All You Need Is One Killer Track

The latest movie that my wife and I have watched was the latest offering from writer / director Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”, “The World’s End”) – the action / crime film “Baby Driver”.

Ansel Elgort

As the movie opens we meet young getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort – “November Criminals”, “Divergent”) as he drops a crew outside an Atlanta bank.

Eiza González, Jon Hamm & Jon Bernthal

While the three robbers – Buddy (Jon Hamm – “Keeping Up With The Joneses”, “Mad Men”), Darling (Eiza González – “Almost Thirty”, “True Love”) and Griff (Jon Bernthal – “Sicario”, “Pilgrimage”) – hit the bank Baby sits in the car grooving to “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – the first of numerous tunes that are an essential part of this film.

Kevin Spacey

Following the raid there is a superb car chase scene as Baby successfully evades the police, before we move on to meet the mastermind behind the robbery, Doc (Kevin Spacey – “The Usual Suspects”, “Casino Jack”). This follows on from another brilliantly choreographed scene set to Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” – where the background of each shot is just as important as the foreground, so careful watching is definitely rewarding.

Lily James & Ansel Elgort

Other characters that show up as the story unfolds include diner waitress Debora (Lily James – “Darkest Hour”, “The Exception”), criminal Bats (Jamie Foxx – “Sleepless”, “Miami Vice”) and Baby’s deaf foster-father Joseph (C. J. Jones – “Lincoln Heights”, “Frasier”).

Jamie Foxx

Baby is indebted to Doc for one more job, then dreams of hitting the open road to freedom with his love interest. Will he manage to extricate himself from Doc’s clutches and stay one step ahead of the authorities while driving the crew?…

Ultimately the story kind of plays second fiddle to the action scenes and set pieces on show here. The stunt driving is impressive, with some neat twists thrown in. There is plenty of humour to be found (watch out for the Halloween mask gag), and the visuals are great throughout.

Baby Driver – Music From The Motion Picture

As mentioned earlier, though, it’s the music that is vital to the success of this film (and makes the cool soundtrack album a necessary addition to my collection). During the movie Baby almost always has music on the go, to combat the tinnitus that he suffers from. There are classic numbers from the likes of Dave Brubeck, Queen and the Beach Boys amongst many others (including Sky Ferreira who also portrays Baby’s mother in flashback scenes), and they all play major parts in the action.

Eiza González & Jon Hamm

Of specific note, apart from the previously noted “Harlem Shuffle”, is another fantastically choreographed scene involving ex-banker Buddy and his younger wife Darling) later in the film to accompany “Hocus Pocus” by Dutch legends Focus.

Ansel Elgort

I saw a review that said “Baby Driver” was a bit like a mix-tape with a film added, and there is certainly some validity to that. The fairly routine storyline and a central character that doesn’t have a great deal to say, however, do not detract from nearly two hours of great fun and entertainment. Highly recommended viewing!…

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The Open Fire Tour

Tramshed, Cardiff

A month on from my last trip out for a live gig – Winterfylleth in Cardiff – and I find myself travelling down to the Welsh capital once more, this time for the larger venue that is the fairly recently opened Tramshed, just across the River Taff from the Principality Stadium.

Y&T – Mean Streak

A change from the recent extreme metal outings, this one was to see Californian hard rock legends Y&T – a band that I’d previously seen in Bristol way back in 1983 as my fourth-ever gig, when they were promoting the then-new album “Mean Streak” and were supported by the young up-and-coming band Rock Goddess.

Tramshed, Cardiff

The doors opened at 7:30pm and as I took up a position at the barrier stage right, I discovered via the wonders of social media that the unadvertised support act for the evening was to be local band Beth Blade & The Beautiful Disasters – a band completely unknown to me.

Beth Blade & The Beautiful Disasters – Bad Habit

The charismatic and enthusiastic Beth Blade (vocals / rhythm guitar) led her band – lead guitarist Luke Strickland, bassist Nicko Goodwin and drummer Sam Brain – through a thirty minute set showcasing six of the tracks from their debut album “Bad Habit”, released earlier this year.

Beth Blade & Nicko Goodwin

Opening for a long-established band such as Y&T, especially when the majority of the audience likely won’t have been expecting you, can’t be an easy ask for any fairly unknown act, but Beth Blade & The Beautiful Disasters were certainly up to the task of warming the crowd up nicely. Comparisons with the likes of Halestorm are perhaps inevitable for a female-fronted hard rock band, but wouldn’t be entirely wide of the mark either.

Luke Strickland At Tramshed, Cardiff

Blade herself looks to be a fan of Kiss mainman Paul Stanley, both in terms of the guitar that she plays and some of her onstage moves. Goodwin and Brain provide solid foundations and relative new-boy Strickland (I believe he joined the band subsequent to the aforementioned album) delivers the riffs and solos with great confidence and ability. A brief but very entertaining set indeed from a great young band that should go a long way…

Setlist:

1. Hell Yeah! / 2. Bad Habit / 3. Beautiful Disease / 4. This Bitch Bites / 5. Down And Dirty / 5. Hell In High Heels / 6. If You’re Ready To Rock

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 originally from “Bad Habit” (2017)

Once the support band had broken down their gear and cleared the front of the stage, the roadies for the headliners ensured that mic stands, pedal boards etc. were in place and that the various instrument levels were correct. Then, at approaching 8:45pm it was time for Y&T to hit the Tramshed stage on the fifth date of the UK leg of their “Open Fire” tour. With no new album to promote since 2010’s “Facemelter” recent tours have been celebrations of the band’s heritage. Naming this tour after their 1985 live album “Open Fire” (also the title of a song on their “Black Tiger” 1982 record) suggested more on the same theme.

Y&T At Tramshed, Cardiff

And so it proved. As the lights went down the studio recording of the slow intro riff to “Black Tiger” began pumping from the PA and the band members – lead guitarist / vocalist Dave Meniketti, rhythm guitarist John Nymann, drummer Mike Vanderhule and bassist Aaron Leigh – filed onto the stage in time to take over when it was time for the song proper to begin. Thus began a rapturously received two hours of superb hard rock.

Dave Meniketti

Meniketti sang and played like a man half of his sixty-three years, his searing solos (regularly peppered with his pickup selector switch effect) were simply sublime. Nymann spent the whole evening smiling whilst cranking out classic riff after classic riff and throwing a good few shapes while he was at it.

John Nymann

Latest recruit Leigh stalked the stage with his hat pulled low and his bass slung equally so and the powerhouse that is Vanderhule didn’t miss a beat – it’s fair to say that his solo spot just before “Rock & Roll’s Gonna Save The World” was one of the most impressive I’ve seen, not just technically but in terms of keeping the momentum going and keeping the crowd interested.

Mike Vanderhule

With twenty tracks aired there was a fairly decent selection of material from the band’s back catalogue. The lion’s share naturally enough came from their commercial heyday with fourteen tracks appearing from the four albums released during the period 1981-84. The only records to miss out were the group’s initial two and the three issued during the 1990s – though you could argue that 1985’s “Down For The Count” doesn’t, erm, count either as the single song played from that one, the hit “Summertime Girls”, was first released as the sole studio track on the aforementioned live “Open Fire” album earlier that year!

Aaron Leigh

It may seem churlish to complain, then, about songs that weren’t played – such as “Midnight In Tokyo” or “Hurricane” perhaps – but I personally would have loved to have heard at least one track from 1990’s underappreciated “Ten” album, especially as the band did perform two numbers from Meniketti’s 2002 solo album. I guess, as sole remaining member of Y&T since 1974 one could argue that a Meniketti solo record is essentially a Y&T one but I’d still have swapped the pair for a couple of genuine Y&T songs.

Joey Alves, Dave Meniketti, Phil Kennemore & Leonard Haze

Introducing the track “Winds Of Change” Meniketti spoke of his position as sole survivor, mentioning how it had been a difficult thing to come to terms with when the other three originals – Phil Kennemore (bass), Leonard Haze (drums) and Joey Alves (rhythm guitar) – who all played on those classic four albums – died between 2011 and earlier this year. I think the audience saw the song as a fitting tribute to his fallen comrades.

John Nymann & Dave Meniketti

Highlights were plenty, but specifically for me would definitely include “Black Tiger”, “Forever”, “Mean Streak”, “I Believe In You”, the brilliant “Barroom Boogie” (it took me ages to master the drum part on that one back in the day) and the wonderful extended “Dirty Girl” featuring solo spots from both guitarists.

Y&T

Goodness knows why it’s taken me thirty four years to catch Y&T live again!? The band have been making it to our shores roughly every two years recently and I hope they continue to do so for as long as possible. A truly excellent performance from a top-quality hard rock band…

Setlist:

1. Black Tiger / 2. Lipstick And Leather / 3. Straight Thru The Heart / 4. Dirty Girl / 5. Eyes Of A Stranger / 6. Mean Streak / 7. Lay Me Down / 8. Storm / 9. Winds Of Change / 10. Masters And Slaves / 11. Hang ‘Em High / 12. I Believe In You / 13. Contagious / Drum Solo / 14. Rock & Roll’s Gonna Save The World / 15. Summertime Girls / 16. Barroom Boogie / 17. Squeeze / 18. I’m Coming Home / 19. Rescue Me / 20. Forever

1, 9, 16 and 20 originally from “Black Tiger” (1982) / 2, 10 and 14 originally from “In Rock We Trust” (1984) / 3, 6 and 11 originally from “Mean Streak” (1983) / 4, 12, 17 and 19 originally from “Earthshaker” (1981) / 5 and 13 originally from “Contagious” (1987) / 7 and 8 covers of Dave Meniketti songs from “Meniketti” (2002) / 15 originally from “Open Fire” / “Down For The Count” (1985) / 18 originally from “Facemelter” (2010)

Her Dream Home Will Become Her Worst Nightmare…

“A strange encounter

Neve comes across a troubled woman called Isabelle on Waterloo Bridge late one night. Isabelle forces a parcel into Neve’s hands and jumps to her death in the icy Thames below.

An unexpected gift

Two weeks later, as Neve’s wreck of a life in London collapses, an unexpected lifeline falls into her lap – a charming cottage in Cornwall left to her by Isabelle, the woman on the bridge. The solution to all her problems.

A twisted secret

But when Neve arrives, alone in the dark woods late one night, she finds a sinister-looking bungalow with bars across its windows. And her dream home quickly becomes her worst nightmare – a house hiding a twisted secret that will change her life forever…”

Been rather busy of late with numerous things in the real world so not had much time to spend writing in the virtual one. Reading time has been a little limited too, which is why it took me so long to read “In A Cottage In A Wood” – the second adult novel by author and journalist Cass Green. The quote of the front cover reads that the book is “…a genuine page-turner…” and despite the length of time I took over it I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment at all.

The start of the story introduces us to central character Neve Carey – a young woman struggling with life, having to live with her sister and family after a relationship breakdown, spending too much time intoxicated and trying to make ends meet financially. After one particular awkward encounter she is making her way across London when she meets Isabelle Shawcross on Waterloo Bridge. The pair have a brief conversation before Isabelle gives Neve an envelope before promptly throwing herself off the bridge to her death.

Cass Green

Weeks later Neve – who’d dropped the envelope when calling the emergency services on the bridge – as stunned to discover that the woman she met so fleetingly that fateful night has left her cottage to Neve. With money fast running out and her job about to do the same Neve makes the impulsive decision to head off to Cornwall to check out her inheritance.

What she finds is a million miles away from the romantic image she had in her head, the cottage is in a mess and boasts not just four locks on the front door but also bars on the windows. Just what has she let herself in for? Unable to return to London, having practically burned all of her bridges, she tries to make the best of things but quickly becomes increasingly unnerved by mysterious happenings and finds that she has to dig into Isabelle’s story to try to unlock the secrets of her life and those of the cottage.

The story did feel like it dragged a little in places, and for a while I really couldn’t see where the narrative was going or, to be honest, quite what the point of Neve’s investigations were. Once the very cleverly hidden twist came about, however, it all made perfect sense! The final twist involving the neighbouring family seemed a bit like an afterthought initially but does fit in with the whole story, even if the ending isn’t quite as strong as the rest of the book.

All in all, though, a book well worth investigating…

Now

Shania Twain – The Woman In Me

A change today from the heavy metal that’s been a large part of my listening in recent weeks, with the new and long-awaited album from Canadian country music star Shania Twain. “Now” is Twain’s first studio album in almost fifteen years since 2002’s “Up!” and the first since 1995’s “The Woman In Me” not to be co-written and produced by legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange.

Robert John “Mutt” Lange & Shania Twain

The reason for Lange not being involved is pretty straightforward really. He and Twain married in late 1993, just six months after first meeting. In 2008 it was announced that the pair had split, with Lange reportedly having had an affair with Twain’s best friend Marie-Anne Thiebaud. In one of those you-couldn’t-make-it-up twists, the couple divorced in 2010 and Twain then married Thiebaud’s ex-husband Frédéric Thiebaud on New Year’s Day 2011! In the midst of all this Twain’s singing voice began to suffer, culminating in her being able to neither sing or even speak properly as a result of dysphonia (in this case said to be brought on by lyme disease). Naturally, then, Lange wasn’t involved in Twain’s new work.

Shania Twain Live In Las Vegas

A period of recuperation was therefore necessary before Twain made a comeback with a residency in Las Vegas before taking the step of making a new album. And drama aside, that’s what we’re interested in. Is the record as good as her past, hugely successful albums? I’ll admit that early signs weren’t good.

Shania Twain

The single “Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed”, a country / pop / reggae number has what I can only describe as a rather odd part at the end of each verse right before the chorus kicks in that still grates to my ears. Twain’s voice sounds strained in places, auto-tune / vocoder seems a little too obvious and (as my wife put it) there’s a “fiddle-dee-dee” bit that appears out of nowhere for no apparent reason that’s not quite in keeping with the rest of the song. Thank goodness the chorus is so strong and catchy!

Shania Twain Live In Hyde Park 2017

The singer’s appearance at BBC Radio Two’s festival in a day recently at Hyde Park in London hadn’t helped. Playing a short set of just seven songs, she sang the refrain of “You’re Still The One” a cappella a couple of times between numbers, but the vocal sound changed very noticeably when the song itself was performed, strongly suggesting the use of pre-recorded vocals – likely not just on that one track either. The singing voice is still a problem live then, so what would that mean for the album. Would it turn out to be a disaster on the scale of Meat Loaf’s woeful “Braver Than We Are”?

Shania Twain

The record begins with the aforementioned “Swingin’…” and I must say that it sounds a whole lot better on the stereo rather than the car radio! Twain’s records have never been pure country music in the traditional sense, with a great deal of pop sensibilities thrown in – especially on “Up!” and so it should come as no surprise that “Now” is a mature country pop (or more accurately pop country) album throughout.

Shania Twain – Up!

In some ways it feels like a natural successor to the aforementioned “Up!”, but without the cynical marketing attempt (that album was released in three different mixes to try to appeal as far across the board as possible) and with a less feisty lyrical approach overall.

Shania Twain

Much of the humour and zest of her previous songs has been replaced, on this long-player at least, by songs about self-empowerment and (despite Twain stating it’s not a divorce album) those clearly driven by heartbreak and betrayal, such as “I’m Alright” and other single “Life’s About To Get Good”.

Shania Twain

I can’t honestly say that this album is as immediate as either “Come On Over” or “The Woman In Me”, but it is a very accomplished one and is likely to get played as regularly as “Up!” if not those two. Not one for those just interested in the big hits, perhaps, but this album as a whole can hold its own with her back catalogue. Despite the obvious vocal differences that have occurred during the intervening years Twain has an easy and natural style that suits the new material as well as it did those singalong hits of the past.

Looking great at 52, and still sounding pretty good too, it’s good to have Shania Twain back “Now”…“Now” tracklist:

1. Swingin’ With My Eyes Closed / 2. Home Now / 3. Light Of My Life / 4. Poor Me / 5. Who’s Gonna Be Your Girl / 6. More Fun / 7. I’m Alright / 8. Let’s Kiss And Make Up / 9. Where Do You Think You’re Going / 10. Roll Me On The River / 11. We Got Something They Don’t / 12. Because Of You / 13. You Can’t Buy Love / 14. Life’s About To Get Good / 15. Soldier / 16. All In All

The Forest Holds Many Secrets…

“After losing her job and her partner in one fell swoop, journalist Elspeth Reeves is back in her mother’s house in the sleepy village of Wilsby-under-Wychwood, wondering where it all went wrong.

Then a body is found in the neighbouring Wychwoods : a woman ritually slaughtered, with cryptic symbols scattered around her corpse. Elspeth recognizes these from a local myth of the Carrion King, a Saxon magician who once held a malevolent court deep in the forest.

As more murders follow, Elspeth joins her childhood friend DS Peter Shaw to investigate, and the two discover sinister village secrets harking back decades…”

The latest book to be read via my Kobo e-reader is a crime thriller with a sort of pagan / supernatural edge to it. Penned by young Darlington-born author (and comic writer) George Mann, this is something of a departure from his previous work which has seen him writing a number of books including adventures for famous characters Dr. Who and Sherlock Holmes as well as his own Victorian crime books featuring London detectives Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes.

George Mann

“Wychwood” uses the author’s imagined legend of the Carrion King, a mythical figure who used occult rituals during the Saxon era to obtain supernatural power. In modern-day Oxfordshire people are being killed in ways that are in keeping with the stories of the Carrion King. When Elspeth, newly both single and unemployed, moves from London back to her mother’s home in a small village backing onto the titular Wychwood it takes her journalistic instinct no time at all to get herself involved in the investigation – handily enough being able to hook up with childhood friend (and now police detective) Peter without anyone raising any real objections.

I enjoyed this book, which I believe is set to be the first in a new series for Mann. That said, a certain suspension of disbelief was required. Not in relation to the magical / supernatural elements (though these are never really resolved one way or the other), but in terms of how the actual story unfolded. As hinted above, I found the ease with which Elspeth was able to get herself involved in the police investigation – and in truth her friendship / relationship with Peter wasn’t convincing (but makes a good bridge to further books I guess).

The identity and motivation of the baddie was also obvious pretty early on, though not quite like an episode of TV’s “Columbo” as our crime fighting duo were often quite slow at putting the pieces together. Despite this I did, as I said, enjoy the book – largely I think because of the mixture of modern-day police procedural and historical ritualistic elements. Certainly worth a look…

10 Year Anniversary Tour

Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

Having spent a fair chunk of last week listening to various extreme metal albums (among them the rather good recent releases from Wolves In The Throne Room and Akercocke) on Friday evening it was time to experience some in the flesh at Fuel Rock Club in Cardiff.

Alpine PartyPlug Earplugs

Having suffered for days after attending a recent Death Angel show I was taking no chances this time, having invested in the meantime in a pair of Alpine PartyPlug earplugs, specifically designed to reduce the volume going into the ear without diminishing the quality heard. I found these through the British Tinnitus Association website, and having done subsequent research decided that they would make a good, fairly economical, choice. I’m pleased to say they worked perfectly and the ringing in my ears after the gig was only at the level that I’ve experienced daily for years now.

Nick Wallwork

Once I’d parked the car and navigated my way (eventually) to the club I had a quick drink in the bar. Between said bar and the performance area were the merchandise tables, and I was a little surprised to see the main attraction’s bassist Nick Wallwork sitting behind them. Before long there were loud guitar and drums sounds coming from said performance area and so I, and a fair number of those in the bar trooped through to find a space which with a capacity of just 150 matches the up-close-and-personal experience of the aforementioned Death Angel gig at Hobo’s in Bridgend.

The noise was coming from opening band Necronautical, a black metal band from Manchester. Having got their levels sorted the four-piece disappeared, only to reappear minutes later with stage outfits and corpse paint in place to storm through their set.

Flanked on either side of the small stage by red candles in candelabras, vocalist / guitarist Russ “Naut” Dobson led proceedings, with a rather Dani Filth-like spoken delivery, as he and his band (lead guitarist James “Carcarrion” Goodwin, bassist Matt “Anchorite” McGing and drummer Rob “Slugh” Harris) treated the still quite sparse audience to a theatrical thirty minute set comprised solely of four tracks from their second album “The Endurance At Night”.

Necronautical

The heat of the room meant that much of the corpse paint had melted by the time the band reached the climax of their set, but with a symphonic edge to their music (reminding me of the likes of Carach Angren) they were warmly received by the Cardiff crowd.

Setlist:

1. Strom / 2. Nihilartikel / 3. Spitzenkörper / 4. Oceanus Procellarum

1, 2, 3 and 4 originally from “The Endurance At Night” (2016)

Levy Seynaeve

It seemed only a few minutes followed before main support act Wiegedood were soundchecking and even less time before the now larger audience was pummelled into submission by the Belgian three-man outfit. Unusually the band do not have a bass guitar player, with the aural maelstrom being produced only by guitarist / vocalist Levy Seynaeve, guitarist Gilles Demolder and drummer Wim Sreppoc – all of whom are also involved with the band Oathbreaker – and I must say that the lack of bass wasn’t really noticeable.

Gilles Demolder

Whereas Necronautical have lyrical themes around the sea etc., I gather than Wiegedood’s output in concerned with death and anger. Granted it’s hard to tell what on earth Seynaeve is screaming about but the distinctly atmospheric black metal underpinning it all is certainly entrancing. I have to admit that I was a tad disappointed that Fen, the main support act from the mainland European leg of this tour, didn’t play the UK too. I have been impressed by both of Wiegedood’s albums to date but wasn’t sure what to expect in the live setting.

Wim Sreppoc

Well if you’re after witty repartee and lots of audience interaction then Wiegedood aren’t your band. Not a word was spoken before, during, or after the band’s forty-five minute appearance, as they clearly intend for their sonic intensity to be all-encompassing. And it worked as the crowd clearly responded enthusiastically to the almost trance-like wall of noise, albeit with the occasional quieter and more reflective passage (including the aforementioned Wallwork headbanging happily just in front of my vantage point). An experience for sure!

Setlist:

1. Svanesang / 2. Smeekbede / 3. Cataract / 4. De Doden Hebben Het Goed II / 5. Ontzieling

1 from “De Doden Hebben Het Goed” (2015) / 2, 3, 4 and 5 from “De Doden Hebben Het Goed II” (2017)

Nick Wallwork, Simon Lucas, Dan Capp & Chris Naughton

And so it was then on to the headliners, another Manchester black metal band – this one celebrating their ten-year anniversary – Winterfylleth. Alongside Wallwork, lead guitarist Dan Capp, drummer Simon Lucas and mainman Chris Naughton (vocals / guitar) took to the stage to do their own soundcheck. Naughton was already sporting a towel around his neck to wipe away the perspiration, such was the heat on stage – something he commented on a couple of times during the show too.

Winterfylleth

At 9:30pm they returned for their own performance, launching into “The Wayfarer Pt. I”, a track that has a singalong chant section at its close to get the heaving crowd going even more than they already were! This was my second time seeing the band live, having seen them open the show when Polish titans Behemoth played Birmingham nearly three years ago. At that time I was a bit underwhelmed by the experience.

Simon Lucas

If I’m honest (but maybe a bit harsh?) I did feel that, at times, the drumming from Lucas got a bit muddied and out of synch with the tremolo picking taking place at the front of the stage. I could be wrong, but the ex-drummer in me felt that it got that way a few times. That aside, this was a polished and extremely well received performance by a band whose brand of black metal has plenty of atmosphere. Whilst there are similarities at times with Wiegedood’s sound, Winterfylleth’s is probably better described as epic and has a much more English feel to it with the folk influences.

Winterfylleth

All too soon the show was over and it was time to head back out into the very busy Cardiff city centre. It was a bit of a culture shock, in a way, coming from the intense atmosphere of three plus hours of black metal to see a line of miniskirted students queueing to get into a club opposite Fuel! Wandering through crowds of inebriated folk on my way back to the car it struck me just how vulnerable some of these young women become when they can barely stand up having got so out of it (I guess I sound like on old fogey now!) Next up on the gig front is a far more doomy proposition in US act Windhand, but in the meantime this really was a great show with which to usher in winterfylleth (Old English for the beginning of Winter and the month of October)

Setlist:

1. The Wayfarer Pt. I – The Solitary One Waits For Grace / 2. The Ghost Of Heritage / 3. The Dark Hereafter  / 4. Forsaken In Stone / 5. A Valley Thick With Oaks / 6. Whisper Of The Elements / 7. The Swart Raven / 8. Defending The Realm

1 and 5 originally from “The Mercian Sphere” (2010) / 2 and 8 originally from “The Ghost Of Heritage” (2008) / 3 originally from “The Dark Hereafter” (2016) / 4 and 6 originally from “The Divination Of Antiquity” (2014) / 7 originally from “The Threnody Of Triumph” (2012)

Renaissance In Extremis

Akercocke

Today’s offering is from London-based black / death metal band Akercocke. The group was formed in 1997 with an initial line-up featuring guitarist / vocalist Jason Mendonca, guitarist Paul Scanlan, bassist Peter Theobalds and drummer David Gray.

Akercocke – Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene

Debut album “Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene” (1999) nailed the act’s colours pretty firmly to the mast with its mix of brutal death metal style riffing mixed with eerie horror interludes and a distinctly Satanic theme in the lyrics. The album didn’t boast the best production in the world so suffered somewhat from a muddy sound.

Akercocke – The Goat Of Mendes

The approach on second album “The Goat Of Mendes” (2001) was to refine things musically whilst ramping up the erotic content of the still- Satanic lyrics and the end result was a definite improvement on the debut. It was 2003’s “Choronzon” that first got me listening to Akercocke. This was a quite simple brilliant album, showing more progressive tendencies whilst still being chock-full of heavy riffing and yet more eerie interludes and film dialogue samples.

Akercocke – Choronzon

By now the band had a rising profile and were notable for being a black metal band who were dressing in suits rather than studs and corpse paint while hanging out with nubile lovelies – as perfectly demonstrated in their video for album highlight “Leviathan”.

The Devil Rides Out

To me that visual approach, together with the Satanism and sexuality of their songs gave them an air of having stepped out of a film such as the 1968 Hammer classic “The Devil Rides Out”. Despite what this might suggest, back in 2001 they’d given an interview in which they’d discussed their Satanism at length, saying that they weren’t “…preaching Hammer Horror Satanism…”.

Akercocke – Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone

That same interview contained quotes from both Mendonca and Gray stating “….this band is all about Satanism, there could never be a non-Satanic Akercocke song…” (Gray) and “…no Satanism, no Akercocke…” (Mendonca). This is significant when we come to the new album. Before we get to that though there were a further two studio releases from the group in “Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone” (2005) introducing guitarist Matt Wilcock in place of Scanlan and “Antichrist” (2007) seeing Theobalds replaced on bass by Peter Benjamin. Both albums continued with the same subject matter and both showed further progression musically – though I do retain a fondness for “Choronzon” over all of their initial five albums.

Akercocke In 2007

The band essentially disappeared off the radar for the best part of the next decade, with only sporadic gigs followed by a period of practically no information surfacing prior to the band’s official breakup in 2012. Subsequently Gray issued new music under the banners of both Voices (with Benjamin on guitar) and The Antichrist Imperium (which also featured Wilcock).

Akercocke – Antichrist

Then, nearly ten years after “Antichrist”, came the news that Akercocke were reuniting – Mendonca, Gray and Scanlan together with new bassist Nathanael Underwood and keyboardist Sam Loynes. Gone are the suits and so is the Satanism (so much for “no Satanism, no Akercocke” eh?! ). Hmm…

Akercocke In 2017

First track “Disappear” begins furiously enough before transforming into a brief lighter mid-section and then back into the metal again. The musicianship is top class from all concerned, and Mendonca’s vocals take on a number of approaches throughout the record.

Highlights for me include “Unbound By Sin”, “Insentience” and the excellent closer “A Particularly Cold September”. This is recognisably Akercocke – less dense and brutal than the first few albums, certainly more death metal then black metal in style, and with the progressive elements again more evident – but Akercocke nonetheless. And on the musical front it is most definitely a success. Lyrically I’m not so sure.

Jason Mendonca

I gather that Mendonca struggled massively with mental health issues during the band’s time away and the track “One Chapter Closing For Another To Begin” references his moving on fro that bleak period into more positive waters – and this has clearly fed into his songwriting in a big way, with a lot of positive phrases to be heard on this album. I do, I most confess, miss the out-and-out Satanic wordplay that adorned their previous work but that doesn’t stop this record from being a very high quality progressive death metal release. Welcome back Akercocke…

“Renaissance In Extremis” tracklist:

1. Disappear / 2. Unbound By Sin / 3. Insentience / 4. First To Leave The Funeral / 5. Familiar Ghosts / 6. A Final Glace Back Before Departing / 7. One Chapter Closing For Another To Begin / 8. Inner Sanctum / 9. A Particularly Cold September

Thrice Woven

I’m listening to quite a bit of extreme metal at the moment, partly getting myself in the zone ahead of the forthcoming Winterfylleth gig in Cardiff that I’m attending, but also because there are a number of significant recent and imminent releases in this area.

Wolves In The Throne Room

In the near future I will be wrapping my ears around new albums from Enslaved and Electric Wizard, whilst on rotation at the moment are those from Cradle Of Filth, From The Dead, Myrkur, Satyricon, Leprous and Akercocke as well as the one I’m looking at today – “Thrice Woven” by American black metal act Wolves In The Throne Room.

Nathan Weaver & Aaron Weaver

The band was formed sometime in 2003 by brothers Nathan Weaver (vocals / guitars) and Aaron Weaver (drums / bass / keyboards) together with Nick Paul (guitars) in Olympia, Washington State – an area bordering the Pacific Ocean and Canada, and which is also rich with National Forests and Reservations.

By the time debut album “Diadem Of 12 Stars” saw the light of day in early 2006 Paul had been replaced by guitarist Rick Dahlin, who also appeared on second album “Two Hunters” (2007). Album number three, “Black Cascade” saw Will Lindsay taking Dahlin’s spot, but then the next two albums were performed entirely by the Weaver brothers. That said, there was some vocal assistance from experimental singer Jessika Kenney on 2011’s “Celestial Lineage” (as there had been with “Two Hunters”) and some supporting musicians on the experimental ambient style follow-up “Celestite” three years later. Sabbath Assembly singer Jamie Myers has also provided some vocals for the band over the years.

Kody Keyworth

Now, with guitarist Kody Keyworth joining the brothers (having previously served as touring musician), the band are to back to black metal with their sixth studio album, the aforementioned “Thrice Woven”. Guests on this one are Swedish singer Anna Von Hausswolff and Neurosis frontman Steve Von Till.

Anna Von Hausswolff

Wolves In The Throne Room do not take the traditional (or perhaps more accurately, the stereotypical) approach to black metal. Not for them does black metal entail the wearing of lots of black, with corpse paint makeup and all songs played at high tempo utilising masses of tremolo picking (although there is still plenty of the latter technique to be heard). That’s not to say, however, that the music is not intense – it is, but as part of an overall rather epic soundscape. The band themselves put it on their website their approach is to “…re-imagine black metal as an ode to rain storms, wood smoke and the wild energies of the Pacific Northwest…” 

Steve Von Till

The inspiration behind the band’s music, according to Aaron Weaver, is “the idea of uncovering the occult or the spiritual or the energetic reality of place. Being deeply connected to a place and creating music and art that rises up out of a landscape…” In this respect there are distinct parallels, I feel, with acts such as Saor, Fen, Altar Of Plagues and Winterfylleth. This is atmospheric black metal rather than what I’d think of as more progressive black metal, more akin to the approach of those mentioned above rather than, for example, the likes of Ihsahn.

Metal Hammer – Subterranea

I don’t recall how exactly I got into this particular band, but it was about three years ago I think. I suspect, as with many acts that are unlikely to get much exposure via the airwaves – even via dedicated rock stations – it would have been either via Metal Hammer magazine’s “Subterranea” section that highlights extreme metal artists or as a result of reading up on one such act and finding mention of another that I’d not yet experienced.

Wolves In The Throne Room – Celestite

Regardless, I have over that period of time become pretty well acquainted with the band’s back catalogue, enough that I was pretty excited when I heard that “Thrice Woven” was on its way (especially as it was a return to their black metal roots after the not entirely convincing left-turn that was “Celestite”). So, now the album’s here and I’ve had a few days to immerse myself in it, how does it stack up?

Wolves In The Throne Room – Born From The Serpent’s Eye

Pretty well, truth be told. The album’s opening number “Born From The Serpent’s Eye” begins gently enough with a folk-ish sound until the frenetic drums and tremolo picking kick in after around thirty seconds. The songs fairly barrels along then until the 4:24 mark when it abruptly stops (as does the official video). Then, after a brief pause the ethereal vocals of Anna Von Hausswolff appear, singing in her native tongue (I think) until just after the six-minute point when the band re-enter with a huge, almost doomy, riff as the track builds before the guitars fade and give way to Von Hausswolff and expansive keyboard sounds as the song floats away after nine and a half minutes.

Imbolc Fire Display

Second track “The Old Ones Are With Us” is ushered in with narration from Steve Von Till. “Winter is dying, the sun is returning, ice is receding, rivers are flowing, the ground will be fertile, the seeds they awake, the ploughs will be charmed, fires are burning, the offerings are given, the old ones are with us, we are becoming…” he tells us over some acoustic guitar, monk-like chants and the sounds of a crackling fire before the band come in with a slow-paced number that relates the story of the ancient pagan festival of Imbolc, which marks the end of winter and start of spring. Von Till returns to sing briefly during an acoustic interlude halfway though proceedings, and this is a much more sedate and even anthemic sounding track than the preceding one.

Fenris Wolf (As Depicted In The Movie Thor : Ragnarok)

“Angrboda” is, at 10:02, the second-longest song on the record and sees the return of the tremolo picking approach. Named after “… a frost giantess who birthed Fenris Wolf, a beast who was destined to destroy the world and murder the gods…”. The track fades into a completely different vibe after the first five minutes or so with a deep rumbling under some very slow single note synthesizer work before the heaviness of the group is reinforced with another huge riff section. This leads to a sudden finish before the sounds of the sea and air introduce Von Hausswolff’s second appearance in the brief “Mother Owl, Father Ocean” – again sung in Swedish.

Pacific North West Coast

Finally, track five (the longest on the album at eleven and a half minutes) is the rather grand “Fires Roar In The Palace Of The Moon” which, after over nine minutes of ferocious black metal, gives way to the sound of the mighty sea for the final two minutes of the record. The lyrics apparently “…offer blessings to the waters of the earth as they flow from the high places to the source of darkness, the ocean…” The thing with this kind of music is that often the lyrical content is indecipherable unless you have them written down so the music has to do its job of taking the listener to where the artist wants them to be. “Thrice Woven” as a whole just does that. It may not be stylistically much different to the band’s previous black metal albums but it still feels like an evolution from those which went before. Given that the group is so concerned with the natural world I guess that’s the perfect way for their music to be.

Wolves In The Throne Room Live In 2017

There will be more boundary-pushing releases, and those that are more challenging than this one, but if you’re looking for one that will transport you and paint pictures in your mind then you could do far worse than checking out “Thrice Woven” – truly atmospheric black metal…

“Thrice Woven” tracklist:

1. Born From The Serpent’s Eye / 2. The Old Ones Are With Us / 3. Angrboda / 4. Mother Owl, Father Ocean / 5. Fires Roar In The Palace Of The Moon

Maria Wants To Be Friends. But Maria’s Dead. Isn’t She?

“1989. When Louise first notices the new girl who has mysteriously transferred late into their senior year, Maria seems to be everything the girls Louise hangs out with aren’t. Authentic. Funny. Brash. Within just a few days, Maria and Louise are on their way to becoming fast friends.

2016. Louise receives a heart-stopping email: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook. Long-buried memories quickly rise to the surface: those first days of their budding friendship; cruel decisions made and dark secrets kept; the night that would change all their lives forever.

Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. Maria’s sudden reappearance threatens it all, and forces Louise to reconnect with everyone she’d severed ties with to escape the past. But as she tries to piece together exactly what happened that night, Louise discovers there’s more to the story than she ever knew. To keep her secret, Louise must first uncover the whole truth, before what’s known to Maria – or whoever’s pretending to be her – is known to all…”

The most recent book that I’ve read is “Friend Request”, the debut novel from British author Laura Marshall a book that is a probably best described as a psychological crime thriller.

The tale is told almost exclusively from the perspective of Louise Williams. In 2016 Louise is a forty-something divorced interior designer living in a flat in London. Mother to four year-old Henry, she’s still wrestling with some latent feelings for her ex-husband Sam and has a very small social circle – best friend Polly being just about it. When she receives a Facebook notification that someone wants to be friends with her she is utterly shocked as that person, fellow schoolgirl Maria Weston, disappeared during their leavers’ party in Norfolk back in 1989, presumed drowned having fallen from a cliff edge near the school.

What makes the request even worse for Louise is the fact that ever since that night she has felt guilt for her role in Maria’s disappearance. Now Maria is back – or is she? If not who is it really and what do they want?

Laura Marshall

Louise reconnects with her best friend at school, Sophie Hannigan, through Facebook, to find out if she’s also had a friend request from Maria. Sophie, along with Sam and his pal Matt were the only other people who knew what Louise had done on the night of the leavers’ party.

An imminent class of ’89 reunion gives the reluctant Louise chance to try to discover what’s going on, but if the meantime she gets ever-more creepy Facebook messages from Maria and she begins to really feel the stress of her guilty secret more than ever…

The action switches between 2016 and 1989 as we slowly uncover the layers of secrets and lies that have affected everything since Louise’s final months at school. In between there are occasional streams of thought from an unknown source, describing the relationship between a male and female – though the identity of those concerned doesn’t become clear until the climax of the book as there are a number of possible candidates.

Marshall has written a vivid and compelling story which touches on themes including peer-pressure and bullying at school, the nature of distant and superficial “friendships” via social media with those we haven’t seen for many a year and how we view / they present their lives as well as how well we can ever truly know anyone and whether, at heart, everyone is really just looking out for themselves – even within intimate relationships.

In some ways reading this book reminded me a little of “Weirdo” by Cathi Unsworth, with the flitting backwards and forwards from present day to school days and the particular pressures of secondary school life. That said it a very different tale and one that’s been told very effectively. Highly recommended reading…

Solennial

Sophie Day

A recent musical discovery for me has been West Midlands-based doom metal outfit Alunah, via their latest album “Solennial”. The band was formed in 2006 by vocalist Sophie Day along with her husband David Day (guitars), Jake Mason (drums) and Andy Barnett (bass).

Alunah In 2008

Barnett had been replaced by Gareth Imber by the time the group’s debut album “Call Of Avernus” was recorded and released in 2010 and was to appear on second album “White Hoarhound” (2012) as well before departing and being himself replaced by current bassist Daniel Burchmore. “Awakening The Forest”, the band’s third album, surfaced in late 2014.

David Day

March 2017 witnessed the release album of number four, the aforementioned “Solennial” – the groups’ first with label Svart Records (home of Trees Of Eternity and Jess & The Ancient Ones amongst others). The record was recorded at Skyhammer Studios by producer Chris Fielding who has previously worked with artists including Winterfylleth, Sir Admiral Cloudesley Shovell and Electric Wizard.

Jake Mason & Daniel Burchmore

As with so many bands within the doom metal scene, Alunah clearly take inspiration from a fellow West Midlands act – the rather well-known Black Sabbath. However, whilst other groups of their ilk are content to use said inspiration as a template from which they seldom deviate Alunah have over the course of their previous three records sought to expand their own sonic palette.

Alunah In 2014

“Solennial” begins with a gentle and soothing “The Dying Soil”, as a cascading guitar part and barely-there drums lay a backing for Sophie Day’s delicate delivery of lyrics concerning the transition from Autumn to Winter. This introduction gathers in eerie intensity until coming to an abrupt conclusion as the fuzzy guitar tones of David Day usher in “Light Of Winter”, a song that shows the band’s pagan leanings as it concerns Alban Arthan – a Druidic festival at the Winter Solstice.

Alunah Live In 2017

“Feast Of Torches”, the second longest track on the album at a little over seven minutes, has more variety within its duration. This, and the vocal delivery brought to mind the sound of Blood Ceremony to me. This is underscored really by the psychedelic passages that occur throughout the album.

Thornborough Henge

“The Reckoning Of Time” has a fluid and melodic guitar solo amongst some nice light and shade before the monolithic riffing returns with the fabulous “Fire Of Thornborough Henge” – a song inspired by the fire festival of Beltane being celebrated at Thornborough Henge, a monument in Yorkshire spanning built approximately five thousand years ago.

Alunah In 2017

The next number “Petrichor” (which means the earthy scent produced with the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather) is another track with a nice balance of light and shade but is itself eclipsed by the rather good “Lugh’s Assembly” which addresses some Irish mythology concerning the pagan God named Lugh and his foster-mother Tailtiu who seems to have also been Queen of the Fir Bolg. Whatever the story it’s a great tune!

The Cure – A Forest

Finally we have a cover of “A Forest” – originally recorded by The Cure way back in 1980. The intro riff here is a slowed down version of the original which retains a gothic rock quality but that quickly gives away to doom riffing at funereal pace and a masterful reinterpretation of a song that – as with many of those preceding it – is concerned with the natural world around us, specifically forestry, and ancient lore.

David Day & Sophie Day

Performance-wise, the drums and bass of Mason and Burchmore are perfectly suited to this material, underpinning everything with unfussed economy, with the spotlight falling onto the two Days with the huge riffs providing a great counterpoint to the often ethereal quality of the lead vocal delivery.

Doom metal certainly isn’t for everyone, but Alunah’s sound is undoubtedly at the more accessible end of the spectrum with the aforementioned comparison to Blood Ceremony indicating that they are closer to that band’s doomy psychedelia than, say, the heavy intensity of Electric Wizard and I believe that most metal fans would find a lot to appreciate with this record…“Solennial” tracklist:

1. The Dying Soil / 2. Light Of Winter / 3. Feast Of Torches / 4. The Reckoning Of Time / 5. Fire Of Thornborough Henge / 6. Petrichor / 7. Lugh’s Assembly / 8. A Forest

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