Friday, 22 July 2022

Saor - Origins (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Atmospheric Folk/Black Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Jun 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

Saor's fourth album, Forgotten Paths, was one of the earliest albums that I reviewed here, when I had only just started up Apocalypse Later Music in 2019, and it was an eye-opener for me, because it demonstrated to me that black metal, which I was aware of as a relatively confined genre with a penchant for shrieked vocals, frantic drums and wall of sound guitars, was far more versatile than I thought. The past four years have taught me that, on the contrary, it's one of the most malleable genres out there, bands like Katharos XIII, Oranssi Pazuzu and Cân Bardd taking it into all sorts of places I never expected it to go: jazz, psychedelia and folk respectively.

Now, I'm playing up my ignorance a little much there, but I remember well the early rivalries that pitted black metal against death and thrash that were only trumped by metal vs. glam. It was not seen as appropriate to defect to a different camp or, crucially, to be in more than one at the same time. I knew intellectually in 2019 that those times were mostly gone, thank goodness, but it's fair to say that Saor helped me realise not that genres could merge but that it was already happening to a serious degree, because this is as much folk metal as it is black metal and it would be almost a heresy to attempt to separate them.

This fifth album does a similar job to its predecessor in merging those two genres, enough that I'd know precisely where Andy Marshall, the one man behind this project, hailed from even if I hadn't looked it up first. Maybe I wouldn't have been able to identify that from the opening track, Call of the Carnyx, though there are firm hints, but I wouldn't have any doubt by the time Fallen wraps up five minutes later. The last minute and a half is certainly black metal, blistering along at a serious clip, but it's also unmistakably a Celtic jig. The title track that wraps up the album returns to this a great deal, so it's there fresh in mind when the whole thing ends too.

And, once we've heard it, it's never that far away. We might not recognise the folky melodies and rhythms in The Ancient Ones as Celtic if we were given that song and that task in isolation but, in the slot right after hearing Fallen, it's impossible to miss, especially halfway through when it finds a bagpipe-like drone or later when it adds a plaintive flute. Once we have the wide open spaces of Scotland in our minds, everything depicts them.

The Ancient Ones begins and ends quietly, with that flute. It fades out slowly behind wind, and I'm talking about the wind that shifts air around rather than wind instruments. The natural world and other outdoor sounds are a frequent element here. Fallen begins with a crackling fire, Aurora with a heartbeat, Beyond the Wall with a storm. There was even more of this on Forgotten Paths and it lasted longer too, leading me to suggest two primary tones of pastoral and aggressive. That holds here, but there are fewer and shorter pastoral sections and more aggression. It's a heavier album and perhaps an angrier one. The choice of cover art reflects that too.

It's not entirely dark though. Even a song like Aurora, very possibly my favourite track here, which starts out angry and aggressive, calms down at points. It's like most of the song unfolds under an impressively dark and overcast sky but the clouds clear and the sun shines through at points, with a massive effect on the mood of the track. Beyond the Wall, which starts with a storm, does much the same thing and with similar quality, the primary difference being the tantalising presence of a guest female voice, initially as ghostlike whispers and later as a harmonising partner.

I like this album and I liked the previous one too, but I'm not sure which I prefer. I like the heavier, more aggressive feel, but I also wanted longer pastoral sections, so I'm in two minds. Other than that, it's very consistent with Forgotten Paths, with few things standing out for special notice. The one I will comment on is the bass on Aurora, which kicks in early and reminds of Peter Hook's work for Joy Division. I dug that a lot, maybe as much as I dug the monk-like choral chants on the same song. So perhaps I like this as much as last time but not more, so it's another reliable album from a busy musician.

Alpha Q - Parallel Universe (2022)

Country: Romania
Style: Progressive Rock/Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 29 Jul 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

I only know about Alpha Q because one of its two guitarists is Waqas Ahmed and I've reviewed two of his releases in the past, the Doomsday Astronaut album and A Perpetual Winter EP. In case he's new to you, he hails from Lahore in Pakistan but he lives in Sibiu, Romania, which surely has a very different musical scene. While those releases focused very specifically on him and his guitar, which means that they're almost entirely solo efforts, Waqas kindly sent me a copy of this too, which is a different setup entirely.

Alpha Q are a six-piece band and this is their debut album. While they clearly appreciate what this one guitarist brings to their sound, they just as clearly appreciate the slew of other influences the other five musicians bring to the table too. Clearly they're not all Pakistani shred guitarists living in Romania. While I don't know where they're all from, I'm guessing that they're not all Romanian either because this is quite the melting pot of a sound.

For a start, I spent quite a while wondering if they're a rock band or a metal band because they're frequently one or the other or both at the same time. Darkness opens up the album, for instance, with a solo female voice, which is appropriate because I'd call lead vocalist MeeRah a highlight of this entire band. When she roars, her voice isn't too far from Dorothy Martin's, whose new album I reviewed earlier in the week. However, MeeRah is more interested in dynamic play, so she roars when she wants to roar and croons when she wants to croon. She's great at both approaches and a slew of others, because she's equally at home with pop, rock and metal, even trying a rap over the funky beats of Make a Wish. I've been checking out her other projects and they're highly versatile.

What's special here is that the band is also versatile, which is why their sound is so hard to define. When MeeRah roars in Darkness, they ramp up from alternative rock to almost groove metal and, when she's done for a while, they shift into a sort of seventies guitar workout, like Mark Knopfler playing with Wishbone Ash. The song isn't as schizophrenic as that might suggest, but it does take quite the leap from one section to another. I enjoyed it a great deal, but think I connected with its successor on the album, Ballad of a Ticking Clock quicker, because its movements flow deceptively well and its groove is more immediate.

I'd call this one a prog metal song that's frequently prog rock. It feels bigger and more epic, but it actually runs a little shorter, maybe because it fades out just when I didn't want it to. I wanted it to keep on going for a lot longer. It's probably worth stating that five of the eight songs on offer last between five and a half and seven minutes and that's a good sweet spot for Alpha Q, because they always want to do at least a couple of things within each song and they need to transition between them and back again.

I like some of these shifts more than others, but I appreciate all of them because they're conjured up with plenty of thought about what those contrasts mean. I like how Unbreakable is both one of the heaviest songs here and one of the most commercial. I like how Angels and Demons drop from prog metal into a neatly peaceful section halfway with a vaguely ethnic acoustic guitar, then goes right back up the emphasis scale into a guitar solo. I like how Make a Wish shifts from jagged djent into a heavy groove, then goes all funky with an old school rap, the sort of thing that Blondie used to do when they played with genres. It's a story song too with MeeRah as a sort of genie.

Long story short, I like what Waqas Ahmed does on his own, just as I like what MeeRah does on her own and I'll probably like what all the other members here do on their own. I have homework to do when I can find some time. However, I have a feeling that I'll like what they all do together a little more than any of them solo. They click well, as diverse as they are, and they each bring something different to the Alpha Q table. There's folk here and shred and dance and groove and a whole lot more. I look forward to their next album.

Thursday, 21 July 2022

Christian Death - Evil Becomes Rule (2022)

Country: USA
Style: Goth Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 6 May 2022
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Wikipedia | Twitter

I've had a taste for goth since before I found metal, because I was fascinated by the indie charts in Smash Hits when I was listening to bands like Adam and the Ants. However, I didn't have access to a lot of it back then and, by the time I did, I'd moved into much heavier material, so I've kind of stuck around on the fringes of it ever since, bumping into it again and again when other interests have a goth adjacent status, especially steampunk. So I've been aware of Christian Death for a long time without actually hearing more than an odd track here and there. This is my first album of theirs.

I find their sound very interesting, because it's clearly goth rock but with obvious nods to a slew of other genres. The Alpha and the Omega, which opens up the album, is a great example because it plays Valor Kand's deep and rich vocal over a slow and melancholic backdrop of strings, reminding of Nick Cave, back when he was still with the Bad Seeds. It doesn't have the elegant poetry of Cave though, and when it heavies up, it isn't strictly to a noisier emphasis, as Cave did on Loverman; it's almost electro-industrial in a Nine Inch Nails vein.

They stay slow and melancholic, but keep enough of a bounce in their step to avoid getting overtly doomladen. Everything is dark but nothing is suicidal dark. It's characterful dark and it's simple to track the sound back to the beginnings of the genre. And, quite frankly, they were there, in quite a different form to be fair, but Christian Death dates back to 1979 when Rozz Williams founded them as a teenager. It's obvious that they were listening to Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees but also plenty of the American underground too. I hear the Swans here, not least because Maitri has quite the vocal presence here in addition to her work on bass and keyboards, but I'm sure there's a long list of others that I'm not qualified to recognise.

By the way, Maitri is one of two long term members of Christian Death. Valor Kand is the other, an acquisition in 1983 when Williams ditched his entire line-up and brought in another band, Pompeii 99, which Kand had co-formed, to become the new Christian Death. He took over at the point that Williams left in 1985 and Maitri joined in 1991. I'm not even sure who the drummer is this week but it doesn't seem to be a long term position for anyone. It's worth mentioning that Williams formed a separate version of the band in the early nineties, releasing three albums, before taking his own life. So this may be the seventeenth or twentieth album for Christian Death, I think, depending on how you count.

There's enough here that three listens isn't remotely enough for me to choose a favourite track. I dig most of what they're doing, though the experimental title track gets a little much. There are a few groove-ridden songs like Blood Moon that remind me of the Sisters of Mercy meeting Inkubus Sukkubus. There are quirkier Nick Cave-like songs, The Warning leaping out as a pristine example. Beautiful sounds more like Siouxsie and the Banshees, which may underline why I prefer Maitri's vocals to Kand's, not that I don't appreciate the latter too, especially on more subdued songs like Who am I, a two parter that wraps up the album. Pt. 1 is very Nick Cave, but Pt. 2 is stripped down, wilder and experimental. It captivated me on a first listen and did the same thing with each fresh repeat.

Clearly I should listen to more Christian Death. I know I have a bunch here, so it's just comes down to finding the time. I have no idea if this is representative of what they've done for so long but, if it is, it's easy to see why they're considered the founders of American gothic rock, or deathrock or whatever else they want to call it. It's also easy to see their sound influencing alt rock darlings like Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson, though I prefer Christian Death's older school sound certainly to Manson, who I've never got into. I think that suggests that this album is a good place to start. I hope so.

Aarlon - Dafan (2022)

Country: India
Style: Alternative Rock/Metalcore
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 27 Mar 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

After I reviewed the new Bloodywood album earlier in the year, I received submissions from a few other bands from India and that makes me happy because I haven't heard anywhere near enough rock and metal from that country and I'd love to catch up more. In fact, the more I hear, the more I want to hear more because the bands who I have heard are often interesting and uncategorisable. That holds for bands as varied as Prophets of Yahweh, Cosmic Circle and Friends from Moon and it holds true with this album too, perhaps unsurprisingly, as the music here was composed by Ritwik Shivam, the man behind Friends from Moon.

In fact, I now realise that, while Shivam played almost every instrument on that Astray album, the five guest appearances included two members of Aarlon with a third, Guarav Basnet, a guest here too. When Shivam needed a harsh voice, he asked Pritam Adhikary to provide it, who's the vocalist throughout this album, except for Basnet's guest spot on Rok Lo. Shivam had two guest drummers on Astray, one of whom was Prankreet Borah, Aarlon's drummer. Clearly, this is a solid opportunity to hear what Shivam sounds like as only one musician in a band of five, each of which can also call a few shots. Sure, he composed all the music here, but his fellow guitarist, Piyush Rana, handled the lyrics and I'm sure the other musicians made their creative contributions too.

This may not be as wildly varied as Astray, but it continues to keep us on the hop until the end. The genre is very hard to nail down, because they have two very different styles, some songs playing in one and some in the other, with the most interesting moving between them. The first of the styles that shows up is metalcore, because the opener, Vidroh, kicks off hard and heavy but very modern. In fact, the first part of the song is just like Bloodywood, merely without ethnic instrumentation in the drop spots. Adhikary even sounds like Jayant Bhadula when doing his gruff voice. However, the band don't drop into Raoul Kerr-esque raps to provide contrast, Adhikary softens up instead.

And that's where the other primary style comes in, because that's alternative rock, far softer and with clean, characterful vocals. Even on Vidroh, Adhikary delivers in a number of styles, but on the next song, Panchhi, he sounds like a completely different singer, because we move from an urgent metalcore sound to a pastoral one that makes us wonder in Donovan ever recorded in Hindi. They literally go from clanging metal behind a sonic assault to an acoustic guitar over a bubbling brook and tweeting birds in as short a time as it takes for your jaw to drop.

Now, to be fair, the heaviest part of Vidroh was its ending and Panchhi does build considerably, but it feels difficult to reconcile the two tracks as being by the same band. Even when the second goes into its heavier section, it still can't compete with what Aarlon started out with one track earlier, a breathy groove taking over instead that had me rocking in my office chair. That's impressive and I would suggest that, if you don't like the first track, stick around through the second one. There's a lot going on here and you don't want to miss any of it because one style isn't to your liking.

After a few listens, I think it's fair to say that my favourite songs find a different vibe again, as they come early in the second half with an older take on alternative rock. Saavan and especially Aaina could both have done well during the post-punk era in the UK, as ethereal and haunting dark pop music. Somehow, Aaina has a Japanese flavour to it. Tu is more in line, I'd suggest, with their alt rock mode and, like so many of these songs do, builds really well, finding a point where we think it has to have peaked but continuing to build for a little while longer.

If you want the heavier Aarlon, that does return on Inquilaab, but it features a playful kind of rage that doesn't feel quite so angry to me as Vidroh did. The best merging of the two sides of the band may be found on Rok Lo, with Basnet's smooth, sometimes perhaps autotuned voice a fair counter to Adhikary's harsh approach, just as the catchy, commercial alternative rock counters the urgent, in your face metalcore. I think it probably overwhelms it, as it skews more to the alt rock side as it goes and it may end up a little unbalanced.

I'm still in two minds as to how the album as a whole balances those two main styles. As much as I'd usually go for the faster, heavier material, I prefer the softer styles here, especially the post-punk. That said, the songs that shift from light to heavy, and it tends to be that way round, are surely the most interesting. I may be all about Saavan and Aaina, but Tu and Panchhi won't leave me alone. It bodes well for a band when they leave me arguing with myself about what worked best, because it means they're doing interesting things.

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Holy Dragons - Jörmungandr: The Serpent of the World (2022)

Country: Kazakhstan
Style: Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 1 Jul 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | VK | Wikipedia | YouTube

This may be a surprising album to show up as my second review of the day, given that I try to post a new and often indie band first but follow up with an established and well known outfit. So who are Holy Dragons, because I hadn't heard of them before and you may well not have done either? Well, they've been around since 1995 under this name—and were known as Axcess for a few more years before that—and this is between their sixteenth and twentieth album, depending on how we count. I think a few may be re-recordings of earlier albums with new singers. Whatever the number, they certainly count as established and it would seem that the Kazakh metal scene started with them.

I really dig this album, but it's a couple of different things rolled into one and it takes a little while to get used to that. For a start, the best thing about the band at present is surely the guitarwork, which is prominent and outstanding. Jürgen Thunderson and Chris Caine, usually called Thorheim, are both founder members, though the latter wasn't in Axcess before that. I'd state that, however much I enjoyed any particular song here, every single one of them is elevated at the point that the rhythm section settles into a groove and Thunderson and Caine trade solos with each other. I could listen to The Toothless Wolf forever. Even bassist Ivan Manchenko gets in on the act.

These guitars are firmly rooted in heavy/power metal and often acquire a speed metal edge when they shift into solo territory. The biggest shift I heard was when Somebody's Life showcases an old school AC/DC style riff, right out of the Bon Scott era, but everything else here is pretty consistent in approach. However, even when soloing fast, Thunderson and Caine never lose sight of melody, a potent combination and one that I've adored since I found rock and metal in 1984. However, I must add that, while Caine has been playing guitar in Holy Dragons since 1995, she didn't step up to the mike until 2015, suggesting that she's far more comfortable as a guitarist than a vocalist.

And that makes sense, given that she sounds more accomplished as a guitarist than a vocalist. I'd better mention here that I really dig her vocals, but they're not going to be for everyone, because her shriller, more emphatic take on the Doro style works better the faster they go and the fastest bits here are instrumental sections, when she's wearing her guitarist hat. I think that fans of the pure heavy metal style that don't like speed metal may find her voice too raucous for them, while speed metal fans will love her voice but wish the band would speed up to match it. It's people like me who appreciate both styles and remember Doro when she was Doro Pesch, the lead singer for Warlock, that will dig this, even if we take a song or two to adjust.

I believe this is a concept album that spins a story out of the rich vein of storytelling in Norse myth. If it isn't, that's certainly a common theme. Certainly Jörmungandr is straight out of the Eddas, as the sea serpent who surrounds the Earth. It's a child of Loki, another title here; a sibling of Fenrir, the Toothless Wolf of that song. When Jörmungandr lets its tail go, it'll be time for Ragnarok that will take place at the field called Vígríðr, the name of the intro here. The outro is Iðavöllr, which, like Midgard in another song title, are places and, well, everything here ties in somehow.

I didn't follow the concept as it ran through, but I appreciated the music, in the vocal sections and especially in the instrumental ones. Manchenko and drummer Zabir Shamsutdinov provide a solid backdrop for Thunderson and Caine to strut their stuff and they do that well. This album squeaks a second past a full hour and I didn't find it remotely long. I could listen to these guitar solos all day every day. This is old school stuff, reminding of Warlock, Exciter and Detente. It's not what most of the metal bands in the world are playing but that's just another plus point for me. And now you're familiar with the biggest metal band in Kazakhstan. You're welcome.

Carson - The Wilful Pursuit of Ignorance (2022)

Country: Switzerland
Style: Stoner Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Apr 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | YouTube

I'm not sure what I was expecting from this band, but I expected something worthy of note, given a strange location shift; Kieran Jones, the singer and guitarist, is from New Zealand and this band's origins are there, but he moved himself and the band to Switzerland. There's nothing Swiss in this sound that I can discern, but they combine their very American sounding stoner rock, played with a commercial level of fuzz, with a Ian Astbury passion for melodies. Dirty Dream Maker, the opening track and initial single, is relatively easily described as Queens of the Stone Age meeting the Cult.

Carson, as so many stoner rock bands tend to be, are a power trio, with Elina Willener on bass and Jan Kurmann on drums, and that power is on display on the opening couple of tracks. There's real energy to it, which is recognisable to fans of any antipodean music, but it's tampered down a little bit to make it more patient and commercial and it's fair to suggest that both openers had plenty of chances at reaching a mainstream audience. Everything they need is there except luck and that lady is notoriously hard to find, apparently even in Lucerne.

Siren is where they shift gear, because it's almost two minutes longer than anything else here and so it has plenty of time to breathe. It starts mellow but perky and returns to that at points, with a not all the way back to the Cult's primary influence, the Doors. It ramps up, of course, with energy to spare, even when it finds a patient heavy and dirty riff halfway through, but that's not where a kind of inevitable Black Sabbath influence creeps in, at least not really. That shows up later, when they drop down to a trippy liquid instrumental section reminiscent of Planet Caravan.

So yeah, there are surprises here. They're technically a Swiss band nowadays but they don't sound remotely Swiss. They're playing an American style of music but with a recognisably British flavour to it. And, while every stoner rock band on the planet owes a debt to Black Sabbath, theirs isn't at all the usual one for much of the album; the most overt Sabbath influence shows up on Outbound Tide, which is the last of eight tracks, even if there are undercurrents of You're So Vain in there as well. Yeah, Sabbath are there throughout, through osmosis, because this is nineties stoner rock a lot more than its seventies roots except on Siren.

In fact, there are other more modern sounds to be found here too. Gimmie is a punk song, edgier and fuzzier than its obvious modern pop punk comparisons but not as edgy as their predecessors. There's a control in play here that Carson don't want to give up. They're absolutely crafting songs here, rather than just jamming for the pleasure of the moment. Even the songs that find the most effective grooves, like No Joy with its excellent bouncy riffs, never feel like they would ever go off the rails into a drawn out instrumental section. It's just not who this band are.

At least, it's not who they are on record, though I have to confess that I'm judging that from this, a follow-up album to 2017's Drown the Witness. It wouldn't surprise me to find that they're a looser, heavier and faster band on stage. I'd love to see what some of these songs become when played by an urgent live band.

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Belphegor - The Devils (2022)

Country: Austria
Style: Black/Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Jun 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

This makes a dozen studio albums for Austrian black/death metal legends Belphegor and it has an uncharacteristically subdued title for them. After all, this is the band behind memorable titles like Necrodaemon Terrorsathan, Goatreich - Fleshcult and, of course, Bondage Goat Zombie. The Devils just doesn't have the same oomph to it. Fortunately, that oomph is still there when it comes to the music, at least for the most part. There's an abiding patience to the opening title track that feels out of place to me and it returns a number of times throughout the album, but Totentanz nails its groove immediately and the album is off and running.

Belphegor is only two people nowadays, founding member Helmuth on lead vocals and guitar and Serpenth on bass and backing vocals, as he's been for over a decade and a half now. The drums are provided by a guest musician, David Diepold of British deathcore band Cognizance, among others. They bulk up with a second guitarist on tour, but Molokh apparently doesn't appear on this album. That makes them a kinda sorta power trio, I guess, and I've always found it fascinating to hear the depth of sound that only three people can conjure up. That goes double for a band who delve into black metal so deeply, that trio being responsible for the wall of sound we hear.

And there's some deep black metal in Totentanz, which is a glorious blitzkrieg of a track that feels like it simply couldn't be generated by three musicians. Sure, two of them have double duty but it seems like there are a lot more than two voices in play and a lot more than three musicians. Their layering of vocals, or whatever it is they're doing here, is the primary reason it feels deep, but the songwriting helps too. Glorifizierung des Teufels is seriously stripped down in comparison, plenty of it told with acoustic guitar and growled vocals, but it gets notably choral. It feels like a piece of operatic music adapted into an extreme metal framework, all the way to the strange narrative bit at the end for a female voice crying out in English in what may be a sample.

Those may be my favourite two songs here, as utterly different as they are, and they point the way to the other highlights of the album that are either fast and frantic but with a memorable groove, though only Kingdom of Cold Flesh attempts to match Totentanz on that front, or imaginative and bursting with dynamic play, a standard approach here. The songs that don't do much for me, such as that title track, are those that don't do either. The ones that do both and occasionally more are still growing on me after quite a few listens.

The most obvious example is Damnation - Hollensturz, which wraps up the first half. It has a frantic section here and there, especially during its bookends, and I love those. It has dynamic sections as well, where it bounces back and forth between calming and heavy. And it adds a fascinating ethnic vocal in its second half that doesn't sound Austrian at all, more Turkish (it returns on Creatures of Fire, just as tantalising). Yet this has also some of the patient bits that sometimes lose me, so I'm thoroughly enjoying it but I'm stuck in two minds about whether it ranks up there with Totentanz and the fascinating Glorifizierung des Teufels.

I'd have liked more frantic pieces but I'm happy with the dynamic play and the choral mindset that mixes the mild black shriek and rich death growl but layers them for effect with clean vocals which conjure up images of a choir of monks joining in song with a couple of demons. Virtus Asinaria has this and Ritus Incendium Diabolis too, almost reaching a plain chant behind the crunch. And this is enough to make me wonder if The Devils is a metal oratorio. It doesn't feel like full on opera so I'm not visualising the whole performance. It's pure music.

Dorothy - Gifts from the Holy Ghost (2022)

Country: USA
Style: Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 22 Apr 2022
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

This is a third album for Dorothy Martin, the Hungarian-born American singer who dominates this sound without her huge voice. I say her rather than the band that carries her name, because she's so obviously the focal point that it feels more like a solo project. What's more, I don't know who's in the band right now; while Wikipedia lists a current line-up, one including a guitarist who joined after their previous release, I can't find confirmation that they're on this record. The names that I see in the press release, like Jason Hook of Five Finger Death Punch and Keith Wallen of Breaking Benjamin, may be writers or producers or guests or... well, I don't know.

What I know is that whoever's playing instruments here is mostly supporting that voice. There are strong riffs everywhere and some decent solos too, but it's oddly difficult to focus on anything but the voice. Occasionally, a bluesy slide guitar grabs my attention but it's not long before it's back in the background and I'm back following the vocals. In fact, there are songs here that feel as if they were designed to be showcases on a TV talent show. Rest in Peace and Close to Me Always both do that and it's almost weird to not hear the studio audience's response to being wowed.

What's odd is that, as much as it's all about the voice, the music behind Dorothy trawls in quite the range of influences. A Beautiful Life opens up sounding like it has a lot in common with the British New Wave of Classic Rock, but with a tinge of southern rock. Big Guns, on the other hand, is clearly a pop song in rock clothing, very contemporary in outlook. There are pop moments everywhere, an unexpected Phil Collins keyboard moment late in Top of the World hinting at the electronic drums that take over for Hurricane, a song whose drive ends up feeling rather like Robert Palmer with a guest vocal from Pat Benatar.

And everything here has a drive. Every one of the ten songs is urgent and Dorothy often wants us to try to sing along with her, all the more as the album runs on. The most anthemic song here may be Black Sheep, one of three tracks released as singles thus far. Not unusually for this album, it's a glam rock-inspired anthem with a spiritual mindset. It's followed by Touched by Fire, with a couple of chant-along sections and a hand clapping "hey hey" part, the most overt audience participation bit in an album with plenty of them. The title track that closes out the album is a singalong too.

I should add that much of this makes sense, given certain behind the scenes details that flavour it all. The poppier songs, not just the ones that feel like diva showcases but the ones with their very contemporary, more artificial backings too, make sense when we realise that Dorothy is signed to Roc Nation, which is owned by Jay-Z. The spiritual flavour isn't surprising when we discover that a guitar tech overdosed on heroin on her tour bus three years ago and Dorothy watched him die. By her account, he was gone but he returned to his body when she prayed for that to happen and the experience was quite the spiritual awakening for her.

She's certainly full of life here but I wonder where the invisible band is going to go from here. It's worth remembering here that Alice Cooper used to be the name of a band too, and a damn good one, but it soon became the name of its lead showman and the stage behind him quickly became full of a revolving door of musicians. I can see Dorothy going the same way, if not the full distance to a Gwen Stefani reinvention from lead singer and face of a band to solo diva, with the musicians and songwriters hired as needed and every other release featuring someone or other. Only time will tell.