Album: Wayward Sons ‘Ghosts Of Yet To Come’ (Frontiers)

One of rock’s good guys, former Little Angels singer Toby Jepson has done several things since that band went their separate ways in the mid-90s. He toured under his own name in the early 2000s, which attracted some fans of his old band but was almost totally ignored by the rock papers, then obsessed with all things nu-metal. Following that, he had a brief spell as lead singer for reformed Scots rockers Gun, before handing over the mic to their bassist Dante Gizzi. In amongst all of that he was becoming known as a producer, working with some notable bands including Saxon and The Answer, as well as linking up with (motorcycle racer-turned singer) James Toseland for writing and production work on his band’s first album.

Now he has decided to return to the fray with a completely new band. Wayward Sons were formed in 2016, the singer recruited a line-up of experienced but not necessarily well-known players for this band. Joining him are bassist Nic Wastell, guitarist Sam Wood, drummer Phil Martini (the only name which rang a bell with me, he played for a while with Luke Morley’s post-Thunder band The Union and also with Joe Elliott’s Down ‘n’ Outz), and keyboardist Dave Kemp. Lead-off single ‘Until The End’ came out in the summer, a taster for the album. A short and snappy, hard-hitting hard rocker with a powerful vocal delivery, it got a lot of play on Planet Rock, the UK’s sole hard rock radio station (that isn’t broadcast only over the web!) Those hoping that ‘Until The End’ was representative of the band’s sound will be pleased to find that the rest of this album is very much in that style; guitar riffs right there in your face, big pounding drums, vocal pyrotechnics from Jepson (he really pushes himself on opening track ‘Alive’ to such an extent that he comes close to Glenn Hughes territory) and – enough hooks there to have you singing this stuff back after the album finishes.

waywardsonscd

There’s also some welcome variety in the lyrical content – the music is recognisably old-school hard rock, but it isn’t set to lyrics about boozing, birds and brawling. For example ‘Ghost’ is a dig at modern life and how it’s all paid for on tick (‘buy yourself a happy life, with your plastic friend’) while ‘Alive’ is similar in sentiment to Thunder’s ‘No-One Gets Out Alive’ (‘what if I said, that wealth don’t mean a thing?’)

If you’re looking for long, progressive epics on this record, look elsewhere – all the songs here are short and to the point. The longest is album closer ‘Something Wrong’, and all the other songs bar ‘Don’t Wanna Go’ clock in at under four minutes.  The overall sound is almost punky, with that guitar right up in the mix and the songs played with verve, with energy, the sort of thing that is designed to get a crowd up and bouncing from the first powerchord. It is a short album then, at around 37 minutes, but with plenty of punch in those 37 minutes to leave you in need of a cuppa (or something stronger!) after the CD comes to a standstill.

At the time of this post Wayward Sons are coming to the end of a run of UK dates supporting fellow Brit rockers Inglorious. With Jepson’s vast experience in the business both on stage and off, there could be the possibility of him working with the younger band on their third album. If they’ve had that conversation then the third album from Nathan James and company will be one to look out for. (I am of course speculating!) Wayward Sons themselves can look forward to a bright 2018, as they embark on headline dates in the early part of next year. All in all, a welcome ‘return’ for Toby Jepson as he hasn’t really gone away, but this is the band which will restore him to prominence on the British rock scene.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

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Album: Foo Fighters ‘Concrete And Gold’ (Roswell Records/RCA)

The biggest rock band in the world return with their ninth album. Unsure as to that claim? Look at the profile of mainman Dave Grohl; he’s everywhere, not just in the rock press, but in all the gossip columns. He has all the high-falutin’ friends (no less than Paul McCartney appears on this album, for instance) and it wasn’t that long ago that the Foo Fighters played alongside Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones – at a huge stadium gig that has been their domain for several years now. This is one rock band that your friends, work colleagues, family has heard of – if you’re a dedicated gig-goer you’ll know all too well how often people dismiss the band you have a ticket for with those words: ‘never heard of ’em’, as though that renders the band non-existent.  No problem here, even your ordinary average Heart FM listener knows who the Foo Fighters are, and when they do play their huge stadium gigs, they attract the sort of crowd who wouldn’t normally have anything at all to do with ‘rock’. In short, they’re the one rock group it’s ‘OK’ to like. So, this is surely the sort of release that is an ‘event’, one which will see folk flocking back in their droves to the much-maligned record stores to grab their copies, yes?

Well, possibly. They are of such stature now that they’re ‘critic-proof’; no matter what is said or written about this record, it will indeed likely fly out of the stores (or down the superhighway, if it is downloaded). At the time of this post, it is the number one album in the UK charts, and looks set to stick around for a while. But is it any good? Thanks to the (also much-maligned) Spotify, I decided to give it a listen or two and find out for myself. I’ve not stayed in close touch with the Foos since they attained megastar status (the last time I actually saw them live was in 2002); I’ve liked a few tracks from their more recent output but to these ears, they’ve never really bettered  ‘The Colour And The Shape’, now a staggering twenty years old.

For this record, the band recruited some major names, starting with producer Greg Kurstin (who has worked with Adele, and written for many other big names in the pop world), and the aforementioned Paul McCartney contributes drums on one song (‘Sunday Rain’). That in itself raised eyebrows, since this band contains two accomplished drummers already. Other guests include pop stars Justin Timberlake and (Boys II Men singer) Shawn Stockman, although you won’t find much influence from that sphere in this record. It’s still recognisably Foo Fighters, with plenty of guitar wallop, and both Grohl’s familiar roar and more melodic singing voice are present and correct.

What there isn’t, is a song that sticks in the mind the way previous numbers such as ‘Times Like These’, ‘Everlong’, or ‘Learn To Fly’ did. I could go through the previous albums and come across at least one title on each, and have the tune instantly pop into my head. Grohl & Co. always had a knack of writing a pop song with enough rock punch to appeal to those of us who prefer a fist in the air to a waving lighter. That isn’t the case here, none of these songs have that hook. Even after a few playthroughs, not even lead-off single ‘Run’ lingers in the mind for long. It does have its moments; the McCartney-driven ‘Sunday Rain’ is a fine late-era Beatles pastiche, with Taylor Hawkins coming out from his drumkit to take lead vocal to good effect. The slower ‘Happy Ever After (Zero Hour)’ also provides a change of style from the rest of the album, reminiscent of ‘Blackbird’ (by The Beatles, not Alter Bridge!) It all sounds big; ‘The Line’ creeps close to Killers territory for instance. It all sounds mighty and impressive, but half an hour later you won’t find yourself humming much of this. The title track closes things; it is meant to be a brooding epic, but merely plods along to its concluding powerchord. (There is an extra ‘bit’ after the track concludes, but not much to get excited about).

It isn’t a BAD album, but it isn’t a great one either. When we are talking about the biggest rock band in the world, it isn’t enough to listen and think, mmm, that wasn’t bad. The Foo Fighters are now heading up the very same rock establishment that Grohl’s previous band was credited with dismantling, and sadly this record does come across as a bit too ‘establishment’. Not one I’ll be rushing out to grab on any physical format, for my Foos fix it’s still the first three or four albums that I’ll be reaching for.

ff-concretegold

A Spotify link is provided below should you wish to listen for yourself:

3 – Decent

LP: CATS in SPACE ‘Scarecrow’ (Harmony Factory)

Things are certainly different for CATS in SPACE now than they were two years ago, when they announced themselves with their debut album ‘Too Many Gods’. That record got them a lot of attention, most notably from Thunder’s Danny Bowes. In addition to wearing their T-shirt at Thunder gigs, he played tracks from ‘Too Many Gods’ on his Planet Rock radio show and earlier this year, signed them up to be the support act on Thunder’s UK tour. That slot put them before a lot more people, and their fan base has grown exponentially since then.

The guys are of course no newcomers; all accomplished, experienced players who have been in and around the scene for many years. In that respect they’re similar to The Dead Daisies, though that outfit have been through a few personnel shifts before settling on their current line-up.  The CATS’ debut showed obvious musical influences from many 1970s bands (even including a contribution from The Sweet’s Andy Scott) but with lyrical content dealing with more 21st century subject matter. That set them apart from just about everyone else, so what can we expect with this second record?

Simply put, more of the same with knobs on! Like the first album, it’s best listened to right through in one sitting, although the individual tracks are strong enough to stand up to being listened to in isolation. Lead-off single ‘The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ deals with the shallow facade of social media (“Conversation’s a no-no, it’s dead as a dodo”) while ‘Two Fifty Nine’ is a cleverly-constructed song about the need to fit into radio formatting – running to exactly 2:59!

The references are many and varied as was the case with the first album; there’s another nod to John Miles in ‘Clown In Your Nightmare’, complete with talkbox guitar from Greg Hart, but once again he and the band demonstrate that they can show their inspiration without resorting to outright lifting. You’ll think of the Beatles, Queen, even Bruce Springsteen (to name just a few) while listening to this album, and if you’re a real anorak like me you might find yourself reminded of The Turtles – or even Petula Clark – in some places 😉

Closing track ‘Scarecrow’ is stated in the lyric sheet as a continuation of the first album’s ‘The Greatest Story Never Told’; the lyric in this song refers to “Cool Britannia’s Great Untouchable” (who could they be referring to, teehee!) Running to 7:26 it is an epic (which reminds me a little of Uriah Heep) with which to end the album.

If you liked ‘Too Many Gods’ you can buy this record with confidence, it is another meticulously-constructed and beautifully-produced album with all the hallmarks present and correct. The band will tour the UK in September, I expect there to be a lot more people present this time around than was the case when they played the halls up and down the country last autumn. The CATS rocket is now in its second stage as it makes its relentless progress into orbit!

CATS in SPACE - Scarecrow

CATS in SPACE – Scarecrow

The album is available on CD, heavyweight vinyl and for the complete 1970s experience, cassette! It’s also available digitally and you can listen to the album for yourself on Spotify here:

5 – Delightful

CD: Inglorious ‘II’ (Frontiers)

This was an album I meant to do a write-up on long before now; I went to the band’s Liverpool in-store appearance in May and picked up this record on the day, but ‘stuff’ kept intervening and it’s only now, with me out of gig-going action temporarily that I have got around to this one.

Inglorious are the latest in a long line of British rock bands touted as ‘the future of rock’; they were saddled with a tag of ‘The New Deep Purple’ by some commentators, which I thought was a little unfair. For one thing Deep Purple didn’t hit their stride until their fourth album and then only after a change of singer and bassist! Also, when Purple were at their peak, they were also at their most dysfunctional, something that this band could well do without as they make their own way in the rock scene. The tag was one this band could never live up to, and their debut album of last year showed promise, but ‘In Rock’ it wasn’t.

The band are built around singer Nathan James, whose pyrotechnic vocals certainly attracted attention. They have striven to present themselves as a band, not just a vehicle for the singer, but such is his voice, his presence, that he does dominate the spotlight, just as (for example) David Coverdale before him did with Whitesnake. However all the members have contributed to the songwriting on this album, including guitarist Wil Taylor who, after recording his parts for ‘II’ parted company with the band at the end of 2016, to be replaced by his own predecessor Drew Lowe. Taylor has since formed another band (Deeva) and has been back at Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios this year (where this album was recorded), working on new material.

So what do we make of this follow-up album by Inglorious? CD in the deck, let’s press play…

It certainly gets off to a good start with ‘I Don’t Need Your Loving’; typical of their old-school rock style yes, but it’s a catchy number which ticks all the boxes. Hard riffs, singalong chorus and an early chance for James to show off those pipes. From there though, the album is full of material that could have been written by any number of those bands in that long line of acts that came before them. Titles such as ‘Hell Or High Water’, ‘Taking The Blame’, and ‘Change Is Coming’ give away what to expect even before you get to them, that this isn’t going to break any new ground. The playing is fine, the drums kick with enough wallop and the guitars slash away with intent, but these songs just don’t stick. Like the first album, you’ll come away with the impression you’ve heard this record many times before, the only thing that makes them stand out is the voice. There are fast-paced rockers (‘Taking The Blame’, ‘Hell Or High Water’), slower songs (‘Making Me Pay’), ones with Whitesnake-style gentle intros which bring the band in with a wallop (‘Tell Me Why’, ‘Change Is Coming’, ‘Faraway’), guitar workouts for axeman Andreas Eriksson such as the shred solo on ‘I Got A Feeling’, but this is an album that is a distillation of so many 1980s hard rock bands, nothing you haven’t heard many times before. It is all so familiar, that the only reason for picking it up is if you’re a particular devotee of James’s vocal style.

The in-store appearance aside, I’m still yet to see this band live (they are touring the UK in October 2017) and I’m sure they’ll cook up a storm live, but for me they need some stronger songs – even if that means an external writer. They can imitate the style of previous bands, but there is little to innovate here. I’m afraid this album only reinforces the perception that it is a vehicle for James, however hard he tries to tell us otherwise and I still feel the way I did after hearing this band’s debut – sooner or later he will be recruited into a supergroup or will be offered a solo mega-deal, one he would be crazy to refuse. This is a band made up of dependable, solid players but fronted by a singer who cannot be confined by this act for ever.

Inglorious II

Inglorious II

3gtrs

3 – Decent

 

Album: HAIM ‘Something To Tell You’ (Polydor)

Back in 2013, there was no escaping HAIM. The group, made up of three sisters from California first came to UK attention at the beginning of that year, winning the BBC’s Sound of 2013 poll of music industry figures. From then on, following a UK tour in the spring they played Glastonbury, T In The Park, and Reading/Leeds – all of these appearances were televised on BBC, significantly boosting their profile. Their first full album, ‘Days Are Gone’ did not appear until the autumn of that year but by the time it did, they were as well-known in the UK as they already were in their native Los Angeles. When the record was released, it showed two distinct sides to the group.

On album, their music was radio-friendly pop with harmony vocals to the fore, with more than a hint of Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles to their sound. Against that, the record’s modern production sheen brought their sound up to date. However, they were a completely different proposition live; middle sister Danielle (the more reserved of the trio) was cast as primary lead vocalist, while showing herself to be a mean lead guitar player, unleashing hard rocking solos in songs that had nothing of the sort on record. She also played drums on the album, however for live performances the sisters enlisted drummer Dash Hutton (a friend of eldest sister, bassist/vocalist Este) who toured full-time with the girls.  Este herself was the most outgoing of the trio, engaging the crowd between songs with banter punctuated by more than a few choice F-bombs, while youngest sister Alana ‘Baby Haim’ took up the other side of the stage, given a multi-faceted role on rhythm guitar, additional drums and keyboards as well as vocals.

Later on the group added a full-time touring keyboardist (Tommy King) to take some of the load off Alana, expanding the live group to a quintet. The band live were more akin to a hard rock act than a pop group, songs would feature Danielle cutting loose on the guitar far more than on record, and to close their set the girls would take to drums themselves to bash away alongside their drummer in a spectacle reminiscent of that done by The Scorpions in recent years. The band toured extensively for the next two years, coming back to the UK in 2014 for a tour of bigger halls, and a return to Glastonbury in the summer, but back in their homeland their popularity really blew up when they were selected to support pop megastar Taylor Swift. From there on in they haven’t looked back, although this second album has been delayed somewhat by the meticulous nature of their studio work. The group actually pulled out of planned festival dates in summer 2016 in order to focus on completing the album, releasing a statement apologising to their UK fans.

In April 2017 HAIM finally unveiled a taster for this record, the haunting, brooding ‘Right Now’ which turned out to be an early, ‘live in the studio’ performance. To say the least, after the runaway success of their first album expectations were high for ‘Something To Tell You’ – especially after a four-year gap (Leppard-esque, if you will!) between this and ‘Days Are Gone’. The record was released at midnight on Friday, 7th July, becoming available immediately to listen to on Spotify. Time to settle back and see what the LA sister act have in store for us this time, then…

If you’ve seen this band live and were hoping for an album that captures that harder live sound more accurately, prepare to be disappointed. The material here is smooth, slick, well-produced (perhaps OVER-produced? Bearing in mind that the final result is exactly how the band intended it to be) but, once again it shows that on record this group is a different beast to the onstage version. That’s not to say it is a bad album; it’s actually very good, the songs are designed to ease their way into your brain and take root – you’ll find yourself humming one or more of these ditties after one listen to this album. If anything it is smoother than ‘Days Are Gone’; the group worked once again with producer Ariel Rechtsaid to deliver an album that will sound great in the car, whether you’re heading down a freeway in the summer sun or stuck in a traffic jam on the M62 on a cold, wet Monday morning. There are some nifty basslines from Este in tracks such as recent single ‘Want You Back’, but guitar from Danielle is used sparingly, often buried in the mix such as on the playout for ‘Little Of Your Love’. I’d expect that to be radically different once they hit the stage.

The vocal harmonies that have led to those Wilson Phillips comparisons are present and correct, and they venture into RnB territory with songs such as ‘Treat You Right’. On that track, surprisingly there is another lead guitar playout from Danielle, unsurprisingly it is again buried deep within the production. On ‘You Never Knew’ they go into full Fleetwood Mac mode; the echoed backing vocals will make you think immediately of ‘Little Lies’ from Mac’s 1987 album ‘Tango In The Night’.

The girls’ drum background is shown once again in ‘Kept Me Crying’; this album’s ‘The Wire’ with a beat throughout that will inevitably lead to audience handclaps when it’s played live. This one DOES have a more prominent, fuzzed-out guitar outro. The highlight for me is penultimate track ‘Right Now’; a slow-burner starting out with a church-style organ and gradually building up, deploying the heavy guitar chords for the only time on the record midway through and then introducing those syncopated drums. Even so, the live version as seen on their recent BBC appearances is superior, the production is a little bit too strong with unnecessary (IMO) effects added to Este’s backing vocal. That could have been the album closer, but they have chosen to end things with the gentle ‘Night So Long’, demonstrating once again their close harmony vocals.

You won’t find thought-provoking lyrical content on this record, it is all concerned with boy/girl relationship issues. With that in mind it is a little baffling that this band is considered ‘indie’ by some, this is pure ear candy that has many tracks that could be singles, surely many will be picked up by radio in the coming months. Besides ‘Want You Back’ and ‘Little of Your Love’, tracks such as ‘Found It In Silence’ and the title track are potential hit singles.

If you’re more of a rock fan and were hooked by this group’s live prowess, you’ll need to put aside your metallic leanings in order to enjoy this record. If you can do that, there’s much to enjoy on this album. Consider it a successor to ‘Tango In The Night’ and you’re about there.

Haim 'Something To Tell You'

Haim ‘Something To Tell You’

4 – Deserving

Album: Thunder ‘Rip It Up’ (earMUSIC)

It’s been a busy year for Thunder, British rock stalwarts who have just released their second album since their second reunion and eleventh overall (presumably they didn’t get the memo that bands no longer split up, they just go on ‘extended hiatus’ until they feel like doing something again!), ‘Rip It Up’. This record comes hot on the heels of their official biography (‘Giving The Game Away’, named after their 1999 album) in which all members past and present contributed to a comprehensive look at their history. In addition to that, singer Danny Bowes has embarked upon a broadcasting career with a weekly radio show on Planet Rock, and has even found time to add vocals to a recent single from fellow UK rock band CATS in SPACE, a cover of Slade’s ‘How Does It Feel’. Given that their 2009 split was down to the workload becoming too much, is there a danger of that happening again? Hopefully not, since their two albums since starting up again in 2014 have been released on the independent earMUSIC label, rather than the band issuing them through their own label as was the case from 2003 to 2009.

2015’s ‘Wonder Days’ album was well-received by their loyal fanbase, with its slightly nostalgic feel it perhaps went down well with long-time listeners who have grown older alongside the guys in the band. At the time of writing this post I am still awaiting my physical copy of the new album (the bundle of LP, CD and bonus EP since you ask) and so it was time to start up Spotify, where the 11 tracks that make up this album are available to listen to immediately.

Having given this album a few (virtual) spins now, I have to say it all sounds rather familiar. The guys in the band have spoken in interviews about how they’ve tried to stretch out more this time around, and felt that they did accomplish it with this record, but much of the material immediately had me thinking of tracks from earlier albums that had some kind of similarity. Case in point being ‘She Likes The Cocaine’; a cautionary tale about drug abuse that has a similar sort of wah-wah guitar effect as ‘Everybody’s Laughing’ – another cautionary tale about drug abuse from 2003’s ‘Shooting At The Sun’. All but two of the tracks on this album reminded me of earlier material, and having been a fan of this band from the start, having bought every studio album they’ve released to date, the songwriting style of Luke Morley is now becoming a little too easy to read. The chord progressions are very similar to what’s come before, giving the feel of something we have heard many times over. One slight variation comes on the power ballad ‘Right From the Start’; it is the sort of thing they’ve done many times before but on this occasion is given an extended outro guitar solo from Luke Morley. The best track on the album for me is ‘In Another Life’; even this has a distinct air of familiarity about it though as its slow grooving style will make listeners of ‘a certain age’ think of Alannah Myles and her 1990 hit ‘Black Velvet’. Honestly, if you don’t start singing ‘Mississippi, in the middle of a dry spell’ along to it then you mustn’t know of Ms Myles! The Thunder song does however feature probably the best vocal performance of the entire album by Danny Bowes. Another track that borrows from someone else as opposed to themselves is closing number ‘There’s Always A Loser’, with a drum beat straight out of Zeppelin’s version of Memphis Minnie’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’.

I think that the band would benefit from using an occasional outside contributor more; they are almost totally reliant on one songwriter (Morley, other members have contributed sporadically in the past) and once you wise up to his style, his songs all have that familiar feel. Even lyrically – I felt like throttling the speaker at yet another mention of ‘regret’ (there were three, and another of ‘situation’ which crops up many times in his lyrics). It’s almost on a par with Dio’s frequent use of ‘rainbow’ in his lyrics, something that irked even his most devoted fans at times! When the band HAVE used outside writers in the past, it generally worked well – the last album featured a co-write with Lynne Jackaman (‘Black Water’) who incidentally contributes backing vocals on this album, and 2005’s ‘The Magnificent Seventh’ closed out with a track co-written with noted hitmaker Russ Ballard (‘One Fatal Kiss’). They don’t need to do an Aerosmith and bring in the likes of Desmond Child or Diane Warren to write their entire record, just one or two tracks with a different approach would go a long way towards freshening things up.

To conclude, if you know this band even in passing, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here. It’s well played, well produced and superbly sung (of course, they have one of the best in the business at the microphone) but – that nagging feeling of having heard it all before won’t go away. Because of their inherent quality this album shades a fourth inflatable guitar, but if you do buy this album having come to the band fresh, grab any of their first three or ‘Robert Johnston’s Tombstone’ for a better impression of what they’re about.

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving

LP: Delain ‘Moonbathers’ (Napalm Records)

When my copy of this, the fifth full studio album from Dutch symphonic metallers Delain arrived (on the day of release – kudos Napalm Records and the Royal Mail!) the shrinkwrap covering the record sleeve contained a sticker trumpeting this as ‘Delain’s Finest Moment’. It’s certainly had a lot of build-up; as early as January this year I and other attendees at their ‘Suckerpunch’ gig at Haarlem Patronaat were treated to some short extracts from the sessions they’d been working on. Soon after that came ‘Lunar Prelude’; an EP containing two new tracks, some live material and some previously released songs reworked for the EP. Those two tracks (‘Suckerpunch’ and ‘Turn The Lights Out’) are also featured on this new album, along with a cover of Queen’s 1989 hit ‘Scandal’. More recently, in the weeks leading up to this release, some other tracks have been getting airplay on rock radio; ‘Fire With Fire’ has been featured on a local radio station’s weekly show and ‘The Glory And The Scum’ has also been released as a lyric video on YouTube. On top of all of that, the band released short extracts from all the album tracks, initially to fans who attended the aforementioned ‘Suckerpunch’ show and later on, to YouTube.

With all this activity, it has heightened excitement for the eventual release but also served to spoil a little of the suspense; we already knew two of the songs (three if you are a Queen fan and familiar already with ‘Scandal’) and by the time this record was out, anyone interested will have heard at least half of it. Napalm Records have done what they usually do with acts on their roster, and have issued this album in a bewildering choice of formats including two different vinyl options (my choice this time was the initial double vinyl issue on 180 gram ‘gold’ vinyl) and, for those who have yet to discover the bottom of their pockets, a wooden box containing the CD in ‘mediabook’ packaging, a bonus silver vinyl 7″ disc and – a flag! Once again, the cover features art by Glenn Arthur, whose trademark style is becoming synonymous with this band. But is ‘Moonbathers’ the band’s ‘finest moment’ as trumpeted on that sticker? Time to shred the shrinkwrap and put those 180 gram discs on the turntable to find out…

Things get off to a good start with ‘Hands of Gold’, a lively rocker very much in the familiar style, with symphonic fanfares and downtuned guitar crunches. They have picked up pretty much where they left off with 2014’s ‘The Human Contradiction’; using the same writing team (lead singer Charlotte Wessels, keyboardist Martijn Westerholt and studio collaborator Guus Eikens) and with production duties once again handled by Westerholt, it does feel like a continuation of that record. They even brought back Arch Enemy’s frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz to contribute ‘death growl’ vocal on this track as she did on the previous album closer ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons’. I confess I’m not a fan of that style of vocal, but used sparingly I can handle it. ‘The Glory And The Scum’ is another typically Delain track, one that could have sat on the last album comfortably. All the trademarks are there, I can picture Wessels getting the crowd clapping along to the second verse; they’ve deployed a familiar trick in backing off the guitars, leaving Wessels to sing over a bass drum beat. ‘Suckerpunch’ we know all about, with its Bon Jovi-esque ‘whoa-whoa’ hooks, leading into what I consider to be a highlight of this record, ‘The Hurricane’. A slower, quieter number more akin to what they were doing on ‘We Are The Others’, it has a catchy chorus that lodged its way into my head straight away. The cooling of engines here allows Wessels to use her sweeter vocal, which was what drew her to my attention in the first place, rather than the ‘roar’ she has developed in recent years. Things are taken down still further with the epic ballad ‘Chrysalis – The Last Breath’, once again showcasing the singer’s remarkable voice.

Back up to speed next for ‘Fire With Fire’, as the guitars come roaring back with another high-tempo, but catchy song. The difference between this album and the previous one is that the songs are more ‘hooky’ – with few exceptions they’d moved away from the more pop sensibility of 2009’s ‘April Rain’ but here, it seems to be a partial return to songs you can latch onto quickly, the sort of thing that ‘walks off the disc and into the concert hall’ (if I may steal an old quote from David Coverdale!) ‘Pendulum’ follows, probably their most Metal number on the album and somewhat reminiscent of 2012’s ‘Where Is The Blood’. Towards the back end of the record, it gets a little more experimental; ‘Danse Macabre’ has a strange but catchy ‘eeeyyaahh’ vocal throughout, an unusual hook but effective. I’d been anticipating their cover of ‘Scandal’ since they announced they were to do it.  One of the lesser-known Queen songs (originally from that band’s 1989 album ‘The Miracle’) and from their later period, it was written by Queen guitarist Brian May (although credited to all four members). Its lyric dealt with the relentless intrusion of band members’ personal lives. I did wonder whether that was something Delain also felt hence their decision to cover this track, but it turns out that Martijn Westerholt simply liked the song and was even given May’s blessing to cover it. It’s heavier (the synth riff in the original is now accompanied by guitar), it is a little faster in tempo, but otherwise not too different. However, much as I love Charlotte, nobody beats Freddie Mercury! 😉

‘Turn The Lights Out’ is the other previously released track and is already known (in truth, not one of my favourites) and the album closes with ‘Monarch’. I detect more Queen influence here; the song is mostly instrumental with only a short vocal contribution from Wessels in the middle. Queen did something very similar with the track ‘Bijou’ on the ‘Innuendo’ album; although this song is slower and more keyboard-orientated the effect did remind me of the concept of the ‘inside-out song’ as Mercury and May aimed for with ‘Bijou’.

Following the studio tracks, there are several live tracks presented from a recent show in the band’s home country of the Netherlands; including a live rendition of ‘The Glory And The Scum’. Closing the fourth side of the double LP are orchestral versions of that song and ‘Hands Of Gold’. That’s something they’ve done on previous releases; it is essentially filler material to make up a double LP but the live tracks are more of interest to me personally.

This is a strong album with probably their most accessible songs since ‘We Are The Others’; however I do feel that the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ production takes some of the gloss off for me. One of the things that attracted me to this band some years ago was that their music was less overblown than other bands of this type; the symphonic elements weren’t swamping their vocalist so much. The 2009 album ‘April Rain’ got that balance right for me, but here I found myself struggling to hear Wessels over the wall of sound on some of the heavier tracks. I’ve already heard two of the songs delivered acoustically by her and guitarist Timo Somers; they worked better for me as the strength of the songs was more evident once stripped back. I still think it is a very good album, but one that could have been improved had they left that extra egg from the pudding. (Apologies to Charlotte for the analogy, since she has been vegan for some years now!) 😉

Finally a word about the choice of vinyl this time around; I bought a vinyl LP of ‘We Are The Others’ at a show last year, and on playing it I’d noticed how much more comfortable a listen it was than the CD. I found out later on that it had been mastered differently for that release; further investigation revealed that the CD (and all the others in their catalogue) were ‘brickwalled’; i.e. mastered for maximum ‘loudness’ at the expense of ‘clipping’ of some of the higher frequencies. That makes for an exciting, but wearing listen if played on even halfway-decent stereo equipment, and the vinyl LP proved to be so much more preferable. Since then I’ve bought their subsequent releases (this LP, and ‘Lunar Prelude’) on vinyl and will continue to do so as long as the CDs are mastered that way. (I already had the LP version of ‘The Human Contradiction’.) They’re far from the only band whose CDs have their phasers set to kill, but it is a trend I could do without. If the music can be mastered properly for LP, it can be done better for CD – after all, that format was sold to us back in the 80s as ‘perfect sound which lasts forever’. Not true as we now know, but CD is capable of a far better listening experience than what we are being offered today in the never-ending ‘loudness war’.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Moonbathers cover

Moonbathers cover