Friday, 27 November 2009

The Devin Townsend Project - Addicted

The second in four albums to be released from the Devin Townsend Project, Addicted is a radical departure from the clean, haunting tones of its predecessor Ki. Instead we have an album’s worth of densely recorded guitars, synthesisers, computer-generated effects and unrestrained vocal bombast.

Addicted is a highly versatile record throughout, drifting from heavy metal numbers such as the title track, to the hilariously pop chorus of ‘Bend It Like Bender’ and to the lovely clean melody of ‘In-Ah’. One thing that stands out through the album is the brilliant vocal performances from Townsend and guest singer Annekke van Giersbergen. Their two voices complement each other greatly and it is an utter delight hearing Anneke’s version of ‘Hyperdrive’ (originally on Devin’s Ziltoid The Omniscient album).

Addicted's song-writing is arguably rather simple by Townsend standards. Still present are the wall-of-sound multitracked instruments, computer-based industrial tinkerings and versatile voices but there are very few elaborate musical deviations, Addicted! playing down Devin’s progressive tendencies. The songs are generally quite short and to the point, with the mission statement clearly being to deliver something catchy and enjoyable without being bogged down in the borderline self-indulgent. There is an almost Wildhearts-esque vibe to the album’s construction, with some songs going as far as to quite obviously reference the influence (for instance, ‘Resolve!’ is clearly partially based on The Wildhearts’ ‘Vanilla Radio’ as alluded to in the album’s liner notes).

Devin Townsend’s albums have often been touted by the man himself as an expression of where he is emotionally at that point in time – his state of mind in essence defining the tone of the album. If that is to be believed, then this is probably the first time we’ve heard Devin Townsend consistently happy and enjoying himself in every capacity. And it’s absolutely brilliant.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Wildhearts - Chutzpah!

The Wildhearts are rarely ones to follow trends, but you could be forgiven in thinking that Chutzpah!, the newest release from Ginger and company, was about to break that tradition with its honed production and hooky pop-rock stylings. However, few bands ooze charisma like the ‘Hearts and Chutzpah! remains yet another testament to their ability to write infectious rock.

Never having been a straight forward rock band, the tracks on Chutzpah! are as stylistically eclectic as ever. Although a lot of it can be described as modern rock with an early 90s flare, there are moments where you find yourself rewinding the last thirty seconds of a song in order to comprehend what just happened. Amusingly titled ‘You Are Proof That Not All Woman Are Insane’ seems to almost spontaneously combust at the end, with a mix of drudging heavy metal riffs and a corruption of children’s nursery rhyme ‘Frère Jacques’ being recited over the top. The introduction of ‘Low Energy Vortex’ quickly changes from a movingly unassuming piano chord progression to a heavy, almost funk-metal riff before fusing the juxtapositions together in an addictive chorus. The record is littered with moments like these, displaying The Wildhearts are still more than able to meld different styles together seamlessly and without alienating the listener.

The album is noticeably very well produced, with the instrumentation being polished to perfection. Musically, Chutzpah! quite literally shines with a great mix of crunchy sounding riffs and beautifully melodious leads accentuated in the best way possible. The only minor gripe with this is Ginger’s vocals seem to be overly clean. Whilst this certainly seems appropriate for lighter tracks like ‘You Took The Sunshine From New York’, Ginger’s rough-edged bite is unfortunately a rarity throughout. Nevertheless, each Wildhearts album seems to have a distinctive feel to it and Chutzpah! is no different in this regard, boasting possibly their fullest and most bombastic sound yet.

It is reassuring to know that even when most other music is doing little more than to distract you from (and worsen) your increasing tinnitus, The Wildhearts are able to rise above the filler. Chutzpah! will hold your attention from the abrasive opening of ‘The Jackson Whites’ to the tuneful end of its title track and leave you smiling as you inevitably play the album again and again.

Megadeth - Endgame

From the onset, it is clear that Endgame is going to be about one thing and one thing only – bitter, seething thrash, the kind that only Dave Mustaine can deliver. Ultimately though, this turns out to be a blessing and a curse for Megadeth where the balance between song-writing and riffing seems to be somewhat skewed.

There has recently been an influx of retro-thrash styled bands gaining popularity by giving attention to a classic genre of metal. Musically speaking, Endgame is effectively Dave Mustaine giving these mere children a lesson in how to thrash out. The record is filled to the brim with incredible instrumental work throughout with the guitar playing being of particular note. New axe-man Chris Broderick is among the best lead players to grace a Megadeth record and guaranteed to “melt faces”. Whilst he may not have the soul and originality of classic ‘Deth guitarists like Marty Friedman, he makes up for it in ridiculous technicality, putting many of his predecessors to shame (not Friedman though – that’s just impossible). The guitar duels between Mustaine and Broderick are very reminiscent of the Rust In Peace-era of Megadeth and are a very welcome return, adding a great sense of urgency to the album as a whole.

Unfortunately, Mustaine’s actual song construction seems like an afterthought to the guitar abuse. On the initial few listens, there are few choruses or vocal hooks that really stick out and make the tracks truly memorable. This is uncharacteristically strange as “MegaDave” has a penchant for clever metal writing, merging the heaviness of his guitar playing with a keen sense of melody. This just isn’t present in the same way on Endgame, with only a few songs such as ‘44 Minutes’ or ‘Bodies’ having vocal moments that will stick in your head. Furthermore, lyrically Endgame is overly laden with Dave’s political ramblings and seems to lack some of the forethought of earlier ‘Deth releases. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, occasionally resulting in the snake-bite quips that only Mustaine can truly pull off, but many of the vocals seem tacked on and almost weak, failing to add to the muscular body of music behind them.

Whilst Endgame has widely been hailed as a return to form by most of the metal press and fans alike, I personally don’t agree. Whilst certainly a good album, the sacrifice of memorable song-writing for unrelenting riffs seems like Megadeth shooting themselves in the proverbial foot. Endgame suffers from what I like to call ‘Annihilator Syndrome’ – the riffs are certainly there, but the songs aren’t quite.

Andrew W. K. - 55 Cadillac

Anyone who has followed Andrew W.K. at all in the last three or so years is aware that he is a man of many talents. Having dabbled quite extensively with motivational speaking, Andrew went on to start production work on well established musicians such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry before recently returning to his own music, initially releasing a covers album of J-Pop songs (don’t ask). W.K.’s most recent releases consist of an album dedicated to English versions of the themes of popular manga / anime series Gundam, and the long-promised solo piano album, 55 Cadillac.

55 Cadillac is a strange album to listen to if the majority of your Andrew W.K. experience is his anthemic good-time party rock. Although often touted between fans, it isn’t common knowledge that Andrew himself is a classically trained pianist and as such, is rather well versed at tinkling the ivories. 55 Cadillac is a collection of primarily improvised piano pieces of varying styles and quality. The album starts on a bit of a flat note with opener ‘Begin The Engine’ – a song completely bogged down in endless note trilling – but quickly picks up soon after. Track ‘Night Driver’ exudes a joyous sense of melody and is one of the few tracks on the album that is evocative of earlier Andrew W.K. material, with its bouncing chord progression. However, a common problem with the album is that of repetition. Frequently, a song will collapse into a mess of weird note patterns and trills that seem to cease any flow of the piece. Whilst usually the tracks do tend to pick up and begin forming a sense of melody again, these weird indulgent bits seem fairly ill-fitted - at several points it seems like Andrew is basically having a nervous breakdown via the medium of a piano. Thankfully, these moments don’t make up the majority of the album, which is sprinkled with a great sense of variety ranging from the almost Ludovico Einaudi stylings of ‘Seeing The Car’ to the upbeat and jazzy flair of ‘Central Park Cruiser’. ‘5’ is one of the more together pieces on the album, maintaining a solid progression throughout, whereas closer ‘Cadillac’ is definitely the most Andrew W.K. styled song on the album. Being the sole track to make a break from 55 Cadillac’s piano-only formula, ‘Cadillac’ allows some drum tracks and suitably epic guitar melodies to interrupt, eventually climaxing with the record’s only lyric - the ridiculously multi-layered declaration of “Cadillaaaaaaaac!”, guaranteed to bring a smile on the listener’s face.

Whilst perhaps not the best collection of piano pieces ever to committed to CD, there is a certain charm to 55 Cadillac. The actual theme of the album – that Andrew is inside of a ‘55 Cadillac and serenading you on a piano – is endearing. Whilst the songs are not always as brilliantly constructed as they could be, there are moments where Andrew’s penchant for writing catchy instrumentation and his great piano abilities really shine through. You can say a lot of things about Andrew W.K., but one thing that can never be doubted is his genuine commitment to everything he puts his name to. Whilst 55 Cadillac isn’t without its flaws, it is a great foray in to previously uncharted territory for W.K., who clearly is looking to broaden his musical horizons in each and every way possible.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Wildhearts - Shepherd's Bush Empire 1/10/09

(picture shamelessly stolen from

The Shepherd’s Bush Empire is utterly packed as the support bands finish and everyone eagerly anticipates the main act. As is a bit of a fad nowadays, The Wildhearts start their set by playing the entirety of their new album in full. Often this would be considered a risky move – after all, who goes to see a band who have been around for nigh on twenty years just to hear the songs they’re least familiar with? But when the material is as strong as that of Chutzpah!, their newest release, it’s more than a welcome addition to the set. As the band blaze through ‘The Jackson Whites’ and the familiar banner of the Smiley-Bones logo gazes on the crowd, everyone is utterly enamoured by what they’re witnessing. This is a band truly on top form, excited to be on the stage and doing more than just merely going through the motions. The new material comes off great in a live setting, although is almost slightly too dependent on a variety of backing tracks in order to accurately recreate the studio recordings. Not the longest of albums, the band speed through Chutzpah! in what seems like no time at all, leaving, as iconic front-man Ginger quips, more time for the classics.

Every gig of this tour was unique in that the band were unaware of what classics they were going to play in the second half until they were handed a set list midway through the night. Ginger cheekily remarks that we’re in for a treat as he peruses the stellar list he’s just been handed before calmly beginning the distinctive arpeggiated chords of ‘Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes’. At those few beginning notes, the crowd absolutely explodes and quite rightly. From there, we are treated to such classics as homage to rock ’29 X The Pain’, the confessional ‘Sick Of Drugs’ and the hilariously punk ‘Caffeine Bomb’ amongst various others. As is standard for The Wildhearts, the songs are interrupted with some light-hearted banter from the band and, for some reason, a few repeated versions of the ‘Little Einsteins’ cartoon theme (don’t ask). As the night draws to an end, the crowd completely scream the roof off with set finisher and Wildhearts classic ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’. Unfortunately the gig is over almost as quickly as it had begun.

Two decades in to their career, The Wildhearts clearly still know how to deliver the goods live. Every note is played with as much conviction as if they still had something to prove, giving most bands half their age a run for their money and giving the crowd what they want – rock and roll with balls.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Five albums that have had some vaguely profound effect on me

In a bit of a change to normal proceedings, I thought it might be worth detailing a few of my all time favourite albums so that anyone reading my reviews can better understand where my opinions might be coming from... that or quickly dismiss everything I write due to 'poor musical taste'. Either one.

System of a Down – Toxicity

I remember being given this by a friend who had grown tired of it when I was around 13. I was already a fan of System of a Down from a mixed CD someone had given me a while before, but I think this was the first proper album I’d ever had. Toxicity for me is associated with so many disparate and different memories, almost all of which were good, and consequently merely listening to the album is a huge nostalgia trip. I remember when I first got it, it didn’t leave my CD player at all for a week – it was all I listened to. System of a Down have always been a hugely energetic band and this record was probably their peak. Between Serj Tankien’s ridiculously versatile voice (frequently switching between violent shouting to wonderfully smooth and quiet in the space of a second) and Daron Malakian’s utterly bizarre and unconventional song-writing, Toxicity is certainly a unique album. Definitely not an album that would suit the taste of all, but one that really clicks when presented to the right listener.

Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction

Now this was the first album I ever bought with my own money and as such, will always have a special place in my CD collection like the sentimental geek I am. The song ‘It’s So Easy’ floored me from the start, with Axl Rose’s suave low vocals promoting rebellion, drink-driving and misogyny before eventually cracking in to an obscenely high-register declaration of how “fuckin’ easy” it all is. Bolstered by the amazing guitar interplay between Slash and Izzy Stradlin – probably two of rock n’ roll’s greatest guitarists – and all locked together by great rhythm section of Duff McKagan and Steven Adler, ‘It’s So Easy’ was only the start of what was to come. Every song on Appetite is brilliantly crafted, from the scratched rhythms of Izzy to Slash’s amazing leads, to the brilliantly wild vocals, everything is perfect. The tracks had clearly been honed to perfection and emanate a dangerous brilliance that would never be as rawly presented on consequent Guns albums. From the sing-along chorus of ‘Night-Train’ to the all time classic rock ballad ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ or the rhythmically sexy riffing of ‘Rocket Queen’, this was late 80’s rock debauchery caught on record.

Megadeth – Rust In Peace

This is the best thrash metal album in existence and will never be topped. Many have come awfully close (Testament’s The Gathering, Metallica’s Ride The Lightning and Master of Puppets), but they just don’t quite reach the bar set by Mustaine and co.’s masterpiece. Filled to the brim with bizarre and idiosyncratic riffs and literally face-melting solos from Marty Friedman and Dave Mustaine, this album is almost a completely perfect thrash platter. Often remembered for the singles such as ‘Holy Wars… The Punishment Due’ and ‘Hangar 18’, every track boasts some kind of accomplishment – be it in ridiculous speed and technicality of ‘Take No Prisoners’, the chilling lyrics and incredible solo of ‘Tornado of Souls’ or the utterly haunting nature of ‘Lucretia’, the album shines from start to finish. The only let down are Dave’s somewhat strained vocals, but even they are not without their charm, adding a quality of perfectly apt desperation to ‘Tornado of Souls’ or roaring like a monstrous being on both ‘Five Magics’ and more prominently so on the title track, ‘Rust In Peace’. Even weird filler track ‘Dawn Patrol’ seems to slot in rather well and provides an ominous break between the ferociousness of the rest of the album.

Andrew W.K. – The Wolf

I think my fanboyish obsession for Andrew W.K. found its feet the first I listened to his debut album proper, the beautifully titled I Get Wet. It was 35 minutes of over the top, full throttle, happy and energetic music. It was basically a party in music format with youthful enjoyment as the main subject matter of the entire record. W.K.’s second album, The Wolf, changed things a bit. Still there was the bombastic multi-layered instrumentation, the anthemic shouted vocals and the general good times of I Get Wet. But now there was some added versatility on the album, with songs ranging from surprisingly moving piano driven ballads about never giving up to raucous feel-good tracks such as ‘Long Live The Party’. As a whole, the lyrics were much less one more dimensional than on Andrew’s previous platter of music, with W.K. taking a far more introspective approach to his life. Whilst it’d be probably be an exaggeration to call them particularly deep, there was a wonderful simplicity to Andrew detailing his faults and how they made him more determined to go forth and rock hard. Whilst W.K. has been dismissed as little more than a gimmick musician to many a self-proclaimed muso, there seems to be a genuinely heartfelt and somewhat child-like passion in every one of his releases. I’ve always felt those who don’t get it really are missing out.

Devin Townsend – Synchestra

After discovering Strapping Young Lad, it only made sense to look in to the solo work of the Lad’s master-mind, Devin Townsend. My initial discovery was the single ‘Vampira’, which piqued my interest quickly with its Judas Priest-esque song-writing but I was left speechless when I listened to the album Synchestra in full. ‘Vampira’ actually seems quite atypical of the album with songs like ‘Triumph’ being versatile 7 minute romps laden with dense layers of instrumentation, ethereally harmonised vocals and completely off the wall musical changes. Bookended by the subdued acoustic opener ‘Let It Roll’ and the happy pop-rock of closer ‘Sunshine & Happiness’, this album is a brilliant exercise in musical pick ‘n’ mix. A few of the tracks aren’t so much songs as instrumental pieces with voices merely acting as another layer to the music, but this works in the album’s favour, helping to draw things together and creating an amazing flow to the album. It’s hard to describe the album to those unfamiliar with Townsend’s work as the man has a very unique sense of melody and style of musical production. That wall of sound that ‘Hevy Devy’ has become synonymous with is crafted to perfection on most of his solo albums, but somehow comes across as its best on ‘Synchestra’ with the layering on songs such as ‘Notes From Africa’ making the record utterly infectious.

Honourable Mentions;

It was extremely difficult to wittle my favourites down to merely five albums so here are a few that didn't quite make the cut but are as good as the aforementioned five.

Iced Earth – Night of the Stormrider
Furious triplets, ridiculously hell-bent concepts, a hugely ominous tone to the album and in general, just some mildly pretentious ball-busting heavy metal. This is a great album, even if not perhaps the best by Iced Earth overall. Tracks like the epic ‘Travel In Stygian’ make it a must listen for metal aficionados though.

Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. 1 & 2
Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath basically invented power metal with these two albums. Between their ferociously melodic guitar duelling and Michael Kiske’s incredible vocals,
Keepers remains at the top of the genre it created.

Savatage – Ghost In The Ruins
Probably one of the greatest live metal albums in existence. As my first experience of Savatage, this live offering did everything right to keep me interested. Not only is every member of the band an amazing player, but this album showcases just how diverse and brilliant the song-writing of the Oliva brothers can be.

Skyclad - Prince Of The Poverty Line
Pioneers of the seemingly impossible amalgamation of folk and metal, classic-era Skyclad is fantastic not only for the Thin Lizzy meets Pentagle style music but for Martin Walkyier's insightfully bitter and cleverly written lyrics.

Extreme – Pornograffitti
Coming out at the tail-end of the glam / hair-metal insurgence of America, Extreme’s second album offered something very different to their somewhat typical hair band debut. Mixing funk rhythms with catchy hard rock and musical virtuosity resulted in one of the most danceable albums of the rock spectrum.

Steel Panther - Feel The Steel

Quickly dismissed as little more than a novelty band by some, Steel Panther have more to offer than penis jokes. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of penis jokes, but thankfully it’s backed by some genuinely enjoyable music. The album itself effectively acts as a fan-service to 80s/90s hard rock fans making constant references to glam’s hey-day. Aside from singer Michael Starr being a near dead-ringer for Van Halen’s David Lee Roth, the music itself constantly nods the band's influences without coming across as completely dated thanks to modern production and tongues being kept firmly in cheek.

From the casual racism of ‘Asian Hooker’ to the insipid claims of ‘Eatin’ Ain’t Cheatin’, Feel The Steel is loaded with crude and occasionally cringe-worthy humour from start to finish. Whilst some of the songs are genuinely amusing (single ‘Death To All But Metal’ will appeal to the defiant and elitist side of any classic metal fan), half the time the lyrics come off as nothing more than idiotic. Presumably, the band are poking fun at the overt sexual nature of their idols’ songs by taking it further than any of their predecessors ever did, but it often falls flat. However, when this is the case, the strong musical body ofthe tracks more than makes up for it. Steel Panther are highly proficient musicians and, more importantly, good song-writers. The album is filled to the prim with great rock riffs, brilliantly catchy vocal melodies and some truly face-melting guitar solos – the three core ingredients to any kind of good hair metal. Obligatory ballad ‘Fat Girl (Thar She Blows)’ and rocker ‘Party All Day (Fuck All Night)’ show the band wearing their influences on their sleeve, channelling their inner Bon Jovi whereas acoustic cut ‘Girl From Oklahama’ goes as far as to mimic the famous chord progression of Extreme’s ‘More than Words’. Interestingly, the album features a number of guest appearances with Justin Hawkins of The Darkness / Hot Leg fame lending his voice, further cementing Steel Panther’s message that rock doesn’t have to be completely serious to be enjoyable.

The light-hearted nature of the album seems to be both a blessing and a curse, as Steel Panther’s downfall is that they don’t take themselves seriously enough. You could be forgiven for thinking they were trying almost too hard with the amount of ridiculous sexual innuendo that engulfs the entire album. Their finer moments are when they tone down the gag-making and deliver solid rock and metal songs. Regardless of their over the top lyrical nature though, this is a very strong album throughout. The songs are all written with a brilliant sense of melody and a flare for guitar-based tomfoolery that is quite rare to find. There is a genuine appreciation for the hard rock and metal acts of old displayed throughout the album and Steel Panther do a great job of amalgamating some of the best aspects of their inspiration in to something slightly more modern.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Steadlür - s/t

The debut of Georgia-based rockers, Steadlür, is a mixed listen from start to finish. Littered with some memorable hooks here and there, some decent lead work from Tommy Steadlür and occasional flashes of good song writing, it’s a shame the whole album isn’t a more consistent effort. Mixing the sleazy motifs of 80s glam greats such as Mötley Crüe with a more modern rock sound, what Steadlür produce is a curious fusion of what once was and what now is a commercially acceptable form of rock. Starting off at full throttle, the album launches in with rocker ‘Poison’ and manages to keep the momentum going for a good few tracks. Of course, having any sort of glam-vibe in a band that seems to take pride in their image results in some utterly insipid lyrical rubbish – the kind of thing that seemed edgy in the 80s but now just sounds stupid. Singer Philip Steadlür makes so many repeated mentions of waking up in the beds of others, I’m more inclined to believe he’s actually homeless rather than promiscuous. Furthermore, with the chorus to ‘It’s Too Late’, we get a taste of some of the worse things to come later in the album – namely dull and not-so-heartfelt emotion and alternative-rock nonsense.

The album really begins to fall flat as soon as things are slowed down a peg. When they’re fast and furious, Steadlür are just about enjoyable if not very predictable. But the slow tracks are irredeemably terrible. Tracks like ‘Angel (On The Wrong Side Of Town)’ and ‘Time’ succeed in ruining what the album had achieved up until that point. One of the main problems with these cuts is Philip’s voice. Whilst he’s no Tom Keifer, Philip’s faux Whiskey-soaked voice, although somewhat forced, suits the more rock’n’roll tracks fine – sort of like a slightly whiny, low-budget Blackie Lawless. But without distorted guitars to supplement, the vocals become grating. Furthermore, the song-writing on ‘Angel’ is mind-numbingly dull and comes across as nothing more than a cheap attempt at a radio single - which would be fine if the song itself wasn’t utterly putrid. From the generic clean arpeggios in the background to the pathetically unmoving chorus, the song does little to keep the listener’s attention. Indeed, these songs straddle the line of generic alt-rock and emo so much that you’d be forgiven in thinking they were a tribute band to Bullet For My Valentine. Unfortunately, the album doesn’t really pick up from this dip, with the remaining tracks staying at a rather mediocre level, despite one or two enjoyable riffs or vocal lines here and there.

That’s not to say it’s all bad though, as Steadlür has some genuinely enjoyable songs. Tracks like the childishly charming ‘My Mom Hates Me’ will stick in your head with its thumping ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ styled rhythms and fantastically catchy, if not a tad idiotic chorus. In fact, the first half of the record ranges from tolerable to good, showing signs of the better side of Steadlür. There are some great riffs sprinkled throughout the album, such as the Zeppelin-esque flare of ‘Suffocate’s opener. There is however an overall tendency to slip in to rather bland filler music, laden with unimaginative melodies and ideas that have been worn to death. A fair few of the tracks feel like they could have used a lot more fleshing out and in some cases, should’ve been scrapped completely. Then Steadlür would be a strong and consistent debut. As it stands however, the album flutters between enjoyable and dull, with the former only just making up the majority. If you only listen to one album this year, it probably shouldn’t be this one.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Devin Townsend Project - Ki

After a two year hiatus from creating original music, Devin Townsend returns with the first of four in a series of records under the imaginative moniker of ‘Devin Townsend Project’. Whilst perhaps more known for his extreme metal outfit, Strapping Young Lad, Townsend has never been a stranger to the more melodic side of rock and metal, entertaining a highly prolific ‘solo’ career and creating some of the more unique progressive albums of the late 1990s and early 2000s. It comes as no surprise to fans then that, having cleaned up his lifestyle of mind-altering drugs and habits, Townsend returns to the mellower side of his output. However, quirky ambient albums such as Devlab and The Hummer aside, never before has Townsend been so instrumentally laid back as on Devin Townsend Project’s debut, Ki.

Described by Townsend himself as a record to ‘set the stage’ for the entire project, Ki as a whole is unimposing when compared to the oppressive wall-of-sound production techniques that encompass most of the musician’s prior output. That is not to say there are not moments where Townsend’s trademark hostility and dense instrumentation dominate. On the contrary, the third track, ‘Disruptr’, seems to indulge the metal side of “Hevy Devy” about half way through, with a gradual crescendo of snarled vocals and distorted guitars quickly building up to assault the listener as if out of nowhere. What is different though is that this aggressive momentum doesn’t explode, but rather deflates itself almost as quickly as it began, cutting off before its musical climax to begin the initially mellow-paced song ‘Gato’. Whilst several songs on the album do similar, there are often clever musical juxtapositions to diminish the effect of the outright heavy moments - whether it’s the rhythms of jazz and blues drumming veteran, Duris Maxwell or the slightly disjointed, yet oddly serene additional vocals from guest singer Ché Dorval. Whilst actually only having one writing credit on the entire album, the mere presence of Maxwell seems to have inadvertently influenced a lot of the rhythm riffs of the album - Townsend opting for clean electric guitars and playing slightly off-beat grooves that will inevitably have the listener clicking their fingers along to the track after a few plays.

Although fairly subdued, Townsend’s bizarre sense of humour is also noticeable on occasion, as Ki is littered with moments that are guaranteed to bring a smile to the listener’s face. For instance, as ‘Heaven Send’ reaches a point of dense guitars and horns, it suddenly cuts out to reveal a small exchange from recording sessions between (presumably) Townsend and Maxwell before returning to its prior insanity. Indeed, the musical variance is almost witty in itself. ‘Trainfire’ seems to have an undeniable 50s rock & roll vibe, Townsend’s vocals reeking of a rather charming Elvis tribute act for most of the song, whereas penultimate track ‘Quiet Riot’ borrows a melody or two from ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’, with the acoustic guitars offering a stark contrast to the hit cover version of the titular band. Whilst a radical change in comparison to a lot of his work of old, for those familiar with albums of the Devin Townsend Band and previous pseudonyms, there are more than enough similar stylistic points for the fan to feel at home. The title track itself smacks of Devin Townsend Band’s Accelerated Evolution, with its floating vocals, soothing guitars and eventually huge melodic overlay of music acting as the angelic equivalent to the album’s earlier deafening disorder.

Upon initial listens, Ki’s fluctuation between laid-back, gentle tones and unrelentingly dissident fury is extremely daunting to even the most seasoned Townsend listener. It certainly takes a couple of spins to actually get used to the bouncing back and forth between the two extremes. However, it is in these repeated listens that Ki really begins to shine. At times, there is almost too much going on musically and the listener is led in to a false sense of smooth jazz-based security. As such, the listener needs to get to grips with this difficult fusion of musical styles before they can really begin to enjoy the album. This is certainly not an album for the casual music fan, demanding far more attention than to be relegated to just background music. Whilst possibly one of Townsend’s most alienating releases, Ki also appears to be one of his most well-crafted. Clearly a huge amount of thought has gone in to creating a rather eclectic collection of music, from the diverse mix of musicians on the records to the huge variance of sounds presented on the album. If this album is only an appetiser for what is to come from the Devin Townsend Project, I eagerly await the next course.

Hot Leg - Red Light Fever

After dabbling with a rather short solo career, rock vocalist and guitarist Justin Hawkins resurfaces in a new band, Hot Leg (and not a moment too soon either, with his ex-bandmates more than ably progressing without him in Stone Gods). In The Darkness, Hawkins was primarily known for his infamous shrieking falsetto, taking a note or two from Freddie Mercury, the band itself eliciting either responses of amusement and enjoyment or ridicule and disgust. Their unashamedly dated brand of rock displayed great musicianship and wore its influences on its sleeve but also retained a tongue-in-cheek attitude. A ridiculous flamboyancy engulfed the entire affair and Hot Leg does very little to derive from this formula.

Perhaps one of the main things that distinguish Hot Leg from Hawkins’ previous band is the era of rock influences that the band pay tribute to. Whereas The Darkness drew a lot of inspiration from 70’s rock (at least on their debut – sophomore album, One Way Ticket became a bit more of a Queen tribute album, thanks to its bombastic multilayered vocals), Hot Leg seem to have far more of an 80’s glam vibe. Of course, there are some classic style rockers, but tracks like ‘Cocktails’ tend to remind the listener of 1984-era Van Halen with bouncy synthesisers being no stranger. The lyrics certainly reinforce this cock-rock idea, ranging from love and lust gone wrong (of course laced with the expected innuendo) to judgemental aggression – as was standard fair with any brand of hair-metal of the late 80’s / early 90’s. One song that seems to break out of this trend however is the track ‘Trojan Guitar’, which is more Led Zeppelin than Mötley Crüe due to its narrative nature and occasional folk guitar, making it an odd, but welcome inclusion. As to be expected, Red Light Fever is laden with vocal hooks galore and guitar solo trade-offs, showing that both guitarists, Hawkins and Pete Rinaldi, are equally well versed in widdling away on the six-string. Indeed, the entire band consists of tight performers, but all seem to take a bit of a backseat to Hawkins. This is partially as these songs are nearly exclusively his creation, but also due to his stellar performance - undeniably, one of the best aspects of the album his voice. Hawkins has an incredible set of pipes, especially when it comes to falsetto wails (just listen to him out-shriek guest singer Beverlei Brown, on ‘Ashamed’). It also doesn’t hurt that he has also developed some variance in his voice, occasionally switching to a low and gritty bark - presumably so any glass located near the speakers isn’t completely shattered.

What this album does right is meld together the different aspects of what the band clearly adores – classic rock. Whether it’s the somewhat bloozy beginning of ‘Prima Donna’ or the chicken-picked riffage of single ‘I’ve Met Jesus’, there’s definitely enough variance within the album to keep it from becoming stale. Clocking in at around 35 minutes, the ten cuts are short and sharp and tend to refrain from too much self-indulgent repetition, which is one of the key problems of many of Hot Leg’s predecessors. Perhaps the most important thing about this album however is that it is fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet is delivered with conviction and fantastic ability. Like the best of the classic rock bands, Hot Leg are clearly enjoying themselves and making sure their audience is aware of the fact. Rather than whine incessantly about their never-ending pain, as do many modern “rock” bands, Hot Leg want their listener to remember when rock was more about having fun (albeit, slightly misguided fun). Whilst the album is hardly groundbreaking (I don’t think it could actually be walking on more beaten paths), it is an enjoyable listen for fans of slightly-glam classic rock (and of The Darkness) and is unapologetically ridiculous. Red Light Fever is a strong debut and hopefully only a sign of things to come.

Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers

14 years after the initial disappearance of original band member Richey Edwards, the Manic Street Preachers take the “risky” move of writing an album based entirely around the remains of Edwards’ lyrics. With their third album, The Holy Bible becoming synonymous with the often impenetrable contemplations of their almost-guitarist and lyricist, it is inevitable that the new album will be held up to the high standard set by The Holy Bible – a standard that seems unachievable. But the Manics have made a great job of trying to reach it.

From the very beginning, Journal for Plague Lovers evokes nostalgia for the band’s classic, The Holy Bible, through its sample-based opening – a concept that almost littered the latter record. Unavoidably, there are many common links with the album that became Edwards’ swansong, with Journal for Plague Lovers continuing the theme of lyrics on the slightly darker side of human thought. Whilst the Manics have never exactly been the happiest of bands throughout their career, their prior release Send Away the Tigers, whilst an enjoyable album musically, had some overtly uninspired lyrics (such as the chorus to hook-laden swayer ‘Autumnsong’, insipidly rambling about ‘what you’ve done with your hair’). As a result, it’s a welcome change to actually be able to appreciate the lyrics on their own, as nihilistic and self-pitying they are. As to be expected, there are references to a variety of topics, ranging from social commentary to artistic output, serving as a vehicle for displaying the intelligence, observational skill and huge ability to absorb information that Edwards had. As with The Holy Bible, the lyrics alone have a great propensity to stick in your head, with simple chorus lines such as the title track’s ‘Only a God can bruise / Only a God can soothe’ becoming a perpetual placement in one’s mind.

Great emphasis was put on the use of Edwards’ words by the rest of the band throughout the creation of the album, leading to many expectations of another The Holy Bible, with its suffocatingly enjoyable song-writing immersing the listener in a world of incomprehensible and unchangeable anguish. However, whilst the musical side of Journal for Plague Lovers is impressive, it doesn’t live up to the almost unreachable goals set by its effective predecessor. Where The Holy Bible was muddily and disconcertingly produced, Journal is primed and polished. Where Bible had an oppressive wall of sound (take for instance the chilling-beginning of ‘Of Walking Abortion’, where the violently sludging and ominous instrumentation kicks in over a suddenly garbled quote), Journal is extremely tame on the ear. There are moments of trying to capture that unique sound through the use of similar guitar tones (for instance, the verse guitar lines of track ‘Marlon J.D.’), but it would be impossible to recreate. And why would they want to? The songs are well-constructed, but despite the band believing the record as a whole to be possible commercial suicide, there are more than enough sing-along moments for even the most casual of Manics listeners to enjoy the record. Taking a few song-writing cues from one of their best received records, Everything Must Go, the songs are far less alienating than the lyrics might suggest, but still act as a completely suitable accompaniment to Edwards’ hard to follow and deeply alarming lyrics.

The album has a fair mix of radio-friendly rock songs (the first single, ‘Jackie Collins Existential Question Time’ immediately comes to mind), energetic songs (‘Pretension/Repulsion’s chorus makes punching the air almost compulsory) and unnervingly soothing acoustic songs (with ‘William’s Last Words’ reading almost like a pleasant suicide note). Whilst the Manics are no stranger to musical variety (indeed, they have come a long way from their Guns N’ Roses meets politics and occasional bad drum machine debut), Journal seems to do a brilliant job at encompassing all the aspects that have made the high points of their back catalogue so good – catchy choruses, well crafted songs, exceptional performances (especially from James Dean Bradfield, whose voice seems to not have wavered in quality in the last 15 years, as well as his guitar playing being criminally underrated) and intelligent lyrics. Journal for Plague Lovers, perhaps most importantly, stays consistent through out. There is not a weak song on the record and, despite its variation. Journal seems to remain appropriately in tone with itself keeping a steady feel, rather than an erratic mish-mash of different styles. Whilst not blown away on initial listening, the album has certainly proved to be a grower, with some of the best aspects of it only showing themselves after repeated listens (for instance, the charmingly dated and yet fantastically placed piano segment after ‘Viriginia State Epileptic Colony’s second chorus). Whilst Journal for Plague Lovers was never going to be able to live up to the legacy of The Holy Bible, it is a great record in its own right. Not only has it shown that the three-piece of James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore are still a musical force to be reckoned with, but it is a more than worthy way to honour their clearly sorely missed band-mate, Richey Edwards. It’s only a shame that Journal for Plague Lovers is damned to live in The Holy Bible’s shadow because of it.