Archive for March, 2012

A Sound Of Thunder – Out Of The Darkness – Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , on March 29, 2012 by novametalreview

A Sound Of Thunder is a band from the local Northern Virginia area, which I have seen perhaps three or four times over the past year, and each time has been better than the last, but I think the real potential of the band is now laid bare for all to see with the release of “Out Of The Darkness”. So what are we dealing with here? Formed in 2008, we have a 4-piece metal band fronted by Nina Osegueda on vocals, with Josh Schwartz on guitar, Jesse Keen on bass and Chris Haren on drums.

Confession time – there are very few female fronted bands I have any time for – off the top of my head Doro Pesch is perhaps the only other female metal vocalist I might bother with. The remainder seem to fall into one of two categories; grunters or screechers (I guess some call this operatic…), neither of which does anything for me. Strangely, I once played in a female fronted band back in the 80’s called Targa. I think we characterized ourselves as melodic thrash, but I digress.

A Sound Of Thunder (ASoT) have turned up a real find with Nina, and this album really provides a showcase for her abilities, giving her a platform that ranges from the mellow “This Shall Pass” to an almost punky, harder edge on “Kill That Bitch”. Everything in between delivers a really solid dose of mainstream metal in the mold of Bruce Dickinson, Udo Dirkschnider and Rob Halford. However, while the attention might be on Nina, without the powerful and solid guitar playing from Josh, the record would fall flat. Josh really shows us how to deliver the classic metal riff on this record and it is surprising that ASoT is his first band. For someone with such a polished delivery, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see a list of previous bands as long as the guitar neck he so ably exercises. Underpinning each track, Jesse and Chris anchor the band with a rock solid foundation, doing exactly the job they are there to do – and when they are let loose they pound with the best of ‘em.

The production on this album is crisp and clear, being handled by Kevin “131” Gutierrez (Shinedown, Deceased), and delivers a final vibe that is both current but very much rooted in classic metal. Think of any Black Sabbath or Deep Purple record from the 70’s and you won’t be far from the feeling you get.

The opening track creeps up on you with a swirling keyboard, which becomes a howling guitar, into a classic Sabbath-esq, doom-laden riff, that sets the scene for Nina to open the proceedings and we get a glimpse of all that is to follow with classic metal vocal that soars into the chorus. Some might say kicking an album off with an 8-minute opus takes balls and on some level that would be fair, there is no fast-food, quick-relief in this opening number, but then I think that is what ASoT wanted. You are required to listen. The extended middle section of this track, builds to a crescendo and then pulls the intensity way down to an almost jam-like instrumental section that has Deep Purple and Pink Floyd written all over it. Without the excellent production job I could easily see the longer tracks on the album becoming messy and confusing (there are three tracks that exceed 8 minutes!), but that is never allowed to happen and to be honest the longer tracks are perhaps the most rewarding.

Track two, “The Nightwitch”, picks up the pace after a lilting intro and gets us into a more basic metal mode, but again the chorus pulls you in with a melody that instantly locks itself into your head. Take a moment to listen to the lyrics, there’s some nice work there and throughout the album as a whole.

Now it seems the third track has been a little polarizing in other reviews of this album. For me, “Kill That Bitch” is the perfect foil for the more intense, dare I say it, serious tracks that sit alongside this one. The first time I heard this it caught my ear with the story of a jealous girlfriend enticing her would-be lover to kill – to those that missed it – this is supposed to be fun! And fun it is. Here we find Nina sounding punky, psychotic and menacing all at once. I particularly like the line “If tonight we make it to Vegas, we can get Alice Cooper to marry us”. Nicely done.

The title track brings us Chris Haren’s double-bass drums powering along a track that flies and brings us a soaring duet between Raven’s John Gallagher and Nina. John happens to live in the Northern Virginia area and this is a great match with vocal acrobatics from both singers. Magic. It’s great to hear John sounding so good. I also want to mention some very tasty guitar work from Josh on this track; the solo is perhaps one of the best on the record.

“Calat Alhambra” is another epic that gives Nina another opportunity to work on us with her great lyrical ability, this time pulling on Spanish history to tell us the tale of the Spanish Queen Isabella during the Reconquista. This track perhaps reveals the most progressive metal influences of any here, with no holds from Josh with another sharp solo and some tasteful classical guitar to close the track.

“Fight Until The End” takes us back to some more basic metal, and has one of those annoyingly catchy riffs that just gets stuck in your head. This track grooves with a swagger of a band that knows they’ve got “it” and delivers yet another damn catchy chorus. I suspect this will become a real live favorite, just because it so easy to bang your head to…

The next track is another twist, and “This Too Shall Pass” provides a perfect vehicle for the mellower side of Nina’s voice to be brought to the forefront and smooth as silk it is. Complete with strings and very nicely done orchestration, the whole song slips into your ears in kind of the same way a perfectly aged single-malt scotch slides down your throat. Again, some other reviews have questioned the inclusion of this track since it presents a bit of a challenge, but for me it works to provide a balance and a moment to reflect.

The ten tracks here are closed with “Discovery”, the last of the 8 minute epics, which contains a nod in the direction of classic Iron Maiden at times, particularly in the guitar break around the three minute mark. The song then winds back the pace and builds without rushing allowing the full musicality of the entire band to shine.

So we have a lot to praise here, but what of the dark-side? Surely I’m not suggesting perfection, and no, that would be misleading too. Where there is any criticism, it is not at the individual track level, but more so at the big picture. An album is a collection of songs and the only (small) concern I have comes to the surface when I look at all 10 tracks presented here. As noted, opening the CD with an 8 minute long epic is not for the faint hearted, and furthermore including another two equally long numbers might get a little heavy going for some. Given the simplicity of “Fight Until The End” and “Kill That Bitch” there is a hint of disjointedness. It’s almost as if there’s a question swirling around within the bands collective mind as to whether or not they want to commit to a more progressive path or hold onto the more classic heavy metal core. Currently it seems both plates are up and spinning – the trick is going to be deciding how to resolve this. Can ASoT merge the two, or will they pick one?

The really good news is whatever path the band takes looks likely to work fine. Nina’s vocals are up to the job, no matter what – in fact it’s hard to see what she couldn’t sing. As for the rest of ASoT, each of them has established an unequivocal claim to their place in the band with perfectly delivered performances all round. I understand the next album is already in the works, so I am excited to see where the next record takes the band.

So to close, what we have here is a very well executed mainstream metal album that really should be in every rock fans collection. Approach this with ears wide open and I think any metal fan will find themselves listening to this over and over.

My score for A Sound Of Thunder “Out Of  The Darkness” – a  very solid 8.5/10.

Band website: http://www.asoundofthunderband.com/

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Coming soon… The Sound Of Thunder “Out Of The Darkness” and Furyon “Gravitas” album reviews

Posted in Just Stuff on March 28, 2012 by novametalreview

So, for some reason March 27th was a big day for album releases, but two releases of personal interest were offerings from The Sound Of Thunder with “Out Of The Darkness” released on Nightmare Records and Furyon from the UK, with “Gravitas” released on Frontiers Records.

So, confession time – I am friends with members of both bands, so this will be fun won’t it?… Actually, fear not, because, despite an obvious possibility of bias, both are flipping amazing releases. I won’t spill (all) the beans ahead of the ‘real’ reviews, but to cut to the chase, both are “MUST BUY” albums in my book. Both are available on Amazon and iTunes, so you can go get ’em now.

Coming this weekend A Sound Of Thunder play Empire (formerly Jaxx) in Springfield, VA (Saturday 7PM), at the release party for the aforementioned album, so I expect to review that coming next week. This will be the first time seeing them in a headlining situation so I am really looking forward to this.

Rock on friends \m/

Blaze Bayley – The King Of Metal – Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , on March 14, 2012 by novametalreview

To set the scene rewind about 14 years, transport yourself to London’s Brixton Academy, with Iron Maiden on the Virtual XI tour, which is when I last came across Blaze Bailey. To be honest Blaze and Maiden weren’t the match it might have seemed to many at the time and the Blaze years are certainly not regarded as Iron Maiden’s peak. I still remember seeing Wolfsbane at Surrey University in the UK around 1987-88 I think, when Wolfsbane were seen as rising stars in the post-NWOBHM era (I suppose this was the SWOBHM – Second Wave Of…) and Blaze was often cited as a Bruce Dickinson-in-the-making. Kind of came true when he joined Maiden, but that isn’t the story here.

Fast forward to last October, when Blaze Bayley played at Jaxx (now Empire) in Springfield, VA. This wasn’t a show I was excited about to be honest. It was more out of curiosity than any massive expectation – but I’m not ashamed to admit that was easily one of the best shows I saw all last year. I scored that show a 9/10, so it really was way up there, and the most surprising thing about that show was how totally committed Blaze was even thought there were only 30 or 40 people at the show! He ripped the place apart as if it was full and that totally earned him my respect, but more importantly the show was exceptional and I became a ‘fan’. He is an amazing live performer, so if you ever get the chance – go see him – you will not regret it.

After the tour was done, Blaze posted pretty much daily updates on his Facebook page as his new album took shape – great use of social media there Mr. Bayley. Engage your fans and they feel part of the experience, and just might shell out the $18 or so for the CD from his website (http://www.blazebayley.net/webshop/), which is just what I did. The first orders for the CD were to be signed by Blaze and sure enough the CD arrived with Blaze’s signature in silver sharpie – nice! Second note, the CD packaging and booklet are really nicely done, so more points to you Blaze. It’s clear thought and care went into this.

So, the album… the title might be seen as a little pretentious, but go with it, “The King Of Metal”. This is the opening track and a metal slab of massive proportions assaults your ears on first listen – this is a controlled demolition in sound form – a pounding double bass-drum number that riles against the music industry, leaving Blaze “The King Of Metal”. Who am I to argue? It works.

The second track is a missive about Dimbag Darell from Pantera, lamenting his murder in 2004. Blaze basically lays his heart on his sleeve for us to take a close look, even to give it a squeeze or two… nothing is held back. And so on the CD drives forward without a stumble as far as I’m concerned. Basically we’re at full-steam ahead, everything pegged on 11, until that is you reach track 6…

“One More Step” opens with a piano and progresses to a very simply exposed vocal from Blaze. No soaring production and none is needed. If anyone needs a dose of inspiration, this is it. Blaze isn’t a complicated fella and I believe this song comes straight from his life-story. I really dig this track and the way it is unexpectedly jammed in the middle of the flow of the CD makes it even more effective. Made me listen anyway.

The rest of the CD continues to deliver the metal. More words probably won’t help at this point, so if you want to find out more, do yourself a favor and buy the CD. I should mention the production on the whole album is exceptional, everything fits together very nicely.

So to close, just as his live show caught me by surprise, the album delivers more than I expected, though I have to say my expectation was high because of the live performance. . If I can be permitted one complaint in this diatribe of excessive praise – why only 10 tracks? I would have been sated at 12 tracks, but maybe quality over quantity….? Anyway, if you are a metal fan, this is a CD that SHOULD be in your collection. There are no real surprises here as Blaze has done the groundwork over many years and sure should know how to crank out a decent record so I’ll score this a very solid 8/10.

Review – Michael Schenker Group – Empire (formerly Jaxx) 3/7/12 Score: 7/10

Posted in Gig Reviews on March 9, 2012 by novametalreview

Subtitle: “Michael Schenker’s Girlfriend Almost Killed Me”

Haha, so we’ll get to that in good time. First a quick review of the newly revamped Jaxx, now called Empire. For those that went to the ‘old’ Jaxx, the place was showing definite signs of old age – there were ceiling tiles missing or half falling in the main hall, the restrooms were a biological disaster, and there was a sense that they were just waiting for something really important to break before they put the whole thing out of it’s misery. Well, I’m pleased to report that is now behind us and the revamp has worked a treat. I won’t list all the changes out, but the restrooms are now useable without a dose of Cipro and the place looks spic and span, sharp even.

If there is a problem or two they still relate to the sound system – (a) they basically changed nothing for the front of house system, so there is still no coverage for anyone close to the stage (please fly some fills over the center-stage area!), and (b) they moved the monitor desk to the same location as the front-of-house (FOH) desk???!!!! WTF? How is that supposed to work? Whoever is working the monitor desk as no idea what the sound on stage sounds like – he is exposed to the full blast from the FOH sound, so has to resort to peering at the musicians on stage in a hope that they might signal him (assuming they remember the desk is out front that is…).

Another point – Empire seem to have a curfew for the venue of 12 Midnight (based on a sheet taped to the side of the main PA stack) and for the show last night they ran exactly to the times per the list, so maybe Empire will not suffer the “late, late show syndrome” that afflicted many of the Jaxx shows in the past. The SECOND support band was already half-way through their set at 8.15pm, and were done by 8.55pm, with Schenker scheduled to start at 9.30pm – he did on the dot.

So, Michael Schenker, the guitar hero… what did we get here? Well, things were promising with an 18-song setlist (of which they played 17- leaving out Attack Of The Mad Axeman – photos to follow, including a nice shot of the setlist). Well, a couple of Scorpion songs (Love Drive and Another Piece Of Meat) and no less than eight UFO songs! Cool, but indicative of something I have long thought – Schenker is one hell of guitarist, but I’m not so convinced on the song-writing front. Further we only got one song from the new album, “Temple Of Rock” and that was the rather lame “Lover’s Sinfony” which is far from my favorite on the album. Why “How Long” (the opening track on the CD) wasn’t played beats me and there are a couple of others I thought would have worked well live. Kinda odd for a tour labeled “Temple Of Rock”.

So how was Mr. Schenker? Well, I have to say faultless basically. He ripped it, on a collection of modern Dean Guitar versions of the Flying-V (all of which were beautiful guitars…). People always go on about his “tone”, and yes, it was pretty classic Schenker, but he seemed to be enjoying things a lot more than last time we saw him (at that show, if anything he seemed bored). Robin McAuley did a respectable job on vocals – I wouldn’t say I was knocked off my feet, but it worked pretty well, and the rest of the band did everything necessary to give Schenker his platform. It really seems that way, because the band was never introduced or any feature made of anyone other than Michael…

So, overall impressions were of a very functional band, with Schenker doing what he does best, but it wasn’t “amazing”… pretty good is about as far as I can get. I can’t fault the show or the band, but the “wow, this is fun!” element was missing. So let me score this a 7/10 (extra point awarded for amazing guitar playing). Michelle was able to convince one of the road crew to give her the last remaining setlist from the drum riser – nice move!

Now, how about the subtitle…? After the show we went out back to hang out around the tour bus – the wife got a nice pic with Robin McAuley, but Schenker never come out to sign anything. It seems this is his thing… so that kinda works pretty much against him. So what happened… well, we’re milling around the bus, and it seems clear Schenker is not coming out, when this little Hyundai (I think?) comes blasting out down the alley between the bus and the rear wall of the venue, swings past me with a few inches to spare after one of our friends yanks my jacket, and me with it, back a foot or so, which is not much more than the clearance between me and car. The wife spotted that Michael Schenker himself was hunched down in the passenger seat, with Michael’s asian girlfriend at the wheel, so I guess this was his rapid get-away attempt. Which in all fairness seemed totally unwarranted! In total there were only about 20 people tops around the bus. So, the whole night could have had a rather different end and right now you might have been reading on Blabbermouth.com how Schenker had mowed down a fan after the Springfield show. I’m kinda glad it didn’t work out that way.

Hello world! Or NoVA Metal Review goes live!

Posted in Just Stuff on March 9, 2012 by novametalreview

So, you’ve found my new blog – NoVA Metal Review – catchy huh? So, what you’ll find here are the ramblings of a metal fan who grew up through the surge of the NWOBHM (yep, I’m originally from the UK, moved to the USA 13 years ago), played guitar in various bands for many years (may be I’ll post about that at some point…) and, relatively recently, rediscovered the live music scene around the Washington DC/Northern Virginia/Maryland region. This is a pretty lucky area of the USA to be in, since we’re right inline with any bands making the trek North<>South along the East Coast, so we get a lot of concerts within a 90 minute drive.

What you’ll find on these pages as time goes by, is a collection of my personal reviews of each show I attend. I have no professional training in writing anything, so let’s get all the necessary apologies out-of-the-way for my crappy grammar, punctuation and sentence construction. My thing is not about perfect prose, but all about the music, performance and vibe. If I am really lucky I might get some editorial assistance from my dear wife, who speaks more languages than I had beers last night, and knows exactly where to stick a comma and digs metal music just as much as I do.

Please note: I grant unrestricted use of any of my writings/posts/scribbles to any of the specific bands/artists I mention. All I ask is you include a link to the original article and ensure credit to “NoVAMetalReview”. Anyone else needs to ASK ME FIRST, ok?