Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Album Review: Witchtower 'Hammer Of Witches'

Louise Dornan takes a look at Spain's Witchtower and their latest full length release, 'Hammer of Witches'

In December 2016, the heavy metal world was given an early Christmas present in the form of Witchtower’s Hammer of Witches.

Following a 2014 EP release and their debut, self-titled full length a year later, there was some excitement building about this next output. The anticipation was certainly justified. Witchtower is a solid album but Hammer of Witches takes the band to a whole new level. Both the song writing and execution sound tighter without losing any of the authentic “old school” sound that they do so well.

'Salem Witch Trials' starts the album off with blasting, high energy riffs demanding attention from the get go. A frantic solo gets my blood pumping and I'm hooked already. 'Fast Broomsticks' allows the band to showcase that their influences are absolutely not restricted to the NWOBHM. The guitar work is so catchy alongside the chugging bass and drums. With vocals somewhat reminiscent of those of Blue Öyster Cult, the track is a fantastic tribute to the music of the late seventies with the band's own signature firmly stamped across it.

The anthemic single 'Better Run' makes it impossible to sit still. I'm already singing along by the second listen. The nod to early Iron Maiden themed NWOBHM really hits the spot.

Things get pretty interesting over the next couple of songs. This album is in no way predictable and each song produces a new mood and a different set of influences. The atmospheric opening of 'Spiritual Love' leads into an uplifting and emotional power ballad. Vocalist Víctor's accent really comes through on this track, fitting perfectly with the music and adding another dimension to the album. The harsher 'November of 1786' takes things in a completely different and darker direction but not without a small tribute to Judas Priest thrown in. 'Black Cauldron' is fast, brutal and raw with a surprisingly groovy and progressive instrumental mid-section.

The slow start to ‘Darkest Hour’ is soon remedied by a bouncy and memorable song full of catchy melodies with some doom tinged bass lines and melancholic guitar parts somehow seamlessly blended in. Far from being discordant, it works really well. Witchtower then leave us with a progressive, instrumental outro - tipping their hats to prog rock’s finest.

In a scene brimming with new acts firmly rooted in the sounds of the mid-eighties, Hammer of Witches gives us something else, clearly influenced by the bands which preceded the eighties heavy metal scene. A late seventies vibe mixed effortlessly with the NWOBHM inspired material. This album feels a bit like going on a journey with each track bringing the listener down different roads, all leading to the same destination. It’s engaging from beginning to end and genuinely interesting to listen to.

Witchtower have gathered a loyal fan base in their native Spain, affectionately referred to as “friends” by band leader Víctor de la Chica. They’ve caught the attention of many of us beyond the Spanish borders in the past few years but more and more heads are sure to start turning in their direction thanks to Hammer of Witches. The album has just been released on black, red and purple coloured vinyl by Unsilent Tombs Records, so grab it while you can!

With their main goal being to continue creating and playing music, Born Again- Heavy Metal Soundhouse can’t wait for the next chance to catch Witchtower live. Having so much enjoyed playing Brofest 2014 and after receiving such a great reception from fellow bands and fans alike, let’s hope for a return to the UK in the not so distant future.

Score: 4/5

Writer: Louise Dornan

Photography: Sebas Bautista

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Live Review: Seven Sisters, Primitai and Eliminator at The Unicorn, Camden

Craig Stewart makes his way to Camden Town's The Unicorn to enjoy some hip-swinging, fist- pumping goodness brought to us in the form of Eliminator, Primitai and Seven Sisters.
Seven Sister's Kyle Mc Neill

There’s something dependable, even comforting about Camden Town’s The Unicorn. The pub/venue provides regular free gigs with good bands set away from the mania of Camden High Street usually attracting a decent crowd and tonight’s no exception. It’s the end of the working week, the Spring thaw is in the air, festival season isn’t far off and a contingent of London’s heavy metallers have descended on the corner of Camden Road and York Way in search of cheap booze and a good time, myself among them.

Lancaster’s Eliminator are first up. They swiftly remind me it’s been far too long since they last graced the stage in London with a fine serving of pounding, no-nonsense heavy metal. New frontman Danny Foster fits into the band seamlessly, doing justice to existing material with stellar range and presence.  The band exude confidence and energy on stage and seem to really be enjoying their return to the capital. Set list callbacks to 2011’s We Rule The Night EP are very welcome to these ears and the title track of that release receives exactly the raucous, fist-pumping reception it deserves. We’re treated to some new material in the form of the epic -sounding 'Spoils of Empire' (played immediately after 'Echoes of The Past' making for a nice “long song” section within the set). The head-banging loyalists in the front row are fully on board throughout and 'Outlaws of the Highway' closes out nicely. Hopefully it won’t too long before we see Eliminator in London again.

Primitai have the unenviable task of following on from Eliminator tonight. Fortunately they’re in a good position to do so, having a rich seam of material to mine over four full-length albums, an EP and a few singles. This proves to be a polished, energetic set leaning largely on 2016’s Night Brings Insanity LP. Frontman Guy Miller works up some audience participation as the band showcase the contrast of their back catalogue with slightly slower, more epic numbers such as 'The Cannibal' counterbalancing the full-tilt fury of 'Savage Skies''Fortune Favours The Brave' and 'Driven Wild'.  The high-point for me arrives with 'Power Surge', a real earworm of a number that features one of many trips into shred city courtesy of guitarists Srdjan Billic and Sergio Giron. I must confess to being quite late to hearing Primitai, but I’m left eager to see them live again and will be keeping an eye out for more shows.

We proceed to the headline act, and Seven Sisters proceed to set the stage on fire. I assure you, dear reader, that this is no hack hyperbole: A stage light flares up halfway through opener 'Highways of The Night' and the hazard’s dealt with before the set resumes.  They recover from this swiftly with the anthemic 'Onwards They Ride' and proceed to deliver exactly the sort of rousing set we’ve come to expect. We’re treated to some crackers we haven’t heard in a while tonight – I was pleased to hear 'Avenger' and 'Wicked Steel' make a return– and some deep cuts from 2016’s self-titled LP (the titanic 'Seven Sisters' and 'Cast To The Stars' are particular highlights). Seven Sisters have cultivated a loyal and dependably vocal following at their live shows in London, and it shows throughout here with chorus singalongs and guitar melody “whoah”-alongs aplenty.  Fists are in the air and heads banging as guitarists Graeme Farmer and Kyle McNeill tear up their respective fretboards. The finale comes as a one-two punch: A cover of Virtue’s classic 'We Stand To Fight', followed by the fan-favourite hip-swinging ode to boxing, 'No Guts, No Glory', propelled along by the Loftin-Rute rhythm section. I’ve been following these guys since their first live outing and it’s a pleasure every time, certainly tonight.

Seven Sisters close out leaving us near spent, though not quite spent enough to dismiss the after-party supplied by Born Again Heavy Metal Soundhouse. Toes tap and hips swing. This was a great night and more like it are on their way in the next few weeks and months. Bring them on, I say.

Score: 5/5

Writer: Craig Stewart

Photography: Louise Dornan

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Humble Pie Vinyl Box Set: A&M Years, 1970-1975

The A&M classics get remastered and repackaged in one must-have box set for Humble Pie fans, courtesy of Universal.

When British Blues rock comes up in conversation, a handful of names tend to get mentioned.  Humble Pie is one of those names.

Formed in the late 60s, the band was considered one of the first super groups, rounded up by Mod poster boy Steve Marriott, fresh out of The Small Faces. Joining him were Greg Ridley (ex Spooky Tooth), Peter Frampton (ex The Herd) and young whippersnapper, 17-year old Jerry Shirley on drums.

Going on to create universal hits such as 'I Don't Need No Doctor', '30 Days In The Hole' and 'Thunderbox', the box set gives us a slice of Humble Pie history including albums from the eras of both lead guitarists, Clem Clempson and his predecessor Frampton. Since only the A&M albums will be given the re-mastered 180 gram black vinyl treatment, the first two Immediate records won't be included, which will no doubt disappoint fans of the early period.

However, fans of the prime era will be delighted with what's on offer, especially as Eat It has had a much needed clean-up.  Jerry Shirley clearly revels in this; expressing his opinion on the remaster he says the album in particular, had sound problems originally that have now been eradicated once and for all, so that all our fans, old and new, can hear it as it was intended to be”.

Shirley and Frampton worked closely with A&M to create this collection, with Frampton adding “we pay tribute to our two lost brothers, Steve and Greg and hope you enjoy this as much as we did putting it all together”.

The set will include:

Humble Pie (1970)
Rock On (1971)
Performance Rockin’ The Fillmore (1971) [2LP]
Smokin’ (1972)
Eat It (1973) [2LP]
Thunderbox (1974)
Street Rats (US Version) (1975)

Due for release on the 2nd June, make sure you pre-order your copy here and don't miss out!

Writer: Michelle Godding

Friday, 7 April 2017

Album Review: Mythra 'Still Burning'

NWOBHM legends Mythra to release first complete album

With the emergence of the NWOBHM movement came a flurry of bands from all over the UK, bringing a much-needed surge of energy to hard rock music. The North East's contribution was essential to the development of the genre.

Mythra's influential self-financed 1979 Guardian Records E.P Death and Destiny sold out in a flash and was re-pressed a year later on Street Beat Records. The band enjoyed success with the help of Sounds magazine's Geoff Barton, with 'Death and Destiny' staying in the Alternative Chart for twelve weeks. Despite this, several setbacks including mismanagement led to the band splitting in 1981 before anything else was released.

Over the years, various labels released Mythra's back catalogue and the band themselves self-financed the elusive 2002 album The Darkener with the hope of re-igniting interest. However, it wasn't until their supercharged 2015 Brofest re-union show that they got the spark back and began recording new material. Warriors Of Time: The Anthology followed, collecting together the Death And Destiny era tracks and showcasing five new numbers, 'Reaching Out' proving especially that Mythra were never really finished, just dormant until the right time came.

It was only a matter of time before High Roller Records would snap up the opportunity to release a brand new Mythra album much to the band's delight. Recorded in October 2016, the band worked with produced Bart Gabriel (Gabriel Management), with vocalist Vince High stating It was a superb experience and we all had a great time working with him”.

Still Burning sees original members Vince High (vocals), Maurice Bates (bass), John Roach (guitar), Alex Perry (guitar) and newer addition Phil Davis (drums) come together to write and record ten new tracks as well as re-record 'Fundamental Extreme' from The Darkener.

Fans got a taster of the new album at Brofest #5 earlier this year, and the general consensus was that Mythra had done what few reformed NWOBHM bands do these days; creating a sound that is true to their past but in no way dated. The album's namesake opens with a heavy chugging riff backed by a powerful rhythm section; High's still-youthful vocals layer smoothly over the top. This updated heavy metal sound (sometimes with a hint of thrashiness in style) continues throughout with nods to the old school in the guitar playing and tone.

'Sands Of Time' allows High to exhibit his vocal range over a mellow guitar intro before pounding into a powerful classic heavy metal track with superb guitar playing. Other highlights from Still Burning include 'A Call To All' and 'That Special Feeling', both instant classics capturing the NWOBHM sound that we all love with an updated twist.

Still Burning is very much a comeback and a half, keeping the heavy metal flame alight.  It definitely won't disappoint fans. You can order the album directly at High Roller Records from April 28th.

Score: 4/5

Writer:  Michelle Godding