Nearly twenty years into this twenty first century of ours, and retro is once again the chicest tone in town. Fuzzed, bluesy guitars, seventies licks and threads, and an aching earnestness for a sound of yesteryear is where the coolest of cats are chilling. And down such alleyways we find Belgian quartet Black Mirrors and their impressive full length debut Look Into The Black Mirror (Napalm). Continue reading
I don’t think we were ever able to put the finger on Monster Magnet’s sound. Since 1989 Dave Wyndorf (who’s 61 and still doing the damn thing) and his changing roster have dabbled in Stoner Rock, Psychedelia, and even some Sludge. So, what’s the recipe for studio album eleven, Mindfucker (Napalm)? The take here is straightforward Rock music. Continue reading
Loss is one of life’s harshest realities that will affect everyone in some way, shape or form. Whether it is family, loved ones, close friends; death is the cruelest of inevitabilities in this most unforgiving of worlds. The grieving process is unique to all of us, in both how we deal with the emotional scarring and in how long recovery takes if indeed, it ever truly does or even begins at all. For some, it can be quick, whilst for others, it may be much longer before acceptance truly takes place. Continue reading
Twenty-four years since “Satyr” Wongraven and “Frost” Haraldstad came together in unholy musical matrimony, the core that makes up Satyricon have unveiled their ninth full-length album, Deep Calleth Upon Deep (Napalm). For the handful of uninitiated amongst thee, this was a band that initially set out refining folk-tinged Black Metal, before creating, defining and killing Urban Black Metal in one fell swoop (only Admiron Black – also Moonfog – by Gehenna came close) with the meisterstück and game-changing Rebel Extravaganza (Moonfog). Always one of the genre leaders, both in terms of quality and innovation, their boldness was rewarded with a profile turbo-boost courtesy of Pantera taking them out as main support. Continue reading
As a semi-renowned gobshite par excellence, it’s genuinely not often I’m confused, but the levels of confusion upon first listening to Russkaja’s latest droppings Kosmopoliturbo (Napalm) caused existential crisis levels of befuddlement. Continue reading
When I spoke to former Kyuss frontman John Garcia in 2014, he said the follow-up to his debut solo record could easily be an album of covers. In truth, Garcia’s sophomore album, The Coyote Who Spoke In Tongues (Napalm), is instead an extension of his ‘An Evening With’ unplugged tour; nine tracks of stripped back acoustic music, featuring re-imaginings of Kyuss classics and some new material. Continue reading
If you’re already a member of the Newport Helicopter Crew, you’ll probably know all of this, but if you’re new to Skindred, then let me take a minute to give you some background.
Back in the mid-90s, popular music genres were much broader than they are today. Music labels were still confident in their ultimate power over distribution and exposure, and alternative bands had to have their own unique sound to stand out and grab the attention of A&R reps. In a dark, grimy, beer-soaked corner between metal, indie, dance & pop lived a group of bands that resisted all attempts at pigeon holing. Every band was an eclectic mix of influences and all were as different from each other as they were from the mainstream.
Alongside the likes of Senser, Pop Will Eat Itself, Collapsed Lung, Jesus Jones, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine was a four-piece Welsh juggernaut called Dub War. Mixing metal, ragga and punk with dub and hip hop, the band put out two landmark albums via Earache Records before splitting up in 1999 due to disputes with the label, and from the ashes (well – Benji) of Dub War rose the mighty Skindred.
Featuring a more driven, heavier and ultimately far more successful sound, Skindred’s first album – Bablyon (Bieler Bros./Lava) – was a critical and (eventually) commercial success having featured on a myriad of charts (twice #1 on the Billboard reggae albums chart!) by its 3rd release. Whilst remaining similar in tone and content to Dub War, there was more subtle focus of guitar riffing in both the writing and the (clearly superior) production. The second album – Roots Rock Riot (Bieler Bros.) – signalled a move away from the old Dub War approach, establishing the distinct Skindred sound (which I shall call Skank Metal) in its own right and delivering the band squarely into the arms of the metal fraternity. From then through to 2011’s Union Black (BMG), fans have been treated to massive downtuned riffs, shoutalong breaks, roughneck vocals and sub bass drops as the band have motored through headline academy-level tours and 50k+ festival crowds. Last year’s Kill The Power (BMG) throttled back somewhat with a mellower and more varied sound.
Volume (Napalm) is Skindred’s sixth studio album, following hard on the heels of the last release (only one year between releases rather than the usual two or more), and seems in many ways to have come full circle. From the outset with ‘Under Attack’ there is a distinct and nostalgic return to the Dub War vibe. ‘Volume’ and ‘Hit The Ground’ are sublime fusions of old War and new ‘Dred. ‘Shut Ya Mouth’ is sure to be a moshpit favourite – it’s going to sound monstrous live – and ‘The Healing’ is a swaggering singalong with a euphoric chorus and some random sampling for an outro. ‘Sound the Siren’ has set-opener written all over it, ‘Saying It Now’ returns squarely to Dub War ‘Million Dollar Love’ territory, whilst ‘Straight Jacket’ is possibly the perfect song to show the uninitiated what Skindred is all about, ‘No Justice’ is a punky skankathon, ‘Stand Up’s Slash-esque rolling riff displays some classic rock chops and the show is closed with the near-ballad of ‘Three Words’.
In an age of bands that sometime seem shameless in their adherence to the confines of their parent (sub)genres, Skindred are an inspiration. There’s still no-one sounding remotely like them. Long may they continue.
I have to admit, bands re-recording their old material isn’t an exercise I feel is altogether necessary. The odd track here and there is fine; some songs do occasionally require a spot of post-release tinkering. But recording an entire album a second time, decades later? Unless it’s being released as a bonus disc to accompany a new record, or there’s a clear intention to bring something new to the table, then it all seems a bit pointless.
When most bands guilty of this fairly recent phenomenon first started out, they were driven by fierce determination. Their music spoke with a belligerent snarl and classics were created because of it. They were young bands out to prove a point and if they made mistakes during the process, who cared? If the songs were good then they grabbed you by the throat, and technicalities like bum notes and poor timing would eventually work themselves out somewhere else, further down the line.
No matter how improved these musicians (the remaining ones at least) may have become, and despite how hard they might try, the sound, enthusiasm and feeling captured back then can never be replicated. Some bands, like Exodus and Let there Be Blood (Megaforce) come close, some miss the mark by trying to fix things which weren’t broken in the first place (Megadeth – all of those “remasters”), and some, Manowar – Kings of Metal MMXIV (Magic Circle) I’m looking at you, are just horrifying abominations.
Thankfully, by taking their cue from Testament‘s First Strike Still Deadly (Spitfire) and choosing to re-record an assortment of songs rather than a complete album, German band Grave Digger have at least spared themselves some of that unwanted baggage. Unfortunately, there’s not an awful lot else to say in favour of 35 Year anniversary (is that even a thing?) album Exhumation (Napalm).
As it turns out, Exhumation is the perfect title for this well performed, but ultimately lifeless collection. When Grave Digger belted out tunes like ‘Witch Hunter’ or ‘Headbanging Man’ back in the day, there was scant regard for precision riffing and metronomic timing. It was all about flailing hair, ragged guitars, and flying fingers. Singer Chris Boltendahl sounded like a barefoot Udo Dirkschneider standing on a lego brick, the drums were all over the place, and it sounded fantastic.
These new versions just sound far too neat and tidy. Controlled playing rather than speed-driven chaos, it’s the sound of mature musicians performing within themselves to avoid making any of those youthful mistakes. On top of that, the band have also changed the title of ‘Playin’ Fools’ to ‘Playing Fools’. So, not content with trying to improve their old songs, it seems they’re trying to improve their old grammar too.
With Exhumation, Grave Digger (remember that ill-advised, but thankfully brief spell where they were known only as Digger?) have tried to make brilliantly flawed songs sound better by tightening things up, but seem to have forgotten that playing fast and loose while casually ripping off Iron Maiden, Scorpions and Accept was a big part of their original charm. I’m sure they’ll get back on track soon enough, but for now, I’m afraid the Heavy Metal Breakdown has temporarily, er… broken down.
As much as we celebrate those bands on the cutting edge, the ones that push the sonic boundaries time and time again, sometimes all you really need is some adrenaline inducing, straight up rock. The kind that makes you want to grab a beer, scream along and air guitar like an absolute loon with a massive grin on your face. Toronto, Canada based rockers Diemonds may be relatively new on the block but they deliver such euphoria in absolute abundance already.
Following two well received EPs, Never Wanna Die (Napalm) is the band’s first full length effort and delivers a surprisingly solid release brimming with youthful energy and attitude. Despite the modern thrash looking album cover, this is pretty straightforward hard rock that touches upon just about the standard topics; being rebellious and that red, horned fellow. As cliché as it may prove in part it has a believable defiance about it which saves it from sounding disingenuous and manufactured.
It also helps that much of it is so infectious right from the off. The title track proves a cumbersome start as momentum picks up, and the slower ‘Secret’ proves somewhat cringe-worthy but otherwise this is hook laden and very infectious, coupled with the fact that in Priya Panda they have a front woman with a strong set of pipes and, once again, an engaging and very convincing dangerous streak.
You may need to leave your brain at the door for this one (lyrically there isn’t much to philosophize about), but with their début album Diemonds have proven they are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to penning stupid but immensely fun hard rock, perfect for that aforementioned beer.
Life is full of mysteries: how does the universe expand into nothing? How did The Miz ever headline Wrestlemania, why has the UK Eurovision board not called Skindred yet, and most baffling of all, how have polka metallers (?!?) Russkaja maintained a career for so long? Metal has come with a huge degree of silliness for some time, folk metal especially at times requires you to leave your mind at the door and go nuts (may also contain disco). Russkaja’s brand of Russian Turbo Folk with Ska is a step too far however, and instead proves as fun as stapling your genitals to a grizzly bear.
Given their due, Russkaja have definitely covered new ground, combining traditional Russian Polka which will be unfamiliar to many, with the bombast and sunshine of Ska upon a metal driving engine; a formula which has deviated little over the 4 album career. The problem which becomes even more apparent on Peace, Love & Russian Roll (Napalm) is how the absurdity feels forced and lacks any charm. At the songwriting’s best they are often forgettable, at its very worst, parts will burrow in to your head through sheer annoyance rather than being catchy and instant, for example ‘El Pueblo Unido’, particularly with its whistled introduction.
Fitting closely with folk metal, often this style requires a suspension of belief in return for grin inducing ecstasy; instead Peace, Love & Russian Roll leaves little more than a grimace at best. The unique idea and approach is commendable but comes off like a car crash as nuances, instruments and passages are seemingly forced in to try and grab you and make you have fun, much like the class clown who tries too many tricks to look funny and instead just becomes an irritant.