Monday, May 27, 2013

Bullet For My Valentine - Temper Temper (Deluxe Edition)

Bullet For My Valentine
Temper Temper (Deluxe Edition)
RCA Records/Sony Music Australia

When Welsh outfit Bullet For My Valentine released their debut full-length effort ‘The Poison’ in 2005, I was left unimpressed. Sure, the album did have a few solid songs, but overall I couldn’t get past the fact that the band’s brand of metalcore sounded a lot like several other metalcore acts that seemed to have saturated the scene at the time. Their follow-up effort ‘Scream Aim Fire’ (2008) may have shown a bit of progression on the song writing front, but I was still less than convinced of the band’s ability to truly stand out amongst the masses.
It wasn’t until the release of ‘Fever’ (2010) that Bullet For My Valentine managed to hold my attention from start to finish. Yes, the songs were quite melodic, and they still hadn’t managed to break free from the generic sound they started off with, but the drop in metalcore in favour of a more straight forward heavy metal sound and the sheer catchiness of the songs on the album worked in the band’s favour.
It’s been three years since then, and Bullet For My Valentine (Who comprise of lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Matthew Tuck, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Michael ‘Padge’ Paget, bassist/backing vocalist Jason James and drummer Michael ‘Moose’ Thomas) are back with their fourth full-length effort ‘Temper Temper’. And to be honest, it’s a bit of a disappointment.
The album opens with plenty of promise, with ‘Breaking Point’ boasting some tight knit riffing, some aggressive vocal passages from Tuck, a shredding solo from Paget and choruses that are every bit as catchy and memorable as anything Bullet For My Valentine have ever presented listeners.
The follow-up track ‘Truth Hurts’ is another strong song with a good mix of the melodic and the aggressive, but by the time the band kick into the first single/title track ‘Temper Temper’, it’s clear that like all of the band’s previous releases, this album was going to be another patchy effort. ‘Temper Temper’ isn’t a terrible song, but a fairly bland one at best. Part of the problem is the cliché lyrics, which come across as rather childish in light of the band’s comments about producing music that was going to sound more mature than anything released in the past. The other problem is the production (Handled by ‘Fever’ producer Don Gilmore), which in all honesty, sounds weak, and devoid of any of the harsh grittiness of the Bullet For My Valentine of old. The last problem is the genuine lack of innovation in the band’s songs. Yes, they’re melodic and catchy, but hardly the kind of songs that show any real progression beyond what they achieved on ‘Fever’.
In terms of solid efforts, unearthing gems on ‘Temper Temper’ is a bit of a challenge as everything on the album sounds like it was written to primarily appeal to the masses. But at a push, ‘P.O.W.’ (The second single lifted from the album), the Metallica sounding ‘Saints & Sinners’ and ‘Livin’ Life (On The Edge Of A Knife)’ are the stronger efforts alongside the opening pair of numbers.
In terms of bonus tracks on the deluxe edition of the album, the studio track ‘Not Invincible’ is actually a really strong song. There’s some cool guitar work throughout the song, and the production actually sounds raw and heavy. It begs the question why the best song on ‘Temper Temper’ happens to be a bonus studio cut only found on the deluxe edition. This is definitely a highlight.
The final two tracks, a cover of AC/DC’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ and ‘Scream Aim Fire’, are live recordings from the band’s appearance on the ‘Live Lounge’ show on BBC Radio 1 from October 2012. Both are a bit shaky and rough, but solid enough to be enjoyable.
Despite making a concerted effort to progress from album to album, Bullet For My Valentine have made a deliberate attempt to repeat the success and sound of ‘Fever’ with ‘Temper Temper’. I have no doubt that fans of the band will eagerly enjoy ‘Temper Temper’, but I’m not one of them. For me,
‘Fever’ still stands as the stronger album of the two by a long way.
And for those hoping for a return of ‘The Poison’ era type of heavy sound, I suggest you check out Tuck’s side project AxeWound. Their debut effort ‘Vultures’ (2012) is everything Bullet For My Valentine could ever hope to be – Heavy, but with a high calibre of quality song writing that makes it far more memorable in the long run.

For more information on Bullet For My Valentine, check out - http://www.bulletformyvalentine.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Spiritual Beggars - Earth Blues

Spiritual Beggars
Earth Blues
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

When Swedish classic hard rock/stoner rock outfit Spiritual Beggars announced the departure of Grand Magus vocalist Janne ‘JB’ Christoffersson from their ranks, and the recruitment of Firewind vocalist Apollo Papathanasio as his replacement in 2010, I had my reservations. On the one hand, I considered the band’s releases with Christoffersson (2002’s ‘On Fire’ and 2005’s ‘Demons’) as fairly solid, but far from their best. But on the other hand, while I have always enjoyed Papathanasio’s voice, I wasn’t entirely convinced that he would suit Spiritual Beggars’ retro rocking sound.
But my concerns were unfounded after a single listen of the band’s 2010 release ‘Return To Zero’. Papathanasio not only proved to be the perfect front man for the band, but the band themselves (Who comprise of ex-Carcass/Arch Enemy guitarist Michael Amott, Witchery/Arch Enemy bassist Sharlee D’Angelo, ex-Opeth/Candlemass keyboardist Per Wiberg and ex-Firebird/Grand Magus drummer Ludwig Witt) sounded more inspired than they had done in years.
Obviously keen to capitalise on their return to form, Spiritual Beggars have retained the same line-up and put together a new album in ‘Earth Blues’. And as expected, the album is once again another classic slab of vintage heavy rock.
The album immediately lurches into overdrive with the fantastic ‘Wise As A Serpent’. With a strong Deep Purple like organ presence throughout, some understated guitar riffs from Amott and Papathanasio giving the song his best David Coverdale impression, ‘Wise As A Serpent’ is classic rock with a blues touch, and the sound of Spiritual Beggars at their best.
With a touch less speed and a little extra heaviness on the riff front, the Black Sabbath influenced ‘Turn The Tide’ keeps the rock coming in a major way, with the heavily grooved ‘Sweet Magic Pain’ and the Thin Lizzy sounding high octane rocker ‘Hello Sorrow’ following suit.
Wiberg’s distinctive keyboard sounds stand out big time on the straight forward hard rocker ‘One Man’s Curse’, while on the laid back ballad ‘Dreamer’, Papathanasio delivers plenty of emotion into his performance to match Amott’s stunning Michael Schenker sounding shred work on the tail end of the track. Needless to say, the latter is definitely an album stand out.
A subtle hint of funk and groove is evident in ‘Too Old To Die Young’, while the heavy mix of guitar riffs and keyboard sounds on ‘Kingmaker’ brings back classic MK III/IV Deep Purple sound with a modern twist.
Towards the latter half of the album, it’s clear that Spiritual Beggars have plenty left in the tank, with the energetic ‘Road To Madness’, the riff heavy and simple ‘Dead End Town’ and the up-tempo anthem ‘Freedom Song’ making sure the consistency is at an all time high. Finishing up the album is the slower paced ‘Legends Collapse’, which is as heavy as it is powerful, and the perfect song to bring ‘Earth Blues’ to a conclusion.
Spiritual Beggars’ early releases have earned plenty of critical acclaim from both fans and critics alike. But with their last few albums, the continual line-up changes and inconsistencies have weakened the band’s sound, which have in turn disappointed some fans. But with ‘Earth Blues’, not only has the band found the perfect line-up, they’ve managed to produce an absolute classic release. Simply put – fans of the band’s early output should check this out. It’s that good.

For more information on Spiritual Beggars, check out - http://www.spiritualbeggars.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tracey Thorn - Bedsit Disco Queen - How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Pop Star

Tracey Thorn
Bedsit Disco Queen - How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Pop Star
Virago Press/Little, Brown Book Group/Hachette Australia

It comes as no surprise to discover that the bulk of this autobiography was finished way back in 2007, and virtually forgotten about for the next four years to be eventually unearthed when Tracey Thorn, one half of the hugely successful group Everything But The Girl, was moving house. While the idea to release the autobiography was a high priority at the time, circumstances and priorities change, and the best laid plans were put on the backburner, only to be misplaced when real life takes over.
Despite the book’s long gestation, Thorn’s autobiography, ‘Bedsit Disco Queen - How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Pop Star’, has finally hit the shelves, and it’s a must have for fans of both Everything But The Girl and Thorn’s solo work.
As you would expect, within the three hundred and sixty five pages of ‘Bedsit Disco Queen - How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Pop Star’, Thorn gives readers plenty of insight into the earliest musical output with the highly influential post-punk outfit the Marine Girls, her long running career with Everything But The Girl, her various collaborative efforts (In particular alongside the likes of Paul Weller and Massive Attack) and her successful solo career after Everything But The Girl had been put on ice.
But While Thorn’s music is well known to most, it’s Thorn herself who remains the real mystery. Sure, Thorn’s life has been documented to some extent through countless interviews over the years, but on a seriously personal level, Thorn still remains an enigma.
It’s within this literary effort that Thorn finally opens up and invites the outside world into her world, both on a musical and personal level – which allows Thorn to present herself for who she really is. And that’s a reluctant performer that emerged from out of the wardrobe to eventually become a pop star in a group that enjoyed global success, only to eventually leave it all behind to lead a completely different life.
For the most part, Thorn draws a lot of the early history within ‘Bedsit Disco Queen - How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Pop Star’ from early journal entries, reviews, interviews and her own memory. This, coupled with hindsight, offers a fascinating insight into what shaped and influenced Thorn as an individual, as well as provide an idea of what it was like growing up in the U.K.’s music and social; scene in the ‘80’s.
Thorn’s recollections of her stint as a member of the short lived Marine Girls is a fascinating read, and the details behind the recording of their two albums (1981’s ‘Beach Party’ and 1983’s ‘Lazy Ways’) is no less riveting given how much influence the albums would have on others in years to come.
When the book turns toward the introduction of Ben Watt (Who is Thorn’s husband and the other half of Everything But The Girl) and the formation of Everything But The Girl, Thorn is quite forthright about the group’s success and failures over their eighteen year career, and about her own insecurities as both a singer and performer. Thorn is honest enough to single out particular eras of the group that were unexpected successes, as well as speak forthright about eras where the band were trying things that didn’t work at all, which makes the book nothing less than a fascinating read.
But outside of musical endeavours, Thorn discusses on her relationship with Watt, Watt’s extensive hospitalisation (With the rare disease Churg-Strauss syndrome), and how that played a big role in Thorn’s personal life, and its flow on effect in the musical sense.
Not surprisingly, the story behind the disbanding of Everything But The Girl is a personal one, and one that makes sense of Thorn’s life after the band – and that’s motherhood. From the outside looking in, the decision for the duo to fold at a time when they were on the cusp of worldwide success simply didn’t make sense (The band turned down a major tour supporting U2 at the time), but Thorn’s book goes to great lengths to explain the reasons why, and how it would benefit the pair’s future in ways they would never have previously thought possible.
‘Bedsit Disco Queen - How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Pop Star’ is a fascinating and quite personal tale of Thorn’s life, both as a reluctant/self conscious pop star and song writer, and the life she chose for herself after her interest in the music world took a backseat.
If you’re a fan of Everything But The Girl, or Thorn’s vast body of solo work, this book is nothing short of essential.

For more information on Tracey Thorn, check out - http://www.traceythorn.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Breed 77 - The Evil Inside (Deluxe Edition)

Breed 77
The Evil Inside (Deluxe Edition)
Global Music Ltd./Demolition Records

Outside the release of the fan only E.P. release ‘Under The Skin’ (Which was an acoustic collection of old favourites, a new song and a cover), it’s been a long three years since Gibraltar/U.K. based outfit Breed 77 last released something new studio wise for fans to devour. But after what seemed like an eternity, the five piece flamenco flavoured/alternative outfit has finally released their long awaited follow-up to 2009’s ‘Insects’ with ‘The Evil Inside’.
On their sixth full-length release, Breed 77 (Who comprise of lead vocalist Paul Isola, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Danny Felice, rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Pedro Caparros López, bassist Stuart Cavilla and drummer/percussionist Andre Joyzi) have once again moved on and evolved in the musical sense, and once again delivered an album that stands apart from anything the band has released in the past.
The album is opened up with ‘Drown’, which was unofficially the first single from the album after being made available for free download for fans late last year. The song is a heavy mid-paced opener that showcases a simpler and more straightforward-like song writing style for the band, with the group’s trademark Latin influences taking a backseat to heavier guitar riffs and upfront melodic choruses. Despite the band’s direct song writing approach, Isola’s strong vocal melodies and catchy choruses give the song its distinct character, and help get the album off to a solid start.
The follow-up track ‘Broken Pieces’ is classic Breed 77 with its subtle Latin influenced acoustic guitar work behind the traditional heavy riffs, Felice’s standout lead work and Isola’s dual vocal approach, while ‘Fear’
seems to blend elements of the new and the old sounds, which means that it’s a little catchier and simpler in terms of song writing from the band, but still with enough Latin influences to please long time fans of the band.
In terms of the new, the mid-paced ‘Looking For Myself’ is a definite favourite, as too is the fast paced and decidedly more metallic sounding ‘2Face’. But what worked on these two former tracks doesn’t necessarily work for all of the tracks in the same vein, with the flamenco tinged slow burner ‘Low’ (Which originally debuted in acoustic form on ‘Under The Skin’), the plodding title track ‘The Evil Inside’, the unremarkable ‘Higher’ and the somewhat bland ‘Burn City Burn’ coming across as good, but hardly what you would call the strongest of songs Breed 77 are capable of delivering.
On a more positive note, ‘Bring On The Rain’ (Which is officially the first single from the album) is bolstered with some great backing vocals, which turns what could have been an ordinary track into a full-blown anthem, while the introspective and moody ‘Motionless’ is a mix of traditional Latin acoustic work, subtle orchestration and straight out classic rock/metal, and provides the album with an epic closer that rivals fellow fan favourite ‘The River’ (From 2004’s ‘Cultura’).
In terms of bonus tracks for the deluxe version of ‘The Evil Inside’, the extras are a bit like the album itself in terms of being a bit hit and miss. The band’s cover of Alice Cooper’s ‘Poison’ (From 1989’s ‘Trash’) is lacklustre at best, and seems devoid of any real spark. The bonus studio track ‘The Fallen’ does fare a little better, but hardly the kind of track that many would consider Breed 77’s best.
The closing two tracks, ‘Ceigo’ (From 2007’s ‘Un Encuentro’) and ‘The Battle Of Hatin’ (From 2009’s ‘Insects’), are live recordings from the band’s 2010 tour of Madrid (Spain), which are solid representations of what the band sound like on stage. Perhaps they’re a little thin sounding, and raw in places, but worthy additions nonetheless.
Overall, ‘The Evil Inside’ showcases a different side to Breed 77’s unique sound. And while not everything on the album works, there’s more than enough here to keep diehard fans pleased.

For more information on Breed 77, check out - http://www.breed77.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Adrenaline Mob - Covertá

Adrenaline Mob
Covertá
Elm City Music

When former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy and Symphony X vocalist Russell Allen announced plans to form a new group under the name of Adrenaline Mob, many were excited. And with good reason too. After all, Portnoy is one of the progressive rock scene’s celebrated drummers, and Allen is an incredible vocalist. But despite the hype surrounding the all-star project, the band’s debut self titled E.P. (Released independently in 2011) and their debut full-length effort ‘Omertá’ (Released in 2012 through Capitol Records) left many disappointed with the band’s offering. In spite of the lukewarm reception to their releases, Adrenaline Mob (Who aside from Allen and Portnoy, comprise of Tred lead/rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Mike Orlando and Disturbed bassist John Moyer) have managed to established themselves as a formidable live act through relentless touring over the last couple of years.
With twelve months having passed since the release of ‘Omertá’, Adrenaline Mob has once again hit the studio. But rather than rush release a new studio album, the New York (U.S.) based outfit have instead decided to put together an E.P. of covers as a way to tide fans over until their next full-length effort.
Given my own disappointment with ‘Omertá’, and the growing trend of band’s releasing cover albums (Anthrax’s ‘Anthems’ springs to mind, and Alice Cooper’s plans to do release a covers album in the near future), the prospect of ‘Covertá’ winning me over seemed distant at best. And sure enough, while Adrenaline Mob’s new release is solid, it’s hardly a definitive statement on what the band are able to achieve given their all-star line-up.
The band opens up their E.P. with a cover of Badlands’ classic ‘High Wire’ (Which appeared on their self-titled debut from 1989), and it’s a great rendition from the band. Allen puts in an inspired performance (He well and truly matches Ray Gillen’s higher range vocal gymnastics), while Orlando nails Jake E. Lee’s guitar riffs and leads to perfection. Although staying true to the original, Adrenaline Mob manages to give the classic tune a little added heaviness through a modern production. In the end, it’s a great cover, and credit must be given to the band for covering a song that’s outside of the standard cliché choice of most.
One of the more disappointing aspects of ‘Covertá’ is that the band has decided to cover no less than three Ronnie James Dio tracks. While all three tracks do cover three completely different eras of Dio’s celebrated career (Dio is represented with 1993’s ‘Stand Up And Shout’, Black Sabbath with 1981’s ‘The Mob Rules’ and Rainbow via 1978’s ‘Kill The King’), their inclusions on this eight track E.P. seem to overshadow the overall bulk of the track listing. And the fact that ‘The Mob Rules’ was lifted directly from their debut E.P., the band’s tribute to Dio comes across as overkill. But despite my criticisms, the covers are really well done with ‘Stand Up And Shout’ a real stand out.
I’ve never been a huge fan of The Doors, but was impressed with the way the band managed to beef up the band’s signature tune ‘Break On Through’ (From the band’s self-titled debut from 1967), especially on the guitar front, where Orlando cleverly reworks the keyboards of the original to suit the guitar. In a similar reworked form, the band’s take on Heart’s classic ‘Barracuda’ (From 1977’s ‘Little Queen’) is given a bit more grunt on the guitar front, while Allen provides a truly convincing Ann Wilson impersonation, without losing any of his trademark vocal sound in the process. Yes, it sounds confusing, but makes sense when you hear it.
Another noteworthy track is the band’s cover of Van Halen’s ‘Romeo Delight’ (From 1980’s ‘Women And Children First’), which squeezes in a touch of ‘Top Jimmy’ (From ‘1984’) towards the tail end. But much like their cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Lemon Song’ (From 1969’s ‘Led Zeppelin II’), it’s fairly faithful to the original.
If anything, ‘Covertá’ is a fun listen. But if you’re looking for Adrenaline Mob to outshine their lacklustre ‘Omertá’, I’m afraid we’ll all have to wait a bit longer.

For more information on Adrenaline Mob, check out - http://www.adrenalinemob.com/

© Justin Donnelly