5 Times George Michael Nailed It

george-michael
When I was a child growing up it was kinda hard to get away from whatever pop music was polluting the charts at the time; whether I liked it or not, this music was soundtracking my childhood. However, what I didn’t realise at the time, basically because I found songs like ‘True’, ‘Rio’ or ‘Karma Chameleon’ irritating (though now admit to their pop genius), was that the people who sung numbers like these could not only hold a tune but were seriously talented. Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet) had an absolutely massive voice, Simon Le Bon (Duran Duran) could really nail a hook, and as for Boy George, his voice had texture – just listen to ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ it’s stunning.

Then, of course, there was George Michael. I wasn’t exactly a fan, but as pop music went at the time George could normally meet with pretty much universal approval and was about as close as you get to pop perfection. I always knew he was a good singer, I mean, I bought ‘Older’, which is a fine album with a jazzy late night feel that makes for a very chilled listen, but it was only recently that it really hit me.

Since the turn of the century, we’ve been inundated with “talent” realities – Idol, X-Factor, The Voice to name a few – and a number of alumni from these shows have gone on to achieve considerable success. The shows themselves have thrown up a number of memorable moments where singers have stunned crowds with incredible voices or stand out performances. A handful are even genuine talents with a long history of hard work behind them; think Adam Lambert and Leona Lewis, but in reality most are just winging it, benefitting from big production, teams of songwriters and talent makers like Simon Cowell looking for a quick return on their investment. However, singers like these, and other internet sensations discovered via YouTube or wherever, have become the norm and are everywhere.

So when, a few years ago, I happened across a George Michael live show on a satellite music channel – it was an unplugged style thing – it struck me just how easy he made it look and how little production he needed. Where the reality stars were singing their hearts out to make it look good, George hardly broke sweat, where the wannabes were struggling to reach a note and get all the words into the melody, George had smoothly glided through and never missed a beat or failed a note. Thinking back over his career, a couple of big ballads aside, he rarely belted out a tune, there was always this sensation that he was singing well within himself and that he could sing pretty much anything with consummate ease. And therein lies George’s genius, ok, his career may have waned in recent years, but his early work has stood the test of time, simply because it was so well done. Great voice, great talent.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of times George nailed it in his own inimitable style.

‘Careless Whisper’
One of the few times George really lets loose, showing off an enviable range and stunning power. Sure, it’s about as slushy as a ballad can get, but the sax riff is genius and the vocal nothing short of incredible. Hats off to Andrew Ridgeley for writing such a timeless classic.

‘Somebody to Love’
Move over Adam Lambert, George was the original choice as the new Queen vocalist, such was the supremacy of his performance at the Freddie Mercury tribute. There was a lot of speculation in the media that he really would join as permanent replacement, but rumour has it that John Deacon vetoed the project (among other rumours). Whether he could’ve cut it on the rockier numbers will also remain open to question. Anyway, George described ‘Somebody to Love’ as the hardest song he ever had to sing, but boy does he nail it, whether in the famous rehearsal video or on stage at Wembley, where he puts in a sublime performance – take note singers, that is how you work a crowd.

‘Father Figure’
For me, this is one of the most underrated songs in George’s back catalogue and is often overlooked, yet it has stood the test of time and his understated vocal shows the depth of his singing talent. This performance from the Mtv Unplugged of 1996 is testament to the talent of the man.

‘Older’
In my humble opinion, this darkly jazzy track is one of George’s finest moments. It’s a beautifully understated song that shows off some fine vocals – there’s a bit of bite, a bit of hush – and really was a coming of age. The whole album stands up for its quality until today – ‘Jesus to a Child’, ‘Fastlove’, ‘Spinning The Wheel’…great songs, brilliantly sung.

‘As’
Ok, so I’m a bit of a sucker for a big bad Mary J vocal, she always kills it, but on this Stevie Wonder classic George more than holds his own on what is a superb duet. Whether it’s trading riffs between verses or when they go head to head as the song gathers to its killer gospel climax, George puts in an awesome performance.

Check it Out – January 2017

January is a strange old month, kinda slow and long, and come the end of the year it’s been pretty much forgotten. However, that doesn’t stop the music business getting off to a lively start, with 2017 already throwing up some banging releases. There is already a whole bunch of quality records flying around Spotify and filling the racks in record stores, so, with that in mind I figured it was time for something brand spanking new to fill these digital pages.

This new section of Hard Pressed, replacing the now defunct ‘What’s Hot in My House’, aims to introduce people to some of the hottest recommendations each month. It could feature anything from the obvious to the obscure, just depends what’s been grabbing my attention. So here we go with the first crop of big hitters to be jumping around my virtual stage or crooning in my own personal backroom bar.

The xx – ‘I See You’
‘I See You’, the third album from Mercury Prize winners, The xx, is the obvious big release from January and it does not disappoint. Their hushed indie pop sound has progressed into something more expansive and exploratory as they deliver an absolutely gorgeous record. They’ve retained that air of thoughtful vulnerability, while also showing greater confidence, resulting in a gratifyingly adventurous album exploring the textures of well constructed pop music. This is sure to be kicking around for a while and is well worth immersing yourself in – don’t be surprised to see it on many album of the year lists. Superb.

Loyle Carner – ‘Yesterday’s Gone’
As hip-hop albums go, this is like the anti-thesis of all the brash American rappers bragging about riches and the glamorous gangsta lifestyle. This is not an album about how amazing Loyle Carner is, it’s about life, something we can all relate to, nostalgia, reminiscing, missing the simplicity of childhood, musing on the mundane – damn it, this boy can rhyme about anything. Loyle boasts an effortless almost low-key flow as he glides smoothly through these snapshots of urban life in distinctly chilled out fashion. This is the future of British rapping – sublime.

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – ‘Modern Ruin’
On their sophomore album, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes have evolved into a slick blend of hard driving rock and twisted punk, with a liberal spattering of Frank’s brand of uncompromising vitriol that falls somewhere between the Arctic Monkeys and the Sex Pistols. And what a great album it is. Sure there is a full on dose of power chords and radio friendly choruses, but this is a band moving forwards and progressing into a serious proposition. Besides which, Frank’s lyrics remain as unforgiving as ever with tracks like the incredible ‘Thunder’ putting post Brexit prejudices under the microscope. Great record.

Sepultura – ‘Machine Messiah’
Although balls to the wall, scream til your ears bleed thrash metal may not be everyone’s bag, the innovative new album from Brazilian giants Sepultura is still well worth a listen. The album is essentially a conceptual affair expounding on the robotisation of society and is simply excellent in every department, from the stunning cover art down to the faultless production. Andreas Kisser and Co. have reached an enviable level of technical excellence and they use it to great effect on this creatively diverse record. Doom laden epics? Got em. Superfly shredding? Yep. Cinematic orchestration? No problem. There’s even some adventure to the rhythms and vocals. To be frank this is one of the finest albums of Sepultura’s long career and as metal goes, it’s gonna be hard to beat. Full review: http://alreadyheard.com/post/155988183668/review-sepultura-machine-messiah

Halestorm – ReAniMate 3.0 Covers EP Review

Halestorm recently dropped ReAniMate 3.0, the third in their series of covers EPs, which they use to fill stop gaps between albums, and to put it bluntly, it’s pretty damn fine. What you get is an eclectic mix of six covers from the various sub genres of rock and pop, all of which are a nice fit for Lzzy Hale‘s raspy rocker voice.

It all kicks off with live favourite ‘Still of the Night’, which stays true to the original, moody mid section, blistering solo and all. It’s very close to their own style, but they breathe some freshness into the Whitesnake classic.

Much more surprising is the hard rock twist they put on ‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover’, the nineties pop classic from one hit wonder Sophie B. Hawkins. Sure, it has a killer hook to the chorus and is catchy as hell anyway, but some laid back radio friendly riffing turns it into a feel good hit for the summer, giving the listener that blaring from the car stereo cruising on LA freeways feel. Joan Jett‘s ‘I Hate Myself for Loving You’ is up next and is everything you might expect; straight forward banging hard rock tune.

It’s the second half of the EP where they really stretch themselves though, nowhere more so than on Twenty One Pilots’ ‘Heathens’. On first listen, it’s not an obvious winner, especially after the radio-friendly rockiness of the first three tracks, but repeated plays reveal it to be truly excellent. Vocally, Lzzy demonstrates surprising versatility as she wraps her chords around the tongue twisting verses, while musically they retain the darkness of the original, but succeed in giving it a harder rockier edge; great track.

Soundgarden‘s ‘Fell on Black Days’ follows in a similarly dark vibe and, like the original, it’s good, but nothing spectacular. Covering Metallica is always a bold move, especially on a raw thrash track like ‘Ride the Lightning’, but they pull it off. Sure, the guitar sound is a little less meatier and as raspy as Lzzy’s voice is, it’s difficult for her to emulate the same naked aggression of the original. Even so, as the song progresses it thrashes along as fast as the original and the solo totally nails it and besides, this is Halestorm‘s version not a copy, so it has to be respected.

It’s testament to the band’s talent and versatility that they can shift easily from rock to pop to grunge to thrash so easily, whilst paying sufficient homage to the original without losing their own identity/style. A lot of upcoming bands could learn from EPs like this; for me it’s a win win situation, you keep your fan base involved between big releases and tours, maybe attract some new fans, whilst also testing your own talents on a variety of styles. Metallica is another band that have long enjoyed a cover, often using them as a way of blowing away the cobwebs in the studio.

So, all in all, a great little release and well worth a listen – fair play Halestorm. Now, about the new album…..

9/10

The Best Records of 2016 Part 2

I’ve already highlighted a bunch of records from 2016 that I believe to be cool as fuck and I’ve also banged on at length about the thrash metal renaissance – five of my favourite albums of the year are right there. However, there was so much awesome music around this year deserving a mention that my end of year round up merits a part two, so here goes…

The Lion and The Wolf – ‘Cardiac Hotel’ is one of the most lovely records I’ve heard in years. Its sublime blend of folky indie ticks all the boxes as it wraps the listener in a warm blanket of melancholy, the sadness of which manages to be uplifting and comforting in equal measure. The quality songwriting weaves a richly textured tapestry, striking an intimate chord with the listener as it deals with the everyday hurt in life. Thank you Thomas George.

The problem with the Pixies – ‘Head Carrier’ is that it’s not ‘Surfer Rosa’ or ‘Doolittle’, but if you take it on its own merit, it is a mighty fine record. Sure, one or two tracks are on the ordinary side, but there is still plenty of quality on display – ‘Classic Masher’ being as good a slice of indie pop as you are likely to hear, while the sound of Black Francis screaming his way through ‘Baals Back’ rolls back the years. Throw in the banger that is ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ and it’s a winning record.

The anarchic chaos that is Heck – Instructions is another record that surprised the shit outta me this year. Already famous for their frenetic stage show, the band formally known as Baby Godzilla managed to translate their wild abandon into a noisy as hell collection of attacking riffs and pummelling rhythms that transcends classification, such is the stylistic melting pot on offer. Just when you think it’s all frenzied mayhem they trip you up with a moment of subtle beauty or an absolutely stunning guitar solo. Well worth a listen – it’s exciting stuff.

My EP of the year over at Already Heard went to the superb Making Monsters – ‘Bad Blood’, whose six tracks of hard edged alternative rock are all killer. This is a band going places – they know how to bang out a bad ass riff and in Emma Gallagher they boast a really talented and versatile vocalist; she can do tender or angry, deliver a hook and even go guttural. Couple that with their sassy songwriting and you have a winning combination; can’t wait for the debut album.

I’ll admit that The Hotelier – ‘Goodness’ took me a few listens to get into, but once I did, it became a regular play. It’s a pretty deep record and worth investing some time exploring. For some reason, it reminds me of REM, but in a good way – I guess they are kinda like how I always wanted Stipe and Co to sound – intelligent lyrics in well structured engaging songs, only with an edge. Tracks like ‘Piano Player’, ‘Settle The Scar and ‘Soft Animal are all kinds of good, check em out.

Admittedly, I haven’t given it as much time as it deserves but man, Black Peaks – Statues is one spectacular record. From the furious opening and intricate twists and turns of ‘Glass Built Castles’ through to the shifting textures of ‘To Take The First Turn’ with its powerful blend of progressive hardcore, this is a rollercoaster of an album. It takes the listener on a heady journey through the aggressive, the dramatic and the beautiful; it is as haunting as it is engaging and makes for a truly powerful listen. Following a debut album as epic as this one is gonna be quite a task.

There is a subtly cool vibe to Solange – ‘A Seat At The Table’, as the younger Knowles sister stylishly pulls up a chair. This is a finely worked album that blends elements of pop, soul and R &B around Solange’s soothing tones, though her voice possesses a delicious ache just beneath the surface. There is a maturity to the songs and the insightful interludes as she expounds on race, womanhood and empowerment, that makes for a thoroughly compelling listen. Hypnotic rather than bombastic, assured rather than sassy, this is one classy record.

There is something almost elusive about Warpaint – Heads Up; it seems to be much more about the overall groove than individual songs as it rumbles hypnotically along. It is something of a master class in the use of beats and bass to create a vibe, as the understated guitar lines and gossamer thin vocals add a textured finish. I really enjoyed this record and it’s one that I keep going back to, trying to grasp its meandering indie groove; superb.

I’m sure there are other albums I could’ve included here, but I decided to focus on those that have most stayed with me to make this another excellent year of music. Roll on 2017….

The Best Records of 2016 – Part 1

If there is one dead cert in the world of music writing, it’s the end of year list – the golden opportunity to wax lyrical about all the uber cool shit we’ve been listening to through the year that we totally believe every other fucker should also be listening to. I’m just as guilty as the next pensmith; I mean, I’ve already done two – one for Already Heard ( http://alreadyheard.com/post/154430616852/record-of-the-year-2016-staff-lists), another exclusively on thrash metal albums, although in fairness it was a retrospective article analyzing the genre with a top 5 attached (https://hardpresseded.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/thrashback-best-of-2016/)

But lets face it, here in the blogosphere it’s basically a totally subjective list and isn’t really worth shit, unlike the top ten we came up with at AH (http://alreadyheard.com/post/154422480446/already-heards-record-of-the-year-2016) which involves several contributors. So, the final list is a kind of representation of the site’s view of the world of alternative rock, and therefore a pretty useful piece of retrospection. Anyway, my top ten is there, along with the site’s top ten, but I have to say that probably wouldn’t be a definitive list, nor would another one that I might write tomorrow. So what’s the point?

However, there is surely some value in celebrating some of the seriously cool records that have had an impact on me this year. It doesn’t need to be a top ten. They don’t need ranking. It’s enough to say that this is cool as fuck and you could do a lot worse than give it a whirl, you might discover something you love – it’s what Spotify is for, for fuck’s sake. So, here come a bunch of records I’ve been listening to pretty solidly this year and intend to keep spinning well into the future.

David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’ I was deeply moved by the death of David Bowie and wrote about it at length here:https://hardpresseded.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/303/ Listening to Blackstar is inextricably linked to the loss of this musical giant and was always going to be an emotional experience, but having gone back to it again and again since its release, I have to say that it really is quality and holds up well. ‘Lazarus’ is undeniably superb and the artistic merit of the record as a whole is unquestionable. Great record – excellent way to punctuate such an incredible cultural footprint.

I only got round to listening to Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Love & Hate’ a couple of weeks ago, but have had it on very heavy rotation ever since. Damn, what a great, honest record this is. Michael lays bare his conflicting emotions on this sublime collection that neatly combines a kinda classic seventies soul groove with a more contemporary feel and some achingly good guitar work. The title track is unbeatable.

Lisa Hannigan – ‘At Swim’ Great songs, cool vibe, lovely voice, excellent record – I keep going back for more.

Lonely the Brave – Things Will Matter is a good solid sophomore record from the Cambridgeshire boys and continues their climb up industry ladders. There are some quite spectacular moments, like the massive ‘Black Mire’, the excellent ‘Diamond Days’ and ‘Jaws of Hell’ that hint at a very bright future for British alternative rock.

Slowcoaches – ‘Nothing Gives’ came out about a week ago and I had the immense pleasure of five outta fiving it for Already Heard. The most exciting garage punk record in years, it has an energy comparable with The Strokes debut and rocks from beginning to end as it tackles issues like loss and anxiety. Heather Perkins is punk rock personified, making their brand of angry optimism instantly relatable – this band deserve to be massive.

The Cult – ‘Hidden City’ There’s nothing like your favourite band hitting good form again. Ok, it’s not ‘Love’ or ‘Sonic Temple’, but it’s creatively vibrant, still pushing boundaries and features some killer tracks. Ian Astbury‘s raw vocal on ‘Birds of Paradise’ and the killer hook of ‘No Love Lost’ find The Cult at the top of their game.

Another return to form from an eighties icon came on The Mission – Another Fall From Grace. Wayne Hussey took a conscious decision to dust off his twelve string and write an album bridging the gap between Sisters of Mercy and The Mission. According to the front man it was a painfully cathartic experience, but the vocalist can be justifiably proud of his band’s finest record since their peak. Sure, it’s as overblown and pretentious as you might expect, but Mish fans wouldn’t have it any other way. The title track is prime example of Wayne’s songwriting prowess and ‘Tyranny of Secrets’ shows they can still deliver a good old Goth rock banger.

Black Foxxes – ‘I’m Not Well’ is quite simply one of the best records I’ve heard in years. It’s rawness imbues it with power, energy and emotion at a level few bands come close to. Stone cold killer from beginning to end – album of the year by far.

Thrashback – Best of 2016

When I first heard Dave Mustaine shredding faster than ever on ‘Fatal Illusion’ it was clear something had shifted. Sure, Megadeth and a bunch of other bands have all continued releasing thrashy records over the years, but it had all gone a bit stale. So when Dystopia dropped and suddenly Megadave was sounding fresh and exciting, it meant something was in the air. And sure enough, little by little, thrash bombs kept dropping and exploding through my headphones with a ferociousness and fervour I hadn’t heard in years.

As in 1986, three of the big four have released killer records this year, but as well as the big guns there are a crop of other groups who have also put out some of the finest work of their careers and some of the finest thrash albums ever. The list of quality releases this year is quite literally massive, the genre as a whole sounding vibrant and exciting.

I put this down to the marginalization within the music industry; now that there are so few major labels, all of which concentrate their eggs firmly in the mainstream basket, there is a gaping hole on the alternative side of things, so counter culture is thriving, and it is largely fueled by the internet. This has meant that smaller boutique labels like the fantastic Nuclear Blast have been able to deepen otherwise niche markets like that of thrash. A quick flick through the label’s roster and it’s obvious that much of the current excitement on the thrash scene can be laid at their door. Then there’s Metal Blade and Roadrunner and their enduring dedication to the metal scene.

Also, now that we live in super slick, social media obsessed, internet madness, there seems to be a kind of retro cool about the old school sound, suddenly, it’s OK to go back to the eighties, so the older groups now sound relevant rather than dated. Anyway, this eighties vibe and vibrant alternative scene has translated into some mighty fine records and made 2016 the biggest year in thrash since the glory days. Here’s what it’s all been about…

Suicidal Tendencies went back to their roots to great effect with ‘World Gone Mad’, their most defiant and most hardcore record in years. It was great to hear Mike Muir as passionate as ever, and with Dave Lombardo putting in a titanic drum performance they managed to retain a thrash edge despite the album’s punkiness. Meanwhile, Danish veterans Artillery put together a good old fashioned riff heavy superfly thrasher on Penalty By Perception, which is one seriously riffy record. Of the younger bands kicking up a storm, the standout is undoubtedly Vektor, whose ambitiously conceptual Terminal Redux makes for a technically excellent record and is well worth investing a bit of time in. They put their abilities to good effect, creating a keen sense of drama that resonates between the multiple layers of this highly textured epic. There have also been noteworthy releases from the likes of Voivod, Flotsam and Jetson, Vader and the massive Gojira. However, for my top five it’s strictly old school.

5) Testament – ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’
Of this year’s releases it was ‘Brotherhood of the Snake that was the most pleasantly surprising. I always had a soft spot for Testament and loved their early material, but there was always a feeling of unfulfilled potential with ‘Souls of Black’ failing to deliver on their early promise, despite selling well. Therefore, it was brilliant to hear them produce a record as strong as ‘Brotherhood…’; they sound harder, heavier and faster than in their heyday, but have managed to incorporate their melodic tendencies with some killer hooks; Chuck Billy is sounding incredible, with the kind of performance younger singers could learn a lot from. ‘Black Jack’, ‘The Number Game’, ‘Stronghold’, ‘The Pale King’ are just some of the stand outs on this relentless collection of all killer no filler.

4) Megadeth – Dystopia
There are moments on ‘Dystopia’ that could slip easily into Megadeth‘s impressive cannon of material. The above mentioned ‘Fatal Illusion’, which rocks as hard and fast as anything on ‘Peace Sells…’, being one, the ‘Rust’ish ‘Bullet To The Brain’ another. Then there’s the double punch of the massive ‘Poisonous Shadows’ and instrumental ‘Conquer or Die’, where Kiko Loureiro (Angra) and Lamb of God Chris Adler really earn their salt, proving the catalysts for this reinvigoration. Sure, ‘Dystopia’ has its flaws, but this is without doubt Mustaine’s strongest album in years and with the current line up they actually sound exciting again.

3) Anthrax – ‘For All Kings’
Despite sounding a little overblown on first listen, For All Kings has stood up well and repeated listens have revealed more and more depth to this excellent record, the songs are excellently crafted and there is a surprisingly strong sense of melody to temper their ever present thrashiness. Joey Belladonna is quite simply outstanding throughout and musically speaking there is plenty to get your ears around, from stone cold bangers like Evil Twin to textured epics like the sprawling ‘Blood Eagle Wings the entire album rocks.

2) Metallica – ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’
At its best ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’ is up there with Metallica‘s finest work. The first half of the album, or disc one of the CD, delivering in spades. However, the second half is found wanting and lends a slight sense of disappointment to what could have been their best record since ‘Puppets’. Once again, the band’s incapacity to self edit has meant that some really good riffs are wasted on some really average songs. Even so, when it works, it nails it in style; ‘Moth Into Flame’ is their finest single since Enter Sandman, ‘Dream No More’ will be massive live and ‘Halo on Fire’ plays like a retrospective of their entire career. There is a welcome ‘Kill ’em All’ vibe underpinning the record, with some serious classic riffing liberally peppered around the album, and all in all it is very, very good, but just misses out on being the modern classic we were hoping for.

1) Death Angel – The Evil Divide
Without doubt the most vibrant thrash release of the year is ‘Evil Divide’; with stacks of sublime riffing from Rob Cavestany and absolutely superb vocals from Mark Osegueda. From the moment opening track ‘The Moth’ starts racing away on the back of some fly riffage, the album hits a pulsating thrash fury that is relentless. The full on attack of each and every track is nothing short of killer, it sounds fresh and exciting, yet has a foot firmly in classic thrash territory, while boasting an energy and groove that is hard to beat. ‘Hatred United, United Hate’ is simply awesome, while the performances on the emotion fueled ‘Lost’ are nothing short of stunning; then there’s the killer guitar work on tracks like ‘Breakaway’ and the excellent arrangements of songs like ‘It Can’t Be This’ and ‘Father of Lies’. Not only is it an immediately likeable album, but it stands up – it doesn’t get tired with repeated listens and at a tight ten tracks there’s no baggage and it never gets indulgent. Great fucking record.

What’s Hot In My House – November 2016

It’s been a busy old month, what with listening to pretty much everything Metallica have ever recorded for a piece I wrote for Already Heard. Then there was the surprisingly awesome, but shamelessly nostalgic, Guns n Roses show, which meant catching up on some old favourites, plus the usual selection of stuff to review and fill the hours of endless bus journeys. Also, with the usual round of end of year lists coming up, I’ve been dedicating a bit of time to checking out some stuff I’d been meaning to listen to. As such, it’s been a metal heavy month, even so, between the big ass riffs and raging solos I have managed to squeeze in some sublime listening. Here’s the smooth grooves that have been dripping honey into my brain of late.

Although It’s been out a while, only now have I got round to checking out ‘Love & Hate’ the absolutely incredible second album from Michael Kiwanuka. Damn, this is a fine record. Beautiful, heartbreaking, emotional and uplifting in equal measure. It makes for a superb take on human nature, echoing with vibes from the sixties and seventies, yet succeeding in sounding contemporary and topical, this is a sublime record that will be very close to the top of my end of year lists.

The cool groove of Warpaint‘s Heads Up has also been on pretty heavy rotation of late. There’s something wonderfully understated about the subtle mix of textures on these laid back deep cuts that keeps me coming back for more. There is a lot of experimentation with beats to compliment the hypnotic qualities of the vocals and instrumentation, all of which kinda defies classification and gives it a refreshing air of individuality. It’s well worth giving this a few plays and immersing yourself in its subtleties.

Another cracking recent release that I had the pleasure of reviewing, is the totally old school thrash of Testament and ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’. Honestly, this is as good as, if not better than, anything they released back in their heyday. It’s by far their most frantically thrashy record and includes some serious hooks that make it instantly catchy. Chuck Billy delivers an absolutely killer vocal performance throughout on track upon track of raging metal. Killer record.

Metallica – Hardwired… to Self-Destruct Album Review

20160818_193928_7549_939483Metallica are like The Clash of thrash metal, pioneering a genre that they easily outgrew. The thing about them though, is that they have been under pressure to go back to that genre ever since the ‘Black Album’, and while ‘Death Magnetic’ largely placated the naysayers that yes, they could still thrash, the question of their relevance remained open. That has firmly been put to bed by the release of ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’; I mean, how often is a new album an event these days? And who drops a video for every single track on the record the night before its release? This is the very pioneering spirit that established Metallica as the biggest metal band in history and what they are offering on their first album in eight years – ‘Lulu’ doesn’t count people – for the most part does not disappoint, yet is also quite typically flawed.

From the word go, it’s clear there’s still life in the old dogs yet; the fast and furious ‘Hardwired’ being a no-holds barred flier, while the Maidenesque ‘Atlas, Rise’ is a massive tune to follow. Both tunes are pretty much instant classics, yet it’s ‘Moth Into Flame’ that steals the show of the three singles. It is quintessential Metallica – radio friendly, yet defiantly muscular – every bit as good as ‘Enter Sandman’.

The rest of the first disc of the double album is equally high level. ‘Now That We’re Dead’ is a slick take on their early eighties sound, but is fresh and rocks along nicely at mid-tempo; its hook sure to stand the test of time. Then there’s the slow boiling groove of ‘Dream No More’ which eats into the brain and will no doubt become a live favourite, especially with Hammett’s bad ass solo.

‘Halo on Fire’ also boasts an eighties feel to the intro but it gives way to that atmospheric groove a la ‘Until it Sleeps and for a while is reminiscent of Load era, only with more bite. It takes a heavier turn with a series of shifts in tempo and despite being a bit piecemeal, the arrangement really works – with James’ most versatile vocal to boot, it makes for a killer track.

‘Confusion’ opens the second disc in competent enough fashion, although there’s something not quite right about it. Metallica work by putting riffs together like a jigsaw, but sometimes, like here, the pieces don’t fit perfectly – it’s not exactly bad, just maybe a bit, er, confused.

The rest of disc 2 is enjoyable enough, but lacks the quality of the first half. ‘Here Comes Revenge’ is interesting musically speaking, a fine performance from Ulrich underpinning the shifting textures, although it finds Hetfield uncharacteristically obvious on the lyrical front.

The mid-tempo ‘ManUnkind’ and the brooding ‘Am I Savage?’ are both fairly straightforward slices of Metallica at their most functional and don’t really nail it, despite more fine soloing from Hammett. ‘Murder One’ meanwhile is just plain dull, its lumbering metal by numbers makes for a slightly disappointing tribute to Lemmy – the yee ha metal madness of closing track ‘Spit the Bone’, the saving grace of disc two, far more in keeping with the Motorhead front man’s metal footprint.

Despite the shortcomings of the second half of the record, ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’ remains a mighty fine album of quality metal, but when you have set the bar as high as Metallica there are going to be moments when they fall short. Once again, their lack of capacity to self edit has made for an album with excess baggage. It is telling that their first three albums all weighed in under 55 minutes and contained very little in the way of filler, while since ‘Load’ every studio album has over seventy minutes of music, hmmm.

Even so, there are plenty of ticks on the plus side, the underlying influence of ‘Kill ’em All’ is most welcome, Kirk Hammett delivers some of the finest solos of his career and Ulrich has finally evolved into a drummer of versatile excellence. Some of the material on display is seriously high quality, easily standing up alongside their finest work, and could be seamlessly slipped into their live set.

8.5/10

Buy the damn thing here: https://metallica.com/store/featured

Guns n Roses – Live in Rio Review

wp_20161116_005-3So, a few months back I wrote a piece on the much lauded Guns n Roses “reunion”, saying what an awful idea it was. My argument was basically that it was a cynical money making venture and that Axl could not and would not cut it, as he has been largely shit for the last 20 years. I also suggested that the shows would be nowhere near as good as they were back in the day and that it was one more nostalgic nail in the coffin of modern rock.

However.

Then I saw the videos of the performances from the U.S and it was pretty damn obvious that Axl was actually cutting it. Maybe not like a hot knife through butter, but there were high notes and enthusiasm, and not just in GnR, but in AC/DC too. And with a broken foot.

Then, as the tour showed little sign of imploding and actually decided to roll on down to South America, what else could I do, but see for myself. wp_20161116_005-2

So the question is, did I eat my words?

Kinda.

After a functional set from the uninspired choice of opening act, Brazilian rockers Plebe Rude, and a surprisingly short interval, in which we got to see the really quite beautiful logo variations on the backdrop, the Looney Tunes theme blared out and it was showtime.

‘It’s So Easy’ kicked things off and we all went mental. Seriously. Once upon a time Guns n Roses was known as the most dangerous band in the world and for the first 15 minutes or so it was easy to see why. The crowd was like a raging sea as it bounced as one to the punk energy of the opener and the swagger of ‘Mr. Brownstone’, even ‘Chinese Democracy’ got people jumping before the teased intro to ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ eventually sent everyone ballistic. For a few moments Axl, Slash, Duff and Co rocked as hard as they ever did; sure they are a little slower and a little rounder, but they still know how to deliver a good old fashioned hard rock banger.

‘Double Talkin’ Jive’ immediately calmed things down a little and calm they stayed, for the underrated ‘Better’ and an absolutely epic performance of ‘Estranged’. Despite proving spectacular and one of the highlights of the night, this was the first of many rather indulgent mega ballads – we got them all, bar ‘Patience’.

‘Live and Let Die’ was predictably frantic, prior to the cool bass groove of the sorely underrated ‘Rocket Queen’; the already lengthy track gaining an extended midsection and sexy skeletons on the backdrop. There was another surprise in ‘Out Ta Get Me’ before the heroin chic of the tireless Duff McKagan pounded out the bass riff to ‘You Could Be Mine’ to get the crowd bouncing again. Although Axl was mostly excellent, reaching most of the high notes, it was here and more notably on ‘Coma’ that he struggled – the fast sections tripping him up a little. A mid set breather was due – cue Duff and his version of the Misfits‘Attitude’.

img-20161119-wa0002-2‘This I Love’ preceded the epics ‘Civil War’ and ‘Coma’ before the obligatory Slash solo of Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather). It was all great stuff and the top hatted one still shreds, but the dude has been playing the same damn thing since I was a kid – talk about playing it safe. Was it then necessary to do an instrumental duet with Richard Fortus on ‘Wish You Were Here’? Sure, it was awesome, the crowd sung it, people cried and Slash and Richard nailed it, but two solo slots?
Sandwiched in between were the unbeatable ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and the surprisingly fun ‘Yesterdays’, which proved much more enjoyable in the live arena than on record. In a neat twist they then segued ‘Wish You Were Here’ into the piano outro from ‘Layla’ to get Axl on the piano.

Only one song could follow, and follow it did. On the one hand November Rain epitomizes everything that is pretentious and overblown about GnR and can so easily turn into an awful lumbering spectacle of over indulgence. Thankfully though, the front man seems to be in a good place right now, despite him and Slash virtually ignoring each other all night, and he crooned his way though with technique and urgency, delivering one of the best vocals of the night. For some reason most of the crowd seemed to have balloons to go with cell phones and it all made for a quite beautiful spectacle, even more so as the massive full moon emerged above the stadium right on cue – I guess these kind of shared moments are the whole point of such nostalgic outings. Fair play Axl.img-20161117-wa0007-2

Two hours in and the vocalist was visibly enjoying himself as he rolled back the years to dart around the stage to conduct the crowd in a sing off on ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. By now it was utterly shameless enjoyment of timeless classics, and we were certainly getting our money’s worth.
We rocked again for set closer ‘Nightrain’, but it was back to the ballads in the encore of ‘Don’t Cry’ with more extended guitar work. The Who‘s ‘The Seeker’ offered an irresistibly big riff, but we were really only waiting for ‘Paradise City’ to rock to an explosive close. And it did not disappoint – mosh pits opened up, swathes of bodies bounced as one and it was genuinely wild abandon in the crush – it almost felt like 1990 again.

The crowd actually demanded another encore, but the band returned merely to take a bow, all hugs and smiles.
img-20161117-wa0005-3

So, all in all, I guess you have to take your hat off to Guns n Roses – they are still a mighty proposition and deliver a fine performance. They are seasoned pros and know how to work a stage and get a crowd going, despite the minimal interaction between band members and between band and crowd.
Are they still dangerous? Not really, but they do rock and they are a pretty tight unit; they put on a show but it’s not over produced and works well with less people on stage – no horns, no backing singers, a cool backdrop of images and minimal pyrotechnics keeps it lean.

Is Axl the vocalist he was 25 years ago? He’s a damn sight closer to it now than he has been in the last 15 years. His range is impressive and he works the mic, but the impression is that age has taken it’s toll a little and slowed up the delivery, there may be an element of tiredness too.

Are they just in it for the money? Surely that is a factor, but then again they do seem to be enjoying themselves, so I’ll reserve judgement. Also, they may be raking in the cash, but at two and a half hours long their set is pretty damn good value.

Is it all just shameless nostalgia? Sure, of course, but when you are this good and the material still cuts it, then why the hell not? Quite how long the night train can roll on without new product though is open to question, as is whether or not the relationships will endure. In the meantime though, they are well worth the trip down memory lane.

Revoada

Revoada é o projeto que reúne duas bandas finas da cena Niteroiense, Barcamundi e Gragoatá, cujas trajetórias vêm entrelaçando há tempo. As bandas se conheceram nos meados de 2015, dividindo palcos, emprestando apoio uma á outra, criando uma afinidade e amizade entre os nove integrantes que se realiza num grupo só no EP audiovisual ‘Revoada.

“Revoada, bando de pássaro ou o voo da ave que volta ao local de onde partira, remete ao início das duas bandas, cujas primeiras músicas lançadas foram O Trem e o Pássaro (Barcamundi) e Passarinho (Gragoatá). O nome do EP simboliza um ciclo de renovação natural, simboliza revisitar as origens com perspectiva para os próximos voos. Revoada é um fruto pelo parentesco, que aponta para o semeio de novas ideias.”

O EP conta com seis músicas, sendo cinco inéditas, gravadas e filmadas ao vivo no Espaço Multifoco, na Lapa, pela Selo AudioVisual Útero, cujo produção é estilosomente executada em mais um trabalho de alta qualidade. A gravação do som é impecável, deixando espaço suficiente para os múltiplos instrumentos, enquanto a fotografia está sempre em busca de uma perspectiva inovadora.

O EP começa com o clima intimo, mas animado de ‘Menina’ (Renato Côrtes) em que as duas bandas entrelaçam numa entidade só; as vozes de João Barreira e Rebeca Sauwen se complementando lindamente. O conjunto de influências e instrumentos ajuda cria um som suavemente mesclando mpb, folk e indie com um leve toque de animação.

A meu ver ‘Balão’ (João Barreira) é o destaque. Partindo de um melancólico violão, a musica se constrói em camadas ricas criando uma textura linda em que a emotiva performance vocal duela com o excelente trabalho dos guitarristas. A intensidade cresce nas costas de um slide sublimo de Leon Navarro, (esse cara toca tudo!) e chega à apoteose com a emoção viva na voz da Rebeca – arrepiante!

‘A Grama do Seu Jardim’, uma musica antiga da Barcamundi é gostosamente reinterpretada aqui, beneficiando de uns integrantes a mais e varias toques pequenos que combinam numa musica gloriosamente rica – bom trabalho.

‘Novembro’ do excelente Fanner Horta se beneficia de um clima mais relaxada em que os integrantes se complementam perfeitamente. É uma musica quase infantil com suas toques sutis de instrumentação, mas sucede em criar uma textura rica, especialmente quando os vozes se juntam.

‘Amor Concreto’ (João Barreira), com a bela contribuição vocal da Gabriela Autran, é basicamente uma musica da Barcamundi levando uma melodia e groove típica da banda,. A guitarra do João adiciona um vibe levemente roqueira, enquanto os floreios de flauta levam para free jazz numa mistura surpreendente.

Em contraponto, ‘Rio Abaixo’ (Fanner Horte e Esther Martins) é mais de Gragoatá; a balada levando um toque de blues no ritmo, enquanto a acordeão dar uns ares franceses para complementar a personalidade no vocal Piathesque da Rebeca.

As seis músicas reveladas aqui são um exemplo do que essas bandas são capazes, mostrando os talentos invejáveis de todos os integrantes. Com a filmagem impecável do Útero o EP consegue ser uma produção muito gratificante e é esperançoso ver que existe tanto talento atuando de uma forma tão competente, mesmo comprometidos pelas limitações financeiras do atual cena musical. Parabéns aos todos envolvidos.