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King Zebra – King Zebra EP

Posted in CD, Rock with tags , , , , , on 6th May 2019 by mickbirchy

King Zebra

King Zebra EP

Hard Rock, Glam Rock

Released: 22 March 2019

Self Released

Right from the first notes of this EP, I knew I was going to like this one. I mean, this is the sound I grew up on, pure hard rock with lots of energy and pep. Swiss hard rockers, King Zebra have been tearing up the European rock scene as of late. Opening for awesome bands like The Dead Daisies, The New Roses and Crystal Ball just to name a few. Armed with their new lead vocalist Eric St Michaels (formally of the band China) and this new self-titled EP, they are setting out to conquer. The EP can really be divided into two pieces, firstly the three songs they released last year and the two new songs they’ve released for this EP. Putting it all together makes for an enjoyable listening experience.

The one thing I will say about this EP is that it has a lot of energy. I mean, it’s the kind of music that makes you want to get up and move. The guitar work is fast and loose and the rhythm sections are tight. The grooves are excellent and the riffs really land a hit every time they come in. The band just feel like a forceful presence at all times. Eric St Michaels is a great vocalist and he sounds amazing here. He’s mixed in really well to the tunes. His vocal performance is really impressive, with a powerful voice and a tonne of charisma he’s able to keep you invested in the songs and adds that extra punch to the hooks. The production is great and easy for any listener to get into and enjoy.

There really isn’t anything to say beyond this. I mean, if you like your 80’s glam rock then this will definitely fill a hole for new material to listen to. It’s an entertaining listen, to say the least. With songs about the general rock topics and production that’s clean enough to get a general audience but edgy enough that rock fan won’t turn it off either. I like the EP, it’s not my favourite release of the year, as good as it sounds and as fun as it is to listen to, it’s just an okay release. Not bad but not something that I have to listen to again and again. It will be one of those EP’s where if it’s on I’ll keep listening but not one I will go out of my way to listen to.

2.5/5

Mick Birchall

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Uncle Paul – Dot Rotten

Posted in CD, Experimental, Rock with tags , , , , , , , on 14th April 2019 by mickbirchy

Uncle Paul
Dot Rotten
Noise Rock, Stoner Rock, Psychedelic
Released 14th January 2019
via Introclusor Records

You guys know me by now. I’m usually the first in line for the weird and experimental side of rock n roll. After all, today’s experimental music is tomorrow’s mainstream. So, why not listen to everything that you can? Which leads me to this EP. Dot Rotton is the newest release from the weird and wonderful Uncle Paul and let’s just say it’s an interesting listening experience, to say the least. Sounding like a weird hybrid of Butthole Surfers, Deerhoof and Lightning Bolt, this band have really captured my imagination. Though this isn’t the best example of the genre, the North-West UK rockers certainly work as a weird noise rock psychedelia band, that incorporate elements of garage rock and stoner rock into their style. Referring to themselves as “refined musical dyslexia” is a good call, because this is what this is, a random assortment of musical ideas thrown into a melting pot and left to simmer.

Though it would take you longer to listen to “In A Gadda Da Vida” than it would this entire EP. I think there is some merit to the EP. In the sense, that you shouldn’t try to investigate it or look into it too deep. It’s more just a musical experience with a hodge-podge of ideas, riffs and distortion just blasting full force at the listener. With vocal effect layered over the sound and weird noise coming from every which way. It’s an EP to lose yourself in and not worry too much about its motivations or connotations. It’s just music for music’s sake and, you know what? That’s actually quite refreshing from time to time. The production is all over the place with nothing really meshing or coming together. Very much like the noise rock movement of the early 90’s this band just make what they feel like and run with the ideas they have.

Let me put this straight, this is not of the average consumer of music. There are no hooks or ear-worms to be found here. Yet, there is some creating bass work, some great riff ideas and guitar licks littered throughout the EP. Which makes it enjoyable enough. Also, considering that a couple of the songs don’t even reach two minutes long and the longest track here is four minutes, the music just passes by so quick that you don’t even realise that you’ve just heard something really fun and ridiculous.

By no means is this a great example of modern rock music. Yet, it serves as an interesting example of the noise rock sound and how it can still be relevant today. Then again, noise rock usually exists outside the normal boundaries of music anyway. If you like that  90’s Gen-Xer sound or watched a lot of Bevis and Butthead then I would recommend this in a strange way. It’s not a masterpiece, nor is it trying to be. It’s designed to be off-putting and weird and to be honest, that’s what I liked about it.

3.5/5

Mick Birchall

Cellar Darling – The Spell

Posted in Alternative, CD, Folk, Metal with tags , , , , , , on 24th March 2019 by mickbirchy

Cellar Darling

The Spell

Progressive Metal , Folk-Metal, Symphonic

Released: 22nd March 2019

via Nuclear Blast Records

After being really impressed with their 2017 debut album, This Is The Sound, Cellar Darling have returned with their new record, The Spell. After that debut, I was hoping for another record and I was hoping that they would attempt something a little different. Well, they must have heard my wishes because their second record is a very different beast from the first album. The Spell is a much heavier and more progressive album than This Is The Sound. It feels like a lot more care and attention to detail was put into this album. I mean they improve on their sound in every way conceivable here. There is also an audiobook of the album, which offers more context for all of the songs and where the lead vocalist Anna Murphy adds another layer to this album’s meaning.

This album is just a tonne of fun from the first few notes. Immediately hitting you with those sharp tones and sweet melodies that were present on the last release. The production on this album real super slick and everything feels really tight with all of the instrumentation standing out and playing its part. When it all comes in together, it just sounds so grandiose. This sound can only be described as progressive rock with enchanted whimsy thrown in. The beautiful compositions with excellent sound mixing give the album an other-worldly vibe to, what would be, just another progressive folk-metal album. Then you have the immense vocals of Anna Murphy. She just has an amazing presence on this album, it really is a star-making performance. It baffles me how she isn’t usually brought up in the discussion of the best female rock-vocalists by the fan community. She has so much range both, in vocal technique and in, emotional presentation.

There is a really nice variety of musical styles presented here. From eerie and atmospheric to heavy and “in-your-face”. The Spell will captivate and entrance listeners. I immediately wanted to put it on again and again as this album rewards repeated listens as there is a lot you can miss on your first play-through. There are just so many subtle little things in the music that you only catch on repeated listens. I would say the songs that are really worth your time on this album are “Burn” with its excellent riffs and exciting chorus, “Love” & “Love Pt II” also “Death” & Death Pt II” both of these two-part songs make for excellent companion pieces and really show the strength of Cellar Darling’s songwriting abilities. Also, my personal favourite on the record is the haunting ballad “Sleep” which reminds me of those old progressive tunes where the music sounds like random instrumentation but it really perfectly calculated musicianship.

Yep, I would definitely say this is worth your time. I really didn’t know how they were going to follow up that first album but I truly wasn’t expecting this. The Spell is one of those perfect records to accompany your imagination. It’s enjoyable and enriched with wonderful lyrical content. This one gets a big thumbs up from me.

5/5

Mick Birchall

Stelios Gatziolis – Sphere of Resonance

Posted in CD, Metal, Rock with tags , , , on 24th February 2019 by mickbirchy

Stelios Gatziolis

Sphere of Resonance

Instrumental, Progressive Rock

Released: 30th September 2018

Self Released

 

 

What do I say about this one? It’s weird, I mean I grew up listening to a menagerie of different rock and metal styles. One of the records I loved was Surfing With The Alien by Joe Satriani. From there on in I always made time to instrumental records done well. So, here I am listening to the new EP by Stelios Gatziolis and I’m not getting into it. I don’t know there really feels like there is something missing from this and I can’t put my finger on it at all. The new EP, Sphere of Resonance dropped last year and it’s done well for the solo guitarist. As well as that, this EP features ex-Dream Theatre keyboardist Derek Sherinian, who put his seal of approval on Stelios’ playing by featuring on the tune “Doomgazer”. Not a bad endorsement at all.

The four-track EP is relatively impressive from a technical level. The intricate guitar skill of Stelios is really impressive. The way he weaves in and out of melodies is awesome, it really is a captivating listening experience. The backing band creates a nice backdrop for the guitar to truly shine. The heavy booming bass perfectly syncs up with the well-executed drum work. The keyboard and synths add a really nice atmosphere to the tunes. The guitar playing is slick and you soon pick up on his playing style. As each song has a slightly different variant on this style. The songs all play on the rule of tension and release. Each song builds up the tension and then has a massive payoff of guitar goodness. The song featuring Derek Sherinian, “Doomgazer” probably uses this technique the best.

Unfortunately for all of its positives I still can not get into it. For the most part, it just feels soulless. It just feels like a passion project that was meant for the artist himself and no one else. In fact, it feels like a demo to a much bigger project yet to be released. Unfortunately, I don’t know if such a project is on the way but I hope it is. You know, to justify this EP’s existence. The songs, whilst impressive on a technical level, are meandering and trite. I’m fine with ‘progressive’ music but this feels like a jam session that was recorded and released.

It’s decent enough and I stand by both parts of my review. From a technical view, it’s really good. Yet, at an entertainment level, it’s a little toothless for me.

2.5/5

Mick Birchall

Сандарния – К оружию!

Posted in CD, Metal with tags , , , , , , on 23rd February 2019 by mickbirchy

Сандарния (Sandarnia)
К оружию! (To Arms!)
Power Metal, Symphonic Metal
Released: 9th December 2018
Self Released


This has been a really interesting album to get into. Mainly because it’s the first album I’ve ever reviewed that is not in English. So, before we start, I just want to say that I don’t speak Russian so somethings will be lost on me. Yet, I still think this is a solid record. I think it’s important to discover as much of the world as possible and music bridges that gap much easier. When I first took a listen to the new album from Sandarnia I was immediately drawn into their passion, presence and their overall tone. This band is the brainchild of Russian musician Alexander Kuznetsov and it contains some incredible performances by a variety of awesome musicians.

To Arms! is an awesome record and it feels massive. The production is so bold on every song. It just flows so well from one track to the next, with heavy guitar, a bold bass tone and terrific drum work. If there’s one thing that this project has, it’s a great sense of tone. Every tune is dramatic and it sounds big. It’s like a heavy metal orchestra. One thing I do like about this record is the variety in vocal performances. Different tunes have different singers and each one brings something brilliant to the table. One performance that I did enjoy was Daria Mikolaevskaya’s on the song “Та, что встретит с тобой смерть”. I found this song to be impressive, with its sweeping melodies and excellent musicianship.

Now, there does lie the potential to alienate a wider audience by not making it in English. I will say that and that can put some people off. Yet, I think it’s something they overcome quite well. The music is largely accessible and if you’re into this sort of this already then, then I would highly recommend giving them a chance. Also, the production, whilst impressive, can be lacking at times, with the guitars and bass sometimes mixed over the top of the vocals and that can be a little distracting at times.

Overall, I would say that this was a rather impressive listening experience. The songs are epic and the band just have the charisma of megastars. If you like your power metal bands then, Sandarnia is well worth your time. To Arms! Is an amazing epic of a record that ends on a couple of excellent covers with “Warcraft 2 Theme – Tides of Darkness” and the “Game of Thrones Theme”. If you want some good power metal in your life that you may have never considered before, this is the band for you.

4/5

Mick Birchall

Avantasia – Moonglow

Posted in CD, Metal, Rock with tags , , , , , on 8th February 2019 by mickbirchy

Avantasia

Moonglow

Symphonic Metal, Power Metal

Released: 15th February 2019

via Nuclear Blast Records

Every time a new album from the mind of Tobias Sammet comes out, you know I have to listen to it. The new album from Avantasia, Moonglow is another home run for the band. This is their eighth studio record to date and they keep going from strength to strength. This album is one of their most impressive in my opinion. It has so many interesting elements, mixing many different styles from around the world, they have created a complex and dynamic record that is consistently interesting. I have been really into this band for the longest time. The way they mix sounds, melodies and intricate lyrics has always captivated me.

The album was produced by Sascha Paeth and Tobias Sammet and I think they have created something beautiful with this record. Right from the very first track “Ghost In The Moon” the overall sound is so good. The  interweaving of themes, melody and lyrical poetry make this an exciting and interesting listening experience. All of the Avantasia tropes are present, the epic choirs, the fast and furious power metal energy and Sammet’s infectious charisma. His vocals just demand your attention and coupled with the overwhelming orchestral metal sound, every song hits you like a tonne of bricks. Also, this album contains an all-star cast of great metal musicians to accompany Sammet and share the workload. Massive names such as Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Mille Petrozza (Kreator), Candice Night (Blackmore’s Night), Geoff Tate (Queensrÿche), Eric Martin (Mr Big) and Michael Kiske (Helloween) all lend the assist to making these songs sound so powerful and making the word larger than life.

Personally, this is one of my favourite Avantasia albums. The hooks are simply massive and I’ve had a tonne of fun just rocking out to these songs. From the soft and tender ballads to the energetic and forceful power-metal songs. I don’t think that Avantasia has ever really sounded this good. The guitars can be punchy or lend to a gentle atmosphere. The keyboard and synths are simply wonderful encompassing the music in an aura of majesty. The bass is tightly locked in with the drums and keeps the rhythm beautifully. All in all, every instrument sounds massive and Paeth and Sammet’s production makes everything sound as good as possible.

This is a flawless album and already up there as one of my favourites of 2019. From the passion and conviction of the performances to the sharp and punchy melodies. This album is just one to listen to over and over again. I mean making great music is just Avantasia’s M.O. at this point, yet, this album goes above and beyond the call of duty and really delivers something special. Exceptional writing and fantastic production carry this album to a pleasing 66 minutes 45 seconds, that I just want to keep listening to as many times as I can.

5/5

Mick Birchall

Joakem – Mind Matter

Posted in CD, Metal, Rock with tags , , , , , , , on 26th January 2019 by mickbirchy

Joakem

Mind Matter

Progressive Rock, Heavy Metal

Released 7th December 2018

Self Released

It’s been a hot minute since took a listen to anything from the heavy metal community beyond the UK, so I feel it’s about time to rectify that. The Cyprus based progressive metal musician, Joakem has recently released his debut album Mind Matter and from the first moments of the album, I liked the sound. Musically the album is a blend of complex melodies and time signatures, heavy synth sounds, rough guitars, intricate and precise drum patterns and a blend of different vocal styles. It immediately leaves its impact on you and since the sound is so distinctive, you can quickly make up your own mind on whether it sticks with you or not. The album was recorded/mixed by Chris Charalambides at “Soundscape Studios” and mastered by 3x Latin Grammy-nominated, Alex Psaroudakis at “Alex Psaroudakis Mastering” in New York. So, you can bet the album packs that punch.

The album is certainly a gripping listen. The production is top-notch, with a great mix of all the instrumentation with Joakem’s vocals standing out. The complex and diverse rhythm patterns keep you hooked as you can never really guess where the song is going to go next. Also, the great balance of blasting synths and heavy guitars work well together. It comes together quite nicely and works for the range of styles that this album tries to tackle. Each song feels like a different sub-genre of rock and metal and no matter the style it still feels natural and the records keeps flowing. From all-out prog-metal to alt-rock and even some post-grunge elements work their way on to the album and it’s strange but all of the pieces work together and each song complement, as well as contrasts, with the previous.

Joakem’s vocals are indeed diverse as he manages to be competent in a variety of vocal techniques. I prefer his clean vocals over his guttural singing but that’s just me. I generally prefer clean vocals in music. It’s difficult to point at an element that lets the album down in a great way. I will say, that if you’re not into progressive music with changing time signatures and musical styles then this really isn’t the album for you. That’s sort of the let down for me, although it’s impressive, I prefer music to remain in a consistent style throughout. The high-points of the album are the more alt-rock and post-grunge style songs where he maintains more consistency, such as the opening track “A Peaceful Place” and the closing track “Departure”. However, I do think there is a happy medium for any fan of rock and metal.

Definitely an impressive and solid effort from an interesting artist. I would be more than happy to keep paying attention to him for future releases. Mind Matter is a decent record with a lot of positive aspects to it. It’s not something I would play all of the time, but if I’m in the right mood this is something I would consider putting on. If you’re interested in genre-mixing artists that break from normal convention, then Joakem might be up your alley.

4/5

Mick Birchall