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sonicabuse "Mayhem, metal, underground noise and a whirlwind of SonicAbuse" (Leicester)

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Live In Amsterdam [DVD] [2014] [NTSC]
Live In Amsterdam [DVD] [2014] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa
Price: £13.78

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a show you’ll want to return to time and again, 16 April 2014
There was a time when female singers exuded sass and danger in equal measure, tearing up the airwaves with a rock ‘n’ roll spirit that threatened to burn anyone in too close a proximity. Singers such as Janis Joplin, Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin not only offered their remarkable voices to the world, but an attitude and style that was more than a match for their male contemporaries. Who, in the modern world, could legitimately be seen as the heir to those great singers of the sixties and seventies; those pioneers who took on a male-dominated industry and forever stamped their identity on modern music? Only one singer of late has offered the same sense of excitement and audacity that the aforementioned artists bought to the stage and that is Beth Hart. Beth quite simply has it all. A stage presence that is quite impossible to ignore, an irrepressible love for music and, of course, a voice that could launch a thousand ships. Beth can do hot and sultry (‘sinner’s prayer’), she can do melancholy blues (‘baddest blues’), she can do brass-soaked soul (‘see saw’) and when she really wants to, she can tear holes in the stratosphere with a rock ‘n’ roll number like ‘nutbush city limits’, her unearthly roar the result of a sincere and long-lived passion for the music that she inhabits body and soul. When you add to the equation a band that is surely the envy of the R&B world (the untameable Joe Bonamassa, the wonderful Carmine Rojas, the quietly talented Blondie Chaplin, the drumming powerhouse that is Anton Fig and the excitable Arlan Schierbaum on keyboards), a full brass section and an explosive Dutch audience, the stage is set for one hell of a show, and so it proves on ‘Amsterdam’, a double live DVD from Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa that provides everything a fan of these two exquisite musicians could ever hope for.

Joe Bonamassa may be the star of his own show, but it is to his eternal credit that he is quite content to sit back with the band and let Beth shine like the dazzling light she is. With dark, shoulder length hair, an elegant dress and arms emblazoned with tattoos, Beth looks every inch the rock goddess, and then there’s her voice, ringing out clear and true over nineteen songs (not including the intro ‘Amsterdam, Amsterdam!’ and closing number ‘Antwerp Jam’) that would surely test and find wanting any other singer. Every base is covered from the opening ‘them there eyes’ with its fifties swing and bright sound, to the snarling blues of ‘sinner’s prayer’ (an early highlight) and, for once, whilst his playing is typically exquisite, all eyes are not on Joe, the spotlight remaining firmly on Beth who has the crowd eating from the palm of her hand with her gorgeous vocals, confident showmanship and charming smile which flashes out every time her band unleash another instrumental salvo. It’s a pleasure to watch these seasoned veterans work together with such obvious joy and it leaves you envious that you missed the actual show, although as concert films go, this one does much to capture the excitement and atmosphere of the night.

Highlights come thick and fast with the beautifully phrased slide licks of ‘can’t let go’ making you want to leap up and dance, the hard rock of ‘for my friends’ giving Deep Purple a run for their money with Beth’s earthy tones going up against Joe’s huge grinding riff and Blondie’s wah-soaked inflection, only for the seductive tones of ‘close to my fire’ to spark flames of a completely different nature. It’s a set that is perfectly poised, and every time you think you have surely reached the concert’s best performance the band push themselves to even greater heights, feeding off the energy of the crowd and delivering another bombshell set to detonate deep inside your heart and soul. One of those great concerts that you can dip into and always come away with an amazing moment, far better is to sit back and let the whole thing brighten even the dullest day. It is the auditory equivalent of sunshine, warming the spirits and brightening the senses thanks to the sheer passion that every single musician on stage exhibits throughout. However, if you did have to point to one moment where the show reaches a point of near-combustion, it is surely the startlingly powerful rendition of ‘nutbush city limits’, a song Beth was initially nervous about tackling and which is delivered here with the mesmerising strength of a singer at the absolute peak of her not inconsiderable talents. As the band rage away, Beth just lets rip and if you don’t find yourself spontaneously leaping to your feet to applaud the performance then your soul surely shrivelled and died some years ago because it demonstrates the simple and unanswerable fact that Beth is one of the most talented singers alive today.

As has previously been the case with Provogue’s excellent range of DVDs, the show is beautifully presented with a crystal clear picture on the DVD augmented by the choice of Dolby Digital stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and, best of all, a DTS 5.1 track making the most of systems that can handle it. With the ubiquitous Kevin Shirley (and I really am starting to believe the man doesn’t sleep) at the helm, the music is mixed perfectly with Beth and Joe standing out, as you might imagine, but never at the expense of the other excellent musicians on stage (Carmine Rojas, for example, does a grand job of giving the LFE a fine workout) whilst the work done by the camera crew and editing/directorial team also deserves praise, with the image moving subtly around the stage, highlighting the efforts of whichever musician is at the fore at any given time whilst giving plenty of screen time to Beth herself. In an age of digital artifice and wildly inappropriate jump cuts, it is a model of restraint and traditional filming style and it perfectly suits the mood and feel of the performance – you could not ask for a better filmed concert and the film gives even Scorsese’s twin peaks of concert filming (‘the last Waltz’ and ‘shine a light’) a run for their money.

Again, when it comes to special features, Provogue come up trumps with an entire second disc dedicated to extras. First up is ‘up, down, all around : behind the seesaw’, a documentary (nearly an hour in length) that covers the hectic rehearsal schedule required to get such a remarkable band on stage together all at the same time. Featuring a huge wealth of back-stage footage, talking heads interviews and rehearsal clips it’s a lovely bonus that will undoubtedly delight those who love to know more about their heroes. Similarly lengthy is the forty-plus minute making of documentary that covers the specifics of making the film and it does a grand job of dealing with the specifics of actually making a DVD from choosing wardrobe to checking lighting levels. It once again features contributions from all involved and whilst it may only be worth one watch from start to finish, it’s a generous addition to the package. An alternate version of ‘someday after a while (you’ll be sorry)’, with Joe at the mic, and a selection of photos round out the extras and all in all this impressive set offers up a two hour concert as well as two hours of mostly fascinating extras which take you much further behind the scenes than most musicians are willing to go.

If you have previously experienced the remarkable voice of Beth Hart then this DVD is unquestionably essential – you know what you’re going to get and you may have ordered it already. If you have not yet heard Beth’s unique tones, then this DVD is the perfect starting point because, for all the power of her albums, this is where she truly comes alive. The music is just stunning, played by a band who have been lucky enough to make a living out of an all-consuming passion, and the production team have done a fantastic job of bringing the whole show to life for a home audience. Whether you opt for the Blu ray, the DVD or even just the double CD version, this is a show you’ll want to return to time and again and you’ll never leave it feeling any less than elated at the whole-hearted energy that these wonderful musicians deliver.

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In My Soul
In My Soul
Price: £13.14

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute joy..., 16 April 2014
This review is from: In My Soul (Audio CD)
Rather like Clapton’s delightful effort, ‘old sock’, Robert Cray’s latest album finds the well-respected guitarist in a relaxed, soulful mood. A ten track effort 9eleven if you get the limited edition album), ‘in my soul’ leaves behind the grittier blues of 2012’s exquisite ‘nothin but love’, and focuses on the spirit of soul, taking the listener on a guided tour of soul and the blues, with Robert as the eloquent guide. The result is an album that smoulders as a Robert digs deep to deliver some beautifully languid solos over a musical backdrop that perfectly captures the free spirit of the sixties and seventies. Untainted by modern cynicism, it is a record that lightens the spirits, eases the unquiet mind and it is an unmitigated pleasure from start to finish.

Opening track ‘you move me’ is one of the album’s more bluesy numbers, recalling ‘some girls’ era stones with its throbbing bass and addictive melody. It has a lovely, upbeat vibe and the lyrics speak to anyone who has ever been in a relationship whilst the lead break shoots sparks against the funky bass line and rocking beat. ‘Nobody’s fault but mine’ is a brass-soaked cover of the Otis Reading classic that swaggers out in the hot summer sun with its springy guitar work and smooth vocals (courtesy of both Robert and drummer Les Falconer). Things take a jazzier turn with the lightly melancholic ‘fine yesterday’ which draws upon the spirit of Smokey Robinson with its beautiful melody and heartfelt lyricism. Fine yesterday is a one of those brave departures that Robert occasionally takes on his albums and its timeless feel and hauntingly memorable melody suggests it will be listened to years from now as an example of simple, classic song-writing craft. Another cover appears next in the form of ‘your good thing’s about to come to an end’ which neatly captures the sound of a band playing to an audience of lost souls as last orders is called, the subtle addition of a horn section only adding to the after-hours feel the song evokes. Upping the tempo, ‘I guess I’ll never know’ has a funky beat that you just have to tap your feet to whilst ‘hold on’ is a smoky, end of the night song that feels like the natural end to the first half of the album. Robert’s voice is just perfect here, his delivery not only note perfect but laden with the emotive power and his rich tones soar over the band’s sympathetic backing.

Kicking off the second half of the album, ‘what would you say’ takes the lyrical theme of ‘imagine’ and sets it to a bluesy backdrop that draws in equal measure from the folky pop of the sixties and the smoky psychedelic music of the early seventies, whilst an understated solo from Robert captures the piece’s laid-back feel perfectly. ‘Hip tight onions’ is a rare instrumental written by Robert’s bassist Richard Cousins alongside Hendrix Ackle and it is has a loose, groovy feel to it that makes perfect sense when you discover that it was penned as a tribute to Booker T and the MGs. ‘You’re everything’ is described by Robert as being “just a love tune”, but it’s penned-from –the-heart lyrics and sultry melody belie the notion that it’s just anything, and you can imagine this one becoming a live favourite with its beautiful musicianship and heart-felt performance. ‘Deep in my soul’ closes the album proper (although a bonus track awaits those who buy the limited edition) on a horn-driven note that conjures the heady spirit of New Orleans with its vibrant blues vibe and haunting quality. Originally written by Bobby Bland, it is the perfect closing track and it is, as producer Steve Jordan notes, a song that you have to put on and just shut up whilst it plays. A true show stopper in every sense, it is the album’s highlight and it leaves you in no doubt of Robert’s exquisite skill. The bonus track, ‘pillow’ has a hard act to follow, and rather than compete, the band turn up the funk, light a lava lamp and let the good times roll. It captures the easy vibe of the album and it is a perfect coda to the record.

‘In my soul’ is one of those beautiful albums that is born purely from the love the musicians have for music. Steve Jordan’s production is crystal clear, allowing every instrument to sparkle whilst retaining the human warmth of music from the sixties and seventies, eschewing the over-processed perfection that some producers feel the need to bring to bear for a sound that is richly detailed and natural no matter how much you crank the volume (and you’ll surely want to!) Mining a more soulful seam than ‘nothin but love’, ‘in my soul’ is a relaxed, loose record that gently works its way into your consciousness until, before you know it, you have at least half of the songs form the record permanently on the brain. The music is simply timeless, the playing flawless and there is no question that you’ll want to return to this album regularly. Heartbreak, joy, sadness and hope are all represented here and you’re once again reminded that Robert Cray is one of the finest musicians in his genre. ‘In my soul’ is a heart-warming album that pointedly turns its head away from the crushing cynicism of modern existence and harks back to a simpler, more innocent era and it is an absolute joy from start to finish.

Whales And Leeches
Whales And Leeches
Price: £9.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars acid fried stoner rock, 3 Nov 2013
This review is from: Whales And Leeches (Audio CD)
Red Fang are something of an unknown quantity. This may be their third album, but the band take great pleasure in defying expectations, varying their sound from song to song without so much as a by-your-leave, the result being that those in search of an easy fix often find the band frustrating. It is arguable, however, that this potential source of frustration is, in fact, Red Fang's greatest strength. In an age where bands are routinely pigeonholed into a genre and then castigated for staying there, Red Fang break with convention and dip, instead, into the styles and sounds of the many bands that influenced them. This `lucky dip' approach is certainly evident on `Whales and leeches', a fine album that takes in elements of stoner rock, grunge and metal without missing a beat and which marks out Red Fang as a band to pay close attention to in the future.

Opening with jangling strings `DOEN' quickly degenerates into a thunderous blast of post-Mastadon stoner rock, the band blowing the dust form their amplifiers with a selection of humungous riffs that seem to get louder and heavier with each successive section of the song. The dual vocal pays perfect dividends here as the more melodic verse gives way to a high octane chorus that threatens to tear the whole damn roof off as guitars and percussion slam up against Aaron Beam's feral bass guitar. `Blood like cream' is considerably drier, the riffs recalling the sand-blasted soundscapes of vintage QOTSA, suggesting that for all their metallic chops, Red Fang are as familiar with the works of Soundgarden (`superunknown' era), Screaming Trees and QOTSA as they are with the metallic might of Mastadon, Sleep and Kyuss. The song packs a hell of a groove, not to mention the sort of repetitive chorus built to be shouted out in a live environment, and yet just as the band have unleashed their pop hooks, `No hope' comes along and smashes everything to pieces with a malign glee, the band coming on like the Henry Rollins band at their most unhinged, the riffs underpinning the punkish vocals with primitive savagery as John Sherman does his best Animal impression, trashing his kit in the process. `Crows in swine' sees the pace change again, the band dipping their dirty toes into the heady water of psychedelia before once again hitting the stoner trail on the awkwardly timed `voices of the dead', a track that wouldn't sound out of place on Mastadon's last outing.

Stunningly heavy, `behind the light' is stoner rock with a nitro-glycerine core that threatens to detonate on a chorus that slams home with real force. `Down rising' is one of the album's two epics, a brutal, sludge-powered beast that sits close to seven minutes, brooding over what would happen if you placed Buzzo*ven, candlemass and Soundgarden into a room together and forced them to jam at gun point. A doomy monstrosity, it highlights the band's wide tastes and demonstrates that they are more than capable of delivering whatever sounds their endlessly spinning imaginations are capable of conjuring, whilst Mike Scheidt (Yob) adds further vocal venom. `Failure' is a strangely hypnotic track that matches Rollins-esque levels of disgust to a patchouli-scented soundscape that draws as heavily form the Doors as it does from modern metal. `1516' blazes with a primal intensity that owes much to the furious American punk scene spearheaded by Black flag, although the spirit of Mastadon never lies far away. `This animal' is exactly as its title would have you imagine, primitive and violent in the vein of Nick Oliveri-led QOTSA tracks, and then the album closes with its second lengthy jam, the five-minute `every little twist', which sees the album close in suitably psychedelic fashion. It's a fine album closer that oddly recalls no band so much as the Butthole surfers with its somnambulant tempo and chrome-plated riffs grinding up against one another.

With brilliantly realised artwork courtesy of Orion Landau and a tight run-time that leaves no room for unnecessary filler, `Whales and Leeches' is the sort of gleaming stoner trip that so few bands seem to succeed in making. True, the album hops through territories previously inhabited, but it does so with style and panache and the band, ultimately, seem to be most interested in making the music that they want to hear, rather than pandering to any particular tastes or preconceived notions of what a record should sound like. The production is crisp and clear, capturing the crack of the snare and the evilly distorted growl of the guitars with aplomb and the band apply enough melody to make each moment memorable. The child of a multitude of influences, `whales and leeches' is an album that offers nods to the grunge and alternative scenes, a hefty tip of the hat to the stoner genre and even a mildly acidic trip into sludge territory, and yet it never sounds forced or disingenuous - Red Fang may well go on to release even better records, but for now this is a fine summation of their career to date.

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Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 16, 2014 5:24 PM BST

Dethroned & Uncrowned
Dethroned & Uncrowned
Price: £12.86

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The evolution continues, 24 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Dethroned & Uncrowned (Audio CD)
It's been fascinating watching Katatonia's career arc. In many ways their artistic evolution has echoed that of Anathema, both bands forged in the furious flames of extreme metal, only for age and experience to temper the white hot passions of youth and shape them into something altogether more evocative. Over the years the guitars have gradually shifted form, evolving from the early flash floods of distorted rage into swirling, ethereal mists of great beauty and the vocals of Jonas Renske have gained a unique, grandiloquent quality few can match. Where once katatonia stood upon the shattered ramparts of a fortress, bravely unleashing their might upon the hordes of darkness, now they sit beneath the long abandoned buttresses of fading palaces, hunched upon the throne, still proud, but gnarled and buckled with age and care. They are grand, possessed of great majesty, and yet twisted by the weight they bear.

It is nothing new for a band to rework its back catalogue in the light of stylistic change - Anathema performed the trick twice with `Hindsight' and `falling deeper', but where those albums drew upon heavier, earlier works, `Dethroned and uncrowned' draws exclusively from the stunning album `dead end kings', following its track-listing exactly and adding a further layer of darkness to Travis Smith's evocative artwork. It is, if you like, a companion piece to that record, not exactly an acoustic reworking, but rather a further exploration of the sounds and atmospheres that lurked at its dark heart. Presented in a beautifully rendered digi-book, like its predecessor it comes with a surround sound mix (although, unusually, it is a DTS 4.1 mix) that is by far the best way to experience this deeply mysterious and brooding album.

`The parting' opens with Jonas' voice, backed by simple, haunting piano. You immediately notice the absence of the pummelling guitar that originally opened the track, but instead layers of reverb and new vocal lines flesh out the sound, whilst synth string lines add a haunting quality that was only hinted at upon the original release. Jonas' voice, always a thing of wonder, is very much to the fore and his weary lament weaves a soft, silken web around the listener until you're bound head and foot in a glistening web of gossamer threads that refuse to let go until the music has passed. It emphasises a beauty to Katatonia's music that was always present but occasionally obscured by bombast and here it is laid bare for all to see and admire. `The one you are looking for is not here' replaces the original backing vocals with a subtle ambience to create the haunting feel of empty, stone-walled corridors lit only by the light of guttering candles. There is a stunning ambience to the track and just when you feel it can't possibly become any more astonishing, a gentle percussion comes in alongside the sylph-like vocals of Silje Wergeland (the gathering) and you're drawn once more out of the grey, tired world which you inhabit towards a place of open fields and crystal clear, flowing streams. Few pieces of music are so evocative, and this particular track arguably improves upon an original track that had previously seemed perfect. `Hypnone' is the closest thing here to Anathema's work on `hindsight', with a lush, full acoustic guitar driving the sound and sweeping strings blazing brightly in the background. `The racing heart', in contrast, opens with a sparse piano, backing Jonas' soulful vocals before the guitar slides in with a hint of David Gilmour's liquid lead work on `the division bell' about it before the vibrant strings return once more. There's so much going on amidst the rich tapestry of the song's construction that no review could satisfactorily cover it and tell the reader all, suffice it to say that it is a work of compelling depth and extraordinary beauty.

One of the original album's standout tracks, `buildings' is rich and full, the guitar's warmth emboldened by the echoing piano and haunting melody. Yet for all that, it's a strangely disconsolate number that shifts darkly into the minor key, adding gothic organ to the mix to further accentuate the song's unnerving ambience of loss and faded grandeur. `Leech' is awash in strings, but the primary focus is Jonas' gently distorted vocals which are delivered with more power and passion in their naked hopelessness than if they had been harnessed to a thousand flaming guitars. `Ambitions', in contrast, takes on an almost folky feel, thanks to Jonas' intonation and the simple guitar melody that is picked out subtly beneath Jonas' echoing pleas. It's perfect music for those late night reveries, lost in self-reflection and contemplation and the electronic percussion accentuates the ambient feel the band have gone for on this release. `Undo you' echoes through vaulted chambers, the guitar sweeping over a dreamy synth backing as the candles burn low and the vocal harmonies employed at key moments are the best of Katatonia's impressive career. It emphasises the progressive aspects of Katatonia's music and recalls elements of Porcupine tree and Caravan in its dreamy, ethereal feel. `Lethean' is one of the grandest songs, utilising a greater deal of percussion found elsewhere and huge, cinematic strings giving the song an epic feel that aptly justifies the much-overused turn `widescreen' in describing it.

The final two songs on the album see night falling fast and the band raging at the dying of the light. `First prayer' is a powerful song, even stripped so bare, with the vocals shimmering in the delicate moonlight as the percussion slithers across the chorus, although it builds into something deeper and more satisfying as it develops. Final track `dead letters' is, well, it's just a remarkable work that captures and sums up everything that makes the entire album special. Here there are gentle strings, gorgeous vocal harmonies, the warm, rich swell of the mellotron and the subtle ripple of picked guitars. It's the perfect climactic end to an album that never ceases to astonish with the richness of the song-writing.

Where `dead end kings' provided the band with an opportunity to pile layer upon layer to build up the warm textured sounds of the album, `dethroned and uncrowned' bravely takes all that away. The songs, it is plainly obvious, have no need of embellishment, they stand proudly on their own, stripped bare and, in many ways, the better for it. It is not a matter of which record is better - they are both so different in execution as to be like two totally different directors creating a movie from the same script. If you loved `dead end kings' then there is no question that this is an essential addition to your collection. If, for any reason, you missed out on that record or considered Katatonia too metallic for your tastes, then this is the perfect introduction to their unique song craft. Beautifully presented, perfectly recorded and deeply rewarding, `dethroned and uncrowned' confirms what many already knew - that Katatonia are master song-writers who have only improved at their craft - this is a sublime, majestic release of which the band should be justly proud.

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Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 13, 2014 9:24 PM BST

Rewind The Film
Rewind The Film
Price: £5.99

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quiet, introspective masterpiece, 24 Sep 2013
This review is from: Rewind The Film (Audio CD)
How can you write an objective review of the Manic Street Preachers? How can you separate their truth from yours; their sorrow; their rage and their defiance from your own? No band has ever sounded so successfully like themselves whilst simultaneously sounding like nothing they've ever done before and the reason is simple - the evolution of the Manic Street Preachers is also the evolution of the listener. We scrawled on our T shirts and read obscure literature whilst listening to `Generation Terrorists', dressed in boas and raged at the dying of the light around the time of `The Holy Bible' and wept as the ghost of Richey hovered over the lavish glories of `Everything must go' and `this is my truth...' We even, much to our own despair, found our dress sense changing as the rigours of work took over from the lazy days of school and somehow we found that the Manics reflected our lives back to us in a way that no other band ever has or could. Fly-by-night fans came and went, but we were there all along, finding sense in the cold, art-pop brooding of `lifeblood' and regaining our sense of righteous indignation on `send away the tigers', always waiting for what would come next and wondering if the band could recapture a previous sound as if, by doing so, they could also turn back our own clock and make us young and naïve again rather than old, cynical and lost in a world of commerce. That the Manics can never go back should be obvious. There is (and never will be) a `Holy bible 2' because it would no more ring true for the band than it would for the audience who believe, misguidedly, that it is what they want to hear.

It is true, of course, that the very title of the Manics' eleventh album, `rewind the film', references the past but there is no desire on the band's part to do so musically. Rather this is an album that captures the band, and its audience, looking back across a life strewn with events. Here you will find failure, love, life and loss. You'll find rich, textured songs that draw upon the epic sensibility that informed `everything...', `truth...' and `...tigers' and the tortured ambience of `there by the grace of God' (a song which turns up in live form on the bonus disc) and while the album fights shy of the wild guitar heroics that mark out James Dean Bradfield as one of the finest musicians of his generation, it is thematically and melodically weighty enough to get under the skin in a way that only the Manics seem able to do.

As `rewind the film' opens you'd be forgiven for thinking the Manics have discovered folk music. A truly gorgeous lament featuring only the lightest touch of organ and a simple, picked melody, James sings, in that wonderful voice of his, "I can't fight this war anymore, time to surrender, time to move on" whilst Lucy Rose adds harmonies that threaten to split the listener's heart clean in two. It's a song that captures the sentiment we all face at one point or another, that we have somehow subverted our foolish dreams and let ourselves become so accustomed to the ravages of compromise that all that is left is the gentle flame of rebellion, lodged deep inside ourselves and never quite going out despite our feeling that it should. Nicky Wire has never written better lyrics than here, the sparse nature of his prose perfectly capturing a feeling that most people shy away from, preferring to ignore it than to confront it. In contrast `show me the wonder' is a bright, breezy single filled with gleaming acoustic guitars, glorious brass and a chorus that positively explodes with hope. The title track, featuring a stunning contribution from Richard Hawley, is part Nick Cave, part Leonard Cohen and it is also one of the most atmospherically charged songs the Manics have attempted, Nicky's throbbing bass recalling Angelo Badalamenti's work on the Twin Peaks soundtrack even as the guitars twitch and weave around the central melody. It is the logical continuation of the sound the Manics first developed on `there by the grace of God' and it's wonderful piece of music.

`Builder of routines', perhaps, highlights the theme of the album in the clearest possible terms - no obfuscation or metaphor here, just the tragic declaration "How I hate middle age, in between acceptance and rage" set to a tune that sits between the ambient melancholy of Massive Attack and the Levellers. The album's stylistic departures don't finish there, with `4 lonely roads' featuring yet another guest (this time Cate Le Bon) on a track that is part music hall oddity, part folk ditty, part Sonic Youth-gone-acoustic art-rock all at once. It shows the Manics at their inventive best, as does the album as a whole, and the Eastern vibe that permeates the echoing, widescreen soundscapes of `(I miss the) Tokyo skyline' further highlights the band's seemingly inexhaustible muse on the record. One of the few songs that sounds in any sense `traditional' is the acoustic lament of `Anthem for a lost cause' which sounds like Spiritualized covering `suicide is painless' in the style of `a design for life' and the result is a classic Manics ballad that leaves nothing to chance with its ambitious, kitchen-sink arrangement and huge chorus.

The final third of the album is no less inspired and is introduced by `As holy as the soil (that buries your skin)', a song that takes Ash's `shining light' as a melody and reworks it as a gospel/blues number with piano taking the lead, as unlikely as that might sound. `3 ways to see despair', with its minor key melodic shift and powerful acoustic sound is a compelling mix of Radiohead, Pink Floyd and Alice in Chains and is one of the highlights of the album. It is the Manics embracing the grandeur of the progressive from and running with it, James' guitar-work as thrillingly excellent as ever. `Running out of fantasy' is a simple piece in the vein of `small black flowers...' as James sings "my ecosystem is based on hatred...", once again echoing the thoughts of the audience even as he delineates his truth., but it's Manorbier' , a rare instrumental track that twists and turns through the echoing glass corridors of the memory, and leaves you wondering exactly what the band were up to on their post `national treasures' hiatus. Again, as with `3 ways...', the band edge successfully into progressive territory and it is surely the most unpredictable song of the band's career. The album ends with '30-year war', a searing, trumpet-led indictment of English political system that recalls the Levellers circa `mouth to mouth' with its phased synth lines and taut rhythms, whilst packing a serious lyrical punch that shows that even at their most relaxed, the Manics are far from stripped of their venom.

`Rewind the film' is a genuine treasure of an album. A bold stylistic departure that sounds like no-one other than the Manics, whilst simultaneously pushing into whole new musical vistas, `rewind the film' is both musically and lyrically a triumph. Nicky Wire has never written better than he does here, the lyrics riven with pathos and striking closer to the bone than ever. The fierce intelligence of the band has never been in doubt, but coupled here with some of the most strikingly beautiful music of the Manics' lengthy career there is no escaping the conclusion that `rewind the film' is one of the band's finest albums. Once again the Manics have proved that their longevity is the result of their ability to entirely sympathise with their core audience, and the result is an album that is refreshingly genuine. Far more concise than `...truth', melodically more memorable than `lifeblood' - its two nearest relatives in the Manics canon - `rewind the film' is a beautiful work of art from a band who have somehow sat in the mainstream without ever having compromised an inch. `Rewind the film' is not only a highlight of the band's career, but also of 2013 and it is an unqualified joy from start to finish. Can I be objective about the Manics? Perhaps not, but this is my truth, and if you have ever loved the band it is likely to be yours too.

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An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House
An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House
Price: £15.05

43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music for the heart and soul, 25 Mar 2013
Just as he announces he is stepping down from the role of guitarist in Black Country Communion, the ever-restless Joe Bonamassa unleashes a curt reminder of his phenomenal skill not just as a guitarist, but as a vocalist. A very special album indeed, `An acoustic evening at the Vienna opera house' captures Joe in the midst of a two week acoustic tour alongside special guests Gerry O Connor (fiddle), Mats Wester (nyckelharpa), Arlan Schierbaum (keyboards) and Lenny Castro (percussion), four multi-instrumentalists who play a curious assortment of exotic instruments that provide a depth and entirely different sonic slant to such Bonamassa stalwarts as `Dust bowl', `slow train' and `the ballad of John Henry'. Available as either a double CD, DVD or standalone Blu-ray, this remarkable set is best appreciated on one of the two visual formats as they offer enhanced sound (both DVD and Blu-ray offer DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 as standard, alongside a PCM track) and a better idea of the venue's glorious surroundings.

Possibly aware of the wealth of live albums and DVDs already attached to his name, Joe Bonamassa clearly had it in mind that any new endeavour would have to be special indeed and, in that respect, he has succeeded admirably. There is a sense of occasion connected with this DVD that comes not only from the stunning and often very different arrangements developed for this set, but also from the stunning surroundings which are magically rendered intimate (despite their size) by some truly excellent filming and editing. Just recently there seems to have been a trend away from the ghastly, MTV-inspired technique of rapid jump cuts and odd visual effects that became so common in live filming, and an elegant show such as this benefits from the slow, subtle work that has been gifted to it. Joe is given plenty of screen time, sitting surrounded by a row of guitars, but his four companions are also given plenty of recognition and the result is that you are effortlessly drawn into the concert rather than distracted from it.

As has already been stated, if you opt for DVD or Blu-ray you'll be greeted with a wealth of audio options, with a basic linear PCM track, a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and, best of all, a rock solid DTS 5.1 track all available. Sensibly the separate channels have not been co-opted for novelty pan effects, but rather the different instruments are given room to breathe and flow making the experience both wonderfully three dimensional and beautifully clear. Clearly the Blu-ray offers the very best in terms of sound and picture but even the DVD version looks spectacular, the contrast levels perfectly balanced thanks to the absence of typical stage lighting and the blacks (of which there are many) crisp and inky making this an unlikely visual treat - for those looking to show off a high definition home cinema kit this is one of those discs that you'll gladly seek out to show off your multiple speaker set up and large screen TV.

Enough of the technicalities however, the question most of you will want answered is whether the music is any good or not. The answer, as you might have expected from Joe Bonamassa, is a resounding yes. Cleverly he has worked well with his band to rebuild his songs from the ground up, stripping out the blistering guitar pyrotechnics of his electric set and replacing them with folky violin, shuffling percussion and much, much more. The effect is not unlike that of Eric Clapton's reinvention of `Layla' for his own, seminal Unplugged concert, or David Gilmour's brave reinvention of `shine on you crazy diamond' - the songs are both familiar and yet very different and all the better for having been rearranged with such care; few acoustic concerts are as utterly enthralling as this one and it is a genuine treat from start to finish.

From the start a sense of anticipation is cleverly built. The film makers clearly know that part of the concert-going experience is the wait you endure before the band come on. This is represented here by a beautifully shot introductory sequence that introduces the band members and their respective instruments, as well as the stunning city they have come together to play in, tied together by a dramatic, and brilliantly played piece of music that slowly fades in to the rapturous applause of the Vienna opera house show itself. Joe opens alone for a typically energetic `palm trees, helicopters and gasoline', his fingers flashing across the frets as he digs into the groove of the song. It's a brave start that highlights Joe's own skills and suggests a solid, if unspectacular blues concert. That view rapidly changes as the lights come up to reveal Gerry on the banjo adding depth to a stunning `Jelly roll'. You can feel the atmosphere turn electric as the two dual through the solos and then we're into a sublime `dust bowl'. Always a highlight thanks to its fantastically memorable chorus, here Joe reveals Lenny on percussion and Mats with his deeply unusual Nyckelharpa, an instrument that is essentially a keyed fiddle and which sounds gorgeous. The radical reinvention of the song does nothing to remove the pounding beat that is its back bone, or the sense of climax that it draws towards in its middle eight, but here the blistering guitar has been replaced by the disparate tones offered by the nyckelharpa and banjo and the result is a song that sounds as old as the rain that washes the hills of the black country and feels as refreshing.

The final member to be introduced is Arlan, who appears on a shimmering `around the bend', a song which also sees Gerry swap banjo for fiddle, an instrument which perfectly draws out the song's haunting melody, adding a touch of heartbreak to the rich sound. However this is a concert that is more about joy than sadness and `slow train' is given an energetic workout, with Gerry's fiddle adding in the guitar stabs of the original and Joe looking set to stomp right through the stage as the song builds up its full head of steam. You can almost feel the blaze of the lights and the intensity of the musicians as Joe's clear, high voice rings out clear and true through the mix. Another folk-laden tune appears in the fiddle `n' washboard stomp of `Athens to Athens', the perfect song to grab your partner by the hand to, and eliciting clear spontaneous outbreaks of uncontrollable joy from the crowd who whistle and clap throughout, the DVD does much to capture the spirit, but you can still only imagine the electric atmosphere in the building during this one. In contrast, `from the valley' sees the light and life briefly dim as Joe captures all attention with a heart-breaking, beautifully emotive piece of slide guitar that leaves you unsure whether to burst into tears or scream from the rooftops. Happily this decision is made for you as set highlight `the ballad of John Henry' appears immediately after, reborn as a Delta blues stomp, and if that doesn't have you screaming form the rooftops then you should, perhaps, give up all hope.

Sticking in a taut groove, `dislocated boy' recalls the stripped down and Moroccan-themed Page and Plant `Unledded' sessions and offers the wonderful Lenny Castro a chance to show his stuff, while `driving towards the daylight' is a more typical acoustic offering given great depth by the extra instrumentation, ending up sounding more Levellers than Led Zeppelin and redceiving a standing ovation in the process. "Let's play some blues, shall we?" Joe cries out before kicking into `high water everywhere', making sure the pace doesn't become one dimensional, and the audience by this point are willing to follow him everywhere, clapping along as if their lives depend upon it. Arlan's piano skills get a workout on Tom Waits' `Jockey full of Bourbon', reinvented here as a honky-tonk bar-ballad that not only rocks but which sees Joe relieved to have made it to the end with the lyrics intact! `Richmond' slows things down a touch, Arlan playing the accordion to add a touch of old-world grandeur to a haunting song. `Stones in my passageway' is dusty blues, as dry and sandy as the desert and as cool as the oasis you find at the heart of it. `Ball peen hammer' has a similarly relaxed feel, although the restless percussion and bright fiddle draws you deep into the heart of an imaginary landscape, far from the noise of the city and the roar of the crowd, only for the stunning `black lung heartache' to draw you still further up the side of a desolate mountain, something that truly imaginative and evocative music can do. That it is played and mixed with such skill and attention to detail is really the icing on the cake, and with the lights down low and the volume at neighbour-bothering levels it's all too easy to imagine yourself far from home. `Mountain time' passes all too quickly and then `woke up dreaming' once again demonstrates why Joe Bonamassa is so widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists currently treading the boards. The album closes on the twin highlights of long-time Joe standards `sloe gin' and `seagull' and you're left marvelling at how two hours has passed in a heartbeat and you hadn't once thought to check the time or stop the film for any kind of interruption at all. It is a testimony to how powerfully absorbing this set is, and there is no doubt at all that this is something you'll return to again and again.

In this hectic world the power of music to make you laugh, clap, cry and cheer is increasingly overlooked and ignored and yet it is as essential as ever, if not more so. The more the media continues to champion the fast-selling, overly commercial, digitally-enhanced music of the mainstream the more we are of an entire generation missing out on the simple emotional appeal of genuine music made by dedicated musicians who have spent hours of their lives working to become the best. Artists such as Joe Bonamassa are so important because they not only play with precision and skill, but they play with their hearts and souls. All five musicians on the stage at the Vienna Opera House speak of their understanding of the music in brief clips interspersed throughout the music (the extras feature far more of this) and all five demonstrate the belief they have in their music with their subtle, heartfelt contributions to the songs on offer. This is a perfect display of what can be achieved by a group of musicians shorn of effects, shorn of artifice and over-inflated egos and the result is utterly spell-binding. Here you will find heartbreak and redemption, joy and sorrow, the latter no better represented than by the elegiac `sloe gin', and ultimately your belief in the magical power of music to feed the soul will be reinvigorated. This is a flawless set and it should be mandatory listening for any aspiring musician or music fan - this may be Joe Bonamassa's masterpiece, don't miss out.

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Tank -War Machine Live [DVD] [2012]
Tank -War Machine Live [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Tank
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £13.55

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a grand job, 3 Dec 2012
It is a brave move for any band to return without their frontman after a lengthy absence from the scene. it is doubly brave when you have been one of the most revered names in the NWOBHM scene and you were initially formed by a frontman (Algy Ward) who had already been famous in his own right (in the Damned) and whose battle cry of "Wakey Wakey!" was an essential ingredient of live shows. However, with the band having risen from the ashes of a lengthy hiatus in the more favorable musical climate of the late nineties, Tank failed to gain momentum and it was only following the retirement of Ward and the recruitment of several new members, the most notable of whom being the mighty Doogie White (former vocalist of Rainbow) that Tank began to rebuild their career, although having found their feet they did so faster than many could have suspected. Two albums have appeared since White joined the band - `War Machine' and War nation' - and both have been blinding examples of attitude-laden classic metal, thus resuccitating the career of a band declared dead by many and thrilling all but the smallest minority of churlish Tank fanatics for whom any change in the band's internal make up is to be considered anathema.

For those unhampered by an unhealthy resistance to change, this DVD, filmed live at Poland's awesome Stodola venue (in Warsaw), offers up as clear an argument for Tank having continued as you could wish to see. Stodola has a grand history of live recordings with acts such as Soulfly and Therion having filmed shows there and Tank's DVD is of a similar quality - well filmed, with plenty of close-up shots and with pristine audio on the soundtrack - but it's Tanks self-assured performance that seals the deal. Doogie fits in like he's always been there, equally assured singing old material as he is belting out highlights from the recent albums, while the band lay down a mountainous wall of sound behind him. And speaking of highlights - this set is absolutely filled with them: from the opening strains of `this means war', the perfect introduction to Tank's riff-heavy metal machine; through the stunning `judgment day' which is, with no word of a lie, as good as anything Iron Maiden produced at their peak with its blistering solos, molten-metal chorus and Doogie's vital performance; to the closing drama of `the war drags ever on', tank's performance is never anything less than exemplary and the band comfortably belt out tracks from across their entire recorded history, making sure that their legacy receives equal footing to their current crop of excellent recordings.

If you want to witness Doogie's skills first hand then `feast of the devil' is the perfect showcase, seeing him step up the microphone with only the thunderous percussion of returning drummer Steve Hopgood at his back before the solid wall of guitars hits home is nothing short of revelatory although, as Doogie himself acknowledges in his remarkably candid interview, if you're the man whose stepped into the shoes of Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet and Algy Ward, then there's never going to be a question over your singing ability. The rest of the band, meanwhile, look enthused, frequently head-banging away as they peal out furious riff after riff to the appreciative crowd.

The main performance aside, the DVD does not skimp on extras. Aside from the twelve track concert, you also get the video for `War Nation' which juxtaposes live footage with studio material and archive footage of WWII for a clip that is hardly state of the art but which offers a great view of what Tank 2012 are all about; an interview with Mick Tucker and Chris Evans as well as a separate one with Doogie White; pro-shot footage from the Metal Hammer festival 2011 show; behind the scenes footage; a photo gallery; a biography and discography and even some preformatted desktop images - it is quite simply as exhaustive a raiding of the contemporary Tank vaults as you could imagine and it's a generous gesture from a band whose return to action has been a joy to behold.

Looking at sound and video, both are perfunctory but acceptable. In terms of audio you get standard PCM 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 which is a nice touch, but which adds little to the experience; there's no option for DTS, but this is a minor gripe. Video is a different matter, however, and it can prove to be slightly frustrating, particularly on a larger screen thanks to the high level of pixilation that occurs, which is a shame because for both the main concert and the Metal Hammer shoot the camerawork is excellent throughout. However, whilst the visuals may not be pristine they are clear enough and it is an excellent opportunity to see Tank at their best and in their natural environment.

Both Tank and metal Mind have done a grand job on this DVD. With specially filmed and informative interviews, a lengthy biography and plenty of extra footage, for fans of the band it is an unmissable experience, whilst for those new to tank it provides a one-stop demonstration of their considerable skills and their awesome back catalogue. This is real heavy metal played with heart and soul by a band who has survived against the odds and whose recent releases have been as powerful, as exciting and as enjoyable as anything from their early years. This is no way intended as a slight against Algy Ward - the former frontman of the band was a personable and talented musician - but with his retirement, the band were faced with the naturally traumatic decision of what to do next and, in recruiting the mighty Doogie White they were able to not only continue but also to revitalize themselves and develop material more than worthy of Tank's legendary name. There will always be those dissatisfied that the line-up they remember has changed, this too is natural, but for those willing to give Tank a chance they will find a blistering live act whose exemplary musicianship and enthusiasm for the genre are more than adequately represented on this excellent DVD.

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Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa [VINYL]
Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa [VINYL]
Offered by Vinylhead
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars if you like heavy, fast and intelligently written metal then this album will undoubtedly give you much pleasure., 27 Nov 2012
Following Cradle of Filth's golden age which began with the excellent `Principle of Evil Made Flesh' and ended with the equally ambitious `Midian' the band seemed paralysed by indecision. The mini-album `Bitter Suites to Succubi' offered up a perplexing mixture of covers, new tunes and unnecessary re-recorded versions of old favourites while the follow up `Damnation and a Day' was a bloated and largely irrelevant chapter in the band's history. Sadly things would hardly improve for `Nymphetamine', an album which displayed a similar lack of purpose before `Thornography' saw the band slowly return to form.

Everything changed with 2008's astonishingly good `Godspeed and the Devil's Thunder', an album which saw the band belt out the best tunes they'd written since `Midian'. Returning to high concept, the band played to their considerable strengths and with a decent story to back their musical depravity, the album had a strong focus which was irresistible despite the fact that the band left Roadrunner following the album's release amidst a blaze of recrimination (long-time fans of the band were always sceptical of Britain's premiere black metal allying themselves with the home of Nickelback - proof, as if any were needed, that Roadrunner are not exactly staffed by music fans unmoved by commercial concerns). Now safely in the arms of the excellent Peaceville records, Cradle of Filth continue their upward trajectory with the astounding `Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa' which sees the band build upon the foundations laid by `Godspeed...' and excel themselves with a brutal, furious assault on the senses that could be the best thing they've recorded since `Cruelty and the Beast'.

Opting for the vinyl version is a sensible option. A beautiful gatefold that truly gives the best view of the stunning artwork, the album is pressed on 180gm coloured vinyl and housed in printed sleeves which offer up pictures and lyrics. While a box set also offers a gratifying experience for the fan, it is the ultra-limited, ultra-special vinyl version (which comes complete with a free download for those of you who just can't tear yourselves away from digital formats) that we are reviewing.

Opening with the baroque atmosphere of `the cult of Venus Aversa', the band don't break convention by building the introduction into the stupendously fast track rather than offering it as a separate entity. Easily the best opening since the still-awe-inspiring `thirteen autumns and a widow', it offers everything that's best about the filth - razor sharp guitars, insane keyboards, more blast beats than your head can stand and Dani's depraved yelp which, remarkably, is still a multi-faceted thing of wonder. Lyrically, too, Dani is in fine form with his typically ornate prose printed on the record sleeves for those who struggle to decipher his animalistic grunts and groans. With the band seemingly at the height of their powers it is of little surprise that the second track `one final step from the abyss' maintains the ludicrous standard set by its predecessor. Opening with a darkly atmospheric keyboard section, it rapidly develops into a maelstrom of incredibly fast guitar and lyrical venom yet it is possessed of a dark groove and sense of control that keeps the track from ever sounding chaotic. Indeed, such is the quality of the production (ably overseen by Dani, Scott Atkins and Doug Cook with help from the legendary Andy Sneap) that every element is beautifully reproduced for the listener's consumption, and even if yuo hate COF it's impossible to say that they're not talented. Side one ends upon the utterly brutal `the nun with the astral habit' which sees Dani stretch his puns to breaking point while the band create a colossally fast soundtrack. It's a good song but suffers by comparison to the first two tracks which are simply immense (and thus excellent album openers).

Side two opens on a promising note with `retreat of the sacred heart', a burning, erotically charged burst of guitar mayhem with a brilliant, thrash informed breakdown which sees the band slow the pace a touch for a chugging and awesomely heavy chorus. It is, in point of fact, a simply great metal song that combines all of those disparate elements CoF have hinted at with their covers of everyone from Anathema to Iron Maiden into a single, melodic, well-crafted chunk of metal. Next up is `the persecution song' (perhaps written with the band themselves in mind given the amount of unfair flack they've had to dodge from tedious purists outraged by the notion that the band might actually be enjoying themselves) which is surely the band's token single (it is so much in the vein of `the death of love' that it could be its sequel), but then you have to forgive CoF their token `pop moment' because in fairness they've been including them in their records at least since `Midian' and they're always great ways to sucker the unsuspecting into their dark world. For those with a faster taste, then `Deceiving eyes' sees things back on track.

Side three sees the vinyl change from a dark blue to a deep, rich, Burgundy colour and the frankly ridiculous `Lilith immaculate' which deftly mixes furious guitars and guttural screams with some excellently tempered female vocals and a classical flourish in the melody line that is wholly unexpected and entirely welcome - this may be the effect of former Abigail Williams pianist Ashley Ellyllon joining as pianist and backing vocalist (replacing Sarah Jezebel Deva, who went off to release a singularly underwhelming solo album) - but certainly the female vocals have a greater weight in the mix than previously. `The spawn of love and war' opens with a suitably grandiose classical section before the guitars smash the mood to pieces and Dani lets forth a litany of beautifully phrased and thoroughly lascivious lyrics on what is easily the catchiest track on the album despite the fact that it cheerfully retains its resolute heaviness. `Harlot on a pedestal', meanwhile is an awesome slab of black-hearted metal that will silence any of the band's numerous critics if they stop harping on long enough to actually listen to the track.

That leaves only side four to round out this lengthy, and largely excellent, album. Strangely, the last side opens less-than-spectacularly with the rather odd `forgive me father' which showcases the Filth's love of NWOBHM just a little too clearly and, with all due respect, Dani really should avoid trying heavy metal vocals. His attempt is by no means bad, it's just not why we love Cradle and the effect is rather like hearing Madonna doing a Courtney Love impression - she may do a good job, but you just don't need it to happen! `Beyond eleventh hour' opens rather like a cross between a track from `cruelty...' and something by Nightwish, but happily it shifts into more familiar territory quickly enough and it's another belting Cradle tune that shows that this most devilish of bands still have talent, charisma and energy to spare. Closing number `beast of extermination' finishes the album in fine style and as the whole spinning circus of depravity ends, you're left wanting to start all over again.

Cradle of filth will always divide opinion. To be honest, to hell with the naysayers - CoF are fun, bold, exciting and often very, very good. This is easily their best album in some time and that's including the excellent `Godspeed on the devil's thunder'. If people out there want to roll their eyes and curse the name of filth, so be it, but if you like heavy, fast and intelligently written metal then this album will undoubtedly give you much pleasure. A gem from a perennially underrated band.

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Generation Terrorists
Generation Terrorists
Price: £16.42

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Arrogance personified, 27 Nov 2012
This review is from: Generation Terrorists (Audio CD)
With handsome versions of both `the holy bible' and `everything must go' surfacing as tenth anniversary editions a few years back it was, of course, inevitable that The Manic Street preachers' legendary debut album must, at some point, receive the same treatment, the only question being over how lavish the eventual set might be and how damaging upon the pocket. The answers, perhaps remarkably, to those questions are *very* and *surprisingly inexpensive* respectively with the record receiving a multiple format release ranging from the standard one disc edition (one extra track, super-cheap, pointless if you already have it), the decent three disc edition (re-master, disc of demos, DVD documentary with a bunch of live performances and videos thrown in, well-priced) and the exhaustive five disc box set (the kitchen sink, reassuringly expensive), not to mention a double vinyl for audiophiles with taste. It is a dizzying array, but as we are huge Manics fans, this review will concentrate on the super-deluxe version (bearing in mind the first two discs and the DVD are repeated in the three disc set) which is currently on its third spin of the week (yes - we do mean all of it).

That the Manic Street Preachers got lumped in alongside indie bands such as Oasis, Blur and the fairly turgid Britpop movement was, perhaps, inevitable after `Everything must go' savaged the charts, but the band that launched themselves into the public eye with a daring double album in 1992 were anything but indie and/or Britpop. A furiously intelligent punk band playing blisteringly fast guitar rock infused with the attitude of Guns `n' roses and Motley Crue, Manic Street preachers were an establishment threatening, spray-paint coated blast of life-changing lyrics and soul-searching solos that instantly attracted a huge and terrifyingly loyal following. Not so much a band at the start as a way of life, the now-legendary manifesto that the band would release a double album, sell a million and headline Wembley before splitting up was so utterly arrogant that you couldn't help but watch to see if they made it. That they didn't is as much a matter of timing as anything else as `Generation Terrorists', unwieldy length aside, sounds remarkably like the work of a much more mature, experienced band, its glossy production sounding, even today, like a million dollars even as the music still swore and scratched as it tottered on its stacked heels. Few albums, especially debut albums, have so much attitude, confidence and power and whilst there are those who will argue its length, as Simon Price so calmly points out in his informative liner notes, no-one can agree on which songs could reasonably be cut, so perhaps it is the right length after all.

The main album, already insanely long, really couldn't have much more added to it so aside from the re-mastering job, disc one offers only `suicide is painless', a track readily available elsewhere but not an unwelcome addition nonetheless. The real treasures in these sets are to be found on the second and third discs which gather together demos for pretty much every track on the record proper, rarities and b sides. It is a fascinating portrait of a band finding their feet, but what surprises most of all is how much of `Generation Terrorists' was already ready to go. For sure lyrics changed over time (most notably on `love's sweet exile'), vocals were smoothed by production (listen to James straining on `Methadone Pretty' and `Nat West-Barclays-midlands-Lloyds') and the guitars were tamed, but the spit and spite were all in place, as were the key melodies, and the result of listening through the second disc is rather like hearing `Generation Terrorists' if it had been recorded on a shoe-string budget in America by Nirvana. It's always questionable as to how enjoyable demos can be, but that largely depends upon the quality, and the quality here is excellent despite being rough and ready (think early Pavement or Sebadoh albums and you have an idea of the lo-fi but utterly listenable quality of these recordings), and many of these tracks will be new even to long-time fans and avid bootleg hounds.

For those who buy the three disc set then that's where the story ends, but for those who bought the super-deluxe then another disc offers up further demos (nine more to be precise) as well as every b side from the period and a flexi-disc track. It's an astonishing array of extras, and one can only assume that the cupboard is well and truly bare after such a clean out, with the only negative point being that anyone who is enough of a fan to buy this set is liable to already have the b sides, although having them all in one place is a benefit.

And still there's more. Not content with the three CDs, the label have also included a 10" vinyl copy of the BBC Radio On Rock Show Live Session, a rarity of immense value which includes four blistering tracks from the BBC archives. There's also a DVD (this is included in the three disc set) which excels over even the excellent `holy bible' DVD with its 70 minute documentary discussing the genesis and impact of the album, restored super eight montage of the band in their heyday, home road movie, official promo videos (including two new films) and BBC archive performances offering all the visual Manics material you could ever want outside of a complete live show from the period. It is a generous package indeed, and one that will take even hardened fans some time to wade through (it took us a full day to get through the set in sufficient detail for this review and then another day and a half to play it twice more just to let it sink in how good it actually all is), with no stone left unturned in the archive raiding hunt for fan-pleasing goodies.

On top of the audio delights you do get a few trinkets, although the record label have sensibly avoided filling the box with unnecessary junk, and so inside the well-designed 10" clam shell box you find a full-sized 28 page book (featuring rare photos, liner notes and track details although, sadly, no lyrics), a replica tour lanyard (I've still never worked out why anyone thinks we need these), a 10" print of a Richie collage and the discs. It's not as generous as, say, the Miles Davis box set but at least it doesn't throw scarves and marbles at you.

The impact of `Generation Terrorists' can hardly be overstated. Within a year of its arrival the Manics had already moved on, working on what was to become the depressingly under-rated `gold against the soul', the music industry had shaken itself out of whatever insanity had possessed it in allowing a young band from Wales to march into a studio and record a double album as a starting point, and the lives of several thousand young Manics fans were changed forever as they found themselves and their lives strangely caught up in the band's powerful gravitational field. In the subsequent years the Manic Street Preachers have recorded better albums, more successful albums and toured over the whole world, but they have never quite recaptured the arrogance and power of the amazing ode to excess that launched them upon the world. Listening now you can hear the power that must have so captivated the record label as they struggled to make sense of a band who referenced Nietzsche, William Burroughs and the Sleez Sisters, and it is hard to imagine a better way to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of this loud, proud, life-altering record than with this thoughtful box set.

The Afterman: Ascension (Digipak)
The Afterman: Ascension (Digipak)
Price: £18.39

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Odd, intense and often exciting, 23 Nov 2012
Returning to action after a two year break since 2010's `year of the black rainbow', progressive rock titans Coheed and Cambria are back with a typically ambitious two part epic in the form of `Afterman: Ascension' (to be followed next year by its counterpart `Afterman: Descension'). A nine track voyage into helium voiced progressive rock, employing elements of hardcore, awkward time-signatures and a typically convoluted plot following the Amory Wars, `Afterman' is a triumph of ambition over commercialism, and it is once again remarkable to see a band so thoroughly un-commercial flirting with the mainstream whilst simultaneously refusing to compromise on the oblique musical elements that made them popular in the first place.

Take first single, and the album's second track following a brief introduction, `Key Entity Extraction I Domino The Destitute' which juxtaposes Claudio Sanchez's unusual vocals against a backdrop of furiously awkward time signatures, samples and crunching guitars. At near eight minutes it is a lengthy track that makes utmost use of its duration by flowing through a complex number of changes and moods, the band cleverly developing a key melody that runs through the track despite its depth and obfuscation, and the closing bars are as heavy and exciting a close as you could wish, the track giving way to the rippling title track which bizarrely sits somewhere between U2 and the Flaming Lips. `Mothers of men' sees the band head off in a rockier direction, the opening riff recalling Van Halen before Josh Eppard's insanely convoluted percussion takes the track off in a completely different direction, the verse a wealth of syncopated rhythms and trippy guitars, standing in contrast to the heavier, more straight-forward chorus. It is notable that the band's skill lies largely in making something so intrinsically complicated sound so accessible - the result being that the album is both instantly enjoyable, and yet appreciable in greater depth, the more you take the time to absorb its many nuances.

Perhaps the oddest track on the record (and it has many contenders) is `goodnight fair lady' which is reminiscent of Everclear covering Paul Simon if one can imagine such a colourful cultural collision. It has a bouncy beat, a characteristically energetic delivery and it would make an ideal single with its upbeat melody. `Key Entity Extraction II Hollywood the cracked' gets things back on to an even keel with a smart, grinding guitar riff underpinning an infinitely darker tone that has shades of System of a down and Foo Fighters shot through its bile-strewn make-up. It's evil delivery and atonal riffs make it a personal favourite and even when a star-struck chorus bounces into view it cannot sweeten the tone too much from the earlier, malicious intent. Josh Eppard, meanwhile, takes every opportunity to stake his claim as one of the finest drummers in rock and there are few sticksmen as will fully inventive when it comes to providing the backdrop for such a superficially straightforward rocking number. `Key entity extraction III Vic the butcher' appears out of the reverberating noise and echoing voices that round out its predecessor, the riff spinning around the heavy, almost industrial-sounding drums. It's another highlight, the band sounding more vitriolic, more energetic and more enthused than in some time, the storyline and line-up changes clearly pushing the band to explore the very limits of their not inconsiderable talents. `Key entity extraction IV Evagria the faithful' is, without a doubt, the most unusual song here (alongside `goodnight fair lady'), with its cyclical introduction leading into a vocal that can most easily be compared to Michael Jackson's breathy delivery. It showcases the vast breadth of Coheed's influences, and as the jazzy drums kick in you start to see just how innovative their approach to music making is. The song edges into pure progressive territory as it moves through its various moods, the music as hard to define as the glimmer of light caught from a crystal - shifting and changing every time you try to recapture that original glimpse. The grand finale of this first part (the second half of the story is due out in the February of 2013) is `subtraction' and it sounds, somewhat inconceivably, like a cross between Depeche Mode, Belle and Sebastian and The Eels - and you're left wondering how on earth the band are going to top this album in terms of pure invention.

Coheed and Cambria are that rarest of acts - a band that have carved out their own path in the music industry, scoring major label success with music that is so far removed from concepts of commerciality that it's remarkable it ever crossed into the mainstream. That they have had such a level of success demonstrates both the band's remarkable musicianship and grasp of melody as well as the industry's continual failure to grasp that music fans out there want to be challenged by original, talented artists, not sub-karaoke X factor finalists and it is both refreshing and heartening to see acts such as Coheed and Cambria garner the recognition they deserve for their invaluable contribution to the world of music. Odd, intense and often exciting, `Afterman: Ascension' is a fascinating and intelligent offering from a band who just continue to get better.

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