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Quick Play: A round-up of September 2010 album releases

We've listed albums in order of star rating. Best first.

ZEROPUNK Zeropunk

With an unusual line up of guitars, bass / synth, and drums / samples, Zeropunk take the Gary Numan legacy and mix it with a massive dose of punk attitude and metal guitar riffery.

Formed in North West London just over 3 years ago and the brainchild of Jesse Clark (guitar / vocals) the band serve up a Kraft[werk]y blend of fat synths, guitars and hooks. Energetic, melodic and distinctive it's a blend that shouldn't really work. But there's enough vocal melody and moments of subtlety in the mix to make Zeropunk a band to demand attention.

Jesse's vocals have a distinctly Bono style and with a sound falling somewhere between Amon Duul and U2, Zeropunk could well be a force to be reckoned with. For sure, if this was badged as a U2 project it would be heralded as their best album since Zooropa. ****

Review by Pete Whalley

FLAG with Arthur Offen Perihelion www.arthuroffen.com

Multi-instrumentalist Offen has been recording for many years and this new album shows how talented he is. Handling vocals, keyboards and a fair share of the bass and guitar this is a strong and melodic rock album.

After the progressive opening, the title track features many layered keyboards and some strong vocals too. There is an even mix of prog rock and heavy AOR; think Asia meets Marillion.

'A Runaway Train' opens with piano and features some good guitar work. The drums are solid too, but it is the keyboards that lead things. 'O Centurion' is a more commercial number with its roots firmly in the mid 80s, and a nod to Mike & The Mechanics. Similarly 'When Storm Clouds Gather' nods to Toto, and is heavier than some earlier tracks.

This is a strong album and plenty of melody. Largely hard rock with some prog leanings, but may be too commercially retro for some. ***1/2

Review by Joe Geesin


NOCTURNAL ALLIANCE The 3rd Phase Of Destruction
www.myspace.com/nocturnalalliancesweden

Third album from this Swedish duo (and guests). Formed by keyboard player / drummer Henrik Johansson and guitarist / bassist Micke Darth (both ex Hellcats and Coma), the album features several guests on keyboards, guitar, vocals, all notable to the European prog metal scene.

Some blistering guitar, solid fast drumming, layered vocals, plenty of lead and intricate keyboards, this is a good mix of prog metal and operatic melodic power metal.

The opening title track runs to 8 minutes and features several nicely worked pace changes. 'Random Pain' weaves another intricate musical journey, and nods to proggy Iron Maiden, and more so to Dream Theatre, as does 'Implicated By Circumstances', with its opening crunchy guitar and soaring vocals.

At times the album is melodic, at others it quite dark, it has a good vibe throughout. Prog metal is alive and well, and hereís the proof.  ***1/2

Review by Joe Geesin

CASANATRA Split The Atom Again

Split The Atom Again is the first official UK, but fourth full, album release from Minneapolis alt Rockers Casanatra.

With stated influences of Zeppelin, Soundgarden and Queens Of The Stone Age, Casanatra showcase a veritable showcase of funk, hip-hop and jazz elements to their core rock sound that has echoes as distant as Cream and Family.

The result is an album almost proggy in it's diversity and one that may well appeal to those who appreciate the more melodic bands of that genre - Porcupine Tree, for example. Split The Atom Again has a nice loose, under rehearsed feel that harks back to those 1970s heydays, but at the same time remains contemporary and vital.

But don't expect instant gratification, it's not an album that can be fully digested in one sitting, it's an organic record that only reveals its riches with repeated plays. And with some excellent playing from Dennis Asher (vocals/guitar), Jer Fink (vocals/guitar), Brett Johnson (bass/vocals) and Lance Reed (drums) Split The Atom Again should certainly be enough to make the UK sit up and take notice. ***½

Review by Pete Whalley

JOEY SUMMER Written On The Horizon (Avenue of Allies)

Brazilian singer/guitarist Joey Summer has just released new album 'Written on the Horizon'. Containing 11 tracks of classic Ď80ís AOR styled melodic rock- complete with big choruses, plenty of hooks and some great guitar/keyboard interplay.

With most of the songs having been written by Summer and long time musical collaborator keyboardist Daniel Lamas, guest writers include Goran Edman (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen) and Kee Marcello (ex-Europe), this is his first album to contain all the lyrics in English thus opening him up to a larger audience.

Amongst the albums tracks are 2 power ballads 'Itís Only Your Love' and the massive sounding 'Iíll Never Be Alone Again'. Summerís powerful vocals fit the music like a glove and the music that has been created almost strips away the last 25 years, and back then this record would have been a huge success. The influences that are audibly visible throughout include the likes of Journey, Winger and Whitesnake.

Recommended tracks on 'Written on the Horizon' include 'Rise Up', 'Anymore', 'Tables Turning' and the Marcello penned 'Rough Ride To Paradise'. Albums like this may not appeal to major labels these days but that is the beauty of the internet and the way that you can now connect with fans of any given genre over the web. Good work Mr Summer.  ***1/2

Review by Nikk Gunns

ARTHEMIS Heroes www.arthemisweb.com

Italian power metal with a polish, and a band who have already released several albums and toured to much acclaim.

Opener 'Scars on Scars' is high speed, while 'Vortex' is a heavy crunchy riff led number, with a nod to Megadeth.

The music fluctuates between the largely rough'n'ready power metal that verges on trad thrash, and smoother trad power metal. Deep (and a little low) in the mix are some intricate keyboards that are an excellent touch but it really wouldn't hurt to bring them up a bit.

Athemis have a Priest influence too, and recently covered United on a tribute album. No covers here but the influence is there and it all comes over as a good album. Lots of energy. If you like thrash / power metal crossover you'll love this.  ***

Review by Joe Geesin

GRIFFEN Life - A Way to Die (Steelheart Records)

Griffen was formed in 2006 and includes members of Torch and other Swedish bands. Taking influence from the likes of The Scorpions, Whitesnake and even Ronnie James Dio and maybe a bit of Megadeth, the band are now about to release debut album 'Life- A Way to Die'.

The album is heavy, yet melodic and chugs away at a nice steady pace- the musicianship is of a high standard and the vocals are good, however, there is just something missing that I canít put my finger on.

Amongst the albums 12 tracks, there are no really outstanding tracks that are head and shoulders above the others, however, worth a listen are tracks such as 'Linked In Eternity', 'Falling Inside', 'Assasun' and 'Too Numb To Know'. 'Life- A Way to Die' is a good solid album and there are some great guitar riffs in there, hopefully the band will build upon this for their next album.  ***

Review by Nikk Gunns

AREA 51 Goddess

Area 51 is the brainchild of Japanese guitarist Yoichiro Ishino, whose playing style resembles that of Yngwie Malmsteen in his prime, and who are about to release 3rd album 'Goddess'.

Vocalist Kate has a voice that sits nicely on top of the neo-classical/melodic metal compositions to create an easy to listen to album. There is only one slight drawback to the album, the vocal are not sung in English - which is a shame as, although the album is not any weaker for this, it may put some listeners off (the strange thing is that you almost forget this after a couple of songs!!).

'Goddess' opens with the first of two instrumental tracks, the almost film-score like 'Naissance', the other being the Malmsteen inspired 'Stillness'.

That Malmsteen feeling manifests itself throughout the album- especially on tracks such as 'Nightmare' and 'Sincerity'. Other highlights include 'Begins of Dissolution', 'Marionnette' and 'Vanitas' with its darker, moodier, atmospheric opening. 'Miss You' is a great song and could be a huge track for the band, if only it was translated.

'Goddess' is a good album and the band will no doubt appeal to guitar fans worldwide.  ***

Review by Nikk Gunns

MICHAEL LEE Face Forward

With the looks of a young Gary Barlow, and the cover artwork showing the singer songwriter in a rather unfortunate gabardine Ďflasher' mac, I wasn't sure what to expect of the debut album from Michael Lee'.

But my apprehension quickly changed to surprise - the artwork suggested Face Forward might be something very conservative, but it turns out Michael Lee is a talented multi instrumentalist citing influences as diverse as Jeff Buckley, Incubus, and Sting. So, eleven years in the making, Face Forward is about as far from your bog singer songwriter album as you can get - an accessible and diverse set that bridges folk, pop and dare we say it, prog!

All the more remarkable considering Lee plays virtually everything - from guitars, bass, keys, percussion and drums as well as producing. He could so easily have fallen into the elephant trap of self indulgence, but he's avoided that with aplomb, producing an album with the potential to appeal to an audience as wide as Take That fans and die in the wool proggers.

Never less than easy on the ear, a note perfect debut. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

DEC BURKE Destroy All Monsters (Prog Rock Records)

Essentially a prog album that is, in places, a lot more poppy than Burkeís previous projects (that include Frost and Darwinís Radio).

The opening couple of tracks nod towards It Bites, the pop described by the press release as a cross between Depeche Mode and Foo Fighters.

'Signs Of Life' is a bit rockier, the keyboard arpeggio runs almost classical. 'Sometimes', however, has more of an alternative pop feel and the electronic drums on 'Secret Drums' sound programmed. Poppy though it is, the rhythms are progressive and the intricate guitar work stands out.

Elsewhere there are some acoustic and ambient moments.  Largely good, but approach with caution.  ***

Review by Joe Geesin


FUGHU Absence
www.myspace.com/fughuweb

Modern progressive metal from Argentina. This is far from the current European prog metal scene, being almost experimental. Well, going by the opening track 'Ashes', all over the shop and in the blender too.

Elements of Dream Theatre and Symphony X, but 'Ashes' is quite frantic, frenetic and almost disjointed.

'Dead End Start' is heavier, with some crunchy guitar and intricate keyboards. A blistering solo helps, and later tracks are equally good. Makes you wonder why open a track that turns you off?

'Tilt' features some majestic and layered keyboards, from the heavy intro to the gentle section, the work remains intricate and avoids going the ambient route.

Later on there are some nods to 90s King Crimson, and the mellow piano moments are a complete change of pace.

Some good tracks that stand out, but a bit too much for many.  ***

Review by Joe Geesin


T - Anti-Matter Poetry
(Prog Rock Records)

German multi-instrumentalist T, who already has a notable fan base, handles everything on this 68 minute concept album.

A prog rock album that opens in atmospheric ambient fashion with background spoken radio vocals before building into a heavy melodic slow/mid paced prog number.

Moving on to 'Scavenger', there are plenty of effects, squealing guitar and programmed rhythms. Later tracks feature good yet gentle vocals, and while there is plenty of real and rather good guitar and keyboards, the song structures do nod at more ambient / dance / pop like The Orb.

Some good prog, but rather synthetic too.  ***

Review by Joe Geesin

LAST RED RANSOM Sleep Well Sweet Vanity

Let's get one thing straight. I'm not a fan of shouty vocals. Especially those that sound like blood hungry orcs who've been out for a night on the lash and are hungry for hobbit ribs. If you are, then read on. But if you're like me, proceed with caution.

Last Red Ransom are an unsigned three piece from Atlanta, Georgia - Charlotte Kelli (vocals, guitars, keys), Saint (vocals, guitar, bass and keys), and Adair (drums). And the sum of their parts is a tumultuous affair that marries aspects of melodic rock, raw metal, and industrial soundscapes. It's an unusual amalgam, and one that's likely to polarise opinion.

At one end of the spectrum Charlotte Kelli's honeyed vocals make for perfect female fronted metal /rock (for example, as on Black Gospel), while in contrast Saint's vocals are vicious, visceral screams, although when he tempers it to more Chad Kroeger proportions (Passport, Stay) it's a far more radio friendly sound.

But marry the two together, which is the Last Red Ransom modus operandi, and it's a sweet and sour mix. If that's how you like your music served, look no further. But if your palate is a little more discerning, Sleep Well Sweet Vanity may be a little too spicy. **½

Review by Pete Whalley


BEARCRAFT Yestreen

We have a saying here at GRTR! - 'no guitar, no good!'

Unfortunately, Bearcraft falls squarely into that elephant pit, being ambient / electronic pop. It doesn't remotely 'rock'.

Those with a penchant for Hot Chip, Human League and maybe even Pet Shop Boys might find something of interest here. In truth, Yestreen is an inoffensive affair - light, breezy and likeable enough in a quirky, 80's sort of way.

But for those of us who believe every good album should start and end with six strings, avoid. **

Review by Pete Whalley

HUMANFLY Darker Later
(Brew Records)
www.myspace.com/humanfly

Third album from Humanfly that kicks off in a doom laden riff wall of sound way. Opening track 'This Is Where Your Parents Fucked' (yes, really) is the bastard child of stoner, doom, noise and prog. Think mid 70s Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd together in a cement mixer, and dragged screaming into the 21st century. 'English And Proud And Stupid and Racist' continues in similar fashion.

Sounds good so far? Well, 'Stew For The Murder Minded' adds vocals that throws a cat skinned alive into that cement mixer. Some alternative jangly blasts intersperse the noise, but it is not adequate respite.

And the vocals on 'The Enemy Of My Enemy Is Me' could be the rear blast of someone suffering dysentery the day after a dodgy mutton vindaloo, and a nailbomb side order.

After that it went a bit acoustic stoner and weird, so I skipped to the last track and had another bout of the aforementioned dysentery.

Noisy as hell and Kerrang favourites. Nuff said.  *½
 

Review by Joe Geesin


 


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly


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