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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

ALBUM REVIEW: Acid Age axeman exercises his right to shred

THERE must come a time in every guitarists life as a six-string axe slinger that they need to get the shit out of their system, step away from their band for a brief time and indulge in total guitar wankery.

Yet few take that opportunity...Not so Acid Age's Jude Milk, who has recently released his solo effort 'Kithara'.

While many could see this as a self-indulgent act, what is clear from a couple of listens this is an accomplished instrumental mini-album, with a diverse range of techniques, many far removed from the Acid Age punk/thrash attack.

'Fields of Sweep' and 'Judgement Day' are by far two of the better arrangements amidst riffs and solo techniques, with a heady repetition of a complex riff on the latter well mastered.

The acoustic 'Upon These Mysteries' perhaps the most derivative sounding it nonetheless showcases Jude's confident playing. Making those runs along an acoustic fretboard is no easy task.

Closer 'Krimzon Kingdom' has elements closes to the Acid Age sound and doffs a cap on opening to certain Metallica instrumentals before quickly establishing its own sound and structure, with a nice Spanish sounding acoustic breakdown.

This release is an enjoyable listen for anyone who really enjoys their guitar sounds; however, we wonder would there not be a validity to including some of these tracks in the next Acid Age release. It would certainly challenge listeners.

What is clear is that Jude has put on display his full-on passion for guitar - and that is no bad thing on this good solid release.

Review by Jonny

LIVE REVIEW: Metal2TheMasses NI Heat One sees metallic assaults and enthusiastic response

FOUR hopefuls, four bands that left everything on stage, four bands determined to give it their best shot at reaching Bloodstock 2016.

The Metal2TheMasses contest got underway in Belfast's Limelight2 on February 6th, with its usual format of voting: 50% an audience vote, 50% from the judges. My fellow judge and colleague Mark Ashby were faced with a difficult task. After all, the audience can be as partisan as they like, but passing judgement had to be impartial and considered.

And, it was telling on the passion displayed by every band member that when the final votes were counted only four points separated the four bands...

As usual the running order was decided by ballot and when Cursed Sun opened the M2TM evidence session they had the attitude and verve as if headlining. Andrew 'Jones' Cassidy was off and on stage like a hyperactive toddler over-dosed on e-numbers.

While he is the focal point for most of Cursed Sun's attack, there is a growing depth to the band; long gone are the overt Lamb of God influences - they may be the same songs, but with much more individual identity for this contemporary metal.

The same identity could not be as easily ascribed to Wardomized. While this was one of their better recent performances we've seen from them it was at times a pick-and-mix of all the various sub-genres of metal...grind, yes, thrash, yes, doom, yes.

Certainly they executed them all well, with Stephen McKeown adopting his vocals and his on-stage presence accordingly, but more focus will serve them well in the future.

Technical death metal is a difficult feat to accomplish for any set of musicians, but Shrouded not only nailed the music, but also have developed stagecraft that is needed to execute the style.

They are now a more complete aural and visual unit and even though they were unfamiliar to many present they had headbangers gathered at the barrier to offer neck snapping praise.

The bastard son of punk and thrash Deathbus had the first full-on mosh pits of the night, but they were facing problems from the get go...

For all their energy and determination guitar and lead problems destroyed most of Alessandro's sound throughout their set; a set that had to be cut short by 10 minutes. DB's drummer, John earned top marks for the evening, playing on as long as possible despite having a fractured hand.

All in all four bands determined to display their best take on metal, and all will have learned much more about themselves for the experience

When the final votes were totted up Shrouded and Cursed Sun were the victors on the night and now proceed to the semi-finals.

The next NI heat of Metal2TheMasses is on February 18th, and will see Baleful Creed, Erosion, Skypilot and So Long Until The Séance enjoin battle.

Review by Jonny
Pictures by Darren McVeigh

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

LIVE REVIEW: The Black Dahlia Murder - death metal plus fun equals a mighty show

DEATH metal is sort of regarded by many as the po-faced, growly ugly cousin of heavy metal. Dodgy themes and technical wizardry, right? Well, not when The Black Dahlia Murder and Benighted roll in to town. There were more smiles and fun than a convention of Cheshire Cats.

When the TBDM 'Abysmal' tour rolled into Dublin the one word that couldn't be anticipated was 'fun', and fun in such high quantities of merriment it wasn't just the beer or 'other' substances that can be 'blamed' for the sheer sense of enjoyment from bands and fans alike.

If they could find a way to harness the atmosphere in the Voodoo Lounge on the 20th January you could power a small town.

Opening proceedings for the evening were local act Warpath. Death metal in abundance, and obviously a band much loved by the Dublin crowd. Darren on vocals is a beast in terms of his range and his sheer size - we think he's on the Zakk Wylde exercise plan.

The band have well crafted songs that avoid the clichés so prevalent in death metal. We look forward to catching them again at Siege of Limerick on Easter Sunday.

Belgian crew, Benighted, were the surprise of the night for those of us who travelled to this show. Damn they are an immense band in terms of songs and stage presence.  And, they smiled, and smiled and smiled. This is a band that enjoy what they do: no pretence, no bull, just playing music.

Vocalist Juliene has every death metal trick at his disposal and uses them well to accentuate songs that are tight, well thought out and delivered with a kick to the guts.

Showcasing material from their latest release 'Carnivore Sublime' those who had not seen/heard were seen updating their Spotify and buying from iTunes within minutes of the end of their set. We ordered the album the next day...

There is no doubt that The Black Dahlia Murder have a devoted fanbase. Sure the Dublin gig is in a relatively small venue, but that only seemed to amplify the response of those attending, as from the get go there was a febrile response to every note played.

Brian, Trev and Ryan are then heart of the band but in total the five-piece are so slick at their delivery that at times it seems they are much, much more than a melodic death metal band.

But that slick delivery doesn't mean that there isn't a soul in their twisted songs. To have such craftmanship on show is one thing, but to make sure that you remain engaged throughout is another thing.

From opener 'Receipt' the audience response is equalled by Trev cajoling the audience to greater levels of effort. From directing mosh pits, pointing for aid when someone fell to encouraging crowd surfing he  made sure that as well as an aural and visual experience it could also be a very tactile experience for those who wished.

Of course tracks from latest release 'Abysmal' were featured, but they also ranged throughout their back catalogue. Stand-out tracks included 'Elder Misanthropy', Vlad, Son of Dragon', 'Miasma', 'Raped in Hatred by Vine of Thorns' and closer 'I Will Return', which expressed fans hopes for another show soon.

The musicianship on display from each band member etched itself across every track and Trev showed why is among the most talented of death metal vocalists out there. The Black Dahlia Murder are the sort of live band that can reach across the genre boundaries. Added to that is the time they - and the other acts - took to meet, interact and chat with the fans.

And, yes as the fans filed out into the chilly Dublin night it was smiles not scowls from the devotees of death metal.

Review by Jonny
Pictures by Darren McVeigh


ALBUM REVIEW: Ricky Warwick showcases style and talent in this double album release

YOU could tag Ricky Warwick as one of the most hard-working musicians - his recordings and tours with Black Star Riders, his acoustic sets with Damon Johnson and his regular solo acoustic sets.

As if that isn't enough he's about to set out on a UK tour supporting Stiff Little Fingers with his new group Ricky Warwick and the Fighting Hearts...

Ahead of the tour Nuclear Blast is releasing Ricky's double CD set 'Hearts on Trees' and 'When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (and Guy Mitchell Sang the Blues)'.

This was available last year after a pledge campaign, but truth be told this is a selection of songs that always deserved a wider audience, which with the backing of Nuclear Blast it should receive.

The tracks range from all-out rockers through to the most heartfelt lyrics out there. 'The acoustic 'Hearts on Trees' has a real sense of a true singer songwriter stretching himself., with the tribute to the men who fell in 1916 'Scwhaben Redoubt' a stand-out as Ricky and Jake Burns song about how religious division meant nothing in the Great War.

Other stand-out acoustic tracks include closer '82' and 'It's Way Too Cold for Snow'. Overall a set of songs well worth sitting back and contemplating - and enjoying.

The 'electric' album is a stormer. Passionate, witty and reflective at the same time. Adopting tactics that amount simply to this - writing great songs and playing them with passion.

From opener 'The Road to Damascus Street' to closer 'Yesteryear' this is what great hard rock is about, tunes and lyrics that are not the vacuous staple of so many so-called rockers.

Instead he draws inspiration from his roots in Belfast and so much more.

Ricky explained: "'Hearts On Trees' and 'When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (And Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues)' were written by myself and my good friend  Sam Robinson, both albums depict our experiences of growing up and coming from the Greater East Belfast area, not only experiences that have happenend to us but historical references and stories that have been told to us by friends and family...in saying that both albums translate those experiences on to a global scale that hopefully anyone geographically can relate to.”

Whatever the inspiration there is not a bad song here. All-out heads down thrash of 'Son of the Wind' sits easily in a set with the hum along track 'Johnny Ringo's Last Ride'.  

The intriguingly titled 'If Your Not Going to Leave Me (I Will Find Who Will) has a guitar line that demonstrates just how much Ricky has developed as a performer over the past seven or so years.

He also managed to draw in an impressive array of collaborators. The release boasts guests such as; Joe Elliot (Def Leppard) Damon Johnson (Thin Lizzy/Black Star Riders) Andy Cairns(Therapy?) Billy Morrison (Billy Idol) Nathan Connolly (Snow Patrol) Ginger Wildheart, Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers) Richard Fortus (Guns ‘N’ Roses/Dead Daisies).

Friendships are one thing, but it seems the quality of the tracks must have been a big factor to draw these people to Ricky's side. And both these albums ooze quality.

Review (and live pic) by Jonny

LIVE REVIEW: Goatschlager tear it up in Ballymena

NEWISH doomster/groove metal Goatschlager made their first ever appearance upstairs in the Fairhill bar in Ballymena, a bar where according to some regulars anything goes, rules do not apply.

Goatschlager are a four-piece band with Darren Balmer on vocals, Darren Cushley on guitar, Simon Mckillen (a.k.a Skippy) on bass and Mark Davidson (a.k.a. Basie) on drums.

Basie, Skippy and Darren C have been playing together in various other bands over the years with Darren B recently joining them for this outfit.

Goatschlager kicked off to a good start with 'Electric Worm', a lively band giving it their all with Darren B getting the crowd going.

After their first song with nerves maybe slightly calmer their second song 'Cosmonaut', an awesome track which awakened the crowd with slight headbanging quickly turning into a mosh pit, a very heavy, loud band.

'Wah the Long Face' song is a bit more mellow from the rest of their songs, the crowd cleared a bit through it but only to top up on beer and nicotine levels, a very easy listening song to chill out to.

Goatschlager kept the room filled with most on their feet from the front to back and all tables filled.

A band worth going to see, a very good performance for their first gig, they can only keep getting better. Out of a ten song set list there is only one as a cover Dragonaut by Sleep. For a new band it is good to see they are doing all their own songs.

Next time to see them is 12th March in Fairhill bar.

Review by Lizzie T.

ALBUM REVIEW: Avantasia release the second chaptwe with star-studded support on Ghostlights

AVANTASIA, the rock opera project created by Edguy vocalist Tobias Sammet, are back with their seventh studio album.

Billed as the second chapter of the story begun on 2013's "The Mystery of Time" "Ghostlights" is a darker, moodier album, which has stripped back a lot of the previous orchestration and has a sound more focused on metal while still remaining true to the operatic nature of Sammet's compositions and arrangements.

This is also highlighted by the veritable who's who of guest vocalists again being given character names:
  • Tobias Sammet - Aaron Blackwell
  • Jorn Lande - Temptation
  • Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids) - Magician
  • Robert Mason (Warrant, Lynch Mob) - Scientist I
  • Dee Snider - Nightmare
  • Geoff Tate (Queensryche) - Scientist II
  • Michael Kiske (Helloween) - Mystic
  • Herbie Langhans (Seventh Avenue) - Eclipse
  • Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) - Muse
  • Marco Hietala (Nightwish) - The Watchmaker
  • Bob Catley (Magnum) - Spirit.

The other musicians featuring on this album are:
  • Sascha Paeth - Guitars, Bass and Keyboards
  • Oliver Hartmann - Guitars and vocals
  • Bruce Kulick (Kiss) - Guitar
  • Michael Rodenberg - Keyboards and Orchestration
  • Felix Bohnke - Drums
  • Cloudy Yang - bgv.

"Ghostlights" starts with the Jim Steinman/Meat Loaf sounding 'Mystery of a Blood Red Rose complete with huge choruses and obligatory key change. A catchy opening number sang by Aaron.

The 12 minute epic 'Let The Storm Descend Upon You' follows with its haunting start quickly developing into a power metal number which has Aaron, Temptation, Magician and Scientist I sharing vocal duties. Huge choruses and hooks are the order of the day here with some excellent guitar work from Hartmann. At no point does this song seem overlong as it cleverly builds its storyline.

Aaron and Nightmare perform "The Haunting". A moody, dark song both lyrically and vocally this would be Ghostlights' version of 'The Toy Master' from 'The Scarecrow'. A heavy riff drives this number which is contrasted by light piano touches to convey the mood nicely. The solo from Paeth is perfect for the song.

"Seduction of Decay" showcases the heavier nature of this album with its pounding mid tempo riff and rhythm section. Aaron has Scientist II to do battle with here and an excellent job they both do. Paeth has another excellent solo to add weight to the song.

Title track "Ghostlights" has our first visit from Mystic on vocals and along with Aaron they deliver a powerful vocal. With Maidenesque riffs, double kick drums and great guitar work by Paeth and Hartmann this a joy to listen to for all melodic power metal fans.

"Draconian Love" instantly has an anthemic feel to it with Eclipse trading vocals with Aaron this time. A great melody, huge chorus and hooks this song will undoubtably become a live favourite.

"Master of the Pendulum" has Aaron delivering an eerie start to it but Paeths blinding fretwork kicks it into gear and the introduction of The Watchmaker gives this fast paced song a Nightwish makeover and is probably the heaviest song on the album.

In sharp contrast comes the haunting, mostly electronic ballad "Isle of Evermore" beautifully delivered by Muse and Aaron whose vocals blend perfectly.

"Babylon Vamyres" takes us back to the straight up rocker belted out wonderfully by Aaron and Scientist I. With a beat driven along by bass and drums at a quick tempo it features yet another big chorus and hook. Kulick makes his first appearance on this song trading solos with Hartmann and Paeth and it was well worth the wait.

"Lucifer" introduces us to Temptation again as he joins with Aaron in another atmospheric ballad with a keyboard intro. There is nice orchestration on this song building to a crescendo before a heavy, searing guitar break from Kulick moves it into another gear. Great song.

"Unchain The Light" is another mid/up tempo number with the Magician and Mystic weaving their vocal spells on Aaron. More power metal hooks and choruses with Paeth and Hartmann this time trading solos make this yet another strong song.

The albums finale is the wonderfully titled "A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies". It's not too often you get an Avantasia album without nodding respect to Magnum so Spirit joins Aaron on vocals for this one and its a Melodic rock classic. Kulick provides the solos on this and its a fantastic end to the album.

Avantasia albums can tend to split opinion with some preferring the 'Metal Opera' era albums to their later output. Whether this is the masterpiece Sammet was hoping for only time and lengthy comparison will tell but as a stand alone album it's right up there.

Sammet describes "Ghostlights" as 'a journey in 12 chapters, 12 pictures, 12 dreams and 12 reflections of reality....

Get whatever meaning out of it that suits you.......just get it!

Review by Andy Gillen
Ghostlights is out now on Nuclear Blast

Saturday, January 30, 2016


DAMN you lot kept me busy - the sheer amount of entries to the Slipknot ticket competition meant we had use a calculator, super computer and the trusty abacus to allocate each entry a number and then shuffle all the numbers, and get the metal mutt to place his paw on a number.

The winner is Margaret and the tickets will be in the post to her shortly.

But, with so many entries to see Sikth, Suicidal Tendencies, and Slipknot at the SSE Arena on 15th February means only one thing....YOU HAVEN'T bought your tickets yet.

Race down now to your local ticket emporium, click on a link and go buy - there are still tickets available.

C'mon, no excuses. We witnessed Slipknot in Dublin 13 months ago and boy, oh boy do they put on a show. Intense and enjoyable.

Here's what Corey Taylor said: "Any time we get the chance to come over to the UK it's awesome. Hopefully the fans will have as much fun as we do. We'll be putting together a great set for them and as we fill out the bill with bands, we hope the excitement gets even bigger".

And, with Sikth and Suicidal Tendencies it is a line-up that brings prog, crossover and the 'Knot we here are excited. - roll on 15th February. Sure you can get your wife, husband, girlfriend, or boyfriend a ticket and claim that it's a valentine gift....

Friday, January 22, 2016

ALBUM REVIEW: Melodic rock from Scandanavia in the shape of Nordic Union

SO a new year begins and already it's continuing in the rich vein of quality melodic rock releases that was a feature of 2015.

The output from Scandinavian bands is simply staggering and the genre has found a real home in Northern Europe.

Purists of melodic rock and AOR will recognize the two players in the new collaboration known as Nordic Union. Ronnie Atkins from the legendary Danish band Pretty Maids provides the vocals alongside Eclipse and W.E.T. guitarist Erik Martensson,two respected and renowned figures in Nordic Melodic Rock. 

The album kicks off with some soft acoustic guitar on 'The War Has Begun' before Martensson crashes in with some slamming riffs,there's a bit of 'Holy Diver' bass in the background which keeps the song sludgy and earthy. The vocals are outstanding - great big chorus with some delicious hooks and Martensson totally nails his lead breaks.

'Hypocrisy' could actually be a modern day version of 'Livin' On A Prayer', a great pop-tastic song that thankfully registers very low on the cheeseometer,the crushing drum sound no doubt helps but yet again the guitar licks are impeccable.

The album has a great balance between the softer moments like 'Every Heartbeat' and 'True Love Awaits You' which echo classic Hysteria era Def Leppard (Atkins showing yet again that he hasn't lost any of his depth or range) and bangers like '21 Guns' (complete with it's machine gun style drum intro), 'The Other Side' and 'Go', which especially gets the head bobbing.

One of the many highlights on the album is 'When Death Is Calling',a foot stomping backbeat over some of the best melodic rock you might hear this year. Nordic Union are clearly having a blast on the album and this track typifies that. It's big,ballsy and leaves a lasting impression,which is exactly what good music is supposed to do.

This is a great album,a fantastic way to kick off 2016 and with fellow Scandinavian's H.E.A.T providing one of the most memorable sets at Download 2015 here's hoping that Nordic Union can find a gap in their hectic schedules and get over here for some live shows soon.

Nordic Union is released through Frontiers Records on January 29th and can be pre-ordered here www.frontiers.it

Review By Dave Stott

LIVE REVIEW: Raucous Rabid Bitch of the North 7" single launch

WENT to a party and a gig broke out...such was the case on Saturday (16th January) when Rabid Bitch of the North gathered together friends, family, acolytes, fans and a range of long-haired types to launch their new single, the 7" vinyl 'Green Eyes'.

Even before the doors of the Voodoo in Belfast opened there was a palpable sense of excitement, for what was sure to be one of the first Distortion Project gigs of 2016.

To celebrate this the first 20 punters through the door were treated to a shot of Jack Daniels to warm the cockles of the metal heart on a chilly night.

Opening act, Erosion, were a late addition to the bill, and while they have many veterans of the Northern Ireland metal scene, this was one of their first public appearances.

With a meaty sound and a range of dynamics the band scream potential, but have some raw edges that will be ironed out with more appearances. Approved nods throughout the gathering audience that there is much more to come from Erosion.

Bracketing the openers and headliners was the monster from County Armagh that is Astralnaut, the beast of a band that rumbles with such a deep end that the very foundations of Belfast itself threatened to collapse.

Southern groove metal re-invented for the myths in the mists, where the footsteps of giants are brought to life with a bottom end that could liquidise internal organs.

As Erosion brought contemporary metal to the party and Astralnaut brought the deep groove, so Rabid Bitch of the North emerged on to the Voodoo stage with their 21st Century take on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

Blending the dexterity of Maiden and the ferocity of Motorhead, RBOTN are a three-piece that have grown in stature across the last number of years.

What that means is that the crowd that had assembled around the stage are familiar with the songs - indeed on sale together with 'Green Eyes' was the 2014 best of so far CD 'From the Kennel To The Castle' - that have seen them evolve.

Opening with the frantic 'Sisyphus' it was clear that Joe, Gerry and Chris were intent on not only entertaining the audience, but enjoying themselves on stage.

By the time 'Defending Two Castles' was complete the stage was enveloped by such a large amount of dry ice that seeing the band was a struggle and some members of the audience were visibly distressed.

It took a couple of songs for the 'fog' to dissipate, just as the 'star' song of the set 'Green Eyes' was unleashed and Joe's vocals reached improbable high notes.

His bass work is perhaps one of the under-estimated weapons in the Rabid Bitch arsenal. Gerry's complex riff patterns and solo forays steal the show as Chris batters his kit into submission.

Visually the band are the epitome of what a metal act should look like - beards, cut-off denims and pulling the 'shapes' without becoming clichéd.

There was, of course, a Motorhead song as a tribute to Lemmy, but it was the two closers that had the crowd and band enjoined in raucous riot of metal.

'Trapped in 1999' is simple good fun, with Joe's vocal gymnastics adding to the wit of the track. And, while we gathered together - with the rest of the population watching 'z-list' celebrities or reality crap - RBOTN ended with the rallying cry 'Us Against Them', a song of solidarity which most in the venue sang along with gusto.

On the surface this was just another gig, but in reality this was the way metal should be celebrated - minus the OTT dry ice next time please.

Review by Jonny
Pictures by Darren McVeigh