28 08 2015

Here’s a reprint of my review of the outstanding new Maiden album.

Fun fact-while I was writing this I had a workman at Castle McFee beating the absolute shit out of my living room ceiling. I don’t recommend trying to make a deadline while it feels like your head in caving in….


The Book Of Souls



KEY TRACK: ‘Empire Of The Clouds’



Arguably their most anticipated album since The Number Of The Beast (a record which saw Maiden take a huge gamble by replacing original singer Paul Di’Anno with heavy metal air raid siren Bruce Dickinson back in ’82), The Book Of Souls is a similarly important opus in the world of rock. Hell, even the likes of Lady Gaga has confessed to getting up at 5am just to buy the damn thing. You see not only it is the band’s inaugural double album, it also features the debut of their frontman playing piano on the 18 minute long ‘Empire Of The Clouds,’ (their longest track to date) and, perhaps most importantly, it is their first release since Bruce Dickinson beat tongue cancer.

Clocking at over 92 minutes of music, the two disc beast is a feast for fans of the evergreen metal titans. The Robin Williams-inspired ‘Tears Of A Clown’ is a touching tribute to the departed comic and has a massive chorus and Thin Lizzy-esque rhythms, the bombastic ‘Death Or Glory’ sees them hark back to their NWOBHM days, while the sprawling, Steve Harris penned ‘The Red And The Black’ is another future classic from the band’s founder thanks to some Irish trad-inspired melodies.

‘Empire Of The Clouds’ is sure to be the album’s biggest talking point though. Inspired by the R101 airship disaster (a craft so big the Titanic could fit inside) and penned solo by Dickinson, it’s a mammoth rock opera packed with orchestra flourishes, numerous time changes and even some Morse Code. Topped off with beautiful piano playing from Bruce (the singer began learning the instrument when he won one in a recent raffle) it’s very much his masterpiece and closes this ambitious and often spell-binding opus in style.




28 06 2015

Here’s a reprint of my review of the ace new Ash album that ran in Hot Press.


Kablammo! (earMUSIC)

Key Track: ‘Go Fight Win’




Almost eight years to the day, trail-blazing garage pop rockers Ash announced that Twilight Of The Innocents would be their final album and from that point on they’d only release singles. As the quick witted among you might have already guessed, they recently had a change of heart and thank whatever deity you worship they did as it’s a resounding return to form for the Downpatrick natives. Perfectly capturing the fizz and fuzz of Ash’s incendiary live show, Kamlammo! strips away some of the electronic influences of recent singles and reboots the band somewhat.

Old school fans will be thrilled to learn that some material recalls the scuzzy punk of Trailer. The likes of the unrelentingly catchy ‘Cocoon’ and the Brian Wilson meets Rivers Cuomo vibe of ‘Machinery’ are like being punched in the face by a rainbow, while ‘Go Fight Win,’ stomps along like Deep Purple’s ‘Space Truckin’,’ and is packed with pop hooks and metal guitars. It’s not all about revisiting their early days though as the instrumental, galloping sci-fi western ‘Evel Knieval,’ cowpunk-tinged ‘Shutdown’ and string-laden ballad ‘Moondust’ prove they’ve plenty of new ideas and sounds to explore. Welcome back boys.




27 04 2015

Here’s a reprint of a recent TV column I wrote for Hot Press. WARNING: there be spoilers.




Recently at Castle McFee I waved goodbye, with my metaphorical lobster claw, to American Horror Story: Freak Show. Now that the dust has settled on this tale of Elsa Mars’ travelling carnival, looking back I feel that the fourth series of this wildly inventive anthology (yep, I’m still not down with this Yank-ified “season” lark) was definitely a divisive one. Ultimately though, creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk should be applauded for not milking the tried and tested horror tropes this time around. As much as the FX Channel may have wanted a more straight forward show featuring large chested ladies incessantly running up stairs away from loonies whose one-liners are as sharp as their knives, the producers instead gave them (and us) an oddly sweet offering about misfits and mistakes.

Once again bolstered by another barn-storming performance from American Horror Story stalwart Jessica Lange, her turn as the fame-obsessed, German ex-pat Elsa Mars was, as expected, terrific. Full of pathos and pure ambition, the leader of the freak show was actually strangely lovable despite her [SPOILER] murderous ways. Other highlights of the 1952-set story was the tale of Pepper the Pin-Head and the eventual reveal that each series is loosely connected. While at first, one of the appeals of AMH was that each instalment featured a different theme and different characters (often played by the same troupe of actors), the comic fan in me loves the intertextuality of it all and [SPOILER] Sister Mary Eunice from American Horror Story: Asylums unannounced appearance in Freak Show was a great treat for fans. Especially as it was set before the events of the aforementioned Asylum. Poor old Sister Mary Eunice….

Anyway, other high points included Neil Patrick Harris as the mental magician Chester Creb. Obsessed with his ventriloquist dummy (which looked a little like Susan Boyle to these eyes), his brief two episode stint was mesmerizing, as was Wes Bentley’s three episode turn as the (literally) two-faced nobleman Edward Mordrake who treaded the line between camp and creepy with ease.

Now onto the negatives. Namely, lobster boy Jimmy and his relentless weeping over [SPOILERS] the murder of Meep the Geek. While I’m sure wee Meep was a lovely lad (when he wasn’t biting the heads off of chickens for a laugh), the grief was over-cooked and unconvincing. Another misfire was the handling of Twisty the Clown, who unfortunately only appeared in five of the 13 episodes. An absolutely terrifying creation inspired in part by John Wayne Gacy, actor John Carroll Lynch was superb as the misunderstood maniac. In fact, according to director Ryan Murphy, a third of the crew often left the set when he was shooting his scenes as he scared them all shit-less. Sadly though, Twisty’s reign of terror ended abruptly and although many suffering from coulrophobia won’t thank me for it, I would’ve really loved to have seen more of his mutilated mug. Some rumours have said that show-runners canned the clown early as they felt he was simply too scary and would force viewers to turn off. Wusses!

Overall, Freak Show was an enjoyable oddity and certainly better than last year’s uneven Coven. New-comer to the series Finn Wittrock was the undisputed star for me. Playing murderous mammy’s boy Dandy Mott, he rivalled Jessica Lange when it came to on screen charisma and killer lines and here’s hoping the actor returns for AMH’s fifth chapter later this year.

Speaking of series number five, the writers have revealed they hid some Easter eggs related to the next theme (American Horror Story: Hotel) throughout Freak Show for fans to speculate over. According to Ryan Murphy, the various images of top hats in different episodes are worth paying attention to. Oh, and Lady Gaga will join the cast. Consider me more than intrigued.


23 03 2015

Here’s an un-trimmed for space review of the new Therapy? record that ran in Hot Press (with added ‘Still Hurts’ track review below).


Disquiet (Amazing Record Co.)

Key Track: ‘Deathstimate’



Known, loved and rightly lauded for never making the same record twice, the unpigeonholeable rock pioneers Therapy? have once more set sail for pastures new on Disquiet. Leaving behind the measured menace of their previous two LPs, album number 14 is a more direct beast which often kicks as much ass as the Mighty Thor. Something of a spiritual successor to High Anxiety, Disquiet boasts 11 melodic punk and metal-imbued blasts of head-cracking riffs and filthy basslines and fans of the likes of Troublegum and Semi-Detached will find much to love on the record.

Lyrically speaking, singer/guitarist Andy Cairns is in vintage form as he muses on the passage of time (the Pantera-punning ‘Vulgar Display Of Powder’ is a particular standout on that front). ‘Still Hurts,’ ‘Idiot Cousin’ and ‘Tides’ are future live favourites, packed with pithy lines, massive choruses and satisfyingly meaty guitars, but it’s album closer ‘Deathstimate’ which really steals the show. Initially intended as a fusion of early Sabbath and Portishead, the seven minute long monster is a masterpiece and like nothing they’ve done before. Built around a magnificent riff dripping with doom influences, Cairns’ mournful vocals are perfectly weighted and utterly arresting. Not only is it the best track on the record, it’s one of their finest recorded moments and a welcome reminder that Therapy? still have plenty of surprises up their sleeves.



WP_20150323_11_54_40_Pro (2)


17 03 2015

So,issue 900 of Hot Press is out (yes,nine fucking hundred) and this fortnight I interviewed Ripper Street’s Charlene McKenna and hotly tipped singer Natalie Prass,waved a fond farewell to American Horror Story: Freak Show in‪#‎MyTVFortnight‬ and reviewed records by Swervedriver, the Answer and Cry Monster Cry. My ‪#‎TracksOfTheFortnight‬ include offerings from Therapy?, Race The Flux,More Than Conquerors, Paranoid Visions, Joanna Gruesome and more. Here’s to issue 1000.



28 02 2015

Here’s a reprint of my verdict on the new Cheryl Tweedy album that ran in Hot Press a few issues ago.Guess who’s still disappointed in her solo stuff?


Only Human (Polydor)

Key Track: ‘Goodbye Means Hello’




Only Human is something of a make or break album for “Cheryl.” Her first record since the split of Girls Aloud and her second since dumping any kind of surname, the former reality TV contestant and current talent show judge really needed to step up her game with her fourth solo outing. Unfortunately, her latest effort only sees her stumble and in some cases, spectacularly so.

Part of the problem is that her solo career has failed to yield a truly stellar hit, one which would do for her what ‘Crazy in Love’ did for Beyonce post Destiny’s Child. Whereas Girls Aloud unleashed some of the most exciting and inventive pop songs of their generation (thanks in part to production team Xenomania), Cheryl has struggled to release anything even remotely original and Only Human carries on that trend. Throwaway, club-tinged plastic pop songs like ‘I Don’t Care’ and ‘It’s About Time’ are as dull as big band night on The X Factor while elsewhere her ballads (such as the title track) are mawkish and mediocre. The songs that are co-written by ex-Girls Aloud member Nicola Roberts are worth your attention though (see a trend here?) and ‘Goodbye Means Hello’ in particular has a fiendish hook, but ultimately there’s nothing to rival the likes of former G.A. hits ‘The Promise’ or ‘The Show.’




11 11 2014



World On Fire (Warner Bros)


Key Track: ‘Automatic Overdrive’


It’s just over 20 years since perennially top hatted guitarist Slash bowed out from the ongoing soap opera that is/was Guns ‘N’ Roses. However, despite the decades that have passed (and subsequent metric ton of moaning from his former cohort Axl Rose), in a weird way it’s like he never left. For millions of people, he will always be “Yer man from Guns ‘N’ Roses” and judging by the material on his latest solo record, Slash seems just fine with that as World On Fire doesn’t stray too far from the sound that made him a household name.

His third “official” solo record (90s project Slash’s Snakepit was a different beast entirely) Myles Kennedy once again features on vocals and it’s packed with plenty of sleazy riffs to appease the faithful. World On Fire is far from a classic though, as it suffers from way too many songs. At 17 tracks and a running time of a whopping 77minutes, the record tests the patience more often than not and the likes of run of the mill hard rock romps such as ‘Wicked Stone’ and ‘Dirty Girl’ blend into one. ‘Automatic Overdrive’ is a stand-out though, thanks to Slash changing things up with a distinctly NWOBHM-like riff and the title track is an incendiary offering, but overall the record is as bloated as Slash’s ex band-mate.




2 10 2014

I’ve always had a strained relationship with Queens Of The Stone Age. I suppose it stretches back to around this time ten years ago. At that point in my life I had been a fan of head Queen Josh Homme for around a decade. Myself and my brother adored his first (and best) band Kyuss after discovering them via 2fm’s infamous Metal Show. When the band imploded, I was one of “those people” who hastily went out and ordered QOTSA’s split release and from there, although I was initially a little wigged out at Homme’s high-pitched vocals, I loved those first two albums. In fact I was such a fan that I even knew how to correctly pronounce his surname (“Mommy” only with an “H” instead of “M,” kids).

Like most things in life though, my affection for the band waned after a time. Yes, that show with Homme, Oliveri, Langegan et al in Dublin’s Ambassador (circa 2002) was incredible. After that though, things seemed to sour. Mark Lanegan left, Nick was fired and a project that only ever intended to release three records (according to Homme himself) began to tread water and churn out sub-standard shite.

I kept the faith though. At least initially. I’ll admit being offered interviews with Homme (during the middle part of the 2000’s) only for them to be switched to one of his lieutenants at the eleventh hour did grate. Especially when during one of those phoners I was told “Josh has lost his voice and can’t speak to you,” but I could clearly hear him loudly talking for 30minutes in the background while his guitarist Troy whispered two and three word answers to my questions. At that point, our plan was to make Queens and the then burgeoning stoner rock scene as a whole the cover of Alternative Ulster. Needless to say, it didn’t pan out and some nonsense on (the not very alternative) U2 went on page one instead. But that’s a tale for another time.

Over the intervening years, more average albums were inflicted on me and I witnessed a slew of less than stellar QOTSA shows. Then Homme decided to sue his old Kyuss band-mates for playing gigs as Kyuss Lives. An unforgivable act, in my book. Especially as there were plenty of us who never got to see John Garcia, Nick Oliveri and Brant Bjork all onstage together the first time around.

Ever the optimist though, I did have a thimble’s-worth of hope that Homme could reach past heights again. That too drained away after watching QOTSA bore the assembled masses in Belfast’s Odyssey last year though. As I stood waiting for my friend, I saw a gentleman clad in cream chinos, a tucked in shirt and a jumper casually knotted around his neck bop up and down to (the fairly) new song ‘Smooth Sailing.’ He noticed me out of the corner of his eye, no doubt scowling away (my default setting) and-I shit you not-whipped out his air guitar and started beckoning me over to him and his Rugger mates with the arm of his make-believe instrument. It was at that moment I decided that I really needed to stick a fork in it. Queens Of The Stone Age had become the favourite rock band for a generation of people who knew fuck all about the genre. It’s not me, Queens-it’s you.

Which leads me to this post, re-publishing a review I wrote of QOTSA in Belfast during the summer that ran in Hot Press. I’ll be honest, I pitched to review the show purely for the presence of Brody Dalle (I adored the Distillers) and fully expected another flaccid affair from Homme and co. While I wasn’t completely eating my words by the gig’s climax, it was definitely the first QOTSA show I’d enjoyed in years and left me hopeful that maybe, just maybe, they might have a surprise or two left up their sleeves. And it’s the hope that gets you, folks…



Zane hiking around the house

Ok, full disclosure. I’ve felt that ever since Nick “Rex Everything” Oliveri and Mark Lanegan departed a decade ago, it’s been a series of diminishing returns for desert rockers Queens Of The Stone Age. However, while bloated albums like Era Vulgaris have disappointed way more than delighted, I’ve always desperately hoped that Josh Homme and Co. would prove me wrong. Simply put-he’s one of the founding members of the seminal Kyuss, he has more than earned a second chance.

After being warmed up with a storming set from leather-lunged punk Brody Dalle that features some absolute gems from her Distillers days (‘Sick Of It All,’ ‘Die On A Rope’), it was time for Queens to show us their riffs. Opening with the menacing ‘You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire,’ the track is a thrillingly thuggish experience live. Break-through single ‘No-One Knows’ keeps the excitement levels up to 11 and ‘My God Is The Sun’ and ‘Monsters In The Parasol’ ensure we’re off to a neck-bothering start.

Sounding brash, ballsy and occasionally utterly brilliant, QOTSA excel in an open air venue and tonight they more than make up for that awful Belfast, Odyssey gig nine months ago which felt more like a wake than a rock show. There are still a few wobbles tonight though. Newie ‘I Sat By The Ocean’ and ‘I’m A Designer’ are dreary efforts and there is nothing from their self-titled first (and best) album in the set, but there are encouraging signs that Homme isn’t merely going through the motions and is still a punk at heart.

He berates the heavy handed bouncers, slags off the “free-loaders” in the nearby apartment blocks and in ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’ he has a true rock anthem that will never age. Finishing with ‘A Song For The Dead,’ QOTSA’s third ever Belfast show feels more like a triumph than a failure overall and this old school Kyuss and Queens fan left feeling hopeful for their future for the first time in years.



30 09 2014

Here’s a reprint of my review of the new Death From Above 1979 album that ran in Hot Press.


The Physical World (Fiction)


Key Track: ‘Government Trash’


It’s been a full decade since trail-blazing dance-rock duo Death From Above 1979 last released an album. During that time, the pioneering sonic pugilists have seen many pretenders and successors (such as Test Icicles and Royal Blood respectively) appear to challenge their throne. No-one does that neck-bothering, chunky riffs and hyper-active hooks combo quite like Sebastien Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler though and The Physical World announces their return in rousing style.

Cutting to the chase, anyone eager to hear a huge growth in sound from their ferocious debut You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine should head elsewhere. Adopting a similar ethos that made the likes of the Ramones, the Misfits and AC/DC global icons, Death From Above 1979 opt to stick to what they’re good at and it makes for an exciting and exhilarating listen. Opening with ‘Cheap Talk,’ the track’s biting bass and colossal grooves prove that they haven’t missed a beat despite their hiatus and the break-neck ‘Government Trash’ and the tellingly titled ‘Always On’ are breath-taking rock songs. Perverted power ballad ‘White Is Red’ offers something of a departure for the duo, but mostly The Physical World is all about riffs that could crack the sky and tunes that are tailor-made for the mosh pit. Here’s hoping it won’t take them another ten years to make a follow up.




7 08 2014

Here’s a reprint on a TV column I write every now and again for Hot Press.



Over the last decade the comic book industry has been well and truly booming. On the home-front, Irish creators such as Will Sliney, Nick Roche, Declan Shalvey and the veteran Garth Ennis have released some stellar work with Marvel, DC and more (the equivalent of a band signing with a major label and touring the globe, for the unenlightened), while internationally, the sub culture’s profile is now less Bruce Banner (misunderstood and maligned) and more Incredible Hulk (a pop culture powerhouse).

One of the reasons for the medium’s new-found popularity in the mainstream is due to the current trend of taking comic characters and story-lines and turning them into big budget movies and TV shows. They’re everywhere these days. In fact sometimes they’re as hard to avoid as Jamie Madrox himself (Google it….). As a life-long fan of the sub-culture, I’ll admit that sometimes I’m a bit bemused by it all, but if it gets more people turned on to the work of creators like Bryan Lee O’Malley, Peter David, Roman Dirge and many, many more then I’m all for it. Plus, it’s nice not being grilled by randoms on why I’ve got panels from comic books tattooed on my arms every single time I’m in a pub.

This fortnight, Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and DC’s Arrow ended on the small screen and as you might have expected I made sure to tune in to wave them goodbye (not literally though, as that really would be a bit weird…). First up was the Avengers spin-off, which some wags have re-named Super-Models Of S.H.I.E.L.D. due to the cast’s glossy good looks. Loosely based on concepts and characters created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Jim Sterenko, it’s fair to say that the show, which was co-created by Buffy The Vampire Slayer supremo Joss Whedon, was a little like a short-sighted milkman (it didn’t always deliver) but its series finale finished things on a high.

Though it was a bit aimless and often boring during the first few episodes, thanks to events in the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I won’t spoil, the programme picked up towards the end and it was cool seeing characters like Glenn Talbot, Deathlok and Man-Thing all get screen time (or at least get referenced in Manny’s case).

Arrow on the other hand, ended more with a whimper than a bang for me. Inspired by DC’s Green Arrow comic, the programme about a rich kid, bow-toting vigilante suffered greatly due to the presence of Manu Bennett, who plays Slade Wilson/Deathstroke. Packed with more ham and cheese than a Baldwin family picnic, Dickstroke -sorry, Deathstroke– sucked the life out of every scene he was in and by the time the show reached its climax I was happy for it all to be over. Add that to the copious bare-chested, cheeseball montages of lead beefcake Stephen Amell and series two of Arrow really should have been re-titled The Crime-Fighting Chippendales.

With more comic book-based TV shows such as Gotham, The Flash, Daredevil, iZOMBIE, Constantine and Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s romance/western/horror masterpiece Preacher all heading to the small screen soon, it’s an interesting time to be a fan of the sub culture. Whether they’ll be any good or not is another thing of course….

This fortnight at Castle McFee I’ve also been sampling Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful. Set in Victorian London in 1891, the series is an unashamedly schlocky watch, full of guts and gore. Admittedly, the most horrific thing about the programme is actually Billie Piper’s attempt at an Irish accent, but it’s still an entertaining enough show thanks to Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of monster-hunting Sir Malcolm Murray and fresh takes on Frankenstein and Dorian Gray. Though Penny Dreadful has only got started, I’m hoping this tale of demons and vampires will provide plenty to sink my teeth into over the weeks ahead. I’ll get me cloak….