Friday, 23 March 2018

Brian Downey's Alive & Dangerous @ Nell's Jazz & Blues, West Kensington

What better way to kick off our new section than with a photo set from Brian Downey's Alive And Dangerous?  Their second london date went down a storm on February 10th and we were there to witness it.

Keep up to date with Brian Downey news at:

Read our review of the 24/11/17 show here!
Photography: M Godding

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Album Review: Eliminator 'Last Horizon'

I first encountered Lancaster’s Eliminator supporting Satan at Camden Town’s Purple Turtle (now closed) in October 2011. I left the show impressed with their energy and ear for a catchy riff, and with a copy of the then-recently released We Rule The Night EP in hand. Fast-forward seven years and three changes in frontman, and the north-western warriors have at long last graced us with a full-length album. It was worth the wait.

Last Horizon starts out strong with '2019'; a spot of high energy riffage underpinning some topical musing on man’s relationship with technology that launches the listener straight into the broader “feel” of the album: No ominous, quiet intro or buildup at the start of this number – it’s fretboard acrobatics and plenty of “whoah”s and “yeah”s from the off. New vocalist Danny Foster brings considerable flair to this recording, and the vocal delivery soars as much as the guitar leads. Look for the promo video doing the rounds for a fun display of “Blade Runner but in northern England”. Continuing in the sci-fi vein established with '2019' and pushed in the overall presentation of the album we have the title track, 'The Last Horizon': To this listener, one of three major highlights of the release. An engaging intro section gives way to grand, powerful vocal melodies over some cracking riff-work in the chorus section and some interesting use of dynamics and melody alternating with the quieter verses. Guitarists Jack MacMichael and Matthew Thomas deserve commendation for delivering some tasteful dual lead work in the middle section here.

The album’s pace drops slightly with the first of its four “epics”, 'Echoes'. This boasts a lovely repeating melodic motif and the faster section towards the end contains some impressive shredding. A solid song, though I wonder about its placement on the album and whether something shorter and more “immediate” might have preceded it. Either way, this song is quickly outshone by the second “epic” and my second album highlight: 'Procession of Witches'. Space and technology have been left behind as lyrical themes by this point, in favour of a tale of mystic communion with dark, elemental powers. After an intro with some fancy double lead and nice-if-brief solo basswork spots by Jamie Brandon, the initial movement of 'Procession' goes fast with a catchy melodic riff carrying it all along, with a drop of pace in the middle section. Here, drummer Dave Steen focuses his energy on floor toms in a section evoking ritualistic percussion, which builds tension with restrained guitar chords and vocals before taking us into a closing instrumental section and verse reprise, which can be aptly described as “well tasty”. I’m left in the mood for something more quick and direct following this and Eliminator supply just that, with my third album highlight 'Edge of A Dream'. The main riff might boast the catchiest melody in the whole album, and some interesting choices of vocal melody (memorable and pleasing to the ear without being “obvious”) rub up against some seriously powerful riffs and a flash lead section toward the end. This is a masterclass in simple, effective heavy metal song writing.

The album’s home stretch begins with the third “epic” 'Fall Of The Seer'. This moves at a stately pace and concludes the tale of 2012’s The Seer single with a story of a mad, decrepit clairvoyant foreseeing his own doom. Thematic reminders of Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of A Seventh Son are in evidence here, and Foster demonstrates some serious low-end vocal tone in addition to his impressive falsetto. 'Pride and Ruin' follows, and presents us with one last burst of quick, concise heavy metal (heralded by an opening riff that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Slough Feg release) before the final “epic” and album closer, 'Spoils of an Empire'. This is a worthy note for the album to end on, the lead section heralded by a falsetto scream at the 3:45 mark being a highlight.

I’m happy to report my excitement for this album was rewarded. We’ve a selection of powerful, memorable songs delivered with panache and a sound production job that doesn’t sound sterile or low-tech-for-its-own-sake. Eliminator have already announced a few dates around the UK to promote this album. Do yourself a favour and get yourself along to one if you can. Last Horizon confirms it: These gents represent the best that British heavy metal has to offer. A must-have.

Score: 4.5/5

Last Horizon is available on CD from 23/03/18 or Vinyl from 18/05/18 via Plastic Head.

Album release party:  24th March @ The Star & Garter, Manchester.  Support from Seven Sisters, Ascalon and Heavy Sentence.  Details here.

Other dates:

20/04/18: The Dev, Camden (more info)
25/05/18: British Steel 2, The Underworld, Camden (more info)

Keep up to date with Eliminator news via their facebook page.

Writer: Craig Stewart

Friday, 16 March 2018

Live Review: Robin Trower @ Islington Assembly Hall

Islington Assembly Hall is packed to capacity this evening. After the postponement of last year's date at the same venue, it seems nobody wants to miss Robin Trower this time. He has tended to appear in London quite regularly over recent years, but even so there is an awareness that this esteemed guitarist might not be playing forever. 

Sari Schorr opens proceedings with the relatively stripped-down accompaniment of Ash Wilson on guitar and Bob Fridzema on keys. One thing is clear immediately - this woman has a strident voice. The American chanteuse delivers a performance of unwavering intensity that at times risks overpowering the music itself, but there is no denying her confidence. A version of Bad Company's 'Ready For Love' almost sounds like a threat rather than a bid for seduction, yet thankfully her sidemen keep their cool with tasteful, restrained playing.

Robin Trower takes the stage at nine o'clock sharp with the now-familiar pair of Richard Watts and Chris Taggart on bass and drums respectively. Veteran fans already know what to expect - a set of soulful rock music minus any unnecessary showbiz frills. From the first note to the last, Trower is lost in a world of sound and feeling. This is one musician who simply cannot "phone it in", the space in his music means that he is too exposed to ever be anything other than fully present in the moment. 

Watts handles the bulk of the vocal work, and his understated approach works well on the material from the hallowed James Dewar era. He has no intention of attempting to overshadow his boss or imposing his own ego on songs that have stood up so well over the decades. Behind him Taggart sets about his kit with the unbridled enthusiasm of a young pup.

If there is any criticism to be made here, it would simply be that the set list is remarkably similar to that of Trower's two previous London gigs. When your catalogue is as rich with great music as his, it seems a shame to rely on the same handful of old songs whilst ignoring so many other gems of the past. The newer tunes picked for airing tend to nestle comfortably in the twelve bar form with less in the way of hooks and arrangement than the vintage material. Yet it's not as if the man's recent work is bereft of inspiration - a song like the magnificent 'The Past Untied' would be very much welcome in this context.

After roughly an hour and an half of blues-drenched rock music, with the emphasis firmly on exceptional lead guitar playing and barely a word spoken to the audience, Robin Trower humbly waves goodbye and leaves the stage.

Score: 3.5/5

Writer: George Colwan
Photo: Andy Rawll

Monday, 5 March 2018

Live Review: Saxon, Diamond Head and Rock Goddess @ Cambridge Corn Exchange

Welcomed into picturesque Cambridge with blustery winds and a biting chill means we immediately take refuge in the closest Wetherspoons which we soon realise is just a stones throw from the infamous Cambridge Corn Exchange. Beer in hand and surrounded by a mix of both Rugby enthusiasts and heavy metal loyalists - we're now very much looking forward to the doors opening for Saxon, Diamond Head and Rock Goddess.

Full of liquid calories, we're lit with adrenalin as we make our way towards the grand venue. The queue is long and so we have to make do with listening to the very brilliant Tracey Lamb, Julie and Jody Turner take to the stage from just outside the main doors. It's not long before we're inside taking off mountains of layers as we climb into a packed venue. It's great to see so many fans here bright and early supporting Rock Goddess as they crack on with the first tracks of their set. The somewhat solemn crowd bob and clap along to 'Satisfied Then Crucified', 'Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right' and 'Back Off'. The girls never fail to emit pure power and energy and it's not long before Jody has the crowd warmed up and finally moving as they join her in singing along to 'Heavy Metal Rock 'n' Roll'. Whether you're familiar with the girls' back catalogue or not, the catchy chorus gets bodies moving and the high energy, ballsy performance is clearly appreciated. The last time we caught Jody, Julie and Tracey live was at London's Borderline in 2017 where we were lucky enough to open the show for them. They blew the roof off the much smaller venue and tonight, albeit in a much larger venue, their performance had just the same effect. The perfect opener.

It's time for NWOBHM royalty Mr Brian Tatler of Diamond Head to prepare his axe as he enters the stage with vocalist Rasmus Bom Anderson by his side. The smell of burning gets some raised eyebrows but is soon forgotten as the band immediately rip into Lightening to the Nations' classic 'Helpless'. Although we crave some volume, there's no surprise that opening with this number is always going to go down a storm with Diamond Head fans. Frontman Rasmus is a brilliant performer as he raises his mic in the air, Coverdale style. Although Tatler is the only  original member of the band, Rasmus' stage presence demands all eyes on him. They work their way through a killer (albeit very short) set of classic numbers such as 'Heat of the Night' and 'It's Electric' with only one newer track 'Bones' from the 2016 self-titled album. Diamond Head's set absolutely flies by as one of the most well-known heavy metal riffs of all time vibrates across the room. 'Am I Evil?' sets in and the crowd finally come alive- something they should have done several tracks ago.

As soon as the last applause is made I rush my way through to the bar and loos, eager to make my way back to the front for Saxon. However, I'd clearly missed the loud, piercing fire alarm sounding across the venue as a steward taps me on the shoulder and asks me (and the rest of the venue) to vacate the building. The streets of Cambridge are packed full of shivering Saxon fans, all
eager to get back inside but many definitely wondering what had caused the alarms to sound. Many around us continue to speculate as some people even go back to nearby hotels never to return. However, after a pint and a pee in a nearby bar, it wasn't long until we were all welcomed back into the Cambridge Corn Exchange only to find out that the sirens were merely that of a defective alarm.

The only alarm heard now though are the pipes of Biff Byford as he pounds on stage in his usual all-black attire kicking-off with new track 'Thunderbolt' swiftly followed by 'Sacrifice' and 'Nosferatu'. Biff jokes with the crowd about having to leave the Cambridge Corn Exchange due to a false alarm for the 2nd time in his heavy metal career but praises the venue for being such an iconic setting.
The setlist sees a mixture of tracks old and new with the newer tracks going down well with a now buzzing crowd.The vibe in the room is familiar and content and this is only heightened as Saxon pay respects to Motorhead with 'They Played Rock 'n' Roll'. A rapid yet emotive performance.

The sing-along, head-banging and fist-pumping actions are now fully underway with beer glasses galore floating through the air to celebrate first-rate Saxon material 'And the Bands Played On', 'Crusader' and 'Princess of the Night'.

Any concerns of Saxon's set being cut short due to the alarm were long gone as they treat us with an encore and any Saxon enthusiast could guess what this will include. It's time of course for 'Heavy Metal Thunder', 'Denim and Leather' and 'Wheels of Steel'. Unlike many generic numbers from classic heavy metal bands, these tracks are never tiresome to hear and certainly never fail to keep you moving - rest-assured sweat levels increase rapidly!

It didn't matter that we'd lost our prime spot at the front, nor did it matter that I was under a 7ft man's armpit. Saxon are one of those bands that you could end up seeing several times a year, but they always put on a jam packed, energised performance which leaves no attendee disappointed. True heavy metal heroes who seem as if they'll continue forever... let's hope so!

Score: 5/5

Photography: Frank Baring
Writer: Kayleigh MG