markus’ own sideproject, the wonderfully titled Bass Invaders. “We just don’t have time! It’s getting everyone’s schedule to meet. It was great recording though, with Billy Sheehan, Tom from Sodom and Schmier from Destruction [among others]. The problem is that record companies aren’t willing to support a project like that at the moment. In fact, it took more time to schedule everybody together than it took to record!”

Good to see that get every bass player together, and they still can’t organise a record in a studio, as the old saying goes. With that, I left Markus to go and have another listen to his new album.Seven Sinners is out October 31st on Spinefarm Records.

Twaddlefish

h1

Symphorce – Unrestricted

October 18, 2010

I remember being somewhat ambivalent at Symphorces previous album, Become Death when it arrived through my letterbox sometime in 2007. I’m a Brainstorm fan, Anthony B. Franck bringing some much needed balls to power metal, so it always eluded me why another band that would, in essence, sound like Brainstorm was needed.

Well thankfully, Unrestricted isn’t a Brainstorm album under a different banner. While it is as unrelentingly heavy in places, it’s a much more varied affair, album opener The Eternal teasing us with a mournful piano intro before descending into some truly aggressive and catchy guitar work.Whatever Hurts follows similarly with jilted showground organs, but by this point it’s evident thatUnrestricted is nothing short of a fantastically written album with nigh on perfect execution.

Unlike previous releases, the keys do play a more prominent role, if only in intros and occasional background noise. The vast majority of the songs have slowed down to less than a breakneck pace  which have allowed for some far superior riffs, with Worlds Seem To Collide creating a groove that professional routers would be jealous of. The closer Do You Ever Wonder is by far the best thing on offer, a blend of serrated guitars and the menacing vocals of Mr Franck that nail the Symphorce sound of subtle melody with unrelenting aggression.

Unrestricted is a great album, full of catchy hooks driven by some titanic vocal pieces.  For once, I’m glad an album doesn’t try and blow my mind, but instead tries to beat it to death with a steel girder.

8/10

Twaddlefish

h1

Blind Guardian Live – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 26/09/2010

October 17, 2010

There aren’t many things that’ll take me south of the Midlands. Short of beating back the French of our shores, I make all manner of excuses to avoid nodnoL. However, the German bards make their way over for only the fourth time in their twenty five year career, so having talked to Hansi in June and dropped a nut at the new album, I figured it was only polite to go and see them live. Again.

As had, it seems, half of the known world. The venue is absolutely jam packed, sold out. More worringly, it seems oversold, there’s so many people by the time the show begins. First up though, is Steelwing. Enforcer have unfortunately had to pull out, so Steelwing jump in headfirst and deliver an incredibly solid half hour or so of classic NWOBHM, complete with arm braces, leather waistcoats and dual guitar solos. They’re pretty decent if nothing else, but all through their set the air is thick with the anticipation of the main act.

Finally, the lights dim and the orchestration of Sacred Worlds greet us and the place goes berzerk. The band are on top form tonight, third show in on the tour, and welcome us to their show in the classic Guardian manner with Welcome To Dying, swiftly followed with Born In A Mourning Hall and Fly. Any fan of any era of the band will be satisfied tonight, the a set that encompasses all points in their career, from the masterpiece Nightfall In Middle Earth, which gets a good old going over through the evening with no less than three songs, including perennial set close Mirror Mirror. In between then and now, however, we get treated to the rare Traveler In Time and the expected singalong in Valhalla which no doubt wrecked many a neck that night, to the classic folk regimen of Lord Of The Rings (and two thousand people shouting “Mordor!” at a rather appropriate volume) and Hansi’s only break in the set, The Bard’s Song, having realised long ago it’s better just to let us get on with it. The band is backed up by some awesomely cheesy light screens that have all the mystical light stuff, but also some impressive hand drawn animations using the Imaginations… and At The Edge Of Time artwork.

 

Best we could get photo wise, was absolutely packed!

The encore is none the less packed with the unexpected, Punishment Divine making an appearance, as well as the barnstorming finale of At The Edge Of TimeWheel Of Time, before finishing us off for the evening with the monstrous Imaginations From The Other Side,  hands down the best rendition I have ever heard. This was a very special night, with the band being blown away by the audience reception, and bar a couple of personal opinions on which songs ‘should’ have been played, an absolutely faultless performance.

 

h1

Circle II Circle – Consequence of Power

October 16, 2010

As my dream of another Savatage album floats further from my grasp, I turn to Circle II Circle to provide me with another dose of Tampa-based heavy metal. 2008’s Delusions of Grandeur had some great moments, as well as being a victim of pre-emptive Death Magnetic Syndrome during the mastering process.

Through their career, Circle II Circle are one of the few bands that have devolved instead of evolving and progressing their sound. 2003’s Watching In Silence might as well have been another Savatage album, but with each passing release building up to CoP those more grandiose moments have been stripped away. While the Oliva-esque riffage is still present in Out of Nowhere, the feel of the album is firmly in good ol’ Heavymetalville. Anathema‘s delightfully crushing chorus provides one of many neck-wrecking moments accompanied by some pretty heavy and heart-rending lyrical content, something that the ‘tage family of bands manage with exceptional ease.

However, and this is a big however; CoP strays too far into background music territory. It’s not bad in the slightest, as Zak’s vocals have improved continuously over time with perhaps his best all round performance on CoP. There are some great hooks in the music with strong dynamics, Take Back Yesterday in particular, but it’s nothing we’ve not heard before from Circle II Cirlce. Including ending the album with a big ballad, which never gets old.

You could quite easily shuffle up CoP and it’s predecessor and the two would blend together seamlessly. In a way that doesn’t take anything away from CoP, it won’t be the album that gets you into the band (the honour of which goes to 2006’s Burden of Truth) but if you really like the Circle II Circle it certainly won’t lower your opinion of them.

6/10

Twaddlefish

h1

Mostly Autumn – Go Well, Diamond Heart

October 15, 2010

For those that don’t know, Mostly Autumn started life as a Pink Floyd tribute band, and they were bloody awful.  It’s kind of like seeing a teenage death metal band do The Trooper or any song from the first three Metallica albums. Then, suddenly, they decided to become an amazing folk-prog-rock band. As you do. They played Bloodstock about five years ago, and have kept my interest when you just need something to chillax to.

Go Well ,Diamond Heart is nothing if not chillaxed. While they still take a fair bit of inspiration from the Floyd, the sound that Mostly Autumn seem to have forged is one of subtle folk rivulets in across a rock-lite veneer. The female vocals flow gracefully over the music, whether it’s the gentle balladry of Back To Life or the chugging of Hold Back The Sun. In releases past I’ve often been critical of the countered male vocals, but Something Better as well as the album closer have the voice that I suspect they’ve been waiting for years; it’s still Bryan Josh, but his voice has got better and it really has made all the difference.

If you need an album just to chill the hell out to, Go Well, Diamond Heart has it absolutely nailed. The songwriting is nothing short of craftsmenship, nothing less than what’s expected considering how long Mostly Autumn have been at this. For the umpteenth time, they deliver another LP bristling with the crème de la crème of British folk-rock. Twang on, you roguish bards.

8/10

Twaddlefish

h1

Ross The Boss – Hailstorm

October 10, 2010

If you know who Ross The Boss is, it’s fair to say you know who Manowar are. While the latter have gone to oil themselves up more than an unwashed chip fryer and slam spoken word verse in place of actual songs, Ross has commited himself to making ‘proper’ albums. You know, ones with songs on them.

Hailstorm itself is not without a dash of the old Manowar chest-beating, but the meat of it is the classic metal sound of the 80s given slick modern production with a sprinkle of rock n’ roll. Burn Alive is an irritatingly upbeat affair with a dirty rock swagger and an infuriatingly catchy chorus. The title track itself is an extremely aggressive fare of rasped chorus vocals and aggressive riffage reminiscent of Stormwarrior.

As expected, the lyrical content has a lot do with kingdoms and warriors and whatever, melding nicely with some suitably epic and pompous guitar work, and while not breaking any newground or progressive elements to an already established sound, creates an almost youthful energy that bands this far into their career can often lack.

Despite the genre in which RtB resides is one that isn’t renowned for it’s originality, Hailstorm delivers a strong mix of hooky guitar riffs and memorable vocal lines. What isn’t suprising is that the ballad is beyond hilarious, channelling every ounce of his previous band to an almost embarrassing degree. Manowar fans will probably buy it, but those needing a decent guitar album wouldn’t do badly here either.

6/10

Twaddlefish