Thursday, 24 March 2022

Frostbite - Misdirected (2022)

Country: Norway
Style: Progressive Rock/Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 28 Jan 2022
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Here's another prog rock album from Norway because, if I have an addiction nowadays, it that. It's heavier than the others that I've been wowing over, because it often crosses that invisible border into prog metal, but in a commercial fashion. The more I repeat listened to this album, the more it felt like Frostbite are aiming at being Dream Theater lite, which may or may not be a good idea.

The six members all are clearly adept technically but none of them shows off that much or aims at flashy demonstrations of their skills. The band's sound isn't as dense and they keep instrumental workouts far less frequent. However, they find many of the same grooves and they have a lot more melodies. It's like they listened to Distance Over Time in 2019 and felt the same way I did, that the technical wizardry is all well and good, but where are the hooks? I just wrote about it, but they put an album together that's full of the hooks that Dream Theater weren't writing.

The question is whether this approach is going to work for them. Fans of Dream Theater do like an instrumental workout and many of them like them all the more when they're technically brilliant to the degree that most bands wouldn't even be able to cover them. Those fans are going to hear this and wonder why there are so few notes, even as the melodies and hooks seep into their bones. On the flipside of that, fans of straight ahead of rock who are used to hooks like these may baulk a little at how complex and progressive the songs are. Is there a place in the middle for a band like Frostbite? Maybe and maybe not. I hope so, because I like this.

I also like the way that they dance back and forth across the rock/metal boundary. Superior opens up in more prog metal style, while Ice Cold feels more like prog rock, albeit lively prog rock with a commercial vocal and a sound that's never too far from becoming metal. As the album run on, it's not too hard to see that there are obvious commonalities between many of the songs. Many kick off with piano, then grow through commercial rock sections to more metal guitar solos and often slightly heavier and more imaginative sections to wrap up. Fear My Name and Holy Be the One do that at the heart of the album and they're far from alone, even if the purer Perfect Storm may be be the best song here.

There are a couple of songs that stand apart from this approach. One is the closer, Finding Home, which is the epic of the album. These are generally shorter songs, when you think Dream Theater lengths at least. Two finish in under four minutes and another two in under five. Three stretch to under six and there's another under seven, but Finding Home runs past ten, mostly because of an impressive and mostly instrumental prog midsection. It doesn't change the formula much in other ways but I do appreciate that midsection.

The other is a peach of an instrumental that hints at one direction Frostbite may take more in the future. It's Crepitu, an odd name, given that I'm only seeing a couple of potential inspirations for it. One is that Crepitus was the Roman god of flatulence, which seems unlikely, and the other is a crepitus, a medical condition that involves cracking or popping sounds under the skin and joints. I don't know if that fits either, given that this is emphatically a metal take on classical music in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach.

It's flashy but not as much as Yngwie J. Malmsteen would make it; it's more in the style of Accept, when they cover classical standards. However, I'm thinking that, even if it's nodding knowingly to certain Bach pieces, it's an original creation. I like it a lot, whether early on when it's driven by a lively guitar or late on when the keyboards get frantic. I love the tone of both those instruments and especially the latter, which seems to only play one chord at a time, switching firmly to another each time but with increasing speed.

And so I wonder where Frostbite are going to move musically. It seems like they may already have moved away from an anthemic hard rock sound into the Dream Theater lite style I'm hearing here. I wonder if they're going to expand the instrumental sections further, even if they don't want to go far away from hook-driven commercial rock/metal. This is only their debut album, so there's much opportunity for growth. I look forward to hearing their follow up. Maybe by that point, I'll find out who's actually in the band.

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

FM - Thirteen (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Mar 2022
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

Like Pure Wrath but from about as close to the other end of the rock/metal spectrum as could be comfortably imagined, FM are an established band whose most recent work I reviewed in 2020. In FM's case, that was their twelfth studio album, Synchronized, meaning that this is what I happily hope will become their lucky thirteenth, and it's emphatically more of the same, to the degree of me almost being able to link to it and simply say "Ditto!" I can safely state that everything I said last time out remains valid this time too.

In case you don't want to follow that link, I'll summarise like this. FM play commercial melodic rock from the softer end of that genre. They're British but they sound American and the radio friendly songs they play often aren't that far away from pop and soul and, on rarer occasions, country, like early in Love and War here. Mostly they play eighties AOR, doing it well enough that many of the songs on offer here will sound like you've been listening to them for decades. You might swear that half of them are covers of songs by bands like Journey that you loved when they were new way back in the day, but they're new now, distillations of a style rather than plaguaristic remakes. This band is just that good.

The line-up remains stable for the eighth album in a row and three of the five members have been there throughout: the back end of Merv Goldsworthy on bass and Pete Jupp on drums, as well as a soulful frontman in Steve Overland. He's the most recognisable part of FM's sound and he sounds just as good now as he did over forty years ago when he was starting out with his brother Chris in a band called Wildlife. It's his shifts into soul that make FM's sound so interesting, because I have to say that, as catchy as their AOR tunes are, they're deliberately smooth and commercial. Turning up the soul component gives them depth and emotional impact.

As an example, check out Long Road Home, which is a powerful song because of Overland's soulful vocal but could have been almost forgettable had he stayed clean and poppy. Waiting on Love is a pop song in rock clothing, surely the softest thing on offer here and, as well crafted as it is, one of the most forgettable. It's songs like this that I can hear and enjoy while they're playing, but forget halfway through the next song because that's just as catchy and, like that, my attention is shifted. That goes double when they're followed by songs with an electronic component, such as Just Got Started and Be True to Yourself, as I imagine they were deliberately designed to grab attention with a little edge.

I don't want to suggest that FM are just a pop band though, because there are a few songs here of harder stuff. Shaking the Tree is a stalker of an opener, almost to deliberately remind us that even if the album will inevitably get softer, FM still know how to rock and it's one of the highlights of the album. Every Man Needs a Woman is a rocker too, even with such a quintessentally soul title. If I'd looked at the track listing before pressing play, that would have been the last song I'd expected to rock it up, but, while it isn't without soul, it never stops rocking. The same goes for my favourite of the eleven songs on offer, which is Turn This Car Around.

It's fair to say too that new fish Jim Kirkpatrick, who's been FM's lead guitarist for fourteen years now, has an important role to play, even though I'd prefer it to be a larger one. He delivers some driving guitar on Shaking the Tree to kick off the album and he's prominent late on too, with neat solos in Fight Fire with Fire (no, it isn't an ambitious Metallica cover) and Be True to Yourself. He's not just there during the bookends either, as Turn This Car Around proves, even if he isn't always given as much opportunity to strut his stuff as I'd like. He contributes excellent, if short, solos in a few songs like Talk is Cheap and Love and War. There just aren't any epics for him to really get his teeth into.

So, as tends to be the case with FM, I'll leave this thirteenth album refreshed and entertained and wondering once more how they've never managed to break the mainstream.

Pure Wrath - Hymn to the Woeful Hearts (2022)

Country: Indonesia
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Feb 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | YouTube

I had an absolute blast with The Forlorn Soldier, technically an EP by Pure Wrath but one that was long enough to think of as an album. It was my runner up for Album of the Month in March of that year, nudging out the excellent Ghost Toast and My Dying Bride albums but losing out to the new Harem Scarem. Well, Januaryo Hardy, the man behind this project, is back with an full album, his third such as Pure Wrath, with a live album, that 2020 EP and a split release with Onirism available on Bandcamp too. I haven't heard most of that, but I really should carve out time to dig into it.

Januaryo is responsible for the vast majority of what's here, providing the vocals and most of the instrumentation, including guitar, bass and synths. He's also the songwriter, lyricist and, I expect, producer. He doesn't play the drums, which are, as last time out, the work of Yurii Kononov, an ex-drummer for White Ward. Also returning from that EP is Dice Midyanti to contribute piano, cello and "additional elements", whatever they are. Certainly, there's plenty of atmosphere within this atmospheric black metal, so I expect Midyanti is responsible for some of that.

Both are obvious from the outset, Midyanti's cello there as The Cloak of Disquiet kicks things into motion, an elegant sway in companionship with acoustic guitar, before the electrics take over and take over hard, Kononov's frantic drumming setting the pace. Suddenly, we're in full black metal onslaught, albeit with a slow sweeping melody floating through that wall of sound. There perhaps aren't as many dynamic shifts in this one as I'd have liked, but there are points where everything drops away for a slower section for texture.

Certainly, there's some elegant piano work to wrap up Years of Silence, alongside an odd shaking sound that's both enticing and creepy, like a bundle of rushes being beaten against a stone floor. That piano had already made a major effect in the song, minimal but very noticeable tinkling at a number of points. It's this song that also made the theme clear to me, which is grief, that piano an overt expression of such. Also, while the majority of the vocals phrase black metal shrieks as howls of anguish, there's a slower section midway that's dirge like, an outpouring of grief that wouldn't be out of place in a church, sans the music around it.

It's fair to say that I enjoyed this album through its first three tracks, and more on a second listen, but not as much as I enjoyed The Forlorn Soldier. Years of Silence is my pick from those three, even if Presages from a Restless Soul is a real grower of a song, but the streak of genius that was there last time out seemed to be missing. Well, it shows back up on Footprints of the Lost Child, because this is the Pure Wrath I was so impressed by on that EP.

It's strong from the outset, with an almost Iron Maiden melody under its wall of sound, while the vocals are a neatly creeping layer on top but the midsection is simply magnificent. In a subtle turn of mood, things got almost upbeat a couple of minutes in, as if the choral voices are celebrating a life rather than mourning a loss. It's at the five minute mark that it starts to steal our breath, with piano, cello, slow drums and whatever the other sound is merging into an inviting nest of comfort. The backing vocals as the song wraps are welcoming and comforting too. It's quite the piece and I'd have no hesitation calling it the standout track.

There are a couple more songs to come, Those Who Stand Still having some notable moments and Hymn to the Woeful Hearts being a very different closer, not a black metal song at all, more of a respite from the pain and grief inherent in everything thus far. It's almost like the album up to this point is a musical interpretation of all the heartbreak hidden (or not so hidden) by the attendees at an emotional service for the lost, with the title track the peaceful instrumental played as everyone's filing out to rejoin their lives. There's a guest here, Nick Kushnir on "guitar elements", but I don't know what that really means.

So, more powerful and thoughtful stuff from Januaryo Hardy. I'm not convinced that this is quite up to the standard of The Forlorn Soldier, but it's really good stuff and, when it's at its peak, with Footprints of the Lost Child, it's magnificent.

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Immolation - Acts of God (2022)

Country: USA
Style: Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Feb 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

This is an eleventh studio album for New York death metal legends Immolation, arriving five years after its predecessor, Atonement. It's a decent release, because it does exactly what Immolation's known for and does it in the fashion to which fans have become accustomed. However, I'm not one of those, even though I should be, because of the lack of imagination in the vocal delivery of Ross Dolan. I end up realising on any Immolation album that I appreciate them more than I enjoy them.

They play a form of death metal that's notably technical but isn't notably progressive, a section in the middle of An Act of God notwithstanding. This approach means that they do all sorts of clever things instrumentally, especially in interplay between Robert Vigna's guitars and Steve Shalaty's drums, but within songs built from frameworks that feel inherently limited by self-imposed genre constraints. There isn't much of anything here that isn't death metal so, if your favourite albums in that genre from the past couple of years are from bands like Rivers of Nihil or First Fragment, then this will seem wildly unimaginative in comparison.

However, Immolation aren't one of those death metal bands who cares more about the impact of their music than they do the songs themselves, like say Cannibal Corpse. The technicality of these songs may not flex the genre's boundaries in the slightest but it's admirable and ought to appeal to fans of bands like Archspire, merely with vocals that feel unambitious. While Dolan's certainly singing these songs, he's almost singing them in a different subgenre, because there's nothing in them to match the technicality of Vigna and Shalaty. His basswork, on the other hand, because he has two roles in this band, absolutely does. Is the man schizophrenic?

What I know is that my appreciation of this album shifted as it went on. I enjoyed the early tracks because of this sort of technical aspect. I loved the intro, Abandoned, for a start, and the complex rhythms on An Act of God too. There's a section late in Noose of Thorns that's breathtaking in its technical ambition. I listened to that a dozen times to try to figure out exactly what they're doing in it. There's a section in When Halos Burn that does likewise and a few in Incineration Procession that come close too.

Over time though, the general vibe of the album took over from those sections of songs and I just ran with it all in a similar way to how I enjoyed the last Cannibal Corpse record, letting the songs bleed together into a single palatable assault on the senses. Dolan's vocals work better with this sort of mindset, in which we give up listening to the detail of the songs and let them simply wash over us. The more I replayed the album, the longer the technicality won out, eventually getting to the point where it was just the last couple of songs in that torrent of death.

I was going to go with a 7/10 because of this, with a note that any particular fans of the band ought to automatically add a point to that. Then I thought I should just bite the bullet and call it an 8/10. But I still don't get Dolan's non-technical vocals on such technical music, so I'll stick with a 7/10 and you can add a point to that if you want, based on what I've said here.

King Mountain - Tempest at the Gate (2022)

Country: Greece
Style: Stoner/Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Mar 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

I've been stumbling upon all sorts of quality rock and metal coming out of Greece lately, even if it doesn't seem to be the product of any single coherent scene. Naxatras and Halocraft are only the latest to seriously impress me, with Acid Death and Soundtruck getting 8/10s from me in the past, along with Firewind, who I already knew about, of course. And so, always greedy for more, here's another Greek album, courtesy of another project of Stavros Papadopoulos, who I've encountered before in Universal Hippies.

If I'm counting properly, this is a fourth album for King Mountain with vocals and a fifth overall, as 2020's Beleaguered was entirely instrumental. Papadopoulos provides the guitar and vocals, with Chris Lagios, the drummer in Universal Hippies, behind the kit and John Christopoulos on bass. It's well within possibility that he's played with Papadopolous before in one of his myriad bands, but I couldn't tell you which. I just assume that the man is a scene all on his own.

Like Universal Hippies, King Mountain play stoner rock, as is patently obvious from the amount of fuzz on the guitar. However, this is a vocal album and Papadopoulos's voice underlines just much of Clutch there is in this band's sound. He delivers clean vocals that are deep, confident and powerful without overtly trying to be. Like Clutch, King Mountain builds its songs out of slow, solid riffs that are effortlessly heavy without ever really pushing towards doom. If it crosses boundaries, it's into grunge and southern rock, which I'd never seen as a sliding scale before. There are also hints at an influence in NWOBHM, both in riffs and solos.

For a while, it's pure stoner rock. Soul Sacrifice is a strong opener, a patient stormer of a track. The title track continues that, overloading the fuzz on its intro to worship the distortion, and it's only late in Burning Walls that it leaps into a gallop for some clear Iron Maiden guitarwork. That's neat energy to add into the sound of a band that tend to be heavy without being urgent. The same goes for the psychedelic opening to Break Away and for the way that it then grows into something not a million miles away from southern rock. There's grunge in songs like King of the Mountain and lots of blues too, which is crucial bedrock for King Mountain.

It's notable that the less expected sounds the band trawls in tend to be in the middle of the album. A few of these songs sound like Eddie Vedder singing for Clutch but thinking he's in Lynyrd Skynyrd and I'm not going to argue with that, especially when the guitar plays along. That Break Away solo is a real peach, even if there aren't any other guitars to interweave with. The resulting sound ends up as much akin to Black Country Communion as Clutch, albeit with a very different vocal style.

However, the openers are firmly in Clutch territory and so are the closers, which tend to turn out to be my favourites here. If Soul Sacrifice isn't my pick for the album's standout track, then Under the Blackened Sky is. This is the penultimate song on offer, with the similarly excellent Naked Souls on duty to close out the album, and I adore the guitarwork, which alternates between delicate almost spaghetti western soundtrack picking and a neatly heavy riff, not to forget another excellent solo. The drums are fascinating too, even if they're heavied up to the point of dissonance.

So, how many bands is Stavros Papadopoulos actually in nowadays and which one of them will issue an album next week? Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, 21 March 2022

Ronni Le Tekrø - Bigfoot TV (2022)

Country: Norway
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Mar 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia

If you don't know the name, you'll know his guitarwork. Ronni Le Tekrø found fame as the guitarist in Norwegian hard rockers TNT and he blisters on this solo album too, his first true solo job since a pair of Mein Ampf albums in 2014 and 2015. There's a building solo late on the opener, Life on Long Island, that ably demonstrates that he doesn't just still have it, he still has something that a lot of guitarists would kill for. The rest of the song's pretty damn good as well, a quirky but fascinating opener indeed.

What really impressed me, though, was how delightfully offbeat this album is. Few of these songs really do what you expect them to do, though I'm not sure what that would be, given that Le Tekrø hasn't ever restricted himself to a single genre. He certainly doesn't do that here, shifting around a broad realm of music from the Beatles through soothing Eric Clapton and perhaps even Cake to a more traditional hard rock mode with searing guitar. What links it all is a sort of laid back vibe. Nothing here is urgent. Ronni's just having fun.

Life on Long Island is a hard one to describe. It's almost like a cross between what he's been doing for TNT for the past forty years and, well, maybe Jimmy Buffett. Well, maybe not, but it's a combo of hard rock groove and conversational banality that seems like a wild clash but one which somehow works. Similarly, Demons is Eddie van Halen style riffs but the bizarrely banal lyrics are more David Bowie. And the next song after that is about Ronni's cat. The lyrics throughout this album are clearly personal and any that connect through do so through sheer coincidence.

I've only heard this album twice thus far, but I'm tempted to play it a few more times throughout a week or so to let the lyrics soak into my brain. Right now, it's the musical hopscotch that's grabbed my attention, the sheer variety on display on an album that somehow feels coherent. New Day in the Morning is more Eric Clapton than Eric Clapton is nowadays, soothing through both vocals and guitar. A Handful of Time feels Scottish because the swell of the guitar reminds of bagpipes, surely deliberately, conjuring up almost a Runrig vibe. U.F.O. is emphatically a hard rock song but I heard as much ELO in it as I did TNT.

In other words, there's a lot here and Le Tekrø's band is up to the schizophrenic dancing of styles. I wondered at one point if he'd brought different singers in to sing each different track, but no, it's Leif Knashaug demonstrating as much versatility behind the mike as Le Tekrø does on a fretboard. Well, OK, there is at least one guest, Rodmar Johansen on Not Today, but there may only be one. I don't know how long these musicians have been playing together but I'm guessing that it's longer than we might expect for a solo album coming out of nowhere. If not, all power to them, weaving a sonic web together so well on such a diverse set of songs. There's forty full minutes here but I was eager for more. It's a whole radio show on a CD.

SheWolf - SheWolf (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Symphonic Power Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 18 Mar 2022
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives

Here's a band I first heard on Chris Franklin's glorious Raised on Rock radio show and immediately noted down for review. I'm very happy to say that the album lives up to whichever track he played that day, even if it opens up with hints of a folk metal element that don't really manifest. Sure, I'm hearing flutes at a couple of points, like in a tantalising midsection in Lone Wolf and a brief pause in The Thrill of the Chase, but this is never really folk metal. It's symphonic power metal, with the two sides of that just as important as each other, and it's good stuff.

I can't remember which song Chris played that first time, because he could have picked any one of them and not been wrong. The One You Feed is an excellent opener. Welcome to the Pack is a little better again. Lone Wolf is a step up again and could well have been my choice if I were in his shoes.

If anything else can class as better than that one, I'd call out Moonbound, which is a real gem from its bombastic opening notes, the song building from the parade of little tinklings behind the early emphasis to a magnificent power note from the lead vocalist known only as the Shaman. This is an immediate song, one whose groove you'll just fall into the first time you hear it, but there are also layers that you'll keep discovering each time you go back. And trust me, you'll go back.

It's an understatement to say that the Shaman has some serious pipes on her. She has a warm and accessible voice that plays more in traditional power metal melody than the musical theatre that so many symphonic metal singers lean towards, but she can hit notes and enunciation just as well as they can. I don't think this album shows off everything that she can do and I'm interested in the next few albums that I'm sure will bring out more of her talents.

One criticism I'd have is that when a band has a singer who can do this sort of thing, it becomes an easy choice to play with dynamics, crafting songs to take advantage of her range, but SheWolf are resistant to a degree. Take Dimash as the epitome of an example. He has no intention of taking a song to eleven from the outset. He takes his sweet time building it from nothing to the showcase moments that stun us. SheWolf could do that but only Nothing is Forever truly tries, starting out with quiet oohing and solo piano and voice, but even here that voice never hides its power.

We know it's there, folks, and that it'll show up soon enough. Don't rush it. With this album under your belt, be confident that we're fully aware of how much power you have to wield and then play around with other intensity levels until you need it. One moment of artistry that made me smile is the beginning of Home, because it tells us promptly that it's going to be a ballad, teasingly hints that it won't be, then teasingly hints that it will be after all and then, of course, isn't. That's a nice use of dynamics. The all too brief drop into piano at the end of Safe in the Dark is another.

The other thing I got from this album that isn't a criticism at all is that these songs are uplifting. I don't mean to suggest that they're designed to be inspirational, because that's a genre nowadays as much as a mood and that's not what this is. They're just inherently upbeat and refreshing. It's a tough task indeed (and one that I don't want) to listen to a song like The Thrill of the Chase and not be caught up in that, as if we're running with the pack and howling with the sheer delight of it.

One side effect of that is that some of these songs, notably Fallen with You but others too, such as Lone Wolf, could work as decent pop songs, as much as I prefer them as power metal. They're built from melody so fundamentally that turning the heaviness down quite a few notches and switching the very able instrumentation to something more electronic and pulsy, and you have a chart hit. I don't want to suggest that SheWolf should do this, but it's illuminating that they could. This is why they can throw an orchestral version of Lone Wolf onto the end of the album as a bonus, because it doesn't rely on genre to work.

This is the debut album for SheWolf, who hail from the unlikely town of Southampton, not the first place I'd think of when I wonder where the best symphonic metal comes from. But hey, with a band of this sheer quality leading a scene, that could change, and perhaps all it took was a Greek singer showing up. Hail the Sotonians! Now, am I going to up this from an 8/10 to a 9/10? It's very possible.

Friday, 18 March 2022

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators - 4 (2022)

Country: USA
Style: Alternative/Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 11 Feb 2022
Slash: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube
Myles Kennedy: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

I've heard some prior material by the surprising but vibrant collaboration between Slash of Guns n' Roses fame and Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, but with the latter's backing band, known as the Conspirators. I couldn't tell you which songs, but I certainly haven't heard any of the three albums they've put out previously. Given how this one plays out, I should find those, because the team up is a fascinating one.

I've read that they were aiming for a slightly different sound this time out, so went to Nashville to work with a country music producer, Dave Cobb. While they seem to be happy with his work and I'm not going to complain about it, I'm not hearing any overt country influence here. The album starts out as alternative rock, played in a mildly grungy, downbeat vein with odd moments of perkiness. I found this a little odd in the opening two songs, as it felt like two halves of the collaboration going in different directions. As it ran on, those two sides came together more and more, bringing in an eager hard rock edge and ending on a sublime note with a fantastic closer.

Those two openers are The River is Rising, the album's first single, and Whatever Gets You By. The former really isn't my sort of thing until Slash gets serious a couple of minute and change into the song, when everything gets lively and joyous. It seems all too brief a moment, because it shifts on back into the alt rock vibe it had established, but fortunately it comes back a minute later to take the song home. Slash livens up the latter too, not just with his solo but the build into it. It's worth mentioning that neither is a lively song otherwise, so Slash's contributions, as joyous as they are, make these tracks feel schizophrenic.

However, C'est la Vie is perkier from the outset and the rest of the album gradually agreeing to be a more upbeat affair, ditching the pessimistic cloud so often a feature of American alternate rock since grunge and allowing in at least a little of the party vibe that Guns n' Roses had so much fun with. Talking of Slash's old band, Fill My World starts out in that sort of style, though it moves into becoming a Bryan Adams sort of straight ahead rock song with perhaps a side of Journey. It was a second single off the album and, to my thinking, the most obviously commercial song here, though it runs longer than the traditional three minutes.

I liked a lot of moments in the second half. The riff that kicks off April Fool is firmly Guns n' Roses in approach but with a very different backing band. The unbridled passion of the third single, Call Off the Dogs, suggests that the Conspirators decided that may be they want to be Gn'R after all (or, when it gets to the prominent bass in the midsection, Motörhead). If Slash played the odd one out on the opening tracks, Myles Kennedy definitely takes that role on this one without remotely attempting to sound like Axl Rose. However, not one of these songs matches Fill My World until we get to the closer, which is easily my favourite song here.

That's Fall Back to Earth which initially feels almost like a tame way for the album to wrap up, but it really builds and turns into quite the epic. At six and a half minutes, it's a minute longer than Fill My World, which in turn is a minute longer than anything else on offer. Most of the songs are lean and occasionally mean, but this one has every intention of taking as long as it takes and it's all the better for that. It's definitely an older school song than anything else here, building gloriously in a way more typical of the seventies than the nineties, and featuring some really nice mixing of high vocal notes and soloing guitars.

Attempting to put all of that together, I'd say that 4 is a journey of an album, inconsistent in approach but interesting all the way. There's nothing I'd call out as bad, even acknowledging that much of it was recorded live in the studio, little mistakes included, but not all of it works. At least they follow the good old showbiz maxim of leaving us wanting more, by wrapping up with the real highlight of the album that prompts us to go right back to track one and start all over again. Not that it could have gone anywhere else on the album, of course. I haven't heard anything so obviously a closing track in a long while. It's certainly what I'm taking away most from this album.