LP: DORJA ‘Gemini’ (self-released)

One of the albums that I’ve been eagerly awaiting is this debut offering from the cosmopolitan collective DORJA. The album (which will be available on CD and as a download, plus a limited edition vinyl) comes almost exactly two years after the band’s formation. This record, the first full album for some of the musicians involved, was made possible by a successful crowdfunding campaign. It exceeded their target by some distance, enabling the band to allocate more budget than they’d planned for in recording and producing this record.

A brief recap on the band’s history so far: they were formed in summer 2016 by drummer Anna Mylee, then based in LA. Recruiting fellow LA expat, Kazakh-born singer Aiym Almas, they looked back across the Atlantic to complete the line-up, bringing in three British players in guitarists Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill, plus bass player Becky Baldwin. All had worked with Anna before and they began to collaborate on material, convening via Skype at first but all met up in LA to record their first track ‘Fire’, issued as a download in June 2016. The EP ‘Target Practice’ was released in early 2017, and they played selected live dates in the UK as and when schedules permitted. Holly Henderson departed the band in mid-2017, as a concurrent solo career began to gather momentum. The band advertised for the vacant position, eventually settling on Irish guitarist Sarah Michelle to take over. They continued to play selected live dates and in the winter of 2017 unveiled their crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to record a full album of material. With the target reached, then exceeded, the group came together in early 2018 to begin sessions on this record.

The album features ten tracks, some of which are re-recorded versions of tracks from the EP while others are brand new. All were written collectively by the band (with credit duly given to Holly Henderson for her part in writing five of the songs which appear here) and also to Eduardo Limongi for arrangements.

Front cover for DORJA 'Gemini' album

Front cover for DORJA ‘Gemini’ album

I was one of the pledgers involved in the crowdfunding campaign; there was a broad range of items on offer to suit most pockets ranging from a straightforward pledge for the album in your preferred format, to a bundle of stuff including posters, an exclusive T-shirt, a live EP and other items such as drum heads, hand-written lyric sheets and patches. As the bottom of my pocket is quite easily reached I plumped for the album on LP plus that T-shirt, with the items being despatched to pledgers in late June 2018. Having had the chance to give the record a few spins, the old-fashioned way with a turntable and stylus, here’s what I made of it:

The initial impression is that the blues influence is more pronounced than perhaps might have been expected. I’ve seen the band twice before and they stormed it live; they were always rock with a blues base but that base is a bit more evident in the material presented here. Dealing with the previously-released material first, the new versions of ‘Target Practice’, ‘Reaching Out’ and ‘Fire’ (‘Far Gone’ I suspect is the same one as what was put out as a single last year) are a little cleaner-sounding than the EP versions, but not much different otherwise. Opening track ‘Chainbreaker’ gives a good indication of what’s to come, these songs are all mid-tempo bluesy hard rockers showcasing primarily that remarkable voice of Aiym Almas. Her vocal evokes R&B greats of the past and she brings that to a hard rock style, giving this band a distinctive sound.

The songs all tend to follow a similar template: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, breakdown/solo, playout over repeated chorus. That doesn’t mean they’re all variations of the same thing – there are lighter as well as heavier songs and some tasty playing from guitarists Sarah Michelle and Rosie Botterill. Standouts for me are the raunchy blues of ‘Use You’ and the anthemic, guitar-heavy ‘Silence’ with a solo that will have you reaching for the air guitar. (Whose, I am not sure about until I see this one done live!) Appearing on record for the first time is ‘Limitless’; that one was performed live from their early days and is one of the more uptempo rockers on the album. I’d have liked a little more of that personally (they have one other as yet unrecorded song in their repertoire, ‘Turn It All Around’ in which they really cut loose), but this one rocks too, with a terrific lead solo from Rosie. Title track ‘Gemini’ features a little slide guitar, which I’d guess is Sarah Michelle’s doing. The listener might be fooled a bit by the intro to ‘Too High’ (the first track of side two on the LP); opening with Aiym Almas singing over piano chords (courtesy of Anna Mylee) before the main body of the song kicks in with a guitar riff which reminded me of Black Sabbath’s ‘Mob Rules’, before the middle section introduces another riff which, strangely enough made me think of Ozzy’s ‘Crazy Train’!

I’ve not mentioned the rhythm section up to now, they lock in together really well though fans of bass player Becky Baldwin will have to listen more closely for her fills, she’s a little less prominent with this band than she was with, say the trio format of IDestroy. The drum sound on this record gives a satisfying ‘thump’; the producers did a fine job of capturing Anna Mylee’s sound.

Overall the group can be proud of this album, it’s a solid debut which like the EP, demonstrates their huge potential. I still feel there’s a lot more to come from them in future though, especially if they can overcome the logistics of having an international membership with an LA-based singer and the musicians scattered across Britain and Ireland. What they need is a backer with bottomless pockets, to enable them to base themselves in one location (LA? London?) – of course, there’s not too many of those about! They remain unsigned as of June 2018, with this record now available I’d expect that situation to change before very much longer.

For now though, this is a promising debut. They haven’t quite hit it out of the park but to use cricketing parlance, they’ve got it through the covers and it will reach the boundary for four. Four inflatable guitars, that is!

DORJA are playing a short run of dates in the UK and Europe in June/July 2018, with dates in Birmingham on the 14th of July and an appearance at SOS Festival in Prestwich, near Manchester on the 15th. This record will be available to purchase directly from them at the shows with a full release to take place in the near future. They’ve also issued a lyric video for ‘Use You’ to coincide with these dates, presented below:

http://www.dorjaband.com

4 – Deserving

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Vinnie Paul 1964-2018

If you thought 2018 was a bit easier on us rock and metal fans, maybe not. Like many others I woke to hear of the death of Vinnie Paul, aged just 54. The former Pantera drummer reportedly suffered a major heart attack  at his home.

This sad news came almost 14 years after the loss of his brother, Dimebag Darrell who was shot while performing with Damageplan, the band formed by the Abbott brothers (Vinnie and Darrell) after Pantera’s disbandment. For the past decade he has been the drummer for Hellyeah, who have released five albums to date.

Vinnie Paul is best known for being Pantera’s drummer however, forming the band in 1981 he and Darrell (originally styling himself as ‘Diamond Darrell’) went through a series of line-ups and released four albums before they signed to ATCO records for their fifth record, the seminal ‘Cowboys From Hell’ album released in 1990. That was the album which launched them to success, with a harder sound and more aggressive ‘look’ than had been the case for all their previous work they soon distanced themselves from all they’d put out before that record, insisting that their real start came with ‘Cowboys From Hell’. The band popularised the ‘groove metal’ sound; combining the heavier guitar sound from Thrash Metal with a more mid-paced tempo. From there the band had a series of successful albums, each heavier than the last with 1992’s ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ going double platinum in the US. Shortly after the release of that album, Darrell dropped his ‘Diamond’ nickname in favour of ‘Dimebag’ which he would stick with for the remainder of his life.

The successful run did take its toll in the end (vocalist Phil Anselmo confessed to a heroin habit in the mid-90s which culminated in his suffering a cardiac arrest, he later cleaned up) and their final album ‘Reinventing the Steel’ was released in 2000. Following a compilation, the group finally split in 2003 with Anselmo turning to his other band, Down. Meanwhile the Abbott brothers formed Damageplan, and there was rancour in the press between the two parties for several years. Sadly they never got to reconcile as Dimebag’s death in 2004 put paid to any hope of a Pantera reunion.  Vinnie Paul took some time away from music after that, returning in 2006 when invited to join Hellyeah. He had only recently finished putting down drum parts for that band’s upcoming album when he died.

There have been a multitude of tributes paid from many rock/metal musicians; a few Twitter posts are shown here:

Finally, three videos from Vinnie Paul’s musical career:

Pantera ‘Walk’:

Damageplan ‘Save Me’:

Hellyeah ‘Moth’:

Caught Live: Jeff Beck, Philharmonic Hall Liverpool 16th June 2018

The local musician fraternity were out in force for this one, a rare UK appearance by the legendary guitarist Jeff Beck. It’s rare enough that he plays in his home country these days, even more rare that he plays in Liverpool. This was the first time I’d ever seen this guy play, considering that he’s cited as a major influence on just about every ‘name’ in guitar music, you could say I’d left it late (Beck is now 73 years old)! He’s been around since the 60s, a contemporary of Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, and he has played with just about everyone from Rod Stewart (in his early days) to Paul Rodgers (with whom Beck will tour the US this summer.

Opening proceedings was Colin (not Connor!) MacLeod, a solo performer armed with just an electric guitar set to maximum jangle. Not quite a Highlander (he’s from the Isle of Lewis) his folky-tinged material dealt with life in his Outer Hebrides home island. His short set was warmly-received, and he was straight out to the stand afterwards where he had copies of his album ‘Bloodlines’ available.

Jeff Beck isn’t so much a man of few words, he’s a man of NO words! He came on stage to a rapturous reception, acknowledging the audience merely with a nod, wave and smile before he and his band (comprising drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Rhonda Smith, cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith and vocalist Jimmy Hall; the latter would come on and off stage as required) launched into the set. Being unfamiliar with much of Beck’s work I was concentrating mostly on his playing. He really does have a incredible range of tones, conjuring up things from a Stratocaster that you’ll get from nobody else. The set included many covers including a unique take on Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ and an instrumental rendition of ‘A Day In The Life’ (appropriate, given the setting) with Beck’s guitar doing the vocal melody.

Rhonda Smith with Jeff Beck at Liverpool (pic: Mark Francis Tully)

Rhonda Smith with Jeff Beck at Liverpool (pic: Mark Francis Tully)

His band were all top-drawer players in their own right, he gave Rhonda Smith several spots for soloing, she had the lot from rock to funk and jazz, all delivered superbly. Vinnie Colaiuta is a former Zappa musician, so you know you’re getting the best there, while Jimmy Hall showed a superb range of ‘pipes’, especially on ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’. A delivery of the Stevie Wonder classic ‘Superstition’ had Beck himself emulate with his guitar the funky sound of the clavinet on the original.

There was so much virtuosity on the stage it was sometimes hard to know where to look, yet these top-ranked players never stepped on each others, or the main man’s toes all night. As a non-musician I’ll cheerfully admit much of what they were doing sailed merrily over my head, however what they cooked up was tasty indeed.

Despite his advanced years, Beck remains at the top of his game – he has gone straight from this tour into a US run of summer shows with Paul Rodgers, as well as Heart’s Ann Wilson. Major talent indeed,  and if you’re lucky enough to be able to get to a show it is recommended you do so.

The show was of such high quality I have little option but to award all five inflatable guitars – this fella could probably whip up a sonic storm with one of those too! 😀

5 – Delightful

From The Earth: ‘From The Earth’ (Machine Devil Records)

This one came out of left-field last month: a six-track mini-album from a new project fronted by Michael Devin, currently the bassist for Whitesnake. He’s written all the material himself, and co-produced this record with Warren Riker, as well as contributing bass, vocals, keyboards and guitars. There are several other notable performers on the record however, listed on the back cover (posted below) including a certain Brian Tichy on one track.

The cover art suggests the style of rock on offer here quite well, evoking the ‘stoner rock’ era of the early 2000s, itself inspired by 1970s acid rock bands such as Hawkwind. That’s the kind of thing to expect, especially with the Monster Magnet-esque ‘Creature Feature’. Those sort of sludgy guitar riffs are present and correct on here, and Devin may surprise those unaware of his vocal prowess on this album. ‘Wild Buffalo’ could have fitted on Soundgarden’s ‘Badmotorfinger’ and it’s no stretch to say that the Whitesnake man’s voice is quite reminiscent of the late Chris Cornell on this one.

Opener ‘Hallelujah Blues’ is more like another Monster; the hard rock shuffle of this track is in keeping with Monster Truck’s sound. Safe to say if you like the kind of retro-rock those two Monsters serve up (and I do!) then you’ll enjoy ‘From The Earth’. It isn’t all a heavy hammering though; ‘All The Time’ is a slower, more country-rock styled number while ‘Moon Queen’ also cools things down, Devin sounding more like the Cornell of ‘Euphoria Morning’ here. Closer ‘Monsterland’ is a slow-burning, stoner epic of the kind of thing Dave Wyndorf specialises in, it will conjure up images of sixties-style liquid light shows in your head!

Devin’s Whitesnake commitments (he’s currently on a US tour with Coverdale and co) mean it’s unlikely he will get the chance to play this stuff live often, but it’s to be hoped he can get a band together to play a few selected dates. This is a strong offering from a talented musician who shows here he’s far more than a sideman. Recommended.

The mini-album is available as a download on iTunes, Amazon and is also on Spotify – you can listen for yourself below:

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: HAIM, Olympia Theatre, Dublin IRL 12th June 2018

It’s been almost five years since I last saw the sister-act HAIM live; that was at the end of their breakthrough year of 2013. Although they’d played UK dates in 2012 as support to Florence + The Machine, they really came to the attention of the British public when they won the BBC’s ‘Sound Of…’ award at the beginning of that year. From there they were featured heavily on BBC music programmes including their coverage of Glastonbury, T in the Park and Reading/Leeds (the band appeared at all those festivals), and their UK tour that winter saw the ‘sold-out’ signs everywhere they went. Since then, they’ve replicated their UK success in their US homeland, off the back of a support tour opening for megastar Taylor Swift. This short run of UK and Ireland dates came a year after their second album ‘Something To Tell You’ was released, and also sold out rapidly proving their popularity hadn’t waned in the interim.

The Olympia in Dublin is a small but ornate theatre, I chose to sit in the circle rather than stand in the crowd in the stalls, a wise decision when I got there to find the queue reaching back halfway across Temple Bar! They played two nights here, and I was at the first of those. The opening act was US singer Maggie Rogers, somebody who (once again) I had no prior knowledge of. She turned out to be an expressive performer, clad in a blue jumpsuit and using all of the stage to dance across as she sang, she drew huge cheers from this (mostly) female audience every time she so much as let her hair down or took off her jacket! Her material wasn’t that far removed from HAIM’s own, at least in terms of how they sound on record, and her band gave her good backing, particularly the drummer.  Not strictly my cup of tea, but a good live act and fine singer.

Support act Maggie Rogers

Support act Maggie Rogers

Following her set a huge army of techs were on to turn over the stage for the main act, and soon revealed were a bank of keyboards to one side, a set of drums to the other (for touring members Tommy King and Jody Giachello respectively), and in the middle, more drums! Three sets, for the sisters themselves to use, and not content with that, there were more set up at the front of the stage! These came into use right away as the girls came on, led by youngest sister Alana. Her drum pounding was soon joined by middle sister Danielle and finally, by eldest sister Este. The three of them gave a Sepultura-esque display before launching into opening number ‘Falling’, from their debut ‘Days Are Gone’ album. Following that up swiftly with ‘Don’t Save Me’, they already had this crowd in raptures.

Most of the set leant towards the current album, although other favourites from the debut such as ‘My Song 5’, ‘The Wire’ and of course ‘Forever’ were played. Whatever the song, once again this band showed themselves to be a vastly different experience live than they are on record. Meticulously-crafted, polished and slick on the CD you listen to in the car, live they are a much heavier, much harder-hitting band. Put simply, on record they’re Smooth Radio, live they’re Planet Rock! Touring drummer Jody Giachello has a lot to do with that, he is a thunderous player and drives the backline along superbly, but the other major difference is that Danielle Haim is unleashed onstage – she is a fine lead guitarist, throwing out solos that Gary Moore or Robin Trower would have enjoyed on songs like ‘Nothing’s Wrong’, which simply aren’t there on the records. In addition to that, Alana gets to add her own guitar parts as well as contribute keyboard touches and additional drums. She relishes the chance to get amongst the fans and did just that towards the end of the set, singing while posing with her adoring public on the front row. She even draped a tricolour around herself and returned to the stage to play, with it still on her back!

Eldest sister Este on the bass once again delighted her fans with her ‘bass face’ expressions, and surprised us all by ditching her top after three numbers, opting to play the rest of the set in her bra! Not that anybody minded (least of all this fan!) but it did encourage at least one audience member to follow suit! As usual, there was the humorous banter between songs, and as they were in Dublin they even indulged in a pint of Guinness each. At least two of them did, Danielle opted out, explaining that she’d been fighting off a bug and was still on antibiotics.  Behind the antics, Este is a fantastic bass player, locking in with their touring drummer and providing many tasty little fills. Danielle took over the drums for ‘Something To Tell You’; she normally sings it too, but with her being ill Alana took the lead vocal on this occasion.

That was about the only indication Danielle was unwell, she still sounded in good voice and her guitar playing, as said before, was immense. For their rendition of ‘Right Now’, played in the encore, the delivery was with more ‘anger’, more ‘menace’ than was evident on the album, with a few choice F-bombs thrown in for good measure. Danielle closes this with another scorching lead solo before the three of them take to those drums at the back and give us one final blast. For this segment, they gave Giachello a (deserved) moment in the spotlight for a solo of his own. After that they took their bows to tumultuous cheers and made their exits.

The band I saw in 2013 were great, but still raw. It was their harder live sound which hooked me, and they still have that now but with more experience and more craft, after some solid touring in huge arenas over the past couple of years. They’re now the finished article, and it’s to be hoped that their short run of shows on these shores this time will be followed up by a more comprehensive tour at a later date. That will likely be in arenas though, they now have the audience to fill bigger places and if I may drop a hint to the girls, it’s time you came back to headline Liverpool’s Echo Arena!

5 – Delightful

Punk Sunday 16 (Diablo Furs, Healthy Junkies, Lilith and the Knight), Stalybridge Tavern 10th June 2018

The latest in the series of multi-band shows, staged on a Sunday afternoon/early evening and promoted by IndigoBravo (two guys based in east Manchester who have worked hard to bring up-and-coming bands to the local area), saw another varied selection of groups playing at this bar, sited close to Stalybridge railway station and also close to a free car park for those who drive in. The IndigoBravo team are about to change venue yet again, as the venues often find that they are drawing visitors from outside the local area (such as your correspondent) and are therefore on only soft drinks such as J20; they’re not necessarily attracting a local clientele.

I got there in time for Diablo Furs (the openers were The Awkwards, apologies to them), a female quintet which spans generations. They played a lively set of new wave-style power pop/rock, lead vocals split between a frontwoman and a guitarist/singer. The bassist was the live wire of the band, all over the stage (literally, lying down at times) and occasionally off it altogether. They have a sound straight out of 1978 but are well worth catching.

Next up was a band I’d heard of, but not seen live until now. Healthy Junkies are a four-piece led by singer Nina Courson and guitarist Phil Honey Jones. A band inspired by the 90s grunge movement by the looks of things, with Nina’s stage look reminiscent of Daisy Chainsaw’s Katie Jane Garside. They have that heavy guitar sound to boot, and Nina is a captivating performer, never stood still for a moment and quite prepared to try a jump off the bass drum on the crowded stage of a pub back room, let alone a big venue! The guitar sound was a bit overpowering from my position (near the front – I wanted to try some gig pics with a DSLR) though, so I would definitely like to see these again.

Last band I saw was Lilith and the Knight, a Metal outfit rather than punk. Formed around the singer (Lilith, of course!) they have also attracted a lot of attention over the past year. Lilith has recently joined up with the Women in Rock touring collective (an act I’ve seen several times) so will be seen as one of two or three singers at selected shows from now on. However when she pitched up here, there was a bit of a surprise – her right arm was in a sling! She’d injured herself only just before this show, so her rather glamorous look was offset somewhat by this ‘accessory’ of a blue sling, as she could not move her arm! Her voice was unaffected, she and the band gave a strong performance of modern-style Metal, with plenty of chances for Lilith to reach for the big notes. Owing to time constraints none of these bands could play for longer than about 45 minutes, so this is another band I must catch again soon.

As stated earlier, I do like to take snaps at gigs but I have found it difficult to get pics in this, and other smaller places unless I used flash. I’m reluctant to do that with a pocket camera whose inbuilt flash I cannot control, plus I dislike the idea of firing it in performers’ faces (although Nina told me afterwards that they’re used to it!) So, with this being a more informal setting, I thought I’d try a digital SLR. I’m not rich enough to get the latest and greatest kit though, so I went with a ten-year old one picked up for not too much money, from a well-known chain store specialising in used electronics. With this was an old flash unit from my decades-old film SLR kit (NB – if doing this yourself check the trigger voltage of the flash, some can ‘fry’ the electronics of your modern DSLR or CSC) which had the ability to tilt upwards. Knowing the pub’s ceiling isn’t that high, it was a matter of playing about with manual settings until I got one that looked close, and went with that for the sets. A handful of snaps from the day are presented, and where possible I will do this again. (For big gigs, this isn’t possible without a photo pass so I will continue to use a pocket compact there).

The experiment proved a success, so I hope to do this again at a future event.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Marco Mendoza (with The Kut, Nitroville) Rebellion Manchester, 7th June 2018

Marco Mendoza is a busy guy. He’s barely finished a tour with the Dead Daisies (with further dates scheduled for later in the year) and has also managed to squeeze in a short run of solo shows in between. These are in addition to the dates he played last autumn in the UK, when he made it to Liverpool despite the fact the venue was switched at the last moment. He plays in a trio format when solo, and he was once again joined by North East-based guitarist Micky Crystal (on loan from Tygers of Pan Tang). This time however, he had a different drummer in Kyle Hughes, another North East native who also added vocals.

It’s a bit of a mystery to me why a performer of this calibre isn’t playing to huge crowds unless with the Daisies, the attendance here was better than at Liverpool last year but not by that much, especially considering this show took place in summer. The ‘Download factor’ may have come into play, as this date coincided with the annual bash at Donington but even so, the stayaways missed another excellent show.  There was plenty of banter between the three, and just as he did at Liverpool, the Daisies bass player ventured out onto the floor while playing, in order to get his audience to clap, click fingers or just sing. He was out on the floor during their cover of Lennon’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’.

There were several covers (including ‘God Bless The Child’, a Billie Holliday song), as well as many ‘props’ given to artists he’d performed with in the past. In particular he praised a certain Ted Nugent for taking him out on the road (he played with the Motor City madman in the early 2000s) and ‘schooling’ him, as he put it. As at Liverpool, he did Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’, retaining all the funk vibe of the original but giving it a rockier feel. He did play some of his own songs too, including ‘Viva La Rock’ from his recent solo album, but later in the set he treated us to some Thin Lizzy, even letting Kyle Hughes take lead vocal on ‘Jailbreak’. For ‘Chinatown’, somehow Micky Crystal manages to make you forget the original had two lead guitars – he covers both magnificently. After this set Marco Mendoza was immediately off the stage and at the stand for an instant meet and greet, happily posing for pics and chatting to all and sundry – including the opening bands!

I did want to get there early to catch London trio The Kut; a highly-rated outfit (who have enjoyed airplay recently on Planet Rock) fronted by the striking Princess Maha on vocals and guitar. Instantly identifiable with her bright blue hair, she and her bandmates (drummer Diana Bartmann, and deputising bassist Dany Jones) stormed the stage early on. Dany Jones clearly knew this band and their material well, slotting in seamlessly for regular bassist Stella Vie who was unavailable for this tour. A hard rock trio with a grungey/punky flavour, the highpoint was probably ‘Bad Man’ for which they invite punters up to add their own backing vocals – including the F-bomb in the lyric if they wish! Maha is a mean guitarist as well as a powerful singer with a raunchy vocal, she treated us to the full Eddie van Halen tapping routine at several points! They certainly converted this punter, who had only heard about them via reports until then.

Nitroville were a more traditional Metal quintet fronted by a female vocalist; they gave a good performance of numbers which were in the vein of Judas Priest, plenty of twin guitar parts and lead solos to widdle along to on the air guitar. Their drummer even managed to wreck his snare mid-set, leading to a dash off stage for a spare while the rest improvised hastily! Good, but I did lean more towards the performance by The Kut who I hope to see again soon.

Nitroville supporting Marco Mendoza

Nitroville supporting Marco Mendoza

Whoever is the support though, it’s highly recommended that you catch Marco Mendoza whenever he plays these solo gigs, he always gives a top-drawer performance and makes you feel as though you’re part of the act.

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

Album: Ghost ‘Prequelle’ (Loma Vista Recordings)

The fourth album from Swedish theatrical metallers Ghost sees the band on the cusp of breaking through to major success. As with every album, the act has unveiled a ‘new’ frontman for its anonymous troupe of Nameless Ghouls, identified only by elemental names such as ‘Fire’ or ‘Water’. The difference this time around is that the masked vocalist has taken on an entirely new persona (dubbed ‘Cardinal Copia’), instead of variations of the Papa Emeritus character he has portrayed since the band’s inception. It’s also become public knowledge that all of these characters have been played by the same person, vocalist Tobias Forge. His identity was widely known among fans already, but since he was the subject of legal action (still ongoing at the time of writing) from some former members of Ghost, he was ‘outed’ as the brains behind the band. None of this has affected the band’s rise to prominence, and this album was eagerly anticipated after they had gained a substantial amount of new fans on their last tour, at one point even opening for the legendary Iron Maiden.

Lead-off single ‘Rats’ gave a good indication of what was to come, it’s a catchy, even poppy song (including a ‘whoa-whoa’ bit in the chorus) but with sufficient heavy metal guitar riffing to appease the headbangers. The video showed Cardinal Copia resplendent in a natty outfit with moves reminiscent of Michael Jackson. Lyrically, it alludes to the Black Death, and how that destroyed many lives. The whole album is broadly based around death (‘don’t you forget about dying, don’t you forget about your friend death‘ – Pro Memoria). So it may be an album full of catchy pop/rock songs, but it is as dark as you are going to get in its song lyrics.

The band took to the road in the US before the album’s release, so much of this material has been heard by fans, both at the shows and through social media as clips of the new show have been shared. Ghost also previewed parts of it in their video shorts which introduced the Cardinal Copia character; ‘Faith’, ‘Pro Memoria’ and ‘See The Light’ were teased. ‘Faith’ is one of the heavier moments of the album, but still accessible. If radio programmers weren’t listening too closely to the lyrics, they might even deem this album radio-friendly!

The big surprise of the album is instrumental ‘Miasma’ (it refers to a foul stench, associated once again with death, for example with unburied bodies such as happened during the Plague). For a band made up of anonymous musicians, where only the lead singer is known, to perform an instrumental (in fact there are two; ‘Helvetesfönster’ – literally ‘Hell’s Window’, towards the end of the album recalls ‘Pro Memoria’ in its melody) is surprising enough. For there to be a saxophone solo is an even bigger surprise! It’s quite a prog-rock style number, and when performed live, it featured Papa Nihil (the ‘elder’ Papa shown on the video shorts) on the sax! ‘Dance Macabre’ (no relation to a similarly-titled song from Delain) is a dancefloor classic in the making; I can picture this one filling the floor at your local rock night.

prequelle

Already, this album has divided Ghost’s fans; while many have taken to it for the immediate impact of the songs, others have been scathing about it being ‘too commercial’. In truth, Ghost have never been the sort of po-faced black metal band of the sort you see in forests prowling around in corpse paint; rather their take on the whole ‘satanic’ thing is humorous, they are taking the mickey with the concept and set out to amuse, rather than terrify their audience. If you’re a fan of 1980s hard rock bands, particularly the more ‘glam’ style, this album will probably appeal to you more. Certainly many of its songs will latch into your brain quickly, Forge has that knack of writing a hit – if the powers that be decide it’s a hit that is!

The other 1980s thing about this album is that it is quite short! The ten tracks which make up the standard album add up to a running time of around 40 minutes. For anyone who still tapes albums onto one side of a C-90 cassette, you’ll love this! However, it has little in the way of filler – the material is strong throughout.

As an old-school rock fan myself, I can see where a lot of Forge’s ideas come from, but he does have a talent for songwriting, and has created a world of characters to illustrate his music, which helps fans ‘buy into’ the whole concept. I think this album will stand the test of time, long after the image has been forgotten about these songs will still sound good in 30 years time. Someone else will have to verify that for me though, since I will likely be part of this album’s concept myself by that stage!

Listen to ‘Prequelle’ for yourself here via Spotify:

 

 

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

The rise and fall (and rise again?) of Rock Radio

It was a little over ten years ago that Rock Radio launched on FM radio in two UK cities (Manchester, and Glasgow). A station that actually delivered on its promise (there is a station known as ‘Rock FM’ in Lancashire, but that plays contemporary pop, the name refers to ‘Blackpool Rock’), it launched to great fanfare, with no less than Paul Rodgers/Bad Company playing at a launch event in Manchester. The station played hard rock/metal from both classic bands and new artists, and if you were fortunate enough to live in the coverage area it was essential listening. (If not, the station could be heard UK-wide over the internet).  Unsurprisingly, it found an immediate, and loyal, listener base who had been overlooked by radio bosses for far too long. The Manchester station could be picked up in easterly parts of Merseyside, so for myself it was a great listen whenever travelling towards Manchester in the car, either for work or when heading that way for a gig.

free-air-guitar

A typically amusing marketing stunt by Rock Radio 96.3 Glasgow (as was)

Sadly, things couldn’t last. The station owners first of all merged some of the output from the two stations, then rebranded as ‘Real XS’ (possibly to avoid confusion with the aforementioned Rock FM)  – this meant a dilution of the station policy, but it was still focused on hard rock music. Ultimately the parent company sold the stations – first to large conglomerate Global, then after a review from the Competition Commission, Global were obliged to sell this and other stations. They offloaded the Manchester station to Communicorp UK, a subsidiary of an Irish group, although they continued to broadcast using studio facilities owned by Global. Meanwhile the Glasgow station was rebranded as ‘XFM’ (an indie-focused station) for a short period, then Global decided to close it altogether, handing back their licence to radio regulator OFCOM.

In early 2016 Real XS in Manchester underwent a rebranding, becoming ‘XS Manchester’ and with a new music policy which saw indie/britpop music added to the playlist. The rebrand went down like the proverbial lead balloon with their listener base, but was met with stubborn resistance from the radio bosses, who pointed to the sop of a weekly ‘metal show’ (since dropped).  Predictions that the indie music introduced would gradually become dominant have since proven to be correct, with the station as it is today now a completely indie-orientated one. It even declared itself ‘no longer a classic rock station’ in a recent Facebook reply to a post. Their attitude of actually ‘firing’ their own listeners (outright telling them to find another station, in response to brickbats sent via Facebook posts) in favour of a completely different audience irritated and infuriated their original listener base. Many switched to Planet Rock (now the only radio station in the country with a rock music policy), but because that broadcasts over DAB not everyone had access to it in cars, for example.

An attempt to revive Rock Radio in Glasgow at least looked to have succeeded, when the former boss of the original station won the licence to broadcast on their old frequency, but that also failed this year when, after a lengthy period of test transmissions, the news came through that they had sold up to Nation Broadcasting. That company is obliged to launch a station by autumn 2018, and must follow the rock format stipulated in the licence, but should it start up it is likely to be a contemporary (read: softer) format, another disappointment to fans of this type of music.

Meanwhile, several former presenters of the original Rock Radio successfully crowdfunded a new web-based venture, and that began last year. Primordial Radio takes a different approach; it is subscription-based for one thing. That does have the plus point that advertising is not heard every ten minutes on this station (or at all) and features DJs familiar to the old station, such as Dewsbury and Moose presenting during the daytime. However to hear their links, the listener has to sign up. (A stream featuring music-only is freely available). I signed up recently and found this to be the radio station I have been missing since Rock Radio/Real XS was crushed and replaced by an indie-orientated station apparently run by  hipsters, old 1990s ‘madchester’ scenesters and achingly trendy bloggers.  To tempt people into listening, they have offered the rock fan a chance to try it absolutely free for three whole months, by giving their existing members a referral code to allow anyone at all to take advantage of that offer. If it is for you then you can sign up fully at the end of it, or if not, you haven’t lost anything. Its music policy is rock/metal in many stripes; for instance they might play Blink 182 one minute, Mastodon the next. New bands are regularly featured, as well as some of the classic rock we all love. They recently unveiled an app for Android or iPhone users so you can listen on the go (data plan permitting).

Declaring an interest then, this is my own referral link. Help yourself to three free months of Primordial Radio (just think, no more PPI ads every 15 minutes!)  by following this link, or alternatively I have provided a nice little banner for you to click instead!

Click for a free trial of Primordial Radio

Click for a free trial of Primordial Radio