Neil Morse – “Momentum” (InsideOut Music)
2012 has been a busy year for the ex Spock’s Beard multi instrumentalist / vocalist – and then some! Not only has he managed to come up with this superb neo prog album but simultaneously during the same studio sessions also managed a separate album of covers! “Momentum” is the former and certainly doesn’t lack it: along with long time collaborators Mike Portnoy and Randy George, Morse has recruited some fresh talent in Brazilian guitarist Adson Sodré, whose fluid guitar work is on par with his older peers, whose own musicianship is breathtaking! Right from the off with ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ to ‘Weathering Sky’ this is unashamed prog glory from classic quirky riffs to funky bass runs to dextrous technical drumming – and not forgetting Morse’s own monumental keyboards that reflect the full prog range from organ to space rock to atmospheric! But nothing, absolutely nothing can prepare you for the spectacular closer ‘World Without End’ – a 33 minute six part song that is nothing short of epic. I guess if prog could be defined musically, then this track would do it not just in its breath, but also the differing styles of prog it covers. And if that still wasn’t enough, Morse (a born again Christian) adds the icing on his fabulous cake with immortal lyrics like ‘..Jesus, you loved him once / when you were little/ but now can’t play second fiddle / for some pie in the sky..’ ! Revel in the pomp and majesty that is “Momentum”!!!
Elvenking – “Era” (AFM Records)
Elvenking are an Italian power metal band who infuse their sound with heaps of folk dance music. Along with melodic speed come fiddles, violins and whistles on the likes of ‘Poor Little Baroness’, ‘Chronicle Of A Frozen Era’ and ‘Through Wolf’s Eyes’, although Damna’s vocals are somewhat different, being more straight up rock n raw style, giving some of their ballads an almost AORish feel. The band also retain enough heavy metal influences in there too especially in the dual guitar melody breaks indicating some Maiden influences. Elvenking have been through various challenges in their 15 year career but I do think there is worth in their folk power metal, which is played well and passion – I guess my only gripe is having gone thru all that effort, the songs fall short of their epic potential almost teasing at being such, but never quite getting there in favour of a more rockier approach.
Oslo Ess – “Verden På Nakken, Venner I Ryggen” (Indie Recordings)
If you thought that Norway only held out for Black Metal, then prepare yourselves for the Norsk punk rock of Oslo Ess! Mixing Rancid with The Clash and a hint of Bruce Springsteen, Oslo Ess have brought it home with heaps of heart pounding melody, teenage angst and fiery punk rock on this unbelievably catchy sophomore album! Initially formed as a band among friends, there’s also a down to earth, coming of age innocence that also touches my heart on catchy songs like ‘God Morgen’, ‘Caroline’ and ‘Tøffe Gutter’ that have seen Oslo Ess soar from their debut hitting the Top 40, being nominated for a Norwegian Grammy, and being the most booked band in 2011 – man, these guys are on a roll! Deffo one for the moment, this album captures the heart felt passions and euphoria that only come once in a life from losing your virginity to winning your first fight – and being on the road with your own rock band – yeah!
Giants – “These Are The Days” (www.facebook.com/giantsuk)
‘..Are you fucking joking, cos you’re being serio-us..’ – oh yeah, I’m down with this shit served up steamin from Essex-core crew Giants. Although closer to Sarf End than Coney Island, these guys play a stonking 80s old school hardcore where heaps of adolescent energy made up for simplicity with raucous blistering vocals, catchy punk melodies and wailing wall choruses that soaked sweat into the likes of CBGB’s all those years ago. Giants are somewhat more sophisticated though, engaging some big sound production and injecting some emo core and even mello death hints that work a treat on songs like ‘Won’t Be Told’, ‘Bottled Up’ and ‘Another Day, Another Year’. Luvly Jubbly
Held By Horses – “In History” EP (www.facebook.com/heldbyhorses)
Wow, these guys (and one plucky lass) haven’t been together for even 2 years and they’re already creating quite a stir with songs like ‘The Last Word’ (featuring Never Means Maybe’s Renz Byrne)! Although rock in their roots, Held By Horses actually have a fair amount of gallop especially in their guitar work which also blends in some very cool alternate and emo core melodies like on ‘Down And Out’, leaving the listener with something to stay in their minds. Vocalist Harriet Reynolds also has the power, but opts wisely to use it thriftily, and instead concentrate on deepening her sultry femme vocals to bring real substance to songs like ‘Little Water’, which have enough emo passion to tame a wild stallion.
MIDNIGHT “Complete and Total Hell” CD/Double LP (Hells Headbangers)
Fuck yeah! This is the kinda “black” heavy metal I can get into. It’s as if Motorhead impregnated Venom and they had a punk rock baby. Fusing all the best elements of filthy satanic metal with the energy of hardcore and you get a highly charged and energetic album with a bright open sound, not “dark” and muddled. I can envision gigs with punks and metallers both enjoying this band a great deal. Complete & Total Hell compiles all of Midnight’s 21 tracks of material off EPs and split albums from before the release of the excellent Satanic Royalty album. This CD is also available in a double LP gatefold on silver (and black) vinyl for the collectors. The label is even putting out a fucking cassette tape edition – you bastards!
Much of Spectral Lore’s output on this CD seems to built on the one string black metal foundation with keyboards and lots of reverb over the top. The music contains a mountain of tempo and time changes but perhaps due to the wild smattering of riffing through each song, none of the tracks on Sentinel really stands out as memorable or “catchy”. The band is able to create a “spectral” atmosphere in the slower sections which is pretty good but these parts also suffer from being too short or too varied. The last two tracks of this six track CD are basically dark ambient. Overall some of their riffing is quite good in the metal parts, I guess for me there isn’t enough subtle repetition to become a hook and get me into the groove of their songs. There’s a level where technical riffing and cramming as much into one song as you can just becomes a chaotic mess (with keyboards and reverb thrown over the top) and this album has reached that level for me.
Korn – “Live At The Hollywood Palladium” CD/DVD (AFM Records)
I’m not a big fan of the nu metal genre but I think it would be reasonable to say that Korn pioneered that style back in the early 90s. Now, almost 20 years on, this live album shows Korn revolutionizing yet another sound, that of metal with dub and drum n bass. From what I can hear, the first seven songs like the Grammy nominated ‘Kill Mercy Within’ are from their last award winning album, “The Path Of Totality” that saw the band collaborate with a number of electronic producers like Shrillex and Datsik, and this is reflected in this live set, with each collaborator taking his turn onstage to spin out his respective track. Definitely not your usual show! However, for those of us who haven’t yet made the leap of faith, Korn also offer their usual pleasing hits – judging by the crowd’s roaring response – like ‘Freak On A Leash’ along with some early and less frequently played songs like ‘Predictable’. With the crowd groovin’ Jonathan Davis pushes out the envelope further with an ambitious cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ and a 1 minute rendition of Metallica’s ‘One’ – both slapped either side of ‘Shoots And Ladders’ – before closing with their first single ‘Blind’. You may not have been there, but by all accounts this musta been a kick ass show!
Liv Kristine – “Libertine” (Napalm Records)
Norway’s Liv Kristine is probably better known to most people as the vocalist of Leave’s Eyes and the former vocalist of Theater Of Tragedy. However, this solo release is something of a departure from both those bands, being more modern rock despite being released on a metal label like Napalm. I guess a clue to this solo material came from Liv’s cover of Kate Bush’s ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’, which she incidentally does fine justice to, and in a way tracks like ‘Meet Me In The Red Sky’ and ‘Wait For The Rain’ seem to also follow in succession, whilst utilizing elements from her past like light electronics, dual male harmonies and soft gothic rock to enhance her material still further. Like Bush, whose eclectic style saw her break the boundaries of rock conventionality, Kristine is also attempting to do the same here with the aptly titled “Libertine” which offers us unmitigated pleasure for those open enough to receive it.
Freitod – “Regenjahre” (Van Records)
Wow – like, if you crossed Katatonia with Emperor, the result could be Germany’s Freitod! Created by the sullen duo of R. Seyferth on Gruff Vocals/Drums and G. Eisenlauer on Clean Vocals/Guitars/Bass, Freitod takes trademark black metal riffing and raw vocals and runs it thru a melodic melancholic mix to produce a temperate but no less atmospherically powerful sound. While black metal relies on its evilness and intensity, Freitod concentrate on the inner soul and especially human emotions such as sadness, depression and ultimately, as the band name suggests, suicide. Ironically, songs like ‘Der Traumsturm’, ‘Nichtssagend’ and ‘Wenn Alles Zerbricht’ aren’t in themselves actually bleak, but the way they build within you thanks to the powerful vocals and harmonies is something else – quite a tribute if I might say so to Freitod’s powerful songwriting, that truly frees the spirit from within!