25 05 2014

Here’s a review of the ace Portrait album that ran in Metal Hammer a couple of issues back.




After being forced to reshuffle their line-up in the wake of the exit of guitarist/songwriter Richard Lagergren, heavy metal purists Portrait return with their tellingly-titled third record Crossroads and anyone who doubted that the Swedes were incapable of carrying on should reach for the ketchup now as the eight track offering will make them eat their words. Opening with the acoustic intro Liberation, the five-piece treat us to a plethora of timeless riffs and Halford-like high-pitched shrieks over 42 minutes and those in the thrall of Maiden,Mercyful Fate and Priest will find much to enjoy on the album. While the Spartan production lets the likes of In Time down (especially when it comes to Per Lengstedt’s vocals) the album provides plenty of old school thrills and Ageless Rites and the epic Lily are as sharp as their bullet belts. Black Easter mixes things up a little with a dance-indebted drum-beat during the main section and although they only just get away with it, it’s encouraging to see them push the boundaries of their traditional sound. [7]




23 05 2014

Here’s a reprint of a review of the Sabbath Assembly album that ran in Metal Hammer.





Album number three from Sabbath Assembly sees the Texan twosome once again explore the theology of the Process Church of the Final Judgment (a sect that worship both Christ and Satan), only this time around instead of adapting Processian hymns, they have added mostly original lyrics to the acoustic-based music. Comprising of six tracks, the self-declared sacred folk metal act’s opus can be a little hammy in places, especially for the unenlightened, but there’s much to your teeth into regardless. A heavy offering in terms of lyrical content, musically Quarternity is reminiscent of the softer parts of Jeff Wayne’s epic The War Of The Worlds soundtrack and only the doom-y electric guitar led I, Satan offers anything traditionally metallic despite the record featuring appearances from members of Sunn 0))) and Gorguts. The eerie, string-laden Jehovah On Death is a stand-out on the album, but 18minute long The Four Horsemen isn’t nearly as engaging as the band thinks it is and it’s a disjointed, at times boring track which lets proceedings down considerably. [6]




21 05 2014

Here’s a reprint of a review of the recent Royal Blood gig that ran in Hot Press.




Brighton-based, Arctic Monkeys-endorsed blues rock duo Royal Blood are playing their first ever Belfast gig tonight. The room is crammed with a close to capacity crowd who are eager to see a band that are very much on the cusp of big things right now and while they’ve only got a brace of singles to their name thus far, the excitement from some sections of the Limelight 2 is palpable.


Opening with ‘Hole,’ the two-piece make a ferociously heavy live sound from the get-go. Full of distorted bass and and groove-laden drums, Royal Blood bring the thunder like the mighty Thor himself, as pints shake and ear-drums quake to their neck-bothering songs. Musically, the dynamic duo have a sonic similarity to other two-piece acts such as Drenge, Winnebago Deal and the Black Keys. Loud yet melodic, tracks like ‘Figure It Out’ and ‘Blood Hands’ are sure to find favour with both indie kids and metallers and in frontman Mike Kerr they have one of the most talented and inventive bassists this reviewer has heard in quite some time.


Recent single ‘Little Monster,’ as expected, receives the biggest reaction from the audience and provokes an out-break of people dancing while slowly head-banging (it looks a little odd, but I applaud their attempts at innovation) but it’s set-closer ‘Out Of The Black’ which really marks the boys out as ones to watch. The machine-gun rhythms, powerful grooves and howled vocals of the track are a joy to hear and when it’s performed live the number certainly justifies some of Royal Blood’s recent hype.




19 05 2014

Today I thought I’d post up a review of the recent ‘Troublegum’/’Infernal Love’ Deluxe Editions that ran in Metal Hammer a few issues back.

Mad one, this. I vividly remember reading the reviews of both records that ran in Hammer 20 years ago (when the LPs first came out), so being asked to look after the verdict of the re-issues (both of which genuinely changed my life) well, it was a pretty cool feeling to say the least.

The piece changed a few times before it went to print due to design/photo issues, so I’m not sure which version ended up in the magazine, but here’s the final draft anyway (I rarely see my writing in print…long story).






While the word seminal may be bandied around much too often these days, when it comes to Troublegum and Infernal Love by NI’s Therapy?, the adjective couldn’t be any more apt. Bursting with twisted lyrics wrapped around metal-infused, punk-imbued barbs, the former remains a much-adored, evergreen classic 20 years on from its release, while the brooding, beguiling latter is a bit like the Robert Downey Jr of the rock world-misunderstood and not quite what we were expecting at first, but now an entity that continues to get more awesome with age. This month they receive the deluxe treatment and the re-mastered re-releases also feature a treasure trove of tasty treats for both collectors and new-comers alike. Stuffed with b-sides, live cuts and remixes from their respective eras, highlights from the triple disc Troublegum set include the stellar, stand-alone single Opal Mantra, ShortSharpShock EP favourite Totally Random Man and of course the indefatigable, game-changing sucker punches Screamager and Nowhere, which still sound fresh and ferocious in equal measure. Not to be outdone, the double CD version of Infernal Love is just as strong thanks to a stark re-imagining of the criminally-ignored Nurse classic Disgracelands and the cow-punk-tastic Our Love Must Die, while the three and a half minute, buzzing mind fuck that is Epilepsy, the anthemic, hook-laden Stories and the gloriously gloomy Me Vs You prove the original record is well worth a revisit. In short, any self-respecting rock fan should own both.[9]




16 05 2014

I was asked to write a TV column for Hot Press a few weeks ago. The title says it all really, kids. Here’s a reprint.




Ever since I was a child I’ve had a fascination with all things frightening and creepy (think Count Dracula and demons from the eternal pit rather than Eamon Dunphy in drag there, folks). For years I’ve been positively thrilled and terrified in equal measure by macabre tales told via the medium of film, novels and comic books. In recent times, the humble tellybox has also become relied upon to provide solid instalments of spooky stories too and this rekindled love affair between horror and the small screen has yielded some pretty spectacular results, I have to say.


Though I am still currently mourning the end of the sublime, Jessica Lange-led American Horror Story: Coven, the present mainstream fascination with the darker side of life means that there have been plenty of programmes to keep me contented while I wait for the Hallowe’en debut of Freak Show, the fourth chapter of the series. One of those shows is Bates Motel on Universal.


Telling the story of a teenage Norman Bates and his mother Norma (altogether now- “MOTHERRRRRR!!”), series two of this prequel to the Hitchcock film Psycho has just started at the time of writing and I’ve been soaking up every minute of this diabolically good drama. Set in modern day America, it’s essentially a dark love story between two psychologically damaged characters. One of my favourite things about the programme is the handling of future serial killer Bates’ origins as we’re not quite certain if Norman has always been, well, a psycho, or if his mother made him this way. At least not at first anyway….


Speaking of Norman’s dear old ma, Vera Farmiga lights up the screen as the misguided, occasionally mental Norma. In some ways, Bates Motel is her show as she steals every scene she’s in. Despite playing a character with more mental problems than Jay Z (yes, that would be 100 or so), Farmiga makes her sympathetic and funny and thanks to her performances you almost forgive her controlling, borderline incestuous ways. With a third series already confirmed (sorry, I still can’t quite bring myself to use the American term of “season”), it’s looks like Bates Motel will be open for business for the next few years and I can’t wait to see where it all leads to.


Just as I was welcoming a new show in through the doors of Castle McFee this fortnight, I have also been bidding one adieu. Fox’s The Walking Dead drew to a close recently and while some have been moaning louder than the titular cadavers over the final episode of series four, I must admit I’ve been enjoying the continuing journey of Rick, Michonne et al.


Admittedly part of that reason is due to a feeling of loyalty for the source material, ie-the Image comic penned by Robert Kirkman and drawn by Charlie Adlard. I’ve been reading the book since my brother handed me the first issue ten years ago (it’s now valued at $10 000 and yes, I am insanely envious over this matter), and although the mainstream success of the TV translation has surprised and slightly bewildered me, it does my cold, black heart good to see a then unknown comic become a pop culture phenomenon.


But back to the TV show. After weathering the storm that was series two (seriously, if Rick’s son Carl had followed orders and never the left the house I swear nothing would have happened during the 13 episodes other than farmer Hershel licking his lips a lot and talking about the Baby Jesus), the fourth instalment has been an enjoyable affair. Informed by the source material more than ever, I liked getting to know some of the group of survivors a little better and without spoiling anything for those who haven’t watched the final episode yet, all I’ll say is let’s just hope Rick Grimes’ gang hasn’t eaten the meat at Terminus by the time we rejoin them for series five…



14 05 2014

Here’s a reprint of a review of the Palma Violets gig that ran in Hot Press a few weeks back.




Despite being initially hailed as the future of British guitar music, the career of Lambeth quartet Palma Violets hasn’t exactly set the world alight thus far. Tonight, in front of a fairly packed house full of boozed up die-hards and their boss, Rough Trade head honcho Geoff Travis, the band prepare to rectify all that though and are in the middle of a full-scale Irish tour to road test new material and treat everyone to their impressive, face-melting live show.


Opening with ‘Rattlesnake Highway,’ from their debut album 180, the faithful at the front are pogo-ing along to the track’s pounding rhythm right from the get go and the song sounds much more powerful performed up close and personal than its recorded counterpart. ‘Danger In The Club,’ the first of four new tracks, is up next and it’s got a Richard Hell And The Voidoids kinda vibe while another newie, ‘Man Is Asleep,’ is full of fuzzy basslines and new wave sensibilities that suggests album number two could be very special if they can harness the band’s raw power.


Not ones for talking, the boys mostly keep their focus on kicking out the Iggy, Gun Club and Libertines-informed jams, but co-frontman Chilli Jesson does tell us that he’s chuffed with the turn-out tonight as “there were about four people at the gig in Limerick the previous evening.” Bless.


During the halfway point, the band lose the crowd a little, due partly to debuting ‘Matador’ and ‘Peter And The Gun’ (both of which are disjointed, slightly schizophrenic numbers which will take a few listens to sink in), but they’re back on steady ground with the anthemic, organ-led singalong ’14,’ sending the crowd home on a high and hopeful that PV’s second record will see them at their rabble-rousing best.