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

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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

 

Caught Live: Space Elevator, Old Courts Wigan 19th May 2018

It’s now been two years since I discovered this band via their cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Don’t Believe A Word’, and around 18 months since seeing them live on a joint tour with fellow Brit-rockers CATS in SPACE. While the CATS have taken off into orbit with some high-profile tours supporting major names, the Space Elevator hasn’t quite ascended to similar heights. Not yet, anyway.  Their second album, cunningly titled ‘Space Elevator II’ should have been out to coincide with this run of dates but in the interim between its recording and this tour, the group signed with German independent label SPV. That meant the release date was put back to 25th May, so those who came along to this show would be in for a set containing several new numbers not yet known.

This date was to say the least, low-key. Wigan Old Courts is a multi-purpose arts centre, a converted magistrates’ court as the name suggests. It now hosts a variety of arts events including regular gigs, and this show took place in a rather dark room in the building, quite an adjustment since it was still extremely bright and sunny when I arrived at the venue. After a brief chat with drummer Brian Greene (manning the merch table), who explained the situation with the band’s signing to SPV and subsequent delay in the album release, I entered the hall to find few people there. There was no opening act, so there was a bit of a wait for the band to appear on the stage.

The three guys came on and struck up before the singer, the enigmatically-titled The Duchess strolled out resplendent in a leather jacket and shorts. Not the catsuit she is renowned for wearing, but she had a reason for that and the clue was printed on her top, a large-scale picture of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (who were wed that day). Opening with ‘Elevator’ itself, opening track of their debut album, they did indeed showcase numerous songs from the upcoming record. Based on what I heard, it promises to be another varied selection of songs – even touching on a bit of ‘rap-rock’ in one number! They played quite a few we did know as well, including my personal favourite ‘Loneliness of Love’ which came quite early into the set. Stood close to the stage, with the PA stacks actually beside me, it wasn’t the best place to get a good sound mix but The Duchess has such a powerful voice, she can overcome pretty much anything, still making herself heard. Not so much seen however, the stage lighting was quite dark all night and in a hall which was near pitch-black already, it didn’t do them too many favours. A pity, since The Duchess eventually showed just why she’d decided not to perform in the usual catsuit tonight – ditching her shorts Angus-style, to reveal that her top was actually a leotard and she’d had the words ‘Hazza 4 Megs’ printed on her backside! Anyone who’s seen this band before would know she’s a bit of a character and with a welcome touch of saucy British humour, of course this audience (mainly comprising ‘certain age’ guys like your correspondent, ahem!) were most appreciative of that interlude (!)

Their cover of ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ came towards the end of the night, as guitarist David Young described it, a hybrid between the Thin Lizzy and Gary Moore versions. He gave an excellent performance on lead guitar, never over-playing and always servicing the song, with strong rhythm backing from bassist Chas Maguire and drummer Brian Greene.  There was a lot of humorous banter between themselves and the punters all night, as though they’d decided just to have a bit of fun seeing as so few of us had come out. But they were still ‘on it’, for all the joking about there wasn’t one missed cue, they’re far too good.  The last two numbers consisted of one new song, inspired by Freddie Mercury (reminiscent of ‘Only The Good Die Young’ to me) and a cover of  Motörhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’. Following this they were straight out to the foyer for a meet and greet with the punters.

This gig actually felt similar to the last time I saw them, in so far as I didn’t know the material (or at least much of it!) but there was no doubting their quality. The Duchess is an accomplished stage performer outside of this band, and the others have all been in some major productions too (David Young spent some time with the We Will Rock You house band, for instance) so you were always in for a good evening with this band. To say it set me back just eight quid for the ticket was a (pleasant) surprise too, in this age of big-ticket shows at astronomical prices, it just shows you don’t have to buy into corporate hype to get a good gig! I do wish more had turned out though (we could all have got the same bus home!) Perhaps they have come up against the ‘never heard of them’ factor which means few will take the punt on a band without a ‘big name’. With SPV now behind them, that should change and soon once the second album is released, it’s to be hoped their new song (‘We Can Fly’, played tonight) will be picked up by Planet Rock and if that happens, their audience will inevitably grow.

When they come around again, heard of them or not – get along to the show. They’ve got the lot: songs, top musicianship, a singer who not only has the looks but a voice that stacks up against anyone.  Ann Wilson, Floor Jansen – for me, The Duchess is in that bracket and I say that about very few, even singers I like. She also has that cheeky sense of humour, while immensely talented she doesn’t take herself TOO seriously.

The second Space Elevator album will be released on 25th May 2018 and I look forward to hearing these tunes on record.

Set List:

  • Elevator
  • Take The Pain
  • Talk Talk
  • Loneliness Of Love
  • Little White Lies
  • Lucky Girl
  • Far Away Boy
  • World Of Possibilities
  • More Than Enough
  • I Will Find You (Gallifrey Dreams)
  • Crazies (Take Me Home)
  • Keep Waiting
  • Oils And Bubbles
  • Really Don’t Care
  • Don’t Believe A Word (Thin Lizzy cover)
  • W.Y.T.A.T.
  • We Can Fly
  • Queen For A Day
  • Ace Of Spades (Motörhead cover)

Space Elevator Facebook Page

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Holly Henderson launches new website ahead of album release

The Kent musician and songwriter Holly Henderson has just launched a new website with photos, video and significantly, three excerpts from her long-awaited album recorded in LA last year and produced by (renowned guitarist) Pete Thorn. Of these extracts, ‘Loneliness’ will probably be familiar as it was previewed on BBC Radio Kent last summer, while the other two clips (for the tracks ‘Cost Of Love’ and ‘Pride Can Wait’) are heard for the first time on the site. I intend to review this album the moment it hits my ears but for now, the three snippets promise a welcome diversity to this album.

‘Loneliness’, the one track that’s been heard in full up to now, is a pacy rocker, a tasty slice of guitar-driven rock with a hint of Pearl Jam, while ‘Cost Of Love’ will make you think of The Police with its insistent chugging guitar. ‘Pride Can Wait’ is a much slower number, more akin to her work on the ‘Opium Drip’ EP. She has earned a reputation as a fine guitarist, however these clips show how her voice has developed in leaps and bounds since she first took tentative steps into lead vocal territory on her self-produced EPs. No longer drenched in reverb, there’s a new-found confidence in her vocal delivery that bodes well for the album as a whole.

The website also includes video content such as her promo for ‘Breakdown’ (filmed in LA and directed by George Mays), her cover of Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’ which directly led to the album recording session with Pete Thorn, as well as an EPK with some more brief extracts from this upcoming record. In addition there are some exquisitely-shot promo photos (by Claudio Tristano) which show Holly with her beloved Telecaster guitar, as well as indicating her penchant for 1970s fashions! Lastly, there’s a webshop with the three EPs released to date available (‘Rust’, ‘Desert Wax’ and ‘Opium Drip’). The album release was put back to allow her to return to LA and add a few finishing touches, but the launch of this website could well indicate she is finally ready to gear up for a summer release. She has played some selected dates (showcasing tracks from this album) with her live band recently too, and more are planned.

Having followed Holly since her days as a rhythm guitar player in a covers band, her talent has always stood out and I am just one of many who are keenly awaiting this album. I hope to speak with her once the record is ready for release and talk about the making of this album and her future plans.

Holly Henderson (photo: Claudio Tristano)

Holly Henderson (photo: Claudio Tristano)

Holly Henderson Music website

Caught Live: King King (with Steve Hill), Epstein Theatre Liverpool 10th May 2018

A shuffle of the running order caught me out tonight as I entered this venue, a small theatre above what used to be a musical instrument store, but is now just another bar. The times had been bumped so that opener Steve Hill was already playing as I entered, and made my way to my seat in the second row. I’d have liked to see more, as he was an intriguing ‘one man band’ – playing guitar and singing, while keeping the beat using bass and snare drums operated by his feet, and with a small drumstick coming from the guitar headstock, so he could play cymbals as well! I saw enough to pique my interest and as he is also supporting King King in Chester in a few days’ time, I might have to check that out.

His sound is rootsy hard rock, and by playing everything himself he can’t blame the drummer (!) on the other hand, he doesn’t have to pay a backing musician! I’ve mentioned before on this blog that the ‘duo’ thing has become almost a cliché now since Royal Blood got successful, spawning many similar acts. It did cross my mind that it is the logical conclusion to this paring down thing that’s seen the likes of The Picturebooks, Rival Bones, REWS (to name but three) duos who have all come along in recent years. Whether we’ll see a trend for this one-man band style remains to be seen, but if anyone can blaze the trail for others it’s this remarkably talented Canadian.

The early start meant King King were due on at 8:30, it was a little after that when the lights went down and the quartet (led by recently-recruited keyboardist Jonny Dyke) came on stage to their intro tape, of AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’. Opening with ‘(She Don’t) Gimme No Loving’, the lead-off track from current album ‘Exile & Grace’, that set the tone for the evening.

King King have steadily evolved from a blues band into a melodic rock outfit, still with that blues base but with accessible, snappy songs that have you clapping along, or in some cases getting folk out of their seats to dance – even as early as second song in (‘Waking Up’, in this case).  They’ve been compared to early Whitesnake but to me, especially with this current album, the material is reminiscent of Thunder (a band they supported a couple of years ago, which helped to raise their profile).  Singer/guitarist Alan Nimmo (following a period of recuperation after a throat operation) is now back in the sort of vocal form which won over many Thunder fans on that tour, while his masterful guitar playing is as immaculate as ever. His vocal on ‘Broken’ from the current album was immense, putting over the passion in the song’s lyric (‘this world, is broken, we can’t hold on’) dealing with the current state of the world. Not everything was so lyrically dark; as the big Scotsman observed, we’d come out to enjoy a night of music.

The band went back to their earlier days to perform  ‘A Long History Of Love’, which features extended solos on both keyboard and guitar. The audience were treated to a beautifully-performed guitar solo which was immaculately-observed, the proverbial pin would not have dared drop during the quiet moments. New guy Jonny Dyke was also welcomed with a generous cheer; having taken over from the popular Bob Fridzema just after the album release he has made the keyboard position his own already.

It was such a superb set, that it flew by and barely seemed like an hour. In fact they’d been on stage for at least 90 minutes, and nobody would have minded if they’d done 90 more! The rhythm section of Lindsay Coulson (bass) and Wayne Proctor (drums) kept it tight all evening, both play immaculately but tastefully, always for the song. That’s the second time I’ve seen King King, both times were in this small gem of a theatre which yours truly persists in referring to by its old name ‘The Neptune’ theatre. The venue went into administration late last year and it’s to be hoped that it is able to continue, as this band certainly enjoyed performing here and I for one hope to see them again on this stage next time around.

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

King King facebook page

Steve Hill facebook page

Caught Live: Nickelback (with Seether), Echo Arena Liverpool 7th May 2018

The lads in Nickelback were well aware that people would have been feeling the effects of enjoying the hottest day of the year so far, and on a Bank Holiday Monday at that.
“So are we feeling, what’s the word – knackered?” asked guitarist Ryan Peake early in the set, while frontman Chad Kroeger joked that they should never arrange a gig on a bank holiday again. He did his best to gee up this crowd by hollering ‘LIVERP-O-O-O-LLLL!’ at regular intervals, something he habitually does every time this band visits. It did have the desired effect, and he got a second wind out of the ‘knackered’ audience.

There’s little I can add to what I wrote the previous time they came here; their show featured many of their regular crowd-pleasing hits, they played everything well and the humorous interplay between Kroeger, Peake and their crew was present and correct (at one point, Chad jokingly admonished the crewman who brought on their drinks for not stopping to salute the crowd, then getting him to do just that the next time he came out). One thing I did like was their idea of putting up a countdown on the screen behind the stage, after support Seether’s set the band appeared on that screen to deliver a brief message, telling the crowd they’d be on in 20 minutes and in the meantime telling us to ‘buy beer’ (not at arena prices, fellas!) When that clock did count down to zero, it was a short featurette on the band which played on that screen, and in fact there was another five-minute interval before the lights dropped for real.

The set delivered was not that different from last time they were here 18 months ago; although they did open with the title track from current album ‘Feed The Machine’. I’d have liked more from that record personally (that was the only song from this record played all night), but they do tend to stick to what works and so once again ‘Photograph’, ‘Something In Your Mouth, ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Figured You Out’ were among many of their favourites given another airing. However they did pledge that they’d play something off all their albums to date and so they did ‘Million Miles An Hour’ from their previous album (‘No Fixed Address’) this time, as well as a medley of ‘Curb’ from their first album, incorporating snippets of ‘Where?’ and ‘Left’ (“There were some cool riffs on that first record”, explained Kroeger).

The traditional performance of ‘Rockstar’ with two fans invited up was memorable; Ryan Peake picked out a guy called Adam who not only sang it all but thoroughly lapped up his moment of fame, stomping all over the stage and even onto the stage ramps while fellow audience member Lucy (picked out by Chad Kroeger) also enjoyed her time up there, singing and dancing away. Both of them even managed to get selfies with the band members without breaking stride mid-song! (“No stage fright whatsoever”, remarked Chad afterwards.)

Towards the end the frontman sent the guitar tech into a bit of a panic, declaring that he wanted to play ‘Hero’ (his song from the ‘Spider-Man’ film of 2002) this meant a change of guitar and so he stalled for time, making light of the crew rapidly running off so that they could fetch the correct guitar for him and Ryan Peake. It kept them on their toes of course, but there was a lot of humorous banter all night, as usual whenever the band play here.

Of course ‘How You Remind Me’ closed the main set, and their encore was ‘Gotta Be Somebody’ and ‘Burn It To The Ground’ (“I’ve got my James Hetfield guitar ready so you know what’s coming!”, said Kroeger, a self-confessed Metallica fanatic).

So few surprises then, but once again Nickelback came, played a well-received set with everything from pop-rock singalongs to outright Metal, and sent a few thousand people home with smiles on their faces. I wish they had taken a few more chances with the setlist, though I get that they aren’t in the business of disappointing their fans (hey, that’s why they always play these big barns after all!) and so tend to adopt the AC/DC approach of ‘give ’em what they want’.  As they took their final bows, bassist Mike Kroeger decided to treat us to an impromptu workout of about 20 press-ups, why that was only he could explain!

Openers Seether also played a set touching on most of their back catalogue to date, with their riff-heavy downtuned guitar sound going down well with those who’d got here early enough to see the South African rockers. Perhaps they felt that they should do a bit of everything for fans not necessarily well-up on their material, but their sound is familiar enough. Not a million miles away from the likes of Shinedown or even Nickelback themselves when they crank it up, though their decision to place bassist Dale Stewart front and centre (thus getting the best of the stage light) rather than vocalist/guitarist Shaun Morgan was a little bit strange. Another good band brought to an arena setting in the UK by Nickelback (following the likes of Monster Truck and Black Stone Cherry), they’re a band I wouldn’t mind seeing live at one of their own shows at some point.

4 – Deserving

 

Caught Live: Marmozets (with Himalayas) o2 Academy Liverpool 5th May 2018

Another band about whom I had little prior knowledge, this ticket was bought close to show date and on the recommendation of friends. Marmozets are a Yorkshire-based quintet made up of two sets of siblings: lead singer Rebecca ‘Becca’ McIntyre with her brothers Josh (drums) and Sam (guitar/vocals) alongside Will and Jack Bottomley (bass and lead guitar respectively). Their second full album ‘Knowing What You Know Now’ came out late last year and they’ve toured quite extensively to promote it. This short run of dates called at Liverpool, so it was only fair I went along!

The band had the bigger upstairs hall at the o2 Academy but it was still quite sparse when support Himalayas came on. I confess I took one look at this lot as they came on and thought ‘indie band’, expecting a set of light guitar-based tunes. Erm, not quite! The first thing that hit me was James Goulbourn’s drum sound. Monstrous, dare I say Bonhamesque! They have two frontmen in guitarist/vocalist Joe Williams  and Mike Griffiths (guitar/keyboards/vocals) but it was the latter who led things off, taking lead vocal on the first number. He resembled a youthful Jimmy Page to me, he and Joe Williams shared the lead vocal throughout. Their sound was a lot heavier, a lot harder-hitting than I’d bargained for. Midway through they announced proudly that their song ‘Thank God I’m Not You’ had over five million views on Spotify. That was probably enough to  buy them a sausage roll to share between the four of them (!) but that to me showed how the importance of that platform, although not every band is enthusiastic (to do with its business model and how bands are remunerated, or not – something I will cover in a future post).  These lads from Cardiff did play an impressive set though, and I’ll keep an eye on them in future.

The crowd had swollen substantially by the time Marmozets came on, and a big cheer went up as the five members casually ambled onto the stage. They chose to open with ‘Habits’, their lead-off track from the current album and the one which I knew best, and straight away this crowd were with them, chanting the ‘get carried awaa-a-y’ chorus loudly alongside Becca McIntyre. The crowd were boisterous throughout, and it wasn’t long before the moshpits started. At which point yours truly shuffled away from it all – fun 30 years ago, but these days at my age with a fractured ankle not long healed, thanks but no thanks!

The set featured many tracks from the current album including ‘Play’ which had everybody jumping (this one reminded me a bit of Sumo Cyco, a band I saw recently in Chester) and ‘Meant To Be’. These were all high-energy numbers, with a lot of heavy fuzz-toned guitar designed to keep the crowd bouncing, and that certainly did so! Their sound isn’t that far removed from Tax The Heat, albeit with a female singer, they have that same sledgehammer delivery with the drums and heavy guitar.Becca McIntyre herself is a visual performer, swaying the hips and gesturing with the arms, she holds the attention well. She was clearly pleased with the crowd reaction, on the rare occasion she addressed the crowd (they rattled through about 17 numbers in just over an hour) she told us how ‘amazing’ the crowd was and how pleased the band were to be playing these stages. They ended with ‘Major System Error’ and exited promptly, there was no encore but to be frank, your correspondent was spent by the end!

Marmozets may be a ‘Kerrang band’, or one that is pitched at the younger market (they’re all around mid to late twenties themselves) but they’re a hard-hitting, hard riffing rock band of the sort this country doesn’t produce enough of. If you like a high energy full on live rock gig, this band will give you what you’re looking for.

Himalayas Facebook page

Marmozets Facebook page

4 – Deserving

 

Ghost transition from Papa Emeritus to Cardinal Copia

It’s been an exciting time for fans of the Swedish ‘masked metallers’ Ghost. After each album and tour cycle the group always ‘replaces’ its frontman, until now a masked, pope-like figure called Papa Emeritus. There have been three incarnations; Papa Emeritus I, II and III – each with a slightly different look and persona, and the third incarnation was fronting the band up until their last tour date in their Swedish homeland, on September 30th 2017. During their traditional closing number ‘Monstrance Clock’, two crewmen physically hauled Papa III off the stage, as the band (made up of masked musicians known only as Nameless Ghouls) stopped playing and followed him off stage. Just as Papa III was disappearing stage left, a new figure entered from the other side. An aged Papa, apparently frail and using an oxygen mask, accompanied by two more crew members. Introducing himself as Papa Emeritus Zero, he stated (in Italian) that “party time is over, the Middle Ages start now!” He was then escorted off the stage as the lights went up to signify the end of the show. Footage was captured of the moment Papa Emeritus III was removed and Papa Zero emerged:

Ghost fans had to wait until April of this year before finding out what happened to the Papas and who would replace Papa III. They released a trilogy of short videos starting at the beginning of the month, with the aged Papa meeting with the mysterious ‘Sister Imperator’ at their ministry, to discuss who would be the successor. The comically-themed short shows Papa Zero (now retooled as ‘Papa Nihil’, and speaking English) revealed as the father of all three previous Papas; he is informed by Sister Imperator that as the line of succession is now exhausted and that he is too old to take the role himself, they must find a new successor.

The second short, released two weeks later picks up the story as a new figure enters, in black vestments and carrying a ghettoblaster. Despite objections from Papa Nihil, Sister Imperator reminds him that this new character (introduced as ‘Cardinal Copia’) is the next most senior member, and he is duly initiated. Following this Papa Nihil and Sister Imperator leave to inform the three previous Papas of ‘their new mission’:

The final video short in the trilogy, released only at the end of April, is the big ‘reveal’. Accompanied by some new music, presumably from the upcoming album, the Papas are shown sat in a darkened room playing card game Uno amongst themselves, when Sister Imperator bursts in to announce that they are ‘being reinstated’ and will be going ‘back on the road in full regalia’. A make-up free Papa III shrugs, confused as the door closes, but as soon as he sits down again a Nameless Ghoul appears, brandishing a syringe and injects Papa III who promptly collapses. (The other two Papas are unseen but are also presumably whacked in the same manner).

From there the scene switches to a morgue, as the apparently dead Papas are shown to be embalmed by a creepy-looking ‘surgeon’, before he places each (complete with their vestments) in a casket, then a flight case for transportation. This is accompanied by another piece of new music, once again a probable taster for the new Ghost album. As they are loaded into a van, waved off by Sister Imperator, a voiceover invites fans to ‘come see the Papas’ at a forthcoming ‘VIP Experience’. This video short was played at a special ‘sermon’ (streamed live on Facebook for fans worldwide) in New York on April 30th 2018 where the band’s US tour dates plus two large-scale arena shows were announced (one in New York, one in LA).

The video shorts were beautifully-made, with comic touches and that aspect was played up at the ‘sermon’, where Papa Nihil and Sister Imperator appeared in person. They formed a perfect comedy duo which had their audience in stitches. The elaborate setting is all to facilitate the transition to Cardinal Copia as the band’s new ‘frontman’ for the upcoming album and tour. Of course, as everyone now knows, Ghost’s frontman is and has always been played by vocalist/main songwriter Tobias Forge, reinventing his persona with each album and tour cycle.

A lawsuit against Forge was filed last year by several former members of Ghost who claimed that they had not been sufficiently paid from the band’s income from album releases and tours. Those former band members revealed their identities as well as that of Forge himself, forcing him to come clean that he was the brains behind the operation. The case is ongoing at the time of writing, but Forge has nonetheless pressed ahead with new musicians in the Nameless Ghoul outfits for touring. The identity of Forge as Ghost’s leader has been an open secret among fans long before this all took place however, so the group’s popularity has not been drastically affected by the legal action.

It also came to light during this case that the Papa Emeritus character was not actually created by Forge, but by an associate of one of Ghost’s former guitarists. This may have influenced Forge’s decision to break away from the ‘Papa Emeritus’ line for his new character, but he has stated in interviews (given for the first time as himself, rather than under an assumed ‘Nameless Ghoul’ identity) that he didn’t want the concept to become ‘stale’ by introducing yet another ‘Papa’ persona for this album and tour cycle.

Regardless of who is backing Tobias Forge this time around, he has succeeded in creating a fascinating cast of characters, presented in cinematic style and all with a dash of comedy. That sets him and Ghost apart from many ‘satanic’ themed Metal bands, this outfit is playing it for laughs and their live shows are certainly not ‘threatening’ but more of an Alice Cooper-style piece of musical theatre.

The shows are likely to be successful and when they come back to Europe no doubt demand for tickets will be very high indeed. 

‘Prequelle’ is released on June 1st 2018. Below is the video for lead-off single ‘Rats’ (featuring Cardinal Copia) taken from the forthcoming album:

Caught Live: Reef, Arts Club Liverpool 28th April 2018

Thinking I had plenty of time I got into the Arts Club venue at around 8pm, expecting to find the opening band playing. However, the hall was already quite full, with a better turnout than I’d anticipated for the reformed 90s rock band Reef on this Saturday night. The stage was empty, and it appeared they were actually setting up for the main act; the main drum kit was out of the covers and there was feverish activity. It turned out I’d cut it much finer than I thought; the band came on at the unusually early time of 8:15.

It’s been many years since the last time I saw Reef live, it might have been as long as 16 years ago. They had enjoyed a few years of success off the back of their first two albums, issued at the height of Britpop (remember the Sony MiniDisc advert? No? What about ‘It’s Your Letters’ on TFI Friday? Thought so!) but after the departure of drummer Dominic Greensmith in 2003 the band dissolved into a series of separate projects. The band reunited in 2010 with the original line-up, which lasted until 2014 with the departure of guitarist Kenwyn House. He was replaced by Jesse Wood (son of Rolling Stones’ Ronnie) who has remained with the band ever since.  The group have a new album (‘Revelation’) about to be released, their first since ‘Getaway’ in 2000 and the title track has been played on Planet Rock ahead of the album release. The song is much heavier than previous work, being compared to AC/DC however to me it sounds a lot like The Answer in their early days, especially since Gary Stringer’s vocal sounds so much like that of Cormac Neeson.

The set played covered quite a few of their older numbers, surprisingly ‘Place Your Hands’ came midway through the set. They still have that ‘groove’ and Stringer still sounds in excellent voice, backed vocally by bassist (and Dumbledore lookalike!) Jack Bessant, as well as touring keyboardist Andy Wallace. There were also several new songs from the upcoming record aired, one of them (‘My Sweet Love’) was prefaced by a mock introduction for Sheryl Crow! The US singer has guested on the studio version of this track, but Stringer laughed off the muted crowd reaction, saying ‘we’ll just have to play it without her then!’

Jesse Wood seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of guitars, using at least five different ones during the show including two Telecasters. Able to emulate perfectly  Kenwyn House’s original parts, he has slotted in well to the line-up. His Epiphone guitar was used for the heavier numbers in the set, and he was keeping the guitar tech busy, appearing to change guitar after almost every song played. Near the end Stringer (in jovial mood throughout) even handed the mic over to punters in the front row to contribute their own ‘vocals’! The encore included ‘Revelation’ and old favourites ‘Come Back Brighter’ and ‘Yer Old’ (delivered without a trace of irony, seeing as that song is now over 20 years old itself!)

A fine performance from a band that still has something to offer the rock scene, the reception was good as was the attendance, an encouraging sign for rock gigs in this city. Following this date the band are to embark on a further run alongside Terrorvision and the Wildhearts, a fine bill of 90s nostalgia which I’d have liked to see here, but just Reef alone were good value.

Reef Facebook page

4 – Deserving