Slipknot – .5: The Gray Chapter (2014) – Album Review

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Slipknot‘s long awaited return has finally come. Sadly lacking a different line up to the last release, with the departure of Joey Jordison and the unfortunate loss of Paul Gray it’s no surprise the latest release took a while to come together. Not that the other members haven’t been busy, Stone Sour being the obvious work horses, but the timing they felt was finally right to release something new. Presumptions will be similar to that before Avenged Sevenfold‘s “Nightmare” and the album will in line with a tribute to their lost friend, the title alone indicates this.

By the time ‘The Devil In I’ hits there’s a different vibe to Slipknot‘s signature sound. It’s dirty but restrained enough to retain a solid melody, this doesn’t stop the album from hammering away like SK do best. The band do well to tribute Gray but not overly saturate the album in grief, allowing room for a new SK to grow in this wake whilst still retaining what made SK such a success. The softer dynamics the band have adopted are clear in a song like ‘Killpop’ but though many people complain this is because of Stone Sour it is actually balanced differently to SS and has set itself aside clearer than the case may have been on “All Hope Is Gone”.

Despite the obvious addition of “softer elements” the album remains relatively unrelenting and asides from a few dives into cleaner guitars and emphasis on other instruments it’s predominantly fast guitars and drums and harsh vocals. Definitely one point for the Taylor critics, his voice has definitely changed but he can still perform well in SK whilst also adapting his style to suit that more of a “singer”. The sadistic ‘Lech’ captures the albums sound pretty well whilst ‘Goodbye’ understandably changes the theme completely. This change however almost ushers in the second half of the album, splitting this quite long release well.

 ‘Custer’ injects a burst of adrenaline again before ‘Be Prepared for Hell’ divides the closing tracks from the remainder of the album. The haunting intro to ‘The Negative One’ is actually one of the most memorable things in an album full of great moments. ‘If Rain Is What You Want’ closes the album and begins in a totally different way to any track of the album. It feels more spiritual and definitely deeper emotionally than any of the preceding tracks.

“The Gray Chapter” in itself begins a new chapter in the life of Slipknot. Should they feel like continuing after this then this will definitely have been the defining release for them. It’s a shame on which the circumstances of it’s release occurred but it is definitely a fitting tribute to a fallen brother. It sounds like it’ll wheel back in the hardcore fans who have have been lost in recent years whilst ushering in a whole new generation of Slipknot fans.

 

Verdict: 8/10 – It’s a new chapter and a very important time for Slipknot; they’ve tred exceptionally carefully and it’s paid off in the form of a tribute album that doesn’t dwell on the past too much, rather looks to the future.

Release Date: October 17th 2014 (Australia & Netherlands) & October 21st 2014 (USA)

Don’t forget to purchase the album at Amazon by clicking HERE

Mr. Big – … The Stories We Could Tell (2014) – Album Review

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Paul Gilbert and co are back with their new album “…The Stories We Could Tell”. In an age where amalgamations of genres is welcomed and the deep and surreal are at the forefront of our musical journey is there still a room for tinselled hard rock?

What many 80s bands re-emerging in the 2000s have struggled to do is reinvent themselves or grow under the current changing tides. However Mr. Big have shown how to be yourself whilst also evolving, and mostly showing off with some incredible musical partnership (See the middle section of ‘The Light of Day‘). With Billy Sheehan in the mix it’s easy to hear how Mr. Big still influenced his side-project (The Winery Dogs) with former Big member Richie Kotzen and percussion legend Mike Portnoy. It does not sound enough like it though however. Mr.Big still retains it’s anthemic and big sound with Paul Gilberts fantastic tone (as per) and the vocal harmonies backing up Eric Martin.

It is packed with the typical riffs you’d expect from Mr.Big (see the opening two tracks) but also has it’s cheesy moments. Normally brushed aside in another genre but a song like ‘Fragile‘ or ‘The Man Who Has Everything’ have a welcome place on a Big record. It’s balanced well however and after a drop in pace a track like ‘The Monster in Me‘ reignites the riffing fire.

This is some of the bands best material and decent music for newcomers to the genre. It’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s care-free. Once you’re hooked onto any of of the songs it’s hard not smile and just enjoy life, grab a beer and chill with some friends with some easy listening hard rock music. Should have come out at the start of the summer to enjoy in the heat.

Verdict – 7/10

Charlie Munro – Maverick (2014) – Album Review

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Sometimes you’ll be on the internet and you’ll come across something you like. Having a YouTube account and following various label pages grants access to a wide variety of music and whilst liking a lot of heavy music can lead to a constant cycle of bands copying one another every now and then you come across someone with a bit of ambition.

This week is happens to be Charlie Munro with his album “Maverick”. It begins delicately and seemingly an exploration or demonstration into ‘look how nice I can play the guitar’. Quarter of an hour in however after ‘II – Insanity Void’ has finished it’s clear this man possesses some talent and a penchant for writing indulgent songs that astonish as opposed to annoy. The rhythmic irregularities are actually good to listen to, not being thrown around at random intervals but picked carefully and cleverly.

Instrumental albums can be quite a leap of faith for some, the lack of vocal melody is akin to the lack of dialogue in a modern film. A coherent narrative is never too hard to pick out however. With open influences from the likes of Coheed & CambriaDillinger Escape PlanBetween the Buried and Me and many more it’s no surprise Charlie Munro knows how to string a melody together into an hour long piece; ‘V – Perfect Cosmic Meltdown’ carries influences from Yes or even 90s Steve Vai. Riff city is also alive, ‘VIII – Archeus’ shows this before turning in on itself into a jazzy, funky reggae song. Good stuff.

In a quick summary this release was definitely a nice surprise when trudging through mountains of genericism. The guy is talented and has some interesting ideas. Given the right balance of counterpart musicians he should be able to find the sweet spot that’ll grant him the success he desires. However currently he’s a student so study hard!

Verdict - 7/10 - It’s great for a solo effort, especially granted the limited success. It does could benefit from a band keeping Munro‘s idea in check and whittling down the unnecessary parts. Asides from that it’s pretty good if instrumental progressive metal is your thing.

 

Listen to the album for free at BandCamp and if you like it don’t forget to support the artist!

Slash, featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators – World on Fire (2014) – Album Review

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Slash returns once again into a land which is thankfully familiar. His releases with Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators are becoming regular on the cycle between Slash and Alter Bridge. The new album “World On Fire” rides along the same vein as “Apocalyptic Love” without sounding too much like it’s predecessor. At one hour and 17 minutes it is a considerably long album for  a heavy rock band, but with the years of experience carried on all the musicians shoulders it shouldn’t be too much to maintain the intensity.

The opener and title track feels familiar enough. Lightning fast, simple structure and wailing vocals. It’s not a format for what is to come but it’s a easy route in, being the lead single too means the listener will be dropped into familiar territory. It also is the first song in a long while in which Myles Kennedy uses profanity, just a little bit of trivia. ‘Shadow Life’, ’30 Years to Life’, and ‘Wicked Stone’ ensure a strong start to the album. Each track worthy of merit in  Slash‘s ever-growing back catalogue. They each contain little bits that sound like throwaways from “Apocalyptic Life” but the experienced musicians know how to alter the songs and give them a life of their own. ’30 Years to Life’ notably is one of the best tracks on the album; it’s dynamic and balanced well pace wise.

The album is effectively in two parts, due to it’s extraordinary length. In the second half ‘Battleground’ is one song that adds a beautiful element to the album. A traditional Slash ballad in a sense but, as with most softer songs, it’s Myles vocals that shine above everything else. The construction of this is familiar with Guns ”Illusion” era but Myles alters it just enough and again asserts himself as rocks vocal titan of the modern age. No means the deepest and best ballad but it’s a great “feel good” song, and utilises a “la la la” passage that is so often messed up by other artists. it’s all rock n roll but there’s no reason you can’t smile once in a while. ‘Iris of the Storm’ is another staple point on the album, great melodies and a direction away from the traditional “amped up blues”, nothing wrong with it but the change in dynamics makes it stand out. ‘Avalon’ reintroduces pace whilst ‘The Dissident’ makes use of the “oohs” and “aahs” in a fresh way again. It also bounces between moods very well, in the latter song, and towards the end becomes a really good ‘pop’ song.

‘Safar Inn’ is a surprise instrumental, and at 3 minutes it’s a good length for a quick blast of indulgence without being too arrogant. The jazzy undertones in favour of  solid heavy blues throughout keep up the energy and interest. The final track could almost entirely be comprised of praise for Myles. His voice may not suit heavy rock brilliantly (some people’s opinions) but the labyrinth of melodies on ‘The Unholy’ are astounding. Slash has definitely found the vocalist he’s been looking for for 30 years. The vocals combined with the dooming instrumentals make this track stand out too. Definitely one of the “keepers” should the album have been whittled down.

In the end it’s clear that Slash, featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators is totally separate any previous work by other artists. Sounds obvious but there’s few instances of “This sounds like Alter BridgeGuns n Roses or Velvet Revolver“, Snakepit at a push but Slash has found a formula that works and is sticking to it. That’s a good thing. Perhaps trimming the album or expanding to a double would have been best for “World On Fire” as it’s a little too cumbersome to listen to all the way through. It’s got it’s share of throwaways, generally the shorter songs. Not bad songs but in comparison to the rest they seem wasted.

Verdict – 8/10 - It seems to be a grower. The fat could have been trimmed heavily but thankfully the 90% of good material is absolutely solid. Possibly better than “Apocalyptic Love” and in a different ball park to the rest of the catalog.

U2 – Songs of Innocence (2014) – Album Review

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Surprise surprise. U2 have released “Songs of Innocence” for free for every iTunes customer, generous move. Obviously they’ll have been subsidised  by the mega-money giant but the surprise of opening your iPod to see the new album downloading is still a nice gesture. U2 however have not recaptured their creative genius that came with albums like “The Joshua Tree”, and “Achtung Baby”. The last few albums haven’t missed out on their share of great songs, but having a wall to wall album of inspiring album is a far cry.

It’s definitely a pop album. It’s also clear they’ve been listening to current popular music in their time away. The recent “band revolution” is clearly inspiring on this album, ‘The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)’ clearly attributing guitar styles that have come to prominence again. An obvious contender for their pop anthem is ‘Song for Someone’, which is U2 through and through but again has clearly taken inspiration from modern music, for the better. It does lack in that it doesn’t live up to their previous ‘ballads’ but credit is due for evolving the sound, one thing U2 manage to do well (sometimes not so well) is change their sound to what fits the time best. ‘Iris (Hold Me Close)’ is one of the songs that molds the two styles and produces a genuinely great song, definitely one of the best songs on the album. ‘Raised By Wolves’ too is one which feels like U2 finding their good streak again, whilst ‘Cedarwood Road’ adds a delicate acoustic guitar riff to the normally spacious and airy music which balances well with the normally effects laden music.

“Songs of Innocence” sounds like U2 in their early days, but more mature, with inspiration from today’s music meaning it doesn’t sound aged. No, it isn’t fantastic and it’s songs likely won’t be remembered in as bright a light as classics like ‘One’ and ‘With Or Without You’ will but it’s still a reflective evolution of the band’s career, whilst continuing to move forward musically. The influence of the modern era can sometimes hold it back, sometimes sounding as though it’s playing catch up with what’s popular. But their willingness to escape ego of what is “U2‘s sound” and advance it is what makes them a great band.

Verdict – 7/10 – It’s enjoyable but missing that divine spark.

Pulled Apart By Horses – Blood (2014) – Album Review

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Leeds locals Pulled Apart By Horses have offered their latest album “Blood” up to the table of scrutiny. Their alt.Rock sound goes further with this record, immediately sounding familiar yet different to their last. Sounding more early 90s, late 80s American Surf Rock than the previous releases, “Blood” contains more catchy songs, written very maturely but still packs the youthful punch that the band are garnering a reputation for.

Opener ‘Hot Squash’ immediately draws upon modern Foos influences, however dives quickly into darker territory  popularised by Queens of the Stone Age. A co-headline tour between these with Pulled supporting would probably be the ultimate goal. What follows is clearly something that would have been one of the best underdog albums of the 90s. ‘Lizard Baby’ is the first “chanty” song, brilliantly written for the live atmosphere.

“Blood” has it’s share of what would be happy catchy songs for playing at the beach. The grunge influence and raspier vocals add an extra texture that prove this album was definitely released 20 years too late. The best thing about it is the dirtiness it has, the pace rarely lets up too which can be a criticism as much as a compliment. It’d be nice if things slowed down once in a while, not for a ballad, but just bringing in the ‘stoner vibes’, however it’s an adrenaline album that gets the blood pumping.

The album does peter out towards the end, the vibe is still the same and is likely just a case of mis-dynamics. Had they altered a bit it would have given the journey the proper lift and fall it needed. Saying that ‘Medium Rare’ is one of the better tracks, with the clear grunge vibe. That and closer ‘Golden Monument’.

Verdict - 7/10