SCREAMMACHINE – CHURCH OF THE SCREAM
I didn’t watch Eurovision. I haven’t since Johnny Logan was on it. As ever it seems I was in a minority. I did, though see that Lord Of The Lost were on it, so it is that with some certainty that I can say that if Italy want to go down the “metal” route next year, they could do a lot worse than Screammachine. This is 80s style metal with a modern bombast. “The Crimson Legacy” sees guitars slash, drums thunder and spandex tight I shouldn’t wonder.
The riff-fest continues unabated through “Church Of The Scream” and you don’t have to look too far for the influences. Somewhere between Hammerfall and Accept comes this, but with new guitarist Edoardo Taddei in situ, they are damn good at it. So is he, actually and he shines frequently, never more than on “Revenge Walker”.
There’s also “Pest Case Scenario”, which as well as being a supreme pun, is the proof that when it comes to metal, these boys have got the chops.
Maiden are out on tour, Priest are taking Saxon out next year, but those bands won’t go on forever (although I appreciate we’ve been saying that for about the last 20 years). Screammachine are as well placed as any to take over.
GWYN ASHTON – MOJOSOUL
Towards the end of “mojosoul” Gwyn Ashton lays out his life story. The track “The Ballad Of Gwyn Ashton”, charts his journey from Wales to Australia, by way of his love of rock n roll.
It lists some of the people he’s played with, BB King. Johnny Winter, Rory Gallagher (there’s many more) and viewed in that context “mojosoul” is special. Celebrating 50 years of making music, his tenth album strips it all back to basics. Just Ashton, a guitar and a kickdrum, it gives a raw quality to “By Your Side” and “Vanish into Thin Air” – one of the acoustic numbers.
He’s a troubadour here, one with a battered guitar and his stories, and he boogies most agreeably on “Allergic To Love” before “Yesterday’s Me (Cool Cool Water)” adds a folky edge that isn’t too far from the much missed Kelly Joe Phelps.
The harmonica flourish on “12,000 Miles From Home” (first line “back in 2019 when the world was clean”) is a highlight, as is “Perfect Day To Sing The Blues”, a much more psychedelic tune, that underlines the diversity in this collection.
And “diversity” is the word. Its incredible how much light and shade there is here, considering its just one man and his instrument.
NIGHTHAWK – PROWLER
Nighthawk had started as a solo project for Robert Majd (bassist with Captain Black Beard) he wanted write some rock n roll.
As these things often do it morphed into something else entirely, and he roped in Bjorn Strid (the Soilwork man knows a thing or two about a side project going mental, right?) and he essentially does his Night Flight Orchestra thing over some proper 70s sounding bangers.
Never better than on the brilliant “Highest Score”, this is AOR for the ages. “Running Wild”, is mild fun, and as good as “Action” is, is it isn’t the Cathouse in 1986.
There are nine originals here, but in a way its the two covers that tell you more about Nighthawk. “God Of Thunder” is turned into something close to Deep Purple, and likewise “Cover Me” is done with a real bombast.
Much of this is down to the keys of John Lönnmyr, who really is this record’s MVP, he shines again on the ballad that finishes this off “See You Again”.
A confident, classy homage to some of the greats. “Prowler” belongs in that company.
An unexpected gem, but a gem all the same.
DUSKWOOD – THE LAST VOYAGE
When I think of music and the English County of Somerset then Glastonbury is never far from my thoughts. Hundreds of thousands of centrist Guardian Readers with the feint whiff of Vegan cheese in the air pretending they’re cutting edge for three days.
Duskwood are from that locality, and if there’s any justice, they’ll be parachuted onto the main stage this year when the Arctic Monkeys are on, to teach them what real guitar music sounds like.
Working on the simple principle of why settle for one riff when you can have loads of them, their first for the Ripple Label is astonishingly good.
“Vagrant” lays it’s marker down, and who the hell knows how Greg Watts finds the guitar sound he does? Just love the fact he has.
On the standout “Gammon Lord”, Liam Tinsley roars his best Chris Cornell and honestly it might be the best song of its type this year. “What’s behind the sun?” Enquires Tinsley and I don’t know why either.
Amazingly “She Calls” (which is faster) and “Skyriders” (which is a vehicle for the rhythm section to shine) are nearly as good, and if you were wanting a proggy climax then “Legacy” sorts that.
I dislike the term “Stoner Rock” but Duskwood will inevitably get lumped in with all those type of bands. In that case allow us to say this: whatever you call “The Last Voyage” just make sure you add that its brilliant.
DEVILDRIVER – DEALING WITH DEMONS VOL II
Quite how it got to be that Devildriver – who still feel like a new band to me – got to be in their third decade is open to question, but we’re all getting old.
This one is the second half of their mammoth “Dealing With Demons” project and more than anything else it showcases their evolution. “I Have No Pity” thunders around a bit like Lamb Of God, but there’s way more to it than that.
“Mantra” slashes and is like being beaten with a concrete block, and a little like Machine Head, there’s something urban about Devildriver. “Nothing Lasts Forever” underlines that, before the astonishing “The Hard Truth” comes in with all the hatred of a black metal song. It must surely rank as the heaviest thing they’ve ever done?
In the context of what’s gone on before, then you perhaps don’t need telling that “Bloodbath” is brutal, or that the lyrics to “It’s A Hard Truth” are bang on point with their sloganeering, but as an exercise in modern sounding laser guided heaviness then there aren’t many better.
Ending with the recent single “A Relationship, Broken” “Dealing With Demons” ranks right up there with the best things they’ve ever done. A band that keeps improving, Devildriver are better in their third decade than when they started, that’s for damn sure.
CIRCUS OF ROCK – LOST BEHIND THE MASK (2023)
Circus Of Rock mastermind Mirka Rantanen has played on over 30 albums (and has received the equivalent of a Grammy in his home country for his work creating a children’s metal band) but nothing he has done has been on the scale of Circus Of Rock.
Their debut in 2021 saw anyone who is anyone play on it, the 2023 version sees anyone who’s anyone that wasn’t on the last one get the call up.
Indeed, before you can say “Baby Avantasia” there’s a collection of incredibly classy hard rock. “Alive In Kicking” has got the wonderful Girish Pradhan roaring away, while Jeff Scott Soto (never shy of a cameo, lets be honest) adds a wonderful melody to “Keep On Shining”.
And that’s why I was being a little facetious with the Avantasia thing, because “Lost Behind The Mask” is a much more melodic rock record than anything Tobias Sammet’s mob does, although the synthwave thump of “Nine Lives” complete with harsh vocals from Mr. Lordi, adds some texture.
It has plenty to say too, David Readman appears for the environmentally aware “Is It Any Wonder?” and Bernie Shaw of Uriah Heep, gives it his best Bob Catley for the glorious Magnum-esque epic “Sunrise”.
Basically, roll up, roll up to listen to this. It’s worth it.
MICHAEL JEROME BROWN – GETTIN’ TOGETHER
I am late to the party, but I am watching Reacher on Amazon Prime at the moment. The eponymous character was drawn to the town of Margrave by its rich blues heritage. Fictional it may be, but I’d still bet you that Michael Jerome Browne would know them all.
“An encyclopaedia of American Roots Music”, on “Gettin’ Together” as the name suggests, Browne and a load of his mates take on a load of classic old blues standards. There’s some brilliance here too. “Shake Em On Down” (featuring both Eric Bibb and JJ Milteau on Harmonica) is stunning and the superbly laid back instrumental “Big River Blues” is so ready for a snooze that it basically gets in a hammock. while “Black Dog Blues” is ragtime with depressing lyrics.
There’s even one original. “Reverend Strut” a piece that Browne played on the banjo of Rev. Gary Davis, but it doesn’t matter how many of these he wrote to be truthful, as he lovingly – and timelessly – plays “Living With The Blues” (which gets bonus points for the Washboard) you can only conclude that Michael Jerome Browne has done just that all his life. These sounds are almost stitched into him – and he pours them out brilliantly here.
BRUCE COCKBURN – O SUN, O MOON
About halfway through his 38th record, Bruce Cockburn has included the central plank of “O Sun, O Moon”. “Like it or not”, he intones. “The human race is us all”.
“Oh Well”, the song it comes from is awash with strings and is slightly claustrophobic, even, but this is what you’ve come to expect with Cockburn. As astute an observer of the human condition as there is, there’s been plenty for the Canadian to sink his creative teeth into over the last year or two.
Its all on “ ….Moon”. A blues shuffle to “On A Roll” which opens it all, reasons that things aren’t as bad as they seem – and he looks for the good in people throughout this.
He’s at his poetic best on “Orders” and whilst the gentle “Push Comes To Shove” may be a touch cloying, then the mindset here is shown in its relaxed, jazz tones.
Much better all round is the positively Dylan-esque brilliance of “King Of The Bolero” and the religious imagery that’s never far away on the record, is right to the fore on the last one, “When You Arrive”, its a singalong, but an almost spoken word plea. Its typical of the feeling throughout this.
In many ways this is Bruce Cockburn’s state of the Union address in 2023, and its a document only he could have conceived.
HEAVEN’S EDGE – GET IT RIGHT (2023)
You didn’t grow up in the 80s loving bands like Bon Jovi and particularly Cinderella without knowing the name Heavens Edge. They might not have had the same commercial success as those pair, but nonetheless, in certain circles there’s excitement at their first record in 25 years.
“Get It Right” ushers itself in on the back of a filthy groove from new bass player Jaron Gulino (Tantric, Mach 22), but the presence of original members Reggie Wu (guitars, keyboards), Mark Evans (vocals), David Rath (drums), and Steven Parry (guitars) sees “Had Enough” and the rest have as much authenticity as anything else in the mark.
Yes, it’s “of its time” but its for “now” as well, such are the classy – and classic – sounds of “Gone, Gone, Gone” while the brilliant “Nothing Left But Goodbye” should have Trixter and Tyketto fans getting their old clothes out.
Even “What Could Have Been” eschews the power ballad in favour of something Vandenberg-era Whitesnake might have done.
There’s a couple of real party bangers, too. “Raise ‘Em Up’ is going straight into the setlist, I’m telling you, and the best thing here “9 Lives (My Immortal Life)” contains the thought “you can take my keys, it don’t mean that much to me, I’ll find someone to take me home and ride around for free”.
And as the big stadium sized “I’m Not The One” ends things, you are left with the thought that if you want to talk immortal, then talk late 80s hard rock. It was supposed to die with grunge…..purleeese! It sounds as vibrant as ever here.