Category Archives: Music

I’m A Freak, Baby…

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Just over a year ago I discovered the rather super folk music compilation “Dust On The Nettles : A Journey Through The British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72”, a three-disc set from the Grapefruit label. That, I subsequently discovered, was the second release in a series that started with 2013’s triple-disc “Love, Poetry And Revolution : A Journey Through The British Psychedelic And Underground Scenes 1966-1972”.

Deep Purple

Now I have stumbled across Grapefruit’s latest “a journey through” offering, released during the summer of 2016, is “I’m A Freak, Baby… : A Journey Through The British Heavy Psych And Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-72”. Now, granted the use of the word “underground” doesn’t apply to all the music contained in this latest triple set, any more than it really did with the prior two, as there are a number of very well-known acts featured in each. However, I do think that the majority of the material presented for us to immerse ourselves in is likely to be unfamiliar to many, if not most, listeners.

Uriah Heep

First, though, let’s look at the more familiar fare. Disc one brings us “Do It” by The Pink Fairies and “Cherry Red” by The Groundhogs, the second disc contains Deep Purple’s “Fireball” along with tracks from the Edgar Broughton Band and the Move, whilst the final disc bears “Gypsy” from Uriah Heep, Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown)” as well as tracks from Taste and The Yardbirds. All great tracks and, to be honest, the easy recognition of these numbers helps to balance against the unknown songs spread across the rest of the three discs.

Stray

Amongst the acts that are less well-known are a number that can already be found nestled within my music library. These include the opening nine-plus minute “All In Your Mind” by Stray, which was covered by heavy metal legends Iron Maiden on the b-side of their 1990 hit “Holy Smoke”. Others I was already at least partly familiar with include Chicken Shack’s “Going Down”, “Heart Without A Home” by Blonde On Blonde, The Gun’s “Race With The Devil” and “Escalator” from Sam Gopal featuring future Motörhead leader Lemmy on vocals and guitar.

Skid Row

Moving on to the new-to-me artists, I particularly enjoyed the offerings from The Iron Maiden (“Falling”) (not to be confused with the above-mentioned metal band, Dark (“Zero Time”), The Kult (“Occult”), Jerusalem (“Primitive Man”), Barnabus (“Apocalypse”), Egor (“Street”), Cycle (“Father Of Time”) and Irish band Skid Row (“Go, I’m Never Gonna Let You)”) – the latter being the late guitar ace Gary Moore’s first professional band.

Hawkwind

I should also make mention of “Sweet Mistress Of Pain”, a track credited to Hawkwind Zoo. Also known under the alternate title of “Kiss Of The Velvet Whip”, this was recorded in late 1969 by the newly-formed band just prior to their name change, dropping the “Zoo” to become simply Hawkwind – a band synonymous with psychedelic music if ever there was one.

Sam Gopal

Oddly, although I would consider myself more of a rock fan than folk fan, I think on balance that I’ll likely listen to the “Dust On The Nettles” set more often than this one.

Fleetwood Mac

As with the folk anthology the sound quality varies a little, but this is a small price to pay for having some real rarities present. Whilst the former set included a massive sixty-three songs, “I’m A Freak…” contains just forty-eight. However, with a running time of just a few minutes shy of four hours there’s not much to complain about. Well worth digging into…

“I’m A Freak, Baby… : A Journey Through The British Heavy Psych And Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-72” tracklist:

Disc One:

1. All In Your Mind / 2. Cast A Spell / 3. Hot Smoke And Sassafras / 4. My Son’s Alive / 5. Going Down / 6. Father Of Time / 7. I’m Coming Home / 8. Do It / 9. Time Machine / 10. Cherry Red / 11. I’m A Freak / 12. Rock My Soul / 13. Sweet Mistress Of Pain / 14. Nightmare / 15. Falling / 16. Apocalypse

1. Stray / 2. The Open Mind / 3. The Moochie / 4. Crushed Butler / 5. Chicken Shack / 6. Cycle / 7. The Deviants / 8. The Pink Fairies / 9. Factory / 10. The Groundhogs / 11. Wicked Lady / 12. Charge / 13. Hawkwind Zoo / 14. Stonehouse / 15. The Iron Maiden / 16. Barnabus

Disc Two:

1. Bogeyman / 2. Fireball / 3. Primitive Man / 4. Love In The Rain / 5. Trust / 6. Rhubarb! / 7. Dream / 8. Skullcrusher / 9. Zero Time / 10. Jehovah / 11. Brontosaurus / 12. Bring It To Jerome / 13. Mr. Make Believe / 14. Flash / 15. Street Walking Woman / 16. Go, I’m Never Gonna Let You

1. Writing On The Wall / 2. Deep Purple / 3. Jerusalem / 4. Edgar Broughton Band / 5. Hellmet / 6. Second Hand / 7. Little Free Rock / 8. Iron Claw / 9. Dark / 10. The Velvet Frogs / 11. The Move / 12. Stack Waddy / 13. Samuel Prody / 14. Bare Sole / 15. The Phoenix / 16. Skid Row

Disc Three:

1. Race With The Devil / 2. Heart Without A Home / 3. Ascension Day / 4. Street / 5. Escalator / 6. Gypsy / 7. Garden Of My Mind / 8. Think About It / 9. Trying To Find My Way Back Home / 10. Yellow Cave Woman / 11. Too Old / 12. The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) / 13. Twisted Trip Woman / 14. Occult / 15. Born On The Wrong Side Of Time / 16. Hollis Brown

1. The Gun / 2. Blonde On Blonde / 3. Third World War / 4. Egor / 5. Sam Gopal / 6. Uriah Heep / 7. The Mickey Finn / 8. The Yardbirds / 9. Morning After / 10. Velvett Fogg / 11. Andromeda / 12. Fleetwood Mac / 13. Sweet Slag / 14. The Kult / 15. Taste / 16. Fusion Farm

Rick Parfitt 1948 – 2016

rick_parfitt_of_status_quo_forced_to_abandon_european_tour_music_scene_irelandA week ago today I was enjoying a Christmas Eve meal with the in-laws when the awful news came through – Status Quo man Rick Parfitt had died. More than any high-profile musician to pass away in the previous twelve months – whether it be Lemmy, David Bowie, Prince, etc. etc. this one affected me.

Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt On Stage In 2015
Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt On Stage In 2015

I knew I was going to have to make some comment on his passing – but what to say to begin to do the justice to man and his contribution to music? There were some lovely words on various news sites etc. following Rick’s death but he was quickly replaced there when George Michael passed away the very next day.

Rick Parfitt
Rick Parfitt

No disrespect to George Michael, who was a great singer, but for me the amount of coverage that he was given vs. Rick seemed to suggest that he was by far the more significant and iconic figure. And maybe to many he was, whilst perhaps it was also reflective of how often Quo have been derided in the press as three chord wonders etc.

Anyway, I suspect that my family may have grown a little tired of the sound of Quo blasting from my speakers over the past week as I’ve paid tribute to Rick and the boys through the stereo and reacquainted myself with much of their music that had slipped from the kind of regular rotation that it used to enjoy.

Status Quo Live In 1981
Status Quo Live In 1981

Quo were my first love as a band, way back in 1981, and have been right up there ever since. Having received the brand new “Never Too Late” album as an Easter present that year, I obtained their entire album back catalogue as quickly as I was able to and have followed the band through all the highs and lows ever since.

Status Quo Live In 1984
Status Quo Live In 1984

In the summer of 1984 I went to see the band live for the first time on their “End Of The Road” tour. At the time I thought it would be my one and only opportunity to witness them play, as the tour was billed as a farewell to the road. And contrary to the jibes aimed at the band, until this year’s “Last Night Of The Electrics” final electric tour before a switch to acoustic touring, that has been their one and only “farewell” tour!. Luckily for me, and many thousands of others, a re-grouping in 1986 meant the return of the band on record and on stage.

Rick Parfitt On Stage In 2007
Rick Parfitt On Stage In 2007

Since then I’ve enjoyed a further fourteen Quo shows, including my wife’s first ever rock concert on the “In Search Of The Fourth Chord” tour. Nothing compared to a great many regular gig goers I’m sure, and I have to confess that my enthusiasm waned at times for their concerts as the set list remained pretty static for long periods of time. Nonetheless, every single show that I went to was well worth the time and money as the band never failed to give anything but a top-class performance.

Roy Lynes, Alan Lancaster, John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi In Late 1960s
Roy Lynes, Alan Lancaster, John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi In Late 1960s

Having been an ever-present since joining in the late 60s, it was with great sadness that I learnt of Rick’s decision not to return to the band following his latest heart attack this summer. I could completely understand that though, given the need to protect his health and also his desire that if he was going to make further music it needed to “rock” – which sadly the band’s recent studio output and future touring plans do not accommodate.

Francis Rossi On Stage
Francis Rossi On Stage

Francis Rossi has been on the receiving end of an awful lot of stick from so-called Quo fans who seem to take great delight in slagging off everything that the band have done since the “frantic four” ceased to be in 1982. Whilst I realise that Francis has been for a long time the leader of the band I think that this abuse is very unfair. There is an argument that if he’s had his way then Quo would have been doing acoustic and country-style music for decades and that he resented playing the old hits all the time. There may be some truth to this. Certainly he is more inclined to go down the acoustic and lighter Quo route than Rick was, and many a musician who’s been performing for a long time is surely going to tire of some of the material that really has to be played to satisfy both the hardcore and casual concert goer?

Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt
Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt

What is beyond doubt to me, though, is that Francis and Rick have been the public face of Quo for many years now. With Rick gone many have called the band the Francis Rossi Band or Francis Rossi’s Quo.

The Frantic Four
The Frantic Four – John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster & Francis Rossi

Let’s look at the facts. Whilst Rossi, Parfitt, Lancaster and Coghlan were all band members between 1967 and 1981, the “frantic four” itself only lasted from 1970 (following the departure of keyboardist Roy Lynes) to late 1976 (when Andrew Bown became an official member). So, depending on your point of view either fifteen or just seven years. Plus a handful of reunion gigs in 2013 and 2014 of course. In that time they produced eleven (or six!) studio albums.

Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi & John "Rhino" Edwards On Stage In 1988
Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi & John “Rhino” Edwards On Stage In 1988

John “Rhino” Edwards has been playing bass for Quo since 1986. By my reckoning – and leaving drummers aside as there have now been four since Coghlan left – that means the core of Rossi, Parfitt, Bown and Edwards were together for thirty years, at least double that of the fabled “frantic four”, and produced sixteen studio albums. Surely, then, those band members have every right to keep calling themselves Status Quo – even after Rick’s departure and death?

Status Quo Backstage In 1991
Status Quo Backstage In 1991

Yes, the bulk of the live set is still taken from the pre-1982 albums but, again, isn’t that the curse of so many “heritage” acts who are compelled to play the old stuff live in preference over their newer material? Bottom line, for me, is that “Quo-light” is as essential overall as the “classic” band and that, frankly, we should be grateful to Francis, Rick and co. for all the great music and performances that they’ve given us since 1986.

Andrew Bown & Richie Malone On Stage In 2016
Andrew Bown & Richie Malone On Stage In 2016

Following his enforced retirement from the band, Richie Malone has come in as stand-in for Rick on the band’s recent tour dates and done a great job by most accounts. However, at this point, who knows what – if any – future the band has?

Rick Parfitt - Bad Hair Day!
Rick Parfitt – Bad Hair Day!

I digress. Back to the late Mr. Parfitt. When I was young it was Rick who I aspired to be. Sure sometimes I had to pretend to be Francis (with my shirt collar turned under to imitate his grandad shirt!) so that I could sing the lead vocals while miming away to the records, but it was Rick, the golden-maned rock god (let’s ignore some of the naff haircuts he had occasionally!), for the heads down riffing and some of the best songs too.

Rick Parfitt In 1978
Rick Parfitt In 1978

Over the years Rick composed many of the great Quo classics. Not often as sole writer (this applies equally to Francis) but his early co-writes with Francis, then with Alan Lancaster and later with Andrew Bown, John “Rhino” Edwards and recently Wayne Morris have produced some of the best songs on each of the band’s albums – the sole exception being 1994’s “Thirsty Work” which is also the least Quo-sounding album, which is surely no random coincidence.

Rick Parfitt On Stage
Rick Parfitt On Stage

I could list all his writing credits, but if you’re really interested head over to From The Makers Of… which has a comprehensive list. Selected highlights, however, include the following: “Forty Five Hundred Times”, “Rain”, “Don’t Drive My Car” and “Mystery Song” would all easily be in my all-time Quo top ten songs and the likes of “Softer Ride”, “Belavista Man”, “Mystery Song”, “Little Lady” and “The Power Of Rock” wouldn’t be far behind. Many of Rick’s songs feature his distinctive lead vocals too.

Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi In 1970s
Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi In 1970s

On record, then, Rick had an invaluable input into the band’s superb legacy. Onstage, is there any better sound than all those instantly recognisable riffs being hammered out on his battered white Telecaster, or the perfection of Rick and Francis as they lock into the groove? Yes, age and health issues took their toll on his singing voice but he was still superb when I last saw the band at Lechlade last year.

There was talk of an autobiography and solo album for 2017. Neither will presumably see the light as they surely can’t have had much work done to them. There was a solo record named “Recorded Delivery” cut around 1985 so hopefully that my now finally get an official release.

Lyndsay Whitburn & Rick Parfitt
Rick Parfitt With Third Wife Lyndsay Whitburn

Rick may have had faults as a human being – too much indulgence in drink and drugs through the years and something of a weakness for the ladies perhaps – but whenever I saw him perform or appear on TV etc. there was a down to earth natural humour that shone though and he was the perfect foil to Francis.

Whatever happens now with Status Quo – and I hope the band do carry on (though I’d still rather they plugged back in and rock a bit!) – things can never quite be the same without Rick.  We’re moving house in a week, and I really should be packing stuff, so I’d better get on… Despite my best efforts, I don’t think I’ve come close to doing Rick justice. Suffice it to say he was a huge inspiration to me and many others, and is simply a massive loss. Rest in peace…

Rick Parfitt 1948 - 2016
Rick Parfitt 1948 – 2016

Hour Of The Nightingale

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As we’re rapidly approaching the end of 2016 there’s one more album that I want to talk about before I get around to counting down my personal top ten albums of the year – which is going to be pretty hard to narrow down having listened to nearly six hundred albums this year!

Aleah Stanbridge
Aleah Stanbridge

The last one to get the individual treatment has to be “Hour Of The Nightingale”, the debut album from a melodic doom / gothic metal band called Trees Of Eternity. The genesis of the group was the getting together of singer Aleah Stanbridge and Swallow The Sun guitarist / composer Juha Raivio to work on material for the latter band’s 2009 record “New Moon”.

Juha Raivio
Juha Raivio

Stanbridge contributed vocals to “New Moon” and both subsequent Swallow The Sun albums, including last year’s phenomenal “Songs From The North” triple album. Away from his band Raivio continued to work on separate material with Stanbridge and the pair became partners in life as well as partners within music.

Fredrik Norrman
Fredrik Norrman

Album sessions began, I believe, in 2013, although videos for some of the tracks have been floating around the internet for several years already, presumably in demo form. The resulting record features the couple with guitarist Fredrik Norrman and his bassist brother Mattias Norrman (both of October Tide) as well as current Nightwish drummer Kai Hahto. There are clear similarities with Raivio’s day job but the finished product is, to my ears, a much gentler and soothing piece of work.

Mattias Norrman
Mattias Norrman

Opening track “My Requiem” is closest to Swallow The Sun’s material, I think. This is the track that grew out of Raivio and Stanbridge’s initial session for “New Moon” and immediately it’s the vocals that really make an impression, such is the beautiful and ethereal quality to Stanbridge’s voice.

Kai Hahto
Kai Hahto

Not that the backing is lacking, mind you. There is a heaviness to the musical performances that accompany the voice, that somehow even makes itself felt on the gentler passages.

The whole record is dense with melancholy and the mournful aspect of the music becomes so much more pertinent when you realise that Stanbridge tragically passed away from cancer six months before the album’s eventual release, aged just 39.

Aleah Stanbridge
Aleah Stanbridge

As a result listening to the album is both sad (at the loss of a very talented and a beautiful woman) and yet uplifting at the same time (thanks to the effect of her beautiful voice).

Juha Raivio
Juha Raivio

In a statement shortly after her death, Raivio said “…our Trees Of Eternity album will be released as it has been ready to be released for a while… we both loved it from the first note til the end and I’m so proud we had a chance to share a life and write this album together… been working on Aleah’s solo album for some time and will continue on that (at) some point…”

Nick Holmes
Nick Holmes

There are guest performances from Antimatter vocalist Mick Moss on “Condemned To Silence” and Paradise Lost frontman Nick Holmes on the epic closer “Gallows Bird”, but for the majority of the record it is that haunting voice of the late Stanbridge that grabs the listener’s attention.

Aleah Stanbridge
Aleah Stanbridge

My personal highlights on the record would be “A Million Tears”, “Broken Mirror”, the relatively brief “Sinking Ships” and the aforementioned tracks “Gallows Bird” and “My Requiem”. It’s a great shame that there will presumably be no further Trees Of Eternity records. One can only imagine the pain that Stanbridge’s passing has caused Raivio. This is a fabulous album and highly recommended listening.

Aleah Stanbridge & Juha Raivio
Aleah Stanbridge & Juha Raivio

I’ll leave the last words to Raivio – “…this cruel world needs this angel now more than ever. There will never be another voice like hers… She was pure magic, light and dark…” I hope that this record, and therefore the voice, will get the exposure and recognition that both deserve…maxresdefault-1

“Hour Of The Nightingale” tracklist:

1. My Requiem / 2. Eye Of Night / 3. Condemned To Silence / 4. A Million Tears / 5. Hour Of The Nightingale / 6. The Passage / 7. Broken Mirror / 8. Black Ocean /  9. Sinking Ships / 10. Gallows Bird

Wild

joanne-shaw-taylor-wild

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

Sometimes I hear a record and it instantly connects, others take a while to kind of sink in and improve with repeated listens. Then there are the albums that somehow manage to do both – they’re immediately gratifying and yet continue to get better with each listen. English blues singer / guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor‘s latest album “Wild” is definitely one of the latter.

Joanne Shaw Taylor - The Dirty Truth
Joanne Shaw Taylor – The Dirty Truth

I’ve enjoyed Taylor’s work from the off, with the release of her debut album “White Sugar” (2009) showcasing a natural smoky voice and some mean guitar riffs and solos. Each subsequent album has shown improvement from the one before, up to 2014’s “The Dirty Truth”.

Kevin Shirley
Kevin Shirley

The end of September saw “Wild” hit the shelves. The record was produced by Kevin Shirley, a man known for his excellent production work with artists such as Iron Maiden, Journey, Black Country Communion and (most relevantly) Joe Bonamassa. Shirley has worked hand-in-hand with Bonamassa on every album that the bluesman has recorded since 2006’s “You & Me”, a period of time that has seen the artist’s success and popularity grow massively. It makes sense, then, that a similar musician like Taylor would benefit from Shirley’s expertise.

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

The decision to use the producer for “Wild” has certainly been beneficial. Shirley stated that with regard to the album “…if you’re not blown away, I’ll give you your money back!…” Well, on the evidence of what I’ve heard there are no major worries of him having to put his hand into his pocket too many times, I’d say.

Joanne Shaw Taylor - Dyin' To Know
Joanne Shaw Taylor – Dyin’ To Know

The album kicks off with the short and sweet “Dyin’ To Know”, which builds from a simple guitar riff and vocal line (to my ears Taylor’s voice sounds more assured than on previous albums) into a full-blown band number and features quick bursts of stellar soloing too.

Greg Morrow
Greg Morrow

The backing musicians on the record are Nashville-based and, as with the Nashville studio in which they recorded, were picked by Shirley.

Michael Rhodes
Michael Rhodes

Greg Morrow provides some solid drumming, bass is from Michael Rhodes, keyboard textures as from the hands of Steve Nathan and additional guitars by Rob McNelley.

Steve Nathan
Steve Nathan

Morrow and Rhodes performed on Joe Bonamassa’s latest studio album, along with backing singers Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins and Jade McRae (also all present on “Wild”).

Rob McNelley
Rob McNelley

McNelley’s fretwork can also be heard on, amongst others, “Cosmic Hallelujah” by Kenny Chesney (again with Morrow and Rhodes), whilst Nathan’s keyboards (and yet again Morrow’s drums) are featured on Cyndi Lauper’s “Detours” album. So, just a glimpse of the pedigree of the musicians involved in the making of Taylor’s fifth studio album.

Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae & Juanita Tippins
Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae & Juanita Tippins

The undoubted star of the show, though, is the one whose name adorns the cover. Whether it’s on the mid-paced strut of “Ready To Roll”, the fantastic cover of “Wild Is The Wind” (even better than David Bowie’s in my opinion), the up-tempo and funky “Wanna Be My Lover”, the delicate and heartfelt “I Wish I Could Wish You Back”, rocker “Nothin’ To Lose” or the closing gorgeous reading of the George Gershwin classic “Summertime” both her soulful voice and perfectly-judged guitar parts shine through.

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

Sure there are sonic and style comparisons that can be made to Bonamassa’s recent work but – 1. that’s no bad thing as his stuff is also excellent, 2. that’s was always the case as both are working within the blues genre and 3. there is more than enough of Taylor’s personality stamped all over this record to make it recognisably her work rather than some Bonamassa-lite or something.

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

Whilst I love various forms of metal and rock – black, progressive, doom, etc., as well as other genres such as pop, country and folk, I have always loved blues and blues rock. Early touchstones for me included the late great Gary Moore and Stevie Ray Vaughan and over time I have grown to enjoy the work of many great blues artists. Much as I think Joe Bonamassa is a modern-day blues great I believe that with this simply superb record Joanne Shaw Taylor – an inspired and inspiring musician – deserves her place amongst the greats. Fabulous stuff which, as I mentioned earlier, gets better each time I listen to it. Highly recommended…joanne-shaw-taylor-btm

“Wild” tracklist:

1. Dyin’ To Know / 2. Ready To Roll / 3. Get You Back / 4. No Reason To Stay / 5. Wild Is The Wind / 6. Wanna Be My Lover / 7. I’m In Chains / 8. I Wish I Could Wish You Back / 9. My Heart’s Got A Mind Of Its Own / 10. Nothin’ To Lose / 11. Summertime

Pure

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The Local Woods, This Morning
The Local Woods, This Morning

When I took the dog out for a nice long walk in the woods this morning it was rather foggy, and I took a few pictures as the scenery put me very much in mind of the kind of imagery that can be found on numerous black metal albums, such as “The Dark Hereafter” by Winterfylleth, Darkthrone’s “Panzerfaust”, “In These Woods, From These Mountains” from The Wretched End and “Death Of The Sun” by Wyrd.

In The Woods
In The Woods…

Naturally this, coupled with the atmosphere such conditions evoke, led me to spin some black metal albums when I returned home. One of these albums found itself on repeat, and it seems more than appropriate that the record in question was “Pure”, the latest release from Norwegian band In The Woods…

Christian "X" Botteri
Christian “X” Botteri

The band formed way back around 1992 by three members of metal band Green Carnation – being guitarist Christian “X” Botteri, bass player Christopher “C:M.” Botteri and drummer Anders Kobro.

Adding singer Jan Kenneth Transeth and guitarist Oddvar “A:M” Moi, the band released three studio albums between 1995 and 1999 before the band split in 2000 after the release of compilation album “Three Times Seven On A Pilgrimage”.

Christopher "C:M." Botteri
Christopher “C:M.” Botteri

In 2014 it was announced that the initial threesome of Botteri, Botteri and Kobro had reunited as In The Woods… and then last year came news that singer James Fogarty was to complete the new incarnation of the group. These four are responsible for “Pure”, with additional lead guitar provided on the final three tracks by Bjørn “Berserk” Harstad.

Anders Kobro
Anders Kobro

Looking at the few pictures of the band that can be found online you’d be forgiven for thinking that In The Woods… are not perhaps the happiest of bands. Lyrically, however, “Pure” would seem to counter that to some degree with lines such as  “…a shining future waiting, a promise of the pure…” or “…we left the darkness, walking into the light…” to balance against mentions of darkness, black holes and grief.

Jan Kenneth Transeth
Jan Kenneth Transeth

Musically, the band are not straight forward black metal by any means. With progressive and avant-garde stylings present throughout their relatively brief back catalogue one could perhaps make comparisons to the likes of fellow Norwegian act Ulver. I felt there are echoes of modern-day Enslaved and Swallow The Sun to be heard within these grooves.

Oddvar "A:M" Moi
Oddvar “A:M” Moi

What’s beyond dispute (at least to my ears) is that this is the kind of album that lends itself perfectly to this time of year and the colder, gloomier weather that comes with it – just as the aforementioned Swallow The Sun’s epic three-disc “Songs From The North” from last year still does. Granted “Pure” cannot compare with “Songs…” in terms of scale and variety but more than holds its own as a great piece of work.

James Fogarty
James Fogarty

Opening with the title track the vibe is at once doomy yet spacey, and displays the album’s rich and warm production. Fogarty’s voice is powerful enough to stand out over the heaviness of the guitars, bass and drums and the compositions are both complex and accessible – which is no mean feat.

There isn’t a truly weak track on this record, but for me the picks of the bunch would have to be “Towards The Black Surreal”, “Cult Of Shining Stars” and the ten-minute-plus instrumental piece “Transmission KRS”. “The Recalcitrant Protagonist” isn’t far behind either.

In The Woods...
In The Woods…

Guitar work throughout the album is imaginative and impressive. Sometimes hypnotic and sometimes crushing, but never dull. The same can be said of the vocal lines too. I suppose atmosphere is the word that might best be used when thinking about the sound of this record.

Many reviewers have commented that the album sounds dated and disappoints in comparison to the group’s earlier work. Well, “Pure” is my entry point to the band so I am, I guess, in the fortunate position of not being able to hold it up against the likes of “Omnio” (1997) or the debut “Heart Of The Ages”. I wouldn’t agree that the material sounds dated, however. To me “Pure” is fresh, has vitality and is an organic sounding album that ought to see wider recognition that will likely be the case for a relatively low-key band in a niche genre. Good stuff!…btm

“Pure” tracklist:

1. Pure / 2. Blue Oceans Rise (Like A War) / 3. Devil’s At The Door / 4. Recalcitrant Protagonist / 5. The Cave Of Dreams / 6. Cult Of Shining Stars / 7. Towards The Black Surreal / 8. Transmission KRS / 9. This Dark Dream / 10. Mystery Of The Constellations

An Evening Of Sorcery, Damnation & Deliverance

20161117_162032Last Saturday, 19th November, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to the SSE Arena at Wembley (or, Wembley Arena as it was) to see Swedish progressive metallers Opeth in concert.

opeth-sorceress-new-600Not being overly keen on Wembley’s parking charges, and having memories of taking hours to get out of their car parks on previous visits, I had used a website called Your Parking Space to arrange to “rent” someone’s driveway for the evening. Considerably cheaper and only a few minutes walk from the Wembley complex. I’d certainly use this service again.

SSE Arena, Wembley
SSE Arena, Wembley

I’d left the Forest of Dean in plenty of time to reach Wembley with enough time to park and grab some food and drink before it was time to enter the venue but having got caught in some very heavy traffic jams meaning that the section of journey from Churcham to Elmbridge Court roundabout – which would normally take about 10-15 minutes – took two hours to complete! Luckily once past there the traffic returned to normal and with weather being clear and crisp I was parking at my destination in good time.

Inside The Arena
Inside The Arena

A bite to eat and a coffee later, and just as the weather turned to rain, it was 6:00pm and time to enter the arena. As I found my seat it became immediately obvious that this was one of those occasions when playing Wembley Arena actually meant playing half of Wembley Arena as the stage was halfway along the floor and the other half of the arena was curtained off behind it. No matter, this is still a significant event for what is essentially a niche artist, albeit one that has already headlined at the Royal Albert Hall.

Anathema Live At The SSE Arena
Anathema Live At The SSE Arena

Before the main event, though, there was the small matter of supporting act. When I’d booked my ticket the support hadn’t been announced and I must admit I was a bit gutted when I discovered that recent discovery Myrkur was supporting the band on their European dates subsequent to London, and Sahg covering the pre-London shows. However, things looked up with news that Liverpool progressive rock band Anathema.

Lee Douglas & Daniel Cavanagh
Lee Douglas & Daniel Cavanagh

I had listened to some of Anathema’s albums in the past and quite enjoyed what I heard but wasn’t terribly excited about seeing them live. That changed when they hit the stage and, following an intro tape that seemed somewhat out-of-place with their music, broke into opening number “Thin Air” which grew into a quite impressively epic sound.

Something of a (two) family affair, Anathema are led by lead vocalist / guitarist Vincent Cavanagh, and feature his brothers Daniel Cavanagh (guitars / vocals) and Jamie Cavanagh (bass) as well as siblings Lee Douglas (vocals) and John Douglas (drums / percussion / keyboards). The line-up is completed by percussionist / drummer Daniel Cardoso.

Daniel Cavanagh
Daniel Cavanagh

Daniel Cavanagh, unusual in attire in that rather than in-ear monitors he sported full-size over-ear headphones, did his best to gee up the less than full crowd and succeeded in getting a good proportion of those who were in their seats to use the light apps on their smart phones in place of stage lighting during the evocative “A Natural Disaster”, which featured a lead vocal from Lee Douglas.

Anathema Perform "A Natural Disaster"
Anathema Perform “A Natural Disaster”

My personal highlight of the band’s short set would be the electronically based “Distant Satellites” which, at one point, saw both John Douglas and Daniel Cardoso joined by Vincent Cavanagh in providing a triple-pronged percussive assault. A very impressive set and a band that I shall be listening to more!

Setlist:

1. Thin Air / 2. Untouchable, Part 1 / 3. A Simple Mistake / 4. Distant Satellites / 5. A Natural Disaster / 6. Fragile Dreams / 7. Springfield

1 and 3 originally from “We’re Here Because We’re Here ” (2010) / 2 originally from “Weather Systems” (2012) / 4 originally from “Distant Satellites” (2014) / 5 originally from “A Natural Disaster” (2003) / 6 originally from “Alternative 4” (1998) / 6 to be on forthcoming studio album

Opeth
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

A short break later and at around 8:30pm the house lights went down on a much fuller crowd as headliners Opeth began to enter the stage. Joakim Svalberg  (keyboards), Martin Axenrot (drums) and Martin Mendez (bass) take to the stage first and lock into the opening jazz-inflected riff to “Sorceress”, the title track of the band’s superb album released in September this year. Fredrik Åkesson (guitars) and frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt (guitars / vocals) stride on in time for the track to get going and it’s simply brilliant. The sound is great, vocals clear as a bell, and the guitars heavy as you like.

Opeth Live At The SSE Arena
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

Following this up with “Ghost Reveries” highlight “Ghost Of Perdition” surely meant that even those not over enamoured with the band’s recent lighter output must have been happy. The band’s playing was incredibly precise, with the light and shade all the more effective live than on record.

Mikael Åkerfeldt
Mikael Åkerfeldt

Åkerfeldt is an engaging and humorous frontman, with a nice line in self-deprecation. He tells us that when his friends back in Sweden ask what it was like to headline Wembley he’ll tell them that it was “intimate” but will neglect to mention that they moved the stage half way down the hall. Later, when introducing “By The Pain I See In Others” from the album “Deliverance” he will say that this is the third of four times that they will ever play it live, and that this is no real shame as it’s “a bit shit”!

Opeth Live At The SSE Arena
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

A faultless rendition of “The Grand Conjuration” brings the first set to a thunderous close. Åkerfeldt tells us beforehand that after the song there will be some mysterious sounds and that the group will mysteriously disappear “…well, we’ll go and stand over there…” to give an artistic link into the second set – during which they will play highlights of the “Deliverance” and “Damnation” albums.

Opeth Live At The SSE Arena
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

Four largely acoustic numbers come first and all are beautiful and haunting, with “Windowpane” and “Closure” being highlights for me. The best track of the night, however, has to be the crushing closer “Deliverance” itself which sees the band’s machine gun riffing send the rapturous audience out into the pouring rain on a real high.

Opeth Take A Bow
Opeth Take A Bow

Even a slow drive back to the England / Wales border in torrential rain with lots of surface water cannot dampen what has been a top class two and a half hour show from a band truly on top of their game. A brilliant performance…

Setlist:

1. Sorceress / 2. Ghost Of Perdition / 3. Demon Of The Fall / 4. The Wilde Flowers / 5. Face Of Melinda / 6. Cusp Of Eternity / 7. The Drapery Falls/ 8. Heir Apparent / 9. The Grand Conjuration / 10. Windowpane / 11. Death Whispered A Lullaby / 12. In My Time Of Need / 13. Closure / 14. Master’s Apprentices / 15. By The Pain I See In Others / 16. Deliverance

1 and 4 originally from “Sorceress” (2016) / 2 and 9 originally from “Ghost Reveries” (2005) / 3 originally from “My Arms, Your Hearse” (1998) / 5 originally from “Still Life” (1999) / 6 originally from “Pale Communion” (2014) / 7 originally from “Blackwater Park” (2001) 8 originally from “Watershed” (2008) / 10, 11, 12 and 13 originally from “Damnation” (2003) / 14, 15 and 16 originally from “Deliverance” (2002)613-x-299-10-2434a716de

Mausoleum

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Myrkur
Myrkur

A recent discovery here in the shadows is Danish black metal project Myrkur. When the first recording was released, the 2014 seven song self-titled EP, nothing was known publicly about the personnel behind the music other than it was a one-woman band from “…the darkness of Scandinavia…” The music contained thereon was described by the artist as “…a combination of ethereal choir vocals and evil guitars and aggressive blast beats…” She went on to say “…I always dreamed about becoming a Huldra, an Elver girl, a Valkyrie, the goddess Freja. These powerful women in Norse Mythology have an element of beauty and mystique, but they are also deadly…”.

Amalie Bruun
Amalie Bruun

There was some controversy and something of a backlash (including death threats!) from less open-minded black metal fans when the woman behind Myrkur was revealed to be New York based model and singer / songwriter Amalie Bruun, previously frontwoman of pop/rock band Ex-Cops.

Amalie Bruun - Black Metal Girl At Heart
Amalie Bruun – Black Metal Girl At Heart

I haven’t heard Ex-Cops, or indeed any of Denmark-born Bruun’s earlier solo work but I can attest that since moving into the world of black metal (although it’s worth pointing out that she stated that she was “…a black metal girl at heart…” in an interview she did for a fashion website back in 2012) her music certainly fits the aforementioned description of fusing ethereal singing with traditional black metal sounds.

Kristoffer Rygg & Myrkur
Kristoffer Rygg & Myrkur

The impressive full debut album, titled “M”, was produced by Kristoffer Rygg, vocalist and keyboardist for Norwegian avant-garde black metallers Ulver and released to generally positive reviews – if still resistance from some of the genre’s fan-base – in August of 2015. This is probably oe of my favourite extreme metal releases of last year.

Emanuel Vigeland's Museum / Mausoleum
Emanuel Vigeland’s Museum / Mausoleum

For a project whose name, Myrkur, apparently means “darkness” in Icelandic it seems entirely fitting that the third release should have been recorded live in the rather stunning venue that is Emanuel Vigeland’s museum / mausoleum in Slemdal, Oslo.

Norwegian Girls Choir
Norwegian Girls Choir

Leaving the blast beats and abrasive black metal guitars at home, Bruun is accompanied on this haunting acoustic recording by the Norwegian Girls Choir and former Ulver member Håvard Jørgensen.

Myrkur
Myrkur

Not an acoustic album in the usual sense, the songs are recognisable from the original versions and yet the treatment given here means that they do stand up in their own right. In fairness, I find it impossible to point to any particular highlights on this record as all nine tracks are uniformly excellent. Despite not having the extremes in sound of the studio work this beautiful recording still enchants the listener. Best listened to late at night in the dark, or perhaps out in the forest or on a hill without modern civilisation breaking the spell, this is twenty-seven minutes of pure atmosphere. Utterly compelling listening…myrkur-btm

“Mausoleum” tracklist:

1. Vølvens Spådom / 2. Jeg Er Guden, I Er Tjenerne / 3. Skøgen Skulle Dø / 4. Byssan Lull / 5. Den Lille Piges Død / 6. Frosne Vind / 7. Onde Børn / 8. Song To Hall Up High / 9. Dybt I Skoven

1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 9 originally from “M” (2015) / 5 originally a single release (2015) / 6 originally from “Myrkur” (2014) / 8 cover of Bathory song from “Hammerheart” (1990)

Aquostic II – That’s A Fact!

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Status Quo - Aquostic... Stripped Bare
Status Quo – Aquostic… Stripped Bare

Following on from 2014’s “Aquostic… Stripped Bare” album, British rock legends Status Quo have now unleashed their follow-up record, “Aquostic 2 – That’s A Fact!”.

Whereas the first instalment contained 25 back catalogue tracks re-worked as acoustic versions, this record features a further 16 re-workings alongside 3 brand new songs.

Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi
Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi

As before, the arrangements are not simply Quo stripped back to acoustic guitars – as many would have preferred – but feature a variety of additional musicians with instruments including strings, accordion, percussion etc. added. Although I enjoyed that approach first time out I must admit that at times the extra instrumentation feels intrusive and unnecessary to my ears with “Aquostic 2”.

Status Quo Live At The Union Chapel 2016
Status Quo Live At The Union Chapel 2016

I mentioned with the first record that 22 of the 25 tracks were from 1968-1983 and just 3 from 1986-1991 and nothing from anything originally recorded since then. So what do we have on volume two? Well again the bulk comes from the earlier “Frantic Four” phase of the band’s career, with 10 from 1968-1983, 6 from the period 1986-2005 and the 3 new tracks.

Francis Rossi
Francis Rossi

Over the two volumes, therefore, all original studio albums (ignoring the 3 covers albums and the “Bula Quo” soundtrack album) are represented by at least one re-working with the exception of “Spare Parts” (1969), “Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon” (1970), “Under The Influence” (1999), “In Search Of The Fourth Chord” (2007), and “Quid Pro Quo” (2011). It might, perhaps, have been nice to dump a few of the obvious choices and included material from these five records – particularly the latter three which all contain great songs.

crmrootw8aakmyiAnyway, I digress. To the album itself… some of the tracks work very well indeed – the single “That’s A Fact”, “In The Army Now” are amongst those with fairly minor tweaking from the original arrangements. A number of very similar to their electric versions – such as “Jam Side Down”, “Living On An Island” and “Lies” – but there are a few that are really quite different to the versions that my ears are used to hearing. Of those, “Roll Over Lay Down” is pretty good, but I am not overly keen on “Lover Of The Human Race” even though I did like the original (on one of the band’s possibly least-loved records) and I don’t like what they’ve done to the 1982 hit “Dear John” at all.

Rick Parfitt
Rick Parfitt

Looking at the new songs, “Is Someone Rocking Your Heart” is the best of the three but in truth none of them are especially catchy or memorable – something that can certainly be said of most of Quo’s best work in the past.

Although Rick Parfitt plays and sings on the record he suffered a major heart attack on tour earlier this year and has just announced – via an interview with Classic Rock magazine – that he will not be returning to the band in a performing capacity. Francis Rossi, the undoubted leader of the group, has decided that the current “The Last Night Of The Electrics” tour will be the last time they perform with the famous Telecasters plugged in and that future touring will be in the Aquostic style only.

richie-maloneThis tour sees Parfitt’s rhythm guitar role being performed by guitarist Richie Malone (a long-term Quo fan) and his vocal duties shared between bassist John “Rhino” Edwards and keyboardist Andrew Bown. Having taken the decision not to return, Parfitt stated that “…in my heart I’m a rocker, I’ve always been. If I’m going to make music it’s got to rock…” and that “…there would probably have been room for me if I decided I wanted to, but I’m not a great fan of the whole acoustic malarkey. It doesn’t float my boat…”. While he is careful not to say anything negative towards his old bandmate it’s clear that Rossi calls the shots.

Francis Rossi, John "Rhino" Edwards & Andrew Bown
Francis Rossi, John “Rhino” Edwards & Andrew Bown

The band’s official statement states that “…Rick will step back from his regular touring commitments with the band…” but that his “…connection with and within the band of course remains intact and that he will continue to be involved with future non-touring commercial activities of the band…” Quite what that means if Rossi is determined to stick to the Aqoustic formula, which Parfitt doesn’t like, is anyone’s guess but further recording involving Parfitt appears unlikely.

Leon Cave
Leon Cave

Overall, then, this is a pleasant enough album. Both Rossi and Parfitt’s voices are showing their age – oddly Rossi sounds better during the group’s plugged-in concerts than on this album – but at 67 and 68 respectively then that’s no huge surprise. The rest of the group, the aforementioned Edwards, Bown and drummer Leon Cave acquit themselves well enough within this context but, as with the two main men I prefer to hear them plugged in and at full flight.

Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi
Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi

Given that Quo’s last proper album – 2011’s “Quid Per Quo” – was such a great record it’s a real shame that their career looks to be coming to a close with a fairly naff film soundtrack (“Bula Quo” in 2013) and now two acoustic re-imaginings after so many great years of quality rock records. I for one will miss the days with Rossi and Parfitt cranking out all those classic riffs and songs…status-quo-btm

“Aquostic II – That’s A Fact!” tracklist:

1. That’s A Fact / 2. Roll Over Lay Down / 3. Dear John / 4. In The Army Now / 5. Hold You Back / 6. One For The Road / 7. Backwater / 8. One Of Everything / 9. Belavista Man / 10. Lover Of The Human Race / 11. Ice In The Sun / 12. Mess Of The Blues / 13. Jam Side Down / 14. Resurrection / 15. Lies / 16. Little Dreamer / 17. Living On An Island / 18. Is Someone Rocking Your Heart? / 19. Rockers Rollin’

1 originally from “Blue For You” (1976) / 2 originally from “Hello!” (1973) / 3 originally from “1+9+8+2” (1982) / 4 originally from “In The Army Now” (1986) / 5 and 19 originally from “Rockin’ All Over The World” (1977) / 6, 8 and 18 brand new songs / 7 originally from “Quo” (1974) / 9 originally from “The Party Ain’t Over Yet” (2005) / 10 originally from “Thirsty Work” (1994) / 11 originally from “Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From” (1968) / 12 originally from “Back To Back” (1983) / 13 originally from “Heavy Traffic” (2002) / 14 originally from “Never Too Late” (1981) / 15 originally from “Just Supposin'” (1980) / 16 originally from “Perfect Remedy” (1989) / 17 originally from “Whatever You Want” (1979)

The Dark Hereafter

winterfylleth-the-dark-hereafter

winterfyllethI have talked briefly about Manchester-based black metal band Winterfylleth before, when they were the opening act at Behemoth’s 2014 show at the O2 Academy in Birmingham. At that time I mentioned that the band’s name is taken from the Old English for “Winter Full Moon”. Other sources have stated the word to represent an ancient heathen festival to welcome the first full moon of winter, and others still that it simply means “October”. The band’s own stance on this, taken from their official website, states that it “represents the first full moon in October as well as the Anglo-Saxon festival of the arrival of winter.”

Winterfylleth - The Ghost Of Heritage (2008)
Winterfylleth – The Ghost Of Heritage (2008)

Lyrically the group strive to portray “tales of England’s archaic history, re-counting major events, battles, the spiritual outlook of the people and the way they lived and even draw inspiration from certain sites and scenery that grace the countryside of England and have played an integral part in England’s history.”

Winterfylleth - The Mercian Sphere (2010)
Winterfylleth – The Mercian Sphere (2010)

This intent has led to accusations of racism in the past and the band describing themselves as English Heritage Black Metal is bound to draw comparisons with other bands who celebrate the ancient heritage of their particular countries. Inevitably this national pride is often viewed as national socialism, or simply put, Nazism – particularly during turbulent times such as those we find ourselves in these days with such fierce debate around subjects such as multiculturalism and migration where folk talking of their country’s history are often perceived as anti-everywhere-else.

Winterfylleth - The Threnody Of Triumph (2012)
Winterfylleth – The Threnody Of Triumph (2012)

I am not overly concerned with the personal views of the members of bands that I listen to, and take the view that the lyrics form a part of the whole package – just as plot elements of films and books do – and that I don’t have to agree with or endorse any such views to appreciate the music on offer, as touched upon when talking about Shining’s latest album “XI : Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends”. That said, I do not personally feel that writing and singing about the history and landscapes of your homeland should be considered as racism and that too often these days political correctness does more harm than good.

Winterfylleth - The Divination Of Antiquity (2014)
Winterfylleth – The Divination Of Antiquity (2014)

Anyway, enough rambling – what’s the new record like, I hear you ask? Well, “The Dark Hereafter” is Winterfylleth’s fifth studio album and follows on from 2014’s offering “The Divination Of Antiquity”. The first thing to note is that whilst previous albums have nine or ten tracks and clocked in at around an hour, this one contains only five tracks and has a duration of just over 40 minutes.

Ulver - Bergtatt – Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler (1995)
Ulver – Bergtatt – Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler (1995)

Of those five tracks one, “Led Astray In The Forest Dark”, is a translated-into-English cover of a track first recorded under the title “Capitel I: I Troldskog Faren Vild” by Norwegian band Ulver back in 1995 on their debut album “Bergtatt – Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler”. Ulver are one of the band’s primarily influences, along with acts such as Enslaved and Slavic black metal bands like Drudkh. The album artwork is also clearly influenced by the Ulver debut.

Chris Naughton
Chris Naughton

Another track, “Pariah’s Path”, appeared as a bonus track on the aforementioned “The Divination Of Antiquity”. This suggests that, even though band leader Chris Naughton reckons that they are about two albums further down the line in terms of writing they were perhaps a little short of inspiration when preparing for “The Dark Hereafter”?

Simon Lucas
Simon Lucas

Whether or not that is the case I do think it’s fair to say that this is another really good record from one of the shining lights of today’s black metal scene. It may not be black metal in the traditional corpse paint and Satanism sense, but there seems to be a definite shift in appreciation for history and nature in recent years and Winterfylleth’s music fits in with this perfectly.

Nick Wallwork
Nick Wallwork

This isn’t “summery” music. The soundscapes here compliment the colder and bleaker seasons and suggest the majesty and beauty of the beautiful lands in which we live. Beauty may seem like an odd choice of word for such harsh and brutal music but the elements of folk music (though there is less of that than on the previous albums) together with clean and choral vocals that form part of the sound help to give a broader feel to proceedings. I also think it’s perfectly possible to appreciate the beauty in our landscapes during the coldest and wettest times of year so see no issue with doing the same with the aural representation on this album.

Dan Capp
Dan Capp

Of the remaining tracks it is without doubt “Green Cathedral” that is the highlight and centrepiece of the whole record. Not only due to its length (using up 13 of the 40 minute total) but also due to the sheer expansiveness of the song. Apparently influenced by author Ben Myers who wrote “The Green Cathedral is a place, a series of places, a philosophy, a feeling, a mind-set, a movement, a lack of movement, a meditation. Many meditations. It is walking and running, sitting and seeing…” this is surely the group encouraging us to get out and reconnect with nature – or at very least imagine that we are doing so whilst immersing ourselves in the music (best experienced through headphones). A truly excellent piece of music.

Mark Deeks
Mark Deeks

Winterfylleth these days features founding members Naughton (vocals / guitars) and Simon Lucas (drums / vocals) joined by long serving bassist Nick Wallwork, new boy guitarist Dan Capp (who also does the artwork) and keyboard player Mark Deeks. Though the overall sonic template hasn’t altered much since day one for this distinctive outfit I do feel that each release has shown some progression and development from the previous one, and “The Dark Hereafter” is no exception.

Winterfylleth
Winterfylleth In 2015

Although if you discount the inclusion of “Pariah’s Path” it is essentially only really three new songs and a cover this is still a really worthwhile addition to the band’s catalogue. The title track and “Ensigns Of Victory” are good, if typical, Winterfylleth tunes, but the best of the record is without doubt the aforementioned “Green Cathedral” and the really great version of “Led Astray In The Forest Dark”. Well worth exploring as the winter draws in…winterfylleth-btm

“The Dark Hereafter” tracklist:

1. The Dark Hereafter / 2. Pariah’s Path / 3. Ensigns Of Victory / 4. Green Cathedral / 5. Led Astray In The Forest Dark

In These Woods, From These Mountains

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Tomas Thormodsæter "Samoth" Haugen
Tomas Thormodsæter “Samoth” Haugen

A band that have recently assaulted by senses for the first time are Norwegian band The Wretched End. Formed in 2008, the group initially comprised just guitarist Tomas Thormodsæter “Samoth” Haugen and guitarist / bassist / vocalist André “Cosmo” Søgnen.

Samoth had previously been a member of black metal band Zyklon and has been in black metal legends Emperor since the early 1990s. For his part Cosmo is also a member of Mindgrinder, another black metal band.

André "Cosmo" Søgnen
André “Cosmo” Søgnen

By the time the band’s debut album “Ominous” was recorded and hit the shelves in 2010 the pair had been joined by drummer Nils “Dominator” Fjellström of black metal act Dark Funeral.

Second album “Inroads” followed in 2012 and now, after a four-year gap, comes album number three “In These Woods, From These Mountains” – a title that evokes imagery similar to that seen on the album cover before you even see it.

Nils "Dominator" Fjellström
Nils “Dominator” Fjellström

Despite the band members’ backgrounds the sound of The Wretched End is probably best described as simply extreme metal, containing, as it does, elements of black metal, death metal and thrash metal. That said, now that I’ve had a chance to hear their back catalogue too I reckon that the new album is the most black metal sounding, to me, of the three. Indeed Samoth has been quoted as saying that “It’s great to finally have this album ready for release. It took us some years for various reasons; different things in our every day and professional lives that took a lot of focus on our parts. We never felt any great pressure.  Looking back, I think the whole process affected the album in a positive way. I personally feel I’ve almost come full circle with this new album, bringing more elements rooted in the darkness of black metal.”

Attila Csihar
Attila Csihar

The album kicks off with the furious sounding “Dead Icons”, a fabulous slice of black metal with all the requisite glacial guitar sounds, blastbeat drumming and guttural vocal delivery. This leads into the slightly more sedate “Primordial Freedom”, before “Old Norwegian Soul” brings the first guest appearance on the album with Attila Csihar, vocalist with fellow Norwegian black metallers Mayhem, lending his pipes to the track.

Einar Solberg
Einar Solberg

The other guests crop up on the final track “Dewy Fields”, which is a cover of a track by Norwegian pop act Bel Canto. This features vocals from Leprous member Einar Solberg and programming work from Lars Sørensen of Red Harvest. This particular track feels somewhat out of place stylistically to be honest and I’m not sure that the album wouldn’t have been better without it tacked onto the end.

The Wretched EndHowever, prior to that, the rest of the album continues with some solid black metal tunes, the best of which are probably “Atheos”, “Generic Drone” and the fabulous “The Decline And Fall”. Granted there’s nothing really groundbreaking to be found on this record but this is nonetheless a worthwhile black metal album that could easily soundtrack a journey down from the mountains of Norway and into the woods on a particularly bleak day and I’d say that it’s the best of the band’s work to date…btm

“In These Woods, From These Mountains” tracklist:

1. Dead Icons / 2. Primordial Freedom / 3. Old Norwegian Soul / 4. Misery Harbour / 5. Atheos / 6. The Decline And Fall / 7. Burrowing Deep / 8. Dewy Fields