Friday, 21 February 2020

Ozzy Osbourne - Ordinary Man (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 5/10
Release Date: 21 Feb 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

Every now and then, people play the musical what if game and I roll my eyes. Often it's the 27 club. What if Jimi Hendrix hadn't died at 27? Imagine what he would have achieved in those extra decades! What about Brian Jones, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison? It's not just that era either, because there's Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, not to mention the original, Robert Johnson. What extra wonders would they have woven in sound had they lived?

Well, nowadays I listen to Ozzy Osbourne and think in reverse. What would we think of Ozzy had he died at 27. He would have released six groundbreaking albums with Black Sabbath, up to Sabotage, only the second Sabbath album to be critically acclaimed, so his place in the history of heavy metal would be secure. We would rightly see him as a legend and wonder about what else the future might have brought for him.

Would we have imagined his being fired from Sabbath but reinventing himself with the Blizzard of Ozz? Would we have imagined Randy Rhoads or Zakk Wylde? Would we imagined Crazy Train, Mr. Crowley or Bark at the Moon? There were some great years after he turned 27. I enjoyed him live earlier this decade, but I realise that much of that was nostalgia. The last good Ozzy album may be No More Tears in 1991 and the last great one may be The Ultimate Sin all the way back in 1986.

In other words, he's been putting out sub-par albums for longer now than any member of the 27 Club spent alive on this planet and this is another one. It has its moments, certainly, but even on a catchy, hook-laden single such as Straight to Hell, his voice is wildly overproduced, sounding like what an AI might create if fed the entirety of Ozzy's solo output. All right now! Ha ha ha ha ha! This is Ozzy as a catchphrase spouting cartoon.

The line-up on this album is a surprising one, given that it doesn't feature even one of the current touring band members, from Wylde on down, but it's a really impressive core four piece band, led by Andrew Watt. He's a renowned multi-instrumentalist who's the guitarist throughout this album, though both Slash and Tom Morello guest. Watt also produced. Duff McKagan, from Guns n' Roses and Velvet Revolver, plays bass on all but one track. The only drummer is Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot.

And they do a strong job, even if the production is sometimes a little bass heavy, providing a solid bedrock for Ozzy and a number of guests to do their thing over. The most obvious are Elton John, who plays piano and duets with Ozzy on the title track, and rapper Post Malone who appears on the final two songs. Take What You Want is truly awful, an unholy mess of autotuned vocals and programmed drums. It's a Raid could easly be called a mess too but it's an engaging one: vibrant, alive and the punkiest I've ever heard Ozzy, even if his vocals are still so overproduced that they're almost plastic.

For all its flaws, Straight to Hell is a catchy enough single to stick in my brain the way that all the best solo Ozzy songs do. The other highlight for me is Scary Little Green Men, which is stupid but fun and also catchy. That Jason Momoa preview is golden too. Add the fuzzy sample-laden riot of It's a Raid and that's three strong tracks out of eleven. Take What You Want is so abysmal that I couldn't even finish it. The other seven songs range from OK to poor, some of which I still can't remember after listening to the entire album twice through in succession.

Most of this is best described as Ozzy by numbers and, even if I still hold out a little hope that the Godfather of Metal will surprise us the way he's surprised us before and hurl a classic album out of nowhere, I'm not at all confident he has time left to do it. Ordinary Man comes ten years after the underwhelming Scream and it's only Ozzy's fifth solo album this millennium. I'm glad he's not a member of the 27 Club and he's still around to serve as the icon he is. I just wish he'd release an album that doesn't fundamentally disappoint.

Bernelius - Grave Dancer (2020)

Country: Norway
Style: Alternative/Stoner Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 14 Feb 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Here's an album that fits two categories that seem to be coming up a lot of late. It's massively eclectic in its sound and so doesn't remotely fit into a single genre, alternative probably being the best bucket because of that. And it's the work of another one man band, the gentleman responsible going by Bob Felix Bernelius Hegdal, who I believe records in Oslo, the capital of Norway.

The opener is a perfect example of how broadly Bernelius paints with genres, reminiscent in many ways of a Mike Patton project because of that. It's Free Range Human and it's a perky indie track that frankly dances through lounge, rockabilly and surf to end up surprisingly haunting. The words are almost an afterthought, the way that Bernelius delivers them being more important. The Song on the Radio does the same thing in a completely different style, being a rather hypnotic song with darker vocals reminiscent of Nick Cave.

In between those two is perhaps my favourite song here, Arm the Cannon, and it takes the precise opposite approach with lyrics. Here, they're delivered in conversational fashion with a vocal style that reminded me of Cake. Maybe this is a little out there to be a college radio hit but then maybe not. It plays hypnotically to me, a simple riff hiding all sorts of neat complexity.

And the lyrics are as wild as the glorious way in which Bernelius acts them out. Within that one single song, we get line like "Where are your manners, human?", "Yes, conscience is an afterthought" and "Looking for me, looking for fresh kerfuffle." My favourite has to be "Ever-speaking, never-thinking clap dispenser; perpetual fool. Like you would know what love is! Now stop your lamentation and give me a smile; this is your final curtain."

Song after song continues to do something completely different while somehow remaining consistent enough to keep the album coherent. Lone Documentarian punctuates itself with claps as much as drums and the guitars dance between left and right speaker. Now our inventive one man band croons like he's alt rock Elvis holding court. Are we in Cramps territory now?

We're firmly in the world of stoner rock on Watch It Happen with a juiced up and amped up bass resonating with intent. It's patient though and the vocals are performance art, especially when Bernelius starts shrieking through the mic and the guitars completely ignore him. Yet Grave Dancer is effortlessly chill, while Tonight and Vaffunculo, Assassino are lively and playful but a great dealer calmer than avant screaming.

I knew by the end of Free Range Human that I was going to like this, but it kept on surprising me for another nine songs. What Bernelius does best is to continually invent but never invent too far beyond what we can cope with for now. I'm intrigued to see if his prior album, Space Drifter, did all this on a greater or lesser scale. Is he getting more varied or, perish the thought, calming down some. I really want to find out.

I know I'll keep on listening to this one though. Bernelius throws a lot of things at the wall here and not everything hits, but enough does to make it one of those rare albums that remain completely fresh however many times we listen to it.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Stone Temple Pilots - Perdida (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 7 Feb 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

The Stone Temple Pilots are one of those bands that I don't remember because they switched on at the point I was switching off but, going back to refresh myself on what they sounded like, I realise that I know their songs. Could I have told you that Interstate Love Song was theirs? No, but as soon as I hit play on YouTube, I knew it. The same goes for Vasoline, Plush, Big Empty and surely a bunch more that I didn't get round to.

The reason why I went to YouTube to check out older material is because what I heard here didn't sound like what I expected the Stone Temple Pilots to be like. Sure, they lost a couple of distinctive vocalists in Scott Weiland and Chester Bennington, but it wasn't new singer Jeff Gutt who surprised me. It was that, somewhere along their musical journey from grungy alternative rock beginnings to wherever they're going, they turned into the Eagles.

Now, while that sounds rather reactionary, it isn't entirely untrue. Opening song Fare Thee Well sounds like the Eagles in their later inoffensive radio-friendly soft rock mode. It's hard not to like it because it's built out of inherently likeable DNA but the older I get the more I have zero interest in inherently likeable music. It's telling that I went to get lunch after about half an hour of this album and shocked myself by realising that I'd paused it on track four. It had maybe been fifteen minutes.

The question isn't whether this is nice to listen to. It is. It's very nice. The question is whether it counts as the sort of music that's enjoyable as it enters our heads but, having done its job, promptly flutters off into the breeze to be forever forgotten. And there I'm not sure. It feels like it is, but I can't answer that until tomorrow or next week, so I'll dive in deeper to see what I can find.

The first thing to note is that the whole album is acoustic, so this is far from in your face music. Wikipedia lists alternative rock, grunge, hard rock and alternative metal as the band's genres. This is precisely none of those. Some of it is introspective, so may appeal to fans of singer/songwriters who focus on the words more than the music but don't ignore the latter. Much of it plays with instruments and writing styles that we wouldn't usually expect of a grunge band. Some of it could be recognisable if it was electric, amped up and delivered with a heck of a lot more emphasis than this.

Fare Thee Well is acoustic Eagles right down to the vocal harmonies, but the comparisons from there get even more surprising. There's Gordon Lightfoot on Three Wishes. There's Leonard Cohen on Perdida, which finds a Spanish guitar style that fits the language of the title (the song is still in English). It never quite makes it to Emmylou Harris but there's always the next album, as it isn't as far away from that as I'd have ever expected.

After those singer/songwriter openers, the album moves into flavouring sound with instruments unexpected if not unusual. There's a flute on I Didn't Know the Time, a saxophone on the Steely Dan sounding Years. The flute comes back with a vengeance on She's My Queen, which thinks about cutting loose but has no intention of doing so. There's a hint of bagpipes and another of gospel, but they're literally cut off. Miles Away is violin led café music. There's a nice piano moment on You Found Yourself While Losing Your Heart, but only one, which may be why this one drags where the previous seven didn't.

Sadly, it's one of the two longest songs on the album and the longest comes after it and follows in the same vein. Perdida wraps up with us drifting far away from it, wondering when the orchestra which gets the last half minute showed up, and that's never good. I'm all for a band reinventing its sound and trying something new. I'm all for a band going acoustic and recording on vintage instruments. I'm all for big transitions, even if they're rarely the sort of things the fans want. And this is all three. But is it any good?

Well, it's not as soporific as it starts out suggesting. I actually liked it for seven songs, before it lost me, but I doubt it'll stay with me. It's not inventive enough to be memorable, not folky enough to render this approach a viable one, not original enough in its choice of odd instruments. For such a departure from the band's regular sound, it just feels safe. It's for old school grunge fans who have turned into bank managers with a fondness for margaritas.

Bütcher - 666 Goats Carry My Chariot (2020)

Country: Belgium
Style: Black/Speed Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 31 Jan 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives

I almost didn't try this second album from Belgium's Bütcher because they're clearly not taking this entirely seriously. Unnecessary umlaut in the band's name? Check. Overplayed album title? Check, though it's a step down from its predecessor, Bestial Fükkin' Warmachine. Misspelled songs? Check. Stupid intro? Double check, as it combines Flash Gordon synths with unintelligible narration. Über-metal pseudonyms? Check times four. I wonder who guitarist KK Ripper's favourite band might be? I'll give you one guess and I guarantee you won't need another. R Hellshrieker, AH Wrathchylde and LV Speedhämmer have names so descriptive that I don't need to tell you their roles. And is that cover art the most metal thing you've seen in years or what?

But forty or so seconds into that stupid intro, it shifts over to exquisite metal guitar, like it's a warm-up for a guitarist who knows he's going to be playing at hyperspeed for the next half an hour and doesn't plan on breaking his fingers launching into the first track proper. That track is Iron Bitch (yeah, I know) but it blisters and I knew that I'd found a perfect antidote to the Stone Temple Pilots album I'm reviewing after this.

The vocals of R Hellshrieker's vocals are certainly over the top, rarely not delivered at a scream. They threaten to be bigger than the studio the band's recording in and I salute the producer's efforts because he manages to keep him high in the mix but not so much that he spends half his time in the red. He has fun with enunciation like Martin Walkyier, and, on the basis of what he does with a scream in Iron Bitch, he has some serious pipes. He's easily half Rob Halford and a quarter each Eric Adams and King Diamond with a hint of an effective black metal rasp to boot.

Iron Bitch does exactly what speed metal is supposed to do: blister into our ears faster than we expect and clean us out from the inside. It's Manowar on speed, NWOBHM on a faster tempo, Judas Priest a little beyond their fastest, all the things you might expect. It's also pretty damn good. As over the top as Bütcher obviously are, they're clearly talented musicians and they play their socks off here. They're not joking with their music. I loved this one.

What surprised me most is how varied this album is. No, it's not bringing in anything unusual but, rather than just ramp up the tempo to ludicrous speed and stay there throughout, like the speed metal band I expected them to be, this is really a love letter to the early years of extreme metal, taking not only speed metal to heart but everything else that surrounded it, with songs or sections of songs bringing to mind Razor, Mercyful Fate and Celtic Frost.

Not all of it is entirely successful. 45 RPM Metal is less a tribute to old school metal singles and more a decent attempt to sound like a Judas Priest song recorded at 33 RPM and played back at 45 RPM. It might kick off with a Tom Araya style scream but it's more speed metal and Hellshrieker finds that recognisable John Cyriis pitch on a couple of screams. Oddly, it's Sentinels of Death that actually sounds like Bütcher may have actually done that 33/45 trick, with the second half shifting in pitch like someone flicked that speed switch on the record player.

If old school extreme metalheads aren't sold on this from those two openers, then you're just not paying attention. And the album only gets deeper. Just check out the nine minute title track. It has an acoustic intro and a choir to make it epic right out of the gate. It builds much slower than the album has done thus far but just as surely. It drops inoto a folky acoustic moment midway and there's an exquisite slowdown seven minutes in. There are Maiden riffs early and early Dio late. And Hellshrieker is versatile here, joining the song like Dani Filth, shifting into King Diamond and ending up as a sort of conversational Martin Walkyier.

If we were only paying attention to the speed, that song surely wakes us up and we notice all sorts of other things going on. AH Wrathchylde is clearly a big fan of Joey de Maio and he gets to shine on both Face the Bütcher and its intro, Metallström, but in different ways. While Sentinels of Dethe is a very fast song, there's experimentation going on. Hellshrieker spits out his vocals at double speed and Ripper's guitar paints atonal textures at points. Viking Funeral draws from the Bathory playbook. There's a Celtic Frost churn under the late parts of Brazen Serpent. And it ends with an acoustic outro that wraps things up like we've just experienced a pagan ritual.

I threw this on just because I needed something insanely fast to counter the Stone Temple Pilots album but I found a lot more than I expected. This band are at least a thousand times better than anyone might expect from all those things I mentioned in my opening paragraph. They might seem to be the Steel Panther of epic metal but they're really talented and well versed musicians who combine genres effortlessly to create something contemporary and utterly engaging. I so need to see this band live. I pity whoever who has to follow them on stage.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Ihsahn - Telemark (2020)

Country: Norway
Style: Black/Progressive Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 14 Feb 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

At well under 15,000, the Norwegian city of Notodden has a population about the same as the house across the street from me but, when it comes to music, it punches insanely above its weight. It's apparently the blues capital of Europe, host to the annual Notodden Blues Festival, and it's also a pivotal location for black metal, as Ihsahn founded Emperor and wrote Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk there.

Mortiis, who was briefly in Emperor too, is also from Notodden, as are prog rock/metal band Leprous. Ihriel, who also records as Star of Ash and was a major part of avant metallers Peccatum, is yet another Notodden native; she is also Ihsahn's wife and the sister of Leprous main man Einar Solberg. This is my third review of a Notodden band in only fourteen months, which may be more than San Francisco or Seattle.

And, as tends to be the case with Ihsahn, it's a fascinating release, albeit a brief one because Telemark is a five track EP, two of which are covers. It will apparently be followed soon by another, this one more of a black metal-infused release and its successor more prog in nature. Of course, while the auteur behind these EPs may well shift along a line from one to the other, I seriously doubt that we won't hear both aspects on both releases.

There's the bleakness of black metal in opener Stridig even before it finds its legs and gallops onward at pace. Ihsahn sings in Norwegian here, and I'm assured by Google Translate that Stridig means "unconstitutional". It's more prog to me than black but it combines the harsh riffs and vocal shrieks with a melodic saxophone and martial drums. There's a real atmosphere to this one with much of the song dedicated to building that, the rest of its effort in finding arty and often jazzy tones within a vaguely black metal framework.

I don't need to translate Nord, which is more led by vocals than music for a while. There's torment in Ihsahn's voice here and melancholy in the backing vocals, which I presume he also provided, given that he's effectively a one man band in the studio nowadays. I like the sax here as well, because it's a darkly playful creature, always hinting at John Zorn-esque insanity but not once going there, instead adding an experimental tone.

Best of all is the title track, Telemark, another name that I don't need to translate because it's the region of Norway that contains Notodden. It does everything I've already mentioned but at longer length and with other sounds to elevate it further. I'm not sure what Ihsahn is actually playing early on but it sounds like bagpipes and a hurdy-gurdy. It gets proggy. It gets dark. It gets intricate. It's patient but eventually builds and delivers with wild density. At points, it almost seems to want to smother us but we're totally on board with that.

And then, having established a tone for this release, Ihsahn goes and shifts on a dime to throw us a couple of cover versions that we might not expect an immortal of black metal to take on. The first is Rock and Roll is Dead, one of the songs Lenny Kravitz was Grammy-nominated for. It's an odd selection I can't grasp. It isn't bad but it doesn't seem to add anything to the EP and I'm at a loss as to why Ihsahn chose to cover it. Maybe it's a message.

The second cover reminds us that the original black metal musicians couldn't be influenced by black metal because they were busy inventing it. They took their influences from bands like Iron Maiden, making Wrathchild an enticing song to take on. Ihsahn chooses to play it relatively straight, with the way he growls the vocals the biggest difference from the original. Well, and the sax. It feels odd to hear a sax on an Iron Maiden song, but it sounds pretty fine. Musically, this is close to the original, especially with the melodic guitar lines and the prowling Steve Harris style bass. It's fun.

I enjoyed this EP a lot. It runs under twenty-five minutes and a third of it points the way to what he's able to do nowadays apparently effortlessly. An entire album built on the ideas that sit behind the title track would be an album to camp out to buy the moment it's released. The other original songs are solid, if not quite up to the same level, and the covers, even Rock and Roll is Dead, are interesting. Bring on that second EP!

Coogans Bluff - Metronopolis (2020)

Country: Germany
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Jan 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website

It took a whole eight seconds for Coogans Bluff to grab me. Sure, the guitar and kazoo (that is a kazoo, right?) sounded intriguing, but then an almighty crash kicks in like someone had taken an ancient gong outside and shot it to death. It's glorious and the rest of Gadfly continues to be interesting. It has a real urgency throughout most of the song but it still finds time for a mellow out saxophone section. Earlier sax over a weighty stoner riff is even more arresting.

Its so much fun that I was all set for an album of songs like this one but I have to point out that Coogans Bluff clearly aren't interested in revisiting old ground when they've covered it properly to begin with. At forty minutes, this isn't an incredibly long album but they do travel down a whole bunch of musical roads within that running time.

Sincerely Yours is loose psychedelic rock with a southern edge, kind of like what Lynyrd Skynyrd might have sounded like had they formed in San Francisco in 1967. I'd throw out Blind Melon as a comparison too but this is a little more soulful and a little less perky than No Rain. Hit and Run does much of the same, making this pair of bookends around Zephyr the only two songs here that really play in the same ballpark.

Zephyr is a jazzy workout introduced by that sax of Max Thum but which moves firmly into krautrock, with a searing Willi Paschen guitar solo, the driving bass of Clemens Marasus and more wailing sax as the track builds. It's seven minutes long but it's over before we blink, even with a quiet introspective section. There's a lot of King Crimson in here, quiet or loud, because while Coogans Bluff play in a lot of genres, prog is at the heart of what they do.

Soft Focus is a soft rock song but with depth, so think more Steely Dan than Jimmy Buffett. The organ behind the lively beats is delightfully subtle and there's a lot of keyboards here. Drummer Charlie Paschen also plays Farfisa and Mellotron, while Stefan Meinking is credited on Moog. It's another seven minute song but this one feels a little longer because it's far more relaxed instrumentally.

And that brings us to The Turn, in two parts, which announces its intent to be memorable from the very beginning. It turns out to be memorable, but not so overtly as the opening suggested. The first part is entirely instrumental and it's Marasus who shines again here on bass. As things progress, I'd add Meinking for special mention, not for his Moog work this time out but for an engaging trombone. Part two is a real tease of a vocal piece that builds the way a Joe Cocker song would but with different vocal tones. I love the drums on this one, partly for their patience and partly for releasing their energy in glorious fashion when the moment arises.

The obvious question at the end of this is whether it holds together as one album and I think it does. Whatever road the band are travelling, they don't ever lose track of being Coogans Bluff. The biggest problem the album has is that Zephyr has so much sheer intensity to it that it dominates that part of the album so firmly that it's easy to lose the peaceful material around it. It took me a couple of listens through to really register Hit and Run, as it feels so quietly inoffensive by comparison.

All in all, this is a strong prog rock album, worth highlighting at a point in time where strong prog rock albums seem to be bleeding out of the walls.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

God Dethroned - Illuminati (2020)

Country: Netherlands
Style: Blackened Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 7 Feb 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Twitter | Wikipedia

As I understand it, God Dethroned have called it quits twice but can't seem to stop putting out new material anyway. In 1993, that wasn't too notable as they were a new band with only one poorly promoted album to their name. In 2012, though, with nine studio releases behind them, it was a bigger deal. They'd done a lot over a couple of decades, including an important classic in Bloody Blasphemy. Fortunately they picked right up again in 2014 and this is their eleventh studio album.

It's a decent album, as melodic as blackened death metal gets, every crunchy riff adding more melody, though it doesn't help for the opening title track to remind so much in the verses of Slayer's Seasons in the Abyss. It's there in the vocal phrasing, stalking drums and even one of the riffs. It takes a different path in the chorus, layering the title in symphonic style and even cleverly rolling the word into being a beginning and end.

Broken Halo is everything Illuminati is without sounding familiar. It adds a black metal pace when it needs and an enjoyable solo. It's an urgent song to set the album in motion, though things certainly don't stay as urgent, most obviously in Book of Lies, which is content to chug along at a sedate tempo. With a different production job, this one could easily shift genre. There's a power metal undercurrent at points that manifests in Book of Lies and, in a different way, in Spirit of Beelzebub too. That's a patient choral chorus indeed.

The middle of the album carries on as is, explaining why this both works and doesn't work at the same time. None of these songs are bad. Every one has us paying attention and enjoying the melodic riffs and intelligible vocals. It all feels rather nice though. There are plenty of nods to the extremes that we might expect from a band who have released so much blackened death metal, but it's all so polite and friendly that we never feel a threat in the music that really ought to be there, especially for a band called God Dethroned.

The first song that really tries to be extreme is the final one, Blood Moon Eclipse, which tries to take us home with emphasis with mixed results. Until that song, the drums have no interest in punching us in the gut, the guitars don't want to slice into us and the vocals don't dare rip our throats out. I think the band tries to do that a little at the end but it still holds back. This is extreme metal that you can take home for tea with your mother. That one final song does enough to remind us why should ring a little odd.

Before Blood Moon Eclipse is Eye of Horus, the most interesting song on the album for me. It delves into Egyptian mythology, à la Nile, but does so in a very different way. There are points here where the drums play more tribal, the vocals shift to chants and the guitar moves to a very recognisably early Paradise Lost feel. I can't say I didn't enjoy this album, but nothing here felt interesting until Eye of Horus, an enticing doom/death black metal ritual.

And that makes me wonder how this is going to stay with me. For an album of melodic death metal that constantly entertained me, I have a strange feeling that, with the sole exception of Eye of Horus, it might not stay with me at all. Let's see. I've wondered a couple of times lately if I've rated albums too low, but here I wonder if I'm being too generous.

Blackwater Conspiracy - Two Tails & The Dirty Truth of Love & Revolution (2020)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 14 Feb 2020
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

Influences are fascinating things. There are many bands who sound like other bands because their influences are narrow enough for one to dominate. That's good for listeners because we quickly understand what they're doing and have reference points to judge their quality. Personally, I tend to prefer bands like Blackwater Conspiracy, who have so many influences that it's harder to place them within a framework of our musical experience. They're challenging because it's hard to initially grasp their sound but, once we do, it's often very rewarding indeed.

They're from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland but their influences seem to be mostly American, if not always directly. The root of their sound is very much in the blues but there's country and rock 'n' roll in there as well. If there's anything Irish here, it's Rory Gallagher, especially on the opener, Goodbye to Yesterday. I'm not hearing any Thin Lizzy here at all, no Mama's Boys and no Gary Moore, who are the others I thought I might find.

All Wired Wrong has a Thunder vibe to it, but as the album ran on, I started to hear more and more of a looser Australian take on Americana. That's most obvious in the vocals. Sometimes there's a little Bon Scott, once in a while a little Angry Anderson and rather often some Jimmy Barnes. Part of this may be the piano too, because Kevy Brennan ensures that, however big their sound gets and however big they get as a band, they'll still sound like they could just unload into the back of a pub and rock the place and every great Aussie rock band fits that bill, from AC/DC on down.

He gets to shape some of these songs too. The band's About page on Facebook tells us that he's classically trained but brought more of Jerry Lee Lewis and Jon Lord to their melting pot sound. I caught some rock 'n' roll piano on the opener and Atlanta Smile has that Deep Purple heavy organ sound, but it's Elton John who shines out from this for me. Just Like a Silhouette is clearly Elton John to me, good rocking Elton from the seventies, of course, right down to the horn section. In Another Lifetime does this too, but it sits at the midpoint on a line between Elton John and Guns n' Roses that I never realised existed.

Mostly, it's Americana straight from America though; you don't need to hear more than a couple of bars of Take It on the Chin to hear that and when the slide guitar arrives, it's impossible to hear anything else. What I think I like most here is that, even here at their most American, they still aren't easy to define. There's some Black Crowes rock 'n' roll, because that's not far away at any point here, but there's country in the grounding and gospel in the chorus and southern rock in the gaps between everything else.

In other words, there's a heck of a lot here for a critic to unravel and I haven't even started in on the flute that kicks off Bird in a Coalmine and the violins that float it forward. This is the most overtly country song on the album (She Gets Me High might want to fight it for that), though that's a rock beat and there's a hint of Van Morrison in the vocals, albeit only a hint that's channelled through Steven Tyler. I haven't mentioned Aerosmith, as Blackwater Conspiracy aren't as wildly over-produced or as hook-laden but they're an obvious influence too.

What you need to know is that they sound damn good and gloriously deep. The songs may not be the most immediate or the most simple, but they're likely to seep into your soul. This works best as an album and you won't want it to drift too far away from your playlist. And now I need to dig backwards, not just to the previous Blackwater Conspiracy album but to the three they made before that as Million Dollar Reload.