Friday, 27 November 2020

Mad Max - Stormchild Rising (2020)

Country: Germany
Style: Hard & Heavy
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 21 Aug 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Wikipedia

A lot of bands get lumped into the category of hard and heavy, but few fit it as well as Mad Max. This is often clearly hard rock, a song like Eyes of Love playing like a mix of Europe and the Scorpions with a guest vocal from John Parr. There's a Rough Cutt cover here, Take Her, which says plenty. However, it is just as often clearly heavy metal, the opener, Hurricaned, seeming like Tokyo Blade covering Accept, even if those vocals are still softer than the song calls for. Hard and heavy it is. Talk to the Moon kicks in hard and fast like the opener of an early Dio album, though Ladies and Gentlemen starts out rather like Don't Talk to Strangers.

That voice belongs to Michael Voss, who's been the lead singer of Mad Max since 1983 and through a trio of eras: the early one that ran to 1989 with four albums, including Stormchild, to which this must be a spiritual sequel; the brief second one that only lasted long enough in 1999 to put out album five; and the prolific current one, which has seen nine albums now since the band's reunion in 2005.

Voss is also Mad Max's lead guitarist and has been since 1985, so it's easy to see him as the core of the band, though that's not strictly true. The only founder member is rhythm guitarist Jürgen Breforth, as Mad Max were around for a couple of years and put out a debut before Voss joined. Drummer Axel Kruse hasn't stayed the course throughout the band's history, but his time with the band goes back to 1984. That just leaves one overt new fish, Thomas Bauer, who joined on bass in 2015.

I haven't heard Mad Max in forever, perhaps since they covered the Sweet on Night of Passion late in the eighties, so I'd kind of forgotten what they sounded like. I like this, as old school as it is, with its mixture of melodic rock and power metal. There's real energy here, driving songs like Hurricaned and Rain Rain, but everything's melody, just as it used to be back in the days of Saxon and Dio and Ozzy as a great solo artist. Voss's soft voice emphasises that more than most singers would. If Ronnie James was still around and singing for them, Mad Max would be a few notches heavier.

But I really dig this. In a world where it sometimes seems that bands aren't allowed to call themselves heavy unless they feature harsh vocals or downtuned guitars, this is unashamedly hard and heavy and it took me back to the eighties in a very different way to the bands with deliberately retro sounds. It isn't just the excellent clear production that makes this feel as new as it is, it has almost a subversive approach that's timely.

Maybe I'm projecting, but in our increasingly polarised world, this deliberately aims to be all things for all people: hard riffs but sing-along melodies, fast pace but commercial tones. It's possible to be a heavy band without adopting harsh vocals, just as it's possible to be radio friendly without wimping out. This is both, with a song like Gemini perhaps the epitome of that. Maybe this really is the album we need right now. I certainly felt better for listening to it and part of something bigger.

It's a reasonably long album, the single edit of Ladies and Gentlemen nestling it past the fifty minute mark, and perhaps it's a little too long. There are no poor songs here, but a couple could maybe have shifted into being single B-sides without the album missing them. It's not that they're unworthy, just that they do the job other songs have already done, especially in the second half of the album. I have my eyes mostly on the Rough Cutt cover with its nod to Hall of the Mountain King, but even a couple of later highlights, like the bombastic Kingdom Fall and the slide-driven The Blues Ain't No Stranger, start to merge a little.

I clearly have some catching up to do. When Mad Max got back together in 2005, they raced out of the gate with six albums in eight years. They've slowed down a little since then, but they're still putting out a new one every couple of years and, based on this one, the quality clearly isn't suffering.

Waqas Ahmed - Doomsday Astronaut (2020)

Country: Romania
Style: Shred/Progressive Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 14 Nov 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

I don't review many shred albums, but here's one that does a bit more than just showcase how nimble the fingers of the lead guitarist happen to be. This is worth listening to from the usual standpoint of admiring virtuoso technique, but it seems like it also wants to be listened to just as music, and I feel that it does a little more than usual on that front. This elevates Waqas Ahmed past the norm, even if he's not up there with Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore yet.

He's based in Sibiu, Romania, where he works as a guitar teacher, but he hails from Lahore, Pakistan, a combination that surprises me but hey, why not? Unless there's a burgeoning Pakistani community of musicians in Sibiu, I'm guessing that this album was recorded remotely, with the various musicians in different places, as the other names credited don't look remotely Romanian. To be fair, the backing is primarily there for Ahmed to solo over rather than jam with, but most songs seem to feature at least a little of both.

The style is progressive metal, played at a mid to fast pace, and everyone settles in for the flow. Many songs give the illusion of motion, as if the music is a river and they're just telling us in musical terms what the rapids are like. Given the titles, I doubt that was particularly intended, but it's there anyway, even on songs that bring in electronic decoration, like The Great Impostor or Supremacy. Both turn a little more abrasive, but they still sound like flows to me, even if they happen to be of molten iron or lava rather than water.

I'd have liked a little more slower material but Aniroc, at the heart of the album, and Blue Lemonade, towards the end, will have to do. The former is a slower and softer piece compared to the majority of the album and it highlights how smooth Ahmed's guitar tone can be, even if it powers up at points to roar rather than ooze. There's more dynamic play on this one too, with a quiet moment in the middle for solo piano and hints of strings, before Ahmed takes the helm again. As much as I enjoy the frantic opener, Arise Temujin, Aniroc is surely my favourite here and I wish there had been more tracks in this sort of vein.

Blue Lemonade is even softer but it takes a very different tack. I think it works really well for Ahmed, who gets to showcase another side of his playing, but I wasn't as thrilled with the rest of the "band", because the tinny electronic drums sound really cheap and the R&B stylings don't seem to fit. There's a demo after it to close out the album and, while the production is lesser quality than the album as a whole, the style of the backing fits Ahmed's guitar much better.

I feel odd calling out a different style of backing as a negative, as what else I'd have liked that I didn't find here pretty much at all is an ethnic flavour. After all, Ahmed is a Pakistani living in Romania; he's surely heard a lot of very different music, but there's a distinct lack of world music here. Outside the hand drums opening The Great Impostor, I can't place any.

And that's fine, because it clearly wasn't something Ahmed wanted to explore here, but this is still an instrumental metal album with guitar front and centre, so texture is an important factor. If he wants to be heard outside a niche world of guitar students, varying those textures is crucial and elements of world music would have made this a lot more accessible than it is. It's good stuff for sure but its hints at wanting to fill more than just one niche don't really pan out.

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Guided by Voices - Mirrored Aztec (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Garage Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 21 Aug 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Wikipedia | YouTube

I'm an Englishman living in Arizona and today is Thanksgiving, one of the big holidays of the year but one I never quite grasped. It's a remembrance of a historical moment but the history is wildly skewed; it's an opportunity to be thankful for everything that we have, but it's followed by the national greed day, Black Friday; and it's an excuse to gorge on turkey and pass out from the tryptophane, hardly my idea of how to spend a holiday. So, it seems appropriate to review an album by a major American band that I struggle to understand.

Guided by Voices have been around since 1983 and they're firmly in the indie rock genre, if that's one single thing. Their earliest releases were self-financed, self-pressed and circulated mostly amongst the family and friends of the band. They've always been prolific, but they've been outdoing themselves of late. They've issued no fewer than ten albums since reforming for the second time in 2016 and this one is one of three from 2020 alone, with Surrender Your Poppy Field and Styles We Paid For.

As you might imagine, such prolificity means that quality may not be the band's primary concern, but there's a strong sense of consistency here. No song seems more essential or more throwaway than any other and, especially with titles like Easier Not Charming, A Whale is Top Notch and Haircut Sphinx, I could easily imagine this being the result of a single day in the studio improvising songs from a slew of random words held up in the sound engineer's booth. "OK, the next pair of words are... 'nest' and... 'biker'. Go!" I do salute the band's creativity.

Actually, I rather like Biker's Nest and quite a few other songs, because it stands out from the crowd a little. It kicks in with a simple punk riff and I could have imagined any one of Iggy Pop, Pete Shelley or Nina Hagen jumping in for a guest vocal slot. None of those do, of course, so we stay with Robert Pollard, who's often uncannily reminiscent of David Bowie, especially on songs like Haircut Sphinx or Bunco Men, which sound like newly discovered lost BBC sessions from seventies Bowie.

The overall sound of Mirrored Aztec is kind of like the middle ground between Bowie and Cake, which is apparently in a garage somewhere in Dayton, OH. Whether the dominant sound of any song is Cake in the nineties or Bowie in the seventies, almost everything sounds like lo-fi garage rock recorded on an antique four track with no overdubs.

The songs are blink and you'll miss 'em quick, as you might expect from garage rock. Let's just say that the album only just nudges its way past forty minutes but it boasts no fewer than eighteen songs. I'm counting seven that don't even make it to two minutes and A Whale is Top Notch only just manages a minute. Maybe "whale" and "notch" didn't spark many ideas. Length appears to be a concern too; I haven't heard quite so many songs on a single album fade out in forever. Please Don't Be Honest is just reaching full speed when it fades out because, apparently, 2:29 is a long song for this album. Thank You Jane ends so abruptly that the tape might have run out.

And, while I'm probably sounding rather dismissive here, I liked quite a lot of this album. It's merely difficult to keep up. By the time one song's groove starts to sit well, that song's over and we're onto a fresh one before we can really acknowledge what it was. I like Bunco Men and Biker's Nest and even an apparent joke of a song called Math Rock. I liked some others too, but I kept losing track of which. In a year in which Guided by Voices have issued 48 new songs over three albums, that's easy to do.

Scardust - Strangers (2020)

Country: Israel
Style: Symphonic Progressive Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 30 Oct 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | YouTube

Wow, did this one take me aback! I only got a few songs in and had to start again just to take stock of what I'd just heard. Scardust are an Israeli band who began life in 2013 as Somnia but changed name a couple of years later. They play symphonic progressive metal, but that doesn't remotely cover all that they do.

For instance, this starts out really operatic, with presumably the entire band providing a choral backing for lead vocalist Noa Gruman. Then the music joins, very technically, with violins and crunchy guitars and who knows what else. Remember the beginning of Yes's Roundabout with all its careful interplay between instruments? Well, Overture for the Estranged is kind of like that. For its entire six minutes. There's a spotlight moment for every member of the band both forwards and backwards and a further one later on at length. It's like a demo reel: everything Scardust can do, all wrapped up in one easy to consume bundle. And that's just track one.

Things settle down a bit from there, but not a lot. This is technical stuff all the way through, with all the band members trading solos often, not just guitarist Yadin Moyal and keyboardist Itai Portugaly. The bass of Yanai Avnet blew me away more than once. It's going to take multiple listens of every song to just to fully grasp what these folk are doing. There are plenty of hints at the versatility of Queen, but each song is like Queen squared. Complexity and technical ability clearly matter here and just as much as melody and groove.

Break the Ice, for instance, shifts quickly through Queen harmonies to purest theatrics. This could be a song from a Broadway musical and Gruman's voice would be up to that on its worst day. She's crystal clear but versatile enough to move from kid-friendly Disney saccharine to soaring Phantom operatic and still wrap up with some serious R&B runs. The musical theatre feel is echoed by the fact that the music seems inherently there to support her on this one, with only the solos excepted. This darts and weaves whenever her voice needs it to, but always at her bidding.

The biggest problem Strangers has is that there's just so much here that it's easy to get overwhelmed. A song like Concrete Cages, for instance, is an obvious highlight with its often dominant hurdy gurdy, it's soaring Robert Plant style vocals and a singalong chorus. But there's so much to unpack from this song that it would be viable to write a review this length about that one song alone.

Focusing only on that one would miss out the way that Scardust can shift from Queen to Therion in a single line. It would miss the fact that not all the vocals here are clean, with Gruman going effectively harsh on Over for a while; given that I think everyone contributes backing vocals, I have no idea who does that in harsh fashion in songs like Tantibus II, but's thoroughly effective. It would only skirt the fact that this whole album is wildly theatrical. While Gruman isn't the most accomplished singer in a harsh style that I've ever heard, it's a rare one that gets so much emotional range out of it and I can't name another one that can shift from harsh growls to soaring opera in a heartbeat.

It would also miss the other genres that are trawled in here. The folk music in Concrete Cages is only one sound there, just as metalcore is only one sound in Over and smooth jazz only one sound in that song's flipside, Under. The backing on the latter sounds like an inner city church choir from a random underdog feelgood movie, which would make the segue into rapped vocals natural, except that these rapped vocals are angry and end up verging on hardcore shouts. Oh yeah, this album is versatile. The choir on Huts sounds like a younger one from a high school but it doesn't turn the song cutesy.

At this point, after a couple of listens, I couldn't even hazard a guess at my favourites here. Overture for the Estranged is a gimme and so's Concrete Cages. I might thow out Addicted as a third, but I can easily imagine every song here waxing or waning in my esteem on further listens. There's just so much to discover within them. One key note would be that I especially adore the interaction of instruments when Noa Gruman takes a well deserved break for a while, but she's arguably the most critical piece in this puzzle and she takes the band in so many directions. It's hard to truly comprehend that the voice on Break the Ice and Mist is the same one on Over and Under.

Quite seriously, the most emphatic negative I can hurl out about is that this album will simply be too much for some potential listeners: too much of everything. They'll get lost and give up. Of course, it's fair to say that the most emphatic positive I can hurl out is exactly the same thing, because this is an album that can be explored for a long, long time without finding all its treasure. I may well up this to a 9/10 but I need more listens. And I need more words.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Motorpsycho - The All is One (2020)

Country: Norway
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 28 Aug 2020
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Prog Archives | Wikipedia

I may not have delved as far into Norwegian prog rock as I'd hoped but I learned enough last year to jump all over a new Motorpsycho album when it shows up. As is often the case, this is a generous one. It's a double album containing thirteen tracks that last almost eighty-five minutes. Its heart is a song called N.O.X., which runs almost three quarters of an hour on its own across five parts, with most of it instrumental.

While we might expect N.O.X. to cover one disc and everything else another, this breaks down quite a bit differently: four tracks before N.O.X. and four after it, with that dominant track broken up across the two discs. It's unfair generalisation, but the opening four seem a lot more experimental and less soft than the closing four. The album closes on Like Chrome, which is rather like Steely Dan on verses and Steely Dan attempting a Bond theme when it heats up.

Now, there's quiet material at the beginning of the album, but it isn't really soft. One of my favourite pieces here is The Same Old Rock (One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy), which is very much like a Peter Gabriel-era Genesis track. It's quiet until it isn't and it isn't until it is again. One minute it's flute and other little decorations, the next the drums and emphasis kick in suddenly and infectiously. There's a lot of impeccable dynamic play in this one.

One thing I really like about this album, and especially that track because of what it does, is how lo-fi the drums sound. The whole album is carefully and expertly produced, but the drums are simply good old fashioned down to earth one man beating the crap out of the kit drums. There's absolutely no aim of overproduction at all and that makes Tomas Järmyr's work here wildly engaging, often a tribal call to action.

I also really like the first four tracks here. They veer in and out of Genesis, King Crimson and whoever else, delivering intricate guitar, delicate melodies and those thumping drums. I'm less fond of the closing four, though they're decent enough. There isn't a poor song here, let alone a bad one, and which will leap out at you may come down to personal taste as much as quality.

The most obvious track, of course, is N.O.X., in between all of the two minute interludes and eight or nine minute complexities. This is a seriously ambitious song and it's the heart of the album. It's a lot more King Crimson and a lot more Genesis, but with some Mike Oldfield too, I think, to add an emulsion of commerciality to something often psychedelic and experimental.

The first part, Circles Around the Sun, Pt. 1, is the wildest this album gets, which of course means that it has the most overt King Crimson influence, especially in the jazzier sections. There's Hawkwind here too, not least in the vocal distortions and the psychedelic flow of things. Where the earlier violin and what occasionally sounds like a brass section come in, I have no idea, but they fit really nicely. This is a trippy nine minute opening section, catching us up in a maelstrom to keep us captive for the rest.

The fourth part, Night of Pan, is the most commercial, at least in its long instrumental sections, but a lot of the second part, Ouroboros (Strange Loop) works in a similar manner. These are hypnotic pieces that never get old however long they run on (the former for fifteen minutes, the latter for eight). The whole album ought to play really nicely on headphones in the dark, but these instrumental stretches of N.O.X. especially with their hypnotic rhythms and swirling decorations. The third part, Ascension, makes me feel like I'm floating, because the more overt pulsing of the earlier parts calms to a soothing level, before building back up for the rest. I'm keen to see how this plays on headphones.

I gave The Crucible, my Motorpsycho review from last year, a 7/10 as a splitting the difference attempt between two songs I adored and one, twice as long, that I didn't care for as much. This is twice as long an album but it's more consistent and I think I have to split between a bunch of 9/10 songs and some 7/10s, with much of the album in between. I'm going to be playing this one a lot.

Voyage in Solitude - Through the Mist with Courage and Sorrow (2020)

Country: Hong Kong
Style: Post-Black Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Sep 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

Voyage in Solitude is a post-black metal project from Hong Kong created by one man, Derrick Lin. He's not just responsible for playing every instrument here, but also for the songwriting, the production, everything it seems except the evocative photo on the cover. I'd joke that he probably kept the kettle boiling, made lunch and switched the lights off at night, but then he did record this album at home.

It's Lin's first studio album under the Voyage in Solitude name, though I see a slew of EPs and singles prior to it. There's such a consistency to the material here that I could easily see this becoming quite a prolific project.

As you might expect for anything featuring post- in front of its genre, it's all about soundscapes and these are dark and lonely ones, windswept and barren and bleak. The project's page on Bandcamp says that Lin aims "to express the loneliness, helplessness, frustration of people in the city I am living in". It depicts those emotions effectively and, while I'm imagining rural weather-beaten soundscapes like the cover art, I rather like the idea of using the blastbeats of black metal as a metaphor for the sheer overwhelming feeling of living in one of the densest populated cities on the planet. This isn't merely about being alone, it's about being alone in a crowd.

The more I thought about that concept, the more I started to see how well this might play when laid over the expressionistic chase scenes in Chungking Express with Christopher Doyle's camera blurring magnificently through the busy marketplace. Presumably that's what Lin wants us to imagine: a zoom in from the city level through the chaos and the bustle all the way to a close up of one single person, at which point the world shuts out and we see how alone they truly are, however many thousands are jostling around them like a giant sized demonstration of Brownian motion.

There are seven tracks on offer here, all of them new, I believe, except for Incoming Transition, which was Lin's contribution to a split release called Sounds of Melancholy last year. Each plays in a similar fashion, with one exception that I'll get to, and that's to conjure up a soundscape from slow, majestic keyboards and rapid-fire blastbeats, with calmer sections to serve as contrasts. Incoming Transition is the longest, at almost ten minutes, but I wouldn't say that it does a particularly different job to Veil of Mist, at under four, other than with its application of depth.

When vocals show up, they're appropriately buried in the mix, as if serving as unheard cries for help. They're mostly black metal shrieks, of course, but there are sections that are spoken and at least one that's an ephemeral, almost disembodied voice. That's in Despair, where the effects on it surely tell a story. I'd be interested in knowing what that story is.

And to that exception, which is the album's closer. In Between does many of the same things as earlier songs, but the tone is completely different. It feels hopeful to me, at least, if not outright happy, with bells to underline that. The keyboards aren't concealing here, hiding someone from the world; they're highlighting like a ray of sunshine beaming down into a crowd to pick out a single person. The vocals here are clean, for the most part, and I couldn't help but hear new wave in this song. It sounds like a Joy Division song to me.

Now, that's a statement in itself! When your song that sounds like Joy Division is the happy one, you know that you have a dark tone indeed to your album. Placing that at the end is telling too. It means that, as deep as this gets into isolation, there's hope and this becomes somehow an uplifting album. I didn't expect that going in, especially given the rumbling bass and patient beat that start out Veil of Mist, but I appreciate it. This is good stuff.

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Fates Warning - Long Day Good Night (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 6 Nov 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

There are a few bands that I've consistently struggled with for reasons other than their quality, Fates Warning being one. I heard them early, courtesy of Tommy Vance and the Friday Rock Show and rather liked their Night on Bröcken album, even if they were a dollar store Iron Maiden knockoff back then. That was 1984, though, and they grew and expanded their sound, becoming major pioneers in the US prog metal scene, along with Queensrÿche and Dream Theater. I don't know when I stopped listening to Fates Warning or why, but they somehow drifted away from me and stayed elusive any time I tried afresh. They've long been really good at what they do, but I haven't managed to connect with that.

This is their lucky thirteenth album, showing up four years after Theories of Flight and with the same line-up. Guitarist Jim Matheos is a founder member and singer Ray Alder has been at their mike since 1987; he's been on every album except the quick first three. Armored Saint's Joey Vera has played bass for them since 1996 and even new fish Bobby Jarzombek has occupied their drum stool for over twelve years. They clearly know each other well and they complement each other's styles impeccably without thinking.

So, can I get into this album when I struggled with earlier ones? Actually, that seemed likely for quite a while, because it opens pretty well for me. The Destination Onward is ambitious but seemingly easy in this band's hands; at eight minutes, it's one of a pair of long songs here, though long is a relative term when you've released an album containing only one fifty plus minute track. This is a good one, a neat sense of dynamic play keeping it vibrant. Shuttered World and Alone We Walk are shorter but I'd say they succeed in similar ways. I especially like the intricate rhythms on the latter, which ends with a real snap.

Unfortunately, while there are other points to praise, there's little consistency and the album is much too long. It clocks in close to the limit of a CD, but ditching three blah songs, and another better one that would seem out of place without them, would leave it close to fifty minutes. The good one is Now Comes the Rain, an easy on the ear melodic rock song with effective backing vocals, and it deserves to be heard. Maybe it might work alongside When Snow Falls, the soft song here that really works, never failing to be interesting when its fellow soft songs are just bland.

How bland? Well, Under the Sun is mildly elegant, with a lonely violin and cello, but its seems to be a lot more inspired by the Eagles than Iron Maiden. It's nice. And inoffensive. The Last Song is nothing more than, well, the last song. The Way Home is the real turkey though, spending half its time as such a soft ballad that it answers the unasked question of which Fates Warning song we'd choose to play at a widowed parent's second wedding.

Fortunately, much of the rest is far from bland. In fact, when Scars kicks in, we realise just how soft it had all got for well over a quarter of an hour. That was quite the shock. Scars has some soft edges too but it's harder and more vibrant and intricate and it also ends snappily. Begin Again and Liar have some punch to them as well and they show that Fates Warning can still play metal. The Longest Shadow of the Day, at eleven and a half minutes appropriately enough also the longest song, rocks out and well too, even if it starts out as jazz fusion for a few minutes. It has an excellent solo in the middle too.

And, after praising The Sunrise for trawling in a whole slew of different genres, I find that I don't like it when Fates Warning do the same thing. It's not that there's jazz fusion there and yacht rock there, it's that there doesn't seem to be any purpose to it. This works when the band are playing prog metal, whether it's with power and emphasis or with intricacy in quieter moments. It doesn't work when they apparently transform into a completely different band for a while.

And so this is maybe half an hour of an excellent album, with another fifteen minutes of a decent one, but half an hour that I just don't get at all. Fates Warning continue to elude me.

The Sunrise - Brand New Disorder (2020)

Country: Italy
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 4 Sep 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

I like how the Sunrise want us to figure out what they do. At first listen, Brand New Disorder hints at prog rock, but 432Hz is just an intro and, even if we think we're about to launch into The Dark Side of the Moon, we move instead into Storm, a melodic rock number with guitars that are initially heavier and then more abrasive than we expect for melodic rock. I guess that puts us in alternative territory but, by the time we start to figure out the band's sound, Storm is over. This isn't a long album, at just a blink over half an hour, but that's a pretty quick opener at a mere two and a half minutes.

Gasoline clearly tells us that the Sunrise are from somewhere in the deepsouth, with its southern rock swagger, alt rock punch and Memphis blues organ. Did they move from Tennessee to Jacksonville or the other way around? Well, if I point out that the patient guitarwork in this old school riff-driven rock comes courtesy of Elia Tommaso and the omnipresent bass is played by Giuriato Giulio, we begin to realise that the Sunrise hail from somewhere rather a long way from the deepsouth, namely Venice, Italy.

The standout song on the album is surely Run, which cements their background on the heavier side of rock music in the seventies, however melodic and alternative they often sound. It's a textbook in how to build a song, starting out soft and calm but adding in a second voice to both contrast with and add texture behind that of Chiereghin Giorgia, then ramping up from almost a capella verse to emphatic chorus. What really elevates this one is that, after a couple of rounds, it builds again with Tommaso's guitar taking over behind Giorgia's voice, soloing wildly.

And, because there's so much here, I find myself wanting to talk about every song. Wake Up is vibrant hard rock but with a soul underlay. This could have been an old Deep Purple song, had the band hired a very different lead singer, and there's a recurrent transition here that sounds eerily familiar. Ghosts is the wildest card on the album, at once the poppiest song with its "woah-woah" intro, the proggiest with a bunch of keyboard swirls from Marchesan Andrea and the punkiest with its "1-2-3-4" call and its incessant beat. Instead of Purple, this could have been a Blondie song.

And there, I think is the key. Once I got Blondie into my head, it was clear that they're everywhere on this album. Sure, it's a melodic rock album. Sure, it's a hard rock album at points too. A band like the Heartless Bastards wouldn't be an unfair comparison, with their ability of infusing melody into every song, whether it's lighter or heavier or whatever. But the overall approach feels just like a Blondie album where that band took music from a whole bunch of different places, sometimes highly surprising ones, and merged those styles into a singular vision of who they are, creating something that's consistent but also ever-changing.

I find that a lot of pop albums are deceptively shallow. They sound fine but they end and we move on. Brand New Disorder felt that way on my first listen. It sounded good but it didn't seem likely to be an album I'd play over and over, especially as Giorgia's voice doesn't leap out as anything special. But I'm fond of listening to albums I review at least twice, so I put this on again and it started to grab me. So I listened to it a third time and a fourth and I kept finding new things in it that I hadn't grasped until then. By this point I was well and truly hooked and, yes, Giorgia's voice is a good part of that. It does precisely what it needs to do, even when, like at the end of Run, the song is screaming at it to change and it stubbornly refuses, to glorious effect.

I don't know how many times I've listened to it now, but I do need to move on. I'll end by saying that, even though Run is my favourite song here, Lady Shame has seeped into my bloodstream. Whatever I've got up to over the last week or so, Lady Shame has kept on popping back into my head when I least expect it. It just won't let me be and I'm kind of happy about that.