Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Album Review: RAGE - Seasons of the Black

Rage - Seasons of the Black

01. Season of the Black
02. Serpents in Disguise
03. Blackened Karma
04. Time Will Tell
05. Septic Bite
06. Walk Among the Dead
07. All We Know Is Not
08. Gaia
09. Justify
10. Bloodshed in Paradise
11. Farewell

Bonus Disc:

01. Adoration
02. Southcross Union
03. Assorted by Satan
04. Faster Than Hell
05. Sword Made of Steel
06. Down to the Bone

Rage (not to be confused with the shitty early 90's Dance band of the same name) are one of those Metal bands that have been around forever and a day, yet are still widely unknown. It's a shame really, as their output is consistently good, and they were around in the early stages of their scene, influencing artists that would go on to sell millions of records. Rage have many great songs, but have never had that hit single to launch them into the mainstream.

Their music walks the line between Thrash and Traditional Heavy Metal, reminding me of Metallica's Kill 'Em All and 90's Saxon at the same time. They have Speed Metal roots, yet know how to pen a melodic chorus when they need one.

Seasons Of The Black is their 24th studio album (if you include the debut they released under the name Avenger in 1984), and is a roaring return to form. It's easily as good as anything the 'Big Four' have churned out over the last decade, and really hits the spot. They're clearly still passionate about Metal, unlike many of their more successful peers who seem to be content to 'mail it in'. This new record is full of great songs, and to remind the listener that they've been awesome since before most of their fans were even born, they've re-recorded some of their early songs which are included on the bonus disc with the limited edition version of the album. Adoration is particularly killer.

If you're unfamiliar with Rage, Seasons Of the Black is a great place to start. If you like them, you'll then have 23 more studio albums to sink your teeth into. That'll keep you busy.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Album Review: PRONG - Zero Days

Prong - Zero Days

01. However It May End
02. Zero Days
03. Off the Grid
04. Divide and Conquer
05. Forced Into Tolerance
06. Interbeing
07. Blood Out of Stone
08. Operation of the Moral Law
09. The Whispers
10. Self Righteous Indignation
11. Rulers of the Collective
12. Compulsive Future Projection
13. Wasting of the Dawn

Prong aren't only part of the soundtrack to my youth, they're the unsung heroes of the Alternative Metal Scene. They were hugely influential in the early nineties, but never received anything like the amount of press or airplay as some of their peers. I remember hearing the track Prove You Wrong and rushing into town the following day to buy the Whose Fist Is This Anyway EP on vinyl. I still have it to this day. Prong's career peaked when they released their classic album The Cleansing in 1994, which featured the hit Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck. Touring with Pantera in their heyday didn't hurt them either. Then they seemed to disappear into relative obscurity. It's sad that they were treated this way, as their music bridged the gap between Hardcore, Punk, Industrial, Grunge and Metal, and it was Prong, along with a few other bands including Pantera, Ministry, and Helmet who were the forerunners of what later developed the Nu-Metal scene.

So anyway, now I've had a good rant, and vented about how Prong deserve to be way bigger than they are, it's time to check out this new record Zero Days. I'm pleased to say that it's fucking ace. The production is excellent, and it sounds huge. Main man Tommy Victor is in fine voice, and sounds as pissed off as ever.

Zero days draws more from the Thrash and Hardcore side of Prong, and it's just what the doctor ordered. Opener However It May End is packed with energy and mosh-pit 'bounce factor'. There is also plenty of melody and numerous catchy choruses mixed with the precise Thrash attack throughout the album, most notably on the tracks Divide And Conquer and The Whispers. The whole album is as heavy as an armoured bison, and it doesn't let up at all. There are 'zero' weak moments here.

Prong may have taken a back seat due to Tommy Victor's day job as Danzig's guitarist, but Zero Days is a razor sharp reminder that Prong can still deliver the goods and are as relevant as ever. Zero Days is another fantastic album in their growing legacy, and definitely a record you shouldn't miss out on.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Festival Review: BLOODSTOCK 2017 (Saturday 12th August)

Bloodstock 2017 ticket
This was my first ever Bloodstock. There are a couple of reasons that I haven't been before. Firstly, the line-ups have always leaned very much to the side of Extreme Metal. I don't expect a festival to cater to my personal tastes, but to justify the big costs involved in going to a festival, there has to be a decent number of bands that I really want to see on the bill. There are only a handful of Death Metal bands I'm into, and as a general rule I don't listen to Black Metal at all, so Bloodstock has never really been for me.

The second reason is that I've always been to Download Festival, and I'd have to be feeling pretty plush to go to more than one festival in a summer. Having said that, I managed to go to most of the Sonisphere Festivals in Knebworth, even if just for a day. It was cripplingly expensive though.

I consider myself a fairly seasoned festival goer. The first gig I ever went to was Monsters of Rock at Donington back in 1992. I was very young, but I loved it. Iron Maiden headlined, and it was an absolutely amazing day. I went to every 'Donington' Rock/Metal festival after that, whether it was Monsters of Rock, Ozzfest, Download or whatever. The only one I didn't go to was this year. 

For my tastes, Download 2017 was the most uninspiring line-up to date, with a dwindling number of bands that I care about, and the ones that I do have played several times before. For example, it feels like yesterday that Aerosmith last played, and to hear them being announced for 2017 when they have no new studio album, and no reason to be there other than as another nostalgia, 'psuedo farewell' cash-grab, I couldn't justify buying a ticket. 

Yes, I believe Download Festival is starting to suck. It's always been pricey, but it's getting ridiculous now. The last time that I looked, it was £25 to park your car in a muddy field, even if you're just there for the day. I'd expect Jack Bauer to be sitting on the passenger seat on guard all day for that kind of money. And it doesn't stop there. Everything is so expensive, you feel like you're being continually gouged, and there's nothing like feeling ripped off to suck the joy out of an event.

If you look at the history of Donington, well before the re-branding to 'Download Festival', it was seen worldwide as the ultimate Rock and Metal festival. Every band aspired to headline, and doing so meant that they were king. You saw bands work their way up the bill over the years as they were releasing what became classic records, and the headliners were always in their prime and at the top of their game, not old men in their late 60's mailing it in for a massive cheque. 

I think that in 2017, bands that should be headliners have become too big. They can command ludicrously high ticket prices, and people are somehow paying and are willing to pay. How amazing would it have been to see a re-united Guns N' Roses headline Download? Unfortunately they can sell out two nights in a row at the London Arena with ticket prices at something silly like £135 each. To a lesser extent Bring Me The Horizon don't need Download either. So we're stuck with less attractive headliners like System of a fucking Down. Do the price of tickets go down? Do they buggery! Personally, I'd have loved something special like a reunited Misfits, but c'est la vie. 

Anyway, I've nearly finished my rant. Honest! Missing Donington for the first time was actually a big deal for me. What was a pleasure became an expensive habit and an unfulfilling ritual. When you realise that you could book a week on holiday abroad for the same price as a festival, you have to really want to go. This year, I simply didn't. What was surprising was that Bloodstock had way more bands that I'm into this year than ever before, so I decided to go on the Saturday and see what the fuss was about.

If you read my blog, you'll know that I saw both Ghost and Kreator earlier this year, and I am a huge fan of both bands. I really liked the idea of seeing Ghost as a festival headliner, as their stage show gets bigger and better with every tour.

I turned up to my first ever Bloodstock at around 2pm, and managed to park for free. I think I was supposed to pay a ludicrous £20, but there was no-one there to take my cash or one of my kidneys, so I parked up and wandered over to the show with the glint of victory in my eye. 

I arrived in the arena to catch the last song by King810, It was proceeded by some video footage and commentary letting us all know how violent, murderous and generally shit their home town of Flint is, before bursting into a heavy, but un-catchy Nu-Metal song. The singer was jumping around like a steroid fuelled monkey determined to let all the other monkeys know just how tough he is. If you hadn't guessed, I can't stand King810 with their macho bullshit and their pro-gun rants. They're clearly thicker than a rhino toastie, and I can't see how this kind of chest beating nonsense appeals to anyone over the age of 14, or with an IQ higher than 3. I was glad that I did not have to endure these chodes for long.

Next up was Annihilator! I've liked them since I was a teenager, but this was the first time I'd seen them live. Jeff Waters was in fine voice, and his guitar playing was top notch. They crammed the set with some new material as well as classics like Alison Hell, Phantasmagoria and Human Insecticide. Brilliant.

Annihilator at Bloodstock 2017

I wandered over to the Hobgoblin New Blood tent and checked out a band called Ba'al. They were tight and super heavy with a big distorted bass sound. The vocals were basically a dude screaming. I'm not sure if he actually had any lyrics, because no actual words were being formed. I know there's a huge market for this sort of thing, but it's not my cup of tea. 

Ba'al at Bloodstock 2017

I went back out outside and had a look at the Jaegermeister stage, which is a small orange tent at the back of the field, and is just big enough for a small stage and a bar. Hard Rock band Spyder Byte were playing and they sounded great. I could barely see them play as the tiny tent was rammed, so I stood about six feet outside it for most of the show. They sounded a bit like AC/DC in places, and their upbeat, good time Rock n' Roll was a nice breath of fresh air from the dark twisted Metal I'd just been watching at the New Blood tent.

The Jaegermeister Stage at Bloodstock 2017

Spyder Byte at Bloodstock 2017
Municipal Waste hit the Ronnie James Dio stage, and were very well received by the Bloodstock crowd. They remind me of early Anthrax, and their show was full of fun and energy. Musically, they're very much '80's Thrash by numbers', but in a live setting like this one, they are exactly what the audience wants. They even managed to get over 500 crowd surfers during a song, which is pretty impressive. 

Municipal Waste at Bloodstock 2017

I went to the Sophie Lancaster tent and saw a band called Florence Black. They were really good, and not what I expected at Bloodstock at all. They had a Black Stone Cherry meets Alice In Chains thing going on. 

Florence Black at Bloodstock 2017

What I did think was particularly cool, and refreshingly different for a Metal festival, was the art tent. It showed off some amazing Heavy Metal related artwork from Bloodstock poster designs to band photographs, album covers and more.

Art at Bloodstock 2017
Art at Bloodstock 2017
Art at Bloodstock 2017
Art at Bloodstock 2017
Art at Bloodstock 2017
Art at Bloodstock 2017

Hatebreed were up next on the Ronnie James Dio stage. They were on fire, and their mix of Hardcore and furious Metal went down a storm, and ended on a merciless rendition of I Will Be Heard.

Hatebreed at Bloodstock 2017

Kreator delivered an amazing set. Like the show I attended earlier in the year, it was a good mix of new and old material, and showed how well the tracks from their superb latest album, Gods of Violence, stand alongside their classics. Kreator are as good as ever, and their stage show, full of pyrotechnics, TV screens and a humungous Satan head, was something really special.

Kreator at Bloodstock 2017
Kreator at Bloodstock 2017

After a rather smashing bacon and cheese toastie and a hot chocolate, I ventured back into the Sophie Lancaster tent and watched a bit of Xentrix. I have their Scourge album but haven't listened to it for years. They were pretty good, and certainly deserve to be remembered as more than that band that covered the Ghostbusters Theme. 

Xentrix at Bloodstock 2017

Headlining Saturday was Ghost. I fucking love Ghost. Totally and utterly. Their inclusion to the bill is what made me buy a ticket, and I was not disappointed. Their stage show was superb, and they proved themselves as the perfect headliner. They even had a full choir during the end of the last song, Monstrance Clock

Ghost at Bloodstock 2017
Ghost at Bloodstock 2017
Ghost at Bloodstock 2017
Ghost at Bloodstock 2017

All in all, I had a fantastic day at Bloodstock. What I particularly liked was that it was a smaller festival (I believe around 20K in attendance), so you could get around quickly and easily. I'm starting to think that the massive, over-priced festivals, where you spend a good chunk of your visit in queues, are coming to an end. Festivals the size of Bloodstock are far more enjoyable. I'm already tempted to go again next year.

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