Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Vandenberg - 2020 (2020)



Country: The Netherlands
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 May 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

It seems weird to suggest that an album called 2020 is a surprising release in 2020, but this one's by Vandenberg, the band led by Dutch guitar wizard Adrian Vandenberg, and the last one we saw was Alibi way back in 1985. That was a good album, but we've got used to Vandenberg the person playing for a slew of other bands, not least Whitesnake, so hardly expected Vandenberg the band to resurface after thirty-five years for album number four.

It's a really good album made by a really good new line-up and those of you who still play Whitesnake's album 1987 often will really dig it. Vandenberg was responsible for the solo on Here I Go Again '87 and that's a good template for what's on this album. Just add slick 21st century production that keeps everything punchy, drop the overt ballads and forget the cheesy eighties MTV videos. This stands on its own merits and it kicks ass.

While it all sounds thoroughly American, I should emphasise that only one of the current band is American and that's drummer Brian Tichy, the name that I didn't know, even though ten seconds of research highlights that I've heard him often, from his work with Foreigner, Billy Idol, Gilby Clarke, the Dead Daisies, Sass Jordan and others, including Whitesnake. Here I must point out that I'm not sure if Tichy is actually in the band or just guesting on the album. Some sources suggest the former, but the Vandenberg band site states the latter, as the actual drummer is Koen Herfst, of Epica fame.

The same goes for the bass player, which Wikipedia says is Rudy Sarzo, who's played for everyone. Where you know him from may depend on your age. For me, it's Quiet Riot, but you may know him best from his work with Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Queensrÿche or, inevitably, Whitesnake. However, again the Vandenberg site says that he's also guesting while the real bassist is Randy van der Elsen, best known for his work with Tank.

How this resolves, I have no idea. Maybe the band members are van der Elsen and Herfst while Sarzo and Tichy recorded the album. Answers on the back of a postcard please. What we know for sure is that the new vocalist is Ronnie Romero, who's surely the busiest singer in rock nowadays. He's best known at this point for Lords of Black and the reformed Rainbow, but he does a great job whoever he's singing for and this album is no exception.

You'd be insane if you thought there wasn't a lot of Whitesnake in the sound but the best material here, which to my mind is Hell and High Water, merges it with Rainbow. It's obvious in Romero's vocals, in Vandenberg's guitar and especially in the keyboards that underpin the second half of the song. It's not Stargazer but it's a heck of a lot closer to it than you expected before reading this. It's a real peach of a song.

I really like Let It Rain too, which follows it on the album, even though it starts out teasingly like a power ballad. Just as we're imagining hairspray budgets and Tawny Kitaen, it kicks into a neat groove, a worthy contemporary take on eighties hair metal that effortlessly avoids cliché. There's enough grit in the mix and Romero's vocals to make this feel right for 2020 and not just 1987. The inevitable exception may be Shout, which is so eighties hair metal that we almost cringe. Almost.

While Romero is so good at this sort of thing that it's easy to focus on him to the detriment of everything else, Vandenberg has always been a fantastic guitarist and he seems to have a lot of fun creating an album under his own name again. The guitars are just right in the mix and he gets quite as many opportunities to shine as you might expect, without ever overdoing it. This band may bear his name but it's still a band not a solo performance. Perhaps his brightest guitar moments come on the opener, Shadows of the Night, but I could have thrown out a half dozen other choices without much hardship.

The biggest catch to the album is that it doesn't attempt anything remotely new at all but it's fair to say that anyone into this sort of music won't be too worried about that. It's unashamedly what it is, melodic hard rock with a direct line back to hair metal. The riffs work, the hooks work and Romero and Vandenberg both shine, while whoever happens to be backing them does the reliable jobs expected of them. Now, let's hope the next album isn't called 2055.

Alligator - Direct Heart Massage (2020)



Country: Ukraine
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 1 Jun 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Metal Archives | VK

It's been a good year for thrash metal but it hasn't been a great one, with a lot of the big names releasing albums that are worthy but not outstanding. Annihilator still have the edge for me thus far in 2020 and I've never been a particularly big Annihilator fan. So I've been wandering virtually around the globe looking for more good stuff in the hope of finding great stuff. I expect to be looking all year but here's another good album from Sevastopol in the Ukraine, courtesy of Alligator.

Instrumentally, they're excellent, and they stay that way during long intros on many of these tracks. A Chisel, which opens the album, runs on for a full minute and a half before vocals show up and the song only lasts a couple of minutes longer. The intro for Dying For takes a full minute of the three and half that the song runs. And these are far from acoustic intros intended to set a mood, they feature the whole band riffing away at full pelt. Ditch the long intro and you get songs like So Fear is Born, which is a blitzkrieg at under two minutes in the vein of Destruction.

Most of the first half is fast, beginning with A Chisel, which is enough to get the blood pumping without any of the manual intervention depicted on the cover art. It's not breakneck though, because this is technical thrash and it lives or dies on its riffs and changes rather than its sheer speed. It's consistently fast enough to keep me happy as I do like fast thrash bands so much more than those who stay relentlessly at mid-pace. Shake up the tempos, like Alligator do on the title track and indeed much of the second half, but don't ignore the speed completely.

It seems that Alligator have been around for a long time, originally getting together back in 1992 but giving up the ghost only four years later without having recorded anything. Clearly they didn't get serious until reforming in 2015. Since then, they've released two EPs and three studio albums, this one being the most recent. Maybe Believe in Yourself is a musical take on their new work ethic: "Your time will come," they tell themselves and I hope that happens.

Alligator are a power trio and the main man is Vladimir Ternovskoy. The best thing about this album is his guitar and he's the only guitarist in play. I adore his guitar tone and I adore how he puts it to use. There's no messing around here. He just gets right down to business and bludgeons us with riffs for the twenty-six minutes the album lasts. That's the worst thing about the album, by the way: that's shorter than Reign in Blood and that's noticeable in 2020.

Talking of Slayer, they're clearly a primary influence and there are points where this sounds like Schmier singing for Slayer. The voice also belongs to Ternovskoy because he does double duty in this band and, while I enjoyed his vocals, I enjoyed them less than his guitarwork. It's a rough voice, with an accent obvious even in the faster sections, and it makes the tone set by the guitar even grittier.

Backing him in Alligator are Nikolay Chechin on a solid and audible bass and Evgeny Tikhomirov on very reliable drums. They're clearly backing Ternovskoy rather than leading the music anywhere; I didn't catch any solo moments for the bass to shine or points where the drums set the direction forward. That said, they don't mess around either. Even at midpace, this is pure thrash. I could imagine walking into a gig late with Alligator on stage and instantly finding myself in the mood to leap into the pit.

Interestingly, my favourite songs here are a mix of fast and slow. I dug the speed of So Fear is Born and the in your face attitude of Street Guys, but I also appreciated the closer, Father's Tears, which is slower and, at under four minutes, still happy to ditch the vocals before the halfway point and wrap up things instrumentally.

If I wanted more than Alligator were willing to give me, that's entirely a comment about the length of the album and I feel I have to dock a point for that. The music, however, is glorious, and it's a lot more consistent than anything the American bands people are raving about have released this year.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Grave Digger - Fields of Blood (2020)



Country: Germany
Style: Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 May 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

I remember Grave Digger from the eighties when they were a heavy/speed metal band and a decent one too. When they toured in 1985 to promote Witch Hunter, their second album, the support band was Helloween. After War Games in 1986, they co-headlined with Helloween and Celtic Frost. However, I also remember them briefly going commercial under the shortened name of Digger, which was ill-advised and a complete failure.

I lost track after that, but apparently they turned into a heavy/power metal band and this double milestone release (their twentieth studio album put out in their fortieth year as a band) certainly walks in Sabaton territory. It's a concept album about the struggles of the Scottish against the English and it isn't their first either. It marks the third in a thematic trilogy, after 1996's Tunes of War and 2010's The Clans Will Rise Again.

Concepts are a big deal to Grave Digger, it appears, as Tunes of War is also the first album in a trilogy of albums exploring history in the middle ages, to be followed by Knights of the Cross and Excalibur, the subject matter of those two being the Crusades and King Arthur respectively. Maybe that's part of why they turned into a power metal band. Concept albums fall naturally in that genre, where they don't to speed metal bands.

I liked this, though that's not too surprising given that it kicks off with a bombastic bagpipe-driven intro. Those of you who know me in person know I wear a kilt every day in my clan's tartan; I'm a Robinson, so sept into Clan Gunn. What connection this band from Gladbeck in North Rhine-Westphalia has to Scotland, I don't know, but I'm happy that they're treating this material with respect and having fun with it in the process.

A few observations leapt out immediately. One is that the obvious comparison is to Sabaton, who weren't even formed until three years after Tunes of War, so perhaps the comparison should be the other way round. Another is that the lyrics are much less specific than Sabaton, who delight in overdoing detail. Songs here may mention Clan Maclean, Bannockburn and the fields of Culloden, but the lyrics don't read like encyclopaedia entries because they dig into a deeper emotional truth rather than recite facts. I really appreciated that.

A third is that, for all the easy Sabaton references, this a German band and it doesn't take long for Accept to come up as a comparison. The first proper track is All for the Kingdom and its guitar solo is all classical nods. Much later, Barbarian kicks off just like an Accept song. Keeping with Germany, I have to say that Freedom often sounds like the Grave Digger of old, with the tempo ramped up, even if it's still power metal rather than speed metal.

As much as I might miss that old speed metal style, Grave Digger play power metal very well indeed and this is likely a better album than the ones that I recall from the eighties. The style works for the subject matter and there are hooks a plenty with a slight symphonic ring to them that fits the fields of blood to a tee. I've seen photos of the band not just in kilts but full getup and there were points here where I could have imagined them going all the way and recording the album live on the site of a highland battle.

Even a few times through, I have no idea which songs to call out as the best or even my favourites. There's a lot of variety within the framework of the style they've picked, so fast songs like Freedom sit well next to slow ones like The Heart of Scotland. I do really like how well the pipes incorporated into the latter and not just for the expected intro. They play well midway through Gathering of the Clans too and underpin sections of Thousand Tears, which is also elevated by the guest vocal of Noora Louhimo of Battle Beast. That's another power ballad I didn't hate and actually rather enjoyed. With all that said, I'd probably plump for All for the Kingdom and Barbarian.

Outside that brief commercial stint as Digger (and as Hawaii), Grave Digger have kept going for four decades without splitting up. The main man nowadays is lead singer Chris Boltendahl, whose voice fits this material so well it's hard to imagine that he ever sang a different style. Jens Becker has played bass for the band for over two decades, Axel Ritt guitar for eleven years. The new fish is Marcus Kniep, who joined on keyboards in 2014 but shifted to drums in 2018. They all fit this style as well as Boltendahl.

Clearly I need to catch up on Grave Digger. When they've spent three decades forging a career in a genre I don't remember them playing at all, I'm wildly behind.

Stone Rebel - Hole in the Sun (2020)



Country: France
Style: Psychedelic Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 1 Jun 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

Hole in the Sun appears to be Stone Rebel's fourteenth studio album, so I'd usually be asking forgiveness at this point for not having heard of them. I won't this time, though, because they're a lot more prolific than old, this also being their fourth album this year. Given that we're not halfway yet, I would call that surprisingly prolific. They knocked out six albums last year and four more in 2018.

Now, prolificity like that is inherently suspicious. Surely, nobody will be able to maintain a reasonable level of quality over that volume of releases? After all, while there are gems in Buckethead's catalogue, there's a lot of, shall we say, lesser material too. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this album, which is of laid back instrumental rock, driven by noodling guitarwork that often continues at length. Of seven tracks on offer, two of them extend past the ten minute mark and a third well past eight.

I have no idea who's in the band or even if there is a band. This could well be a tight group of musicians who spend all their spare time jamming on new material. I'm hearing at least four instruments here: two guitars, plus bass and drums. Maybe there are four musicians going uncredited on Bandcamp and I wish they'd identify themselves so I can dole it appropriate praise.

However, it's well within the bounds of possibility that Stone Rebel is just one musician whose jam is to live in the studio and improvise new music. It has to be said that it's easier to make band practice when you are the band. If this is a solo project, though, I would have to express surprise at that musician's restraint, as I'm not hearing any keyboards here, let alone the exotic array of instrumentation that solo artists often layer in. Maybe it's all computer generated, though I doubt it.

Even though the song titles often suggest some sort of conflict (Hole in the Sun, Crashing Light, Psycho Monkey and others), this is fundamentally upbeat music. Sure, every track is introspective (somehow I know that the drummer's not the only musician sitting down), but there's a contentment and a comfort inherent in the music, even if that stems from an Escape from Reality. This is 2020, after all, and we've collectively only reached level six of Jumanji thus far.

The Bandcamp page for Stone Rebel states that the style is psychedelic rock, and that's fine by me, but thats a wide genre and this is light years from space rock or stoner rock as we tend to imagine them. I'd place this halfway between a Grateful Dead jam session and whatever New Age CDs show up at your local dollar store for a buck a piece. It's certainly good relaxation music: pop this on and feel your mood improve. However, it's worth a lot more than to just let it slide away into the background while you work because much of the fun is actively listening to those guitars.

Surely the most pleasant album I've heard all year, the question is whether it's likely to stay with me. I don't think I'm going to wake up with any of these tunes playing in my head tomorrow. The most obvious criticism would be that each of the seven pieces of music sounds relatively similar. The drums and bass are there primarily for support purposes, so they don't get to put their own mark on this. In fact, Dreamers does without drums entirely and I wouldn't say they were particularly missed.

It's all about the guitars and, if you're in the mood for soft and pleasing guitar and you want something with a lot more substance than New Age, then I would recommend this highly. I'm sure I'll be coming back to it when I next feel the need to be cheered up. Of course, by then, Stone Rebel may have released another half dozen albums...

Friday, 5 June 2020

Tyrant - Hereafter (2020)



Country: USA
Style: Doom/Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 May 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Twitter

Here's another return from out of the blue, this time from the left side of the pond. This particular Tyrant, for there are many, hail from Pasadena in California and they play old school chugging heavy metal with an emphasis on heavy, the standard Judas Priest influence being heavied up even further by new fish Robert Lowe who used to sing lead for doom metal legends Solitude Aeturnus and Candlemass.

It all makes for a sound like the Priest at the turn of the seventies into eighties might have found if Rob Halford sang low instead of high. I'd call the sound heavy metal rather than doom, but they're often so close to the latter that they'll often be confused for it, even by fans like me.

The core of the band is founder member Greg May on bass and guitarist Rocky Rockwell, who showed up in 1980, early enough to feature on everything the band has recorded. I remember their eighties albums, Legions of the Dead and Too Late to Pray, but only vaguely. I may have picked them up used back in the day and given them a few spins, but not enough to really take root in my skull. They apparently stuck around long enough to release a third album in 1996, King of Kings, but this is their first in the twenty-four years since. Welcome back, folks.

Hereafter is a daunting album, because it has no pretensions and gets right down to business in ways we're not really used to any more. What constitutes "heavy" has changed a lot over the years and this is heavy in the seventies sense, long before it had to take on other attributes to stay heavy, such as "fast" and "extreme". It's more Priest than Sabbath, but you simply can't be seventies heavy with the Sabbs not showing up as an influence and the middle of Pieces of Mine, to name just one part, is quintessential Sabbath.

This isn't just not fast, in fact it's often almost painfully slow, but it's even heavier than the new Cirith Ungol and that's saying something. Like the Cirith Ungol, this feels like proto-extreme, as if we'll suddenly realise it was actually released way back in 1978, when it was wildly out of sync with everything around it, and so became a pivotal influence on Venom and Celtic Frost and so helped to pave the way for everything we know as extreme metal today.

Until the Day, for instance, really contains no elements that weren't around in 1978, but nobody, not even Black Sabbath, was putting them together quite like this. It arguably took until Candlemass defined a genre and Saint Vitus and Pentagram and others realised what they were playing for this to acquire a name. This often sounds like another band at that point finding their true calling but refusing to ditch their core Judas Priest influence.

That refusal meant that it took me a while to get used to this. If we think of it as a heavy metal album, it's too doomladen; but if we think of it as a doom metal album, it's never really pure enough. With crushingly heavy non-extreme albums like this from Cirith Ungol and Tyrant in quick succession, I wonder if a new genre will rise with a foundation in doom but with guitars that come right out of old school Priest. As I get used to it, I really dig it.

A first listen is like a bludgeoning assault by a band refusing to sound how we expect them to, but we do get used to it and we focus in on the intricacy of the music on a second listen. It still stuns me that Rocky Rockwell is on his own here, as his work often sounds like the twin guitars that we expect from a Priest-influenced band. How many of these riffs are actually the work of Greg May's bass?

This also meant that I tend to think of this as a generous fifty-plus minute slab of heavy metal rather than a set of eleven songs but, the more I listen to it, the more certain of them leap out. Until the Day is one, but the best of them may be Bucolic. It has plenty of intricate guitarwork and it finds a neat groove that speaks to me; Lowe's voice is doomy, grungy and eastern all at once and I love it. In fact, the album wraps up really well, with Beacon the Light and From the Tower both highlights too.

But, after three listens, I'm pretty sure that Hereafter is still growing on me and my list of favourites is likely to change over time. For now, let me just say that it's yet another welcome return for a band we haven't heard in far too long.

Tremendous - Relentless (2020)



Country: UK
Style: Glam Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 May 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

It's only been a couple of months since I heard the Beau Bowen debut and it blew me away with its throwback to the glam rock of the early seventies, not least David Bowie. Now here comes another British throwback to that era with another notable debut album. Tremendous, which is a ballsy name indeed for a young band (though they are conversely on Horrendous Records), sound totally different to Bowen but they'd make for a great double bill when gigs start back up again.

What's especially interesting to me here is that the list of influences that Tremendous channel isn't remotely confined to early seventies glam rock but that's what they end up sounding like. I'd bring up the Kinks first and most often, but with Mott the Hoople almost as often and others from Oasis to the Sex Pistols fleshing out a working class singer/songwriter sound. Everything here is short and down to earth, like glam rock as garage rock and with only two of ten songs on offer lasting past the three minute mark.

With most of the songs running only two minutes and change, as singles used to be back in the day, there's hardly any time to develop musically, so the band get down to business immediately and focus closely on the central hook. Every song is built around that vocal hook and I was almost surprised when a guitar solo showed up on Like Dreamers Do. There aren't too many of those on this album.

Opener Don't Leave Our Love (Open for Closing) is a fantastic example as it starts out with solo voice, then layers in a heck of a lot before the chorus hits only twenty-four seconds in. That's a grand and impressive ramp up for a first album and it highlights just how much sheer confidence this band has in spades. By comparison, Like Dreamers Do plays it quiet one time through, then builds as they run through again. "We dream of a million things, me and you, as we stare outside and dream like dreamers do," sings Mark Dudzinski, but as he has less than three minutes to play with, he really dreams of one verse twice, a quick solo and a repeating chorus until he's out of time.

These songs are so short that Rock 'n' Roll Satellite is the unusually long song here at a breath over four minutes. It starts out like Def Leppard but quickly shifts into the Lep's key influence, Mott the Hoople. Tremendous may only be a trio but they have enough swagger to sell this song gloriously. It seems surprising that only three musicians can create such a dense sound and that's never so obvious as on Bag of Nails, once we get past the first verse which is quintessential Oasis. Then the wall of sound kicks in and we wonder how anyone can play this quietly. It's raucous and it needs serious ampage.

By this point, only four songs in, I was sold by the music and how mature it all seemed. The downside is easily the lack of lyrics, the standard approach being to repeat one verse a couple of times and let the chorus dominate the rest of the time. It's unashamedly lo-fi and as ballsy as the band name, as if they knew that they could spend time to grow these songs, write a second or third verse here and there, add a guitar solo or three and show off a bit with some clever musicality, but they just couldn't be bothered, so instead they showed up to a studio, knocked out the core of ten songs in an hour and went down the pub for a pint while the label slapped a cover on their work.

I like this band and I like this album, which seems like an effortless slab of punchy garage glam anthems. Dudzinski displays almost no polish here as a singer, his deceptively soft Donovan meets Marc Bolan take on Hell is Only a Blessing Away the most obvious, but he's insanely effective and songwriters will be jealous of how he can turn anything into a solid hook. He's also the band's guitarist and, well, the same could be said there. If he's the heart of the band, then Ryan Jee and David Lee are its backbone, handling bass and drums respectively.

I'm fascinated to see where this band go on future albums. They could shift their sound a little heavier and turn into the next Killers or deepen their sound and go pretty much anywhere they want.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Oz - Forced Commandments (2020)



Country: Sweden
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 22 May 2020
Sites: Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website | YouTube

Here's another metal band from back in the day that I've completely missed out on. They're Oz, who were founded in Nakkila, Finland way back in 1977 and put out some albums during the NWOBHM era, including a poorly received debut in Heavy Metal Heroes but a well received follow up called Fire in the Brain. By that time they'd moved to Sweden, where they remain, and I don't remember seeing their name in the eighties at all but they must surely have been covered in Metal Hammer at least. After five albums, they split up in 1991 and stayed gone until 2010.

This is the third album from the reformed Oz and it sounds great to me, the sound taken from the eighties but eighties but delivered through fresh songs that benefit from the 21st century production. Pekka Mark, who goes by Mark Ruffneck, is the only musician left from the old days, everyone else's time in the band dating back only as far as 2015 or 2016.

It's upbeat stuff, led by Ruffneck's drums, with vibrant twin guitars and a clean operatic vocal. It's old school stuff, rooted in European power metal of the early sort spawned from the NWOBHM. And it's patient stuff, because I could imagine this a lot faster than it is without fundamentally changing it into another genre. The only time they really ramp up is on Liar, which ends the album with a sheer burst of energy. It kicks off with guitar histrionics and then gets faster than anything else on the album. It's never speed metal but there are points where it thinks about it.

What's more, it's consistent stuff. There are eight songs proper here and I would be hard pressed to pick either the best or the worst of them. I'd put their sound somewhere in between the sheer chugging power of Accept and the incessant melodies of Gamma Ray, with Judas Priest style twin guitars and a commerical grounding like Divlje Jagoda that applies to every one of these songs without any exceptions.

My highlights tend to be within songs. Switchblade Alley starts out with an agreeably prowling bass intro from Peppi Peltola. The twin guitar workouts on The Ritual shine, courtesy of Juzzy Kangas and Johnny Gross, as do those at the start of Liar, among others. Those guitars nod at classical in Accept style on Spiders, which gets neatly theatrical late on.

And there's Long and Lonely Road. This is a power ballad and regular readers will know what I tend to think about those. I tend to mention them either as the lowest points of albums or as ones that surprisingly don't annoy me. I'd go a lot further here and state that I actively enjoyed this one as much as anything around it. That's a rarity for me and it speaks volumes about this band and their admirable consistency.

In short, this is classy stuff and that continues into the bonus tracks. I'm not seeing why these three are marked as such at all, as they don't seem to be B-sides, covers or re-recordings or any of the other usual reasons for tracks to get labelled as bonus (though Kingdom of War is a live recording). The album runs a fair 38 minutes without them so, if they're just more new songs, then why not just call this a 55 minute album?

And they're certainly not also rans. In fact, I'd suggest that Diving into the Darkness, the longest song on offer and emphatically the most epic, is also the best. Lead vocalist Vince Koivula is excellent throughout, but he's outstanding here and everyone else in the band matches him. The riffing and transitions are joyous and the last minute and a half is exquisite. With the sheer power that emanates from Kingdom of War, I'd almost hint at the bonus tracks being a step up from the rest of what's already a quality album. And they're why this goes up from a 7/10 to an 8/10.

Dätcha Mandala - Hara (2020)



Country: France
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 5 Jun 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter

I first saw French band Dätcha Mandala described as stoner/desert rock, but that's not strictly true, even with the fuzz on Jérémy Saigne's lead guitar that makes the stoner side of that believable. It's not remotely based in a jam mindset, so I'm not buying desert rock at all. The band describe their sound simply as heavy blues and that feels fair to me, even before Missing Blues shows up to be completely overt, though other tags on their Bandcamp page ring true too, such as hard rock and psychedelic rock.

I'd add a few labels of my own too, as there's plenty of southern rock to be found in songs like Mother God, even before the slide guitar shows up, and a majority of the album plays in mildly psychedelic pop territory. The result is that, even though Stick It Out kicks off the album like a punchy stoner rock anthem, the next few songs continue to add influences until we realise just what the band's scope is.

Mother God brings in the blues, right down to a harmonica, but adds T. Rex pop sensibilities too. With that southern rock sound that extends to slide guitar, they sound like the Black Crowes covering seventies glam rock. Who You Are is heavy blues in the way that Status Quo used to be heavy blues in their heyday but the high pitched Nicolas Sauvey adds a Budgie feel as well. Missing Blues is pure blues, drenched in harmonica, kick drum and distorted vocals.

The band's sound palette is wrapped up with Morning Song, which sounds more like the Beatles with a side of Queen. Imagine if, after Freddy died, Brian and the boys had brought in Paul McCartney to take his place. Once this sound is in place, that aspect never really vanishes from the album. Sick Machine may have strong nods to electronica and even disco but it's the Beatles at heart with dashes of Queen everywhere. Moha is looser, with Indian instrumentation like hand drums and what sounds like a sitar but probably isn't.

Even Tit's, which returns to overt blues, stays in psychedelic pop territory and it takes really heavying back up to shift more to the Budgie vibe, like On the Road. That's done with emphasis on Pavot, which closes the album out with urgent and tortured punk attitude, and on Eht Bup, which is easily my favourite song here. It has a driving riff that's as close to stoner rock as anything since the opener, but the vocals remain ever light and playful, whether they soar like Burke Shelley or harmonise right out of the Beatles textbook. It's like the album in microcosm.

Dätcha Mandala are a trio, so they have fewer musicians than the Beatles or Queen had voices but, like Budgie, they're able to generate serious power as and when they need it and always seem like there are more people than there are making their music. Sauvey is a fine lead singer who shines particularly brightly in the second half of Tit's, but he also provides harmonica, bass and acoustic guitar. Saigne handles the electric guitar while JB Mallet sits behind the drumkit, not just keeping everything lively but shifting tempo on a dime when needed.

This is the band's second album, following 2017's Rokh, which I'll now seek out eagerly. While Eht Bup is easily my favourite song here, with Tit's and Who You Are not too far behind, pretty much all the rest aren't far off the pace, making this a highly consistent and enjoyable album. I'm intrigued by what its predecessor sounded like.