Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Motorpsycho - Ancient Astronauts (2022)

Country: Norway
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 Aug 2022
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Motorpsycho haven't been into the studio in the last five minutes, so it's about time they knocked out another album. While that might sound flippant, and I guess it is, the bizarre truth is that the quality of their albums absolutely does not suffer because of their prolificity. I found them in 2019 and this is the fourth album of theirs that I've reviewed since then, a release rate higher than any band I'm aware of except the inevitable King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Yet I gave 2020's The All is One a highly recommended 8/10 and Kingdom of Oblivion an Album of the Month 9/10.

This one didn't hold up to those standards initially, with a pair of shorter tracks, especially by their standards, The Ladder and The Flower of Awareness. The latter is only two minutes long, hardly an expected length for Motorpsycho anyway, but those aren't particularly memorable two minutes to my thinking, just a sort of dark ambient interlude between The Ladder and Mona Lisa/Azrael. The Ladder itself runs a more typical near seven minutes, but it grows slowly from almost nothing and doesn't really kick in until the two minute mark. It's decent stuff and it gets better with each time through, but it's hardly the most inspired Motorpsycho track that I've heard.

Mona Lisa/Azrael is where my jaw started to drop in a way that I'm getting used to with this band. I should add that, while it begins at the halfway point as far as the track count goes, it's also merely nine minutes into forty-three, so the album's really just getting started. This one is gorgeous from moment one, the opening patient and pastoral with progressions highly reminiscent of early King Crimson and Bent Sæther's vocals soft but magnetic.

It perks up around the four minute point and then travels through a rollercoaster of emotions, its heavier sections marked by urgent and busy rhythms by Tomas Järmyr but its quieter ones with an almost tantalising peace, one that always feels as if it might explode into life in a heartbeat. For a majority of the time it does, though the piece does fade out rather oddly. If there's a flaw to it, it's that it doesn't reach a definitive conclusion.

It's rather telling that The Flower of Awareness felt long at two minutes but Mona Lisa/Azrael felt short at over twelve. The jagged guitar solo from Hans Magnus Ryan to open the second half is as unlike the opening vocal section as can comfortably be imagined, or indeed from the subtle fade at the end, but that's how far one track can take us. I was utterly absorbed by this piece of music, just as much on my fifth listen as my first.

And, if you think twelve minutes is long, the album wraps up with Chariot of the Sun - To Phaeton on the Occasion of Sunrise (Theme from an Imagined Movie), a stunningly verbose title that does suggest that the entire piece should be told through seventies Tangerine Dream synthwork. That doesn't happen, of course, even if it hints at it early on, but what we do get does something very similar because it's almost entirely instrumental (and what vocals we get do not deliver words).

I can't say that I did much visualisation of the movie that the band imagined but it does feel a lot like a sunrise in the way that it builds slowly and patiently into something transformational. It's a good piece, a very pleasant way to spend twenty-two minutes, but it's not as vibrant and essential a piece as its predecessor. And so this has to be a 7/10, my lowest rating for a Motorpsycho album since my first, The Crucible, in 2019. It's what I'd give Chariot of the Sun and The Ladder, while The Flower of Awareness is much lower but Mona Liza/Azrael easily an 8/10 highlight.

Anvil - Impact is Imminent (2022)

Country: Canada
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 20 May 2022
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Nobody is going to pick up an Anvil album expecting something unusual and innovative. They play pure and simple heavy metal and they play it loud in the traditional fashion. The guitars are front and centre, building songs out of buzzsaw riffs and barrelling beats. The usual question is whether they're on form this time out. Some of their albums are blistering, but some are just meh. I took a listen to their previous album, Legal at Last, and found myself a little closer to the latter than the former. I wasn't convinced by the opener here either, Take a Lesson, but it perks up from there to stand higher than its predecessor.

I think much of it is that, once we get past the plodding opener, this album is bouncier than usual. Ghost Shadow and Another Gun Fight are both bouncy and catchy, without losing any of the heavy sound we expect or the more urgent tempo that's welcome after Take a Lesson, especially on the former. After them, Fire Rain, with its gorgeous guitar sound, ratchets the energy up yet another notch before a short but excellent instrumental called Teabag, which is immensely playful.

Now, this is an instrumental in the same way that Tequila is an instrumental, namely that the only word delivered is the title, but it does the job and highlights in no uncertain fashion that Anvil are still eager to rock and, for that matter, rock hard. If this energy translates onto the stage, and I'm in no doubt that it will, the next tour ought to be a lot of fun. I should add here that there's also a second instrumental here, called Gomez, that's even more fun and does exactly the same job, all the way down to the same riffs because it's basically the same piece of music, merely with a highly prominent brass section. That makes it even more fun.

In between the two instrumentals are the usual mix of strong rockers and more filler material but the ratio is pretty much in favour of the former this time out. Once it all got moving, I was always going to give this a point more than the last one. And I firmly believe that this album is at its best when it's really moving, on songs like Fire Rain, Someone to Hate and Bad Side of Town. Lyrically, it doesn't do anything you don't expect, but it's easy to get caught up by the sheer motion of it all. I found myself singing along with Bad Side of Town and Wizard's Wand on a first time through.

Talking of Wizard's Wand, it remains perky and bouncy even with a slower riff that's straight out of the old Black Sabbath playbook, chugging along with ominous intent. Shockwave is even more a nod to Sabbath, with Steve Kudlow taking on that simple but utterly memorable Tony Iommi style with panache. Then he'll shift to a lighter, more elegant sound on songs like Lockdown or a lively and urgent one on Fire Rain and the appropriately titled Explosive Energy, on which he reminds of a UFO-era Michael Schenker.

I have trouble not liking Anvil. They're like an enthusiastic puppy that always shows up and makes us all fuss it because it's so effortlessly endearing. Translating that into heavy metal, they're the sort of reliable band who sit in the middle of a show, after the local wannabe talent but before an established headliner. They're the perfect band for midway through a long festival day, because a happy attendee will have a blast and a jaded listener will still engage. They're utterly reliable and this is a solid nineteenth album for them.

Monday, 19 September 2022

Thunder - Dopamine (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Apr 2022
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Thunder aren't the most prolific band on the face of the planet, but they've continued putting out product for over three decades. Their debut, Backstreet Symphony, first saw the light in 1990 and it made quite the impression on me, even at a point when I was drifting away from new music due to changes both in my life and the new music I was hearing. Last year, they released lucky number thirteen, All the Right Noises, and I gave it a highly recommended 8/10. Only a year later, here's a new one and this one's a double album. Clearly the creative juices are flowing.

I found this one easily split between the two discs. The first one is traditional Thunder throughout but the second one sees them taking all sorts of chances to be able to play with other genres, both through departures into new places or through merging hard rock with other flavours of music. I'd be hard pressed to say which is my favourite, because both discs are strong. I might actually lean a little towards the second disc, because it feels like the band are overtly exploring their influences.

The first one shows us why Thunder have been such a reliable band for so long, especially over the first four songs. The Western Sky is an emphatic opener, as if it wants to play in heavy metal but is still a little hesitant to dip its toes too far. Black has a cool glam rock vibe going on. One Day We'll Be Free Again is a quintessential song, with effortlessly powerful vocals from Danny Bowes in the Paul Rodgers tradition. It has a huge build, aided by gospel-infused backing vocals and a seventies heavy organ. And, even though that one's a peach, Even If It Takes a Lifetime is the standout. It's odd that I blanked past this one on a first listen, because it grabbed me on a second and won't let go at all.

They're good songs, one and all, though the first side tails off a little for me after that. As each of these discs contains eight songs, for a seventy minute runtime, that means half of it spoke to me and half not so much, though I don't want to discount the second half. Every song on it is done well and they may be favourites for you; they just aren't for me. Unraveling feels too patient; The Dead City too straightforward; Last Orders too simple, even though it shifts nicely from an acoustic vibe to become an overt foot tapper.

That leaves All the Way, which feels like it should have been a Queen song, an approach that would have shifted it to the second disc. Instead, the second opener is Dancing in the Sunshine, which is a Queen song in a very different way, and that's well placed. It's less overt in its influence, so maybe should have swapped that place in the playlist, but it's also a perfect opener, so is maybe fine right where it is. It's deservedly one of the singles.

From there, we leap into influences. Big Pink Supermoon deliberately channels, of all people, Van Morrison, right down to specific chords, words and transitions that bring classics like Moondance immediately to mind. It features a strong saxophone solo. Across the Nation channels AC/DC in its relentless simple but very effective riffing, with a little Cult groove in there too. Is Anybody Out There is a ballad, sure, but it's an Elton John sort of piano song rather than a power ballad, right down to the orchestration.

Just a Grifter is the one that looks back further, because it's not a seventies song at all, instead a vocal piece that we might expect to be sung by members of the Rat Pack, complete with accordion in the French cafê style and a little fiddle too. I dug this one a lot, even though it plays more as an opportunity for Bowes than a true band piece, unless those less traditional hard rock instruments are played by regular band members. And don't worry, everyone in the band shines at some point or other, even if they don't get specific spotlight moments like Bowes gets here. The closer for that, because No Smoke without Fire gives everyone opportunity.

Other tracks are less in the style of one band and more just a different genre. I Don't Believe the World is sassy, a hard rock song for sure but one that's deeply infused with pop and soul and a few other flavours. Disconnected keeps the sassy but adds a grungy riff, along with a psychedelic part early in the second half that reminds of the Beatles. I guess that makes this disc a tribute in mind if not specifically in form. I don't believe any of these are covers, but they're still homages and not particularly opaque ones.

I'm tempted to give this another 8/10 because much of it deserves that but I don't think it's quite able to sustain that level throughout. As a double album, that it comes this damn close is a strong recommendation all on its own.

Vulcano - Stone Orange (2022)

Country: Brazil
Style: Black/Death/Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Apr 2022
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It's good to see Vulcano knocking out releases nowadays. They're one of a handful of bands who we can thank for introduce Brazil to extreme metal and, while they've never been as interesting or as diverse as fellow pioneers Sepultura, they've stuck to the sound they found in 1984 and continue to be entertaining. That means that pretty much everything I said about their previous album, 2020's Eye in Hell, is just as applicable here, whether it was positive or negative.

The positive is that this is another large set of short songs that unfold in the proto-extreme thrash style that pointed the way towards where black and death metal would go. In fact, this particular set is a larger one, with sixteen songs on offer this time out instead of the thirteen from last time, though one is a very short entirely instrumental piece. However, those sixteen songs still come in under fifty minutes. Not one reaches four minutes, five don't make three and that instrumental, 418, doesn't even manage two. As you might imagine, they all get down to business quickly and are just as quick to wrap things up and hand over to the next track, like a relay race.

The core of the sound is thrash metal, with most tracks finding a decent speedy pace and infusing us with energy in the way that only thrash metal seems to do. The black and death angles to their sound mostly manifest in the guttural vocals of Luiz Carlos Louzada, who has clearly listened to an impressive amount of Destruction. They're clearly an influence on the band in general, but on the vocals most of all, right down to the inflections on The Altar of Defiance. Louzada takes that style from 1983 or 1984 and moves it forward in a slightly different fashion. Remember when we didn't talk about death growls and black shrieks, just demonic vocals? That's kind of where Louzada's at. Backing vocals don't show up too often, but when they do, they're more overtly death growls.

The negative is that most of the songs also unfold in pretty much the same way, meaning that it's tough to call out highlights because there's little to delineate one from another. That's not to say that there's no originality or quirkiness here because the bluesy intro to Rebels from 1980s states otherwise. That's what's going to stand out on a first listen but further listens highlight more that deserves praise, from the slower title track with its interesting cymbal sound to the two note bass intro on Witches Don't Lie, which is ambitious but works really well. However many listens you give this, though, a lot of songs just sound like other songs.

And that means that the value of the album isn't so much in the songs themselves as the album's overarching impact. I enjoy this style immensely and it's never a hardship to listen to fifty minutes of new proto-extreme thrash metal, especially when it comes with 21st century production values that may seem counter to the rough and ready style but work well nonetheless. I didn't quite get the opener, Metal Seeds, which is half album intro and half song proper, but everything kicks in as Putrid Angels Ritual gets frantically underway and stays there throughout.

Not everything is fast, not everything is heavy and not everything is intense, but nothing here fails to be at least two of those things. This general approach means that the album remains fresh but never really does much different. The title track slows things down and Trigger of Violence kicks in with a neatly slow riff too, albeit one that carries an inherent urgency that we know means that it will speed up soon enough, but these aren't huge variations and one bluesy intro to take us aback doesn't take them too much further. It's all about the way they energize us with combinations of a trio of things we like, in the way that cocktails can do different things with similar ingredients.

I should add that the final song is a cover, but an unusual and perhaps unexpected one, because it carries the name of Vulcano Will Live Forever. It's actually a song by Cadaverise, who wrote it for a demo that served as a sort of tribute to the bands they presumably loved most, the omnipresent Venom and a couple of fellow Brazilian acts, Armagedom and Vulcano. It's telling that this one is a natural fit for the Vulcano sound, suggesting that Cadaverise really know their stuff.

And so, if you're into this proto-extreme sound, I'm happy with another 7/10 here. It's not original but it's done very well. If you need progression in your music, you won't find it here. Like a host of bands I've reviewed lately, including Municipal Waste and Midnight, you know exactly what you're going to get from a Vulcano album and they're happy to oblige you.

Friday, 16 September 2022

Placebo - Never Let Me Go (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Alternative
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 25 Mar 2022
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I had no idea what to expect going into this one, because I haven't heard the earlier eight Placebo albums, but it wasn't this. Maybe I was imagining them to be a British alternative rock band like a Coldplay or a Radiohead, which isn't the case, though there are commonalities. Apparently, their primary influences in the early days were Sonic Youth and Depeche Mode, which makes sense. The sound they conjure up is punky but rarely anarchic and grounded in electronica with idiosyncratic pop vocals that are nasal but very clear.

And so I shouldn't be surprised that it all kicks off with jagged electronica and punky riffs. It's also a little progressive, though it's clearly alternative rock over prog rock. It's very commercial, even in the heavier sections, but then Pink Floyd got very commercial at points; there's definitely some of that approach here. There's David Bowie too, because the vocals are always high in the mix and they drive everything, so there's always a pop side in play even if the guitars are raging.

I enjoyed this and more than I expected to, but wonder how much is substantial enough to keep me coming back. I appreciated how unique Brian Molko's vocals are. After just one album, I know that I'd recognise his delivery on any song he sings that shows up in a dramatic scene on a TV show. It's also surprisingly versatile, because it changes whenever he gets sarcastic or happy, developing an interesting Johnny Rotten snarl on Hugz; a sardonic John McCrea edge on Try Better Next Time or Went Missing; and an Iggy Pop tinge whenever he goes for repetition for effect, as on Surrounded by Spies.

Talking of Try Better Next Time, it's the most overt standout here, because there's a general tone of pessimism riddled through the album, as if everything's going wrong and there's no longer any way for us to reverse that—I took the cover art to be an environmental message, with its decaying pixels and clash between foreground and background—and that mindset is found everywhere except in Try Better Next Time, which is perky, like Cake covering an uncharacteristically upbeat REM song. Sad White Reggae is a darker, heavier take on the same approach, but it ditches the perkiness.

Even though the early songs aren't perky, they're still pop songs and that means that they have to reach out to grab us. Whether it's the snarly punk of Hugz or the sad sarcasm of Happy Birthday in the Sky, even the orchestral swells of The Prodigal, these are songs meant to be heard. However, I found that, as the album runs on, the songs get more and more introspective, especially once the first ten are done and we're into the last three. These feel more like songs meant to be written, to be played, regardless of audience, like there's power simply in them being.

I wonder if that's a fundamental dichotomy that drives Placebo. Sure, they play a poppy flavour of rock music that's not a million miles from what I expected, even if their starting point isn't close to what I thought it was, but they clearly have things to say, not just lyrically but musically. The more I listened to this album, the more emerged from it. Sure, Try Better Next Time stood out on the first time through, because it's a standout sort of song in pretty much any company, but Went Missing, which is entirely different in every way except for its Cake-like vocal approach, is the one that will absolutely not leave me alone. It's far more subtle but it does a huge amount in five minutes. This one would be notable on a prog rock album.

Clearly, I should take a listen to how Placebo got to this point, while acknowledging the six years in between this and its predecessor, Life's What You Make It. I have a healthy level of distrust of any band that plays arenas but still gets tagged as "alternative" because they're clearly no longer an alternative any more; they're a new form of mainstream. I can see why a band who can write songs like Try Better Next Time can draw that sort of audience, but I particularly appreciate how they're going to hear something subtly subversive like Went Missing too.

Midnight - Let There Be Witchery (2022)

Country: USA
Style: Black/Speed Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 4 Mar 2022
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Athenar, the jack of all trades who is the entirety of Midnight in a studio environment, is ahead of himself with this album, because it's only two years since the previous one, Rebirth by Blasphemy, and everyone knows that Midnight albums arrive like clockwork every three years. Maybe that's a positive impact of the COVID pandemic, a pleasant side effect to the unpleasant lack of touring of the last couple of years. Whatever the reason, I'm happy, because I like Midnight.

I should clarify that I like the other Midnight better, the live Midnight that expands the line-up by hiring a couple more musicians and blitzes through their set like a punk-infused speed metal band getting paid by the song, so they'd better finish this one quickly and start up another. I like what I hear from studio Midnight too, but they're a lot slower. These songs may end up as still more punk-infused speed metal on stage but, on virtual vinyl, they're more akin to proto-extreme metal, the sort of thing I was so enthralled by in the early to mid eighties as bands developed the sounds that would grow into black metal and death metal and what have you.

The most obvious examples of that this time out is Nocturnal Molestation, which is a catchy combo of Venom and Hellhammer, and Let There Be Sodomy, which features Athenar's most recognisable Cronos impression against a Teutonic power/speed metal backdrop. I dug both of these, of course, because this sort of thing is my happy place, taking me back to my introduction to everything rock and metal all at once, courtesy of Tommy Vance's Friday Rock Show, in 1984 and 1985.

The catch is that, nostalgia aside, the genre has moved on rather a long way since then and I can't honestly say that Athenar does this better than anyone else. This isn't Black Metal, let alone what spawned from it, and it frequently makes me think of Cronos way back in 1979, when Venom were a completely unheared of nightmare of a band, figuring out just how raw and deviant he could make the Motörhead sound. Songs like Devil Virgin could have been on a Venom demo a year later. And I came in with At War with Satan, so I knew how far that sound could go. Midnight don't go that far.

Half of me appreciates what Athenar does with Midnight, because he's utterly reliable. He churns out another ten songs every three, ahem two, years that are pretty akin to the ten on his previous album and the one before that. They sound good, especially if the revolutionary years in the early eighties in the UK and parts of the continent are special times for you. However, even if they were, you're going to be well aware that what was revolutionary then isn't revolutionary today and that realisation is the biggest downside to what Midnight do.

There are other bands out there trawling that same source material but they're doing it in a more contemporary fashion, bringing the sound up to date, even if it remains fundamentally old school. Athenor apparently has no interest in doing that at all, so Midnight sound less vibrant—on record—than bands like Reaper and Inculter and Bütcher, even an old school band like Sodom, given their most recent album. I highlighted "on record" because I've seen Midnight live and I know how much they blister on stage, but that's a different Midnight to what Athenor gets up to in the studio.

What that boils down to is that, if you know Midnight already, this is more of the same, but, if you don't, this is as good as any album to start out on. It'll do the same job as the others. If you want a sample first, check out Nocturnal Molestation or Snake Obsession or Let There Be Sodomy first on YouTube. If you like them, you'll like everything else. Maybe, for something just a little different, I would suggest More Torment, because it's Midnight as a slow and lumbering heavy metal monster in search of food. But variety isn't what you'll get here. You'll get Venom in 1980. And, if that's not a birthday present for you, knock a point of my rating.

Thursday, 15 September 2022

Derek Sherinian - Vortex (2022)

Country: USA
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 1 Jul 2022
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Prog Archives | Wikipedia

Here's something interesting from a name you may not know but a talent that you probably do. It might appear to be another instrumental guitar album, and it certainly includes large amounts of guitar solos, but Derek Sherinian isn't a guitarist. He merely plays his keyboards as if he is, with an array of very recognisable talent jamming along on guitar. This approach comes from very diverse background, his first three professional jobs being with jazz drummer Buddy Miles, rock icon Alice Cooper and prog metal legends Dream Theater.

I didn't hear a lot of Alice here, but I was often reminded of an inventive jazz fusion take on Dream Theater. It's primarily hard rock rather than metal, but it does heavy up at points, unsurprisingly a lot more on Die Kobra, with guests Michael Schenker and Zakk Wylde, than on songs featuring the likes of Nuno Bettencourt, Joe Bonamassa and Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal. The only guitarist to show up more than once is Steve Stevens, of Billy Idol fame, and he helps set the album in motion with a lively and spirited title track, which isn't wildly different from his other contribution, Seven Seas.

It's a good starter because it's warm and welcoming, but I think Fire Horse, featuring Bettencourt, still best known for his work with Extreme, is an even better way to continue. It starts out firmly as hard rock but quickly finds a bouncy jazz fusion riff that feels like it could have been lifted from an iconic seventies jazz fusion album. It focuses initially on guitar but becomes a very palatable duel between Bettencourt's guitar and Sherinian's keyboards. It's my favourite piece here and it gets a little more favourite every time it comes around.

I should mention that not everything is guitar and keyboards. There's a very noticeable bass from Ernest Tibbs on Fire Horse and he's one of five bassists here, the name I recognise most being that of Tony Franklin. The most obvious here may be Ric Fierabracci, even though he's only on one track, Scorpion, perhaps because it's the only one without a guitarist. I didn't know the name, but he's a massively experienced talent who's played with everyone from Tom Jones to Shakira, but perhaps more typically for jazz names like Chick Corea and Billy Cobham. In many ways, he plays lead guitar on Scorpion; he just happens to be using a bass while he does it.

Bonamassa's track also features Steve Lukather of Toto, which is an intriguing pairing. What they conjure up in Key Lime Blues is something in the vein of Fire Horse, but with weaving guitars set to a much funkier backdrop. While this often jazz over rock and often rock over jazz, there are plenty of other genres in play, a dabble in metal here and there and a few dabbles in funk being the most obvious. Nomad's Land is funky too, though as much because of Ernest Tibbs's work on bass as for Mike Stern's guitar. That's as jazzy as you might expect, with a central riff that feels like a jagged, deconstructed and rebuilt version of Herbie Hancock's Rockit.

I knew all the guitarists here, except for him, so it wasn't too much of a surprise to find that he has stayed primarily in the jazz world, albeit from jazz rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears to work with the likes of Billy Cobham, Jaco Pastorius and Miles Davis. The sheer diversity on this album is perhaps best highlighted by Nomad's Land being right next to the much heavier Die Kobra. Both are rooted in jazz, but they feel like they come from different genres and different eras, but not sounding out of place in each other's company. The dots connect in a lot of ways.

The most unusual song here, excepting Scorpion with its deliberate omission of guitar, is the closer because of its length and its approach. It's Aurora Australis, the guest guitarist is Bumblefoot and the ensuing organised chaos is over eleven minutes long, which is close to any two of the others. It starts out as a solo piano piece, with a little percussion—all the drums here are provided by Simon Phillips, last encountered guesting for Lalu and MSG—but it grows and keeps growing. There are a few surprising instruments here, including an obvious sitar to kick off Die Kobra, but the theremin of Armen Ra that's on five of these eight tracks, is most noticeable on this one.

And so there's a lot of variety here, wrapped up in prog rock/jazz fusion clothing. It sounds like an agreeable album from the outset but everything is done so effortlessly, not just the playing of the instruments but the way that they weave together and the way that the musicians were chosen so well, that it's almost inevitably a better album than we think it is. After one listen, it's obviously a very good album but it's only as we start to climb inside it after a few more times through that we come to terms with just how good it is.

Tysondog - Midnight (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Heavy/Speed Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 29 Apr 2022
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From one NWOBHM band to another, but White Spirit and Tysondog are very different in sound, even though they were based only thirty miles apart in the north east of England. It isn't at all difficult to notice the unmistakable influence of seventies Deep Purple on the hard rock of the former, but the latter were always faster and heavier, often even approaching speed metal as befits their later arrival on the scene, though this album mostly slows down from that to be good old fashioned heavy metal. The opener here, a belter called Battalion, reminds very much of Toranaga, slower and tighter but fully aware of how emphatic it is. I liked the album immediately because of that.

I have to say that I enjoyed the vocals here, delivered by the new fish in the band, Alan Ross, who is especially good given that he's mostly known as a guitarist, his role nowadays in Blitzkrieg; he has vocal experience too, but I haven't heard his work for Cardinal Synne. I'd suggest that his voice is a pretty solid match for the current Tysondog sound, loud and heavy, clear and resonant, deliberate and emphatic. He may not have much in the way of nuance, but then he doesn't need to have. He's the absolute vocal equivalent to the Steve Morrison/Paul Burdis guitar assault that underpins the entire album.

There's a genre of music called lowercase sound, because it's so quiet and ambient. This is close to the exact opposite, something like uppercase sound, bolded and underlined, because it's slow and in your face and relentless, even when songs happen to start in a deceptive way. For instance, I dig the way Hellbound begins, in a sort of acoustic but manipulated alt country vibe, only for it to kick into a firm groove in almost Rammstein style. I'm sure Ross will be hoping that the crowds at gigs will sing that title at him the way that crowds sing Du Hast at Till Lindemann.

The fastest song here is Defiant, another highly appropriate title for a Tysondog track. It wouldn't be unfair to suggest that their sound right now could be defined by words like Hellbound, Defiant and Battalion, not to forget Midnight and It Lives, which are perhaps not uncoincidentally all the titles on the first half of this album. Defiant still isn't speed metal, but it's a gear higher than the songs around it, some of which almost take pleasure in not going faster than they do. Paper Cuts especially could easily have been more up tempo, but the band just won't oblige.

Now, it does make sense for some of these to remain slow, the inevitability in the rhythm of Dead Man Walking being highly appropriate. It's another song that reminds me of Toranaga, though it finds a groove metal approach for the bridge. In fact, there's enough Toranaga here that I double checked the line-up to see if anyone from that band is also in this one, but there are no surprises to be found there.

The core of Tysondog nowadays is the pairing of Paul Burdis on guitar and Kevin Wynn on bass, like it's always been when the band has been active. If I'm reading things correctly, neither has played for anyone else, even during the thirty years Tysondog spent on hiatus. Like Ross, Phil Brewis was in Blitzkrieg and also played live for Satan, whose new album I reviewed earlier in the week. Hes a solid and reliable drummer, again underlining how well suited these musicians are to each other.

The results are decent, but not spectacular. Tysondog released a pair of albums in the eighties but then vanished. This is their second since reforming in 2008, arriving seven years after Cry Havoc. I'd be lying if I didn't say I didn't like it, but I didn't like it as much as their old stuff and I think it's fair to say that the faster this got, the more I liked it. Defiant is a peach of a track and Battalion isn't a long way behind it. I'm a sucker for the Toranaga sound and it's good to see someone else taking it on, even if it's a band who predate them and I liked before they ever formed.

By the way, just as an aside, I recognise part of the cover art. That young lady crawling towards us here is the same young lady crawling towards us on the British cover of Mike Flanagan's fantastic movie Absentia, which I know well because it boasts an Apocalypse Later quote at the top, which is still a bucket list achievement for me.