Tag Archives: heavy metal

Mastodon – Emperor of Sand

Mastodon - Emperor of Sand coverFor the best part of the last two decades Mastodon have carved a path through hard rock and heavy metal that is all their own. Often combining conceptual themes with crushingly heavy sounds they have gained a formidable reputation across six albums and have now release their seventh, Emperor of Sand.

From the off everything one would expect is here as the four-piece build from a clear influence from metal originators Black Sabbath to create a sound that marries thrash, doom, stoner and prog into a unique package.

Within all of this the band find a core that is remarkably accessible and this really comes to the fore on Show Yourself that has a sing along type streak and hook laden feel that almost takes it into pop metal territory.

Precious Stones meanwhile brings elements of the concept, based around time, to the fore in impressive style before Steambreather shows the band’s groovier tendencies excellently and that’s followed by several moments that I can’t help but think current Metallica is ironically striving (and largely failing) to emulate.

Mastodon

Mastodon

Across the record as a whole there’s a feeling that Mastodon are doing their best to fill every space  with a sound of some sort and, while in the hands of some this could be unbearable, they balance it out so nothing is overriding something else and, while it can be claustrophobic at times, it never feels like this isn’t the band’s intent.

That said there are moments where it feels like Brent Hinds might be heading slightly too far into guitar histrionic territory but it stays just the right side of being over the top and just feels like guys who can play and aren’t ashamed to hide it.

As the record goes on it builds in power and intensity with largely clean vocals giving way to more abrasive sounds and the soaring solos are matched by swirling riffs escalating it all into a maelstrom of sound that could easily derail things but comes with a smoothness often not present in more experimental metal (not that it always needs to be, but here it fits perfectly). This all reaches a bracing crescendo on Scorpion Breath.

Mastodon liveThis is all brought to a point on final track Jaguar God that seems to do everything the preceding 10 tracks have done in seven and a half minutes as it weaves its way from a piano and acoustic opening to an astral plane tripping climax that, like the rest of Emperor of Sand, continues to stake Mastodon’s claim as one of the most interesting heavy bands coming out of America this century.

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: April 2017 – Elliot Falla in session and Vorlon

Elliot Falla and Vorlon Daz Carre

Elliot Falla and Vorlon

Click here to listen to the show

On the April 2017 edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey I featured a pair of guests spanning the range of guitar music in Guernsey.

Elliot Falla was in session with his brand of folk influence indie-blues including tracks from his recent Throne EP and brand new songs. He also told us not only about the making of the EP but also how its been expanding his gigging away from the island following regular shows in Brighton and London over the last few months.

Vorlon on the other hand is a project from long-standing heavy metal musician Daz Carre. He told us about his new album, intense extreme metal project False Sense of Security, as well as his time playing music in the islands which began in the mid-90s and has taken in bands such as Crunchy Frog, Earthcorpse, Darker Shores, Mechanical Lobster, Nemesis and more primarily as drummer but also playing bass and guitar.

You can listen to the show for the next 30 days through the BBC iPlayer Radio App or by clicking here.

I also announced that BBC Introducing Guernsey will again be going live as part of Arts Sunday, you can find out more about that here.

Tracklist

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Vorlon – False Sense of Security

Vorlon - False Sense of Security coverHaving made his name as drummer with bands like Earthcorpse and Darker Shores and playing guitar and bass for the likes of Mechanical Lobster and Maiden Guernsey (amongst others), Daz Carre has now released his solo debut, under the name Vorlon.

False Sense of Security was recorded and produced by Bob Klein of Noizemonkey Studios in Guernsey and is available now via Bandcamp.

My review of the album was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 22nd April 2017 and you can read it below.

Vorlon - False Sense of Security review

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Granite Wolf, WaterColour Matchbox, Thunderbox and Track Not Found – The Fermain Tavern – 24/03/17

WaterColour Matchbox

WaterColour Matchbox

Its been quite some time since there’s a been an event advertised as a ‘metal night’ in Guernsey. With the general drifting of popular musical styles, metal bands have generally had to find their way into more varied line ups so, when this cropped up in the local gig guide, it had my interest piqued from the start.

Added to this was the fact all four bands were relatively new and two I had never seen live before.

track not found started off the night with one of their first full gigs away from their Sound Guernsey origin.

Having developed over the last year, the trio combine elements of grunge, riotgrrl and the kind of power-blues Jack White has made his name with to create a sound fairly unique to Guernsey – if it hadn’t been clear before, their cover of a track by Highly Suspect tonight just added to the blues rock feel.

While the band were still a bit lose in places they also found some nice grooves and dynamic shifts within their songs making them far more than the run of the mill pop punk cover act we’ve come to expect in the younger end of the island’s music scene.

Track Not Found

Grace and Emma of Track Not Found

Grace Tayler lead the band with a performance that is hard to look away from with a unique guitar style that, while not always succesful, again leads to the bands’ difference, and vocals unlike any female performer I’ve heard over here. Both Emma Thomas (drums) and Masie Bisson (bass and vocals) also have enough attitude and presence to make them far more than just the backing band.

While they still have a way to go in finding their own sound and identity, and in terms of stage presence, track not found are certainly a highlight at the younger end of the scene and proved it tonight, winning over a number of the often staid adult gig going crowd.

From a band with such a high level of inventiveness they are struggling to contain it the night shifted to one following a well trodden path but doing it with a degree of success, ThunderBox.

Taking nu-metal and its mid 200os evolution, the five-piece started off a bit rough with a Linkin Park cover before settling down a few songs in to some perfectly serviceable covers of the likes of Slipknot, Korn and Soil.

ThunderBox

ThunderBox

This is a style never really known for its nuance and ThunderBox fit that perfectly and I will admit that, for the most part, they miss my era of hardcore metal fandom by a few years so I don’t have the nostalgia for these tracks that it was clear many in attendance did.

Despite a few ups and downs (and an unforgivable metal version of Electric Six’s Gay Bar – no band needs to cover that song again, ever) their set was perfectly enjoyable and I could see fitting in perfectly at a party for those who grew into a love of metal between 2003 and 2006.

WaterColour Matchbox couldn’t have looked much different with keyboard and synthesiser front and centre and a set of exploratory, semi-prog metal to play through.

From the off I was surprised at the ‘metallic’ nature and heaviness of their sound as the four-piece drove their way through a set drawn from their debut album Fragments, Artefacts and Ruins.

WaterColour Matchbox

WaterColour Matchbox

The addition of Scott Michel on bass added a good dynamic to the performance as his heavy bass underpinned the more intricate guitar work of Mikey Ferbrache and the guitar, piano and vocals of Pete Mitchell.

Mitchell in fact seemed more engaged with the music than I have seen from him in other bands and it transmitted more to the audience, even if there were a few moments where the number of parts he was playing got a little too much for him, but these were brief.

Closing as their album does on The Wall and Homeward Bound, their most prog songs, ended the set on a high and seemed to impress many in the crowd who were headbanging along.

Having formed from the ashes of Brutus Stonefist, Granite Wolf continued their pursuit of riffs and beer in fine form blasting through a set of tight, quick and punchy metalcore.

Granite Wolf

Granite Wolf

The atmosphere they brought had something of a throwback to gigs half a decade ago, but it wasn’t the worse for it and built more of a positive atmosphere than many bands manage, particularly in the heavier music side of things. This was mostly driven by a breakdown of the invisible barrier between the band and the audience and a ‘we’re all in this together’ type feeling.

Musically the band were on blistering form once they settled in with riff after riff delivered at breakneck pace and some nice grooves as well – Road To Home was a particular stand out in all these regards.

Keeping it short and sweet added to this and, though they did come back for an encore, Granite Wolf did just what they needed to do – highlight the night with an uncomplicated blast of noise that got heads banging and bodies moving and showed that, even if its less obvious than it has been in the past, metal in Guernsey still has a lot of life left in it.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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Metallica – Hardwired… To Self-Destruct

Metallica - Hardwired... To Self-Destruct cover artWhen Metallica released Hardwired, the lead single from their 10th studio album, things were looking good. That track felt like a reenergised band, harking back to their prime but with a newly rediscovered power and intensity.

Now the album itself, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct has been released on the world, it appears things aren’t quite as straightforward.

Once you’ve got past the album cover which looks like it may have had a good idea behind it, even if the execution doesn’t quite live up to that, the double album (going by the CD version) starts well with the aforementioned titular single and the inventively heavy Atlas Rise!

Now That We’re Dead and Moth Into The Flame aren’t too bad either with some nice groovy passages reminiscent of the band’s mid-90s era, but it is around here that a few problems start to present themselves.

Other than Hardwired every track clocks in at over five minutes and, while this has been a trademark of the band throughout their career, that trademark used to include an inventiveness that saw the songs evolve and transition.

Metallica 2016This was most notably heard on …And Justice For All, but here they just seem to repeat the same passages without development making it feel like many of these songs could be cut in half and remain just as, if not more, effective.

In the same way as Ride The Lightning & Master of Puppets in the mid 1980s and Load & Reload in the mid 1990s, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct very much feels like a partner to Metallica’s last studio album Death Magnetic.

Unfortunately while Ride and Master were the band hitting their creative peak and Load and Reload saw them trying something new, what this pair of albums seems to do is hark back to the past, particularly that mid-80s heyday, which unfortunately demonstrates a once highly innovative band treading water and, potentially, falling foul of too high a level of fan service than really is required.

The second disc of the album continues this largely forgettable feeling that sadly, while not actually bad, simply isn’t very good either. For a band as historically divisive as Metallica this is a real shame – in many ways I’d rather hate this record than simply feel largely ambivalent to it.

Metallica live in 2016

Metallica live in 2016

A highlight of a sort of the second disc is Murder One, a tribute to long time friend of the band Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, but even this feels a bit too forced and passionless in its rendering here.

In the end then Hardwired… to Self-Destruct is, for the most part, an overlong set of songs that feel like Metallica are repeating themselves and stuck in some kind of loop of searching to relive past glories and keep fans happy while essentially failing to do either – at least St. Anger got people talking…

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Brunt – Blackbeard

Brunt Blackbeard coverFollowing the release of their debut album in 2014 Brunt put out a vinyl edition and then headed back into their bunker, aside from a few live outings, to work on new material.

Now two and a half years later that new material has been released in the form of three track digital EP, Blackbeard.

Continuing where they left off the EP consists of three slow and heavy tracks bearing all their hallmarks but showing a band more in groove with each other than before.

The EP is available through the band’s Bandcamp page and they have suggested a vinyl release might also be happening, though not in the immediate future.

My review of Blackbeard was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 12th November.

brunt blackbeard review 12-11-16

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Introducing Granite Wolf

Granite Wolf

Granite Wolf

A couple of weekends ago those gathered at The Fermain Tavern were introduced to a new band with riff after riff after m-f’ing riff (to steal a phrase from The Wildhearts) – that band are the excellently named Granite Wolf.

You can read my review of that show here

Made up of a group of familiar musicians from the last decade of heavy music in Guernsey, including members of Brutus Stonefist, She Haunts The Roads and To The Woods, the band combine a sense of friendship and fun with crushing metalcore sounds.

I caught up with them after their gig for an interview that was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 8th October 2016.

Granite Wolf interview scan - 08/10/16

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Metallica – Hardwired

metallica hardwiredIt’s been the best part of a decade since ‘the world’s biggest metal band’, Metallica, released their last full-length album, Death Magnetic. Since then there have been live records and concert films like Through The Never, reissues galore on as many formats as you can shake a stick at, a 30th anniversary celebration like no other, but, with the exception of the Beyond Magnetic EP of off cuts from Death Magnetic and one-off single Lords of Summer, no substantial new music.

Then, on 18th August 2016, a new single appeared on their Facebook and YouTube pages along with the announcement of a new album, Hardwired… To Self Destruct, due for release in November.

Of course every utterance from Metallica is discussed and dissected by their fan base with opinions ranging all extremes; from those who think the band ended with the death of Cliff Burton in 1986, to those with an affection for their supposed wilderness years of the mid 1990s, to those who are just interested to see what they’re going to do next following the public breakdown that was St. Anger and the film Some Kind Of Monster. If I’m honest I fall more into this latter group.

Metallica 2016To make it clear I would call myself a fan of Metallica but one on the verge of lapsing. While Ride The Lightning remains one of my favourite albums, the surrounding hubbub of the band in recent years has pushed me away in the absence of new music – so when Hardwired appeared my interest was, to say the least, piqued.

The four-minute track and accompanying video were instantly a shot in the arm for my fandom. The song fires out the blocks with a blast of fairly classic thrash style, through a similar filter to the one that led Death Magnetic, with a Flying V filling the screen on the video. All this harks back at the band’s 80s heyday and continues for the duration of the song.

Hardwired is a precision assault fuelled by the kind of anger Metallica have made their own, though its source these days is surely questionable coming from such a seemingly self-contained outfit of some of the most successful musicians in the world, but it still comes across strong in a surprisingly visceral form.

James Hetfield

James Hetfield in the video for Hardwired

The song has an urgency that was missing from much of the band’s more recent, overlong, efforts. This is great to hear giving it the spiky, arguably hardcore, edge the band always maintained was a major source of inspiration.

The lyrics and delivery are reminiscent of Death Magnetic’s Broken Beat and Scared, though with a more potent feel thanks to songs comparatively brief length. Although I was left wondering whether vocalist James Hetfield would be able to deliver this live as his voice does seem to have been waning in recent years (not surprising given the abuse it must have taken in three and a half decades).

Production-wise the song suffers a similar issue to Death Magnetic with the spiky, top-end heavy, sound seemingly built around showing off Lars Ulrich’s snare more than anything. It does, however, feel slightly tempered compared to the last album, though the low-end and a lot of the potential ‘heaviness’ seem lost – a shame considering Robert Trujillo is an excellent bass player.

Hardwired sounds like a promising extension of the Metallica that made Death Magnetic and, if it’s a taster of the album to come its showing promise and I, for one, am listening closely once more…

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Sons of Cain album launch – The Fermain Tavern – 22/07/16

Sons of Cain

Sons of Cain

As anyone who follows music of any kind will know things come in waves with different sounds and styles ebbing and flowing and some trends becoming more popular than others, this is true even within the small scene in Guernsey.

So, when Sons of Cain appeared earlier in the year with grand plans for a heavy metal concept album and live show to go with it they stood out against the prevailing scene in the way that metal often has, for better or worse.

Arriving at The Fermain Tavern for the show there was an odd atmosphere to the place and ska-punks Honest Crooks seemed oddly nervous for a band with so many gigs under their belt. After a few festival shows it was great seeing the three-piece back up close and once they got going the nerves clearly vanished as they delivered their usual fun show.

Honest Crooks

Honest Crooks

Mixing up their now fairly well-worn set a bit provided some new dynamics but the crowd didn’t connect with it like they have at other gigs. Largely this was probably down to the fact that the trio stood out like a sore thumb when compared to the heavier bands making up the rest of the bill and the podium and pole set up in the middle of the dance floor didn’t really help either essentially blocking a chunk of the stage for the audience.

The reason for this podium was what came next as a quartet of agile and rhythmically gifted young ladies performed a set of pole dancing routines. While the dancers themselves performed some impressive things I couldn’t help but find this part of the night a little out-of-place and the concept as a whole somewhat dated.

The likes of Motörhead and Motley Crüe are known for their use of dancers during their performances but none of the bands on offer tonight fit that style, though it was nice to hear some Sisters of Mercy played loud through the PA for one of the routines…

'Soloman Cain' of Sons of Cain

‘Soloman Cain’

Positioning themselves in the middle of the show, rather than headlining, felt like an odd choice for Sons of Cain but the crowd headed forward in anticipation as the trio took to the stage.

While the rhythm section of Keith (drums) and Joe (bass) had gone to a small effort to fit the conceptual metal vibe, visually it was frontman Vinny who’d gone all out as his alter ego ‘Soloman Cain’ (isn’t there a comic book character called that?) in an abundance of black leather, make up, white contact lenses and a pair of elaborate, black angel’s wings.

Unfortunately one band member in costume doesn’t guarantee a good show and, while they thrashed their way through the songs Sons of Cain largely failed to connect with the audience who, a few songs in, drifted from the dancefloor.

Occasionally joined by former Stone Em All axeman Lee the band did have some nice moments, particularly when they got into some classic thrash style passages, but as a complete package it all fell somewhat flat in a plodding retread of the kind of thing Dio was doing nearly forty years ago. None of this was helped by a sound mix that saw the guitars lost in the general murk and the pole dancers clearing their equipment away on the dancefloor midway through the set.

While it’s always good to see a band try something different, here Sons of Cain fell the wrong side of power metal ridiculousness and it was hard to tell if they were taking it all a bit too seriously or were just out to have some slightly silly fun.

Lord Vapour

Lord Vapour

With the dance floor now clear of poles and podiums Lord Vapour launched into their set in punishingly loud fashion. As they worked their way through the first track the crowd returned from wherever they’d been hiding and the band shimmied into their loose grooves as they always do.

While I will admit to having grown a little tired of Lord Vapour’s extended jams there’s no doubting they are well delivered and have gained them a dedicated following and they were in the midst of a prime example of that as I slipped out into the night after one of the most unusual night’s I’ve experienced at ‘The Tav’ in quite some time.

See my full gallery of photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Facebook page

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Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster

Some Kind of Monster posterIf you’ve read my past reviews of Through The Never then you’ll know that I have been a fan of Metallica for a good while. They were the band that really piqued my interest in heavy metal and, in Ride The Lightning, they made what I consider to still be one of the best examples of the genre more than 30 years on from its release.

The past 15 years though have been a bit different, with the once vital and vicious band descending into something of a nostalgia act, having released only one new album in the last decade (Death Magnetic), and that being at best a re-tread of former glories, while their status as a live band has waned as well.

You could cite their collection of covers, Garage Inc., as the start of that decline, or their S&M project with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, but, in listening, both still have their merits. I would argue that the point were ‘the biggest metal band in the world’ really, for want of a better expression, ‘jumped the shark’, is the movie documenting the making of their St. Anger album, Some Kind of Monster.

Taking place over the best part of two and a half years we join the band just after they lost their long time bass player, Jason Newsted, and headed into a makeshift studio facility in San Francisco’s Presidio to, supposedly, try to recapture the spirit of the garage band they once were.

Metallica and Phil Towle

Metallica and Phil Towle

With no new songs and no permanent bass player (producer Bob Rock takes on those duties) it’s not surprising this doesn’t go well as the band demonstrate a spectacular inability to jam out any ideas without descending into arguments, largely between founders Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield.

It’s at this point that some of the limitations of the film itself begin to become evident. Obviously instigated by Metallica it is designed to tell the story they want it to tell and, to their credit, this is far from a flattering picture, but, within that, it seems to chop and change its own chronology fairly freely which, particularly with Ulrich’s hairstyles chopping and changing (colour) almost from shot to shot, means it’s hard to get a real sense of authenticity from this first act which ends with Hetfield walking out on the recording sessions and seemingly the band, to enter rehab for alcoholism and other undisclosed addictions.

During this next section, which lasts nearly a year of real-time according to the captions, we see nothing of Hetfield but get to spend time with the other two band members. In the case of guitarist Kirk Hammett this includes a few understated sequences mostly focusing on his, at the time, new hobby of surfing, which he openly admits has taken the place of other, less healthy, pass times.

James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich

James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich

The sequences with Ulrich are a rather different affair as, if he hadn’t come across too well before, we now get to see more of the man who genuinely comes across like something of a petulant child, just one in his mid-40s, including a rather cringe-worthy look at his art collection as Lars tries to explain his own reasons for making and collecting art – this could be lifted straight from Spinal Tap.

Throughout all of this there is the constant presence of ‘performance coach’ Phil Towle who, at first, seems to be trying to help the band work together, but as things go on just seems cynical and only there for personal gain, and his interactions with Ulrich serve to show possibly the worst sides of both, particularly in a sequence where Lars’ father visits and offers some less than positive feedback on the new material.

It’s also at this point that the dates involved dawned on me as having some significance. The whole process begins in mid 2001 and continues to summer 2003, a period containing some rather significant world events that, I think its fair to say, feature in pretty much any documentary film set over that time. But, in Some Kind Of Monster, they are not referenced, and nor is anything else about the outside world beyond a couple of asides about Echobrain, a new project from Newsted.

James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich

Hetfield and Ulrich at a less friendly point

To me, this says a lot about the attitude of the band (who ultimately had final cut on the film), that they exist purely in their own world, cut off from reality with all the good and bad points that brings. Some of these are highlighted here and, in hindsight, often show the band members’ less admirable traits, though I couldn’t help but feel the band would have thought this was showing their positives, just showing their disconnected nature.

As the album continues to develop we get to see more childish behavior from both Ulrich and Hetfield, including a genuinely hilarious bout of swearing from the drummer into the face of his frontman. Then hatchets seem to be buried as the pair team up against Towle who has crossed several lines in their (and any reasonable person’s) opinion, including suggestion lyrics for the record.

I get the impression that, at this point, as a fan I was meant to side with the band against this character’s interference, and maybe once I did, but now, I just had the feeling that all three men were being generally unreasonable with the only one who had any kind of defence being Hetfield as he tried to find a new equilibrium, post rehab.

Rob Trujillo

Rob Trujillo

Ending on a slightly triumphant note with the album, St. Anger, finally released and the band setting off on tour, Some Kind Of Monster, as a whole, is a fascinating insight into the workings of a band at this level and the effect a lifestyle like that of Metallica who had been consistently on the tour-record-tour-etc cycle since their late teens can have one people.

This, unfortunately for Metallica, includes no one really being shown in a good light (with the exception of newly recruited bass player Rob Trujillo) while the film itself is a strange effort that has no clear directorial voice or story to tell which hampers any potential interest from anyone outside the band’s fanbase and other musicians curious about the inner workings of the band – though watching multi-millionaires argue like children is at times entertaining in a bleak kind of way.

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