Monday, 28 January 2013

Review: Biffy Clyro - Opposites

If you were to find yourself back in the spring of 2000 at The Practice Pad in Glasgow, what kind of reaction do you think you'd get when you found three young adults, Simon Neil, James Johnston and Ben Johnston recording Thekidswhopoptodaywillrocktomorrow, the first recorded material to come out under the name of Biffy Clyro and told the trio that in thirteen years time, they'd be regarded as one of the finest bands to come out of the UK in the past decade and that everyone was going out in their masses to buy their double album, Opposites? Chances are, they'd burst out laughing at you and try and get an offer of the drugs they assumed you were taking.

But as we all know, these far fetched fantasies of 2000 are the realities of 2013 that we can witness unfold throughout the progressiveness of the back catalogue of the Biff. From the deranged post-hardcore blasters that were unleashed from 2002's Blackened Sky to 2004's Infinity Land to 2007's Puzzle, the album that changed everything as it punched a huge dent in the face of mainstream rock and proved that off-the-wall songwriting still has it's place in a world where big choruses and melodies rule, to it's triumphant follow up of 2009's Only Revolutions, a masterclass of stadium rock grandeur that let the entire nation know what their name was, the entire body of Biffy Clyro is one that proves there really is nothing they can't do. And it should be fairly obvious, but they can tick making a double album off of that list as well.

I suppose we should start with the beginning of the album. The last time a rock double album managed to excite the world over, it burst straight into action on a song called Right Next Door to Hell, however things are dealt with a more graceful progressive manner here as the album's first part The Sand at the Core of Our Bones opens with Different People which rises to action with a grand rising of church organs that stick listeners straight into a cautious state, unknowing of what will happen next. As it happens, the rest of the song unfolds in a warm spirited manner, more delicate but equally as able to put a feeling of good hearted indestructibility within you as the instant anthem-structures of The Captain or Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies. But with a dazzling range of strong melodies and a band performance that highlights the delirium Ben Johnston puts into his drumming, it shows that Biffy are back and taking no prisoners.

From there on, the band let rip and do what it is they know best, constructing immersive works of music that covers a wide emotional spectrum and bringing in instruments and influences that show they work without any rules or constraints. Black Chandelier serves effectively as a grand retrospective of the band's full career, as it plays out as the grand stadium filler we know they are capable of that goes on to show no fear of throwing in a massive and fully heavy breakdown that harks back good memories of their post hardcore days, while the fusion of stadium filling strength and weird songwriting with irregular-time signatures rattled out by Neil forms through on the crunching Sounds Like Balloons, where's Neil's immense lyrical skills bursts out in his furious chants of "Ancient Rome, we built that fucker stone by stone/ Our fingers bled, our feet were worn/ but we stood strong and carried on."

Much of the emotion packed has a very extreme rawness. The immediate obvious tones of pain and regret that flows through Opposite as Simon announces "Baby I'm leaving here/ You need to be with somebody else" is let out with such a crisp simplicity that it can't really do anything except for break your heart, as does the niche delicacy that comes out Bliblical's tales of something beautiful reaching and end and The Thaw that weaves out pleasant memories of the early 2000's emo explosion. However, much of Opposite's songwriting trades tears for triumph. The album's second part The Land at the End of Our Toes opens with the monstrous Stingin' Belle, an opener that sounds like a heavier chuggier version of Foo Fighters' Long Road to Ruin that features riffs and basslines from Simon and James which explains why it is that they are allowed to play at festivals like Download and Sonisphere to the dismay of many metalheads. The immense melodies and sing along harmonies and chorus penmanship worked into the likes of the graceful Victory Over the Sun, which makes beautiful use of backing strings and the blazing riff fests of Pocket ought to make you feel little else but absolute joy. That and it will probably be difficult for me to find a piece of music this year that has made me smile like the outro of Picture a Knife Fight.

The music itself flows along in it's own sense of class that opts not to do the same thing twice. When the band choose to lay down on the guitars and drums they do it just right, with the likes of Modern Magic Formula, The Jokes On Us, Little Hospitals and Woo Woo are four songs that will slay live. But there's again further influences here that go beyond the band's obvious ear for the Foos, Nirvana and The Pixies. The Fog builds up to a demented outro with the droning ventures into unsettling noise that brings back vague Swans memories while the doomy Skylight builds into a territory that while spacey in it's full atmospheric backdrop carries an internal intimacy and a musical sound that is purely Nine Inch Nails-esque. On a different note, the blasts of brass backings on Spanish Radio and use of Trumpets and backings of people tap-dancing on Trumpet or Tap shows that amongst all the dramatic songwriting, there's still room for some fun. In fact the mixture of the fun and drama in those songs simply makes them more romantic. It's quite a frequent feeling on the album, it's one you can sink into and forget all the hatred that runs through the world.

But it was obvious that Biffy Clyro were more than able to make a song that could deliver that feeling of pure love without even trying. But here on Opposites, they are trying a whole lot and the result is something that puts previous work into perspective. They've cracked their effort of making in a double album effortlessly and in a manner that lies somewhere between the non stop banger collection that was heard on the previously aforementioned Use Your Illusion by Guns N' Roses while also having the ability to take you on a journey through spaces of emotions, memories and reflections of dark times gone by similar to the kind you could hear on Baroness' Yellow & Green. And that is one of the most remarkable thing to come from this. While in reality, this album is a collection of 20 brilliant songs, it feels like there's something more, like Biffy Clyro are more like the narrators of this mad music journey as opposed to just the great musicians that previous work has showed them to be. And that is a matter worth getting extremely excited about, that in this world of highly mainstream rock music, there is still room for that kind of musical ethos. And that one of the finest bands in the nation are the people to make it.

And I doubt that any thoughts like that were going through the minds of the young guys that stood recording in The Practice Pad thirteen years ago.

Biffy Clyro's Opposites is out now via 14th Floor. The band will tour the UK from March-April with City and Colour.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Review: Mallory Knox - Signals

There is no possible way I could ignore a band that is getting a mainstream buildup and widespread attention as up-and-coming quintet Mallory Knox. And so far, it seems fair enough, the band have effortlessly portrayed performances both as emotional and aggressive as the Natural Born Killers character from which they take their name, so they could well be a further addition to the more powerful than ever institution of British rock. Certainly, on the strength of their debut full length Signals the British Empire of rock continues to stand tall.

One of the main thing this album really does is let you identify just how much substance can still be worked into what is very much a tried and tested formula of songwriting. It's a game of using the highly identifiable verse-pre-chorus-chorus-verse-pre-chorus-chorus-bridge-chorus formula without causing listeners to realise that they are listening to a formula. And the band come out as top players. Lead single Lighthouse shines with this formulaic structure, and it's by far a formulaic structure painted with gold, through the abrasive guitar chugging and intricate lead-work of Joe Savins and James Gillet and soaring vocals of frontman Mikey Chapman delivering powerful choruses guaranteed to get people in venues of all shapes and sizes belting along the choruses to said single and anthemic roof-raisers like the tall standing Wolves and Hello.

But delivering powerful emotion is something that comes as a second nature to this band, as they handle it so effortlessly. At their most aggressive, like in Wake Up, with it's intro echoing Beastie Boys' Sabotage and the massively built up title track, the band display a more melodic and personal take on the sound of the now officially departed Alexisonfire, while 1949 is a textbook work of awesome balladry that leaves listeners with some faith in life as Chapman effortlessly delivers his song from the point of view of an old man that still feels a passionate love for his wife he met in 1949. It is a triumph of songwriting.

Of course, 1949 resembles the turning point in Signals if you will. Before then there is some questioning to be had about Chapman as a frontman. His vocals are so clean cut and it takes a while for any personality to really come out at first, unlike the immediate kind of recognizable tone you could find in listening to Young Guns or Lower Than Atlantis and sound more suited for a band like Fall Out Boy, (A band, who if today's official reunion rumours are true, I will be trying to get tickets for the subsequent UK Tour. And what?) however, it's that fifth track, where his performances becomes that bit more confident and growing in identity, and from there, he leads all proceedings on the album with enough confidence to deliver a smooth blues ballad for a rough generation on Bury Your Head, which at first, I was hoping to be a mindless chug-fest in tribute to Bury Your Dead, however this song does a too great job in carrying a sense of modern day class, for it to become a real problem.

There's little else to make about this album, other than, in what seems to be a rare case these days, a rock band that has been massively built up by various forms of press and our occasional buddies at Radio 1 are actually really worth listening to and do a great job of proving that the very traditional songwriting method still carries a high amount of relevance in a world where everyone believes that everything has been done before. Mallory Knox undoubtedly put everything they have into Signals and you can feel the outbursts of emotion they have with each soaring chorus, all of which need to be learnt by all gig visitors to make up what will be a hell of a night for each show. May the Empire of British rock stand eternally.

Mallory Knox's Signals is out now via A Wolf at Your Door. The band will tour the UK in February with Don Broco and Hey Vanity.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Review: The Blackout - Start the Party

One time. I made a mistake. A mistake that had it gone on any further could have put my respectability as a decent lover of good music at risk. That right ladies and gentlemen. I supported The Blackout. For ages as well. I possess their 2009 album The Best in Town, and was gutted to miss them at last year's T in the Park, for goodness sake! I have no idea why! I can't find any reason to return to their music now, for fear that I may just pass out from total boredom. Honestly, it's been many a month now since I last heard them playing. Until now obviously. Because they have a new album out. Called Start the Party. Once again, what was I thinking when I supported these Welsh loons?

As the album opens with the title track that takes the generic rock song formula to a new level, there's something you realise about what the band seem to be doing. They're basically raising their middle finger to everyone who bought their albums before identifying how much better off they were with modern British rock bands like Twin Atlantic and Young Guns and are using the money you gave them to make a crappy party anthem that will have all those previous album buyers and Andrew W.K. looking on disapprovingly asking just what do they think they're doing. It's like the MP expenses scandal of post-hardcore music.

It goes without saying that this sets the tone for the album. The band can pound away as hard as they like and the class-clown dual frontmen performances of Sean Smith and Gavin Butler can continue to roll out in as whiny and wheezy and unnecessarily screechy as possible, but it doesn't mean they're going to leave listeners feeling anything. At least anything but cheated.

Only guitarists James and Matthew Davies and bassist Rhys Lewis seem to be the people who have their heads screwed on for much of the album. Not to put down the efforts of Gareth Lawrence on drums, but it's this three that summon any real substance on the album. And these moments come in the brief musical pulse formed through We Live On and the sense of ambition delivered through Free Yourself.

Ambition seems like a grim word in this context. At a more innocent time, I got into the group's third album, 2011's Hope. The first song on that album was called Ambition is Critical. So, looking back the album wasn't that great, but you could clearly identify that there was a sense of ambition, a desire to climb higher into the scale of respectability of British rock. That fighting spirit has long gone now. I mean, what happened? They delivered an album that while not musically stunning, could be taken seriously, did they think that after that they could just sit back and assume that they were at the top of the game of all modern British rock bands? Did they not look at You Me at Six, Deaf Havana and We Are the Ocean playing at Wembley Arena and think maybe it would be in their best interest to continue their scale of ambition, instead of coming back with limp party songs that at best sound like Black Spiders-lite? That and the most watery thin of indie based ballad writing. The attempts of making feel-good anthems on Keep Singing and You feel appallingly misguided and bore listeners too much for anything else on the album to pick things up. I suppose it's literally the sound of a band giving up. It's about as ambitious as... Puddle of Mudd recording a covers album. Wait, that happened.

So, in many ways, this is a pointless album set only to remind you that once a band gets big enough, the most likely thing they will do is stop trying and make a song filled with mediocre party songs. Party songs that aren't even particularly hard in any way, which I suppose is one of the saddest parts because they're party songs but they wouldn't get the same kind of enthusiastic response if played in a club as the likes of Sum 41 and Limp Bizkit would. Believe me. And that's basically were this band is at now, not wanting to be taken seriously but not making music that would get everyone chanting along in pure delight either. I supported this band before and now I purely feel like I'm being screwed over by them and I don't even care. Once all relevancy is lost they'll have no one to blame for this slip but themselves.

The Blackout's Start the Party is out now via Cooking Vinyl. The band are on tour of the UK now with Sonic Boom Six and will play at Radstock Festival at O2 Academy, Liverpool on 30th March.

Review: Mutiny Within - Synchronicity

Following a mass plethora of writing down albums of the year I must listen to, I have finally felt the need to listen to this album has come. Having heard the name of New Jersey metallers Mutiny Within, I knew the time would come when a full album listening session would be in order, yet my optimism towards them immediately fell from the second I discovered that the band's original roots were as a Children of Bodom cover band. Now, if a band starts as a covers band, I'll try not to form a basis around it, but a Children of Bodom cover bad? Really? I don't suppose the main basis of the music is made up of some breakdowns and keyboards is it? And even as I say this, I dig the guys in Bodom, I just don't think I or anyone can be bothered with another band that does what they do. This was my mindset before listening to the band's new album Synchronicity in full. And now, my mindset stands somewhere that is in reality a little different but still reflects the same values as before.

In trying to come up with a good review of this album, there really is little more that I can do than think of what different bands the album makes me think of. Is that a bad thing? It doesn't necessarily need to be, right? I mean Balance obviously sounds like Bodom, but only because throughout the performance, the band display a well sought drive of ambition and gritty determination that you can find throughout the Finnish sextet's earlier material, while Become reflects the classic summoning of keyboard laden grandeur, a CoB staple.

But to some surprise, it's not the band they started doing covers of that influences this album the most. It seems for influence n Synchronicity, the band have traveled from Finland to Gothenburg, which is why the chuggy opening and power melodies to be found straight from opener Embers sounds just like a band doing an average impersonation of Reroute to Remain era In Flames. And by average, I literally just mean, all substance is cut right out of the mix. But if not looking to some of the most commercial names to emerge from Europe in metal, they're back in New Jersey, looking at their own countries ever prosperous hard rock scene. The likes of In a Moment and Lights are more in vain with the bulky melodies of Skillet or Write This Down in their reliance on a clear buildup to choruses where the big riffs are unleashed. Obviously many will look at this cynically, but this is actually where it works best for the band. Because the production is that bit more polished, the Bodom and In Flames charges really fail to ignite and come off as sounding like little more than cardboard imitations of those bands. No, hooks and arm swaying choruses are where it's at for these guys.

But with this melodic hard rock style of music proving to be the band's forte, but being so little in supply in comparison to the melodic death metal efforts, it's hard to tell what Mutiny Within are really trying to accomplish with Synchronicity. The only moments of substance come when they trade in melodies, and when they try and be this angry band that trades in breakdowns and try and show off their original Children of Bodom influences, it's just a range of bland meat and potatoes metal riffs. And what's the result? An album that will ultimately appeal to some metal fans everywhere, but any metal fan that can't identify a mass list of bands better than them is in desperate need of expansion on their current state of taste.

Mutiny Within's Synchronicity is out now via Self Release.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Review: Free Energy - Love Sign

Often it's easy to be able to identify what a band is in for from the music alone. Synthetic predictable songwriting with unconvincing performances is meant to just make labels lots of money, grandly orchestrated musical works taking you on a real journey has been crafted with the intent of making something that challenges the face of music as we know it, and then sometimes, bands just write really lovely songs because it's a fun thing to do and the songs they come out are the types that everyone can dance and relate to. With Love Sign, the second full length from Hockey Night offshoots Free Energy, we're definitely dealing with an album with music in the third category. And how wonderful an experience it is.

It's been some time since I found an album that really approaches the "less is more" thesis of songwriting with open arms, but the band nail it here, as they manage to compact all sorts of emotion and personality into a range of three-minute flings of songs that all thrive ultimately on unrelenting simplicity. And it works. More than that it will leave you asking yourself why it works. In the least offensive way possible, Scott Wells and Sheridan Fox's guitar work is hardly anything worth writing home about, but it's the overall summoning of kind-heated warmth that the band release across the likes of Dance All Night and Hold You Close that makes it the stuff of power pop euphoria.

That's not to say they can't be musically stunning at all. The spidery pitter-patter guitar of Street Survivor effortlessly carries the vibes of soft rock bliss, but the most remarkable parts of the album is the band's fun-loving and confident taking on of influences from glam rock acts of decades ago. On the likes of Girls Want Rock, Backscratcher and grand closer Time Rolls On, Nicholas Shuminsky busts out the cowbell and the band become Thin Lizzy-lite for a little while. This is also the form taken on on album opener and lead single Electric Fever, which if you have ears, you will recognise it's main riffs as a shameless rip-off of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet. Not that that stops from having fun in any way.

Because if you didn't feel like you were having fun, or didn't feel immersed within good times while listening to this album, something must have gone very wrong indeed. I suppose the real beauty of Free Energy and their approach to making songs on Love Sign is in the fact that they really are nothing more than a bunch of guys that are making music for the sake of good times and having fun simply so that those who listen can do the same. And when you truly are sunk within a sense of having good times and not needing to care about a thing in the world, there is no real need for technical mastery or ambitious journeys in your music. That's not to say that you can't have music like that to feel good, but music like this serves as an adequate necessity, like the blueprint to good time music, if you will. There's a time and a place for simple music made just so those can listen will feel happy. And Free Energy have hit that time and place spot on.

Free Energy's Love Sign is out now via Self Release.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Review: The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law

I never gained much out of the short period of time that I took guitar lessons. The information that my teacher gave me disappeared in almost an instant and chord progression abilities still amount to little more than a joke. This is all irrelevant, but during those weeks, my teacher let me listen to lots of bands that I was yet to experience and opened new doors into lesser known alt rock territory. And the best offering I got out of this new music is when I was lent a copy of the "aptly-titled" The Big Roar, the debut album from Northern Welsh trio, The Joy Formidable. I was taught that while this band were more sought after in indie circles, there's more about the album that belongs in an early nineties world of distortion friendly shoegaze territory, verging on breaking into the grunge phenomenon. To be honest, the description couldn't be more perfect and neither could that album have been.

While I sadly never took any knowledge of playing an instrument, I instead gained knowledge of a true phenomenon in British rock, and it's time for Ritzy Bryan and co. to roar once again with their second album Wolf's Law. Naturally, much anticipation and high expectation has been aimed towards this album and dear God in heaven, does the band stand and deliver. Everything about this album is about stepping up, from challenging the perception they gained on The Big Roar as the underground indie band with heavy riffs to a band that can use that same aesthetic, but exchange the quirky indie kid attitude for a bolder attitude, made for penning down anthems and actually crafting rock music that could be described as "epic", surely the antithesis to all fellow indie bands.

And you can tell this is the bands goal when the album opens in the most unexpected of ways. This Ladder is Ours opens on a minute worth of beautifully crafted orchestral backdrops. The band's embracing of classical based material is executed with such an honesty that it really feels like the opening has been made for a real blockbuster. Of course, the orchestra is then literally executed as the band let rip into soaring indie rock and roll melodies delivered with the heaviness that means they could easily tour with Foo Fighters or Queens of the Stone Age instead of just... The Pigeon Detectives or Two Door Cinema Club (Reading & Leeds 2011, anyone?)

Of course, with simple talk of the use of orchestras and big riffs, I'm just making it sound like the band have just gone and completely abandoned being an indie band just to go and be Within Temptation or something, which couldn't be more wrong. That slick garage aesthetic is still around across Wolf's Law. Cholla is blasted out with a bombastic garage rock blast that you could hear on a Hives album, while Tendons plays out with the effortless coolness and fuzz-soaked basslines from Rhydian Dafydd that fit perfectly in The Kills' body of work. But even then, the delicately crafted textures that are fitted into the songs make the most basic indie numbers sound like they want to reach higher grounds than tiny clubs and scene magazines.

No, this is an album that instead demands to excite, inspire and trigger a real emotional response from all those that listen. And this desire comes out in many ways. The band made a promise that this album would feature great guitar work, and I dare you to listen to Maw Maw Song and claim that they didn't deliver. They made a song that has a chorus and features a schizophrenic guitar solo from Bryan that sounds like the best moments of Muse, Queen and Black Sabbath combined, and the extremity only passes on to the almighty heaviness plunged onto the guitars of  The Leopard and the Lung, which combines moments of monolith riffs over backdrops of silky strings and pianos taken straight from silent movie soundtracks.

And it's in moments of musical passages like those two where the real out-pour of emotion just works on this album. They are essentially the sounds of beauty recorded and when you hear it, you'll know it and you won't be sure how to describe it. Bryan does a perfect job of it as well, with her completely identifiable vocal style that while maintaining a sweet delicacy, can so easily turn scathing when you least expect it on Bats or can become more angelic to the extent that Forest Serenade is lest singing, more siren-calls. And when these two emotional sources make the ultimate union, you will realise it when you listen to The Turnaround that fits melodies around an orchestral backdrop inspired by the kind that made much of the balladry of the 1950's so timeless. And as the song builds up higher and higher, including following a minute and a half long break in music that returns us to Ritzy's lone piano ballad, we get to the moment where the entire band joins in on full force and the result is a piece of music that words cannot describe the beauty of, and only the term, "A piece of music that eliminates all hatred in the world" is able to come out of my mouth. And I used a similar expression when I talked about Harmonicraft by Torche, and regular ROARF readers ought to know how highly I think of that album.

It would be too easy to say that we've found this year's Harmonicraft when we're less than 20 days into 2013, but honestly when you hear some of the moments on Wolf's Law, it's difficult to think of anything other than the fact that The Joy Formidable have truly nailed it here. There's the effortless coolness of the best of indie rock to be found, but the ethics of that music is served up with a higher passion and beauty that makes progressive music such a celebrated cause in the search for music that just pours out the sound of total love. And some of the guitar work will just leave jaws fully unhinged man. It's musical grandeur and wonder that has no barriers nor requirement for an acquired taste. It's an album that gives beauty, spectacular soundscapes and hope to everyone. It's the first essential album of the year and the first real contender for the year's finest. I guess I do have something to give my hopeless guitar lessons thanks for.

The Joy Formidable's Wolf's Law is out 21st January via Atlantic. The band will tour the UK from 22 January - March.

Review: Everything Everything - Arc

The world would be a very sad place if there was no one that believed that songwriting and eccentricity were to go hand in hand. Ever since The Beatles made the wise choice of mixing songwriting with LSD, we've been graced with decades celebrating music of love and emotion that doesn't believe in convention. Without we'd be nowhere. Well, we definitely wouldn't have a quartet like Everything Everything certainly. And with this eccentricity, the band have up to now been thriving on under-the-radar success while picking up much critical appraise at the same time. They now return with their second album Arc, proving just how vital and celebrated a cause eccentricity still is.

Frontman Jonathan Higgs has on more than one occasion spoke of his love for crafting slick pop music with that reveals a diverse taste. It echoes throughout the album with the funk-ridden beats of Kemosabe and occasional uprising of fun-loving hip hop beats, presented well across Armourland which also boasts a brilliant '80's synthpop chorus.

These influences, plus much time listening to Radiohead at their most off the wall has clearly inspired much of the body of Arc. In it, lies the artists desire to make pop music without convention. It's to build up the kind of main rhythm on Duet that you'd usually hear in a night club using strings instead of synthesizers before making works of extreme drama with Unsound. Through swirling guitars and near hypnotic vocals, Higgs' performance is one of the first of the year to really grab you and make you listen to what it has to say.

And while dramatic, much of the band's lyrics are more immersed in a calmer more sophisticated form. Hopefully, many will admire Cough Cough's opening chant of "Yeah... So... Um... Wait a minute" which serves as something of an anthem for people as socially awkward as myself. Meanwhile Torso of the Week carries a modern day cheek in it's delivery as Higgs tells his girl "You've been hitting the treadmill like a freak.", before growing more smug and confident telling her "You're looking like you're bored with a husband." Lyrics of a more day-to-day social basis almost sounds out of place when put next to the musical backdrops and vocal performances that come off Sigur Ros-esque at times, and perhaps such simply figured lyrics next to such grandeur is like an introspective into the simplicity of modern life.

And it is a grand affair. It is art rock in it's purest form. And perhaps a problem with this is that while it summons up a such a strong sense of grandness and artistic radiance across the songs, much of the album leaves you feeling nothing first time round. It's a shame because you can tell how much effort the band has put into the songwriting, but it takes a good few listens and a good bit of patience before it really comes to mean something. In that way, much of Arc comes off as viewing a display in an art gallery that while being technically impressive, it's still difficult to naturally feel the sense of emotion the artist wanted to convey.

It's a bit of a blow frankly. While the musical out put of Arc is undeniably intelligent, well-crafted and eccentric enough to sound like the musical form of Attention Deficit Disorder syndrome, it feels lacking the all around likability factor that you could find on their debut Man Alive. Everything Everything are not going to win everyone over with this album. Certain music lovers will fall for it straight away, but the general public will find little hope. But then, the exact same kind of reaction was displayed almost 50 years ago when a certain Liverpudlian quartet began making their music more off the wall as well. And look where those albums are now.


Everything Everything's Arc is out now via Sony. The abnd will tour the UK in February and play at Field Day 2013 at Victoria Park, London on 25th May.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Review: Newsted - Metal

Some artists don't like pissing around when they give titles to their debut EPs. Others are so blunt that they're actually taking the piss. And so, we have today's EP Metal. It's metal, and if you don't like it, you can walk on home, boy. So with all four members of The Big 4 in the process of writing follow-ups the last selection of critically acclaimed albums they released, it's cool to see former members of these bands putting out new releases in the sidelines as well. For some time now, only Dave Mustaine has been able to prove that you can still have a career after leaving Metallica. But now, it seems like longtime bassist and fan favourite Jason Newsted might be about to give his former bandmates a run for their money with his new eponymous band. Because this debut EP is Metal by name and relentlessly metal by nature.

In short, it's metal from head to toe. It's pounces straight into action in sadistic form with single Soldierhead, song that just sounds like the name of any 80's heavy metal band that has influenced Newstead's music. Complete with obvious buildups into big riffs and shredding from guitarist Jessie Farnsworth, it rides out covered in essence of metal, give a touch of extra indestructibility by Newsted's whiskey drenched Motörhead vocals belted out with a rhythmically dramatic ferocity all while he summons up mean basslines which in the EP's mixing has a more substantial role than it did in Metallica.

And while this band puts Newsted at the front of the line for the first time, there are moments that show that he does still have a lot to owe to his time playing in Metallica. With it's slabs of heavy guitars fitted into melodies made for headbanging, Godsnake owes it's dues to songwriting that took place for much of The Black Album while some of King of the Underdogs passages owes it's outpouring of emotion to Ride the Lightning mixed with the more compact bursts of spite that went into the highlights from the mid-nineties Load era. No St. Anger influences, mind. Nope it really is good bursts of old-skool heavy metal, demonstrated brilliantly across Skyscraper giving the band the chance to bust out their Sabbath grooves and slow them down and repeat them over and over again in such a way that would make Sleep proud.

That's really the best explanation I can give you about Metal. It's Metal as fuck. It's more Metal than you'll ever be, without having any extra need to go brutal or anything. Just to show as much aggression and shredding abilities as possible. However, one must consider the fact that the EP just just the right job of being awesome, with only four tracks at 22 minutes. It brings up feelings that the release of an entire album might see Newsted overstay their welcome, unless there's adaptation into more thrash styles that Metallica might have stuck to and songs written in a way that cause that band to realise they lost a truly great member. Imagine how smug that would make the current lot that hate Metallica. I guess we'll have to wait and see what unfolds for Mr. Newsted. Maybe something with a better title.

Newsted's Metal is out now via Chophouse. 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Review: Hollywood Undead - Notes From the Underground

Using my highly in depth knowledge of what is going on in the world of rock music, AKA going on the "List of albums scheduled for release in 2013" article on Wikipedia, I've deducted that one of the albums to be released in the year that everyone seems to be talking about is Notes From the Underground, the third release from rap rock collective Hollywood Undead. In honesty I'm surprised it's gained so much notoriety because I didn't realise everyone were still into comedy rock. Hahahahaha, take that Undead!!!! Seriously though, if you do take this band's music seriously, you have my deepest sympathies and I hope for your sake that someone introduces you to Led Zeppelin before it's too late.

To me, based on their image and musical sound, Hollywood Undead have always been the band that have looked at Slipknot and Linkin Park and said something like, "Oh year, we totally understand kind of personal traumas from growing up that Corey Taylor and Chester Bennington had and have put into their music, I remember when my Mom wouldn't let me watch TV after 8:30pm. Of course, that might be completely wrong, but you understand what I'm referring to.

So far, the bands two albums have mixed this clawing sympathy seeking with the bands party hard lyrics that have since gone on to make the lyrics of Fred Durst sound like those of Jim Morrison. They've done that and it's made them one of the highest selling rock bands in the USA today. Good one L'America. Of course no change in format is going to change for Notes From the Underground.

At least I don't feel any different from the time I attempted to listen to 2011's American Tragedy. There's such an obvious formula worked into this album, obviously open on a high note with the band's "badass" party-anthem Dead Bite, which with it's rendition of "Goodnight/ Sleep tight/ Don't let the dead bite." (Woah! Edgy!") Lead rapper Johnny 3 Tears obviously builds up the song into a big hook for the chorus, as he states his smile was "Born from amphetamines" as convincingly as a private school boy from Oxfordshire.

Of course, the party songs (And there really is no there way to describe them as than "party songs." It's not like they have much other merit as anything else) aren't really in such a high amount but when they are there, it's dreadfully clear that they're arrived. Mr. um... Mr. Tears' brain capacity and creativity sounds like it hasn't expanded past the age of seven. Pigskin opens with "I'm so icy, like ice cream." Well done sir. As it continues, we are also warned that Tears might just "Nibble on your ear like my name is Mike Tysie." At least you tried, lad. At least you tried. The highlight of the part anthems has to be the wonderful Up in Smoke in which the band really show Snoop Dogg who the true kings of smoking weed are, with the triumphant claims of baritone rapper J-Dog that "I fuck with a six pack, bong or a zig-zag" and "Fuck the 5-0 my middle fingers are up." I bet thousands and thousands of twelve year old kids will go on to feel extremely hard after hearing those lyrics and take photos of themselves in front of their mirrors of the bathroom of their middle class suburban homes with their iPhones flipping the bird as they relate to songs about how hard life is. Good luck to them. In finding a copy of Led Zeppelin IV as soon as possible.

Of course, we mustn't worry about Hollywood Undead corrupting our youth. They always have that ability to place a work of sensitive rap rock balladry after each party anthem with the juxtaposition-placing subtlety of playing Slayer on your phone speakers in the middle of a fucking church sermon! Pigskin's declarations of being as cool as a frozen yogurt with sugary chemicals pumped into the mix is immediately followed by Rain where Tears then decides he wants to do emotion fueled rapping so he can be more like Eminem. D'awww, you go for it wee man! But, by this point, the emotional songs are nothing more than sympathy seeking with songwriting featuring Tear's rapped verses and the clean cut choruses of clean vocalist Charlie Scene that doesn't even try to cover up the complete robbery of Linkin Park's structures. The only exception to the rule is displayed by the genuinely thrashy riff unleashed by J-Dog across From the Ground which is unexpected and serves as a highlight of the entire album as it will be the only time we will hear a piece of music in which it sounds like a riff that could be heard on a recent Megadeth album put on top of a backdrop that sounds like it was ripped off from Coldplay's The Scientist.

Other than that little shot of weirdness, Hollywood Undead have done absolutely nothing to advance themselves from being one of the most unfortunate names to make it big in modern rock music. The same songwriting formula that has already graced Swan Songs and American Tragedy can be heard all over again, only the party lyrics are lamer than before. And I can see people coming back and saying that those party songs are written so they can do something fun. Of course not. They're not DZ Deathrays writing songs about staying up and partying for the sake of it. It's quite clearly label executives telling them that rap songs about getting high will appeal to pre-teens across America. I mean, if songs about that would have appealed to kids thirteen years ago, then Hybrid Theory would have all kinds of trashy party lyrics and the only Papercut Mike Shinoda would talk about would be the one he got while rolling a joint. Notes From the Underground is nothing more than a marketers dream made without any care. And the entire band effort comes out as synthetic and pretty embarrassing for the band and anyone would call themselves a fan. Hollywood Undead are just a comedy rock band. And it's an old joke being told at a corporate gig.

Hollywood Undead's Notes From the Underground is out now via Polydor. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

Review: Dropkick Murphys - Signed and Sealed in Blood

If the true ethos of punk rock is nailing out songs of loved ones and hard times with enough emotion spread out to fill an entire stadium while being hard as nails at the same time, well Dropkick Murphys have had it sorted for quite some time now. Seventeen years and seven albums down the line, they're the kings of Boston's music scene and have made the principles of Celtic rock a worldwide phenomenon. Much more than The Pogues have managed. (Controversial, I know.) There really isn't anyone that I've ever heard lay out a disliking for them. And maybe it's encouraged them to keep up the good standard, as you can easily hear on eighth album Signed and Sealed in Blood.

With 2011's Going Out in Style, the band were on much more of a mission, sort of in a bid to finally allow everyone to know who they are and what they stand for. And if you missed the opportunity to to hear that, what were you thinking? If you heard the masterclass of the album, you realise the band's ability to weave story-lines together in their songs, while upholding an anthemic uplifting charm. But while that album was literally a story-telling album about a fictional character named Cornelius Larkin and his tales of family folklore and his experiences of immigrating from Ireland to America, a tale not dissimilar to the band's own, Signed and Sealed in Blood is so much more an album made in the way that all best punk albums are made. Tunes made out of jamming, having fun and just telling basic life stories with a giant grin on each member's face.

Straight from the picturesque cluster of accordion, bagpipes and guitars both acoustic and feedback drenching electric that opens the album on The Boys Are Back, you know fine that this isn't going to be an album that will make you want to cut wrists at the end of the day. What? And as the song continues with a rousing array of energetic gang vocals and attractive riffs that make up the stuff of pure punk rock euphoria. As you could probably guess this makes up the main basis of the album, with Burn's restless charge of distortion and guitar work that doesn't allow the feet of listeners to stay still and the rough and tumble melodies of The Battle Rages On, which is guaranteed to raise hands and promote whiplash.

As already established in this album, it wouldn't be a Dropkick Murphys release without the use of extra Celtic instrumentation to establish the band's proud heritage. Prisoner Song nails the use of such instruments with Josh Wallace and Jeff DaRosa's tin whistle and banjo duo makes up wonderful riverdance rhythms that will make you want to pretend you're Michael Flatley while still embracing the band's hard rocking performance through Matt Kelly's powerhouse drumbeats and the battered blue collar punk melodies of Ken Casey and Al Barr

It's through the band's lead vocalists that allows so much emotion to effortlessly pour out. Rose Tattoo and Jimmy Collin's Wake achieves the effect of creating a dusty room in which the band are going to tell you stories of life and you are going to listen and drink up because you know for certain that the stories will be amazing. And in the band's backing of adorable riffs found on Don't Tear Us Apart and the crunching My Hero, a sense of gentle warmth can be heard through distorted blasts of guitar alone. Even The Season's Upon Us, possibly the earliest Christmas song of 2013 has a lot of heart behind it, even though the band essentially talk about how much they hate the festive season.

And by the time the Irish bar in Boston has closed and you're staggering along to the outro of End of the Night with your best friends, you realise that evidently, the Dropkick Murphys have nailed it once more with Signed and Sealed in Blood. All the ingredients for a great punk album are there in the wide selection of rousing sing-along anthems, massive choruses, a clear identity of who the band are and where they're from and big grins all around. After I found myself realising that maybe punk music like this might be my favourite form of music to listen to last year, it's obvious how vital and substantial Dropkick Murphys really are, and how essential it still is to base albums upon jamming, having fun and pouring out the best of emotion in a way that a room of people can relate and sing along to. The band has had punk sorted out for some time now. And this has to keep up the long reign of three chord wonder.

Dropkick Murphys' Signed and Sealed in Blood is out now via V2 Muisc. The band will tour the UK next week with Crowns and Teenage Bottlerocket.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Review: Black Veil Brides - Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones

Well, it's about time I started writing album reviews again since every release under the sun for the start of the year came out two days ago. I would have done some reviews then and there, but then, why don't you try studying for a media law exam?? I'm done.

Guess what? That time has come around again for all spiteful internet trolls to get their knickers in a twist and for obsessive fans to, pretty much do the same. The Black Veil Brides are back to show us that they never really put much faith in the concept that less is more.

Where are we even at with the Hollywood quintet that everyone knows the name of these days? This time last year, they could not be ignored, especially from a negative point of view. The really tragic thing about it is that the criticism didn't even come in the form of some sharp NME type that displayed their cynicism with sophistication, just more like a splattering of of words referring to genital body parts and casual homophobia virtually vomited out onto comment boards and forums across the web, while the real fans insisted on needing to defend their beloved band which resulted in using phrases like "haters" and "hating on", both of which are a spread of cancer upon English grammar. Truth be told, I really have come to enjoy their first two albums, two friends of mine are in that latter category of devoted BVB Army members so I got quite the exposure, but all of this, the fact that it's become this all out war of those who love and those who despise the band stops me from wanting to make myself a massive fan.

Thus, the matter of how much I enjoy them has always been down to the music rather than immense love or hatred to spawn from other matters regarding them, and yes, their looking like weird kids that came last place in a dress-like-KISS-competition has always been a massive elephant in the room in this context. And with their third album, their long planned out "rock opera concept album" Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones, the music does the talking. And it talks big.

Sometimes it's easy to deliver mockery when someone takes themselves a little too seriously, but in the case of the performance the band puts on for this album, you can't really avoid it. You just have to hear the unrelenting venomous tones that Andy Biersack unleashes as he opens with I Am Bulletproof. It's the sound of a man that has become fiercer, sharper and willing to deliver his spite upon a world that has shown him nothing but contempt. And as the sound of threat in his voice shows no sign of letting up through the song's grandly constructed choruses from the entire band that keep hooks coming with a passion and enthusiasm that can only be commendable, it's obvious that this is a band that takes itself very seriously.

You can hear it in the songwriting. While 2011's Set the World on Fire was nothing more than a collection of rock songs designed to be continuously fiery in it's delivery, there's more substance to be found on the sprawling openings of to New Year's Day with it's sub industrial backdrops and on the dramatic buildups of We Don't Belong. Even if it carries some tackiness, the gothic buildup to Shadows Sun has strokes of classical-based soundscaping that one could find on a Nightwish or Cradle of Filth album. More intelligence and a greater desire for all things expansive can be heard in this manner of songwriting and it's clear that this album is designed to be so much more than just a collection of jams. That's right everyone! Black Veil Brides don't enter the studio with the same recording ambitions as Fu Manchu. You heard it here first.

And that's not to say that there's less emphasis on making a rock album in any way. Many would happily say that Jake Pitts is the main highlight of Black Veil Brides and with his shredding on Wretched and Divine and Nobody's Hero, it doesn't take much for him to prove why. Solos squeal with delight amongst beefed up rhythm sections that deliver sing-along choruses that will make those who sing along nothing short of ecstatic. I mean, Devil's Choir is a guaranteed stadium-filler anthem and Days Are Numbered is immense on it's own without even considering the weirdly-anticipated vocal appearance from Bert McCracken of The Used.

McCracken's appearance actually serves as something of a highlight, because there's a weird interest to come from the fact that while The Used's debut album is over ten years old now and the band are verging on becoming veterans in the world of emo rock, while Black Veil Brides are still rising up just how much more ambitious and bold Biersack sounds when the pair's voices are put together. That's no put down to McCracken, as he's always put on the vocal characteristics of anxiety, panic and a sort of social terror and it's probably why the band wanted him on this song because no one presents that emotion quite like him. If anything it seems like McCracken is on that song to highlight the strength of Biersack's vocals which always play a more commanding characteristic. Maybe I'm completely wrong with my analogies. Either way, their duet is cool.

And while many would like to cast off the idea of Black Veil Brides being an emo band, it can't be denied that emotion is spread, particularly in the album's closing moments. Lost it All may be a modern example of one of those perfect ballads that takes you  from one spectrum of emotion to another in five minutes. Opening with a cold piano melody that conjures up feelings of failure and gothic despair amongst Andy's shiver inducing vocal performance which gradually progressives into something that feels warm, lush and unexpectedly life affirming, as the rest of the band join in and extra vocals come in from Automatic Loveletter frontwoman Juliet Simms, putting on a female balladeer performance positively reminiscent of Clare Torry. As the song ends with Pitts' unwinding solo the song's message of losing it all has sort of changed from being "You've lost it all. You've ruined everything, feel guilty!" to "You've lost it all. Shit happens, but we'll get over it with friends and beer." Maybe I'm completely wrong in my analogies again. But by the time the album actually ends with lead single In the End, you realise that the power, devotion and entire outburst of the band's full creativity and emotional force just makes them a band in a league of their own, not necessarily above but in no way comparable to any of the metalcore or glam-rock revival bands they were being grouped with a year and a half ago. This is their sound and it belongs to no one but them.

Of course, I am saying that In the End is the album's final track. It isn't actually, it ends on one of the many interludes that the band refers to as F.E.A.R. Transmissions voiced by Aiden frontman Wil Francis. That's the main sign that the album is taking itself too seriously. With these constant segments of essentially Bad-guy film speeches backed up strokes of symphonic backdrops, it's meant to be the band wrapping up the album's concept of fighting against fear resembled by authority and religion and all'a that. Necessary is not a word I'd use to describe them, though they sometimes serve as nice intros to full songs.

But when they all last under a minute it's hardly worth complaining about. Particularly when the music itself is so substantial. Truth be told, part of me wanted to dislike this album. Part of me wanted to see that it was just some basic hard rock songs made for kids who describe classical music as "Epic". But it's so much more. It's a sign that the Black Veil Brides have matured from the people they were when they recorded Set the World on Fire as I have matured from the person who listened to Set the World on Fire and probably described it as "Epic." And when you hear the kind of effortless confidence, sense of determination and full emotion and belief in what they're doing that pours out across Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones, you realise that this isn't the same band that everyone was vomiting out slanderous remarks about on the internet a year and a half ago. Sure, there are similarities and they'll never impress any of the true metalheads that originally showed disinterest purely from a musical point of view, but this is no longer the band that gave bullied high school kids a place to run to. This is something more. This is a band on an adventure. And what a way to kick off 2013 that is.

Black Veil Brides' Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones is out now via Universal Republic Records. The band will tour the UK in February on The Kerrang! Tour with Chiodos, Tonight Alive and Fearless Vampire Killers.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

2013: Let's Think This Through

So, how's everyone doing? Has the recovery methods practiced throughout the later hours of the 1st of January come into effect yet? I know it's taken a full day for it to work today otherwise I would have done this yesterday. Instead I was stuck on zombie mode. A fucking happy new year indeed.

Seriously though, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year and got everything you wanted and experienced much joy and goodwill and all'a that. If you are friends with me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter, or use Google images to get the covers for the album you downloaded for free, you may know that the last thing I put on this blog was my 2012 Retrospective and Top 350 albums list. If you didn't know it was because the kind people at Blogger wouldn't allow me to change the date that the post was published, meaning it's way back in the January 2012 section, which is really weird. It's like I'm predicting the albums of the future and telling people that this is what will happen in 2012. Maybe it should stay that way as I convince everyone of clairvoyant powers.

I'm extremely proud of that post and I'm already confident that I'll never be able to write anything else that tops it, but I can see that it was maybe a tad too long, so if I do something like it again, a shorter number may have to be in order. But, after it was published and I had completed my extremely heavy promotion session of the post, I really was immersed in that feeling that it was the finest thing I'd ever done and would have therefore been a good swan song for Ramblings of a Rock Fan, that nothing more needed to be done. We had reached the end. And then I found myself washing dishes while working at my local butchers with dish upon dish being piled up endlessly and without any sort of joy in sight for the rest of the day and I sort of realised that this is the only real way over the past year and a half that I've managed to make a name for myself and at a stage so fresh into my real work at University towards becoming a journalist, I couldn't just throw it away. I need this for my future.

But here's the thing. 2013, is definitely going to be the most active year of my life. It's time I have a think of what's going down throughout the year. Well, to kick things off I have a Media Law exam in three days, which will be a tonne of fun. After that, there will be a major step up in University work that I will need to put all my focus on. Along with that I made it a New Year's Resolution to finally learn to drive, which will give me something big to do in Blairgowrie, and guess what, I also turn eighteen, meaning I can pretty much do what I want, so that I can forget that I have to write about music and go out to clubs and bars instead, as well as that, this summer, I'm heading to Florida (YEEEAAAAHHH!!!) and also spending a few days at a little piece of turf called Donnington Park for a little party they throw known as Download Festival, where I will lose my mind watching Queens of the Stone Age, Slipknot and many others, although my entire time depends solely on seeing those two. And though I still have ambitions for this blog, who knows how frequently it can happen.

I kind of had a plan to do something like one post a week which summarizes all the big releases of the week with some compacts but still slick reviews, but I'd rather keep things the way they are now. More than that I had more plans for non review material. I definitely want to get some more interviews with up-and-coming bands, have more writing done by people that aren't me and every now and then, just write some biography pieces on bands I like, for no other reason than they're a band I like, whether they're massive and have lots of stories outside the music, or are underground dwellers that deserve more recognition.

Seriously though, I'm happy to be back writing. It seems like maybe I've become something like a watchful eye in the world of rock music making sure that only the good things occur. I mean when I'm blogging, I hear people I know know talking about rock bands they love that I've maybe introduced them to and everyone seems to celebrate the joy of bands that only need riffs and choruses to get their messages through. And as soon as I stop typing and turn my back away, musicians I've admired over time are exposed in a different and entirely new sinister light. Of course I'm talking about Ian Watkins.

That's basically where I'm at right now. Drawing up plans, making up lists and looking at lists of upcoming albums, tours and news that we should all get excited about. Everything Everything have an album out on birthday, that's pretty cool, huh?

So happy new year, everyone, I genuinely don't know when I'll write again. I might have some mental breakdown that stops me from writing during the year. Who knows what will happen. I suppose, we'll have to make our way through the next twelve moths and watch the world of music progress along with us. Alright, feeling energized yet? Good. The headbanging starts now!