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

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

VANDEN PLAS The Seraphic Clockwork (Frontiers)

Vandenplas return with 'the seraphic clockwork', four years after the magnificent concept album 'Christ 0'. The question arises: can they repeat what they achieved previously?

Yes, they can! This album is as melodic as one can expect, gently progressive, keyboards prevalent but not invasive, soaring vocals, heavy guitar riffs and exquisite arrangements.

As with 'Christ 0', this is a long album which any fan will salivate over. The band has shown that they are still the benchmark when it comes to progressive metal, although Mind’s Eye gave them a run for their money. This is what a progressive metal album should sound like. Essential. ****½

Review by Nick van der Meulen

DAY SIX The Grand Design (Lion Music)

Day Six is a Dutch progressive rock outfit that has been around for some time, playing gigs throughout the Netherlands since their formation in 2002. 'The grand design' is their debut release and I find it incredible that they’ve not been signed before...

The album is a marathon, clocking in at over 72 minutes, but it is a sonic adventure. One can hear the bands influences, ranging from Pink Floyd to Dream Theater to Black Sabbath to Led Zeppelin.

Wonderful sound effects at song introductions help explain the concept of the album, which is about the discovery of an extraterrestrial spaceship found at Lake Vostok, Antarctica. The band sounds supreme and it’s refreshing to hear a progressive album with classic rock-style drumming.

While the album is long, it’s a mesmerising experience. Sit down and enjoy it in its entirety. ****½

Review by Nick van der Meulen

SECTION A Sacrifice (Lion Music)

Section A return with their third release after a four-year hiatus. This album sees a heavier approach than its predecessors: power metal and a touch of progressive rock with plenty of crunchy guitars and soaring vocals.

Vocalist, Andy Engberg is in fine fettle on this album, with guitarist Torben Enevoldsen showing versatility with rhythm and solo work. The production is sound and the songs powerful and well written, making for a very enjoyable listen. A bit of extra bass in the mix would have produced a more bombastic sound, though...

A good-looking album cover rounds off the package nicely. ****

Review by Nick van der Meulen

ALEX MASI Theory of Everything (Lion Music)

Alex Masi should be a household name. He’s played for a host of outfits, guesting on albums ranging from the bone-crunching heavy to jazz fusion to electronic pop. This is his first solo release in four years and it was worth the wait.

Masi does all the work on this album himself, embracing technology in the process, using software, samples and loops.

While this is not new, Masi introduces some of the types of music he’s recorded on: some pop, some heavier rock, some jazz and some fusion. While this may sound like a sonic nightmare, Masi works his magic thread throughout the album...and it works.

A refreshing take on instrumental guitar albums: Alex Masi can be proud of his latest effort. Joe Satriani and Vinnie Moore, take note. ****

Review by Nick van der Meulen

MASTERCASTLE Last Desire (Lion Music)

Mastercastle is an Italian metal outfit, with a female vocalist, and 'Last desire' is their second effort, after releasing 'The phoenix' in 2009.

Initially, I was not overawed with Giorgio Gueglio’s soaring vocals, as she tended to continuously drag on her higher notes, but once one settles in with the album, it is not as bad as previously stated.

The immediate thing one picks up on, though, is her Gueglio’s similarity to Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel and Nightwish’s Annette Olson. While this is not a bad thing, it does detract from Gueglio having her own identity.

The band is tight, with guitarist Pier Gonella showcasing his talent on this album, but the songs, while good, are not memorable. Mastercastle are a fine band, but they have their work cut out for them if they are vying for recognition against the likes of Within Temptation and Nightwish. ***½

Review by Nick van der Meulen

THE PINES  Tremolo

The 'difficult' second album from alt roots duo The Pines.

Minneapolis based, The Pines (David Huckfelt - vocals, acoustic guitar, and Benson Ramsey - vocals, acoustic and electric guitars) are a subtle blend of old style folk and blues with indie rock Americana influences.

Produced by Bo Ramsey (Lucinda Williams) and mixed by Tome Tucker (Prince, Mavis Staples) the album was recorded in just two days with a supporting cast of J T Bates (drums), James Buckley (bass) and Alex Ramsey (keyboards).

Reflective and melancholy, with Knopfler/Dylan style half spoken, half sung vocals, and plenty of gentle finger picking, Tremolo isn't an album that's going to set the blood pressure rising or hearts racing, instead it's like an old friend - perfectly capturing echoes of the Mid West's countryside, barns and backwoods. ***

Review by Pete Whalley

SABATON Coat of Arms (Nuclear Blast)

Another Scandinavian power metal act, although Sabaton has been on the melodic metal scene for some time now. They only recently signed to Nuclear Blast and this is their first effort with the label.

The band specialises in lyrics concerning war and 'Coat of arms' is no exception. The band produces a very pleasant album, very melodic (although it sounds a lot like early Edguy), but the vocalist sounds like a melodic version of Mr Lordi!

While this is a pleasant listening experience, it loses marks by clocking in at under 40 minutes. The limited edition has an additional two bonus tracks, which are instrumentals of songs on the album! In today’s day and age, where times are tough and money hard-earned, this is not a release that I would consider value for money, unless you are a die-hard fan. I expected more. ***

Review by Nick van der Meulen

DANIEL HERTZOV Believing (Red Cat Productions)

'Believing' by Daniel Hertzov is an album that has its moments. There are a hand full of songs here good enough to send a gaggle of A&R persons to their computer and slot Daniel's name into the file marked 'one to watch'.

For while there are moments of real illumination, a contemplative presence and some simply delivered folk songs with occasional band arrangements that broach a rootsy feel, there are also moments when the lyrics don't quite work and the vocals struggle to hold their own.

But the presiding moments of lyrical insight reflect the Glaswegian singer songwriter's Russian/American background and bring a unique flavour to an interesting album. You need look no further than the impressive minimalism of the title track with its Cat Stevens meets Nick Drake sensibilities or the piano led love song 'Trust the River' with its moving lyrical metaphors and neat band arrangement to glimpse Daniel's potential.

His fragile voice carries with it a sense of struggle with an undiminished fractured optimism and ultimately a triumph of the self over the odds, be they psychological or external. There's a welcome change of tempo on the flighty mandolin led 'Tumbling Down and Away' which carries a wistful feel at odds with the music, while '6 Years to the Day' is an unreconstructed love song that settles on a feeling of contentment.

Daniel's songs focus on discovering meaning in things and events via self reflection as evidenced on 'Mosaic'; Some just look outside, interpret what they see, others look inside and see what they believe, sometimes I look out and sometimes look within, seeking meaning in the din

But he has a unique way of contemplating the self, finding his own reflection in broader concepts such as in the Americana feel of 'Saviour', with its character who learns how to love in spite of himself.

Similarly he falls back on the concept of 'Shelter' to conjure up feelings of transience and an impending need to move for reasons unknown, but you sense there's a troubled backdrop Daniel has obviously lived a life and he views most of his narratives with the world weary eye of someone who never strays too far from both emotional and material basics of life.

'Unity at the Core' is slightly different take on old age with its unfiltered haunting memories of the past and he finally offers us some light relief at the very end - if not with a sense of mischief - on the humorous 'Jewish Bride'.

'Believing' doesn't quite have the consistency of strong song and lacks the vocal phrasing that experience sometimes brings. You suspect that Daniel is a lyricist or poet first, and musician second. The songs on 'Believing' are personal, courageous and occasionally elemental while the near misses are those of a writer still working on his craft. Keep your eye on that file marked 'one to watch'. ***

Review by Pete Feenstra

B.D. Gottfried The Warden's Picnic

B.D. Gottfried's 'The Warden's Picnic' is a curious album that shifts from folk rock, via some unassuming melodies to finally drawing on proggier imperatives. The result is a stop-start album that only latterly resolves several going musical tensions with a Pink Floyd wash.

B.D Gottfried's biographical info references his role as performer, producer, song writer etc, and this album has the same multi-tasking feel as it tries to be all things to all people, but takes to long too make its mark.

There's plenty of keyboard motifs, occasional flashes of guitar and a consistently muscular drum track, but in truth B.D. has a limited vocal range which is exposed a couple of times, most notably on 'Future For Sale'. And while 'New Fifty Two' is an example of a 'kitchen sink and all' approach - complete with a cluttered structure and clumsy tempo changes - the following 'Madeleine' is much better.

The Rick Wright/Pink Floyd keyboard style is revisited on 'Waiting For Crazy'. The vocals also benefit from some neat double tracking as the song works toward a closing uplifting melodic sweep.

On 'Taken It Back' there's another mid-tempo proggy keyboard led opening but while the vocal duet is pleasant enough it doesn't really develop beyond good harmonies and short lived noodles. 'The Warden's Picnic' offers fleeting glimpses of something weightier, but it never quite delivers as for the most part the 10 tracks flatter to deceive.

However, there is an unexpected pay off starting with 'A Beautiful Life' which is an 80's sounding piece (but no worse for that), featuring some nice keyboard and guitar interplay. It's much more tightly focussed song that unravels a pleasant melody line.

Better still is the instrumental 'Plasma' which owes much to Camel in its style and structure. The expansive keyboard parts, the cool dynamic and the intuitive guitar lines are precisely what so much of what has gone before lacks.

The closing 'Waiting For Crazy' is another Floyd influence piece and suggest that if the band sat down and made more of a commitment to explore their proggier side they might have just a bit more to offer than on this passable but inconsistent rock album.  ***

Review by Pete Feenstra

BUCK BROTHERS We Are Merely Filters

The debut album from the London based punk band who hold the Guinness world record for the most gigs in a 12 hour period - 28 shows. To my reckoning that's only 25 minutes per set (not allowing for any time between gigs), but if you remember the heyday of punk, sets were played at double speed and over before you could cover the band in phlegm.

Anyway, I digress. The Buck Brothers are throwback to those early days of punk with the exception that they're considerably more musically proficient than their illustrious predecessors.

So what you get is in your face (tongue in cheek) aggression, three guys beating seven sorts of the proverbial out of their kit, deep insightful song titles and lyrics - When I Look At You (All I Think About Is Sex) sums up the general mood - and, fun.

It's powerful, pacey, raw, and just about perfect for when you're off your face on a Friday Saturday night. There's even a completely bonkers cover of M's Pop Music. Absolutely mental! **½

Review by Pete Whalley


The debut album release from Swindon based Beatbullyz - a Swindon based 'band' with a line-up of Disco (drums), Philonious Funk aka Chilly (decks), Bozo (lyricist), and Bully (vocals).

The band's name alone is enough to have classic rockers, and lovers of the English language reaching for the sick bag. And for many that will be the involuntary effect of exposure to Human Nature - a clash of styles where classic Brit pop meets hip-hop and rap.

But there are plenty who will appreciate the band's Radio 1 / NME buoyant friendly sound. Rock 'n' rollers beware. **½

Review by Pete Whalley


One Soul Thrust, or 1st for short, score top marks for presentation. I've seldom seen a more plush press pack and the album artwork is equally iconic. But what of the content?

1st are a Canadian rock metal band fronted by female singer songwriter Salem Jones who, according to Italian producer Alessandro Del Vecchio is 'the new Ann Wilson'. And he's not alone in that belief - Glenn Hughes duets on one track concluding 'Salem, you sing higher than that bird in Heart!'

With a line up completed by Jag Mollerup on lead and rhythm guitars, Todd Pretty on drums and Kim Lesaca on bass, the band serve up a platter of the sort of hot blues based rock that you would expect for a band guesting the ex Deep Purple Voice Of Rock.

It's well executed, but to be brutally honest, fairly standard fare. To stand out from the crowd they'd need a pretty damn convincing front person.

Which leads us to singer Salem Jones. There's no denying her ability to hit a high note - piercingly so. And she's certainly got a decent vibrato. But those virtues apart, I found her voice lacking in mid range and, ironically, 'soul'.

Part of that may be down to production, I don't know, but for a band billed as 'one of Canada's best kept secrets', I was disappointed. And when Glenn tightens his leather posing pouch to see who can hit the highest note on Go Home & Melt, it's time to reach for the earplugs.

The next Ann Wilson? I don't think so. Not while the old bird is alive and kicking. Which is a shame because 1st have definite potential. **½

Review by Pete Whalley

EYE FOR AN EYE Downfall (Rising Records)

Eye for an Eye were formed in 2007 and have just released debut album 'Downfall'. The CD contains 10 tracks of good, solid heavy rock- the band sounds influenced by the likes of Metallica, Motorhead and Black Label Society.

Eye for an Eye’s vocal and guitar duties are shared equally between Tom Norris and Tom Bull and the band easily switch between slow heavy numbers and out and out rock.

On opening track 'Never Be Free' there is an almost Metallica feel to the vocals, and this is one of the highlights on the album, alongside tracks 'Until I’m Done', 'Seven Gods of Chaos' and 'Brother'.

The band have recently undertaken a short UK tour but will no be doubt be touring again in support of the album. **½

Review by Nikk Gunns

SPARKLING BOMBS Spray Paint Prayers
(Nicotine Records)

Having formed in 2001, 'Spray Paint Prayers' is the 2nd album from French band Sparkling Bombs. Claiming to be a glam band, they actually go a bit further than that and, at times, encompass elements of early Manic Street Preachers and even some Foo Fighters style guitars.

'Spray Paint Prayers' may be a great album title but does this 10-track CD live up to expectations? Well, it certainly packs in a catchy tune- whether that be the Suede end of Britpop meets rock that is 'Birthday', the pop/grunge-lite 'Purple Bubble Boogie'- complete with ‘70’s glam drumming or the pop/punk of 'Gun Metal Grey'. 'Down' sounds like a punkier Manics track, whilst '’50’s Fallen Heroes' has an almost ‘80’s New Romantic vocal feel to it.

The album is not a bad one but you do get a feeling that the band could stretch in one direction for the next album and appeal to a wider audience. When Sparkling Bombs are in pure pop/punk mode they could easily compete with more established American bands. **½

Review by Nikk Gunns

FIRECRACKER Born of Fire (Escape)

Firecracker is a Scandinavian outfit producing their flavour of progressive metal.

While the band is tight and the vocals good, the band tries to be so progressive that melodies don’t sound like melodies anymore and it borders on cacophony. Each band member sounds like they are hyperactive and have energy to work off, particularly with the relentless bass peddle.

Not for me, thanks. For fans of the band only. **

Review by Nick van der Meulen


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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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