Saturday, June 28, 2014

Skindred - Kill The Power

Skindred
Kill The Power
DoubleCross Records/Cooking Vinyl Limited

It’s been a long three years since Newport outfit Skindred last graced us with something new. And given how much I enjoyed 2011’s ‘Union Black’, I was really looking forward to seeing what the Welsh act had to offer on their latest effort ‘Kill The Power’.
Skindred (Who comprise of vocalist/keyboardist Benji Webbe, guitarist/backing vocalist Mikey Demus, bassist Daniel Pugsley and drummer Arya Goggin) have never been afraid to mixing things up from release to release. And true to form, the band’s fifth album is another step into new territory, while maintaining the band’s eclectic mish-mash of alternative metal, reggae rock, electronic rock and drum and bass. But while ‘Kill The Power’ is a solid Skindred album, I can’t help but feel that the band may be drifting into sonic territory that could potentially alienate some of their audience.
The opening title track ‘Kill The Power’ gets the album off a promising start, with the punchy track boasting the right amount of heavy riffs, bouncing reggae beats and a strong sing along chorus. In other words, it’s the kind of song that sums up the trademark Skindred sound in a single track in first class form.
But for all the promise the opener offered, the band stumble a little on the follow up track ‘Ruling Force’. The song isn’t terrible, but the band’s attempts to mix heavier passages alongside Prodigy like electronica sounds a little too forced and ill-fitting, which only comes across as confused. There’s a song in there somewhere, but it’s a little lost in the delivery.
The slower paced dubstep ‘Playing With The Devil’ doesn’t help matters much with its leaden vibe and lack of punch on the guitar front (Which is a shame because the lyrics on offer are some of the best on the album), but the album does eventually take a turn towards familiar terrain with the double punch of ‘Worlds On Fire’ and the heavy duty/Jamaican laced ‘Ninja’ (Which features a booming vocal introduction courtesy of Arthur Brown).
One track that really stood out for me is ‘The Kids Are Right Now’. Webbe tones down his accent quite a bit on this track, and when it’s coupled with a rather stripped back rock soundtrack and some dominant drums in the mix, it all comes across as a hit in the making. Perhaps on ‘Union Black’, this track would have worked quite well. But here, it sounds completely lost. It’s a rare case of the right song being placed on the wrong album.
Although solid enough, ‘We Live’ suffers the same fate as the former with its standard rock structures, power ballad-like tempo and repetitive choruses, and again comes across as another serious misstep. But as evident as it has been earlier in the album, the band strike back with a vengeance – this time with the guitar driven ‘Open Eyed’. Boasting a guest vocal appearance from former Un-Cut front woman Jenna G, ‘Open Eyed’ is classic Skindred, albeit with a greater melodic edge on the chorus front.
The reggae influenced ‘Dollars & Dimes’ and the acoustic based ‘More Fire’ are lightweight fillers apart from a bit of heavy guitars on the former, and are ultimately forgettable once their finished their run through. But once again, it’s the rocking ska-driven anthem ‘Saturday’ and the heavy blast of ‘Proceed With Caution’ that saves the tail end of the album from complete disaster.
‘Kill The Power’ isn’t a bad album, but it’s certainly one of Skindred’s weakest. The band’s willingness to push the boundaries is more than welcome, but when that push is towards mainstream pop/reggae/dubstep that’s lacking in inspiration, you just wish the band would stick to what they know and do best.
Skindred’s latest effort is a bit of a mixed bag, and if truth be told, a bit of a disappointment as a follow up to 2011’s rather impressive ‘Union Black’.

For more information on Skindred, check out - https://www.facebook.com/skindredofficial

© Justin Donnelly

Ginger Wildheart - Albion (Pledge Edition)

Ginger Wildheart
Albion (Pledge Edition)
Round Records

The last three years has without a doubt been the busiest Ginger Wildheart has ever been, with the singer/songwriter releasing no less than six studio albums in that time (2012’s triple album ‘555%’, 2013’s ‘Frankenstein Effect’ and ‘Error 500’ under the guise of Mutation and the self-titled debut effort from his Hey! Hello! Project in 2013). Obviously keen to continue striking while the iron’s still hot, Ginger has returned with his seventh album in three years – this time a solo effort entitled ‘Albion’.
Unlike the studio efforts Ginger has produced in recent times, ‘Albion’ is much more of a collaborative effort, with the album being performed by Ginger’s band from the last couple of years The Ginger Wildheart Band (Who otherwise comprise of vocalist/guitarist Ginger, Eureka Machines vocalist/guitarist/harmonium/percussionist Chris Catalyst, ex-Amen/Black Halos vocalist/guitarist Rich Jones, ex-Tragedy/Hey! Hello! vocalist Victoria Liedtke, ex-Cardiacs/The Wildhearts bassist/guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist ‘Random’ Jon Poole, Evil Arrows keyboardist/vocalist/string arranger Bryan Scary and Losers/Young Legionnaire drummer Dean ‘Denzel’ Pearson). And as you would expect, it’s the band that gives Ginger’s latest album a wholly different sound from what we’ve been offered from Ginger in recent years.
Opening with a riff that sounds like it’s been lifted from The Who’s ‘Baba O’Reilly’, ‘Drive’ quickly transforms into a straight ahead sing along rocker that’s as catchy as anything Ginger has ever written on the solo front (In particular the material on ‘555%’), but with enough twists and turns and differing sounds thrown into the mix to give the song a hugely epic feel. Lyrically, the song is about getting away from it all to find yourself, and really, Ginger couldn’t have picked a more perfect way to start the album both lyrically and musically.
The follow-up track ‘Cambria’ is something completely different altogether to the opener, with the pile-driving heaviness of the verses sounding like it could have slotted on the Mutation albums with considerable ease. But it’s during the choruses that things mellow out (In a Hey! Hello! Kind of way courtesy of Liedtke’s gorgeous vocals), and provide the song schizophrenic duality in full. Initially, the song didn’t grab me. But after a while, it’s certainly become a firm favourite.
‘The Road To Apple Cross’ follows a similar path to the former, albeit with a sound that’s more akin to The Wildhearts in the heavier parts, and a chorus that’s impossible not to sing along too, while Ginger’s ode to depression in ‘Order Of The Dog’ is reminiscent of the sweeping epic soundtrack styled songs found on 2008’s ‘Market Harbour’ with a chorus to match. This track is hands down one of my personal favourites on the album.
‘Chill, Motherfucker Chill’ is a chilled out anthem that is easy on the ears with its pop-like delivery, while Catalyst’s co-lead vocals on the progressive tinged rock anthem ‘Burn This City Down’ managed to deliver something completely new to Ginger’s vast musical repertoire.
One track that I’m not entirely in love with is the first single ‘Body Parts’. Perhaps it’s the deliberately cheesy keyboards, the throwaway lyrics or the somewhat obvious bass lines (There’s a definite nod to The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’), but either way I can’t help but feel that the song is one of the weaker efforts on the album. Another tragic misfire to my ears is the offbeat rocker/Silver Ginger 5-like follow-up track ‘The Beat Goes On (Caledonia)’. It’s not that it’s a bad track as such, but it’s a song that doesn’t grab me in the same way that most of the tracks on ‘Albion’ does.
‘After All You Said About Cowboys’ (Which was initially considered for recording during the sessions for ‘555%’) is the album’s sole ballad, and could have easily slotted on 2007’s ‘Yoni’ with its sparse instrumentation and lush backing vocals, while the disco-tinged full on tongue-in-cheek rocker ‘Grow A Pair’ and the semi-acoustic up-tempo ‘70’s blast of ‘I Need You’ are another couple of personal favourites.
The two minute blast of ‘Capital Anxiety’ is a punked up thrasher that could have easily slotted onto the Mutation albums with considerable ease, which is typically followed up with something completely different with The Beatles influenced/strings enhanced/psychedelic ‘Into This’. If anything, the two tracks side by side show the contrasts and breadth within Ginger’s song writing.
‘Creepers’ is a bit of an oddity in the structural sense, with the six minute track boasting complex arrangements and some great vocal play-offs between Ginger and Liedtke, while the closing title track ‘Albion’ is a lengthy ten minute number that brings to mind The Wildhearts at their most epic, albeit with a greater collection of differing and varying influences (Another borrowed riff from The Who, progressive rock passages, Liedtke’s convincing imitation of ‘30’s girl group vocals, Charlie Chaplin spoken word samples from ‘The Dictator’ and some quirky pop). ‘Creepers’ and ‘Albion’ are by far the album’s strangest and adventurous tracks, but also the best examples of just what Ginger is able to achieve in terms of delivering the unexpected.
As mentioned above, this is a review of the Pledge version of ‘Albion’, which is packaged with a bonus D.V.D.
The D.V.D. is split up into two halves, with the first a compilation of the entire studio updates pledges received about the upcoming ‘The Practical Musician’ album (Which eventually became known as ‘Albion’). Running for a touch over fifty minutes, the updates has its share of insightful moments. But the ones worthy of a special mention is the revisiting of ‘After All You Said About Cowboys’, the piecing together of ‘Body Parts’ and producer Kevin Vanbergen’s reflections as the assistant engineer on The Wildheart’s ‘Endless Nameless’ album from 1997.
The second half of the D.V.D. is ‘Albion – The Road Movie’. Of the two offerings, this is the pick. Over the course of its fifty-three minute running time, Ginger takes the viewer on a journey around the British coastline for three weeks (Albion is the oldest known name for the island of Great Britain), with the aim of finding inspiration for some new material (The aim was to write twenty-four tracks in twenty-four days!). There’s plenty of highlights, but those worthy of singling out include a quick first draft run through ‘Drive’, a rough rendition of Steve Earl’s ‘Valentine’s Day’ and Ginger’s brief rundown through his nightly/morning rituals.
Overall, ‘Albion’ is another triumph for Ginger as a song writer, and a credit to the talent that lies within the members of The Ginger Wildheart Band.

For more information on Ginger Wildheart, check out - https://www.facebook.com/officialginger

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, June 13, 2014

Crosson - Spreading The Rock ‘N’ Roll Disease

Crosson
Spreading The Rock ‘N’ Roll Disease
Galaxy Records

For an outfit that’s been doing the rounds for the better part of the last eight years, and have two previous releases to their name (2008’s ‘We Are The Future’ and 2011’s ‘Dreamer’), I’m surprised that I haven’t heard Sydney (Australia) based outfit Crosson before now. But as they say, it’s better late than never and here I am with Crosson’s latest E.P. effort ‘Spreading The Rock ‘N’ Roll Disease’.
Crosson (Who comprise of band members vocalist/guitarist Jason Crosson, guitarist Joel McDonald, bassist/backing vocalist John Katirtsides, drummer Jordan McDonald and backing vocalist Amanda Easton) have described themselves as theatrical rock, and if you were to judge a book by its cover, then they wouldn’t be far off the mark. But if you delve a little deeper and listen to what the band have to offer, then you’ll find it’s something completely different altogether.
The opening title track ‘Spreading The Rock ‘N’ Roll Disease’ gives a clear indication of what kind of music Crosson has to offer listeners, and it’s hard rock with a distinctly ‘80’s edge. But while it sounds appealing, Crosson don’t quite pull it off completely. Sure, the guitar solo is noteworthy, and the reverse cymbal effects during the breakdown is a cool blast from the past (I’m thinking of a track from Poison, and delivered courtesy of legendary mixer Duane Baron), but overall the song sounds flat and generic (Particularly on the lyrical front). Crosson’s vocals don’t help matters much with his Doc Neeson (The Angels) like snarl, which is at best, something that takes some getting used to.
The follow-up track ‘All About The Music’ (Which is the first promotional video clip filmed from the E.P.) fares a little better than the opener with its Kiss-like influences and female backing vocals, but is dragged down with Crosson’s lower register vocals (Which brings to mind a poor man’s Andrew Eldritch), while ‘Lies’, although still adhering to standard ‘80’s hard rock clichés, is without a doubt the strongest cut on the E.P. with its catchy anthem-like choruses and solid riffs.
Despite the band’s best attempts to keep the consistency of the former track flowing through to ‘Take Another Shot’, the song drifts without anything remarkable being added to make it stand out, while the attempt at adding a punk touch to ‘Taxman’ on the vocals is a complete disaster.
Finishing up the E.P. is ‘I’m Not Afraid’, which is again a good example of the lead guitar work on the E.P. that’s executed with class, but also the lack of song writing finesse to back it up.
While the band don’t take themselves too serious, it has to be said that the song writing is cliché and unremarkable, and Crosson’s vocals are sometimes hard to take.
In the end, I can’t say that ‘Spreading The Rock N Roll Disease’ is entirely terrible. It has its moments, even if they only appear briefly. But at the end of the day, this is hardly the kind of release that I’m likely to play after writing up this review, and that says more about the E.P. than anything else I could possible add here.

For more information on Crosson, check out - http://www.crosson.com.au/

© Justin Donnelly

Wicked City - Worsted Yarn

Wicked City
Worsted Yarn
Independent Release

Long running Brunswick (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) based heavy/stoner/punk/grunge rock outfit Wicked City have been long absent from the studio since the release of their second full-length album ‘With Wings’ (Which was released through Impedance Records) way back in 2009. But after a self imposed hiatus (Although the trio did release a bits and pieces/curio collection last year entitled ‘Jams, Ideas, Gags’ for fans), the band is back with their long awaited third full-length effort ‘Worsted Yarn’. And it’s another impressive slab of the band’s unpredictable brand of rock ‘n’ roll.
Wicked City (Who comprise of guitarist/vocalist Nick Grammenos, bassist/vocalist Patto Warner and drummer/lead vocalist Paddy Millman) launch their latest album with ‘Applegate’, which begins with a series of angular riffs, a thumping bass line and plenty of melody on the vocal front to keep the track somewhat on track for the listener. The band makes good use of incorporating highs and lows in both instrumentation and vibe, which helps to emphasise the band’s powerful array of dynamics. Quite simply, ‘Applegate’ is an explosive opener that showcases the band’s musicianship.
The follow on track ‘Slipstream’ is a fast paced effort that fuses elements of stoner groove and punk, and is perhaps one of the album’s more immediate tracks, while ‘Dog’s Life’ is a bludgeoning, raucous and somewhat odd stoner grooved tune that has the band turning things up a notch on the volume side of the musical equation, but keeping things melodic enough (Particularly in regards to the short but sweet guitar solos) to retain the listeners attention throughout.
‘Dead Friends’ is a slow burning turn towards doom territory, and is one of the rare tracks on the album that doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. Perhaps it’s the repetitiveness of the riff, the slow moving pace or the echoed effects on the vocals, but either way, the song doesn’t quite have ideas or changes in tempo to really go anywhere in general.
Things pick up with the shorter, fast paced and sci-fi themed ‘Planet X’, while the lengthy ‘Badlands’ is a perfect example of where the band allows themselves to stretch out and incorporate a wide variety of ideas into the one song to create a mini-epic of sorts. Shades of psychedelic rock, grunge and stoner grooves (Early Kyuss comes to mind in places) can be heard through the track’s seven minutes, and while it all sounds a little confused and messy, Wicked City manage to make it sound natural and free flowing throughout.
Like ‘Dog’s Life’, the punk influenced grunge-like ‘Grindstone’ is another immediate track for listeners with its fairly straightforward song writing framework and musical/vocal accompaniment, while the closer ‘Violent Mind’ is stylistically not to dissimilar to the opener with the song featuring plenty of ebb and flow on the dynamics front, but with a twisted aggression on the vocal front to add an air of menace to send the album off in a unhinged fashion.
Wicked City has never been the kind of band to cater to the masses. Their music isn’t always easy to dissect, and takes time to fully appreciate. But once you get your head around the music, it’s not hard to see why the band is hailed as one of the best outfits within the Melbourne underground scene.
It’s taken Wicked City a long time to return with their third album, but there’s no doubt that it’s a big step up from what was offered on ‘With Wings’, and an album worth seeking out.

For more information on Wicked City, check out - https://www.facebook.com/wickedcitymelbs

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Brainstorm - Firesoul (Limited Edition)

Brainstorm
Firesoul (Limited Edition)
AFM Records

If there’s one word that sums up Brainstorm’s output over the last seventeen years, it would be consistent. Although the German power metal outfit has occasionally experimented outside of its comfort zone, it has to be said that the band have yet to release an album that would be considered a complete disaster. Following on from 2011’s ‘On The Spur Of The Moment’, the five piece outfit (Comprising of ex-Ivanhoe/Symphorce vocalist Andy B. Franck, guitarists/backing vocalists Torsten Ihlenfeld and Milan Loncaric, bassist Antonio Ieva and drummer Dieter Bernert) are back with tenth full-length effort ‘Firesoul’.
According to the band, 2014 marks the band’s twenty-fifth anniversary, even though the band didn’t officially release their first album until 1997 (‘Hungry’). While some may debate the merits of the band’s anniversary, there’s no denying that ‘Firesoul’ is a worthy release to mark the occasion – especially in light of the direction the band took their sound over the last few releases.
The band gets the album underway in a particularly heavy fashion with the opening track ‘Erased By The Dark’, which is everything you would expect from Brainstorm, and then some! Franck is in exceptional form in terms of projecting power and offering soaring melodies, while the band pounds out some meaty riffs and driving rhythms to compliment the vocal efforts. The subtle keyboard orchestration (Delivered by long-time keyboard contributor Michael ‘Miro’ Rodenberg) adds an epic touch to proceedings, which only adds to the song’s overall powerful sound.
The title track ‘Firesoul’ is an instant favourite with its riff driven framing and Franck’s incredible melodies (The dual vocals Franck provides on this track are really impressive), while follow-up efforts ‘Descendants Of The Fire’, ‘Shadowseeker’, ‘Feed Me Lies’ and the darker toned ‘What Grows Inside’ represent some faster paced songs that boast the classic Brainstorm sound that fans have come to expect from the band over the years.
On the moodier and slower side of things, Brainstorm are no less potent, with the traditional metal anthem ‘Entering Solitude’, the outstanding ‘The Chosen’ (Which again sees the use of keyboard orchestration to give the song an epic feel) and the soaring melodic power of the album closer ‘...And I Wonder’ all showcasing a real return to form for Brainstorm on their tenth album.
In fact the only track that didn’t sit all that well with me was ‘Recall The Real’, which is a good song, but hindered with some rather awkward choral vocal efforts from Franck.
As mentioned above, this is a review for the limited edition version of ‘Firesoul’, which comes with an additional two tracks on the first disc. The first is ‘Disappeared’, which is an O.K. sounding faster paced track, but falls short on hitting the mark on the chorus front. The second effort is ‘Strangled’, which is a great track with its heavy riffing, dark vibe and powerful melodies. Although the feel of the song wouldn’t have fit perfectly with the album as a whole, as a bonus, it’s certainly a worthy track to seek out.
The limited edition version of ‘Firesoul’ also comes with a bonus live disc entitled ‘…12 Moments To Remember - Live At The BYH!?’, which as the title suggests, is an official live bootleg recording of the band’s 2011 performance from the renown German festival Bang Your Head!.
Anyone who’s been fortunate enough to catch the band playing live (Or has otherwise seen their live D.V.D. ‘Honey From The B’s (Beasting Around The Bush)’ from 2007), will know that Brainstorm can deliver on stage what they do on album, and this recording is no exception. Although the whole disc is of great quality, highlights include ‘Hollow Hideaway’, ‘Shiva’s Tears’, ‘All Those Words’ and ‘How Do You Feel’.
Brainstorm have always been a consistent and solid act, even if the band’s last few releases have seen the band stray a little from the sound that fans have hailed as the band’s true sound. But with ‘Firesoul’, the band have returned to form in a major way, and given fans an album that’s sure to be hailed as one of their finest since 2005’s ‘Liquid Monster’.

For more information on Brainstorm, check out - http://www.brainstorm-web.net/

© Justin Donnelly