Sunday, 25 June 2017

Gig Review: MEAN MAN CHRIS HOLMES at The Rigger, Newcastle-under-Lyme (UK) 24/06/2017

Chris Holmes / Mean Man UK Tour 2017
For those unacquainted with Chris Holmes, he was the original lead guitarist in W.A.S.P, and is responsible for some of the greatest Heavy Metal songs ever. He's parted ways with W.A.S.P on more than one occasion due to his well documented turbulent relationship with front-man Blackie Lawless.

Chris has clearly had a tough time over the last few years. He's been ripped off and shat on more than anyone deserves, and the media have portrayed him as a washed up, down and out ex-rock star who's only purpose is to be laughed at by assholes in the comments section of Metal websites. I've found this lack of respect infuriating as he's not only an amazing guitar player, but a truly awesome guy. When I heard he was playing The Rigger, I was genuinely excited, especially as I had already been booked to DJ after his set. Saturday nights don't get much better than that!

I remember seeing W.A.S.P back in May '97 on their Kill Fuck Die tour. Being a teenager, I thought it would be a good idea to bring my guitar to the gig to see if I could get it signed. Who the fuck does that? Anyway, I waited patiently with my red B.C Rich Warlock and a few CDs outside the Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton, and eventually Chris Holmes came out. He signed my guitar and CD covers and had his photo taken with me. There were about ten or so other people waiting too, and he signed everything and had a chat with everyone. I remember him jokingly pointing out which window of the tour bus to put a brick through if Blackie didn't sign any autographs that night. Chris came across as a really fun pleasant guy who was genuinely grateful that we'd come to the show. About an hour later, Blackie came out with a security guy to protect him from the six remaining kids who wanted to meet him. We were told "one autograph each". He signed my guitar which was cool, but he seemed really pissed off and clearly wasn't happy to be there.
Dan Peach with Chris Holmes in 1997
Me with Chris Holmes in 1997. I still have the B.C Rich he signed for me.

These little interactions mean a lot, and with Chris being such a cool guy, I've continued to follow his work and support him. He taught me how life long fans are made.

Anyway, story time's over, and it's time to look at last night's show at The Rigger in Newcastle-under-Lyme. When he hit the stage with the words "My name is Chris Holmes and I play Heavy Metal" and opened with his solo track Shitting Bricks, the first thing that struck me was Chris' signature guitar tone. That huge ear splitting Heavy Metal guitar tone that's so uniquely identifiable as Chris Holmes made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This is what I came to hear!

Since moving to France, Chris has found some great new musicians and his new band is really impressive. The other guitarist, who Chris later introduced to the crowd as 'Douche Bag' (AKA Tom on the set list - must have been a type-o) shared vocal duties throughout the show with Chris, and sounds very similar to Blackie Lawless. In fact, Tom sounds better than Blackie has for years. The W.A.S.P material in the set was pulled off with class, and was a joy to hear. L.O.V.E Machine, Sleeping (In The Fire) and The Headless Children all sounded particularly fantastic, and were met with rapturous applause from the audience.

The penultimate track of the night was W.A.S.P's I Wanna Be Somebody, and Chris invited some members of the audience to get on the stage and sing the whole song. To be fair, even the drunk guys in the crowd were on top of their game tonight, as it sounded great! Chris ended the set with a riotous rendition of Neil Young's Rockin' In The Free World, which he dedicated to the innocent people in Syria having their lives ruined by the terror currently going on.

All in all, tonight's show was a success. The turnout wasn't the greatest, but I blame the aforementioned negativity from the media for that. However, I'm sure that everyone who turned up was impressed. I certainly was. Chris and his band put on a great show, and I can only see him going from strength to strength, as word of mouth will ensure that attendances grow each time, as is generally the way with Metal. Chris also took the time to meet fans after the show, sign autographs, and have photos taken. He always goes that extra mile, and deserves every ounce of success that comes with such efforts.

Chris Holmes is the real deal. He's a force of nature. He's just tuned 59 years old and he's still killing it! If you love W.A.S.P, you need to catch him on this tour.
*Apologies for the shit quality of my photos. I took them on a mobile phone. Do I know what I'm doing? Not really.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Album Review: ICED EARTH - Incorruptible

Iced Earth - Incorruptible

01. Great Heathen Army
02. Black Flag
03. Raven Wing
04. The Veil
05. Seven Headed Whore
06. The Relic (Part 1)
07. Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)
08. Brothers
09. Defiance
10. Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862)

If I was to describe Iced Earth to someone who'd never heard them before, I'd say that they sound like a mix of Judas Priest's Painkiller album, Iron Maiden, and Queensryche when they're at their most Metal.  If that sounds good to you, or you're already a fan, Incorruptible is definitely something you should be checking out at the earliest opportunity.

I've been following them since their triple CD Alive In Athens album came out. I wouldn't say that they've progressed that much musically since then in terms of style, but the quality of their recorded output has always been of a high calibre.

Incorruptible has it all, from the epic Progressive Metal of The Veil, to the Traditional Metal of the pirate themed Black Flag, and the Slayer-esque Seven Headed Whore with its sinister lead work descending into razor sharp Thrash. Incorruptible provides everything you'd expect from an Iced Earth album, yet manages to exceed expectations as it's both a little more diverse than usual, providing some well executed surprises and continually strikes gold in the song writing department.

If you're new to Iced Earth, Incorruptible is a great place to start. There aren't many older bands where you can say that about their latest album. It's refreshing to hear an artist release such a vital part of their catalogue at such a late stage in their career.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Album Review: DRAGONFORCE - Reaching Into Infinity

DragonForce - Reaching Into Infinity

01. Reaching into Infinity
02. Ashes of the Dawn
03. Judgement Day
04. Astral Empire
05. Curse of Darkness
06. Silence
07. Midnight Madness
08. War!
09. Land of Shattered Dreams
10. The Edge of the World
11. Our Final Stand
12. Gloria (Bonus Track)
13. Hatred and Revenge (Bonus Track)
14. Evil Dead (Death Cover) (Bonus Track)

I first heard DragonForce back when they were called DragonHeart and were supporting Rob Halford's imaginatively titled new band Halford on the tour for his first solo album. I quite enjoyed DragonHeart's set, and recall them changing their name to DragonForce a couple of years later and releasing their first record Valley of the Damned. On paper, they should have been a band I'd enjoy but to be honest, I've never really liked their recorded work. I openly admit that they've always been incredible musicians and can play intricate pieces at the speed of light with the precision of a top surgeon, but that's never been enough for me. Ultra-complex playing will always appeal to an army of 'musos' and 'Metal anoraks' but for a band to float my boat, they need the songs to match. That's the main issue I've always had with DragonForce - they've always sounded so twee.

I'm not sure what made me decide to give them another go. Maybe it was subliminal advertising, or perhaps the abundance of Power Metal I've been listening to recently (the amazing new Battle Beast album is to thank for that- review here)? Anyway, Reaching Into Infinity is the band's seventh album, and the third with lead singer Marc Hudson, who I prefer to his predecessor ZP Theart, as Marc's voice has a little more 'roar'. ZP Theart is currently recording with the dead horse that is Skid Row, and has now formally joined that circus. Anyway, back to DragonForce.

Aside from the vocals, it's pretty much the same as the other albums. Every trademark sound you'd expect from DragonForce is present and accounted for. The jaw-dropping lead guitar gymnastics from Herman Li and Sam Totman are there. The painfully overused double kicks are there too, clicking away mercilessly, overpowering the songs. However, they do deviate from their signature sound on a few brief occasions, for example during the power-ballad Silence and during sections of the epic The Edge Of The World, the latter being my favourite song on the album by a country mile. It's worth noting that on the deluxe edition, there's a cover of Death's Evil Dead that is nothing short of brilliant. It's always nice to acquire an unexpected gem.

Reaching Into Infinity may be arguably pushing a few boundaries by DragonForce's standards, but to my ears they lack the diversity and dynamics of other Power Metal acts such as Wintersun and Stratovarius. I'm sure existing fans will be delighted by this new album, but if like me, you were struggling to get into them before, you're unlikely to be won over by this new record.  

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